Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 7

I had no idea how long we have been asleep, it was still
dark outside and I hadn’t been here long enough to judge when sun rise would
have been. What had woken us was not enough rest, only the Elders knew how we
had been able to keep pushing ourselves along our journey but the number of raised
voices outside the Long House.
Through the confusion of just waking up I though the village was in danger,
under attack or attacking something else but as the vail of sleep lifted I
realised it was the sound of excitement.
The door was flung open, rebounding on the wall that hard that it shut itself
again. A huge Northlander, dressed in grey shaggy furs strode in and went
straight for where Urut, beyond all belief was still drinking with Strike.

“Chieftain, the hunting party has returned.” The warrior said calmly.

“Well send them in.” The Orc Chief looked over to the three
of us, Strike at table, me as close to the fire that I may as well had been on
it and Korra still interrogating song smith.
“It seems as though we will be able to offer you more
hospitality. One of our hunting parties from the coast has returned.” He said
smiling. An Orc smiling was an unnerving sight, all the Orcs I had previously
met had tried to kill us.
More voices had joined the group outside the sounds filtering in only creating
more excitement inside. The doors are thrown open and in came a number of Northlanders.
In the middle of the precession, between two of them was a pole, balanced on
their shoulder. On the pole, lashed with rope was a very large sea turtle,
about half the size of a man, as wide as two.

“The coast you say?” Korra said to Orrick.

With great reverence the two carrying the pole lowered it down onto the table,
in front of Urut who looked at it hungrily. Turtles who never looked happy
anyway, looked a sad sight upside down, flippers moving, its head gasping in
vain attempt to right itself. With the commotion its arrival caused, Korra and
I guessed that this must be something of a rarity. Strike, already knew this
and looked as hungry as Urut.

“I didn’t know they came this far.” Korra said.

“Have you seen the big fish?” Strike asked her.
“No. Don’t think so.”
“Then no, you’d know. It’s gargantuan.” Strike grinned the
smile of the drunk.
“Don’t think I’d want to.” Korra confessed.
“I will have my people prepare this beast for the feast and
then you will know the true hospitality of our village and that the old ways
are still important here.” Urut said slurring a little. It was said the Orcs
were a hardy breed but seeing him next to Strike only confirmed it.
I watched the sad creature, from the size of it, it must have been ancient. The
age and wisdom of this animal almost glowed from its eyes. As the hall
congratulated the hunting party on its catch, their mouths watering in
anticipation of the great feast I listened to it speak, to Humans it was just a
prolonged squeak but to those gifted to hear their words I could hear its
confusion. 
As much as I did not like unnecessary suffering I understood that for
everything to live they need to eat, for them to eat something else must die.

“Is there a certain way that this animal must be killed in your traditions?” I
asked Strike.

“On the fire usually.” From the way he spoke it didn’t seem
like there was any specific ritual.
“Can it be killed quickly?”
“Erm, yeah. Chop its head off.”
“Would I be allowed to…?”
“What?”
“She wants to deliver the killing blow to prevent it from
suffering in the flames.” Korra explained for me.
“We’ll just use a big axe. But if you wanna kill it, it’s
fine. No one’s gona argue.” Strike shrugged and reached over for the never
emptying drinking horn.
Urut’s brow furrowed in confusion at this conversation.

“They’re just a bit weird.” S explained my actions away in Northlander tongue.

I abandoned my hearth stone and reached out to the creature, trying to calm its
mind. She didn’t seem to care that she had been captured and offered no
resistance when I touched her mind, bringing her a little peace.

The mind of an animal is a lot simpler than that of an Orc, Elf or Human. As
they don’t have language as most understand it there is no fear that they have
offended another as the insult would be fought out then and there. They do not
have the layer upon layer of regrets, worries, hopes and dreams and as they do
not have words that other races use to communicate she showed me pictures and
emotions instead.

Translating the feeling I was sensing her main concern was that she had recently
laid a large clutch of eggs on a shore and that she had not manage to bury them
before the hunters took her. Leaving the clutch exposed would mean they weren’t
incubated properly and were vulnerable to predators wandering along finding a
tasty snack.

I was not surprised by this, turtles by nature did not nurture their young but
not being able to complete her task she could not ensure their survival.

“Where are they buried?” I squeaked to her.
“On the shore, where the sands ripple against the sea.” She squeaked in return.
Well what more did I really expect?
“I will find your eggs and I will bury them for you.” This promise seemed to
calm her.
“Not the weirdest thing I’ve seen.” Strike said watching me squeaking at an
upturned turtle.

They had been drinking Mead, Ale and some sort of fire water all day. Quaffing
had been an experience. It seemed that the aim was to fill the tankard as much
as possible then throw it in your face, spilling nearly all of it and
swallowing what you caught in your mouth.

As the night wore on their aim got poorer. 
Strike and Urut have both not stood up for some time, not trusting their
legs to support them.

One of the Norsemen at the far end of the room, pushed himself up off his seat,
unsteadily he put his arms out onto the table to stop him swaying too much.
Seeing me communicating with their meal had upset him for some reason.

 “What witchery is this?” waving his hand
wildly, only just managing to include me in the gesture.
“Witchery.” Strike answered, shrugging his shoulders.
“Elven Witchery.” Korra chimed in.

She was listening intently to the noises I was making to the turtle, then
trying to mimic them with her flute, in due course coming up with a piece of
music she named the Song of the Turtle.

“It’s just Witchery. Haven’t you noticed it all kinda the same…witchery?”
Strike began to rant but the alcohol fuddling his brain wouldn’t let him think
of the right words.

The Norseman on hearing Strikes outburst laughed and shrugged it off. He
reached for the drinking horn before sitting back down and spilling most of it
refilled his tankard.

From an Outlanders point of view the Northlanders were very similar to that of
any other race, alothugh I would dare anyone to say this. Their warriors and
hunters were mainly male but there were females who had no doubt had to prove
they were twice as good all the time. So while the men were out hunting,
raiding, fighting and generally having more of an exciting time the women folk
were expected to stay at home where they would cook, clean, sew, raise the
children into the next strapping generation as well as tending to the fields,
livestock, and make sure that world didn’t fall down around their ears.

Their magics were also alike to the rest of the known world. It was accepted
that any edge you can hold over an enemy is an edge to hold onto. They had a
Chief of the Gods, Oden his wives, a Lady of their dead Hel, and a number of
questionable linage others that somehow frequently came back round to being
related to Oden in some way.
The One Eyes, predominantly male sacrificed their eye to Oden in respect of
being given his gift of sight into other realms while Freya gave magics of all
kinds to the women. As far as Strike was concerned that all women were full of
witchery and as he was explaining this he got very passionate that all women
would put a spell over the men of one kind or another. Something told me it
wasn’t to make cheese, to make the bread rise or casting a blessing when
putting out the hearth for the night that he was talking about.

But as with all magics, some were more gifted than others. I waited patiently for
Strike to continue but from the way he filled his tankard and sat back down I
had to believe that was all the explanation I was getting for the time being.

With this sort of explained the turtle was despatched quickly and painlessly. The
smell of the roasting meat made my mouth water long before it was ready to be
served but when it was the meat was indeed delicious and it was easy to see why
there had been such celebration when such a large one had been found and
captured.

The door was thrown open again and standing in the doorway this time was burly
Northlander, slightly more armoured than the hunting party, possibly on guard
duty. Still wearing thick grey and white furs but underneath was the shine of
chain mail armour holding a spear with a simple helmet, created for function
not beauty with nose guard the only protection on the open-faced helm.
The guard walked in and as before headed over to Urut. At his side he leant
over Strike, the only one near enough to hear listened with mock disinterest.

“My Lord, I have just had word from the outer guards that we placed to watch
the pass, the Rugorim is making his way here with a strange host of men, the
like of which I have not seen or heard of before.”
Urut looked at him, trying to work out if there are one or two guards talking
to him. Although he is an Orc, he and Strike had been drinking none stop, it
were as if they had just heard that the drink would disappear if not downed
immediately.
“Well the Rugorim did tell me he would return for my final answer about his request
for our village to lend aid and forces to this alliance of which he spoke
before.” His words now slurred. He waved an unsteady clawed hand at the two
figures, swimming into one and back again.
“I would argue against him.” Strike intervened.
“Hmm. As did I when he first came to the village. I said I am a Northlander”
Urut was slurring quite badly now, shouting as the inebriated does when trying
to be quiet, and not succeeding. 
“What need have we for allies? Are we not Northlanders? Do we not survive in
the harsher places of the world, where others fear to tread? What need of we
for allies and what of these strange men you say he has with him? Pah, I do not
care for the Rugorim strange men! Let him come and I will give him the same
answer!” The Chieftain emphasized each argument by slapping his hand on the
table.
Whereupon the guard, knowing how to talk to a drunken Chief just nodded and said.
 “Yes Chief, do you have any further
orders?”
“When he arrives in the boundaries of the village escort him to the Longhouse.
We will at least offer him what hospitality we can, as the old ways demand of
us.” It sounded like he hated the idea but could not argue with his ancestors.
“Now that is very handy, he is just the Orc I want to see.” Strike said with
drunken brightness.
Even from my spot near the fire I could hear him quite clearly. 
While Urut was slapping the table and his hand to emphasize his point while
talking to the guard, it did occur to me that he was possibly trying to be a
little more larger than life with the Red Hand Strike drinking next to him, who
was showing his agreement by shouting hear-hear! From time to time.

I turned to Orrick who was also sat near to the fire to ask him the purpose of
getting so drunk that it was near to incapacitation, He had enjoyed the turtle
meat, some mead and the glowing warmth that has enveloped the room from the
hearth finally had its effect on him. Leaning back on a pile of furs he had
fallen asleep, I though he was on some sort of vision quest until I heard him
snoring soundly his walking stave leaning up against the wall if he had need of
it. His richness of years showing in the lines of his face.

While contemplating the similarities between Humans and Orcs and still baffled
at the reason for alcohol an uneasy feeling begins to creep over me. It was not
a tangible thing, I couldn’t really put my finger on it but the feeling did
take me back to where I first came across it, the corrupted area of the jungle
on the Mainland. Nature was out of balance, but I couldn’t localise it, just a
faint feeling but it was getting stronger. Rubbing my forehead I glance around,
seeing Orrick lying with his eyes open now, he looked up then about him,
searching.

“Do you feel it too?” I asked quietly, not sure if I would prefer him to say
yes or no.
He shifted his weight to a more sitting position. 
“The branches of the world tree are disturbed.” 
I think I will take that as a yes.

From the way the room went quiet I think that Strike, Korra, Urut and the rest
of them heard it too.
“It’s just witchery, its fine.” Strike slurred.
“It’s not fine, the corruption I felt in the Jungle is creeping back.” I said,
loud enough for him to hear.
“What, in the Jungle? Well that’s fine. I like that, it can stay there” Strike
starts laughing, only those influenced by drink found it funny.
“No here!” I snap at him, my temper growing short as before.
“I, er. Oh.” He stopped.
“Spreading out then?” Korra asked.
“I don’t know, it’s too faint at the moment but it is strong enough for both of
us to feel it.”
“The evils coming here?” It took Strike a while to catch on.
“No, I don’t know.” I had to admit.
“Something is approaching.” Orrick informed us.
“Isn’t that bloke approaching, that Rugorim?” Strike asked.

Korra spotted that the Guard who brought the news was about to walk out the
door trying to grab his attention before he left, he turned to her.

“The strange men that he had with them, were they perchance tall, lean,
something like her but at the same time not?” She said pointing to me, I had
grudgingly pulled back my hood to speak with Orrick, I felt very conspicuous
and it felt like suddenly all in the Long House were staring at me. As warm as the
layers were and effective for disguising my vine like dreaded hair, sharp
features and pointed ears I could not hear anyone through the thick furs.  
“No, obviously I have not seen for myself. I am just repeating the report from
the outer guard. I simply came here to deliver the message as I am the
fastest.”
“Were they stone men?” Korra questioned further.
“No, from what I have heard, what the outer guard told me was that they looked
like Orcs but they were taller, they stood more upright.” 
“Like me?” I asked the guard.
“No, nothing like you, like Orcs.”
“These dark Elves that you have been worried about, theirs your evil, right
there.” Strike whisper could be heard across the hall.
“Or it’s the same corruption seeking into the Orc population.” Korra mused.
“No.” Strike said it like there was no possible way it could happen.
“Was there anything else? I really must get back to my watch.” The guard asked
our group.
“Not for now.” Korra said, hinting in her voice she may want to speak to him
again.

The guard nodded to our group. As he turned to leave suddenly remembered
something important and circled back to Urut.

“I believe that if they carry on at the same speed they should arrive at first
light tomorrow.”
“Oh good.” Strike said but with no sincerity. “I think we’re headed for a
fight.”
Were their ways of shaking off the influences of their drink? I asked myself. If
they fought the same way they carried on in the Hall, all mouth and not much
else I wasn’t confident.
“Certainly sounds that way.” Korra answered the rhetorical question.
“But, that is the way of home.” He sounded proud.
“It would appear that these people are prepared to fight.” Korra must have been
nervous, she always seemed to state the obvious when uneasy.
“Then I would have to challenge their One Eye, since we both seek leadership.”
Strike was beginning to give the impression he was looking forward to it.
“Their One Eye or the one that’s coming?” Korra sounded horrified.
“Not Orrick, why would I want to do that. No, the one that’s coming.”

She laughed with relief, we had both been chatting with the tribes One Eye
almost all night, Korra had been exchanging stories with him and I had found
someone who also felt the moods of nature and it was a pleasant change to
having explain myself constantly to those who could not. Neither of us wanted
to see him killed by Strike.

“I fear the Rugorim has indeed lost his way.” Strike muttered darkly.
“How far is the turtle nest?” Korra asked, trying to change the subject.
“I have no idea. She said it was on the shores where the sand met the ocean.”
What I didn’t say was that the images I had shared with the turtle I would
probably be able to find it. It was not that I didn’t trust Korra but I at
least wanted the next generation to have some sort of chance. I didn’t trust
others not to raid the nest once I had completed my promise. It would mean that
I would not get a great amount of sleep but I had rested already and I did not
want to break my word.
“I don’t want you to go on your own.” She admitted.
“I’ll be fine, I can always turn into small and squeaky.” I smiled.
“That’s true. You would also be able to travel a lot quicker on your own than
if I were with you. Therefor I shall remain here.” Korra seemed to relax.
“It’s not a wise idea to go alone.” Strike called after me as I walked out into
the night.
The walk form the village to the coast gave me plenty of time for my eyes to
get used to the night light. 
From
the images in my mind I was able to find the beach
quickly. I guessed that it would not take as long as I thought and I would be
able to get back to the Long House in time to rest.
The
sand beneath my fur wrapped feet glittered brightly in the moonlight. The
chunks of ice that had broken free bobbed not too far off shore, almost glowing
white against the inky black water. This wintertime beach was lonely and almost
frightening but long ago I had found happiness in solitude. I watched the sea.
It was flat and smooth, like the obsidian rock that pushed its way to the
surface in the Jungle from time to time.  
The sky above reflected the ocean but the bright pinpricks of light glittered
like white jewels.
I walk to the edge of the shore and stand mesmerized by the dark ocean. 
Not too far from where I stood was a heaped up mound. What I thought was sand was
in fact crumbling earth coated in shimmering frost that tapered down into the
black, icy water. 
In the hole was a clutch of gleaming white eggs, partly covered. It seemed as
if she was in the middle of burying them before she was found and taken away.
I crouched down and started to pull the soil over the clutch when I hear
something. The ocean suddenly seemed angry, water crashing onto the shore. Then
I realised that something was emerging from the water. 
I stopped, still crouching I looked up at a huge white furred bear. It was at
least five times the size of a jungle bear, its black dagger like claws
scrabbling to gain footing on the frosty ground, water pouring off around it.
It looked around with black gleaming eyes and sniffed the air, from the way it
was acting it hadn’t spotted me yet.
Not having any experience with these creatures I tried to look as none
threatening as possible and continued with my task.
With the animals keen hearing it picked up on the sound and reared up
instinctively and let out a raucous raw, pawing at the air to prove its
dominance. 
Strikes warning suddenly flashed across my mind.
Panic gripped me and I found myself trying to speak to the creature. 
“I am not a threat nor am I food.” 
I then remembered that I had not yet had a chance to study the animal and so
was not hopeful that it worked.
On watching the bear I realised that it was not interested in me but had
instinctively reared up as it had not expected me to be there.
Lowering its front paws it began searching the air again with its large
black nose. I become conscious that it had been lured here by the scent of the
turtle eggs.

