The house was quiet. No one seemed to be awake. Retrieving a pewter plate from the cupboard and some cheese from the pantry, Bergen sat at the table in his kitchen. Chickens clucked just beyond the window behind him. Somewhere down the hall, his children were in their room sound asleep. Bergen tried to take a few bites of the cheese but dropped the wedge onto the table. He had no appetite at all. Looking down at his left hand, he hadn’t even noticed it scraping repeatedly into the wood.
This body of yours is strange, Bergen. I’m not sure I will like it here.
He hadn’t wanted to come home. All day and night he had tried to convince the Ordruir to go anywhere but home. But the demon controlled him now, like a puppeteer manipulating a marionette. One day after the sky had fallen atop his head, he was sitting at the kitchen table in his own house.
You could always leave, go bother someone else, Bergen responded via his thoughts.
What sort of father would you be, casting your newborn child into the wilds of the world, alone and unsheltered. Shame on you. It laughed, drowning Bergen in sorrow. Besides, you were the fool that chose to listen to a voice coming from a spike on the ground. How did you not think that something foul would happen?
I was bewitched. There is no other explanation. I had no business stabbing that angel. No business.
Serinthian. The angel’s name, in case you were curious who you erased from history. And he was right, you poor, miserable fool. You condemned yourself. I am here because of you and your stupidity. The shard did not force your hand. That sin belongs to you alone.
A surprised gasp broke the silence as Bergen’s wife Elsa appeared. She rushed into the kitchen and clutched him tightly around the neck. Then, as if she had forgotten herself, she let go, straightened her apron, and slapped him across the face.
“That’s for worrying the hell out of me. Where have you been?! I’ve been after the Sheriff ever since he got back, telling him he needed to go out looking for you. And here your are, sitting on your ass getting cheese all over my table.”
“It’s nice to see you too, dear.”
Sarcasm? After everything you’ve experienced, you respond to her with sarcasm? Perhaps try a different approach. An invite into the bedroom would be far more entertaining.
“I’m sorry, I was just so worried. How long have you been home?”
“I only just arrived.”
Lies Lies Lies Lies Lies.
“Why didn’t you come to wake me?”
Because he’s afraid of what I will make him do.
Bergen was struggling but trying not to show it. There was no way for him to ignore the Ordruir. It was in his head. He considered trying to reason with it one last time, but finally came to the realisation that he would fail. Only one option remained to him; he had to get out of his house.
“I knew how angry you would be, especially because I can’t stay.”
“What do you mean you can’t stay. You aren’t going back out there, you can’t.”
“I have to. The explosion - you heard the explosion? - the explosion knocked me off the cart and the damn horse took off with it. I tried to find it on foot, but the fog….it was too late. All of our money, all of our merchandise, was on that cart, Elsa. I have to find it.”
She looked ready to pounce on him. She put her hands over her face and stood facing the window. “It doesn’t matter what happened. The Sheriff isn’t going to let you leave the village, at least not going East. He says there is a giant hole in the ground out there, and the Ancient One - THE Ancient One - told him to keep us away.”
The Ancient One. How presumptuous a title. Perhaps we should leave after all, if only to meet this fellow.
“Pa!” shouted a young voice. A small boy came running into the room and grabbed onto Bergen’s leg. A feeling of panic rushed through him as he felt the attention of the Ordruir shift to the child. Bergen’s hand lifted into the air against his own will, moving slowly towards his son’s head. His fingers found hair and moved through it, gently caressing.
What a splendid child.
Stay away from my son! Bergen shouted into his own mind. His body was trembling with rage.
“Pa, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, son.”
“Why were you and Ma shouting at each other?”
“Because sometimes your father says stupid things and I have to remind him who’s boss,” Elsa said.
“Ma is boss, Ma is boss!” his son began to chant around the room.
How endearing. No wonder you were so eager to keep me away from here.
“Where is your sister,” Elsa asked.
“She won’t get out of bed, said she don’t feel right in her stomach.”
Perhaps we should assist.
Before Bergen could try to convince the Ordruir otherwise, it was controlling his body. It moved him away from the table and started him out of the Kitchen.
“I’ll go check on her before I leave,” Bergen said, but not by his own volition. Apparently the demon could also control his speech.
Please, I beg you. Take us away from this place. Do not harm my family.
Such a lack of faith.
Bergen entered the room shared by his children. His daughter was lying in bed, awake but looking distraught. The family dog, a mangy mutt, was resting on the end of the bed. She began to growl at Bergen fiercely when she saw him enter the room, a thick froth building around her gums.
“Sasha, heel,” Bergen said to the dog commandingly, but she didn’t budge or stop growling.
A wise beast. It can sense my presence.
“Pa, I don’t feel good.”
