The Ashlanders - Chapter 6: The Blind Man's Last Gambit (Closed, Started)

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Work surfaces scrubbed. Check.
Untensils cleaned. Check.
Ingredients Organized. Check.
Sidearm properly maintained and secured. Check

Well that was everthing done for now. Florian wiped his hands, content that his routine had been satisfied and hung up his apron on the the canteen kitchen door. His room had recieved a going over this morning and the rest of the crew were too busy too need anything from him just yet. If Ruffles had wanted any help in engineering he would have knocked on by now. It seemed Florian had some free time on his hands.

...Oh... ummm He looked around for inspiration, there must be something left to do? Then the call went out over the ship as the captain demanded their presence in the hangar. Oh thank God. Florian threw on his jacket and strode down the tight corridor that led to his quaters with a purposful march.

Most of Pixie's "Valkyres" had already assembled. Florian still had no idea what had possessed her to name him as one of what passed for a special operative among the crew. As far as they all knew he didn't have nearly as much combat expierence as the others. Though next to no-one in the crew wanted anything to do with a priest and he had to pull his weight somehow.

"Kid, you and Casino will make yer way ta' the first class car and secure it. You need ta' escort Padre there as soon as yer able, cause' the nobles'll have a cow real quick if we don't have him there to work his magic and calm them the fuck down. Tradin' bullets with soldiers is one thing, but being cramped in a tight space with a bunch'a pissed off folks is an entirely different animal. Watch each other's backs and DO NOT kill any of the passengers, got that!?"

Ah, so I'm to play the diplomat. Now it makes sense. Though the need for an escort still left him feeling more like a burden in these situations. But a job was a job and any actions they had to take now would pay off later for those they helped. At least that was what Florian told himself. Some day we'll need to infiltrate a cathedral, then it'll be my time to shine.

For now he'd just have to make things work. Especially if there were going to be hostages. If Smiles got ahold of one of them then thigs could turn very ugly, he'd have to keep an eye on them even after the train then. Meanwhile Lilith was playing with sprout and doing her part to brighten their team spirits, hooking Axel under her arm. Something the boy no doubt enjoyed.

"Me and the lads will sort them posh wankers out, won't we?"

Florian, who was stood straight and proper, thumbs tucked into his pockets, gave a slight nod to her and a faint smile. "I don't see how they could resist such charming company."

"Thank you, milady. You truly are a gracious person." The bounty hunter said, sitting down across from Lady Jo. "And again, I apologize for not introducing myself properly. Slipped my mind. People call me Kitty."

Kitty sat in silence for a moment, observing her two new traveling companions. Lady Jo was even more impeccably dressed in person than was previously described to the bounty hunter. And well, Kitty hadn't really heard anything about Elizabeth Maribel except that she was getting married.

"Thank you again, Lady Maribel. And congratulations on your wedding." Kitty tried to muster up the kind of enthusiasm that would be appropriate in this situation, even some fake excitement would do in a pinch, but well, she just couldn't do it. To cover for it, "I apologize if I don't seem as umm... happy for you as I really am. I've had a hard journey so far."

Kitty briefly checked the window. There was a distant glint some ways off, and Kitty almost thought she could make out a shape back there but... it was gone again. If it had even been there to begin with.

"Sorry. Thought I saw something out there."

If there is something there... most likely... bandits. This train is full of nobles. Would be a tempting prize. Hmm... better be careful. Still, if I'm right, this could prove to be a useful opportunity.

Something just did not seem right, and Lady Elizabeth's reluctance confirmed it. It wouldn't be the first time danger was brought to Josephine's family, but has the bride ever faced any threats?

Thou could be a common cutpurse. And all of the noble blood collected in one car would be quite the catch. Josephine bowed her head, her eyes still on the new guest. "How now, Lady Kitty." The other nobles appeared to be too involved in their own affairs to notice anything peculiar happening around them.

"I apologize if I don't seem as umm... happy for you as I really am. I've had a hard journey so far."

"Prithee, do not worry. Thou shalt have plenty of time to relax." Just then, Kitty turned her attention to the window. Surely this lady knew common noble etiquette. Not excusing oneself from conversation was considered quite rude.

"Sorry. Thought I saw something out there." Josephine did not dare to look out the window. The uneasy feeling did not waver. Something was going to happen on this train. She only hoped that Lady Elizabeth was not the prized target. "So Lady Maribel, tell us of thy groom."

"I tell you, Mr. Rosby, I reckon it's high time us members of the decent, enterprising class all banded together, in a common cause like, to remind them common folk of their place for good and all. This bothersome business of 'Worker's Rights" simply cannot continue, I say! Idleness! Sloth and evil humours is what it is, I do solemnly declare it! What's more, it's dangerous. We are the engine that keeps this world turning, and if we are not seem by the common working man as his better, and if that man will listen to the orators among his ranks over us, then that engine will seize up. And what will we have then, I ask you? Anarchy! Anarchy is what, I do declare it sir!"

The Gentleman felt it prudent to let Mr. Dufraine continue prattling on, growing louder and more declarative with each glass of wine that passed his lips. If Giles wanted to fill in the rest of their journey with a lecture on how decent, God-fearing folk should conduct their affairs, then The Gentleman would be only too happy to oblige him, occasionally smiling sagely and adding the odd "most certainly" or "quite true" etc., to show he was listening, and to spur Giles on in his tirade. The deal was done. hands had been shaken and papers had been signed, and all that was left for The Gentlemen to do was to keep his mark distracted from the details until they reached journey's end, which was hardly difficult. The delightful Mr. Dufraine was a bully top the core. The mines from which he had made his fortune had been soft targets, run by impoverished houses who had fallen from grace, and were desperate for any investment they could find, or by doddery old men who could no longer keep accounts in order. Once he had bought his way in, it hadn't been hard for Giles to take the establishments over through brute force. The man had never required wits, or the acute eyesight necessary to read a small print. Still, it amused The Gentleman to imagine how far he could travel in a hot-air balloon powered solely by Mr. Dufraine's verbalized ego.

"We should have started public hangings for suspected agitators three generations ago, before the rot set this deep, Mark my words!" Giles went on, his jowls a quiver, and his cheeks and nose now a blotchy red in hue. Why, I had the Foreman of the Rockfall Creek site say to my face, to my face in front of all and sundry, that conditions had become "unacceptable". Unacceptable! That's what he said. Why, I could scarcely believe my own ears, could you? The cheek of it, the brazen cheek of it!" He slammed his flabby palm down on the table to emphasise his distress. "Why, I said to him: "Your impertinence is all that is unacceptable here, Hansen. I shall decide what steps to take, and you will defer to me, or I declare I shall find myself a new Foreman from among these men who better knows his place." Well, I should think that was a far calmer response than he had earned, wouldn't you say, my good man? But then, and I shan't tell a lie, no sir I shan't, this is how he chose to repay my wisdom. He said to me: "You'll find no replacements among these men sir. One word from me and each and every one of them throws down their tools!". I swear it sir, I swear on my mother's life this is the truth of it! That's not all, no sir. The way theyt all looked at me when he said it, the... defiance, in their eyes. Well, I call it insolence! Still, let no man say I was cowed by such rebellion, let no man strain my honour so! I had that blasted Foreman flogged, and told the rest that any man who dared raise his voice in protest would be going home to their families with their flesh stripped bare! Ha! That made them remember their courtesies. Still, now they have the gall to threaten a strike, a strike of all things, if don't improve working conditions and raise their pay! A farce I call it, indeed sir I do! Still, with the men and weapons you've supplied me, we shall show those unwashed ruffians what befalls the common man who dares to step out of line. That we shall!"

