Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Quint was right. There were more people than usual in the loading bay. The train was due in a few hours and the two of them lingered around Soria’s market stall. The orderly lines that were so prevalent during regular train days were completely gone, of course this was no regular day. There were even an entire shift of adult workers mixed in with the disorganised mass of children waiting for the train. Or rather they were crowding around someone.
“I guess you were right about one thing, Quint.” Reece said.
“And w-what is that?” Quint said not turning is gaze from the crowd.
“Wilton not being able to slip away.”
“Told you.” He said still not facing Reece.
A shift of workers walked in, they still trailed mud on their boots. They looked dead tired, their eyes dark and their shoulders sagged. Several immediately left, heading to the living quarters, but a large group of them joined the crowd. They shouldn’t be doing that, it can’t be good for their health, cram shift roustabouts were vital for the citadel, they didn’t have time to waste. Reece still felt he couldn’t go around believing Quint’s accusations, but he was beginning to hope they were true. This Vicar, Wilton was definitely from the Cluster. The metropolis of the Great Black Mire. The people there, they were different from the rural citadels, they had time on their hands. People like those night shift workers don’t. That was why Wilton had failed to convert the populace in the last citadel, and he would ultimately fail here too.
Soria stood up and to Reece and Quint’s surprise, joined the queue to see the Vicar. She noticed the confused looks on their faces and waved them over. Reece headed over to her before someone else joined the line. Quint watched in surprised disbelief.
“We aren’t going to get a chance to confront him if we sit around waitng.” She said over the din of the crowd. Quint stared at her blankly for a few seconds. “Get over here!” She barked, the authority in her voice stronger than any crowd’s hue.
He hurriedly obeyed and they positioned themselves in a way that if they talked in hushed tones people wouldn’t hear them.
“Let’s go over the plan one more time.” She said, then nodded to Quint. “Your role?”
“I-I take the lead, confront the vicar. You two back me up.” He said hurriedly. Sweat dripped off of his brow, and his eyes jumped from one place to the next like a moth trying to find an open window.
“Could you reiterate that, Quint? And what are we talking about?” Soria pushed him further. It wasn’t to aggravate him, only to make sure he didn’t freeze up in front of the crowd and make things worse.
“I w-will confront the vicar. And address you two as my associates, so he knows your backing me up. Then-”
“Wait, I don’t remember that part of the plan.” Soria said frowning. “Weren’t we supposed to say we agree with your questioning and want to know more? Not you speaking for us.”
“O-oh right.” Quint opened his mouth to continue but he was cut off by a loud buzzing sound.
The large pipes overheard quivered with life. Oil flowed freely through them, the liquid would gather into a tank that would be stowed on the train. The monthly quota of oil. The train was due in an hour at least.
Soria shook her head. “We ought to stop wasting time. From what you told me earlier, Quint this Vicar will be unapproachable when the train is here.”
“Yeah that’s right.” He said. He glanced around nervously. “Muck. Okay, if anything goes bad we run onto the train, he wouldn’t follow us there. And I’m sure an angry crowd wouldn’t either.”
Reece stared at him. His expression betrayed nothing, Quint was serious. “What? Escape? What are you talking about? Why would we have to run to the train?” Leave? Citadel-50, by the train. Reece shuddered at the thought, as much as he loved to hear about the outside world he wouldn’t actually want to explore it. To leave behind the routine and order of the citadel, his home? Impossible.
“Reece makes a valid point. What exactly are you planning to say that would force us to escape to the train.” Soria looked as confused and concerned as Reece was.
“Listen just… y-you got to believe me, alright.” Quinton begged with them, desperation evident on his face. What had they gotten into.
Reece glanced at Soria, her black hair was uncharacteristically untidy, like she had been threading her hands through it. “Hey Soria, I don’t think we should go through with this…”
People pushed them forward from behind and Soria grimaced. “I agree. But…” she glanced at Quint who smiled weakly, pleadingly. “We shouldn’t stop now, we are so close to the end, I don’t see a reason to waste all our efforts so far. Besides, it would haunt me forever if we weren’t involved in something big like this. Ambition is the key to success after all.” She kept her head straight as she talked, she was just as nervous as he. Something was wrong here.
