Edvard was drowning in a sea of darkness, his arms feeling as if they were bound to his side with cured leather thongs. He attempted to call for his woman, his dog, his horse, even his fellow warriors, and more importantly, he called upon his Norse gods, seeking aid from anyone and anything to bring light into this world that engulfed him now. His mouth felt as if it had been stuffed full with rabbit fur. This wasn't how his shaman had told him the afterlife was supposed to be. He attempted to move his head and found that it had been immobilized. Edvard struggled to breathe as his nostrils seemed to be also stuffed with the softest of hare fur. He could faintly hear voices. They didn't belong to anyone he recognized, were they the voices of the Valkyries come to ferry him into the halls of Valhalla? Slowly he could feel the binds being loosened about him. Light began to filter through to him, and he felt warmth pulsate through him that he had never known before. Though he knew he should feel the fatigue of battle, he felt nothing at all but the strange warmth. This concerned him greatly; he had never known this lack of feeling before.
There was an odd conglomeration of men and women, a very small ensemble, all covered head to toe with various garments. One was dressed in the regal attire that was akin to royalty in the courts of medieval times. Another was dressed in what would be considered in other times to be common man attire. The last one wore patchworked hides of a far distant time in the past, which made Edvard's former collection of hides seem almost contemporary. All in all they appeared to be a gathering of mankind throughout all history, distant and the not so distant past, and even the more amazing future of mankind. The various pieces of apparel seemed to pulsate with a life of their own, shifting to and fro as if dancing to some unheard rhythm. Not a single centimeter of skin could be seen as the group milled around the body that lay upon the stone slab in front of them. This was the crucial moment; the turning was what would either be a complete success or a miserable failure. If the entities could breathe at this moment they would be holding it in anticipation of what was about to happen.
Finally with a good deal of trepidation, Animal pulled the remaining pieces of gauze away from Edvard's face and even the staunchest had difficulty attempting to not spill what passed for contents in what should be their stomachs on the ground at what they saw on the stone pedestal before them.
Animal deftly reached into Edvard's mouth and pulled out a wad of gauze which was encrusted with spittle and clumped sand and herbs. Then he quickly pulled the two pieces of cotton from the nostril cavities of the barbarian warrior. The once-human man sat bolt upright as Animal removed the coins that been placed over the eye sockets. The final tasks completed, the man now clad from head to foot in black leather stepped back to survey his work, allowing the speechless man to take in his new home, and waited patiently for the foreseeable reaction.
The barbarian coughed sand and herbs hung in the air before the bewildered man. Edvard raised what were once his hands to look at the teeming life that crawled back upon itself just under his skin. Shock and disbelief attempted to register on what had been his face. A cold chill ran the length of his spine as he recognized the insects of death poking out of the skin here and there down the length of his once strong arms.
"By Loki's vile crown what fresh new Hel is this magic?" He growled through the sand in his throat as he coughed again, and this time, droplets of congealed blood mixed with the sand and small particles of herbs, causing the debris from his lungs to land with a sickening sound on the stone slab under him. Fire all but flew from the now very stormy blue eyes.
Animal pulled off his glove, stepped forward, extended the appendage that passed for a hand. Maggots and worms coiled about his bones. His deep voice seemed to seep into the barbarian chieftain's brain not vocalized, but more felt mentally. "Welcome to your new family." It was all that the man who seemed to be the leader of the group offered as an explanation.
If there had been any fluid left to run through the veins of the once barbarian chieftain, it would have turned cold with revulsion at the ghastly scene dawning on his now-dulled blue eyes. He tried to focus on those surrounding him; his mind struggled to process his tan colored enclosure of a room with torches lit upon the wall, putting forth a rancid smell and smoke. Edvard visibly cringed away from the undead mass that was extended to him, not wanting to touch or look at the appendage that had a life of its own.
"It will take some time for you to become accustomed to your new surroundings," Animal continued, lowering his hand back to his side and taking a step backward towards the wall.
Edvard shook his head, attempting to get the voice out of his head unsuccessfully.
"As well as your new found abilities," Animal pressed on into Edvard's mind.
