She held a winning hand. This troubled her. And it wasn't because The Minstrel of this particular deck of Akaros playing-tarot happened to look like Wilkvelm. The same soft eyes. The same curve to his neck. Her poor lost Wilkvelm. No. A strategically stacked deck was more likely than this particular hand.
The cook, the copper-greaser and the tower-scout, she trusted none of them. Sure, the bet was just for copper chits. As an imperial hound she really was not supposed to even have such currency. But it was the only thing the locals would play for. And here, at charge-station 34, miles from Tyrmoor, this was the only entertainment to be found. Training bulls now bored her.
They were setting her up.
She leaned back in her chair. The cards cool in her hands.
Above them a bright, red bulb started to blink.
"Curses! Voiceline." She jumped from the chair. Every minute of energized voiceline cost a salary of chits. More if it came from as far as Imperial city. She ran. She took her cards with her, just to spite them.
She pulled her thin, brittle hair back and up, even though it was just a voice call. Look the part, play the part. The habit saved her much grief when dealing with command. She placed the receiver to her ear. The static crackled bright. She could hear the man shouting on the other end, but he must have had his hand over the microphone, as it was just a mush of mumble.
"Hound sergeant Moreana reporting, sir, she said.
"Sergeant, this is General Krinos. You are to add a second bull team to the approaching Tyrmoor to Arvaedh line."
"But sir, all I have are trainees, fresh bulls. Untested."
"You think I don't know this, sergeant? Get it done."
The line went dead. As the electrical signal of the voice faded, the wailing of some ghost, tangled in the thin cooper line that ran under the rail,registered in the ear piece as though from a great distance. The faces from her hand of tarot glared at her.
Curses. The general might send her out again for such a slight. He was probably writing the transfer orders now.
The ghost continued to call out to her; moans urgent and demanding. The crackle of static growing strong from its rage.
She set the receiver down and shivered once.
When the train arrived and the ghost burst from the side window and ripped Hound Moreana in half, most of the bull trainees panicked and scattered like rabbits.
Yet you, you kept your wits. At that very moment a strong memory flooded your mind and from it you found strength and insight. From Moreana's hand fluttered some Tarot. And that was enough of a trigger to get you thinking.
Moreana had gathered all the trainees well after two AM. An imperial express train, bound for city up north with special cargo. This was it. A chance for all the new bulls to prove their meddle. On an imperial train, even. Great careers are born this way, and all the trainees knew it.
Four lucky recruits will make this run. She said as she walked the platform of charging station 34, the tarot cards danced in her hands. The remote vastness of the dead lands loomed, the railway a thin silver thread spinning to the black horizon. With no electrical tower shield the outpost felt particularly exposed to the wandering spirits.
A low, deep klaxon rolled out of the night before the single arc-light headlamp of the imperial train cast its beam upon the group. She started repeating the protocols for ghost clearing: anchors draw it in, hooks and nets to drive and capture, and keen observation as ghost were inherently unpredictable.
But she didn't get to finish reviewing the protocols did she?
What did you remember and what from that memory did you immediately apply to this situation?
-Arden-McKeel (Spider) - Something about the insignia on the train triggered a memory for you, didnt it. It was that night after a lively bout of drinking. There had been a brawl, is it always a brawl with you? Why did you get into a fight that night? Who won? The bouncer had removed you from the pub, what was the name of that pub? The city of Elysia, right?
At any rate, a procession caught your eye and your curiosity and you followed a band of militaristic scientists to the shore. The oceans had vomited forth a leviathan that night. Its massive corpse resting on the brine-grey beach, its impossibly large eye full of sorrow. What else about the corpse struck you?
The scientific crew shared the same insignia on the train, thats right. And you saw Polonia there, with them, what was she doing?
What happened? Did you see them actually harvest Lighting-oil? How do they harvest that stuff anyhow?
What was so significant about that night to carry such meaning for you? Did you see something? Someone?
-Adric-Brogan(Rook) - Something about the lighting rolling off the train triggered a memory, or maybe it was the tarot in her hand, the one of The Child. Or a mixture of both.
It was when you went to the Skovolan cemetery with, was it your younger brother? A younger cousin? It was family, though, right, and just the two of you made the trek to the graves of the fallen from the emperors purges. Rows upon rows of stones upon a field where the grass grew thick and green-blue. The sky, so cold that day, so crisp; a rare day without moisture and the sky seemed like the perfect lense and everything relentlessly in focus.
In the distance you saw Arcy, right? At a funeral, they were burying someone there. You watched them ignite the oil, burn away the soul with an electrical flourish as the soul ceased to be. Then they dropped the corpse in the ground. Do you know who that was? You didnt go talk to them though, did you? That would have been rude. No you were there for some other purpose.
Why were you there? What happened? What was that conversation you had that was so meaningful, so significant?
-Arcy-Haig(Owl) - Something on the expression of the ghosts face triggered a memory, right? They day you finally decided to join. You were on your way to the recruitment station. You had nowhere else to turn. What had gone so bad, why then? What was it that made going to the recruitment station your only option?
As you approached the recruitment station that is when she emerged from the shadows, she shuffled right up to you. Dont go, she said. An old Iruvian sage, she had the dress, the style -- it was obvious to you. What do Iruvian spirit sages look like? Why do they dress that way?
Such a person did not belong in that city, were you in the Imperial City then or was this elsewhere? Had you ever had encounters with Iruvian sages as a child?
Tell us, what argument did she make? Why did you turn her down? When did she make the exact same expression that the ghost made? What was that expression?
Why was this so significant, so meaningful?
-Polonia-Booker(Anchor) - Moreana called out the name Laudius, didnt she. Your cousin. And that triggered a memory of the duel in the Akoros senate chamber. You were there. They had selected blades, and it got bloody quick. One of them died. How long had it been since there was a duel on the senate floor? Ten years? Fifteen? Why were you there? What was the argument about? Who fought? Why was it worth death, isnt the Senate just a symbolic group given the power of your Immortal Emperor? Its not like what they recommend matters, the Emperor will do what he wishes, right?
You saw Adric there, in the crowds didnt you? Who was he with? Why was a Skovlan allowed on the senate floor?
And, of course, your cousin was there. He laughed. He broke the horrible silence after the one duelist fell dead and bleeding with a laugh. What kind of laugh was it? How did it make you feel? What happened next?
Tell us about these events and why they meant so much to you?