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

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"Ma'am I recommend keeping pressure on that wound she'll be fine and don't try to escape," said one of the bandits as he quickly glanced over Elizabeth. Josephine merely nodded in response. It was clear that they both want the same thing at this point--for this madness to end so everyone can just go home.

Just then, another entered the car, this time a woman. Her very presence commanded respect. "Anyone have a radio I can borrow?"

She must be the head of these forces. She was injured, but fully capable of walking towards the bandits. Josephine shuddered at the mere thought of the hell that was wrought on the rest of the train. When she felt Elizabeth tug on her arms again, she lowered her lips to her ear. "Do not fear. The captain has arrived. All will be well soon."

Aesop's eyes widened at the sight of the captain as he was filled with confidence-which was then replaced by the realisation that he had just been making a total tit out of himself. Hopefully she would fix this whole mess.

Pixie caught the radio with ease and thumbed the call button, "Cranston? Ya' read me?"

The radio sparked to life as the manic sound of gunfire and engines filled the cabin. It seemed as though things were far more exciting at the soldier car, "zzzttt---Ma'am! It's----zzztt----like shooting fish in a barrel out here! We're about ready to wrap things---zzztt---up on our end!---zzzzttt"

It was hard to make out his shouts over the sound of battle, but Pixie understood him, "Roger that. Make sure yer boys neutralize all hostiles before you head on back this way. First Class cabin's been secured. Over."

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

"Ravishing" was certainly one way of putting it. Pixie clipped the radio to her belt, placed her hands on her hips and smirked halfheartedly as she greeted him, "So it is you, you wily sonuvabitch! What're you these days, like 70'er somethin'?" She looked down at her son who stared back in silence. "I see you're havin' a good, fun time with yer dear ol' Uncle Gentleman, but there's work ta' be done 'round here, son. Why don' you stop horsen' 'round and tend ta' some of these poor ol' wounded folks."

Since he had loosened his grip around Sprout's neck he was now able to turn his head and see the man who'd been holding him hostage. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do, so he looked to the Gentleman expectantly.

Lilith frowned.

This man had kept the Captain's son at gunpoint, and this was her reaction? She had seen the way they interacted with each other before, but those were in more amicable circumstances.

Did she overreact? Was she the reason this whole job went to shit? Well, whatever, she was sure she'd get an ear full back on the Maiden. She finished her cigarette and immediately lit up another.

She took a deep drag and blew the smoke skyward, "Ce la vie." She whispered to herself, a tired smile on her face.

Ruffles was feeling distinctly more at peace, now that the Captain was here. "Back to work," he said quietly. More loudly, he said, "alrighty, stand up, hands on your heads!"

Before striding up the isle, he kicked open the carriage door. Then fired a couple of rounds into the ceiling when the Nobles were hesitant in obeying him. "Up! Up!" As he passed Lilith, he said in an undertone, "I guess we leave wounded for you guys to take out more carefully, right?"

Then he was speaking loudly, again. "Alright, single file line and march out that door. Like a train, ironically." As the Nobles moved through the door, he followed. "And I still got plenty of rounds left, so no running off. Line up outside, hands where I can see 'em."

Being all in command and authoritative wasn't his usual schtick, but he was enjoying it immensely, bossing around a bunch of high and mighty snobs. "Masks on, masks on!" It was considered basic safety to take masks on any journey between domes, and even Nobles weren't so stupid as to disregard that. As the wind began to sweep outside air into the carriage through the door, everyone fumbled their masks on, though the gentleman still managed to look suave doing it, even one handed.

"I guess we leave wounded for you guys to take out more carefully, right?"

"Yeeeeeup" Lilith replied, unenthusiastically.

She left the Padre with the wounded nobleman and made her way over to two women, one of whom had been hit in the shoulder by the earlier scuffle. She looked at them for moment.

"Sorry things ended this way, we hoped to rob you with a lot less violence, you know?" She chuckled.

Aesop chuckled as Ruffles forced the Nobles to put on their masks and ordered them around. He put on his mask and started making his way out of the carriage while the nobles followed suit. They all fumbled and bustled as they formed a line. The most resistance they offered were under the breath insults. "Alright I want everybody to drop any carbon you got on the floor. Any pocket change or petty cash right now."

"My how dare you, what manners are-" A skinny male noble began speaking in an irritating accent before Aesop swiftly pulled his gasmask off for a second.

"Do as I say or I won't be using any bullets." He said coldly to which they all did as commanded.

"Seventy?!" The Gentleman exclaimed with mock incredulity. "Why my dear I am appalled. What have I ever done to you to earn such cruelty?"

When Ruffles decided it would be a good idea to add some extra ventilation to the carriage, The Gentleman felt that moment prudent to release Sprout, so that they may both attach their breathing masks. It amused him to think that, had Lilith thought of that earlier, she might well have forced him into releasing the boy against his will, or else holstering his weapon. Either way, she would have had him.

"Run along now you little scamp." he told Sprout playfully, ruffling the boy's hair as he did so. "Your mother and I have so much catching up to do."

As he said this, The Gentleman puled out his own mask, and fixed it with a flourish. From the front, the lower half of his face was still visible through the glass covering. The Gentleman felt it only polite that others he was dealing with should be able to see his face in any situation. It was beside the point that much of the time he wouldn't be wearing his real face to begin with. To the sides, the mask was beautifully fashioned out of white porcelain, with parallel gashes across the cheeks that housed the air filters, much like the gills of a fish.

"May I?" he said to Pixie, offering his outstretched arm.

With the Nobles forming a line before him, Ruffles spoke with an affected comical accent that was a rough exaggeration of Pixie's own. "Alrighty, boys n' girls. Y'all stand up straight, n' be sure t'look real purty fer the Cap'n, now!"

He walked down the line, grinning under his mask, still speaking with an accent. "Here's how this's gun' work. We're gonna figure out who y'all are, fer profitability's sake, ya understand. As fer those who don't make the cut, well... I GETS T'EAT YA!"

A couple of them actually paled at the mock threat. Fucking Ivory Tower racists, he thought in wry amusement.

Aesop walked along the line of nobles and shook them down for carbon. They all had some decent pocket change on them with only a few offering resistance, fear seemed to be taking hold. He made his way down to the lady from earlier and asked as calm as he could "Please drop any remaining carbon from your person miss."

