The transport district of Surra was alive with fearful voices as the news about Torren spread like wildfire.
“I heard the djann finally got Torren,” uttered a passing voice.
“Those vile creatures,” said another stranger, “how dare they do that to one of our cities.”
There were also cries of, “what if they come for us next!” And, “Kuhrell will be the next city to fall.”
The six of them nearly ran their horses to death on the way to the city. And now Arlandra, Juliet, Sam, Ashley, Christel, and Hazel, all pushed their way through the crowds of the steamy station at Surra. Their first priority was to stop the train that was already filled with passengers, each one unaware that they were about to ride into a warzone.
Sam tried to speak to one of the officers that was stationed there, a man he knew and had once served with, however in the end it was in vain.
“What do you mean I don’t have the authority?” Sam argued with the man.
“The news in Taelliwey was that you deserted. The thing is, you’ve lost your rank and now you’re wanted by the military.”
In a way, Arlandra felt sorry for Sam. As far as he could tell, Sam’s rank was the only thing that he had, and now it was gone. And to make things worse, Sam was now a wanted man just like Christel and himself.
The train was almost ready to leave, and it seemed that there was no stopping it now, so they had no choice but to board it, after they had dealt with Sam’s old friend.
“Samuel Ford, I’m afraid I can’t let you leave. I am placing you under arrest for the direct disobeying of orders and the continuous harassing of—”
Christel punched the man in the face, hard, and he fell to the ground.
“Geez Christel, you didn’t have to hit him so hard.”
“Well, we’re in a hurry so I had to do something.”
“Alright,” Arlandra said, stepping over the body, “let’s get on that train.”
They all rushed to the nearest cart, and with Juliet behind him, Arlandra stopped in the doorway. “I want you to stay here this time,” he said to her.
“What? Why?” She argued.
“This time it’ll be too dangerous. Besides, this is my fight. Imagine how I’d feel if you got hurt again because of me.”512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡdblp2iFojg
“No,” she persisted, “we’ve been over this. I won’t leave you.”
“Don’t worry, this time I’ll have Sam and Christel to watch my back. I’ll be fine.”
Christel placed a gentle hand on Hazel’s shoulder. “Same goes to you.”
“No,” she replied, “I’m going with you.”
Sam looked at Ashley, not needing to put what he had to say into words.
“You can’t do this,” she said sternly.
“We’ve actually thought about it,” Sam explained, “and if we don’t come back—”
“Don’t say that.”
“If we don’t come back then we’ll need someone to make sure that Noveria is ready for this fight.”
“Hazel, you can go to Eden.”
“Juliet, you stay here in Surra.”512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3ZzVyacCM6
“And Ashley, you go to Taelliwey. I don’t know how, but you have to find a way to get them to fight.”512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1rybZ22xq4
Their expressions were submissive, and they couldn’t argue. “Okay, but just make sure you come back.”
Leaving Juliet alone at a time like this had hurt Arlandra more than he wanted it to, or perhaps he was more afraid of his own fate. The notion that he might not come back struck him rather suddenly, and left some kind of empty void in his chest. He had never considered the proceedings of his own demise, however now for the first time in a long time he realised that he was afraid of dying.
The interior of the train was rather quiet, save for the soft undertone of piano music that flowed from a record player. The passengers were seated as if nothing was happening, softly chattering among themselves. Arlandra wondered if he should try and warn then, but then thought better of it.
He was about to head for the front of the train when the music stopped and a voice was projected from the record player. “Good evening, gentlemen,” Garn’s voice was rough and crackly as it came through the machine, although his tone still mocked Arlandra, as if it had already won. “I am glad you arrived on time, for a moment I was afraid you weren’t going to make it. However, now that you’re here, as always we will get straight down to business. Arlandra Knight, I have devised for you a challenge. Should you pass, my plans will remain the same. Should you fail, well, I will have no further need for you.”512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡPhQxJm97r9
There was a heavy knock on the door, that snapped it off the hinges and sent it flying into the cart. Several of Garn’s creatures, the shemn, stormed in – armed with strangely shaped weapons.
The passengers cried out and ducked under their seats as the three men drew their weapons.
The door on the other side was kicked down followed by more of the shemn, and soon Arlandra found that he was surrounded.
“I’d like to formally introduce you to the shemn,” said Garn. “They will be your opponents for todays challenge. Consider it a game, if you like. The rules are simple. Defeat the shemn and stop this train before it reaches Riftsire. That is all. Oh, and I hid a little present somewhere on the train as well, just to spice things up a bit. I wish you the best of luck, and now, let the game begin.”
Arlandra ducked to the floor immediately, anticipating the first strike of the shemn. When he stood up, he faced the bleak yellow eyes of the enemy. He parried a blow that the creature delivered with one arm, but had the force to knock the assassin back. He drove his sword forward, jolting as he stuck it in the creature’s torso, piercing thick skin. Black blood leaked from the wound.
