The Grey Wraith
The train car was littered with the debris of dying soldiers. A figure, swathed in grey spun in and among the dead and the dying. Its steely hair trailed behind it, tangling with the multitude of scarves, that hid its face. The silver of its sword sang through the air. Impossibly long it reached out and painted the train car with blood and gore and bone. Men roared in defiance, desperate to mask their fear. Grey could smell it though. It hung the air. It smelt of piss and shit and entrails.
At last his sword sung its final song and the car was silent. Only the drip of blood from the ceiling disturbed the sudden tranquility. Grey stood, for a long time. Silver sword hanging loosely from his bandage wrapped hands. More were coming. Their hard leather boots rapped out a tattoo of military discipline and urgency. Grey stood, very still. They rushed in, unshaven faces snarling, rifles sweeping the car. Grey stood, very still. His breath steamed in the air. Hot from exertion. Blood rolled down his face, soaked into the scarves covering his nose and mouth. Boots stepped carefully. Avoiding the carnage that was once their comrades. Eyes moved up. Down. Where?
Grey leapt. And his sword sung its apocalyptic song once again.
Grey stepped around the corpses, his bare feet leaving bloody footprints, on what steel remained unmarred. His silver sword hummed softly, snug in its sheath of bone and yellowed cloth, secured to his back. Bandages, scarves, trailing cloth and parchment hung in the air behind him as he padded through the train. Every now and again the train jumped slightly, skipping on some sand or rocks that scattered the battered rails. Sickly yellow sunlight leaked through shattered glass windows. Dust and sand was already starting to gather underneath the gaping holes.
A mechanical door whispered softly as it slid open at his approach. Beyond him was a smoky darkness. Misery lay thickly in the air. Men and women, skeletal, beyond starvation, corpses with only the smallest glint of life left in hollow black eyes. they were chained together, leaning against each other for support lest they fall over. Moans and the rattling of chains echoed through the train car. Grey sniffed, blood and shit and piss assailed his nostrils. He pulled one his scarves, faded lilac blushed its ends, over his nose. It helped a little.
Feeble hands grasped at his clothes as he walked by, voices so parched by dehydration they were less than a whisper pleaded. His colorless eyes were cold. A door at the end of the car screeched open and a stooped figured stepped through, as one the slaves began to moan and scream, clutching each other. Wailing.
As Grey came closer, his long, loping stride eating the distance, it became clear that the figure was a Heket. It was incredibly stooped, otherwise it might have been taller than him, its large back legs pushed strongly as it pulled itself forward on its short front arms, its bulbous fingertips sticking to the floor. Its big, spade shaped head swung from side to side, widely set eyes flecked with gold tracked Grey as he approached. It raised a splayed hand and scratched at leaking boils that patterned its soft yellow throat, with thick, ragged fingernails. An impossibly wide mouth opened and a coughing voice croaked.
One of the slick hands extended. Grey reached into his cloak and drew out a large dull coin. A beaked face looked out at him with smoking eyes. He flicked the coin into the air and it spun landing in the Heket’s palm with a wet thud. A long pink tongue flopped from its mouth and wrapped round the coin flicking back between split lips.
It hopped to the side, crouched and settled watching Grey as he moved past. It gurgled and burbled, croaking and grumbling. Grey reached the door and stopped. The Heket thrummed curiously.
Grey’s voice was soft, almost a whisper as it slipped from behind the scarf covering his mouth.
The Heket cocked its head, scratching its head, a boil popped and ichor covered its already filthy nails.
Grey sighed and drew another dull coin from his cloak and flicked it at the Heket. It croaked happily and swallowed it.
Grey turned to the silent slaves.
“The contract is made.”
Crook’s eyes widened.
“No. No. Who. Whooo.”
Grey spread his arms wide, as a hundred eyes lit up from the shadows. Boring into the Heket’s face. Grey walked past him, not sparing him a glance. His bare feet barely made a whisper as they stepped through the door. Silver sung and blade flashed. The sword reaching out, impossibly long, slicing, grasping.
Crook Bull fell, its leathery hide bursting with thick black blood that erupted from fine, near invisible slashes.
“The payment is a child.”
Grey’s voice echoed through the car. No-one dared speak against him.
“I shall return.”
Samoth Red was angry. It bubbled in him. Molten. Twisting his statuesque features. Snarling at the edges of his lips. A human soldier, dressed in black and white knelt in front of him. Its composure was commendable. Samoth’s fingers tapped, a near blur on the marble chairs arm. His lip twisted and twitched, trembling, growling. Then with a sudden roar he launched forwards and grasped the soldiers throat with his pale hands. Long, strong fingers twisted, bony hands tightened. The human made a soft squeak before Samoth ripped his head off. Blood sprayed out in crimson glory, it covered Samoth’s face, dripping down off of his golden brows and soaking his golden mane. He licked his lips and smiled.
Grey felt himself fade as he melted into the metal of the train. Stepping from physical form to ephemeral. It came to him as easy as breathing, as easy as fighting, as killing. He ran through the train, car by car. Passing butcheries and cargo bays, barracks now empty, kitchens filled with human bones and skinned corpses, a room filled with silk cushion where more Heket lay, large hands wrapped around slender figures. The train stank of the Angelbreed. In every wooden panel, in every gilded arch, in every decadence and perversion. In the slavery and the cruelty. Grey’s lips twitched. A soft growl purred in the back his throat. His claws itched, tapped a steady rhythm on his leg as he ran. A war beat. He could almost feel it. The beating of drums. Thundering in his veins. It built and built, urging him, daring him. Slowly, very slowly, he clenched his fists, his claws sliding back. His heart steadying. The drums softened and disappeared. Only the beating of his heart remained. The slow doof, doof doof. So slow now.