Josephine watched as the nobles rose from their seats one by one. The lady who had confronted the controlling gentleman from earlier approached them.

"Sorry things ended this way, we hoped to rob you with a lot less violence, you know?"

"Grammercy. In faith, methinks we all could learn more control." Soon it was her turn to leave and she was pushed out of her car, and away from Elizabeth. She continued to keep her eye on the maiden as she was lined up with the rest, forcing the bandits to shove her in order to keep her moving. Once separated, she watched as the thieves stripped her noble brethren of their carbon one by one.

They were quite rude with the others, until one of them approached her with composure. "Please drop any remaining carbon from your person miss." Josephine peacefully pulled out the carbon she carried, keeping her eyes focused on the man while doing so.

"Hark now. The maiden needs a doctor, not more woe. May we see to it that she does?"

As the uninjured woman was led from the cabin, Lilith focused on the noble with a bullet in her shoulder.

"If you took the shot where I think you did, you should be fine." She crossed her arms, "But still, I'll check it out once we get on the ship, nothing a pair of tweezers and a bottle of whiskey won't fix."

She had no doubt that these people would sooner converse with the stuff they'd wipe off the bottom of their fancy shoes, than her, but that didn't mean she wouldn't treat them with common decency.

Well.

Apart from the bit where she was robbing them all, but that was fun.

"Hark now. The maiden needs a doctor, not more woe. May we see to it that she does?" The woman spoke with odd phrases. She spoke like the characters in stories he had heard as a boy.

"Our priest can tend to her wounds miss and really I think it was just a flesh wound, she'll be alright." Aesop went back inside of the carriage leaving the carbon on the floor. He took a large suitcase from the small platform above the seats where handheld baggage was carried. Before leaving the train he unbuckled two straps from his vest and threw one to Florian and one to Casino. "Dunno if you still need to or if its already done but you can use them to stop the bleeding from those two... probably should have thought of that earlier." Aesop then trounced outside and emptied the suitcase full of small little valuble objects. A woman shreieked as she saw her personal belongings dropped on the ground. "Don't worry miss I'm not taking any personal items. I'm not that much of an asshole."

"But where am I to store them, they are so fragile." She said weakly hoping for some sympathy.

"..." Aesop paused to take in what she had said with a puzzled look. "...your pockets?"

The woman gasped at the thought but a gun in her direction quickly quietened her down. He filled the suitcase with carbon and made his way towards the common passenger carriage. "I'm off to spread the wealth, anybody wanna join me?"

Elizabeth came to just as Josephine was being pulled away, "M-milady!" By the time she had the strength to reach out Josephine had already gone. The young, poncho-wearing woman began tending her wound. She had never felt such raw, throbbing pain before, but she endured.

"May I?"

Pixie nodded and accepted his hand, "You heard'm, kid. Go make sure none of them Ivory fucks do anything stupid." Sprout nodded and dashed out of the train to assist the others. As the pair made their way out of the train Pixie paused for a moment. There was something... strangely familiar about that pale girl. Elizabeth looked up from her wound to meet Pixie's gaze.

Those eyes...

"But still, I'll check it out once we get on the ship, nothing a pair of tweezers and a bottle of whiskey won't fix."

Looking at Pixie she asked, "So, I am to be your hostage then?"

Pixie gritted her teeth under her mask and was uncharacteristically brief, "Yes." Her eyes lingered on Elizabeth for a few moments as she and the Gentleman continued out of the train. Her resolve had fumbled ever so briefly for whatever reason, but you would never know it. She was a hard woman to read, such is the case when you're a bit of a sociopath.

Sprout was ashamed of himself for letting everything go to shit. Everything was his fault. But he wouldn't wallow away in self pity just yet. His mother gave him a job to do and if he could do at least one thing right today...

If only.

He stood back with his shotgun at the ready as Ruffles intimidated the nobles with his Pixie impression. It was actually pretty accurate. The poor folks from Boomhower got teased for their accents all the time. Thankfully his wasn't as thick as his mom's.

"I'm off to spread the wealth, anybody wanna join me?"

Sprout shook his head, "Sorry man, I've caused enough trouble today. Plus, Ma' gave me orders'ta watch these folks." Knowing his luck he'd somehow get stabbed by a little girl while handing her some carbon.

Pixie withdrew from the Gentleman and marched towards the nobles, signaling to Ruffles to step aside. He did so as she began speaking to the group, "Sorry fer the slight delay, folks. I reckon it was mighty stressful in there and fer that you have ma' deepest condolences."

"Fuck your condolences!" One of the nobles spat. The others looked at him like he was insane. Indeed he was. In fact, he was the same man who had been "wounded" trying to escape earlier. Though, Pixie hadn't known this. She didn't need to known this in order to hate this man. Not only was he nobility, but he was a familiar face.

She knew this man. Pixie pulled out her 9mm pistol and pointed it at his head, "Git' on yer knees." When he hesitated she added. "NOW!"

He quickly dropped to his knees and held his hands up in submissive manner, "No! Please don't! I run a dome, people rely on me!"

Pixie began laughing. Like, laughing so hard tears began to form. It was a terrifying sight, and not just for the nobles. She pressed the barrel of the pistol against his forehead causing him to squirm and nearly piss himself, "I-I'm sorry," She said, still laughing as she wiped a tear from her eye. "Are you bein' serious right now'r was that a joke? 'Cause brother, you aughta'be a comedian!"

Everyone stared at her in both fear and confusion. What was she getting at? Pixie squatted down to meet him at eye level, pushing the gun harder against his face as she spoke, "Yer the Great Duke Bartholomew of Geno Dome, right?" Again, he hesitated. "RIGHT?!"

"Yes! Yes! For God's sake, those people need me!"

"DON' MAKE ME FUCKIN' LAUGH AGAIN! SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT PERTECTN' YER PEOPLE!" After a moment of silence Pixie continued. The shock from her sudden outburst was still lingering in the air. "You, the Great Duke of Geno Dome was charged with keepn' yer good people safe, but I think it's pretty goddamn apparent that's a pretty low priority fer ya, isn't it? This man here's responsible for the deaths of thousands of his own people, ain't that right?"

