Story The Far Lands: Midnight at Wendigo Pass

St. Clover

The putrid stench of rot and decay was overwhelming. Corpses littered the floor of the small cave, all in various states of decomposition and injury. Some had only a bite or two taken out of them, others were missing limbs, and a few were nothing but piles of broken, gnarled bones. Almost all of them were human, half-elf, or halfling, the killer's preferred snack it seemed.

Holloway stepped down further into the cave, sweeping his lantern across the walls for any signs of side passageways or nooks where some critter or varmint might try and sneak up on him from. Nothing. It was just him, the corpses, and the familiar scent of death.

"So this's where you've been taking them..." he murmured to the absent killer as he strode over to one of the bodies, kneeling down before it.

Setting his lantern down, the mortician reached out and rolled the half-eaten corpse over onto its back. In his younger years, he thought, he might have recoiled from seeing the young man's bloody, shredded clothes, and the equally destroyed flesh beneath it. But now he was too old, he'd seen too much, done even more. The sight of a young farmhand becoming the latest victim for some monster that'd been plaguing the outlying towns near Farridge was just another part of the job.

Reaching out with a gloved hand, he felt the skin around the young man's stomach. The depression told him instantly that whatever had killed him preferred the organs of humanoids. His guts were all but gone, probably his liver and heart too. Holloway shook his head.

"Damn shame, son. You had a good run, I hope."

Death was a common part of life on the frontier. Holloway experienced it more than almost anyone else in his town, a result of being the only surgeon-mortician for miles. But it wasn't just his experience in laying the dead to rest that made him so intimate with the act of losing a life, and what came afterward.

No, his relationship with death was so much more intimate than anyone else could possibly understand.

Anyone, that was, except for those other folks who death had given a hand to in life.

"Let's see if you've got anything you want to say before we get you where you belong."

Unbuckling the straps on his duster's sleeve, Holloway peeled back the fabric to reveal a heavy glove that went up to his elbow. He carefully slipped the worn leather from his skin, exposing the pale, albino arm underneath. From his elbow down to his fingertips, the Expression of his Bind was unmistakable. It was the hand of death itself, which could steal the life from anything it grasped, and cause great harm with but a touch. He took care to ensure his Bind was always concealed until it was needed, events of the past serving as a dire warning of what could happen if death's hand was used too freely.

Wiggling his corpse-like fingers, the mortician passed his hand over the young man's form. White light, little droplets of silver power, fell from his hand and into the boy's body. He twitched, muscles given a semblance of life by the forces at work within them.

"Can you hear me, boy?" Holloway slowly asked.

It... Hurts.

"It's gonna," Holloway said. "Just bear with it, just for a minute."

It... Hurts.

Holloway sighed. This was always the hardest part. Part of him wished he didn't have to do this sort of thing. But another part reminded him he'd chosen this lot in life. Taking the last words of the dead was part of the job. And if he didn’t do it, very few others would.

"I know, boy."

Where am I?

"Home." A lie, but a necessary one.

Ma? Pa? Where are they? Can't see 'em.

"Where'd they be?"

Out in the barn. Bessy was making a terrible noise.

"What time is it?"

It's... Sun's going down. Bessy should be asleep.

"Sure should be. Cows don't graze during the day, huh?"

Heh, naw. But... There's something out there.

"What is it?" This was it.

It's... Oh, sweet Sun, it's got Ma! Pa! Where are you?!

"What is it, boy? What's got your ma?"

The young man's form tensed, his features, what were left, contorting horribly.

A monster! It's got her! Oh, sweet Sun, it's coming for me! I gotta-

The young man's form tensed, wheezed, and fell limp.

Holloway shook his head.

Then paused. Behind him, not ten feet away, he heard it; the quiet scrape of claws against the stone. One step. Two steps. Three. He felt a rush of warm breath wash across his neck. The hairs on his neck didn't stand on end. He sucked in a breath, closed his eyes, and reached out, closing the boy's eyes.

Then he turned.

When he opened his eyes he found himself looking into the empty sockets of a malformed skull. A pair of horns rose from its forehead, gnarled and stained with aged blood. Equally stained teeth clicked in a jaw that worked like a chewing goat, hundreds of little needles capable of tearing through skin and bone like paper. The stink of old meat washed over his face as the creature stared him down. It could kill him in an instant. It could have come back into its den and torn the intruder limb from limb, and he'd have never heard it coming. Yet it didn't. And he knew why.

It was afraid.

It knew that one wrong step could put it on the wrong end of a power that went beyond anything else in the known world. Bullets and fire meant nothing to it, it'd already killed over a dozen people in just under a year, sometimes wiping out entire prairie operations by itself. There would always be signs of a struggle, scraps of flesh or pools of blood not belonging to any known settlers. Physical wounds meant nothing to a creature like this. But the wounds that could be inflicted by an Undertaker, the essence of life itself being drained away, sometimes forever, that was something that not even this death-defying monstrosity could endure. They both knew it, and Holloway knew it was the only reason he was still alive.

He smiled nastily at the creature.

"Well, ain't you a beauty? How about we go back to my place and I treat you to a full tour of my clinic? Cremation on the house."

The creature responded by unhinging its jaw and screaming an inhuman, ungodly scream which echoed off the nearby walls, producing a near-deafening ring.

Its screams rose abruptly... then fell into a quiet whimper.

Holloway pulled on his glove and retrieved his lantern. He'd need to come back tomorrow morning for the bodies. Someone needed to tend to the dead, and if he didn't, few others would.

St. Clover

Another short featuring the second Bind thus far, the necromancy wielding Undertaker! Hope you guys enjoy, up next is either Sparks with the Magi, or a disgruntled bank working Sibyl!

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