The Unliving

Egersund bell tower at the Temple Of Helga.

Egersund bell tower at the Temple Of Helga.

Temple of Helga, 4:30 pm

Brother Hami issues orders for the alarm to be struck immediately. I didn’t have to convince him; the terror in my eyes did that for me.

As soon as I hear the Bell of Helga’s call, I strike out for the western gate. How long will it take for the townsfolk to recognize the Bells are being rung in alarm and not in celebration? Brother Hami would have sent a runner to the guards, I’m sure. While people know what to do when the city bells ring, it’s been thirteen years since the temple signaled danger. I need to find Vegard, Hans and his family, and lead them back to the sanctuary of the temple.

Egersund hears the Bell of Helga on a daily basis, announcing the sunrise, high sun and sundown… They are moving like they normally would; only the the guards and the reservists rush to protect the gates. Everyone else goes about their business, and why shouldn’t they? The walls of Egersund have never fallen.  It takes a while for them to realize that something is different, but people are starting to pause and ask questions.  The safest place I can’t think of, right now, is inside the protective walls of the temple. I need to get to my friends!

The sound of the massive reinforced brace slamming into place signals the gates are locked, and snaps my focus back into reality. I look up; “I don’t have time to fight the crowds gathering at the gate!,” I think to myself. I pivot back towards the south road and head for the hidden passage way that Vegard showed us. The less savoury citizens of Egersund use it to smuggle contraband (including fighters) through the walls and passed the city guards. I pray to Helga that my two best friends think to head to the same location.  As I run past the bridge, I notice the guards methodically deploying barricades and cover stations at all the choke points leading to the island. Will they let me pass when they see me? I’ll sort it out once my friends are on the inside the walls.  The elder Brothers will know what to do with Toril.  The City alarm bells are ringing; I realize I’m sprinting, now.

I hear screaming from multiple directions; not just of alarm and of confusion,  but of pain and desperation. What the hell is going on?! Did the deer somehow get inside? No way, this is worse. With the guards on full alert, they would have no problems dealing with them. And Brother Hami will undoubtedly dispatch priests to assist where they can. Being lost in my thoughts again, I nearly trip over headless corpse. I quickly realize that the body is STILL crawling, and with a singular purpose.  This can’t be; the disease that affected the deer is INSIDE THE WALLS?! A giant man, whom I recognize (I don’t actually know his name, but I noticed people that are as tall as I am), with a blood soaked battle axe stands silent, as though he is in shock. I step in front of him, pulling him back, as I grab the symbol of my devotion to Helga hanging from my chest. I pray, no beg her to intervene to stop this monstrosity. If this beast of a man were to get infected…

Helga answers my prayers, as the decapitated body is engulfed with holy light; it drops to the ground. We all pause for a moment waiting… it remains motionless. I’m assaulted with a barrage of questions, but I neither have time nor do I care to answer any of them.  I take off south again, praying that Hans and Vegard are safe. I totally disregard Vegard’s instructions to make sure I’m not followed before I search for the unlocking mechanism to the door. As I dart through the bushes, I can hear someone, or something, banging on the other side. I scream their names, and breathe a heavy sigh of relief when I hear their familiar voices. I activate the switch, and pull on the door.

Praise Helga! I see the rest of the Jorgensen clan shivering behind my friends. I think this is the first time in my life that I’ve actually been GLAD to see Hans Sr.

They are desperate to come inside. Obviously, they don’t know that the infection has claimed some within the walls. The man with trees for arms catches up and resumes his tirade of questions. With him are three women; being female is the only thing that they seem to have in common. I recognize the shortest of the women – Her Name is Jensa Petersen and she inherited her parents’ farm after they got trapped in a barn fire, four years ago. She trades her goods with the temple for supplies on a regular basis, but keeps to herself, for the most part.  She ALWAYS looks the same; but even now, in the middle of this chaos, her face reveals little emotion – while the rest of city is a cacophony of confusion and terror. I wonder if she has chosen to shield herself from emotion since…

Enormous hands grab my arm and my attention. He abandons any courtesies and interrogates me about what I know regarding his father.

