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Against The Odds

Against the Odds

Matthew vaulted the bar, iron club in hand, pushed a patron out the way and bludgeoned the giant in the face. The seven foot brute spat out a tooth, wiped blood from his nose and grinned.

“T’at all you gonna bring?” the giant asked in a broad Irish accent.

It’s all I fuck’n got, thought Matthew, although he knew better than to say it. It was obvious to all and sundry that Irish was drunk; no, in fact, beyond drunk. But it was the bad manners and harassment of other patrons that had caused him to fall into disagreement with Matthew. He easily dodged a ham fisted right hook, stepped in close and clobbered the huge man again, opening up a two inch laceration across his forehead. Blood oozed into the Irishman’s eyes, blinding him.

Matthew turned to the Irishman’s friends who were standing idly by, watching the confrontation with glee. “Get him out of here!” commanded Matthew.

The tall, well-built man attempted to punch Matthew again, but the attack was off balance and mistimed. Matthew slapped the fist aside and hammered the steel bar into the man’s face several times in quick succession. The Irishman tumbled to the floor unconscious, face plastered with blood.

“Get him out now, before I club someone to death!” roared Matthew, pointing the steel club at the Irishman’s friends, their glee now substituted by genuine fear. They nodded and complied, dragging the groaning man out by his feet, leaving a long streak of blood on the floor. Matthew decided to clean it up the next morning, and vaulted back over the bar to begin serving the next customer.

After fifteen years serving as a Red Coat in his Majesty’s Coldstream Guards, Matthew had seen his fair share of war. He made the dizzying heights of Corporal, could reload and fire a musket three times within one minute and could march on foot for weeks at a time, then fight a battle at the other end. In truth, he was able to load and fire a musket four times within one minute, although the ramrod would still be half way down the barrel on the last shot. That had saved his life once. The bullet had completely missed the French soldier who was one stride from burying his bayonet into Matthew’s body. The ramrod, however, had not. It slammed into the man’s throat, exiting at the base of his skull in a bloody swathe. The Frenchman was dead before he hit the ground.

That battle and others similar had left the fair skin of his face scarred. A long scar ran the length of his face, from the corner of his left eye, to his chin, complements of the near miss of an enemy soldier’s razor sharp bayonet. A minor burn above his right eye remained visible years later, caused by pouring too much gunpowder into the flash pan of his rifle. That had been a hard and painful lesson to learn, Matthew thought, touching the burn scar.

“I say boy, be a good lad and get me three pints would you?”

Matthew’s reverie broke as he looked up at the customer in surprise. The Eagle and Rabbit was a popular tavern on the outer western side of London. Most of the patrons were farm workers, all of whom were unable to read or write, so it was with some surprise that Matthew served a posh Englishmen. He did not like the way the pompous man spoke to him; like some lowly servant. He scowled at the well-dressed patron, with his dark, short cropped hair, slicked back with grease and glistening in the light thrown by various torches hanging from the walls.

“What’d you say?” asked Matthew through gritted teeth.

“Oh, are you hard of hearing, boy?” asked the posh Englishman in mock surprise. He stroked his waxed moustache and leaned over the bar. In a loud voice, as if he were addressing an elderly man, hard of hearing, he said, “get…me…another…three…pints…boy!”

“What if I don’t?” Matthew responded, anger warming him.

“Oh good heaven’s above, my boy, I should think I would cut your throat,” grinned the posh man.

Matthew glared at the customer, and instinctively realised that for all his arrogant airs, the man was dangerous. Behind the patron’s well-dressed, posh demeanour lingered controlled violence. It was rare he saw the two traits combined. Posh, upper-class people were rich, educated, but usually had men of sterner stuff than themselves, carry out their violent, dirty work. Matthew knew as much as he disliked the customer, the man could fight. Moreover, he had probably killed before today.

“Right y’are,” Matthew said.

“Don’t mumble boy! Speak properly!”

Seething, Matthew departed to pour the drinks, reminding himself that to spit in the drinks would be seen as somewhat unprofessional.

As he poured the drinks, he watched the man. He was a tall man, his dark eyes slowly raking across the patrons, out of curiosity or ever watchful for a threat, it was difficult to tell. He wore a rapier at his hip, the blade of which was no wider than a man’s thumb. With two pints poured, Matthew began filling the third. The hilt of the weapon was coated in scratches and dents. Clearly it was not a ceremonial weapon.

