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Prologue: A Unlikely Opportunity Chapter One: Locomotion Commotion

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Chapter One: Locomotion Commotion

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      Andras moved through the crowds with an easy going smile and a twinkle in his eye, navigating the busy terminal with a familiar ease. He was unbothered by the heavy clouds of black haze and smoke, nor by the blowing spring snowfall. Andras was seemingly immune to the distasteful smells of burnt steel and coalsmoke. Also like any good Suranthi, this light dusting of snow, though notable to southerners perhaps, was not really worth mentioning to him. Ivellios was much the same, an easy-going manner to him, a familiarity that belayed confidence. Brenna found it fascinating, their poise and lack of nerves, after all they were in the midst of doing something that could see the pair arrested. 

 

       The three friends had discussed their plan for the better part of the last day, barely leaving the inn they'd procured rooms at. Brenna had been of no concern for the conversation, for though the rules and laws of the Suranth dictated one must turn over all weapons for lockup in special safes under the carriages when travelling on locomotives, they couldn't functionally disarm a licensed magister. Brenna was a living weapon in her own right, but as would befit her position as a licensed and sanctioned magister, she would have no problems boarding, nor would she be expected to 'disarm' as such a thing was quite literally impossible. "One of the few perks of being licensed and sanctioned." Brenna thought to herself with a quiet chuckle, knowing that though she would not be disarmed, she would likely be noted, and checked in on at least once each day on the journey by a rail warden. Furthermore, the soldier would not announce their presence, merely watch and note Brenna's activities for an hour or so midway through each day of the trip.

 

       Andras and Ivellios on the other hand, were fully intent on sneaking their weapons aboard. It wasn't the first time they'd done such a thing, but given the heightened risk, their lack of nerves was astounding. Getting caught attempting such a thing was a felony offense in Suranth under normal circumstances, and could easily land one five years in prison. Under the circumstances they knew they were walking into, though none had said it the day before, they all had no doubt if they didn't manage to successfully sneak the weapons by, and they were discovered? The charges would likely be of a higher crime, given the standing of the very individual whom they were trying to do this to protect. Yet in spite of that, as the three friends approached the terminal and the check gates, the pair moved with an easy going familiarity, not an ounce of doubt or concern in them. Brenna did her best to watch the pair work without staring obviously, so she didn't give the game away. But she couldn't help but try and watch as much of it as she could. Brenna may not have always agreed with their methods, but she could not deny a level of fascination with their abilities and practiced skill.

 

      Andras glanced to Ivellios, whom gave him a subtle tilt of the head, and the pair moved forwards, Andras in the lead, towards the bag checking station. "Oi guvner' an' a fine afternoon ta ya." Andras told the security clerk as they approached, slinging his bag off his shoulder, using the movement to slip his cestus gauntlet off his left hand unseen, slipping it back to Ivellios.

 

      "Aye a fine afternoon to you sirs." the dwarf working the booth replied, grabbing the bag, as he tilted it open. "Any weapons ta check?" he asked them as he began briefly leafing through the contents of Andras' travel pack. Andras noted the nametag on his uniform swiftly before answering.

 

       "Aye Storin, just this 'ere blade," replied Andras, playing the role well, slipping a thin bladed dagger onto the table. It was almost more of a toy than a proper weapon, something both he and Ivellios kept on them as a 'feint' of sorts for circumstances such as this. These security types rightfully expected most any adult who traveled, even by rail, to be armed. Suranth was a dangerous land after all, it would not be wise to wander its countrysides without some means of protection. But as he slipped the small knife onto the counter, seeing the dwarf slide his bag and its contents aside, the fist-fighter pulled the bag over to him swiftly, playing off the brief moment of trust his percieved 'honesty' had just won him. Andras knew this game very well, and played it to near perfection. "Nae, me good dwarf, it seems quite busy t'day, so it be nae hardship, if yer done wit' me bag? I can repack it right quick whilst ye finish that wee bit o' paperwork an' set me blade off wit' t'e right rack." he told Storin, using a friendly tone, as he slipped his ticket onto the counter. He nodded his thanks, noting the carriage number and slid the ticket back over towards Andras

 

       "T'at be helpful o' ye laddie, an' thank ye fer bein' so co-operative." Storin told him, swiftly writing a few things out on a parchment form, as Andras moved just beyond his periphrial, accepting his cestus back from Ivellios as they passed close to each other, allowing him to do so. Then he set about packing half the bag right away, before pausing to take a swift but thorough glance around to make sure no one was watching, especially the next security guard whom would pat him down in mere moments. Satisfied, he quickly and subtely slipped his trench knife out of a hidden fold pocket in his travel cloak, sheath and all, and tucked it carefully in the bag. Next went his cestus, again a swift motion, and then Andras surrounded the items with the rest of his clothing. As Andras finished repacking his bag, he moved a few feet further past the security point, waiting for his companions to come through. Ivellios had no trouble doing much the same to fool the guard as Andras had done. Ivellios had no need of an assistant however, since none of his weapons were worn on the hands.

