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Bloodline

Discussion in 'Creative' started by Roo Stercogburn, Jan 7, 2004.

  1. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Grey skies loomed over the hunting party as they picked their way through the swamp. Mud squelched underfoot as the four moved deeper into Vanern - a troll, a norseman, a kobold and a dwarf. The troll had a massive sword slung on his back that a man would struggle to lift, let alone wield. The norseman wore a dark cloak and anything underneath was obscured in its folds. The dwarf muttered about the mud and the wetness and seemed ill at ease in these watery lands, all the time keeping one hand on the hammer slung in his belt.

    Of them all, only the little kobold seemed comfortable with his surroundings. Deftly he led the others through the reeds and bushes ever westward.

    Just out of sight could be heard sounds of various beasts caught up in the daily struggle of the food chain. Snakes ambushed swamp frogs, massive chitinous mud crabs larger than a man speared snakes with their huge pincers, and here and there in the deeper waters larger, more deadly creatures waited for the unwary or the weak. Giant worms called Orms swam the lakes and waterways and anything venturing into the water was rapidly killed and eaten. The swamp was a vicious place, and deadly to the unwary.

    "Konda, you sure he came this way?" asked the norseman.
    "Yes," answered the kobold, "he was headed this way with that damned spirit of his."
    "Its been a whole day," continued the norseman, "you sure you still have the trail?"
    The kobold was visibly annoyed with being questioned. He didn't like it because it broke his concentration on following the trail. But mostly he didn't like his skill being questioned.
    "Girnek, the trail is clear. He's only a fool mystic who wanders too much. If you know how to read the paths, its like a whole jotun tribe passed this way. Now be quiet and let me concentrate."
    The norseman subsided into sullen silence. Both corners of the dwarf's mouth turned up slightly and he kept moving his head from around, keeping an eye out for any movement coming towards them.
    There was no more words between them for another hour. the landscape gradually changed from small pools and mud to larger areas which could almost be called lakes. The ground underfoot got harder and the way ahead easier.
    The big troll scratched his chest, "Ullok hungry. Eat now."
    Konda sighed. Fair enough, it was getting on in the day, and would probably be soon time to set camp anyway.
    "I'll find us a suitable spot."
    "Ullok hungry now."
    "Just be patient, we need somewhere dry and defensible just in case."
    "In case of what?" asked the dwarf.
    Konda set his jaw and frowned, "Don't know, Toosnan."

    They found a suitably dry spot between some trees and begen to set up a basic camp while Konda went off and caught some small game. Konda also used the time to check out most likely approaches to their camp spot. Satisfied their camp was fairly defensible he set about catching dinner.

    A short while later, Toosnan cooked the small bear that Konda caught. The others sat around on their bedrolls, except Konda, who walked around their little camp, constantly peering into the dark beyond the light of their fire.
    "Sit down," said Girnek, "you're making everyone jumpy."
    Konda paused, "Have any of you actually been out here before?"
    All answered no.
    "Heh. You stay on your guard out here. During the day the snakes come out and you take your life in your hands when you step in the tall grass. At night there's other things prowling, many of which I've only heard, not seen."
    As if he hadn't been listening Toosnan said "Food's ready. Pull of a hunk and eat what you like."
    He piled some meat into a bowl and retreated to his bedroll to eat. Ullok was in there right after him and grabbed himself a couple of legs. He paused before going to his own bedroll as if gauging if he had enough, "Ullok get more when finished this."
    Girnek shook his head in disdain and took a tiny portion of the meat. He sniffed it then wrinkled his nose. He was stuck with peasants and he hated being away from Jordheim. Bad food, uncomfortable surroundings and not even a proper bed or a place to wash. The sooner this miserable job was over the better.
    Finally Konda finished his latest circuit of the camp and sat down to get himself some food.
    "Have you heard of the Vanern Witch?" he asked as he chewed.
    Girnek shook his head, Toosnan said no and Ullok didn't respond or pause between mouthfulls but all of them watched him.
    "Sometimes at night, you can hear a wailing. No matter where you are in this part of the world you can hear it and it always sounds far off. If you try to track the source it seems to move, always out of sight, always just close enough to seem worth chasing."
    Girnek rolled his eyes. Here we go. Ghost stories around the campfire. Good bloody grief he hated being stuck with peasants.
    Konda noticed Girnek's disdain but continued, "They say there is a witch, beautiful and terrible to behold, who cries for her dead lover. She cannot sleep, but instead mourns and cries until dawn."
    "So what?" said Girnek, "the wind, the trees, the bugs and beasts make noise. It's just be old wives tales same as you hear everywhere. There's always some ghost or monster can be
    heard in the night somewhere."
    "This isn't..."
    "Look just cut it out. I want to get some sleep."
    Konda shrugged, put down his bowl and decided to resume his watch.
    "You all get some sleep then, I'll take watch through the night."
    "Fine," answered Girnek, "so long as it cuts out the ghost stories I'm happy."
    Toosnan chuckled, "Not afraid of ghosts are you Girnek?"
    "Oh shut up dwarf."
    Toosnan winked at the norseman then turned to Konda, "You heard this woman then Konda?"
    "I never said anything about ghosts. I said there was a witch."
    Konda stopped to pick up his bow and his quiver, "And yes, I've heard her."
    Ullok reached over for more food as Konda stepped out of the firelight into the darkness.
    Konda decided he would take watch the full night and not rotate shifts with his companions. He doubted they had any wilderness craft about them. Fortunately he always carried some potions to fend off sleep for extended hunts and one of these meant though
    not quite as rested as his counterparts, there was no danger of exhaustion the next day.
    He watched through the darkness and sure enough around midnight as the wind picked up he was sure he could hear a faint wailing. He frowned and patrolled around the camp, always just beyond the light cast by the dying fire and always careful to make sure he never looked directly into the camp, so his nightvision stayed sharp. The night passed uneventfully, much to Konda's relief.

    At dawn Konda roused his companions. Only Ullok rose without difficulty. The big troll stood and stretched his massive frame and his arms easily reached into the lower branches of the tree beside which he had rested. Much to Konda's amusement, the troll started doing some stretching excercises. When he picked up his sword and did a few practice routines Konda's respect for the troll went up. He had thought Ullok to be just another huge brute suited to beating an opponent to a pulp but as he watched him, it became obvious that Ullok was very skilled with the sword. While Ullok went through his routines, Girnek grumpily roused himself and wrapped his cloak around him, feeling the morning cold on him.
    "Toosnan," he said, "you got any spells to get the heat back in our bodies?"
    The dwarf opened one eye and muttered just below the threshold where it could be made out. It didn't matter because the tone he used basically indicated that Girnek should leave him alone until he was properly awake.
    Konda shook his head. If he was by himself he would have been up and moving by now, all traces of the camp hidden. This lot were painful travelling companions but they did come highly reccomended.
    Eventually he got them moving and after finishing off the cold remains of the previous evening's meal, they set off again. Konda didn't bother hiding the remains of the campsite as his companions left such a trail anyway it seemed pointless to cover it up. He doubted there was anyone around here, but the habit of years made his mind itch at the thought of not covering up his tracks after himself.

    It was sunnier than the previous day, though it never actually got warm. The sky had that pale look as if the heat had been drained off and the sun only provided light, not warmth. They walked on through the swamp, occasionally Konda pausing the party while he scouted ahead. About noon he returned from one of these forays with news for the rest of the party.
    "He's stopped. He's in a large clearing and looks like he's resting. That ghost of his is watching though, it may be hard to surprise him completely but we should have the edge. All I need is one clear shot."
    Girnek snorted, "If it was going to be that easy you wouldn't need the rest of us."
    Konda's eyes slitted, "I was just being cautious when I asked for some company on this trip but you've yet to prove I was assigned someone useful. I should be able to do this in one bowshot. You three are insurance. Now prepare your spells so we can move into position."
    Girnek just glowered at him but began casting his various shield spells. Briefly he glowed as the shield spells were cast. He hefted his staff and nodded his head to Konda to indicate he was ready. Toosnan was rapidly chanting and moving his arms in complex motions. Each one of them briefly glowed as the gods bestowed extra strength and agility on them. Lastly he conjured his most powerful spells and each one of the party could feel
    their blood quickening as the haste spell hightened their speed. Even big lumbering Ullok felt a deftness beyond that of an ordinary troll.
    "I am ready." said Toosnan.
    "Ok," said Konda, "I go from the east of the clearing. Girnek, you're on the west. Shield me in case that bloody spirit comes at me. If I don't get him with the first shot, cloud his sight so he can't cast at me. Toosnan, you hang back out of sight where you can chant your heals safely if they are needed. Ullok, if the Spirit attacks you keep the it busy and if you manage to finish it off before I finish the kill, charge him."
    Konda looked around at each of them, "Everyone understand what they've to do?"
    Each of them nodded or grunted assent.

    "Right," added Konda, "time to kill Roo."
     
  2. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Konda crawled to the edge of the clearing. He had a good view ahead and around himself from where he lay. The background noise from all the wildlife helped cover any noise as the party circled in on the clearing. Konda was grateful for this as he found the movement of his companions noisy and lacking grace.

    Roo hadn't moved the whole time they were approaching. He sat cross-legged in the middle of the clearing, eyes closed, arms held slightly out and hands raised, his black cloak making very little of him visible. A pair of red gloves lay on the ground in front of him. Looked like some kind of meditative trance. Maybe he was just praying. No difference. As far as Konda was concerned he had a sitting target in the open. He'd checked around to make sure it wasn't a trap of some sort before ordering the others in. Ullok was a few feet to his left, crouched in the tall grass and ready. He saw Girnek raise his head above the grass at the other side and nod to him, before crouching down again out of sight.

    Moving up to a crouching position, he reached over his shoulder and unslung his bow. Duskwood, smooth and perfectly balanced. A wonderful weapon which bordered on a work of art. He pulled four arrows from his quiver and stuck three loosely in the ground. The fourth he nocked into the bow and took aim.

    For a moment his head swam and he felt slightly weakened. It was as if Toosnan's spells had faded. He was irritated by this. He had been assured Toosnan knew how to handle himself in a fight and wouldn't fluff his spells. He focused again on the shot and drew back the bowstring. The slightest release of pressure on the bowstring and suddenly the arrow was flying through the air. Before it had even reached its target Konda was readying another arrow.

    Instead of hitting Roo, there was a burst of light around it as if it hit an invisible bubble. As expected. But the shield was gone now and the next shot would be the killer. The Spirit burst into life. No longer immobile but was running directly towards Konda. Ullok burst through the undergrowth and charged at the spirit, his massive sword raised and now glowing red. He couldn't kill the spirit, it was already dead. He could send it back to Hel and that was all that was needed. Ullok raised his huge sword but instead of trying to slice the spirit he brought it down and around like a bat, stopping the spirit from charging further. At the point of contact red tendrils seemed to reach out from the sword and reach around the spirit, slowing it down. Ullok roared and brought the sword around for a powerful strike, the snared Spirit now having no chance to reach the little kobold aiming his second arrow at Roo.

    Roo felt the invisible barrier shatter as the first arrow hit. His trance was immediately broken but it still took a second to gather his wits. He grabbed his staff and jumped to his feet, turning to try and see where his assailant was. Then he felt his vision grow dark, now he could barely see to the edge of the clearing. His eyes watered and he squinted to see properly. Fury rose in him. Anger at whoever was attacking him, anger at himself for being caught like this. There. Almost impossible to see. A small kobold with a bow aiming at him. Roo turned side on to the kobold just as the kobold let fly an arrow. Roo raised his arm to start casting a spell.

    Because of the change in angle, instead of hitting Roo in the chest it hit his raised forearm, the arrowhead slicing along his forearm but not burying itself into the skin. Roo saw the kobold pulling an arrow from the ground tofire again. Roo tried to cast a spell at the kobold but he couldn't focus on him. He seemed maddeningly just out of range to Roo's dulled vision. Roo was barely aware of a grunt and then a thudding noise behind him. He could see a huge troll fighting the undead warrior and could tell the troll was winning. His mind raced. Heal the Spirit, run at the kobold, run out of the clearing or attack the troll. Roo ran towards the edge of the clearing that would put the troll directly in the line of fire of the kobold if he continued to shoot at Roo.

    Blood flowed from the large gash along his right forearm. Out of the corner of his eye, Roo could see the kobold tracking him across the clearing. Then he was behind the troll. Maybe it only a few seconds more it bought him but all time was good here. Roo was starting to cast a spell at the troll when he saw an arrow suddenly sticking out of the troll's throat. At first he thought the kobold had hit it, but he realised the
    angle was all wrong. The arrow had come from behind him. The troll howled and gurgled as it reached up to try and pull the arrow from his throat. Another one hit before it had any chance to pull it. The troll's howling changed from rage to fear as it started to crumple to the ground. Soon it was making weak mewling noises as more arrows thudded into it.

    Konda saw Roo charging towards the troll. At first he wasn't sure if Roo intended to attack the Ullok then he realised Roo was running behind troll. Konda cursed and let an arrow go before he was really ready. It flew just behind Roo and harmlessly into the tall grass at the other side. Where was that cursed Runemaster. He should have been firing bolts at Roo by now or preventing damage to Ullok. And why was there no sign of healing on Ullok as he took more damage. Konda saw Ullok howl in pain and reach for his throat. He couldn't tell what was happening from where he crouched. He saw Ullok crumple to the ground making choking noises. Only as he fell onto his back did Konda see the arrows sticking out of him. Konda's eyes widened in shock. There was someone else here. This attempt was blown. Time to fade into the undergrowth. He raised himself up to retreat and he felt something moving behind him. Whirling around he saw a norseman dressed in town clothes but with a kite shaped shield and a large sword, now inches from his throat.
    "Hello," said the Norseman, "I'm Taromas. Yes, yes I know I'm not properly dressed but its so hard to sneak up on someone while wearing chain armour I find. You'll be putting that heavy looking bow down now and your hands on your little blue head I think."
    When Konda hesitated Taromas pushed the edge of the sword slightly further into the flesh under his chin. Despite his smile his eyes were hard and slightly quieter he added, "Now."
    Konda reluctantly dropped the bow and put his hands on his head. He still had a variety of knives about his person. Time to play passive and bide his time.
    Konda was ushered into the clearing. Ullok's corpse lay still on the ground. Konda noted with grim satisfaction that at least the spirit was fading into nothing. Ullok had taken care of that at least. One of his companions had done their job properly anyway. There was rustling behind him and he saw out of the corner of his eye that Toosnan was being pushed into the clearing by another Norseman in leather armour with twin blades slung across his back and was sporting bruises on his forehead. A kobold also clad in leather armour was moving out of the opposite side of the clearing dragging an unconcious Girnek.
    Konda was angry with himself. He'd checked around so very carefully before approaching to attack. He couldn't understand why he'd not found this lot.

    Roo swayed a little. When the spirit faded back to the waiting arms of Hel, he always felt a brief dizziness. This time though, the blood flowing freely from his right arm was compounding it. He saw Taromas approaching with his sword prodding the kobold ahead of him and Blackshadow hauling some norseman out of the tall grass on
    the other side. He heard someone walking up behind him and slowly turned around. He couldn't help a small laugh as he saw his old friend Hound casually wandering out as if he was just out for a gentle stroll in the countryside. Hound winked and walked right up to where the troll lay.
    "Hmm, not bad placement. Quite pleased with the second arrow. My old trainer would be pleased with me I think."
    Roo felt his shoulders going as he started to laugh, "What in Hel's name are you lot doing here?"
    Hound looked up from the dead troll, "Why, saving your useless ass as usual. I thought it was obvious."
    Roo pulled up his right sleeve and winced, "I said I had something to take care of down here and I wanted to be alone."
    Hound turned the troll over and started checking pockets and inspecting the troll's clothing and armour, "Yeh well. Nico thought you'd probably get into trouble and asked the wolf pack to keep an eye on you. Good thing we did too. This lot have been tracking you all the way from Skona Ravine. I think the hunter is the leader, he's the only one that seems to know what he's doing out here. This morning I thought the troll was going to knock me out of the tree when he woke up and stretched."
    Roo examined his arm. The cut was long and narrow. It was already starting to dry and clot but it was a mess and needed attention.
    "Where's Nicodemus now?" he asked.
    "He's in Jordheim. He's dabbling in some spellcrafting I think. Well, actually, I think the guild funds are paying for his social life and not going on ingredients, but well, he always seems to know what is going on in the council so I guess thats ok too." answered Hound.
    "Is Gaeswen on his way here?" asked Roo.
    "Yes, we scouted on ahead. There's not much that will trouble him on his way here. Just this foursome for many miles and yourself. We have other blades and hunters taking in the sights around Vanern. Taromas couldn’t resist coming with the pack for once though he looked uncomfortable without his armour when we set up the trap."
    Roo grunted. Well, his pride might have been slightly dented but he was alive when he shouldn't be. "Bah, that fop will be expecting some thanks I suppose when I next see him."
    Hound unlsung a small pack and quickly rumaged around, quietly slipping some coins he'd found on the troll into the pack at the same time.
    "Here, let me bind that. It will do until we can get it properly tended. The swamp water near here isn't suitable for cleaning a wound but further ahead is clearer water."
    Roo gratefully lifted his arm and let Hound wrap a bandage around the gash. He felt his vision returning to normal now as well and his mind becoming clearer.

    While they busied themselves with this Blackshadow and Taromas kept guard on the three remaining would-be assassins. Another shadowblade detached herself from the surroundings and moved into the clearing. Waving at Roo, Missy bent over to the prisoners and started searching them. Now there was another to help keep an eye on them, Taromas went back into the undergrowth and retrieved his armour. It was strange seeing the Thane without his chain armour on.
    "The hunter is the leader you reckon?" asked Roo.
    "Aye." said Hound.
    Roo pulled his sleeve back down to cover the bandage and walked over to where the three prisoners sat together, now bound and helpless.
    "Your name, kobold?"
    Konda glowered but said nothing.
    "I don't like repeating myself."
    Roo raised his eyebrows expectantly. Konda still said nothing.
    Roo stepped back and incanted a spell. The area immediately around him darkened as if the light was being sucked out of it. He pointed his staff at Konda and stretched it out quickly at him. Konda screamed as he felt his very life being drained from him. Roo felt his strength increasing as the kobolds life flowed into him. He could feel the wound in his arm healing.
    "That was just a small jolt. If I have to do it again you will die. If I have to ask you any questions again twice I will simply kill you where you sit. Do you understand?"
    Konda was shaking from the pain and sudden weakness he felt. His mind reeled from the pain, all he could do was nod.
    "Good. This will be so much easier. Now. Your name."
    "Konda" came the shivering answer.
    "And though I hate the cliche's, they are cliches for a reason - who sent you?"
    Konda hesitated but when he saw Roo drawing back he blurted "Ferinion hired me for this job."
    "A mercenary we have here then." said Hound.
    Roo thought for a moment, "And he is based where?"
    Konda's shaking had subsided somewhat and in almost even tones was able to answer "Jordheim."
    Turning to Hound Roo asked, "Anything else we're likely to need or can the wolfpack take it from here?"
    "No, I think that’s plenty."
    "Good," said Roo.
    Turning back to Konda, "Any last words?"
    "WHAT! You said you wouldn't kill me if I answered your questions."
    "No," said Roo, "I believe I said I would kill you immediately if you didn't."
    Roo stepped back again and began casting. Konda screamed as the lifeforce was ripped from him. He shook violently as his body was drained to an empty husk. With a last rattle his body arched and then was finally still. Hound's face was an impassive mask while the execution was carried out.

