Fort Eden – Chapter 18
“Falconer’s Heart” by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae
The three figures moved in a silent line through the ever thickening fog, lonely islands of humanity in a vast and formless sea. None spoke, each alone with their thoughts from the aftermath of the battle at the warehouse, one taking periodic gulps from his flask. An occasional hissing gas lamp tried to beat back the smothering darkness, but accomplished little more than the briefest moment of lucidity.
Eventually, Patricia nudged her horse alongside Farlan.
“So that’s it, then. We saved Fort Eden from the Cullers.”
Farlan took another long swig from his flask, unsteady fingers shakily screwing the top back on.
“Aye, lass, we’re bloody heroes,” he responded sourly, then belched. “Not a damn fool in this entire town will thank us for it, but that’s not why we do it, is it?”
“Not at all, but none of this makes sense. What were the Cullers trying to do here? What was their goal?”
Farlan belched again, the acrid reek of alcohol causing Patricia’s nose to wrinkle.
“We’ll likely never know. Never know why they killed poor William and his wife. Never know what they thought, if they even think. Never know anything except that they kill us, and we need to kill them first. Before they can take everything from us; our lives, our hopes, our families…”
Farlan trailed off, then took another drink, swaying on his saddle, eyes red. The unseen bulk of cramped houses pressed in around them like cilia in some vast gullet, and Patricia pulled her coat tighter around herself, eyeing Farlan’s flask.
“Don’t you think that’s enough for tonight, old man?”
“Bah. What does it matter. Battle’s over, and we’ll find whatever blew open Reggie’s head soon enough. I’ll talk with Ewing, let him know he’s the new top gangster in town, and then we can finish what’s left to finish.”
Farlan kicked his heels, causing Proof to nicker, and pulled ahead of Patricia, turning into a faint outline in the fog. She stared at his receding back, then looked over at the sound of footsteps next to her.
“Luc. I’m worried about the old man. He’s hitting that bottle pretty hard.”
Luc hitched his pack up around his shoulders and frowned.
“He is, though I cannot say it is out of character for Farlan. He tends towards the maudlin when a mission ends.”
“So you’ve seen him like this before, then?”
“I must confess, never quite this bad, though I’ve never worked with him on an incident where he lost family. I surmise that it is bringing back memories of his own wife and child, and the drinking is the only way he knows to cope. Perhaps when we track down the final Culler it will bring him some closure.”
“I sure hope so. He’s not the only one that needs to feel like all this… this death, this waste, whatever fancy word you want to use to describe it, had some meaning.”
“Life seldom gives us the answers we desire, Patricia,” Luc replied. “We simply do the best we can, and hope that it was good enough.”
“But doesn’t it eat at you? The not knowing?”
Luc gave her a small, sad smile.
“Of course it does. I, too, wish to know what it is the Cullers want, what motivates them, why they’re so inimical to our existence. I want there to be a neat explanation, with a satisfying resolution, all wrapped up in a tidy package, but I’ve been doing this for a long time, Patricia. Not so long as Farlan, but long enough to know that it’s seldom the case. Instead, we muddle through the pain, the fear, the misery, and we take solace in what small salvation we achieve.”
Patricia wanted to howl.
“But that’s the whole point. How do we know we’ve accomplished anything? How do we know that we’ve made a difference?”
Luc waved a hand at the surrounding mist, the muted glow from a window’s small candle flickering fitfully overhead.
“We don’t, not for certain, but surely these people are safer now than they were before tonight’s events? We’ve rid the city of multiple Thralls and a Culler, and had we not, you know what they eventually do. The destruction they spread. Falconers may be required in Fort Eden again, to protect it once more, but for now, the town has a respite. That has a value inherent in itself.”
Luc chuckled grimly.
“Or so I tell myself, when it comes time to lay my head down to rest. If I thought otherwise, it is unlikely I’d wish to continue on with this life.”
Patricia found her own lips turning up slightly.
“The great Strategist, showing a heart. I thought we were all pieces on a board for you to move as you pleased. Who’d have thought?”
“I have always had a heart, Patricia, but in our fight against these creatures, to show that invites death. Sometimes a piece must be sacrificed in order to prevail in the game. One day, it might be my turn. One day it might be yours. We must press on, regardless.”
“Hopefully that day isn’t anytime soon, my friend.”
“Am I?” Luc asked softly. “Your friend, that is?”
Patricia found herself in memories once again, the chaos and carnage of the past few days coating everything in shades of red, but Luc always in the right spot at the right time, backing her and Farlan up as if he’d been doing it his entire life.
“Yes, Luc. You are.”
“Then that is another success we may attribute to this mission. Look, Farlan has stopped. It appears we have arrived at Mr. Ewing’s.”