[Session write-up] Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 8

This session write-up is written by Kelly Grimshaw who plays the last jungle elf druidess Demanor in the Sapphire Island mini-campaign.
After the battle Korra changed.
I don’t mean physically, although the desiccated limb was a constant reminder of how little time she had left. It was mentally. There was no reason that it shouldn’t have, coming up against Death herself would have taken the shine out of any bodies’ day. Korra was a wordsmith and for someone so gentle in nature would not be able to do what Hel the half eaten had asked.
Strike… now Strike however, I could see it now as clear as if it had happened. If faced with such a predicament would stroll up to James the ships cook and ask, “Ever killed a man James?”
“N, n, no Sir, why do you ask?” He would reply confused.
“Any women, children? No?”
James would shake his head, still bewildered.
“And would you say you were an artist in the kitchen?”
And before the s in yes could escape from his lips he would catch the strange plague that had followed us on our travels. Symptoms included your throat being opened from ear to ear, any coin or item of interest and or value about the victims’ person would suddenly transport into Strikes possession and you would fall into a river. Even if you were miles inland.
“I can’t send an innocent there!” Korra wailed after telling me of her encounter.
As soon as I hear it I knew her statement had sealed her fate. Sitting in the Long House with her I vowed that even when she gave up trying to find a solution I would not. Once we had spoken Korra withdrew herself from the rest of the village only speaking to Captain Mikhail or select members of his crew, occasionally I would find her huddled around part of the great table in the Long House with the Captain, the cook and the saw bone known only as Doc. Their conversations were long, deep solemn ones and though I never heard the subject from the seriousness that hung over them something was being planned.
Then on the second day she snapped, I cannot think of any other explanation. Waking up that morning I suspected nothing, it was truly a beautiful morning, that time where it’s between night and day, just as dawn was starting to break.  The sky was just starting to lighten up and I could see the silver slither of the moon through a thin veil of clouds. The snow was slowly falling from the ink black sky and had been for some time. The sun still weak but giving the land a brightness that only a winter’s morning could. The sun shone down on the barren tundra landscape but somehow the bleakness made it more beautiful. A pure white sheet of snow, delicacy glistening and twinkling in the weak dawn light. A landscape of pure harsh splendour.
The high wooden fence of stripped young trees from further inland buried deep in a velvety layer disturbed by the secret activity of the night creatures, Until I stopped hearing the constant commotion of the Jungle I could not appreciate the silence of wildlife, what a charming sight to absorb but yet so still.
Crunch, crack went the surface of the snow, stiff with frost. I actually became quite excited to be the first to leave my mark and making sure no one was looking danced around, kicking up fluffy clumps. 
I stopped and watched my breath hang in the air, looking past the small clouds in front of my face the sky had turned from vivid pinks to a dazzling blue. I found myself thinking that only Korra would have been able to capture the beauty of the breath taking scene in her music.
I admit I didn’t think much about her for the rest of the day. Strike and Urut were preparing their next step in their plans with the council of Orrick and myself.
When she failed to turn up for the sundown feast at the Long House I took some to her hut, it was not unusual for her to miss meals when her muse spoke to her only to find it empty, save a few rolls of manuscript paper, quill and ink and a note asking me to record our journey for her. I hoped she’s kept up her Elven language lessons as although I could speak common tongue, writing it was not one of my strong points. The crew was gone and so was the ship, after frantically searching I found that no one saw them leave, without knowing how long ago they left they could be anywhere, land or sea. I could have cast off my earthly bonds and flew in search of her but for some reason she had decided not to tell anyone about leaving. I hoped it was a good one.
After the confrontation with The Rugorim and his Dark Orc-Men in Uruts village, the Rugorim ran away leaving his corrupted army to do his dirty work and in his hurry he left his staff behind. Strike said it was because he expected us to loose, which we very nearly did. He also said that he would return for it when he had received word that his Dark Army had been victorious. So we burnt it.
On reflection Orrick or I could have used it to find him but when Orrick said to burn it and I felt the corruption radiating from within I admit I lost my nerve. 
After that the Rugorim’s forces did not unduly trouble us again and all we could do was wait for the next few days, which ran into a week before we received the first few messages from scouts; the steadings around the Northlands had sworn allegiance to the Rugorim. The Northlanders respected strength and he has the strongest army even if they were an abomination, gathered around the split log table in the Long House, Urut, Strike, Orrick and I along with some of Urut’s most trusted warriors and the information the scouts had been able to return with we planned our next move. Once the final scouting party had returned and Urut finished circling the settlements with a stick of charcoal on a huge oil skin map of the Northlands he took a step back to assess the situation, there were a lot more black circles than not. 
The Rugorim was now in control of five villages. Odinland, Helhearth, Greatspear, Yorvic and the Hall of the Mountain King, only two had sworn loyalty to Strike, Freyaland and Mjolnir, these two being further south than the others they had heard of Strikes exploits with Ragnar and his un-living army, which had brought a great deal of purchase with the new Red handed King. The dead were supposed to stay dead as far as Northlanders were concerned and the two settlements had sworn fealty to Strike. For the time being Ironhome, a village where the One Eye’s were trained was neutral-ish.
It was decided that Strike and I would travel to the five villages currently under the rule of The Gragorim and speak to their Chiefs in person. 
Our first call was Odinland. 
It was the same as any other village in the North that I had visited so far and as Strike spoke with their chief, a bury yellow haired man with more beard than face I reminded Strike not to kill anyone, we needed every abled body we could get, he rolled his eyes at me and said “trust me” before he entered the Chieftains home. I shook my head, knowing there was nothing more I could do. Strike was more than a capable warrior but the One Eye’s were more respective of fellow seekers of wisdom and took the opportunity to speak with their One Eye.
Sat in the One Eyes hut I took advantage of their desire to swap knowledge and asked the skinny, wiry framed seer about his belief in Odin. I understood that Freya was more of a women’s domain in the Northlands but he agreed that in return for all I could tell him about Elves and our beliefs he would explain what he could; after some difficult negotiations, Odinland swore loyalty to Strike, giving us three settlements loyal to us all equally spaced around Helhearth which was steadfastly loyal to the Rugorim. I was introduced by Odinlands One Eye to a group of fellow seers who were on an outing from Ironhome and learned that this was common practice, they tended to travel about an awful lot to various different steadings to give the Chieftain or his aide any guidance they may need.
While in the visiting One Eyes’ tent I overheard an Elder One Eye, a strip of cloth covering his sacrifice for knowledge, his black beard greying at the ends, telling a story to a young group of Northlanders, this particular story intrigued me so I sat down at the back.
“Yes, I remember it, I remember it as if it were yesterday. It must have been 50 years ago they came down out of the Great Mountain peaks covered in white fur, savage as the north wind. I have never seen anything like it in my life and when the snow storm had passed, they melted back into the mountains as if they had never been there. Only a few of us survived that storm and I have never seen the Mountain Men again since.” 
“I am sorry, I have never heard that tale before, may I ask you retell it?” I queried.
He looked at me curiously, taking in my pointed ears, olive completion and my vine like braided hair.  I was quite used to it now, being the last of my kind, the One Eye introduced himself as Melagin and gladly retold the tale.
“When I was much younger, before I stepped onto the path of the One Eye, this is the day that I saw something I could not explain and the thirst I had for blood transformed into a thirst for knowledge. But I digress. When I was a young warrior both myself and a hunting party were caught in one of the many vicious blizzards that ravaged the North. Without shelter or protection we were sure to die. However they caught sight of this strange, tall figure covered in white fur, the snow was so thick we could barely see it. It was no more than a blur in the blizzard. This figure gestured to us, we were unsure what it was or if it would attack us but with nothing to lose we followed to where it was gesturing and it led them to a small cave, which we took shelter in which was what allowed us to survive. When the storm cleared there was no trace of this white furred figure, no footprints in the snow, no nothing. After I saw that, I knew there was more to the world than what he had been previously lead to believe and so started on my studies of being a One Eye.” Melagin picked up his horn tankard and drank deeply before settling back on his mound of furs.
I nodded my awareness of the One Eye’s discovery, it would have probably not shocked him to find out just how many warriors find a spiritual path after years of pointless bloodshed or as in Melagin’s case something that could not be solved with a mere weapon.
“Has anybody seen these people since?” I asked when it was clear that it was the end of his tale.
“Well there are ancient tales of the mountain people, but we are talking the most ancient of tales, calved on the most ancient of trees and the most ancient of stone in these lands.”
“Hmmm. Like the Stone Men?”
The aging One Eye looked blankly at me. Apparently not then.
“Sorry?”
“Erm,” I said while thinking so where was the best place to start? 
“During our travels we have come across what we believe to be an ancient race of stone men. Their like living statues.”
“No. that doesn’t sound like what I saw.” He said shaking his head.
“No, no. I am only trying. I am not questioning your judgement only trying to understand what we saw. These creatures looked like warriors made of stone.”
“No. This creature I saw was tall. Taller than a normal man would be with great shaggy white fur. I could barely see its face due to the fur but it was very tall, white fur…”
“Like the Great White Bear?”
He nodded.
“Like the bear and the winter wolves of the North. It walked upright, like a man and clearly had inelegance as it showed us to that cave which is not the behaviour of a normal beast.”
“No.” I agreed.
“Hmmm. I would like to see them.” I admitted to Strike who had just walked over to the old One Eye.
“What?” He asked, a look of puzzlement on his face.
“The Elder One Eye was saying that when he was younger he saw what he called mountain men, covered in furs but living in the snow.”
He raised a questioning eyebrow, he may have made the same connection I had about the Stone Warriors at first.
“Bears?” Strike put forward.
“No. Men. Like the Stone Men but furry.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. My history is a little bit patchy, I wasn’t around here for very long.” Strike said with just a tiny hint of sarcasm. 
“I’m only saying I wanted to see ‘em.” I replied. 
“Well, our next stop seems to be the mountains anyway, but first I think we need to persuade another village.” Persuade, I was always a little nervous about Strikes meaning of the word.
“Thank you for your tale. It was most intriguing.” I said to Melagin.
“No thanks necessary, it is rare that anyone other than the children wish to hear these ancient stories, much as I appreciate the fact that war and conflict is a part of life in the Northlands it sometimes seems that it pushes aside everything else and that a lot of the younger people have time for little else because of our history.”
“I do hope that at some time in the future we will be able to swap stories as it should be.” I felt sorry for the One Eye, his art was a dying one. He took a long drink from his tankard and nodded.
“If I am not here I am most often found in Ironholme in the Great Mountains, it was the nearest settlement to the mountains where I saw the Mountain Men, so in the hope that I may catch another glimpse of them I stay there.”
“Isn’t that one of the villages you want to go to?” I asked Strike quietly.
“It is.” He sounded thoughtful.
“What is happening in Ironholme” Strike asked the One Eye.
Melgen looked at Strike with a furrowed brow. His huge dark, greying bushy eyebrows almost met, forming some sort of aggressive caterpillar across his brow.
“There is a great debate amongst the One Eyes. There are many of us gathered in Ironhome, more than I have seen in some time, debating whether we should lend our support to the Rugorim who already has the fealty of most of the settlements of the Northland or should we lend our support to yourself. There are those who call for us to throw our support on both sides of the divide. There are those who feel that the Rugorim is right, we can no longer simply sit here, go out and raid and then be forced back. They want to stamp their mark on the history of the world…”
“That is all…” I began but was cut off by Strike.
“Don’t get me wrong, I fully agree that as one nation we need to go forward and take more continuous means of survival rather than just raiding. However, I don’t agree that we must forsake Odin and Freya’s teachings.”
“They are quite happy to upset the balance of nature to achieve their ends.” I added.
Melgen nodded again before answering, “Perhaps what you are saying is true. There are also those who say that in leaving the Northlands to go to the Mainlands, the Rugorim’s priorities are not correct, that he should be focusing more on the Northlands rather than his campaign towards the Mainlands.”
“Sorry, may I ask what his campaign towards the Mainlands is?” I asked acting confused.
“Erm, yes. I don’t really know the details, only what I have heard in Ironholme but apparently in the last week the Rugorim and a contingent of his, his bodyguard, an elite force have taken a number of longboats towards the Mainland. Something about joining up with an attack on the Kingdom there.”
“Yes, I believe that he is allying himself with the Sapphire Islands in order to take out the larger Kingdom,” Strike confessed.
“Indeed, I know the Rugorim forces have been calling for what they call wise alliances with other forces.”
“I believe it to be a foolish alliance,” Strike said with venom in his voice.
“Perhaps you’re right,” the One Eye said none committedly.
“One designed purely on short term gain,” Strike finished.
“Indeed, and perhaps you’re right, I’ve not been a military man for some time but a lot of the settlements have been persuaded to the Rugorim’s way of thinking. After all why scratch out a meagre living here where the land is barely fertile, crops are difficult to grow? When according to his plans…”
“Promises that the grass is greener?” I cut in.
“Indeed. According to his plans, if we take the Mainland and make it our new Kingdom, all of the bounty that is there can be ours.” The way he said it so flippantly concerned me. It was almost as if the old One Eye agreed with the Rugorim. If I was to be honest with myself living in such a barren land I would be sympathetic to his cause too, it was just an accident that I had seen how he wished to achieve his better world that scared me.
“There is unfortunately one issue with this. If you take the Mainlands by force, we are then left with an extraordinary amount of mouths to feed, which are not our own. We cannot simply wipe out another race just because it does not fit our profile. That is not our way,” Strike pointed out.
“I do not disagree with you, what unsettles me most of all is I have heard rumours, and they may be no more than rumours, but there is one thing the One Eyes like to do, we are story tellers, we are history keepers as well as the wise amongst the Northlanders…”
“Are you going to ask me about poison?” Strike said wearily. 
“No. No,” Melagin dismissed with a smile “what we like to do is we like to talk, that’s part of our function. You can imagine with all of us gathered in Ironholme how many rumours and stories are filling the air there, there’s almost more stories littering the streets there than there is frost on the floor but I have heard unsettling rumours. Rumours of dark sorceries, foul practices used by the Rugorim. There are those who whisper should the Rugorim be successful in taking the Mainland, those people you talk of, those mouths to feed would be the components for his dark sorcery.”
“Let me enlighten you,” Strike offered, he controlled his emotions well, the only give away of the turmoil inside was that he couldn’t keep still. Melagin gestured for him to continue.
“The Rugorim himself, has boasted of a pot, a pot in which he puts a human, an orc, whatever other components he wishes to create one being. This is how he fashions his elite guard. Twelve of which have already fallen to our sword, they had lost ALL that had made them Northlanders and simply become his slaves. I will not see my people as slaves,” Strike promised, jabbing the air with his finger for emphasis.
Melgen could only nod at the force of Strikes conviction, “Well. I do hope then, if what you say about his practices are correct, and it does seem to fit with the rumours I’ve heard, I hope you are successful. Such blasphemies have no place.” 
Suddenly the old One Eye turned his attention to me, “We Northlanders are many things. Proud, yes. Savage, undoubtedly. We make no apologies for seizing what we want, taking what we want. However, we have never been murders, we have never been evil doers, we have never let ourselves been influenced by dark forces. We take what we want on our terms and we live the way we want to live.” 
I nodded to him. I had been traveling with one for longer than I cared to remember and none of what he was telling me was a surprise to me.
“My fear is this. The Gragorim savage pilgrimage towards these larger lands, has resulted in further disturbances in this thing you call magic or stories,” said Strike.
“I have seen a tree where somebody not unlike my kind, was born of the tree. But their skin was black. Their face was cruel, it knew nothing but hate. The more I hear of this Gragorim the more I believe this is entirely possible.” I said staring into the fire.
Melgen looked thoughtful, his greying bushy eyebrows doing some kind of mating dance across his brow as he chose his words carefully, “Hold on, give me a moment,” he finally said before turning to one side and called over his shoulder.
“Alphear! Alphear!” he shouted and gestured with his hand for the foresaid Alphear to join us. A youngish Human Northlander with a dark nut red beard with the strip of cloth over his vacant eye, the undisputed symbol of the One Eye walked over.
“Sorry, would you mind telling my fellow One Eye here what you just said about these creatures?” 
“Not at all.” I replied.
“I went on a vision quest, on behalf of my Elder. What I saw disturbed me greatly. There was a tree, it was black, and it was for all intents and purposes dead. At the roots bones writhed with shadows. There was, well fruit, I suppose that was scattered about the ground. As I watched a fruit ripened and out birthed this dark, cruel, evil being.”
The colour drained from dark red haired One Eyes face when he heard what I had seen and as I described my vision a worried expression crept across his weather worn features, he turned to Melgen, seemingly ignoring me for the moment.
“You see Melgen, it is as I told you. I told you I’d seen the svartalfar in the North in the mountains around Ironhome!” he seemed excited that someone could verify his story.
“I’m sorry I doubted you Alphear, but I had never heard of such creatures before this stranger came and spoke to us. I apologise.” He said hanging his head low to his friend.
“My current thoughts are as follows. Firstly rid the entire world of this darkness that the Rugorim has spread. After that I will return here and I will unite our people and together as one we will go forward as Odin intended.” Strike spoke quietly, only amplifying his promises.
“Then it would appear that you have your work cut out for you. Many of the Chieftains of the settlements have been won over by the Rugorim’s promises…”
“I believe they have been won over by fear alone.” Strike argued.
“Fear and unfortunately I believe greed.” 
“Indeed.” Strike agreed.
“As I said earlier, it seems to me that many of our people have lost their way, they have forgotten the glories of our past.” Melagin turned to me once again, as if to try and explain more, “when our people first came to this land, there was little here. We raided other people because we…”
“Because you had to.” I tried to show that I did understand.
“We had to. Yes we had to, we had no choice. As I said we are not murderous, killers? Certainly, we have been but we are not murders, we are not evil. We take what we need because we need it. I fear that there are many who that have forgotten this and the accumulation of goods through attacking others, through conquest has almost become an end to itself.”
“But what are stories if not life lessons?” I asked.
“I entirely agree, that is the purpose of the One Eye. We are supposed to be here to shine a light on the past so that the past is not forgotten and the lessons that were learned can be carried forward into the future.”
“And that is why I need Ironholme.” Strike said darkly. “I am not a wise man. I am simply an intelligent one.”
“That is why I am here.” I said as an explanation of an Elf lost in the Northlands.
“There is no crime in not being a wise man, the only crime is believing you are when you are not. There are many Chiefs, I am sorry to say believe that the One Eyes like myself are an ancient, fossilised, remnant of the past that is no longer relevant. Our words do not carry as much weight as they once did in the Northlands.”
“A truly intelligent man knows he knows nothing.” I said, saddened that the One Eyes were also facing the exclusion that my kin had in the forest when the elders believed that our time had come.
“Quite so,” said Melgen
“I know how to kill, I know how to steal…” Strike began.
“That’s called living.” I stated, trying to lighten the sombre mood.
While Strike and Melgen were discussing Northlander affairs the other One Eye, Alphear sidled over to me, looking apprehensive, “Excuse me, would you mind taking a look at an artifact for me? I believe it would be something you might be interested in.” His words tailed off in embarrassment, of what I was not sure, possibly just speaking to a woman.
“I can certainly try,” I said brightly, ignoring his shyness.
He lead me a short distance away to another hut, as I passed Strike I suddenly realised I had no idea who this person was, or what his intentions were, “I’m going over there,” I whispered as I was guided away. Strike gave me a questioning look, then carried on his negotiations.
Alphear stood to one side, pulling the ram skin cover back and gesturing with his free hand for me to step inside. A little apprehensively I did so, in the middle of the hut was a smaller split log table. On the table was a cloth bundle, fastened with leather thong about two hands long. I felt Alphear brush past me to get to the bundle before slowly unwrapping it. Pulling back the layers of cloth he revealed one of the sleek black Elven arrows I was all too familiar with.
“When I hear your tail of the svartalfar, I knew my eyes had not deceived me. I had occasion to see your people previously and during a storm a few nights ago in the mountains around Ironholme, just before I travelled south, to come here. I caught sight of a creature which I thought at first sight to be one of the Mountain Men, but then I realised it was simply a man wearing furs, well I thought it was a man. When I got closer I saw that its features were very similar to yours but its skin was as black as the Northern night…” He was beginning to struggle to find the words to explain his encounter.
“Those were the creatures I saw in my vision. We have come in contact with these arrows and what we believed at the time to be Orcs. Just from their facial features and their darkened skin but they could have easily been what we now refer to as Dark Elves.” I said, trying to put him at some sort of ease.
“These creatures are part of this darkness.” Strikes voice made me jump, I had no idea he had followed us into the hut, he took one look at the arrow and rolled his eyes.
“Oh it’s one o’ them, been hit by one o’ them,” Strike said it so casually it took a moment for the younger One Eye to realise what he had said, before he had chance to reply to his King, Strike calmly walked back out again, satisfied his council was in no danger.
“If these creatures are haunting the mountains of Ironholme, this bodes extremely ill,” warned Alphear to Strikes back. Strike stood in the doorway but did not turn round.
“Then we must make our destiny Ironhome. I will not let the One Eyes die.” He promised.
“If you are to travel the countryside.” Said Melagin, the hut had suddenly becoming very crowded. “Be careful, I have hear rumours that the lieutenant that has been left behind by the Rugorim. An Orc known by the name Azgog, she is a powerful war chief. There are rumours that her tribe has managed to tame some of the Winter Wargs and now use them as riding beasts.”
“I could use some of those,” Strike said thoughtfully.
“I have not seen any myself, it had previously been thought that such creatures were too savage to be tamed,” as Melgen took a breath to continue Alphear nudged him in the ribs with his elbow.
“Melgen, Melgen. Tell them the rest of the story Melgen.”
“Yes, yes, yes of course,” Melgen replied holding his hands up to calm the younger One Eye, “there is also talk that Azgog carries the great sword Frost Blood, said to be made from an enchanted piece of ice, stained with the blood of the first Northlanders.” On hearing this Strikes eyes lit up like a child’s on their naming day, well I knew where we’d be going next.
While the One Eyes and Strike were talking my gaze was drawn once again to the slender, black, smooth arrow, I reached out and touched the cold metal and began wondering what I should be on the lookout for. My unsaid question was answered by another voice inside my head. I felt my eyes unfocused as the thoughts rolled around my mind. If there is one of these arrows, it is highly unlikely that will be just one, with what we already knew about some sort of alliance with the Rugorim’s Man-Orc forces it would be reasonable to assume that a group of a unknown number of these creatures has travelled from the Mainlands to the Northlands and given that the Rugorim was supposed to have left several days ago for the Mainland but he had been sighted not long ago it would be all right to believe that he was still here. My eyes cleared and I became aware that I had the attention of the room. I become conscious that I must have been speaking out loud when Strike spoke.
“Well my entire army will keep them busy.”
“I think we need to visit Ironhome,” I said.
Before we left it was decided that being able to shape shift into most forms I was to be the scout in the air and Strike would be on the ground, we planned on skirting round the mountains, trying not to travel too close into the middle of the peaks. I called upon the spirit of the Jungle and chose the cloak of a Cockatoo, the most temperamental and vicious carnivore I knew of, also the white would help to hide my form and took to the air.
Two days into our journey, about half way round the foothills a huge blizzard sprang out of nowhere.  Fighting through the sudden wall of white I heard Strike shout. I could not hear his words but he was pointing over to a cluster of caverns and crags at the foothills of the mountains which would give us shelter. Shards of ice stung my eyes as I fought against the wind trying to reach the caves, with the keen eyesight of the Cockatoo and the vantage point of my position, around fifty feet from where we were I caught sight of what appeared to be a number of people lying on the ground, in the snow.
Using a downward flowing air current I fluttered down next to Strike.
“Which! Way!” Strikes voice was almost carried off by the howling wind.
“People! Lying! In! The! Snow! Fifty! Yards! That! Way!” I pointed off in the direction of the bodies.
“Alive?!” Strike replied.
“Hard! To! Tell!” I yelled back.
“Why?” Strike asked, his voice clearer with the sudden wind drop around us. 
“It’s a bit windy!” I answered.
“It’s not. Just a breeze.” 
I gave him a look that told him I was not impressed, it was cold and I was a jungle creature.
Strike returned a look of his own, I knew how he felt about the jungle, nasty, sticky place that it was. Before we had a real argument I threw on my shroud of the Cockatoo and took to the air again, hoping to find some explanation for the mysterious bodies in the snow.
“Where the fuck have you gone now?! Come to that where is the Song smith?” I heard Strike yell into the air in frustration before hunkering down behind a snow drift, using it as a temporary shelter.
Drawing nearer to the forms I could see one was swathed in various furs and other Northlander clothing. Its arm was outstretched, revelling an unmoving extended hand, its skin pitch black, beyond this form I could see the outline of a number of figures, all very still.
I flew back to Strike who welcomed my return with the words “I love summer time here!” I wasn’t sure if this was more Human humour.
“Black skin! Not moving!” I said quickly, not wanting to be caught and or frozen too.
“Bugger. Where!?” 
“Fifty yards! That way!” I yelled over the groaning wind, the lull was over.
“If they’re fucking Dark Elves I’m killing ‘em!” 
I looked into the sky. It was impossible for me to fly in the sudden wall of white and so stayed in my Elven form, bits of ice stung our exposed faces, and we couldn’t see more than a few feet in any direction as we trudged in the direction of the figures. Though Strike lived in a northern area, he shivered, I knew it must be colder than he had ever felt before. I wrapped my furs tighter round me, I had never been this cold in my life. Already, my teeth were chattering, within a moment, the tips of my Elf ears and fingers were so frigid they burned, we trudged through the snowdrifts with our heads down. 
For the first time, on our journey I began to question the stupidity of what we had taken on, but it was too late to go back. What if we actually died out here? 
This was going to be a very long night. 
I pushed against the force of the blizzard. It felt as if I was pushing against the winter itself. Icicles began to form on our eyelashes, and my fingers had gone numb. My eyes streaming in the stinging wind I felt a tear rolled down my cheek, freezing almost instantly. We staggered forward, tripping into ditches and scrambling over snow-covered rocks, Strikes familiar landmarks were obscured by the blowing snow.
Eventually we reached the bodies, a thin layer of snow already beginning to claim them. Through the stinging wind I thought there was five figures but as we drew closer behind the first few was another five or six almost totally shrouded by the snow. Strike rolled the nearest one to him onto its back. I heard myself take a sharp gasp in shock, staring back with vacant eyes was a Dark Elf, swathed in Northlander furs, its features were similar to mine, however instead of the pale skin of my kind this creatures skin was pure black.
Looking down the corpse there were three deep claw marks down its length, from its neck down to its groin.
“By the Elders!” I exclaimed through chattering teeth.
“Bears. I told you, white bears are nasty. It’s either that or those Mountain Men” Strike shrugged at his own explanation. Strike took one look at me and removed the white fur cloak from the shredded Dark Elf and draped it over my head and shoulders.
Nodding gratefully I gripped the fold under my neck and willed myself to get warm. Slowly I could feel myself thawing and with that I found myself thinking clearer. I was drawn to the wound that had almost skinned the Dark Elf with one swipe. I squatted down to get a better look.
What happened here recently? I asked myself while studying the three nearest bodies to me. The white furs they were wearing were large enough to cover the Dark Elves, camouflaging them well against the bleak landscape and drag along the floor around them, presumably to wipe away any tracks that may have been left behind which I assumed they were trying to stealthy make their way through the mountain passes, either heading towards or away from Ironholme, I could not be sure. Any footprints that had been left had been destroyed by the blizzard. I sat on my haunches, trying to will my numb mind into thinking clearly. Thankfully I could feel the warmth of the new white fur cloak, and knew it would not be too long. 
As they went about their mission they had come across a clawed something that had easily defeated them, the way they had fallen and without evening drawing weapons told me that whatever had attacked them had come up on them unexpectedly and killed them quickly. From the size and positioning of the deep gashes I would guess that the attackers were roughly human sized but as I studied the lacerations I realised they could not be from an animal, all animal claws left jagged tears in their victims and although it was a slash wound the actual wound itself was a very clean cut, more like a blade than a claw.
I stood up and turned to Strike, “They were set upon before they knew what was happening by something the size of a human with rapier sharp claws.”
While looking at the bodies I studied the ground around them, trusting the land to yield any secrets it may hold, walking around the fallen Dark Elves it suddenly became clear what was wrong. The way the bodies had fallen was not in any chaotic manner, if something had suddenly jumped into the middle of the group and quickly despatched them they would have fallen where they stood not as we had found them, lying straight and in different positions. 
I looked around to see if I could get higher up then mentally shook myself, taking on the cloak of the Cockatoo again I flew into the air and all became clear. The bodies had been positioned to form the shape of a word, even more shocking was that it was an Elvish word.
I flew back down to Strike, shrugging off the bird form as I landed, “The bodies are in the shape of a word, an Elvish word.” I said, hoping that if I said it out loud it would make better sense.
“I don’t speak Elvish,” Strike said slowly. I was not sure if it was the cold making it hard for him to speak or he was using his hard of understanding voice on me. He was a Northlander, it was probably the second choice.
“It’s something like trespass or forbidden, it is ancient Elvish and a little hard to translate,” I admitted.
“So basically a big fuck off sign?” 
“Pretty much.” I conceded.
“Great. Northlander Elves. Who knew?”
“Well whatever it is does not want us to go in there, so I suggest we go right in there,” I realised what had come out of my mouth. Strike must be rubbing off on me, before I knew him I would have respected the wishes of a large, blade sharp clawed creature.
“That was kinda the plan, the shelter is back there. I am King and go where ever the Hel I please!” He added, defiantly.
We fought the wind to the caves and with some effort managed to light a fire. Once out of the wind and with the welcoming heat of the small fire I soon felt my old self again.
Staring into the fire I had an odd epiphany, “If I turn into fire, would that warm me up?” 
Strike looked at me through narrow eyes, “You what? You might be dead but…I think I’m going that record that under more freaky druidy shit.”
“As I can now use the elements to perform tasks, I used the water to see what was happening when we were hiding in the fog…no then that probably would not work, it’s to perform tasks not turn into them.”
“But if you can turn yourself into fire, it would be pretty handy for lighting fires. It would save all the business with THE STICKS!” His frustrations slipping through again.
“I could try persuading it to burn?”
“We’ve already got one going, I was just having a bit of a rant,” Strike laughed, showing his easy smile.
I burst into laughter with him, for the next few hours we watched the blizzard rage outside the cave, the wind howling like a wounded animal while shards of ice lashed down all around.
“I suggest you get some of that rest and I’ll just watch the blizzard. There’s only one way in and out the cave we can pretty much guarantee that part.”
Bathing in heat of the fire my eyes had become heavy and itchy. I nodded and lay back on my white fur robe and closed my eyes, on the edge of sleep I listened to the whistling wind, felt the prickle of the snow on my face and the biting cold. As my body warmed I felt myself willing the wind to drop and the snow to die away.
Strike sat there pondering his world and how vast it had suddenly become. Maybe I should pray to Odin, he thought. It’s been a while, and a bit of divine guidance never did any harm, before he could begin he was disturbed by a strange sound. It was an odd, sing song style language coming from Demanor. Her voice almost reminding him of the sound a fur boot made when treading on fresh, frosted snow, after a few moments of the bizarre chanting the wind did actually seem like it was beginning to drop.
Sitting there watching the cave mouth and wondering if it had indeed been Demanor who had been responsible for the calming of the gale he caught a glimpse of something moving, just beyond the mouth of the cave. A shape against the falling snow.
“Imstupidimstupidimstupidimstupid” he mumbled while walking to the cave mouth.
Around ten feet from where he was standing was a six feet tall figure, covered almost entirely in long white furs. It was too far away to make out any features, Strike made a snap decision.
“You there! Come in!”
The figure paused on its journey then slowly with unusual grace, nothing like the great white bears he had seen before made its way towards Strike. It seemed unhindered by the deep snow or the once strong wind showing its underlying strength.
I awoke to Strike shouting out of the cave. Sitting up to get a better view I looked past Strike and almost swallowed my tongue, the being Strike was welcoming into our shelter was at least six feet tall and covered in a long, shaggy white pelt. Instead of the clumsy lollop I was expecting it moved with unusual grace towards Strike.
Not knowing the intentions of this creature I decided I would pose no threat and stay in my Elven form but I prepared my mind to change into a Great White Bear if it proved to be hostile, the figure drew level with strike before walking past him into the cave. As it moved past him he looked down the creature’s arms and caught sight of what looked like claws protruding through its fur. Were they claws? Strike looked again and was sure that they may have looked like claws but were in fact made from shards of ice, similar to the icicles hanging down around the mouth of the cave. Looking past the entrance of the cave Strike could see that the wind had indeed died down but the snow fall was just as thick as before, it was so cold that even the snowflakes had huddled together and were falling in fat clumps, pattering softly as they hit the ground.
As the white furred figure walked past Strike it reached up and pulled back what we thought to be part of the creatures head was really its deep hood; removing the hood reviled the long blond hair and pale angular features of an Elf. Looking from this face to his hands we could both see that they were in fact normal hands with a coating of ice that extended far over his knuckles and shaped into claws which instantly melted as the Elf lowered his hands leaving only wisps of vapour in the frigid air.
“Northlander Elves, who knew?” Strike repeated.
I smiled at Strike then the Elf. 
‘I’m not the only one!’ I yelled inside my head 
“As King I am certainly finding out quite a lot aren’t I?” Strike asked no one on particular.
The Elf, as he was now revealed to be, stood in his white fur coat and looked straight at me, he opened his mouth but closed it again without saying anything. He looked puzzled, as if he was trying to find the right words.
“You…Called…The…Wind?” He managed in broken common tongue.
“I asked it to stop.” I answered in Elvish. 
He seemed to partly understand what I was saying but when he answered in Elvish it was a dialect I had never come across before, it was only common-sense, even the Jungle Elves who spoke the same language had local accents, so it was not too hard to believe that so did the Mountain Elves.
I reverted back to common tongue, the Elf seemed to struggle just as much with either language but at least that way I wouldn’t be translating for the Mountain Elf and Strike as well.
“You are. You are not like the others? The Dark ones that have. Have. Invaded our mountains.” He said in his stilted manner.
“No. I am from the Jungle.” I answered, trying to keep my words as simple as possible.
“She comes from far across the oceans.” Strike added.
“Hmm.” 
“From the land of trees.” I tried again.
“We are here to stop these dark ones. Even now they infect our lands.” Strike said to the confused Elf.
“YES!” He answered, well at least he understood that bit. “Those we come across we stop. But…There are only few of us.” It was frustrating to watch, we could see he had so much to tell us and us to warn him, there must be an easier way of doing this.
“Once…Our…People…Lived in the, the err…”
“Mountain?” Strike guessed.
“YES! Mountain. And there, there were many of us. Err, we came…here…a long time ago. Those who…When our people were young? We were…”
“Many?” I queried.
“No. Err, we were set to look after the wild places…”
“Protect?” I guessed.
“Protect! The wild places of the world. Some of us err, went to the, the Great Forests like you. And my people…we came here to the Great Mountains, to the, the white, the North…”
“The peaks?” I offered.
“The Peaks, yes. We have…When the Humans came to these, these lands. We first tried to…make, make peace with them but they were…war like and rather than see our knowings, our knowledge used for dangerous purpose we withdrew to the mountains. Content to leave them to their own ways,” the Elf managed to explain.
“As have your forest brothers.” Strike answered, pointing to me.
“They have traveled back from where we came.” Although the truth still hurt it was soothed with the knowledge that I was no longer alone.
“Yes. We have. We felt their…leaving.”
This intrigued me, if they could feel the emotions of other Elves then maybe I break the language barrier by showing them our story in some way, there was a way I knew it, the cold numbing my mind would not let me remember it though.
“I am glad you did not leave. We need guidance,” Strike told the Elf.
“It is the way. Our people, we are like the… lands that we guard. Those who guard the, the forests also. When the winter comes the forest seems to die and then returns in the spring and it is like that with our brothers of the trees. Whereas the mountains…endure against the elements they are…”
“Stronger?” I interrupted.
“Eternal they remain…Not stronger but they do not change, they remain the same…”
“Constant?” I guessed again.
“…As we are. Yes, constant. But as I say, we are not many. Only one of our great holds remains in the Great Peaks.”
“How many are they?” I tried to keep my voice level, it didn’t matter if there were two, twelve, twenty or two hundred, I was not alone.
“There are barely…” He said something in ancient Elvish I could not quite catch, but sounded like a number. I thought for a moment.
“About fifty.” I told Strike.
He nodded before speaking to the Elf.
“If I wish to change these lands, these people. I have recently become their King, unfortunately many of my own people stand against me with these Dark ones.”
“The words and titles of Humans means little to us.”
“I am their ruler,” Strike tried.
“He is like our Elders” I explained.
“I wish to first, remove this darkness that my people may have spread throughout this world and then unite my people so that they may grow wiser and not just rely on battle for their ends.”
“That is a good thing?” The Elf asked.
“It beats war every year, of every month, of every week.”
“It is more balanced.” I added.
“Hmm.” The Elf looked thoughtful.
“I have travelled these lands, these forests and I have found that although Man does has darkness in its heart we can be stronger and we can fight it.” Strike concluded.
“Up until now it not has been our way to interfere. Whereas our forest brethren are more changing, as I have said, we are like the mountains, we stand above but we seldom interfere. However… we have seen these Dark ones and we recognise them to be something like us but… twisted and evil.”
“I have also found that in the Orc Shaman, the Rugorim, he is twisted and dark, he seeks only greed.”
“Yes. We have, we have sensed there is a force at work in this world. A thing of darkness. It is familiar to us, ours wisest, the voice of the wind have had visons of a child.”
“She has also seen this child in vision.” Strike said indicating to me.
They both looked at me expectantly.
“I saw a child about to be slaughtered by a warrior. The child smiled and the warrior was engulfed in flames. I then saw the child’s village turn to ash and the child walked off with an Orc.” I did not tell him that the Orc was a One Eye. It was difficult enough to explain.
“This creature. Is an older force or something darker that hides itself away, like my own people hide ourselves away by assuming the form of the mountain animals. We seldom take on our normal form unless we are in our hold. We believe that as we disguise ourselves in the form of the animals, this force disguises itself in the form of a child. After all, what better disguise for something ancient and evil than something young and innocent? But we are unable to see it clearly, something prevents us.” 
We stood in silence for a moment, this was bigger than we could have ever imagined.
“Well it’s not Ragnar, I killed him. Again.” Strike said breaking the hush.
“What about the cauldron, could it be the cauldron?” I asked Strike.
“Could be, could be. He did boast of a cauldron.” He scratched his stubbled chin thoughtfully.
“Have your people heard of a cooking pot?” I asked the Elf who looked at me blankly.
“The leader, the Rugorim places parts of different races into this cooking pot and what is born out is a warrior slave.”
“No. this is not something we have knowledge of,” the Elf said shaking his head.
“The Rugorim is the one we believe is using this darkness, this evil to power and further his greed.” Strike explained.
“We believe the Rugorim is with the child.” I added.
“Although this is something we have no knowings of… it would take… powerful magics, beyond the ability of even our wisest to, to create something like that. To create life or to make a form of life is not an easy task. I would say, until now, I would say it would be a feat beyond even the most powerful of the younger races who are practiced in the ways. Even our Eldest would not attempt such a thing.”
“Would it be…”
“Would it come from the form of a tree?” I cut over Strike.
“I would not know for sure, I…believe that the power of such thing. Maybe coming from the child.”
“That would make sense. If the child is that powerful like some form of… I’m going to say God. Then keeping some form of power in order to get more to his side…” Strike was also having trouble finding the right words.
“Promise everything, deliver nothing.” I finished.
“It would be…Easier for this Rugorim to… make something that could be used to… channel the power of the child, then he would not need to do it himself,” he said, proud that we had not helped him.
“The power would not be his, but it would be guided by his hand,” the Elf added.
“So he may think he is making one thing but in essence he is making a totally different thing. Hmmm, we are traveling to Ironholme to protect the One Eye’s, the Shamen of my people who I believe these Dark ones have possibly slain. They prepare to attack our wisdom, are knowledge, our history. They are not warriors, they are keepers of our story.”
“They are their teachers.” I tried to explain.
“I see.” The Elf replied.
“It is only because I saw you outside, having previously heard a tale of such a man.”
“Yes, our Elders sensed a someone talking with the wind, as we do and I was sent to investigate.”
“May we see your Elder?” Strike asked.
“It would be difficult for you. You would need to make the journey to our…Home.” The Elf pointed to the tallest mountain, a vast mount towering high above whose peak was lost in the low clouds.
“It would be difficult for you to make the journey,” he repeated.
How much could a vulture carry? I wondered.
“I could make the climb but I believe the journey would be of ease for your jungle dwelling sister,” Strike said, I looked round, then realised he meant me.
“We have made it… difficult for those who are not like us to enter our hold. As I said we, we withdrew to leave the, the Humans to their own affair.”
“It is not myself that I wish to see your Elder. It is her. She is of your race and has recently lost the majority of her people as they sailed across the…”
“Or were taken by the Rugorim,” No, it was still painful for me to hear.
“That is… acceptable,” said the Mountain Elf looked at me.
“I merely wish to get to Ironholme and Helhearth this is of great importance as well. A wise King would take his time.”
“If it is your wish, then we will quieten the winds so that you may travel to your… city and your friend can join you there after speaking with our Elders.”
“That would be acceptable,” agreed Strike.
“Although we are used to acting with the speed of the Mountain, I see that time is important to you,” the Elf said, he whispered something that sounded like the whistling in the wind and as we watched the thick, heavy snow thinned out before stopping completely. With our way now clear the Mountain Elf accompanied us on our journey.  Strike would make his way to the settlement, a bowl depression in the mountains, a deeply cut valley created by the melting snow traveling from the mountain tops in the summer time that fed the rivers, streams and lakes that eventually flowed into the sea. 
Somehow the solid crunch of our winter boots against the packed snow fills the night with a relaxing and familiar sound that marks tiny little progress towards our destination, the falling snow swallowed all sound of the surrounding lands, creating an eerie silence. The world gleamed brightly from the bright, cold radiance that covered the surface with a thin gem shell, at times the reflections were so bright, that it seems as if the world has turn to crystalline light and was ready to disappear before our eyes. Rocks, boulders, sticks and broken branches become rounded and smooth. The slanting sharp world suddenly seems soft and gentle like a room full of pillows, everything become be-jewelled with the purity of freshly fallen snow. All of the old and broken things disappear beneath the pure white mantle. In spite of the breath taking beauty of the landscape we were entirely aware that we must be careful where we stepped. For underneath the glistening lustre could be concealed dangers. 
The Mountain Elf was as good as his word and when it was time to part ways Strike found the foot path warn by countless footsteps traveling to and from the village of Ironholme, when Strike had disappeared from view the Mountain Elf drew his furs around him and took on the guise of a beautiful white hawk, He flew off in the direction of the tallest mountain peak and before I lost him to the clouds that enveloped the mountain top I raised my arms to shoulder height and feeling my white furs form into feathers I took on the cloak of a cockatoo and followed. 
I fought hard to keep up with my guide. He was used to the thin air whereas it made me dizzy and breathless; making way up the huge mountain, I could not see how any sort of home could be situated there, my body protesting loudly at the emaciated air. I struggled through the wet frigid air of the cloud line urging my wings to keep moving to keep the ice from forming along my feathers.
When I thought that I had lost my Mountain Elf guild I burst through the clouds and in front of me was a towering castle made out of crystal and appeared to be floating in the clouds fifty feet above the top of the mountain, flying up towards the suspended castle I became aware that that it was not formed from gem stones but actually ice.
Perfect, unblemished ice. 
Following the hawk down, I observed standing in a small blue green shimmering courtyard a small group of fifty Elves all dressed in similar white furs to those who inhabited the Northlander villages, all with blond hair, much paler than me, all akin to my escort; I had no idea how long they had been waiting or how they knew of our arrival nevertheless as we flew over they all turned to look in our direction and smiled.

