PrinceCon XL: Bob’s Scenario Recap

Kjallintar’s Revenge

Long ago, in the Sword Ages of the world, most Giants were still friendly with the Gods, and Kjallintar became the companion of the gods, but most especially of Janda and Mavors. Under their authority and tutelage, she judged the law among all the races, giant and non-giant. Indeed, she bore a son to Daglir, whom she named Djaglintar. The offspring of gods and giants may be of either kind, and Djaglintar was of Giant-kind, and remained with his mother. But, Kjallintar was jealous of her privileges as judge, and fearful to appear weak in her application of the law.

One day, in the Riven Shield Age, two mothers came before her, laying claim to the same child. The facts were easily ascertained: the birth-mother had fled before invaders, and was forced to abandon her son. The foster-mother rescued the child and lovingly raised him. Now, both mothers wanted custody. In a similar case, Janda had declared that law could not decide this, and handed the case to Mavors to decide on the equities. He offered to divide the child in twain, but this was merely a ruse to determine who loved the child more, and the child was restored to the foster-mother. Kjallintar tried the same ruse, but was unable to quickly decide which mother was more appalled. Afraid, lest indecisiveness undermine her reputation, she carried out the division, and handed each mother half the corpse. The mothers were distraught beyond words, and Janda was furious. She cursed Kjallintar to have two faces, and banished her. Her children followed and Mavors judged that the curse would fall upon them as well.

Kjallintar nursed her hatred. Djaglintar, being of god-blood, was able to modify the curse, so that each of the Ettin, as Kjallintar’s offspring were called, had two heads, not merely two faces, which gave them powers in addition to being hideous to all other races. All the Ettin swore revenge upon all the gods, that their tongues would be cut out, and that Janda should die painfully at the hands of Kjallintar.

Now, if came to pass that Djaglintar had a son, Albervir, who was subtle of craft and mighty to make marvelous things. But, Albervir was not content, and wanted to be the instrument of his grandmother’s revenge. So, during the Wind Age, he learned the arts of disguise from Ratri, and disguising himself as a Svartalfir, lived a mortal’s life as a faithful follower of Daglir, until he had gained the attention of the god himself and was taken to Godsheim to learn craft. Being the grandchild of Daglir, he learned quickly, and more than his grandfather wished or wot. Having learned deep secrets, he departed for Stoneheim, to perfect his arts. Keeping his disguise, he travelled to Mannheim, and tested many ideas there. But he lacked the power of Daglir’s Forge, that is until he learned of the great power hidden within the volcano Katla.

And so, in the Wolf Age, Albervir proposed to create five great items.

The first would be the Rings of Drawing Clerical Power. These would appear to be rings that gave additional prayers each day, and that would become more and more powerful as the days hastened to the Final Battle. But, in reality, they were drawing power from the Clerics, and at the appointed time would vanish with their accumulated power to add their power to that of Kjallintar. In this manner her vow to cut off the gods tongues would be fulfilled, for how do the gods speak if not through their clerics?

The second would be the spear Aetgir, which could allow a mortal to slay even a god. While Kjallintar, as primordial Ettin, had the stature to slay a god, this spear would make her twice as deadly.

The third would be the armor Weliundmail, which could protect the wearer from the attacks of the gods. The power of this armor would be greatly increased if the power of the wearer were enhanced, as by the rings.

The fourth would be the Helm of Forgetfulness. It was the plan to place this upon Mavors head, so that Janda could watch her brother disgrace himself by forgetting all oaths and promises. This would be her torture, before the blade struck.

The fifth would be the Hammers of Unfate. Albervir had learned of the Fatestones, upon which the Wyrd Sisters had written prophecies that could not fail unless the stone was broken. H bethought that some would protect the gods or foredoom Kjallintar and need to be destroyed. For this purpose, he created two great hammers that, if used to strike a Fatestone, would destroy it, though the energy released might cause great destruction. Djaglintar had learned that the Wyrd Sisters had inscribed two fatestones, one protecting Janda and one protecting Mavors. Both needed to be found and doubtless both destroyed.

He also created a variety of war statues, each with a different purpose, designed to protect his laboratory and to bring low the mortal realms. Some were agile and spider-like, to run down adversaries. Some were built like tortoises, with tails that could batter down castle walls and destroy siege engines. Some were predators, shaped like bipedal crocodiles, some of which were small and swift, and some slower and more powerful. And there were statues in the form of fire-breathing brazen bulls, while others were monstrous beasts with multiple horns and vast strength. And so matters lay, until the Valiant intervened.

Dramatis Personnae, in order of first appearance:

Martine Klaengrdottr Mannfolk Hero, NPC (backstory)
Len Vatenari Mage, follower of Mavors, played by Colin Sandon
Treeborn Mannfolk Guardian, Pantheist, played by Tim de Capio
t, r, a Svartalfir Hero, follower of Storm Lion, played by Elissa Hoeger
Bruce Battlestandard Svartalfir Mage, follower of Magus, played by Joshua Gabai
Jaru Fryen Katterfolk Hero, Pantheist, played by Peter Vancsa
Black Sun Mannfolk Mage, Storm Lion, played by Aaron Mulder
Hrothnjall Mannfolk Mage, Servant of Albervir, NPC
Krojin Ettin Guardian, Assistant to Albervir, NPC
Albervir Ettin Mage, NPC (offstage)
Hrolff the Burning Mannfolk Mage, follower of Hione, played by Chris Cavender
Thunder Katterfolk Cleric of Storm Lion, played by Spencer Kipe
Alyeria Alfar Guardian, pantheist, played by Zen Zen
Thornflower Alfar Hero, follower of Storm Lion, played by Susan Bergeron
Krosp Katterfolk Hero, follower of Danu, played by Charles Taylor
Markus Katterfolk Cleric of Danu, played by Tim de Capio
Haldir Alfar Hero, follower of Carrunos, played by Michael Brokes
Pirata Fuerte Katterfolk Hero, follower of Storm Lion, played by Timothy Sullivan
KatteroHexMonkeybane Katterfolk Hero, follower of Storm Lion, played by Ryan Carr
Amberette Svartalfir Cleric of Danu, played by Megan Coppock
Pfferdsensen Riddari Guardian, follower of Carrunos, played by Greg Nelson
Magus God of Magic, played by Alex Reutter
Noly played by Charles Taylor
Rogar Ironheart Svartalfar Hero, follower of Daglir, played by Corwin Knaff
Vegt Mannfolk Mage, follower of Hione, played by Alan Zitomer
Mavors God of Justice, played by Robert West
Kjallintar Primordial Ettin, NPC

Chapter 1: In search of a lost expedition

The morning dawned as ever in Valor Hall, except that groups of the Valiant were preparing for missions to other realms — a thing that had not happened for an age. As groups were forming, and ways to forestall the evil times discussed, one lone survivor from such an expedition arrived. It was Martine Klaengrdottr, a Mannfolk Hero, who had travelled with six companions to Mannheim, following some vague clues. Moments before entering Valor Hall, where all her wounds would surely be cured, she collapsed. Several of the Valiant rushed to succor her, but she died in their arms. Her last words gave the location of a cavern in the great volcano Katla and the garbled phrase “Alb..collapse..second..” In her possession is a burnt-out Trollhammer and the fragments of a stone with an inscription in moving, magic writing, that somehow gave an impression of being of more-than-ordinary importance.

Examination of the broken stone revealed a text: “Janda will live longer than her brother, but if Mavors should die, a new star shall appear and then fade, and Janda shall not outlive that star.” Examination of the trollhammer revealed that it once was a fearsome weapon that had power to smash items of great power, perhaps even the fable fatestones. The burnout released such great power that it was now only under slight enchantment.

Seven members of the Valiant gathered to go to Katla, find the cavern and explore. Wishing to prepare themselves for what might be a desperate battle, they arrived at dusk in a secluded dell within sight of Katla, cast spells and prayers of preparation, and settled down to rest. In the morning, they ascended the forested slopes of Katla where they spied furtive movement underneath the trees and black crows at about the place where they expected to find the cavern. Moving cautiously, the group drove off an attack by huge dire wolves.

The cavern was nearly completely blocked by a rockfall, through the gaps of which carrion birds flew. Martine’s last words might have spoken of such a collapse, but was it a natural misadventure, or was it connected to the burned-out hammer? And what did this have to do with the danger to the Gods? With due care and great labor, the Svartalfir, aided by the remaining members of the party, removed the rocks and opened the way into what was left of the cavern. The interior was piles of rock, and the back was blocked by another rockfall. The whole smelled of burning and of the charnel-house.

More digging revealed the bodies of the lost expedition, and their magical treasures, mixed with burned parts of some sort of giant. A debate ensued on the proper disposition of the bodies, and whether their prized weapons and other magical possessions should be left with them as grave goods. An infernal machine soon dubbed the Hammer Wheel lay on its side. There were signs of an enormous fire and collapse, and a muffled, high-pitched laugh could be heard. One of the bodies had a sack, which contained an undamaged table with a prophecy concerning Hione. Was this the “second” of which Martine spoke? It did not read as something that ought to be destroyed; perhaps it was to be protected from destruction?

Digging some more, a door was found, and behind that door a filthy chamber, with a man, half-starved and dying of thirst, who identified himself as Hrothinjall, assistant to the Great Albervir. Albervir, it seems, had somehow fooled Daglir and received training as an artificer. (Was this what Martine meant by “Alb”?) Hrothinjall was clearly quite mad, but careful questioning and ESP revealed that Albervir was the grandson of Kjallintar, that “fate had been destroyed”, that the trollhammer and a vast explosion had a part in that, that turning on the Hammerwheel was dangerous, and that the party should remove the remaining rockfall so they could die. He also denied that the stone found was the “second”, saying that the first and second were “like, yet unlike, such as siblings ought to be.”