Bergen wanted to go comfort his daughter, but between Sasha’s growls getting more intense and his fear of what the Ordruir would do, he stayed at the entrance of the room and dared not move.
“I know dear. Come have something to eat and maybe you’ll feel better.”
“I heard you say you were leaving. You’re never home.”
Bergen’s heart sank. He remembered saying the exact same words to his own father when he was younger.
“I know it's hard,” he started, his voice soft and reassuring. “But I have to make sure you and your brother have a good future ahead of you, and sometimes that means I have to be away. I don’t want to be away, but I have to because I love both of you very much and only want whats best for you.”
Go on Bergen, lie to her. Tell her what she wants to hear.
“Will you be back soon?”
Lie to her Bergen. Look into her eyes and lie to her face.
“Of course I will.”
Yes, of course you will. And when we do, we will raze this place to the ground.
Bergen turned and left the room and walked out of the front door of the house. Outside, the air was cool and crisp, much like the day before. He bent at the waist and tried to catch his breath. Elsa followed him out a few moments later.
“So that’s it then; leaving without so much as a goodbye?” She tossed him a small bundle with food and a canteen of water.
“I’m wasting time.”
“Sometimes I think I am too, Bergen.”
Again his heart sank. He had only ever wanted to provide for his family. Now he was a slave to a demon, and there was nothing he could do to free himself. Looking remorseful about her comment, she leaned in and kissed his cheek. When she leaned back, Bergen saw something strange in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she answered distantly. Her eyes seemed haunted, like she’d come face to face with an apparition. Silently she turned around and walked back into the house.
No terms of endearment? No longing embrace? While the ending left much to be desired, the middle part was well worth the trip, if only to feel you squirm. Now we must leave. I require knowledge of this world, and your own is limited. I see that it is called Torion, and that your people worship three separate deities. Two of them seem oddly familiar to me, and I want to know more about them.
Wary of providing anything of value to the Ordruir, Bergen was at least relieved that he would be able to steer the demon away from his family.
There is a university in Ulstheim, the capital, but that is at least a hundred miles from here and I don’t have a horse.
Find one. Steal one. I don’t care. Either we leave for this Ulstheim or we go back inside. Your choice.
The choice was clear. Bergen snuck around to the back of his house and across the yard. Passing behind several trees and a few other houses, he came to his neighbor Yelsik’s home. In the rear was a small stable, and there in a narrow stall was Yelsik’s horse. Quietly Bergen fetched the saddle and began to get everything in order to leave. Just as he was about to lift onto the horse, Yelsik entered the barn.
“The hell are you doing, Bergen? Stealing my horse are you?”
“Shhh, keep your voice down.”
“Don’t shush me in my own barn. What the fuck are you doing?”
Bergen waved his hands in the air, desperately trying to calm Yelsik. The last thing he wanted was to rouse any of the other neighbors. “I got knocked off my cart yesterday during the explosion. My horse ran off with everything. If I don’t get out there and find that cart, I’m ruined Yelsik.”
“Fine story. That still doesn’t explain what possessed you to steal my horse.”
“Funny you should ask,” Bergen began, not choosing those words himself. With a tremendous surge of thought he closed his own mouth and bent over in pain. He could hear the Ordruir laughing in his head as he stood back up. “I’m sorry, I’m exhausted as hell. Look, I know that we’re not supposed to leave the village and feared you wouldn’t let me borrow her. Just pretend you didn’t see anything so that when I leave, you can deny being involved. Please, Yelsik. I’m done for if I don’t find that cart.”
His neighbor rubbed the scruff on his chin as he considered the situation. “Fine, bugger off. But you better bring her back in one piece.”
Odd choice of words.
Bergen lifted into the Saddle. “Look after my family while I’m gone.”
“Sure, sure” Yelsik said dismissively, unaware that Bergen didn’t intend to come back.
Trotting out the back of the stables, Bergen took the longer path along the edge of the village, just up against its outer wall. As he neared the western gate, he urged the horse forward with a sudden burst of speed. The guard had no idea anyone was coming until it was too late. Bergen shot passed him and onto the open road and didn’t look back.
So the capital is in the opposite direction of the crater. A pity. I wanted to meet this Ancient One.
Maybe he will come after us anyway. Maybe he will know that you’re here.
The demon laughed. I’m using your body to mask my presence, so no risk of that my friend.
Dark, distant thoughts awoke in Bergen as he rode away, his eyes full of tears. He had only tried to do the right thing, or at least that is what he wanted to believe. In reality, he had only done what the shard had asked so that he didn’t have to regret it later. That selfishness begat a demon, and no matter how hopeful he tried to remain, he knew he would never be free.
Settle your mind, Bergen. Let us enjoy the ride.