Fort Eden – Chapter 2
Load of Bull by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae
Patricia forced her aching muscles into motion, kicking up as hard as she could at the creature. Her boot connected with its right shoulder, shifting it just enough so its head slammed into the support beam right next to hers. The upper half of its body crashed into her, nearly crushing her ribcage. The smooth metal of her Falconer’s badge dug into her chest and she felt a thin trickle of blood roll down her sternum. Dazed, the hound fell to its side, and Patricia whipped an arm around its neck, clinching herself against its back, and locking in a chokehold. Muscles tensed beneath her elbow, like coiled steel wires, and then the hound was kicking and writhing, spittle flying from its snapping fangs as they rolled across the floor.
Am I seriously trying to wrestle a Thrall right now? If I make it out of this alive, Farlan’s going to laugh his arse off.
She tightened her arms, trying to choke the dog out, but it showed no sign of relenting. A paw caught her lower leg, gashing a shallow set of tracks along her calf. Patricia hissed in pain.
Shit. How am I going to kill this thing? Can’t let go, and I still need to reload. Knife won’t do anything, it’s plain steel. The only gold I have is my Falconer’s badge…
The hound twisted again, trying to break free, and Patricia wrapped her legs around its midsection, heedless of the raking claws tearing at her. Summoning every last ounce of strength, she heaved back, reaching her bracing arm under her shirt, and managed to close her hand around the smooth shape of her badge. The hound jerked forward, causing her to snap the leather thong from around her neck, but the swooping falcon remained in her grasp, its outstretched wings prickling her palm. With a grunt, she brought her hand to the hound’s throat, and dragged those wingtips across the beast’s fevered skin like a knife, splitting it open and spilling forth a torrent of black blood fecund with maggots. The hound kicked once and then fell still, seeming to deflate underneath her. Patricia scrambled to her feet, checking for signs of infestation on herself as she gasped for breath.
Two black maggots squirmed along her forearm and began to burrow into her flesh. Patricia grabbed her knife. Seconds later, two strips of her skin lay on the floor, and another pair of scars joined the trackwork already decorating her arms. She sank to the ground with a sigh, her entire body aching. A quick slash produced a strip of her shirt, and she began to wrap it into a makeshift bandage, dark red flowers blooming upon the fabric. Suddenly, a bellowing roar echoed from behind her and Patricia looked up with a curse.
A nightmare loomed over her, blood-matted hide and bone-yellow horns stretching nearly to the ceiling, eyes rolling in red-rimmed sockets.
Oh, come on. A bull? Two thousand bloody pounds of gods-be-damned bull?
Hands still as stone, she scrambled in her pocket for more bullets. Nothing met her questing fingers but sturdy woollen cloth. Her heart sank.
They must have fallen out when I was wrestling the other Thrall. Guess that’s that, then.
The bull bellowed again, and Patricia bellowed back, one last act of defiance.
“Fuck off, you Culler bastard!”
The shotgun blast sounded like a cannon in the enclosed space, turning the bull’s horned head into a fine black mist. Its body swayed for a second, then toppled to the floor with a resounding crash. Through the ringing in her ears, Patricia became aware of the sound of boot heels striking the floor. A grizzled figure in a dull red kilt stepped through the doorway, smoke wafting from the muzzle of his double barreled shotgun.
“You okay there, lass?”
She felt herself slump back in exhaustion and relief.
“Farlan. I thought you weren’t going to make it.”
Farlan lowered his shotgun and pulled out a flask, taking a long drink.
“Almost didn’t. Lucky I saw that nasty gull thing circling over the village, so I thought I’d come investigate.”
Patricia raised her head in alarm.
“There were five of them!”
“Easy lass, easy. That’s one Culler that won’t be flying again, I promise you that. Now, on your feet.”
Groaning, Patricia hauled herself upright, and started gathering scattered bullets back into her pockets.
“What’s the rush, old man?”
Farlan grinned, but there was no humor in it.
“This many Thralls this close to Fort Eden? If we don’t get there soon, there won’t be a Fort Eden to get to.”