Again, Again, Again

Join Sister Felicia as she sneaks out of Gettildow to test a brand new firearm prototype deep within the forest. Written in 22 A.S.




I tried to sleep. I did. I closed my eyes, I stayed perfectly still, I steadied my breathing, I counted until I lost count, but I could. not. sleep. I just lay there, in growing frustration, listening as the mismatched rhythm of my companions’ slow, steady breaths filled our room.


I contemplated waking them, too. But it wasn’t the first time that sleep failed to come over me on the eve of a test, and I had learned that Oscar and Ambrose – my stalwart keepers – did not appreciate me cutting short their rest. Nor did I imagine Ezra and Violet, used to rising at the end of the morning, would be at their best if I woke them now.


So I lay there almost the entire night, frustrated, until I had a realisation.


It was summer, and the sun would rise early. If I could steal away now, I would be able to get the first tests in before the others rose. I had wanted to do those tests when we had arrived in Gettildow in the early evening – the sunset only just beginning –, but Oscar and Ambrose had wanted to rest first. If I did it now, however, I could then return and share my findings when the others woke, perhaps catch some sleep while Ezra and Violet made adjustments to their prototype, and set out for further testing.


It was a good idea.


So – as quietly as I could – I put on my prosthetic, rolled off of my bedding, retrieved my gear and the carrying case holding the prototype, and left the room. The first grey hints of sunrise were beginning to show as I stepped outside. I wasn’t entirely certain if it would be enough light to work by, but I reckoned if I swung by the eating house for breakfast first, I would be fine.


So, to the eating house I went.  Some of the elders were there, of course; early to rise as ever. They were sweeping up after the youngsters, kneading dough, adding trimmings to a drum of roiling stock and maintaining tools by the light of the fire underneath it.


One of them, a man with a bald pate and a short moustache, asked me why I wasn’t abed like the other youngsters. I told him I was a Hunter and needed to do an early test of a prototype in the woods, but that before I went, I would love some food.


He gave me a look that clearly suggested he didn’t think it wise to venture into the woods alone. In response, I showed him my pistol, my Starsteel dagger, and even the insides of my satchel full of Starsteel shot. The elder shrugged, fetched a small pan, and plucked some dough from the batch that was being kneaded. He formed it into small balls with swift, rolling palms and plopped them into the pan. Then, he ladled up some of the boiling stock, poured it into the small pan, and set it on the fire. The elder left me in silence as my breakfast cooked, returning a little while later to retrieve the pan from the flame. He tasted the stock carefully and added some salt for me, probably mined in Silwan. He then poured the entirety of the pan’s contents into a bowl and handed it to me with a spoon. Once everything had cooled a measure, I dug in, finding the dough deliciously chewy and a pleasure to eat with the well-seasoned broth.


When I was finished, I thanked the man and left for the woods. Sunrise had properly begun and I was confident I would be able to work without delay once I had found the right spot. I left Gettildow with an unusually easy gait in my partly prosthetic step.


That ease could not last, of course; Gettildow being what it is. I struggled across the furrowed land, picking my way between old stumps and torn earth. I used to be able to cross land like this without difficulty, but ever since I lost my leg it’s been a different matter. Still, with each visit to Gettildow my ability to traverse its land has increased, and it did not take particularly long for the first trees to rise up around me. Slender saplings at first, they soon made way for larger and larger specimens, grouped together increasingly densely. The sun shone long shadows into the woods, casting the tree trunks in gold as it rose above their canopy.


I may have ventured deeper than I had to, I’ll admit to that. It is wise to use trees as targets to save yourself from having to place and replace artificial ones – nevermind the resources and time needed to produce those. It’s also practical to shoot at trees that won’t be needed for timber, so shooting deeper into the woods – away from the logging operations – is a good idea too. I could also argue that shooting in dense parts allows you to tell quite easily where a bullet veered off to in case the firearm you're testing is flawed or poorly calibrated, which spares me from endlessly shooting about in hopes of narrowing down the deviation of a shot. Moreover, straying further from town decreases the chance of accidentally injuring a passer-by or disturbing someone’s rest. Mainly, however, I did not want Oscar and Ambrose to collect me before I had the results we needed.


So, when I had already reached a point where I could certainly do some effective testing, I went a little further still, finding a small clearing surrounded by densely grouped trees rich in branches. I set down the case and gave myself some time to catch my breath, remove my prosthetic, and massage the stump. Oscar and Ambrose usually do the carrying and prosthetics aren’t immensely comfortable to begin with, so I could use the rest. By the time I had reattached my leg, the sun was well and truly up and I could begin the test.


I opened the case and removed the prototype, gunpowder, and ammunition. The gun was smooth, the iron barrel and wooden stack devoid of any scratch that marked it as having been used before. Having studied the prototype before departure from Fenblith, I found it easy to load the weapon, pouring powder into the stock and loading iron shot into the cylinder parallel to the barrel. With some anticipation, I cranked the lever. With one mechanical movement, the prototype scooped powder from the stock and into the chamber while letting a bullet roll from the cylinder and onto the powder.


