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Exclusive! Meet Daniel in his opening chapter to Descendants of the Spear!

The content of this extract contains graphic scenes of violence and injury as well as mentions of physical abuse. Reader discretion is advised.


Daniel

Dinnertime


Daniel grunted as he lifted the farmer’s corpse and hurled it into the freezer.


He quickly slammed the lid shut, not willing to look at the man’s terrified expression. It had all been one big misunderstanding. Claw never liked to kill the hosts of their accommodation, be it a farm or a household; he said it was impolite. But this man had run as they’d tried to bind him up. He’d tripped and hit his head in a bad way - leaving a puddle of blood around his skull. Being old, it was pretty serious, and they certainly couldn’t have called an ambulance.


He sighed as he picked up the mop and bucket of soapy water by the freezer. He walked to the trail of red along the floor and dropped the bucket beside it, proceeding to scrub the blood off the floor.

They had found the farm on a whim en route to their next job. His master, Claw, had recently received another call from the bosses. It would be a hunt this time, not a theft, and to Claw’s delight, it would be somebody who’d been on his radar for a very long time.


Once he’d finished the floor, making sure he was certain that every red spot had been cleared, he left the back of the farmhouse to return to his room in the barn. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t have any jobs for a whole hour, and perhaps the warm weather would mean a low rat count in his sleeping area. Perhaps he would read one of the George RR Martin books that he’d kept hidden on their journey here, the one Ralf had snuck him last Christmas, or maybe he’d sleep. Just the thought of curling down in the hay to rest for an hour (and no longer, lest he be punished) gave Daniel a sense of comfort, one he would never find when sleeping at night.


He made it to the barn and pushed open the doors. His master was sitting on a crate, his hand on his abdomen.


‘Ah, just the person I needed,’ Claw said with a grimace. He lifted his shirt to show a large cut down his right side, gently trickling wine-coloured blood. ‘First aid kit’s in the kitchen. Now.’


Daniel rushed back into the farmhouse and pulled the green first aid kit off the wall, also making sure to search the draws for a bottle of whiskey. He ran back to his master, who had now taken off his shirt and pulled out an assortment of bandages and dressings. He opened the whiskey bottle and poured it over the wound, making Claw’s face contort with pain as he clenched his fists. Daniel then began to apply the dressing, putting pressure on the wound as he did so.


‘It was a broken bottle,’ Claw grunted. ‘Damn fool attacked me the moment I burst into the barn. If he’d just co-operated, he would have been fine. I did warn him.’ He sighed in relief as the first bandage was applied. ‘So… tell me. How are you liking your new home?'


Daniel nervously looked up at his master as he spoke. ‘Yeah it’s… cosy.’


Claw smiled. ‘You don’t have to lie to me boy, I know you hate sleeping in the barn. Lucky for you, we won’t be staying here for long. Tomorrow night, we’ve got another job to do.’


He froze. Was it that time already? Whenever he slept, he’d have nightmares about nights like tomorrow. Nightmares of the full moon, and of the wolf that would emerge when the monthly moon shone. ‘Where’s the job?’ he asked.


Claw winced as Daniel layered on another bandage, pressing just a little too hard. ‘Careful Daniel, you know I don’t appreciate it when you start being clumsy. The job will take place in a little village in Surrey called Coldharbour. Our colleagues have informed me that the brother and son of a woman I dealt with over a decade ago are living there in hiding. Turns out they need the kid orphaned as much as I want his uncle dead, so it seems like a good compromise.’


‘So…’ Daniel gulped, and suddenly his throat felt very dry. ‘So, we’re there to kill.’


Claw looked at the boy in almost pity. ‘Yes, Daniel… we’re there to kill.’


Daniel’s heart began to pound. He didn’t want anyone to die, not again. It was horrific enough the last time, being forced to stand by as a wolf tore its enemies apart. ‘Why do the bosses need the boy?’ he asked.


Claw shrugged. ‘You ask too many questions, Daniel. I don’t know why they need him, not for certain. But I have a good idea – which is not for you to know.’ He paused a moment. ‘I hope you’ll be compliant when the night comes?’


Daniel nodded shakily.


‘Good. You did well the other day, boy. Telling me that there were other people, incapacitating them while we gave them the slip, not fleeing when you had the opportunity to try to leave my company. I’m proud of you. But don’t let that get to your head. We’ve got a long fight ahead, and I’m going to need you with me every step of the way. You’re my secret weapon, after all. Everyone always underestimates you. That’s what we can use against our enemy.’