    Girnek and Toosnan were both now awake and watching in fear. Roo crouched down in front of them and looked them each in the eye in turn, "I'm afraid I must apologise to you two. Konda, you see, was a problem in that he knows his way around Vanern and was crafty enough to have been a possible threat in future. I can't allow this."
    Roo sighed, "You pair are less of a threat. An inept runemaster and a healer with the reflexes of a sloth."
    The pair visibly relaxed at this.
    "However, you've both now seen the wolfpack and I cannot permit you to report to your superiors."
    Roo nodded to the shadowblades standing behind them. Realisation dawned and the two of them started to struggle but knives were expertly passed across their throats. The struggling was over in a moment.
    Hound shook his head slightly as he watched, "Was there really a need for this Roo?" he asked.
    Roo looked at the bodies and answered, "Yes. They were hired killers and they've seen our greatest defence against whatever powers in the council are moving against me. They've been after me since I was a boy, I still have no idea why and its time to try and find out."
    Roo turned to Missy and Blackshadow "Search all the bodies one last time then throw them in the swamp to feed the Orms. Oh, and Hound has some gold in his backpack that he got from that troll he wants to share with you."
    Hound snorted a chuckle, "You bastard."
    "Take the wolfpack to Jordheim and tell Nico I'll want an officer meeting soon."
    "And you'll want to give him your thanks of course for sending the wolfpack." chuckled Hound.
    Roo grunted, "Tell him not to get cocky and that wench he's been seeing this last two weeks is a spy. The only reason he's still alive is because the slow acting poison she's been feeding him was replaced with something harmless. When she figures it out she'll probably try to kill her supplier but by then we'll have him safe and sound and on his way to Aegirhamn. Isharo is taking care of that operation."
    Roo rolled his sleeve back up and felt around the bandage. With a smile he peeled it off and saw the skin underneath was healed. Roo frowned when he saw that there was a livid red scar reaching from his hand halfway to his elbow. That had never happened before. The heal from the lifedrain was always perfect. The scar formed a near perfect straight line.
    Hound noticed this too with raised eyebrows, "Maybe you should have spent some time training at the temple after all."
    Roo rolled his sleeve back down.
    "On your way back towards Skona, make sure Gaeswen knows where to meet me.”
    "Got it."
    Hound, Taromas, Missy and Blackshadow went to work on the bodies and soon had them hefted and were heading to the nearest Orm-infested lake. Hound waved over his shoulder at Roo.

    Roo felt the first spatters of rainfall. He hadn't noticed it clouding over. He pulled up the hood of his cloak, picked his gloves off the ground and began walking further into vanern. He'd be able to rest properly in a little while. No more stops while on the move. Not far to go now and he was eager to meet the Vanern Witch.
     
  3. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Turo dreamed. He remembered times gone by. He remembered he had a wife and a son. He remembered the day he died as the freezing breath of Gjalpinulva, the great dragon, surrounded him and his fellow soldiers and killed them almost to a man. He had other memories. Some were tantalisingly just out of reach and he knew they were important but as if blocked from him. There was a purpose to him few possessed yet this purpose even he himself did not know.

    Turo wondered why he slept. He was never tired or hungry, he did not get sick. He was eternal now.

    Turo felt the call. Once again his sleep was broken and it was time to return to the realms. He felt the world appearing around him and gradually becoming more solid. He looked down at his hands. As always they were transparent, like the rest of him. He felt neither heat nor cold. His trusty hammer hung at his belt but like himself it was only just visible. He was here to serve. He was here to fight. He was here to protect. The need to protect burned like a cold fire inside him.

    To all but one, here he had no name. He was just a servant. His body grew brighter as magics were cast on it to keep it in the realm and prevent return to sleep. His almost invisible body grey stronger and faster. Eventually the magics ceased and he was ready.

    He looked around him. Still in the swamp. He was indifferent to the area. It was just another place. He sensed snakes in the tall grass and spiders further off. The wormlike Black Orms infested the area and wandered close enough at times his hand reached for his ammer.

    Nothing immediate. Nothing that attacked just yet.

    He was ready. He felt strong.

    "Come on Junior," said Roo, "We've got to be there by nightfall."

    Turo turned and kept pace with his son, the Spirit Master. He sensed a scar on him where there had been none before. He momentarily focused his senses and saw beneath the cloth and looked directly at the new scar. He was not surprised at what he saw. A memory returned. A prophecy. This scar would grow. It was not a scar. It was the bloodline and it had begun. And all things that begin have an end.

    Now he knew why he was back and why he felt Hel's kiss every time he awakened. Now he knew that though maybe it was years off, there would be a reckoning and a fight to the death.

    The bloodline always won. It was inevitable. He felt sorrow. A loss to come was nonetheless painful for knowing it in advance.

    He kept pace and watched all around. At times, he fended off the creatures of the swamp as they travelled to keep Roo unharmed. They made good time. By late afternoon they were at a small series of lakes and in the centre of them, with twisting paths that led to it, was a small cottage. Not Midgardian in style, but with the white stone and cone shaped roof that was unmistakenly Hibernian.
     
  4. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Roo approached the cottage with caution. It was downhill of where he stood and there was some distance between where he stood and the apparent paths that led between the lakes. He could see Jotuns roaming around. Man-shaped giants as tall as trees they roamed all over the swamp, the greatest of all the denizens here. They always reminded Roo of clay figurines with pot bellies, only much larger. Their fists alone were bigger than a man and they jealously protected their territories. They appeared to follow some tribal structure though Roo had no idea how it worked. He knew that some were considered outcast but the details eluded him despite attempts to find out.

    He crouched down and made his way towards the lakes. Creepers and groundhugging vines made progress difficult and Roo noticed that as he got closer many had increasingly large thorns and the vines merged into low lying hedges which soon after became an impassable barrier. Roo motioned for Junior to start hacking the vines. He could burn his way through but he didn't want to start a fire here and alert the roaming Jotuns. At this point he wished he'd kept Hound with him. The wily hunter would easily be able to find a path through this. Roo had to make do. At least Junior would never get tired, it was just a case of being patient until they were through.

    While he waited he watched. It would soon be nightfall. Roo loved the night. It had protected him for years as he moved around the realm. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd escaped death from enemies as he slipped away from them. He was tired of running now. Tired of being on the defensive. Finally the guild was strong enough to run operations around the realm and finance the various activities that would delve the very heart of the council. The wolfpack was ready to hunt. Roo felt as if he was finally finished years of preparation and could be active. With Nicodemus close to Council, a spy network with tendrils in every town and village throughout Midgard and a strong merchant prescence in Midgard, he was finally in a position to make a move. Only one vulnerability remained before he could feel secure.

    Junior hacked away tirelessly at the vines, a path ahead was already becoming clear.

    A few stars began to appear between the clouds. Jotuns bellowed to each other in the distance. Roo felt a certain peace, waiting here. The swamp was full of danger, yet he felt unthreatened here at the very centre of it.

    Junior hacked through the last of the vines and pulled apart a few strands and pushed them back into the mass at either side. The cottage could be seen clearly now. There was light from inside it and smoke could be seen coming out of the chimney.

    "Thankyou Junior" said Roo. He was able to step through the narrow gap and move to the other side, brushing against the occasional vines and being stuck with thorns. But at least least he could get through.
    Once on the other side he turned to Junior and said "I think it best if you return for the moment. This may be uncomfortable for you."
    Junior looked at Roo, his usually impassive face showing sadness. He nodded agreement and Roo quickly performed the unsummoning. Junior faded to nothing, to sleep once more.

    Roo was close to the cottage now. He took a deep breath and started walking towards it. He had found out about this place years ago from a fat old dwarf healer called Tungusk, the sole friend he had for a long time. Tungusk was long dead now but Roo still thought of him fondly. He had been Roo's protector through his early years and had taught him much about the realm and more importantly to Roo, had taught him of his family and the treachery which had killed his father. Roo had never come here before. He'd been in Vanern at times but he'd never dared come here. He wasn't sure if he was afraid the stories Tungusk had told him were true or not. If he was honest with himself, a large part of him was afraid they might be true with all that implied.

    Approaching the door, Roo noted that there was a small garden around the cottage, with various plants and flowers he couldn't recognise filling them and obviously well tended.

    The lush green grass was at odds with the muted colours most of the Vanern plantlife showed.

    The door to the cottage opened and out stepped a woman. At first the light behind her only showed her outline but she moved away from the door and towards Roo and her face showed in the glow from the cottage. Only silver hair hinted at age, her face was unlined and clear with fine features not shared by any of Midgard origin. Celtic, possibly with some Elvish in her blood.
    Despite this, the resemblence between her and Roo was startling. She smiled at Roo in welcome and said in a soft lilting voice, "Hello son."
    "Hello mother." answered Roo.
    The two embraced and stood there a long time, simply holding each other as more stars came out.
     
  5. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    The inside of the cottage seemed strange to Roo. He was used to rough, functional furnishings. Everything here seemed a little alien to him. There were four chairs around a circular table in the centre of the room but their legs were fine to the point that they looked like they wouldn't support someone's weight. The table itself had a central column supporting it that wasn't solid, but intsead was comprised of many interweaving patterns around a hollow centre. The fire licked its way around the inside of the fireplace and gave off a gentle heat around the room.

    Roo was somewhat at a loss for words. For the first time in many years his emotions were bubbling as if something long locked away was trying to get out. He stood in the doorway and just looked around the room.
    "You can call me mother if you wish, or Akisha if you're not comfortable calling a complete stranger that." said Akisha, around a faintly mocking smile.
    Roo smiled, "I'm comfortable with mother, we can go with that. Unless it makes you think of age."
    Akisha laughed, "Yes, you're blood runs true. Sit down, I'll make us some tea."
    Akisha went over to the stove and took a boiling kettle. Roo noted that it was already boiling and then he frowned when he saw there were already two cups sitting on the table as if ready.
    Though apparently busy, Akisha noted his expression.
    "They don't call me a witch for nothing, Roo."
    "You knew I was coming?" asked Roo.
    Akisha poured the water into an ornate teapot, "Well, I had an idea I'd be getting a family visitor this evening."
    Akisha motioned for Roo to sit and pulled herself a chair. She watched Roo as he closed the door behind him then also sat down.
    "Needless to say, you've grown since I last saw you."
    Roo laughed, "Yes well. Despite the best efforts of some of my fellow countrymen."
    Akisha's face visibly saddened at this, "I've tried to scry you from time to time. I'd know if you passed on but I cannot see you at all no matter how much I focus my magics. I wonder if this affects those that seek you also."
    Roo's brows knitted in puzzlement, "You can scry?"
    In a self mocking ton AKisha answered, "What self respecting witch can't?"
    Akisha poured tea for both of them.
    "I may only have tonight to speak with you mother. Events are starting to gather speed and I must return to Jordheim in the morning."
    Akisha nodded at this but said nothing. After sipping her tea she said, "I miss your father terribly. We hadn't spoken for several years before he died but I never stopped loving him. It would be good if you could stay a while."

    Roo shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He couldn't look Akisha in the eye when he answered but instead looked into his tea,"He told me you were dead. It was a few years after father died that Tungusk told me you still lived and who you were. I'd been told you were a serving girl that had died to thugs, not an enchantress from Hibernia hiding out in Vanern."
    "Ah yes, the dwarf. He is a good person."
    "Tungusk died saving me from those that want me dead. I have still to find out what they are after. Thats partly why I am here."
    "I'm sorry to hear about Tungusk, I liked him."
    "In a way he lives on. There was a family in Vasudheim I know named their eldest son Tunguska after him. Shaping up to be a fairly decent healer himself if we can keep him out of the inns and trouble."
    Akisha laughed, "The exact opposite of dour, sober Tungusk. Ah well, good to see the name lives on."
    "You have you're father's build. He wanted you to become a warrior you know, just like him."
    "Yes, I know. He was disappointed I could barely lift a sword, let alone becoming a great fighter."
    "I wanted the three of us to stay in the swamp but your father insisted that you be brought up in the ways of Midgard's warriors. We had been happy out here but I always knew your father could feel his duty calling him."

    "I think my enemies know of you. You're a potential bargaining chip and a weakness to me. I want you to leave this place and go back to Hibernia . I believe you'll be either dead or a prisoner very soon if you don't."
    Akisha looked hard at her son, "So the first time you come to visit your mother is to tell her to go away and never return?"
    Roo looked hurt, "You know thats not the case. I don't want them to hurt you."
    Akisha stood and though still smiling, all warmth faded from it. Her eyes took on an intensity that made them almost look like they were glowing. she leaned across the table, "And what makes you think they are a match for me, out here! The Jotuns protect me and I can call the very forces of nature to halt any enemies seeking me!"
    Roo looked straight into her eyes, "Parlour tricks won't scare them off mother. Are you sure you have adequate defences to turn away an entire clan should they come for you? I don't even know that its only one clan, it could be several guilds or clans. The resources that seem to be applied against me have shown to be extensive at times. I've only just got to the stage where my own mercantile base is adequate to finance counter-operations."

    Akisha subsided and sat down again, merely a beautiful older woman instead of a witch oozing power from every pore.

    "I will think on this. I don't know if I have the will to leave. There are more reasons than I can tell you for staying here," she sighed, "I wish your father was here."

    Roo looked down at his feet. He knew he had been going to do this long before he got here, but now it came to it, he found himself reluctant, "Father is here."
    Akisha's face registered shock.
    "Mother, you do know what a Spirit Master is?"
    She was slow to answer but just before Roo could answer for her she said, "Well... you summon a dead warrior. Hel chooses a fallen one that did not die in battle."
    Roo looked straight at her, "For most Spirit Masters that is true. But not in my case. I summon only one fallen warrior. And this one DID die in battle. Over the years I've learned to disguise him into different forms during the summoning but basically... I summon only one, specific fallen one..."
    His voice trailed off and the colour drained from Akisha's face, "You summon your father."
    It wasn't a question.
    Roo nodded but couldn't look at her when she asked "Can you summon him now?" and her voice couldn't hide her eagerness.
    Again he nodded then said "But he can't communicate. We cannot speak to each other and he is non-corporeal. He only has enough physical prescence to protect me and is able to do very little else..."
    "I would still very much like to see him." said Akisha hurridly.
    Roo still didn't look up, "... but a shaman could hold his physical prescence here for a time if he combined his powers with mine."
    Akisha suddenly looked shrewdly at Roo, "Why do I feel you've planned for this?"
    Roo looked up and smiled, "Well, I did ask a shaman to make his way here. I was in a hurry or would have waited for Gaeswen but he will hopefully be here soon."

    They talked on for about another hour. Akisha told stories of Roo when he was a baby and talked of his father. Roo explained about his childhood then the day it all changed when Tungusk and a troll shaman took him away and hid him.

    "I know of the betrayal. Tungusk visited me here from time to time. He brought me a few luxuries from the city and news of the outside world. The thing that surprised me was that the entire Clan Thodin was wiped out systematically and no guild or clan cried out for vengence, even their supposed allies."
    This had occured to Roo also. It made the hackles on his neck stand up to hear someone else speak of it. Clan Thodin, the clan his father had served, had been tricked into sending their entire force to Malmohus and had been wiped out to a man, all except a shadowblade who had managed to escape the carnage. In the weeks that followed the families of the clan were systematically hunted and killed. And not a word of outrage or support from anyone.
    Akisha moved to the stove and began heating more water. From a cupboard she pulled another cup and retrieved the two from the table. Roo watched her for a moment then chuckled, "I guess that means Gaeswen is close."

    Roo opened the door and sure enough, walking through the path his father had cut for him was the little kobold shaman.
    "Greetings Gaeswen."
    "Hello Roo. I passed Hound on my way here. Sounds like you owe him another one."
    Roo smiled and said, "Come inside, I'd like you to meet someone."
    Roo held the door while Gaeswen stepped inside. His nose twitched as he smelled the air and he took the whole room in with a single glance, "Ah tea. How civilised. Not what you'd expect this far into the swamp."
    Akisha smiled and served the tea.
    "This is my mother Gaes. You'll probably know her better as the Vanern Witch."
    If Gaeswen was surprised, he didn't show it. He just nodded and accepted the tea offered to him. While he sipped he watched Akisha intently.
    "Hibernian." he eventually said. There was a slight glint in his eye, the merest hint of a threat.
    Akisha returned his gaze unperturbed.
    Roo shook his head. It was like two cats in a staring contest.
    "Gaes, I need your help with something. I need to summon JUnior and have him corporeal for a time."
    "Junior?" asked Akisha.
    Roo reddened, "Er, yes. Its a standing joke. When I was younger I wasn't allowed to refer to him as father in case it ever gave me away. So I called him Junior. It kind of stuck."
    Gaeswen nearly spat his tea laughing, not at the naming, but at seeing Roo discomfitted. He decided the rarity value of this alone made it worth slogging out into the swamp.


    Gaeswen and Roo sat crosslegged across a small crude circle made of stones. There were arcane symbols scribed on the stones in chalk and in the centre of the circle was a metal bowl which Gaeswen had filled with some strange herbs. Akisha stood in the doorway of the cottage watching them.
    "I'll need some blood from a family member for this Roo."
    Roo nodded, "Not a problem, I don't seem to have difficulty finding more."
    Gaeswen felt a chill at those words. He was never comfortable with the lifedraining spells that Roo favoured.
    Roo rolled up his right sleeve and held out his arm. Standing in the doorway Akisha saw the scar and caught her breath. Tears welled up but neither Roo nor Gaeswen noticed this.
    Gaeswen deftly took a knife and made a clean cut across Roo's thumb. Some blood dripped into the bowl. The herbs in the bowl immediately began to smoulder with the contact.
    "Perform your summoning Roo." commanded Gaeswen.
    Roo closed his eyes. He was more used to summoning while standing but he understood this ritual was slightly different. He began quietly chanting and moving his hands through the motions that summoned the form of his father. Just as he was used to, his father started to appear in front of him. Gaeswen began chanting and dipped his hand into a small pouch, pulling out a powder which he threw into the summoning circle. Where the powder hit the emerging spirit it seemed to stick and spread. Gaeswen repeated this and gradually the spirit seemed to solidify. Slowly, instead of being merely semi transparent his skin began to turn pink and his armour became burnished silver chainmail.

    The ghost was soon completely solid. He stood there and raised his hand in front of his face in wonder and for the first time in many years he was able to speak, "I... live?"
    Roo kept his head bowed. Beads of sweat were breaking out on his forehead and he found it difficult to speak. Gaeswen was completely motionless, completely focused on keeping the magic working.
    "No father," said Roo, "you have only a short time in this form. If you look to the cottage, there is someone that wants to see you."
    Turo turned and faced the cottage. Akisha was there, tears flowing down her face. Turo's chest heaved and he ran towards her. Akisha's arms were open and he flung himself at her. Despite being bigger and more powerful than her, she didn't even rock backwards as the two collided. Roo watched out of the corner of his eye, unable to move in case he broke the concentration required to keep the spell running.
    The door to the cottage closed.

    The irony that though he could summon his father, he couldn't spend any time with him was not lost on Roo. He sat there silently in the dark beside Gaeswen concentrating on his magic and was happy for his parents that they would have this one brief time together.

    And though he had to sit here and work his magic, Roo reflected that in his own way, he was at peace here for just this brief moment. He looked up at the stars and a faint smile appeared.
     
  6. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Roo sensed the sky growing lighter. He was exhausted. Soon he would have to let go. His power was drained and he needed rest. Gaeswen showed no sign of exhaustion, the little kobold seemed perfectly at ease.

    The cottage door opened and Akisha and Turo walked out hand in hand. Her robes were silver. Turo was wearing gold ceremonial armour. His shield bore a crest depicting a crow with a red chevron underneath on a white background. The Thodin crest. They walked over to where Roo sat, visibly wilting.

