Outcast

For centuries the humans of Samaria have been little more than tribal scavengers, living by raiding one another among the crumbling ruins. That age is passing as the Forsaken coordinate their efforts, driving out bandits and bringing civilization to the wastelands. Many resist the change however, unwilling to trade their independence for the oppression offered by the Prevailers. Religious dogma drives the Forsaken to vehement loathing of these godless Outcasts and whole villages have been slaughtered in retaliation against bandits or to seize valuable resources. The very name “Outcast” has come to be synonymous with heresy, crime, and a hatred of progress among the people of New Ashkelon. For those living in the wastes, however, it means freedom, as precious as clean water – and like so many things on Samaria – worth dying for

Models

Slavers of Chains Barrow

Salt Flat Nomads

History

Vultures on the Iron Carcass

The whole train shook with the force of the blast, the scream of tortured metal echoing down the canyon as the rear most carriage left the rails. Saint Mark was thrown from his bunk, his head slamming against the floor. For a moment the saint lay dazed, luggage crashing down all around him. They were a day or so north of Dresnyn on the new line the Prevailers had ordered built, carrying supplies and reinforcements to the Forsaken Outposts all along the eastern Talen range. Most of the troops found the train thrilling and spoke with awe of its size and speed. “This is true progress”, a Coil had told him just yesterday, “a miracle bestowed upon us by our beloved Council”. Mark had been bored of the train to begin with, but that comment merely served to make him hate it even more. Compared to some of the pell-mell rides he’d experienced fleeing from the Dragyri on grafted horses , the train was practically dawdling, plus it was intolerably hot and stuffy. There was plenty of fresh air now, through the broken window, and it seemed they had picked up speed too. Even for the Saint there was little he could do but hang on until at last it ground to a halt.

Already he could hear the combination of sobbing, screaming and praying synonymous with Forsaken in distress. He stood, boots sliding on the shards of broken glass, and dusted himself down. Apart from a few bloody scratches and a throbbing lump on his head he was uninjured. He stole a glance at his armor, standing like a fearsome doppelganger against the wall. It hadn’t even fallen over, surviving the crash even better than he had. For a moment he considered putting it on, then dismissed the idea. He could hear no sounds of combat and the sight of him battle-clad would only spread panic among the train’s already frightened passengers. He grabbed God’s Light and went in search of the train driver.

* * * *

“Ok boys and girls, let’s do this!”

Hal vaulted down the rocky hillside, plunging through the momentary cool of a narrow gully then sprinting out onto the red rocks of the canyon floor. The charges the Outcasts had hidden under the rails had done their job as planned; the rear most carriage had broken free of the rest of the train and come to rest here on its side whilst the rest had kept the rails and slid on for more than half a mile. Enough Forsaken would be injured to keep the minds of the comrades occupied for a while, giving the Outcasts plenty of time to sort through the wreckage of the cargo. Food was almost guaranteed and, if they were lucky, there might be weapons too.

One person who never seemed to have trouble acquiring weapons was Mongo. The giant just seemed to pick them up wherever he went. Already he’d found one of the train doors and strapped it to his right fist, now he was looking for something else for his left. Hal had seen him rip the axel from a methane-truck whilst it was still moving and whirl it around his head like a Bane’s mace. After the battle he just threw it away, declaring that he liked to travel light.

Hal vaulted in through a broken window, landing amid the wreckage of scattered goods. A Coil was trying to crawl away from him, his arm badly broken. The Warchief crouched beside him and pulled his head back. “I’m not going to say a prayer for you”, he grunted as he slit the man’s throat, “The Outcast way hurts less”. All along the carriage Outcasts were following him in, quickly dispatching the few wounded Forsaken they found. Outside the Brutes were assembling, ready to carry off as much of the loot as they were able to carry. A Brute could bear as much as a turrip and climb cliffs where a man on a horse could never hope to follow.

Garvin dropped through the window, landing like a cat beside Hal. The Manhunter smirked at the Warchief, who nodded in curt response. Hal had hired Garvin to do a job and brought him on the raid, but he didn’t trust him and would be almost as glad to see the back of him, as he would to know the task had been taken care of. That was the trouble with Manhunters, he thought, they never failed unless they were paid to and you never knew who might have outbid you.

