The wind was harsh, biting at the flesh.  The rider used one hand to wrap his scarf more firmly across his face while the other held fast to the reins of his galloping pale white horse.  Its hooves crunched on the hard packed snow, and steam snorted from the horse’s nostrils, its warm breath mingling with the freezing night air.  The rider seemed indifferent, but his steed shivered and hoped this journey would be over soon.  They had been riding for weeks to find this lonely outpost.

            The snow around them seemed painted with violets and blues as it reflected back the night sky and the full moon high overhead.  The rider had chosen a good time for his journey, for the winter blizzards had not yet started and the sky was clear.

            The horse and his rider soon crested the top of a large hill and then looked down on the small valley below.  It contained a large encampment of men in huts, a large bonfire burning at its centre.  The rider spurred his horse on, and it rushed down the hillside into the encampment.  He passed several of the warriors within, who seemed drunk and dazed, unable and unwilling to stop him.  He headed for the largest of the huts and dismounted.

            “Who goes there?”  A voice said as he approached the door.  It seemed slurred and slow, and the rider was certain that it came from another of the drunken soldiers.

            “Out of my way.”  He said coldly, grabbing the warrior and easily tossing him into the snow.  Blood streamed from his throat, killed by a smooth knife thrust he never saw.  His able killer then strode purposefully into the hut.

            He entered into a room lit by a fire in the middle and by candles placed randomly.  Off to one side there was a large bed of furs, and soft moans were coming from within.  He walked over and ripped the furs off the bed, causing the woman underneath them to scream.  She scurried past him to wrap the fallen furs around her naked frame, while her man lay prone on the bed, alone and naked.

            “What the devil!”  He shouted loudly, startled and angry that someone had dared to interrupt.  He was rather chubby, almost bordering on obese, and had a somewhat piggish face.  His anger seemed more comical than threatening.

            “Not quite, Todey.”  The rider said.  “I’m not the prince of darkness, just one of his favourite apprentices.”

            “Lord Reza!”  Todey said subserviently, quivering before the rider.  “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

            His voice was nervous, and so were his eyes as they looked at the man towering over him.  It was partially due to the man’s state of undress and the natural vulnerability this caused, but it was also because he feared the dark rider.

            “My master sends me.  He feels you are wasting his time up here.  I, frankly, agree with him.  I find no sentries on my way into your encampment, your warriors drunk and disorderly, obviously with no discipline, and I find you with a woman, here in a war camp.  This is wholly unacceptable.”  Reza had no emotion as he spoke, delivering the words dispassionately.

            “Please, milord, let me explain…”  Todey begged, cowering before Reza.

            “No explanations are necessary.”  Reza smiled.  “I am my master’s messenger.  You owe me no explanations.”

            “Then what is his message?”  Todey said, almost relieved.  Reza’s words led him to believe that he was safe until the warrior returned to his master, and for this he was glad.  Reza was reputed to be even more violent than his famed master, Drake, and Todey would rather suffer Drake’s vengeance than his disciple’s sadistic ways.

            “He said to tell you that I am his judge, his jury, and…”  Again he smiled, causing Todey’s skin to crawl, “…His executioner.”

            Todey screamed as Reza laid hold of him by his hair and commenced dragging him outside, naked, into the biting wind and snow.  He soon found himself lashed by his feet to the saddle of a horse, and then Reza was dragging him behind the horse through the snow at full gallop.  The night air seemed to cut at his skin, and he screamed in agony as Reza dragged him out of the valley.

            The tortured ride soon stopped, leaving Todey in the snow thanking any gods that would listen for their divine mercy.

            “Oh, I wouldn’t be thanking anyone just yet.”

            Todey looked up to see Reza standing before him, a large mace in his hands.  The look in Reza’s eyes was one of true malevolence, and Todey felt fear stab through him like a dagger, wounding his very soul.

            “Please, I beg of you…” Todey said weakly, his strength waning as the cold ate at him.

            Reza ignored his pleas and began breaking the man’s legs with the mace, leaving them a bloody pulp on the snow.  The man screamed until he lost his voice, while he felt muscles tear, bones break and tendons snap.  The screams and the blood did nothing to avert Reza’s execution of his master’s justice.  In fact, they seemed to drive him on.  Todey realized his attacker enjoyed them.

            “If you can crawl back to camp, I’ll let you live.”  Reza said simply when he had finished.  He smiled again, and Todey felt himself die.  Oh, his body might still live, but his mind knew with certainty that he was doomed.

            The dark warrior leaped astride his horse and rode away, leaving Todey to the harsh wind that was biting at his flesh.  Todey’s hands clawed at the hard packed snow as he tried to crawl.  His breath steamed from his nostrils as its warmth mingled with the freezing night air.  Todey shivered and hoped it would all be over soon.  The snow around him seemed painted with red, as his broken legs left a smear of his life’s blood behind him.  The night sky and the full moon looked down on the pathetic, crawling figure.  He had not chosen a good time for this painful journey.  The clouds were gathering, and the winter blizzards were about to start.

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