    Turo kneeled beside Roo and held his head close, "Son, I know you can barely hear me now. There are two things you must take away from here which your mother will give you. The first is a pendant, which Tungusk retrieved long ago from a dying shadowblade. I know not its history, but it is what your enemies seek through you. The second thing she will give you is knowledge of the bloodline, who's curse you now bear."

    Roo made a barely perceptible nod, his eyes remained closed.

    "I will always be there. Even when you don't call for me. Your mother will tell you the rest."

    Turo stood and turned back to face Akisha. He leaned over and kissed her gently. As he kissed her he began to fade until he was once more merely a summoned ghost, impotent to feel the warmth of the returned kiss. Akisha turned and hid her face away from Roo and Gaeswen.
    With a sigh Roo's head drooped as the pressure of maintaining the spell was released from him. Gaeswen slowly opened his eyes and stretched. To all intents and purposes he seemed to be awakening from a good night's rest.

    "Heh," said Gaeswen softly, "Norsemen. Can't handle the magic."

    He stood up and walked around Roo. Crouching beside him he pulled a small bottle from one of his many pouches he wore.
    "Here my friend," he said in barely a whisper, "this will help you."
    He held the bottle to Roo's lips and tipped it so Roo could drink. Within seconds Roo seemed stronger. He inhaled deeply and eyes wide, looked all around.
    "Ugghhh" was all he could manage.

    Standing, he could see Junior standing facing Akisha, who had her back turned to the rest of them and her head hung low.
    "Roo," said Gaeswen, "Dawn soon, we have to leave."
    Roo nodded without turning to Gaeswen, his eyes were on Junior and his mother. He felt hollow inside and numb. Gently he reached a hand out and put it on Akisha's shoulder.
    "Mother, I will have to leave. Father spoke of two things."
    Akisha slowly gathered her composure but still wouldn't turn to face them.
    "Yes, the pendant."
    She reached into her robes and pulled a small golden pendant from it. It was in the shape of a pentagram with seven stars lining the inside edge. At the centre was the unmistakable image of a dragon's head seen face on.
    Turning, she handed the pendant to Roo. Smudged lines ran down her face from the tears.
    "I do not know the purpose of this. All I know is that many would kill to get it. It is probably what the people that have been after you all these years are really seeking. They would have known someone of Clan Thodin would carry it and you are the last known survivor of that dead clan."
    She handed the pendant to Roo who took it gingerly. It was heavier than it looked and Roo felt as if he could sense a power from it. He put it inside his cloak.
    "The other thing your father spoke of is harder for me."
    She paused and took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts.
    "Have you ever heard of the Bloodline curse?"
    Roo shook his head.
    "No reason you should. It is of Hibernian origin and is only ever bestowed on Hibernians. Roll up your right sleeve."
    Roo was surprised but did as he was asked. He rolled up his sleeve to the elbow. Akisha took his arm and inspected it. Her face fell as she looked at the scar.
    "This is not an ordinary scar you bear. It is the Bloodline. Your bloodline. It is a gift and a curse at the same time. You will find that enemies have an uncanny knack to damage you in this arm. And every time they do the scar will grow. The scar will grow longer until it eventually reaches your throat. You cannot prevent this from happening once the bloodline starts to grow."
    "What happens then?" asked Roo, though he guessed the answer already.
    "You will die. It has only happened a few times in history that I know of, and each time previously it was in Hibernia. Each time also, it was centred around events which changed the realm forever."
    "You said it was also a gift?"
    "Yes. Of a sort. By having it, you know you are destined to do great things in the time alotted you until the curse completes."
    "I don't want to do great things. I just want revenge then I'll disappear from sight forever."
    "You won't have the choice my son. The Bloodline curse takes hold on any who bear it."
    "How do you know this isn't just an ordinary scar?" asked Gaeswen.
    Turning her head to Gaeswen, Akisha answered, "You just have to trust me little kobold. But in time you will see the scar grows with each battle, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But always reaching towards the throat in a perfect straight line."

    The sun began to show on the hills behind the swamp, painting the hills themselves yellow-gold. A distant observer would have seen two people and a ghost briefly embracing a women then walking away from the cottage out into the swamp, one of them continually looking over his shoulder behind him until they were too far away to see past the vine hedges. They would have seen the woman walking back into the cottage and standing in the doorway until the travellers were out of sight, then hanging her head and closing the door behind her as she stepped inside.
     
  7. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Joraall pulled down his cowl as he stepped into the little shop out of the rain. If his soaking cloak bothered him he gave no sign. The smell of fresh clean cloths filled the little tailor shop.
    A small fat woman by the counter bowed and said "Good day sir, how can I be of service this afternoon?"
    Joraall stared at her for a moment. He didn't remember her.
    "Kojin" he said.
    "Who shall I say is calling?" she asked.
    "Taranduar."

    She went over to a door at the back of the room and went inside. Joraall looked around as if he was just another customer. Casually he inspected the cloths on various rolls and shelves, while the whole time making sure he was in a position to see if either door opened, the habit of many years.

    A minute later, the little woman came back though.
    "Kojin will see you now."
    Joraall nodded acknowledgement and entered the backroom.

    It was slightly darker, the only light came from a single window high up on one wall. A thin, balding man sat at the single table there with a needle and thread. Clothes in various stages of production were strewn around the room.
    A grunt had to suffice as a welcome.
    "I have a message for Kiterin. I'm just back from Vanern."

    Kojin stopped his sewing.
    "Report then." he said.
    "The primary team were detected and killed. I think Roo managed to question Konda. I couldn't go close enough to hear without risking that Spirit of his seeing me."

    Kojin's eyes narrowed, "So we have to assume that Konda's recruiter is comprimised also then."
    Joraall nodded.
    "Do you want me to kill Ferinion so they can't trace further?" asked Joraall.
    Kojin paused before answering, "Hmm, I'm not sure. Watch Ferinion to see if any of Roo's bumbling thugs come to visit. I'll get orders before we make a move."
    Kojin looked back to his needlework, "Anything else Taranduar?"
    "Roo met some woman living in the swamp. They did some kind of ritual with his Spirit but again I had to stay a bit away. Thats about all I could see."
    "Go and keep an eye on Ferinion then. Report if anything happens. If it looks like Roo will get to him, kill him. Otherwise wait for further orders."
    Joraall nodded then turned to leave.
    "Oh and if Ferinion leaks anything to Roo I'll assume it is your fault."
    Joraall stopped and half turned his head at this. He didn't say anything and continued out. He didn't even look at the woman in the front shop as he left. Pulling his cowl back up he stepped out into the rain.

    The streets of Jordheim were busy. Rain bucketed down and deep puddles were everywhere. Joraall walked randomly around the streets, changing direction through alleys here and there, always checking for anyone following him. Eventually he came to the back entrance to a butcher and with one final glance behind him he went inside.

    Hound and Blackshadow were playing darts with a large carcass hanging from a rail and a rough target drawn on it. Blackshadow had a pile of coins in front of him. Hound had less coins and didn't look happy.
    "Afternoon Jor. Productive?" asked Hound.
    "Hehe yeh. I did a basic report that will be verified by the other blades they had watching. I've to keep an eye on Ferinion and kill him if it looks like the wolfpack will get to him."

    Hound smiled, "Good. You'd better set up a position where you can watch the other watchers. We'll probably go for Ferinion tonight so you may want to tool up now."
    "We using the Kin, or just the Wolfpack?"
    "Just the pack. We need to be in and out as silently and quickly as possible."
    "Oh. Does that mean Blackshadow's staying behind then?" said Joraall innocently.
    Blackshadow shot Joraall a dirty look, "This from the man that can't climb walls without falling off."
    Hound snorted then turned to Blackshadow and held out three darts, "So shall we do double or quits then?"
    Let them win a few, clean them out. He loved stinging the shadowblades for cash.
     
  8. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    The rain had persisted all afternoon without let-up and the busy city streets of Jordheim were treacherous with mud. Ferinion left the city chambers as dusk was approaching. He was a large man, gone to fat but he was still powerfully built, which gave him an intimidating presence he used to great effect. He stood in the large doorway between two massive pillars and looked out into the rain and turned down one corner of his mouth, unhappy at the weather. Behind him, the arched doors closed, and the warm glow from the chambers inside was gone.

    As he pulled on his broadbrimmed hat, two bodyguards stepped out beside him, ready to fall into step. Being a cautious man, he always made sure his bodyguards were actually his own bodyguards. Many people over the years had died to having bodyguards that got substituted by assassins. Ferinion had used this method himself on occasion and wasn't going to allow himself to be caught out like an amateur. A quick glance at them and they were allowed to pull their hoods on their cloaks up to protect themselves from the rain.

    Ferinion had a lot to ponder. Word was back the Vanern party had been wiped out. Fortunately he had assigned three separate shadowblades as an external control. It was the first run for that new one, Taranduar, but the report verified with what the others had said, even if it wasn't as precise. He knew that the woman there bore a remarkable resemblance to Roo which made his mind light up with possibilities. A larger team would need to be assembled to retreive her in case of any interference. He'd have to ask Kiterin to get Kojin the tailor to recruit some more mercenaries.

    Despite being deep in thought, he was a man that was always aware of what was going on around him. You didn't survive the intrigues in Jordheim for long by letting your mind wander. As they approached a narrow alley the sounds of a scuffle reached the street. Nothing that would concern him, the usual back street thuggery. He wasn't going to give it a second thought but as he passed the alley he stopped for a second - there was a woman being set upon by two men but it was the cloak she wore that got his attention. She wore the crest of Everlast. Narrowing his eyes he quickly considered this. There was a chance to gain a debt from that guild. Two backstreet thugs would be no problem for the three of them. He looked along the alley and assessed the chance of there being more.

    There were a couple of doorways he could see easily into and no other places to hide. Nothing visible on the rooftop either.He motioned to his bodyguards and immediately they were sprinting into the alley, reaching under cloaks for swords. Ferinion himself, hung back long enough to make sure the thugs engaged his bodyguards, then pulled a short sword and walked into the alley himself.

    Hound crouched in the rain on the rooftop above the alley. Ferinion had taken the bait. Hound waved an arm and on the opposite side of the alley shadowblades emerged from among the chimneys, quickly uncoiled ropes and rappelled down at a speed only slightly less than actual falling. He lifted his bow and tried to aim, but in the dim light and rain it was hard to get a clear shot at the bodyguards scuffling in the alley below. He kept an arrow nocked, but withheld firing. Instead he watched both ends of the alley for any interference. He estimated they had less than a minute to carry this off without being caught.

    Missy danced with Blackshadow and Isharo. She made sure to turn her back to the street so the cloak was easily visible. To anyone observing, it would look like they were beating her up badly. Only if they looked closely would they see there was no blood or bruising occuring. Out of the corner of her eye she saw two men charging them. Isharo and Blackshadow sensed the movement behind them and while still facing Missy, adjusted their positions ready for the incoming enemies.

    Just as the two bodyguards were upon them, Missy winked. Blackshadow rolled to one side and the bodyguard nearest him skidded to a halt, trying to adjust his footing to face the position Blackshadow now occupied beside him. Give him his due, he was fast. Blackshadow was barely on his feet before he had to parry a blade thrusting at his chest.

    Isharo sidestepped without even looking as the second bodyguard charged in. Skidding in a puddle the second bodyguard didn't stop so quickly as the first and slightly lost his balance. He recovered fast and was nearly turned the whole way back to face Isharo as Isharo pounced on him.

    Ferinion was right behind them now. He sensed movement behind him and turned his head. He saw leatherclad figures on ropes descending from the rooftops with the rain. Cursing, he realised instantly it was a trap. Without hesitation he turned to run from the alley. Pain erupted in his left leg and he lost his balance, falling over in the rain onto his back. When he looked he saw an arrow sticking out of it and above him, the silhouette on a rooftop of a man with a bow, and another arrow ready to fire.

    Blackshadow grunted as he parried another blow. This one was good, he was having trouble getting in a clean strike. Missy stepped behind the bodyguard and plunged a knife into his back, puncturing a lung and causing him recoil in shock. He started to turn towards Missy and this gave Blackshadow the opening he needed. He lunged forward and stuck both knives deep into the bodyguard's throat. Overkill is still a kill. The bodyguard collapsed in a heap.

    Isharo parried and blocked. It was as if the bodyguard attacking him was frenzied, raining blows on him constantly. Isharo dodged and leaped to avoid them but couldn't get in past the bodyguard's defences. He was becoming quite irritated. He saw Missy and Blackshadow behind the bodyguard and chuckled. He changed to completely defensive moves and manouevered so that Missy and Blackshadow could get right behind him. The four other blades were on the ground now but their primary target was Ferinion. The other shadowblades roughly grabbed the big man as he rolled on the ground in pain and hauled him into a doorway and out of sight.

    The bodyguard was nobody's fool. He noticed the change in combat style and instead of being pulled around he backed off towards a wall, where he could see the entire alley. Missy, Isharo and Blackshadow formed a small semi circle around him but didn't approach. An arrow slammed into his eye socket and blood briefly spurted. With a grunt, the bodyguard joined his companion on the ground.

    Without word, the three blades moved to get the bodies out of sight as quickly as possible. The ropes were pulled and came tumbling down and in moments there was no trace a deadly fight had just occured here.

    With one last look behind him, Blackshadow made sure nothing had been dropped to give away what had happened here. Then he disappeared into the doorway with the others and the door clicked closed behind him.
     
  9. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Darkness surrounded Turo. It was nothing to fear. This was rest. He could feel himself floating, his arms spread wide. It was an uneasy rest.

    Akisha had not told Roo everything and it puzzled Turo. He wondered if she had been too upset at such an unlikely and sudden reunion that she'd forgotten.

    She hadn't told Roo how to wield the Bloodline, she hadn't told Roo it would be another of the Bloodline that would kill him, she had also forgotten to reveal where the curse came from.

    Turo didn't know when, or even if, he would ever get another chance to speak to Roo. It filled him with fear he might not be able to protect his son properly. He would have to find a way. This knowledge was a blind spot and a vulnerability Roo didn't know he had. Turo felt the frustration mounting.

    Out of the darkness, he heard a faint whisper. A female voice, unseen, and almost beyond his ability to hear. The voice whispered of a path, of things meant to be.

    Turo took small comfort. Instead he turned his senses towards the world of the living and started to grope with his mind's eye. He needed a way to be aware of the living world when at rest.

    Unsleeping and determined, he set to work.
     
  10. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Abandoned warehouses. The staple of spies and thieves everywhere. When you needed somewhere to conduct a quiet interogation this was definately the place to do it. And typical of such places, there were a few crates lying around and not much else.

    Grommel pulled on Ferinion's hat with difficulty. He was struggling to make it perch properly on his troll's head. He wore Ferinion's cloak as well but his other clothes were a best approximation of what the wolfpack reckoned Ferinion wouldbe wearing.

    Hound had sent off all the other blades the moment they were in the warehouse. Only those absolutely essential to the next phase remained.
    "Remember," said Hound, "keep your head down and talk to nobody. Let me and Isharo do any talking. Got it?"
    Grommel grunted assent.
    "Blackshadow, you're in charge here. Make sure we get what we need."
    Blackshadow nodded. Behind him, Ferinion was sitting on the floor, tied to a barrel. His head lolled.
    Hound checked his gear then led the other two out behind him.

    Possibly five minutes had passed since Ferinion had first spotted the scuffle in the alley. Because of Ferinion's large frame, having a troll impersonate him in the darkening evening was the best comprimise as they didn't have anyone even close to Ferinion's size from amongst the Norsemen they had available. Stepping out into the alley, Hound, Isharo and Grommel resumed what they hoped was Ferinion's normal route home. There hadn't been time for a lengthy surveillance ahead of this operation, it was all seat of the pants. Only having arrived back in Jordheim the night before, they'd had to rush to get this job running. The danger that Ferinion's own people would kill him to make sure he didn't reveal anything was too great.

    Hound walked confidently down the street, eyes darting left and right. Isharo did the same. Grommel walked slightly behind them with his head down, relying on his broad brimmed hat and upturned collar to fool all but anyone who came too close. Within a few minutes they were in a quieter, residential area. The houses here were expensive and well kept. Hound felt a cold sweat as he realised he couldn't remember which house belonged to Ferinion.

    Damn these rush jobs. He shot a look at Isharo and gave a slight shrug. Ihsaro quickly looked around and after hesitating only a moment set off towards one of the houses. Hound and Grommel fell into step.


    Joraall lay on the rooftop overlooking the end of the street that marked the end of the city business district and the start of the high class residential area. He knew there were at least three other stealthers watching the route. He'd been running the rooftops all the way from the city chambers to here. He was out of breath. He was fairly sure the scuffle had gone unnoticed, but he'd spotted at least one blade coming back towards the chambers when Ferinion was slightly delayed. He prayed that the ambush hadn't been detected.

    He shifted his position just as the Hound, Isharo and Grommel came into view. He saw them walking up to the row of houses where Ferinion lived then stopping. While they stood there for a few seconds he looked around. Over there, to the West. A stealther moved briefly around a chimney. East. Another one hugging a wall.

    There was at least two open windows with darkened rooms behind them where he was sure that someone watched. He wasn't sure of the various alliegences either. He had a sneaking suspicion that some of these were just watching the other stealthers to see what had their interest.

    Joraall watched as the threesome down in the street walked towards the house. He swore under his breath, they were heading towards the wrong one. Fear gripped him. They had to appear the real deal to avoid this all going wrong. They stopped again. The two bodyguards appeared to be laughing with Ferinion then they changed direction. Joraall let his breath out, he hadn't realised he had stopped breathing. They were heading to the correct house this time. One of the bodyguards approached the door and opened it, bowing low as the pseudo-Ferinion entered. Joraall relaxed. They had made it to the house unmolested. Now all they could do was wait. He crawled back from the ledge then raised himself to a crouching position.
    Silently, he started to make a circuit of the rooftops around the area, to make sure which watchers were where.


    Ferinion looked up with bleary eyes. His head swam and his leg ached with pain. Something swam into vision. There were people around him. He could make out at least one kobold. The kobold leaned down and in a rough voice said "Drink." and tried to force a bottle into his mouth. He resisted and liquid spilled down his chin. Rough hands were on him and he was punched on the side of the head. He gagged and while his mouth was open the bottle was forced in again. His head was held back and he had no choice but to swallow. A sweet liquid flowed down his throat.

    He felt dizzy, it was very difficult to focus. He felt his eyelids drooping. The room seemed to fade and he couldn't see properly. The next thing he felt was someone sitting on his lap. He jerked his head up and saw a young woman nuzzling in against him.
    "Wassis," he said, drunkenly.
    "Hello lover," said Missy, "I've missed you."
    Ferinion couldn't work out why he couldn't move his arms. The woman was insistant and pressed her head close to his. This was wrong somehow but he couldn't work out in what way.
    "Mmm, its good to have you back," whispered Missy.
    Ferinion mumbled "'S good to be back."
    "If you're a good boy and tell Missy what Missy wants to know I'll make you such a happy boy." she said in a tone rich with promise.
    Ferinion gave a lecherous grin and dribbled slightly, "Feri like that."
    "Mmm Missy like that too," said Missy as she nuzzled into his ear.
    Ferinion struggled in his own mind. This haze was wrong, the beautiful woman straddling him was wrong but he couldn't work out how.
    "Who do you work for Feri?" she asked.
    "Kiterin." he said slowly.
    "What clan?" asked Missy softly.
    Ferinion felt alarm bells ringing somewhere at the back of his mind, but still...
    "Why you want to know?"
    Missy rubbed herself against him, "Oh, you said you'd tell me anything if you wanted Missy after."
    Ferinion mumbled "Moon.."
    "Now Feri," scolded Missy, "there is no Moon clan."
    Ferinion drawled "Moon Warriors."

