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.
People are nervous of the stranger and are not afraid to let him know, especially the towns Sheriff.
But grudges are put aside when a creature steals a child away. Now Sheriff Lenton and Cook must lead a group of townsfolk into the woods to hunt a deadly predator.
Cook focused on the undergrowth before him. He was as sure as he could be under the circumstances. When he’d been with Tanel and they’d first seen the creature it had been the middle of the day and even then he’d struggled to spot it. Now though, with the sun absent until morning, everything was bathed in shadows.
He checked the trees again, but only the small oak to his left with a strange looking knot was familiar. It was all he had to go on so he just had to sound confident.
“Well?” said Lenton. “Is this the place?”
Cook turned to the Sheriff and the gaggle of tree farmers crowded behind him. “Yes. It was just a few metres in from the path that we spotted it.”
Lenton held Cook’s gaze for a few seconds as if arguing with himself internally over the validity of the information. Then he turned to two men on his right. “Go see what you can find.”
The two men nodded and hurried over to the spot Cook had pointed out. They crouched down and checked the leaves and the dirt.
“Kline and Dunnel are two of the best trackers that Bridgewood has,” said Lenton. “If they can’t follow this monster, no one can.”
“How far will the other hunting party go?” said Cook.
“They’ll take a few hours to reach the forest border,” said the Sheriff. “If they’ve had no sign of it by then they’ll turn around and follow the river back to town.”
They stood in silence for a while as the trackers searched for any sign of their quarry.
“You know how to use that thing?” mumbled Lenton. He glanced at the sword he’d given to Cook, although his exact word had been ‘lent’.
“Hopefully we won’t have to find out,” said Cook, his eyes still focused on the trackers.
“You think that’s funny?” said Lenton. “I don’t want my life or any of these men’s lives dependant on whether you can keep hold of blade when it counts. I’m already regretting bringing you. You’re a liability.”
Cook went to say something but was interrupted by the trackers.
“We’ve found the tracks,” shouted Kline.
Lenton led Cook and the tree farmers over to the spot. “What is it we’re hunting?”
Kline looked to Dunnel, who shrugged, and then back to the Sheriff before shrugging himself.
“Well, which way did this mysterious creature go?”
The trackers stood up and both pointed north.
“Towards the falls,” said the Sheriff. “It’ll be in the caves.”
R R R
It didn’t take them long to reach the falls. They hadn’t been far from the river to begin with and once they’d reached its banks they just followed it all the way.
Cook had heard the falls before he’d seen them. The brutal rumbling of the cascading water echoed throughout the trees, drawing them in.
“Careful near the edge,” said Lenton as Cook hopped up on a rocky outcrop to peer over the edge. “Wouldn’t want you to fall off. Horrible way for a man to go.”
Cook ignored the Sheriff and carried on looking down. It wasn’t a large waterfall but it was vigorous. A dome of white wash swallowed the falling river far below. Jagged rocks embraced each side of the pool like the rotting teeth of an ancient beast. Away from the falls the rest of the forest spread out before them beneath a half moon. It was a beautiful view.
“We’ll have to climb down,” said Lenton to the rest of the party. “If it’s come this far then it’ll be using the caves behind the falls. Get some rope tied off to those trees and let’s get going.”
A couple of the farmers dropped their packs and took lengths of rope out, tying it to the sturdiest trees a little way in from the cliff edge. Cook stepped away from the crest of the falls and joined the Sheriff. “What’s the plan once we’re down there?”
“You and half the men wait outside the entrance while I take the rest in. If we don’t find it and kill it ourselves then maybe we’ll flush it out. Then you can find out if you’re able to hold onto your blade or not.” He walked away from Cook and checked the ropes. “Right. Three ropes. We go one at a time on each. Move!”
The tree farmers didn’t hesitate in following orders. Three men stepped forward, took up the ropes, and turned their backs on the drop. They took a few steps back.
That’s when the creature struck.
