"Cummon," Gowan hissed, pushing Kalen in front of him as he sprinted down the length of the train. He stopped suddenly and jumped into one of the cars. He emerged a few seconds with something in his arms. "Lets go," he said and dragged her back up to the head car. The thing in his arms turned out to be a loose vest. He threw it over Kalen's head and pulled it down before shoving her into the car. "Stay here. I'll be right back," he ordered and took off.
Kalen crouched down on the floor, not bothering with the bench bolted to the wall. Her stomach felt loose and hot. That creeping feeling behind her eyes was back again and this time it was stronger than ever. Fighting the urge to rub at her face, Kalen swallowed deeply to keep from vomiting. Whatever was causing these feelings was coming closer. It was coming, crawling and creeping darkly towards them. She could feel it in a strange way. It was a physical feeling but at the same time it wasn't. It was so strange that she couldn't even thing of what it truly was.
Kalen whimpered and curled into a fetal position, hiding her face in her arms. They had left. The twins and Nickolai and even Gowan were gone now. They had left to go and fight that thing that was coming towards them. They were going to die. The twins, Nickolai, Gowan, everyone on this train, herself included. The vampire was going to find them and drain every last bit of life from them.
That's what that thing wanted. It wanted their blood to stain everything in sight. It longed for the carrion birds that would come to eat their dead flesh. It wanted to listen to its prey as they cried and groaned in pain.
"The darkness drops again; but now I know," Kalen grumbled from behind clenched teeth, hardly aware of what she was saying. "That twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare." Her body wretched spastically and she vomited suddenly. Her throat tightened and sweat broke out across her body. She vomited again, her back arching painfully.
"Kalen!" Gowan shouted and jumped into the train car. He grabbed the obviously suffering girl and rolled her onto her back, cradling her body gently. "Kalen?" he asked softly.
"The darkness drops again; but now I know. That twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare," Kalen mumbled, her fingers blindly questing for something.
"Good Lord," Gowan mumbled. "They must have her mind." Gowan scrambled to reach his pocket and pulled out a metal flask. He pulled the top of with his teeth and forced some of the liquid into Kalen's mouth. She coughed and sputtered, sloshing the spirits down her chin. She struggled weakly, trying to break free of his grasp.
"Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle. And what rough beast, it hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born!" Kalen shouted and her body went limp, her eyes staring blindly into space.
Gowan poured more spirits into her mouth, watching as her throat contracted, and held onto her tightly, waiting for something to happen.
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart the center cannot hold. Dau? I want to go home."
"You are home Kalen," Gowan said softly. "Whether you like it or not."
Kalen uttered a strangled, harsh bark and tried to struggle away. That thing was coming. It was going to eat her brain. It was going to devour it like a sweet treat. It was going to kill everyone first and save her for last. The fear and the anguish would only make her more palpable. It would never stop. Not ever.
(and darkness and decay and the red death held illimitable dominion over all)
It heard the voice! It knew the voice and it wanted the voice! And the terror of that voice spilled over to her and clamored in her mind and the red death swayed over all.
"Damn you smell bad," Saf chuckled, stepping away from his brother. "You'd better take a bath soon."
"Shut up Saf," Dau grumbled. He pushed a hand through his sticky hair. He was covered from head to toe with sticky orange goo.
Nickolai, who was a few steps behind the, was in a similar condition. Orange goo dripped from his clothing and hair but he paid no attention. He smoked yet another cigarette with an air of intense indifference.
Saf chuckled at both of them. "It sure pays to have super-human speed," he boosted.
"Cut it out or I'll knock you silly," Dau warned.
Saf shut up. He knew when Dau was about to lose his temper and this was one of those times. "That was a pretty easy kill."
"I wounded it in Gitlow," Nickolai said quietly. "Stabbed it in the side."
The three tired, dirty young men walked back to the train in exhausted silence. To their surprise Gowan was pacing back and forth in front of the train.
"Hey Mubarak!" the panicked Dragon Slayer shouted. "Get over here! That thing got her mind and she's not shaking it off!"
Dau and Saf shared a brief, horrified glance and sprinted back to the train.
"Where is she?" Dau barked.
"Head car," Gowan replied.
"But its dead," Saf protested as Dau jumped into the car knelt next to Kalen.
