Recollections, 1960: The Island

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From the shore of Blood Lake, we looked out across the water to the nearest island, a large, rolling expanse of grass kept neat and trimmed by the sheep I grazed there. The one-eyed raven took flight and left me to clean my Colts on the shore, waiting for him to return, which he did so a short time later.

“Are they there?” I asked him as he settled onto my shoulder.

“They are.”

“And my sheep?”

“They are not.”

I nodded, stood up, and considered how best to cross the water. There were no boats nearby, and depending on their mood, the merfolk in Blood Lake could be obstinate as hell. I had one fight on my hands already, and I didn’t need a second just to try and finish the first.

The one-eyed raven settled the issue.

As I watched, a thick fog rose up from the water, coiling and twisting until it formed a shape that I had seen drawings. It was a Viking longship, and at its oars were the dead.

They were bedraggled men, long beards wet and eyes sunken deep into their sockets. The smell of sea rolled off them as they rowed in close to shore. They called out in a tongue with which I was not familiar, but in which the raven answered.

Their laughter was loud and shook the air as they shipped oars and motioned for me to climb aboard. I did so, receiving their greetings and broken-toothed smiles with the spirit it was given in.

They sang out to one another as the oars dipped into the waters of Blood Lake, and I could see the merfolk scatter in our wake. The ship fairly flew to the island, and when we reached it, the dead men and the raven exchanged a few more words.

I waded through the last few feet of water and climbed onto the shore, the men vanishing into fog.

“They wish you luck,” the one-eyed raven told me.

“Those were a lot of words for luck,” I replied.

“And death in battle, should it be your fate.”

“Is it?” I asked.

The one-eyed raven laughed as we went in search of our prey.

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Recollections, 1960: Through the Tunnels

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We spent the night beneath the blockhouse, not wishing to go above ground to continue the hunt. We had discovered additional tracks and an offshoot tunnel on our return from the cave-in, and we had decided it would be best to spend the night below ground.

I did not question how the one-eyed raven knew when it was dawn. I had, in fact, come to trust everything he said.

There was something otherworldly about him, and the fact that the Hollow acquiesced to him was not lost upon me.

I am certain that the offshoot tunnel would have remained hidden to me had it not been for the one-eyed raven, and I am certain I would have had a far more difficult time exacting my vengeance upon the creatures.

As it was, I took all the assistance I could get, and I readily followed his lead.

We moved through the darkness at a cautious pace, fully aware of the dangers that travel in tight quarters presented.

After several hours of travel, a soft breeze washed over us, carrying with it the smell of fresh air and charred flesh. The one-eyed raven leaned close to me and whispered, “Have care, Duncan Blood, this is one of the few spots where your life hangs by a thread.”

I have often considered death, and at times I have doubted it would ever find me.

Listening to the raven, I did not doubt it.

We came upon sunlight, and as we advanced towards the end of the tunnel, I saw the blue of Blood Lake in the distance. With every step closer to it, more came into definition, and soon we were standing at the edge of the tunnel, which was strewn with rubble, and the source of the stench of charred flesh.

A body lay in front of us, and whether it had been a man or a woman, I do not know, nor did I tarry to find the answer.

The tracks of the creatures continued down toward the water, and back toward my lands. The sun hung low in the sky, and I knew we had no time to dally.

Stepping over the corpse, I made my way to the lake as the raven took wing.

It felt good to hunt in the open again.

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Recollections, 1960: Beneath

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The one-eyed raven woke me when the sun crept above the horizon.

Together, we descended into the depths of the blockhouse, and as we did so, the sounds of fighting reached my ears. The raven remained on my shoulder, and in my right hand, I carried a Colt. From below, I heard rifle and small arms fire. Screams and yells raced up the stairs, and soon the entire structure shook with the reverberations of explosions.

I came to a stop, my left hand pressed against the wall for balance.

Dust and smoke rolled up from the darkness, washed over us, and then continued toward the surface. When everything settled, I took out a nub of candle and lit it, holding the light high.

We reached the bottom sooner than I expected, and there was a strange stillness in the air around us.

