Raurugia Rail Lines, Train No. 47 North…
Haug Handslayer smashed a chair through a window as fists and boots pounded on the doors at either end of the state car.
“Ah, right, then,” said Ruili Windwolf, “the window.”
The first door gave way with a bang, kicked in by a hooded figure, with more hooded figures behind him. Ruili snatched up an ash catcher and hurled it at the lead figure, cutting him off in mid “Deliver!” His blood racing, the elf grabbed his shoulder bag and Y’lanna’s arm.
A second bang, and the second door was kicked in by a second mob. The enormous gangster Haug pulled himself through the window frame, and Ruili, wasting no time on words, picked Y’lanna up in his arms and swung her, legs first over the sill, the way Haug had gone. A body crashed into him from behind, an arm clamped around his neck, and Ruili was knocked forward. Y’lanna slipped out, into the waiting arms of Haug Handslayer as Ruili snapped his elbow up and back, into the body of the man who had grabbed him.
The grab had been a mistake, and the train robber never had a chance. Ruili felt the breath fly from him as the elbow hit the ribs over a lung, and in that moment of slackness, Ruili turned and slammed his left fist into a face covered by a wrapped scarf. Searing pain shot through his left arm, the one still healing, but he ignored it, forcing the reaction instead into upending his assailant into the crowd of his fellows, like tossing sacks-and-pins.
He was out the window and landing on the torn up ground alongside the tracks just in time to see Haug Handslayer finish up what looked like a rather insistent kiss on Y’lanna Sparti.
“Hoy, there,” he demanded, “did you get permission for that?”
Haug let Y’lanna go from arms that almost eclipsed her entirely. “You don’t gain by waiting to ask,” he grinned. “Until later, Pretty,” he bowed to Y’lanna, adding to Ruili, “And later for you as well, elf. We made an appointment, aye? I’ll not forget it.”
“Nor I, sir,” answered Ruili. “I’ll add you to my list.”
The two men exchanged hasty bows, and Haug Handslayer ran off into the dark and the echoes of men being knocked out of the way.
The robbers were just about through the window after them, and shouting to their compatriots. “Come, Y’lanna,” said Ruili, taking her arm and running towards the trees.
Full night had fallen with the moon occluded by streaked clouds. The darkness was pierced by torchlight and by voices shouting to each other in the dialect of the Raurugian mountains. Ruili did not understand the words, but the intent was clear. They were under attack by more a small army than a gang. Every section of the train was engaged. A few bodies lay on the turf and among the undergrowth, some might be bandits, others were surely the guardians of the train. Passengers were being forced out of the cars and lined up for organized stripping of valuables, while other robbers looted luggage.
A yell went up as someone spotted the runners. A band of five robbers lit out after Ruili and Y’lanna. They gained the edge of the forest, and Ruili shoved Y’lanna ahead of him. With a single move, he drew his sword from the scabbard across his back and turned on their pursuers. The double-edged blade sang and shone like the moon itself as Ruili swung it through the night air and brought the point level with the eyes of the lead robber.
— — —
“Where in the Pit is Handslayer?” Ashcat shouted as he dropped a bandit to the ground, bleeding.
“Here,” said Haug, running up to his boss and comrades. He was slammed with an immediate barrage of angry questions about what was going on and how many enemy there were.
“Many,” he said, “and if we’re near Teur, then I know who they are.”
— — —
The tactic of this particular gang of Raurugian mountain bandits was straightforward. They began by tearing up a section of track, upon which the clockwork engine of Train No. 47 had crashed and cracked into pieces as the cars derailed in a jumble behind it. They liked to do this just outside a town so the train would be slowing, thus letting it and its passengers survive the stop relatively intact for looting. Once they had their prey down, they descended in teams upon the entire length, some sixty bandits in all. They cast dampening spells to counter any wizardry, invaded the cars, fought whatever crew and guards might be fool enough to confront them, and systematically rounded up the passengers while they were dazed and frightened. While some of their cohort collected money, jewels and whatever else they could take from the passengers, others ransacked the luggage and cargo. If all went as planned, they’d have picked the train clean and vanished into the hills before either guardians or the local garrison got wind that anything was afoot.
They were deep in the process when they came upon the black-cloaked passenger with the broad-brimmed hat hiding his face. He stood before one of the bandit teams as they forced their way into a common class car. By the gnarled black wand in his hand, they guessed he was a wizard, but that mattered little as their own wizards’ spells would have taken care of any casters. They couldn’t stifle the flow of aura here on the natural ley line that powered the engine, but they could derail the forms of spells just as they had derailed the train itself. So, confident, they went at the wizard in black with knives drawn.
In response, he raised a playing card, the edge wet with blood.
The screaming was the first sign that the plan had hit a snag.
— — —
Meanwhile, a day’s lead north of Train No. 47…
The little wren came speeding between the trees and lit upon a twig above the head of Jeneyeru Nightwise. With an exhausted chirp, the bird fell to the ground and landed in the form of the wizard’s valet, Thimble.
“Master Nightwise,” the faerie panted, “I found the spot where His Highness landed, but the Prince is not there. He left a sign to show he went down the mountain and into the valley, no doubt to escape the dragon. I spied the beast not far ahead that way,” he pointed, “It was dragging a torn wing, but I did not stop to see if it was moving off or just around.”
“Well done, Thimble,” said Jeneyeru.
“There’s more, Master–”
“Yes, I know,” Jeneyeru cut off Thimble’s report, dropping his voice to a whisper as he signaled to Captain Lafitte to come close. “Brownies,” he said confidentially, “they are following us now. We must keep moving.”
The wizard hurried the team along as the leaves and bushes around them rustled.