The wolf tore through the cornfield, crushing the stalks beneath his thick paws, bloody spittle oozing from his mouth with each panting breath. The scent of its quarry filled its nose, prompting it to maintain the punishing pace, a mad light in its eyes as the coppery smell of blood reached it. A savage howl erupted from its throat and its legs churned through the field ever faster.
Picking himself up from the fall that had torn open the skin on his leg, Sinclair continued his desperate dash to the farm house, breath burning inside his chest. The creature was fast eating into his head start and he doubted that howl meant anything good for him. He could hear its progress through the field, the sound of his hungry panting over his own pounding heart and footsteps. Still, he only had to make it to the house. Less than a minute more of running. He could do this. He would do this!
He could make out the growling undertone to the panting as he left the field and hit the open ground that lay before the house. He heard it bursting out of the corn as he leapt over the ring of oil surrounding the building. He skidded to a halt just inside and turned on his heel to fling the door shut. The last thing he saw before the heavy wood slammed home was the creature, fur and jaws matted with blood, digging its claws in to stop it slipping on the oil slick grass and preparing to leap. The door shut with a bang and Sinclair ran for the stairs. He reflexively flinched, ducking behind the banister, when the wolf tore through it a moment later sending it sailing across the room in splintered pieces. He knew werewolves were strong but he didn't think they were that powerful. If nothing else at least it gave him that extra motivation to force his burning leg muscles to push him up the stairs that little bit faster.
He permitted himself a small sigh of relief as his goal came into view and he started to reach out for it. Something warm, wet, and sharp latched onto his boot, bringing him crashing down and driving the rest of the air from his lungs. He twisted round as much as he could and felt cold sweat beading on his face at the sight of his foot in the mouth of a werewolf. He didn't think the teeth had actually gone through to his skin, thank the Lord for thick boots, but it was still a far from comforting sight. And the rest of him was considerably less covered and doubtless the creature would go for one of those other bits now it had actually caught up with him. He kicked out with his other foot, catching the beast firmly across the snout. It snarled but didn't let go, stubbornly trying to dig its teeth in deeper. The second kick slammed hard down on the creature's nose, extracting a sharp yelp, and he was able to drag his foot free and lunge for the trap release.
There was a faint thud as the supports dropped out from beneath the staircase and then a much louder crack, combined with panicked barking, as the stairs themselves crumpled under their own weight. The wolf went crashing down, jaws snapping at Sinclair's heels and claws scrabbling at anything they could find, desperately seeking purchase. Sinclair had a good enough grip on the release handle and enough of his upper body now pressed against the floorboards of the landing that he thankfully didn't go down too, although his legs were left dangling over the edge. Envisioning the creature jumping up to snap its bloody jaws inches away from his feet gave him the spur he needed to drag himself further forwards and onto the landing properly. He could hear the werewolf tearing up what remained of the furniture in the rooms downstairs in its rage at his escape. A rushing noise and a sudden orange glow coming in through the window provoked a faint smile, the movement pulling at the scarring on his left cheek.
"Perfect timing, Juanita," he said faintly through heaving breaths. "As always." The lit oil encircling the properly would stop the creature fleeing once it calmed down enough to realise Sinclair was well and truly out of reach. It should also serve to keep it panicked enough that it wouldn't start thinking like a man again and actually find some way up to reach him.
Right, he couldn't stay here lying on his back forever. After all that running earlier he'd probably just seize up if he didn't keep moving now. And the stairs had only been dropped like that to give him time to get to one of the other rooms and access his equipment. Aside from the moral conflict of killing a creature that spent the majority of its life as a, theoretically, rational human being his main issue with werewolves was that the bastard things could smell the silver you were going to use to try and kill it. Only when their blood was up like this would they hurl themselves into a fight, ignoring all other dangers. But until you got them like that if they sensed a serious threat the part of their mind that was still human would take over and force them to run before you even got close.