Watching the scene intently I reasoned that I would probably be able to save
about half of the eggs and bury them somewhere else if I sacrificed the other
half to keep the bear uninterested in me. It was a little regrettable but at
least some of the eggs had a chance.
Hurriedly I scooped up a portion of the eggs into my jerkin but not before the
bear reached the nest. It snuffled at me experimentally before diving into the
rest of the clutch up to the bridge of its muzzle.
While it was busy I quietly crept to another secluded spot and buried the last
of the eggs, fulfilling my promise.

On returning to the Long House I found far more empty barrels
than full. I was not human but after my little encounter I felt the very Human
need for a large drink.
Both Strike and Urut were asleep, or so I thought where they sat as were most
of the village. The dull glow of the fire swaddling the slumbering warriors in
warmth.

“Urmm..The Northlanders never…” Urut mumbled.

Surprisingly in the sea of warriors in different stages of stupor Urut and Strike
were very nearly, still conscious. What I thought was dream mumblings was Urut
was trying to tell Strike of another war story but the drink was winning.

It took a little searching of the table, now sticky with overenthusiastic
refills and bouts of quaffing, stained with the food and drink of the feast before
I managed to find a half filled tankard wedged into a hole made into the wood
of the table to stop them spilling over. 
I found Orrick sitting with furs wrapped around him by the fire, still awake.
Staring deeply into the flames, occasionally rubbing his hands together before
holding them in front of the fire to keep the cold at bay while Korra slept
soundlessly beside him.
Sparks danced upwards as he stirred the fire with a gnarled stick, the majestic
fire now embers and ash from the lack of fuel. The One Eye watched the patterns
intently before agitating the cinders again.
Beneath his features and his impressive beard his face was twisted into
something between worry and concern, I was not skilled in the art of scrying
and thought it best to say so.

“I am new to the art of scrying in fire, is there something that troubles you?”

Looking up I could see instead of a gaping hole I assumed that all One Eyes had
after seeing Rugorim with the demon child was a white pearly sightless orb that
stared at nothing.

“Yes, although the future is not certain, the next path around the Circle of
Life is never clear I feel a great change stirring in the branches of the World
Tree. The Leaves of Knowledge are disturbed and fall in waves at this strange
and unusual time.”
“I too have felt this change, I am from the Jungles. We have seen a lot of
strange, unusual and disturbing things.” I began our tale of when we were in
the woods and first encountered the walking tree with the bloody hand nailed
onto it. 
Orrick’s brow furrowed when he heard this.
“A bloody hand? Strange.”
“Yes and that was just the start.” I hinted that I had only just begun our
tale.
“For I had a dream whilst I slumbered earlier, but it was not a bloody hand I
saw. It was a black hand, a hand of darkness. A hand almost as black as pitch
or as the night itself. ” 
“I have also seen Elves, who are not Elves. They seem to be born of fire, they
are blackened.”
While we talked, even though it was fairly hushed Korra began to stir.

Korra smiled, at our exchange. Both the One Eye and myself a little excited
that we found someone else to speak with about magicks.
“Let me tell you about the dream I had. As I said, the hand was as black as
pitch, the hand had three fingers. Each of the fingers were men and they
stretched out like a shadow over the land. Where one shadow touched the land I
saw people as you are but not as you are. Where the second touched the land I
saw creatures Orcs, like my Chief. But they were not Orcs, they were Orcs that
walked and carried themselves like men.” Orrick continued, forgetting our
travels.
“Well if they can do what they have done to the Elves I am sure it is not
beyond their power to do it to other creatures as well.” I interjected.
He nodded but seemed annoyed I interrupted.
“Most worrying was where the third and final finger touched the land. I saw
strange shapes, men that were not men. Their eyes were hard like stone…”
“Stone” I echoed, thinking I knew what he would say next.
“…but not stone. Their skin was hard…like metal.” He was really struggling to
describe what he had seen. Was it because he didn’t know the words in common
tongue or was it that hard to believe his own eyes.
“…But not metal. It was shining blue in colour. Blue as the oceans of the
Mainland. Their eyes were as hard as diamonds.”
“There are such gems that are hard like diamonds but as blue as the oceans.” I
said, trying to put him at ease.
“I. You have far greater knowledge of that than me. The Northlands are not rich
in gemstones, what little I know about them I know from my time in Axehome and
the Mainlands in the travels of my youth. But these three fingers on this hand,
these men were all part of the same whole, clenched into a fist that engulfed
the land in darkness and then I awoke. And that was when I felt the disturbance
that we spoke of earlier.”

“The only darkness of the lands I have ever felt was from Strike’s old
Chieftain, Ragnar. I came upon him in a vision by accident. I was trying to
find why the balance had shifted and when I was confronted by him he tried to
kill me.” I said after a pause, making sure he had finished speaking this time.
“When you first arrived in our village, I heard your friend telling our Chief
about it. Although I have never seen them myself I have heard stories of those
who due to great crime or greed had been denied a place in the afterlife and
were forced to walk the world in pain, lasting until they were put out of their
misery. If what your friend says is true then by killing Ragnar he has released
him to go on to whatever waits after this life and has done this world a great
favour.” 
“It is your turn to be more informed then. I know nothing of your culture, save
what Strike has told me. I believe what you say, just as I believe what he
says.”
“It is our belief that if we live our lives according to warrior principals of
our people and we are not petty, we are not greedy. We take what we want but
only what we need. We are not cruel, we are survivors, we are not murderers. We
believe that if we follow these ways then we will be granted a place in the Halls
of Battle that we call Valhalla. The hereafter where we feast and battle until
the world ends and the World Tree falls. We believe that those who do not live
by our principals will be denied a place and they will be force to stay outside
the spirit world, in the cold of this world. Knowing that they are dead and
they have been denied everlasting glory of the afterlife, there is no greater
punishment or sentence that we could put upon someone’s head than to be forced
to walk this world in the rot of your own dead body knowing that your own sins
have lead you there.”

“I can’t say my people but I live by similar convictions. My people turned tail
and ran leaving us to deal with what is left of this world. I believed I was
the only Elf until I saw a vision of another Elf, who I recognised personally
trapped in darkness.” 
“I do not know much of your people, they do not live in our lands.” 
Korra listened with a preoccupied look while we were having this discussion but
not wanting to interrupt us she waited until there was a lull in convocation.
“The Stone men, have you heard of them before?” Korra asked.
“We have heard legends that there were creatures in the ancient times.
Creatures of fire and stone who taught the first men to make metal and how to
forge weapons. But our legends tell us that they are long gone from this world,
they all disappeared into their holdfasts below ground.” The One Eye answered.
“They have re-emerged. They are at current defending the Great Wall on the
Mainland.” I left out that I may have lead the Stone Defenders to the
conclusion the wall was under attack.
“Or perhaps their holdfast has been disturbed from the quarrying.” Korra
propositioned. 
“That is very true.” I replied.
“How much stone did the colonies take?”
“Enough to finish the wall and surrounding buildings.” M
“It is quite a large town, surrounded by villages’ as well. But that’s just the
recent working.”    
 “I suggest we all get some sleep, we
will be in need of our strength tomorrow.” Orrick said stifling a yawn.

My large hearth stone was still unoccupied, until I resumed my place, I curled
up, bringing my furs tighter around me while Orrick hunkers down in his pile of
furs and Korra settled back in her own. Our souls joining those already asleep
in the void.

The village was a noisy place in the daylight with various
people going about their daily tasks of the morning. The hunger inducing smell
of bread being baked drifted through the still, cold air. 
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes and stretching the stiffness from my limbs I
walked out of the Long House. The air was crisp giving the light a power that
made things look more real, as only a winter morning could do.

Animals needed to be fed watered and milked in their holdings. Catches from
previous hunts were being skinned, gutted, and prepped for cooking in the open
air while their skins were tanned in a hidden part of the village, near to the
midden with an odour powerful enough to shun anyone with a sense of smell. Outside
one of the huts the shell of the giant turtle was being fashioned into a
shield. 
While the sound of a hammer hitting an anvil indicated the Blacksmith hard at
work.

Gaggles of children were running around, acting out hunts and battles with
sticks for weapons, dressed in leather tunics and leggings with light furs to
protect them from the chill. I felt cold just watching them and huddled further
into my furs.

Strike eventually emerged from the Long House blinking hard in the weak
sunlight. 
“Feeling delicate are we?” I asked trying not to smirk. Watching the state the
two of them got into last night made me never want to touch Human or Orc fire
water, ever.”
“I’m going to the blacksmith.” He said ignoring my question shielding his eyes
with his hand. 
“The iron smith? NO!” I said, possibly a little too loud. Strike winced from
the pain in his head. I had become very weary after the key at the inn bit me.
“It wasn’t an invitation, I’m going to the blacksmith.” 
“Fine, off you go.” 
I walked with Strike and it wasn’t hard to find the forge, the sound of the
Smiths rhythm beating something against the anvil lead strike almost straight
to him. 
Walking into the shop was like walking into a wall of heat, the forge glowed
almost white hot form here a young, well defined lad, who from his muscle development
had started work as soon as he could reach the anvil. The apprentice was
pumping the bellows and feeding the fire for a tall man who, from his trade had
the body shape of a parsnip. His chestnut hair and beard hung in two plats tied
with leather to reduce singing.  The
Smith was holding a spear head with pinchers on the anvil, battering it into
shape before plunging it back into the flames. Once the metal was the colour of
straw he plunged it into a bucket of water by his feet. 
I felt the blast of heat even from my spot outside but the itchy feeling I was
getting like ants under my skin warned me to go no further.
The blacksmiths house was built next to the forge rather than living in one of
the communal huts so with what I had learned about Northlander life he must
have fair amount of prestige. 
Feeling a little ridiculous, a lone Elf almost cocooned in furs, standing
outside a place that literally made my skin crawl I went to look for Korra or
Orrick.

Strike ducked under the doorway. Sensing the new presence the Smith looked up
from his work. 
“Something I can do for you stranger?” He asked twisting the hammer in his
hand.
“My sword is in need of sharpening.”
Putting the hammer down and resting the spear head on the anvil he held out his
hand.
Drawing the sword from its scabbard Strike handed it to him by the hilt.
The Smith smiled as he took the blade with exaggerated care Strike could tell
that the man thought he would snap the thin sword if he squeezed it too hard,
although Strike was a Northlander by blood this was not the usual double handed
broad sword that the Blacksmith was used to creating and maintaining.
“I mean no offence stranger but I fear that if I strike this with my hammer I
would break it. There seems precious little metal in this.” 
“I don’t want you to strike it with a hammer, I want you to grind it on the
stone.” Strike replied.
The Smith shrugged “There seems hardly enough to grind but if that is what you
wish.” 
“It is strong.” Strike assured him.
“As you wish.” The Smith shrugged again.
The Smith turned his back on Strike to face the grinding stone and pressing the
peddle with his foot, the stone turned.  Sparks began to fly as the Smith dragged the
blade slowly and with care across the revolving stone with a scraping sound that
could put your teeth edge.

With a nod the apprentice left the bellows and taking the rapier from the
Blacksmith finished the job.
The novice handed the sword back to the blacksmith who checked the sharpness by
shaving a patch of skin clean on his forearm. Satisfied with the freshly ground
blade he handed it back to Strike.
“There you go, that should do.” 
“I Thank you.” 
With the task completed the Smith and his apprentice return to the spear head
back still resting on the anvil.

Leaving the Blacksmith Strike intended to visit the tannery to find some hide
to repair his armour. Stepping out of the forge Strike felt compelled to look
out over the horizon. The white, hostile, open ground he could see a unit of
men, roughly a dozen, being escorted towards the village by men dressed
similarly to the guard who delivered the message last night. Strike looked down
at his dyed left hand before watching the troop again. At the front of the
group was a gnarled, hunched snaggletooth Orc, all Orcs that Strike had come
across before were slightly hunched but this one was weighed down by the weight
of years. Wearing a winter wolf pelt to shield him from the cold, the skull of
the wolf on his head, its upper jaw covering the Orcs face. Walking behind him were
roughly a dozen or so that looked to Strike like Orcs but walk more upright
like a Human.

“Like the runner said last night.” He muttered.

They were all clad in shining plate metal armed trimmed with fur, in one hand
were swords that were bigger than the double handed board swords of the
Northlanders, in the other large metal rimmed spiked shields that would easily
cover Strike. These creatures were very disciplined Strike could see that from
even as far away as he was. Every step was as one with the others of the group,
they marched as a single unit unlike the typical warriors of the Northlanders,
who, in battle were all seeking out their own glory. The clank of armour as
they walk as one echoed across the village loud enough to penetrate the thick
stone walls of the main hall.

The sound of the unit was unnerving bordering on foreboding for Korra and on
hearing this noise in the Long House she voiced her opinion.
“I do not feel particularly brave about the death marching towards us but I
will go out there to support Strike.” 
Urut and his men slid on their battle worn chainmail followed by their helmets,
shields and weapons and stepped outside.
With all abled fighters gathered outside the hall behind Strike we could now
all see the black armoured column, the deformed old Orc holding an equally
twisted staff at the head.
Making sure he had the on comers’ attention Strike held up his dyed left hand.
Using this calm moment to my advantage I reached out the land and tried to
communicate with the spirits who dwelled within. 
Calling out to the spirits of the village I asked to see what may happen at
this uncertain interval. I was answered with a vision although I did not
realise it. 
As I watched the armoured Orc men marching towards us my eyes were drawn to the
gnarled staff used by the Orc to help him walk. 
Fixed upon of the staff was a severed hand, nailed to the top. 
Almost instantly I heard an indistinguishable voice, laden with the weight of
years, almost sounds half way between a scream and the creaking of the most ancient
trees of the Jungle, nothing like I had ever listen to before. For a moment I
had the sensation of falling forward into a large pot or cauldron or pit beneath
me, seething with something unnatural.

I felt myself tumbling headfirst when suddenly I sensed  the Village One Eye place a hand on my
shoulder and I realise I am not falling but seeing something, not sure if it is
past, present or future. A cry of pain and fear escapes from my lips as Strike
held up his hand and understood that the time passing in the vision had no
effect on the rest of the village. Strike kept his hand raised but turned his
head to see me about to fall forward then being steadied by Orrick.

“Must you scream so loud?” He asked clutching his aching head.

I felt Korra take my other shoulder and begin singing an old Elven lullaby, the
hypnotic tones washed over me, but instead of the calm her voice usually brings
makes me feel a lot worse, her chosen song reminds me of my people who use to
be here, that I was the only survivor of the massacre of our jungle home and I
begin to get the feeling that I was unworthy of the journey I was undertaking. However,
her melody was seen to have the opposite effect on those around us, Urut, a
couple of his men and Strike, who have been suffering this morning from the
revelry of the night before suddenly visibly shook off its affects and stood
tall, refreshed.

The snaggletooth Orc at the front of the marching column, assumed to be Rugorim,
stopped in front of Strike, still holding up his hand. Leaning on his staff he
held his own hand up and the Orc Men still in tight, lockstep formation came to
a halt in unison. 
“My business is not with you poisoner, I have come to speak to the Chief of
this village.” The Rugorims’ voice was deep and as twisted as the rest of him.
“I have come to lay claim to the Kingdom.” Strike informed him.
The Rugorim shrugged.
“Lay claim to it then, I have come to speak with the Chief of this Village.” 
“You do not care?” Strike asked, a little surprised.
“If you wish to claim the small title of the Red Hand it is not my concern.” 
“It is everybody’s concern in the North.” 
“I will not long be in the North.” 
“And why is this?” 
“Because I have seen a greater vision of the future, the Black Hand. Why would
I settle to be the advisor of the Red Hand as I was, I should be thanking you.
You did me a favour by removing my previous alliances. It was his death that
freed me to see a greater vision of the future, why would I settle for a Red
Hand drenched in blood when the Black Hand can give us so much more?”
“Certainly looks like it from where I’m standing.” Strike said regarding the
Orc-Man unit.
“Indeed. Tell me, can you create marvels such as these?” He gestures to the 7
foot tall Black army behind him. 
“Creating people is for the Gods. Only Odin may give life.” 
“Well then, these mighty warriors that I have created must be no more than
simple illusions. In that case they would certainly not be capable of harming
anyone and there for are of no concern.” The Orc said with a lopsided sneer, his
left lower tusk tooth protruding over his lip.
“I trust you as much as I trusted Ragnar.” Strike stated.
“On the contrary, I am entirely trustworthy. I can always be trusted to do what
I believe is the best for myself and my kind.” He gestures not only to the Orc
men behind him but the long sweep of his hand, encompassed everyone in the
village.

