Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 4-20-2014

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How does Pram react?

Poll ended at Thu Jun 05, 2014 4:32 am

Flip the fuck out
Ordered, ladylike response
Time for tea
Total votes : 13

Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 4-20-2014

Postby axmanjack » Sat Jan 18, 2014 12:24 am

Hey everybody,
Due to a few requests by people in the original thread, I'm starting a new thread for Steam.
It's the thread you're in right now.
Neat huh?

Steam is an erotic steampunk adventure full of magic, intrigue, sword fights, trains and sex.
Expect updates monthly (quicker if I get a bunch of support).
This story is going to be very long! And complicated!
Check it out below.

Also, check out my already finished story, Pressia, at the link below.

Prologue and Chapter One
Spoiler (click to show/hide):


Prologue | The Lady Turandot

Sylvia dug her feet into the sand, trying to push herself up far enough under the burning sheet of metal that she wouldn’t be seen. The air was on fire. The sky was scorched, soot-black and snowing bits of gray ash that collected here and there in powdery drifts. Her broken right arm still clutched the grip of a ruined revolver, but she couldn’t force her hand to open. The arm was numb. Her mouth tasted like blood.
Amid the screams and wrenching crackle of metal burning for miles down the track behind her, Sylvia could hear the footsteps of searchers outside of her hidey-hole. She held her breath and counted the seconds. Foreign voices, male. The screech of something dying. Ice cold mountain wind howling through the shattered remnants of railcar. A pair of booted feet moved into view.
Her terrified mind drank in every detail, stretched every rotten second into an hour. The boots were made of thick, brown leather, well-worn and streaked black and grey from the accumulating ash. Woven cotton thongs interlaced up their fronts, crisscrossing at hard angles up through iron eyelets polished silver from constant friction. Riveted steel plates hung like dragon scales on spats above the boots, and, beneath them, heavy, red uniform pants. The owner of the boots turned his feet to face her.
The world seemed so quiet. She could feel the sting of every cold, raspy breath, could hear it vibrating through her chest. Her numb, broken arm began to shake, rattling the bent barrel of the revolver against the ground. Sylvia grabbed her wrist with her good hand and pulled hard. Pins and needles became daggers and spears in the bad arm, razor blades against her frail nerves that made her mind sway. Another rasping breath. Another. Another. The boots don’t move.
Sylvia blinks back tears of helpless frustration. Just do it you bastard, God damn you, just do it. Her nose was running, but she didn’t notice. How was it so quiet? A gloved hand, tooled to match the boots, reached down and wrapped its fingers around the edge of the bit of metal shielding. Sylvia’s body tensed. Her mind went black. The hand pulled her shelter up and away from her. She screamed and tried to swing the revolver around to bear, but her dumb arm ignored the command.
One of the boots flew forward in an arc, connecting with her jaw and sending her sprawling. She came to with it pressing down hard on her bad arm, and watched as the gloved hand pried the gun from her fingers and tossed it aside. Somebody grabbed her by the back of her neck, his grip nearly encircling her throat, and she was pulled to her feet. A single, gruff command and a sharp jab to her lower back.
Sylvia nodded and complied. Her eyes wandered. Red-cloaked figures moved like phantoms through the white, steaming mists of the smoldering wreckage. They picked through the ruins, noiselessly going about their work as the night winds and the wounded survivors screamed around them. The railcar had derailed in the saddle between two mountains, and now lay bundled up and twisted over itself like a section of discarded intestine. Her captor moved her past a stack of bodies, all in white uniforms. The Imperium escort detail that had been sent along with the railcar.
Sylvia’s escort led her to the end of a line of other prisoners, some too wounded even to kneel, and forced her down beside them. She looked down the row, catching the frightened eyes of a few people she knew. Some of them cried, and others just stared out into the wreckage, waiting for what they knew was coming.
“No… please, no,” begged some pitiful voice from the other side of the line. Sylvia looked down to see Berthold, the assistant quartermaster, being drug away. “No, no!” She felt the entire line flinch when the gunshot rang out, quieting Berthold. A woman in the line began to cry.
A rough hand grabbed her by the hair and yanked her to her feet, and Sylvia found herself muttering the same, pitiful pleas. God she wanted to die with some dignity, but her legs gave out beneath her and she was dragged the rest of the way by her scalp and dropped before another pair of boots. She sobbed, curling around her wounded arm and not bothering to wipe the mess of tears, snot and soot from her face. The hand in her hair forced her to face forward.
“Hello,” the man before her said in Caanish, the language of the mid-westerners. He was a large, grey-haired man, with a dour, bored expression and the weatherworn face of a lifelong outdoorsman. His gaze was unavoidable, and she couldn’t break eye contact with him. “Do you speak a real language?” Sylvia hesitated, confused, and he waved a hand at the man holding her hair. He began dragging her away when she found her voice.
“Yes,” she said, her words cracking on the ice in her throat. “Yes!” She screamed the second time, and the grey-haired man held up a halting hand.
“I am Colonel Foucault, commander of first mountaineers, third regiment. Who are you?” With a nod of his head the hand in her hair released her, letting her fall on her butt. She had to swallow a few times before continuing.
“Sy-Sylvia Messerschmitt, sir, I—“ Sylvia swallowed again. Her left leg shook so bad it made her rock back and forth. “I am… I am the… Steam Trainer, a Steam Trainer, for the Compton Electrical and Locomotive Union. I’m… a civilian sir, please, I don’t want to die.”
“Nobody wants to die, Sylvia Messerschmitt of the Compton Electrical and Locomotive Union,” Foucault said. He gestured to the soldier behind her and, with a complicated series of hand gestures. Tears streamed down her face as the soldiers began systematically executing the prisoners. “Thank your God that you are useful to me. You will see the sun rise today.” Sylvia sucked breath into her lungs, forcing herself to breathe through the tears.
“Thank you,” she said. A stream of blood began moving down the hill, cutting a path through the ash. Its tributaries grew with every gunshot, thickening the stream into a river that plunged, hot and steaming, ever westward. The soldier helped Sylvia to her feet, a bit more easily this time. “Thank you.”

Chapter One | Sunrise

Pram tangled her fingers up in the thick locks of Bennett’s hair and pulled his face into her neck. He moved with little resistance to her collarbone, running his tongue over it and up the side of her neck, biting down just as he pushed inside her. She gasped, pulled his head back and kissed him hard on the mouth. For a brief moment, their breathing fell into sync with the rhythmic pumps of his hips between her legs. He braced himself against the headboard with one hand and pushed her back down against the bed with the other.
The rough callouses on his palms scratched at the smooth, brown skin of her shoulder. Bennett’s hands were indelicate, strong and she relished him for his coarseness. She released her grip on his hair and lay back, letting his rough palm move down over her throat, and then down further to cup her breast. She bit her lip. He picked up speed. Sweat beaded up on both their faces despite the cool air blowing in from the tower window.
Pram could see the first traces of sunlight leaking over the eastern hills. It poured into the room in beams through the fluttering blue of the silk curtains. It highlighted the harsh, angular lines of Bennett’s face, glimmered in the sweat on his skin as it ran down across his chest, and cast shadows between the taught, flexing muscles of his abdomen. His eyes were a darker shade of blue than the curtains. His hair was a lighter shade of black than the fading night outside. Pram found him incredibly dull, but he was a great way to waste a morning.
Her body shivered, approaching climax, and her legs flexed involuntarily against his sides. He moved his hands to grip behind her knees and pushed down hard, moving her feet past her head. The suddenness of the motion hurt and she gasped.
“Are you OK?” He asked, slowing down.
“Don’t stop,” she responded, covering his hands with hers and pulling back further. He obliged, wrapping his hands behind her back and around her shoulders and picking up the momentum. The surge took her breath away. She bit down on his shoulder, but he kept pace. His skin tasted like sweat and leather and sex and she couldn’t get enough and then she came, her nails digging hard into the skin of her legs. Warm, buttery ecstasy flooded her mind, turned every nerve into a hot pinprick of light. For a moment, nothing mattered. Nothing at all.
“Did you?” Bennett asked, slowing up a bit.
“Yeah,” Pram replied softly. She traced the contours of his chest muscles with a fingernail, and then pulled his lips to hers. They kissed, lips barely brushing. Teeth bit down gently, tugging. The flick of one tongue against another. His stubble on her cheek. Her nails on his back. The weight of his body, his hands tracing the curves of her skin.
“Where should I…” he asked without finishing the sentence.
“On me,” she said lazily, “not in me.” He kissed her again, pulled out, and stood on his knees. She looked up at him, all taut muscles glistening in the rising sunlight, and rubbed his flanks with a contented calf muscle. He stroked himself with a single hand, his eyes clenched shut until he came onto her stomach. He wiped the hot little droplets off of her with a towel before they had a chance to cool, and then flopped down onto the sheets beside her.
He smiled playfully, rubbing her side with his hand pushing his hand beneath her head. They kissed. A steam whistle howled to life in the crisp morning air outside. Pram turned away from Bennett and picked her father’s black wristwatch from the bedside table.
“That was the seven o’clock to Morrissey,” she said aloud, feeling the clockwork inside the watch turning over itself in her hand. “I’ve got to be at the platform in an hour.” She groaned and let Bennett cradle her head on his shoulder. She draped an arm over him and kissed his chest, hating the sun rising in the window.
“Me too,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “Somebody changed the manifest yesterday afternoon and we’ve got to recheck the back 80 cars before departure.”
“Sounds terrible,” she said, sitting up and fumbling around the dark side of the bed for a shirt.
“Yeah,” he said, sitting up beside her. “But at least I don’t have to get set on fire for my job.” She chuckled, he had a point. Bennett summoned a hobo’s flame in his right hand, filling the dark side of the room with ugly white light. Pram squinted at it, and then found her oversized, button-up pajama shirt beside Bennett’s ugly, orange and blue striped boxer shorts. She stood and pulled the shirt on over her head.
“I wish I could do that,” she said, pointing at the hobo’s flame. “It’s so convenient.” Bennett laughed and dispelled it, picking up his boxers in the process.
“Yeah, and I wish I was I larger conduit, so I could a real job instead of being a maintenance monkey for fancy Steam Trainers like you,” he said, grinning and leaning in for a kiss. She leaned away, smiling.
“Put some pants on,” she said, “I need a shower and you’ve got to go.” Bennett pulled on his boxers and they kissed again. “I’ll see you later, OK?”
“Yeah,” he said, and then he was gone.
Pram showered and got dressed, strapping her father’s watch to her wrist as she moved to the window looking out over the town. The Bailey Hub was slow to rise in the morning, and she could only see the shadowy outlines of a few morning commuters shuffling back and forth to whatever drudgery the day was going to bring. She had only been here a few times before the war began, and even after the Imperium built up the Hub to handle supply missions, the townsfolk had changed very little.
Conflicts in the west were nothing new to Bailey, it had been a frontier town for hundreds of years now, captured and repatriated a hundred times before the Imperium had existed. The same tired-faced Plebes would be still be wandering across those cracked grey pavers a thousand years from now, listlessly working themselves to death in pointless ignominy. Another steam whistle pealed out its cry into the morning air, the seven-thirty to Dulles Dane Mills. Time to go.
Pram locked the door to the tower apartment behind her and turned the key in at the desk downstairs. The clerk, entirely too cheery for the early hour, smiled and had her sign out on the register.
“Thank you for staying with us ma’am,” said the clerk. Pram wondered to herself if the girl couldn’t blink, or just chose not to.
“Yeah, thanks,” replied Pram, pulling her wallet out of her side bag and sliding a twenty across the desk. “Hey, could you have somebody run my bags over to platform 2B? Just have them drop them at the Compton E&L head office and give them my name. Pram Beazley, it’s on all the bags too.” The clerk nodded.
“Of course, ma’am,” she said, “and thank you again for staying with Bailey Castle Tower Suites.” Pram halfheartedly returned her smile and left through the refurbished castle’s massive, studded-oak doors. The streets were still relatively quiet outside, and a cold mist hung low over the cobbled stone streets, still wet from the last night’s rain.
The air was chilly, and it had the sort of mid-fall coldness to it that sank into the skin slowly until it got to the bone. Her uniform, a set of heavy canvas shorts and a vest over a skintight, black thermal suit that covered all but her hands and neck, provided little heat, but it was a short few blocks to the platform. Her heavy soled boots clacked loudly against the ground as she walked, and the echoing taps of her footfalls were the only noticeable sound on the quiet streets.
The few trees lining the side of the main boulevard that led to the platform had begun shedding their fall regalia, leaving whole swaths of the ground covered in formless red and gold mosaics. The wet leaves would occasionally stick to the sides of her feet every few steps, only to fall off moments later. It made her think of her train, up ahead, and the steady ticking of her father’s watch.
The sound of the station grew steadily louder as she approached, a tumultuous roar of voices, clattering cars and the constant rushing bustle of foot traffic up and down the platform. The press of bodies inside the station kept it warm, despite its lack of a dedicated heating system, and Pram took a moment to stretch and shake off the cold. Her tryst with Bennett had left her sore, in a good way, though it did make stretching her legs somewhat addictive. She got warm thinking of him, despite herself.
Pram rolled her eyes at her own schoolgirl foolishness and moved through the throng of bodies toward the Compton E&L field office at platform B2. Most of the people here were military, she noticed, wishing she were taller to better see where she was going. The rest were an assorted hodgepodge of traders, regular passengers and employees of the three rail companies that were currently operating out of the Bailey Hub. Something made her shiver.
A pair of black eyes caught hers through the crowd, locked on them. The glimpse only lasted a moment. Thick, unruly black hair, a shock-white face and the sharp features of a bird or a snake. She froze, unease seeping into her stomach like oil from a broken feed line. Her hair stood on end. Then, it was over, shaken off like the odd case of déjà vu. Despite the warmth of the station, Pram found herself rubbing her arms the rest of the way to the office.

