Part 2 In The ‘Cursed Creature’ Supernatural Horror Series
A cool mist shrouded their escape. The heavy tattoo of drummers kept rhythm for the longboat’s rowing crewmen. Many seats lay empty, forcing the remaining hunched and weary shoulders to compensate. Their chieftain watched as they closed in on the next longboat.
“Are you sure this is wise, Harald,” asked a nearby raider. “Our men grow weak. We still have a chance to escape and gather our strength before meeting again.”
Harald’s stare didn’t break from the encroaching ship, even as cold winds bit into him. A leather skullcap strapped to his head did little to ward off the chill. His calloused fingers dug into the gunwale, whitening his knuckles. Harald’s bloodshot eyes caught shadowed heads shifting upon its deck.
“I believe you know the answer to that, Braum,” said the Chief. He placed a hand on the handle of his ax. “After what he’s done…I refuse to let them escape.”
Braum nodded. He placed a hand around the handle of his ax and rose it high in the air.
“Press hard men!” Braum marched down between both sets of rowers. “On this night, we take them to Valhalla!”
“Ho,” came the rally of all who heard him, rumbling the wooden planks beneath their furred boots.
Sails shifted with the crew’s adjusted oars. A dragon-carving leading Chief Harald Stergerson’s ship revealed fangs to their pursuers.
“Do you trust our numbers will hold,” asked Braum. “We’ve lost many on our last encounter with them.”
Harald turned to Braum, his tangled beard widening the Chief’s appearance. Furs wrapped over his tan tunic, swaying in the challenging gust. He reached for his leather-bound ax. A fur-trimmed, oval shield rested with familiar comfort in his other hand.
“If you are that frightened of death, Braum, you can stay back on your farm with the rest of the women.” Chief Harald turned to his crew with his ax held high. “My berserkers, find your strength! You’ll need it this night!”
Three of the remaining dozen men rose to their feet. Bear-pelts masked their faces, but not the crimson lust sparkle in their eyes. They roared into the night, drowning out any adversary’s rally-cry.
The berserker’s rage mustered Stergurson’s other raiders for battle, reddening their faces. Their Chief clanged his shield and ax, encouraging the rest to pound the gunwale in cadence. The wooden frame splintered with each strike their large fists dealt upon it. Those unable to strike the vessel beat their chest or cried out. With their war pulse at an apex, Stergurson bellowed over his trusted berserkers. His broad chest widened with every breath.
“After these long two nights, you may be looking upon a ship to Valhalla, my brothers.” His ax pointed to one of the wooden crates holding their raid’s rewards. “But to the survivors, we shall share a King’s wealth! Join me in heated battle until cold iron takes you!”
One by one, the raiders lined up, sword or ax at the ready. Shouting from both ships filled the seas. Chief Stergurson peered over his rallied fellows. The thought of having lost so many men already weighed on his chest. Every fallen blade and bloody face surfaced in his mind. A snarl curled his lips.
Revenge guided the Chief’s eyes up the mast, to a tense rope, trembling in the wind. He followed it down to the end of its tether, then swung his ax above the knot. Chief Harald took the loose rope with one hand and ran for the gunwale. His boot found the ship’s edge as he lunged into the air.
Chief Harald felt the rope grow taut as it swung him closer to his foes. He timed his release, crashing onto the foreign vessel. Stergurson tucked and rolled into a man padded with furs. His ax followed. A cleaving strike exposed the raider’s skull, sending brain matter everywhere.
Another arcing chop from the Chieftain’s ax sent several of his foes stumbling back. The ax swung with wild fury, striking any injured raider too slow to evade Chief Harald’s assault. Those unfortunate enough to be caught in his swing were hacked down. Blood sprayed into the dozens of shadows behind. Those still able to fight roared; threatening Stergurson’s life in exchange for the crimson tides washing over them.
Boards cracked and splintered beneath the invading Chieftain. His feet remained firm with each landing blow. Blood and intestines sprayed his face. Exposed bones laying in crimson pools were all the Chief left behind. A familiar drake-headed ship shredded the hunted vessel’s gunwale into floating splinters. The longboat rocked, throwing raiders to one side. Balance restored as Stergurson’s men boarded. Their weapons flailed in wild directions to form a blood-smeared path to their Chieftain.
“Anything you find is yours, men” Stergurson shouted. Veins bulged from his neck. “Grab your spoils while you can, she’s taking on water!”
