15b (Argentum’s Song – PG)

Laying on his back, Franklin held his breath and tried to make out what was happening near Earl by peering through the casks. It looked like at least one shadowy figure was approaching the foreman.

The tailgate rattled by his head nearly causing him to take off his own nose with a reflexive swing. Franklin forced himself to freeze and breath slowly as the tailgate started shaking in an almost regular rhythm accompanied by the smacking and slurping of jaws masticating flesh. It didn’t take long for Franklin to figure out that the large dark weir was gnawing on the remains of an animal carcass chained to the cart, flapping the tailgate whenever it took a particularly energetic mouthful.

The noises filled his imagination with visions of dark jaws tearing into him, trapped and helpless under the cart. Franklin shook his head and quietly placed the short sword in the dirt by his head. He then inched the crossbow from his shoulder, hooked the bowstring across the middle axle brace, and anchored a foot into the stirrup. Now all his arm had to do was balance the bow while his legs did the work of cocking the weapon. It was tense and slow, trying to do it silently, and Franklin was sweating by the time he heard it click into place.

The weir stopped chewing and sniffed the air. Franklin tried to bring the bow to a position where he could load a bolt but the string was still snagged on the axle brace. The weir’s muzzle bumped into the back of the cart and started snuffling along it. Franklin froze, unsure if he should abandon the crossbow and try to pick up the quieter blade to defend himself in a surprise attack or if he should give up stealth, wrench the bow free and try to load it before the creature was on him. Neither option seemed like it had a very high chance of survivability to it. So he just kept trying the impossible. To slide the bow free, quietly, with one hand.

The beast was at the casks now, Franklin could see one clawed forepaw planted directly beside the copper pot long since filled to overflowing. A hairy jaw descended less than a meter away in clear view. Then the weir started lapping and slurping the pots contents. He could see the entire facial profile of the beast. All it had to do was turn a few degrees to see him just as clearly. The large overbite protrusion meant at least as much liquid was splashing back out of the mouth as was making it’s way down the throat. Once the bowl was empty, the weir raised itself up on it’s hind legs and belched. It lowered itself and trotted on all fours, over to Earl.

When he was sure it was gone, Franklin allowed himself to move again and was eventually able to free the bow without snapping the string. When he had the silver bolt in it’s track he pushed himself to the casks to see what was happening. Franklin couldn’t see Earl himself, but he could make out the forms of the two weirs sitting on either side of him. In fact, if he crouched against the wagon wheel, he could likely rest the crossbow on one of the barrels and have a clear shot at the larger weir. If he managed to take it down, he just might be able to burst from his cover and catch the runt by surprise with his short sword as well.

It wasn’t a great plan, but it was the best he had, so he set about implementing it. Since it seemed the weirs were just camping out here until they had finished off the carcasses, he couldn’t afford the risk of trying to wait them out. Sooner or later, they would catch his scent and he’d be dead. He had just finished lining up the shot, when Earl started convulsing.

The cask was still blocking enough of his view that he couldn’t see everything going on, but every once in a while Earl would jerk up far enough for Franklin to catch a glimpse of him. Each jerk, it became more and more clear what was happening. Earl had been infected, he was turning.

Now, while the dark weir was motionlessly watching Earl with a detached curiosity, was exactly when Franklin needed to fire the crossbow. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t do it. It had been a risky enough plan even before the Earl factor, now it was just suicide. Weak and wounded as he was, he couldn’t hope to be able to defeat the runt, Earl, and the large dark one. Besides, maybe this was all they had been waiting for. Maybe now they would leave.

So Franklin stayed crouched and hidden. Listening to moans of agony and catching a glimpse of the Earl, who was no longer Earl, whenever he had a particularly violent spasm. It was taking much longer than he had anticipated and he realized he would have had plenty of time to finish his attack before Earl could have been a threat. Earl’s words came back to his mind.

“Believe me, if ya have been bit ya want me to finish ya. It’s a mercy.”

Franklin shuddered and readied himself. But every time he was about to fire there was a lull in the convulsions, or he imagined a lull, at any rate he couldn’t be sure Earl hadn’t finished his transformation. Ultimately, the Unearl raised up on it’s haunches and cackled at the moon before the the bolt ever left the bow. Franklin, knowing his cowardice had caused him to miss his chance, slithered back under the cart, tears leaking from his eyes.

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