"What are you talking about!? This is slander! Don't listen to a word--"

"I SAID, SHUT THE FUCK UP!" A few gasps could be heard among the nobility. "So a few years back a couple'a good samaritans reported there'd been severe damage done to yer dome's foundation after'n earthquake. Yer advisers tell ya that yer gonna have to finance repairs, otherwise the seal'll leak an' people'll start suffocate'n. You tell'm you've got a big weddn' planned fer yer son and the repairs'll have to wait. I mean come'on, it was gonna be an expensive wedd'n, right? Gotta save every copper!"

Her creepy, lighthearted tone shifted into something much darker as she continued, "After the wedd'n a few people're reported dead from sufficate'n and whadda you do? You buy yerself a fancy new ship. Good fer you! While you were busy blown' your city's cash on yer own personal shit a few hundred people died! And then a few hundred more! Eventually you figured, 'Hey! I'm gonna run outta people to fuck over at this rate! Might as well patch that hole now!'."

Too stunned to say anything, the ashlands were silent for a few moments. After awhile a few of the nobles began murmuring to one another. Pixie offered a hand, "Take off yer mask so's you can see fer'yourself how they felt as they died. I promise I'll give it back before it's too late." He shook his head in protest. "You'd rather I blow yer brains out then?!" He looked to his fellow nobles who offered no solace. They had already been broken. Pixie figured there was still plenty of breaking to do, however.

Reluctantly he inhaled deeply and took of his mask, placing it in Pixie's hand. She looked into his eyes for several moments and smiled before standing up, dropping the mask on the ground and smashing it. A large wave of gasps echoed among the nobles as the duke dove to her feet, fingering the remains of his mask.

A particularly brave noble shouted, "Y-you gave him your word! You can't let him die like this!"

Pixie snickered, "Can't I? If there's not a court on this rock that'll try this man then we're just gonna hafta make due." The man rose back up on to his knees in a pleading manner. Pixie knelt back down and placed a hand on the side of his face. "I'm sorry milord, but you've been found guilty and it's my duty 'ta ensure the law is upheld. It's mah duty 'ta bring justice 'ta those who think themselves above such trivialities. You've been sentenced 'ta death by suffocation. An eye 'fer an eye an' all that."

After convulsing he began to fade. As he lay on the ground dying Pixie ran her hands across the side of his face, "May you repent yer sins in the next life." Without turning her head she spoke to the priest. "Florian, do yer thing."

This wasn't the first time Sprout had seen Pixie put on this kind of show, but he hadn't gotten used to seeing her like this.

It was possible he never would.

"So, I am to be your hostage then?"

As Pixie replied to the woman, Lilith noticed the curt response. Maybe she's a lot more pissed off about how this ended than I thought...

Lilith helped the wounded woman out of the train and into the line up of nobles, she then proceeded to stand next to the captain, hands behind her back.

"Sorry fer the slight delay, folks. I reckon it was mighty stressful in there and fer that you have ma' deepest condolences."

What happened next was something that Lilith could never get used to and probably the one thing she hated most about these types of jobs.

She gave him her word... Nobody deserved to die like that, especially with someone like the captain shouting in their face.

"Florian, do yer thing."

Lilith glanced at the boy for a second. "Er, boss?" her eyes full of concern, she nodded towards Sprout. Just... Say something to him, she silently requested,

Ruffles had fallen silent, and was now stood behind Pixie. He made pointed eye contact with Lilith, and then produced a mask, the one he'd taken from Kitty's body. Ruffles always being one to salvage valuable equipment, for its designed purpose or just the parts. He glanced in an implying fashion at the mask, and then jabbed his eyes again to the suffocating Noble.

The message was clear. Should I?

He felt like he should stop this as it was borderline sadistic, and by the sounds of it, this man would fetch potentially the highest ransom of the bunch.

Lilith glanced down at the mask in Ruffles' hand.

She crossed her arms and looked at the quickly suffocating man.

If Pixie can't keep her word, we'll do it for her.

She locked eyes with ruffles and gave a quick nod.

Ruffles exhaled, the sound rendered tinny by his mask and moved. It wasn't quite a run, but it was close. He shot past Pixie, and knelt before the man, clasping the mask over the prostrate man's face and cinching the strap tight on the back of his neck. With filtered air in his lungs, the man began spluttering and gasping. Suddenly, he lifted the mask up and spewed bile on the ground before him before jamming it back on shakily. As Ruffles stood, the jarred Noble throwing himself at Ruffles' leg, spewing thanks even more thickly than he had spewed vomit. Ruffles ignored it and stepped out of the man's grip, but still close enough that he was blocking him from his Captain's line of sight.

Time to get reamed, he thought, and gave a sigh. He stood at moderate ease, his thumbs through his jumpsuit's belt loops and awaited Pixie's reaction.

Things seemed to be finished now. after a long and tense stand off the whole affair ended with a whimper instead of a bang and the crew (complete with hostage attachment) made their way off the train. Florian made sure to strap on his mask as the doors opened. He helped the wounded man to his feet and ushered him on his way, all the while lagging behind the crowd. There were two bodies that needed tending to, though going by their size he'd only be able to carry one by himself.

Florian scooped the girl that Ruffles had killed up in his arms and carried her out to the railside. He got there just in time to see the captain going ballistic on one of the passangers and forcing a slow death on him. Florian had only seen her like this a handful of times. Her devil's rattled and raging...

He was about to say what little he could but Ruffles was way ahead of him. Florian laid the body down and gave the mechanic an approving nod. This was far from their smoothest job and Ruffles had no doubt brought some wrath down on himself but Florian had to believe that deep down the captain knew this was right.

Florian quickly said some words over the woman, his muffled voice echoing out the words of a dead language that only the church still kept, its name had long faded away with time. Florian had only recieved a basic education in it and the meaning of these strange words wasn't something he fully understood, more something he felt.

Once he was done the priest took a place by Lilith's side, if there was time he'd go back to the train and attend the large man but right now it looked as if things might get chaotic again.

The Gentleman watched the scene in front of him unfold, impassive. He felt a twinge of something that was not quite so strong as displeasure, and closer to annoyance. The man's life was worthless, beneath even his contempt. Yes, this specimen was morally warped, but how much was that really even worth in a world that had long ago forgotten the meaning of such things? Regardless, if Pixie wanted him dead for his 'crimes' then that was nothing to The Gentleman. He only wished that she wouldn't be so... unprofessional. Put a bullet between his eyes and have done with it. This show was naught but folly?

