“The missing subject has been identified as Treen – last seen on the same day as the illegal attempt to misappropriate gate travellers’ belongings and the subsequent misadventure.”
“Then either his mental capacity is affected – due to said misadventure – or he is a gifted liar.”
They both turn to face me with a questioning look but I am holding on to my jaw for the moment. I am burning on the inside, my skin crawls, and really, the main reason for not responding is because when I speak I sound like a trapped rat. I want to express my horror with a full-throated roar and turn this infernal place inside out, except I cannot. It has been two weeks since I learned of my circumstances and each day I expect to wake up and find it has all been a twisted nightmare. Except it has been anything but that. The fact that I can move, breath, think, offers a verisimilitude to the entire situation, even if my mind questions the plausibility on a daily and sometimes more frequent basis.
“Are you a liar?” The question is offered by my carer, Agnon. Agnon, I have since learnt, is a physician and quite a good one, given my current recovery rate and the injuries I sustained from the accident. Yet he is also two-faced: benevolent and sympathetic when assisting my recuperation but quite the opposite when in the company of the other asura, Qwaug. I actually do not mind Qwaug when confronted by the two of them together. He is forthright, brutally so, and shows utter contempt for my situation, which he is at least consistent with. Qwaug no doubt holds a station of some importance or at least, going by Agnon’s change of nature in his presence, is the most important of the two.
Qwaug lifts his head and stares down his tiny little nose. “Well? My companion asks: are you a liar, Treen?”
I try to keep my voice as low as possible. “I told you, my name is Asbjorn Bre.”
“Piffle!” exclaims Agnon. “No self-respecting asura would adopt such a moniker, and besides it is terribly inefficient. Why even the-”
“Yes, yes,” interrupts Qwaug, his eyes narrowing. “Thank you, Agnon. Either way, your name for the time being is irrelevant. We have ascertained the true function of the device that you carried upon your person. We have also been informed that you travelled from the city on the same day, and further to this, a number of witnesses placed you in the vicinity of the gate prior to the incident.”
Qwaug’s words only serve to further the jumble of confused noise battering my brain… my brain? I am norn. The Spirit of Bear runs rampant in my veins, infuses my soul and yet… yet I am not what I appear to be. I clench my fist. These fingers do not know the life I have led; these fine fingers…
“I am Asbjorn Bre, wed to Helena Bre. I am norn, a hunter hailing from the ice and snow of the Shiverpeaks. I demand to know, what have you done to me?” They should have recoiled or at least flinched from my tirade, but I could swear that Qwaug looks bored with my insistent claim.
“What have we done?” Agnon’s tone is incredulous, high-pitched and I have to resist clamping my hands to my ears, made easier by the fact that I simply cannot bear to touch them. “I… we, saved your life and you’re nothing but a petty thief!”
“I am not this ‘Treen’, whoever he may be and…” I hold up a pair of arms in front of me, turning my hands back and forth as I have done for the last two weeks, mesmerised and appalled by the change. “I am not and never have been an asura.”
Qwaug sighs. “Irrespective of your claim, now that you appear to be physically if not mentally capable, you will face the Council soon. I can assure you that they will not prove as lenient as I have been.” Qwaug shakes his head. “What possessed you? Such an act is likely to have a significant effect on gate travel. So much so, that I cannot begin to anticipate the ramifications of such a crime.” With a final shake of his head and a look of disgust he turns and strides away, followed immediately by Agnon who has to hurry to maintain the same pace.
Once they are out of sight my guard appears from nowhere. She wanders up to a panel that I have learnt controls access to my cell. The cell itself is unlike any I have ever seen. Contained within a small alcove, at first I had thought there was nothing specific about it, especially given the level of comfort. As I became more aware of my situation, the fact that I am not secured in any way seemed like an unusual amount of trust to be placed in one to have committed such grievous crimes – crimes that I still do not fully understand – and it was not until I tried to step from the alcove that I realised some form of invisible wall covered the opening. Looking at it now it is obvious that it is there – a faint shimmer with an almost imperceptible honeycomb-like pattern serves as a reminder that I am truly a prisoner, and a prisoner in more ways than one.
I have already considered and easily dismissed that this is not a product of my imagination, or if it is then it seems I am set to follow its course. I also realise it is unlikely that my captors have had any hand. They seem to be as objectionable to the idea that I was once norn as I am to the idea that I am an asura. No, after two weeks of considering the options that seem most likely, I think I know, or at least can make a reasonable guess at, what happened. Something went wrong at the gate.
For the most part I just want to keep my eyes closed. When my eyes are closed I seek the Spirit of Bear and in this faith, I trust. I know who I truly am.
“Are you hungry?” She stands at the edge of the energy field. Genni, my guard.
“Not really,” I reply.
“You still need fluids. On that I must insist or Agnon will bust a spleen.”
