Posted by: lordkyler | December 23, 2017

Radiance II: Part IV – Of Traps and Trains

Previously: In an attempt to win Governor Abbot’s cooperation, our heroes decided to investigate the kidnapping of the local police chief’s daughter, a young inventor named Ophelia. After a little detective work and a meeting with her older brother Daniel, they realized that young Ophelia had actually run away, and is likely hiding in a nearby railway graveyard. Even after learning that Abbot may be working with the Anarchists, the agents decide to keep their word and meet with Daniel to find his sister… without scaring her away again.

Following the investigation at Cyrus Martin’s manor, the three agents made their way back into town, riding with a very satisfied Ernie. The rain had stopped by the time they reached downtown, and since it was already late afternoon, Niku, Sarah, and Vera determined the best course of action would be to get a bit of rest before their meeting with Daniel Van Weir at the trainyard that evening.

They found a passable diner, where Niku tried unsuccessfully to flirt with the waitress, and Vera made a quick trip to the hardware store, realizing she was short on rope. They spent the rest of the time napping in a nearby park. It had been a long day already, and tonight wasn’t likely to be any easier. Best to rest and recharge their mana while they had the chance.

When the sun was low in the sky, they hitched a ride on trucks and passing trains until they reached their destination: a large yard housing all the detritus of a major shipping hub. Rusting engines, decrepit freight cars, and every other bit of metallic and mechanical scrap in the region – old trucks, crashed planes, and even a decommissioned tank that might have come from the Great War. Massive heaps of scrap rose around the far edge of the facility, like a miniature mountain chain overlooking a ruined city.

The yard was ringed by a tall chain-link fence topped with loops of barbed wire. The sole gate was wide open, but under watch, with no cover to hide behind. To the left, a watchtower stood tall against the night sky, spotlight sweeping slowly over the yard to search for looters or vandals. Another guard with a dog patrolled the grounds, mostly sticking to the main pathways, which were well lit. He didn’t seem particularly alert, but his dog was, and it was always a tricky prospect to scavenge parts with any degree of stealth.

Somehow nobody has accused me of railroading yet.

Rough map of the train junkyard

Sticking to the shadows outside of the facility, the three agents began circling the facility, looking for entry points and their ally. They soon found the later – Daniel Van Weir spotted them and waved them over to his hiding place behind a small stand of scrub brush. He was dressed for the occasion, exchanging his officer’s uniform for a dark turtleneck sweater and corduroys, with a cap and handkerchief to disguise his identity. Although he and the agents had a legal right to inspect a government-owned facility, doing so in an official capacity was likely to draw the attention of authorities they weren’t certain they could trust – Governor Abbot and Ophelia’s father. Better to handle the matter discreetly, if possible.

“About time you showed up,” Daniel hissed, although the agents were in fact early. “I’ve been going mad waiting.”

Niku noticed the man’s nervousness and diplomatically decided not to mention the schedule. “Find anything useful?”

Daniel nodded sharply and gestured toward a section of fence to the right. “It’s hard to see, but there’s an opening in the fence right next to that pole. It’s in something of a blind spot, though we should time it against the spotlight to be on the safe side. I’d bet anything that’s how Ophelia got in there.”

“Excellent,” Niku said. “If we’re careful, we should be able to sweep the entire place in less than an hour – most of those cars are bound to be locked up, and there’s only so many places she could hide.”

“We’ll need to be very careful,” Daniel cautioned. “Not just because of the watchmen. Ophelia is more clever than she knows what to do with, and I’d be surprised if she didn’t have some sort of surveillance or surprises in place. If she sees us coming, she’s liable to run for it, and we’d be hard-pressed to catch her.”

Daniel reached out and gripped Niku’s arm with surprising intensity, his long face drawn with worry. “Please,” he whispered, looking each agent in the eye, “The thought of losing her again…”

He didn’t finish the thought, but he didn’t need to. Niku and Vera nodded solemnly, and Sarah patted him consolingly on the shoulder. “If Ophelia’s here, we’ll find her, don’t you worry.”

