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| 3 | FIRST MOON
greymoun ch3: Welcome
It wasn't cold anymore. Jackson couldn't feel the ice beneath him or the snow falling on his face. The only noise he could hear was the whistling wind and the crackling of a fire.
And warmth. It was so...warm.
He grunted as he tried moving, opening his eyes to a blurred mirage of dark colours. Pain lingered in the whole left side of his body and throbbed in his right leg. He tried moving his left arm, and although he could feel it, it didn't budge. With an uncomfortable grunt, he managed to lift his head—he saw that his arm was wrapped in a sling, and as he frantically looked around, he realized he was inside a room.
His clearing vision revealed wooden cabin walls, trophies of animal heads and skins, and the quilt which was wrapped around him was black, red, and blue. How did he get here?
Jackson frowned, resting back on the furred pillow. His head hurt when he tried to remember; he recalled trekking through the snow from the airport and arriving at the small village. He'd gone to a bar...asked a man for directions...but that was where his memory fogged.
He groaned again, dragging his hand over his face.
A door squeaked but he wasn't sure what direction it came from.
"Ah, you're awake."
Turning his head, Jackson set his sights on a beefy man with a beard that reached his stomach. He came into the room with an axe over his shoulder and a handful of dead hares.
"Found you out on the ice—you were in bear territory, kid." The man placed his axe on a table and threw the hares into a bucket. "Looks like one of 'em got you good."
Jackson struggled to sit up. "Bears?"
"You know...big brown things that live out in the woods," he said, scratching his face. "I patched you up best I could. I'm heading down to the village at dawn tomorrow, so we can get you to the doctor—she'll fix you up properly."
Struggling to accept he'd been had by a bear and forgotten about it, Jackson shook his head—but that made it feel like his brain was swishing around inside his skull. He grunted and grimaced, gripping the side of his face with his free hand. "I was...out in the woods?"
"Yeah. You lost a lot of blood, so you're probably gonna feel a little disorientated for a while. I'm sure it'll all come back to you," he said, sitting at his table as he took one of the hares out of the bucket. "I'm gonna make some grub—you hungry?"
"Not...really," he mumbled, looking around. Where were his things? "I had uh...some stuff with me."
With the knife he was using to skin the hare, the man pointed over at a chair by the fire. "It's all there."
Jackson looked over there, setting his sights on his backpack and the puffy mess that was once his coat.
"You remember what you were doing up in Greykin?"
Greykin.... "Uh...yeah. I came here looking for some missing reporters. I work for a paper in Dawnward."
He glanced back at Jackson. "A lot of people go missing out here. You probably woulda been another if I hadn't found you."
Looking over at the fire, Jackson frowned and tried to remember what had happened. But he didn't recall anything past arriving at that village and talking to the bartender.
With a quiet sigh, he looked over at the man, who was now cutting up the hare's skinless corpse. "Thanks," he mumbled. "How far are we...from Greykin?"
"Couple miles. Brought you on my sled. I got a few painkillers in the bathroom if you need 'em. Those cuts looked pretty bad."
Jackson looked down at his arm and fiddled with the sling. He wasn't in as much pain as he thought he might be, it just ached as though he'd slept on it for too long. "I'm all right, thanks."
"You sure?" he asked, looking over at Jackson once he'd finished cutting the hare. "You don't have to act tough, kid."
"No, really...I'm fine. It just aches a little."
The man nodded as he stood up and headed over to the fireplace. He pulled a cooking pot from atop a cabinet full of firewood and hung it over the flames. Then, he filled the pot with water, grabbed the cut-up hare pieces, and poured them in.
"I'm Daniel," he said, turning to face Jackson, wiping his bloody hands on a rag.
"You want something to drink, Jackson?" he asked, heading over to a cabinet by the window.
Jackson followed him with his eyes, and when he saw that it was dark outside, he frowned. "What time is it?"
"'Bout eight," he said, pulling the cabinet open. "You were out a good while. Whiskey?"
"I don't really drink."
"Ah...well, I got some old sodas in the kitchen if you want," he offered, pouring himself a glass of whiskey.
He shook his head, but then noticed his throat was dry. "Could I get some water, actually—please?"
Daniel nodded. "Yeah, I'll go grab you some."
He watched Daniel down his drink and then make his way over to the door he'd earlier come in through. When he left, Jackson exhaled and rested the side of his face on the pillow. Everything was still a blur. His head hurt, his limbs ached, but he was determined to remember.
However, his body seemed to take his lying down as an invite to a much deeper rest. He struggled to keep his eyes open, the warmth of the cabin comforting him. A little more rest wouldn't hurt, would it? He was safe here, after all. He'd stay here, go with Daniel to the village tomorrow, and once he was aware of the extent of his injuries, he'd decide if he could continue his quest or not.
