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Magara, the Gathering Speed, Car Twenty-Two
Tettra was in car twenty-two and had gathered up around sixty-eight people. Men, women, children, and Anforms. Some armed, most not. Five of them volunteered to help Tettra, two Anforms armed with Pulse Flechette rifles, two men armed with Pulse Carbines, and a church tech engineer armed with his eight-armed Quantum Storage Device backpack filled with support items. The rest of the passengers made their way to the front quietly. Tettra was thankful she found some armed help. They stopped at the last empty room before car 23 and began planning.
“Alright gentlemen and Anforms, I am Tettra, my métier is an Aeromancer. I am not much of a crack shot with the gun, but wind magic is my calling. Bishop Lazarus said there are two groups of intruders on the train, one at the back and one making their way to the front. We’ll deal with the back group. If things get too bad, we retreat to the front with Bishop Lazarus.” Tettra explained.
Her hands were shaking over the prospect of real combat. One of the security guards held her hands gently.
“You’re going to be alright?” He asked.
“Yes, I will be. Right we need names.” Tettra said.
“I’m Rich, a former navy man of the First Rebreather, just retired. Métier is Soldier. Sergeant.” Replied the man that was calming her down.
He was thinner with a runner’s build. He had civilian brand military jacket and pants, armed with a pulse carbine.
“Mike, former security for the city of Dowson. Métier is Brawler and gunner. Drinker.” Said the other man.
His build was bigger and he looked older with thinned hair. He was watching the windows, his carbine crooked in his arm.
“Good Greetings, Tettra. I am Stug. Marksman is my métier and fortei,” Stug introduced himself.
He was a large blocky humanoid shaped Anform with a single large blue eye. The long Pulse Flechette rifle looked silly in its oversized hands. It was watching the door as it spoke.
“And I am Lod. Marksman is also my métier.” Said the smaller Anform to the group.
It walked on four limbs that carried its spherical chassis and held its long Pulse Flechette rifle in a manipulating mount atop the sphere.
“The name is Newman, good to meet you all! Oh, métier. Yes. Church Tech Engineer. Utilities and Support.” Said the Church tech quickly.
He was the only one prepared as he had equipped his powered armored tech suit, his eight arms on his QDC pack held a variety of tools. He was wearing a fully covered helm, his eyes covered by a welder’s visor and his voice came out digitally distorted.
“Good to meet you all!” Tettra said with excitement. She felt ready.
“Sergeant Rich, as you are the one with most experience, will you take charge?”
“Gladly. First, Lod and Stug, you are in the back row. Stay back and take shots of opportunity and support fire. Tettra and Newman, you’re mid. Support with magic and utilities. Mike and I are front row.”
“Rich, may I be front row? I can use wind to shield any return fire, but need to be close to use it.”
“Good idea, kid. But try to keep behind us.” Rich stated with a smile and a nod.
“Also, do we know if the windows are secure? How did they get in? Because I have some drones we can use to keep an eye outside of the locomotive, just in case they can make their way outside of the train.” Newman explained.
“What is your max processes?” Asked Stug.
“Oh, I’m up to three with the tech upgrades,” Newman stated plainly.
“Good. Thank God for a Tech, I’d’ve been happy with a tech at two processes.” Mike commented.
Newman made his way to the window, the robotic arm above his right shoulder emitted blue light, changing into an alloy glass cutter.
“This may make noise, but I’ll do my best.” Said Newman.
He placed the tool’s blade against the glass near an edge. It then traveled into a small circle, creating some screeching in the process.
“Sorry!” He said with a whisper.
“Just watch the doors, Stug, Lod,” Rich ordered with a furrowed brow.
Rich and Mike were watching the windows. They were a thick transparent glass metal hybrid, but they weren’t indestructible.
“All done here.” Announced Newman as he stored the piece of the cut-out cylinder of glass in a flash of blue pixelated light.
He then materialized a series of orb drones in blue pixelated light, they looked like they could fold out with different tools. He gently pushed them, one at a time through the makeshift hole. Their magnetized hulls could hold onto the high-speed train outer chassis. He dropped off twenty, for good measure. They would roll along and on the outside, supporting the team.
“All done,” Newman announced quietly.
“Let’s go,” Rich ordered curtly.
Stug and Lod were holding the hallway, watching the door. They nestled into staggered rooms and were peeking their barrels out of cover. The Anform’s rifles each had a camera attached for ease of firing.