Hrothinjall was locked back in his cell, now cleaned and provisioned. The Hammerwheel was dragged outside, and Bruce Battlestandard began to play with it, trying to understand its function. Meanwhile, a metallic statue in spider-form strode through the rockfall on the far side of the cavern, and attacked the party. Another appeared, in the shape of a great tortoise with a shell made of stone and a tail in the form of a huge club. A third also appeared, in the form of a crocodile that walked upon two legs made of brass. Black Sun, having decided that the rockfall was an illusion that affected all senses, strode through it purposefully, and found himself confronting a small (20′) ettin who was starting up a fourth statue, this in the shape of a quadruped with three horns. A long corridor stretched behind. After a pitched battle, the spider was destroyed, and the turtle entangled with the Hammerwheel. Both went careening down the mountainside. Using spells of hallucination and tripping, the Ettin was disabled long enough for the party to effect its escape. In a valiant last blow, Treeborn blinded the Ettin, but was himself slain. The party escaped to the plain and sounded the horns to summon the Valkyrie to return them to the Halls of Valor.

Meanwhile, came the news that Janda was dead, and a new star had appeared that the sages said would soon vanish. In light of later events, it was clear that a servant of Kjallintar had given up his life to strike the Fatestone that protected Janda’s life, striking it with a Hammer of Unfate. Martine’s party had, doubtless, died attempting to prevent this. The nature and fate of the “second” stone would be revealed in due course.

Chapter 2: Exploring the Laboratory

Having confirmed from other sources that this was indeed a laboratory, a party of seven set forth to learn what could be learned, thwart what could be thwarted, and perhaps to wrest some powerful knowledge and/or weapons. It was agreed that there was a second fatestone somewhere that had to be destroyed before the new star faded, whatever doom it portended. Arriving, they saw a large number of Ettin, guarded by statues, bearing objects off to the Southwest. Rather than engage in a hopeless, but glorious, fight, the Valiant decided to enter the cavern complex. Using Locate Object, the mages were able to pinpoint the location of a stone, similar in substance to the broken one, but intact, and which gave off an air of portentousness. Hrothnjall was gone from his prison, and the corridors of the laboratory were vacant. Apparently all been abandoned in some haste: remnants of a library remained, as did component parts of various infernal devices and a rear guard of the combat statues. Some of these were gathered for later analysis.

Because time was believed to be of the essence, the party tried various ways to limit combat. Attempts to use Dimension Door and Teleport to reach the location failed. Eventually, using stealth, the Valiant found their way deep inside the mountain, to a chamber that contained a strange cylindrical device. The device seemed to bring up mud and steam from the unguessable depths at which the dormant volcano was active. Beyond the device was a narrow passage, too small for an ettin, or indeed a riddari. At the end of that passage was a smooth surface, impervious to Darkvision. Ordinary light would penetrate it, however, and beyond was a stone tablet, written with magic writing.

Hrolff the Burning had knowledge of a crystal that darkvision could not penetrate: such crystal is impervious even to the greatest of fire, or indeed lava itself. It is very hard, but very brittle. A strong stroke thrusting with a sword shattered it, and the stone was brought forth. Reading the magic writing, “Mavors will live longer than Janda, but if Janda should die, a new star shall appear and then fade, and Mavors shall not outlive that star.”

Obviously, this was the “second” stone, like a sibling to the first. Sages have since argued about the fact that two fatestones, both created by the Wyrd Sisters, contradict one another so directly. Some say that it shows limitations in the knowledge of the Fates, but others argue that a Fate is not contradicted until events inconsistent with that Fate transpire. If either Mavors or Janda died, one of the two Fatestones would be false, so clearly neither could die until one or the other stone was broken. And it was fated that at least one should be broken, as clearly as if that fact had itself been written on stone. Kjallintar’s plan was now clear: having destroyed the Janda stone, she would strive to preserve the Mavors-stone from all harm, thereby sealing his doom.

Hrolff knew of a method by which such a fatestone could be destroyed, but he had never seen it done, and did not know what the consequences were. So, he began a chant of the victory of his Will over Stone Sealed Fate. And when it was done, the stone shattered, but so did the cylinder behind him. A great gout of flame poured out, enveloping and incinerating him, as clearly foretold by his name. Thunder stepped forward, prepared to throw all his power into a massive cure that could save Hrolff, but it was too late. And, somehow, Thunder sensed that Hrolff had been chosen by Fate to die, and that interfering with that could only bring further woe.

The cylinder now spewed out mud and clay, which was glowed of magic. The party gathered up handsful of it and proceeded to return to Valor Hall, singing the praises of the mage who had sacrificed his life for Mavors as the star that was to herald his doom faded from sight. The clay that was extracted from the mud proved to have marvelous powers: a few minutes’ concentration, and it would transform itself into a magical weapon or armor. The more clay used, the bigger the weapon or armor.

Chapter 3: Out of the Frying Pan, into the Lava

Suspecting that there were secrets yet undiscovered lying within the abandoned caverns, Pirata Fuerte, KatteroHexMonkeybane, Amberette and Pfferdsensen set forth to explore them, only to find the entire region in great turmoil.  Volcanoes to the West and North were erupting. Katla was smoking, and the earth shaking.
Hurrying inside, they were trying to decide what to do and where to go first, when, suddenly, five figures appeared in their midst.  The tallest wore a strange hat and seemed somehow familiar.  He proclaimed himself Magus, God of Magic, and introduced his companions: Markus, Noly, Rogar Ironheart and Vegt. Magus proclaimed his mission — to seek the heart of the volcano.  The party gladly accompanied him: how could they fail with a god at their side?
Magus could sense that they needed to go deep, and Markus knew the way to the corridor that led to at least one deep chamber, and probably to more.  In a flash, the party was at that level, having bypassed all the remaining defenses.  Hearing from Markus of the wonderful clay that the previous group had found, many wanted to mine as much as they could.  Others wanted to continue.  A check of the ladder found that there was a large quantity of clay, mixed with common mud, that had been filling up the chamber. It would require a significant amount of time to sort out what was high quality and what was lesser quality.
Coming up from the depths, the sound of many feet were heard, and a quick check around the corner revealed a number of golems preparing to attack. As the Valiant prepared to fight their opponents, it suddenly became apparent that Magus had left them.  The monsters were restrained with webs, and with a combination of fierce blows and powerful spells were soon reduced to wrecks.  As had happened previously, the golems soon exploded when wrecked, but that was all one: the party had gone on to search for Magus.
At length, they found an open door, held in place with a spell of locking, and a ladder leading down.  There they found a workshop with discarded remnants, and a small tunnel leading beyond.  There, near the very throat of the volcano, they found a great steam-operated hammer, and a forge that appeared to have once been fed with lava from the very depths of the mountain.  Near the forge was a cache of rings, obviously magical in nature.  A quick analysis showed that had the same writing as a ring possessed by Markus, with words blessing all the priests of all the gods.  Such rings had been found before, and added greatly to a priest’s power to grant the favors of his or her god.  There were also other strange things found, remnants of great magical forgings.
Travelling on to the throat of the volcano itself, they found Magus engaged in conversation with some invisible being, whom Magus treated with respect. Even, if it were possible, asking advice, or perhaps permission?
Far below them, rising slowly, was a Bálroc. a foe beyond all present put together save, perhaps, the god himself.  Even Magus seemed concerned.  He informed his companions that this was not an inhabitant of the volcano, as many had thought, but the spirit of the volcano itself: the living embodiment of its power.  Its wings carried heat beyond mortal imagining: were it not for the power of the god, they would have not been able to resist it for long.   Still, Magus required more power, and asked for donations, whether of the quotidian numinous power vouchsafed to a priest, or the mental concentration that enables a mage or guardian to cast mighty spells, or of items in the group’s possession.
Even as the request was made, e’re it could be considered, Markus and Amberette felt much of their power flow to Magus, with no volition on their part. This was not only the power they got from their rings, but also an equal portion of the power that was their own. Concern over such matters aside, the party donated a great store of magical treasure to Magus, whereupon the items vanished.  Using this power in a manner that only Magus could explain, he was able to converse with the Bálroc, and convince it to calm.  In the process, he found it was his fate to converse with the Bálroc for a time, and bid his companions farewell.  As he left, he tossed his hat at them, which shredded into numerous pieces. A quick fly spell enabled the precious pieces of Magus’s hat to be caught, and it was soon found that each had a wondrous power.
No longer in danger of an erupting volcano, but sensing that the Final Battle was indeed approaching, the group explored further.  Nearly half of the time they dared allot, they spent recovering, sorting and cleansing the wonderful magical clay, of which they could quickly make magical weapons and armor. The rest of the time was spent exploring libraries and storage areas.  Parts that had been used to make tampers to excite other volcanoes were found, and it was soon realized that the Hammerwheel found by the first group was a failed experiment in the development of such items.  Descriptions of the golems were found, together with a catalog of their weaknesses.  And there was a description of magical components needed to complete a great weapon and great armor that could stand even against gods.
Armed with many new items, blessed by their intercourse with a god and enlightened by the knowledge they had discovered, they felt certain that the time of the Final Battle was approaching. What secrets were left unlearned, they regretfully had to leave behind.  Unfortunately, the secret of the Rings was not among those they found, and their experience with Magus and the ease with which power left those who wore them did not cause the Valiant to suspect the rings’ true nature.
Chapter 4: A Wild God Chase.
For as long as anyone could remember, Mavors had come to the feasts of the Valiant, and had boasted that he would lead them on the day of the Last Battle.  Then, one day, Mavors came to table, bragging not of his prowress, but of the beauty of his new helm and shield.  And, when one of the Valiant toasted him about his pledge to join the last defense of the gods, and asked when this would be, Mavors denied he had ever said such a thing, nor would he go to the Last Battle.
That the God of Justice should deny what all knew to be true, and abrogate his vow, this was thing such as had not been seen in all the Ages of the World! Even the mortal priests of Mavors were discomfited, as their prayers no longer worked to track or punish felons if their crimes were more than a few hours old.  It was as if Mavors no longer sought justice. Surely this was a sign of the End!
A party gathered to resolve the mystery and bring Mavors back for the Final Battle.  Their first stop was the Palace of Mavors in Goddesheim, There they were challenged by Rognir, keeper of the gate.  Discoursing at length with him, they were finally admitted to Godwulf, seneschal of Mavors.  There they learned that a dwarf, bearing the tokens of Daglir, had brought Mavors a new helm and shield for the upcoming battle, and that as soon as Mavors donned them, he became noticeably more vain.   After the uproar at Valor Hall, he had left for parts unknown, presumably to right some injustice, or visit just vengeance on the Giants.
Casting a Locate spell to find Mavors, Vegt was astonished to realize that he was in Stoneheim: such magics had never worked across the gulf between realms before.  But, there were reports of strange happenings in the wake of Magus’s departure: the governor seemed to be off magic, and spells now were much less predictable than they had always been.  Summoning the Valkyries to take them to Stoneheim, Vegt was able to get a distance and direction that seemed to correspond to a great castle.  Hiding as some of the local inhabitants passed by, the party learned that this was the stronghold of Kjallintar herself.
Unbeknownst to the party, as none of them were clerics, the Rings of Draining Clerical Power had all vanished, taking with them not only their own power, but an equal amount of the power belonging to the clerics wearing each.  This power had infused Kjallintar, and enabled her to let Albervir place the final touches on her armor, that made her proof against any god.  In fact, so much power had been drained, that she felt the first stirrings of divine abilities herself: to seek out followers and grant prayers.
Following the path to Kjallintar’s castle, the party listened, to some of the servants, and found that Mavors was an honored guest, making merry in the meadhall with Kjallintar.  That night, the party spied in the window, and found that this was true.  Mavors sat there, a gorgeous helm upon his head, with servant-maidens to either side taking care lest it fall off, even has he began to nod from the strong drink of the Ettin.  Soon, he was led off to a bedchamber, where he lay down, helm still upon his head, and again with maiden-Ettin as servants to see that it remained so all night.
Bravely sneaking in with invisibility and veil, Rogar Ironheart managed to strike the helm from Mavors head.  A battle was soon joined with the Ettin, but Mavors quickly awoke and put an end to that.  Into the corridor he strode, and was there confronted with Kjallintar in her splendid armor.  Wrathful, Mavors drew his red sword and struck with all his might, but his blow glanced off harmlessly.  And Kjallintar sang, sang a song of wrath and of vengeance for long-nursed wrongs. And as she sang, Mavor’s face grew pale: memories came flooding back to him of a vow repudiated, of wrongs left unpunished in the world because he had forgotten them.  Such was the power of the helm.
Screaming in anger and shame, Mavors turned from the scene, and unbound himself from his physical form, to fly where in the great Worldrealm he would go.  There, unprotected, were he erstwhile saviors, facing an Ettin that even a god could not harm, and her mighty followers. They gripped their weapons and awaited their doom.
But Kjallintar laughed.  She had grown, grown in wisdom and cruelty as she had grown in power. She knew where Mavors had gone and what he would do. And she knew what it would do to these mortals to see their last hope destroy himself; to see the Abyss as it were before their feet.  Let them live and feel her wrath a while longer before they were hunted down and destroyed!  Ettin no more, she was now the Goddess of Wrath, and mighty among the gods was she!
And so, the party fled the scene. There, Vegt prepared to locate Mavors, and found that his spell had great power, as if it were somehow aided.   Summoning the Valkyries, they went to the farthest limb of the World-Tree, where it hung out over the Void.  There was Mavors, desperate and sorrowful, knotting a noose in a great rope.
“I am guilty!  I, who have proclaimed duty and honor and virtue and justice with truth, I am the most guilty of all.  For it is I who was to be the font and source of justice, yet I have let injustice prevail!  I proclaimed oaths inviolate, and I violated mine!  God of Justice?  God of Hypocrisy!  Let me die here as I have condemned others to die and expiate my sin as my blood drains into the Void.”
The party remonstrated with him.  Each took his turn persuading Mavors: he was the victim of spells, of trickery, but he was adamant. Were his sister alive, he could have trusted himself to her justice. But now, there was none. None but he, and only self-slaying would stay the guilt in his heart.  He had willingly set aside the armor of eld, and put on the armor of vanity that was placed before him.  It was his weakness, his lack of virtue that made all this possible.
At length Sven Silverbeard spoke.  “Suffer your fate and punishment if you must, but you have a Last Battle to fight, and if you abandon that, and your followers as well, then you will break faith yet again, and commit even greater sins.  Can evil expiate evil?  Nay!  Then live, at least for the time appointed to this battle. Then, if justice requires that you be punished, let it be done with order, so that your oaths are fulfilled as much as they can be.”
And Mavors hearkened to the words. His sword he held high, and with his companions went to where he was needed, to fight for the gods, and for the mortals that follow them.
Finis.
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PrinceCon XL: Blue’s Scenario Recap

