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

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Lilith was unsure how it happened, one second the man was in front of her, and now he had the boy. As she quickly brought up her revolver to aim at the man, a wave of realisation washed over her.

It's him, the assassin! She now knew why she felt so uneasy about him, but she was too late to realise in what kind danger they were all truly in. Her aim was steady, but she was terrified, she knew what this man was capable of, and his ability far outstripped her own.

"If you hurt the boy, I swear..." She tried to mask the fear in her voice with every fiber of her being.

She could shoot the man right then, she could put one right between his eyes, but she just couldn't pull the trigger, she knew the assassin was watching her every move, the boy would be dead before she had time to finish firing the gun.

"Hasn't there been enough violence here already?!"

"My thoughts precisely, my lady?" The Gentleman answered pleasantly. "I bear no ill will against the boy, although I suppose for someone of my profession, that statement is of limited value... He is my insurance, nothing more, against my esteemed friends here." The Gentleman pointed him gun once more at Lilith and Florian.

"If you hurt the boy, I swear..."

"Oh I'm sure that there are a thousand ideas of how to send me to my messy and undignified demise tumbling through your head as we speak." he interrupted, half smiling and with an insolent sparkle in his eye. "If it comes to it, I'll be a good sport and give you a second's head start to think of a few more. However, whether or not we can avoid such pointless butchery is entirely in your hands, dearest Lilith."

Fastidious in his work as he was, The Gentleman could never be accused of being humourless in his pursuit of perfection. He was nothing if not a man who could see the funny side of any given situation; and right now, watching Lilith's face as the cogs of reason struggled to turn as they froze up with her fear, was more than enough to raise a wry chuckle from him.

"My demands are thus: I want safe passage from this train onto the Iron Maiden; I want a private audience with Captain Monroe; A promise that no harm will come to me, nor any of my possessions, by you or any other member of the crew, from this moment forward until I choose to depart from the Iron Maiden, a time that will be of my choosing and mine alone; and another promise, that once I am gone no member of the crew shall make any attempt to pursue me. Your solemn oath, on your honor as a brigand, murderer and gambler will suffice, as I can hope for nothing better. Mind you, it's fortunate you brought a man of God with you to act as witness, wouldn't you say?

If you refuse to agree with so much as a clause of these terms, or if they are at any point broken later down the line, the boy will die. Even then, I assure you his demise will be much more pleasant than the one I'm sure you'd have lined up for me afterwards. However, I wouldn't treat this offer rashly if I were you. For you see, if he dies, the guilt is on you for breaching the terms of the contract, just as much as it is on me. I may not be a part of the crew, Casino, but I have known your Captain a great deal longer than you have; and I assure you, whatever horrors you may have in store for me will be sweet, sweet mercy compared to what she will do the the person who let her son die on her watch."

Aesop and Ruffles moved up on the door. Taking point, Ruffles flung it open, making several Nobles jump. One even screamed. Ruffles had switched to the looted pistol to avoid injuring any golden geese in the crossfire, and he pointed it at the back of the man standing as he surveyed the scene. The man didn't seem to react to the intrusion, though he must have heard it. He kept on speaking uninterrupted.

"I have known your Captain a great deal longer than you have; and I assure you, whatever horrors you may have in store for me will be sweet, sweet mercy compared to what she will do the the person who let her son die on her watch."

"Holy shit, Sprout..." he whispered. "Let him go, you bastard!"

He wasn't sure if what he was about to say was clutching at straws or not, but he had to try. "You're not looking at me, you won't know if I'm squeezing the trigger, and you can't react. You'll just hear the bang as I put a fucking bullet in your head." Unintentionally, he was shouting now. "LET MY FRIEND GO YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!"

Aesop and Ruffles barged into the Noble carriage with Ruffles taking point. Aesop had his guns trained on the nobles but the situation had clearly gone much much worse than originally planned. His eyes widened as he heard the words of a man holding young Sprout hostage, meanwhile rage had engulfed Ruffles. Aesop quickly shot up behind Ruffles and whispered "Stop it, you'll just get him killed. Let me handle this." Aesop moved forwards, his guns trained on the nobles rather than this man. Aesop had never seen this man before though it appeared he knew the captain and knew this was her crew. He inched passed Casino and Florian, saying to them just loud enough for the man to hear "I want to talk to him."

Aesop got closer and closer to the man before suddenly throwing both of his guns out of the windows of the train.

"Right. Now I am unarmed, other than a handgun I have holstered, but I'd prefer to keep it just so these nobles know who is in charge. However clearly have the drop on me. That gun can either kill me and my friend before I have a chance to even aim at you. Lets talk pleasantly here. You want off this train yes? I may be wrong but I think I heard something about our Captain? Well unfortunately she has disappeared out there somewhere. Her Ashcrawler is gone. But I can get you out of here safely. The train is coming to a stop and we have crawlers to spare. I can drive you, and Sprout as your hostage, back to the Maiden while the rest of our crew search for the captain. If it makes you more comfortable I can even become your hostage. Tie me up, shoot my hands, whatever makes you feel comfortable. I don't want any of us to die here." Negotiation was never part of the job for Aesop but he had seen his sheriff do it enough times... or at least he hoped enough times for him to mimic. He prayed he hadn't fucked up.

Josephine's heart swelled with pride at the sight of Elizabeth standing her ground. Lady Maribel...thou shall make a fine addition to the Basilio household! She rose from her seat and joined the lady at her side.

However, this eccentric rogue that stood before them was on a completely different level from the rest. He must have been the one who poisoned that man before shooting him, and now he's negotiating his way onto the Iron Maiden, the safe-house for the most notorious of bandits. Never had she seen or heard of such an individual--just the kind of person she's been hunting for fifteen years.

