THE DAEMON HUNTER #1 - ASCENSION
A dark cult rises in the Empire. Two killers enter a village in Ostermark with murderous intentions. A woman is reborn into darkness...
An eclipsed sun hovers above the Red Boar Inn on the outskirts of Schalzburg, a town of eastern Ostermark under the shadow of the Worlds Edge mountains.
Two hooded figures walk through shadow towards the door of the inn.
As the first walks in, the second hesitates to look around and check no one is watching, before walking inside as well.
The inside decor of the Red Boar sums up the village itself. Old. Set in its ways. Uninterested in the modern styles of Altdorf or Nuln.
The inn is quiet, with only 3 people inside.
The barman leans on his side of the bar. A old farmer, still smelling to high heaven in his work clothes, sits at the far end of the bar staring into his ale.
The Barman’s wife sits at the opposite end of the bar, going through inventory lists and receipts that are spread over the bar’s wooden surface.
Each villager looks over as the two hooded men enter the pub.
The younger of the two men lowers his hood but his bearded companion doesn’t. They walk up to the bar and sit at stools in front of the Barman.
'Evening sirs. what will it be?'
The young outsider points at a barrel of local ale next to the barman and holds up 2 dirt-stained fingers.
'Coming up.' replied the barman.
The Barman picks up two tankards and starts to fill them slowly in an uncomfortable silence as the young outsider looks around the pub, inspecting it.
The bearded man glances at the Farmer, as if expecting him to do something.
'This is a nice inn. For what it is.' said the Young Outsider
The Barman glances at the Outsider as he pours. A surprisingly unreasonable statement.
'Are you the owner?' asked the Outsider.
'Myself and the wife. It was her father’s place. Before he passed.' answered the Barman.
He nods to the woman at the end of the bar. The Wife. The Outsider looks over and she stares coldly back at him. These people are clearly not the ‘type’ that this couple want in their nice country inn.
'Sorry for your loss.' said the outsider without a fraction of sincerity.
The wife, unflinching, just stares the man down. The Outsider smiles .
'I’m sure he was a saint.'
The barman glares at him but calms himself almost instantly. Through long experience with dealing with rudeness in his profession, he ignores the comment and continues pouring.
The Quiet Man, sat next to the younger outsider, turns in his seat to fully face the Farmer, almost daring him to turn and look at him.
The farmer continues to avoid eye contact.
'So you grew up here? The both of you?' asked the Outsider.
'Born and bred.' Said the man behind the bar.
The Barman places the first drink on the bar in front of The Quiet Man and starts to pour another. The Quiet Man doesn't touch it. Or even look at it. His eyes don't move from staring at the Farmer.
The Young Outsider stares blankly at the Barman. The Barman just pours, avoiding eye contact with him. Both outsiders are adding an unnecessary tense atmosphere to the inn.
'Born and bred...I’d bet your friend over there is too?' The Outsider motions to the farmer.
The Barman looks over at the Farmer and nods. The Farmer ignores them when they look over, clearly nervous of people.
'A close-knit community, I’d suppose?'
'You’d suppose correctly.' replied the barman, starting to lose patience.
'The type of place people never leave?'
A strange way to phrase it. The Barman glances back at the man who is staring straight at him. Unblinking.
'You could say that. We almost upped roots... years ago. But the community here... The traditions.... The countryside. It’s everything we’ve ever needed. ' said the Barman, playing along to be civil.
The Barman passes The Outsider his drink, placing it on the bar in front of him. The Outsider doesn't touch it. Or look down at it. He just keeps eyeballing the Barman and takes his time, sitting happily in the uncomfortable silence before talking again.
'It's the quiet that would get to me. Too much of it... tends to affect the mind.' said the outsider, tapping his temple.
'There’s enough goings-on to keep us busy.' said the Barman.
The Outsider smirks again at that statement.
'Where are you lads from?' asked the Barman.
The Outsider ignores the question, he looks over to the Quiet Man who looks back and nods. A message passed between them. The outside nods back before looking at the Barman again.
'Are you both working nearby or something?' asked the Bar keep.
The Outsider takes an uncomfortable amount of time to just stare at the barman. Eventually he gently shakes his head with a blank expression.
The strange aggressiveness of both men is quite unnerving.
The Barman looks towards his Wife, who is staring intently at the two visitors.
These guys are trouble.
The Barman now looks awkward, he needs to be paid for the drinks and is unsure how to ask for it. After another toe-curling uncomfortable silence, The Outsider smiles. Faking forgetfulness.