“What are you doing here?” he growled, “I thought the little matter you’re being paid for is on the other part of the train”.

“I’ll get to it”, Garvin grinned, “No point in giving the game away too early. Anyway, I want to see what’s getting taken here, to make sure I get my cut. Our little friend will be out of the picture soon enough”.

“See to it that they are”, Hal grunted, “All of Talen is relying on you”.

“I am the best you know”.

“And I look forward to you proving it to me”.

* * * *

Xcess followed the Wasteland Warriors into the smashed carriage. Raids like this always gave her mixed feelings. She never knew if she might stumble on someone she knew from before. Then again the chance to steal from Saint Mark was just too tempting to resist. Hal was an old friend too, she knew she owed him and she was happy to help him out. In those first desperate weeks of flight she would probably have died if not for the Warchief and his gang. In return she had never charged him her usual rate as a bounty hunter. This time however she couldn’t help but feel that he would have been happier if she wasn’t there. Perhaps it was time she moved on again, up to Tuskelan perhaps or down to the Blackmire. She’d heard Deathstryke was there now and could probably find her work with Saint John’s disaster-plagued crusade. It was good to travel, so long as she didn’t think of it as just another word for running.

* * * *

Hephzibah crouched among the split goods and broken palettes. As far as she could see she was now the only Forsaken survivor in the carriage. The Outcasts had done their job well, by crashing the train most of the killing had been done for them. She could only guess how those elsewhere were faring; she could hear nothing suggesting anyone was fighting back outside. Murderous scavengers, why could they not embrace the benefits of progress rather than constantly tearing down everything that might improve their miserable lives? Hating them wouldn’t be enough to get her out alive though. For all she knew she was the only Forsaken survivor on the whole train and that made living doubly important. She might well be the only witness who could identify the guilty, the only executioner who could bring them to justice.

She glanced out from her hiding place, memorizing faces and naming those she could; Hal – wanted for a series of crimes, Garvin the Manhunter, Mongo… and her? It had been a few eventful years but Xcess’s face was one Hephzibah would never forget, no matter how long she lived or how hard she tried. She clenched her fist in rage. How could she do this? How could she be complicit in the murder of all these people? If she hadn’t turned traitor Kristen would still be alive. She bit back her rage, remaining the cool, clear-headed Reaver she would need to be if she hoped to regain control of the situation. Anger would not drive her to rash action, nor would compassion stay her hand. Her former sister would die when the time was right, and as easily as anyone else.

* * * *

The Scuts picked their way through the rubble around the roof of the wreck. “Why aren’t we allowed on the train?” Makko wanted to know.

“Yeah”, Marcella backed him up, “Where we could be useful”.

“You’re being useful out here”, Ol’ Crawn grunted, “You can get on the train when you’re older. And trustworthy. Right now you can pick up anything you see lying about, anything that got thrown from the wreck. And give it to me, before you get any ideas”.

“There’s somebody’s arm over there”, Marcella said, “You want that?”

Ol’ Crawn stamped forward, hand raised threateningly. “This ain’t games. You moan fast enough that you get treated like kids but you don’t stop acting that way. When I was a Scut there was plenty of wild beasts around would eat a kid th’ didn’t use his wits. Still are…” he muttered as an afterthought. Then he spotted some of the other Scuts rummaging through a Forsaken soldier’s battered pack, and stumped off to investigate. “Big oaf”, Marcella muttered, “Thinks he knows it all. There’s nothing worth taking out here anyway”.

“All the good stuff is where they’re too scared to go looking”, Makko jerked his head towards the rest of the train, “Down there with the Churchies”. “You know what they do to people they catch?” Marcella hissed in horror, “Burn ‘em at the stake as witches!”

“You scared?” Makko asked, “No? Well then, let’s go”.

