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[IC] EXTRA=STELLAR [Stage 1 - Meracus]

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STAGE 1 - MERACUS

 

[Music]

 

Spoiler

 

 

 

Everyone || Meracus Express || Morning

 

The Meracus Railroad is the oldest railroad in Gaea. The pioneering colonists poured labor and resources as they pressed into the unknown, and this railroad can perhaps stand for their symbolic footprints on the continent. Stretching across the Meracus region, it is one of the most impressive railroads in Gaea, and today you got the chance to travel on one of the busiest lines in the region.

 

As expected from a first class cabin, your seat was cushy yet elastic enough to hold your weight.  The seats were designed to be able to slide horizontally for positioning purposes, and so everyone has moved them somewhat to give themselves some arm space before the wooden table next to the windows. The flowery, yet light scent of the Meracus No. 6 Fragrance filled the air, reminding you again that Meracus is known for its exotic and exorbitant spices, highly sought after by men and women of the high society.

Through the windows, you could see crop fields cutting the land into a checkered mattress. Farmers rode tractors through the fields, and the cloudy skies colored the ponds dotting the hills a clayish gray.

 

The tawny walls of the cabin served their purpose quite well, considering that you could hardly hear anything from the neighboring rooms. The only sound that would backdrop your meeting would be the rhythmic knocking of the train wheels.

 

 

--

 

 

With everyone seated, Bellos rose up from his seat and paced to the front of the table to begin the meeting. At the moment, aside from taking part in the same journey, the only thing you had in common with everyone else in the room would be your experience with Bellos Tavalri.


It felt like he was looking for you - a person to help fix the state of things - than the other way around. Perhaps he had an eye for a capable person, as if he had been looking for talented people for years. Or maybe it was something even deeper, like he could see a tinge of dissatisfaction from your gaze. You were just minding your own business, and then he stood in your way.

 

"Do you want to visit Chrysopolis? Together, we can make it happen."

 

He said, with a friendly smile.

 

Considering the ongoing Gaean politics, there was only one way to interpret this offer - do you want to see the Arch Monolith? And then, a few more exchanges revealed that he was rounding up an adventuring party to make the journey. And finally, he arranged with you to meet at Tarchev Train Station today.

 

You knew he was a nobleman from the old world, and with him wearing the royal insignia, it was clear that he wasn't at all trying to hide the fact. And that fact also lead you to conclude that he was indeed rich enough to actually fund the journey.

 

In the end, you decided to put some of your trust in him and showed up in Tarchev, where he handed you the train ticket - First Class, Tarchev to Kaagan, for a measly 50 Tis - the price of a cheap bowl of noodles prepared by a street vendor.

 

The Meracus Express' first class tickets are notoriously cheap for a reason; the Meracus Monolith has unofficially sponsored train robbers to, in a sense, collect "extra charges" from first class passengers, which can fluctuate greatly as these robbers name their price according to each passenger's status. The rich likes to call the curve their price runs on the smile curve, because they just kill off poor fools who think they are actually rich enough to afford the full cost of a first class ticket. And they don't mind paying the robbers off anyway, with most of them having some sort of a relationship with the Monolith's colonial businesses.

 

To make the robbers' job even easier, none of the doors in First Class cabins are equipped with locks.

 

 

--

 

 

The pale-skinned noble revealed a fairly clean map of Gaea and put it on the table. He laid his index finger upon the little dot marked  "Tarchev," and slid it through the Meracus region to arrive in the other dot marked "Kaagan." He then laid out the plans verbally - you'd go through the Forest of Chloropylae once you arrived in Kaagan. The forest is a key passage between the regions of Meracus and Kaleiga, after all.

 

"We should be there in an hour. You won't be sleeping through most of it, though. If you're the kind who buys first class tickets often, you should know what's coming up next." Bellos said casually as he stowed the map away. "While we wait for the Monolith's goons to knock our doors, why not introduce yourselves? Appearances can be deceiving, after all."

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"Nice to meet y'all, name's Juliane, Julianne Fairchild", the disheveled youth put emphasis on the last name, as if expecting it to mean something. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't, she didn't seem to wait for a response either way. "I'm from Galazio, gramps used to run a dojo there. but that was a long time ago." She sprawls out that little bit more, now taking up enough seating for a whole two people.