Nash leaned against one of the platform’s support columns and yawned, popped his neck, and absent-mindedly thumbed through the free train schedule he had taken from a rack of pamphlets by the customs window. “Ride! With The Pride of The Imperium,” said blocky typeface over the family of four smiling in front of some huge commuter engine. He could make out the outline of the White Fingers looming in the distance behind the train, and the tip of Mount Granger partially blocking out the sun behind them. The Fingers are called the Granger Pass on this side of the continent, he reminded himself, flipping over the pamphlet.
The information held little use for Nash. He had spent the last few days holed up in a dingy little apartment on the south side of Bailey, memorizing every facet of the job. Less than a week to become a perfunctory expert on Compton E&L, the rail system and every crewmate and passenger. A tall order, but the money was worth it. Now that everything was in place, all he had to do was spot his mark. By far, the most boring portion of the job. He kept himself busy watching people shuffling through the station.
Hundreds of people stood in lines to get tickets, milled about the shops or rested on the golden framework of the benches that dotted each platform in uniform rows. A family of colonists, looking on the run from the troubles out west, huddled in a grey pile of moldering travel coats. Two young children rested their heads on the father’s lap. The man gazed off into the middle distance, his face covered in stubble and pulled low and slack from worry. The lot of them were fair-haired and light-eyed, likely Gunnervand immigrants. A grey-haired woman, possibly the mother, gently shook the father on the shoulder and motioned toward the platform. The peel of a whistle shrieked over the noise of the crowd, preceding the rumble of a train pulling into the station from the yard.
“Those western dogs are too ferocious for civilized interaction,” said a woman behind Nash. “I’ve heard they refused any possibilities of a peaceful resolution to this conflict.” Nash turned his back to the pillar and watched the conversation from the corner of his eye. Two plump ladies, covered from head-to-toe in the intricately woven silk fashionable in the eastern coastal cities, tittered back and forth to each other about politics behind gloved hands.
“Well I’ve heard that that’s all just Senate politics,” said the scarlet-haired second woman. Nash spotted a stain on her otherwise immaculate lace overcoat, a spot of red wine that stood out brilliantly against the garish white. It was a perfectly round dot, the size of an eyeball, just above the knee. Neither of the two noticed. “My husband says the Senate is trying to whip the plebes up into a frenzy, get them ready for an invasion of the west.” The other woman scoffed into the back of her hand. She caught Nash’s eye as she did so.
He winked at her, cracking half a smile and doffing the slender brim of his hat at her. She blushed, turned away and pulled at her friend’s wrist. They walked a few paces away, turned back to catch a glimpse of Nash, and then quickly rushed off down the platform, giggling like idiots. He ran a hand down his unfamiliar face, marveling at the power of stolen beauty as a wry smile curled his lips. The voice of the station manager came over the intercom system, instructing all passengers boarding the eight o’clock to Cullville. The masses obeyed, moving around Nash like water past a rock.
The crowd shrunk surged and receded as the arriving passengers pushed past their replacements. This shipment had brought with it a load of soldiers wearing the white uniforms of the Imperium. Troops heading for the front line. Most of them would probably end up on the same train he was getting on, which was a shame for them. They looked young.
Nash spotted his mark standing in line at a concession booth, barely visible behind a street conjurer performing simplistic spells for a group of children. He stood stock still, the shear thrill of accomplishment freezing him in place. His mind raced through possibilities, weighing the few available options against likelihoods of success. The best option was to wait. His eyes drank up every detail of the man he was about to kill.
The man was tall, just shy of two meters, with honey-blonde hair and blue eyes. His skin had the deep, golden-brown tan of an outdoorsman, and it was stretched taut over his muscular frame. The man moved away from the concession stand, dropping the cap of a drink bottle into the performer’s upturned cap. The performer didn’t notice the deceit, and formed a laughing face out of wavering light to thank him. Nash’s fingers twitched in anticipation.
His mark was an incredible specimen, pushing his lumbering frame through the crowd toward the train yard behind the station. The man had an arrogant sort of strut, his weight moving indelicately across the ground in long strides. There was little refinement to his motion, thought Nash, and he probably had little, if any, combat training. The approach would be speed, silence and opportunity. A harsh, shuddering breath was all Nash could muster as the man passed within a meter of him, completely unaware. When he was roughly thirty meters away, Nash began to follow.
He tipped down the brim of the hat over his eyes, just enough to not be spotted by the man should he turn around. The mark left a large wake in the crowd that Nash avoided. His appearance would immediately cause suspicion if he was seen too closely.
The crowd thinned as he stalked his quarry through the station. It made him easier to spot, but made his prey easier to follow. The far end of the station ended in a series of offices, storage hangars and the miles of tracks used to organize the routes of the incoming and outbound trains. His target stepped through a doorway into the back areas, and, after a moment, Nash followed him through.
The rear passages reeked of oil and overheated steel, and were much quieter than the conversation-filled din of the platform. The mission files had said the security would be lax, aside from active magic detection on the platform and in the train yard. He wasn’t disappointed. The few staff in the long, door-filled hallway bustled past, unconcerned, and there were no dedicated security guards.
The target stopped at an office door midway down the line, knocking twice and heading inside. Clocking in for work at Compton E&L, thought Nash. He took a seat on a bench in front of an unmarked supply office. The door to the office in front of him had been left open. A pretty young secretary sat at the desk inside the door, plucking away lazily at the keys of a typewriter. She looked up and caught his eye, and he smiled and winked. She blushed and went back to work, typing perhaps a bit quicker. Magic, he marveled.
A door closed down the hall and Nash saw the target coming towards him out of the corner of his eye. He feigned sleep, stretching out a bit on the bench, and the man passed him again, oblivious. The man walked past a few more doors, and then took a right through a set of double doors that led out to the yard. Nash followed at a brisk pace, only stopping when he heard the man’s voice in conversation with some unseen woman on the far side of the door. He promised to come see her when the train stopped for the night, breaking the promise even as he made it. They said goodbye to each other, fondly.
Nash heard the woman walking toward the door, her footsteps a great deal quieter than his target’s, and he swept the door open with a great flourish. He doffed his hat and bowed deeply, holding the door open for her with an embarrassingly loud “Madame.” His face was too low for her to see, and his very presence was awkward enough that she made a fast exit from the situation with little more than a mumbled thanks. When the heavy brown leather of her boots was out of sight, he continued the chase.
The train yard was a massive, interconnected jumble of glinting steel tracks winding their way over the gravel-covered ground toward the station. Rumbling engines and the clash of connecting train cars drowned out every other sound but the occasional squeal of wheels braking on the line. Nash quickly discarded the tall hat, jacket, and gloves of his disguise and rolled up his sleeves to his elbow. Being dressed as a dandy wouldn’t do him any good out here. He scanned the area for his mark and saw the man just as he turned the corner around the closest line of cars.
Nash looked around for any other personnel in the yard that were close enough to spot him, noting that the closest workers were about fifty meters away and busy at work. He hopped between the connectors of the closest line of trains, peeked up and down the line, and moved into the next alley. The mark was nowhere in sight.
He cursed to himself and jumped onto the next set of connectors. He peeked around the corner and spotted a group of mechanics sitting along the doorframe of an empty boxcar. He popped back around the side of the car before they noticed him, and ran a few cars up the track before jumping over the connectors into their alley. The mark wasn’t with them, and they weren’t with Compton E&L.
“Hey!” Nash called, getting their attention. They stopped talking and looked over at him, trying to squint through the sunlight rising over the glass roof of the platform behind him.
“You know where Compton E&L’s quartermaster is? I’ve got 30,000 liters of milk that needs to get loaded into an ice car before it spoils.”
“Uh, no,” one of the workers replied, shielding his eyes with his hand. “You try the office? You’re really not allowed to be out here.”
“Yeah I tried the office,” Nash said, “but I couldn’t find the guy and if I don’t get this stuff off the truck in the next hour I’m up shit creek without a paddle.” They talked among themselves for a second.
“The only Compton train that’s loading up is on line 5, headed for platform 2B,” the worker said. “Go three more lines down and you’ll see it.” The man pointed north and Nash waved and thanked him, running off between the cars. He jumped two more sets of couplings in rapid succession before spotting his mark, walking the line with a clipboard and inspecting the rails and couplings. His back was to Nash, and only twenty or so meters away. Too far for gravel below foot and the long, unbroken corridors of visible area between the lines.
Nash ducked back between the cars to think of the best approach when the cars began moving beneath him, pulling further into the yard and moving him closer to his target. It would be too easy to spot him standing on the couplings from the right angle. He thought for a second and then dropped down onto the track, letting the cars move over him. There was nearly a meter of space between the trestles and the suspension of the train, leaving Nash with plenty of space. He watched the suspension until he saw something that wasn’t moving or sharp looking and grabbed onto it, pulling himself up off the track.
The car moved him slowly down the line until he let go five cars past his target. He rolled out from beneath the train and kept rolling until he made it to the other side of the Compton train. He scanned up and down the line, saw no one, and sprinted up the side of the cars, looking below each car to keep tabs on his target’s legs. Nash climbed to the top of the target’s car, staying low to the roof to avoid being spotted by the control tower at the far edge of the yard. He crawled on all fours, his arms out to the side and bent at ninety-degree angles like an alligator’s, moving slowly. Slowly. Slowly.
Nash peaked over the edge and saw his mark by the side of the train. He watched the man’s every move, unblinking, as he moved his body into position to strike. His mouth watered. He could feel heat building up at the back of his neck. He could see bits of cracked graphite flaking away from the point of the man’s pencil as he checked a box on the form. The car on the line next to them screeched to a halt. He dropped.
Nash hit the man from above. He wrapped his arm around the man’s neck on the descent and used the man’s upper body as a pivot point, choking off a surprised yelp. Nash rotated to land on his feet and used the momentum of the fall to roll backward just as he finished curling his arms around the man’s neck. He wrapped his legs around the man’s waist and arched his back as hard as possible. Nash savored the few ecstatic moments of struggle. There was a snap. The man’s body went limp.
Nash fell back on the gravel, breathing heavily. He checked up and down the line for workers and found none, pushing the mark’s body off of himself and standing. The man’s radiant blue eyes had gone glassy. Nash slapped the man’s face and double-checked his pulse to make sure the job was done. It was.
He stripped down and replaced his clothes with the man’s brown mechanic uniform. It was a perfect fit, along with the man’s boots and cap. He pulled a gold key out of the man’s pocket and unlocked the nearest boxcar, sliding the heavy wooden door open. He dragged the body to the door and managed to get it inside after some considerable effort, throwing his old clothes on top of it and securing the door. He checked the number of the car against the ledger on the clipboard and saw that its contents were listed as a series of X’s. Nash chuckled, nobody was going to find that body until he was long gone.
“Hey!” Called voice from behind him. Nash turned and smiled, recognizing the train’s quartermaster from the mission file.
“What’s up Kittredge?” Nash asked.
“Oh,” Kittredge said, recognizing him. The glamour had held up perfectly. “Hey Bennett, what’re you doing back here?”
“Just some last minute checks on the coupling mechanisms,” he said, holding up the clipboard. Kittredge nodded.
“Why are you sweating?” He asked. Nash laughed and rubbed the back of his head.
“I had a few too many drinks last night,” he replied. “Hangover sweats, you know how it is.” To his relief, Kittredge laughed.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Well make sure you’ve wrapped up soon, our schedule’s been moved up an hour. We’re getting crew briefings in ten, so be at the office by then.”
“Will do,” Nash said, feigning looking around at his surroundings. “Actually, I’m pretty much done here. I’ll just head back with you.”
“Uh, ok,” said Kittredge, pausing for a second. “Wait a second, have you seen a guy asking about a milk shipment? That’s the reason I came out here in the first place.”
“Uh,” Nash began, scratching his head, “yeah, I saw that guy a couple minutes ago. I’m pretty sure he had the wrong information, like he was a day ahead or something. He seemed pretty pissed, stormed off back toward the offices.” He shrugged. Kittredge rolled his eyes.
“Whatever, let’s get going then.” They headed back down the line and took a right toward the offices. The glamour Nash had been fitted with before leaving had held. Bennett Carlisle’s life was now his, and Bennett himself was dead and out of the way. He looked down the train yard, to where the lines fell off into infinity, past the horizon and into the west. Bennett Carlisle was dead, he thought. One down, three more to go.
Nash sighed to himself. Life was just great sometimes.

