Chapter 14:

Railroad Heist

The Bushranger's Bayonet

It’d been a busy summer. All Jack wanted now was a calm stop in town before getting back to The Farm.
Back to the family.
Back to home. Bookmark here

He lay contemplating in his bed, trying to sleep. Still sore from the events of the last day and a half. They had made just enough money to rent four rooms for the night. Mara and Cat were across the hall, Connie was next door, and Arthur had decided to sleep with him. Jack was alone with naught but his thoughts.
Out of the few seasons he’d seen before, this had to be one of the worst. They were barely scraping by and now the rest of the family was relying on him more than ever. Hopefully, after the summer break, work would pick back up again and they’d get some more money. That was always the problem, not enough money. Fortunately, there was always at least one fewer mouth to feed after every season, so it all evened out in the worst way possible.
Coming home was always nerve-wracking, seeing who had and hadn’t survived the year.
Wondering who’d come back covered in scars or missing a limb.
Wondering who was next.
Deciding sleep was not achievable, he reached for his blade and whetstone, facing the window, his back to the door. The only audible sound was the scraping of stone on silver and the crickets.Bookmark here

A shout broke the quiet night as a door flew open, interrupting Jack’s quiet introspection.
“Bail up, or you’re all dead men!”Bookmark here

Leaping out of bed, Jack swiped his belts off the bedside table and yanked his revolver out of it’s holster, taking cover behind the bed before carefully peeking his head over the top. With that action, he realised a crucial fact.Bookmark here

It wasn’t his door.Bookmark here

Scooping his belts off the floor, Jack quickly put them on. Gathering his thoughts, Jack quickly went over to grab his rifle before putting the bayonet into the scabbard on his belt. His rifle went into the bucket on his back. In such close quarters, it’d be easier to use his revolver than his rifle. Though very effective against humans, it was meant for hunting monsters and had this design baked into its bones. Big, sturdy, and accurate, it was great in the bush or out in the open paddocks. Walking over to the door, he cracked it open to look out. It seemed empty enough.
The door creaked as he carefully opened it, barrel up and ready to snap to a target in a split second. Peeking his head around the door, he spotted a swift movement and his aim snapped down to match.Bookmark here

Another revolver very similar to his own was pointed directly at him, no more than two meters away. Too far to disarm safely, not far enough to take cover from.Bookmark here

Mara chuckled, lowering the gun. “Fuck, you scared me for a second.”
“Ditto.” he replied, exhaling in relief “I thought I was a dead man.”
“We’ll all be dead soon, if we don’t gear up and clear out.” Came a familiar voice in Jack’s right ear.
Not even turning around, he just sighed in annoyance. “You should really clear your throat first. At first it was creepy, now it’s just annoying.” Stepping forward, he turned back to face Cat. “Since you’re up, get out there and figure out what the fuck’s going on. No kills until I know what the situation is. When the shooting starts, have your fun.”
She nodded, taking a step through the door and disappearing completely. “Go grab Arthur and keep him close. We might need to clear out fast if this is what I think it is.”
Mara looked at him and nodded. “For all of our sakes, I hope this isn’t who you think it is.”Bookmark here

They had decided to stay the night in a little town along the recently-built rail line. A humble outpost in the bush.
There was only one thing to be gotten here.
Only one target worth all the fuss.
The rail line.Bookmark here

Something that could warrant an armed attack on such a small town had to be whatever was coming down that rail line. It had to be worth one hell of a lot of money to warrant whatever was going on. Bookmark here

