Copyright © 2012 Alistair McIntyre
Two living rocks sat in a dark tavern in the harbor town of Aegirhamn. Near the foot of the Gripklosa Mountains, deep inside the Shrouded Isles of the realm of Midgard, life moved at a much slower pace than in the areas closer to the violent Frontiers. An enemy force would need to penetrate Midgard’s mighty border fortresses and spend days, if not weeks, fighting unrelenting trolls and dwarves just in order to reach the area known as Aegir. The everyday activities of Aegirhamn, Aegir’s unofficial capital, created a bustle too quiet to penetrate the thick stone walls of the local tavern.
The resident lowland dwarves had cautiously segregated themselves from the two immense trolls crowded around a large table in the corner of the dim drinking establishment. After hundreds of years of carving stone from the depths of the mountains, even the most well-adjusted dwarf was ill at ease in the presence of a troll, a giant made of living stone. How could a dwarf fully trust any being with no beard? A beard made the dwarf and trolls had no beard. That was logic enough to keep the moving rocks at a relatively safe distance.
Ever since the Stor Gothi had appeared, trolls had become fairly commonplace in Aegir. The dwarves cared not for welcoming their new neighbors. This was always going to be their land, no matter what the royally appointed magical Stor Gothi said. For their part, the stoic trolls did not register the dwarves’ animosity, or if they did, they showed no signs of concern. The racial groups kept to their own kind.
Despite the untrusting glares from the lowly mining dwarves, a few of the stocky race recognized these two particular trolls. Anyone who had fought in the Frontiers would immediately have identified the great Berzerkers, mighty soldiers who channeled the spirit of the bear during battle to unleash their overflowing rage. The bearskins draped around each troll hinted at their grizzly occupation, but the four large axes standing at attention against the wall confirmed it. A powerful dwarf could swing one of those axes in both hands, yet either of these trolls could dual wield with one in each rocky hand.
To a dwarf unfamiliar with the speech of trolls, the deep rumbling sounds emitted from the trolls sounded like gravel being ground by an oversized mortar and pestle. In truth, these defenders of the realm spoke in the common tongue of Midgard.
“Sepis, why have you come here?” asked the elder troll. Trolls lived exceedingly long lives, and physical appearance rarely revealed their true age. Only trolls could discern the length one another’s years.
“I expected a warmer welcome than that, Teacher,” replied the younger stone, his surface the color of gray granite.
“There’s been nothing of value that I could teach you for some time now.”
The Berzerker known as Sepis looked into the marble eyes of his old mentor. They hadn’t seen eye to eye on many issues during his training as a young rock, but a mutual respect for sheer fighting ability had always existed between them. Unlike some of the newer trainers in the land of Midgard, this one had actually fought in many great wars of old.
“My military rank doesn’t matter between us, Teacher.”
“Herra Sepis, you’ve surpassed even my greatest accomplishments, and you’re just a pebble in the stream of life. You still have many years left in which to pile up your treasures in the next life. Technically, I should be saluting you.”
“There’s no reason to use my title in this tavern, Teacher. I honestly just came to see you for a chat.”
The brows of every dwarf in the tavern furrowed suddenly at the noise emitted from the Teacher. The harsh crunch sounded ominous, but merely represented a laugh to a troll.
“You have never been one for chatting,” said the Teacher with what only another of his race could discern as a smile.
“Then we can skip the formalities. The position of Master Berzerker Trainer is available in Jordheim due to unpleasant circumstances. I want to put your name forward for the job, Teacher.”
Another clash of rocks drew the attention of the dwarves as the Teacher laughed once more.
“Sepis, you can’t be serious? I’m just a humble trainer in a small town. What do I know about being the Master Trainer?”
The younger troll placed a large armored hand on the Teacher’s shoulder and said, “Don’t be so modest, Teacher. We both know that you are a fearsome Berzerker to this day. These new trainers don’t know about real combat and our new recruits are being slaughtered left and right in the Frontiers due to their lack of education.”
“But their souls are bound to the Bind Stones, Sepis. They can never truly die, even without a healer nearby to resurrect them. We can reassemble them easily enough.”
Sepis placed his hand back onto the stone table heavily with what he would describe as a sigh.
“Teacher, we both know that’s hardly an option. We lose so many Berzerkers in each fight that we cannot finish off the invaders. Half of our Frontier land lies in the hands of Albion as we speak! Midgard relies heavily on the ranks of the Berzerkers to win fights. As of now, we stumble before the waves of enemy Paladins and Armsmen.
“You can look out the front door of this tavern to the training fields and see that even your assistants don’t provide the necessary preparation for these new Berzerkers. We need you in a position of true authority to ensure that our soldiers are strong enough to win a fight, Teacher.”
