My name is Sn’jn Harvester, and once I was a farmer of corn, wheat and barely. Once I was a man filled with grand purpose and joy and love. Once I was a father, holding my daughter to the bright sunrise, and keeping her warm from the cold night. Once I was a lover, a beautiful wife at my side. Once… was a very long time ago.
I still remember that terrible night. No amount of alcohol or tabac could ever tar those dreams of screams and wails of sorrow. Never will the edge in the voice of my wife become dull as she cried as they tore at her.
I lay in the mud. The rain plummeting to the earth in fat and lazy drops. The blood from my nose all but drowning me. My one eye buried in the mud, swollen shut, the other all too clear. My ribs pressed jagged spears into my lungs with each laboured breath. My legs lay crimson beneath me, ivory jagged outcrops marred the white skin. My arm lay torn and useless, my other, dislocated and beneath me. I wanted death.
I begged for death.
Yet my soul would not allow me to sleep and forget the pain, but instead I lay there, watching. Watching as they pulled my wife from my home. Watched as they broke the walls down, and took our food and our few coins. Watched as they found my daughter. Listened as they spoke with bawdy bellows of the coin they would fetch with her sale.
Watched as they raped my wife. Watched as each of the seventeen raped her. Watched as she looked into my eyes. Watched as her soul broke. Watched the tears run from her eyes. Watched as the hope died. Watched as her eyes widened momentarily as they slit her throat. Watched as those beautiful eyes died.
I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything. My body was broken, my soul holding my life to the ruined flesh.
The barbarians cut the heart from my wife, burnt it in my house. They took from her the liver and the stomach, the womb of life, and they roasted and ate it, singing praises to the Slaughter.
And then they were gone. My child tied to their horses. Her shrill voice crying out, “Daddy.”
I begged for death, and finally darkness came.
The voice was shrill and filled not with fear but terror. Such was the shrill of the voice that flecks of blood accompanied the scream as the little girl fought against the thick bonds of the rope. The monster of a man that held the other end of the tether laughed deeply as he pulled the five year old girl from her feet.
“Come little thing, soon you’ll have the taste of man on you, and then you’ll know your fate.” The monster said.
His eyes were feral green and flecked with shards of obsidian. Oblivion wept from his eyes. He turned to me and said, “There’s nothing you can do. By the time you’ve woken, six men will have violated her.”
The monster stopped and turned to the man standing there, “So the question is:”
The monster smiled, sharp needle-thin teeth littering his mouth, “Do you want to watch?”
Sn’jn woke with a start. Icy sweat trickled down his back and he shivered involuntary. The woman next to him barely stirred the sour smell of wine thick on her skin.
Sn’jn cradled his head in his hands, squeezing his eyes shut. Always the same dream, always the same beast. Had he vilified the bandit to such a degree that he now seemed a real monster; a real creature of the night?
He stood and padded naked to his clothes, pulling them on quickly. He buckled on his weapons belt and holstered the flintlock. Picking up his backpack he fished a few silver coins from it and placed them on the bed stand, paying a few coins short. Quietly he left the tavern and the tavern owner to wake with a foul head in the morning.
Downtown Harranara was as pitiful as he remembered those few times he had come here in his previous life. Little had changed; the doors were more worn and the walls filthier. A thin line of purple on the horizon forecast the false dawn, daylight was still a few hours away.
Moving quickly, but quietly, Sn’jn sought out the shelter that he had found the previous day. Within a few minutes he had found it and walked along the wall quietly, approaching the half dozing youth that guarded it. Hearing his approach the youth looked up, in time to catch a steel gauntlet in his gut and a knee to his face. Stunned, the youth crumpled and Sn’jn hoisted him onto his shoulders and hid him in the shadows out of site. He went through the youths pockets quickly, pocketing the couple of copper coins and throwing the rusty old dagger across the street into the sewer rivulet that run the length of the city. For good measure he hit the youth in the face, hard.
Sn’jn snuck up to the filthy blanket that acted as a door and peeked inside. It was dark, very dark. A powerful stench, several days of waste that hadn’t been disposed of, assailed his nostrils and he fought back the reflex to gag. He’d smelt worse. Ducking into the room beyond the blanket he waited for his eyes to adjust and listened quietly.
