CAIN STODDARD SAT up in his carriage, clawing at his stomach. Something was trying to tear its way out of him.
The old demon hunter banged his fists against his chest. "Stop!" he shouted, his eyes bulging. "Stop, damn you!"
The thing in his stomach stopped biting for the moment.
"You all right, sir?" a voice called down from the driver. The carriage groaned in the cold wind, drunkenly swaying back and forth.
"I’m fine," Cain struggled, his voice desert raw. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. "I’m all right."
The driver snapped his reins hard.
Cain peered out his window. Beside his carriage, the Trista River frothed with whitewater and the sky crawled with storm clouds.
He pulled his heavy cloaks in tighter, trying to fight off the wind. Then, Cain stared down at his hands as a sliver of moonlight poked between the clouds. They looked strange, somehow. Like someone else’s hands.
For a moment, he thought he saw something resembling a liquid slug slithering beneath the skin of his palm. He prodded at the thing, half expecting it to rip through his hand. It didn’t. It disappeared instead, burrowing deeper.
"Sharing space with the damned," Cain said, grimacing bitter irony. "I guess you can’t beat hell back forever," he said.
A firm knock came down from the driver. The carriage was nearing Chapel’s Rest, a town of nearly thirty-thousand souls that sat at the foot of Mount Ochana.
"Chapel’s Rest," Cain whispered. Then he jerked upright again, coughing. The coughs wracked his body, shooting daggers of agony into his raw lungs. He covered his mouth with his handkerchief and kept on hacking until a shimmering black tar squelched out between his lips.
He stared down at the mucous. It pulsed and throbbed and reached.
Cain recoiled from the thing, casting the soiled handkerchief out the window. Then, he put his hand over his abdomen, wondering just how long he had left.
"Oh Liam," he said. "I should have listened to you."