Despite the storeowner’s warnings about the way into Torren, the train ride was rather quiet. It was a large train, with dozens of carriages trailing behind him, and surely a great number ahead. Arlandra was seated quietly in the dining carriage, eating alone at a table. Two Rhaetaii travellers discussed business at the table behind him and in front of him was a Surian man and Taellian woman. The man was trying to flatter the woman and he flooded her with jokes, poems and stories. What made the affair funny to Arlandra was that the woman never stopped staring at the man’s golden watch.
As a young boy, and even as a man, Arlandra never had time or opportunities for love. He was always too busy training and discovering new ways to kill. He was considered a very handsome man as far as Surians go, and he had been romantically involved with women before, sometimes even to get close to a target, and although his experiences may have been full of some kind of passion, it was never real love. He had convinced himself during the time of his training that his life was far too secretive and dangerous to be shared with another, and he was happy with that. He still wondered from time to time what it was like, and he had considered trying it after what happened with the Assassin’s Order, but for some reason he knew it would never work out.
As the train rattled on, a kind young serving girl came to his table – she had been going up and down for the entire trip – and again she offered him refreshments. He kindly refused, and asked only that she never came back to his table. The girl gave a generous smile and was about to say something when she was knocked off her feet and the train was violently shaken. The carriage shuddered with the ferocity of an earthquake and the wrath of a god.
Arlandra was thrown against his table. He could smell gunpowder and he immediately sensed trouble. Just as he stood up his predictions came true and a group of three Djann soldiers – he assumed they were soldiers – busted down the door to the carriage and slowly but intimidating, they paced forward. A drift of silence fell over them. Arlandra threw on his hood and mask and dashed behind one of the seats. The Djann’s piercing blue eyes scraped up and down each terrified passenger as they continued their way forward.
Arlandra hated the Djann, and like many Surians there was prejudice against most non-human races, but he had his reasons. The Djann were taller than most humans, even the Taellians. They were covered with dry leathery skin and there were blue cracks around their joints, their eyes and across their cheeks, which made them appear as if they were made from sandstone. Each of the three invaders on the train wore a purple turban that completed their square shaped heads.
The Djann drew out their swords to scare the people into the front end of the train. They wielded scimitars, infused with blue energy in the hilts. Arlandra pressed himself firmly against the back of the seat, hidden from their sights. Lightly, he hovered his hand over the hilt of his dagger in a position ready to strike. Then he simply waited.
The passengers remained silent and the coarse breathing and heavy footsteps of the leading djann grew louder with each second – the thump of each footstep like the ticking seconds of a clock, or the rhythm of Arlandra’s own heart. He closed his eyes. He waited. Soon… soon. Now!
Like the strike of a cobra, Arlandra swung his dagger with delicate precision into the ankle of the leading djann. The sharp blade met its mark and sank deep into the crusty flesh like butter. The Djann let out a painful shriek and Arlandra heaved back on the blade, severing the tendon. He heard the elastic tendon snap and saw as it was thrown higher into the leg.
The crippled djann fell to the floor, screaming, but there was no time to finish him off as the other two fast approached. Arlandra released his dagger and drew his sword. He rolled backwards as a scimitar edge flew passed the side of his face by a hairs width. Now that Arlandra was on his feet, he was able to properly evaluate his enemy. The two tall djann wore light leather vests and they stood side by side. He noticed that one was right handed while the other was left.
Well this is just great, he realised, dreading this ambidextrous technique that they used.
He stepped back a few paces and the two djann followed him. The one of his right was the first to strike, and Arlandra swung back and parried the jab. The same djann struck again, aiming for Arlandra’s ribs. The assassin jumped back and brushed the probing blade aside. It was difficult to fight within the tight confines of the carriage, and he had very little space in which to manoeuvre – but then again, so did they.
The second djann came forward and together they pushed against Arlandra’s defences, but he didn’t budge. Like the perfect assassin, Arlandra waited for the right moment to strike. When the right-handed djann crossed his sword arm over his body, Arlandra stepped forwards and smashed the repulsive creature in the teeth with the hilt of his sword. A wound opened on the djann’s cheek, and as it tried to retaliate, Arlandra caught the scimitar with his own blade and directed it into the edge of a table. The metal sank in deep.
The djann struggled to wedge it free, but in that time Arlandra had driven his fine edged blade through the throat of the defenceless enemy. The only remaining enemy let out a cry and attacked with enhanced fury. Arlandra used its ruthless strikes to his advantage and with a flick of his wrist, he twirled their blades until the djann lost his grip and the scimitar was hurled to the side, clanging against a window. Without hesitation Arlandra ended his enemy with a thrust of his sword through the abdomen. Thick grey blood stained his clothes. Slowly, he regained his sword and the djann collapsed onto the floor.
