Chapter 3:

Cat and Mouse

The Bushranger's Bayonet

When bushrangers meet, like any other group of people, they trade gossip. Among the common townspeople, ladies trade gossip about clothing and men, men trade gossip about sex, alcohol and war, bushrangers swap stories about each other and the horrors they face every day. The schools are not united under one banner, but competing with one another. Among these stories was the story of a bushranger simply known as ‘Cat’. This bushranger apparently never took a foe head on, was never spotted, and killed without mercy. They worked for the landlords, only operating from the shadows. Bookmark here

Jack and Mara sat in the living room of a wealthy landowner, with an estate in the east near the volcanic Cayduk caves.
Arthur kept to himself, quietly sitting on the far end of a couch, simply enjoying the luxury of the place he now found himself in.
Into the room walked a man in a suave business suit and silk top hat. He stopped beside a chair, leaning on it with one arm as he sipped from a glass of brandy.
“And you will kill the beast, correct?” His upper-class status bled through in his very thick imperial accent.
Jack nodded. “As soon as we find out what the beast is, we’ll deal with it as necessary. Should that entail killing the beast, that is what we shall do.” He stated calmly, fiddling with the rifle that sat in his lap.
The man simply nodded. “Very well. Find the beast that lurks in the caves and bring me its head. Your reward will be one hundred imperial pounds, in cash.”
Mara’s eyes lit up at the last statement.
Jack glared daggers at her because he could see the gears turning in her head. Jack stood up and shook the other man’s hand, leaving before a certain someone had room to make trouble.Bookmark here

After several hours of walking, they arrived at their destination. The Cayduk caves, an endless maze of deep blue rock and spikes. The local people avoided it for the longest time, fearing the evil that poured forth from its dark maw. The faint echoes gave away the presence of all kinds of strange critters. The two bushrangers were invaders in this abyss, as they were to the land as a whole. Jack approached the foreboding entrance as it sat at the bottom of a pit, gaping like the maw of a monster.
“Jack” Mara grabbed his shoulder “Are you sure this is safe?”
He shrugged Mara’s hand off. “Safe or not, we need the money. Summer is coming soon, and nobody can work in the heat. We need money for supplies to survive a summer on The Farm, especially training a new pair of hands.” He gestured to Arthur as he followed along behind them.“This’ll at least put a dent in it. Besides, since when have you ever cared about being in danger?” He unshouldered his rifle preparing to head inside.
“Hey, I’m not an idiot.” Mara protested.
“That’s debatable.” Jack shot back, completely deadpan, his cold and professional mask already in place. “You did somehow manage to get your boot caught in that wyvern’s mouth, after all.”
She had no response to this. Nothing she could say would dislodge his mask now. Both of them silently headed into the cave, Arthur waiting on the rocks outside. He would be at too much of a risk doing anything in a dark cave, being the only one that couldn’t see.Bookmark here

Neither of them needed a torch, as their eyes were supernaturally sensitive. An effect of the surgeries that bushrangers went through before graduation. As they both prowled around in the darkness, they could hear three sets of footsteps. It was instantly obvious that the prey was now hunting them.Bookmark here

Mara’s nostrils were suddenly assaulted by a wretched stench. It didn’t have the sickly tang of rotting flesh though. She crept off into one of the side tunnels.
“Jack, I think we’ve got our prey.” She whispered, her voice echoing through the twisting tubes.
He nodded, taking a cautious whiff. “That smells like Nargun shit to me.”
“My thoughts exactly. But there’s more than one Nargun’s worth of shit in here. Either it’s been here a while, or it’s a breeding female.” Mara’s tone was even and professional, not betraying her disgust at the smell. “Either those or it’s really fucking bi—.”
A roar from nearby cut her off as the angry beast charged into Jack, sending him flying.Bookmark here

“Jack, you alright?”
He got up, panting as he lined up the sights. “I’ll live.” He let off a round, aiming for its eye.
The shot bounced off it’s stony cheek.Bookmark here

The Nargun stood defiantly, roaring and beating its chest. These native rock trolls were covered head to toe in solid bonelike plating that gave them the appearance of a giant boulder. This one’s hide matched the local igneous bluestone basalt nearly perfectly. Its joints were less armoured, appearing like natural cracks that would be formed in real rocks. Mara leapt to get behind it, line up her sights and got ready to fire. Jack was lined up to unload another round. They met eyes and nodded. Three shots rang out simultaneously in the cavern, the beast bellowing in pain. Mara charged defiantly, stabbing it in the lower back between its bony plates. The beast tried to rear up as two more shots rang out. Jack shot forward and delivered the finishing blow to its unarmoured neck. The Nargun gasped for air as it lay bleeding out. Jack wiped his brow and reloaded his rifle, nodding to Mara.
“We’ve got company.”Bookmark here

“Well I’ll say.” A third voice broke the silence as a figure emerged from the shadows. “You two scavengers stole my kill.” Its tone was flat, but annoyance came through very clearlyBookmark here

Both of the ‘scavengers’ aimed at the figure's head. “Well excuse me, mister ego maniac, but we’re the ones who finished it off. All you did was sit and watch.” Mara started to get annoyed at this attitude. “Come forward so I can see your face, unless you want me to blow it apart.”
The figure hesitated before stepping forwards. Before both of them stood a relatively short, slim, and dark-haired woman. On her neck hung bushrangers tags, engraved with the design of the Snake school. She carried very little in the way of equipment, but her gun was of a strange design, unlike anything they’d seen before. It had no lever like theirs, but a bulbous steel protrusion sticking out of the top and jutting out to the side.
Jack gestured toward her hands. “Alright, snake, what’s with the gun.
”The woman chuckled. “This is my custom rifle. You may have heard of me though. Between us bushrangers, I’m Katherine Faulkner. In front of the clients, I’m just ‘Cat’.”They all lowered their guns. Jack in shock, Mara in amusement.
“So you’re the legendary Cat’?” She said mockingly “I thought you’d be bigger.”
Cat got flustered at this comment, but her tone was unchanged. “Well excuse me, cow tits!”
Now it was Mara’s turn to turn red. Her cheeks almost reached the same shade as her hair. “Shut up you dumb bitch!” She raised her rifle in anger.
Jack gulped loudly. “If you ladies don’t mind, do you think we could finish this job?”
They both sighed, walking over to the dead Nargun. Jack removed his bayonet and cut off the beast's head.“Since you helped, we’ll split the bounty between the three of us and go out for a drink tonight. That alright with you?”
Cat sighed. “Fine. It’ll be nice to talk shop with someone for once.”Jack and Mara, walking out of the cave and off to get their coin. As they departed, Mara noted that she could only hear two sets of footprints, Jack’s and her own. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation. It made her feel like she was being hunted.

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