A weight collided into Stergurson’s shoulder. Keen fangs sunk into his exposed bicep, tearing at flesh and muscle. Snarls from his furred foe distracted him from a rival raider’s approach. The unfamiliar man aimed his ax for Chief Harald.
Stergurson dropped to a knee. His weapon fell from a waining grip. Fangs tore into his throbbing arm once more. Chief Harald opened his eyes through the biting pangs, to find his wrist spilling with blood. An exposed bone pointed to who caused the injury. Crimson streaks glistened off an ax blade held by a furred, fingerless-glove. Its dark wooden shaft bore four claws, with a wolf’s head carved alongside its blade. Stergurson’s blood bathed the etching, its teeth tasting his loss. The ax’s wielder smiled through his long, copper beard.
“Ah, she’s got ya’ now, she has,” said the raider. “You got bit by the cursed wolf; Bölvaður Ulfur. A rather painful end is coming to you, I swear upon it!”
Harald’s lip curled, revealing plaque between his teeth and gums. His body flexed in defiance of the man’s words. His good hand reached for the creature over his shoulder. It took all the Chief’s strength to bellowed a battle cry as the dog landed at his master’s feet.
The beast stood up to lunge once more, revealing stained fangs in its movement. Chief Harald swung his good fist back at the animal. His oval shield connected with its teeth. He felt a shift in weight as fangs were forced back against their gummed roots. Pieces and shards crumbled down the dog’s throat. A loud whimper came with an ease of pressure off Stergurson’s back.
The copper-bearded raider rose in his fur-shrouded vestments. He hoisted his wolf-ax over the Chieftain once more. This time, Harald saw the glimmer of the raised weapon. He charged its wielder, shield overhead, until he collided into his foe. Both men crashed to the ground, singing steel marked the ax’s collapse to the floor. Stergurson’s blood poured over both combatants. Whitened knuckles lost their grip beneath splatters of crimson and bloody wads. Eyes stung from the splashing hemorrhages., but that didn’t halt either raider from shouting and brawling.
Chief Stergurson threw blow after blow, landing smears of blood across the raider’s cheek. A dog’s snarl caught Harald’s ear, stunning the injured man. The copper-bearded man threw Stergurson to the ground in his moment of hesitation.
Harald felt the throbbing in his arm as it took the impact of his fall. His cheek and nose hit the ground with enough force that both men heard his nose break. Through a bloody haze, Stergurson saw his copper-bearded foe coil his arm to throw a punch.
A final thought of survival came over the Chieftain. He reached for the man’s coiling arm, taking hold with his weakened arm. Harald pulled on the resistant limb and reached for the raider’s waist with his good arm. Two or three pat-downs revealed a carved handle strapped to his belt. Chief Stergurson wrapped his fingers around the weapon and drew its blade. He sunk the dirk deep into the mounted man’s hip. A second tug freed the blade, allowing him to plunge it into the man’s side.
The raider pulled away from the Chief, reaching for his injuries. Harald found his feet while searching for a more durable weapon. The clash of iron and steel in surrounding skirmishes staggered the Chief. He clutched his right arm as blood matted hair and furs around his shoulder.
A familiar wolf-engraved ax, glistening in blood, laid on the deck within his grasp. Stergurson’s fingers wrapped around its handle. He waited with a salivating grin as the raider struggled to remove the knife from his side. Stergurson waited for the raider to free the knife from its fleshy sheath. He then swung the blade of Bölvaður Ulfur down, deep into the wrist of its former owner. Bones snapped and muscle spilled out. Tendons dangled in search of a hand, curled up, and limp on the deck.
Growling tugged at the Chieftain’s attention. The rumble of paws quickened beneath his boots. He looked up to find a dog, bleeding from its lips, charging after him. A sharp flick of Harald’s wrist and a flash of iron found the airborne dog’s throat. Animal’s blood sprayed the men nearby. The dog’s carcass crashed before his kneeling, copper-haired master. Tears filled his eyes.
“Ya’ heap of shite,” the man’s raspy tone cried out. Blood seeped between his fingers in a failing attempt to suppress his own wound. “May that blade’s curse ruin your house!”
Stergurson didn’t wait for another insult. He took a deep breath and swung the ax with all his might. The blade sliced through the kneeling man’s neck. Tendons and veins flailed in their new-found freedom. Crimson streaked the man’s neck before his head flopped off his shoulders. It splattered along the hardwood. His beard dampened, as pale eyes rolled to the back of his head. The body collapsed, oozing out onto the deck.