The young girl's eyes were closed but she was tossing fitfully. Sweat matted her hair to her forehead and trickled down the sides of her face. Her hands were clenched into tight fists.
"We killed it. She should be okay!"
"It's started an echo," Dau said quickly, brushing his fingers across her forehead. "Get some spirits. I'm going to try and release her."
"You sure 'bout this?" Saf asked quietly. "You're tired and you've been having those headaches."
"She won't last long. Just be ready to catch me." Dau put his fingers on Kalen's forehead, closed his eyes, and pushed his consciousness towards hers.
/Where am I?/ Kalen shouted.
There was no answer, only the strange heat shimmers that seemed to effect everything in this blood-hued no man's land. She got to her feet slowly, swaying slightly.
/Is anyone there?/
Her voice echoed back to her strangely. Kalen stepped forward, stumbling on nothing. There was nothing here. Just heat waves and shadows that should have been impossible to cast.
/Can someone help me?/ Kalen cried desperately, casting about for any sign of life in this barren wasteland.
/Dau! Where are you?/
The shimmers in front of her began to change shape and color, slipping and sliding sickly across themselves. The changes slowed and settled into a warped image of Dau.
/Take my hand/ he commanded.
Kalen did so and felt a sharp mental kick. She cried out, more in surprise than in pain, and shut her eyes tightly. When she reopened them she was in yet another strange place. She was in a medium sized room full of children. There were a few adults at the edges of the crowd, keeping a casual watch on the cheerful children.
'What now?' Kalen wondered.
She didn't have to wait long for an answer.
The door on the far side of the room burst open and the children began to scream. Creatures like men except for their domed, slopping backs poured into the room. There was red pain across their faces and they carried long, pointed staffs in their hands. They killed the adults quickly, effortlessly and their blood ran everywhere. The children's screams rose in pitch and Kalen closed her eyes, screaming with them.
"What's taking so long?" Gowan hissed.
It had been more than five minutes since Dau had closed his eyes. The young Dragon Slayer hadn't so much as twitched. The young girl sprawled across the ground hadn't moved either.
"Just give him a minute," Saf mumbled, watching his brother closely. He knew it shouldn't take this long but what could he do? If he tried to pull Dau's mind back he might kill them both. Fear and panic rose in his chest, causing his throat to close up and his breathing to falter.
Kalen gasped suddenly, her eyes springing open. Dau uttered a strangle bark and fell over backward. Gowan wrapped a blanket around Kalen's shoulders and carried her out of the train care. He set her down gently on the ground. Kalen was shivering and sputtering, her eyes wide and confused. He forced her to swallow some spirits and held her steady as she swayed sickly.
Saf's panicked cry made Gowan whip around to look behind him. "Stay here," he told Kalen and jumped back into the train car.
Saf was holding his brother's violently convulsing body tightly, trying to keep him from harming himself. Blood was streaming form Dau's ears and nose. His body twisted violently, almost retching himself from Saf's grasp. Nickolai sprang forward and grabbed Dau's kicking legs. He pinned them to the ground, the struggle obvious in his eyes. Saf's eyes were full of panic and unshed tears as blood matted Dau's hair to his face.
"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. More anarchy is loosed upon the world," Dau grunted out from behind clenched teeth. "The blood-dimmed tide is loose and everywhere..." Dau's body went limp without warning and Saf almost dropped him in surprise.
"The ceremony of the innocent is drowned. The best lack all convictions, while the worst," Dau continued, his eyes open and staring blankly. "While the worst are full of passionate intensity." Dau fell silent and his wild eyes closed as he slipped into unconsciousness.
"What the hell was that?" Gowan mumbled, breaking the uneasy silence. "I've never seen him do that."
"Get Toulouse," Saf snapped. "Now!" He paid now attention to the other Dragon Slayer as he scrambled to obey. He could only thing of his brother. He'd never seen anything remotely close to this happen to Dau either. Not even breaking an echo. "Son of a bitch," he mumbled softly to himself. "Get Kalen," he finally managed to tell Nickolai. "Make sure she's okay."
