Marauder - Realm Of Fire
Chapter One - Fenrir
When does the loss become too great a toll on the soul of a man? The mind itself is not without its injuries through the journey of life. It is torn, shredded, maimed, and dare I say, altered. When a man loses the things in his life that make him complete, make him whole, he becomes one of two things: a broken man, or something else entirely. You see, pain can infect a man’s mind, pain can dull the senses and emotions. The man turns away from familiar things and gazes back to the darkness, back to the wilds.
The wild, being what it is, accepts all manner of creature without favoritism, without judgement, and without remorse. The man enters the wild once more and is no longer a man. He becomes an animal; he learns to exist in the wild but the pain remains and cuts deeper still. Twisting his innards, poisoning his heart, damaging his soul into a black and unnatural thing.
The being who was once a man, who then became an animal, transformed to something the wild itself fears, something the wild conceals itself from. The man became the monster…
“Audan!” a hoarse voice called out to me. “Audan, wake up!” My head fell in the direction of the voice as my eyes remained shut. I felt strange, warm and comfortable but heavy like a stone pressed against my chest all at once. Beneath my heals, the earth moved. “Audan! Audan, you must wake!” the voice called out again but this time more clearly. My eyes opened partly to a mass of objects strewn about the ground as my body moved backwards pulled by someone or something. Everything was blurry. Blinking rapidly, I opened my eyes wide to see myself being dragged through a field of corpses. Vikings, Draugr, and Valkyries lay motionless, staring at me with their dead eyes, their blood still warm upon the ground as I felt it soaking through my armor and tunic. My eyelids felt heavy once more and so I allowed them shut.
“Audan!” The voice brought me back from the depths and I tilted my head back to see a large dark gray figure pulling me up a wet grassy hillside.
“Odin…” I mumbled. The old man gazed down at me with a worried but relieved look. He quickly stopped pulling and placed me flat on the ground.
“Audan, can you stand?” I blinked a few more times and slowly lifted my head. Suddenly a rush of noise found me and the battle that still raged all around was now very apparent; the clash of steel and iron was deafening. Men cried out in agony from their wounds and the Draugr made their usual ghastly blood curdled screams. I nodded towards Odin and with his help slowly lifted my weak body upright.
“What happened?” I asked quietly. My head pounded on the inside with the drums of war.
“Freya has taken your brother to the depths of hell; the Draugr are now rampant and pushing your forces back, Audan.”
“Jareth…” My eyes opened wide as my heart raced deep inside my chest. I had promptly remembered what had transpired no more than a few moments ago. “Jareth!” Odin pressed his large hand against my chest and held me back from running towards the barricaded hallow where Freya had made good her escape.
“Audan, your brother is gone, the battle is all but lost. You must get what remains of your forces back to Bjorgvin and retreat to the sea with your people.” The ground now rumbled at my feet, taking my attention away from Odin. In the distance just beyond the main melee were warriors of Asgard in brilliant shining armor adorned in glowing runes, pulling at great ropes and chains on the massive beast that was Fenrir the wolf. The enormous cavern in the ground next to him had closed behind Freya and Jareth, limiting the number of Draugr that had reached the battlefield. I watched helplessly as many of my warriors were slaughtered without mercy. They crawled through the mud darkened by the bloodied and bile-covered ground. The smell was putrid with entrails. I looked up at Odin who swung a great sword cutting down vast swaths of undead that approached from the side.
“Odin, where shall we go?” I yelled. Odin turned to me, gripping me by the tunic and lifting me to my feet.
“Now is not the time, Audan! Go! Valhalla will hold off the forces of hell for as long as we can but you must retreat! Your people need you!” The very word tasted foul in my mouth: retreat…but I dared not disobey the All Father and his ancient wisdom. I surveyed the battlefield and watched as the Valkyries descended from the air weakening our lines. As they plummeted downward, they would pluck men from the shield wall and throw their bodies from the sky at their comrades. With each falling warrior, a gap opened within the lines and the Draugr would pour inside like the rising tide. They hacked and slashed without mercy at my warriors giving no quarter until their flanks were fully engulfed by the undead. All the men of Bjorgvin would be cut down if we did not fall back to the village now. I reluctantly raised my axe high into the air and waved it back and forth in hopes to catch the attention of my men.
“Men of Bjorgvin! Retreat! Retreat back to the village! We must protect our home!” Without hesitation, the beleaguered warriors fell back covered under a hail of arrow fire followed up by throwing axes that kept the Draugr line from advancing. Odin and his Asgardian warriors melded together hastily creating a shield wall to ensure our escape. We ran back up the hill bloodied and cleaved with our feet slipping relentlessly on the wet grass. Just before reaching the top of the mound, my legs began to give out and I braced my thighs with my hands under each step. Finally reaching the top, I turned around to witness the valley of absolute carnage below. The ground which had once been a serene grass valley now stood a darkened pit of mud, bile, and blood. Pieces of flesh were strewn about mixed in with an arm, leg, or head every few paces. The wounded screamed and cried out in relentless agony, begging for the All Father to take them away from this wretched scene. I stepped forward back towards the field of battle in hopes to lend aid to these poor souls.
“Audan!” I turned to gaze upon the bloodied face of Gunnar who pulled urgently on my shoulder. “We cannot help them now. We must save our people. Let’s go, Audan!” Hesitantly, I turned away and followed my warriors back through the thick forest. The Valkyries pursued us from the air as we ran like rabbits being hunted by hawks. The thick forest lent little comfort as we were mercilessly smacked in the faces by twigs and branches that stood between us and survival. One by one, the winged creatures descended upon us plucking men from the earth with their bird like talons and carrying them high up into the air.
