Mari’s cabin: 4pm. We are sitting quietly in Mari’s cabin as the sun lowers and late afternoon turns into evening. It seems a peaceful quiet, like from before this time of Gaia’s pain. It’s the first time in days that it hasn’t felt like horror. Sigrid takes this respite as an opportunity to make Mari’s cabin “a little more like a home”. Mari takes offence, but Sigrid means well saying wistfully “this is the ONLY home for anybody right now”. I take this to mean that our Mother, our earth, our home, is NOT our home anymore, not since this sickness has taken root in Gaia’s creatures… I reflect on this while a meal of potatoes, salted pork and canned apples is prepared and then consumed. I am lost in thought about Gaia even as Lone, and I wash up the dishes and sweep the cabin. I smell Hans Senior’s sweet pipe smoke drifting above our heads. Outside the sound of Aija chopping wood seeps into my conciousness. I take all this in as I formulate my proposition to my fellow sons and daughters of Gaia. We must send a message to the Temple of Helga to learn as much as we can about the nature of this illness that is descending upon Mother’s creatures…
This is the message that we formulate with Dolf acting as our pen, and one of Gaia’s crows acting as our messenger. It pains me to send Gaia’s creature on man’s mission, but this mission is for all Earth, and it must be done. Dolf is sure that the other clerics will send a sign in response as soon as they can. I hope he is right and does not miss the sign while he has this confrontation with Vegard over 5 finger discounts. And while the rest debate if we should go back to the mine and experiment with this “Laura” to learn more of this sickness. Perhaps we need more watches, or excursions to the main road?
Suddenly, my thoughts are interrupted as Gaia’s crow returns. There is a message from the Temple:
- 100 townspeople in the temple, most leading families are represented.
- Working on Eliminating the Rest.
- Go North. Find the Source. Stop it at all costs.
Dolf pens them back, on a note for crow:
- All southern farms seemed infected.
- Is Ulvang family there? Vegard is with us.
- Erik Vigar is with us. Any news on Lars?
- Can you send us any help?
- Any suggestions on fighting these?
- Is this there a known cure for this disease?
- Any contact with others outside?
- We saw a a fast monster, that could jump through the snow. Do you know anything more?
- Anything specific about going north? Location, what we should look for?
- Ulvang mine was infected, but we only saw one . Not sure where others are. “
We discuss communicating with others outside of Helga’s Clerics. I agree to leave messages for three other druids known to me in these areas; two younger druids and one elder. We discuss going North, and in the end, seven of us commit to going. We begin making our preparations, and for Vegard this includes shadow boxing outside. Perhaps he’s still thinking about his confrontation with Dolf, or perhaps this is the preparation required for what we might face northwards.
The Crow is back:
- There is no cure.
- We assume any undead must be destroyed.
- Haven’t found anyone else!
- Fast monsters?!?
- Don’t know where they are coming from.
- Try Original direction.
- Ulvangs are Ok.
- Nothing on Lars Vigar.
- Impossible to send help.
- Destroy brains.
- We will destroy them all here.
- Make it stop.
- You’re our only hope.
- Helga be with you.”
Dolf pens back:
We seven resolve to leave in the morning and sort out supplies. We strategize. It is clear avoidance is our best tactic until we understand more. We prepare to rest before the journey ahead of us. Mari and Dolf agree to keep first watch. I see Erik cast a spell, I believe to protect our perimeter. This will help us to rest in Gaia’s arms and let sleep come to all. Erik and I take the second watch and crow comes back. Crow is angry with me – for doing man’s bidding, I should think. He soils my arm, but I can hardly be angry towards him.
- Take care.
- Don’t let them bite or scratch.
- You are lost if you do.
These words should alarm us, but Erik and I fall asleep on our watch. Perhaps overwhelmed by the implication…
April 18, 1136
9am, Mari’s Cabin
Morning comes. Our group slowly wakes. Mari fixes breakfast.
I hear birds chirping and wonder, am I still dreaming? Oh the sweet sounds of Gaia’s life. This gives me hope. And resolve…
I double check my pack to ensure I have two days rations, a full waterskin, a pot for cooking, my bedroll, warm layers for night, snowshoes for travel, and my oak quarter staff. I have done my part to be ready. Each of us must carry for ourselves what we can, and we have taken two more days worth of rations for the group by sled. Gaia, Helga, all mighty powers, I pray that this will be enough…
We say our goodbyes to Hans Senior, Sigrid and Lone. Then, the seven of us, Hans Junior, Erik, Vegard, Dolf, Mari, Aija and I take our leave. We set out on skis following cat tracks and trails along the road heading North. We head to the Source. We stick to our plan of avoidance. We seven move at a reasonable pace, travelling between the mine and the town, hearing birds all along the way. Mari, an accomplished ranger is leading, with toughened Vegard closely behind. Erik, also an accomplished ranger, takes up the rear. We are skiing, and it is silent now, save for the swish of seven sets of skis in the snow. No birds singing… And then…
Mari hears monsters in the clearing.
We abruptly and instinctively turn around, Erik now taking the lead. We go around the other side of the mines off the trail. Once past the mines we head back to the trail and make our way on the road to get to the bridge. Avoidance has worked. We are safe.