"As you say." The gentleman replied, his eyes flickering to the right as a shadow fell over their window. It had been just for a second, and yet the day was markedly clear. The Gentleman had learned long ago to trust his instincts, and his instincts told him that trouble was on its way.

'Blast! If I do not leave this train with this writ, this whole journey has been a bust...'

"Something bothering you Harris, you seemed distracted for a second there." Giles inquired.

"A trick of the light. Nothing more."

The day had started out pretty standard for Ricky-Ticky. Waking up long before the lights came on, he got off his cot he'd gotten set up a few weeks after it had become apparent that he'd be staying in the workshop when he'd first come aboard. He continued working almost exactly where he'd left off the night before. Restoring a piece of junk to usability, maybe to be sold next time the ship docked wherever. Not like he had much use for it after that, his joys in life came from fixing, restoring and salvaging junk. This thing he was working on looked like some kind of engine, and he'd been able to jury-rig most of the missing parts from various other sources. A lamp's switch here, some melted rubber there(that hadn't been easy, the damn stuff had some kind of industrial grade heat resistance or something).

Then the announcement came and Ricky hadn't even noticed the time passing, so he grabbed up his little bag he had a few pounds of explosives in and arrived about the time the orders were being handed out. Turns out those explosives he'd planted a few days back would actually be used. That pleased him that he hadn't scavenged the parts for nothing. They'd be using them for a train robbery! What fun that would be! And he'd get to blow up a few mechanisms on the trains too! And he'd have plenty of parts just lying around that he could use for his next boomer! Today was going to be a very good day, both for his explosive personality and his quieter mechanical self. Maybe. He caught a few glances at the Casino girl, nothing he really understood, but who was he to understand the rest of the crew's affection towards her? She had no real value to him, she had trouble knowing the difference between a converter and a toaster, so her scavenging skills were minimal, and she didn't have much mechanical experience. About the only person on the ship that he considered an equal was Ruffles, and even he had a very narrow field of what he could do.

Sure Ricky couldn't fix everything on the ship, but he could rig it to explode if they needed to, or realign the engines, or a number of other things with certain parts of the ship, but nothing all that much with the thing as a whole. But the one thing he really had no experience with at all was fighting, so he could see the usefulness of the rest of the crew. He was a fixer, not a breaker...persay.

"So Lady Maribel, tell us of thy groom."

Elizabeth caught herself dwelling on this suspicious character instead of listening to the conversation at hand. What poor manners! Thankfully she caught the last part and smiled warmly, "Oh, well I actually--"

She was interrupted suddenly when the piston at the front of the train blew loudly and the train lurched into motion. A look of surprise appeared on Elizabeth's face followed by a renewed smile. The excitement was getting to her, "Um, as I was saying milady, I actually don't really know Master Basilio all that well. You see, we only met once when I was a child. What I know of him, however, is that he is an intelligent and elegant man."

Her smile faded a bit as she looked down at her hands clutching her dress, "Though, I shan't lie to you. I am a tad anxious about this whole affair." Her face went beat-red.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Seemed like everyone was on board. Good. If you go into a score filled with doubts your liable to return from it full of holes. Pixie smiled and slammed both hands down on the table, "Alright-y varmints, I think it's high time we show these tit-suckin' sons-o'-bitches who runs this wasteland! Everyone, get yer shit together. We're hittin' the dirt in fifteen minutes!"

As the Valkyries began to disperse Pixie made her way over to Casino. Sprout had wandered over to his ashcrawler, out of earshot, "Hey Casino, keep n' eye on the kid, alright?" She placed her hand on her shoulder as she passed her. "It'll be yer sweet lil' ass if anything happens to him out there. Ya' here?"

Without waiting for a reply Pixie continued on her way towards Ruffles and Aesop. Sprout, having just finished properly equipping himself, looked over in their direction just in time to see that something was said. He sighed and muttered under his breathe, "Cock-blockn' bitch."

Pixie dropped her gear at the foot of the ashcrawler's passenger seat: her trusty rifle, Mr. Monroe, an RPG, and a handful of grenades. She plopped down in the seat and looked to Aesop, who already had his hands on the wheel, "Y'all know I don't normally let men drive me around. Do'n make me regret this lapse in judgement, ya' here?"

Sprout got behind the wheel of his ashcrawler just as Casino and Florian arrived, "Y'all ready ta' get yer dicks wet?!" In truth, Sprout wasn't quite sure what it is that phrase exactly meant. He'd heard the other men in the crew say it a few times and he was confident that his use of it was appropriate. It didn't stop the two if them replying with cocked eyebrows. Before Sprout could think to be embarrassed he heard his mother shout over the hubbub.

"LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!" As if by voice command the hangar doors opened up, summoning within itself a huge gust of wind and ash. Sprout scrambled to put on his breathing mask and black bandanna whilst covering his eyes from the burning ash. The ramp lowered and hit the ground with a mechanical thump. Standing up in her seat, her rifle held high; Pixie's crawler was the first out the door.

And in but a moment, the dark confines of the hangar were transformed into the vast, bright wasteland of the Rock. The bitter, hot winds of the ashlands burned her face as they picked up speed. Still standing--her boot planted on the vehicle's console--Pixie pointed in the direction of their target which wasn't in sight quite yet, "ONWARD VALKYRIES! LET'S SEND'A FEW SORRY SAPS TA' VALHALLA WITH OUR REGARDS!"

Aesop loved Pixie's speeches. They were so endearing and exciting, they were entertainment in their own right, but much more than that they gave him purpose-something the man DESPERATELY needed. With the speech done Aesop set off to his ashcrawler, grabbing a set of twin revolvers and two pistols which he kissed before getting in the driver's seat. Aesop was possibly the only Valkyrie who didn't have a special gun or set of guns; he used whatever he felt like at the time, and of course whatever was appropriate. With driving duty four handguns seemed suitable (and fun). Ruffles and Pixie had gotten into the transport. "Y'all know I don't normally let men drive me around. Do'n make me regret this lapse in judgement, ya' here?"

"Oh Pixie, if there's one thing I can guarantee," he paused as he started the ignition to wake up a roaring engine, "its that you'll regret it." He winked as he threw on his gas mask and awaited her command to leave.

"LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!" Roaring in anticipation Aesop flew the ashrawler out into the wasteland and into the general direction of the target. "ONWARD VALKYRIES! LET'S SEND'A FEW SORRY SORRY SAPS TA' VALHALLA WITH OUR REGARDS!" Aesop howled through his mask as he drove onwards. The heat blasting his face as they kicked up dirt around them. This was gonna be fun!

"Hey Casino, keep n' eye on the kid, alright?" She placed her hand on her shoulder as she passed her. "It'll be yer sweet lil' ass if anything happens to him out there. Ya' here?"

Lilith snapped to attention, putting a hand to her head in mock salute, "Yes ma'am, sir, ma'am, ma'am, sir!" she said sharply, with a grin on her face. She'd watch the kid, like she always did, no need to worry about that.

