“Warden of Cumbria,” came a voice from outside the carriage. It was female – harsh and yet playful. The sound of it chilled Cumbria to what still remained of his soul. “Is that you inside that putrid carriage?”
Cumbria gripped onto the doorway and took a small peek out of the porthole window, enough to confirm his suspicions. He cursed under his breath. “Aye,” he called back.
“Ah! I thought it was you!” shouted the voice in a sing-song pitch. “Would you be a dear and come off there? I do so long to see your face again.”
Taking a deep breath, Cumbria glanced back at the Tinker for input, but to his surprise, the seat by her desk was empty and there was no sign of her. “God damn it all.”
“Are you still there, Cumbria?”
“I am,” he replied reluctantly. “Gwendoline, I presume?”
“You remember me?” she feigned surprise. “Good. I’m glad to have made such an impression already. After all, I remember you, you sneaky devil. Quite the elusive one – you’ve given us more than a fair bit of jip these last few months.”
Silence fell over the carriage as Cumbria weighed out his options. He looked about the vicinity but saw no discernible method of escaping this encounter without the use of Memoriam. There was no way out that he could see.
“I apologise if I was unclear, my Lord – but I do hate speaking through walls, so I’m going to ask you again to step out of that carriage now. I shall not ask another time.”
Cumbria saw no further choice in the matter. With his eyes closed firmly shut he stepped forward towards the closed door and simply stepped through it. When he opened them again, he was outside, and face to face with the entourage that had ambushed him.
Two Memoriam Trappers dressed in long coats and hunting gear flanked another at their centre – The Trapper herself. Her braided blonde hair was swept back tightly over her scalp, barely moving in the strong wind that brought them here. Upon her shoulder she rested a hunting rifle, the sight of which made Cumbria’s skin crawl. Pale blue runes emblazoned its mahogany barrel, and upon its tip was a crudely fashioned bayonet. It was a weapon that Cumbria knew well, and it appeared that The Trapper knew that all too well.
“There you are, old boy,” The Trapper said with a devilish grin. “Don’t you grow more handsome by the day? Death becomes you, Lord Cumbria.”
“Aye, and you,” Cumbria replied. He glanced to either side of his ambusher and took in her two companions: two men, each armed with a variation on The Trapper’s rifle, one scoped and one wide-barrelled. One, with his hat pulled low over his eyes, was flipping a coin in his hand. Cumbria dreaded to know whose Trinket was being flaunted in front of him, and so he avoided lingering his gaze and offering him the satisfaction.
“You’re making a mistake here,” Cumbria announced. “You’re meddling in affairs that do not concern you.”
“Perhaps not,” The Trapper concurred, “but payment does concern me, and, quite frankly, you are the most wanted fugitive in Memoriam. And that is saying something. You’re worth it, Lord Cumbria.”
Cumbria winced. “The Oratory won’t make you whole again, Gwendoline. You know that as well as I.”
“Now, now,” tsked The Trapper, “let’s not make this personal. I’d rather not turn this little reunion into a bloodbath, or… whatever it is that spills out of you these days… but needs must, and all that. Tell me,” she narrowed her eyes and squinted at the carriage behind Cumbria, “what were you doing in there?”
“Visiting an old friend.”
“Well, that was certainly a quick answer, and undoubtedly a blatant misdirect. What would bring the Warden of Cumbria this far north into Scotland? Hmm? A house call? No… Let’s try that again: why are you here?”
Cumbria shrugged. “To save Memoriam.”
That answer seemed to agitate The Trapper immensely. “The only thing that Memoriam requires saving from are rogues like yourself.”
“The Oratory must be glad to have such an unwavering consumer of their propaganda.”
The Trapper’s face curled into a sinister smirk. “Oh, what dry wit, my Lord. You are fun. I’d love to keep you, but unfortunately certain needs must be met. Listen, I don’t pretend to know what you are up to, dear boy, and nor do I honestly care enough to get it out of you. So, how about this: you get your Trinket out of your pocket and give it—throw it here in our direction. Then I will send Stephen over to collect it.”
Cumbria glowered over to the Trapper on his left just as he tossed the coin high and caught it in his pouch. “I don’t think so, I’m afraid,” he answered plainly.
“No?” chuckled The Trapper. “And I asked so nicely! Very well. I’m afraid I am going to have to deprive you of your choice in the matter. Surrender your Trinket, My Lord Cumbria, and come quietly, or I will have one of my companions blast you half out of Memoriam before you can say shit.”
The two trappers that flanked her swung their rifles in Cumbria’s direction and held them there. The one to The Trapper’s left held his rifle out at the end of his arm with a single hand – the other lingering by his pocket for some unknown purpose.
With each passing second, the wind grew from an unsettled stillness to a gust that swept across the encampment. None of the four moved however. They only eyed each other down, surveying for weaknesses.
As Cumbria was searching frantically for a way out of his predicament, his eyes were drawn to the far cliffs where he could just about see a lone figure peeking out over the rocks.
“I’m not going to ask you again, My Lord. Relinquish your Trinket.”
He had only glanced away for a moment and the figure atop the cliff was gone. He could not immediately tell whether that was a fortunate or unfortunate sign – but he settled on assuming that he was entirely alone here.
Reaching into his breast pocket, Cumbria drew out his watch, holding it out at the end of his arm.
“Lovely,” grinned The Trapper. She turned her face towards the companion on her left. “Go and check out the carriage.”
“Aye, ma’am,” the trapper replied, making his way over the carriage door.
