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Carver of Flesh


edonil
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So, the muse got the itch to try a new genre. Rather than starting from 100% scratch, I decided to try my hand at writing a horror style prequel to my novel. Currently about 4 pages in, I expect this'll end up about as long as my other short stories were. Hope people enjoy this! The setting is Victrix, about 300 years before the novel starts, back before they really hated mages. If you haven't read my novel, don't worry, this doesn't reference it. And this should be just a quick break from my novel writing. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to alternate between updates!

The creature was horrifying on levels Victor didn't even know existed. His analytical mind began cataloging everything about it, seeking detachment from the circumstances in the form of information. It was about twice the height of an average man, he estimated, with backwards jointed legs and oversized arms. The massive head had a mouth full of huge teeth, large enough to keep the lips from ever closing over them. The angles of the body were just wrong somehow, with hands that had too many fingers to blank staring eyes that were significantly smaller than they should be.

The combat engineer sat down on his haunches, carefully reaching out with a stick to shift some of the rubble away from the corpse. He jumped back as the body shifted, his boots sliding across the pool of dark blood on the ground. "Woah!" he yelled, stumbling back into someone behind him, who caught him and kept him from falling.

"Thanks," he said, then swallowed nervously as he stared up into the cold green eyes of Sergeant Edith Schwarz. Firmly, she set him back on the ground, then stepped around him, her brown leather coat swirling around her booted legs. She crossed her arms over her chest, staring down at the body.

"Watch yourself, greenhorn," the mage Elias Kaiser, said, clapping Victor on the shoulder. "We just got you. Sarge and I will be very unhappy if you get yourself sent back so soon. Besides, it's not like the thing is alive. Just some gases in the body shifting around." Elias pulled the collar of his coat up, tucking his head against the cold wind. "What do you think, Sarge? Is it real, or some elaborate prank to cover up the murders the past month?"

"If it's a prank, it's a damn good one," she said finally. The woman teased her gloves off, reaching down to pull at the sickly green skin of the corpse. "It certainly feels real. Any idea what it is?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Elias said. "I took plenty of courses on biology at the Academy in Victrix, but I've never even heard of something like this. I wonder why we were asked along to be part of this investigation? Seems like a group of mages from the Academy would be a better choice than a handful of military cops."

"Well, let's go talk to whoever's in charge here and get the story." The sergeant stepped away from the body, pale cheeks flushed red as the wind beat against her. Victor took a step to the side, letting her pass. The sarge was a very dangerous woman, and he had learned quickly that no one messed with her. He'd only been with the veteran team for a few assignments, but the first time a criminal had mouthed off to Edith, she'd left him with so many broken bones that he couldn't do anything but twitch on the ground.

The young Victrixan engineer had to jog to keep up with the more experienced pair. He was small and wiry compared to them, just under average height with only enough muscle to make it through the military training program. He brushed his brown hair out of his blue eyes, pulling his wide brimmed hat down to shield himself from the wind. It was winter in northern Victrix, emphasis on northern. Victor was from the south, where the weather was far more comfortable, but the military didn't seem to care about that, and he'd gotten a crash course in cold weather survival.

Still, it could have been worse. The engineering corps was still new in the military, and most of the army wasn't sure what to think about their new addition to the family. Rifles were a known and respected technology, if still rare after only two decades since their introduction over the massive cannons of the past. But the clockwork devices that Victor worked with were still an unknown quantity. He'd kept in touch with some of his training group, and the luckiest ones were treated as little brothers. The unlucky ones were harassed and had some of the most inventive pranks pulled on them that he'd ever heard of.

As they walked back to the barracks, Victor saw a prison rig outside the building being unloaded. Curiously, he studied the three individuals that stood in the chill air. Each of them were covered in dirt and soot, and he didn't even want to think about what they must have smelled like. The slender woman in the group seemed like she'd be pretty enough, her hair an indeterminate color beneath all the dirt, although her blue eyes were clear as she looked around. The man in the middle had a face that seemed set permanently in its current position- a grimace that told the world to be damned and leave him alone. His black hair was long and ragged, and a messy beard covered his face.

Compared to the other two, the third individual was clean and groomed in spite of the dirt, with short blond hair and a shaved face. The start of a beard covered his face in small patches, indicating how long the group had been traveling, but it didn't detract from that sense of tidiness that Victor got off him. All three of them had black collars around their necks that he recognized from his training. He let out a low whistle at the sight of them. Explosive collars weren't common pieces, so this lot must have something particular about them to warrant the clockwork devices.

