Fort Eden – Chapter 20
“Bottom of the bottle” by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae
Fire. Pain. Death.
A nightmare of loss and destruction, shadowed tendrils of memory beckoning recollection, fading away into mist under her questioning stare. The crackle of burning wood. The sticky wetness of congealing blood. Scattered remnants of thought, brief glimpses of fog-shrouded houses passing by a bouncing saddle.
Patricia burst upright, sleep banished with the surety of a gold-plated round impacting a Culler skull, then groaned in agony. A dull ache radiated from the left side of her face, hot pressure sending its tendrils through her skull. She reached up with her hands, and winced again at the pain from her splinted right wrist.
“Whu… what… hurt…”
“Easy, lass. Easy.”
The gruff Scottish burr rolled over her like a balm, a gnarled hand gently pressing her down, and she fell back against the thin comfort of the bedroll.
“Where… are we?”
“The asylum. Seacliff.”
“Face… hurts… Luc…”
A deep sigh.
“Aye, lass. He didn’t make it, and it’s my fault. We’re lucky you only lost an eye.”
The sound of a fist striking stone. Patricia reached up gingerly to touch her empty orbital socket, vision curiously narrowed, the ache of missing flesh burrowing into her head. Dismal stone surrounded her, dried bloodstains painting two of the walls. Farlan resumed speaking.
“All because I didn’t have the damn sense God gave His sheep. I should’ve known something was wrong. I should’ve known it was too easy. Instead, I lost myself in the bottle. Didn’t see that bastard for what he was.”
“Dead. You killed it but good, Patricia, and then the house burned down on top of it. I barely got you out in time.”
A heavy sigh.
“Murdered and gone. I couldn’t stick around, not with the warden in there as well. No telling what the local boys would’ve done when they figured out their boss was burnt to ash, with no evidence that he’d been taken by a Culler.”
“More… than one, then.”
“Aye. No idea what kind Ewing was, but I’ve never heard of anything like that in the archives.” Farlan sat down next to her, his head in his hands. “That was… a nightmare, Patricia, and may God strike me down if I lie. You know I’ve faced Cullers before, Seeders and Hunters alike, but that… that thing…”
Patricia sat up again, forcing the pain to the back of her mind, thoughts gradually resuming their normal alacrity.
“We need to let the others know. Archivist Llewellyn. The Armourer. Master Woodson.”
“I’ve already sent a message to each. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to obtain any samples, due to dragging you out of the wreckage of that house.”
“…not your fault, old man. We all missed it. Even Luc. None of us could have known.”
“But why didn’t we know? Hell, Patricia, Ewing was commanding the others. We’ve never seen that kind of hierarchical structure in Cullers before, and we’ve been fighting them for centuries.”
Patricia felt unconsciousness beckoning.
“…don’t know. Ask the Archivist… or the Master. They’re the ones with all the answers.”
Her vision narrowed, eyelid drooping over her one remaining eye. As if from a distance, Farlan spoke.
“Aye, lass. We’ll get those answers, never you fear. For Luc…”
Patricia slipped back into fitful slumber.
“And for you.”
A shadowed figure, brown robes draping its body, examined the envelope with a languid gaze, fixating on the postmark. Fort Eden. It flicked a fingernail out, the dull white lengthening to a black sheen of chitin, and slit open the top of the heavy paper, extracting the parchment from within. Several minutes passed, and then it muttered to itself.
“We… are not pleased. This threatens… everything.”
Grimacing, it pulled a pair of woollen gloves over its hands, and turned to the fireplace set into the weeping black stones of the fortress. With a quick toss, the message turned to ash, and the figure tucked a golden medallion back under its robe. Light glinted off the swooping falcon before it descended into darkness.