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Missy was focusing. Not on anything that was happening around her, no. That had more or less blinked out as soon as she'd hit the roof with her leg screaming pain at her. She'd held onto just enough awareness to see Colette vanish over the edge of the roof, at which point she stopped focusing on anything except the thread of gold woven through her braid. She gripped it now, digging her fingers through, seeking the hidden core of curly, golden hair in and amongst the coal black strands. She couldn't feel it, couldn't tell it apart from her own hair by touch, but she knew it was there. She knew there was a silver web running right from Missy to Colette, and as long as that was there, Colette was okay. She gripped tight onto that hidden piece of hair and bent her whole being on a single spell:
Even without actively trying to, Missy could feel the current of magic through that web. It was draining her, taking her magic across to wherever Colette was, forcing her alive. It was massive, exhausting. Missy already felt as wrung-out as a dishtowel, and she had no idea how long she'd been keeping it up. Surely not very long. She had no idea what was happening to her own body, or Colette's, really, only that the flow of her magic and the force of it definitely seemed to imply that Cole was making use of the spell in a big way. Put simply: Missy was keeping Colette alive. If the spell ended...
Missy couldn't panic. She couldn't feel or think anything except Live, Live, Live. Her whole being was a gossamer silver web growing longer with every passing second.
Until all at once, there was a roaring flood coming down another web. Magic, a tide of it, like a flash-flood down a gorge, submerging Missy in its power. It pooled for just a moment, nearly drawing Missy back into her own body, before it discovered the open channel leading to Colette. Gratefully, Missy allowed it to pass through her like a sluice. Live, Live, Live! She shoved as much of the magic flowing into her down the web to Colette as she could. She couldn't imagine where it was coming from. If she focused on that web, she'd lose this one. She just took it and used it and prayed to the only God she knew.
Leigh Yond, your lazy ass had better be following us!
Roland didn't want to listen. He wanted to tune everything out and just muscle himself to some level of safety but there were outside elements. Even with the man he held, he didn't have near enough fuel to do anything actually useful at this point.
The woman was trying to promise something again. But after her first promise, the one involving no one would get hurt, Roland found himself bristling under the implication. But one of the girls was gone, the one left was being held up by the woman.
What exactly did he think he could do here?
"I'm letting go."
Roland stepped free, stumbling under the force of the wind but maintaining his balance. He put his hands higher than before, now clearly held at straight angles above his own head. His mind roiled with guilt and a need to act, but his eyes were fixed on Miss Pahana's limp form. "Get her a doctor. I will go with you. Save her."
Couldn't even tie a kid up right! She was surrounded by simpletons, now and forever, for her sins. She re-drew her gun, holding it down by her hip in her right hand, ready for the slightest opening. Then again, maybe she'd just open fire now and to hell with that idiot. He'd gotten himself into this, after all.
"Calm down, kid. People have survived falls before. She probably caught herself on a sunbeam." Looking back, she couldn't actually see the body behind them, but that wasn't strange with the height of the grass. Not that it mattered, since she was mostly just bullshitting the kid.
"Just shoot him, Shasta!" the man in the kid's grip barked. She sneered back.
"What the hell would our employer do with a dead locust? Shut up and stand still." Re-focusing on the boy, she continued, jostling the girl on her shoulder a bit. "Here's what I can tell you: this girl is going to bleed out if you do anything to me. My magic can keep her alive until we reach a doctor. Otherwise, she's good as gone. So do the smart thing and come along with us so you don't have to lose both of your little girlfriends." Putting action to words, she dug in her shirt pocket with her left hand, emerging with a berry, which she popped into the girl's mouth. The girl accepted it without a fight, still just kind of hanging limply, eyes fixed, mouthing something over and over. The other girl's name? Who knew. Immediately, she felt the magic flowing between herself and the girl. A whole lot of it. That was concerning. They'd really have to hurry to get to a doctor, or she'd be putting her own life on the line, too, at the rate her vitality was being siphoned like this. And still, even with the surge of energy that the girl must have been feeling, she continued to stay still as a statue, whispering something to herself, one hand gripping her own braid so tightly her knuckles were ashen.
