The train finally arrived. It did not have the sleek and polished look of a passenger train, but people were boarding and so Keras and I followed Hughbert and his companions into the car. I ended up sitting across from the halfling and her friend. They spent the first hour or so whispering to each other and giggling, as though they were old friends catching up on their lives. When their conversation lapsed into a comfortable silence, I leaned forward and struck up a conversation with the halfling across from me. She introduced herself as Cora Tealeaf and her companion as Odelle. We exchanged pleasantries and passed the time easily telling amusing stories about our travels. Cora seemed to have an abundance of energy, a trait that I had noticed on the several occasions in which I ran into halflings. One thing I had not noticed the other times, however, was the large number of knives that flashed their subtle warning as she shifted around in her seat.
After talking for a while, she excused herself and approached Francis and his companions. After a cheerful hello, she leaned in close to Ronan and whispered a quiet question into his ear. He showed no surprise at her actions, but just leaned back slightly and shook his head. Cora cocked her head at him and then wandered back to her seat. She looked thoughtful, so I gave her a few minutes to think. I heard the latches from Ronan’s guitar case open behind me but my gaze was drawn to Cora as she glanced at the noise. With a slight widening of her eyes, she leaned back in her seat and a smile flitted across her face. I turned to look at whatever she had seen, but Ronan seemed to be sleeping, sitting with his enormous guitar case across his lap. When I asked Cora what she had seen, she just shook her head, as though in imitation of Ronan a few minutes earlier, and said that she never forgets a face.
Our conversation drained with the light as the sun set over the southern horizon. People began arranging bags, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep. The train was so late in leaving that we would not reach our destination until the following morning. I was about to arrange my bedroll behind my head when I realized that Keras had taken the second watch the night before and could probably do with some sleep sooner rather than later. I tossed my bedroll to him and told him that I’d take the first watch. With a grateful nod, he carefully placed his head against the wall and was soon breathing deeply from the vapors of saalis unistused. I noticed that Cora seemed to be staying awake while her companion slept. A quick glance at Francis and his companions showed that Ronan, the guitarist, seemed to be standing watching for his group. It was not an unusual occurence to run into another martial group on the road, but to run into two such groups was a bit odd. It seemed to take the parents around us quite some time to quiet their children down, but the train car was finally filled only with the noise of the engine ahead of us, the wind whipping by us, the track beneath us, and the soft breathing of the sleeping people around us.
I have no excuse for what happened next. I do not think that I could have dozed off, but I was obviously not as aware as I should have been. The Raskema Koorma tells us that “nothing is in the understanding, which was not first perceived by some of the senses”. My senses had not perceived their coming, so I did not understand the sudden eruption of fire and the shattering of windows. I jerked upright in my seat, seemingly as surprised as both Cora and Ronan. As the initial blast of fire died down, I noticed three shapes, weapons drawn at both ends of the car. In order for me to see them, my eyes had to travel past the bodies of the men, women, and children who had lost their lives in the sudden explosion of fire. With a shout of rage, I sprung from my seat and closed on the three figures at the back of the car before they had time to act. It only took a few seconds for me to reach them, but in that time I heard two incredibly loud reports and glanced back to see that Ronan had produced what seemed to be an enormous arquebus from somewhere. He was firing towards the figures at the front of the car, so I focused my attention on the three in front of me. I did not think Ronan would be a threat if he was firing at the orcs, but I knew that I could not defend against the orcs and him at the same time. Putting that thought aside, I focused my mind on the three orcs ahead of me. My first swing crushed the helm, and the skull within it, of an orc holding a fire pot. His two friends, suddenly finding themselves facing armed resistance in a car of unarmed civilians, drew their swords and began to swing at me.
Behind me, I heard the sound of combat. While facing the two remaining orcs, I could only take occasional glances behind me. Ronan had set the stock his enormous rifle against a window frame and was firing shot after shot with mechanical precision out of the window. Cora was darting and tumbling through the shadows, a wicked dagger clutched in her hands. Odelle had drawn her mace and her enemies seemed to be staggering back from her before her blows even landed. The cloaked woman who was travelling with Francis had stood and beams of blinding light were leaping forth from her hands to claw at the orcs, her inhumanly beautiful face visible each instance that her divine will was manifest. Francis had taken a stand in the middle of the car and was deftly weaving magic that culminated in a shattering explosion of color outside the train car. Keras, for some reason, seemed inordinately terrified of the small fires that dotted the train car. I was able to keep both orcs pinned in place at the back of the train car and was slowly wearing them down. As the sound of combat started to wind down behind me, I yelled over my shoulder, “Keras, kasvada paari munandit .”
Almost before I had a chance to process the thunder of hooves, Keras charged past me and slammed into one of the orcs. For those who have never seen a minotaur barbarian charging, I suggest you keep it that way. When an animal charges another animal, they are typically just trying to injure or scare the other animal away. Keras, with all of his martial training, hit the orc so hard that his limp body shattered against the back wall of the train car, cracking the thick wooden beams of the car and showering us with a rain of viscera. The orc in front of me froze and stared in horror at what had just happened. It was then that I made my second mistake of the night. I paused to stare in wonder at the stunning display of power I had just witnessed. The orc left me a perfect opening, but I could not swing my hammer because I was staring at the shattered remains of Keras’ last target. The remaining orc recovered and redoubled his efforts, but it was no use. Seven against one are brutal odds even for a Dwarfen battlemind, but they were far too much for the lone orc. After his body, his life draining from hammer blows, gouges, and several large round shot holes, collapsed onto the floor of the train, I turned to begin putting out the fires.
As I used my cloak to smother the fires, I noticed Awnya, Cora, and Odelle checking over the bodies, searching for survivors. Francis and Ronan had their heads out the windows on either side of the train, scanning for more orcs. Keras and I managed to put out the rest of the fires and found everyone gathered around a young child that Cora had found. Awnya looked up and saw several small trickles of blood leaking through my armor. Shaking her head, she waved her hand and uttered a twisting word of pure light. My head suddenly cleared and my soreness disappeared. I found myself seriously considering taking Francis up on his offer to travel with him and his companions for a while. I have always enjoyed travelling with a cleric, they make the aftereffects of battle so much less painful.