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Black-Eyed Saint is a horrifying tale set in the Mortal Realms by Dale Lucas.
A girl stumbles across the moors, death hard on her heels. To her saviours, she speaks of Calignius – a smog-shrouded mining town deep in the mountains that has been gripped by a strange epidemic.
Now, Runar Skoldolfr and Tiberius Grim must lead a small expedition into the haunted vales of the Blood-Rock Peaks to answer the girl’s pleas for aid. There, the hunter and the veteran priest of Sigmar will uncover the enigma of a forlorn-looking statue and its curious sway over the town – a place ruled by ancient fear and phobia, zealotry and madness.
Separated and isolated, Runar and Tiberius will learn there are far worse fates than death, for in Calignius friendships turn sour, faith boils into anguish and long-buried nightmares rise up from the shadows. If they are to survive, they will need to find a way to unite against the daemons that divide them.
Release date: March 14, 2023
Publisher: Warhammer Horror
Print pages: 288
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Tiberius Grim felt a nudge and opened his eyes.
‘Snoring,’ Runar Skoldofr said, his voice barely a whisper.
‘I’d have to be asleep to be snoring,’ the old Sigmarite priest replied, bristling at the insinuation.
‘Then you must have been asleep,’ Runar said, ‘because you were bloody well snoring.’
Hunting had been Runar’s idea. Tiberius had only joined the young man because he had no pressing duties that morning. They’d set out in the pre-dawn darkness, Runar leading them on a meandering track into the hill country north-west of Gothghul Castle, following sign and spoor and offering very little in the way of conversation. When they reached rugged terrain littered with enormous boulders and scarred by sudden, precipitous gullies and washes, Runar had decided to lie in wait in a high position. Tiberius had grown so tired of lying on his belly, staring down into a dark cut below, awaiting the arrival of an animal he wasn’t sure existed, that he’d turned over onto his back to stare at the sky. And, apparently, fallen asleep.
Deep down, the priest knew he was an old man, but he hated to demonstrate that fact to a brash young scrapper like Runar, let alone endure a scolding because his snores might scare away their quarry.
Tiberius sighed and stared up at the featureless grey sky above him. During his brief respite, Hysh had risen, brightening the world around them. The clouds remained low and impenetrable, but they’d gone from slate grey to the colour of pale bone, and faint, ghostly shadows lay among the bald knobs of rock and thick carpets of heather surrounding them.
‘Any sign of your adversary?’ Tiberius whispered, turning onto his stomach again to peer down over the rocks into the gully below.
Runar shook his head. ‘No. But he’ll be along. There’s a little stream down there, clear and sweet as can be.’
Tiberius nodded. Waited. There was no sound but the sawing of the winds through the gorse and heather carpeting the declining country at their backs.
Something tapped the broad brim of Tiberius’ hat. He craned his neck sideways. More drops began to fall.
Runar evinced no notice. His eyes remained fixed upon the gully below, rifle at the ready.
The rain was light – misty, even – but Tiberius knew it could intensify into a downpour at a moment’s notice. Was it wise for them to remain out for something so self-indulgent as a hunt? Tiberius still thought of himself as hale and hearty, but he knew well that too many hours in a cold rain, in sodden clothes, and he might catch his death.
Runar suddenly tensed. Tiberius, recognising the look of predatory concentration now on the young sharpshooter’s face, turned to peer down into the gully.
An enormous moor stag picked a delicate path down the slope below towards the silver stream winding along the gully’s floor. The animal’s size and muscularity were wholly at odds with its ginger, subtle movements, its hooves barely making a sound. Tiberius counted seventeen points on its massive crown.
It was sublime – one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring creatures he’d ever seen.
The rain thickened, drops fattening, moment by moment. They drummed a nimble tattoo on Tiberius’ hat.
Beside him, Runar prepared himself for the shot he’d been coveting all morning, stabilising his rifle barrel and peering down its sights.
The moor stag reached the little stream, paused and raised his head ever so slightly. His ears swivelled, listening. His great black nose sniffed the air. His dark eyes scanned the world around him.
Finally, he bent to drink.
