Talabheim, 1999 OW (Old world age)
The night was deathly quiet. Shop signs creaked, rocking in the gentle breeze as Wolfgang Kier advanced down the narrow cobbled street. It would be a long night patrolling Talabheim but as the middle aged Head of the Town Guard, he was accustomed to these lonely vigils. The autumn sun sank over the limestone wall that encircled the town. The dying light casting highlights in Wolfgang’s scruffy brown hair and glinting off his well-polished steel helmet and chest plate that bulged around his firm barrel-like torso. He sighed, a small mist escaping his thin lips. After all these years, he could walk the route round his home town with his helmet’s visor down. He just wanted to be home with Julia. His wife. A thick grin spread across Wolfgang’s rough face as he thought about her, about how they had met all those years ago.
Wolfgang was 13 and had been playing soldier outside his parent’s house, striking imaginary foes to the left and right with a stick when she appeared. She hurried up the street towards him and he was stunned by her beauty. She was a similar age to him but already developing the body of a woman. Short and slender with budding curves. His heart fluttered as he looked upon her perfect face. It was small and heart shaped with sharp features. Lips, full and red. Cute chin, narrow nose, large chocolate brown eyes and dainty ears. But her greatest feature, was her hair. Great thick black locks that flowed down to her hips. He was fighting up the courage to introduce himself but then he saw her face and his stomach churned. Her eyes were wet and glinting and tears covered her face. Wolfgang could hear the sound of leather slapping on cobbles.
Wolfgang and the girl turned towards the outburst.
A boy had emerged from around the corner of The Lumberjack tavern at the bottom of the street and strode towards the girl.
He was older than Wolfgang, more a young adult than a boy. Newly formed muscles were visible through his leather tunic, a thin layer of blonde stubble covered his square jaw and upper lip.
“My mother says your looks aren’t natural…you’re a witch!” he spat.
Fresh tears flowed down the girl’s face, her lip quivering as he loomed.
“Please stop following me, I’m not…I’m not a witch,” her high voice stammered.
“You’re a filthy witch! No peasant girl from round here would have those looks. Unless she’d used the black arts!”
A cruel sneer crept across his face, his eyes narrowing.
“But I have a way to fix that.”
His hand vanished inside his trouser pocket and slowly emerged holding a dagger, rusted and dull.
“You made a pact with evil; you don’t deserve your looks, I’ll ‘fix’ that hair, and then your face” he started advancing on the girl but she was too frightened to move. Great sobs wracked her body. Wolfgang also stood unmoving, shocked and confused. He’d heard tales of witches from the drunks when he’d gone to The Lumberjack tavern with his father. But those witches were vile old woman, with boils and spots and scraggly white hair. This girl did not look like a witch.
He felt a stirring in his chest, a deep hatred. He wasn’t sure if she was a witch or not but he was sure of one thing, the boy was a bully, and he hated bullies. His hand started shaking as he clenched around the stick. The older boy seemed oblivious to him, his eyes were fixed firmly on the girl. She still seemed unable to move, the boy only a few feet away, he raised the knife and lunged towards the girl. Wolfgang pounced. The boy’s blade, heading for the girl’s face, scoured across Wolfgang’s left arm. Wolfgang grunted, feeling a dull ache, pain momentarily by adrenaline. He swung the stick in a full arc around his head and brought it down squarely on the boy’s hand. He yelped, the dagger clunked onto the cobbles below. Wolfgang then charged into him and knocked him flying to the floor. The boy’s earlier bravado was shattered. He yelled and screamed, mouth blubbering.
“No, no, I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t have done anything.”
Wolfgang glared pityingly down at him,
“Leave this place, and if you ever trouble her again, I’ll ‘fix’ you!” Wolfgang yelled.
Without a further word, and with mucus running down his face, the boy fled. Wolfgang turned to the girl. She seemed to regain her senses, the sobbing slowly receded.
Despite his courage in battle, it fled him when talking to a beautiful girl. He shuffled and looked sheepishly at his feet.
“Are you alright?” he mumbled.
There was no answer. He fought with himself, how could he fight someone so easily but he couldn’t talk to a girl? He took a deep breath and slowly raised his gaze. The girl was stood right in front of him, clutching her hands, she looked just as nervous he did. Their eyes met, then glanced away, then met again. Wolfgang had no idea what to do. The girl seemed to make a decision and she leaned towards him,
“My name’s Julia. Thank you,” she said to him softly.
Wolfgang’s face felt like it was burning and he was so close that he could smell her. The smell of roses wafted off her in waves, powerful and sweet, enticing him, taunting him.
She turned to leave but hesitantly looked back towards him, leaned in again and pecked him on the cheek before running away up the street.