The Outsider puts two coins on the bar. The Barman takes it and puts it in a small box of coins behind the bar as The Outsider watches him.
He takes out some change and holds out a coin to The Outsider, who doesn’t take it. He just stares back at the Barman who puts the money on the bar in front of The Outsider instead.
The two outsiders continue staring back at him. Not drinking their ale. Not picking up the change.
The Barman looks over to the Farmer, for assistance if the situation was to turn bad.
The Outsider, seeing the Barman's eye-line, looks towards the Farmer too, eyes projecting violence.
The Farmer continues to avoid eye contact, looking into his drink when they glance his way.
The Outsider then looks at the woman, but unlike the Farmer, she stares right back. She is clearly not to be messed with.
'Are you lads passing through or are you staying in town?' asked the barman
The Outsider keeps the stare-off with the woman going as he talks.
'We’ll be staying a while.'
'If you haven't secured lodgings yet, I can recommend a good hotel. The Magnus. Its down the -' The Barman, pointing to the west and about to fire off some directions, stops when he sees The Outsider smirking and slowly shaking his head.
The Barman’s sentence trails off, confused at the man's attitude.
'Are we done with the pleasantries? ' asked the Outsider.
'I'm sorry? '
The Quiet Man steps off his stool and looks like he is going to walk out. But he gets to the door of the inn, looks out and closes the door with him still inside.
He locks it and turns around. Blocking the door. The Young Outsider starts to address everyone at the bar, but stares at the Barman.
'You know why we’re here. '
'I'm sorry... I don't know -' The Barman goes to continue but The Outsider pulls out a steel short sword from under his long jacket and places it on the bar.
It has clearly been used recently.
That stops the discussion in its tracks. The Outsider then puts his finger to his lips, encouraging the Barman to be silent or more interruptions will be answered with violence.
'Now...One of you will be walking out of this place alive. '
He holds up a single finger.
'One of you.'
The locals exchange shocked glances.
'The other two... who decide to follow your traditions and keep your secrets...will be dealt with by my brother. And it will be, well...'
The Quiet Man, at the door, pulls a huge two handed broadsword out from under his cloak.
The Barman sees the huge sword and holds his hands out. Submissive.
The Farmer stands up off his stool and backs away towards the wall behind him.
'And your remains will be left here when we burn this village to the ground.' concluded the Outsider.
'Ok son...i'm sorry but i'm going to have to ask you to -' The barman starts before being interrupted by the outsider again.
'Can any of you guess the questions I’m going to ask?'
The barman looks at the wife again. She just stares back at the outsider like he is an insect.
'Because I think you can.'
The Outsider looks back to the Barman and his demeanor changes from cold, steely confidence to raw emotion. Rage. Bubbling underneath. Trying to be kept in check.
Tears swell up in his eyes but his fists clench, signalling danger to everyone in the room.
He has been wanting, needing, some answers for a long time. The locals look like they don’t have any idea about what he is talking about.
'You know what we’re looking for. One of you is going to give me some answers right now and you get to walk out of here. The others... will not.'
The Barman and the Wife look at each other - and then over to the Farmer. The Outsider sees the couple looking at the weak link in the room and smiles. He looks towards the Farmer too.
'You. It's going to be you.'
The Quiet Man behind them steps closer to the Farmer, broadsword at his side. The Outsider nods his head towards the couple behind him.
'These two? They are going to stick together. You’re the wild card here and they know it. So you’re going to tell us what we need to know. If you do, you get to go home. If you don’t... My brother is going to chop you into mush. Here. Now. Understand?'
The Farmer looks to the couple, who are silently pleading with him to not say a word. He looks at the exit door behind the bar. The Outsider shakes his head.
'Don’t be stupid. We blocked the back door. There’s no way out of here unless we let you out.'
He stares at the scared farmer, waiting for an answer.
The Barman tries to plead with these people. 'Sir...you’re...'
The Outsider turns on the Barman, his real emotions coming to the forefront.
'SHUT YOUR PIG MOUTH OR I’LL CUT YOUR EYES OUT!'
He picks the sword off the bar and points the weapon at the woman sat on the table.
'And you can listen in the dark as I make your wife bleed.'
Backing away, the Barman steps back as far as he can until he hits the glasses lined up behind the bar. The Outsider is becoming more and more emotional, realising this is an opportunity he has been looking for for a long time.
'Even if she’s dead, you are going to tell me where her body is. Dead or alive, we are taking her home. Then you are going to tell us where to find the people who took her.'
The Farmer can’t talk. He looks terrified.