“These are not your men.” 
“No. No you are entirely right. But, they could be.” The Rugorim looked beyond
Strike who followed his gaze to where Urut was standing.
“I gave you a choice before, to join us and you doubted…” The Orc began
addressing Urut, Strike temporarily forgotten. 
“As King I refute it.” Strike interject.
“That is your right. The Chief of this village doubted what I had said I had accomplished,
what I had promised. I said I would return with proof and give him a second
chance to align himself with the Black Hand with the coming rulers of this
world and for him and his men to embrace their heritage, to unite the two sides
of our souls.” 
“Then come, let us speak to the Chief.” Strike said almost cheerfully.
The Rugorim gestured to his unit of men, who as one march behind the limping
hunched Orc.
Seeing this intimidating sight Urut called out to Strike and the Orc.
“We will conduct these investigations and negotiations in my hut.” 
He stepped aside, gesturing to the Long House.
“As my honoured guests, both yourself and your companions are free to attend.”
Urut addressed Strike as they approached the Long Hose.
“I welcome your hospitality.” Strike replied.
“As I say, we respect the old ways in this village.” Urut said directing his
distain to The Rugorim.
I step aside to let the Rugorim and his dark army past.
He raises his staff, I expect him to knock but the doors open without touch. 
With this show of power I sense the vaguest ripple of imbalance, a feeling I
don’t think I will ever get used to. 
I steady myself against the cold stone wall my head suddenly swimming. I looked
over to Orrick who is holding his head. Whatever is affecting me is also influencing
him.
Waiting for the dizziness to subside we watch Urut leads his men, the Rugorim
and his troop, Korra and Strike trail into the hut.

Hanging back and trying to hold the panic from my voice I
begin telling Orrick what I saw. 
“Master One Eye, he is nothing but a bringer of Death. I saw a cauldron
boiling, seething full of hatred, fear, anger.” I pause, trying to find enough
words to explain my distress. “It began to take hold of me to the point of when
I felt you grab my shoulder and stopped me falling in. I only saw this vision
after focusing on the top of TG staff where a blackened hand nailed to it.” I
gibbering at the One Eye.
“I also felt a disturbance. The power that The Rugorim wields is strange. It is
not familiar to me, it is odd. It is like the natural powers that my brethren
wields has been turned back in on itself.” Orrick struggled to explain.
“I am not as experienced as you, I can only feel the corruption in what was
once balanced. Whichever side the valance has shifted and needs to be
restored.” 
He nodded in aggrement.

Inside the Long House the Rugorim stood at one end of the
table with his army with Urut, Strike, Korra and six of the Orc Chieftains warriors
standing at the other.
“Long have the men and the Urruks of the Northlands lived together.” The Rugorim
began. Taking out what Korra recognised as a coin from the Mainlands. The Face
of King John V on one side with the royal crest on the other. Holding it up The
Rugorim continued.
“The men and the Orcs of the Northlands are like this coin from the Kingdom.
They are both different sides of the same soul.” He flips the coin into the
middle of the table.
“The Black Hand has shown me that to achieve true strength, true power we must
unite these two halves of our soul to created something greater.” He said
indicating to the seven tall, armoured Orc men behind him. “These, my Dark
Orcs, my Black Orcs are only the first. All of us could embrace this side of
our heritage, there would be no one on the Mainlands who would be strong enough
to stand against us. We would form a force like the legends of old, the raiding
parties of old. We would sweep all before us. There would be none powerful
enough to stand in our way!” 
“Yet the raiding parties of legends had a mix of Humans and Orcs, the way Odin intended
them to be.” Strike argued.
“And always those raiding parties were forced to turn back…”
“Why always?” Strike interrupted.
“You have only to look at the fact that we have expanded little beyond the Northlands.
Unless you count the piffling towns clinging to the outskirts of the Mainlands.”
The Rugorim answered.
“I have ventured far into the Mainlands.” Said Strike.
“And yet the majority of our people remain here.” The Rugorim gave Strike a
look a weary mother would give a demanding child. 
“Then it is a good job I have returned to lead them.” Strike said pleasantly.
“I am yet to see any evidence that you have passed any trials of leadership.”
“I have killed Ragnar.”
The Rugorim shrugged indicating the action meant nothing.
“A dead man cannot be the Chief of the Northlands whether he walks…”
“If that is what you wish then I will undertake the trials. Do you wish to join
me?” Strike shouted over the Orc.
“I have no wish to become the…” The Rugorim tried to answer.
“Then you have no wish to rule.” Strike cut in on the Orc again.
“Not the Northlands no. I have set my eyes set on a more worthy prize.” 
“Your prize is laughable. You defy the Gods.” 
“Then surly it is the Gods business to strike me down?” The Rugorim paused,
waiting to be struck down “And yet they remain silent. As they have done for
many years.”
“Then I would make it my purpose as King to deliver their judgment.” Promised
Strike.
“If you are capable, then deliver your judgment. And when your bleached bones
are scattered to the sides of this Long House, then I would continue my
discussion with the Chief of this village. I am sure they would see the wisdom
of joining our cause. Making them stronger, taking what they want. For is that
no the way of the Northlanders? We become stronger, we do survive. Making
ourselves part of our lands. We make ourselves colder, stronger, more fierce
than the soft men of the Mainlands and we TAKE what we desire!”

“But your way leads to abomination, whereas uniting two people is fairly easy.
You don’t have to…blend them. They can be as one and yet still be different. It
is just no one has yet taught them to fight as one.”
“Surely if you believe that it the Gods” the Orc spat the word. “Will that this
be the case surely it would have happened before now?” 
“No. All who came before were short minded.” 
The Rugorim laughed. “I can see that pride is your weakness.” 
“There is no pride in me.” 
Not wanting the Rugorim’s attention to be drawn to her Korra listened quietly taking
notes in the shadows not wanting to miss out an important stage of her saga. 
The argument went back and forth for about 10 minutes or so before The Rugorim
made a unexpected claim.
“After all was it not myself who wrestled control of the Great Ancient Oak? Was
it not these hands” He said holding up gnarled, callused, scared talons hands “that
fashioned it into a great working? A working which the Gods themselves would be
envious? You say that only the Gods can create life? Then by your words I must
indeed be a God for I have created life!” 
“We already have one God of Death, she is plenty.” Strike observed.
The Rugorim laughed at Strikes answer.
“With my cauldron I do not kill, I bring life out of death.” 
“You released an abomination on this world, driven by your hatred, your greed.
You denounce our ways.” Said Strike, his voice not raised once in the debate.
“I am the very embodiment of our ways. The Northlanders see what they want,
they take it. That is what we have always done!” He hissed the last sentence, Strike
must have been getting to The Rugorim, “All I am doing is thinking on a larger
scale. I am not satisfied with simply sailing out, raiding a few coastal
villages and then slinking off back to our own lands like some beaten cur!” The
Orc comprehending his frustration and clearing his throat changed the tone of
his voice.  “With the support of people
like this,” He continued gesturing to Urut’s village and the men around him.
“We could take this world and make it a new kingdom. Based on the ideals of the
Northlands we could sweep aside the decadent men and the weakling of the
Mainlands.”

“You mean those who take more than they need?” Korra realised too late she had
said this out loud.
The Rugorim narrowed his eyes and gave Korra a sideways glance but did not
dignify her with a response.
“Is that not what brings them decadence?” Korra, accepting her mistake asked
again.
The Orc regarded her worth a look that seemed to say ‘You’re not a Northlander
and so your opinion is not relevant.’
“She does speak an interesting point.” Strike observed, making sure Korra was not
ignore her. 
“We have only ever taken what we need. You wish to take it all and more. This
is not our way. I come here seeking
an army against your and indeed Ragnar’s dark plot.” 
“Hmmph. Who are you to speak of our ways? There is no place in Valhalla set
aside for one who poisons his way into leadership.”
“Ha! I did not poison my way into leadership I used my own bare hands.”
Corrected Strike.
“When he was already dead.” Replied the Rugorim in a mocking tone.
“Indeed. A far greater feet, killing the dead.” Strike said flashing a smile only
seen before on a shark.
“You killed him first by poison, poison is a woman’s weapon.” The Rugorim jeered.
“Well, now, you see we discussed this last night. Since you refute the Gods you
have no say. And I will deal with my own exclusion from Valhalla. When the time
comes. Sometimes the world needs an utter bastard.” 
“Very well then, there is nothing further to discuss.”
“On the contrary, only you and I have been talking so far, you have yet to
speak to the Chief.” 
“I have only one thing to ask the Chief. The Orc said turning to Urut. “Will you
join us or will you die?”

Urut pulled himself to his full height, seeming to take heart from Strike’s
word “As I have told you before, we need no alliances with outsiders or you’re
Black Magics. We are the people we are meant to be. I agree with what the Red
Hand has said. We have always been one people just because we are different
does not make us different people. We do not need your Dark Magics nor do we
wish to be part of your plans to control this world. We have the lands we were
born to have.”
“Then this discussion is over. Kill everyone in the village!” the Rugorim
commanded whirling round to the nearest Dark Orc-man, as he spoke the ancient
orc banged his staff on the ground and in the blink of an eye vanished in a
puff of black mist. 
At his order the seven dark warriors shifted into a battle formation, their
metal rimmed spiked shields low to the ground, their swords aimed at the enemy.

Looking though the thin unglazed windows built like arrow
slits on a castle, letting in the maximum amount of light and vision with minimum
exposer neither Orrick nor I could see what had happened within the walls of
the Hall. A heavy weight dropped from my stomach into my feet when out from
under the door a mist of black soot drifted out. I watched it hug low to the
ground and slowly drift off away from the village. 
“Oh shit.” I muttered but thought nothing more as sound of violence beginning resounded
out of the Long House.

The Black Orc-Man in front of Strike stepped forward and
with comparatively little effort kicked the table that stretched most of the length
of the room to one side, with the toe end of his armoured foot, blocking the
door way. 
This show of immense strength cleared the Long House floor in one sweep.
“Sweet Odin…” Strikes curse was cut short as in one fluid movement the same Orc-Man
stepped forward and slashed the double handed sword, with one hand towards him.
The floor being cleared before the attack Strike easily stepped back out of
range of the blade.
Strike quickly scanned the room, he counted six warriors, Urut, himself and Korra
against twelve of them.
“Seems fair.” He said under his breath.
As one, the group step forward the crash of metal slamming together in one loud
bang. 
Strike risked taking a look as the closest soldier’s helmet. Slit for eyes,
covering nose, slit for mouth, riveted onto body so not exposed at neck. Searching
quickly Strike saw his point of entry. 
Stepping forward Strike trusted his freshly sharpened rapier through the mouth
slit, up into the fleshy part of his jaw, the blade glinting inside his open
mouth. He had no intention of stopping until he hits the back of his skull.
The Dark Orc-man ignoring the assault and taking advantage of Strike stepping
in to attack, the Dark Orc grabbed his head in shovel sized hands and squeezed. 
Strike instinctively let out a muffled cry as he felt the bones of his skull
creaking and moving under pressure. Now he knew how an apple felt when it was
being pulped for cider.

Dark red splotches danced in front of his eyes before darkness began to close
in.

Korra dived behind the upturned table no one would have argued, her art lay in
song smithing not fighting. Using the cover to her advantage she stabbed the Dark
Orc-man crushing Strikes skull in the leg in the hope of distracting him enough
to let Strike go. Well it definitely annoyed him.
With a small grunt of pain he lets go of Strike and backhanded Korra with the
same casual attitude of swatting a fly, sending her flying backwards hitting
the far wall with enough force to crack a couple of ribs her neck snapping
back, slamming her head at the same time.

Urut and his warriors leapt on the six Dark Orcs nearest to them in the true
Northlander way of taking as many out as possible before they died; as the
first Dark Orc-man turned his attention on Korra another stepped forward
swinging a strange sword down towards Strike, who was still on the floor. The
unusual weapon that could only be described as flat bar of metal, straight the
whole length of the blade. At the top of the weapon was a spike protruding from
it, used to snare an oncoming horseman and pull him to the ground but if held
backwards it would increase the pain inflicted and increase the chance of killing.
Since the pressure was released from Strikes skull the darkness began to ebb and,
seeing the oncoming attack, he managed to roll out the way avoiding being
cleaved in two.

With the small lull in activity Strike realised that his rapier was still embedded
in the first Dark Orc-man. Scanning the scene quickly Strike found his quarry
and watched as he pulled the blade from his face and threw it to the floor, Urut
was wounded and five out of his six warriors still stood, he had managed to
kill one of the enemy by stepping into his attacker and thrusting his blade
deep into his ribcage. In the tangle of his fray he had watched one of his best
men fall under the blade of one of the Dark Orc-men. Instantly he knew who his
next target would be

Hearing the commotion from outside dragged my gaze from the
retreating mist that was now far beyond the village wall, heading inland.
My head arched back. My body twisted and grew, stretching, swelling. New
muscles formed, bunched and knotted. I could feel my face shrink and become
flatter, black velvet fur bursting through my skin, covering my new but
familiar form of a mountain gorilla.
Letting out a primeval roar I shoulder barge the door. 
Throwing my full weight behind the shove I splintered the door and broke the
table lodged behind it, clearing the way.

The sudden appearance of a mountain gorilla was nothing new to Korra or Strike but
to Urut, his warriors and the remaining Dark Orc-men it came as quite a
surprise.

Looking around I could see six Dark Orc-men occupied by Urut and his men, spears
raised. There were four Dark Orc-men closing in on Strike who was on his knees.
Korra was slumped over by the far wall, leaning against it, from the battle I
could see that the Dark Orc-men were absurdly stronger than any one we had come
across before. I leapt at the nearest one, a Dark Orc-man sliding a rapier from
his lower jaw. As he tossed the weapon aside I landed on his back and tried to
unscrew his head by his ears; it took more effort than I had expected, even in
full plate armour, but I finally succeeded in turn his head round the other way
with a loud crack of gristle.

Always willing to learn I reasoned that the muscle structure on these things
must be extremely powerful, I tried to think of an animal whose form may be
more useful here, the Dark Orc-man dropped onto its knees then with the weight
of my gorilla form still bearing down on it, fell face forward. However,
unbeknown to me a second dark warrior had moved behind me and I was only aware
of this when I felt the crushing pressure of his armour clad foot thud onto my
back, a searing flash of burning pain stabbed through my back and out of my
side. I looked down to see the glistening red point of a sword protruding
through my flesh.

Strike, still with his back to me nimbly dived around Urut and his men, still
battling their own opponents, ducked several blows, dived on his rapier,
scooped it up and rolled to his feet in one fluid movement.

Korra watched in horror as the blade slid into my back ribs, gritting her teeth
and with great effort she dragged herself up and unable to find her instrument
started drumming a beat with the hilt of her dagger and started singing of the
ancient warlike prowess that was the basis of all the Northlander songs she had
heard at the great feast, hoping that they would inspire us to fight longer and
harder while healing us at the same time. The saga was of a great warriors who
fought a great ancient dragon, overcoming the odds with great courage and faith
in their fellows. She was never wrong with her song of choice.

Feeling the power of her voice surging through me, healing me enough to find
the strength to continue, and enabling Strike, Urut and his fighters to hear
the call of the warrior; I felt my attacker pulling his blade out my flesh and
the great force that told me his foot was still on my back, preparing to
decapitate me. With the strength of the warriors song still surging through me
I pushed forward onto my palms, arms locked straight and pushing off with my
legs I let my weight fall slightly into my arms before raising my feet to where
I thought the Dark Orc-man’s stomach would be mule kicked him.  The harmonious melody of Korra’s war song had
healed me but kicking upwards had torn the freshly knitted tissue and I felt
the pull of my natural form.