“Why thank you, my boy, you are a gentleman and a scholar,” smiled the Englishman.

“I am neither,” replied Matthew, nodding as he accepted the man’s money.

The Englishman chuckled as he departed. “Nor I,” he said over his shoulder. “Nor I.”

Matthew relaxed, leaning against the bar. The Eagle and Rabbit was full tonight and had been every day of the last fortnight. He had gone through some tough financial times in the past. In fact, close to two years before, his bank had almost been forced to foreclose on him. Those had indeed been tough times, probably the toughest through which he had ever lived. Now, finally, he was turning a healthy profit. He had heard the saying, “money does not make the earth turn.” Whoever coined that phrase must have been a rich bastard.

“Alright laddie?” spoke a broad Scottish accent. Matthew snapped out of his thoughts and saw a Highlander of average height standing before him. A shock of shoulder length red hair adorned his head and thick fiery beard reached his chest. His sharp green eyes twinkled with cheeky humour.

“What can I get you?”

“I’ll ‘ave two pints o’ ya beer and one large Scotch,” he grinned.

“Sorry, we don’t have any Scotch, just the beer I’m afraid.”

“Ah well,” said the Highlander. “Worth a try, ay?” he winked, still grinning. “Three pints o’ ya beer then.”

Matthew poured the drinks and watched the Highlander, who he noticed was also armed. He wore a large claymore broadsword at his hip. The Highlander turned and leaned his back against the bar as he waited. Matthew saw he wore a dagger as long as a man’s forearm on his opposite hip, whilst strapped to his back was a small shield, the diameter of which could have been no more than one foot. He was not used to armed patrons to his tavern, certainly not two in the one night. If it continued, he would have to consider introducing rules. However, for the time being, armed patrons were still somewhat of a rarity. He had no doubt many of his patrons wore hidden blades for self-protection, but wearing large weapons so openly was still something not often seen in the area of the city in which The Eagle and Rabbit was located.

“Here you are,” said Matthew.

The Highlander turned, dropped some coins into Matthew’s hand and took hold of the wooden pint cups.

“Slanch-uh-va!” beamed the Scotsman, nodding his thanks to Matthew before turning away.

He had spent enough time around Scottish soldiers as a Red Coat to know the Gaelic phrase. “Good health!” was the English translation if he recalled correctly. Interestingly, the Highlander carried the pints to the same table at which sat the posh Englishman.

Matthew was growing tired as he continued to serve his customers, but the thought of ever again having to foreclose to the bank was his driving force. He pushed through the fatigue and maintained his motivation, preferring to go to bed exhausted than finish up a beggar on some frozen street corner.

Accepting money from a patron, Matthew smiled, wished the man a pleasant evening and turned to see a tall, well-built man waiting to be served. His blonde hair reached past his shoulders, cold, piercing blue eyes glared out from beneath thick eyebrows. His beard was neatly plaited either side of his chin.

“Three pints,” growled the man in a thick Scandinavian accent.

Matthew knew the man also came from the table at which sat both the posh Englishman and Highlander. Like his comrades the Northman was armed; a sword sheathed at his hip and a large round shield slung on his back. Sheathed horizontal and above his sword belt was a small knife, held into the tiny deer skin scabbard by a leather strap. On the opposite hip, he wore a drinking horn. Matthew had heard of them before, but never seen one.

“May I?” Matthew asked, gesturing towards the drinking horn.

The Scandinavian giant scowled, distrust glinting in his eyes, but he slowly removed the horn and handed it over.

Matthew turned the horn over. The lip was lined with a narrow band of beautifully polished silver, into which was etched runes. What they spelled was beyond him, probably the owner’s name.

“You want your beer poured into this?”

The Northman’s scowl immediately disappeared to be replaced with a broad grin. He nodded.

Taking the coin, he watched the Scandinavian stride away, taking a deep gulp from the drinking horn as he went.

“That’s him lads!” a voice roared and Matthew looked to the door. A group of men stood there, most armed with wooden clubs, some held rusted knives, or in one case, a pitchfork. Behind them, his face a bloody ruin, stood the monstrous Irishman who Matthew had dealt with earlier.

Keeping his face calm, he allowed his hand to drop behind the counter and grip the familiar steel bar. Matthew knew there would be no talking out of this one. Blood would be shed, and possibly lives lost. He just hoped his was not one of them. It had been almost one year since there had been significant trouble at the Eagle and Rabbit.

