Demons – A race that appears similar to Taurs in certain respects, yet differs greatly in many others; namely height, musculature and skin tone. Their appearance can seem quite menacing to outsiders especially due to the fact that their irises and pupils are an identical colour to the rest of their eye, as well as their use of pheromones to induce panic in foes. Believed to be an evolutionary offshoot of the Taur, they reside almost exclusively in Dant, although they have been spotted among foreign mercenaries.
The Origin of Species – Morrigan de Bedoine
Despite Rogan’s claims that the tank lizard half of the party was sat atop was tame, it still took twice as long as expected to reach the fortress city of Jotunheim. If this Blitzfaust character was here, Malkus thought, he would be difficult to find in that garrison.
It seemed more similar to an insect hive than a city. The multiple walls grew in size the further into the city they were until the tallest, those of Tyr’s fort itself, appeared to be a mile tall. Every other building was crafted from everwood, forming houses of similar shape to Fenite ships. Dragons adorned every wall and structure, creating a menacing image. Heavily armoured soldiers patrolled every wall and guarded the massive iron portcullis that provided entry.
Malkus inspected his company for a moment. Gibralt, a disgruntled Morrigan and the increasingly wild-looking Ludwig were all perched atop the tank lizard while he, Rogan and Cottontongue strode on ahead. Rogan was smoking fireweed and had a mad glint of nostalgia in his eyes.
‘How long is this going to take?’ Morrigan yelled ahead.
‘As long as it has to, lass,’ Gibralt hissed beside her. ‘It’s no mean feat trying to find Blitzfaust; he’s a sneaky bastard when he wants to be.’
As they approached the portcullis Jotun guard, clad in heavy chainmail and furs strode over to Rogan.
‘Halt,’ he grunted. ‘State your business in Jotunheim or leave.’
Rogan blew a plume of fireweed smoke into the guard’s face and beamed. ‘We’re here to find someone. We’ll just take him with us and leave, if you don’t mind.’
‘I can’t allow you to walk into Jotunheim without elaborating.’
‘I just told you we’re looking for someone,’ Rogan sighed angrily. ‘Maybe you’ve heard of him; he’s called Blitzfaust.’
The guard coughed and straightened his shoulders. ‘What business would you have with Major Blitzfaust?’
‘Ah, so you do know him,’ Rogan smirked. ‘Well, if you wouldn’t mind telling him Rogan Darkmoor is here to see him…’
A look of amazement stretched across the guard’s face like a mask. ‘Darkmoor?! In that case I’ll take you to him myself!’ He nodded at another guard and they all set off through Jotunheim.
Malkus began his observations once more. All of the guards wore identical uniforms, all suggesting that they were part of the same battalion. All of them wore the same ram-horned helm that hid their upper face, all of them wore the same fur-lined cloaks and gloves and all of them had the same facial hair and tattoos. It seemed even here uniformity had taken over the military.
The grey walls of the city enclosed upon them like some form of cell. All around him the townsfolk were accompanied by guards and soldiers, either protecting or harassing them, Malkus couldn’t be certain. A number of stalls were set up outside the myriad of houses selling fresh fruit, vegetables and assorted meat goods. The haggard Jotun behind the stalls were hunched and elderly yet still massive compared to Malkus and the others. He looked behind him to see that the tank lizard barely took up any room on the packed street, yet the locals still steered well clear of it.
‘I must inquire as to what you are doing back here,’ the guard began.
Rogan tipped out his pipe, tapping pieces of ash from the end. ‘I’ll tell Blitzfaust when I see him, all I’m going to tell you is what I told you earlier; we’re here to take him with us.’
The guard tensed and Malkus spotted a definite scowl stretch across his face. ‘Very well.’
Another portcullis loomed ahead of them, this one with a garrison of heavier armoured guards; gone were the furs and in their place was a heavy chainmail cloak. Even the chain armour was covered in sturdy plating. They opened the gate at the sight of the guard leading them and stared in a mixture of confusion and fascination at the tank lizard. Gibralt removed his hat and waved it in a grand gesture, revelling in the guards’ confusion.