Cumbria saw his opportunity as soon as it was presented to him. “No!” he exclaimed with panic. “You have me. Leave them alone!”
“Them?” wondered The Trapper. Her bright blue eyes narrowed into infinitesimal, gleaming shards.
“They have nothing to do with it,” he lied with apparent desperation in his eyes. “Just take me and leave this place.”
He could feel The Trapper’s eyes upon him, so much so that he was scared that his façade would fall through. The trapper by the Tinker’s carriage looked over to his superior for her go-ahead, and to Cumbria’s immediate relief, she gave it with a nod. Now, he needed only wait.
The moment the trapper touched the handle of the Tinker’s carriage, there was a tremendous explosion. A dazzling blue light radiated out across the camp and beyond, completely enveloping anyone within its vicinity.
Cumbria had only seconds to act. Placing his watch back in his pocket he braced himself before darting off across the dirt. In the mass of dirt and sparks that sung through the air, he leapt this way and that with surprising agility in a frantic attempt to get away – but he was not altogether successful.
Through the blue mist, the faint shadow of a trapper spun on the spot – the blue runes of his scoped rifle glowing in the poor light – and fired at Cumbria with a deafening crack. Not a moment passed before a blood-curdling pain emanated from Cumbria’s side as whatever emerged from that god-forsaken rifle embedded itself inside him. He screamed out loud before clambering for support as he pressed forward. Soon enough, out of sight of the main camp, he stopped for a moment to gather himself.
Out of the corner of his wincing eye, Cumbria saw a figure emerging from the mist. He braced himself, but there was no need. He recognised the gentle grip before she even spoke.
“Oh God…” Shauna mumbled. “You damn fool. They got you.” She held a hand down to Cumbria’s wound and it vibrated aggressively. “You’re phasing.”
“Shauna, get out of here.”
“Not without you,” she insisted, wrapping her arm around his shoulder. “We’re in this together, remember?”
“Everything can still go ahead,” Cumbria said, brushing her arm off. “It must. Listen to me. Darling…” He reached out and held his hands to Shauna’s cheeks. “Find the girl. Do what you need to do. Let’s fix this, once and for all.”
Shauna didn’t see the use in arguing. The mist had already begun to dissipate, and the crackle of flames had started to rise up across the camp. There was little time, and in the end all she could do was kiss her beloved and back away.
She gave him one last hopeful look. “Give Riordan my love.”
“Aye,” he replied, clutching his side. “Now, go.”
With a single nod, Shauna turned away and vanished into the thick of the mist. The gust of wind that swept her away brought with it a mass of thick smoke from the bellowing fires that now enveloped the nearby carriages. And he wasn’t alone.
“There’s another!” cried out the familiar voice of the Trapper. “Find them both. I’ll deal with the witch!”
That was Cumbria’s cue to leave. He gripped his side as hard as he could to prevent the phasing from spreading and shut his eyes to the world around him.
“Memoriam…” he muttered under his breath. The moment he did, his wound spread violently and tethered him aggresively to the corporeal realm. “Damn it all,” he winced.
He was stranded here.
What happened next was impossible to see coming. The smoke around him began to split, and through it launched a trapper, arm extended out towards Cumbria. He had little time to react and was soon being propelled through the air and slammed against a nearby carriage to the deafening crunch of old wood.
Now face to face with his white-haired attacker, Cumbria opened his mouth to speak, but no words could escape him.
“What’s the matter, Warden?” growled his assailant, raising his fist into the air. It began to glow bright blue as it phased into Memoriam. “It’s alright, you don’t have to speak. I’ll make this relatively painless.”
Cumbria’s eyes widened at the incoming attack, but not before his gaze fell upon a glint of gold hanging from the trapper’s pocket. He seized his chance, but the trapper’s fist found his face first. With an awful din, Cumbria was strewn across the muddy ground face first. He cried out in pain and rolled onto his side, just enough to see the trapper looming over him.
The trapper’s fist fell to his side and ceased to glow. He took a single step towards Cumbria before he winced, as if struggling to see what was just before his eyes. He reached out and held onto the carriage for support before realising the error of his actions. He frantically patted down his pocket and found that it was empty, and that his Trinket was in Cumbria’s hands now.
“Blast it…” was all me managed to mumble before Cumbria held the trinket out at arm’s length.
“Stand down!” he cried with as much authority as he could muster. “Now!”
With his teeth bared, the trapper shivered violently before being forced by unknown forces to comply. He fell to his knees, shivering uncontrollably. “You won’t win, you know,” he said as he began to fade away. “She’ll see to that.”
“She can try,” acknowledged Cumbria, climbing to his feet. “But I’ll be long gone by then.” And with that, he tossed the trapper’s trinket into the mud beside him.
The trapper let out a snarling chuckle before he was nothing more than a voice in the wind “Void take you, turncoat.”
Leaving a wake of flames and ash behind him, Cumbria made his way out of camp and into the forest. His hand remained clasped to his side as his ethereal wound began to heal beneath his fingers. Soon, that orange glow dissipated and left him feeling whole once again. He let out a sigh of relief and limped forward.
He had escaped, but at what cost? Looking back at the flames that coated the once serene landscape he could not help but lament at the havoc that he left in his footsteps. But now was not the time to dwell on what came before.
Now was the time to look to the mammoth task that lay ahead.
“No rest for the wicked,” Cumbria said as he drew himself to his full height. And with a hopeful smile, he took his first steps in his final journey.
Riordan Murphy returns to his hometown of Brimley to confront his demons, only to find a Stranger haunting his steps.