Just then, two more barged into the car, brandishing their pistols. This caused the nobles to erupt into brief panic once again, but she and Lady Maribel remained vigilant. How vexing... And even these two criminals were forced to stand down before this man, one having to hold back the other. The calmer one then began to bargain the terms. Just who in the hell was this gentleman? "If it makes you more comfortable I can even become your hostage. Tie me up, shoot my hands, whatever makes you feel comfortable. I don't want any of us to die here."

This was no doubt the most enigmatic train heist she had ever seen.

The Gentleman didn't know this one. Either he had not been aboard the last time he had tangled with the Maiden's crew, or The Gentleman had simply paid him no mind. The cool head this man was keeping impressed him, and his offer only strengthened The Gentleman's position. Still, it would not do for him to trust so easily.

"You make a fine negotiator, good fellow. You'll go far I'm sure. However, I confess that I do not know you, which makes relying on you something of a difficulty. Your colleague Lilith, on the other hand, is a different matter. I know her, I know her loyalties, I know her place in the crew and how much weight her word carries. The assurances I require must come from her, or not at all. In the mean time, you're welcome to surrender your remaining firearm, and to implore your esteemed friend standing behind me to refrain from using such language in front of ladies and children. Honestly, I'm thrice the rogue he is and you'd never catch me forgetting my courtesies in such a fashion."

Florian was left reeling back as the slab of ham the larger man called a hand hit him square in the face. It had hit him in the nose hard enough to do that thing that makes your eyes water and blur your vision. Florian had forgotten if the official move had a name but he'd done it often enough back in his youth be be familiar with it. It took him a moment to recover but apparently it was long enough for Axel to get taken hostage again.

The stranger was already making demands of everyone in sundry as Lilith and Aesop tried their best to get control of the situation. Even a pair of the nobles were giving their opinion on the matter. Florian's inner insticts were screaming and snarling like mad dogs.

Kill him! Draw, pull the trigger! Spread his brains on the wall! End him! Do it! Do it, do it, doidoitdoitdoit!

They were all so busy talking to each other they had all seemingly forgotten him, his target was distracted... it would be so easy.

No. He shut it out, took a deep breath and tried to think of a psalm. Something to help keep control. He eased up onto the situation, quietly pacing in like a monk at the abbey. Aesop was offering himself up as some kind of bonus hostage to this monster, it was as good a plan as any Florian could think of but it had one major flaw. Aesop was by far too useful a team member to let go from this situation. Especially if what he said was true and the captain had really gone missing.

"I'm afraid you wont be able to get a clear promise from her or any of the others that they wont kill you the moment they get the chance, sir." He said, motioning to Lilith and Ruffles. "You see where this young fellow is concerned they are all far too emotional, their attachment to him clouds their judgment and it makes them more inclined to act rashly." He said all calm and soothing, giving Axel a gentle nod. Florian himself had just proven he was guilty of that same thig not five minutes ago.

"but I'm sure if you were just to point the gun in a direction they were all more comfotable with then things would go much easier for you." Florian stared The gentleman down, never breaking eye contact as he placed two fingers on the barrel of The Gentleman's gun and guided it upwards until it was pointing at Florian's temple.

"There you are." He cooed to the group. "now you have a much more reliable hostage and one that the rest wont risk shooting at or else I [b]will be very disapointed in them.[/b" He said the last part more firmly like a scolding school teacher. "As for the rest, like you said they brought a man of god with them so their must be some honour in this crew."

More than there is in you at least.

"And as a man of god I give you my word that you will be given passage to the ship unharmed and unhindered. Besides Lilith wont risk you killing me, she's far too fond of my company." He his meaning sit in the air for that one and gave Lilith a cheeky wink in a vain attempt to say Trust me. All the while the crew motto of you should be so lucky running through his head.

"Now these dear people have places to be! Let's be on our way shall we?"

Dammit Dammit dammit dammit dammit DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT

GOD FUCKING DAMMIT

... I fucked up. I'm fucking terrible at this. Aesop eased himself away from the situation as Florian soon gave a much better offer. Similar though it may have been Florian was much smarter than Aesop and was quite clearly better at diffusing a volatile situation. This heist had already gotten so so fucked. Turning away from the man with the gun and Florian he pulled out his gun and aimed it at the passengers, someone needed to keep them under control, lest they realise the robbers were slowly losing control. Suddenly the thought jumped into Aesop's head... How the hell are we gonna get the passengers on the ship if they know this fucker's in control?

Sprout's fear turned to sadness as his friends offered themselves up in exchange for his safety. He was nothing more than a bargaining chip...

"Now these dear people have places to be! Let's be on our way shall we?"

As the men discussed their terms Sprout's despair morphed into anger. How dare they treat him like some kind of prize! Did they even realize that he was there?! That he had a voice!?

Sprout scowled as he shouted, "I may not know who'da fuck you are, Mister, but I don't need Ma' to fight my battles. You may'a gotten the drop on me, but I bet you ain't so tough out in the open. Ya know, not fightn' like a pussy! Mano-a-mano."

Elizabeth looked to the flustered man leveling a gun at the nobles. His erratic motions were terrifying the passengers. She took a few steps forward as she spoke, "Please Sir, you're scaring my fellows with your behavior. We would not be so foolish as to try and run from this. You can relax, as your attempts to calm them have only proven to further their anxiety."

As she attempted to reason with Aesop a well dressed, thin man near the front of the train (opposite the bandits) jumped up for his seat and headed for the door, "I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS! YOU IDIOTS CAN ALL KILL EACH OTHER FOR ALL I CARE!"

You fool! You'll kill us all!

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

The bandito's large frame went a long way in concealing the man's speed. It was clear he'd had his fair share of knife fights and had likely never lost one. The thought only served to invigorate Pixie further. Hers would be the last blade his flesh would ever taste.

