Kafli Tveir

Boðberi and Mús walk along the promenade of shoppes in the áður quarter of the city, midway to Höggormurinn keep, where the invaders have taken up residence. Their eyes dart this way and that on the look-out for able-bodied men and women, particularly dragon rider apprentices, as well as for the invaders. They have already met with a couple of young men they knew, friends. Friends were their first stops.

But just as they found a couple looking to join, they found one that wanted no part of it. The loss had been too great for him.

But now Mús spots a young high elf, well lit in the darkness by still-burning timbers, he knows to be the apprentice of Richard Meistari, Magnus Stormur, rifling through the smoldering remains of a shoppe at the center of several badly burned shoppes. He taps Boðberi's arm.

Magnus is tall, like Boðberi, girded and strapped in a sleeveless leather jerkin and leather shoulder plates with breeches and leather bracers over a white shirt now dinged by the night's activities. His gray wool cloak sweeps over debris, blackening the bottom. Over the cloak is a rare dragonhide shield. He moves with enthusiasm tempered by anger.

A wicked smile plays upon Boðberi's lips and his eye gleems as if a whole new world just opened up. "Magnus."

They walk up to the start of the debris field that was once the magic shoppe belonging to his father, Augu, once a wizard to the crown. They called him "The Storm Warden". He's looking for something.

"It looks like you've lost something. Can we help you, friend?" Boðberi's smile is infectious, but Magnus hardly regards him. In fact, the pair seem little more than a disruption to his search.

"Help is not what I seek. Help is what I wish to render, but I'm useless! I need fire, lightning, something to put an end to this invasion!" Magnus's self-loathing seems palpable.

"Magnus, my friend! Surely you can cast your fire upon them." Boðberi attempts to reassure him, but Magnus strikes back with a fearsome look.

"With candle fire? A mere parlor trick? Should I light a fuse? Warm their seats for them? Kindle a blaze by lighting hay on fire with a match light?" Magnus fumes and takes a breath to calm himself. "My father could call forth the heavens and burst the innards of his enemies, but I'm stuck with entanglements and charms. With any luck, I could scratch the enemy's flesh with a thorn!" He turns back to hide his rage and continues to rummage through the charred remains of his father's shoppe.

"Magnus," Mús begins, "We all want to fight back, but we can't do this without a team. You may not be able to fight back directly, but right now, we're not ready to fight back. You will have plenty of opportunity to learn the spells you need before we find more dragon eggs. It's going to take time. We have 3 recruits who are off finding other recruits to rebuild the dragon riders. With you, that's four. We can use all the help we can get. You have powers that we need, regardless of damage. Whatever you can do, we'll figure it out — together."

Boðberi sits stunned. He hasn't heard Mús speak so much since they ate a patch of the wrong type of mushrooms. He looks at Magnus and jerks a thumb at Mús. "What he said."

Just then, a small shadow appears beyond Magnus. Boðberi looks over, which catches Magnus's attention. He turns around, letting the light hit the figure. It looks to be a skinny young girl about seven years old in a red dress. Even in the pale firelight, he can see her tears glistening. He kneels down. She runs to him, slamming her wet face into his shoulder and throwing her arms around him.

"Boðberi!" She cries.

Boðberi sits stunned a moment, letting her cry. Then he pulls her back. It's no little girl at all. It's Brunhazel Hjartasang, a halfling who entertains at the Gullna Ljón inn with song and dance.

He saw her just before the attack. She sang an epic and danced on the tables. She had the whole inn singing. Well, until some drunken out-of-towner with a scarred bald head and beard tried manhandling her. They don't lay hands on her. She's pure. So a fight broke out. She went laughing away and rolled over the top of the counter where she watched the fight for a moment from behind it. Then when things started to get serious, she started to play her kinor in a sweet melody. Within a moment, those involved settled down. Everyone was mesmerized. But then the song was interrupted by the sounds of the klaxons. It was jarring. They all made their way out of the inn and ran towards their homes.

And here she was, the spinster's daughter, and daughter of Humboldt, the dragonrider, crying.

"Sweet Brunhazel. Why do you cry? Has something happened to your family?"

At that, the flood comes and she raises her voice in agony. "They're dead! Mama and papa. They burned the house!" She moans aloud, then continues. "Papa took to flight and got one of them when he went down with Trakasseraren," she chokes on that, "but the whole neighborhood is ruined and the house fell on mama." She sobs. "We have to do something!"

