I have been meaning to get around to posting this for ages now. This was my entry to the Black Library Warhammer Short Story Competition. The brief was to write a 500 word proposal, followed by 500-1000 word sample, based on the theme of "Death and Dishonour". Technically Warhammer involves magic and dragons and elves and all that shit, but my story is set around the ass-end of no-where, and so could just as easily be a thriller set in medieval Germany. This is possibly a negative point when entering a Warhammer competition, but it does mean I can re-work it to be set somewhere else without too much trouble. Anyways, here it is. Gimme dem crits.
Synopsis: The story will be set in and around a small river city named Schollach, near the Great Forest. The protagonist is named Johan Hellstein, and does whatever he can to survive. This mostly involves grave robbing, finding what he can from the recently deceased. He then moves on to another town where he can sell it. He keeps on the move, as the penalty for stealing from the dead is harsh, and he's smart enough not to press his luck. The night before he leaves this particular town, he notices a curious looking nobleman. This man keeps to himself, and seems to act nervous, looking around as if he's being followed. A few hours later our “hero” leaves town, early, before people start going about their daily business. As he makes his way through the back streets he discovers this nobleman, dead. Going through his stuff, he finds the man's name, and papers indicating his wealth. He knows the nobleman was alone, and so he takes the dead man's identity, seeing this as an opportunity to make some money. However, this nobleman was travelling for a reason. He had some bad people after him. It doesn't take them long to follow our suddenly wealthy protagonist. Are they after the dead man, or something the dead man possessed? Hellstein has to find out, quickly, because otherwise, he's going to end up just as dead as the people he robs from.
Hellstein, our protagonist, isn't especially strong, or smart, or tough. He has to live by his wits and quick thinking, and the bulk of the story will be about him using these skills as he impersonates the dead noble, both to fit in with a class of person he has previously only seen from a distance, and also to save himself from the people who are after him.
Koertig is the dead nobleman. We find out very little about him in this story, except for his name. After spending so much effort fleeing for his life, he attempts an escape through the back window of his room at the inn, where he falls and breaks his neck. An ignoble end for the man.
The Assassins are two nasty pieces of work. They dress in dark hooded cloaks, and are trailing Koertig (and have been for some time) but as the story begins they have not caught up with him. They are following him based on a description of his clothing and his name, and as such the trail leads them right up to Hellstein. The reasons they are after Koertig are left ambiguous, but there will be hints that they are part of some chaos cult.
Somewhere, off in the woods, something howled. Johan Hellstein paused for a moment. “Probably has some mean teeth in it, that one” he muttered to himself, thankful it didn't sound closer. He resumed his ascent up the small path leading from the river town of Schollach to the local graveyard. Hellstein pulled his hooded cloak tight about him, less to keep out the cold, more to keep out of sight of any who might happen to glance his way. Improbable at this time of night, but he liked to play it safe, especially in his line of work. The cool night air brought with it a thick fog from the River Steyr, and by the time he reached the gates to the graveyard, the fog was starting to curl around the headstones. Before he entered, he allowed himself the luxury of stopping and looking back on the town. The fog had by now completely enveloped Schollach, and the few lights that still burned at this hour glowed dimly in the mist. Very beautiful, Hellstein thought, a rarity in his life. The moment passed and he returned to his business. He moved carefully, studying each stone as he passed, peering through the darkness at the inscriptions, until at last he found one that he was satisfied with. “Let's see now. Manfred Huber. You'll do. Looks like we got a business transaction to make.” He started digging.
Two hours later and Hellstein trudged back down the hill towards the town. His shovel and his newly claimed prize were stowed carefully in the large black bag he carried by his side. Not long till dawn. He'd better hurry. He reached town and was glad to see the morning patrol had yet to set off. He'd been in Schollach for two days now, scoping the place out, getting a feel for the it, even managing to get a day's honest work at the docks. That was a change. The whole reason he did what he did was the difficulty he had in finding honest employment. He'd almost felt pleased at the end of the day when he'd received his payment along with the other dock workers. Almost. Hard work didn't really agree with him, he decided. Better to take what you can and get out before anyone notices. Arriving back at the inn he was staying at, he loped round the side and wedged his bag out of sight between some crates. Wouldn't really do to be caught with the merchandise, after all. A window above the crates provided an easy way back into his room, and he clambered awkwardly up and squeezed through the small opening. The air inside was warm but dusty, a sharp contrast to the cold night air. He pulled off his boots, lay down on the hard mattress and settled down to get a few hours sleep before the sun rose. He had a good feeling about this haul. Maybe he'd get some real coin from it. Still, didn't want to skip town too early, in case the watch had noticed and were on the lookout. One more day in town he decided. One more day, then he'd leave. He closed his eyes and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The next day was, fortunately for Hellstein, uneventful. No-one seemed to have noticed his activity up at the graveyard, or if they did, they weren't saying anything about it. He'd been careful, a lesson he'd had to learn the hard way a year ago when he'd been seen by the watch, shovel in hand. The penalties for such things were harsh, and it was only through luck that he'd been able to escape. The watchman had been fat and he'd been able to lose him over a wall. Still, harsh penalties meant little competition, so he was thankful for that. The sun was out but the air was cold and crisp, his breath hanging before him as he watched the townspeople go about their business. Winter would be here soon. He spent the day checking out a few dubious looking antiques shops. He wouldn't come back this way, not with his shovel, but there might be a potential future buyer. Keep things moving. Keep no plan but always have possibilities in mind. That was the best way.
As night approached he headed back to the inn. He had no room for the night, but enough coins for a few mugs of ale to while away the hours until it got quiet. Then he could retrieve his goods and be on his way. He sat alone, of course, in the corner of the inn, idly watching the room. The ale was foul, but cheap. Crowds of people thronged through the room, drinking, laughing, yelling, but one figure stood out, despite his best efforts not to. Sitting almost directly across from the room was a man. Like Hellstein, he was alone and the people about him paid him no heed. Unlike Hellstein, he was sharply dressed. The man looked to be of noble birth, and glanced about him nervously. He flinched at the constant loud noises. Hellstein wondered what the man was doing in a place such as this. Desperate not to be seen, yet sticking out like a sore thumb. Perhaps he was visiting a mistress, or partaking in some other scandalous activity, whatever it was these noble types got up to. Hellstein watched the man for about an hour, finding amusement in his discomfort, before the noble headed upstairs, presumably to his room. Slightly disappointed that his entertainment had left, he ordered another beer and waited for the morning to come.