Daniel nodded and took a deep breath, his gaze hardening. “Let’s get to it, then.”

Waiting for just the right moment, the three agents ran in a low crouch, making a beeline for the opening Daniel had described, the detective himself close behind. Sarah was the first to arrive, and found the chain link fence securely attached to the pole with a false tie, allowing it to appear secure while being easily moved aside. Someone clearly used this entry often – whether that be junkyard scavengers, Ophelia herself, or both.

The mechanism was easy to open, and all four of them managed to slip quietly inside and close the latch before the spotlight returned. Seeking the shadow of a boxcar, the group huddled together.

“Stick together,” Niku breathed, barely audible. “It will be slower, but I don’t want to risk setting off some sort of trap. Vera will take the lead and clear the path – everyone else, keep your eyes open.”

The others nodded acknowledgement, and Vera moved to the front of the line, moving like a panther as she surveyed the area for any sign of mischief or clues about their quarry. Guessing that the best hiding places would be among the unusual vehicles, she led them around, following the path between the scrap heap and the old tank. It was a vintage Unikkorn model, with a badly damaged turret, gun barrel “horn” drooping sadly in defeat.

The tank had too many holes to be a likely hiding place, and the path around it was clear, so Vera led them deeper into the shadows of the graveyard. They passed between the tank and an old army truck missing its wheels, passing beneath the gun turret, when Vera halted abruptly. The rest of the group – distracted by peering into every nook and cranny – almost ran into her like a vaudeville act, but we wary enough to avoid that particular embarrassment.

Vera pointed, tracing a line in the air. A tripwire had been suspended between the truck and a broken freight car, just a few inches high – the perfect height to catch a toe or ankle. It might have been set up simply to trip intruders, or it might have been attached to something more elaborate, but the agents had no intention of finding out.

Daniel and the agents shared a significant glance. Scavengers weren’t likely to set up something like this, but Ophelia would. As every agent knew, resistance was a strong sign that you were on the right track. Vera carefully stepped over it, straddling the wire, and helped the rest cross over with exaggerated steps. Once they had all crossed safely, she moved back to the front of the line, following the side of the truck.

This time, though, Sarah was the one to stop them short, hissing softly to catch their attention. Once she had it, she gestured toward one of the freight cars at the end of the line, off its wheels and resting at a different angle than the rest, with junk piled up at the corner. A faint light showed at the edges of the door, only noticeable for the way that it flickered, the way a candle would… or a welding torch.

“That has to be her,” Daniel whispered. “But if we simply walk up to the door, she’s sure to run.”

“There’s probably another door on the other side of the car,” Vera agreed. “We should locate and cover every exit. You wait here and keep watch – I’ll go around and check.”

The others nodded and took up sentry positions – Daniel watching the door of the freight car while Sarah and Niku made sure nobody snuck up from behind.

Vera headed toward the broken fighter plane, which rested at a tilt, so that the broken wing rested on the ground while the other stretched toward the night sky like a ramp. Scanning with experienced eyes, she successfully avoided a second tripwire, but as she passed into the shadow underneath the belly of the plane, she failed to notice the device hidden in the dirt: a warped metal plate that made a very distinct – very loud – sound as she stepped on it.

She froze at once, but the light at the edge of the door flicked off almost instantly, and when the guard dog began barking, the door sealed shut completely.

Vera swore, partly at herself, and partly at her luck, but there was no helping that now. Ophelia was on the run, and Vera was the only one positioned to block off this vector of escape. Casting stealth to the winds, she charged up the incline of the plane’s wings and leapt from the highest point, landing and rolling on the dusty road ready for action. Just as well – the guard with the dog were on alert, heading in her direction, and the spotlight began moving with purpose, jumping from point to point in search of the disturbance. Vera took shelter in the shadow of the scrap heap and prepared for trouble.

The rest of the group, meanwhile, was scrambling to react. Niku fired off orders so rapidly they almost seemed like a single word, already in motion. “You two keep watch I’ll get up top don’t kill anybody!”

