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Magara, The Gathering Speed, Car Nine
She was in a forest of bleak grey and mud with dead grass. The twisted ash trees appeared burned out, their grey husks shriveled. Tettra could see faces in the trees; deathmasks.
“Whoa, whoa, w-what the devil is this?” Tettra was quick to say. She was lucid in this dream.
“Please…” A guttural voice echoed. She was in the middle of a grove and turned to find the source. It echoed off the trees, coming from everywhere.
“Help me…” It called out again. Tettra heard a shuffling sound behind her as the guttural voice called out again.
The horrific visage stood before her. It looked like a man, but his flesh had rotted away. Half of his body was exposed bone. The grey and green flesh was rancid, a smell Tettra could never describe, and immediately bent over to wretch, frozen with contractions. The ‘zombie’ continued to shuffle towards her, its ankle broken.
“Please help.” It begged in its guttural tongue, its jaw hanging by tendons.
Another creature pursed behind the zombie, one made of black boiling ink tar. It was in the form of an enormous mound, oozing after the zombie. The zombie heard the noisy oozing and turned around, only to run through by a solid zig-zagging arm of solidified ebon slime. It gagged and sputtered, black ink tar began to flow from its eyes, ears, nose hole, mouth, and exposed innards.
“What the devil…” Tettra mumbled.
“Please…” The zombie creature sputtered one last time before it shuddered. The mound of tar dropped the walking corpse to the ground. It surveyed the area, glancing over Tettra, failing to notice her before ponderously oozing away back into the forest. Tettra’s mind was cold and cool, which surprised her, she simply viewed what was a horrific scene in front of her impassively. The pool of black ink that surrounded the body, flowing back inside the zombie. The rotten cadaver rose, sputtering black ink. It slowly got to its feet, staying passive and frozen in place for some time. As if by queue, it began to shamble back into the forest, snapping a branch and collecting it as a club in the process. Tettra couldn’t help but follow it.
“Why am I following it?” She asked out loud, to no one but herself.
She followed the ‘third time changed’ creature as it wandered the woods. It had somehow got ahead of her, the densely packed forest had slowed her down. The carved faces in the trees looked as if they were tracking her.
“Very strange,” She said aloud.
The noise of fighting drew her attention into a nearby clearing. As she stalked behind a burnt out tree there a battle between a massive skeleton and tar zombie was in progress. It seemed inept as it swung clumsily at the zombie, but it had height and reach, nine feet to be exact. The skeleton was covered in mud, but the revealed bone was a bright white, like polished ivory. The zombie was unable to land any blows due to the lack of reach. It looked like two babies fighting one another, unable to get a serious hit; if at all. They both stumbled about, clumsily.
“Why does this keep getting weirder…” Tettra mumbled again. This wasn’t a dream, but a vision. She knew that from instinct and teachings.
Tettra saw what looked like a flying semi-transparent sheet fly around the zombie, confusing it. The possessed zombie burped up black tar in protest and swung at the fast-moving target, unable to hit. The skeleton finally got some semblance of sense and kicked the zombie in the side, buckling its spine and hip. The zombie struck the flying sheet with the wooden branch as it went down, the sheet fell with an unearthly shriek.
“What are these things? Why are they fighting?” Tettra asked herself.
She had little idea these creatures were from the historical old world. The old world was fascinated with death and what became of it. Fascinated that the dead might return for judgment against the living.
The zombie hit the ground, attempting to recover, only getting as far as its shattered hip. The skeleton swung its massive leg again, catching the head with its shin like an executioner, the head broke apart to sloppy pieces, the zombie’s torso dropped quietly in the dirt. The black tar began flowing around the skeleton’s leg. The skeleton looked down impassively as the ink began to travel along the shin, flowing up past the knee bone.
“Well, he’s done for,” Tettra said assuredly.
She was proven wrong as golden light emitted from the skeleton’s hands. It touched the black slime with its glowing golden hands, the slime hissed and calcified, turning to an off-white calculus. The skeleton casually brushed off its leg, the calculus turning to dust. It turned to see the black tar was still moving, trying to leave the broken zombie corpse. The skeleton pointed a finger, and Tettra was blinded by a machinegun volley of golden sun bolts into the zombie corpse. The firing ceased, with the ground hissing and burnt. Nothing remained of zombie or slime, but a golden mote of light rising from the ashes.
“That’s a…” Tettra begins to say, but can’t as she sees another surprising thing.
The skeleton reached out and held the mote carefully with both hands like it was grasping a delicate flower. The light from the mote brightened for a second and disappeared. There she saw a glint on the skeleton’s knuckle.
“I have no idea what’s going on anymore,” She mused aloud.
She sprinted up the skeleton while her instincts told her the vision was starting to fall apart. The skeleton marched awkwardly over to the downed ghost to inspect it. Tettra was at a full sprint in her pajamas. The edges of the forest begin to vanish like smoke, replaced with white. She rushed to the side of the skeleton and stopped just a few feet, it still didn’t notice. She stared at its knuckle. The golden mote had become an encrusted gem on its knuckle, fitted inside the bone like jewelry.
“It collected the soul… Its body is a Soul Cairn…” Tettra said in amazement. The skeleton turned and looked her dead in the eyes, blue pits of fire dancing.
“Oh, hello,” It said with a deep bass, its jaw grinding against bone.
Tettra let out a shriek as she backed up.