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"Nemesis." The cloaked figure had remained almost perfectly still and silent on taking a seat, except for an impatient tapping of the foot that happened at an oddly precise interval of once every half second. Similarly, after giving the almost-certainly-false moniker, Nemesis fell silent once more. A shift of the head indicated that he was glancing around the room, assessing what he saw. This entire trip would have been nonsense already if it wasn't for the fact that the man was clearly testing their competence; he had the look of someone who didn't need to worry about paying for a trip like this. The only consolation was getting to off the pawns of the other nobility and disrupt their cruel little game with the hopeful poor.

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A muscly mountain of a man in a suit tips his hat at Julianne after she introduced herself, before he says, "It is a pleasure to meet you Ms. Julianne," with a polite and deep tone of voice, standing up and bowing at everyone before he continues with, "My name is Mr. Richard B. Spencer, I am a tailor by trade, but I have trained in the martial arts in my spare time, and I hope that we will all become firm allies in our quest, thank you."

 

He sat back down the moment he finished speaking, starting to hum a little to a jaunty old tune as he waited for everyone else to introduce themselves.

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"Good to meet you." A taller, well-dressed as adventurers went, woman said to the others, glancing between them all. "My name is Eleanor Julia Flores. I so look forward to us working together. Our success is practically assured already!" she spoke casually, with a gleam of excitement to it. "I trust you're all aware of what the good sir means, about what comes next? I don't dare think he expects us to handle it the usual way, so this shall be some fun, no?"

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"Ah yes, the monolith's 'tax collecters', bunch of ruffians and bandits through and through, I'm not usually predisposed to violence, but regretfully it seems that a sound thrashing or two will be necessary," Richard stretches his limbs just a littl after he says this, keeping his muscles all nice and limber up abefore he continues with, "So yes I do believe that some 'fun' will be had, Miss Flores. Although the question is, what direction will they choose to assail us from? I wonder...."

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The sound of a spoon hitting the side of a cup could be heard from where the last member of the group sat. Looking over the other would see a rather small looking lady in the traditional outfit of the church sitting mixing some sugar into a cup as tea with a rather large instrument case sitting next to her. Once she was done stirring her tea she looked at the others. "If they are sinful people taken in by greed then we must first offer them the chance for repentance before eliminating them as heretics." she said in a rather unsettling calm tone before taking a sip of her tea. "Oh, where are my manners. Sister Henrietta. Its a pleasure to meet you." She said with a cheerful smile contrasting her previous statements tone.   

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Everyone

 

 

After some more waiting, the cabin door slid open as expected. One tall man made his grand entrance inside, dressing quite formally - a blue tux and a black cape with a black hat, fairly standard for classy wearing. He wore a white mask that resembled a bird's beak, perhaps to hide his identity on the off chance that he gets on bad terms with some of the rich people he's robbing.

His eyes swept past every single one of you instantly, and before he took another step, he had already finished assessing your prices. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!" He announced in a crisp and confident voice. "We're here to collect donations from our lovely, charitable guests," three more bird-masked figures followed his footsteps into your room mid-sentence, "in exchange, the land of Meracus shall prosper, and you'll be able to sit through the entire journey with your mind at ease." He began to raise his shotgun - previously cloaked - against all of you, while the three figures behind him flashed their scimitars. "We simply ask for a mere fifty thousand Tis. Checks will do."

Their stances had already given it away - they weren't expecting resistance at all. They might be "professional" robbers, but they were certainly the most amateur of fighters. Nemesis and Eleanor could crack the first guy's bird head open with a quick draw before he even got to aim properly. Richard and Julianne both could lunge at him for a swift take-down, too.
 

Bellos did not even turn to greet the unwanted visitors. You reckoned that if he wanted to, he could draw his katana and cut the first guy down, but instead he just kept up that smile, a smile of hopeful expectations, with his hands still on the table. He was definitely not planning on "donating" to the Meracus Monolith and his underlings today.