He went limp. They tackled his face into the smooth metal of the train's roof. They wrenched his arms about and as the other bandits from below surged up onto the roof with them Roland was distracted.
Ahead, the bandits had reached the woman. Some words may have been exchanged. The shiny girl had been tossed from the train.
Roland gasped. Or maybe he didn't actually, because he wasn't feeling any air entering his lungs. His jerk toward the side the blonde girl had disappeared from had been halted by arms constricting about his throat and arms.
He coughed, and his lungs were scorching themselves alive in his chest in their bid for air. But Roland wasn't going to sit by. Not now. Surrender had meant nothing. The girl had been murdered.
A surge like static, and Roland's thought to free his hands had come true as the handcuffs snapped free. He lunged at another bandit, who screamed in fear but the man himself wasn't what had drawn Roland. It was the residue of his previously failed spell. It was the coal that clung to his clothes, his hair, his skin, his mouth.
It was an old training that came to him. To call the source of what fueled him, and now he was unleashing it back.
"You said no one would be hurt!" Roland roared, still clutching close the body of the man brushed with coal dust in a headlock. "She's [b dead]."
This job. This fucking job.
For one thing, she wouldn't have taken it if she'd realized her targets were actual fucking children. For another, she wouldn't have taken it if she'd realized she'd be working with a random assortment of other hired men, most of whom were probably the kind who'd taken this job KNOWING the targets were actual fucking children. She'd had to deal with their shit all the way down the Mississippi line, playing cards, drinking, smoking, acting like big shits when they were just a bunch of lowlife idiots with about five teeth to share between them. It was worse than being back in the army. At least the army had provided uniforms and equipment that wasn't as likely to kill the user as the enemy. Most of the time.
Anyway, the real sticking point was the plural--'children'. Not 'child'. She'd memorized the target's description, what little of it there was. There had been no mention of multiple children, and yet here they stood, facing several all together, two thirds of whom could match the vague description. The biggest kicker was, of course, the fact that the target was a locum whose locus was coal. Now, she'd been around the block a few times, and anyone whose locus was coal would be handily able to darken their hair or skin temporarily, so the 'white' part of the description was already useless. The girl with the braids might easily be the target, using a spell. Or else the description had just failed to specify 'half-white'. The only one truly ruled out by this description was the blonde girl, who had visibly done a spell with a piece of jewelry from her neck. Not a very likely use for coal. The other girl had done magic, too, with some locus she couldn't see.
Well, she'd already gone way farther than she'd wanted to for this job. Like hell was she going to drag it out any further or risk having to start all over. The kids were subdued, it was time to get the hell out of there.
"One of you simpletons tie him up," she ordered. A nearby simpleton hopped to. She vaguely recognized him as one she'd spent time with on the ride down here. Well, she had a deft hand at wrangling idiots by now. It was no wonder extended time in her company had instilled this reaction. As he did so, she strode to the end of the train car to face the blonde girl who was now hunched over her darker friend, who was not exactly paying attention to the proceedings anymore. The blonde one looked up with fire in her eyes, even down the barrel of a .45.
"Step aside, missy. My employer isn't interested in you."
"My own interest has been rather piqued, as it were," the girl replied. Slowly, she lifted her hand, the necklace dangling from it and catching the light. "In any case, I'm sure Missy has done little of interest to him, either. Perhaps your employer would find himself more interested in sapphires?"
"It's unlikely." As they spoke, she noticed some of the men who'd gone below start to appear over the edge of the train car, climbing up the ladder the same way these children had. The flick of her eyes seemed to warn the girl, who bit her lip until it was white but never removed her eyes from the gun aimed at her and her friend. "Step back, and we can stay civil."
"We are far past that, cher."
Simultaneously, the girl called out, "Epee!" while the bandit said, "Dart!" A shaft of light speared from a glint on the golden necklace like an arrow aimed at her heart. From the leg of the girl who was shot, the bullet leaped upwards like a striking snake. The bullet and the light-spear collided just in front of the blonde girl, both missiles shattering with a crack like gunfire. The girl staggered backwards right into the arms of the nearest man sneaking up behind her.