Nickolai said nothing but exited the car to do as he was told. Kalen was still sitting on the ground, shaking. The older boy crouched in front of her and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag off it and blew it directly into her face. Kalen didn't react. Her blindly staring eyes didn't even blink in response to the irritant. Nickolai appraised her coldly and shrugged his shoulders. Again he took a deep pull from the cigarette and this time, he grabbed Kalen's face. He forced her slack jaw open and, sealing his mouth over hers, blew the smoke into her. She coughed after a moment and a convulsive shiver ran through her.
Her eyes were bright as she started up at him. "They killed them," she murmured, tears running down her face. "They killed all the little children."
"Who did?" Nickolai asked evenly.
"The turtle men. The turtle men killed the little children," Kalen sobbed. "The blood was everywhere."
"Where are the turtle men now?" Nickolai asked calmly, gripping her shoulder tightly. "Tell me where they are."
"The children screamed and screamed," Kalen cried. "But they wouldn't stop."
"Long has paled that sunny sky. Echoes fade and memories die," Nickolai chanted softly. ""Autumn frosts have slain July."
"They cried and cried and died."
"Soon as the evening shades prevail, the moon takes up the wondrous tale," Nickolai continued evenly. "And nightly to the listening earth, repeats the story of her birth."
"Soon as the evening shades prevail," Kalen repeated calmly. "He's running from it. But it will get him soon. You have to safe him."
Nickolai's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Save who?"
"Only you can do it. He'll be lost forever. Dead but not dead, in the land of the forever sun."
"Who must I save?" he asked softly.
"I heard an angel singing while the world was springing," Kalen answered.
"Mercy, pity, peace is the world's release," Nickolai replied, saying the next part of the poem.
"Thus he sang all day," Kalen laughed and then shivered convulsively yet again. She jerked away from his tight grasp and her eyes filled with tears again. The spell was broken and Nickolai expected no more answers.
"Nickolai?" Gowan called out. Toulouse was following him closely.
"I'm going to tell the others," the older boy replied simply and disappeared from sight.
"You okay?" Gowan asked, gesturing Toulouse toward the train car. "Kalen?" He crouched on the ground next to her and gave her a gentle shake. "What did he say?"
"I-I don't k-know," Kalen sputtered. "I can't remember." She sobbed softly and Gowan gave her a hug. "What happened?"
"Don't worry about it right now," he advised. "Just get your strength back. Everything's going to be fine."
"Something happened," Kalen said to herself. "I know it did. There was this thing and then a dream. A dream of blood." She rubbed at her eyes, trying to remember what it was she'd been afraid of. "A monster? And the children!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Gowan sighed. "Just forget about it for right now. How do you feel?"
"Tired," Kalen said after a long pause. "And really gross. I've got puke on me."
"There's a place where you can take a shower. Do that and then Saf will explain everything to you. Okay?"
"Yeah," Kalen agreed uneasily. Something was terribly wrong.
Washing up had let Kalen here all about what was going on. It wasn't long before she heard that she had almost killed Dau. The gossip was running wild throughout the train and no one was particularly careful who they gossiped in front of. She'd even gotten doubtful and almost fearful looks from the other Flickers and they were all keeping their distance. Too afraid to face them and defiantly too chicken to face the twins she did the only thing she could think to do.
Her hiding spot wasn't exactly ingenious. It was the same car she'd been sharing with Saf and Dau the past few days. Her brain felt tired and used up. Her back and abdomen ached from the vomiting. She buried herself under the sleeping bags like a child and cried her eyes out. When she could cry no more she simply lay there.
"Heard you were hiding in here."
Kalen, who had been wallowing in her own misery, hadn't heard the door open. Saf was standing in the doorway. His clothes were rumpled, his hair was mussed, and he looked tired but he was still smiling.
"Whatcha hiding from?" he asked. When Kalen didn't answer he stepped into the train car and slid the door shut. He sat down on one of the benches and contemplated the bandages on his hands. "You hiding from me maybe? Dau said you were."
"Dau!" Kalen exclaimed. Is he?"
"He's fine. He woke up, had something to eat, and went back to sleep. You've been crying."
"I'm sorry Saf!" Kalen sobbed unable to look at up the younger twin. "I didn't mean to hurt him! I didn't mean to!"
Saf sighed and picked her up from the floor easily. He set her down on the bench across from him and cupped her face in his hands. "You didn't do anything. What happened to Dau wasn't your fault. He had to save you. That's what happens some times. It wasn't your fault." He drew her to him and hugged her tightly. Kalen sniffled and buried her face in his shirt. "What happened is called backlash. Dau had to break the vampire's control and he did his mind came too close to yours. You got caught in one of his memories and he got caught in one of yours. Something startled you into consciousness and it sent a shock threw Dau."
