CHAPTER ONE SAMPLE
15th of the Blood Moon; Brightstone, Sannr Midgard
Midlands of the world known as Midgard had gone through a drastic
change after the doom of the gods known as Ragnarök. The power unleashed
by the gods fused itself with the very stone and earth, creating
levistones, energy crysts, and lumini stones. With the passage of years,
the people of the Midlands learned how to utilize those wonders to
their benefit, creating airships, which not only eased travel, but had
become a greatly desired luxury. With such advantages, cities flourished
and changed with the passage of time. And, as greed would mount, the
Midlands had become easily fractured into several distinct kingdoms.
were places in the Midlands where the past and the present meshed
together quite nicely. Brightstone was one such place. Hundreds of
centuries old, the Dvergar city was equally as impressive as it had been
during the Age of Gods. Deep within the Syrnja Mountains lay a massive
cavern with a towering ceiling and walls lined with veins of shinning
mythril in its natural state. Raw lumini stones jutted out from the
walls in the form of massive crystals. The city itself had been hewn of
stone and tiered up towards the peak of the cave, carved from one
colossal stalagmite and was surrounded by a labyrinth of deep black
ravines. Wooden bridges stretched out from the city, bearing tracks for
mine carts across water that rushed below. Buildings were decorated in
carvings of geometrical design and the doors were thick, heavy metal.
Stoneshield stood at an entrance tunnel, looking across the stone
bridge leading into Brightstone. One of the Dvergar himself, it had been
many years since he'd last been to his ancestral home. Like most of his
race, he was stout and tough, much shorter than the average human. Grim
bore a thick and long brown beard, an ancient custom among his
ancestors, and bushy brows above hazel eyes. An axe lay across his back,
the blade bearing centuries of battle scars.
"Boss is waiting."
attention turned to his most unusual traveling companion. Liskula
Darkwind, one of the storm Jötunn race, towered well above the heads of
the tallest humans at ten feet in height. Her light skin was touched
with gray and her long hair was so dark it was nearly black. Her gray
eyes mirrored the sky with the coming of a storm. Though she was a
member of the Adventurers' Guild with Grim, Liskula was a merchant
first, always finding time to try and sell wares.
nodded. "Alright, lets get to it." With a grunt, he shifted his pack on
his shoulder and walked across the bridge. Boss had told them to meet
him in the bazaar, at a tavern called the Bearded Lady, a place he knew
would be hospitable to Liskula. The presence of Imperial soldiers wasn't
highly noticeable in the lower regions of the city tier, which was much
to Grim's delight, especially since he and Liskula had the pleasure of
their presence halfway into the entrance tunnels.
itself, situated to the left of the bridge, was filled with wooden
stands covered in bright, colorful cloths. The bazaar was crowded,
mostly with Dvergar, but he did spot the occasional human and Álfar,
their height alone making them easy to pick out. Nestled in the corner,
out of sight but by no means forgotten, was the Bearded Lady tavern.
up the three steps, he pushed the door open and walked into the dimly
lit tavern. Lumini stones were few, and bore a few cracks. The wooden
tables were round and crowded with patrons. Smiling serving women with
long braided hair carried heavy trays covered in pints and mugs, weaving
their way effortlessly through the tables without spilling a drop. It
was certainly an odd place for Boss to request their meeting, but Grim
could easily understand. The Empire was the enemy of many and the best
way to remain unseen was to keep low, and the Bearded Lady was by all
"Grim! Is that you?" called a sweet feminine voice.
he found a Dvergar woman approaching him with long golden hair and an
equally long braided beard. She was the owner of the Bearded Lady and
the namesake of the tavern. Her green eyes danced as she approached him.
"Ah, Svanna Thorshammer," he greeted her warmly. "How have you been?"
complain," she replied with a smile. "The tavern has been pretty busy
lately." She played with the end of her beard as she spoke. "What brings
you back to Brightstone, Grim?"
"Business," Grim replied simply.
"You'll be looking for Boss then, won't you?"
there." She gestured to a small table sitting in the corner.
Surprisingly young, Boss was only sixteen years of age, but deeply
respected and looked up to. Though head of the guild, he had much of the
world yet to see. His brown hair was a bit longer than when Grim had
last seen him, reaching long enough to finally be tied back. His grey
eyes seemed dark in the dim light, but Grim knew well that there was
always a mischievous light in them.
