And the answer you have to give, no matter how dark and cold the world around you is: Maybe I’m a king.
rating: +42+x


SHREEE



The shriek of the whistle broke through the still Kentucky sky. What few game that the shaking of the ground hadn't chased off, scattered. The prairie held its breath with anticipation, waiting for the beast.

The trembling of the earth grew stronger with every second. With a final shriek of metal on metal, the locomotive careened around the tree line and shot through the prairie, dragging its 30-odd cars behind it like a maddened horse. The sound itself was enough to stop a man's thoughts.

Inside the cars, things were quiet. The polite silence of a group of people comfortable in each other's existence but unwilling to initiate conversation suffocated the first 10 cabs. They were filled with Union soldiers, coming home after their long campaigns on the front. The rear 10 cabs were filled with black gold and coal, refined in Texas and bound for West Virginia.

The singular cab that lay between them was the prize. In it sat 355 kilograms of an unknown metal, bound for the Alexander University for the Study of the Paranormal in Memphis, and expected to arrive in no less than 3 days. Since the Dean was not a man anyone wanted to disappoint, the conductor made the decision to book it to the nearest major junction and unload the ticking time-bomb on some other poor bastard.

The train car was not entirely empty of human contact. In front of the score of locked and filled crates sat a trio of guards on wooden chairs, encircled around a crate loaded with metal. Every bump of the train shook them, but it was leagues better than standing.

"Read 'em and weep, fellers." laughed Union Investigations Unit Supervisory Agent Knight, throwing his cards onto the table. "Royal flush."

Agent Bauer simply scowled and laid his cards face down onto the makeshift table. He lifted the bottle of whiskey and poured himself another glass. The Hessian was a man of few words and fewer mistakes.

The man at the opposite end of the table groaned as he rose from his seat, rubbing his back. Knight ribbed him as they both grabbed their pistols from the gun cabinet in the corner of the metal boxcar.

"Aging already, McGee? Soon enough Bowe'll recall you to Washington and send you to Retirement." Knight's tone was mirthful but his words carried weight. McGee was already graying (though the stress of his job played no small part in that), and every UIU agent knew that an assignment to the rural Missouri town of Retirement was not an assignment anyone wanted to take.

"Junction is close," boomed Bauer, in his dulcet tone. Knight nodded and shoved his pistol into its holster while drawing his vest tighter around him. McGee looked at him expectingly.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm going," he grumbled, whispering a curse under his breath and stepping out the door of the cab.

Wind slapped him in the face as he stepped out, tearing into his vision. He shut the door behind him, glancing in through the slatted window to see Bauer and McGee starting another game of poker. The wind whipped through his short brown hair before he drew his Stetson even closer to his scalp. Guard duty would be most displeasurable today.

Through the corner of his eye, he spotted a silhou- no, several silhouettes against the horizon. All men in dark clothing, one holding something red. The train sped closer, and they doubled in size, then tripled. For a split second as the locomotive grew close enough, he was able to see the red object one of them was holding.

A dynamite detonator, with wires leading from it into the grass, creeping toward the railroad.

Time slowed down. The figure leaned forward and placed his hands on the detonator. Knight drew his Colt. His finger slammed the trigger. With a BANG, a bullet exited the chamber. The figure pushed down on the detonator, a split second before the bullet tore into his shoulder and threw him into the grass.

Knight wrenched the door of the cabin open and threw himself inside a moment before an explosion shredded his eardrums. His eyes watered and a scream escaped his throat, even as the car flipped around him. The last thing he heard before being thrown into the wall and blacking out were the screams coming from the passenger cars as they flew off the tracks and into the dirt.


Confederate Inspector Jackson rose from his kneeling position in the grass, with a white-knuckle grip on his cane for support. The two men beside him that had opted not to stay with the wagons looked up at the tall, pale man for direction. He silently brushed specks of dirt away from his white suit and straightened his bolo tie, a grimace on his face. He silently looked down at the third man as he lay writhing in the dirt, blood staining his black vest.

"How the fuck did he get me?" he grunted through his teeth, clutching his shoulder.

"Hughes, Wayne, go open the cab." He made a point to ignore the wounded man.

"Yes, Colonel!"

The others scrambled to obey him, picking themselves up off the ground and approaching the wreck. The twisted hunks of metal dominated the formerly serene landscape, with more than a few bodies strewn through the debris.

Jackson turned his attention toward the other half of the wreck. There lay 6 bodies that he could see, only two with inevitably fatal injuries. He limped through the reeds, leather boots kicking up dirt as he approached the nearest one. He gazed down. A young man, no more than 16 or 17, face down in the dirt in his Yankee blues. Probably enlisted to get away from a family. Jackson lifted his silver-handled cane and, in one smooth motion, removed the entire base, revealing 30 inches of cold steel hidden in a mahogany socket. He grinned at his own reflection, a rare sight.