Hunter or Prey

Teaser

Carrunos and Danu have been estranged from the gods due to Ratri’s “seduction” of Carrunos — at least if you listen to Danu. In the Wind Age they have left the other gods and taken up residence with the Alfar in Alfheim.

Now the giants come and while Carrunos and Danu oppose them, their split from the other gods weakens the defenses for Godheim and may spell disaster in the fated Final Battle.

Inspiration

Carrunos was our Freyr-analog. During Ragnarok he participated in an epic fight against the Fire Giant Surtr — which he lost. Freyr was also a god of fertility (and I think that came across), was married to the giantess Gerðr (or Gerd), and had given away his magic sword (potentially Lævateinn/Hævateinn) which fights on its own “if wise be he who wields it”. Without it he lost to Surtr.

Of the primordial giant that opposed him, Hione said this:
“Let me tell you a story of gods and giants,” he began. “Once upon a time Sjinnar, runt of the giants, lived among the gods, and they were friends. Back then, Sjinnar was the greatest of trackers. It is said that he could follow a falcon on a cloudy day. But Sjinnar was alone, and jealous of Carrunos and Danu. One day, Sjinnar proposed to Carrunos that they should hunt for a glimpse of Mimir’s children at play, and they went to a very misty place that no one had explored before. It was Sjinnar’s intention to lose Carrunos there in the Mist between worlds, but Carrunos has an unerring ability to find his way in the wild. Instead, Sjinnar still wanders that other land.”

Also the fact that Carrunos and Danu had left the rest of the gods in the Wind age, and we’ve got a lot going on.

So, Sjinnar, primordial creator of the Jotnar, becomes our Surtr-analog. However, the Jotnar cloak themselves in illusion and are tricksey instead of being associated with Fire, so they get others to do much of their dirty work for them, involving Trolls, Tetrakh, and even Ratri and her Cult of the Serpent. However, the giants always being half a step less powerful than the gods, Ratri was actually playing him.

Sjinnar hungers for revenge. The best he could do would be to blind Carrunos and let him wander forever lost in the mists behind the nine realms. Killing Carrunos would not be as sweet. And those mists, which he has learned to walk over the Ages he’s been stuck in them, allows him to move others between the nine realms without using the normal bridges between them.

Sjinnar knows he needs to lure Carrunos out of his place of power, and will use his own hubris to do so. He convinces Drótten (warband leader) Skirnismal, a renowned Tetrakh archer, that he has a plan to allow Skirnismal to overcome Carrunos. Several tricks would be used. First it is set up to kill the most in the shortest time, and with four arms he could fire two bows of haste and outshoot Carrunos. Second the targets would be the Bálhaukr, firehawks, little cousins to the legendary Bálroc, Fire Roc, which slept in volcanos. Without special arrows, they would burn up or melt before hitting.

But all of that was for Carrunos to discover and become complacent, because the biggest trick was causing them to overload and immolate to hurt and blind Carrunos so Sjinnar could pull him into the mists. This is homage back to Surtr the Fire Giant.

Now, Sjinnar is nothing but opportunistic. The Bálhaukr were available because the Cult of the Serpent, one of the two organizations that were part of the Open Door of Night, Ratri’s secret organization. They were attempting to anger the Bálroc to set off the volcanos, and part of what was done was to steal their little cousins away. (To find out more about them, and also the final straw to setting off the volcanos with the Thumpers, please see Andy’s and Alex’s scenarios.) He gets Trolls to make fireproof cages out of volcanic rock.

He later brings Trolls to cut of the Svartalfar’s supply of Star Metal (3rd run), and sends some Jotnar into Godheim itself to bring back the Stone Egg from the giant’s ancestral valley from before they were exiled (Steve Wolfson’s run). And finally, he waits in the mists to ambush Carrunos and enact his revenge.

Run the First: Old Friends and Old Enemies

Friday evening, 6 hours.
Haldir (Michael B.) Alfar Hero of Carrunos
Ilyeria (Zen) Alfar Guardian
Keith Belgerent (Ron S.) Riddari Guardian of Magus
Sven Silverbeard (George M.) Mannfolk Paladin of Carrunos
Thornflower (Suzanne B.) Alfar Hero of the Storm Lion
Thunder (Spencer K.) Katterfolk Cleric of the Storm Lion
Tosinsthal Wilfsyn (Corwin K.) Svartalfar Hero of the Storm Lion
Vegt (Alan Z.) Mannfolk Mage of Hione

Run the Second: Geld Unsettled

Saturday morning, 6 hours
Armoladd (Jeff D.) Alfar Hero of Danu
Athelia (Shannon D.) Alfar Cleric of Danu
Pfferdsensen (Greg N.) Riddari Guardian of Carrunos
Ragnaroc (Rob T.) Svartalfar Hero of the Storm Lion
Vinnelop (Liz T.) Alfar Guardian once of Janda

Run the Third: Metal, Fire and Words

Saturday evening, 5 hours
Keith Belgerent (Ron S.) Riddari Guardian of Magus
Riffington (Kelly W.) Alfar Archer Ambusher (Hero)
Rogar Ironheart (Corwin K.) Svartalfar Hero of Daglir
Sven Silverbeard (George M.) Mannfolk Paladin of Carrunos
Vegt (Alan Z.) Mannfolk Mage of Hione
Wussun of the Narwal Tride (Hugh H.) Alfar Cleric of Danu
replaced with Wuswosun (Hugh H.) Alfar Cleric of Danu

This run needs a bit of a preface. It was intended to give the PCs two (but really three) spread out goals that all involved investigation and travelling and a limited amount of time to achieve them. They would have access to the Valkyrie to transport them, but sounding the horn would put forces on alert. How would they spend their time and resources, which goals would their prioritize.

