Sending a Vieland army to attack Three Rivers isn’t the most satisfying of revenge on the Lumber Consortium but I’m not confident that I’m going to secure any better. I’m reluctantly crossing them off the List while reserving the right to further avenge myself on them at a later date. I don’t feel great about it but they’re proving to be a tough nut to crack. Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company was reckoned to be on be one of the movers and shakers in the Kingdom but I was able to completely ruin them without too much trouble. It helped that they were complicit in treasonous activity but even so they had a lot of clout in the halls of power and they still went down hard. The Lumber Consortium on the other hand I don’t think has any influence outside of the County, or very little, and they’re proving to be a far more stubborn opponent. Maybe the fact that their providence is smaller helps them? K&B most likely had people trying to drag them down I gave them the chance. Perhaps no one with enough power to do anything cares about the Lumber Consortium.
Point is I’m done with them for now. I tried to the road back to Narhold and that displeased the collar around my neck forcing me northward. And since the road north is crawling with Vieland soldiers (for some reason) I took off into the woods. That always works well for me. As you might imagine a gigantic warhorse is not well suited for picking your way through the trees and underbrush so I did significantly more leading than riding. I had to use my Beastspeech several times to keep the big lummox moving. In case you were wondering animals can be jerks. And this guy is. It’s probably not really his fault, I’m sure he was bred and trained to be like this, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I’ve heard tell that the savages that live out on the plains indulge in horse-fighting instead of civilized bloodsports like dog-fighting or bear-baiting. In my less charitable moments that’s where I feel this fellow belongs.
Since I can’t ride him and since he probably needs a ton of food and since I don’t really care about all that armor he’s carrying I was thinking about just turning him loose. But just about the time I was convincing myself to do that was also the time when I noticed a form in the underbrush stalking after us. Some folks call them stalhounds, others call them festrogs, they have many names – but a rose by any other name would smell as rotting. Whatever you call them what they are is undead wolves with slack limbs and empty eyes driven by the needed to slaughter the living – and not just kill, terrorize and dismember first. I would imagine it was keeping its distance on account of big hairy brute beside me, if I had been alone I’m sure it would have attacked.
Certain types, your intellectuals and academics and whatnot like to speculate on why the living dead spend all their time trying to kill us. Is it because they envy the living? Is it because of the dark magic that propels them forward? Is it to avenge their own deaths against the entire world? This is a great example of pointless conjecture – the undead want to kill us, does it really matter why? I can assure you when you have a zombie wolf eyeballing you (metaphorically, as they have no remaining eyes) you don’t worry about its motivations in the least.
The crossbow I stole from the commander was as huge and awkward as his stupid jerk horse. It makes no sense for an officer to have something like this, it’s not like he’s going to be standing shoulder to shoulder with a unit of crossbowmen firing at the enemy, he should have a smaller weapon that he can keep around all the time in case things go sideways. I managed to get it loaded once and fire at the skulking beast but I don’t think I hit it and I gave up on the idea of a second shot quickly. I can barely raise the thing to my shoulder. I suppose if it comes at me I can throw the crossbow at it, this thing weights thirty pounds it feels like.
The good news is with this murder-collar on me for once I can always make sure I’m heading essentially in the right direction – if I get turned around it lets me know by starting to kill me. The bad news is that as the day wore on several more undead wolves turned up the join the very slow silent “hunt”. Anticipating that they would eventually reach a critical mass where a single warhorse wasn’t going to keep them at bay anymore my first thought was to mount up and ride, despite the dangers of doing so in dense woods, but I quickly realized that was futile – the chances of enduring beyond the capacity of a living wolfpack is a tough prospect, and if there’s one thing the undead have going for them it’s that they don’t get tired and they don’t give up.
Unfortunately I wasn’t coming up with a second thought very quickly. It was hard to tell how many of the beasts there were as the day worse on since it was dark and they kept to the shadows, but I’m pretty sure there were at least six, and based on the stench there could have been more. However many they were they were emboldened enough to get closer. I think attack was imminent when I spotted a lumber camp in the distance. I leapt onto Stanger’s back and set him to as fast as a gallop as I thought prudent given the terrain. Still I was almost thrown away just by the force of him moving beneath me – it was a jolt to the spine when he started running in earnest. I don’t think he liked those creatures sneaking about any more than I did. They didn’t chase us, which is always unsettling. Whenever you run away from a deadly menace and it just watches you go you have to wonder what’s you’re running towards.
The camp was abandoned, what with the war and all, but there were six men in a line in the middle of the place – hands tied behind them. Five had been beheaded, one on the end had had his throat slashed, maybe the ax had gotten dull before they got to him but if anyone should have a good supply of sharp axes it would be loggers. They weren’t wearing uniforms but I think they were Vielanders. With that cheery sight revealed I headed for what is generally the most secure building in a place like this – the paymaster’s hut. I tied the reins over the saddlehorn to make sure they wouldn’t get in Stranger’s way, refraining from touching him as I used the Beastspeech.
“If those things come up here stomp them in the head, keep your back to the wall here, make sure they don’t get behind you.”
He horse-snorted “I don’t need you tell me how to fight wolves female.”
See what I mean? Jerk. I went inside and checked the hidden compartment that I know now is usually in these places – I’ve been in a depressing amount of lumber camps at this point. It was empty, the entire place had been cleaned out other than a massive desk that was probably too heavy to shift easily. Even the chair for the desk was gone. I took a seat to consider my options.
“I don’t remember inviting you in.”
The voice belonged to a shaggy wolfman that was couching in the corner. It was covered with dark fur that was matted and tangled in ways that looked painful. There’s no way I could have overlooked it but yet there it was catching me unawares. When I think of a werewolf I think of a full wolf-head with a long snout but this being wasn’t like that – it was more like a wolf-skin face stretched over a flat noseless human skull. It wasn’t a good look. Not helping the overall appearance was the fact that this was clearly dead – not only were its guts splitting out of its belly like an apron but it had deep gouges across both arms and the back of the neck. Whatever it was it was deader than a doornail, yet there it crouched.
“I let myself in.”
It made an odd coughing noise “Hasn’t anyone told you that’s very inconsiderate? What would your mother say? Not to mention it can be very dangerous as well, you never know who could be home.”
“Clearly. I thought that werewolves turned back into humans when they died, how do you end up a zombie werewolf?”
“How should I know?”
“Because you are one?”
It made a raspy wheezing noise that I think was supposed to be laughter, sounded like it really had to work to push out that rattle “Zombie werewolf, that’s a good one.”