A fire crackles lively, its yellow glow building within the brick enclosure as another section of chopped lumber is tossed casually into its midst. It engulfs the birch within moments, roaring, casting its brilliant light over both men present to view its dancing beauty.
“I swear, I don’t have it!” Marcus glistens with sweat even in the unusually frigid temperature of the isolated cabin. Terrified, his razor-thin frame trembles, too-large clothing draped humorously from his body, swaying with each timid movement. He rests uneasily on the rotting footstool, staring only at the man across from him. “You have to believe me!”
His visitor leans forward in an old, comfortable chair — soulless eyes peering through narrow slits on a ghoulish mask. “I do, Marcus,” he says calmly, weight pressing down upon the pommel of a shimmering sword tucked between his legs, its point digging deeper into the damp, softened floor. “You needn’t wet yourself, mate. I’m harmless,” he says with a light, friendly charm.
“I know who you are!”
“I should hope so,” the visitor chuckles, “that’s the whole point of this mask, chum. Helps get the word out.”
Marcus bites his lower lip, teeth chattering. Wild, desperate eyes gaze in horror at the skeletal figure before him: every sculpted tooth seeming to shift, morphing into an unnatural grin. “You’ve never strayed this far South before!”
“Was never paid this much before, either. Tends to make a difference.”
“You’ll kill me! It’s what you do, isn’t it? Headhunter!”
“Contract only mentions the key. I just have to find it,” assures the visitor, head tilting.
“Then you’ll let me go?”
“You have it on you right now, don’t you.”
His eyes flicker toward the door. “Y-yes…”
“Marcus,” the visitor’s grip tightens around a silk-wrapped hilt, “nobody likes a liar.”