As his eyes adjusted and he was made certain that no-one had heard the scuffle with the youth outside, Sn’jn moved amongst several sleeping forms. Eventually he found his way to a second room, this one separated from the rest by a wooden door that currently stood ajar. He stepped into the chamber, closing the door behind him. Using a piece of leather, he tied the door shut and walked quietly up to the sleeping form on the bed.
His mistake, there were two forms on the bed, both naked; a man, perhaps twenty turns old and Arethea, the woman that he had come to see. Slowly he reached over and with a sudden movement snapped his neck. The loud crack woke Arethea and Sn’jn quietened her with a hard right to the forehead. Dazed she fell out of bed.
“Morning whore.” Sn’jn stated as he sat on her bed and took a pull of her open wine flagon.
Arethea wriggled on the floor, skittering backwards away from Sn’jn confused and dazed by the hard blow from the steel gauntlet. “Who…” she managed to utter.
“You know who’s here Arethea, your time is almost up. Day light is a few hours away and you promised me the information before sunrise. You make your best money by that rotten cunt of yours. Don’t make me take away your livelihood.”
“That’s right bitch, now tell me where Deogarth is, and I’ll maybe even pay to taste some of those fine services that you offer.”
Arethea huddled up against the far wall, violence in her eyes as Sn’jn went through the belt pouch of the dead man in the bed and pocketed the silver and copper coins he found there.
Arethea stirred and muttered something under her breath. Sn’jn lifted her head and took his arm out from under it. He rolled out of bed and dressed quickly and then picked up the body of the young man he had killed a few hours earlier.
While the man had been just another client to Arethea, Sn’jn had found a note scrawled badly across some leather speaking of a book called the Victus Grimoire. While the book held little interest for him at the moment, the sum of two hundred pounds of gold bullion certainly held his attention. He hadn’t mentioned it to Arethea, she didn’t need to know. He just hoped his interpretation of the notes were correct. Two hundred pounds of bullion after conversion and bribes could bring him at least five thousand gold coins, and he could start a real war with that kind of money.
The note had been signed Torthak, and Sn’jn would find him a bit later. Arethea had served her purpose and had given him the name of a person who knew where he could start his revenge. Deogarth was said to have fathered a bastard child here in Harranarra and that the mother of the child received infrequent communications from the bandit.
Sn’jn left Arethea sleeping and nursing that nasty looking welt on her forehead. He padded out of the hole carrying the youth and dumped him in the gutter outside. Walking up the path he called a corpse collector and pointed at the body, “Bury him deep, he’s got the rot.” Sn’jn lied.
An hour later Sn’jn stood outside a general trader in the morning rain. The droplets stank of sulphur and boiled leather from the tanneries around the corner. Soaking wet, Sn’jn pulled on a bottle of sweet wine and bit hungrily into a day old crust of bread. While he chewed he scratched at his stubbled cheek and watched the doorway of one of the many small apartments that dotted Harranarra.
Arethea had said that Greshia Horne lived in one of those apartments, and that she had bore a child called Feogard, named after his father Deogard. She worked as a tanner in the smelly pits nearby and while poor, managed to eek a living for her child. Feogard was quite the budding cut purse according to Oruk, the chapter house master of the local thieves’ guild. Sn’jn was confident that he would provide the perfect leverage for Greshia to reveal the location of Deogard.
Sn’jn had seen Greshia leave for work earlier in the morning, and was now waiting for Feogard to either arrive, or decide to go somewhere. A few more minutes passed before a youth of perhaps thirteen summers left the apartment and started down the road towards Sn’jn.
Sn’jn continued to eat his crust and drink his wine. As the boy neared he swallowed the last of the wine and threw the remnants of his crust to the rats and sewer dogs in the alley where he stood.
Foegard looked up with bright blue eyes and a ready smile, “What is it straggler? Want some fine tattle about someone important? Or do you want to tell old Feo over here something interesting?”
Sn’jn stepped up to the kid, “Hold out your hand.”
Feogard looked at Sn’jn strangely but did so, saying, “You gots something for me straggler?”
Sn’jn paused, “You could say that.”
With a flicking movement Sn’jn rammed the dagger through the bottom of the upturned hand, the blade coming up through the palm of Feogards hand with a bright crimson shower of blood. As Feogard began to scream, Sn’jn twisted the blade and pulled it roughly towards himself, cutting the hand open between the middle and ring finger. Feogards hand flopped open like a filleted side of beef; all blood and bones.