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.

 
 

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.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 5

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

In a large capital city Royal city, there was no let up from the crowds of pedestrians, shoppers and other people and animals going about their business. From early morning, traffic starts building up. Barrows, hand carts and animal pulled carts trundled along, with no time to wait for anyone carless enough to stray into their route to deliver or pick up. 
Along the cobbled streets where shop fronts spilled out onto the path outside with every available space used to show their wares. Brightly coloured textiles, rugs for those that could afford them, jewellers bent over their next sparkling creation all adding to the vivid mix. 
Between the buildings were stalls also with owners desperate to relive a potential customer of their hard earned coin. Toys, cooking utensils, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and sweet sticky treats from all over the known world assaulted your senses to the point of shutting down. Jugglers, acrobats and fortune teller’s squashed in anywhere they could also eager to earn enough coin to feed their families that night.
In the hustle and bustle, the delicious aroma of exotic delicacies floating in the air mixed in with the smell of stale sweat and sour ale of a drinking house, tempting passers-by to stop for some refreshment.
In the afternoon, the crowds grow bigger as those lucky enough to find work in the palace join the throngs of people. 
For most now this is time to go home. 
The deep red sunset reflecting off what seemed to be solid gold domed palace, the white marble of the noble homes and the white painted houses of the poorer inhabitants seem to set the city on fire, to me, feeling disconnected from the rich jungle environment that I grew up with surrounding and nourishing me throughout my life slowly flowing away like a newly dammed river just strengthening my feelings that I do not belong here, just proves this place is hell on earth. 
But Korra is determined to seek and audience with King John V 
Strike, who turned to any crime to survive when his Uncle banished him for Axehome looked decidedly uncomfortable with the idea of voluntary entering a place full of uniformed men desperately wanting to speak with someone matching his description hung at the back, with the intention of peeling away from us if and when we entered the palace.
Walking through the gates of Royal City it is not entirely difficult to see the palace. A huge, multi-spired building that rises fifteen floors up a grand place, almost something from a tale of a far off land, foreboding but at the same time a welcoming sight to make the people that lived there feel safe in the knowledge that their king was watching over them and protecting them. The very tops of the tallest towers obscured by the clouds the building reflecting on the wealth and status of the king. As the sun sets the whole building catches the sun, shining as if it were made of gold. The hue of the setting sun giving it a strange red tinge, almost the colour of fresh blood. 
“The Sapphire palace of the Emperor on the Sapphire Islands although resplendent is nowhere near as grand as this place.” Korra informs us. 
The crowds gradually disappear as evening approaches and darkness begins to creep in but they grow steadily again as the night market starts operating. No one really sleeps here.
Crowds swarm around for night snacks at the various food stalls and restaurants near the theatre or to pick up some good bargains. 
Over affectionate Ladies with a kind smile, for the right price of course loiter in the shadows along with the others of not so legal trade, the cut throats and pickpockets also needing to put bread on the table.
The way the city seems to be built, from what we have seen so far is that the palace is in the centre and all main streets radiate out of it like raise of sunlight. Around five or six main thoroughfares leading to and from the palace, all roads lead to the golden palace a common saying in Royal City. 
Looking down one of the main streets, we were still on the outskirts of the city where the one or two floor buildings, drunkenly leaning against each other lined the filth encrusted road on both sides, a bit more humble looking than the buildings nearer to the palace. The divide between rich and poor did not change were ever we travelled. 
Taverns, houses of moderately ill repute, and ale houses were dotted between the dwellings, instantly recognisable from the pealing painted signs and crowds of people. If we wanted to gain an audience with King John V then we needed to clean up. 
Tramping round a jungle with me, a creature whose surroundings influence our appearance from birth. For me it was my braided hair resembling jungle vines, that and all our clothes made to blend in with the vegetation it looked like I brought a good portion of it with us. 
With several boat voyages and various living, dead and undead creatures trying to kill us only the most polite high born individuality would only manage to describe our group as very well-travelled and that would only because they hadn’t actually seen us caked in mud, blood; some ours, some other peoples and our holey garments. Combined with an unmistakable natural fragrance that would fill up your whole world if we hadn’t already gotten used to it we were anything but presentable to a King. 
“We need to scrub up somewhere. Let’s find a brothel that’s of reasonable repute and steal some clothes.” Korra suggested. Strike must be rubbing off on her. 
“What’s a reasonable repute brothel?” Strike had to ask. 
“Or buy some and borrow the baths.” She added, realising what she had just said. 
“Generally get ourselves sorted, we don’t have any major friends here. It would be the ideal place to get tarted up on the cheap.” I have no idea what Korra just said. I understood all the words they just made no sense to me in that particular order.
“Ahh well, I would quite like to think I have the complete opposite of friends within this city.” Strike said with an easy smile. I must have looked confused as he continued. “I have a lot of enemies within this city.” Oh, okay Human humour. 
Korra, being a bard was always able to find hospitality from somewhere began looking around the swinging painted signs, wandering down yet another side street she finally spotted a white stone building with wooden slat work and supporting beams. The faded peeling paintwork showing a picture of a large full flowering red rose. Curled around the stem is a serpentine dragon. The sound of bawdy patrons and people shouting and laughing pour out from the inside. It had become quite dark now and the flickering golden glow of lit lanterns through the window give a little brightness in the gloom. 
Pushing the door open the wall of sound flows out and envelops us. Luckily enough Royal City is quite a cosmopolitan city, the large port bringing in merchant’s and cargo ships from all over the known world making extra coin by loading any extra space with travellers so the three of us dressed and smelling the way we do barely raise an eyebrow. As we walk in a couple of people give me and Strike second glances but as we have shown no hostility they don’t seem too bothered or are filing us under not our business and turn back to their drinks.
“Have we got any actual coin?” The thought suddenly striking Korra. 
“I have nothing.” I admitted.
We both looked to the Northlander. 
“I may have…a…small supply…of…assorted coin.” He admits eventually, visibly squirming. 
“C…could I suggest we get some food…drink…lodgings…?” Korra stammered, not wanting to offend a Northlander thief by asking for him to be parted with his wealth. 
“She wants you to spend your gold.” I whisper laughing. 
“Erm…”
“Mostly for the purposes of being able to gain an audience with the king, we need to clean up.” Korra explained. 
“Now there’s the problem. I don’t want an audience with the King.”
“Well that’s why we came here.”
“No. We came here because you wanted to come here and gain an audience with the King.”
Korra shrugged. 
“I think what he’s trying to say, love.” Proud of myself for slipping a Human word in there. “Is that you’re on your own.”
“I will quite happily give you coin to get you cleaned up etc., etc., etc. To get you to be however presentable you want to feel but…
“I don’t need you to go with us, if you don’t feel safe doing it.”  Korra interrupted. 
“Let me see…” Strike cut in. 
“I do understand that you don’t want to be here at all.” Korra tried again. 
“…I’m currently in the city of, well that can only be described as a lifelong enemy of ALL…”
Before Strike could finish a huge shovel sized hand slapped down on his shoulder and a voice, much too worse for drink managed to slur “Why don’t you Northlanders fuck off back to where you fucking belong?” The stench of sour beer filling the space between us as the owner of the hand leaned into our group over Strike’s shoulder, bleary eyed and swaying. 
“Why don’t you go away?” Strike said not even looking over his shoulder. 
“Go away? This is our city! It’s not for your sort. Fuck off back to the North!”
“I don’t wanna hurt you.” Strike warned, I was not too sure if he was lying. 
He drained his clay mug, the taxing conversation must be leaving him thirsty before slamming it down on the sticky, beer stained wooden counter top. 
“Oh it’s like that is it?” He slurred again before rolling his grubby sleeves up over his shoulders, swaying as he does so
Strike sighed, his shoulders slightly sagging at the unfair combat. Before I could blink he dropped and scythed the drunks’ legs from underneath him.
The man never stood a chance. He fell to the floor like a sack full of stones. As his head struck the sawdust he lay very still.
Has he killed him? I looked to Korra who is thinking exactly the same thing. Is there some Northlander fighting style that kills their enemies with one well aimed kick? 
Then from the floor came a low, rolling snore of the terminally inebriated and I remembered to breathe again.
Now a few people have noticed us. Interested faces peer around and the sound of chairs being slowly scraped back warily. 
“He’s drunk!” Strike shouted to the room.
Seeing the recumbent figure on the floor, obviously he had a reputation for trouble and seeing he decided to pick on a Northlander all interested parties shrug shoulders and went back to their drinks. 
A bald, fat jowly gentleman dressed in an apron almost as dirty as the floor, no, that would indicate the floor was almost sanitary, no, it was almost as dirty as the bar top, made of roughhewn cloth walks over, cleaning a tankard in the traditional way of spitting into it and wiping it with a corner of his apron.
“What’ll it be then sir, ladies?” in the jovial tone of all bar keeps.
“The two ladies would like a room. Please. To bathe and freshen” Strikes voice as smooth as oil. 
“Right you are. Right you are. Err, well we got plenty o’ rooms, it all depends on, err, what type of rooms, if you understand me.” He said rubbing his finger and thumb together. 
“A nice one.” Strike said. 
“A clean room.” Korra added. 
“Ah well, that’ll cost you a little bit more sir. How nice are we talking sir? I can see you’re a man of discerning taste.” He said lying through his teeth. “By the way, don’t worry about old Reg down there, he’s always getting in trouble with someone.”
“I’m not.” Strike confessed. 
“There were some sailors from the Sapphire Islands here a few nights back, he’s got a beef with everybody. To be honest if it hadn’t been for you he normally gets his arse kicked three times a week by the regulars. I wouldn’t worry about it. But as you say I can see you’re not. But, um, yeah, it depends on how nicer room you want really.” The bar keeper continued without us really asking.
“A room as nice as ten gold pieces.” Strike suggested. 
“Oh, ten gold pieces? I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I was catering to the nobility sir.” His voice becoming jollier at the prospect. 
“Oh, well, erm, I erm.” The bar tender seemed to lose the power of speech for a heartbeat. 
“We would also like some clean dresses.” Korra requested.
The Bar Keeper looked a little out of his depth. 
“Oh, dresses? I’m, I’m…”
“Or at least advice on where to get them” Korra took pity on him. 
“…Well you’d need to head in the city a bit, Miss. Here in the outer quarters we don’t have much call for such finery, it’s a bit out of my league I’m afraid Miss.” 
“While they bathe and freshen up, I shall find them clothes.” Strike offered. 
“To be honest, you all look nice enough people. Tell you what, don’t let it be said that old Samson ever tried to rip a costumer off. I’ll be honest with you, ten gold pieces? I’d give you at least a week’s stay for that, how long are you looking to stay for?” 
“Possibly a week, I don’t know. They haven’t been to see who they need to see yet.” Strike answered. 
“Tell you what, how about you give us five coins now that will get you a few days. If you decide to stay for the rest of the week, you gimme the other five coins then.” 
Strike dropped half the pile into Samson’s hand which quickly disappeared into a large pocket on the front of his apron disguised with food remnants and assorted stains. 
“Would you care for, oh of course key! Sorry.” He reached behind him to a rough wooden board behind him, hooks had been screwed into the wood some empty, some still holding old, slightly rusted keys showing available rooms.
“Who? Miss” Sampson asked gesturing for someone to take the key. Without thinking I held out my hand, I had only dealt with wood, flint and other jungle sourceable materials before, I had never really come into contact with metal before.
“Thank you.” I said as my fingers closed around the metal. 
“What have you got in the lines of really strong ale?” Strike asked looking behind Sampson towards the barrels lying on their side with a tap hammered into the lid. There did not seem to be names of any sort but different animals drawn onto the cover above the tap.
As the cold iron touched my flesh I felt a sudden freeze surge up my arm. My body stiffened the only time I had felt such a bitter chill was when I was in Silanthus’ chamber inside the ziggurat watching the horrors unfold before me in my vision.
In self-preservation my hand pulled away, and before the key clattered to the floor Strike caught it with snake like speed. 
“Is your friend alright Sir?” Sampson asked with a concerned nod towards me. 
“Sorry but I’ve not seen owt like that before, no offence meant Ma’am.”
“No, none at all.” I replied looking at my hand for any damage, how could so much pain come with no injury at all?
“She’s just odd.” Strike brushed off. 
“It bit me!” I said in my defence against Strike’s comment.
They all looked at me as if I had gone crazy. 
“I tell you what Sir, I do feel a bit bad about your friend and whatever’s just happened.” He said reaching into his front pocket and producing five gold coins. “Here’s your coin back and we’ll say no more about it. To be honest business is slow at the moment, so err…” 
“Then surely it’s in your best interest…” 
“Alright, as you wish Sir, just trying to be friendly, you know.” 
“I understand you have to live.” 
“Much appreciated Sir, much appreciated. The rooms up the stairs, first on your left, you can’t miss It.” 
“Now about that strong ale?” Strike sounded happier. 
“Oh, yeah. We’ve got plenty of ale Sir, what would you like?” He asked gesturing at the barrels. 
“Something dark” He replied. Well there was no change there then. He pointed to a board with a boar painted on. 
“Oh a bit of the old Stiffbristle? Good choice Sir, good choice. How much did ya want, bearing in mind? No I’m sure you know your beers Sir, but it is a potent brew Sir, we only usually serve it in glasses no bigger than that Sir…” He said showing Strike a small tumbler. “…But it’s up to you. I’d personally choose half a pint, but well you can see I’m getting on a bit.”
“Then I will try a half.” 
The thick black soup like brew was passed over. 
“Wassat?” I ask watching the glass with interest. 
“Beer.” Strike replies before taking a mouthful. “If I remember correctly…”
“Is it the same stuff we drank on that ship?”
“No that was wine.” He said wiping the foam off his lip with the back of his sleeve. 
“So what’s the difference?”
“Sorry, if you don’t mind me asking? Where abouts are you from Miss, where you don’t know the difference between wine and ale?” Sampson started to laugh but stopped when he saw I was serious. 
“She’s from the forest.” Strike answered, keeping his explanation to a minimum. 
“Woowh, what the Jungle?” 
“Yeah.” Strike tried to answer with a mouth full of ale. 
“Whew, we’ve been hearing some strange things about the jungle recently.” Sampson said shaking his head. 
“Yeah, we’ve seen them!” I confirmed
“Well, that’s why we’re here.” Korra tried to tell her story but was ignored.
He leaned over the bar towards me. 
“Did you want the same Miss?”
“No, she’ll just have water.” Strikes voice seemed to exit out of my mouth.
Sampson looked at him as if he had just insulted his mother. 
“I’m sorry Sir, we don’t keep stocks of water.” He almost shuddered at the word. 
“I believe we will each have a glass of the rabbit.” Korra cut in quickly. 
“Yeah? Really Miss? Oh, well we have plenty in, there’s not much call for the old Hopfoot round here, but good choice Miss. Pint? Or half?”
“Pint please.”
The bar keeper poured out two pints of pale ale. It looked like someone’s water infection.
Strike must have seen my wary look. 
“It’s made with fermented hops, wheat, barley…”
“Wine is made from grapes, this is grains.” Korra tried a little more successfully. 
“That’s the difference.” Strike concurred. 
“You mean fermented as in gone off?” I was very confused, why would you consume something rotting?
“Yeah.” Strike seemed happy with this. 
“You mean rotting?” I had to check. 
“But in a very special way.” Korra chipped in. Oh well then that was perfectly acceptable then. 
“Okay.” I didn’t say what I wanted to, I did not want offend my friends.
Korra could see I wasn’t convinced and tried a different way. 
“It’s like cooking but with time.” Now I was totally confused. 
“Okay.” I felt that was the only safe word at this point. 
“Conceder it this way, you drink it. You make a face but feel slightly better for drinking it so you drink a bit more. And a bit more, and a bit more. You don’t have to drink it.” Strike added, nearly at the bottom of his own glass. 
“No, no. I’ll be fine.” I said taking very small sips.
While we were enjoying our drinks Sampson leant into our group over the bar, whatever he said next he didn’t want people to overhear.
 “Oh yeah, I heard tell off some travellers who came in the other day. Nice little family, you know, traveling on a cart. I heard tell that to the west of the jungle, a few settlements there have been overrun by…” He leant in a bit closer, the smell of stale sweat and beer getting a little stronger, his voice dropping a little lower in a conspiratorial whisper. “…Been overrun by these err, spider things they say.” He said with a nod and a wink. 
“We saw no spiders while we were there.” Korra admitted. 
“Spiders, spiders?” I spoke quietly to myself. 
“You should think yourself lucky then Miss, 
“There are many things to fear in the jungle…” Korra tried to interrupt him
“The way I hear it, spiders Miss, spiders as big as a horse, can you imagine that? Biggest spider I’ve ever seen was only about that.” Sampson finished with his finger and thumb a few spaces apart. He was determined not to let this bit of gossip be stopped by mere fact.
I was not listening to his stories, I was to remember the last time anyone had seen one of the creatures. Yes the story was true there were spider creatures bigger than horses but they only lived in the very depths of the jungle and were very quiet, territorial animals. The only reason the Elves had seen them and other race’s hadn’t was that they had never travelled deep enough for them to be found. It was very unusual for them to be outside their territories, let alone attacking human settlements. 
“Where did you say the settlement was Sampson?” I kept my thoughts to myself for the time being. 
“Pfft, err, just a few days to the south, on the south edge of the jungle Miss.”
“They shouldn’t do that.” I said sounding as baffled as I was. 
“And people shouldn’t come back from the dead.” Strike argued. 
“Yes, yes I know that I mean…” I argued back. 
“What do you mean come back from the dead?!” Sampson’s interest suddenly renewed. 
“I’ve seen people come back from the dead in the Jungles…” Strike began to explain until Korra interrupted. 
“Gather round my friends, I shall tell you a tale.” Korra reached for her lute. 
“Listen to the bard.” Strike instructed.
Everyone in the house listened enraptured to Korra who spent the rest of the evening reciting the tales, mainly Elven she had collected along her travels. Her hypnotic tones transporting me back once again to my people I found myself feel a pang of sorrow as I relived the departure of my kind. At the end of the evening Sampson pressed five coins into her hand. Korra went to give them back and he shook his head. 
“No, no. I insist. To be honest it’s the quietest, trouble free night I’ve had in a long time. If you ever think of leaving whatever you’re doing behind and want more steady work… don’t get me wrong, I won’t be able to pay you the world but, but…”
“Thank you but I wouldn’t be able to keep making songs if I didn’t keep having adventures.” Korra said tactfully. 
“Well I can see your point.”
“And hopefully the subject of my next song will tell the tale of how we persuaded the king to protect this city.”
To Sampson this was incredibly funny. He threw his head back and had to hold his rotund belly to stop it shaking from the depth of his laugh. 
“Persuade the king, very funny Miss, very funny.” Again he stopped when he realised Korra was sincere. 
“Ah.”
“Oh, you’re being serious?”
“The songs aren’t made up. There truly are monsters and things rising from the dead, they are headed this way!” Korra said upset. 
“Oh, I don’t make any judgments against you Miss. If you’re hoping your next song is about you persuading the King, then I expect it’s going to be a very short limerick Miss.”
“Oh?”
“Well I heard that the Kings been in absolute outrage since he discovered all those statue things under the mountain when some people snuck in and filched some of them.”
“I believe they were coming back.” Strike tried to correct him. 
“Well, that’s the other part of it Sir. Since there was this weird storm over the city and there was this weird voice, everyone heard it. It came booming down from the sky, I even heard it myself Sir, saying the wall is threatened. And the next thing we knows all these statues come marching out of the mountains so I heard it from the stone smiths working up around there. All comes marching out towards the Old Wall, you know at the bottom of the Great Peaks all just lined up facing outwards against this wall. I heard a couple of guards tried to get in the way the just got shoved aside. I mean, none of them really got injured, whatever these things are didn’t seem interested but obviously the Kings seen it as a major security threat so, well you may have noticed there was hardly anyone out on the street when you came into the City? It’s because of the curfew Sir. To be honest you should consider yourself lucky you haven’t come across any guards yourself.”
“Oh I consider myself very lucky.” Strike admitted. 
“That’s why I was so surprised to see you walk in here to be honest. Basically the people we’ve got me here are in for the night. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for business, what with me renting out rooms and suchlike. Obviously with people with nowhere to go, they drink a bit more, get a bit rowdy, have no homes to go to, yeah that’s fine but the amount I’m taking in damages well that’s why I was so glad when your friend here started singing, it’s the quietest it’s been in a long time. Anyway I’m sure you want to get some sleep, I’ll let you get to it, and I’ve got slops to mop out anyway.” Sampson explained as he grabbed a mop and bucket whose water was nearly the same colour as the ale Strike had been drinking.
After our lengthy but enlightening chat with Sampson it was clear that we had to find someone else to find an audience with first.
From the general coconscious of the bar, who had warmed to Korra to the point where a few had dragged the recumbent Reg out of the way into an empty booth so his snores would not disturbed the story telling? A name that kept cropping up was that of the Kings seneschal Uzriel Godric. Strike found this a little strange as Godric was a Northlander name, not one usually heard in service to the King, what with the unrest between the two lands. Another was the head of the City Guard a woman by the name of Salandra Drummond, a woman, according to Sampson could give the statues a few lessons in stoniness. 
“This Godric, is he an Orc?” Strikes curiosity getting the better of him. 
“Well Sir it has been said, not that I’m one to gossip.” The bar tender should have been struck down at such a blatant lie “But there has always been rumours that his family originally came from the North. Now, obviously being in the high positon he is he doesn’t tend to take to kindly to, I know he was born in the Kingdome but there has always been rumours that there is a bit of Northlander in his blood, officially his last names Goodric. He gets a bit touchy if anyone pronounces it wrong but he’s one of the high ups in the City I don’t have any dealings with them sorts, I keeps me head down, runs me business, you know, best way, best way.”
“And how would one go about getting an audience with the seneschal would you think?”
“Beats me Miss, beats me, I don’t have dealings with thems in there.”
 “You’d probably do better having a chat with the Head of the City Guard. The City Guard has patrols out everywhere, what with the current security threat but I’m sure you could convince one of them, what with your voice and that. I’m sure you could convince one of them to take you to a meeting with the Captain but the seneschal, he’s a bit more difficult, he holds the purse strings of the Kingdom. They’d never let a commoner like me go and see him.”
Hearing this Korra turned to Strike. 
“I assume you don’t want to be with us for this?”
“Oh now do I want to go and find the Head of the City Guard?” Strike asked sarcastically. 
“I also understand if you don’t. Although it would be much more of a winning argument if you were there.” She said pointing at me, ignoring Strike. 
“I’m judging that you want to do this in the morning, unless you want to break this curfew?” Strike asked. 
“Yeah, obviously we’ll wait ‘till curfews over.” Korra agreed. 
“Of course it’s a faster way of meeting the City Guard if we break the curfew.” Strike continued his one man conversation. 
“Hmm, yeah. I’d rather not turn up on the wrong side.” Korra maintained.
Strike just shrugged. 
“We may need them to be friendly.” Korra reasoned.
The bar was almost deserted so we took our cue and went to our room leaving Sampson to tidy up.
We found our room quite easily at the top of the stairs. It was a basic room with three beds around the inner walls and a shuttered window on the outer wall but it was clean and ours for as long as we wanted. 
Looking out the window before the shutters closed was an education. The flat roofed buildings squeezed together down the main roads that reminded me of spokes I had recently seen on the wheels of carts with the Palace in the centre with even more buildings wedged in between. The houses showing the status of their owners, the rich near to the Palace, then the middle class and finally the poor towards the outskirts of the City where we were.
Korra and Strike stood with me at the window and we decided the best plan was to go as near to the richer quarters as possible before we got stopped and asked our business. 
Closing the shutters Korra showed me the purposes of bath, sponge and soap. 
Down in the now lifeless bar Sampson must have been shaking his head as he heard my shocked voice shout suck questions as “You do WHAT with THAT?!” and “What’s that foamy thing?” Once the great ceremony of bathing, washing and changing into clean clothes had been completed we each clamed a bed.
