Fort Eden – Chapter 6
A Flock of Falcons by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae
Luc Portrait by Silvester Sang
“Luc, you froggie bastard!” Farlan roared, his weathered face breaking into a broad grin. He dismounted and wrapped the lanky man in a bear hug. “How in God’s name are you?”
“Good, Farlan.” Luc’s voice came out as a strangled wheeze. “Aside from those ribs you’re cracking.”
Farlan chuckled, gave his fellow Falconer a final squeeze and then released him.
“Hello, Patricia,” offered Luc with a small smile as he smoothed his shirt front and straightened his jacket. Patricia inclined her head and gracefully slid from her horse. “It is good to see you both. Now, Farlan, what manner of Culler are we dealing with here? Your telegraph was… ominous.”
“That’s the problem, Luc. I’m not rightly sure. My nephew’s letter didn’t mention much more than a local merchant with far less gold in his vault than he should’ve. He thought it a mite suspicious.”
Patricia raised an eyebrow at Farlan. “I never knew you had a nephew in the Falconers. What’s his name?”
Farlan ducked his head, an abashed look stealing over his face. “William, and the lad isn’t exactly a Falconer.”
“Oh? Then how did he know to contact you?”
“Well, you know how it is. You’re at a family gathering, the drinks are flowing, pork pies are sitting solid in your belly as you recline next to the fire, and as the night carries on, the stories, well, they’re just begging to be told.”
Patricia gave Farlan a steely look. “Farlan. We swore an oath of secrecy.”
“Aye, lass, that we did, but William is family. I’d trust the lad with my life.”
“And it’s a good thing he knows about Cullers,” Luc interjected, “otherwise we might not have learned about Fort Eden until the corpses started piling up. Based on the relative calm of the town, I think we can assume it’s not a Hunter.”
“Aye, I didn’t think so either,” Farlan replied. “Means we’re dealing with a Seeder. Damn thing’s probably impersonating someone in the bank, and now it’s working to get rid of the only thing that’ll kill it before it starts whatever trouble it’s brewing.”
Luc’s mouth twisted in a sour smile. “I wish I could argue with that logic, Patricia, but it is true… very well. Farlan, do we have a plan?”
“Aye. We’ll ride to William’s house and ask him exactly what he saw. With any luck, he can lead us right to the beast. Then you’ll figure us out a plan to kill it.”
“Hah. Some things never change,” Luc said, gathering his gear. “Where does your nephew live?”
Farlan swung a leg up over Proof, adjusting his leather coat about him to the sound of jostling glass. “Well, ahhh, I’m not quite sure. The blighter forgot to put his address on the letter. I was going to ask someone. Care for a drink?”
“Just like old times, indeed,” Luc laughed. “No idea where you’re going until you get there. You’ve been assigned to this city for what, almost ten years now?”
“Thereabouts.” Farlan pulled out his flask and took a quick slug. “You sure you don’t want a nip? This bloody fog isn’t getting any warmer.”
Luc shook his head, a small grin still on his face. “I can’t believe your liver still works.”
Luc pulled out a rolled piece of parchment from the overstuffed bag and unfolded it, revealing a neatly inked map.
“The last time I was here, I made sure to jot down the local terrain. Most of the constabulary live in the eastern part of the city. Much has probably changed with the construction, but the streets should remain the same.”
“That pack of yours always has an answer for everything,” Farlan smiled, nudging his horse into a walk.
The three moved between the twisted buildings and streets of Fort Eden, Luc occasionally looking at a folded piece of paper clasped in one hand. The sounds of horseshoes on cobbles rang in muffled echoes, a single pair of leather boots whispering in the spaces like the seconds of some ponderous clock. Around them, the grey shoals of fog continued their ceaseless advance on an occasional glowing torch. After what could have been minutes or hours later, a small stone building rose into solidity in front of the three. Two blue-tinted lanterns flanked its rotting wooden door, and bars covered the few windows dotting its unyielding walls. Luc looked over his shoulder at Farlan and Patricia.
“Right where my maps recorded. Remarkable. Though, perhaps not as remarkable when one considers the average government’s propensity for allocating funding to new public services.”
“Great,” Patricia sniffed, dismounting, “they’re where you said they’d be. Let’s find Farlan’s nephew so we can get in out of this freezing fog.”
“You said it, lass,” Farlan grunted, clapping her on the back. “Even highland winters are warmer than this bloody place.”
“You don’t get to complain, old man. I grew up here. You didn’t. If I say it’s freezing, you just smile and nod.”
“As you say, lass,” Farlan chuckled, “as you say.” He banged a gnarled fist on the door, producing a series of dull thuds. “Hail the guardhouse!”
Several seconds passed, and then the door swung open with an audible creak. The bleary eyes of a watchman peered out.
“H- halt. Who… who goes there at this time of… what bloody time is it, anyway?”
“It’s neither late nor early, lad,” Farlan boomed. “We’re looking for a fellow named William MacCallan.”