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Henrietta sat her teacup down onto its plate as the robber talked to them. Once he finished talking she turned to him and looked him straight in the eyes despite her shorter stature. "Welcome, have you come to ask a sister of the cloth to grant you repentance for your sinful life of wanton greed?" She asked the man in a completely serious tone not taking her eyes off of him.

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Henrietta

 

Henrietta displayed the kind of grace that echoed the Creator's code, offering light to a Manavi who had found himself bound by the primitive desires that drive the Teras, only to receive a frivolous laughter. The bird-masked man had dropped his act entirely.

 

"Okay that's enough. Y'all are playing dumb, and frankly I don't like it. I'm not on the grandest train in all of Gaea to be lectured by a nun. You seem to be new here, eh? Well, news flash! The rules in the old world don't apply here! Now this, is what goes here!" He shouted back at the party, but more specifically, Henrietta, as he pointed the barrel of his shotgun directly at her.

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Eleanor had wanted to give Henrietta a shot at... whatever it was she wanted. But that evidently hadn't worked out. "Not really new, no. Just not in the mood right now." she said. She moved very quickly as the man raised his shotgun. One moment, the noblewoman seemed totally relaxed, unconcerned by the situation. The next her hand flashed to her holsters, her pistols were in her hands, and they were aimed right at the guy with the shotgun. "Time for some fun, yes?" she said with a smirk as she pulled the triggers to blow the man away - a wonderful way to kick things off, if she said so herself. 

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Richard's grip on the table tightened a little as he heard the bandit bark out his response to Henrietta's earnest call for repentance, and he shook his head a little as his more excitable colleague un-holstered her pistols, "Good grief, they truly are nothing but a bunch of good for nothing ruffians huh?," his fingers dug in deeply into the table itself as he prepared to tear a piece of it out, "Just a worthless waste of space!," and he threw the piece at the nearest scimitar wielder a little after Eleanor started to open fire, attempting to launch himself at them as well to punch inside of their chest while they're distracted.

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Everyone

 

Eleanor's bullet tore through the man's arrogant words and burrowed into his head. His pupils shrunk, him struggling to comprehend what had just happened, as he stumbled backwards and fell flat on the floor. His accomplices had but a brief moment to take in the sudden counterattack, which was then followed by a flying piece of premium wood and the massive man that threw it.

 

The wood knocked one guy right back into the hallway, while the other two were torn apart by Richard's fists and reduced to a pile of metal parts. The sole survivor, finally realizing what to do against the impossible odds, shouted "THEY'RE FIGHTING BACK, HEL-" before he too was brutally executed by the tailor.

 

 

In mere seconds, the robbers from the neighboring cabins emerged, and they did not like what they see. At all. But was it even possible to run from Death himself?


Three men on both ends of the hallway, shouting their war cries as they smashed their shotguns' triggers in a desperate attempt to take down Richard.

 

 

--

 

Meanwhile, inside the cabin the party was in, the first guy's body twitched on and on. With his head gone, he had little control over his limbs and was practically incapacitated, and so the natural reaction was to struggle like a fish on dry land. If someone were merciful enough, they'd take his body to a foundry where he could get a new head again, or they'd end his pitiful existence now by destroying his heart, so that he wouldn't have to die a long and arduous death as he ran out of power.

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As the bullets begin flying Julianne leaps out of her seat, scooping a scimitar off the ground and into her grasp. 

 

There's a flash of steel and a crash of glass. The window is broken, the girl is gone. 

 

Outside the train a black specter streaks through the air, swinging backwards, back towards the train, to the same carriage but a different window. Amdist the howling of air, there's a soft click as the two belts link together. A cloth spear to strike from afar, and a blade to strike up close. Not a bad combo. 

 

Twirling her new weapon in her hand, Julianne tests the weight and balance of the sword. It'll do for now. Wrapping the spear around herself, the girl comes crashing through the window feet-first. 

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Nemesis simply unsheathed the katana, plunged it into the man's chest, and returned it to its place without a word. He pulled the revolver from his belt to replace the weapon and stepped over the fresh corpse. He poked his head into the hall just long enough to get a read on where the men were, then snapped off three shots down it with quick, cold precision, sending bullets flying at the three men that were furthest away from Richard. 