Since then they had been inseparable and over the years, what had started as childhood friendship, developed into something more.
Looking up from his reverie, he rubbed the white scar that ran along his left arm, it ached in the colder months. As he began to chuckle at the naivety of his young self, he saw he was passing the town’s blacksmith. It was eerily quiet without the sound of ringing metal and crackling flames from the furnace. Next were the stables, plumes of steam emanating from the horses’ mouths as they shuffled in their stalls. One of the horses started, rearing up on its hind legs. It whined and whinnied, spit frothing from its mouth.
“Wohh, wohhh, peace,” Wolfgang soothed as he entered under the thatched roof. He removed a torch from a metal bracket on the wall, lit it and slid it back. It rustled to life, the dry wood catching and casting a warm glow. He leaned over the rail of the stall to provide comfort and the horse jerked back, eyes bloodhshot red, darting back and forth as if looking for a predator.
“Sshh shhh shh shh” he coo-ed, stroking the horse’s head and his mane. The terrified animal slowly started to calm. The short raking breathes becoming more controlled. Eyes stopped darting.
“There, there. It’s ok. It’s only me, only Wolf.”
He continued to stroke the horse’s head for a few minutes but pondered; the animal had been terrified. It had been ready to burst from its stall. Surely it wasn’t his approach that had spooked the animal.
A chill that had nothing to do with the cold night swept down Wolfgang’s neck. He felt watched. His gauntleted hand descended to the hilt of his sword. He held his breathe, listening into the noiseless night. His hand tightened on his sword and he slowly pulled it from his scabbard. He scoured the creeping night. Looking into the adjoining stalls, to his right towards the blacksmiths and the town centre, and to his left, up the dimly lit rows of 2 story terraced houses. Nothing. There was nothing there. He strained his ears, only the clacking of the horses’ hooves as they shuffled, the crackling of his torch. He heaved out a breath he had not realised he was holding.
“Holy Sigmar, the other guards would mock if they could see me, jumping at ghosts,” Wolfgang thought, smirking, as he lowered his sword.
A gust of wind tore through the stable. It seemed to come from different directions. First from in front, then from behind, then the side. Stabbing him. Snatching at his clothes, tugging at his armour. Wolfgang jerked, thrusting his sword into a block position. The flames of the torch spluttered and spat, throwing twisting shadows against the stable walls. The horses cried and bucked. Then it was gone. The wind ceased. Wolfgang staggered from side to side, searching frantically. His heart hammered in his chest, he could feel the blood pumping in his ears. Sweat trickled from his hair and ran down his pale face. There was nothing. There was no-one there but he couldn’t move. He stood there panting, sword raised. It had not been a natural wind. It seemed to have a force of its own, a purpose. And a voice. He didn’t know if it was his fright, but he thought he’d heard a voice in the wind. It was deep and hoarse, and threatening. He couldn’t make out the words but they were not friendly.
After many minutes, his trembling had stopped.
“It’s just been a long night,” he told himself.
“I’ve done too many night patrols, I’ll speak to the Captain tomorrow and switch. Do some day shifts guarding the merchant trails through Big Wood.”
He reached up and took the torch from its bracket and started up the street, between the rows of houses. He was keeping his fear in check, barely. His mind tortured him. Every shadow was a lurking assailment. A crazed man armed with an axe. Every noise a monster hunting him. Again he thought back over what he’d experienced and was certain that he had heard a voice. But of who? Or what? His mind then wandered to the rumours that were spreading through the town like a virus. The screams of agony at night. Travellers going missing on the roads. Graves desecrated and bodies unearthed in Talabheim cemetery. He tried to dispel them from his mind. They were just rumours. The ramblings of the bored and the gullible.
His ascent up the street continued, the quiet night that he had once found so peaceful now only filled him with dread. No-one stirred in the street. No-one opened their curtains as he passed. Even the numerous dogs who usually drove the inhabitants mad with their howling and barking were silent, as if they knew something was out there.
After what seemed an eternity, Wolfgang reached his home and it had never been more welcoming. It stood apart from the other houses on the street. A 3 storey building of limestone and timber, harvested from the forest Big Wood that surrounded the town. The roof was adorned with a stone chimney, light grey smoke filtering out. On the ground level, a flight of wooden steps led up to a porch with railings that surrounded the house. The steps creaked as he hurried up the porch and jammed the torch into a bracket before swinging the strong oak door open. He strode across the threshold and slammed the door behind him. Relief fell over him like a comforting sheet and he leaned back against the door. He closed his eyes and breathed out heavily. He smiled thinly and carefully grasped the heavy steel helmet from his head and placed it next to the door.
