Chapter 9:

Slimy Skirmish

The Bushranger's Bayonet

Sitting in the lounge of a wealthy landowner is usually a rare occurrence if you don’t own one yourself. For a bushranger, it’s just another day on the job. The landowners had lots of land and monsters don’t know about or actively don’t give a fuck about property lines. Bookmark here

“So, you can deal with it right?”
“A few slimes can’t be too hard. Lumps of goo can’t be doing that much damage, right?” Came the smug tones of Mara’s snappy reply.
Cat sat silently in a nearby chair, sipping the tea the maid had brought her. It wasn’t long ago that Uncle Peter would talk about how luxurious and expensive tea was, but now most people could get their hands on it for fairly cheap.
“Well, that’s the thing, there’s quite a lot more than that.”
Mr. Darren, The owner of the estate, explained his situation to the five of them.
“Over the several hectares and multiple leased out properties I own, there is an infestation of several hundred slimes. Some of them have taken to wandering the paddocks, some of them infest the fields and devour the crops, while the rest roam around absorbing any unfortunate enough to get close. Most of them will take days to absorb something, but a few have been leaving strange burn marks on the ground…”
Jack looked around at his team. All four of them.
The chair once occupied by the petite and ghostly silent frame of Cat, sat completely empty. Her drained teacup sat on the small table in between the two couches.
He sighed. She needed to kick this habit and do it fast.
There was no time to think about it now. Cat would pop back up eventually when she was needed. She’d probably taken up a position in a tree nearby to watch the area.
Darren didn’t even notice the disappearance. Bookmark here

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a scrap of cloth swish past the corner of the wall. It was a light green colour, barely having poked out for a second on the landing of the second floor. Mara didn’t like the shifts in his eyes, but it seemed that she was the only one to notice. Connie sat silently while Arthur sat on his giant lap, learning how to strip his revolver.
It was then the swish of cloth came again, followed by a foot. Down the stairs came a beautiful young woman. Piercing blue eyes, flowing blond hair and a smile that could melt gold for the smelters. Needless to say, Jack had found his reward.
Mara however, attuned to the shifts in his brain, shot a dagger stare at him without anybody else noticing. The woman walked with the grace of a lady of aristocracy, clearly having been raised rich. She almost seemed to glide across the smooth wooden floor, before stopping behind the couch.
“Father, are these the bushrangers you talked about?”
He turned his head to the side.
“Yes dear. They’re here to deal with the issue. Those beasts that attacked you won’t be able to for much longer. You can show them where they attacked you.”
She nodded, before walking over and sitting down next to him.
Jack was completely smitten.
Mara was completely furious.
She saw the sparks in his orange eyes and jealousy welled up within her. Mara began to glare at her. She met Mara’s gaze with one of arrogance and contempt. She clearly knew what was going on.Bookmark here

Darren gestured across to her.
“This here is my daughter, Lyra. She’s the apple of my eye.” He put his arm around her and gave her a playful hug. Lyra resisted at first but eventually just gave up.
She blushed slightly, but her eyes didn’t show it.
“Stop it father.”
Darren went on.
“She’ll be able to take you out to the places the tenants have said that the monsters are cropping up as well as land I haven’t let out.Bookmark here