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As the other robbers started to desperately crawl out of the woodwork, Richard stood there and crushed the remaining robber's heart with one hand, taking a deep breath to center himself and feed air into his boilers as they pointed their shotguns at him, before with a cry of "Useless useless," he jumped straight through the ceiling, intending to propel himself through the air with plumes of steam before he crashes straight through the roof to crush some unlucky robbers/close the distance to put tear them into little pieces.

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Henrietta puffed her checks at the others it was her job to punish heretic. As Richard jumped she took her minigun out of its case as she moved out of the room and looked for a group of bandits away from any of the other rooms so she wouldn't haven to worry about hitting many other passengers. Once she found some she would rain lead down on them for denying the light of the lord.

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Everyone

 

Shotgun shells grazed past Richard's legs as he jumped right through the ceiling, punching a hole in its as he soared into the skies, soaking the dry air with steam pouring out of his body. While they recoiled backwards to get ready to catch him as he predictably landed, Nemesis had just wrapped up the mess inside. With a bit of consideration towards Richard's trajectory, he took out three gunmen that Richard would miss with deadly precision - a bullet to the heart for each, just in time for the tailor in question to crash through the roof again and crush the other bunch of gunmen.


More robbers came from the end away from the engine room, but they couldn't advance much further as Henrietta sent them scurrying back into the cabins after taking out two of their cronies with a deluge of bullets. They couldn't hide for long, though.

 

Bellos was visibly content with the party's performance, giving his applause.

 

--

 

Some more robbers were coming toward the party's cabin from the end closer to the engine room, but they all stopped before the connecting section of the cars, terrified by the massacre at hand. "You can't beat them." Someone shouted from the back of the crowd, a deep voice that carried a lifetime of burdens. "Leave this to me."

 

[Music]

Spoiler

 

 

The robbers began to make way for the person who spoke. A towering figure emerged from the crowd with heavy footsteps, standing in a whopping 7 foot. His gray face was chiseled like an ancient statue, and his yellow eyes were so ferocious that they seemed to pierce your souls with lightning bolts. His long, spiky black hair ran down his back, like a ferocious dragon flying along a cliff. His brown jacket barely covered his upper body, revealing a cross-shaped scar on top of gray muscles. One thing was for sure - this guy was nowhere near as frail as the other goons.

 

His appearance had already given away his identity to Richard and Nemesis, and maybe Julianne too once she saw him. He was none other than the Iron Titan of Meracus, one of the many "success stories" in Gaea - A mere miner from the Kingdom of Fornax in the old world, turned into a mighty general in the new world.

 

But right now, he was none of that. He was just Tohl. Tohl Ashman. A troubled man who had fallen out of the Meracus Monolith's favor due to rising cyborg competitions.

 

"Get. Off. My. Train."

 

Light shined through the windows in the hallways, casting off the sharp saw blades on his large shotgun. He could fire it at any second, and it would definitely not be good news for any of you. He resumed his steps, stepping closer and closer to the party's cabin.

 

Bellos heard the voice of the Iron Titan, and frowned ever so slightly. "What a shame," he blurted out, though only Eleanor heard it. With one more sigh, he said to her, "They'll need your help too. Don't worry about me."


--

Meanwhile, Julianne broke into a neighboring cabin through the windows, and landed on a table full of pottery. On the chairs were a fine gentleman in a brown suit and his lady. Or so you thought, because on the second glance you realized that it was in fact a life-sized doll in a white dress. He said to the intruder in an incredibly passive and calm tone, "You're bothering us. Please leave us alone."

 

The door was wide open, and you could see the robbers' corpses right at the doorsteps.

 

 

--

 

Right now, Tohl was standing a few feet away from the cabin Julianne got in. Then it was Nemesis, standing outside the party's cabin. Finally it was Richard, standing on top of a pile of corpses, and Henrietta, who was the furthest away.

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Henrietta looked over at the new enemy who appeared something in the back of her mind told her that she should be careful against this enemy. Giving a short prayer to the lord for his guidance she hit a switch on her gun causing a heavy metal plates to pop out of it covering most of the small nun's body. "Get down everyone." She called out as she unleashed a barrage of gunfire down the hall at Tohl.

