Thorgaut froze for an instant. He ducked and moved to the side while looking around quickly. Nothing attacked him which was a relief. So, the Viking warrior resumed walking after a few seconds of bated breath.
He reached his little camp clearing without incident. Thorgaut had never felt so happy to see a fire before. The flickering flames made him realize how cold he was.
Thorgaut rushed to sit down beside it so he could warm himself up. He placed another log of wood in the fire. Then stretched out his hands to bask in the warm glow of the coals.
He heard the woman scream again and sighed. But this time he didn’t move. He sat there and watched the flames dancing in the darkness.
Thorgaut wanted to help her. He really did. But deep down he had a feeling that this was a ruse. Someone trying to get him deeper into the woods.
He peered into the darkness and realized that the creature could be out there looking for him. He pulled the logs away from each other so the flames would die down. He sat there and continued to warm his hands over the embers that glowed red and hot in the cold darkness of the forest.
The woman continued screaming, but Thorgaut tried to ignore it. After a while, she stopped. Thorgaut pulled his coat tighter and lay down.
He curled up as close as he dared to the embers to suck up their warmth without bursting into flames himself. That was the last thing he needed tonight out here alone in the dark.
Then the woman started screaming for help once again. He sighed and rolled over trying to block out the sound. He realized her screams didn’t seem to be out of desperation. At least it didn’t sound like the kind of noise someone made when they were hurting or in pain.
He figured she had been tied up and held against her will somewhere. That is if she really did need help. He didn’t like to think about what kind of person would do something like that to trick someone else.
Thorgaut closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep so he could get some rest before morning. He would head out as soon as there was light enough for him to see what was going on. There wasn’t much he could do to try to find her in the dark anyway. That dark creature would attack him again if he made any noise.
He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but a thought kept nagging at the back of his mind. What if the screaming woman didn’t survive until morning.
Thorgaut tried to rationalize the feeling away, but it kept bugging him. He knew he would never forgive himself if she did need help, and he hadn’t done anything to save her.
His friends would call him a coward for sure. Not that he cared what his friends thought because he would be the first to hold himself responsible.
Besides, what if this was an opportunity in disguise. Maybe a challenge from the fates to test his mettle and courage in the face of danger.
Or what if was his soulmate, and this was Destiny’s way of drawing them together? He smiled into the darkness. His mother always said he was a hopeless romantic.
The screaming and yelling started up again. Thorgaut knew he couldn’t lie there all night and wait for the light. He had to take action, and it had to be now. He stood up and worked speedily on the execution of his plan.
Thorgaut gathered his stuff in preparation for battle. He piled the rest of the wood he had cut earlier onto the fire. He broke and tore several more branches off the dead tree to toss into the flames as well. He knew the noise would attract the dark thing in his direction, so he worked as fast as possible.
When he was ready, he pulled out his pouch of mushrooms and took a large bite. He would need all his courage to fight this thing. Whatever ‘it’ was. Thorgaut knew this would be a fight to the death for one of them. He was ready for it.
He pulled out his canteen and took a swig to wash down the rest of the mushroom in his mouth. He felt a wave of fresh courage and boldness wash over him. It had been several weeks since he had been in a good fight. And he was ready for it.
“Hey! I’m over here you ugly monster.” Thorgaut yelled into the woods. “Come and get me. What are you waiting for?”
Thorgaut picked up the bow and quiver of arrows that he had left leaning against the tree. He turned away from the fire and walked into the darkness of the woods.
He went in the opposite direction from which it would come. He wanted it to walk through the light of the campfire to get to him. He wanted to see what it was that he would be fighting.
Then once he killed it, he would find the screaming woman. If she were in trouble, he would help her. Otherwise, he would kill her himself for all this trouble she had put him through.
Thorgaut hid behind a tree and waited outside the circle of campfire’s light. Everything was silent and still. Even her screams had subsided.
Thorgaut wanted to yell again. But the memory of that the dark thing attacking him mid-yell earlier held him back. He didn’t want to make it too easy for the creature to find him.
He realized he would be safer in the tree and climbed up it. He sat there for a bit, but nothing happened.
“Where are you? Come and get me you ugly creep.” Thorgaut finally yelled.
He continued to sit there for a bit, but still no movement or sound. He stood up on the branch to change position and stretch his legs.
Thorgaut had just taken a deep breath to yell again when he noticed some movement at the edge of his camp. He lowered himself back down on the branch to get a better view through the leaves.
He couldn’t tell what it was at first in the low light from the fire but continued to watch as it moved closer to the fire. The flickering light from the flames revealed more of its features with each step it took.
It was a man, or at least it used to be a man at one time. Now, it looked like a walking corpse. It walked hunched forward with its arms pointed out and down at a stiff, awkward angle.
“Broken Shufflers,” Thorgaut growled. He never understood why they were called that before. Now that he had seen one though, he realized the name made perfect sense.
These were the undead walkers who were controlled by wizards of old to do their bidding. He had heard of such creatures when he was a child. His mother and others had spoken of them. There were other names.
Venom vomiters. Scuttlers. Swarmers.
But he never actually believed they existed. He thought they were just old wive’s tales told to keep children in line and make them behave. At most legends of old that no longer existed.
Yet, here it was. One of these creatures was right there in front of him. The strange-looking being filled him with morbid fascination and dread. According to the legends he had grown up hearing, these creatures couldn’t be killed. They were already dead. The only way to destroy them was to cut off their heads and burn their bodies.
Thorgaut watched as the slow creature shuffled towards the fire. He found the sight of the strange creature fascinating.
The skin around the lower half of its face was gone exposing decaying yellow teeth. Its matted black hair was missing large chunks, but other parts of it stuck out wildly in all directions.
It was horrid looking. No wonder the poor woman had been screaming for help. He, Thorgaut Kabbisson of Ulfvergr, would kill this creature. He would save the damsel in distress. And he would make his mother proud.