Their rooms were all on the second floor of the local pub. The only way out was the stairs up, which meant that they only had one choice. Jump out the window and use the treeline. Whether Connie or Arthur could do this was questionable at best, Arthur for his lack of training and Connie for his massive size. Jack went through into Mara’s room and up to the window. It back onto the bush, the rail line visible in the distance, curving round a bend and out of sight. Unlatching the window, he slid it up as it squeaked in protest. With minimal effort, Jack slipped out of it and hopped onto a nearby tree branch. Coming back into her room with the others in tow, Mara slid through the window and hung precariously on to the windowsill as Jack moved to a different branch.
Connie and Arthur stood in front of the open window, a grim expression on both their faces. It seemed Mara had made them aware of the situation already. Connie looked at Arthur, then the branch nearest the window. Mara was a good five meters away from the windowsill, he doubted the poor kid could jump that far.
“Mara, get ready to catch.” He said, a strange mix of determination and amusement in his voice.
With one motion, Connie grabbed the boy off the floor and threw him through the window like a log. Mara reached out and managed to grab the poor kid, barely managing to hang onto her perch.
“That was the worst throw ever. Of all time.” Jack commented, with a snideness that was unusual for him.
“Not my fault, someone put a window in my way.” was all the response he got.
Mara chuckled slightly as Arthur gained his own foothold and began to climb down.
“Sounds like something I would say.”
“You were too busy catching the throw to comment, so I did it for you.” Jack snorted before beginning his own descent. Bookmark here

Connie approached the window, sizing it up for himself. Sliding the sword out of the scabbard on his back, he sighed before dropping it out the window. He began by getting his head and right arm through the window, ever so slowly trying to wiggle his other shoulder through. After a solid minute, he managed to get through up to his elbow. One problem now occurred to him.
His boots stopped gripping the floor.
Mara tried her best to stifle a laugh, making a sort of stifled snorting with her nose instead. Bookmark here

Struggling for a bit, he just sighed. “Can somebody give me a hand?”
Jack held his amusement back much better than Mara did, leaping back over and grabbing onto his arm. He leaned against the wall and pulled with all his might.
Connie moved a few centimeters and then stopped.
“Mara, get your arse over here and help.”
“Pffft, alright, hehe.”
Jack just rolled his eyes in annoyance. Though it was funny, the fact that they could be shot if he didn’t move soon did put a damper on things, to say the least. She grabbed on a bit lower down on Connie’s arm and began to pull.
The seconds passed.

“One more pull. Ready?”
She nodded.
“One, two, three!”
They gave it all their strength, almost seeming to stand sideways on the building as they pulled. Slowly, inch by inch, he slid out of the window frame; but then...Bookmark here

POP.Bookmark here

The three of them tumbled out the window, ending up in a pile of limbs and weapons on the ground below.Bookmark here

Jack ended up at the bottom of the stack.
Connie ended up on the top.
“Get off me you giant twat!”
Connie groaned before sliding off into the dirt. “Fuckin hell that hurt.”
“You had me cushioning you!” Mara exclaimed.
“You were both on top of me!” Jack shouted over them.Bookmark here

Alerted shouts came from the other side of the building as the four of them dashed for the cover of the bush.Bookmark here

Around the corner of the building, two grubby looking men came stomping through toward them. One was rough and grizzled, shoulders broad and hands calloused from a life of hard yakka, the other lanky underweight from a life on little food. Both were covered in grime and had what looked like imperial flintlock rifles.
“There’s nuffin out here, Boss was just jumpy.” The lanky one stated with annoyance.
“Quit ya bellyachin’, we’ve got a job to do. Boss wants us to look for weird noises, we find ‘em.” Grizzle replied angrily.
“There’s nothin’ here. It’s just gum trees and brush.”
“Shut up and look ya daft cunt. We gots work to do, so do it.”Bookmark here

The four of them held their breath as the goons snooped around…Bookmark here

Bookmark here

A minute passed in dead silence.Bookmark here

Eventually, they gave up on the search.
“Nuffin’. C’mon, the boss needs all th’ ‘elp he can get.”
The two of them trudged off around the other side of the building and back to the group. Bookmark here

