She woke up to the distant sound of barking. As she made out the breed, she also realized that that was what she had expected to happen. The train was moving.
She was too stressed to try and sleep until she arrived at her destination, she wanted to stay awake for the journey to make sure she didn’t miss her station, so she promptly left the isolation of darkness.
Other sounds crept into her hearing as she surged back into the physical world. There was a lot of barking even though her equilibrium told her she wasn’t moving. A scream pushed itself into regard then.
Fully alert, she jumped and grabbed onto the shade in the ceiling, there was no stream to the train’s roof, however, only to its side, the one opposite to the city. She emerged there and climbed onto the roof the old-fashioned way, and then crawled her way into a better view of things.
Her stomach clenched.
The city was half-enveloped in the dark supernatural mists. People were running, desperately fleeing, mostly towards the train station. Guards were running in the opposite direction, brave soldiers heading into the fray to try and buy the civilians time to escape. The surroundings were awash with the yells of a city under attack.
She saw as people climbed through the windows of her train. As they frantically and quickly shoved and squeezed themselves below her and all the way to the front of the train.
The mist was spreading. She saw one of the dark beasts coming into view, the dark metallic skin bloodied beyond belief.
“No,” she said to herself, shaking her head.
She stood up, unable to care whether or not she was seen, and ran full speed towards the head of the train. It was passed time for it to leave, which meant the conductor would be there.
He flinched in fright as she vaulted into his chambers through his side window.
She shoved him against the open window, pushing someone off accidentally, but she just pressured his chest with her elbow, and then pushed further so it would press against his neck.
“We leave.” She squinted her eyes, “now.”
“What? No! Not until we’re told to, we’re the only chance these people have!”
“The only people with a chance are the ones already inside,” she stated, “go.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
He frowned in anger, giving her such a look of defiance she was sure she wasn’t going to convince him.
They both turned towards the door to find a child there, the boy looked poor and homeless, and was definitely not a resident of the city, judging by the western clothes on top of him. The Shadow recognized him after two seconds of confusion and she had to stop herself from shivering as they met eyes, that same smirk on his face.
“Spit it out, boy!”
The momentary smirk fell so fast and believably she realized he had never smirked in the first place, it had only been his eyes. The boy looked super worried.
“Is everythin’ awright?”
“I don’t know, is everything alright, mam?”
She looked back at the man, honestly flustered, all her momentum now lost to her.
She let him go and stepped back.
“Pardon my actions, I simply must leave.”
“We’re all afraid, lady,” he raised an eyebrow and adjusted his collar, “no reason to get violent.”
“A guard said to leave, suh, that’s what ahm ‘ere to tell ya!”
“Which guard, son?”
“I dunno,” tears came to his eyes, “he…he died, one o’ those things’s at the far back, the guard’s…”
“Alright, son,” the man looked out the window one last time and shook his head, “what in the seven hells is happening…” with a heavy heart, the big man started working the levers.
“You’ll survive the day, boy. Now please both o’ you get off my cabin.”
In no way through her efforts, she was getting what she wanted. She followed the street urchin out of there, closing the door behind her.
“He’s already under threat of death,” the kid said as they walked by a couple gasping in relief towards the sound of steam letting loose. The train was starting to move. “You think yours’d have a different effect?”
His voice was no longer afraid or traumatized.
“I had no other recourse than to try. To stay any longer would mean death.”
“Leaving will mean the death of a lot of people,” the child replied, not bothered at all by the fact.
She looked away so he wouldn’t notice it bothered her, deciding to vocalize it for good measure.
“They are not me.”
“They aren’t us,” he giggled a bit as they squeezed past a group of people, all at about the same level of relief that the train was leaving. “It’d be quite the challenge to find someone who isn’t happy we’re leaving all those people behind, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose,” she felt strange walking amongst people like normal, wearing what she was wearing. But in the midst of so much confusion and fleeing, few individuals were normally dressed as it was. A lot of foreigners, a lot of cloaked suspicious persons, she began to feel less and less noticed.
“Stop looking around. People will take notice if you’re doing it too.”
She looked ahead and down at the child.
“You are the Street Trash,” she stated in a muffled voice, which would go unnoticed in the middle of all the frantic conversations going on around them.
“And yer the Shadow. We’ve met.”
“I thought you were merely a child then,” she said, not hiding a hint of embarrassment for having been fooled.
“Don’t think less of yourself for that,” he said, “it’s my thing.”
“I assume there was no guard?”
“’Course not,” the kid pushed another kid aside, and finally stopped, “Ah, a corner we can use.”
The train was so filled with people that she was really uncomfortable. She didn’t think she had ever been seen by so many people, let alone been amongst them.
“I must go.”
“Don’t draw attention to yourself,” the voice delivered, in a way she couldn’t help but believe. She turned again to see the Street Trash turn a basket around on its top, to make a bench out of. “Sit with me.”