Casually as you please, he tossed her off the edge of the train.
The bandit sprang across the gap, already berating her coworker as she landed. "What the hell was that for? She was no threat, you didn't have to do that after we'd already won!"
"The way I saw it, you were just about to lose that fight, actually," the man shrugged. "Now it's taken care of. What, do you have some sort of code to all stick together or something?"
"Do you mean women or loci?" She thrust her pistol back into her belt and knelt down beside the girl she'd shot. The girl was staring right at where her friend had gone over, looking more confused than angry. Shock, probably. She prodded the wound, took her scarf off to tie it around. The bullet had gotten her thigh, but it wasn't bleeding fast enough to have hit the artery, probably. The scarf and her own magic would have to do until they could get her to a real doctor. She sighed for her old team. They'd have her right as rain in minutes.
"I mean nasty bitches who like to shoot people from ten feet back," the man said.
"You're abusing your right to free speech. Remember, if you don't make it back I get a bigger cut, that is all."
A search through the child's pockets revealed very little. She didn't seem to be carrying any coal, or much of anything else in fact. Where was her locus? Maybe she'd dropped it when she'd fallen down. She grunted, hauling the child over her shoulder before pushing herself upright. She wouldn't have made it without the help of the man who'd just been insulting her, who smirked smugly the whole time he was helping her up.
She gritted her teeth. Halfway there, she reminded herself. They were halfway done with this awful fucking job. "Turn out his pockets and let's get moving. We're heading back."
He'd failed. He wasn't in time, and there was a [b second] weapon. Roland gaped, unable to tear his eyes away from the figure of Miss. Pahana collapsing following the deafening crack of blackpowder. It seemed like the rest of the bandits were hesitating, waiting.
The man turned to Roland. The man spoke. Roland fell back to his knees, putting his hands up even as his gaze frantically flickered between the man and the collapsed woman ahead of them.
Surrender. That was a concept Roland knew as well as he knew his gait. Hands raised, braced apart with palms open to show he had nothing in hand, and no intentions to grab anything. He didn't recognize this man as any of the Matron's entourage, but he couldn't rule out how much he knew. Not now he mentioned spells.
"I give up," Roland stated. Honestly. Earnestly. He was a fool to think he could change this situation, and now a kindly woman was paying for it. Perhaps the only woman who could have answered his questions about magic. "Please. Don't hurt them."
"Colette, stay!" Missy bolted after Louis. Why the hell was he running AT the criminals? She watched him stumble right past most of them, nearly off the train completely, before lunging at one. These ones on the roof had mostly pulled down their masks, or had them pulled off by the wind. This bandit had, somehow, managed to keep a red scarf up around his lower face, though his hat had vanished, revealing a head full of long gray curls. As Missy watched, the bandit stumbled back beneath Louis's weight, his hands struggling against the boy's, going for the same weapon on the bandit's belt. Missy skipped to a halt at the jolting, shifting edge of the train car, not willing to make the leap across. The other three bandits were hesitating, distracted by the wrestling two and unwilling to risk getting shoved and losing their balance by going in to help.
Missy felt a hand take hers from behind, another settling on her opposite shoulder. Colette. Missy sank into the place in her mind that could reach beyond her body. Magic, flowing through her blood, pooling in her heart and pulsing in her lungs. Flowing through Colette's blood and heart and lungs, too. It flowed between them in a silver vein. When Missy blinked her eyes open, she could see those silver veins, slender as spiderwebs, tangling around every bandit, and Louis too. Filmy and half-visible, most of them, except for one thread strong as silver going from Louis to something on his hands. Some of the bandits had those too. She knew that if she looked behind her, she'd see threads like that binding Colette to the gold on her wrists and neck. They were the bonds of locum and locus. Some of the bandits had them, but with all of the motion still kicking in Missy's gut and all the fighting, she couldn't see exactly what their loci were.
