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The Bargain


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Well, it's about time I posted a story of my own in here. This was a story I wrote up where I wanted to enforce a fairly tight word count, although I'll admit not quite as tight as the Iron Quill. Hope you all enjoy it!


The atmosphere of the tavern was loud and festive. Tonight the small frontier town was celebrating the success of a local hunter, who had recently bagged a Slate Ridge Mauler. The pelt was worth a good amount of scrip, and the meat would be a more than welcome addition to the town's supply. Winter was making its presence known out here, and food would soon be scarce.


August sat near the fire, occasionally raising his mug of ale in toast along with the others. Taking a sip of the heavily watered down alcohol, he turned back to the book in front of him. The strange lettering was slowly beginning to make sense to him as he studied it, searching for repeated patterns. He ran his fingers over the paper, hunting for the next pattern, then picked up a pen to make notes in his small journal.


“Need anything, August?”


“I'm good, thanks, Susan,” August said, smiling at the barmaid. She winked back, then continued walking around the tavern, heading for the bar. She passed a short man wearing, of all things, a pith helmet, walking with purpose. The man paused, looked around, met August's eyes, and marched towards him.


“Mr. August Toomes?” the man asked, stopping by the table.


“Depends who's asking,” August said, marking his passage in the book. He closed his journal, and set the two in a stack to the side.

“Sir Willoughby Toddhunter-Brown, at your service, sir,” the man said smartly, tipping his ridiculous hat. “Might I?” he continued, gesturing to a chair. August nodded, taking a sip from his drink. The man sat down, smoothing a large, well groomed mustache. August studied the older man, noting the rough, aged skin and grey hair. Clean shaven, apart for the mustache that sat under a large pair of glasses. His clothing was high quality, cut for comfort not fashion.


“What can I do...?” August hesitated. “Do you have a shorter name?”


“Ah, certainly! Call me Nigel, my good fellow,” the other man said with a laugh. “I hear you're a frontier guide. Looking to hire one for a jaunt into the Wilds, and you seemed to fit the bill for the job. A proper venture, excitement, trophies and all that!”


August arched an eyebrow, cautiously checking the holster of his pistol. “Who recommended me, if you don't mind my asking?”


“Oh, charming girl back in Malifaux City, what was it now? Carter… Colten… I never forget a lady’s name, you know,” Nigel said, stroking his mustache again. “Ah! Emerald Cartla, back in Malifaux City.”


August relaxed, letting go of his weapon. “How is Emerald?”


“Oh, fine, fine, lovely lady,” the gentleman said, waving a hand. “So, interested in my little safari?”


“A grand adventure into the Wilds? What are you hunting?”


“The most dangerous thing I can find!” Nigel declared, eyes wide and shining. “My fellows and I are here for the romance of it all. We've talked to a couple of guides back in the city, but they just didn't understand what hunting is all about. A tiger with three heads or a bear with six arms... where's the story in that? Besides, who could tell once we had the head mounted? No, we want the exotic, the rare, the deadly!” He leaned forward, grinning. “Think you can can sort it for a chap, eh, old boy?”


“Actually...I think that I can. That is, of course, if you can pay.”


“One hates to sully such a venture with trivialities such as haggling over money. Two hundred Scrip for your services, with an additional five hundred on delivery of a suitably magnificent beast. Will that suffice?”


“Agreed,” August said, holding out his hand. “Let me know when you get your group together, my friend. It'll be the hunt of your lives, I guarantee it. Not many can say they've faced down a full grown bull Nephilim and lived.”




Damn rain. As if this wasn't going to be bad enough.


August pulled his hat down tighter on his head, stiffening in shock at the rainwater that spilled down his back from the brim. He bit his cheek, tasting copper. Yelling this close to the Nephilim nest would be a bad idea. He turned away from the rocky hill, waving up his companions.

It had taken the better part of a week to get here, and the weather had been miserable the last day. The wind had finally died down, so the hunters would hopefully be able to get accurate shots from long range. They were an odd group- five bored gentlemen and a handful of assistants, but they knew what they were doing. Apparently they had been on similar expeditions back Earthside.


“How close are we, old boy?” Nigel asked, cradling his rifle.


“Close enough. Tell everyone to get ready for a fight, and don't hold anything back out of pride. Nephilim aren't like anything you've ever faced. They're smart and fight nasty.”


The small man nodded, relaying the instructions. August pulled out his knife and pistol, raising the blade to his lips. He whispered to it, a

brief spell from his research, and felt a chill rise from the metal. Taking a deep breath, he stalked through the trees towards the ruins at the top of the hill.