Runar blew out a breath, finger tensing on the trigger.
Then someone screamed.
The moor stag’s head snapped up and its body shifted, ready to bound towards a narrow cut in the gully on the far side of the stream.
The long gun thundered.
Tiberius’ ears rang. Through the still-roiling cloud of smoke belched from Runar’s rifle barrel, he saw the moor stag bounding across the floor of the gully towards the far slope. Its movements were strong, lithe, indicating no distress or injury.
‘Rotting hells,’ Runar snarled, hastily pouring black powder down the rifle barrel in preparation for another shot. In two breaths, he’d already rammed home another round and risen into a crouch to take aim again.
Too late. The stag disappeared into the narrow cut just as Runar’s rifle spat another round. The bullet ricocheted harmlessly off the rocks peeking through the soil on the opposite slope.
Once more, Tiberius heard that terrible scream, closer now.
The old priest rose, searching the broad moorland rolling away at their backs.
ools!’ Runar cursed beside him. ‘I had the beast, Tiberius, a perfect shot, and this idiot’s noise–’
Tiberius scanned the moors through the slashing rain. Unconsciously, his gloved hand fell onto the pommel of the rapier at his hip. He’d also brought a brace of pistols with him that morning, extra proof against wandering gheists or banshees loosed from unwarded graves.
Now he might have to put sword or guns to use.
Runar’s arm shot out, pointing to their left, towards a small, tight cluster of trees hugging the base of a nearby hill.
‘There,’ the sharpshooter said. His finger was fixed upon a figure that broke suddenly from the trees and barrelled headlong towards them.
Tiberius’ vision was no match for Runar’s. While the sharpshooter could no doubt see details – the newcomer’s face, complexion, even the rudiments of the clothing they wore – Tiberius could only discern movement and a vague outline. He noted the figure’s meandering, sidewinding track, however, careening this way and that, as though exhausted and stumbling.
‘It’s a woman,’ Runar said, voice full of worry and puzzlement. ‘Is that… blood?’
A second figure broke from the treeline, close behind the fleeing woman. Tiberius could make out no details – he only saw a hurtling body and the flash of something that looked like steel.
‘Another?’ he asked.
‘Aye, that,’ Runar said. ‘Armed. Steel’s naked and ready. Come on!’
Once more, the woman screamed long and loud, but her shout was cut off as she tripped over a stray clump of sedge and sprawled face forward into a divot of mud. Desperate, she thrashed, clawing her way up onto a heather hummock before struggling to her feet once more. The man on her heels nearly overtook her, but stumbled as he tried to redirect his forward momentum. He rolled haphazardly, right through a thicket of gorse. Tiberius heard the fallen pursuer curse as the thorns tore at him. He wasted little time in righting himself, though; in an instant, he was back on his feet, barrelling on after his quarry.
Tiberius yanked one of the pistols from his belt and broke into a run. Runar followed.
‘Help me!’ the woman screamed, clearly having seen the two of them now. ‘He’s mad! He’s trying to kill me!’
‘Stop her!’ the man cried from behind. ‘Don’t let her escape!’ He sounded winded and weary, much older than the woman he chased and feeling the strain of his pursuit with each ragged breath. Unfortunately, his weakness did not seem to slow him.
‘He killed them!’ the woman screamed. ‘He killed them all!’
No matter how fast he ran, Tiberius felt as though he were moving in ankle-deep mud. He felt the strain on his old body, the thumping of his heart, the way his lungs burned with each gulp of air. Worse, the woman no longer seemed to be moving directly towards them. Instead, she followed the upward slope of the land before her, carrying on headlong towards a rising ridgeline a short distance ahead of her. A mass of moss-covered stones and muddy earth bloomed there like a tumescent growth before abruptly dropping off again on its far side.
The woman was headed right for a sheer bluff and a long, deadly fall.
‘Runar!’ Tiberius cried, waving one hand wildly. ‘The girl!’
‘I see!’ Runar barked, huffing. ‘I’ve got her!’
‘Witch!’ the chasing man snarled. ‘Madwoman! I’ll have you!’