Pixie avoided his initial assault, weaving in and out of a swift flurry of stabs. He was fast, but she was faster. Back peddling, she waited for him to make a mistake. And in a fraction of a second, she found her opening. Thinking he had her, he had put just a bit too much power behind his last blow, leaving him exposed as he drew back his blade in surprise. As he recovered she countered, lunging forward with a barrage of her own.

He had dodged better than expected, though Pixie managed to cut a clean slice across his rib cage before he staggered out of range, "Not enough finesse, amigo. I reckon yer stronger than'n ox, but that won't do ya' any good if--" She ended her taunt prematurely as the man threw himself at her in a reckless gambit to overwhelm her. Her knife buried itself in his thigh as he came down on her. The sudden, excruciating pain had caused him to lose his grip on his own blade, but he still had enough control to crush Pixie's shoulder with his elbow.

Pixie crashed down against the ash and before she could recover, was lifted up off the ground. The man's massive hand managed to grasp the entirety of her face as he threw her limp body up against the hull of the wrecked crawler. A loose, jagged edge of the crawler pierced her forearm and warm, dark blood began to seep from the wound. The bandito said nothing as he pinned her against the crawler and slid his hands down onto her throat in an attempt to strangle her with his superior might.

Unfortunately for him, however, he had not been holding her at arms' length. In fact, he was up close and very personal. Just what Pixie needed. She grabbed hold of his wrists--as per strangle victim protocol--and swung her legs up, crossing them as they wrapped themselves around his neck. Her muscles tensed up and twisted as she sent the man toppling forward, busting his face against the ashcrawler. Pixie's size did not do her strength justice it seemed.

Pixie stumbled across the ash and grasped at her throat. The pain was nothing to her and would take but a moment to recover from. Still groggy and disoriented from the sudden collision, the man struggled to lift himself out of the wrecked vehicle, giving Pixie enough time to pick his knife up off the ground, "It's time ta' carve you up, son."

A dastardly grin shone on her face as she moved in for the kill.

Things were getting chaotic, everybody was losing focus including herself, and she knew The Gentleman was the only one who was truly in control of this situation.

"Your colleague Lilith, on the other hand, is a different matter. I know her, I know her loyalties, I know her place in the crew and how much weight her word carries. The assurances I require must come from her, or not at all."

Why her? Oh, that's right, 'responsibility', why did she sign up for this again? Everyone was talking, she needed time to think, she needed to do something before the entire situation exploded. Everything dulled around her, she barely acknowledged the others as they tried to negotiate with the Gentleman. They didn't know, they didn't know what this man could do if given the chance.

She heard something about Pixie being missing? What had happened? How did this all go so horribly wrong?

"Too much noise" She whispered quietly to herself.

"I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS! YOU IDIOTS CAN ALL KILL EACH OTHER FOR ALL I CARE!"

One of the nobles had gotten out of his seat and was heading for the door, this would most likely be the spark that ignited the entire situation if given the chance.

She didn't give it a chance.

The man fell to the ground, clutching his side. The bullet had barely touched him, but there was enough blood and pain to suitably put down the no doubt pampered man for now.

Silence fell over the cabin.

Lilith's arm was outstretched to her side, a gentle waft of gunpowder smoke rising from the barrel of her revolver. She turned her face back towards the Gentleman and met his eyes.

You know that nobody else on this train even has the foggiest idea who you are, but I do. I won't give you the chance to screw us. Just as she finished her internal comment, she could swear she saw the corner of the man's mouth lift slightly.

"Everyone, sit down. I won't ask twice." She said calmly as she trained her revolver back onto the Gentleman. "Sprout, open your mouth again and I'll shoot you myself." She wouldn't of course, but she needed to show the illusion of control.

"Padre, tend to the wounded man, the rest of you, keep the passengers under control, shoot the legs of anyone who gets out of their seat."

With her free hand, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the tin that contained her smokes, opening the container, she raised it to her face and grasped a cigarette with her teeth, proceeding to light it, her eyes never leaving the Gentleman's

The Gentleman had this whole cabin under his control, but nobody else but her needed to know that.

"Please Sir, you're scaring my fellows with your behaviour. We would not be so foolish as to try and run from this. You can relax, as your attempts to calm them have only proven to further their anxiety." Some woman was trying to give Aesop an illusion of control, relax him. And he damn well would have fallen for it if it wasn't for Lilith.

With precision aiming she took down someone trying to flee and soon she had done what neither he, nor Florian were able to do. She proved she had the biggest balls on the train. "the rest of you, keep the passengers under control, shoot the legs of anyone who gets out of their seat." With a new objective in mind Aesop sat the woman down who had just spoken to him. He kept his mouth shut as he walked along the aisle sitting everyone down at gunpoint or pushing them into their seat if they were being unruly. He stood back and trained his gun back and forth along the passengers. Aesop could barely focus with no leader, now Lilith had taken on that role. It wouldn't be long now before he could get off this fucking train and return to his dumbass smile he usually wore all day. He missed the damn smile in situations like this.

'Oh, masterfully done! Bravo!' The Gentleman thought. Her confidence in authority was a mask. He knew it, and she knew he knew it. However, a good lie is often far more profitable than the truth, as The Gentleman hoped both sides of this exchange would come to discover. The other two had tried to be sincere, and in doing so had only served to to reveal how tightly wound they were to all who had eyes to see. There would be no negotiation with those two. Besides, the Priest in particular was far too school-masterly for the Gentleman's liking. Too stuffy, and with too high an opinion of his work and worth by half. Even taunting and humiliating him would hold no fun. It had been risky taking such a rash action, he knew. However, while The Gentleman could not confess to meeting a man more meticulous in preparation that he, he acknowledged that there was a lot to be said for a more opportunistic approach. If, that is, you could pull it off.

