When the summer came to a close on my sixteenth year it was decided that I was to leave the pastoral splendor of my family’s plantations to travel to the capital to attend the university there. It would seem that I had, unbeknownst to myself, exhausted the knowledge of what erudite citizenry could be found locally; and my beloved parents had begun to fear that, if left idle too long I might be tempted to become a wanderer and a wastrel. Such was the fate had befallen my great grand father, who I am named for.
I have often marveled at the frequency and convenience of which the fact that it was elder Penumbra Finefellow, the great scoundrel, who bore the greater responsibility for our families good current fortunes. It was no great secret to my beloved parents that I was filled a great desire to follow in his footsteps and experience life on more or less reckless, and carefree terms so, bearing my best interests to heart, they made every attempt to distance me from his legacy.
It was a several day journey from my family’s home to Persley Station, a town of moderate size that would be little more that a hamlet full of pig farmers were it not on the main artery of the sky ship lanes headed to the capital from the southern reach. It is quite frankly, a dung heap but some of the amenities near the sky dock are quite nice, if a bit on the rustic side. When our party had arrived we attempted to secure lodgings for the night at an establishment that was of some good repute. When we entered the common room it was full of men with dour faces, talking of dark events.
For some time they had been occurrences where small numbers of the livestock had seemed to have wander off, or disappeared from their stables and pens at night. This at first was credited bolder actions of local poachers and rustlers. That was until they began to find the corpses, butchered, dismembered, and left to rot in the countryside. Soon after that the first of the citizenry vanished.
It was the son of one of the assembled men, ten years of age. Over the following days others came to be missed as well. The wife of one, the brother of another, and a handful more. Upon the previous nights, fires and hooded men were seen to congregate around the old barrow on the outskirts of the town, it was here that they were convinced that their kin or those who had captured them. They had sent for help but the authorities were too slow in arriving, and so it was here in the saloon, armed with farm implements, hunting bows and whatever crude weapons they could muster, they gathered to go and do something about it.
Now, my family are respected members of the community at large and so, despite the objections of my fathers employees, that were my companions, I felt it was our civic duty to assist in this endeavor. Taggart, our coachman and a man of great spirit and compassion , took charge of the rabble. He agreed to allow me to accompany them provided I stayed towards the rear and away from the fray; this suited my plans as physical combat was not something I excelled at, yet would give me the opportunity to witness this heroic act.
This band of unwashed men could by no stretch be called an army, yet they walked silently and with grim purpose through the fields and forest to that ancient burial place. As we traveled I could see in the eyes of each man the hope held on to that they might see their loved ones safe, and also the fear of what horrors they might find at the end of this nights march. When we drew closer to our destination Taggart slowed us on our progress. Creeping slowly up to the barrow we spied only two of the hooded figures standing about near the entrance. Through the portal they were guarding emanated an orange glow. The smell of smoke told us this was the light of a fire, yet one could not but imagine that it was the passage to a deep and final hell as we looked upon it.
A long moment of quiet hesitation fell upon the group of us, with the exception of my coachman I had doubts that any of our number had ever bore arms against their fellow-man; and now, here, their courage was to be tested. Taggart raised his hand and all drew in their breath in anticipation.When his hand fell, they expelled a roar and ran forward. The dark figures at the entrance tried to run inside to raise the alarm but the first wave us closed the gap before they could make it inside.
As we pressed through the opening into the old tomb, I was tripped by one of my fellows and was sent sprawling to the ground, knocking the wind out of me; it was only by luck, and my position towards the back of our troop, that i was not trampled in the ensuing melee. By the time I was able to regain my feet the fight was done and my compatriots had won the day. Few of our band had fallen as they had the advantage of both surprise and numbers. Taggart and a few held at bay the survivors of the dark brotherhood we had sought out, including one wearing a headdress adorned with the horns of a ram, we presumed him to be the leader of their foul cult. Others tended to our few who were wounded, still more stood agape or weeping as we took in the gruesome horror of that old chamber.
Their loved ones, children, wives, and parents, hung from the ceiling like animals in a slaughter-house or were splayed on altars as fresh corpses posed in unnatural positions, screams of agony frozen on their faces and entrails filling bronze bowls.Those face haunted me as we marched our prisoners out into the grey light of that dawn. Those faces looked out from behind the eyes of the townsfolk as they strung those villains by their necks one by one when we came to the treeline, and it was those faces that must have spoken to the honorable and just heart of Taggart as he let it be done.
It is those contorted faces of pain that have been constant companions in my slumbers since that day.