The one-eyed raven and I stood in a large, circular chamber hewn from rough stone. A narrow-gauge railway stretched into a tunnel, and on either side of the entrance were a pair of lanterns. I took one down, lit it, and together we followed the train tracks.

We passed by shell casings and puddles of blood coated with a thin layer of dust. Bits of flesh were splattered against the walls, and here and there fragments of clothing too.

I’m not quite certain how long we traveled, but it was easily two hours.

The air had become stale, and the raven and I discussed turning back. After a short conversation, we agreed we would travel another hundred paces and then give up the chase if we must.

The decision was made for us a few minutes later.

We came upon a cave-in, from which the legs of a man protruded. Whether he had been slain fighting the creatures, or if he had sacrificed himself to seal them in, I shall never know.

The one-eyed raven and I stood there for several moments in silence. Then, without holstering my Colt, I turned and started back the way we had come.

There was still more killing to do.

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Recollections, 1960: The Blockhouse

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We tracked down the group that had attempted to ambush us the previous day.

They were holed up in a blockhouse, which looked as though it might have been built by some of the stonemasons I had known as a child. And who knows, perhaps it was.

Regardless as to who crafted the building, its strength was undeniable.

Had I artillery, or at least significant explosives, I might have been able to breach the walls and gone in with relative ease.

As it was, the one-eyed raven and I knew it would be a fight. While I confess to some trepidation at the idea of plunging headlong into darkness to battle the creatures, the raven seemed unconcerned. He noticed my apprehension and inquired as to the cause.

I readily informed him, and he let out a sharp, harsh laugh. It was not done to mock me, but to bolster my spirits.

“Duncan Blood,” the raven said, preening his breast, “do you think that creatures such as these are meant to bring you to your end?”

“I don’t know.”

The one-eyed bird let out a barking sound of dissent. “I do. I can tell you this is not where you die.”

I peered at this strange raven and realized he was speaking the truth.

I might be injured. Perhaps severely. But I would not die here.

Laughing, I drew my Colts. With the raven on my shoulder, I strode into the bunkhouse.

The battle was long and bitter, and by the time my guns were silent, I bled from a score of wounds. My shirt was in tatters and hands ached from the weight of the Colts.

We stood in a small room, the last of the creatures dead at my feet, my ears ringing from the concussions of the guns. There was an open door across from us, and a set of stairs descending into darkness.

I made my way toward them, and the raven shook his head.

“Tomorrow,” he told me. “Tonight, you must heal. In the morning, we shall send more to their deaths.”

I nodded and drew my Bowie knife.

The raven watched me as I began to skin the nearest creature. When he asked why I smiled.

“I need a new shirt.”

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Recollections, 1960: Town

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We came upon a town that was and was not Cross. There were subtle differences. The materials used to build some of the homes. The mixture of English and Austrian on the road signs.

As we entered the town, the one-eyed raven took flight and vanished down a side street. I continued to the center of town, impressed with the similarities and the differences, and disturbed by the silence.

There were no people to see. None to hear.

Something was wrong with this version of Cross, and I loosened my Colts in their holsters.

A heartbeat later, I heard it, the thunder of feet on the cobblestones. Ahead of me, pouring out of the alleys, the creatures appeared. They charged towards me, mouths open and tongues lolling, their eyes rolling back to show the whites as they howled. Their cries rang off the buildings and rattled the glass in the windows.

My Colts were in my hands, and in a moment, I was shooting.

The sharp crack of a rifle and the pounding of hooves joined the cacophony, and the one-eyed raven soared past me, diving on the nearest creature. A horse went barreling on my left, its rider a young woman with a rifle, whose shots were deadly in their accuracy.

Minutes passed, and then the creatures broke off the attack, scattering.

Neither I nor the woman gave chase. Instead, she reined in her horse and brought it at a trot back to where I stood as the raven landed on my shoulder. She came to a stop a short distance away, reloading her rifle as I did the same to my Colts.

“Who are you?” she asked in Austrian.

“Duncan Blood.”