"We will." Boðberi promises. "By Eldur's fire, we will take back the city...right, Magnus?"

Magnus walks over to them and kneels down to Brunhazel. He cups his comparatively massive right hand to her little cheek and wipes a tear. "I promise you, by all that is holy, your parents will be avenged and we will bring back the glory of Vörn."

Brunhazel sniffs. "Take me with you. Let me help. I can inspire you all with song." Her eyes glisten in the flame and moonlight, seemingly large for her face.

"I'm sorry, Brun, we cannot. We must..." She stomps on Magnus's foot. He wondered if she had lead in her sandal.

"I don't care what you say! I'm going! And that's that! You can't stop me! You all are going to need every ounce of the strength I can give you. Even you, you jätte prick!"

"Fine!" Magnus yells. "But don't blame me when you get roasted in your pretty dress!" They continue.

Boðberi looks at Mús sideways, who shrugs resignedly. Then Boðberi picks up Brunhazel and throws her over his shoulder as she continues her tirade toward Magnus.

Magnus turns to look at the debris one last time and spots something blue and shining in the moonlight. He picks it up and wonders why he didn't see it before. It's an amulet. He puts it over his head and turns to walk after the disaster twins and their demon cargo.

* * *

Seraphina spots the outline of Boðberi and Mús with a little girl and someone else as tall as Boðberi walking through the thoroughfare.

Seraphina picks up the pace to catch up with the group calling out just loudly enough to catch their attention, "Hail!" she waves her right hand in their direction as her bow is still clutched and ready in her left.

Once she catches up she said quietly, "I met with Hälsan on the road here. He has gone in search of others. Do we know of anyone else?"

"Seraphina! Glad to see you." Boðberi's enthusiasm wanes as he recalls their last encounter. "And good to hear. We have struck upon several recruits, including Vilja Meira and Fallameð Stæl. Einskis Virði turned us down. You know Magnus and Brunhazel?"

Brunhazel demurs.

Seraphina has seen Magnus around, but her people tend to distrust the high elves from the south for their associations.

It has been a long time since she saw Brunhazel. She remembers when Corbin brought Brunhazel and her family to dinner a couple of times shortly after finding her in the woods. While Seraphina was stand-offish, Brunhazel didn't fail to have a smile for her and try hard to carry on a one-sided conversation in her eastlander accent and demonstrate her love of music. She seemed only a little taller now, but unchanged as far as she could tell in the faint light.

Seraphina nods to Boðberi and then looks over Magnus and Brunhazel saying, "Only in passing I fear - but seems that is about to change."

Then, redirecting her comments to Magnus and Brunhazel she continues, "Well met! Though I wish the circumstances were better..." her voice trails off a moment before she clears her throat and adds, "May I walk with you?"

"Of course." Boðberi says with an invitational gesture. "The sun will be up soon. We should make our way to the ruins." He looks around and rethinks his statement. "Uh, the temple ruins, that is."

Perhaps because Seraphina's presence brings back good memories of her mother and father when they were happy, Brunhazel runs up and tosses her arms around Seraphina's chest and looks up with a teary smile. Brunhazel indeed looks older. She would look Seraphina's age if she were an elf. "I'm glad to see you, Seraph. Mama and papa would be happy to know I'm with you... Corbin? Shæòra?" She inquires. She seems unaware of Ryð's existence. A conversation ensues, mostly involving Brunhazel asking questions and telling stories as they walk, as well as mixed excitement and sadness at Corbin's fatherhood. She makes the occasional jibe about not being wanted or being a maiden in need of being protected from “the big bad world” that seems aimed at Magnus, who rolls his eyes.

* * *

The group of you struggle up the layered rocks as the pale blue of morning begins to break into the sky. The blue morning-tinted temple ruins are indeed ruins, with a few standing archways, partial walls and pillars upon a crumbling cliff overlooking the city.

In the sacrificial pit, a fire burns low. Several young men and women are gathered round. Even a few older ones are there. None of them appear to be dragon riders. More can be seen milling about in the still dark shadows. Voices mingle quietly. The word seems to have spread quickly.

