Vannemir's Choice

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Vannemir stood, overlooking the orc encampment from high atop an icy outcrop. The blind boy, Pik, was huddled on a weary horse, his cloak up around his ears. After days of following the trail, they had finally caught up with Guldark and his band of Torgash butchers. Vannemir tied off the reins to a nearby pine and gazed down at the mass of bloodthirsty marauders. There were about twenty or thirty of them that had pitched camp near a large cave in the side of the cliff face, mostly Torgash clan. They did not seem too worried about being followed, let alone by a lone man and a boy, but Vannemir was not taking any chances being spotted by the keen senses of the orc scouts, so he kept them at a safe distance. The orcs were sprawled out, throwing up their hide tents, posting guards and building their cook fires to roast the night’s catch, but there were some other clan markings that Vannemir did not recognize.

“Pik, there’s a symbol down there, a square with two lines running through it. Do you know the clan?”

“They’re Graks, sir. Least, that’s what we call them.” The boy said. “They’re right mean too. Kill you as soon as spit, they would. They are the ones that killed my pa two years ago and put my eyes out. I’m not complainin’ though, I’m right lucky to be alive and all.” The boy blew on his hands to keep them warm. His face was young but haunted. It was plain to see he had been through hell and back. “Do you think that my sister is still living, sir? Can you see her?”

“There is no way to tell,” Vannemir said, taking off his cloak and pulling a leather sleeve on his sword arm. “But one thing’s for sure, there will be a better chance of her being alive if I get there before they start roasting tonight’s meal.” He turned to the shivering lad and handed him his cloak. “Here, put this on and wait. If your sister is alive, I will bring her back with me when I return.”

“Are there a lot of them, sir?”

“No.” Vannemir lied. “Just a few. It won’t take long.” Vannemir untied the Runeblade from the saddle, and fastened the scabbard to his belt. He reached up and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Mind the horse, Pik. I’ll be back soon.”

“You’re brave facin’ those orcs by yourself, sir. You sure must be somethin’.” Vannemir set off down the steep, snowy slope toward the orc encampment. “Somethin’.” He muttered. “That about says it.”

* * *

Six days ago, Vannemir had died. Cut down by an orcish axe while he stood defending his village from their raiders. It was a blessing really, for he didn’t have to witness the brutal slaughter of all that he knew at the hands of Guldark and the Torgash clan. In shock, he had tried to stand back up, his mind on automatic, trying to make his body work properly, but the damage was done, he collapsed to the icy mud and lay there bleeding, his blood soaking into the frozen earth. It was as if the earth drew upon his heat, somehow connecting them, a vast emptiness beckoning him to return to the source of his being. The clash of steel and the sounds of his village being torn apart had all but faded away and things became silent about him. He heard a voice calling him, at first soft and distant, but growing closer and closer.

“Vannemir, son of Valharad.” A voice said clearly, almost as if inside his mind. He raised his head out of the mud and beheld a being unlike anything he had ever imagined. She was beyond human. Her beauty was of a higher realm and order and she resonated an aura of power. For some unknown amount of time, all he could look at was her radiant face, each eye a wondrous universe, then his vision took in the outline of her elevated form, spanned on either side by immense, shimmering wings with feathers that gleamed with a light of their own. In her hands she held two slender swords, each as tall as a man, connected by a simple chain, their links wrought of gleaming platinum. She was adorned with radiant metal that had been wrought into sacred symbols and her figure was clothed with a garment of otherworldly weave. As his last reserves of strength gave out he felt her hands surround him and lift him up off his feet and into the air. How far he went up he did not know, but he was carried aloft on her giant wings. He faded in and out, everything was as if in a dream as he looked to the snow-covered lands far below, soaring through clouds and over mountains to the Valkyrie’s domain.

* * *

Vannemir awoke.