The inner district of Jotunheim was for military training. The huge throng of soldiers were all either practicing combat, marching in formation or off duty and drinking heavily. Several barracks lay across the street, each one colour coded for different duties. The guard led them towards the nearest one and strolled through the doorway.
The tank lizard stopped outside, lowering itself so Morrigan, Ludwig and Gibralt could step off, and retreated inside of its shell. The group followed their guide through a long corridor to one of the undecorated quarters. He stood outside and pointed everyone inside before presumably returning to his duties.
Inside of the cavernous chamber was fairly bare. The room was quite large, large enough to fit the entire party with plenty of room to spare, and the only furniture was a desk and a chair. The desk was packed with papers and books, all of which had been left untouched over a number of days, and a large keg of ale. Sat behind the desk was a squat, stocky dwarf. His mane of red hair was tied back into a tight ponytail and a pair of long sideburns obscured most of his face. He was dressed in an identical uniform to the other soldiers and a Fenite tally tattoo covered his arms. Like all dwarves his skin was calcified and a slight shade of grey.
Morrigan gasped as she spotted him. ‘A dwarf? But I thought they were extinct!’
‘No lass,’ the dwarf grunted. ‘We’re still lurking in the northern wastes in great numbers. We just tend to keep to ourselves is all.’
‘Blitzfaust!’ Rogan beamed. ‘It’s been too long old friend.’
‘Aye it has,’ Blitzfaust smiled, shaking the captain’s hand. ‘What brings you and these strangers here, Cap’n?’
Gibralt leant on the desk and grinned. ‘We got a proposition for you. You want to come with us back to the frozen wastes to get a bounty for Ra? The pay’s great and it’d be a chance to catch up on the old days.’
‘We’re going after Malquiss and Blackfoot after this too,’ Rogan stated. ‘You up for it?’
The dwarf coughed and raised his head at the group. ‘Sorry but my place is here now. If I wanted to go back to the northern wastes then I would’ve five years ago. And If I was bitter with Malquiss I would’ve sent a fucking legion after him by now.’
‘Come on Blitzfaust,’ Gibralt sighed angrily. ‘We need you along too.’
‘Aye, you probably do, but that doesn’t mean I’m coming with!’
Rogan straightened up and growled. ‘You’re a fucking coward Blitzfaust. Five years ago you would’ve leapt at the chance to get even with Blackfoot; hell, you leapt at the opportunity to flay the bastard on a whim! Now you’re hiding behind your desk because you’re afraid. You’re afraid of your fucking past.’
‘I outrank you Captain,’ Blitzfaust yelled. ‘You can’t talk to me that way!’
‘And I outranked you Major even before I left the army!’ Rogan roared. All signs of pleasantness left his face as it twisted into a Jotun war-mask; the very image of anger. ‘I have every right to not only talk to you that way but to give you orders as well!’ He calmed down in an instant and his expression became grim. ‘Don’t force my hand, Blitzfaust; it’s far more terrible than it once was.’
Blitzfaust’s lip quivered in fear at Rogan’s rant. As soon as he finished the dwarf warmed and clapped loudly. ‘You never did take any shit, Cap’n. Alright, I’ll come with. I’ll be happy to provide you with anything you need here in Jotunheim. By the seven hells, I’ll even give you some transport for your new friends.’
Gibralt beamed and patted the dwarf’s shoulder. ‘Welcome back Master Blitzfaust.’
‘They still looking for you?’ Doc Tyrun asked. It was the crack of dawn and he was still stood at the bar, cleaning glasses. There was one solitary customer in the tavern passed out on top of a table, his arse raised in the air still from when he fell over. Vepar paced down the stairs tentatively and sat down at the bar. He panted slightly, saliva dripping from his tongue. The demon behind the bar wiped his cloth across the bar and frowned. ‘Do you have to do that?’
‘It’s too hot here and I have no sweat glands,’ Vepar panted. ‘I have very little choice in the matter.’
The demon placed an empty glass in front of Vepar and smirked. ‘Try aiming for that then. Are the Fenrirs still looking for you?’