Casino made her way to the ashcrawler that Sprout, the Padre and herself would be using.

"Y'all ready ta' get yer dicks wet?!"

Lilith raised an eyebrow and looked as if she was about to say something, but then decided against it, she shook her head and climbed aboard the vehicle.

"Oh shit, Sprout's drivin'?!" she teased, nudging the Padre with her elbow, "Hope you got your prayer book with you Padre, 'cos we are going to die." She loved these little moments.

Casino pulled her goggles down from the top of her head and made sure they fit snuggle over her eyes, she took one long final drag of her cigarette and flicked the nub over her shoulder.

"Let's blow this scene." She grinned, as the hangar doors opened she pulled her scarf over her face, also making sure that the breather inside was fitted securely.

Beneath the confines of her oversized poncho, she held the poker chip that hung from her neck and uttered a silent prayer to Lady Luck, and requested that her makeshift family make it home safely.

"Though, I shan't lie to you, I am a tad anxious about this whole affair," Lady Maribel said, hitting Kitty uncomfortably close to home.

---
Several years ago.

Nicole dropped the last clasp of her rippling white dress as her hands were trembling. One of her bridesmaids, her dear friend, Trisha, a commoner by birth and very minor noble by marriage, closed the strap for the soon-to-be bride.

"Nervous?" Trisha asked, probably already knowing the answer.

"Yeah... fair bit." Nicole replied, wringing her hands together.

"You're so lucky," Trisha went on, "He's a handsome young man, by all... credible accounts, he's a perfect gentleman, and his family is quite a bit more wealthy and powerful than yours and mine combined."

"I don't-"

"I know I know. You don't care about that last bit. But..."

"This wasn't my choice. I never..." Nicole buried her face in her hands.

"Oh dear," Trisha said in a tone that Nicole had always found soothing as she rubbed the nervous bride to-be's shoulders, "I know you didn't. But this is the hand you've been dealt, and you've got to bear it."

"Why? Its not as though my family will ever get anything out of this marriage, he's not even the heir of his!"

"There's always the chance that he might one day be. But... its too soon to tell what'll come from the mist of maybes." Though even as she said it, Trisha squeezed the young Miss Cartagia's shoulders, hard. Though, that isn't entirely accurate, as she is soon to be Mrs. Roxton. Trisha continued, "I'm sure he's a fine young man and you have nothing to worry about. I'm sure you'll have a long and happy marriage together, with lots of little happy children to keep you busy. Who knows? They might take after their mother and start tinkering with old technology in ways you never dreamed of!"

Nicole smiled at that thought. If there was any reason to have a... legacy... let it be for a brighter future.

----
Back to the Present.

"I'm sorry," Kitty blurted out. Then, in an attempt to cover for it, "I wish I could give you whole-hearted encouragement, Lady Maribel. Unfortunately, I have been almost exactly where you are now. I was arranged to be married to a nobleman once as well. It... didn't end well. I'd rather not talk about the specifics of our... relationship, no more than I do the details of our separation. Other than to say it was a brutal, and painful process that I would like to leave behind me."

Kitty coughed.

"But... but..." she cleared her throat, "I will admit that on my wedding day I was probably just as excited and nervous about it as you are, Lady Maribel. It really could have gone either way for me. I quite literally hadn't met him until the rehearsal. But you say that you've met him at least once before, right? Well... what was he like then? If he was a perfect little gentlemen, then hopefully he hasn't changed. If he wasn't... well, hopefully he has."

Kitty struggled to keep her eyes dry at this point. Struggled to keep the memories at bay.

"I'm sorry if I seem to be a bit forward with you, milady," Kitty said, gently placing her hand on Elizabeth's, in plain view for everyone in the cabin to see, a single tear traveled down her cheek, unbidden, "I... will give you practical advice now. If worst comes to worst, and you need to get out of the marriage. Go to your family, tell them whatever is wrong and tell them you want out if that becomes necessary. And if they won't help you. I will."

With that, Kitty brought her hand up to wipe her tear away, leaving a business card in Lady Maribel's hand.

It read:

Kitty's Solutions.
Courier. Bodyguard. Private Investigator.

Followed by an address, phone number, and long-range radio frequency.

"Now..." Kitty sniffed, still trying to keep more tears from escaping the makeshift prison she thought she'd locked them up in, "We might want to find somewhere to hide because I think there's something heading for this train."

Kitty pointed to the growing shape in the window.

"And whoever's on it... I doubt they're friendly."

"Y'all ready ta' get yer dicks wet?!"

Florian had to resist the urge to smirk and give a snide combeback as he and Lilith glancd at each other quizzically. Florian let it go and took his seat in the back of the crawler, fiddling with the straps on his mask. Axel had already claimed the driver's seat as his own.

"Oh shit, Sprout's drivin'?!" she teased, nudging the Padre with her elbow, "Hope you got your prayer book with you Padre, 'cos we are going to die." Lilith teased, nudging at Florian's side.

"Never leave home without it." Florian patted his jacket, where his bible was safely nestled into one of the inner pockets.

The captain gave the command, the ramp went down and the crawlers rumbled to life like a herd of angry bison as they rolled out onto the open as plains amid various shouts and cheers. Florian pulled his mask on, it was a bulky full face thing. It did it's part to keep the brunt of the heat off his face but it had the habit of cooking him slowy if he wore it for too long, unlike the half masks that just let the wearer get flash fried. A they hit the ash and neared their mark the straps on the holster that kept Florian's pistol in place under his jacket, just above his waist, began to bite in anticipation of what was to come.

Someday I'll leave this behind when we go out. But you know what they say about old habits.

"Alright-y varmints, I think it's high time we show these tit-suckin' sons-o'-bitches who runs this wasteland! Everyone, get yer shit together. We're hittin' the dirt in fifteen minutes!"

Warren was glad the meeting was over. As much as he liked Pixie... Jeez, she had a vile mouth. Why bandits feel the need to talk like assholes, he'd never know. Maybe it was the greed. Wrath was a much better sin to indulge in, though that might be pride.

He shrugged as he slipped his mask on while walking over to a vehicle, thinking about what he was to do. Seemed she was too busy concerning herself with the others that he was left to interpret orders on his own...

'Protect Ricky, leave no survivors.' He grinned under his mask, it was going to be a fun day. The weight of the rifle in his arms, the ammo in his pocket, and the sword on his back... He was prepared physically. He'd lose himself when the time came. All he had to do now was wait....

He ejected the mag, and repeated the action again. It caused a few confused glances, now after the 10th seemed the crew in his vehicle was getting annoyed. If it wasn't for the fact that they knew Warren, and what he could do when he snapped, they might've spoken up. They were cowards in the eyes of Smiles.

"LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!"

The crew was relieved as Warren inserted the mag for the last time, and looked forward, at nothing. He began the mental preparations as his vision glazed over. Soon there would be blood and gore, hopefully most of it belonging to the enemies.

The Gentleman would recognise that profile anywhere, as at last the ship came in to full view outside the window of their compartment, hanging low in the sky as it prepared to deploy smaller boarding craft. Externally, the mercenary turned arms dealer Harris Rosby was grim faced, gritting his teeth. However, on the inside The Gentleman was laughing. It just had to be them, didn't it? Of all the bandits on The Rock who could by chance drop in to spoil his plans, who else but Miss Pixie and her band of merry men. It was at once horrifically inconvenient, and perfectly opportune.