Raiders from both sides tripped over the corpse of the copper-bearded man and his dog. This new obstacle gave Harald opportunity to hack at approaching foes as they stumbled. Blood flew through the air, dripping into the sinking hull of the ship. Stergurson looked up to his longboat as their battleground lowered to the sea.
“Take what you can reach in this moment,” said the Chieftain. “We go with haste!”
“We’ve taken nothin’ but blood and lives,” came a voice. “Let us get our loot!”
“They’ve taken too much water,” Stergurson bellowed. “Consider the reward being they’re goin’ down and not us!”
The raider rocked against the sinking ship, not yielding until he stood a breath away from Chief Stergurson.
“Not ’til we see the share you promised us!”
The submerging longship did not bother Harald Stergurson and his relentless stare. A shift of his body sent the wolf-ax through the air, cleaving the man’s head from his shoulders. The leather helm guarding his head separated from his scalp before either landed. Stergurson rose his ax high and turned to his men.
“Does anyone else want any more of his share,” Chief Stergurson asked.
With no one responding, Stergurson made his way back to the longboat. His ax met every opposing raider in his wake. His ax sunk into the meaty shoulder of an approaching foe. Stergurson’s actions froze when he heard another dog’s snarl. He searched and found a dog standing over the fallen bodies. The Chieftain’s eyes fell upon it, causing his functioning arm to tremble.
The dog stepped from the shadows, blood dripping from a gash in its neck. Crimson stains marked its teeth. The beast’s advances forced Harald back. He pointed his weapon at the dog. His paled cheeks chattered until he found the words to crack his throat with.
“How…do you live,” he asked. “I…I watched your life bleed out.”
A bark signaled the dog’s pounce. Stergurson fell, crashing back into the siding of his imposing ship. It lunged, biting and gnawing on his already limp arm. The Chief’s raiders did not react to his cries for aid as the growling monster clawed at him.
The Chieftain hurled a punch at the dog, cracking its ribs. The animal whimpered with its descent to the deck once more. Stergurson shifted the weight of his ax and swung down on the dog’s neck. Soft flesh erupted with blood, giving way to the snap of the dog’s spin. A final cry escaped the beast, leaving it still. Blood splattered Stergurson’s eyes, burning his vision.
After wiping away the crimson smears, Stergurson searched for his wolf-ax. Stinging eyes found it embedded in splinters of the longboat’s deck. No animal, man, or creature within the wreckage around the ax. Wood shavings lay in place of blood and spilled organs he once saw from the dog. Stergurson reached for his cheek, swiping at a stain. It’s dark ichor and bitter taste resembled blood, but its owner had been lost to the Chieftain’s eyes. He lost his breath. Stergurson fell back. His head bounced off the splintered floor.
“Our Chief’s fallen,” shouted a fair-haired raider. “Braum, aid me in carrying him!”
Both raiders wrapped an arm around their chief’s shoulders. They dragged Harald away as he flailed and shouted curses about a dead beast. In his thrashing, Stergurson’s fingers grazed the wolf ax’s handle. He latched onto it before being dragged away.
One of the Chief’s raiders deflected assaults with his shield. The other continued lunging his spear into anything charging at them. A wedged-formation grew from those nearby. Any unfamiliar raider that got too close collapsed by sword or spear. One of Stergurson’s berserkers entered the fray with his ax, burying itself in another raider’s chest. Bones snapped inward, leaving him gasping for air. He fell to the floor, pulling at the wound, cascading with blood. The opening in his chest revealed flailing lungs take their final breath. His fellow raiders watched, frozen in place, while Chief Harald’s men escaped onto their ship.
Moans of those dying echoed through the night’s darkness. Rowing oars splashed in cadence of a tattooing drum. Every stroke pulled them further from the sinking wreckage. No one spoke until they were far from danger, and Harald had been tended to.
“Told ya’, Thorir,” a voice murmured. “We had no need givin’ chase to ‘em.”
Thorir pulled his fair hair back to examine dozens of bleeding bodies littering the ship’s hull. With eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw many lying still, having passed into Odin’s grasp.
“How’s that, Braum?” Thorir attempted to wipe a crimson stain from his forehead, only smudging it instead. He dried his hand along a furred vestments beneath his beard, already matted by a fellow raider’s blood.
Braum pointed to Chief Stergurson. The large man rested on his back. Blood still glistened within torn furs around his neck and shoulders. Slashes and puncture wounds marked his arm, bleeding down his torso. A darkness oozed out with the blood.