What did amuse him was Lilith and Ruffles choosing that moment to develop a sudden case of the high-horse, and come to the man's aid.

'Good luck trying to get the rest of this rabble to take your threats seriously now.' he thought wryly.

The Gentleman was getting impatient. Part of him relished how Pixie was going to respond to this disobedience. However, he had business to attend to, and every second they stayed out here was one more second that they were at risk. Once again, he pulled out his pistol and aimed it squarely at the man's forehead.

"I see a simple way to resolve this." he mused.

Having saved him, Ruffles felt that it was his responsibility to bear this out. On top of that, he was getting pretty fucking tired of this man pointing pistols at everyone. Near as he was to the sprawled Noble, he put how a hand and shoved the Gentleman's gun away from the Noble's head. "This doesn't concern you. We agreed to take you with us, so can you not just fuck off and stay out of it for once?"

With that, his concern was directed back to the brewing response of his Captain, though he stepped yet closer to the Noble, so that now he was also between him and the Gentleman.

He had accidentally killed one woman where he meant to wound. The unnecessary killing was done now, he decided. That on top of how Pixie's outburst of sadism had made his skin crawl.

Pixie stood by and did nothing as Ruffles moved by his own accord. Something in her commended his courage, but a blatant breach of her command would not go unpunished. That however, was a conversation for a later date. It would have been easy enough to remedy the situation if the Gentleman had more forethought. Perhaps waiting for her reaction would have been a better choice. Instead, his actions would only further complicate the situation.

"Pixie" was not given her nickname for nothing however, it was time to work her magic. She smiled at the groveling man before her, "Please Gentleman, enough teasin' the poor guy! He really believed he was gonna die fer a minute there, but pointing a gun at him now'll get us nowhere. He already knows he ain't gonna die!" She turned to Ruffles who looked like a wolf on its haunches and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "Good improvisation by the way, Ruffy. I really felt it!"

The man, still choking on his own vomit spoke out, "B-but, w-weren't you actually going to let me die?!"

Pixie chuckled and shook her head, "I reckon you never seen a man suffocate before, have ya'? You lose consciousness before ya' go. Lack'a oxygen in the brain is a process, not instant death. Why do ya'think my man here 'saved' you right before ya blacked out?" She pried open the eyelid of her one good eye in a comical fashion. "So's you can see the truth of the matter. Your ass's mine now. I choose when and where ya'get to take yer last breath."

She looked to the rest of the nobles to gauge their reactions. Would her deception bare fruit or backfire horribly?

The man looked to the ground in silence for several moments and then looked back up at Pixie, "S-so, you intend to take me prisoner then?"

A smile broke out across her face that you could only see in her eye. She had them, "Why the fly'n fuck would I kill my most valuable hostages?! I'm a business woman, after all. Now, the rest'a y'all! Shut the fuck up until yer all cataloged. And don' you even think about lien' 'bout yerselves!"

And with that she began the questioning.

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

Elizabeth wasn't buying it. Despite her groggy state she knew something was up. Whether it was insubordination or something else, she didn't know. She was just glad she would make it out of this with a minor bullet wound.

Sprout on the other hand... well, he had no fucking idea what had just happened.

Ruffles stood back as Pixie went to work interrogating the hostages. He gave a gentle sigh. Ruffy. She never called him Ruffy unless she was hiding some serious rage, be it at him or anyone else. It was a quirk he'd noticed. And he couldn't quite remember ever disobeying or going against her before. Not on such a drastic level, anyway. As he stepped back in line next to Lilith he gave a wry smile under his mask, and began softly humming a funeral march.

Lilith smiled sympathetically, which thankfully, given that she wore scarf over her mouth, showed in her eyes. She placed a hand on Ruffles' shoulder

She leaned in, "If it's any consolation, you probably prevented the kid from get any more messed up than he already is." She paused and glanced over to Sprout, who had his typical I have no fucking clue what's going on expression. "At least for today."

As she glanced over the Nobles, her eyes rested on the woman with the injured shoulder.

"I don't think she bought it though." Lilith said, nodding towards her discretely.

Aesop gave a little salute to Sprout as he made his way towards the commoner carriage. He climbed up onto the walkway when he realised 'Hey, my guns should still be on those walkways, unless they fell off... And they probably did. What's up with me today?' Aesop wondered to himself. Why had he been so shaky today. He usually did make bad decisions when things went to hell but today a bit more than usual. At least now things had gone all to plan. The nobles were rounded up, no doubt Pixie would let 'em know who's boss, and soon they would all be relaxing back at their on site bar in the sky. Well, Aesop would be having a little less fun nursing an orange juice. He'd gone eleven months clean now and he didn't want to fuck that up.

Knocking on the door to the commoner's carriage he opened it slowly to see an anxious young man holding a knife. He was shaking with the knife and stood back. If he was going to attack clearly he would have done it already, before he even spoke Aesop knew he would only go for him if he was scared for his own safety. Aesop had his eyebrows raised at him but then smiled and said aloud for all the car to hear "Patrons! I come bearing gifts!"

"W-we don'' wan'' no trouble-" the boy stuttered before being interrupted by Aesop.

"And you wont get any. In fact you will all be rewarded for your troubles!" Aesop held up the luggage in his hand and unzipped it just a smidge, pulling out a small rock of carbon. The boy dropped his knife on the floor. "Oh keep hold of that knife young man. Its always foolish to trust bandits." The boy quickly and nervously picked up his knife-just as Aesop swiftly made his way around him, the passengers all looking at him unsure of what was happening. "Fortunately for all of you I'm not a bandit, at least not for the next few minutes."

"Then what are you?" said a puzzled old man, looking weak as a young girl held on to him trying to comfort the man.