"Hey, Elias," he said, poking the mage in the shoulder. "What do you make of that?"

"Hm?" The mage looked up, blinking his brown eyes a few times as the wind blew harder. He looked closely at the prisoners, a frown crossing his weathered face. "I don't know," he said finally. "I'd say it's just a prison transfer, but the collars do make it a bit out of the ordinary. Odds are, though, that's it's got nothing to do with us. Let's not worry about it too much."

"Sure thing," Victor said. He picked up his pace, and let out a sigh of relief as he set foot into the warm barracks. He shook the snow off his boots and pulled off his hat, holding it as he joined Edith and Elias in a side office with a fireplace.

"Close the door, if you would," the office's occupant said. Victor complied, then stood by it, leaning against the wall. Edith and Elias sat down in the chairs, Elias lounging in his with arms over the side, Edith straight-backed and hands neatly in her lap.

"Thank you for coming, sergeant. I'm Lieutenant Werner, in charge of the army outpost here. I assume that you saw our little mystery while you were out?"

"Yes." Edith's brow furrowed. "I take it you don't know what it is either, then?"

"Not a bloody clue," the lieutenant said, standing up from his desk and pouring himself a glass of wine. "I will tell you that it's causing a bit of a stir among the locals, not to mention the rest of us." He shuddered then tossed back the wine and poured another glass. "Tough bastard too. Took a lot of men down with it, and even then, we had to unload a third of the armory into it."

"So it attacked the town?"

"Yeah. We lost a patrol a day or so before it came here, and when I sent out a squad to find our missing men, they came back with that thing chasing them. We spent an hour hunting that thing, and it finally died when half a wall fell on it. And the noise it made." He shuddered again. "I've got a few men still in the infirmary having panic attacks when they're awake and in comas the rest of the time."

"Did you get any Academy mages to look at it?"

"None of them could make anything of it. They're just as lost as the rest of us for once. Said they didn't have time to deal with the thing, and so, here we are."

"What exactly do you want us to do, sir?" Elias asked.

"Track it back, find out where it came from, and if there's any more of them. We started to track it back into the woods, but lost the trail after a while."

"This isn't normally our field of expertise. Why us?"

"Honestly? Because you were recommended. When I wrote to my superiors about all this, I was told to ask for your assistance in dealing with the problem. I'm not sure why, just following orders at this point."

"Lovely," Edith said, rolling her eyes. "Glad to know we're appreciated enough to send us to our deaths. So, who's coming with us?"

"There we've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that my men are refusing to have anything to do with this. And at this point, I'm not about to give orders that will start both a mutiny and a riot. The good news is that the recommendation for you came with a few specialists for the job. They're all ex-military and very good at what they do, so I've been told."

"Great. Who are they?"

"We've got you a tracker, a doctor and a scout, all of whom have lots of experience and..." Werner's voice trailed off as Edith stared at him blankly. He sighed and handed her a stack of papers. Curiously, Victor looked over her shoulder and arched an eyebrow with confusion at seeing the word "WANTED" at the top.

"Like hell," Edith said flatly. "Tell me this is a joke. There's no way in hell I'm agreeing to this. Prisoners? Death row inmates?! What the hell are you thinking? A serial killer, a vigilante turned murderer and a thief who dabbles in hired kills? Are you insane, sir?"

"It wasn't my idea, sergeant," he said, hands raised defensively. "I'm serious when I say that they're the best at their work, but I can understand your problems. I had the same reaction. But, they've all got exploding collars tied to spells, so your mage can drop them if they create problems. Or you could just shoot them. No one's asking you to bring them back alive, just use them to get the job done."

Victor watched his sergeant's mouth work furiously, then she finally nodded with a sigh. "I don't like it, but I suppose so long as they're unarmed, they'll be of use."

"Well, you see..." Werner began.

Edith held up a finger. "Elias, Victor, could you do me a favor and step outside for a moment? The lieutenant and I need to have a talk in private."

"Of course," Elias said. Victor opened the door, stepping out with his partner and closing the door behind him. He certainly didn't envy the lieutenant one bit, having been on the receiving end of more than one of the sergeant's rants.

"Well, this is certainly going to be interesting isn't it," Victor muttered. "They're just screwing with us all over again, aren't they?"

"That's the job. I will say, this one is a bit more unusual than most, but it could be worse my boy. Odds are Sarge'll come around and join in anyway, even with all these twists and turns to it. 'Not ours to question why...'"

"'Ours is only do or die,'" Victor finished with a sigh. He tilted his ear back to the door and his eyes widened. As many times as he'd heard Edith biting a piece out of someone, he'd never heard her swear just that much. "She's more than a little bit angry."