“I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO YOUR FATHER IS!,” I reply out of frustration.

Taking a deep breath he utters, “My name is Erik, and Lars is father,” with a hint of sadness.

“We never found him,” I answer, as I try to summarize the last day in ten seconds.

I need to get back to the church… the others around me are desperate to get to the other side of the wall.

Hans instinctively asks his father for advice, and the family decides to leave Egersund. I can’t abandon my city like this; there are so many people that can be saved. I remove the crowbar from the side of Vegard’s pack and use it to prop the door open… The tallest of the women grumbles something vulgar and kicks it free as she moves through the hidden passageway. “What a bitch,” I think to myself. Vegard intercepts the door before it can close on itself and grabs a branch to use as a makeshift substitute for his crowbar. The others have already started to leave.

I start yelling to the crowds, while jumping up and down, signalling that there is another exit where we stand. At first no one notices, but then one person spots me, and the mob begins to converge on us like a tsunami. Sorry, Vegard, it’s not a secret any more.

I exit through the now public door, and step off to the side, barely escaping the stream of evacuees. I’m hoping that the small doorway will force people to come out almost single file, and help me spot anyone I might recognize;  hopefully a priest. People are also emerging from the river pathway. With the river still frozen, the bars made to stop barges and boats, have space enough for people to squeeze through. I don’t recognize anyone from the temple, yet; perhaps they have all fallen back to protect the temple? Vegard has stayed behind; he’s clutching Toril Abrahansen. How could I have forgotten about her?

He asks if I can cure her. I don’t think so, but say I’ll try. I call upon the Mother’s powers to heal Toril’s wounds, but it only sends her into frenzy; another sign that this plague is unnatural.

“What do we do with her?,” Vegard asks me, honestly believing I may have an answer for this situation.

“I don’t know,” I reply, with the utmost honesty.

“We can’t just leave her here,” Vegard exclaims; and we both know what he means.

SHE IS NOT ALIVE.

I try to convince myself that it’s true, recalling some of Brother Hami’s many lectures to strengthen my resolve. “They are the UNDEAD, no longer the person we know and love,” he would say. With the bundle sitting at my feet, I realize why he drilled that idea into us, like a mantra. I half expect Vegard to do the deed himself, but he says he can’t. He hands me his rapier, and I question whether or not this is the right thing to do. I pray to Helga for a sign, but I know that, this time, there will be no answer. I start stabbing where her heart should be, but this only fuels the rage inside the papous. I bow my head as I give the rapier to Vegard. What drips from his blade is not the deep red of human blood, but a sickly green like the color of phlegm. I unbuckle my mace from my hip – realizing that whatever is inside no longer has a beating heart. I lock this realization away, knowing I’ll have to call upon it over and over again if I hope to survive. THEY ARE NO LONGER AMONGST THE LIVING. I swing my mace, like splitting a cord of wood, and her skull crumples like an overripe melon.

Vegard urges me to catch up. I realize he’s been waiting for me, even though he has skies, he doesn’t put them on. Why did I drop mine?! I thought I was going to be safe once I was inside the walls of the city… Now, it’s probably the most dangerous place to be for a league in any direction.

As we close on Hans and the rest of the group, I hear more and more cries from the townsfolk behind us. I stop and look back; naively believing I might be able to help. I can see multiple points where people are splintering off from the main crowd. Some are trying to follow us, but most are simply trying to avoid the infected. It’s going to spread, and I don’t know how to stop it! We need to find someone that does. Four undead deer was unsettling enough, but a sea of twenty thousand of… those things…is unfathomable. Will the church be able to hold out? Where else can we go for shelter, and help?

I increase my pace in order to catch up to the rest of the group.

