There was a terrible inevitability as the moment of triumph gave way to the realization of what Finn’s terrible device had engineered; water lapping against the edges of the seemingly indestructible ice, a great rift between the train and the Jouloutorni. Those standing on the pilot truck simply grabbed the hand rails and braced themselves. Those in the passenger car were blissfully unaware until metal and water collided.
Like some great dark serpent, the train slammed into the water with great force, the heat of the engine and coal car sending great gouts of steam shooting up with a violence that seemed to satisfy the cold hungry waters. The momentum of the train was slowed enough that the passenger car struck with less force, the saving grace of its passengers. The weight of the engine tore the coal car loose from the passenger car, which hung half in the water and half out, partially submerged, but held to the solidity of the ice by the empty series of cars and caboose trailing it.
The engine sank like a stone; the steam abated. And a great cry roared up from the battlements as the Redcoat Leprechauns descended onto the ice to finish off whoever had survived the crash.
* * * * * * *
Andrew came to with a loud cry, forcing himself up out of the frigid water. He shook uncontrollably, soaked to the bone, and looked around frantically. Ripper was holding onto an unconscious Sunny, supporting her with his arms wrapped around her chest. The car was tilted at an angle...the doorway out was an uphill climb. There was a flash of red beneath a dark cloak, and Silke dropped down beside him in the water.
“Are you hurt?” she asked.
“I don’t think so!” he shouted. He’d hadn’t wanted to shout, but his air was all coming out in quick, short bursts.
“We have to get out of the water!” she told him, her voice getting louder now too. She grabbed his arm.
He shook his head and pointed. “Help Ripper with Sunny. I’ll manage.”
Silke waded through the water to give Ripper a hand in getting Sunny up out of the water. Charles had descended from his chair, seemingly without a scratch.
“You know I can’t help you,” he said to Silke.
“Save your strength,” Silke said, nodding.
What’s he mean? Andrew wondered, climbing up out of the water, pulling himself up the angled floor of the car, hand over hand on seat after seat until he reached John, who had braced himself…or had he?...against the last row of seats and was peering out the window intently.
Andrew looked at him and saw that he too, like Charles, was without injury. His clothes were unruffled.
“How…how…?” Andrew began.
“We’re only appointed to die once,” John replied. “I look like I did when I was a young man…can even do things I did then. Smoking, eating, drinking…but this isn’t the same sort of body as yours. Yours fits earth. This one fits heaven.”
“You’re a ghost?” Andrew gaped.
“Nothing of the sort,” John said. “I am as I will always be, now and evermore. A marvelous form, to be sure. Not bound by the same rules as yours. But sadly, lacking those rules, unable to affect the world ruled by them…save by my presence. I can perceive, and give guidance, but cannot affect.”
“So you’re completely useless?” Andrew said. “We came here for a fight!” He felt frustration welling up in him. He had no idea where Lara and Blackout were…if they were alive or not…and Sunny…
“We cannot directly affect,” he said firmly. “Don’t jump to conclusions Andrew. We would never have made the journey simply for the scenery.”
“So what exactly is it you’re going to do?” Andrew asked, still angry. Behind John, through the car window, he could see a mass of red coats surging towards the wreckage, running over the ice, the sound of weapon fire drawing ever closer.
* * * * * * *
The Leprechauns did not slow as they reached the train, but rather only halted to load a new clip or grenade into weapon before encircling the wreckage. The passenger car was still in the water, with no sign of survivors from the engine. James had seen a face at the window of the passenger car, and was readying to riddle it with bullets.
Where’s Finn? he wondered. Finn should already have turned the device on the Citadel. James looked about, desperately.
“You want us to finish them off?” a young (meaning somewhere in the vicinity of 200 years old), eager looking (meaning he actually had drool trailing off his lip in anticipation of the kill) Redcoat asked James, cradling his weapon (which is to say he was holding it like it was making up for some possible physiologically lack).
James ground his teeth and his mouth became a thin line as he pressed his lips together. “Do it,” he growled.
The young and eager Redcoat let out a whooping battle cry before opening fire on the train, in his haste forgetting to raise the barrel of his gun and consequently shooting himself in the foot.
* * * * * * *
From the battlements of the Jouloutorni, Ilmari Pekka and Karhu had watched in horror as the gates to the frozen lake had exploded, followed by the rushing train surging through the opening only to ram into the lake waters. They had watched as the Redcoats had massed across the remaining ice surface, and then recoiled as they’d opened fire on the train car.
“We must do something!” Karhu roared.
Ilmari Pekka felt the need to act as well, but knew that all their actions were futile. The Redcoats carried guns, while the mennikäinen had always eschewed the use of such mechanized weapons. No one was supposed to be able to reach the Pole by means other than the Polar Express, the Tree, and Lord Christmas’ sleigh. This was not a contingency Ilmari Pekka had ever imagined. Goblin attacks were one thing; they were denizens of the Pohlja and had no access to the type of weapons the Redcoat Leprechauns had brought. They would defend the Jouloutorni to their dying breath, but to run out the front gates would be to lead them all to slaughter.
“Do what?” Ilmari Pekka replied. “Even if we were to go down, we’re cut off from them by the water! You can swim the gulf Karhu, but you’d be shot down before you ever reached the train!”
“The reindeer,” Karhu said. “We must send the reindeer.”
Ilmari Pekka nodded. “We can do that much.”