He found himself on a massive slab of stone raised about five feet off the floor, both of which were carved with elaborate symbols and designs. The ornate geometry radiated out around him and the stone table in a large circle, the patterns were inlaid with silver and other precious metals. It was a vast circular room with a domed ceiling that must have been a hundred feet or more high, the center of the dome being a giant oculus that revealed a shining, blue sky. The walls were perfectly smooth, there were no visible doors, and it was as if he were inside the hollow of a single, mountainous stone.

He sat up, and found himself robed in white linen. He also noticed that his wounds had vanished. His arm, which he knew had most certainly been shattered from the first of the blows that he had suffered, was strong and whole again. The great gash in his torso had disappeared, without even the slightest trace of swelling or pain. As he took further inventory he found that even old war wounds from battles long ago had healed; the stiffness in his shield arm, the old break in his leg. All of it had gone.

“By the gods,” he whispered in awe. His voice echoed across the enormous space.

A shadow appeared in the vivid blue oculus. The Valkyrie had returned, spiraling down in ever-widening circles, her hair and garments silently flowing behind her like liquid silver. Even against the bright whiteness of the walls she shone like the moon. She landed weightlessly and walked to Vannemir, still sitting upon the giant table.

“Son of Valharad,” she said as she walked, her voice surrounding him like a chorus of crystal. She stopped before him, her gaze penetrating into his very being. He felt like a mouse before the eyes of an eagle. “Your time upon the earth is not yet complete. You must do one more task before you may drink with your forefathers in the Halls of Valor."

Vannemir was stunned. “So it is true? The tales of the great hall are true?”

“It is so.”

Vannemir hung his head. The thought that many who were dear to him, all those who had fallen in the countless battles against innumerable foes, were waiting for him to come and quaff flagons of ale and tell tales of bravery and blood, pulled at his very soul. “I am weary of battle, and I long to see my father again. I long to hear his laugh and to walk the fields with him.”

The Valkyrie put her hand upon him. “ I do not envy your kind, son of Valharad, for you live between worlds and suffer to gain the wisdom to awaken from your sleep. You walk the hard road of war and blood, knowing little and seeing less, and pain is your lot for it. But there are paths, even within the murderous realm of the age that you live in, paths that lead out of the blinding dark into a place not unlike the realm of the gods. It is one of these paths that you must now walk, and although the path is bloody, it shortens the darkness of your world by centuries.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Let me illuminate your heart.” She turned and gestured to the wall with an arm that seemed carved of alabaster.

Upon the wall, images began to flicker like ghosts and the light within the dome grew dim as the oculus sealed shut, leaving them in utter darkness. Then the great, round wall of the dome became a brilliant scene that appeared all about them. It took Vannemir only a few seconds to see that it was his village, burned and gutted. He turned about and would have thought himself transported back to his home if he hadn’t still seen the giant stone table and the Valkyrie next to him.

“This is my village.” The Valkyrie stood beside him, impassive.

The scene shifted and he saw a man, a wizard, staring fixedly into a swirling sheet of ice that held visions and madness. He could feel the wizard’s terrible power, blue fire burned around his temples, and he screamed and shook from the forbidden knowledge that was warping his very mind.

“Who is that man?” Vannemir asked.

“His name is Heidar. He is the Master of Rimewind. He seeks to keep the world encased in ice until the end of time and would have the Thaw become a distant memory.”

“The Thaw.” Vannemir said. The Valkyrie nodded.

The vision shifted to reveal a massive army led by the Knights of Stromgald, frothing out of their fetid pit, scouring the landscape like a black tide, destroying village after village, the fallen villagers grotesquely revived by Krovikan necromancers and sent to the front of the lines to be endlessly butchered in the army of the undead.

