Shadows danced in the old cabin as the fireplace crackled, bathing everything in its flickering rosier glow while its only occupant sat staring into the flames as a tall, middle-aged man pushed open the door, its hinges creaking loudly, and stepped hesitantly across the threshold. He held the limp, blanket swathed corpse of a young girl and though his rugged features showed little beyond a statuesque stoicism his more expressive, dark eyes evoked a dreadful anguish, but the silver-haired crone made no move, watching the flames in silence as the firelight cast contrasting shadows over her craggy features.
‘Who are you?’ her cracked, hoarse voice framed these words in a harsh whisper that carried across the small cabin, resonating unnaturally.
‘Kurt-’ he shifted the weight of the prone figure in his arms, ‘Kurt Engels, I thought-’
‘’Fraid raisin’ the dead ain’t within my power, Kurt Engels.’ she cut back, speaking over him.
The crone was still seated, staring into the crackling fireplace, and did not look up as he carefully laid the body down atop a narrow bench. He reached into his pocket with a metallic clinking and withdrew a purse. Loosening the drawstring, and pouring part of its contents into his hand he held the money toward the crone.
‘This is all I got.’ his voice was hollow, imploring desperately.
He noticed the offering cup beside her. Set amid a cluttered low table by several unlit candles, and moved toward it.
‘This is everything.’ Kurt emptied his hand, and upended the purse over the vessel, letting the heavy coins fall.
‘Nothin’ I can do for her.’ the hag spoke again, her dry voice evoking a cruel sense of amusement.
‘When I was young-’ Kurt began.
‘I said there’s nothing I can do,’ she cut him off once more.
‘But I saw it-’ he went on, his voice, still thread with tones of desperation, growing almost eager.
‘What?’ she turned towards him for the first time. ’What do you want, Kurt Engels? Say it.’
The crone leaned forward in the ensuing silence.
‘Say it.’ she hissed softly, her dark eyes widening.
‘When I was young folks used to talk about you. Said how you knew things, said how you had certain powers… that if a man had been wronged he could come to you, and you’d call upon this thing in that man’s name, and that man… he’d be avenged.’
‘What you’re askin for… it’s got a powerful price.’ her dark eyes met his steadily, but Kurt seemed unwavering in his determination.
‘They killed my girl-’ his dark-eyed gaze flickered over toward the body, ‘Run her over,’ his voice trembled with suppressed rage, ’and left her.’
‘Ever hear of Razorback Hollow?’ the crone asked, ‘There’s an old graveyard, way back deep in them woods. Folk hereabouts used to bury kin there, kin they was ashamed of, and little ones that weren’t born right. The Midwives took ’em out there, buried ’em alive. You bring a shovel, the thing you’re looking’ for’s in there. Bring it back here. Some things I gotta do to it ‘for it’ll be any use to you,’
‘The graveyard, how will I know-’
‘You’ll know.’ she spoke over him, ‘Leave the girl.’
Kurt halted mid-step as he approached the body. He seemed loath to leave it, but tore himself away at last with an appreciable effort of will and left. He clenched his insides hard, biting back tears, and told himself he would grieve later; once he knew they were going to pay. His dark eyes closed as he breathed in deeply where he stood on the timber porch of the small, isolated cabin and when he opened them Kurt saw a shovel leant against the wall not far from the door. He picked it up, and shouldered it even as he made for the woods surrounding the cabin, heading up-hill, and disappeared amid the deeper shadows beyond the dense tree-line.
The densely packed trees blocked out even the meagre light of the stars, and waning mansleib was no more than sliver of silver occluded by the darker, greenish orb of morsleib as Kurt stumbled over the pitted and uneven ground. He did not know how long he had been walking, or how much further he had to travel. The woods stretched as far as he could see in every direction, and the light gleaming through the windows of the crone’s cabin had been left far behind. He was not certain where he was going, or even how to get there and felt strangely removed from what he was doing. It was almost as though he was watching himself from the outside as he trudged onward doggedly through the close-packed pines. His anguish gone, bled out, and replaced by a cold and unfeeling numbness though his head whirled as he went over it all again. Seeing the crowded townsfolk and hearing the uncertain colloquy or their hushed voices as their priest tended to the broken body of his daughter. He had been out hunting when the speeding coach had run her over near the crossroads, and she was already dead when he returned, and the image of her battered body lying in the dirt where they had left her drove him onward. Using the shovel as a staff Kurt dragged himself up a steep incline, and when he crested it he saw his destination.