My target staggered back slightly whilst I felt I had kicked a stone wall, if I
had done that to Strike it would have put him through the wall. I decided it
was time to take a chance. Strike, re-energised, ran at one of the Dark Orc-men,
sword raised, the warrior saw the oncoming attack and brought his shield up as
a counter attack, smashing the riveted metal rimed edge into Strike’s jaw, picking
him up off the floor, I could only watch as he sail backwards, stretcheded full
length before hitting the far wall. His limp, unconscious body slid down the
far wall, blood gushing from his mouth.

Korra, trying desperately to heal Strike forgot the danger of drawing unwanted
attention sang louder; her healing, compelling tones took effect just as Strike
took his last breath, his back arched as his heart beat once again, fighting
for air that a moment ago would not come. A Dark Orc-man, hearing the rousing
folk song grabbed Korra’s leg and dragged her to him. With a loud nauseating
crack her ribcage crumpled under the weight of his boot.

Korra gasped, like a fish out of water, suffering the same fate that moments
ago she had pulled Strike from. She was suffocating. Her vison darkened, tinged
red at the edges, feeling herself slipping from this world.

The roar of the combat, the pain, everything faded away into
nothing. Looking around Korra was in the Long House but empty of people. The
table and benches were where they were placed before the encounter. Everything
monochrome and muted. She listened, on the cusp of hearing was the sounds of
the battle but there is nothing to see, the hall was empty.
Strange, there was no pain. Korra remembered how she came to be in this place
and look down. Her chest was concaved and on the front of her tunic a red stain
was growing; looking up Korra saw a woman clad all in black with a shroud
covering her face, standing silhouetted in the door of the Long House. The knot
of terror in her stomach rooted her to the spot, the woman raised her hands to
lift her veil. One of her hands was pale white, smooth and slender, the other belonged
to something from Korra’s nightmares, rotted, blistering, putrid shredded flesh
that was the colour of curdled milk mottled
and mouldering, falling from her fingers and forearm showing glossy white
bone beneath. 

As she lifted her vail Korra saw that her face mirrored her
hands, one side of her face was a beauty to behold, dark hair fell in soft
curls framing her face. The deathly pallor somehow making her more beautiful. One
kind eye glittered with mischief, her skin smooth and porcelain like with full
red lips that curled up in a smile, the other the stuff of nightmares, half her
hair was gone the lines in her skull crackled along the surface, beneath her
ravaged scalp her face was smooth white bone. Her teeth grinning as only a
skull could. Korra stood still, immobilised with fear.
She looked into Korra’s eyes, “Although you are in my domain. You are not of my
realm. ” When she spoke there was another voice echoing hers, as if it was
repeating the words that the woman had just spoken. It was much deeper, almost
snarling, a bestial voice. “By right, I can claim you. But since you are not of
this land I will give you a choice. You have until the rising of the moon to
send an innocent soul in your place or when that moon rises your soul will
enter my Kingdom and no power of man, woman, beast or dark magic will stay my
hand.”

The knot of terror had grown up into Korra’s throat, making her mouth dry,
unable to speak.
“The innocent must be delivered by your hand and your hand alone.”
Swallowing hard Korra finally found her voice.
“What is innocent?” She managed but the woman had already vanished.
Standing in the empty Long House Korra understood that her offer was final,
there was no ways to bargain with the stranger, no tricking her into letting
Korra go it was a deal or no.
With the internal struggle strong inside Korra managed to reach an uneasy
conclusion.
She didn’t specify what was innocent, a kitten may be innocent as well as a
child. She thought
“I accept.” Korra said out loud.
On uttering those words the stranger, half eaten corpse half divine beauty
reappeared. She held her withered arm out towards Korra and as she took the
desiccated hand Korra closed her eyes, relieved that the moment would be short
lived before she stepped through the vail that hid the living realm from the
realm of the dead.  
Korra felt the weight of two metallic objects placed over her closed eyes and
impulsively opened them.

Opening her eyes Korra found herself back in the midst of battle, still injured
but stable.
She breathed a painful sigh of relief but the knot grew again, aware that
moment would be forever waiting in her nightmares.
It felt like it was taking forever to get to my fallen friend, using my ape
agility, I ran on my knuckles around the enemy, ducking wild sword swings and
avoiding others fighting get to her. I watched her go down, saw the dark red
bloom from under her tunic, watched what I thought was her last breath and
finally I reached her, praying to the Elders that I wasn’t too late. As I
reached her Korra’s eyes snapped open again. All the pain and injury I had
inflicted on the Dark Orc-men I channelled all the hurt back in on itself and using
the last of my shape shifting enchantment to boost the power of the healing
charm. I felt the cloak of the gorilla fall and my Elven form returned. The
spreading red pool receded slightly and I looked over her to see if the magic
had worked. Everything appeared normal until I reached her arms. The flesh of
her left hand has withered, the flesh shrunken back, skin taught. The mummified
limb looked more like a bird’s claw than a Human hand.
I had no idea what that was or the cause but at that moment I had more pressing
issues to attend to. Korra was still lying down but her breathing was no longer
laboured. Urut and his men were still going strong, but from my position near
the back of the Long House I could not see how many were left on either side.

The Dark Orc-man that had almost killed Korra pulled his foot up to deliver the
killing blow. My attention was drawn behind him and I saw Strike rise up behind
the warrior and holding his sword above his head stabbed down through his
shoulder and into his spine.
“ODIN GUIDE ME!” He called out.
Korra, with the strength she had pulled herself up and backwards, taking cover
under part of the shattered table sung with all her spirit.

Calling back to when I spoke to the Great White Bear I dived into its mind and
praying to the Elders for the short time I had studied the creature to be
enough.
My head bent back. My body warped and expanded, unfolded and engorged. New
muscles formed, clustered and tensed. I could feel my face stretch and teeth
growing in my new muzzle. White course fur burst through my skin. I stretched
out my new form and stood as a Great White Bear. I echoed the roar that I had
been greeted with by the bear on the shore line
Strike looked impressed.
The dark warrior nearest to me let out a shriek of surprise, the effect I had
intended. However, now being the largest threat in the room all able Dark
Orc-men closed in on me. 
The two nearest Dark warriors hack at me with the strange shaped, swords twisting
the blades as they hit, trying to latch in with the hooked tip but fat, muscle
and fur were a natural armour and soften the blows. 
I snarled defiance and reached out to one of my attackers, using the bears paw
to wipe his face off. My claws cut deep through his flesh, shredding one to
pieces he toppled over, hitting the ground hard.
Strike came into view on the falling body of a second Orc-man, his rapier slid
between the join in his helmet and shoulder plate. He must have taken advantage
of the Dark warrior’s lack of attention and leaped onto its back when it was
attacking me. First I knew anything about it was when the Dark warrior toppled
over gurgling and blowing blood bubbles.

Then there were two.

“Keep singing bard!” Strike ordered, climbing off his kill.
He turned to retrieve his weapon when one of the remaining guards pulled up his
spiked, metal rimmed shield so the metal frame was edge on and threw it by the
grip towards Strike. It flew through the air as gracefully as a stone skipping
over water.
On seeing the deadly projectile Strike somehow bent his upper half backwards so
he was still standing but his torso was lying down. The underside of the shield
brushed the tip of his nose as it flew over him, smacking the Dark Orc-man
behind him slicing his neck, green black blood sprayed the wall. 
It had wounded him but not fatally. Reaching forward over Strike I swiped at
the injured warrior. My outstretched claw caught the wound tearing it open, killing
him instantly.
The last Dark Orc-man followed the path of his shield, intending to shoulder
charge Strike, who, after seeing the pad side of my paw flipped back up. Seeing
the oncoming attack Strike started to leap over the charging Dark warrior but
as he did so he was grabbed by his outstretched leg, the Dark Orc-man catching
him mid-air and smashed him to the floor. 
Rolling as he fell Strike used his momentum and summersaulted up onto his feet
and plunged his blade deep into his back severing his spine, killing him
instantly.

No one had been keeping a tally on our progress and scanning the room quickly
and finding no other Dark Orc-men standing we finally had time to breath, unsurprisingly
the room was totally trashed. 
Urut and his men had killed off their six but only two of Uruts men remained. Urut
was lying in the corner of the room, slumped against the thick stone wall of
the Long House with his hand clutching his stomach, a river of green black
blood pumping through the open wound still holding his sword, wanting to fight,
but quickly succumbing to his wounds.

Korra, still weak from her wounds tried singing to heals the Chieftain but the
melody could not heal the extent of his injures. Stepping forward I gathered
all the damage I had inflicted and turned it back in on itself to heal Urut. He
rose slowly to his feet, leaning heavily on his sword for support. The effects
of shock now more dangerous than his healed injuries.

Surveying the carnage Urut began the grim task of paying his respects to his
fallen warriors. Walking around, he crossed their arms over their chests and closed
the open, vacant eyes of all his men.
This seemed like the perfect moment to study our enemy. While Korra examined
the Dark Orc-men I remembered something.
“Wait a moment. Wait a moment. We’re missing one,” said Strike

“He turned into a mist and floated off that way,” I pointed inland,
I didn’t know which village would be closest. 
“He will have retreated to his village.” Strike answered uninterested. With
Strikes lack of interest, I saw no threat and moved to join Korra.

“I think I need to speak with Orrick.” Korra tells me as I crouch down. I nod.
“Don’t think they’ll be too much of a threat, if I find anything I’ll come and
find you.”
While looking over the corpses my mind takes me back to when originally talking
in the village to Orrick. He knew that The Rugorim had been going around
recruiting all the Northlander tribes he came across. How many? Well it would
be a lot more than one tribe. He has probably got far more than 12 Dark Orc-men
or Elf-men or some form of strange crossbreed. So where are all the rest of his
men? And it could be a bit problematic if they are all the same build and
strength.

Lost in my train of thought, the villages began stripping the bodies of
weapons, armour, furs, anything of value around me. They wouldn’t be using the
armour as armour but would probably melt it down to make something more useful
to them. Staring at nothing I was gently but firmly moved out of the way of a
Northlander woman, desperate to get hold of the weapons of the dead Dark
Orc-man in front of me. I moved out of her way and was about to return to my
thoughts when something caught my eye.

Kicked into the corner of the room in the heat of battle was The Rugorims’ staff.
He must have left it when he turned into mist, expecting to retrieve it after
his creatures slaughtered the village. Being very weary of the creepy looking
thing I gingerly pick it up with the intention of taking it to Orrick, the One
Eye who I believed Korra would have found by now.
Orrick was sat outside, his years hindering his fighting skills he knew he
would not much use in a fight so, like Korra he had helped out in his own way.
As Korra drew closer the old One Eye did seem to have a faraway look on his
face. Korra suddenly understood that he had been helping out Urut and his men,
they were only Orc and Human warriors of natural birth and wouldn’t have stood
much chance otherwise.
“Is this place haunted?” Korra asked when he returned to his body.
“Haunted?” He looked perplexed, it was clearly not a question he expected.
“I was hurt, badly hurt. Without the Druids magics I would have not been
brought back.” Korra tried to explain. She took a deep breath and started
again, not thinking that Orrick appreciated how demanding it was to explain
what had happened when she didn’t understand it herself.
“I saw a woman? She had a…” Holding her hands up to mimic lifting a vail Korra
sees her skeletal hand for the first time. The colour drained from her face but
swallowing down her fear she tried to describe what happened but there was no
hiding how traumatised she was.
Orrick on seeing Korra’s hand was so shocked he revered back to cursing in Northlander,
he involuntarily moved his hand over his chest in the shape of a hammer as the
Northlander profanity  escaped his lips and
takes an unconsciously stepped backwards.
“Then you’ve seen her?” Orrick asked Korra concerned.
“I, I saw someone. But she, she said because, I couldn’t.” Korra stopped, took
a breath and started again. “Because I wasn’t from this place? I may not have
to go to her domain?” The One Eye could understand her explanation all being
questions, whatever had happened to her sounded unworldly.
“It is rare that Hel Half Eaten, who is Death allows someone to remain in this
world when their time has come. And then she only does so if it suits her own
interest for she is a jealous and selfish God.”
“She told me someone had to go in my place but, who could I send? I couldn’t
send anyone there!” On hearing her plight Orrick had more sympathy for Korra.
“In the legends of old people struck such bargains of sending someone with a
soul with equivalent worth. I am not qualified to speak as to how much Hel
value’s your soul. The Gods are not meant for our understanding but you must
find someone who she would value equally. Then they must take your place on
that dark journey to her deathly domain. She has laid her mark on you” He
pointed to her claw like hand. “Like all of our Gods she is bound by ancient
laws and her word. If you do not meet whatever deal she made with you then she
will use that link to take her soul into her dark domain.”
“I…think she said an innocent but…what would be innocent to her? Korra asked,
fully aware she would not want to hear the answer.
“I honestly do not know.” An unsaid sorry hung in the air before he tried to
comfort her. “All I know is our ancient sagas say that those who have managed
to bargain in such a way to escape Hel’s domain has sent err… If you were a
farmer, a simple farmer and she had made you this deal your soul would not be
worth a great deal to her, there for you could send an animal or something
similar in your place. Remember she is a God of the Northlanders, your friend
will be able to tell you what we value here in the Northlands. All of our Gods
value the same things. So the worth of your soul would be based on how much or
little you live our values. I heard your singing inside, you are a teller of
sagas and stories that is a great part of our culture. The One Eyes like myself
as well as being the spiritual guides of our people we also preserve the
ancient legends of our people. Therefor I can only assume that she offered you
this bargain is because she values you highly as a Scald, a teller of tales.”
“Well I can only think of three…She said by the next moon. When’s the next
moon?” 
“In three days’ time.” 
“Three days.” She looked very thoughtful.

I blinked in the light of the winter sun as I walked out of
the Long house. I looked around and found Orrick where I left him, sat on a
tree stump with Korra sat beside him.
Three days for what I thought as I approached them, I had only caught the tail
end of their conversation but from Korra’s expression it was not one of good
news.
Holding the staff the distant echo of corruption suddenly upon me. On feeling
this I threw it to the ground, near to the One Eye’s feet. I had been hurt by
that before.
On seeing the staff with the black, hand nailed to the top Orrick almost fell
from his seat, making the sign of a hammer and muttering a ward under his
breath.
“That is an evil thing. I would not
keep that in the village.” Orrick advised.
“Then how do I destroy it?” I questioned.
“The best way I know to destroy such things is with fire.”
I nodded my thanks to him before gingerly picking up the staff again to find the
nearest biggest fire source, the blacksmiths. 
Ducking through the doorway to the Smithy I begin to feel a little uneasy being
in the life and death of iron, from the itching sensation in my feet, this
Smithy had been here a very long time, the essence of his trade engrained into
the earth. However uncomfortable I felt standing there was nothing compared to
how uneasy the staff was making me. I could bear that to get rid of this evil
creation.
Standing in the forge the Smithy had left the young spotty lad working the bellows.
Expecting his master the apprentice did a double take at me, it was a
reasonable response. An Elf with vine dreads, pointed ears and could change
form at will was not really normal for a village of the Northlands. I ignored
the questing look and held up the macabre staff. He recoiled in horror.
“Make the fire as hot as possible.” 
Eyes goggled and mouth gaping like a fish out of water the boy nods and starts
pumping furiously until a raging inferno was at the heart of the furnace.
Watching the fire carefully I waited for the coals to turn white hot before throwing
the thing into the centre of the blaze followed by a handful of cleansing herbs
from my bag just to be safe. I didn’t know if it would make a difference but it
made me feel better. 
The flames turned an emerald green, reminding me of the Jungle foliage. Flames
lick over the staff, the hand curled in on itself as the skin contracted in the
heat. As it burned away and was consumed by the fire the sap escaping the grain
of the wood made a high pitched keening sound. For a moment amongst the flames
as the staff was finally rendered down to ash I thought I saw a horned, demonic
face silently screaming before it evaporated, with the remnants of the staff.