On Tiberius’ left, Runar sprinted towards the woman as she scrambled up the incline. Now closer, Tiberius could clearly see their faces: the woman’s pale, wide-eyed and terrified, streaked with mud and blood; the man’s snarling and wild. He was closing in by the moment, swiping back and forth randomly with the short sword he carried, as though he might luck into a killing blow. His blade was slick with gobbets of flesh and half-coagulated blood despite the rain’s persistence.
Tiberius’ guts knotted upon hearing that accusation. Witch. Even so, he found himself wrestling with long-honed instincts, his ancient training as a priest of Sigmar, and listened in
nstead to his hard-hammering heart and the evidence provided by his weakening old eyes.
The woman was frightened. Terrified.
The man looked dangerous, vengeful, a zealot ready to rip her to shreds.
Tiberius had only one duty: to stop that fiend’s blade and keep the girl from plunging over the bluff into the gully below. All his questions could be answered when those two exigencies were attended to.
Runar rushed towards the woman, trying to place himself between her and the fast-approaching precipice. Just as he was about to reach her, as his hands reached out to take hold of her and drag her down and stop her forward flight, her would-be assassin cried out, wild and furious.
‘No! You fool, get away from her!’
He raised his blade, closing the distance between himself, the woman and Runar.
Runar slammed into the woman. Both went sprawling.
The man raised his short sword.
Tiberius, never breaking stride, sighted down the barrel of his pistol and squeezed the trigger. The gun belched smoke and flame.
The swordsman lurched and hit the ground hard, rolling haphazardly over a bed of heather and wet turf.
Runar and the woman lay at the edge of the bluff. She thrashed and screamed in his arms, but he held her tightly, as though afraid she might throw herself over the edge if she wriggled loose.
Tiberius slowed as he passed through the cloud of gun smoke that hung in the air before him. Breathing deeply, raggedly, his heart threatening to hammer its way right out of his chest, he edged closer to his quarry.
The swordsman lay foetal on the ground, bleeding and coughing. Tiberius kicked the fallen blade far from the man’s grasp and fell onto his knees beside him. He was younger than Tiberius, but not precisely youthful, his dark hair and beard shot through with veins of grey. His wide eyes, filled with wild bloodlust only moments before, now betrayed a terrified wonder. Blood burbled from a hole in his chest like a newly made hot spring. More blood, mixed with bubbling saliva, erupted from the man’s open mouth, covering his upturned face with each cough or exhalation, even as the driving rain washed it away. He seemed to be clutching at something, his coat or his torn collar, as though both were strangling him.
Tiberius studied the wound, then bent over the would-be killer, voice low but firm.
‘You’re dying,’ he said flatly. ‘That is what your villainy has bought you. Have you a last confession? Dying words?’
The man’s mouth kept moving, seeking words that he seemed to choke on.
‘Please,’ the man managed. One bloodied hand worked feverishly at his throat, clawing at something beneath his shirt.
Tiberius, moved by instinct, snatched the bloody hand. He found it grasping at a bauble of some sort, on the end of a long, thin leather band: a simple, carved stone talisman, attached to the band by a primitive little cage of knotted wire.
Tiberius’ eyes fixed upon the man. It was not a symbol he recognised.
‘What is this?’ he asked.
‘D-Don’t,’ the man sputtered.
The priest lost patience and bent closer. ‘Don’t? You’re dying, you fool. Confess! Beg Sigmar to forgive you before–’
‘M-Mhurghast…’ the man sputtered, then died.
Runar struggled not to stare as Apothecor Helmina Baringwald attended the young woman they’d rescued. On his left stood Tiberius, grim-faced and intent, while on his right stood the lady of the house, Edrea Gothghul, as lovely and severe as always. Edrea’s father, Lord Aaric Gothghul, sat in a nearby chair, one injured leg thrust out sword-straight by a well-bound splint. They’d been lucky to find the apothecor on hand when they had returned, giving Lord Aaric’s leg its twice-daily examination.
Truth be told, Runar would have preferred to be in another room entirely – he needed a moment alone, to process what had befallen them on the moors, to let the tremors and cold sweats that followed on the heels of deadly activity subside and depart – but Tiberius had suggested their presence might actually put the young woman at ease.
