The light from the lantern he was holding flickered whimsically, alerting us to a reordering of drafts within the narrow tunnel. It meant a train was going to pass that way soon; it also meant that if I didn’t alert him about it, he wouldn’t be able to stand up straight in time and save his spine from being splintered. The uneven texture underfoot made it all the more harder to stand, just stand, and hold the lantern aloft, succintly guiding the light onto the surface he cast a shadow on. Sometimes, it was this way, and the very next second, it was that. He would grunt if I was late in the catching up; he would mumble about some accidental explosion in his valley that had destroyed half a town; he would mumble about me stepping on the long fuse-wire next if I so much as shifted the weight on my feet. Even while working in the mining shafts on either sides of the valley, he was an ill-tempered anarchist, complaining about something or the other. He wasn’t wholly to blame: anyone would if their wife cheated on the husband with his boss on the same day her mother-in-law died. Naiccus Arpath did not shed a single tear or bellow a single curse, he just stopped talking about the world the way he did and started going to church. There, all the Rev. Ross Punter had to do was preach his soggily religious drivel into Naiccus’ infecund skull and here they were, two of the best men on the fuse about to blow up a railyway line.
The flame trembled and Naiccus caught the movement before I did, standing up in time to look at me with bloodshot eyes, the little windows shooting past not before they cast a seemingly flickering gleam in his eyes. He grunted his disapproval, I could only stare straight ahead with as much straightlacedness as I could muster. It was not right to argue with Nasty Naiccus, everyone knew that. As soon as the locomotive had exhausted its thundering advertisement of promise and opportunity in this side of the world, he went back to checking the fuse for one last time. It was proper; of course it was, Naiccus Arpath had fixed it, and when men who have a grudge not against their wives or bosses but against the world rig railway lines to blow up when innocent people are passing overhead, it is more often than not that they WILL blow up.
I handed him the lantern and set about gathering the nails and pieces of paper strewn around – of course, an explosion of this magnitude would mercilessly eviscerate all garbage from within this tunnel and this tunnel from within this mountain, but seeing as how the fuse was set for two hours, we didn’t want any other loafer in the area to stumble across across our brainchild. We didn’t have to be told much when it came to legal explosions: we knew the logistics like the back of our hand and we knew we didn’t have to bother about which poor sod we blew up on the other side of the mountain. When it came to planning such a big deal on our own accord, it took us a month to work out the supply-chain links and another month to survey the lands and hit upon a spot at which to shine the bright torch of deliverance into the unsuspecting faces of a thousand children of this land, a thousand children of a thousand brothers who had stolen our lives from us. It was white man versus white man, not something you could hold back with civil war nor make legal with trumped up laws… I’m not sure I like myself when I drift off like this.
After a final confirmation from Naiccus, I turned around to leave, slowly marching up the gentle slope towards the lamppost at the foot of which Faffie was supposed to have stashed the escape route from the reserve about an hour ago. Seeing as how the last train had just passed us, I didn’t have to look back every minute or so to check the height of the flame. That’s also why I didn’t realize how Naiccus had decided to stay back with the one thing that had gone right in his life in the last two years. That’s also why when I looked back from the lamppost, I knew the next train through this mossy crawlway was going to be pieces of train as soon as it crossed it half-way. That’s also why I knew I was a dead man, too, because the map showed that I needed to take the second train from now to escape the reserve. That’s also why I knew Naiccus hadn’t forgiven me yet for bringing him to this place six years ago. That’s also why I decided to walk back to him and ask him for his forgiveness before we departed together. That’s also when I knew Naiccus wouldn’t forgive me easily. I had hesitated. I had taken time to read the map without him. I had gone all the way without looking back at him. I had been clearly selfish, and death would not deter Nasty Naiccus from being Nasty Naiccus.