 “That was a fine
battle.” Strike said to Urut after the dead in the Long House had been taken to
await the proper Northlander farewell.
Urut, now fully healed both mentally and physically slapped Strike hard on the
back, pushing him forwards.
“It was good, wasn’t it?” he agreed slapping a horn of mead into his hand. “And
now we drink to celebrate!”

I gladly left the Blacksmiths and found Orrick still where I
left him.
“I believe you were right. The fire indeed consumed the entire thing and it
also released a form of tiny demon which seemed to wither and die in the
flames.”
“Perhaps The Rugorim used his evil magics to bind such a creature to his staff
to increase his own power. That would certainly account for some of the
corruption we felt if he was channelling his energies through such a creature,
it would increase his power but it would also make it darker and reflect the
creature itself. Either way it is good that we have destroyed it, it will
deprive him of much of his power.”
“I’ll drink to that!” I heard Strike shout inside the Long House.
There was only a handful of fighting age left. That one fight has weakened or
killed many of the warriors in the village. All the surviving Northlander
warriors and the rest of the village, the none fighters, the children, the
elderly had all gathered round inside the Long House waiting. Urut stood and
called for silence. When hushed he turned to face Strike.
“Although most of our warriors are now dead those that remain strong of limb
and firm in their courage and we will fight by your side. My King.” He dropped
down onto one knee, holding a spear in both hands above his bowed head. 
Watching their Chieftain the remaining warriors and rest of village crammed
inside the Long House followed his lead. 
Strike took the spear with his Red Left Hand while Korra, Orrick and I watch
though the open door. 
The old One Eye smiled and nodded his approval.
“This is the way it should be.” The old One Eye declared.

 
 

BrigadeCon – Why is important to grow the hobby online? (video)

BrigadeCon Countdown (19 days left) importance of growing the hobby online:

Numenera Session 3 – Maybe someone is digging underground? (video)

Third session in our ongoing Numenera campaign

RPG Review – Jadetech: Red Jade (video)

Review of Jadetech: Red Jade 

GM Tips – 5 Tips for Investigative Scenarios (video)

5 Tips for Investigative Scenarios

Broken Jade Session 11 – Towards the Northlands (video)

Session 11 of TheRogueDM’s AFF game where our heroes rescue Professor Van Heldenghast from the clutches of evil dark elves and a villainous figure from their past rears his ugly head once more.

RPG Review – D&D 5E Monster Manual (video)

D&D Fifth Edition Monster Manual review:

Sapphire Islands – Dungeon World Mini-campaign – Session 8

Weeks had passed, and whilst Korra had been engaged on her own mission, Strike and Demanor had been attempting to rally the remaining nine Northland settlements to their banner to resist the foul schemes of the ancient orc shaman, the Rugorim; unfortunately five of the settlements (Hall of the Mountain King, Yorvic, Greatspear, Frostholme and Helhearth) had already sworn loyalty to the Rugorim swayed either by threats or promises of greener pastures when the mainland was taken and the Kingdom overthrown, only the three settlements of Odinland, Freyland and Mjolnir, all clustered around a naturally occurring hot spring, had openly declared their allegiance for Strike. A single settlement, that of Ironholme, situated amongst the great northern peaks, remained unaligned, it was a place of great important where the One Eye wisemen of the north regularly gathered and were trained in their soothsaying arts; never ones to rush into a decision, the One Eyes had not openly declared for either claimant to the northern throne, although there were strong voices on both sides of the debate.
With the aid of Demanor, Strike had been able to negotiate successfully with Odinland and was taking some hospitality before they pressed on towards Ironholme when Demanor heard a wiseman telling an assembled group of children a story from his youth. The old man relayed how his hunting party had been caught in a great blizzard that would surely have claimed all their lives when a huge mountain man covered in white fur appeared and showed them to the shelter of the cave, before disappearing back into the blizzard. The One Eye, a red bearded man called Melgin was also able to tell them that their were rumours in Ironholme that the Rugorim had departed aboard a longship (along with several other vessels carrying his brutish orc-men) towards the mainland, allegedly to take part in some great assault on the Kingdom; their were rumours of dark magics being used by the orc, nodding, Strike explained about the magical cauldron that the Rugorim was using to mingle the bloodlines of man and orc to create his lethal warriors.
Calling over one of his friends, a man named Alfir, he asked his friend to relate a recent tale that he had told, happy to oblige Alfir told them how he had seen elfin figures with skin like night roaming the mountains surrounding Ironholme, and that if they were there even though the Rugorim had left for the mainland it undoubtably did not bode well. Strike spoke passionately to Melgin about how he wanted to free the the world of Rugorim’s evil and unite the northlands whilst Alfir showed Demanor an arrow that he had found near where he had seen the night elves, Demanor shuddered as she recognised the ancient craft skills of her people filtered through a lens of brutish evil.
Bidding farewell to Odinland, Strike and Demanor had been travelling for less than a day when a violent blizzard rose around them, whipping the snow into a white frenzy, stinging their eyes and causing Demanor (unused to the cold) to start feeling very ill; none-the-less she was able to assume a bird form and scout ahead, eventually spotting what appeared to be a number of bodies lying partially buried by the snow, an ebony hand protruding from the slush. Returning to Strike she directed him to the bodies where they discovered about ten night elves; Strike’s hunting skills told him that they had been killed quickly and huge claw marks attested to the method of their death, but the claws were razor sharp and the blows precisely placed, quite unlike those of a normal animal. Removing some furs from the bodies, Strike threw them around Demanor to help combat the cold and they dashed back towards a cave they had spotted previously, taking shelter inside against the force of the storm.
After an hour had passed, and having recovered some of her strength, Demanor reached out, becoming one with the spirits of nature in the area, willing the wind’s anger to abate and slowly the force of the storm began to lessen. Standing at the door keeping watch, as the storm lessened, Strike glimpsed a tall, graceful figure covered head to toe in concealing white fur, observing the cave from the outside; a respecter of the northland ways, including hospitality, Strike beckoned for the figure to enter the cave and then stood back as it strode gracefully towards shelter. As the tall figure entered, it reached up, it’s hands covered in ice that gave them the aspect of claws, but as the hands touched the fur around it’s head the ice seemed to melt into vapour, revealing pale, slender hands that pulled back the fur hood to reveal an elven face, similar to Demanor’s although the skin was ice white.
It took them a few minutes for the mountain elf to make himself understood, his elven was in a strange dialect unfamiliar to Demanor and his grasp of the common tongue seemed rudimentary but they were able to establish that the elf came from a tribe who had been set the task of guarding the mountains at the dawn of time as Demanor’s tribe had been set the task of watching the great jungle; when the first violent humans had arrived in the northlands the mountain elves had withdrawn to their great stronghold and had left them to conduct their own affairs. The elf was able to relate that their ancient had seen strange visions of a child, or something ancient and evil masquerading as a child who bought great power and ruination to the world; Demanor relayed her own visions of the chil being found by the Rugorim and of the magical cauldrons that were being used to corrupt the bloodlines of the races. Their guest explained that he had seen the night elves and recognised them as a corruption of the elven race, he had killed them on the mountain side, he also told them that creating new life was not something that even the wisest amongst the elves could accomplish let alone the Rugorim and that perhaps the creature masquerading as the child was using the cauldrons as conduits for it’s own power.
The mountain elf said that he had sensed Demanor communing with the spirits of the wild, her energies had been recognised as elves of the jungle kin and so he had been dispatched to locate her and bring her to the mountain elves one remaining stronghold above the highest peak. Strike agreed (realising that new allies would be useful) and said that he would meet Demanor in Ironholme, nodding Demanor and the mountain elf transformed into birds and flew upwards upwards the top of the tallest peak.

RPG Reviews – Adventures on Dungeon Planet (video)

My RPG review of ‘Adventures on Dungeon Planet’, a supplement for Dungeon World.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 6

Written by Kelly Grimshaw who plays the Elven druid Demanor in the game.