She reached out with her free hand, as if to touch the webs. She'd done this before. Soothed tangled webs like this, calmed angry people down. Used their bonds, their magic, to twist their minds. She reached for the webs around the bandit fighting Louis and began to do the same, only to stop short.
There were no tangles here. No anger, agitation. The magic that pulsed in this bandit was quiet and calm as someone asleep. The bandit whipped around as if feeling the touch of Missy on her mind and looked squarely into Missy's shocked eyes.
Calmly, easily, the bandit used his left hand to draw a second pistol from the left hip and level it at Missy.
The train seemed to go over the biggest jolt in the tracks yet. For a second, Missy stared, confused by how the webs had simply winked out, even though she hadn't ended the spell. Only once she began to fall did she feel the pain in her leg.
On the other train car, the bandit cocked his pistol one-handed, and looked at Louis. From behind the red scarf came a hoarse growl, "Stop casting spells, you idiot, and no one needs to get hurt."
Options were limited.
Roland could have taken time to wonder what Miss. Pahana meant with her strange words . There was a lot to unpack about that statement, questions he was desperate to ask. If magic really [b was] normal? Were they like Roland? Were there others? How many? Where?
“You just…” Roland wasn’t sure how to phrase it. It was familiar, the way Miss. Pahana had called out a word and then just had it happen. But did she have coal? And how was she so controlled? Was she on the run as well? Were they both?
He could have made a break for the far side of their current carriage in hopes of finding a door further up as being more open. Survival would be a nice goal. Maybe if he hid amongst the other passengers he’d be overlooked.
Instead, despite what his common sense would later berate him for, Roland found himself scrambling just far enough toward the front of the train to get a good running start toward the back. He didn’t have anything he could use to fight the attackers from a distance, so he’d just have to get close.
He, of course, overestimated how far he’d need to jump. His arms pinwheeled wildly in the air in an attempt to keep him upright, but he tumbled along the roof and actually bowled over one of the bandits. But tumbled head over heels past the rest of the bandits on the roof to scramble desperately for a hold.
No sooner had the man caught hold of a ridge on the roof than he was already pushing up to his feet. In a desperate bid, Roland swung an arm for the gun slung on the man’s belt.
Rolouis? Ro Louis? Whatever, the second part was clear enough. "Loci--uh, witches! Magic folk!" Missy hollered back. "We're witches!"
Louis hit the top of the train and flattened himself against the wind. Missy clung to the rungs and ducked her head against it, mind racing. How on earth were they supposed to hold on? There weren't any rungs on the roof part. The wind wasn't debilitating, but one good shake and they'd just slide helplessly off the edge. After a moment, she forced herself up and over. Time was of the essence--she HAD to clear the way for Colette before they had to test that flimsy shield against bullets.
No sooner had she thought this than two shots rang out in quick succession. Missy, kneeling on the roof, yanked her leg back, rolling. Her heart thumped painfully. Colette! She hadn't screamed; was that good or bad? Missy stuck her head over the edge.
Below, Colette took a deep, slow breath to steel herself. She'd flinched at those shots, no matter how she tried not to. Neither had come near her yet, owing to the terrible quality of the weapons these bandits were wielding. But now they were almost on her, still advancing, having figured out that her little light show was defensive in nature and not likely to suddenly stab them. They'd be too close to miss in seconds. She had to abandon the shield to scale the ladder.
From mere feet away, a bandit squeezed the trigger. Colette yanked her shield up as much with her will as with her arm, the circle of light trailing up as an oblong for a split second. Just long enough for the bullet that would have hit her shoulder to spark off the edge with a sound that Colette felt in the roots of her teeth. She staggered, her necklace hissing out of formation. They were too close!
Above, Missy stretched out both of her arms. "UP!" she shouted.
Yes! Colette's whole self shouted back. She had no idea, truly, whether a living locus's will had any bearing on a spell's success, regardless of native wisdom. She'd been entirely unable to tell if she'd ever willingly increased the effects of Missy's words or if it was simply Missy's own erratic learning curve causing the sometimes huge bursts of power. After all, magic was genetic, and Colette HAD met Missy's father. Whatever the truth, this spell worked like a charm.
