Tales of the North


#1

_Content Archived from the Original Vainglory forums - originally posted by “TheGreatClockwyrm” on the “10th of April 2015, 5th of May 2015, 28th of June 2015, 22nd of December 2015 and 4th of June 2016” Archived by @ThePinkOtter _

I strongly recommend reading @Sokolva’s piece of lore, Journal of Adagio Darkwing before reading, or you may become confused at some parts of the story. Plus, it’s also a great piece of lore.

If you are interested in hearing the music the protagonist heard as you read (you’ll know what I mean) you can find two versions of it below.

Music Resources

https://youtu.be/tYyMBBtrJrc
https://youtu.be/A6r3qZz8fmU

Chapter 1, Brothers

From the Collected Works and Teachings of Peridotus the Wise
Chapter 47; Verse 117

The companionship of others is as much a burden as it is a blessing. The wise man is wary of those he deems his friends as well as those he deems his enemies, for the prudent man outlives the reckless one by many years. Beware the knife of friendship; for when it comes, it shall pierce not just your heart, but your soul as well.

The Reaper of the Eastern Hinterlands. The Fearbringer. The Ravager of Armies, the Bane of the North, the Greatest of the White Bears. All these names I have been called. My enemies flee when they see my approaching form, terror taking root in their mind and pouring out from their mouths and eyes. I relish the sound of their screams, their irrational terror as I approach, as my sword slices a bloody arc through their chests and legs. My great horned helmet scapes the very sky itself as I wade through the utter carnage and desolation that I have sowed here.

Once, the Northern Tribes were mighty. We ruled all of the Hinterlands to the north of Halcyon. We extended as far east as the mountains where the Elder Dragons slumbered, and we conquered as far west as the edge of the Hinterlands themselves. The world was our plaything, to be shaped and crushed at our whim. A toy like that of a child’s, to be played with and eventually razed to the ground.

But that was before my time. Now we are few, and fighting is constant. My clan, the White Bears of the Eastern Hinterlands, rule but a disparate archipelago. We have sailed west, and found hostile tribes that we called brothers scant decades ago. We have sailed north, to the edge of the world. We have sailed south, and found an armada of strange creatures, much like the snow lynxes of the hills, but standing on their hind legs like men. I have heard stories of the western tribes who tried to fight these great cats. The wreckage of the ships left over was enough to discourage even the most foolhardy among us. I have seen the gaping holes in the sides of the men, huge chunks of flesh completely missing from their body. I have seen these things, and wept at the injustice Mother Yrla has showed us. We were mighty! We were the finest warriors this side of Halcyon, berserkers of the north that brushed aside injury and dealt killing blows with savage efficiency. And now we are pathetic seafarers, doomed to wage war against our brothers until none of us are left.

I am not the chieftain of my clan, but I am looked to as such. Our true chieftain, Gvalgo, is old, and weak, but he is wise, and respected. He may not lead us into battle against the western tribes personally, but he does draw up stratagem, deploying our meager navy and army to search for any honor or valor that has not already been swept away by the tide. I lead our men into battle, and I slaughter without remorse or hesitation- only sadness. The glory of battle has never felt so pathetic. My sword, Dalgênor, sends men to Mother Yrla, to their ancestors, without discrimination. I hack and slash, not even sure why. I am no hero, no leader- I am a savage, who kills out of tradition instead of necessity. I have seen good men fall, headless, or skewered by an enemy blade, their lips still forming a curse, their eyes still full of hate. Is this the will of the gods? I may never know.

My wife is my only consolation. She is the most beautiful woman you could hope to meet- her eyes are blue as the first summer tides, her hair as fair as the sun’s gentle morning rays. The lips on her mouth form a perfect scarlet oval, begging to be kissed. Her breasts are round and full, and spill out over her corset, perfect for the suckling of a babe. Her hips sway as she walk, captivating the eye of men. The fire I feel when I stroke her smooth, alabaster skin awakens something within me, something I forget every time I am away. And all this she knows, and relishes in.

She is not only appealing to the eye. None but Gvalgo can match her wit, her intelligence, her vivacious charm that beguiles the mind as well as the senses. She handles a sword as well as any man I know, save perhaps myself, and her knowledge of history keeps the young’uns awake long after their curfew, her tales of heroes sailing mighty ships and slaying great beasts. Her songs no bard can hope to match, her lyre making the most hardhearted of us burst into boyish tears. I am grateful the Mother Yrla paired me with this wondrous beauty, and that I have her as my loyal wife.

My father and mother have long since passed away and found peace in the gentle arms of the Greatmother, but their memory lives on in me, and my adopted brother Valgos. Valgos has always been…different. He is squeamish at the sight of blood, and cannot even eat his meat raw, as we all do. He is not the bravest among us, or the strongest, or the smartest. He does not wield a broadsword or a battleaxe, but rather, a slim spear and a bow. His long lashes, curly dark hair, pointed nose, gangly build, and long, articulate fingers separate him from the rest of us, with our stocky shoulders; strong, rough hands; fair hair; and brutish features. But I love him as if he were my bloodbrother, and I would rather die than see him come to harm.

Valgos has acted strange of late. My wife and I have allowed him to live with us for many years, and I have always gently urged him to find a wife of his own, to settle down and raise a young one. He never seems to hear. His hands fidget as he paces his room, and he mutters strange things. He is deathly afraid of the thunder, and the lightning that precedes it. At the first sound of a storm, he will sprint the length of the house, wailing as loudly as the banshees of legend. As the thunder grows louder, rocking the strong foundations of our simple home, he curls into a desperate ball, his eyes alight with berkerker madness, and yet it is only the eyes that are possessed. No inner fire tightens his muscles, no bloodthirsty rage pervades his actions and speech. But a demonic flame possesses his eyes, and they fill me with visions of the future- of a glowing sword, a deathly wail, a bright violet flash. Nothing can shake him from these strange fits of madness, where he speaks in tongues unbeknownst to us, mumbling about stars and curses and crystals. I worry for him.

One day, Valgos comes to me. His hands are shaking, his eyes are wild with some secret madness, and yet he speaks evenly and clearly. He tells me stories of the old times, when we bargained with the Elder Dragons to the east, exchanging meat and wool and lumber for the Vain energy the Dragons hoarded in abundance. How that energy spurred us to great deeds, how it inspired the legendary heroes of old to conquer our enemies’ lands and slay the mighty beasts that threatened our people. Indeed, it was that same energy that possessed my ancestors as they drove off the Skaarfungandr, the fiery monstrosity that had plagued us for decades. Valgos urges me to sail for the east, to the Elder Dragons, to recover that energy once more. With it, he says, we can rebuild our shattered society. We can revitalize the sick and raise the dead, extend offers of alliance to our brothers-turned-enemies.

I do not like the look in his eyes as I agree.

We prepare to depart, and Gvalgo gives us his blessing, instructing me on how to parley with the Dragons. Taking only my three strongest warriors and Valgos, we pack the ship full to the brim with strips of cloth and wool, flasks of beer, huge logs of wood, salted hams and roasted birds to bargain with the slumbering Dragons. I give my wife one last kiss before I step on the mighty boat that will take me and my men to the eastern mountains.

The journey is long, but I am comforted by the companionship of my brothers-in-arms. We eat and drink well, and fight the harsh summer gales that rock our mighty ship with mountain-high waves. The rain stings our muscled chests and strong, hairy arms as we pull the oars tirelessly through the icy northern waters, as Valgos keeps watch in the crow’s nest, warning us of glaciers and ice floes. I have not seen a trace of his madness since we stepped on the boat. He laughs and works alongside us, without the fear of thunder or the crazed murmurings of the future. I see now how much good this journey will do both me and him.

After two short months of sailing, we reach the eastern shores. A rocky beach greets our weathered craft, and I jump from the deck to the rolling tides below. With long, greedy strokes, I relish the feel of the waves on my chest, and soon find myself on the beach. Valgos is right behind me. My other men unload our bountiful cargo to the sandy slopes, and I instruct them to stay put until my return. Waving for Valgos to follow me, I set out in search of an Elder Dragon to parley with.

The beach soon gives way to a dense forest. The trees here look as if they once stood high, but now they are black with age and their bark is brittle and rotted. Every so often I find a tree with long gashes in the bark, ugly black sap oozing from the wound. Valgos becomes excited, his eyes alight again with that terrifying blaze of insanity, saying that this is a good sign, that Dragons are near. I pray to Mother Yrla that he is right.

We soon reach a large, grassy clearing. A huge tree, dwarfing the others by several dozen meters, stretches high into the sky. As I watch, its bark darkens and twists, and it seems to shrink ever so slowly. No birds chirp their welcoming songs. No small rodents scuffle amongst the leaves in search of food. All is deathly quiet. A small house, roughly as large as my boat, sits in the highest branches. No ladder leads up to the house, and so I assume that this is where a dragon must reside, since only someone, or something, that can fly could reach it. As I step closer to the arboreal abode, Valgos stoops to investigate some large object in the grass. I call up to the house, heaping praise upon its draconic master, begging for him to accept my generous offers of meat, wood, and cloth, if only he would spare some precious Vain energy. I remember what Gvalgo tells me to say, to compliment the dragon, to-

"One whose steel shall break the curse of old!’ my brother’s voice screams.

A searing pain suddenly grips my chest, and all at once I feel as if I have been immersed in icy cold water. I am drowning in pain, choking on its cruel mastery of my nerves and thoughts. The burning agony emanates from my chest, rolling out in waves of fire and death. With all the strength in my body, I look down, and see a massive sword, burning with a sickly turquoise fire, sticking out of my torso. I feebly grasp for it, trying to pull it out, my hands sliding off the blade. A fire spreads throughout my body, and I collapse. I am burning, burning alive. The sword is still within me, a cold, dead weight, its fiery steel dancing before my eyes and awakening a long-forgotten part of my mind. A strange, lilting tune clouds my thoughts, a primal melody on a reedy wooden flute, that sings to me of death by fire, of betrayal in the shadows, of the desire to rend flesh and crack bone. Deep, somber baritones join the song, splitting my skull with their unearthly chanting. My insides are boiling, and I feel my heart stop beating. How am I still alive? I cry out to my brother, and in the haze of my unbearable agony, I hear the sound of footsteps over the din of the primal chords, and I turn my head to see the rapidly retreating form of my brother. I scream his name, again and again, as he fades from my vision, as the fire liquefies my insides and blackens my skin. The last thing I see before I die is the wilting, sickly grass.

