A necromancer grows in strength. A suicidal woman isn't allowed to die. Her contract with her employer is for multiple lifetimes. Always check the small print.
In the dead of a cold Middenland night, three robed men walk in silence along a country road on the outskirts of Drakwald forest.
They walk in silhouette, lit by a single lantern held up by the man in front.
Each man's breath is seen in the cold lamp light.
They walk with purpose, time is against them as they rush to their destination.
One of them hears horses coming up the road.
'Wagon' says the first man. Their leader.
Each man pulls a hood over their head and they move to hide in the trees against the side of the road
They extinguish the lantern before the stagecoach eventually speeds past.
Continuing once it was gone, the men reach the entrance of an old pathway at the side of the road.
The type of path in the woods that you would only notice if you were really looking for it.
Two of the hooded men enter the darkness of the pathway.
The leader looks in both directions, checking that no one has seen them, before entering the path himself and lighting his lantern again using a magical click of his fingers.
Two more lanterns are switched on, illuminating the group and they walk deeper into the woods.
The dark pathway leads them up a hill that looms above the town of Delberz.
Harsh wind beats the three men when they finally stand at the peak.
One of them looks down at the lights below, signs of life from the town.
They give each other a look and the leader nods.
‘Let’s get this over with’.
They face each other and take a few steps back.
Each man places his lantern at his feet, making a triangle of lights.
They all kneel beside their own lantern.
With heads lowered, eyes closed and hands on knees, they look to be in silent prayer.
The wind howls over the hillside as the men kneel in silence.
Their breathing becomes strange. Quicker. Short.
Suddenly, the world around them slows down.
Ravens in the air slow to the pace of a snail.
Dust in the air slowly starts to twirl around the lanterns.
Veins in the men’s temples pulse.
Eyes underneath eyelids turn and roll.
Their visible breath in the air disappears, as their surroundings starts to warm up.
Blood starts to creep out of their ears and down their necks.
Eventually the world around them returns to natural speed with a jolt.
The dust in the air slams outwards and into the sky in a single push.
Their rapid breathing stops and becomes more measured.
Their breath becomes visible in the air once more.
Each man opens his eyes.
They each stand up in a fluid motion, mirroring each other, staring at the ground between them as they do.
'Masks' orders the leader.
The two other men pull out featureless white masks and put them on, covering their identities.
Each mask is labelled, one with a circle, the other with a triangle, drawn on with blood that doesn't appear to be theirs.
'Circle' pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and starts to wipe the blood from his ears.
The dirt between them starts to move.
A figure pushes up out of the ground with a painful moan.
A young woman.
She takes a huge, deep, lifesaving breath as her face comes out of the dirt. As if she has just been saved from drowning in a deep lake.
The young woman rolls onto her back, hyperventilating and moaning in pain as she looks up at the three men.
The men in mask just look down on her with emotionless indifference.
The leader smiles at her. Not with warmth, but like a serpent seeing easy prey.
The young woman tries to catch her breath but can’t and she starts to weep, curling into the foetal position.
They are not tears of joy - she is clearly angry at these men for doing what they have done.
'It’s alright. It’s alright.' says the leader with a soothing voice.
The young woman shakes her head.
It’s not alright.
She manages to slowly and painfully get on all fours, then leaning up onto her knees.
'Take your time.' says the leader.
She wipes dirt and tears from her face.
'How long?' demands the woman, spitting out soil as she speaks.
'Catch your breath Lina.' says the leader.
'How long has it been?' she asks with more vitriol.
'Just a couple of days.' he replies as he leans down to meet her eyes, sitting on his haunches.
He passes her some water in a bottle.
The woman snaps it out of his hand, furious but exhausted. Clearly needing water.
She starts to drink with the thirst of a runner in the Araby desert, spilling most of it down the sides of her mouth as she desperately tries to drink as much as possible.
She drinks too much and falls onto her hands and knees again, vomiting most of the water back up.
'We have food if you need it.' stated 'Triangle'.
The young woman puts her head to the ground in despair, hoping this isn’t real.
'This isn’t right.' she moans.
She looks up to the leader, speaking with fury in her voice.
'This isn’t right.'
'That’s not for you to decide.'
'I’ll just do it again.' says Lina.
As she turns into the light of their lanterns, the leader sees the reasonably fresh wound sliced across her throat.
'We’d just be back here two days later.' says the leader with a chuckle.