“Must’ve been poisoned by one of them,” said Braum. He pointed to the string of bite marks that climbed up the chief’s arm. “These are whispers to a much louder conversation. Did you see Harald swing his ax in all directions before falling with tears in his eyes?”
They fell silent to watch the Chief reach for his stomach. His groan crawled through the hull. When he fell silent, Thorir continued.
“Did they gut him too?”
Braum shook his head. He inspected his chief from head to foot. He stopped to observe a weapon laying at the chief’s side. A wooden shaft carved with claws of a wolf climbed up to a dog’s head engraved upon the blade. He only realized a crack in the dark, wooden handle after Stergurson’s fingers loosened around the weapon. He brought the blade closer to examine the wolf’s head. Chief Harald’s trembling fingers wrapped around Braum’s wrist.
“Gothi!” Thorir reached for his chief. “Can you stand?”
The Chief shook his head, cringing at the sight of the blade. Both hands returned to his stomach. Whitened knuckles pulled at his tattered vestments.
“Drop it…Braum! Be rid…the accursed blade.”
Braum stared into the wolf’s eye. Dried crimson flickered from an illumination leading up from the ship’s deck.
“Best do as he says, Braum,” said Thorir.
Braum snarled at the weapon’s engraving.
“You do not truly believe this weapon to be cursed do you?” Braum leaned over his chief. His dark hair draped over Stergurson’s face. “What proof do you have that it’s cursed?”
“He cursed…cursed it.”
Braum looked to Thorir. He smirked. A scoff echoed through the belly of the ship.
“You believe this to be cursed, Chief Harald?” His belly rumbled with laughter again. “Shall we turn back and apologize? Perhaps then we will surrender to the Catholics so we do not hurt their feelings, also?”
“Braum.” Thorir pointed to their chief. A shudder traveled down Harald’s back. He made one last desperate swing his raiders. Both men leaned back, evading the limp back-hand.
“Away,” Harald cried. “Away!”
Stergurson’s bloodshot eyes darkened. He sealed them shut, opening once more to reveal golden irises. Crimson ichor oozed from his pores. Bones grew, snapping with every motion. Slabs of flesh peeled off the Chief and splattered to the floor. Coarse strands of copper fur grew in its place. Blood hemorrhaged from keen nails that replaced Harald’s fingers.
Stergurson reached for Braum’s hand. The raider’s bones snapped beneath the Chief’s enlarged grip. Dark blood poured from between his furred fingers. Braum’s whimper turned to grunts. His free hand scratched and pulled at the monstrous claws. Copper fur now enveloped Stergurson’s body. Shreds of skin lay in muddied pools along the hardwood floor. Braum pulled and tugged to free himself, but the beast refused to yield.
“Thorir! Thorir,” Braum cried. “Bring your aid!”
Thorir paled. His eyes remained focused on the bottle-shaped nose Harald grew. Ears sprouted from the peak of his head. Lips curled into a snarl, unveiling rows of fangs. A deep tone crawled from its hoarse throat.
“Be rid…my blade. My last plea.”
A shift of the beast’s arm tore Braum’s hand from his wrist with two sharp snaps. Bones protruded from his limb. Blood peppered Thorir and the beast. Braum fell back, his hand clutching at a splintered stub.
“Be rid of it.”
The beast took hold of the fallen ax and hurled it through the air. It’s hissing edge found the soft flesh of Braum’s neck. Snaps of bone marked his head’s departure. A wet clap against the wooden floor splattered blood across the beast’s clawed feet.
Braum’s cursed ax continued its cycle through the air until it found the rear of the ship. Moonlight shined down the ladder, reflecting a new crimson shine off the engraved wolf. Its eyes glimmered up at a young boy-first to react to the shouting and pleading below. He descended the ladder’s steps with familiar ease. A growling burrowed into his ears. Death’s odor caused his nose to flare, filling his throat with bile.
“A-Alek,” came a voice.
The boy found Thorir pinned to the wall, with the raider’s arm extended toward him. The man’s fingers cringed with every movement. Blood dripped from his nails. His feet dangled off the floor. Alek felt his legs give out as he looked upon the bipedal beast holding his fellow raider. Clawed fingers borrowed through Thorir’s rib cage. Ichor dribbled around his lips.
Golden irises turned to Alek. The boy reached for the wall to aid his trembling retreat. As he rose, his fingers found a cracked hilt embedded in the wall. The wood warmed his grip but pinched his skin. Several sharp yanks failed to free the weapon. Chills streaked his hands in sweat with each tug of the ax handle.
