The Bushranger's Bayonet
Family is a strange thing,
It can make a man unbreakable;
But it can also tear his world to shreds.
Something no monster could ever do.
As the sun beat down onto his back, Jack couldn’t help but wonder what had become of his companion. This wasn’t uncommon for Mara, his closest friend and rival. He hoped that the Wyvern hadn’t sniffed her out and attacked yet. He chuckled thinking about her and the Wyvern. It dawned on him they were alike in many ways; aggressive, hot-headed and wouldn’t give up without a fight. He hoped against hope that she hadn’t attacked already.
Jack stopped to breathe, closing his eyes and letting his other senses take over. There was a faint, musty smell in the air. “I’ve got you now…”
The fire crackled as she smiled at him from the other side. Mary-Anne Burrows. A bushranger a cut above the rest. She had spent her years on The Farm studying weapons and monsters to the near exclusion of all else. Her alchemy skills were below average, barely able to let her pass. Her skills were simple. Tracking down, shooting and finishing off her targets. Memories of those classes flooded back. He remembered how she used to bury her nose in monster books or just stay at the shooting range late into the night. As a soft smile tinged with melancholy settled on his face, he remembered how often she’d been scolded for using all the bullets. What they used and what the Royal Army used were worlds apart, and their gear didn't come cheap.
Mara looked over the crackling flames at Jack. Jack, smiling nervously, looked into her eyes. She immediately cut eye contact, returning to her whetstone and bayonet. Her rifle lay across her lap. The bushrangers of the Dingo school all carried the latest firearms, a lever-action rifle, and a more compact revolver.
"What’s so funny then?"
“You know, we could’ve taken a job that was easier. Did we really have to take the contract on the Wyvern? Why not turn in the easy bounty for drowner heads or just clear out the pests in a barn?” She wasn’t fond of hard work, even if she was good at it. "These bastards are a lot bigger nowadays than the old books say. You should know."
Jack nodded. "I've killed one or two, but not enough to say anything like that. You might just have only seen big ones."
Jack fiddled with his dog tags, engraved with the design of a dingo’s head, wondering about the past.
“Mara?” Jack began to feel out the conversation, trying to grasp the right words. Mary-Anne, or Mara to her closest friends, was never the type to waste frivolous words, unless it was to save her own skin, but in that case they were to buy time and weren't frivolous, that was her defence.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“Do you ever wonder what the old guild would think of us? What the grandmasters and heroes of old would say?”
“They’d call us a bunch of weakling whoresons, to use their words.” She snorted, her archaic insult seeming comically out-of-place.
“Old heroes would say we’ve gone soft and strayed from our roots. Besides, nobody uses their methods anymore. Swords are just too old school to use.”
Jack chuckled softly. “Except for the Emus. Never seen one of them without their swords.”
“And how many graduates of the Emu school have you met in your life?”
Mara returned to her whetstone and bayonet, the scraping of steel the only noise around them. There were no creatures nearby save for the insects and the occasional gecko to feast on them in a place where birds feared to fly, they sensed the danger of that place. But whether it was the Wyvern, or the bushrangers, nobody would ever know.
In the rocky crags, beneath the blazing sun, there grew an ancient gum tree. Its branches stretched forty meters across from tip to tip, its shade covering a great area. Several different lizards were happily sunning themselves in the edges of its shade, occasionally scuttling between an exposed rock and the shade as they overheated and cooled back down. As Jack approached, they scarpered at the noise. He crept closer, scaling the rocky outcropping. A slight rustling noise penetrated the silence. Jack froze, cocking his ear toward the noise. Normally, a Wyvern wouldn’t stay in its nest during the day, but the invasive ones had learned to nest in the middle of the day to avoid the harsh sun.
As Jack observed his surroundings, he saw a strange glint nearby. Heading over towards it, he got a better look. On close examination, it appeared to be some sort of brass.
“Bullet casing” he muttered as he picked it up
‘Mara has already been here. What does she think she’s doing?’ He pocketed the casing to use again later.
“No point wasting it.”
From the rocks above came a rustling, then footsteps. ‘Well, shit’ was the only thing Jack could think of before the beast flew away. Before now, he hadn’t really got a good look at the Wyvern in question. It appeared to be about six meters long with bright colouration and a muscular frame. All he saw of it was its blue-black wings and yellow underbelly as it flew away, only just making out the brilliant red of its head and neck.
“Young male looking for a mate. Explains the aggression.” Jack muttered as he climbed up to the nest. Wyverns were dangerous enough on their own, but an adolescent would be even more so. The nest sat nestled in the roots of the ancient gum. It was the size of a small house and littered with bones. Though it stank to high hell, it was the sickly scent of rotten flesh, not that of Wyvern shit.
“At least he keeps the nest clean” Jack commented with a snort “For a Wyvern at least.”
