Stríð: Preview Chapter

One—Keighley Worth Valley Railway, 1903

The train flew down the tracks, the clickety-clack sound of the wheels on the rails joining the pounding of her heart as she stared down the train hijackers at the other end of the dining car.  With the leader of this not-so-merry band of thieves at the controls of the train, it was a challenge to remain upright.

“Well, well,” one of the men said as he met her gaze.  “What have we here?”  She scowled at him, her countenance matched by a loud growl coming from the enormous hound at her side.  “Blimey, look at the beast next to her!” the man said, backing up into the coupling between the train cars. He did not take his eyes off the dog.

“Just shoot them and let’s move on,” another male voice chimed in from ahead of him in the next car.  The man seemed frozen in fear and did not answer the man speaking to him.  “Joseph!  If you are too afraid to shoot them, lock her and t’ beast in that car and come on!”  Joseph fumbled with the sliding door that sealed one car from another and got it off the track slightly.  Her lips parted in an evil smile as she approached him, the dog only a step behind her.

“Yes, Joseph, you’d best be shutting that door,” she said as she reached slowly to her side and drew her pistol from its holster.  The metallic barrel was shaped like an egg. It glinted in the light from the gas lamps that were flickering along the walls of the dining car. “I’d hate to have to test my new toy here across the top of your head.”

Joseph studied her for a moment as a relieved smile broke out over his face.  “What is that little thing, ma’am?  Looks like something I’d be givin’ my nephew to play with back home,” he said, sneering at her.  Her face remained impassive, and her pistol pointed directly at the center of his forehead.  “Now, you just sit down like a good girl and keep that dog behind you while we clean out the rest of this here train, all right?”

She grinned just before her finger squeezed the trigger. A white-hot burst of blue light streamed from the barrel and surged, as though in slow motion, along the length of the train car.  It reached his body just as he turned his back to flee into the relative safety of the coupling, but he was not fast enough.  There was a flash, and for a moment, she could see his bones. It was as though he was lit from the inside out.  She made a mental note to report back this unusual finding.  Perhaps it could be useful.

Joseph slumped to the floor, and she started toward him, making an unnoticeable hand motion to the dog behind her.  The massive grey beast fell into step behind her mistress immediately.  As she stepped over Joseph’s prone form, a calling card appeared in her slender fingers and then floated down to the floor, landing on his immobile arm. 

There was only one word printed on the card: Baskervilles.