Boðberi smiles and walks up to an older man and they grab each other's right forearms and slap each other’s shoulders in greeting. Magnus also walks up to some and does something similar in his restrained way. All are strangers to Seraphina, yet familiar. She has seen most of them before. At least the ones facing her.

Boðberi looks over at Seraphina with his left arm extended toward her. Mús and the older man look at her expectantly.

“Seraphina. Come.” As she draws in, he continues. “This is Faðiraf Mannsins. He is the leatherworker who makes the firesuits.”

“Greetings, Seraphina!” Faðiraf extends a hand in greeting. “That is some exceptional studding you’re wearing.” He says with a broad smile. He is dressed in furs over leather armor girdle. His clothing seems quite stuffed and he himself a somewhat burly man, though little taller than a male of Seraphina's tribe. Hair outlines his face like a mane. His thick brown beard flows freely and curls in places.

Seraphina accepts Faðiraf's hand, shaking it once and inclining her head solemnly saying, "Well met". She sighs and looks at her ash-stained jerkin as she lets her hand slip back to her side saying, "It was given me by Corbin." She absently looks at Corbin's javelin. "And this," she indicates the javelin with a tip of her head, "is Corbin's javelin, given me by Shæòra, Corbin's wife. I would very much like it to see service again soon."

"Aye." Faðiraf sighs. "Corbin was a good dwarf. I shall miss his patronage and his stories."

Boðberi's smile wanes in respect, so he calls out Faðiraf's joke. "Faðiraf made your coat. That's his brand." He points to the lapel corners of her studded jerkin. Seraphina fondled the depressions many times after she received it. She marveled at the beauty of the marks depicting a dragon's head, and the coat's stiching seemed to disappear into the creases. It was almost elfin in design.

Faðiraf's eyes seem to gloss over. "When Corbin asked me to make that for his charge, and told me that you were an elf, I set out to study elf design work. I wanted you to feel as comfortable as possible. You seemed to be really special to him. He had you running errands that day, so I was able to glimpse you passing by, wondering at the suits on display. It was a little over a year ago."

Seraphina recalls a day like that, about a month before she received the jerkin.

"There's a destiny about you, young one." He says. "And I hope to see what comes of it."

Seraphina seems about to interject something into the conversation, but is stopped.

"Indeed!" The aged cry comes from several yards away. An ancient bearded one approaches in robes and a gnarled staff. Seraphina is not sure of his race. He groans in a satisfied agreement as he comes to a stand before the group of them. "Each of you young ones has a destiny." The old one points toward Seraphina and her party. "And you." His finger stops upon Seraphina. "Your name shall become a rallying cry."

She listens respectfully as she remembers her childhood when elders were always respected regardless. His words make no sense to her however; she furrows her brow in thought. But her considerations are broken by Boðberi.

Boðberi scoffs and rolls his eyes. "Okay, old man. That's all nice, but we have a meeting to begin."

"And you." The ancient one's attention turns to Boðberi. "You shall be called 'Great', and you shall stand for generations."

The old one leans down a little, for he is short himself, and puts his hand upon Brunhazel's shoulder, who seems mesmerized. "You, the spinster's daughter, will soar higher than your partners. 'The Angel of Vörn' they will call you. And also 'The bird of prey.'"

He points to Magnus. "You are enshrouded by fear and you will fall. But you will shed it and place it upon your enemies. For you will be known as 'The Magnus who stands amidst darkness.'"

"There are others who will join themselves to you all. And they shall not be forgotten. And each of you shall receive a burden and a gift, for you will be tested. And in a book will your names be written."

Boðberi blinks as if to clear his head of the old man's spell. "All right, old man. It's time to take your fancy speech elsewhere. We don't need you filling our heads with strange notions and grandiose ideas. The heads here are big enough."

Seraphina thinks she saw him glance out the side of his eye at her with that last statement but lets it pass, focusing instead on whether she recognizes the wizened man or not.

Boðberi ushers the man toward the entrance to the ruins.

The old one stops. Boðberi practically trips over him and is unable to budge him. The ancient speaks one more time.

"Mús! Son of Eldingar, the Verkfall of Skýmassa. The gem of Skýmassa will be yours. And the children of Vörn will call to you and you will save them." Boðberi continues to try to budge the old one, even visibly straining, but he is as stone. "Your friends will fall, but you will not fall. And from the pit you will raise them!"