However, directly before this run started, the Mirror/Eye of Oodlask was recovered. This meant that they had perfect visibility over the entire world including perfect retrocognition. So they found out people involved, and played them back in time until the found everything. It was gorgeous how effective they were in using it, and they were able to accomplish all three objectives with time enough to go back and stomp on some Ettins that they had stealthed through the first time in order to get more loot. Smart murderhobos, I salute you.

Run the Last: The Hunt is On

Sunday morning, 5 hours
Archion Stormfriend (Ryan R.) Mannfolk HERO of the Storm Lion
Bruce Battlestandard (Josh G.) Svartalfar Berserker Mage of Daglir
Dimrodel (David R.) Mannfolk Cleric of Carrunos
Hattero Hex Monkeybane (Ryan C.) Katterfolk Guardian of the Storm Lion
Riffington (Kelly W.) Alfar Archer Ambusher (Hero) of Carrunos
Wuswosun (Hugh H.) Alfar Cleric of Danu

(covert to carrunos)

Carrunos would be wounded by overloaded immolating firehawks, but even though it would put him directly in the blast radius his cleric Dimrodel cast Immunity to Fire on him. Carrunos was still blinded by the light of the burst of the magically enhanced firebird.
Carrunos was then almost killed by Ratri with Kjallintar’s god-slaying spear, with Dimrodel again casting to stabilize. Ratri struck again the next round, yet Wuswosun bent fate and god vs. god became a narrow miss. Ratri struck a third time, and this time Archion Stormfriend, locked in a one-on-one duel with the leader of the Tetrakh Honor Guard,

Carrunos was blinded and dragged into the mists by Sjinnar, but with the aid of Dimrodel, Wuswosun and the more-giant-than-giant Bruce Battlestandard was able to overcome and slay him. Dimrodel, his cleric, and Wuswosun, his beloved Danu’s cleric, replaced his eyes with carved ones of Oak and Holly (thank you Regrowth spell) and given an extra boost from Bruce’s Second Sight, was abel to lead all four of them out of the mists.

Resolution

Carrunos was convinced by the players to rejoin the other gods, and once her Fatestone was broken and she stopped turning a deaf ear to him, Danu relented and came as well. His eyes have been burned out and replaced with one of Holly and one of Oak. One of his saviors, his cleric Dimrodel, now bears similar eyes. Perhaps he will be the next High Priest of Carrunos.

Katterfolk have done several important tasks for him, but when Hattero banished Ratri who was attempting to assassinate him at the eventual cost of his own life, his friends asked Carrunos a boon to honor his sacrifice. Carrunos acknowledges Katterfolk as true hunters, the closest thing he’s get to an apology, and his blessing now work on them.

But Carrunos has spilled his lifeblood and will be weakened for a long time to come. Luckily he can call upon his strong arms, such as his paladin Sven Silverbeard or the instrument of his vengeance and now wielder of his bow, Wuswosun.

Sjinnar is slain, his bashed and arrow riddled body lost in the mists that will now forever be his final resting place. The soul of any Jotnar that now dies will go to Baenheim, but those Jotnar souls that died before him and went to Sjinnar will forever be trapped in the mists behind the realms, haunting them and turning them dark.

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PrinceCon XL: Steve’s Scenario Recap

The name of the scenario was:

“WE NEED HEROING!”

Or if you looked closer at it:

“WE NEED (remedial) HEROING (101)”

There was a large stack of Mead and Turkey leg item cards attached to the poster with the guidelines, “Take one, or more! Feast!” This should have been the first clue where this was headed.

(In fact, I heard that a Turkey Leg was used to save a character’s life, so hey my job here is done.)

In Episode 1, entitled “Don’t Let Your Legend Suck” (that was taken from the title of the training montage music from Episode 2 of Galavant) the heroes are called off to a grand colosseum by the Gods to take part in some heroic games to boost morale. Upon arriving, however, they met with Eða, a Valkyrie, who lets the boom drop that the reason why they’re here is because they are the souls who emphasized the eating and drinking in Valhalla more than the fighting and revelry, and as a result needed to have their doughy bodies whipped back into shape — by physical force if necessary.

Throughout the dilapidated colosseum were hundreds of stoneoak trees that needed to be chopped down to make room for the physical tests, so Eða said “Get on it!” Immediately which after the party executed the most stunning and well-coordinated campaign of aggressive procrastination that has ever played out at PrinceCon.

As the name suggests, stoneoaks are very, very tough to knock down or move. One of the party members — a Riddari — tried tilting at windmills, treating them like giants with a charge with their lance. That didn’t work very well; however, it gave the rest of the party a good laugh.

One of the party’s Danu clerics decided to talk to the trees to see what they could do about their task more peaceably… Eða didn’t like that, so she took her axe and… well very soon afterwards the Danu cleric was complaining that she was just talking to that tree — “Well now you’re not. Finish the rest of them!”

When they finally managed to knock one over, they noticed that down under the roots, coiled around the tree’s taproot was a stony-looking hand. A Detect Evil later, and they realized that rock trolls were incubating under each stoneoak in some kind of symbiotic/parasitic relationship.

Eventually the boom drops and the mature trolls, about 3 or 4 of them, start to climb out of the dirt, their umbilical cords being snipped by the adventurers, and one of the huge stone slabs behind this area started to make thumping noises as if a really big troll was trying to come out behind it, too. The normal sort of fight ensued, but one decidedly abnormal maneuver, involving falling upon a troll with a lance aimed at their head while wearing full plate armor led to the award of the Character title “Trollrider.” It was epic.

Another in the party made the best use of Hold Portal that I have seen. Focused on the giant rock they managed to hold back the huge troll until they were able to build a pit trap in front of the door, call on reinforcements, and gather munitions to take the troll down…

READY STEADY HERE IT COMES!…

But when the spell wore off, they realized that the poor troll was knocking its head into the rock so many times that it was quite dazed and just sat there until one of the players coaxed it out with a turkey leg and it fell headlong into the pit.

The troll, strangely enough was carrying two things: A map leading up into some scraggly woods into a mountain, and a rubbing of a Fate Stone that read, “The characters shall SMUDGE at this fate stone.”

A curious clue that could not be ignored.

That led to Episode 2, entitled “And All I Got Was This Lousy Fatestone.”

The party took on three more members and set out to follow the map, and it took them through the scraggly woods where the were completely unmolested… but noticed that someone was planting stone oak seedlings. With some jiggery pokery (well, pully-uppy) they found that each one had a rock troll larva by its roots that died immediately upon exposure to sunlight.

The trees were getting bigger the further into the woods towards the mountains they went –

Could this be a trap? Nah. Onwards!

Pulling up as many trees as they could they made their way to the base of the mountain. The soil started getting more volcanic.

Was this danger? No! Onwards!

They come across the crest of the mountain and descend into a small, flat valley to notice that there is a little potting shed shack in the center.

A perfectly round caldera-like valley. Is this a potential hazard? Pssh!

They find that an equally disoriented rock troll lives in the little shack, and is more or less harmless. They name him Jonny Trollyseed, assuming he’s responsible for all of the tree plantings…. but much to their surprise, they find in the middle of his shack, the Fate stone they have a rubbing of!

It reads: “The adventurers shall arrive at this fatestone.” A singularly puzzling fate.

Of course, they pick it up. But it is at that point when they hear their old friend Eða, who had followed them, shouting at the top of her lungs to get out. That it’s a trap, and that upon entering the valley she was cut off from the song of her sisters. In fact, none of them can feel any connections to their deities, nor can they seem to fly or get away from the fate stone.

By about this time, too, another party member manages to walk around the back of the shack and notice a large pile of bones… and loot! This was apparently a trap sprung many times before them upon many adventurers much more well equipped than themselves. Lots of them. So many bones.

So, they can’t get out and the caldera starts to activate, the hot lava getting closer and closer.

And then it dawns upon one of them! The Fatestone! That’s what’s keeping them there.

One of them says, “Quick, smash it!”

Another interjects: “No wait! It’s a Fate stone. One of us has to say the incantation.”

Yet another volunteers: “I’ll do it!”

And so he solemnly takes it into his hands, looks squarely at it and recites the words that will break the stone and cost him his life:

“I reject this Fate.
Ordained events kill the adventurous spirit.
Predestination is the little-death that brings complacency.
I reject this Fate.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will face my Future… unknown!”

… and nothing happens.

He says it again, this time quicker and more frantic.

Finally, all of the party members stood around in a circle holding hands “kumbaya style,” reciting the Litany that they pray will save their lives.

Nadda.

So one revisits their, “Smash it!”

And smashing it actually works!

It turns out it’s a fake fate stone, or Fakestone, powered by an old manuscript talisman.

Note: The Manuscript was actually adapted from an actual Old Norse skald poem with some of the names replaced (Hione for Oden, Ratri for Loki, Volva or Wise Woman representing one of the Wyrd Sisters, etc.) with a number of kennings for different events.

With an additional map puzzle in hand it lead them to:

Episode 3: “Verkstedet” (The Workshop or Laboratory)

They finish the map puzzle, making a trek out into the woods and arrived back precisely where they started — but something was different. They found a cottage that was absolutely dripping with both magic, and seriously deadly traps.

Long story short, as this run was puzzle, trap, puzzle, trap, they find out that it is one of Ratri’s auxiliary labs where she is developing the troll-tree-embryos to raise a huge army, and tinkering with fatestones and fakestones, trying to find ways to break them, alter them, or try and create them… luckily she didn’t get very far.

After the mages sacrificed two monkeys to the cause of disarming traps… and nearly causing a kerfuffle with the nature clerics in the party (earning one of the characters the title “Monkeybane”) they manage to utterly destroy the cottage by — “accidentally” — creating a feedback loop between a trapped cabinet of reflection (which stored one of Ratri’s deepest secrets) and a mirror of reflection, held by one of their clerics.

The cabinet… and the supporting wall behind it… lost after a volley back and forth 13 times.

Some things that were not caught: After they realized that it was one of Ratri’s labs, why would a god have a place to sleep? Why would a god have an underwear drawer?