The Gentleman had, in that moment, banked his entire life on Lilith's ability to command the aesthetics of the situation, and he had been rewarded.

"Good shot. Although not where I'd have aimed if truth be told." The Gentleman complimented, as if they were discussing nothing more distressing than a round of croquet. "Now, can a trust that I have your word? I assure you, once I'm on-board and all this unpleasantness is behind us, my passage shall be more than paid for. I have a propositionfor Captain Monroe that, should we find her again, I'm sure will prove irresistible."

"Dammit! They broke it! It was going to be such a much better show! But no! They had to go and get rid of it! I didn't miss!"

Warren whistled as he saw the flaming car flip off the track, and land somewhere behind them. The rearview told Smiles that they only *mostly* died, though. He was not in this to *mostly* kill people. All or nothing, that was the way to live! He grinned as he turned the Crawler around.

A soldier crawled out of the wreckage, his head was ringing and sore. He couldn't feel his arm, but he was alive. He looked around, a few other survivors were-

WHOO!

*splorch*

Smiles laughed as the man became one with his tires, aiming his rifle out the window. Their faces were priceless before... ya know, the bullets ruined them. It was one of the worst things about bullets. Too bad no one used swords... He sighed in mild disappointment as he turned the car around, to catch up with the rest of the Crawlers. And maybe rendezvous with Pixie in the rest. He figured they were competent enough to take on a car full of civvies.

'... I feel like I'm going to get proven wrong.'

Josephine watched as the noble fell to the floor, clutching his wound. Clearly he was someone who has never involved himself with the lowly rabble. She turned to the other nobles nearby. "I hope you all learn something from this fool." One of the bandits then approached Lady Maribel, pushing her back down into her seat as he kept his gun trained on her. Once she was in place, the man then turned to her. Josephine nodded and sat back across from Elizabeth.

Once he had stepped away from them to focus on the rest of the passengers, she looked at Elizabeth in the eye. "Well done, my lady. You were of a good stomach and ready wit, traits that are rare to find among us." When the man in charge spoke again, she turned her attention to him once more.

"Now, can a trust that I have your word? I assure you, once I'm on-board and all this unpleasantness is behind us, my passage shall be more than paid for. I have a proposition for Captain Monroe that, should we find her again, I'm sure will prove irresistible."

What is this? Plans for another heist? Just who is this cutpurse?

Florian rolled his eyes at the selfimportant, panic stricken fool. Luckily he was quickly shot down by Lilith as was apropriate. He knew that wasn't a very priestly thought but this wasn't a very priestly day. Ooooh I'm going to clean the kitchen so much when I get back.

The bizzare hostage taker who seemed far to entitled about this whole situation. It was very rude! Florian pondered whether it would be so bad as to lock him in a room with smiles once they were all back on the ship, after all once he was there he was technically their prisoner, wasn't he? Gah! He'd been out of the game too long, he was losing all his edge.

Not that it wasn't worth it. Florian reminded himself as he followed Lilith's orders and saw to the wounded man. It wasn't hard to get away The gentleman had apparently forgotten that he was holding a gun to Florian's head, one of the perks of having priestly hypnosis powers (The abbot always hated it when he talked like that). Florian started giving basic first aid to the passenger who needed it. The wound was little moe than a graze really, he was jsut being a big baby about the whole thing. Either way it would keep him out of the thick of things and help him keep an eye on events as they went down.

Ruffles strode down the length of the carriage, making sure none of the Nobles left their seats. Every so often, he glanced back at Sprout and began chewing his lip, worriedly. The kid was like a little brother to him. Not the brother he'd never had. Coming from a litter of eight had given him lots of family time, but he'd been the youngest. The runt of the litter. Things were meant to be different now.

"Good shot. Although not where I'd have aimed if truth be told."

"Yes, I'm sure I know where you would have aimed." Lilith replied off-handedly, glancing at the others as they began to follow her orders. Good, now we're getting somewhere.

"Now, can a trust that I have your word? I assure you, once I'm on-board and all this unpleasantness is behind us, my passage shall be more than paid for. I have a proposition for Captain Monroe that, should we find her again, I'm sure will prove irresistible."

Giving her word. This meant she couldn't put a bullet between his eyes at the first opportunity. Lilith might have been a thief, a brigand, and all round purveyor of illegal acts, but she did have a sense of honour.

"Fine, you can come with us to the Maiden. I'll let the Captain deal with you, I wouldn't want to waste the bullets anyway, and I don't think anyone else here would either." She said, ensuring to say that part so that everyone could hear. "Now." she started, taking a long drag of the cigarette in her mouth, "What did this poor bugger do to deserve such ire?" She nodded at the fat corpse of the man the Gentleman had killed.

"Ire?" The concept amused him. "My dear, have you ever seen me kill a man out of ire in your life? Crimes of passion are just so terribly uncouth. Granted, Mr. Dufraine was a bully, cheat, liar, glutton, loud-mouth, and general cad, but I'll leave the moral judgement to more conventional sorts than you and I. No, I simply killed him because any use I had for him alive had been exhausted. That, and it allowed me to seize the opportunity to turn an unforeseen complication in my favour."

Many of the passengers were looking at him in horror, and many more had the good sense to not look at him at all, instead becoming very interested in the texture of the floor below their seats. Doubtless, they all thought him a cold-hearted monster, to talk about taking the life of a man with no more emotion than one might talk about slaughtering a cow who's milking days were done. They were quite wrong. Misconstruing calmness and callousness was an easy mistake for the uninitiated, but in truth The Gentleman did feel something. He felt that it was all jolly good sport. Some men go hawking, some might hunt with hounds, but The Gentlemen preferred more ambitious game.

