Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 489
Blackwind, Stop Licking!
The sky darkened and the train gradually slowed. The trains didn't travel faster than forty yards per hour during the day either, normally having an average speed of 30 yards during the day, which was far above the average speed of the horse rider. Trains wouldn't have to stop for rest either, needing only sustenance from coal and water to run three days straight easily.
There were five cargo cars and nine passenger cars attached to this train. Most of the cargo cars were situated behind the coal cars, whereas the passenger cars were further behind. Claude's own train car was at the very tail end.
It would take about two days and three nights to go from Dorinibla River to Vebator. They would also make six stops along the day.
Claude had had dinner and went to the little balcony at the front of his carriage. He lit some grass and put it into his pipe and took puffs while admiring the night scenery of the plains. Initially, he wasn't a smoker, but since he opened his tobacco factory, he took a puff or two from time to time. Now, he even had a pipe for himself. Nowadays, the first thing people did when they met was smoke. To avoid breathing in the others' second-hand smoke, he smoked one himself.
The night was rather cold. He returned inside once he finished smoking, pulled the curtains closed and washed his face. He blew the candles out and sank into his bed, listening to the dull and repetitive rumbles and screeches of the train as he slowly nodded off. Not long after, however, he was awakened by a sudden knock. Masonhughes barged in and said, "General, there seems to be a firefight at the passenger car ahead! It looks like a robbery! What should we do?"
A robbery on the train? Claude shook himself awake. They were in the autonomous region, not a western flick. How could anyone even conjure up a plan to rob on the train? That was nothing short of declaring war against the region, especially when Claude was on board!
"Gum, send two guard tents to clear out the bandits and calm things down. Make sure the passengers are safe," Claude ordered.
Each of the five generals had a band of 55 personal guards. Apart from the four tents of 48 combat guards, there were two healers, one signaller and four bandsmen. Claude usually took three tents of guards with him and left one behind to guard Ferd Manor. Gum was already promoted to major, yet he still served Claude as his bandsman.
Gum quickly sent out his two tents of guards while staying by Claude's side. "You three, go on top of the carriage. Stop anyone from approaching this one from the top. You two, go to the rear of the carriage and shoot to signal us if there's anything off."
The train was still moving. With the passenger car being five cars separated from the locomotive at the front, the driver didn't pick up on the chaos and gunshots. Claude and the rest, however, could clearly hear the shots, cries, and shrieks.
The sounds only intensified once the two tents joined in. But soon, all that could be heard was the signature clicking sound of the new rifles. The commotion among the passengers also quickly welled down, perhaps due to the presence of the reliable guards in military garb. Only toddlers could still be heard crying.
Not long after, news came from the front that Gum took two healers and guards to the car ahead. The gunshots had already stopped and it seemed like the situation was now under control. Another half an hour later, Gum sent a guard to report that there were twelve killed bandits and five heavily injured. Four staff and three passengers were killed, with there being tens more others injured.
Surprisingly, however, the tens of bandits weren't going for the passengers' valuables. They were instead trying to capture a woman, who in turn kept running as she shot back with her revolver. It was only after the guards came in to suppress the ten bandits' firepower that the injured woman managed to be saved.
According to the guard, the muskets used by the bandits were really odd. They had sawed-off barrels, four of them, to be exact, arranged in a square array. Based on the four slow matches attached on the musket, it could fire four times at once, though the tradeoff was it was rather heavy.
"Weird... why have I seen this odd musket somewhere before?" Claude couldn't come up with a concrete recollection even after much thought. However, he did have some guesses about the incident. He supposed the woman was the missing herbalist the newspapers had reported, and the bandits were the missing smugglers.
"Major Masonhughes, go ask around to see if that woman is the herbalist from the papers. Check the identification of the bandits as well to see where they're from. If she is, take the herbalist here. I want to ask her why she was being hunted." It felt all too weird to him. There was no way somebody would go so far for some joint ointment.
Masonhughes had read the article as well and knew what he was referring to. He gave a curt salute and left.
Half an hour later, he returned and reported that the woman was indeed the herbalist. She suffered two shots, one on her left shoulder and another on her left abdomen. It had been treated and she was still conscious. They took her to him and searched her for weapons. Her black puppy refused to leave her no matter what.
Claude didn't really care about the puppy and knew how a woman might feel travelling out alone. Perhaps the puppy was the only pillar of emotional support she had.
"Take her here. If there's no problem with her background, we'll settle her down in our region. It's always good to have more herbalists to serve our citizens," Claude said with a smile. Perhaps he could start an initiative to develop talent in the region to further accelerate their progress.
Sent along with her into the car was a beautiful, intricate revolver with a silver barrel and detailed rose-pattern engravings. It was also covered in gold dust and had an ivory handle bearing the marking of the Stellin royal family. Apart from the revolver, there were 23 other golden cartridges with silver bullet heads.
Claude's expression immediately stiffened. She must not be of simple background for her to possess an article like that. Immediately, it occurred to him that she might be an assassin sent by the royal family to come for the five generals. Then again, no assassin would be stupid enough to carry such a gaudy weapon, one so expensive at that. It seemed more like a gift than a weapon used to kill.
He picked up the silver-tipped cartridges and looked at the bottom fuse, only to see a really thin piece of red crystal sandwiched between the bottom of the cartridge and primer. What could it be? Something to aid the ignition? Before he could have a good look, Masonhughes came in with the woman.