 

       As Brenna approached the dwarf, he raised an eyebrow and nodded to the young woman. "Aye lass, I take it ye know w'at I'll be askin' yerself?" he told her gruffly, but with no malice in the words.

 

       "Indeed I do, sir Storin and rightfully so." she replied smoothly, offering her most disarming smile as she slipped her licensing and official sanction papers to the dwarf. "I am confident even your discerning eye will find everything in order."

 

        The dwarf returned her smile, though in dwarven he muttered something to the effect of "T'ey 'andin' out magister licenses ta children nae? W'at madness be next I ask ye?" Brenna wanted to respond to such a comment instinctually, but held her tongue, knowing the delicate task of her two companions was not yet complete. No good could come from arousing suspicion or making a scene now. Storin held her documents for many moments, even as she dumped her bag for him to check, going over every word and marking within them. Brenna once again marvelled to herself how easily Ivellios and Andras had gotten by him with words, smiles and a bit of deceit. Brenna felt the slightest twinge of something akin to jealousy within her in that moment, though she swiftly and savagely quelled it. Such feelings were not becoming of a magister of the Sapphire Order.

 

       After many moments, Storin snorted and handed her back her documents. "All seems in order Magister Hawthorne." the guard told her, addressing her formally, a sign of respect from most. However, the dwarf's use of her last name and not her first was actually a sign of mistrust. Dwarves did not generally trust magisters, even those of their own kind, easily. Brenna knew better than to let it bother her though. Storin swiftly leafed through the contents from her bag next, having the decency to at least blush a bit when he came upon her undergarments. Then Storin was repacking her bag carefully, and slid it to Brenna along with her ticket. "Off ye go then miss, you head ta the left and Rosalie will do yer pat down." 

 

       "Thank you sir." Brenna replied, giving him a respectful tilt of her head, as she moved on, waving her friends on to the right, as she gestured left towards a short halfling woman. Ivellios moved forward first, and Brenna watched as best she could. Ivellios walked up, his gentlemen walking stick obvious, begging to be checked. Ivellios applied pressure to a tiny pin within the hand grip with his pinky finger as he approached. Ivellios felt, but did not hear, the slight click, as the pin locked the cane together as one piece, preventing the hidden rapier from being drawn. He approached this second dwarf, Logas, as his nametag read. 

 

        "A fine afternoon to you master Logas" Ivellios said smoothly, in perfect dwarven, pouring on the charm. As he did so, Ivellios offered forth his walking cane first, before he could even be asked, a disarming gesture. The dwarf nodded, taking the cane and giving it a swift twirl, feeling the weight. Logas gave it a shake, but no rattle came from it, for the inside was specially made, a fabric insert having been tubed into the exquisite cherrywood piece with impressive skill and care, to insure the blade would not rattle, having soft padding between it and the exterior of the piece. Logas then grasped the haft of the cane in one burly dwarf hand, the ivory hand grip, beautifully carved as if leafy vines wrapping together as if sprouted from the cherrywood, in the other. He pulled once, twice, and a third time, not messing about, even trying to give a twist with one of the tugs. Satisfied, Logas handed it back to Ivellios

 

       Ivellios read his body language, and knew immediately that the dwarf had decided the cane was not worth worrying about, and had no intention of taking it. But he could also tell Logas was not yet as disarmed as he could be, so in that moment, Ivellios reversed the walking stick again and gave a smile, "It is quite alright sir, I don't need it to walk" Ivellios offered with his most innocent and charming smile. "If you would prefer it checked, by all means. I know it is a hefty piece."

 

       Logas chuckled then, shaking his head. "Nae laddie, not a worry, tis a beautiful walkin' stick, an' 'as a wee bit o' heft. But tis still just a walkin' stick. Nae stand tall fer me, arms out parallel like a 't' an' legs bein' a shoulder width apart, if'n ye nae mind." Ivellios complied with the instructions immediately, and felt the dwarf's swift, and not exceedingly thorough frisk. He didn't find the small object in the cloak, barely patting down the cloak at all, and didn't even pat down Ivellios boots, within each of which he had a thin bladed throwing knife. Once done, Logas stepped back from Ivellios and waved him onwards. "Alright laddie, yer free ta go, train be doin' last call ta board in," the dwarf swiftly checked a brass pocketwatch he had in the breast pocket of his uniform, "eight minutes. Yer in the back set o' cabins, so when ye come out the gate 'ere, and up the stairs ta the actual platform, take a right an' it'll be the fourth carriage ye come upon. Ye understand?"

