Walking Nightmares

One of the walking nightmare faces we saw.

I have never been one to write a journal; I never had reason to, until now. With what has happened, a journal seems essential. Everything has changed, and documenting these events may be important later on, when we have to look at the consequences of our actions. This is the third time I’ve tried to begin this, but the first two attempts were too fragmented and too panicked to really get a clear picture of what has occurred. I question many things that have taken place, and my role in them.

My father has been sent north by the city council on an investigative mission. He is known as the best ranger in the city, and is someone who survives in the woods as easily as a nobleman survives in his estate. It is the fifth day since his departure, and I was not worried. Him being gone for extended periods of time is not new. I wasn’t worried when the bells began to ring. I became worried when I met a young cleric of Helga who had been sent to find my father, and had failed. He found something else, something that does not bode well for my father.

But I’ll start at the beginning. I was out hunting, south of the city, and I hadn’t caught anything. Nevermind caught anything, I hadn’t even seen anything. No birds, no game, nothing. It was eerie. My whole trapline was empty, with no tracks around any of them. I had never seen the forest so abandoned. The only sound was the creaking and rustling of the evergreen branches as the breeze brushed through them. It wasn’t a peaceful feeling. There was a tension in the air. I let the feeling pass, as I was looking forward to a few drinks and an early dinner at the Golden Fitte with Mari and a couple of her friends. I made my way to the city at about 3:30 so as to arrive at 4.

The Fitte is a great place to eat. I could eat at the Fitte everyday. She’s cheap, easy to get to,  doesn’t just cater to the rich snobs in town, and has the best fish spread in town. It’s big enough that you have your own space, even with a large crowd around. As long as I am not in it, I miss the Golden Fitte. Now it seems that it will now be a memory of days past…

I digress. Aija and Jensa had joined Mari. I know Mari well. We are friends, and she gets hired by my father to help on a few excursions for some well off out-of-town merchants who are looking for some trophy bucks. We get to keep the meat, and the money is too good to pass on. I’ll take as much as can from the brats of the wealthy. I have only met Aija and Jensa a couple times before this. Aija works the Ulvang mine to the southwest of town. She is quiet, and doesn’t reveal much about herself. From what little I know, she lives at the mines, and can’t stand the city. Mari does work around the mines, selling game and fish to the miners. This is how she knows Aija. Jensa’s connection was once again through Mari. They are both the children of farmers, although neither is very active on their respective farmsteads. I wish I knew more, I wish I knew what kind of people they were, but I don’t because that is when the bells started to ring.

The last time the bells had rung at the temple of Helga was thirteen years ago. Orcs and hill giants had attacked the city. Farmers had made their way into the safety of the walls, and the city guard had deployed so as to rebuff the threat, and that is exactly what happened. I was five at the time, and remember little of it. My dad and I had been in town buying supplies, and had no need to scramble to get behind the walls from our home east of the city. I don’t remember much else, but the experience might have given the citizens of Egersund a little too much confidence in their defences.

Here I was again, inside the walls as the bell rang. After pushing back a brief surge of panic, I decide to go to the street to see what was happening. The street is crowded  with people looking around, not knowing what to do. It is at this point, just past 4:30, when the horror begins. Screams in the crowd, perhaps thirty feet north along the street. I edge closer to see what is happening, but cannot get a good line of sight until there is only one person in front of me. The crowd had made a circle as they recoiled away from the scene. A lady had pinned down a man, biting his face off. Two men jump in to drag the lady off. There are more screams from the crowd, coming from different spots up the street. This is not an isolated incident. As I turn away, I see a middle aged, balding man limping towards me. He moans, forcing me to take a second look. There is a deep bite in his neck. He is not limping as much as his body is not cooperating with him fully. There is a drag to his gait that is not natural. He is coming our way, and although his eyes are not focused on us, he is intent on us. He is groaning. Something is not right. There is a menace to him. His neck had been almost fucking ripped out! What is happening? I backed away, my axe drawn.

“Sir? Are you OK?,” I ask. “Do you need help? What do you want?”

