The Mauler: Part 1-Step by Step
Hello, everyone! Here's the first part to the second installment in my series. Let me know what you think.
The light came into his open eyes, too fast, too hot, prickling over his skin, sucking it dry.
Then came the pain. It arched up his side, hot and brutal and breaking, through his chest and up his neck to his head. His throat was dry. Dry as the sand he lay in. He tried to swallow and nearly choked. The stark taste of copper stung his throat.
He felt the heat too. The impenetrable, relentless pounding of it upon his head, face, and skin, even though he was still clothed. Normally, he was used to it. His blood had been raised in it, so that its fiercest wrath no longer bothered him. But the wound, from which his blood had flowed to paint the yellow sand a bright crimson, must have weakened him to where the dry and scorch-broiled beast that had nurtured him threatened to cut his life short like he was a runt. Now even the heat was a danger, a mortal foe, staring him down with its lidless eye, beating his burning body to bits as fine as the grains of sand that molded softly between his fingers.
He felt weakness. His limbs, his head. All seemed wrapped in a perpetual cocoon of sluggishness. He felt drained, like each bone and muscle had suddenly melted into jelly. He wanted to move, desperately, hungrily, but his mind could not form the command. It was too exhausted, siphoned of nearly every drop of energy.
He willed himself to swallow again. It finally went down, burning.
He blinked, tried to clear his vision.
His horse lay beside him, staring at him with its dead, brown eyes, its own blood pooling out from of its shot-open side. He groaned as he took in a huge breath.
Then he willed himself up. His back wailed, his side lamented, begged him to stop moving, to lay down and rest on the soft sand. But he wouldn’t. That was just a trick, a lure for him to meet his death by staying still. To let the sand bury him.
No. He could not. Would not.
He brought his arms up, used them for support. Slowly, excruciatingly, every move sending a woeful wave of mourning through his limbs, he sat up. He gasped. He lifted up the torn section of his shirt to examine his wound.
It reached across his side, long and curving, dark from dried and clotted blood. It was deep, but not deep enough to be especially fatal. He would live. But it needed mending in some way. Soon.
He put a hand to his head, trying to remember.
Suddenly, the memory came upon him, instant and fierce, like the strike of a scorpion’s tale. He felt again the pain of whatever caused the wound biting through his flesh. Some kind of projectile, shot like a bullet, but cut through him like a thorn and tore up his side like paper. He had been lucky. He had seen the attacker coming, felt it in the wind.
The eyes of a watcher, a predator. A hunter, like himself.
He hadn’t reacted fast enough though. The rider came out of the corner of his eye. He remembered hearing the succinct roar of the gun, or whatever it was that the hunter used, and then feeling the round tear up his side. He’d moved, tried to miss the bullet and grab his own gun. But the shooter’s round had caught him all the same.
He felt his horse get shot out from under him. The world fell sideways. He hit the ground, the air getting knocked clean out from his lungs. Things went blurry. He heard someone call his name.
It was Dance. Then silence. A shadow passed over him. He looked up, and saw the face of his attacker.
Ashy, dark grey skin that looked thicker and meatier than a human’s. The head was big, engorged even, with a muscle lined jaw and iron-boned neck. Yet, despite its thick muscles and rugged look, the skin was seamless, flawless in its complexion. No twists, no oddities, no malformities. It looked almost molded, like the clay for a statue. And from its head, three circular crests, undoubtedly formed by subdermal bone, curved over his scalp, with tiny spikes, sharp like tac ks, lining the edges. But the one feature that branded his memory the most were the eyes. They were stuck deep in their sockets, the inner linings dark like pits, but that only magnified their fierce brightness, their immensely engulfing, adrenaline fueled crimson flames.
He was a Gavrokan for sure. And with that thought, Hawthorn knew his name.
It was Revik. The Mauler. The new hunter. He’d only caught the name a few times over the last few months, but even then what he’d heard was enough for him to bother remembering. He’d done his first job catching Eddie Brass, a bigtime cattle rustler near Travis. 15,000 had been the bounty for him. No one thought the damn cattle-thief could get caught; Brass had a reputation for disappearing without a trace. But Revik had done it. He’d caught Brass, and left all twenty guns in his gang lying dead on a lone prairie somewhere.
Then there was his job catching the Cutler Brothers’ Gang up near Nova Aurora. The bounty had been for dead or alive. Revik had used a spear, and had stuck all three brothers’ heads through like a roast pig, carried them back over his shoulder, and set them at the nearest judge’s feet.
Hawthorn gritted his teeth. That’s who had Dance now. He was sure of it.
He had to get on his feet now. No time to wait, no time to rest. He bled as he moved, forcing himself to his knees. No time for that either. Pain racked him. Colors flashed across his vision.
He was on one foot. Just a little more. Spasms shocked him, shooting through his chest and up and down his spine. Internal damage. A lot of it. The wound was deeper than he had first thought. That wouldn’t stop him.
He was on both feet now. Looking down at the sand, he could sense it reaching toward him, to grab him, to haul him down and enclose him in its abysmal maw. He wouldn’t let it have him. He’d spent years daring the beast that was the desert, a lifetime challenging its tricks, its traps, and its snares. Its lies and ravenous hunger hadn’t sunk their teeth in him yet.
And they never will. he thought. He’d braved the Wilds for most his life. It was in his blood. But still his body hurt.
The sun blazed overhead, relentlessly oppressive as always. But he couldn’t feel it pounding him, pressing him down with sheet after sheet of scorching power. Whether that served as a sign of his wits gathering, or further damage to his body, he didn’t know. He didn’t care.
Ahead the horizon reached, warped by the light into a sea of watery mirages. Miles of land ahead. He looked down. Horse prints stretched on before and beyond him. A trail, something to follow.
Thoughts of vengeance made his hands itch for the handles of his guns. He’d been left with them and his knife, a fact which would’ve surprised another man if he didn’t know what Hawthorn knew of Revik’s people. Dead foes were left with their weapons in their culture, to combat the dangers in the Afterlife to gain greater glory. Revik was being a devout Gavrokan, a fact Hawthorn was so grateful for, he smiled.
He eyed the sun, and instinctively reached inside his pocket. “Damn.” he said. His cigarettes were gone. Taken, no doubt.
That made him mad. Yeah. He’d find that Gavrokan bastard, put a bullet in his head and take Dance and the object back. His bounty back. And his cigarettes.
He’d just have to do it step by step.