Fort Eden -Chapter 7

“Bloody Mess” Written by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae

Featured Illustration by Evgeny Rodygin

“Farlan, the lamp.”

Seconds later, the light from Farlan’s lamp revealed the interior hallway of the house, and Patricia fought to keep the gorge from rising in her throat.

Blood painted the walls in sheets of crimson and body parts adorned nearly every surface. A scene of unimaginable violence now illuminated.

Patricia stepped out into the bedroom, a tiny rectangle barely big enough to fit the threadbare mattress and battered chest of drawers that called it home. She took several deep breaths, trying to steel herself for the return to the entryway, and holstered her pistol. Five long steps later, she stood amongst the horrific entryway scene once more, her heart pounding with rage, her eyes misted with sorrow.

“Any clues, Luc?”

Farlan’s voice was subdued and Patricia noticed his fingers trembling around his flask.

“The rips in the flesh here and… here,” Luc pointed, “indicate that the body was literally torn apart. There are no mandible marks or lacerations that might indicate the serrated chitin of a Hunter.”

“It’s not a damned Hunter,” Patricia growled. “Hunters don’t strike in the middle of a settlement, especially not one the size of Fort Eden. They pick people off from the edges.”

“Unless directed to do otherwise by a Seeder,” Luc replied, poking a bit more forcefully at the dismembered limb in front of him with a pair of forceps. “But I’ve never seen a Hunter inflict injuries if this…brutality. They’re far more precise, favouring efficiency in energy expenditure.”

Patrica could contain her welling rage no longer. “Then what the fuck are we supposed to be looking for, Luc?!”

“I don’t know, Patricia!” Luc spun around, his eyes flashing. “Look at the door frame! A Hunter wouldn’t even think to replace the wood around the lock. And the desk in the study has been ransacked. This has all the hallmarks of a Seeder attack, but it can’t be. Seeders don’t kill this way either.”

“Oh wonderful, if the ‘Strategist’ doesn’t know what the fuck’s going on then-”

“That’ll be enough!”

Farlan’s guttural bellow silenced Patricia and Luc mid-argument, angry words stopping in their throats.

“That’s my nephew and his wife lying here. They deserve better than us bickering over their corpses. He was a good lad.” Farlan knelt down, tears gathering in his eyes. “He may not have been a Falconer, but he had the heart for it.”

Patricia turned her head away, her cheeks burning. Farlan was right. Even if the evidence was impossible, they still had a duty. Whatever shape the Culler assumed, it had to be stopped. She scanned the scene once more, now almost numb to its atrocious tableau.

Something wasn’t right.

“Luc, why’s that hand twisted up all tight like that? Like it’s making a fist?”

“I would have said rigor mortis, however the consistency of the blood suggests time of death was no more than an hour or two ago. If you examine the fingers… wait a minute…”

Luc’s voice trailed off, and he reached down to the partially severed arm trailing away from William’s torso. With a grunt, he bent the fingers back, the stiffened muscles giving way reluctantly like toughened ivy. A crumpled piece of paper rested in the palm. Farlan picked it up.

“Reggie Hawthorne… the Black Bull… 387 George Street… moves like a roach…”

Jaw muscles clenched, Farlan nodded.

“A good lad. Patricia. Luc. Follow me. I think there’s a man we need to ask some questions.”

* * *

The fog parted around the three like a ghostly sea before a ship’s prow. Deadened hoofbeats tolled like funeral bells in the freezing night air. Up ahead, a pair of lanterns flanked a ramshackle wooden door, yellow light and muffled laughter issuing from the windows set to either side. A lopsided sign hung over the door featuring the crude drawing of a bull goring a man.

“Is this the place, Farlan?” Luc whispered.

“Aye. The Black Bull Hotel. Not the worst lodgings in the city, but nowhere near the best.”

“Very well. If you and Patricia would like to search for Mr. Hawthorne, I intend to scout the perimeter.”

“Don’t get killed, Strategist.” Patricia offered a light dusting of sarcasm.

Luc simply smiled. “I will do my best.”

Luc disappeared into an alley alongside the dilapidated hotel. Patricia felt her lip curl in a sneer and nudged her horse alongside Farlan.

“Figures. When it might be time for action, he’s nowhere to be found.”

“Easy, lass. It’s been a rough few hours and I know you’re upset, but let’s remember what we’re here for. Luc fights in his own way.”

“Well if he can’t find whatever this thing is for us, I don’t know why we need his help.”

“He’ll find it, Patricia. There’s no one better than Luc at putting pieces together. Now let’s see if we can track down this Reggie Hawthorne.”

Farlan pulled the door open, revealing a taproom crowded with rough men and painted women, screams and laughter mixing together in raucous symphony. A battered piano in the corner jangled out an upbeat tune played with more enthusiasm than skill, the pianist pausing every fifth bar or so to take a swig from his pint glass. In the leftmost corner, a group of men clustered around a table on which cards and coins exchanged hands with ferocious rapidity, along with angry curses and threats. A sign above the bar proclaimed “Please leave all weapons with the barkeep.” Multiple bullet holes dotted its length, and the last several letters were all but obliterated from what looked like the remnants of a shotgun blast.

Patricia sighed and stepped over a sprawled body, snores rising from its owner.

“There’s no way this is going to end well. Half these idiots are piss-drunk, and the other half are busy catching up.”

“It’s fine, lass. Just be ready to give as good as you get. These people respect strength, and naught much else.”