Her feet left the ground. Her skirt flapped like a flag. Two strong hands closed around the shoulders of her blouse and hauled backwards. Both girls slithered over the edge and then across the roof. Heels kicked and scraped, hands sliding uselessly off flat metal. Mere inches from the edge, momentum ran out, and they collapsed together, panting.
"I don't like this spell," Colette commented breathlessly, pushing herself up onto her knees. Missy followed suit, but her eyes were riveted to something behind them, and her expression was neither relieved nor triumphant.
"Shit, there's more!" Sure enough, on the roof of the caboose were a handful of additional bandits, just as eclectically armed and dressed as the ones they'd just dodged. And it was no wonder that the bandits had long spotted the spectacle of three teenagers suddenly wrestling all over the roof of the next car over. Colette forced herself up as quickly as possible, fumbling to get her necklace spinning once more.
Of all the logical responses to being shot at, Roland couldn't say he cared for the blonde girl's sudden methodical removal and stowing of her jewelry. But her necklace seemed to be doing a peculiar thing, and for a moment he stared dumbstruck. It didn't look so much like a normal necklace now. Was this like that hypnotism thing the Matron had scoffed at?
It took the climbing girl yelling at him to get Roland moving. He glanced at the blonde girl, wondering if she was going to go up next but she was intent on her spinning, so Roland hurried up after the one who had just identified herself as....Miss Pahana? Roland didn't have a title to exchange. Or a last name.
"Ro-" He paused, then flinched as there came another shot somewhere behind him. The police officer had warned him not to give his name out. What name then? He'd thought this through back in St. Louis- "Louis."
Once above the safety of the ladder, there was a torrent of air that threatening to throw Roland clear of the train, and he hunkered down to keep from being blown free. "One of [i what?] What are you?"
"Can we--?! Are you insane?!" Missy snarled, nursing her stepped-on hand. With her other, she shoved at Colette. "Up!"
She hadn't intended that one to be a spell, but the girl was yanked upright as if by a string attached to the top of her head. She squeaked, then shot a deadly glare over her shoulder as Missy scrambled to follow her up. Once on her feet, she saw the issue with the locked train door. She also heard a gunshot go off in the train car behind them. It must have been a wild shot through the sudden smoke billowing everywhere, but it certainly highlighted how little space they had to evade if anyone truly opened fire. "Fine, go!"
"You first," Colette insisted. Her hands flew, dropping her earrings down the front of her dress, unclasping her necklace, then proceeding to spin it in front of her. The gold hissed around, tracing a ghostly circle through the air, which at Colette's murmured command bloomed with pale, reflected light. It looked about as substantial as a spinning glass plate. More than that, the sight was a painful reminder of an old friend's favorite game. Colette grimly positioned this 'shield' between Missy and the rest of the train car, gesturing with her chin for Missy to go first.
There were rungs bolted to the exterior of the next train car, beside the locked door. Missy hopped onto these and swarmed up them as fast as she could. "Does it occur to you that we made this a hell of a lot worse by fighting back?" she shouted over her shoulder, back at her two companions. Then, pausing on the top rung to peer down beneath her own arm at the young man, added, "Missy Pahana, by the way. I sure hope you're one of us, or this'll be an even worse mess when the paterfamilias shows up."
Had the woman meant for Roland to stand still? It was hard to tell.
Perhaps Roland's wasn't thinking so well. Strange lights shot about like firefly's with a bee's stinger, but that could have been his imagination. It rather felt like he was experiencing this fight in slow motion. It reminded him of that time he'd fallen into a river, all the current rushing about and pulling him against his will. The carriage made for a terrible water, kicking up as it did again and forcing Roland to stagger back to not lose his balance entirely.
A slash for him barely missed, and the surge of motion and simultaneous backstep had given him some breathing room. His fingers tugged at the button of his coat pocket and finally managed to pull out his little lump of coal. The wrappings, a cheap paper, was already frayed and he easily dug his nails through and into the soft coal beneath.