And, if they *had* managed to get into the cabinet that they… *cough* blew up, they would have been asking, “Why is there a painting of a little Ratri with flesh and blood mortals who look like her parents?”

Regardless! With the secret lab destroyed along with the extra hordes of troll seeds, the Remedial Heroes are proven to be genuine heroes after all.

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PrinceCon XL: Andy’s Scenario Recap

Storm Lion and the World Serpent

BACKSTORY
In her quest to gain power, Ratri seduced Troll-Mother Drugar and gave birth to a large serpent. It was not long before the deadly nature of its poison, even to the gods themselves, became apparent. No skill could heal or repel the toxin, so Hione consigned it to the oceans around Mannheim. There it could live out its existence without posing a danger.

Mother troll objected to her off-spring’s banishment, but Ratri remained silent. This began the unraveling of the relationship between Trolls and the other races of Godsheim. With Ratri’s help, Drugar fashioned a race of Sea Tolls, adapted to live in the waters around Mannheim. They would serve and protect the Serpent should the Gods decide banishment was not enough.

Even Hione did not know that a small contingent of Fishfolk had survived the primordial Godswar by escaping to the very waters to which the Serpent had been consigned. Bereft of their defeated Dark Gods, they began to worship the Serpent and taught the Trolls to do likewise. They called it “Hafnadhr” in its native tongue.

Then they warded their new God against every manner of scrying and detection, lest their old foes look upon Hafnadhr and discover their own existence. It was their worship that caused Hafnadhr to grow to such an extreme size and make it a pawn in the Great Game of Fate that was to unfold as the Ages of the World sped by.

When Ratri’s plans were ripe, she entered Hafnadhr’s mouth – what child would hurt its parent? – and called for Aru’s aid, pretending she had been poisoned. Her message to him contained secret writing only he could read, telling him where to find her. When he arrived, she cast about him a confounding Darkness and shoved him down the Serpents gullet. There Thoki waited to complete Aru’s imprisonment, keeping him from foiling Ratri’s gambit before it could develop.

UNDER THE SEA — SERPENT! (Run 1)

Intro: (For all runs)
Queen Eir asked the party to seek out the World Serpent and obtain a sample of its poison from which she might make an antidote. With Aru missing, it was the only way she could think to save her firstborn.

The Action:
Two Valiant Kattrfolk answered Eir’s call. Their Valkyrie dropped them far out and under the oceans of Mannheim, before a mountain ridge across which she could not travel. Finding a pass, they saw two Sea Trolls. Through the clever use of an interactive, programmed, traveling illusion of its normal prey, a sea monster of the largest sort was called down the mounting, aimed right for the Trolls.

One of the Trolls rolled a “20” on his Awareness check. He saw the sea monster veer off. He pointed it out to his buddy the next round. The two of them stared at the chase enthralled, eventually betting on how many rounds it would take the predator to catch its victim.

The last thing to go through the Trolls minds, before the sea monster, was, “Hey, it’s getting awfully close…” Blood in the water called down a cascade of creatures to feast on the carnage. And, the wiley Kattrfolk used the confusion and dust cloud to sneak past the outpost.
Ahead the Kats crept eventually seeing an encampment of Sea Trolls and the Serpent’s Maw — fifteen miles across, with fangs the size of mountains and row upon row of “lesser” teeth, all dripping a dark ichor that killed anything it touched. For the first time in many an Age, they knew the taste of fear.

Before the Maw, the saw stone plateau on which had been carved a odd-shaped pentagram. In the center, a giant bubble of air encased a group of live Mannfolk, about the number of a large village. The robed figures completed their ritual, and a gate opened beneath the bubble.

Once the bubble was completely consumed, the figures departed to a sea city beyond.

BEFORE THE SEA SERPENT (Run 2)

The Action:
Four Valiant answered this call. They made various and protracted calculations to try to supe up one character to zip in and out to collect the poison. They collected the sample, but before they could leave, they saw a new sacrifice was being prepared.

They attacked the robed figures, killing most and capturing one. Using a combination of spells including ESP, they questioned the Fishfolk and gained valuable information:

  • The Serpent had been sluggish just before the Con started.
  • They were sacrificing live humans to it in order to energize it for the coming Great Battle in which their god would kill the greatest champion of the ancient enemy in Godsheim.
  • A group of humans also worship the Serpent as a god and were providing large quantities of live humans for the sacrifices. (See Alex’s scenario for more.)
  • The leaders of the human cult were invited to witness the final great sacrifice, but the Fishfolk were going to betray them by making them the final victims.

Alas, without the priests to maintain the magic bubble, the humans to be sacrificed had died. With bitter tears, the Four returned to Godsheim with their prize.

After two days of celebrating their success in Valor Hall, the Four were summoned to Queen Eir’s presence. Drawing her sword, Queen Eir impaled her attendant and then forced her to drink what the Four brought back. Miraculously, she was fully healed.

INTO THE SEA SERPENT (Run 3)

The Action:
A group of Six Valiant next went forth. They found the game had changed. The attack on the sacrifice had confirmed to their enemies that Godsheim had noticed their activities. So, an army of Sea Trolls with Ballistae were stationed around the Serpent and the altar and the sea city.

After debating several theories of why the poison brought o Eir had healed, they observed that the poison on the far side seemed to kill, while the poison on the near side did not. They reasoned that to succeed in the mission they needed to collect a sample from the correct side.

The (sole) Storm Lion follower among them proffered the theory that the oddness of the poison could be because Aru was imprisoned within the Serpent. His compatriots agreed to return to help him free the god after they got the sample to Eir.

When they returned, they quickly advanced toward the non-deadly side of the Serpent’s Maw. To the incredulity of the Sea Trolls, the Six fought their way INTO the Maw. Their observations had taught them that the Trolls were wary of the poison and would not follow.

Once inside, they sought to make camp and rest. The giant predators living among the Teeth and a dampening field against spells like Rope Trick convinced them not to dally. One last look around with Detect Magic showed the back on one Fang glowed brilliantly. Telescopic Vision revealed it was the Fatestone outlining the battle of Strom Lion and the Serpent.

While the group debated the implications of breaking it — touching means dying, freeing the Serpent from dying to Storm Lion, etc. — the lone Storm Lion among them acted without hesitation. Nothing would stop him from his glorious sacrifice. The Fang shattered, the Serpent writhed, and the (now) Five Valiant went tumbling down the Serpent’s gullet to Joe Appel’s Third Run.

World Tree

BACKSTORY
The World Tree is a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all worlds. It only made sense that the inhabitants were metaphors as well. The Dragon was easiest to peg – Hunger. It chewed on the roots of the tree; it chewed on the dead oathbreakers and adulterers; and never was it full.

The Eagle, as the Dragon’s foil, therefore needed to be Fullness – in this case, self-satisfaction. It spends its existence literally “on top of the world, looking down on creation.” The Squirrel, given its willingness to spend eternity carrying insults back and forth between the other two, was Rumor – just the thing to inflate an egotist but never fill/satisfy the glutton.

After Blue Carstensen developed the rivalry of Sjinnar and the Jotans with Carrunos, the Harts fell into place. If they became metaphors for aspects of civilization and Sjinnar were to desecrate them in spite of Carrunos, could this explain why the world had entered the Wolf Age? So the Harts became Honor, Fellowship, Charity, and Hospitality.

THE WORLD TREE (Run 4)

Set up:
Queen Eir asked the party to seek a prophesied shelter in the World Tree were the twin youngest gods could shelter.

The Action:
Four Valiant answered Eir’s call. They were deposited on the Tree, and they decided to ask the Eagle’s advice first. So they began to climb, though the distance looked vast.

Now, the key to this run was metaphor. Distance, direction, gravity – everything practically – was a metaphor. Movement occurred by intention and need. The players climbed up or down as a signal of their intent. Two consecutive Will Save were required of the leader in order to arrive. The players’ chatter as they climbed possibly provided a modifier.

When they reached the Eagle, he gladly spoke to them. When they referred to him as simply Orn, he corrected them “…The Great.” His answer no matter what they wanted was to go talk to the Dragon. In this case, he told them the Dragon’s head was the hardest substance in creation, impenetrable to anything. It had the added benefit of being largely empty and would make a perfect haven.

And so the party started back down the Tree. As they descended, the Paladin of Carrunos began to notice his mind returning to the story of his Lord’s infidelity to Danu. The intrusive thoughts became nearly overwhelming as he realized that they were among the Roots near Baenheim, where the Dragon chewed on adulterers.

They tried to be circumspect in inquiring if the Dragon would give up his head to make a Haven. It was a noble effort. The Dragon soon divined they had spoken to the Eagle. He got them to admit what Orn (… The Great) had said. He told them to make a Haven of Orn’s nest and save him a leg of that overstuffed chicken.

Climbing once more, the group encountered The Squirrel who promptly invited them to tea. The players graciously traded stories with Rattatosk, who mentioned in passing how odd it was that he hadn’t seen any of the Harts recently.

So off the party went looking for the Harts. They found three of them – murdered and desecrated in ever more horrible ways in insult to Carrunos. It was clear that it was deliberate and the work of Giants. They decided to take the bodies to Carrunos – a move I must admit I had not quite anticipated.

Carrunos confirmed that it was the work of Sjinnar and charged his paladin to find and save the last Hart. At their request, he leant them his best hound to help track it. He would need to confer with Danu if restoring the Harts was possible.

Back on the Tree, the search was going nowhere. Then it occurred to someone that they might have more luck tracking those responsible for desecrating the other Harts instead. And, lo, they soon found themselves face to face with a Jotun hunting party.
With righteous wrath the paladin smote his sworn mortal enemies. The Jotuns barely knew what hit them. Questioning a momentary survivor, the group confirmed there were no other hunting Jotuns on the Tree and that the last Hart still lived.

Returning to Eir, the party reported their exploits. She thanked them for their service although the Haven had not been found.

Ramifications:

To find the Haven, the party must take the twins with them and let them “lead” the climb. Upon finding the Haven, they will be welcomed by Risna (Hospitality). Alas, they will also have led the Jotuns to the last Hart also. Battle ensues. Or, so it was planned. biggrin

Nevertheless, the service done to Carrunos and the piety of the paladin went a long way to convince the Nature deities to support the gods in the Final Battle. Please see Blue Carstensen’s write up for why this was particularly important to the Con. Well done!