“Get ta bastard!”

The group of thugs surged forward, patrons scrambling in a mad rush to move out of the way.

“Now, now, boys, before we get ourselves too worked up, I should say we need to talk a few things over,” said a loud voice. It was the posh Englishman, his comrades standing either side of him. Somehow the trio had moved with lightning speed to stand between Matthew and the group.

“What say we talk things over old boy?” asked the Englishman, directing the question towards the Irish ringleader.

“What’s ta talk about ya English gobshite?”

“Your breath for instance,” smiled the Englishman.

“What about me breath?”

“It stinks.”

Silence.

The Irishman pushed through the throng of thugs to stand before the trio.

“What da fuck you just say ta me?”

“Good lord above, my boy, stop talking, I’m going to bring up my dinner. When was the last time you cleaned your teeth?” The Englishman cursed himself and slapped a hand to his forehead. “Blast, I forgot. You don’t have any teeth!”

The Highlander roared with laughter; he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the confrontation.

“You’re a bloody dead man,” snarled the Irishman. “You’re all dead!” he shrieked.

The Northman paused, the drinking horn still in his hand and half way to his lips. He held the horn away from his body and slowly upended it. Apart from the sound of beer spattering upon the wooden floor as the drinking horn was emptied, the tavern was silent.

“I believe you have offended our good northern friend here,” said the Englishman cheerfully.

Shaking the last few drops of beer clear of the horn, the Scandinavian giant carefully placed the horn away, removed the shield from his back and drew his sword.

“I don’t bleed’n care! Kill ‘em!” shouted the Irishman, allowing the thugs to rush past him towards the trio.

Matthew watched dumbstruck.

The Highlander roared some Gaelic war cry and brought his claymore whistling down in an overhead stroke that cut clean through one man’s shoulder and sliced through skin and bone until it came to rest, wedged in the bone of his sternum. The Scotsman took a step back and kicked the dying man from his blade. Advancing, his small shield now worn on his left arm and the knife held in his left hand, the wickedly sharp blade pointing down towards the ground. A grubby looking man charged forward stabbing his pitchfork as he advanced. The Highlander, darting to one side, took a large stride forward and backhanded the offender with his shield, then neatly slashed open his throat with the knife. As the man let the pitchfork drop to the floor and he clutched at his throat with both hands, the Highlander, once more, brought the claymore down in a powerful overhead blow which almost cut the man in half, ending his pain instantly.

The Northman, with two men dead or dying at his feet, slammed his sword through a third’s stomach, the blood drenched tip exploding through his back, severing the spine. Ripping the blade free, he met the charge of another attacker with his shield, battering the man from his feet, where he landed heavily upon a table nearby. With a scream, he dropped his knife, took one last glance at the Northman fast approaching and fled.

“No, no, no, you don’t seem to be listening to me, my boy” said the Englishman in a matter-of-fact tone. He lunged forward, the thin rapier puncturing his opponent’s throat, hot air and blood exploding from the trachea. “Like that. You see?” he said calmly to the dying man, who stumbled back, his eyes as wide as saucers.

The next man approached hesitantly. His eyes, full of fear, flicked from the rapier to the Englishman’s face and back again.

“Good heavens, is that all you have?” taunted the Englishman, the rapier dropping by his side. He gestured at the heavily rusted knife the man held. “It is an insult, I say! An insult! I have spent almost an hour today alone, sharpening and polishing this,” he held up the rapier, once so clean it caught the light like a mirror, now spattered with blood and small chucks of gore. “Not that you can tell, of course,” he shrugged. “Nevertheless, that is beside the point young man!” he scolded the confused thug. “How long have you spent sharpening and cleaning that,” he gestured at the rusty knife once more, “that…thing?”

“Haven’t,” replied the man.

“Well of course you haven’t, it was a rhetorical question you imbecile! Now go away,” said the Englishman waving his hand at the man as if dismissing a particularly annoying waiter from a dining table.

The man hesitated.

“Go…away!”

Looking around him, the thug realised he was the last of his comrades left alive. The Irishman, who had promised to pay them, had reneged on his word and fled during the opening moments of the fight.

He backed away slowly, watching the trio carefully. When he closed upon the exit, he turned and fled.

“My thanks,” said Matthew.

“Our pleasure. Reginald Cotton, at your service,” said the posh Englishman.

