A few moments later the invisibility spell dropped and the system played a chime to let me know. Carefully, I edged around the outside of town, hoping to avoid notice and get back to the train. I was dying to take a crack at that scroll, but if I got fragged before getting back to my office, it'd be gone for good. Sure, I could try the same shtick again, but I had a feeling it wouldn't fly.
It was a short distance to the train station; a blacksmith's shop stood on the corner of the square facing the terminal. I came around behind the blacksmith's shop, where a low end NPC stood outside and banged against various metals. Using that what small amount of cover it affoarded, I looked towards the boarding area, and watched the traffic for a moment.
People were coming and going in singles, groups of three or four, sometimes as many as six. I waited another moment, and my suspicions were confirmed. There were three individuals wandering around, moving through the forest around the entrance, occasionally killing a mob, but they always returned to the clearing where I'd have to end up.
While I watched their movements, hoping to find an opening where I could make it across the clearing and onto a train before they could catch me, I reexamined the events of the past few minutes. Presumably, the person who had hacked the NPC that hired me today was not the same person that had hacked it in the first place. No guarantees, but I like to think that I'm not being run around. Still, I kept track of that as a possibility. Meanwhile, the elf had been interacting with impossible quantities of people in the past few days. The logfile was purged pretty regularly, and the fact that it was large enough to impact my carrying capacity meant someone had been busy. Probably the same someone who had these goons waiting for me at the train. Also, whoever they interacted with included something interesting that they didn't want me to know.
The train pulled into the station. From here, it looked like an expensive carriage pulled by small dragons. It would only wait for about a minute.
I whipped out my pistol and reloaded it. From the looks of things, they were keeping a pretty good screen around the train. I was tempted to wait them out and take another train, but there were other people still looking for me around the town, and they could stumble across me at any moment...
I'm not sure how I knew to turn around at that moment, but I rotated my character one-hundred and eighty degrees, and saw the elf NPC moving towards me. There was no way to know if she had seen me or not, so I was going to assume she did. Quickly rifiling through my inventory, I pulled out two "Automat Sandwiches" and wolfed them down, restoring my hitpoints to a little more than half. Not quite enough to soak another hit from elf-girl's blade, but if I got lucky, I could bolt my way through the goons onto the train without dying.
I gave it an extra second, just to wait for the goons to be simultaneously looking the other way, and I ran for it. Next to my character's constitution value a green dot appeared; my stamina warning. Long periods of exertion will slow your character down. I had gone about ten steps when goon #1 spotted me; judging from his armor, he was a mid-level rogue, thirteen or so. In each hand he was armed with a dagger, I watched him start towards me and then vanish in a puff of smoke. Standard rogue ability in Forestshire, and unfortunately, it allows them to backstab. Massive damage and no opportunity to block. I kept running, hoping to be able to evade him by sheer luck. The other two goons came out of the forest and positioned themselves in the center of the clearing.
I snapped off two quick shots, one at each of them. I had invested most of the skill-points I had earned on level-ups into firearms. There weren't many game skills that a PI needed, it was mostly patience. So there was no reason not to invest them there. Now I was glad I did, because the two shots struck true. Immediately, floating stars appeared over the heads of goons #2 and #3, signifying that they had been "stunned". I had bought a few quarrels of "stun arrows" over in Rivendellic and had them converted into bullets. They only worked in fantasy realms that supported "stun arrows" of course, but this was one of them.
Two out of the way, but I had no idea where the rogue was. There was nothing for it at this point though, I was a handful of steps from the train. A glance back showed that the elf was a short distance behind me and gaining fast. I went through the door of the carriage and entered the train.
The lieutenant was directly across from the door; he smiled at the haste with which I entered the train. My stamina warning was edging towards red, and my avatar was "breathing" heavily. He smiled the same "eyeing the mouse" smile that he showed me the last time, and that's when the rogue struck.
Backstabs are devestating, and this one moreso because he was using some variety of flame dagger. The blast shoved me into the Jackboot's lap and sent my life meter plummetting down to a sliver of life. I whirled and fired a "stun bullet" catching him squarely in the chest. I then used a fighter technique I had picked up, "slam", which caused my avatar to slam into his. It knocked off a few hitpoints from both of us and pushed him from the train as the door closed. Nothing quite like timing.
I sat beside the Jackboot. "You make friends everywhere you go, don't you," he said.
"Want a sandwich?"
"That'd be great." He gave me four automat sandwiches, which I consumed one after the other, bringing my life-bar back up to three quarters. Not bad at all.
"So what is it you're investigating?"
"Who said I was investigating anything?"
"Please Mr. Crane. I'm sure by now you've figured out why I'm here. What I don't understand is why you're here."
"Someone came in; I'm investigating a standard PK. Someone wants to know who it is that killed them."
"Ah... I see. Strange though, isn't that usually a job for bounty hunters?"
"Most hunters only take cases if you've got a name."
"True enough then." He offered me a business card. "If you should happen across anything that you think might interest my guild, we'd be most interested to hear it. My name and e-mail address are on the card."
I took it, and instantly a floating bubble appeared over his head. "Lieutenant P4nzer". I looked at the card; the email address on it was an in-game address, not a fleshside email. Most serious players took great lengths to seperate the fleshside from the game.
"Thank you very much Mr. P4nzer. I doubt though I'll have anything to say to you."
The train pulled into the subway station in the center of Metro-City. "Well," I finished, "Have a good day. Can't say I hope I'll see you around."