Christel was moving faster than Arlandra had remembered he could. The thief dodged every blow, occasionally cheating death by a hairs width so that he had minor slashes across his skin and clothes.
Sam was bold enough to punch one of the creatures, and it replied with a high screeching sound that pierced Arlandra’s ears. The soldier cut it down soon after.
Arlandra was panting by the time the cart had been cleared of enemies. “Alright,” he breathed, “I’ll head to the front of the train and see if I can stop the driver.” As he had expected, Garn had removed the emergency brake.
Christel wiped the blood from his sword using a napkin. “Right, and I’ll try and find that present which I’m assuming is a bomb.”
Arlandra turned to the soldier. “Sam, you should go with Christel. Right now we’re all in danger until the bomb is dealt with.”
Arlandra ran from cart to cart, passing frightened faces as he went. It wasn’t long before he was confronted by more of the shemn. There were at least six of them in front of him now, each taking on a slightly different shape. He couldn’t fight them all.
He was rushed, barely able to parry the first blow before the creature with yellow eyes wrapped a long hand around his neck. Without thinking Arlandra pushed his palm against the creature’s forehead. He tried to focus. And then the enemy’s head exploded in a blast of red light.
He reached for the emergency hatch above, pulling down the ladder as the next of the shemn approached. He left them behind, and with the full force of the wind and the sun in his face, Arlandra climbed on top of the speeding train.
Despite everything that they had already been through, Christel found that being alone with Sam was still somewhat awkward. It was like they had left an unfinished conversation for too long, giving them too much time to think about their grudges.
They were free of the shemn for now, however it was only a matter of time before they would be intercepted. They had to find that bomb.
Christel was pacing around in the carriage and thinking out loud. “Bomb, bomb, bomb… If I was a power hungry lunatic, where would I hide a bomb?”
“It would have to be somewhere no one would stumble across it,” Sam suggested
“There are a million places you could hide a bomb on this train!”
“Okay, well chances are it’s big, so Garn would put it somewhere with lots of space.”
“He’d have the shemn protecting it as well.” Christel had it. “Like the engine room!”
“I was just thinking that,” Sam exclaimed. “C’mon, lets hurry.”
They raced across the train, following where the assassin had been until they faced the enemy that he had left behind.
“My god,” Sam remarked, “they’re uglier than the djann.”
“You take that back,” Christel said as he readied himself for battle. “The djann are beautiful creatures.” One of the shemn was climbing out of a broken window, trying to get at Arlandra. “The djann are much more beautiful than these bastards.” Christel drove his sword through the creature’s belly and it shrieked and fell from the train.
Their cart shuddered as something exploded above them and Sam almost lost his balance. The soldier would have been cut down if Christel had not intervened, removing the hand of the creature that came at Sam.
When they were finished, tired and bloody, they found themselves at the front end of the train. Christel opened a door and there it was – a generally round solid metal contraption with a fog-watch resting on top. “Okay,” he said, “that’s a big bomb.” He glanced over to Sam, waiting. “Well, defuse it.”
“What makes you think I know how to defuse a bomb?”
“Because you’re in the army. Don’t they teach you these things?”512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡmZ1q1rTXBr
“I was an investigator until you destroyed my career, I was never in a bomb squad!”
“Well hey, for the record you were an awful investigator. I managed to get away with both Ariana paintings and you didn’t do a thing.”
Sam gestured furiously towards the device before them. “It doesn’t matter! How much time do we have left?”
Christel examined the face of the watch. It was two fifty-five, and at three o’clock a thick red line had been drawn. “We have about five minutes.”
“Shit!” Sam yelled, “Okay, let’s think. Take off the metal plate so we can see what’s inside, if we can find out how it works we should be able to defuse it, right.”
“Sounds alright to me.”
Looking through the doorway, Christel saw another band of the shemn marching towards him. He stood up and slammed the door as they crashed against it. “We’ve got company,” he whimpered, leaning against the door.
The full force of the wind battled against Arlandra as he balanced himself atop the speeding train. He had flown by the Sandra River without even noticing, unable to admire her beauty. His cloak flapped heavily behind him as he tried to creep along. He thought he’d be able to make it to the end without trouble, however he wasn’t so lucky.
One of the shemn near the end of the train climbed up to face him, standing now under the mix of purple and black smoke. Its yellow eyes were fixed on him as he pushed forward. This was a bad place for combat. The shemn curled its fingers into a ball of red light.
It can use magic! Arlandra wasn’t sure what to do. There wasn’t time to do anything. The circular ball of destruction was shot towards him with such speed that his body had to take over his mind.