Jack let out a sigh of relief. Looking up, he could see the silhouette of Cat on the roof, her dark outline visible in the bright moonlight. In a blurry streak she leapt down to confront them.
“We’ve got a situation on our hands. It’s him.”
Mara looked at her in disbelief. “This can’t be him, it shouldn’t be him.”
“Works for me.” Connie flatly stated.
Jack and Mara looked at him in a mix of annoyance and confusion.
“What? I wanna see this fuckwit taken down a peg as much as you guys do. We’ve been looking for him for weeks now and this golden opportunity just fell into our laps.”
“The only one doing any falling was you.” Came Mara’s snide remark.
“Hey, I got stuck in a bloody window. I think it’s someone else’s turn to take the fall here.”
They both looked at Jack.
“Oh come on, I got squashed less than two minutes ago, by both of you guys.”Bookmark here

Cat just sighed. “Let’s get the show on the road. We have a shot at taking Thunderbolt, stop fucking around.”
Jack quickly snapped back to the situation at hand, reaching for his rifle and tugging his bayonet to ride loose in its scabbard.
“How many are we dealing with?”
“At least twenty men, all armed. Most have stolen imperial army guns, a few have some pistols. There were a few there with what looked to me like Bushranger equipment. One of them had a Fire Crow on his head.”
Arthur’s eyes widened in alarm at that statement.
“A live one?” Connie asked in confusion.
“Yes. It hopped between his shoulders and head a few times as well as pecking at this one grunt in particular it didn’t seem to like.”
"Nasty little buggers those. I'm surprised that somebody managed to tame one at all." Mara noted, a curious tone in her voice.
“Be careful of it and keep an eye out above you. I can see a lot but I can be everywhere at once. If it swoops you, there’s no guarantee I can blow it apart.” Cat spoke with her usual professional calm, shining the scope of her rifle with her sleeve.
Jack and Mara nodded in acknowledgement.
Connie just laughed. “I’m sure I can handle one bloody bird, flamin’ or not. I’ll blow the little shit into more pieces than you can count!”
“Don’t get too big for your boots, mate, you’re already a big target as is.” Cat shot back, chuckling at her own joke.
“Laughing at your own jokes? that’s not something I thought you’d ever do. You never laugh at any of ours.”
“Enough. Head around the side of the building, that way” Cat said with some force, pointing in the direction the goons had walked off in. “They’re gathered on the other side of town, so your approach should be mostly clear. Watch your arses and don’t call out to me until after I’m shooting. You fucks have a habit of blowing my cover.”Bookmark here

With that, Cat leapt onto a tree branch, onto the roof and out of sight, trailing like a black streak in the pale moon.
The four of them made their way around the building, stacking up on the corner as Mara poked her head around the side.
“We’ve got about ten of them out there. None of the stronger ones seem to be there. Fire Crow man isn’t anywhere I can see.”
Jack smirked. “Good. Then we don’t have to deal with him. Let’s move.”
Mara quickly dashed over and crouched behind a barrel perched at the end of the veranda, peeking over with her rifle at the ready. Bookmark here

Two goons stood in front of the doors to the empty pub, rifles casually dangling in their hands. On the left the goon had an orange scarf, the other had a maroon one.
“You ever wonder why we’re here?” Maroon asked out of boredom.
“It's one of life's great mysteries isn't it? Why are we here? I mean, are we the product of some cosmic coincidence, or is there really a God watching everything? You know, with a plan for us and stuff. I don't know, man, but it keeps me up at night.”
An awkward silence hung between the two of them.
“What? I meant why are we out here, in this tiny town.”
“Oh. Uh… yeah.” Orange responded, seemingly confused.
“What was all that stuff about god?”
“Uh…hm? Nothing”
“You wanna talk about it?
“You sure?”
Another awkward silence hung between the two.
Maroon broke it.
“Seriously though, why are we out here. As far as I can tell, it’s just a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.”
“We’re robbing the bank or some shit like that.” Orange sighed.
“Yeah, but even if we pulled out now, we would lose barely anything because there’s nothing out here.”
Another awkward silence hung between themBookmark here