    Standing behind Ferinion, Blackshadow looked at Missy with raised eyebrows. Moon Warriors were an extinct tiny guild, barely even making muster with the registrar's office in Jordheim even when they were active. This can't be right thought Blackshadow.

    "Feri been good, have Missy now"
    "Not yet lover," said Missy, "soon. How do you contact Kiterin?"
    "Meet him in chambers. Kiterin merchant for alc'mists. Mmm you smell so nice."
    "You smoothie, no wonder I don't stand a chance with you. What are you interested in Roo for?"
    "Roo? I don' wanna talk about him."
    "For me, lover."
    Ferinion hesitated, at the back of his mind some small part of him screamed not to talk.
    "Nobody wants Roo for Roo. Roo knows where the power is. Don' know how. The clans want it."
    It was hard for Missy to hold back the eagerness in her voice when she asked, "Which clans?"
    Ferinion cackled, "hehe, all clans, silly."
    "All the clans want Roo?"
    "All the clans that matter," answered Ferinion, "Era, Omen, Norssken, Faith, all of them. Can't remember all the guilds. Most of the ones that sit on the council."

    Blackshadow leaned forward. Most. Not all. He looked urgently at Missy. Missy caught the look but didn't need to be told or hinted at.

    "What guilds don't join the others?" asked Missy.
    Ferinion was slowly slipping away from conciousness. His speech was very slow and slurred now.
    "Blackbyrds. They too small to matter. Dunno 'bout others. Feri want to sleep."
    "Feri stay awake."
    Ferinion's head jerked up as he tried to fight off the sleep.
    "FERI stay awake." hissed Missy but it was no use. His head drooped and he was unconcious in moments.

    "It's a start." said Blackshadow, "I think we'll need Nico to investigate the chambers."
    Missy lifted Ferinion's head up and looked at him. She let go and his head dropped sharply.
    "Pfft," she said, "I could have got that out of him without any potions from Pieoh."
    Blackshadow chuckled, "But not as quickly and we are up against the clock."
    Missy examined her nails and sniffed as if hurt, "Possibly."
    "Untie him and get him ready for when the boys get back. I'm off for the next part."
    Missy grinned, "I wonder how Grommel is liking being a norseman for the evening."
    They both looked at each other and burst out laughing.
     
  11. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Hound paced the dining room. Aside from being plush, he found the house fairly bland - there were many expensive furnishings, but it all seemed very generic, nothing that had any particular stamp of personality. Hound was also surprised there were no servants about, but he wondered if the bodyguards doubled as servants. He'd only found quarters for two and suspected there were either daytime servants that did most of the menial chores around the house or the bodyguards did everything. If the the bodyguards did do everything, that hinted at a rather unusual level of paranoia, even for someone playing the council games.

    Grommel had made straight for the kitchen and was rumaging for any food he could find. He had been warned not to disturb anything but Hound decided not to get in the way of a hungry troll. However, Hound did insist that all the curtains in every room were closed before the troll started lumbering about. Anyone watching would spot a less than subtle change in Ferinion once he shed his cloak and hat. He resisted the urge to move the curtains slightly himself so he could look out. That would just give away that they were nervously waiting for something.

    Ihsaro sat in a darkened bedroom upstairs with the curtains and window open, watching the street outside. He sat far enough back from the window so he would be invisible to any watchers. While he looked out, he slowly ran a small sharpening stone along the edge of one of his blades.


    Blackshadow sped along the rooftops, surefooted and light. He easily leaped the chimneys and tiles without disturbing anything. He had two dead bodies already left in his wake.
    He had no idea who they were. He had hauled them back to the roof of a building above the alley. That would be sufficient he reckoned.

    Even in the rain, he didn't slip once. It wasn't long before he approached the residential district. He slowed down so that he wouldn't alert any watchers immediately. Close in, he crawled the last of the way there slowly. He spotted someone lurking behind a chimney. It wasn't Joraall, it was another watcher. The rooftops were black and wet and Blackshadow could see that this one was intently watching Ferinion's house.

    Cresting the point of the roof he looked down. He raised himself onto a crouching position on the tip of the roof.

    After readying his blades he leaped into the air, his trajectory perfectly aimed to land right on the watcher. At the last moment, his target turned, sensing some movement behind him. His reaction was too late, as Blackshadow landed on him swiftly, his blade passing straight through his armour and into his heart. A faint grunt was all that marked his passing.

    Blackshadow pulled the body behind the chimney and looked around for any sign he'd been detected. He spotted some movement on two of the other rooftops. Sometimes he wondered if more people in Jordheim travelled around using the rooftops than the streets.

    One of the figures that began moving waved to him quickly. The game was on. Blackshadow's heart pounded. He had hoped to confirm with Joraall before starting the chase, but he just had to hope Joraall was ready. This was what he lived for. He was going up against his peers now and his blood sang. He changed the way he moved and deliberately made some noise as he ran around the rooftop. Knowing he had no chance of making a kill, he pulled a throwing knife from his belt. He flicked it into the shadows of an opposite roof at one of the stealthers he'd spotted. A gratifying surprised cursing came from the direction he'd thrown the blade. He began to move from the rooftop to the next one, gradually working his way to the back of Ferinion's house. Sure enough, there was movement around the rooftops as watchers moved to find out what was going on. And of course, once the watchers moved, those that watched the watchers had to alter position also.

    The rooftops were alive with shadowblades moving in the night. The rain limited visibility and Blackshadow leaped and ran with glee.

    Joraall saw Blackshadow across from him. Waving quickly he ducked back into the shadows behind a rooftop. Moments later he saw shadowblades boiling out of hiding places as Blackshadow started to get their attention. He waited as long as he dared then darted out and threw a small stone into the open window where Isharo sat patiently. Without waiting to see if there was any response, he moved quickly behind the building and began to climb down to street level.

    Isharo heard the stone hitting the floor just in front of him. Grinning in the dark, he put his blade and sharpening stone away and made his way downstairs. Hound was still in the dining room, but now Grommel was there finishing off a cooked chicken. A whole cooked chicken. Isharo shook his head and said "Time to move lads, we're on."
    Hound nodded and motioned for Grommel to get Ferinion's outer wear on again. Grommel looked longingly at the chicken and reluctantly put it down. He picked up Ferinion's cloak and hat and began getting into character, that is, he did his best to make the hat fit his large troll head. Hound took the chicken through to the kitchen and found a large bin to throw it into. Potentially troll sized bite marks might be considered evidence of something having gone on but he wasn't overly worried. Its was unlikely half-eaten food would be checked very closely.
    By the time he made it back, everyone was ready. Pulling his own hood up, he moved to the front door. Isharo and Grommel followed, though Grommel was looking wistfully back towards the kitchen.
    "Good place," rumbled Grommel approvingly, "food here."

    Hound opened the door and looked out into the night and its accompanying rain. By now he was sure there was a lot of activity going on out of sight. Nothing to do but head out and hope everyone was nicely busy. The threesome set off, closing and locking the door behind them, reversing their route and heading back towards the City Chambers.
     
  12. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Joraall stayed back from the street that Hound, Grommel and Isharo were walking along. He darted from shadow to shadow, constantly checking for anyone watching the trio. He hoped Blackshadow had remembered to be neat and tidy on his way from the abandoned warehouse if he'd had any encounters, otherwise it was extra work for him. He sprinted down a parallel street and then moved up onto the rooftop again ahead of the threesome.

    He was watching them get closer to the abandoned warehouse when he felt he was being watched himself. Cursing the need to be swift, he tried to manouever around the slates of the roof he was on so he could peer into the shadows on the other rooftops.
    In the rain, it was difficult to see anything. Unable to see anyone but still uneasy, he moved into the alley. As he was about to climb down to street level he he spotted two bodies lying on the edge of the roof. Blackshadow must have had some fun on his way over to the house. Looking around again, he went and checked them.

    Shadowblades. He recognised one as someone else who reported to Kojin, though he didn't know his name. The other he didn't know. He lowered one body down as much as he could then dropped it to the street. The muffled thud as it hit the ground was mostly covered by the patter of rain. The second body followed it then Joraall swiftly climbed down. Once he was down he hauled them into the doorway opposite the warehouse door.

    Finished with the bodies he ran over to the doorway into the abandoned warehouse, he knocked three times fast, twice slow, then twice fast. There was the sound of the door being unlatched and then nothing. Joraall pushed the door open and stepped inside.
    "I would have got you, you know," said Missy.
    Looking around, Joraall couldn't see her. It was only when he thought to look up, he saw her sitting on a beam, a string connected to the latch mechanism on the door.
    Joraall smiled.
    "Death from above?"
    "Well, death from anywhere you don't think to look. How far off are our boys?"
    "They're nearly here. Is Ferinion ready to go?" asked Joraall.
    "Lover boy is all set." answered Missy as she swung down from the beam and landed lightly on her feet.
    Joraall grunted. Ferinion was lying on the floor, untied now. He was completely unconcious.
    "Get anything useful?"
    Missy just smiled sweetly and winked, but said nothing.
    This irked joraall but he didn't comment.
    There was a knock at the door. Out of habit, both blades moved to oppsosite sides of the door. They listened for the code and sure enough it matched. Again Missy used the string to unlatch it.
    Hound was in through the door first, drenched from the unending rain, with Grommel and Isharo close behind, similarly sopping wet from head to foot.
    Hound immediately kneeled by Ferinion. After a quick inspection he said, "When we get outside I want the leg wound freshened, and the dart on the left side of his neck. Small blow to the right side of head with reasonable bruising please."
    Hound motioned for them to pick up the body. Grommel removed the cloak and hat and they were placed back on Ferinion's limp frame.

    Joraall and Isharo hauled Ferinion to the door, he didn't even stir. Joraall stood at the door quietly. Hound gave him a nod and he slipped out, checked the alley seemed clear then stuck his head round the door and gave them a thumbs up.
    They carried Ferinion into the alley and laid him on the ground. Missy took a knife and stuck it roughly into Ferinion's leg where the arrow wound had been, working it to make it bleed, welling out covering up the crusted blood around it. Ferinion started to stir and his body trembled in reaction. Missy then reached into a pouch and pulled out a small dart, sticking it sharply into Ferinion's neck. He subsided immediately. She left the dart in his neck.
    Lastly, she took the palm of her hand and hit the side of his head hard several times, causing bruising to his cheek all the way up to past his ears. While Missy took care of this, Isharo and joraall went back inside and carried out the dead bodyguards from the warehouse and dumped them in the alley beside Ferinion. When she was done Missy nodded to Hound, who was watching down the alley.

    Hound made a hand signal that indicated they were to move and all except Joraall made their way out into the street. Left to himself Joraall hauled one of the dead blades out of the doorway and positioned him near Ferinion and his bodyguards. Joraall quickly freshened the wounds on the dead shadowblades with his knife. Hound and the others were well on their way down the street when he was finally ready. Joraall took the second dead blade and propped his body up against the alley wall and held it there with one hand while he held his knife in the other.

    At the top of his lungs he started repeatedly yelling "AMBUSH! ENEMIES ON US!"
     
  13. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Trigali sat in the lee of a loft window sheltered from the worst of the rain. The small kobold munched an apple while he watched the goings on in the alley across the street. Though at times it was difficult to see what was happening, there was definately some kind of sting operation going on. He saw several people leaving the alley and one remaining and doing something with the bodies. Shortly after he heard yelling from the alley and naturally soon after people running towards the alley. He saw a body drop to the ground and the person holding it step back as if he'd completed a fight.

    Very curious. Pure luck he'd stumbled on this, he had been watching another guild when this evening's humdrum patrolling had suddenly got more interesting. First his quarry gets killed by a kobold running the rooftops, then the body gets taken by a norse shadowblade down to the alley, then this.

    Dropping the apple core, he decided to follow the group of people to see where they went, rather than staying for the fun in the alley.
     
  14. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    The morning sun cast a cool light on the bridge near the gates to Jordheim. An old beggar shuffled his way doggedly up the road towards the grey city walls. Pausing occasionally to rest on his gnarled and splintered staff, he gradually made his way towards the huge wooden gates. The guards on the gates sneered as he approached but otherwise ignored him. General traffic passed to and from the city - carts laden with goods for the market passed in, empty carts exited. Sometimes there were deliveries for far off towns and villages and these were piled high, driven by hardy looking merchants. All were armed of course. The wilds of Midgard were not somewhere for the unwary.

    Taking another pause to rest on his staff, Roo cautiously looked around. He hated coming back here. There were always enemies to watch out for and spies everywhere. All would dearly love to get what he carried. He smiled to himself when the thought that for the first time ever, in all the years he'd been hunted, he genuinely did carry what everyone sought. The next thing to do was find out what he had.

    Ignoring the scowls from the city guards, he shuffled his way through the gates. Those rare times he came here since achieving adulthood had always been marked with intrigue and violence. He doubted this would be any different, but for the first time he felt something tugging at him, a vague wish that it was over. Or was it just a wish for things to be slightly different? He wasn't sure, but this time, his visit to Jordheim was marked with unease.

    The sounds and smells from the city streets washed over him. Horses snorting as they were driven along the streets, smells of spices and fresh leather as he passed market stalls. A bodyguard accompanying a richly dressed merchant shoved him aside as he made way for his master. Roo went sprawling into the street. He felt a pain in his right shoulder as he hit a stone. A few children playing laughed at the beggar. Despite this, Roo wasn't worried.

    The appearance of an ancient beggar was perfect. He suppressed the brief flash of anger he felt and slowly climbed to his feet. Somewhat muddier than before, he slowly continued on his way. Approaching a bakery, Roo moved around the back of the building to the kitchen door. Typical of beggars, he started rooting around in the bins there. The door swung open. A troll wearing an apron appeared and started scolding the beggar he'd discovered there.

    After a moment he grabbed the Roo by the ear and ushered him into the kitchen waving a rolling pin at him while yelling this time he was going to call the city guards.

    Once inside, Roo found himself in a warm kitchen with the sweet smell of fresh bread wafting from the large oven against the wall.
    He stretched himself to full height, no longer having to appear the hunched old man.
    "Are you putting on weight?" he asked the troll in the apron.
    "Hrmm, I just the big boned Makky, "he answered, patting his stomach and grinning from ear to ear, "but if I gots to play a part this one I do like."
    Roo began shedding the beggars clothes. The black cloth he wore as a matter of course became visible as the beggars robes were thrown into one corner. Faint outlines of the gold skulls on his shoulers gleamed when the light caught them. Roo's crimson gloves were tied on a string around his neck. Rather than putting them on, he tucked them into his belt.
    "Is everyone else here?" he asked.
    "Yes," answered Makky, "You last."
    "Good," said Roo, "I haven't eaten in twenty-four hours, have some food sent up. We'd better get down to it as fast as possible."
    Makky nodded and went through to the front of the shop. He gave some orders to a small boy at the counter then returned. Winking at Roo he removed the apron and took the stairs up from the kitchen. Roo followed behind him.

    At the top of the stairs there was a small hallway, with two doors off it. A single lantern hanging near the stairs dimly lit the hall. At first glance there appeared to be a beggar boy squatting in the hallway, but on closer inspection it was a kobold, watching with sharp eyes the entire hallway and the stairs leading up. He nodded to Roo but said nothing.
    Makky went straight to the nearest door and opened it. Roo acknowledge the nod from the blade with the same response and followed Makky in.

    Inside was a large room, with several oblong tables which had been pushed together to make a single continuous table. Each seat around it except two were filled. A few people stood along the walls of the room. One side of the room faced onto the street and this side was lined with windows. The curtains were drawn and a couple of blades kept an eye from behind the narrowest of cracks between them.
    "Greetings everyone" announced Roo as he entered. Makky immediately took one of the seats. There was a pitcher of water in the middle of the table and he immediately took it and filled a flagon.
    Winking at everyone he said, "Thirsty work this baking."
    There was a general chuckling from around the room. Everyone knew Makky didn't really do any baking other than to help with what they laughingly called quality control. Each batch of products delivered from the oven never quite made it intact to the front counter for potential customers to enjoy. Makky assured everyone he was just making sure standards were kept.

    There were various greetings around the room then Roo called order. The serving boy arrived with some food and put it on the table. Everyone started helping themselves and as he saw the food rapidly disappearing Roo wondered why he'd even bothered to ask for food to be brought into the meeting. Then the serving boy produced a second plate with rolls and butter and put it on the table in front of Roo and winked.
    Roo laughed, "Yes, you have potential."
    The boy departed and Makky winked at Roo.

    "Right, lets get this started."
    The general hubub in the room died down.
    "I want reports from each section. We'll start with Commerce."
    Roo looked pointedly at a slim norseman further down the table.
    Pioh nodded and opened a small black book he had on the table in front of him. Quickly glancing through a couple of pages, he stood up.
    "Tripplehorn Enterprises continues to grow. We've bought out three more small businesses in Jordheim which now give us access to trade caravans, blacksmiths and, as Makky can testify, several bakeries in the area."
    A few chuckles and a hurt look from Makky were the response. It didn't stop Makky shovelling food into his face though. And while people laughed, they were always cautious not to laugh too much: the bonedancer was not someone you wanted to get into a duel with if you hoped to live to see another day.
    Pieoh continued, "The trade caravans have meant we can start shipping goods from the new mine in Gripklosa in reasonable quantities. The first batches of silver have arrived and are being distributed through front businesses around Jordheim. Looking good for the coffers so far, especially at the rate Hound and his team spend it."
    Hound sipped tea from a mug, smiled, but said nothing.
    Roo interupted, "Is the mine secured?"
    "Yes," answered Pie, "We've negotiated a deal with the local morvalts. We have free passage into the area. Effectively we have a small army acting on our behalf. I'm also trying to work on the redcaps there, as they have access to some unusual ingredients I can use for our various alchemical products. Have tentatively reached an agreement and we have some new serums to play with, the first of which I believe Hound was field testing last night."
    Hound just looked into his mug but said nothing to acknowledge this.
    Pieoh hadn't expected a response but was gently reminding Hound that he was eager for the results.

    "With the new merchant post finaly in Bjarkin, we now have merchant stations in each major populated area, all under the names of different businesses, all owned by Tripplehorn or an inbetween front company or two."
    Roo nodded approval. The tortuous paper trail to find Tripplehorn at the back of all these unconnected businesses would make it very hard for someone to back track his growing merchant empire. It was a layer of grief he could do without, but it was the only way given his history that he had anything like a chance to get any financial base in place. Having Pieoh running this side of things was a gift from the gods. The little norseman had a flair for these things that was uncanny.
    "Thats the major points, everything else is details and more appropriate for a separate meeting. Unless you want me to clarify anything?" said Pieoh.
    "Nothing leaps to mind. Thankyou Pie."

    "Armoury please?" said Roo.
    Greyvenom rose to his feet. The troll Thane's head nearly brushed against the ceiling when he stood to his full height. The troll's rumbling voice carried around the room even though he spoke quietly, for a troll that is.
    "Is good. There is abandoned fort in Gripklosa that Pieoh found when trading with Morvalts. Moving training there. Nice and far from everywhere and everyone. Forges installed, supply trains bringing in siege stuffs for defence, foods and building stuffs. We send the caravans back past Pieoh's silver mines and they come home fully laden too. Greyvenom smart troll."
    Nobody dared laugh at this, even as a joke. Greyvenom was rapidly proving himself to be very cunning at leading hunts. Roo reckoned it wouldn't be long before he would be testing out as a field commander.
    "Good," said Roo, "what of training and recruiting?"
    Greyvenom answered, "Got two hundred swords at fort training, a further fifty seasoned fighters working them. Green, much to learn, very young, the new swords."
    Reading between the lines, Roo understood that to mean his private army was nowhere near ready yet.
    "Good work Grey, see if you can move the training along. We may need them soon."
    Grey nodded and sat back down.

