Chapter 8:

Wolves don’t drink booze

The Bushranger's Bayonet

Therianthropy is one hell of a condition. It’s sufferers all experience common symptoms of transformation under a defined set of circumstances, but those circumstances are very rarely identical between individuals. The stereotype of transforming under the full moon is only such because of a few famous cases. Meddling of the alchemical or supernatural variety is considerably more widespread. Though cases are often somewhat similar, no two are alike. The outlier cases though, there’s always a story attached to them…Bookmark here

A drunken miner stumbles down the dirt track, a bottle of cheap whiskey dangling loosely from betwixt his fingers. He dawdled aimlessly, humming some sort of sea shanty with no consistent tune whatsoever, almost as if he made it up on the fly or stitched it together from a dozen other half-remembered ones.

Jack got up from his sleeping bag and crept toward the road. In the bushes near the road, he could do his business without waking the others. Connie, on watch at the time, nodded as he headed off. He could hear the faint humming of a man coming from down the road. Finishing up, he went further along the road to hide closer to the sound. It was one of the men from the tavern.
He stumbled over a rock, falling on his belly with a faint thud. With a reluctant sigh, Jack came out onto the road and offered the man a hand. “You alright mate? Took a bit of a tumble there.” The drunk man took his hand. As Jack pulled him up, he noticed his dirty clothes and the calluses on his hands. It was clear this man worked in the new goldmines nearby.
Jack offered a witty bit of banter to try and set the miner at ease. “Not much luck down in the mines then?”
“Luck you say? If anybody has the luck, it’s the tax collector. Chargin’ us through the damn nose to toil away in ‘is fuckin’ mines all day for barely enough money to cover the fees and feed a family. You count yourself lucky, hunter. You’ve got yerself a fancy rifle and don’t smell o’ piss ‘n’ misery.”
Jack nodded, holding the man’s shoulder. “Sometimes life just ain’t fair, mate.”
“Well, mate, it seems th’ mistress o’ fate ‘as treated yeu well.” He slurred.
Jack helped him along as the man begun to stumble more and more. “How far are you from home? I can help you back.”
The man shook his head vigorously, letting the near empty whiskey bottle slide out from between his fingers, hitting the dirt road with a hollow but tinkling thud.
“Iht’s too far, mate. Jusht leaf mehere on th’ road.”
Jack shook his head. “My camp isn’t too far. You can sleep there and head back home once you sober up, okay?”
The man’s eyes shot wide. “Sober! No, dohn’t leht me becom shober!” Jack carried him back toward the camp as the man frantically looked around “Whesh’m whiskey? Wher’dit gho?”
“There’ll be no more whiskey for you. What you need is sleep and some water.”Bookmark here

Jack managed to get him back to camp to find Connie sharpening his sword.
“We’ve got a guest. Can you keep an eye on him while I fetch some water?”
Connie replaced his claymore onto his back and grabbed a spare blanket, as well as a waterskin.
“No need. I made sure we had plenty to last the night.” Came his nasally but even response.
Jack handed one of the waterskins to the man, as well as the blanket.
“Very kind o’ya, buht I dohn’t needsit.”
He tucked his arm under his head and pulled the blanket over himself before quickly passing out.Bookmark here

Jack snapped awake to the sounds of a vicious, growling beast. Standing above him was a colossal wolf, something he’d never actually seen before outside of books. Wolves weren’t native on this continent and no stray dogs were known to roam this far north of the colony. Thus, it could only be one thing…
A werewolf.
Reaching for his rifle, he yanked off the bayonet and sunk it into the shoulder of the beast. Connie had seemingly been rather evasive, trying to control the beast rather than kill it.
Why was that?
What was going on here?
Jack leapt at the beast, pulling his bayonet out from it’s flesh. As it slid out from between the severed fibres of muscle and sinew, it made a sinister hiss, like the noise of a water droplet hitting a hotplate hanging over a fire. The silver edge of the blade seemed to be working as the old tales said. Jack had spent his youth fighting monsters native to the new continent, so he’d never seen the effects of silver on a real-life werewolf. It screeched in pain as tiny particles of silver lingered on in the wound and continued to faintly hiss.Bookmark here

Connie threw down his sword in an uncharacteristic manner. He’d usually be as careful with his claymore as he would a newborn babe, but here it didn’t matter to him at all. Now free of this weighty burden, he leapt atop the werewolf and tried to wrestle it to the ground.
“Hold him down! Don’t kill him!”
By this point, Mara and Arthur had grabbed their weapons and were standing a bit further back, bayonets levelled at the beast. The silver edge gleamed in the flickering light of the fire, showing where it met the steel spine of the giant blades.
As usual, Cat was nowhere to be found…
Jack was now pinned beneath two giant weights. That of Connie and the werewolf who was almost twice his size. He wriggled desperately to get out from underneath the beast, before a strange object landed in the dirt next to him.Bookmark here

It was a bottle of whiskey.
The realisation hit him all at once. He grabbed desperately for the neck of the bottle, uncorked it, and shoved it down the monster’s throat.
Connie managed to grab the bastard’s snout and tilt it up. The booze drained into its throat with an audible gurgle.
It stopped moving.
The beast sat there, breathing heavily with the bottle still in its maw.
Connie, slowly and reluctantly, slid off its back. Jack grabbed the bottle out of its mouth, now covered in werewolf drool. He wriggled out from underneath the beast and got to his feet. Sheathing his trusty bayonet, Jack slung the rifle back over his shoulder, sliding its comforting weight back into the rifle bucket where it belongs.
Connie walked over to where he’d carelessly thrown his claymore, picking it up as if it were some holy relic. He kissed the guard before setting it onto his back.
Melting out of the darkness like a living shadow, came the slender frame of Cat.
Jack gestured to her angrily.
“You could’ve helped instead of disappearing!”
“A thank you would suffice. That bottle wasn’t magic after all.” Came her even reply.
It was then that his stomach hit the ground.
“W-well thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
Arthur had been poking the downed beast for a few seconds behind their backs, when he began to back away. Mara’s concern was now audible in her voice.
“I think we have some trouble here.”Bookmark here

The werewolf had begun to shrink. It was now visibly smaller than it had been before. The fur began to recede across it’s body, revealing human skin that was weathered with age and labour. After a minute, there lay the poor miner he had brought to the camp before, now sound asleep and snoring like the drunkard he was. Cat simply nodded, looking him up and down.“A rather strange case of lycanthropy, but I’ve seen stranger tales. He’s lucky that his cure was alcohol.”Mara tried to lighten the mood. “I don’t know what’s worse, a werewolf or a chronic drunk.”“They both stink to high hell and will bite you in half if you bother them” cane Jack’s retort.All four of them broke out into laughter. Arthur, bless his innocent heart, had no idea what they were laughing about.The glowing embers of the fire slowly died as the first rays of the morning sun crept over the eastern horizon… 
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