"Wouldn't you be? Or were you not paying attention as much as I was?"

"Oh, I'd say she has every right to be angry," Victor assured him. "Just a surprise, that's all. So, what do you think?"

"I don't like this one bit. That thing out there is huge, and it came from somewhere. I don't want to think about what could happen if we run into another one, even if the six of us are armed. Still, it is an intriguing mystery."

Victor gave the older man a strange look. "I think the Academy assembled a few things wrong in your head before they let you loose, Elias."

"Perhaps they did. Still, you have to admit, you'd be bored if I was a little more sane." Elias winked at him. The shouting ended behind them, and the two men stepped away from the door right before Edith stormed out. Her expression was murderous, and Victor could see the lieutenant behind her pouring another glass of wine. Poor man, that one.

"Let's go have a word with the prisoners," she bit out as she stalked by, slamming the door.

-----

The dungeon was dark, wet and cold, and smelled terrible. Victor briefly put a hand over his face, before thinking through what Edith would say about it. Hoping she hadn't noticed, his arm dropped back down. Two cells were filled, and the occupants looked up as the hallway filled with light. Edith stopped between the two cells, glaring at the prisoners.

The groomed man stood, a sardonic grin on his face as he tipped a bow. "How can we help you, officers? I'd say good morning or good evening, but," he looked around, "I'm not quite sure what time it is."

"Shut up, Faulkner," Edith snapped. "No one's impressed by you. You're just another piece of scum to me, however polite you may want to fake." The man's smile slipped for a moment, before returning as the other two prisoners laughed softly.

The woman stepped up to the bars of her cell, draping her arms through the gap. "So, what's this all about, sergeant? We all had previous engagements with some fairly sharp objects before this, so you can't pass this off as something ordinary."

Elias nodded his head and a sharp bang filled the hallway. The woman tumbled back, catching herself before she landed on her back. "Stay away from the bars, please," he said mildly.

"Screw you," the woman snapped with a sneer.

"In your dreams, and pleasant those must be," Elias said sweetly.

"Elias, stop taunting the dogs, it's no fair to their smaller brains," Edith said as the other woman opened her mouth. "Now, before you start into things again, Adala, perhaps you'd be interested in hearing what I have to say?"

"Then start talking, flatfoot," the bearded man said quietly. "Otherwise I'd be glad to go back to waiting for my time with the headsman rather than sitting here for the rest of eternity."

Edith put her arms behind her back, clenching her fists together. "I suppose most people would start with appealing to your sense of home and patriotism, telling you that your country needs you. Somehow, I doubt that would work. So, here's the short version: we've got a job that needs your particular skills, and so we're offering you a deal. You join us on this, and you'll go from a meeting with the headsman to spending the rest of your lives in prison."

"Forgive me for putting out that there's precious little difference between the two, sergeant. Not exactly a good bargain as I see it," Faulkner said. "You'll have to try better than that."

"Alright, let's try this then. You help me, or our friend the mage here sets off those collars you're wearing right now. Sound like a better bargain, prisoner?"

Adala flashed a grin. "It's certainly getting there. Faulkner, the woman seems to be serious. You might be interested in a quick death, but I'm definitely not. Ten years in a prison sounds better to me than the two weeks I was expecting before I had my appointment with the headsman. Go ahead, sergeant, what have you got in mind."

"There was a monster in this town not too long ago. We think that there might be more of them. So, you're going to join us on a hunt."

"A monster, eh?" The bearded man stood up, stepping towards the bars. "Sounds like you could stop right here. After all, aren't the three of us monsters? Or are you talking something more interesting?"

"Definitely more interesting. Want to have a look?"

"I must confess, you've made me more than a little curious, sergeant," Faulkner said. "Let's see what we've got. Although I'm guessing we get to look forward to more iron bracelets first?"

"For now. If you agree to help out, you'll get to go without them for a few days."

"Let's see what you've got, then."

Edited by edonil
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Enjoyed the read. Always jealous of your smooth edits and readability. This is easier for me to follow than the other stuff because its fresher. The rest of your material i'm always trying to play catch up with.

I like it all and all. There is a brief few parts of conversation in the dungeon that seems a little so so, especially the don't tease them because of their small brains part. But that was the only thing that didn't flow well to me. Everything else was well written and enjoyable sir.

Thanks as always for having something for us to read.

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  • 1 month later...