Mari is trying to convince us to go to check on her family. Maybe we can sound the relay bells. The sooner people know, the greater the chance they can flee in time – maybe with horses and supplies. We can stock up there. Thank Helga that it’s the beginning of spring, and not in the heart of winter. We wouldn’t last the night in the open if it were.  I explain that we have to move as quickly as possible and everyone surges forward. Vegard and Hans grab Mrs. Jorgensen and half carry her along.

 

On Road, south of Egersund, 5:45 pm

By the time we get to the Sorrensen farm, dusk is quickly falling upon us. While the others go to check on the family, and hopefully get supplies, I remain on the main road, hoping to urge any refugees southward. Everyone wants to have a destination, somewhere to run toward… I don’t know how to convey to them that the most important course of action is to run AWAY from their homes in Egersund. The wilderness will be their protection. While we grew up in these harsh lands, the walking dead, while relentless in their determination, will not be able to navigate the terrain as well as we can. That is our main advantage. Staying in place will surely see us overwhelmed.

I see a few stragglers in the distance, and I concentrate on their gait. They look to be moving naturally, but only when they answer my greeting, do I know that they are unharmed. They ask me where we are going; I wish I knew. I tell them to go southward. One of them says he needs to check on his family. I tell him I will meet up with him. He should go and scout for possible danger. With that half-lie, I hope to persuade him to go continue on, away from Egersund. Did this plague come from the north? How did it infect the people INSIDE the walls? Did people eat tainted meat? And why were there fires at the farms when we got back? This must have been a deliberate attack. I pray that the families were able to ring the relay alarms.  By the time we got here, they were ominously silent.

Aija arrives, with Mari in tow, and she towers over some of the survivors that have gathered at the entrance to the farm. She isn’t from Egersund, someone with her stature, I would have noticed. And if I hadn’t, Vegard definitely would have. They try to talk in code, in secret. Why are they so distrustful? Those who question others so much are often the ones who should be questioned. If we do not help each other in THIS situation, we are doomed. I am able to convince some of them to continue without us.

Mari tells me that she is looking to get to her family. I call her out. She has acted selfishly. Do these others not have families of their own? She was willing to condemn them all to death only an hour ago. Maybe, I should not be so harsh. I rushed to get back to Vegard and Hans… in a way they are my family.

When I get to the farmhouse, the muscle-bound man, who introduces himself as Erik, tells me there was no sign of the family. He has surveyed the house’s exterior and noticed a silhouette behind one of the windows.

“Have you called out to your family?,” I ask Mari, “surely they would recognize your voice and respond.”

They look at each other as though they had never even thought to, and Mari admits they have not.

She calls out for her mother; the response is series a shattering windows.  What Mari recognizes to be her father, comes crashing through the pane glass window nearest to us. I am cautious not assume that he has been turned, but, as he approaches, the massive chunks of flesh torn from his face and his unnatural movement lead me to one conclusion. I call upon the light of Helga, yet again.  The ornate emblem on my shield radiates with divine light as Her energy flows through me. The living corpse is surrounded by righteous fire, and it collapses to the ground.  The commotion draws the attention of other undead like moths to a lantern, and several of them emerge from the various openings of the cabin. My companions stand motionless, not sure how to react.  Images of Toril flood my mind as I pray to the Mother to stop these abominations of nature. THEY ARE NOT ALIVE!

Almost simultaneously, all three collapse on the dirt path, unmoving. A wave of exhaustion replaces the euphoria of Her embrace. I’ve never experienced that much of her essence course through my body before.

“How many people live in that house?,” Erik asks Mari.

“Twenty,” Mari responds, barely, through her sobbing.

“Let’s get out of here,” Aija says, leading Mari back to the main road. Only Vegard and Erik stay behind, with me.