Vepar nodded and dripped saliva into the glass. He hadn’t shaved in over two weeks and his fur was coming through thicker now. The only patch of skin Doc Tyrun would have been able to see that wasn’t covered in a short, bristly dark fur matching the hair on Vepar’s head would have been the palms of his hands.
‘You really ought to shave, lad,’ Doc Tyrun set down his cloth and the tankard he was wiping and leant on the bar. ‘Not just for your health, those Fenrirs are going to be looking for someone half-Wolvyn. If you shave and cover your head in a Muspell garb they’ll be less inclined to go for you.’
‘Yes, I know but…’ Vepar winced slightly as he spoke. ‘It hurts when I shave… it hurts a lot.’
‘Just make sure your hand’s steady and don’t cut yourself then,’ Doc Tyrun frowned.
‘No,’ Vepar sighed. ‘I mean it hurts whenever I cut any one of my hairs, I feel it right down to the root. It’s like pulling one of my teeth out.’
The demon straightened and pulled a bottle of thick, viscous green liquid from behind him. He placed it on the counter and smiled at Vepar. ‘That should help you, methinks. It’s a very strong painkiller that lacks the sedative qualities. Numbs the skin but you can still shave it all easily.’ He stretched an arm out, indicating at the stairs and he and Vepar strode up them to the en suite bathroom in Vepar’s room. A large tin bath sat in the centre of the room and a pair of taps hung above it from long, rusted copper pipes. A large mirror hung opposite the stained glass window and a cabinet filled with various cleaning utensils squatted in the corner of the room.
Doc Tyrun placed the bottle beside the bath and began filling it up with cold water. Vepar gasped but was immediately silenced by the demon’s raised palm. ‘Relax, it’s really warm water. If I filled it with hot water you’d boil.’ After the bath was filled he pulled a razor from the cabinet and handed it to Vepar. ‘I advise you drink two mouthfuls of the anaesthetic. If you need a hand I’ll be downstairs.’ With that Doc Tyrun left the room and closed the door.
A sigh escaped Vepar as he stared at himself in the mirror. After a long minute he stripped of his clothes and dipped his foot in the bath. Doc Tyrun was right; the water was quite warm, tolerably so. He soaked himself and stood once more, opening the bottle of anaesthetic and swallowing two mouthfuls loudly. The liquid felt like porridge as it flowed down his throat and tasted foul, a bitter lemon flavour. Immediately his skin numbed and Vepar sighed once more. He snatched up the razor and dragged it across his arm.
The howl Vepar let forth shook the room. ‘Fuck!’ he screeched as he dragged it over his body repeatedly. He scraped the hair covered razor on the edge of the bathtub and soaked his drying fur. A small trickle of blood oozed out into the waters and the short bristles that he was shedding swirled into the darkening waters, lining the edge of the tub. He stared at himself in the mirror once more. A patch of darker fur lined his chest and his lean, muscular arm was now entirely revealed; only a few small, rogue hairs remained. His crotch was completely obscured by long hair that he refused to shave, for fear of causing himself injury, and as he turned he noticed the minute stump above his arse, the only trace of his vestigial tail, looked far longer when it was unshaved.
He ran a clawed finger over it and remembered the pain inflicted upon him in his youth. His first memory and it was one of mutilation. When he was only three years old his mother was suffering from depression as a result of his father’s abuse and violation. She took her anger and frustration out on Vepar one morning, hacking off his tail with her husband’s bread knife and attempted to slice his ears into a more human shape before turning the blade upon herself. It was partly the sight of his mother’s suicide, as well as the following years of abuse and resentment from his father, that made him alienate himself from his Wolvyn side.
A tear ran down Vepar’s face. He sniffed loudly, straightened up and resumed shaving, his howls restrained to a muffled groan.
A deep sigh of frustration left Morrigan as she poured over countless tomes in the Jotunheim library. The library situated outside Tyr’s fortress was one of the largest and most comprehensive in all of Fenus, a gathering of all academic studies under one roof. The only educational materials missing were those written by Nimians and by the gods themselves; they were always kept under guard and had only been loaned to a select few in the millennia since they were written.