“Have a seat Beazley,” said Perry Cartwright, the Bella Faccia’s conductor, as Pram stepped into his temporary office in the bureaucratic hall of the station. She shut the gold inlaid door perhaps a bit too hard behind her, and the smoked glass window rattled in its filigreed frame. She jumped a bit. “You OK Beazley?” She smiled and nodded at him, then sat, running a hand through her hair.
“It’s been a weird morning, sir,” she responded, resting her calf on her knee and leaning back against the seat’s uncomfortable leather padding. Field offices always had the worst furniture. Cartwright’s desk was a sad, thin thing made of pressed metal and covered in a fluttering layer of paper. A wooden fan circled lethargically overhead, pulled along by clockwork wheels and taut leather thongs. Pram could hear an out of time tick in its flywheel, probably a broken bearing.
“Understood,” said Cartwright, fumbling through a pile of heavy paper envelopes to his left and freeing one from near the top of the off-kilter stack. He peered at the label through the gold-rimmed spectacles hanging near the edge of his nose.
“Here,” he said, tossing the envelope across the desk. “Your copy of the file for our next route. Maps, duty list, pay, and whatever else.” She gave the packet a cursory thumbing through. Pram hadn’t actually read over a briefing in nearly half a decade. No point in starting now. She set the envelope down beside the chair and turned her attention back to Cartwright. He was wiggling the fat tuft of hair beneath his nose, which meant bad news.
“Beazley,” he started.
He exhaled a rattling breath that made his moustache wiggle.
“There is an… opportunity that I’m under obligation to inform you of,” he said, leaning back in the office chair with a creak. He folded his hands over his belly. “The Lady Turandot derailed last night in the Granger Pass, and the Croesus office specifically has asked us to run a route up there, pick up whatever’s left, and then drop off what she was supposed to be carrying at the Imperium fort west of the pass.”
“That’s a military operation, sir,” Pram said.
“And, as such, your compensation will increase alongside the risk.”
“Is that why the Turandot was derailed sir?”
“No way of knowing until we get there,” he said, scratching at his stomach. He leaned forward and pulled a plain steel canteen out of the right side desk drawer. The canteen was a relic from his days fighting for the Imperium, and he still only kept water in it. Pram could feel her father’s watch ticking against the back of her wrist. What a weird morning. “Of course, that’s what I wanted to speak to you about.”
“Your contract is up come arrival in Coalton, and you’ll be able to sign on with another engine or head back home.” He put the canteen back in the drawer and pulled out another, smaller envelope of the same color as the briefing packet. He dropped it on the desk as well. She looked at him, slightly confused, and then opened the packet to find a small fortune in promissory notes. “You stay aboard after Coalton and that’s yours, plus another sum of the same amount when we get back.”
“Sir, that’s more than anybody on the line gets paid.”
“Not my call Beazley,” he responded, pointing a single, heavy finger at the envelope. “That bribe there came directly from the Croesus office with your name printed on the side. Not that I don’t value your services, but that’s more than I’m worth.”
“Did they say why?”
“There are Imperium interests tied up in this route,” he said, shrugging. “You’re the only person going west of the hub that has a gauge level high enough to run the engine uphill for an extended period of time.”
“Huh, lucky me,” she said, pushing the envelope back across the desk to Cartwright. Now that she had noticed the offbeat tick in the ceiling fan, it had started driving her nuts. She fought the urge to rub the inside of her ear with her pinky finger.
“Not going to take it, then?” Cartwright asked, raising one of his bushy, white eyebrows.
“Going to think about it, sir,” she said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been home,” she rubbed an unconscious finger beneath the watchband, “and the western rails rarely forgive greedy decision making.” He nodded sagely.
“’No long arms on the western lines,’ I think the saying goes?” He asked.
“Something like that sir,” she replied, picking the briefing packet up from beside her chair. He nodded and picked up the packet of money, slapping it a few times atop the desk before returning it to the drawer it had come from.
“Well,” he said, standing with an outstretched hand. “Thanks for your time, Beazley, and get word to me about your decision before Coalton if you can.” She took his hand and shook it. Three gruff pumps. His hands were surprisingly soft for how big he was.
“Will do sir,” she said, turning and leaving.
Pram took better care to close the door on the way out. She walked down the hallway toward the train yard access doors, scanning the blank backside of the packet as though it had some answers to her questions. Western rail jobs, colony rail jobs especially, were very dangerous. The frontier was little more than desperate settlers, bandits and wastelands. Nobody came of age in the Imperium without hearing stories of cannibal tribes, cloistered sorcerers and the nightmare creatures that slunk through the stinking marshes of the Verdant Wastes. She shivered.
“Hey, Pram!” Called a voice from down the hall. She looked up to see Kittredge’s beaming face below a quickly waving hand. She chuckled and returned the greeting, trying not to blush when she caught Bennett grinning at her from behind him. She bit the inside of her lip and tried to smile at the same time. The face she ended up making made Kittredge raise confused eyebrow. She coughed to cover up her embarrassment. What a shitty morning.
“Hey Kittredge,” she said, turning curtly to Bennett. “And, hello, Mr., um, Carlisle.” They locked eyes and her heartbeat soared. His gaze was colder somehow, more confident. Was it because of this morning? He didn’t even blink.
“Hello Pram.”
“Oh,” said Kittredge, taken somewhat aback by the informality. Technically speaking, Pram was Bennett’s superior, though such formalities were rarely observed by the rail workers. Kittredge smiled like a man caught between two large dogs and a locked door. He hated confrontations he wasn’t a part of.
“We, uh,” Pram started. Her face was on fire. She hoped her dark skin and the poor lighting in the hallway were enough to hide the blush.
“Had drinks together last night,” Bennett said, not breaking his gaze. She couldn’t look away if she tried. Some electric thing ran its cool fingers along the edges of her scalp. Pram could almost feel his fingers on her neck, squeezing. She swallowed. “I went out with some buddies of mine and we ran into her and a few of her friends. You got home safely, right?”
“Yeah… just fine,” she said, silently thanking him for the out. Something felt off. Pram’s mind wandered to thin-faced specters floating over the platform, and then her brain took over and forced her mouth to smile. “I had a great time.”
“Oh, nice,” said Kittredge, willfully oblivious to whatever had just been exchanged. Pram wasn’t sure herself. Kittredge turned to Pram. “I didn’t know you had any friends.” Pram narrowed her eyes incredulously.
“Hey!” She said, punching him softly in the shoulder. He laughed and pretended to curl up for protection. “What gives you that idea?”
“Your sunny disposition,” he replied, still chuckling. He stopped abruptly, checking his watch and making a distressed face. “Oh dear, it seems were coming up a bit late.”
“Crew meeting and final preparations. Apparently,” he said, “there’s going to be some big hullabaloo with this job and we’ve all got to be briefed as a group before send off. All of us, that is, except our illustrious Steam Train, Madame Pram Beazley.” Kittredge doffed his cap with a flourish and she laughed.
“You’re a complete ass, Mr. Pascal,” she said, returning the gesture with an awkward curtsey.
“Yes, well,” he shrugged, “a complete ass needs all of its pieces, and I’m afraid some of mine may be chewed off if the honorable Mr. Cartwright doesn’t see me in the next five minutes. I’ll be seeing you.” He flicked the brim of his cap and began to walk off down the hall.
“Maybe,” Bennett added as he followed, winking at Pram as he walked off down the hall. Her eyes followed them, him specifically, until they both disappeared around a far corner. Bennett had told Kittredge something funny and they both exchanged a loud laugh that echoed off the powder blue paint of the hallway. She hoped, like an idiot she told herself, that he hadn’t just made a joke about her. He was such a weird guy, she thought, but all guys were weird when you got to know them.
Pram caught her reflection in the glass of one of the office door windows. She had only a vague idea of what constituted pretty, but she thought she was pretty cute for her mid-20’s. Soft brown skin, her mother’s emerald green eyes, hell, she was a fucking catch if anybody asked. She pursed her lips defiantly in her makeshift mirror and nodded, throwing herself a thumbs-up as she did so.
“Girl, you are fucking awesome,” she said to herself, turning on her heel and walking down the hall.
It was a strange, strange morning, she thought as she walked out onto the gravel of the yard. She let the feel of the lines around her wash away her worries. All magic users had affinity fields, and this was hers. Heat, clockwork and forged metals, the smell of oil and hot iron, all of these things revitalized her. They made her feel at home even when she was so very far away. Standing on a single line, she could feel all of the interconnected miles of the railway, stretching out across the continent, like a single, massive collection of nerves.
She tried to push the mornings distractions out of her mind as made her way to the Bella, her little girl, sitting fat and happy on her own little platform away from the indignant hustle and bustle of the commuters. She tried not to be bothered by that weird face on the platform. She made herself ignore Bennett’s strange, aggressive behavior and that parting wink. She forced herself not to fix, in her mind, Cartwright’s misquote of the old rail runner’s proverb.
Long arms on the Western rails end at the wrist.
Pram rubbed the spot below the band of her father’s watch and tried not to think about how weird the morning had been.
Last edited by axmanjack on Mon Apr 21, 2014 4:32 am, edited 3 times in total.
Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:25 am
Location: America

Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Sat Jan 18, 2014 12:27 am

Chapter Two | Departures
part one

Spoiler (click to show/hide):

