The circus is packed away, the animals have been shuffled into their train cars, and the people are loading. Our group of troubleshooters sits in Jove’s Train Car, called there to discuss the upcoming jump from Istanbul to Pittsburgh and Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Due to a certain bald-faced challenge, spoken into the The Hedge, it’s currently not safe to forge new rails there or in Arcadia proper, especially not for extensive travel.
The group discusses their options, ruling out The Shadow due to how heavily its influences were felt during the supernatural crisis they so recently averted. Of the theoretically possible choices left to them, they settle on sending the train into Twilight and forging new rails through The Underworld.
Reya and Russel Frye, the most prominent Sin-Eaters in the circus, are called forward to the engine in order to lend their expertise to the conductor. The train begins to pull out of Istanbul’s depot. Once it clears civilized lands and breaks into open territory, the magics bound into its body come shuddering to life as its occupants batten down the hatches.
The sounds are deep and intense – viciously crackling electricity; the thrum of massive amounts of magical power; a distant, stolen heartbeat; the rat-a-clackity-clack of wheels on the tracks, and the hissing of steam-powered propulsion. The usually merry atmosphere of this large and happily dysfunctional family melts away into tense murmurs and glances of unease.
The stokers pile the coal into the box, and the train builds speed, running full tilt across the country side, bellowing black fumes into the air. Just as it begins to shudder with the stress, everyone’s vision dims, shudders and wavers. When the air clears, the train is barreling through Twilight.
The track before the train barely clears the engine, appearing out of the creeping brownish mists like a memory only distantly recalled. Wary passengers peer out through red velveteen curtains at the littered ruins of decrepit mosques and abandoned palaces while souls too tied to life to fully die wail their woes to an unfeeling cavernous ceiling.
A tunnel appears in the distance, a yawning maw set to receive its next meal, as the train barrels straight towards it. The track slopes down, down, ever down, and the strange brown quality in the air fades to an inky blackness.
The darkness does not last long enough to become oppressive to the train’s occupants. Soon relieved shouts can be heard up and down the train’s interior as a massive glowing arch of palest jade is sighted down the line. Someone else exclaims in fright, and the passengers turn their eyes to the windows with furrowed brows. Out there in the dark, small specks of burning rust and red are moving.. keeping up with the train.
They begin to gather in larger and larger groups, till it appears that living fire races along on either side of the tracks. The closer they get, the more it becomes apparent that the train has attracted a small horde of the Underworld’s denizens. They converge from either side – large genie-like men of rock and fire and fear and hatred, sweeping alongside each car with obvious intent to herd the train into the arch.
Stout-hearted and world weary as many of the circus members are, there are several cries of dismay, several pleas to turn the train about, to take another road.
Just then, Reya Frye’s voice whips through the train cars, magically enchanted to echo through every corridor.
“Let no word be spoken! It is the law of this realm! Be silent! All of you must—”
As the engine passes under the arch, Reya’s voice goes utterly silent, clipped in the middle of her thought as though sliced clean through by a knife. Horror wells within the cars. Wide eyes meet terrified gazes as the sudden panicked silence stretches and stretches. The strange entities press close to the track, lighting the windows with baleful gazes, waiting for something.
Halfway down the train, in a car shared by the Wudao sisters – septuplet contortionists from Far Away China – the most frail of the seven is in the midst of a full blown panic. Her sisters do their best to calm her, stroking gentle hands down her arms, pleading with eyes and expressions for her to contain herself, but they have not covered the windows. One of the beings – as if sensing easy prey – comes roaring right up to the glass. Wudao Zihse Hua screams out one terrified prayer before it is on her, passing through the walls without resistance. The sound of her terror ricochets through the silence like a hot knife through butter as its arms wrap around her and they disappear in a gout of black smoke. All that is left behind is the echo of her pain, and the smell of burning flesh. In the other cars, circus members sit stunned, not knowing exactly what has happened.
Moments later, the train passes through another arch of glowing jade, and Russel’s voice floats through the train, grief stricken.
“You.. you are free to speak.” Reya can be heard sobbing quietly in the background while someone comforts her.
The wailing from the contortionists’ car is immediate. Six voices rise in grief stricken lament, as the train crests out of the Underworld and moves back into Twilight. The eerie wailing within the train blends with the cries of the damned without. There is a long moment in which few people can muster the wherewithal to do anything, and then suddenly everyone is moving and speaking and questioning.
What seems like hours later, the Wudao sisters eventually cease their keening as the train – full of somber people – breaks into the physical world once more. It slows its raging speed to a more sedate pace a few miles outside of Pittsburgh’s largest train yard, where it will keep its berth until the circus leaves town again in a few days.
The roustabouts and other performers begin the rituals associated with disembarking and moving the circus to its intended location in the wee early hours as our troubleshooters confere with Jove over their next job…