As soon as the car entered the rift, it was transformed into a carriage with two mechanical black horses bringing it along a brick-lined road. The three of them were instantly dazzled and stunned into silence as they watched the scenery go by them. It was a very dark night above but the sky was lit up like fire with hundreds of flying lanterns above them. The lowest hanging ones showed that they were kept floating by a mechanism that was moving so fast it could only be seen in the sheen of the light cast by other lanterns above it. The light itself wasn’t from candles, despite the warmth of the glow they cast, but flowering bulbs that were all opened to full bloom. They could hardly comment on the lanterns above their heads when they looked down and saw the buildings and stalls around them. They looked like they were at a night market of some kind but instead of only standing tents, the whole of the surrounding buildings were involved as well. Some of the older stone buildings around them had what looked like metal parts built into their entrances and awnings, like gold veins in broken pottery. Before their eyes, they saw what it was for, as the stones shuddered a second before the building’s mechanical parts opened up what used to be closed and exposed the gilded interiors, shining with their own much brighter lanterns that flooded the streets. Newer buildings, mostly machine in build, made less of a production as they opened up as well but the interior was no less opulent in these spaces. All of them looked like they were palaces that were yawning open to expect a royal party any moment, each space glittering with crystals and shining with silver and gold accents and lush jewel toned carpets rolling out of each opened building.
“Where the hell did we end up?” Matt whispered.
“Your ears,” Stuart started to say to Lydia but immediately stopped when he heard the metallic twang to his voice. He covered his mouth and looked around the carriage.
“This place is different than the Safe Haven,” Lydia said, alarmed. “None of us would make you sound like that, right?”
She was looking at Matt and he nodded, wondering what the hell he had to do with any of this. She looked away when his eyes travelled up to her head and he saw what Stuart had been trying to tell her.
“Your ears are mechanical,” he said, quietly. “Also, I don’t think I ever got your name before I ran off. I know Stuart because of meeting him and Dolly.”
She frowned for a second, looking at Stuart. He looked down and between the three of them for a second was nothing but the sound of the hooves of the mechanical horses pulling them along.
“You didn’t come with those guys tonight, right?” she said in a small voice.
“No, I promise I didn’t,” he said, quickly. He sighed. “I should have been more careful but I wanted to get to see Dolly quickly. Honestly, I really just wanted to apologize. I wanted to get in there to tell her that if I’d known about the wheelchair or anything, I would have tried to stop the Kingz before they’d even gotten a chance to see her. I can’t always make them stop but I try. Well I tried. I guess they’re gone except for Danny there. Maybe Jake survived too.”
“Well, you stopped the Buck from hurting Stuart,” Lydia said, brightening up. “So at least we know you don’t hate us like the other guys did.”
“Honestly, I don’t think Blair or the guys really hated anyone but they sure enjoyed making their lives miserable,” Matt replied, quietly.
“Like yours,” Stuart said, his voice still mechanical, making him shrink. He cleared his throat but it didn’t help. “Will said that you were the one they pranked the most.”
“Easy to do when I lived with the guy that came up with all the pranks,” Matt muttered.
A beat of silence passed between them all as they watched the warm light around them flickering with the opening of more buildings. The streets were flooded with the colorful array of lights glinting off the crystals and reflections of stained glass throwing strange shadows under the lanterns. Before anyone could speak again, the steam powered stands emerged from between the buildings. They looked like thinner versions of the carriage they were in now but instead of being drawn by horses, they were either carried on what looked like mechanical spider legs or, for the thinnest ones, motorized bicycle tires. They all seemed to flood the sidewalks at once, each jockeying for spots as they narrowly missed crashing into each other. Once one had found a place to settle, the raised cabin of the carriage would lower and a number of mechanisms would fire into action, expanding the small space to a full market stand. Almost immediately there was a loud din outside their carriage as people dressed in colorful costumes and masks put finishing touches on their individual stands. Within what felt like just a few seconds, the dashing of motorized stands zipping across the cobblestones and up the streets ceased and gave way to the bursts of color as some of them lit up with lights, with sparks and with great metallic flourish as they opened up around the now completely opened buildings.
As the carriage passed the newly opened stands, the three inside noticed that the people tending the stands were taking notice of them. Some of them waved either a handkerchief or a small scarf at them as they passed while others would bow in acknowledgement of them. As the lights shone brighter around the people gathering, Matt noticed something he hadn’t expected to see.
“These people look like they’re celebrating Carnival,” Lydia said. “These look a like the kind of costumes they have in Venice. The colors of their clothes are incredible.”
“Speaking of color, did you notice something different about them?” Matt said, squinting against the shadows.
“No,” Lydia said. “What are you seeing?”
“They’re all black people,” he said, confused. “Maybe I’m wrong but I’m seeing a lot of them. More than I’ve ever seen in any pictures of those balls in Italy.”
“He’s right,” Stuart agreed metallically.