‘She’s alive because of us,’ the old priest had said, ‘and is a stranger in a strange land. Best to remain where she can see us.’
Runar could not, in good conscience, argue the point.
It was a struggle, getting the young woman back on her feet. When it became clear that she was in shock and too exhausted to stand, Runar had swept her into his arms and carried her back to where their horses waited, nearer the southern end of the gully. He and Tiberius had whipped their mounts into a lather, speeding back to Gothghul Castle. They left the dead man where he lay.
Apothecor Baringwald had been admirably unruffled by their loud, imploring entrance, ordering the woman placed close to the fire then commanding Lady Edrea to gather rags, clean water, bandages and medicines. By the time Edrea returned with all the required tools and tinctures, Apothecor Baringwald had already determined the extent and severity of the young woman’s injuries.
‘Superficial cuts and scrapes upon her extremities,’ the short-haired, dark-eyed healer had summarised quietly. ‘Fled through gorse and over cutting rock, no doubt. A few deep cuts on her face and cheeks, but nothing that should put her in mortal danger.’
‘Did you hear that?’ Edrea asked the blood-encrusted woman, almost casually, as she set to gently, tentatively cleaning her up. ‘Your wounds can be easily treated. You’re safe here – we’ll take good care of you.’
Runar admired Edrea’s desire to put the girl at ease. That quiet, encouraging strength was one of her most endearing qualities. The strange girl, however, sat stoop-shouldered in the high-backed chair where she’d been deposited, folded into herself, barely acknowledging anyone as they spoke to her.
‘Deep in shock,’ Aaric muttered from his chair. ‘What in Shyish happened out there?’
‘Long story,’ Runar said, unwilling to elaborate. He felt as wasted and weary as the poor girl looked.
There was nothing remarkable about her at a glance – average height, average build, pale complexion, mousy-brown hair. She wore a simple peasant’s frock, without pattern or adornment. Somewhere on her terrible journey, wherever it had started from, she’d lost any stockings or shoes that she might have worn. It was hard to tell, with all the mud and blood upon her, but Runar thought she looked about sixteen. Certainly no more than twenty.
During their frantic flight home, Runar had half expected the girl to resist, to betray some hint of fear or trepidation at being whisked into a strange place, surrounded by unfamiliar folk. Ultimately, she’d done nothing of the sort. She remained silent and compliant all the way, like someone in a trance, her only movement the constant roving of her wide, staring eyes.
Even now, those eyes continued to search the shadow-shrouded world around her, taking in the high, vaulted ceiling of the great hall, its rich, overbearing architectural adornments and the ever-present atmosphere of age-haunted gloom that clung to Gothghul Castle like faded paint.
As the apothecor examined her, shining the light of a mirrored lamp directly into her eyes and making cursory examinations of her fingernails, hair and teeth, Edrea used a damp rag to wipe dried mud and coagulated blood from the girl’s face. Little by little, the living person beneath the muck and gore was revealed.
‘You say she was fleeing?’ Aaric asked from his chair, trying to keep his voice low so as not to excite the girl further. ‘Under attack?’
Runar nodded. ‘Came from the north, screaming. Had a fellow with a bloody short sword right on her heels. Tiberius took care of him.’
Tiberius answered before Lord Aaric could even pose a question. ‘I was forced to slay the man where he stood,’ the old priest said. ‘He was mad – clearly not in control of himself.’
Runar saw the restless desire on Aaric’s age-lined, still-handsome face. The lord of Gothghul Castle despised sitting and watching as activity unfolded around him, but his own injuries made his intervention impossible. That splinted leg kept him rooted to his chair – a chair he no doubt regarded as a cushioned prison cell.
‘Can you hear me, girl?’ Apothecor Baringwald asked, doing her best to sound friendly, even as she had no name to address their unexpected guest by. ‘I’m going to examine you further w
hile Edrea cleans you up. All we need from you is patience. If you don’t feel like talking, you’ve no need to, not yet. Not until you’re ready.’