    Roo thought for a moment then nodded towards Hound, "Wolfpack."
    Hound didn't bother to stand. The hunter just leaned forward and started speaking.
    "Completed Ferinion sting last night. We have a bead on the next link in the chain. Nico isn't here because we have to move fast and he's already at the city chambers persuing the next phase, someone called Kiterin, apparently an alchemist merchant. We also have found someone who, while isn't an ally, isn't an enemy either."
    Roo leaned forward. He hadn't expected this.
    "The Blackbyrd Family," continued Hound, "sit on the council. They are small but I believe contacting them might be beneficial."

    Allies. The possibilities rocked Roo where he sat. IF they can find some basis for common ground. A legitimate and accepted guild in Midgard would be a huge benefit. He had no idea where to start with approaching them. He shuffled that thought to one side and focused on Hound's report.

    "However, we've not heard from Blackshadow since last night. He was decoying but hasn't checked in since. We don't know if he's been caught or gone to ground."
    Roo grimaced but said nothing.
    Looking at Pieoh, Hound continued, "The new serum tested well. Subject was in a highly suggestive state in about a minute and responded well. However, the duration was too short before he lost conciousness. We could use some refinement in that regard. I'd say we had two to three minutes of useful response, though of course subject is slowed. And Gaeswen's suggestion that we should use some kind of positive reinforcement was, as usual, spot on."
    Pieoh nodded, and scribbled some notes into his little black book.
    Gaeswen smiled. Amongst kin and friends he was well thought of as a most cunning shaman. Accordingly he was cursed and hated by those that ended up on the wrong side of him.
    "We got enough out of Ferinion to continue. And I think without alerting anyone that we'd got any information out of him. However, I'd say anything useful will likely only remain so for a day or so. Its highly likely he'll be judged a risk and there will be a new resident at the bottom of Lake Yggdra, along with the next link or two in his chain. At the very least, there will be reassignments and a shuffling of communications within the next twenty-four hours. Or at least, thats what I would do if I thought our security was comprimised."

    Roo was thankful he had such efficient people, "Good. The next part is up to Nico then."
    Hound nodded and sat down.

    Roo stood up, "I have a breakthrough in the reason behind the hunting down the years. It seems there is an amulet that the clans seek. We don't know its purpose, but its not unreasonable to assume it is an item of some power. We need to find what that power is. Suggestions?"
    There was a quiet pause around the room.
    "Temple libraries?" suggested Gaeswen.
    "Spellcrafters. Lots of artifact references." said Mimer, standing against the wall. The room turned to the norse berzerker, more at the unexpected source than for any particular disagreement with the reasoning.
    "It speaks," chuckled Hound, "I always thought you were mute."
    Mimer raised an eyebrow.

    Roo smiled, "Ok, we have a couple of sources to check. Hound, get your people on it. Grey, I want the training intensified. Anyone that sees a green enemy knows they have it easy. I want any opposing force to know they face at the very least their equal. Pie, check with Hound before you go to make sure Wolfpack has the resources they need."

    Standing, Roo looked around the room, "Thankyou for your time everyone, this may be our last meeting in Jordheim, its becoming too dangerous to all meet here. I'm going to see if I can find this Blackbyrd Family."
    "You want Belorfyn," drawled Hound, "you'll like him."
    "How so," asked Roo, immediately puzzled.
    "He's a Spirit Master. Hope you're on good terms with the temple."

    Roo groaned. Of all the places in Jordheim he was unwelcome, that surely was top of the list. Raising to Spirit Master without training through the temples was anathema. It just didn't happen. But then, most acolytes of the temple hadn't spent their youth hiding from unknown enemies and practicing their arts in secret. Roo remembered spending long hours into the night meditating and praying, after having spent the day running errands around Jordheim as an errand boy for a tailor.

    Something about visiting the temple felt inevitable. The scar on his right arm throbbed as he thought about it.
     
  15. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Akisha carefully placed the last of the items she felt she would need in her backpack. A few clothes, a little food, some herbs and a few of her magical ingredients. She would miss this cottage but she had already dallied long enough. She had sensed the Midgardians entering Vanern several hours before, just as it grew dark. They would never find her of course, but she was overdue to be on her way. A dangerous road lay ahead of her, she would have to travel through Emain Macha and up to Mount Collory before reaching her birthplace. She didn't fear though, she knew she would get there. Something had changed for her and purpose shone clear and bright and cold.

    Very cold.

    She lifted her pack and called to her underhill companion. Looking around her little cottage one last time she crossed the threshhold, knowing she'd never be back. She chuckled as she locked the door, it was sure to be broken down fairly soon when the Midgardians found their way here.

    Looking around her little garden she sighed. She was really going to miss this place. So many memories, such a peaceful home. She absently scratched at her left arm while she looked around.

    Moving to the vine hedges she whispered a few words. The vines started writhing and separated to form a path before her. As she moved through them, they closed behind her, forming once again an unbroken barrier of living vines.

    Roo was right, she was a liability to him if she stayed here. But it wasn't that which drove her out of her home. With her mastery of the Jotuns, nothing short of a full army could take her out of Vanern if she chose not to leave. She regretted not being able to tell Roo everything about the Bloodline and what it meant. At the time something had held her back, and she was very distracted by the unexpcted appearance of Turo. Nothing in he clairvoyances had shown her that he would be there.

    She knew now why she had held things back. The morning of the day Roo arrived she had cut herself on thorns in her garden. A simple gardeners cut, she'd had many before. And then just this morning once again in her beloved garden the same thing happened. In exactly the same place. And for the first time she noticed the previous cut had showed no sign of healing properly. She now had a livid scar forming on her left arm and cold realisation had struck that it was the counterpart to Roo's own scar on his right arm. It all started to fall into place for her. Only herself and Turo knew that Roo had an elder brother, but he was stillborn. She was sure that if he had lived he would have borne this scar instead of her.

    With there only being one surviving child she thought the curse was broken, at least partly. But no, bitter fate had found a different path, some other victim to lay its curse on.

    The Bloodline curse was not called such lightly. In the times it had manifested in Hibernia it was always two siblings that became opposing enemies in conflict, and the outcome always shook the realm.

    She now knew the curse could not be beaten, either by misfortune or luck or design. She had no idea what awaited her in Hibernia.

    She knew that events and the increasing influence of the Bloodline on her would drive her on and she would not be able to prevent it.

    This worst of all curses would bring her to attempt to destroy the only person left in this world she loved, her son. Further, with herself being Hibernian and despite some Hibernian blood in Roo, Roo was of Midgard. For the first time in memory the curse worked its bile on two realms.

    Roo at least was ignorant of what awaited him, tears welled as she thought about their diminishing futures. She began the long walk to West Skona, where she would be able to find a horse to begin her journey proper. Part of her hoped she would accidently bump into the Midgardians searching for her, and she'd die fighting. She knew in her heart that even if she met them, they would die, not her.

    The Bloodline never let go once it had taken hold.
     
  16. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Turo felt the summoning call. The darkness around him slowly became grey. He was now paying more attention to the transition than before, straining to sense every nuance of the call. It was maddeningly difficult. What tethered him to the living world? How could he control that tether?

    "Push here." said a female voice softly behind him.

    Turo did as commanded and reached with his mind. Sure enough the transition went a little faster.
    "Why, blessed Hel, do you help me?" thought Turo.
    "The Hibernian gods bring their curses to Midgard," whispered the voice, "we cannot let it run unchecked. You are now Our instrument."
    "Will it save Roo from the Bloodline?" thought Turo.
    "No. His death is already written."
    "Then why do you help me when it is hopeless?"
    "I didn't say he'd fail, only that he'd die. We in Asgard cannot see the outcome, it is a dark area that defeats all our attempts. It is dark because we match ourselves against enemy gods."
    "Roo doesn't know how to wield the Bloodline." thought Turo.
    "This weakness is what the Hibernian gods count on."
    "This is an attack, isn't it?" queried Turo.
    "Yes. Your wife is returning home and she now carries the Bloodline herself. By invoking the Bloodline this way, the Hibernians gain an agent of their gods of incredible power with full knowledge of what it is capable of. We in Midgard have someone who is hunted and doesn't know how to use the powers of the Bloodline to his advantage. A similar situation exists in Hibernia to Midgard but she will be able to gather their tribes and clans and bring them to Midgard. This much we have seen. Akisha is not being hunted. We are torn in Midgard. Something truly evil lies at the heart of the council and even the gods cannot directly remove it. We are weak, because we are weak from within."
    "There is no hope then?"
    "There is hope. You must learn to summon yourself."


    Turo felt a massive sorrow. He materialised into the waking world and pondered what he had been told.


    Roo was puzzled at the summoning. Junior had appeared faster than usual. It was only about a second of difference but after years of summoning him he was very used to how long it took to complete the spell. He put it down to tiredness and lack of attention and shrugged it off.

    He could see from Junior's expression that his father hadn't expected to be summoned in Jordheim.
    "We're going to the temple. Hel's temple." said Roo.
    Puzzlement changed to surprise on the spirit's face.
    Junior began looking around. They were in the main market place, which was as busy as ever. He cursed his son for a fool, there would be enemy blades everywhere here. So many places to hide, so many places to leap out of with a poisoned dagger, one little cut would be all it took.

    Reading the deepening frown on the spirit's face Roo said, "I have twenty-four blades and hunters close by father. On the roofs and on the ground. Anyone that blinks ugly at us will be dead before they get within three feet of us."

    Junior's face returned to its normal impassive mask. He wasn't convinced. Children. They think they know it all when they know nothing.
     
  17. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Nicodemus stood in front of the full length mirror and inspected himself. Slightly above average height, neatly trimmed black goatee. He'd dispensed with his Spirit Master cloth armour for ordinary merchant clothes. This meant his trusty staff had to be left behind as well. With a short glance at himself sideways to double check everything was hanging correctly, he turned and left his room.

    Naturally, when staying in Jordheim he made sure to stay somewhere he felt fitted his status, so any townhouse he rented was always one of the high class dwellings.This one was no different. He could easily justify it to the rest of The Kin: he was the only member with easy access to various elements of the Midgard council. To move in those circles you must have a reasonable social status. He passed plush furnishings and various servants as he made his way to the door. He didn't ignore the servants, like the furniture they were just part of the scenery and so he only noticed them casually in passing. Picking an ornate black cane from the stand beside the front door and a black cloak from the hat stand. The cape briefly billowed as he swung it in one easy motion around his neck and tied it.

    It was a short walk to the city chambers from the townhouse. Again, the location was carefully chosen so he was always close to the centre of any activity. The official reason was so that he was close to the seat of Midgard's government, but in actuality it suited him to be close to inns and restaurants and any social events which occured, which as everyone who was anyone knew, was were the real decisions that ran Midgard got made.

    A few of the various temples lay on the route to the chambers. It always made Nicodemus smile as he passed the temple of Hel, his former school. He thoroughly enjoyed playing the part of someone who no longer practiced the arts and merely socialised and gossiped around the city. From time to time he dabbled in spellcrafting, just enough to give the appearance that he tried his hand at different things since giving up the service of Hel. He was careful not to do very well since there was a danger people would bother him with actual work. If only people realised just how fine his own spirit was in tune with the those beyond the veil they'd have him executed on the spot as a threat. Or possibly something equally stupid like making him head of Hel's temple. Too much like real work, it really wouldn't suit him at all.

    Passing the temple, Nicodemus spotted a familiar face approaching through the crowd. Only years of winning at late night poker sessions prevented him from giving away his surprise. Roo was walking towards the temple. Assuming Roo hadn't been hit on the head by something blunt and heavy, Nicodemus guessed there was a good reason. Or more accurately, what Roo thought was a good reason. He didn't quite follow Roo's logic most of the time. They passed each other without breaking stride and to all intents and purposes ignored each other.
    "Fop." said Roo as he passed, just loud enough so that only Nicodemus could hear him.
    "Halfbreed." answered Nicodemus in the same tone.

    Well that pretty much confirmed he was up to something guessed Nicodemus. No point in getting overly concerned about what it was. He had his own business to be getting on with. He knew he should have gone much earlier in the day to the chambers, but he'd been entertaining last night and he took his duties as a host very seriously. Hmm, now that he'd been spotted by Roo on his way to chambers, his excuse for not bothering about the meeting that morning was rumbled. Oh well, no point in worrying. And anyway, his guest had been most appreciative and hopefully she'd still be there when he returned to the townhouse. For all Roo would know, this could have been Nico's second visit to the chambers this day. Well maybe not. The wolfpack reported directly to Roo and they seemed to have noses sniffing everywhere.

    Thoughts of Roo and the Kin left his mind as he approached the chambers. The massive rambling stone building loomed before him. Huge pillars lined the walls outside and large double wooden doors. He walked up the steps and rapped the left of the two doors with his cane. The door swung open and a guard appeared. He recognised Nicodemus on sight and waved him on. Nicodemus confidently strode inside. There were desks around the lobby area with various clerks scratching away with quills. Several city guards moved around in pairs. He handed his cape and cane to a servant.

    "Good afternoon master Nicodemus"
    "Morning Itoni."
    "Its afternoon sir I believe."
    Nicodemus answered, "Not to me it isn't. I'm looking for Kiterin, is
    he in?"
    "Yes sir. I believe he's conducting business in the upper hall today."
    "Thankyou Itoni. I think I'll just go freshen up before doing any business myself."
    Itoni smiled, "No lip paint visible sir, I believe masking the perfume should suffice."
    Nicodemus chuckled and flipped Itoni a coin as he walked into a washroom.

    After checking he was alone, his demeanour changed completely. The easy grin disappeared and he composed himself for summoning. Quickly chanting under his breath he began. This is where his quiet skill came in. He felt the link to the underworld forming, the invisible snaking tether that drew back one of the fallen. Over time, he'd learned to influence the choice of returned soul. He could ask Hel for a fallen one with a particular set of skills and most of the time he got what he needed. Incanting the spell, he introduced the variation he needed, that slight difference, a humble request to the goddess of the dead.

    Hel answered not by words but with actions. The ghost materialised in front of Nicodemus and Nico gave a satisfied grin when he saw the lockpicks and keys hanging at the belt it wore. No chain armour or battledress of any sort. No armour, for this one wasn't a warrior. At least not as such.
    What Nicodemus needed here was a thief.
    "Good to see you again Jeeves, its been a while."
    The ghost winked at Nicodemus. He knew he was Nico's favoured one, but only Hel herself decided who came back to serve and who they served. In as much as he was able to enjoy anything, the times he served Nicodemus were always more interesting than anything else he had done, even while alive.

    "There are some secrets that shouldn't be so secret Jeeves. The mark's name is Kiterin. I'll be seeing him in the upper hall shortly. See what you can find. Specifically, he is tied up in one of the clans that is hunting Roo, I want some solid information."
    Jeeves visibly winced at the word 'solid'. If Nico used the...
    "Thats the spirit Jeeves, I knew I could rely on you."
    Jeeves made an exagerated motion to indicate he was groaning, raised an eyebrow and stared at Nicodemus in mock distaste.
    Wearing fake innocence with the same aplomb he wore the cheap perfume of his previous night's companion, Nicodemus said, "You still here?"
    Jeeves made a pretence of sniffing the air in front of Nicodemus then wrinkled up his nose. Wafting his hand in front of his face as if warding off a bad smell. Silently chuckling, the semi-visible thief doffed his cap to Nicodemus and stepped through the nearest wall.

    Nicodemus washed his hands but made no effort to mask the perfume that clung to him. This was, after all, part of the game. He checked his appearance and exited the washroom, using the more mundane method of opening a door.

    The Jordheim city chambers were basically a labyrinth of offices and halls that had grown over time as more and more people used it as a centre of commerce. Various legal and business activities were conducted here, as well as some of the business of government, though that was officially done at the Great Hall, not chambers. However, because so many of the powerful and mighty in Midgard had business empires to see to, they inevitably discussed afairs of state at chambers. Thus the chambers became where much behind-the-scenes decision making got done. The wily could gauge where the constantly shifting alliances were moving based on some of the business decisions that went on. A merchant switching from one caravan provider to another could be all it took to indicate a coming shift in an alliance between major guilds. All the council and the merchants watched any of these happenings with great interest. Information was currency and in those terms, Nicodemus was a rich man. He spent a lot of time brokering information between merchants. A few merchants had been saved from bankrupcy by timely information just prior to alliancesshifting and Nicodemus was owed many favours by many merchants.

    Everyone assumed that he financed his business by having people pay large amounts for his information. In truth, he made little or no money this way. Quietly over time, he was building up a tally of favours owed from every corner of the realm, all financed by the coffers of the Kin. The information he gathered during these activities also made him one of the most knowledgable men in the realm on the subject of current realm level activities, even the ones that went unknown and unseen by the general populace.

    Nicodemus walked the halls and corridors of Chambers nodding and smiling his warm hello to various people as he passed, working his way to the upper hall. Occasionally he paused a little longer with a merchant here or there. Each time as he walked away from them there were guffaws and chuckles, depending on the anecdote he left them with. Once or twice a merchant went scuttling off after speaking with Nico, acting on something that had just been passed his way as a favour.

    Kiterin wasn't someone he knew a lot about. Small time alchemy merchant as far as he was aware with a relatively unknown guild backing him. There were many like him here. Small guilds picked up the business the larger ones left as scraps and thrived in their own way.

    The Upper Hall wasn't a hall at all. It was actually a large grassy open area in the shade of the Chambers complex around it, with many smaller halls leading off from it. There were benches and tables widely spaced for privacy and food was often served here which made it an ideal location for merchants. As such it had become the unofficial centre of the unnoficial seat of power for Midgard. There were a few places regularly used by particular guilds and clans, and once again, while there was no official rule that tables or areas of the Upper Hall could be reserved, by tradition nobody interfered when a guild staked its unofficial claim to an area. At least, if they had the standing to do so. Again, social interaction aquired new levels of complexity. The closer to the top end of the Upper Hall a guild claimed, the higher their percieved standing in Midgard. All of this unsaid, and handled by unwritten rules. It would be fair to say that trolls appeared to struggle a bit in this environment at anything other than the basic establishment of pecking order, though even amongst the denizens of stone there were some skilled players here.

    Nicodemus entered the Upper Hall and into sunshine. It was a nice change to the previous day's rain. He liked the Upper Hall, he could see everyone at almost the same time. In other words, he could get a rapid test of reaction to anything that was going on. Of all the games he liked, he liked this game best.

    He looked around and enquired of a serving girl where Kiterin was. She had been in the job too long to do anything as crass as point to Kiterin, but she directed Nicodemus in the direction of a norseman about halfway along the area. Nicodemus thanked her then murmured something in her ear. She blushed furiously then giggled but by then Nico was moving off towards Kiterin.

    Approaching Kiterin, Nicodemus tried to gauge the man. He had a permanent scowl that varied by degree rather than disappearing at any time to let any other emotion through. Best go with the businesslike approach he decided. This man looked to have no idea what humour was.
    "Greetings, I'm told you are an alchemist merchant. Kiterin, isn't it?"
    The Norseman looked his way.
    "No I'm Queen Tuscar."
    "Ah, in that case, I'm interested in purchasing some crafting supplies your Highness. I'd be keen to discuss prices and availability with you."
    Kiterin paused a moment then said, "I don't think you can afford my stuff. I only have the rarer and more valuable materials and ingredients."
    "Well I'm something of a crafter in the magical arts, and I'm not short of coin to fund it, if thats what you mean." said Nicodemus, oozing charm.
    As if reluctantly resigning himself to the potential of making some money, Kiterin relented, "So what is it your after?" he asked.
    "Well," said Nicodemus, "I have quite an extensive list, do you have an office here where we could go through it in peace?"
    "Yes I do, on the north side of chambers" said Kiterin, "but I'm very busy here. I won't be able to spare the time for a private meeting today. Perhaps if you'd like to come back another time..."

