Slipstream Line
rating: +14+x

The harsh screeching of steel grinding on steel sliced through the station, tiny sparks flickering under the heavy wheels of a slowing locomotive. The carriages clicked and clacked as they jostled back and forth, rolling to a stop with a pneumatic hiss. Twin doors slid open, revealing paneled wood interior lit in flickering yellow light. Silence resumed as silhouettes began to gather in the doorway, reducing the light to slivers.

The figures advanced onto the platform in a tight formation. Heavy footfalls echoed on brick floors and curved walls, strange angles reflecting the sound in unexpected ways. Piles of crumbled masonry and wooden supplies littered the walls and floor of the platform, shadows leaping across the piles of rubble as the groups' small lanterns swung. Wooden furniture, mostly broken benches, and collapsed tables had been pushed up against staircases and doorways leading further into the station. Approaching a pile of detritus, half the group worked to pull an overturned shelf away from the alcove between two thick pillars of dull red brick. The shelf was dragged off, revealing a glassless window framed with blackened bars set into the wall. The bars ran vertically through it, leaving only an inch of space between. One of the group moved closer to peer through.

Beyond the barred window lay a wide road, flanked by brick walkways on either side. The facades of crumbling buildings faded into the gloom of an unnaturally darkened sky. The street itself was covered by a shallow river of rolling gray fog, waves of it lapping over the curb of the walkways to wash over scattered rubble and featureless lumps. Directly across from the hidden window was a wreck of a vehicle covered in what looked to be clumps of colorless mold. Small piles of gray mold surrounded the remnants, strewn about as though flung from within the wreck. Along the edges, thin clouds of fog wrapped the piles and hid them from view, though more and more appeared further down the street. Straining to see past the corner of the barred alcove, the watcher witnessed several of the piles twitch as they were enveloped in mist.

The dull gray fog began to seep through the gaps of the window, drifting lazily into the station and curling into wispy clouds that obscured even more of the unlit platform. The largest silhouette from the carriages' doorway suddenly grasped the shoulder of the window watcher, pulling them away as the fog rolled in thicker. Together they wrestled with the heavy shelf, slamming it back into place against the window. With creeping tendrils of mist still seeping in through tiny cracks in the old wood, the pair retreated.

Reunited, the group huddled against the back of the station, where curved archways were each blocked with broken furniture. A few pillars loomed in the darkness, giving shape to the rust-red platform surrounding them. Fog had slowly built up as they had explored, and now clouds of it rolled across the perimeter of the station. The walls grew less clear with each passing moment. The groups' lanterns cut bright swathes through the roiling clouds of mist as they advanced toward the center of the rear wall.

The explorers stopped in front of a wide staircase of pale cement leading up to a set of massive steel gates. A length of gleaming chain wrapped across the gates, buried beneath the largest collection of station furniture yet encountered. Sitting on the bottom step, just within the dull yellow light of the leader's lantern, was a figure swaddled in bulky clothing, its' head bowed forward into thick gloves. As the group paused to face this unknown figure, it suddenly rose to its' feet.

The gray fog had followed the group, crawling across the walls and ceiling to drape down across the staircase in a slow-motion waterfall. Moans began to sound from above them as lumps spread out among the stairs spasmed and lurched. The figure in heavy clothing, who had begun to move towards the group, was tackled from behind one of the groaning piles of gray mold. Chunks of it sloughed away as the figure slammed a broken chair leg into the writhing gray mass. The group of explorers moved forward to help but were cut off by a cascading wall of gray fog pouring down from above.

As they hesitated, the bulky figure staggered out of the fog, stumbled over the uneven cobblestone floor, and fell forward with a muffled thump. From behind it, past the wall of fog, horrific mold-beasts tripped down the stairs, congealing into new forms as they wailed. The explorers rushed to carry the figure away, back towards the carriage they'd arrived in. The fog, thicker than ever, hampered their visibility as they stumbled over the myriad construction materials scattered across the platform. They ran, hauling the stranger across the platform and through the double doors of the carriage just before the formless mass of gray mold swept into the side of the train.

With seconds to spare the doors hissed shut, sealing the monstrosity outside. Agonizingly slowly, the carriage accelerated, and gray mold was crushed beneath the thundering locomotive as it sped away from the platform. Great clouds of fog faded away into the distance, furiously swirling in the wind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I walked down an empty road between tall, featureless concrete buildings. The sky was clear, but I couldn't see the sun anywhere I looked. Between the buildings, an odd gray mist crawled along the sidewalks, obscuring strange, vaguely hand-shaped statues that protruded every few feet. When I looked at them, my vision blurred and the fog crept closer, so I kept my eyes on the road ahead. Far in front of me, the road fractured, huge crevices cutting through massive swathes of city. I saw behemoths curled beneath jagged islands, dozens of titanic hands gripping the spires of reversed mountains. A bridge of pale, pink flesh wrapped a gleaming white island of bone, dulled to yellow where alters hundreds of feet high burned brightly with candlelight. I looked down through the glass roof of a citadel, witnessing shining suits of exquisitely carved and painted armor walk beneath glowing orbs of brilliant colored light. The further I looked, the more jumbled and broken the landscape became, until it was all a mess of islands and huge statues of white marble beneath, reaching up with hundreds of straining arms to pull the last remnants of the city down, into unending darkness.