The apothecor rose and speared Runar, Tiberius and Lord Gothghul with her steady gaze, lifting her chin towards the doorway.
‘Out,’ she said flatly. ‘Edrea and I need to be alone with the girl for a few minutes.’
‘Hand me my crutch,’ Lord Aaric said disgustedly.
‘Never mind,’ Runar said, and moved to his lordship’s chair. ‘Help me, Tiberius.’
Together they moved Lord Gothghul, still perched upon his chair, to an adjacent chamber just outside the great hall. He groused, of course – Runar knew he would – but once they’d set him down again and positioned the stool under his outstretched leg, he made no objections.
‘I want the whole story,’ Lord Aaric commanded, voice low. ‘Leave nothing out.’ Clearly, he was trying to take his mind off his own discomfort and frustration.
Runar sighed and offered their employer a brief summation of what had transpired. When his short tale was complete, Runar looked to Tiberius, expecting the priest to chime in. Runar was surprised to find the rugged old cleric silent, staring at something lying in the palm of his hand.
The priest, clearly lost in some reverie, inhaled sharply and raised his eyes as though he’d been caught in some shameful act. His fist snapped closed over the thing he’d been staring at.
‘As Runar said,’ Tiberius agreed, nodding, ‘we heard her cries, we saw her fleeing from her attacker, we rushed to her aid.’
‘And this attacker?’ Aaric asked.
‘Still on the moor,’ Tiberius said. ‘There was no time to collect him. Getting her back here seemed more pressing.’
Aaric bristled. ‘Still on the moor? The gorse rats will be at him by now! You both should have known better! I’ll send someone out to collect him at once.’
He levered himself up in his chair, as though rising another inch or two might amplify his voice.
‘Page!’ he roared. ‘Not sure what we can learn from a corpse, but it can’t hurt, can it? Did you speak with him? Have you any notion what he intended for the girl? Page!’
‘No notion, precisely,’ Runar said. ‘But his intent seemed clear enough.’
‘The girl said he killed them,’ Tiberius added. ‘Those were the only clear words I heard from her. “He killed them.”’
‘Killed who?’ Aaric asked.
‘You know as much as we do,’ Runar said, shrugging. ‘If the girl would just answer our questions…’
‘Soon enough,’ Tiberius said, sounding both forceful and resigned. ‘She’s suffered a horrible shock. She needs time to recover.’
‘We killed a man for her,’ Runar said. ‘Call me a fool, but I’d like to know why.’
Tiberius scowled. ‘And you think I would not?’
‘As Tiberius said,’ Aaric added. ‘Soon enough. Page!’
From within the hall, Runar heard the apothecor shout.
‘Must you bellow so, Lord Aaric?’
Runar searched the passage. If there was a house page within hearing, he hadn’t shown himself as yet. Honestly, Runar wanted to tell his employer to calm himself just as the apothecor had, but he knew he was not so close to Aaric – nor so dear – as to risk such a presumption. They’d shared some dread times in the past, but Runar was still very aware that he was a hired hand, an ally, but not precisely a trusted friend or boon companion. Not like Tiberius, with whom Lord Aaric had shared innumerable dangerous and bloody exploits in their days in Lethis’ Blackshore Guard. That was long before Runar had met either of them.
‘There was something else,’ Tiberius suddenly said darkly. ‘The man died with a single word. Mhurghast.’
Runar felt a terrible chill move through him – fleeting, instantaneous, but undeniable.
Blood on Ghal Maraz, he cursed inwardly. Not again…
‘You’re sure he’s gone?’ a small voice asked.
Runar and his two companions all looked to one another, as though not sure where that voice had come from. Moving sideways, Runar peered back into the great hall through the open doorway. He saw the girl beside the fire, staring out at them in the passage.
She had deigned to speak at last.
‘Sure who’s gone?’ Tiberius asked, taking a few slow steps towards her.
‘That brute who chased me,’ the young woman said, voice still quavering but surer now. ‘Is he… Did you…?’
‘Slain dead, lass,’ Tiberius said, and Runar marvelled at how loving, how understanding, the normally caustic cleric sounded. ‘He can’t threaten you any more.’