Thrilled, I straightened and picked my target; a thick branch hanging low at the edge of the clearing. I fired, hitting the branch remarkably straight on. I cranked the lever and shot again, hitting near the first mark. I kept repeating the process, hitting the branch over and over until the first batch of shots ran out. I was impressed with the accuracy, and moreover I felt that the gun’s rate of fire was astounding. Ezra and Violet had truly outdone themselves. There was only one issue: I felt the crank moved increasingly stiffly with every shot.


Eager to test this notion – my arm might after all simply still be waking up in the early morning – and to find out the prototype’s accuracy at greater range, I reloaded the weapon. Again, I took aim, this time at a tree further away, visible through a narrow passage between its fellows. I fired and hit it, again with only minimal deviation. Impressed, I shot again, again, and then I couldn’t. The lever refused to crank; the mechanism had jammed.


Disappointed to be kept from shooting but confident that my results would be a boon to Ezra and Violet, I turned to replace the gun in its case when I caught a movement in the corner of my eye and looked up.


It was huge. Coarse red fur covering a muscular body, a broad snout in an almost human face crested by manes and crowned by jagged antlers. With four large paws padding across the forest floor as if it was the King of the Forest, the Beast approached almost leisurely, eyes intent on me.


My training kicked in, and I let my hand drop away from the prototype’s stock, holding onto it with my off hand as I drew and fired my pistol, Starsteel ball flinging into the Beast. It flinched, but rather than drop at the piercing bullet, it roared and charged me. I turned and ran, but before I took three steps the Beast was on me, levering its antlers under my legs and hoisting me up and over.


I came crashing to the forest floor, pistol jarred out of my hand but the prototype somehow still in my grip. A deep growl rolled over me, the Beast looming with the canopy as its backdrop, all too human eyes boring into mine. It parted its lips, revealing furiously long canines in an uncomfortably small mouth, drool dripping onto my shirt. My hand fumbled for my knife, but the Beast’s paw pressed down on my wrist with casual disregard, locking me helplessly underneath it. My legs stung from where the antlers had hit me, my wrist ached under the weight of the paw, and I felt my breakfast rise as the Beast leaned in closer, its mouth working as low, guttural sounds clawed their way out of its throat.


Then I heard the crack of gunfire, and the Beast roared and leapt away. I heard a familiar voice, then another, calling for me to get up and run.


Oscar and Ambrose, come to save me.


Swallowing down my dread, I heaved myself up, leaving my pistol and the prototype’s case and simply running to where Oscar and Ambrose were standing, reloading their muskets. Behind them stood Ezra and Violet, cowering at a sight behind me – as if I needed more motivation to run.


Oscar and Ambrose fired again and I heard the ragged roar of the Beast echoing between the trees as I fumbled between them on aching leg and wobbling prosthetic. Oscar cursed, saying the bastard thing hardly seemed bothered by their shots. Ambrose countered that it clearly was, but allowed that it would take more than two muskets to see the job done.


An idea struck me as I saw Ezra and Violet, pale as anyone could ever be. I practically hurled the prototype at them, telling them the mechanism had jammed while I was shooting in quick succession after the lever had gotten more and more stiff with each shot. Ezra blinked, then said it was powder fouling, to which Violet assented while pulling out their tools.


Together, while fighting the tremors of their hands, they opened the prototype and picked away at the remnants of powder that had built up with every shot and fouled the delicate mechanism. Meanwhile, Oscar and Ambrose continued to fire and curse, as with every shot – even hits – the Beast would find room to slink closer, its red fur splotched with ichor but its body far from broken. Despite the Beast’s approach, however, I managed to hold my tongue, letting Ezra and Violet work without intrusion. Once satisfied that it would fire again, they closed the prototype back up and handed it to me. I wasted no time removing the lead shot still in the cylinder and placing my pistol’s Starsteel shot in its stead. I poured powder in the stock’s reservoir to fill it back up, cranked the lever, and rose.


It was glorious. As the Beast emerged – in range to charge Oscar and Ambrose as they were both reloading –, I let the flint slam in the pan and cracked a shot straight at it. It flinched, but was once again unmoved beyond that. It visibly readied itself to pounce, but I cranked the lever and shot again, again, again. Shot after shot flew between Oscar and Ambrose and into the Beast. I felt the lever stiffening but did not let up, shooting mercilessly as I steadily advanced, the Beast jerking under the weight of fire. Oscar and Ambrose levelled their guns and fired off another salvo, finally forcing a way through the Beast’s resilience. As the King of the Forest sank to its knees, Oscar and Ambrose charged, tossing their muskets aside and drawing their sabres. They struck without mercy, their blades plunging into the Beast’s ichor-blackened fur. It let out a low, drawn-out groan, and then its antlers drooped onto the forest floor.


The Beast was dead.