Matthew introduced himself, shaking the offered hand. The grip was far stronger than he expected from such a slight man. He looked around at the Highlander, who was wiping his claymore clean on the dirty shirt of a dead man. The Scotsman looked up at him.

“Rob McNeill,” he nodded in his thick accent.

Matthew committed the name to memory and finally turned to the giant Scandinavian.

“Asger Thrainsson,” said the Northman holding out his hand.

Matthew almost winced as the grip closed around in his hand.

“I owe you all a drink,” said Matthew, placing the steel bar upon a nearby table, the only one still remaining on its legs.

Asger nodded. “We help you clean up first,” he rumbled. Before anyone spoke, Asger clutched the shirts of one deceased man in each hand and dragged them towards the door. Striding through the exit, he dragged them out into the street and dropped them onto the dirt.

“The watch will take them away come morning,” Asger said when he reappeared to carry out more bodies.

“Indeed,” agreed Reginald. “It will also display to others that you are an establishment not to be toyed with,” grinned the Englishman. “I say, could you help me with this one?” Matthew nodded and took the man’s feet, carrying him out between them.

“Can’t help it if you’re English,” chuckled Rob, dragging two men out by their feet, their lifeless upper limbs displacing upturned tables and chairs.

Soon, apart from smears, spatters and pools of coagulated blood, the room was corpse free.

“There, good as new!” boomed Rob, righting a chair and taking a seat.

 “Quite,” agreed Reginald.

Within a matter of minutes, all four nursed a pint of beer, sitting around a table amongst the upended tables and scattered chairs.

Asger was rubbing a small block of animal fat along the length of his sword.

“Takes care of his gear,” Matthew gestured towards the Scandinavian.

“He does. We will all do the same by the end of the night. Blood you see, horrible stuff.” Reginald took a swig of beer, swilled it around his mouth and swallowed. “Full of salt, causes swords to rust in short order if they are not cared for.”

Matthew nodded. “So what brings you and your men here Reginald?”

“Please, call me Rex, if you please,” spoke the Englishman. “We are being paid to hunt. We have tracked our quarry to this town.”

“What are you hunting? Bear? Wolf? Or something else?”

“Oh, something else entirely,” said Rex quietly. He glanced at the others as if silently asking if he should tell the barkeep.

Rob shrugged and took another drink, finishing his pint with several large gulps. Asger continued to clean his sword, ignoring them.

“My dear Matthew, do you know anything about lycanthropy?” when Rex was met with a blank stare, he continued. “Werewolves, my man. Werewolves!”

“Are they not mythical beasts? Imaginative creations to scare children?” he asked.

Asger looked up from his work and roared with laughter, shaking his head.

“Oh, they are real, laddie,” chimed in Rob. “As real as we are sitting here.”

“I think I need another drink,” muttered Matthew.

“Aye! Me too laddie. Me too!”

[ * * * ]

It was a long walk back to the hostel, especially half drunk. It was past midnight before they retired to bed in the small, three bedroom unit, one of the more expensive areas of accommodation the hostel had to offer.

Rex lay on his side, sleep taking him instantly. He slept dreamlessly until the early morning hours. He awoke slowly, his mind clambering up through the layers of numbness as consciousness reasserted itself. Through half open eyes, he lay on the bed looking blearily out the lead lined glass window to the silent, black town outside. With the unit situated upstairs, it gave him a good view out over the rooftops. The full moon had only recently risen and its light illuminated everything in its wake. Rex squinted against the light and was about to roll over and try for slumber once more, when he noticed movement in the distance.

A man was climbing up onto the roof of a building. He was so far away, he stood only as tall as half the length of Rex’s index finger. Rex watched quietly, wondering what on earth someone would be doing climbing around the rooftops at such an early hour of the morning. He was probably running from The Watch after stealing something, or worse. Silhouetted against the light of the full moon, the man turned and Rex’s eyes snapped open. It stood like a man, moved like a man, but the elongated snout could mean it was no human. Although impossible to see at distance, Rex would place money on the fact that where fingers should have been were six inch talons. Dropping to all fours, the creature sniffed, bounded across to another rooftop then stood tall, lifting its snout to the sky above. The long, deep, distant howl reached Rex’s ears moments later.

“Werewolf!” he roared, throwing the covers back and jumping to his feet.

A mighty crash from the next room indicated someone had rolled out of bed and crashed to the floor.