Feogard screamed so Sn’jn hit him, hard, on the temple. Like a pole-axed ox Feogard dropped to the mud of the street, his body shuddering from the assault. Grabbing him by the collar, Sn’jn hauled him to his feet and started towards the apartments; his free hand resting on the hilt of his sword, ready for trouble.
Sn’jn made himself comfortable in Greshia’s home. He cut himself a thick slice of bread and took some hardened cheese as well as a good few scoops of the previous nights stew. While he sat and ate the wholesome meal, he looked over at Feogard on occasion. The boy had huddled himself into the corner of the small and cramped apartment. Cradling his hand. Sn’jn had given him a cloth he had found to bind the hand in so that the kid didn’t die from blood loss.
Greshia would be home within the hour. The sun had already settled down pleasantly and Sn’jn had had his fill. He was smoking some strong tabac that he had gotten from a smuggler the previous day before the smuggler had met an unfortunate end at the point of a Crusader’s sword. He didn’t have much longer to wait.
Greshia entered through the wooden door, and froze. Sn’jn looked over to her and through mouthfuls of bread said, “Sit down, I have no quarrel with you if you co-operate. If not, then we’ll have other words – the unfriendly kind.”
Greshia looked up at Sn’jn, across to Feogard and then back to Sn’jn.
“Shit.” said Sn’jn.
Greshia’s eyes twisted. They narrowed and her nose suddenly ridged, forming a devil’s face within a moment. Blood filled her eyes and began to pour out her nose and mouth. Her jaw looped and extended, growing six inches in a matter of heartbeats, heartbeats that Sn’jn was using to get to the window.
A cold terror griped Sn’jn’s heart as he dove, shoulder first, through the shuttered windows and arced not so gracefully through the air into the muddy ground below. Landing hard he swore again and rolled over onto his back, gasping for air. Looking up he saw Greshia look out the window, once more a little more than a plain middle-aged woman. She looked down at him and then vanished back into the apartment.
The fear that had gripped his soul was gone. What was she? A devil woman? Or had that wine he’d had been off, or was she using magic? Could Greshia be a spell caster?
With a heave Sn’jn pulled himself to his feet and started running after Greshia and the boy. The rain pelted down through dark alleyways that stank of rot and waste. Thick sewage splashed up as Sn’jn laboured after the girl and the boy who seemed unnaturally fast. Within heartbeats he had lost them, out running him in a way that could only have an answer in unnatural laws of devils and angels. Greshia must be a magic user.
There was no way that Sn’jn was going to be able to catch up to them, he already didn’t know where they had gone. He’d need a Bloodhound, and soon, with this rain and the morning the tracks would be gone, history like so many washed away stains on his soul. He wasn’t going to let them get away. He would have his revenge.
Ducking under the worn cover of an awning, Sn’jn reached into his pockets and found the bone whistle he had purchased earlier from Gortak, an imposing half-orc with a nose like a wolf. He blew hard on the whistle which let out a strange keening sound.
Dropping the whistle back into his pocket he sunk down to his haunches to catch his breath. Breathing hurt and Sn’jn wondered if he’d cracked a rib taking his swallow dive out of the window.
“A hunched man cannot run.” Said the deep voice of Gortak.
“Yeah, whatever, I’m chasing a woman and her spawn. They’re moving faster than I can, which is to say that I think they’re using magic.”
“Then the Crusaders and the Hounds will be along soon. The smell of magic will attract those that seek to sever it from this world.”
“Well let’s try and get them before the Crusaders do okay?”
Gortak nodded, sank to the ground, looked at some of the tracks and overturned stones, the filth and the feaces. He looked up and broke into a run. Sn’jn followed.
They followed the tracks for perhaps eight minutes before Gortak stopped in front of a black door that barely hung onto its hinges.
“The tracks lead in here, this is as far as I go. Payment. Now.”
Sn’jn fished a glittering gold coin from a hidden pocket. “Spend it well you miserable animal.” Sn’jn said with a half smile. Gortak took the coin, bit it, and then smiled, showing his large canines. He vanished off down an alleyway.
The blackened door hung from hinges attached to a shoddy building. Plaster had fallen from the front façade, the hewn stones used to build it eroded and pitted beneath. Two high windows showed the flickering glow of a candle, several sinuous shadows moved about it.
