I left the town I had grown up in on the Great Valley train. Mr Sandhurst gave me instructions, tickets, and some pocket money for meals for the trip. I had never traveled on the train and I saw all sorts of people on board. There were some like my mother and father -- somewhat poor and worn with having to struggle to live -- but there were more like the men who traveled with Mr Sandhurst. Their clothes were immaculate and their auras murmuring of power. They could see I was poor and would pass me like I was a clod of dirt on the ground. But it didn't matter to me. I was more fascinated by the places we were passing and the things I saw.
The most fascinating thing though to me was the engine. When we stopped at a station where we would be sitting for a while, I was curious to see the engine. I could sense the power that ran the train for it flowed the whole length of it. But when I got close to the engine, its power nearly knocked me over. It took all I had to approach it.
"Beauty, ain't she?" said a man to me.
I looked over and saw a man in a stained coverall with a patch bearing the railroad's emblem over his heart. He looked as old as my father, his short stringy hair streaked with gray. He was wiping his hands of grease. I looked back at the engine. It gleamed with the polish of hours of care enhanced with the power it could generate. I wanted to touch it but didn't dare.
"She's a Carmichael 32-H400," said the man. "Weren't many of these built. Shame, really. It was the best engine Carmichael made."
"How fast can she go?" I asked.
"Under full steam she can fly as fast as the River Runner if not faster."
I had heard of the River Runner. It was the express train that crossed the country in a day. At top speed it could do 185. I stared in awe.
"Yep. Great machine." His ears perked and he walked away.
My final destination was to be the town of Clearwater but in order to get there we had to pass through the largest city of the country: Ashkaroth. It was called the City of Lights and that evening as the train curved around the great bay it rested by one could see why. The buildings were ablaze in magnificent colors and shimmering rays of luminescence. I stared at it until I couldn't see it for the train's bulk in the way. The few buildings we passed soon multiplied in number until we were flying down a canyon of structures. The train dove into a tunnel to get to the station where we stopped for an hour.
By the time we reached Clearwater, it was late and I was tired from the long ride. I fetched my trunk but when I left the station I wasn't sure how I was to get to my next destination. I looked at the directions Mr Sandhurst had given me. When you reach Clearwater, send the enclosed message ball to Mr Arrhenius Pond. Then wait.
In the office of the shop, Mr Sandhurst had given me an envelope that had all the things I needed for my journey. I pulled it out of my jacket pocket and rifled through it. My fingers fell upon a hard round object and pulled it out: a message ball. Inside the gumball-sized plain container would be a paper that bore the message. I tucked the envelope back in my jacket, then I rubbed the ball between my hands and breathed on it. "Go to Mr Arrhenius Pond," I commanded, then I threw it up in the air. The ball fell a foot, then flew upward quickly out of the light of the lamps.
It was all a matter of waiting then. I put my trunk so that I could sit on it but had no idea how long it would take for something or someone to appear. Mr Sandhurst had been vague about where I was to be going. The Clearwater station emptied and with the train and people gone the place was lonely and growing cold. There was nothing to do but play with the light a little and wait.
It seemed after a while that I was pretty much left there to spend the night when I heard a rushing from a distance. A wind gust threw my hair all over and cast dust everywhere, making me cough. "Sorry," I heard a youngish voice say some feet away. "Still trying to get a handle of this one."
I wiped my face and looked at the speaker. It was a fellow my age dressed in a green brocade jacket and purple trousers getting up from a Turkish carpet that hovered a foot from the ground. His chestnut brown curly hair was a terrible mess but his eyes had a gleam of fun. "Are you Arrhenius Pond?"
"Me?" said the fellow. "Oh, no, I'm not old Pond. I'm John. Pondy sent me to fetch you. Hand with your trunk?"
"Um, sure." I lifted one end and John picked up the other. Together we placed it on the carpet, causing it to dip a little then even out. I climbed aboard the carpet and sat with my back to the trunk.
"Old Pond's the housemaster," said John, settling in next to me and gripping the carpet's tufts. I did the same as the carpet suddenly rose into the air and flew over the treetops. "He'd rather be in bed at this time of night. But he was expecting you and had me out when the ball arrived."
"Where are we going?"
"Seven Oaks Academy. On the outside looks like a stodgy old place where they send peers and such to study all sorts of awful things."
"What is it then?"
"You don't know?"
John grinned. "It's only the best school for engineers. You can't get into it without invitation. Who sent you? Mr Sandhurst?"
"Yes," I said.
"You must be good then. The best ones have been the ones Mr Sandhurst sends."
We went over a rise and in the light of lamps set along paths stood a group of stone and plaster buildings. It looked intimidating and I shrank a little, wondering if I would be able to pass muster. I glanced at John, who was blithely grinning as he steered the carpet to the lawn near a set of arched wood doors on one of the side buildings. I clambered off the carpet and ran my hands through my windblown hair as I looked up at the place. "Go on in," said John. "I'll take care of your trunk."
I opened a door and stepped into an arched hall of polished wood and worn carpets. I walked further, seeing paintings of men and women in various robes and gowns. I heard John bring in my trunk then say, "Good evening, Mr Pond."
I turned and saw an old man in a plain shirt and trousers stepping up to me. "Edmund Snitterton?" he said in a voice that reminded me of my father when he was annoyed at me.
"Yes, sir," I replied nervously.
He smiled warmly. "Welcome to Seven Oaks, Mr Snitterton. Your new life begins now."