The terror tot struggled in his grasp as August calmly slit its throat. He grimaced as black blood splattered over his heavy gloves, steam rising in the rain. He carefully set the body on the ground, crouching in the shadows of a nearby tree. One of the hunters, Jasper, watched the work with interest, nose wrinkling at the awful smell.


“Watch out for more,” the guide warned, picking his pistol back up. “Tots hunt in packs, and you don't want to see what a group can do to a corpse.”


“I'll keep that in mind,” the other man said. He frowned, looking around with his rifle raised. “Do you hear that? It sounds like...singing.”


“Singing? I don't hear anything.”


“It's...beautiful.” The hunter stood suddenly, and began to move with purpose, heedlessly pushing through the trees. August stared after him in shock, then swore. He went to follow, but stopped as a pair of red spots shone from a nearby bush.


“Oh hell. They know we're here,” he shouted, snapping his pistol in line. As he squeezed the trigger, a tot dove from the bush, screeching in rage. His shot went wide, but the tot collapsed to the ground as a rifle round tore through it.


Screaming filled the air, followed by the roar of gunfire. August backed down the hill as terror tots swarmed from the trees, with their older siblings taking to the air. The first wave of tots collapsed in sprays of blood and fire. The rest scattered and August cursed, picking one group to follow.


As he raised his pistol for a shot, he was knocked to the ground. A human sized nephilim landed in front of him, fanged mouth open wide. He rolled away, and the creature fell back as its shoulder was opened up by a bullet.


“August, my lad, over here!”


The guide ran to join the hunters, who had backed up into a small huddled group. He slipped in between two of them, firing at a young nephilim that cackled as it flew past. He took advantage of a slight pause in the mayhem to reload his revolver.


“What happened to Jasper?” Nigel shouted.


“Damned if I know, he wandered off into the middle of that mess before they showed up!”


“Oh, well, hopefully he-”


Jasper's body hit the ground nearby, skin shredded and bloody. A hulking red skinned male with a spiked collar stalked out of the trees, followed by a slim blue female holding a chain. The tots that were left ran back to the pair, hiding back in the trees.


“My word!” Nigel stuttered, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Uh. Indeed. Any thoughts on this, old chap?”


“Shoot her!” August said, putting action to words.


“Bah. Everyone knows males are more dangerous!” one of the others objected.


“Then everyone's an idiot!”


August landed a shot in the female's forehead. She stumbled back, and the male screamed in rage, charging. After a moment, the female regained her footing with a wicked smile, licking the blood that slicked down her face. Nigel raised his rifle and fired, hitting the male in the chest. It fell to the ground in a sprawling heap, but, like its partner, was back on its feet within moments. “I say, that's just not sporting,” the hunter protested, firing again.


“Though one must admit, it does make it more interesting,” one of the others called out. Nigel laughed in agreement. The idiots were enjoying themselves, August realized.


A roar echoed through the air. The nephilim all paused, looking to the ruins that the hunters had never managed to reach. Many of them hissed, taking nervous perches in trees, eyes staring hungrily at the humans. The smaller ones fled, leaving August and the others in an eerily quiet area. August looked around, momentarily meeting the eyes of one of the winged nephilim, a female with purple eyes.


Another roar, this one closer.


“Run,” August breathed as it all began to fall into place.


“What is it?”


“The main event.”


“The bull?” Nigel asked.


“Yes. Now run!” August shoved the hunter. It took another push before they began heading away from the battleground. The guide looked back, watching for signs of pursuit. Some of the winged creatures began hopping from tree to tree, following from a distance, but most of them began to fall behind.


A hunter fell, grabbing his leg with a scream. “Keep running, I'll deal with him!” August said, waving the others on. He knelt down, keeping an eye on the nephilim. He looked over the wound quickly, frowning at the blood covered bone that burst through the skin.


The hunter gave him tight smile. “Don't let me hold you up. Just...just make it quick though, would you?”


August paused, looking at the oncoming nephilim. He saw the purple eyed female taking cover behind a tree. He nodded almost imperceptibly at her, then surreptitiously shoved the hunters rifle away with his boot before swiftly backing away Moments later, he heard the man scream in agony.




A guttural voice roared something August couldn't understand. He looked up to see a massive winged shape fill the sky over the group of humans. It landed heavily, wings stretched broadly as the full grown nephilim stepped into the limited light. August froze, trying to suppress the tremors that shook his body as he stared at the horrific creature.


