They destroyed the creatures that killed my family. They lit the house on fire and burned all the evil things wearing my family’s bodies. The monsters things killed my family, and then my companions killed the creatures that took my family from me. We run past the Egersund farm, past the Reitan farm, and Hans’ family is starting to slow down. Lone is still Lone. Perhaps she fought some internal battle against the evil or perhaps it never got into her in the first place. I am grateful to Helga for this mercy, but mainly I am full of hate for the monsters attacking my city and and my home.
As we walk, we discuss where to go, what to do, what is happening. Someone, I think Dolf or Vegard, suggests that we should avoid killing the monsters, just in case they can be “cured”, as Dolf thinks may be possible. “Great fucking timing for that revelation” I think, or maybe say. I shake my head to clear the echoing roar that replaced my thoughts as soon as I saw Mom walking that stilted puppet walk. Vegard and Dolf both want to go to the city; Vegard to find his mother, and Dolf to talk to the surviving clerics of Helga, who he thinks will have information about this plague and how to stop it. While I would like nothing more than to lay waste to whatever is responsible for releasing these monsters, I don’t think that walking right into a city of them is the way to do it. Going into the city sounds like a sure way to die… and THEN have the evil things kill more innocent people using our bodies. I say as much, and earn a glare from Dolf. Thankfully Hans Sr. asserts the obvious- that his wife and Lone are tired, and need somewhere to rest. Equipping everyone with skis, weapons and food would also be helpful for whatever we are going to do next. Aija, especially, needs a weapon. She is deadly with her axe and all of us would benefit if she’s reunited with it. My cabin has everything we need, and is close enough to Ulvang that we can go get Aija’s axe. I am grateful when everyone agrees that going there is the best course of action.
When we delve into the forest on the little path that skirts the mines and winds towards my cabin, it is strangely and eerily silent. No birds. No small nocturnal animals. No deer. It’s odd, and unsettling, this silence. We are all acutely aware of it, once Jensa points it out, but as we get closer to my home, the sounds of life return to the forest. Dolf and Vegard said that they saw monster deer in the North. Could the missing animals have been turned to evil and left parts of my forest? Do they flee from the monsters? More questions to toss around in my head instead of thinking about my dead family.
Finally safe inside my cabin, the pressure squeezing my chest eases slightly. I feel more in control, ready to do something against these things rather than just running from them. Vegard, Aija and I decide to go to Ulvang with the dual purpose of retrieving Aija’s axe, and discovering if the evil pestilence has destroyed the people there as well. Once we’re 50m from Ulvang, the animal noises disappear again and Vegard must lose some of his nerve. He suggests that because we see no signs of life, we should assume everyone is…dead…and leave. Aija and I, however, convince him to help us get Aija’s axe, as well as other weapons and supplies for people. We are, after all, standing right behind the toolshed/armoury. Aija and I stand in the trees while Vegard slips around the side of the toolshed. When he returns, he tell us that a monster, wearing Laura, is stumbling about in the open space between the toolshed and the sleeping quarters. The sleeping quarters, which are potentially full of a minestaff’s worth of monsters. The fist around my chest squeezes with either anxiety or rage, at this point I’m not really sure where feelings are coming from anymore.
Aija needs her axe, so we decide that Vegard should go to the slag heap, which is the western border of the open space, and throw rocks to distract “Laura” while Aija and I retrieve the supplies. Everything is going well, the monster is jerking its way towards Vegard and Aija and I start to round the corner of the toolshed when Aija slips. Slips and makes as much noise as is possible between a person, a building, and gravel. The sound is enough to attract “Laura’s” attention, and she alters her course towards Aija and me. While I back up waving my sword to draw the monster, Aija runs into the toolshed. I am overcome with a white hot rage, with a blood lust for the evil that took my family from me. Instead of avoiding the slow moving creature like Vegard and common sense is screaming, I lunge at her with my sword. My vision is blurred with tears or maybe I’m too inwardly focussed, and I miss. I miss, and, horrifyingly, the creature grabs hold of me with its cold hands and sinks its teeth into my neck. I can’t move. Every muscle is clenched in terror. I am full of hatred for the creature, and for myself for letting this happen. There will be no retribution for my family. The evil will claim me, too, and then kill my companions using my body. There is the sensation of icy fingers probing into my neck, crawling through the veins to my heart, my brain.