My eyes open. I am in a clearing, with tall black trees surrounding me. Did I fall asleep? I blink several times in quick succession, and then sneeze violently. It is then that I see the sword.

An ancient fear awakens in my mind, and I scramble backwards. The sword follows me. I shakily climb to my feet, and I realize- the sword is embedded in my chest. I am confused for a moment. Not confused as in; there is a sword in my chest, shouldn’t I be dead? but confused as in; why is there a sword in my chest? as if it being there were a strange oddity, not unheard of, but strange nonetheless. I place my hands on the sword, whose hilt lies right before my face, its blade going in my chest and tapering to a cruel, sharpened tip three feet from my back. I stare at my hands in wonder. They are a sickly grey, like ash, and I can see every bone beneath my papery skin. My fingers taper into long black nails, like those of a hag or witch. I rip open my loose flannel shirt, tearing it from my upper body- and find rotting, ashy skin that crinkles when I touch it. I feel my face. My skin is close to nonexistent there- my teeth are sharp, like those of a wolf’s, and I have no nose, just a gaping triangular hole. My thick beard, braided into two thick ropes on either side of the sword, is as white as snow, and a nagging memory, like a sneeze or an itch of the brain, reminds me that it used to be a strong, healthy blonde. My horned helmet feels unnaturally heavy. I throw my ruined shirt down on the ground, and collapse.

Days pass as I lie on that accursed ground. My breathing grows ragged, and my chest burns with every breath. The sword seems to have a life of its own, breathing, yes, but burning me with each of its breaths. I am most certainly dead, but how am I here? How do I still breathe, and feel the grass on my bare, muscular back if I am dead? Why do I still desire a filling meal, a hearty drink, a warm touch from a woman’s hand? These questions remain unanswered as I sleep a restless slumber, my eyes wide open in wonderment of the world.

I could not tell you how long I lay in that clearing. My mind wandered from this world to the next, seeing things that cannot be unseen. The spirits joined me in my restless slumber, whispering promises of redemption, of revenge and loneliness. They torment me with their impish smiles, snickering, their soulless eyes seeming to mock me in my solitude. They drift closer to me, reaching out their hands to stroke my beard and ribs. Suddenly, the unholy sword sparks, and its small, dim flame roars into a turquoise bonfire, searing my chest and chin. The spirits wail in agony and disappear in a flash of light and smoke.

Finally, the sword speaks to me. A nagging voice, not speaking, more like a feeling in my gut, urges me to stand. I roll to the side a little, and brace my elbow against the grass. My legs are weak from laying down for so long, and so I stumble a little when I stand. One would think the sword’s weight would keep me off balance, but it does just the opposite- infusing me with unbearable pain, but also a fiery strength. I lean heavily on a tree, and look up, seeing a small house in its branches. Black sap drips from the porch, several hundred feet in the air, splattering on my face. I recoil in anger, in defiance at this black liquid. It dares strike me? Before I even know what I am doing, I pull the sword from my chest with a sickening slurp, holding it in one hand, and begin striking the tree, again and again, with a manic rage, gouging long slashes in the gnarled black wood. With the sword out of my chest, I suddenly feel drained, defeated. My brow droops, and I collapse again. I clutch my chest, as it burns, burning much worse than it had when the sword was sheathed there. I finger the gaping wound. I could fit both of my huge grey hands in the hole, with room to spare. My breath comes in short, ragged gasps. Am I about to die? A agonizing sensation fills my whole body, and I turn my head to the sword lying beside me.

The music has returned, drowning out anything else. A simple, sinister melody on a wooden flute, reinforced by the male baritones chanting an ominous beat. My mind wanders, and I see terrible visions. A huge purple crystal suddenly explodes, sending shards of it at me, piercing my mind. I clutch my head in agony, and my chest continues to burn, burning with a fire of the apocalypse, a fire that puts Skaarfungandr’s to shame, now that I am free of the sword. A serpentine form with a grotesque red mask speaks in my mind, but I cannot hear it. The music continues to play, primal and devastating to hear, an orchestra of doom.

My third and last vision is strange. As I clutch my burning breast, awaiting a second death, I see a heavenly figure. It is like that of a man, backlit by a blinding light, but it has wings, huge black wings. An angel of death. It laughs at me, curling one taloned finger, its eyes full of mirth. It turns, and disappears into the light. I cry out for it to return, for it to help me, but it does not respond. The music stops suddenly, on a single, discordant note.

My eyes finally open. I feel revitalized, stronger. I realize the sword has returned to me, sticking out of my chest like some gruesome monument. I stand, and grasp the hilt of the sword with both hands, and slowly draw it out. As soon as the sword leaves my body, I am overcome by a wave of nausea and agonizing pain. Immediately I sheath it back in my body, and I feel stronger. The pain is still there, constant and burning, but it is not as bad as when the sword was out of me.

I stagger through the forest, a blind man who can see, a cripple who can walk. My hands grope the seemingly neverending darkness, and the sword lights the way. Its sickly flame revitalizes me, showing me the path as I stumble through this wretched wood. Finally I reach the shores, and collapse on the surf. The sword, sensing my need, burns brightly, and I feel a wave of new pain- along with a fresh burst of vigor. I stand, sand caking my chest and trousers, and stare off into the ocean. A beautiful sunrise is just beginning to form, streaking the sky with a symphony of violet, orange, and even bright green. My eyes water at the sight, not out of melancholy, but out of profoundness. I stand there for the early hours of the day, weeping, and watching the sun slowly rise up from the depths of the far off horizon, like a child waking up from a long winter’s rest.

The sword whispers to me again, and I set to work. I must escape this accursed place, and find somewhere to settle down, search for a way to free myself from this unnatural burden. I find a strong tree, untouched by the blight that seems to have affected its neighbors, and gradually I draw the sword from my chest. I am expecting the wave of pain and nausea this time, and overcome it. I focus, and manage to concentrate on contact with the sword. I imagine it is an extension of my body, a third arm. The pain lessens somewhat and I get to work. Using the sword, I set into a comfortable rhythm. Hack, rest. Slash, rest. Slice, rest. The tree soon falls to my unrelenting efforts. Using the sword again, I slice the once-mighty tree into small logs. I sheathe the sword, and welcome the burst of pain and energy.

Using a tough weed that grew in abundance on the rocky beach, I lash the logs together to form a humble raft. Taking a large stick twice as high as me, I fasten it in a wedge in the middle. I return to the clearing from whence I came and fetch my shirt. Returning to the raft, I rip my shirt apart, unfolding it into a large cotton square, and attach it to the stick in such a way that it can serve as a suitable sail. With my raft complete, I push it out to the ocean and climb aboard, letting the natural current drift me out to sea.

I turn, and take one last look at the mainland, moving farther and farther away as I drift out to sea. The trees are all shrinking, I realize, growing blacker and more decrepit as I watched. This suddenly filled me with an emotion I had not yet experienced. Was it guilt? Anger? No, no. It was sadness.

For weeks I lay on that solitary craft, at the mercy of the ocean and sky. Twice storms threatened my tiny boat, but no huge waves sunk her to the seabed. Lightning and thunder played a deadly duet together, striking in harmony. I scream at them, begging them, challenging them, daring them to strike me. Thrice I came close to being struck, but never did lightning or her thunderous companion ever harm me. The waves stung my arms with their salty brine, washing fish onto my raft. I tore into them hungrily, savoring the salty, chewy flesh, and cracking their bones to suck the sweet marrow hidden within. The sword glowed brightly at times, angrily, especially when it thundered. The unholy fire that burned its blade and me was not affected by the water. In fact, the rain and seawater only seemed to anger it, making it blaze brighter than ever.

Finally, I run aground on some beach, tiny bits of ice washing up with me. Snow is falling gently. The wreckage of three warships are scattered along the shore, along with many corpses of men. Weapons, dead bodies, and disembodied limbs are strewn everywhere, and I pick my way through them carefully, in fear of getting my foot stabbed by an errant sword. Footprints in the snow seem to lead up to a cliff, where I can see what appears to be a large village.

I sprint up the path to the village, curious to see what is up there. I find more bodies of men along the path. Some wear the mark of a white bear, others a red wolf. A nagging itch in the back of my mind persists, as if I know these men.

When I finally reach the village, I am shocked at what I find. More corpses than ever line the streets; men, women, children, the elderly. Houses, shops, armories, and taverns all lie in various stages of disrepair, with doors smashed in, windows broken, gaping holes in the roofs. Axes and swords are buried in the bodies of the dead. Some corpses are headless, or missing arms or legs. Some have their backs bent at unnatural angles.

I find myself in front of the largest building so far, in the snowy village square. The door lies askew. Striding into the massive hall, I find the corpse of a shriveled old man, slumped back in his throne, an arrow in his throat. He wears a gruesome smile on his face, his eyes still laughing. More dead bodies sit in chairs around a long banquet table, their faces in their now-cold meals, or slumped back in their chairs, a morbid grin on their face, shattered wine glasses at their feet. A splitting migraine jolts my skull. A vision of this old man, alive and well, flits through my brain. He is sitting across from me, pointing to a map, talking about troop placement and places to hide the archers. The vision passes, and I find myself staring into his lifeless face once more. Disgusted, I turn and leave the banquet hall.

Unsure of where I am going, I stop in the village square, the snow falling around me in delicate snowflakes, coating my shoulders and boots. Suddenly, the blade flares bright for a moment and jerks me to the right. I collapse to my knees in the snow before a simple wood cabin, directly to the right of the huge hall I had just left. The door is wide open.

The blade gently pulls me forward, towards the cabin. A light flickers in the doorway.

Six corpses greet me in the first room, which appears to be a mixture of a kitchen and a sitting room. One is at my feet, another of the warriors who bears the mark of the red wolf. An arrow has pierced one of his eyes. His skin is blue from the cold, and frost coats his hair, beard, and eyebrows. His lips are a dark blue. Four other corpses, strewn around the room, with arrows sticking out of their heads, necks, or chests, are essentially the same- bearded men bearing the mark of a red wolf, with blue skin and lips from the cold and frost in their hair.

The last corpse is different however. He is slumped at the foot of the stairs, sitting upright. A small bow lies at his feet, and an empty quiver is strapped to his back. His cloak is marked with the head of a snow-white bear. A massive longsword, almost as large as mine, has impaled his skinny frame to the wooden step behind him. Dried blood coats the wound, and pools around his legs. I crouch down to inspect his face.