The woman raised an eyebrow, finished loading the weapon and laid it across her thighs. “This Cross is dead, Duncan Blood. Are you hunting these things?”

I nodded.

“Good.”

As she turned to leave, I asked, “What is your name?”

Glancing over her shoulder, she gave me a bitter grin. “Annise Blood. Our mother is still alive in this now. I’m off to kill her if I can.”

Before I could wish her luck, she put her heels to the horse, and they left at a gallop.

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Recollections, 1960: The Family

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Had the one-eyed raven not been with me, I would have returned home after the butchering of the creatures in the house. He convinced me we would be safe in the Hollow overnight. It was strange to hear the raven speak calmly, as though he was like myself, with centuries behind him.

We camped a short distance away, and I neither worried nor feared any intruders. The one-eyed raven kept watch, and I slept soundly in the Hollow.

With the sunrise, we set off again, fortunate that the house had not shifted and that the road remained where it was before. This, I felt, was more the work of the raven than any sloth on the part of the Hollow.

Somehow, he bent Gods’ Hollow to his will.

We traveled for more hours than there were in the day, tracking one of the offshoots of the creatures from the day before. Finally, we came upon another structure, the exterior of which had once been heavily fortified. There were gun-loops in the walls, and the door – made from thick slabs of oak – had been torn from its heavy iron hinges.

Inside the building were all the trappings of modern life. Where the house had been torn from, I do not know what I do know is that there was nothing alive for us to find.

From the photographs and the belongings scattered around, I could see that at one time, a family of five had occupied the building. But there was blood splatter on some of the walls, and signs of a fire inside, as though the defenders had tried to use it as a last-ditch defense.

It had failed.

Of the family, there was no sign.

I stood there for some time, the raven on my shoulder, his now-familiar perch.

“They grow desperate, Duncan Blood,” the one-eyed bird told me. “They will falter soon.”

I looked around the room, taking in the destruction, and I nodded.

Silently, we left the building, the sun easing towards the horizon. We settled in close to the house, and I cleaned my Colts as we waited for night to fall and hoped that the children had at least died quickly.

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Recollections, 1960: Hunting in the Hollow

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Only the one-eyed raven came with me into Gods’ Hollow.

I had sent the remaining ravens out of the rookery to watch those few old friends of mine living near the border. The birds would alert their kin, who in turn, would inform those with whom they lived.

The one-eyed raven and I hunted alone.

We entered the Hollow via Blood Lake, the raven ranging far ahead and flying back occasionally to let me know what he had seen. The Hollow was displeased with our presence, and I felt the hate of my mother pulsing in the trees around us.

She and whatever ilk followed her would wait for another day.

I was hellbent on killing something else.

We picked up the creatures’ trail early and tracked them to a narrow road. Eventually, the road split into three, and so too did the group. The largest tracks followed the center, and so did we.

It took an hour of hard walking, and I was drenched in sweat when the house came into view. I don’t know how many were hidden in the place, or what the hell was rusting out in front of it, but I could hear them. Their voices rose and fell in the warm air, and for all the world, it sounded as though they were laughing.

Perhaps they were.

It ended soon enough.

The one-eyed raven flew round the back of the house, and I went in the front, Colts blazing. Blood splattered the walls and I gunned the creatures down as they tried to get out the back. Those few that made it ran into the raven, and what he did to them defies explanation.

His talons flayed the skin from their flesh, and his beak tore out throats.

The two of us were slick with blood and gore when we finished with the killing, and even dirtier when we left the message.

I stacked seventeen heads in the doorway, and I hoped the message was clear.

We were going to kill them all.

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Recollections, 1960: Ambushed

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I was ambushed this morning.

It was close to nine, and I was walking Baird, one of my horses. He hadn’t been well of late and I was worried for him. I had kept the saddle off him and him out of the traces. I was more concerned with his well-being than with any work that might be needed to be done. There were always hands to hire, which meant other horses could be brought in to do the work when necessary.

I thought the walk might do him some good, and for the most part, it seemed to have done exactly that. There was a definite spring to his step and occasionally, he would toss his head and stamp his forefeet to let me know he was there.