Somehow he had caught the blast in his own hands, holding it close to his chest. His arms began to burn and the fabric of his sleeves shrivelled away. And then he returned the blast of light, and his enemy disappeared.
It was when Arlandra saw the town of Riftsire ahead that he realised he had failed at Garn’s game. He felt his heart tighten in his chest – a sheet of ice wrapped tight over his body. Was he truly ready for this fight? Would Garn simply defeat him again like he had before? Whatever the answer was, Arlandra knew that there was no backing down. On the top of this train, he sped towards Riftsire, the town becoming larger and larger by the second. They were, undoubtedly, going to crash.
He ripped at the hatch of the cart he was on, desperate to get back inside or else be thrown from the train. He ended up destroying the hatch with magic, as well as some of the roof, however he was able to get inside.
Riftsire was upon them. Arlandra heard the squealing of breaks, the thunder of an earthquake, and then he was thrown down as the train was smashed to pieces.
Arlandra opened his eyes to the tender flow of falling ash and dust. He had never felt so much pain in his body at one time. He coughed and rolled, trying to move, but not finding the strength. Devastation reeked through the air. Where am I? The train…. crashed!
There was a weight over his legs, and in a shot of agony he pushed the torn sheet of metal away from his broken body. He could hear the screaming and crying of innocents, and through all his pain and agony he could feel the remorseful presence of Garn Pallerii.512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡcJYgvYf4Nz
Arlandra stood up under the clear sky, surrounded by ash and fire. The chilling silence of the city of Torren flashed through his mind. I must save Riftsire!
Pieces of the train were everywhere. The station was gone, and buildings had been crushed or blown away. And then, through the smoke, was Garn Pallerii.
With his sword in hand, Arlandra rushed forward, and for the first time in his life he had no plan, no thoughts of escape or consequence. He was at last consumed by his desire to kill and the darkness inside of him was ignited by his rage towards that one man.
Arlandra groaned in pain and fury, “Garn!”
The fist struck him in the stomach and for a moment he had lost the ability to breath. His cheek was cut as Garn struck him across the face, sending him back into the dust.
“I am disappointed in you,” Garn said, wiping the blood from his fist with a handkerchief. “I truly thought you were capable of more than this.”512Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡmHYTnW0AT2
Arlandra rolled to the side, pouring the last of his energy into the blade of his sword. He heaved the blade at Garn, only managing a slight cut across the enemy’s arm. Garn caught the assassin’s blade in a fist of light, and as he clenched his fist the sword snapped. Garn stuck again, exposing the assassin’s back to him.
Arlandra felt the terrible anguish of cold steel piercing through his body. He felt his blood dripping red from the wound as Garn’s sword was pulled back. He cried out – mournful, weak, and desperate. He fell to his knees. Could he feel his life slowly fading?
“Destiny is a pitiful thing,” Garn spat, with venom in his voice. He stood tall over the crippled assassin. “There is no fate, only power.”
Arlandra was forced to kneel with a bloody hand over his abdomen. “No…” he cried.
“Face it, Arlandra, you’ve lost. You had lost since the beginning.”
“No!” He didn’t have the strength to say anything else.
“No matter how willing you could have been, my power would always overcome the strength of your heart. It’s over.”
Tears – actual tears – welled in Arlandra Knight’s eyes. So this is death. This is failure. I never imagined it would be so… terrifying. There is nothing now. He’s right. It’s over.
“Hey Garn! Catch!” Christel Saan was standing with Samuel Ford, their clothes were torn and they were covered with dust. Between them they held a huge brass ball of metal. It took Arlandra some time to realise that what they held was the bomb that Garn had installed on the train.
Well I’ll be damned – they defused it.
The bomb was hurled towards Garn, which out of reflex he caught with both hands, stumbling back because it was heavy. Arlandra threw himself at Garn and used the last of his energy to push the man into the cart behind them. He slammed the door and jumped away as the bomb exploded. He didn’t see it, nor did he remember it, however his ears rang with such ferocity that he thought his brain was going to burst.
The cart that contained the explosion was now added to the wreck of devastation. With his vision starting to blur, Arlandra was unsure of what was happening, but the pain was slowing starting to go away.
“Is he… dead?” Christel asked with uncertainty, as if he was unable to believe it.
Garn’s figure rolled over in the rubble. It was severely burned and his breathing was thick and coarse, but he still drew breath. He’s still alive!
Arlandra crawled forward. “Garn!” But he was stopped by Sam and Christel.
“We have to go!” Sam explained.
Arlandra fought against him. “Not… yet…”
“Listen to me, you’re our only chance at ending this war. You cannot die here, not now, not after everything that’s happened.” The voices slowly became muffled. “Live to fight another day…” The rest was lost, and Arlandra Knight closed his eyes, unsure of whether or not he would ever open them again.ns 18.104.22.168da2