The horse’s hooves crunched through the crusty frozen snow, and the rider in black turned to look over his shoulder. The follower was still following. Underby frowned, turned back, and kicked the horse in the sides. “Come on, giddy up you rotten bastard. If that person isn’t following me, I am a clockwork dragon’s uncle.”
The horse reared suddenly from the impact, and tossed Underby unceremoniously into the deep snow. The withered and bony man cried out with surprise as he sank into the drift, hearing the horse flee, but not seeing it. When the momentary daze lifted he raised his head and saw the horse careening over a distant hill; he turned his face to the following rider and noticed with a sinking feeling that figure approached. It appeared to be a young man.
Underby shakily gathered himself up, and brushed what snow he could from his long black coat. To appear nonchalant, he pulled out his pipe and stuffed it with tobacco… as the rider approached he lit the bowl and drawled heavily.
“Ho,” called the rider to his horse, then fixed his large blue eyes on Underby. “You seem to have taken a tumble.” the man said. His voice was gay and light, but his face was stern and unsmiling. This unnerved Underby slightly, though he attempted to mask it. “You are most observant.” he quipped in response.
The rider climbed down from his horse and looked around at the vast winter wasteland. “Not a very hospitable place to be left behind.” he said.
“No.” Underby said, and studied the face in profile. It looked very familiar, yet… he could not quite place it. Some aspect of the face seemed to be wrong. “Do I know you, sir? You look rather familiar to me.”
The man turned toward Underby. “I don’t believe you and I have ever met, sir.”
Underby shrugged, pulling his collar up. He did not relish the idea of asking this man for a ride, but relished the idea of walking on foot even less. At that rate it would take him months to make it to the old Wickentower manor.
“I am loathe to rely on the generous nature of perfect strangers,” Underby began. “however, I am afraid I am at something of a loss. Is it possible I might be able to appeal to your better nature?”
The man looked toward the horizon again. “My sister always had a much more generous nature than myself.” he said.
Underby considered this a rather vague response, and so waited, hoping it was a momentary musing and a response would come forthwith.
“Alas,” said the man. “my sister is quite deceased now.”
Underby sucked on his pipe, hoping this mundane chatter would be over with soon. Did this man really expect Underby to mourn for someone he had never even met? He managed to spit out, around the stem of his pipe: “My condolences.”
The man turned back, smiling grimly. It gave Underby a shiver, which he attempted to contain.
“It was my sister’s wishes that I should attempt to contact her on the other side, following her demise, should she pass before me. She was something of a spiritualist.”
Underby nodded. “So many are these days.”
The man sighed. “Unfortunately, I cannot, though I do not believe in such things myself, at any rate.”
“You cannot? Why not?”
“My sister, you see, is not quite deceased. Only somewhat deceased. A state which leaves me in rather a difficult predicament.”
Underby swallowed some smoke and began to cough. “Somewhat deceased?”
“Yes,” said the man evenly, looking Underby straight in the eye. “she lives as a walking corpse now.”
In that moment, it clicked. Underby turned cold. Those blue eyes.
“Dizelle.” he said.
“Yes.” said the man. “I am her brother.”
“Oh god.” Underby hiccuped.
“No.” said Winston Soup. “No god is going to save you from me.”
Underby dropped his pipe and began to flee, though the snow was nearly knee-high. “Stop, please, you don’t understand… I did not kill Dizelle…”
Underby heard some rummaging behind him, and stumbled to one knee, he looked around and saw Winston following him with a rather large tree branch. “Please!” he said, “I adored Dizelle… I wanted nothing but the best for her… it was another who killed her, I was devastated, I-“
The branch connected with the side of Underby’s head, and he fell to the snow. “Please!” he yelped. “I only tried to save her, she was very dea-“
The branch came down on his chest. Twice. Something snapped inside him, and speech was no longer a possibility. Winston raised the branch and brought it down on Underby’s legs, snapping them. He raised the branch and brought it down on his left arm and part of his torso, pain erupted and white light filled the bony man’s vision.
Winston stood over Underby leaning on the branch, panting. “I came looking for her. I didn’t know she was dead. I looked everywhere, and you had her the entire time. In your public house. Scrubbing floors.”
He looked at Underby with cold eyes. “Scrubbing floors.”
Underby coughed, and blood splattered into the frigid air.
“Dead was bad enough. Terrible enough. But what you did to her… it’s unspeakable.” he breathed heavily. “Then you disappeared, and I thought my time for vengeance had passed. I thought I would have to be content in killing your wife, though I doubted somehow that you would care. But then… then I began to dream… about the building your public house was in.”
Underby began to sob softly. The movement was exceedingly painful.
“Yes, I dreamt of the highest floor containing an angel. An angel that cared for Dizelle, and for me… who wanted things to be set right. The dreams became more and more vivid… A man dressed all in white, from head to toe. A tall white stovepipe hat, and straight white hair hanging out from beneath… he stood in an entirely red room. And do you know what?”
Winston looked down at Underby, who continued to sob. He kicked him hard in the side. “I said, DO YOU KNOW WHAT?”
Underby began to cough again. The thought crossed his mind that this was the beginning of his own death-rattle.
Winston smiled. “The angel told me where you were going. Do you believe that? He told me where you were going, which path you would take, and where I would be able to overtake you and get revenge. And it was all true. This is the place he described, and now here I am. And so are you.” he smiled wider. He added: “You and I are going to have a lot of fun.”
He raised the branch again, as Underby cried out wordlessly.