The fog-shrouded clearing of Razorback hollow was laid out in front of him, and the bare dark soil smelled of mould and damp as Kurt stepped out of the shadows of the tree-line and picked his way over the twisted vines carpeting the clearing. His dark eyes were focused on the strange hillock at its center rising out of the fog, the vines that grew up Its steep sides, and the thick grassy growths crowning its edges. It looked like the stump of an enormous tree, seven feet high and perhaps five feet across although it was wider at the base, tapering up to its slightly flared top. The hag had told him he would know the place, and though he wasn’t certain how Kurt knew this was it. Stumbling on the vines, and kicking his foot free Kurt approached. He threw his shovel up onto the top of the steep rise and scrambled up after it using the vines or clinging with his hands to the loose soil before he reached the top, looking up from his knees as they sank into the loose soil. He picked up his shovel as he stood, and began to dig. The wormy black earth was loose and the shovel blade cut deep with each thrust, and he dug down several feet before he felt the shovel strike something.
Kurt threw the shovel to one side and dropped to his knees, leaning over the small hole, where he used his bare hands to dig around the object he had found. He brushed the dirt away from it, and pulled it free of the loose earth. It was like a desiccated corpse the size of a small child’s with withered, shrunken limbs and a massive, inhuman head. He lifted it easily and left the shovel lying across the empty hole he had dug as he stood up.
The hag looked as though she had not moved since he left when Kurt returned to her cabin. Still sitting in her chair staring into the fire and she did not look up when the door creaked open once more and Kurt entered holding the corpse-like figure, his heavy boots thudding loudly in the otherwise silent room.
‘Bring it here.’ she stated.
it?’ he asked, while moving closer.
‘It’s what you wanted, Kurt Engels.’ she rose out of her chair with this, and took the creature from him. ‘For each of man’s evil’s a special Daemon exists-’ the hag set the dried out corpse down beside the body of Kurt’s daughter, ‘You’re looking at vengeance. Cruel, devious, pure as venom vengeance. Give me your hand.’
He held out his hand as she lifted a knife from the table and stared numbly as she took the back of his hand, her spidery fingers grasping with surprising strength, and dragged the knife across his palm, cutting him deeply. He flinched slightly as she held on, squeezing the cut and catching his blood in a shallow wooden bowl. As she let go he took two wavering steps back and clenched his fingers against the bleeding gash. He looked away when the hag lifted one of his daughter’s limp arms, but heard the knife as she slit the dead girl’s palm and held it up over the same bowl. Kurt let himself fall back onto a hard wooden chair as the hag used the tip of her knife to mix their blood together.
,’ she hissed softly though her dry voice resonated strangely throughout the small cabin with an unnatural buzzing echo.
She waved a hand over the desiccated husk, invisibly tracing some unknown pattern in the air. Kurt felt dizzy and slumped over to one side in his chair as she put the bowl to the dead things mouth.
‘Njawrrl Ryaol‘qzz Tz’aa
,’ she intoned as she poured the blood into its mouth..
Kurt looked up, blinking repeatedly but her voice seemed to be coming from a great distance. The thing on the table twitched. There was a crackling sound as its head moved, and at that moment Kurt slumped foreword and slid out of his chair. His head lolled as he wavered on his knees briefly, and then he felt his consciousness slipping away. His body hit the timber floorboards with a dull thud, and an empty blackness encompass his being. He did not see the corpse-like thing’s chest begin to rise and fall as though it were breathing as its withered limbs crackled and twitched, growing longer, yet even as the thing grew the crackling open fire shrank. The flames wilted, deepening the shadows within the small cabin, as though starved for air until they left only smouldering timbers and ash. The hag stared through the darkness as the daemonic creature rolled off the bench to land with a weighty thump though it was nothing more than a large, growing shadow in the gloom. Yet as it stalked out through the open door, crouching to fit under the frame, the smouldering timber in the fireplace burst into flame once more to burn and crackle as though it had never gone out. Kurt sat up suddenly, and felt his own body once more as his eyes opened to see the hag standing over him. He rose shakily onto his knees, blinking and turning his head as he looked around in confusion. Immediately he noticed the thing that the Hag had called a daemon was gone.
‘You can go now Kurt Engels, now it begins.’ she told him, speaking before he could ask what had happened, as he rose unsteadily to his feet.
