Chapter 4 – Fallen
But he didn’t have long to enjoy it. The sound of the engine grew louder. Soon he could see puffs of steam rising above the trees. Highlighted in stark contrast against the sunset colors of the sky behind them.
Aleks prepared himself. He wasn’t quite sure what to do exactly. His first idea had been to run alongside the train and hop on. Then take on the soldiers one by one. But the old shaman had told him to stop the train.
Maybe he could stand on the tracks and shoot out his dragon fire at the train. Head on. Slow it down or even bring it to a complete stop. If he blasted it from the side and the train derailed, it could end up killing Natasha.
That was a risk that he didn’t want to take.
Aleks lowered himself down into a crouching stance just to the side of the tracks. He took several deep breaths and shook his arms to prepare himself for the blast. The engine came popping out from the forest. He could see it completely now.
The thought crossed his mind since he was off the tracks that even the slight angle of the blast could derail it at that speed. If even only one wheel got bumped off, all the other cars would pile up behind it.
He had worked on a rescue team once. A terrible train wreck that had taken place just a few weeks after Aleks had joined the army. It had been a horrible sight. Agonizing. Pulling bodies out of the wreckage. The corpses weren’t so bad, but those who had still been alive were the worst. Their screams as the troops pulled their mangled and broken bodies out of the smoking rubble to get them to the medics.
Aleks had heard those screams in his ears every night for weeks after the rescue mission was over. He couldn’t let something like that happen to Natasha. He had to do it right. So, he stepped on to the tracks to face the iron beast head on.
They had seen his outline in the last bit of sunlight. The engineer blew a shrill warning for him to move out of the way. He heard the squeal of the wheels as it seemed like they were going to break. But then the engineer let up. Aleks realized why as it got closer.
Dr. Setvastyan stood at the doorway of the engine looking out over the tracks. Waving his fist. Aleks grinned at the challenge. A duel of two lovers. The iron beast versus the fire of the dark dragon.
Aleks prepared himself. Willing himself to wait for just the right moment. If he shot out too early, his energy blast would dissipate and be of no effect. If he waited too long, he wouldn’t be able to slow the train down, and it would run him over.
He heard a loud pop and realized that a guard was on the other side of the train door shooting at him. But there was nothing he could do now. If he fled like a cowardly chicken now, the train would barrel on by, and he would lose Natasha forever.
So, Aleks leaned his body to the opposite side of the track briefly and crouched down for a second to make a smaller target.
Then, when he sensed that the train was just the right distance out to hit his blast at its farthest zenith that still held his strength, Aleks released every bit of energy that he could with a mighty roar that echoed off the mountains to his right and shot across Lake Baikal to the left.
Complete silence covered the mountain and water as all of nature hushed at the sound of love’s desperate cry.
And the entire world seemed to come to a complete standstill around him. Even time itself seemed to pause for the briefest of moments.
After the initial blast had left his body, Aleks continued to hold force the energy out of his body. Channeling it through both arms for as long as he could.
Dr. Setvasyan had leaped back inside the engine as soon as he saw what was coming and realized a collision was about to take place. The guard shooting at Aleks from the other side was thrown clean out of the moving machine.
The iron monster slowed down as moved in Aleks’ direction. It probably would have stopped too, if it weren’t for the doctor’s quick thinking. He threw the train into full throttle. Giving it more juice in spite of the engineer’s protests.
So, the entire train continued moving. Albeit very slowly as if just starting off again.
Aleks couldn’t unleash any more energy in its direction and threw himself off the tracks at the last second. The train continued to roll on slowly by. The infuriating Dr. Setvastyan grinning maliciously and waving at Aleks as he rolled by.
The soldier wanted to stand up. Run after it. Hop on. Save Natasha, but he could barely move. It was all he could do to sit up and watch it go by. He tried to crawl in its direction. Got right up against it and tried to reach out to grab on to some section of it. But by this time, he had captured the attention of the soldiers who were watching. Those closest to him would kick his hand away before it even got near the train.
The train was beginning to pick up speed, but still moving slowly. Aleks could have hopped on without even having to run if he had just had the strength to stand up. But he couldn’t. His legs wouldn’t work.
“Blood,” he thought.
The thought of drinking blood grossed him out. Even more than drinking the shaman’s bitter brew. But if blood would allow him to save Natasha, he would drink whatever it took. He glanced around for the body of the soldier that had fallen off the train. He spotted it back where the man had fallen, but it was on the other side of the moving monster.
Aleks threw his head back and roared.
The soldier spotted the tip of the moon peeking up over the horizon and wished he hadn’t drunk the bitter brew. Maybe he would have transformed in a Bodark. He would have lost his soul forever and never been fit for Natasha. But he had lost her now anyway. And it would have been worth it, just to get one over on the doctor and wipe the smirk off his face.
The third car of the train was going by. It was still picking up speed. A bit more and it would be going faster. Then one by one the rest of the cars would pass him by as the engine continued to pull them speedily on their long journey through the night. Within four days, Natasha would be back in Moscow and lost to him forever.
Aleks threw back his head and screamed out in agony. Letting his voice tear through the oncoming darkness at the soldiers leaning off the sides and mocking him.
And then, over the roar of the engine and chugging of the train, Aleks thought he heard footsteps running in his direction. He turned. Imagining the worst. The soldiers and dogs behind him. Coming to drag him back to the garrison.
But it wasn’t. The old shaman. Outstretched hands. Reaching toward him. The gourd.
Aleks reached out to meet him. Another concoction? Blood from the dogs? Had he killed them? Or even the soldiers themselves?
Would it be enough? Would he regain his energy in time to stop the train? He could blast the train off the tracks without having to worry about a pile up if it derailed at this speed.
The old shaman didn’t make it quite far enough. He stumbled and fell forward into the grass a short distance away from Aleks. He waited for the man to get up and continue. But he didn’t. The Aleks realized what had happened.
He looked up toward the engine. Dr. Setvastyan with a rifle of his own. Pulling it down off his shoulder with a satisfied grin. The look of a hunter who had proudly felled his prey.
Aleks screamed again. The doctor smiled and waved. The soldier tried to drag himself in the old man’s direction. Slowly. Agonizingly.
Several more cars had gone by. The train was almost halfway past him. And it was still picking up speed. He willed himself to move. Pulling himself through the grass and stones toward the gourd.
He sensed the energy of life leaving his body faster than his soul battery could produce more. Aleks could barely move. He stretched out his hand and almost reached the gourd. But it was too far. Aleks could feel hope slipping away from his mind. His vision began to darken.
“This is it,” he thought. “I did my best.”
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