He was shown orc warlords gathering, forming giant war parties that raged down from the mountains, slaughtering all in their path like a deadly avalanche. Along with the Karplusians, they marched onto the Plain of Kjeldor, the crazed mob screaming for war. In the middle of it all he saw the dark wizard riding a terrible beast, surrounded by mages casting arcs of cold fire and encasing men in ice. Giant machines followed them, like great metallic saurians. They clashed with the growing resistance, reducing whole legions to carnage. Settlement after settlement was extirpated from the face of Terisiare. Balduvian berserkers swarmed out of the hills to do battle, trying to quell the tide, but they were no match for the forces of Heidar and his terrible army. Soon towns and small cities began to fall. The devastation was too much to bear. Vannemir covered his eyes.

“Stop this! It cannot happen! This could never be!” He wailed, his mind pushed to the limits of belief and beyond.

“Open your eyes, son of Valharad! See what is to be, should you choose not to act. Open your eyes to the truth, should you deny your destiny!” The Valkyrie’s voice rang out, commanding his heart to face what his mind could not. He fell to his knees and watched the future of his world unfold before him.

The immense armies of the Kjeldorans and Balduvians were assembled on the field before the city of Kjeld and he saw a battle that emblazoned itself on his mind. Words could not describe the carnage or the size of the conflict as he watched the Kjeldorans and Balduvians slowly crumple, slaughtered by Heidar’s great machines built solely for the death of men. His heart sank as the massive gates of Kjeld cracked and splintered, admitting the malevolent horde. He saw valiant skyknights fall from the air like stones, frozen by Heidar’s sorcery. He saw White Shield Crusaders on their winged steeds, rent asunder by bat-winged horrors from the bowels of Krov. Krovikan vampires scuttled up the walls like insects and fed upon the archers and pikemen, as the great machines of death crushed both rock and bone between their lethal jaws.

He witnessed Darien, King of Kjeldor upon his steed rallying his men, but to no avail, as a lethal arc of cryomantic energy blasted him off of his horse and hurled him into a wall, shattering both stone and man. His body fell to the ground, smoldering inside his armor, devoid of life.

Then he saw Heidar lifted up as ruler of Terisiare and all bowed to his terrible power. The land was plunged into the deepest of winters as the Thaw, repelled by the power of Heidar and the wizards of Rimewind, began to recede, leaving the entire land covered in a sheet of ice, hundreds of feet thick. The suffering of men was unimaginable.

Vannemir stared numbly as the oculus opened and light once again illuminated the dome, fading the visions and leaving him gazing at a blank wall. For a long moment he knelt there in the immense room in total silence, hearing only the beating of his heart. The silence was then broken as the Valkyrie uttered a single word.

“Choose.”

* * *

Vannemir came to in a forest of evergreens covered in snow and ice. He looked around, trying to get his bearings. He did not know where he was, nor did he know when he was. About thirty paces away a horse snorted, as if to get his attention. He walked over to it, noticing that it was saddled with a pack and provisions. He also saw a scabbard strapped along the side of the saddle, the hilt wrapped in black leather and the pommel bearing a symbol like the ones he saw on the floor of the Valkyrie’s dome. He moved to unfasten the sword.

“Careful with that thing.” A voice said above him. Vannemir jumped back and looked up to see an elf in the tree above him, crouched down on one of the branches. “It’s a Runeblade. Very dangerous.”

“Oh?” Vannemir regarded the elf cautiously. There was no telling the age of elves; after thirty or so, they just remained the same, but he could tell that this one was a hunter, not one of those haughty little point-ears. “Who might you be?”

“My name is Taaveti of Kelsinko. I’m here to help you.” Taaveti then skipped down the tree like water flowing from a jug. Once on the ground, he pointed to the sword. “Ysidra gave me the sword to give to you. I provided the horse and the pack. She told me of your quest.”

“Ysidra? Who?”

“Ysidra, you know, the Valkyrie. You must have noticed her.”

“You know her?” Vannemir was amazed at this wiry elf in his green and brown leather jerkin and ragged cap speaking of a being like Ysidra in such a nonchalant way.

“Oh yes, known her for quite some time, since the days when Ardarkar wasn’t such a wasteland.” Taaveti could see the disbelief in Vannemir’s face. “Several of your lifetimes I have lived and I have seen much in my time upon these lands, human.”

