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greymoun ch2: Welcome

Sinister malaise followed Jackson in the absence of his shadow.

          The sun failed to pierce the forest he traversed, dragging his legs through the shin-deep snow as he searched for Greykin River. Distant birdsong stole the silence, but Jackson almost wished for quiet so that he might hear whether or not that animal was following him.

          He glanced back over his shoulder at the slightest sound—icicles falling from branches, fauna scurrying through the frost, and the occasional snapping twig—but his eyes couldn't locate anything.

          With a breathy huff, he continued forward, grasping the straps of his backpack. A shiver colder than that the tundra burdened him with spiralled down his spine every time he thought about last night; those sounds...anguished cries, heavy footsteps. Trepidation ensnared him as the wind howled through the trees. Thinking about it was only going to make things worse.

          There was no harm in ensuring he was prepared, though. His left hand wandered down to the knife sheathed on the side of his belt; he thought he ought to keep it close.

          Jackson continued through the snow until the forest began to thin out, and the sunlight was able to bless him with not only warmth, but relief, too. If anything was following him, he convinced himself that it wouldn't follow him where there was light.

          The sound of flowing water snatched his attention. When the treeline became visible, the shimmer of sunlight on water flickered like a beacon, and it banished all Jackson's angst. He smiled and picked up his pace, rushing as fast as the thick snow would let him. Then, once he got to the treeline, he stepped out into a vast, bright opening, where a winding river flowed. The forest wrapped around the open area, and the river disappeared within at each end.

          He didn't waste a moment. Jackson walked onwards; the lack of trees to keep the wind from carrying the snow away meant it wasn't as thick out here, which was a relief. His legs didn't feel so strained now that he didn't have to drag them forward.

          When he reached the river, he stopped a few feet from it and searched for a way to cross. It stretched roughly fifteen yards, and even if it wasn't deep, he wouldn't risk walking through it and getting frostbite. He'd much rather not risk losing his feet out here.

          But a shiver of trepidation danced down his spine. He sharply turned his head, staring back into the forest. It felt as though something was staring right back at him...but he couldn't see anything. Twigs snapped, ice creaked, and a light flurry of snow started to fall. Jackson looked ahead again, and as the once soft breeze picked up, it shifted the bed of frost away from the ground on the other side of the river, revealing that it was in fact a frozen lake. There were a few yards of grass between that and the river, and since the flowing river hadn't frozen over, he assumed the ice covering the lake wasn't very thick. How was he going to get across that?

          His eyes shifted to the forest—he could trail the treeline.... No. He wanted to be as far from the forest as he could get, especially with the feeling of eyes on him growing as each moment passed, a feeling that urged him not to stand in the same place for longer than a few moments.

          Jackson spotted a small gathering of rocks he might be able to use to cross and headed over there. He eyed each rock as he approached, deciding whether or not they'd hold his weight, but by the way they were resting—in a straight line, spaced perfectly so a man could comfortably step on each one to cross—he felt as though the rocks had been placed there purposely.

          He didn't wait to step onto the first one. It remained still beneath his foot, so he slowly leaned forward until all his weight was on that one leg. The rock didn't shift, so he pulled his other leg forward and stepped onto the next. No movement. With a confident sigh, he continued across the river, but as he got to the middle, the sound of shuffling snow and cracking twigs snatched his focus. Jackson quickly turned his head—his eyes immediately locked with something deep in the woods. It looked like a very strangely shaped tree, but it caused angst to pool in his gut and his heart started thumping harder. A breeze brushed past him, carrying with it a stench of rotting flesh.

          And a growl.

          A quiet, rumbling growl.

          It shifted—the blur of brown and white his eyes had locked with; it moved aside, disappearing behind the tree Jackson had thought it was part of.

          As fear spiralled through him, he lost his footing—his left foot slipped from the rock he'd planted it on; it dipped into the freezing water, but he managed to keep his balance. He stumbled forward, stomping his foot down onto the next rock, and then looked over his shoulder...his heart raced in his chest, his breaths became pants, but whatever he'd just seen wasn't there anymore. Its disappearance didn't take his angst with it, though.

          Jackson hurried across the river, and the moment he reached the other side, he turned around, gripping the hilt of his blade. He frantically searched the trees, his hand trembling as he tightened his grip on his knife. Sure, he loved a mystery, but this was a little too eerie.

          For a moment, he considered heading back, but not only did he not want to go back into the woods, he was so close. All he had to do was cross the frozen lake and he'd be at Greykin Mountain, the place those seven people he was in search of had disappeared. Well, he suspected they'd disappeared up there; they'd all come here in search of something up in those mountains, so it made sense. Jackson wasn't sure what he might find up there, but he wasn't going to let anything stop him. Whatever was on his trail hadn't followed him out of the forest, so he focused on his belief that it was afraid to leave the cover of the woods.

          He held his blade's hilt, slowly heading away from the river and towards the frozen lake. The ice groaned, the light layer of snow resting upon it shifting as another breeze raced past, whistling through the forest.

          Jackson stood at the lake's edge, reached his foot out, and tapped the ice. It didn't break, but that wasn't enough assurance that it would be safe to step on. So, he pressed his foot onto it, just as he had done with the rocks in the river, gradually leaning more and more of his weight onto his foot, but the surface didn't react. That still wasn't enough, though. He took out his knife, crouched down, and used all his might to stab the blade down into the ice. The blade didn't get very far—maybe a few inches and no water oozed out. He knew it was safe to walk on clear-blue ice as long it was at least four inches thick, and that seemed to be the case.