“I’m up!” slurred Rob, followed by some choice words.

Asger appeared silently, sword in hand. “Where?” he asked quietly.

“East,” replied Rex tugging on his boots. “On the rooftops.”

Asger brushed past him and stood looking out the window to the distant silhouetted figure, which dropped to all fours once more, before disappearing from view.

“Gone to ground,” muttered the Northman. “We move,” he said leaving the room. “We move now.”

“I say Rob, are you still alive?” Rex asked as he and Asger stood waiting for the Highlander.

The Scotsman strode out his room, rubbing his shoulder, eyes bleary, hair springing out at all angles. “Aye,” he said quietly, strapping his sword belt in place.

The trio loped through the dark streets, holding their sword hilts to prevent the weapons from tangling in their legs, tripping them. They dodged down narrow alleys, across wide, vacant streets and navigated through the slums of the town. Without sewerage, people simply emptied their chamber pots out onto the street. It was a stinking, vermin infested place of poverty, where hunger and sickness reigned supreme.

“I just stepped in shit!” roared Rob from behind, his voice angry. “Human…shit!”

Asger chuckled.

Rex jumped over a body lying in the street. Whether the man was dead, or asleep, it was difficult to say. Spotting a building slightly taller than the others, Rex headed for it. It was the barracks building of The Watch. Almost all of The Watch’s work was centred in the slum areas, where most of the crime arose. It was a two story building made from stone. Turning to the others, Rex signalled for silence. Asger and Rob disappeared into the shadows and waited.

Rex wedged fingers between stones and began to climb. He ascended the building at speed and within moments was standing on the roof, which was also stone. Quietly regaining his breath, he looked out over the town, where light from the full moon continued to make visibility easy. He scanned the rooftops, but saw nothing. Cursing silently, he placed hands on hips and waited impatiently.

Voices in the distance, but growing closer came to him. A group of men. He descended to a knee and then slowly lay flat on his belly.

“I done noth’n wrong!” shouted a voice.

“The hell you didn’t! You tore him apart like some bloody animal!” came the gruff reply.

The Watch guessed Rex, returning from some early morning patrol. If the trio were caught here, they would be arrested in an instant. Come daybreak, they would hang. There was the sound of a scuffle, grunting, growling, and then a dull thud as a punch was landed, followed by a pain filled shriek.

“You aint goin’ nowhere sonny,” the same gruff voice spoke.

“I’m innocent I tell ya. You got the wrong man!”

“If I was paid a shillin’ every time I heard that, I’d be a king!”

Then they were inside the building, the door slammed shut and the stone walls smothered any further noise.

Rex stood once more and paused. Movement on a nearby rooftop immediately caught his attention. The deep, long howl, much louder this time, echoed out over the town. The werewolf was less than a mile away. Burning the direction into his mind, Rex slid over the edge of the roof and descended the wall as fast as he ascended it.

“Let’s go!” he whispered. He could not see where the others were, but knew they were close by, hiding. Without a backward glance, Rex turned and ran, darting down a side alley, putting as much distance between them and The Watch house as possible.

“I still stink like human shit!” hissed Rob.

“You always did,” replied Asger, grinning.

“Shut your trap, both of you!” Rex shot over his shoulder.

Entering the Eastern province of town was a breath of fresh air. The wealth was far greater here, bringing with it sewerage, clean cobbled streets, pristine homes without the stink of the Western quarter. Well, apart from Rob.

A thud from above brought Rex to a skidding halt. Looking up, he caught a glimpse of the werewolf jumping over their heads to a rooftop on the far side of the street.

“There!” roared the Englishman.

Sprinting towards a building, he jumped onto a wooden barrel and leapt, grabbing hold of a roof support beam high above. The hard wood was two feet across at least and held his weight easily. Pulling himself onto the roof top, he saw the creature darting away, leaping across onto another rooftop adjacent to the building upon which he stood. Moments later, both Rob and Asger clambered up beside him.

“We see you, skin changer!” shouted Rex, following at a sprint.

The werewolf stopped mid stride and turned to look at them. It seemed to sniff the air. Dropping to all fours, the creature waited.

“Damn polite of him to wait for us,” shouted Rex.

Sailing across onto the next roof, Rex trotted to a stop and drew his rapier. Closer to the creature, he saw how large it really was. Even on all fours, its shoulder came up to his chest. A stink of shit wafted over him and Rex knew without looking that Rob was beside him. A moment later came a hiss of steel as Asger drew his blade.