Kurt’s dark eyes moved between the hag, and the empty space on the table beside his daughter. He said nothing as she returned to her chair in front of the fireplace and nor did she as he picked up his girls body and left the cabin.
It was several hours later when the creature claimed its first victim. Kurt was at home and despite the late hour he was outside standing in a partly-dug grave. The rectangular hole had been dug beside a small stone grave marker, and his girl’s body lay on the earth on the opposite side. Feeling dizzy suddenly he leaned against the handle of the shovel, and shook his head as his vision blurred. Kurt squeezed his eyes shut but when he opened them it was as though he was seeing through the eyes of another. Someone was running from him but for all their panicked speed the figure gained no ground, but it couldn’t be running from him. He was standing in a partly dug grave behind his home. The shovel slipped out of Kurt’s hand and he dropped to one knee. He had no idea what was happening yet even as he tried to focus on his true surroundings they seemed to melt away, and he was holding the struggling figure of a coachman upside down, but that bony long arm with its sunken, leathery skin ending in long clawed fingers that were wrapped around the screaming man’s ankle was not his. Nor was the other arm that came up to tear off the bearded figure’s tunic and slash open the base of his stomach.
Kurt’s head reeled, his body slumped against the edge of the hole he had dug. He felt the cold earth and tried to focus on that. To anchor his mind in the place where he truly was, but he could not. He felt the coachman’s innards as a clawed hand plunged into his sliced-open belly to finger the screaming man’s intestines before pulling them out. He let him go, and the coachman fell heavily, rolling over and sitting up. Wide-eyed, shock pale and trembling he stared down at his own spilled innards. He tried to crawl away but a clawed hand grasped his ankle and dragged him back, and the gutted coachman loosed a shuddering exhalation as a clawed hand entered his slit-open torso to tear more of his insides out. Then he lifted the dying coachman by his ankle once more and watched as he bled, the body swinging limply in his grasp, arms hanging down, and this time when he let him drop the coachmen fell into a crumpled, unmoving heap. He was dead, and Kurt was himself, kneeling in a freshly dug grave once again. He wanted to be sick. Reaching for the shovel he had dropped Kurt hefted it, and used it to help steady his shaky legs as he stood up slowly while his chest rose and fell in time with his visibly laboured breathing. He saw something move in the corner of his eye, and his head snapped around.
‘Daddy what’d you do?’ his daughter had sat up, and Kurt was looking right at her pale face, and met the glassy-eyed stare of a corpse as her soft voice rang reproachfully in his ears.
No, Kurt blinked in confusion, she hadn’t moved. Her body was lying still beside the open grave he had dug, still wrapped in a thin blanket. He wondered if he was going mad. Whether the coachman was really dead, and if he was who would be next. Kurt picked up his daughters body and laid her on the bare earth before clambering out of the grave, shovel in hand. He knew what he had to do. The shovel blade bit deep into the heaped earth beside the open grave and Kurt closed his eyes as he let it fall.
‘It’ll pass, Kurt Engels. Let it finish.’ the hag spoke without even turning as he stumbled through the door of her cabin.
‘No-’ Kurt shook his head, his eyes wide with desperation, ‘you got to stop it!’
‘It’s what you wanted.’ she stated coldly.
‘No-!’ Kurt grasped the arm of her chair, his free hand clenching into a fist. ‘Not like this, not like this!’ he was almost yelling, ‘I see it
… this is wrong
She shook her head, smiling as she met his gaze steadily.
‘Nothin’ I can do.’ the hag stated, her voice seething with mocking contempt. ‘It’s gotta run its course now. What’d you think? It’d be easy? Neat and clean and painless-?’ she sneered, ‘You’re a fool!’
‘If you don’t help me, if you won’t, I’ll do it myself-’ Kurt gestured toward the door, ‘I’ll do it myself!’
‘You’ll fail Kurt Engels!’ she snarled back, ‘You’ll fail, and you’ll die, too.’
‘Then I’ll die.’ he cut back, yelling. ‘I’ll die.’
‘And pay the final price, all the sooner.’ her voice lowered with this, but her words left him visibly shaken.
‘Sigmar damn you, witch,’ Kurt intoned, his voice thread with anguished frustration. ‘damn you-’
‘-he already has, son.’ she hissed back, speaking over him. ‘he already has.’