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Hidden And Wealthy, And, Ghastly And Dead

by Langley Häftling 2 months ago in Adventure
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The Unsolved Mystery

Art by Kate Wynkoop. Reference photo by Leena on Pexels.

"Everyone died. Yet, all of us survived."

- The Silver Cassowary, (qtd. 1847)

The Silver Cassowary:

The ground howled in agony, the floor flying from its place, drawing with the fire three hundred feet behind in the seconds it was present. A metal grated floor slid beneath my hands at a speed fast enough it scorched my fingers to melt beneath my weight. My fist flew forward, in instinct, seeking something to grasp. The pillar of air vanished between my knuckles. The back of a sharply ridged object met my back; the encounter snapped my neck back into broken rebar falling out over several sets of leather seats, sliced down to strips from the damage. A wind of synthetic air swept my face and chest, quickly followed by the fire that aroused me first. The floor rumbled violently, and I traveled across it from the sheer force of its motion—nearly thirty knots at the time. As I inhaled the smoke, I was hesitant to reach out in front of myself, that I would grasp a blade of flame and reduce my fingers to wax.

Boiling water erupted from the side of the moving compartment and steamed the room and generated hot freckles up my arms and face. I gasped—the smoke cut through my sinuses, poured down my throat, and burned the walls of my lungs. I grasped in front of myself, opposite the boiling liquid, my fingers caught a metal frame, slid them to a vertical corner and found and open window. My head thrust forward for fresh air. The compartment shifted in my direction, rattled, and halted. I fell into the frame and to the outside. My body whacked against it on the way back in. I hit the ground. My elbows burned, but my hands were numb. I pulled my shirt up over my mouth, rummaging the ground. Walls shook, and the ground rattled, for a moment the whistling and screeching halted to reveal the clock-like churning. The vessel would rise and shift, the drop into place, continually, at incredible speeds; matched by the clanking sound that pounded like galloping horses. I knew I was aboard a train, and that I should not have been there. The shrilling sound of a high-pitched whistle told me this; sounding horrified screams, stretching through the cabin and into the hallow air. It cried in a terrible language that spoke only of death; a harsh and unexpected destruction that could not be stopped. The last time I had been aboard a locomotive, one man met his end to my sabre and a narrow, hallow-mouthed captain, his fortune to his’. I stood, assaulting the air for balance. A sharp sensation crawled up my left side, and I remembered my leg had been broken, but I could not remember how. I touched my hip, but the familiar blade that rest on my side was not there. Growling, I searched the ground for the weapon. Eventually, my fingers met the glass and marble handle crafted to my hand. I gripped the stone sheath wrapped in brass and attatched it to my belt. I stormed to the opposite end of the car and found a door. My fist fell to the lower side of the threshold and unlatched the handle. The noise rippled and the howling sound of wind, thunder, and the quaking of a steam engine plowing rails to the ground flooded into the open doorway. The wind and compression flowed into the shaking cart, as the door burst open and threw my weight backward. I used my sword to feel the area outside the compartment and found the link between the train cars. I breathed and leapt across, falling through the door and to the ground. This car was quieter than the previous and seemed to be primarily intact. Rain pelted the tin roof and the unstoppable engine wailed and whistled outside but it was otherwise quiet. This indicated to me that the cart I found myself in previously had been the caboose; if I had gone through the opposite door, I would have jumped at unsurpassable speeds to the rock and wooded ground and promptly shattered to my death. I ignorantly thanked the mercy of chance—and the ghost of Captain McCarter Ryde, of course. I stood, resting on the seats that lined the car. I drew the blade but received no response. I surmised that no passengers were present. I caught by breath against the vacant seats, despite the excessive swaying of the vehicle. Then, I walked to the other end of the car, keeping my legs spread for balance. I crossed over nimbly, through the surrounding air of flying rock and effortless suicide, to the connected cart. I notably felt the rocking decrease, which indicated I was getting nearer to the engine. Suddenly, a violent jerk followed by the sound of churning metal indicated one of the rear cars had fallen over. The present car was left suspended, traveling on a single set of wheels. This set off the sound of gasps and audible human screams, that cut off to silence as I stepped forward.

“Where goes this train?” I demanded. No one spoke, but I clearly heard the drawing of panicked breaths. I drew my sword, “Where goes?”

“Baltimore,” replied one sir. “But it has malfunctioned yet, now, sir. The engine was traveling at half this speed less than half an hour ago.”