‘Turn me around,’ Lord Aaric hissed.
Runar sighed and yanked Lord Aaric’s chair around before shoving it back into the great hall. He parked the chair just inside the doorway, facing the girl, and hastily replaced the stool beneath his lordship’s outthrust leg.
Across the hall, by the fire, the girl nodded. Her eyes, Runar noticed, had never truly fixed upon Tiberius. It was as though she spoke in a dark room and could not quite see them. After a moment, though, she turned and looked directly at Edrea, then at Apothecor Baringwald. She offered a sad, relieved smile.
‘You’re so kind,’ she said. ‘All of you, so kind.’
A torrent of sobs burst from her. She all but fell into Apothecor Baringwald’s arms, weeping and shaking as the healer comforted her.
The apothecor shifted a little so that she could turn and look up at Edrea. Runar saw her give a sharp little tilt of her head. Edrea nodded and strode towards the entryway to the great hall, where Runar, Tiberius and her father were gathered. She drew up a chair to sit opposite Aaric. Runar and Tiberius edged nearer, closing their little circle.
‘Terrified,’ Edrea said quietly. ‘The poor thing.’
‘We need to examine the assassin,’ Aaric said, shifting his weight on the chair again, wincing as his splinted leg moved. ‘Edrea, send some of the house guards out to fetch the body.’
‘I’ll go myself,’ Edrea said.
‘I’ll come along,’ Runar said, perhaps too loudly. ‘To see if we can tease out their trail and backtrack a bit? Maybe learn where they came from?’
For a moment, his eyes and Edrea’s met. An instant later, the weight of her steady gaze became too heavy, and Runar looked to Tiberius, who acceded readily.
‘Worth a look, certainly.’
Aaric frowned. Runar saw concern on his face but knew the greater portion of his distemper was frustration. He desperately wanted to go with them, but he was in no condition to ride or go tramping over the moors, let alone brave the rugged woodland to the north.
‘Very well, then,’ he said quietly, his disappointment writ large upon his chiselled face. ‘Just watch yourselves. There’s no telling if the man you downed had companions, or how dangerous those companions might be.’
They rode out on fresh horses and found the dead man where they’d left him, a puddle of mud and blood coagulating beneath him as the insistent rain beat down. Half a dozen gorse rats were scrabbling and gnawing at him alongside a few hungry skullcrows. The birds fled readily enough, but the voracious rats had to be yanked off the corpse or kicked aside.
Runar, Tiberius and Edrea
began a hasty search of the dead man’s person, opening his cloak, studying the stitching on his tunic and trousers, padding over his pockets and around his belt. Though quite thorough, they found nothing. After that, they wrapped the dead man in a muslin shroud and draped the body over the hindquarters of Tiberius’ horse.
‘If we get him back soon enough,’ Edrea said, ‘I may yet be able to extract some knowledge from him via the deadsight.’
Runar remembered well Edrea’s previous uses of that particular necromantic mechanism. The thought of her braving the hungry darkness and its hidden dangers once again, just to get some vague sense of who this man was or where he’d come from, filled him with a terrible foreboding.
Tiberius must have noted something in Runar’s expression, or in the way he’d simply stopped moving and now stood staring at Edrea over the horse’s hindquarters.
‘Runar?’ the priest hissed.
Runar snapped out of his reverie and looked to the Sigmarite priest. Tiberius glared at him.
‘You forget yourself,’ the priest said quietly.
Runar nodded and withdrew, heading to his own horse. He did not bother to steal a glance to see if Edrea had noted how he had stared. Keeping his eyes down and his mouth shut, he yanked his rifle from its saddle scabbard and assured himself that it was loaded and ready.
‘Going to have a look about,’ he mumbled, then hobbled his horse and strode away.
They fanned out, Runar following the now-disappearing tracks made by the girl and her pursuer. The tracks led them away from the ravine, around a hill just north-east of where Runar and Tiberius had been stalking that moor stag and into a stand of wind-wracked bone-white trees, all permanently stooped and gnarled by the winds scouring the landscape. ...
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