Boss waved them over with a bright smile.
in his pouch, he handed Svanna a few coins. "Bring us a round. You know
what we like." Making his way to the corner of the room, Grim sat his
pack down on the floor and hung his axe belt off the back of his chair
before sitting down with a grunt. Liskula grabbed a tall stood and made
"Relax a bit, Grim," suggested Boss. "There is no need to rush."
Grim raised a brow in question.
has been whispering among the merchants here in the bazaar," he
continued. "Even Tiny himself saw the same their eyes have. The signal
fire has been lit and the Door of the Valkyrie was opened. Not long
after, a group of five travelers arrived in the city. One merchant
claims to have actually seen them come from the Valkyrie's Pass into
Grim frowned. "But the Door of the Valkyrie will only yield to a Valkyrie," he stated bluntly. "Surely Mæja's distant ties to Brynhild would not be enough to grant her passage."
replied Boss, running a finger along the rim of his cup. "It wouldn't
be enough. Even the Rhine Maiden wouldn't be able to break the seal that
Odin himself put in place. Which could only mean…"
"That Mæja is a Valkyrie," answered Liskula, keeping her voice low.
nodded. "If she has awakened as a Valkyrie, that means that she has
been chosen by the gods and that the threat of a second Ragnarök is
indeed looming before us."
Grim cursed softly and rubbed his
face. He hardly noticed Svanna as she brought a tray of drinks, sitting
them down quietly before leaving. "So that leaves the matter of finding
He looked up in surprise.
grinned. "Don't look at me like that, I have my ways. They are all
staying at the Grumble Inn," he continued. "We'll have time to observe
them while passing in the streets. I don't want their suspicions raised.
I am almost certain they are here for Thor's hammer, Mjollnir. Which
means that if they are after it, the chances of Emperor Ensor or even
Severus looking for it as well are very high. Our goal is to gain their
trust and cooperation. Is that agreed?"
Grim and Liskula nodded.
"Good!" Boss smiled brightly. "You're next round is on me!"
Smirking roguishly, Grim leaned towards Boss. "How about my coins back for the airship trip all the way up here?"
* * * * *
room wasn't overly large, with only three beds to share between the
five of them, but it did have its own private bath, which was much to
Mæja's liking. They'd hardly set foot in the Grumble Inn before Connor
and Linkyn decided to go and sample the drink at the Cellar Rat tavern,
leaving Mæja with Ril and Mjrn. The inn keepers wife, Devi, brought them
a warm meal for dinner and fresh juice to drink, which they had
gratefully accepted after so many days of nothing but travel rations.
on a bed, Mæja ran slender fingers through her long, fiery red waves
while her blue-green eyes remained fixed on a certain pirate with all
the turbulence of a stormy sea. Ril, on the other hand, remained
apparently oblivious to the cold glare centered on him as he carefully
cleaned his mage gun. As for the Rhine Maiden, Mjrn had decided to
partake in a long bath.
Mæja's eyes unconsciously followed the
movement of Ril's dark, blue-gray hands as the Dökkálfar man paid
careful attention to every nook and cranny of his gun, the gold ring on
his left hand shinning brightly in the light of the lumini stones
illuminating their room. Colorful speak stones swayed from gold clasps
attached to his long, pointed ears. Absently, Mæja began to wonder what
Ril used to dye the tips of his platinum hair violet.
Mæja pulled her legs up onto the bed and crossed them. She was tired and
worn from their trip. Since her reunion with Connor, and unfortunately
Ril, they'd hardly had a moments rest. Everything had gone wrong when
Ilario had betrayed them. It wasn't that he'd betrayed the resistance to
the Grand Duke, but that he'd sided with him. Severus, son of the
Shilykan Emperor himself, knew that she was alive, and that alone could
prove problematic to their plans.
Mæja could not guess how much
Severus knew of their plans, but since Ilario had given him Brynhild's
book, she knew certainly that he would go after the five treasures of
the gods. Running into Ilario in Lahrheim had proved it far too well.
The feeling of the knife he'd pulled on her remained fresh in her mind.
The edge of the blade had been cold against her throat before it had
broken her skin. The wound had closed up well and wouldn't leave a scar,
but his violence, his greed and betrayal, had marked him by the Wolves
of Odin. She knew as soon as Connor and Linkyn got their hands on him,
Ilario's life would be forfeit.
