The shadows grew longer and darker with every passing minute, cast from warped, unsightly trees whose branches sometimes swayed in the eerily howling night air, and sometimes swayed when there was no wind at all. The rush of panic and excitement gradually faded from the train’s passengers, their agitated chattering dying down to a worried and fearful muttering, only to be stoked into new hysterics when the rearmost wagon caught fire. Lucienne eyed them with the mildest of disdains, only somewhat annoyed by their shallow sensibilities. Wealthy or not, these first class passengers did not have the steadfastness of one of noble blood. It was not money that elevated one above the common folk, but a nobility of spirit that could only be gained through a clear bloodline. She felt proud, then, to confirm the legitimacy of her lineage as she faced the unknown without fear but, alas, also without patience. Her right foot tapped rhythmically and nervously at the grassy pebbles beneath her but she remained otherwise perfectly composed.
A new breeze carried a hint of music from the more hind-lying carriages and there, framed by the distant inferno, Lucienne thought she was a violinist playing her cares away amidst grasping shadows, performing for seemingly nobody at all. Musicians, she found, were always eccentric by nature. It made them interesting. Then, after blinking once or twice, she could also make out another shape, decidedly bulkier, approaching from the swirling, inky twilight and soon after could hear his heavy steps crunching earth and stone. Squinting against the flame-pierced dark, she kept looking at the figure as each of his steps revealed more details about his form. A satisfying flash of nostalgia washed over her senses when she recognized his gambeson and nigh-medieval armaments of sword and shield. It almost felt like she was back home. Those were the tools of a real warrior, whose skills were honed by discipline. None of those vulgar firearms that made of any ignorant peasant bumpkin a lethal killer. Lowly times.
Some of the other passengers, upon eying Yvain, knowingly or unknowingly recoiled at the sight of him. Only Lucienne, herself an outcast amidst the other groups, stepped forward to meet him, her chin held high and a lazy hand resting on her rapier’s hilt.
“What news from the rear?” she shot at him, Valencian accent thick. “And when can we depart? I have business in the city.”
Weiland sighed to himself, mainly in response to the not so subtle curse slung his way by the irate musician. He’d not much dealings with them, but they never seemed to pan out very well. The dirge she was was haunting enough, fitting given the circumstances, but he put the thoughts behind him, where the music was as well, and proceeded to continue forward, attempting to find extra hands to assist towards the rear. Of course, the farther forward he got, the more callous and displeased with his presence those that even bothered to respond got. Such was the nobility, he thought with some annoyance, though what did catch him slightly off guard was when one such woman, another foreigner given her accent, though her words were little different than usual annoyance such rich folk experienced at a slight inconvenience.
His own accent was apparent, though it was more natural to those from the eastern reaches of the lands that had any normal contact to warrant having trains linking them to other lands, and while he noted she also seemed to carry a more classical attire, her initial question and tone of voice let him as wary as ever. “Several cars overturned by Light knows what. I’ve been sending any able bodied that’re willing to help back. As for leaving, this contraption might have some trouble with that, considering it looks to be missing some parts…”
Weiland’s gaze was torn forward, having already been looking ahead, and he saw that the same parts that had been creating all sorts of noise and had dragged the cars to carry people were outright missing, or damaged beyond recognition. How they would proceed from here would likely infuriate the rich and nobles, they would have to walk to the nearest settlement, though Light knows where that might be from here.
Lucienne followed his gaze behind herself but could see little through the oppressive gloom, save for the absence of certain expected silhouettes perhaps. The thought that the entire engine might simply be gone did not occur to her.
“I do not suppose we will be in time,” she scoffed his way. “So what happened here? Accident? Sabotage?”
Piercing blue eyes sized him up like an owl does its prey.
Weiland was watching the woman he was discussing the current situation with closely, though with her turned, the lack of facial expressions made it difficult to discern what was going through her head as body language spoke little at the moment. Though the scoffing remark and follow on questions made him shrug briefly. Sabotage or ambush were likely, though something capable of removing the engine and boiler to such an extent was going to be a problem. Her gaze was also something of note, far too focused and intent to be just some rich, jumped up noble.
“Afraid not. Odds are sabotage or ambush of some sort. Though I’ve not heard of bandits equipped well enough to remove those parts of the train that completely, not recently…”
“Completely?” she inquired before turning back and squinting harder at the darkness. “Bon sang,” she gasped under her breath. The warrior was right, the front part of the train was missing, curse her eyes. How were they ever going to reach the city now? It was of the utmost importance, after all, far more so than any of these buffoons could realize. She had to find the Key before it was too late. Before her cravings would consume her. Absolutely had to.
