Saturday, August 17, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 24.

Episode 24 – A Charging Bull is a Blind Bull

The sign over Terra’s shop was still visible enough to make out the original writing that marked it as ‘Decently Departed.’ Although a layer of graffiti overlaid it with various less respectful claims. One did catch Marshall’s eye that he had to admit was somewhat cute. It was just two words written in a crude scrawl; Digger Doll.

As for the shop itself, it was perhaps the most well ordered and professional looking establishment Marshall had ever seen. It was very warm and inviting, the whole decor had a friendly welcome feeling to it. There was not even a single hint of the morbid expectations most assumed to find inside a business devoted to dealing with the dead. In fact, Marshall felt a little embarrassed by his obvious nervous nature at first after entering the shop.

“Well, I believe I can handle everything from here,” Terra said softly. “I would like to thank you again for the help, I’m grateful. It’s quite refreshing to meet someone who isn’t too scared to talk to me.” A grin gingerly hinted at forming on Terra’s face, and was quickly answered in kind by Marshall. “You should probably start heading back, it’ll be getting dark before long and the dusk hounds can be dangerous this time of day.”

“Don’t worry about me, I think I’ve had my fill of warm welcome from the locals,” Marshall jokingly replied. “No matter how many legs they have; I’ll be careful.” Terra’s smile widened at the clever comment and she laughed once more. The sound was musical and full of wonder to him, like listening to a trickling stream in spring as it overcomes winters chill. “Much obliged for the advice though, ma’am,” he added with a bow and tip of his hat.

“I have every confidence that you’ll be hard pressed to find anything around these parts that will be able to dent that armored exterior you have. Even so, do take care; I will be looking forward to delivers with a friendly face behind them.” Marshall felt his cheeks flush a little as he took his leave, his step noticeably lighter as well. Miss Donovaen had been right though, he noticed as he looked up to the sky. The bright yellow orb above had already dropped low in the sky and shifted into a deepening shade of orange. Quickly it would barely be just a pink glow on the horizon as it vanished for the night.

He really should be getting back but his recent encounter had left him in higher spirits, and he’d rather enjoy the feeling for a few moments longer. There were things to consider, matters he still had yet to contemplate. What he really needed was to clear his head and be alone with his thoughts. Given the general disdain for this area and the time of day, Marshall had to admit there might not be a better chance to find some time to think.

His feet led him to the edge of town where Terra’s warning proved true enough to halt his wandering. A small pack of dusk hounds had managed to corner some unlucky beast along the town’s border. Normally Marshall might not have given the creatures much thought and written the whole thing off as squarely within the domain of the natural order of things.

As he watched the dusk hounds maneuvering into position he noticed how their dust-colored hides seemed to blur the difference between where they were and where sudden movement showed them to be. They really had earned their name fittingly enough; these hounds often appeared at dusk and often did so seemingly out of thin air. It didn’t really seem all that fair to their prey to him, natural or not. And presently Marshall decided he had had enough of bullies, even if they were mere beasts.

With both pistols to hand Marshall took aim and trained his first shot just to the side of the lead hound. A loud crack echoed out as his blast hit nothing but dirt, a clear miss. His eyes barely had time to notice any real detail in the dusk hound’s reaction, already the growing gloom protecting them from his perception. But engaging an enemy without the benefit of light wasn’t altogether unfamiliar to Marshall. He knew rather well that long before his eyes would discern any detail, they would detect motion instead.

Patiently he drew in a long breath and eased it back out; forcing himself to relax as he waited. Another blur of brown exploded at his left, and he answered it with an impulsive shot. Again only a thud of dirt marked his efforts, but one subtle fact became clear. With each avoided attack the lead hound dodged, the others moved likewise. A plan began to form behind his brown eyes, and a savage smirk soon joined it.

This time when something obscure alerted him he fired again in its direction and immediately followed it up with a second just opposite to the first. A primal yelp of pain rewarded his gambit as a wounded dusk hound stumbled just long enough to be greeted with a sharp staccato of shots. “That’s one,” Marshall remarked gravely as he watched a few fleeing shades vanish off into the distance.

“Guess they weren’t sure who to follow next,” he decided. With the final rays of sunlight fading from the sky Marshall reviewed each gun and reloaded the empty cylinders. Overhead he could already see a few drosswings beginning to circle the prospect of a fresh meal. The large carrion birds glided about on their foul smelling oily black wings, eager to feast on the fallen dusk hound below.

As the sky-born scavengers began to dive down for their dinner, Marshall watched as just as fast as they scattered as if spooked. But what could have startled these drosswings from a fresh feast? The distant sound of a rumbling roller soon answered that question well enough. It was racing rapidly towards Redemption, and as it got closer Marshall found the vehicle familiar. He had seen this one before, the day the Titan Train was robbed coming to town.

If this was the Bull-Boys heading into town it was anything but good news. In a hurry Marshall looked for a better position and when a rough chunk of stone presented itself he slid behind it. The rigid rock was a rough presence at his back as the roar of an engine grew louder. Cautiously he decided to risk a look around the side as a thick trail of thrown up dust flew in his face.

While he coughed up a cloud of his own the motor’s sound was already fading away. The Bull-Boys had just blown past him in a reckless rush that worried him about their reasons for coming to Redemption. Grandma Grael and Terra’s faces were the first things that came to mind and he found himself quite concerned. He would have to hurry to catch up to that roller and fate frown on them if he was too late this time.