The rider was struggling to speak over the clattering din of rain upon the metal shell of the car, but Shadrach had heard enough to determine that his name was Toad, and he didn’t have a very long time left.
The inside of the train car was a skewed floor space, with once-bolted down chairs laying in a jagged heap near the nose of the crash and shattered fixtures all about in haphazard piles. Indigo had laid out a blanket in a space on the floor not marked with jagged metal shards or wicked glass remnants, and Toad was spread out upon the meager pallet, twitching and writhing. The windows were frosted glass, obscuring the outside in muddled shapes and colors, and offering bland, inadequate light. The car shifted with each step they took, and in no time, Shadrach determined he would be best served by staying in one place and moving as little as possible.
Indigo, meanwhile, was busying himself with the dwindling Toad, seeming honestly concerned. He would give the wretched creature water, which was more often than not spat up and followed by deeper moans. Shadrach watched curiously, perplexed by the dark man’s sudden gentleness. When Indigo saw him watching, he didn’t glare back furiously, but instead looked away briefly. After a time, he stepped carefully beside Shadrach, the train car jostling dangerously with each movement.
“I knew him,” Indigo said, and for a moment, there was nothing else, as if this explanation sufficed. As Shadrach began to ask a question, Indigo abruptly continued. “When I was a prisoner in Zsa’s camp, killing for sport, Toad was a sentry. He treated us like we were men, and not beasts. He was the only one.” He stared at the dying man with sad fondness. “The others always chided him for his nature, but Toad was twice as smart as the rest of them. He was a good man. A friend.”
Shadrach gave Indigo a skeptical eyebrow. “A good man, a friend, that was trying to kill you?” He shook his head. “No, not just you. Us. No offense, but if that’s your definition of a friend, I hope to God I never cross paths with someone that’s your worst enemy.”
Indigo shook his head. “His wrists were bound to the gun. I cut them before you came. He was forced to do this. The other sentries would have blamed him for allowing me to escape. Zsa probably forced him to help Blanchette bring me back.” He took a deep breath, staring at the ruined ceiling of the train car. “All of this because of me.”
“What do you want to do with him?” Shadrach glanced briefly at him, knowing all too well that the end was coming sooner rather than later. “We can’t just keep him in here, and unless you plan on using your hands, burying him isn’t going to be an option.”
“He hasn’t died yet.” Indigo’s face twitched, and for a moment Shadrach expected tears, but they never came. “I need to speak with him before he passes. I need to know how many are still behind me.” He lingered for a moment, as if to say more, but did not. He instead moved back beside the man named Toad and hunkered beside him, waiting and hoping that words would come before death.
The storm raged through the night. The train car rocked with each blasting gale and the rain and hail battered the roof and windows of the car with a steady, harsh drumming, like nature’s own artillery. Shadrach stayed huddled in his corner, heavy eyelids suddenly opening with each violent flash of lightning and monstrous roar of thunder. He would focus on the images of Indigo and Toad, who huddled in the darkness only feet away but were only visible when a flash of a bolt would illuminate the cabin only briefly, leaving after images imprinted in his mind of the dark man still trying to nourish one that would have no use for food very soon.
In the midst of all of this, there were varying moans from the dying man. Some were barely audible amongst the incessant thrum of the weather, while others echoed within the darkness of the car. Indigo remained silent, standing vigil over a man that had one foot in the grave.
“Why did you give me an empty gun?” Shadrach asked, amidst the moans and the weather. He couldn’t tell if Indigo looked up or not; the suffocating darkness seemed to snuff out the mere idea of light. Shadrach felt pouty just asking it and felt shame, as if he was starving for attention. But he pressed on anyway, the question bothering him as it remained prominent in his mind. It would have been important to the dark man as well, if this dying friend was not here.
“I gave you the shells,” Indigo replied, his voice cool. “Do not trouble me with this foolishness here and now, Vagrant.”
“You said you trusted me, and you gave me the gun and the knife.” Shadrach felt heat rise in his cheeks; for too long had he allowed Indigo to refer to him as “weak” or a “fool”. “You gave me shells, but left none in the gun. If you didn’t trust me enough to load the gun, why arm me in the first place?”
“Did you think I would shoot you in the back if the gun was loaded?” Shadrach cried. “Is that it, after all of these days, did you think that I was waiting for the right moment to kill you? If you thought I meant to do that, then why give me the knife?”
At this, Indigo laughed. It wasn’t one of amusement, but rather one that was dark and furious, like a malevolent cat playing with its prey. Shadrach cringed at the sound and pressed back into the wall, oblivious of the sharp debris that surrounded him in the darkness. “If you meant to kill me, I would still have given you the knife and broken you before you could have made your move. But a gun,” he said, pausing. “Yes, that weapon could have proven deadly, even from someone that has never spilled blood before today. I gave you what you needed to defend yourself, and I protected myself in turn. I have already spoken to you of being careful, I need not waste these hours prating with you about those things already said. It is of no difference to me that you are such a careless creature that you wouldn’t check to make sure that your pistol was loaded before firing it. But do not trouble me with your lost feelings of betrayal. This man is dying, and he is a braver soul than you shall ever have the honor of being.”
The words stung worse than a slap, even coming from someone he’d only known for such a short time. Shadrach swallowed back all of the rage and fear that began forming as Indigo verbally chastened him. He opened his mouth to argue, but the point was made: Indigo didn’t respect him and clearly didn’t care that Shadrach knew. Part of him knew he’d never been fighting for respect out here in this strange place, so far from Amberline. He’d only been fighting to survive and get closer to home. Yet here and now, in the midst of this dilapidated train car and this raging tempest, the discovery that his companion cared more for a man that would have killed him than for Shadrach was painful.
He thought about the battle, how he’d stood and fired, despite the numbers being against them, and how he’d drawn them from Indigo. He thought himself to be brave in that moment in time, but now he wondered. He didn’t exactly like thinking of himself as a coward, despite his oft-times craven nature. It had kept him alive, but in the darkness, he thought about the battle he’d survived, and silently wondered if Indigo would have mourned him otherwise.