Chapter One: The Greatest City in the World
There was no doubt about it. Brech was the greatest city in the world. Not best—but the greatest. It was the capital of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon and had been the center of Brech culture for almost two thousand years. Fifteen centuries ago it had been the largest city in the world and it still was. With a population of more than four million, it dwarfed Natine, Bangdorf, Szague, Perfico and the other capital cities on the continent of Sumir. The Great City, as most Brechs called their home, was filled with majestic buildings and monuments, magnificent parks, and spacious plazas. But beyond these were seemingly endless reaches of tenement apartment buildings, slapped up with none of the forethought and planning of the ancient structures of which the citizens were so proud. Though the vast system of horse-drawn trolleys and hansom cabs reminded one of the past, the oily black telegraph poles and the chugging, honking steam-powered carriages gave voice to a future bearing down at record speed.
Nothing about the Great City was lost on Captain Terrence Dechantagne. He had been back in the city for exactly one hour and fifteen minutes, but it seemed as if he had never left. As he strode down Avenue Phoenix, he looked at the shops on either side of the street, occupying the ground floor of buildings that had been old when his great-grandfather had been born. The cobblestone streets were filled with vehicles. Shiny new steam carriages swerved to avoid running over an old man pulling a donkey heavily laden with crates of produce. The trolley’s bell reminding everyone else on the street that, by law, it had the right of way, even though the massive horse pulling it was far slower than the newest marvels of technology. Turning sharply to his left, Terrence crossed the road dodging neatly between a horse-drawn carriage and one of the steam-powered variety, and entered one of the storefronts—Breeding Booksellers.