Suddenly, I am stricken with a migraine that splits my skull. The music strikes up again, the furious wooden flute and baritone choir pounding the inside of my brain, growing louder and more fervent with each note. I scream in pain, and fall on my back, convulsing and thrashing. Memories cloud my brain: a vision of this man, curled in a ball, madness in his eyes, as lightning illuminates the room and thunder booms outside. He cries out, grasping the throat of an invisible foe, and looks straight at me. Another searing jolt of pain races through my head. The scene changes: him racing into battle on a snowy plain, holding a small spear aloft, screaming a battle cry. This scene melts away to his face smiling, his mouth forming the word “brother”.

The pain subsides, but the music keeps playing. I inspect the face of the man before me. His eyes are rolled up in the back of his head, and his head is lolled back on the step behind him. His skin is a darker blue than the others, and when I touch it gently with one outstretched finger, I recoil at the cold. His lips are purple, and his long, pointed nose is bent at an unnatural angle, as if it had been broken. His long lashes are coated with frost, as is his long, dark hair. Long, skinny fingers are grasping at the hilt of the blade, as if to free their tormented body after death.

The migraine has returned, but it is less painful as before. The blade gently pulls me up the steps. I delicately step over the body of the man I seemingly once called brother.

Another warrior of the red wolf lies dead on the stairs, a small, slim spear in his belly. I step over his corpse, as the sword drags me to the top of the staircase. It pulls me faintly to the right, into a small bedroom.

The migraine intensifies, but I walk into the room. A sizable hole in the roof lets in the snow. Already a layer of the thick, white precipitation has covered the floor, bed, and two bodies. I see another soldier, impaled by a long, thin blade, feminine in design. He is half-buried by the snow, and bears the mark of the red wolf.

The second corpse appears to be a woman, but I cannot be sure because it is buried completely by snow and ice. My dead, grey hands dig the corpse out, and I roll it out into the middle of the floor.

My hungry gaze travels the length of her body. Her arms clutch a small baby, swaddled in rough woolen clothes, close to her curvaceous figure. Her skin is blue and flecked with snow and frost. Her once-beautiful blond hair has fallen in a brittle, frozen sheet to the floor below, and her lips, once red as blood, are now bluer that the fire of my sword. The baby’s face is frozen with ice and snow, its peaceful expression preserved forever by the wintry air.

All at once my memories come rushing back to me in one agonizing headache. The pain is unbearable, and the primal music roars and shrieks in mt mind. I remember the thrill of battle, slicing bodies with my blade, Dalgênor, and kicking their corpses out of my way. The smell of my wife’s hair, the feel of her warm, white skin. Discussing strategy with Gvalgo, and the long nights by the fire with him, reminiscing the tales of old. Rowing a boat with my kinsmen, feeling the brine on my cheek and smelling the scent of wet wood.

Riding into battle with my brother, the snow on my beard, holding Dalgênor aloft, screaming a triumphant battle cry.

Sailing to the eastern lands with my brother to bargain with the Elder Dragons.

Feeling this blade straight from hell pierce my chest, cleaving my soul in two, and forever burning away my will to live, as my brother abandons me to die.

I cry out to the gods and gather my wife and son in my cold, dead hands, weeping to the chilly morning air as the snow falls gently around me.


#2
Chapter 2, Hellrazor

From the Collected Works and Teachings of Peridotus the Wise
Chapter 47; Verse 25

The proverbial sword is often more powerful than the corporeal one. While it may not cut flesh, it bites deep into one’s soul and mind, a much more grievous injury than any physical scar.

The flames flickering in the snowy air amuse me. How innocent they must seem to any careless passerby. How beautiful they must look to the gods above, their dulcet hues wavering like a fickle splash of starlight. How welcome they must feel to living flesh, how so very much needed for those pale cowards who require its warmth during the wintry nights. But these flames are no paltry campfire- they burn the corpses of the men of the Redwolf clan, the damned marauders who stole my family from me.

For days I had lain in my house, cradling my dead wife and son in my arms. My waxy tears melted the snow around us, and the sword embedded in my chest lay dormant. No fire flickered on its blade, no runes swirled on its hilt. No visions or primal melodies haunted my mind. I relished this period of silence from the Hellrazor, as I have named it. Indeed, it is a razor straight from the depths of hell, far from the tender mercy of Mother Yrla. It is my bane, my curse, my life, my soul. It is my sole companion over those many days spent, curled on the wooden floor on my home, clutching my dead wife in my hands. Finally, something within me broke on one of those days of solitude. The corpses of my family dropped to the ground as I rushed to the Redwolf bastard who stole my family. I tore his body apart, gouging his sightless eyes, feasting on his cold flesh. I cracked his bones apart and twisted his neck in circles. When I was done, I disposed of the mess by dumping it into the sea. I showed more kindness to the other Redwolves. After all, they were only doing what they had been ordered to do: conquer and destroy. I gathered up their bodies, removing the arrows and swords that stuck out from their backs and heads. With the wood of my raft, I constructed a pyre suitable for the gods and burned their bodies, praying that they be judged swiftly and with fairness. As for my people, they were buried. I spent days digging out stones from the sea, pushing boulders and the shells of the huge abalagos that could seat ten men, up the cliff to my village. The White Bears were buried with reverence: men, women, children. With Hellrazor I gouged their names into the stones, and wedged them into the frozen earth covering their bodies. Each had their own personal grave. I prayed for Mother Yrla to watch over them, and to give them a better afterlife than I was dealt. I buried my wife and child last, together in a plot of land overlooking the sea. On their stone I carved my love and regret.

I return to the Great Hall. All of the revelers save one have been buried already. With gentle arms I lift the corpse of my chieftain from his redundant throne. His small, shriveled corpse feels like a bundle of hay: light, and…scratchy? I lay him down on the snowy ground outside and gently pull the arrow from his throat before snapping it in half and tossing it away. I close his eyelids. Aside from the bloody hole in his neck, with his knowing smile, he looks like he is having a pleasant dream.

Next, I return to my simple cabin. I crouch down to the body of my brother, impaled to the wooden step behind him. His skin is purple from the cold, and scarlet blood still stains the blade of the sword sticking through his chest, so very much like my own. With careful deliberation I slowly draw the huge broadsword from his chest. As soon as the whole of it comes out, I hurl it out the doors with a fierce yell. The tears come again, splattering against Hellrazor and the corpse of Valgos. With one swift motion I pick up his body, burying my face into his chest. I rock him gently, weeping into his bloodstained cloak. His skin is so cold it hurts my hands, but I do not care. All I want is to be reunited with my brother again, before the madness took hold. I carry him outside. The snow is falling heavily, and I place Valgos next to Gvalgo. Returning to the house, I collect the arrows my brother used to slay the five Redwolves who invaded my home. I also pick up his slim spear and return to the corpses.

Careful not to shatter a single arrow, I roll my brother over and place them back in his quiver. I open the fingers of his right hand and roughly shove the spear back into his hand. Closing his fingers, I roll him back over and stare at the two bodies before me. One, my leader and friend whose wisdom guided me through my darkest hours. The other, my beloved brother who accompanied me into battle and shared a home with me. My brother, who sailed to the Eastern Lands with me. My brother, who put Hellrazor through my chest.

A searing pain grips my body. The flames of the sword flare bright, charring my chest and locking my joints. An angry voice whispers in my mind, jealous of my emotion for these men. The voice hisses at me to leave this place. I shake my head, my vision fogging. The flames fade from my sight. My eyes droop, and my legs buckle underneath me.

My eyes open. I am back in the clearing where Valgos had killed me with Hellrazor. However, it is not the clearing as I knew it. I barely recognize it. The trees are healthy and russet-brown, instead of the decrepit black that I had previously seen them. The grass here is green and thriving. The sun is cheery and bright, a golden beacon in the periwinkle sky. I stare around in wonder. Never have I seen such a beautiful place! Birds sing cheerfully in the branches of the trees. Mice and deer flit between the bushes. I turn, and place one hand on the tree behind me in wonder. It is then that I realize that my skin is not grey and thin. It is as it should be; a healthy peach, with short nails and hairy knuckles. I look down at my chest, and see no sword. No gaping wound splits my torso in two. No burning pain throbs in place of my heart. I gasp in spite of myself, and feel my face. My beard is rich and thick, and I have a nose! My teeth are not cruel fangs, they are blunted and hard! My helmet is gone, but I feel my thick blonde hair again! I am alive!

“I take it you are enjoying yourself, hmm?”

I whirl around. A pale man with navy wings and a long, serpentine tail glides towards me. His snow-white hair frames his beautiful face. Taloned hands gesture wildly into the humid air.

I stammer out a response. “Where am I? How-how is this possible?”

The man laughs, a cold, harsh sound, like glass shattering. He turns his head to me. “Why do you care how this came about? It is what you wanted, no? Why question it?” He spreads his arms wide. “My friend, you are home. Is this place not beautiful? Is it not perfection?”

I frown. “If I were home, it would be snowing. A great fire would be blazing in the hearth. My wife and brother would be at my side, and my son in my arms.” I clench my fists. “This is not my home, this is my hell. This is where I was killed, where the blade of hell razed my soul.”

The man is silent. His eyes, a deep, iridescent blue, flicker red. His hands clench. Gliding behind me on his dark raven wings, he caresses my bare neck and back with large, smooth hands. I hear his angelic laughter in my ear. A calmness fills my heart and mind. Why worry? a voice whispers in my mind. What’s the point? You are home. You are alive, strong and well. Your new master will take good care of y-

Master? No that can’t be right. I shake my head. I serve no man but Gvalgo! Gvalgo is dead, the voice whispers in my mind. You no longer serve him. You serve a new master. Rest. Give in to your thoughts. It will only be easier. No! I will not serve you! With a mighty shake of my head, I clear the voice from my mind. It wails and then disappears. I turn to the seemingly angelic man behind me, circling me like a greatfin does to its prey. His eyes are alight with some secret amusement. It is all a game to him. He bares his draconic fangs at me in a mocking grin. His once-blue eyes are now a demonic red, and his black raven wings burn with turquoise fire. The stench of decay rolls of of him in waves.