“I am afraid I was mistaken,” she admitted, straightening herself and banishing any hint of worry from her mien. “This train will not be going anywhere. Listen, warrior, I must get to this city as soon as possible. Can you help me or direct me to someone who can?”
Hopefully he understood which city she meant, given that she was loathe to pronounce its to her outlandish sounding name.
The fact the train’s state of being was such a point of concern was of note to Weiland, keeping a steady face as he watched her quickly wipe any concern or fear from her features, which spoke of a great deal of concealing one’s own emotional state. The sudden shift of focus and the speed at which she dictated it needed to happen hinted at some sort of concern as to either what was happening there, or what was going to be there perhaps? Either way, his tone was even as he did what he could to assist.
“If you’re speaking of the train’s destination, short of escorting you on foot, I can’t be of much help. However, a Church Investigator is aiding efforts to save those in the overturned cars to the rear. He’d be of better use in finding the fastest way to get back on schedule.”
“Investigator? I am certain he will be very receptive towards a foreigner like me, if he is like the rest of his ilk,” Lucienne darkly mocked. Yes, nominally she and the royal court were followers of the Light. But every now and again, foul rumors would attract a certain enterprising investigator to confirm their validity in a bid to earn himself a promotion. Such occurrences were, thankfully, rare enough, but it was always a terrible bother to cover up their disappearance. There was no doubt in her mind that not everybody may believe the official story. When would the clerics learn not to meddle in affairs that concern them none? Never did them any good neither.
“But,” she added, “If this man can help me get to the city, I may tolerate his person. Will you be reporting to him? If so, I would like to walk with you. Standing around here will get me nowhere, you understand.” In asking so, she eased her posture ever so slightly, assuming a more feminine and less rigid posture.
“He took little offense to myself, though a strange look for my lack of modern arms and armor did not go unseen.” Weiland had shrugged such things off, having grown used to such strange looks and sideways glances over his archaic equipment. His dealings with the Light had been more honest typically, though he was no zealot or fanatical devotee to its creed and, as such, felt rather neutral about their agents and the like. Her demeanor did shift, however, to something more eased, slight as it was, as she spoke on whether he was reporting to the Investigator and if he would walk with her back there.
“Aye, I can walk you back. I doubt anyone else up here will be willing to even walk back there, let alone assist. I only met him in passing, informing him of goings on at the rear, so reporting is hardly accurate. More working with until danger’s resolved, then figure out the details from there.”
“Very good, I applaud your initiative. We shall, ahem, work with him then until the danger is resolved, yes?” she commended Yvain with a slight smile. “My name is Lucienne Desrosiers, daughter of the Comte Armand Desrosiers of Morsang-sur-Odesse.”
She extended a leather-gloved hand towards him as she introduced herself with no small amount of pride. Likely the names and places she mentioned would mean little to this man as he did not strike her as the type to be versed in Valencian nobility, but perhaps he would have enough manners to kiss her hand, as was his place even in this foreign land. Blue blood knew no borders, after all. Neither bowing nor asking for his name in return, she remained as such and eyed him expectantly.
Much to the surprise of some, Weiland would actually duck his head down to place a brief kiss onto her leather clad hand, the customs of classical nobility were not nearly as foreign between distant nations as one might have expected. It was hardly the first time he had to go about such activities, nobility expected such when he wasn’t pursuing them for laws broken, and it always proved smoother to simply acknowledge their wealth than have to fight them over such things. He hadn’t the slightest clue as to what her standing was within her homeland, though titles like that existed in very few places anymore, so he could narrow it down as further hints revealed themselves to him.
“Weiland Yvain, of Istvaargrad. Let us see things sorted out then.” He would have long since released her hand before turning to move at a steady pace back towards the rear. He would have to ask after what could have possibly ruined the engine and boiler, but for now, one step at a time.
Lucienne smirked when, contrary to her expectations, Yvain actually bent over and showed deference to her. Perhaps Perafidion’s customs weren’t quite as degenerate as she had expected? Or perhaps this man was simply one of the rare exceptions. Only time would tell for sure but, for now, she believed this one to be useful in the future. Especially with church investigators and potential bandits afoot in the night, she may have to rely upon a strong sword arm to protect her. After all, her blood was far too precious to be spilled for such trifles, she only had so much of it. Best keep it for important occasions.
Satisfied with their exchange, she matched his stride and remained at his side, casting the occasional glance towards the whispering, rustling shadows on either side. Who could rightly say what manner of thing did or did not lurk out there, hidden by darkness and black trees? Whatever the truth may be, she was not one to flinch at eerie shadows. In dark corners of the world, there dwelt things far worse than mere phantasms and bogeymen. It is after learning how to commune with such things – and that such things cannot be spoken to – that conventional terrors lose their luster.