* * * *

Bran had followed Hal a long way since they were both Scuts scavenging on the outskirts of Tarptown. They had been in a lot of fights together, normally on the same side, and lived through them all. He knew the Warchief meant no insult by posting him as a lookout; he’d fallen less than a month ago and twisted his leg badly. Much as he might have wanted to be down there looting the Forsaken train with the rest of the gang he knew he wasn’t fighting fit if trouble started. The Wasteland Warrior was running now though, as fast as he possibly could. Stealth was out of the question but soon it would all be pointless anyway. His leg throbbed with every jolting step but he dared not pause or look back. In all the world there was nothing he feared as much as the enemy that pursued him now and he knew all too vividly what they did to men they outran.

* * * *

Takara lay on her belly among the rocks, staring down through her binoculars. She did not look up as her warriors gathered around her but acknowledged them with a slight gesture. There was no sneaking up on the chief; she must have known they were approaching as soon as they entered the valley – although they were certain no-one else had noticed them arrive. The Forsaken were milling around the train in confusion. She recognized Saint Mark directing them, bellowing orders, jabbing a finger at the hapless train driver. Occasionally he cast a glance back towards the wreck of the other carriage but as far as she could tell he was unaware of the Outcasts looting it just out of sight. Of greater concern to him at the moment seemed to be confirming that the rest of the train was still operational and indeed most of the damage seemed to be superficial.

106 107 She grinned. Old Hal had done well this time. By the time those damn “churchies” got themselves organized and stopped their pompous bickering the Outcasts would be well away. Of course it was only right that Hal redistributed his new found riches to herself and her gang. She was already planning how she could ambush him when she spotted the Wasteland Warrior sprinting from among the rocks, shouting and waving his arms. The shouts of angry horror from the Forsaken showed they too had noticed him, Saint Mark was already marshalling his forces, Coils and Banes dashed to join their squads on the canyon floor. What had gone wrong? She was adjusting the focus of her binoculars, trying to understand the sudden chaos, when the jagged shadow of the first Harpy passed over her.

Kayla tore open a sack and gasped in surprise as its contents spilled out around her feet. She crouched, rummaging through the rest, pocketing those items she knew she could use, her concern growing by the moment. Unlike most of the other Outcasts the Fixer was looking for more than just food, and could read the words “Top Secret” stamped on the case. She also understood immediately the significance of the Prevailer symbols and prayers painted onto every item. “Hal, you’d better take a look at this”. The Warchief recognized the disquiet in her voice and bounded over, only to stare with bafflement at the items she was holding up. “What is it?”

The Fixer shook her head, struggling as always to understand the chief ’s inability to identify the most obvious of technological items. “Most of it is radio equipment. They must be planning to build a broadcasting outpost”.

“To coordinate their troops?” he said thoughtfully, “But we could listen in…” He tailed off, realization dawning. “They be relying on it”, Kayla confirmed, “We’ve had radio in Talen for decades. My grandmother built the first” she added with a touch of pride.

Hal gritted his teeth. “They want to broadcast propaganda into Talen They want to turn our home into another Salemoni, another Carrier Mines, another hovel like Tuskelan”.

“There’s worse”, the Fixer jabbed a thumb at another sack and Hal whistled as he took in its contents. “That’s grafting equipment”, Hal said, “Damn Churchies have been grafting dogs and horses for years but that’s for humans or I’m a Turrip’s uncle”. He peered into the sack, his face clouding with shock and rage. “What’s this doing on a Prevailer train? Could one of them be planning to trade with the Skarrd?”

Everything seemed to happen at once then. Hal had been engrossed in the contents of the sack and its horrifying implications that he hadn’t registered the commotion outside. As Bran appeared framed in the broken window the Warchief snapped back to the present. “Run!” Bran screamed, the normally stoic and reliable warrior pale and near hysterical with fear. Everywhere Outcasts were reaching for weapons, but not nearly fast enough. The first Harpy burst in through the broken window to Hal’s left, burying her claws in the back of a startled man. A second leapt through behind it but Kayla shot it in the face. Then there were more, crashing through left and right, their wings thrashing madly in the confined space. The side of the carriage that lay on the ground bulged upwards and a Drillhead burst up out of the ground. Hal leapt aside, smashing his halberd into a Harpy’s neck. He felt the bones snap and the maddened woman crashed to the ground. In the confined space he could not use the weapon to its full potential, nor did he dare to fire his gun without risking killing one of his own.