They obeyed. Sarah bolted for a better vantage point, but failed to remember the tripwire they had cleared earlier, and promptly hit the dirt. The wire triggered another alarm, a short, sharp hiss that echoed through the corridors between cars. There would be little chance of the guards mistaking the first trap for a false alarm now.

Niku made a beeline for the nearest ladder. In his nervousness, he fumbled slightly, jumping and missing for the higher rungs, costing him precious time. Stifling curses, he fought to focus his thoughts and soon reached the top of the freight car where Ophelia had been hiding. There was a hatch at the top, but it was shut.

A signal from Daniel drew his attention to the next car over, where he barely managed to spot a short, slender figure climbing onto the roof. The pile of junk between the cars must have disguised a tunnel of some sort. Niku ran for her, racing the searchlight, but all at once a gunshot sounded out, and the light in the tower exploded with a shower of sparks, leaving Ophelia and Niku in only the twilight of the distant lamps around the perimeter. Vera was finding ways to occupy herself.

Seeing Ophelia had gone high, Sarah moved to climb a car further down the line, hoping to cut off her escape route, but before she could start climbing, a growl made her freeze in place. The guard dog – separated from its master – stood in the gap between cars, staring at her with demon eyes and raised hackles.

Locking eyes with the beast and moving at a glacial pace, Sarah took a few seconds to shift into a running position as it approached, then, when the attack was imminent, threw herself to the side. The dog shot forward at the same moment, but unwittingly ran face-first into yet another tripwire suspended between the cars, this one triggering a burst of firecrackers which went off directly in its face.

In the distraction, Sarah was able to slip away. Having lost track of Ophelia, she defaulted to retreat, heading for the opening in the fence, where she could protect their exit point and perhaps prevent Ophelia from using it.

Ophelia was on the run, leaping from car to car with surprising agility, considering her size and the bulk of the bag she carried. Niku followed, stronger and faster, though he was slowed by several factors – the darkness, his unfamiliarity with the terrain, and his greater weight, which threatened to overwhelm the rusted roofs of the freight cars if he stepped in the wrong place. He was still catching up, but in these circumstances, it wouldn’t take much for her to slip away.

The young runaway jumped from one line to the next, and from there to the decommissioned tank. Niku suddenly had a very bad feeling about what surprises that tank might hold in store, but he wasn’t close enough to intervene.

But Daniel could. Heedless of the guards – though judging by the noise, Vera was keeping the team occupied – he called out, anguish and frustration tingeing his tone. “Ophelia, stop! Please, just… stop.”

Ophelia halted for just a second, standing in the remnants of the tank’s turret. “Daniel?” she asked, sounding surprised. Her expression hardened only a heartbeat later.

“I’m not going back!” she shouted defiantly, and before Daniel could object or explain, she reached down and pulled a lever.

The tank fired with a muted thwumpf, some pneumatic system. It launched a massive plume of dust and smoke, but nothing more. Still, it served Ophelia’s purpose, obscuring a good third of the yard and giving her the chance to slip away just before Niku caught up.

The agent wasn’t so easily dissuaded, however, and continued the pursuit, following as best he could by instinct and sound, following the faint sound of small footsteps as they headed along the path in the general direction of the plane, skirting the large junk heap.

Fortunately, Sarah – standing guard at the makeshift gate – spotted the effects of the smoke shell and immediately grasped the problem it posed. Unwilling to abandon her post, she settled for the next best thing. Digging out her trusty silver marbles, she focused her partially-renewed magical powers and hurled a sphere in the direction of the smoke, then used it evoke a sudden burst of wind. Though dust continued to dance in the sudden gust, the smoke cleared off a section of path almost instantly, revealing a bewildered Niku… but no sign of Ophelia, even though there was no way the girl could have run quickly enough to escape from view.

Niku spun, searching the area frantically, doing a quick double take as he caught a faint creaking sound emanating from the junk heap. Narrowing in, he quickly spotted a patch of debris slowly moving as if on hinges. A hiding spot, likely fashioned from some discarded barrel or storage tank.

