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Skeld's Keep is a 2017 short story written by S. D. Perry, published by Titan Books as part of the anthology Predator: If It Bleeds. It follows a band of Viking warriors in their quest to capture their rivals' stronghold. They discover a mysterious virus has already ravaged their enemies' lands, and also draw the attention of a group of young Yautja who are learning to hunt humans.

Plot

Jarl the Sword's Son and his fellow Vikings return from a successful raid across the North Sea and celebrate with a feast. Upon his return, Jarl hears tales of chaos and slaughter in the lands to the north — lands overseen by Skeld the Boarstooth, with whom Jarl holds a grudge on account of a past insult. The stories suggest Skeld has been killed by another band of invading Vikings, only for he and his men to return as draugar, undead demons, which now lay waste to his former territory. Jarl concludes the tales are rumors spread by Skeld himself to warn off his enemies and mask his weakness after fighting off the invasion, and vows to seize the opportunity, invade his lands, and capture his fortress for himself.

Jarl assembles a band of seventeen warriors and the party sets out for the north. Unknown to them, they are watched from above by a band of four Yautja aboard the ship — the retired hunter One Eye and the three Blooded students he is teaching in the finer aspects of the Hunt. One Eye tasks his students with tracking and studying the humans, offering them the chance to hunt them at their discretion.

Jarl and his warriors reach Skeld's lands and find only deserted settlements and slaughtered livestock. They make for Skeld's keep, resting for the night at a burned-out farm. As most of the men sleep, a Viking guarding the perimeter discovers one of the young Yautja, Ta'roga, despite his being cloaked. Ta'roga swiftly kills the man, but not before he puts an arrow into the Yautja and alerts his comrades. Ta'roga is wounded when he is set upon by several other Vikings; although he is saved by Shriek, another of the Blooded students, his discovery and failure leaves him humiliated.

Many of Jarl's raiding party are perturbed by the invisible, ghostly figure that attacked them, but they press on to Skeld's keep, hoping to capture it and find shelter there from whatever stalks them. They are tracked by One Eye's third student, Kata'nu, who bides his time. Jarl and his men reach the keep and learn the reason for the desolation of Skeld's lands — his subjects have fallen victim to a strange disease, leaving them crazed and overcome with rage. They mindlessly attack, most of them unarmed, and the Vikings carve their way through the throng. Despite their superior skills and weaponry, the sheer number of rampaging villagers overcome and kill several of the party. The deranged mob also discovers Kata'nu observing the slaughter and set upon him.

Observing Kata'nu's troubles, One Eye sends Ta'roga and Shriek into the fray, stripped of their armor and weaponry, offering them a chance to redeem themselves for their earlier failure or die honorably. They fight fearlessly, but like the Vikings, they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of mindless, rampaging villagers; Ta'roga is cut to pieces while Jarl kills Shriek, although he is himself slain by the Yautja in the process.

With Jarl's death, the battle is done — Skeld's diseased followers lie dead or dying, while all but four of Jarl's men have likewise fallen. One of them, Stelgar, goes to the fallen Jarl's side. To his shock, he finds himself confronted by a bloodied and savaged Kata'nu, who observes the surviving Vikings with respect. The Yautja removes his mask and offers it to Stelgar as a trophy, which he accepts, before departing. Stelgar places the giant mask on Jarl's chest, promising to see him again in Valhalla, before instructing his fellow survivors to burn the cursed Skeld's keep to the ground.

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