Erik suggests we set the house on fire as a precaution. He lights two torches and hands one to Vegard. I take point in front of Vegard with my shield poised, while we scurry towards an unbroken window. Two more creatures emerge. Erik looses several arrows that audibly find their mark, but the bodies of the dead do not react in pain. They keep coming. As soon as the curtains ignite we call out to Erik, and escape to back to the main road.

When we get back to at the intersection, only a few Egersundians remain. One of them fails to conceal a deep gouge on his neck. Mari questions him like he is a prisoner. We cannot turn on everyone that has a scratch. Now, more than ever, we have to trust each other, don’t we? He claims he doesn’t know how he got it.  If he’s telling the truth, it’s better that I heal his wounds, immediately. Other survivors on the road will not be as trusting.  As I lay hands on him, the wounds visibly dissipates until it seems it was never there. No matter how many times I witness Her divine magic, I still can’t believe that Helga has chosen me to be one of her emissaries. He says he feels better, and steps off to the side to be alone with his own thoughts.

The rest of begin to discuss where we plan to head. The conversation is interrupted suddenly by Mari shrieking in panic. The man I just healed is attacking her. Mari awkwardly scrambles away from it. She draws her sword and slashes haphazardly at it, more from terror than with skill.  Even so, the keen edge of her weapon cuts open its belly like it was warm butter. Even being freshly eviscerated does nothing to slow it down. With its entrails slurping out, it lunges towards Mari in a blood lust. Aija instantly grabs Mari’s arm to pull her away from the imminent threat; the rest of her body follows, regardless of consent.

Off to my side, the mild mannered Jensa quietly recites what seems to be a change and slams the butt of her inornate yew staff onto the crowded pathway. She seems to summon vines, roots and the branches of the forest to erupt from the ground like giant fingers. It takes me a moment to recognize what she is doing; cutting off the path from the farmhouse, to prevent us from being overrun.

“It’ll only last for a short while,” she yells. I KNEW she was more than just a regular farmer. But we can discuss that later… if we get out of this alive.

“Run away!,” I yell to Mari, but she completely ignores my pleas.

Hans, leaving his family’s side for the first time since we left Egersund, steps with a single purpose toward our common enemy. Swinging his weapon high overhead, with anger in his eyes, he nearly misses his target, but the force of the maul’s impact knocks the undead man to the ground.  At the same time, I send forth holy energies to purge whatever evil now possesses the body in front of me.

Vegard moves beside the body, and begins perforating it with his rapier.

“Is that thing dead?,” he asks us, as he turns to us for confirmation.

“It was not alive,” I try to explain, but it falls upon deaf ears, as the prone body starts to slide up Vegard’s thin blade. Beside him, Aija is doing all she can to keep Mari away from the danger. Does Mari realize that she is, perhaps, the last of her blood line? Is she going after this thing out a sense of revenge, or because of a death wish?

Perching his foot on the corpse’s back for extra leverage, Vegard barely manages to free his sword before Hans comes in, knuckles white on the hilt of his maul. His giant hammer partially separates its head from its spine, and its remains fall at Mari’s feet.  With her adrenaline still pumping, she begins to vomit uncontrollably.

We have a short respite from this nightmare before Hans’ little sister rushes to him sobbing. Lone shows him her hand; there is a cut on it, and it’s bleeding conspicuously.

“Am I going to turn into one of them?,” she asks her older brother, her eyes overflowing with tears.

“You’re going to be okay,” Hans says, trying to console her, not really knowing. I can’t imagine what is going through his head right now.

“Here, let’s fix you up, Lone,” I say, as reassuringly as possible. I’ve already tried twice, and failed. Everyone knows this is a lie.

I clean the wound out with holy water, not knowing if it makes a difference, but hope in short supply. We bandage her hand up as well as we can, and pray that it’s enough. Hans’ parents are, understandably, losing their composure. All we have, right now, is each other. We head down the road towards where the two major arteries intersect. We swing north to begin our journey towards Ulvang mine, not knowing what might await us. But, at least, for now, we’re together.