The weeks caught up to him. A thrill of clarity went through him, and he felt like he could see a little better. Feel more. He was more himself.
The girls had moved between the cars, onto the hinges holding the carriage together. Above him, he could hear the heavy stomping of footsteps. There were more on the roof. Roland should do something.
For a moment, his mind was blank. He was so used to taking commands on what spell to cast that he was having trouble coming up with something useful on his own. He needed time to think. If he could just get away for a few seconds....
"Dust!" Roland said, the word coming to his speech at the same time the thought occurred to him. The coal itself leapt to his will, and burst out into a thick cloud of coal dust that hung heavy, dark and opaque in the air.
It really would have been a useful spell, if the window hadn't already been blasted out. Instead, by the time Roland had gotten over his initial coughing fit, the entire cloud had been sucking clear out into the wilderness beyond. The dust cloud of the entire store of coal he had on him.
That had to be one of the stupidest things he'd ever done. The snarling man seemed to think so too and, after rubbing the worst of the coal out of his eyes, brought the floor clear up in fractured sheets that sent Roland careening out the door to stumble over the heap of girls already there.
"Sorry," He muttered after stepping on one of them. He was already reaching for the door to the next carriage, and was surprised to find it was locked. Presumably to delay the bandits, but it put the three of them in a bind. "Shit. We need to move. Can you climb?"
"For the love of--!" It was like a clown act, all three of them tripping over each other and getting in the way. The man was bleeding now, and all because Missy and Colette couldn't get their act together!
He threw out his arms to shield them, ordering them to go. Missy used her grip on Colette to haul her backwards. It was actually a strange reversal of their first meeting. But Missy was only getting them to the opposite end of the car, safely away from any fists, before bending all of her thoughts on her best friend. Her courage, her determination, her 'I am sick of running'. Missy dug her fingers into Colette's arm, planted her feet, and channeled her feelings towards the men attacking them.
"Stand still!" Missy barked.
The bandit in front seemed to reconsider his fight mid-swing. He hesitated, stuck in place with his fist raised, not like a statue but like a man who'd abruptly forgotten what he was doing. The men behind him flinched back, unaffected by the spell and confused. Missy gritted her teeth and was about to reissue the command when Colette interrupted.
"Poignard!" she snapped, making a wide gesture with her arm as if throwing knives. Her earrings trailed through the sunlight, flashing as they went. The flashes spun out like drops of water, crossing the train car to the bandits. Where these daggers of sun struck flesh and cloth, they tore like true blades, only to evaporate once blood was drawn. The bandit held in place by Missy's command found himself all at once shredded by the majority of Colette's spell-blades. Their touch shattered Missy's weak command, and he staggered backwards.
The man reached up to rip down his bandanna, revealing a mustache and a wolf's snarl. "Hard way, boys!" he shouted. A man behind him stepped up. Incongruously, this man's hands were not full of pistols, but of bayonets without any accompanying rifle. He lashed out with one, just missing their defender and instead rapping against the wall of the train car. Missy felt a swoop in her gut that wasn't motion sickness simultaneous to his muffled spell-word. Whatever he'd said, the train car warped readily at his command, bucking like a horse. Missy and Colette stumbled backwards together, falling heavily against the train car's other door.
With another swoop of her gut, Missy felt the door give way beneath their weight, popping right out of the warping frame. She collapsed onto the walkway between cars, cracking her head against something on the way down and then again and again as the walkway shifted and rattled beneath her, until she forced her elbows beneath herself by main force. Colette was half-on her, gripping the twisted frame with one hand, desperately holding onto her earrings with the other. Her weight and the shifting footing kept Missy pinned, unable to see what was happening in the car.
The girls weren't running. Why wouldn't they hide? They didn't understand that these attackers weren't just normal bandits, not if they had the abilities to destroy the entire carriage of a train, the extent of which Roland could see past the assailants shouldering their way in.
But the blonde one has said something. Not the bit about how much time they had before the end, but the sentiment about running. Roland had had his few weeks of freedom. Perhaps that statement was true for him as well.
