The train stops.
Francis, Delta and I are in position for a battle.
But... nothing comes.
In my experience, it is very concerning when nothing comes after an event like this. It means whatever threat may be out there... Is not charging forward with the brashness of a crazed animal. The threat is aware of how to conduct an attack, of how to strike fear into the hearts of its enemies.
Francis glances out at the window, to the Pacific Ocean, and loses his composure. (Not that his fighting stance was particularly steady anyway.) “Uh, dudes...”
“Dude... I never figured out what that word means,” I say. “But please enlighten me.”
He ignores my question for reasons I do not understand. “Look out the window,” he says. “It’s... uh, well...”
Delta and I look.
Are those pirate ships?
They are small boats of some sort, resting off the coast while men armed with rifles and scabbards hold the perimeter. It is like a makeshift army, if I do say so myself.
Then into our train car marches several other men and women of this same group. They immediately begin banging on the walls and shouting.
“Get out your valuables, everyone!” the seeming leader, a woman with an eyepatch, says. Almost clinically, the other passengers on the train begin digging out their purses and wallets and ruffling through for watches and wads of cash.
We look at the loot bag that is sitting on the seat behind us. The one that has the extremely valuable gold and other items (including a mana-infused goblin club, something much more precious in my opinion). The one that these mysterious pirates will most certainly want to take a look at.
“Shit!” I mutter. Wow, I’ve only been on Earth for about a week, but I am finally adapting my own language to Earth’s interesting terms and phrases.
Quickly, I dash back to the seat and poof the entire bag in my inventory. Unfortunately, that did not quite capture the items restin at the top of the bag, and the Orb of Ulric the Plainsmith, as well as a few stacks of playing cards, come falling to the ground. The orb hits the floor with a glassy thud and rolls far down the train car until it bumps right into the foot of one of these gun-toting men.
He looks right at me. He points to us.
“We got a few high rollers here, I can see,” the eyepatch wearing woman says. “What you got that we can’t have?”
“Um, nothing?” I try to be as convincingly naive as I can. Normally it is one of my greater skills. Here, though... they don’t seem to buy it for a second.
The man sticks his rifle into my stomach. “Yeah? You really got nothing to pay? No tribute to the king?” he asks. “Captain, what do we do with boys with no tax?”
“Well, we can’t just let him pass like that,” the woman, the captain, says. “It’d be highly unfitting. We might as well kill him.”
Just at this moment, Francis lets out a loud groan and then steps in front of me. He pushes the rifle out of the way and says to them, “Sorry about my friend here. He’s new to California. Here, take my—” he rummages through his pocket. “Phone?” His eyes open wide in horror as he realizes his precious device is now on the proverbial chopping block.
The captain takes it. Then she examines us closely and her single eye opens wide as well. “Wait a minute... You three are the Heroes of Paso Robles, aren’t you?”
“We heard all about it over the news wire,” she says. “A valiant rebellion against the aristocratic power of the wealthy landowners. Bruh, that’s sick. Pink hair here’s been commemorated as the Destiny Duelist, I hear.”
“The Destiny Duelist...”
“So yeah, don’t worry about us,” she says. “We’re just here to collect entry taxes for King Bodhi. We don’t need it from bonafide heroes.”
“Entry taxes... Wait, what is this place?” I ask. “I would very much like to know.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” says Delta.
“Well, you three have a good day,” says the captain. “I hope you enjoy your stay in Santa Barbara.”
Francis blinks a few times. “But we weren’t... Oh, no...”
The pirates move along, collecting more items from different passengers and putting them in bags.
Soon, the train moves again, but much more slowly, as it is being guided by the pirates themselves. We stop at Santa Barbara station, and are all forced off. The train is then commandeered by the pirates and taken to a facility somewhere off to do The Goddess know what.
“They take about three trains a week these days,” Delta says. “We just got unlucky.”
It’s nice to hear that word has spread of my heroism. But these pirates here? Our sudden diversion into a city I know nothing about? These things worry me... and excite me as well. Our next stage of adventure begins.