Niku pounced, working more by reflex than planning, and managed to catch the disguised door just before Ophelia could shut and presumably lock it. Although Niku was no weakling, it took all his strength to keep the girl from closing it – the hatch itself was heavy, and Ophelia seemed to be hanging on the other end, throwing all of what little weight she had into the task.

Despite being so close to success, the mission was doomed if Ophelia managed to close the hatch. Without proper tools and time, the agents would have no way to retrieve her before the guards raised enough ruckus to drive them off, and even if they could find her little bunker later, she was sure to be long gone by then. The yard was simply too large to cover every exit, and they didn’t dare get Governor Abbot or the local constables involved.

Muscles straining, Niku managed to make a bit of headway, but he didn’t have a good grip, and Ophelia was persistent. They were running out of time. Then, just as Niku’s fingers were about to slip, a second pair of hands joined his.

“Ophelia,” Daniel grunted. “Give it up. I’m here to help you.

For a moment, Ophelia’s struggles halted, and a second later, she let go, allowing Niku and Daniel to haul the door open, revealing a young girl –dressed rebelliously, but slumped in defeat and staring sullenly at the ground.

It's not a phase, DAD!

Inspiration for Ophelia Van Weir, runaway inventor. Original art by MrLeeCarter

“I don’t want to go back,” she said, voice ragged with suppressed emotion. “Don’t make me.”

“I won’t,” Daniel promised. Ophelia looked up, surprised, and Daniel extended a hand. She stared at it for a moment, as though she’d never seen a hand before, but then accepted it. With a grunt, Daniel hauled his sister out of her hiding place and into an embrace. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I… I should have stood up for you before. But I’m here now, and I’m on your side.”



Niku looked away, embarrassed to be intruding on such a tender moment, and spotted Vera approaching through what remained of the smoke. She tilted her head, and Niku nodded, then reluctantly pulled the siblings apart. “Time to go,” he announced.

“We’ll take her to my apartment for the time being,” Daniel said. “Then we can get a good night’s rest and figure out what to do next.”

“Only if we get out now,” Niku said. “C’mon.”

Daniel rose and pulled his sister along, but she resisted. “Wait,” she said. They did, and she dug a small device out of her bag, flipping switches and pushing a sequence of buttons. A flash followed in the distance as her boxcar lair went up in flames.

“Holy hell,” Niku swore.

“I can’t go back,” Ophelia said simply. “I was going to detonate it in a few hours anyway.”

Niku pushed them along toward the entrance, with Vera darting ahead to make sure the path was secure.

“What were you even planning?” Daniel asked. He kept one hand on Ophelia’s shoulder, as though afraid she would vanish if he let go for a single second.

“I was going to stow away – use a harness, sort of like they did in the Millicent book. A ship called the Orchid – it leaves for Fortune tomorrow.”

“Thank Reason we found you tonight, then,” Daniel sighed, then scowled. “Where would you have even gone from there?”

Ophelia shrugged. “Figure something out. Apprentice myself, maybe, or join a crew.”

“At your age? All alone in a strange–”

“Save the conversation for later,” Niku interjected. “There might be more guards on the way.”

“Sorry,” Daniel said to Niku, and then repeated to Ophelia. “I’m sorry.”

She put her arm around him and squeezed, then pulled him into a run as barks and shouting rang out from behind them. Meeting Vera and Sarah at the fence, the group quickly ducked through the gap and slipped away into the night.

I’ve truncated and rearranged events slightly in order to focus on the main narrative, but nothing of substance was significantly altered. This was a fairly fun session, though there was some frustration on Ben’s part when Vera failed a detection roll and triggered a trap, compounded by the difficulty of trying to hint at and handle traps without giving too much away or making it seem arbitrary. In the end, though, mistakes are more interesting than unchallenged successes, and we had a lot of action and adventure as everybody ran around. Happy Holidays!

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