Edvard suddenly felt like a trapped animal; he searched the surrounding area for his belongings. Seeking out his clansmen, his faithful war hound, or his steed, anything that would help him to make sense of what was transpiring. The room was desolate of anything that could aid him. All that was in the room were this strange menagerie of people and the flame torches pouring black smoke into the air and making it more difficult by the moment for him to breath.
"It is a natural reaction. Your lungs -- or what were once your lungs are still trying to function as you are used to, but that will not happen ever again." Animal continued to press forward non-verbally to the increasingly agitated man. Animal again stepped closer, attempting to calm the former warlord.
"Get ye out of my head, or you shall feel my wrath fully upon thee!" Edvard growled through a sneer as he turned his attention to Animal. Edvard slowly began to pull his legs under his frame in an attempt to ready himself for attack or to defend depending on how this strange man wanted to play out this situation.
"You're overwhelming him, Animal. Allow him to process the situation or we will lose him." It was a different voice; it seemed to be a female one.
Edvard looked from one figure in the room to another to determine who was speaking. Unable to confirm which one of the oddly clad figures it was, he lowered his head. He was attempting to hide his eyes from the prying eyes that were upon him, wanting to hide as much as possible of himself. He realized that his mind might not completely be his own, but he refused to allow them to see his thoughts played out upon his face as well. Edvard stared down at his body, as if for the first time in his life. The pale skin he had known all his life had been replaced by what could only be described as tanned and taut leather. His scars seemed much more prevalent now; he suddenly felt the causes of all the wounds all over again and began to black out.
"I told you, we are losing him." It was the female voice again, this time sounding more perturbed.
"If so, then he is not the one we were led to believe he would become." Animal stated in a detached manner, not bothering to look away from Edvard.
"This has gone on long enough, help him or we are all lost." This was a new voice that seemed to reverberate from all around them.
Reluctantly, Animal stepped forward to tap Edvard lightly on the forehead. Edvard attempted to bat at it but the physical response was sluggish at best and he missed the creature's touch horribly. At the touch, Edvard went completely limp and began to crumple backwards towards the stone slab. Animal caught the large man in his arms and lowered him slowly to the altar. Edvard was asleep by the time his head touched the stone.
It was night; a full moon hung low in the winter sky. He was alone again walking in the hills of his homeland. Bare-chested, dressed only in his loin cloth and his boots. Snow crunched under his feet; he took in a deep breath through his nose and felt the sharp pain of cold as the air reached his lungs. He looked down at his arms and the color had returned to what he knew it should be. The scars were faded. He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see his trusted war hound come trotting up to him in a playful manner. He reached down and scratched her head as a smile broke upon his face. He shook his head, attempting to clear the strange dream from his memories. In the distance he could hear his horse whinny and suddenly he felt at home again. Tears of joy ran down his face as he once again was able to feel the breath of his dog on his arms and chest.
In the distance he could smell food cooking and knew that he was not far from his village. The hillside seemed strange to him; the clan must have moved after the last battle, thinking him lost, not wanting to allow others to know they had become weakened by his absence. It was a wise move, he thought. He would have approved of the decision. It would have been hard to do so late in the winter, but better to ensure a peaceful time for them all. He began to make his way towards the smell and wondered what the reaction would be to his arrival.
As he topped what he hoped would be the last hill he stopped in his tracks. Below him was a sea of carnage. Fire erupted from the huts; there were screams of pain and terror. Women and children were being slaughtered, cut down without regard to their age. The attackers where clad entirely in black. The skin of the attackers was whiter than the snow that was being marred by the blood of the innocent people of his village. As Edvard stood in disbelief as his mighty clan was being destroyed, he felt something land wetly on his shoulder, then again and again. At first he thought that it was merely snow melting from one of the trees. When he looked for confirmation he was dismayed to see a scarlet stain beginning to form on his shoulder and begin to slowly run down his chest.
As his view followed the drips to their source, his knees buckled as he saw the body of a village man impaled upon a tree branch, the man's lifeless eyes staring down at Edvard. Edvard swallowed hard attempting to grasp at the reality of this; he began seeking a weapon of any type to be able to hold off the attackers.