"Brigands!" Giles ejaculated, spittle peppering the glass in his obscene, drunken displeasure. "They mean to hold us up!" he announced, providing further evidence that there was no clear observation that could be silently understood, which Giles Dufraine would not rather project as if it was his own wisdom. His impotent fury was so blinding, that Giles did not notice, even in the confined space of the compartment, The Gentleman remove the writ of sale from the table, fold it, and discreetly tuck it away in the inside pocket of his blazer.

"Damn them!" The Gentleman intoned in agreement. It occurred to him, and to his amusement, that for the first time in his life Mr. Dufraine might just be about to prove himself of some use, though the man himself would thankfully remain oblivious.

Ruffles grinned widely as his heart raced. As the Crawler shot forward, he loudly started humming the oddly fitting 'Flight of the Valkyries', some old tune that he'd heard rumored was from the days of Earth. He nanana'd loudly and drummed on the hull of the Crawler until Pixie gave him an irate look and he fell silent. Then about thirty seconds later, he started up again, even louder.

Hannibal carried his sack over his shoulder as he baked in the open air. His mask was beginning to wear out and he needed a new one, as well as a new set of clothes, his rags were beginning to wear thin. He made his way through the town where he was meant to meet his contact. His sack was full of various knicks and knacks asked for by his current buyer. They were totally unconnected to the untrained eye and appeared to be totally legal, however Hannibal knew enough to take an educated guess what they were for: explosives.

He wandered around and took out a scrap of paper, words scribbled down in hasty writing. "Um..." Hannibal struggled to read it, "'meet guy at Silver Dollar Saloon. He's buyin'. Okay looks like I'm here." He readjusted his sack as he shambled into the establishment, though that was perhaps too clean a word for a saloon. Still this place was certainly better than most he had seen in his, admittedly limited, travels. The bar was filled with lively banter and piano music though on his way in he saw a few men outside drunk and rambling. They seem pretty mad, best steer clear. Hannibal glanced around for his contact, he didn't know what he looked like but he knew a name, and was told he would be waved over by him. A man at a nearby table gave a sharp whistle making Hannibal turn to him.

He walked over and asked, "McGregor?" The man nodded and Hannibal took a seat across from him. McGregor was a chubby man with a black leather jacket and white vest with dark green shorts and beige boots. He had black stubble and a mullet. "I have your-"

"Shut up dickhead," Hannibal's tone was hushed, "Gunslinger's over there." Hannibal turned his head but an inch and McGregor snapped his fingers. "Don' look a' her dumbass!" he whispered loudly. "Go somewhere else I'll pick ir up la'er."

"What?" Hannibal questioned. "Why, I'll just give it to you here and pay me, I need a new mask today."

"Yeah and I willl pay you today jus' no' righ' now y'hear?" It was a statement but he phrased it like a question.

"No you're just gonna skip out on me. I'm sick of people skipping out on me its happened too many times, just pay me." Hannibal had had three jobs turn out unpaid for him in the past six months he didn't want that to happen again.

"Stop being u'reasonable kid!" the man leaned over the table, "if we do ir here she'll be all over us. Feel like sharing a cell tonigh'?"

"She's not after you, if she was she'd have done it by now she's a bounty hunter, and bounty hunters don't wait, at least not the ones I've seen. They swoop in as soon as they can see you."

"Oh what and you've had 'sperience with boun'y hun'ers?" he said mocking Hannibal's age.

Hannibal shook his head and looked at the short round table they were sat at. "More than you'd think actually."

"Wharever, I jus' now I ain' payin' you here boy. Mee' me once she's outta here," McGregor scoffed.

"You're just paranoid," Hannibal tried to reason.

"And you're gerrin' on my las' damn nerves so if you don' wan' me ta plug your belly burron then you bes' watch your damn mouth!" He looked Hannibal dead in the face with a stern stare.

Hannibal leaned back in his chair and sighed. "You can't "plug" me while she's here. So it looks like we're waiting on this table until she's gone." He avoided eye contact with the man, hoping to keep his nerve up, though underneath the table his hands were shaking uncontrollably. There was no way Hannibal would be faster than this guy to reach his gun, even if he was he'd probably drop it and even if he didn't do that he wouldn't be able to shoot. He was never able to shoot.

"You're bad at business kid." The man scowled and finished his drink before ordering another.

Viola had been keeping herself alert to any signs of trouble after running that posse out of the saloon, just in case someone else tried their luck with her; but it seems as though her actions earlier meant that people were keeping their distance from her. It was then that a scrawny looking man with grayish hair, late teens if she was hazarding a guess walking in carrying a sack over his left shoulder and headed towards a gentleman at the back of the saloon.

The man in question wasn't much of a looker. Short and on the chubby side, wearing some rather tacky clothing with a long black mullet, and speaking in a bastardized form of the English language. But there was also something else about him that Viola didn't like the look of. It was a particular scent that managed to penetrate the various alcoholic odors. "Was that gunpowder?!" Viola asked herself asked herself as she tried to decipher the conversation.

From what she could gather, this McGregor fellow had contracted the grey hair lad to bring in a sack of something; but to what she couldn't tell; though the gunpowder smell lead her to suspect that it might be for a bomb. Viola finished her drink as her other hand rested one of her revolvers, in case things went south.

"I don't think you should be associating yourself with that McGregor there boy." Viola said, not looking at the table in question.

"Working for or with him is going to lead you down a long, dark path. Why don't you do yourself a favor, and not be an aid to his endeavors. Otherwise, I might have to bring the hammer of justice down on you as well." She then added before turning her gaze towards them.

"I don't think you should be associating yourself with that McGregor there boy."

They both froze. Hannibal and McGregor didn't turn to see her but it was her alright. Hannibal was scared, and MecGregor was just as scared but he also had anger pulsing through him. You screwed me boy/.

"Working for or with him is going to lead you down a long, dark path. Why don't you do yourself a favor, and not be an aid to his endeavors. Otherwise, I might have to bring the hammer of justice down on you as well."

McGregor looked down to his sidearm, a submachine gun barely concealed underneath his jacket. "The Gunderson's are gonna ruin you for this boy." He spoke with a ice cold tint to his voice and a chill went down Hannibal's spine. The Gunderson's must have been connected to McGregor in some way.

Fuck he must be bigger time than I thought.

Suddenly, but as no surprise to anyone, McGregor flipped over the table and pulled out his SMG. Hannibal panicked and ducked down as he rushed towards the exit.

"The Gunderson's are gonna ruin you for this boy." McGregor shouted rather coldly, as he soon flipped over the table he was sitting at, and drawing a poorly concealed sub-machine gun. Meanwhile, the grey haired lad had dropped the sack as he ducked and rushed towards the exit, out of which tumbled out various mechanical components. Whilst she would have to have words with the lad later, right now she had more pressing issues to deal with.

"But not before I ruin you McGregor." Viola said as she drew her revolver, which caused the mood of the saloon to fall silent once more as the tensions rose between the two parties. To think that she was supposed to be enjoying a break from her job, but fate has a funny way of putting things in your way.