I started to hear whispers but couldn't make out the words. I raised a hand to touch my ear and felt a soft, velvety surface instead of my skin. I looked at my hand and watched as dark green mold crawled across it, covering my fingers as I stared in horror. I dropped, crouching, hugging my arms to my body as I felt mold spread over my neck, my face, my closed eyelids. The whispers grew louder as I curled into myself, shivering. I heard a shrill whistle, loud and sharp enough to hurt. The ground under me shifted, and I reached out for something to grab, touching smooth wood.

I opened my eyes to dim, orange light. The ground shifted again, and I tried to shout but only grunted. The voices I'd heard earlier stopped, and my eyes focused on a person sitting across from where I lay. A pale-skinned woman wearing a black turtleneck sweater and dark blue jeans stared at me through thick glasses. Light blond hair was tied back into a ponytail that lay across her shoulder. The whisper I'd heard while asleep, I now realized. She continued to silently watch as I turned my head, shifting position until I had pushed myself up against the back wall of the room.

The two of us sat inside a small room with dark wooden walls, the only light coming from an ornate metal lamp hanging down next to a doorway. In the doorway stood a man with incredibly thick and bushy facial hair, wearing camouflage pants and wrapped in a heavy-looking harness over a dirty gray tanktop. His arms were equally as hairy as his face, biceps bulging casually in his arms while he leaned on the open door. He wore heavy black boots, which I noticed the woman was also wearing. I pulled my legs up, intending to sit up more, but froze when the woman suddenly spoke.

"Your, uh, clothes are over there. Just so you know." She gestured at a small pile at the end of the alcove I was laying within.
I looked down, confused, as I could've sworn I was wearing something. My arms and chest looked oddly green in the dull light of the lantern, and as I rubbed one arm, I felt velvet smoothness instead of skin. I made another odd gasping noise as I realized that my body was covered in a thin layer of green plant matter, including my face and hair, which felt like one giant, tangled knot of it. Is this real? I wanted to ask, but it was all I could manage not to scream as I lifted the heavy blanket covering my lower half, confirming the rest of me was covered, too. I tried pulling on a bit of the plant matter on my arm, but it wouldn't budge. Moreover, I felt mild pain from tugging on it, like I would've if I pulled on my own skin. My expression must've been enough to signal that something was wrong, as the woman spoke again. "Are you… not normally like this?" Her voice faltered. I shook my head, still peering at my own fuzzy, green hands. She glanced to the man in the doorway, who walked off down the hall outside.

The entire room jolted, and my head hit the wall behind me with a dull thud. I grunted, though it didn't actually hurt, looking away from my own body. The other side of the room was also dark wood, but there was a round window with a pane of clear glass a bit higher than the alcove I was laying in. I could see shadows passing by the window, fast. "We're moving?" I managed to ask in a throaty growl. The blond woman nodded.

"It's a train. We found you at a station a while back, and we've been waiting for you to wake up. Are you in pain? We thought the-" she gestured, "…mold was a normal thing for you, so we didn't try anything on it…" She looked concerned. I shook my head, looking back down at my hands and settling myself into a position where another bounce wouldn't knock my head against wood. Clearing my throat, I tried to speak more clearly. "Thirsty." The woman nodded. She motioned towards the open door. "I'll grab you something once Alex gets back." I nodded, slowly, leaning back. "I'm not hurting, I think." I stopped, frowning. Footsteps clunked outside the door.

I turned, watching Alex, the man from before, as he dropped a dusty, faded brown backpack onto the bench the blond woman sat on. Peering from slightly above, I saw rolls of medical tape among paper cartons of bandages in the front pockets. On the biggest, front-facing pocket I saw white script, spelling out 'Boston P. Medicine Uni', with the 'P.' almost hidden above the other letters. He turned to face me, filling most of my view. From what I could see of his face that wasn't covered in thick, bushy brown hair, he looked to be around thirty, with deep shadows under bright eyes. I figured he was maybe six and a half feet tall, based on how he nearly had to stoop to get through the doorway. When he spoke, his voice was deep, but quiet. "Honestly," he frowned, "I don't even know where to start. How did you end up like that?" Before I could answer, the woman spoke up. "He wanted water, Alex." He nodded, the canvas rustling as he rifled through it.