Arlandra was puffing hard and he tried to calm down and regain his breath. He heard a sharp groaning sound. It came from the first djann that he had beaten. The crippled body was crawling away from him. Grey blood trailed along the floor as it pulsed out of the mangled ankle. Arlandra moved along the carriage until he stood over the fallen enemy, and then he finished it off with a single stab to the back of the neck.
For a brief moment Arlandra paused as time ceased and silence overcame him. Even his tired heavy breathing was no more. He leaned against a table as the train carriage shuddered and the scene of a battleground opened up before his eyes. Among the sea of desert sand was a mass of chaos ready to erupt – hundreds of men and djann faced each other.
One man stood at the head of his brethren – most likely the commander. He would have been a man of much power where he stood, but was only a tiny figure in the distance to Arlandra. The djann were exceptional desert fighters, and Arlandra wondered if this commander had some sort of a plan or if he was just leading his men to be slaughtered on enemy territory. The outcome, Arlandra decided, was something to look forward to, but the possibility was diminished when there came a hard knock on the carriage door. It could only mean more djann.
He would have wondered why they were on his train but really he didn’t have time – nor did he care. As the knocking increased he quickly assessed his possibilities. He could stay and fight them, maybe even save this train from whatever they were planning to do with it, but he was in no position to take on multiple well-armed enemies alone, and he could not predict how many were behind that door. No, he had to run, and then find a way to get to Torren.
The knocking amplified as more djann stacked at the door. Arlandra looked left and then right. He ran to the emergency brake at the far corner of the carriage, and as he reached it, the door came crashing down with a crackle and then a thud, and a much larger group of djann stormed in. Arlandra put his hand on the brake lever and looked back.
One of them pointed a bony finger and shouted, “There he is! Stop him! Kill him!”
Arlandra smiled lightly and yanked down on the latch with all his might. The brakes screeched in pain like sirens being tortured and the entire carriage rumbled and shook. Everyone was thrown off balance and glasses and silverware flew off of the tables as the train clawed at its bed.
Arlandra wasted no time here and as soon as he was on his feet he dislodged a table top and hurled it through one of the windows before leaping out himself. The djann wouldn’t follow him – the train was too important to them. If only he knew why, although he had a pretty good idea.
Free of danger, Arlandra now lay face down in the burning desert sand. He lifted his head only to find a man in a golden trim-blue uniform standing over him. The man was firmly built and appeared to be a respected officer among the Taellian army. He extended an arm, to which Arlandra accepted, and once on his feet, he brushed the sand from his clothes and looked around his surroundings. There were a few dozen Taellian soldiers boarding the stopped train. Smoke rose from the tracks ahead, and Arlandra noticed that a piece was missing. Were they going to destroy the train?
The officer in front of Arlandra patted him on the shoulder. “You did a hell of a job stopping that train. You probably saved a lot of lives, and a hell of a lot of money.”
Arlandra smiled weakly, when he remembered that his face was no longer covered. Where is my mask? It must have come off.
Fortunately he had done well to keep his face secret in the past, although there was one incident in Taelliwey a short while ago, but it seemed that the soldier did not know him directly.
The soldier offered his hand, “Commander Samuel Ford.”
Arlandra took the hand and shook it, keeping his eyes on the soldier’s face.
The soldier continued, “You know, have we met? I swear I’ve seen your face before.”
Arlandra felt as though a thousand eyes were crawling over the back of his neck. Yeah, printed in black on a wanted poster, he thought.
The soldier exchanged light conversation but Arlandra wasn’t entirely focused. This was a dangerous place that he needed to escape from. He’d rather take his chances with the djann than take on Taellian officials. But as long as he kept his cool, he’d be able to hide in plain sight. Besides they didn’t know him.
Arlandra moved away from the soldier, “Well, I really need to be finding my way to Torren,” he said politely. “Any chance I could go back to your camp and borrow some supplies?” It was a risky move, but it would help.
The soldier brushed his hair away from his eyes. “Of course, if you’ll just come with me.”
From the trip back to the camp and then to Torren, all Arlandra was thinking of was how that soldier didn’t recognise him. He had even swiped a smoke grenade for cover or a distraction, just in case things got ugly. He was allowed a horse to ride over the stretch of desert to Torren, and once he was out of that camp, he rode has fast as he could.ns 184.108.40.206da2