It wasn’t every day that the train stop was so busy.
Often times, it was just the handful of people who used the station on their day to day lives; business folks on their way to work, younger students off to school, and the occasional person armed to the teeth and ready to fight whatever monsters awaited them on the other side of the tracks. Quiet, save for the voice echoing through the air to announce what train would be coming next. Hardly a person to meet the eye of another.
Terra Beste had spent her whole life coming to this station multiple times a week. Today would be the last for a long time.
She wove through the packed crowd, trying her best to follow as close behind her parents as she could, but there were too many bodies, too many sounds and people and lights to focus completely. The cape to her cloak was gripped tightly in her hands as she silently begged for it to not get stepped on and ripped off; though the clasps connecting it to her collar were the strongest available, she still despised the feeling of them popping off and scratching at her skin underneath.
Carefully, she wrapped the cape around to her front and wrapped it around her left arm, where her gauntlet met the back of the shield she carried. As soon as she was sure it was secure, she glanced up, only to see her father’s disproving eyes staring her down.
“I still don’t like that some of these kids have weapons,” he grumbled.
Terra winced, and then shoved a smile onto her face. “W-Well, the pamphlet said we can’t get to our stuff until after initiation,” she quickly informed, “And maybe they need them for whatever that’s going to be!”
He huffed and crossed his arms. “I just don’t think it’s very safe. What if one of those extremist beasts are there? They could jack the whole train, and these Etudes are just letting them get on! I mean, look at that woman over there!”
Terra turned to look in the direction her father was waving his hands towards, where a girl with big, black, scaly wings stood talking to a few others. A sword hung at her side, its red and black hilt sticking out like a sore thumb against her white jumpsuit.
The girl let out a hearty laugh, leaning back and clapping her hands together as her eyes and nose crinkled up. Terra couldn’t stop herself from smiling a bit at the sight.
Her father scoffed. “Really, this ‘school’ says it’s here to train warriors, and yet, they let people like that in here? I’m starting to wonder if ‘protection of the people’ is what they really want…”
Pressing her lips together, she held her tongue and tore her gaze away from the girl. A chill ran through her hands, and she gripped the fabric of her cape tighter. Her eyes flicked over to her mother, only to fall when she didn’t say a word.
Eventually, the trio had found their way to a section of the crowd that was slightly less packed than the rest of the station; they turned to each other, and for a moment, parents and daughter could only look and drink in the other’s presence.
Her mother reached forward and pulled Terra in for a hug. She held her close and rocked her, and for a moment, the world became a little easier to handle.
“We’ll be praying for you,” she muttered. “Oh, sweetie, you’re going to do so good out there.”
Terra squeezed her. “Thanks, Mom. I’ll miss you.”
“We’ll miss you, too. We love you so, so much.”
“I know,” she whispered, attempting to ignore the stinging in her eyes. “I love you, too.”
The two held each other for just a minute longer, and then finally stepped apart so Terra could turn to her father.
He looked at her expectantly. “Do you remember the rules?” he asked.
Stomach dropping a bit, she nodded and looked at the empty air just behind him. “No magic,” she recited.
“No telling anyone.”
He nodded, pleased enough with the answer, and, almost uncomfortably, put a hand on her shoulder.
“Well… Good luck,” he said.
Terra fought not to cringe. “Thanks,” she replied, offering a half-hearted smile.
“Are you going to be okay if we let you off here, or do you want us to wait until the train leaves?” her mother asked.
“Oh, it’s—it’s up to you, I’ll be fine either way!”
Her parents looked at each other, somehow finding a way to assess the others’ feelings just by eye contact.
“Well, we did need to go to the grocery store, didn’t we?”
With a sigh, her mother crossed her arms. “I suppose… It’d probably be good to get there before that premium roast you like is sold out.”
He raised an eyebrow. “They can’t sell out that fast, can they?”
“At Anthony’s Grocery?” her mom replied. “Sure, they’re usually gone by the time I get there.”
“By who?” His voice had a sudden edge to it, and his eyes narrowed.
She stared at him. “I don’t know. I don’t see who’s buying them.”
He let out a sharp huff; Terra winced and felt her hands grow cold. “Fine, whatever,” he grumbled.
Terra and her mother made eye contact, and her mother rolled her eyes.
He’s just hungry, she mouthed.
Swallowing thickly, Terra pretended to let out a soft laugh. “Good luck,” she whispered back.
Her mother smiled. “We’ll see you in a few months, then?” she asked, voice back to its regular volume.
Terra nodded. “Yep, winter break.”
After another, quicker round of hugs and goodbyes, two snaked their way back through the packed crowd, and one remained in the middle. She watched them go until they were out of sight; when the only familiar face around was her own, Terra took a deep, shaky breath and let herself relax.
Her eyes drifted over back to where the girl with the wings had been, but there was no sign of her, nor the people she’d been talking to. A wave of terror crashed over her as it settled in that she was really, truly, out on the open waters of the real world for the first time in her life, with no life raft or shore in sight to hold.
The only thing she could do now was to keep moving forward, and to hope she’d find a solace if she could just swim long enough not to drown.
Taking another deep breath, Terra turned and headed towards the train.