As Sam struggled by his escorts to escape from the foregoing fighting, the prevailing whistle of the train sounded in the distance and caught all the soldiers’ attention. At first Sam thought nothing of it, but then he managed a closer look.
Along the top of the train were dozens of djann, they were like ants in the distance, separating up into groups and then methodically ambushing carriages from the front of the train down. Immediately Sam called for more men. That train was going straight to Torren, and a random attack of djann on a major city would be very bad. Sam was suddenly contemplating every possible way he could find to stop a train. From his spot in the sand, there wasn’t much he could do. He could see the terror being unleashed by the djann in each of the cabins, and he witnessed a woman have a sword thrust through the small of her back as she tried to flee – the gruesome image made Sam’s stomach tighten. The djann were dark, evil creatures.
As he stood there, helpless, he heard the exhausted voice of a young man behind him. He turned around to find the admiral’s messenger holding a note and a piece of clothing under his arm. “Orders from Admiral Donnellan, sir.” The boy handed Sam the note. “Oh, and we found your jacket, sir.” The boy handed over the jacket, too.
Sam held the blue gold-trimmed military jacket in his hand with a look of despair. The fine, tailor made coat was the symbol of his promotion, and it had now been dirtied and trampled on by horses. He took the jacket by the shoulder and shook the sand away. A small dusty cloud formed and then was taken away by the wind. Despite all the marks it was still wearable, and so he slipped it over his shoulders, wincing again as he stretched his damaged ribs.
He looked at the note with the Admirals orders, hoping for a solution to his current problem. All he received were three words: ‘Blow the track!’
How could he even consider it? By destroying a part of the track he would cause the train to derail and only the gods knew what would happen next. The train would be damaged severely. Innocent civilians could die – no they most definitely would die. However, the only thing that could override Sam’s inner questions of morality was the words of his commander. The very words that he’d have to follow in order to earn the rank of Spartan; The best soldiers do as they’re told.
And so he took a deep breath, and then called over to his men. “I need dynamite!” he yelled. “Lots of dynamite. We’re going to have to blow the track!”
Fortunately Sam didn’t have to move his broken body. His men were able to do most of the work, and in only a few moments they had evenly laid four sticks of dynamite along the hard steel tracks. The train was fast approaching and they had very little time. Sam moved well away as the fuses were lit and the man who lit them yelled out, “stay clear!”
The man darted away and took cover behind a sandbag wall just in time as the exploding dynamite ripped the track into pieces. A cloud of fire and dust rose high into the air and pieces of shrapnel rained from the sky. Sam braced himself for what he expected was about to be the horrid destruction of one of Noveria’s priceless steam trains. He felt like he was melting. The fears of regret cursed Sam as the train sped along to its undesirable doom.
Then the brakes on the train screeched and it fought back and tried to stop. It was as if his silent prayers were being answered… again. Sparks shot out of the wheels like fireflies and resiliently the train came to an unsteady halt, only meters away from the broken piece of the track. Time stopped. No one even breathed. The soldiers stood there next to the train in disbelief. Sam gathered his senses and signalled for the men to arm themselves. There was still a fight to be fought. He then hobbled slowly towards the train.
There was a loud crash and Sam looked up to find something had been hurled out of one of the train’s windows. An explosion of glass fragments littered the desert sand below. He was amazed as a dark cloaked human body followed it. The strange person hit the sand, tumbled a little, and then rolled onto his back. The stranger grimaced and breathed heavily, and the impact from the fall must have winded him.
His long dark hair was drenched in sweat and sand and there was something odd about his face, although Sam couldn’t quite figure out why. The man wore a black tunic, tight black pants, black boots and black gloves. Sam also found this peculiar. When the man opened his eyes they were a deep and gentle green.
The man on the ground squinted against the strong desert sun and Sam offered his hand, which was accepted. The stranger stood slowly and brushed himself off.
“You did a hell of a job stopping that train,” Sam said. “You’ve probably saved a lot of lives today, and a hell of a lot of money.”
The man smiled weakly, and Sam already figured that he didn’t care about the train. He spoke back, and his voice was hurried. “I’m glad I could help.”
Sam looked him in the eyes a little longer. I’ve seen your face before, but where… He figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. “Have we met before? I swear I recognise you from somewhere.”
The stranger smiled, he seemed more relaxed all of a sudden. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said politely. “I’m like that. I guess I just have one of those faces.” The stranger shrugged.
Sam watched as his men boarded the stopped train, one by one. He assumed the sun had gotten to him and his mind was starting to play tricks, but he never stood too close to the stranger. He needed a drink. “So were you heading to Torren, stranger?”
“Yes, I was actually.” The stranger kept his eyes on Sam as he spoke.
“Well I’d hate to keep you from your business. Perhaps I can arrange for a horse to get you on your way.”
Without taking his eyes off Sam, the stranger offered half a smile. He was anxious about something and he was hiding it well, but Sam knew – he was trained to know. “Thank you,” said the stranger, and Sam noted a dose of prosperity in his voice, “that would be great.” The stranger was a man of few words, and he didn’t speak at all when he accompanied Sam back to the Taellian soldier camp.
The camp was large enough to keep five hundred men and it was walled off by a light but thick canvas material. Sam saluted several sentries as he made his way in. The stranger just looked around. It was strange how innocent he appeared, but also how he made you feel so alert, afraid even. The camp was lined with rows of tents, with the occasional training area or kitchen. The savoury smell of a stew caught Sam’s nostrils before the sun took it away.
The soldiers here would have stayed for a long time. Many who had families wouldn’t have seen them for months and even years. Sam had no family, no wife to comfort him in the night, and no children to carry on his legacy, and so he only ever had one place to be, and that was at war. If, however, he did have a family, he assumed that the hurt of yearning to hold them would be a worthy sacrifice when it came to defeating the djann. For Sam his enemy was his only purpose. That is how he would become a Spartan – and elite.
Together, he and the stranger strolled past a cluster of tents and entered the stables where the horses were grazing comfortably in the cool shade. Sam selected one from the group of the less valuable horses to give to his new strange friend. The stranger accepted the reigns from Sam and placed a few gold coins in his hand. “For your trouble,” he explained.
Sam pocketed the money and then led the stranger and his horse to one of the camps nearest exits. It was just under an hours ride to Torren, and the giant sun was already preparing to sink into the earth, however the stranger was already up on his horse. He was eager to get where he needed to be. Sam offered a polite goodbye: “be safe,” he decided to say, and to which the stranger replied, “And to you.” And with that the man flicked on his hood and rode off into the desert – never to be seen of again.
As the sun fell and darkness arrived, Sam spent some time finishing his final duties as commander for the night and then visited the doctor to have his wounds checked. After he was given the ‘okay’ by the doc, Sam returned to his tent and tried to rest. He sank down softly into his blankets and closed his eyes – he didn’t need the warmth that they offered him, however he gladly accepted the comfort. He thought back to the battle, to the djann that he had killed and the injuries he took while doing it, he also thought of home. As his mind wondered, an image of the busy streets of Taelliwey came by. He was walking with his sister, Jaye, and his brother in law, Benjamin. He hadn’t thought of home in months. Sam saw himself walking though one of the alleys under the tall buildings on either side. On the wall of the alley there was a poster: wanted. Upon that poster was a familiar face, and Sam realised that he had recognised that stranger. He sat up as the realisation struck him like a bullet.
It was the Assassin of Taelliwey! ns 188.8.131.52da2