The morning began with many sore head following a night of mead drinking with the people of Urut’s village, some of the villagers who had been out hunting on the shores proudly brought in their catch for the feast, a large and ancient sea turtle that they carried between them, securely lashed to a wooden pole; Demanor shuddered, she did not object to the cycle of hunter and prey, but she did not believe in needless cruelty and, looking at the gleeful drooling facing of the northmen she didn’t trust them to exercise any restraint. Quietly she asked Strike whether she might be allowed to kill the creature (knowing that she could end it’s life with as little suffering as possible)? Chief Urut seemed puzzled but gave his agreement and the elven druid knelt down beside the creature, whispering re-assuringly to it as she drew her knife. As the creature died, it squeaked and wheezed loudly, although it was just noise to the hungry northlanders, Demanor knew that the creature was expressing it’s regret that it had not finished buried it’s eggs, as she drew her knife across the leathery flesh and felt the soul of the beast leave the world, Demanor whispered a promise that she would find and bury the eggs.
One of the outlying guards entered, telling Urut that they had spotted a small party lead by the Rugorim heading towards the village and that there had been some strange, heavily armoured creatures with him that looked like orcs but that walked like men. Demanor was sat in the corner of the room with Ulric, both of them had been feeling a sense of growing unease, and the mention of the Rugorim’s approach seemed to confirm it’s source. Demanor asked the guard whether any of the creatures looked like her but the northman shook his head, saying that they were orcs walking tall like men; as the guard left to return to his post, Demanor set out for the place on the shore where she believed the turtle eggs to be buried, she only had a vague impression in her mind, a last fleeting image from the mind of a dying creature, to direct her but eventually she found the place. As she was trying to bury them a huge arctic bear heaved itself out of the water, sniffing the air, Demanor froze, she knew that the bear must have smelled the egges and, thinking it better to save some of them, she scooped up half the eggs and retreated further down the shore to bury them whilst the bear (ignoring her) make short work of the rest.
Returning to the village she saw that Ulric was staring into the flames of the hearth fire, stirring the embers with a stick, he spoke in a weary voice, saying “I feel a disturbance in the world tree, the leaves of knowledge fall in strange unfamiliar ways.”
Ulric went on to explain that he had a dream where a three fingered shadowy hand had reached out to engulf the world, and each finger was an army, one of grey skinned elves that were foul of aspect, the other of black armoured orcs that walked like men and the final finger being men who eyes glittered like gems and were devoid of all kindness. Thinking that perhaps these strange men might be the stoneborn Korra asked what Ulric knew about them, he told her that in ancient northlander legends the stone men had taught the first humans how to forge metals but that one day they had disappeared, retreating to their underground holdings. Standing on the outskirts of the village, having is sword sharpened by the village blacksmith, Strike spotted a unit of a dozen black armoured figures marching in lockstep, an ancient twisted orc leading them, he leant on a staff with a severed hand nailed to the top of it.
Hearing the sound of the approaching group Demanor sought to commune with the spirits of the land, but instead found herself assailed by a vision where she saw first the severed hand on the Rugorim’s staff and then was falling into a huge cauldron, only the quick actions of Korra prevented Demanor from toppling forwards and bought her back to reality.
The Rugorim arrived, his strange orc-men in tow and demanded to speak to Urut, after a heated exchange between Strike and Rugorim, Urut said that they would discuss the matter in his longhouse; nodding the Rugorim banged his staff and the door opened on it’s own, both Ulric and Demanor winced, recognising the strange energies that had been the cause of their recent discomfort. Ulric shook his head to clear it and said “His power is like my own, but somehow twisted and turned back on itself.”
In the longhouse the exchange of insults between Strike and the Rugorim had escalated as the Rugorim boasted of his achievement in creating a magical cauldron that had allowed him to merge the men and orcs of the northlands, creating a new breed of orc-man greater than either of the races on their own; Strike decried the process, saying that only the gods could create life and that the Rugorim had created an abomination.
“If only the gods can create life, then I am a god!” roared the Rugorim
“So you refuse my offer of alliance?” asked Rugorim and, when Urut nodded, he turned to his armoured orc-men and snarled “Kill everyone in the village, no survivors!”