Realising she is never going to intimidate these men, she looks for mercy instead.
'Please. Please. Let me go. I can’t -'
The leader interrupts, cutting her off.
'You signed a contract. You have to honour it.'
She nods. Surrendering. Knowing exactly who these people are and how they will never let her go unless she submits.
Triangle and Circle pick her up, each taking an arm pulling her up to her feet.
As soon as they let her go, Lina actually sees a chance worth taking. And runs.
She sprints along the hillside as fast as her legs can carry her.
'Get her.' demands the leader. More disappointed in her than angry.
Circle and Triangle turn and walk after her.
The young woman runs down the pathway towards the road.
Trees and bushes leaning over into the pathway whip and cut her face as she runs but adrenaline and terror keep her going.
Her lungs sound like they are going to explode.
She looks over her shoulder.
In the distance she can see the masked men walking after her down the pathway.
They are taking their time. She can't work out why, she just keeps going.
She reaches the road.
Desperate, looking for a way to freedom, she sees the lights of the town in the distance to her right.
She sees nothing but a dark road to her left.
But her vision starts to blur.
One of her legs shakes, spasms and gives out, causing her to fall to one knee. Her opposite hand keeping her from collapsing completely.
She clutches her chest. Internal pain. Burning.
A voice comes from the distance behind her.
'Taking a break?'
The leaders voice.
She looks behind her, but her vision is still blurred. Fading.
The pain in her chest becomes more intense.
She hears the leaders voice again. even though he is not nearby. It is coming from all around her.
'The tendons, the joints, your lungs. They need a day or so to work properly again. You know this. You won’t be going far I’m afraid.'
Looking down, she can just make out a broken bottle on the floor next to her that has obviously been flung by a drunken driver of a wagon or horse rider along the road.
She hovers her hand over it for a moment and closes her eyes.
Lina takes a breath and punches her palm through the standing-upright shards.
The young woman screams as the spikes of glass go through her palm and out of the back of her hand.
However, the jolt of pain gives her a moment of clarity and her vision focuses.
She steadies her breathing.
'Come on….COME ON!'
With a painful moan she drags herself to her feet and starts to run again with a limp – not as fast, but at least she is moving.
She chooses the dark of the road rather than the light of the village. She knows the dangers that wait for her there. She would prefer the infamous dangers lying in wait in the Drakwald instead. Lina would see them as the easy choice, knowing her history with her pursuers.
Looking over her shoulder, she finally sees the men come out of the dark pathway onto the road.
They see her and continues to walk after her.
She continues her painful run but as the road turns a corner, the leader stands impossibly in the road in front of her.
'When has running ever worked Lina?' he asks patiently.
Giving up, she falls to her hands and knees again.
A blinding light starts to shine behind her.
For moment of optimism for her, it seemed a beautiful release, but it isn’t the warmth of the afterlife.
The headlights of another travelling stagecoach come around the corner and its horses stop behind her, leaving her on her hands and knees in silhouette in front of the lantern beams from the drivers seat.
The driver steps down from the coach.
'Are you hurt my girl?' he asks in a thick Stirland accent.
'Run...Run!' shouts Lina with whatever strength she has left.
The driver sees the state she is in.
'Sigmar preserve us!'
The driver steps closer to her and finally notices the leader in front of her.
'Was this you? You piece of -'
The leader looks at the driver.
Lina watches as the driver starts to choke. He claws desperately at his throat. He is raised off his feet an inch off the ground, even though nothing touches him. Then Lina hears a snapping noise. Blood falls and lands on the road at the feet of the driver. His dead body is dropped in from of the stagecoach like a puppet with its strings cut. Landing like a ragdoll.
The woman looks to the driver and starts to cry, all of her is spent. No fight is left in her.
Circle and Triangle now stand either side of the stage wagon, looking at the people inside.
Lina hears women screaming, then women choking, then the sound' of bones contracting and breaking and then eerie silence.
After the bodies are taken out of their seats, she is picked up and placed inside the coach by Circle and Triangle.
They both then sit up on the drivers seat.
Miserable and downtrodden, covered in mud and blood, she looks at the leader as he steps into the blood soaked coach and sits across from her.
'You remember the small print don't you''
He throws some clothes at her, hitting her in the chest and falling on her lap.
'Clean yourself up' and says the Necromancer Hans Skrike
'We have much to do'.
Lina wipes away the tears. She can not get away today. She will bide her time instead.
TO BE CONTINUED.