Taaveti and Vannemir talked for quite some time about his quest. A prisoner had been taken by the Torgash warlord and his band of marauders, a prisoner upon which the entire fate of Terisiare hung. He was to rescue the prisoner at all costs. Taaveti had agreed to take him as far as necessary to pick up the trail of the Torgash war party and the rest was up to him. Then the talk came to the matter of the Runeblade.

“It’s a Fylgja.” Taaveti said, “Or rather, there is a Fylgja bound to it. Mostly, as you know, they are bound to animals, but this one found its way into this sword. It’s quite powerful, I’m told, so you will have to be careful when you first pull it from its scabbard as it will probably try to… well, kill you.”

“What?” Vannemir exclaimed. “What kind of sword is that?”

“Well, technically it is not the sword, it’s the Fylgja bound to it.” Taaveti said. “It probably won’t see you as a friend and will most likely treat you like an enemy and attempt to take over your soul, especially since…”

“That’s lunacy!” Vannemir burst in. “My soul? I don’t know how to fight spirits! I only know how to slay orcs and even then, I was killed by several of them not even a week ago!”

“Look Vannemir,” Taaveti said in a friendly yet firm tone. “Ysidra, must have thought that you could use it, even if you are a fumbling round-ear, and she would most likely know whether or not you could overcome such a spirit if it came to a battle of wills.”

Vannemir shook his head and looked at his feet. “I don’t know. It just sounds so insane.”

“All things that are truly heroic sound insane at first, that’s why there are not many heroes in this world.” Taaveti looked at Vannemir, “You will need the aid of the Fylgja if you are to face the Torgash, their shamans are quite powerful and would sense even me if I were to try to infiltrate them, so they will definitely sniff you out as soon as you are within five hundred paces of them. They won’t tolerate you walking off with one of their prisoners and you aren’t a wizard or a mage, so it looks as if you will have to carve your way out after carving your way in. It appears to be the only way, but who am I to say, I’m just a hunter.”

Vannemir thought a bit and then got up. “I’ll figure that out when the time comes. Lead me to the Torgash’s trail. I’ll see what to do about the Fylgja when I get to it.”

“Fair enough.” Taaveti sprang to his feet, shouldered his bow, and gave a whistle. After a moment a horse appeared. Taaveti leapt into the saddle.

“Let’s go find a trail.”

* * *

It was just like any other settlement on Terisiare. Simple people lived here, farmers and hunters, eking out a precarious living in the frigid snows of the ice age, innocent and unknowing of the madness and the madmen that surrounded them like vipers and demons. Vannemir got off his horse and walked among the smoking ruins and the dead. Taaveti had brought them to the trail.

“Torgash.” Taaveti held up an arrow for Vannemir to see, then pointed to the ground. “They’re heading south, most likely to meet up with Sek’Kuar, a ruthless and powerful orc war chieftan. A gathering of the clans must have been ordered, before they prepare to march through the mountains toward Kjeldor.”

“These people cared little for the politics of the Thaw.” Vannemir said, looking at the corpses with sorrow. “Most of them scarcely knew what was going on over those hills over there and yet here they lie, butchered for what? Were they such a threat to Heidar? Do you think they could turn the tide of the battle for the Thaw, even if they had wished to? They were innocents, Taaveti!”

Taaveti just listened. He too had seen war waged over and over, each one creating more problems than it set out to solve. It was indeed madness that gripped the races of Dominaria.

Suddenly, Taaveti stiffened. “Listen!”

Vannemir opened his ears, freezing in place. Then, very faintly, he heard a whimper from far away.

Taaveti sprang forward, moving swiftly down the center of the small village, eventually arriving at the gutted shell of a hovel.

“In here!”

Vannemir heard it now, and ran over, helping Taaveti pull off charred wood and stone.

“Under the floor.” Taaveti whispered. “Over here!”