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PrinceCon XL: York’s Scenario Recap

THE BACKSTORY: The background fiction made it clear to me that Drugar, the Primordial Troll, had a specially profound hatred of Daglir. At the same time it seemed clear that trolls, being essentially made of living stone, were excruciatingly vulnerable to the Lord of Stone. So I decided that two of the giant races were pulling a switcheroo: the Trolls gave the Tetrakheires charge of Daglir’s Fatestone and consequent assassination, while in return accepting a commission to take Danu’s Fatestone and see to it that Danu met the Fate inscribed thereon.

1. Luruk Kraagh, Tomb Raider: In terms of the overall plot this existed only to reveal some clues and point the way to more. I also wanted to have a short, straightforward run where PCs could get some useful items and get quickly back to Valor Hall. The situation was that some trolls had broken into the tomb of an Axe Age king to steal one of his grave goods, a set of magical Runestones that were a powerful prophetic device. (Malice aforethought, the item would allow players to extract additional information from any GM running for them and I figured with all the plots and counterplots running around the players could use as much help as they could get.) Part of Hrolf’s funeral ritual was a promise from the Gods themselves that any violation of his rest would be punished. The Valiant are, among other things, the Gods’ enforcers. So, the trolls open the tomb, thereby desecrating it, and *poof* a party of Valiant materialize to show them the error of their ways. I tried to make it clear on the poster that, although *players* had a free choice of whether to go on this run, the *characters* were, in concept, drafted without warning — in the blink of an eye you go from kicking back and relaxing in Valor Hall to being full-armed and armored, standing in a tomb confronting some trolls. No time for in-game prep like casting lasting spells.

The characters fought well but found themselves overmatched (there were only three trolls but they were higher level than the PCS). They fought effectively (among other things, they kept the Troll Guardian from ever managing to cast anything until he ran out of the room to break LOS) but they were running out of spell and prayer points faster than the trolls were running out of hit points. Magical characters who were low on power started looking around for useable items. The cleric found a magical horn which he decided not to use until it was a last resort, but a mage who was completely out of spell points rummaged up a dagger which put him into mental contact with King Hrolf’s ghost. The ghost offered help if the character would drop his saves; he assented, and was promptly possessed by Hrolf and went charging into battle berserk with Hrolf’s combat skills and Hrolf’s enchanted axe. This boosted the party’s damage potential enough that they finally managed to take down the trolls. Hrolf thanked the PCs for their intervention and gave them leave to take all of his magical grave goods back to Valor Hall — he’d arranged to be buried with them specifically to preserve them against the ultimate need, namely now. He also advised them to seek out the wisest man in the world.

One clue that emerged was a rainbow-colored stone enchanted with power stolen from Bifrost. A structure built from such stones could create an additional bridge between Mannheim and Godsheim.

2. Nikto the Undying: Following up clues the PCs went looking for the wisest man in the world, Nikto the Undying, whose last known residence was the mountains north of Hekla. Arriving, they found a cave on a high ledge with signs of recent occupancy and a door that opened onto a blank stone wall — they inferred that there had previously been a Dimension Door behind the stone door. Unfortunately they realized that a party of Tetrakheires was climbing the ledge toward them. While the rest of the party prepared to attack from the cave, the Storm Lion-worshipping berserker mage Black Sun used ashes from the cave’s firepit to make his hair look gray and charged out of the cave to make the giants think the cave’s aged inhabitant was fleeing from them. Diving over the side of the ledge, he failed to arrest his fall and ended up sliding painfully down a steep (but not vertical) slope. As it happened the lead giant chasing him didn’t manage to stop in time and joined him in skidding down the slope. A vigorous fight ensued, highlights included the sliding giant clambering back up to the ledge only to be knocked off again by a well-timed Trip spell, the Tetrakh Guardian being blinded by summoned Jub Jub birds, and one of the party’s heroes being beaten to a pulp in one round by getting caught between two gargantuan clubs (two-handed weapons for Tetrakheires, who are merely Huge, but it was wielding one in both right hands and another in both left hands, and could do massive extra crushing damage if it caught a single target between both clubs.) I should mention that this combat encounter also involved a great deal of argument between Black Sun and the Storm Lion cleric Thunder about what was or was not fair in combat.

After the fight was well over, an ancient wizened white-bearded Mannfolk arrived, riding on an oversized flying mortar (and apparently making it fly by continuously pounding its pestle into it). He summarily told the players to follow him to his current home and “led” them by simply flying off without checking to see if they would, or could, follow. Fortunately the party had some flight-capable characters who followed him home and then went back to help the rest of the party find the way (get over terrain obstacles, etc.) When they arrived they were curtly informed that they needed to clean out his stables and tend to his horse before he would talk to them; Nikto remained rude and overbearing throughout. The party worked well and industriously on this project despite a “horse” with a flaming mane, “feed” that included sulfur and mineral oil, and “manure” more appropriate to a toxic waste dump. In-character conversation between Markus the Danu cleric and the “horse” produced some genuinely delightful roleplaying. Ultimately Nikto greeted them back in his house proper and began behaving like a gracious host, now that the PCs had demonstrated that they were capable of humility as well as valorous glory. He revealed many crucial pieces of information, including the two key plots. Drugar had hidden Danu’s Fatestone inside Drugar’s own torso, opening her own flesh with a magical blade, putting the Fatestone inside, and letting the wound regenerate over it. (Drugar is female despite having somehow fathered the World-Serpent on Ratri. Examining the sex lives of deities too closely endangers one’s sanity.) The Trolls were using Bifrost-infused stones to build a tunnel from Mannheim to Godsheim, specifically from the northeast of Jannmark to underneath Alfheim; Danu’s Fate would allow them to erupt from their tunnels to abduct and slay her. Nikto could tell the Valiant that there existed a magical weapon that could pierce Drugar’s invulnerable hide and shatter the Fatestone within, but he had not yet ascertained where that weapon might be found. Meanwhile the Tetrakheires had denuded many forested slopes in southwest Stoenheim to build a huge wooden raft anchored in a sheltered bay there. Atop the raft was a wooden tower; atop the tower a vast wooden pot filled with fertile soil; growing from the pot was a majestic live-oak; and embedded in the oak’s trunk, with wood grown all around it, was Daglir’s Fatestone. For multiple reasons, one of which was his special relationship to stone, Daglir had the unique ability to destroy his own Fatestone, something no other god could do. The fate inscribed on the stone decreed Daglir would die in ambush, alone and far from the stone of his domain. The Tetrakh plan was to isolate the Fatestone as far from any stone as they could get it, and to ambush Daglir when he came after it; Mathiron-Grund the Primal Tetrakh was itself on the scene to deliver the deathblow. Nikto provided the party with a variety of useful items from his stores and wished them well.

(The party also discovered that Nikto was “Undying” because he was a title rather than a person; a secretive order of sages and magicians hidden among Mannfolk had been gathering knowledge for generations, with the wisest among them being appointed the new Nikto [a name meaning "Nobody" in an archaic language] upon the death of the previous incumbent. The party also learned that this order favored neither the gods nor the giants but rather was concerned with insuring that whatever world existed after the coming death-struggle, whether the old world preserved or a new world reborn, would be a fit place for Mannfolk and other mortals to live.)

3. Tetrakh Tetris: With the weapon for use against Drugar still missing the Tetrakh Sea-Tower was the target of this expedition. The party gambled that with stealth and guile a party of mortals might accomplish what a God in full power could not do by brute force. They landed in the hills of Stoenheim just out of sight of the great raft, and recruited local birds to scout it for them. Knowing that Tetrakheires, unlike all other giants, are diurnal with no innate ability to see in the dark, they decided to slip in by night, with one mage keeping the party airborne in a Levitation Sphere and another with a Fly spell towing them. Careful scrutiny as they approached revealed the hidden watchers with Darkvision spells, and because the watchers were scanning the sky through small slits (in order to remain hidden), delicate timing allowed the PCs to reach the pot and the tree unseen. They had planned to use lightning to burst open the trunk where the Fatestone was embedded, and use Clerical Silence to keep the noise of the blast from being noticed; but this plan failed when a Magic Mouth cast on the tree trunk began bellowing about the approach of intruders. In a hectic battle the PCs managed to retrieve the Fatestone and fight their way clear of the flying Tetrakh who accosted them, warriors who obviously had benefited from multiple spells cast by others. Once clear of the melee the players learned that they could outfly their pursuers, but that invisibility was of no avail against See Invisible. When they were halfway to the safety(?) of land they saw a flying boat emerge from the tower and chase them at a speed greater than their own; they made landfall before it overtook them and hid in rugged terrain while summoning the Valkyries to retrieve them. Although they dodged the ship, a high-level Tetrakh Guardian with a Locate spell tracking the Fatestone teleported after them with a warrior passenger. The teleport landed low, killing the caster, and while the warrior was formidable the party was (narrowly) able to overcome him. The Valkyries retrieved the party, who presented the Fatestone to Daglir; the God broke the Fatestone and rewarded the party richly.