"Right now?" Aesop spoke softly before twirling around theatrically and exclaiming "I am the man who gives you what you work too damn hard for!" He pulled out a carbon and slammed it on a nearby table where a family sat, who jumped aback thinking he would hurt them until they saw his gift. "I am your dark skinned giver of gifts!" He continued planting another piece onto another table. "I am your friend who gives you that little bit on the side to help you by!" Planting another down. "I am the one who fights for you and gives you what you deserve!" Slamming another down. He then stopped and gave a female twirl and curtsy while saying softly and very womanly "I am a maiden helping my fellow man," a few children giggled in response, Aesop then turned and gave an over dramatic strongman pose, "I am the Iron that hammers in the weak nobility and bends them to my will!" Jumping upon a table where some young women where sitting at who gasped at him, "Put that together and you get the Iron Maidens. Mother fuckers who take from the greedy!-" he took a carbon out of the suitcase and threw it into the hands of a teenage boy, "-and give to the poor. Or rather, those who work hard and are NOT PROPERLY REWARDED!" Some teenagers were beginning to cheer in appreciation. "Oh but I'm not the only one. There's a whole group of us who took this here fine carbon from those bastards in front and... I'm sorry to say cut short your ride. So let us reimburse you." Aesop tipped the suitcase upside down as black gold fell out of it onto the floor to which people cheered and clambered to. Aesop took a handful and began handing it to small children and disabled people who couldn't stand up themselves saying "One for you. And one for you. And one for you" etc. A little girl ran up the aisle and poked him in the back, to which he turned his head and she held out her hand with a wide grin. The girl's mother was making her way quickly up the aisle to her-but Aesop just smiled and handed her a small carbon. "And one for you cutie." He ruffled her hair and then handed a much larger piece to her mother saying "Kids huh." He winked and turned back down the aisle at the disapproving mother as she scolded the child, though she was pleased with her reward. This was a boss part of the job.

In time, Elizabeth was taken out of the train, and standing on her own two feet. They led her to the end of the line, a little ways away from Josephine, but she was close enough for her to see her companion's condition. She appeared to be more awake and alert, and bandaged enough to be able to stand the dangerous outside. Damned villains did something right!

"Sorry fer the slight delay, folks. I reckon it was mighty stressful in there and fer that you have ma' deepest condolences."

"Fuck your condolences!" It was the man who was wounded from before, trying to be brave again. And once again, it had proven to be a stupid thing to do as the captain removed his air mask after prattling on about his various affairs. If two of the rogues didn't step in and get him spare air, he would have died right then and there.

But whether he survived or not was none of Josephine's concern. She had to make sure that they didn't take advantage of Elizabeth in the same manner. The captain went down the line, questioning each noble. Soon she would reach them, and who knew what information the captain had on the Maribel or Basilio households. But as God as her witness, she was not going to let Elizabeth suffer over politics she had no part in.

"This doesn't concern you. We agreed to take you with us, so can you not just fuck off and stay out of it for once?"

The Gentleman's mouth was all easy smiles, but behind the contact lenses in his eyes were two cold daggers.

'Place you hand on my person in anger again, and you will sincerely wish you hadn't. My business is with you Captain, and the profit for her will more than cover a replacement engineer. I do not require your approval.'

"Please Gentleman, enough teasin' the poor guy! He really believed he was gonna die fer a minute there, but pointing a gun at him now'll get us nowhere. He already knows he ain't gonna die!"

'Perhaps if you had intervened sooner...'

Rather than continuing that thought though, The Gentleman tucked his pistol away, and smiled at the pathetic, soiled specimen before him.

"My apologies if I added to your stress, good fellow. Rest assured you're quite safe with this lot. If you ask nicely, I'm sure they'll even be able to launder those underclothes for you."

An RV drove slowly across the desert. Two Ashcrawlers speeding ahead and acting as scouts while at least six surrounded the RV in a travelling caravan. A man in a long red robe sat atop sunbathing with a gasmask on playing an acoustic guitar. Slowly he strummed on the chords while men and women sat around him with sniper and assault rifles.

"Kids?" Asked the man as he played his guitar softly and slowly.

"Yes father?" Answered one of them, a young girl looking only about 17.

"How close are we?"

"Um..." Another one, a man with struggling facial hair looked through binoculars. "I seeee the scouts ahead are still driving sooooo, wait they're pulling over." He put down the binocs and continued "I can't see it but I think they can, somethings caught their eye at least."

"Get on the horn, see how they're doing." Said Austin as he lay his head back in the sun.

"I got it dad." Said another, a spry young thing, couldn't have been any older than eleven."

The boy got on the radio as Father Austin kept playing his guitar. One of his followers knelt down beside him, looking older than the rest. "Um, dad can I ask you something?"

"Of course Oliver but I think I know what this is about." He sighed.

The boy dropped his head down with an ounce of shame and said "I know dad and I'm sorry... I-its not that I don't want him just... Should we really be giving him a gun? I mean he really doesn't know how to use it he could hurt one of us, or himself."

Continuing to play his guitar looking unphased on the situation the father answered "Oliver he has to start somewhere. And we need to help him. He needs us, and we need him, you should be glad to have another brother.

"Dad I am I just-"

"Just teach him son. We all need to help him. Not just with guns but everything. You saw how he was... Those people who had the gall to call themselves his parents..." Austin strummed his guitar violently and loudly and everyone on the roof of the RV turned their attention to him. He highered his voice to address them all. "You all love me right?"

"Yes of course!" They all said overlapping each other.

Austin spoke out loudly again to stop their praise and draw attention, "then you need to love each other. Its more than just giving affection, you need to teach with that love. Give them the life lessons we all need. Its our duty as family no matter who someone is, everyone is our family. We need to educate our youngsters to be as strong as us. Do you understand?"

Silence stood among them for a moment until a high pitched voice interrupted their thoughts. "The scouts can see it dad."

Austin sat up and turned back to the boy as he peeked his head up through the roof. "Good son, good. Now, everybody get ready." Austin lay down his guitar in its case and pulled out a shotgun. "No survivors this time. They don't get to another dome."

It really says something about how the day is going when the high point is watching a man NOT suffocate to death.

Florian sighed behind his mask. Lucky for the poor noble the captain hadn't hired a bunch of yes men and the others acted accordingly. There wasn't much Florian could do though, at least that was what he told himself. If he got into the violence then he was at risk of falling off the wagon. Even then it felt like a lie.

He went back onto the train and found the larger man that the sociopath that had hijacked their hijacking had shot. His face was turning a pale blue as death and the toxic air played havoc with his fading flesh. There was no way Florian could carry him out of there on his own, he'd have to drag him out and that sounded like it would be embarrassing for both of them, maybe more for the dead man. He seemed like a pompus fool in the VERY brief time that the two of them had spoken but no one deserved that. The poor thing had been gunned down like an animal. Now that thought had a whole elvel of personal shame for the priest but hat was something for a later.