Roaring, I charge him, grabbing wildly at his chest. I grasp empty air. An outstretched foot tangles my legs and I trip, and fall face first into the leaf-strewn ground. I hear laughter above me. A sharp pain grips my back, digging into my shoulder blades like the talons of a huge bird. I feel hot blood run down my back. Or is it acid? It burns like fire, whatever it is. I look down at my arms, and try to push myself up. It is then that I collapse from astonishment. I am dead again! My arms are grey and withered. I lick my teeth, and feel their cruel tips. My helmet is back on my head, and my wispy, snow-white beard falls in a pile under my chin. But where is the sword?

The acidic talons are digging into my back, piercing my organs. I cannot move because of the pain. My liquids are burning. All at once I am back in the past, with my brother plunging the sword deep into my chest. The agony is unbearable, neverending, complete. I feel death breathing down my neck- literally. The music begins to play, the haunting melody on the panpipes, filling my ears and soul with their morbid tune. With a single burst of agony, the talons fuse into my sword, and with a sickening rattle of steel sliding over dead flesh, it pierces my chest fully.

I gasp, and my head is cleared. I wake up, spread-eagle in the snow. The cold air steams against my sword’s sickly turquoise flame. Valgos’ and Gvalgo’s corpses lie next to me. Tears are running down my face, shamelessly, profusely, with a mind of their own. My hands are bleeding, my nails having dug scars in the palm. I sit up. The tears stop flowing, as does the black blood. Standing shakily, my muscles sore, I plod towards my cabin, to the right of the Great Hall. I know now what I must do. Using my hands and sword, I pry the cabin apart, log by log, wall by wall, until nothing is left but a sad little sitting room and a hearth quickly extinguished by the snow. The second floor collapses onto the first, and the bed I once shared with my wife crushes the weakened hearth with a heart-rending crash. The other furniture cracks into tiny wooden pieces, the skinned wolves and bears laughing at me with their posthumous grins. I drag the wood before the corpses, log by log, and set to work.

The gods laugh in my ear. How cruel they are to me. Even Mother Yrla, the Lifegiver, the Greatmother, has forsaken me. I curse her name. Thalgos, the Deathbringer, takes special amusement in my suffering. His eerie, rattling voice tells me that my wife and brother are feasting in Valhalla without me, mirth in their eyes, luscious food on their lips. I spit at his feet. Baldrin, the warrior liege of Mother Yrla, bows before me in mock respect and slaps at my sword with one brutish hand. I kick him in the chin. Felri, his sister, the goddess of magic, lights my fingers on fire as I work and prick my eyes with needles of energy. I backhand her ruthlessly. They gather in a circle, laughing, and disappear in the snowy air. I curse them with ancient obscenities. Using the logs of my own cabin, I build a simple wooden pyre, meant to burn up alongside the corpses. The snow stings my brow and worms into my boots, the frozen mush crunching beneath my heel.

Gathering my chieftain in my arms, I lay him I gently over the pyre, folding his skinny arms over his chest. His mighty white beard tickles my forearms, and his liver-spotted hands feel like dead spiders in my grip. Next I gather up what was once my brother, now a frozen warrior lost to time. I lay him beside my chieftain, and together they sleep, their eyes closed, their mouths smiling faintly, enjoying that wonderful dream called death. My hands shaking, I draw my sword from my chest. I connect my body to it, imagining it as an extension of my arm, waving it through the wintry air. Sensing my intent, the flames burn hot and bright, leaping onto the pyre. I drop the sword into the snow and lunge forward, too late, regretting my rash action. Why did I burn them?! Weeping, I let the flames spread to my arms as well, desperately trying to drag their bodies from the blazing pyre.

The flames take hold, and flare bright, consuming my brother and chieftain. Weakened and alone, I drag their charred corpses, still burning with Hellrazor’s flame, off the pyre, into the snow. The flames burn heedless of my actions and soon, the ash of my clanmates scatters with the snowy wind. More tears roll down my sunken cheeks, and the last thing I see before I collapse into darkness is Hellrazor’s shadowy form, ghostlike against the blizzard, rising into the air and plunging into my chest once more.


#3
Chapter 3, Raven

From the Collected Works and Teachings of Peridotus the Wise
Chapter 250, Verse 80

I_f you are to remember one thing that I have taught you in my humble volume, then it is this: for it is not the snarling wolf, or the poisonous serpent, or the hulking Grangor that is most dangerous to the mortal man; no, it is the sharp-eyed raven circling above your corpse._

Life is so much more………trivial now. Did I once cherish it? How petty I was. Weak, like a child who cannot lift its father’s sword. Like the coward who flees an enemy. I would gladly soak my beard in the blood of that coward, that fool I once was. His heart no longer beats. His eyes no longer see. I am the sword, and the sword is me. We are one, for eternity. Does that rhyme? How should I know? I knew a man once who studied poetry……Galvo? Volgav? A vague memory, a passing star. I respected him once, I think. He held some importance to my past self. As if it matters. They are all dead. Brothers, slain by brothers- a fitting tale of the north. Perhaps that is what the gods call my sorry tale. Bastards, all of them. They are cruel to not strike me down where I stand, and free me of my torment. I would trade away Valhalla for but a moment of respite.

My vision is getting worse. No matter how I position my head or what angle or lighting I view things from, everything has a dull grey tint. Sometimes I have visions- winged men shrouded in blue fire, or wolves prowling through the snow. Shadows haunt the corners of my eyes, and plague my dreams, my nightmares. My body remains as it is- brittle and grey, but also strong and weathered, a furious statue impervious to the passings of time. I cannot explain it to a mortal. Would you understand? No. None can understand me. I am……unique now. Hellrazor has marked me, and brought doom upon my destiny- if I ever had one.

The shadows are my element. This forgotten archipelago is full of them. They dance alongside me to this mad beat we call life- or in my case, death. I inhale their musky brine, the smell of darkness and decay, the glory that is inherent in the dying. Too many graves are on this island. I stumble across them periodically in my circumventing journeys. The ice-flecked dirt is cold, and bears the weight of untold sorrow. I drink in the scent of death. It smells familiar- did I dig these graves? The corpses I unearth wear cloaks of blue, with the symbol of a white bear inscribed on their chest. The migraine returns. Did I know this man? This woman? This child?

How long have I wandered? I cannot say. The sun never shows here. It is always snowing, or hailing, or thundering. The lightning frightens me, and I curse myself at my own cowardice. Another memory mocks the edge of my thoughts- a man who also feared the storm. Wails and cries of banshees, and eyes alight with berserker madness. Lightning fills a room. Death follows. He is my friend. I remember him. Some days I sit on the icy beach, and watch the waves slowly nudge ice floes towards the shore- like fathers and mothers sadly letting go of a child who is too old for them anymore. Twice I have drowned myself, to no avail. The water shuns me. I am unnatural, and unfit to interact with the noble sea. Fish that wash up on the beach, madly flapping their fins to return to the ocean, wither up and die when I approach. How long must I suffer and invoke that suffering in others?

No man lives on this island but me. Am I still a man? Hardly. I am……better? Or am I worse? I am certainly not one, and I fear none either. I fear nothing. Certainly not death. Not the shadows, or the crash of stormy waves. Not the primal beasts of the island. I have slain the rokkla that stalk the icy passes, and the stagbears that dwell within the mountain caves. Indeed, they fear me. My sword slices through their woolly chests, and I feast on the marrow of their bones and their bloody meat that drips from my black talons oh so deliciously. Indeed, the sword. It speaks to me, not with a voice, but with urges, and emotion. Anger. Thirst. Guilt. The flames burn, and rejuvenate. My torso is cleaved in two- a three foot gash that puckers and whines without the healing pain of the blade. My skin is like ash. My teeth are that of a wolf- a predator. I wear a strange helm on my head, finely crafted, bronze, with two spiraling horns that curl into cruel tips. I like this helm. It is good for gouging out the eyes of my enemies.

The sword is an extension of my will, and I am the puppet of its desires. We are a symbiotic bond- it, the parasite, I, the host. It leeches my will to live, and burns my heart. If I still have one. I am oathsworn to it, and it to me. We, I, it are one. Where would one draw the line where the sword is not I and I am not the sword? That boundary, if it exists, is a blurry one indeed. The sword burns bright. It does not like this train of thought. I feel a sharp pain in my skull, and I clutch it with my massive grey hands, enveloping my head in a cocoon of physical reassurance. If touch were all that I needed to do away with my pain, I would be a happier soul. Nothing helps. Fugues of amnesia beset themselves upon me whenever it is convenient to them. Migraines, and phantom pain in my chest, and the music. Oh, the music. Unearthly. Alien. A reedy, malevolent orchestra on the panpipes. Hauntingly beautiful. Evoking a sense of despair, and also of awe. I fashioned a pair the other day out of bladewood. Blowing on it, I discovered that I had no musical aptitude. The sound that came out was harsh, and dry, and altogether unpleasant. Reminds me of someone. I crushed the simple instrument in my hand, and took pleasure in the destruction. My black blood raced, and a sense of euphoria clumsily crashed through my head and chest. Pitiful. Petty destruction is my sole source of amusement. I am a child, eyes wide open not out of wonder, but of regret, and utter distaste for what he finds around him.

I can hear the gods laughing at me.

Today in my rambling journey about the island, I found a shipwreck on the beach. Snapped beams of wood, tattered bolts of linen cloth, ropes and rigging are strewn about the icy shore. I walk amongst the carnage, my soulless eyes roving hungrily over the first sign of human life that I have encountered in years. Or has it only been days? I am not good with time. My memory has been slipping since I first arrived on the island. How long ago was that? Hours? Years? I am not sure.

There are no bodies. I am not surprised by this. The sea is vengeful, and those it does not deem worthy deserve only to sink to its depths. However, I do find a small black bird, a raven, wrapped in a white sheet, presumably a piece of the sail. I gingerly pick it up. Its tiny black breast flutters weakly up and down, and one of its wings is twisted at an odd angle. Its beak is shining with some dark, thick liquid; blood, perhaps? My fingers begin to unconsciously stroke its side gently, and a pang of emotion stabs at my gut. Pity!? Am I a woman, soft and full of emotion?! The sword whispers soothing echoes in my mind. My vision turns upside down, and I realize I have collapsed into the cold, icy sand. I look over, and see the bird askew on the ground next to me. One of its beady red eyes opens, and stares intently into mine. It opens its beak, and caws softly, a pitiful, mewling sound. Pathetic.