But will avoidance always be possible? As we pass the Kroka farm we see the city smoking. Oh Mother! And before we know it, an undead, only a kilometer away, is ambling towards us. In vain we remove our skis and tie them to our backs, preparing to move nimbly, but we cannot avoid this creature. We must travel this route. Dolf shoots fire at it and Hans strikes it with his maul. The undead crumple as brains fly. Why must destruction be the only way? It pains me to see the life of one of Gaia’s creatures ended. Even ill, undead life is life. At least, that is how I see it.
Blood pounds through my veins, breathing hard, I am running with my companions to cross the bridge. But there, on the bridge, we see three more undead. Before I can take it all in, Dolf thrusts forth his Helga pendant and we see two female undead disintegrate, rejoining Mother, ashes to ashes. The third undead still stands and Vegard rushes her using his rapier and stabs her twice. She drops on her face. And she is finished when Hans uses his war hammer to smash her brains, as was instructed by Helga’s Clerics. There is nothing we can do to observe these lives ending. There is nothing to do but strap back on our skis and continue North. We must get to the source of this sickness and save all Gaia’s creatures. And maybe even Gaia herself.
Travelling North along the west side of the river, we arrive at a bridge, and set across to the east side of the river. Mother’s birds are making sounds in the trees above us as we take in some of our rations. East of us are the hunting grounds where Hans reported seeing the undead dear. Erik is relieved of pulling the sled, as Vegard offers to take over, and we continue on towards Turid’s Folly, the swish of our skis keeping time to my meditations.
Ahead, one of Mother’s deer. NO! It is a deer lost from Mother, no longer animated with Gaia’s life. No deer of Mother’s would charge our group as this one is doing! Aija has the wits to strike the deer in the back with her axe. Though strangely, the deer continues on. Mari reacts swiftly and takes a swipe at the deer’s jaw, ripping it off entirely. Vegard, never one to miss an opportunity for bravery, hits the deer with his rapier through the eye, then slashes. Finally, Hans finishes the deer, crushing its skull, and with it, its brain. As instructed by the Temple. If I wasn’t so sure this was an undead, I could not bear witness to such things. But, things being as they are in this strange time, I am relieved.
Hans takes the sled and we silently continue on, in the absence of bird sounds. We pass a wolf carcass that clearly the undead deer had been feasting on. And not just on any part, but on the brain. This is not the order of things in Mother’s world. What can be happening? What sickness is this?
We finally arrive at Turid’s Folly. We enter the canyon, steep on either side, and the sun disappears, blocked out by the stone walls of the canyon. A squirrel, moving in an undead manner, scurries in front of us. Hans swiftly ends it. A chill goes through me. And we continue on, deeper into the canyon than anyone in our group has ever gone. An eerie silence is about us. The riverbed and canyon open up and we set up camp. We discuss keeping watch and Erik sets up a perimeter. Erik, having a keen tracking eye, notes tracks from deer and many other animals. And forlornly notes his dad’s tracks, whom he has now not seen in days and days…
Suddenly, there is a hooded man. It is Erik’s father! I watch Erik’s face carefully, not the only one set in this careful observation of his reaction. Erik’s father starts running towards us and I am sure this is the movement of the undead. The others may be surprised, but I cannot hold back. I bring forth my flaming blade and strike this hooded undead man. He catches fire. The smell is unbearable. Vegard strikes and gets him in the neck. Through this all, Erik is dazed. Dolf prays to Helga to protect Erik at this vulnerable moment. Dolf then cries out a warning that something else is behind us.
There, in the canyon, a giant green centipede, moving slowly, with what can only be described as a squid head.
This is not the order of life as Gaia would have it. This illness is truly terrible. I must protect my fellow travellers and I brandish my flaming blade. As I do so, Erik comes to, and suddenly strikes at his undead father, taking off his head right at the nose, brains spraying everywhere. The centipede draws closer. Aija, wasting no time, perhaps inspired by Erik, buries her axe into the middle of the creature’s head.
Dolf cries out that the creature is not poisonous, but Vegard lands his rapier into the back of this squid-headed thing and torques hard. It falls. It twitches and Aija finishes it, cutting its head off, tentacles still moving. I set my blade upon it, and it alights. Not a moment later, another such creature arrives. Mari strikes at it, Vegard mounts it and slashes with his rapier. Dolf lights its head, and as it starts to move, Erik cleaves its head in half, rendering it motionless.
On high alert now, we are scanning for more trouble. Aija see an opening in the canyon “I think that’s where they are coming out of!”. We look in the distance, and there, in the canyon wall is a ten foot wide oval opening.
We venture over. Looking into the dark opening, it is revealed that this is actually a door, and inside the floor is smooth by man’s making, not Gaia’s. There are tracks going in and out of the door. Aija tries to close the door, and finds it very light. We decide that we must investigate further before settling for the night. Dolf, Mari, Vegard and Hans will go in. Erik, Aija and I will keep watch. They go in, and shortly come back for us. Inside, there is a statue of a warrior in an alcove. There is safety here. It is palpable. Erik sets up a perimeter, and it is decided. It is here that we shall spend the night.
Oh Mother, keep us safe!