"No idea." I pinched my arm again, willing the plant matter to pull away and sighing when it didn't. Alex straightened, handing over a clear plastic bottle. His ears, I noticed, were strangely rounded. He leaned back against the door. I twisted the bottle open and drank deeply. The train jolted again, and some of the cool liquid dribbled down onto my chin and chest. When I wiped at myself, I found the area was already dry, oddly enough. "I wanted to mention this when you woke up," said Alex, watching my movements, "…but the stuff on your skin isn't mold. It's moss. The same kind that grows on rocks." Looking again at my hands under the lamplight, I saw that what I had assumed to be a flat carpet actually did have tiny 'branches', so to speak- very small ferns growing in layers down the arms and twisting around fingers. "Is there anything you can tell us? Details about the spot we found you, the fog?" My throat felt much better now that I'd drank, but as I thought about the question, my mood only worsened. "I don't know." Alex nodded, more to himself than to me. "And what can you remember before that? Your name, where you lived? Those things that chased us?" I was already shaking my head before he'd finished the questions.

He looked to the woman, his face somber. "Right. The station we found you at was covered in gray fog. When our group was in the thick of it, some of us got lost, started to forget things. Considering we don't know how long you stayed in it before we got there, it makes sense you can't remember much. For us, the memories came back once we cleared it out. Sorry." I frowned, but my mind was completely blank. Everything from before I woke up in this room was lost to me. Vague details, like the crumbling facade of an old building, or the sound of an unfamiliar laugh, was all I found. "As for what chased us out of the station, I don't think we should discuss it. Ask later if you have to know, but rest now. Memory loss can be fickle; that fog probably wasn't a perfect amnesiac if we managed to recover." It was quiet in the car, save for the faint squealing of the train's wheels outside. I turned back to the window. "Where's the train headed?" My expression darkened. "Away from that fog, right?"

The big guy, Alex, grinned at the question. "Hopefully we left that behind a long time ago. As for where we're headed…" He trailed off, looking past me. I twisted around, seeing nothing but the empty window on the wall behind us. Except, it was no longer empty. Where before I could only see blackness through it, now intermittent lights dashed by in patterns. Between the flashes, I made out dimly lit stone, gray slate walls close enough to touch.

There was a crackle of static. I looked up to see a small, rectangular metal grate set into the paneled wood ceiling above us. A low hum of static sounded, then abruptly cut off. A message began to play.

"Attention passengers. We will soon be arriving at Abyssal Maw Connection. This stop is scheduled to last exactly one hour and twenty-four minutes. For those who are departing at Abyssal Maw Connection, please collect all of your belongings before you leave the carriage. Line's End strives to maintain a clean, safe way to travel when so many others are lost and closed. This is the final train on the Slipstream Line, heading to Last Light. Our estimated time of arrival is-"

There was silence for a moment before the message resumed. "Thank you again for riding with us." Static crackled again as the voice cut out, and then there was silence in the cabin once more.

The woman in the seat across from me spoke up. "Well, that explains things better than I probably could have. We're headed for Last Light, wherever that is, and we're on the last train there."

She stood, stretching, her arms brushing the ceiling of the cramped cabin. "The others were getting some food ready earlier. Meet us outside when you're ready to eat. I'm sure you have more questions, but with the next stop coming up, it's best to start preparing." She nodded towards Alex, who was standing against the doorframe, bag over one shoulder. Together they left the little room. The door swung shut behind them.

Left alone, I tried to organize my thoughts. I looked over my body one more time, intrigued when I noticed 'goosebumps' where my plant-covered arms were closest to the lamplight. As I moved it back from the brightness, it grew flat again. I couldn't understand why or how this had happened to me. For all I knew, I'd died and this was some kind of messed-up afterlife on a train. I couldn't remember even being on that platform that I'd apparently been 'rescued' from, so how did I know that wasn't just a lie and I was being kidnapped?

"Ughh…" I groaned. Thinking in circles wouldn't get me anywhere. I pulled off the blankets and stood, feeling my moss-covered legs creak and pop. The pile of clothes on the end of the alcove were supposedly mine, so I pulled them on. Socks, long-sleeved shirt, pants, jacket, hat and scarf, all various shades of brown… I was already wearing shorts, I noticed. Everything fit, and it made sense that a person growing moss on their skin would want to cover themselves up… I left the hat, scarf, and jacket behind. Before I left to join the others outside, I took a closer look at the window.

The bright lights still flashed by outside as the train rumbled through some kind of tunnel. I looked for a way to open the window and found a small latch, but it wouldn't budge at all when I pulled on it. Turning, I gave the room one more look. It was small, an alcove on one side with a bench facing it, a lantern hung beside the door, all dark, smooth wood paneling. The alcove where'd I'd been laying had a thick blanket on it, presumably to soften the hardwood surface, but I hadn't felt uncomfortable even without it. The moss, I realized, probably acted as a natural cushion. I heard voices from out in the hall. Right. Food. Shaking my head to clear out any lingering, answerless thoughts, I hauled the door open and stepped into the hallway to meet my fellow passengers.

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