These straw stuffed bags of cloth were a lot different to what I was used to in the jungle. They itched more for one, the expanse of moss which I used never felt as if things, big things were crawling around. The padding at one end of the bed was harder than a log. I wrestled with it for a while before flinging it to the floor and using my bag and arm instead.
I was enduring a restless sleep, being disconnected from the lands didn’t help, neither did the closed in felling from sleeping in an enclosed box but the unfamiliar bed made it almost impossible to rest. It felt as if I had only just closed my eyes when I heard shuffling from one side of the room.
Moonlight poured in from the now open shutters to reveal Strike’s outline, rapier in hand, cautiously peering out of the window before his half his shape disappeared out of the opening. 
“What ye doin?” I whisper from my bed. 
“Going to see who that figure is at the end of the street.” I heard Strike hiss, he sounded further away than I expected. 
“What?”
“Come to the window!” He shouted as loud as he dared.
I padded over to the window and looked down. There was a piece of torn cloth, possibly a shawl pinned to the windowsill with a rusted dagger. He looked up before shifting his weight, the dagger moved slightly.
Look down main thoroughfare it was totally deserted except for a hunched figure, arms hanging lifelessly at the silhouettes side. I looked back to Strike who was now dangling half way down the building
“I’m gona go find out, it’s important.”
“Do you want some help?” Wanting him to say no.
“No. You stay here.” I was relieved to hear but something in his voice told me it was going to be dangerous so I stayed to watch from the window, uncertain as to what aid I would be able to give.
Strike, recognising his sister’s shawl immediately when he saw it lowered himself down with barely a sound. The figure stayed motionless roughly one hundred and fifty paces from the Inn, using the shadows Strike edged his way closer the muscle memory from his trade as a thief letting his mind assess the situation. There was, to his mind no one in the shadows waiting to ambush him but that meant nothing. Always expect the unexpected.
The figure made no movement and as he got closer he could see a face in the moonlight that last time he saw it he was gently lowering the bloodless corpse into the river.
There was a glimmer at Tibbs feet where the water had collected, the moonlight dancing on the expanding puddle. Closer still, Strike could now make out the other half of the torn shawl in one hand.
Tibbs stared blankly at Strike, almost through him. Close as he dared now Strike could see that the hasty river burial had taken its toll, pock marks and holes were the inhabitants of the water gnawed away at his flesh, a large portion of his cheek was missing revelling sinew, teeth and bone.
Looking out of the window and using the available light and keen Elven sight gifted to my people I could now see that the figure who had caused Strike so much concern was Tibbs, the merchant we met at the beginning of our journey.
The long ragged slash, once a clean cut but now jagged from where the water life had torn at the wound stretched in a curve almost from ear to ear.
Now I understood what Strike had meant when he had explained Tibbs absence with the words left him at the river to tend to his business. 
I sighed. 
Padding over to Korra’s bed I shook her gently. 
“What’s going on?” She asked when she realised it was still the middle of the night. 
“Go and look outside. But try not to be seen” I whispered.
“Where’d ya get that from?” He enquired, standing now in plain sight in front of the corpse.
Tibbs opened his mouth but the voice that came out was not Tibbs. Strike instantly recognised the deep rasping tones of Ragnar the Bloody, Chief of Strikes tribe. The man who had raped his sister and who he took revenge by poison and subsequent banishment from his tribe almost a life time ago. 
“Meet me on the south ice plain of Axehome and fight me like a man, like you should have done all those years ago. Or she will join my army.” Tibbs arm jolted forward, he reminded me of some dolls I had seen in the city, made to dance via strings. The remains of the shawl hitting Strike in the chest with a wet thump.
Memories of Sacrissa snap-shoted across Strikes mind, her homely looks obscured by her kindness and gentle manner. He smiled at the thought of how fiery she could become if provoked enough.
Strike looked at the puppet with its arm still outstretched and the embers of hatred that had been dormant for so long began to glow.
Korra and I stood back from the window a little, using the shadows to hide our presence. Although we could see what was happening we could not hear it. Tibbs, still dripping water from every orifice had opened his mouth, it had opened like the puppets on strings but I could only hear a hissing exchange of words. I could make out that it wasn’t Tibbs who spoke but I wasn’t really listening anyway, I still couldn’t believe that Strike had seen the need to kill Tibbs. No, actually I could believe that, it was the unashamed lie he had told us after I wasn’t keen on. 
“That’s not Tibbs. Well it is, but it’s not.” I hissed to Korra, just in case she hadn’t heard.
“Drop your puppet Ragnar.” Strike commanded.
The marionettes invisible strings were cut and the bloated, waterlogged corpse fell to the ground at Strikes feet creating an expanding pool where he lay.
Satisfied that the show was indeed over Strike silently crossed the cobbled street back to the Inn and up the shawl into our room. 
Without speaking he hurriedly began gathering his belongings into his bag.
Korra had just pulled the shutters together when there was a voice outside. 
“You there! Don’t you know there’s a curfew? We’ll have less of your lying in the streets, come on, get up.”
Footsteps echoed along the empty road, it sounded like three or four people were getting closer. 
“I don’t think he’s moving Sarge.”
There was a pause. 
“Eugh! Look at him! He’s all bloated up, like he’s been in water and that Sarge. You don’t think he’s come up out of the sewers do you?” Said another. 
“Nah, you don’t get any people down there.” 
“Don’t be stupid!” Said a voice used to giving commands and a sound of someone being slapped at the back of their head. 
“Sorry about that Sarge, I don’t like it is all. First all them rumours of all them things coming out of the Jungle, then these statues.”
“Listen, we don’t have time of all the rumours of the Jungle. We’ve got a city to protect, there’s a threat on our very doorstep! Let’s worry about that first shall we son? I know you’re a bit new to the game but keep it together will ya?”
“Oh yeah, yes, sorry Sarge, sorry.”
“Right. Let’s get this body off the street, we don’t want to cause a panic. We’ll take it to the commander, she can decided what to do with it.”
“Right you are Sarge.”
“Get Jones to help you lift it, it looks heavy.”
“Aww Sarge! It’s disgustin’! It’s got water comin’ out of it n everythin’! Look one of its eyeballs is hangin’ out!” That must have been Jones. 
“I don’t care! Get it off the street. Get it moved!”
There was a certain amount of inaudible grumbling and a soft dragging sound from the guard getting quieter and quieter as they made their way back to the commander.
“What did it say?” Korra asked when it was clear. 
“Got to go and fight him, so I’m going to go and fight him.” Strike muttered still stuffing his bag.
Korra took the hint and began packing up her travel bag while I stood there, still processing what had just happened. 
“No, no you go sort your Kingly business out.” He said, seeing what she was doing. 
“…Wait, you can’t go there alone.” She tried to reason with him. 
“Yeess I can. I came to this Isle alone.” Still gathering his belongings.
Korra ignored Strike and carried on packing her bag. 
“You’ve still got my flute. You aint going anywhere alone.” She finally answered. 
Overhearing that the rumours of the disturbance in the forests had reached Royal City I was worried. With all that we had seen and all that continued to be heard even this far away, something was wrong, very wrong.
“Well I’d better go kill him then.” I heard Strike say to Korra. 
“Do you really think that this creature is affecting the forest as well?”  I asked. 
“Yeah.” Strike said. 
“If the undead are taking over the edges of the forests then it may well explain the spiders…” Korra began. 
“He’s an angry spirit, their all dead and a tree has a bloody hand nailed to it. I’m gona say that it’s all related.” Strike interrupted. 
“Then I’m comin’ n’all.” I decided also grabbing my bag.
Strike shook his head. 
“I have to rebalance the forest, I have to do it.”
“If he’s not the source then he’s connected to it.” Korra chipped in. 
“Let’s go solve one problem then.” Strike said admitting defeat and slinging his bag over his shoulder. 
“Well we will have to wait until curfew ends.” Korra stated. 
“Nooo we don’t.” Strike argued back. 
“We really should.”
“Why all the roofs are flat.”
“You may be able to, but I for one cant.” I added. 
“You can fly can’t you?” Strike said with his easy smile.
There was a very long pause, as I could not find the right answer. It was either going to be yes with an if or no with a but. 
“Yes.” I settled for very aware of how little time we had. 
“Then it would appear we are going across the roof tops.” Korra declared.
On rout we decided that the quickest way to reach our destination was not to go through the wall, the panic caused by the added stone defences may have slowed our progress.
It took a few days of travel to get back to the hidden beach and as we left the city I felt the damn of the city weaken and the flow of nature slow returned.
On the first night we made camp, taking it in shifts to watch over the others while they slept. Strike had wrapped the shawl around his waist, a constant fan to the embers of hatred, preparing himself for the battle ahead.
I felt a lot more relaxed being attuned to nature once more, watching the flames dance and frolic over the kindling I could fight the call of sleep no longer and closed my eyes.
I opened my eyes, well I think I did. There was total blackness all around. There was no fire, no friends, no jungle life or foliage just a void.
I could not work out what was up or down, left or right.
Get a grip. I thought. Whatever way your feet are up then the other way is down. And you know which is your left and right side so for now go with that.
Feeling slightly better I began to look about. Still nothing presented itself as a reference point. 
“Help…Help…Help…” Came a faraway voice drifting across the black abyss, too faint to tell if it was male or female. 
“Help!…Help!…Help!…” This time the voice spoke in Elvish.
Swallowing my fear I began searching around me, possibly walking in circles but I had to try.
All of a sudden I see a tall figure, two Elven ear tips peeking through long flowing hair. The skin was not dark, like the Dark Elves but pale like mine. The figure was dressed in the woodland clothes typically warn my kind standing with its back facing me.
I took a deep mental breath. 
“I am here, can I help?”
The figure turned to the sound of my voice and the Elf stood alone in the darkness was Zephandius, the young Elf who had taken on the roll as leader after the Elders decided to leave us to our fate.
He reached out to me, trying to take my hand but as he did so something pulled him bodily backwards. 
“Help!” He shouted again and I could do nothing but watch him grew smaller and smaller until the darkness enveloped over him like oil, shrouding him from me. 
“HOW?” I shouted, waking with a start. His pleas still echoing in my ears.
I see Strike, still on watch jolt from his seat before pulling himself together and Korra stir in her sleep, mumble but did not wake.
“We walked?” He answered my question. 
“What?” Was the only coherent word from Korra. 
“We walked?” Strike repeated.
 “NO! Zephandius was in the dark, it was like I was in a void, I don’t know. There was no up, down, side, left, right, nothing. I heard a voice shout for help but it was too faint to tell where it was. Then it spoke in Elvish. Then out of the darkness was a figure…”
“Now who’s being a coward?” Strike said to himself. Not sure who he was referring to I continued. 
“…It was Zephandius, but he was sucked away before I could do anything.”
“That does not bode well” He replied flatly. 
“You think?” I had seen Humans, mainly Strike try sarcasm many times before, now seemed the right place for it. 
“Yeah.” Maybe I didn’t have it quite right yet.
Korra had stirred from her slumber and, still lying down was watching our argument. 
“Just get some rest.” Strike said gently. 
Korra had already taken his advice and had fallen back to sleep.
I hate to admit it but he was right, there was nothing I could do for Zephandius, I did not know where he was or who held him captive and we still had at least a day’s travel to get to the boat. Reluctantly I lay down.
The rest of the night was relatively untroubled and at sun rise we continued our journey.
Sure enough with the sun at its highest we crossed the peak of a hill and below us was the coast, our boat still where we left it securely in the cove.
Old habits died hard with Strike and he approached his vessel with caution. With no imminent danger we climbed aboard, checked that everything was in order, which everything did indeed appeared to be fine.
Thankfully Korra and Strike had the forethought to gather together sixteen days’ worth of rations while we were still in the city and these were stowed away before Strike released the line tethering the Longboat to the rocks and set sail.
It took little over thirteen days to reach the ocean that surrounded the Northlands, being used to sea travel now I was able to enjoy my new Surroundings. 
Watching small chunks of ice drifting past the boat told us we were no longer in the warmer waters of the Mainlands. Beyond them was a vast plain of ice, a towering shimmering bridge across the ocean that in the depths of winter connected the Northlands to the rest of the known world. It would take at least four or five days’ worth of travel to cross on foot. The ice flow looked bitterly cold, there was no ground underneath to even give it a little heat.
I wrapped my furs tighter around me as I watched my breath rise up from my mouth in a little cloud of fog. Being to Axehome had helped, the cold, biting air was not as much as a shock to my system but it was still very different to the warm, humid, bug filled air of the jungle.
Strike however was right at home, carefully navigating his way around larger hunks of ice, it even looked like his own bulk of furs had shrunken slightly.
The ice bridge grew slowly as we approached, and with only one more day of travel ahead of us Strike had slowed the ship to almost a crawl. The smaller lumps of ice bobbing around had, over the last few days seemed to be lonely and were joining together for company.
Drawing closer still to the ice bridge there was a dark line across the walkway. Gliding nearer still the dark line formed into the shapes of people, all holding a burning torch in their hands, creating a line of fire against the ice.
“So this is home. It’s a wonderful place, just beware of the great white bears.” Strike joked. 
“Hmm, yeah. We’ll just stick with you.” Korra said suspiciously, unable to tear her gaze away from the welcoming party who did look no way inviting.
There was a sound of tearing silk and a thud as a flaming arrow embedded itself in the deck. Completely unfazed by this event Strike calmly pulled an arrow from his quiver, light it and return fire. 
“Is this some form of signal?” Korra asked, watching the arrow sail into the air.
We watched it hit the ice. A few heartbeats later another answered the first, missing our boat and landing with a plop and a hiss into the water to the left of our ship.
Strike calmly pulled the still burning arrow from where it had landed in the first volley, notch it and returned it.
A gap appeared in the line of torches as the arrow hit one of the onlookers. As we waited, the sky darkened and flying through the air a vast hail of arrows climbed as high as the string that loosed them would allow. 
With the imminent rain of death Strike stayed by the wheel on the bridge of the ship and Korra at the prow, crouching behind what little cover it could give I was trapped somewhere in the middle. 
As the arrows streamed down around us I covered my head with my arms but with every step I took at least three arrows crunch into the wood around me. My instincts overrode my minds and I shape shifted into the smallest thing I could think of, a river rat and scurried into the nearby shelter of the last of the provisions.
Eventually the deluge of flaming arrows became too much for the tar treated wood of the Longboat and the flames began to lick along the deck. It did not take long for the flames to spread throughout the vessel. Strike unfurled the sails and with the chunks of ice no longer an issue, melting in heat of the floating bonfire aimed the Longboat directly at the ice flow.
From the view of the ice flow the blazing longboat, a symbol of death and an ushering into the afterlife in Strike’s tribe gliding over the calm clear water must have been a foreboding vision.
As the Longboat slid alongside the ice flow now fully ablaze, the flames from the sails licking high into the air Strike stepped off wisps of smoke and embers trailing behind with all the calm and composure of someone on a gentle stroll. 
The effect was spoilt somewhat by the now free running ship crunching into the wall of ice and slowly falling over on its side. 
Using this as a distraction I shifted back to my Elven form. Korra and I leapt onto the ice flow before the ice had chance to melt beneath the boat allowing it to sink beneath the waves. 
“Where is that testicle Ragnar?” Strike spat the question.
There was really no need to ask, the man was enormous. He was at least a head and a half taller than me and about four times as wide, the epitome of Barbarian and just as frightening as when I faced him in my vision.
He was stood dead centre of the line, mostly Northlanders, a mixture of Orcs and Humans, all with the deathly pallor of the recently and in some cases long dead about them. There are a few other tribes but no Elves. Given that Ragnar and his undead horde had rampaged thought the jungle it was very strange that none of my race was among them. Farmers, smiths, fighters yes but no Elves whatsoever. 
His army stood with the torches held high, Ragnar stepped forward, what I saw in my vision as silhouetted horns coming out form his head was actually a Northlander horned helmet. His huge bulk was covered in tattered furs and the axe that was swung at me in my vision was as foreboding, the head of the axe the size of a Human torso. I looked down at the stich’s I had repaired my forest green tunic with, hiding underneath the silver line scarred across my chest. 
“I see Death worked wonders.” Strike said, loud enough for the biggest barbarian I had ever seen to hear. 
“Death has served me well. In truth, I should thank you. If it were not for your use of a woman’s weapon against me then I would merely be a chief of a small tribe. But thanks to you I now control the very forces of death.” His voice hollow and crewel, waving his arm behind him, gesturing to his undead army. Nothing but words came from his mouth, unlike our group, whose breath crystalized as soon as it hit the icy air. 
“I look forward to depriving you of that as well.” Strike promised.
Ragnar let out a guttural laugh that shook the ice flow and hefted his mighty axe, one handed high into the air.
“Where is your weapon? Your poisons will not avail you now.” He mocked. 
“I’ve got my rapier.” 
Ragnar looked at the sword that if in his hand would look more like a needle than a blade. 
“That is a mere child’s weapon” He scoffed. 
“Then I shall take you a piece at a time.”
Taking his axe Ragnar swept the blade low to the ground, cutting a line into the ice before stepping back. 
“I’m sorry, I thought we were fighting not ice carving.”
“Then step forward and fight. Prove that you are a man.” 
“First, where is she?”
“Do you not trust me to keep my word?”
There was a long pause while Strike thought. 
“No.”
Ragnor snapped his fingers and from behind the line two shambling zombies brought forward a young woman, by Northlander values around twelve summers old struggling like a hell cat against her captors and gagged with a strip of cloth.
Satisfied that his sister was, at first glance unharmed Strike nodded. 
“Then let’s end it here.” 
As soon as the words left his mouth Ragnor, from standing start charged Strike.
There was no warning or easing himself into the run his huge axe gliding along the ground behind him. Shards of ice spewed up into the air where the blade bit into the frozen bridge and as he neared he pulled up his weapon in a great arch, swinging it towards Strike who dodged backwards, the blade scything through the air where he was just standing.
Pulling the rapier from his side Strike went to drag the blade down Ragnar’s leg as he passed him. Ragnar seemed to sense this however and brought his leg upwards, smashing Strike full in the chest. It must have felt like he had been hit with a tree, the crack from his ribs could be heard from where Korra and I stood and the blow sent Strike sprawling across the ice.
Korra watched the undead hoard carefully, they did not seem to be getting involved just yet more waiting for their master’s next command. She began to inch her way towards Strike’s sister and her two guards, intending to free her at the earliest opportunity.
I stood waiting, watching the line of undead. I had known Strike now for long enough to know that this was something he had to do himself, any outsider interference would have not been well received. However, if the hoard tried to aid their master at any time, well then that was different.
The wind was driven from Strikes body as he hit the ground but he had no time to dwell on this. He rolled to one side and the axe blade bit into the ice where Strikes head had been moments before. Fighting for breath Strike stumbled to his feet and tried to dive behind Ragnar, as he moved to get into position Ragnar’s ham sized hand whipped out and grabbed Strike by the throat and lifted him up off his feet. Strike struggled for breath as Ragnar began squeezing the life out of him. Ragnar dragged the gasping Strike towards him, taking this opportunity Strike sunk his dagger into the man mountains shoulder. This did not have the desired effect and so Strike pulled his head back and snapped it forward his forehead connecting with his attacker’s nose.
Although the force with which he struck the blow did not affect Ragnar in the same way that it would have any other man it did shatter the cartilage with a sickening crunch and he released his grip, staggering backwards still with axe in hand.
Planting his feet firmly in Ragnar’s chest Strike pushed off and summersaulted backwards. Recovering quickly Ragnar charged at full speed bringing his axe round from behind in a sweeping curve using the full force of his momentum to carry the blade.
Strike kicked off to jump over the oncoming blade but realised at the last moment that he would not make it. Dropping to his knees Strike used his own force and slid under the blade, giving him the closest shave he had ever had, grazing his face.
As he slid between Ragnor’s legs Strike thrust his blade upwards sinking it into his groin. 
Ragnor fell heavily down onto one knee using his axe to steady himself he swung his free fist down aiming to drive it into the side of his skull.
Twisting to the side the punch hit Strikes shoulder, but not hard enough to make him let go of the hilt of the embedded sword. Still sliding Strike twisted the blade and pulled it free. Ragnor unable to right himself dropped his other knee and the wounded shoulder drooped.
Strike rolled again and pulled himself up by the pelt on Ragnor’s back while bring his sword up for the final blow. As soon as he stood his arm came down driving the sword into the back of the chief’s neck. Ragnor turned to his attacker. 
“What’d you know? You can fight like a man after all.” He said with a glimmer of an impressed smile on his lips before toppling forward with a smack on to the ice sheet.
I thought there was an echo as the sound ricocheted around but my eyes were drawn to the horde who all began hitting the ground as Tibbs did in the deserted street, with their master gone the spell was broken.
Korra was the first to reach Strike’s sister who had also collapsed, through what we assumed was sheer exhaustion.
I ran over to where Korra was bent over her, hand in her bag, reaching for her musical instrument. Why had she not begun playing? Looking over Korra’s shoulder it was obvious that Strike’s beloved sister had been dead for some time, the gag had been tied round her mouth, not to quieten her cries but to hide her rotting jaw.
Strike had not seen her, he was preoccupied packing some of his deeper wounds with snow.
He looked up and saw Korra carry the slim figure, the look of relief turned to pain as he realised that Ragnar had managed to fool him one last time. I could almost hear his derisory laughter. 
“Ragnar was always a liar.” Korra tried comforting him. 
His mouth now set in a grim line Strike strode over to where the body of the chief lay and with grief driving the blade he cleaved through the man’s neck, severing his head.
Kneeling down he drew his dagger from where it protruded from Ragnor’s shoulder and began cutting the skin by the spine, exposing the bone with meticulousness care. He reached into the flayed muscle and with a nauseating crack broke the ribs and with great satisfaction levered them out resembling blood-stained wings. Finally pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim’s back, as he had done so to many of those who refused to follow him after the raid in Axehome. 
“He can’t feel it you know.” I said kindly to Strike who was now bloody up to his elbows. 
“Makes me feel better.” He said before relieving Korra of his sister who was carrying the body towards the still burning boat. I was amazed, the ice flow must be deceptively thick to still carry the fiery vessel. 
Korra spotted a scrap of rolled up parchment secured with a black ribbon peeking out from inside Ragnar’s furs as she walked over to me, giving Strike some time alone to grieve.
She undid the cord and opened the scroll. There was writing on one side that looked almost Elvish but slightly more angular.
Reading it Korra managed to make sense of what looked like a tally sheet of prisoners who had been handed over. In the list she read almost thirty Elven names, one of which was Zephandius. Showing me the list I read that these named had been handed over to, someone or something referred to as The Child. 
“Oh yes, I remember this.” Korra spoke. 
“Oooh!” I said as the memory flashed before my eyes. 
“Do tell.” Strike said with mock sweetness. 
“There was a story of my people that there was a child born, this child was special as it had been centuries since any child had been conceived, the village that the child lived in was burnt to the ground, about to undergo some rite of passage.”
“We all assumed that the child perished in the fire.”
“But there were some that held onto the belief that he had somehow been saved and raised by others who had come across the ruins of the village and brought him up as their own. The ruins of the settlement we found at the beginning of our journeys was those ruins.” Korra and I cut in over each other, reminding Strike of the tale. 
“From hearing the tales in the Ziggurat I came to the conclusion that Orcs found him and thus begun the Dark Elves.” Korra ended.
Strike stood listening to us while still holding the body of his sister.
Ignoring us he placed her reverently onto the deck and pushed the boat into the water where the waves claimed the ship and took her on her journey to Valhalla.
Dragging Ragnar’s corpse to the edge of the ice he hacked a chunk from the flow and with no ceremony kicked the headless body into the wastelands. Grabbing the head by its hair he spun on the ball of his foot and launched it into the water. 

“Right. We need another boat.”