With a quiet precision, he drove the sword between the shoulder blades of the boy. A soft gasp left the prone body. Jackson savored it, the wet thwip of the blade being pulled back out. He wiped it on the coat of the soldier and moved on. A whistle of a working song escaped his lips. There were three more deaths to confirm, and he mustn't dilly-dally on the job.


A drop of sweat slid off of Jackson 's white mustache as he dragged the last corpse to its brethren and let go. They lay pressed against one another, all wearing their Yankee blues stained with red, so proud of their crimes. Jackson sucked in air, breathing heavily.

"Colonel! We found the car!"

He turned to the source of the shout. Wayne stood near one of the derailed cars as it lay on its side like a wounded bison, waving his hand. Hughes sat on the upward facing side of it, having just broken through the window.

Jackson briskly strode through the weeds to the car, stepping over the barely-cold body of their late compatriot. He had made his mistake. Hughes offered his hand as his superior neared the cab, and pulled him up.

"We haven't been able to get the door open, Colonel," explained Wayne. "Blasted thing won't break."

Jackson leaned forward, hands resting on the top of his cane. His good eye focused on the handle to the door and identified the slight shimmer around it, a corona of light wrapped around the lock. He rose back up to his full height, whispering an ancient phrase not seen in this part of the West for generations. He felt the red jewel embedded in the handle of his cane grow warm, then hot, and then blistering. Swiftly, he tossed up the cane and caught it by its foot, flipping and slamming it against the car handle.

BANG-BANG

The door flew open and the report of a pistol buffeted Jackson's ears. He slammed himself against the doorframe, as Hughes fumbled with his holster.

BANG

"Faster, you dunce!" he screeched, drawing his own pistol from his shoulder holster. The long ivory-handled revolver glinted in the sunlight, the swirling inscriptions on the chamber reflecting the rays. He braced himself, knowing the weapon was already loaded and ready to fire. He threw himself into the doorframe, spinning around.

His pistol snapped back and released its cargo, a bullet in a shape that no man in the state could've named. It sped through the air, into the cabin, and into the eyeball of one Agent Hans Bauer where it shattered, vomiting forth energy lesser men would've called witchcraft. Bauer's skull exploded outward, lining the car with grey matter.

BANG

Another bullet whizzed by Jackson and buried itself in the doorframe. The gaunt man let himself drop onto the floor, behind a crate covered with cards and whiskey stains. He sucked in air once more, ears ringing. He really was getting too old to be doing this so often.

His voice echoed in the debris-filled cab.

"Put down the gun or the Yankees are gonna have to bury your corpse piece by goddamned piece." he drawled.

Silence, then a screech of metal as a Colt slid across the floor.

Jackson rose, quickly leveling his gun with the tall dark man lying against the rear wall. The red stain dominating his white shirt and his labored breathing probably had something to do with the length of splintered wood jutting forth from his stomach.

In two long steps, Jackson closed the gap between them, pistol still dead on. They looked at one another, daring the other to speak. Neither had any such intention, each steadfast in his belief that he was above the other's moral station. After an eternity, Jackson looked away and down on the floor. His cane, where was his cane? There, on the floor, wedged under a crate.

Jackson's cool anger instantly gave way to hot fury. That cane was more powerful then any gun crafted by man, and this degenerate had forced him to leave it on the filthy floor. He bent over and pulled it up, slipping off its cover. The blade would be used once more before the day was over.


Jackson neatly hopped out of the train car, the door to it lying shattered and useless at the hinges. His bootspurs clinked together as he strode forward, scanning the plains. Hughes trailed behind him meekly.

"Is Wayne back with the rest of the men yet?" Jackson questioned.

"No, but they should be here any minute."

As if on cue, the ground shook from the hoofbeats of horse teams. Jackson looked eastward, where a train of four wagons was quickly approaching. He turned to Hughes.

"The man in the train car, go in and tie him up. I wouldn't advise touching more than you have to, bastard is covered in his own blood. When the wagons get here, I want you to get a couple others and toss 'im into an empty one. He's got something I need."

"Y-yes, Colonel."

Hughes scuttled off to do his job. Jackson turned once more to greet the wagon train and the laborers, raising his hand.

"Hail!"

The man driving the foremost car wore a tired smile.

"Colonel Jackson Bright, I assume? Your reputation precedes you."

The Colonel flashed a mirthless smile as he lifted his red-jeweled cane in greeting.

"I'd hope so."

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