“Alek!” A voice from above shouted. “Give me your hand!”
The boy looked back to the growling beast. It’s long talons slashed at its already pinned prey. Bones protruded from Thorir’s chest, allowing blood to drip from cavity and claw alike. The man flailed and cried out. His arms slowed as his legs dangled. Within moments, Thorir’s body dropped with a limp crash.
The beast turned to Alek. His young hands pushed and tugged at the ax’s hilt. Its eyes glistened from moonlight exposed by thinning clouds. A final yank freed the wolf-ax. The weight of the weapon drew Alek stumbling forward a few steps. He found his footing in time to face his foe with the wolf-ax held high. Alek’s hazel eyes found the creature in time for its rigid forearm to crumple him to the floor. Keen claws followed. The ax twirled into the sky, crashing somewhere on the upper deck, marked by a thud.
Strings of intestines littered the floor beneath the ladder. Alek’s pallor faded. He looked up to several heads and dark eyes staring down at him. To one side lay his legs, mangled and bent in unnatural fashions. Blood pooled around them. His eyes widened with the realization of his hemorrhaging body.
The creature’s head rose to meet the raiders staring down the hatch. Its ears twitched in recognition. Eyes settled upon a man whose face remained covered by a studded, nose-guarded helm. The wolf’s ax rested in his calloused grasp.
Its legs bent, further defining the muscles around its knees. The beast sprang upward. Its claws found the man. The assault stopped when its shoulder slammed against the upper deck. One claw reached out, swinging in wild arcs. Claws shredded a nearby raider’s calf. Muscles and spilled out into pools of crimson as bones protruded from his leg. The man collapsed with a cry.
A sword hacked at the creature’s shoulder. Dark ichor spilled with every swing of the blade. The beast collapsed through the opening and down to the floor below. Its crash caused the ship to rock along the chopping waves.
“Close the hatch,” said one of the men.
“What if there are survivors down there,” another asked.
“We’re no good to them dead, replied the raider.
A grunt echoed up from the beast as it resisted the raider’s counter-assault. Many of them reached the hatch’s wooden door and were able to slam it shut, silencing any further noise it made. An almond-haired man stood over the hatch. He took in deep inhales through clenched teeth. He pointed to the raider, lying on the boat’s floor.
The raider’s leg bent at an odd angle. Splintered bones from a shattered kneecap protruded through his skin. Splinters from the beast’s attack pierced his exposed, limp tendons. He whimpered through threaded breaths. His hands struggled to slow the bleeding.
“Tend to our brother,” said the raider, standing above the door. “Andreas might yet make it!”
Raiders surrounded the injured man. Blood splashed beneath their feet. One of the men turned to the raiders standing over the hatch.
“Henke,” called out a raider. “He won’t live unless we find land soon!”
Henke pulled back strands of almond hair invading his vision to scan the ship’s surroundings. The encroaching mist offered little aid, as a damp chill tapped his spine. He shivered.
“Continue rowing then! Til we find land!”
Henke took hold of a nearby ax. The same wolf-carved weapon that had fallen free of Andreas’ grip when he fell. He rose the weapon high over his head, the wolf’s eyes glimmered over them in a stained crimson stare.
“The rest of ya’, be at the ready in case this beast wishes for more blood!”
Several followed Henke’s commands and raced to their oars. A rhythm reverberated in their ears, down to their fingers. They froze with a realization: the drumbeat came from below deck. Each raider turned to another. The noise crept closer to Henke, its thumping fell in cadence with each breath. The pounding continued until it shook his boots. Henke leapt back, silencing the tone. Once he found his footing, all they heard were waves crash against their longboat.
The creaking of boards broke through the silence. Wooden fragments erupted towards the sky. Several of the raiders saw the furred claw reach for Henke. Keen nails wrapped around his leg, digging into soft tissue.
Claws yanked on him, encouraging his plummet into the darkened depths below. Bloody muscles and stained bones revealed themselves from a single slash. Henke fell, reaching out for anything that might save him. His effort came to a stop when his jaw caught the edge of a splintered board. A second sharp yank from the beast below forced the wood to dig deeper into Henke’s jaw. The jagged peak found its way through soft flesh. The beast gave another heave. This time, wood protruded through his mouth with a crimson sheen. His jaw widened as the board kept him in place.
Henke’s attempt to cry out came as little more than whimpers. He swung the ax into the boat’s deck, keeping him from descending into the creature’s domain. The wolf upon his blade bit deep into the floorboard, but it intended to only save itself. Another pull dragged Henke into the shadows, without the ax.