Steam | Chapter Two | Departures

Snow drifted in fat flakes from the sky, gathering into soft, cold piles that they marched through in lines. A geomagus led the procession slowly through the hip high drifts, holding his metal gloved hand out before him to feel for fissures beneath the endless field of white. The falling powder built up atop the shoulders and heads of the men and women in the formation, sometimes falling off in thick, soundless chunks and leaving depressions beside the trench they marched through. Sylvia had no idea where they were going, and nobody was going to bother telling her.
She had been trussed up together with six other prisoners, six other sad faced survivors of the Lady Turandot, with a dirty bit of cord some red-cloaked soldier had pulled from the wreckage. It chaffed at her wrists, but they had been bound loosely enough to rub warmth into themselves as they walked the top of the Granger Pass to some unknown destination.
Nobody spoke. The only sound beside the constant soft rush of the cold wind was the crunches of snow compacting beneath heavy boots. On the occasions when they stopped, Sylvia could hear the steady beat of her pulse in her ears. She latched onto the sound, trying to imagine the steaming heat of her blood, and the constant mechanical pounding of her heart. Humanity had its own clockwork. She tried to remember warmth and failed.
One of the other prisoners, a man, yelped and fell to his knees in the snow, jerking painfully against their tether and forcing the other five to stop. He moaned feebly as one of the guards pulled him back to his feet. Sylvia kept her eyes forward, like the other prisoners. There had been eight of them when the group had left the site of the crash. Trying to help would be pointless. They began to walk again.
Sylvia couldn’t see much of the range around her, buried as it was in the snow and fog that poured down from the high peaks around them. The raiding party walked in three lines across the flank of some high ridge. She estimated their number at around 80, perhaps more, though even with their red cloaks they were hard to pick out in all the blinding whiteness. None of them had talked since Foucault had waved her away, passing orders between each other by snapping their fingers and waving their arms and hands about. The last of the prisoners that had spoke was slowly being buried by the falling flakes a mile back, her glass eyes fixed on the dusky mountain sky. Sylvia shuddered.
The woman had broke formation to pick up her friend, the first of the prisoners to fall. His leg had been broken in the crash and fitted with a makeshift splint. She refused to move without him, so the guards had killed them both, dragging their bodies out of the trench so the soldiers behind them wouldn’t trip. The woman never took her eyes off her dying friend, lying on his chest as they both bled to death in the snow. The slack went out of the cord wrapped around Sylvia’s wrists, nearly dragging her down.
One of the guards brushed by her and pulled the man on the ground to his feet. His lolled forward and then back, his eyes staring madly out of his head at nothing. The man’s face was completely colorless. The guard slapped his cheek, a single loud crack that made a few of the other prisoners jump. The guard looked back up the formation and shook his head. Another soldier responded with a quick hand gesture and turned to keep walking. The guard nodded, hoisted the prisoner onto the snow bank beside the trench and then shot him once in the temple, cutting the cord off his wrists and returning to formation.
They pressed on.
Sylvia tried not to think about the blood running in a heavy, black stream out of the side of the man’s head, and the sad, confused look in his eyes as his brain bled to death. She did anyway, and had to force herself not to throw up.
They pressed on.
Hours passed, and the weak light of the day gave way to the glowing moonlight of the night. The snowfall petered out shortly after nightfall, and she could soon see the jagged outline of the mountains around her. In particular, she could Mount Granger, carving it’s twisted, spindling path through the fat ball of the rising moon. One of the prisoners behind her started sobbing. Another one of them tried to console her with quiet shushes. She could hear the soft pat of a gloved hand on a shoulder.
They pressed on.
Something deep, deep inside her was beginning to give out. The pace of the march had made her start sweating hours ago, but she was not sweating anymore. Her tongue stuck to the dry roof of her mouth, and every attempt to swallow became more difficult. Her feet were numb. She forced herself not to cry.
They pressed on.
Their number had dwindled down to four. Sylvia didn’t even bother looking back, instead using the distraction to try snagging a mouthful of snow from the side of the trench. The binds on her wrists were too taut to for her to use her hands, so she leaned to the side and tried to bit into the drift with her mouth. The cold of night had frozen the snow into ice. She nearly wept from frustration.
They pressed on.
Sylvia could feel herself dying. There was no more warmth in the world, and there never had been. Heat was lie, like mercy and fresh water. Her knees buckled with every other step and still the silent march across the mountain continued. The moon had crossed the sky, and now she could see the back of Mount Granger in greater detail.
The mountain rose, tall and impossibly twisted, into the sky, like a bent grey nail. Her tombstone, a tombstone for the world. The sun would rise behind it soon, but she didn’t expect to see it. Sylvia would die with the moon in the hills. She thought she could smell fire on the wind.
The procession came to a halt. Her vision swam and she stumbled, and then fell to the side. Her brain didn’t even process the pain of having her arms jerked to the side. The others made no move to help her, and she laid there, her face in the ice, and prepared to die.
The guard cut the cord around her wrists and hoisted her onto his back. She felt infinitely heavy, like a great boulder of lead, but he moved her onto his back with hands of granite and steel. She closed her eyes and let the man spirit her off. When he set her down the snow felt hard, flat and warm. I must be going into shock, she thought, wondering if she would feel the bullet hitting her. If should hear the gunshot. If it would hurt.
“Stand Sylvia Messerschmitt, and behold your salvation.”
Sylvia opened her eyes to see a massive fire burning in front of her. It cast light and long shadows away from it. She crawled toward the heat, letting her affinity fill her with warmth. The red-cloaked Caanish soldiers stood in wide rings around the flames, their eyes hidden by shadow. The ground beneath her was clean, dry stone, carved with intricate patterns and worn smooth by age. She stood and rubbed the raw skin of her wrists.
“Sylvia Messerschmitt,” said the voice. She turned around saw Foucault standing opposite the fire with his arms crossed. An enormous stone staircase, lined with burning braziers, rose behind him. An old, graying man sat in the carved throne at the top of the stairs, flanked on either side by spear bearers. He sat casually in the chair, propping his head on his fist and regarding Sylvia with a casual smirk.
“We offer you the Embrace of Caan,” Foucault said. He held his arms out wide and the soldiers roared in response, slapping their gloved fists against their chests three times. The sound was deafening. Sylvia looked around, confused. Foucault approached her. His face was unknowable. She flinched when he raised his hand and set it on her shoulder. It was heavy, but warm.
“I don’t understand,” she said. Her eyes met his, and she saw nothing in them.
“You are being given a chance,” he said, softer than before, “to survive this ordeal. Cast aside your old life, become a daughter of Caan, and you will live. You will find purpose in our cause. You will march with us, to purge this land of its mad, tyrannical oppressors.”
“Join you?” She asked, looking around. She clutched her arms, remembering the cold. “You killed those people on the train, executed prisoners. We… we were on a peaceful transit mission. You people are…”
“Evil?” He asked bluntly. “No, there is no such thing. We are at war. Unforgivable decisions are made every day. As for your train and its occupants…” He paused, searching her eyes for something. “…there is much you don’t know. That four of you live now is a miracle, though you may not see it for what it is for some time.” She shook her head again, dropping her gaze.
“I’m no traitor…” She said softly, her words trailing off into the wind. Foucault narrowed his gaze and set his left hand on her other shoulder. She felt small in his grasp.
“The Imperium is a heresy,” he said. His eyes glinted when the name rolled off his tongue in Caanish. Plazekt. Imperium. “It cannot be betrayed, only destroyed.”
“I…I can’t ever go home,” she said. Her lip quivered. This was entirely too much.
“No,” he replied. “All that you are and have been will die tonight.” He lifted her chin with his finger. “But you will become kin, and all that Caan is or ever will be will be yours, just as it is ours. You will find purpose in us, Sylvia. You will find your name.” He stepped back from her, placing his arms behind his back. “But first, you must accept our Embrace.” She paused.
“Ok,” she said, rubbing her arm nervously just above the elbow.
“You accept?”
“Yes,” she said, a bit louder. “I… I accept.”
“Then strip off the vestiges of your old life,” he replied. “Take off your clothes, cast them into the fire and stand before Caan, reborn.” She looked around nervously, and then bent down to untie her boots. They were slippery, cold and awkward, and she had to sit down to pry them from her feet. Then came her socks, the heavy canvas uniform shorts and shirt, and, finally, the black thermal singlet. She stood to remove it, pulling at the wet hem of the elastic neckline. The ring of soldiers stood, watching stoically, if they were looking at all. She caught Foucault’s eye and he gave her the slightest of nods.
Sylvia pulled the elastic over one shoulder, and then the other, relishing in the feel of the fire wicking the moisture off of her exposed skin. Her thermals had been holding in the cold, not repelling it. Blood rushed to her cheeks as she pushed the black cloth past her breasts, down the taut line of her stomach to her hips. She paused to roll up the cloth, and then rolled it down over her legs, her knees, and then her ankles. She stood naked, her newly thawed hair dripping water down her back.
Slowly, she collected the articles and brought them to the massive central fire. She closed her eyes and let the heat wash over her, and then threw her clothes onto the coals. She pushed a bit of silver hair away from eyes and turned back to Foucault. He motioned toward the stairs with his hand. She walked across the warm stone floor and began her ascent. Around the circle, the soldiers began to beat their chests in rhythm, their metal gloves clanging loudly against the steel of their chest plates.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
What the hell am I doing?
Bang. Bang. Bang.
What are they going to do to me?
Bang. Bang. Bang.
She neared the top of the steps, trying to walk with dignity despite the deep, scarlet blush on her cheeks. The old man in the chair watched her every step, until she was standing before him. They were far away from the massive fire now, and the cold winds of the mountain leaked through the cracked stone columns of the ruins. Behind the man’s chair, she could see the outline of Mount Granger curling into the sky. His eyes never dropped below her neckline, which was somehow worse than him gazing lower. She covered herself with her arms.
“Your dignity is safe with us, Sylvia Messerschmitt,” the old man said with the faintest hint of a laugh. “...though you’ll understand that soon enough I suppose.” He gestured to the ruins around them with an upturned palm. “Do you know where you stand?”
“No, sir,” she replied, shaking her head slowly. Old age had taken the color out of the old man’s hair and eyes, but he had the arrogant, animalistic fearlessness of a younger man. He felt powerful, and very dangerous. Even more so than Foucault. He smiled.
“This,” he said, “is my castle. My birthright.” He shrugged. “It’s not very impressive nowadays, but, from what I’ve heard, it was quite the feature a few centuries ago.” He chuckled at something, but the joke was lost on Sylvia. He narrowed his eyes and smiled fiercely. “Would you like to help me rebuild it?”
“…yes?” She responded. He nodded and stood.
“Then it is done,” he said. “Sylvia Messerschmitt, you stand before Caan.” The soldiers beat their chests and howled, startling her. “Will you stand beside him?”
“Yes,” she said, trying not to look as scared and naked as she was. He took a red cloak from the guard to his left, spread it out and stepped forward, wrapping it around her shoulders. It was warm and heavy, and it smelt like fresh hay. The fabric was much softer than she thought it would be. He pulled the cloak tight around the front of her, covering her body completely, and fixed the clasp shut.
“Sylvia Messerschmitt,” he said, turning back and sitting again in the carved throne. “Walk the rest of your life without shame, woman, for you are now a daughter of Caan.” The soldiers roared and applauded. Embarrassed, she pulled the cloak tighter around herself.
Behind Caan, his chair and Mount Granger, the sun began its slow climb into the sky.