Keeping track of there the creature was downstairs Sinclair ran to what had previously been the master bedroom. His leather weapons wrap was spread out on the tattered and bloodstained remains of the bedspread, showing off a wide variety of weapons in various shapes and sizes, but all in the same good condition and state of repair. He didn't waste time debating what to take; the choice was fairly obvious. His standard trusty revolvers, each fully loaded with a set of silver laced and thrice blessed bullets. The blessing wouldn't make a blind bit of difference to the creature, unlike most things he went after, but the silver was going to do more than sting. And to accompany those he took his silver edged knife and slid it into his arm sheath.
Sufficiently armed Sinclair paused for a moment to say a prayer, for himself and the man the werewolf used to be both, and then ran back to the landing to put the next part of the plan into effect. As he passed through the door he couldn't help but notice there was a surprising amount of smoke in the air now. The line of fire was sufficiently far away that it really shouldn't be coming through into the building. He wasn't sure he should be able to hear the sharp crackling of the flames either. It was making it more difficult to properly pinpoint the location of the beast.
He stepped carefully along the landing, keeping an eye on the gap where the stairs used to be just in case the creature was going to be generous enough to provide him with an easy shot. He had just turned his back on the stairs and was heading into the room above the one he thought it was tearing apart when the floor creaked alarmingly beneath his feet. He gingerly tried for one more step and the floor boards completely gave way, dropping him into a room with a raging inferno where the door should be and a werewolf half mad with fear slamming itself against the wall.
Sinclair wanted to believe he'd been stuck in worse situations and had found a way out of them. He just wasn't entirely sure right now whether it was true or not. At least in this instance the werewolf was a great deal more concerned with the fire and trying to escape outside again than it was with him. It was significantly more than just hot and uncomfortable in here, but he was confident he wouldn't keel over and die if he didn't escape right at that minute. He had enough time to finish the job first. Backing away from the creature, but not getting so close to the blazing inferno of a wall that his coat would catch fire, he carefully took aim and opened fire, both barrels blazing away.
Unsurprisingly at this range there were a series of direct hits, some of the bullets even going straight through, exiting the beast with sprays of blood. However, Sinclair's victory was short lived as these sprays were very small and apart from a few drops from the initial entry wounds no other blood was spilled. The wounds closed up almost instantly. Sinclair was forced to stamp down on the panic that was quite legitimately starting to make itself known. Those had been silver laced bullets, the creature's fast healing shouldn't have been able to kick in and fix the damage! Even if he hadn't scored a fatal hit, it should at the very least have been in pain and bleeding! Instead it was rounding on him, clearly determined to take out a source of threat that unlike the fire it quite likely could deal with without a great deal of effort.
That bastard merchant! Sinclair thought as he hurriedly dropped his apparently useless guns and drew his knife instead. He sold me impure silver! That was the only thing he could think of. This was why he usually only liked getting supplies of people he knew well or had a reputation from prior dealings with the church. But this far out in the middle of nowhere he hadn't had a great many options. But he was sure as hell paying the price now. Trapped in a burning building with a werewolf was one thing. Trapped in the same burning building with the same half crazed beast when your only effective weapon was close range...he was sure the bishop would have a few ideas but he honestly couldn't think of anything he'd done to deserve this.
Think, Sinclair, think! he ordered himself savagely. There has to be a way out of this. He flung himself sideways as the creature lunged, causing it to careen into the fiery wall with a yelp. Go for the door, you can probably make it outside if you're quick. Depending on how far the flames had spread at least. And how strong they were. He threw himself across the room again, rolling to come up in a crouch as the creature sprang again. But the wolf might follow you rather than staying in here. And even if it doesn't you don't know where it'll ultimately burst out. And then you'll have to tackle it in the open which would be worse. Of course the wolf made the decision for him by being just that little bit too quick on the return charge. It barrelled into Sinclair, completely flattening him. He had just enough time to roll onto his back and bring his knife up before it was on him.
