The ancient horseman laughed with feral glee as the lightning bolt hit him. The current surged through his body shaking his bones just as it had done a thousand times before. Screwing up his wind-burned face, he urged his mount forward through the storm, oblivious to the driving rain that soaked through the scorched, tattered rags that had once been his clothes.
Far below, between the scudding shredded remnants of rain-clouds, movement on the ground drew his eye.
With a well practiced deftness at odds with his apparent age, he twisted his horse’s cracked leather reins around his hand and, bracing himself against the saddle with his legs, he leaned precariously outwards into thin air. Looking down towards the distant earth, dark and forbidding under the cover of the storm, he glimpsed his quarry.
Several hundred feet below, a terrified woman scrambled and slipped over the granite boulders that were strewn across the barren uplands of Bodmin Moor. Still wearing her traditional bal maiden’s outfit after a day spent working at the surface of one of the local copper mines, she was easy to spot from the air. Her white gook, the protective bonnet that female mine workers used to cover their heads and shoulders, stood out clearly against the drab greens and greys of the moor.
With the slightest tensing of his knees, the rider guided his horse into a steep dive.
Sensing that she had been seen, Chastity Trewartha risked a panicked glance upwards over her shoulder. Behind her, against a backdrop of boiling black storm-clouds, a host of horsemen accompanied by a pack of baying hounds poured down out of the sky towards her in a scene from a nightmare. With an ear-splitting crack, like the pillars of heaven collapsing, another bolt of lightning arced out of the clouds into the lead rider’s corroded crown and exploded out through the tip of his sword seeking an exit to earth. For a moment, in the intense illumination of the lightning bolt, time appeared to stand still and everything was frozen in place: The wild excitement in the man’s eyes as the electricity blasted through him; his horse’s rain-sodden mane whipping through the air before him; the tendrils and filaments of blue-white light that danced around his sword blade as the current passed through – all these things were burned into Chastity’s memory. In a split second it was over, time regained its usual pace, and the hoard screamed earthward.
Chastity ran on in blind panic, terror clouded her reasoning, but reason had no place in this situation. Instead, it drove her forward in a flow-state outside of her conscious control. Driven by fear Chastity vaulted effortlessly over boulders that ordinarily she would have had trouble even clambering over. Decisions as to which was the quickest and safest route around the many rain filled pits were instantly made, and were acted on without hesitation.
Despite this however, she knew that they were gaining on her. Then, with a rush of relief, she saw her salvation; in the distance, misted and blurred by the rain, she could make out the familiar dark, looming mass of a mine engine. Incongruously, given her current situation, she noticed for the first time how the buildings, with their high narrow engine houses, and long tapering chimneys looked like giant hands with one finger pointing at the sky, a warning that had almost come too late for her.
With renewed energy fuelled by the hope of escape, Chastity raced to the shelter of the mine engine, but within a few steps her clothing, that served her so well during her working day, protecting her from the excess of the weather, conspired against her. Her heavy skirt and apron, waterlogged from the downpour, clung to her legs and snagged on low gorse bushes making each step more laborious than the last.
The sound of Chastity’s heartbeat pounded in her ears with the exertion of her escape, and each gasping breath rasped painfully through her throat, as she closed the gap between herself and the safety of the building. But as she drew nearer the rhythmic thumping of her pulse was rapidly overwhelmed by a deep rumbling that she could feel through the earth beneath her feet. Chastity recognised the familiar tattoo of hoofbeats; her pursuers were on the ground. The shaking of the earth increased until suddenly she found herself flanked on either side by the lead hounds of the spectral hunt. Rather than attacking, the dogs kept pace with her, howling and barking with the excitement of the chase, and were joined as they ran by more and more of their kind. Behind her, she could hear the unearthly whoops and calls of the riders as they gained on her. In desperation, Chastity ripped off her sodden gook, and flung it at one of the hounds. The animal yelped in surprise, and veered away, but was instantly replaced. Unfortunately, the action was enough to take her attention away from the ground for just long enough for her to miss her footing and fall forward. At the last moment, she brought her hands up to protect her face from the imminent impact with a rough granite Boulder. She need not have bothered, for she never hit the ground: With a sickening lurch, the earth tilted beneath her and fell away and she was carried up into the storm.