Tettra followed behind Rich and Mike who led the way. Then followed Newman, then Stug and Lod. They reached the door to car twenty-three and listened.
“The doors might be too thick to hear of there was a scuffle, but gunfire would come through fine.” Mike quietly commented.
Rich opened the car door to a dark hallway. The lights were out completely. He walked in, light clicking on from his carbine. Everyone clicks on lights from their persons. Tettra remembered almost too late her pistol had a built-in LED. It wasn’t the best, but it was good enough. Tettra’s instinct was blaring. She wanted to run to the front and go to Lazarus, but she needed to get the other passengers. Who knew what was happening right now to the passengers in the caboose. If it was just her, she’d would have obeyed his orders, but with five others experienced with combat, she felt it was safer pushing forward.
Rich made a hand gesture to stop. He pointed to a door on his right. Rich gestured at Tettra to open the door, Mike and Rich would pour in and clear it. It took a moment for Tettra to understand what they wanted, with Mike sighing and having to place Tettra in the correct spot.
Tettra held the brass handle, sweat starting to bead on her head. She was standing with the door, as it opened outward. Mike was tensing to move, he would be the first to enter. Rich would go second. Stug would enter last and support. Lod, Newman, and Tettra would watch the hall.
Rich made another gesture that was unknown to Tettra, but the rest of the team nodded. Mike, Rich, and Stug set their weapons. Tettra was about to say something, but Rich gave the signal,
Tettra sat there not understanding what they wanted. Rich raised his eyebrows and then she realized.
“Open,” Rich mouthed the words.
Tettra blushed at the mistake and opened the door and ducked down, Mike and Rich pour into the room.
“Contact Right! Contact Right!” Mike shouted.
“Contact!” Rich responded with a yell.
Tettra was expecting a loud burst of fire but heard only the tuff-tuff of silent weapon fire and the snapping of rounds hitting wood and steel. Stug trundled in last, Tettra heard a click of his quiet flechette rifle firing.
“Contact window,” Stug announced calmly.
“Bedroom, bedroom!” Mike shouted.
“Get back!” Rich shouted.
As Tettra heard the chaos in the room, she noticed a silhouette in the hallway. It was tall, over six feet. Its arms reached the floor. It began to walk forward towards the group. It made a gasping death rattle noise.
“C-contact, hallway,” Tettra whispered.
“Imps?!” Newman shouted, losing his cool and alerting other rooms.
Lod let it get no closer as he fired off the flechette rifle with a click. The round whizzed by Tettra, which she fell over forward in a spook. The center of the upper torso receive a dinner plate sized hole, but it kept walking.
“Lod, it’s still coming!” Tettra shouted. The thing began to sprint. Lod fired twice more, one of which round plowed into the hip, and the next into the knee to stop it. Tettra saw the knee tear off, flopping to the floor and its hip buckle from the new hole. The strange being fell to the floor on its stomach. It looked up to let out a loud rattling shriek, alerting the car to the intruders. Lod planted another shot through the head, turning it inside out and painting the cart with black. The thing slumped over, silent.
“Target down. Tettra. Check the room.” Lod ordered.
There Tettra noticed the creature began to change. It started to turn ash grey, calcifying.
There was only one thing that turned to ash when it was defeated.
“Demons!” Tettra shouted. Several doors burst open at the far end of the car. More of the demons made their way to the group. They all looked the same, with their long thick arms and undefined torso, looking more like rubber filled with black blood than muscle and bone. Their movement was more akin to trundling than walking.
Their faces were disquieting.
They stared at the group with enormous white eyes with beady black dots for irises. they had a long pencil nose, and a gaping maw of flat teeth, appearing as a perpetual smile.
“Contacts hallway!” Newman shouted.
“Lod, share your inventory with me! You too, Tettra!” Newman ordered.
“Done,” Lod responded.
“I-I don’t have storage yet!” Tettra responded. She wasn’t wealthy, after all.
“Oh… Well, Lod, just keep firing!” Newman ordered. There was a ring of blue light surrounding Newman’s feet as energy began to build up. It reached full peak and Newman said a word to discharge it.