“Gets awful quiet quick after this sort of thing, wouldn’t you agree?” The woman asked, snapping her fingers to produce a tiny yellow flame. It was almost invisible in the bright noontime light coming in through the bank’s dusty windows. She held it to the tip of a freshly rolled cigarette, dragging the smoke in through her pouty brown lips. The man she was talking to, a finely dressed young banker, answered with a terrified nod.
“It’s rude not to answer a lady with your voice when she’s talking to you young man,” she added, pointing the glowing end of the cigarette toward him. She uncrossed her legs and stopped leaning against the worn down edge of the teller’s window. The thick heels of her boots reverberated through the loose wooden floorboards as she walked over to him. He cringed as she got closer. “And son, considering my reputation, I’d think rudeness would be the last inconsideration you’d make at this juncture.”
“Yes, yes ma’am,” he said, having to wet his lips substantially before speaking. “It is very quiet ma’am, very quiet indeed.” She smiled, wrinkling the freckled bridge of her nose, and patted his shoulder.
“There’s a good boy,” she said. She walked behind him and rested her fingers on his shoulders. She gave a bit of a squeeze and felt him tense up. “Oh now darlin’, what’s the matter? You afraid of me?” He nodded and swallowed. Fat drops of sweat spread dark across his white linen dress shirt.
“Yes ma’am, I am,” he said. The leather bands tying his wrists to the back of the chair squeaked as he tried to adjust his position in the chair. “I am very, very afraid right now.” She chuckled and walked back around in front of him, trailing her finger along his neck, just above his collar. She sat on his lap, resting her hands on his shoulders.
“Now why is that, little dandy?” She asked, pulling the cigarette out of her mouth. She exhaled through her nose, filling the space between their chests with smoke. The cloud lingered. “Why would you be afraid of little ol’ me?” She slid a finger up his neck, and directed his eyes to hers when it reached his chin. Her cigarette cherry hung precariously close to his skin. Soft, blue eyes, she thought, her own chips of jade set squarely on them. Soft, blue eyes for soft, blue city boys.
“Could it be that you know who I am?” She asked, cocking her head to the side enough to skew the wide brim of her hat a bit left. He nodded. She returned the cigarette to her smiling teeth. “Well?”
“You’re miss,” he said, swallowing, “miss Brass Buckle Betty, ma’am.” Betty grinned harder, biting into the back of the cigarette and squeezing his shoulders. “And those outside, with… with the men who… used to work here are your Dirty Leg Gang.”
“Ah ah ah,” Betty said, waggling the cigarette in front of his face. “The Dusty Leg Gang.” She clutched a handful of his silver hair in her hand. She stood and pulled back gently, leaning over him so closely he could feel the heat of her face against his.
“There’s a difference,” her dusky voice whispered. Their lips nearly brushed. He blinked and swallowed again. She let go of him and stepped away, picking up a crumpled sheet of paper off the teller’s desk. The teller herself, an adorable little blonde thing that cried big old crocodile tears when she was scared, had been trussed up and led outside with the others when Betty and hers and come through the door. The paper unfolded with a crackle.
“Do you know the difference, dandy boy?” Betty asked, her eyes fixed on the paper.
“No ma’am,” he said, “I’m afraid I don’t.”
“City boys,” she scoffed. “Out in the colonies, ‘dirty leg’ is slang for a beggar, and ‘dusty leg’…” She paused, running down the list on the paper with her finger. She found what she was looking for and folded the paper to mark her spot. “Dusty legs are riders, horsemen as it were. But…” She turned back to him and cocked a hip to the side, resting her hand on it and rolling her eyes. “It’s also slang for prostitutes, on account of their proclivity to, ahem, ride for living.” A short shrug.
“When me and mine got invested in our current trade,” she continued, “the powers that be deigned to name our new company after our old profession.” Betty slapped the dandy on his shoulder. “Course some of my party were a bit miffed.” She pursed her lips and nodded, blowing out another cloud of smoke. The heady scent of the burning tobacco filled the room. “But, I say, let ‘em make their little jokes. Long as me and mine are taken care of, what does it matter?” She squatted down in front of him and chuckled.
“Maybe when I retire I’ll be bank man like yourself,” she said, “and they’ll call my outfit the Old Bandit Trust. Haha! That’s truth in advertising if I’ve ever seen it.” She slapped his knee for him, and he just smiled and nodded.
“Now down to business,” she said, sitting sideways on his lap and throwing her cigarette arm around his neck. She held the piece of paper up to his face, pointing out a name in the tiny, printed list on the page. “See that, right there?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said.
“That’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“And what does… this say right here, is that your title?” She pulled her cigarette to her mouth, purposefully pushing his face into her breast to do so. He tensed up and she chuckled. Scared, soft blue eyes glanced up at hers and then back to the page. He swallowed and nodded. She crossed her legs and used her boot heel to scratch at her calf through the high wall of her boot.
“Executive branch manager, ma’am,” he responded.
“Executive branch manager,” she echoed, nodding as though she was impressed. “That sounds very important.” She turned his face toward hers and tucked down her chin to get a closer look in his eyes. He didn’t resist. “How does a cute, young thing like yourself get such an important position…” Betty took another quick look at the ledger. “…Jeffery?”
“My… my uncle is a lawyer for the firm,” he replied slowly. His eyes stayed focused on hers.
“Oh,” she said, “then you must be very, very important.” Their faces were close enough to share the shadow from the brim of her hat.
“I…suppose so ma’am,” he said quietly. She moved closer, licking her lips. The fingers of her left hand curled lightly against his collarbone, trailing down his chest. His eyes closed, and he lifted his chin to close the distance. Leather squeaked around his wrists. The binds prevented him from getting closer.
“Well then,” she said, backing away from his face and grinning. “You might be able to help me.” Betty turned to sit on him like he was an actual chair, setting her feet just outside of his. “You see… Oh, hold on, gotta stretch.” She placed her hands on his knees and arched her back, popping it while pushing her butt hard against his lap.
“Oh dear,” he whispered, leaning his head back. His hips pushed up against her reflexively. She grinned, even though he couldn’t see, and took a drag of the nearly dead cigarette and through it away into the corner of the room.
“You see,” she continued, “it says on this list, which I came into possession of through very strange means, that there are only three people who know the combination to that very large metal door in the back there.” She pointed at the names as she ran down the list. “A miss Beverly Tanner, president of your fine company, mister Buck Buckley, your boorishly named district manager, and one mister Jeffery Speakeasy.” Betty slapped the page. “Well that’s you isn’t it?” He gulped.
“Yes ma’am,” Jeffery said.
“Hmm,” she said, rocking her hips slowly back and forth on top of him. He groaned, and she could feel how hard he was even through the cloth between them. Betty turned and knelt in front of him, rested her elbow his thighs and met his eyes. He was breathing heavily, mouth slightly open. “Well, dandy boy, it seems we may have just created a state of mutual beneficence.” She pushed her hand down his thigh, and let her thumb ride up the shaft of his cock when she got to it.
“My lord,” he gasped, shaking his head. “Ma’am, please, I’m not… in possession of the… oh dear god,” he said as she pushed the full weigh of her palm against him, wrapping her fingers around him through his silk trousers. “No matter… oh my…I can’t tell you.” Deft fingers quickly unhinged his belt, slid it loose and let it fall to the floor. A wicked grin slid across her teeth.
“Oh, you want me to stop dandy boy?” Betty asked, ripping her hand down and sending the buttons of his fly scattering across the floor. He said nothing. “I didn’t think so.” Betty backed off him and stood, unbuttoning her embroidered leather vest and setting it on the back of one of the unused chairs her posse had pushed to side earlier, and then unhooked her pistol belt and hung it from the same chair. Slowly, she unbuttoned the top three buttons of her shirt and rolled up the sleeves. Jeffery’s eyes rested on the exposed tops of her breast, achingly rolling from freckle to freckle.
“I’m going to let you in on a little fact, dandy boy,” she said, green eyes half lidded and locked on his. Every step she took toward him thudded in his heart. The thin silk of her rumpled shirt did little to hide the size and outline of her breasts. They sashayed as she walked, her nipples tracing little circles back and forth against the fabric. She sat on him, straddled him, and pushed back his forehead to force his eyes up to hers. “Nobody can keep a secret from Brass Buckle Betty.”
Buttons popped and clattered across the floor as she ripped open the front of his dress shirt, rolling on the floorboards and getting lost in the gaps. She pulled out a silver tube of lipstick from her back pocket, and twisted it in front of him so that he could see the color. Fresh, deep brown, just like the smattering of freckles at the top of her chest. Soft blue eyes enviously traced the line of her lip as the lipstick colored it. Betty smacked her lips and grinned.
“Do you want to know why?” She asked, using the lipstick to draw a pentagon on the front of his chest. With a few quick gestures, she added glyphs and a circle to the inside of the pentagon. His face was a mask of confusion. Betty winked. “Cause I’m magic baby.” She pressed her hand on the sigil on his chest and kissed him. He moaned and kissed her back, their tongues meeting just past his lips.
Betty’s hands snaked down his flanks, grabbed hold of the side of his trousers and pulled down, freeing his cock. Her fingers encircled him and he gasped and pushed his mouth against her harder. She broke the kiss and leaned back, sneering arrogantly. His dick was rock in her hand. She began pumping up and down slowly and he arched his back in return.
“Now what were you saying about that combination, dandy boy?”
“That. I. Can’t…” His body shuddered as she picked up pace. She clucked her tongue at him.
“You… can’t?” She asked, slowing down to rub the tip of his cock with her thumb in long, slow circles. Leather bindings screeched as his stomach flexed in response. Such a slender little man, thought Betty, this dandy boy. “Well I don’t think that’s true.” Fingers squeezed and stroked. Jeffrey hissed and bit his lip. “Should I stop?”
“No,” he groaned, “please, god no.”
“Then you need to do something for me,” she said.
“I can’t ma’am.” His breaths came quick and ragged. His ass flexed and his head rolled back, eyes focused on nothing. “Please. Understand.”
“Oh, you don’t have to darling,” Betty said, leaning in. Her lips brushed his ear. Hot breath grazed his cheek, cooling the beads of sweat along his jawline. She whispered: “I just want you to say that you would give anything to cum right now.” Her tongue flicked at his ear lobe. “Say it, and mean it.”
“Anything,” he whispered, then louder: “Anything. Oh fucking god anything.”
“Deal,” she whispered, wrenching his mouth to hers by his hair. He moaned into her mouth as she finished him off, his come speckling his pants and the back of her wrist.
“Oh, dear lord,” he gasped as she broke the kiss. She let him rest his head on her shoulder as she finished the last few breathless strokes, pushing what was left out of him with her thumb. “Why did you… finish… when you knew I couldn’t tell you what you needed to know?” Betty chuckled.
“Oh darling,” she said, wiping herself clean with his shirt, “you just did.” He met her eyes, confused. “108, right 236, left 614.” His face fell.
“No. No, I didn’t say,” he protested, shaking his head in disbelief.
“You didn’t have to darling,” Betty said, slapping him squarely on his chest. “That there’s a trade spell.”
“Oh no,” he said, leaning back to get a better look at his chest. Tears began welling up in his eyes. “Oh god what’ve I done. Oh shit.”
“Sold the farm,” Betty laughed, “least by the looks of it.” Her attention moved to the back of the room. “Ya’ll get that?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Lucy Smalls from her position beside the door. Betty’s second in command leaned her head out the door. “Buckle’s done, get in here with the trolleys.”
“Who is that?” Jeffrey asked, trying to twist his head around to see behind him. Fear had slit his throat, his face was bloodless. “Was…was there someone in here while we…”
“Hm?” Betty dropped a tobacco pouch and some rolling papers on the teller’s window. “Was there somebody in here while I jerked you off?” She nodded nonchalantly. “Oh yeah. Well, for most of the time toward the end at least, not that that was very long by any stretch.” Betty shrugged and rolled a cigarette with a quick, one-handed motion. Jeffery shook his head in slow disbelief, his eyes wide and staring. She popped the cigarette into her mouth.
“Fastest hands in the west,” Betty added with a chuckle, fake shooting Jeffery in the chest with a finger gun. She jerked a thumb at the pouch of tobacco. “Want one? I’m always a fan of smoking afterwards.” Her gaze dropped the flaccid remnants of his once-proud boner. “Er, um, regardless of whether or not afterwards constitutes a whole hell of a lot.” Lucy sniggered from the door, raising a dark skinned hand to cover her mouth. Jeffery’s blood found its way back into his face.
“You… you play as though this is some sort of… of fucking game woman?” He hissed rather than asked. “You… you have slain me! I am a dead man!”
“Your bosses are actually going to kill you over getting robbed?” Betty asked, snapping her fingers to light her cigarette. She held the spell a second too long and it burned her. She cursed under her breath and rubbed her thumb on her chaps.
“Worse! They will fucking fire me!” Betty took a drag off her cigarette and blew the smoke up into the rafters. The clatter of trolleys across the cobblestones outside began to echo through the building.
“You know,” she said, “Lucy back there, well she killed about a dozen of your employees today. Far as I see it, you got off a might bit luckier than you’re giving yourself credit for.” He stamped his foot against the ground.
“Fuck you,” he squawked, “you fucking two bit hand jobber. Go fuck yourself, you whore, what do you think of that?”
“Hmm,” said Betty, nodding her head and raising an eyebrow. “I think I’ll actually let my associate field that one. Ms. Smalls?” Lucy stomped up to Jeffrey from her position by the door, stood in front of him and leaned in. Lucy Smalls was a heavily built, dark skinned woman from the Ruined Isles. Lucy Smalls had once thrown a jane out of a three-story window for trying to short her after a trick. Lucy Smalls was not to be trifled with. She backhanded Jeffrey cold, slapping some sense into his head and some blood out of his face. She jabbed a finger into his face.
“No doing speaking like that to a fine lady like Buckle, yeah?” She asked. He shook his head. “Pretty little boys like you should keep their language soft like their hands, less they lose their tongues for not knowing how to use them. We have each other, little dandy?” He nodded and focused on his lap. Betty shook her head and motioned for Lucy to follow her outside. Lucy nodded, handing a slip of paper with the safe’s combination to one of their company on the way out. She grabbed the boy’s arm.
“Let our blood know,” she said to him, “we only have eyes for metal and jewels. Send the magi in first, have them sniff out the ambuscades before we pack. We have each other?” He nodded and smiled.
“Ay, mom, to have and to hold,” he responded with a snigger. Lucy chuckled and smacked him on the back of the head. He pushed the rumbling trolley inside. Lucy followed Betty out into the sun, across the twisted main street cobbles to the water pump in the town square. The flat, rusted flange of the handle was cold against her hand. Betty lipped her cigarette and began pumping to no avail. After a few fruitless seconds, she backed up away from it, plucking out her cigarette and looking up at the colorless sky. Her short fingernails scratched at her palm.
“’Deserts of your own creation’”, she mumbled to herself. Silence lay over the town around them, leaving only the steady rush of the desert wind down Main Street and the clattering of the trolleys in the bank. Heatherton was a small, quiet frontier town in the middle north of the Imperium. The houses were shabby, pine board boxes, like coffins you could live in. Betty hated it here, because it reminded her of home.
“You’ve got something on your mind Buckle?” Lucy asked, resting a hand on her shoulder. Betty reached up and patted her fingers, shaking her head.
“Yes… no, you know how it is,” she shrugged. “Hey, can you get this thing going? I gotta… wash my hand off.”
“Yeah mom, we have each other,” Lucy replied, kneeling down by the spigot. She pulled the lever down to an open position and placed her hand on the feed pipe. Water flooded out a second later, splattering dark brown dots into the dirt around them. Betty washed herself quickly.
“Thanks,” Betty said, drying her hands off on her pants.
“Yeah,” Lucy replied, standing and brushing the dust off her knees. A black bird cried somewhere off in the distance.
“Look,” Betty said, taking a last drag off the cigarette and dropping it into the wet dirt. “I’m feeling like it’s about time to call it a quits heading this thing.”
“Yeah?” Lucy asked, fixing the brim of her hat. A tiny set of eyes, some small child, peered over the edge of a windowsill in nearby house. Lucy fixed the kid with a glare and the kid flopped back down out of sight. “Feeling your age then?”
“Hey,” Betty said, slapping Lucy on the arm.
“Not wasting time on the lie mom, you been at this for what, a decade? Never been caught, but you been shot, stabbed and brained good a few times, albeit to no effect. That’s a lot of luck to go walking around wasting if you never take time to enjoy it.” Lucy shrugged. “I was you? I’d have walked years ago, took what I could and headed back down to the islands.”
“Damn Smalls,” Betty chuckled, “one might come to thinking you didn’t want ‘em around.”
“Psh,” Lucy scoffed, “you go, I go. The deal’s the deal’s the deal, we have each other?”
“Yeah, Smalls, we have each other.”
“Oi, boss!” One of bandits yelled from the door of the bank. He sprinted wildly across the street to Betty. “Boss.” He said breathlessly, holding up a freshly printed shipping schedule. “Our blood spied this going through the vault. It’s a right stunning find.”
“Show your hand,” said Lucy, demanding an answer in her frustratingly southern dialect. Betty still had trouble, at times, with the winding nonsense the southerners spoke, even after a decade of getting into mischief alongside one.
“Ay, see this then,” the boy started. Betty remembered his name was Primo. She had always had trouble putting names to faces, even in her own crew, but especially when it was a new guy. Lucy had drug Primo along after a rough job in the north had made him persona non grata with his old pimp, primarily because Lucy had taken the man’s hand off at the wrist. The boy pointed at a mark on the schedule.
“There’s cargo here and here that never made it up this way, cause it got rerouted down in Bailey,” Primo said. “But, there is nowhere to reroute it to, cause no trains will be leaving that can carry a load this heavy, except this one.” He pointed to a name, the Bella Faccia.
“Show your hand boy,” said Lucy, “what’s the game?”
“This paper has shipping information for all these boxcars, but this one is leaving at full weight without everything accounted for. See here? Paper says there’s all these empty cars but that the train’s at max weight. It don’t click, we have each other?”
“Hmph, yeah boy, good on ya,’” said Lucy, slapping the kid on the back. “Get back with your blood, fill them trolleys so we can get to going.”
“Ay mom, we have you,” he said, running back into the bank.
“Hey Primo,” Betty called after him. He turned. “Get that dandy cleaned up and set him with the others, no point leaving the poor bastard trussed up like that.” Primo nodded and ran off.
“You got any thoughts for this train, or is the Brass Buckle still feeling too old for law breaking?” Lucy asked. Betty chuckled and kicked the dirt.
“Yeah Smalls,” she said, “I got thoughts for this train. A few actually.”
“Care to share them?” Lucy asked.
“Maybe,” Betty said, “when they’re finished cooking up there. Genius is rarely half baked.” She kicked a clod of dry dirt into the wet spot beneath the spigot, and then turned to head back into the bank. “Why don’t we see if we get away with this job before we start planning the next one, right?”
“Right mom, I have you,” Lucy said.
They headed back to the bank, walking on their shadows.