 

       Ivellios nodded, putting on his best appreciative look. "Many thanks Logas. Turn right once on the platform, it'll be the fourth carriage I come too. Got it." Logas waved him on then and he was through, though he held his composure still, waiting for his companions. Andras had no trouble with Logas, as one would expect, given how smoothly Ivellios had gotten by him. After all the fist-fighter carried nothing that could even remotely be considered a weapon, unlike Ivellios with his walking stick. It also helped that despite the cool spring air, Andras was rather lightly dressed. His arms were covered mind, for he wore a simple woolen jerkin, a pale green in color with brass buttons, with moose hide leggings, and simple doeskin moccasins. Andras was never one for fine fitted or expensive clothing, and preferred a minimalist style of dress, which aided him in regards to things such as this, as there simply were not a lot of places that he could hide something on his person. Logas did his due dilligence, a quick frisk, but again, not as thorough as one should perhaps be, and then Andras was through, pulling his thick white bearskin cloak tighter around him as the light spring snowfall began to pick up a little. A bit of wind picked up, a biting spring chill in the air, as if winter was trying to remind those of Suranth that it was the ruler of these Tundra Realms, and was never far away. As if those whom called this land home needed such reminders.

 

      Brenna naturally moved through her check without a hitch, for the young woman never carried any sort of weapon, having no real need. She strolled through, standing tall, confident and looked at her friends, tilting her head. "Well boys, shall we?" she inquired, gesturing to the stairs leading up to the actual terminal. They both agreed, and the trio moved off.

 

                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

       The railyard of An Pointe Thoir was upon an elevated plateau within the city's limits, the rails passing through and then over parts of the city, to arrive here. The design was a purposeful one, where passengers had to pass through checkpoints where their were stairs, for the only civilian access to the railyards were through one of the three station lobby halls. There were seven platforms, so seven sets of tracks that would see civilian traffic, with another eleven sets of tracks that were used for cargo and freight, the busier part of the railyards. Everything ran at a very tight schedule when it came to locomotive travel, everything timed down to the minute, and one only had to look around at railyard employees to see how seriously this was taken. Everyone, from the conductors to the lowliest rail rat working the coal loading shoots, had a brass pocketwatch. Besides this a large clock tower stood at the center of the railyards, having four clock faces, one on each wall, so even if someone's pocketwatch stopped working, or was lost, they could easily check the time from anywhere in the workplace.

 

      The trio moved swiftly, Ivellios leading, following the directions given to him by Logas the security clerk to the letter, and but five minutes later the three friends were comfortably boarded, settling into their simple cabins. Each room had a one person cot, a pillow and two blankets provided, as well as a small table and chair, the table built out of the train's wall directly in line with the window of their cabin. The wall opposite the small cot had a cushioned bench seat, so guests could intermingle, or in some cases to save money, people might share a cabin, though the accomodations of such an arrangement would be inevitably cramped. 

 

      Latrines were located at the ends of the carriages, one on each end. They were simple affairs, and used a catchbasin system that would then be vented via controls under lock and key outside, generally in transit through the country-side, as it would just rot like any other organic material. Train travel, whilst not the lap of luxury of travelling by Sky-Ship, was quite comfortable and a damn sight safer and faster than travelling on foot or by wagon or dogsled. The journey from An Pointe Thoir to Geata-Iarainn was not impossibly egregious in its length, covering some seven hundred kilometers of distance, but between the rough country on the back leg of the journey that was the Irontip Range, and the many stops the train would make on the way, this journey would take almost three full days. This was why passenger carriages were designed as they were, with cots. The three friends had spent a fair bit of coin on these accomodations, these cabins were first class, which was why there were only eight to the carriage, four on each side. There were smaller ones, where there were sixteen to a carriage, and then double up bunks, which were merely cots and a small cubby to store a bag, which had thirty-two passengers to a carriage. There were two bath-house carriages as well, which everyone got access to once every full day as part of their ticket purchase, and two dining cars, one for general use, where food that was served was simple, filling and kind of just the regular fare. There was also a first class dining car, where meals and the like were far more high end and varied. The first class carriages also had balconies that were accessed via the connecting doors between carriages, for patrons to go out and smoke, or take in the scenery. These 'balconies' were not large or particularly spacious, really more of a railed and secured walkway around the carriages than an actual balcony, but a perk of first class nonetheless.

 

      Once they'd all gotten into their cabins, placing their bags in the small storage chest provided as part of the accomodations and locking it with their personal key, the three friends met in the hallway, moving into Brenna's cabin for now. The instant they slid the door closed, Andras and Ivellios let their demeanor slip, wide smiles on their faces, as they shared congratulatory laughs, gripping each other's right arms, forearm to forearm in a warrior grip, pulling each other into a back pounding hug. The three friends allowed themselves a laugh, and relaxed. They'd made it on board without a hitch. Now they simply had to be ready, and keep sharp.

 

                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

      Viest watched through the window, deep in thought, as the scenery of the tundra spring passed her by. It had been a beautiful day, the sun shining bright, the skies clear, and as the train traveled down the tracks, she saw a herd of caribou moving across the tundra plain, many many groups of birds in the sky flying to their summer feeding grounds all over Suranth. There were small streams and creeks all about. By her best guess and the map she'd been provided, soon now, as the daylight was fading, they'd be coming to the Durin River. There was a city there, a place called Dawnholst, that the train would stop at just before eleven at night, on the south side of the river. That stop would be almost three hours as the train took on fresh coal and water, which it did not do in An Pointe Thoir for reasons of schedule. There would also be a crew switch, allowing the crew of the locomotive to rest after a full work day and then relieve the crew of a different locomotive tomorrow. They would be back out on the tracks at one in the morning, on their way again. Passengers could risk disembarking if they wished, but were prewarned the train would not wait for them.