Suddenly, the bird is gone. In its place, a man, his skin as black as the night sky, his long, dark hair falling down his shoulders. Stubble faintly dots his chin and cheeks. His eyes are pure black, blacker than I could have thought possible, blacker than an evil soul; flecked with the red of blood. He wears a loose white shirt, and tan breeches. He is barefooted. A long scar runs down his left cheek, blood trickles from his mouth, and his right elbow is twisted to a painful angle, and streaked with dried blood. He winces, and clutches his arm, sweat rolling down his cheeks. His youthful face surprises me. What is he doing here?

I attempt to sit up, but the sword drives itself deeper into the sand, and I am pinned there. I feel my joints lock up, and I cannot move. The man wipes his good hand over his mouth, wincing again at his arm, and gives me a quizzical look. He stands, and looms over my body, the grey sky threatening snow above him. His expression changes, and he glances furtively to both sides, rubbing the fingers on his left hand together nervously. He places one dark hand on the hilt of my sword, and tugs, his face and arm muscles straining with the effort. The sword does not budge, and I glare up at him. The sword quickly grows unbearably hot and the man lets go, falling backwards into the sand, his hand smoking and red. The sword laughs in my mind. He closes his eyes and opens his mouth, and a painful noise comes out. My hearing is off- everything sounds as if from underwater. The man gingerly moves his injured arm onto his lap, and blows on his other hand gently, huffing and puffing against his palm. His hair is slick with sweat and seawater, plastered against his ebony forehead.

He flicks his hair out of his face, and looks at me again. The sword keeps me pinned down to the surf, and I cannot move a muscle- he must think me some corpse he can pilfer. I’ll show him! Coward! Only a treacherous fool disrespects the fallen in battle with his materialistic desires. The sword burns brightly, and my joints unlock. I sit up quickly and scramble to my feet. The man- no, boy- scrambles backward with his good arm, his black eyes widening in terror. I bare my teeth and grin, and grasp at the sword, pulling it from my chest with a sickening slurp. He crawls away, sweat dripping from his head and blood staining his lips. He puts his weight on his bad arm and collapses to the ground, and clutches it tightly, the veins popping out from his dark skin. With a pop, he transforms back into a raven, and madly beats his injured wings, to no avail. It transitions back into human form, moaning and clutching at his arm. All too easy. I charge at the boy, raising my sword high. I’ll teach this coward the true meaning of honor- with a sword through his face. The sword hums softly, relishing in my thirst for blood. Fiery runes sword around the blade, chirping and humming a malevolent tune. The boy screams again, muddled to a low moan by my accursed hearing. The sword comes down on his head, and the screaming stops.

I do not feel the satisfying crunch as the blade hits bone. Nor the slight slowing of the blade by warm flesh. I look down at the boy below me, and see the sword, inches from the top of his head. A long, delicate finger, with white skin and long, black talons, is casually preventing Hellrazor from killing the him, holding it aloft by the edge of the blade. I frown and press down harder, but the sword does not budge, and neither does it. My gaze travels up the arm the finger is attached to, over smooth white skin on a lean, lightly muscled arm. A long, skinny neck supports a perfectly oval head, framed by a mane of white hair. Large, batlike ears protrude from the otherwise normal male face, and smoldering turquoise eyes glitter back at me beneath long, dark lashes, and a heavy brow. His skinny nose casts a long shadow over his cheek, and his feminine lips curl into a slight smile back at me. Huge, feathery dragon wings keep him hovering above the ground, and a serpentine tail whips back and forth behind him.

The finger on his other arm slowly wags back and forth, like a mother scolding a mischievous child. I snarl and tug the sword away to strike at him, but the sword does not budge from his finger. I try to let go, but my hands are glued to the hilt but some unseen force. The winged devil laughs, a melodic, haunting noise- like the breaking of glass. It sounds vaguely familiar, as if from a dream I had the other night. He shoots me a devilish wink, and my tortured insides twist in disgust. He brings his wagging finger up to his lips, motioning for me to be quiet. He then points to the fearful creature before me, the dark-skinned boy clutching his injured arm. It is an animal, a greedy, depraved beast. Am I as well? I realize that he cannot see the angelic apparition standing right next to him. I turn and look back at the white-skinned man, and my ferocious snarl melts into confusion. The angel- no. He is not angel. His eyes and veins burn with my sword’s fire. The wings on his back are tattered, the black feathers drifting down to the snowy ground. Is this the spirit that dwells within the blade? The apparition smiles, and a voice whispers in my mind. Why kill the boy? He is your only way off of the island. Don’t you wish to be free? Free of the island? Free of your memories? Free of your pain?

I find myself nodding. The angelic demon before me smiles, and nods. He looks down to his left, and is smile grows sharklike. The child is staring up at me in fear, and also in confusement. He does not understand why I have not struck him down yet. I see a small spark of hope in his eyes, and the desire to extinguish it courses through me. But the apparition only whispers again, imploring me to spare the boy. I shake my head, clutching it with a free hand, and realize that I can move them from the sword, which drops to the ground with an ominous thud. I stagger back, and , and the boy does as well. Darkness clouds my vision, and I see the him collapse to the ground moments before I do as my consciousness slips away once more.


#4
Chapter 4, Shadows

From the Collected Works and Teachings of Peridotus the Wise
Chapter 65, Verse 223

Men willl naturally want to take what they see as theirs, especially if it is, in fact, not. Possession will never overcome the true beauty of appreciation, however, and such desires shall never lead one down the path that they may have hoped; most often they will lead one down the path that one had sought to avoid.

“And what do we do with the corpse, Captain?”

“Put the boy in the brig, leave the body. See if you can get that sword out; I’m sure it’ll sell for a pretty penny down somewhere on the coast.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Darkness and cold swirls around me, a mist of memories and dreams. I feel a tug at my chest, and the sword latches onto my flesh, fearfully, an animal in pain. My bones are weak, and tired, and I can barely find the strength to open my eyelids. I see everything through a milky white sheen. Shadows of men, looming above me through the fog. One stands almost on top of me, and I can make out his features. Dirty grey sideburns and jowls like a dog, week-old stubble dotting his face. He wears a blue bandana tied around his head, and a grey vest and breeches, with a heavy parka to block out the cold. Furred boots cover his feet.

I sit up.

The man gasps and jumps back several feet, landing on his back and gazing back at me fearfully, one shivering finger pointed in my direction.

“Captain! Captain, look!”

I see a tall shape turn amidst the fog, one hand outstretched, mid-word to one of his fellows.

“What seems to be the problem, Joshamee?”

“The- the body………it’s, it’s alive!”

I see the tall figure step towards me, and I can smell the arrogance and disdain in its stride. As he breaks the gloom, I see him draw his sword and look at me. A wide-brimmed hat covers his features. He wears a long coat and boots. The fog and shadow obscures the rest.

“What is your name?”

I glower up at him. The sword whispers a long-forgotten name, and I feel my lips move to intone it. “Krulstödtr Faljradic Odtrichtaginsk of the White Bear Clan.”

I see the man’s head move up and down, nodding. “So you can speak. Good, good.” I see him inspect the tip of his blade. “I think I’ll just call you Krul, though, eh? That name gives me a headache just listening to it. What do you say to that, then, Krul?”

The sword whispers to me, ancient rumblings of greed and wanton desire. I ignore it. I draw my own blade and stand, looming over him as he looks up at me, his face obscured by shadow. “And what are you the captain of, exactly? I see a crew……but no ship. Or is it just this infernal fog?”

The captain stands, and despite his own impressive height, I still loom above him by several heads. This close I can see features of his face: keen amber eyes set under curved eyebrows, a teardrop nose above wide, fleshy lips. His skin is dark and swarthy, freckled, with a roguish charm and the unmistakable smile of a man who is used to getting what he wants. His hair is a sweep of grayish-brown beneath the hat, covering his ears and falling over his shoulders. He turns to look at his men and I see that the excess hair on the back of his head tied in a double ponytail that falls gracefully down his back. “What do you say then, boys? Do we show the draugr the old beaut?”

I can still see the fear in their stances, but most of the men answer back with a hearty yes. The captain turns back to look at me with a sneer. “Since you did me the honor of giving your full name, I’ll return the favor. Captain Jonathan Ringo Garrett Romulus Calumn Oakley- the first, might I add. But you can call me Captain Garrett.”

He turns and walks over to the man he was speaking to before I awoke, and is shrouded once more in the shadow and fog. I can hear indistinct voices and the cadence of words traded. Two more shapes appear in the gloom, one very large, the other, very small. The captain takes the small from and then begins moving towards me once more. As I begin to make out features, a shudder passes through my body. Warmth spreads through my body as the sword crackles to life, and my eye twitches. I shiver.

Captain Garrett moves back into view, the black boy in tow. He holds him practically by the scruff of his neck, making no attempt to be gentle with his injured arm. I scowl and roar, sweeping the great blade in a downward cleave on the two of them. The captain stops where he is and deftly swings the body of the boy out of harm’s way, tsking as he does so. “So you do know the hazen. Interesting.”

“Give the boy to me, you wretched oaf.”

“What happened to your manners, Krul? I thought that we had gotten such niceties out of the way to speak to one another as, ah, shall we say, gentlemen. But you are neither gentle nor entirely a man, now are you?” He pauses. “I should cut you down where you stand, lost draugr. How many years have you haunted the Archipelago? How many souls have you claimed as your own?”

I roar, charging at him with manic ferocity, but he sidesteps me and sticks out a foot so that I stumble face-first into the snow. I hear the other men laugh and I stand, icy tears pouring out of my eyes, snow sizzling on the sickly turquoise fires of Hellrazor. I bare my teeth in an animalistic sneer, and the captain only smirks. I hurl Hellrazor forward life a lance, and the captain’s eyes widen in surprise. He drops the boy to into the snow, and dives to the left, the sword slicing a path in the air above him. The man standing several meters behind him is not so lucky. I hear the wet crunch as it impales him, and he stands there for several seconds, staggering slightly beneath the weight of the sword’s hilt, before collapsing to the ground. I clench my right hand and the sword relieves itself of the man’s chest, quickly slicing back to a stop in my other hand. Fresh blood still drips from it, spattering the fresh white snow with the ichor of life, lost in death.

“Give me the boy.”

The captain stands, straightening his hat and coat, and doesn’t even turn back to look at me as he raises one fist. Time seems to move in slow motion. I see one man drag the boy into the fog, and the other dozen or so advance on me. I smile.

“Oh, captain?”

I see the faintest shadow of his face and he half-turns his head to look at me; the look of pure contempt that paints it.