He stood over the body and said the old words that he had learned so long ago, closing the dead man's eyes, forever frozen in state of shock. He sat across form the corpese for a time, calming his thoughts and taking everything in. To think that they had hoped this would all go so clean and easy. And then there was the explosions, how many people had Ricky and Smiles killed between them?

But that was enough self pitying for now. Florian pushed himself to his feet and went along the train, he'd seen Aesop wander off while the drama with the nobles was going down and if past jobs were anything to go by there was only one place he'd be.

Florian found him in the common coach handing out their spoils to those that needed it most. "Started without me I see." He quipped, grabbing up a handful of carbon and passed chunks to those stuck at the back of the crowd. "Now this is why I got into this job!"

A small campsite lies in the middle of nowhere. Desert in every direction. The nearest domed city was at least a week away by walking. A few spotted tents and pick-a-nick baskets. A few people sat around not making eye contact with each other, but one young man stepped up to a much younger looking boy drawing in the sand with a stick.

"Hey... You okay?" He asked.

Without looking up the boy answered "No."

"...yeah... I know..." sighed the man.

They stayed there silent for a few moments. "What did Dad do to piss them off so much?" Asked the boy.

"Language Randy-"

"Oh fuck off you aren't dad."

"Yeah but now I need to be the next best thing don't I!" Silence again. They kept their eyes locked for a long time before they each calmed their gaze. "I'm sorry Randy... I don't know what Dad could have done to piss them off so badly. It was that fucker in the robe, the other ones were being normal till he started talking to dad."

The voice of a girl interrupted their conversation "He was really nice to me..." The man and the boy both looked at her. "He um..." She continued nervously, "was saying like that he could take care of us before he um... Sorry..."

"Its fine Gina, just... Don't talk to strangers anymore okay? If a man pulls you aside you shout for me or Bailey or Harry or someone. Harry's a dick but he'll help you. Go back inside." The girl nodded and went back into her tent. Looking back to the boy he said "Randy we can't trust people anymore okay? Mom died cos of that fucking duke back home, now Dad's dead cos of Bandits. Once we get to a city with... At least decent nobles, with good air and good cops. We gotta work solo. Get some food down you we're packing up soo-" his thoughts were interrupted, as well as every other function of his brain as it was spread all over the sand.

"JACK!!!" Screeched the boy as he rushed to his brothers side. "Jack! Jack! Fuck no no this can't be happening it can't it can't you can't-" he couldn't continue as two bullets tore through his lungs. The rest of the campers ran out of their tents with a few guns but not enough for all the them. The little girl Gina screamed in horror before she to joined the man and the boy on the bloody sand. A woman screamed out for the girl before she saw two ashcrawlers coming upon them, a sniper standing up through the sunroof in one of them. She fired at the crawler only able to hit the lights of it before her throat was torn out by bullets. Two more people began shooting at the trucks while the last one began running away. The two people screamed in anger as their unkempt guns shot wildly at the ashcrawlers before their heads become craters. The last man, with no weapons at all, ran hurriedly through the desert, panting and breathing hard. The sniper aimed down his sights but was interupted by a voice on his handheld radio attached to his hip.

"Stop! Don't kill him. Just bring him down. I have a plan. No bullets."

"Yes father," he responded as he slammed his palm down a few times on the roof and the crawler's charged ahead.
=======================
The RV made upon a ravaged camp site with bodies strewn across the floor. Austin looked down upon the slaughter with a snarl before turning to see the two ashcrawlers parked ahead. Austin made his way down and out of the RV along with the followers that were on the roof, as well as the little boy from earlier. The ashcrawlers were positioned across from each other while two men savagely beat a man with a long chain and a sheathed machete. Austin looked down at the man as he was being beaten. "Stop." He commanded and thus they stopped. Staring down with ice cold eyes he said "cut off his hand." The man screamed in terror as he tried to scramble away but he was held down as the thug unsheathed his machete and chopped through his wrist. The man screamed and cried to the heavens as he stared at his severed hand and blood spurting wrist, shouting obscenities. "Down swear in front of my children!" He said as he stomped down on the side of his face. "Bring the boy in."

Slowly the other bandits brought the young boy forward and he carried a pistol. Suddenly changing his entire demeanour, Austin said "Son. Remember what we talked about right?" The boy nodded nervously as he couldn't take his eyes off the man's hand. "Son. Boy? Look at me." The boy snapped his head to Austin. "Are you ready?" Though it was phrased like a question, it was not a question. "Good" Austin continued as he pulled the boot of the man. The man snivvled and grovelled as he moaned in pain and the boy found himself stuck. He was frozen, staring at this soon to be dead man, by his hand.

"Son?" He didn't get an answer. Austin sighed. "I think I know what the problem is. He's defenceless." Austin then took a gun from one of his bandits who offered it graciously. He threw the gun a few feet away from the man on the floor. "Now you," Austin looked to the bleeding man with pure hatred in his voice, "you will go for that gun. If you manage to get it and kill my boy here, you can go. Run off to the nearest dome and get your hand re-attached." The boy and the man looked to him in fear. "Now son, you need to defend yourself and kill him fast. If he reaches that gun he will kill you. Go." The man and the kid looked back and forth to each other and Austin standing tall over them both. They locked eyes before suddenly the man squealed and crawled quickly across the floor for the gun. He grabbed it and was turning to take aim at the boy when four bullets tore through his back and two in the back of his head. The boy stood there, quiet as death, as the smoke from his gun flowed up into the air. Austin smiled and ruffled his hair before picking him up and swinging him around before lovingly embracing him. "Ooohhhh son I am so proud of you. You did such a good job." The boy looked pale and looked down into Austins chest. "Son? Is everything alright?"

"... Dad?... Would you have really let him kill me?" Asked the young boy softly.

"Yes son. I would have." The boy was struck with terror and was about to ask why when Austin answered him. "I would have because then you would have failed. Now you have succeeded. Now I know you are strong, and now you truly are part of our family. C'mon son. Let's get you a treat, you earned it." He swung the boy around and got him into a piggyback as he got back into the RV. "Let's head into town kids, get this little munchkin a treat."

"Started without me I see." Aesop grinned as he turned to see Florian passing some chunks of carbon around. "Now this is why I got into this job!"