 

Henrietta uses triple augmentation to switch out Heat resistance layering for Deployable frontal defense giving herself +2 armor. and fire at Tohl if possiable.

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Eleanor nods to the man, and follows her allies out of the cabin and into the hall, seeing the Iron Titan - and, seeing the threat, would quickly start firing down range, aiming at the gun and the hand holding it as best she could in the short time to aim - hopefully making it so that a shot wouldn't be nearly as easy as one might expect. 

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Nemesis frowned beneath their mask. Tohl Ashman. Well, if he was here, and hostile, then he would die like the rest. Nemesis snapped off another trio of shots, already in motion and ducking behind a wall. As soon as the third bullet left the barrel, they were reloading the weapon with mechanical precision - only to return it to its holster. Nemesis took the opportunity to get something with a bit more power ready; the bolt action rifle went from a back sling to their hands as the torrent of machine gun fire sounded from just down the hall. The cramped halls of a train weren't the greatest place for the weapon, but it was also the best way to remove someone sturdy from combat, and it might even penetrate the walls of the train if his luck held out.

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Julianne salutes and walks towards the door, slowly, infuriatingly slowly. Whoever that was didn't sound happy, best take her time and wait for a scream or a counter assault. She waits for the figure to move forwards further, just a little bit further, further enough til she could see them, she didn't need much, just a glimpse, a glimpse of what she was up agains- Is that Tohl? Tohl, The Iron Titan? General Tohl Ashman?

 

Well, here goes nothing.

 

Spinning as she rushes forwards, Julianne unravels the spear wrapped against her body, the tip of the unfurling belt scything out faster and fast as her steam erupts through her systems with a final step and jump, the girl delivers a vicious kick to the "spearhead" sending it lancing out, aimed right at Tohl's trigger hand, or failing that, the side of his shotgun. With any luck, it could break something, a thumb, a trigger, or trigger finger even, muscled he may be, but it won't protect the smaller more delicate parts of his body. And if luck wasn't on her side, well, it should at least force the gun away, create an opening.

 

Not that she was planning on using any, the others could settle it, they had guns after all. As soon as her strike connected, finger or gun, Julianne would be getting the hell out, quick reels hissing to life and hurling back out the same way she came in-  through that gentleman's window. From there, who knows where she'll be, not Tohl, that's for sure.

 

Expend stockpiled steam. Aim to break his weapon hand if it looks feasible, else aim to knock the gun away, reel backwards out the window so that in order for him to fire back, he'd have to swing his weapon back past his original position to fire upon Julianne.

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Richard did what any sensible person would do when someone threatens to hose his position down with minigun fire, and that is get the hell out of his current position, namely by making a nice and clean hole out the right side of the train, and attempting to fly up to a position where his extended meteor hammer hand could bring the roof and itself down on Tohl.

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Everyone

 

Nemesis' three bullets dug into the Iron Titan's chest, stopping his advance, though the armor seemed to have absorbed a decent chunk of the impact. He wasn't expecting the shady cowboy of all people to surrender anyway, and so he steeled his heart and readied himself to fire at Nemesis. Eleanor followed, trying to score a shot on the man's trigger, though she missed her mark in the end. Meanwhile, Richard proved to be the most civilized person on the train again by punching a hole in the wall and flying out of it, getting away from both Tohl and Henrietta's line of fire.

 

But then, Julianne sprung right out of the cabin in front of Tohl, along with the unraveling belt shining as it waved past a window in the hallway, alerting him to the new threat. But her moves were not only flashy but also deadly nimble, so much so that he had no way to mount a counterattack before the girl delivered a roundhouse kick to the improvised cloth spear, sending it right in his direction.

 

In just a blink of an eye, the belt scored a critical hit... He intentionally lowered his upper body to let his shoulder take the blow instead! He let out a grunt, reeling one step backwards. His left arm reached for the deceptively powerful belt, tugging it down just when Julianne was reeling it back. With his strength on top of his sheer weight, he proved to be able to tug with the acrobat.