The Forsaken must have heard the sounds of battle by now and he could only hope that they too were being assailed by the Skarrd, giving his own gang the chance to escape. Even if they were not they must recognize the danger they were in and would surely come to the aid of the Outcasts rather than attempt to fight both enemies at once. He jumped back out through the window and a Death-Disk screamed past his face. Two more followed it and he flung himself to the ground, realizing that once again he had given the Forsaken too much credit.

Ol’ Crawn was a true survivor, the Bully had seen so many fights that his ability to sense danger sometimes seemed almost supernatural. The moment he heard Bran’s cries echoing from the cliffs he knew the gang was in trouble. The Forsaken outnumbered them three to one, stealth and surprise had been the Outcast’s only allies and those were long gone now. Already the Forsaken were deploying for battle, squads of Banes forming an impenetrable wall of angry, indoctrinated flesh with Coils lining up behind them ready to rain death on the scattered Outcasts. Strikes patrolled along the flanks like shadows, muscular Junkers hurried to secure the centre and Crawn thought he spotted Shades slipping away into the rocks. There were even a few Firestorms venting great jets of flame into the air in their enthusiasm, their hate filled prayers filling him with dread.

He knew they should have attacked a train going the other way, full of tired veterans heading back to New Ashkelon, not these freshly trained extremists, boiling with religious hatred and desperate to be unleashed on the heretical Outcasts of Talen. He’d even said so to Hal, who’s response had left him in no doubt that his contributions were unwelcome. For some reason the Chief was desperate to attack this particular train, now it looked to be backfiring on him badly.

It was time to run, to abandon the rest of the gang and get as far away as fast as possible, but a quick headcount revealed that two of his Scuts were missing. Typically it was Makko and Marcella, the most troublesome Scuts he’d ever encountered with the possible exception of himself and Hal all those years ago. Apart from him and the Chief only Bran was left now. Takara had taken off to start her own gang when it became obvious that she and Hal could no longer tolerate each other amicably. Frankly Crawn didn’t think there was room on Attr for both of them, but he kept his thoughts to himself. The rest of the gang were long dead, each left beneath a cairn of Talen copper scattered across the landscape when they should have been living side by side. In spite of his gruff appearance and short temper the Bully was not an unkind man and he was certainly not prepared to leave even that pair of scallywags to the Forsaken. Saint Mark’s troops hadn’t spotted them yet but he could see them, sneaking along a narrow gully in the hopes of circling round behind the Forsaken ranks. Ol’ Crawn sent the rest of the Scuts scurrying for the cover of the wrecked carriage, loaded his zip-gun and took off in pursuit.

Garvin peered through the shattered glass, waiting for the moment to make his move. Most of the Harpies seemed to have landed now and he could see no signs of more Drillheads crawling beneath the reddish shale. Bola warriors were charging from amid the rubble, backed-up by howling Buzzblades waving their crude clubs and snapping and snarling with enthusiasm as they closed on the Outcasts. Brutes rushed to protect the rest of the gang, huge chainwrapped girders and metal beams smashing the savage tribesmen to bloody pulp with every blow. Their Pusher, Fat Dungil, bellowed over the sound of clashing metal, flailing wildly with his chainblok. Garvin could barely keep the contempt off his face. Big idiots, making such a performance out of everything. He’d be the first to admit they had their uses, especially in a situation like this, but the likes of Hal gave them too much credit. The Warchief seemed to think their slow, calm demeanor indicated deep thought but Garvin had seen plenty of turrips that were slow and calm too and he didn’t ask their advice before a raid.

Seeing as they were making themselves useful for now by distracting the Skarrd the Manhunter prepared to make his move. If he was lucky he could sneak down to the rest of the train before the Forsaken got themselves properly organized, kill his target and be gone before anyone knew he was there. Past Manhunters had tired to kill Saint Mark but Hal was too canny to hire anyone to do that. He seemed to think the Saint might someday prove useful although Garvin couldn’t imagine why. Probably a Brute told him, the Manhunter thought with a smirk. Garvin’s target was the shadow that lurked behind the Saint, the deadly Reaver responsible for killing several Warchiefs; Hephzibah. He drew his sword and jumped down from the wreck at the same time as she did.