"I try to have some time off after a few grueling days of chasing someone who wouldn't stand still, and then you come along to throw a monkey wrench in the works; and don't you dare say that I should of just looked the other way, that I should have let that exchange happen; because if you know who I am, then you would know that I'm not one for letting something like that go unpunished. Why don't you make this easier on both of us and put the gun down, and surrender, quietly if possible." Viola said as she pulled back on the cocking mechanism slowly.

Mcgregor listened as The Gunslinger explained the situation to him. She was pissed but she was still offering him a chance out of here. "Don'chu thank you made enuff noise in this Saloon here missy? I reckon these people be migh'y pleased if I ended our lil confrontation right now!" He clearly struggled with the word 'confrontation' as he elongated the pronunciation, while he clocked his gun and aimed down upon The Gunslinger.

"Don'chu thank you made enuff noise in this Saloon here missy? I reckon these people be migh'y pleased if I ended our lil confrontation right now!" McGregor said, acting a little arrogant in the process, and sounding as though he was having trouble pronouncing the word 'confrontation'; to that end, Viola gave out a low sigh as she aimed at McGregor.

"To be fair, that first time wasn't my fault. This one on the other hand, well, you had your chance to end it peacefully." Viola said as she fired at McGregor, her shot hitting his hand which dropped the SMG onto the floor; she then walked over and delivered a quick punch to the lower jaw, knocking him to the floor. Before McGregor had a chance to retaliate, Viola put him into a choke hold.

"Mr. McGregor, I hereby charge you with the intent of manufacturing explosive ordinance, with the further intention of causing damage to both property and human life. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney now, and at any given time during future questioning. If you do not have an attorney, one will be supplied to you." Viola said, recalling what her father used to say when prosecuting criminals back home. She then turned to the gathering crowd.

"Now then, can someone please fetch the Sheriff, or whoever runs the law in this here town to help with carrying this man to jail; and can someone find that gentleman who escaped earlier, as I would like to speak with him. Please."

McGregor was a terrible fighter. truly awful at defending himself or attacking another. His gun shot out of his hand he held it in pain, not realising The Gunslinger was on her way over to punch him in the jaw, bringing him down to the ground. He tried to fumble away but she had him right where she wanted him, in a choke hold as he kicked for air. "Mr. McGregor, I hereby charge you with the intent of manufacturing explosive ordinance, with the further intention of causing damage to both property and human life. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney now, and at any given time during future questioning. If you do not have an attorney, one will be supplied to you." He tried to escape but she was much much stronger than him. He was done.

Hannibal crouched outside against the wall of the Saloon, expecting gunfire to start at any moment. Needed to get safe, needed to find a way out but he was frozen in shock. Why does this always fucking happen. Suddenly a large gentlemen barged outside and picked him up by the scruff of the neck, shoving him back inside towards The Gunslinger who now had McGregor in a choke hold.

Elizabeth glanced down at the business card in her hand. What was going on here? Who was this woman and why--

"And whoever's on it... I doubt they're friendly."

Her eyes found their way to the window. This strange woman was right. Something was out there. Giant plumes of ash were rising into the sky. She couldn't make out any specific shapes, but there was no doubt in her mind that someone was the cause of it.

Elizabeth chuckled nervously, "Do not fret, milady. I am sure that just an escort sent by Lord Basilio." She looked around expectantly. Surely she wasn't only fooling herself... was she? "H-he is quite the gentlem--"

The PA system in the train suddenly sparked to life. Accompanied by a large amount of static, a feminine voice echoed through the cabin, "--zzzt--This is yer Cap-i-ton speakin'! I reckon we're in fer a bit of'a bumpy ride here in'a bit, so's I'mma gonna hafta suggest you nobles in first class buckle-the-fuck up and keep yer fancy bee-hinds planted in yer assigned seats. We're gonna send someone around to yer seats soon so as ta' make sure your all nice and cozy-like. Know what that means? Siddown and shuddap les' you wanna bullet in yer brain!--zzztt--"

Elizabeth, frozen in shock, managed to mutter, "Oh."

***************************************************************************************************************************************************

Pixie threw the radio equipment into the glove compartment and grabbed the small hand-radio attached to the crawler's console, "Well boys, if they didn't know we was comin', they do now! ARE YOU READY!?" She turned to look at her Valkyries as she stood up in her seat; her rifle raised high into the air. They cheered back at her in their own unique ways.

This was where Pixie belonged. This was what she was meant to do. A mischievous smile formed as she let the heat of the moment sink in. She couldn't get too excited now, though... there was still work to be done. With renewed resolve Pixie turned her attention back towards their prey. Her crawler led half the others across the train tracks before the train had caught up with them. It was easy enough the surround it... boarding it was a different story, however.

Smiles and Ricky pulled back with the bulk of their forces while Casino's team closed in on the passenger cars. "Don't let me down Aesop," Pixie whispered as they came up along the side of the engine car. "You ready Ruffles?" She asked before noticing the Ivory soldier hanging off the side of the engine car. "SHIT!"

The ash in front of them became a lime green mist as they came within mere inches of being vaporized by a bolt of super-heated plasma. Aesop had damn near flip the crawler trying to dodge the blast. Molten ash, hotter than usual, burned into her cheeks as they drove over the blast site. These guys were packing for sure.

"Fall back!" Pixie ordered as the crawler slowed enough to lose line of sight with the soldier. As soon as there was a moment to breathe Pixie patted Aesop on the shoulder. "We fuckin' owe you one."

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************

As they came up alongside the first passenger car Sprout swallowed nervously and clutched his shotgun, "A-are you guys ready?"

Casino was put in charge of their team, so he had hoped she'd lead the charge in more ways than one. He'd feel more comfortable following orders than making up his own.

Ruffles fired twice as he stumbled into cover against the bucking of the Crawler. Both shots went wide, but hopefully it would give the plasma gunner something to think about. "Gotta deal with that gunman before we get in close, captain. Reckon we can take him, or do we come up with something else?"

It was useless to exchange potshots with heavy plasma weapons. But if they couldn't pick him off from a safe distance, he did have something that might buy them a few seconds. It was very risky, though.

Lilith placed a hand on Sprout's shoulder, noticing the nervousness in his voice.

"Relaaaax kiddo, we got this, just take it nice and smooth, stay sharp, and watch my back." She turned towards the Maiden crew member who would be taking over the ashcrawler, "Okay, keep along side the passenger cabin, try and stay away from the windows, we don't want anyone taking any pot-shots at our only ticket outta here should everything go to shit." She paused for a second before turning back to Sprout, "It won't go to shit kid, don't worry." She then turned back to the driver, "I'll keep in touch over the radio as usual, if I think it's too dangerous for you to hang around, I'll tell you to scarper, a'right? Do not leave unless your hear me say so, or you're literally getting your arse shot off, comprende?" The driver seemed taken aback by just how organised Casino seemed to be, she noticed this and chuckled "Hey, this ain't my first rodeo." That seemed to reassure him.

She turned to the Padre, "Far be it from me to tell you to how to piss in the outhouse, you know what you're doing, work your magic and keep everyone calm, leave the shooting to me and the kid." She glanced over at Sprout, who seemed to be focusing on staying calm, she leaned in closer to Padre and lowered her voice, "Okay, mostly to me." She manoeuvred herself so that she was facing the entire team.

"Are there any questions?"

Josephine caught a quick glimpse of the card in Lady Maribel's hand. Courier. Bodyguard. Private Investigator.

