November 2017

“When that mob came, calling for old Peyton Grosh to hang before the law had its say, your daddy went out to meet them. Talked at them through the old steel door they had, the kind they keep against dynamite and your explodier magicks. He said to them what he said to me, that he’d see me hung when the force of the law was behind it and not a moment sooner. He said that he’d shoot every one of them dead before he’d see me lynched.”

“And you made him make that choice,” Cobb said. “You left him to die and saved yourself.”

The orc suddenly looked very tired. “I did,” he said. “But maybe not in the way you think, Mr. Tyler.”

“What?” Cobb said. “What do you mean?”

“When your pa told the mob that, they weren’t much pleased with it, as you might have guessed. They started to ram down those doors to take me and hang me, sheriff or no sheriff. Do you know what your daddy did then?”

Cobb shook his head.

“He came over to me, as that mob was blasting that door with everything they had, from repeaters to exploding cantrips. He told me that he’d be damned if even a murderer like me was taken illegally in his town. And he opened up that cell for me, gave me my gear back, and sent me out the back. Sheriff Tyler gave me, a murderer, a loaded pistol to keep myself from harm in what was to come. And then he looked those men in the eyes and died fighting them.”

Peyton Grosh was completely serious, his features stone-cut and sober, as he spoke. If it were a lie, it was a damn good one, and the tear winding its way down the outlaw’s rugged cheek was the best crocodile tear Cobb had ever seen.

“Old Peyton Grosh, he’s a wretch,” the orc continued. “Good for nothing but laying a beating on folks, being wily enough not to get squashed most of the time, and robbing people too dumb or rich to deserve otherwise. Nobody’s ever given a damn about me beyond what I was able to beat or lie out of them. And then your pa…he was willing to die for me. For me, who never did nothing to deserve it. Now I know it was the law and what was right he had in his mind, not old Peyton Grosh, but…” he trailed away uncertainly.

“And here I come to turn you in for a fat reward,” Cobb said. “For stealing horses in Smokewood. That’s what you did to honor my dad, go right back to your old ways.”

“Like I said,” Peyton said with a sad drawl. “He died for me, who never did nothing to deserve it. I tried to live a good life afterwards. I tried to be straight with the law. Hell, it’s why I came to Smokewood. But all I’ve been able to do is keep myself from killing anybody, and you saw back at the rocks that I was ready to piss on even that if it meant saving my own skin.”

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“Well,” Peyton said when they arrived at the way station, “this is a hell of a mess, isn’t it?”

The house and barn were both ablaze, as was part of the surrounding prairie. Only glowing timbers were left of the barn, and skeletons inside were all that was left of the horses that Cobb had hoped for. “They didn’t even steal them,” he said.

“Of course not. This wasn’t about stealing anything, Mr. Tyler. It was about revenge.”

They found Alabaster, the station master, dead in his own front yard. He was still clutching a double-barreled shotgun with one loaded chamber, but he’d been cut down by a hail of bullets before he could empty it. His head had been severed and was on a pike out front, a grim sort of memorial.

“Killed him with cartridges,” Peyton said with a low whistle. “Bullets are hard to come by for wild folk most of the time. You know they had their hearts in it.”

There was no sign of the stablemucker, no bones or anything else. Cobb half-heartedly called her name, but there was no answer. “Must’ve got away, or got herself taken,” he said.

“Girl was a slippery one, I’ll give her that,” Peyton agreed.

The only other thing they found was the remains of two wild folk. An orc and an an elf each, to judge by what was left of them. Not that there was much of that, mind: one of them had been nearly sawn in half by some kind of massive jagged blade, while the other had been immolated in a fire so fierce that the dirt around her body was glassed.

“They never are afraid to use their magicks,” Peyton said. “Looks like they were rather free with them.”

Nothing of value remained at the way station; even the windpump had been wrecked. More sipping from muddy streams was in the cards, as it was an impressive walk to Smokewood. Both Cobb and Peyton were quiet for some time as the ruins sank below the hills.

“Have to admit,” Peyton said. “I was more right than I knew when I asked about how many people had died for your revenge.”

“Shut your mouth,” Cobb said, albeit weakly.

“You can only threaten to shoot old Peyton Grosh so many times before it stops being much of anything to lose sleep over,” said the orc. “And compared to what them wild folk did to old Alabaster, well, maybe that’d be a mercy.”

