They came down to the town from the north-east at its western end, turning left on to its main road and heading in to it going east. ‘Bridgetown’, the old felled and faded sign on the side of the road told them.
Entering the township proper, the group saw that most of its wooden buildings had long ago been consumed by fire, or were falling down as nature reclaimed them. A lot of the stone structures however, were still quite intact- roofs collapsed, but their thick old walls still standing strong.
Through the town, at its far edge, Kendrik told them, was where the road turned south-east and beyond that the road bridge stood.
At a slow pace, they rode Demonic through, with abandoned and rusted-out cars lining their way, and small animals darting among the ruin. The group took note of it all, thinking to come back and scavenge after they’d confronted this troll-thing. Around a bend and the bridge soon in sight, prompted by Ash, Pup stopped the monstrous utility and they all got out.
“I think you should wait here” Ru told Kendrik. He was mobile now, but walking hunched over- the wounds on his face still gnarled and angry. Earlier, the young shaman had considered again using her healing magic on him. With a possible fight to come however, with this supposedly powerful beast, she’d thought it best to keep her limited reserve.
“No” Kendrik told her, and looked to the rest of the group. “I will see this through with you”.
“You’ll be a liability” Milo said, and hefted his sword. “I don’t want you getting in the way”.
“You have a bow, and arrows, in the vehicle” Kendrik told him. “If you don’t mind, I will use that.”
Milo laughed and shook his head. “You want to be shooting arrows at the thing when I’m in melee with it?.. I don’t think so.”
“I will pick my shots carefully”, Kendrik assured. “I am well skilled with the bow”.
“It might be a good idea” Ash suggested, “If this thing is as big and as nasty as you say it is”
“It is” Kendrik told her.
“Besides” Ash added. “He can’t be worse than Ando spraying bullets all over the place”
“Hey!..” Ando protested, looking a little sheepish. “I’m getting better at it… Promise I’ll be careful too.”
Milo shook his head again. “Fine, whatever. Take the bow” he told Kendrik.
Tam reached up to Demonic’s tray and picked out the bow and quiver, handing it to Kendrik to save him the trouble of getting up for it. “Don’t shoot us” she told him as he took it.
“I won’t” he said. “We have to hit this thing hard” he told the group. “Overcome its ability to heal so fast”.
“I… think I might have an answer to this” Ash said. From the satchel at her side she pulled out the book that she’d found some time ago. At first she’d thought the hand written tome must be some kind of joke- for the title on it read ‘Spell Craft for Dummies’. Trying out some of the things in the book however, Ash learned its contents seemed to be quite real, as she was now able to produce some minimal magical effects- the likes of light, flame, electricity or frost, playing over her fingers, and the ability to lift small objects with her mind. It was with the book, too, that she’d called her dragonet, Newt, to her.
While the others in her group couldn’t seem to grasp most of the language that the book was written in, Ash understood more and more from it every day. As well as the arcane magic in it, there where additional notes scribbled throughout- useful information for dealing with a variety of creatures. She had read in it, she remembered, about creatures that could heal fast, or ‘regenerate’, as the writer called it. Some of the notes suggested that the likes of fire, or even acid, may halt this rapid healing.
“Ethanol…” she told her companions, still flipping through the book they had seen her read from- had seen her learn to do amusing and amazing tricks from. “Here. Vampires regenerate!...” she said, holding up the book and pointing to the note she remembered. She nodded to Ru. “Back at the town where we picked you up- the hemp farming vampire we encountered there... Damned thing took a beating and it kept on coming. We ended up setting it on fire, simply out of desperation”.
“Like molotov cocktails?” Milo suggested. “The ethanol from your still…”.
“Yes” Ash said. “Something like that might do the trick”
All except Pup, who was jumping up and down and waiting for the fight to begin, nodded thoughtfully.
“A combustible liquid?” Kendrik asked. “I… I don’t know what these cocktail things are, but I could possibly light the arrows with the fuel” he suggested. “You could possibly light your blade, too” he offered to Milo- a considerate eyebrow raised in return.
“Can I light my fists?” Pup asked.
“Umm, no Pup.”. Ash told him, “but let’s do this” she said to the others.
* * * * *
Tam climbed back up in to Demonic’s tray, to again man the big gun mounted over the utility’s cab- It would give her companions some cover if they needed to fall back. She took the young lizardoid Egg with her too, setting him by her feet and letting him clutch tight to her leg. His already long claws dug in little too sharply, even through the heavy denim of her pants, making Tam wince a little, and Egg mewled meekly for the loss of his adoptive mother, Ash.