“The engineer will not tell us what is going on, neither is he available.”

“Baltimore? Inland?”

“Maryland, sir.” A voice responded. I reached for a bench and sat down. I wondered how I reached Maryland from Tortuga.

“When did I board a train…?”

“I believe I saw a nurse board at a stop in Washington.” A woman mentioned. I scowled in her direction. Suddenly the cabin became very quiet. A loud noise sounded, and my skull came in contact with something hard and heavy, and I swear, I saw the color red.

Déjà vu pounded me, I found myself sliding against the metal floor that traveled at unnatural speeds, and surely had sped up. This time, I ran directly into other human bodies. I met two sets of boots and felt the cold of bare fingers gripping against my skin. I opened my eyes, and reached for my sabre, which had been removed. I growled, while I was being told to hold still. I punched the air above me and it landed on the chest of a grown man in a suit jacket who toppled backward. I curled by legs up to by back, spun around and used the momentum to lift myself into the air. Gasps followed. I leaned against the back of a seat; the engine still roared. “Where is this train traveling to?”

“Baltimore.” I heard respond. “But not anymore.”

“Ay, who is ‘er—”

“The train has been taken over.” I heard a young man respond.

I felt someone grab my arm, “Don’t touch me!” I snapped turning toward the left, where the arm had come from, showing my teeth liberally.

“We have found a nurse.” I heard one audible voice over the crowd.

“Do not touch me.”

“You need medical attention. You have been attacked by one of the bandits.” Said a particularly calm voice, among the room thick with panic. “They’ve run through here and robbed us all, before returning to the engine—”

“They are going to steer the train to the ocean!” One interrupted, and a young female voice said, “We should all jump—papa jumped!”

“Your papa’s dead!” Growled another—also panicking—man. Vigorous communication broke out into syllables of unfiltered chaos. I heard screams of adult men and women and children, crying things similar to “We will drown!” and other uncertain complaints.

“Sit.” Said a hard and certain tone. Feeling the blood down my arms and the back of my head, I submitted. “How did you get here?” Asked the voice, close enough to speak without yelling, to be heard among the wailing crowd. I did not answer, because I did not know. “If you did not wear so many tattoos you may not be seen as a sword through one’s neck. But otherwise. Any man, innocent or not so, it is my job to help. Even if he is a man lugging around a long knife and two legs as yours, with murder spelled across his lips.” The man commented. “I have a bandage; I am putting it on your arm.” He said plainly and coldly. “Only a fool would be riding in the back of the train knowing well that it was on the rampage. Were you drunk?”

“Like a fool, should I be? I was not.”

“Why are you going to Baltimore?” he did not let me answer, “You aren’t are you. You’re on this train and you don’t know why. I know it—don’t lie to me. You’re a fool and a thief. This world would be better without parasites like you roaming to your flesh’s content.” I laughed at the man pretending to be a nurse. “Now, that is my opinion. I will say the bandits having raided this train have something against you for certain, as they targeted you in a point of attack. Once they had you incapacitated, they saw it a fine ordeal to fulfil their intents. As for me, I am from Connecticut, so I have no means nor presence to have any idea who you are. But a fool and a thief, that you are, and I know enough to recognize that.” He scoffed, using a rag to clean the blood. “Are you a beggar?”

“I have no reason to be.” I laughed outright, knowing my low voice thundered above his petty, new-English sophistication. “Connecticut must be, you are as a wee baby. You know nothing. I was born into death, and have fought it sword and spear, and yet I am alive.”

“Not for long, sir. You are as immortal as I, and yet larger the idiot. I pity you.”

I stood and asked for my sword, it was given to me as soon as I made an appropriate threat. It was an amusing experience, as I was used to being feared, not pitied, and certainly not mocked. I was from the sea, where a man dared bow before me long before he dared spit in my direction. I was both loved and feared among the costal villages, where I sold my goods, and hated among the travelers of the sea. The most recent affair I could recall, my crew had been raiding a fleet of allied pirates between Port-de-Paix and the coast of Tortuga. They sailed for the king of their inland Scot society, who intended to raid the gold mines in the United States and use it for ulterior bargain with the Prince Regent of Scotland, and assassinate his blind and ailing majesty. “I am Doctor Oriane, If you would know. I am a graduate of Duke University.”

“And you think I care of that, for what?” I spit through my teeth, smiling at him, close enough that I could feel his breath. He stood much shorter than I, I felt the top of his head a good foot and a half below my own.