Unfortunately it had pinned him in a position where the knife was almost impossible to use. The arm in question was wedged against the beast's throat, stopping it from bringing its jaws down to tear into his face, leaving them snapping ineffectually an inch from his nose. The other arm wasn't doing much better, wrestling with an oversized clawed paw that was attempting to shred his side. It was bad enough the other paw currently had free reign to do so. If only he could get it free. If only the creature would actually acknowledge his legs kicking at it with all their strength. If only...
A drop of thick, warm blood dripped from the beast's nose to land on Sinclair's chin. He recalled the scrabble on the stairs. The werewolf really hadn't liked being kicked in the nose. It had provided enough distraction for him to get his foot free. Maybe it could work again now. He had to time it right though. He didn't want to shove his head forwards just as the thing was opening its mouth. It would think Christmas had come early if its prey just nearly deposited its head into waiting jaws.
He steeled himself to wait for that opportune moment, but in the end just had to hope for the best. There was no set pattern to the way it snapped at him and any moment now the strength in his arm was going to give, rendering it all moot anyway. One vicious jerk forwards and he slammed the bony part of his forehead right against the creature's abused nose. Warm blood ooze out to smear across his forehead and the animal jerked back with an ear splitting cry of pain. With a cry of triumph Sinclair yanked his arm out the way and brandished the knife.
A bolt of lightning erupted from the burning doorway, arcing across the room to slam into the creature's back. The cry of pain from the headbutt was nothing compared to the howl it gave now. The stench of burning fur mingled with the far more pleasant smell of the burning wood and oil as blue energy crackled round it and it collapsed in a heap, twitching several times before finally laying still.
"Stop staring and move, you idiot!" came the shout from through the wall of fire. "The entire building's caught, it won't last long!"
Sinclair hauled himself to his feet, cursing that his legs had picked now to start shaking, his knees threatening to buckle, and ran for the door. The guns he'd come back for when the fire had died down. He'd left the majority of his gear behind anyway, what were a few more pieces? Especially when the bullets didn't do the damn job he'd bought them for. He pulled his scarf up over his face to help with the flames and smoke and leapt through the space the lightning arc had come through. In the corridor the flames were everywhere and the smoke was so thick he could barely make out Juanita standing next to him, let alone the way out. She grabbed his hand and pulled.
After the burning house the outside air was cold enough that it hit like a slap to the face. Sinclair dropped to the floor and rolled to put out the flames that had caught along his coat, kicking off boots that had started to smoulder. Juanita dropped her Lightning gun and did the same. Only difference was when she'd finished she got back to her feet to watch the house as it started to crumple inwards. Sinclair just lay on his back, eyes closed and breathing hard. If anything new and dangerous came along now he figured he'd just let it kill him. He honestly didn't think he could move to save Juanita's life, let alone his own.
"What happened?" he asked after a moment.
"The werewolf tracked in more oil than we expected," Juanita explained. "The wood in the house was dry enough that it just went up like a torch."
Sinclair briefly contemplated pushing himself into a sitting position but decided against it. He did open his eyes a crack though to regard his friend. "Explain to me again why I was the one the werewolf was chasing? You're the one that specialises in big hairy brutes, are you not?"
Juanita grinned at him and nudged him with the toe of her boot. "You're the better runner, remember? You were the one that argued you'd stand the better chance of making it back to the farmhouse without it catching you."
"Yeah...well...shut up," he said, closing his eyes again and bringing his hand up to rest against his forehead, shielding his face slightly from the blaze both in front and behind them. "How long is the oil ring going to burn for?"
"Shouldn't be too much longer." Juanita sat down next to him. "I had every faith in your ability to take the beast out quickly enough that we wouldn't need it more than half an hour or so. Or at least distract it for long enough that I'd be able to sneak in and stab it in the back."
Sinclair opened one eye again. "I'll have you know I had the creature right where I wanted it. I'd just gained the perfect opportunity to dramatically stab it right in the eye when you snuck in and shot it." His gaze dropped to the heavy barrelled weapon sitting calmly on the grass a few feet away. "Where the hell did you get your hands on a Lightning gun anyway? They're not exactly common weapons."