"He was bleeding," Kalen said certainly. She hadn't seen it for herself but everyone had said he was.
Saf stroked her hair lightly. "That's his own fault. He's been pushing himself too hard lately. That's why he started bleeding." Saf paused. "What did you see Kale? In Dau's mind?"
"I saw these men. With spears. They...they..."
"The turtle men," Saf said and pulled back from Kalen so he could see her face. "That's what we call them."
"You know what they are?"
"We used to live in Cairo. In Egypt. We lived there in a camp with our parents. We were seven. The night before the camp was going to be closed down we had a party. It was the biggest party we'd ever seen. Every Flicker in Egypt came. They let us stay up late cause we begged them too. The party was almost over when they came. They knocked down the door and everybody started screaming." Saf paused and Kalen looked up at him. He had a far away, searching expression on his face. "My mum. She grabbed me and Dau and took us to the train. They hadn't found it yet, the turtle men. She left us there and went back to get more kids. Dau started screaming and tried to drag me back to the camp but the train had started and we couldn't get away. They lit it on fire. We could see the flames for miles." He paused again and stared into the distance, his eyes cloudy. "My Da. They killed him. He tried to protect other people and he got killed. My mum died too. Dunno how. Never even got to bury them. Never even said good-bye." He snapped abruptly from his mussing and he back at her. "We call them the turtle men because of their backs. We don't know if they work for the Ancients but the traitor did lead them to us."
"Have you ever seen them again?"
"Nope. Not once. And we've been looking. We'll find them someday. Cummon. Dau wants to talk to you."
"I can't," Kalen protested. "Everyone, everyone says." She faltered and tried to get her thoughts back together. "Everyone says I almost killed him."
"They always say that," Saf scoffed. "Its not real gossip unless someone almost dies. He's fine Kale and he's not mad at you either. It was an accident. Quit crying all ready. Yer makin' big brother sad."
Kalen laughed despite her tears. "What am I supposed to say to him?" she asked sadly.
"You're an idiot," Saf replied, trying to and doing a horrible job of copying her accent. "Next time listen to Saf. He's smarter and more handsome."
The door opened and something flew in, smacking Saf in the head. Kalen watched the battered din cup clatter to the floor and looked up. Dau was standing in the doorway, food in hand.
"You're an idiot," he said evenly and sat down on the bench across from Kalen.
"Dau's so shy," Saf teased. "He can't sit next to girls."
Kalen watched in utter surprise as a hot blush stained Dau's cheeks. "Are you really?" she asked, her despair completely forgotten. "You are," she laughed when his blush became redder.
"You couldn't tell it but he has a girlfriend," Saf whispered conspiratorially, sliding over to sit next to Kalen. "And she's a hot babe. Big green eyes, curly blond hair, and a curvy body."
"Shut up!" Dau shouted, his face deeply red. "You're an idiot!"
"He likes the soft spoken housewife type. A really gentle lady. She's a killer cook too. I'll introduce you to her when we all meet up."
"I'd like to meet her," Kalen said swiftly. Dau seemed like he was about to beat his brother into silence. "She sounds like a really nice girl."
"She's the nicest person on the face of the earth," Saf complemented, oddly unaware of the impending violence against him. "From Germany. A real smart girl. Bailed me out of jail once. Are we gonna eat?"
"Certainly," Dau said, happy to see the matter drop. He handed out the food and they ate in comfortable silence.
"Do you have a picture of Gloria?" Kalen asked, intently curious.
"No," Dau answered evenly.
"Liar!" Saf exclaimed loudly. "I happen to know he sleeps with a picture of her wrapped up in his clothes."
Dau sprang forward with startling speed and smacked his brother's head into the wall. A sharp crack reverberated throughout the train car. Kalen could only gap in amazement as Dau sat back down calmly.
"Huh?" she mumbled.
"You're a devil," Saf grumbled, rubbing the back of his head. "You know that?"
That was rather quick. Considering I rewrote the majority of this chapter I'm surprised by how quickly that went. Enjoy.
Chapter Five 16