Shrieks echoed from the boat’s darkness. Cries of mercy were cut short. Blood erupted from the hole where the hatch once stood and rained down upon them with the rolling thunder of the beast’s snarl. Two furred claws slammed against the longboat’s upper deck, scraping boards with each swing.
A nearby raider reached for the wolf ax rattling on the deck, next to the beast’s claws. His fingers wrapped around the cracked shaft. A swift swing sunk the blade into the top of the monster’s hand. Its limb cringed with a mournful howl. Only the wolf-ax wielder stood to oppose the beast. He freed his blade from the monster’s hand, readying another blow.
Gilt eyes rose from within the darkness. Black ichor oozed from its clawed-hand. It lunged for the raider wielding the wolf ax, stopping moments before landing a strike. The raider staggered back, exposing thin skin protecting his throat. An uninjured claw reached out, finding the ax wielder’s neck. A threaded beat of blood warmed its boney fingers.
The claw lashed out for the attacking raider. Its claws wrapped around him. A hard yank dragged by the large caws embedded in the meat of his calf muscle. Splinters and broken boards raked his body. The furs draped around him became entangled within the wooden fractures. Another tug from below caused the raider to scream for mercy. He looked back to his brothers, tears filled his eyes. His fingers stretched out for them.
“Hurry! We can still save him,” cried a raider.
Those remaining, hesitated as a howl pierced their ears. It rumbled from the deck, and into their boots The monster pulled its prey into the darkness. A shriek followed him below. One of the splintered boards gouged the soft skin beneath his arm. Blood sprayed up toward the moon. His wolf ax fell to the deck in a pile of muscle and pieces of bone. Bloody tendons marked the trail, following him into the shadows.
Silence returned. Waves crashed in rhythm against the raider’s ship. Their eyes widened at a furred monster crawling out from the darkened veil. The raiders stepped back, two not swift enough to evade the striking monster. Cries and grunts echoed into the night. Blood rose to meet the sky. The beast swung at the raiders with every attempt to climb free. Each strike caused the longboat to sway back and forth. Wood whimpered beneath the beast’s heavy weight. Those sturdy enough to stay upright on the rocking boat, found its gilt eyes glaring back at them.
A dark ichor streamed down the beast’s shoulder. The monster flexed its injured limb. Slow puffs of air came from its long nostrils.
“It grows weary, men,” cried one of the raiders. “If it can bleed, it can die! Hack it down!”
“Rally to Christof,” one cried. He motioned to the man leading the charge.
The near dozen raiders still able to swing a blade, charged behind Christof. Their foe snarled to meet the challenge. Its muscles flexed, showing physical definition through dark fur. Christof and his men faltered at the beast’s show of strength. The beast’s stronger arm clenched a fist and swung down on him. Christof barreled into two others. Both men slid across the floor. They stopped, motionless, against the gunwales.
Cries of vengeance and agony filled the moonlit sky. Christof’s spinning vision returned at the sight of both men laying still. Crimson pools pooled around them. His fingers patted the floor in search of his sword. He found nothing but splinters. A glance into the battle revealed his men’s dwindling numbers. He looked to his other side, hoping there’d be anything with a keen edge nearby. That’s when the eye of a wolf-ax glimmered at him. Christof’s bloody fingers wrapped around the ax’s cracked handle. The night offered no time to inspect his new weapon’s condition.
Christof looked to his side. He searched until he found a pair of slumped, furred shoulders. Every pant widened its chest more than the last. The raiders left standing mirrored the beast’s stance. Fatigue weakened their knees.
“Do not halt men,” Christof shouted. “It is weak! Show no mercy!”
The two men nearest to the beast, challenged it, with swords held high. Before either man landed their blow, a heavy swing from the beast’s claw caught one of them. His helm soared through the air, splashing somewhere into the sea. The raider’s head snapped against the claw’s impact. A limp neck turned his glazed eyes to the men he had rallied alongside with. Christof willed both knees to lockout as he watched blood dribble from his fellow’s mouth. The mangled body fell forward with a crash. It landed, forcing a sharp exhale; his spirit’s departure for Valhalla.
A mass of armor and flesh collided with Christof during his distraction. The wind forced its way out of his lungs. Death’s stench filled Christof’s nose. He coughed on blood trickling into his throat. His head bounced off the longboat’s deck. The mass pressed against his torso, forcing Christof to one side. His hand slipped and found the bloody remains of a dead man’s arm. Its protruding bone tapped Christof’s forehead. Pink stains revealed where flesh had been torn off.