Daniel nodded and stepped back as he finished his work. Claw looked down, nodded appreciatively, and began to roll his shirt back on. ‘It’s funny. All these years I’ve despised the Homalis. I’ve stolen, I’ve killed, directly and indirectly, I’ve made deals with people I’d normally despise, all to further my plans to eradicate them. But it took me many years to realise that the strongest thing to use against them would be the wolf. Ever since I’ve started learning how to direct it, perhaps mildly control it, we’ve been unstoppable. I suppose it’s true what they say. You can fight fire with fire.’


Daniel nodded. He noticed that his right hand was shaking slightly – and rightly so. Claw certainly had more power over Daniel than the wolf did – his intellect and commanding presence made sure of that - and even the wolf wouldn’t punish Daniel like Claw would.


‘You may go,’ his master told him. ‘But… one more thing. I’m letting Ralf cook dinner tonight, meaning you are relieved of your duties for a couple of hours.’


‘Thank you, master.’


‘However… you are smarter than Ralf, and I would like you to carry the plates in when dinner begins at seven tonight. Whatever you do, you must get this one important fact correct. The green plate goes to Chester. You understand?’


Daniel frowned, confused as to why the colour of a plate should matter. ‘Yes, Master,’ he repeated. It had become instinct never to question his master’s orders.


‘Good,’ said Claw. ‘I will expect you in the kitchen at five to seven and no later. Have a pleasant rest, you’ve most certainly earned it.’


Daniel nodded his head and left the barn, knowing it was better to leave his own sleeping area and return later rather than stay and wait for Claw to depart. He would have to occupy himself somehow until it was time for dinner.


When five to seven came, Daniel was ready in the kitchen, and plates were already balanced on his arms.


He made numerous trips bringing the starters into the dining room, where he saw the whole crew assembled around a long wooden table. At the head was Claw, who (despite his clothes being ragged and torn from days of use) looked oddly dapper, his hair washed and neatly combed, chin freshly shaven. Sitting to his right was the tall, blue-haired Olivia Malkovich, a woman who, although Claw seemed incapable of feeling any kind of love, appeared to be his closest companion in times of need. On the master’s other side was the large, thick bearded Bobby Vickers, his hazelnut eyes constantly caught in a wild glare. Further down were Elizabeth Coppercap, an ex-drug dealer and addict with a gift for theft, Margaret Conningdale, a woman with a particular talent in breaking things, and Chester Fishbourne – Claw’s oldest member at sixty, who was also his accountant and closest advisor. Daniel never imagined Chester to be the fussy type, despite strict orders to be give him the green-coloured plate.


Of course, Daniel and those sitting down only made up for seven of the total nine. Adrian was currently pre-occupied with luring away the Agency – while Ralf, likely the lowest in the pecking order above Daniel, was busy finishing off the main courses.


While Daniel laid down the final plates, following his orders precisely, Claw slowly arose, a cup of wine in his hand. ‘I would like to take the time,’ he began in the imitation of a heartfelt speech, ‘to thank you all for your assistance and boundless loyalty over the past months, especially over the last week. All of you in this room have shown incredible dedication and honourable sacrifice, and for that I am truly grateful.’


Daniel began to walk away, but soon heard his master’s voice behind.


‘Ah ah, Daniel, you don’t think I’d have this toast without you, do you?’


Daniel turned, his palms beginning to sweat. ‘Sorry, master. Should I get Ralf?’


Claw laughed. ‘What? Oh no, no, he’s busy preparing five main courses for this lovely evening, I wouldn’t want to take up any of his time. You though… you can stay.’


Daniel nodded and shuffled forwards. He knew not to question Claw, but… was that correct? Five main courses? There were six at the table.


‘As I was saying,’ he continued, ‘you have all shown tremendous loyalty over the years and have made great sacrifices for those you serve tonight. I trust you will continue to do the right thing as we move into this time of great change and I’m sure you will all be willing to sacrifice your time, effort or even your lives for the causes you truly serve, as you have done so in these last few months.’ He gave an almost too kind smile to Chester. Chester smiled back nervously.


‘So,’ he raised his glass. ‘Here’s to you, you honourable men and women of duty, who would dare to put so much on the line for what you believe.’


There was a mumble of agreement as the table raised their glasses. Claw looked over and gave Daniel an excited grin accompanied by a raised eyebrow. All members of the table sipped from their wine gauntlets except for one.


‘Chester, my friend,’ Claw asked with a tone of concern. ‘Are you not going to taste this fine wine I’ve poured for you?’


Chester looked up with falsified amusement. ‘Well, of course, master. I just… well, I just wanted to let it air first.’ Claw continued to stare in the oldest member’s direction. ‘But if you insist, then I shall have a sip.’