 

      Viest mind had drifted off, and the former soldier had lost track of time. She snapped back to reality suddenly, her instincts kicking in. Something didn't feel right. It was very dark. At first she assumed that they were in Dawnholst, and it was late at night, for the view through her window now was changed to that of night sky. But then Viest realized immediately that she saw no street lanterns or buildings and furthermore, the landscape was still rushing by, meaning the train was still moving. The ever present rattling, however, was almost inaudible, as if something was interfering with her hearing. Viest took a deep breath, focusing as best she could, whilst carefully palming her loaded twin-barreled pistol. She heard shuffling, as if footsteps, outside her cabin. Glancing out the little window of the door, the first thing Viest noticed was that it was pitch black. Not dark, but black. This began to fade a little as she looked, and she thought she heard low whispered chanting, and the very muffled sound of something, a door opening perhaps. Viest stepped back from the door suddenly, her instincts telling her something was very wrong.

 

      The door opened suddenly in a rush, a cloaked figure with a large butcher's cleaver in his hand! The would be assailant hesitated for a split second, clearly suprised that his would be victim was awake and standing, instead of asleep in the cot. Viest shouted out, immediate fear for her friend in the cabin to her right biting deep in her stomach. "Alyssa, rouse yourself! Assassins!" she roared, as she pulled both triggers immediately. There was a thunderous roar that tore through the strange silence, as the pistol discharged violently, both rounds tearing through the man's chest, ripping and shredding. The first dropping a lung, the second going right through the central part of his chest, stopping his heart. Swiftly Viest closed the door, and moved beside it, ramming a paper cartridge down the each of the barrels frantically as suddenly light flooded the car again. Noise from outside was still deafened entirely, and Viest heard a lot of clamor and commotion from beyond her door, though it was disorienting how quiet it was. Once Viest had the cartridge and round down each barrel, three swift but powerful strokes with the ramrod down each, she cocked both hammers and opened the door. Stepping into the narrow hallway, Viest only narrowly avoided being struck by some sort of colorful magick spray or substance. Cursing, she moved towards Alyssa's room swiftly, calling out to her, concern in her voice. 

 

      Viest's concern grew very briefly, as she noted the door was open, but no sign or sound of Alyssa. A sudden thunderous crack of another firearm almost sent Viest into a panic. Then a would be assassin's body fell backwards out of the room, three ugly cutlass gashes upon his body, and a single bullet hole in his throat. Alyssa stepped out calmly, her pistol flipped in her hand, as she gripped it without comment or concern by the very warm barrel. Viest noted the large Tantur, for it had been one of the massive humanoids whom Alyssa had slain, had a coal shoveler's uniform underneath his black cloak, as she passed by and came up beside her friend. "What in the blazing hells is going on?" Viest yelled above the din in the hallway, as she and Alyssa ducked back into her cabin briefly, trying to regroup from the narrow hallway. 

 

                                               ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      Vornal woke to the sound of a gunshot, and as his eyes opened, he saw the gleam above him, noted the cloaked figure and pushed himself off the cot as hard as he could. The dwarf felt the sting of the knife entering his upper right side, thankfully just through and through the flesh between his shoulder and hip, not even striking a rib, as he did so. Vornal felt the blood flowing, as in his roll off the cot, Vornal had also managed to end up yanking the knife out of himself. It was on the floor now by the cot. If Vornal had been a half second slower, ithe blade would be buried hilt deep in his stomach.

 

      The dwarf swore as he scrambled at least to one knee, gripping his holy symbol. The assailant before him had brought a small pry bar out from beneath his cloak. Vornal noted that it was not unlike the ones used by by the rail rats in the cargo cars and the like when such a thing was needed. As he did so, Vornal realized with some mild suprise that hidden under the cloak, his attacker wearing a cargo rat's uniform! Praying as he rose, Vornal gripped the pendant of the Frost Boar in his hand tightly. The priest felt Sir Kartheart's presence surge through him, the divine will exerting itself from his command, as he gestured with his open hand towards his attacker, and closed his fist tightly. The would be killer had lifted his leg to take a step towards the Vornal, but found he couldn't put it back down. Vornal could see the panic forming in the man's eyes as he glanced at each arm, likely willing them to move and failing. Swiftly Vornal moved up beside the man, retrieving his shield from under the cot as he did so. The dwarven priest gripped the shield with both hands, swinging it brutally at the helpless man's head. There was a resounding impact, lower in pitch than a church bell, but with some of the staying power, and the man went cross-eyed, likely having lost all motor control if it weren't for Vornal's called upon miracle holding him paralyzed. As Vornal released the divine energy from his will, ending the iron grip upon his assailant's muscles, the man crumpled to the ground in an unconscious heap, bleeding noticeably.