The werewolf snarled, baring a maw full of long, razor sharp teeth, saliva hanging in long strands. The trio had only fought and killed one werewolf in the past. It had been a dwarf compared to this monstrosity. But something was different. The blood red eyes flicked from one man to another, calculating, thinking. The thing that stood before them seemed to be a creature driven not by instinct and aggressive reaction, but by intelligence; unheard of in the world of the lycanthrope.

“Steady chaps,” said Rex softly.

Cocking its head, listening to Rex’s voice, it slowly stood on two legs, looking down at the men. It must have been nearly eight feet tall.

“What are you waiting for you bastard!” roared Rob, charging forward. Shouting a war cry, he shoulder charged the beast and brought his claymore down in a sweeping cut which bit deep into the werewolf’s leg.

Asger and Rex reacted instantly, moving to support their comrade. Screaming in pain, it back-handed the Highlander with a powerful paw. Rob left the ground and crashed down nearby, losing the grip on his claymore. He grunted in pain and rolled onto his knees, now armed only with his knife and shield.

“Is that it?” growled Rob, blood bubbling from his lips. He regained his feet, closely followed by the claymore. “Oh, you’ll have to do better than that laddie.”

 But the creature was busy dodging a mighty cut from Asger. It charged forward with a bellow, but the Northman brought his shield around to fend it off. It slammed into him, causing him to almost lose his footing. Clenching his teeth, he pushed it back with his shield. The mighty jaws closed down around the rim of the shield, shattering the wood. Taking a step back, the giant Scandinavian kicked the werewolf in the knee and then thrust his sword deep into its abdomen. Asger threw the useless, broken shield away, glaring at the shrieking creature.

Rex had taken the time to flank the beast and thus far had remained unnoticed. With deep wounds to both its leg and belly, it paid no attention to the Englishman running in from the side. Leaping as high as possible, Rex landed on its powerful shoulders and drove the rapier deep into its meaty neck. Blood exploded from the wound and the werewolf collapsed. It was dying. Its movements slowing, blood, black in the moonlight, pumping from its body to wash out over the building’s roof. Just before death could claim it, however, the creature slowly raised its head and released a series of loud howls, differing from any they had heard before. The werewolf’s eyes slowly closed and its chest ceased moving.

“Far easier than I expected, I must say,” said Rex.

Before the others could reply, several distant howls echoed out over the town. If Rex’s ears had not deceived him, there were at least three of them. Silence followed and the men looked at one another, concern now creeping over them.

The howls came again, this time much louder. They were closing on the trio’s position, and closing fast.

“Move!” hissed Rex. He disappeared over the edge of the roof and dropped to the ground lightly.

Asger and Rex helped the Highlander back to the cobbled street below, and the trio sprinted away. The Scotsman, even in great pain, was able to keep up with the others, although he guarded the left side of his chest with his arm. Broken ribs more than likely, suspected Rex.

“I say, we might be done for here chaps,” said Rex cheerfully as they negotiated along alleys and streets, leaping over beggars, dodging excrement, and with no clear destination other than away from the howls. The hunters had become the hunted.

“Can’t…go…much…further,” panted Rob, fresh blood bubbling from his lips and staining his beard. “I’ll hold…them off…you run.” The Highlander stopped, turned and drew his claymore, his breath coming in short, sharp rasps.

“The hell you will, my boy,” said Rex stopping and moving to stand beside his comrade.

Regaining his breath, Asger moved to stand on the other side of Rob, slowly drawing his sword.

“If we must die,” said the Northman. “Then let us do it here, together, with a sword in our hands and a curse upon our lips.”

“I say, well said Asger. Well said,” agreed Rex, drawing his rapier, tutting as he glanced at the blood staining the metal. “Horrible stuff,” he said softly. “Just horrible.”

The howls came again, deafening in volume.

Then they appeared.

As Rex expected, there were three of them, two running on all fours and the third, in the centre, on its hind legs. They came at full sprint, slavering and snarling, red eyes emanating intelligence, hunger and fury. They wanted death; they wanted to rip, rend and maim; they wanted revenge.