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 4

Written by Kelly Grimshaw who plays the Elven druid Demanor in the game.
After the fires had died away on Strike’s uncles’ longboat we set to the huge task of sending the rest of Axehome to Valhalla. As no one had been spared it took three extra boats to usher them into the otherworld and when the flames began to spread we said farewell to the crumbling village and prepared for our own journey.
Once on board with the smouldering ruins of Axehome were far behind us it was decided that I was to be quartermaster, Korra who had still not quite recovered from her injuries was to take station as watchman so she could rest and heal herself while sitting high in the crowns nest and Strike, the only person who actually knew how to sail a ship took the wheel.
The sound of the sea and the creaking of the boat were similar to river boat trips I had taken many times before but the motion of the boat was a lot different. I would say it was what you think it would feel like to walk on a cloud. 
After a few days I managed to feel the rhythm in the gentle rocking motion and it was as if I was on land once more.
The sea birds were different too. Large and fearless, swooping down on us occasionally in hope of a beak full of something. With a shrill cry that if shrieked by a large group of the sharped beaked, large talon, evil beady eyed creatures set my teeth on edge.
The ship, Strike’s own long ship he had originally sailed from the Northlands following his banishment had been designed to accommodate one person, Strike. So with the three of us occupying the small space and the rations that he had originally stocked to sustain himself I had to share them out carefully. 
Long ago, when I was an apprentice however I had learned to take nourishment from the land which helped our circumstances but not by much.
From the looks of the skies and the seas Strike guessed that it would take us around ten days to complete our journey. This was our first problem. 
It was going to take around eleven rations worth of food to get us through the journey but with careful planning and being able to provide for myself I was able to stretch the food little further.
Korra, more busy writing up her Elvan memoirs than keeping watch was quiet for about three days only acknowledging our existence when food appeared.
On the third day I had to admit the rations were running pretty low. 
“We’re gonna need some fish.” Strike announced after hearing my report. 
Strike explained that back home the sea was frozen most of the seasons and that sometimes the ice could be thicker than the height of a man, those conditions he was used to. The almost tropical climate compared to the frozen Northlands he was not, and this was evident in his lack of fish. 
“Now I’m thinking, if only we had a shape changing person on board.” He smiled.
I took the not so subtle hint and with a running start dove over the side.
Traveling through the air I could feel my legs merge together and my feet grew longer and flatter taking the form of a tail. My arms, still over my head blended with my neck and my hands, firmly pressed together became the nose of a dolphin. 
“Now I am going to find a hook and line. DO NOT SWIM INTO THE HOOK AND LINE!” He shouted after me. 
“Or I’ll sell you by the pound at the harbour.” He mumbled to himself.
The warm water felt good after four days of sitting aboard the boat. Although I enjoyed the new experiences that the sea had to offer it was all wrong.
The air was fresh and cool, the sun beat down making my skin dry and tight, I missed the warm, damp air of the jungle and the shade it provided. Shape shifting into a river dolphin and chasing the fish this way and that making them flash like a silver coin in a peat diggers hand reminded me of home.
Korra had been left to keep watch while Strike and I went fishing but the hunger pangs had taken her concentration and it was a complete surprise when the silhouette of a large vessel appeared out of the morning mist followed by the sound of a ringing bell coming from aboard the ship.
“THERES A BOAT!” Korra shouted. “OVER…THERE…FRONT AND LEFT!”
Strike turned his attention from the fishing lines at the rear of the ship to where Korra was pointing.
On hearing this I stopped driving the fish towards Strikes lines and stuck my head out above the water. From my viewpoint I could not see the ship and quickly decided staying in animal form may be better if we were to be attacked. Quite what I could do as a dolphin I was unsure but it was still a plan.
As the medium galleon loomed out of the mist its colours became visible. They were not shy about their colours, the sails were a deep emerald green with a golden peregrine falcon, embroidered with care on green cloth, its wings outstretched, talons tucked beneath it, ready to strike its prey, very similar in stance of the stone sculpture in the long house in Axehome encircled in a horseshoe wreath of forest leaves native to the Sapphire Island. 
With the wind in the sails it was a formidable sight but a picture paints a thousand words and Strikes face showed that he preferred the set in stone version.  
“It’s no threat, those are trading colours of House Foldor of the Sapphire Islands.” Korra yelled.
It was obvious from the way they had adjusted their course that they had spotted us far earlier than we had spotted them. 
“HO THERE!” Korra shouted as they came along side. 
“Ahoy there!” Came the reply
“Ahoy there!” Korra returned. 
“What’s your business in these waters?” The voice came back. 
“Fish!” Strike yelled, not missing a beat. 
“We have to warn them.” Korra hissed back to Strike. 
“Do we?” Strike mouthed back
“Come along side. May we come aboard?” Korra yelled back to the ship. “To stop all the shouting.” She added quietly. 
“Of course, come a little closer and we’ll send the gang plank over.” The voice instructed. 
“I am not a fan if this.” Strike muttered.
Hearing that the ship was of no threat I dived under the surface and pushed up out of the water.  I leaped towards the long ship and almost too late I realised I would not be able to make it on deck I quickly shape shifted back to my Elven form and grabbing onto the side, pulled myself up the rest of the way.
“That’s still weird.” Strike mumbled as I landed beside him.
Standing to one side of the gateway was a number of Human crewmen in what I only assumed was what sailors usually wore. Good quality, heavy cotton shirts and trousers designed for quality rather than prettiness, from first look I was not able to distinguish between the Elder and the rest of the men. Most of them were wearing scarfs and squares of emerald coloured cloth over their heads, possibly to protect them from the sun but never being on such a large vessel it could be anyone’s guess.
Strike, knowing more than I threw a rope over and the well set men easily pulled us closer. Tying their end to a peg in the handrail a long plank a little wider than shoulder width was pushed across. 
There was a faint tingle of a thunderstorm in the air and one or two spots of rain hit the rough wooden floor planks, Strike must have sensed it too as he began securing any ropes and dropped the anchor, it was that or he was just putting off the moment when he had to board.
The two ships remained locked together and taking Korra’s lead I followed her on the galleon, taking the outstretched hand of one of the sailors for balance.
I was happy for what I was informed was my sea legs as it looked as if the men were in a home away from home but thankfully the ship was surprisingly steady from what we were used to.
Closer to, I could see the difference in the shipmen’s clothing of that of their captain. 
It was the same clothes the crew men wore but the Captain was privileged to own a waxed suede long leather coat the colour echoing the emerald sails to protect him from the worst of the elements. 
I looked back to the long boat where Strike had stayed behind to prepare and salt the fish that had leapt onto the deck in blind panic to escape my predatory form.
The wind had dropped, another indicator of the oncoming storm and the organic sounds coming from the back of Strike’s boat as clear as if he was standing next to us. The larger vessel creaked alarmingly but watching the men as calm as ever I tried to ignore it. The waves lapping against the side began creeping higher and higher as the sea prepared for the forthcoming storm, and I noticed seagulls wheeling overhead, daring to snatch morsels that Strike was throwing overbore became fewer and fewer.
I looked toward Korra, whom seemed more at ease than I studying the Captain for a few moments then sudden recognition dawned that she had seen him before. The Captain had not yet seen her and was busy shouting orders to men to secure ropes and sails to protect his ship. He paused for moment, stuck his index finger in his mouth then held it up, I had seen Strike do this before to check the direction of the wind. He nodded to himself then yelled “Looks like a storm, take the sails in, batter everything down, just in case!”
“Aye sir!” Comes reply from several points on the ship. 
“Are we better apart or together in a storm?” Korra asked. 
The Captain, seeing her concern walked closer. 
“With a boat as small as your own, it won’t really matter being tethered alongside. As long as the storm doesn’t hit us ridiculously bad. The winds it picking up a little though.” He said pulling he collar up around his neck without thinking to offer a little more protection.
Strike had now finished preserving our catch and began pulling in his own sails and tightening any loose ropes to lessen the blows while he was away. 
“Back to the business in hand. We’ve come across…” Korra begins, trying to gain the Captains attention. 
“Pleasure to meet you, Michael Folder.” He said, noticing us for the first time. 
“Err, Korra of house Leanessa. She said taking his outstretched hand. 
“Ah yes, I had a second cousin who married one of the Leanessas’.” He paused trying to recall the name. 
“Perhaps Mildred?” Korra said coming to his rescue. 
“Yes, yes you know her?” He said, a little embarrassed at forgetting the name. 
“Married to Thomas?”
“Yes that’s right. Personally I saw him as a bit of a lubber myself, I didn’t see the match working but if she is happy then, who is to argue.”
“He is my father’s second nephew, once removed. I think I went to the wedding.” Korra explained further. 
“Unfortunately I was too busy. The life of a trader, I am never in one place for very long. So unfortunately I didn’t make it. I need to send a gift and my regards but that was all I was able to do” He said waiving his hand trying to add weight to his weak excuse and hoping she would ignore the inconsistency. 
“And have you been trading along this coast for long?”
“Oh yes, yes. I have the honour of the regulars, I suppose you might call me. You…”
“How far south have you travelled?” Korra tried to hide her impatiens 
“Well we largely stay close to this stretch of coastline. Trading between different places and the Sapphire Islands, the Kingdom and the heart of the Royal City. In fact you are lucky you caught us a few more days and we would have begun our journey back to the Sapphire Islands. Erm, we have just finished our recent round of trading.”  Captain Mikhail boomed. Neither myself or Strike had any trouble hearing him, he seemed incapable of speaking quietly, shouting ordered across the wide deck being second nature to him. 
“We’ve been down south, there is a lot going on there. We need to get back to the Kingdoms as fast as possible.” Korra said, completely understating the chaos raging through the jungle lands. 
“Oh, you only have about four days travel in that direction.” He pointed behind us before continuing. “You will see the statues and the wall of the cities harbour.”
“Oh, I see.” She said to Folder before turning to us. 
“Do we want to send this guy with the message?” She whispered. 
“Give him the message, yes.” Strike replied from the safety of his boat.
Korra nodded before turning back to the Captain. 
“Are you going back into the Kingdom?” She asked casually. 
“No, no as I’ve said we have concluded our trading, we’re heading back to the Sapphire Islands. Although given how the weather’s looking at the minute, if all of you would care to join me on board this evening as my guests, I’ll be more than happy to provide you with a meal for the evening. It’s, its rare on these journeys to come across someone from the home Islands, your friends as well, I err…” He stopped, aware that we still had not been made known to him. 
“This is Will he is of the North.” She pointed to Strike 
Strike waved a greeting but carries on busying himself with no inclination of moving.
 “This is Demanor of the Elvan Kingdoms.”
The piercing cry of gulls broke the silence as the Captain waited politely for further explanation. 
“To the East, sorry, the South East. They are all gone now” She tried to clarify further. 
“The forests.” Korra tried again after seeing nothing but a blank look. 
“Sorry, the sea is where I do most of my work, I only come on land to trade, load my ship or the rare family occasion I cannot weasel my way out of.” 
He had never heard of my people, I felt weightless and I could hear the blood pounding in my ears, so soon had my race been forgotten. 
“That’s fair. I would suggest that no one goes south of the wall for the moment.” Korra continued
Fair? What was so fair about a whole race vanishing from memory?
“Well no, we certainly wouldn’t intend to, we’re a trade vessel.” Mikhail continued, completely unaware of my internal grief. 
“There’s a lot going on there. There seems to be two separate armies attacking the colonies.” Korra cautioned. 
“That is indeed troubling.” He looked down, pausing to think. “What say we all head down to the galley? I’ll have our chef prepare some food for us all, if your friend would care to come across as well they are more than welcome to join us then we can sit down and discuss this over a meal like civilised folk. ”
“Going below may be a good idea to get us out of this weather, I’ll certainly extend your invitation to them.” Korra agreed looking over the side. The waves were visibly higher than before, the calm waters now swirled and churned driven by the increasing wind.
“Sorry, Elf did you say?” Mikhail said turning for the first time towards me. 
“Yes” I confirmed quietly, trying to hide my distress. 
“You are more than welcome.” He stuttered. 
The Captain turned and began making his way to a closed hatch in the floor, lifting it we could see a set of narrow steps leading down into a dimly lit corridor. 
“You do eat meat don’t you?” Korra asked in a careful tone, slightly afraid of the answer. 
“Oh yes, when needed.” I reply a bit puzzled at her suggestion that others would not.
Satisfied that all checks had been made at least three time and that there was no more excuses to stay aboard Strike walked onto the gang plank. The sailor who had helped us across still waiting for the final visitor held out his hand.
Strike stopped and looked at the offering. Taking a step back you would have thought that he had been offered a maggot ridden piece of meat before Strike continued, completely ignoring the crewman who just shrugged, pulled the gangplank back and resumed his normal duties.
Lead by Mikhail we wandered through the dank corridors lit by oil lamps, dipped as low enough to see by but not so much that if knocked over could be extinguished easily of the ship to large galley. It could have been a grand place but the ways of the crew and the captain were simple. In the centre stood a large wooden table, which could easily sit twenty men at once. There were chairs but mostly barrels and crates have been dragged in to make more seating. The broken seats pulled to the side in the shadows stored as firewood to fuel the cooking fire in the kitchen, again like most of this ship the furniture was for function not comfort. 
Captain Mikhail drew a chair at the head of the table and placed his hands on the smooth surface worn down by years of scrubbing. We took our seats and a loud creaking sound could be heard as the heavy wooden door was pushed open. In bustled a chubby, re haired cook, no stranger to a meal dressed in a well-used apron. 
“Oh yes, yes cap’n.” Wiping hands on a square of cloth I was told called a handkerchief “what will it be cap’n, are you ready to eat?” 
“Yes, yes, if you could have some food brought in for our guests as well, James. Err what do you have in at the moment?”
“Well cp’n we are fully stocked, we took on provisions when we docked at the Royal City.”
He looked at Korra and smiled broadly, happy to see others aboard. 
“Is there anything particular I can get you? I know the cp’n.  Prefers plain simple food but I have been well trained I can prepare many other dishes” desperation of cooking something else rising off him like steam. 
“Meat.” Strike cut in before Korra could answer. 
“Meat? Yes, we do have some very fine salt beef we picked up in Royal City.”
“If it’s meaty and it’s got a bone in it, you win.” Strike interrupted the cook
“Very good sir, very good. And how about the two of you ladies?” James looked over turned to us cupping hands together with anticipation. 
“May I have Cassoulet, I am missing home and haven’t had the dish for months.” Korra asked brightly.
James’s eyes welled with tears of joy at Korra’s request. 
“My dear lady, it would be my absolute pleasure. There are so few people nowadays know how to make a decent Cassoulet, I pride myself on my own, unfortunately here I do feel it is a little bit sophisticated for the rougher pallets we have around here.” Shooting the Captain an exasperated glance.
The Captain leant on the table in desperation, obviously he had heard the cook’s speech before. He waved his hand in a circular motion to hurry chef along, getting the hint James turned his attention on me. 
“And how about you, my lady?”
I had never had any human food before, even when traveling around the jungles back home I either managed to sustain myself off nature or when the occasion called for it Elven food. I had no idea where to start but wanted to try everything. 
“Erm. To be honest, I have never tried human food before so I would like to try the Cassoulet, is that what it’s called?”
“Ah, oh, excellent! Excellent! Cp’n.?” Again the cook threatened to burst into tears. So very happy to introduce someone to his own food and excuse to cook different meals for a change. 
“Oh, just the usual porridge will do for me.” Foldor sighed at the excitable chef before waving him away.
Thinking that the captain was not looking James rolled his eyes in his direction, exasperated at the lack of adventure. 
“Yes cp’n, of course. Coming right up.” He gave a heartfelt sigh before rolling his eyes again.
Noticeably deflated at the request he loped off to kitchen to prepare our food.
Soon the sound of banging pots and pans and prep work filters through the walls and before we could begin a conversation the door thumped against the wall and in bustled James laden with large trays of steaming food.
“There we are sir.” The cook said as he handed Strike a large platter of what looked to be a chard lump of flesh with a pale yellow bone jutting out of one side.
The cook looked relived before handing a steaming large bowl of white coloured thick bean stew with flecks of green herbs and shards of dark pink meat to first Korra then myself.
I inhaled deeply and instantly my mouth watered, it smelt of stews served to me in my childhood when it was only light for a few hours a day and the wind bit hard. 
“That’s for you, and you my ladies.”
“Thank you.” Korra answered and so did I. 
“There’s your porridge cap’n” James said with a hint of disappointment before unceremoniously dumping a bowl of thick white paste in front of the captain.
 “Err, yes. Yes very good, err James. That will be all. 
Nodding to Mikhail then to us the cook left us to enjoy our food.
Strike looked around his portion of the table, looking delighted that there was no tableware, he picked up the lump the bone and ripped a mouthful off with his teeth.
“What is that please?” I ask pointing to charred lump. 
“Err beef.” Strike answer was slightly muffled. 
“What is beef?”
“Cow.” Korra and Strike answer just after each other. 
“A four legged thing.” Strike now more audible after swallowing his mouthful. 
“I know what a cow is.” I answered with mock weariness. 
“This is duck.” Korra enlightened me pointing to spoonful of meat I had picked up
“Ahhhh! Mmmm, it’s very tasty.” Chewing carefully I politely replied all the while wondering what a duck was. 
“With…” Korra continued smacking her lips together “…Thyme, bay leaf, parsley, garlic. All herbs that can be dried and kept aboard successfully really. The meat is possibly not the best, having to preserve it for the journey and all that, there is no shortage of bean but it is very well cooked even so.” I think she meant to give this as a compliment to the chef, not noticing that he had already left.
Nothing could be heard except the creaking timber of the ship as it fought the storm. The rations had been minimal for the last few days even with the fish and as such Strike and Korra were taking full advantage of the free food on offer. 
“So then, what business brings you here? You say you are headed to the Royal City?” The Captain asked when the shovelling had slowed to common sized mouthfuls. 
“Yes, we have fairly urgent news for the king. And…” Korra began. 
“Really? Would you mind if I asked what that is?” Mikhail interrupted.
“Well, there is two armies south of the wall. Both looking to conquer everything.” She stifled a laugh, having already tried to tell him above deck. 
“What sort of armies? Obviously we have, back at the home islands.” He stopped and started again. “How long has it been since you were in the home islands?”
“A few months.” Korra admitted. 
“Have you heard about the problems we are having with the Northlanders?” The captain carefully avoided Strikes gaze, who pauses mid chew. 
“What have I done?” He swallowed hard with a pretend hurt look. 
“Yes, briefly. However I suspect that the reason you are having with the Northlanders is that their cities are being decimated by the Southlands. ” Korra explained, sticking up for Strike. 
“Decimated? By Who?” Mikhail asked. 
“Well, we are not entirely certain.” Korra admitted. 
“The dead.” Strike said with his mouth full. 
“There seems to be…” Korra hurriedly continued. 
“The dead? What do you mean the dead?” The captain ignored Korra and turned his attention to Strike. 
“The dead are seemingly rising out of the ground and stomping on settlements, villages, cities, anything in their path.” Strike said waving his hunk of cow around.
Mikhail was about to speak when the door swung back. James, holding a tray of tankards came wobbling in, trying to sway with the waves of the storm and keep the drinks in their containers. Placing the cup down in front of each of us smell the aroma of weak ale, known to those who live on the sea as grog. Alcoholic enough to kill the bugs but weak enough to keep your head.
Strike took a swallow and peered into his cup, expecting to see water. The Northlanders gave stronger stuff to their children. Korra seemed happy with the taste but to me it tasted slightly of the smell of rising bread. 
“Sorry, sorry, sorry didn’t mean to overhear at the door but did you say the dead were rising?” James enquired, not sounding the least bit sorrowful. 
“Yes.” Strike snapped, frustrated at being interrupted at every mouthful.
Hearing this the chef went pail, even paler than those of his hair colour and dabs at his glistening forehead with handkerchief. 
“Oh, the dead rises! That is an ill omen cap’n.”
Strike gave the cook the naked chicken dance look. 
“Didn’t I tell you this morning that that flock of birds was an ill omen cap’n?” He said nudging Mikhail.
The Captain rolled his eyes. 
“You know very well James that I don’t believe in such superstitions. Now I admit we have seen some strange things while at sea, that thing we saw on the borders of the woodland a few days ago was a little strange I grant you and I have heard legends of the dead rising however our destiny is not controlled by such superstitions, no flock of birds overhead can affect this, we control our own destiny. Get yourself back into the kitchen.” He shook his head and sighed deeply at the lecture he was having to repeat. 
“I agree regards to the flock of birds I have however first hand seen men killed then stand again and attack other men. This is happening now, I was there several nights ago when it was happening, I dread to think how far its spread. We need to get back to the kingdom to make sure it does not spread across the water.” Korra spoke over the captain, defending chef to a point
“If you want proof, all you have to do when this storm passes, sail past Axehome, (pause for effect) it is a smouldering ruin.” Strike spoke over Korra.
“Unfortunately, although I am interested I have other commitments to take my cargo back to the home islands. However I will say you have mentioned this when I get back to the islands.” Mikhail concluded. 
“Please spread this news as far as you can.” Korra begged her cousin.
In the corridor the trapdoor that lead to the top deck creaked open and a seaman stomped down the corridor, through the open doorway over to his captain, leaned over and with his hand cupped to his mouth to stop us hearing, whispers something.  The Captain nodded. 
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment, some of the ropes have come loose on some of our cargo, I’d better go and over see this time, some of our sailors are a little green, it being their first time at sea.”
“Would it be possible for me to write an account of what I have seen in the ships log for others to see?” Korra asked optimistically. 
“Erm, I would rather you not write in the ships log, we like to keep that strictly business.” The captain answered unapologetically.
Looking back on what I know now, could be to stop us seeing strange symbols we had seen before? 
“You are more than welcome to leave a copy here, there will be parchment and pens at your disposal.” Mikhail added. 
“That will be fine, I will begin that as soon as possible.” 
“If you will excuse me for a moment, like I say I must see to the cargo. Please accept my apologies, I will be back in a few moments.” 
Mikhail vanished into the gloom with the sailor, Korra, itching to put ink to parchment followed to hunt down her writing materials leaving Strike and myself at the table.
With is bowl abandoned I leaned over and hooked it back to my place. The bland pale grey paste tasted of just that, no salt, no honey nothing. I put it back quickly noticing that all the while we were eating his bowl had stayed as full as mine.
Korra returned armed with necessities and began scribing her tale.
From the sound of groaning wood the storm must have been almost at full force. I looked at Strike, trying to gain some comfort of a seasoned sailor who had a preoccupied look on his face chewing very slowly. For a heartbeat there was a flash of recognition before shaking his head and slowly tried to raise his hand.
While thoroughly enjoying his slab of seared meat Strike thought he recognised the sweet floral taste to his meal. 
He glanced at Demanor, who looked as if she was enjoying everything put in front of her then to Korra, he was about to ask her if her meal tasted odd when he saw she was laying with her head in the bowl of stew, pen in her hand, resting on clean parchment. Too late he understood that the food had been laced with some sort of drug. He raised his hand to his mouth, intending to make himself sick. Before he could speak he felt his arm slacken and his hand fell useless at his side no sooner had this happened he fell forward and his head bounced slightly as it hit the table.
Observing the sudden attack of narcolepsy I began to panic. Was this what you did at a Human meal or had my companions been poisoned? If it was the later then I was still stuck I could not heal them. I had no idea with what or how, I was a shape shifter.  
While this internal struggle was going on I heard heavy footsteps returning to the galley. I fought down the rising anxiety and lying on the table I pretended to be asleep.
The heavy wooden door creaked open and in walked captain Foldor reappeared with the same sailor.
With my eyes closed enough to fake sleep I saw the Captain walk over to Strike, shake him lightly then gently opened one eye with his thumb. I saw him cross over to Korra and repeat the process before standing beside me. My heart thumped so loudly in my ears I was scared he may hear as he checked my responses, making sure I stared right through him when he opened my eye.
Satisfied with the lack of response he walked to the door and yelled towards the kitchen. 
“James, James! Get out here.”
After a few moments the dumpy chef appeared. 
“Now you are sure that you added the dosage exactly as I ordered, I would not want any harm to come to them at all.” The captain addressed the cook.
The chef looked nervously back towards us while dabbing at his dripping forehead. 
“Y.es yes cap’n. I only added a couple of drops of the Oil of Tagit, like you said.” Nodding at him, not wanting any blame. “It should only be enough to put them into a light sleep for a few hours but, but erm, it shouldn’t cause any harm.” He said, wishing for it to be true dabbing his forehead again. 
“Well that is good, I wouldn’t want them causing any interference by asking about the cargo or our business. They can sleep here for a few moments. When they wake up, it is very rare that someone would recognise Oil of Tagit, it’s a very rare…” Mikhail paused to find right word “…ingredient, shall we say. It cost me a great deal of personal expense. When they wake up I shall say that they fell asleep due to your great meal James. And then we can see them on their way. Certainly I would not want them to go out into this storm in such a small vessel as that it would be dangerous. No they are far safer sleeping in the galley we can deal with our business. ” 
The captain turned to the sailors, scowling. 
“Of course you realise none of this would have been necessary if you had secured the cargo properly, like I asked.” Cuffing the closest sailor round the side of the head. 
“Sorry cap’n, but it’s not the sort of thing we are used to lashing down, how do you tie something like that down?”
“With rope you imbecile, obviously.” 
“Well yeah but cap’n, it’s not like a crate or lumber or stone, well when we used to be able to get stone that is.”
“Yes. Well tie it down as best you can, we can get back to Sapphire Islands and they can get back to Royal City, everyone’s happy.” 
“Do you think there was anything in those things they were saying about the dead rising captain?” James said, it obviously playing on his mind. 
“Well, I’m sure many people would say it was impossible but as I say I have seen an awful lot of strange things at sea.” Mikhail replied dismissively. 
“Oh yes, what about that huge, huge wooden thing we saw loping though the forest a few days ago?” James was not going to let it go. 
“Yes, well I have heard tails of tree men on the mainlands, we don’t have them on the Sapphire Islands of course.  Too few trees I presume.” He said shrugging. “Either way it is not our concern, it is a concern to the mainland. We are men of the sea we do not interfere. Anyway see to it James. Hopefully when they wake up the storm will have passed and we can send them on their way.” Mikhail tried to comfort him. 
“Do I have to sit in this galley on my own watching them cap’n? Its, err it’s a bit eerie.”
“No, no go make yourself something to eat. I have business to take care of in my cabin. You there sailor, your post on deck, I’m putting you on double watch for your negligence earlier.” The negligent sailor rolled eyes like a reprimanded child. Mikhail saw the look and raised his hand threateningly. 
“Less of that, get up there. Let me know if any other ships approach. I can’t afford anyone else asking questions.” 
With business concluded the Captain and the sailor headed out of the galley leaving James. Finding a seat he drummed his fingers before quickly standing up again and changing seats. He twiddled his thumbs as he stared at our slumbering figures then shook his head. 
“Bugger this.” He muttered. 
Standing up sharply he departed to the kitchen where the sound of pots and pans banging vigorously filtered through to the galley.
While the crew were deciding what to do I had resolved to shape shift to the form of a river rat, so as not to be noticed if disturbed. Once transformed I clambered up onto the table and up onto Strike’s chest. 
I took a deep breath and bit him hard on his nose.
Strike woke almost immediately. Good. At least the drug hadn’t killed him yet.
He stared at me, trying to focus on what was causing the pain exploding in his head. Groggily he pushed me off and the world still refusing to focus sat up.
I took his daze to my advantage jumping off the table I scampered into the shadows to revert to Elvan form. He was going to be more than annoyed when I tell him he was drugged, I didn’t want to add to his problems by shape shifting where I sat.
Feeling my body lengthen I had to stand as I shifted. It was that or fall over. If he mentioned my nose receding and fur disappearing under my skin, I would just blame the food. 
“What’sat?” He said blearily. 
“They drugged you.”
“Aww! Poison?”
“No or you would be dead. Wouldn’t you? No they used something called oil of Tagit. There’s something in the cargo hold they don’t want us to see.” 
I had intended just to tell him as little as possible of the facts. As soon as the words left my mouth I cringed inwardly. 
“Oil of Tagit? Right!” He hissed. There was a very determined look in his eye and his mouth had disappeared into a thin drawn line. I closed my eyes and said a quick thanks to whoever had heard my plight.
Strike looked over my shoulder to where Korra slumbered peacefully.
 “I haven’t tried waking her up yet.” I said pointing out the obvious.
Strike let out a long, controlled sigh. 
“They have all gone off to do what they need to do, the Chef is to come and look in on us every now and again.” I remembered. 
“Really?” With a twinkle of mischief in his eye. 
“Don’t kill him.” I had been around Strike long enough to have the privilege of calling him strike. I recognised that look immediately. 
“You don’t feel like making a few groaning sounds do you?” Strike asked, ignoring me.
Out of the door way we could hear a chef at work, it didn’t sound like he would check us any time soon. Above the working kitchen there was a howl from the wind and a thump as a wave crashed against the hull. The storm was almost above us. 
I looked around the galley, just to be sure then back to Strike. 
“They don’t want to hurt us, they want to let us go on our way.” 
It sounded even more stupid when I said it out loud. 
“But they poisoned me.” If I hadn’t have heard what the Captain had said I would have taken it personally too. The fact that Strike was a Northlander where from what he has told me they take all slights as a direct insult just made things a little more difficult. 
“NO, no they just don’t want us to ask about the cargo.” Damn it! I reminded him about the forbidden load again. 
“I get it wasn’t really poison but still, there are ways and means.” 
I couldn’t really argue that fact with a Northlander. 
“Don’t kill him.” 
“I wasn’t going to kill anybody, I was just thinking, you know…returning the favour.” There was that sly smile again. 
“Right, so what you are saying is you want me to pretend to wake up while you pretend to be asleep?” I tried to guide his thoughts away from the hold and its secrets. 
“No. What’s going to happen is you are going to pretend to wake up, making a lot of noise, he’s going to wander in. I am going to cosh him around the back of the head. I’m going to get the poison, and make sure that the whole crew falls asleep.”
“Ok. Don’t kill him!”
“Anything else I should know?”
“No. they wanted us to stay asleep, so that we would not ask about the cargo. Or wander off and find the cargo” I used the tone all adults used to deal with difficult children. And again he tricks me into reminding him. 
“New plan!” S face lighting up.
Ah, so this time he was listening then. 
“They’re all going to fall asleep and we are going to find the cargo?” I say sing song voice, giving up. 
“Exactly!”  
I take my seat, waiting for Strike to take up position behind the door. I found myself wondering if James would notice that the room was not how he left it, then I realise Strike us unarmed. Ah well too late now.
Strike nods and I begin my act. 
“Oh, oh my head! What happened? Strike, Korra, are you ok?” There is the sound of something being dropped on the kitchen floor. Heavy footsteps hurry down the corridor and the door flies open.
The considerably worried, red faced over weight chef walks through door towards me. But he is distracted hearing the door click shut behind him. Turning towards the sound he is met by Strikes well aimed fist and lifting off the floor slightly as it connected. Strike punched him with all the strength in his wiry frame, the unsuspecting flabby chef stood no chance, I see James slump to the side out cold.
It took both of us drag him into the kitchen and prop him up on a stool to let him sleep it off. Our attention focused on the kitchen. We expected it to be empty, it wasn’t.
A scrawny, gangly, spotty kitchen lad stood slack jawed at our entrance mid-way through the important job of chopping onions. 
Strike stepped forward, the boy swallowed hard and waved kitchen knife in our direction without much conviction. It was clear this was his first fight, in his domain vegetation doesn’t usually fight back. 
Strike backhanded the circling blade out of the boys hand and before the boy could react flung himself at his chest. 
Strike’s shoulder cannoned into him knocking him off his feet. Following the luckless lad down Strike sat on his pigeon chest using his legs to pin the boys’ arms to the floor. In one fluid motion, Strike upper-cutter the boy and knocked him out cold.
Strike looked behind him towards the door, checking no one else had sprung out of nowhere. While I stood over the recumbent chef Strike picked up the boy by his trousers, folded him in half as best he could and stuffed him into the nearest cupboard.
“Right then, poison, where is the poison? Don’t touch anything” Strike said to himself before spinning round, palms at chest height facing me, signalling for me to stop where I am while he started looking at various bottles and jars in search of the vial.
With time being short Strike tried to think. 
“If it’s as rare and expensive as Mikhail says it is then if I were him I’d give it to the cook to give back to me later. How many drops did James say he used?” 
I held up two fingers. 
“Two drops were enough to keep us out of harm’s way. Poisons like that usually come in decorative little bottles so I don’t think the Captain would have given it some bumbling, out of shape chef to keep safe.”
While Strike talked himself through the reasoning I checked on the kitchen boy and James. Both were still where we left them. By this time Strike was convinced that the vial was not here. 
“Ok so now what?” I whispered. 
“Wait for the Captain.” Strike answered.
I can’t help but look at him in disbelief.
Remind me not to cross you. I though. 
“Look at it this way, I can poison him but it will be a bit more fatal.”
“No!”
“Exactly, I am being as nice as I can from a man from my Island.”
I know your right, just don’t like it.”
Back in the galley, Korra, blissfully unaware of what we were doing on her cousin’s ship slipped in and out the dream world. The Elvan tales and ballads she has heard recently came to life and danced across her mind. One dream was more vivid than the rest, she dreamt of one Elven creation myth. The world that we live in, she could hear a voice say to her. A voice not unkind but stern, it reminded her of one of her tutors. And all the other worlds that are hidden from the each other originated from a great tree. The worlds’ hanging from the branches like fruit. With their ancestral world of the dead at the roots. All life that appeared on those worlds came from that tree. All the races were from that tree, life blood of the worlds were from that tree. The voice faded into darkness and sleep took her once more.
Strikes little conversation with himself had him convinced that the vial was not as we first thought in the kitchen. Sneaking back to the galley we found Korra still where we left pen in hand and asleep. We sat back at our places and listened to the storm rage outside, the gods sounded angry.
We didn’t have to wait long before foot falls could be heard. The Captain walked in with three sailors behind him. 
“May as will see that our guests are comfortable now that the quarters are ready for them. Each of you take one of them, be careful, I do not want any harm to come to them. Take them to their cabins. But hear this, if I find that any of their possessions are missing or they are hurt in any way I will make the person responsible wish they had never been born, keelhauling will be the nicest part to their suffering.” The cold edge to Mikhail’s voice showed he meant every word. 
“Mark my words that’s what will happen if any of their possessions go missing, or if one hair on their head is touched.” He repeated for emphasis.
One of the sailors moved behind each of us. Korra’s guard put his hands under her arms and carefully lifted her out of the chair. With her legs trailing along floor, he gently dragged her out of the room. Strike did not flinch as his guard did the same and with a grunt of effort, the strapping Northerners sinewy frame must have been deceptively heavier compared to the slight bard. I opened my eyes a little to see Korra and Strike being dragged off out the door and down the murky corridor. 
I felt course hands slide under my arms and was somewhat jolted as he lifted. He must have expected me to be the same weigh as the Humans.
I risked a peak as I was dragged down to our quarters. The corridor was almost too dark for Humans to see by, the crew must have good eyesight or relied on muscle memory. The dim light from the soot stained glass of the lanterns gave out as little light as possible, the flames turned down almost to extinction just in case a lamp was accidently knocked over. The shadows of the crew leapt and twisted making odd shaped creatures on the curved wooden walls of the ship.  
Traveling down towards what once looked like part of a secondary cargo hold that had hastily been re-decked as a cabin, was three long strips of cloth, just over a man’s width, suspended from rope, between the support beams. I think they are called hammocks. That was the word that the Captain used before we were dropped with care into them.  
Blankets were put over us and rolled up sack were slid under our heads before the four men left the cabin.
We waited in the dark for a while but the only sounds we could hear was the gentle rhythm of Korra’s snoring and the storm waging war on the ship. Satisfied we had been left alone Strike untangled himself from his blanket and sat up. 
“Does not seem to be anyone around.” He observed. 
“Go and see if you can find out about the mysterious cargo.” 
I was about to ask why he couldn’t but I would have only been given a smart remark probably with a smirk so to save time I didn’t bother.
I felt myself shrink down, my face elongate and fur cover my skin as I shifted to the form of a river rat.   
“If anyone sees you, just run faster.” I heard the wise words of Strike as I crept out of the hold. 
My heart pounded in my ears as I ran along the corridors 
“By the Gods! Did you see the size of that one?!” I did as I was told and ran faster when an unsuspected foot appeared in front of my nose but my disguise had worked. I was just another rat on board ship.
I scampered down another identical looking passageway and found myself looking at the back of a burly sailor, with dark blue tattoos swirled with green ink. The fantastical creatures, sea serpents, mermaids, big tentiacled things devouring ships all danced in the gloom. This was odd though, all the doors I had come to before had no guards. This must be the place. 
Through a crack in the door I could see two men sat on barrels with a crate between them as a table playing a game of cards. The one with his back to the door had a large well used cutlass hanging from his waist, sat opposite was a scrawny ugly looking man.
Hugging shadows, and willing them not to see me. Using what I have heard as a description I tried to see anything unusual but the crack in the door only showed me the guards. They were clearly not too bothered about shutting it properly, there was no danger as far as they were concerned. But it was no good, I would have to navigate the door first. 
A roll of thunder cut through the sound of the rain lashing down outside, inside the rhythmic creaking of the ship rolling with the waves was almost soothing and I managed to calm myself. Scampering around, I searched for an opening in the woodwork, a knot hole, a break in a plank, anything.
But I found nothing. Without warning the small ugly man throws down his cards and angrily shoves a small pile of gold coins towards the large tattooed man.
“I can believe you’ve taken me again!”
While hatchet face was shouting, I saw my chance and scamper through the crack in the open door, inside the hold it seemed a fairly normal looking cargo. Box’s and creates had been secured with webs of ropes. The smell of meats and spices stored in creates tickled my nose. Away from the door and the guards the hold was in total darkness. There were no lit candles or lamps, that I could see and if there were any they had not been lit. 
An occasional flash of lightning though a port hole at far end of hold was the only source of light. The storm was in full swing, the rain beating down on glass window made it impossible to see anything. With my already good night vision enhanced by my rat form and lighting striking all around the ship I scurried around a crate and almost swallowed my tongue. I retreated into the shadows and watched what appears to be a silhouetted figure, stood as tall as a human and about as wide with its back to me. 
I Stay very still in case it decided to turn around but it stayed motionless in the centre of the room. With a flash of lightening various ropes coming off the figure became visible, following them backwards they had been hurriedly attached to bits of ship that seemed available at the time. Randomly trying to keep it safe, anchoring the figure down.
Timing it so I use darkness and hide in lightning strikes I headed around the figure, it didn’t appear to move or notice me.
I move to front of the figure and looked up. The individual had been dressed in full plate armour calved out of grey stone rather than metal. 
It was a statue.