For a moment the two just stared at one another, the Manhunter cursing inwardly. How could she have been so close and he had never realized? Of course she would be here, guarding the cargo, not literally standing at the Saint’s side. Before he had the chance to act she’d drawn a dagger and thrown in, hitting a Buzzblade in the eye as it raced around the corner of the wreck behind him. Two monstrous Golabs came charging down from the opposite direction and she sprang back as though pushed by their momentum, her own sword in hand. This only seemed to be getting better. If the Skarrd were going to do his killing for him he only needed to wait and take her head as a trophy after they were done. If either of the giants planned on eating her he’d have to kill them of course, but better to wait and be sure rather than rush in and get hurt. Hal would be so busy saving his own skin he’d never know the difference. As Hephzibah screamed with rage and hurled herself into battle the Manhunter smirked to himself and leapt back into the relative safety of the train.

* * * *

Hal shook his head as the Forsaken reloaded and sent another wave of Death-Disks screaming towards his troops. Mad fanatics, surly they could see that the Skarrd posed a greater danger to everyone than his rag-tag band? He had hoped for better from Saint Mark; a Forsaken lord he might be but in his early days he had lived like a Warcheif and, as far as Hal could tell, he still thought like one. He could only hope, or his little gang was going to be torn apart between the two enemies he feared most, the ghoulish cannibals of the desert and the hate-filled fanatics of New Ashkelon. He could still strike one last blow though, and die with his gun in his hand as he’d always planned. He scrambled to his feet and headed back to the wreck.

Saint Mark meanwhile bounded up the ladder to the top of the train, regretting leaving his armor behind more by the moment. Whilst his troops rushed towards the Skarrd and Outcasts fighting by the train he looked north, his worst fears confirmed with a glance. The air was thick with Harpies, swarming like flies against the boiling clouds. He could only guess at the size of the Skarrd warparty bearing down on them but judging by the number of Harpies there would be enough to crush both his own force and the Outcasts without loosing momentum. Suddenly glad to be unencumbered by his armor he ran in search of the train driver.

* * * *

Crawn scrambled down the gully side and splashed into the torpid, copper-poisoned stream that ran along its base. The Scuts were not far upstream clambering across the wreck of a vehicle carried down by wet-season floodwaters from a forgotten battle upstream. They had spotted him and tried to hide but Crawn was an expert and had not yet taught them half of what they would need to know to conceal themselves from him. Luckily the Forsaken hadn’t spotted them yet, although their Death-Disks screamed past perilously low overhead.

108 109 That would change soon enough though he knew, so he raced up the streambed, uncaring of the water slopping into his boots. The Scuts cowered when he reached them but there was no time for chastisement now. That would come later, for the time being the most important thing was escape and even the stealthy Bully knew that would be difficult. The Forsaken would soon be forced to climb down into the gully, buying the rest of the Outcasts precious time to flee but leading the Saint’s troops right onto himself and his charges. He stole a glance up at the thin band of sky between the red canyon walls and realized the Coils had stopped firing. As he listened he heard the shouts of their commanders, Saint Mark himself leading the calls to retreat.

Ol’ Crawn preferred to think of himself as realistic rather than pessimistic but in Talen that normally meant the same thing. Sure enough the reason for the Forsaken’s hasty retreat was revealed moments later as a huge Warhead lurched to the cliff edge overhead and bellowed in its fury and hunger. For a moment Crawn hoped desperately that it might leap across the narrow gully and go in pursuit of more plentiful prey, then the giant looked down and fixed him with its tiny, mad eyes and the Bully knew there could be no hope of escape. Stealth was no use now, only blind flight would keep them alive and even that was unlikely to be enough.

“Run” he yelled at the Scuts but they didn’t move, just stared in blind terror at the monster looming overhead. When he was a boy Crawn had dreaded his Bully, Ol’ Skole, and had done anything he could think of to pin his misdemeanors on Hal or one of the others, rather than face his wrath. As an adult he had quickly realized how to turn this to his advantage. You never knew how a Scut would react on the battlefield but their fear of their Bully could always be relied upon.