The Outsider’s patience is running out and he stands up off the stool, holding the blade at his side. He stands in front of the barman, like a coiled snake. But he lacks composure. His rage is now burning.
'Do not doubt me. If I’m met with silence when I count to three, someone is going to die. Tell. Me. Where. She. Is.'
The Outsider stares towards the Barman with deadly intent.
The Quiet Man looks ready to kill the Farmer.
'Sir...please!' begs the Barman.
Stepping towards the Wife, The Outsider looks for fear in her eyes. She however, doesn't flinch.
The Quiet Man holds out the axe in a two handed grip. Ready to swing at the Farmer.
'Gentlemen, I'm afraid you're mistaken...'
The Outsider holds out the blade in front of the wife’s throat. Again, she doesn’t move.
'...That little bitch would have been cut open hours ago. '
That stops the counting.
The Quiet Man turns and looks at the Barman, shocked.
The gentle-seeming Barman now stares back confidently, coldly.
He’s proud of his words.
The Farmer chuckles quietly at the comment, cheekily, like a child hearing his first dirty joke.
The Outsider looks at the woman and she is smiling devilishly.
'...and her filthy remains would have been burnt to ash.'
The Outsider looks like he is now shaking with rage but final confirmation that the girl he is looking for is actually dead has visibly hit him hard. The Quiet Man shows it too.
'Oh...but the things she would have seen...' said the barman with a smile
The Outsider looks over to The Quiet Man. Who nods.
Let's do what we came here to do.
'...Wonders. The Deliverer is creating another masterpiece.' The Barman talks with delight in his voice, as if describing the best food he’s ever tasted.
The locals and outsiders exchange looks without moving.
Grips on weapons tighten. Beads of sweat on foreheads. Eyes shift from one person to another. A wolf howls in the distance. The woman grips a sharp quill she was using. The Barman’s hands creep towards a knife behind the bar.
The Quiet Man looks over to The Outsider. Nervous. Becoming unsure.
The Farmer, seeing The Quiet Man distracted, suddenly dives for the broadsword and grips the man's wrists that hold the weapon. A mistake. The Quiet Man is too quick for the older man and he swings the blade upwards, cutting off the farmers hands at the wrist, making him scream.
As soon as the Farmer pounced, The Barman reached for the knife and starts to run around the bar to meet The Outsider head-on.
Before he can get there, his Wife jumps at The Outsider, stabbing out with her quill and sharp fingernails but The Outsider deflects her, grabs her and turns her around - Holding her in a one-armed choke hold from behind, as he holds out the shortsword in the other hand, pointing it towards the Barman.
This makes the Barman stop in his tracks before entering the fray.
Screaming, the Farmer looks at the bloody stumps are the end of his wrists but as he does, The Quiet Man push-kicks him to the ground.
The Outsider holds the wife in a vice like grip.
Behind him, The Quiet Man is now chopping at the grounded Farmer, like he is making firewood at record speed. The screams from the Farmer are horrific until they fade away and all they hear is bones crushing, blood squelching and flesh mushing with every last chop until The Quiet Man is too tired to raise his arms anymore.
With furious tear-filled eyes, The Outsider confronts the Barman as he holds his wife prisoner with the billhook blade now at her throat.
'WHERE IS SHE?'
The Barman, scared of what could happen to his wife, stands dumbstruck, holding out his hands to urge him to stop.
'TELL ME WHERE SHE IS!'
The Barman doesn't say anything. He looks at his wife. She shakes her head. Their secrets are more important.
'No? Open your mouth lady.'
The woman refuses. He grabs her tighter and blood starts to drip from the edge of the blade at her throat. He shouts into the side of her face.
'I SAID OPEN YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!'
She reluctantly opens her mouth.
With a horrible scraping noise of metal against tooth, The Outsider forces the blade of the short sword between her teeth and looks at the Barman as he does it.
The woman's expression changes and finally looks with helpless eyes to the Barman.
'WHERE IS SHE?!'
The Barman just shakes his head at his wife.
The Quiet Man steps forward, getting between The Outsider and the Barman, who now won't be able to stop them if he doesn't talk.
'TELL ME OR I START PULLING!'
The Barman refuses to do it. He looks crestfallen and gives his wife an apologetic look. The Outsider, beyond angry, has had enough.
'Say goodbye. '
The Outsider pulls the blade towards him, through the woman's cheeks and jaw. He doesn't stop pulling. The barman listens to the gurgling screams of the woman in horror.