I shrug. I suppose I should keep up my strength. If ever an opportunity presents itself for me to escape, then I will need all of my energy. “Fine,” I nod to her, “thank you.”
Genni disappears from the room, returning a few moments later with a tray. “I’ve put some food on there for you too.” Placing the tray down at the edge of the energy field, she steps up to the console. “Sit on your bed, please.”
I hop up onto the bed, grimacing, not with pain but with the futility I feel whenever I have to perform such an action. I was never the tallest of my kind, but I was never considered short either. The experience is humiliating. I am deformed, with these blotchy claw-like feet sticking out from the end of cotton pants, dangling from the side of the bed, and out of instinct I cannot help curling my toes. A shudder of revulsion works its way up and I squeeze my eyes shut again.
“Are you feeling unwell? Should I fetch Agnon?” Genni mistakes my actions for physical suffering.
“Perhaps your friends are right about me,” I reply. “Maybe I am not well in the head.”
Genni wanders over to the console, operates a switch and swings around to face me as the energy barrier drops. “I believe you.” Approaching the tray, she slides it forward before returning to the console once more and restoring the barrier. “You are no more one of my kind than I am an apeirogon; suffice to say that I have one side, and that is mine as well as what you see being me, will always be me.”
“Oh.” Genni’s shoulders slump. “I was never particularly good at that part.”
I slide off the bed and sit cross-legged by the food tray. “I am sorry, I do not understand.”
“Oh, good.” She beams happily.
“Good?” I shake my head, a cup of water held halfway to my lips.
“Of course. Usually,” she pats the hilt of a sword at her side, “I am good at this. However, it’s rare that I find myself gaining the upper hand during informal discourse.”
“Apparently in this instance, this is not the case.”
“Apparently,” I reply, conscious that I am still holding the cup and so take a sip of water.
“I think you would fare better with symbolic logic, as I oft find myself.” Again she pats the hilt of her sword and smiles. Approaching the cell, she leans in close, hands placed on her knees, and great big green eyes study me seriously for a moment.
I continue to sip my water and then slowly place the cup on the tray, all the while trying to maintain eye contact with Genni. “What?”
She blinks and straightens. “You – are – not – an asura. Do you understand that?” She cocks her head to one side, fixing me a glare.
“Of course I understand. This is what I have been trying to say all along. How come only you seem to believe me?”
“I read people. It’s my job. Charged with the task of seeing to your welfare means that I have spent more time with you than the others.”
“You mean guarding me; making sure that I do not escape.”
“That too.” Genni folds her arms. “But do not underestimate your value to the Council. It is important to us that you remain alive.”
“You know why,” Genni replies, a little crossly.
“As it happens, I do not. I remember a lot of things, but I do not remember doing anything illegal.”
Genni tightens her arms and frowns. Believing my story about not being an asura, no matter how incredible it may seem, is one thing, but the matter of this other activity I have been accused of appears to be another. “Blessed be the Spirits – I am no thief or whatever else you think I am.”
“That would be for the Council to decide, not me.”
“Then let me see them now.” I feel the anger rise, the frustration – all of it collects at a single point in my chest and the next thing I know I am standing. “Let me see them now! I will show them that I am norn, a hunter worthy of tales,” there the anger flows white and pure, “not some petty criminal set to prey upon worthless victims!”
Genni leaps back, drawing her sword and falling into a defensive crouch.
“I am norn!” I try to yell in defiance, but instead only my mind processes the words whilst my throat roars and my body exults at the feeling of new-found vigour – I am Bear!
A savage glee races through my being. Now, now you will all see what you have caged. The energy barrier spits and thrums as I pound it with all of my might – once, twice, three times and there is a flash and a whine, sparks fly, showering down around me as it fails. I am Bear, the Spirit is upon me.
Smashing furniture aside, I ignore the puny asura, heading instead for the ramp where I saw Qwaug and Agnon exit earlier. But then the little asura guard is there before me, darting forward to block my escape. She shouts something, too quiet to break the sound of blood rushing in my head, so I charge. No one will keep me here. Genni pulls back, one step, two steps – I am on her – and then she has gone, twirling away. I catch the glitter of metal as it arcs through the air and then my head explodes with pain.
It is dark, an all too familiar dark.
My head throbs and I cannot resist groaning as I try to sit up. My hand rests on sheets, a bed, and I look up to see the tell-tale flicker of the energy barrier, restored. Genni stands outside the barrier, her arms crossed and a mischievous glitter in those large green eyes.
“I told you,” she finally says. “I believe you. Such a display was not required.”
I rub my head – my big, large, fat, round head with sticking out ears. Yet, I know who I am now and the horror of what I have become has lessened, slightly. “I am sorry.”
Genni shrugs. “So you should be – I have known from the start.”
“As I said before – I read people. That and one other fact: no self-respecting asura would break wind as often as you.”