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.
“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?”
“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 f**k 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.
“Fifty yards! That way!” I yelled over the groaning wind, the lull was over.
“If they’re f**king 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 f**k 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.
“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.