Leaping almost two meters to cling to the trunk he clambered up into the branches of the ancient gum and removed his rifle from the bucket on his back. Checking the chamber and magazine along the length of the gun, Jack carefully slid in two bullets to bring it up to its maximum capacity of nine rounds. He lay down in the branches of the overhanging tree to wait, the beast would return at sunset.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, the reflections of crimson light highlighted the edge of the affixed bayonet, showing where the silver edge met the steel body. A screech from the distant horizon brought Jack out of his self-imposed trance. He readied his aim, steadying himself with a breath. The Wyvern came into its nest, the corpse of its latest kill dangling from its maw, staining is white lower jaw with streaks of fresh blood. An unlucky kangaroo was to be its dinner tonight. Holding the roo by the neck, Jack could really see just how big the beast was for it’s age. If it got a good shot at either of them, they could be quite easily bitten in half.
‘Enjoy your last meal, you overgrown parrot.’ Were the words going through Jack’s mind as he lined up the iron sight.
A scream came from a nearby bush as the fiery red-headed Mara burst out of the bushes in a frenzied bayonet charge. “Die you flying piece of shit!” Mara screamed as she leapt at it. The beast reared up, flaring its wings, snapping at Mara’s arms.
Jack’s jaw dropped as he saw her burst out of a tiny bush without issue. Her bayonet found its mark in the monster’s right flank as it reared up, roaring in pain. Jack, after a moment of collecting his thoughts, dove into the fray himself. He fired a shot at the beast’s right wing shoulder, hoping that he’d be able to cripple it before it tried to leave. The Wyvern let loose an ear-piercing screech before trying to flap. It got about a meter of air before landing between two small pools of its own fresh blood. The bullet had found its mark. Jack charged in, blade level at the beast's flank aiming to puncture the heart with a single thrust. It's wing joint was dripping blood, leaving a crimson trail to cut through the yellow scales of its belly. The blade sank in as the tip reached it, sliding smoothly between two of its scales and gliding through its muscle tissue. It twitched violently, trying to shake the blade out of its flesh before swinging its head toward Jack briefly. Meeting a sudden resistance, he quickly withdrew, realising too late he'd struck a rib. A tail swing knocked him aside before he could charge back in. Jack rolled with the strike almost instinctively, quickly regaining his footing.
It realised that the situation was hopeless, so it decided to leap suicidally at Mara, jaws wide open with it’s sharpened teeth on full display. Jack roared as the beast managed to hook her boot on one of its teeth as she dove away. He didn’t dare miss this opening and leapt towards it's overstretched and exposed neck with a spinning slash he'd spent a thousand hours practising. Silver met scales as Jack’s bayonet slid into the beast’s neck muscles, severing an artery. The tip slashed cleanly through the cardioid artery with plenty of momentum to carry it out with minimal resistance. His precise spin carried him out of range to avoid the spray of hot blood now pouring from its neck. The beast fell in spasms as Mara unhooked the boot from its gaping maw filled with hooked teeth, scowling at the hole in the relatively new leather.
"Little cunt, these are my favourite boots…"
Dusting herself off, she strides smugly over to Jack. “Too easy.”
“You should’ve told me your plan. I thought you’d fucked off hours ago ‘because you were bored.” His tone turned mocking toward the end.
She ran a hand through her fiery orange hair and smirked. “Oh please, you know I’d not give up scoring a kill like this.”
“I thought you’d want easy money” Jack retorted “Drowner heads may not be worth much but they’re easy to get.”
She made an annoyed snort. “Come on, this was an easy kill for the two of us. Besides, the bounty was three-hundred pounds. That’s six months' of breaking your back on the goldfields! Most men would let themselves be worked half to death to earn that much; And we’re getting that for a single kill. Working for the landlords is easy money, I’m tellin’ ya.”
Jack sighed. Mara was right, there was easy money to be made, but they made him claw at his own conscience.
"The landlords are the scum of this land. They put the poor farmers on the worst land they had and charged shitloads of rent, kicking them off if they can't cough up. I've heard rumours of some nutter who steals from the bastards and he gives the locals a cut of the spoils. Generosity or saving their bloody skin, I couldn't tell ya which.
As for the fucking landlords, I don’t like the slimy bastards, but I’ll still take their work. Monsters usually just terrorize the locals anyway.”
He leant over the dead Wyvern, unfixed his bayonet, and began to cut off its head as proof of the kill, and a trophy to sell.
Mara watched on; a complex expression plastered on her face as he skilfully sliced around its neck, the scarlet liquid contrasting against its bright vermilion neck and head
“You wanna say somethin’?” He snorted, casually pointing his bloodied blade at her.
She shook her head. “No. I’m just thinking what a moron you are for having hidden in the tree where the thing could easily spot you.”
He chuckled. “Says the woman who hid in a bush and decided to open up on a Wyvern with a bloody bayonet charge.”
She bit back, offended at his comment. “Hey! Bullets ain’t cheap out here. I’m just conserving resources.”
Jack, smiling faintly at this, pulled out a ten-pound note and handed it to her. “Then buy yourself some ammo.”
She took the coin, acting offended. “I don’t need your pity.”
“But you took the coin.”
Mara couldn’t help but laugh. “A girl takes what she can get, okay.”
Jack chuckled along. “Then what do you say to working more jobs together?” He held out for a handshake.
Mara blushed a bit, accepting the hand. “Deal.”
“There’s a noticeboard in Kallamat, we’ll start there.”