Claude turned to look at her and saw the bandages on her waist and shoulder, through which some blood seeped. She was dressed in a black wool cloak with a belt around it to accentuate her lascivious figure. However, the poor lighting and her slightly dirtied face with grime and dust from the firefight obscured her face. She hugged a black puppy tightly in her arms about a foot long. The puppy was quite well behaved and looked around with its large, googly eyes.
"You're injured. Take a seat first," Claude said, pointing the two soldiers to lay her down on the sofa nearby. They went out to keep watch, whereas Masonhughes stood to the side to await further orders after pouring her a cup of milk tea.
"I'm sorry, Miss. I should be responsible for your safety in the region. It is a guarantee afforded to any law-abiding person here, citizen or not. It was a shame you didn't trust our region's security. Had you called for help right away, I trust that you wouldn't have been involved in all that trouble and gotten hurt so badly."
The herbalist kept silent. Her puppy, on the other hand, seemed really curious about the taste of the tea and struggled to squirm out.
"Actually, our region welcomes all talented folks to settle down and become a citizen," Claude continued, "As a herbalist, I trust that you will have ample room to develop your skills here. What I want to know, however, is where you got your revolver. Are you related to the Stellin royal family in any way?"
The woman didn't respond. Her puppy, on the other hand, finally broke free and fumbled towards Claude. She cried out in surprise and tried to catch it, but failed due to being slowed by the injuries she suffered. The puppy was free to roam.
Claude gave it a glance and ignored the little thing. He picked up the revolver and said, "This revolver must've been made as an expensive gift for those who serve the likes of the kingdom and the royal family. If you are a herbalist with the royal family's backing, those smugglers wouldn't have dared come after you for your joint ointment. I really hope you can tell me where you got this revolver."
She said nothing still.
"Sir," Gum called out from outside.
"General, we found these on the corpses. Three of the other five heavily injured bandits just died, while the other two are still out cold." He put three heavy iron plates and one silver plate on the desk.
Claude picked them out and saw 'reserve' on the iron plates and the number '2207'. On the other side, there was a small row of words that read 'Aueran Public Safety Special Bureau: Watchers in the Night'. Claude's expression stiffened as he tossed the iron plate away and picked the silver one up. There was the same row of words on it. On the other side was 'Unit 2123'.
They weren't smugglers after all, but rather, members of the Watch. Claude finally recalled where he saw those rifles before. When he was on the way to Bluefeather for officer training, he ran into the Watch due to a misunderstanding. They thought he was a magus from Siklos and almost arrested him. They had those odd muskets, and he also saw the identification plates they had as well. They looked exactly the same as the silver one he had in hand.
He felt something at his feet and looked down, only to see the puppy sniffing his feet and circling him. He wondered why the Watch would come to the region. Their mission was to deal with magi that threatened the kingdom's safety. Was the herbalist a magus after all?
She had noticed the look of shock on Claude's face when he saw the silver plate and acted before he turned to look at her. Her hands quickly crossed all the while she sat on the sofa and a few vines sprouted from the carpet of the carriage, tying Claude, Masonhughes and Gum up instantly.
She groaned when the spell was done. It had taken quite the toll on her in her injured state, While it bound Gum and Masonhughes tightly, they could still call for help. They alerted the rest, but the herbalist used Vine Wrap to seal off the exits before troops could come in. The soldiers could only ram the carriage doors with their muskets without being able to see what was going on.
Claude didn't panic and was considering what spells he could use to get himself out of that predicament. However, he didn't have a tome with him, so he could only pick from the basic spells engraved in his three hexagons within his void space. But alas, they weren't suitable to be cast in his bound state.
But before he used a spell or even drew a spell formation in the air, he heard a poof as green smoke clouded his sight. The black puppy beside him disappeared. Taking its place was a big, black wolf the size of a bull. It opened its mouth wide, teeth all showing, and leapt for Claude, pinning down onto the ground, still bound. Its snout shot at Claude's face.
Gum instantly lost his cool and struggled. "Begone, beast! Don't touch the general!"
The herbalist-turned magus started with shock and stood up from the couch. "Blackwind, don't kill him!"
Claude couldn't take it any longer. "Stop... Stop licking! Huh? Blackwind? Sheila..."
The wolf didn't bite him, but rather licked him nonstop. He was shocked by the sudden transformation and leap and couldn't have used any spell even if he wanted to. He was pinned down and couldn't move at all. He didn't think that being licked would jog his memories buried deep. The moment he heard her cry out 'Blackwind', he burst with joy.
"You're Sheila?!" Claude yelled, "I'm Claude! Let me go..."
"Claude?! Is it really you?"
"Yes. Get Blackwind to stop licking me... Ptooey!" Blackwind's tongue almost got into his mouth.
"Claude... I... I finally found you..." She melted and fainted.
"Hey, Sheila! Wake up! Darned dog... Bite the vines free already! Stop licking!"
Some five minutes later, he finally got himself free. He gave Blackwind, that was wagging its tail furiously, two casual slaps and rushed to Sheila to hold her up. He was relieved to find that she had only passed out. He put her on the bed and cut the vines at the door free. The guards swarmed in and calmed down, before returning to their posts.
When he returned to his carriage, the first thing he did was wash his face clean of Blackwind's saliva. Only then did he cut Masonhughes and Gum free. They scrambled out of the mess of vines, still shivering, though Claude didn't really mind. The vines would disappear in ten minutes even if he hadn't cut them anyway. Now, all that was on his mind was catching up with Sheila. He didn't want those two to stay there and get in his way.
After getting the two to swear an oath of secrecy, he kicked his adjutant and guard bandsman out. Gum, however, was given some hushed instructions to send the two surviving Watchers on their way to the wargod's kingdom after asking them about their hunt for Sheila.