4. Last Chance to Save Danu: The Great Weapon needed for use against Drugar was finally available; a spear that could be used in melee although its true metier was being thrown. “Fatebreaker” was a sentient weapon with various senses, an eager personality, and the power of speech. The small party (only three, a Hero, a Mage, and a Cleric) that set forth to break Danu’s Fate had a simple plan; since there was no way for them to overcome the vast numbers of trolls surrounding the Mannheim end of the Rainbow Tunnel (and the Godsheim end had not broken the surface, and would not until the trolls were actually in the act of abducting Danu), they would approach Drugar by stealth and get close enough to make a single cast of the spear against the scar on her belly. (Their plan was partly shaped by their possession of an item that could guarantee one attack roll of natural 20.) They approached cautiously, and so survived their discovery that the Troll encampment contained numerous casters and was protected by magical as well as mundane sentries. They were also somewhat nonplussed to learn that Drugar was already in the tunnel, traveling toward Godsheim. Indeed, while they were nearing her location the Locate spell broke, indicating that she had passed the Rainbow Arch within the tunnel that connected Mannheim to Godsheim. Ever adaptable, they went to the spot on the ground just above their last location for Drugar and used a Dimension Door to go to the last spot the Locate had indicated. They knew she was traveling at a walking pace and were quick enough that she would be no more than 100 to 200 feet ahead of them. They had not, however, realized that the tunnel was packed across its full width with the army of Trolls marching with Drugar. (Actually only three abreast, but Trolls take up a lot of space.) Since the tunnel was arched, there was room for the party to fly above the heads of the middle rank, and this they did, swiftly overtaking Drugar. Casters cast at them and warriors swung at them, but the party’s mage kept them alive with judicious use of Power Word: Web. Desperate improvisation kept them alive long enough for Yew the Alf Hero to get in front of Drugar, activate the “Strike True” magic, and make the spear-cast; at that moment Thunvald the Cleric was alive only by having Decreed Fate to minimize the damage of a deadly spell cast on him, and Ozymandias the Mage was alive only because of an item that would (once only) cause a killing blow struck at him to instead leave him with 1 hit point. (Ozy didn’t know his item would do that. I love the hotlist!) While magic guaranteed the true strike, it was the Hero’s own skill that caused the True Strike to also be a confirmed critical hit, doing devastating damage to Drugar herself as well as shattering the Fatestone. Fatebreaker perished (as must all mortals who break a Fatestone), wailing in agony; her destruction lit a fire in Drugar’s belly that would not be quenched until the Primal Troll was crippled. With the other Trolls now cowering in terror it was easy for the PCs to escape and return to Valor Hall.

AFTERMATH: The Tetrakh scheme against Daglir was completely defeated, but Mathiron-Grund was never harmed. (Actually, the PCs avoided ever encountering it, which probably helped their survival.) Unfortunately Daglir managed to die anyway — the fact that you’re no longer doomed to die in a specific way doesn’t mean you can’t be killed. Danu was rescued and survived, and Drugar was crippled for the next Age of the World, the War Age.

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PrinceCon 40: Theme Fiction

PrinceCon 40: Twilight of the Gods
March 13-15, 2015

Valor Hall, part 1

“But Dad, I can fight!”

He scoffed.  “You can fight in the tavern.”

“I’ve taken Self-Defense and Arms And Armor just like everyone else!”

“I’m not contesting your skill on the training ground.  But listen to me Thorlev,” he continued, emphasizing every word, “You are not a Warrior.  You are a Fisherman.  There’s no shame in it.  I’m a Fisherman too.”

“So what then, we’ll just fish the giants to death?” I couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice.

“Do you even listen the histories?  Why are there giants alive today?”

“What?”

“Gnut the Mighty led an army of five hundred thousand men, elves, and dwarves to crush the giants in their hills.”

Everybody knew that.  Gnut’s army marched well over a league per hour, carrying their packs on their backs.  It was almost half again as fast as an army was supposed to be able to travel.  For the Dwarves, it was virtually inconceivable.  It seemed brilliant, and he had the giants completely back on their heels.

“So why aren’t the giants all dead?”

I couldn’t think my way out in time.  “Because they burned the villages and fields as they retreated.”

“So what?”

“So there was no food left.  So our whole army starved.  So when Gnut returned in the Spring he had seven thousand men.  So that was like three Ages ago.”

He took me by the shoulders and waited until I looked him in the eye.  “We have Warriors to fight the giants.  And we are the Fishermen who feed the Warriors.  Without us, they will die just as surely as if a giant crushed their skull to pulp.  Which, by the way, is what will happen to any Fisherman stupid enough to challenge a giant.  Do you understand me?”

I looked away, furious.  But there was only one way to get out of this so-called conversation.  “I understand.”

* * *

I had to bite a fishing rod while I did it, but I managed to cut right through the catch I was gutting, straight into the flesh of my hand.  I barely had to fake the cry as I spit out the rod and grabbed my palm, bleeding profusely.  My left, of course.  Mom came running, and took my directly under her wing.

Dad, of course, was furious.  “The Valkyrie leaves at dawn!  What am I supposed to do with a short crew?”

She would have none of it.  “The same as you did when Armand got tangled in the net.  Work harder and fish longer.”

“But now we’ve got the entire defense force to support!”

“And there’s an entire fleet of fisherman to do it.  They’re not relying on you alone.”

“I will not.  Shirk.  My duty.”

“You will not give a hireling time to recover and then force your own son into slavery with a gored hand.  You will leave at dawn and Thorlev will not.  Or you will find a new wife when you return.”

He was an idiot to even argue.  He had married the woman, he ought to know he wasn’t going to talk her out of this.  I couldn’t help but smile while I eavesdropped.  The entire thing had worked beautifully.

* * *

“And you have your parents’ blessing?”

This was the moment of truth.  It must have been obvious to the Sergeant that I did not.  But if they didn’t want every warm body in the field, why was he attending the recruiting post in the dead of night?

“Of course, I have the full support of my family.”  I held up the wooden sword and padded practice armor I had stolen from the training ground.  Just as if my father had sent me fully equipped.

“Can you fight with that hand?”

A bit of an ironic question, since he was missing an entire arm, and apparently it hadn’t disqualified him from service.  I waved the bandages at him.  “Just a scrape.  I’ve trained to strap on my shield, in any case.”

“Excellent.”  He handed me a sharpened stick of charcoal, and laid down a half-filled sheet of blank lines.  “Certify here.”

As I scrawled my signar, I couldn’t help but think it had been too easy.  Even if they needed every warm body in the field, there should have been some resistance to an injured, underage, illicit recruit.  Could the situation be more desperate than we knew?

“Uh, it’s sort of the middle of the night.  When do I report to the Academy?”  I wasn’t terribly looking forward to the three-week Indoctrination, but at least the Academy was inviolate when it came to reluctant parents.

He guffawed.  “You’ll report directly to the Second Tinglith, Fifty-Seventh Hafna.  Pick any of the nags out back, head for the East Gate, the guards will direct you further.”

I gulped, suddenly wishing I was holding the signed canvas instead of him.

He smiled cruelly.  “You’re in the army now.  Desertion is punishable by death.”

Valor Hall, part 2

“Name?” the Sergeant in charge of arrivals asked.

“Hroar,” the man next to me, well, roared. He was twice as thick as me in every dimension, and all of it looked like muscle. If I had his size or even half his enthusiasm, maybe I wouldn’t have spent the whole ride brooding on the note I had left my mother.

“Name?” he asked me next.

“Thorlev.”

“Hroar, Thorlev, you are shieldbrothers. Whatever you do, you will not leave each other’s side.” He pointed at Hroar. “If he eats, you eat.” He pointed at me. “If he pisses, you piss.” Then he grabbed us both by our padded jerkins. “If I see one of you without the other, you’ll be cleaning latrines for the rest of your sharply abbreviated lives. Now get out of my sight.”

Some introduction to military life. On the way out, I heard him snap at someone to get the horses back to town.

But this was the middle of an improvised camp that served as the mustering point for half a dozen small towns. We didn’t know where to go. I pulled up short, and Hroar stopped as soon as he noticed.

“You two! Frogs! Over here!” someone else commanded. I looked, and he was pointing to us. Frogs?

“Because we’re green,” Hroar muttered.

The next Sergeant issued us a large canvas square, a couple of sticks, and a pair of boots each. They were too big for me, too small for Hroar. Then he pointed out the fifty-seventh hafna, and ordered us to pitch our tent.

“Uh,” I waved my wooden practice sword inquiringly. He grimaced at me and looked at Hroar expectantly. Hroar produced an axe. It must have been for chopping wood; it was much too small to fight with.

The Sergeant pointed at me. “You — take one of those.” There was a pile of weapons behind him. I couldn’t help but notice they were all battered, chipped, and blood-stained. Secondhand, to say the least.

Then he looked Hroar up and down. “Yours will have to do. You can take his sword when he dies.” I stiffened, though the Sergeant ignored me. “Whatever you do, don’t take one from a giant. You’ll think you can handle it, but you can’t. In the time it takes you to swing, they’ll crush your skull to pulp.”

“And armor, sir?” I asked. I thought the emphasis nicely conveyed my opinion.

“None for you; not worth wasting the time to fit. You though,” he looked back at Hroar, “you can ask the armorer when you reach the lines. Probably they can find a set that fits.” Off a dead man, unless I missed my guess.

“Don’t worry,” Hroar said quietly as we made for the fifty-seventh. “There’s no way they talk to each other. We’ll tell the armorer to get sets for us both.” I thanked him, though I was starting to expect the armorer might take one look and make the same assessment as the last guy.

* * *

I’d like to say we pitched our tent for a sound night of sleep before a full meal and a thorough introduction to our unit, weapons, and tactics. But that was just what I wished for, while I force-marched in a sleep-deprived fog. We were struggling to fit the canvas to the sticks when the order came to march. I even smiled at the joke, before I noticed that Hroar had reversed course and wrapped his boots into the tent.

“Wait, they’re not serious?”

Hroar shook his head. Then I noticed that everyone else was already packed, and forming up into a line. My boots and sword were still on the ground. I grabbed for them. “But what about–”

“Shut it, frog!” somebody yelled. “Get your ass in line before you catch a fly!”

I thought it was a bit much, but if I had to line up, I could line up. At least in a line, we could go to the chow tent together.

Fifteen leagues later, I still hadn’t eaten. I could barely walk another step; the only thing forcing my feet to continue one after the other was the fear of what might happen if I stopped. My hand blistered and the tip of my sword dragged on the ground — apparently none of the dead men had owned a scabbard. I would have given my right arm to be out on the Valkyrie. Still at sea. Dad didn’t even know. I hoped Mom was taking this better than I was.