Quint breathed a sigh of relief. Obviously glad that things were going his way. “He will answer for his crimes. He can’t not with this many people around. He is a priest so I feel like he won’t go around lying to everyone here.”
Soria raised an eyebrow. “And yet you claim he caused an Overflow killing hundreds?”
Quint chortled. “I g-guess not so honest then, huh.”
They spent the next half an hour or so in silence, each deep in their own thoughts. They didn’t even realise that they were almost to the front of the crowd. The first fragments of dust and dirt began to drift down from the ceiling. The real mystery of the Railway, was not how it got there but rather how it remained in peak condition for all these years, while the citadels became ashen and crumbled. The rails quivered with energy as if they were alive and a metallic hum began to resonate off the steel.
The Train was here.
Quint yelled over the sound of the Train. “Alright as soon as the Vicar finishes his little display, we move in.”
They moved forward with the crowd, pushing through until they merged with the semi-circle that surrounded the vicar. Wilton was facing the rails and the train suddenly rushed past, blowing up dust and clothing. He raised his hands above his head and lifted only the ring finger on his left hand. He bowed low, almost perfectly horizontal, and moved his ring finger towards the speeding train. His arms were still locked in the prayer position above his head, he edged closer to the train. Right before it was going to begin to slow he let the skin on the tip of his ring finger touch the moving train. His hand were knocked back and he used the momentum to pivot and face the confused crowd, still in the same position as before, blood on the tip of his left ring finger.
“That’s the ritual? And there are three other sects similar to this one?” Reece said, horrified. “I hope the other sects aren’t as weird as this one.”
“The Reliant’s are the more tame ones, supposedly.” Soria chuckled.
Before Reece could respond Quint stepped forward out of the semi-circle. All eyes turned to him, Wilton frowned at him and Reece thought he saw the man mutter under his breath. Quint took another step forward, a few people in the crowd started to shout out warnings and curses, fortunately no moved to stop him.
“Listen up! Everyone here is a fool!” Quinton yelled. The shouts died down and the train was beginning to slow, leaving the room silent except for the screeching sound of metal breaking on metal.
“He seems very confident.” Soria whispered to Reece. “Perhaps he is just passionate about confronting the vicar?” He nodded and looked back at the scene
“What is the meaning of this?!” Wilton boomed. “You are interrupting my prayer. The good people here have no time to waste, I must deliver my sermon. I cannot have you interrupting me!”
“Silence! You murderer!” Quinton bellowed. He pointed at Soria and Reece. “My associates and I have been investigating the Overflow your entourage escaped from!”
There were murmured whispers, coming from around the room and several eyes turned to look at Soria and Reece.
Soria swore under her breath and spoke, quiet enough for only Reece to hear. “Best we don’t back down, lest we look foolish.” She stepped forward and stood behind Quint. Reece paused for a brief moment, before he finally stepped out joining them. He was not stupid enough to realise that they hadn’t been betrayed. What Quint just did, doomed their reputation. Bert would have hell to pay for getting too involved in sensitive matters.
“I’ve seen what you have done!” Quint continued. “How you sabotaged my citadel, damaging the underground oil tank, how you left my home and my people to burn!”
Wilton looked like he’d just being punched in the face. His shock, however, soon turned to rage. The other two Reliant’s rushed to back their leader, their stitched robes seemed awkward to move in.
“You would pin the blame of that horrendous tragedy on me?!” Wilton began to enunciate his words to the crowd, as if he was giving a sermon. “I am a faithful Reliant, a follower of the Rail. I would never do such things to compromise the good people, especially those so closely related to the train and the railway.” The crowd erupted in noise, Reece wasn’t sure if it was because of what was happening or just because they rarely got to see something as exciting as this.