Drawing his sword, he opened the door slowly. Darkness greeted him beyond. He couldn’t hear anything unusual, so he entered. The room beyond was simple enough, about eight feet square with two unoccupied bedrolls near a burnt out fire pit. A rickety ladder went up to the loft above. A second door on the right wall went further into the building.
Sn’jn loped to the ladder first and looked up, trying to see if there was anyone above him. Not seeing anyone, he moved to the door, as quietly as he could and listened intently at it, closing his eyes to block out any visual interference that might come. The drumming rain drowned out almost all other sounds, but not everything. He heard a foot scrape along the floor behind him.
Spinning around he slashed high and met no resistance. The figure behind him ducked under the blow and launched at him shoulder first. The air exploded out of Sn’jn’s lungs and he went down, taking the black swathed figure with him. As the rolled on the floor Sn’jn brought his knee up hard into his assailant’s crotch. Not finding anything to crush Sn’jn realised that the person was a woman, who promptly did the same thing to him.
Bright lights burst before his eyes as the little air he had escaped in a strangled gasp. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he felt someone hitting him in the face. One. Twice. The momentary stunning wore off and he came back to this world, one filled with terrible pain. He felt his nose crunch under a third blow. He lay on his back, this woman straddling him quietly beating the life out of him.
Working on instinct, as his eyes were swollen and blood welled up in his mouth, Sn’jn raised his arms, defended the fourth blow and managed to shift his hips sufficiently to throw the woman off of him. Rolling to his feet he couldn’t see anything. The room was dark with little ambient light from the candle above. His eyes watered. Blood poured freely from his nose. He could hardly breath. There was a deep pain in his side, his knees felt week.
The barbarian ripped open her shirt and grabbed a fistful of pale white breast, biting hard on the nipple. She screamed, the cry something that spoke of broken souls and destroyed dreams. He couldn’t move as he watched. His legs were broken, his arms smashed. His insides were all broken. His stomach swelled with the blood that pooled there.
He saw the barbarian pushing her legs apart, tearing away her skirt. He saw the barbarian reveal himself. He watched as his wife was violated, watched her die as her soul left her eyes. He watched and watched and wished for death. Death just wouldn’t come.
He ducked under the left hook even though he never saw it, a burning rage inside of him, he wouldn’t lose this fight and he wouldn’t lose his only lead, somewhere Deogarth existed and held information, the truth of where the other barbarian’s were. He would have his revenge.
Ducking down he let out a left and right jab at the inner thighs of the person he was fighting. As the legs gave way he launched himself ramrod straight up, ramming the top of his head into the woman’s chin. He heard the clatter of teeth and a hard grunt as the woman stumbled back. He threw himself at her, taking her bodily to the ground. Grabbing two fistfuls of hair he lifted her head and rammed it into the ground. Once. Twice. Thrice. Her body spasmed. Then was still.
Coughing blood Sn’jn rolled onto his back. This wasn’t being as easy as he had thought. Resting for a moment he rolled onto his feet and went towards the ladder, stopped, turned around and collected his sword. He went to his assailant. She was still breathing, but it gurgled a little. He tore off her shirt and wiped away the blood on his face. Her semi-nakedness didn’t excite him at all, but the serpent in a hermetic circle tattooed on her chest most certainly did. What the hell were the Drothos Serpents doing involved with Greshia? Or more precisely, what was Greshia doing with these assasins? Sn’jn counted himself lucky that he had only had to deal with an adept and not someone skilled. He’d have been dead before he realised what was going on. Blinking the blood and tears away he looked closer at the woman. Sn’jn couldn’t believe his eyes. This was Greshia! Thankfully he hadn’t killed her, but that did mean that her bastard child was here somewhere. A searing pain in his back told him exactly where the child was.
Moving away from Greshia as quickly as he could he backed up and saw Feogard behind him. Both of his hands were bloody. The pain in his back suggested that something was stuck in there.
“That was foolish child.” Sn’jn managed to say through the blood in his mouth.
“No it wasn’t straggler, the blades poisoned.”
“You little shit.”
“Drop your weapons and I might let you know about the antidote.”
“No. If I’m going to die, I’m going to take you with me.”
Feogard had time for his eyes to widen in shock, and then surprise. He looked at Sn’jn and said, “Strange. I thought it would have hurt more… death. I..” he let out a sigh and slid off of Sn’jn’s blade.
Sn’jn’s world spun in a helter-kilter way and he staggered. As darkness closed on his soul he could only think one thing: don’t fall backwards.