Hand raised he stomped towards the children, snarling “If you ain’t running by the time I get to ya I’ll beat you so hard you’ll wish your miserable mothers had never birthed ya!”

At the sound of his voice Makko and Marcella tore their eyes from the Warhead. A single glimpse of his expression was enough, instinct kicked in and they were off, racing down the gully but going the wrong way, towards the Forsaken. Moments later Crawn found he had no choice but to follow, the Warhead had come crashing down into the gully to join them. It climbed with none of the Bully’s elegance but then it didn’t need to, the fall would have broken his legs but it barely seemed to notice. As soon as its feet were on the ground it charged, thundering along the narrow canyon like a wild turrip bull. Crawn raced ahead of it, terror driving his legs, always mindful of the Scuts running ahead. The beast swung its chain halberd, shattering rocks and missing Crawn by inches. The Bully knew further running was pointless but if he could stop its charge here he might just be able to protect the Scuts. He ducked the next blow and rolled to his feet, using all of the speed and agility he had learned over the years to dodge ahead of each attack. Speed kept him alive but he would tire long before the Warhead ever did and one slip would be his last. He drew his poisoned shivs and stabbed one into the beast’s pig-like left eye. For a moment he thought he might have done it, driven the metal in deep enough to hits its brain. Then its hand came up and tore out the little knife, looking pathetically small in its huge palm, and crushed it. The next thing Crawn knew the chain-halberd smashed into him, killing him with a single blow.

Makko glanced over his shoulder and saw the Warhead charging towards them. It had stuffed Ol’ Crawn’s arm into its mouth where it waved in macabre greeting but had abandoned the rest of the Bully to eat later. The Scut stifled a sob and pushed Marcella ahead of him as they raced along the gully. Ahead the cliff was sheer and Makko knew that if they reached it in time they would be able to climb out of the beast’s reach. If they were just a second too slow however they would be cornered and devoured. He put on an extra burst of speed, reaching the rock face moments behind Marcella. Glancing back he realized they were still moving too slowly, the Warhead was bearing down on them, each of its huge steps bringing it closer whilst he could only scramble from one hand hold to the next. Makko had always prided himself on how fast he could climb but now he felt slow and pathetic and as he started to panic he also began to make mistakes. Marcella was halfway up now and almost out of the beast’s reach when he slipped. For a moment he thought he could recover then he lost his grip and went tumbling back down, skinning his knees against the jagged rocks. He rolled to his feet immediately but it was too late to start climbing again. The Warhead was towering over him and although Marcella hurled first her boomerang and then rocks at it they bounced off its grotesque muscles and the beast did not even seem to notice. It raised its halberd to make the kill and a larger rock crashed into its back, a boulder so big that even this titan was knocked to its knees. Makko knew it was too big for Marcella to have thrown but didn’t waste time looking to be sure. Knowing this could be his only chance he went scrambling back up the rocks as fast as his arms would carry him.

Behind him the Warhead stood, bellowing a challenge to its new aggressor. In answer Mongo lumbered into the gully, striking the two train doors together in an intimidating shower of sparks. The Warhead roared and the two came together with a sound like an avalanche, the sudden smack of flesh and metal colliding booming over the battlefield. Outcast, Skarrd and Forsaken alike paused, feeling the blow as the giants met vibrating through the ground. The Warhead’s halberd tore the door in Mongo’s left hand into jagged scrap but the huge Outcast quickly turned that to his advantage, bringing the razor sharp edge of the sheered metal down in a slashing blow that sent blood spraying from his opponent’s chest. Stepping in he punched his other fist into the wall of muscle that was the Warhead’s torso, feeling ribs shatter beneath his meaty knuckles. The Skarrd mutant turned with surprising speed and agility, unable to swing the halberd with full force but shoving it into Mongo’s face, the spinning blade forcing him to dodge back to safety. That gave the monster the room in needed to swing the halberd in terrible arcs, slamming it again and again into the train doors, which now served the Brute as a pathetically inefficient shield. Mongo could only step back once more, forcing the Warhead to lunge for the kill. The Brute side-stepped as he came on, moving to the side which Crawn had blinded. For a moment his opponent lost sight of him and Mongo took the chance to leap in, pinning the Warhead’s arms to its side and wrestling it to the ground. The giants struggled with savage fury but now it was Mongo who had the advantage and he slammed his head repeatedly into his enemy’s face and neck until it toppled to the ground, dragging him down on to top of it. The Warhead reached for its halberd but Mongo was faster, grabbing a rock in both hands he lifted it over his head time and again, smashing the Skarrd giant’s head into a bloody pulp before he rested.