Her arms are fighting The Outsider at first, hitting his shoulders and arms behind her, but they eventually drop when he pulls with one more yank of the blade and severs her neck.
The screams stop as soon as her arms drop.
After a few final saw movements, the woman's body collapses to the ground like a ragdoll.
The Outsider holds out the top half of the woman's head in his hand and he throws it away.
'You stupid whore-spawned filth.' Said by the barman with venom.
'Start praying to that depraved God you believe in.' said the outsider, stepping forward to finish the barman.
But in his rage, fixated on the Barman ahead of him. The Outsider and the The Quiet Man hadn't seen the men in strange robes enter the room behind him.
Two of the robed men steps forward and hit The Outsider with a cosh and they both hit the floor hard. knocked out cold.
The Outsider wakes up for just a moment by his own swaying movement. He manages to open his eyes slightly. Still dazed and concussed. He sees he is on a cart pulled by a horse moving through some woods. The cart is surrounded by the men in strange robes. He touches his head, feels the blood at his the back of his head and falls back into unconsciousness.
He wakes again when he is being dragged through some woods. He manages to open up his eyes for a moment and he sees strange people gathered in the woods preparing for a ritual of some kind. Their skin is covered in a white powder. Some seem to be conducting strange surgery on each other in religious fervor. Flaying the skin from an arm. A leg. A back. But without pain. With eye-closing pleasure. He falls into unconsciousness again.
The Outsider opens his eyes, awoken by the loud squawking of ravens.
Painfully, he rolls off his back and gets onto his knees. He looks up in horror when he sees what was behind him. He is kneeling in front of a huge twisted tree with dismembered human legs and arms hanging from it by ropes.
The Outsider’s eyes widen with horrifying recognition, as he sees that his brother, The Quiet Man, makes up some of the body parts.
His are the freshest.
The Outsider struggles desperately but his hands and feet are tied with rope. He looks to his side to see a cultist step out of some distant trees, dressed in white and his skin completely covered in white powder. The man waves him over.
Confused at first, The Outsider quickly realises the man is not waving to him at all but to two cultists behind him, who grab The Outsider by his arms and drag him towards the waving man.
'Get off me!' he manages.
They reach where the man was and The Outsider sees he can now see that there are several other cultists gathered in a small clearing in the woods.
The crowd of people parts, revealing a woman in a white robe being crucified - each of her hands are pulled out by ropes to two large trees either side of her.
From poles in the ground behind her, several other ropes are attached to her ankles, back and head. These are not tied to her. Hooks are at the end of each rope. Each buried into her skin, pulling the skin backwards.
The Outsider recognises who it is.
'Jessica! Jess, I’m sorry'
The cultist behind him covers his mouth with a gag to stop his protests. Jessica turns to him. Strangely, she is not in pain. She looks at peace.
'It’s ok Marcus. It’s ok...'
He screams underneath his gag. Begging her for forgiveness.
He couldn’t save her.
She smiles at him.
'...I’m already saved.'
The Outsider’s confusion stops him struggling. Why is she so calm?
A cultist turns to his comrades. 'Loved ones...Prepare.'
All the cultists kneel. Close their eyes. Wait.
'He will take away my pain. ' Said Jessica.
All eyes of the gathering are closed. Except for The Outsider, who’s rage starts to turn to fear.
There is suddenly a smell of Ozone in the air and his world starts to slow down. Dust in the air floats hypnotically in the rays of sunlight peeking through the trees. The Outsider looks down to see the hairs on his arm standing on edge.
The air turns cold. He notices he can see his own breath. Looking up to the cultists, they breathe visibly into the air as well.
He looks back to Jessica, still tied and crucified, with a look of ecstasy on her face. Tears fall from her eye and roll down her cheek. This seems to be everything she ever wanted.
Stones and twigs start to vibrate before rising a couple of inches off the floor.
Behind the crowd, a thick oil-like liquid drips on the forest floor from above. A pair of oil-covered bare feet with unnaturally white skin and strange tattoos float to the ground.
The Outsider’s eyes widen, not believing what he is seeing. A strange hooded figure in black now stands between the cultists. A strange smoke seeps from the figures robes.
The eerie individual arts to slowly walk forward.
The crowd parts as the figure walks towards Jessica. She looks at him with loving, thankful eyes.
All the Outsider can see is a mouth within a shadow from the figures hood, and paper-white mystically-tattooed hands with black talons for nails revealed from his robes. The colour of his skin is bright white but unlike the cultists, it is not powder. They are simply trying to look like him in reverence.