“Hush, Egg” Tam told him, bending down to gently pat his scaly head. “They’ll be back soon enough”, she promised, then she stood again, seeing her companions already nearing the bridge.
“It’s under? At this end?” Ash asked Kendrik.
“It was when we found it” the young man told her. “It has a crude shelter under there”.
“It’s surely heard us” Milo said. “Demonic’s as noisy as the blazes and I can still hear Egg crying from here- so why doesn’t this troll-thing show itself already?”
“I do not know” Kendrik Replied.
“You lot hang back” Milo told them. “Pup and I’ll go ahead- try drag the damned thing out so we can deal with it”
The others all shared dubious glances, but agreed.
Milo edged forward- sword up and ready at his shoulder. Beside him, Pup was bouncing along. “Would you quit it”, Milo told the dogman.
“Quit what?” asked Pup.
“You’re making me nervous” Milo said.
“You walk too slow” Pup whined.
“I’m being cautious” Milo replied.
“Cautious of what?” Pup asked. “S’nothing here yet”. Agitated, Pup strode boldly forward, Milo’s jaw dropping as the dogman left him behind.
“Hey! Troll!” Pup barked, “Show yourself! We aint got all day!”
On the bridge, Pup leaned out over the railing, looking down over the steep, brush-filled slope and to the water further below. “Come on! Troll! I smell yer stink!” he goaded. “Come up and get it!”
For a moment, nothing happened, while Milo drew trepidly nearer to the reckless dogman. But then, a low growl echoed- guttural, and much deeper than Pup’s own could ever be, rumbling right through the bridge beneath their feet, then rising up, somewhere behind them.
Pup whirled about quickly to see it- his jaw flopping open in a toothy, tongue lolling grin, and he out a high-pitched crazy giggle.
“Oh… shit, on, me..!” Milo cursed, as much for Pup’s mania as for the size of the creature that he too, now saw, clambering over the rail on the other side of the bridge. Involuntarily, he took a few steps back from it, as the massive, stinking and filth covered beast swung a leg over the railing to lumber toward them. Milo grimaced then, unbelieving, as the maniacal dogman rushed from beside him, to across the bridge and right at the hulking thing.
Pup was still laughing as he went for the beast, raising a brass-knuckled fist back high over his shoulder, intending to throw his full weight behind the swing as he got to it. He never made the distance however, because the too quick and far too long arm of the monstrous creature came down in his path, with a hand the size of his head dragging a wicked set of claws long and deep through his flesh. The fierce strike spun the dogman about-face, sending him flying abruptly a few steps sideways and his blood spurting across the road in his wake.
Milo winced on seeing the gouges across Pup’s muzzle, neck and chest, but he hesitated no longer- pulling a small clay pot from his pocket, smashing it across the blade of his sword and sending watery liquid along its length. A boom echoed out just then though- Tam on Demonic’s big gun, Milo realised when the great beast’s shoulder explode in a spray of gore. The thing roared out wild anger with the 50-cal hit, lurching sideways under the impact of it. The damned ugly thing was righting itself right after though, and it’s shoulder was knitting back together right before Milo’s barely believing eyes.
Then Ando was yelling out, and Milo dared a quick glance to beyond the bridge- The young marauder was there rushing forward, aiming his gun and bellowing the intent to attack as he pulled on the trigger. A spray of bullets erupted from his rifle, flying high along the bridge and making Milo duck, but also peppering the beast around its big ugly head and blowing a few small holes in to it. Angered, the monster swat the bullets like flies with its good arm, for but a moment though, then it was ignoring them, and chuckling- guttural and hearty- truly horrific! Clearly, this monstrous creature felt the group posed it little threat….
Milo cursed again- Ando’s wild shots whizzing all around it and it’s arm hanging limp, and the big stinking beast was just laughing it off! Making things worse, Pup, covered in his own blood and staggering about, was still laughing hysterically back at it! This craziness!- it was already getting near too much to take! But Pup’s laughing was drawing it’s attention at least, and the monster was now going at him again.
Milo saw his opening. Snarling, he darted forward, dragging the blade of his sword hard across the stony surface of the road as he went, trailing a spray of sparks beside him and igniting the ethanol along its length. Milo’s blade lit up, just as he got in under the big beast’s reach, and he swung the sword up, two-handed, with a grunt full of effort, dragging it sizzling across the foul creature’s belly.