 

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      Ivellios and his friends had all waited until just after the conductor had come around to light the six oil lanterns in the hallway for the evening. Once that had happened and he'd left their carriage both Ivellios and Andras moved silently over to Brenna's cabin, which was the one closest to the door exiting towards the VIP carriage, to wait. Ivellios knew Fredwick and Ren'valis, and knew they'd have a few hired toughs on board. Very likely, the rough plan was to have six or seven individuals come in behind them, and basically quietly dispatch the civilians in the other six cabins, whilst Fredwick took care of the first Iron Dragon. Then the assassin would lie in wait to take the second of the soldiers when he came to switch with his partner. After that the pair would rush into the VIP carriage and take out the Lord Protectorate. When Ivellios had outlined this to Andras, the man had given him a bit of a shocked look. "Really laddie, ye think that's 'is plan more or less?" Andras had asked with disbelief written all over his face.

 

      "Absolutely" Ivellios had replied with confidence. "Don't get me wrong, Ren'valis will provide the subtle stuff you think is missing. Shadows within to create pitch blackness, though those he wishes will still be able to see. Noises will not escape nor enter this carriage unless Ren'valis wishes them too, or at least they will be greatly muted. Ren'valis would likely even throw an illusion upon Fredwick to make him look like whichever soldier they kill in here, if all were to go smoothly for them tonight. Of course, the whole point of our presence is that we don't intend to let things go smoothly. But that will be their plan." Ivellios shook his head, his face showing his discomfort in what he knew and said next. "The Butchers don't care for collateral damage and Fredwick was always one to believe the best hits were ones where there weren't even any potential witnesses left. He can do nothing about the squadron of Rail Wardens in the carriage behind the VIP carriage, that's up to Ren'valis to make sure they hear nothing. But this carriage of civilians? Absolutely, we are to close to the actual mark, he absolutely wants to do the whole carriage."

 

      Ivellios face was angry, disgusted and upset now as he continued speaking. "That little fucker is twisted I tell you. I asked him once to give me at least one other good reason for his methods, and you know what he said? He told me, and I still can't believe what I heard, that 'Its a lot harder to tell its a hit when there are more than three victims.'" Ivellios saw the looks of distaste and disdain upon his friends faces and nodded his agreement vigorously. "I agree entirely, I never could look at him the same after that. But whoever ends up getting to him, be bloody careful. He's a vicious and canny fighter with that damn kukri he carries."

 

      Andras shot a wink at his elven friend, lovingly patting the knuckleduster grip of his trench knife. "Ya leave t'at wee bastard ta me. I've been in me share o' knife fights, I'll handle 'im. Ye focus on gettin' that damn magister." Ivellios nodded, his face set now, showing naught but emptiness, an almost professional iciness, but the elves eyes were gleaming with bloody intent. Andras turned to look at Brenna. "As ta yerself, Seoda, likely five ta six toughs, me guess would be they been snuck on as labor force. Coal shovelers and the like would be me guess. I saw one tough lookin' bastard, a damned Tantur, loadin' coal when we boarded. Can ye deal wit' 'em?" 

 

      Brenna's eyes flashed, as a slight blue aura seemed to fade into existence around her, and the air around her seemed very damp, and cold. She tilted her head to the left, letting Andras see the raw elemental power in her eyes and hear it in her voice. Each word felt like it was pushing him under water. "I am confident I can 'handle' them, Andras, don't you worry your sweet self about that. You and Ivellios just focus on your tasks. I'll take care of the rest." She turned to stare into Ivellios eyes. "If he snuffs the lights out, if you are right in that assessment, I know you can see. Myself and Andras cannot. So you'll only have as long as it takes to unweave his spellform to pick your approach. He may be better than I'm expecting, or he may be worse. However, I wouldn't bank on having more than ten seconds once we decide to move. Likely less." she told him confidently, letting her connection to Uisce rest now for the time being, the aura fading, her eyes returning to normal.

 

      Ivellios was about to respond verbally, when he heard something. It was slight, the sound of a door opening coming to his ears, but dull and distant. He realized the rattling of the train carriage, a constant background sound, was suddenly very quiet, and as he glanced out the door, the whole carriage went dark. He touched both their shoulders, and slid out the door very quietly, moving off towards the cabin of the Iron Dragon currently on guard duty silently, waiting in the corner.

 

      Brenna immediately got to work, gesturing to Andras to wait by the door frame. She began whispering, her fingers working, directing the threads of Uisce, as she used her Aethersight to pick at the weave Ren'valis had done. The bands of Scath were tightly woven, the onyx manna of shadow woven with skill. However, Brenna could see where the connections were in his spell form clearly, all about the carriage, walls not mattering to her Aethersight, merely distance. Out to almost a hundred feet any magister could see the flickering Aether clearly if they so chose to, merely by focusing. Brenna drew in the currents of Uisce, flicking her fingers with rapid and controlled precision, chanting incantations in a language long dead and barely understood even by magisters whom used it. In the Aether at Brenna's directions and hand movements, bursts and bands of the sapphire blue manna of water nimbly forced their way through, like a raging river, yanking apart the connections of the web like spellform.