“How will you get back to the mainland with no crew?”

The captain pauses, then turns fully to face me. “Your arrogance is as blinding as your rotting smell, draugr. You really think you can defeat a thirteen men, me included?”

“I know I can, pirate.”

Sneering, Garrett flicks back his coat, drawing something out from inside its deep folds and pockets. I feel an arm tighten around my neck and a heavy weight on my back. I snarl and drive the sword through my wound and into the chest of the man clinging onto me. I hear a grunt as the life fades, the corpse falling to my feet, and I whirl around, snarling. The eleven men left look more hesitant, and I hear Garrett’s voice call out to them. “One man with a sword, you bleedin’ cowards! Get him!”

A sharp pain goes through my right shoulder, and I blink, wincing, and look down to see a two-foot metal spike driven through my shoulder. It expands into a three pronged harpoon and I am pulled to the ground my a fluid, serpentine force behind me. Twisting my neck, I see the captain holding a large revolver, a chain hanging from it- the same chain affixed to the spike impaled in my shoulder. I snarl and attempt to stand, but men beset themselves on me, grasping hands covering my mouth and binding my limbs. I bite down hard and draw blood from one, but more and more seem to come. The harpoon’s infernal prongs prevent me from yanking it out, and I writhe and squirming beneath the mass of men. My sword is waving back and forth, biting deep into their flesh, but strong hands take it from me and force my face into the snow, binding my legs and wrists as my strength fades. I hear three or four men grunt as I am lifted into the air, and a rag is stuffed into my mouth.

Suddenly, Garret’s face looks down on me, smiling, knowing he has won. I squint and writhe more, but one of the men stabs a knife into my thigh and I scream beneath my gag. Garrett holds up Hellrazor, one hand on the hilt, the other stroking the flat of the blade. “Beautiful craftsmanship, my friend. Where did you get it?” He laughs as I cannot respond. “No matter anyhow. It will certainly sell well on the coast, the boy too. Young Arathian queens are always looking for young men to….pleasure them, shall we say. He’ll fetch a fine price on the block as well.”

I give him a look of pure hatred, my eyes swimming with tears of fire and black blood. I will Hellrazor to break free of his grip, and slice his arrogant head from his body till the snow around him ran scarlet with his blood. The sword’s fires dim. The carvings’ blue light fades to its mundane bronze and silver. I hear one last whisper from its spirit, a word I often heard aimed at Valgos when we were boys. My father’s voice sings praise as I successfully maintain a grip on his huge axe, the hearth casting a flickering shadow behind me. I hear the word the sword now spoke to me, but in my father’s gruff voice, as Valgos drops it, boyish tears beginning to form on his lashes and his shadow hunched and alone against the great wall of my forefathers.

Brjóta.

Failure.

I feel a coldness in my chest. Black light tints the world around me, black and soft, like the sheet placed over a corpse. A blanket reserved for those who have done what was asked of them. The burning agony that has sustained me this far dies, replaced by a mind-numbing cold. I am now a creature of snow and forgotten memories, the fire of savage glory gone from my blade and heart. I shiver, drinking in the smell of defeat and cowardice. As I twist my neck to look down on the pure white ground, I feel Garrett gently remove my helm. I hear his words, bloated with avarice as they are, as if from underwater, indistinct and unclear. My bald scalp is weak to the blistering cold and ice of the air around us. I feel alone, so alone, and as I close my eyes, I hear the final note on a panpipe, the sad music of a soul no one will remember.

They bring me onto ship. I see world very dark now. Wood and brine. Saltwater is in grain. There are men and dogs. Which, I not know. I see black sails. That is all.

They take me below, into a dark place. Very dark. Colder than above. I feel sad, because they chain me up. First my hands. Then my feet. They put me in small, dark cell. There is a bowl. I look in the bowl and see liquid. My hands cannot reach bowl. They do that on purpose, I think. I am cold. That is all.

Maybe hour pass. I am not sure. More men come inside. They leave another man in with me in the cell. But he is not man. He is small and dark. He holds arm away from chest. I see blood on the white on his chest. Shirt. The boy sits far away from me. I make noises. Animal noises. Must prove power. Father tell me. Brother weak. I strong. The small man flinches. He does not have chains, but he does not move. I want to move. But he doesn’t. Weak, like brother. That is all.

Day pass. They feed boy bread. They give me nothing. I not hungry. I want water. Bowl is far away. I make noises of animal. Boy flinches and I smile. Then I scowl. Words. I cannot hear. Skin like shadow. Arm bleeds. Boy cries. Brother is weak, and I hold shadow up for him to see. This shadow is dead. Blood drips from it. Shadow on wall from father’s fire. I see baby and men with axes and swords. Blood like shadow. Man dead, man blue with coldness. Big sword. Big sword in chest. Death is there. It is my friend. Scream in the grass and ocean made of shadow. Sword. That is all.

Boy crawl to me one night. I press against chains. I want to bite him like animal. He look at me. He touch bowl and then touch mouth. I spit black blood. Black skin. Shadow. I touch heart and then touch soul. I make man. Man not big. Man not small. Man is. Man is yellow. Hair like sun and hat with big horns. I make woman. I make baby. I make more man, old and young. There is sword. It is shadow. Shadow over man and woman and man and baby and man. Animals. Weak animals. I am strong but shadow can’t be. Shadow will. Man with shadow and animals without. That is all.

Boy take bowl. Boy put bowl to face and I hear noises. Not animal noises. I make them, but boy not flinch this time. I make face with big eyes, scream and anger and fear. Fire on wall instead of shadow now. Father is angry and brother is dead, like shadow. I see fire on shadow and shadow fight back. Words. I not hear. I not here. Bowl. Boy. Blood. I tug at chain and cry and I am weak shadow now. I cry more and I am brother but brother not me. Because the shadow is dead. Boy not hear. Boy not here. That is all.

More men come to give boy bread and I cry and make noises of brother. Of weak shadow who died. Flame is on them because they kill shadow. They laugh like fire did when brother died and I feel shadow sick, cold and alone like skin of boy. Like shadow. But Father is strong shadow! Fire. Sword. I want what boy gets but men not listen. They not hear. They not here. No one is, on purpose I think. Dark place gets colder. Window turns blue and rough. Words. Frost. Opposites. To fire who killed shadow. But they are same. They are here, I think, on purpose. That is all.

There is woman now. She sits by boy. Her skin is dark too. Words. Dress, yellow like fire but kind like brother and weak like him too. Mask. White and red, like fire. Strong like shadow. White on skin like sun and white on skin like moon. Shadow and fire. More words. I listen. Animal noises from Father. Boy not hear. Boy not here. She give me less cold. I not good. Tears. Not words! Why none? Woman with mask smile beneath. She laugh like woman with baby and I am not cold or afraid. Dress is pretty and dress is like sun in morning. Naked and pure. Woman with sun on body and woman with moon on her arms. Fire in eyes beneath mask. Once, she says. I can hear words! Once I can visit you. Brother. Wife. Master. She know them. She is here. She is hear. Stars, I think. Together they are sun and moon and together they are like shadow and fire. Beautiful. Her, and stars. That is all.

The woman is gone. There is a man now, man with a smile and a shadow over his face. Man with fire in soul and not like my brother. Like me. Sad and alone and cold, with many around him but none to share bowl with. He speaks words and I listen, but I make animal noises because man is not like father or brother. He is too much like me and I do not like that at all. My words begin to return, slowly. Woman with mask had helped and I thank her for the bowl and the dress like the sun. The man does not thank he does the opposite like the frost and the fire in the window and the wall of fathers. He takes and makes promises of lies like the fire did to the shadow. The shadows listen. One has the shadows on his skin and one has it in his heart and he feels cold. That is brother and me, and father is not here. Not hear. I see the shadow on his hands, the shadow that was in me. Guilt and thirst. Greed stains his hands and lips. Black sails and dogs. That is all.


The hazen and the draugr have been kept under control belowdecks for a few weeks now, I’m glad that there were no incidents. With the sword gone the draugr is slow and dumb, retarded in speech and movements. It is more animal now than man. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with it. Him, I guess, but it’s not really human. Neither is the hazen, if I’m going to be honest with myself. Lesser creatures. Men, human men, are the only beings suitable for the world anymore. Things are changing. The Grangors’ empire will be dead and gone within the next century, but so will I as well. That’s why I intend to make myself the richest man this side of the Halcyon (or both if I can have it). A name to go down in the history books – the black hearted swashbuckler of every known and unknown sea – Captain Garrett, with a snappy title like the ‘Skullcrusher’ or ‘Soulrender’ for some extra flair.

I’ll have to be careful to watch out for the Grangorian ships on my way back to the mainland to bury our haul and make some money off of a few prized goods. I knew Admiral Glaive still harbored a grudge ever since me old pap shot his last reincarnation through the head forty years ago. Bless his soul, my father. I gave him the same treatment, of course, once I was of age, but he should never have left fifty gold coins on the kitchen table alongside his prized revolver. Stupid pirates are dead pirates, contrary to popular belief, and it’s a good thing that I’m probably the smartest person I know.

My men have been hard at work, I’ll give them credit to that as well, and I intend to make good on my promise for 50 percent of the riches to be divided equally amongst them. At least, 50 percent to them. It will really be 5 percent (or less) but seeing as I’m the only pirate here clever enough to calculate some simple arithmetic I doubt there will be any problems. Besides, the sword will be enough to make me richer than my wildest dreams (although, I admit, they are pretty wild). I take a bite out of my apple and smile. The parrot flies overhead. Clichéd, I know, but don’t blame me. I was born into this world with one thought, and one though only.

It’s a pirate’s life for me.


#5
Chapter 5, Exulansis

From the Collected Works and Teachings of Peridotus the Wise
Chapter 60, Verse 14

Many believe their sorrows to be theirs and theirs alone, impossible to be shared with others for fear of rebuttal and in spite of their need. To fearful I have made you of the knife of false friendship; instead, welcome the hand of true comradery.

There is a woman now, with boy. Not like woman who has sun and moon on her arms. Like woman with white skin and red scarf and empty scabbard. Tall and still as morning, not small and weak like boy, who is like weak, small moon in dark sky. Her eyes. They hold no emotion. What is word? Impassive. Nothing but grey mist and pride. She gets bowl and men outside cell make animal noises. Pigs. Wolves. Black sails and dogs. That is all.