    Nicodemus paused as if considering this. In his mind, he visualised the tether that bound Jeeves to him. "Concentrate on the offices on the north side" he said silently. There was the brief image of Jeeves nodding in his mind, then he let the image slide, focusing his attention back on Kiterin.

    "Well, maybe I can give you brief rundown of the kinds of things I'm after, then we can take it from there?" said Nicodemus.
    "Sure. Why not" answered the surly Kiterin.


    Jeeves ran silently down a corridor. There was no sound as the ghost moved along. Just a faintly discernable drop in temperature as he passed and the slightest movement in the air. Being all but transparent, he appeared as just a blur of whatever he stood in front of. The perfect thief.

    A door began to open at the end of the corridor he was in and voices could be heard behind it. Seeing a suit of armour at one side of the corridor he immediately ran to it and merged into it. Standing perfectly still, he waited while a kobold and a troll emerged and walked past where he hid, completely oblivious to his prescence.
    While he stood he felt the tether twitch. He heard Nicodemus's voice in his mind telling him to check the offices on the north side.

    Nodding, he waited until the pair were out of sight and moved to the end of the corridor and turned left. The area was mostly quiet. Once more he had to merge with the scenery when a couple of city guards appeared on a routine patrol. With nowhere to hide, he simply merged into the wall. Not quite as good as he couldn't match his shape to it, but nevertheless, unless someone was looking hard for any irregularities, they wouldn't see him. The guards passed.

    He was now in the north side of the complex. He found a place he could hide behind a large statue and focused. Kiterin. Alchemy materials. Probably powerful materials. The stronger items created a resonance that the finely attuned could pick up on. He concentrated and let his senses reach out. In his mind he saw several spots glowing at various points around him. Seven likely areas. It was just a case of narrowing them down.

    Jeeves sped along corridor after corridor. Moon Warriors. Thats what he was looking for. Again he only paused when there was any sign of movement down a corridor. Once he had to move along inside a wall to avoid a crowd of people. Mostly it was quiet. Most business was conducted in the halls, merchants only returning here perhaps to finalise or sign deals, or for items to change hands if they were in Chambers at all.

    The first office didn't belong to Moon Warriors, nor the second. Jeeves was tireless and had endless patience, he felt no dismay at having to wittle down the options. At the fifth office he found what he was looking for. There was a small plaque beside the door with the guild insignia of the Moon Warrior clan. Jeeves wasted no time but walked through the closed door. He paused when halfway through to make sure nobody was in the room. Verifying it was empty he completed his transition through the closed door.

    It was quite obviously an office. There was a large oak desk and a leatherbound chair behind it. Various files containing papers lined one wall, and there was a small window behind the chair, with a short view across some nearby buildings in Jordheim, blocked by taller buildings within a few hundred yards. A large wrought iron safe stood in one corner of the room. Jeeves extended his senses inside it. There were papers, a few magical items and some valuable spellcrafting and alchemy materials.

    He heard footsteps approaching the office and paused. After a few seconds he heard them fading away again. Probably City guards doing their rounds, attempting to prevent someone doing exactly what he was up to.

    He reached his hand through the side of the closed safe, picked up the papers and withdrew them. He scanned through them very quickly. There were bills of sale, a few invoices and some ingredients lists for some valuable gems. He began sifting them meticulously. He noted with interest that none of them were marked as payable to or from Moon Warriors.

    Time passed, Jeeves worked his way through the papers. More footseps. This time though they didn't fade away. He heard a key turning in the lock. He selected one of the papers and kept it, quickly putting the others carefully back in the safe. It took an extra few seconds to fade the paper to the same ghostly quality as his body. The door swung open and Kiterin walked in, just as Jeeves faded through the wall. Now outside in the corridor, he watched Kiterin enter the office and close the door behind him.

    He tucked the paper under his arm and set off back down the corridor. Nicodemus would be very interested to see that Moon Warriors weren't actually in business according to this information. Though he had little interest in the matter other than to achieve whatever goal Nicodemus set him, Jeeves briefly wondered who was this guild called Nyd.
     
  18. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    A gust of wind blew a piece of paper onto the table where Nicodemus sat, apparently busy writing in a small book.It was late afternoon now, and all around Chambers lanterns were being lit as afternoon became early evening. Nicodemus lazily reached out a hand for the paper and began reading it. Jeeves merged into a statue close by and remained still. There were fewer people in Upper Hall now, as most business was finished for the day.

    Nicodemus had heard of Nyd, though he didn't know many details. Another minor clan, nibbling at the fringes of the council as far as he was aware. After he finished reading the paper, it seemed the wind blew it towards the statue behind him. He sent Jeeves off to return it while he decided what to do next. He wasn't sure whether to persue the Kiterin route or go direct to Nyd and see what he could ferret out. More information was required. He would ponder it this evening. Well, perhaps he would. He remembered he'd made some promises and it would be rude not to give a lady his full attention.
     
  19. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Roo frowned after he passed Nicodemus. The lazy good- for-nothing was supposed to have been at Chambers in the morning. No doubt some cock and bull excuses were incoming. Oh well, so long as he got the job done.

    Roo was nearly at the temple. The market stalls were far behind now. Temple district, always a place that made him uncomfortable. As a boy, Roo had spent a lot of time running all over Jordheim, performing errands for a tailor and he used the name Oborik. He had always avoided this area unless he absolutely had to travel through it or to it. It had made him very uncomfortable, especially the temple dedicated to Hel. He did not know why but he remained uncomfortable to this day. Its proximity was a nagging doubt at the back of his mind. He always found when he was in Jordheim, even with his eyes closed he could turn and point exactly towards the temple, no matter where he was in the city and no matter if he had lost his bearings. It was like the quiet call of the grave which each of us knows will one day come, inevitable and unavoidable.

    The temple of the dead loomed before Roo. Similar to many of the other temples, it was a large greystone building with pillers either side of its doors which, except at night, were always open. An ornate carved stone mural depicting a beautiful but terrible woman with arms outstretched adorned the front walls. The eyes had that unusual quality you sometimes get which made it seem as if they followed you as you moved.

    Roo paused on the threshhold then stepped inside. Up on the rooftops and around the temple, the Wolfpack team he had watching him found vantage points and settled down to wait. The orders not to follow inside had been very strict.

    Roo bowed his head as he entered the temple, partly out of reverence and partly to hide his features as long as possible until he had gauged his surroundings. There were pews facing towards an altar at the end of the temple and only a door on each side of the altar seemed to be the other exits aside from the main entrance. The entire hall seemed gloomy after the brightness in the street and there was nobody in any of the pews. Few came here to pray unless they'd lost someone. To the left of the entrance was a rack with soulcandles on it, giving off a warm glow. Roo moved over to this and picked up an unlit candle, briefly holding it to one already lit. He placed the now lit soulcandle in the rack along with the others and briefly offered a prayer. The light of the candle was the light of his soul, and even when it died out, here in the arms of Hel, it would still continue.

    Roo felt the darkness at his heart thrown into the shadow of a greater darkness as he stood in the temple. He knew there was something lacking in him that his fellows all had but he was blind to it by the very nature of that lack. He would lie awake at times and ponder what was missing in him that gave others empathy for each other. He could mask it and hide it but it was always there, a lack of connection with those around him. He had brought the Kin together despite having little or no feeling for any of them. He cursed and hated himself for this but despite being aware of it, could do nothing about it. It gnawed at him in his dreams at times and left him unsettled on waking. He wondered at times if merely the fact it troubled him meant he wasn't as remote as he thought. But then he'd wake and his hunger for revenge burned and drove him forward and the musings between waking and sleeping were forgotten. Beside this, his desire to remove those that hunted him came a very poor second.

    A small gust of wind blew in from the street. Roo was certain he could hear a faint sound of a woman's voice carried on it carrying a warning. He looked up with a start and turned around.

    Walking towards him down the central aisle were two men in dark gothi's robes. Both carried staves with a crook on the end. Both stared at Roo with a burning intensity.

    "Heretic," said the one on the left, "You should not have come here, "You think we cannot detect your presence when you enter this holy place?"

    Roo noticed that there was a gothi moving at the doors now, pulling them closed. This would appear to be one of those times when having Junior by his side would be very useful but if the gothi's intent was combat, there would not be time to complete the summoning.

    Roo smiled coldly at the gothis. There were more entering the temple hall by the doors at the altar now. There was only one thing Roo could really do now.

    He turned his back on the gothis and lit another soulcandle, but instead of placing it back in the rack, he held it in his left hand. Within a few seconds, melted wax began to drip down the side.

    "I come to pay my respects to our beloved goddess. As a citizen of Midgard I am entitled to do this." said Roo.

    "You are an outcast and to be put to death for heresy." said the second gothi. Roo was surprised at the voice, it was almost feminine.
    "I also serve Hel. Who are you to say I do it wrongly?" asked Roo. Roo expected no reasoned discussion. It was obvious they were keeping him talking until the other Spirit Masters had safely surrounded him. He was fairly sure they would try to avoid combat on holy ground, but if pressed, they would happily execute him on the spot.
    "You do not serve. You try to twist our teachings."
    That genuinely puzzled Roo. He didn't think he had ever tried to change any of the holy texts, he just hadn't ever had access to the temple. He suspected that this was the work of whoever was hunting him to make sure he didn't gain any friends in the temples.
    "I'm looking for a Spirit Master." said Roo.
    The two gothis bothed burst out laughing.
    "Ordinarily I'd have said you have come to the right place." said the one on the left.
    "I'm looking for Belorfyn Blackbyrd. I'm led to believe he is here."
    The gothis ignored him. Roo could see the others were close enough now to cast their spells if they desired.
    "You will come with us." said the gothi on the right.
    "No," answered Roo, smiling, "I don't think so. You will either tell me where Blackbyrd is, or fetch for me the Voice of Hell, who can answer my questions on other matters perhaps."
    "The holy one is not available. Last chance to come peacfully heretic."
    Roo acknowledged with a nod and gripped the soulcandle tight, "I don't think so."

    Suddenly he was aware of a gothi to his left quickly chanting a spell. Roo felt a brief dizziness as control of his body left him. The mesmerisation lasted but a second. Hot wax dripped onto his hand and burned him, the pain breaking the spell.

    Now all the gothis started chanting. Roo knew that they were switching to offensive spells. Roo quickly stamped the ground with his staff and quickly incanted. A dark wave shot out from him in all directions. The gothis froze where they stood when it touched them. Roo expected he would only be able to get the ones that were closest to him.

    But the wave kept spreading out, engulfing all the gothis and Spirit Masters in the temple. All were frozen helplessly in place. Roo looked around in shock at the area he had mesmerised. He had expected to have to use his point blank spell and his ranged spell separately. One single cast had mesmerised the entire temple.

    On his right arm, the scar throbbed, and he felt his skin ripping slightly around the elbow. Without knowing how hew knew, Roo knew that the effect would stay in place as long as he wished it, and no simple trick with a burning candle would break this spell. Interesting, the Bloodline appeared to be able to empower spells.

    Roo stepped forward to the nearest of the two gothis, helpless with a look of shock on his face.
    "I am Roo. I am not your enemy. I am not a heretic. I serve Hel. My blood and my life are hers. I have never broken the teachings of this temple though I have never been allowed to pray here."

    From the other end of the temple, Roo heard the sound of clapping. There was a kobold in gothi's robes standing beside the left-hand door beside the altar.
    "Impressive," said the kobold, "I've not known many that can extend their umbral wave to such an extent."
    Roo raised an eyebrow, "Glad I could entertain you.
    Why are you not senseless with these others?"
    "Oh I know a trick or two. You don't become the Voice of Hel without learning one or two things down the years."
    Roo inhaled sharply, "Ah. I should bow I suppose, but somehow I don't think I should take my eyes off you for a moment."
    "Likewise." said the kobold, eyes glittering.

    Roo moved to the aisle where he had a clear view all the way to the altar. The kobold moved to the front of the altar and regarded Roo in turn.
    "I could cancel your mesmerise in moments Roo. You'd be back where you started."
    "No, you can't break this spell."
    The kobold started to smile then paused and frowned.
    "Perhaps you're right."
    Roo laughed, "I saw your hand there little kobold. You just tried to cancel the spell."
    The kobold shrugged and grinned, "Can't take everything at face value, sometimes you have to find things out for yourself."
    It was Roo's turn to frown slightly, "I truly hope you believe that."

    Roo looked around the temple at the frozen people and waved a hand towards them, "Why all this? Why the strongarm tactics? If I've come all the way into the temple, don't you think I might have something interesting to discuss?"
    The kobold looked at Roo hard before answering, "You are held to be a heretic. You are also considered outlaw and all temples and the city guards are under orders to bring you to justice for past crimes. You already know this."
    Roo chuckled, "What past crimes?"
    The Voice of Hel looked puzzled, "Why, your father was of Clan Thodin. Thodin were traitors to Midgard and were to be put to death with all familes and descendants. Again, you already know this."
    "Yes, but exactly what act of treachery are Thodin supposed to have committed?" asked Roo, watching the Voice of Hel's face intently.
    The kobold hesitated, "Well... the details are secret, known only to the council."
    Roo sneered, "Secrets. Lies. Maybe you should practice what you preach and find out something for yourself."
    The kobold's blue-tinged face grew darker and he spoke very quietly, "Don't ever speak to me like that again if you intend to walk out of somewhere alive."
    The change from conversational tone to menace was complete and instant. The kobold held up his right hand and looked at it as he moved his fingers slowly. Blue light crackled around the edges of each finger.
    Roo's mouth crooked up at one side, "Nice party trick. I'm sure your worshippers here are very impressed."
    The kobold shrugged and the light around his fingers dissapated, "Do you know how we detected you in the temple and knew it was you?" he asked.
    Roo had guessed it was probably scrying wards secreted in the temple.
    "No," he said.
    "We didn't detect you. We detected the absence of something where somebody stood. There was something missing from the picture as it were. That has never happened before. One of our people then recognised you and you can guess from there."

    Turning his back on Roo he placed both hands on the altar.
    "I must either kill you or turn you over to the city guards - yet another thing you must have known before coming here. We've bantered enough now. I want to know why you are here and why you obviously think I should not do this."

    Roo realised he was being given an out. By turning his back on him, the kobold was letting him know he could walk to the door and leave if he chose. He knew he couldn't do that.

    Roo's head swam. He was at a junction and suddenly the moment was upon him. All he wanted was the location of Belorfyn Blackbyrd, a servant of this temple. It was that simple.
    "I'm seeking Belorfyn Blackbyrd."
    With his back to Roo, the kobold smiled out of sight of him, "And what do you want with young Blackbyrd?" he asked.

    The scar in his arm throbbed. Roo wanted to say that he sought his help in clearing his name and that of his family. Fighting dizziness and sudden nausea his mouth betrayed him and the words that came out were not his, "I seek to create an alliance in Midgard. We will take the weak and the small, the unwanted. We will make them work together for the realm and the realm work for them instead of treating them as beggars before the powerful and mighty clans of Midgard who bicker and destroy us slowly from the inside. Power will move to those until now considered weak."

    The Bloodline throbbed again and, despite having been warned, for the first time Roo realised it had a will of its own.

    The kobold saw none of the turmoil in Roo, facing away from him as he was. Something carried in Roo's voice. There was truth here, he could sense it. It felt like a prophecy in the making. Something here was changing, he could sense that too. This heretic in the temple was at the crux of it. He was never one to shy away from the hard path, he was not the Voice of Hel for nothing. He knew in his heart change was needed, Midgard was rotting from the inside out. Maybe this was the time to take a chance.

    He turned back to Roo and said, "Well then, it seems we have some things to discuss. We'll be more comfortable through here."
    He gestured towards the door then turned back and looked at the mesmerised gothis, "Oh and be a good fellow and release my people."
    Roo heaved a sigh of relief and did as asked. A small gesture and everyone in the temple could move again. He moved down the aisle towards the Voice of Hel and fell into step beside him.
    "Well," said the kobold, "since we're going to be friends, you may as well call me Belorfyn."

    Roo followed the kobold into the room behind the altar and closed the door after him. The gothis looked towards him with suspicion but said nothing.
     
  20. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Belorfyn sat down behind a large desk and gestured towards a chair on the other side for Roo to sit at. Along a wall were bookcases overflowing with tomes of varying sizes. A single window high up on one side provided the only light in the room.

    "You might not be surprised to hear I've had my doubts about the death order on Clan Thodin for some time. I have no proof or anything other than vague doubts. Between you and me, I wondered if I'd dreamed the doubts and woke up with them nagging me." said Belorfyn as he settled back in the chair.
    "I myself do not know what the reason is, or who is behind this." said Roo, "most of my life I've simply been evading them, only recently have I been able to start investigating. I don't know if my persuers are now aware I've become actively persuing them in return."
    "It would have to be someone with access to the council." said Belorfyn, "That means it is someone with power and influence, even if out of public sight."
    "And with large resources at their disposal." said Roo, "I've had everything from lone assassins to full blown war parties chasing me down the years."
    "But you have no idea why they want you dead?"
    Roo hesitated, "Well, I didn't used to. I've got a piece of the puzzle now."
    Roo wasn't sure if he should share his knowledge of the medallion with Belorfyn, but it felt the right thing to do. He found himself trusting the little kobold, despite years of having survived by not trusting anyone.
    Belorfyn raised his eyebrows and waited for Roo to speak.
    "My persuers are not after me, they are after something they believed I had access to. This item here, in fact."
    Roo pulled out the medallion and put it on the desk in front of Belorfyn. Belorfyn regarded it and stroked his chin, but made no effort to pick it up.
    "Its related to dragons, that much is certain" he said, "but do you know in what way?".
    "No," answered Roo, "I only have the item. One of my tasks here in Jordheim is to try and identify this piece."

    Belorfyn stood up and walked to the bookcases and picked a book out. He skimmed its pages, from time to time looking over at the medallion.
    "Hmm nothing here."
    He continued picking out books here and there from the shelves, occasionally returning to the desk and comparing drawings with the medallion. Occasionally he would make an excited sound just to make a disappointed grunt a few seconds later.
    Roo sat back patiently and let Belorfyn do his research.
    This went on for several hours. Eventually Belorfyn closed a book and shook his head, "I have no information here. Can't find a single thing on the subject."
    Roo was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, "Thank you for your efforts though."
    Belorfyn looked at Roo shrewdly as if weighing something up.
    "There is somewhere else we can look." he said.
    Roo caught the tone in his voice. Instantly he knew that Belorfyn had other sources of information that were probably not widely known. He said nothing and waited for Belorfyn to continue.
    "Each temple has its own libraries, some larger than others, some specialised in their own areas. Good luck finding a tome on herbology in Thor's temple."
    Roo smiled.
    "But," continued Belorfyn, "we have something more here in our own temple. The stor gothi of each of the temples knows of it, but we don't normally let outsiders find out about it. Come with me."

    Belorfyn stood up and crossed to a bookcase. He reached behind a book and pulled a lever. The bookcase swung out and behind was revealed a passageway. He had Roo's full attention. It was unlikely that any temple didn't have some secrets but Roo was surprised to be let in on any of them. Roo stood and followed Belorfyn into the passageway. The bookcase swung shut behind them.

    Belorfyn led Roo down a spiral stone staircase and continued to explain."In ages gone by, we in Midgard have defeated various enemies. Some ordinary mortals like ourselves, some demons and monsters of incredible power. Sometimes we have been able to completely destroy them, sometimes the best we can do is to imprison them. At times powerful and terrible artifacts are carried by these. What to do with them? If we cannot completely destroy them how do we imprison them?"