          Sheathing his blade, he stood up and stared out at the lake. Just another hundred yards or so and he'd reach the foot of the mountain. He stepped onto the lake and stood there for a few moments, ensuring the surface didn't crack or creak, and when he was positive it was safe, he began making his way across.

          He kept hold of his blade's hilt, his gaze shifting from the forest on his left to that on his right. Apprehension followed him, clinging onto his shadow as it danced across the ice. He glanced over his shoulder, searching the trees for that blur of brown and white, but the storm was picking up, so he could no longer see the forest behind him.

          Jackson moved a little faster, squinting in an attempt to keep his eyes focused on the mountain, but the falling snow became a light blizzard, obscuring his vision entirely. He kept walking forward, though. If he continued straight, he'd reach the end of the lake eventually.

          But then the ice started creaking.

          With an anxious grunt, Jackson came to a halt. He stood there, staring down at his feet, but to his relief, the surface didn't crack beneath him. It didn't stop creaking, however, and now that he'd stopped walking...he could tell the sound was coming from behind him.

          He turned around, grasping his knife so tight that his fingers hurt. His breaths were shaky, his body trembled as his angst enthralled him, and his instincts urged him to run—and after last night, he knew better than to ignore them.

          Driven by his fear, Jackson hurried through the blizzard. The settled layer of frost crunched beneath his feet, his desperate pants drawing the cold into his throat. The creaking grew louder, closer—and when snarling breaths accompanied what sounded like feet patting against the ice, horror snatched Jackson's racing heart.

          But this time, he was ready. Whatever had followed him, he wouldn't let it think he was afraid. As he swung around, he pulled his blade from its sheath. He stood there, waiting, glaring into the blizzard.

          The footsteps grew nearer...

                                                                                             And nearer...

          Jackson exhaled deeply, composing himself, trying to calm down—


          Just a few feet ahead hidden within the white—

          But the sounds swerved off to the right; the pounding of clawed feet circled him, and with every rumble, Jackson swung around to face the noise. His hands grew sore in the cold, gripping his blade as tightly as he could—he gulped as a growl crept through the blizzard and turned to face its direction.

          Guttural breathing came from behind him moments later. He turned around to face it—but in his motion, something pounced out of the storm and crashed into him. Jackson grunted in startle, the force pushing him to the icy surface below, causing him to drop his knife. Snarls echoed around him, the ice creaking. Jackson tried scrambling to his feet, but before he was even halfway up, a brown blur burst from the snow, colliding with him again.

          Jackson yelled in horror, gripping the throat of the beast that had pinned him on the ice. Seething, rotting jaws snapped at his face. He struggled to hold the beast back even with both his hands; he tried lifting his legs to kick—he tried forcing the creature away with his feet, but it was stronger than he was. The cold had weakened his hands, which were too busy wrestling the beast to reach for his blade, and he could feel his strength waning.

          The beast overpowered him—it sunk its rotting teeth into his left shoulder, biting down so hard he felt his bones crack. He shrieked in agony, slamming his fist into the side of its face, but the beast reacted with only a harder bite.

          It was going to tear his arm off. The creature tugged and seethed—it started dragging Jackson away. With a tormented groan, Jackson stopped hitting the beast's head and frantically reached around for his knife, and when his hand grasped its hilt, he swung it towards the beast's face. As the blade impaled the creature's neck, it let out a muffled yelp and stumbled away from Jackson, pulling its teeth from his shoulder.

          Despite his pain and shaking limbs, Jackson scrambled to his feet and fumbled across the ice. He had no idea where he was heading or where the beast had gone—all he knew was that he had to run.

          But the blood oozing from his shoulder and down his body left a thick trail behind him. Realizing he'd left his blade impaled in the beast's neck, he grasped the wound with his free hand, his left arm dangling at his side. He ran and ran and ran, panting, stumbling, the pain spreading from his arm and through his entire body. His legs were weakening, his heart racing so fast he felt it might burst through his chest.

          A harrowing howl stole the silence. Jackson groaned in fear, trying to move faster, but his body was succumbing to his wound. He scowled in panic, grunting with each strained step—thumping footsteps crept up on him, getting closer and closer, and when he heard a roar, he knew that it was over.

          The beast collided with him again, pushing him face-first onto the lake. But the ice cracked, groaned, and shattered. The beast sunk its teeth into his ankle, and as Jackson yelled in pain, he rolled onto his back to stare down at it—

          Its eyes were as red as the blood seeping from his leg. The creature's brown and white fur was matted and missing whole clumps—it looked like a corpse...a wolf corpse.

          But the ice beneath the monster's paws suddenly gave way. Jackson crashed his free foot into the creature's face, and as the surface gave way, the freezing water swiftly pulled the creature's back legs down into its murky abyss.

          While the wolf yelped and struggled to keep its whole body from sinking into the lake, it let go of Jackson's ankle. Jackson wanted to run—he tried his best to get up, but all he could do was crawl away from the wolf. He rolled onto his stomach, digging the nails of his only responsive hand into the ice.

          Gritting his teeth, groaning in agony, he pulled himself as far from the sinking wolf as he could. But the world around him started to spin. His senses were failing him—the cold against his skin faded, the sound of the struggling wolf and splashing water distanced, and when he could no longer pull himself forward, he rested the side of his head on its hard surface.

          He was going to die here, wasn't he?

greymoun ch2: Text


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