"Me too brother!" Said Aesop in a booming chuckle as he wrapped an arm around Padre's shoulder. "Look at that. All our hard work paying off. Even pocket money for nobles is enough to pay off all these people's mortgages. Fucking love this gig." He then turned to whisper into his ear "By the way um, me and you might need to chat back on the maiden, 'bout the body count? Sorry it got so fucked."

Perps were almost in place. Night was as dark as it was gonna get. Cops were around every corner. If things went bad it would become a bloodbath, nonetheless the police would still prevail. The plan was perfect, and Alexandria was sure the only way they would fail is if some outside force interfered or one of her officers broke nerve (one of the ones outside that is, not her perfection squad). With the plan all thought out she had her knife and pistol at the ready, with a .400 Magnum at the ready if things went really really bad.

Weapons at the ready Alex and a small squadrant of cops atop the second floor of an oak wooden storehouse. The perps were trading guns and had paid off the owner of a bar owner in the city to use one of his storehouses to do their deal. It was spacious and offered a lot of cover, both sides clearly paranoid of the other starting an ambush. Alex had been waiting in there with her squad for a good few hours now. A squad of her most trusted and talented officers. They knew when to put duty ahead of all else but also they were adaptable and knew when it was time to stop, to quit, to run, to fight another day, to fight on, to fight until the very last breath and if necessary make it the final day to fight. Any other officer would have come in a few minutes before the perps were intended to show. Not these boys. Others may be sipping the wine until the deal was about to go down. Not these girls. These were the finest cops this side of Yuteni had to offer and she was gonna use them to beat down crime until it begged for mercy, then kick it when its down and punch it below the belt. The squad was interchangeable and thus if one was hurt they could be replaced by another who had proven themselves but these were Sherrif Alexandria North's personal honour guard, her own miniature swat team. If they lives a thousand years earlier you'd see these men fighting with Elliot Ness to bring down Al Capone and be portrayed by Kevin Costner and Sean Connery.

The deal was upon them. The perps were entering the building, suspicious as hell but mainly of each other. They gave the place a brief search to make sure nothing was up, but they kept their eyes on each other out of fear of getting shot with their backs turned. The two main speakers sent their men to scout the area and act as guards to the two story building as the two gangs stood opposite each other with their main force looking intimidating and strong. Alex waited as they spoke their macho bullshit to each other. Meanwhile any guards who roamed upstairs were being discreetly taken out by her men and women in uniform. Alex waited silently as they were nearing ever so close for the words she needed to hear and the sounds of them wheeling in their merchandise. The only gangster who went upstairs to look for trouble who wasn't taken out was Alex's rat who she made a deal with in order to nab the leaders of this deal. He shouted down that everything was smooth sailing.

Finally, after what seemed a millennia of over arrogant, asinine machismo they were rolling in the merch. Two large carts, covered up for now but they all knew what was inside; at least if one side wasn't being fucked over. Saying that would be an understatement. More talk. More fucking talk. Threats if the deal wasn't completed with honesty and the right goods. On and on and on they went until finally she heard it. "Open 'em up." And the carts were uncovered. With the rat looking down and coughing as his signal to clear, the squad moved in, overlooking the balcony with guns drawn.

"FREEZE!" Yelled Alex as every gangster looked up and drew their guns at her and her compatriots. It did them no good as the doors were then breached by dozens of officers, every damn gangster covered and about to get their head blown off if they made a move.

The two leaders looked at each other in shock with repeated cries of "You set us up!"
Replied by "No you set us up!"
They were getting violent and turned their guns on each other before Alex intervened.

"Everybody shut your god damn mouths and drop your weapons unless you wanna add to the Yuteni police body count, cos trust me I'll sleep better than I have in months knowing your dead. So go ahead, fucking kill each other I don't care. But one pull of one trigger and all of you are gonna gain a lot more holes to breathe through but with a lot less breathing! Trust me a cell makes a much better home than hell." Eyes darting from cop to gangster the perps all slowly lowered their weapons and offering no resistance. She had the drop on them. THEY had the drop on them. For each gangster there were at least 3 officers with enough handguns, shotguns and rifles at their heads to know that 3 square meals are better than none at all.

Swiftly officers had cuffed every last one of the perps. One however had a tiny pin concealed in his bracelet, as they were all being rounded up outside he used it to pick the lock off of his cuffs. Though for his expertise in lock picking he certainly was not one for common sense for as soon as he was free he made a break for it. He made it 5 feet away. Alex herself had made sure of that. Whipping out her magnum she took aim between his shoulders. The resulting shot didn't bring an entrance or exit wound-rather a crater in his shoulders were the neck and skull used to remain. She turned her head, her arm still outstretched and aiming at the dead gangster as she turned her attention to the gangsters. "Anyone else thinking of playing runaway?" They looked to her utter lack of compassion in shock, as if she was one of them. "Good."
================================================================================================
Sitting at her desk Alex waited for three young recruits to enter her office. They came quickly.

"Ma'am?" They each asked nervously as they entered. They knew why they was there.

"Can you answer me why each of you allowed a dangerous criminal to escape your watch?" They each gave an answer but were cut short by Alex.

"He picked the lock off his cu-

"We weren't allowing him to escape we would ha-"

"He didn't escape you got hi-"

"No no no no and no you allowed a perp to escape!" They shut up. She stood personally close to them one by one and exclaimed to each, "You Alvares didn't search him properly! You Hardy and You Imgemi didn't keep your guns trained on him! What did you think just cos all the perps were in cuffs that there was time to goof off? THERE IS NEVER TIME TO GOOF OFF ON THE JOB! You wait until they are back at the station, in the cells, off the streets before you make jokes and slack off your duty and SECURELY CUFFED!" She turned back to Alvares at the end there. "I'm glad I chose you as the outside force and not part of my squad. And after tonight throw any thoughts of joining that squad out the window, cos you're all gonna need to do a lot of work to get back into my good books!" Walking calmer behind her desk she sat down and put her gun on the table. "This gun killed the perp. None of yours. I was overseeing every perp being arrested and yet I was quicker on the draw than the three who were meant to be watching him. Docked pay and latrine duty for a month for all of you. Get out of my sight." They all apologised and scrambled out of her office. She re sheathed her Magnum and began looking through reports. Now that the excitement was over it was time for the paperwork.