    This derailed Roo's thinking completely. He had been expecting some insight into how the temples played their part in the manouevers within and around the council.

    "Beneath this temple is a vast underground series of tunnels and caves. Some natural, some we made ourselves. We keep the evils we cannot destroy imprisoned there and catalogued. The servants of Hel, the undead themselves are the perfect custodians of this place. They never sleep and are ever vigilant. To keep track of what is down there, we have an index room, a place where there is a huge repository of knowledge on ancient evils and artifacts. We refer to all this as the Black Library. The best of the gothis that serve here may become trusted enough to become servitors in the Black Library, to keep watch for any... anomolies."
    "So you keep artifacts down here?" asked Roo.
    "Not just artifacts, we have demons imprisoned and other monsters too. It is a terrible burden and occupies a lot of our attention. The other temples provide traps and occasional resources as we require to ensure the dungeon stays closed."
    "Are we going down there?" asked Roo.
    "No," said Belorfyn, "we only need the index room. If there is any record of your mysterious pendant, it will be there. Trust me, you don't want to enter the dungeons of the Library unless you have to. Its only the fact we have been entrusted as guardians that we have such an extensive index of information."
    Roo grunted acknowledgement and kept following.

    At the bottom of the stairwell was a short passage with an iron door at the end of it. Roo felt something cold brushing against him but couldn't see anything. He spun around, looking for what caused it.
    Belorfyn chuckled, "If you have a certain type of sight, you would see this passage is full of guardians. You are with me, you have nothing to worry about but I would not reccommend wandering off yourself."
    Roo squinted and tried to see if he could pick out any of the guardians but all that happened was his eyes watered.

    Belorfyn opened the iron door and led them into a large circular room. There was an arched doorway at the opposite end but aside from that, every wall was covered in bookshelves, stacked full. In the centre of the room was a dais with a lecturn on it. A massive leatherbound book lay on it.
    "The Index." said Belorfyn, pointing at the dais.

    Beyond the archway, Roo could see another similar room, also filled with books on shelves. He kept sensing movement out of the corner of his eye, but any time he turned to look, it was gone. More guardians he assumed. It was very unnerving but Belorfyn seemed untroubled by it.

    Belorfyn stepped up to the dais and began leafing through the Index. Roo wandered up to the bookcases and began inspecting the books. Just as he reached his hand out to have a look at one Belorfyn spoke, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. The guardians are very protective."
    Roo immediately withdrew his hand and stepped back a little. Belorfyn smiled and went back to browsing the Index.

    Roo moved nearer the archway and had a look beyond. There were several rooms, he could see that now. All similar to this one. He decided it would probably not be a good idea to stray too far from Belorfyn.
    Time passed as Belorfyn poured over the Index. Eventually Belorfyn stabbed a page with his finger then went scuttling over to one of the bookshelves. Retrieving a book he sped through the pages until he arrived at the place the Index had directed him. His hopeful look turned to disappointment. Putting the book back on the shelf he returned to the Index.

    This went on for several hours and Roo was, quite frankly, bored. He couldn't assist in case of retribution from the unseen guardians and he couldn't explore, so he paced the room, occasionally getting in the way when Belorfyn would suddenly scuttle from the Index to check a reference.

    Roo's mind was idling when he realised Belorfyn had taken a book from the wall and had been intently reading it for some minutes. Roo's heart leapt.
    "You found something?"
    Belorfyn rubbed his chin, "I think so. One moment."
    Belorfyn grunted as he read through the book as if acknowledging things he was reading there. Roo wanted to shake him and get him to tell him what he'd found but instead he bottled his excitement and waited.

    "Hmm," said Belorfyn, "we only have a little on it here. I'd thought to find more than this."
    "What have you found?"
    Belorfyn snapped the book shut and put it back on the shelf, "We are finished here, lets go back up."
    Roo followed him as he exited the room, retracing their path back to Belorfyn's office."
    "We know now what the item is called. Its a Dragonwalker pendant. Rare, ancient and powerful. Details on the power don't seem to exist. The only other information I could find was that there was only one type of being able to fully describe what it does."
    "What type of being?" asked Roo.
    "Why, a dragon of course." answered Belorfyn.
     
  21. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    When they returned to Belorfyn's office, Roo sat back down and pondered the medallion. He hadn't expected to get any information on it here, he had hoped to get some inside help with the council. Nico was useful for gathering information, but he hoped to get someone inside the council itself.

    Walking up to a dragon, saying "How do" and hoping not to be dead a moment later seemed to be a bit unrealistic so for the moment his pursuit of the medallion's background might have to be put on hold.

    He decided it was time to tackle Belorfyn about allying.

    "I'm surprised you haven't discussed an alliance since we've been together all this time." said Belorfyn. Roo raised an eyebrow, it was very hard to stay one step ahead of this one.

    Belorfyn rang a small bell on his desk and moments later the door to the office opened and a gothi entered, bowed and waited. Belorfyn smiled at the gothi and said, "We hunger and thirst."
    The gothi bowed and left the room without speaking, but didn't miss the chance to frown at Roo.

    Roo said, "I wasn't sure how best to bring the subject up. The Kin are not an official guild or clan. We are not listed with the Registrar's office here in Jordheim. A formal alliance while I'm being hunted will be very difficult."
    This was only part of the reason for Roo's reluctance to bring the subject up. His speech about allying the smaller guilds had not come from him, but from somewhere else. It troubled him that at a crucial moment, he was not in command of himself. The help in tracking down the medallion's background had been too good to pass up, which had also put him off mentioning the issue.

    Belorfyn put his hands together in a steeple and thought for a moment.
    "You don't need to formally ally with guilds or clans to actually be of use to each other, though obviously it can be useful."
    "So how then?"
    "An association would suffice. Most of the small guilds and clans are not allied. They are not considered enough of a benefit to the larger ones and they also choose to bicker amongst themselves though they are very cautious for it not to come to blows as they don't have the resources to sustain vendettas. This also helps as it means they haven't managed to create any lasting grudges. I can put out some feelers and see how disposed some would be to working more closely together, though I don't think I'll be able to mention your name. At least, not initially anyway. Some would likely join together just for the mischief of thumbing their noses at the more powerful clans."
    "Any likely candidates to start with?"
    "Bragi's Scorpions, possibly Norsefejd. Vanir of Vanaheim, maybe the Huscarls. I hesitate to mention Valour, they just don't seem to like anyone."
    "Who are they and why's that?" asked Roo.
    "Don't know too much about them. They turn up at council at times. Seem to be able to handle themselves in a fight, but their guildmaster seems, well... grumpy."
    "Grumpy?"
    "Yes, grumpy."
    "He would be a dwarf then?"
    "Yes," chuckled Belorfyn, "but its as if someone took the grumpiest female dwarf and grumpiest male dwarf they could find and decided to see if they could breed the sourest, bad tempered offspring possible. Hel knows how he manages a guild."
    "Does this little stormcloud have a name?"
    "He's called Borgdur."
    "Never heard of him. Where's he from?"
    "Haggerfall I believe. He runs a smithy here in Jordheim backed by his guild. There's another Thane called Zaksoth who might be more approachable but he spends all his time out in the frontier. Good if you can bring in Valour, but I wouldn't bet on it."
    "What about the other guilds you mentioned?"
    "Bragi's are fairly easy going. They generally like to gamble and will bet on anything. Oh, and they sing a lot. Occasionally at Council meetings they just start doing it to annoy everyone else."
    "Who's their clan leader?"
    "Not sure. It might be Fredensgade or Koxine. Seems to be whoever is most sober at the time."
    "Ah. True Midgardians then: drunk or fighting. And Norsefejd?"
    "They refuse to sit at council. Not being as mighty as some, they aren't missed. Worth bringing into the fold, I think they are larger than they let on."

    Roo tried to digest all this. Several clans already that might be worth approaching. But what was the best approach? It would be difficult for him to make any overtures given his status. He caught a small smile appearing on Belorfyn's face.
    "Yes, Roo, I can approach them all quietly and sound them out."

    Roo really wished Belorfyn would stop doing that.

    The gothi returned with bread, cold meat and a couple of ales. Roo waited while he placed the dishes, bowed, and left.
    Belorfyn indicated Roo should help himself and started filling his own plate. Roo found that despite having been some time since he ate, he wasn't very hungry. He took a couple of small slices and some bread. He didn't touch the ale.

    "It would be good if you can approach the clans. You will be known to them and your position in the temple gives you some status and credability."
    Belorfyn chewed thoughtfully, "There's one I can't approach I'm afraid. You'll have to tackle Valour yourself or find another way, if you want them."
    "Why's that?" asked Roo.
    "Borgdur doesn't like Spirit Masters."
    "Why does that matter? I thought you said he doesn't like anyone?"
    "He particularly doesn't like Spirit Masters."
    "Why?" asked Roo.
    Belorfyn just shrugged but his eyes twinkled, hinting he knew more than he was letting on. Roo mulled this for a few seconds, "I suppose I could get someone else to approach him."
    "No, he would take it as an insult if you sent an underling."
    "Well, how in Hel's name am I to approach him then?" asked Roo
    "Technically you're not a Spirit Master. You never received Hel's blessing from the temple."
    "Thats a pretty feeble technicality Belorfyn."
    Belorfyn shrugged and picked up his ale, "I'm sure you'll think of something."
     
  22. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Trigali walked the streets of Jordheim just as any casual shopper would, browsing at market stalls, occasionally peering into a window or two to look at goods. He made his way indirectly to the temple areas. Occasionally he accidently bumped into a genuine shopper and helped himself to their purse. Life was good. Free fruit from a market stall helped to add to his good humour.

    He deliberately stayed away from the temple of Hel. He'd seen several blades closely following Roo and decided it would be just as easy to watch them as to directly follow his quarry. He was fairly certain that when the blades moved, it would indicate Roo was on the move also. He wandered the market area just as far as the start of the temple district and made sure that the blades he watched were still there. He would have been happier to be able to watch Roo directly, but he settled for watching Roo's apparent bodyguard. Some were pretty good, he'd not been able to spot them until some obviously less experienced ones gave them away. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see that Roo had such a large number of blades at his service, Ayam would be interested to hear of this. There were quite a few surprises the last couple of days. He'd dearly have loved to get into that bakery where Roo and his friends had seemed to gather, probably for a meeting, but again, he settled for the safer approach. He watched the effects of the movements and deduced what happened between times. That had been the first time there had been any indication Roo was back in Jordheim. Now Trigali had orders to stick on Roo at all times and find out what he was up to. There had been no sign of him since he entered the temple of Hel and the doors closed behind him. Trigali had ached all afternoon to find out what would make a temple close its doors prematurely.

    Even if Roo's friends saw him, he would look like just another cutpurse, wandering around the markets. The only problem was it was getting late in the day now and the market stalls were closing down for the night. Cutpurses didn't do so well outside of crowds so tended to leave when the shoppers did. A few street sellers were already folding down the fronts of their stalls to show they were closed. Carts were being loaded and taken home for the night. Being the temple district, there wasn't even an inn close by where he could find a table by a window and keep look out. The rooftops were off limits with all the activity he'd spotted up there, and he'd be surprised if there wasn't a few blades at ground level also. Thats how he would have done it after all. Tricky. He chewed on the problem and his apple equally, all the while getting closer to the temple district without any clear idea of how to proceed.

    Lanterns along the street were being lit and flickering lights were appearing in houses as candles or fires were lit. He entered the temple district and walked slowly along, as if lost in his own thoughts, meanwhile his eyes searched everywhere for a place he could safely observe the temple area around Hel's temple. Nothing that looked safe. He was about to give up when he saw the doors to the temple opening and out stepped his quarry. He was sure that there would be a flurry of activity on the rooftops and anyone in the street would be noted and checked for changes in any movement pattern. He decided the best thing to do was keep walking towards the temple. Hmm, it was Roo alright. His current direction would take him very close to the Spirit Master.

    Trigali's fingers slowly flexed as they itched to reach for his blades. He could easily kill the unprepared Spirit Master in one or two slashes. Roo was getting closer now. Trigali's heart lept, there was no Spirit walking beside Roo. He'd have to decide soon. Looked clear, he knew there would be blades near, but if they weren't quick off the mark he'd be able to slide one of his poisoned pretties into Roo and be on his way fast.

    Trigali made up his mind and picked up his pace, dropping the unfinished apple. He altered his course only slightly to take him close to Roo, while he felt inside the folds of his cloak for one of the many daggers he kept there. By the feel of the hilt alone he could tell which blade was used for what purpose. There it was, the narrow blade with the tip coated in nerve venom harvested from a live Forest Spider in Vanern. Trigali was proud of this blade. Most shadowblades, if they were even lucky enough to come across this venom, only ever got it from a dead spider. Trigali, thanks to his guild, Nyd, had found a way to get live spider venom, which was much more potent. One cut assured death in about ten seconds but the venom had to be kept on a specially prepared blade, or it became just another ordinary poison.

    Ten feet from Roo, Trigali slid the blade into his right hand. A diseased blade that would hinder any attempts at healing he slid into his left hand as a backup, in case there was a problem. He kept his head slightly lowered, as if not watching.
    Eight feet...
    Six feet...
    Four feet...

    Trigali went flying sideways as a drunken norseman blundered into him. He nearly dropped his knives but managed to keep them with him, and blades away from him as he went sprawling to the ground.
    "Ssorrrry my frrriend," slurred the norseman as he staggered in front of Trigali, "Lemme help you up there lil fella."
    Trigali cursed and looked around. The moment was lost, Roo was now too far to get him without obviously running after him. He slapped away the swaying hand held out to him and climbed to his feet. Pulling his cloak back around himself he set off in the opposite direction to Roo. The commotion would have been noticed and he'd be observed now. Time to fade for a while. He noted the direction Roo was heading and decided to double back around the top end of the temple district.
    Angry at the missed opportunity, he stomped off, making a show of being visibly annoyed at the drunkard to make sure his reaction was as close to norm as possible though he didn't have to act very hard. That was a golden opportunity to slit Roo's throat and claim the bounty.

    Hound watched the street from above. No way of knowing if that little kobold was an assassin, but Isharo's perfect drunken norseman routine had made doubly sure. He signalled the nearest blade to move out and they silently tracked Roo's path through the city, a few steps ahead and a few steps behind. A silent army, born of shadows.
     
  23. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Turo felt himself floating.
    "What is happening?"
    "You must learn to see the living world. This is where you will begin."
    "It is dark."
    "You don't use your eyes, you use your mind."
    "Why must I be able to see?"
    "How else can you know when it is time, if you cannot see what passes in the living world?"
    "Blessed Hel, I cannot do this. I am just a shade of a lowly norse warrior, not one of the mighty."
    Turo felt contact with his body, as if arms wrapped around him. The touch was soft but he felt shock from it being completely unexpected.
    "Did you feel that?" asked Hel.
    "Yes"
    "You felt nothing, only your mind thought it felt something."
    "This is beyond me to control..."
    "No, you can do this. Your soul exists in thought and shadow and as such your thoughts can shape that which is around you, if you have the will."
    "I am no god, I cannot do these things."
    "You can with my guidance.."

    Turo sighed inwardly. The gods always expected too much, he knew that from tales and history. He was just a shade of a fairly average Norse warrior, someone who had never shined particularly above his peers. And here was the goddess of the dead coaxing him to become something he wasn't. He wasn't even sure what she wished him to become.
    "What do I have to do?"
    "We will use something that you can hold in your mind most strongly. Think of Roo."
    "Think what about him?"
    Turo felt a calmness come over him, "Relax brave warrior. Be at ease. Think of Roo and just hold his image in your mind. I will add to your concentration."

    Turo found himself relaxing in spite of his tension at trying to do something he thought was impossible.
    "I have Roo in my mind, wha..."
    Turo felt his mind gripped hard. It was like someone took his head and forced him to stare in a particular direction. He felt pain as if icicles bored into him. He felt the darkness recede and gradually became lighter. The light took on form and colour and depth. Gradually he could see Roo.
    He was walking along a street. Turo's head throbbed with pain. And yet... was the pain real? From what Hel had told him, it was all in his mind. He tried to ignore the pain and focus. He saw Roo approaching a smithy. Roo wasn't wearing his customary padded cloth armour. He looked almost...like a warrior.

    "You see your son?"
    Turo struggled to answer, "Yes... its... difficult, and it hurts."
    "Learning is often painful. I will withdraw my aid now, hold the image in your mind."
    Turo felt as if his legs had been taken out from under him. Strength that wasn't his to begin with was suddenly removed. The image in his mind wavered and he struggled to keep focused. The pain of trying to hold it there became almost unbearable. In his own mind he screamed in agony as he tried to hold this tenuous link to the living world. The pain grew too much and the image wavered, colour started to bleed from the scene. Suddenly it was gone. The light faded and once again he was floating in darkness.

    Turo's mind whirled, the pain receeding, just a memory of torture.
    "I cannot do it. I am not strong enough."
    "Yes, you can. I am pleased with you Turo of Clan Thodin."
    "I cannot hold the sight. The pain grows too much."
    "I will show you how to control the pain, but you must learn this so you can do it unaided."
    "Why cannot you do this thing? If it is so important?"
    There was a pause. Turo wondered if he'd angered the goddess.
    "There are limits to how far the gods can go in aiding their people. If we become too overt, the enemy gods sense this, the war would escalate until all three realms would be threatened with complete destruction. The gods of the three realms are too evenly matched. If we go directly to war, your way of life would be over. Lands would be smashed, countless of the living would die. It would be ragnarok. We must work through the likes of you Turo. We depend on those who would serve their realm. You must learn to see the living world and choose your time. More than you could know depends on this."
    Turo struggled to follow what he was told. In life, he'd been a shield to his master, a living wall of angry Norseman that put his sword into anyone who threatened his lord Thodin. He was used to the idea of serving, but this was beyond his ken. However, one thing he knew well from all his years of service: you didn't have to understand or know everything, you just had to do your job.

    "I will learn this thing."
     
  24. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Evening settled on Jordheim and, as always, lanterns sprang into life all over the city as the sky deepened in colour. From where Ayam stood it was as if tiny pinpricks of light sprung into being all over the city. The dark haired norseman leaned on a white marble balcony overlooking the city and sipped at a malt whiskey, retrieved from an Albion keep in a recent raid.This was his city. His realm. It was just nobody in this land realised it - which was exactly the way he liked it.

    His mansion stood on hill at the top end of Jordheim, not far from the city Chambers. The view it commanded of the city was impressive, and on a clear day you could see to the city walls and into both Vasudheim and Mularn beyond. He often came out here of an evening to look across at the city he ruled from behind the scenes. He had nothing but disdain for the peopl he ruled, nobody was close to him, nobody ever would be. He enjoyed his splendid isolation. No weaknesses that could be utilised against him, not a chink in his personal armour that could be exploited. He was completely focused on keeping the realm if Midgard firmly in his invisible grasp. At least he used to be without a weakness. Something very valuable had been stolen from him and he had to get it back. He was utterly confident though. One of the joys of having access to the best the realm had to offer had given him the clairvoyance from a shaman, Esola. The little shaman was too useful to be let alone, and was now Ayam's servant.

    It would soon be time to meet with his minions. Only Nyd clan members were allowed into his mansion. Even the powerful and mighty of the realm were never invited to visit. Who would waste time inviting mere insects? He tolerated his clan members only because they served him and were useful. And utterly in his thrall.

    A Norseman servant emerged onto the balcony, ""My lord, the people you have been expecting are here."
    Ayam didn't bother turning around but waved the servant away with one hand while giving the faintest of nods to acknowledge the message.
    Ayam wondered what it would be like to have peers. Probably an annoyance, it was better to be without.
    He finished his whiskey and returned indoors. A servant waiting just inside moved immediately to retrieve the empty whisky glass and close the balcony door behind him.