Holy crap an update! The muse finally came back, and so I'm going to try to write up this whole story before her next coffee break. Thanks so much for the kind comments! :) And Cambrius, I am a guy, thanks for the compliment about Edith! I try to make my female characters just as strong as my male characters, and it's great to see that it's working.

Now on to the second part of Carver of Flesh:

“What the hell? Where'd it go?!”

Victor stared at the pile of rubble that the corpse had lain in, unsure if he had imagined the body in the first place. Edith stood in front of him, trembling with rage, while Elias unshipped his loaded rifle and explored around the area.

“How does something that big just walk off? It was dead!” Edith rounded on the hapless soldier that Lieutenant Werner had sent along, hands clawed and raised. The soldier backed away, shaking his head.

“I don't know, ma'am!” the soldier protested. “It was lying there for days 'afore you arrived, and none of us heard a peep out of it after it ate a cannonball!”

Victor felt something at his back, and jumped with a startled yelp, drawing his field pistol and spinning around. Behind him, the woman prisoner held up her hands, chains rattling and eyes wide as she stared at the pistol. The engineer let out a ragged breath and lowered the pistol. “Don't do that again,” he warned.

“Nerves got you, boy?” the bearded man asked with a chuckle from a few feet back. “Not a good sign. Don't let Adala get to you, she'll gut you quicker than a blink.”

The woman stuck her tongue out at the other man. “Like you're any better than me, Karl. I was at least being paid when I killed that man. Figures, I get paid for years in the army to kill, but once the coin belongs to someone else, well, now it's a crime.”

“So that makes you the thief,” Victor said, eyes narrowed. He tilted his head to Karl. “So, which are you, then? The serial killer, or the murderer?”

Karl spat on the ground. “I'm justice, boy, pure and simple. A witch hunter. The mages won't watch their own, so I did it for them. Good at it, too, till I killed a woman who had too many connections. Child rapist, that one. Mages knew about it for years, let her walk. I put a bullet in her brain for it, and I'm the one in the wrong.”

Victor suppressed a shudder at the callous way these two talked about killing. It wasn't right to be so casual about it...was it? He wasn't sure. He hoped he wouldn't need to find out. Investigating deaths after they happened was disturbing enough.

Finally, he nodded his head to Faulkner, who had approached the pile of rubble and was staring at the pool of blood. “So, what does that make mouthy over there?”

“The doc? Don't know nothing for certain, he came from the mage's cells, not our part of the prison. What I heard, it's a good thing too, else I would've figured out a way to kill him before his execution. “Damn witches.”

“How long ago did it die?” Faulkner asked suddenly, kneeling down with surprising agility considering his bound hands.

“What?” Edith snapped, turning on her heel to stare at him with narrow eyes.

“The creature that was here. I'm assuming it was real, so we need to explain why it isn't here anymore. I need to know some of the basics. When did it die?”

The sergeant arched an eyebrow at the soldier, who stammered for a few moments, then took a deep breath. “Four days. We finally dropped it with field cannon.”

“And it's been this cold the whole time?”

“Colder 'an this,” the soldier chuckled. He stiffened as Edith's eyebrow arched up further. “Uh, yes. No snow, but plenty of ice.”

“Then why is the blood still sticky? It should have dried out by now. Or frozen.” The doctor tapped steepled fingers against his lip. “Most curious.” Gingerly, Faulkner reached down his hands and pressed an extended finger in the blood, before bringing it back up to his face. He sniffed it a few times, then licked his finger and immediately spat to the side. “That's not blood,” he announced.

“So...he's crazy?” Victor asked.

“Apparently he is at that,” Adala said, taking a few steps away from the doctor.

“What is it, then?” Edith asked, stepping over to him. “And how do you know?”

“Ever been in a military hospital? Blood gets everywhere, and they all end up with the same smell. Leaves a copper taste in your mouth. After a while, you start to get used to it, but you still can notice it in new locations. There's no copper in this. Here, you can smell it yourself.” He held out his hands to her, then bared his teeth in a smile as she recoiled. “Come now, sergeant, let's not be squeamish.”

“I'll take your word on it,” she said. “What does it mean?”

“Damned if I know,” Faulkner said almost cheerily. “The taste almost reminds me of some lamp oil I tried when I was a child.”

“Really crazy,” the thief muttered just loud enough to make Victor crack a grin. Then he stiffened, and looked at the patch of liquid on the ground. In the right angle of the light, he could see a variety of colors swirling through the black substance. Could it be...?

“Sarge, I think I have an idea of what it is,” he said. “Everyone step back, I want to try something.”