The blue light discharged to Newman and Lod. Lod began firing his rifle like it were an automatic. Even with the silencer still active and Tettra could hear the tuff blast crack of the rifle chugging away with a slow rate of fire, causing her to drop her gun and cover her ringing ears. The pneumatic barrel of the rifle retracted back each shot, sending a hypersonic round down the train car. The first Demon took three rounds to the hip, tearing it in half. The four demons became eight as they began to pile out of the rooms. Tettra got over her shock, picking her gun back up. She opened fire from prone with the screech crack of her handgun, aiming for their legs to slow them down. She fired a quick eight rounds, striking one in the knee. Tettra heard shouting in the room that was being cleared. Stug was peaking his barrel around the doorway, firing above Tettra. She made sure to stay prone.
“What am I doing?” Tettra said out loud, Newman gave her a confused look as he continued to channel his nacelle power into the nanites to temporarily turn the marksman rifle automatic.
She channeled wind into her hands and created a forward wind tunnel that reached sixty miles per hour. The demons movement slowed as the wind pushed them back with a flurry. Lod and Stug were in sync with one another. Lod planted a shot into the head of a demon, and Stug threaded a shot through the new hole, scoring a second headshot on the demon behind it. Both headless demons were pushed over and trampled by the ones in back. Newman summoned two floating drones and sent them forward. One of them began squirting oil but was slammed to pieces into the now caved in the wall as a demon swiped at the new target. The hallway was a din of shouting, gunfire, and the ominous gasping death rattles of the demons. The second drone activated a blow torch, setting the oil alight. It too was scrapped as it was clapped between the trunk arms of the now ignited demon, detonating in the process. The hallway was awash with flames, the wind blowing the flames backward towards the end of the car. The fire quickly became an inferno as the demons caught fire one after another, going down after their outer skin burned away, and their insides spilling out with a hissing sizzle.
Mike and Rich push passed Stug, covered in black blood and ash. Mike was nursing his arm, it was bent at a bad angle.
“Emmanuel have mercy…” Rich murmured as the last demon silently fell apart from the consuming flames.
“Mike!” Tettra called out as she went to check up on him.
“Those bloody imp bastards! Got a lucky swing in. Gah!” Mike gasped.
He was bleeding like a hose from the arm. Newman came over and gave a quick check.
“Arm and wrist are shattered. You have two cracked ribs. You can’t fight anymore.”
“Like hell I can’t!” Mike roared.
“Mike, he’s right! You’re no good to us wounded. Can you make it to the front?”
“Yeah… Yeah, you’re right.” Mike murmured, angered he got injured so early.
Newman fixed the bleeding with a coagulation spray. Mike gave him the carbine.
“Make sure you give it back,” Mike said with a wince.
“If we get through this.” shot back Newman.
The fire began to snuff out, all that was left was ash, burnt wood, and melted carpet. Mike hobbled out of the cart towards Lazarus’ group.
“I hear them. More contacts.” Lod announced.
Tettra couldn’t hear them, so guessed his sound sensors were the strongest.
“Guys, I can’t contact anyone, we’re being jammed,” Newman announced.
“Not good,” Rich stated grimly.
“What does that mean?”
Rich went over to Tettra and began to explain.
“These types of demons are called imps, Fought them before in cleansing campaigns. Nasty guys. They are the weakest type of demon, more of a mass-produced brawler. The thing is, it takes someone to keep producing them. Demons rarely have our tech, especially military tech. Much of it is DNA encoded, so they can’t access it. So that leaves several possibilities.” Rich explained.
“No…” Tettra murmured.
She understood what that meant right away.
“Yes. Either this group is being led by a more powerful demon, possessing a human, or God forbid, an Anform.” Newman stated.
“Or it’s a human leading it.” Rich finished.
“And if they’re being led by a more powerful demon, we’re done,” Newman added.
“The target in question is what is murky. Why this locomotive? What is the target?” Stug asked.
“If it were assassination, for instance, the highest ranked being is Bishop Lazarus, why work their way to the conductor and the caboose?” Lod added. There was a gasping shriek from the car.
“We’ll talk later. More are coming. And more will keep coming until we end the one making them.” Rich said.
“A human working with demons…” Tettra whispered.
It was unthinkable, a human betraying the grace Adonai gave mankind to make a pact with rebelling spiritual entities. Any who had a hint of doing such a thing were punished by the Church severely and without mercy.
Rich readied his weapon down the hall. They slowly moved forward. The doors would make things more difficult as an imp could burst from an unchecked closet or bedroom and attack them from behind.
“I’ll get the drones to keep an eye on the rooms through the windows,” Newman stated.
