Here it is! I’ve been promising everyone a new excerpt from Draugr for a while now. This past month, I hit some pretty big milestones, most notably starting a Facebook author page, participating in a public reading of my short story The Gate, and hitting 1600 followers on my Twitter account! I’m so excited for this forward momentum, and what better way to celebrate than by releasing one more passage from my current WIP?
“Where is the gods-cursed thing?” Leif muttered. The campfire nearby still burned brightly, casting macabre shadows around his feet and that of Professor Whittaker, who stood next to him. His eyes watered, irritated by the smoke and blinded by the light. He wiped them on his sleeve. “Did you get a glimpse, Sam,” he said.
“Whatever it was, it was fast,” the professor answered. “Could it have been a fox or pine marten?” For a moment the two of them were silent, waiting in the stillness. And then the moon broke free of a wisp of cloud. “Over there!”
Leif followed Sam’s pointed finger and peered into the dimness. A snuffling, grunting sort of growl emanated from the stand of trees at the edge of the camp. His pulse rocketed into the stratosphere. Damn. Shit! The creature wasn’t a fox or pine marten. It was bigger.
He shoved Sam behind him and crouched low, hoping the light of the campfire would protect them. “Don’t move,” he hissed. “Don’t so much as breathe!”
Its voice, thin and muddled by the mist, wavered over to them. “Undying Man, Son of Dragons…Beware the Twice-Living.”
A miasma of rot and decay hit like a wave, and his mouth welled up with vomit. He knew what it was now. A memory, long-hidden, burst in his gut and clenched his bowels tight. “Run, Sam. Get back to your trailer and bolt the door. Now. Go!” He turned and shoved the professor back towards the fire. The man stumbled once, then vaulted over the embers and took off into the dark.
Leif’s fear choked him, and he skidded on gravel in a mad search for a smouldering log. Grasping one, he whirled back around in a crouch, torch guttering before finally flaring in his hand.
He saw the creature clearly now, creeping out from the shelter of the trees. It snarled, teeth reflecting the light of the flame. Two white eyes flashed. Fervently, he wished for his service weapon, which sat useless at the bottom of his duffel in the trailer.
“What do you want? Leave us alone,” he called.
The thing paced on all fours like a wolf. At his words, it paused in its advance and rasped, “Undying Man, the House of Spinners steers your fate. Beware the Twice-Living in the barrow.”
Rancid air seared his lungs, making him cough. “What does that mean? Why do you keep saying that?”
A second torch appeared at his elbow. Sam shot him a glance, and took a step forward, curiosity and disgust flickering along with the flames on his face. He held a kitchen knife in one hand. “So what is it?”
Grabbing his elbow to stop him, Leif said, “I told you to get lost. Don’t go near it, don’t talk to it, don’t even look at it.”
The creature continued repeating the same words, quietly, like a chant. Something ancient and feral called to his blood as it spoke, pulling him to join in. He clamped his jaw closed.
“What do they mean? Those words?” Sam whispered, awe tinging his voice.
He shook his head, dropping the vicious grip on his arm. “We need to go. Draw it away from the camp and the other diggers. Do you understand?”
Sam nodded. “I left my phone in my trailer. I’ll call someone.” He flipped the knife around, offering the handle.
He took it, and with an effort of will, dropped the torch. It sputtered and hissed in the dirt before going out. “No one would make it in time. Police can’t deal with this. Lock the door and hide in the shower. I’ll come for you when I can.”
Sam stood staring for a moment more, then turned his back on the creature and dropped his own torch. The two of them, without speaking, ran.
He forced himself behind Sam’s loping strides, his terror threatening to push him beyond human speed. Somehow, they kept from stumbling by the waning light of the moon.
The dark shape of Sam’s trailer appeared, and, utilizing a burst of speed, he shoved the professor into the door, hard. Then he whipped around and ran to the right, up the hill – straight toward the dig site. “Hey! I’m here! Catch me!”
The muscles of his legs powered him up the slope. His feet found traction in the gravel, and oxygen churned in his blood. In some corner of his brain, he felt grateful for his immortality. That kind of edge, or any kind of otherness, can be the deciding factor between life or death.
Ahead of him, a milky body emerged from the dark. Lithe and powerful, and humanoid in form. “Run on, warrior. It will not save you.” The creature veered from the path, out of sight around a boulder perched on a curve of the hill.
Onward he pushed, finally halting at the crest of the hill. The dig site splayed out in front of him, it furrows and trenches yawning like graves, obscured in the mist.
A scornful voice floated over the scene. “Leif Halfdan, Son of Dragons, Lord of Old. Many titles you have. But are you the man you claim?”
Where was it? He turned his head right and left, but could not locate the origin of the voice. Instead, he crouched low. “Well, actually, asshole,” he said. “You seem to be the one obsessed with names.” His fingers brushed the ground for a stone or stick or some sort of missile. The knife he kept tightly clenched in his other fist. No use losing his only weapon.
He heard a chuckle to his right, under one of the tents. “You’re right. But perhaps you can understand my preoccupation. You and I – we are old friends.”
His fingers brushed against cold metal. He gripped the object painfully and stood, eyes straining to see in the inky gloom. The moon retreated behind another cloud, thick and threatening rain. “Friend? I don’t know you. Twice-Living. More like undead. You’re a wraith or a ghost. I do not hold with ghosts. Too messy.”
The thing hissed softly.
Hazarding a few steps towards the tent, he said, “You can come out from hiding, creature. You don’t scare me.”
Its voice, when it came, was wistful, full of awe and longing. “Not a ghost, not a wraith. You know what I am, Viking. You know the slaughtering-runes. You heard the curse of the hoard. You read the message in the corpse of your lover. The House of Spinners calls to you. We’ve waited such a long time.”
He moved toward it, stepping carefully over trenches. His fists clutched their weapons tight. “You’ve followed me since I got here. You’re the one that called me, aren’t you? Before I even arrived.”
It rose, maybe ten feet in front of him, standing on two legs in the obscured moonlight. “I am bound to this place by blood and bone, gleaming gold, corpse and flame.” The mottled, rotten skin of its chest gleamed pale, moist with sweat or dew. Long and leanly-muscled arms ended in clenched fists, and two fever-bright eyes shone like candles.
“Draugr,” Leif whispered.