FoxHound

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10.

The afternoon sun was sinking low with haste, the great cloud skimming trees being of little help to Moslay. Yet his search for the fox would not be long; he felt eyes upon him the moment he stepped into his lot. It was desolate just like he left it, but now it looked as though the wreckage had been turned over a few times. Winifred’s house had been toppled as well, the remains of it scattered far and wide as though a tornado had struck it. With a cautious hand, Moslay drew the revolver and made sure the pockets of his coat were loaded with spare rounds. He would need everyone for the fox, that much he was sure of. It was all a matter of when now that he had come into the danger.

Leaves and a light layer of snow crunched in a cadence with twigs and limbs snapping off of trees, every little noise was putting Moslay on edge. He almost fired on Liurial as she crept by to sit on the wreckage of the man’s home, all too calm for the man’s liking. As he spun about searching for that first blur of orange, the cat was lounging as though this were an everyday event. Finally, as Moslay sighted movement, he let fear subside. He charged towards the edge of the woods, his pistol ready to take the first shot against the creatures lurking about. However, as he began to frantically look about in the orange and yellow leaves, a yowl caught his ear, sending him spinning. Making a full turn, Moslay came face to face with that muzzle overextended with too many teeth and that collection of too many eyes.

The fox was barely a foot away from him, how it had gotten so close so quick Moslay could never guess, but he had to figure the cat had tried to warn him. Moslay thought of it as trying to warn him because he was pretty sure any animal the fox could find would be prey. And if the demon was as vile as it ever had been, it likely killed the cat first to make the duel with Moslay all the more intimate. It had clearly been busy in Moslay’s time away. Its coat was rough and turned an almost crimson red while darker marks had formed around every eye. Scars and open wounds covered its hide and slashed into features that would never be whole again. None of the damages seemed to bother the monster that much, though. Instead, the fox looked happy to see Moslay, a hunger flashed in every eye, and a delighted grin came across its muzzle.

Icy water ran through Moslay’s heart but then came the clarity that he needed to carry on without stumbling. His finger pulled the trigger twice, knowing two of the three refract rounds were up first. It didn’t matter where he fired them, the bullets broke apart and bounced off nearly any surface. To his luck, the rounds found a stone just behind the fox’s forwardmost paw, sending fragments of bullet up into its torso. Moslay fell back as the fox lunged forward, firing another duet of shots, the first shocker and the next refract. The first would open a wound in the fox, and the second would enter, bouncing around within the over-eager creature. As he rolled up from beneath the fox, Moslay fired the last round in the chamber, taking it through the left ear and skimming across the monster’s skull. The shocks seemed to have an effect but not enough just yet. It staggered enough for Moslay to reload, a collection of rounds he couldn’t be sure of, but that was all the time he had.

Trees toppled, leaves fluttered as clouds in the air, and fresh snowy dirt was overturned as the fox stopped short and redirected itself. Shaking off the electrical shock, it seemed to almost enjoy the challenge being thrown at it with Moslay putting up a real fight this time. Another bullet whizzed past the fox’s head, erupting into a gout of bluish flame just to its tail. Eagerly it approached the man, every eye dead set on Moslay’s watching every nervous twitch and panicked expression as the man chambered the next round and took aim. This one, he actively dodged and thankfully so as the wind whipped wildly in spirals in the path of the bullet. Lunging forward at Mosley, the fox toppled the man and came down hard with his blood-stained teeth.

Throwing up the iron gloved hand, Mosley met the fox mid-bite, digging the metallic fingers into the upper teeth and applying all the force those artificial digits could. It threw the beast off for a moment allowing Moslay to chamber his next round and fire it square in the face of the fox. A smoky haze filled the space between the two, forcing the beast to back down as it inhaled too much of the stuff. Moslay crawled away on his back, rotating the cylinder as he did so to fire another shot off into the cloud that hung still as a curtain. This bullet spiraled through as the second had, a spearhead that opened a brief glimpse in the cloud. The fox was missing on the other side, but that didn’t worry Moslay as much as running out of bullets did. He pulled himself up on one knee and reloaded all but the fifth chamber. Before he had the cylinder back in, the cloud ripped open wide, the blood-streaked fox muzzle tearing through the air at him.