Courier? Nay. She is awfully bravely clad for a bodyguard. An investigator... What would an investigator be doing on the train, let alone squeezing her way into the first class car?

"--zzzt--This is yer Cap-i-ton speakin'! I reckon we're in fer a bit of'a bumpy ride here in'a bit, so's I'mma gonna hafta suggest you nobles in first class buckle-the-fuck up and keep yer fancy bee-hinds planted in yer assigned seats. We're gonna send someone around to yer seats soon so as ta' make sure your all nice and cozy-like. Know what that means? Siddown and shuddap les' you wanna bullet in yer brain!--zzztt--"

"How vexing..." muttered Josephine, as the nobles around her all started to panic--Lady Maribel included. Any wrong moves could easily spill blood, and this Kitty could easily take advantage of the chaos to perform her duties, whatever they may be. She had to calm the nobles, and ensure that Elizabeth would arrive at her wedding safely. Sitting up straight, she took a deep breath as she addressed her companion, raising her voice so that the others in the car could hear.

"Hark, my lady. N'er show cowardice. These cutpurses don't simply wish to take thine gold. They wish to take our pride first, and a noble without honor cannot call oneself a true noble. Show your fellows your strength. Show them what you will bring to the Basilio name!"

Aesop tried to hold his laughter as Pixie made her plans known to the train cart full of nobles, he didn't want his sniggering to be the backing track of her brilliant threats/speeches/stand up material. She hung up and said to him and Ruffles "Well boys, if they didn't know we was comin', they do now! ARE YOU READY!?" Aesop howled and roared as he pounded the steering wheel. The fun was at its peak. This was the innocent part, the good clean fun before the bad dirty fun. He enjoyed this, reminded him of the days before he was a criminal and before he was a drunkard. His days as a law enforcer. Soon however, he would have to fight and most likely kill. He just had to assume that those he was about to likely kill were the type of scumbags he had killed in noble employ before. He shook it off and bit his lip as he continued to howl in anticipation. Leading the Valkyries across the train tracks they waited and surrounded the train. Aesop was driving alongside the engine car as planned when he heard pixie whisper in his ear "Don't let me down Aesop..." Aesop nodded and breathed slow. He dreaded disappointing her. "SHIT! Aesop panicked at her words when suddenly the ash and dirt exploded in front of them in a lime green cloud of plasma, causing the Ashcrawler to swerve wildly and turn on two wheels for a few seconds as Aesop fought for control of the vehicle back from physics and into his own grasp. "Fall back!" Aesop slowed down and hammered on the breaks for just a moment for the soldier to lose line of sight of them. He panicked and breathed hard and fast. 'Fuck me I nearly got 'em killed!' he thought to himself as he imagined what would happen to the maidens without Ruffles and Pixie- Pixie especially. She WAS the Maiden, and Ruffles was the best mechanic on the whole damn Rock. Aesop was just a gun and he knew it. "We fuckin' owe you one." Aesop's thoughts were silenced by Miss Monroe as she patted him on the shoulder and spoke to him.

Aesop sighed "Neither of you owe me nothing." With his composure regained Aesop gathered his thoughts as he avoided further plasma fire. He was a good distance behind the soldier who had shot at them. Far out of his sight and just out the range of the other soldiers on the engine car. Aesop had pulled out his revolver, lined up his shot and was about to attempt a headshot when he realised how fruitless that would be.

"Gotta deal with that gunman before we get in close, captain. Reckon we can take him, or do we come up with something else?"

"You got something up your sleeve Ruffles?"

"--zzzt--This is yer Cap-i-ton speakin'! I reckon we're in fer a bit of'a bumpy ride here in'a bit, so's I'mma gonna hafta suggest you nobles in first class buckle-the-fuck up and keep yer fancy bee-hinds planted in yer assigned seats. We're gonna send someone around to yer seats soon so as ta' make sure your all nice and cozy-like. Know what that means? Siddown and shuddap les' you wanna bullet in yer brain!--zzztt--"

Giles Dufraine turned a comic shade of puce in his anger at such mockery. The Gentleman wondered how may years it had been since Giles was last told to do anything by anyone, let alone in Pixie's dulcet tones. These thoughts were drowned out when the man in question launched into a furious tirade, where all notions of courtesy and sentence structure were forgotten. All the threats and epithets seemed to blur into one-another, although The Gentleman thought he heard the descriptor "Thieving, dust-eating ash-whores!" at more than one juncture, until all that remained was one long, conglomerated vent of rage that transcended the spoken word altogether, whereupon the possibility that Giles might just burst with the pressure of it all became a serious concern. After all, a man of his size would make a frightful mess when plastered all over the carriage.

"Mr. Dufraine," The Gentleman began, in tones that were serious, but not forceful as to further wound Giles' pride, and that also hid The Gentleman's amusement. "I believe it would be wise to maintain a cool manner once we are boarded. We are in no real danger. Combined, the inhabitants of this carriage represent a standing army of hundreds of thousands at least if we are provoked by and one of us being killed, enough to bring down an unstoppable reprisal for any band of petty thieves, no matter how adept they may or may not be. Doubtless, these bandits are bold, but behind their bravado they won't dare do any real harm to the likes of us..."

"Unless someone presumes to do something stupid." he finished, wordlessly.

Miraculously, Giles seemed to become briefly self-aware for a moment, and looked rather sheepish at his outburst.

"Yes... yes, you're quite right. Truly, there is no real danger. Boldness and bravery are apart, though deceptively similar in appearance. The scum wouldn't dare kill any one of us. Our families would hunt them to all edges of The Rock and bring them to justice if they did. They have to know that." he said, sounding as if he was only half-convincing himself in the process.

"I must say Harris," he went on. "Your calm in the face of all this rabble is to be commended. It's clear that you're made of some stern stuff."

"You're too kind, Mr. Dufraine. In truth, it's just business. While I, in all likelihood, have never met this lot before, I deal with their sort every day. Otherwise, I would be of little use to fine entrepreneurs such as yourself. I know how they think. Behind their rough exterior, the common bandit, or one who has lived long enough to earn the title to be specific, is a wary creature at heart. Finish the wine..." The Gentleman offered, extending the glass in his hand. "It will help settle your nerves. I assure you, we have a very favorable chance of talking our way out of this messy business."

It wasn't entirely a lie. One of them would be getting off this train, and without a shot being fired.

Casino noted the silence on the ashcrawler.

"Okay, good, then let's not keep our public waiting, pull up just behind standard class, we'll hop on to where it connects to the carbon car, climb on the roof, and make our way up to where it connects to first class, hopefully we'll avoid the trouble we would have faced if we just made a beeline for first class" The ashcrawler made it's way to the train, matching its speed just behind the standard class car. "Get as close to the side as you can, easy does it." The vehicle inched closer and closer to the train, leaving a five foot gap.

Lilith got to her feet, "Right, I'll go first, then the Padre, then you Sprout, got that?" They both nodded, "Good." Lilith leaned of the side of the ashcrawler, taking a second to make sure the vehicle was moving steadily before jumping on the connecting platform, grabbing the railing and hoisting herself aboard. She turned and gave a thumbs up. Next up was the Padre, he clambered onto the side of ashcrawler, while Lilith got a secure handhold and leaned out towards Falion, holding out her arm for him to grab. With Lilith's help, both the Padre and Sprout made the transition with no problems. "Good job lads" she took the walky talky off her belt and radioed the driver of the ashcrawler, "Okay, we're all set, try to stay in this position, it looks like a nice blindspot, so they'll have to physically leave the car through either one of these doors to do anything."