"Is that settled then? Good." The Gentleman carried on, not waiting for a reply. "Young man..." he pointed with his gun at Aesop. "As you were so keen to volunteer earlier on, would you be so kind as to carry my luggage." His pistol moved up to the overhead rack, to a large, slightly battered traveler's case situated over the booth where he and Giles had sat. "My hands are rather full you see, and I'd sooner have a change of clothes once we're on-board. Do be careful now, some of the items inside are of a rather delicate nature."

Aesop was so much more comfortable being led he couldn't express it in words if he tried. However, that was when a maiden was telling him what to do. This assassin? Fuck that! He didn't want to carry his luggage. But he knew he shouldn't be making any rash decisions. There were too many unpredictable volatile elements in this pot of chemicals Aesop didn't need to be another one. He looked to Lillith who nodded to him to do as he was told and he grabbed the man's luggage. Dick. He made his way towards the three most rational nobles on the cart and said quietly in the most gentle manner he could "Ladies, while it may seem the situation has become rather... unplanned, I want you to know that my fellow maidens are still in charge, and this "gentleman" over here will not interfere in our plans, so escape or rebellion is impossible. However, we don't want to hurt anyone." Turning to Lady Jo he said "The fool, as you said before, was indeed a fool by attempting to escape. I ask the three of you to please, advise your fellows to remain calm and do not behave brashly, lest they become like the man our resident preist is tending to or worse, the obese gentleman on the floor. Thank you Mildaies."

Pixie's banshee whale traveled miles across the wasteland as she lunged at her prey. The bandito's mask had been knocked ajar, so not only was he trying to recover from what might have been a concussion, he was also having a hard time breathing. He had been at this a long time however, and had a strong will to survive. As she closed in on him he suddenly twisted his body to the side and delivered a savage kick to her abdomen, sending her soaring through the air.

His fight or flight instincts had amped up to 11 with "kill de ass" being his one and only thought. Ignoring the excruciating pain, he gripped the knife embedded in his thigh and ripped it out with terrifying ferocity. Pixie had tumbled head-over-heels on to the ash several meters away, and despite having the wind knocked out of her she had managed to keep her blade.

The hulking man crouched low to the ground, readying a charge. He intended to finish this in one attack. Reckless abandon was something banditos were known for and it was clear this man was the template of which they all emulated. After sneering like a wild bull he lunged forward just as Pixie had before.

Wounded and disoriented, Pixie knew she only had one way out of this situation. She met his charge, getting as close inside as possible. His blade just barely whizzed past her small frame as the rest of her body collided with his own. Considering his body mass was twice her own, such a move would normally be considered suicide. The force of the collision would stun her long enough for him to finish the job. However, as Pixie came crashing to the ground--dislocating her shoulder in the process--the bandito staggered forward and collapsed to his knees, clutching his throat. She had swung her blade wide, an easy enough blow to dodge had it been intended for his person. She'd snagged the leather strap of his breathing mask, severing it and sending it flying a few meters away.

Thoroughly beaten and bloodied, Pixie lifted herself off the ground with one limp arm hanging at her side. The bandito scrambled on all-fours to grab his breathing mask but was too late as Pixie had already crushed it under her boot, "Ya' gave me quite the thrashn' there, hombre." Sitting on his knees, he glared at her intensely. It looked like he wasn't even suffocating anymore. Pixie pulled out her backup-backup-backup sidearm, a tiny snub nose revolver and pointed it at his head. "I can't say I'd enjoy see'n yer mug blow up like a blueberry, so I reckon you'd prefer this."

The man nodded solemnly. She could see the life draining from his face, "Don' worry too much, this was'a good death. Farewell, amigo."

A single gunshot rang through the empty wasteland.

Seeing an opportunity to shift the horrible, powerless situation to something approaching a stalemate, Kitty darted behind Aesop as he headed back to The Gentleman with his suitcase. The bounty hunter immediately popped up and pressed one of her pistols to the back of Aesop's head while aiming the other right at The Gentleman.

"Neither of you move," she said, her voice level and icily neutral, "Or I will put a bullet in at least one of you. I don't really care for that pirate you're holding over there. Next time, pick a more sympathetic hostage. Now... I'm guessing the only reason you care about this man's life," she nudged the back of Aesop's head with her pistol, "is because he's carrying something very important you, right? Something you need. Well, he can kick it over to you in a minute. First, I want to know who I'm dealing with here. Bounty hunter, right?"

The Gentleman gave the woman a smile that swam in insolence, even through the layers of make up and prosthetics that made up his current facial features. He let the moment hang there at first, saying nothing, but his eyes conveyed the message loud and clear.

'Seriously? This is how you want this to go down? I had no designs on you or whatever you're up two with those two other ladies over there. You could have just sat down, kept quiet, and everything would have been just dandy. Don't say I didn't warn you...'

"Fair lady," he finally answered, his words polite as ever, but with a subtle hint of derision beneath his unctuous tone of voice. "I just killed a man, for no other reason than it allowed me to procure a hostage, who I am using to negotiate the terms of my own imprisonment at the hand of those who would quite happily see me dead. If I was a bounty hunter, as you say, I'd be making an awful hash of it so far, wouldn't I?

I'm many things to many people. My reputation and even my occupation will differ wildly depending on who you ask. The one thing all descriptions will have in common, and the only thing you need to know, is this... I always deliver the desired results, no matter who presumes to stand in my way."

His gun was pointed squarely at her head now, his eyes glittering with confident anticipation in his face.

