The zombie rises from the water as reality takes leave. Dread fills the vacuum piercing the hearts of the Chartered as surely as the death cries of a child covered in boiling pitch. Without pause the signpost smashes into the face of the abomination. Wiktor has seen the result of his work before and closes his eyes for the gore that follows. Force causes pressure. Skull explodes outward as it caves at the point of impact. Bone and brain blind killer. Killer is killed.
There is no wet sensation of pulp splattering upon live skin. Wiktor opens his eyes.
The upper half of the post still flies into the river as the lower half falls from his hands. The long dead face in front of him is ruined the jaw hanging by tendons. Black water seeps over his face into his eyes down his jaw despoiling the soil it is soaked into. When it passes the face is reformed in some grim visage. A grin.
The bloodrage fills him and everything grows cold. His hands now claws rip and reave through the beast. Water pours forth and reconstitutes flesh but it is too slow to stop the damage too slow to stop the inevitable conclusion of Wiktors fury.
A ranseur dripping filth slices upward. It was always there and yet never. The river reverses course and flows upstream as the krakenskin breastplate is sliced through like sackcloth and still it continues on through skin and fat and muscle. The end of the slash casts blood upon Jac who now stands at his side. He has been there for some time and yet time has no meaning now.
The creature forces eye contact with Wiktor and the fallen bridge is ablaze. The past and present move simultaneously before his eyes as two sheets held before a flame but what is on the other side is no flame. Only cold featureless impersonal white light. To see it so close frightens him more than the risen monstrosity. But he was not always a monstrosity.
This was his bridge. Bandits. He is fighting on the bridge. His dogs lay dead or dying. More arrows are embedded in him than most training dummies. Still he fights. Still he wins. Bandit after bandit fall beneath his spear. The roof of his house explodes in flame. Two more points of fire. Eyes beneath a stag helm.
A mighty bow is drawn back. Many men could not pull this string even an inch let alone the full span the Stag Lord draws. The arrow screams toward its target and runs clean through a bandit before burrowing into the bridgekeepers neck. The force lifts him off the ground and carries him several feet before he collapses in a broken heap. A doll discarded in some forgotten corner.
The white begins to burn through the paper and and Wiktor runs. Without form or substance he flees the omnipresent whiteness that looks upon him from all directions.
The past snaps and he is fighting in the present again. Reiner is on horse beside him shouting words that are muddled. He turns and gallops off. The creature in front of him does not break eye contact.
BRING HIM. BRING THE STAG LORD’S HEAD TO ME. I WISH TO FEAST UPON HIS FACE.
Words. Wiktor tries to form words but he is slipping away again. The river now runs in both directions and the water crashes away from the shore. The past is seen over the present once more. The cold white begins to burn away at the film of vision between he and it.
The corpse is heaved into the water as bandits loot and celebrate. The dogs are killed with a hate and cruelty only vengeance can summon forth. The Stag Lord motions to a lieutenant before riding off. It is morning and the bandits begin to replace the destroyed bridge. The fallen bridgekeeper pulls himself from the water. One by one the bandits are tortured before all find death under the churning river waters.
The light burns through and is upon him. The terrible absence of heat chills Wiktor even from afar as it closes in on all directions. He flees but there is no escape. It engulfs him and his body is ripped apart until there is nothing left. His mind and soul are feasted upon with the alacrity of a man starved. There is no sight no sounds no feeling but pain without equal. Without time it lasts a second and an eternity.
It is the present and the light is gone. The halfman stands over him his wand in hand. The Chartered have agreed to bring the head to the bridgekeeper who is no longer visible.
Those final moments play again and again in his nightmares that night. Others saw the visions but none saw the white light. This is how Wiktor knows. The evil no longer slumbers dreaming within him. It wakes.