He walked aside and sat just near the basket, on top of some blankets she was assuming were his, but probably weren’t. He took his hat off and shook his head, his hair wild and dirty, his smile all the more so.
He leaned back on his arms, taking it easy. People rummaged through the train all around her, the train itself already well in motion. She could hear the repeated noise affiliated with a train running across the tracks.
“So what’s your name?”
“I will not tell you.”
“We shouldn’t be using our titles in public. Mine’s Jaime.”
If that even was his real name, and it occurred to her that she might also lie, he wasn’t telling her to because ears might be listening.
“Ayane,” she said, not able to think of a fake one fast enough, but she said it with some hesitation, like if she had thought about it.
But that was her given name.
“Well, Ayane. I’d like us to trade impressions on what we saw in the city,” he skillfully said, actually referencing to Prusnia.
They talked, and through that, it felt like she was seeing him for the first time, the real him, which made her even more suspicious this was still not who he truly was. His eyes moved with running thoughts as he asked questions, detailed ones, sharp ones, helping even her realize something she hadn’t before.
The Shadow Lenses were special.
The previous, and original, leader had kept on his person. The one who followed him immediately sought to destroy them, there was something about them that was important, perhaps dangerous, to them. But more importantly, the Street Trash had actually been the first to leave the city.
“I had a meetin’ with the Sorcerer that convinced me I was at a large disadvantage back there,” he commented, “it’s a ghost town, I can’t pass as a resident or anything, n’ that kills my skills considerably. I and the Don were completely outclassed in there, but especially me.” He yawned, “I also noticed it was getting hard to breathe? And the mist wuz weird, so I was like, eh, I’ll just leave.”
“But you were the last one to write an update.”
“Well yeah,” he shrugged, “I want to be kept in the loop, I don’t ‘em thinking I bolted before anything even showed up properly.”
Why was he telling her that?
“In the loop?”
“Yeah. You saw, they summoned us, my guess is they wanna fight back, n’ I want in.”
“…” she looked away, thinking how she had no plans whatsoever of being “in” with anything. She was heading back home, not back to the conclave. “Why?”
“Why?” He raised an eyebrow, “you did see what they were doing, right? What else am I gonna do? Go back home and wait for them to get there?”
She shrugged. “I mean no offense when I say this…but I see no way in how you could stand against them.”
“Nah, I getcha, that’s okay. They hardly seem like the type to act compassionate to kids, right? I’ll agree,” he nodded, “but they talk, and so they listen. And even if they don’t, hey, people do…so if they need people, and I’m pretty sure they will, I can help with that,” he smiled mischievously.
The fact he only used pronouns made his statements hard to follow but she understood he had meant that even if the invaders will brook no chance of argument or conversation, other people would still be open to it, people that could be used, and the Shadow Conclave might see the usefulness in that.
He was already thinking about tangential circumstances that could indirectly affect the worldwide struggle against the spreading of the beasts…in other words, he was thinking way farther ahead than she was.
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“I like you,” he said, making her flinch back a bit in reaction, and he snickered, “not like that, relax. I mean I get a good vibe from ya, Ayane, yer a good person.”
“You do not know me at all,” she said with squinted eyes.
“Heh,” he smirked at her claim, “I guess not,” he looked away not even trying to pretend he meant it.
She frowned and also looked around.
People had settled a whole lot more now. Most were sitting around and throughout the train, which was too packed as far as she was concerned. She just wanted to go back to the cargo hold and dive into the dark and silent solitude again. Just being seen by so many people, talking to someone so sociable like the Street Rat…it was all exhausting her.
But it would be a bad idea, odds were still she would miss her stop, and that made her realize the train might not even do the usual route.
“Do you think the train will still go through all the stations?”
“I’d think so, even if a bit delayed. If not, I’ll just pay the cabin another visit. Where’re you headed? Back to Kagekawa?”
She looked back at Street Rat unable to hide a bit of a scare. How had he guessed she wasn’t going with him? How had he guessed she was going back to Kagekawa?
Apparently, he read her look well enough that she didn’t need to ask.
“You got back your mythical lenses, but you haven’t put them on,” he gestured, “that tells me you want to report it back to your masters,” he pulled back the hand and scratched his head, a bit absent-mindedly.
“Lucky guess,” she admitted, albeit a bit involuntarily.
He smirked again.
The Street Rat leaned back against the wall and rested his head on his arms. The first time she had met him, he had been just a scared little boy, too afraid and curious to run away from a thief in the night. The second time, he had been a youngster, traumatized by seeing death and horrified by the beasts. Now, he looked like a true master of deceit and cunning, an unknown number of unknown type of unknown gears turning behind his eyes.
“I’m lucky like that, aren’t I?”