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Lyra led the four bushrangers out through the brush, leading them on horseback. Jack followed along right behind like a lost fucking puppy. Connie carried Arthur on his massive shoulders while Mara fell back, still fuming over Lyra’s arrogance. It gave her a very itchy trigger finger and her pistol sat well within arm’s reach, ready at a moment’s notice for a situation that escalated too fast to reach for her rifle, tucked under her jacket and out of sight. They continued to walk for another ten minutes before she noticed a gelatinous squishing sound in the distance. Whipping out her rifle, she turned toward the source of the noise. A dense clump of trees in a gulley about 300 meters away. Connie turned around to face her after hearing the rifle slide out of its bucket.
“Heard something?”
Connie reached for the shotgun on his hip, putting Arthur down with his other hand. Jack didn’t even seem to notice, his eyes transfixed on Lyra.
A single ray of sun caught a glint off of something in the distant clump. Mara didn’t hesitate to take a shot. It landed with a wet thump a fraction of a second later.
Cat dropped out of a nearby tree, seeming to materialize out of nowhere.
“There’s seven slimes in that gully, two are leaving a burnt trail. We can assume they’re acidic.”
Jack didn’t even seem to acknowledge the gunshot, even though he should’ve heard it loud and clear. He was too transfixed on Lyra’s very prominent arse. Mara huffed, lowering her rifle, and walking over to him before shoving the butt into the small of his back.
“Wake up, you daft cunt! We’ve got a job to do!”
He stumbled, grabbing his rifle, and snapping back to reality. “Fuck, where is it?”
Connie snorted slightly, almost snickering. Mara looked at him with a concealed scowl on her face.
“Where’s what, dickhead? Your brain? You must’ve left it back at the campsite. Focus.”
He nodded, seemingly intimidated by her assertiveness. Lyra huffed in annoyance, shuffling in the saddle as if to get more comfortable. Mara could only wonder if Lyra had been sitting that way on purpose. It took her more and more effort to hide her utter disdain for the landlord’s daughter.
Jack shook his head and waved at the others to follow, before heading toward the gully.
“Come on, let’s clear them out and head up to the next patch.” They began heading over. Arthur unshouldered his rifle and proceeded with the others, almost needing to lightly jog to keep up on his little legs. Lyra, seeing this laughed in a way that Jack heard as angelic, becoming once again transfixed on her. Mara aimed her rifle, scanning the tree line for signs of movement. They were within 50 meters of the gulley and they had a somewhat elevated position. With a great effort, Jack managed to pull his eyes away from Lyra and focus on the task at hand, walking ahead of the group to avoid temptation.
“Spread out. We’ll comb through and take them down. Keep within sight of one another but try to cover as much ground as you can. Arthur” He turned to the boy “Stick with Connie and sport targets for him” Jack had managed to get back into his normal state, it seemed.
“I can spot my own bloody targets.” Jack made a face and slumped slightly in annoyance.
“But, a bit of extra firepower never hurt anyone.” He acquiesced as he held his shotgun out in front of himself, his giant hands making it look like little more than an oversized flintlock pistol. The kind that you’d see the police carrying around or expect a military officer to carry ceremonially. As they approached the tree line, the noises of slight squelches and slimy sliding noises could be heard from within the gully. Jack looked to his left, meeting Mara’s gaze and nodding. To his right, Connie looked into the forest with a grim expression on his face while Arthur met his gaze, hefting his rifle with his little arms. Cat took a few wraithlike steps forward and into Jack’s field of view. He hadn’t noticed her behind him, as was the norm. They locked eyes before she proceeded to leap onto a nearby branch and disappear into the treetops, with nary a rustled branch to signify her leaving.
“Alright, let’s go. Watch yourselves and keep at a distance from the acidic ones.”
He looked up into the tree canopy, the sunlight shining emerald green through the dense gum leaves.
“Cat, I know you can hear me. Call out when you spot a target this time. They’re not intelligent so your cover won’t be blown.”
No response followed, but he knew she’d heard him. Nothing managed to escape her gaze. Bookmark here

Jack took a breath, a sense of trepidation settling in his gut. Pushing it down with the years of skill his training had given him. Generally aiming outwards but able to snap to a shot at a moment’s notice he began to advance, crossing the tree line into what seemed like another world. The light was dim, and the brush was dense. It seemed that creatures of their size were not supposed to be in here. Jack heard a bush rustle and saw a dark steak leap between two trees.
He panicked, aiming his gun up, before realising that it was just Cat getting ahead of the group. Not even their ethereal sniper could avoid rustling the dense foliage. Shadows leapt in the flickering beams of sun shining through the leaves. As they walked the dense brush cracked under their feet.
Connie had taken his beloved claymore and begun hacking through the dense foliage so that he could squeeze his colossal frame through the gaps. Bookmark here