SPLATBookmark here

Maroon’s head exploded, spraying brains and gore all over the door and Orange’s face.
“Whoa what the fu-”Bookmark here

SPLATBookmark here

His head exploded not long after.
Men swarmed out of the buildings as the men swarmed toward the source of the shots.
“We’ll take care of this boss!” Came a shout from the front of the local bank.
A man stepped out of the bank.
A rifle in his hands.
A bird on his shoulder.
Its feathers sparkled slightly with a rainbow sheen, reflected off the faint glow coming from beneath. The faint flicker of flames could be seen on the edges of its feather and the end of its tail. The beast cawed, as if it were rallying troops for war.
“Alright boys, let’s take care of these punks! No upstart farmers are gonna get th’ best of us!”Bookmark here

Connie had taken up a position on the opposite side of the street, taking cover in a doorway with Arthur on his heels.
Jack had taken cover behind a similar barrel on the opposite side of the street. Peeking over the barrel, he spotted one goon taking aim. Slowly letting the air out of his lungs, he lined up the shot and squeezed the trigger.
Another man hit the dirt.
Mara lined up on the next man, taking cover behind a large crate.
Another man lay dead on the ground.
Jack leapt over his barrel and dashed forward to a nearby crate. Bookmark here

Another shout came from inside the bank.
“Take care of that Ben! I can still hear gunshots out there dickhead!”
“Don’t worry boss! I’ll take care of this!”
“You fucking better!”
Their exchange ended with an angry shout from within the bank. Among the five of them, there was little doubt who was the one shouting.Bookmark here

Ben stepped forward, letting go of his rifle and holding out his left hand. As if on cue, his crow leapt to his hands, spread his wings and exploded into a fiery inferno. It let loose a fierce care before taking to the skies, flapping aggressively and tightly spiralling to gain altitude. It pulled up at the last second, spreading its wings and cawing as it let loose a giant burst of flame and light, casting orange and blue flickers across the main street.
Jack lined up a shot, aiming for the bird’s head.
The beast dropped from the sky…
But after half a second it flared its wings and spiralled back down. He’d only managed to hit part of its right wing, mostly punching through feathers and only grazing the flesh.Bookmark here

Ben whistled, holding his hand out for the injured bird to land on. Spiralling down from the air, claw met hand and the bird hopped to his shoulder as he dropped down into cover.
“Shit, these aren’t a bunch of farmers, they can actually shoot straight.”
“What the fuck were you thinking boss? They killed two of our mates without even trying! I mean fuck, they don’t even have heads left!” The goon who spat back at Ben gestured to the two headless corpses that lay in front of the pub door, blood soaking into the wooden deck and flowing down the stairs, leaving crimson pools and trails in its wake.Bookmark here

Then his head exploded too.
Mara’s head shot up to the rooftops. Cat had managed to cross the street and get onto the opposite side’s rooftops. Multiple shots rang out as goons fired in the approximate direction of the sound and waited...Bookmark here

Nothing.Bookmark here

Jack let out a small relieved sigh he didn’t realise he was even holding in.Bookmark here

-----------Bookmark here

Inside the bank, the lone teller was panicking. All he’d expected from this job was sitting quietly in this little wooden building, reading and smoking his pipe, occasionally dealing with farmers buying and selling their crops. He wasn’t expecting to have a gun in his face, let alone a bushranger and his goons holding him up.
“Open the bloody safe, we’re in a hurry here.” Thunderbolt snarled as gunshots began to ring outside.
“I-I-I-I-I c-can’t. Only the m-manager can do th-that and he’s n-not in today.” The teller stammered out, his face glistening with cold sweat.
All his reply received was malicious laughter.
“Don’t give me bullshit. Open the safe. Now.” Thunderbolt reached for one of his pistols, casually pointing it just to the side of the man’s head, other hand sarcastically resting on his other pistol’s grip. “I would rather not make a mess.”
“W-why are you doing this?”
Thunderbolt sighed. “It’s not because I have a grudge against your bank, it’s just because I have a grudge. Open the safe and empty it, I’ll give you a few pounds and you keep your mouth shut. I don’t hate you, you’re just in my way. Move aside and I’ll make sure you’re a bit more comfortable, stand in my way and, well, let’s just say it’ll be messy.”Bookmark here