“Clever idea, good Newman.” Lod complimented.
Rich and Tettra shored up the front row, with Newman and his new carbine keeping center, Lod and Stug watching behind. Lod could walk forward on its four legs, keeping the gun pointed behind them just fine. They stepped past the burned out killzone, grey ash being kicked up and clinging to their clothes and chassis. They arrived at the door to car twenty-four. Tettra was tense. Everyone was tense. The Anforms couldn’t be.
Rich went to open the door and spotted it. An imp was looking through the window at them. Its large soulless eyes staring at them like choice meat. They could hear the muffled death rattle gasps. It slammed against the door, cracking the glass and bending the door slightly. The group stepped back. It slammed again, shattering the window. It received two marksmen sabots in the head for its trouble by Lod and Stug, black blood flowing through the open window. They sat still and waited a minute. Rich walked in and peeked through the window and seeing an empty hall.
“OK, send your drones up and check the windows. Let us know which rooms are full.” Rich orders.
“Sounds good!” Newman responded.
“Where are the passengers?” Tettra asked. She didn’t clear any of the rooms. Her brows furrowed with concern. Nothing felt right.
“I don’t know, Tettra. That room we cleared had a few imps, but no people. I remember passing people on the way here.” Rich pondered.
Rich opened the door with some trouble as the door was warped. He managed to get it open with a grunt, the tinkling of broken glass scattering along the floor. He readied his carbine, not bothering for quiet anymore.
Rich stepped forward gingerly, making sure there were no blind spots. Tettra followed closely, a burst of wind energy at her fingertips. If something were to surprise them, she could use that burst to slam it away. It took her stamina to build the energy up, but it would lock like a bolt once held, not eating up stamina to hold it. Many magicians couldn’t do this, nor could many cast without chanting a word that bound the spell, or a gesture. Tettra was a savant when it came to wind magic. Not with firearms, however.
“I spot nothing from the windows. Rooms look clear.” Newman stated quietly. The drones had been rolling across the train’s outer hull, camera arms flipping out up to the windows to see inside the room.
There they entered the train car hallway. Tettra was breathing heavily, nervous that there was little sign of demons.
“Were they waiting?” Tettra whispered to herself. Rich heard and nodded an affirmative. It was just a matter of time. The fifteen or so demons were just scouts. Imps were always numbers over quality.
Stug was watching behind and Lod was able to watch both ways, its turret mount swiveling back and forth with a silent whir. Newman was in the center, carbine pointed down, but prepared for snap shooting. There was a crash sudden as a large black arm shot through the wall, grabbing Newman’s robotic arms and yanking him to the wall. He let out a gasp as the wind was knocked out of him.
“Newman!” Rich shouted.
He went to the wall and fired a five round burst into it, the screech crack echoing through the hall, causing Trettra’s ears to ring. She was shouting for help as well. Stug calmly walked over, cradling Newmans side and pulling its fingers shut, shearing the robotic arms from his pack. Newman fell to the ground with Stug pulling him away from the hole. Lod, Rich, and Tettra fire into the wall, wood splintering as the wall and room inside were shot to pieces. The doors burst open and new types of demons crawled out in the ambush. The demons were just seconds too slow, otherwise, they might have gotten the whole team. The new demon looked like the imps, with the same black rubbery hide, but were thinner, their arms were thick at the wrists, each wrist sporting three triangular claws. Their face looked bulbous with two slit eyes. The front of its face looked like a rubbery flesh, streaming down its head like an appendage. It scuttled on all fours.
“Crawler imps!” Rich shouted, shooting a five round burst into the head and body of the closest, causing it to drop from the ceiling it was skittering on.
The crawler continued to flail about on the ground, like an insect in its death throes. Tettra released the energy stored, blowing a leaping crawler back to the end of the car in a tangle of noodle limbs. They made strange clicking noises, like revving an engine. Newman was on his back, firing into the now crowded hallway. Rich and Tettra got low and hugged the walls. Lod and Stug we’re picking off the crawlers in the back as Rich and Tetra dealt with the ones rushing at them. One jumped atop Rich, trying to shred him with its claws. Tettra hip fired with her pistol, scoring direct hits on the train car walls, windows and doors, but missing the Crawler entirely. She created a silhouette of rounds around the Crawler and felt foolish for it. It stopped tearing at Rich to stare at Tettra, head cocked as if it just saw something stupid. Its head then exploded as Lug shot it off, covering Rich and Tettra in black blood. Tettra was in shock at seeing the demon’s head blow up but helped Rich up who was shouting a storm.
