“I can’t believe you tried to kill me,” Violet said.
Eli pretended not to hear her. He had been doing this a lot since the encounter with the Toad had left him deaf in one ear. Given the confined space of the train car, and the fact that she spoke loud and clearly, she wasn’t buying it. That and she saw his left eye glance at her before flicking back toward the train window and the lush jungle speeding by.
Violet sat back, frustrated. The socket where her right used to be itched something fierce. She clenched her hands and crossed them in front of her.
Don’t go poking at it, she told herself, repeating it several times in case she forgot. You’ll only make it worse.
Violet forced her mind to focus on something else, but the only thing it went to was the huge hole at the end of the gun barrel that Eli had shoved into her face, and the sound of the hammer falling on an empty chamber.
Click. Such an irritating sound to have rattling around in one’s head, though some small part of her surmised that it was better than BOOM. Yet, had it been BOOM, she supposed she wouldn’t have a head for the sound to roll around in, rendering the point moot. Either way, she lost.
Outside, the train left the jungle behind and sped out onto a bridge spanning a mile wide ravine. A field of lush green glowing brightly under the afternoon sun spread out far below her. A wide ribbon of river ran out of the ravine, over a fall, and bisected the thick canopy below. In the distance, it spread out into a three-fingered delta that melted into one of the great southern lakes, whose names she presently could not recall.
After their meeting with their handler in Renalto, Violet had opened the envelope he had given her to find a train ticket. The ticket had been for the train they presently occupied. Nothing else had been in the envelope except for a meager amount of South Imperial script, which was next to worthless, even in the Southern Empire. However, it had been just enough to bribe the ticket man to look the other way so Eli could join her, as well as six rounds of ammunition for their revolvers.
“I only did it because I thought you were going to shoot me,” Eli said, pulling her attention back to the train car, and the irritation in her right eye socket.
“And I only hesitated because I thought for sure you wouldn’t shoot me!” Violet paused, mulled that statement over, and couldn’t help but laugh. “How incredibly stupid of me.”
Eli didn’t immediately respond to that. Violet considered for a second that perhaps she wasn’t giving him enough credit, until she remembered another little detail.
“The cartographers essentially set you up to fail, and die in the process. You know that right?”
Eli thought about it, and looked like he was about to answer, when the train shuddered violently on the tracks. A sharp squealing sound ripped through the air as the locomotive’s brakes kicked in. The sudden deceleration sent Eli flying toward Violet. She twisted reflexively out of the way and he landed face first in the back of the wooden bench. She heard wood and bone alike snap, and Eli came away with a bloody nose, cursing.
Violet winced and looked out the window. They were still on the bridge, high above the ravine. Through the window, she saw smoke billowing outward from the front of the train. However, the track curved to the left and hid what might have been going on up ahead.
“Stay here,” Violet said to Eli, sitting on the ground and nursing his bloody nose.
“Where are you going?”
“For a better look.” She turned back to the window and undid the latches, then tried to pull up. Nothing happened. She then pushed against the glass and it angled outward from the bottom. That was not going to work. She pulled one of her newly awarded revolvers from her gun belt then smashed and cleared the glass with the grip. Violet replaced the gun and squirmed halfway out the window. She looked down, and despite only having one eye the sight of the drop below made her squeamish.
Violet turned toward the front of the train, but still couldn’t see anything. She looked around for purchase and saw a thin copper rail running along the top edge of the car. Thinking to herself that she must have lost half her wits along with half her vision, Violet reached up, grabbed the rail, and pulled herself out of the window. She stood up with her feet on the sill, and found that she could peek over the top up to her chest.
The engine was now visible. It hung half way off the track and tilted a little to the left. Violet did not think it would fall with the rest of the train holding it in place, but had to fight the urge to think about what would happen if it DID fall.
Something exploded from the rear of the train, rocking it once again. Violet began to fall back and quickly wrapped an arm through the railing. She heard Eli inside the car, yelling something at her, probably telling her to get back. Perhaps that was a good idea.
Violet carefully let go of the rail and began to lower herself into the car. A shadow fell over her. She turned, freezing in place as a medium sized airship rose up from under the bridge. A large group of disheveled men stood on the deck, shouting obscenities and waving various weapons in the air.
Violet scowled in disgust.
“Pirates,” she said, and slipped back in through the window.
The ‘Shroom Job is the second in a series of short stories about the mysterious Ephemeral Cartographers of the Blackwood Empire. Read the first installment, THE DOOMSDAY TOAD, here.