Christof’s trembling knuckles whitened around the wolf’s ax as he returned to his feet. The cry of revenge had silenced. Iron no longer hissed through the air. Christof looked upon the beast. Its long claws wrapped around a raider’s head and neck. The beast swung him overhead. With a single-arm, it drove the man back down to the wooden floor. Snapping bones marked the raider’s impact. Teeth scattered across the floor to soak in nearby crimson pools.
“Release him,” said Christof.
The beast swung the raider once more. This time, his limp body wrapped around the mast. Eyes burst open, spilling down the raider’s face. He made no sound and gave no effort to resist his fall as the monster released him.
Gilt eyes fell upon Christof. The raider took hold of an oval shield and steadied it below his vision. The wolf-ax rested in his whitened knuckles. Christof bent his knees, mimicking the readiness of the creature. Sweat beaded his forehead. A slight dizziness reminded him to take in a breath.
The monster lunged. Christof stepped to one side, with his shield pushing the beast’s furred shoulder. It’s impact forced Christof to stagger back several steps. The wolf-ax fell loose from his hand. Christof glanced back for his weapon. Too far from reach, he reached for anything that may have been laying behind him. His fingers grazed a wooden shaft. It felt thicker than the wolf’s ax and far heavier. Christof peered back and found he held part of an oar. A guttural growl summoned his attention once again.
Claws dug into the wooden floor, propelling the monster forward. It’s bottled-snout opened, revealing pink-stained fangs. Every muscle within Christof begged to swing the oar. His heels dug into the deck, forcing himself to wait for the proper moment. The monster swung its uninjured arm. There, Christof found his opening. An upward, arcing swing caught the beast’s chin, dislodging fangs from bleedings gums.
The beast slid along the floor, with bits of shattered fangs scattered all around. It laid still for several moments, each exhale accompanied by a whimper. Christof held the shield with one hand and used his oar as a crutch with the other. Blood from a head wound spilled in his eyes. His vision burned, but he refused to blink while the monster struggled to lift itself. Three of its limbs trembled in an attempt to rise.
It crashed back to the floor, where another raider laid, tending to a gaping wound in his chest. The man’s body caved in beneath the monster’s weight. Cries for help were cut short by the beast’s collapse. His crushed friend’s hand reached for Christof, then curled to hold death in a cold grasp. Christof’s nostrils flared. He readied himself again, waiting for the beast to rise.
“Come on!” He swashed his shield against the oar. “Get up! Get up ya, fury bast’d!”
The monster’s lip curled, revealing several remaining fangs intact. It’s stare stunned Christof. The raider released a warcry, freeing him of his fear as he charged the beast.
The monster rose to greet its incoming prey. Gilt eyes reflected in Christof’s shield. A metal stud strapped on it, sliced through one of the monster’s eyes. Pus and blood flowed down its snout.
The impact of Christof’s blow forced the monster back to the floor. Nothing but a rise of its chest showed it still lived. Even its uninjured arm remained at ease. Christof dropped his shield, fingers clenched around his oar. The screams of dying fellows rang in his ears. Many still looked up to the sky with glazed eyes in search of Valhalla.
Christof howled into the night. His arms flexed as they swung the oar down on the beast’s neck. A grunt escaped the monster’s throat with each of Christof’s blows. The beast reached out, clawing at the floor. It’s arm tensed in an attempt to pull itself away from the raider. Christof’s face reddened.
“Come ‘ere,” he said.
Christof swung the oar down with all his lingering strength. The oar’s dented side hacked at the monster’s neck. Its head snapped upward with the separation of its spine. The monster fell limp. Christof hoisted his oar. Another strike confirmed its death. The oar’s neck cracked. Christof’s revenge-filled final blow snapped the oar in half.
The raider collapsed to his knees. His legs splashed in a puddle of another’s blood. He leaned on his hands for support. Tears swelled in his eyes.
“Is…is anyone…alive?” Christof glanced around the longboat with a quivering jaw. “I beg of you…Thor, somebody, answer me!”
A knock on wood stiffened Christof’s ears. Another knock followed. The rhythm came slow and steady, somewhere far off. The tattoo of his heart pounded in his ears.
“The belly of the boat,” he whispered.
