7: (Salamander) Burgers And Fries
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And, then he thought, maybe he should've taken Eugene's advice sooner.

The dock exploded below his feet as that creature flung itself into the air and knocked him right off! A great big salamander threw itself onto the man! It must have been a hundred pounds or more, covered in wet, mucus-y skin, and its whole body shook with a bestial fury! Buck hit the wood with a scream while the creature writhed on him!

"Jesus- Ah!" He screamed, not out of pain but out of the sheer surprise! "Gene, get this thing!"

"Buck!" He couldn't see what the man was doing, but he trusted he had good intuition. The salamander violently thrashed, opening its maw and splattering Buck with hot saliva. When it came upon his skin it burnt him up- he heard steam billowing out, the creature scrabbling awkwardly outside the water!

"Shit!" Buck caught his breath and wrapped his arms around the great creature's soft middle. It convulsed atop him, but he didn't know what to do: all he thought about was that he needed to keep this thing from getting Eugene- or get it back, anywhere away from his young friend! He spat and cussed and got his foot into the old wooden boards of the dock.

Well, here goes nothin'! 

The next few seconds passed in a blur. One second he had the salamander on top of him. The next he'd rolled off, landed in the small skiff. Something went screaming as he smashed his arms up between him, the heavy beast and the wooden seats- then it all faded into bubbles as they both sunk into the water.

Buck let go, twisting in the muddy stream, tumbling in the water. He scraped the soft dirt with his fingers, wrapped around one of the support beams, then went sideways, upside down and ass-backwards down the stream. How long didn't matter, as water filled his mouth, but he got his footings when he wrapped around a boulder and got his head above the water.

He climbed up on top of the boulder, he couldn't see the beast, he saw the dock a fair ways away, but he spat out water and caught his breath. Eugene rushed along the riverbank, his spears in hand, screaming Buck's name as he did. He didn't have words, he just had pain all over his body and a light, airy feeling in his head-

But he managed it.

He steeled himself, dragged his sorry ass out and onto the bank with a growl. The man had almost gotten out of the water, when something clamped down on his leg and tripped him up. The salamander!

The thing's gummy jaws had an iron grip. Halfway out of the water, he saw vents pour steam out of its rear- and behind its neck? Fire belched out in regular bursts: out of the corners of its mouth steam billowed. Soft but muscular jaws held tight, while the salamander pulled backwards, trying to drag Buck into the water again. Beady black eyes stared out while the river churned up behind it. "Hell, hell! Stick it- Eugene, stick it! Stick it!"

"Ah- Damn you!" Eugene roared, coming tumbling down the bank. Buck swung his other free leg out, jamming his heel in the salamander's eyes. It crushed under the blow, receding inside its skull but not stopping the thing's attack. He swung, kicked, screamed again- while Eugene struck down like a lightning bolt, burying his guardsman's spear in the beast's side. "Damn you!"

"Shit!" Buck cussed- the salamander loosened up, twisting off him but not letting go completely. He figured the thing must've used fire for some purpose, as a jet of flame shot out of the wound Eugene made. But- the muscular thing twisted, and tore the spear out of the smaller man's hand. The shock threw his other spear down-

The spear!

Eugene backed away, working up an incantation, while the salamander tossed Buck to the side. He landed right by the short spear, grabbing the wooden shaft in his hands. He threw himself onto his feet, stumbling into the salamander's side- and throwing it off balance just enough. Buck screamed something primal as he drove the spear into the salamander's belly.

The short shaft and broad tip in the thing's soft belly got him a result not quite unlike Eugene's: fire licking out at his fingers, kissing him and arcing pain up his limbs. He paid no mind to it, dragging the spear out before the spasming salamander threw him off. He drove the spear in, again and again, screaming and cussing up a storm of violence. Blood and flame poured out over him, stinging just as much as the thing's saliva. Most of his body went numb- but his face and the leg it mouthed on were especially tight.

Eventually, though, the salamander slowed. Buck got under it, flipped it on its back- and with two hands slick with red he drove the blade in right under its skull. Through soft flesh it pierced, slipping through bone and vertebrae, severing its spine with finality. Its body twitched in the dirt, but Buck felt pretty confident it was dead. The adrenaline and heartbeat rushing through his ears said that if the damn thing so much as moved he'd beat it into tar.

But it fell still after a minute, leaving the man to pull himself off and limp over to Eugene. The boy watched him in awe: Buck noticed his hand looked raw and pink. 

"Hey- hey." He rattled out. Something drained out of his head, suddenly leaving the world spinning and light. He collapsed on his ass beside Eugene, sticking his foot in the water to cool off the creeping, burning ache it built up.. "Hey, slick, git your mama. We eatin' good tonight!"

"Wha- Buck!"

"Boy I said git your mama! Git! I'll be fine. Just git!" Eugene scrambled up the riverbank. "I swear if you ain't git her I'll stick you just as good as ole' mud-dog here!"

"Your leg-"

"Did I stutter? I'll be fine right here!" Buck stared a few daggers at him. He fell back. What an animal! Man, he wished he could tell ole' Jerry and Clay and-


He couldn't. The man's growing grin faded, as did the laugh he almost wanted to laugh. Jerry and Clay were his old friends, on Earth. Not on Hesse. The clouds above made a good enough thing to stare at, white splotches on a sea of blue. He noticed a crowd forming at the top of the riverbank, looking down at the man lying still and the beast he killed. They murmured gently among themselves, but not loud enough for Buck to hear. Or to care about, for that matter.

His thoughts idly drifted, until he heard folks running down towards him. Eugene must've lead them, because he heard the boy's rasping voice first. "-and then he killed it all by himself! Honest, he's right there!" 

"Howdy." Buck lazily waved a hand up.