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“What…who…is she?”

Peyton shrugged. “Never seen an edor before, huh? Well, take a good look. You’ll not see one so up close again, I’ll wager.”

“An edor?” Cobb felt like he’d heard the word before, but his brain was scrambled from the sudden shock of wakefulness, the sudden double report of guns followed by a still-warm body laid out before them.

“Yeah,” Peyton said. “The elves and the orcs living around here got it in their heads that they needed leaders with the best of both of them. So they’d shack up and make them some miscegenated bastards. Edor. You don’t see many anymore, since they’re sterile as a mule and the settlers have whittled down the wild folks’ numbers a good bit.”

“A half elf, half orc,” Cobb said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“They’re outcasts,” Peyton spat. “That’s what it is. No orc or elf from back east will give them the time of day. You did them a favor in putting them out of their misery. But this isn’t going to go well for you and me, with a dead edor on our hands.”

“We’ll get by,” said Cobb, re-asserting himself now that the shock had passed. “Pack up.”

Peyton looked down at the deceased. “Just gonna leave them here, are you? Old Peyton Grosh thinks they could do with a decent burial.”

“Well, old Peyton Grosh is like as not to share a grave with them if he doesn’t get moving,” Cobb said.

The orc gestured at the body. “She might’ve been trying to help for all you know. Where I come from, only enemies get left to the buzzards, and you’ve got no idea if she was one.”

Cobb paused over this. “I can’t bury her, I don’t have the time,” he said. “And you’ll forgive me if I don’t want to set you loose to do it. But I’ll say a few words over her.”

He knelt down, taking care to keep an eye on his prisoner, and whispered to the body. Then, rising, he cocked his head. “Let’s go. I’m as right with her as I’m gonna be, I think.”

“Goodbye, missy,” Peyton said. “Old Peyton Grosh sure is sorry you got mixed up in all of this.”

With a prisoner in front of him and the need to be vigilant, the rocky hill seemed to recede a good deal more slowly than it had come up. The big orc was understandably in no hurry, and Cobb could only issue so many death threats before they became hollow.

In time, they saw a great column of black smoke rising behind them. Cobb looked at it with some alarm. “Looks like they set the whole prairie on fire.”

“They might have,” Peyton said. “Edor are awfully respected among the wild old folk that are left.”

“You think it’s a funeral?” Cobb said, mildly curious.

“No, old Peyton Grosh thinks it’s a signal,” the orc said. “A beacon to anyone that’s around to let them know something bad’s happened. And maybe to get out on their horses and run them down for good measure.”

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Missy lowered the brim of her hat to block out the sun. “Mr. Muntz,” she said. “There is a warrant for your arrest and you are openly bearing magical mischief on the streets of Smokewood in violation of a local ordinance. This is your last chance to turn yourself in peacefully.”

“No,” Muntz said. “This is your last chance to escape with your life, little thrall.” The flames around him raged still more violently, and a current of pure heat bore him a full foot off the ground, with puddles of freshly minted glass beneath. Muntz fired off a stream of molten matter at a hitching post in front of the jail, violently combusting it, apparently in the hopes of making Missy flinch.

She stood her ground.

“Prepare yourself,” Muntz said. “The Art is about to make an example of you.”

He drew his arms back, white-hot energy already building up about his fingertips, enough to char anything in its path to greasy ash.

Missy abruptly cast back her duster. There, strapped beneath either arm, were two pocket revolvers, halfling-sized, in quick-draw holsters. She ripped one out, leveled it, and fanned five .44 slugs into Muntz before he could finish his cantrip or even react.

The pyromancer, shocked, let his arms go limp. The energy he’d saved up mostly dissipated, but the sudden loss in focus caused him to pitch violently to the left. As the magical heat melted away from his body, he slumped onto a watering trough next to a tied up horse. The horse, perturbed at its drink suddenly being heated turned and gave Muntz a mighty kick, driving him through a plate glass window and reducing his chest to a nightmare of red mash.

Missy watched the scene unfold impassively, and then opened up her smoking sixgun for reloading. “Violence is useless, Mr. Muntz, because it doesn’t gain you anything. Are you any smarter for being shot down? Are you a better person? Have you learned anything?” She punctuated each remark by working the ejector and kicking out a spent shell.

