It seeped up, first in grey wisps, then in mass like an endless smoking fire at the centre of the world, coalescing into a solid form in front of them. A high-pitched sound wrenched the air as something reared out from the smoke – a Noxian horse with all-silver eyes, sparking its hooves against the ground. Its back-end trailed into the form of a dark stagecoach, commanded at the front by a bony, sallow man with as little vigour as the earth’s oldest spirits. His hands clutched the handle of a barbed whip on his lap, every finger stuffed with dull-gold rings: grave tokens he had claimed, each with a deadman’s curse which took its revenge on him in poisonous veins running across his skin. Only his thin, leathery lips were visible below his tilted top hat. Will’s gaze went to the coach’s side door, reading in ghostly white script:
CHARON’S COACH SERVICE
For wakes, weddings and wanderlusts
“Onward we go,” Percival announced. On his words, the coach door swung open, revealing an interior of satin, liver-red seats and mourning lace curtains. Will gulped, firmly in place as Anala collected the obol from the dirt and tucked it into her pocket.
“Are you forcing me?” he asked.
“Will saying yes make you come?” said Percival light-heartedly. Will crossed his arms obstinately over his chest. “Then yes, consider this a formal kidnapping.”
‘I have no choice,’ Will told himself, as if being helpless would make him less afraid or less guilty. His gaze kept flickering towards the distant path towards Vincula and his home. What would happen to Wilmina when he was found gone? Would they hurt her, or only try to hunt him down if Percival was right and the Court had an interest in him? The questions weighed uncomfortably in his stomach, yet they did not stop him stepping into the stagecoach and moving to the very corner of the seat. Percival and Anala slipped into the seat opposite him, and through a slit window behind them, he saw the driver’s bedizened knuckles crack as his grip tightened on the whip and reins. With a single flagellation, the Noxian surged into life and sent the stagecoach jolting along the trail into unknown land.
End of Chapter II