"Forgive me for my presumptions as to your character, but I would not wager that you're in any hurry to die. We both hold two hostages, and if either of them is harmed, our charming companions in this little escapade will shoot the both of us to bits before we have time to blink. That leaves only two options left to you that offer a chance at longevity. You can either back down, or you can attempt to kill me, cleanly, before I kill you. If that is the path you choose, then I pray you are as blessed with good fortune as dear Lilith."

Metal strode into the Sheriff's office, and took the offered seat. "As you can see, I did the job. One drug operation soundly broken down, and you have a new fish in the tank."

The Sheriff nodded in response. He was a portly man and the action set his jowls quivering. "I understand you sprang your ambush having observed a transaction."

"And?"

"... And so it stands to logic that you may have happened upon the payment of said transaction. Funds which should rightly be seized by the proper authorities, mister, eh... Metal."

Eddie shrugged, lying through his teeth, his poker face in full effect. "Didn't find any stone. My guess is payment was worked out beforehand, or was promised later, or maybe hidden somewhere for separate retrieval. Protection of assets from people trying what I did."

"Interesting analysis, sir," replied the hefty man, coolly. His eyes flickered from side to side. That and a faint creaking told the bounty hunter a deputy was moving up either side of him. The Sheriff continued in what was now a confident drawl. "I trust a respected bounty hunter such as yourself would have nothing to hide. With that in mind, surely you wouldn't mind if my boys took a little root around in your bag?"

Eddie turned his head and spat. His hand was resting on the butt of his gun so casually, one would question whether it hadn't been there since he sat down. "And surely you wouldn't mind if I shot my load down your momma's back." The Sheriff blinked in surprise, and the creaking steps behind Metal's back ceased. He carried on. "After all, if she's anything like you, that's a lot of back to cover. A four man job, at least--" his left hand, the metal boned hand, concealed by his gloves, shot out and seized the wrist of the deputy who had lunged at him.

"Well that was fucken rude," Metal said conversationally. "But sorry, I was rude myself." The deputy caught in his grip let out a whimper as Eddie's enhanced hand grated the bones of his forearm against each other with inhuman ease. When he let go, the man backpedaled instantly. "You say I'm a respected bounty hunter, and I guess you say right, pal. So why don't you prove that fact and respect me by giving me the benefit of the doubt? Otherwise you may as well call me a liar, and that ain't so respectful."

The Sheriff didn't reply at first, and when he did, it was the slightest dip of the head.

"Good," Eddie replied, and then got to his feet. Then with a smile, "my payment?"

The Sheriff opened his mouth as if to argue, but then closed it. Sighing, the man threw down a small coin purse containing the agreed upon weight of carbon. Eddie picked it up, weighed it briefly in his hand, and then slipped it inside his coat pocket. Picking up his bag from where it sat by his chair, he slung it over one shoulder, then turned and left. He whistled to himself as he strode down the boardwalk, idly wondering what he should do next. He had enough money to be going on with after that little maneuver. And he hadn't actually done anything wrong. There was no law attributing money from crime scenes to the Sheriff's department. It was merely the bluff of a moderately corrupt official lining his own pockets. A victimless crime, to be sure. But the attaining and safe return of any fiscal assets hadn't been in his contract, or Metal would have fulfilled that request loyally, skimming not so much as a single stone. But it hadn't, so he had. He'd taken the lot, and that too was a victimless crime.

"... If I was a bounty hunter, as you say, I'd be making an awful hash of it so far, wouldn't I?"

Sprout's feeling of helplessness only furthered his growing rage. Not only had he been shrugged off by his own comrades, but he was also going completely ignored in this exchange. He was a bargaining chip. Nothing more. As the condescending man and this new strange woman discussed this progressively tense situation the Maidens around them started exchanging glances. The last thing Sprouted wanted was for one of them to do something stupid for his sake.

He had made his decision.

Elizabeth and Josephine both rose from their seats ever so slightly as to get a better look. The bandit that had seated them was now preoccupied. It was hard for her to get a handle on who was who at this rate and she wasn't quite sure what compelled Kitty to intervene. For a moment it looked as if the situation had resolved itself. Her eyes wandered between the actors involved until they fell upon the young boy once more. He was gritting his teeth and red in the face. Her heart sank as she came to a sudden realization.

This kid was about to do something really stupid.

"... If that is the path you choose, then I pray you are as blessed with good fortune as dear Lilith."

"FUCK THIS SHIT!" Sprout screamed as he bit down on the Gentleman's forearm as hard as he could and began flailing his legs around wildly. Alas, it had not been hard enough as his grip only seemed to tighten around Sprout's neck. Pinned against the Gentleman's chest, he could only see the woman in front of them as the Gentleman pressed his pistol against Sprout's head once more as to get him under control. A subtle smile showed on her face.

Was she going to shoot this man? What if she missed and hit Sprout instead!?

In a blind panic Sprout threw his legs forward, swinging right past Aesop and hitting Kitty's hand. Her arm flew up in the air as the gun she had been pointing at the Gentlemen discharged at angle against the ceiling of the cabin. After ricocheting off a metal beam it bounced twice before finding it's mark.

Elizabeth saw it coming before it happened. Just as the revolver discharged she instinctively grabbed Josephine, trying to force the two of them behind the seats. She wasn't fast enough as the stare bullet hit her square in the shoulder where Josephine had been standing only a moment ago. She let out a faint whimper and collapsed in Josephine's arms.

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

It was a long walk back to the train. How the crawler got as far off course as it did was completely beyond Pixie. She had managed to salvage her weapons, but there was nothing left in the crawler worth salvaging. At this point the train seemed to have been at a full stop for several minutes. A thick black smoke cloud rose from the soldier car, back about half a mile from the rest of the train. She had managed to snap her arm back in place, but she was still fairly beat up and had a slight limp. As she closed in on the first class car she heard a gunshot go off, "Fer Christ's sake..."