"I'm sure you did dear," Juanita said, patting his arm, extracting a wince as pain flared up it. "I just thought you might appreciate the help given that you had to deal with a highly unexpected fire. You gave me a right scare when you disappeared from the upstairs window like that. I could just about see you and then you dropped!"
"I have to admit that was a little disconcerting," Sinclair said. "Having the floor drop away from one like that is one of the more alarming ways to get downstairs."
"I'll bet. As for the gun I borrowed it off Henreich after Paris. Somehow he'd managed to get his hands on two so I begged and pleaded and he handed one right over."
"You flirted and flashed a bit of leg you mean." He grinned and raised his hand to ward off the blow he knew was coming at that.
"Bastard," Juanita said, at least a little affection seeping into her voice. "You're just jealous because the Priests would get very upset with you if you went round letting pretty girls get their hands on your weapon just because they asked nicely. Now, do you want me to take a look at those gashes on your arm and side? And have you checked for bites yet?"
Sinclair groaned and pushed himself into a sitting position, his arm muscles complaining bitterly at the movement. "Yes please, and not yet. Although if I have been bitten could you just put a bullet to me? I'm honestly in no condition to handle the antidote right now." He did a brief mental check of where it hurt, quickly dismissing anything that was obviously a muscle cramp or some other pain from just pushing himself too hard. Since he'd managed to do a pretty good job of staying out of reach of the jaws this didn't take too long and he was able to get to his bitten foot fairly rapidly. Thankfully he'd been correct in his initial assessment: the teeth hadn't got through the tough material. He really hoped they hadn't been too badly damaged by that last dash through the burning building. Footwear of that quality was quite hard to find.
"Ow!" he yelped, trying to jerk away when Juanita introduced a severe pain to his torn and bleeding side. "What the hell are you doing to me, woman?"
"Iodine, you big baby," she replied, tightening her grip on his arm to stop him squirming off. "The claws might not carry a curse like the teeth, but they're still hardly clean. A fine thing if you survive a fight with a werewolf in a burning building, only to die of an infection later. So sit still and let me get on with it."
Sinclair was very please he still had his scarf covering his lower face because he didn't think he could shift his expression out of anything other than sulky at that. "Fine, just get on with it." Juanita's arched eyebrow expression at that spoke volumes, mostly along the lines of 'that's exactly what I'm trying to do, you great oaf', but she didn't actually say anything, which he counted as a small, if very petty, victory. "So, what's your next port of call now you've beaten your latest foe? Finally going to hunt down a rich husband and set yourself up as a Spanish lady?"
Juanita snorted. "Hardly. Not unless I can find one that will still let me go off monster hunting whenever I chose, otherwise I'd just die of boredom. And unfortunately I think most Spanish gentlemen are a little too into machismo to let a delicate flower like me get involved in such beastly pastimes. Coat off please, those gashes are going to need a bandage or two as well." As Sinclair shrugged off his coat and waistcoat she rummaged through her bag to find a small collection of rolled bandages. "I thought I might go back to America, at least for a while. The colonisation and the slaughter of the native population has stripped the country of most of its knowledge of the creatures over there. The natives are trying to get it back but they still haven't really recovered, so I plan on lending what help I can." She grinned at him. "Fancy joining me?"
Sinclair shook his head. "The Church would never permit my going. There's too much to do here. The Baron's been sending out his fleet again. In particular Luke's craft has been sighted. That definitely means he's up to something and it's very unlikely to be pleasant." He winced again when Juanita finished dealing with his side and switched to spreading iodine over the cut on his arm, but didn't say anything. "So it would appear this is the last time we'll be seeing each other for at least a while."
"It does seem likely," Juanita said. She re-stoppered the iodine and extended her hand to him. "It's been a pleasure working with you Sinclair. Do your best not to die so I can have the pleasure again in the future."
Sinclair smiled and took the offered hand. "And you Juanita. Stay as safe as you can possibly manage."