Felling slightly safer I remembered to breath and climbed up to inspect it further. Its head had been calved with a helmet that covered the entire head and neck, with slits for the eyes and mouth. A large curved projection protected the nape of the neck. Under the granite helmet the statues face had been carved paler smother stone, possibly marble. All normal facial features were there with a long platted beard carved from the same stone as the body under the armour. The eyes stared blankly at nothing, they were open but no features, just smooth calved stone.
The statue had been calved with his hands out in front of him at chin height, clenched fists with one resting on top of the other, and thumbs facing towards him as if holding something. That something was missing. 
It was not what I expected. Why would the Captain take so much trouble to hide a statue? We had shown no interest in the cargo, and to be honest had only boarded to warn them of what had been happening south of the wall. I found it hard to understand Humans at their best. Sneaky and underhanded was Strike’s territory. 
With rat sensitive hearing and Elven understanding I heard Strike talking as I moved though the shadows of the doorway to our quarters. 
“This is the life, get people to do it for me, I could be a chief.”
Hearing him talking to himself about getting others to do his work after I had just wandered around half the ship my good nature was a little strained. Instead of hiding in the shadows to shift back I sat down in front of him. Making sure he was watching I changed back. 
“Ahh! By the bloody hand!” he yelled in shock, almost falling out the hammock. 
I smiled at him, still couldn’t get used to me shape-shifting. 
“Stop doing that, find some shadows or something, it’s not right for a person to watch you going through all those forms.” I just smile. 
A port hole near the back of our room showed the storm still raging outside. As much as I mocked him for taking time on board his long he must have been glad he secured his boat.
“I found a statue, guarded.”
“Weird. Well I say weird, Nothing I have seen lately could be classed as normal…oh wait there was that…nope.”
“It looked like it was holding something at one point, it had its hands like.” I moved my hands together and in front of me. 
“Like, you know the statues that are carved holding swords?” Giving up realising he couldn’t see in the gloom. 
“Maybe that was what he was holding then, that or a pike.” 
“The figure was calved from a different stone to its armour, marble maybe? The armour was full plate, calved out of grey stone, possibly granite.  It had a patted beard almost touching its chest in the same stone of the man. Its eyes were blank, no pupil or anything” Not wanting to leave any detail out no matter how tiny added that my journey had been a bit frightening in parts I felt I was repeating myself a lot. 
“I could see why they were so concerned about tying it down, don’t want it falling over. I’m not that well versed on legends. Maybe you should bite her.” Strike added cynically.
Ignoring his comment I felt that there was one thing I had not tried. I left Strike mulling things over I decided to go and have a chat.
I followed my trail back to the statue in rat form. Still ignored by the guards I sat in front of the statue and close eyes. 
“What is your purpose?”
No response. Well it was worth a go. As I was able to speak with the animals I also found recently that I was able to speak with the sea, stones and land, anything inanimate. But not this time. At a loss of what to do next I scurried back to our cabin.
This time I scared Strike by shifting, just because I could. 
“What now” His was on the verge of shrieking. 
“You know I can talk to animals?”
“I get that assumption yes.”
“Well I have found recently that my abilities can also reach other things as well like stone and sand and water, inanimate objects. I tried to communicate with the stone but I felt my abilities were lost on this creature and have to consider that it is actually living.”
“So you are saying that it is living stone?”
“I am only guessing this. I would usually get an answer straight away.”
“In that case you may want to wake up the musical one.” 
I shifted back to rat form and climbed up Korra’s hammock and onto her chest, and bit her hard on the nose.
She must have slept off most of the effects of the oil by now but still woke up groggy. This was quickly changed however when she managed to focus and saw massive rat chewing on her nose. Dropping down I changed back mid-air.
Strike still shuddered. After the amount of times I had now changed before of him I had to consider that maybe I need to be a bit fairer on him.
“What?” Korra croaked. 
“They used a poison…” Strike whispered. 
“What?!” She croaks louder. 
“Its ok, you don’t die from it.” He tried to reassure her. 
“Oh.”
“They don’t want us to see the cargo” I whisper. 
“Then don’t look at the cargo.” she whispers back. 
“I’ve already seen it.”
Korra held her head in her hands and sighed despairingly. 
“I don’t want to know.” She says shaking her head. 
“You do want to know, we need your inelegance.” Strike implored. 
“You are better versed in tales from long ago and this is something you may be interested in for one of your ballads.” Strike tried the vanity approach. 
Shakes her head again. 
“I don’t think, no I know I don’t…” She started to object. 
“Listen, no, listen and I’ll tell you why it is important. You have seen me talking to animals? I have found recently that I can commune with sand and stone and sea as well. I tried talking to the statue and it didn’t talk back, which I can only assume is that it’s animate.” I interrupted her, as much as she didn’t want to be involved Korra needed to hear this. 
“So it’s a living thing. Made of stone but looks like a statue?” She said, trying to make sense out of it. 
“Yes.”
“Ookay.” Is all she could manage.
After a few moments of silence she spoke slowly, recalling the memory. 
“I have hear of legends of creatures known as the Stoneborn and from the description you have given me Demanor, it sounds a lot like them. While in the Elven Kingdom I heard tale of their kind, I think it was called the Legend of Pendrel. They were fabled to be ancient miners, similar to the Elven people and the forests, your kind are, sorry were, children of the forests and the jungle. The Stoneborn are children of the mountains. As the Elves bent with the winds as the trees do, the Stoneborn are stocky and resolute, unbreakable like the stones of the mountains.” She said gesturing towards me. “They are reputable to be great forge masters and legendry weapons and magical items that they created, however; they are just that a legend. One of the most ancient but still only a fire side tale.” 
I stood silent, I did not doubt the words from my friend but even I had never heard this tale until now. 
“Did it feel evil?” Strike cut in. 
“No.” I answered slowly, trying to recall what I felt. “It did not feel evil, it didn’t really feel of anything.” 
“A creature made of stone, would be a very helpful thing to have on our side, so what’s wrong with setting it free, you know a bit of nibble, nibble in the right places?” Strike suggested. 
“Erm, because it’s made of stone and I would break my teeth?” I shook my head at him.
Strike let out a weary sigh before speaking again. 
“The rope!” he yelled in exasperation. 
“Oooh, yeah that would make more sense, yes.”
He rolled his dark eyes and shook his head. 
“There is no clues in the story as to whether they are good or bad.” Korra continued, desperate not to lose her train of thought. “I am trying to translate fragments of an ancient Elvish text into present Elvish before I can translate it into human, the legend is that old and even then it only speaks of them being master craftsmen. There was a vague mention that when the world was young, some of the greatest magical enchantments were done by the Elves worked with the Stoneborn, with the masters of their crafting and the Elvish magic’s, they created great and powerful things.”
For some reason our minds began thinking of the great wall that ran from the mountains all the way down to the coast. For the whole of living memory every man, woman and child of any race knew that there was the old wall that ran across the mountains towards the Jungles and since the Kingdoms had been formed it had been extended from the foot of the mountains right down to the coast. 
“Could it be possible that the Stoneborns had been responsible for the original wall?” Strike whispered in awe.
Around us the ship creaked telling us the storm still had not subsided. 
“The part that is over five hundred feet high, yeah I should think so.” Korra mused. 
“I have seen a smith with a hammer, under the right circumstances it is not a pretty sight.” Strike said almost to himself.
Korra and I looked at him lost. 
“You said it was holding something, if they were great craftsmen it could have been a hammer.” Strike explained. 
“No, there was nothing in its hand, he stood with its hands out as if holding something but whatever it was it was nowhere near by.” I clarified
“Ok, we have a few possibilities. First one is that we bust out of here and unfortunately for our bardic friend, slaughter everyone on the ship.”
I hit my forehead with the palm of my hand, honestly there are better ways of doing things than just killing everything in the vicinity. 
“Absolutely not, shhh! Wait.” Korra began to argue then held up her hands for us to be quiet. 
“There’s someone coming.” Korra whispered. 
“Please. Don’t. Kill. Anyone.” Korra directed at Strike who feigned innocence, before shrugging theatrically.
We watched with bated breath as the door knob began to turn. Whatever the other possibilities our choice had been made for us. We had no time to return to our hammocks, standing around and the element of surprise was our only choice.
The door opened and in walked the two crewmen I had seen guarding the statue in the hold, returning to my Elven form had done nothing for their appearance, the large bulk of the man with shaven head and tattoos and the smaller weaselly looking man with a hatchet shaped nose to these people shadows were indeed their friend. 
Their faces changed to a look of surprise as they saw us all awake, Korra still in her hammock with me and Strike standing beside her in the middle of our discussion.
“So, oil of Tagit then?” Strike asked before they had chance to react. 
They stood aghast for several heartbeats, they had expected us to be knocked out for the entire journey. 
Shock turned to confusion at the question, it was quite probable they had never heard of the infusion. 
“Stone man tied down in the cargo hold?” Strike demanded an answer without really asking a question.
The burly man kept eye contact with Strike for a heartbeat before turning his head towards the door. 
“Captain! We’ve gota problem!” He bellowed, cupping his hand to his mouth to be heard above the storm.
Over the heads of the two crewman more sailors have begun to gather around the entrance of the room. They parted as the captain appeared then closed round again as he walked into the room. His coat dark and slick with the rain that is still lashing down. 
“What’d ya mean we have a…Oh?” He finished when he saw us. 
“Oil of Tagit?”
He also stares for a few heartbeats, open mouthed. 
“It’s a rare person who knows of the oil of the Tagit.” Mikhail paused. 
“Tell me, how do you come to know about it?”
Strike held his gaze before answering. 
“Profession.”
He reaches into one of his coat pockets and produces a small, blue crystal teardrop shaped vile encased in silver filigree. Silently he placed it carefully onto the lid of a barrel and in the dim light we could see that it was almost empty. 
“Well I had hoped to avoid this, unpleasant conversation. I trust you have not been, aside from the unfortunate necessity of you falling asleep I trust you have not been harmed in anyway and that your personal items are still with you?”
“I have, we have not been harmed in any way, my items are fine. Hence you are all still living.” Strike answered with a hint malice.
The captain smirked at the threat. 
“Apologies for the necessary deception but with the increased patrols by the Kingdoms ships and the random inspections they have been making on traders ships, we can’t be too careful with anyone we don’t know. Even those who seem to be from the home islands.” He nodded at Korra. 
“Especially when you have tied a stone man down in the cargo hold” Strike cut in.
The captain looked genuinely surprized at the revelation of our knowledge. 
“Yes, our cargo is particularly rare and difficult to obtain, however we are being paid handsomely by our employer.”
“You know you could have avoided all of this by just letting us eat in piece. I was not concerned by your cargo.” Strike argued. 
“My apologies, as I have said, we cannot be too careful, we know of a number of our fellow trading vessels that have taken on seemingly innocent passers-by on board only for them to turn out to be Kingdom officials in disguise.
“I’m a Northlander, somehow I don’t think we work for the Kingdom. Strike said, somehow missing what the Captain has tried to explain, perhaps it was an effect of the tincture, I made a mental note to ask Strike another time, its effects would help with painful healing procedures no end.
“And now I am sure that you are a Northlander, however I wouldn’t put it past some of the ministry in the Kingdom to effect that disguise as they would know you would not expect a Northlander to be an official. As I say I cannot be too careful the nature of our cargo and the expense that our client is going to, to have us secure it for him.” He repeated the words as if they were a shield against the wrath of a Northlander. 
“What is it?” Strike asked sounding slightly annoyed at the repetition. 
“It’s part of a larger set of sculptures that we discovered in a cavern below the Great Peaks.” The captain began slowly and hesitantly, deciding on whether telling us the truth or a lie would mean less consequences. “We, acquired it through some of our, shall we say less than reputable contacts in the kingdom. Unfortunately, since the discovery of the large chamber containing many, many such statues as the one you have seen, the King of the Kingdom, King John V has placed a ban on anyone quarrying in the Great Peaks. No doubt he is worried that further chambers would be discovered or that someone uncover what he has found and attempt to steal it out from underneath him. We have been forced to use than less reputable contacts and means, but one of our contacts was able to smuggle out a single one of the statues to the harbour where we were able to load it up in secret and we are now taking it back to the home islands.” 
The only noise in the cabin was the creaking of the wooden hull and the straining thick rope holding its position on the ship complaining against the storm outside. We all stayed silent, trying to work out if he spoke the truth. 
“I honestly couldn’t tell you why my employer wants it. I am not in the business of asking questions, but I do know he is paying handsomely for it to be returned to the home islands. Enough for me to keep my boat running and to keep my crew in grog, food and various supplies for many years to come.” Mikhail continued to explain. 
“I don’t fault your logic” Strike said a little more gently, seeing him believe the Captains story softened the atmosphere a little. “But have you considered the fact that the thing itself could be living?” he continued.
The Captain looked at Strike as if he had suddenly stripped naked and asked for a live chicken. 
“Well no of course not.” He said dismissingly “It’s a statue, there are…” 
“To you and I a statue.” Strike interrupted. 
“It’s made of stone, it’s as plain as anyone, for anyone to see.” The Captain continued ignoring Strike. 
“And the Tree Herder’s are made of trees.” Strike battled with him again. 
“Well, I, err I don’t know about Tree Herders, granted we’ve seen something that looked like a tree moving, but err. Look, seeing as you know about it now there is no point of further subterfuge, if you were agents of the Kingdom, I am sure you would have no doubt acted or tried to signal someone by now. So I suggest now we can disprove your theory very simply. Let’s go to the cargo bay, you all know what’s there.”
The captain led us down to the cargo hold, followed by what looked like all crewmen with no job at the moment. The room and the statue still stood unchanged from my last visit. 
“I believe you’re up.” Strike said out the corner of his mouth to me as the Captain walked briskly towards the stone warrior and rapped on it with his fist. 
“Look. Stone.” He said pointing out the obvious. 
“The story she told speaks of Elves, you probably have a greater chance of succeeding.” Strike pointed to Korra before speaking to me while the Captain continued to tap the statue.
Not quite knowing how to show the stone fighter that I was an Elf I made a decision to speak to him while in animal form. Remembering that Strike was still not used to my shape shifting abilities and that also the Humans also in the cargo bay had sadly never been in contact with an Elf before I took a step to one side and let the shadows hide my transformation.
The captain continued to show his disbelief with a constant tapping on the stone and occasional looks at someone thinking slower than a jungle sloth.
Ignoring the Captain I scampered in front of the statue and closed my eyes. I cast my mind back to my apprentice years and tried desperately to remember the ancient Elvish. I smiled inwardly, well who would have though it? Master of tongues was right, there would be a time I relied on the language of the ancients. 
“Are you with us?” I think I asked him.
After a couple of heart beats I heard Strike shuffle his feet but the statue remained silent. A crash of thunder filled the void closely followed by a fork of lightning that illuminated a lot of Humans looking embarrassed.
Taking the opportunity from the sudden blindness of the Humans I shifted back to Elven form and reach out and touch the outstretched fist, unsurprisingly it felt as calved marble should, smooth and cold.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, filling my lungs until I could not inhale any longer and paused. As I exhaled I closed my mind to the Humans standing around me, the smirk from the Captain, still doubtful of my claims. The air of disbelief radiating from them, including my friends. I closed my mind to the rats and other scavenges scuttling about the ship, a mixture of terror, hunger and lust in their daily struggles, to the creatures of the sea both magical and mortal and hardest of all the spirit of the ocean. 
Finally all was hushed. 
In the silence I felt something deep within the stone slumber, a tiny spark of life in the darkness. I had never felt this kind of sleep before, it was almost like a form of hibernation I had seen before in some of the jungle animals but bordering on unconscious. 
“It feels asleep, deep, almost hibernation.” I explained quickly trying to keep my mind closed.
In the brief moment my mind opened so did my eyes. I could see Korra with a look of amazement and a look that she would give all she owned for writing materials to record her experiences.
I quickly closed my eyes and in the most ancient Elvish I could remember I hope I said “The wall is in danger.”
I was drawn up through the depths from the sound of stone grinding on stone and with startling speed I felt the hand move from under mine and grab me around the wrist. My eyes slammed open, praying to the Gods that I was mistaken and the pressure on my skin was in fact a Human.
The Gods, evidently had taken to rest at that moment and yes the statue’s hand was really holding my wrist.
Now with open eyes I could see the Humans eyes wide and mouths open. Not sure whether to believe what their eyes were seeing or if more live chickens were going to be needed.
I looked over to Strike. My mind was now blank with terror. 
“The dead are rising? Well it’s defiantly alive! Let go?” He said manically. 
“I am no threat, the dead are rising.” I whispered in ancient Elvish, scared that if I raised my voice my fear would escape.
All was hushed, a stone statue suddenly moving can do that to a crowd. Only the wind howling outside, driving the storm above us could be heard. While the statues hand remains firmly clamped around my wrist.
Slowly the Captain took a step back and crossed one hand over his body in the sign of an anchor to ward off evil while some of the crew, taking an unspoken prompt had drawn their weapons, panic making the blades dance and weave small circles trying to point them in my direction.
“I don’t think swords will help…And that’s coming from me.” Strike volunteered, his voice not so hysterical. 
“You know it’s bad when a Northlander won’t use his sword.” Korra muttered. 
“It’s not that I wouldn’t it’s that it would make no difference, its STONE!” Strike said feeling the need to justify his unnatural pacifistic attitude.
While the finer points of Northlander mind-set was being discussed in my mind I had become a gibbering wreck, I was tempted to shape shift free myself but I did not want him to see that sudden movement as a threat.
As suddenly as he grabbed my wrist it was released with the sound of grating stone and the hand that once trapped me was held out in front of his chest palm flat, waiting to receive something while the other remained as a fist in front of his chest.
Terror still muddling my thoughts I placed my hand in his but there was no reaction. 
“A thing, did it have a thing that was taken from it?” Strike asked the crew his voice still a little on edge. 
“Well yeah” One sailor said to another
“Yeah, yeah, there was like a big hammer it was holding.” He agreed. 
“Where? Where is it?” Strike demanded. 
“Well, err, it, err, it’s in a crate over there. When we were loading it aboard it got knocked and…” He started to explain, pointing to a pile of crates towards the back of the hold. 
“Don’t care. Get the hammer.” Strike ordered.
The crewman looked a little uneasy taking orders from a Lander and turned to his Captain. 
“You hear him! Get the hammer.” He barked, the mistrust vanishing like morning mist.
Relieved at his captains orders the man disappeared into the shadows and came back dragging a huge stone hammer almost as large as he was. 
“Put it at his feet.” I said gently, seeing that it could not be lifted.
It took some time to drag the granite hammer to where I had told him. He jumped back as soon as it was in grabbing distance and retreated to a safe distance.
There was the sound of tortured stone and the statue bent at the waist, grabbed the hammer in his hand and picked it up as if it weighed nothing. Once satisfied of his weapon’s return he returned to his original position but this time he was holding the hammer, the massive oblong head resting on the floor.
We waited with bated breath but nothing else happened. 
“Tell him about the wall again.” Strike suggested. 
“So, have we convinced you it is alive, Captain?” Korra asked with a flash of smugness. 
“By the Gods, I’m tired of being right!” Strike spoke, his momentary horror forgotten.
The captain decided to not dignify the question with an answer but shot a withering look back at Korra.
While the sailors were still quiet Korra told them of the legend of the Stoneborn, sowing the seeds of doubt into their minds that all other statues found and brought to the surface could also come alive at any time. Quickly taking advantage of the traumatized crew Korra used the hypnotic tones of her voice to question the Captain. 
“Whom has hired you to bring him back?”
He hesitated, then realising he had nothing left to loose he answered nervously. 
“Let us say, the wealthiest man in the home islands.”
“The Emperor of the Sapphire Islands?” She tried.
His barely noticeable nod confirmed her question.
In the silence the storm was at almost full force, lightning almost in time with the thunder. 
“As I said this delivery could set us up for life.” He repeated. 
“Well, it looks like we are all traveling to the same destination and quite frankly I do not wish to interfere with the Emperors correspondence, regardless what may lie within. For all we know he wants them brought back so he can talk to them.” Korra declared. 
“Or he can use them against people.” From the uneasy looks I received I realised I spoke out loud instead of thought my statement. 
“Long live the Emperor?” Korra’s voice hesitant, hoping no one would take offence to the comment.
Hearing these words a few of the more loyal crewmen echoed her words more forcefully while the Captain nodded his agreement.
Feeling the atmosphere relax I found it easier to block out all distractions and tried to contact the spirit in the stone.
This time I felt that the spirit was listening but choosing not to respond. It was though it was waiting for some sort of assurance or a command word.
While Strike began cutting the wrist thick rope that anchored it in place I began to tell it of our adventures, hopeful that some part of our story would fall on his deaf ears and he would awaken.
When this proved fruitless I spoke of us wanting to defend the Great Wall against the onslaught of the foul poison in the land that was forcing the dead to rise.
The marble creature with the sound of grinding stone moved its head very slightly towards me. Even in such panic I could see that the beard of the warrior moved as one solid piece. He opened his mouth, the smooth polished lips unmoving as the jaw slid open and a voice that sounded like millwheels grinding against each other echoed like thunder around the cargo hold.
I looked to the others to see if they understood. To me he spoke a variety of ancient Elvish, a dialect that I did not understand but it may have sounded differently to the Humans. From the bemused silence, apparently not. 
“I am sorry, we do not understand.” I said in my broken ancient Elvish.
It spoke again, this time Strike recognised it as Orcish, with a number of Orc tribes living in the Northlands Strike had learned enough to haggle by.
Strike spoke back to the statue in Orcish, to me it sounded as though he was clearing his throat by gargling with gravel.
Whatever he had said it was answered by a crack of thunder and lightning hitting the ocean, illuminating the whole of the cargo hold for a brief heartbeat.
The creature, still with his mouth wide open spoke now in common tongue. 
“TAKE ME TO LAND.”
“Soon.” Korra replied. 
“Can we sail in a storm?” I asked both the Captain and Strike. 
“At half mast, it is possible but crossing to the boat at the moment, is not ideal.” Strike conceded.
 “No, I mean take this one.” I tried to make my reasoning clearer. 
“There is another boat attached to it, mine in fact.” Strike answered. 
“Oh. Can you not do that then?” I asked. 
“It’s not very safe probably.” Korra tried explaining. 
“We could tow it along, but it would more than likely capsize.” Strike admitted. 
“Is this a problem? I know nothing about boats or riding them.” I admitted. Being subtle around these humans was not easy. 
“The boat would go upside down!” Strike snapped. 
“Oh, yes I see, that would be bad.” I finally agreed.
Hearing the grind of stone we paused our conversation and looked back to the stone creature. His mouth was now closed and the hammer’s head was now pointing at the roof of the room with his head bowed. 
“Is Thor calling you?” Strike said with a sigh, after this journey anything could be possible. 
“It’s going to hit land at some point, whether it be down or across.” I remarked. 
“Yes. But I can’t turn into a dolphin.” Strike spat at me with more force than necessary.
The reaming ropes that lashed it safely down had snapped like spider webs when he moved, proving that the restraints were useless against him
“No, I planned something else. Not to be disrespectful to the stone, mountain man but can’t we just drop him into the ocean?”
“Yes but then you can’t speak with him.” Strike was using his speaking to small children’s voice again. 
“Yes that is true but he could walk across the ocean floor and onto land. I have only dealt with rivers, how deep does the ocean go?”
“Think of the ocean as a river, which also looks like a huge lake.”
“So it does have a bottom eventually?”
“Eventually. However the bottom, is much further than you can imagine.” Strike tried to explain. 
“How much further?” I felt like an uneducated child. 
“If you stacked five rivers on top of one another, about that much.”
“How big a river?” 
“Deep and fast flowing.”
My education was interrupted by the crash of exploding glass as the porthole at the far end of the hold blew out. The lightning that had struck the glass arched into the room and snaked towards the statue. It hit the hammer where instead of being showered in stone splinters it earthed itself harmlessly. 
“Thor?” Strike called out. 
“Is he bringing the storm?” Korra asked the room at large. 
“That’s what Thor does. It does look like Thor.” Strikes trailed off, his confidence leaving him once again. 
“What is a Thor?” I enquired timidly. 
“It’s a god.” Strike said flatly.
Seeing my deflation at my ignorance he softened. 
“Thor is the embodiment of lightning.”
“Could you stop the storm please, so that we can reach land faster?” I turned to the creature of lightning. The last thing we needed right now was a Northlander God turning up full of vengeance because a greedy Emperor wanted a statue to decorate his favourite concubine’s garden.
Without seeming to pay any regard to what we were saying the creature, now with an ethereal glow from the strike as if the energy had spread from the hammer, underneath the grey armour to the marble flesh beneath.  Opened his mouth again and this time the voice had a faraway echo replacing the sound of stone on stone. 
“The wall is threated” There was no emotion to his voice, it was not a question but a statement. 
“Yes.” Strike answered anyway. 
“The dead rise.” He added.
The chaos of the storm that had mercilessly battered Captain Mikhail’s ship suddenly quietened and almost instantly there was calm. 
“Do what you have to do and do it quickly.” I span on my heels to face the Captain who did not answer me. He was hanging his head out of the porthole pointing out to sea. We jointed him peering out the rim of smashed glass, a few last drops of rain hit the ocean as if the clouds had unexpectedly run dry, as we watched the clouds evaporated and the sun began to shin, the sky the only pure blue you see after a storm.
“God of storms.” Strike pointed to the statue. 
“Do what you have to do and do it quick.” I repeated to Captain Mikhail. 
“Sorry, what did you say?” He asked pulling his head back though. 
“Get. Us. To. Land.” Korra spoke slowly, and pronouncing each word carefully. The Captain did not look as if he could hold a conversation for the time being. 
“This is what was causing that storm.” She persisted.
The colour had drained from his face, he looked as if he would pass out at any moment. He had been coping with things quite well up until the lightning had lashed thought the porthole, now it looked as if he was about to shut down. He rallied quickly and looked as if he was about to give an angry reply but then one of the crewmen leaned over his shoulder. 
“I think you should listen to her captain.”
“As do I, it was not natural the way that storm came upon us so quickly.” Added another. 
“We don’t know what that thing is, we signed up to move a statue. That is obviously not a statue.” Someone else joined in. 
“To me that is a god.” Strike warned the crew. “LAND!” He commanded. 
“Very well.” The captain concurred. He poked his head out the porthole and bellowed orders to the crew on deck. 
“Make way for the port at Royal City! As quick as we can!”
Pulling his head in he turned to Strike
“Do you wish for your ship to remain lashed to ours? We can pull it alongside without much difficulty given the size of your vessel.”
“If we’re going in the same direction just drop my boat. We’ll move faster.” Strike instructed. 
“As you wish. You’ll understand if we don’t actually make port at the Royal City harbour. If it’s found that we’ve arranged for the theft of one of these…Whatever that is from the Great Peaks, will be clapped in irons by the… ” Mikhail began. 
“Then might I suggest we go to land a lot closer.” Interrupted Strike. 
“Good idea.” He said before walking out of the room.
We could hear his voice indistinctly above deck yelling orders to the crew while the cry of gulls filled the tranquil sky. 
“Actually stop!” Strike yelled running to the captain before his longboat was cut loose. 
“Load the statue onto my ship and I’ll sail it to land.” He ordered.
The captain looked thoughtful before asking “But what do we tell the Emperor, we can’t go back empty handed, it will ruin us.”
“Tell him a Northlander took it.” Strike stated. 
“Hmm, that could work.” 
“It got loose in the storm and fell overboard?” I suggested. 
“Very well, you there!” He pointed at a passing crew member. “See to it to that…whatever it is, is loaded onto the long ship.”
Looking to the statue, he had returned to holding the hammer downwards, with his head almost resting on the handle, his blank eyes staring at nothing. 
“Do you have a name?” I tried one last time but the creature did not answer.
As rare as the skies raining down diamonds Strike pulled his money pouch out and produced fifty gold pieces and passed them to the Captain who took them without a word. While the Captain was distracted by the sudden influx of wealth Strike took the opportunity to pocket the blue crystal vile that had started this in the first place.
The sailors that had been ordered to move the statue were more than hesitant, I was told by Strike that those who travelled the seas were a superstitious bunch at their best and gossiped more than fishwives, whatever they were and so news that it was an embodiment of a god of lightning was firmly rooted in their minds.
“It took ten of us to drag it on-board captain, I dunno, err, it’s not natural.” He finished lamely. 
“Look at it this way, the sooner you move it onto their boat the sooner it’s off our boat.” Mikhail reasoned.
Reluctantly ten burly crewmen dragged it to the plank that connected Strikes boat to theirs and for one hair raising moment it looked as if it would be too heavy and the plank bowed, but eventually it was wrestled onto the long ship.
The sea was so calm the surface could have been used as a looking glass, reflected in the water the statue stared blankly down at hammer, while provisions were carried from the galleon to Strike’s long ship.
“Remember a Northlander took it.” Strike said with a wink as he stepped on board.
Gangplank pulled away and we are all back on the long boat.
Captain Mikhail points in front of him on own boat I have no idea which way as there are no visible land marks in the ocean and no stars as its daylight
“If you sail in that direction for a couple of days, it should see you to land. If you want to get to the harbour of Royal City it will take about four days.” Pointing 
“No, I think we’ll just head for land, thank you.” Strike replied.
 The Captain turned to Korra. 
“I wish we had met in better circumstances than this.” Mikhail said to Korra, taking her hand. 
“As do I cousin.” Korra replied.
With all things said Mikhail turned back to duties on his own ship, he unties the ropes that were lasing the two ships together and they depart on their own voyage once more.
Before they disappeared over the horizon Strike turned to duties on his own ship, checking that the storm hadn’t bashed it about too much and finally unfurled the sails, I think that if he had been on his own he would have kissed it.
The sea breeze caught them, billowing them out like a fat man’s stomach and the boat drifts forward, running in front of the wind with a very happy Strike steering towards the shore line.
After two days plain sailing the coast rose up on the horizon. Beyond the hidden shore line the tall buildings of the Great City’s stretched up towards the heavens above. 
At the centre of the sky brushing buildings lay the heart, Royal City. It had originally been built as a palace but like all prospering towns it had sprawled out to meet the ongoing demands of the constantly multiplying inhabitants.
Strike navigated the boat to a shallow waters of the beach, dropped the anchor a little way out as not to beach the boat when Korra raised a very good point. 
“Do we have any means of getting him to shore or are we just going to drop him to the ocean floor and let him walk up the beach himself?”
“Yeah. Hmm. The other option is try talking to it and explain that it’s going to have to walk” Strike offered. 
“But as we have no smaller boat that will take his weight, will have to try talking.” Korra cut in. 
“I need to get you to the shore, this is as close as we can get.” Strike spoke at the statue, visibly uncomfortable talking to the creature, the possibly of it being one of his gods obviously a concern.
He shrugged at the lack of response, the statue still in centre of deck, where it had been left by Foldor’s crew very slowly, with the relaxed pace of a glacier started walking towards the edge of the boat. 
There was no facial expression and its hands were still out bent at the elbow holding the hammer as it moved. At the edge it did not stop to judge the distance but just continued walking and with an enormous splash sunk like its namesake to the seabed. 
“Let’s get to the beach. Do you want to accompany him, oh crocodily one?” Strike asked me not taking his eyes off the statue.
Peering over the side into the clear calm water, I could see the reflection of the gulls wheeling over head on the scout for food. Looking deeper I watched the stone warrior hit the bottom with a cloud of sand before it begun making its slow paced way up towards the beach. 
Happy to leave it to its own devices for a while we lower down the smaller boat into the water and followed.
Our boat arrive on beach just as the warrior’s battle clad head rose out of water. Again it did not stop, water gushed out of every crevice as it walked without hesitation towards the direction of Royal City. 
“Are we following it?” I asked, watching its receding silhouette getting slightly smaller with every step. 
“Yes” Strike answered, also unable to tear his gaze away.
He pulled the boat out of water and beach it out of sight, before securing it to the rocks.
It was not hard to track, the huge impressions left by its feet were an easy giveaway to which way it went but it was relentless. We followed it for almost a day before we needed to rest. Unlike us the statue did not rest or tire as we do but it moved so slowly that even with a meal and a full nights rest it was easy to catch up with. 
On third day of following the stone warrior one of the coastal watch towers seemed to rise out of the ground like a mushroom with each step. 
Without slowing its pace the stone creature continued on its journey, even the voice hollering down did not deter it.
 “Who goes there?”
“We don’t know, we just saw it walk up off the shore.” Korra being a bit quicker than either of us answered.
There was a pause then the voice shouted down once more. 
“State your business!!”
“Was that to us or the man mountain?” Strikes muttered out the corner of his mouth. 
“We’re following the stone man!” Strike shouted just in case. 
I was beginning to get used to humans and their conversations, it was not exactly telling falsehoods if we miss bits out.
Elven hearing was a little keener than human, and from inside the watch tower I hear a voice, belonging to another man speak slightly lower than the first. 
“Oh, it’s another one of those things.” 
“They have seen these before.” I inform my friends.
Strike looked at me as if to say oh yay there is more than one. 
“You there! In the armour!”
“What?” Strike answered in automatic response. 
“Stop moving.” Ordered the first voice.
No answer. They do not seemed to have noticed us at all
“It doesn’t seem to stop. We have been following it for days!” Strike yelled, determined to be noticed.
The cry of gull’s circling high above was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a bell being rung in the tower.
And sure enough, the warning bell slowly began to bring a crowd of Humans out to see what all the fuss was about and if it was going to be entertainment or danger or, knowing Humans whether there was profit in it. They gather in the streets, peering at the relentless warrior walking forwards, not noticing what interest it was gathering. 
A number of guards, wearing plate armour, carrying shields with the crown insignia of the king and carrying spears quickly formed a unit in front of the statue. They were clearly expecting trouble placed their shields ahead of the first row, spears jutting out of any available space. Watching from a safe distance Strike murmured “this is not going to end well” and with that foreboding thought we shrank away and melted into the crowd.
The solders, see that it had no intention of stopping lower their weapons, letting them rest on of their shields.
From inside the formation a voice, the kind of voice not used to being disobeyed shouted “HALT! You may go no further.”
The walking statue completely ignored him, like everything else took no notice and carried on. 
“You try, it’s your God!” I pointed at strike. 
“Stop!” he almost squeaked unconvinced.
But still no reaction. 
“Don’t harm them.” He says a bit quieter. 
“It seems that people are no threat to it but they might well be. I’m just gona stand back and see what happens. If they all end up killing each other, well then I’ll have another song to sing to remember them by.” We continued to watch the retreating warrior as we worked out if Korra meant that to be spoken or a thought.
The stature drew level with the spears, a few of the closest solders jabbed at what they could reach but to no effect. They may have jabbed at the wind
“They do not know there’s a threat to the wall.” I pointed out
As soon as the words left my lips the statue turned its head as if he heard my words opened his mouth like a child’s wooden doll and the words reverberate around the city “THE WALL IS THRETENED.” 
Before continuing to walk forward, brushing past the City Guard, it was not a hostile action but as if they were leaves around his feet. 
“Stand your men down!” Strike yelled over the gathering crowds, if he wanted to melt into the background he was certainly going the wrong way about it, clearly I still had a lot to learn about Humans.
A number of enthusiastic guards threw themselves at its feet, before bouncing off into the grimy city floor, possibly trying to slow the giant down.  It was like watching a Human try and stop a glacier.
Seeing all attempts fail Strike turned to us. 
“Yeah well, I think we should go around this lot and meet it on the other side.” 
Eventually the guards also picked up on the idea that this creature could not be dissuaded from his task and began to follow it. As a matter of military pride however they walked with their spears resting on the top of their shields, lest it suddenly became vulnerable to Human weapons.
“I think it best we not be seen.” Strike mouths, clearly nervous of the amount of people gathering to watch the statue. 
“Look around, there’s one hell of a crowd following it by now, look one guy’s selling food! Nobody is paying us any attention.” Korra argued. 
“The pale skin stands out love.” Strike disputed. 
“Even so, we’re dirty enough. There are enough travellers in a city like this.”
While they were arguing I heard one of the guard
“SIR! It looks like its heading to the wall like the others.” Picking up a slight echo through his visor. 
“We obviously can’t do anything to stop it. Err, follow it at a distance. Hopefully it will just take up position like the others and stay there.” His commander sounded like he was sick of the sight of the things. 
“I don’t think we can do anything else with it.” Korra whispered so quietly that it was barely audible above the crowd. 
“No, we’re going to skirt round this lot and…” Strike began. 
“…Going to head towards the wall…” I chipped in. 
“…And pick it up to where it’s going.” Strike finished. 
“Alright then.” Korra agreed, seeing it was two against one.
Picking our way through the feted backstreets I noticed that in such a vast sprawling space there was not one piece of green. It was an overpopulated desert which I understood inhabited most of the Northern part of the continent. All cobbled streets and towering buildings. I wanted to cry at such at such a huge dislocation from nature.
It felt like we had been wandering forever in my own personal hell. Dipping in and out of side streets, doubling back on ourselves more times than I would like to remember as Korra tried to recognise some part of the city. 
Walking down a narrow cobbled path, littered with debris no one could longer make use of, a filthy street kid stood on the corner in the middle of eating an apple. He stood there wide eyed and opened mouthed at the sight of the stone warrior. 
“We need to get to this king.” Strike reminded us. 
“What’s the quickest way to the palace?” Korra asked the urchin. Again, Human words, I had always thought of them as a spiny, gritty sea creature with not much meat on them. Although now I can understand their thinking. 
“Ya wot?” He said spraying bits of chewed apple. 
“The quickest way to the palace mate?”
He chewed and swallowed, giving him time to think. 
“If you, erm, if you take, take Crown Street down there. Err, t-t-turn onto the main street after that. Err, then its s-s-s-s-traight on d-d-down to the palace. You can’t miss it. It’s in the middle. The p-p-p-palace is so big you can’t miss it. It’s called Royal City because the palace is the size of a city.” He managed. 
“Where would the king be?” Korra inquired. 
“I-I-I-in the palace!” He looked at her as if it was chicken time again. 
“This lie just might work.” Strike said to himself. 
“T-t-t-they say he has like a golden throne room. Can you imagine that? A whole room made out of gold!” The child continued oblivious. 
“Throne room in the middle of the palace is where we need to seek audience.” Korra said also in her own little world. I wish someone would tell me what they were thinking.
As payment to the urchin’s information Korra gave him a button that had come loose off her clothes. It was very shiny and ornate but still as far as I could see, a button.
To him though it was worth its weight in gold and he took it relevantly. 
“T-t-t-thank you, thank you miss.” He stammered.
Strike watched him run off into the crowd to show off his treasure before speaking. 
“Right then, new plan.” 
At last! They were voicing their thoughts. 
“I am going to state that I am acting on behalf of the Northlands in regards to all the hostile actions that has been perceived to be from our tribes. Allowing us a chance to explain to the King what the hells is going on the other side of that wall.”
“Good enough, and we are you’re…?” Korra queried. 
“You are my bard.” He pointed at Korra
“And you are my council.” He turned to me. 
“Okay, there’s our plan.” Korra settled.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 3