A faint squelch came from a nearby foliage patch. Connie’s shotgun snapped towards the source; his claymore held in his other colossal paw like a regular longsword. Arthur clutched his oversized rifle in fear, huddling behind one of Connie’s giant legs. Bookmark here

Jack held his gun loosely, half raised and ready to snap towards a target at a moment’s notice. He could see Mara out of the corner of his eye through the dense foliage. As they both advanced, her path bent towards him until she stood in front of him.
“Jack, we need to talk.” Her tone was flat and emotionless. Her eyes showed the anger all the same.
He swallowed “What about? We’re in the middle of a job.”
“You’ve been acting like you’d rather be on the job” She bit back. “I’ve seen you staring at Lyra. You haven’t looked away once since we left the manor!”
Jack was taken aback. Though he had snuck a few glances, he didn’t think he was that bad. “Okay, I snuck a few glances, so what? She’s very pretty.”
“You’re transfixed on her arse, that’s the problem!” Mara rage began to show in her voice. “You’ve followed her like a lost fuckin’ puppy!”
“She’s the one showing us the infestations! We were all following her!” The tone began to rise in tandem to Mara’s.
“You were staring at her arse the whole time, you perv!”
“You sound like you’re fuckin’ jealous!”
Before Mara had time to retort, a giant blob of goo flew towards Jack, knocking him flat onto the dirt. She didn’t hesitate, thrusting her bayonet into its core and splitting it in two. The slime shuddered before becoming inert, oozing outwards as the forces holding it together disappeared. Mara reached through the ooze and yanked Jack to his feet as he gasped for air.
“You’re welcome” she spat, her voice full of venom and her cheeks flushed with blood. Jack simply nodded, hanging his head in defeat as Mara stormed off into the brush once more.
“One down, six to go,” he sighed.Bookmark here

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Stalking the branching paths of the canopy, rifle on her back, Cat had a good overview of the immediate area. Down there, the brush seems much thicker than it actually was, with successive layers of foliage giving the illusion of consistent density. She watched as Mara altered her path until it met that of Jacks. Even with her enhanced hearing, making out the details of the conversation was hard. Only stray words came through until she heard two sentences.
“You were staring at her arse the whole time, you perv!”
“You sound like you’re fuckin’ jealous!”
Cat spotted a slime approaching their position at a surprising rate of speed. None of the textbooks had mentioned that these things could move so fast. She reached for her rifle, but it’s large size made it unwieldy. The slime had reached Jack before she could even line up a shot. Mara promptly took care of the beast and stormed off in a huff.
Cat could only smirk. These two fumbled around each other like a half-measure between siblings and an old married couple.
She looked back over at Arthur and Connie, the colossal frame in front swinging a claymore as if it were little more than a broadsword. Seeing Arthur huddle around one of those colossal tree-trunk legs made her chuckle in silence to herself. Bringing her rifle to bear, the scope brushing against her cheek, her muscles began to relax. The comforting coolness of the brass eyepiece brushing her cheek brought a steady calm to her aim. Through her scope, she saw two approaching targets. Just before she called this out to the group, the acrid sting of chemical burns hit her full-force.
“Watch your swings! That one’s an acid slime!”Bookmark here

Arthur leapt up, desperately scrabbling to reach a higher perch as Connie brought his shotgun to bear. He caught a glimpse of the two blobs slowly rolling towards them, their surfaces speckled with assorted leaf litter and the reddish soil of the land. The slime in the lead had a slight greenish-brown tint that seemed like it was laced with algae and sprinkled with soil. Behind it, rolled an acrid monstrosity that burned all it touched, as well as the noses of those unfortunate enough to be nearby.
Levelling his shotgun, Connie took aim and fired at the core of the safe one. It’s viscous body parted as the pellets plowed through it with little effort, shattering the core with the first shot.
Arthur lined up a shot with the core of the acid slime, trying to steady his giant rifle as it swayed in his tiny arms. His rifle cracked in his hands as he was knocked backwards. The bullet hit the acid slime with a splash, corrosive droplets spattering nearby surfaces to leave tiny burn marks and small amounts of smoke. It careened through it’s malleable, yet ravenous form, before merely ricocheting off it’s core. The bullet itself never made it out of the beast, being eaten by it’s flesh. Bookmark here

