Three moon tides had passed, and Runa remained in our care. A subject? A prisoner? I could not truly tell the difference. Sten had returned to the cave that first night with the supplies Aizel told him to procure—supplies that were just a diversion so that she could make her final judgment on what was to be done with the girl. Aizel told Sten to set up camp in our village and wait for us to call for him. He knew she was well respected and that our people would take care of him if need be, so he left our cave to go into town and patiently waited until his child was delivered from the evil that took hold of her hugr and fylgja—in essence, her soul.
Sten was obedient and did as he was told—partly because he was a doting father who wanted to see his daughter healed, and partly, because at his core, he was a weak man who fell easily under Aizel’s spell. She promised him she would do whatever she could to help Runa, and if that meant Sten had to run into a pack of snarling wolves, he would have complied. But I knew the truth. There was no intention of expelling the draugr from the girl. Aizel was stalling for time as the demon inside Runa slowly festered and consumed her bit by bit.
And as the days passed, I purposefully and consciously locked my mind like a steel cage against Aizel so she couldn’t go digging around. I hadn’t told her what I had heard Runa say—how she had called out the sacred nickname my sister had bestowed upon me, for I knew she would have forbidden me to even go near the girl after that. Nevertheless, I was intrigued. How would she have known that name unless by some divine intervention? I was certainly convinced that this was more than just the average possession we were used to dealing with, and I was determined to find out more. What was this demon, and why had it made itself known to me the night of the full moon, and more specifically during a time of my great despondency?
So, without Aizel’s knowledge of my actions, I stole away into the storage alcove where Runa had been tied up for the last three nights in hopes of getting as much information from the creature as I could. I brought my canteen of water under the assumption that maybe a drink would satisfy it and give it reason to open up. When I reached the room, the air was thick with an unnatural heat and a steamy sheen blanketed the space around us, much like the steam from the hot springs a bit south of us.
I stood in the opening and watched as Runa’s slumped body breathed in and out with those frenzied pants. Her head tilted to one side as if the weight of her long, silky black hair was pulling her down in her slumber. She looked peaceful, even with her chest heaving up and down as frantically as it was. I wondered what type of frenetic dream she must be having. Was she running in a field? Were the wolves chasing her? Was a hoard of marauders ravaging her fragile body?
I dipped my foot gingerly across the imaginary threshold of the room, and suddenly she stopped, shot up, and opened her eyes wide. “All three,” she cooed with a smirk.
I froze for a moment, surprised by her abrupt actions, then continued my way inside.
Runa smiled wide, and the evidence of the draugr’s hold on her was blatantly clear. The soft pink tissue of her gums was coated with a dark black substance giving her mouth the appearance of a gaping void.
A void to swallow me whole and transport me to another dimension…
“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” she blurted.
“You know I’m not afraid of you, right?” I said. “I’ve seen the likes of you before.”
She giggled. “Oh, have you?” she responded. Her voice was low and gravelly, and it echoed in the cave as if there were more than one being speaking simultaneously. I couldn’t tell if it was the acoustics or if she actually represented the power of the many. And the voice, that guttural, grinding tone was so familiar to me, yet I could not place where I’d heard it before.
I approached her in the chair and held my canteen to her face. She eyed me coolly. “No,” she said. “It would just prolong the process.”
“Oh? And what process is this you speak of?”
“I know your plans. The girl is gone. There’s no use in saving her now.”
I pursed my lips together and nodded. “True. True.” I agreed. “But that doesn’t mean you still can’t serve a purpose for us.”
The draugr laughed aloud. Its voice pierced the inside of my eardrums so sharply that I winced.
“Untie me, and I’ll show you what purpose I can serve,” she said with a sly hint of seduction.
I looked down upon her and scoffed. Up close I could see the demon had begun to transform her. Runa’s visage had begun to crack. The pale skin of her once soft face had turned gray, and the dark green veins from beneath her skin pressed up close to the surface and pulsated as if they were their own living, breathing entities. Her cheeks had further sunken in, giving the sharp angles of her face an even more inhuman appearance. She grazed her thick black tongue across the surface of her dry lips. “I won’t bite,” she cooed.
I huffed and took a step back. “Do you think that’s what it would take to tempt me? I told you, I’ve done this before. You’re not the first draugr to grace this cavern. Do you even know how old I am?”
“Do you even know how old I am?” she shot back.
I knelt next to her and decided to seize the opportunity. Demons are all-knowing, or at least they think they are. And they like to talk, mainly about themselves and their powers. And it’s often their narcissism that contributes to their downfall. I remembered that from Blodwyn’s teachings. Long ago, she had guided me through my first expulsion of a draugr. I had watched her perform the ritual flawlessly on many occasions, and when it came time for me to go out on my own, it was less than a stellar effort. “Don’t worry,” Blodwyn had said, “your strengths lie elsewhere. We each have our own gifts and talents. Don’t let this one failure discourage you. And I wouldn’t even call it a failure…”
“The boy would have died anyway,” the draugr said, finishing my memory.
I pulled back a bit. “Oh. So, you’re in here?” I said, pointing to my temple.
“Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. It comes and goes like flashes of light, like a gust of icy wind, like the paper-thin cry of the locust swelling to a crescendo then leveling off.”
My face twisted in confusion for a second. “How did you know that name?”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head forward. “I know not of what you speak,” she said with an agitated tone.
I placed my hand on her knee, and she quickly opened her eyes again. “Yes, you do. You said a name the first night you were here. You called out to me.”
She laughed again. A low and menacing rumble from her chest. “Pink Silver,” she grimaced, and her chest heaved up giving way to a wretched cough. She turned her head to the opposite side of where I knelt, spit out a gob of inky black substance, cleared her throat, and looked back at me.
“Tell me your name,” I commanded.
The draugr ‘tsked’ her thick black tongue against the back of her teeth.
“You told Aizel! Why won’t you tell me? You know my name, Trond. And you know my secret name, Ruz. It’s only fair if we’re going to continue this relationship, don’t you think?”
The draugr’s voice lowered, “I told that witch nothing!” it spat. “She stole that from me.
The girl was fighting hard, and there was a moment of weakness. I’m better now.” It smiled again, and for a split second. There were maggots weaving in and out of its teeth. I blinked rapidly, hoping it would go away. The draugr laughed.
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