Sleep came, though with great difficulty. Thoughts of the pursuers hiding amongst the throng of animals around them kept Shadrach on edge. Indigo sat erect, staring toward the storm before him as opposed to the hunters behind. Shadrach would feel his eyes flutter and then jolt awake, repeating this over and again until the fluttering overtook the jolting, and fitful, dreamless sleep overtook.
He sat quickly as the strong hands of Indigo wrapped around his shoulder and shook twice. “We must move,” Indigo said, low and harsh, and he began moving in his quick, soft lope. Shadrach coughed and got to his feet, startled and a little drunk from sleep. But he followed, allowing consciousness to slowly ebb to the forefront of his mind.
The first thing he could see was the storm, seeming much larger and frightening. Lightning danced, often in various spots, and thunder boomed after a much briefer interlude than during the night. He could smell the coppery smell in the air, and how the grass and trees, so beautiful after the journey through the badlands, seemed terrified and vulnerable in the sudden, sharp gusts that preceded the squall. Close enough for a kiss, came a thought; sweet words he’d often hear from his beautiful wife, but now much more dangerous in regards to the bloated, dark, furious clouds.
The second thing he noticed was a sound behind them, low and little more than a murmur, in the here and now, but evident: a mechanical whine. An engine was roaring behind them, though distant. He couldn’t see the source of the engine, but he could see a rising dust-cloud that seemed to start beyond the horizon. He glanced ahead at Indigo, moving with animal speed as they rushed toward the oncoming hurricane. He’s not human, Shadrach thought, mystified. No one can hear like that.
There was no time to discuss it, however, and Shadrach’s fears began rising as the whine of the engine began to rise behind them. It’s moving quick, and he chanced a brief look over his shoulder, to see that the dust-cloud seemed much closer as well. Storms on both ends. What’s to be left of us?
They raced. His sides stabbed with pain, but he dared not slow and get lost from Indigo. He tapped his hip pocket frequently, fearful that his pistol would fall out as he ran, leaving him with nothing to defend himself. Spots flashed in his eyesight, and he sagged, falling forward. He couldn’t keep running like this. His chest hitched and heaved with each breath, and he rested his head briefly against the ground. Thunder boomed before him. An engine roared behind him. Shadrach moaned.
Indigo hauled him up roughly. “You mean to die here?” His voice was loud, booming like the thunder before them. His amber eyes flashed. “You mean to quit, now, like a beaten cur?” He shook him the way that a man might shake a child. Shadrach’s jaw clicked loudly, and he stumbled back, falling roughly on his rump. The orange eyes glowed like hellfire upon him. “I should have killed you myself, spared you from that which they’ll bring.”
“I…need…” Shadrach gasped, still heaving with each breath. “…a…minute…”
Indigo hauled him up again, “A bargain such as that is one they’ll never offer the likes of you.” He aimed a finger ahead of them. “Do you see it now, Vagrant? Do you see?”
Hidden in the swelling clouds before them was a copse of trees, full of life and swaying in the growing winds. Amidst that were odd shapes; something that looked like great stone fingers, stabbing up from the earth like something wishing to break free from beneath the surface. Between those fingers was another befuddling shape, small and squat, also tilted into the ground at an odd angle. Shadrach’s vision was still swimming. “What?”
“If it’s what I think it is, it’s providence,” Indigo said. The engine growled behind them. “We have ground to cover, but we will need that if we mean to outlast those behind us as well as the storm. But you must move your feet!” He shoved Shadrach forward, and he stumbled a bit, but began moving.
He focused on the odd shapes before them, trying to ignore his exhaustion. He hitched a breath and vomited, but he never slowed his pace. The shapes before him began taking form as they came closer. The stone fingers were remnants of some sort of columns, long decrepit, like the decayed bones of some old civilization. The squat shape in the middle was shaped like an odd, bloated bean, with foggy openings that had to be windows. It looked like the car of some odd train, with rusted, shattered wheels along the bottom. One side was buried in the ground, and from the rumpled side, it was likely from a very fast, abrupt, and violent impact.
His footfalls grew heavier and heavier. Fat raindrops began falling in random, lazy intervals. Lightning stabbed jagged and quick and thunder quickly boomed before them. He stumbled and fell, landing hard and face-first in the deceptively hard ground. He felt thick pain and let out a high, reedy wail. I broke my nose. I ran for miles and miles and I have been rewarded with a broken nose. He cursed this place, cursed the storm before them and the marauders behind them, cursed Indigo for his peak physical shape and his deadly nature, and cursed himself for being so in so deep over his head that he was likely upside down.
Indigo growled and dragged him to his feet, hauling him forward, helping him toward the bean-shaped train car. The wind was howling, but the engine was loud, full and strong. Shadrach could see the outline of a shape, small and insectile, but moving rapidly amidst the rising dust.
Indigo hurled him to the other side of the train car and spat. “That I should risk myself for the likes of you!”
Shadrach nodded, coughed, retched, vomited once more, and then continued nodding. “I totally agree,” he said weakly.
Indigo ventured a glance around the edge of the train. “There are two of those things. How Blanchette managed to get them I doubt I will ever know.” He glared at Shadrach. “Now would be a good time to cease your resting. That is, unless you desire to be slaughtered.”
Shadrach puffed a desperate breath. “Well, as long as there’s no running involved…”
“Four men, two of those mechanics.” He said the last word oddly; to Shadrach the word meant a person that fixed machines. Yet the word rolled off of Indigo’s tongue in a strange and alien way, making it something that brought deep, impending fright to Shadrach’s thoughts. He stood, sagging a bit, and pulled out the pistol. He glanced at it briefly, wondering if it would bear any usefulness in his untested hands. But he held it, and that seemed enough to appease Indigo.
“Stay here. You’ll have cover and might be able to take them unawares. Mind your ammunition.” He handed him a pouch. “There’s some here. But not much.” And with that, Indigo moved quickly along the other side of the car and out of sight. Shadrach glanced at the pouch of bullets and wondered how Indigo managed to be carrying the correct caliber bullets, and decided not to waste much time worrying on it. The man seemed frighteningly capable in all situations.
The roar of the engines was large and lively. Shadrach crouched low, tilting so that he could see and remain relatively concealed. His eyes widened.
The pursuers were perhaps a half-mile away, riding atop motorcycles with sidecars. They were dressed for battle, wearing fatigues and helmets and bands of extra ammunition around their chests like majestic soldiers of fortune. Their beards flapped in the wake, long hair flowing out like tangled banners behind them. The vehicles jostled comically along the grassy, uneven ground, but lurched ahead with furious determination. The ‘mechanics’, as Indigo called them, looked ancient but were moving quickly enough, belching black exhaust. The sidecars trembled. Wicked machine guns swiveled on custom-made mounts from the snub-nose of the sidecars, and Shadrach trembled at the sight.
He pressed against the back of the train car, licking his lips. His exhaustion, which he was sure would stick with him forever, had drained away completely in the face of the stark terror he felt. These motorcyclists raged ahead, and Shadrach could feel the danger seeping from their pores. He took a deep breath. Indigo was prepared for this face off, but he was either a seasoned killer, or clearly insane. Shadrach gripped the pistol, pulling back the hammer and swallowing deep.
“Now or never.”