Farlan shoved his way through the crowd to the bar, applying his elbows in precision strikes to ribs and kidneys to clear a way, staring down anyone who turned towards him with an angry glower. Patricia followed in his wake, her face hard, adrenaline starting to burn through her veins. Tension filled the air, a hot sensation brought about by proximity and drink, twanging her nerves like an over-taut violin string.

“This place is spoiling for a fight, Farlan,” she said, leaning in next to his ear.

“Aye, that it is. Wouldn’t be a miner’s hostel if it weren’t. Try not to shoot anyone if you can help it.”

“Not promising anything,” Patricia muttered.

Seemed like the Black Bull wasn’t making any promises either. A bear of a man loomed in front of Patricia, thick black beard bristling like steel wool.

“Now there’s a fine woman in need of some fine lovin’!” he roared, cheeks flushed and ruddy, eyes glazed in alcohol. “Come with me, little lady, and I’ll show you why they call me ‘The Hammer.’” He placed a large hand on Patricia’s shoulder, fingers digging through her woolen jacket.

“Take. Your. Hand. Off. Me.” Patricia snarled, her tattoos contracting around her tightened lips. The man leaned closer, the stink of cheap beer wafting along his words.

“Now, now, little lady, no need to be rude. I’m sure your island boys can’t pleasure you in the way I ca-yeaaarrrghghhhhhhhhgfdhnnnghhhh…”

Blubbering, the man collapsed to the ground, clutching at his groin, tears leaking from his eyes. Patricia cracked her knuckles, then kicked him in the head for good measure, the thonk of her boot lost beneath the bedlam of the taproom. His eyes rolled back, and Patricia stepped past the limp body, joining Farlan at the bar. She leaned forward onto its gouged and pitted surface to listen in on his conversation with the bartender.

“…Reggie Hawthorne?” The bartender’s voice was harried, his hands busy wiping down pint glasses with a rag more dirt than cloth. “Yeah, he came in not much more than an hour ago.”

“Any idea where I can find him?” Farlan asked.

The bartender scanned the room, then ducked beneath a thrown pint glass that shattered on the wall behind him in a shower of sparkling shards. Resigned to his lot in life, he dropped the rag, grabbed a broom resting behind the bar and began sweeping up the broken glass without complaint.

“Dunno. It’s a busy night.”

“What if I make it worth your while?”

Farlan dropped a gold sovereign on top of the bar. It vanished, the bartender’s hands never seeming to move off the broom.

“Second table in the corner, next to the window. Emaciated fellow, looks like he hasn’t eaten in a fortnight.”

“Thanks, friend.”

Farlan pushed away from the bar and beckoned Patricia to follow, shoving his way back through the crowd. Patricia trailed in his wake, fingers itching to feel the butt of her gun beneath them. The space around them emptied out, revealing a gaunt man sitting at a rickety wooden table, chair leaned against the wall behind him, muddy boots propped in front. A low-tilted bush ranger’s hat shaded his cadaverous face, obscuring his eyes. Thick leather gloves covered his hands, arms crossed over his chest. Despite the packed atmosphere of the taproom, none of the other seats at the table were taken.

“Greetings, friend,” Farlan said pleasantly. “Mind if we sit here?”

“Yeah,” the man growled. “I do.”

Farlan ignored him and swung a chair around, resting his elbows across its back. Patricia remained standing behind him, eyes scanning the rest of the bar and its patrons.

“We’re looking for a fellow by the name of Reggie Hawthorne,” Farlan continued. “That you, friend?”

“Fuck off.”

“Now that’s a shame, Reggie. You don’t mind if I call you Reggie, do you?” Farlan pulled a sovereign out of his coat and rolled it across his knuckles. “See, I’m paying good money to find the answers to some questions I have, and I was hoping you could help.”

“I’m not interested in your money.”

Farlan’s eyes tightened.

“I had a feeling you were going to say that. Thanks for your time. Take the coin anyway, for your trouble.”

Time itself seemed to slow around Patricia as she watched Farlan flip the coin across the table, light gleaming off the golden disc with each spin. It flew through the air, aimed at the man’s face. He seemed to spring upright without going through the intervening motions. The coin bounced off his scrawny belly and he flinched away from it, like an animal avoiding a live coal. Patricia sprang into motion without thought.

Reggie’s gloved hands darted down towards his coat but Patricia was already leaping towards him, her pistol flying into her hand. She heard Farlan’s voice behind her, barely cutting through the pounding of blood in her ears.

“Take him alive!”

With a snarl, she lifted her finger from the trigger and brought the butt of her gun whipping down at the crown of Reggie’s head, intending to disorient him. She was already anticipating the follow-up strike with her left fist when a grip like iron encircled her descending wrist, grating the bones together in a searing jolt of agony.

“Too slow,” Reggie hissed, his gaunt face now nose to nose with hers. Dead-white maggots writhed in the corners of his eyes.

Agog, Patricia watched the world whirl around her like a crazed carnival ride, floor and ceiling swapping places, and then a crashing impact of glass sounded around and through her, cold air replacing the stifling warmth of the taproom, followed by a much harder impact on rough cobblestones. The grating jaggedness of broken bone twisted its way through her right arm and leg, and a deeper, harsher pain exploded in her stomach, acid-etched strands of fire dancing along her nerves. She tried to gather her senses, dislocated wrongness coursing through her punctured and battered body, but blackness crept closer into her vision, narrowing the world to a distant tunnel.

I’ve been… thrown out… window…

Clattering bootheels sounded next to her, then faded into the distance, the roar of a shotgun chasing them. Patricia felt her consciousness slipping away, engulfed in a fog of shock deeper than that cloaking the city. A piercing shriek echoed through the night, and then the darkness closed over her.