He pulled out a metal container from a pouch on his belt, then carefully pried a wooden match from it. Striking it along the fold of sandpaper on the outside of the container, he gingerly tossed the flame onto the liquid. With a roar that made everyone jump, the liquid ignited, sending a column of flame briefly into the air before dying down into a simmer.

“Was it supposed to do that?” Karl demanded.

“Yes, oddly enough,” Victor said with a grin. “It's oil, like we use in our clockworks.” He frowned. “But why would that thing have been leaking oil? The stuff is toxic. How can anything alive have enough oil in it for that big of a pool?”

“Nothing can,” Faulkner said with a frown.

“Are you sure?” Edith asked.

The doctor barked a laugh. “Sergeant, in my time I've done many an experiment. Trust me, I know what can and can't allow something to live.”

“You're sick, Faulkner,” Karl growled. “And I hope I'm there when they put you down.”

The other man bowed with a smile. “Sick? Perhaps. But no worse than you, my misguided friend. Besides, I've been around you long enough that I'd be willing to put money on my outlasting you.”

The witch hunter snorted, then turned to Edith. “So, sergeant, are we going to start hunting? Because there's not a light of left, and I can't track this thing in the dark. Especially not in these woods.”

Edith said nothing for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah.” She jerked a thumb at the soldier standing behind her, who jumped in surprise. “Tell him what you want for weapons.”

“You're arming us?” Adala asked.

“Honestly, I'd rather not. But this thing is dangerous enough that I'm going to risk it. Before you get any stupid ideas, all three of us have the keys to those collars around your neck. One snap of a piece of wood, and you're all dead. And Elias' key is tied to his heartbeat, if he dies, so do you.” She smiled. “So, consider that incentive to keep us around.”

“Sarge!” Elias called out, rejoining them. “Found a trail, heading into the woods.”

“Time to get going,” she said. “Victor, go with the soldier to collect those weapons. I want to be out there before nightfall.”

“Yes, ma'am!” Victor replied.

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Great work so far, looking forward to more now you've got your muse back! And the guys above are right, you've done a nice job on the female characters, was very interesting to see how you developed them (especially since I'm not very practiced at that side of it).

Also, a lovely little twist on the creature. Question now becomes, what the hell is it?

And I definitely want to hear more of Faulkner, he sounds like an amoral dabbler in medicine and science which is always fun in my book!

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  • 3 weeks later...

“What did you mean earlier?” Victor asked. They were in the last hour of sunlight, and Edith was pushing the group hard to make progress before they settled in for the night.

Karl looked up at him from kneeling by a footprint in the snow, his eyebrows raised. “What are you talking about?”

“Back in the village. You said that you couldn't track this thing, especially in these woods. What's so special about these woods?”

The witch hunter chuckled darkly as he stood up, sliding the strap to his rifle back over his shoulder. “Apparently you're not from the north, I take it?” Victor shook his head. “There's been rumors about this place for years. Strange noises, travelers disappearing, the usual local folklore. Honestly, most of it is just flat out rubbish. But, these woods have something all their own. Ten years ago, there was an army fort here, Giantkiller. The fort was a relic of a war so old that no one remembers it. Figuring it'd be a waste to just let it sit there, the army put soldiers in it to maintain control over the area. One night, the entire garrison just...disappeared. Merchants who traded with the soldiers came back with tales of the place empty, but full of supplies.

“The army tried to keep soldiers in the place rather than build a new fort.” Karl laughed. “Of course, that failed. Even with mages, no one wanted to stay in the place. Ever since, it's been abandoned, and still no one knows what happened.”

Victor arched an eyebrow. “You're pulling my leg. What a load of crock! An abandoned fort? Are you really expecting me to believe that?”

Faulkner snorted nearby and shook his head. “The world rarely cares if you believe in it, guardsman. Believe what you wish, but you should know that I was at Giantkiller right before that happened. These woods have always been a strange place.”

Elias turned to them, brow furrowed. “Wait. You've been to Giantkiller, Faulkner?”

“That's right. What of it?”

“Have you ever encountered anything like the monster in the town?”

Faulkner's eyes shifted slightly to the side as he pursed his lips. “Not around here. It sounded, oddly enough, like something familiar from work I did once.” He cracked a grin. “Actually, that was the project that lead me to being here today. Funny how things work out, isn't it?”

“What are you talking about?”

The doctor opened his mouth to answer, then shut it with a grin, a strange glint in his eye. “We all have our trade secrets, mage. I'm sure you won't begrudge me mine.”