Banging his staff on the floor the ancient orc seemed to break apart into a black mist that seeped under the door and roiled away from the village; leaping forward Strike stabbed one of the man-orcs up through it’s jaw but the creature merely grabbed his head in powerful hands and began to squeeze, red lined the edge of Strike’s vision and his ears were filled with the sound of his own panicked heart beating loudly. Diving forward Korra stabbed the man-orc in the leg with her own sword, it released Strike, dropping him to the floor, and with an almost casual back-hand (like a man swatting a fly) sent her flying the length of the room, she hit the wall and slid down it, tasting blood in her mouth. Dodging another heavy blow from one of the man-orcs, Strike ducked as the door exploded inwards and Demanor, having taken on the form of a massive jungle ape, burst through it.
Diving on the back of the orc attacking Strike, Demanor grabbed it’s head and twisted, being rewarded with a loud snap, the body of the man-orc spasmed and lay still, Korra hauled herself painfully to her feet, seeing that Urut and his men were struggling with their half of the orcs and began to sing songs of northern heroism to spur them to fight, there was a clang as one of the orcs back-handed Strike with a shield sending him crashing into the wall beside Korra where she focussed healing magic through her song and was able to pull him back to full health from the very brink of death. Unfortunately her song had attract the attention of a nearby man-orc who stamped and armour boot on her chest, Korra felt her ribs crack and again tasted blood as her vision darkened.
Suddenly the room was quiet, it seemed grey somehow and muted, looking up Korra could see that she appeared to be alone save for a black garbed woman wearing a veil, the woman reached up with her two hands, one corpselike and rotten, the other immaculate a delicate, removing her veil to reveal a face half split between rot and perfection. Looking down at the dying bard Hel offered her a choice, enter her kingdom now, or find a pure soul to send in her place; conflicted but not wanting to die Korra agreed, Hel nodded and said “You have three nights until the moon rises, you must have found me someone to take your place in my halls, or your soul will be forfeit.”
Reaching down Hel touched Korra and she felt the flesh on her left hand shrivel and draw nearer to the bone; she gasped as pain flooded back to her and breath entered her lungs, the sound of the fight rose up around her, it appeared that Hel has been as good as her word, at least for now she had been spared a painful feath.
The orc stood over he raised it’s boot again when Strikes spear burst through it’s chest from behind, he pushed the dying creature to one side whilst, in the background, Demanor tore a man-orc asunder with her powerful apelike hands; Strike ducked a thrown man-orc shield whistled past him, hitting another of the black armoured figures. The lone remaining man-orc charged at Strike who attempting to jump into the air evading the attack, but with startling speed the man-orc let go of its sword, grabbed his leg and smashed the northlander into the floor, winding him, rolled to one side Strike bought up his rapier and felt the tip penetrate the man-orc’s heart, the creature gasped and collapese.
Looking around the room it seemed that the village warriors had dealt with their man-orc opponents but had paid a heavy price, all but two of the warriors lay dead and Urut himself was severely injured; shrinking back into her elven form Demanor rushed over to him and was able to save the injured chief using her healing arts, although he would not be fighting fit for days. Whilst applying her healing arts Demanor told the others that she had seen the black mist that had been the Rugorim floating away from the village, no doubt returning to the rest of his forces. Whilst Urut supervised his men stripping the man-orc corpses of metal to make more weapons and shields, Korra explained her visitation from Hel and the price that she had paid for her survival, Strike nodded, the men of the northlands are bred to me cold and place a high value on survival.
Looking around the room, Demanor noticed that when the Rugorim had turned to mist and escaped, his staff with the severed hand on it had remained behind; wanting to destroy such a foul thing she took it to the blacksmiths and tossed it into the fire, as it burned a demonic fire appeared briefly in the flames and was gone, “Perhaps the Rugorim struck a deal with a demon to increase his power and that corrupted his magic” mused Ulric.
As they all met in the village square, Urut and his villagers dropped to one knee and the orc held out his spear to Strike “We have few warriors, but we are all strong of arm and hear, will will fight for my king.”
Strike reached out and took the spear with his red hand and a ragged cheer rose into the air across the village.