Watching the last White Ship sailing away was the most heart wrenching thing I have ever done. I forced myself not to look away, if I could not look my Elders in the eye as they departed I would not give them the satisfaction of turning away now. Bile boiled in my stomach with anger at their desertion of both my people and the younger races who’s needed us now more than ever. Part of me expecting them to return and face the chaos the Elders had let happen but as the river fog began to close over the swans head Silanthus stood and held up his arm, bent at the elbow that was tucked into his side as a final farewell gesture I knew this was the last time I would ever see any of them.
“Remember, there may be long-term effects of your vision, past present or future. Fair well.” His voice was as clear as if he was standing by my side.
I forced myself not to turn to the sound of his voice and watched as the last Great White Ship was enveloped by the mist.
“That was a bit dramatic, what kind of parent can they call themselves running away like that.” Strike said in an attempt to lift my mood and breaking the silence.
Korra said nothing, she was in total awe of witnessing, first-hand the one of the most important parts of Elven history.
Turning away, looking towards the Ziggurat I could see the fifty that had remained behind; watching them mill around like lost children the emotions on their faces clearly showing they shared my feelings of disbelief, regret, anger, and also wanting it all to be a bad dream. If Silanthus waving goodbye was not proof of the reality of the situation, then watching the ship disappear like the sun sink below the horizon certainly was. Korra managed to find her voice and leaned over to me.
“Is there some sort of celebration?” She whispered.
‘For saying goodbye to everything you have ever known and believed and knowing that there is no way of ever claiming it back?’ I thought bitterly, but I just said “Not really, no.”
“So what do we do now?” she asked, I had a feeling this was going to go in her song too.
“Carry on as normal,” I said with a shrug.
Turning to walk away from the river’s edge I heard Zephandius’ voice, “They have abandoned us brothers and sisters…”
I could not help but smile, the last of our race had not even been gone for a few heart beats and already this mini tyrant had to rub salt into the wound; my gut told me that if there was to be a war he would be one of those to start it then be safely at the back.
“…Those committed to staying behind, now is the time to be known to the younger races. Do not hide like our leaders. I call on you, all of you, brave of heart to be brave one last time and present ourselves to the Emperor as aid to his people. The fire of our race has not burned out! Let us fight one last time!” je shouted passionately.
Strike, a fly in anyone’s ointment if he chose to be raised his hand and Zephandius turned, “Yes my friend?” He may have thought he was being welcoming but where Strike came from that was the words spoken right before the first punch was thrown.
“I have a question, as a member of one of the younger races.”
Zephandius nodded for him to continue.
“What happens when they don’t listen?” He asked with the air of someone willing to bet money on what will happen.
“I will ask to speak with them. As some chose not to stay I would not fight them to listen.”
“But they may see you to be a threat, Dark Elves attacking Humans after all.”
“I do not know of these Dark Elves of which you speak but I would seek an audience with the Emperor…”
“Why not instead of going to the Emperor, speak with local village rulers to get followers?” Strike suggested with a smirk.
“I would speak with the Emperor about…” Zephandius tried to speak again but was interrupted this time by Korra.
“If you approach at the bottom, by the time you reach the City your argument may be more persuasive.”
“You have a very good point, but with the very little time that we do have we need to act. Humans may not feel the corruption of the Lands but Elven kind can,” he stopped and thought for a moment before continuing “I will meditate on what you have said and talk with the others in the morning.” Zephandius disappeared into the Ziggurat.
Realising the show was over for now Korra stopped scribbling down her notes and looked at me, “What do you want to do?” The Elves, also realising that the meeting had come to an end began to empty out of the courtyard.
“We need to know more about the Dark Elves,” I said, staring at nothing.
“Where is it, the tree I mean?” Strike asked the question I could not answer.
“All I know is that it is in the forests but I have told you all I saw.”
“The forests west of here, in Human legends anyway, are dark woods, full of bones and swampy jungle.” Korra volunteered.
“Ah, yeah but some legends of dark and haunted forests are only to the west because Northlanders killed a few people who entered the trees and never returned. Oooooo don’t go in there, such and such went in there and was never seen again,” he said waiving his hands in the air as he would telling a child a ghost story.”
“It’s still a good a place as any to start,” I said resisting the urge to stick my tongue out at him.
* * *
It was fairly easy traveling across the river, south of Three Rivers there was very little traffic, it was understandable humans were being attacked in their own villages, they would not feel safe enough to travel far; we were undisturbed as we crossed the bridge and headed west into the jungle, by force of habit I felt the mood of the land. Somehow the anger in the land had grown stronger, had I not been expecting it, it would have been almost too strong for me to control, I swallowed hard, trying to somehow swallow down the hatred. I knew I had to tell the others but at the same time not lash out at them.
“You know. You know how the Elves have been…” I began through gritted teeth.
“Running away?” Strike cut in. Usually this would have made me laugh not now I felt the wrath of the lands rise up and before I could stop myself I retaliated.
“Look if you don’t want to fucking listen” I snapped
“Is it important?” He said in with a smile on his face. Something that generally would have defused the situation but it riled me even more.
“If you don’t want to fucking listen, then fine!” I shouted, trying to suppress the rage.
“Well, what is it?” Strike said with the same smirk. Oh how I wanted to wipe the smile off his face.
“Fuck off then! Fine, don’t listen then!” I screamed at the rage and at Strike
“I do” Korra said meekly
“This rage in the land is somehow stronger than ever before, I don’t know if I will be able to contain it.” I said calming down enough to speak in full sentences.
“How bad is it?” She asked quietly.
“Bad enough that I may need to be restrained at some point.” I admitted. I felt better for being able to tell them.
Without another word Korra picked up her flute and began to play the songs she had learned inside the Ziggurat, hearing the words of my childhood sung in Korra’s soft hypnotic tones seemed to quell the resentment I held and seeing the endless melodies irritate Strike chased away any lingering animosity.
Now that my mind was not clouded I found myself thinking if I could feel the effects of whatever it was and it was powerful enough for me to tear into close friends then how would the land lash out? Curious how the influence may be infecting the land I gazed around the jungle, although the trees were upright and growing they looked as if they were rotting. Dark, slime coloured leaves grew from the higher branches and the solid wooden trunks looked spongy and frail; as we continued our journey the trees became worse, until the trunks and leaves took on a grey colour I had only ever seen on a leprous corpse.
“Humour me here, are you seeing the same as me?” I asked my companions
“It is a wood,” Strike said pointing out the obvious.
“You are not helping,” I tried to warn him.
“I come from the Northlands, all we see is snow, that and giant white bears. It’s a wood. I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like.”
“Yes, I do,” said Korra, trying to stop the argument before it begun.
“Then are trees supposed to be the same colour of putrid corpses?” I snapped back. Realising that I was about to start fighting with the only people I trusted I walked a little way off to try to quieten the rage inside.
While I was pulling myself together Strike, noticed something half hidden in the rotting undergrowth; from where I stood I saw him bend down and after rummaging around produced a battle axe, the blade was pitted and rusty, presumably from where it had been lying on the wet grass and from the look of the decaying metal it had been there for some time. My eyes travelled down the weapon to the wooden haft, what I saw did not make sense, I took a step closer to get a better look and realised my eyes were not deceiving me, the hollows in the wood where the rot had eaten into the shaft were oozing a thick deep red sap like substance making the handle look as if it was bleeding.
 
Sensing that something was not right I began walking over to Strike my mouth open forming the words to warn him; before I could speak an almost comical look of revulsion spread across his face as he felt the slime between his fingers, he bent forward carefully and after a few heartbeats and the sound of rustling grass and a strange soft sigh Strike stood up again and began to wipe his hand on all and anything around him. When it could not be scraped off he tried flicking it off only to find the abnormal substance had adhered to his hand he took a leather water bag and began to wash his hands, he must have stood up too quickly as he suddenly became very pale and clammy, almost as if he had caught a chill.
“That is poison,” he said, making his actions a lot clearer.
Looking behind him I could now explain the soft sigh, lying behind Strike was the decaying body of a Northlander; animals, bugs and decay had eaten away too much of his flesh for the body to be identified any clearer than of his homeland and if to answer honestly it was more his clothing that gave away that secret. His chest had caved, possibly from the axe placed there and the reason for the detached sigh and why Strike was busy trying to scrape the blood red gloop from his hand.
While Korra busied herself with not seeing breakfast again I looked helplessly at Strike.
“I am a shape shifter not a healer, I know nothing of poisons or cures,” I apologised.
“I’ll be fine,” He shrugged.
“Let me know if I can be of any help,” I offered. I really didn’t want my emotional ties with the land to come between us.
Feeling a little braver Korra stood up, “Could it be ingested or skin contact?” All three of us looked at the surrounding jungle.
“Try not to touch the forest,” Strike ordered then realised how hard that would actually be. Looking for the path of least resistance forced us to study the vegetation, not something that most spend their time on unless gathering ingredients for rites or rituals which is why none of noticed that the trees were also bleeding from knots and holes in the trunks.
“I’m going to stab a tree,” Strike announced. I looked at him, questioning whether the poison was working faster than first thought.
“What?” he asked, seeing my confusion.
“And if a branch comes crashing down through the canopy and catapults you to the Gods knows where, what then?”
“Then we have found Oak Heart.”
Lunging forward he successfully stabbed a trunk, the blade of his rapier sinking further than expected. Pulling the sword out the same blood like sap began to trickle down the sickly coloured bark.
“Ta da! We have found poison,” he said with a flourish. Strike crouched down and watched the thick liquid crawl down the timber, “The poison appears to be the sap of the tree but not of the tree.” His voice sounded strange, the poison was defiantly affecting him.
“Is that some form of Human Higher Seer sort of a thing?”
“No,” he snapped before trying to explain again, “It is in the tree but it is not part of the tree.”
“Something’s poisoning the land then?” Korra suggested.
“Yes I imagine so as it feeds off the land,” Strike replied.
“No, there is no evidence of the earth being poisoned, only the plants and trees are effected,” Korra pointed out.
Strike suddenly had a look of grim realisation, “This reminds me of a story from home. A man trapped in an unhappy marriage attempts to poison his wife. Not an honourable act, the word for poison in the Northlands means woman’s revenge. And the reason I was banished. Anyway, this wife was a very intelligent woman and tricks him to drink from the poisoned cup. This is a very cowardly act, we believe that if you die from poison and not battle when you get to the Gates of Valhalla those gates would be closed. Forcing your spirit to wander the worlds for all eternally. So, he wandered the land of the dead and eventually found himself back in the lands of the living. Because his spirit is corrupted when he returns from the grave he corrupts the land he walks on. After a time of searching he finds and kills his wife. In the story the land returned to healed itself when he had avenged his cowardly death and could return to rest.”
Hearing this legend made us all speechless, “So we know what is wrong but was mulchy guy a bystander or involved?”  Korra spoke slowly, trying to form the words that for the moment escaped all of us.
“I’d say no, he was just infected.”
Silence enveloped us for a second time.
“Would you be welcome home?” An uncomfortable silence followed Korra’s question to Strike and he laughed nervously.
“Well, you might be alright…” he pointed at Korra “They have never seen an Elf before so you’re ok…” he directed at me. “But me? Well maybe all will be forgiven,” he finished sarcastically, “But if we must,” He said with a deep sigh.
I turned to face him to try to give him some comfort but coming over Strike’s shoulder was the puss filled, putrefying disintegrating body lumbering towards us with his hand, dripping in flesh and slime stretched out, revealing the sharp tips of finger bones that looked very much like claws; I felt the rake of dead man’s fingers slash down my side and with a squeal that changed to a squawk I shape shifted into a macaw and flew upwards to the safety of the tree above. Out the corner of my eye I could see blue and red feathers fluttered down as I fought for height, where the claws had slashed at my side as I shifted, instead of the burning warning feeling of an unclean injury I felt coldness that almost burned before turning numb.
Korra, not used to holding a weapon, waved an unsteady blade towards the walking corpse trying to attract its attention, seeing the bard the shambling figure staggered towards her, arms outstretched trying to grab her; using this distraction to his advantage Strike stalked the creature and managing to get right up behind him, drawing the blade of his rapier across the back of it’s neck, severing the head from the body. This did not seem to affect the animated corpse the way we had hoped, instead of the body dropping to the floor it stumbled before righting itself and continued to claw at Korra. Expecting it to turn on Strike he quickly backed off before finding another vantage point and waiting for his pray to edge closer. The head had tumbled to the ground and rolled to a stop at the trunk of a tree, on hitting the bark the jaw snapped open and an ear piercing shriek tore through the forest. The screech was answered by the sound of splintering rotten wood, the sound flung me back to my vision of the Dark Elf tree roots and feeling sick from what could be making the sound I found myself staring at the roots of the surrounding trees; they slid over each other like snakes in a sack before the remains of a hand burst through and began pulling whatever it was attached to out of an unmarked grave.
What emerged had once been an Orc but time and the corruption that had poisoned everything it came in contact with had only left a few grisly hints of who it had once been; “WATCH YOUR FEET!” I squawked. An icy grip was trying to crawl through my body leaving me feeling weakened and unwell. From my vantage point in the tree I could see several places where the roots seemed to be alive before four more corrupted souls heaved out of the earth; there was the Orc, a Human Northlander (with his enormous build and two short axes, the weapons of choice for a Northlander barbarian he could not be mistaken for anything else), a Human settler (from the threadbare remains of his clothing) and an elf.
Ignoring the newcomers or too busy to notice them advancing Korra slashed wildly at the first walking corpse and with luck on her side one of the blows caught the creature down its shoulder and through the collapsed chest cutting it in two, as it fell there was a tearing sound as its bone claws scraped down her leather armour, leaving little protection against the four abominations still standing. Realising that my current form was not ideal for fighting I changed back and still crouching on the branch that I had flown onto I loaded the Orc short bow Strike had given me back on the shoreline after the first Orc attack. I knew it was only down to shear dumb luck if I managed to hit my target, I was not used to weapons of any sort that were not already attached to me, but I took a deep breath to steady myself and, on the point where inhale turned back to exhale, I loosed my arrow at the poor creature that was once an Elf. Either the creature moved too quickly or I was unlucky, either way my bolt missed the target, pink slurry sprayed up and outwards as the arrow skimmed the side of the Elf’s skull, well I got its attention at least.
It took very little time for the dead Elf to cross the ground, a strange sort of bestial scuttle that used both arms and legs to run, and before I could blink it was at the base of the tree digging its exposed finger and toe bones into the soggy trunk, I hurriedly loaded again and with no time to aim shot at the Elf again; I watched the arrow fly past the creature, this seemed to spur the walking dead Elf on and with great strength it leapt onto the end of the branch I was standing on.  The Elf dropped on all fours, like an animal ready to strike and lunged at me, claws extended; ice cold pain that took my breath away surged through my shoulder as the walking dead creature burrowed its sharp finger bones deep into my flesh, it is strange how, when you feel you are about to die, how sharply things come into focus. Although I was not watching Strike or Korra fight, when the corruption of the abomination began to flow through me I looked down and saw Korra, driven by terror hack and slash at the advancing Human Settler sending pieces of flesh, skin and clothing flying into the air, her attack having no effect on the creature and her look of horror as its clawed hand raked across her face.
Strike, not far from Korra had successfully hacked the Orc to pieces, the scraps twitched, still animated by the poison coursing through the bodies but unable to do anything, an arm spasmed, grabbing at thin air and I am sure that an eye, still encased in a shard of skull rolled in its socket trying to look around; the shock of seeing this brought me back to my attacker and drawing strength from my terror I shape shifted into a mountain gorilla. I forced my hand into its mouth and grabbed the Elf’s face but the poison from my wounds had drained my strength and instead of ripping his jawbone from his head the Elf’s jaw clamped down on my hand; my only hope now lay in destroying the creature as fast as possible. I looked down to see where Strike and Korra were, Korra was still in a blind panic and weakening fast, slashing madly at her attacker while Strike slipped behind the human settler and buried the blade of his rapier deep in the small of the creatures back pulling up and splitting the abomination in half.
Seeing they were both out of danger I pulled at the last of my strength, using the fear and rage of the land to spurn me on I pushed off out into the air, the Elf continued to chew on my arm as I twisted round, forcing him underneath me and using the bulk of my form slammed the creature into the ground liquefying the corrupted Elf. Hearing the sound of me hitting the ground the dead Northlander turned and lumbered towards me, wearily I pulled myself up, ready for his attack when out of nowhere Strike appeared behind him and cut him down in a frenzied attack, hacking and slashing until there was nothing left to get back up.
Korra, barely able to stand in her weakened state, still found the strength to completely heal me, once satisfied I was healthy she urged us to keep moving, “I know of the urgency you feel but if you let me treat your wounds it will only take a few hours rather than days,” I explained, pulling poultices, bandages and herbal pastes out of my bag not waiting for her to answer. She nodded, too weak to answer, I began to treat the worst of her injuries when I noticed that the jungle was quiet, not like after a fight where all senses are heightened, this was the sound of the grave. There was us, the unnatural twitching limbs of the dissected walking dead, all making noise but there were no forest sounds, no birds, insects, animals, the normal music of the jungle.
I glanced around, still busy applying herbal pastes to bandages and dressing Korra’s wounds the trees still looked like they were rotting where they stood but did not seem to be getting any worse.
“This mystery tree in the nameless place, how are we supposed to destroy it?” Strike asked, picking at his boot.
“I say we burn it, everything can be cleansed with enough fire,” I mused bandaging the wound on Korra’s leg.
“Hmm,” Strike tilted his head to one side, it was easy to tell he liked the idea, “Too wet though,” he concluded.
“Can we not slaughter a few animals?” Korra murmered, still clearly weak from the attack. Strike and I looked at her, confused. “To get the tallow?” She explained hurriedly.
“There is nothing here, can you not hear it?” I began packing up what was left of my healing bag. ‘When I find some heathy vegetation I must gather all I can carry’ I thought to myself.
“Not really… human,” she said, referred to my contact with the lands, I shook my head.
“Can you hear the silence?” I gasped, amazed that they didn’t notice it before.
They strained to hear anything then from out of nowhere a boom like thunder, rasping, voice with a tone of that a high born lady would pick up something the cat brought in with a pair of tongs rumbled around us, “COWARD!”
We all looked around, expecting another form of attack at any moment, satisfied of no immediate danger we looked at each other, both Korra and I shared a look of bewilderment while Strikes shoulders sagged at some sort of recollection.
“THE GATES OF VALHALLA ARE CLOSED TO SUCH AS YOU!” The disembodied voiced hissed.
“As they are to you,” Strike replied mockingly.
“So you recognise it then?” Korra enquired.
“No, but I have an idea,” Strike said sighing.
Sitting down I emptied my head and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, I placed my hands out to my sides and down on the ground, I let my eyes rolled back as I freed myself from my worldly chains and melded with the land. I retched, I felt my body trying to rid itself of the poison in the land, every fibre of my being screamed at me that this was wrong, but behind it was some form of intelligence, willing it along.
Natural disasters were bad, this cannot be disputed but they are random acts that crash together to form chaos, this was controlled, it had poisoned the land so strongly that I found myself being smothered, I began fighting for breath, it felt as if I was drowning in the corruption. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, someone or something was standing directly behind me, I clenched my fists to gain some self-control and forced myself to turn around slowly.
A shadow three times as tall as Strike loomed over me, loathing pouring off the shadow so thickly that it was terrifying; there were no features to this being, much like there are no features to your own shadow but two large horns sat on its head, possibly part of the creature or maybe just some form of trophy or armour, the outline of its clothing looked to be thick furs of some kind and where its eyes should have been were two red glowing points of light. Looking down I could see its arms were huge and muscular. In its right hand was an axe almost as big as me and its left hand was dripping in blood, before I could speak the entity twisted the axe in its hand and swung at me; fear gripped me but I managed to move just in time, the blade sliced across my chest, it had meant to be a killer blow; my body decided to take control and dodged as my brain was hiding in a corner somewhere.
I slammed back into my body in time to see a thin red line open up where the sharp edge had caught my chest, the shock of the confrontation hit me and I fell back onto the dank grass; seeing me wounded Korra staggered over and tried to heal me with one of her ballads, unfortunately her own injuries distracted her too much and for once, she was unsuccessful. Her melody was drowned out by the voice from Strike’s past, “THE BLOODY HAND AWAITS!”
Sure that there was nothing more to add I explained to Strike and Korra what I witnessed while I tried to dress my wound with what I had left over in my bag, Strike began pacing up and down, he looked livid.
“The bloody left hand is a how we elect a new chief. All those who wish to rule enter the fight and last one standing wins. The corruption may be the result of me poisoning him.”
“So we have to kill you?” I said brightly.
“No, I have to face him.”
Korra opened her mouth but before she could speak there was a crashing through the undergrowth from something that sounded very big, unable to see any decent cover I shape-shifted into a grass snake and slid into the underbrush. Korra and Strike were about to hide when an elf, badly wounded fell through the vegetation, the top half of his body was a network of wounds and he held onto one arm, as he came closer we could see that it was almost completely hacked off. Relief swept over him when he saw my companions, seeing no danger I transformed back to my Elven form, he looked even more thankful on seeing myself.
“Thank goodness! I sensed an Elf here and hoped I would find someone,” he nodded his thanks to Korra as she tied a tourniquet around his arm, while she worked she sang an Elven healing song and, in time managed to heal him almost entirely.
“I did not know if anyone had survived. It was a massacre. They took us by surprise, we had no chance!”
“What happened?” Strike said slowly, trying to coax some sense out of the petrified Elf.
“Zephandius was rousing some followers to visit a few of the settlements to rally the Humans when the Ziggurat was attacked by dark shadows,” Zephandius told some of us to flee and carry a warning to nearby settlements.
“We need to find the Human settlements, we need to warn people, that is if any still live,” Korra added bitterly.
“No, there is no point wasting time telling people about it when we can stop it at the source.”
“Send him to warn the settlements,” Korra nodded towards the messenger.
“Yeah,” I agreed
“By the Elders! What happened here?” the elf asked, looking around for the first time.
“The dead are restless and rising. Watch for zombies.” It was important enough for all of us to speak at once, the elf swallowed hard and nodded.
“I must get to the surviving settlements and warn them,” he whispered
“I suggest a white flag, human settlements have been under attack. They may be hostile,” Korra said handing him a square of cloth I had stored for bandages.
“Yes, I agree,” he replied taking the cloth.
“Remember, there may be no survivors,” Strike said grimly.
The messenger nodded solemnly, saying “Good journey,” before walking away.
“Good journey,” we replied.
Somehow I think we were going to need all the blessings we could get.
* * *
We headed to the very edge of the jungle where the decaying trees began to thin out and give way to the icy snow covered mountains and barren rocky wilderness of the Northlands, compared to the hot, humid, warm, damp climate of the jungle with a unique, organic smell of vegetation both decaying and living side by side the air was cold, arid and crisp which tried to freeze your throat if inhaled deeply enough with a strange hint of tin which I was informed was the scent of snow. Our journey continued through this new terrain and I found myself excited at all the new discoveries, I had travelled over this type of land before but quickly and not with someone born and raised, knowing the lands as I knew the jungle. Breathing in the new aromas of this foreign land I found a trace of scent that once smelt was never forgotten, the heavy, pungent, spicy smell of smoke.
Leaving the tree line behind us we climbed over the ridge of a hill and were met with a scene devastation, the village of Axehome, a once proud and strong home to Northlanders was now nothing but smouldering ruins; no-one had been spared, men, women and children cut down like animals, the stench of rotting corpses and roasting flesh mixed with the acrid smoke created a smell that seemed to fill my whole world, I would never forget that stench for as long as I lived. Rats and beetles scuttled and scampered over the human and animal remains littered the pathways and the vacant stares of the dead watched us as we picked our way through the ransacked village. Strike led us to the stone longhouse with a charred, smouldering thatch roof at the centre of the settlement which seemed at first glance to be relatively unscathed.
“Is there a white flag?” Korra asked hesitantly
“We have no word for surrender,” Strike answered.
Whatever happened they had been worthy fighters, the charred scraps that remained were thicker here, they had defended this place with their last breath and were butchered for it; the towering, thick wooden doors that once protected the longhouse hung awkwardly, flapping weakly in a breeze that made the dying embers glow in the darkness of the building. Strike edged to the door and pushed it gently, with a thud that shook the foundations the door fell inwards, sending up a cloud of dust of cinders and ash.
Strike yelled out a greeting in his native tongue into the darkness, he was answered with a groan; drawing his sword Strike stepped into the gloom, with us following him. Inside was dark and the air caught in my throat making it hard to breathe, the torches that were usually held onto the wall with heavy metal brackets littered the floor. Shafts of light cut through the shadows from holes in the thatch, once used to let the smoke from the stone circled fire pit, now made much larger from the arrows, huge chunks of stone that had been used as bludgeoning projectiles and finally the fire that had raged as a final insult to the tribe. Picking our way through the wreckage Strike lead us to the back of the longhouse, in the centre of the back wall was a stone carving, a large bird of prey with its wings outstretched and claws extended, frozen in an eternal moment of striking its unseen prey.
Across the wingspan was a blood-spattered body lashed face down with its arms left hanging free over the statue, what I thought was a shadow falling over one hand was actually the hand dyed dark red; aggravated at the low light I shape-shifted to a spectacled owl and perched on one of the remaining joists, watching the shadows for any danger.  Strike approached the sacrificial figure and carefully cut him down, falling awkwardly Strike knelt down and caught him before he hit the floor and gently rolled him onto his back. A heavy set man, handsome but well weathered once honed muscle now plump with good food and not as much exercise dressed in the traditional Northlander furs and leather, his fiery red hair, flecked here and there with snow white patches matched his beard, both platted and tied with leather cord.
Even in the low light I could see the pallor fall from his face as he recognised what I can only presume to be a loved one, the northlander language although lost on me the anguish in his words was not; the intended sacrifice reached out towards strike and stroked his cheek tenderly, almost as if he was scared that he would vanish like a dream.
“Is that really you?”
“Yes uncle.”
“The old King returned, bringing with him an army. I came here to negotiate, the Northlands were being blamed for the raids on the Kingdom. The old king returned with an army of slaughtered warriors. For ever one that fell. Two took his place.”
“An army of dead?”
“Yes, an army of the damned; I was to be left as a message, my men who fell joined his army and lashed me here.”
Strike looked confused, was he not understanding what was being said or was it that the Chief was in so much pain that he just was not making sense? They stopped speaking when Korra moved closer, as far as I knew she did not know the language either but she could see that he was in a great amount of pain. Her hypnotic, soothing song for all the magic it could do could not heal the once great Chieftain but his grimace of pain slackened into a more peaceful expression.
“And my family?” Strike looked anxious with this question.
“I hope I saved your sister. I sent her away with my best men on one of my ships. I made them swear they would not tell me where they were taking her. I did not want to compromise her position should I be caught. I believe in my heart she is still alive.”
Although to me the conversation was nothing more than a succession of grunts, I did not want to pry into such a compassionate reunion and so the discussion was left a mystery. Speaking now in a language we all understood the Chief continued.
“This poison is unknown to us, we fight steal and bone not with trickery and poison. Ragnor is a host on the mainland, no doubt causing unimaginable chaos.” The chief stopped to catch his breath which was becoming more laboured. Although he would never admit it there was deep sadness in Strikes eyes.
“Do you wish a warrior’s death uncle?” Strike spoke in the universal language of traders.
“Let me die as it is intended, with a sword in my hand, not as a feeble old man,” a spark of defiance burned in his sea blue eyes before the weight of his injuries pulled him back.
Korra handed Strikes uncle a sword who nodded to her, shaking off any help he dug the tip of his blade into the earth as he pushed himself up onto his feet, once ready he nodded to strike and held the double handed broadsword in a defensive position. Strike nodded back and the blade of his rapier slid from its scabbard, Strike ran at him with his weapon upheld going in with a foreswing and followed it with a backswing, his uncle dogged the first and met the second with his blade but only just, his beliefs said he must die in battle to reach Valhalla but no one said how quickly the fight had to last. With his arms up in defence his belly was exposed and Strike sliced deeply, making for a quick death; his uncle fell to his knees and grabbed Strikes leg, with a grateful look fell forward, finally at peace.
Wanting his uncle to receive a true warrior’s burial we whiled away the hours building a pyre aboard one of the surviving longboats securing torches into the soft wet earth to see by when the sun finally set; the sorrowful melodies of Korra’s flute drifted out over the water as Strike pushed his uncles boat off the shore line, waited until the current took it and with great reverence placed a single arrow into the flickering torch, waited for the strip of cloth wrapped around it to catch and fired it high into the air. A gust of wind caught the arrow and for a moment it looked as if it would be blown off course, someone watching the farewell had other ideas and the still flaming arrow landed directly in the middle of the pyre.
Slowly, timidly the flames crept over the boat until it exploded with confidence and engulfed the long ship.
When his spirit had been accepted to the afterlife and the fires were no longer visible we readied the one remaining sea worthy ship and set off to the Royal City, still, as far as we were aware untouched by the avenging spirit of Ragnor.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 2

