S&S Monthly Short Fiction Contest - Gunpowder and Fang
This is my entry for the Short Fiction Contest..
The prompt for this month is:
Thematic Prompt: Canine
He loaded the last cartridge of shotgun shells into his thick winter coat and gave Clipper a scratch under the chin.
"Good boy." Gideon said as he caressed the massive dog's jowls and ended up his affection with a scratch behind the ears. Neither of them might see the end of the night.
He held Edith's scarf before the dog. They had gotten Clipper three hears ago. He was now a fully grown hunting and working dog. Always faithful to anyone on the farm and had driven back many a predator from the farm and yard animals in that time.
Now it was time to retrieve and protect.
"Find Edith" He said, holding the scarf. "Let's go find her boy."
The dog sniffed the scarf and stepped out into the cold, his tail sticking up in the air.
He followed Clipper into the dark night. Just beyond the prosperity of the farm complex, with the artificially enhanced loamy soil, the world turned dark and grey, and trees were stunted. Rust dust covered everything.
He and Clipper had their shots to protect them from the metal getting into their lungs or if they got cuts and scrapes going through the scrap-filled wastelands.
He did not bring a lantern or a flashlight, letting the implant on his right-hand side activate its night sensors. It had been a hunting accident that had taken out his right eye more than a decade ago.
The two of them moved silently through the scrap and mutagenic vegetation that was common in the area. Clipper knew that they were about serious business. Guns meant hunting or fighting.
The Raider's camp was not half as far away as he had thought it would be. The glow of their fires could be seen from a long distance off and he and Clipper slowed their advance.
The Wastes were a dangerous place. If he had been the Raiders, he would have posted sentries in the dark outside the firelight. He and Clipper stalked silently. Clipper knew the drill, they would go from cover to cover and the canine would use his sense of smell and hearing to ferret out any danger.
Clipper stopped and pointed his nose at the next bit of cover they were going into.
Then Gideon heard something as well. There was a rustle and movement in the tree right in front of them. Could it be a sentry in the tree? Gideon took his long-bladed camping knife out.
If there was a sentry, they had not seen Gideon or Clipper yet. He crept closer and Clipper stayed close by. There was a rustle in the tree.
A black bundle scampered into view then stopped and blinked its three eyes at them before baring its teeth and scurrying away.
Gideon sighed in relief. "Waste-rat, eh boy?" He said softly and patted the dog on the head. Clipper had not even gotten excited to see the little creature. He knew full well they didn't hunt the things. The flesh was poison.
They crept closer to the camp. A massive bonfire roared in the center of the camp. The Raiders were too confident of their dominance of the Wastes. Nothing dared challenge them.
Until they had taken his wife.
He waved the scarf before Clipper again and the dog pointed his nose at the camp. There were a dozen or so Raiders. All big men and none of them natural folk. Outcasts who had been touched by the mutagenic wastes. Extra fingers, misshapen faces. The leader looked like he had a smaller third arm growing from his side.
There were captives tied to stakes near the fire. Sometimes the Raiders took them as slaves.
What he saw before him now made him sick, but also filled him with dread. The other reason they took people - for eating.
A brute walked up to the group of captives. An old man was separated from his fetters. The man started screaming and pleading with the brute. It was no use. These Raiders were nothing better than animals.
The Brute backhanded the old man who fell to the ground, spitting out a few teeth. While the man was still on all fours the brute brought an axe down onto the man's next.
The Raiders hollered and downed drinks while the huddled group of captives screamed or prayed.
Gideon silently prayed that Edith was still alive. He crept closer as the Brute was hacking at the corpse, getting it ready for roasting on the fire. In the center of the group of captives was a smallish figure who was not screaming not cowering. Locks of dirty blond hair could be seen glinting in the harsh light.
A wave of boiling anger surged through Gideon. He stuck the knife into its pouch and shouldered his shotgun. He waited in the shadows. Clipper sat to heel. He knew the hound was just as angry, but they were hunting.
The moment Gideon had a plan, he could count on Clipper.
Several of the brutes had yelled out a moment before and were all busy downing their drinks, heads craned back when Gideon struck.
Gideon's first shot took the leader of the group in the chest. Flesh and blood rained through the air. His second shot took the butcher, who was armed.
The Raiders had barely registered what was happening as Gideon walked calmly into sight and blew another two shots into the raiders, catching more than one in the shots.
"Clipper!" Gideon yelled. "Tear!"
The hound flew into a rage and charged the nearest of the Raiders. The brute did not have a chance to protect his throat as the hound ripped into him.
Gideon walked forward and the sight of the farmer calmly reloading his shotgun, the massive dog ripping into one of their own and their dead leader, the Raiders scrambled for weapsons.
Most of them yelled without words, while one or two slurred some sound or another. Six down. Another six or seven to go.
The Raiders had now managed to grab their weapons. One charged at Gideon, he blasted the oaf in the face. Gideon felt as though he could murder every last one of them.
A heavy, rusty sword swatted down on his gun at that moment and it was crunched by the heavy metal. A heavy boot followed up and kicked Gideon through the air.
His luck had run out.
Gideon rolled with the blow, trying to suck in a breath. He had abandoned his firearm. The brute that had kicked him picked him up with one hand, the other still gripping the sword. The deformed man had pointed misshapen teeth like a demented crocodile. It bared the teeth at Gideon and made to bite him when Gideon's hunting knife rammed into the man's throat, up into his brain.
He was dropped at that moment and he let go of the knife. He managed to land on his feet and grabbed for the rusted sword.
Gideon was tired. His vision was dark on the edges. He recognized the symptom. He sucked in great gulps of air as he lifted the sword before him. It was far too heavy to be lifted with one hand.
Edith was on her feet. Clipped lay in a pool of blood before her, the hound had laid down its life for her. Three dead brutes surrounded them. Gideon's heart sank.
A gunshot rang through the air. Fire burst through his shoulder and he dropped the sword.
The misshapen leader was somehow still alive. Blood and pus seeped from the wound in its chest. The smaller, third arm held the pistol. The other arms bore a massive axe, the brute charged forward, axe raised.
A white and black form blurred into view between Gideon and the Raider. Fangs sank into the brute's throat and ripped it out.
The hound fell to the ground as the last few Raiders ran into the darkness away from the camp. Edith was alive. Gideon was wounded, but he would be alright.
He scooped up the loyal dog's body and led the survivors back to the farms.
With a twist of a plier, he activated the master gear and pressed the microlever. He closed the compartment and stood back.
"You sure the expense was worth the reward." He asked.
"Yes sir." Gideon said. "We thank you muchly for your work Master Artificer."
He sketched a bow and his mechanical limbs creaked and clacked with gears and pulleys. "Not a problem. The fee is sufficient. I have not stepped outside of Clockwork City in decades."
The farmer and his wife's attention was turned to the result of his latest work. The hound stood up. One of its legs and half its head were replaced with brass and steel. Yet its tail wagged and it nuzzled its masters.
For once the Master Artificer was not sure that his metal components were the strongest parts in the result of his work.