Muntz lay where he had fallen, gasping and gurgling as his own blood filled up what was left of his lungs, not even able to summon the ghost of a flame.

“No,” Missy said. “All that you’ve learned is that the day of the mage being able to do as he pleases with the Art is over, since the most lowly of little lady thralls can put you down with a twenty dollar shooter.” Her gun empty, she holstered it and drew the other, aiming it at Muntz point-blank.

“I just hope that someone else might learn from your example,” she added. “Violence is useless, and it ain’t the law. Unless, of course, you’re a lawbreaker being met with reasonable force after proving yourself to be a danger.”

The pyromancer choked his last without the need for a coup; Missy spun her gun and put it away.

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Missy asked around town, and soon found that Muntz had checked himself into the Royal Oscoda Hotel by buying a room from an existing tenant. The man had been paid a single dollar for the privilege, and had smelt of burned flesh when he did so. With a room secured, the pyromancer had holed up in the cigar lounge, according to the bellhop.

“Oh, look who it is,” Muntz said, seeing Missy enter. “Hello, little lady! You come to see your betters working miracles with the Art?” With an expensive cigar in his mouth, Muntz was making a series of lit matches dance in a figure-eight pattern about his hands. The other cigar lounge patrons watched with amusement, but the presence of a bellhop with a fire bucket was enough to tell Missy there had been more than a few accidents in the short time he’d been there.”

“You’ve had a busy day, Mr. Muntz,” said Missy. “In addition to a fight requiring the intervention of a deputy sheriff, I have people willing to swear in a court of law that you attacked one of Miss Scarlet’s girls. I’ll bet I can find another who’ll say you scorched him up good for his hotel room, and the Royal Oscoda certainly has a claim for malicious pyromancy.”

“You have an orc who doesn’t know his place, several liars, and a business that, if anything, is improved by scorching away the homliness,” Muntz laughed. “Hardly anything to worry your little head over.”

“Nevertheless, I am, as a duly sworn deputy, compelled to demand that you surrender yourself to the Smokewood jail for flagrantly violating your sworn oath,” Missy said firmly. “There to await trial or bail, whichever comes first.”

The locals in the smoking room moved away at this. The out-of-towners leaned in for a further listen.

“What if I decline, little missy?” Muntz said. “Time was, people without the Art couldn’t even make such a bold claim.”

“Times have changed, Mr. Muntz, and now the law is the law regardless of what sort of magic courses through those veins,” Missy said. “If you decline, you will be compelled.”

“Compelled!” Muntz roared. “By what?”

Missy reached into her duster and produced a piece of paper. “By the law,” she said. “This is a signed warrant for your arrest. Of course, things being as they are, I’m prepared to accept trying you in absentia if you were to disappear.”

Muntz flicked his hands, spraying lit matched all around the room. The bellboy and several other patrons scrambled to clean up the dozen small fires he’d lit with that action. “This town sure is full of people who don’t know what’s best for them,” he said. “Tell you what, little missy. I’m calling you out.” Speaking louder, while rising from his setee, Muntz continued: “That’s right. I’ll come to your silly little jail at sundown, to see it burned to the ground.”

“I always say that violence is useless,” Missy said.

“WE’LL SEE ABOUT THAT!” Muntz howled. “Sundown. And if you’re not there, I’m going to come looking for you.”

The locals looked to Missy, their faces apprehensive. “Am I to take that,” she said, “as a refusal of a lawful court order?”

“Take it as whatever you like,” Muntz said. In a flash, he had torn a hole in the Royal Oscoda’s exterior wall, filling the room with cinders and smoke. Riding a wave of heat down to street level, he laughed as he walked away, leaving glassy footsteps burned into the soil.”

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At four feet six inches, Missy was utterly miniscule compared to the two combatants, but she put herself in between them all the same. “What seems to be the problem, boys?”

The orc jabbed a finger at Muntz. “He needs to learn how to hold his tongue,” he said.

“Or what, thrall? Or what?” Muntz said. “I could burn you to ash right now with a snap of my fingers, and there’s nothing you could do about it!”

“Now, I don’t know about all that, since any old orc on the street could take that neck of yours and snap it,” the orc said. “Watch all your bluster dribble out your mouth in a death rattle.”

“Like I always say, violence is useless,” Missy said. “Mr. Muntz, I believe you put your mark on a piece of paper that forbid you from pyromancy and other magical mischief in our city limits.”