 

And he wasn't about to let her get away scot-free. With a new target in his sight, he smashed that trigger right away, trading his right shoulder for her right elbow. A slug drilled right through Julianne's elbow, blowing it up clean. Her forearm snapped and fell on the floor, along with the scimitar it was holding. The slug went on to fly by Nemesis and Eleanor, before making a small dent on Henrietta's armor. Julianne wasn't about to get pinned down, though, and with another click, she was already reeling back through the window she came in from, knocking the poor gentleman's silverware all over the place once again.

 

And that left the ex-general with just a useless belt. And Henrietta, with her guns primed and rolling. A merciless deluge of bullets washed the hallway clean, brutally drilling through the Iron Titan's armor. He began to laugh, pressing through the deadly storm despite taking massive damage. "I've eaten worse than any of you scums! COME ON!" Three seconds was just enough for him to make it to the door of the cabin Julianne was in, yet it was also enough for his frontal armor to be nearly completely eroded. And to make matters worse for Tohl, the roof suddenly came down on him, with Richard dunking it with his meteor hammer. He was so close to a safe cover, but the Creator had stopped giving him mercy a long time ago. Henrietta stopped firing upon seeing the wreck Richard had made, avoiding friendly fire.

 

Yet another flawless victory. So much for the name, Iron Titan.

 

The henchmen in the back could only watch with incredible fear. Even the Iron Titan was no match for the ragtag team of deadly fighters. They wavered, their legs trembled.

 

...

 

Something smelled funny. Like, something was burning. And it smelled like... a womb, a foundry.

 

Suddenly, a hand made of magma burst out of the scrap metal beneath Richard, along with a wave of flames. It reached for his calves, but he managed to jump away in time, though he still got quite the burn from the flames. "IS THIS WHAT THE CREATOR HAS IN STORE FOR ME, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?" More flames began to erupt out of the piece of roof Richard had torn, now melting. Something that looked more like a mythical demon than a Manavi emerged from the debris, but the shape was still vaguely similar. Tohl had melted into a titan of magma. Fire began to rise from the embers flying out of his body.

 

He began to step toward Richard, and, by extension, the rest of the party. He was walking at a snail's pace, though. Something of note was that he was actually not melting through the floor. It seemed that he had intentionally left a fairly thick layer of metal beneath his feet untouched.

 

 

--

 

In meantime, the goons behind Henrietta finally snapped back to their senses, and decided to actually help out their only hope. As Henrietta was busy dealing with Tohl, a birdhead jumped at her, trying to wrestle control out of her machine gun, and another tried to cut her by the neck, though unfortunately his scimitar couldn't cut through her armor effectively.

 

--

 

Julianne would be rightfully alarmed by all the flames and smoke rising from down below, but something else was perhaps even more pressing. An awfully pink figure was on the roof as well, on far end of the train, and she was approaching fast from the engine room. She stopped right before the car everyone else was on. Up close, she got a better look at her. She dressed terribly Eastern, with a pink kimono wrapped up to be more suited for fighting, and she even had a brown bun on her head. Though, she was unarmed as far as you could tell.

 

"Aww... You're making this hard for us," she said, faking a jarring cutesy tone. "But I should thank you for putting up such a resistance, forcing Tohl to reveal his trump card. This is my first time seeing it, after all~"

 

"Anyway. I'm here to make sure that you all don't get away. My boss has a reputation to keep, unfortunately. Let's get to work, shall we?"

 

She began to run toward you, jumping over the wrecked roof easily, and suddenly, sharp metal claws grew out of her hands, flashing under the sunlight. "Presenting, Tokai Yasha Ken!"

 

--

 

The train left the spice fields and began to ramp up along some hills. A decently long bridge was up ahead, going over a river with some boats on it.

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Well, that would be why they called him the Iron Titan. Not that it was going to slow Nemesis down. "The floor," he said simply, but loud enough to be heard by the rest of the group. He leaned out and fired one bullet into the floor of Tohl for emphasis, then darted down the hall and away from Tohl, weaving until he could reach the next cabin, where he repeated the process. He was trying to weaken the floor of the train so that the great bulk of the man would do the work for him. Sure, it probably wouldn't be great for the train, but it would be worse for Tohl.

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