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Midgard Year 848. 16th day of the Barley Moon; Anka, Vigrid
The room was small with few windows, as were many homes in Anka, the small town which lay beneath the hill where Ragnarr was perched. Night stretched across the sky, leaving the only light given off the soft clear glow of the lumini stones adorning the walls, suspended by metal chains attached to a brace. The room was sparsely furnished, bearing only a few cluttered book shelves and a small table with a chair. An old, worn rug lay upon the ancient wooden floor. Yet, it was her place of solitude. The place where she would go to escape the world and ease her mind. But this day, her mind could not be eased so effortlessly. Despite the utter peacefulness the small room often offered, she felt unsettled.
Mæja stood at a the table, her hand resting upon a very old, leather-bound book covered in dust. The pages were faded and brittle, but their words held so much history and sadness to them. Her blue-green eyes remained fixed upon the ancient volume, almost as if she hesitated in opening the book she already knew word for word.
"Am I the only one to feel a lingering sadness with the approach of nightfall?" she murmured to herself, running her pale fingers along the spine of the book. Her eyes shifted to the gold embossed runes adorning the cover. "Feel that something has been forgotten that should not have?" Mæja's eyes narrowed on the book before placing her hand over the lettering. "Such is my every thought…"
"You speak in odd riddles, Mae."
The woman turned in surprise, her fiery waves swirling with her sudden movement. "Ah, Ilario, I didn't hear you come in." The man had taken her completely by surprise. A feat she did not approve of.
His gray eyes flickered to the book on the table, looking it over intently. "So that is the book you guard so carefully?" he drawled with a small curl to his lips. "What secrets does it possess?"
Mæja turned away. "Nothing of importance…" she murmured.
She did not heed the seriousness of his tone. "What is it you need, Ilario?"
"You know that I am in this for treasure," Ilario continued. "I could care less about the Empire. Let them have Vigrid. Jarl Woden and his family are dead. All I want is the treasure hidden in the castle." He ran a hand through his ash-brown hair. "Surely, you do not think that a ragtag band of former guards and servants can really reclaim the castle. Who would rule it?"
"I would rather see the castle fall into ruin than have the Empire continue to hold it," came her cold reply as she picked a scarf up from the table and began to carefully wrap the book. They had this discussion several times before and each time it made her feel more and more uneasy, leaving her eager to change the subject. "And you should know very well that whatever treasure that remained in the castle has long been removed by the Emperor's son. How can you, a former guard, be so neutral to their presence there?"
"I beg to differ, Mae," Ilario said firmly. "How can we expect to reclaim Ragnarr for all of Vigrid if we don't acquire the funds necessary to remove the Empire's hold? You know as well as I that a few lowly guards and untrained servants are no threat to the Empire's brute force…"
"Enough nonsense, Ilario," snapped Mæja, turning to face him in her anger.
"Then it would seem that we have a problem with meeting an agreement."
Keeping her face set firmly, she turned away from him once again. "This discussion is over," Mæja told him, hardly in the mood to argue with him about their movements against the Empire.
She could almost feel the smirk in his smug tone when he spoke again. It was then she knew she had made a crucial mistake.
"Oh, I beg to differ, Mae."
Before the woman could have the chance to react, Ilario wrapped his arms around her from behind and pulled her tightly against his chest. His voice was low and dark when he spoke, sending chills down the woman's spine as an overpowering musky scent began to overwhelm her senses. "There is so much to discuss…"
* * * * *
Sleeping Vale, the High Wood
Golden rays of sunlight drifted through the thick canopy of breeze rustled leaves to warm the face of a man who slept down amongst the roots. Linkyn could easily be mistaken as half Álfar with his slightly pointed ears, but many would be sadly mistaken to discover he was something that was greatly feral. His sun-touched brown hair reached past his shoulders with an odd lock of copper red on the right side of his face.
A smile touched his lips as the wind rustled around him. The woods were quiet and serene, the song of the birds soft and lilting. Though, it would seem, this day was a rare exception as the loud snap of a branch caused Linkyn's ears to twitch and his fierce sky blue eyes to peek open. He sat up, listening and following the rustling movement, narrowing in on the men who approached towards his place of sanctuary.
He could hear them. There were three, four at most. Very few ever set foot inside the Sleeping Vale, aside from traveling merchants or lost travelers. These intruders were far from peddlers ready to sell their wares, intruders with ill intent who were not welcome in his little village.
Linkyn rose silently to his feet. Voices drifted on the breeze, reaching his ears.
"Be quiet!" hissed a male voice lowly. "We need to make this quick and quiet."