Pram laid her face against the warm brass flank of the Bella’s power plant. She listened through to the hollow space between the pipes and wires, to the off-count ticks and clicks of the metal shifting as it cooled. The engineering team had just checked her over for the last time before departure, and, soon enough, they’d be together again.
She made a gloved fist and struck the hull’s reflective surface. It rang with a deep, hollow base note that reverberated gently in her chest.
“Hey!” A voice down the line yelled. Pram turned to see Kenneth, the chief engineer, eyeing her from beneath a set of bushy black eyebrows. The man’s entire head was a mess of thick black hair. “I just had the old girl polished. Just cause you drive this baby don’t mean you can go greasin’ ‘er up with your nasty, unwashed hands Beazley.” Pram smiled wickedly and dragged a squeaking finger down the side of the Bella.
“But my baby likes getting dirty boss,” she replied, slapping the engine barrel underhanded and turning to it. “Don’t you baby?” He belly laughed.
“Something wrong with you Beazley,” he said, slapping a black-streaked hand across the front of his overalls. “Gotta say I’m a fan, but there is definitely something wrong.” He rapped his knuckles against the hull. Pong. “Good thing I’ll be rid of you once we hit Coalton, eh?” She shrugged.
“Dunno yet boss,” she said, “Cartwright said Compton’s ready to throw me a fairly big stack to stay on till Brut.”
“Oh yeah?” He asked, raising a heavy eyebrow. “How much?”
“The envelope had weight to it,” she replied, “let’s just leave it at that.”
“Nice,” he said, “wish I could renegotiate from time-to-time. But my place is here, with my beloved Bella.” He patted the hull. “So you gonna take the offer?”
“Maybe,” Pram said, adding: “Probably. Not like I have much else going on at the moment, and I’d hate to have to just ride somebody else’s train back to Crosus for the next job.” Kenneth grunted.
“Fair ‘nuff,” he said, “but how’s about we get to work before we lose ourselves in daydreams of grandeur.”
“I don’t even know what that means boss,” Pram replied. Kenneth had grown up in the colonies before moving out east for schooling. The decades had grayed his hair, but he had never lost his colonial penchant for saying indecipherable bullshit.
They walked to the far side of the hull, where a two-step ladder led up to the front of the engine compartment. Kenneth pulled out a gold colored key and popped open the access hatch, gesturing for Pram to go first. She fake curtsied and he shook his head at her before following her inside.
The power plant was the two-car-long heart of the Bella Faccia. It sat just behind the conductor’s car. Masses of curled silver, gold and black piping twisted and coiled around the inside of the car, all terminating in and emanating from the cylindrical central chamber. It was a cramped, squatting walk for anybody taller than Pram. Everywhere else but here she felt like a visitor. Here? Here she was home.
“Hello?” Called a voice from the backside of the central chamber. It was Pico, Kenneth’s assistant engineer. “This car is off-limits to none essential personnel during the inspection period.” Pram could make out the shifting light of an electric torch casting skinny shadows through the pipework.
“Come off it, Pico,” said Kenneth, his voice booming in the small compartment. “There’s a lock on the door, who’d be coming in here what wasn’t allowed? And who told you to get started early?” Pico’s eyes popped up from the shadows.
“We’re behind schedule boss,” he said. He shrugged his skinny shoulders. “Mr. Cartwright wants the Bella up and ready to go by the time the last crew of civilians finishes boarding.”
“I swear I can feel that man’s chin whiskers on my prostate he’s so far up my ass,” Kenneth muttered. “Alright then Pico, finish whatever you’re doing and get back up here. Beazley’s gotta turn this girl over and get those batteries charged, or our fancy ladies in the passenger cabins are going to start complaining that they can’t see down their noses at the wait staff.”
“A-alright boss,” he said, ducking down and hitting a pipe with his chin in his haste. Ping. “…motherfucker.”
“I swear I hate not being able to pick and choose my assistants,” Kenneth said. Pico, who was bout four years too young for the job he currently held, had been forced on Kenneth by somebody high up the chain of command. Kenneth blamed his misfortunes on nepotism. Pram, admittedly, didn’t like the guy either. He was…slimy.
Pram patted Kenneth on the shoulder and walked over to the cylinder, popping the round hatch at the end of it open. It was pitch dark inside, as expected, though she could still make out glints of light reflecting off the gold runes inlaid into the sides of the chamber. Pico’s head popped out from beneath the chamber, between her legs.
“Holy shit,” she exclaimed, resisting the urge to punch him in the face.
“What?” He asked, pushing himself out from beneath the chamber as she stepped aside.
“A little warning next time, maybe?” She asked. “And can I get that torch?”
“Torch?” He asked, standing up and brushing off the front of his overalls.
“Yeah,” she said, “the torch. I need to inspect the sigil for damage before ignition and I obviously can’t use low point-value spells, right? Can I borrow the torch?”
“This?” Pico asked, pointing to the silver cylinder in his hand. “This is not a torch, this is a flashlight.”
“What? No, seriously? It’s a torch, an electric torch. Flashlight doesn’t even make sense.”
“It makes sense inside the Imperium,” he said, “where you live.”
“No,” said Pram, taking the torch from him. “It doesn’t, and where we’re both from it’s called an electric torch. Because it’s a torch, that’s electric. A flashlight would turn on, like, once and then go off. Because that’s what flash means.”
“You islanders all the same,” Pico yawned.
“What? You’re from the ruined isles too!” She exclaimed, running the light from the torch up and down the front of him. He glared at her.
“Yes, I suppose I am,” he said, turning around and pulling a clipboard from behind his back. “Don’t you have work to do?”
Pram briefly thought about how wonderful it would be to pull a boulder out of otherspace and drop it on his head. She had a high-enough conduit grade to do it to, but just drawing out the spell could potentially take years. Pram wished she were a low conduit grade sometimes, so she could set people’s hair on fire when she was mad, just like anybody else. Pico could probably set her hair on fire if he wanted to.
She sighed. Having a massively high conduit grade was such a bullshit gift.
Pram shone the light inside the central chamber, craning her head to look around a bit before sitting on the lip off the opening and letting herself slide inside of it.
The interior of the chamber was a seventeen-point polyhedron with seventeen individual faces, laid out as a sideways obelisk. Intricate golden runes were inlaid into the wrought iron walls of the chamber. Various shapes, geometric and calligraphic, formed what, as a whole, was called the sigil, the esoteric name of the spell.
Pram ran her hand down the polished surface of the panels, only half-reading each rune as her fingers passed them. Speed. Pressure. Power. Old words. Dead words with little meaning outside of magic craft. Much of what she knew she learned during her years at the college in Crosus, not that it mattered much. Complex, high point-level spells were researched and published over lifetimes of work by professionals in their fields.
This momentum spell was written by Hartwell Mary-Compton, who died a hundred some-odd years ago. Hartwell’s intention had been to create a spell capable of teleporting rock out of mineshafts, but had instead created a spell that could power clockwork devices. The Imperium named a bridge after her, and she died very rich.
Pram was just the conduit through which the spell’s purpose was enacted, a sort of metaphysical tube that connected supernatural energy sources to the sigils they powered. Her massive conduit size meant she could control huge amounts of power, but had little control over the “direction” they moved, whereas small conduit users like Bennett could easily cast spells, but very weak ones comparatively.
It was essentially the difference between a riverbed and a garden hose. Subtle versus overt. Pressure and flow made magic work. Water that would fill the hose would fail to fill the riverbed, and even a fraction of the riverbed’s capacity would shatter the hose. People who tried to cast outside their gauge often died, and almost always lost their affinity. They became Enfeebled.
Pram finished her inspection and got out of the chamber, taking a clipboard off the wall and checking ticks down the line. Kenneth and Pico had already finished and left, leaving her alone in the power plant. It was required, people lacking her affinity and conduit gauge would be incinerated if they stayed in the compartment during the ignition sequence. She pulled a conical, black speakerphone off the wall and pulled down on the talk lever beneath it.
“Boss, this is Pram,” she said through the receiver.
“Yeah Pram, this’s me,” Kenneth replied, his voice shot through with gravely static. “You ready to go?”
“Yes sir,” she said, “estimate five minutes to ignition.”
“Roger,” he replied, “all inspections are a go out here. Pass through your clipboard and start her up.”
“Roger,” she said, hanging up the receiver and letting the lever go. She passed the clipboard through a slender metal slot by the door and slid a thin metal shutter down over it. Kenneth pounded the hull to let her know he received it, and she pounded back that she heard.
Pram stripped off all of her clothing besides the black thermals and stowed them away. Thermal underwear was more for modesty’s sake than for comfort, they weren’t very warm, but they also wouldn’t get incinerated in the chamber like everything else she had been wearing. On more than one occasion her clothing locker had malfunctioned and been ripped open during transit, leaving her with nothing to wear until one of the engineers fetched her a new uniform from her baggage.
The torch went in with the clothing as well. The engine compartment was pitch black without the artificial light, but she found her way well enough by feel and memory. The Bella had been her home for two years now, and every step across the cold steel was as familiar as a midnight trip to the bathroom. Her finger found its way to the face of her watch, feeling the steadfast ticks through the glass. It would survive the fire, it always did.
She lay down inside the drive chamber, not bothering to close the door behind her. Activating the spell would do that on its own anyway. Her eyes closed, despite the darkness, and soon the compartment began hum.
White fire trickled down from the tip of the sideways obelisk, following the latticework path of embossed gold. The steel door clanged shut as though it was being pulled closed by a magnet. She floated up above the floor of the obelisk as it began to rotate around her, the same white fire on the runes dripping out of her mouth, nose and eyes. Temperatures outside the compartment rose dramatically, until, with a soundless whump, the oxygen inside the engine room ignited and was gone.
Pram’s skin, blood and muscle melted away, disappearing into the light until only a skeleton was left, and then not even that remained. She felt nothing but transcendental bliss, a purely euphoric absence of thought. Pram was light itself, filling the chamber and leaking out into the cabin, into the electrical systems, the clockwork, the miles of pipework. Into the Bella herself. Water evaporated, became steam, and the Bella roared to life.
Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:25 am
Location: America

Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Sat Jan 18, 2014 12:28 am

Chapter Two | Departures
part two

Spoiler (click to show/hide):