Before the Teacher could respond, screams and shouts erupted outside. Trolls didn’t hear with the mechanism of Dwarves and Norsemen, but both Berzerkers felt the stone walls of the tavern vibrate with the fearful wails from outside. Before any of the dwarves had even stood up, both trolls had grabbed their axes and ducked under the low doorway, striding powerfully into the moonlight. Not knowing what terror could possibly disrupt a cool evening in Aegirhamn, both soldiers moved quickly towards the uproar.
Recognizable cries of anguish pierced the air, shaking the ground under the trolls’ pounding feet. The stone walkway beneath them spoke out in sadness as a fledgling troll died nearby. Both Berzerkers felt the rage building within. The murder of a troll escalated the anger that fueled their fighting spirit. They now sprinted in a full war charge, unstoppable objects due to incredible momentum. Sepis smashed through a brick wall and launched himself ahead of his Teacher.
Rounding the corner of the blacksmith’s stone hut, Sepis found himself staring at a scene of abject destruction at the Berzerker training grounds. Bodies of dead and dying soldiers lay strewn across the field, their axes at rest beside them. Sepis’s vision turned to red as he thundered by the bodies of his fallen realm mates.
What monster could have done this?
Then Sepis found his answer.
Before the front door of the Teacher’s school, three inexperienced Berzerkers and a town guard fought with a ferocious Firbolg, a race standing taller than a human, but smaller than a troll.
How had a Hibernian found his way to Aegirhamn? It was impossible!
The tall, lean Firbolg swung his two swords in a blur of violent motion, slaying two of the Berzerkers at once before severing the head from the town guard’s shoulders. Sepis’s battle rage boiled over as the last defender lost his life to the Firbolg’s blades.
No longer aware of his surroundings, Sepis could only see the enemy Firbolg before him. Everything else became insignificant. Only death would sate this rage. As Sepis covered the last few yards to his target, his stony body rapidly transformed into that of a giant grizzly bear.
The Firbolg looked shocked to see a Berzerker of Sepis’s stature charging at him, but recovered quickly, feverishly parrying blow after blow from Sepis’s mighty axes. The sparks from each conflict of metal lit up the surrounding area as Sepis blindly pummeled the Firbolg into a corner. The Hibernian’s blades moved in a continuous swirl, deftly defending their owner from sure defeat. Had Sepis’s wits been more aware, or even cared, he would’ve noticed what seemed to be a third blade floating in amongst the blur of arcanite formed by the Firbolg.
Sepis felt the all too familiar sensation of fatigue as he once more morphed into his natural form. Despite the overwhelming power of the Vendo being absent, the Firbolg didn’t look relieved to see the troll towering over him, continuing to pound on his swift swords.
The invader parried away both of Sepis’s axes and stepped in to strike at the troll’s exposed torso, but the ground failed beneath him. As the Firbolg tripped over the mysteriously uneven stone, Sepis wasted no time in cutting the enemy down. Never one to leave death to chance, Sepis hacked furiously at the Hibernian’s body until the Teacher jerked him away. Even then, the younger Berzerker struggled to get back at his prey, to dismember every inch of the bastard who had killed so many of Midgard’s defenders.
The Teacher held Sepis back as the anger completely faded away and his true sight returned. Sepis turned and saw the dead bodies still strewn across the ground where the Firbolg had left them.
“Teacher, why have they not released their souls to be remade at the Bind Stone?”
The Teacher said nothing, but approached the closest victim. After checked the body, he looked up at Sepis with sadness in his eyes. And did Sepis detect fear in his old trainer?
“Sepis, there is an old legend.”
The elder troll paused and Sepis gave him time. The trainer obviously felt the huge loss of life on a personal level. Sepis now realized that he had stolen his old teacher’s chance to avenge his students. In his rage he’d been so shortsighted, so determined to kill that Firbolg, but now he saw that he was just a common thief. He would have to take the Teacher back into battle to let him release the emotions as pure fury.
Now the Teacher was walking back to the mutilated Firbolg.
“The legend says that there exist blades that can sever the connection between the soul and the Bind Stone.”
Sepis froze. That was impossible.
The Teacher dropped to one knee and examined the fallen enemy, and then picked up one of the foe’s swords. The bloody remains of the Hibernian fighter faded into the ground.
“He’s already released his spirit back to his Bind Stone in Hibernia. But this was no true assassin sent here in a stealthy manner. These are the weapons of a Blademaster, yet they are unlike any I have ever seen before.”
How could one with no training in the ways of stealth, like a Blademaster, forge a path to Aegir? The thought perplexed the younger troll as he ground his brow down over his small black eyes, a sure sign of concern for one of his race.
Standing up quickly, the Teacher announced, “We must take these to the Elders in Jordheim. They can confirm my suspicions.”
The two trolls trekked towards the house of the Stor Gothi. Despite the Dwarves’ distrust of the royal teleporter, the trolls had no issue with the Norseman. They both needed his help to complete the journey to Jordheim immediately. Teacher banged on the elder mystic’s door as disturbing thoughts traversed Sepis’s brain.
If we can lose our soul, we can die permanently.
This changes everything.