The scavenger watched the newcomers from a tor-borne perch above the marsh. They had found the body. It was only a matter of time until those that had put it there found them. He did not envy them their predicament.
Villavic and the hundred and nineteen cast-aways trudged up out of the marsh to the north, shuddering with the cold and all the while not a single soul spoke. Villavic’s mind churned relentlessly, with thoughts of the terror in the swamp and what could possibly have done it. It was no native island animal, of that he was certain. He had seen nothing but crows and gulls and lizards and insects since he had been interred on the worthless strip of land and all such creatures proved unaccustomed to Man and his ceaseless intrusion and darted for the shadows or the sky upon his approach. It had been a man. Or a woman. Or a band thereof. Who were they? Why had they committed such an atrocity? Perhaps there was no accounting for it, he thought dejectedly. Why did cats torture their prey, sometimes without eating it? He could find no answer. There seemed to be no evolutionary advantage to the action, no increase in survivability, if anything, the feline’s decadence both wasted energy and put it in danger of becoming prey itself.
The pangs of hunger there overtook him and broke the man from dark reverie. He paused and unshouldered the sacks of flour and rolled his shoulder with a grunt of pain and looked to the hideous swamp, now behind him. The scent of moldering fungus and decaying vegetal matter seethed about the forest which rose up around the wayward prison-band. The temperature dropped in tandem with the rise of the moon, which shone like the eye of some ghastly and eldritch being and snow began to flutter from the sky.
“What kind of place is this?” Derrick exclaimed.
“Cursed.” The old crone declared with some difficulty, “Cursed.” Shortly, the old crone swayed and slumped against a young fir, too tired to continued on as the mangy congregation surrounding let up a cry of dismay at their ill fortune. Murmurs of discontent rebounded throughout the forest.
“Where are we going? We’re on an island, there is no where to go.” A burly ex-boxer grunted.
“Better in the forest than on the shoreline. ‘specially with a storm coming in. Look at the clouds.” A middle-aged and mustached barkeep replied.
The waif braced the old woman and struggled to move her from the fir to a mossy, low cave some fifty feet off in the distance as the wind kicked up and tore at cloth and skin. Villavic gave a shout for all to press for the cave at which point the murmuring ceased and all looked with hungry hope towards the dark crevace. A disputation erupted when it was discovered that only half of their number could fit within the cavern. A fist fight broke out and shortly Villavic’s voice thundered across the portal to the abyss as the snow began to stream in thick whorls.
“Enough. Fighting will gain us nothing. All the elderly, young, womenfolk and sickly should be allowed harbourage therein, all else, who’er of sturdier stock, can find other safety elsewhere and, at daybreak, we can meet once more.”
“Are you mad, man?” The ex-boxer growled, stalking towards Villavic threateningly, “If we stay out here throughout the night, there won’t be a morning. We wouldn’t live to see daybreak.”
“Only if we stay out in the open. Your name?”
“Help me, a moment,” Villavic gestured to the big man with his left arm and girded the snow from his face with his right and moved to a fallen tree branch, thick and gnarled, like a withered hand.
“Help your bloody self, you fool.” The pugilist turned his back on Villavic and strode imperiously towards the cave, when a few of the men tried to stop him and talk he struck he shunted them aside. A brawl erupted once more. The women and children ran from the broil and hid in the cave as the men grappled neath the auspices of the wind’s savage increase.
“Imbeciles,” Villavic muttered before flinging himself into the fray, heading straight for the prime instigator.
“Gunter, there is no time for this idiocy.” Villavic’s voice, despite its strength, was barely audible above the skyhowl. The men around the fringes of the contest paused and watched like famished wolves as Gunter turned to his challenger. Villavic stood tall. Their gaze met like rending steel. Muscles tensed. Seconds later there came a dull thud and the big man crumpled to the snowy ground. Behind him stood the waif with a long, thick tree branch in her scarred and shaking hands.