More moaning, and a few more dragged steps towards me. I don’t know if he made a move to attack. I honestly cannot remember. I swung my axe in a reactive panic and almost cleave him in two at the gut. Mari quickly follows by taking off his head. He falls to the ground, but his body was still crawling on the ground. His hands were reaching out, searching for us. How is that possible?  It is at this moment, before I have any time to process the act of murder that I have just committed, that the young cleric sprints up and almost falls over the crawling body. There is a flash of panic on his face as he sees the headless body still moving, then he raises his symbol. Fire bursts of it to burn the corpse. I pray that this is a sign that Helga is with us.

The bells may have done more harm than good in this case. They are designed as a warning system for the city. I have never been informed as to the proper execution of the bell warning system, but I imagine that farmers come into the safety of the walls while the city guard is mobilized to protect the walls. The disease we are dealing with, if I have seen correctly, is transferred through wounds, be it scratches or bites. That means that larger groups of people make the spread easier. The bells brought everyone to the streets, and the farming families to town. For any other form of attack on the city, that would be exactly the right move, but this played to the advantage of the spread of the disease.

The cleric was running with purpose, not with panic. All four of us bombard him with questions. We got little out of him, except that he had come from a mission to find the ranger up north. My dad. This is when a wrenching panic sets in. I am reeling at the connections that my brain is making. My dad went north. This cleric was sent to find him, but failed. He has returned, and is now running with a purpose while the bell echoes loudly from the temple. I need answers, and my only resource is the cleric. I make sure not to leave him.

I must pause here to deal with my thoughts. I have killed many deer and other creatures on the hunt, but I have never raised a weapon against another man. My reaction saved me from a terrible fate,  but I did not know this at the time. I ended a man’s life, snuffed out his existence on instinct. At the time, in my panic, I did not give a second thought to his existence as a person, perhaps because his appearance and demeanor were so far beyond human. All that considered though, I still dealt a death blow to a diseased man with an ease of conscience that was disturbing.

The cleric, Dolf, is a tall man. With him running through the streets, and myself following, the crowds part rather easily. I don’t know where he is going. I yell that the frozen surface of the river would be safer, but he either didn’t hear me or ignores me. He makes his way to the southern wall, almost centered between the river and the southern gate. He disappears into the bushes. I follow, not putting any thought into anything but my dad. There is banging on the wall, and Dolf yells at those on the other side. I don’t hear the response, but he relaxes visibly. He releases some sort of latch, and a door swings open. On the other side stand five people. Four I recognize. I should have appreciated seeing familiar faces at the time, but I was too focused on Dolf. Hans is someone I consider a friend. He was also hired by my dad to work a couple hunting excursions. Although his hunting and guiding skills were not as sharp as Mari’s and mine, he is strong and a very disciplined worker. We have hunted together quite a bit. His family are standing a little behind them. They looked tired and worn down. Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen are standing stiffly, appearing to be in shock. Lone, Hans’s thirteen year sister, looked anxious. Hans stood close to his family, and everyone was behind Vegard, the fifth of the group. It is easy to see that he and Hans are most likely my match in strength.

They want in, we want out. There quickly became an argument as Mari and Aija try to push their way out while Vegard, Hans, and Dolf crowd the entrance. The news that the disease is inside the walls seems to tip the scale towards leaving the city. The Jorgensens decided to depart, and everyone except for Dolf regrouped outside the wall and make their way to the southern road.

And how quickly we lost our humanity once the bells sounded and the disease began to spread through the street. How quickly I was ready to leave the city and close the door, leaving others to their fate. In my fear, I was ready to abandon everyone. Dolf did well to make sure that there was an escape route so that others could get away. I should have helped. I should have joined to make sure others were able to get out, but all I could think about was escaping, and making sure Dolf would eventually follow – I needed to know what he knew. It seems this disease has its affects on the living as well. Just like its victims, we have stripped ourselves of our own humanity. We must not be so powerless, or else we have already lost.

We run to the southern road, and then continue on it. Crowds, made aware of the exit through wall, are now streaming out, looking to us to lead them to safety. We move south, but clearly shy away from taking a leadership role in the escape plan. People disperse, most making their way along the south road. It is dusk.