"Aye ma'am." The driver responded, giving a thumbs up he took the ashcrawler slightly further from the train.

Lilith put both her hands on the shoulders of both the Padre and Sprout. "Padre, both me and Sprout will climb onto the roof of the car, then we'll pull you up, when we get up there, try to stay as low as possible, there's no rush, just make sure you get to the other side in one piece." Using the railings on both sides of the platform as a footholds, Lilith and Sprout climbed onto the roof the standard class car, then they leaned down and pulled up the Padre.

All three of them slowly inched their way across the roof of the car until they made it to the platform connecting normal class to first class. Lilith hopped down onto the platform and readied herself to catch either Sprout of the Padre should they fumble the dismount. Neither of them did. So far, so good, she thought. She turned to the door leading to first class, there should be a small unoccupied transition section where members of the crew and passengers would prepare breathers in the event of an emergency, closed off from the rest of the carriage. She turned her head to the other two and nodded, unholstering her revolver, pulling back the hammer, she cracked open the door slowly. It was dimly lit on the other side.

She quickly stepped inside, quickly confirming that room was empty. As the other two entered and closed the door, Lilith breathed a sigh of relief as she removed her breather, "Bloody hell." She whispered with a grin as she pulled up her goggles. "I need a smoke." She pulled a tin case from a pocket inside her shirt and removed a tightly wrapped cigarette from it, placing it in the corner of her mouth. She placed the tin back in her pocket and removed her lighter, cupping it to her mouth and breathing deeply as cigarette began to burn. She raised her face to the ceiling, eyes closed and slowly blew out a long plume of smoke.

"Better than sex." She said quietly, with a content smile on her face. After a silent moment, she faced the Padre and Sprout. "How're you holding up?"

Kitty folded her arms and groaned at the 'Captain's' mocking speech. Typical pirate bravado. Nothing of substance there. Just another fortune-and-glory grabber. Idiot.

The bounty hunter was somewhat more impressed with and worried by Lady Jo's attempt to rouse the nobles.

"Hark, my lady. N'er show cowardice. These cutpurses don't simply wish to take thine gold. They wish to take our pride first, and a noble without honor cannot call oneself a true noble. Show your fellows your strength. Show them what you will bring to the Basilio name!"

For a moment, Kitty really did believe in Lady Jo, really believed that she could rally the nobles. But... none of them got out of their seats. None of them got their weapons out, and a few had already started to duck for cover.

"Well," Kitty sighed, drawing her pistols and resting them on her lap, "That was a nice try, Lady Josephine. I really do wish I lived in your world. It seems like a nice place." There wasn't a hint of irony or mockery in the bounty hunter's voice. "It really is a shame. But... looks like its time for Plan B. Namely... please get your head down when I ask you to, and I'll take care of anyone that tries to assault you or Lady Maribel."

Kitty checked her ammo, both in the chambers of her pistols, and her hidden spare clips.

"This is going to be unpleasant," she said, dipping into her knack for understatement, "I humbly suggest you cover your eyes when the fighting starts."

The chase was everything Florian had come to loathe about his new life. Blistering hot weends whipped all around him, only getting worse when it came time to climb on top of the train roof. I was getting so hot he felt as if his mask would boil his head like a lobster.

They said I'd miss the cold down south, they said it wasn't like Frostfall at all but did I listen? NOOOOOooooo.

Lilith truly came into her own once they were on their way though. Gone was easy going young woman she normally presented to the world and in her place was a collected, resolved leader of troops. The effect it had on Axel was clear to see and it even made Florian feel safer whioe they were creeping along the carriage roof. Though it didn't stop him cursing himself for being the reason that they had to take this route to begin with, or his old instincts from clawing to the surface, wondering why they didn't walk in and gun down anything stupid enough to get in their way.

Slowly but surely they made their way to 1st class and the emergency compartment. The htree of them took of their masks with an almost synchronised sigh of relief, breathing in the closest thing to fresh air they could find.

"How're you holding up?" Lilith asked.

"Well enough." Florian replied, wiping the sweat from his face and sorting his collar out in an attempt to look presentable for his next task. "Now I believe I have a congregation waiting." Florian readied his bible like it was a shield and gave his companions a few moments to ready themselves. He pressed his ear to the door, there was the tell tell sound of agitated grumblings on the other side.

He gave a nod to Lilith and Axel, took a deep breath and politly knocked on the door before slowly openig it to the sight of the assembled nobility. Florian was the first into the carriage, his thought being that if the first thing they saw was an unarmed figure then the civillians would be less likely to panic.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" He cleared his throat. "Please remain calm and stay in your seats. This vehicle is undergoing a temporary change in managment, please bear with us I promise you this experience will be relativly painless. If you have any questions please direct them to myself or one of my colleagues and shall do our best to help. Why if we can simply abstain from panicing and tret each other civilly then I believe this can be a rather pleasent and possibly even thrilling experience for us all."

The passangers stared in disbelief at the sight in front of them. Florian presented himself with such a calm, business like manner and yet still managed to sound as if he was speaking to an audience from a pulpit. All the while smiling in that warm and welcoming way that only priests and people who have just got it all figured out could. Given enough time he might have even been able to talk some of them into donating their valuables in the name of a higher, more rwarding cause.

"I knew you wouldn't your toughest stock to first class Pixie, but even after all these years you still surprise me." The Gentleman thought wryly. The missionary, the urchin, and their nanny? It honestly couldn't have been set up any more perfectly for him.

"Now all that's needed is to draw them this way..."

That was when Giles stood up beside him.

"I have a question. Do you take us for fools, that we will be pacified by the empty promises of a false priest, while your brothers-in-arms cower behind you? A dog in a white collar is still an animal, I do declare it sir!"

"Now there's a good man."

"You got something up your sleeve Ruffles?"

"Uhhh..." he edged over to the old grey duffle bag that housed his tools. "Maaaaybe!"

A few seconds spend rooting around and he sat up with a slingshot and something that could loosely be called a ball about the size of a tangerine. A warped amalgamation of tin and plastic. Through the somewhat transparent parts, some powders and grits could be seen shaking around.

"This is just in here by chance. Had it in my bag because I was gonna test fire it, but then I got told about the job and forgot. Fairly simple, and it should work fine. No time like the present to test it--" he stopped, aware that he was rambling. "Right."

Setting his repeater on the floor, and slinging his shotgun and duffle over his back, he placed the smoke bomb into the shallow rubber pocket of the sling and pulled back. "Take me in, Aesop. Be ready to get back if he fires blind, but I gotta jump." His belly was fluttering madly, but he thought he hadn't sounded to nervous.

"I have a question. Do you take us for fools, that we will be pacified by the empty promises of a false priest, while your brothers-in-arms cower behind you? A dog in a white collar is still an animal, I do declare it sir!"

"A fine declaration sir, if somewhat hurtful. But look around you!" Florian spread his arms wide and motioned around himself to exagerate his point. "Do you see any fools here? No, I see a lot of people with very varied and valid educations. I see a group of people, some by choice, some by circumstance, all stuck on a speeding train together. Like it or not leaving is not a happy option here, especially considering you are not the primary targets. No Sir! Sir, a fool would be a person who went about seeking bloodshed when none is called for."