“Keep up, men! We must protect the village!” I yelled weakly.
“Audan!” a voice yelled from behind me. I turned my head back only to see a blur rushing from behind. My back was struck by a pair of hands and I fell quickly to the dirt, rolling into a tree lying prostrate on my back. A body flew over my eyes kicking dirt into my face. I blinked rapidly and wiped the soil off my face until I could see once more. High in the air, a Viking warrior struggled against the talons dug deep into his shoulders. It was Uncle Valdemar!
“Valdemar!” I yelled as I watched helplessly from the ground. An archer no more than a farm field from me raised his bow into the air with an arrow nocked in the string. “No!” With all my strength I sprinted towards the archer and pushed his arms away just as he let loose his arrow. The stinger flew upwards with great speed but missed its mark widely. “What the hell are you doing?” I yelled. The warrior pushed me back with a look of frustration on his face.
“Somebody has to help him! That demon is going to tear him apart.”
“You’ll hit Valdemar! He still has a fighting chance.”
“Then, you help him!” The archer reluctantly lowered his bow and continued running toward Bjorgvin. Most of the men who had survived, passed me up by now and only the warriors of Asgard kept me from being overrun by the hordes of hell. Suddenly, a scream erupted from overhead; there was Valdemar with a knife buried in the thigh of the Valkyrie filling the sky with her spattering blood. She loosened her grip of him and he slid down gripping the dagger tighter.
“Die, you devil creature! Die!” yelled Valdemar as he appeared to twist the blade in the winged beast’s leg. “Valhalla will know my name!” The Valkyrie began to slowly descend as her wings faltered under the pain of the knife. Soon, they were just above the canopy and I followed them as best I could while dodging tree limbs.
“Valdemar, jump!” I urged. “Valdemar, let go! Let go!” He looked down at me and released his grip falling into the side of a tree. Smacking against the limbs, his body fell loudly and I rushed towards Valdemar to brace his fall to the earth. Uncle gripped a branch and his body slowed but swung quickly around until his backside hit my shoulder. Before I knew it, I was already on the ground with a heavy warrior lying motionless on top of me. “Uncle?” I moaned but he did not move. “Uncle?” A wheezing sound escaped from his lips and his head turned towards mine.
“What is it, boy?” he asked weakly.
“You’re fucking heavy, old man. Get off me…” Uncle Valdemar rolled off and we helped each other back to our feet. Just then, a large crash erupted from behind us. Valdemar turned around before I did and leapt atop the Valkyrie that had pulled him into the air. Appearing weakened, the Valkyrie had returned to her more pleasant human form; Uncle Valdemar did not descend with blade or iron but with his bare hands. He gripped around her throat tightly and she lifted her hands to his, barely putting up a fight until the last of her life left her bloodshot eyes. The Valkyrie kicked and shook until she went limp and even still Valdemar continued to choke her. I pulled at his back side and he took a halfhearted swing at me.
“Go away, boy. This she devil is mine!” The bloodlust had overcome him and I needed to pull him away before more arrived to shorten his victory.
“We must go.” I urged. “More are on the way.” Valdemar looked to the skies and quickly released his fresh kill. Spitting on the corpse he grabbed his knife from her thigh and pulled it out. He stood and walked past me brushing my shoulder and giving me a pat on the back.
“Let’s go then. We’re not done yet.” We reached a dense part of the wood just outside our village. The Valkyries could no longer see us and thus they did not descend upon our heads. Moving leaves from my gaze I could see the clearing to the gates of home. The fortified palisades of Bjorgvin were in sight at long last. The villagers lined the walls with bows at the ready. Gunnar was crouched with other warriors in the underbrush and I quickly joined him with Valdemar at my side.
“Alright, we’re going to have to make a run for it.” Gunnar lifted his sword and pointed towards the guarded palisades that lay an entire field away. The clearing had no cover from the talons of the corpse goddesses making us easy prey. “I’ll go first,” Gunnar remarked.
“No! If we go one at a time they will pick us off. We must move together keeping our blades in the air. We need to get in range of the archers on the wall. If we make it that far they can provide us some cover. We just may have a chance but only if we do this together.” Gunnar nodded.
“It’s your call, Audan. We will move on your word.” I looked up through the cracks in the trees watching the dark shadows circle quickly above waiting to dive down on anything that moved. Turning my head to each side I could see that the men were ready I lifted my arm into the air and then pointed forward towards the palisades.
“Forward!” Warriors darted from the bushes and tree line straight ahead for the main gates. Not a word was uttered save for the pounding of heavy footsteps on the trodden paths. We heard terrible screams from above and we turned back to see the Valkyries closing in on us with their dark wings tucked back. “Don’t look back! Keep running!” I urged. Desperately looking ahead, the villagers atop the palisades scrambled loudly to their positions.
“Loose!” I heard commanded in the distance. Arrows shrieked towards us dotting the sky in a dark moving haze. Just as the winged beasts caught up with us and fell upon our heads, so, too, did the sharp iron fly above us creating some temporary cover. The Valkyries did not seem to think much of the danger and descended upon us regardless. A corpse goddess fell heavily to the ground in front of me littered in arrows; her body rolled in the dirt, snapping the arrow shafts in half as I jumped over her. I looked to my left and right at the chaos that now ensued. The Valkyries plucked what men they could while others fell to their death under the unrelenting hail of stingers. They quickly gave up chase as we came closer to the village and the volley of arrows only intensified, cutting their sisters down with ease. I reached the gates and pounded my fist on the door.