*deep breath* Here lies Chapter 1.
Rain seeped from the sky as though the heaven’s jugular had been severed. A deafening blast of light scathed the glistening puddles of a flooded thoroughfare, a muddy night-strewn bog at the edge of civilization.
Phineas eased into the panorama, cautiously, determinedly. This storm, blessing or curse is what allowed him to track with such ease, to move steadily up on the trail, to nearly overtake. It slowed the fugitive.
Three weeks of playing cat and mouse, three weeks and the culprit had not eaten in all that time… He must be weak!
Phineas pressed into the elements whose beastly force bore no greater wrath or ardor than that ravenous howling in his own chest. He was close. Twenty years of false searches, dead ends, horrendous interrogations and sleepless nights would finally end! One wrong turn, one moment’s hesitation and the instant of triumph would escape him—yet again.
Phineas crouched to rediscover the tracks, lost almost in soulless dark pools.
The last impression harbored ridges, the reverse of the creature’s wader, the only sight of him Phineas had ever known—and yet known intimately. That the detail remained, not yet swept away by the deluge ignited a surge of adrenaline down his spine.
This imprint twisted violently to the right, water strangling a single lengthwise corner and quickly taking away his evidence.
Where had it gone? Upward?
The very air had thinned, slowed, chilled… When did that come about—or had he simply not noticed a gradual change?
Through the curtain of falling water he peered anxiously ahead. The horizon cut vividly against a haze of light: town. He scanned to the right; a thin copse of young spruces. He scanned to the left; a rocky outcropping…
Weighty air rasped through his lips, sticking in heightened stillness. One wrong gasp, a single sound too voluminous, a movement—any indication he’d seen it in the sickly moonlight and his chance would vanish.
The moment of truth! The final hour, or his own likely demise…
With methodically hushed accuracy Phineas checked the clasps of the loaded crossbow to his arm, verifying the poised bolt without turning his eyes from the night. Water dripping down his heavy brows fell uninhibited across unblinking pupils, over his stalwart cheeks, off his mustached beard, transversed his pressed lips…
Phineas released a breath. Rivulets flailed outward, an accost of motion in the uncannily leaded stillness.
He rose, aiming.
Rain spattered vertically across a now fully-upright silhouette. Erect atop the rocks, black, smooth, menacing, it waited.
His heart seized. Fear, dread, terror as thick as tar collapsed his windpipe, worked to rob the very life out of his chest, enveloped him so fully he began to drown in its wake.
The being advanced.
Pain registered up Phineas’ arm, a flux of blood potent enough that it threatened to burst straps holding his weapon in place, to rupture the veins, singing out to the enemy…
He lifted the crossbow. The creature leapt. The machine fired, tiller smacking Phineas’ ribs. The world rocked. Heavy clouds dropped their stock. A jolt to the elbow, back landing in a puddle, a wail…
Sloshing mud spattered over him. Weight pressed on his chest. Pinned to the ground, blackness above, a hiss, water filling his nose and mouth, something icy at his neck, circling, tightening…
He flailed at it. No avail. Again! His forearm knocked into something wooden, a shaft protruding from the creature’s chest, a thicker wetness than rain seeping down it.
Darkness threatened—eternal darkness.
Wound it! Kill it! End this!
He punched the bolt.
Instant pain. A scream!
His chest lightened. He could breath!
Phineas rolled over, sputtering out water, wheezing in life.
A figure trampled on the horizon, lost almost in the storm, leaning, haggard…
Pain. A new burning heightened Phineas’ awareness of his fist. He looked down. Black liquid…
He rolled back over, exposing the limb to the full wrath of the elements. He ripped his belt out of its holsters, tightening the synch unbearably about his bicep, staring in dread at the broken skin over his knuckles. Let the rain wash the taint out! Let it take the disease away! Please, God in Heaven, let him not be infected!