This is a write-up by one of the players (Kelly Grimshaw) of our second Sapphire Island Dungeon World session, Kelly plays the elven druid Demanor in the campaign.
Stepping back on board Strike shifted his weight on his forward foot, he stepped to the left and the right then behind him, after his attack on invisible cockroaches he lay full length on the deck with one eye closed.  Running one hand in front of his vision he then squatted down and using a dagger he levered up a board that looked exactly the same as the others, revealing a hidden smugglers compartment; prising the deck plank loose and setting it to one side he leaned down and pulled out a bulging leather pouch. Inside the bag was more sapphires than I had ever seen before, on the Sapphire Islands these things were used as marbles in children’s games but outside of the Islands these little stones that shone blue in the light like the sun glinting off the ocean were much rarer.
“The boat looks not as bad as I first thought, with the Orc arrow and spear holes? Two to three days’ work at most.” Strike said casually making the leather purse magically disappear into his pocket.
The attack from the Orcs had left us all wounded but Strike most of all, his proud heritage would not allow him to show any weakness and he set about moving the boat closer to shore as possible while I kept a lookout for driftwood, Korra went into the Captain’s cabin for any information she could use in her ballads. Whilst I was healing the wounds inflicted by the Orc’s spears she emerged with a Ships log written in quill and ink. 
“Most of it is usual reports. Weather, wind direction, discipline of crew, that sort of thing but here in the margins are some strange shapes. Look, they’re all over the place, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of order but the same symbols appear again and again.” 
Korra showed the ink drawings to us but neither of us recognised what they were. 
“Very interesting but we have more important things to do. We need driftwood for a start.” Strike said throwing the anchor over the side with a splash.
A jaunty tune travelled through the air as we were collecting anything we could use, closely followed by a middle-aged man pulling an empty wooden handcart behind him. 
“HALLO THERE!” He yelled waving one hand over his head. 
“Hello.” Strike returned his greeting. 
“How are you this fine morning?” He enquired before looking us up and down and adding, “You look like you’ve been in the wars.”
“Bloody” Strike replied flatly. 
“It seems that strange things are happening even on well-travelled paths such as this,” the man said almost to himself. 
“Oh, how?” Strike asked. 
“All the local villages, Three Rivers included are all hysterical, they say the woods are coming to life, mythical creatures are being spotted, Orcs are attacking settlements. It’s all getting a bit crazy at Three Rivers; as a merchant I can recognise a powder keg when I see one. And I says to myself it’s time to move on, a stone mason can make a fortune there.” He explained shaking a substantial oiled leather pouch which gave a rich heavy chink of coins.
Powder Keg? There aren’t many who know what one is outside the Sapphire Islands, I thought but stayed quiet, this man liked to talk.
“They’re paying for stone hand over fist there. It’s needed for all the settlements being turned into villages. I’m on the way to the village of Crossmount in the shadow of the Great Peaks, there I am going to pick up another concession of stone and sell it on for a profit; when I’ve finished I’m off to Gate town and spend some money. Money talks there if you know what I mean?” he said with a wink.
Strike took one look at the pouch and for a moment his eyes widened at the thought of such wealth, you would have to watch him closely and know him well to spot the involuntary reaction of the thief but it was still there.
Pausing for breath the merchant looked us up and down again, “What is it that you do?” 
“Tell you what, help me repair the ship and I’ll sail you up as close to Crossmount as the river will allow,” Strike said expertly avoiding the question. 
“I’m not a ship builder, but unskilled labour for a ride, yeah sure. You have a deal my friend.”
Nodding his agreement Strike then turned to us, “We need dry wood for repairing the ship and wet wood for tar.”
“When you say wet do you mean green wood or wood out of the ocean?” Korra asked. 
“Green, we need sappy wood to make the tar,” Strike used his slow for children and the hard of understanding voice again.
To while the time away Korra offered to pay for the merchant’s life story.
“Well I’m honoured, but it’s not very exciting. My name is Tibbs, I grew up in the Sapphire Islands and when I could work I went into the family business; I moved over here to quarry the stone and sold it on and moved to Three Rivers and found any amount of crazy people all telling me these stories of walking trees, Orcs attacking people and the creatures returning to the forests so I moved back down here, saw your ship and well here I am.”
While Tibbs regaled Korra with his life story I felt the need to check the way of the land, his voice faded to a background whisper as I felt my spirit merge with the ground; nature was still out of balance but this time I was ready for the wave of aggression and managed to control it as it washed over me. The voices of the people around me got louder as I returned still feeling a little on edge, like the feeling you get when you’re expecting something horrible to happen but never does.
Trying to explain these emotions I began listening to the wildlife chartering around me as I continued on with my work hoping they would be able to help. All their hoots, squawks, squeaks and clicks as clear to me as my own language, but no matter what the animal they all said the same thing. 
“ELFMEET! ELFMEET!” the many voices of the forest shouted excitedly. That was strange, my kind did not meet often, only when a decision would affect all of us or perhaps a celebration or mourning. I put down my tools and walked over to the tree line, hunkering down I tried to attract a rather more intelligent animal and was rewarded with a magnificent red and blue macaw landed nearby on a branch at shoulder height. 
“ELFMEET! ELFMEET!” he broadcast to the world. 
“Where is the meeting?” I asked in Elven. 
“ELF CITY. IN JUNGLE!” he screeched. 
“What in the ruins?”
“NO! ELF CITY! ELF CITY!”
“What about?”
“BIG THINGS! IMPORTANT TALKS!”
“Are all elves expected to attend?”
“WE TELL THEM, WE TELL THEM!”
“What about those who have not heard the message? I did not know until now?”
“WE TELL THEM! WE TELL THEM!”
“They have asked you to tell us?”
“WE TELL THEM! EVERYONE!” 
Now a macaw is considered an intelligent animal but it is still only an animal, and from his answers I realised that was all he could tell me, I found some fruit and gave it to the bird for his trouble, thanked him and walked back to the ship.
Strike watched me carefully as I climbed back on board, as far as he could see an Elven Druidess was talking to a parrot which was shrieking incomprehensibly at her; silently Strike handed me an Orc short bow and a number of crude arrows, nothing more than a pointed stick with black feathers attached with twine. 
“Keep the rest of the tar, we’ll need it for repairs, weapons, stuff like that.” He said to Korra who walked past with Tibbs as if nothing had happened. 
“It’s looking a lot better” he said to me, patting the ship also carefully ignoring what just happened. 
“It will get us to the edge,” Strike replied, forgetting himself for a moment. 
“What do you mean the edge? Don’t tell me you believe those old wives tails about dropping off the world?”
“The edge is what I call home,” Strike explained. 
“Oh? And where is that?” Tibbs enquired
“Northlands” Strike said simply. Tibbs suddenly looked a little uncomfortable as all the tales of his childhood flashed though his mind. 
“Oh! Well it’s not often you meet a Northlander who is not trying to rip your throat out, sorry, no offence meant,” he added quickly, as if that would make an insult suddenly a compliment. “I mean, back home your kind are a sort of boogeyman to scare children into doing what their told. The Sapphire Islands don’t usually deal with Northlanders; well not until recently anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?” Strike questioned a little guarded. 
“Some of the Sapphire Islands have fallen to the Northlanders, it was a brutal and bloody attack, and I have no idea how to be honest. Refugees are flooding in to all the coastal villages, that’s how I heard about it. I’m a bit worried about my family on Mercia to be honest, well not close family, second cousin really, but the Emperor is there so it’s well guarded, that’s some comfort I suppose. I wouldn’t want to wish a Northlander on anyone, not even my worst enemy, no offence meant,”  he added again with his hands up submissively.
Strike ignored his comment and shoved the boat, with a little more force than necessary out into shallow waters; using the moment that Tibbs chose to remain silent I told Strike and Korra about the message the macaw had given me. 
“Do you know when the meeting is?” Korra asked. 
“The bird did not say but if it is all over the forest then it must be soon” I replied. 
“I will drop you off at Three rivers, then take Tibbs with me to Crossmount where I’ll make the boat seaworthy then come back for you, yes?” Strike offered. I was a little wary of leaving a Northlander thief alone with a merchant but I had other more pressing concerns at that moment. 
“Will you come back?” Korra asked. It wasn’t the coming back that worried me more the coming back alone with a heavier purse.
This train of thought was suddenly pushed to one side as we rounded a bend in the river and saw a village, much like the wooden settlements of the humans in other parts of the rain forest. The residents were pushing wooden hand carts but instead of the usual loads of stone, food or wood these were piled high with corpses, these poor people had not died of natural causes as the black crude arrows still bristled in the pale bruised flesh sometimes accompanied by the deep slash marks of spears.
Lining the way were grief stricken friends and family members wailing and sobbing for their losses; following the cart pushers down the bank to where the bodies were heaped into pyres we saw priests of River Morton saying prayers to their gods, when they had finished a torch was put to the kindling stacked around the deceased and burned. Once the flames had turned the piles to ashes, grim faced men with shovels filled deep pits and finally the humans were returned to the earth.  
“Northlanders use burning boats for the worthy, there is a complete lack of spirituality here,” Strike muttered. 
“And for the unworthy?” Korra snapped. 
“Icebergs” He replied. 
“And do the poor get the same?” Korra spoke sharply. It seemed to annoy her that he was criticising their way of life.
“We build a boat when needed. If there are a lot, like after battle then we build a big ship,” he replied simply, ignoring her bait. 
“Elves bury their dead,” I interrupted, no one had asked me but maybe if they heard another species death rites then maybe they would stop arguing. “We bury them to give them back to the earth, eventually everything returns to the soil.” I did not add that it seemed a little barbaric to cook them to a cinder first, that and burying them so close to the river must cause some sort of sickness.
My attention wandered back to the corpses on the carts, the arrows making the bodies look like porcupines; they looked a lot like the Orc’s crude arrows but not quite like the ones that made a low buzzing noise past my face like an angry bee earlier, they were sleek black shards of death. I drew my friend’s attention to this and we slowed the pace of the boat to get a better look.
“If the tales are true, then this sort of arrow has not been made for many, many years.” Korra began. 
“The dark wooden shafts and black raven feathers suggest Northlands. Orc arrows are crude, not much more than a stick with a pointy end and feathers at the other, these arrows are very skilfully made, almost paper thin but as strong as steel,” Strike added.
“In tales of Edwin the Great of the last great battle when the world was young where Man and Elves joined together, light against the dark it is said these arrows helped win the war.”
“They look Elven crafted” I said, this worried me, “Why would Elves be making war arrows?”
“Maybe we will know more after the meeting.” Korra suggested. 
“Maybe, I have no idea why a meeting has been called so yeah maybe” I replied.
A woman saw our ship while we were discussing the finer points of Orc and Elven weaponry and waived to get our attention. 
“What happened here?” Korra shouted over to her. 
“They were killed! We are only simple village people we stood no chance against the Orc raiders or the other Evils that lurk in the forests! Oh my poor Ted leaving me with two kids to feed and care for…” Her words were drowned out by the heart wrenching sobs that shook her whole body. An older man took pity on her and placing an arm around her patted her shoulder. 
“There, there, we’ll manage somehow. We’ll get by. It will all be alright.”
“If you’re staying on the river be careful, some fishermen were taken not too far from here. BE CAREFUL!” The woman shouted before grief overtook her once more.
Korra silently took up her flute and began playing a sonnet that reached right into the souls of the grieving people and somehow comforted them for as we rounded the next bend some smiled at the memories of the departed and sang along, yelling their thanks until we were out of sight.
* * *
Three or four days later we arrived at the bay of Three Rivers, it was a large town, bustling with people all going about their daily lives, buildings were being erected around the shanty village, showing that in the eight months that Korra had been away it had doubled in size and was still growing. Piles of stone and wood were being carted to wherever was needed while work crews shouted out instructions to one another trying to meet the demands of the growing population.
As we approached the dock one of the local foremen shouted over to us. 
“Ho there! Are you traders?”
“No, well he is.” I said pointing to Tibbs. 
“Eh? Well I don’t know if I have anything they need at the moment,” Tibbs panicked. 
“No, we’re traveling to the Elf meeting” I tried. 
“Sorry? What? What meeting?” He clearly had not heard the messages through the forests. 
“No we are collecting supplies,” Strike cut in. 
“Well if you find any granite or other workable stone then think of me. My name’s Roberts,” he sounded a little disappointed before turning to shout orders at his work crew.
It took just over a day’s walk through the rainforest, it usually only took me about half a day but with Korra not used to the overgrown trails and hidden shortcuts that lead down to the hidden valley; from the hill path overlooking my homeland you could see a towering ziggurat rising from the centre of the city. It looked lost and forgotten in the way that vines, plants, leaves and on occasion small thriving trees covered the masonry but looking with Elven eyes the vegetation embraced the stonework making the many parts one and the same. 
The outskirts of the city were being taken back by nature but that was only because the five thousand or so left of my kind that once inhabited the island had now dwindled down to roughly one thousand. Usually there were only two hundred and fifty to five hundred who stayed in the walls at one time, mainly the wiser elders the teachers, the children brought from all over the known world to learn of our customs and choose their life calling and the mothers if they were between the ages of new-borns and seven summers old. The ones eight summers and older lived in the school houses where they learned life lessons, hunting, fighting, herbalism, music until they chose their strongest subject then focused on that, mine was Druidism.
Walking through the open gates, as tall as the trees around us I could see that all thousand were in the square gathered around the sacred building, all with their backs to us, looking towards the loan figure of an elf, the wisest of our kind, rich in years, white hair hanging long past his shoulders, smooth pail features looking both old and young in the same glance and clad in brown and green robes, echoing the colours and textures of the rainforest, my old friend and mentor Silanthus.
Korra leaned in and whispered “Can I record this, will they be insulted?”
“If you can understand it then yes, if they do not wish you to tell sagas of this day then you will not understand what is being said.”
She knew already from her time with me that if she tried to speak our language and participate as much as she could in our customs then it would not offend but welcomed and encouraged. All thousand were enthralled with the words being spoken by the wise elderly elf with their right hand held at shoulder height palm facing up. In the centre of their palm was a flame as green as the forest around a symbol of honesty and sincerity of their thoughts and emotions. 
“…this being the first meeting in hundreds of years. I thank you all. You know what we have to do and why. The world is no longer ours, it is now the time of the younger races, we must step back and release our grip on nature and let the younger races assume responsibility for the land. I will now hear the arguments for and against.”
“I have seen the corruption in nature from man. I have seen an Ent’s rage against humans, influenced by some form of blood magic. How can we leave them to care for the lands if they are using nature against each other? Orcs are reportedly attacking human settlements for no other reason than they are there. How can we leave them to fend for themselves against something they have no idea about other than they are monsters of the forest?” I spoke before anyone else had a chance too, it seemed important to share what had been witnessed in our ruins. 
“That is not our concern. They will have to fend for themselves eventually. Our time here is almost over, we cannot stay to cluck over them, for all time like an over protective hen” Another voice shouted from the crowd. 
“But we need to protect the younger races, we would not abandon our children the way some of you wish to abandon the humans, we need to protect and teach them how to be independent before we depart.” I argued.
“I agree with Demanor! How would you prefer them to remember us; as parental types that did not abandon them in their hour of need or the type who turns their back on those when they need it most.” Another voice called out across the square. 
The argument lasted long enough for the sun to sink low in the sky, neither side would back down then one anonymous voice attacked from a different angle. 
“…Besides, if we do leave this world what of our own infants, who would tutor them in our ways?”
“Pfft! There has not been a birth in fifty years and what happened then?”
“Now you can’t believe in superstitions?” An elf scoffed. 
“Did it not crumble into ruins as he came of age?”
Every Elf knew of the ruins, they had been where the humans had asked to settle, before the Ent decimated the settlement, the story of how they became ruins was not so well known.
“Now, no one knows what happened.”
“It caught fire on his coming of age day. He must have perished with the others who lived there, you all know there were no survivors.”
“Now, now my friends, we are losing sight of why we gathered here.” Silanthus said, before words turned to actions. 
“Nature is no longer our friend, it is showing us that our time here is almost over. It has become clear that we must board the Great White boats and travel to the Lands of the Young. Demanor, as one of our more powerful Druids, what is your decision?”  Silanthus suddenly directed the discussion to me. 
“I will stay and defend the corrupted.” 
There were murmurs from the crowd, some surprised at my decision, some not. 
“Then we are divided but still one, No one will be forced to stay or to go. Those who wish to leave will take the last of the White Boats and travel across the waters to the loved ones who have already crossed over. We will be saddened for the loss of those who choose to stay but the new generations will be enriched for it. The boats will leave in five days and there will be no going back on your decisions. For those who are undecided I will be in my chambers for council.” The wise old Elf nodded and carefully curled each finger over his open palm until he had made a fist. The light in our hands faded as he stepped down and vanished into the ziggurat. And with his departure the crowd began to break off into groups, discussing what should be done while all the time being recorded by Korra.
Unbeknown to Korra or me, Strike had fallen back into his old ways, after leaving us at the dock he had taken two days of Tibbs affliction of having his brain directly wired to his voice making him say every thought that passed through his mind. Being with him only for a short time I can say from experience that it was like being constantly under fire from words, you did not get an opportunity to voice your own opinion as he would speak for you, leaving you weary from his barrage of words.  If, and this happened very rarely, if he had run out of things to talk at you about he would fall back on whistling a tune through his nose that if hummed properly would be pleasant. But accompanied by the nasal orchestra and teeth aching hum would even make the most holy of men toy with the idea of murder.
Leaving this man with a heavy purse with a Northlander thief was probably not one of my better notions, when Three Rivers was far behind them and Tibbs was busying himself with gathering ropes from the side of the ship, Strike silently crept behind him with his dagger poised in his hand and without any warning slid the finely honed blade across the merchants throat. Tibbs coughed, and clawed at his throat fighting for the breath that would not come, deep crimson droplets seeped quickly through his fingers before the pressure behind his fingers forced out the final surge of blood that sprayed across the river. Acting quickly Strike grabbed the body by his waist, cut the strings that attached his purse to his belt and in one fluid motion guided it into the river, reducing the splash into nothing. 
Strike watched the slow flowing water close over the bloodless corpse, making sure that it sank before continuing his journey to meet us back at the water front.
* * *
Two days after we arrived in the Elven City the debate still raged on as to stay or leave on the final voyage on the Great White Boats, both sides produced very compelling arguments but there was no swaying either side; Korra busied herself by talking to as many Elves as possible, young, old, wise and average, no one including Silanthus escaped her request for their memoirs. Many rejected her request, the first being Silanthus, he was happy for her to talk to anyone willing to share their story with her but as the greatest decision ever made for my kind hung in the balance he polity but firmly refused.
After speaking with a number of Elves Korra learned that now almost three quarters of my extended family wanted to leave, it left a knot in my stomach to learn this but at the same time I understood why. 
Another day passed, leaving only two more before the mass exodus. Although I knew Silanthus would be preoccupied I requested an audience with the Eldest and Wisest Elf before he left, thankfully he granted my wish, winding our way through the vast corridors of the ziggurat Korra and I finally managed to find the passageway that lead to Silanthus’ chambers. The wooden walls were intricately calved showing pictures of Elven legends, great elven thinkers, fighters and healers all framed in leaves, vines flowers and trees of the Rainforests.
The heavy wooden door was closed, indicating that he was already in council, we began to make ourselves comfortable when the door burst open so violently that it bounced back off the wall and nearly hit the emerging elf in the face, he caught it in one hand and channeling his anger slammed it back into the door frame and strode down the corridor. I thought about going after the elf, but I did not recognise him nor even guess as to what had vexed him so, he may have not wanted a stranger prying into his affairs. In addition to which I had to inform the head of the Elven Council what I had been experiencing with the moods of the lands and the abnormal craftsmanship of the Orc arrows. I hesitated before knocking, a flash of uncertainty crossed my mind of what sharing this information would actually achieve when three quarters of the Elven population wished to travel into the mists.
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and out of politeness knocked and waited.
“Come in.”
Entering the cool stone room was refreshing and a welcome change from the sticky humid air of the living, breathing forest, like the hallways connecting the chambers throughout the Ziggurat vine, flowers and trees had been painstakingly engraved to echo the rainforest landscape, while some living creepers had crept in, and spread all over the room, another reminder that our time here was growing short. In the centre of the hall trees had been trained to take the shape of chairs, encircling a large wooden table covered in books, scrolls and ledgers. Surrounded by these documents and maps Silanthus sat, with a pensive look on his weathered face, his chin resting on steepled fingers.
“Please be seated,” he spoke in Elven, I looked over to Korra, expecting at any moment for a confused look and a request for translation, none of this happened and she said her thanks in Human and sat down on the smooth trunk of one of the chairs. Slightly taken aback I sat beside her.
“I thank you for seeing us at such short notice,” I spoke in Elvish, it seemed that Korra had been hiding talents from me.
“It is no intrusion, I said to everyone present that I would be here for advice. Now what can I help you with.”
“Sorry to disturb you at such an important time, but we are looking for information,” Korra spoke in Human.
“And what information is it that you seek?” Silanthus answered in elven; that was when I realised that some sort of charm must have been cast over the city for the gathering.
“Silanthus, I have seen and felt many things over the past few days that are deeply troubling to me. I have seen an Ent wake from it’s slumber and carry out unprovoked attacks on the humans and their settlements, on its back was a symbol drawn in blood with a dismembered hand nailed to the centre of the markings. We found a severed hand, fingers ragged and bloody from where it has been dragged across stone to make similar markings. We have been attacked by Orcs for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we have seen villages ravaged by Orc attacks, again apparently unprovoked and in the bodies of some of the victims arrows, seemingly Elven crafted but with Orcish influences. I feel the hate, the anger and the pain that something is inflicting on the Lands. I do not think the Humans are ready for our departure, I feel a war is coming and we need to stand and aid the younger races.” 
Before I entered the room I had no idea how to explain my concerns but sitting in front of the wise old Elf the words seemed to form of their own accord in my mouth.
“This is indeed troubling, I had heard Oak Heart had awoken and has shown his displeasure towards the Humans by destroying one of their settlements.”
“Did you know which one?” I enquired, his lack of compassion intrigued me.
“We were aware, the humans requested to utilize the ruins as a settlement while they gathered what they needed form the forest, after the fire we had no use for them, it showed us that nature was taking her power back from us,” he explained with no remorse for those who had lost their lives.
In a way I understood his dismissive manner, things, whether they be people, animals or plant were born, grew and matured and then died, it was nature’s way and as distressing as it was for those left behind everything had its time, no more no less; but standing by and watching it happen, watching infants upset the balance of light and dark when we had the opportunity to educate them to maintain the equilibrium  did not sit well and waves of nausea washed over me as any hope of convincing the Elves to stay and help began slipping away with each response.
Choosing this time to change the subject somewhat Korra produced the ledger found on the abandoned ship, “This is the diary of the ship we found, most of it I can understand but there are strange symbols drawn in the margins. They are scattered throughout, can you read them and are they important?”
Welcoming the change Silanthus took the journal taking time in studying the pages. He shut it with a snap and handed it back to her, “Hmmm. The code is showing stone traded for blue gems. It looks as if they did not want the authorities to know. Zephandius will know more.”
From his tone it was clear that the discussion was now over, as I opened the door to leave he called me back, “Demanor, have you made your decision?”
My hand stayed on the door handle, I did not want my old mentor to see my face. I was beginning to lose respect for what I was considering cowardice, “Yes I have.”
“May I ask what it is?”
“I will stay and defend the Humans. I will try to guide them on the right path.”
“I respect your choice but in five days we will be leaving and there will be no reconsidering your decision.”
“I understand that and it also saddens me that I will never see you or my people again. But if circumstances change I will be there with you.” Even as I said those words I knew I would not be going.
* * * 
Far to the north, Strike arrived in the river bay of Crossmount and with a little inquiry and exchanging of coins he quickly found a pot-bellied, ginger bearded stonemason named Erik; after a great deal of haggling, even when his newly acquired wealth was at no cost to himself Strike still fought tooth and nail to keep it in his own pocket, Strike loaded up the stone and began his southward journey to Three Rivers where he knew he already had a buyer.
* * * 
Outside in the courtyard of the Ziggurat a crowd had gathered around the Elf that had not so long ago stormed out of Silanthus’ chambers, he was young and full of the tales of old when the Elves and Humans banded together and fought against the darkness; his passion had infected others longing to write their own names in history and as he spoke more and more gathered round.
“…the recent decay in nature and our bond with it is a sure sign that the old ways of putting off what needed to be done and letting the rot of darkness sit and fester rather than take action and halting the decay has resulted in nature hereself forsaking us in the same way as we have forsaken it! Some of us more in tune with the lands than others have felt the rejection and confusion in its spirit. The stories of the old races returning is a sign brothers and sisters, a sign! A sign that nature’s creatures are showing their disapproval through anger! I say that as an older, more experienced race than the humans, brothers and sisters we must be teachers to the younger races, who are as children to us, brothers and sisters. And, as tutors, we must exercise a firm hand and chastise their behaviour…”
I let his words wash over me as I reached out to the land, though more in tune with its moods now I could still feel the animosity and resentment growing stronger and stronger.
I observed the onlookers, many were deep in thought or nodding their agreement, as Zephandius continued.
“…nature is showing her displeasure at the newer races coming of age, the whole settlement; snuffed out!  The neglect and failure of the elders must be rectified we, brothers and sisters must stay and shepherd the younger people. How would you like them to remember us brothers and sisters? Those who left us to pick up the pieces and clear up the mess from bad judgements? Do not be one of them, I beg you, stay and make a difference.”
The sun, high in the sky when we arrived was beginning to set, an indication of the length of the young Elf’s rally, I stood in awe at the power of his words, I could not argue with his line of reasoning but his tone suggested some sort of revolution. Korra did not seem to detect the undercurrent, maybe there was not one to be found but then she could be so preoccupied with recording the departure of most of the Elven population she may not have noticed.
Two more days passed. I spent the time listening to the crowd, trying to understand their mood better. The general consensus was that the Elders knew what was best for all concerned and who were we to interfere with the High Council? Yes occasionally the darkness came but the darkness tried to snuff out the light with every generation. Our battle had been won and it was time for us to make way for humans, whether they overcame the darkness or not was their concern, not ours. A few of the younger Elves believed that, yes of course they would misbehave, they are children compared to us, and that is what children do, not on purpose but because they were children. They needed teaching, that was the favoured saying, we needed to teach them, but we were elves and teaching Humans the ways of elves did not seem acceptable.
I said my goodbyes to friends old and new and with Korra still scribbling down hurried verses and humming snatches of tune I walked away, from the Ziggurat worried about Zephandius’ influence over others. I could see that his heart was in the right place, to id and support the Humans until they could govern themselves, but the way he spoke suggested of subduing them into compliance with force if necessary rather than suggestion and guidance. As one proud race to another I could see that Humans would rather die standing than live on their knees.
* * * 
The ship was deserted when we arrived at the riverfront, we had not waited long before Strike sauntered around a wall of crates waiting to be transported onto a cargo ship, his face, as usual gave nothing away.
“We need to have a talk on board ship,” I said before he managed to greet us, I knew that spies form all over the known world would be around, not necessarily sent to watch over us but any little tidbit of information could be dangerous. Boarding Strike’s unnamed ship I immediately noticed that it was unusually quiet, as welcome as the break from Tibbs constant need for making himself known, it was unnerving not to hear it when anticipating the noise onslaught.
There was a body on the deck, lying face down, as though it had been unceremoniously dumped until he became useful. I will admit I had a sinking feeling and a though of well, that explains the silence, when I looked at it again. Whoever it was it wasn’t Tibbs.
The shirt had a number of clean tears between his shoulder blades one which still held the Elven influenced black arrow, I looked at Strike, my thoughts must have been clearly shown on my face as he held his hands up in defence.
“It’s not Tibbs, it’s a fisherman I found on the way here.”
I continued to hold his gaze.
“He decided to stay at that place we went too, after he left I was traveling along the river to meet you and I came across a small fishing boat, floating, looking unmanned until I saw this man, dying on the floor. He said that his boat was set upon by elves and they were attacking Human settlements, he was trying to get to the capital to warn the king. His dying wish was that I passed the message on.” 
“Elves?!” I yelled a bit louder than I should have done in surprise, shoving the questionable whereabouts of Tibbs firmly out of my mind.
“That’s what the man said,” Strike answered.
“Oh and there are rumours that King John V is planning to make mining stone in the Great Peaks illegal but no one knows why. So that’ll be why stone is so prized at the moment.”
“I will have to give the message to the King,” Korra said.
Strike and I looked at each other.
“A Northlander will not be welcome in Rhomer.”
“Fair point, and it won’t seem believable from and Elf.”
Korra pulled the arrow from the corpse and placed it in her bag.
“Elves?” I queried again, I had just returned from the elven city, from my recollection all my kind had been at the meeting, how could it be elves?
“First I need to talk to Silanthus, we don’t have much time.”
 * * *
The sun was setting when we arrived back at the elf city, the Ziggurat was disserted and so was the court yard, eventually we found my people gathered on the riverbank, flaming torches enhanced the muted light of sunset giving everything an eldritch glow. Tendrils of mist snaked through our feet, merging with others from out on the water blanketing everything at ankle height in a rolling white haze.
Enormous long white ships with swans heads carved into the prows with the stern echoing the shape of a swans feathers held high protecting chicks on its back with a tall backed seat sculpted into the plumage for an elder to guide her on her voyage were already leaving shore, heavy with the Elves who had decided to leave.
I sought the crowd of faces for Silanthus, praying that he had not left yet.
“SILANTHUS!” I yelled, after a fruitless search.
“SILANTHUS!” I shouted desperately.
I saw a figure about to board turn, he saw me and I breathed a silently thank you to whoever was listening to my prayers; directing another elder to take his place on the ship Silanthus pushed his way through the crowd towards us.
“Demanor, whatever troubles you?”
“Silanthus, my friend has a message for the king. A message that tells of elves attacking human settlements…” I began but had to stop to catch my breath.
“We are all here, how can that happen?” he said waving his hand behind him in a gesture to show how many where there.
“I know, I thought that too,” now I actually came to tell my old mentor about it, it did seem rather unlikely.
“Humans may have been mistaken. We are leaving tonight.” He turned to leave.
“We have an arrow of which we spoke,” I said quietly he would have to believe us and stay now.
“May I see it?” he asked.
Korra nodded and pulled out the evil looking implements of death, Silanthus took it from her and studied it for a moment before handing it back, neither impressed, intimidated nor surprised at the sleek, parchment thin arrow.
“Very disturbing, it is not Elven, we have not worked war arrows for hundreds of years,” he said shrugging slightly then handed it back to Strike.
“Someone is and is dragging your name down with them,” Strike pushed.
A slow condescending smile creptover the old Elf’s face, in the same way he would humour a child, “Names do not matter, we are leaving tonight.”
“Running away,” Strike egged on.
A chuckle accompanied the patronising smile, “Our time is at an end, we are stepping aside to let them make their mark on the world, as we hope you do. We intend to depart at midnight, if I can help within that time…”
“Tell us where the arrows came from,” Strike interrupted.
“If it will help. I can cast a divination spell but my powers are waning…”
“I will do it,” I snapped impatiently, I was beginning to realise he was only doing it to humour us, no intention on seeing it though, Silanthus nodded and silently guided us to his chambers; along the way he collected a number of herbs, leaves, berries and once in his private room he began to pound them into a paste in a polished wooden pestle and mortar.
Once satisfied with the mixture he uttered an incantation which I repeated back, gripping the bowl in both hands he held up the pungent concoction, ”Take the arrow in both hands and close your eyes. I will anoint your eyelids and if successful you will see. Demanor, you are young, the effect of this ritual can be profound, even those as powerful as I can still be emotionally effected, do you wish to proceed?” He warned.
I closed my eyes, took in a slow breath, nodded and exhaled.
“Then do as I say.”
Holding the arrow out in front of me I flinched as I felt the cold paste being smeared across my eyes.
It all went dark and I felt myself falling.
* * *
For a moment everything is silent, then the darkness melts and I am no longer in the Ziggurat. I am floating in a white, weightless, world, transparent, peaceful and silent, I am free and I am safe.
Then, like a trap door beneath the gallows, I feel a sudden jerk, then a drop and I am plummeting through the open sky, falling, falling like a stone towards the ground. Before I hit the ground I feel a tug and like a swallow darting after an insect on a summer evening I am swooping though the forests. In moments I am miles away from the Mainland and in front of a huge, blackwood, half rotten, warped tree.
Nothing but death surrounds this twisted apparition, bones and skulls litter the ground around it and seem to be entwined in the bark, what light that does fall here turns syrupy and black as its shadows falls onto the pulsing, writhing white roots.
I look to the branches of the tree, they looked as dead as the rest of the tree but there was something there, on the leafless limbs was some form of fruit, lumpy, glistening grey, diseased looking as it was it was still a form of berry.
I look at the shadows hiding the white roots, no, not roots but bone, the slithering roots had ensnared the bones around them, giving them a life of their own; behind me was a huge thump as something heavy hit the floor, a fruit, the colour of blood and bigger than me had fallen under its own weight.
It split with a stomach-turning squelch splattering the ground with a pail slime, the thing twisted painfully and where a bulge had grown black, glistening claws ripped through the flesh, clawing a hole in the side and pulling itself out of the collapsing husk, I had just witnessed the creature’s birth. It stands, unmistakably an Elf, the high beautiful chiselled features of my Kin, but they were cold and cruel rather than radiant. The alabaster skin replaced by the warty, grey flesh of an Orc, the high, perfectly formed brow replaced by the horn ridged head of an Orc, the caring smile replaced with bloody yellow tusks of an Orc. I shuddered, it seemed like the best and worst of both races
The creature looked around, the forgiving eyes of the elf replaced with the remorseless pure black eyes of an Orc, it opened its mouth and filled its lungs before a bestial cry, reminiscent of the roaring of an orc but blasphemously mixed with the added intelligence and harmonious tones of an Elf echoed around the clearing.
* * *
I open my eyes and see I am on my back on the floor, Korra, Strike and Silanthus are all standing in the same place as when I left but Strike had the point of his rapier against Silanthus’ neck while Silanthus is holding his hands palm out submissively.
“Really?” I sigh and pull myself up.
“Yes,” Strike answers before sheathing his sword.
I look at Silanthus, who seems to be unmoved by Strike’s threat and go on to explain what I saw.
“…a mix of Elf and Orc, the best and worst of them.” I finish.
“Best and worst of which?” Strike asked.
“Both” Silanthus and I answered together.
“So what do we call them?” Strike demanded.
“Pfft, Black Elves,” I hazard, name was not important at this moment.
“Well I do hope that was of some help, but now the last of the White Boats are leaving, it is time for me to depart.”
Although I knew this would happen it still struck deeply as he walked down the corridor for the final time, not once looking back.
“So how many want to stay?” Strike enquired.
“From what I have been hearing, about fifty in total,” Korra answered after leafing through her notes.
“We need to tell those who are staying,” Strike shook his head, we all knew it would not be enough.
I ran to the platform entrance that overlooked the courtyard, “My friends, my family, those who are staying to aid the Humans. I have, this moment returned from a vision quest, from a land unknown to me seeped in death. There I saw the putrid fruit of a blackened tree give birth to a creature both beautiful and cruel…”
Those who had turned to listen gasped.
“See I told you brothers and sisters, it is…” Interrupted the voice of Zephandius.
“I am not asking you to go against what is in your heart. It is your right to leave or stay,” I shouted over him, “it will not be held against you, but I believe you should know what will happen regardless of your choice.”
The sound of Korra’s flute floated over my words, I stopped speaking as memories of when Humans and Elves fought side by side against the darkness, whatever I said could not have been any stronger than the pull of the old tales.
Zephandius still tried to rally more followers, reminding them of the hardships endured to have the lands the way it was and as Silanthus boarded the last White Boat we had just one hundred and fifty of our once proud and widespread race choosing to remain behind. Silanthus took his position on the back of the boat and with a wave of his hand the Great White Boat moved silently, without ores or sails, out into the river.
He raised his hand to me with sadness in his eyes, I returned his wave blinking hard to stop the tears from falling and with a heavy heart watched my people disappear from history.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 1