Nash found that he rather enjoyed working on the railway. One of his superiors, a slop-faced lady named June, had instructed him to do a secondary sweep of the back compartments for any hiccups in the electrical systems. Commonplace work for a commonplace man, he thought, noting nothing out of the ordinary on the hundredth car in his 295 car (that’s strange I counted a clean 300 outside, haha) inspection. He whistled as he went about his work, checking the inside and outside light fixtures as he moved down the train.
“I don’t know why,” June had said, “but Cartwright personally wants you to check the electrical all the way to the back. Is there some big issue with electrical right now? Why do we need a standard maintenance guy onboard anyway?” Nash had just smiled with Bennett’s face, apologized for “bullshit bureaucracy”, and walked off down the train. Of course he knew the answers to all of those questions, though he wasn’t entirely sure Bennett would have, though offing his next target would give him all the information he needed. But that was a ways away, for now, he could just wander the surprisingly wide cars of the Bella and enjoy the simplicity of living as the proletariat do.
Many of the cars he passed through near the front of the Bella were passenger cars, most of which hadn’t been loaded yet. First class, big rooms and sleepers, were on the opposite side of the kitchen and the store rooms from the lower class cabins, which had mostly just seats and few awfully uncomfortable looking sleepers. There were bars and storerooms on either side of the kitchen as well, to further buffer the highbloods from their prole cousins down the aisle.
Past the passenger cars were the modified, windowless cattle cars that the soldiery used for transportation. Long, pitted wood benches ran down the line for all ten of the troop cars. The first eight had loaded and were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with sleeping infantrymen. The last two were to remain empty until Coalton according to the manifest. Nash caught a bit of graffiti carved into the face of one of the wooden boards.
And then below.
Nash found himself surrounded by strapped up bindles of heavy steel track line, bound for the frontier where Compton E&L was still laying rail to push further east. Many of the following cars carried a similar payload, boxes of rail ties, spikes, and new excavation and construction equipment for laying rail.
We have to be heading toward Granger Pass, he thought, noting the contents and doubling back when he forgot to check a light fixture. More and more cars brought him to more and more cars full of nothing.
Passenger luggage, crew luggage, food and medical shipments to the front, three cars full of nothing but three-point sigil weaponry and two mail cars full of tamped down crates, burlaps mail sacks and brown paper packages tied up with string. All ending, of course, with the five nonexistent cars he had found on no other manifest than the one Bennett had been given. Cars that had shiny new Imperium padlocks. Padlocks only he had the key to.
He knew what was in the cars now, which was one of his mission objectives despite his superiors being correct in their hunches about the contents. Correct of course, except for the recent addition of a former Compton E&L employee. Once he had figured out the identity of the last of his four targets, things would begin to get very interesting. The first three were easy to find, but his last target was a professional, like him. This was going to be so much fun, though it was a shame that he would have to kill the cute little Steam Trainer girl.
Nash shrugged and pursed his lips, despite nobody being around to see the gesture. Work was work, and you had to take the good with the bad.
Speak of the devil, he thought, as the electric lights above him flickered to full power above him. The Steam Trainer had ignited the Bella’s engine, which meant it was essentially time to take off. A sudden burst of power kicked through the drive train a kilometer up the line, jerking the train forward and nearly taking Nash off his feet. He stumbled and caught himself against large crate simply marked: BLACK STUFF.
“Folks, this Perry Cartwright, your conductor.” Cartwright’s voice came out loud over the tinny intercom speakers. “Sorry for that little bit of a jolt, just some pre-departure hiccups. As a note, the Bella Faccia will be departing Old Bailey Hub momentarily, so please find your seats and place for your belongings. Thank you, and thanks for riding Compton E&L.”
Nash righted himself and continued his inspection of the train, humming aloud to himself car after car. It was an old song, one that he couldn’t quite place, but that he knew he’d remember the name of as soon as he forgot the tune. Oh well, he thought, it’s always best to look on the bright side of things. Something was off. He sniffed the air. Hairs rose on the back of his neck.
Chills ran up the back of his spine and he found that his good mood had quite suddenly vanished. His searched the car around him, quickly scanning the labels of the crates. Boots, bandages and BLACK STUFF, but nothing that would smell so strongly of sulfur. His eyes darted to both sides of the cabin, wondering which door would be his best bet. Which door would be the one to lead him back to the safety of crowds. He looked back to the rear of the car on instinct and saw it in the window of the car, looking right at him.
Nash turned and ran, focusing the little magic he could on powering the sigils tattooed onto his legs. Doors burst out of his way as he ran through car after car, some slapping the side of the car so hard they rang like a gunshot in the following cabin. It had climbed onto the roof. He could hear it keeping time with his pace above, clomping the hard soles of its feet down step after step.
Ten cars down in nearly twenty seconds. Nash’s lungs burned from the effort, and he could feel the wavering blur of magic burnout encroaching over his eyes. Blinding him. Choking him.
There was no way he could outrun the thing, and no way he could make it back to the relative safety of being near people who might fight on his behalf. It was final stand time. Ozone stink and white heat crackled from the sigil on his palm as he turned to face the door, readying himself for whatever came through. Sweat burned his eyes. He blinked it away. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Nothing but the stale air of the luggage car and the soft clatter of the train picking up speed as it headed out of the station. Nothing but the grey glow of dust motes as they passed through the sunlight streaming through the window in front of him. Nothing but the acrid stink of the shimmering white blade of heat coming out of his palm. Nothing but him, alone and wearing another man’s face, in a dark, lonely luggage car near the back of a doomed train. Nothing at all.
Nash sucked in air through his nostrils and extinguished the blade in his hand. He regained his posture and then his composure, taking a few more deep breaths and trying to wave away the ozone-scented tendrils of smoke from his hand.
Okay, he thought, I definitely saw that. But, I am definitely not dead or being tortured so that is an obvious plus. A very, very obvious plus. He nodded to himself. Yeah, I’ll be just fine. The door slammed shut behind him and he nearly pissed himself. Nash’s head whipped around just in time to see Kittredge’s beaming face walking toward him.
“Oh…hey,” he said, trying not pant.
“Hey…man, what’s up?” Kittredge asked, a worried look on his face.
“Nothing, you know, just… uh,” he gulped, “finishing up my inspection of the rear cars.”
“Why are you sweating?” Kittredge asked, cocking up the world’s most infuriating eyebrow.
“Oh, I’m, uh, trying to get back up to the kitchen before the cooks start putting on the roast for the first class passenger’s dinner,” he said, dragging through the dredges of the mission file for something, anything to get him out of this jam. A fat bead of sweat fell off his face, scattering dust when it landed on the floor. “I’m starving, but the cooks won’t make nonessential staff food after they’ve started cooking for the highbloods.”
“Highbloods?” Kittredge chuckled, “you sound like a Crossian dignitary.”
“Oh yeah? Ha. Ha.”
“So what’re you doing in here?”
“Oh, uh.” Think Nash, think. Hide in plain sight. Show the ace to hide the pair. Got it. “You smell that ozone in here? Like air burning?” Kittredge sniffed the air and nodded.
“Yeah, kinda.”
“Yeah, uh, well you see this light right here?” Nash asked, pointing to one of the fully functional lights hanging over the luggage racks. He climbed the rack and ripped the wire out of the side of it, shutting the light off, and then reinserted the wire, which turned the light back on. “This wire’s loose. I noticed in flickering and I tried to get it to stick back in, but…” He shrugged, playing with the wire until a fat spark popped and made the air stink of ozone. “You see.”
“Ohh,” Kittredge said, “that’s pretty crazy. You qualified to repair that sort of thing?”
“Uh, no,” Nash replied, jumping down off the rack. “But I figured I might save somebody some time if I could get it back in.” He pointed at the clipboard in his left hand. A wet spot had formed around his fingers. “Cartwright told June to send me down here and check out the electrical systems after takeoff, I guess he expected some degree of malfunction, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Kittredge, turning around to leave. “Either way, let’s get out of here so you can get your sandwich, and I can catch up on the sleep I’ve been missing out on.” Nash breathed a sigh of relief, he’d done it.
“So, uh, Kittredge,” he asked, “what’re you doing back here?”
“Oh,” he said, stopping momentarily and raising his eyes to the ceiling. “I thought I saw something out of place, but I guess, maybe, that I was wrong. Either way, it’s no big deal.” He slapped Nash on the back. “Let’s get out of here man, luggage cars give me the creeps.”
“Yeah, me too,” Nash said, thinking of a gaunt, pale face wreathed by a stringy black mess of hair. And the eyes, he thought.
Black eyes.
Staring right at me.