We stopped in the north field so he might nose about, and it was then the creatures attacked.

They came running from the woods and the tree-line atop the slight rise. I was impressed with the speed and the infinite danger they possessed.

I had no sooner drawn my Colts than the first of them arrived, launching itself at Baird, who clove its skull in two as he came down with both hooves.

The battle lasted only a few minutes. Enough time for me to empty both barrels and resort to my knife. I was bloodied and cut, but my wounds were already healing as I turned to see to Baird.

My horse was not nearly so lucky as I.

He had been gutted, and most of his innards had spilled out. Baird sank to the ground and settled, turning his great head towards me as I knelt beside him.

There was only one way to ease his pain, and though I was loathed to do so, I loaded a single round, pressed the mouth of the Colt’s barrel to his forehead, and pulled the trigger.

The reverberation of the shot in the stillness of the field was the death knell of the creatures.

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Recollections, 1960: The Hollow, May 1910

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We found their warren.

The ravens and I entered Gods’ Hollow at dawn and moved out across the dew-damp grass. Unseen animals scurried away from me as I pushed forward, the ravens circling above, calling out to one another and to me.

The Hollow seemed to know why I was there, and it did not approve.

As I walked through the grass, the sun rising first on my left, then my right, and then back to my left, the tree-line drew farther back. Even the ravens had a difficult time trying to keep pace with it.

Not until the one-eyed raven settled on my shoulder, his weight heavy and comforting did the landscape of the Hollow come to a grinding halt. The earth shuddered beneath my feet and the trees shook as they stopped.

Within half an hour, the sun was where it should be, and the ravens and I entered the tree-line.

The animals in the woods whispered, and the trees shied away from us. Several times I caught sight of the creatures I was hunting, but they always slipped away before I could fire a weapon.

It was for the best. I might never have found the warren had I given any of them chase.

At close to noon, we came upon an old and battered structure. Once, long ago, it had been part of a mill that had sat close to Blood Lake. The Hollow had stolen it though, and the years within the confines of that place had not done the structure any good.

As I drew nearer, I heard the creatures flee from me, leaving behind their own aged and infirm. Among these thin and wasted remnants, I found the bodies of my friends who had gone missing.

In the cool shadows of the forest, I gut show the creatures and sat down nearby to watch the ravens feast on the dying.

The one-eyed raven remained on my shoulder, letting out the occasional, approving cry.

As the sun sank towards the horizon, the ravens brought a gift of flesh to the one-eyed raven and myself. An eye for each of us. Together, the raven and I ate, and then we led his flock home.

We would hunt again soon.

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Recollections, 1960: Minnie Vorbeck

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I was too late to save her.

The first warning I received was the column of dark smoke rising from the east, and it was with all haste that I raced toward it. I knew that color of smoke for I had seen a great many buildings burn in my time, and rarely have they burned for good reason.

I was still a quarter of a mile away when I heard her screams, and I could see the house through the trees when she went silent.

The creatures were retreating from the burning building, not for fear of the flames, but because they knew their prey was dead.

As they turned toward me, I opened fire, only to see them scatter as my shots claimed two of them. I put an extra round into each of them, and then I stood and waited for the flames to die down. It took the better part of the day, but I remained where I was, the ravens gathered around me.

When I deemed it safe enough to enter, I was saddened by the sight.

The one pristine home was destroyed. The joy Minnie had taken in her paintings and prints had been scoured from her walls with fire. I found Minnie curled beneath the stairs, hidden in shadow. There was little of her left to recognize.

I left Minnie, where she lay and returned to the creatures. In silence, I butchered them and carried their heads to Gods’ Hollow. I climbed over the wall, walked to a tree, and I nailed them to it.

From the tree-line nearby, I heard a rustling, yet nothing attempted to molest me.

It would have been better for them if they had.

Tonight, I’ll be cleaning my Colts and speaking with the ravens. I’ll prepare my weapons and pack what’s needed to face the creatures.

Tomorrow, the ravens and I will be going in after them.

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