It stopped.
Looming over the dissipating remains of it’s fallen comrade, it almost seemed to bow in reverence or even mourning. Cat’s aim faltered for a second, but a second was all it took. The creature leapt onto its friend’s remains and began to devour them, adding to its mass. As the puddle shrunk beneath it’s amorphous form, it began to swell. By the time it had eaten the body of it’s fallen friend, it towered over Arthur.
The poor boy lay on the ground, his rifle shot having knocked him off-balance. Connie roared and fired a shot at it’s core in anger. It’s new mass had insulated it considerably. As its mass began to splash, Connie snapped his shotgun wide open. The two empty shells flew out violently as he pulled two fresh ones out of his satchel in a single motion, jamming them into the breach. He snapped it shut with a loud metallic click before levelling it against the slime at point-blank. With a loud crack, the gasses from the barrel began to deform the goo long before pellets actually began hitting it. As the corrosive slime parted, another loud crack could be heard.Bookmark here

Cat didn’t miss…
The core shattered as the force of the bullet hit it dead-on. Rippling through its entire body, the force of it made the slime violently expand before collapsing in on itself like a dying star. As it spread out, the ground at the edges of the puddle hissed as the corrosive slime covered it. Connie scooped up the tiny form of Arthur and leapt over the rapidly expanding puddle of acid.
Cat admired her handiwork from on high. Connie lolloped off to find more slime, Arthur slung over his shoulder like a ragdoll. Sniper rifle slung over her shoulder, she smiled at Arthur’s blank expression before leaping to the next tree and on to find more slime.Bookmark here

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Mara pushed through the undergrowth, making a beeline straight for the nearest edge of the gulley. She didn’t even bother cutting a path with her rifle, the sheer force of her determination giving her the strength to power through with little resistance. She broke through the treeline to see Lyra, sat beneath a tree in her little green sundress, her horse tied to a branch nearby. She sat there blissfully flicking through a leather-bound book with a peculiar title on the spine.“Bushrangers and the pioneers of the new continent”
This faltered her for a second, but Mara shook off her doubt and strode over angrily to confront Lyra. As she saw Mara approach, Lyra scrambled to hide the book, tucking it into the fold of her dress.
“Alright, you little witch” Mara spat through gritted teeth, “You’re gonna tell me what your fucking deal is, or I’ll feed you to the slimes.”
Lyra leapt up, quickly shoving the leather-bound tome into the small saddlebag on her horse. “My deal?” She spoke in an innocent tone that infuriated Mara to no end. “I have no clue what you’re talking about.” Lyra giggled in an overly girlish manner while batting her eyelids at Mara.
“Sticking your arse out on horseback, that way you look at Jack. What’s your fuckin game?” Mara held her arm up in a threatening manner, ready to reach for her rifle at a moment’s notice.Lyra sighed, her voice dropping down to what seemed to be her natural speaking voice. “Look, I’m in a bit of a sticky spot. My father wants to marry me off to the son of an up-and-coming gold mine owner. The man is a horrible slob and isn’t my kind of man. Your Jack on the other hand, he’s a daring adventurer and a very handsome man I know I could spend my life with.” Her voice drifted off towards the end, as if being lured into an illusion.Mara coughed in annoyance, snapping Lyra back to reality. Her hand began to lower from her rifle, dropping to a more natural speaking position. “So you want him because he’s hot? You don’t even know him!” Lyra swelled up in defiance, knowing full well she was facing down somebody far beyond her strength. “I’ve known him my whole life! You can’t go one week in this town without him being mentioned at least once. Miss Burrows, Love is war; and I am going to win.”
She was taken aback, her arms falling limply to her sides as her jaw hung, looking like her cheek muscles had been removed with magic. “How the hell do you know my last name?”
Lyra chuckled. “Word in Kallamat spreads fast. I’ve been hearing about your deeds for years. I heard recently that you managed to take down a Wyvern and a Bunyip within a week of each other. Such an impressive record doesn’t go unnoticed, Mara.”Mara stood there in a stunned silence. Lyra continued on. “I want to marry a man with a sense of adventure. Do you know how much my father tries to smother me? It’s ridiculous! He gets me expensive presents and locks me up like a budgie in its cage! It took two months of arguments and begging for him to let me have one horse for my own use! I want a man who’ll take me to see this wonderful world in all its splendour, not some slob of a man who’ll sit digging through paperwork and smelling all day.”Mara stood there in a stunned silence, her cheeks halfway between her cheeks halfway between the colour of her skin and hair. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”Mara wasn’t sure whether to slap her or say that Cat was still in the gulley. Either way, she kept her mouth shut. Puffing herself up, Mara locked eyes with Lyra for one last time. “Jack is mine. Touch him and I won’t hesitate to deal with you myself.”
Lyra rose up in response, trying to look down at Mara, but their height difference was rather obvious. “Touch me and my father will have you and all your kind round up and shot.” Lyra spat with a venom that felt all too familiar. It stung an old wound she thought had scarred over long ago. 

