Always Travel With Friends
This story was originally submitted to Mythic!
The light of the setting sun fell on a lone ox-cart rolling its way along the empty forest road. The driver, a Halfling in a long brown cloak, sat leaning forward in his seat, his hands limp on the reins, seeming to doze. He was unaccompanied save for his cargo, a stack of wooden tuns. Tall dark pines surrounded the road, casting threatening shadows, and nothing could be heard but the creak of the wheels and the evensong of birds.
A figure stepped out of the trees into the wagon's path. Though the driver did not raise his head, his grasp on the reins tightened, and the ox slowed to a stop. The sun hung directly behind the standing figure, so that for a moment only a silhouette ringed by fire could be seen. Then the dark form stepped forward, and the driver peering out from under the brim of his hood saw that it was a grey-haired woman, clad in motley rags. Black feathers hung all about her clothes, and a necklace of feathers lay at her neck. Her face was a mass of wrinkles, but her bright green eyes shone with a weird vitality. She spoke tremulously,
"Please, good sir, will you not help a poor old woman?"
Poor old woman! Hah! Moriah, high acolyte of the Raven God, smiled inwardly. Whatever had possessed this soft-bellied weakling from the south to bring his wares through these woods, only the gods knew. Surely, the Lord of Change himself had brought this one to her. He loved his children well.
The driver raised his head slightly and stuttered nervously
"H-how may a humble wine m-merchant help, m-madam?"
Fearful already, was he? There was no more need for pretense, he was plainly alone. She threw her head back and laughed. The Halfling jumped in his seat at the dreadful cackle, causing his hood to fall back, revealing a pale face and round, timid eyes. Moriah advanced, throwing her arms wide in a gesture of embrace. In her hand glittered a jagged knife.
"Help? You may help by providing the Changer of Ways with drink! Warm, red liquor to quench the thirst of his servants!" Quick footsteps and the rustle of branches announced the arrival of more Tzeench cultists, over a dozen, surrounding the wagon.
"M-my w-wine?" the pitiful merchant squeaked.
"No, fool! Your blood!" and with that she sprang forward and in one predatory bound crouched before him on the wagon seat, the blade at his thick neck. Her hot, panting breath stank in his nostrils. She quivered in ecstatic anticipation.
"Do you not love the gods?" she whispered.
Click. Suddenly, something cold and hard pressed itself into her belly. Her breath caught in her throat. The Halfling's eyes suddenly narrowed, hardened.
"No, you crazy old bitch, I don't love your damned gods. I love Sigmar. And so does my pistol." He fired, and her back exploded in a shower of gore. The other cultists, frozen with shock, watched their leader fall limply to the ground. Then, with a howl of rage, they rushed the cart.
There was a sound like thunder. Sparks and gouts of smoke erupted from the barrels, and over half the daemonic band died immediately. The rest fell on their faces in terror, as soldiers clad in blue and yellow burst out of the tuns. In minutes what remained of the cult were trussed up and tossed in the cart, with four men to guard each.
The Halfling turned to survey his catch, and chuckled menacingly. "Well, me pretties, I hope for your sake you can remember where some of your friends are hiding by the time we get back to Salzenburg. The count is not a patient man."
With that he laughed heartily, and snapped the reins.