Linkyn reached to his leather belt, pulled out a throwing knife and held it in his right hand. Runes for Geri ran along the skin from his index finger to thumb.
"What do you expect to find in such a small village?" asked another.
His leather sandals fell softly with each careful step that Linkyn took. He did not see them yet, but he could practically smell their unwashed bodies.
"You fool," snapped a woman's voice. "An Álfar man in this village crafts the mythril weapons and shields that are used by the very guards at Starfall. If we can get our hands on those, just imagine the price we could fetch for them!"
He could see them now, standing in a cluster of trees along the edge of the small village. A frown crossed his face as his eyes narrowed on them. Bringing his hand up swiftly, Linkyn let the knife fly. It had barely left his fingers to land at one of the men's feet before he had his sword drawn.
The three intruders turned to face him, their reactions to his presence mixed.
"Heh…one lone half-Álfar to protect the entire village?" laughed the man who had spoken first, a wide smirk crossing his lips. "Do you, one man, think you can stop the three of us?!"
Linkyn said nothing as he stalked slowly towards them. His hand was firm on the hilt of the old, battle scarred sword which had been forged by the very weapon smith the intruders spoke of. Circling them, Linkyn watched for even the slightest movement. He would not be the first to attack. He would wait like a wolf for the perfect moment to leap.
"You fear to strike us?" sneered the leader. "Well, then, allow me the pleasure of taking your head!" Drawing his blade, the man lunged at Linkyn without a trace of hesitation.
Linkyn braced his feet and waited. As the thief foolishly raised his blade high to attack, Linkyn swung his own up and struck the man hard in the torso. As the thief fell, Linkyn shifted his feet and spun to face the other two. Both hesitated and once again he waited for them to move first.
It was the woman who made the next attack. With a shout of outrage, she charged at Linkyn with naught but a dagger in her hand. Her steps proved she was skilled with such a meager weapon, but she would still be no match for a man like him. Even as she moved, he could read what actions she would take and was quick to side step and defend before launching his own attack. Linkyn knocked the woman's dagger aside and struck her in the arm, successfully crippling it. With a cry of pain, she fell back, clutching her bleeding arm.
The third man hesitated, his hand shaking upon his own blade as his eyes remained fixed upon Linkyn.
Linkyn waited, his own blade held ready.
The man continued to hesitate, his reluctance clearly evident on his face. "Damn!" he cursed, turning suddenly to flee. "Forget this! They don't pay me enough!"
The woman followed, leaving a trail of blood.
He did not follow them, merely sheathed his blade and bent to look at the first man to attack. Linkyn could tell by the man's worn and poor clothing that he probably did any form of work offered to him for money. Most professional thieves were dressed in nicer clothing and armed with various tools of the trade bought with the money they acquired. But this man and the other two were dressed very poorly with weapons in ill repair.
Linkyn frowned as he straightened once more. There was something about the three that had gotten his blood flowing with a familiar feeling.
* * * * *
The first thing Mæja registered was pain. It filled not only her head, but her entire body with a sharp, aching throb. The second was the cold hard floor beneath her and the lingering musky scent. Opening her eyes, she forced her body to move and sit up, a strangled gasp escaping her lips. The tiny room was in utter disarray. Books, which had only a short while before been shelved neatly, were now strewn all about, scattered over the table and floor. Lunging to her feet as quickly as her body would allow, she dug through the scattered books in mild panic.
Many of them were open to familiar pages of Vigrid and maps of the castle itself, of Shilyka's battle tactics, notes on the guards rounds and even shift changes.
But most important was the leather bound book that was missing. The one she had been reading shortly before Ilario had interrupted her. The one which had been written by King Sigurd's wife herself. The fading words had revealed great hints of a past that had been long forgotten. Most was not understandable, as if Brynhild herself thought it best for Midgard's past to remain shrouded in the dark. But there was something she had done that none other had. She knew the resting places of all the treasures of the gods and how to break the seal upon the Gates of the Einherjar. Something Mæja had never wanted the Empire to learn of.
Mæja cursed under her breath. Ilario had taken something that had been part of her family for years. A secret well guarded. "Ilario…what have you done?!"
Flinging the door open, she ran down the tight, narrow hall and into a room not much larger than the one she had just been in. A man stood with his back to her, another sat in a chair by the table, while a third leaned against the wall.
"Mikhail!" she called out to the man standing with his back facing her.
He turned to her, running a hand through his dark brown hair. His bright sky-blue eyes settled upon her, a mischievous light in them. It was his slightly pointed ears that made him stand out, making many think him half Álfar. On the left side of his neck was a triskle tattoo. On his left hand, running from index finger to thumb, was the name Freki in the elder futhark runes while hiding beneath his sleeve was a tattoo of the world tree Yggdrasil.