He brought the cup to his lips and quickly placed it back down on the table, before lifting his cutlery to begin his starter.


‘Chester, now that was hardly a sip, was it? I barely saw any wine touch your lips, did any of you?’


The rest of the crew silently shook their heads, because they knew it was what he wanted to hear.


Claw leant forwards. ‘Go on, old friend. Take a good gulp.’


Chester lifted the cup to his lips and swallowed some wine.


‘Keep going,’ Claw insisted.


Chester swallowed again, glancing up with frightened eyes.


‘I insist you keep going, my friend. After all, you need a certain dosage for the… wine to kick in.’


Chester glugged red liquid in large gulps now, his hands shaking, and slammed the now empty cup on the table. He was breathing heavily and looked at Claw with a fearful expression.


Claw smirked. ‘What’s the matter, my friend? There’s nothing so frightening about a cup of wine.’


A few seconds passed, and the man touched his throat as if checking for something. ‘I’m… sorry master, I must have thought… well, I used to have this allergy to wine you see and-’ But Claw had already looked away. ‘Very well, master. Thank you, master.’


Chester tucked into his starter, and Claw gave him a sideways glance. When everybody had about dug halfway in to their first course, Claw spoke up once more. ‘I suppose you all must have figured out by now that there is a snitch in our ranks. The Agency are nowhere near smart enough to find us as they did at our last farm and as soon as they did. Meaning… one of you is to blame.’


Chester suddenly froze and began to cough lightly, glancing to Claw with slight concern.


‘My colleagues were unable to confirm this piece of information for me, but it was easy enough to figure out,’ Claw continued as Chester coughed again, this time a little louder. ‘All I had to do was work it out from the knowledge of who knew where we were going beforehand, who could have had connections to the Agency and… well, who was intelligent enough, yet foolish enough, to betray me.’


Chester coughed harder now and seemed to be struggling to inhale raspy breaths between his coughs.


‘Are you all right, Chester?’ Claw asked.


Chester kept wheezing. ‘My… throat!’


Claw nodded. ‘Ah. Here, let me help.’


He lurched across the table and tackled Chester to the floor, before beating down upon his face with his bare fists.


‘I know it was you who betrayed us!’ Claw barked. ‘I know you’ve been chatting with the Agency, telling them our little secrets. I’ve been keeping tabs on you all day, to make sure you didn’t tell them about Adrian’s distraction.’


Chester was now wailing and coughing thick clumps of blood into Claw’s face.


‘You think the Homalis are the good guys? You think you’re in the right? Well, let me tell you, throw some of those freaks of nature under a full moon or underwater, or throw them off a high building and I think you’ll find they’re far from human, and far from the decent moral beings they pretend to be. They’re animals, animals that threaten human existence, that threaten the balance of nature. You think they wouldn’t hesitate to kill you? You think that they wouldn’t tear you apart if you pissed them off in the slightest? I’m just a man and I’m ending your sad little life right now, so what do you think they’re capable of?’


Chester was sobbing now through his hoarse wheezes, blood frothing around his mouth.


‘I don’t trust anybody, Chester, but you certainly came close. You were unique to me! Hence, I decided to let Ralf poison your starter instead of your wine cup so you could at least eat before your death. You’re very welcome.’ He arose, froze, and then kicked Chester hard in the balls. The man doubled over and fell to his side, barely taking in a breath, the innards of his lungs pouring out of his mouth onto the floor.


‘Goodbye, old friend.’ He nodded as his advisor writhed on the floor in agony and finally fell limp.


Claw then pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face and fists. ‘I take it we hurt his family in some way a long time ago. Must have done given how long it would have taken him to find us, infiltrate our ranks. With a surname like Fishbourne I ought to have guessed he was an unemerged merperson. Their ancestors never could think up good nicknames.’


And you decided to copy them by changing your surname to Claw, Daniel thought to himself.


Claw turned to the whole table. ‘Chester betrayed my trust, and I don’t take that kind of thing lightly. Some of you know secrets hidden even from the rest of the group. If you value your life, keep it that way. Our once crew of nine is now a crew of seven. May it not fall to six.’ He glanced over to Daniel. ‘Throw the body in the freezer and clean up this mess. You did well with the plates, boy – so help us if you’d given poison to someone like me. If you clean up quickly, I’ll relieve you of duties for the night and I’ll even give you a bit of main course with your dog food. Poison free, of course.’


Daniel hesitated. ‘Yes… master,’ he said with a shaky tone. He walked to the body and dragged it across the floor.

***

Image by Ganapathy Kumar


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