Elias frowned, but said nothing. After a few moments, he turned away and looked up at the sky. “Sarge, I think we should call it a night. If we go too much farther without finding shelter, we won't have any light to see it by.”

Away from the rest of them, Edith cursed. “Alright, find a place to setup camp. We'll continue this at dawn. I'll take first watch, Elias second, Victor the third.”

“What about us? Or do you not trust us?” Adala demanded.

“Of course I don't, girl. You're all murderers, I don't trust you as far as I can throw you. Consider yourselves lucky that I don't chain you back up in your sleep.” Edith gestured impatiently. “Well, let's get on with it.”

----

The sound of screaming snapped Victor out of his sleep, followed shortly by the crack of a rifle. Adrenaline surged through his veins as something base within him reacted to the sounds. He clumsily untangled himself from the blanket he was wrapped in, cursing the cold, the dark, and the blankets. Finally, he got out, facedown on his stomach.

Victor leveraged himself to his feet, drawing his pistol as he turned to the sound of snow crunching rapidly toward him. The monster from the village leapt out of the trees, landing on all fours. In motion it seemed to defy reality even more than it had lying in a pile of rubble. The monster was impossibly quick, seeming to blur as he tried to focus on it. He blinked a few times, cursing the inadequate moonlight once more, then pulled the trigger. The flintlock pistol roared in his hand, sending the bullet to bite into the beast's upper body. The creature roared again, and twisted towards him, then lowered its head and charged.

Victor backed up, fumbling as he tried to reload his pistol faster than he'd been taught. He tripped over a root, landing on his back with a cry. The monster loomed over him, its legs hitting the ground in an irregular pattern as it ran. As it reached out with its massive forearms, Victor covered his face with his hands in blind panic. He heard a roar, and looked up after a few moments, staring in disbelief.

The monster had backed away from him in confusion, swinging wildly at the woman who dodged and ducked in front of it. Adala held a pair of knives in her hands and aimed with wicked precision for the moments when the creature had extended itself. Her cuts were deep enough to draw black fluid out of the wounds, but nothing serious had yet been done.

“Adala! Keep it occupied!”

“Well hurry up, Karl! This kind of dancing gets old quick!”

Victor turned his head to see the witch hunter lift up his oversized rifle. Karl waited for a handful of heartbeats, then pulled the trigger. The large calibre round tore a hole in the creature's shoulder, black gore drenching the snow. Adala leapt back from the monster, breathing heavily and resting her hands on her knees. “No more,” she said. “I can't do anymore!”

The monster roared in rage at the latest wound, but didn't seem to be hindered by the damage. It hesitated, beady eyes looking back and forth between Adala and Karl. Sudden darkness flooded the forest as a cloud covered the moon, and Victor cursed several times as he went blind. “Where is it? Where the hell is it?” He could hear it crunching on the snow, but he couldn't tell where it was going.

He heard it roar and the sound of it charging filled the dark woods. He heard another crackle of gunfire, followed by the sound of a man letting out a screech of pain. Was that Karl? Or Elias? Victor fumbled with his pockets, hunting for a match to give some light in the pitch blackness.

The snow crunched again, and then the night lit up brilliantly. Victor threw his arm up to cover his eyes, almost yelping from the pain of the sudden light. Squinting, he could see Faulkner standing in front of the beast, fire leaping from his hands toward it. The creature backed away from the flames, before turning and running.

“Dammit, that was too close,” Edith snapped. “Everyone alright?”

“Karl's hurt!” Adala called out. She knelt by the witch hunter, holding his hand as his face bled freely from a deep gash.

“I'll be fine,” the hunter grunted. “It hurts, but it's not too bad.”

“Let me see it,” Faulkner said, kneeling by them both. He shoved one hand into the snow, dousing the light, then grabbed Karl's face, turning it so he could see the wound. “Hm. You might be right, hunter. This doesn't seem too bad. Still, I should take care of it. Hold still, I'll heal it up.”

“No!” Karl snapped, jerking his head away from the doctor. “No magic! You even try, and I swear I'll blow your head right off, see if I don't!”

“Oh don't be silly, if it's left alone it could get infected-”

“I said no!”

“Can you bandage it up?” Elias asked.

“Yes, but this is ridiculous. A few minutes, and the wound will be good as new.”

“Just bandage it up,” Edith said. “He doesn't want you using magic, then don't use magic. In the meantime, pack up the camp. It's going to be a long night.”

Edited by edonil
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  • 4 weeks later...

You know, I read this the other week and meant to comment, and just read it again. I like where it's going, with a good helping of knee-jerk prejudice and attitudes from various characters to liven it up.