“Would it really be pyromancy if I burned a thrall to ashes? Would it really be mischief? Way I see it, I’m doing you a favor and ought to be celebrated as such. Time was, folks without the Art who couldn’t understand their place got themselves ensorcelled for their trouble.”

“It would be, yes,” Missy said. “We ain’t in the business of celebrating people here who break the law.”

She turned to the orc. “You, sir, oughtn’t let this fellow get under your skin. He’s all bluster, and if you take his bait, you’ve just made him stronger.”

“Well, seems to me that he’d stop being stronger after someone broke him over their knee,” the orc said.

“Don’t do that,” Missy said. “That ain’t the law either, and as I always say-”

“Violence is useless,” Muntz said, finishing her sentence in a smarmy tone of voice. “Let me ask you something then, little missy. If violence is useless, what have you got to keep me from burning you to a cinder? Time was, you’d be a thrall too, since halflings never have a lick of the Art in ’em.”

“The law,” Missy said. “That’s what I’ve got. Violence never solved anything, never taught a man a lesson. Violence is putting down a mad dog when all he really needs is some training.”

Muntz held up his hands, and a sphere of pure molten fury was suspended above each. “Say I decide to torch this place down, purify it of all its reprobates and miscegenates and thralls, taking it as a given that the fittest people with a spark of the Art can save themselves? Who’ll stop me?”

“The law,” Missy said. “And that’s an awful lot of five-dollar words for someone who supposedly can’t read.

Muntz looked about the Lucky Maggot, saw all the eyes on him, and smirked. He snuffed out the flames in his palms. “Wouldn’t be worth it anyway,” he said. “A spark of the Art would be a waste. When Dad calls up his troops again, when everything’s set right, we’ll be back to make this place right.”

“Good,” Missy said. “Let me know when that happens, so I can give the General a proper welcome.”

Muntz spat on the floor and sauntered out, singeing the doors as he smacked into them.

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The local watering hole, the Lucky Maggot was back to back with Miss Scarlet’s Boudoir and they shared an upstairs. People who were easily scandalized tended to keep to the bottom-most floor of the Lucky Maggot and convinced themselves that the Bourdoir was in fact a “hotel and gentleman’s club” as its sign indicated. The Lucky Maggot, by contrast, had as its sign a worm curled into the shape of a horseshoe with a beer in one hand and a clover in the other.

The place was booming, with a huge amount of noise from the treasure hunters and people who’d been stranded by the train. As the deputy sheriff, though, and a representative of one of the best customers the Lucky Maggot had ever had in Sheriff Dallas, Missy always had a table reserved. She and Vyrim got a small bottle of cheap stuff at the bar and walked over to fill their glasses.

“Looks like that electricologist actually hired Feris,” Missy said, nodding at a nearby table.

Dr. Eggebrecht was there, one table over with a pile of open books, lecturing Feris on something or other as the young woman listened raptly, head proped up by her palms. “Now, the thing to keep in mind about dragons like Highclaw is that dragons are creatures of pure magic, and therefore the lizardine form they are famous for is almost wholly a matter of convenienceā€¦”

“I’ve never seen her that engaged in anything,” Missy added. “Good for him.”

“But what about you, Missy?” Vyrim said. “You still trying to carry the weight of this wretched town on your back?”

“If my back’ll bear it,” Missy said. “Now more than ever, someone’s gotta keep things together.”

“That’s the sheriff’s job,” Vyrim said. “You’re doing twice the work for half the pay.”

“He gets to do as he pleases and so do I, but what needs to get done needs to get done.” Missy punctuated her remark with a stiff belt of her drink. “These treasure hunter’s’ll eat us alive otherwise.”

“What a thing that is,” Vyrim said, kicking back his own drink. “Do you think it’s real?”

“I know that De Blij stumbled in here with a piece of dragon-gold and a wild story of a hoard,” said Missy. “And I know Highclaw was real because what’s left of him is a regular tourist attraction these days, with people somehow thinking that his carcass holds the secret to the whole damn thing. Other than that…is it all right to say that I really don’t care?”

“Don’t care?” Vyrim said. “Seems that you care a great deal.”

“I care about Smokewood not going up in smoke, since I’ve planted my stake here for good and all,” Missy said. “That’s it.”