The smell hit him, causing him to come to a sudden stop. It smelled of silk and blood and chemicals. It reeked. Of pride. Of cruelty. He’d found him. Grey stepped from the wall of the train onto a fur carpet. Some great beast with onyx fur, a bright white strip running down its back, wolfish head pushed back, snarling in eternal, pointless defiance and there he sat, Samoth Red. On a throne of marble and gold, raised upon a dais of shining silver steps. His beatific face smiling, revolvers with cold steel barrels and pearly handles lazily clutched in each black nailed hand.
“I’ve expected you. Assassin. I’ll not be so easy to kill.”
His voice was beautiful, musical. Grey didn’t move. There was no way of telling. Could he see?
“I can hear you, assassin. Come, come out. Your breathing is so loud. I wish to return to my slumber.”
He couldn’t see. Grey’s fingers twitched. Samoth’s eyes flickered and his long fingers tightened, the revolvers roared and two bullets grazed Grey’s cheeks. Burning through the cloth around his mouth. The bullets left a soft white contrail through the air and Grey’s cheeks smoked where they’d touched. Grey’s fingers stiffened.
“Yes. I know who you are. You leave, a very particular kind of carnage behind you. Wraith.”
Wraith. The Wraith. It made him sad. The name pulled at his heart. He felt like it would burst. It pounded. Thundering against his chest. No. No. Don’t call me that. DON’T CALL ME THAT. He screamed.
Samoth laughed, black smoke pouring from his mouth.
“To think. The mighty Wraith. Your weak spot was so obvious. So easy to push. To pull.”
Samoth grinned. Lips pulling back from black teeth, charcoal smoke still billowing from his mouth. His words thick with suggestion.
“How does it feel, Wraith? How does it feel? How does it feel to have something you own taken from you!”
Samoth’s fingers tightened. Grey reached out a hand, wrapped in bandages and cloth. He was on his knees. His other hand clutching his heart. Everything seemed to move so slowly. Wraithwraithwraithwraithwraithwraithwraith. No. No. No! No! Don't call me that! Don't call me that! He bent his knees and sprang. One hand reached out the other wrapped around the ivory handle of his sword. He howled.
Grey! Grey! My name is Grey!
Samoth laughed and fired. Bullets sliced through the air. Silver sang and the bullets song was cut short. They fell clattering dully. Grey’s hand grasped Samoth’s shirt, his sword cut, through silk and blood and bone, down to machine tubing and a metal heart, wheezing with dying life. The silver sword cut and Grey stopped screaming. Samoth stood for a moment. Almost unsure. Then his eyes glazed and he fell in two parts, tumbling down silver steps, leaving two red-black smears.
Grey left the train car silently. His sword hummed cheerfully as it returned to its sheath. Soft feet. Crusted in drying blood made no noise as they made their way back to the slave car.
The slaves had hoped he’d forgotten them. He could see it. In their hollow eyes. Grey didn’t care. He swept the room. There. A child. Skin so pale she might have been mistaken for dead, except that she seemed a little healthier. A little stronger. There was the suggestion of muscle. Potential. Grey made his way to her. She noticed his approach and stood. Defiant. Grey knelt and pushed her long, dirty white hair out of her face. A black mark in the shape of fat fly with three eyes was branded into her forehead. Something twisted in Grey’s stomach. That would explain her apparent healthiness. Set aside for the Heket and their greedy Grandfather.
“What’s your name?”
Grey eyes met grey eyes.
“Ghost. On account of my skin and hair.”
Well-spoken. The Heket would have taught her.
“What do own, little Ghost.”
Her face flushed.
“I’m not little! I’m stronger than anyone here.”
Grey spoke again. His voice soft, patient.
“What do you own?”
Ghost looked down at her feet.
“Nothing. Even my clothes were a gift.”
“I have no use for someone who owns nothing.”
Grey turned, his face impassive.
“What do you own?”
Ghost thought, for a moment, a minute, for many she stood, chewing her lip ragged. Grey stood, waiting, patiently. Then her face lit up. Blood rushed to her cheeks and she shouted.
Grey smiled and went to her, hoist her up onto his shoulders.
“Yes. Your life. You always own that. Now. Come. The desert awaits.”
Grey stood before the gun-grey metal of the train. He kept one his hands on Ghost’s leg the other pressed against the train call and he melted through. They were disgorged on the other side. The exit rough, messy, the child made it difficult. The tumbled out onto the sand. The train was done with them and it roared away. Leaving them in dust and grit.
Ghost coughed as she stood, scrambling to her feet. Rubbing sand and grit from watering eyes. Grey went to her and swept her up onto his shoulders again. Her feet would not survive the journey and if she could not walk she was no use to him.
The sun was beginning to set. Its twin already below the horizon. Bright, chemical laden colors lit up the sky and Grey heard Ghost gasp. It was likely she had never left the confines of that train. Let alone seen a sunset. He began to walk, heading towards the horizon. His bare feet left no prints on the dusty yellow sand. No sign that they had ever been there.