Woman sits close to me. She is bold, bold as the man with the smile. Her hair is brown like falling leaf, with red and grey in it too. But she is young. I not like how close she is, and I growl, but I remember what other woman taught me, woman with mask like fire and skin like shadow. I not make Father’s animal noises and I sit back and show her shadow I killed on the wall. Boy makes small, weak brother noises and I roar at him to be silent, and he does. Woman slaps me and I bite her fingers. I draw blood and I taste it in mouth. Woman make angry face and talks, but I not understand words. I understand meaning. Rebuttal. Anger. Revulsion. All things I am used to. She has an empty scabbard and she strokes it. I am like empty scabbard. Where is sword, I say. Where is mine, I ask. She not answer. That is all.

Man with smile comes again and he talks. Woman not listen and she slap man but he hold arm and slap her back. I growl and he point finger at me and I whimper like brother who is cowardly. I feel like animal and I am one. There is gold and blood on his words and I laugh almost. Yellow eyes like gold but red feather like blood, and grey and shadow like his soul in the light of the woman’s morning. I realize something again. Man not have anyone to share bowl with and I almost feel sorry. Then I growl and man hits me and boy cries instead of me and woman talk loud and fast in words covered in steel and pride. The boom of cannonfire and both man and woman lie still, only boys and animals left. I see man leave and woman sit back in corner, and boy cries out for food and bandages. That is all.

Woman stands in cell and paces. There is emptiness in her body. She hugs air with body. She prances from foot to foot. She stab at imaginary shadows with her imaginary flame. Boy is content to sit in darkness and mewl like a newborn babe. I am content with my nothingness and shadows drawn around me like big coat of cold snow. Woman not content with anything. I snarl and rush at her but chains hold me back and they are cold and woman is warm as I claw at her ankles. She cry out and fall and I smile to myself. She is content with her pain now, yes. Bowl comes and they not give me anything, and I blink away tears. What is word. Jealous. But I not let others see this shadow, and I kill it and put it on Father’s wall. Woman sees as I put it up for only me to see. I think she smiles too as she raises bowl to lips. That is all.

Woman talks to me slowly, and boy watches on. He sneers and says words to woman. Woman sneers back and sits close to me again. I growl and shake chains. Woman talk slow. Names and words come at me like arrows in the cold. Lorelei. Sword. Taken. Pirates. These I remember and others are like bodies scattered to wind. Can you scatter a body? Yes, boy says. If you burn them first. I make face at boy and so does woman. He sneers again and brings shadows around him like cloak and disappears and I do not care. Woman ask me. I say words. Dragon. Brother. Sword. Boat. Pyre. Words that I burned on wind long time ago. Woman apologizes. I make face and growl and do as boy does. She lean back and go to sleep. I want to dream. That is all.

This draugr intrigues me. I met one on the Eastern Coasts once, big, bloated monstrosity that was haunting a cave near some poor Deinlandic village. I lined the cave with pitch and set the whole place ablaze, the poor thing burned to death. I brought its weir, which happened to be a large ring it wore on it right hand, to a nearby warlock and he disposed of it properly. This one is different, however. Its weir is gone but yet is still lives. I managed to learn little from its crazed ramblings. I think it was a man once before….well, you know. Its weir is a sword and dragons somehow caused its fate, I think? Or was it this fiery shadow he always mutters about? But dragons have been extinct for thousands of years. No creature, dead or undead, could last that long. Or could they?

It watches me constantly, and sometimes I am even a tiny bit thankful to these mangy pirates for keeping it chained up to the wall. It left a nasty gash on my left ankle when I got too close, blast these reflexes. The wound doesn’t seem to be showing any alarming signs of rapid decay or dark magic, and neither do the bite marks on my fingers, but one can never be too careful. I’ll have to ask that swarthy bastard Garrett whenever he stops by again. It looks like it will fall apart any second. The skin is greenish grey, the most disgustingly decayed color I have ever seen. White hair in a shaggy mane coating his head, two frayed, ragged braids running down either end of its sagittal line. Glowing eyes, a sepulchral mist hanging about its lean, lanky frame. What I can glean from its voice through the few unintelligible words it spits out are haunting – guttural, impossibly deep, the sound of two unholy stones being smashed together with great force.

I miss my sword. There is an emptiness in my gait and form without it. I had grown used to the familiar crackle of the crystal housed within the hilt, which my father had given to me when I was a girl. I remember the day as if it were yesterday – the cherry blossoms falling gently. My mother had them planted when she met my father. She died two years prior, but father and I could still see her kind eyes in the light that filtered through the blossoms, and smell her sweet scent in them as well. Father gave me my sword in the clearing we carved out of stone to bury her body, surrounded by the cherry trees she loved. The sun had just set, the moment of twilight where light and dark danced together as equals and lovers. The sword was, is beautiful. Simple. My great-great-great-grandfather, king of Chizakura, carved the blade of pure silver, tipped with the finest steel from the most renowned refinery in the kingdom. A hilt carved of ruby granite and a chunk of raw crystal powering the lesser ley line running along the edge. It was a fine blade. It is a fine blade. I wish my father hadn’t given it to me. He would have fought well to the end. And now I don’t even have it. I don’t even have it. I-

It does me no good to dwell on these thoughts. I see the haze raven looking at me from across the cell. He unnerves me. I asked him his name, ‘Vynzelyn’ he said, and I had to stifle a laugh at such a ridiculous name. I almost feel sorry for him, but those feelings quickly subside. Haze ravens are foul and immoral, deceitful and lazy and sinister and I hate them. My mother was friends with a haze raven once. Her name was Abalonie and she was probably the most beautiful woman I ever met. I was still very young, but my memory of her will never fade. She had the most beautiful red eyes, like chunks of ruby. Her hair was silvery black, the sparkling color of onyx in the sun. Then she killed my mother. Poison. Cowardly. My mother had done nothing wrong and yet still that……thing took her from my father and I. We were at dinner. Eating. She was our guest. Hell was raised about that in the village, I can tell you. My mother clutched her throat as her face turned purple and she fell out of her chair, choking and gasping a slow death on the floor. Abalonie took raven form and flew out the window.

When I was much older I tracked her down. She had changed her name, hidden out in a remote town near in the Empire. Her eyes were green now, but I could still recognize her. I would always recognize her. I cut off her hands and then I asked her why. She looked at me for a second and then she laughed, long and hard, tears streaming down her ebony cheeks. I stabbed her in the chest and then cut off her head, and I left the town in as many pieces as I had left her.

I was drunk the night the pirates captured me. I had been working a few odd jobs near the coast, nothing illegal, some bouncer work with a merchant working for some eccentric Meekos official. I had signed off for the night and had drowned my worldly problems in another – rum, and lots of it. There were men waiting for me at the bar and they took my sword and gagged me, and they carried me off to this ship. And now I am here, and my sword is gone, and the draugr is looking at me again. Black spittle hangs from one of its pointed teeth as its turquoise eyes that glow faintly in the shadows covering its head. I see the wound in its chest pucker slightly and I realize we are both seeking the same thing.

I close my eyes and allow sleep to overtake me.This draugr intrigues me. I met one on the Eastern Coasts once, big, bloated monstrosity that was haunting a cave near some poor Deinlandic village. I lined the cave with pitch and set the whole place ablaze, the poor thing burned to death. I brought its weir, which happened to be a large ring it wore on it right hand, to a nearby warlock and he disposed of it properly. This one is different, however. Its weir is gone but yet is still lives. I managed to learn little from its crazed ramblings. I think it was a man once before….well, you know. Its weir is a sword and dragons somehow caused its fate, I think? Or was it this fiery shadow he always mutters about? But dragons have been extinct for thousands of years. No creature, dead or undead, could last that long. Or could they?

It watches me constantly, and sometimes I am even a tiny bit thankful to these mangy pirates for keeping it chained up to the wall. It left a nasty gash on my left ankle when I got too close, blast these reflexes. The wound doesn’t seem to be showing any alarming signs of rapid decay or dark magic, and neither do the bite marks on my fingers, but one can never be too careful. I’ll have to ask that swarthy bastard Garrett whenever he stops by again. It looks like it will fall apart any second. The skin is greenish grey, the most disgustingly decayed color I have ever seen. White hair in a shaggy mane coating his head, two frayed, ragged braids running down either end of its sagittal line. Glowing eyes, a sepulchral mist hanging about its lean, lanky frame. What I can glean from its voice through the few unintelligible words it spits out are haunting – guttural, impossibly deep, the sound of two unholy stones being smashed together with great force.

I miss my sword. There is an emptiness in my gait and form without it. I had grown used to the familiar crackle of the crystal housed within the hilt, which my father had given to me when I was a girl. I remember the day as if it were yesterday – the cherry blossoms falling gently. My mother had them planted when she met my father. She died two years prior, but father and I could still see her kind eyes in the light that filtered through the blossoms, and smell her sweet scent in them as well. Father gave me my sword in the clearing we carved out of stone to bury her body, surrounded by the cherry trees she loved. The sun had just set, the moment of twilight where light and dark danced together as equals and lovers. The sword was, is beautiful. Simple. My great-great-great-grandfather, king of Chizakura, carved the blade of pure silver, tipped with the finest steel from the most renowned refinery in the kingdom. A hilt carved of ruby granite and a chunk of raw crystal powering the lesser ley line running along the edge. It was a fine blade. It is a fine blade. I wish my father hadn’t given it to me. He would have fought well to the end. And now I don’t even have it. I don’t even have it. I-

It does me no good to dwell on these thoughts. I see the haze raven looking at me from across the cell. He unnerves me. I asked him his name, ‘Vynzelyn’ he said, and I had to stifle a laugh at such a ridiculous name. I almost feel sorry for him, but those feelings quickly subside. Haze ravens are foul and immoral, deceitful and lazy and sinister and I hate them. My mother was friends with a haze raven once. Her name was Abalonie and she was probably the most beautiful woman I ever met. I was still very young, but my memory of her will never fade. She had the most beautiful red eyes, like chunks of ruby. Her hair was silvery black, the sparkling color of onyx in the sun. Then she killed my mother. Poison. Cowardly. My mother had done nothing wrong and yet still that……thing took her from my father and I. We were at dinner. Eating. She was our guest. Hell was raised about that in the village, I can tell you. My mother clutched her throat as her face turned purple and she fell out of her chair, choking and gasping a slow death on the floor. Abalonie took raven form and flew out the window.