At the sudden commotion, Ruffles snapped into action. His inability to help his friend was infuriating and he was like a tensed spring. That woman was out of her seat with guns, and then Sprout went off, causing Kitty to be partially disarmed. She still had one pistol left, though. Bringing up his Glock, Ruffles fired two shots, hitting Kitty in the shoulder and leg. In the confined space, the hits were easy enough, even for a run of the mill person like him. The force of the impacts sent her reeling across the seats, and her remaining gun skittered across the floor. Waving his own around to deter any particularly ballsy Nobles, Ruffles crouched briefly and picked the gun up, jamming it through his belt. Turning around, livid, he shouted, to everyone as much as the woman he'd just wounded, with his voice taking on a more bass quality in the release of his anger.

"You were told to stay in your goddamn seats. You were fucking warned what would happen. I really hope none of the rest of you are that dumb! I AM TIRED OF THESE MOTHER FUCKING NOBLES ON THIS MOTHER FUCKING TRAIN!"

With that, he lapsed into sullen silence. This was a complete departure from his usual emotional range, and he hated it. Glancing at the Gentleman, he added, "and you." He wondered idly if the man recognized him. He'd been the mechanic of the Maiden for years, now.

When Kitty rose and took her own hostage, Josephine narrowed her eyes. I knew it! What is that wench plotting? She tried to listen in on their negotiation, but the young boy in the man's grasp began struggling. It only took a few seconds for this altercation to go out of control, as Kitty's gun discharged and the next thing she knew, Josephine was holding a bleeding Elizabeth. "Lady Maribel!"

She did not waste any time to begin tearing at her own dress, tending to her wounds as best as she could. It didn't look like it would be fatal, but she needed to get off of this train and get to a doctor. "I'll be damned if I allow that wench to take her life! Lady Maribel, prithee say something." She heard more shots being fired, and the sound of another body hitting the floor.

"You were told to stay in your goddamn seats. You were fucking warned what would happen. I really hope none of the rest of you are that dumb! I AM TIRED OF THESE MOTHER FUCKING NOBLES ON THIS MOTHER FUCKING TRAIN!"

Amidst this man's roaring, she remained focused on tending to Elizabeth. Some ale would be an excellent conceit... But considering the state of things, she knew it wouldn't be wise to try to leave to fetch some. She tightened the makeshift bandages, hoping this would be enough and that this whole ordeal would end soon. For Elizabeth's sake.

As the woman grabbed Aesop, she resisted the urge to move her aim from the Gentlemen.

Oh for the love of... Lilith internally cursed the woman. This day. It was already one of those days, but this was taking the piss.

As she quickly tried to assess the situation, she looked at Sprout. Something was going on in that boy's head, she knew it. Please, Axel, don't anything stupid, I'm begging you.

"You can either back down, or you can attempt to kill me, cleanly, before I kill you. If that is the path you choose, then I pray you are as blessed with good fortune as dear Lilith."

So far her luck had been pretty poor that day, everything that could go wrong, pretty much had.

Just so long as Sprout doesn't do anything st-

"FUCK THIS SHIT!"

As the Gentleman's attention was drawn for that split second, Lilith acted.

She didn't think, the boy was in danger and she quickly closed the gap between her and the Gentleman, raising her revolver, she leaned in close to the man, elbow bent, the barrel just an inch from his face.

I've got him! she thought in triumph, for the briefest of moments, interrupted by the touch of cold metal under her chin.

For a few moments she did nothing, just stared into the man's cold eyes. She broke a small smile and some of the tension faded from her face.

"You're good."

"Why thank you, and you're too kind." The Gentleman replied with a smile. When Sprout had lost his temper, he had bitten hard enough to draw blood... if The Gentleman hadn't been wearing padding, under the guise of Mr. Rosby, that was twice the thickness of his natural arm. Had that happened, Lilith may have just gotten the drop on him.

"I believe this must be setting some kind of record for the most guns I've had pointed at me before dinner," The Gentleman quipped. "and I'll be truthful Lilith, my patience is wearing thin. You won't shoot me. We both know that. You made a promise, a promise that I have not returned in kind. So, I suggest that you do not try your luck."

"So, I suggest that you do not try your luck."

"I always do." Lilith grinned. "But you're right, I won't shoot you, I've already given you my word, you don't need the boy any more, just let him go."

If she had no intention of shooting, then why did she find herself in this predicament? That bloody kid, he'll be the death of me, I swear.

Aesop felt a barrel of a gun in the back of his head. Just one more fucking volatile chemical. If it wasn't for Aesop then it had to be someone. The assassin bastard gave her an ultimatum has she had made Aesop her hostage and he just had to sigh. He was about to make a remark about mutually assured destruction when the chemicals had suddenly collided within the train and the resulting explosion was only barely contained.