Taaveti tapped around with the end of his bow until there was an audible ‘Thunk’, immediately followed by more sounds of distress. Human sounds. Taaveti grinned at Vannemir. “Jackpot.”

They both cleared the debris away and hauled open the door that revealed a small boy of about twelve, curled up in a ball, full of panic and fear. He was blind.

“Don’t worry, son.” Vannemir spoke softly. “You’re all right now. Everything is fine.” He reached in and pulled the boy out, putting his cloak around him.

As the boy began to calm slightly, the first thing he asked was: “Did you happen to see my sister?”

Taaveti and Vannemir looked at each other, their hearts sinking.

“No. We didn’t see her.” Vannemir said gravely.

“Well, she was in there with me for a while, but she got scared and ran out to find our ma. I heard her screaming soon after. Do you think she maybe she’s still alive?”

Taaveti looked at Vannemir. “The orcs do take captives. Human slaves. It’s remotely possible.”

The boy blindly looked up at them.

“Let’s hope.” Vannemir looked at the lad. “If she’s alive, we’ll find her, this I swear to you.”

“What’s your name, young one?” Taaveti asked the boy.

“Pik, sir. Uskyld’s my real name, but everyone calls me Pik.”

“Well then, Pik it is.” Taaveti said, smiling at the lad. “I’m leaving you in the care of Vannemir the Brave, young Pik. He will take care of you until he can find you a proper home.” He then turned and whistled for his steed. He looked at Vannemir. “My duty is done here, round-ear, and now I am bound for the woods of Yavimaya. I found you to be the best of company and would bid you welcome at my home any time. Good luck in your quest and may your road be smoother in better times to come.” He held out his hand.

Vannemir took it. “I’ll miss you, elf. May we meet again.” With that, Taaveti leaped into the saddle and dashed off like a shot.

“Was he really an elf, sir?” Pik said.

“Yes, and one of the finest souls I have ever met.”

Vannemir and Pik traveled for several days, chasing the orcs as they left behind a trail of churned snow and corpses. As they rode, they spoke little, each seeming to know the other, leaving no place for meaningless chatter, every word significant and honest as they trailed the Torgash warlord. Eventually, at the mouth of a cavern, they find him.

* * *

Vannemir was walking down the snow-covered slope, toward the Torgash encampment, muttering under his breath. His thoughts dwelled on the Runeblade and the Fylgja.

“Somethin’. You sure are somethin’. Yeah, well I better be somethin’ and this sword better be somethin’ and it better do somethin’ real fast or it’s a thousand years of ice and hell for mankind, ruled by a tyrannical psychopath who worships a sheet of glowing ice.” He gripped the hilt of the Runeblade, and spat into the snow. “Here goes nothin’.”

He pulled the blade free.

At first nothing happened. He stared at it, looking at either side of the ancient blade in puzzlement. He shook it a bit. It just seemed like a normal sword. Then it happened. Silver fire ran down the blade from tip to hilt, igniting runes, etched unseen until now, turning the sword into a shimmering, radiant torch of steel. It hummed with eldritch power. The silver fire then snaked from the hilt to his hand, and then into his arm, coursing along his bones like quicksilver. He could feel his skeleton, almost see it in his head as the energy rushed into his heart and his mind.

He was in another world. Before him stood a snow leopard in spirit form, made of spinning threads of iridescent energy that wove in and out of each other at blinding speeds. It was unlike anything he had ever seen, almost as large as a man and its eyes were vaguely human-like. It looked at Vannemir in a way that made him feel uncomfortable; it was sizing him up, its energy sensing his every subtlety. He was beginning to become connected to the spirit creature, he felt its wild and powerful nature more and more as their energies mingled, becoming one.

The Fylgja moved into him and it felt like his bones had caught fire.

“Soul of my soul.” Spoke the Fylgja. “I will become you. Prepare.”

