“All aboard for Smokewood!” cried Vyrim Q. Flamestar, conductor for the Eastern & Wilds railroad. “Only ticketed passengers, please!” He then drew and cocked a derringer to show that he was deadly serious about any more gold-hungry bottom feeders trying to muscle their way onto his train.

People surged forward anyway, holding satchels bulging with treasure hunting materials, everything from maps to mattocks. It was worse than the human wave attacks Vyrim had seen in the war, and the empty sleeve pinned to his side was proof enough that he didn’t make that comparison lightly.

“I’ve got a ticket, it’s in here somewhere, I swear!”

“A gold coin for you in lieu of a ticket, my fine elf-friend! That’s the language your persuasion speaks, is it not?”

“You don’t understand, this gold is the last thing between my family and starvation! You’d see my little ones waste away like it was nothing?”

A sea of greedy faces, grasping hands, and eyes flushed green with gold fever. It was all that anyone in Brighthollow had seen for well over a month, and it wasn’t getting any better.

“Damn that greedy old drake,” Vyrim muttered to one of his fellows. “Why couldn’t his blasted hoard stay hidden? If this is what the mere rumor of it does, these people will be eating each other at the first flake of real gold.

“It’s disgusting,” agreed Bill, a dwarf with Valley Western. By special arrangement, he and his partner were the only ones allowed to have coach guns aboard to protect the safeboxes that routinely brought precious valuables in from Smokewood and payroll in gold coin in from Brighthollow.

“Disgusting,” echoed his fellow John, a bony beanpole of an orc. “That’s what it is. If it looks like they’re about to rush the rails like they did last Tuesday, Mr. Flamestar, you just say the word and we’ll dismiss them with a snootful of birdshot.”

“Birdshot?” Vyrim said, alarmed. “I told you to load your pieces with rock salt!”

“See, I told you he said rock salt!” Bill said, craning his neck to shout up at John.

“I never said he didn’t! I just said you muttered it so much that it sounded like birdshot and you should make sure!” John said, stooping to properly get in his fellow’s face.

“Pop the chambers and give me the shells,” Vyrim said. “We’re going to rely on the menacing appearance of your irons for the time being.”

“Aww,” whined the Valley Union guards, surrendering their brass-crimped double-aught birdshot shells. “How come you get a shooter and we have to wave our sticks around like a hedge wizard?”

“Because, like your average hedge wizard, I’m shooting blanks,” Vyrim said. He had never missed the use of his right arm more than he did at this moment, for a derringer in one palm meant no fingers to massage his temples.

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