“Have you ever thought about just…walking away from it all?” Vyrim said with a sad little smile. “We could go back up to the Old Mission, just for a few days, like we did way back when. Get lost for a bit.”

Missy looked at his outstretched hand and turned away. “I can’t do that,” she said. “There are too many people counting on me. And you know what’ll happen if the rumors start back up again. You could lose your job, I could lose mine, angry letters about racial purity in the paper, and suddenly there’s no good conductors left on the Eastern and Wilds and no good deputy sheriffs left in Smokewood.”

“It’s not right,” Vyrim said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong,” Missy said. “It’s the law.”

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The newcomers on the last train had been put up in old Army tents from the war that the garrison at the Old Mission used when they were bivouacked near town. The train’s crew had volunteered to stand a watch over them during the interrogation of the outlaws and the proper welcome of newcomers; Missy had come to do both.

She set up a barrel and climbed atop it. “You attention please, sirs and madams,” she shouted. “I am Deputy Sheriff Missy Ferguson, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to Smokewood! I know that, with the bridge out, many of you will be staying longer than you thought. I promise you that the citizens of this town will do their best to accommodate you if you treat them with kindness.”

There was no real response, so she kept on. “It’s also my pleasure to acquaint yourself with some of our local ordinances. There are to be no unauthorized shooting irons in Smokewood. Those of you with irons will turn them in to me and may claim them at the jail on your way out of town.”

“What if we come up against a sorcerer?” someone cried. “You want us to give up our only protection?”

“No, not at all,” Missy said. “There is no unauthorized use of destructive or disruptive magicks in Smokewood. All of you with some skill in the Art are required to sign a deed binding them to a strict policy of such. If you do not or cannot do this, you are not welcome in Smokewood and we will bid you farewell.”

“You mean we gotta give up our irons and trust in some scrap of paper that a sorcerer ain’t gonna light us on fire like we’re a matchstick?”

“That’s right,” Missy said. “If you value your irons that much, you’re welcome to leave. Brightwood is about a month that way,” she said, pointing east.

She jumped down from the barrel and withdrew a pen and pad from her jacket. “Form an orderly line, everyone, and I’ll take care of everything, ” Missy added, laying the papers on the barrel like a writing desk.

First in line was a sullen-looking young man, scrawny and looking greatly in need of a good meal. He laid a pair of extremely modern break-action revolvers atop the barrel. “Cobb Tyler,” he said.

“Goodness, what use does a little wisp of a kid like you have for a pair of shooters like that?” Missy said.

“I mean to collect the bounty on Peyton Grosh,” he said. “Wanted for horse theft.”

“And you think that’ll earn him a double bullet?” Missy said. “Son, the bounty is for him alive.”

Cobb shrugged. “I’ll try that first,” he said. “But I’m not ruling out shooting him down like a dog. He killed my father.”

“Maybe it’s for the best you’re leaving these here with me, son,” Missy said. “Violence is worthless, as I always say.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Cobb said.

Missy wrote him out a receipt. “Just be careful what you point those things at when you get them back, son,” she said. “Shooting an orc down cold isn’t the law, no matter what he’s done.”

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Brandon Dallas was laid out across his office, his chair tipped back, his boots muddying the papers official and unofficial that were scattered on his desk. A half-finished whiskey bottle on the floor nearby looked about ready to join its brothers in the trash, while Dallas himself snored loudly, with his hat pulled down over his face.

It was ten twenty-seven AM on a Tuesday.

“Dallas. Dallas!” there was a rap on his door.

The sheriff stirred a bit. “What?” he mumbled.

“It’s Missy, sir. What do you want done with the prisoners?” The sheriff couldn’t see her, but he knew that she was there: Deputy Sheriff Missy Ferguson, Smokewood’s first and only halfling in law enforcement.

Dallas slowly reached up a hand and thumbed back the hat that had been over his eyes. “Prisoners?” he said. “Whose prisoners?”

“The train robbers, sir. We have two of them, the ringleader and her muscle. Third one is with Doc Silver getting birdshot pulled out of her rear, and the other two seem to have slipped away with the rest of the passengers.”

“Wait,” Dallas said groggily. “There was a TRAIN ROBBERY?”