Vannemir braced himself, his heart pounding, as he gritted his teeth in a grimace of pain. Then his spine erupted like a volcano. His nerves became filaments of liquid fire, burning like the sun, filling his entire body with agony. His mind screamed, holding on to anything he could to keep from disintegrating into dust, but the Fylgja pushed him, sending everything out of control, sending him beyond his form, sending him into the infinite.

He opened his eyes. No time had passed. He found himself standing right where he had been, still gripping the Runeblade, which now shone like it was forged from the stars themselves. He felt newly born, every fiber of his being humming with perfection, every bone, every nerve scoured and polished by an energy that flowed freely through his body like a swift, clear stream.

The Fylgja spoke within his mind. “Soul of my soul. I am one with you now. I am content. You have been found a worthy place for me to dwell and I will move as you move and I will think as you think and I will see as you see.”

Vannemir looked around, his eyes seeing more than they had ever seen before, like he could see the spirit of living things. The orc encampment in the distance was fairly aglow with all of the life forms.

“Amazing.” he said to himself. He felt like he could leap as high as a tree. “What do I call you?”

“Isa.” came the voice.

“I have many orcs to slay, Isa. Any problem with that?”

“I too am a hunter,” purred the Fylgja.

“Good. Let’s go.”

Vannemir moved through the trees like the snow leopard spirit that coursed throughout his being, his senses were heightened, seeing things beyond the scope of his once human eyes. He moved in, dispatching two guards like a phantom with his bare hands. His movements were lightning, powered by the spiritual force of the Fylgja, and his strength was unimaginable, snapping the guards' necks like twigs. He felt Isa within him, a bestial nature that reveled in the hunt, which instinctually knew beyond logic and reason where to strike and where to move. They blended like two streams, where he ended and where Isa began, Vannemir no longer knew.

There was no easy or secret way into the Torgash camp, so Vannemir took the least guarded way. He scaled the cliff face and leapt from the top of the cave down next to one of the cook fires, kicking the logs in a spray of sparks and fire at the orcs that surrounded it. There was a roar and the smell of burnt hair and orc as Vannemir swung the Runeblade in deadly arcs, watching it shear clean through arms legs and heads alike. Isa heard things with spiritual ears and Vannemir somehow knew where everyone was about him, even in the dark, dodging blows he had no way of seeing. The blade sang as it slashed a grisly path through the bewildered Torgash. In the panic, Graks shot arrows blindly, hitting one another. Axes swung wildly, hitting unintended targets. Then a howl went up from the cave, as the camp had alerted their warlord, Guldark. Vannemir heard the great orc bellow in fury as he surged in a boiling wrath to the mouth of the cave. Vannemir had to look quick. Even in his heightened state, he had begun to feel his stamina just beginning to be taxed and he knew it would only be a matter of time before he would suffer its effects. Vannemir wheeled through the camp, dealing death, searching for anyone not an orc, until he found them, bound by chains and left in the snow, two girls, a human and an elf. They looked at him, horrified. He dashed over and struck the chain that anchored them to the ground.

“Run!” he cried. “Get to the woods!” The two girls were paralyzed with fear and didn’t move.

Isa warned him but his attention was on the prisoners. He tried to move, but even so, a great gash opened up across his back and shoulder. He spun around in shock as the orc grinned at him, smelling blood. Vannemir staggered and went down on one knee as the others rushed to surround him. He gasped in pain. Had he done enough? Would the prisoners be safe? The orcs would surely get them and Pik as well; the poor lad wouldn’t stand a chance out here by himself. He began to feel a grief and frustration well up in him as he willed himself to stand. Then he felt Isa pull upon the land, drawing its energy within him, infusing his body with the power of nature’s growth. His wound sealed up. Vannemir stood.

The orcs looked bewildered for a moment. What should have been a mortal wound had vanished before their eyes and was now just a large rip in his armor. Before they snapped out of it, Vannemir sprung into the air, over their heads, landing outside of the circle, just as Guldark came lumbering out of the cave, followed by an orc shaman, who rattled her bones and wheezed like a wombat.