* * * *

Mark grabbed a floundering Bane by the arm and hauled him onto the train as the metal behemoth rumbled into life. To think that less than an hour ago he had hated this iron monstrosity. Now he loved it for providing that which he and his troops needed most now, a means of escape. The other carriage was abandoned, Skarrd were swarming into the far end of the valley. Let the Outcasts and Skarrd kill each other, he thought, it gives us the cover we need.

A cry of horror came from the front of the train and the Saint was off again, dashing down the packed aisle. As soon as he reached the driver’s compartment he realized that his relief had been premature. Skarrd were rushing in ahead of them, seeking to block the tracks and swarm onto the front of the train. “Ram them”, he yelled as he barged into the cramped cabin, “Smash them aside!” Before the driver could react to his commands however a spiked bola crashed through the window, showering both men with glass shards and killing the driver where he sat. Junkers hurried through the door behind Mark, using their hammers to knock Buzzblades aside as they scrambled to enter the vehicle. The Saint meanwhile hauled the corpse from the driver’s seat, every muscle straining against the weight. It didn’t matter how many bodies he moved Mark could never believe how heavy a dead man became. Letting the driver’s corpse sprawl onto the floor the Saint took his place, stamping hard on the accelerator and feeling the train lurch forwards its prow bursting howling Skarrd like overripe fruit and making the tracks slippery with gore. Mark knew the train was wrecked now, he could only hope it would carry them far enough to escape.

* * * *

Hephzibah lay in the shadow of the carriage. The world moved sluggishly around her, land and sky merging in a hazy blur, her stomach lurching with every movement. She had killed the Golabs, though the battle had been punishing and vicious. Their giant bodies lay a few steps away, as far as she had managed to crawl before collapsing. One of them must have got in a strike to her head with its grafted metal fist, although she could not remember now when or how that had happened. A shadow fell over her and she tried to sit up but her highly tuned sense of balance failed her and she slipped back. The shape was vague and unclear but she recognized danger instinctively and tried to drag herself away to no avail. The man was standing on her wrist, stopping her from moving. She focused with difficulty, but the image was surreal. It was Garvin, the infamous Manhunter, and he was laughing at her, but somehow the laughter was turning into blood spraying onto her face and his tongue lolled jagged and metallic. She closed her eyes, trying to make sense of the image and when she opened them again Garvin’s head was lying facing her, his startled eyes staring into her own. The rest of his body was nowhere to be seen.

Slowly Hephzibah sat up, taking in the carnage all around her. Nausea still threatened to defeat her with every movement but her vision was clearing. The decapitated Manhunter sprawled gracelessly on top of the dead Golabs, only his head lying close to her – a gift or a warning she couldn’t quite be sure. She looked left and right, searching for the person she knew must be close by, but Xcess was already gone.

* * * *

The Outcasts were retreating, not in panicked flight but with the controlled redeployment they had practiced over decades as bandits and guerrillas. As some fell back others provided covering fire and once within the rocks of the upper canyon they moved with a speed and stealth that was startling, swinging across gullies and pulling themselves up cliffs with their zip-guns. Now only Hal remained at the wreck. Kayla had tried to pull him away, urging him to run whilst there were others nearby to protect their chief but he had refused and eventually the Fixer had left with the others, sprinting away as the Skarrd closed in. Even so she could not resist a glance back to see the Warchief scrambling back into the crumpled carriage and out of sight.