Mikhail looked at Mæja in concern. He knew the woman well enough over the past two years to know she did not panic easily. Thus the frantic look on her face drew his concern. "Mæja…what happened?" he asked with a heavy accent.
She hesitated, her eyes drifting between the two other men. She trusted him with her life, but the other two not so much with what she had to say. "We need to speak."
He nodded and waited as the two men exited the small room. Though he trusted them, if Mæja wanted to speak alone, then they would do so, no questions asked. Mikhail waited patiently for the woman to speak again, watching her slender figure step past him to sit in the now vacant chair.
"We have been betrayed…by Ilario."
The man slammed his fist down hard on the table, releasing a string of curses. "Ah, feckin' hell…" muttered Mikhail in a heavy Airlann brogue that didn't fit his name. "He knows everythin'. Our location, everyone in the resistance, our plans…"
"I do not think that will be the worst of our fears," continued Mæja, shaking her head. "In fact, I do not believe we have to really worry about that at all." She hesitated, rubbing her face wearily.
Mikhail frowned. "What is it, Mae?"
"He took Brynhild's book."
The man's face remained calm, but his jaw tensed and his voice was laced with venom when he spoke, "Tha' book not only spoke o' the gods treasures, but their restin' places as well. Possibly even the means ta break the barrier around Bifröst. If the wrong person were ta get their hands on it, then the Empire would be the least of our worries."
"At least we still think the same."
He looked at the woman.
"We need to retrieve the ring Draupnir and possibly the spear Gungnir and keep them from his grasp," continued Mæja. "I do not know what power they may have held, but I am sure he will seek them out first once he's read through Brynhild's book. If we can get them in our possession, we may be able to delay whatever he may have planned, at least for a short time."
Mikhail nodded. "Perhaps ye're right, but just ta be safe, we should leave Anka an' find a new place ta hide somewhere above in Ragnarr."
Mæja shook her head. "That won't be necessary," she told the man. "Ilario could care less about our little resistance. I'm afraid he has higher goals in his head and it is those goals that we should truly be worried about."
* * * * *
The Valley of the Fallen Star, the High Wood
The tallest and most ancient of all the trees in the sea of trees known as the High Wood were the ones in the Valley of the Fallen Star. Known as Starfall to many outside the High Wood, the Valley of the Fallen Star was home to the long lived Álfar race. The redwood trees were tall and proud, their massive limbs reaching high. Thick ferns thrived in the shade offered by the giant trees while large, woody bracket fungi wound its way along the thick trunks of the trees, forming a natural staircase which lead up to the homes situated in the boughs of the trees. The Álfar homes were made from the broad branches which had been bent and tied together, leaving it open and airy, but also providing shelter from rainfall. Sheer cloth swayed in the breeze in places that served as doors and windows, allowing some amount of privacy.
Amena Evenwood, Lady of the High Wood, stood before a low basin of water, her hands resting upon the cool stone. Her sapphire blue eyes were trained upon the surface of the water, watching a leaf spin and glide across the water with the gentle breeze of the wind. Her long, golden blonde hair rustled with the breeze, catching a glistening glow when sunlight peeked through the leaves. She wore a dress of soft lavender-blue that bared her shoulders over a longer sheer chemise. The sleeves were wide and patterned like the wings of an eastern-tailed blue butterfly, the skirt edge also mirroring a butterfly's wings.
"The darkness will soon fall," she murmured to herself. "But there is still time. I must draw them here, one way or another before time runs out. Before Midgard falls into utter chaos once again. Loki must not be awakened. The false god must remain in his sealed slumber."
Fireflies danced about as Amena turned away from the pool of water and began walking along a grassy path. Vines hung down from trees, becoming thicker and thicker as she made her way until they formed a curtain before her.
Reaching out a delicate hand, she pushed aside the vines and stepped into a small glen where a weathered and worn stone shrine stood. The passage of time had played its part on the small building, wearing away at the stone and covering parts of it in a thick green moss. It was a shrine to the goddess Freyja. Most of the world had begun to forget the gods who had ruled over Midgard before the great doom known as Ragnarök. But she had not. She remembered the gods, she remembered that all the kingdoms of the Midlands had once been one undivided realm. Her eyes saw much: past, present, future. There had only been one other since the Age of Man began who could see all as she did: the oracle Acelora of the High Order.
Amena approached the doorway of the forgotten shrine and paused for a moment. Many paths lay before her and she could see them all. But to follow them all could easily force her to lose her own way. She knew she had to take the right path and pay no heed upon the others. Amena could see them clearly, branching out before her like a massive tree. Closing her eyes, she focused until seven began to glimmer with a golden glow. Following them, she found that they merged together.