The flaming blade opened a deep and widening furrow across the big beast’s bloated gut. Innards were spilling out, and the creature ceased it’s laughing as it realised it had been gravely wounded. To Milo’s relief, too, as he spun away from the monster, he saw this time that the wound was not stitching back together- the fire had done its trick! Slick with dark blood though, the flame of Milo’s blade was now snuffed-out, and he was still dangerously within the beast’s long-armed reach.
With the hand of its still repairing arm, the monster clutched at its ruined gut and doubled over- looming over Milo as he tried to get out from beneath it. The thing roared fury at him as he backed off, its jaws coming down and snapping at him- a tooth the size of a pick-spike dragging hard across his scalp. Through blood running freely down over his face, Milo caught sight of the beast’s other hand now coming in at him- a set of dagger-like claws leading its way, and so he braced himself for what must surely be his end…
But an arrow whizzed by, trailing flame and sinking deep in to one of the monster’s rheumy yellow eyes. The beast reeled upright as it struck, howling angry pain and forgetting Milo and it’s own spilling guts to grab at the offending missile. The arrow still burned though, singeing the monster’s paw as it grabbed at it. Howling more it swat the arrow instead, snapping it off in its gore-filled eye socket.
Milo staggered back, but he was dizzy and sickened from blow to his head, and half-blinded from the blood still flowing from it. He saw the great beast recover too quick too- a heartbeat only, and it was beading its remaining rage-filled eye back on him. It wanted blood more than ever now, Milo knew, and his freely spilling life was the closest there to it.
The beast was at Milo again, so to finish him, but then a rustle of feathers came in at him too. It was Ru!- atop of and barely hanging on to the back of her big emu Drom! They dashed in behind him as the monster closed in front. Then Ru let go one tenuous handful of emu feathers, reaching out and grabbing hold of Milo’s collar as she and the bird went by. Briefly, Drom’s momentum carried all three out of the monster’s reach. With the addition of Milo’s weight however, Ru was being pulled from the back of the bird, and pulled lopsided in its run the emu toppled over, spilling all three of them tumbling across the road.
The beast turned to follow, but Pup was in its way. From Milo’s prone position he saw the still laughing and blood covered dogman step back in to the monster’s reach. The big beast swung at him again but Pup dodged the strike this time, throwing a brass-knuckled upper-cut in under the monsters ribs, doubling it over again. As the creature’s head came down, Pup threw his other brass-knuckle up at its chin, and a crack echoed out as the beast’s head flew back, making the creature stagger backwards from the force of the blow.
Ash’ little dragonet, Newt, was suddenly there too, flitting about over the beast’s wavering head. It clutched a small clay pot between its two front claws- the same ethanol filled kind that Milo used on his blade. Another small pot, too, floated magically through the air, just beyond- It was Ash! using the levitation trick that she’d learned from her book! At last, Milo hoped, this plan was back on track.
The great beast had spotted Newt though, and was quickly lashing it’s long arms through the air over its head, attempting to swat the little dragonet. But Newt was dodging and weaving and avoiding it, and Pup was in at the monster yet again, pounding his brass-knuckled fists hard at its ruined belly. With the beast distracted by Pup, Newt saw his opening- swooping down sharp and fast at its big ugly head. The dragonet released his container at just the right moment, shooting it hard enough at the back of the beast’s thick nobbly skull to smash the pot open, spilling the contents down the monster’s back. With a flit of his wings Newt was then flying off, back toward the end of the bridge.
The beast ignored the fluid running down it, swatting its dagger-like claws at Pup instead. Watching on in horror as the two began toe-to-toe, Milo saw the dogman’s back tearing open in a spray of blood, and the monster’s jaw’s snapping dangerously close to his neck. Ru was beside Milo then, checking on the long gouge across his scalp. He pushed her hand away though, telling her to “save it”, so she helped him up and to his feet. Shakily, Milo staggered away, heading back to the fight, with the shaman and her emu right behind him.
As the trio neared, Pup took another nasty claw, opening his side. But the now snarling dogman was not yet done- throwing another mighty punch right back at the beast, forcing it back a step and right under the hovering small clay pot. On target, Ash let her magic go and let the pot fall. It failed to hit the beast directly, but it did not matter- it smashed on the ground with ethanol splashing over the beast’s bandy legs and pooling around its feet.
From beyond the bridge, Kendrik let another arrow fly. Trailing flame with an audible ‘whizz’ it flew straight and true- striking the beast and sinking deep in the middle of its back. For the briefest of moments after, nothing seemed to happen, while the monster regained its footing to again turn on Pup. But with a sudden ‘woof’, the back of its head and shoulders lit up, and the beast was then flailing its arms, attempting to swat at the flame.