The smoke drifting gently towards the stars, a sign that the spirits locked in the rotting corpses of Ragnar’s undead army were now making their way to the great drinking hall of Valhalla.  The hunk of ice that carried the headless carcass of the twice now defeated Chief a speck on the horizon, carrying his spirit to the belly of a Great White Bear. Standing in the glow of the burning pyres, Strike took the flute he had stolen from Korra and had been holding to ransom for what almost felt like a life time ago. The deal had been that he would keep it safe as long as she did not make public a certain song that she had written about Strike and his beloved sister where she had twisted the facts to make a more interesting fable where she had implied that it was Strike who was the evildoer and not Ragnar. With his sister now departed from this world, it seemed pointless to keep it.
She took it gratefully but her face spoke more than what she could have ever said. 
 “Does this make you king of the north?” Korra asked. No one wanted to think of our next dilemma was where to find another ship. The nearest town was the charred ruins of Axehome where Strike had recently buried his uncle. 
“I have defeated both chiefs so…” Strike answered with a shrug. 
“He is a chieftain of a tribe that no longer exists. But he is still the Chief” I thought that bit was important, although thinking back now with my own experiences of being the last one left should have made me a little more sympathetic.
“How much of the North is left?” Korra said, ignoring me. 
“Him.” My head must have been off somewhere else while my mouth babbled every thought. 
“Errm, judging by the amount of undead Northlanders and Orcs we’ve seen possibly not a lot.”
“But your people are very strong, I can’t believe that they’ve all been destroyed.” Korra replied, trying to give him a little hope. 
“Well they’d rather fight than run away so…” Strike said talking from experience. 
“And when they are killed in battle they come straight back as the enemy.” Korra grumbled.
There was silence as we absorbed that thought. 
“I’ve got to believe there are some pockets of Northlanders that still survive, if only the ones that live on the islands.” Korra cried. 
“Well if there’s not I will make more” Strike answered with an easy smile. 
“That’s a horrible thought.” I shuddered for effect. Trying to lighten the atmosphere.
Strike laughed infecting me and Korra along with him. 
“How does one address the King of the North? I don’t really see Your Grace fitting particularly well.” Korra asked, well that one worked but she did have a good point. 
“Err, well. Considering the fact that King of the North is called when required, there is not much of the whole grace thing being involved. It is a call for war and defence.” Strike explained. 
So not really a Chieftain after all then
“And so how do we address you?” Korra repeated. 
“Strike, oi you, dickhead…” I teased with a smirk, I had no idea where my head was, I think it is from being around Humans too long. 
“Strike will be fine.” 
“You don’t want to claim the title?” Korra inquired, I could see her mind working on the next instalment of her saga. 
“He’s got to dye his hand at some point. Do you have to keep it dyed until you are no longer chieftain?” I asked, wondering how strong to make the dye and if orca or henna would be better. 
“It’s as long as…” Strike began but was interrupted by a whistling sound overhead growing louder before our world exploded. 
Something large hits the ice flow between us too quickly for us to register it had happened let alone notice what it was. This something was roughly spherical and about a foot wide. It arched out of the sky and ploughs the ice with great speed. 
A creaking scraping sound, similar to dragging your fingernail down a harp string came up from deep in the flow and instantly the ice we were standing went from horizontal to almost vertical. Realising the sickening sound was from the ice dropped a lead weight into my stomach, the cracks spider webbing their way out from the impact.
As we watched it fracture and split into personal icebergs, it occurred to us we would have to lose some weight very, very quickly if we were to avoid being plunged into the freezing water. 
Preservation gave our minds a nudge and Korra cut loose the bag holding her pretty, hand embroidered dress that she has been carrying around for the whole know world, keeping it safe and dry above her head while wading through swamps and a dress she has only gotten to wear once, briefly in the city.  It hit the water with an unceremonious plop before sinking out of sight. 
Strike, with great reluctance heaved his massive leather sack of gold into the water. As much as it hurt to do so gold was not a needed commodity in Valhalla and with a noise like a river hippo coming up for air the bag sank rapidly into the depths soon to be only appreciated by the fish.
With these extra weight gone, the ice under their feet rights itself and though not safe they had become more stable than before.
Instinct got board of waiting for my brain to engage. I blinked and shape shift into a vivid forest green parakeet, granted I must have look a bit lost in the icy tundra but my absence lessened the weight even more, giving my Human friends more chance of survival.
Korra tore her gaze away from the empty space where her treasured dress had been and reeled back. Bearing down on her, us and the ice bridge were fifteen galleons. Cannonballs blasting from the sides with such force the noise alone could knock us off our feet. It was easy for her to identify the attacking ships before their House colours were visible. From her travels Korra knew that only the Sapphire Islands had mastered the alchemy of black powder. She was proved right when the sapphire blue sails with a rearing gryphon embroidered in the centre. Tradition called for the Kings banners to have a fingernail sized sapphire stitched into the eye which glinted in the light, not so big that it was worth a flogging if stolen but enough to send a message.
Watching the shots flying at us, arching over the ice flow and hitting the water indiscriminately it appeared that the ball that smashed into the ice sheet was accidental, trying to fire over rather than at us.
Strike, flung his arms out, trying to right himself on his personal iceberg. It is said that when a person is about to die their life flashes in front of their eyes. This is not to relax the body with happy memories and die without a struggle. No, the body, even if the mind has given up, to fight tooth and nail, to try and remember a time when something similar happened to try and escape. He remembered something his uncle taught him when training for the trials of manhood. If you find yourself unable to balance focus on the horizon. One point, it does not matter what but staring without seeing will calm your mind. 
The words washed over him and he looked up. Instead of the blank skyline he was expecting he saw six similar looking ships to those on Korra’s side, instantly recognising the emerald green sails with the golden peregrine falcon as House Foldor, Korra’s cousin. 
He had no time to relay this information as cannonballs whistling overhead can distract even the most dedicated of minds, throwing everything into total confusion.
“Head for the fog!” He yelled.
This time I did not need telling twice.
Under their feet the ice continued to split, tip and churn up into a succession of jagged peaks, gaping chasms and tiny mountains. Ice shards as fine and sharp as needles showered them. Duking and diving, slipping and sliding Strike and Korra ran across the ice sheet, as the metal spears hit everything but their target. On several occasions they were forced to jump from iceberg to iceberg while I bobbed and weaved through the air. 
Shape shifting takes immense amounts of concentration as the true form is always fighting to regain control and I could feel the pull of my Elven form but somehow I managed to force the sensation back until we reached the smooth stable platform of ice nearer the mainland where we could almost make out the snow covered ruins of Axehome. 
We stood on the solid ice fighting breath, inhaling so deeply that the cold burned our lungs and our throats, steam pouring from our nose and mouths, I hovered for a moment then dropped onto the ice beside them.
Looking around to see if we were out of danger Korra spotted a single ship with green sails break away from the fleet heading at full speed directly towards us.
She stood for a moment trying to decide if it was her cousin’s ship. Before she could come to a decision the ship rammed the side of the ice flow, rearing up out of the water from the force of the impact, revelling a plough like object fitted under the waterline that bit into the ice, securing the ship similar to an anchor.
 “Son of a…”Strike managed before his legs moved him out of the way.
Korra dived to the side while the pull finally being too great and I reverted back to my Elven form. 
A portly, young, red faced man, poked his head over the side the whistling wind catching and tangling up his flame hair. It was James the cook!
“Quickly! Get on board!” He yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice.
James pushed a roll of rope that was resting on the ship and a ladder fell down the side of the hull, gesturing for us to hurry up. 
“We needed a ship, they were friendly before.” Korra point out. 
“They poisoned us!” Strike almost screamed, surprised she had forgotten. 
“Yeah; but for all the right reasons.” Korra argued back.
There was a pause. 
“And they did apologise and they did let us go with all our stuff.” Korra continued. 
“You wanted a ship!” Korra hissed, implying it was take it or leave it time. 
“Which side…What…What the ___…” Strike continued to argue. 
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Korra said taking the ropes in her hand
“Two choices, land…Ship. Pick one!” Strike now sounded like he was actually arguing with himself. 
“Ship.” Korra answered without hesitation. 
“Get on the ship then. These things don’t reverse you know.” Strike sounded relieved.
While the two humans decided what to do a number of crewmen had already climbed down with the intention of pushing her off the ice. 
One of the buccaneers on the ice flow I recognised as one of the crew who guarded the cabin that contained stone creature, I made a mental note to try and not frighten him again. 
“You don’t have to come but you did want a ship.” Korra continued.
Why are they still talking! I yelled silently.
I jumped down and as I did so I focused my form into the shape of a gorilla in a flurry of feathers. There were a few startled surprised cries from the crew and more than a few odd looks as this mass of muscle appeared in front of them but when I started pushing against the hull and they understood I was trying to help they soon stopped
“Right get on the ship! Get on the ___ ship” Strike ordered. No idea what the blanks in the middle of the sentence meant, maybe if we live though this I could ask him.
Between a gorilla and the crew we manage to get ship moving, just when I thought it wouldn’t budge it slowly eased forward. 
The sailors, knowing how much time we had from the speed of the slide started yelling to climb aboard before climbing back up themselves.
James held out his hand to help Strike and Korra back up while I used the last of my brute strength to hall myself up. I shifted mid-air like throwing off a cloak, I shrugged off the shape I assumed.
As I climbed up I could see, even with my inexperience with boats numerous patches of damage from stray cannonballs and ice too thick to plough through. What in the name of all the realms had happened?
On deck Captain Mikhail stood at the wheel, trying to dodge the cannonballs that whistle over as best he can. 
“What in the name of Oden’s eye sockets is going on here?” Strike demanded.
Mikhail spun the wheel, ignoring Strikes question while the buccaneers swarmed back up. 
“Should have kept it, you’d be warmer.” Strike murmured to me. 
Thanks to you too! I thought. 
“Didn’t want to scare anyone too much.” I said aloud.
Mikhail twisted wheel again and slowly, with a creaking sound the ship leant over to one side, sending the crew and all stumble to the left as the ship veered round and slowly starts sailing away. The recent evidence of fighting on deck clear to see, blood splatters decorated the ship in interesting shapes, with holes from shot littering the deck, making it more traitorous for the sailors as they went about defending their ship. 
Mikhail shouted from his place at the wheel. His voice a little lost, by the wind carrying it off somewhere up into the billowing sails above. 
“There is not time now, I’ll explain it in a moment. GET BELLOW!” He ordered as another whistling cannonball fell from the sky. 
“Is there any way we can help?” Korra asked, seemingly oblivious to the immediate danger. 
“Get below” I suggested. 
“Other than get below.” Korra answered.
I have no idea about how to help and Captain Mikhail didn’t seem to be listening, he was too busy concentrating on steering the ship away from the ice. I contemplated on dragging Korra to safety when Strike spoke. 
“Get me an oil lamp and a bow.” He ordered. 
He is going to pay the attacking ships in kind, I thought.
It must have been the way he spoke, his clipped tones reverberated through a sailors hind brain used to just following orders in a situation like this. He found himself running below, locating these things and bringing them to Strike, weaving a little, trying to keep his balance on rough voyage.  His arms cradling the lamp, with a bow strung across his chest. 
“Here you go Sir!” The crewman staggered about struggling to keep his footing again the turbulent water, a mess of chopped ice of varying sizes and ironmongery raining down. 
It seemed that every few moments the ship lurched so did my stomach. I was not the only one to be affected by the rocking craft, the Captain wrestled with the wheel to regain control and consequently the crew above deck were struggling to remain upright from the sudden movements and freezing water spraying onto deck making it slippery as a fish. I was glad I had time to get used to sea voyages but I was not as experienced as those around me.  The Elders only knew what was happening below.
As the sailor hands Strike the lamp and bow, another runs on deck with a barrel. He pulled the cork out and spread sawdust or something similar across the deck, trying to make it less slippery.
In the midst of the chaos Strike calmly took the bow and lamp from the waiting crewman and after dipping a rag wrapped around the arrow head in the liquid and lighting it, taking sight of one of the nearest kings ships pulled back the string.
“But…but….but…but that’s the Kings ships.” Korra stammered.
Ignoring her pleas he launches a volley of flaming arrows at the nearest ship, aiming for the sails being the largest and most flammable part.
A number of the arrows tear into the sails, the fire catching hold of the material, over the roar of the wind and the splintering ice and crashing waves can just about hear the shouts of panic as the crew try to quell the fires with hastily thrown buckets full of water and when all else failed beating out the flames with their hands and feet. 
“That’ll slow them down.” Strike said casually.
A ragged cheer went up from the crew of our ship when they see the flames take hold of the enemy’s ships, the Royal fleet of the Emperor. 
This joy was short lived however as the Royal fleet, being more robust and built for war than the trading ships of House Folders’ fleet put their own tougher ice ploughs to use and instead of skirting around the smaller icebergs charged through. 
Seeing this show of strength Strike continued his volley of flaming arrows, trying to set alight the ones leading the attack forcing the ones behind to slow down, forcing them to slow down and trapping the ones behind, long enough for the ice to refreeze around them, holding them in the ice flow.
“It won’t be impossible to break free but it will buy us some time. AND I didn’t kill anybody! I thank you, I thank you” Strike explained after running out of arrows. 
“Do they have any kind of magic to help them?” Korra asked timidly, not really wanting to hear an answer. 
“I’m not really worried about magic about now.” Strike dismissed her concerns.
I would be I thought. 
Contrary to popular belief there is only one type of magic, but many different ways of using it, no good or bad but the will of the being controlling it.
The most well-known is Natural Magic. It is not surprising of its acceptance as it was taught by the Elders of my kind to all other races. But as with all things if it is not practiced often then it is forgotten and so most other races now only have skilled individuals to practice the art for them. Shamans, Druids, there are many names for calling on the forces of nature. For the gifted ones the harmony in natural magic is like a soothing sort of background music, always playing in their head but when this force is unbalanced it is like all the instruments are suddenly all playing different songs.
With humans on the other hand. It has been turned into something elitist, organised into colleges, having to pass huge amounts of examinations which cost lots of money. It is not hard to pass as long as you could afford it. If found to be practicing magic without permission then they are made an example of. Humans need a licence to show their skill and it is quite rare that there would be actual skilled wizards. Most noblemen have an advisor but a scholar of magics rather than a wizard, people who know about it but can’t practice it themselves. 
Korra had explained to me one night. 
But the thing that shocked me the most, the real difference is that they take at will, creating chaos in the balance, forcing it rather than guiding it.
While I was wrapped in this thought a figure had stepped into view of one of the lead Royal ships. I was not sure if my Human companions had seen. 
My sight had been said by my friends to be better than Human where as I thought that Elven eyesight had just been honed when in the jungle, used to picking out details in the jungles or secret trails. 
The figure, wearing blue robes which I saw had silver flames embroidered along the edges. He steps up onto the prow of the ship and as the ship was about to hit a particularly large iceberg he turns his hands palm facing our ship, turned his palms towards the skies and lifted his arms. His arms began to shake as if he was lifting an immensely heavy invisible object. 
Watching this I felt a disturbance in the force of nature. 
The music of my soul has suddenly been thrown down a mountain. The cacophony was almost unbearable I had to let out the agony somehow. I dropped to my knees with a scream of pain from the discord caused by this mystery robed man.
He turns his hands, palms facing forward and fingers splayed out pushes the invisible force in front of him. What appears to be blue and silver fire emanates twenty feet from his fingertips, melting a channel through the ice sheet, clearing the way for the ships behind.
I can only sit clutching my head, while he is conscious I am no use to anyone.
I watch Strike look at me, then he turns his attention to the Human Wizard and finding another arrow aims for him. Knowing him as I do he is wanting to disturb the disturbance.
Taking several shots in rapid succession one hits him in the shoulder. His hand clamps onto his shoulder before he falls back off the prow and he disappears from sight. With his concentration broken the fire vanishes and so does the pain. 
“Imperial Battle Wizard.” Korra’s eyes and mouth are so wide she almost resembles a puffer fish.
Whatever he is he has done his job and the lead ship sails through the middle of the ice sheet, the others following in almost wedge formation as they plough through the weekend ice towards the remnants of House Folders’ ships. 
A sailor turns towards Mikhail and yells “The Uraneese is going down!”
Captain Mikhail looks over to his left and one of the House Foldor ships lists onto its side and slowly slides into the water. There is a monstrous size hole in its side, no doubt ripped by one of the cannonballs.
We can only watch as people leap over the side, not wanting to get sucked down with the ship. 
“Hmm, they’re not going to last long.” Strike said talking from experience. 
“Cap’en we’ve got to get over there and help them.” James says turning to the Captain.
Strike recognised the look on Mikhail’s face, it was a look he had warn regularly. A pained look, steeling himself to do something unpleasant but knows his necessary. The Captain is preparing himself to make. It looks like this terrible decision he is about to make isn’t the first he has made lately. 
“We can’t risk it, it’s too dangerous! We’ve gota get away from here! Their coming through the ice sheets. Unfurl the sails!” He commanded.
The crew jumped into action. 
“What’s happened, why are you fighting the imperial fleet?” Korra wailed. 
“No time to explain now!” The Captain shouted back. “We have to get outta here, I’ll tell you everything when we’re clear! We need to lose the Imperial Fleet!”
“Okay.”
“Into the fog!” Strike barked.
The Captain looked torn, he had not sailed with Strike enough to trust him. 
“I know these waters!” Strike said, trying to persuade him.
He still looked uncertain but Strike managed to direct them into a thick fog bank. In the sudden silence some of the sailors voiced their concerns. 
“But Captain, what about the rest of the house fleet?” 
There was that pained expression again. 
“Now the main states of the Royal Fleet has broken through it is every ship for themselves.”  Following Strikes instructions Mikhail steered the ship deeper into the fog bank, and blanketed by impenetrable fog we hid from the Imperial Fleet.
Steering close to land, hugging the coast where the mists are strongest. Strike used all knowledge he collected from when he first travelled across the ice sheets after being banished from his homeland. 
While Strike is shouting directions to the Captain Korra tried to find out what is going on from any passing member of the crew. But with the Royal Fleet trying to sink the last of House Foldors fleet no one has time to answer her questions.  Occasionally she got a quizzical look but they mainly passed her by, too busy patching up the damage inflicted to the ship or dragging wounded sailors off the deck and down below. 
She followed one of the fallen down the steep shallow ladder and found herself in the cargo hold that once held the stone warrior. The hold had dramatically changed. The air was thick with blood, sweat and the smell of decay. 
Being surrounded by the dead, dying and injured Korra found the resident saw bone surgeon, dressed in a long leather apron with sleeves rolled up past his elbows, drenched in blood. He was bent over a table trying to locate a piece of shot lodged inside a sailor.