 

      Andras moved to the door frame just in time, as he heard it open. He didn't hesitate, launching himself with almost animal ferocity at the bulky humanoid figure that tried to step through. Andras hammered two punches into the skull of the assailant with his cestus covered left hand, feeling bone crack. At the same time Andras' right hand also thrust forward, ramming the hefty blade of his trench knife into the torso of the would be killer, just under the ribs, angled slightly upwards. Andras twisted the blade savagely, before wrenching the weapon loose in a bloody and violent yanking motion, opening the upper part of the thug's stomach. He fell with a scream dead in his throat as the pain registered in the same moment the second punch hammered into his temple and fractured his skull. The would be murderer fell to the floor, and though pitch black Andras was confident he would not rise.

 

      At that moment many things happened simultaneously. There were two loud cracks that cut through the noise deafening spellform like a hot knife through butter. These caused Andras to hurl himself to the floor as he recognized the telltale cracks of gunshots. Unbothered by the deafening spell woven by the elven shadowmancer, a known, but not understood effect, of smokepowder weapons in general, the sound of gunshots immediately altered Andras' plans. Panic welled inside him, though as the darkness began to fade now, the panic left him, as Andras saw a man garbed similarly to the one he dropped, fall from one of the other cabin's doorways, two bullet holes in his chest. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Andras swiftly rose, his eyes locking onto the halfling assassin, as all hell broke loose. The door to the soldier's quarters opened, and the man rushed in, discharging two pistols in the direction of the nearest target to him, Ren'valis. Andras heard the elf curse loudly as he closed the distance to the halfling assassin. The elf magister blinked out of view, the bullets hitting naught but an image, and Ren'valis reappeared across the hall from the soldier, hands raised, unaware of the danger behind him. 

 

      Ivellios struck just as Ren'valis began weaving a spell, his rapier lunging out, biting deep into the elf's back, nicking a kidney, on the way to pierce out his front. The magister twisted involuntarily, his spell launching down the hall as he finished, just narrowly missing the gun wielding gnome and striking one of the thugs, a large Tantur, as it stepped into a different cabin. Whatever it did, Ivellios was aware enough to hear another gunshot and the sound of a large body hitting the ground.

 

      Brenna stepped into the hall then, seeing the other two thugs closing behind Andras. The aquamancer raised her right hand, weaving with her left, feeling the coursing flow of Uisce powering through her. Brenna's eyes flashed a deep blue, a sapphire aura becoming visible around her in the Materium. She felt Ren'valis, even as he twisted free of Ivellios and turned to face the elf, Brenna felt him twisting Scath all about her, trying to poke and hook at her spell weave, to unravel it. However, Ren'valis' focus was too divided, and in but mere seconds he gave up, having to focus his efforts on staying alive. As she finished the incantations, Brenna's right hand went a deep sapphire blue, the air around her suddenly very damp, the temperature dropping considerably. From two of Brenna's fingers came thin torrent like streams of what seemed almost crystal clear water, as the temperature of the hallway dropped considerably. The two men had no time to react, and were both struck by the ice cold manna, the icy grip of Brenna's Frozen Fingers causing them immense pain, frostbite, and taking all momentum from their movements. Brenna began to consider another spell weave to finish them off, but the three strangers, she presumed from the other cabins, fell upon them with fury and violence. So Brenna instead retreated back into the cabin, not wishing to spend more time in the hallway than she had to. Such tight confines were dangerous to a magister when a conflict such as this was in full swing.

 

      Andras moved to engage Fredwick, and the halfling's kukri flashed into his hand. The smaller target meant Andras had a notable disadvantage, having to swing in only one direction, or use the limited downward angled thrusts with his knife. Andras knew this game well though, and pressed the attack anyway. Ivellios was no liar, and twice Andras got cut, once on the calf, and once just above the hip, an upward slash he just hadn't been able to step back from. However the wounds weren't as deep as they could have been, more bleeder cuts than any sort of structural damage. Andras flashed the halfling a dark grin. "Yer a dead one, halfman" he taunted Fredwick, "Ye just don't know it yet."

 

      Fredwick moved forward swiftly in that moment, trying to get inside Andras' reach. The move was a good one, and done nimbly, with skill and speed, and with no real warning or telegraphing. However Andras had been expecting the move, in fact, he'd been trying to force that very thing. As the halfling stepped in, Andras launched his knee forward viciously, connecting dead on with the would be assassin's face with a sickening crunching sound. Bones snapped, and for the first time they heard Fredwick's voice, almost comically, the higher toned halfling voice a stark contrast to the bloody business taking place all about the carriage. "They will never find your bones fool, you interfere in Butchers busine-" It was at that moment Andras' knee smashed into the halfling's face, cutting off the rest of the sentence entirely.