Pup saw none of it and was stepping in closer to keep on punching. Milo though, knowing that their plan was unfolding, was feeling it was now that they should be backing off. Pup needed to get out of there! so Milo launched himself at the dogman, throwing an arm over his shoulder and around his neck, heedless of all the blood and gore, and trying to pull him away from the burning monster.
But Pup was fighting Milo’s attempt, laughing again as he tried to get at the beast so to pummel it. “Pup! Damn-it!” Milo yelled in his ear “Back-off!”, but the dogman simply wasn’t hearing it.
Ru was there beside them though, and the emu Drom right behind her. And the shaman had a small clay pot in her hand too- throwing it hard at the beast’s snarling face. The pot hit square on the creature’s thick brow, smashing open to immediately ignite and engulf the rest of its head and shoulders, sending flame also spilling down on its chest.
The creature went wild- roaring crazily with a throat full of flame and it’s arms suddenly everywhere! Ru caught a single claw-graze from it, high across her cheek, barely missing an eye, so she backed off, but had a hand latched tight on to the fur of Pup’s shoulder, trying to help Milo drag the dogman away. Far too strong though, the maniacal Pup surged forward yet again! swinging one fist after the other at the beast’s wounded gut.
The skin of the beast’s head and shoulders was now beginning to bubble, and popping out small comets of sizzling fat. And one such spark finally dropped to the road, igniting the ethanol pooled at the big monsters feet.
Flame erupted suddenly up the creature’s bandy legs, catching Milo and Ru off guard, forcing them to let go of Pup and instinctively back-step away. And the big blazing beast had finally had enough too, right then. Whipping its arms wildly it reeled blindly forward, splitting Milo and Ru further to each side of it and barging hard in to Pup and Drom ahead.
The water… Milo thought immediately, anticipating its plunge over the rail to put itself out. “It’s going for the water!” he yelled to the others, then was swinging his sword haphazardly backhanded as the beast went by him, striking a lucky deep slice across the back of its hip.
The beast was stumbling as it ploughed into Pup and the crazy dogman simply went with the momentum- throwing himself around the things wide waist, holding on tight, and dropping his weight under it and tangling himself in its still burning legs.
The burning beast began stumbling over Pup as it ploughed in to Drom. Instead of the bird fleeing from it however, with stringy feathers puffing out and his neck swaying back, he sprung up and in to a wild dancing leap. Mid-jump, long thin legs lashed out right over Pup’s now plummeting head, and Drom’s own wicked talons tore down the over beast’s open gut, ripping out a stream of intestines as he deftly came down to the road once again. Then the beast was left clawing blindly at nothing before it, while Drom was dancing quickly away.
Amazingly, the massive monster yet remained upright, while Pup, covered in spilled gore and laughing and heaving, began burning between it’s staggering feet. Another boom echoed out though- Tam on Demonic again, and the back of the big beast’s head opened up in a halo of flaming flesh. With the force of impact from 50-cal hit, on top of the Pup’s heaving struggle at the beast’s burning legs, the scales finally tipped, and the beast went over, like the ponderous drop of a sizable falling tree.
* * * * *
Still laughing, Pup was trapped under the beast’s burning legs, and he was not in healthiest of condition. Milo and Ru were there quickly though, at a leg of his each and pulling him out, just as Ando went by them, gun in hand at the ready, pointing it at the felled beast lying prone on the road ahead.
Ash was there too then- a woolen blanket with her that she threw over Pup, and Ru immediately dropped by his side, patting at the covering to put the dogman’s sizzling fur out. Winded and dizzy, Milo left them to it as Ando opened fire, peppering the beast’s torso as it lay there- At least he’s less likely to miss at this range, Milo thought.
Skirting the young marauder, Milo went to the monsters still smoldering ruin of a head. It was turned to face him- uglier than ever now, with its bubbled skin, that one eye stuck with an arrow and the other now burst from the heat. And the blast from Demonic’s big gun had opened it at the back and had exited through it’s cavernous mouth, pushing meat and bone to hang out of the gaping hole, along with a mess of giant teeth and a dislodged and twisted tongue. And then, that horrific mouth began to twitch…
It startled Milo in to action once again, hacking at the beast’s thick neck with his sword, while beside him, Ando emptied his gun. It took several strikes of the sword however, before that hideous visage came free of the neck, and then Kendrik appeared, placing a hand on Milo’s own heaving shoulders.
“Oh shit!” Milo cursed. “Don’t sneak up on a man like that!”
“My pardon” Kendrik told him. He lifted a large cotton bag he carried then and began fishing around inside of it.