It was because of Ilario's
attack and the Imperial presence that Mæja decided she was content to
stay in the room for the time being. Which left her, most unfortunately,
in the company of a certain pirate who decided he wanted to stay in
instead of wandering the streets of the Dvergar city of Brightstone, no
matter how impressive it was. And so, once more, Mæja's gaze narrowed on
the man in burning fury. With Mjrn in the bath, she was, essentially,
left alone with Ril. A matter to which she wasn't entirely fond of.
After all, her second meeting with the pirate was when he had put that
very mage gun he cleaned to her head in Ragnarr castle. She had, after
all, been in possession of the treasure he sought, Odin's ring of power,
Draupnir. The resistance's attack on the castle had proven to be her
escape when she fell through a portal which had inadvertently sent her
far north to the High Woods and away from him.
But, as luck
would have it, the gods cursed her and she was forced to meet with him a
third time. Draupnir had then served as their bargain to grant them
passage by his airship, the Sacred Hart. She still didn't know how
Connor or Linkyn had come to know the arrogant pirate, and at times
could care less. She would be rid of him soon enough.
expect me to burst into flames under the intensity of your glare,
Jarlessa?" came the rich, upper-crust accent of the pirate, his tone
laced with sarcasm. It seemed he had not been as oblivious to her glare
as she had assumed.
Mæja frowned. She really could not abide the
man's insufferable manner and detested being addressed by the title of
Jarlessa. Her kingdom had fallen under Imperial control when her father
Woden, Jarl of Ragnarr, was murdered by Grand Duke Severus' own hand.
"I could only hope," growled the woman in irritation.
chuckled a bit, not pausing in his work. "If looks could kill, then I
suppose your glare alone should have killed me a thousand times over by
Mæja looked away. Perhaps, if she could get him to walk
the streets with her, she would get the opportunity to shove him into
the labyrinth of deep ravines surrounding the city.
"Ah, don't pout so, Jarlessa, it diminishes your beauty," Ril told her with a cunning grin.
Mæja didn't justify his teasing with a response. She knew it would only encourage him.
was silent a moment, almost contemplative, before sitting his mage gun
down and turning his full attention on her. "What is it, exactly, you
find so detestable about me?"
"Can you honestly be so ignorant in the matter?"
The pirate flashed her a bright smile as he relaxed a bit on his own bed. "Enlighten me."
Mæja had long decided he took far too much enjoyment in her hatred of him. "You're a petty thief for one."
"Pirate," he corrected.
"Is there a difference?"
"I have an airship," came Ril's cool reply.
She resisted rolling her eyes. "Fine, pirate then,"
Mæja. "Not to mention you are arrogant and cocky. You have this
confident air about you that I simply cannot tolerate. You are the most
insufferable man I have ever been forced to meet, let alone been forced
to travel with! You act as if you know everything and place yourself on
this high pedestal above everyone else. You are every bit the cocky
bastard Connor said you are!"
Ril chuckled in agreement. "Is
that all?" he asked in amusement. "Well, Jarlessa, you aren't much of a
pleasure yourself. You are as stubborn and haughty as that noble blood
flowing in your veins. You regard Connor and Linkyn so highly even
though they have more blood on their hands then even the dogs of the
Empire. You refuse to trust anyone simply because of what Severus did to
you and your father, acting as if anyone and everyone will stab you in
the back," he countered.
"Is it too presumptuous of me not to expect that of a pirate?" retorted Mæja.
He rose to his feet and approached her. "Now, now," scoffed Ril, "I told you before, I may be greedy, but I'm not murderous."
Mæja scooted back away from him, wanting to maintain what she considered a safe distance from the pirate.
Ril flashed her a wicked grin. "Careful there, Jarlessa," he warned.
away from me, you worthless, good-for-nothing, bastardly scoundrel!"
demanded the woman, continuing to scoot back on the bed.
Ril put his hands on the bed and leaned towards her. "My, my, getting more creative in your insults, are you, Jarlessa?"
was so close she could smell the semi-sweet, mildly spicy scent of
dragons blood he wore. She wanted to hit him, push him away, but her
body wouldn't move. Mæja could feel the warmth of his breath on her own
lips at their close proximity and an odd feeling filled her. She refused
to break eye contact, fearing her eyes might wander somewhere that he
could use to his advantage. It was closer than she ever wanted to be
with the arrogant pirate and still she couldn't push him away. That was
until the door clattered open loudly.
Mæja started, finally
regaining control of her body, and pushed herself away from Ril, only to
fall off the edge of the bed and land on the hard stone floor with a
grunt. While Connor and Linkyn stood in the doorway, a bit surprised,
Ril kneeled on the bed and looked down at the woman, amusement dancing
in his pale blue eyes.
