Chapter 5:

The Ironclad Emu

The Bushranger's Bayonet

“Can we go now? There’s no Drowners out today, so let’s just cut our losses and go?”
“Drowner heads are a half-shilling each. Stacking them up quickly is easy profit.” Came the cool-headed reply from the usually silent Cat. “From what I’ve heard, you would easily take that.”
Mara came pretty close to flying off the handle at this comment, punching Jack in the side as he walked next to them.
“Ow! What the fuck was that for?”
“That was for talking shit about me behind my back.”
Jack smiled innocently, grinning through the annoying pain. “I swear, you’ve given me more bruises over the years than every monster combined."
Mara suddenly burst out laughing. “I don’t know how true that is, but it might be close.”

The sun beat down on all of them, getting harsher by the day. Though it was the beginning of spring, the sun didn’t seem to care, it shone all the same. It wasn’t a mystery why the Drowners weren’t surfacing. They weren’t fond of the sunlight, as they tended to dry out very quickly.Bookmark here

A low, bellowing growl could be heard coming from deep within the trees nearby.
One second passed.

A massive thud came from the same direction, the vibrations rattling their equipment, but not Cat’s for some reason. Arthur collected himself and headed off into the brush, the comically large gun shaking in his arms.
“Don’t rush off!” Mara shouted before following after him.
Jack just sighed. “Typical”. He gestured to Cat. “Follow from the treetops and keep a sharp eye. This might get ugly.” Cat nodded in acknowledgement before taking two strides and disappearing into the emerald canopy.Bookmark here

In a small clearing, surrounded on all sides by giant gums and wiry brush, a giant man held an equally giant claymore in his hands. Between him and freedom, stood four colossal Tiddaliks.
“Great, giant fucking toads. Why couldn’t it be something simple, like a rock troll?” Jack groaned as he assessed the situation.
Mara popped out of a bush with Arthur on her shoulders as they both aimed at the nearest beast. “Because then it wouldn’t be fun!” As she finished, two staggered gunshots went off, blinding the beast. The recoil knocked Arthur backwards and onto the ground.
Jack, remembering his training, ran through everything he remembered about Tiddaliks.Bookmark here

‘The Tiddalik is a local beast, similar in appearance to a toad but the size of a small building. They suck up hundreds of barrels worth of water and will swallow anything whole.’Bookmark here

The words of Uncle Peter echoed in his mind, and in an instant, an elastic snap informed him of his first mistake; Never let a Tiddalik catch you off-guard. Bookmark here

Jack now found himself waist-deep in the beasts’ maw, struggling to escape.
A bullet whizzed past his head, scraping the second Tiddalik’s eye and bringing a large chunk of the lens with it, accompanied by a spray of blood. It sprayed into his face as Jack got one arm free. Yanking his bayonet off his now-trapped rifle, he cut a hole in its throat so he could get free.
As the beast attempted to swallow, Jack’s rifle fell out of the now bleeding gash in its throat. Affixing the silvered bayonet, he re-evaluated the situation.Bookmark here

The man with the claymore seemed to be keeping two of them at bay, cutting gashes into their tongues when they tried to grab him. The third Tiddalik was writhing around in blind agony as it thrashed around in the dirt, blood gushing from its mutilated eyes. The fourth was bleeding heavily but gearing up for another attack.Bookmark here

The Tiddalik who tried to eat him made a deep, rumbling croak, forcing a gush of fresh blood out of its gaping wound. As it tensed its muscles for a leap, Jack saw his chance and charged. The muscles of the frog’s legs contorted and twisted as it began to leave the ground. He ran faster, lining the knife up with the already open gash. The beast continued to gain altitude as Jack slid underneath it, catching the wound with the tip of his bayonet. Knees to the dirt and blade held aloft, it slid down the wound with a sickening noise, its edge opening more and more of the beast’s belly. Jack had stopped completely, letting the frog’s own momentum kill it. As it rose higher and higher, its organs tumbled out of its slimy abdomen. Bookmark here

The Tiddalik hit the ground with a sickeningly wet thud, landing on and crushing its own organs, letting out a desperately pained growl as the last of its vitality bled out onto the dusty red earth.
As Jack caught his breath for a moment, Mara scooped up Arthur and went for the nearest Tiddalik who wasn’t bleeding. Dropping the boy gently to the ground she shouted so the whole group could hear, “Go for the eyes!” before digging her bayonet into its flank. Arthur nodded and lined up the sights. Once again, the crack of two rifles resonated in the air as Jack shot the beast's other eye. The creature, now blinded, croaked in rage. Jack had correctly guessed that the young Arthur would go for the closest target, that being its right eye.
“An eye for an eye!” He shouted triumphantly as he advanced on the blind Tiddalik, blood seeping from both its eyes and a gash in the right flank just forward of the rear leg. Mara got around the back side of the beast, slashing the Tiddalik’s springy tendons and keeping it grounded. A louder rifle crack came from a nearby treetop and the second Tiddalik fell bleeding, a perfect hole in the back of its neck. Jack’s head snapped up to the shot’s origin to see a dark figure leap out of sight. It was good to know Cat hadn’t fucked off in the commotion. He’d had his doubts, but she seemed to be generally alright with the others. The three of them turned to fight the fourth Tiddalik, but found themselves looking at a bloodied mess, the giant man stood next to it wiping the blood of his sword with his sleeve. Bookmark here

“Not often I run into your kind round ‘ere. Two and an ‘alf dingoes.” The man’s voice sounded nasally and too high in pitch for his massive stature. Mara spotted the stylized tags around his neck, depicting a giant flightless bird.
“Says the emu who can’t handle four little frogs on his own?”
Jack shut her down with a menacing glare. She responded by poking her tongue out at him.
“We were in the area hunting and heard the commotion. Figured if there’s a monster, there’d be a reward in it.”
The man just laughed. “Sorry, but I can’t offer you a reward, I’m a few pounds short meself.” He jerked a thumb toward the dead Tiddalik behind him. “How’s about I cook this bastard for tea instead? They’re really nice if you spice the meat a lil’ and cook it slowly.”
Jack looked at the two of them. Arthur just clutched his rifle as he looked around. Mara shrugged nonchalantly.
“That sounds agreeable.” A female voice said from behind Mara. She jumped sideways in fright.
“Fuckin’ hell! Don’t do that to me!” Cat’s lip twitched slightly, almost as if to smile. “Did I scare you? Good.”
“Fuckin’ bitch.” Muttered Mara as she walked over to the Tiddalik to start gutting it. “Alright then, let’s skin this sucker.”Jack looked at the man and asked a simple question. “What’s your name?”
“Connie Hartell.”
“Welcome aboard.”

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