 

      "You fucking rat bastard, I'll kill you!" Fredwick snarled through a mouthful of his own teeth and blood, trying to fight through the pain. But it was already to late for halfling. As he'd hammered the knee home, Andras stepped in, and buried his knife up to the hilt in the the would be assassin's neck. Fredwick fell back, clutching at the blade, mouth wide but unable to call out, his windpipe severed. He made a single soft gurgle, and then collapsed, unmoving.

 

      Ren'valis immediately realized he had to focus on himself, and stopped trying to unweave the water magister's spell form, launching himself into a full spin. A three foot blade of pure onyx energy appearing in Ren'valis' grip, as he slashed at the throat of the surprised Iron Dragon soldier whom opened the door that would lead to the connection to the VIP carriage. The soldier threw himself to the steel grating that made up the walkway he was standing on at speed, but still wasn't quick enough, receiving a vicious gash on his right cheek up to his ear. Despite this, the soldier quickly started to rise, in time to meet another of the thugs, whom had got by the mess of violence in the hallway, whom rushed out onto the walkway with a crowbar. The soldier's sabre whipped out of its scabbard, as the two squared off, the door being slammed shut by Andras. Ren'valis felt the shadowy nature of the spell draw some of that life force into him as the Iron Dragon was wounded, his own wound in his back started to ache less. He spun full circle to face the unseen assailant, and his jaw dropped. "Ivellios, you traitorous piece of shit! The Butchers will pay me a fortune when I bring them your head!" the magister snarled, eyes narrowing.

 

      He lunged forth, matching Ivellios' own speed, as the two elves began the dance of blades. Shadow met steel, though no sound issued from the weapons. Back and forth they went; lunge, twist, riposte, parry, disengage, repeat, the two danced and danced, neither able to get the advantage on the other. Three times they clashed that way, each wounding the other once. Ivellios felt the small gash under his left eye bleeding. It was small, but deep, and he would need stitches at least. Ren'valis had two fingers of his off hand hanging limply, the tendons in the knuckle cut through.

 

      Ivellios knew after the third engagement that the pair of them could go at this all day fighting merely rapier to sword. Watching Ren'valis' stance, he immediately saw his chance. Though the magister's blade seemed to have helped with his wounds whenever Ren'valis struck with the the thing, he was favoring his left side now, the wound in the lower back obviously beginning to negatively effect that whole side of Ren'valis' body. As they engaged again, Ivellios used the first motions, a lunge into a riposte and counter-thrust attempt, to hide the swift motion of his left hand brushing the top of his boot. As Ivellios came up, he launched another attack, this one a seemingly wild slice that turned into a snapping thrust aimed at Ren'valis' left side, the upper torso. Renvalis couldn't pivot, simply did not have the agility to, so instead he leaned just enough, and snapped his left arm down on Ivellios blade, trying to pin it against his body. So focused on this was Renvalis, that for but a split second, he dropped his guard, not giving Ivellios' movements his full attention. That was all it took, as Ivellios' left arm rose and then pumping downwards, releasing a throwing knife that buried itself up to the hilt into the Ren'valis' left eye. The shadowmancer stumbled back a step or two, and Ivellios followed. The summoned blade faded, the spell lost when the weaver died. Despite this, Ivellios still stabbed Ren'valis through the heart, just to be thorough.

      Ivellios immediately moved to the door that led out to connect to the VIP carriage, opening it in time to watch the Iron Dragon soldier parry his opponent's wild swing, stepping aside as he did, pistol coming up in his left hand. The thunderous crack rang, a hunk of the assailant's skull disappearing, blown to bits as the body crumpled. Spinning on heel, the soldier moved with great speed, holstering the spent pistol and drawing another on Ivellios, whom immediately held his hands out wide, having returned his rapier to his walking stick. "Peace man, peace, I'm not one of them!" he called out, keeping his hands out wide from his body where they could be seen. "Please don't shoot."

 

       Inside, Andras moved back to Brenna quickly, joining her in the cabin, wiping his knife on one of the assailant's cloaks, and sheathing it. The other soldier entered the cabin as he did so, pointing a pistol at each of them. Brenna spoke up, slowly taking a seat, keeping her hands visible and moving very slowly. "Peace, sir, we mean no harm. I am licensed, I can show you my paperwork. We helped, we mean you or your lord no harm."

 

      The soldier nodded gruffly, and called out loudly "Balin, ye alright?" Not taking his pistols off them, but visibly relaxing slightly. "Get yer papers lass," He ordered her, "Slowly nae, no sudden movements."

 

      "Aye Duncan," a deeper voice called out to respond to the soldier. "Bruised, me wrist is a wee bit sore, but I be alright. What 'bout yerself?"