It burst from the tree line and used its claws to cut all three ropes in one pass. It did this just as the three tree farmers put their weight over the edge. With no support they simply dropped. Cook heard the screams over the thunderous roar of the falls but only for a few seconds.
From twelve men now nine remained.
The rest of the hunting party were startled but not for long. Axes were raised and bows were drawn. Cook unsheathed his borrowed blade as two more farmers fell to the beast; one in its mighty jaws, the other had his stomach torn open.
Seven men left.
As Cook charged into the fray he felt his grip on the blade shift a little without even thinking about it. For whatever reason, he was making it comfortable. The weight didn’t notice anymore as the weapon became an extension to his body. He knew what to do and he knew how to do it well. Fighting felt natural.
The creature turned as he swung the blade and saved itself from losing a paw. It lashed out at Cook but its razor sharp claws only connected with the sword. The creature snapped its jaws and Cook rolled to the side, narrowly missing the whip like tail that cracked the air.
Cook stood quickly but the creature’s attention was on its other side as a couple of arrows struck its hind. It charged forward and knocked the two archers of their feet before biting into the arm of a third. The man screamed as he was taken off of his feet and dragged back towards the treeline where the creature, free from attack for a moment, shook its head and freed the man from his appendage. With the arm still cradled in its jaw, the creature growled. It raised a rear paw and used a claw to silence the screaming man before it began stalking back towards the remaining men.
Half the hunting party remained.
The beast picked up its pace as the remaining men readied themselves. One of the Sheriff’s hand axes shot past Cook’s head and dug deep into the creature’s side but it didn’t even flinch. The Sheriff dived out of the way but it wasn’t enough to completely avoid being sliced. He clutched his side as he rolled onto his back.
The creature circled back, removing the face of the last archer who fumbled his arrow. Cook leapt forward once more bringing the blade down with all his strength. Inches from the creature’s neck, the tail knocked the blade and all it found was dirt. While the creature was distracted, a farmer managed to get on its back. He got a few strikes in, blood was drawn, but the tail retrieved him and he was thrown over the falls.
Four left if the Sheriff didn’t bleed out.
The last two farmers joined Cook on surrounding the creature as best they could to keep its attention from the wounded Lenton. The three men goaded the beast as they circled it, each waving its weapon, each demanding its attention. The creature lowered its head, growled at the hunters, and clawed at the ground as it found itself herded.
Despite the loss, the men felt confident. The creature looked tired and confused. Cook knew that if they attacked at once, if they watched for that tail and those claws, if they could just get close enough . . .
The farmer to Cook’s left charged with an enthusiastic battle cry that was ended when his throat was removed in the blink of an eye. The remaining farmer froze on the spot. Cook moved to get to him but the creature knocked him back with its tail before pouncing on the farmer. The man screamed as the beast burrowed into his chest.
Cook looked around for his borrowed sword as the beast now focused on him. Cook had nowhere to run to and nothing to fight back with. He wondered if his life would flash before his eyes. Would he only see these past few days or would everything come flooding back? Would that be the irony to his death?
His chest started to tingle; the stone. The creature was just a few metres away. Was that enough time to transform? He felt the anger rise, felt his skin begin to shift. It would be close. If an arm became stone, just one arm, perhaps that would be enough. Only a few feet between them. Cook braced himself.
A cry of agony from behind. The creature turned its head and then moved towards the Sheriff.
“No!” yelled Cook. “Come after me!”
But the creature wasn’t interested in the stone man now. It smelled blood and it wanted to finish the fight.
Cook watched as the Sheriff forced himself to stand. “Come on, you ugly beast. Take your best shot.” He threw his remaining hand axe which found its home in the creatures shoulder. Yet again it seemed unhindered.
“Come on!” yelled the Sheriff. He let go of his side, his palm covered in blood. “Come on!”
The creature pounced.
And a man made of stone grabbed the Sheriff taking them both over the cliff.