Florian's eyes met those of the large blustering man. He hadn't blinked once during his little retort and now his cold blue eyes were locked on the pompus blue blood like a stern teacher, telling him to sit down or else Florian would be very disappointed.

Aesop kept driving as Ruffles rambled on. He looked back to see he was getting a-wait a slingshot? "Is that a slingshot? You do realise we have guns righ- ohhh I see." Aesop noticed the floating ingredients in the ball in the slingshot and assumed it to be a smoke bomb or something similar at least.

"Take me in, Aesop. Be ready to get back if he fires blind, but I gotta jump."

"Wait don't you think you're jumping the gun a a bit? Alright fuck we'll proved covering fire." Aesop eased the ashcrawler nearer into the engine car. The soldier couldn't get a good shot but it was obvious he was trying to line one up. Aesop got as close as he safely could before yelling "Ready?"

"... I humbly suggest you cover your eyes when the fighting starts."

Elizabeth's eyes widened when she noticed the gun. Now she was convinced this woman wasn't nobility, but then... who was she? It was at this time she noticed the large man who'd been shouting the entire trip get out of his seat, barking louder than ever.

"I have a question. Do you take us for fools, that we will be pacified by the empty promises of a false priest, while your brothers-in-arms cower behind you? A dog in a white collar is still an animal, I do declare it sir!"

She couldn't see them over the heads of the other passengers, but she was certain there were intruders in the car now. While many other nobles were panicking and ducking under the seats, Elizabeth's innate curiosity had gotten the better of her as she stood up from her seat to get a better view.

A priest of some-sort was trying to talk down the large man. She thought that maybe he was just another passenger trying to calm everyone down... that was until she noticed the two younger bandits. One dreadfully dressed woman and a young man of similar apparel. They were well armed and the woman seemed like she had done this a few hundred times at least. The boy, however...

His weapon was at the ready and he was glancing around the cabin nervously until his eyes founder her own. Their eyes remained locked for a long time. There was something... almost familiar about this boy.

***************************************************************************************************************************************************

"How're you holding up?"

Sprout shrugged and winked at her, "I'm fine... but not as fine as you." His attempts to mask his anxiety were trivial at best, but a bit of humor managed to lighten the mood. The two of them followed closely behind Florian as they entered the cabin, weapons ready. As the preacher spoke to the people in the cabin Sprout's eyes darted all around, looking for what he wasn't sure.

His eyes eventually found their way to those of an attractive noble woman near the front. He stared at her glimmering golden eyes for what seemed like an eternity. She appeared calm despite the circumstances. Then that changed. If he hadn't noticed the sudden distress in her eyes he wouldn't have reacted in time to dodge the incoming hail of bullets. While he'd been lost in her eyes two soldiers had opened the door behind them. Casino took point behind Florian and it had been his duty to watch their backs.

So much for that. Sprout dropped to the floor only managing a minor graze to his arm. Disoriented, he didn't know what had happened to his allies... he was too busy trying not to die himself. He spun around onto his back and tried to bring his shotgun to bare but the massive boot of the soldier was too quick as it stomped down onto his chest, knocking the wind out of him. He stared up at the faceless man in black body armor, the barrel of his rifle pointed squarely at his forehead.

Was this the end?!

No, it couldn't be! He was still a virgin!

***************************************************************************************************************************************************

"Take me in, Aesop. Be ready to get back if he fires blind, but I gotta jump."

Pixie grinned, "Well, I knew you was a crazy fucker, Ruffles, but you really think you can do this?" She grabbed hold of the top of the windshield and pulled herself to her feet, bracing herself and her rifle against it. "Well if yer gonna do it you've got Mister and Misses Monroe watching yer back!"

"Well if yer gonna do it you've got Mister and Misses Monroe watching yer back!"

Ruffles grinned. "If I don't make it back, you get full custody of the baby," he said, meaning the Iron Maiden. He'd always been average with firearms, but when it came to slingshots, he was skilled in a way only childhood delinquents were. Standing, he swept the slingshot round, putting his teeth to the smoke bomb. They came away with the waxed paper tab separating the ingredients clutched between them. The gunner was trying to get a lock on them. He took aim and loosed.

He'd compensated for the movement of the Crawler and the train the only way he could. The bomb bounced off the corner of the carriage, jarring the heat-brittled tin section of the shell, and the pressure of the chemical reaction burst it further. As it sailed through the air, the first wisps and tendrils of smoke streamed out. The gunner looked around in bafflement and was hit in the face by the ball, just as the full effect erupted, rapidly covering the topside of the carriage. As Aesop swooped in, a blind fired plasma bolt arced over the roof of the Crawler, causing an explosion of dirt and stone to ding the side. Ruffles hitched up his equipment, and moved.

"Tell Ricky I owe him a pot of gunpowder. Stole it on the sly." Then he sprinted, yelling, "three, two, one... black-tion!" and jumped. For a moment, he hung in free fall, then came down on the edge of the carriage walkway. For a moment, he teetered, the weight of his duffle pulling him back, but then he reached and managed to snag the overhead railing and pulled himself forward. Hauling open the carriage door, he barreled inside, shotgun raised. This turned out to be a good thing, as in the confined space, a guard lurched towards him, sidearm drawn. Ruffles' shotgun went off in his face. Blinking sprayed blood out of his eyes, Ruffles moved over to the engine, and crouched in front of it.

He recognized the model, as it was also used in groups of two or three as backup engines on smaller ships. The Rio Zephyr 619. This one didn't look to have been particularly well cared for; it was filthy and dented and the vents needed replacing, but for now it was holding strong. He heard a gunshot go off from outside, followed by a thud. Nice work by Pixie. But for now, he ignored it. Removing a wrench from his duffle, he began removing the bolts from the panel, then removed the screws they were clamping. It still wouldn't come off though; held on by a thick crust of dried grease and engine oil. Grumbling about lazy mechanics, he wedged the handle end of his wrench under the panel and levered it off.

Clawing at the radio on his chest, he thumbed to Pixie's frequency. "Engine's pretty full, captain. The carbon's lumped together because of the heat, but the mass is still mostly intact. About half a kilo; musta just been refueled. I'll grab it when I shut off the engine, but for now I'll slow her down so's Ricky can detach the other carts."

Taking a screwdriver from his bag and clamping the wrench under one arm, he unscrewed a small back panel to reveal the valve that focused the chemical reaction gas into the rest of the engine that resulted in motion, creating power. Setting down his screwdriver, Ruffles applied his wrench and loosening the large valve by about a third. There was a juddering underfoot as the train slowed.

Suddenly, Ruffles was on his back, his shotgun pinned underneath him and the wrench spinning from his grip, a stubbly face close to his own. What the fuck? Another guard must have stayed hidden when he came in. He couldn't have come from outside, as Ruffles would have heard the door open. The two wrestled furiously as the guard tried to get his pistol under Ruffles' jaw. Eventually, among a tangle of headbutts, scratches and punches, the gun spun away. But then the guard got his arms over Ruffles' and put them about his throat, beginning to strangle him. With the door closed, Pixie wouldn't know what was going on and couldn't help him if she did.

An ache was building in his head and his vision was blurring.

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