The beast in the middle must have been close to ten feet in height, a veritable giant. Asger moved to intercept it. Rex may have been a small man, slim of build, holding a rapier that looked like a toy against the werewolf that peeled off to face him, but he was agile. The beast came at him full tilt and leapt, maw open in preparation to tear out his throat, but the razor sharp teeth bit into thin air. Regaining its feet, the werewolf looked around in confusion. Where once there had been a man standing before it, lay an empty street. Blistering pain exploded in its back, its leg, arm, neck. It whirled around to face the grinning little man, blood soaking the fur and dripping to the street. Leaping headlong, mighty jaws snapping, it once again failed to secure its prey as Rex leapt to the side and then lunged forward burying the razor sharp rapier almost to its hilt.

[ * * * ]

Asger lay unconscious against a wall, sword shattered, blood oozing from his nostrils, deep claw marks across his chest. The giant werewolf stood over its quarry, growling with satisfaction. Should it devour the human now? Or help its pack kill the others?

[ * * * ]

Rob was in agony. His chest felt like it was on fire, and each time he took a breath, it felt like a blade was stabbing into his lungs. Desperately, he fought on, fending off attacks, always on the back foot, and making few strikes of his own. It was now a battle for survival. “How has it come to this?” he thought as he stared into the blood red eyes before him. Feigning a thrust Rob took a step forward. The werewolf leapt back, away from the blade, then advanced again, straight into a powerful overhand cut which neatly sliced off an arm. The creature howled in agony, bright red blood spurting from the terrible wound.

“Hurts don’t it?” grunted Rob through clenched, blood-stained teeth.

The beast roared with ferocity and charged. Rob brought the claymore up desperately in an effort to defend himself. The powerful jaw closed upon the blade and tore it from the Highlander’s grip, the weapon clattering uselessly upon the cobbles. Roaring in fury and desperation, Rob slammed a right cross into the werewolf’s face, snapping off one of its fangs. Shaking its head, the beast snarled and towered over the Scotsman, who was now clutching the slimy, six inch fang, ready to use it as a weapon. Moving with lightning speed, it bit down upon Rob’s shoulder. He felt bones break under the pressure. Screaming in agony, the Highlander fell to the ground, a large chunk of flesh missing where his shoulder used to be, right arm hanging uselessly beside him.

Swallowing the flesh lustfully, it moved in for the kill, crouching down over Rob. Beady eyes staring into his, Rob prepared for death.

“Ya better kill me laddie,” muttered Rob. “Or I’ll take you apart piece by piece,” although, in his current state, he had no idea how.

The werewolf leaned back and howled in victory. Growling, it came for him, jaw wider than Rob’s head, stinking breath upon his face. A gunshot rent the night air and the werewolf fell beside the Highlander, dead. Rob stared down at the lifeless beast, his heart thundering with fear and relief as he realised he was still alive.

He glanced up to see Matthew, the barkeep from the previous evening, standing in the near distance reloading a musket. He worked with a purpose, poured the powder down the muzzle, dropped in the ball, spat, rammed, brought the weapon to his shoulder and fired again. The bullet sliced the air with a soft hiss, missing the giant werewolf standing over Asger by less than an inch. The huge beast turned and charged at the newcomer, but Matthew paid it no heed, concentrating instead on reloading the musket. Pour, drop, spit, ram, fire. The bullet slammed into the werewolf’s chest, exiting in a burst of pink mist and tiny chunks of gore. The creature dropped to all fours and grunted softly, suddenly broken, its mighty power having departed with the bullet. It was not invincible after all. Matthew reloaded and approached.

“Christ almighty,” the barkeep said surveying the bloody scene.

Rex finished the third werewolf with a skilful stab of the rapier, before wiping the blade clean on its fur. “Indeed,” he agreed.

As Matthew was about to speak, the wounded creature at his feet roared, jaw open, fangs about to clamp down upon his leg that would have left him amputated below the knee. Reacting instantly, Matthew booted the thing in the face, took one pace back and fired point blank into its skull. Death was immediate. It lay on its side, maw open, the bullet having drilled a large hole through its forehead, faint smoke, a remnant of burnt gunpowder, drifting from between its fangs.

“My thanks, Matthew,” said Rex, shaking the barkeep’s hand.

He moved first to Asger and checked the man was still breathing. Satisfied, he walked swiftly to Rob, who was still conscious, but his eyes were closed and he was groaning softly.

Matthew knelt beside the wounded Highlander. “Doesn’t get much worse,” he observed, looking at the terrible wound on Rob’s shoulder. He had seen similar wounds following battle. Death came, but only after days of agony.