He ignored me, spitefully, “I believe this is your hat and coat, if you would like them.” I grabbed them from him and sure enough they were mine. I put my hat on my head and fastened my coat over my chest.

“You are Doctor Oriane?” He responded with a confirmation, “I am the Silver Cassowary.” I drew the loaded flintlock from my coat and licked my lips. Now, I felt a slight air of respect sit in the air of the compartment. I walked to the end of the car, swaying my sabre in front of me as I went. Before I tried the door, the car jolted and fell to the side, the car behind it had derailed and the noise crawled louder, and the movement reached an extreme. I fought against the gravity drawing the train to the ground, and pulled through the door, into the swaying air and rain and to the car on the other side. The car was filled with the noise of the train itself as well as crying children and crying mothers. I ignored them, and traveled to the next car, which was filled with fire, that swept up the walls and sides at broiling heat. I jogged through to the other side; I felt the skin on my arms prickling to a boil. I ran directly into a bar and a seat inside, jumped over the edge and burst through the door. The next door flew open with ease, and I found myself inside again, though the roaring did not cease. I heard the sound of a scuff on the ground, I turned and raised my sword, as it gently touched the chin of a man.

“Don’t think that, though I am blind, that I am unaware I am being followed. Your knowledge may be that of the sea, but your intelligence is that of a gnat. Swarming, and short-lived.” I smiled at the doctor and felt his gasp through the floor of the compartment. I pressed the blade into his skin, and he backed against the wall and stopped. The door behind us swung open, and boots marched through. I turned around and stood. They knew I heard them. I heard a man approach to the left, with quiet step, and a sliding heel. I breathed in, out, raised the sabre. Then, let it fall and swing down and through the air, and meet the unfortunate victim. I felt the ground shift, as two more pirates rushed forward with their knives I leapt to the side, and knocked the first down with a single strike, and shifted back to take the second. One stood, and the rest circled around me from the far side of the car. A firearm sounded, and I stepped to the left—the doctor cried out painfully. I pointed by blade forward and stepped into one of the men, drawing the sword out, I then pushed him into his partner, who I struck both feet of, one at a time. I walked forward intentionally, looking straight ahead, and cut down the last three on my way to the door. I kicked the door down and the outside wailed. Crossing over the final gap I stepped into the engine of the train, and I could tell the doctor followed.

The engine jirked suddenly, then lightened, along with the sound of train cars being loosened and detached from behind. It was the cowardly doctor’s doing, I knew, though he said nothing. I lifted my sword, and the engineer drew his own. I slashed at the lower part of his body, and he struck back. I slunk back to the wall behind, decorated with uncomfortable metal cranks and levers. Landing on my right forearm, the enemy cut with his blade. I pressed forward immediately, putting a clean cut into his side. The train shook screeching as it tried, and failed, to halt. Our growls matched one another, as we pressed toward eachother in a battle of strength, pressing one another in opposing directions. We heard the sound of ocean waves crashing. And the quaking of rotting wooden beams. “Your feathers are burning in the fire, and raw skin cannot stop the rain.” My opponent wallowed. I recognized the sneer of the rigid Captain Jonatan Rook. More famously known as the Gold Leopard, he was captain first of the Golden-Scaled Snakes. He sunk his ship and crew, like a coward, and promptly purchased a crew from the Caribbean which he re-named the Sea Leopards. I was wedged between the furious pirate and a sharp, broken pipe slicing my spinal cord. My fist met staunchly below Rook’s ribcage. He gasped. My knee knocked the side of his leg and he fell into my knife blade. The sword sunk deep into the skin under his arm. The train flew off the tracks. Where the rhythmic bouncing of railway tracks filled the space, the void of air and the friction of ground replaced it. As the solid metal vehicle pummeled forward, against its every design. I cried out, a war cry, plowing into my opponent. I slammed him against the ground. The train broke through the fencing of the wooden bridge. The sound of wooden pillars snapping like ribs, wracked through the air, one by one. I heaved my fists into his flesh. I yelled at him, in his mother tongue, that his life was worth less than his wealth. I struck him with my sabre, and it met the solid ground. He retaliated. In the raw fury of a seafaring warrior. The train went airborne.

Gravity decreased as twelve-thousand pounds of metal and flesh dropped from the sky toward the ocean. My first opponent submitted to his fate. I was brushed to the rear of the cabin form the movement of the weighty locomotive. A flintlock was loaded behind me. The doctor spoke, “The end is never near enough.” He allowed the cold metal barrel to press into the back of my neck, in courtesy of my present ailment. “I do not suppose I am the fool, now. Captain, sir.”