The eerily whispered voice seems to come from all around them but the figure's mouth does not move as it speaks. The Outsider looks terrified of whatever this man-shaped thing is.
'Another seeks...purpose. To be delivered.'
The figures stops in front of Jessica.
'But... with great purpose, comes sin.'
Jessica begins to cry. Tears of happiness. A release from a lifetime of pain.
'The pride to strive for a better life... The greed to take what you need from a world that offers you nothing.'
The Deliverer strokes the back of one of his beloved cult members that kneels next to him.
'Loved ones... Our Sin is our salvation. We embrace sin because it gives us opportunity... to seek forgiveness. '
He turns to the crucified girl.
'For if you do not sin, you cannot repent. And if you cannot repent.... you can not be saved. '
She looks at the Deliverer lovingly. Her saviour.
'They say you give yourself willing to Slaanesh. Are they right?'
The Deliverer holds out his hands, palms upwards. For a brief moment, The Outsider sees strange black eyes burn into Jessica's soul as the figure concentrates. As he does, long gashes start to open across her skin from her outstretched hands to her shoulders, as if a sharp blade was slowly slashed across the skin of her arm. A waterfall of blood starts to fall from the wounds.
The Outsider is having a panic attack, begging these people to stop. The girl closes her eyes and smiles. Instead of pain, she feels an unnerving orgasmic pleasure from it.
'Yes.' she moans.
The Deliverer moves his hands the opposite direction and a bloody slice moves across the skin of her opposite arm towards its shoulder.
'Do you reject this vessel that corrupts your very being?' asked The Deliverer.
As he says it, another bloody slice starts to move up from her toes to the top of her thighs, leaving blood pouring as it travels upwards.
'Yes.' she moans again.
'And what do you desire?' asks the Deliverer.
Her blouse becomes red as a blood stain opens and moves from her genitals to her chest. The wound opens vertically up her torso. The wound moves up her pleasure-filled face and she hs to talk through blood pouring into her mouth.
'Ascension.' she replies.
A cultist walks up to her and, with a knife, rips open her blood soaked blouse. The cultist steps back. The Deliverer holds out a hand to her.
'Then come to me, beloved.'
Jessica opens her eyes again and looks lovingly at the Deliverer.
Her foot moved forward, but her skin stays still. The bloody muscle and bone of her foot starts to exit its skin as if she was stepping out of a ripped sock.
The outsider is forced to watch as her muscle-covered skull starts to push out of the skin of her face through the slice going down the centre of her head. He watches her slowly step out of her entire skin, leaving her former shell hanging in the ropes as her skinless figure takes a couple of steps forward.
The Outsider screams under his gag. Tears streaming from his face.
The Deliverer smiles, looking over to The Outsider and then back to her.
The girl takes a couple of steps forward and her skinless muscled form collapses.
The cultists quickly move forward and swarm over her. Like rats around meat.
The Deliverer steps in front of them, blocking the Outsiders view and starts to walk over to him.
Lowering himself down on his haunches to meet The Outsider’s eye level, he pulls back his hood to reveal his inhuman features - hairless, paper-white skin, purple veins seen under his rune-tattooed skull. His thick black eyes stare back at The Outsider and he reaches out a talon to lower the gag from The Outsiders mouth.
The man doesn't have the energy to protest any more. She’s gone.
Again, the Deliverer talks without his mouth moving is an eerie whisper.
'I wanted you to see.'
The Outsider ignores him and tries to see what is happening to Jessica under the swarm of cultists. Are they eating her? He can't see through the crowd.
'You are wrong. This is not cruelty.... This is love. Pure, unselfish, love. Without obligation or guilt. Something you could not give her.'
The Outsider looks over the Deliverer’s shoulder again. He sees movement. His eyes open wide in shock. From the arms of the cultists, Jessica stands up. Healed. Reborn anew. Totally unharmed.
'She is your property no longer. She belongs to no-one. She... is finally free.'
She keeps her eyes on him as the cultists all kneel around her.
She stands. Confident. Determined. Different.
The cultists stand as one, put their arms around her and they start to walk away. She holds The Outsider’s look as long as she can before she turns and walks with them.
The Outsider wants to call out but he knows that is no longer the Jessica he knows.
He snaps out of it when a cultist drops his bloody short sword in front of him. The Deliverer sees it and knows what it has done.
'You however... are mine.'
He holds his taloned hand out, millimeters in front of The Outsider’s face.
Veils start to bulge in The Outsider's face, temples and eyes.
In the Deliverer’s all-black eyes, The Outsider sees himself scream in their reflection.
TO BE CONTINUED...