Missy cradled her head. He was like this every morning, stirring in a barely coherent stupor with no memory whatsoever of the previous night. Maybe Smokewood liked him that way, forgetful and tipsy, which was why they kept voting him back into office. Or maybe it was because he had a commanding name, the sort of stentorian monicker that made people think of a clear-eyed, grey-haired man of action. Having an orc named J. Gruj Marrowstrip and an elf named Xenotherious K. Leaf as opponents on the last ballot didn’t help.

“If they robbed a train, we need to hang them,” Dallas said. “I’ll get the gallows ready.” He tried, and failed, to sit up with a grunt.

“They’re accused of trying to rob the train and succeeding in blowing up the Tholdom Viaduct and cutting the rail and telegraph lines to Brighthollow, sir,” said Missy. “We can’t hang them for that.”

“Don’t tell me what we can and can’t hang for in my town, Missy!” cried Dallas.

“They can only be hung if they’re accused, tried, and convicted, sir,” Missy said, politely but firmly. “And Judge Smalley is in Brighthollow. So they’re liable to rot where we put them for a bit.”

“Put them in the clink, then,” said Dallas with a wobbly wave of his hand. “I’ll figure out how to hang them later.”

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Calamity, keeping an eagle eye out for the attackers, fanned out two shots from Dobkin, her right revolver, as Vyrim and John tumbled one row closer to her. There was no further movement or sound, and once she had used the opportunity to top both Seamus and her left revolver O’Flynn back up to their full four shots each, she turned to Brutus.

“Cover me,” she said. “I’m going to see if we holed those two.”

“Cover you with what?” Brutus said. “I can chop them, maybe, but that’s not cover fire.”

“Well, you should have brought a gun!” Calamity snapped.

“You should have bought me one!” Brutus cried. “Just because I’m an orc doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer a good repeater over this hunk of iron! Give me one of your shooters and I’ll cover you.”

Calamity drew back. “Nobody but me handles Dobkin and O’Flynn. Nobody.”

Brutus rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll just axe them a question, it’s all I’m good for, after all, isn’t it?”

Calamity walked forward, her guns ready. Vyrim was where he had been before, but his eyelids were fluttering and he was gagging slightly–a death rattle with red around his mouth and smeared on his shirt. John was still, lying awkwardly face-down.

“Got ’em,” Calamity said. “Go get the loot, we’re almost to the viaduct.”

“Shouldn’t you shoot them both just to be sure?” said Brutus.

“Hit them with your axe if you care so much,” the bandit sneered. “We need to get off before the viaduct, remember? Once the dynamite blows, it’ll be a month before they can follow us.”

“Well, I-” Brutus was suddenly interrupted by a short, sharp blow to the back of his head, which laid him out cold with an instant concussion–Bill had risen and thwacked him with the butt of his coach gun. At the same time, Vyrim raised his own scattergun and planted it in the small of Calamity Djinn’s back. “You’ve just been outfoxed, little lady,” he said, licking the strawberry jam off of his lips. “Drop them.”

With a disgusted sigh, more like a spoiled child than a hardened bandit, Calamity let O’Flynn and Dobkin fall. “Dammit,” she said. “I was so close.”

Outside, the scenery abruptly changed. The train was about to pass over the Tholdom Viaduct, the only rail and telegraph link between Smokewood and Brighthollow. Stretching an impressive distance over a steep gulch, it was a precipitous fall on either side, survivable by neither people nor steam engines.

As Vyrim and Bill, with the enthusiastic but inept help of their friend in pink, tied the bandits up, Bill reappeared in the cabin.

“Good to see you got this wrapped up,” the dwarf said.

“And I’m glad to see you got the dynamite taken care of,” said Vyrim.

Bill cleared his throat. “Yes, well, about thatā€¦” He held out a massive steel pin in one hand.

“What do you mean?” said Vyrim. “And what’s this?”

“It’s the pin to the baggage car,” said Bill, as if it was self evident. “Had a devil of a time getting it out.”

Vyrim looked up sharply. The train had just passed over the viaduct and the track had a sharp curve at that point; he had a fleeting glimpse of the baggage car, losing speed, in the middle of the bridge. Then it erupted in a tremendous concussion that rattled the passenger car, cracked windows and flung most everyone to the floorboards. The telegraph wire, which ran parallel to the rail line, twanged as it was severed and lost tension. The burning remains of the viaduct sagged inward and collapsed–there wouldn’t be any trains or messages going through to Brighthollow, or anywhere else, for a good long while.

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