Two more shots peppered the fox’s head; one felt like a typical bullet that went just shy of the owl’s eye while the other struck above it, causing a wetness to streak down his face. He didn’t bother with the pain; the man’s life energy would heal whatever hurts he took in this bout. All the fox had to do was catch him. Yet, Moslay was quicker than he had any right to be at his age. He dove over the fence into his lot, taking two more good shots at the fox’s side. White-hot heat rushed through his coat, but the fox could only laugh at the pain. It was nothing compared to what he was about to do to the man. Rushing further on the trail, the fox climbed the low hill that sat on that end of Moslay’s lot and launched himself down onto the man, another round, this one exploding with a significant impact, struck him.

Moslay couldn’t reload the revolver in time, the fox was too quick, and he had put all his hope in that last round. If he could distract the fox or injure it enough, he could have placed more bullets in the cylinder, but it was a gamble he wasn’t about to win. The fox fell on him full force and had that weight and velocity not been enough, the dirty claws digging into Moslay’s chest was the clenching aspect. He fought wildly, trying to use the metal glove but only now realizing it was in ruins after that first usage. Then he struck against the muzzle and paw with revolver’s handle, the broken circlet on its bottom drawing blood but hardly enough to worry the fox. It reeled back and bared teeth, a harsh rictus of violent joy; he was going to enjoy digging into the man’s flesh. Yet before he could plunge down on Moslay, the soft meow of a cat drew both the attention of the man and fox.

Liurial sat, perched still on the remains of Moslay’s home, looking as though she hadn’t a care in the world. It wasn’t much, a distraction that could have only been a second long, but it was enough for Moslay to load in another few shots. Three was all he could pull from the pocket, but he made them count. They were a vibrant gold, just like the one he had shot into the fox’s skull and caused the fur and eye there to melt into a trickling of flesh. The fox snapped back as he felt wriggling below him but was met with three rapid shots that cut away so much more than a simple path of iron. Acidic fluid exploded on both sides of the fox’s muzzle, melting away flesh and popping the eyes that were fixed there. The last erupted in the open muzzle that Moslay only now noticed was filled with eyes growing from the internal walls of the mouth. Dense, bloody rivers still filled with the caustic stuff poured down, turning the fox to a skeleton as his fur and flesh became rivers of gore. Moslay thought it was enough, hoped it could have been what saved him from the fox, but it was all for not.

The globbing path of the fluid fell onto the old man, burning threw his chest and torso, allowing rivers of smoke to flit away from him. If Moslay had one last scream left, it was stifled by the acidic component burning into his lungs and throat. Liurial only hoped that the stuff worked as fast at ending the poor man’s life as it had the fox’s. It slumped down, its bony muzzle impacting the dirt and cracking free rotted teeth. The cat couldn’t be proud that this was how it ended, but she could take solace in the fact Moslay had done the job. Yet, just as Liurial was about to hope down and make her way back towards the Dinn farm, with the fox’s tail, of course, the remains began to stir.

A smoky, snaking form fled from the fox’s body and seemed to fix on the cat who sat watching it casually. It howled to the darkening sky before again setting its multitude of eyes on Liurial, who began to tiredly lick her paws. Growls and barks came next, and then the fox-like outline rushed at the cat. Liurial was patient, allowing the spirit to come only paces away before enacting her own plot. A vivid, pulsing, almost electric inferno of spirit rose from the cat and engulfed the fox. Liurial’s was easily thrice the size of the fox and made short work of it. Digging razor-sharp claws in under the throat, the cat pulled away the head and then dug in with her teeth. Playful, she shook the diminutive and still shrinking spirit around freely before tossing it to the wind. The wisping head faded in her grip, but that was well enough. Liurial wasn’t some menace; she couldn’t rightly absorb the creature and still be wholly herself. But with the spirit now vanquished, she could not rightly say it wasn’t entirely complete. There was nothing left now except a bounty and owed debts. Liurial wouldn’t let the heroic man’s body fade into the dirt like the fox either. Moslay had been a stubborn one, but a man of conviction. And though it had been his end, in the end, it was fitting for Moslay the man he was and always had been. The last of the emperor’s old hounds had finally come home.

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