Fear and Hope

Snowy forest near the Ulvang mines.
Snowy forest near the Ulvang mines.

I have come to know fear. It is at once a crippling yoke and an incredible sense of freedom. Fear is the ever present gnawing in the back of your mind that you won’t be through this, that everything is lost. And fear is also clarity: a vivid picture of forward progress where choices are clear and action occurs without hesitation. Fear evolves us from being non-committal lumps pussyfooting around our next steps, forward into heroes decisively casting our own fate, with our own hands.

Unless one fails and then fear is just the preface to nothingness.

These few days have awakened fear in me in ways I could never have imagined. It is so different than what I knew as fear. As a youth I feared my father’s scorn, mother’s disappointment or the mock of my peers. Petty, to think of now. The reaction to the fear of death is distinct: it does not redden my ears or tighten my collar. It is not a hastily wiped shameful tear. Fear, as I understand it now, is cold. It is a quieting and a focus. It is every sense sharpening because dullness is death and your entire body craves survival. It is cooperation within yourself.  Every bruise and cut melts away and strength exceeds known limits.

It is not without its limit though, as both Vegard and I found out last night. Together our will was too weak to remain awake through our watch shift and we slept through the night. Helga must have been looking over us, as no ill came of it, nor were our friends too angered. It had been a long day after all, and I’m not sure anyone was confident that they wouldn’t have done the same. It cannot be allowed to happen again. We will have to figure a system out.

After determining that Mari’s cabin would be our next stop, we had hurried to cover most of the distance before the sun dropped low on the horizon. We do not understand this foe we face and cannot afford to risk confrontations. The further we can see the easier we can avoid. The killing we have had to do already is bearing a heavy burden on our small band. It is easier for some than for others to think of these creatures as simply creatures. Not one of us completely escapes knowing that these are our neighbours and friends, it is just that some of us are able to disconnect with it more easily. It is a cruel god who casts such a pall to the earth. With each creature encountered there’s either a real or imagined glimpse of recognition. A shred of garment recognizable or a facial feature twisted and deformed. Always you wonder. Avoidance has become our de facto tactic, as it is both safer and less heart-wrenching. That being said, we’ve not done a great job of avoiding confrontations.

Mari narrowly avoided being caught and infected while Vegard, Mari and Aija went to gather supplies from the mine. The old chef, who they had all known, had become a creature. They were able to get away with some good supplies and Mari seems to be ok. It is always a worry though. It seems that these creatures spread their disease through contact but we haven’t figured out exactly how or what the threshold is. Neither Mari nor Lone, who have both been contacted have had any changes. I am glad that Mari seems ok. I don’t know what I would do if Lone started to change.

When I spoke with Father about Lone and the possibility that she could become a creature, he showed a steeled resolve to act if required. He knew, with complete conviction that he could and would do what was necessary should the worst occur. The fear was visible in his eye but it did not make him flinch. I continue to learn from him.

Earlier today, hoping that perhaps the tide of pestilence had ebbed we ventured toward the town. Dolf is convinced that the temple and his elders will be able to provide some guidance to us. Or at the very least we will learn more of the state of our community. Whatever may be left of it. Vegard is particularly concerned with seeking out his parents. Looking around, it is impossible not to realize that I am the luckiest amongst us these days. All those most dear to me, whether friend or family, are still together. It is said that fortune favours the brave and as fortune has clearly favoured me I must show bravery.

As we approached town from the southwest, movement was apparent along the town walls, though it was initially unclear whether it was the creatures or not. Dolf summons thunder sounds that echo across the skies. He is trying to find a way to communicate with anyone who may still be alive in the temple. We proceeded across the snowy copse towards the walls until it became clear that what we saw was not human at all… and that they were starting to come over the walls towards us. We started to move away from town back toward the cabin when we noticed a creature advancing on us from the pack. Usually slow moving, avoiding these creatures has until now been a matter of fleetness of mind and foot. Avoid being cornered and one can outpace them. Not all, apparently. This creature advanced upon us, through the snow, as we all moved as quickly as possible. It did not fatigue, its resolve did not flag. Our single greatest advantage to this point seemingly disappearing yard by yard, it became apparent that we must turn and meet this one head on.

We have formed a rather formidable group, I have come to notice, with varied talents. Undaunted by fear or hesitation, this new fast-creature didn’t’ stand a chance. Bludgeoned, slashed, enveloped in flame and bludgeoned further for good measure, its existence is quickly obliterated.

To complete his communication to the temple, Dolf again calls for thunder. I do not know how he does this but I have long since learned to expect the incredible from Dolf. As the thunder sounds from a different direction, indicating to anyone paying attention that there’s something unique about it; a light shines to the sky from where Helga’s temple stands. This is a beacon of hope to us at this time as it almost certainly means that members of Dolf’s order are alive in the temple. Perhaps Helga’s strength is, as Dolf has been saying, where we must trust.

Fearful that a group of these new fast-creatures would be more difficult to handle, we made our way back to the cabin with haste. Upon returning, I was relieved to find my family in good spirits. Every time I leave Lone I half expect to return to find that her contact with a creature has caught up to her and she’ll have changed. It is starting to seem less and less likely as time passes, thankfully.

Seeing the light shine from the temple has buoyed all of our spirits. Though we did not think we were alone in this, it is satisfying to have it confirmed. Now, the challenge is finding a way to connect with Dolf’s brothers. Adding to the mix of strange and exotic talents this motley band has, Jensa has revealed that she can communicate to wildlife and have them carry out tasks or relay messages. She has sent two birds to the temple, one with a message in its mind and another with a written note detailing our situation. We are hopeful that these messages will reach the temple and we may find a way to connect with them.

We wait to hear back, as hope rises over an ashen and fearful landscape.