The invitation sat on my dresser, to the right of the mirror so that every time I glanced I couldn’t help but be reminded. The date was today, the time, two hours from now. The paper was a deep red and the lettering a black cursive. The finest parchment money could buy.
I was dressed already, my habit for preparedness outweighing the obvious that I had nothing to do until my carriage arrived. I moved from my kitchen to my bedroom, back to the kitchen. My suit, though appropriate for the event, was thick and warm. I attempted to read but my eyes refused to focus, the separate words coming together until it seemed as though the page were nothing but a giant blot of indecipherable ink. I put the book on the kitchen table and sighed.
An hour later my carriage arrived. The driver was an elderly man, a cleft in his chin, and the finest top hat I’d seen in years.
“Good evening sir.”
“Good evening Lamoore.”
“Are you alright, sir?”
“Fine, fine,” I said, waving my hand.
“Very good, sir. To Poford?”
“To the Society of Explorers.”
The open land of Poford—the rolling hills, houses at extended intervals—soon gave way to buildings. Dirt to cobbled roads. Darkness to streetlamps. One story houses to multi-story flats. A bustling market occupied Twillmire Square, smells of meats and cheeses, fresh bread. Seasonal fruit when the weather held. The clack of horses hooves and the steady thunder of the carriage wheels in my ears. Children shouting as they ran through the alleys. Further into the city, the buildings rose taller, the façade more ornate. The sunset colored the windows a fiery orange, covered the statues in shadow. Carriages passed the opposite direction. Pedestrians on the sidewalks. Men entering public houses after a long day’s work. Women calling to their children to come home.
“Five minutes, sir,” called Lamoore.
I pulled out the invitation from the inside pocket of my overcoat and looked at it again. It was difficult to read in the dying light, but I’d memorized the words the moment I first laid eyes on the lettering.
The Society of Explorers requests your presence for the induction of
Mr. Ashry G. Pennyweather
into the prestigious Hall of the Esteemed
Tuesday, the 935th Day of His Majesty’s Reign
At 8 o’clock
At Randolf Hall
Kindly respond at your earliest convenience
I returned the invitation into my overcoat pocket.
“I presume we’re here?”
Lamoore opened the door and waited for me to exit.
“I suspect I’ll require your help again to return home this evening. Is ten acceptable? I don’t plan on staying longer than that.”
“Of course sir.”
I looked at the line of Explorers waiting to enter the headquarters. “It’s a busy night tonight.”
“Best of luck, sir.”
But as Lamoore returned to the driver’s seat of the carriage I held my position, looking at the face of the headquarters. The marble statues, gilded lettering, stained-glass windows. The twin spires that rose higher than any other building in Poford. I looked at the Explorers waiting for admittance. The way they talked, the laughter, the ease at which they smiled. Their Explorer Pin displayed prominently, winking in and out of the light. I looked at the pedestrians on the other side of the street, whispering to one another. Distrust in their eyes, and envy. I put my hand on my suit, feeling the invitation in my breast pocket. Feeling my heart beneath.
“Are you alright, sir?” asked Lamoore.
I forced a smile. “Fine Lamoore.”
“Very good sir. I’ll return at ten.”
With a nod, I strode toward the entrance.