I chuckled. The train howled one last whistle, a terrible language that spoke only of death; a harsh and unexpected destruction that could not be stopped. I felt the wind brush upward. Through the windows. To the roof, and through it. The throttle of a mass slamming into the wall of water, pounding to a solid force, then sinking through its surface into the liquidity. Pressing against its sides. Flowing into its every crevice.

Gunshot. Water.

I always said I’d come from the sea.

"We knew exactly what it meant. It was only that, it was a story that could not be told. Not but in the back of the lower bunks, between the most trusted and most bound of us all. Amid the dark swells of the ocean, far, far from land. Far enough that a sudden and unprecedented death should be unknown, and the body entirely untraceable."

- The Gold Leopard, (qtd. 1847)

The Gold Leopard [of the Caribbean]:

The dirty seafarers raided my ship.

We were roasting an intricate plot to find the extent of our wealth and retire before we were dead. Once a pirate was sworn into the code, we had less than two years of life to expect. That is how the waves crash when you vow yourself into violent thievery, assassination, and a race after riches. When I first joined a crew, my colleagues and I traveled from town to town, signing our own wanted posters. The moment we discovered a chest of gold, we fought to reach it, to escape with our riches and live the remainder of our lives like kings—hidden, outlaw kings. My crew sailed between Tortuga and Baracoa—I was wary of the area, knowing it was Cassowary territory, yet enraged, nevertheless. The Feather’s ship did not hesitate to swing its ropes and boards and cannons to our vessel. We drew our guns, but they boarded long before we were able to retaliate. I hollered so many commands in such an instant that I am unaware of the words I cried. The Feathers began rummaging our ship. Half their crew stood and fought my men. A quarter of them rummaged and robbed us bare, and the rest tore our ship and her trappings to shreds; pummeling my crew’s equipment and the pride of our galleon in flames into the sea. Fighting down the Feather’s men and crying commands to those of mine who still lived, I caught the angry white eyes of the Silver Cassowary. He trotted to the end of his boat and stepped onto the ledge. The sharp pirate captain sauntered across the wooden board that connected the two ships, his famous Silverfeather Saber swaying back and forth in front of him; brushing elegantly like an eagle in the air. He stepped forward with all the strength and grace of a blind pirate captain made of wind and built with the breeze. He clambered onto my boat and walked until about five feet from me and stopped. He could not see me, of course, but I saw him, and he knew it. I drew my sword and prepared to dual.

I opened my eyes, and I was on a train. My arms were tied with ropes behind my back. I blinked at the irritating headache in my skull. The searing light of day pierced through the windows with a blade too sharp to blink for protection. I looked around the steady vehicle, rocking in a timely manner, with its soothing rhythms as it hummed along the tracks. I occupied a first-class passenger car, the seats were of furnished wood, covered with orange and red cushions. Suddenly a loud screech sounded, and the train lulled, before toppling dramatically in a single direction. The train tipped precariously, reaching its angled peak, still roaring forward at high speeds, for a long three seconds, before slamming back in the other direction at the end of a turn. A plethora of noises clamored in that instant. Fear leapt from the floor of the cabin up to my temples, and the locomotive began a controversial fight against friction and gravity. I knew it was not right. I stood, using the backs of my fists, and balancing with my feet, using my shoulders to swing, countering the shifting of the engine. The windows on the engine were open, and the wind poured in anxiously, sweeping the room, picking up dust and every other light object. My sword and knives were missing. I fell toward the far end of the room, over the seats and into a window. I twisted a curtain around my ankle, and dropped backward, to tear the curtain rod to the ground. I aligned my back with the curtain rod and pressed it between my wrists and down against the mangled ropes. I pushed forward against my heels and pulled my hands out of the bonds. I rushed through the cars toward the frontmost side of the vessel, where the malfunction was taking place. I glared out the window to watch the train flying out of direction, away from the tracks. I reached the engine, and no engineer was present; the room was entirely vacant. There was no one but an elderly gentleman; a kind-hearted doctor named McCarter Ryde.

Adventure

About the author

Langley Häftling

Wenn Vertrauen bedeutet, die eigene Freiheit aufzugeben, bedeutet Misstrauen, ein Diener Ihrer eigenen Unsicherheit zu sein.

Ich werde kein Gefangener zu dieser Welt sein.

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