Rich pushed the corpse off as he rose to his feet. He switched to full auto and sprayed into the crowd of crawlers. The group was being pushed back as the crawlers scuttled across the walls, ceilings, and floor. Dozens poured out the car rooms.
“Newman, spray oil in front of me!” Tettra shouted. She gathered her energy briefly and created a wind tunnel, blowing towards the crawlers. This time it was more powerful, causing many to stop moving or be blown away to the car’s end. Newman limped over to Tettra and sprayed a thick dark liquid from one of the surviving robot arms which covered the room in a flurry of flammable liquid. He used one of his robotic arms as a plasma torch to light the stream of oil, quickly setting the hallway on fire. The crawlers began to fall from the walls and ceilings, piling on top of one another as they burned. Rich continued to fire into the packed group as many tried to leap to the group while alight. Lod and Stug kept fire sabots, causing the smaller crawlers to be completely turned inside out or pasted upon impact.
The fire became an oven as the wind magic tunnel fed it oxygen. Many of the crawlers bolted to the rooms and retreated, crashing through the glass.
“Oh, oh! They’re on the train outer hull!” Newman announced.
“They’re cleaning off my drones!” He said with a rasp.
The demon corpse pile was orange embers now, crumbling to dust.
Rich spit at the burning pile. He was covered in red and black blood.
“They’ll be traveling on the outer hull now, either going for the front or to keep us off balance,” Rich stated.
Tettra went to Newman, he was missing all of the robotic arms on his right side, which he was nursing.
“Newman, are you alright?” Tettra asked.
“Yeah, it got me good. I didn’t even see it inside the room until it struck. Crawlers can hide like its nothing.” Newman turned to Stug.
“Thank you. If you didn’t help, I’d have been pulled through a very tiny hole.”
“You are most welcome, good Newman.” Stug dipped its head slightly as a bow.
“Well, ribs are cracked, I’m down on arms, hah, but in good spirits.” Newman laughed at his own pun.
“Do you need to go to the front?” Lod asked.
“Well, I can’t now. Crawlers are good for sniffing out weakness and pouncing. If we got them all I’d consider it. They are my worst nightmare as a support unit.” Newman explained.
Newman sighed and shook his head.
“There, painkillers and stims. That will last me an hour.” Newman announced.
“Yeah, they were going for Newman, that’s for sure. It makes me wonder if they’re hive mind or if they share sensory info with the summoner.” Rich thought out loud. The black blood he was coated in became dry and crumbling. Tettra noticed the gashes and cuts across his body were sealing.
“The fire is very powerful, indeed,” Lod said.
“As well as the wind. Thank you, Tettra.” Rich walked up to her and said with a smile.
Tettra beamed at that. This was different. She actually helped to save someone in a split second decision. She was a lousy shot, but it gave enough time for the Crawler to be dealt with. She was completely out of her element.
“Hopefully good enough to be in a Retinue one day.” Tettra daydreamed out loud.
“Heh, let’s survive first!” Newman jabbed.
“What I’d give for a good flamethrower…” Rich mused.
“I would trade Stug. Apologies to you, Stug.” Lod said.
“Not at all, I would trade you within a millisecond for two.” Stug countered.
“I would take that offer, as I would no longer be here.” Lod re-countered.
“B-but I have a flamethrower,” Newman said with some confusion.
“Our banter needs a high intelligence to process.” Stug jabbed as Newman made himself a target.
Historically, Anform and AI were legendary ‘trolls’ on the Galactic Nebula. The most researched was an ancient war between Anform and humans. The Anform would raid private military servers, posting recipes for different soups, filling the server with gibberish and crashing it. The raids would start hard at five-hundred-thousand Anforms or AI and grow from there.
“You need at least two AI to understand our conversation,” Lod added.
Newman was silent and shook his head.
“Come on, let’s go,” Rich ordered. His wounds fully scabbed over.
“Rich, what is that? Your wounds…” Tettra asked.
“Oh, perks of being a soldier. Minor cuts, scrapes, fractures and bruises heal quicker than normal. Won’t protect against taking a sabot to the gut, though.” His shirt was in tatters as he gestured towards the old healed circular scar at his belly.
The group continued on, to car twenty-six.
Tettra hoped for no more surprises.
Again she was wrong.