And I still want to know what those things are...

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  • 1 month later...

Long time coming, hope you all think it was worth the wait!

Victor spilled water onto his face, shuddering as the icy liquid coursed over his skin. The sun had finally come up with no further incident in the night, but it brought no relief this day. After the attack, the wolves had come out, stalking around the fire the small group had made. They howled and stared, yellow eyes glowing in the darkness of the trees. No one had gotten anymore sleep, and after the adrenaline had worn out, exhaustion had set in. Slowly, the engineer twisted his head around, letting out a quiet sigh as he finally heard a crack from his neck.

He blew out the lantern next to him, staring down at the clockwork components laid out in front of him. It was a small device, and one he hoped dearly would work when the time came. It hadn't helped that he was running off memories of a hazy concept from one of his colleagues. He tilted the clockwork device back and forth, examining it for flaws. The designer called the thing a flamethrower, creating it to take advantage of the recently discovered 'liquid fire' substance. Unfortunately, this one was much smaller than the original, owing to his lack of appropriate parts.

It was only missing one thing now. Carefully, he took out his syringe of liquid fire, unwrapping it from the multiple layers of cloth and leather that protected it. He admired the amber fluid for a moment, turning it back and forth in the sunlight. After checking to ensure the needle hadn't been broken in last night's festivities, he carefully inserted it into a slot in the fuel tank for the flamethrower, adding half of the vial's contents to the device.

“What're you working on?”

Victor jumped, dropping the flamethrower and the syringe. “Dammit!” He made a desperate grab for the syringe and his heart stopped as it slipped out of his grasp. A slim hand reached out catching it a moment before it shattered on the frozen ground. The flamethrower clanked and rang as it struck, but it seemed to hold together, especially the tank holding the volatile fuel.

The engineer turned around, eyes blazing as Adala handed him the syringe. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have any idea what you could've done?!”

“Nary a clue,” Adala said with a suppressed yawn. “Couldn't be worse than that monster last night, so I'm not sure I care.”

“Idiot,” he snapped, taking a moment of pleasure as her face darkened. “If this had shattered, both of us would've had a lovely time spending our last moments as living torches!”

The flush from her face disappeared, leaving her skin pale beneath its coating of dirt. Cautiously, she took a step back, blue eyes wide as she stared at the syringe. Her mouth twitched slightly, and she raked the back of her hand with her fingernails. Abruptly, she turned and stalked away from him.

“Congratulations, lad, you have quite a way with women,” Elias laughed from nearby.$$

“Shut up,” Victor muttered, picking up the fallen device. He inspected it for damage, and let out a sigh of relief. Nothing seemed to be broken. Hefting it up, he pointed the nozzle away from the camp and pulled back on the metal handle he'd stolen from his cooking pan. Nothing happened. Victor glared at the flamethrower, shook the thing a few times, then tried again.

FWOOSH. Victor jumped at the explosion of flame that erupted from the device, instinctively letting go of the handle and cutting off the stream. Wait until they all hear about this!, he thought with a grin.

“Holy hell! What was that?!” Elias yelped.

“It's called a flamethrower. I figured if the thing is afraid of fire, we might as well bring some more with us,” Victor replied with satisfaction.

“Yeah, I'd say that'll work,” the mage said, walking over. “You'll have to tell me later how you got it to work. Right now, we need to get going.”

The engineer nodded, grabbing a length of rope to tie to the flamethrower and then slinging it over his shoulder. Stiffly, his back aching from the hours spent hunched over, he picked up his pack and followed the others. Sergeant Edith took point, her rifle held confidently in her hands. Behind her came Faulkner, and Victor was glad to be further away from that man. Something was just wrong about the man, which had probably been the cause of his decision to become a murderer.

Elias took up the middle of the pack, giving him a chance to rest his nerves after spending all of the previous day at the most vulnerable position of the group. After him were Adala and Karl, the former of whom seemed distinctly nervous about Victor's new weapon. She glanced at it from time to time, licking her lips and discretely picking up her pace each time she did. The witch hunter moved slowly, holding his rifle pointed at the ground. His wound didn't seem to be too bad, at least that's what Victor thought, but something was obviously wrong.

They marched for a few hours, taking a break every now and then to keep everyone fresh. The order of the group changed up frequently, although Victor and his partners always grounded the front and the back. After an extended break at noon for some warm food and drink to fight the cold wind that had picked up, Victor found himself at the front. He pulled out his compass, a graduation gift from his instructor, one of the first of the military engineers, and verified the heading they were on. The tracks they followed were definitely taking them to the old Giantkiller fort.