* * *

I dragged my head up when I heard the shouting ahead. Six days of marching, and I would have cheerfully jumped into a giant’s pot. I guess I knew the front lines weren’t right there, but I had envisioned a carriage. Or at least a horse. Or something. My legs were long since numb, and when my good hand periodically cramped, I switched the sword to the injured one. At the moment, the hand was bleeding down the hilt to my blade. Mixing my life with the blood of men and giants already there. I couldn’t imagine what anybody was yelling about. I would have liked to yell for a rest, but if I got one, I would simply fall to the ground and it would take all the heroes in Valor Hall to move me another inch.

Suddenly Hroar knocked me aside. I summoned the power to squawk, but the sound was drowned by the crunch as a massive club shattered his chest. I simply gaped at the one-eyed giant that stepped into the space. It grunted, shook the wreckage of my shield brother off its weapon, and drew it back to swing at me. In that moment, I knew my end was nigh.

A burst of flame sizzled through the air from behind, leaving bright streaks in my vision. I hadn’t even known there was a mage in our escort. The fire smashed into the giant’s eye, and over the creature’s roar, I could hear the pops and hisses as its large white orb boiled away. Blinded, with the juicy remains of its eye dribbling down its chin, it still managed to smash its club wildly into the ground. Thankfully, and miraculously, not into me.

I finally jerked my sword up, slashing the creature’s ruined face. It stood tall and roared, then leaned back down to swing again. I sidestepped the blow, and tried stabbing instead. My sword dug deep into its face. The great monster roared one last time, and then its legs collapsed out from under it. It shook the earth when it fell, and flung the sword right out of my hand.

“Fifty-Seventh! To me!” a voice called fiercely through the mayhem. There seemed to be giants all around, and the wizard’s work was the only thing keeping any of us alive. I ran for the battle standard.

Three steps from safety, or three steps from armed defenders at least, another massive club smashed my left arm and spun me around. Pain exploded into my head, and for a moment, all I could see was red. Then I saw dirt, streaked with the blood of men. I lay face-down on the ground, while the battle raged above. When I tried to push up, the pain in my arm almost broke me. And then I felt an amazing thing — my other hand was pushing against the hilt of a sword.

“Fifty-Seventh! Fifty-Seventh!” I heard. The Merkismathr holding the standard pounded the staff into the ground. A surge of energy propelled me to my feet, and I felt the wounded arm no more. Flame whooshed overhead, another giant roared, and I smelled its burning flesh. My blade followed the trail. Even Hroar could never take them one on one, but with a little aid from this wizard, I would hunt each giant to the grave.

The next time the enemy swung at me, I couldn’t help but notice how slowly its weapon moved. I ducked out of the path with ease, and sliced open its side under the arm that had passed.

The fools were barely wearing armor at all, only mismatched animal skins. My sword cut through them, as easy as gutting a fish.

In the mists of my peripheral vision, our band of defenders seemed smaller.

Something crashed into my leg, but it was only a little bother.

The next “Fifty-seventh” sounded almost half-hearted.

No more fireballs passed over my head.

The battle standard wavered.

I fought my way back, grabbing it from the dead hand of the Merkismathr as he fell.

The world narrowed around me. I could see the broken and bloodied tip of my sword, I could feel the torn standard fluttering in the wind, and I found my enemy before me.

If these creatures thought they could destroy the Fifty-Seventh, they had another thought coming.

My sword ripped another giant open from knee to groin.

Darkness closed in.

Valor Hall, part 3

When I opened my eyes, I saw nothing but granite. The smells of blood, sweat, and flesh were gone. Arches soared over my head, hundreds of feet in the air. In bas-relief, I saw each of my greatest heroes in their finest moments of glory. I heard an entire Tinglith of warriors, crashing the butts of their spears to the ground together, honoring the victories of our past. The sound echoed and re-echoed through the heights of the chamber. I turned, already knowing what I would see.

High on the far wall, opposite the Heroes, rested the Gods. Heroes and Gods as one, only in Valor Hall.

I suppose I knew I’d never survive an ambush by giants, but what cosmic mix-up of fate had delivered a Fisherman here?

I tore my gaze down from the heavens.

I stood in the Circle of Honor. Hroar knelt before me. As soon as I noticed, he bowed his head and raised his hands.

“Hroar, what are you doing? You sacrificed yourself for me! Let me offer you to the Hall!”

Hroar looked up, plainly in awe. “Thorlev, you killed seven giants today. The battle standard of the Fifty-Seventh did not fall until after the last of the enemy.” Tears streamed down his face. “You have made Heroes of us all. I am merely your witness.”

Suddenly a thousand spear hafts crashed to the marble floor, and a thousand voices rang out in unison. “The Fifty-Seventh!” I felt the tears run down my own face as I saw each and every one of my greatest heroes, fists aloft in my honor.

I raised my broken sword. “The Fifty-Seventh!” I called back, with every fibre of my being.

* * *

“So, uh, what now?” I asked Hroar. We stood off to the side, the short ceremony complete.

He cleared his throat in a way I took to be significant, and looked to the side.

I immediately straightened and fumbled my way through a bow as I recognized Ivar Erikson himself. He still had the vaguely bowlegged walk of a king who’d spent nearly his entire reign astride his warhorse. Behind him on each side walked one of his legendary Riddari — the legs and flanks of a stallion, smoothly transitioning into the powerful chests, massive shoulders, and muscled arms of elite warriors. Somehow the stories didn’t do them justice — it looked like either one could snap me in half and eat me for breakfast; just a small warm-up before moving on to the actual battle. One of them smiled at the other as they noticed me staring.

“Congratulations,” the king said, holding out a hand. Shocked, I gripped his arm in the traditional manner, before thinking it through. Probably his Riddari Guard would break me now. But he stopped me when I tried to pull back.

“No, Thorlev. No man here has claim to a title. We are simply the Valiant. And you’ve earned your place at least as much as I have. After all, I had…” and he nodded to his horse-men.

Lost for words, I just looked from him to his Guard, desperately hoping they agreed. Finally I found my tongue. “I… You do me too much honor!”

“No more than you deserve.” Finally he released my arm. “But listen, now, tell me of your journey.”

“My journey?”

“Think back. It’ll take a moment, but then it will come to you. How did you come to be here?”

“There was a battle, the giants…” I couldn’t hide my confusion at the request.

“Most of us remember little. Just bits and pieces. Myself, I recall a soft voice, close to my sister’s, but more… innocent. A horse I knew was not my own. He moved like my armor was spun of feathers. No horse has ever carried me like that. And clouds. They tasted… cold. And… then I was here.” There was something else, something he wasn’t saying, but I wasn’t about to object. He shook himself back to the present. “The Fate Stones, though, speak of another. A man who took a longer journey. Thorlev, is that you?”

I thought back. I had taken up the standard. Killed the last giant… And finally fallen. What next?

* * *

“Thorlev,” a voice whispered. A woman’s voice, strikingly unfamiliar. The way she said my name was like no woman I had ever known. She put feeling into each syllable, as if they were gifts to be unwrapped. “Thorlev, your purpose has only begun.”

I opened my eyes, and her appearance was as striking as her voice. Lithe and beautiful, she looked almost Alfari. As she spoke again, I smelled the flowers woven into her long, brown hair. “Thorlev, Hione calls. Will you answer?”

I had to force my voice to work. “I will.”

She stood, and helped me up beside her. The remains of the battle were there, only… faded. I saw the standard at my feet, but couldn’t make out the symbols. My sword lay next to it, and I could no longer tell whose blood it held. A monstrous leg led away, to a torso with four enormous arms. How I avoided succumbing to that great beast, I’ll never know. I shuddered as I gazed over the field, but I couldn’t see much more than my immediate surroundings. I clutched the woman’s arm.

“You may call me Analia. And this is Runar.” I jerked my head around, having no idea who else she was talking about. There, snorting impatiently, was a small brown horse. He was saddled for two, and while Analia would be light, I had no idea how he’d manage to carry us both. He looked me in the eye and jerked his head as if to say, ‘let’s get on with this!’

Analia slipped onto Runar without hesitation. They both looked back at me. What else could I do? Fearing for the blood, sweat, and iron I was about to subject them to, I mounted behind her.

“Thorlev, there’s something you need to see. It’ll take some time, but it’s a story that must be told.”

Then her legs moved, and Runar leaped into the sky.

* * *

The clouds blew past frenetically as Runar strode through the air. We flew toward the coast, and a great storm loomed, washed over us with all the fury of the Storm Lion, and passed in the wink of an eye. Ships flew madly in and out of their ports. But few, too few. I looked for the Valkyrie, and thought maybe I saw it, though it was too far to be sure. A heavy winter storm blasted through, leaving the nothing but slowly spinning wreckage in its place. The sea frothed and churned, tossing the remaining ships like toys.

“Analia, what… what is this?”

She looked back at me sadly. “This, Thorlev, is what you must tell the Valiant.” It made no sense.

Runar turned inland, as summers and winters passed in rapid succession. I looked back, and counted only three ships. The entire fishing fleet?

“This will not be easy,” she warned, as Runar swooped down from the clouds.

I wasn’t sure what she meant. It was just the burned-out remains of some village. As sun and moon passed over, I saw some pathetic survivor dash out of the nearby hills, pick through the ruins, and flee again into the cover of darkness. As we watched, the sun dawned again and she came back, scouring another part of the remains. Another day, another visit. Each time, she seemed to lurk for a longer time at the ruins of one particular structure. This time she was going to pay for it — the attackers were back. Not even giants; a raiding party from the next village. They sped in and spread out to loot whatever they could, and as Runar turned to depart, the lone survivor was heading back toward her favorite place, unaware. Surrounded, and she didn’t even know it. She arrived just as I lost sight, her destination on the edge of a large clearing. If this was home, that would be the space for the market. Our house had also been on the edge, just about…

“I’m sorry, Thorlev.”

As we disappeared back into the clouds, I heard someone screaming.

Then I realized it was me.

* * *

“At least we fought the giants to a standstill,” I concluded. It wasn’t worth much. I couldn’t even see the ground toward the end, with the land sweeping Jaanmark with a winter the likes of which she had never seen. Three summers missed and it was only getting started. “I think I’m glad I didn’t live to see the rest.”

Ivar Erikson considered my story and nodded. “You’re the one, then. The Last of the Valiant.” He blew out a sigh. “We must warn the others. The end is near.”

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