-----------Bookmark here

Shot by shot, cover by cover, the four of them advanced closer to the bank. Shots flew past them as they hid behind various objects scattered across the road.
Behind their position, bleeding bodies of goons left bloody puddles, mixing into the dirt road and making a morbid muddy sludge. Brass littered the dirt behind their previous cover, peppered with bullet holes and wood splinters. Voices could be heard coming from the bank. A snippet of conversation drifted on the wind.Bookmark here

“...stand in my way and, well, let’s just say it’ll be messy.”Bookmark here

“Shit. Cover me guys, I’m going in!”
“What the fuck, are you crazy?” Mara shouted at him as lead whizzed over her head, dragging loose strands of hair into its air currents and giving them short-lived trails of fire.
Jack dashed out of cover, charging at the nearest bandit and impaling the man’s sternum on his bayonet. He groaned as the blade stuck through his back, leaking blood through both wounds. Jack shoved the goon with his boot to remove him from his rifle and charged on toward the bank door.
Angered shouts came loud and clear from all around as shots began to whiz through the air around him.
One shot landed.
Blood spurted from Jack’s arm.
A quick look confirmed his suspicions. It was just a graze, nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a bandage and ointments later. Bookmark here

Dashing for the door of the bank, he quickly ducked in through the frame. Jack was met with an unexpected scene.
Two men were talking in what seemed to him a relatively calm manner.
The fact that one of the men was more heavily armed than the rest of the bandits combined just made the picture even more absurd. Turning to face him, the heavily armed man gestured with his pistol towards Jack.
“Well look what we have here, a he-”
He stopped short, before laughing in amusement.
“A bushranger? Now this was unexpected! I thought the royal army had shown up. Don’t be scared of me, we’re not enemies kiddo. Come over here and let me get a better look at you.”
Jack raised his gun to his shoulder, aiming at the man’s face.
“You can get a better look down my fucking rifle, traitor.”
A look of shock washed over the man’s face, before quickly morphing into bemusement. “Well look who it is. Little Jack, all grown up. I didn’t recognise you, since I haven’t seen you since you were a toddler,” He recalled fondly, holding his free hand parallel to the ground at a height just above his kneecaps.
“How the fuck do you know my name?” Jack shot angrily, making an aggressive gesture with his rifle.
“Don’t act like you don’t remember me, Jackey boy. I used to take care of you and Mara all those years ago,” He preened smugly, “Don’t you remember your own flesh and blood?”
Jack responded by laughing sarcastically.
“I’m going to give you ten seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t blow your brains out right here, Thunderbolt.”
The smirk faded from his face as he raised his pistol to Jack.
“Sorry kiddo, you weren’t supposed to get involved with all this.”Bookmark here

The crack of two gunshots burst from the somber scene as blood hit the rough wooden floor of the bank.
A moment later, the crashing of broken glass could be heard, followed by more gunshots.Bookmark here

Jack looked down to see crimson on the floor.
It was his.Bookmark here

A sudden burst of pain shot through his torso as he tried to move his arm. Looking down, he could see blood welling from a fresh bullet wound on his left shoulder.
Another shot rang out as he dived behind a nearby desk for cover.
“Well fuck.”Bookmark here

-----------Bookmark here

She heard the shouts from inside the bank.
She heard the gunshots.
Her instincts taking over, Mara leapt out of cover and charged into the building, giving the rest of the team no warning whatsoever. Rifle in hand, she charged without hesitation towards the bank, lead whizzing around her as the remaining bandits took poorly-aimed potshots at her as she ran.
There was a sting on her neck, but she paid it no mind.
She had a job to do.Bookmark here