Hands grabbed all over him, lifting him out of the water and giving him a seat on the muddy riverbank. Small stones dug into his rear, while he saw Willow and Amelia and Rodrick- even Alexandra stood by, shaking like she was in a chill despite the warm summer air. "By the Makers, Buck!" Amelia grabbed his ankle: he noticed the skin blistered up. "You killed that thing?"

"Yep. Was kinda fun, little scary, though." He grinned, even if the muscles on his face contorted up into a rictus grin. "...That thing edible?"

Willow couldn't help herself, covering her mouth with a palm to hide her laughter. Rodrick shook his head and pulled a bottle and a jar from a bag. "Drink this, son, it'll help."

Buck didn't resist at all when the man forced the bottle to his lips. A foul, acrid fluid seeped down his throat and filled his nostrils with its terrible taste. He gulped down a few sips- then spat, heaved and cussed Rodrick out. A few seconds later, though, his whole body shivered, and the pain started leaving him. Rodrick grabbed his leg and smeared the salve over it. "Christ almighty that's terrible!"

"Damnit, boy, you're tougher than you look!" Rodrick helped Buck up to his feet, the crowd slowly forming pulling in closer. They seemed amazed, but Buck had one thing on his mind.

"Ya didn't answer me-" he leaned heavily on Roddy. "Is that thing edible?"

"...Why? Well- we don't, usually kill them." Rodrick blinked, even as Buck broke away. "They are edible, young man."

"Well hell yeah! Ya kill it, ya eat it! C'mon, I ain't got time ta' be hurtin' right now!" He ripped Eugene's long spear from the beast's side, bodily picking it up and slinging it across his shoulders. "Hooo boy! I bet this thing tastes like chicken!"

"You're a madman!" Eugene howled out between his laughing fits, and Willow turned her face away. The heavy thing burdened his back, but he limped up the riverbed. "Get him a cart, get him a cart! A cart, for the madman! He needs to eat! He's going to eat the salamander! He's really going to eat it!"

"And eat it I am!" Buck boasted, hauling the salamander up. A kind stranger dragged a hand cart over- the wheels buckled under the salamander's stinking, muddy flesh- but he grabbed the handles, lifted it up, and started the trek back home. "Let's git it before it gets bad! Fix me up a fire, I ain't lettin' no good salamander go to waste!"

He hauled the mud creature through the town- those that didn't hear or see the kerfuffle soon looked out and saw the man hauling ass. Eugene ran ahead of him, much to Amelia's displeasure. He didn't seem too broken up by the assault, and as Buck drove the cart up he laughed and joked with him. Buck's foot stung: it'd be a mess later, with how he abused it so soon after being bitten down on. But...

Damn, was he hungry now! He stumbled up the hill towards his home, salamander in his cart. The crowd followed even as he set the thing down and got a fire burning. Some sort of fugue state must've fallen over them: nobody really stopped him when he set up a fire and strung up the salamander. They just watched him throw it on a table, he got a knife from- somewhere, and-

How did you even dress a salamander, he pondered it for a moment, before he shrugged and started cutting. A thin line up the belly, he drew its guts out, then... he just started working. He hadn't asked about hunting, hadn't even thought about dressing an animal in months- but when he had such a big ole' beast, a fresh kill, something clicked in his head and he started working.

Soon enough he'd dressed the creature, covered in its searing blood and too methodically invested for anyone to stop him. The crowd of townsfolk had scattered, but that just left a few stragglers and the rest of his foster-family to watch the man. Tomas' sons had started up a fire, someone had gotten the big frying pan. Willow looked amazed even as she helped dress Eugene's fingers while Amelia shook her head. Angelica had come out to see what the commotion was- then went back inside from all the noise. Rodrick got a few more bottles of harder alcohol, and at some point Alexandra had retired into her room to rest up. It left him to diligently work.

"Man I hope this tastes good." Buck announced, as the flames licked upwards. The salamander's fluids dripped and stung the edges of his fingernails: he hoped it tasted spicy. They had sweet and earthy things to eat here, but little of anything spicy. "Man this thang got me wantin' some buffalo chicken, Amelia, can I ask ya a favor?"

"Yes, dear?" Amelia stood up straight, looking uneasily at him. 

"We got any taters?"

"Taters?" She cocked her head to the side.

"Potatoes." Buck clarified, getting a nod from the half-elven woman. "Aight can ya do me a favor and uh, slice em up in like, real... like real thin slices and uh, git 'em in a pot for me, please? Or a little pan, gonna make some French fries! Gotta have oil in it."

Willow blinked even as Amelia entertained his request. "...Excuse me, young man, French?"

"...French?" Buck shrugged. "I don't know, that's just what we called 'em back home. Probably came from a place called France, and stuff from France is called French."

"Buck, are you French?"

"Hell no, I ain't French!" Buck laughed even as he threw thick, fatty strips of salamander meat into the pan. The flesh sizzled and let loose a tangy, hot aroma into the air. Little flames even shot up from what must have been left of the flammable fluid in the creature's body. "I'm American, and uh- America, y'know what we like, is we like our foods fried, and by golly I haven't fried somethin' in a hot minute, so by God I'm gonna have me some fried sallymander and some French fries, is what I'm gonna have! C'mon, my treat for y'all!"

Willow nodded, maybe not quite understanding what he just said. But who argues with the tall, strong man that just killed a raging beast and wanted to eat it? Nobody really did. Besides- it'd be a good meal to have. He could already taste it! He hoped it tasted like buffalo chicken, because it smelled spicy.

Boy he hoped it was worth having his foot chewed up. Even now it was starting to hurt. He caught Grandma Willow looking a little guilty out of the corner of his eye but he brushed it off. Eh, accidents happen sometimes.