CHAPTER ONE (first half)
The man stirred in his sleep, twisting the already knotted sheets around him even more tightly.
Foul breath glanced off his cheek, yet the whispered name seemed to come from the depths of a lonely canyon.
The man twisted some more, an urgency impelling him to squirm in fear. Even as he struggled to waken, his mouth opened in a silent scream.
He jerked spasmodically, his eyes now wide open, unseeing at first then slowly focusing. His head swiveled slowly as he peered into the far corners of the unusual darkness that cloaked his room. He wrapped his arms around himself …
stiffly as though he barely had the power to move them, and the icy mist descended from his nose as he shivered.
The serpentine whisper echoed in the air wrapping itself around him, colder even than he already was. The creeping sensation he felt told him that all of the hair on his body was at full attention. First his ever widening eyes,
then his head turned to look at the empty gloom his ears directed him to.
I … have … found … you.
The sound continued to hiss around him, enveloping him. For the first time the thumping in his chest truly demanded his attention. Puffs of frosty air obscured his vision and despite his terror, he wondered briefly if he could slow his breathing down before he passed out. Then he forgot to think as a dark figure slowly rose from the floor.
He grabbed at his side but somewhere in his petrified brain he remembered that he was still in bed and even if he weren’t, the sword that was a lifelong friend had been sold months ago.
His mouth opened despite his need to keep it shut and the scream that wanted to escape, collapsed as a gurgle in his throat when the ghostly specter, now at least six foot tall loomed toward him. Its bony, white arms reached out toward him from an area of blackness so dense that it stood out from the rest of the gloom. Nothing else showed, just arms … and hands that proclaimed death itself.
They are coming … for you. The asthmatic whisper continued to hiss.
The specter glided closer, reaching out as though to touch him … something that Rathen, for that was the man’s name, struggled to avoid. He knew that a wraith’s touch meant the end.
You must … kill the hell heart.
The specter suddenly shoveled its hand into the man’s chest and an icy-cold grip clamped onto his pounding heart. His grimacing face told of the excruciating pain which shot like hot needles through every part of him, driving his senses to the edge of extreme while his stomach retched with the intensity.
Rathen screamed as he sought to escape the agony, before the redness that had descended before his eyes, turned to
The scream was close, close enough for him to feel every hair on his body once more stand to attention. Even through the thunderous din of his own heart he could hear … no, smell the fear in that scream. He shook with his own terror and his eyes opened! Bright sunlight glared through the uncovered window at him.
He sat up in bed his head swiveling from side to side as he searched desperately for the wraith that was about to kill him. Instead of the black figure hovering over him, there was nothing more sinister than the cheerful look of a beautiful winter’s morning. He sprang out of bed, wiping sweat from his face with the back of his hand. Three quick steps and he was standing at the window, peering out at what was clearly around noontime.
Despite the reassurance of the village folk going about their business, a sense of unease and great danger caused him to shiver more than could have been expected from the coolness of the room. He grabbed at his chest where the wraith had placed its hand, a frown splitting the high forehead on what most would describe as a very handsome face albeit covered with a thick dark beard. Dark-blue eyes showed his level of anxiety as they flickered from object to object in the room. Despite the sunlight pouring in, it was generally a dark room as the walls were of polished wood. It was sparsely furnished, Rathen having not found the time to procure much in the way of furniture. The bed and the cupboard, on which stood an earthenware pitcher of water and a bowl, he had built himself. The lone chair he had salvaged from the street. There was little else to be seen.
Nothing! There is nothing! Was it all just a dream? Why did it feel so real? No! It couldn’t be! But why does it make me want to go back to …
He knew the stories of course. The talk about evil, undead creatures that feed on the souls of their unfortunate victims until every bit that is good in their lives disappears. Then they come for them in the night and still their hearts.
No! It can’t be. Is this where I am? Have I been so lost that I am almost soulless? I don’t believe it. I can’t. I mustn’t! He shivered visibly and a shaking hand moved to once more wipe the sweat from his brow. Suddenly he stilled and stared at his hand as though willing it to stop its terror. After a few seconds, he grasped it with his other hand and still staring at it, finally brought the shaking under control.
I am not a coward!
Even as that thought roared through his mind, the vision of his dream came back to him. The wraith floated toward his helpless body. He almost saw himself, curled up and terrified. He’d always hoped that when his time came to leave this world, he’d be more composed, such as a seasoned warrior like himself should be.
He was still only thirty-nine, but in that short time he’d seen much death on the battlefield. He always thought he’d die a soldier, fighting for king and country, but right now he felt like a mewling infant needing its mother, a green young boy needing his first love.
No! That’s not who I am. I am a soldier! I face my enemies with courage and resolution. I don’t do fear and feelings of regret.
Yet that was exactly what his thoughts contained. He wished he had done more with his life these past few years instead of hiding at the bottom of a flask of ale.
I’ve wasted time. Mine is a wasted life.
He licked his lips as the thought reached him, and once more his eyes roamed his bedroom. Nothing had been disturbed from the night before, yet the wraith felt so real…