“For fuck sake! Don’t charge in there after your boyfriend you dumb bitch!`` A shout from on high.
It wasn’t an angel, it was just Cat, pissed as hell at Mara’s stupidity.
Hopping across the rooftops and back into the trees, She circled around the other side of the bank, looking for an opening.Bookmark here

Mara had charged in and taken cover behind a desk on the other side of the room to Jack. Thunderbolt had hid behind a crate of some description, with his back to the window.
“Big mistake, buckaroo.”
Cat held her breath, lining up the shot before ever so slowly squeezing the trigger. Inside the rifle, the catch holding back the pin was released, sending the round rocketing off towards its unfortunate victim.
At the last possible moment, Thunderbolt moved, sending the shot meant for his head into the top of his right shoulder instead.Bookmark here

The sound of shattering glass quickly followed an audibly wet thump, then an exclamation.
Only then did he feel the pain in his shoulder as he tried to move it. Turning toward one of his goons, he smirked, trying to hide the pained tone in his voice. “Hold down the fort Jackey mate, I’m goin’ for the big score before it gets away.”
The man he turned to, Jackey, wasn’t dressed like the others. He wore a cheap suit jacket covered in dirt and wore a pair of pistol holsters on his belt, the revolvers they held currently in his hands.
Turning to Thunderbolt, he nodded. “Meeting up with the others, boss?”
He nodded. “Stick to the plan. If I’m not back at the meet point in three days, move on and I’ll find you. If you don’t hear from me in a week, I’m probably dead. Report won’t take too long, resupply should handle itself.” Taking a deep breath as he weakly held his rifle, shouldering it so he could switch to a pistol. “Cover me.”Bookmark here

Jack could do nothing to stop him. Thunderbolt was getting away. Dashing back to the front door, Jack chased him out toward the bush.
A train whistle could be heard in the distance.
“Oh fuck.”Bookmark here

‘Oh fuck’ were the exact words running through Cat’s brain when she saw him dash out that door. The few remaining men had either retreated or been picked off by Arthur and Connie, making sure that Jack and Mara weren’t boxed into inescapable crossfire. Quickly following, Mara dashed out the door to chase Jack.
All Cat could do was chuckle. She was either chasing him or he was chasing her. To someone who spent their entire career alone up until about a month ago, it didn’t make sense. They are both equally skilled on the battlefield, enough that they don’t need each other, though their commitment to one another was admirable. Snakes don't work in packs, they work best alone; having the freedom to operate with impunity.
Then the realisation hit all at once.
“Ah fuck, now I’m gonna have to chase those dickheads.”Bookmark here

Dashing through the trees, Jack could hear the train get closer as Thunderbolt tried to run. Shooting wasn’t an option because if he slowed down to take aim, the bastard would get away in a second. Little stood between them and the rail line. Bookmark here

The whiz of a bullet past his ear and the sting of an open wound was the first warning he got of the men waiting at the tracks. In an instant, he’d dropped to his belly and gone for his pistol. Going for his rifle now would be suicidal. Judging by the number of shots whizzing past, there had to be five men there.
One bullet for each man, with one in the chamber for Thunderbolt.
Thankfully, he’d dropped down into the roots of a large gum tree, so Jack was relatively safe from a lethal shot. Bookmark here

Tentatively poking his head out, Jack saw the edge of the nearest man’s skull and waited. Taking the shot would be risky, he needed to make sure that he landed it. After a few seconds, the man’s head twitched.
Jack didn’t miss.Bookmark here

Next to him, another man was sprayed with blood, and simply stood there in disbelief. Stunned into place.Bookmark here