“Weird, that,” he said under his breath. “Why is it headed there?”

The wind had gotten worse, and after an hour of being in the front, Victor started muttering curses on whoever he could figure deserved blame for his current situation. He pulled out his set of goggles, meant to protect his eyes from his work, to try to keep the snow from blinding him. After putting them on, he was surprised to find that he actually had an easier time seeing in general.

A scream from the back of the column spun him around, flamethrower raised high. He stared as he watched Karl, who had been moving slower and slower as the day went on, collapsed to the ground, limbs twitching. Adala, who had been next to him, leapt to catch the hunter, bracing his head on her knees. The engineer stared as blood began to run from Karl's nose, eyes and mouth, along with leaking out profusely from the newly healed gash on the man's head.

“Dammit!” Faulkner spat out, rushing to the fallen man. The doctor spread his hands out, fingers extended, and seemed to be trying to see something none of the rest of them could. Elias, all the way at the back, pulled out some cloth from his pack and handed it to the doctor.

“What's happening to him?” Edith snapped, her eyes widening as the spasms got worse.

“I don't know!” Faulkner shouted. “Hold him still, I can't work on him if he isn't held down!”

Elias reached down, trying to pin the other man's limbs down. “Is it his wound?”

“I don't see how it could be, that was over half a day ago. And the wound didn't fester! It's almost as if he got poisoned, but I don't see how that's possible,” Faulkner said, trying to use the cloth to staunch some of the bleeding, but as far as Victor could tell it seemed to be just getting worse.

“Can you do anything for him? Can you fix him?”

“Not without my magic, that's for sure. I don't even know what's wrong! If he was poisoned, and we knew what did it, we might be able to make an antidote but he's going to bleed out at this rate!”

“Do it,” Edith ordered. “He can be angry as much as he wants after you keep him from dying.”

Faulkner nodded, then jerked his head back with a panicked cry. Blood sprayed through the air all over Adala, Faulkner and Elias as the thief, her mouth set in a grim line, slit the hunter's throat right below the explosive collar. The men stumbled away from the thief and Karl, disgust all over their faces, as she leaned down to whisper something in the dying man's ear.

“What the hell are you doing?” Victor yelled, before falling to his knees and retching at the scent of sickly blood that filled the air.

Edith raised her rifle, aiming it right at Adala's face. “Put the knife down,” she said, tone brooking no argument. The thief calmly put the blade on the ground, standing up away from the corpse with her hands in the air.

“He deserved to die with his convictions intact,” Adala said, face covered in blood.

“That wasn't your choice to make.”

The thief shrugged. “Too late for that now. We should bury him and get going.”

Victor slowly stood up, wiping his face and suppressing a shudder at Adala's matter of fact tone. She almost seemed to be completely unconcerned about the man who lay dead at her feet. The engineer watched as a series of unreadable emotions crossed over Edith's face, then the sergeant spat on the ground.

“You do anything like that again, I'll shoot you. Understand me?”

Adala nodded. “I'll go find something to bury him with.”

“Don't bother, we don't have time for it,” Edith said. She turned to Victor, and nodded to the body surrounded by crimson. “Burn him. It's the best we can do. As for you lot,” she said, glaring at the others. “Go melt some snow and get that blood off you before it freezes.” After giving her orders, she picked up Karl's rifle and grabbed the extra ammunition the man had been carrying, before stepping to the side.

Victor swallowed hard as he stepped over to the body. It felt wrong, somehow, to be burning Karl's remains. Convicted murderer or not, no one deserved to die the way he had. And now they couldn't even give him the courtesy of a proper burial. He had the presence of mind to tie a cloth around his face to cover his nose, then lifted the flamethrower and pulled the handle. It took only a matter of seconds for the body to ignite.

Edited by edonil
grammar >.<
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Nice addition to the story Edonil. As always there are clean neat descriptions and solid grammar.

Two sticking points to me.

One, i just don't like the use of onomatopoeia so that FWOOSH just takes me out of the pace. I'd prefer a descriptor from someone's point of view.

And in the first couple of paragraphs the word "syringe" is used so many times so rapidly that it breaks the pace. There must be some alternative methods of referring to it when its its brought up so repeatedly .

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Thanks for the comments. Unfortunately I'm neck deep in a report for History class (and hating every minute of it... >.< grrr...) otherwise I'd try to fix those two issues. Didn't realize I had used that word that much, need to improve my thesaurus skills more. As far as the Fwoosh bits, I'm not sure what to do about that, any suggestions?

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