NO!!!!!!!! I will with every inch of my body to resist the cold, I pray to Helga for her Good to save me, I think of my family, and Vegard hits “Laura” in the eye with a rock from the slag heap. As she falls, Aija emerges from the toolshed with her arms full of weapons, ropes, and her two handed battle axe. Maybe being jarred back into reality is what replaces the frigid creep in my throat with a throbbing pain, but the cold has melted away. We all retreat into forest. Vegard, at one point, has to half drag me. I am doomed, anyways. I may as well take one of the creatures down with me. Or I can protect my companions from an impending threat by being a disposable distractor until the evil takes me. And I don’t want to die. Part of me has hope that I will not succumb to this. So I run with Vegard and Aija, and eventually we get back to my home in the woods.
I sit up praying all night. Erik meditated over and then cured the physical signs of the bite, but I am still on edge. Who knows what being killed from the inside out feels like? What if I can’t warn people before the real me is dead and the monster takes over? Before he went to bed, I begged Erik to kill the creature in my skin if I don’t make it through the night. He agreed. He is a good friend. I must drift off to sleep right after sunrise, because I open my eyes to Vegard and Hans coming into the house. They are fresh after a night of sleep while they were supposed to be on watch, and I am not a monster. I give thanks to Helga. I will never endanger my mission and my companions like that again.
We debate what to do now. Do we go to the mines? Do we do experiments on “Laura” to see if we can make her better? Or kill her more efficiently? Dolf and Vegard want to go to the city. Dolf wants to make contact with the remaining members of his order, who apparently have valuable information about this pestilence, and Vegard wants to save his mother, his last remaining family. Therefore, despite the fact that I feel like going back to the monster infested city is a fool’s errand, and despite my growing irritation with Dolf’s holier than thou attitude, I agree to that plan.
Jensa makes new snow fall as we emerge from a forest path onto the road. She must be talented in earth magic to speak to the sky in this way. I am capable of a deeper communication with animals in my forest…and then only sometimes…but my connection with the earth is nowhere as deep as hers. Since Hans’ family is at my home, we reach the city walls quickly, donning our skis to cut across farmers fields and avoid the city gates. When we see the walls, they are teeming with people, or what seem at first to be people. Anyone with a keen eye can pick out the characteristic stilted gait of the monsters- and they are ALL monsters. By the time we realize this, they have noticed us and start falling off the walls and towards us in a mechanical, mindless wave, like a waterfall. There is loud thunder in the sky as we turn and make our way quickly back towards the main road. Clearly we’re not going into the city today.
I don’t know who saw it first, but there is a creature that has broken free from the slow moving hoard and gaining on us quickly. Very quickly. It is as fast as the other creatures are slow, and it is unimpeded by the deep snow, and it is upon us. We turn to face it, ready to fight. In his excitement, or perhaps terror, Hans throws his maul at Dolf instead of hitting this new monster. It misses him too. Luckily the rest of my formidable companions and I are all ready with our weapons. The rest of us dice it up like my mother used to chop garlic, and Dolf’s shield engulfs it in flame. Despite the fact that it is definitively dead, and quickly, we are all shaken as we take our skis off and start walking along the road towards my house. Fuck. What if this is the natural evolution of these creatures? We need to learn more, or we will be taken off guard and have no chance of killing them and ending this nightmare.
More thunder sounds, despite the clear sky, and I look to Jensa. It is not her that is responsible for this, but Dolf. He must be able to use the power of Helga to make thunder as well as the fire we have already seen him summon. A bright yellow glow emanates into the sky from inside the city walls. My heart soars. This is the first sign of life other than me and my companions, and from people who can help us end this plague. I begrudgingly smile at Dolf. There is hope.
When we reach my house, I lure some birds to us for Jensa to give a message to. She whispers to one and we tie a written message to the other’s leg. The plan is to use them to send a message through the animal to the survivors at the temple of Helga. I just trust this as there is really no use for doubt at this point. I have seen things I have never seen or heard of before in my life in the last two days, and communicating with animals is honestly the one thing I have seen so far that I recognize from my old life. Contact with the temple has renewed my faith that I may actually be able to do right by my family. It is heartening to have direction, and something to put our energy into. We decide to go back to the mine as a group to determine if this fast monster is the next stage of the initial infection (as I have come to think of it), and do other experiments that may help us solve the riddle of where this evil came from, and how to end it. I rub the place where the wound was on my neck, and think of my brothers, and my father, and my mother, and my resolve deepens. I WILL end this.