Chapter One

by jaywcoombes

As the hatchet flew across the room, bouncing shaft-first off the wall, Jarratt muttered a prayer of thanks for fanatics. So caught up in their righteous fury, they will willingly throw their weapon in zealous madness. Idiots. As Jarratt ducked the hatchet, however, the fanatic charged forwards ramming him to the ground. Arms, legs and fists flailed around. On his back, Jarratt took an elbow to the face, his nose spurting blood. The fanatic shifted his weight on to Jarratt’s legs pinning him down. Locking his hands together, the fanatic swung them into his face. If Jarratt’s nose wasn’t broken before, it was now. The force of the blow slammed his head against the floor. Painful light bloomed across his vision, sending waves of nausea through his body.

Though some blood had trickled into his eyes, Jarratt saw the fanatic pull a long, jagged dagger from his belt. His legs were still pinned and the pounding and throbbing in his head was unbearable. Slowly, the fanatic dragged the blade across his own tongue with a sickening gurgle of laughter. Jarratt saw that his pupils were fully dilated, eyes bulging out of their sockets. It’s well known that these religious lunatics routinely ingest enough narcotics to kill even the biggest auroch. This one was no different, clearly out of his mind in a bid to bring him closer to the Old One.

Jarratt was wracked with fear. To be honest, he thought, it was a miracle he hadn’t shit himself yet. The fanatic leaned down towards him, blood from his cut tongue dripping onto Jarratt’s face, those deranged eyes filled with rage and hatred. Pure desperation gripped Jarratt. He surged his head forwards, smashing his bloody and broken face into the grinning one in front of him. Jarratt felt his nose squash in ways that shouldn’t be possible, stabs of pain shooting across his face. But his gambit paid off. The fanatic reeled away, easing the weight from his legs. Jarratt bucked upwards, knocking the man off him. Risking a glance, Jarratt saw the discarded hatchet a few feet away. He lunged towards it, but could sense that the fanatic had the same idea. Jarratt got there first, grabbing it and twisting around to meet his attacker. Swinging round, arm stretched out with the hatchet, Jarratt saw the fanatic was in mid leap towards him. The hatchet bit into the man’s neck with a meaty thud, the momentum of his jump pushing it deep into flesh and muscle. The fanatic crashed into Jarratt, slamming him against the floor again. This time, however, there was no struggle, just mild twitching. He was dead.

With his last vestige of energy, Jarratt pushed the dead weight of the fanatic off him and collapsed back onto the floor. He was panting hard and, now that the adrenaline of the fight was leaving him, the pain across his face was building.

OK, lesson learned. Jarratt thought to himself. Never underestimate the drugged-up deranged.

The chaos of the fight had lasted less than a minute, but a lot had happened in that time. For instance, Jarratt realised that smoke was filling the room.

Shit, they’ve started already?!

Even though he would have loved nothing more than to lie on the ground forever, Jarratt hauled himself to his feet. Blood flowed steadily from his broken nose, and his breathing was coming in gurgling rasps. The smoke was rapidly filling the room and the temperature was rising just as fast.

They were supposed to wait for me, dammit!

Something must have gone wrong. Well, something else must have gone wrong because the nutcase Jarratt just fought was not supposed to be there. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here.

Some safe house.

Batting away smoke with one hand and covering his mouth with the other, Jarratt made his way out the house. The back way out, the safe way, was blocked by flames. Deciding it was better to be stabbed than burnt to death, he went out the front door. Blinking from the smoke, scenes of destruction and madness resolved around him. The entire street before him was aflame. Bright orange tendrils reached high into the air, hungrily consuming everything in their way. Everywhere there was people running, screaming, crying, dying. The noise was immense. The roar of the fires, the cries of the hurt, the sound of metal on metal. Jarratt could see men and women fighting, hacking and slashing at each other, or cutting down fleeing people.

What in the hell has happened?

A sharp pain struck Jarratt in the back. The tip of a sword was pressed firmly against him, just biting into the skin.

‘Hold it. Move a muscle and I’ll run you through.’

The voice was deep and gravelly, the words clipped and harsh. It was a voice Jarratt knew all too well. The fear and panic from the recent fight for his life seem trivial to Jarratt now. Now, he was in serious trouble.