“I’ve heard enough from you, dog priest!” Quint said. It was obvious who was winning this argument - if you could even call it that. He had broken down into hate fuelled arguments after just a few words. This was a doomed effort and he had dragged Soria and Reece into the middle of it by association, leaving the two of them to patch things up later. A smart ploy, but also an infuriating one for those who had to clean it up later.
The Vicar motioned for silence, once the room settled, he spoke in a clear but much calmer voice compared to earlier. “It appears that the loss of your home and your people weighs heavy in your heart.” He spoke to Quint. Soria had a smirk on her face, Reece too, he couldn’t help feel something tug at the corner of his mouth.
Wilton just did them a big favour, if he can convince the crowd that he was acting purely on harboured emotions rather than logic, then they would be able to disassociate themselves with ease. For all he knew Quint may be doing exactly that, his argument was not at all well made.
Then again, the Vicar avoiding confrontation was highly suspicious. Reece mused. Oh well, we shall see where the hands of fate throw us. Overall this was very amusing, despite repercussions it may involve later, this would be the talk of the citadel for years, and they were in the middle of it. Soria may even get a little more business from all the people with questions. Reece could see her charging people to ask her questions any day.
“I too was stricken deeply by that horrific event.” The Reliant Vicar continued. “And if you seek a fresh start in the eye of the Train, and companionship to heal the ache of the heart and soul then pray with me.”
He turned to face the crowd which had changed from curious onlookers to awe at the spectacle in front of them. Religion was not taboo in the rural citadels of the Great Black Mire. But no one had time for gods of any kind, only the monotony of work, eat, sleep, repeat. Reece couldn’t help but admire Wilton he sure knew how to manipulate a crowd. He had altered Quint’s abusive accusations into a perfect advertisement, captivating the audience further.
He turned back to Quint who stood silently, eyes downcast. “I apologise for not seeing to you earlier, I was far to disgruntled by recent events to realise that my fellow survivor may be suffering as well.”
Quinton laughed softly. “‘Disgruntled’? That’s how you describe yourself after that massacre? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Wilton took another step forward holding a supporting hand in front of him. As he took that step Quint slammed his fist into the Vicars face, knocking the white haired man down. Shouts erupted within the crowd and Soria motioned for Reece to go help the Vicar.
But before anyone could move, Quint reached into his Jumpsuit. He had held that part of his chest many times, gripping something in his inner pocket. There was the flash of light on metal as he pulled out…
The sound of the gunshot erupted in the room. The deafening crack rebounding off the walls. Reece looked through shocked eyes to see Wilton’s body crumpled in a heap on the floor. He couldn’t see the Vicar’s head, but he saw enough blood to imagine it. He retched and had to stop himself from being sick. Screams and shouts erupted from the terrified crowd and then there was chaos, people rushed about everywhere, most to get away but some ran to grab Quint.
Soria grabbed Reece by the arm and pulled him towards the train. Those in the crowd that were looking to stop the attackers were angry. It didn’t matter if they had known each other for years, associates of a murderer were just as dangerous.
The train had come to a complete stop, and the auto-loader aboard had lowered one supply crate and was awaiting the oil to be delivered. Soria had scrambled up the side of the train and held out a hand for Reece below. He looked behind him, the crowd was surrounding the Vicars body, and the children that had been present had been ushered away.
A stab of guilt washed over Reece, those kids would remember this forever, this murder.
Why am I feeling this guilt, why am I running? Reece thought. All this is Quint’s fault.
Still he reached out and grabbed Soria’s arm, and hoisted himself up into the open carriage. Rubbing against the grease coated surface of the train. Inside they saw several crates pushed up against the wall, like the many nooks and gaps in the citadel Reece quickly crawled into the gap between the crates. The two of them hid behind a crate waiting for the yelling outside to cease.
Hidden, they didn’t feel the jolty movements of the train until it was too late. Reece swore, this had never been the plan. This was never supposed to happen. Murder, that happened at the citadel not here. The train began to move, slowly at first then it began to speed up
Between there laboured breaths and the squealing sound of the train moving
Breathing heavily and dripping sweat, the blood speckled Quinton stowed the gun back in his chest pocket