Chapter 1 - A Cruel Haven

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Thunder rumbled across the heavens. Not the angry crashing of the gods at war but the low growling of an unsettled beast. Occasional forked lightning lit up the night darkened sky, sketching lazy, crazy trails from earth to heaven while a light rain drummed across any surface it could find.

It was none of this that had woken the young girl though. She listened intently for the noise that had disturbed her, straining for any echo of it above the rumble, crack and patter. Her breath frosted in the chill night air as she fought to keep every muscle still so that she didn't add any rustle of blanket or creak of wood to the sounds from outside.

Her darkest conclusion was confirmed to her as she heard a striker being struck. She watched as the resultant dim light from an oil lamp threw dancing shadows across the interior of the barn she had sought shelter in.

A cold smile crept across her porcelain features. She had caught the hungry look in the farmer's eye and the haunted look in his wife's when she had asked to shelter in their barn. Her lack of faith in humanity had led to her decision to climb to the hayloft and now gave her time to prepare.

Rolling to place her back to the ladder and edge of the hayloft, she kept her hands under the woollen blanket and murmured softly to herself as if talking in her sleep. The ladder creaked and groaned as someone started to climb, but she barely registered it and continued her pretence.

She felt the soft footfalls cross the loft to her side and suppressed a shudder as warm, fetid breath hit her nostrils and a deep, rough, husky voice spoke to her, "Wake up little 'un. There's a price to pay for stayin' dry in my barn n me n me boy's here to collect."

Her eyes flew open in surprise moments before a hand grabbed her shoulder to roughly roll her on to her back; she hadn't counted on two! Long, black hair slipped from her face to reveal stunning cobalt blue eyes, cherry lips set against moon pale skin and stunning features the like of which had often caused kings to go war in the old tales.

She reacted fast and grabbed her assailants nape before his slack, lopsided grin could widen to show his rotting teeth. Then she discharged the spell she had woven. Her hand flared with a pale blue light as the cold of the grave stripped the strength from the farmer's limbs and reduced his shrieks to gasps as his lungs went into shock and struggled for a breath they couldn't inhale.

Using his limp body to push off, she slowly stood and looked at the stunned young man standing near the top of the ladder to the hayloft. He was also dressed in drab, rough woollens much like his father, who was now mewling and clawing the floor in his fight for air. Green eyes looked on in shock from a rough, oblong face that looked worn beyond his late teen years from hard work and toil.

She began to tease the air around herself with hand movements, again murmuring words of power, but her actions drove the shock from the young man, "What did you do to da you bitch?", he yelled as he charged. His fist, swung with the strength of fury and years of farm toil, connected with the side of her head before she could complete the spell. The ringing blow knocked her from her feet and the crack of her head connecting with the hayloft floor stunned her, spoiling her casting.

As her senses finally began to return, she rolled on to her hands and knees. She shook he head in an attempt to clear double vision as she looked through her disheveled tresses to try and get her bearing on where her attackers were.

The young man was stooped low, helping his father to his feet as the effects of the spell began to wear off. Both glanced up as she unsteadily rose to her feet. She made the only choice she could, she ran at the edge of the hayloft and threw herself off.

She had surveyed the barn intently on her arrival for entrances, exits and hiding places, which is how she recalled the half split bail of hay just below the loft. She had leapt feet first and thrown her weight back so that she hit the hay spread eagled, looking toward the barn roof. Though her fall was cushioned slightly, she hit with enough force to drive the air from her lungs and send green spots dancing across her vision. Blood trickled from her mouth as she dug deep in to her willpower and fought with every ounce to remain conscious against a rising black tide.

Her hands flexed and she rammed her fingers deep in to the earth of the straw littered barn as she drew upon a power taught her by an old, dark, terrible power. Her mind wandered as she spoke arcane words, seeking the shadow of death a body leaves behind when it passes, the tiniest of voids a life leaves behind when a soul departs; a black hole amongst a sea of stars.

It took her a while to find what she sought. Long enough for father and son to clamber down from the hayloft and warily approach her trembling body as her mind sought elsewhere.

"She's up to something again da'!"

She felt nothing as the boys father rocked her head from side to side with open hand slaps, so intent was her concentration as she found what she sought and coaxed the void into unlife. The old man shrugged at his son as he started to tear at her black skirts and woollens, exposing her milky white thighs, "This'll stop the witch doin' whatever she's up to."

The older man hesitated briefly as he realised that his victim was no longer trembling or talking in a strange tongue, but was smiling coldly up at him with glittering blue eyes. Shrugging again, he spread her legs without a struggle and began to fumble at his trousers.

The small side door to the barn burst asunder as a body flew through it with tremendous force, showering all three in splinters and debris.

Picking themselves up off the floor, the two men searched the darkness intently until their eyes were drawn to the wreckage of the door, where more shapes were now moving. They stumbled and scrabbled back towards the main double doors, which they had barred and locked from the outside to prevent escape, gasping in horror at the walking corpses and skeletons clothed in tatters that were crowding in through the door. Their jaws were working in an attempt to vocalise their terror, but their mouths were unable to form words.

The young girl struggled up from the floor and climbed towards the hayloft to gather her gear as the screams began below. Screams which quickly gave way to tearing, squelching and ripping sounds.

Not long after, the young girl walked into the rain, heading away from the barn and farmhouse to pick up her road again. Smoke was already beginning to wisp from the barn interior, although how long the fire would last in this drizzle was uncertain. Thunder rumbled fitfully in the distance as the worst of the storm moved on.

Still striding from the barn the girl pointed to the farm house in the distance, starkly outlined by a distant flash of lightning, and spoke one word to the small group of undead gathering behind her, it's utterance as much an act of will as of speech, "Destroy". There would be no witnesses.

Her path took her past the freshly turned earth and empty graves near the the large oak that marked the farming family's cemetery. Taking a seat on her pack at the base the tree, she sat and watched the shadow that was the farmhouse until more screams could be heard across the night quiet fields. Eventually, that building too began to smoke.

Closing her eyes and reaching out with her mind, she sought out the ancient, brooding presence that festered far away and deep in the earth and that had been her mentor and foster-father since such a young age. Touching his mind felt like submerging her face in a bowl of stagnant water that was coated in a fowl, oily balm. She shivered with the mix of pleasure and disgust.

"Not long now and you will be free."

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