“Did you see that?” Milo asked, pointing at the big severed head. “I aint sure this damned thing is dead!”
Kendrik pulled two small clay pots from the bag and held them out for Milo to take. “Here” he said. “We will burn it until there is nothing left to make sure”. Nodding, still panting, Milo took the pots, and Kendrik fished out more for Ando to take. Pots in hand, the three of them stepped back from the beast, looking to make sure that Pup, Ru and Ash were away from it, before they would pelt the thing with the ethanol.
“Stop struggling!” Ru said to Pup.
The dogman was still chuckling, Milo saw, while Ash grimly held him up on his side, so that Ru could fold a large flap of charred skin back in to place over his ribs. The shaman then closed her eyes and began to chant- the healing touch, Milo thought, still incredulous that Ru was able to do such a thing. He’d seen her do it a few times now though- skin knitting back together right under her hand- just like the skin of this… damned troll-thing. Then Ru’s eyes lifted from her patient, catching Milo staring at her.
“You’re next” she told him, tracing a blood covered finger just over her scalp, mirroring where Milo had taken the worst of his wounds.
Milo’s head reeled- a brief dizzying moment where the world on the bridge was swirling around him, and he wasn’t sure if it was from the blow he’d taken, or, from the possibility that Ru had just read his mind. He was brought back to earth though, by the sound of smashing and the ‘woof’ of more flame- Ando and Kendrik throwing their ethanol pots on the downed beast.
“So that was a troll?” Ando was asking.
“Or perhaps a bunyip…” Kendrik said. “Either way, I will gladly tell of this pyre when I take word of Tesnafina’s passing to my people”.
Milo quickly added to the blaze by smashing his own ethanol pots over the troll-beast’s body- the smell of its burning flesh sickening him. Backing away from it, he patted Kendrik on the shoulder to show some understanding, then went to the other side of the bridge and dropped to the road. Just need to sit for a while, he thought, clear my head a little….
His mind spinning, his eyes roamed over to Pup, Ash and Ru yet again.
“You silly Puppy” Ash was saying, patting the dogman’s head.
Silly puppy indeed, Milo’s mind echoed. He saw too that Ru now had a small glass screw-topped pot in hand- was scooping some kind of ointment out of it and smearing it over the dogman’s wounds and burns. Limited ability… he remembered her saying- could only use the healing touch so many times between sleeps, or something like that. Newt then fluttered out of the air to come down to the road beside Ash, and the half-elf gave the dragonet a smile and a pat too.
Beyond them, Milo saw his sister, Tam, coming on to the bridge. She held the baby lizardoid, Egg, in the crook of one arm, and was hauling a plastic tub of water at the end of the other. Milo was grateful for Tam being on the big gun this day- simply because she’d been out of the melee more than anything else. Tam was getting good with her two knives, he knew, but, she was still his little sister, and he felt it was up to him to keep her safe and well.
Safe and well…
Milo leaned back on his arms, closed his eyes, and let his head fall back and the warm mid-morning sun fall on to his face. They were alive, still, he thought, and still in one piece, relatively speaking. So this was a good day then? he wondered, and supposed that it was.
“Nice hair-do” Tam said as she got to him a few minutes later.
“Well, who asked ya?” Milo growled back as he opened his eyes. Tam put the water tub down next to him and pulled out a rag from her back pocket. She’d left Egg by Ash, he saw, and Drom was now wandering around over there too, looking like he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to be.
“Pee-ew!” Tam complained, wrinkling her nose as she crouched by her brother. “Burning bunyip smells rank!” she told him. “Going to put me off the barbeque for a while I think…”. She opened the tub and poured some water on to the rag, then used it to begin cleaning Milo’s wounded scalp, making him wince and hiss at the sting of it. “Looks like you’ll be cutting this mop off” she told him. “Nasty gouge you got here. Going to have to get the hair out of it”.
“Great” Milo told her, though he didn’t really care.
“Good to have you still here though, big bro” Tam said, eyeing the wound.
“Yeah. You too kiddo” he told her. “Let’s continue to keep it that way”.
“You know though…” she added, continuing to clean his scalp. “I probably could’ve just cut that thing down with the big gun, then we could’ve just burned it after”.
“Ugh…” Milo grunted, realising that she might be right. “Yeah… that, might’ve been the smart thing to do”
“Hoooo-woo!” they heard Pup suddenly howl from along the bridge. “That was sooo awesome!” he yelled, still lying there with Ru and Ash tending to him, pushing him down to keep him still. “Can we go find another one?” he asked.
Milo winced again, and not from the sting of his scalp this time.