Once inside Hal feverishly pulled down boxes, tore open sacks and smashed equipment. How could they be so blind, so stupid and arrogant, he thought, how could they believe that their god would protect them from these desert demons? Did someone on the Council plan to increase his own power by trading with Johann? Hal knew little about the fallen Saint but he had plenty of experience of Forsaken treachery. Once a Saint always a Saint, he thought angrily. If they didn’t intend to deal with those monsters then they must mean to replicate the Heretic’s work in lonely Talen – far from the eyes of their followers. Well that was something he would never allow. Striking sparks with flint and tinder he lit a torch from a ragged strip of hessian and raced up and down the carriage, setting fire to every package and container until the whole of the wreck was shrouded in smoke and flame.

As soon as everything was ablaze he dashed for the exit, heat and ash already making him choke. Without looking back he sprang from the burning train, stumbling to a halt just a few steps from the Skarrd Father. Whilst Hal had been inside the carriage the savages had surrounded it. Now the tribe formed an impenetrable wall between himself and escape. Only the psychic dominance of their master kept them from rushing in and tearing their prey apart. Warchief and Father stared at each other, Hal reaching slowly for his halberd whilst the Father smoothly drew his wicked katana. Hal could have laughed with the bitter irony of it all, he’s always wanted one of the lethal Talen forged blades but all of them were exported and gifted to Forsaken Warwinds. Now it looked like he’d be getting killed with one.

The tall pale Father stepped forward raising his blade to strike and a hook burst through his chest. Another snagged in his upper arm, a third cut through his thigh, a forth into his calf and he was pulled from his feet. Suddenly the cliff erupted with cheering Outcasts, barbs raining down from their zip-guns onto the startled Skarrd. Bereft of the psychic command of their Father confusion momentarily overtook them and some even turned on each other. Over their inhuman snarls and the whistle of the zip-guns Hal heard Kayla shout. He stepped forwards, relieved the dying Father of his sword and said courteously, “Thanks very much”. Then he ran for the shelter of the cliffs, boots hammering on the rocks. Takara sprang down next to him, shooting at a hulking Buzzblade over his shoulder as he dodged aside. “What’s she doing here?” Hal asked Kayla but already the Outcasts were falling back, vanishing into the hills as quickly as they had come.

“No time to explain chief ”, the Fixer put a hand on his shoulder, “Let’s get out of here”.

Ethan shook his head as they trudged away from the train. “It was a beautiful thing”, he said, “A real miracle”. Reuben glowered at him but Ethan would not be discouraged by his fellow Bane’s sullen silence. “We are truly blessed you know. Blessed to be Forsaken I mean, part of this beautiful new nation we’re building. Did you see those savages today? Skarrd and Outcasts, they’re all the same – just heretics bent on destroying all that we build. Its men like Saint Mark, they’ll save us. Did you see the way he drove the train, kept it going full speed even once it was obvious it was wrecked? That took real bravery. I’ll say a prayer of thanks to him tonight and perhaps God and the Council will send us another train”.

“The Saint is a great man”, Ethan argued stoutly, “He needs to preserve his strength to defend all the Forsaken. We must all play our own small part. We can’t leave these supplies on the train for Outcasts to steal now can we? There are brave soldiers out there relying on you and me to bring them food”.

“Now there’s a miracle I’d like to see”, Reuben grunted, “I signed up for the army to kill heretics not haul crates like a pack animal”. Ethan glanced back over his shoulder towards the wreck of the train. Other Banes were following them in a long line, each crate of supplies lugged by two soldiers. Coils guarded the flanks of the column whilst the Strikes remained behind to protect the train until Prevailer agents were able to arrive and secure it. “Always Banes end up doing the hard work”, Reuben went on sourly, “I don’t see the Saint carrying a crate!”

“I’m not saying they don’t”, Reuben argued, “But just you take a look down the rest of the line and tell me it doesn’t look like their crates are lighter than ours”.

Makko pressed his ear against the inside of the crate then shifted slightly in the cramped space to whisper, “It’s alright, they’re still just bickering”. In the darkness he heard Marcella carefully unwrapping another of the sticky, nutritious biscuits packed alongside them and the Scut grinned. “Told you I knew where the best loot was”.


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