Previously on Fractured Dawn . . .
A man wakes on a beach with no memory and discovers a strange purple stone embedded in his chest. Through a series of altercations he finds himself in the town of Bridgewood, a tree farming community far from the larger cities of the state.
To pay off damages he caused in a bar fight, the man now known as Cook works in the kitchen of the Highwayman’s Hat.
After a visit to the beach with Tanel proves pointless, the pair head back to town, to find their path crossing with a vicious beast.
Cook stood in front of his rooms doorway at the Highwayman’s Hat and looked down at the chaos that swamped the bar area of the inn. The town elders struggled to control the anger and the desperation of the townsfolk as panic spread. People wanted answers and they wanted them now.
“I heard you saw the beast,” said Abigail.
Cook turned to the barmaid. “I did.”
“I heard you saw little Kenley too.”
“Is he the boy that’s missing?”
Cook just nodded.
Abigail stepped up beside him and looked down at the towns’ folk. “They won’t sort this problem out if they can’t stop talking over each other.”
“They’re scared and confused. It’s difficult to calm a crowd running so high on emotion.”
Abagail leaned in close. “They think they can save the boy. They think he’s still out there. But he’s not, is he?”
“The child I saw in that creature’s mouth was lost to this world. There’s nothing anyone can do for him now.”
“Silence!” shouted Sheriff Lenton as he entered the Highwayman’s Hat, carving a straight line through the crowd. He joined Dusty, Doctor Falter and Tanel at the bar. There were two other well-dressed gentlemen beside them but Cook hadn’t yet made their acquaintance.
The Sheriff turned and faced the crowd and slowly the commotion became a fuss and then became just a silent, expectant group. “I’ve just come from the Regest house where little Kenley was snatched. The boy’s parents are in a terrible state but Dounel Regest made it very clear to me that he wants his son back alive or that creatures head on a stake.”
The crowd cheered at this now. They were being organised.
The Sheriff turned to Doctor Falter and his daughter. “Tanel,” he said as he gestured for her to step forward. “Can you tell us what we might be facing?”
Tanel looked at her father who gave a nod of assurance. She looked out at the faces begging to be riled up again. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she said, wincing at the memory. “It was as large as a horse, covered head to toe in green and brown fur. It . . .”
“Go on,” said Lenton at her hesitation.
“It had teeth like daggers, big daggers. And eyes that looked right through me. I . . . I don’t know what I would have done if I had been alone. I’ve never been afraid of creatures in our woods before. Not Grey Steel Snakes, not Kindle Dragons, and not Taggle Cats. But that thing, whatever it was will haunt me for a long, long time.”
“We have to kill it,” shouted someone from the crowd.
“Aye,” agreed another faceless voice. “Before someone else’s child is taken.”
The Sheriff raised his hands, hoping to stop them getting too worked up again. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said. “I’m asking for volunteers. That thing already has a head start and I don’t want to waste any more time just stood around here.”
Cook went to speak up but hesitated when he felt Abigail’s hand tighten around his wrist. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t go,” she whispered. “It’s too dangerous.”
“I have to,” he replied. “I can help.”
“These people don’t want your help. They think you’re a bad omen. They think this creature followed in your wake. You have to stay out of their way. Let them deal with it.”
Cook watched as people from the crowd stepped forward. “These men can’t fight the thing I saw out there,” he said.
“And you can?”
“Better than a bunch of tree farmers. It’s sweet that you want me to be safe-”
“I owe you after the other night.”
“You don’t owe me anything, Abigail.”
“You’re stuck here because of me,” she said, her hand moving up his arm. “Just stay out of the way and let the town of Bridgewood deal with its own problems.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Cook looked back at the gathering. People were stood around a table in the centre now, a map of the town had been laid out that showed surrounding lands.
“Tanel,” said the Sheriff. “Do you think you can take us back to where you saw the creature?”
Tanel looked at her father and then back to the Sheriff. “I don’t think I can go back out there,” she said. “It . . . it looked right at me. I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry.” With tears streaming down her face, Tanel turned and ran out to the kitchen. Benso held his hands up as if to apologise and then followed her.
“Well,” said the Sheriff, “looks like we’ll have to do this the old fashioned way.” We’ll split into two groups, cover more ground.” The volunteers nodded, eager to set off now and avenge the evil that had befallen their community. “No one goes toe to toe with it unless you’ve got back up. Stick together. Don’t make yourself easy prey. I want that thing to be the only death tonight, do I make myself clear?”
The volunteers all nodded.
“Good,” said the Sheriff. “Go to your homes, get your weapons, and pack for hunting.”
The crowd cheered. The Sheriff had rallied them. That was the easy bit. He watched them all stream out of the inn like rats leaving a sinking ship before he sat down at the map table. Dusty came and sat down opposite.
“You know what you’re up against?” she said.
“I do not,” said the Sheriff. “But what else can we do? Hide away in our houses and pray to Obitus that it goes away?”
“Just be careful out there,” said Dusty. “This town needs its Sheriff.”
“Why Dusty, you almost sound like you give a damn about me.”
Dusty shook her head. “My mistake.” She got up and turned around, almost bumping into Cook. “Dear boy, what are you still hanging around for? The inn’s closed until further notice. You can have the night off.”
“Actually,” said Cook. “I’d like to help in the search.”
Lenton turned to look up at the drifter. “No need. We’ve got this. This is a Bridgewood problem and Bridgewood folk will deal with it. Like Dusty said, you can have the night off.”
“I’ve seen this thing. It’s going to be dangerous out there, especially at night. One more blade can’t hurt.”
“Oh, you want a sword now as well?”
“I . . . I didn’t think that would be a problem.”
“I told you last night,” said the Sheriff as he stood. “You’re a stranger and I know less about you than you do, which isn’t much. I’ve got enough to worry about out there without having a mystery man among the group.”
“Let him go with you.”
The three at the table all turned to see that Benso had come back from the kitchen.
“Is Tanel okay?” asked Dusty.
“Just shaken up,” replied the Doctor. “I’ve given her something to help her sleep.”
“I’m sorry I put her on the spot,” said Lenton. “I just assumed it would be easier to be led back to the creatures’ last whereabouts by someone who’d sighted it.”
“It makes sense,” said Benso. “That’s why you should take Cook.”
Lenton sighed. “What is it with this guy? Is no one but me concerned about him?”
“Come, old friend,” said Benso. “He saved my daughter from three bandits. He’s a good guy.”
“How do we know they weren’t his friends?” said Lenton.
“Sheriff,” said Dusty. “You’re getting paranoid.”
“Sheriff,” said Cook. “I am not the threat here. That thing out there is though and I can help you take care of it.”
Lenton almost continued his protest but saw he was out numbered. He sighed. “You stay with me,” he said to Cook. “I mean that. I want you to be my shadow. Understood?”
The door to the inn opened and a man poked his head in. “We’re ready, Sheriff.”“I’ll be right there,” said the Sheriff. He turned to the others. “Dusty, keep the town locked down until we come back. Don’t send anyone else after us. As for you,” he said to Cook. “I guess we’d better get you a blade.”