"Ril, ye bastard, what the feck did ye do ta her?" demanded Connor.
The pirate spared the man an admonishing glance. "Nothing. We were only talking. Honest."
Connor and Linkyn hardly looked convinced.
"I'm fine, by the way, thanks for asking," muttered Mæja. "And we were talking…in an argumentative sort of way."
sort o' way?" commented Linkyn with a laugh, as he walked over and
offered his hand to the woman. "Will the two o' ye ever get along?"
"I tolerate him, isn't that enough?" replied Mæja bluntly, placing her hand in his and letting him pull her to her feet.
"Only tolerate? You wound me, Jarlessa," Ril remarked with a feigned tone of hurt.
gave a short laugh. "I highly doubt that," she sneered in return. "My
dislike of you only amuses you. I know you see this as a game."
"Oh, you noticed then?" grinned Ril.
* * * * *
Ashylia, Capital City of the Shilykan Empire
capital city of the Shilykan Empire continued to flourish as the Empire
thrived, becoming the center of innovation and learning. Though lacking
in natural resources and fertile land, the Empire had come to prestige
and wealth through studies and technologies that brought them the most
powerful airship fleet in all of the Midlands. Knowledge was the true
strength and power behind the Empire, giving rise to famed mages and
housing the High Order itself within the borders of Ashylia.
in layout, Ashylia was divided into eight separate districts with the
Imperial palace sitting in the center of it all. The streets of Ashylia
were cobblestone and very well maintained, lined with lanterns of lumini
stones to illuminate them at night. Buildings stretched tall, at times
reaching over four stories tall, with bridges connecting many. Shops,
inns and residences served as the lower floors while the upper floors
were left to the pleasure of the wealthy. A large central port
compensated the many airships that docked and brought to Ashylia various
wares and travelers.
The architecture of the Imperial palace
was not shy in shamelessly flaunting the Empire's wealth. Intricately
sculpted statues lined smooth stone paths of a lavish courtyard and
garden where a grand fountain stood. The outer stone walls of the palace
were covered in well crafted bas relief carvings that depicted
Shilyka's history and rise to power.
By far the most impressive
room in the palace, the Grand Chamber was circular in design with walls
and ceiling of curved glass. Hanging from the center of the glass
ceiling, suspended by a heavy, thick chain, was a chandelier covered in
several sparkling lumini stones that twinkled in the sunlight, but
glowed brilliantly at night. A long, rich azure rug bearing the golden
emblem of House Valine, three swords intertwined with a snake, stretched
across the polished marble floor, leading from the door to the heavy
oak desk and chair. Two statues flanked the desk: that of an archer
standing ready with a bow drawn, and that of an armored soldier with a
sword held before itself with two hands. Exotic plants lined the edge of
the circular room, adding rich colors to the chamber.
VIII of House Valine, Emperor of the Shilykan Empire, had always found
solace in the Imperial palace's Grand Chamber, that was until that
moment when papers continued to mount upon his desk and the man before
him had delivered rather upsetting news. "Are you sure of this?" he
drawled in a low, gravely voice as he looked up from a smaller stack of
papers. Age had not been kind to him, leaving his brown hair full of
gray streaks and heavy wrinkles by his gray eyes.
standing before the Emperor nodded with slight hesitation. "Yes, my
lord," he replied. "House Krövekks refuses to allow the Dagnir soldiers
to conduct sweeps through Brightstone to look for the wolves."
folded his hands together on the desk. "It would seem that We shall be
forced to rely on Ilivarra's contact to locate the wolves then," he
muttered. "We need the levistones that Brightstone provides Us with, so
We cannot risk endangering our trade agreements by intruding upon their
wishes. Contact Gavin and Micah. Inform them of the situation. The
wolves must be located and detained. Too long have they run free."
my lord," answered the man. "The contact has also informed the third
squad that there were two others following the wolves. A Dvergar man and
Jötunn woman. From the information provided, the two only seem to be
after the wolves and not the female that Ilivarra seeks."
the stack of paper before him, he tapped the bottom edge against the
table. "This female wolf…We wonder what it is that Ilivarra knows that We do not," he murmured. "For her to hold the female at such value does indeed concern Us." The Emperor looked back up at the man. "Tell Gavin to see if he can learn more about the female wolf."
The man nodded, bowing low. "Yes, Your Imperial Majesty."