She was engulfed by the whiteness, the falling turned into floating. She heard a voice. She knows it well.
But from where?
Where has it been all this time? The voice of a loving father. With the strength of gravity. Of solid rock. It issued an impossible command.
“Rescue my children. Let my people go.”
“Wait! Where are you?” Tettra shouted.
The dream ended.
Tettra awoke with a start. Something was wrong. Her gut felt it like it had dropped twenty feet. She felt the spike of adrenaline. Every instinct was firing off.
She hopped out of bed quietly and listened. Only the slight sound of the cars moving was all she heard. If something was going to happen, pajamas would be inconvenient. She got dressed in the uniform she wore for the tournament, loose grey slacks, tight boots, and a side buttoned-up coat. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She went through her pack and found it.
A micro pulse pistol. Palin brand, for the ladies. It was tiny and blocky in her hands, but the firepower was still there. It was a pocket railgun, afterall. She checked the safety and nacelle charge.
“Ammo was good, three-hundred rounds should be enough, right?” Tettra mumbled to herself.
The coat had a pocket holster where she held her pistol. She mentally readied herself, pistol in one hand, and charged wind energy in the other. She wasn’t a good shot, but it was better than nothing. Better than her parasol.
Pulse technology was fairly universal. The weapon was charged by a Tachodine nacelle diode. The ammo was a cobalt steel alloy sphere, when fired, a micron layer of the alloy sphere was shaved off, compressed into a small sabo and fired at hypersonic speeds. Even the smallest round could do incredible damage. There was little to no recoil and no moving parts. The pistol was a single round semi-automatic.
She quietly opened the door, thankful that it wasn’t squeaky. The room was dark and there appeared to be no sign of Lazarus. She stepped into the room, and a hand quietly grasped her shoulder.
She squeaked in surprise and turned, Lazarus, shushing her with a finger to his lips. He was holding a combat pulse rifle, In the crook of his free arm was his steel crozier. It looked like a shepherds crook with a spike at the butt end, the crook was empty of symbols; a fighting weapon. His hood was up and he was wearing an armored combat vest over his church vestments. On his head was a monocular sensor eyepiece, giving him readouts.
“Yes, there appears to be something else on this train. A group is nearing the Anform conductor and another group is starting from the caboose.” Lazarus spoke with a rushed tone, belying his previous ponderous tone.
“You felt it too?” Tettra asked in a hushed tone.
“Indubitably, dear Tettra. It is good you felt it too. Good combat instinct, yes,” He answered.
“We must hurry, most of the passengers still rest. If we make a noise, though, both parties will rush, causing undue chaos.”
“Gather who you can, I will take the conductor, we can’t have whoever is here diverting or crashing this train…Yes.”
“Alright. Be safe, father.” Tettra said as they both marched towards the door.
White light surrounded Father Lazarus as several holographic beings took form. They looked like sad skulls, all twelve floating around him awaiting orders.
“Gnats, warn the passengers, as many as you can. Quietly.”
“By your will.” They announced in a digitally distorted voice as they floated through the train walls, heading towards the passengers up front.
“I’ve never seen Gnats before…” Tettra mumbled. Quantum Storage Devices were rare on Magara. Only higher-ups or Techs in the church had any.
“I’ll send all passengers your way, have Gnats ready to guide them,” Tettra said as Lazarus quietly opened the door.
“Good idea, If we can get all or most of the crew, we can let loose the rest of the carts. There they will float harmlessly until assistance arrives. If you see any trouble, run back to me, quickly.” Lazarus added. He was getting more confirmation choosing her was the correct decision.
They exited the room, Lazarus immediately checked his left, Tettra also looked left. Lazarus tapped her shoulder with the Crozier’s hook, pointing to the right. She had little idea about checking corners. She mouthed a ‘sorry’ as she turned right to find no sign of people. The door in front of them opened, a bewildered peeked through the crack in his door at Lazarus and Tettra. One of the Gnats appeared above the man, and continued down the hall, to Tettra’s right. The man whispered to the group.
“What’s going on? children, stay inside.”
There were four little girls with him, probably his daughters that were trying to peek out and see.
Lazarus opened the door, handing him the pulse rifle. White pixelated light appeared in his empty hand, materializing a pulse compact gun. The mini rifle was curved, fitting around his hand and wrist.
“Intruders are aboard, Tettra and I can sense it. Something is amiss, a group is headed to the conductor and another is coming from the caboose. Follow me and keep the children in between.” He quietly stated. He completely dropped his mumbling demeanor.
“Go, children, stay behind the bishop I’ll be behind you.”
“Are we OK, daddy?”
The girls were whispering their fear. Tettra didn’t have time to comfort them as she walked down the hall, she had to act quickly and quietly. She pulled out the magic in herself and created a new spell, a simple one.
“I’ll call this one the Tapper…” She mumbled as the let the magic loose to a door she passed. The door started to rattle in a pattern from the tiny wind buffeting. It was an easy cantrip, so it left her energy and focus on the hallway. As she got near the end of the car, the passenger doors started to open. Tettra made her way back and quickly explained to the rest of the passengers the situation. She told them to have their hands up and head to the front locomotive and speak to father Lazarus, to prevent friendly fire. Two dozen passengers snuck their way to the front, whispering among each other.
Tettra headed to car ten.
There were thirty cars in total.
This was going to be a long night.