    The interior was plush and comfortable. Each expensive item was tasteful and carefully placed. Ayam knew the exact position of everything in his mansion. Like all that he did, it was handled with precision. Each painting on the wall had a cost in gold or blood. Each furnishing came from the best craftsmen in the three realms, whether they'd been willing or not to provide them. Ayam had often considered keeping Thor's Hammer at his mansion, instead of Mjollneir Faste, but that would attract too much attention. The great Midgard artifact lay secure in a castle in Uppland built solely for the purpose of guarding it. It was however worthy of someone such as Ayam and he often considered having it moved to his home, which despite appearances was better fortified and protected than any castle. Moving the famous relic would be noticed and too much attention would be focused on him.

    Ayam walked the halls of his mansion, descending the stairs to the room where he would meet what he laughingly called his clan brothers. Appropriate he felt, descending to meet them.

    Ayam entered the drawing room. There were three people seated around it as he entered. All stood as he came in. He waved them down with a hand and gave the faintest of smiles in greeting. Ayam moved to a large overstuffed leather chair and seated himself. A servant standing by the chair with a tray and a single glass on it waited patiently for Ayam to get comfortable and take the drink. The servant moved as fast as was possible to leave the room without actually running, closing the door behind him.

    With heavy lidded eyes, Ayam looked at the three before him. Trigali, the kobold assassin, Esola, another kobold and a shaman with excellent clairvoyant abilities with some extremely nasty talents in herbcraft. And Krill, the big stupid troll thane. How he'd ever become a servant of Thor gods only knew. But, though he could only hold one coherent thought at a time, he was always useful to Ayam because Ayam alone controlled that one thought.

    Ayam took a sip of water then spoke, "You have news I believe." His voice was soft and he spoke quietly. The three facing him looked at each other as if trying to decide who should speak first. Trigali's patience gave out first.
    "Roo is in Jordheim. I've been following him for several days now."
    Ayam raised an eyebrow, "Is he in this room?"
    Trigali faltered, confused, "Well, no."
    "Then you're not doing a very good job of following him, are you?"
    Trigali blinked, thrown off balance, "I have people watching for him?"
    Ayam smiled his cold smile, "Watching for him... then you lost him?"
    Trigali could feel himself flushing. On a kobold that meant his cheeks grew a darker blue.
    "I had an encounter with him yesterday evening. I had an opportunity to kill him but the moment was lost and I wasn't able to go after him. He has many blades moving around with him."
    "Where did this happen?"
    "In a street in the temple district," answered Trigali.
    "So", said Ayam, "you were going to kill him in the middle of a street when there was many of his people around. Very brave Trigali."
    Trigali hesitated again, unsure if Ayam was being ironic, "Well, thank-you."
    Ayam looked Trigali in the eye and said, "And tell me, just how did you intend to get the item we seek off his freshly dead corpse when the area would be swarming with his shadowblades? Did you actually think it through or were you just thinking of the bounty?"
    Trigali swallowed and breathed rapidly. This hadn't occured to him at all, "I.. am sorry Ayam, I just thought..."
    "No Trigali, you didn't think. You saw a chance to make some coin and forgot the reason you were supposed to be following Roo and in doing so managed to lose him."
    "I'm sure we'll pick up the trail soon..."
    "No, you won't, because I'm giving the job to someone else. Fortunately, I also have many blades in my service. I know where Roo is."

    Ayam watched fear grip Trigali. He knew full well that Trigali would be in a panic. If his usefullness was over, so was his life. Ayam just stared at the kobold and stretched the moment out, enjoying the fear that leaked from every pore of the assassin.
    "Roo is still moving around the city with at least twenty-four shadowblades and hunters guarding his every move."
    "Too many to take on?", asked Esola, speaking for the first time.
    Ayam merely looked at the kobold as if to ask why he had dared to speak.
    "Well, if he only has that many blades, we can easily get a force to take them out, can't we?"
    "Yes, but that assumes he has the item on him, doesn't it? Has any one of your sources confirmed he carries it? Or does he have it secreted somewhere. If Roo dies without me getting the location of the item I guarantee the person that kills him will live a very, very long life."
    Ayam's chilling smile completed the statement. That long life would be torture and pain. He let their imaginations fill in the gaps.

    After pausing to let them mull that, Ayam nodded to Esola, "you have something for me I believe?"
    Esola briefly bowed his head.
    "Yes," he said, "there is an abandoned fort in the Gripklosa mountains. Apparently its not as abandoned as it once was. Someone is building an army there."
    "Someone?" asked Ayam.
    Esola smiled and his eyes twinkled, "I can think of only one person in Midgard who would have to build an army in secret, far from the mainland."
    Ayam smiled, for once a genuine smile. This kobold was cleverer than most others. Yes, the conclusion was obvious, though not solid proof. However, it occured to Ayam that anyone building an army in Midgard was potentially trouble to him.
    "How did you come across this information?"
    "One of our merchants noticed that there were a lot of supplies being bought around the towns compared to usual. The interesting thing is, it was hard to pin down at first. No single merchant or business was buying the supplies. But the thing they had in common was that they are all leaving the towns and there is no record of them arriving at their intended destination."

    Ayam considered this. Any one of the guilds and clans could be building an army. His strategy was to keep them all at each others throats and diverted away from him. As soon as one clan gained advantage, Ayam saw to it that they lost something to another clan. He played them like a skilled puppet master. There wasn't enough indication to say that it was definately Roo.
    "Esola," Ayam asked, "can you perform a seeing?"
    Esola chuckled, "I did this already. I saw the Clan Thodin banner being unfurled, though it was difficult to see the circumstance under which it will happen."
    Esola frowned, "Events approach a junction, and there is much confusion. It is dificult to read."
    Ayam grimaced. His temptation was to lash out at the shaman for giving him incomplete information but the information was enough to draw his own conclusions. His mind was set.
    "The three of you will travel out to Gripklosa and investigate this. Removing this army would please me."
    Krill pounded a ham sized fist into the palm of his other hand, "Krill smish!"
    Good gods, thought Ayam, how did this lump of troll manage to summon up lightning bolts, he could barely follow a conversation. Ayam rolled his eyes and looked at Esola.
    Esola turned to Krill, "No my big troll friend, we will just take a look. Maybe Esola will visit them and give them some gifts."
    Krill rumbled in confusion,"Krill not kill?"
    Esola patiently answered, "Yes, Krill will get to kill, I'll make sure of it."
    Krill gave a rumbling chuckle then subsided.
    Trigali chewed his lip pensively as if summoning up the courage to ask something. Eventually he said, "So what of Roo? How are we going to retrieve the item from him?"
    Ayam sat back in his chair, "I've hired a guild of mercenaries to take care of it. They are without a doubt the dirtiest, nastiest cut-throats in all the three realms. They will be in Jordheim by tomorrow."
    "Who?" asked Trigali.
    "Everlast," answered Ayam, "they will kill Roo and get me the medallion and they won't fail, they never do."

    A while later, Ayam once again stood out on the balcony overlooking the city. It was full night now, he had dismissed the Nyd. The perfect thrall he held them in had one or two side effects. For a troll like Krill it meant his thoughts were slowed further. For Trigali it could be seen as impeding his judgement at times. There was no discernable effect on Esola, which is why he trusted the kobold to lead the three of them. Gripklosa, that was a very long way off. No wonder this army hadn't been detected before. He doubted the Nyd would be able to do anything other than confirm the nature of the army growing there, but all information was good information. He watched the city for an hour or so then went indoors.

    A few miles outside Jordheim a troop of eight men, trolls, kobolds and valkeyn rode towards the city. Clothed from head to foot in black they rode in silence, not one single of them speaking. In the lead was a dwarf with a patch over one eye. His black chain armour glistened in the reflected light from the occasional cottage as they rode on. He was a trained as a healer, but he never healed, he killed. He was good at it and he was paid well to do it. As the night wore on, Zapsi and his mercenaries drew closer to Jordheim.
     
  25. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    The chain armour itched uncomfortably as Roo tried to walk normally along the Jordheim street. He was unused to such armour and could barely carry it. Already sweat was threatening to break out, he could feel his temperature rising as he walked under the weight of the unacustomed armour. Right now he was sure that Hound was somewhere close killing himself laughing. Roo wasn't quite sure why, but it had seemed the right thing to do. He knew that he would have problems approaching the Valour clan master if he even remotely appeared to be a spell caster.

    Roo resisted the urge to tug and pull at the armour. He was making a vain attempt to look something like a warrior though he'd balked at carrying a sword as well - the weight of the armour was crippling enough. If Junior could see him now he'd probably be laughing. In life, his father had been an experienced warrior who had spent many long years in the use of armour and more than strong enough to carry it without even the slightest thought, as
    did all proper warriors. Roo felt stupid. He could feel beads of sweat breaking out on the back of his neck, which made the armour itch.
    How in Hel's name did warriors wear this stuff he wondered. A new appreciation for those he'd previously just regarded as thugs with shields slowly grew in him.

    Roo walked on, more or less obvlivious to the world around him. The teams of blades and hunters moved invisibly around him, checking anyone who got close and unobtrusively diverting away anyone who got too close. A drunk would stagger into someone who approached, or a merchant would suddenly pop up with things to sell.

    Sometimes a passerby would apparently brush into Roo and at the same time accidently barge anyone else out of the way. The timing and movement was expertly handled. To the casual observer, it was just a busy street. To the expert watcher, they knew not to even try to get close. If you were an opposing shadowblade, the barrier was as visible as the walls around a city.

    The smithy came into view. It was just like the other grey stone buildings in the street except the front wall had been broken down to make room for the forge in the centre. Large doors which folded back like a concertina were held back against each opposite side. Roo noted as he approached that it was unsual for a smithy: absolutely everything in it was meticulously tidy. The only things out of place were the metals currently being worked and

    the tools needed to shape them. The sound of metal beating on metal came from an anvil beside the forge,so regular you could march a band to it.

    Roo stopped in the wide doorway. It was slightly darker inside and it took a moment for Roo to adjust to the lower light level. A dwarf stood at the anvil, stripped to the waist and beating a hammer on a strip of metal.

    Powerful muscles flexed as untiringly he pounded on it. Looking at the metal strip Roo had no idea what it was intended to become, but then, he wasn't a blacksmith. This must be Borgdur and looking at the permanent scowl on his face, Roo did wonder if the dwarf was actually making anything or just letting out some tension. It was hot inside the smithy, and this increased Roo's discomfort in the chain armour.

    "Greetings, you must be Borgdur." said Roo, "I wondered I might have a moment of your time?"
    The dwarf gave no sign of acknowledging and continued beating on the metal.
    Roo repeated himself, this time a little louder. The dwarf appeared to hear him and grunted, but he didn't stop beating on the metal for at least another five strokes. With a sigh he reluctantly put down the hammer.
    "I don't do low grade metals," he said in a deep voice, "Adamantium or better. If you want a cheap smith, there's plenty of others in Jordheim."
    "Yes, I agree, its a fine day in Jordheim and a lovely day to be doing business. You can call me Roo. I might have some work to put your way and I'd like to talk to you about your clan."
    "I'm a blacksmith. I'm in a smithy. This is my forge. You want to buy the best crafted weapons in Jordheim, I can do that for you for a price. You want anything else or have clan business, see Zaksoth, if you can coax him back from hunting those tin-wearing freaks from Albion."
    "I was told you were the clan master?"
    Borgdur paused, "I used to be. Now I beat bits of metal because beating bits of people gets me into trouble with the city watch."
    Borgdur looked Roo in the eye, "Though I still like to keep my hand in once in a while."
    "Interesting selling technique you have. Do you actually get any business?" asked Roo.
    Borgdur laughed, "I have orders to keep me in work for the next year if I want them. There's no finer blades anywhere in the realm and outside of old wives' tongues, nothing sharper."
    "I'm sure I'm very impressed." said Roo.
    "What items were you after?" asked Borgdur.
    "Well, that rather depends on the outcome of a discussion on Valour and how they see things within the council."
    Borgdur frowned. Or more accurately, his permanent frown deepened and his mouth turned down at the corners.
    "Another bloody player in the council games. I should have known. Nothing for you here then. I am, as I said, just a blacksmith. If you retreat the way you came in we'll both be happier. I'll have peace and you'll still have your head."
    Roo didn't move but his face took on an intent look, "You'll find, friend dwarf, that what I have to say concerns Valour, whether you choose to become involved or bury your nose in that forge of yours."
    Borgdur bristled visibly, sensing an implied threat. He stared hard at Roo for a moment as if noticing him properly for the first time. He looked at Roo more closely and scowled.

    "Here, hold this a moment." he said as he passed the strip of metal he had been working on to Roo.
    On reflex Roo took the metal strip he was handed and regretted it immediately. It was still hot from the forge. The pain seered his hand and he resisted the urge to cry out in pain. Borgdur watched the discomfort showing on Roo's face, but Roo did not drop the piece of metal.

    "Didn't think so. You're no fighter. Your bearing is all wrong in that armour and you can't even hold a binding with a bit of heat left in it. Soft hands. If you've even held any kind of weapon in your life I would bet a pound of Netherium it was a staff."

    Trying to keep his voice even, Roo asked "Do you treat all your customers this way? I have never entered a temple to join the service of any god and certinly not one of the temples of staff-wielding mystics."
    Borgdur walked up to Roo. Being somewhat shorter he couldn't quite stare Roo in the eye easily, but Roo didn't dare comment on it.
    "You're not a customer. You can barely stand straight in that armour. You're not a warrior but you want to look like one or think I'm stupid enough to think you can pass off as one. If you start with deception, you cannot expect trust. You probably can't even hold a weapon..."

    The dwarf's words washed over Roo. His right arm throbbed. The Bloodline awoke in him, he could feel a little skin ripping along its leading edge. The will of the Bloodline took over.
    "Do you duel dwarf?"
    Borgdur stopped mid flow, "What?"
    "Give me a sword and arm yourself." said Roo.
    Borgdur's eyebrows raised in amusement. He could easily see this false warrior was no trained soldier. He would be gentle. Well, maybe a little fun first.
    "I've not had any fun today, maybe you'll change that."
    Borgdur took the metal strip from Roo, placing it back on the anvil. The hammer he'd been using he returned to its wall mounting. Further along were a variety of weapons.

    He pulled a large axe from the weapon rack and chuckled as he took a massive two-handed sword.
    "If you can even lift this I'll be impressed."

    Roo barely heard him. His will was not his own. He saw his right arm raise up and his hand open as he waited for the sword to be given to him. His posture changed and he no longer noticed the weight of the armour. His weight pitched forward ever so slightly so that it was no longer on the back of his heels.

    Borgdur noticed a change as he approached and hesitated slightly but gave him the sword. Roo took the sword expertly and tested the weight of it.
    Roo wondered how this was possible. He had never trained in weapons. His father had, and had been an expert, but for Roo it had been the path of mysticism and magic allbeit via an unorthodox method.

    Roo assumed a full fighting stance.
    "When you're ready, dwarf."
    Borgdur moved back and around a little, testing the weight of the axe in his hands.
    "First cut on the torso wins as always, I'll try not to take anything you may need later."
    "If you can even hit me I'll be impressed," said... someone. It wasn't Roo though Roo's mouth moved and the sounds came out.
    Borgdur laughed an lunged at Roo. Roo sidestepped neatly.
    However, the dwarf was just feinting and slipped around Roo's left side, to attack from there. Roo barely got the sword around to block the blow.
    Roo leaped back and waited. Borgdur paused also, circling slowly. Borgdur made to step forward but instantly stepped back again. Roo reacted to block the incoming move then was instantly back in defensive stance as Borgdur moved back. The dwarf was obviously puzzled.
    Borgdur suddenly pounced forward again, lifting his axe to bring it down. Roo stepped forward to break the movement of the axe but instead of bringing the axe down, Borgdur switched it into his other hand and brought it around flat in an arc. The move completely caught Roo off guard and he barely moved out of the way of the arcing axe in time.
    "That would have done more than give me a cut, dwarf."
    "Aye, it might have tickled a bit. You can quit anytime."
    Roo snorted and lunged at the dwarf, chopping down with the sword only to have it parried. With the height difference it was very difficult to get under the dwarf's guard. Roo began a rain of blows around the dwarf, each parried but each time the dwarf had to give ground. Each time he reacted, Roo got to see a bit more of his fighting style. A weakness became apparent. The dwarf favoured his right side often leaving the left exposed for very short instances.
    Roo began a series of attacks which drew the dwarf wider to the right. The dwarf didn't get a single attack back and was obviously struggling to parry.
    Roo made one more attack to his right but feinted, swinging the sword around to Borgdur's exposed left side. Borgdur immediately attacked Roo's left side in turn with amazing speed for a dwarf.
    Roo had been bluffed. He felt the axe bite into the side of his chest, only the chain armour stopping it from penetrating far.
    Roo hissed at the pain from the blade. Borgdur stepped back and with some amusement on his face said "Not bad, you have a fair turn of speed there for a clumsy Norse. If you'll just give me the sword back you can be on your way."
    Roo felt his strength leaving him and could feel wetness on his right arm. He had a sense of what the Bloodline was doing, but he couldn't quite put it together. He had instinctively asked for a sword, not an axe or hammer or any other weapon. He had used a sword a little as a child, when his father had hoped he would become a warrior like him. Maybe that was it.

    Roo touched the wound in his side and winced. If not for the chain armour it would have been a very gash, but as it was there was a long thin cut that oozed blood.

    Borgdur shook his head and sneered, "If you were a real warrior, that wouldn't even sting. Get out of my sight."

    The Bloodline throbbed and the skin ripped slightly.

    Roo walked up to Borgdur and handed him the sword. He leaned forward so that he was at eye level with the dwarf.
    "Midgard is ready to fall to enemies without and within. You hide yourself in your forge in full knowledge of this because you think you cannot change it and you think that nobody else can. There are too many people in this land that think like you. There are people that would see the corruption in the council ended, and the realm put to rights. If you love this land, if you truely care about it rather than pay it lip service, you will do what is right no matter where that path takes you or what it costs you."

    Roo turned away from Borgdur.

    "Beat your bits of metal little man and hide from the changing world."

    Without looking back, Roo left the smithy.

    Standing alone beside his forge, Borgdur looked at the sword and the axe he held. He had crafted them both, both had keen edges and superb workmanship which shone in the tiniest details. The back of his mind turned traitor and unbidden the thought that even the finest axe needed someone to wield it to be of use nagged at him.

    Troubled but still determined to have nothing to do with this stranger, Borgdur replaced the weapons in their rack and went back to his forge.
     
  26. fortunefish

    fortunefish Banned

    this is the best story ive ever read... is the rest still being worked on? I really want to read it and it seems its been lost and forgotten. Please print the ending as ive spent hours reading this and it truly inspiring and awesome my friend.

    Thank you for the time you have spent on this story and i hope that you can reveal the rest of it to us.

    Fortunefish
     
  27. Chronictank

    Chronictank FH is my second home

    :worthy:
     
  28. Teslacoil

    Teslacoil Can't get enough of FH

    IF I DON'T GET A BLASTED FOLLOWUP ON THIS ONE I'LL BLOODY HELL START SCREAMING MY LUNGS OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!!!


    givf more ! haven't read something this sweet in ages !!! ( sorry oro but roo rocks , maybe same person? )

    /kinky
     
  29. Ormorof

    Ormorof Resident Freddy

    pfft, Roo is hiding as Oro the smelly alb :(
     
  30. fang

    fang Fledgling Freddie

    Oro = Roo tbh.

    Wrote this story halfway, then gave us a quick overwiev of what was supposed to happen and moved on to bigger and better things. :) So i don't think this story is gonna be finished any time soon.
     

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