“Who dares?!” Guldark boomed, brandishing his massive club.

Vannemir stood before him, the Runeblade humming menacingly. “I’m taking your prisoners. Every one of them, and you will allow me to go through your entire camp to look for any that are hidden and then I will leave and you may live. Or you and your grubby band of murderous dogs can fight and I’ll paint the snows red with your putrid blood.”

Guldark roared like a grizzly bear, his eyes bulging with fury. “I will grind your bones into meal! Back off, orcs of Torgash! The long pig is mine!” Guldark hefted his club as the rest of the clan formed a large circle around them; Guldark moved forward, his mind set on crushing Vannemir like a bug.

“Beware, warlord!” Croaked the shaman hag. “This one has the mark of a Fylgja upon him. He’s more than just a human.”

“Bah! He’ll die just like all little pigs do, squealing!” Guldark rushed in like an insane bull, his murderous club cocked back behind his massive head.

Vannemir was beginning to think that this was going to be the easy part, when a red arc of energy fired out from the hag’s outstretched claw, hitting him like an arrow. He suddenly felt the energy drain from him as if the weight of a mountain had fallen on his shoulders. He struggled to stand, as Guldark’s club whooshed through the air, striking into him like a Polar Kraken. He felt his bones splinter as he was launched into the air like a stone from a catapult. He heard the hag cackling as he sailed overhead, landing in a heap, gasping for each ragged, bloody breath. He felt Isa pull upon the energy of the earth again, as he willed himself to his knees, his bones and sinews knitting painfully back to perfection just in time to roll out of the way of a sickening, overhead smash that left a hole in the ground big enough to bathe a horse in.

He darted around Guldark nimbly, the orc warlord swinging wildly over his head. He honed in on an opening and heard another sizzling spell erupt from behind him, followed by a hooting screech of laughter. Vannemir felt his body freeze as if he was trapped in stone. He tried to move with every ounce of his strength but to no avail. He cringed inwardly as Guldark wound up and belted him again, sending Vannemir flying into the crowd of orcs, eliciting a giant cheer of glee. Vannemir came to as Isa was pulling his shattered form together. He could feel her energy waning as Guldark rumbled at him, pushing through the grinning crowd of Torgash thugs. Vannemir dove between the tree trunk legs of Guldark and tumbled forward to the hag. An orc stepped in between them only to be hewn in half by the Runeblade. The hag raised her spellcasting claw, only to watch it flip through the air like some misshapen bird, closely followed by her gibbering head.

Guldark charged at him, his club covered with Vannemir’s blood, and swung a devastating blow, but Vannemir sprung straight into the air and came down full force with the Runeblade, cleaving Guldark from stem to stern. The warlord’s body yawned open like the foul maw of some grisly beast, and blood sprayed everywhere as the Torgash gasped in horror at their fallen leader’s carcass.

“Stay here and I’ll decorate this cavern with your entrails you Torgash scum.” Vannemir stood like some crimson, gore-spattered wraith over Guldark’s twitching corpse.

The Torgash ran like jackrabbits.

* * *

Vannemir found the girls huddled in the forest and he led them back to where Pik was waiting anxiously. To see the joy in the two siblings as they embraced and wept was like a healing that arose from another level and dimension. It made Vannemir feel like all this bloodshed and insanity had somehow been worth it, like he was somehow absolved from within. He stood with the elf girl and watched as Pik and his sister held each other, Pik thanking Vannemir profusely. Then he looked at the elf, and gave her a blanket from his pack. She took it and wrapped it around herself. She smiled and said something in the beautiful, lyrical elven language.

“You’re welcome.” he said, not understanding her words. He gazed at her for a moment, lovely and dark haired, and there was something about her, something just hidden, just emerging in this young elf that seemed capable and powerful. She stared back at him and said a few more songlike words and put her hand on his arm, smiling. She turned to look at Pik and his little sister huddled together and said something beautiful.

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