With a breathy sigh, he let his eyes close, sinking into the warmth of his surroundings. But sleep didn't bring him rest. The darkness behind his eyelids flashed with bright blurs—trees, a river, ice stretching for miles. He started to remember. Yesterday, he'd trekked up a hill after leaving the village, but something had been following him. The sounds he'd heard were something of a nightmare; snarls echoed inside his ears, accompanied by the creaking, cracking sounds of a forest and howling winds.
And then he was walking. He traversed a deep, white forest...but he hadn't been alone. Angst enthralled him, his body beginning to burn the longer he remained trapped in his state of recurrence. Something had been lurking behind the trees—he'd seen it, yet he'd continued across the river and over the frozen lake. How could he have been so stupid? A storm had hit, providing cover for whatever had been following him—his head surged with pain as he recalled the moment a rotting, mangled beast pinned him down. He had no idea what it was—all he could see were blurs of rotten flesh and bloody jaws, and the pain. It twisted around within him, his skull throbbing, his heart racing—
"Kid," came Daniel's voice.
Jackson woke with a horrified gasp, panting, laying in a pool of his own sweat. He stared up at the grisly man's face, taking a moment to remember that he was inside a house and not dragging himself across the ice while he bled out.
"You havin' a nightmare?" Daniel asked, standing beside him.
Attempting to swallow the spit that had congealed in his mouth, Jackson grimaced and frowned. He glanced to his left—it was much darker out now.
"Dinner's ready—you changed your mind?"
Jackson wiped the sweat from his brow as he sat up with more ease than the wounds he remembered he'd received should let him. He glanced down at his arm to make sure he hadn't been dreaming before, but it was still wrapped in a sling. There was no ache now, though. All he felt was nauseating angst brewing in his stomach...and his body felt as though it was on fire.
"Can...can I have that water?" he rasped.
Daniel nodded and headed over to his table. He grabbed a glass of water and then handed it to him.
Gulping it down like it was the only water for miles, Jackson groaned in relief. But it didn't help with his fever. He handed the glass back to Daniel, who started talking about the hare stew he'd made, but the man's words were drowned out by the sound of Jackson's beating heart. It pounded in his chest like a beast desperate to escape a cage. Sweat continued to slide down his face, and when he wiped it away, his skin felt boiling to the touch.
A conflicting concoction of angst and dread swirled around inside his gut. Were his wounds infected? Could that be why he didn't feel any pain? He moved the bed covers from over his leg; his trouser leg was torn and smothered in dried blood, as were the bandages. Whatever was waiting beneath them was surely going to make him feel worse, but if it was infected, he needed to know. He wasn't going to risk losing a leg. No promotion was worth that.
He glanced over at Daniel, who was busy by the fire. Then, he started gently unwrapping the bandages from his ankle. He expected black ooze and pus to greet him when he lifted the gauze, but instead...he found nothing.
No wound. No scar. Only dried blood.
Jackson frowned in confusion and looked over at Daniel, but before he could utter a word, his vision started to blur. A crimson haze fell over him; his hands began to tremble, he tensed in response to the growing feverish heat, and something inside of him desperately clawed at his skin to get out.
What was happening to him?
He tried to call for help, but his jaw only chattered and stiffened. His hands cramped, and when he looked down at them, he watched in horror as his skin split and tore. Black claws pushed his nails from their places, blood seeping down his palms.
And then pain.
The overwhelming heat was swiftly replaced with inexplainable agony which surged through his trembling body. He writhed and yelled—he fell from the bed, and when he hit the floor with a thump, he watched Daniel turn to face him. The look on his face was one of horror, and when he rushed to grab his axe, Jackson's eyes widened in terror.
Jackson held his hand out and tried to ask him what he was doing, but before his eyes, he watched his convulsing arm transform into the furred leg of a beast. Tawny brown fur sprouted from his skin, spreading up his arm—he rolled onto his back and held up his slinged arm, but that, too, had transformed, and when he turned his head to set his sights on Daniel, his panic was snatched away, replaced with an instinct to kill.
He didn't want to do it—he didn't want to kill the man who had helped him, but he just...couldn't stop himself. He hurried to his feet—all four of them, and with a desperate snarl, he pounced at the incoming axeman.
Daniel swung his axe around, but Jackson's nimble body allowed him to avoid the weapon. Without any hesitation, he sunk his teeth into Daniel's throat and pinned the hefty man down on the floor. His monstrous teeth made easy work of Daniel's skin—blood sprayed all over the wooden floor, and the metallic taste didn't revolt Jackson. No...it pleased him. And he wanted more.
Jackson ripped and tore and seethed, a dark, primal instinct devouring him as he gave in to a hunger he didn't know he possessed. The pain in his body withered with each bite, and when he clamped his jaws around Daniel's heart, a satisfied growl broke through his desperate breaths.
And with one pleasing gulp, he swallowed the man's throbbing heart, a shiver of delight spiralling through his furred body.
The hunger was satiated...but he knew it wouldn't stay that way for long.
greymoun ch3: Text
greymoun ch3: Image
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