"So there are the ones who can help save this world," she murmured to herself, opening her eyes and entering the shrine. "Those who will play the largest role in the path the world will soon be undergoing. It may take a long time, but I must seek them out."
The shrine was open inside, holes in the roof allowing pillars of light to illuminate the chamber. Faded paintings covered the crumbling walls. At the far end of the room stood a tall, long stone altar with carvings surrounding the base. The carving depicted a great tree in the center. A rainbow arched out above it, connecting the gods home of Asgard on the right and Midgard on the left. To the average man, those carvings would confuse and dumbfound. But to her, they meant much.
Amena paused before the altar, kneeling before it and clasping her hands together as she closed her eyes. She often came there to clear her head and think. And this time was no different from the others. To be in the shrine of Freyja, whom many Álfar revered in the Age of Gods, filled her with the added strength and wisdom she needed.
Because of Loki's actions, Midgard became the place it was today, broken and scared. But perhaps it was the gods that the people of Midgard need now more than all the wonders that had made their lives so carefree. For the death of one at Loki's trickery, many of the gods had paid with their lives. Their power had become a part of Midgard and was now being abused and fought over.
Yet she had seen something that many had not. With each passing year, that very power housed within levistones, energy crysts, and lumini stones was slowly draining away the longer the gods remained forgotten. Amena feared that far too soon, they would be forgotten completely, and time would have worn away all that spoke of their lives. It was a matter she wanted to prevent. Midgard needed their gods. Midgard needed legends and heroes. Midgard needed to mend her scars and unite as one kingdom once again. And she would do all in her power to bring such about.
The Lady of the High Wood opened her eyes and rose to her feet. "Gorrowen."
A form shifted from the shadows in the corner of the shrine. "Yes, my lady?"
"There are dark times creeping upon us," continued Amena. "There is one who seeks to awaken Loki. We must prepare ourselves so that no matter what happens, we will not fall. In the end, he must fail."
* * * * *
The Sacred Hart, custom class airship. Current Location: somewhere over Caerdydd
"Are you sure about that?" asked the Dökkálfar man, propping his elbow up on the table and resting his chin on the heel of his hand. His eyes, the palest of blue, were trained upon the slightly glowing speak stone sitting on the table before him as he sat with a foot propped upon his knee. His skin, like most of the Dökkálfar race, was a dark gray tinged with blue. His platinum white hair was long enough to fall into his eyes and bore violet dyed tips. Small, brightly colored speak stones also hung from gold cuffs on both of his long, pointed ears. Many would think him very privileged with the manner of his dress: a silver embroidered black vest over a rich blue shirt. His breeches where a muted gray and well crafted leather boots adorned his feet.
"I am quite certain." The slightly fuzzy voice came from the speak stone itself. "All research points to the former royal capital of Vigrid, Ragnarr. The treasure lies, unfortunately, somewhere within the castle itself. It seems to be extremely well hidden."
"Well that will prove slightly difficult," muttered the man in a rich, upper-crust accent.
"Ah, but it's nothing that you cannot handle, right Ril?"
The Dökkálfar man laughed. "Of course not. That is where all the fun lies," he continued. "Where is the challenge if it is too easy? Besides, those Imperial dogs will never see it coming."
Laughter came from the speak stone. "You never change, do you?" There was a pause. "Be sure to keep your eye out, just in case. We don't want the Empire trying to get their hands on you."
"Now where is the fun in that?" smirked Ril.
"You should know better than to encourage him, Jude," came the sultry voice of a woman.
Ril glanced over his shoulder at the Rhine Maiden.
She stood leaning against the wall, a foot propped up behind her and her arms crossed just below the swell of her breasts. She was tall and shapely with skin that was a soft, subtle tone of ashen blue. Her hair was the red-brown of autumn leaves and reached to the middle of her back. Her eyes were the warm amber of the incandescent glow of a setting sun. Her lips were a rich violet in color, mirroring the petals of a black lotus. Brightly colored speak stones matching Ril's hung from her ears delicately.
Once more a warm chuckle came from the stone. "As observant as ever, aren't you, Mjrn?"
The woman stepped away from the wall and walked towards the table, her light, translucent jade green garments flowed with her movements. "Someone has to be," replied the woman with a straight face. She came to stand behind Ril, leaning an arm against the tall back of the wooden chair.
"I would suggest leaving the Sacred Hart docked safely outside Ragnarr," continued Jude seriously. "If the right eyes see her, then they'll be looking for you."