When I was much older I tracked her down. She had changed her name, hidden out in a remote town near in the Empire. Her eyes were green now, but I could still recognize her. I would always recognize her. I cut off her hands and then I asked her why. She looked at me for a second and then she laughed, long and hard, tears streaming down her ebony cheeks. I stabbed her in the chest and then cut off her head, and I left the town in as many pieces as I had left her.

I was drunk the night the pirates captured me. I had been working a few odd jobs near the coast, nothing illegal, some bouncer work with a merchant working for some eccentric Meekos official. I had signed off for the night and had drowned my worldly problems in another – rum, and lots of it. There were men waiting for me at the bar and they took my sword and gagged me, and they carried me off to this ship. And now I am here, and my sword is gone, and the draugr is looking at me again. Black spittle hangs from one of its pointed teeth as its turquoise eyes that glow faintly in the shadows covering its head. I see the wound in its chest pucker slightly and I realize we are both seeking the same thing.

I close my eyes and allow sleep to overtake me.

I do not think the woman likes me very much. But that’s why you left, wasn’t it? No one likes you very much at all. No need to feel sorry for yourself about it. Not even the animal in the corner likes you. I blink away more tears and I feel ashamed for my weakness. I’ve been quietly whining and crying for days now, and I’ve felt awful through every second of it but my arm hurts like hell. The woman next to me hid her laughter badly when I told her my name. Vynzelyn Beaufelliare. The name of a noble, worn by the son of a criminal. People say I look just like him, and that’s how I got working with the human nobility in Stromgarde. My father, the dashing crime prince the Grangors hired to do their dirty work when subtlety was needed- and subtlety has never been the Grangors’ strong suit. My father, the filthy, impure haze raven who seduced the Storm Queen and gave her a daughter, an heir. I was born to a different woman, another haze raven, of course. The same people who say I look like my father, also remind me that I was lucky enough to inherit my mother’s beautiful red eyes.

My half-sister Demira is still a young baby, a year or two at most. Storm Queen Vereesa still sits on the throne, and her lack of a proper consort brought scandal to the throne. Even more scandalous was her decision to welcome the bastard son of her illegitimate lover into her court; I found it rather kind, but who cares for my opinion? Public outcry forced me to leave Stromgarde- xenophobic protestors and snobbish nobles who threw a tantrum at the idea of a ‘hazen’ welcomed in the same court in which the Queen wanted nothing to do with them. My stepmother could only watch on, helpless, as I received death threats in the mail, rocks hurled through my window with poorly-written threats written on them in chalk. I could no longer walk the streets without being assaulted; Vereesa assigned two men to be at my side at all times. A gangly, ravenesque teenager roaming the streets with his properly human bodyguards. They died in the shipwreck. Good men. I wish I could have joined them.

Vereesa called me to her quarters one night. Her; tall, pale, beautiful and elegant as a midsummer moon – I, the harsh and cold night sky that encapsulated her. I was, I am, shy, painfully so, prone to hiding in the shadows and avoiding the eyes that scorn me for what I am. She sits down on her lavish bed and tells me to sit beside her. We talk. That’s not entirely true. She talks, I listen. She apologizes for how her people have treated me – she tells me she bears me no ill will and that she always loved my father and that she will always love me as well. It was a nice feeling, being loved. She told me that my safety was no longer guaranteed in the city of walls and secrets, and that it pains her to say it. She tells me she will send me away, to allies in the north – when times have changed, perhaps then I may return. There is a ship waiting for me in the harbor, men she and I can both trust who will take care of me in my journeys. That morning I left. Vereesa, clad in a fine fur coat, the spiraling iron crown of the Queen on her head, gave me one last, soft hug as I stepped onto the ship. Baby Demira cooed softly, but she did not cry at my departure. I almost, guiltily, wish that she did. There were few others. My uncle, who had taken over the criminal empire my father had headed. Three or four nobles and their entourages who sympathized with me and bore as little ill will towards me as the Queen. The Stormguard, who once again formed their protective ring around the Queen as my ship left the harbor, and eventually my vision of her was obscured. It was raining. The last one to leave the harbor, as my vision of it faded in the horizon, was her, a last bolt of lightning illuminating the dock as the soldiers took me belowdecks to avoid the storm.

The ship was struck by lightning. I woke up, on a beach, my arm broken. I couldn’t fly and I could barely see or feel anything but the pain in my arm, the veritable shroud of dark mists and soil stained with regret. The beast had loomed out from the shadows, picked me up gently with its huge grey hands, and began to stroke me. I was comforted, to be completely honest. But panic overtook me when I saw its face, ghastly and undead, and I shifted forms, falling to the surf. My arm was bent outward from my body, an unnatural angle, the beast rounded on me. It had collapsed. I saw the beautiful sword and I felt the insatiable and impossible desire bring it back to Vereesa. Try as I might the sword was stuck deep, and I soon quit from exhaustion and raw, pure frustration at the world. It tried to kill me. Something unseen stopped it. Black blood ran down its face as it strained against the air itself, trying hard and failing to end me. I sat, curled in a ball and shivering, the fog wrapping itself about me, waiting for hours by its corpse until the pirates came. And now here I am. Alone.

Forgotten.

“Captain, there is an imperial ship fast approaching.”

I sit up and reach for my telescope. The waters are dark, and the sky is grey. A storm is approaching, and that’s not the only thing that is. A large ship, traveling perpendicularly to us, with the wind, from the starboard side. Large blue sails with a gold trim, fine brown wood. The emblem of a roaring lion surrounded by nine gold stars on each sail. I can make out the name written in blue lettering, painted large and in bold on the right side: the Revenant.

A deck crawling with Grangors.

My first mate, Crawley, looks at me petulantly. “Sir, what are we going to do? That’s his ship-”

I make a face and wave him away, standing out of my chair. “I know whose ship that is, Crawley. Go, round up the men. Tell them to get their weapons ready, but hidden, beneath their clothes. We can’t outrun or outgun her so we’ll have to outsmart her. Let her come.”

“Sir….?”

“You heard what I said. Do it!” I hiss. Crawley turns and moves to run down to the deck.

“Wait.”

He stops and looks back at me, one hand on the railing.

“Bring me the sword. The draugr’s. Move the prisoners to my quarters.”

Crawley nods, and leaps over the railing. I ease myself down back into my chair and lean back, flicking a hand upwards at the helmsman.

“Grimm!”

“Aye, cap’n?”

“Turn us to face the Grangor ship. I don’t want to make it any easier for them to board. Then go join the others.”

“I catch yer meanin’, cap’n. Aye aye, sir.”

I feel the ship slowly swing to starboard as we turn to face the imperial vessel. Grimm nods to me once as he leaps down to join the crew, who have already begun to assemble on the deck. I close my eyes and imagine the smell of Grangor blood. I drew it often enough in their prisons and they will serve themselves to me now. I feel a tap on my shoulder and open my eyes to see Crawley looming over me, the sword in his hands. I take it from him and jerk my head. He sets his jaw and runs off.

A minor setback, to be sure, but long have I waited the day to humiliate him once again, as my father did. He’d be back again in thirty or forty years but that would be my son’s problem, and my son’s son’s problem, and my son’s son’s son’s problem after that. A cycle of blood and gold to last ‘till the end of time. But my turn would be over soon. I smile.

The ship reaches us, and I look through my telescope at the brawny helmsman struggling to turn her parallel to us, his grey muzzle slick with sweat and his arms frantically spinning the wheel. I see the captain bark in their guttural language once and the helmsman jut his head back in acknowledgement. The blue sails strain with the roaring wind that has set and it begins to drizzle slightly, rain like fragile teardrops trickling gently down the nape of my neck and from the hem of my hat.

A long wooden board is lowered from the Revenant to the Faithful Sinner. The men grow uneasy and I raise a hand, standing from my seat and leaning up against the railing to look down upon them and the Grangors beginning to cross. A motley assortment of imperial sailors, no better dressed or groomed than my men. And they call us pirates. Finally, the captain and what I can only assume to be his first mate.

She’s a pretty enough thing, for a Grangor, striking blue eyes and her hair braided down her back; a hat like mine perched over her ears. She has left her soft grey midriff bare; wide hips and a wider snarl. Bare, muscular arms, a gold leather vest, a blue tunic of like material covering her thighs upon which three pistols and asword keen as rum hang; three pistols! Would you believe it! I’ll have to remind Crawley to remind me of that notion again. She moves respectfully to the side and draws her sword, raising it high in the air.

Behind her, the captain. I can see him sniffing for my scent, searching, always searching, a bolt of blue cloth with gold trim covering his eyes, looking to be ripped straight from his sails. His fur is as powdered as his awful wig - hanging in links of painted white curls, flecked with ginger, resting neatly on the epaulets of his shoulders and the extravagant gold collar of his coat. His teeth are sharpened to a point and shine like pure diamonds. A blue bicorne hat, with, yes again, gold trim, sits neatly on his head. Countless medals and ribbons hang from his blue coat with breeches, brawny arms straining against the fine cloth, huge paws with claws the color of black steel. A fine velvet shirt, blue as a summer sky, with buttons as bold and brass as his snarl, a silver flask of no doubt Grangorian rum hanging from his belt; a compass and pistol to go along with it. I expect his feet to have platinum boots to go along with the pampered splendor he has allowed himself to sink into, but they are bare and I can see his claws curl into the wood of my deck. His upper lip grimaces and he bares his teeth, his whiskers curling in the cold, wet air. Already the rain has begun to slick their fur to their skin and I can see the strong, taut muscles beneath. My men, in comparison, are shivering dominoes, lined up in rows to be knocked over in turn.

I lick my lips and his ears flick upwards, his huge forefangs moving upwards with his jaw as he smiles. I hear a single word of his language and the first mate moves to attention beside him. He beckons with one claw and she leans in. I see words whispered and I tuck the draugr’s sword into the folds of my coat, leaning over the railing in anticipation of his next words. He turns his head at to look at me, as does the first mate. She squints and assumes a haughty expression, but he smiles and licks his fangs once before speaking.

“Oakley! A word, if you would?”

His voice still bears the heavy accent of a language learned out of necessity. I can hear the cleverly hidden disdain in his words; he considers Basic to be just as plebeian as its name. I see my men all turn to me as one, many emotions reflected on their rain-streaked face. I reach high with one hand and wave in a huge motion down upon him. I know he can smell the motion and I take pleasure in the fleeting expression of annoyance when he knows he did not see it.

“Hail, Admiral Glaive. How fares the Empire?”