"It would be folly to attempt to intercede on their behalf, my young friend." It was the last voice he had heard in his appalling dream.
Edvard, now on his hands and knees, immediately scurried backwards, attempting to put his back against one of the mighty trees. He began searching the area now not only for a weapon but also for this voice. He attempted to cry out for his dog and horse, hoping that either would be a source of defense against the madness that attempted to overwhelm him, but the noise that he emitted was barely audible, even to him.
"They will be of no aid to you now, Edvard." The voice sounded like it was attempting to be soothing, an effect that one could tell it had not tried to do in far too long. "Some may say that I was cruel to bring you here, to show you this outcome. To dangle your past before you; but know this Edvard, I did it because we have need of you and as such you can not ever return to what you once knew. And in your current state you are of no use to us or yourself." The voice continued, still attempting to be soothing.
"What do you want of me?" Edvard attempted to scream back at the voice in his head. It only came out as a thin raspy whisper.
"Ah, I guess we should set a couple of ground rules for you. First and foremost, your vocal chords have undergone a good deal of stress recently and as such, speaking above a whisper is not recommended. Secondly, as you have noticed we are able to communicate via thought. In what you would call the future this is referred to as telepathic communication. For you, right now, I will simply say that we can converse with our thoughts alone and that we need not bind ourselves with the more traditional means of vocal communication." The voice continued on as Edvard still attempted to find the person responsible for the sounds in his head.
"That is correct; you were always the one that preferred to speak with someone face to face in order to be able to read their eyes. It was you, was it not, that coined the phrase 'Eyes are the windows to one's soul'?" There was a brief flash of subdued light, and then the sound of snow crunching from behind a tree.
From behind the tree stepped what appeared to be a boy no more than eight to nine years of age. His hair was cropped close to his skull on the sides and longer in the middle, draping down into his eyes. His eyes showed an age far beyond his apparent growth. He took short but purposeful steps towards Edvard, again attempting to be soothing in his approach.
"We are all that you have left. Your clan has been slain for well over a century now. We are your family now. You were chosen because of honor and your desire to see right done, even though it at times brought you personally more heartache. What you have seen, is what would have transpired whether or not you had returned victorious that night many years ago. Those beasts you see ravaging the village? They are called vampires." The voice continued as the boy walked closer to Edvard. "You would have been their greatest victory had Animal not come to call you to your new home with us. They are the cause of this, and the reason you were selected for your current situation." The child stopped, allowing this all to sink in to Edvard's mind.
Tears welled up into Edvard's eyes as he attempted to take this all in now. His thoughts raced. His friends, family, and his wife were all gone. If this was all true, then he was truly alone in the world. Everything that he had ever fought for was now gone, he would never know the touch of his true love's caress ever again. He looked off towards where his village stood burning into the night. The sense of loss overwhelmed him again and sobs began to wrack his body.
"We are the ones who called you, and we shall explain to you what has transpired. We shall do it here, but this is a one-time arrangement. Once our time comes to an end, we will not be able to return to this point in time and before you ask, no you may not intercede in anyway in what is befalling your village currently," the youth stated in a much more soothing tone, coming to sit down next to Edvard.
They spent the next several hours speaking together. The youth speaking cryptically in the third person, but answering some questions directly. At other times the youth would dance lithely around the question, not wishing to be completely clear on the answer. Edvard struggled to comprehend everything that was transpiring not only around him, but also to take in what was being explained to him. The moon continued to cross the sky. The two sat there until just as the sky began to shift from darkness and the soft warming hues of sunrise began to tinge the eastern skyline.
"Now my friend, I know that you have a myriad more of questions, but alas our time grows increasingly short here and we must depart." The voice commanded as the youth stood.
Edvard slowly stood as well; he turned for one final view of his village and as a blinding light engulfed him, he caught a fleeting glimpse of the woman that he had loved since his youth. She being violated and then suddenly being pulled apart by one of the beasts, rage consumed his heart and soul.