Christof staggered to the edge of the ship. He stepped around mangled bodies and stray intestines. Limbs lay folded in odd fashions. He caught sight of the moon’s reflection in the eye of a wolf-engraved ax. Christof froze. A hand missing two fingers rested on top of it, shielding it from further harm. Blood spilled from the missing extremities and onto the blade. The wolf’s eye still shimmered in crimson moonlight. Its shaft remained intact, even with a slim crack going down its center. No other weapons lay near it.
The lone raider crouched down. Exhaustion pulled him to his knees. Blood stuck to his fingers as he grabbed the wolf’s ax. The hand guarding it fell to the floor. Bloody streaks and tendons splattered upon impact. Christof looked up, contemplating if he should stand once again. His legs burned, but that knocking from down below meant someone else might be alive.
Christof used the wolf’s ax as leverage to help him rise. He faltered once when upright. Tired legs burned with each movement, guiding him to the splintered stairway of the ship’s belly. What few steps remained offered enough for Christof to crawl down. The knocking grew louder as he descended.
When Christof’s feet found solid flooring, he searched the room. He took a step forward and heard a splash. His foot felt damp through his leather boot. Looking down, he found the young boy who started joining their raids not long ago. The child’s torso and legs were torn apart from one another, kept together by a string of thin intestines. The boy’s pale hand reached out for his legs. Fear still lingered on his face, even after death.
The pounding rhythm Christof had adjusted to, changed. A gargle crept its way between the knocking. He pulled away from the boy.
Christof found a shadow shifting against the wall, drawing him closer. The wolf’s ax rose to the ready. His body chilled as he approached, yet sweat beaded his temples.
“Who…is still there,” came a voice.
Christof hesitated at the gargled tone. Holes from the battle on the deck allowed moonlight to aid in his search. A blue hue filled the hull. Christof’s eyes widened when he saw Thorir banging against a toppled shield with the blade of his sword. The shock of seeing another raider forced Christof to gasp. His glassy eyes reflected Thorir.
“Thorir…Thorir it’s me,” said Christof. “The monster’s dead. We’re…we’re safe.”
Thorir looked up. The shift in his body revealed a gaping hole in his chest. Organs hung outside his torso. Lungs shrunk and expanded with a quickened pace. Christof felt bile rise in his throat. Still, he approached his dying fellow. Moonlight glanced off his lowering blade. It’s reflection caught Thorir. When he first caught sight of it, Thorir appeared to tremble, but it soon grew into a violent shake.
“G-get…that away fr…from me!” Christof searched for what Thorir spoke of. The dying man pointed his sword at Christof. “I said…away with…with you and…that ax.”
“Thorir, what’s wrong,” asked Christof. “You must let me aid you.”
“Cursed…blade,” said Thorir. His rasping tone echoed through the hull.
Christof motioned for his ax. Thorir nodded. The dying raider curled up his body, reaching for his cavernous wound. His eyes slammed shut. A cry of agony filled the ship. Thorir’s mourning ended with a growl. Christof’s ears stiffened to the familiar sound.
“Thorir? Is that-,”
Christof’s words fell short as Thorir’s sobbing turned to snarls. Clouds passed. A bright blue hue of moonlight shined down on Thorir. Christof watched through swelling tears as his friend rolled about in the blood. His body flailed in all directions.
“Thorir, do not do this,” Christof shouted. “I will aid you! But you must fight it!”
Thorir pushed himself off the floor. A hand reached out for Christof.
“Get…away,” bellowed Thorir. “Now!”
Christof felt his knees give out. He crashed to the floor as Thorir rose. Streams of crimson outlined his growing frame. A bottlenose grew on the man’s face, allowing a deep howl to escape his lungs. Clouds covered the moon as flesh fell off Thorir in crimson slabs. When the moonlight returned, Christof looked at a dark-furred beast. Other than an almond tinge to its fur, the creature resembled what lay dead on the ship’s deck.
“What is this,” he asked. His nostrils flared. He tightened his grip around the ax. Christof willed his body to rise. “Is this…some sort of cursed den now? Is that what this ship has come to?”
The creature answered with a growl. Its broad torso revealed any injuries Thorir carried no longer remained. Fur, matted by blood, had taken place of the hole in his chest. A snarl revealed keen fangs. Claws retracted on the beast’s upper limbs.
“Then the pack dies tonight,” said Christof.
The two combatants readied themselves for the other. And by the battle’s end, the wolf-ax found itself sinking to the bottom of the sea, waiting for its next wielder…
Thank you for reading this story! If you enjoyed it, please give a ‘like,’ leave a comment, and keep your eye out for Part 3 of this Supernatural Horror Series on my Medium home page!
Filled with dread,