Rolling slightly and shifting to a two-handed grip, Jack waited for the next shot opportunity to come.
Moments later, a shot rang out from the treetops as a piece of brass fell next to Jack. The fact that the shot came seemingly out of nowhere was strangely comforting instead of terrifying, which was something that he had yet to become accustomed to. Stray shots usually meant somebody was trying to kill him. Looking again, another corpse lay on the tracks; blood gushing from a large opening on the left side of his skull above the eye near where his hairline began, his face in visible agony as his life drained away, covered in two ever so slightly different shades of red. At that point of a kill, Jack would usually put the poor bastard out of their misery.
Cat preferred to conserve ammo. Rather cruel, but it’s just business. A cold, pragmatic calculation.
This was preferable.
One extra bullet to use on the traitor.Bookmark here

The noise of the train became ever louder, now being audible to the four men left. Jack was convinced that Thunderbolt was well on the other side, completely out of danger, ready to spring out and onto the train.Bookmark here

As the seconds slipped away, the thundering beast of steam and steel approached. Slowing down because of the blockade, it began to come to a halt, with the thugs trying to hold up the train while still in cover. From overhead, the crack of a rifle could be heard as another man fell. Bookmark here

Coming to a stop, the train was ready to go. A small cargo hauler, taking provisions and money between the towns of the colony in this new age. Another shot rang out from overhead, the light glinting off a piece of falling brass a few trees away. Several men hurriedly leapt aboard, taking cover in the drivers compartment and on the coal bins behind it. Bookmark here

He couldn’t afford to lose them now. Pulling himself to his feet, Jack holstered his revolver and sprinted toward the tracks, covering the distance in a few dozen steps faster than a scared kangaroo, hooking his hand onto a metal pole on a cargo car further down the relatively short train. Luckily, the train wasn’t moving too fast, so Jack had the time to haul himself up onto a more stable footing. Within moments, the train had already picked up speed. Slowly, handhold by precarious handhold, Jack made his way up the side of the car and onto the roof. At the end of the cars, he could see a few men, but the shaking of the accelerating train made it too hard to draw a bead on them from this distance. He would have to get closer.Bookmark here

As he reached the end of the train car, a familiar figure leapt up to face him.Bookmark here

“You didn’t have to do this Jack. We are on the same side here. Just climb down and run back to your little friends.”
Thunderbolt’s tone was less overtly friendly and more serious, almost as if he were talking sternly to a small child.
“Stop the train. This can end peacefully. You don’t have to do this.”
All he could do was laugh. “Don’t have to do this? If I don’t do this our family will be slaughtered. Don’t you remember the pain? The anxiety of waiting every summer to see which member of our family had died that year? Hoping against hope that everybody had made it home okay and that we could go one summer without conducting a funeral for once? I have to do this.”
Jack was almost disgusted at this, but what made it hurt was how true it was. “We won’t get anywhere through theft, we have our jobs and each other. You don’t need to steal from innocent people.”
“Innocent?” He seemed confused by this choice of words, laughing in amusement at some sort of knowledge he alone possessed. “These people are not innocent, they’ve spent all of our existence stealing from us! They have persisted on the backs of our suffering and the corpses of our family! They are no more innocent than those we fight.”
“And what does that make us?” Jack’s rising contempt was very much audible in his tone. “We are no better than they are!”
“Yes we are!”
Jack could not contain his shock. “How can you say that?”
“We are better than them, can’t you see it boy?” Thunderbolt’s anger began to rise in the back of his throat, slowly approaching step by step. The train was now flying down the tracks to the point where it was getting hard to stand on top. “You think those glowing eyes of yours are just for looks? We are born better than them because we are stronger, we deserve more than the shit we are given.”
He held out a hand to Jack. “Come with me. The two of us can do far greater things than I can do alone. We can save our family together.”
Jack couldn’t help but spit. “You betrayed our family.”
“You’ve too much of your mother in you.” He muttered under his breath as he approached ever closer.Bookmark here