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Not long after, the four other s emerged from the gulley, splattered with the odd clump of slime. Arthur seemed the worse for wear, having multiple burn marks on his already threadbare clothes. Mara, seeing this, got down on one knee and held her arms out to embrace him. “Come here Arthur, buddy. Let me clean you up.”A single appreciative tear rolled down his little cheek. A scheming smile planted itself on Mara’s face. As she grabbed a cloth and some antiseptic out of a pouch on her waist to clean him up, Lyra got back onto her horse.“I’ll lead you to the next infestation. There’s two more we know about.”Jack looked back at Mara, hunched over little Arthur as if he was her own son. “You coming? We’ve got a job to do.”Bookmark here

“I’ll catch up in a bit,” Mara waved them off absent-mindedly, she was far more focused on other matters.“Listen in. I’ve got a job for you. Let’s consider this your first solo contract.”
She smiled playfully. “Look at you, already taking on a job by yourself.”He smiled, this being one of the few times he’d actually done so. Mara took a deep breath to steady herself before she spoke.“I need you to keep Jack away from the lady on the horse. You got that?”Arthur nodded confidently. One look at his eyes was all that was needed to see that he had this. She gave him a reassuring tap on the shoulder.“Just keep them apart but don’t make it obvious. Lure her away by being your usual adorable self.”Mara’s voice softened the more she spoke to him. That motherly tone that only ever seemed to creep out when she spoke to him reared its head yet again. Cat chuckled from a nearby treetop. Today was about to get even more interesting…-

The five of them walked along the trail behind Lyra’s horse. Jack’s eyes were trained on the arse bobbing up and down.Mara coughed and Arthur’s head snapped up. He started to toddle along faster to get up next to Jack. Pulling on his tunic and looking up at him with a childish stare only earned him a pat on the head and a slight chuckle. Mara’s face hardened in frustration. It seems like he wasn’t up to the task. Out of curiosity, she continued to watch him.He continued to walk alongside Jack. Cocking his head to think for a moment, he leapt at Jack’s left calf and locked himself around Jack’s leg. He stumbled for a moment, Arthur beaming up at his annoyed face.Mara almost burst out laughing, barely managing to contain it to the sound of a wet fart. A snickering sound could be heard from the ghost that followed them. For Cat to make a sound could have only meant one thing…Bookmark here

Mara grunted in annoyance. Cat would be getting an earful later. The weight of 22 kilos on one ankle was barely enough to break Jack’s stride. Here, a bushranger’s strength came in handy. Mara followed a bit closer behind, hoping to have a bit more control over her charge.
She coughed quietly.
Arthur let go of Jack’s leg.
Time for a change in tactics.
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