Finally the ancient one turns and walks away. Then turns back once more and regards a young blonde apprentice girl over towards the outer wall. With an expression of concern, he says, "Muna. You will be remembered."

The man turns away for the last time.

Boðberi catches his breath and dusts his hands. "Right! On with the meet."

He walks up onto the dais at the center of the ruins overlooking the sacrificial pit. "May I have everyone's attention, please. I would like to thank everyone for coming. These events..."

"Who made you our leader?" A gruff older man speaks. Several other voices join in.

"Yeah. You didn't call us! Hveiti called me. He should be up there!"

Boðberi puzzles. "Uh..."

In the background, music begins to rise through the voices, and one voice begins to pierce the throng. Seraphina looks over and sees Brunhazel playing her Kiner. Her voice is enchanting.

Seraphina hangs back, content to listen to the goings-on for now as she cares not for leadership and has no ambition toward that end. It seems to her that it is better to let those vain enough to take up that mantle to do so. If the people are willing to accept their leadership then there must be something in them that inspires that loyalty. If not, then they will be cast aside for someone better.

Boðberi looks around and sees the crowd calming. He lets out a breath of relief.

"None of us asked for these circumstances," He begins, "but we need to take decisive steps to move forward. It's important not to abandon our kingdom, but to rescue it from the hands of brigands!"

He goes on to explain the struggles that led up to these events. How Vitlaus, once a dragon rider and trusted adviser to the crown, was cast out of the king's court for trying to manipulate the king into going to war with the kingdom of Saltaður Jörð before they attempt to expand their territory into Vörn under false pretexts. When Lord Stiga, the King, ignored his advice, he got insistent and disrespected the king, so the king banished him from the kingdom. Now he has returned with brigands from Saltaður Jörð and taken the kingdom by force.

"Nothing is known of what has become of our King, but let us not wait to find out!"

* * *

Fires burn in braziers on either side of the king's dais. The king and queen's thrones stand empty. In the fire light, a man is held upon his knees before the dais, facing toward the doors. Beaten and bruised, his clothes stripped form his body, he is barely able to keep his head up. Two dirty men in dark partial plate over black wool fire suits hold him up. His similarly dressed torturer stands before him with his fists wrapped and bloody, but not likely his own.

A loud thump and the sound of sliding wood suddenly echo through the room as two more dragon riders pull back the doors. As they open, the morning light floods into the massive stone room. The torturer stands aside. The broken man adjusts to the light. In walks a dark figure. The bent spikes and horns of his armor give a demonic appearance to his countenance. A long cloak flows proudly behind him as he walks toward the man, dragging a sword sparking along the stone tile, click-click-clicking over the seems. He comes to a stop before the tortured soul.

The bruised man's good eye beholds the man in the light. He knows him.

"I w-will s-see you hanged...upon a stake." The bloodied man sputters searingly. "Your n-name will be l-huh-lost and your legacy...will become...a proverb." He hangs his head in exhaustion for shortness of breath.

The man with the sword rages. "You have already been forgotten! You have no power! Your rule has ended. I am your king now! Here you are kneeling before me! Give him to the stocks and let him know the extent of my mercy."

As they drag the man out through the side entrance, another dragon rider in black, more impressive than the others, walks into the chamber from the main entrance as if he had always been there. Fur rustles around his shoulder spikes. His wild appearance contrasts with intelligent and cruel eyes that lock onto the new king with a steely gaze.

"Lord," He begins with disdain, unwilling to call him anything more grand, "My riders have heard rumors of a gathering..."

"My riders!" The pretender corrects him, vehemently. "Do not forget our bargain—Captain. For life!"

The captain maintains his gaze.

"What are you waiting for?" The pretender raises his sword toward the door over the wild one's shoulder. "Go! Track them down, and don't come back until you have broken up this little gathering."

The wild man puts a fist to his chest and bows slightly. Then turns and walks toward the door. As he passes through, a dragon rider in black, his lieutenant joins in beside him from where he stood.

"Grab a squad. We have a gathering to put down." The captain says. Then he stops his lieutenant, and in low towns he speaks, his eyes darting to be sure not to be heard, "Are the items in place?"

"Aye." The lieutenant says quietly.

The captain raps him on the chest plate and they continue on their path.

On the platform, a great dragon and a mundane dragon sit, tethered by dragon riders as the two men approach. The captain separates toward the first.