Sprout bit. Sprout kicked. The woman stumbled. Her gun shot. Ruffles killed her. Aesop weaved out of the way for her body to fly into some seats. He turned to Ruffles and said "Thanks bud," and without turning his head unloaded a round into her deceased head. The nobles in the carriage flinched and gasped but were silenced by the angered Aesop. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!! THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT WE SAID WOULD HAPPEN IF PEOPLE TRIED TO FUCKING ESCAPE OR FIGHT BACK! DID YOU NOT HEAR OUR CAPTAIN OVER THE SPEAKER!? DID YOU OR DID YOU NOT HEAR OUR CAPTAIN OVER THE SPEAKER!" Aesop pointed with his free hand at the man crumpled at Florian's feet as he lowered his tone but kept his volume. "One man lays injured. He tried to escape." He pointed back to the woman Ruffles had just killed. "One woman tried to fight back. She lies dead! The only reason that man over there-" he said loud enough for the gentleman to hear "-is because he isn't a fucking noble. He has some strength but clearly he isn't here to save your sorry asses isn't that right good sir?" He awaited the man's response before continuing. "Now if no one here is trying to help you escape and since I can clearly see none of you are strong enough to oppose or run from us, do as you are told, stay in your seats and keep your fucking maggot ass lives for one more measly ass day!" Aesop howled into the air "GOD DAMMIT I FEEL ALIVE!!!" He patted Ruffles on the shoulder and whispered. "You'll be okay buddy boy." He yelled over to Florian "Hey father how's the patient! A lady here got shot in the shoulder-ma'am I recomend keeping pressure on that wound she'll be fine and don't try to escape-" Aesop winked to Lady Jo at that point before continuing "-And oh so clever sir keeping my friend hostage and with Casino's gun in your face and yours in hers, its all in our best interests to get onto the maiden safely so how abouts we ease up on the antics of trying to cheap shot one another and just try to get along m'kay?" Aesop's smile had suddenly returned... and yet it began with a woman dying. Eh, she had a gun on him fuck 'er.

A few more gunshots could be heard coming from within the first class cabin. What the fuck were these amateurs doing in there?! Pixie hopped onto the back of the train car and slipped into the threshold, closing the door behind her. She opted to keep her mask on as it was distinctly possible a stare bullet had compromised cabin pressure. She readied her rifle and put an ear up to the door...

"GOD DAMMIT I FEEL ALIVE!!!"

That don' sound good....

The noise level plummeted after Aesop's outburst, though she could still hear some of the nobles near the door murmuring. It was clear that most the action was taking place on the other end of the cabin. The air seemed agreeable in the small dark threshold, so Pixie pulled down her mask and stuck two fingers in her mouth. A sharp whistle echoed through the door and into the first class cabin.

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

Sprout almost forgot about his desperate rage and hopelessness when he found himself wedged between Casino and his captor. Her perfectly sculpted, God-given, modest-sized breasts dominated his field of vision, so much so that he almost didn't hear his mother's call. Sprout shook his head as to banish his dirty thoughts and shouted in excitement, "That's Ma'! Ma's here!"

Elizabeth had been stumbling around between states of consciousness. She didn't have the focus necessary to gauge what was happening around her. All she could register was pain, fear and the warm form she held on to for dear life. Her fingers dug into Josephine's arms as she instinctively drew herself closer for protection. To Josephine's delight, it appeared as though her bleeding was slowing.

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

Hearing her son's excited calls was all that she needed. She slowly opened the door, weapon at the ready. What she saw before her was, well, it looked like a fucking mess. A man near the back with a bullet wound, another woman further up with blood seeping from a similar injury, a dead fat man on the floor who looked as if he had vomited and shat all over himself, and another dead woman crumpled on the ground nearby. Aesop, Padre and Ruffles looked more than a bit shaken up and her son was currently wedged between Casino--his make-believe girlfriend--and someone she was pretty sure was the master assassin known as The Gentleman.

What the ash-fucking hell happened here?

Everyone stared at her expectantly as she strolled down the aisle with her rifle over her shoulder and a slight limp in her step, still bleeding from fresh cuts and scrapes all over her body. She stopped near Aesop and Ruffles though her sight was focused squarely on the two people with her son squished between them. All three of them stared back. She scratched her forehead and sighed as she spoke, "Anyone hav'a radio I can borrow?"

Lilith raised her head slightly as a whistle echoed throughout the cabin. Is that?...

"That's Ma'! Ma's here!"

"'Bout bloody time." Lilith whispered to herself.

The Captain walked the length of the cabin, a look on her face that Lilith suspected was one of perplexity. Lilith's gaze followed Pixie as she walked past, she then stopped at Aesop and Ruffles and and stared at her, the Gentleman, and Sprout, scratching her head.

Lilith glanced quickly at the Gentlemen, sharing a look that said Well, now what?.

"Anyone have a radio I can borrow?"

Lilith closed her eyes and uncocked the hammer on her revolver, lowering her arm and taking a step back from the Gentlemen, she stood relaxed, as all the tension fell from her body.

"Aye, Captain." Lilith sighed, grabbing the radio off her belt and lazily tossing it to the captain. "Also, it was Ruffles' fault." She smirked, "You should probably kick his arse."

Ruffles rolled his eyes in good humour. "Oh, sure. Blame the black guy."

He nodded to Kitty's corpse. "Some kinda bounty hunter in disguise decided to try something on Aesop, so I put her down." His smile faltered. "Didn't mean to kill her..."

"He should be fine."

Florian called back to Aesop, his heart breaking at seeing the young woman gunned down like that, was the second bullet really needed? Everything was going so wrong and it seemed all he could do was keep his head down and watch. Even his own sense of bloodlust wasn't stupid enough to try and call for sarting a gunfight here. There were so many hostages going around and everything was so tightly packed, it would be chaos.

Lilith and sprouts captor continued in their static dance for dominance and just as it looked like things were about to completly go to hell, who should burst in but the captain?

Finally a voice of reason. At least Florian prayed she would be.

The Gentleman took a moment to drink in Pixie's state. She was a mess. Battered, bruised, and limping. She moved one of her arms very gingerly, suggesting a dislocation. Whereas before they'd been filled with an ominous, piercing coldness, The Gentleman's eyes now lit up with delight as he spoke.

"Why, Miss Monroe! It's been far too long. I must say, you look more ravishing than ever."

While talking, The Gentleman reciprocated Lilith's action, and removed his own pistol from under her chin. He relaxed his grip on Sprout's neck too, though made sure still to keep him close, his arm now pressing down across the boy's shoulders. The boy was unlikely to try something so foolish again so soon, and The Gentleman's need for him was negligible at this point. Still, it never hurt to be cautious.

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