It was all too fast. Roland still hadn't gotten the coal out and it was too late. There was movement from the corner of the eye, one of the girls perhaps summing up the common sense to drag her other friend away, but there was also one of the bandits coming right for them.
It was a foolish habit, but Roland stepped into the way. Forgetting the coal, he used the other genetic gift he'd been given: sheer bulk. As the man swung his pistol, Roland barreled forward, tackling the man with his full weight. The gun bounced off the side of his head with what he might have assumed with just a glance if not for the fact his entire vision seemed to shift. One moment he was standing, the next he was blinking his vision clear tangled on the floor with the bandit spitting curses at him.
Roland didn't have his magic, but he had fists. He brought them down with clumsy force on the man's face, neck and shoulders until one of the other bandits made their presence known by kicking Roland clear off and onto his own back.
His nose was bleeding now, as Roland scrambled to his feet. He had his arms out to the sides to fill the aisle to keep the men from getting past. Why didn't he want them to pass again? Oh, right, the two lady's were there. At least they were last he checked.
They weren't safe. They'd all just been lucky the bandits didn't seem interested in just letting loose with bullets and killing them. Of course not, not if they were there to take him alive. "Get to the next car. I'll hold them. [b Run.]."
By the time the windows burst, Missy had come to the conclusion that this was not Leigh's doing, unless he was far angrier at her than she'd anticipated. Also, she'd spat some bile out onto the train floor, but at this point nobody would notice or care. Most of the occupants of the train were thundering to the next car over, for what purpose Missy had very little clue. The train was still in motion despite everything. Still rattling along its way. There would be no escape from it unless they were willing to throw themselves from it while it was still moving and risk serious injury.
She pushed herself upright, with Colette's help now that she had silenced her earrings and freed her hands to help. At least three people had already stepped over Missy while she'd been down there, and more now pushed her aside in their haste. Missy flattened herself to the backs of the seats in front of her, clutching her hat against the wind now coming in through the shattered windows. She couldn't see anything useful through the windows yet, just seas of burnt yellow grass. No sign of whoever must have been attacking the train.
Nearby, a rough-looking man had paused his own escape to fumble something out of his pockets. "Hide!" he snapped at her and Colette, his own gaze also scanning for the source of the commotion, but with intent rather than panic.
"Where?" she snapped back, rhetorically. They could crouch between the seats, but that wasn't going to hold up to someone simply walking past in the aisle. No way would she allow herself to be found cowering like that. "Cole, take off your jewels."
Colette was already yanking her earrings out of her ears, scrunching the thin, concentric loops of them into the palm of her right hand. Her necklace, rings, and bracelets were still in full view, but she pulled away when Missy reached for them, marching up to the young man in the aisle. Missy hissed and wished her gun was not in the luggage carriage. She hated relying on her magic in tense situations. Its presence was iffy at best, never mind useful. And the more nervous she got, the more she thought about Mr. Applegate and Enright and the rumbling cliffs, the less useful her magic got.
"Sir, they come in moments," Colette said to the only remaining occupant of their train car. "Come away with us." She was rotating her palm full of gold, watching how it sparkled from the corner of her eye. Damn it, she didn't intend to run OR hide, did she?
"This isn't our job!" Missy hissed.
"I," Colette said sharply, "am sick of running away."
At that moment, the door between their car and the caboose burst open. The wind rose to a shriek, yanking at hats and skirts and hair with a child's strength. The glimpse of the caboose that Missy got was one of absolute wreckage--more twisted metal and broken glass left than wall or roof. That glimpse was blocked immediately by the shoulders of men crowding through the door, each one with a bandanna over his face and a gun in his hand. The leadmost bandit didn't pause or hesitate at the sight of three young people in the aisle. As soon as their eyes met, he was lunging, gun extended. Missy likewise dove right for Colette's arm with both hands. Her grab threw off Colette's own motion to lift her palmful of gold, and both girls lurched unsteadily, hesitating in their attack.
The bandit, on the other hand, did not hesitate to swing the butt of his pistol right at the young man's jaw, ignoring the girls entirely.
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