Mari’s family farmhouse is perhaps just over 2km from the city along the south road. I think I can speak for almost everyone is saying that our nerves were shot. There was no plan, besides heading south. Dolf was pushing to keep running but we needed a place to stop, so as to figure out what our best plan of action was. We arrive at the homestead while Dolf stays at the road to help those who passing. It makes me nervous, as he so far have proven most effective against these creatures. The house is quiet. The Sorensens have a bell at their house. They are responsible to it should they hear the warning bell coming from the city. The bell sits quietly, unused for thirteen years. No one calls out, as the silent bell is a sign that things are not right. Dolf approaches from the road, wondering why no one has called out to the house. He openly chastizes Mari for her concern for her family and her lack of concern for the families of others. I can barely think about anything other than my father As we stand on the eerily silent property of the family, I am taken aback by the lack of empathy displayed by Dolf. Of course she is almost hysterical about her family. We are all experiencing those emotions in some form.

At that moment, I see a shadow walking past the window. It’s gait had a drag to it that was unnatural. I have little doubt about what lies in the house. Dolf coldly tells Mari to call out. Quickly after she yells out, a window by the front door is smashed as her mother crawls out, a victim of the plague.

Poor Mari… the loss she has experienced must be unbearable. What do you do after losing your family like that? And seeing in that way… What world is this that these actions are the best choice? Was it the best choice?

On my suggestion, we burned her house. Others were also coming through the broken window. They seemed to be unthinking, but how could we not check to see if anyone was alive, or if anyone had perhaps hidden themselves away? What were we thinking, to so quickly discount the possible survival of Mari’s family while not an hour before we put ourselves in danger to ensure the survival of those by the southern wall? I hope she did not see, but that is a hollow sentiment. Her family was not only destroyed, but  it was carried out in front her, with my help. I feel responsible, and will do what I can to make sure that she is able to recover, although I have no idea how. I will be haunted till the day I die by my part in that.

We have lost many. Mari said that there were over twenty in her household alone. Unless a cure is found and we manage to rebuff the undead (as Dolf calls them), we will lose many more. I have no idea how to stop a plague that cleaves the soul from the body. There is no way that a soul exists within the shells that are left – is there? Dolf says that they are not human anymore, and that it has something to do with black magic. If they are not human, how do you make them human again? If you can make them human again, then there must be some humanity left in the first place, no? Does this mean there is no cure?

Mari had turned away once she had seen her mom, and Aija had enough sense to keep her turned away as Dolf dropped another three with his holy fire while Vegard lit the drapes on fire through one of the window. The arrows I shot were thoroughly useless. That was it, a home and family condemned to be burned. No search for survivors, either before or after. Not even a thought to it.

As we returned to the road, a group of refugees had formed at the property line. A man was scratched on his neck, and Dolf healed him. We did not know how he got scratched, but it  quickly became apparent. Despite the healing, he still turned into an undead. Dolf admitted that his powers fall far short of what will be needed to cure anyone, and this was proof. Although everything happened quickly, Aija saved Mari at least twice from the thing swatting at her. Vegard’s rapier is useless. He ran the thing through, and it just began the climb up the sword. Jensa summoned a barrier of vines so as to stop any creatures who may have survived the fire from catching us by surprise. I had no idea she had that ability, but she is obviously far more than what she let on. Hans’s hammer, on the other hand, was not useless. His swing exploded the head and ended the creatures existence. It sprayed Mari in the face, but I think she came out unscathed, at least when speaking about her health. Her emotional health will be a different story.

Once again, everyone seems to be in state of shock. After all of this, Lone has a cut on her hand. Dolf cleans the wound, but we have seen that he is unable to curb the disease. I pray that she is ok, but there have been no signs of being infected.

After that, we decide to head to Aija’s mine. There are much fewer people, and it will be a place of refuge and respite.  It has been a day of death. Dolf says that they are not human, but I can see that he has trouble making that distinction. We need to rest. We need find out what is happening. To not search for answers would mean to live our days as we have lived the past few hours: on the run, fighting the infected as well as ourselves, and being suspicious of everyone. That is no way to live. I pray for my father’s safety, and for the safety of the group. As we move forward, I think it’s important to stay together. The suffering has just begun and more will follow. Everything has changed, and I am terrified of what is ahead.