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.
After a boy is taken by a strange creature, two search parties head out to track it down and kill it.
But the creature is more than adept at killing and only Cook and Sheriff Lenton survive the attack.
Something moved in the undergrowth. Cook raised his knife, ready to fight to the death.
A bird scrambled from the shrubbery and took flight, before settling on a branch above Cook, looking down at him.
“Jumpy?” said Sheriff Lenton.
“Of course I am,” said Cook, eyes still on the bird. “That thing is still out there.”
The Sheriff chuckled as he tried to shift his position leant up against a rock, but the smile turned to a wince. He hissed as the claw wound reminded him that it was there.
“Careful,” said Cook. “You’re still losing blood.”
“Careful,” said the Sheriff. “Careful, he says.” He fixed Cook with a cold, hard stare. “You should have been more careful. Then maybe you wouldn’t have led that thing to my town.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, it’s nothing to do with me.”
“Kline and Dunnel have never seen anything like it. Neither have I. You turn up and this, this thing, is right behind you.”
“If we get out of this,” said Cook, “I’m gone.”
“I get that we’re never going to get on,” said Cook. “But would it hurt you to show a little gratitude? I just saved your life.”
“I said you prolonged it,” said the Sheriff, wincing once more as he did so. “That thing isn’t going to walk away. We wounded it and it didn’t blink. It’s probably back there right now, snacking on the men I called friends, so that it’s strong enough to finish us off.” He held up his bloody palm. “Of course, I don’t think I’ll be putting up much of a fight so I guess you’ll be on your own.”
“What is your problem?”
“That’s good, lad. Shout a little louder, why don’t you. The beast will find us quicker.”
“You’d like that?” said Cook. “You’d like to see it rip me to pieces right in front of you?”
Lenton gritted his teeth as the pain revisited him, and held Cook’s eyes for a few seconds. “How did we end up down here?”
Cook was caught off guard, expecting to throw another retort back to the man who hated his guts. He thought on the Sheriff’s question and realised that Lenton wasn’t dumb enough to let it go. Just in case, he played dumb. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not a big man, but in my current state I would have been dead weight. Now, you look strong, but even a mighty man would have struggled to carry me down that cliff face, down to the base of the falls, and all the while with that thing breathing down your neck too.”
Cook said nothing.
“That thing was coming straight for me,” the Sheriff continued. “So how in Salus’ name did we end up down river from the falls and all in one piece?” He glanced at his wound. “Well almost in one piece.”
“I rounded the creature,” said Cook. “I grabbed you and took us both over the falls. Quickest way down.”
“Bollocks. The only thing I’ve seen sharper than that beast’s teeth are the jagged rocks at the bottom of that waterfall. This gash on my side would be the least of my worries.” He pulled a concealed knife from a calf strap. “So, you want to tell me how we got down here?”
Cook opened his mouth and closed it again. His eyes were no longer on the Sheriff who was sat slumped against a rock in the centre of a small clearing. Cook was watching something large emerging from the long grass, something vicious looking entering the clearing, something monstrous baring its teeth.
“Sheriff,” said Cook. “Don’t move.”
“I’m no fool, drifter,” said Lenton. “I pull a knife and suddenly you want me to turn around. I may come from a backwards town in the middle of nowhere but I’ve been a fighting man longer than you’ve been breathing air in this world.”
Cook ignored the Sheriff and kept his eyes locked with that of the beast. Lenton opened his mouth to speak again but his breath caught in his throat as the jaw of the beast settled inches beside his head.
“Oh Tempus,” said Lenton.
The creature snorted as if to mock the Sheriff but all its attention was on Cook.
“What’s that?” muttered the Sheriff.
Cook could feel the stone in his chest beginning to grow warm. He didn’t want Lenton to see him change, to think he’d been right. But neither would escape this creature unless he used his abilities to even the fight.
“Whatever happens,” said Cook, “stay back.”
“What do you-”
Cook’s skin began changing from soft flesh to solid, grey rock. It was quicker this time and less painful. His body was getting used to it.
The creature roared and charged at the stone man stood before it.
Cook stepped left and grabbed hold of the creatures head but was thrown against a tree. The thick trunk cracked under his weight. He stood back up as the creature lunged for his head and reached out to grab its jaws. Warm, putrid breath washed over Cook as rows of vicious teeth were bared right in front of his eyes. He tried to split the creature’s jaws, to snap them back or damage them enough to rid the thing of one of its weapons, but it escaped his grip. Instead it went with one of its claws at slashed across Cook’s chest. Three thin grooves were etched into the rock and Cook was surprised to feel it.
He guessed he wasn’t as tough as he thought.
The creature didn’t give him much of a chance to assess his abilities and came at him again, a battering ram of teeth and claws. It lifted Cook off the ground and pinned him down. The tail waved in the air and struck down towards his head but he managed to turn away. The creature raised a claw and forced it down at Cook’s chest but he managed to use his free arm to grab the ankle. It brought its weight down upon the stone man, determined for the razor sharp claws to find their target. Cook gave it everything but he knew that, being beneath such ferocious strength, it was only a matter of time.
And the beast roared and it sounded like agony.
Lenton leapt from the beasts back, and rolled around behind a tree. Cook could see the hilt of the Sheriff’s blade protruding from the creature’s skull. He felt a little relief on his limbs as the creature’s attention was lost as it tried to swing its tail at the weapon causing it so much pain. Gathering what strength he had left, Cook forced the beast off of him.
Now he circled the creature and charged at its side, using his shoulder to tip it over. He clasped his stone fists together, raised them over his head, and brought them down hard on the beast’s ribcage.
Another howl of pain as the creature tried to get back on its feet but Cook didn’t let up. Again and again he battered the exposed underbelly, the weaker area. He heard ribs crack.
The tail wrapped around Cook’s right wrist and tried to drag the stone man back, but he was letting the power of the stone flow through his body now. He grabbed the tail, tugged hard and tore the end away.
The creature was weak now. It tried to right itself but its energy was gone. It looked Cook in the eyes as the stone man knelt down beside its head. It growled, then snapped its jaws half-heartedly.
“You will no longer terrorise these people,” said Cook, struggling to catch his breath. “Whatever you are.”
Fists brought together once more; Cook brought them down hard, shattering the creature’s skull.
He rolled back then, lying beside his defeated opponent, the creature that had caused so much misery. As he relaxed, he felt the energies seep away and his body return to normal. He just needed to rest for a short while.
It wasn’t over. Cook knew he couldn’t just walk away. Ten men died up by the falls. Ten families will find out they have lost something by sunrise. And as soon as he had the strength he would get up and make the walk back to Bridgewood, he would tell them himself. It was the least he could do. He just had to find Lenton-
“I knew there was something not right about you,” said the Sheriff. He had crawled across the clearing and now lay beside Cook, his blade rested across the drifter’s soft neck. “What in Salus’ name are you? Some kind of abomination?”
“I’m the man who saved your life,” said Cook. “I’m the man who killed the beast that threatened your fair town. But if you want to slit my throat, if you want to kill me as I lay here defenceless, then just do it. Because I’m tired of trying to earn your trust.”
Slowly, Lenton moved the knife away. Wincing, he rolled over onto his back and looked up at the sky as the first light of a new day banished the stars that had watched over them. He coughed a little and looked at his bloody hand.
“I am grateful,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean I have to like you.”
Before Cook could say anything else, an archer from the second hunting party burst into the clearing. He gasped at the sight of the beast before he realised it was dead and relaxed his bow. Then he turned to see the two men on the ground.“I’ve found them!”