The train car looked like the same one where we first met. As a matter of fact, it could be the one. The same red seats, the same look which was both modern and old-fashioned, the same signs in four languages.
We sat across from each other and smiled.
“So, how’s Baudelaire?”
“Fine, he found a new assistant.”
“Good for him! Who?”
“Us. Well, at least for two months. There are several job offers for jobs which are suitable for… Olympians.”
I understood. I felt awkward thinking of “Olympians” including us as well.
“Well, I can always do freelance work from home as well. We won’t starve. Have you met Dumas?” I asked.
“Yes. Apparently he is doing a trip through France at the moment. When he returns, he wants to be Baudelaire’s assistant indefinitely.”
“Good for him!” I said.
I was happy for the two.
“Oh,” said Alphonse, “I’m supposed to give you this…”
He handed me an envelope. There was the shaky and uncertain handwriting of a child – it was an invitation to Peter’s birthday.
“Aw… bless. We should go!”
The train pulled out of Duisburg Hauptbahnhof in the direction of Düsseldorf and Cologne. I fell silent and bid my farewell to Germany one last time, thinking of everything that had happened, all the good and bad things.
“Hey, we will make a new life soon. A better one.” Alphonse interrupted my thoughts.
He leaned over the table and gave me a kiss.
I smiled because I knew that he was right. This had only been the beginning of our adventures together.
Alphonse took out the envelope with the omega symbol on it.
“Have you read that one yet?”
“No, not quite.”
“Well, we already know the gist of it. We are to help new seekers.”
I nodded. That much was obvious. Mr. Whoolster did a lot of the heavy lifting for us – and so did Baudelaire. But there were quite a few helpers along the way.
“I wonder how we find seekers and what exactly we can do. You know… can we jump through walls like Mr. Whoolster? Do we open magic portals in wardrobes? Or are we just there?”
Alphonse shrugged and smiled.
“Heh,” I said, “yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t really matter, as long as we are part of the adventure.”
I was about to open the envelope, but then I pulled back my hand. “Let’s enjoy the calm before the storm, shall we?”
Alphonse nodded and we watched the landscape rush by outside of the train window. I played with my engagement ring and smiled. We planned to get married in Fontainebleau once we were settled in. I was sure that it would be a private affair. But I didn’t mind. It would be just right, just as everything else with Alphonse seemed just right.
I couldn’t claim that I wasn’t afraid, at least a little. But I understand now that you should never let fear control your actions. Fear is a good counsellor, but a really bad master. And I was excited to show other people this truth, to help them on their path.
Alphonse and I were both dozing off when we suddenly both overheard an argument between two young men on the other side of the train. We grinned as we looked at each other – it sounded very familiar.
“Don’t you think it’s mauve?” said one of the two. “Na, I think it’s scarlet.” said the other.
“Pretty sure it’s mauve.”
We stood up and walked over.
“Can we help you?” Alphonse asked?
“There’s this strange book I found,” said one of them, a brown-haired guy with a noticeable Italian accent.
“I didn’t want to bring it, but it kept appearing in my stuff. And it’s red, but we are unclear of the tone.”
The other guy nodded.
“Pretty sure it’s scarlet,” I said.
Alphonse took out his pens and showed them the different shades of red.
“Oh. You are right. It IS scarlet.”
“I’m Mike and this is Alphonse.” I declared.
“My name’s Fernando.”
The other said: “I’m Manuel.”
“Have you ever seen such a strange book?” Fernando asked.
“As a matter of fact, we have…” I said.
The young Italian stared at us. I stroked the book. It was still a bit tattered, but the worst damage had been repaired. I opened it.
“Oh, there’s nothing written in i-…” Fernando stopped in mid-sentence and stared at the first page of the book. Instead of a blank page, there were letters on it, that read:
“Hi guys. Long time no see.”
Manuel said: “What does that mean? I’ve never seen this book.”
“No,” Alphonse said, “but we have. Hi. Good to see you.”
“Likewise” said the book.
“Do take good care of them. And don’t play nasty tricks on Mr. Whoolster,” I said.
“Mr. Whoolster will sit this one out,” said the book.
“Oh?” Alphonse said.
“Let’s just say: you really should open that letter and read it.”
Fernando and Manuel stared at us.
“What does all of that mean?”
“Oh, you will find out soon.”
Alphonse grinned. We returned to our table and read the letter. It included instructions that just a year earlier would have sounded insane. But now they sounded quite normal.
“So that’s how he did it,” Alphonse said.
“Yeah,” I said, “the more you know.”
Fernando and Manuel suddenly approached us.
“Listen, sorry for bothering you, but I’m still freaked out by the book and you seem to know a lot about what is going on. Please tell us a little more. What is this book? Why do certain images pop up all the time? What is this all about?”
We invited them to the seats next to us and then said:
“Well, we could tell you all, but that would take a lot of what this is all about from you. Just this one thing: you have been invited on a journey and on that journey you will discover yourself. We can’t tell you what you will find there, because everyone is different. You will not experience the same thing that we did. But it will be a journey of a life-time, a defining journey. And if you allow it, you will do it together.”
I saw how Fernando and Manuel looked at each other and I saw a glimpse of attraction. I smiled. It’s always easier to see these things from the outside.
“Is this your first time in Paris?” Alphonse asked.
The boys both nodded.
“Well, you will love it there. And you will discover many things.”
“Could you give us some pointers?” Manuel asked.
“Oh, we will. As a matter of fact – I guess that’s our job!”
The train had reached the outskirts of Paris. One could see French buildings move past. The train staff announced in French, English, German and Dutch that The next stop is Paris, Gare du Nord and that this train terminates there.
Alphonse said: “Well, the first pointer I should give you is: be careful in the métro, especially near the opera house.”
“You will see,” I said.
“Oh, and another thing,” Alphonse said as the train came to a stop, “welcome to Paris.”