“Julia?” he shouted into the house.
“I’m in here” her sweet voice sparkled back.
Wolfgang smiled at hearing her voice. The happenings of the night seemed surreal now he was back in his sphere of comfort. He walked down the sparse hallway shaking away his earlier feelings of dread and entered the living room. Julia was lounged on a wooden chair in front of a glowing fire. Even after all these years his heart still fluttered at seeing her. She was unmistakably the same girl that he had met at 13. Same face, same features, only sharpened by the years. Same stunning hair, as yet untouched by dustings of grey. At seeing him, she jumped from her chair and collapsed into his outstretched arms. His body stirred feeling her figure against him and his hands descended down her curvy hour glass figure and rested around her waist, aching to go to lower.
“Glad to see me I take it?” she whispered, softly laughing.
“Not yet, you need to eat your supper, there is plenty of time for that,” grasping his hands away from her waist and starting towards the kitchen.
Wolfgang momentarily hesitated to follow her as a dark cloud engulfed his mind, blocking out his happiness. Julia turned to face him.
“What’s wrong?” she’d always had a sixth sense for what he was feeling.
Wolfgang’s eyes shifted to the floor making him feel like a young boy again, he hated showing weakness in front of Julia and he daren’t explain to her that it had been the night’s occurrences that had caused it. But they had affected him. He had been certain he was going to be attacked, had feared for his life, and his only thought had been about Julia.
“I…I couldn’t bare to lose you,” he faltered.
Julia raised Wolfgang’s chin so that he was looking at her.
“You won’t, you’ve always been my guardian, you will always protect me” she whispered, looking deep into his eyes.
A sharp gust of wind hammered the house. Windows rattled in their frames, the flames of the fire writhed and struggled, the wooden walls groaned and shook. Julia screamed clinging to him.
“What is it?!” she yelled over the dreadful noise. The wind howled down the chimney, slates rattled and cracked outside and could be heard smacking their way down the slopped roof. The house felt like it was going to collapse, dust and chips of stone scattered down onto their heads. Then there was the most furious burst of wind yet and the fire was extinguished casting the room into total darkness.
“Wolfgang?! Wolfgang?” Julia screamed.
“I’m here” he soothed, finding her hand and pulling her to him. She shook wildly against him.
“What’s going on? I can’t see. Can you hear that?” she choked out through sobs.
Wolfgang grappled for his sword in the darkness and managed to unsheathe it. His breathing was ragged, his whole body had gone cold, nausea swept over him.
“Hear what?” he asked. No reply.
“Hear what Julia?” he asked louder and squeezed her hand, trying to keep the fear out of his voice.
Julia screamed. Her hand was ripped from his grasp then silence.
“Julia!? Julia. Say something. Where are you?” Wolfgang bellowed, voice breaking. Tears flowed down his face. He staggered blindly, banging into the walls, overturning chairs, feeling like his own home had betrayed him. He finally collapsed into the hallway which was feebly illuminated by moonlight falling through a window. The brass of a candlestick glinted in the light. He clutched it with shaking hands, the way a drowning man would clutch at the side of a ship. After several attempts he lit it, casting a feeble mocking glow.
“Julia?! Julia!?” he screamed. He heard a commotion from the bedroom.
“Julia, are you up there?”
He slowly ascended the wooden stairwell and stopped at the bedroom door. He could hear gasping from inside. Tears continued to pour down his face, sputtering on the candle flame.
“Julia, please answer me,” he choked at the door.
An internal battle raged, his love and devotion to Julia on one side, debilitating fear on the other. Finally he gripped the handle and swung the door open. His eyes swelled in horror at the sight before him. The room was awash with blood. It stained the walls and curtains that swayed by an open window, ran into red pools on the floorboards and seeped into the white bedcovers. Julia was slumped against the far wall, blood oozing from a wound in her neck. Her mouth was open in a silent scream. The sparkle in her eyes was gone. Wolfgang collapsed to the floor. Nausea overwhelmed him and he vomited. Tears streaked down his face. A roar of pain, primal and raw, erupted from him.
The tears in his eyes turned his bedroom into a surreal dreamscape. Hazy and unfocused. Lights and shadows blurred together. Just blacks and greys. Furniture seemed to shift and move.
He thought he heard the flapping of wings to his right, from near the window. Thought he saw a shadow advance towards him. Human in shape. His head swirled, the anxiety and grief overwhelming him. Suddenly a sharp pain tore through his neck. He raised his hand to it, feeling tired, so tired. He touched his neck, blood covered his fingers. His eyes were heavy. As the sweet embrace of oblivion unfurled him, he gazed towards the window to see a twin tailed comet slice through the sky, scarring it red.