“William… yeah, I know Will. He lives on Potter’s Lane. Haven’t seen him in a couple days. Who’re you?”
“I’m his uncle, visiting from bonnie Scotland. Can you help us with some directions?”
The watchman yawned, revealing stained yellow teeth. “It’s late. Come back in the morning.”
“Sorry, lad, but William’s expecting us. Wouldn’t do to keep the boy waiting.”
“Fine… fine. Take a left at the corner, then go down three streets and take a left, but don’t count the alleys, otherwise you’ll end up in Northside, and then take another left once you reach the Barking Dog tavern, their mutton pies are the best, then take a left through the park, you’ll know it when you see it, and once you’re through there, it’s an easy two lefts past the tannery and then the third butcher’s shop. Will’s at the fourth house on the right.”
Patricia frowned, her lips moving furiously. Farlan grinned at the watchman.
“So the lad’s in the Meat District. A fine place to live, if you don’t have a sense of smell. Thanks, and a good night to you.”
“Yeah, yeah… just try not to make too much noise, right? Some of us are trying to sleep through bloody night duty.”
The door creaked shut, and Farlan started off down the street, Patricia and Luc following behind, Patricia still muttering to herself. Finally, she shook her head, and moved up alongside Luc.
“So, do you have any idea where we’re going?”
“Of course. The watchman’s directions were quite clear.”
“Quite clear? The man told us to go left five times.”
“Six times, and yes, that’s one of the problems with cities built these days. Everyone’s so eager to catch up to the Americans, they forge ahead with each piece and forget how the whole is supposed to fit together.”
The three passed another towering stone structure, more ornate carvings stretching up into the hidden night. Patricia shivered, and rubbed her hand on the butt of her pistol.
“I don’t like it. It feels like walking through the bones of some Victorian skeleton. How are we supposed to track down a Culler in this maze? The damn thing could be hiding anywhere.”
Luc shook his head.
“If Farlan’s nephew is correct, and we’re up against a Seeder, it won’t be far from those involved with gold. Seeders are much smarter than Hunters, though not as deadly in close combat, and it’ll know it’s vulnerable until it can gain influence over everyone nearby. It’ll be a close-quarters encounter, fighting through the Seeder’s thralls, but that’s what you and the old man are here for.”
Patricia bared her teeth. “The tip of the spear, huh? Well, you’re right about that, Luc. Find it for us and I promise you, it won’t live to see the sunrise.”
“Of that I have no doubt, Patricia.”
The sudden reek of tanning fluids wrinkled Patricia’s nose, mixing unpleasantly with the smell of blood and offal from the butcher shops lining the street, and Farlan turned down a narrow lane, muddy gaps appearing between the cobblestones. He looked around at the cramped houses, each seeming to crowd on top of the next, then nodded once, a confident gesture.
“Smells like the right spot! Hope the boy doesn’t mind waking a bit early this morning.”
“It smells like a rat crawled into a pig’s ass and then they both died,” Patricia retorted. “How can anyone stand to live like this?”
“You get used to it after a while,” Farlan said over his shoulder, dismounting his horse and leading it further down the lane. “Puts the hairs on your chest.”
“I don’t need any hairs on my chest, old man.”
“It is rather unpleasant,” Luc agreed, rummaging in his pack. His hand emerged with a small jar, and he dipped a finger into it, then rubbed it beneath his nose. “Here, try this.” He handed it up to Patricia.
Patricia stuck her finger into the waxy substance, then pressed it to her upper lip. Almost immediately, the noxious stench of the Meat District died away, overpowered by a tingling burn.
“What on earth is that, Luc?”
“Essence of menthol. I learned about it from an associate of mine who studies cadavers.”
“Do I want to know why he studies dead bodies?”
“There is always something to learn, Patricia,” Luc replied, “even from the dead. In fact, in our line of work, death is our wisest teacher.”
He followed Farlan down the muddy lane. Patricia swung down from her horse and hurried to catch up to the other two, tying her reins to a nearby post next to Farlan’s mare, Proof. The three approached a wooden door, a tarnished brass knocker hanging from its weathered surface. Cracked and glazed windows gazed out at them from either side, their clouded surfaces dark. Farlan reached up to grab it, then paused, his eyes tightening, and backed away from the door.
“I see it, Farlan. Patricia, take point.”
Patricia felt the pistol slide into her hand like a natural extension of her body, the handle cool and smooth in her grasp, and pushed past Farlan. Behind her, the sounds of Luc and Farlan readying their weapons registered faintly, but her attention was now on the looming domicile. Approaching the door, she saw what Farlan and Luc had noticed.
A series of gouged claw marks on the wooden frame where the lock would normally lie, broken chunks hastily placed back into their original positions, but now damp and drooping.
Patricia took a deep breath, then leaned into the door with her shoulder, shoving it open, her pistol snapping up to cover the pitch-black interior.