“Stupid, foolish humans,” it growled, steam rising around its demonic face. “Arrogant.” It gestured to the rain slicked forest with one claw. “My home.” With a snarl, the creature threw a small body down in front of them. “My pack.” It beat its wings, sending water flying through the air. “This land is ours. Not yours.” The nephilim bared its fangs, red eyes sparkling with cruel delight. “You. Will. Learn.”


Nigel was the first to overcome his terror. The small man raised his rifle, bracing against the recoil as the muzzle flash lit up the area. The shot slammed into the nephilim's chest, but the monstrosity just snorted, charging the humans with a sharp crack of its wings.


August jumped forward, pushing Nigel to the ground. They landed as the creature went overhead, grabbing one of the hunters with a roar. The guide rolled over, emptying his pistol in desperation. He could see the hunter pull out a long knife, stabbing into the nephilim again and again, before the creature casually pulled him in two.


It turned to the others, covered in blood and gore, knife stuck in the joint of its wing. August pushed up into a crouch, dropping his empty pistol. Nigel and the last hunter began firing, tearing holes in the fragile membranes of the wings. The nephilim snapped its wings, hitting August in the chest and knocking him back.


August fell to the ground, hand grabbing for his chest. He gasped for air, trying to push back to his feet. He couldn't see anything but the falling rain. Screaming and rifle fire filled the air. August got to his feet in time to see the nephilim carve a vicious gash into Nigel's back. He was the last of the hunters alive. August finally found his feet, hand tight around his knife.


The guide yelled and ran at the monster, blade raised high. The nephilim laughed, casually reaching to swat the human. August ducked beneath the blow, then jumped to stab the enchanted blade into its throat. The nephilim halted, frost appearing around the wound. August fell on his back, staring as the creature reached for the knife.


Nigel's rifle roared, and the bullet shattered the ice of the nephilim's throat. It stumbled back, falling to its knees. August screamed as black blood fell on him, burning his skin. He scrambled away, the cool rain water an agonizing pleasure over the wounds. The nephilim fell back, gurgling as it bled out of its throat.


The hunter hobbled over to August, taking a knee. “Good show, old boy,” Nigel said, clapping August on the shoulder. “You had the right of it- a proper adventure that was. Now to get our trophy.”



The heavy beating of wings let August know his guest had arrived.


“You could have warned me about the twins, Farina,” August said. He turned to view the newly grown mature Nephilim, focusing on her purple eyes. She was statuesque, handsome, but hardly a beauty. As she landed, August looked past her to Nigel and his assistants on the other side of the hill, where they were struggling to remove the dead bull’s head. None of them noticed the meeting.


“I could have,” she growled in agreement, wrapping her wings around herself. “But that wouldn't have been as much fun.”


He frowned. “Well, I kept my part of the bargain. The alpha of your pack is dead, and now you're in charge. Congratulations on that.”


She nodded, then held up a slim volume marked with runes. August's hands twitched as he looked at it. “And here is my part of it. A grimoire from the era of the first human invasion. Now, yours.”


August accepted it reverently with a smile. “If you find any others, look me up, my friend,” he said, turning it over. “A satisfactory deal all around.”


“Perhaps,” she replied, unfurling her wings. “For now, I must return to the pack. We will need a new home now that humans know where we are.”


“Check east of here,” he said absently. “I saw an abandoned mining town a few months back.”


“Then we will go west.”


“Suit yourself. Goodbye, Farina.” He bowed, then limped to rejoin the party, slipping the book into his pack. Only a few days more before he could start unraveling those secrets. Yes, it had been a satisfactory deal indeed...

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  • 2 weeks later...

This was definitely fun! Loved the descriptions of the characters, and the cameo from the twins was clever and fun.


The combat was very evocative, and the setup and aftermath both felt very clear.


Two things I wanted to mention that seemed missing:


How many of the safari hunters died? It seems like they were only too cheerful to forget Jasper's death. It felt like it would have merited at least some sort of mention from Nigel, especially if he was one of the rich dudes.


I didn't exactly understand the mention of Emerald Cartla and August letting go of his weapon. Is this a reference to another story? A sentence of explanation might have helped here -- it's clear that August calms down once he hears the reference, which makes sense, but saying that he let go of his weapon makes it sound like that namedrop changed it from a potential fight to a business deal. Why?


The whole thing felt treacherous, lethal, and fascinating. Great story! Thank you!

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