From the look of it the medic was trying to perform miracles with what he had. It was standard maritime primitive medicine of pouring what brandy they had left down the throat then onto the wound then routing around for shrapnel, bandaging wounds or amputating what could not be saved. With a kind slice of a knife in a specific area if they could not be saved at all.
Korra, knowing the power of her healing voice found a rare quiet, unused corner of the hold and soon the hypnotic tones of her melody floated through the makeshift sickbay lifting the spirits of all who heard her. 
Leaving the saw bone to manage with the less serious casualties he finishes his last stitch then beckoned her to come over.  
Still bent over the table, wrapping the stitched wound with a strip of torn linen he moved the stump of cigar, tucking it into the side of his mouth as he looked at her expectantly. 
“What happened here recently?” Korra asked, with genuine concern.
He shook his head, dislodging some ash that sizzles when it hit a pool of blood on the floor. 
“I’m only a Doctor you understand?”
“Anything will help.”
“Well it all started when we returned home. We’d been sent out. Hold here.” He said pointing to a spot on the bandage. She does so, knows helping him is the only way to get a coherent conversation. “We’d been sent out to smuggle one of those stone men, those statue things from the Mainland back to the Sapphire Islands on the orders of the Emperor.”
“Yes it escaped.” Korra confirmed.
His mouth opened in surprise, almost dropping his cigar. 
“We were here.” Korra explained. 
“Oh, sorry. I spend most of my time below decks,” he said defending his lack of knowledge. Now he mentioned it, Korra didn’t recall seeing him before. 
“It all started after that, you’re obviously aware it left?”
 Korra nodded. 
“The captain then directed us to return home, we gave a story that it had been taken from us. Whilst we were there the Captain. Now I honestly don’t know what he heard but the Captain heard something when he went to speak with the Emperor in the Imperial Court. I have never seen the Captain look so worried before that day, we’ve faced no end of enemies on the high seas, we run the trading runs between the Sapphire Island’s and the Mainland’s, they are perilous waters, all manner of creatures and pirates are about and I have never seen him look that worried. Anyway, the first thing he did when he came back was give us the order to set sail, he gathered up a small fleet of ships from the House and set sail towards here, he didn’t tell us exactly why but half way here we came under attack from the Imperial Fleet.”
So none of you know why he’s called the ships?” Korra inquired. 
“No, he was about to explain it to us when we came under attack and we’ve not had chance to breath at all. It was only when James, the cook spotted all of you on the ice. He told the captain, who told us we had to stop and try to get you on board.”
“Right, and that brings us back to here.” Korra laughed but there was no humour to it.
Helping the Doctor had left Korra covered in blood. Trying to find a place to wash the blood off, even a pool of standing water would have done but nothing. She gave up and wiped it on her tunic.
I could still hear Strike shouting out orders to Mikhail, the disharmony in natures magic much fainter since Strikes arrow hit the Imperial Battle Wizard.  
As I was still not much use as a healer or crew I decided to help the only way I knew how. Casting off my worldly chains I plunged into the water and looking through the ocean I searched for the enemy. Mikhail watched my body hold onto the side of the ship, my head fall back while my eyes rolled towards the back of my head, leaving only the whites showing.
“The enemy have seen to largely encircle the last of the House Foldor ships, they are pretty much closing the net on them.” I relay to captain, in a faraway voice.
I feel Mikhail look at me, then turning to crew he whispers. “All on deck, silent running.” Immediately all the crew hunker down and tried to do the remaining duties as quietly as possible. 
In the silence it was just possible to hear muffled cannon fire and people shouting and or screaming from battle raging outside the wall of whiteness.
With time to think Mikhail surveyed his ship, assessing the situation. 
“I don’t rate our chances if these mists clear. If what you say is true and they have taken the rest of the House Fleet, we are badly damaged already, we won’t stand much chance against the Royal Fleet, let alone when they have an Imperial War Wizard on board.”
Strike whispered a curse. Even with everyone quiet, either thinking or listening it was only the tone not the words that could be heard. 
“What we need is a convenient fort or hold fast.” Korra mumbled.
Returning to my body I turn to the Captain. 
“Would you prefer me to stay with you and keep a look out or go below and help with wounded?”
He stared at me critically for several heartbeats before answering. 
“Given what little I have seen of your abilities, you might be the only ace in the hole we have, they won’t be expecting us to have another; I’m sorry I don’t know if you use the name wizard?”
“Druid.”
“Druid? Oh my apologies. They won’t be expecting us to have a practitioner on board.”
“Then I’ll stay here.”
“Is there anything you can do to help us with the mist? As I say if it clears, we’re pretty much dead in the water, they will snuff us out like that.” He clicked his fingers for emphasis. 
“In all honesty I am more of a shape changer. I can see through the water, talk to various objects and animals but I am not very skilled with controlling other forms of nature.” As I explain I wish I could do more.
Mikhail nodded grimly. 
“I understand but I have no experience, I am not a practitioner myself, I’ll leave you to help in your own way, I do not know your capabilities.” 
“I will try and help in any way I can.” Silently asking the Elders for any secret talents to come forth.
With nothing else she can do below, Korra re-appeared on deck standing next to Strike who had stopped firing, not wanting to give our position away. 
Mikhail gestured for one of his men standing nearby to take the wheel. Leaving the trusted crewman he then walks down to where the three of us were standing on deck. 
“Since we appear to have a lull in activities the least I can do is explain what we’re doing here. Admittedly seeing you was quite a surprise. I did not expect come across you on the ice flows I was simply trying to find a place where I could lose the Royal Fleet. You recall when last we met, after you took the stone man from us, you suggested we go back to the Emperor with the story that it had been confiscated and taken from us; which is what I did. Whilst I was there I accidently came across a…let’s just say I stumbled across a meeting I was not supposed to have witnessed. As I arrived at the Imperial Court to speak with the Emperor, he had just finished a meeting with a something…I don’t…I don’t know what it was and I witnessed this…thing leaving the Imperial Mansion. I don’t know entirely what it was. It was tall, err it looked a little like yourself Demanor. But it had dark skin, savage tusks; claws too. It was as though someone had taken yourself and all the beauty that Elves possess and turned it into savagery and just looking at the thing.” He visibly shuddered at the recollection, from the way he spoke he still didn’t believe what he had seen. 
“In the corridor it brushed past me, obviously having no fear of me and where it touched my skin I felt the coldness of pure evil go through me. I did not mention it to the Emperor, it does not do well to question the Emperor of the Sapphire Islands when on the Islands themselves. I am not entirely without contacts, as I say I am a well renowned traveller and so is my House. I spoke to my contacts and the rest of my House, we travel far and wide we often get news that others do not have and I was told that one of the royal vessels had brought this, this creature, this thing, whatever it was to the Sapphire Islands to discuss a peace treaty with the Emperor. Now I may not be a wise man, I make no clams to be a good man. Lord knows I have done things in my life that would keep some men awake at night, with good cause for them to lose sleep. But I do know evil when I see it and I know that any alliance with such a creature could not be a good thing. It should not be permitted. So I tried to muster what forces I could to me, to make a stand if necessary. However one of my contacts must have sold me out to the Imperial Household and we were set upon by the Royal Fleet. I sailed to the ice flows, here is the most traitorous piece of water I know. I hoped my superior seamanship and knowledge of the local trade routes would allow me to lose them but I had not expected the vast numbers they sent out against us. It was only thanks to James” He paused to gesture over to the well fed cook who at that moment was helping distribute sawdust on the deck. “And his sharp eyesight that he spotted you on the ice at all. I could barely see three feet in front…What were you doing there?” He asked realising that we still had not had chance to explain ourselves yet.
Korra laughed and looked at Strike who returned the snigger. 
“Conquering the Northlands.”
“Fighting the undead.”
They said over each other.  
Captain Mikhail raised an eyebrow at the totally obscure explanation but stayed silent. 
“You remember we spoke to you of two armies massing?” Korra asked. 
“Yes, of course I remember, how could I not? It was a horrifying tale” 
 “The first was the army of the dead. It would appear that Strike has managed to dispose of them by dispatching their creator.” Korra continued. 
“Confronting his past you might say.” I chipped in.
The Captain looked a little shocked by this news. 
“Well that…I shall sleep a little easier knowing that.” 
“The second, I believe, is an army of what we have come to call Dark Elves. Who may or may not have been created by some kind of magic which is corrupting much of the forests, or maybe the cause of that magic. Certainly from what I have seen them doing in the Southlands, we do not want an alliance with them.”
Mikhail nodded gravely in agreement. 
“But I’m unsure what we can do.” 
Any suggestions would be gratefully received though unsaid, hung over our group. 
“Kill ‘em.” This was Strikes suggestion for everything.
We all carefully ignored him. 
“This will depend very much on the other powers in the area, whether hostile or friend. Fortunately we seem to have a contact in the North.” Korra looked over at Strike. 
“Then let us hope by; I’m going to say Loki’s grace that some of my people survived.” I believe that was Strike’s version of a prayer. 
“As much as I agree that the news you are discussing is indeed grave, at the moment my concerns are a little nearer to home. I’ll worry about the rest of this once we manage to get past the Royal Fleet. My only hope, and I hate to say this, after all, the people that are dying out there are members of my household, my cousins, my relatives, my brothers, are all out there. My only hope is that when they have finished with them, they will not notice one ship is missing. If they do finish them off and whatever remains of the Royal Fleet decides to search these waters they will find us and given the damaged state of my ship” He waved his hand in a gesture to the general mayhem. “Even with your formidable skills with the bow” Strike nodded at the recognition. “And whatever arcane arts you possess” He looked towards me and Korra with a glimmer of hope. 
“Nothing of use in battle I’m afraid.” Korra confessed.
 “We won’t stand much of a chance against them.” Mikhail said, visually deflating. 
“Then that is why I would suggest, coming around the Island we depart to land, send your ship; empty and at full sail they will follow the ship.” Strike put forward. 
“We would not be able to sail it entirely empty, maybe with a skeleton crew but…” Said the Captain looking thoughtful. 
“Doesn’t need to be for very long, just needs to be at full sail.” Strike concluded. 
“It needs to go out the fog so we can go the opposite way.” I tried explaining. 
“I think I see what you are suggesting but surely if there is no people on board they’d notice.” Mikhail said, trying to explore every eventuality. 
“Not until they reach the ship, by which time you have already managed to get further into land and where I know we have a ship yard where we have undamaged ships and if not, the means of repairing yours.” Strike answered. 
“Perhaps even faster ones, I dunno.” Korra said, appealing to Human greed. 
“So you’re suggesting we go ashore on the Northlands? Forgive me for saying so, I mean no offence, the Northlands do not have a, a, a strong reputation for welcoming outsiders. ” Mikhail said, clearly uncomfortable with the idea. 
Having being around Humans a lot recently I worked out that when Humans say no offence that is a sort of code for I am going to offend you but as I have warned you, you must ignore the insult. 
“Then it is a good job that I am their Chief isn’t it?” Strike said with brittle brightness, finishing off with a flash of a smile a shark would be proud of. 
“Better dye your hand before we get on the land.” I said reminding everyone of the important task of showing that Strike was no longer just another goby Northlander. 
“Right, so what does that entail?” Korra queried. 
“Blood.” Strike said simply.
That couldn’t be all, true it is nearly impossible to shift from clothing but dried blood washes easily off skin. 
“And red dye I presume.” I added.
Mikhail, realising this conversation no longer applied to him took his leave and strolled back to his crew. 
“All of you take provisions on board make ready to leave the ship. We depart ashore for the Northlands. Rig the ship to sail out of the fog. With any luck the remnants Imperial Fleet will follow it and buy us some time.” His crew scattered like cockroaches in sudden light.
Watching the crew scuttle about the ship a thought struck me. 
“This is a morbid thought” I said slowly in case the idea ran away before I could relay it. “But do we have time to lash the dead to look like they are manning the ship?”
“They’d still be lashed, they wouldn’t be manning the ship.” Korra pointed out.
After all we had seen I understood her confusion. 
“No, to give the illusion of a skeleton crew.”
“It would indeed give that impression.” Strike said deliberately, beginning to see my plan. 
“Yeah, that’s a good point, yeah I can see that, let’s do that.” Korra said also catching my drift.
Hearing the concept Mikhail did not look happy at all with this idea but like any good Captain did see the wisdom of what I was saying.
“It’s your ship sir. I am sorry.” I said trying to soften the blow a little. 
“I understand. It has to be done.”
He nodded with a grimace of distaste then leant over to the nearest crewman. 
“Get some sturdy rope. Gather all dead and mortally wounded we have from below deck, only those that will not make the trip. Make ready to lash them to the wheel, to their posts, to the rigging…”
“Aren’t there any wounded that would last long enough to manage the trip?” I was a little taken aback with Korra’s sudden lack of empathy, Strike must be more of an influence that I first thought. 
“Not mortally wounded no, we will still have to lash the wheel.” Strike intervened.
It took a little time for the plan to come together but as the last of the ropes were tightened I make a show of blessing the ship and the wretched crew knowing it will not make a dammed bit of difference I spoke in Elvish to them …at least they will have no fleas for a while. 
Mikhail saw my gesture, nodded and smiled gratefully. At least his mind was at ease.
While last of the crew readied the ship on its final voyage I help Strike perform the ritual for dying his hand.
The blood was not hard to get hold of. 
“They died in battle, it is noble blood.”  Strike explained to me as I filled a wooden bowl half way. Exploring the almost empty contents of my healing bag I found Orca and red henna and a few other herbs that had disintegrated into a mess of unrecognisable dust and added the powders to the bowl. 
Stand in an empty corner of the ship Strike began the ceremony. 
“I thank Oden for my wisdom, Thor for my strength, Loki for my dark side and Hel for the afterlife that follows.” He looked to me, signalling for me to do my part which I spoke in Elvish, using same blessing for banishing fleas. 
In the shadows Korra stood watching and record it for a part in her saga, when she asked I could not really refuse but I decided not let either of them know the actual blessing.
While she observed James climbed down, making final checks to the ship before leaving. Walking over to her, wiping his face with handkerchief as he stood next to her. He watches us for a few moments before, not taking eyes off the ritual he whispers “what’d they doin’?”He seemed shocked at seeing Strike dip his hand in a bowl of blood, henna and various flea repelling herbs. 
“He has recently claimed the title of King of the North or he will be claiming the title soon. This is part of the ritual.” She explained as we completed the rite. 
“You have to keep the mix on your skin until it dries for it to be dyed brightly enough.” I said, not sure if he already knew this. 
“I killed lots of Chiefs, I am the Chief.” He explained simply to the confused looking cook.
James suddenly looked like he remembered all the scary Northlander stories from childhood all at once. 
“We’re hoping that by taking the King of the North to where we’re going it will have some sway.” Korra said, trying to quell his fears. 
“The only Chief unaccounted for and by that I mean not killed by Ragnar or myself is the biggest and hardest of the Orcs, Chief Gregorin.  Hence us going straight for the Orcs. He is rumoured to be one of the Orc One eyes, their name for shaman who is unusually cunning for an Orc. When Ragnar and my uncle were at war Gregorin sent word to both sides saying he would be neutral but serve the victor. He is not actually the Chief but advisor to chief of the time, that’s why he been able to unofficially run the tribe for so long, the others kept busy killing each other for top spot while he is sitting quietly running the place. ” Strike informed us as we joined the others on the top deck. 
“We can’t risk pulling much closer to shore, we are going to have to jump and wade.” The Captain told us. 
“We are going to have to wade, so I highly suggest you all strip to the waist to keep your clothing dry. This water is colder than anything you have experienced before. You will go numb” Strike said, I shook my head, nothing like gathering moral then. 
“Ok, no one knows the North better than a Northlander.” Korra conceded.
As all on board followed Strikes orders and began to strip I cast my cloak of changing and turn into a brown bear. 
“Not as impressive as our Great White Bears.” Strike joked before adding “Take heavy clothing.”
“My pretty dress.” Korra said despondently looking at serviceable but stinky and ragged furs that Strike issued to us when visiting Axehome.
After lashing wheel, the dead and wounded crew to various parts of the ship the remaining crew lower themselves down the ropes drop into the waiting ocean. As was custom, Captain Mikhail was the last off his ship once we had descend into the icy water. I had never heard such colourful language, curses and blessings that were hurled about the place.
I could feel my mind and all other extremities going numb. I didn’t understand how cold it was until I plunged in, suddenly sympathetic to the obscenities of the crew. I don’t think that any water will ever be too hot again and tried to think hot thoughts as I waded towards shore.
We had landed on the southern tip of Northlands, with the idea of make our way out onto more solid ice sheets. 
We must have looked a sorry sight, all of us standing shivering, after pulling ourselves out of freezing water. Resembling drowned rats more than intrepid travellers, it was so cold I could not even think let alone move.
We gathered around on the icy shingle covered shores of the Northlands, trying to get warm, the water that saturated our clothes beginning to ice over, our breath crystalizing in the air. 
“Jog.” Strike managed.
I looked at him before realising who he was talking to. It took a while for my body to get the idea but once I started jogging I could feel the blood flow returning. My fingers hurt now but it was preferable to them being numb.
Looking around the new landscape there was not much to say. It was a white, barren, frigid, tundra with no visible vegetation. 
“Beware. Of. The. White. Bear” Strike said more coherently, now he was warmer. I could not help but check his newly dyed left hand to see if the red had fixed properly. 
“White bear?” I had never seen a white one before. 
“A white bear. It make your bear look small.” 
Really? Need to see one of these I thought. 
“What do they do?” Was what I actually said. 
“Pound through the ice to eat seals.” Strike said, from his tone, it was an everyday event. 
“What’s a seal?” I had never heard of those either. 
“A fish that breaths air.” He explained
“Like a dolphin?” 
“Yeah. Like a dog faced dolphin.” 
“Are they…”
“Small?” Strike interrupted
“Are they not a predator?” 
“No, yes. Sort of.  Just worry about the bear.” S
“About the size of a pig, a seal and pretty tasty.” Korra continued. 
“So it’d do some damage then if they came at you?” I really began to feel out of my depth. 
“Yeah but just leave the mums and pups alone, like any other creature really.” Korra explained. 
“This time o’year they’ll be eating, fattening up for rearing pups.” Strike said, finishing the nature lesson.
Following close behind strike we snaked across the tundra through the biting cold, why does wind have to bite?! Even the weather was inhospitable here. I had pulled my furs up and around my face so that only a thin slit let me look out while not letting much heat out. We were looking for first marker of the village, a flaming torch. Our group pressed on, it would be impossible to miss a thing like that in the wall of white.
Following the lit markers, although only the Elders knew how they stayed alight in this wind we were lead to a small village composed of around twelve round houses, however there could have been more, hiding in the whiteness with longer house in the middle, it reminded me of the same rough layout of Axehome. 
The smell wood smoke mixed with strange tinny aroma of snow drifted on the air before we saw the grey smoke curling up a stone chimney of the long house. 
In the distance, a few Humans and Orcs male and female were dotted about, going about their everyday life with their children playing not too far from their parents. Strike had told us that it was quite normal for Orcs and Humans to live together in the Northlands where the people had better things to worry about than interracial feuds.
