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Three's a Crowd; Short Story Serial: The Great Scorchliner Robbery
Topic Started: Wed Dec 13, 2017 9:21 pm (467 Views)
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Part II of The Great Scorchliner Robbery: Double the Stakes

Vorhoos stood outside the door of navy blue coach registered to Conflict Resolutions, Inc. The lip of its roof offered some shelter from the gale-force winds around them. Apparently Hendriks had decided against slowing the scorchliner. Or, more likely, with the disposal of the engineer he didn’t know how.

Seibold traced out a rune with a white-hot finger on the corrugated metal of the door. Kersten had just gotten herself killed during a firefight in one of the cabins, and her opponent, an elderly woman – if Seibold was to be believed – had slipped away through the skylight. So much for securing the passengers. But none of that would matter once they acquired Chekov’s Bow.

“Give me a shield,” asked Seibold.

Vorhoos hardened a wide disk of air between her companion and the door to the coach. Seibold snapped her fingers and the area demarcated by her sigil erupted. Twisted chunks of metal bounced off the shield and spun away to the breeze. Vorhoos ended the spell and shoved past the blastmage, into the darkened interior. Her nose wrinkled at the stink of artifice.

A huge denim tarp, draped over a contraption at the center of the coach, dominated the space, and great chests and boxes circled the periphery. It was pinioned along its edges. Vorhoos slid her sword out and released the nearest ties, then pulled the tarp up and over, revealing the device. It was a heavy, stout thing, centered around a pylon of blackened steel, its weight supported with tripod legs. Behind an armored stand, a fat tube protruded horizontally, facing them as if eyeing them down. Ten metal crossbow barrels were evenly spaced around the tube. Short metal limbs sprouted from the ends of the barrels, marked with runes and hinting at complex arcanomechanical function. Vorhoos stepped back, releasing the remaining ties as she went, inspecting it from all angles. A heavy crank, visible only from the rear, was marked with the same runes as the limbs, and a long strip of quarrels was draped over the side shield.

“Hell yeah! It’s beautiful!”

Seibold was standing at the door-hole she’d created, a look of wonder plastered to her face. She stomped in, following Vorhoos’s steps around the device. Her fingers twitched greedily. It wasn’t until she completed her revolution that Vorhoos replied.

“It’s... something.” It seemed serviceable, if a bit... gauche.

“Boy, to feel that baby rumble between my fingers... Think about it, Vorhoos! Think about what we could do to those shadow-loving pickpockets! To the Cascadian Navy! Hell, we could probably take down a corvette by ourselves! Do you think Hendriks’ll mind if we take it for a little spin? There were a few passengers that gave me some lip back there...”

The hairs on the back of Vorhoos’s neck tickled, and she looked up sharply, past Seibold.

“What? I was only saying-”

Before Seibold could finish her sentence, a spear of flame rent a fist-sized hole through the blastmage’s chest. She looked down, stunned, then fell forward onto her face. From the roof of the last passenger coach, a middle-aged gray-haired woman leapt downward and rolled behind the cover offered by the one of the crates at the edges of the room. Another blast of fire sent Vorhoos scrambling for cover. She jumped up to the shielded platform behind the Chekov Bow. There were innumerable dials and nodes, too many to figure out their functions. She began to pull and press them at random, thanking whoever had loaded the contraption into the coach had also provided it with lots of sharp metal to shoot with. One by one, the arcane runes lit up, red to yellow to green. It began to vibrate slightly beneath her flurried hands. She pulled a lever and twisted it, and the stand began to slowly rotate clockwise, away from her quarry. With a curse, she hastily reversed its motion. Tongues of fire danced over the lip of the front shield as the gray-haired woman cast repeated firebolts from her vantage point.

At least the firing mechanism was straightforward. Vorhoos smiled wickedly and began to turn the crank. The strip of quarrels slunk upward and into the barrels. After a few sluggish revolutions, the device began to fire. Slowly at first, no better than a roomful of crossbows. But in a few heartbeasts the air was filled with screaming projectiles, each barrel independently firing and reloading itself with mechanical precision and eldritch speed. The crates and boxes ahead of her exploded to splinters, her foe’s sanctuary dissolved by flying steel.

Seibold was right. It was beautiful, in its own way, and Vorhoos caught herself laughing.

Ioann flinched back from the reinforced fore wall of the coach as the tips of quarrel after quarrel burrowed into the steel, creating asymmetric waves of perforations. He was hyperventilating. Within, death reigned. The gray-haired woman was dead by now, certainly, and with her, Ioann’s chance of survival. He’d never even learned her name.

And then the whirling, clacking sound of the device slowed gradually, gradually, and then drew silent. Ioann closed his eyes tightly, took a slow breath, then peeked around the corner.

A great arcanomechanic construct bled steam into the confined space. The mangled body of one of the League’s hijackers was in pieces at the door. Ioann scanned the room quickly and located his ally. She was alive but bleeding, finding refuge behind stout barrels already decorated with a dozen quarrels. She saw him, made a complex motion with her hands, but Ioann was already moving. He darted around the opposite side of the device as quietly as he could. Behind its shield, a small woman was fiddling with a few dials, one hand supporting a half-eaten strip of quarrels that protruded from the construct. She was dressed in riding leathers, orange hair sticking out from beneath a leather cap. Glass goggles dangled in reverse on the woman’s back, and in them, Ioann saw his own trembling reflection. He felt his stiletto slide into the palm of his left hand and snuck forward.
Edited by Ioann, Wed Dec 13, 2017 9:22 pm.
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