Fort Eden – Chapter 16
“Fiends in High Places” by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae
Patricia slid through the doorway and knelt behind a mound of crates, her movements fast and sure, presenting a small profile to possible ambushes. The oppressive silence remained unbroken, and she glanced around, trying to take in as much of the interior as she could.
Above her rose a vaulted roof, scarred wooden beams arching across its width, deep shadows pooling within their corners. Underneath them, where the second floor would normally be, a walkway ran around the width of the room, disappearing into a cluster of rooms at the back, hanging like a hornet’s nest from the eaves of a house. Lamplight lanced out of two small windows. The light did little more than create darker shadows Patricia’s eyes couldn’t pierce, and inwardly she cursed.
“Visibility poor. Ambush likely. Moving up, cover me.”
“Right behind you.”
Patricia edged around the stack of crates, then scurried to a bigger pile, pistol held close to her chest, its barrel pointing unwaveringly forward. She ducked her head out for a quick peek at the rest of the shadowed warehouse floor, then pulled back behind the crates, and looked over at Farlan, who knelt in a firing position by the far wall.
“Nothing over here either. Movi-”
Harsh white light flared from above, and Patricia whirled, her pistol snapping up without conscious thought. On the walkway above stood eleven men armed with rifles, their dark overcoats making them nearly invisible in the deeper shadows of the vaulting beams. A twelfth man in an ill-fitting suit looked down at the two Falconers, a sputtering magnesium torch in his hand casting severe contrasts across his weather-lined face and close-cropped hair.
“Two of Ewing’s rats come to sniff around my cheese? What is it that you thought you would find, little vermin?”
“We don’t work for Ewing,” Farlan called up calmly. “Are you Polanski?”
“So you say, little rat, but you reek of Ewing’s type. What possible interest could Polanski find with one such as you?”
“We just want to ask some questions. About anything strange you might have-”
Gunshots split the silence like vengeful thunderbolts.
Patricia flung herself into cover, wooden splinters raining into her hair, her own pistol spitting back thunderous retorts at the assailants overhead.
The familiar booming cough of a shotgun answered her, along with a pair of smaller rifle cracks. A brief scream sounded above, followed by a gurgling thump.
“Still alive, lass, though I’ll need a fresh pair of skivvies once this is done. Did you see who fired?”
“Couldn’t tell. Think they’re all Thralls?”
“If they are, this just got a whole lot nastier, and that’s the truth.”
More gunshots rang out from overhead, and Patricia flinched back down, trying to bury herself into the wreckage of a crate. The smell of coffee rose up around her, and she tried not to sneeze.
Another scream rang out from the walkway, accompanied by a fusillade of shots, and she realized that none of the bullets were hitting near her. Patricia poked her head up to see what was going on.
A strobing nightmare sequence danced on the second floor walkway. One of the men in dark coats, his arms and legs twisted into grotesque proportions, scuttled along the beams of the roof like some hideous spider, finger-talons gouging deep holes into the thick wood, his bare feet elongated to twice their natural length. Two other dark-coated men lay dangling off the railings, their bodies split nearly in half, blood and entrails dripping to the dirty floor below, while their fellows peppered the abomination with gunfire, though it barely seemed to even slow the thing down.
The man in the ill-fitting suit cursed in a string of Polish as he fired a pearl-handled revolver, the magnesium torch in his other hand brandished at the creature like he was presenting a cross to a vampire.
“Farlan! There’s a Culler on the ceiling! It’s killing Polanski’s men!”
Even as she spoke, the Culler launched itself at another one of the men above, absorbing the bullets as its face twisted into a death-rictus smile. Nightmare limbs flashed, twisting the targeted henchman’s head clean off with a sickening pop. Blood fountained into the air as the Culler clawed its way back along the ceiling. More bullets followed it, but the creature simply ignored them.
“They don’t have any gold, Farlan! We’ve got to take it down!”
Patricia propped herself up into a kneeling position, and steadied her aim on the edge of a crate, tracking the swift moving Culler’s erratic motions across the roof. She drew a breath, held it, then gently let it out as she squeezed the trigger six times. Black blood spurted from the Culler’s right shoulder, and it shrieked in rage as it dropped to the floor with a crash. More gunshots rang out from above, chasing the scuttling form into the maze of crates.
“Good shot, lass!”
Patricia pushed herself to her feet and shook her head grimly.
“I only winged it.”
“Then let’s do something about that. Luc’s covering the rear entrance, so if it tries to escape that wa-”
The roar of an explosion rang out from the back of the warehouse, light piercing painfully through the gloom, and another shriek of rage split the maelstrom of combat. An entire stack of crates slowly toppled over, like an ancient tree falling to the forest floor. Dust filled the air in a hazy cloud, and Patricia quickly reloaded. Another stack of crates, closer this time, pitched over, adding more chaos to the constant rain of gunshots from above.
“It’s headed our way, old man! Get your-”
A leaping shape cut Patricia off in mid-sentence, bursting its way through a crate to her right, two outstretched claws reaching for her face. Time itself seemed to slow, her body ever so slightly falling away from the onrushing Culler, and with an icy stab of fear, Patricia realized she wasn’t going to get her pistol up in time. Maggots roiled in the ruined mess of its eyes, and its rictus smile stretched even wider, skin cracking and splitting along the sides of its jawline. Ragged black talons filled Patricia’s vision, and then her world exploded in a fury of sound and light.
Patricia found herself slumped in the ruined mess of a crate, pistol held limply in her left hand, her right digging a finger into her right ear. Despite her efforts, the ear continued to whine with a shrill, piercing tone. Farlan knelt next to her and pulled out his flask, taking a swig as he stared grimly at the headless corpse sprawled out amongst the wreckage. Black blood steamed in the chill night air.
“Sorry about the tinnitus, lass. Had I any other choice, I wouldn’t have fired next to your head.”
“Forget it,” Patricia replied, her words sounding to her like she was speaking underwater. “I’d rather have a ringing in my head than lose my head entirely. It’ll go away eventually.”
A pair of boots rounded the corner, and Patricia looked up into Luc’s concerned face.
“Are you okay, Patricia?”
“Yeah, Luc. I’m fine. What happened in the back?”
“The Culler dodged the brunt of the nitroglycerin I arrayed across the rear exit, though the detonation was successful in keeping it contained to the warehouse. I did not expect it to move as quickly as it did.”
“I don’t think any of us expected that,” Patricia replied, holstering her pistol and gingerly pushing herself upright. “Speaking of which, we need to talk to Polanski. I know we had him pegged as the Culler, but he seemed just as surprised as we were.”
“You aren’t wrong, lass,” Farlan muttered. “This whole mess feels… off, and I’d like some answers. Luc, is Polanski still here?”
“Yes. Upstairs, with what remains of his crew. I disarmed them, tested them with gold, and told them to sit tight until we could ask them some questions. They seemed inclined to do so. I believe they’re in shock at the moment.”
“Then we’d best take advantage of that before the constabulary decide to take an interest. Let’s go.”