 

      "High-strung, a wee bit confused how we was caught so off guard, an' me head be spinnin' a bit, but I ain't wounded." Duncan replied as Brenna presented him the documents. Holstering one pistol, he kept the other trained on Brenna, and glanced at Andras. "Nae sudden moves laddie, or I pull the trigger, understand?" Andras nodded slowly, keeping his hands out wide from his body. The soldier went through her documents and after a few moments, handed them back. He holstered his other pistol as he heard his companion talking to rail wardens outside the carriage on the walkway. He could hear at least four voices, which was a relief. They'd finally heard something. The gnome walked up to him then, with the priest of Sir Kartheart. The dwarven priest whispered something in Duncan's ear and the pair had a whispered back and forth that neither Andras nor Brenna could make out for a few moments. The soldier nodded curtly to the priest and spoke to the pair. "Seems I've nae need ta hold t'e pair o' ye, though I've nae doubt Lord Azulron will wish ta talk to all of ye about w'at's transpired 'ere an' offer 'is thanks. Brother Vornal 'ere be a priest o' Sir Kartheart, an' he's vouchin' fer t'e three of ye." The soldier spun and left the room, moving to talk to the rail wardens and explain the situation briefly, before the pair moved back out of the carriage, to join their charge in his private carriage. 

 

       Ivellios joined his friends a few moments later, a mostly empty bottle of dwarven firewater in his hands. He looked at Andras, shaking his head and chuckling. "You were right my friend, I did miss something. The other soldier mentioned feeling sluggish and his head was spinning. Did, Duncan I believe was his name, did he mention something similar?" Both Andras and Brenna verbally acknowledged that he had, and Ivellios shook his head. "Indeed, well one of the bodies, the one that the gnome shot twice in the chest, well I recognize his face. He was the bartender in the first class dining car. He provided the soldiers and Lord Azulron with a bottle of two century reserve firewater, complimentary of course. But take a sniff, see if you can pick it up."

 

      Ivellios passed the bottle to Andras whom sniffed a few times, his face showing confusion. He passed the bottle to Brenna whom also took a sniff or two, and shook her head, a small knowing grin on her lips. She passed it back to Ivellios, nodding sagely. Andras glanced at between the pair, annoyed. "Alrig't ye 'avin' a laugh at ol' Andras, he nae tell w'at yer on about. Nae 'urry up an' explain, damn knife-ears!" Andras snarled, though there was a dripping edge of sarcasm to his voice, and Ivellios knew better than to actually be offended by his friend's gruff demeanor. His sense of humor was a bit different, and he meant no harm with what most perceived as a slur.

 

      Instead, Ivellios played along, giving as good as he got. "It's subtle, I'm not surprised a boorish oaf such as yourself doesn't have a refined enough nose to catch it, Andras." He replied, his words dripping with honey and steel, his own sarcastic tone. "You need a nose for it, which I presume neither of the soldiers had either. Milk of poppy, a bit of willow bark extract, and I think just a hint of thresher vine sap. A potent cocktail indeed, though not enough to kill or knock someone unconscious." He confirmed swiftly, seeing the worried looks his friends had on their faces. "But most certainly enough to make them drowsy, inattentive, sluggish and give them one hell of a confusing headache." Ivellios dumped the bottle outside the cabin a look of annoyance on his face. "Waste of fine liquor, how upsetting. I do apologize my friends, I should have been ready for this complication. There is no way Fredwick could take one of the Iron Dragons in a fair fight, much less two of them, and even with Ren'valis and the hired help he had, so I should have realized the little bastard would have wanted to tip the scales just in case."

 

      Brenna walked over to Ivellios, reaching up to place her hand on his shoulder. "Don't beat yourself up over it Ivellios my friend. There will always be things that we did not foresee in life. You knew enough to arm us with the knowledge we needed and the rest, well we managed and won the day. It is not worth dwelling on." She told him, friendship and compassion in her voice. Brenna bade him to sit on the padded bench. "None of us were seriously hurt, thankfully, so no harm. You did well, now come and sit down, so Andras can clean and stitch that gash on your face."

 

      "Thank you dear," Ivellios told her, accepting her guiding hand on his shoulder, letting the beginnings of guilt fall away. She was right of course, he'd done well, no one could forsee everything. At that moment, as he sat down, there was a firm but polite rapping on the open door of the cabin. The friends turned to see the dwarf in the door frame, with the other two strangers, gnome and human behind him.

 

      "I just treated one o' t'e soldiers, Balin. His wounds were minor, so me god will likely let me call upon more 'ealin' this day. We've also been requested ta take our leave ta the dinin' car by the rail wardens and the soldiers, if we nae mind. They will come retrieve us when this," he gestured vaguely to the nearest corpse, "mess has been all cleaned up, and when the Lord Protectorate is ready to speak with us. Naturally, we have full permission ta use t'e bar. Seems introductions may be in order, given we just spilled blood together."

 

      Brenna chuckled and glanced to her friends, whom clearly shared her thoughts. "Alright, brother," she replied with formality, "my friends and I would be inclined to agree. They would not be opposed to a bit of healing, and I think we could all use a drink or three. Lead on, if you please."

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