======================================================================================================

After hours of paperwork it was the early hours of the morning. Sun dawning and blazing piping hot in her office. She could have done this another time but Alex preferred to get this all out of the way as soon as possible. She made her way home having relieved herself from duty and making sure every cop was doing their duty or clocking out to get some well deserved rest. She unlocked the front door of her moderately sized house. Just because she was sheriff she didn't want no super fancy house, just something nice that she could appreciate. She yawned as she went into the living room were the baby sitter had fallen asleep reading.

"Nancy?" Said Alex gently as she softly woke up the teenager. "Nancy wake up."

Nancy rubbed her eyes awake as she looked to Alex with one eye barely open. "Miss North? What time is it?"

"Its almost time for Austin to go to school."

The girl's eyes widened in fear, not of harm but of losing her job. "Oh my gosh Miss North I am so so sorry-"

"Relax Nancy not for another 45 minutes. I just woke you up because I saw your parents on my way home on their way to work. They said they needed you home right away to do some painting?"

"Oh yes," she said, feeling relieved but still looking like she was in trouble, "I said I was gonna be home..." She looked at her watch, "2 hours ago! Gosh I better go."

"Do you want some breakfast before you go Nancy?" asked Alex.

"No I really can't I'll just grab something at my house, thank you." She sped towards the door in a groggy state when Nancy called to her just quiet enough so that her son couldn't hear.

"Wait, you forgot your carbon."

"Oh yes," she said as she stopped at the door.

"I weighed it this morning since I assumed I would be home this late." Said the sheriff as she handed some rocks of carbon to Nancy.

"Thanks Miss North."

"Take care now."

"Thanks I will." said Nancy as she quickly made her way out of the house. With the house quiet Alex got around reading a couple of chapters of the book Nancy left behind, it was Alex's anyway. She began making Austin's lunch and preparing his bag and before she knew it it was time to wake the boy up.

"Austin? Austin time to wake up" she softly awoke her child.

Austin groaned awake and replied "goroonnghhh just a few more minutes mama... Mama!" He exclaimed realising it was her.

Alex smiled and said "Yes baby boy I'm here. And its time for school."

Austin was still happy to see his mother home safe but his enthusiasm was dampened by the thought of education. "Mama can't I just stay in bed a couple more minutes?"

"No young man, a couple minutes becomes a few, then a lot, then an hour and you are not gonna be late. I had to tell off a few police officers last night I don't want my son to be on the receiving end of that by his teacher."

Austin was suddenly abbust with enthusiasm,"Ooh ooh can you tell me how the bust went mama??? Can you can you can you????"

Alex raised her eyebrow, "what's the word I'm not hearing?"

"Pleeaaasseee?... Sorry mama."

"That's better" she said more serious. "I'll tell you when you get home from school, but for now let's get you ready."

"Okay mama" said Austin. He didn't have to hear every detail of the story.

Pixie went down the line "interviewing" the nobles one-by-one. Most gave up their information willingly, though some of the more stubborn nobles had to be slapped around a bit. Cranston had radioed Pixie during one such interview to let her know Smiles and Ricky were on their way over and that all remaining soldiers had been neutralized. It was a good thing too. Every extra minute spent out in the open was a calculated risk, especially after the bandito ambush.

Her enemies knew she was out there.

With only a few more nobles to interrogate she barked into the radio, "Maiden, this is yer Cap'm speakin', wer' just about ready fer evac. Get yer sexy ass down here, over."

"---zztt---Roger---zzttt---"

Elizabeth watched this woman as she worked. Brutal was the best adjective she could come up with the describe her, though she had to admit, the idea of a woman leading such a group was interesting in its own right. What was this... "Pixie's" story? How had she come to lead such a vile band? What fueled the hatred within her?

Some part of her almost wished that Pixie would take her prisoner so that she may learn the answers to these questions. Learn what made this woman tick. What drove her to such extreme lengths.

As Elizabeth was lost in her thoughts, Pixie stopped in front of her, her eyes blank, "Lady Maribel?" Elizabeth nodded in response. "You're coming with us." Before Elizabeth could respond Pixie had already moved on to the next noble. In that moment Elizabeth could only think of the trouble this would cause for her family and her fiance.

I'm sorry Dio...

A few interviews later and Pixie had made her way to the last candidate, Lady Josephine, "Yer Josephine, right?" She said as she crossed her arms in apparent boredom. "Look, I got myself four prisoners as it is. I reckon the Maiden's gonna have a mighty hard time feedn' y'all fer an extended period of time, so I'll tell ya what... you give me a good reason not to sell your powder'd ass back to yer folks and I let you walk. Deal?"

Josephine listened to the captain's interviewing, hoping for some kind of information that could be of value to her, but alas there was none. From the sound of it, they were nearly done with their business on the train. The captain then approached Elizabeth. "Lady Maribel? You're coming with us."

"N'er!" she instinctively shouted, but the captain simply moved on. Josephine saw Elizabeth become disheartened at the news, and it wasn't long before she came face to face with the captain.

"Yer Josephine, right?"

"Aye."

"Look, I got myself four prisoners as it is. I reckon the Maiden's gonna have a mighty hard time feedn' y'all fer an extended period of time, so I'll tell ya what... you give me a good reason not to sell your powder'd ass back to yer folks and I let you walk. Deal?"

Trying to bargain for Elizabeth's freedom was going to be challenging, if not downright impossible. But she wasn't going to let her go easily. Josephine locked her gaze with the captain as she stood up straight in attention.

"Lady Maribel sought my council during this ordeal, and nay, I shall not leave her with your rabble. An thou woulds't take her, then perchance you exchange me for the other prisoners. Certes, an arrangement can be made. I am of more value than my fellow lightminded brethren."

"Lady Maribel sought my council during this ordeal, and nay, I shall not leave her with your rabble."

Ruffles perked up. "Hey, I take offense to that," he said lightly. "I'd say we're at least a motley crew, if not a band of ruffians."

Fiddling idly with the goggles on his forehead, he spoke again, this time seeming to talk to himself. "Rabble... rabble... that reminds me, does 'scrabble' count in Scrabble?"

To scrabble up something. "Oh yeah, right..." he said, again to nobody in particular. Several of the Nobles were giving him odd looks now. He flashed them a dazzling smile and carried on messing with the complex switches and adjusters on his goggles.

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