37: Jack


Jack stood, watching the fallen monster, still wary of any further movement. The rain was now drenching him, and he thought vaguely about needing to find cover against lightning strikes, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the nightmarish thing

During the fight, the night had taken on a weird, unreal texture. He felt as if this were a dream, and the actions of the last few minutes were fiction. No, more like one of his dreams of his mother.

Red flames issued from the titanic corpse in several locations. Its armored sides were steaming as the rain fell on it, and the stench of burnt flesh was filling his nostrils.

“Well,” he huffed once his lungs began catching up, “it wasn’t a bear.”

“Aye,” Rogan gave a grin and a dry chuckle. “That, it was not.”

Nam had re-summoned her shadowy dog creation, and was petting and consoling the animal over the pain the thing had experienced, while repeatedly praising her bravery. The reformed specter had reappeared in an undamaged state, but from Nam’s actions, he guessed it could still suffer mental trauma.

The glow he spotted during the fight continued to shine from within the chest of the giant reptile thing. When his intuition had driven him to stab at it in a wild gamble, the glow had almost been forced into his attention. Despite the danger, his intuition had kept drawing him closer, demanding he pay attention to that place.

Demanding he strike at that place, as if something very vital were there.

The glow issued from one very small spot, practically a pinprick in size. Something about it wouldn’t let go of his eye. It had kept pulling at his attention, until he had scooped up the short sword and used that spot as his target to drive the blade into the beast.

It was still there. The glow. The thing that made the glow.

The sounds of the world around him seemed to fade, as the dream from earlier returned and overlaid reality.

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He never noticed her arrival, but the woman whose face his mind conjured up when anyone said Mother was standing near it, investigating it, and she was gesturing for him to come and see.

“That thing inside it,” he began. “What…”

The glow strengthened as he walked closer.  She took him by the wrist and held his hand up to the roasting hot surface.

Rogan was saying something to him, with a tone of alarm, but he was too far away to hear.

The bright spot popped out like a red-hot ember launching from a fire. It pierced through his palm, and plowed straight into his chest.

Intense agony instantly flared through his hand and up his arm. He fell to his knees, gripping the wrist of the injured hand with his other, staring at his open palm where the ember had struck. His hand glowed crimson, lit from within by a brilliant light. He could see the outline of his bones. The pain went from severe to excruciating and his lungs locked up, unable to move, unable to inhale.

Like a spreading fire, the pain reached beyond his arm into his torso and up his neck. He became aware of a second fire, within his chest, near his heart, and the flames were spreading from there as well. He dropped off his knees, sprawled on the ground, hardly realizing it as he struck. His lungs broke free at last, and a wordless bellow of anguish came up from deep inside.

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He doubled over, now out of breath, eyes gaping wide from the searing pain, now enveloping his skull and soaking into his spine. His senses faded away as a blanket of insulation wrapped around his mind, rejecting the fire. He heard Nam calling his name, far off in the distance, and it seemed like an alien sound.

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