Stone tracked the mob to the canyon floor. A mama Spineback watching over her three spinelings as they tore flesh and fat from the carcass of a yak.
Old Hoster’s stock, Stone thought. He gazed up the shimmering canyon. Spinebacks kept mostly to the outer wastes. They were territorial, solitary, and quick to charge.
Crouching behind a boulder he unslung Clementine and sighted down the canyon but there was no shot. The mama spineback weighed at least a tonne so if he put her down too close to the young ones there was a good chance they’d be crushed. Stone wanted no young blood on his hands.
Windblown ash and motes rolled down from the plains and he cursed and wiped the grit from his eyes. When he re-sighted the Spineback was staring straight at him. Cold black eyes set over a reptilian jaw, they followed him with an ancient and indifferent malice.
Rifle in hand, Stone stepped out from behind the boulder, trigger finger loose against the guard. “Aw hell,” he said under his breath.
Triggered by his presence, the Spineback’s neckfrill bloomed in a protective umbrella; scales of calcified skin that shone radiant bronze in the sunlight. Sharp claws and ridges of bone along her head. The big lizard snorted hot air and hissed. Her children hissed as well, scurrying in behind their mama as she began to stamp her heavy feet. At speed she could turn flesh and bone to bloody paste. Stone raised his rifle. The Spineback began to charge.
Twice his finger worked the trigger and twice the low magnetic thump and thwang of the rounds discharging. Blue streaks of charged particle tore the air. The first shot bounced off the neck frill of the Spineback, the impact turning her head. The second caught her deep in the shoulder. Her massive frame skidded to the ground not ten feet from where Stone stood, sending up a wave of grey sand.
The beast tried to regain her footing, her tail smashing against a pillar of limestone jutting from the canyon wall. Stone stepped back and it all came toppling down in a jagged limestone reef. A final roar echoed up the canyon, borne away on the wasteland winds.