They were all wearing multi layered furs and leathers to keep the cold at bay, leather underclothes that acted like a second skin with thick furs covering the rest.
Even with his dark eyes and hair against the yellow hair and blue eyes that made up most of the village, Strike looked like he had never left. Whereas the rest of the group were from the Sapphire Islands or surrounding jungles with our dark eyes, tanned skin and ebony hair we looked as lost as the green parakeet I had taken the shape of where the cannonballs attacked. 
Has Strike just taken a few layers off? I huddle myself in my furs at the thought. After a second look I tucked my vine braided hair away into hood as not to be so conspicuous. 
As we approach the residents Strike raised his red left hand.
Orc and Human warriors begin to emerge from Long House armed with axes and spears, we had peaked their interest. Strike, in the face of these great warriors still walked calmly through the village with his left hand raised. 
“Do we draw weapons or not?” Korra asked nervously. 
“If you wana fight.” S said out the corner of his mouth. 
“So not yet.” Korra decided.
One of the Orcs steps forward, he was about six foot tall and just as wide. He looked down his snout at Strike, in his clawed hand was a sharp one bladed axe. 
He snorted a derisory laugh, wisps of steam escaping from his muzzle. 
“Who are you who comes to our village bearing the mark of the red left hand?” He said in common tongue. His voice was deep, his speech slightly distorted from his tusks. 
“I am Chief now.” Strike informed the Orc who scorned his clam with a deep, rasping laugh. 
“I have slain Ragnar.” Strike said his voice somehow still level voice. 
“Ragnar has been dead for many years.” The Orc sneered. 
“And unfortunately I have slain my uncle.” Strike continued, his voice still steady. 
“Your uncle?” The Orc sounded slightly intrigued. 
“The former Chief of Axehome.”
There was commotion from behind the Orc as people who had gathered to listen to the unexpected entertainment began talking between themselves. 
“Hmmm. We are not at war at present. We are not in need of…”
“Then I bring bad news for you.” Strike interrupted the Orc. 
“We do not need a Great King to lead us…”
“We are most certainly at war, you just don’t realise it yet.” Strike cut in again. 
“With Who?”
“The Sapphire Islands.”
The Orc paused before bellowing with laughter.
A couple of others see their big man laughing and join in.
“Those Islands full of weaklings and their sailors with their woman’s boats who go sailing around trading instead of taking what they want.” He slapped the back of hand into the other to emphasise the point. 
“Indeed, the very same.”
“Pfft! They are weak!”
“Those very same people who have just shattered the Ice Sheet.” Strike continued calmly.
There was more commotion form the crowd on hearing this. The spokes Orc gestures with his claw for the rest to be quiet. They settled down but not much. 
“That cannot be true. There is no one alive that could shatter the Ice Sheet! They are eternal! They fade in the sun time and return in the cold…”
“Go. And. Look. Whilst I go and talk to your Chief.” Strike spoke over the Orc. 
“I am Chief in this village!” The Orc roared. 
“Then send scouts, we have time.” Strike shrugged.
The Chief turned round to two of the warriors and still speaking in common tongue “Go, see if what he says is true.” 
The warriors, one Orc male, one human female carrying spears, nod and break into a run quickly disappearing into the distance their lean frames hugging low to land, spears close to their bodies, ready to raise at a moment’s notice.
“While they are out there proving what I have said perhaps we could consider talking about the rest of it?” Strike says to the Chief after watching the two scouts fade into the white. 
“Well. Since you are obviously of our people” He says looking Strike up and down then turned his gaze on us. 
“Although I cannot speak for your friends, they do not smell right to me.”
“They aren’t right. But they are stuck in the same war.”
There was an uneasy silence as the two Chiefs weighed each other up. 
“If you are willing to give us a gift. A sign of friendship and respect to our village I will give your friends, these outlanders hospitality.” The Orc spat the word outlander. “You will have our hospitality anyway, you are one of our own.” He finished.
Without word Strike produced Ragnar’s dagger.
The Orc took the weapon, clearly recognising it. He grunted his acknowledgment before tucking it into the thick hide belt that secured his furs to his well-built frame then turned to his followers.
“Bring them all to my house at the centre of the village. We will give them all hospitality.” 
I feel our group exhale as one. 
“It is a great token you bestow on us.” He said bowing slightly to Strike.
As we follow him to his home the village atmosphere changed, the hostility dissolving as word whispered from one to another.
Entering the Long house we walked into an almost overpowering combination of odours. Stale sweat mixed with sour beer, roasted meats, wood smoke and wet furs all added to heady mixture but could all be forgiven for the roaring fire in the stone hearth.
A huge wooden table stood central and stretching the length of the room with split logs as chairs either side dominated the hall. Off to one side, close enough to the fire to feel the benefits but not so close that it became uncomfortable was a large, intricately calved, wooden throne draped in furs. The Chieftains seat. 
The Orc landed heavily on the chair, the wood arguing with the unexpected weight by groaning loudly.
With a clawed hand he gestured for us to sit at the long table in front of him.
Once seated warriors began bringing in various roasted animals boar, white bear, seal, nothing was wasted here.
In the heat of the room Strike began shedding more layers, I on the other hand headed straight towards it, found the closest spot without actually being burned, wrapped my furs even tighter around my body before sitting on a large flat stone that was part of the hearth. I was not enjoying myself at all and soon the smell of smouldering wet fur could be added to the thick air. 
Korra, meanwhile looked round the long house for a Northlander wordsmith. 
Although she did not see anyone with an instrument, that would be the first clue. She did however, at opposite end of the table, in the corner of the hut spied a large drum, the kind to beat out a rowing rhythm on certain ships Strike tells me with two large sticks resting on the skin.
Korra, ever hopeful looked for owner of drum and or storytellers.
Seeing her searching for a kindred spirit the Chief shouts over to her. 
“Ulric the One Eye is out history teller, songmaker.” He leans over to one of the Orcs serving him “Has Ulric returned from his meditations yet?”
“Yes Chief. I saw him return to the village a little time ago.”
“Then bring him here, I have promised these outlanders hospitality.” The Chief demanded. 
“When he is ready.” Korra said, not wanting to trouble anyone.
He stared at her. 
“I am the Chief of this village, he is ready when I say he’s ready.”
Korra visibly backed away with hands held up, submissively. 
The serving warrior disappeared out of the Longhouse and after a while returned with an older looking man but still with the Northlander warriors build but time takes its toll on all and he leant heavily on a stick to support himself. His years showed in his greyed beard and long hair. A strip of cloth covered half his face, tied with a knot at the back of his head, carefully concealing one eye…
“You have called for me Chief?” Ulric bowed as he spoke. 
“Yes. I promised these Outlanders hospitality, One eye. They desire to know of our stories and legends, this one” The Chief said pointing to Korra “has asked for our teller of tails.”
“Yes o great Chief. What is it you want of me Outlander?”
“I too am a song maker, I have travelled with the new Chief for many moons now, I wish to share his story so that you may make a true Northlander song of it.”
Ulric scratched his chin thoughtfully before answering. 
“Tell us your tale then.”
Korra described Strikes bravery, laying her creativity heavily on the battle on the Ice Sheets, his skills with boats unfamiliar to him proving his prowess with Northlander boats must be legendary. She also regaled Ulric with the ongoing concern with the Dark Elves finishing with the battle we are yet to have with the Dark Elves.
Ulric sat quietly, listening intently. He seemed fairly impressed with her stories. 
“It has been my experience that it is easy to tell such tales. Do you have any proof, any tokens of this bravery of which you speak?” He asked her. 
“See the dagger taken from the defeated Ragnar now held by your chief?” Korra was in full storyteller character now.
The Chief took the dagger from his belt and drove it point down in the table where it stood vibrating. 
“See the scar on my arm of the Elven arrow. See err, the Elf and the scar across her chest from where she was attacked in the world of shadows.” I turned from the warmth of the hearth, lifted my shirt to show the scar but wrap back up quickly. 
Ulric nodded, even more impressed. 
“Then indeed you must be brave and worthy of the bloody left hand.”
“I would have not have taken it if I was not worthy.” Strike said through a mouthful of bear meat.
His eyes narrow. “But tell me, are you the…” He paused then started again. “As you have heard I have the knowledge of my people with the sight the Gods have seen to bestow on me. Are you that same Northlander who struck down the previous Chief using a forbidden weapon and then fled from the Northlands to escape justice?”
“I did indeed kill him. Originally and again on the Ice Flow that time in combat. However I did not flee I was banished.” Strike corrected.
Ulric nodded again. 
“Still, poison is not a warrior’s weapon.”
“At the time it was the only choice I had to save my sister. Had I been able to fight him face to face the first time round I would have stuck a dagger in his throat there and then.”
On hearing this the warriors around the table, eating and serving nodded and various shouts of hear hear accompanied tankards being banged on the table in approval. 
“And I felt that denying him the existence of Valhalla was far greater punishment than that bestrode on me.” Strike said, putting down his hunk of meat. It wasn’t hard to spot that this was still a sore subject for the Northlander.
The Orc Chief who had listened closely to the whole saga nodded and held up his hand for silence. 
“It is good. We mean no offence but we before we follow any king, any leader of all the tribes, as you know you are a Northlander. They must prove their worthiness to the tribes. We are only a small village.”
“This very day, in fact in the last couple of days I have seen many of our warriors have the correct burial, Axehome has been destroyed.” Strike added.
This shocked everyone in the Longhouse. 
“Explain!” Chief demanded. 
“The spirits of Ragnar lay waste to Axehome.”
Ulric gave the Chief a knowing look. On seeing this the Chief held up a clawed hand. 
“It is true that my Shaman advised me that he had felt strange stirrings in the life blood of the land recently.” 
“My scar is from me trying to discover the source of the imbalance” I interrupted, still as close to the fire as I could get.
He nodded again. 
“Then it would seem that if such creatures roam the world then as you say, we are already at war.”
The Chief paused, waiting for silence. “It is odd that you come to us at such a time though, I had also heard that the greatest of the One Eyes; Ragorin has been gathering tribes to his banner. I have assumed that given the deaths of the recent chief that he was planning to make clam on the position himself, even though that is not his way. He came to this village not so long ago and was attempting to persuade us to take his banner. He was making a great show of telling us, like yourself that war would soon be coming to the Mainland and that only with the help of strong allies and mighty warriors could the Northland hope to triumph over our enemies. We are proud warriors in this village I told him we did not need allies, the Northlanders have always stood on our own and forged our own destiny.” The Orc Chiefs words rising more bangs and shouts in agreement. 
“I believe we will not find many allies except for those I have brought with me and their houses. These are worthy people. They have fought by my side. I have brought you a Shaman from across the great sea, so that you two may talk as the Songmakers may talk.” The drink had been free flowing and from Strikes behaviour he had been missing his home and its traditions.
It was hard for us Outlanders to tell but the look the Orc Chief gave Strike was sceptical at best. 
“Is having one of these as an advisor a new tradition for a Chieftain?” He said pointing a talon at me. 
“She makes sure I don’t kill everybody we meet.” Strike answered truthfully. 
“No, you misunderstand. I only ask as Ragorin also had one with him.”
“Was he dark or was he pale?” Strike enquired. 
“No he was pale, like her although his hair was dark, his eyes were dark.” The Orc Chief answered. 
“Was that Zephandius?” Korra chimed in. 
“No, Zephandius was blond.” I said regretfully, although we had different views on how to bring piece seeing him trapped in the darkness and not able to help was awful. 
“I did not hear it referred to by any name.” The Orc Chief replied.
What’s with all the its? I thought huddled in my fur cocoon, Elves do have a name you know. 
“She is here because she has earned my respect and for no other reason.” Strike said it like it was a favour to me. 
“Then that is good. I believe that when the Ragorin was referring to allies was referring to one of them that was with him…” The Chief pointed at me again. 
“Elves.” I suggested. 
“Yes. Elves.” 
“This is most troubling because most recently we have learned that they have left this existence…”
“I am the last of the Elves!” I cut over Strike, getting more frustrated by the moment. 
“…or have been erased from existence.” He carried on as if I hadn’t spoken. 
“I assure you, you are not. I have seen another of your kind in as many weeks.” The Chief answered my
“I suspect further foul play.” Strike considered. 
“But what I don’t understand is as few as there are sun white Humans, with the blond hair and pale skin are just as few dark eyed dark haired Elves. What is it that you call them albinos?”
“Northlanders usually.” 
Looking round I notice that Strike was the only dark eyed, dark skinned dark haired human there all others were blue eyed with yellow hair and pale skin.
“No I meant the sun-bleached ones with pink eyes.” I muttered giving up, with so many blonds around it was hard to make my point.
The rest of the night passed by with food, ale, women and fighting. All fairly normal by Northlander standards. 
In the lulls of the foresaid entertainment Ulric the One Eye passed the time telling stories. They were pretty mundane but important to the villages. A little like telling your dreams to someone, they were the most exciting thing to happen…if you were there, to a bystander…not so much. 
“ What about the time Gorick killed his first white bear?” Ulric began another tale. 
Strike, who had shared an ale horn with the Orc Chief, whose name we learned as the drink flowed was Urut nodded a little unsteadily “That’s a good story.” He slurred. 
“Do you remember the time when hunting was poor and they took months to find enough Animals to survive?” Another warrior asked. 
“How about the time they raided the Sothern coast of Sapphire Islands?” Suggested another.
When the fires began to dye down, the drink was more spilled than drunk and the meat had gone cold we were invited to spend the night in Urut’s Long Hall.  A place where only the Chief and his elite bodyguards spent the night. It was not so impressive when we learned this meant most of the of the village sleep in here. 
Accepting his offer we were handed furs which, following their lead were thrown down wherever we fancied sleeping.  Strike had not enjoyed himself so much in an age and was still helping himself to ale and meat as I chose a large rock hemming that was the fire in and lay down still fully clothed. I watched Ulric choose his spot before feeling my eyes grew heavy.
I was back home in the jungle.
I was overjoyed to feel the sun on my skin but there was something not right. I felt a strange sense of watching the scene but not actually being there, like a floating presence almost. 
I moved amongst a small settlement. It was not one I recognised, not the main Elven city but a smaller settlement. 
I heard the tinkling sound of fluted Elven laughter. 
I followed the sound and saw many of my own kind dancing among the trees and buildings of the settlement which had been built out of the living trees in the area.
As I watched I saw and heard something far less subtle moving amongst the trees. 
A churning, roaring, stampeding, number of Human figures were moving towards the settlement. A savage horde of fur clad Humans and Orcs burst from the trees and begin setting upon the Elves. I watch helplessly as the first few Elves were hacked down with axes, and other bladed weapons mercilessly.
At the head of the savage horde was a wiry, gangly Orc with a gaping crater where his left eye must once have been. 
As the Orcs and Humans rampaged through the settlement, setting fire to buildings as they charge though, cutting down anyone who strayed into their path I saw an Orc run down the pathway towards a small Elven child, perhaps 4 summers stood frozen like a rabbit in the sight of a hunting hound. What unnerved me the most was the huge built Northlander Orc, covered in furs, wheedling a large curved bladed axe run towards the child raising his axe over his head ready to bring it down on the youngling was that the boy did not move and the smile on the face of the child did not change at all. No fear, pleading no, it was if the child had seen someone he recognised and waited to be noticed.
The Orc charged, weapon high in the air then, from nowhere flames lick out of the Orcs mouth and ears as if the flames were searching for a way to escape from the inside. The berserker, had, without warning burst into flames.
The settlement continued to burn around this small Elven child, the light reflecting from the burning village in his dark eyes until very little remained. Apart from the small child, whose smile has never left his face there was nothing left.
I watch the gangly Orc with the missing eye approach the small child. A couple of the Northlander Orcs and Humans also ran up with weapons held high, about to cut down the child when the lanky Orc held up a taloned hand and shook his head. He offered out a gnarled hand towards the small child, who without uttering a single word reaches out with a tiny hand up towards the claw, taking the Orcs hand they walk off together. 
The surrounding Northlander Orcs and Humans parted, opening a trail into the surrounding jungle. I watched them retreat into the forest then woke up.
Even so close to the hearth and in my furs I woke up in cold sweat, yelling incoherently. 
The great feasting hall now reverberated with the sound of snoring, the dead sleep of the drunk. Men, women, Orcs and Humans all farting and snoring in the low light of the dying fire. I looked over to where I had last seen Strike. He was still at the table but now lying on the sawn log bench with his feet resting in a bowl on the table. It was the most relaxed I had ever seen him. The meat, drink, proper blond women, as he would call them mixed with the right temperature? Nope he is not waking up any time soon. 
“What, whatisit?” Korra inquired sleepily, waking up to me yelling. 
“Nothing. Nothing, I think it was just a dream. You know the ones when you are watching something but can do nothing about it?”
Blood of my land. Strike muttered in his sleep. 
“Dreams are very rarely dreams.” I think Korra was still asleep. 
“No, no. this was a vision. There was an Elven village being attacked what looked like Northlanders. Orcs and Humans together.”
Strike mumbled something about his land this time before pulling a fur over him. 
“I saw it too. It is a dark omen of things to come or things that have been.” We heard Ulric’s voice from across the hall. 
“There was a rumour in my village, for want of a better word. That a child was born, the last of my kind’s children. He was supposed to have been killed or at least perished in a fire. If this is what I think it is, a vision, I believe this is what happened to this child.”
The soothsayers furrowed his brow before speaking. 
“The problem with you Outlanders is you do not understand.” He pulled a glowing stick from fire and drew a charcoal line on the stone in front of him. “You believe the world is like this line.” He said placing the stick in the middle of the line “this is where you are now, all of this is what has gone before” He pointed to the line behind stick. “And this is all what might be in the future.” He selected another stick and sketched a circle next to the first line. “Those of us who have sacrificed our eye to be given sight by the Gods. We understand the world is like this.” He pointed at the circle.” All things that have been, may come again. All that we are is all that we may yet be.”
“You said that there was a Shaman in your dream but a One Eye.” Korra tried to make sense of the dream it was either far too early or far too late to think about that sort of way of life. 
“He didn’t look like a Shaman but he defiantly has the mark.” I answered her, also slightly at a loss to the Seers teachings.
 “The leader who was gathering troops, I believe also had an Elven advisor. Perhaps it was his story you were seeing. You did say the village looked unfamiliar. And yet the city from where the child was taken you knew by sight.” Korra persistent. 
“That was very true. But in all honesty I only know it as ruins, I have never seen it as it was.” I admitted. 
“Right, so it could be either, could be both.” Korra said shaking her head at the unhelpfulness. 
“Silanthus did say I would be seeing visions of past, present and future. And had no control of what I see.” I remembered. 
“I have seen what the Gods have shown you. The One Eye that you saw with your sight was the Ragorim although far younger than he was when I last saw him.” Ulric advised us. 
“If he was far younger then it could not have been a vision of the future. Can your Shamans be reborn?” I asked Ulric. 
“We are not reborn. Although some of us such as the Regorim are gifted by the Gods with longer lives so that we may advise our people more and that we may carry on our wisdom to the next generation.”  
There was a long silence. This really was maddeningly unhelpful. 
“There is really nothing more I can fathom from this. I suggest we go back to sleep.” I concluded while Strike muttered once more.
Sleep crept over the Longhouse for a second time and I dreamed no more that night.