Sylvia curled up into the great expanse of the red cloak Caan had draped over her. The fire her and the other survivors had been led to crackled softly before her, warming the stones beneath her feet. Only the cold wind at their backs gave her any discomfort, howling as it did up the side of the jagged cliffs behind them. Soldiers cawed and sung beside their own fires throughout the camp, reveling as though the sun had never rose behind the twisted fang of Mount Granger. She wanted to sleep. She would not.
All four survivors sat around her. They had all taken the oath, cast their belongings into the flame to stand before Caan. Each of them was given the same red cloak to hide their bodies from the cold. She wished her hair would dry soon. It hung in wet clumps around her face, bothering her neck and shoulders. Baths had been drawn for them by pyromancers, who melted snow into great old graven bowls in the ruined castle. In silence, they had bathed together, until the bored looking guard had gestured for them to dress and leave.
Now they sat quietly around the fire, gnawing occasionally at the hard chunk of bread they’d been given for breakfast. Only four, from a train staffed by hundreds. There were no tears left for dead bodies in the snow. She tore off a mouthful of bread and chewed slowly, gazing into the fire and at nothing at all. Boots scraped across the ground behind her, and Sylvia turned to see Foucault looming over their circle. He held his hand down to her.
“Come with me,” he said. She obeyed. His hand was large, perhaps twice the size of hers, but he lifted her gently. It was like being lifted by a tree, pliant. Unstoppable. She pulled the cloak tightly around herself as she stood, saving herself any more embarrassing nudity.
Foucault was light on his feet for a man of his size. Heavy footfalls belied a lithe sense of poise, and Sylvia could tell by the brisk pace he kept that the man was extremely fast. Unlike many of the lower ranking soldiers, who carried guns, swords and staves, the colonel remained unarmed, save a five point rend sigil engraved into the back of his gauntlet. A sharp bit of rock bit into the bottom of Sylvia’s foot, and she gasped and fell forward.
He caught her without looking, turning his body only slightly to interrupt her fall. She mumbled a quick thank you and pushed off his arm to stand back up. He pointed at her foot.
“Can you walk?” He asked. His concern was off putting. She nodded, caught something strange hiding in the cloudy grey of his eyes, and they kept walking. Sylvia held up the pace with her limping, but if Foucault noticed, he didn’t let say.
Groups of soldiers were singing songs beside the massive central fire now, the cadence of their words far too fast for Sylvia to translate in her mind. The few words she recognized were awfully dirty slurs though, something about loose barmaids in oceanfront bars.
A ring of soldiers, male and female, cheered on two naked women as they wrestled on the bare stone ground. One of the women, a blonde, managed to get the other in an arm lock, and she tapped out. The blonde stood and crowed at the sky, her voice joined by the others as they cheered. A friendly hand helped the loser to her feet, slapping her jovially on the back as she redressed. Two male soldiers took to the ring and began stripping. Savages. Sylvia looked away, focusing instead on the ground in front of her.
They came to a large tent set in the waning dark beyond the fires. Candles glowed inside, casting their light in long strings through the gaps in the red felt walls. The soldier in front of the tent beat his chest once and pulled aside the flap over the entrance. Foucault returned the gesture and went inside, waving for Sylvia to follow.
The candles weren’t candles at all, but rather the glow of the pyromagus that had drawn their baths flickering as she boiled a stinking pot of lead. A different geomagus than the one who had led the party through the frozen wastes sat opposite the pot, his eyes white with magic. He pulled drops of lead from the boiling slurry without touching them, spinning them cool and long in the air in front of him and setting down the finished slugs on bit of wood beside him. Foucault picked one of the cooled slugs from the stack of hundreds and turned it over in his fingers.
“Good weight, smooth,” he said, nodding. “You are master of your craft, Colt.” The man relaxed his concentration, letting the milky white fire of spell craft slip from his eyes. He smiled and nodded at Foucault. Colt was obviously a westerner, his jet-black hair sticking out messy tufts in all directions.
The girl opposite him, the pyromagus, had the blonde hair and blue eyes of a northerner. Sylvia had heard the northern territories had grown disgruntled with the Imperium, but she would never have suspected them to be traitors. Sylvia bit her lip, thinking of the warm red cloak that encircled her shoulders even now.
“You honor is our honor, sir,” the girl said in heavily accented Caanish.
“May it be kept well, magus,” Foucault said. “It is good to see you and Colt working so well together Galena.” He slapped the boy on the back in comradely fashion. “Are you well kept yourselves?” Galena shrugged.
“Our needs are seen to,” she replied, “but we are nearly out of potassium nitrate for the gunpowder.” Foucault grunted with a nod.
“Very well,” he said, “I’ll ask the other geomagi to comb these hills. The caves in the valley are sure to have what you need.”
“Thank you sir,” Galena added with a bow.
Foucault nodded and Sylvia followed him deeper into the tent. She stole a glance back and saw Colt smiling broadly at Galena. His fingers contorted into strange shapes and a large wad of lead floated up out of the boiling pot. It formed into a crude heart and he winked at Galena. She grinned back at him and traced the heart with her finger from a distance, wreathing it in flame. Still burning, the heart sunk back into the boiling black.
“They no longer have magi in the Imperium, do they?” Foucault asked without turning as the skirted around various piles of wreckage that had obviously been dragged from the ruins of the Lady Turandot. Fire blackened copper trim, twisted axles and pockmarked sheets of roofing steel littered the inside of the tent. Looking around, Sylvia realized that it was much larger on the inside than it seemed when they entered.
“No sir,” she replied, her eyes moving in horrified wonderment over the wreckage of her train. A piece of the engine compartment hull, still gleaming despite its condition, reflected their figures as they passed it. A nameplate, reading: ENGINE 108, broke her heart as she read it. In her mind, she could still feel the engraved letters beneath her fingers. The sun warmed metal of the engine smelling softly of ground metal and oil being heated beneath the cold autumn sun. She sighed.
“Elemental magi aren’t necessary in the Imperium,” she continued, aching to reach out and touch the hull one more time. “Many of their skills have been made obsolete by technology, so it’s better to teach magic affine children sigil mastery in school.”
“A pragmatic approach to the problem, I suppose,” Foucault said, winding his way through the makeshift scrapyard. It was surprisingly warm inside the massive tent, and Sylvia found it strange that there were now large drifts of sand on the ground. Salt sea air drifted on an unseen breeze, winning over the stink of the smelting pot as it fell further behind them. “But there is no space for complex machinery in the old hills, on the deserts and in the swamps of the Verdant Waste. The Imperium garrison is going to have a tough time replenishing itself.”
Foucault had begun talking to himself as much as her.
“Hello, Colonel,” said a tall, skinny old woman ahead of them. She was poised gracefully atop a backless, cushioned stool, her legs crossed knee-over-knee. The red and blue floral print of her dress hung to just above her ankles, and was banded around her waist by a wide belt of intricately woven leather cords. A fat, weather beaten book rested on her palm, held open by its own weight and age. Grey hair, like combed spider silk, rested in a droopy bun at the back of her head.
“Lady Hypatia,” Foucault replied, pressing his fist to his chest quietly. “It has been far too long.”
“Agreed,” she said matter-of-factly, pinching the book closed with a snap. “How have the mountains been treating you?”
“Poorly,” he said, “but our will is indomitable.” He stepped back and softly pushed Sylvia forward by the small of her back. Chills ran up Sylvia’s spine as the woman shifted her gaze onto her. Hypatia’s eyes were the same eastern silver as her own. They were cold, analytical. Sylvia could feel the woman summing her up.
“And this pretty young thing Foucault?” Hypatia asked. “Have you taken a war bride? Shall I inform your father?” She grinned.
“No, ma’am,” he replied. “This is one of our new sisters, reborn by the favor of Caan. Formerly she was a Steam Trainer, Sylvia Messerschmitt of the Compton Electrical and Locomotive company.”
“You’ve already broken her, it seems,” Hypatia said, pointing to Sylvia’s injured foot. Sylvia lifted it and saw sand sticking to a patch of blood around where the rock had cut her. Hypatia waved her over. “Come here child, let me have a look at you.” The woman stood and set Sylvia down on her stool. The awkward position made it difficult to keep the cloak from falling open. Hypatia sensed her nervousness and kneeled in front of her.
“There is no need to be upset girl,” she said, grabbing Sylvia’s calf and bringing the wounded foot up for inspection. “Nor is there any need to maintain the demureness of your past disposition, you walk with Caan now.” Hypatia pulled Sylvia’s leg further up. The cloak fell to the side, revealing the well-toned skin of her thigh, and the slightest curve of her buttock. Hypatia drew a triangle in the bloody sand and pressed her palm to Sylvia’s foot.
Tingling numbness washed down her leg like hot water, pleasantly burning down and down and down until it filled her stomach, her chest and her whole body. She sighed and fell slowly back, her arms relaxing and falling to the side, taking her cloak along with them. Her back came to rest on Foucault’s massive palm as he knelt down to support her. Warm salt sea air drifted in on the breeze. Her nipples hardened as it passed over her breasts.
Foucault didn’t steal a glance upward at her body, he just looked silently down into her eyes. For a moment, she wanted to reach up and touch his face, to feel the scrabbly salt and pepper hair on his cheeks and chin scratching at her palm. His skin was bronzed and rough from years of warring beneath the sun. Tall, broad and silent, as though he had been cast in bronze like some ancient, pagan god and brought to life. He had ordered the deaths of hundreds of her associates.
Sylvia shuddered as the healing trance ended. She sat straight up and pulled the cloak back around her, curling up inside of it. Hypatia helped her to her feet. Her smile was a bizarre mix of affectionate matron and toothy card shark. Sylvia noticed her foot was completely healed.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
“Think nothing of it,” Hypatia said, waving a hand dismissively and turning to a stack of drawers hidden beneath a flowing pink silk curtain. “You will come, in time, to know the generosity of Caan.” She pulled an assortment of basic leather clothing from one of the dresser drawers and handed them to Sylvia. “Our people have no possessions, no creed and no need for selfishness or shyness. These are mine, and therefore, yours. They should be enough to keep you warm for the journey down the mountain.” Hypatia rummaged through another drawer and pulled free a set of basic cotton undergarments. Sylvia was surprised to find that most all the articles fit, save the bra, which was about a size too small.
She dressed quickly, with her back to Foucault. Hypatia watched her put the clothes on and dropped a pair of tall, fur-lined boots in front of her. Each layer of clothing felt better that the last as she pulled them on. She even found herself smiling a bit as the clothing warmed over her skin.
“Thank you, ma’am,” she said to Hypatia. The old woman smiled and waved. “Think nothing of it, but be warned,” she added. “All of Caan’s children must find their purpose, work that can be done for our consummate glory.” Hypatia looked past Sylvia to Foucault. Sylvia swore she could hear the rhythmic crash of waves on the beach somewhere outside the tent. “I assume that you have adopted this wayward daughter, colonel? Have you thought of some purpose for her?”
“Yes, Lady Hypatia,” he replied, stepping forward and laying a heavy hand on Sylvia’s shoulder. “I would have her as my interpreter. I will need someone who competently speaks both our language and… theirs…when we have descended into the highlands. It is her choice, of course.”
“Hmm, yes,” Hypatia said, stepping forward and laying a cool hand on Sylvia’s forehead. Momentarily, her mind filled with thoughts of moths flying dangerously close to a wax candle. Buzzing. Sulfur. Hypatia removed her hand. “But there are other options for this one. She has quite the capacity for powerful sigil work, perhaps in the defense corps?” Hypatia scoffed and directed her eyes to Sylvia’s. “Or you could forgo noble endeavors and just be a cook or some other banal thing. Perhaps latrine duty?”
“I...,” Sylvia started. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Obviously,” Hypatia said, shooing her away from the stool so that she could get back to reading her book. “But our dear colonel here will be more than willing to help you earn your name, correct?”
“Yes, Lady Hypatia,” said Foucault.
“See?” She said rather than asked. “Now find your way out of here, I have a bit of reading to get back to.” Foucault nodded and directed Sylvia back toward the path through the scrapyard. They walked silently for a while, until Foucault spoke up.
“I know this is probably all a bit overwhelming for you,” he said.
“You are very observant, sir,” Sylvia retorted politely. The new clothes were having a positive effect on her confidence. Foucault let out a rare chuckle.
“How you choose to serve Caan is a very important decision,” he continued, “and I would very much like for you to find your purpose as my interpreter.” Sylvia rubbed her arm nervously. This was all entirely too much.
“You had my people executed like dogs,” she said, trying to let her newfound confidence into her voice.
“I did,” he replied, bluntly. “There were no other options. Corralling, treating and moving several hundred prisoners in this terrain would have been impossible, and leaving them to freeze to death on a mountain top would have been barbaric. In different situations, situations you will witness in time, you will see that all of our enemies are offered the choice we gave you.” She stopped, and he turned to her.
“But why did you attack us in the first place?” She asked. “The Turandot was on a resupply mission to the colonies on the other side of the Pass. We were no threat to anybody.” She sniffed, and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. “Even the soldiers were just there to protect us from bandits.” Foucault shook his head and continued walking. Galena and Colt had taken their pot and left some time ago.
“There is much you do not understand about your mission,” he said, “and I doubt you would know the truth in my words if I told you now. Regardless of what you believe about the Imperium’s mission in the west, they were never going to resupply any colonists.”
“You can’t know that,” she said.
“I can,” he replied, “there have not been Imperium colonies west of the mountains for decades.” They were outside the tent now. The scent of the coast had been replaced by the smell of fire and flame cooked meat. Foucault turned to her. His eyes were cold, but again, she could see something in them. Something just beneath the surface.
“I know this because I was born in one, before the Imperium abandoned its citizens and retreated to the east,” he said. He put his hand on her shoulder. Warm. Heavy. She didn’t know whether to throw it off or run her cheek along the ridge of his knuckle. “I also know that if four people lived that boarded that train, then that was four more than the Imperium believed would survive the journey.” He pulled his hand back.
“The decision is yours,” he said, “but I would have you if I could. Eat lunch, think on it, and prepare to march.” He turned to look down the mountain, toward the east. A rogue wind caught hold of his cloak and it fluttered out behind him. “You can give me your answer on the road.”
With that, he was off, striding away toward the shuffling mass of soldiers. Sylvia watched him until he disappeared into the mass of red uniforms. She bit her lip and ran a hand through her hair, noticing it had finally dried. Another older looing soldier passed by her, leading one of the prisoners, a blond boy, past her and into the tent. Their eyes met briefly as he passed. With her new clothes, he couldn’t recognize her. She wasn’t sure that, if she saw herself right then, that she’d know who she was looking at either.
Sylvia looked to the sun, cresting the ruined columns of the dead castle, took a breath, and began walking east.
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby thealchemist » Sat Jan 18, 2014 5:56 am

This method of magic intrigues me....
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Sat Jan 18, 2014 7:42 am

thealchemist Wrote:This method of magic intrigues me....

It took me like, three real days to hammer out all the details about the magic system in this world.
My dev notebook looks like it was written by a crazy person with a number fixation.
Which, technically, is true.

Glad you enjoy!
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby [Brand_Name] » Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:34 pm


Better than expected. Keep up the great work!
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Sat Jan 18, 2014 7:29 pm

[Brand_Name] Wrote:Waw

Better than expected. Keep up the great work!

Look for the next chapter sometime in February!
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:54 am

I've kind of picked up some Steam while I've been writing this, and I'm probably going to go ahead and start writing the next chapter sometime this week.
It is going to be very, very long.
Highest vote count by Friday calls next chapter's answer.
Less Sylvia! More Nash!
Whorehouses! Sword fights!
Top hats! Crossdressing!
A mysterious new character!

Stay tuned for the next thrilling chapter of Steam,
Alley Work

Seriously, you guys need to talk to me more, I'm going crazy in here.
Keep reading,

PS I've been learning how to html up this mother *******
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby Zeus Kabob » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:53 am

Oh, you need people to talk to you? That's awesome, 'cause talking is like 90% of what I do!

Super excited that you're making another chapter! I've yet to read through your stuff (typically tl;dr haha), but I'm stoked to see what you've managed to create here! :)

Keep up the good work!
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:20 pm

Ha, thanks Zeus.
You are the greatest mod.
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby Zeus Kabob » Wed Jan 22, 2014 4:50 am

*ego intensifies*

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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:09 pm

Progress Update

I'm locking the votes in for camp janitor, because the vote's tied as of the moment I'm writing this and I think that direction is a good deal more interesting than the standard approach.
Next chapter's getting outlined now.
Additionally, I am considering maybe taking down the CYOA polls because I'm really not getting a lot of feedback on them and waiting takes forever.
If that's a deal breaker for anybody, let me know, but if nobody says anything I'll just continue as planned.
Regardless, this does seem to be progressing on time.

Much Love,
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby napsii » Sun Jan 26, 2014 7:03 pm

I almost specifically avoid reading this section of the forums now because I'm envious of axmanjack's status as a writing demigod in comparison to my mediocrity.

But I'm glad my ego still lets me appreciate good writing or else I'd have murdered him out of jealousy by now.

Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby thealchemist » Sun Jan 26, 2014 9:58 pm

Although I do not mind if you choose to take away the polls, taking them away kinda removes the CYOA portion...
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby [Brand_Name] » Sun Jan 26, 2014 10:13 pm

Camp Janitor...?

More like...

Camp... Uhh... Cumdumpster!

got her, amirite?
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby thealchemist » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:59 am

no.... you didn't.
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby daxtinator396 » Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:27 am

A new story! Oh boy oh boy! Yayyy thanks for writing! :3
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Tue Jan 28, 2014 7:52 pm

daxtinator396 Wrote:A new story! Oh boy oh boy! Yayyy thanks for writing! :3

You are welcome!

[Brand_Name] Wrote:Camp Janitor...?

More like...

Camp... Uhh... Cumdumpster!

got her, amirite?


thealchemist Wrote:Although I do not mind if you choose to take away the polls, taking them away kinda removes the CYOA portion...

Anything for you thealchemist, the polls stay.

napsii Wrote:I almost specifically avoid reading this section of the forums now because I'm envious of axmanjack's status as a writing demigod in comparison to my mediocrity.

But I'm glad my ego still lets me appreciate good writing or else I'd have murdered him out of jealousy by now.

And oh, shit, don't kill me.
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby thealchemist » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:29 pm

Soooo... that chapter 3?
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Re: Steam | an AMJ CYOA novel | updated 1-17-2014

Postby axmanjack » Fri Feb 21, 2014 8:37 am

thealchemist Wrote:Soooo... that chapter 3?

Next week.
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