“We’re not so different, Jack. Look into my eyes, you know that in your heart even if you can’t accept it."
“You are nothing but a usurper; A false idol for the scum of the land to fawn over.” Jack spat at Thunderbolt. “I can’t let this continue.”
“Why are you trying to stop me? This is just what we do! We’re bushrangers, we do as we please and take what we want! These people owe us so much more anyway, I’m just taking what’s rightfully mine.” Came his smarmy reply, laced with malice that hadn’t been there before.”
“You call yourself a bushranger, but you’re no better than a common thief! You’re nothing like us!” Jack spat in the man’s face.
Thunderbolt could only hang his head in disappointment.. “Haven’t changed a bit, have ya Jack? Send Uncle my regards. If he’s not careful, he’ll be seeing me very soon…”
Thunderbolt's face turned to stone as he kicked Jack off the train roof, laughing as he tumbled helpless in the air.
Jack hit the rough gravel with a crunch. Bookmark here

He raised his head up.
All he saw was blood and bluestone.
A second later, his head hit the sticky stones as voices called to him through a hazy blur.


Bookmark here

“Get me a potion!”

“Cover me!”

The sound of gunshots could be heard before the grip of darkness found its hold…

A familiar voice cut through the fog.
“Hang on Dammit! I won’t lose you again. Not like this. Not like this.” The pleas turned to sobs as his mouth was forced open.
Then silence.
When he came around, Jack found himself propped up against the roots of an ancient bluegum, swaddled in blankets and next to a roaring fire.
“Fucking hell, how much did I drink last night?” Jack moaned, clutching his head, his tone a mix between confusion and snark
Mara bolted over to him, gently holding his arm to stop him moving too much.
“Holy fuck are you okay? How’s your head? Are you hungry? Connie! Grab me some meat.” Mara held one hand to his forehead, gesturing with the other hand for Connie to hand her food.
“I’m fine Mara, you can calm down.” Jack smiled sleepily before he tried to move his leg.
“Don’t do that, you’ll make the break worse.”
Jack looked confused “The fuck you on about?” he questioned in annoyance before throwing the blanket off himself.
His right leg was in a makeshift splint, held together by a short rope and a leather belt. It was only then he noticed that one of Mara’s usual belts was missing from her torso. The one she hung her rifle on. The rifle in question was propped against the side of a fallen log, butt to the earth and bayonet pointing defiantly into the sky, reflecting the flickering flames in its silvered edge.
“It’s serious, mate. You broke your leg in at least four places that we could see. If we weren’t what we are, you’d be dead; and even if you did survive, you’d never walk again. Luckily, we can have you up and going in a few weeks.”
Jack clutched his head, fog still clinging to his brain.
“What can we do now? I can’t fight like this. If I can’t fight we’re sitting ducks.”
Mara sighed. “It’s over Jack. We’re calling it for the year. We’ll head back to The Farm for summer.”
Jack tried to shuffle upright, but Mara held him still.
“What about our coin? We need to save up to help repair everything. What about the training dummies? What about the gauntlet? What about all the booze we’ll need for the reunion party?”
Mara sighed. “It doesn’t matter now. All we can hope is that everyone else can pick up the slack for us. It’s not like we have to fund all of it. Even if we did, we could scrape by, we always make do somehow.”
He chuckled slightly, clutching his head as he did so.
“I don’t fancy running out of liquor a week into my vacation.”
“I’d rather spend the summer sober than have to hang your tags on the wall so soon ” Mara snapped out her retort.
The silence was almost deafening.
Ever so slowly, she began to shuffle next to him, slipping her arm behind his back and her neck into the gap between his left arm and his torso. “You know that I couldn’t live without you, right?” She said, a slight sobbing tone audible in her voice. He gazed into her eyes, seeing that Mara was visibly holding back tears. The shimmer in her eyes was evidence enough. “What about those few months where you ran solo? You lived without me then.” Jack retorted, the strain in his voice not letting him put much force behind the statement.
“I wouldn’t call that living, more like not dying.” She held him close, working her way closer and closer into his reluctant embrace. “I love you too much.”
Jack chuckled, closing his eyes.Bookmark here

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