This is a write-up by one of the players (Kelly Grimshaw) of our first Sapphire Island Dungeon World session, Kelly plays the elven druid Demanor in the campaign.
Walking through my home known to the rest of the world as the Wildlands I could feel the piece and serenity of the land. The air, usually sticky and humid. The heat from the living forest made the animals and insects sluggish and their music would not be heard until the sun went down leaving the air cool and fresh. That was in summer.
Now the summer Lady had made way for old man winter and the crisp air hinted with the tin twang of snow on the way.

I had been asked by my mentor to go down to the old ruins of our people where a group of southern mainlanders had made a temporary home to collect various materials to aid the development of their way of life.

They had asked permission from the Elven council knowing that they would agree. Before I was born they knew that our time in this world begun to dwindle as with all growth something’s must fade and die. Our time with this world had nearly passed to make way for the time of the Humans. As with all young the Humans sometimes got over enthusiastic if unsupervised and the task was given to me to make sure that the land was not over worked.
Accompanying me was my friend Korra and Will.

Korra, a fiery eyed human bard from the distant Sapphire Isles. She told me she is the bastard child of a noble, receiving little other than some basic schooling by way of compensation for the social stigma that she faced;. She is desperate to add something to the status of her noble house and bring some glory to their name and hopefully gaining acceptance of herself in doing so. Something that thankfully does not happen in Elvan life she travelled to the mainland in search of ancient legends and to carry news to the mainland outposts of her house.

She had hear that a ship of her house was to dock on the coast and wanted to hear news from her homeland.

I met her very briefly while collecting herbs, barks and berries in the heart of the Wildlands. She had been exploring the jungles of the mainland eager to discover stories, from whom I do not know. Whilst there she was bitten by a venomous serpent and was if I had not have fallen over her she would have died.  I saw she was responding well to the treatment and I carried on my collection. She told me she often thought of our meeting and employed our other companion Will or Strike to his friends to find me so that she could tell the world of my adventures. Although I am still not sure the Humans would like to hear stories of an Elven Druid.

Strike I had known a lot longer. I had found him also wandering the Wildlands, I had helped him through his strange new lands and as a thanks and respect he bound our friendship in a Northlander blood ritual. On the long travel to the main land he had told me of how he had been made an outcast from one of the Northern barbarian tribes after he had poisoned the Chief for taking advantage of his younger sister. An act I believe he would commit again to save her. After his uncle replaced the old Chief the old warrior personally made sure he was safely stowed away in a trading ship. Although his blood still ruled the tribe Strike had broken one of their most sacred laws by using poison and not a fight to the death. I do not blame him, looking at his sinewy wiry frame he would have had no chance against a warrior of Odin. Once I had shown him though the dense rainforests he became a thief living on the streets of the cities and from the stories that make it through to me a damn good one.  

Before we began Strike had confided in me that he did not trust Korra. When he had first met her, somehow, I did not ask for the details she had recorded the story of how Will was banished for poisoning the chief after he took advantage of Will’s sister. She twisted the facts, to make the story more interesting and in her version, the sister did the poisoning and Will took the blame. Worried that someone may one day hear or read the new story and take it as the truth, Will stole Korra’s most treasured possession, an ancient flute given to her by her half-sister and held it as surety to prevent her account of his banishment ever being delivered to the masses.

With this knowledge I believe that Strike would never leave the bard’s side as a reminder how devastating stories could be.

But I digress, we walked on with the rainforest to our backs towards the coast. We were chattering about everything and nothing as we climbed to the top of one of the hills that littered the landscape and the conversation stopped.
In the distance, over the next rise was a dull red glow. Wisps of ash and embers rose up on the hot air against the white feathers of snow fall.

“I recognise this, stay here.” Strike said before slinking forward.

Korra and I looked at each other and both moved towards him.Stretching out below us was the smouldering ruins of the frontier settlement. Splintered timber littered the floor with the remains of the huts scattered to the four winds. Trees had been uprooted or snapped in half like twigs and the earth was black where the fire had taken hold. Stirring some ash with my foot I found the broken glass of a lantern, looking further I found several more, the possible reason for the fire. 
Strike turned my attention to huge dents dotted around the site. I had no explanation for these strange impressions and so I turned to the land in search of answers.

The unmistakeable signs of a gigantic creature had charged through the ruins and obliterated the settlement. The fire was started by the lamps being smashed and with all the curing timber around it had spread fiercely and quickly. I was answered.
Next I asked what is about to happen.

Whatever was responsible may return. If no one returns then Nature will take back the land, evident in the dwindling Elven ruins around the carnage. Feeling a little frustrated with answers I had already known I asked the final question, what is about to happen?

There are no bodies, if everyone had fled in terror who would have moved the remains? That was as maddingly unhelpful as the first two but it did make a very good line of reasoning.

“Since I was last here the settlement has expanded, the clearing is larger…” Korra began before wandering around trying to recognise anything in the wreckage.

“Could these dents be catapult?” Strike asked.

“No forget that, there are no boulders, just the holes.” He answered before we could.

“Possibly footprints.” I mused.

“There big footprints.” He replied.

“Ents.” I replied flatly.

“How big are these Ents?”

“As big as a tree.” I shrugged.

“Do they have legs?”

“After a fashion.” It is really difficult to explain a tree being, it is much easier just to show what they are.

Strike began his investigations again then returned. “Around twelve feet.” He muttered. “Can they be twelve feet?” he directed this question to me.

“Trees can be twelve feet. Trees can be six inches.” 

“Would they attack a village?”

I let out a long controlled sigh. That answer is complicated. “There are some who think that the land is worked more than it should be…”
“But would they wade in, obliterate and set fire to settlements?” Korra asked as she walked over to us.

“I think the fire was an accident, people running terrified not looking were, knock over a lantern, this happens all over the settlement and suddenly the whole village is ablaze.”

“What about the bodies?” Will asked almost casually.

“I was just going to come to that.”

“Do Ent’s eat?” Strike asked, his voice faltered slightly at the thought of the things coming back. 
“The same way plants do.” I replied, also with the image of a huge creature romping through the forest.

“What about other creatures?”

I looked at him blankly. “Don’t know about those, they’re not plants.”

“No, but you know stories and legends.”

“Yes.” Korra and I replied together.

“Well what in your lands eat human flesh?”

“Erm Ogres, giants, Cyclops…” Korra tried to remember the legends she sung of.

“Well are they round here?” Strikes voice getting more high pitched with urgency.

“Not that I know of.” Korra replied.

There was a weak, strangled sound, “h e l p!”

After searching the site we eventually discovered the back of a figure bound with thick rope to a tree; edging around the trunk we found a man barely alive, stripped to his waist. His eyes were missing, red encrusted holes stared blankly at nothing, his left hand had been cut off and a strange symmetrical web like pattern had been carved into the flesh of his chest.

I tried to get a feel of the land but a horrible sense of unease and irritability washed over me, the usual calm and tranquillity of the Wildlands had been disturbed.

“You do have a knife on you?” Korra asked Strike. Her answer was a sly smile.

“But who is he?” He asked chewing the side of his thumb.

“I don’t think he is a threat. I think he was a logger.”

The poor man was whimpering as we spoke, Strike cut his bonds and had to catch him before he fell; lying him gently on the ground Korra began tending to his wounds, singing as she did so, trying to sooth and calm him. When he was a comfortable as possible Korra tried to make sense of what happened.

“Men came from the south with some sort of priest. We were to be sacrificed to wake the sleeping

Giants. They took my eyes with a burning brand, after that all I could hear was screaming, so much screaming. They tied me to a tree. I heard crashing and splintering then silence. I have been shouting for someone to find me ever since.” It took a while for him to tell his tale but when he had finished Korra asked what he wanted.
“Don’t leave me here. I don’t want to be left here. I was offered the chance to go with the traders, I said I was making a new life here.” His voice trailed off to sobs.

“There are legends of giants.” Korra told us.

“The Sapphire Islands were formed when tow giants were fighting, after days and days of sharing blows and they were both about to give up, one giant punched the other so hard his teeth flew out his mouth and where they fell the smaller islands were formed. He fell hard, so hard it killed him and his body became the larger island of Mercia.” 
 “Where did it go?” Strike asked, breaking her spell.

I examined the lay of the footprints for a while before I spoke, “They emerged from the jungle behind us, attacked the settlement before bounding back the way it came. But there are Human tracks going towards the coast” I said pointing both behind and in front of us.
We discussed at length what we would do next and eventually decided to continue to the coast to try and make contact with Korra’s ship and see if they had any news about what had occurred. Taking one last look around, something caught my eye. On a large stone mantle that could easily sit four humans I noticed the same geometric web pattern drawn in blood roughly the width of a Human. I yelled in surprise and Strike and Korra were by my side.

“Is it a ritual?” Strike asked eventually.

Staring at the grotesque pattern, echoed on the man’s chest it seemed familiar yet not, “Yes but at the same time no. It is similar to the druidic patterns used in rituals but those had never been drawn in blood.” I tried to remember every ritual I had ever cast to try to find some understanding in the design.
“There are tales that tell of certain symbols and rituals that can control the energies of an area. I don’t know why they would do this but could these men have influenced this place in some way.” Korra asked standing a little way from the stone.

Strike turn to walk away and with the forward step came a slippery squelching noise. Bending down to investigate his face turned to a look of disgust when his questioning fingers pulled out a severed hand from under the plinth. Apart from it being detached from its owner the other noticeable thing was that the fingers were cut down to the first knuckle where ragged flesh hung from the bone. 
“Well I think I found the marker.” Strike said. I was not sure if he meant it as a joke or not, sometimes it was hard to tell. Korra took the appendage and studied it closely. It was easy to see that it was too badly damaged to reattach.

“Do we keep him with us?” Strike asked gesturing with a nod of his head towards the broken man. 

“Yeah, he is going to carry our equipment.” Korra replied. 

“How is he supposed to navigate the jungle floor with all its trips and pitfalls, we can’t shout instructions to him at every step.” Strike pointed out. “We could end his pain right here and now. This is a little too urgent to be dragging him around.”

Without warning this argument began to irritate me more than I could describe. I could not understand what was to discuss. Either we took him with us, left him to fend for himself or we laid him to rest. It was that simple. I tried to quell my irritation as the debate continued. 

“It’s no life with no eyes and no hand…” I heard Strike continue.
“I see your point but I am not going to help you do it.” Korra answered.
“Oh just make a decision and stick with it!” I snapped.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am going to do it…”

“Well I am not going to help.”

“Just do it then!” I yelled over them. Their look of shock echoed my own. Something was not right but I could not say what.
After making the man as comfortable as possible we headed to the coast, it took roughly half a day to reach the cliffs that overlooked the ocean as blue as the gems that shared its name, climbing to the highest point of the cliff with the salt spiked air whipping around us we gazed out hoping to see the ship already docked or at least gliding towards the coastline. What we saw was neither of those things.
The boat was stuck on the rocks, it was difficult to tell if the rocks that held it there had punctured the hull or not. The colours of Korra’s house floating in the water looked almost like they were flying in the wind. The bodies of the crew bobbing in the water, some face down others staring vacantly into the sky; we scrambled down as fast as the shifting sand dunes would allow and from our viewpoint on the shore it was clear that as well as the attack there had been sever fire damage.

“We need to get onto the ship and look at the damage.” Strike began but was cut short by the look Korra gave him. Her eyes said it all.

“If it was my people the boat would have been sunk.” He answered her unspoken question.
Wading out to the boat Strike found that the ship was not as badly damaged as first thought. In the water, close to the hull he saw a stranger in the midst of the swollen and distorted bodies of the sailors; dragging the body back to shore we helped Strike pull the Orc onto the sand. He was dressed in the heavy furs and leathers of the Northlands with a short bow still in one hand with no other signs of injury besides a clean line down the centre of his chest where he had been stabbed.
“This and a number of others were scattered over the boat and sticking out of the crew.” Strike explained handing over a black crude Orc arrow.

“Could it be Ice Giants?” Korra asked.

Strike and I exchanged a glance before he replied, “Can’t be Ice Giants, too fookin’ warm for a start.”
“You don’t know that, may be its not as much as you’d think.” 

“It’s a giant made of ice, the sun doesn’t feature much in Ragnarok.” Strike answered in a singsong voice, possibly reserved for slow children. 

“Look, we need to make this ship seaworthy and decide where to go from there.” He continued after seeing the hurt look Korra gave him.

I waded back to the ship with Strike to inspect the ship. He was right about the damage only being mostly superficial with the primitive Orc arrows embedded in the wood and the crew. There were no symbols drawn in blood or otherwise that I could see but inspecting the bodies of the sailors they did have something in common; they were all missing their left hand, I shouted this back to Korra who looked puzzled.
“What about your Orc?” I asked Strike who had started to pull the boat off the rocks.

“He was not of the same boat.” He grunted.

Back on shore with Strike busy beaching the boat and Korra scouring the shoreline for anything of use or value I found myself alone. Using this time to attempt to understand the feelings of anger, irritation and frustration I was sensing from the land.
I felt two great weights trying to pull me up. My eyes slam open and I find my hands around the neck of the sacrificial man. The weights pulling me are Strike and Korra trying to prise me off him.
I hurriedly let go, the man falls to the ground clutching his throat his eyes closed as he gasps like a fish out of water trying to catch his breath. As I watch the white welts begin to change colour to angry purple bruises while the man looked totally confused at the unprovoked attack.

“I was mooring the ship when I looked over to find the beach empty and a strangled cry coming from the jungle. We raced to find you with over the old logger trying you hardest to kill him!” Strike said to me as I struggled to escape both their holds, as confused as the old man. 

“I’m going to let go now. Care to explain what happened what happened?”

“As my spirit melded with the land red anger and hatred filled me, as though the land had been provoked in some way and I woke up to both of you pulling me off him.”

“I did say kill him but I meant a blade to the back of the neck. But whatever works best.” Strike sniggered but stopped when I looked at him. 

“I don’t know what to say, I wanted to see why my mood had been so effected…” I began but was interrupted from the treeline being ripped open by an enormous tree figure of an Ent who stomped into the clearing. It roared incoherently trying to voice the anger it felt. I had never seen such a murderous look on the face of usually such gentle creatures and seeing the others dive for cover I tried to grab the old logger round the waist to pull him to safety.

As soon as he realised someone had grabbed him he began thrashing around wildly trying to break my hold. I could not blame the man, the last time I had grabbed him I tried to kill him; he successfully managed to break my grip and all I could do was watch from my hiding place as the massive treeherder looked directly at the screaming man before crushing him under its gargantuan rooted foot. Satisfied he had been trampled into the earth the Ent roared once more before stomping back into the trees.
“It was his anger I was feeling.” I mumbled still shocked from the actions of the treehurder. 

“At least he died in battle.” Strike tried to comfort me.

Still staring at the retreating figure I spotted the same reddish brown symmetrical symbol daubed on the creatures back, in its centre someone had nailed a severed hand to the trunk of the Ent. 

“Follow that tree?” Strike suggested. 

“Get that thing off it.” I growled. 

“What thing?” Strike replied. 

“The blood symbol, with the hand nailed to it.” I snapped. 

“Follow that tree then.” Strike answered; I am so distracted by the damage inflicted on the Ent that I did not notice the black Orc arrows rain down around me. Strike flew at me, grabbing me round the waist and flung me behind the safety of a stone pedestal with him following close behind.
“I don’t think they like us.” He smiled weakly at me.

“They won’t when I’ve finished with them.” I hissed, the image of the Treehurder still burned brightly in my mind.

Fur clad Orcs began to emerge from the treeline black feathered arrows raining down around us.
“This is not defendable. We have to get to the boat!” Strike shouted about the clattering of the arrows that fell short. 

He snatched up Korra on the way down the sand and slung her over his shoulder. The Orcs grunted orders to each other in their own language while Strike lead us down the beach, easily leaving the lumbering creatures behind us.
Strike dumped Korra into the boat and frantically began to look for weapons, any weapons.
I entered the water and using the energies of the sea transformed into the form of a salt water crocodile. This time I was ready for the flow of hatred and used the tide of rage to my advantage.
Strike emerged from the boat brandishing a spear, he tested its weigh and flung it at the Orc nearest the boat. The Orc dodged out of the way but not fast enough. It let out a bellow of fury as it scraped down the side of his skull. 

The Orcs drop their short bows, the waist deep water making it impossible to use them efficiently and as they wade deeper I lash out at the Orc nearest to me grabbing him in my jaws and dragged him under. He was not going down easily though and before I managed to get a tight hold he dragged his dagger down my side. Once under the surface I rolled twice. On the second roll I felt the life force leave the Orc and letting go his limp body floated away. 

I surfaced to see Strike launch another spear at the Orc he had wounded, hitting him directly in the neck; as he fell to his knees an Orc behind him returned a spear to Strike hitting him in the shoulder. I twisted round to find two Orcs closing in on me. I opened my massive jaws intending to snap at one while tail whipping the other but I misjudged the distance and was repaid with a spear driven deep into my shoulder, with the deep wounds breaking my concentration I could feel my shape trying to re-shift back to my Elven form. As I transformed I threw my shillelagh into the face of the approaching Orc whose axe was already high above his head ready to strike, distracting him enough that the axe whispered past me instead of burring into my skull.
Seeing my struggle to get onto the ship Korra held out her hand to help me up but the shapeshifing and Orc attacks have left me too weak to pull myself up, seeing my struggle last remaining Orc pulled his axe up over his head to fling into my back. I can see this out the corner of my eye but I do not have the strength to do anything about it; from the side I see Strike realise what the Orc fighter is about to do and picking up a spear stabs at the Orc, hitting it in the top of the shoulder. 
Distracted, the Orc pulls at the spear shaft and bringing Strike in closer rakes his clawed fingers across his chest. Strike used this to his advantage and ignoring the pain like his forefathers he gets in close enough for to skewer the creature though the neck with his trusted rapier.

The splash of the dead Orc gives me the final ounce of strength to climb aboard, I fall onto Korra and roll over onto my back, breathless, beaten but still alive.

“You two wait here, I’m going to find those bows.” Strike said before dropping over the side of the ship with a splosh. I pull myself up enough to watch my friend and savour collect up the dropped Orc weapons when he stopped and looked at the tree line, I could not see what he had seen but I had a sense from my friends body language he was being watched.