“How’d you find us laddie?” Rob asked softly, looking at the barkeep.

“Those things ran straight past The Eagle and Rabbit. Couldn’t have them loose out in the town. Who knows what damage they might have done? Would have taken too long to raise The Watch, and they would probably have locked me away as a madmen sooner than help me. So I grabbed me musket and tried to track them. Took me a while. Wish I’d arrived sooner.”

“Let us carry him to your establishment,” said Rex, gesturing towards the Scotsman. “At least we can sterilise the wound there.”

Matthew nodded.

A loud groan signalled Asger was regaining consciousness. The Northman sat up and rubbed his head, squinting against the moonlight.

“Thank you ever so much for your help, Asger,” offered Rex as the Scandinavian slowly climbed to his feet, holding a wall to regain his balance. “We would have been done for, if not for you old boy,” he added sarcastically.

“Pleasure,” mumbled Asger stooping to regain what remained of his sword. He looked at the shattered blade and shook his head sadly.

“I can walk,” said Rob, “help me up.”

Leaving his injured arm dangle by his side, the men used Rob’s left arm to help the Highlander to his feet. The group moved slowly, taking almost an hour to reach The Eagle and Rabbit.

[ * * * ]

“You should join our crew,” said Rex as he sat nursing a beer. Rob was asleep nearby, his wound cleaned and dressed. Asger sat solemnly, staring at his broken sword.

“No, I have a business to run,” smiled Matthew. “Makes me a pretty penny nowadays.”

The Englishman shrugged. “Suit yourself. We collect our money at sunup, three gold pieces each. Then we leave this place. In four months, we are due one thousand miles north of here.” Rex looked across at the Highlander. “He should be healed by then,” he said, taking a swig of beer. “Or dead.”

Matthew’s breath caught in his throat, although he tried unsuccessfully to keep the surprise from his face. Three gold coins! That would take him three years or more slaving behind the bar at The Eagle and Rabbit.

“Interested?” Rex’s eyes glinted.

“Perhaps.”

Rex nodded and remained silent.

“How much will you be paid up north?”

“Seven gold coins each,” smiled Rex. “Five gold each if you decide to join us. I’ll even give you one gold right now to help you purchase weapons and such.”

“What’s the job?” asked Matthew, his interest now obvious.

“I say chap,” Rex leaned forward, his eyes burning into Matthew. “Do you know what a vampire is?”

Novels by Keith McArdle

[+ The Reckoning: The Day Australia Fell+]

Australia has been invaded.

While the outnumbered Australian Defence Force fights on the ground, in the air and at sea, this quickly becomes a war involving ordinary people.

Ben, an IT consultant has never fought a day in his life. Will he survive?

Grant, a security guard at Sydney’s International Airport, finds himself captured and living in the filth and squalor of one of the concentration camps dotted around Australia. Knowing death awaits him if he stays, he plans a daring escape.

This is a dark day in Australia’s history. This is terror, loneliness, starvation and adrenaline all mixed together in a sour cocktail.

This is the day Australia fell.

[+ The Forgotten Land+]

Sergeant Steve Golburn, an Australian Special Air Service veteran, is tasked with a dangerous mission in Iraq, deep behind enemy lines. When Steve’s five man SAS patrol inadvertently spark a time portal, they find themselves in 10th century Viking Denmark. A place far more dangerous and lawless than modern Iraq.

Join the SAS patrol on this action adventure into the depths of not only a hostile land, far away from the support of the Allied front line, but into another world…another time.

Novelettes by Keith McArdle

Assassin

Vyder Ironstone is an assassin with a troubled past. At the order of his king, Vyder must undertake his most dangerous mission yet. A mission from which he may never return. If he is successful, it might just be enough to alleviate war tearing the kingdom apart. The prospect of failure is not worth considering.

Against The Odds

Keith McArdle

Copyright © Keith McArdle 2015

Keith McArdle asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it, are the work of the author’s imagination.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

Edited by Cameron Evers

Cover design by Adrijus Guscia

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Against The Odds

Three veteran hunters are on the trail of a supernatural creature. It is a simple tracking mission, promising easy money. But things go horribly wrong and the mercenaries realise too late that they are facing one of the deadliest creatures known to man. Embroiled in a desperate fight for survival, their doom may well await them.

  • Author: Keith McArdle
  • Published: 2015-10-08 12:05:08
  • Words: 6911
Against The Odds Against The Odds