She scratched her elongated ear as she stared intently at the pages of one book in particular. It appeared to be a text on the evolution of the different races and the author was another by the unknown that had written the histories of the United Kingdom; Surtr. It seemed to be very similar to the ‘Origin of Species’ she had written and elaborated on her guesswork.
As Morrigan read on, the more sense the book made to her; apparently the directions of human evolution had been placed under the strict control of the gods. The various ‘mutations’, as Surtr described them, that arose after the Sundering were evolving at a much faster rate than all other humans and it was only by ‘divine intervention’ that it slowed in pace, producing the races recognisable today. The resulting races (orks, Taurs, Undying and even the now extinct dwarves) were caused by accelerated human evolution while others, namely the Elders and the rare Wolvyn, were hybrids artificially created in the Centre of Life, a building previously mentioned in Surtr’s other book.
On top of that, the remaining ‘pure’ humans have been bred over such time that they have almost developed into subspecies; an example of this would the vastly superior nervous systems, muscle density and most notably size of Fenite Jotuns compared with the extreme empathy and the so called ‘truth-sense’ of Luunites, their intrinsic knowledge of when a being is lying or concealing information. After innumerable generations in which humanity was enforced into certain roles, it would be unsurprising if they became far more adept with particular talents.
A shiver ran down Morrigan’s spine as she set the book down on a polished pine desk. These theories did make sense; Nimians, for example, were well known for being natural scholars. Their memory was near photographic and they had far more dense brains, packed with more cells to aid the absorption of information, meaning that they were able to memorise an entire library-worth of data. Unfortunately these heightened mental capabilities came at a price; a diminishment of physical ability. Many of the guards around the cities and the ranks of the Nimien army comprised of former Fenites or Dantens that had been coerced into abandoning their cultures or tamed savages from the unexplored north.
Morrigan pushed the book further away on the desk and resumed her search for the enigmatically named Centre of Life in the museum archives. Three fruitless hours studying texts on the United Kingdom had left her drained. It didn’t seem likely that any help would arrive to aid her reading; Rogan and his pirates were drinking in the barracks’ tavern, Ludwig had joined them, Malkus the Luunite was investigating Jotunheim and attempting to bless the journey by praying to Artemis and Cottontongue was tending to the tank lizard.
‘You needn’t worry about reading alone any longer, young Morrigan,’ a voice said behind her. She turned to see the robed figure of Malkus striding towards her, carrying a large pile of leather-bound books in his pale arms.
A look of confusion appeared on the Undying’s face as she watched the Luunite. ‘I thought you were touring the city, what are you doing here?’
‘I learnt from my studies in the priesthood of Artemis that studying alone can be tiresome and, at times, depressing. I was under the impression that some assistance would be appreciated from you… It would assume my presumptions were correct,’ Malkus said cheerfully. Morrigan tilted her head to one side and resisted an urge to frown.
‘How would you know whether I wanted help?’ Morrigan demanded, annoyance clear in her voice; annoyance at the assumptions of this Luunite and his backwards beliefs.
Malkus chuckled heartily and placed the books gently on the table. ‘You forget; I am a Luunite. I can read you as easily as one of these old tomes,’ Malkus stated as he indicated to the pile he had set down beside Morrigan. ‘I noticed the way your eyes lit up as I approached and the slight sagging in your shoulders before you spotted me showed that you were disgruntled with the work. Your eyebrows raised a millimetre, subconsciously I suspect, when you spotted me which suggests you were pleasantly surprised by my presence, and as I told you my wish to aid you, your lip curled into a small smirk and you looked to the floor; a hint of pleasure and thanks.’
Malkus sat beside Morrigan and, although she was unable to see his eyes behind his mask, she could feel his eyes penetrating her and seeing into her very thoughts. ‘I know you deny your need for help from both pride and a need for independence (your feminist ideals are clear to me, child), and think that I am primitive as my people do not use the same forms of technology and hold the gods as objects of direct worship. I want you to know something; my entire civilization is based upon the night deserts and surviving them requires an entirely different form of society to the one you Nimiens have devised. Any acts motivated by pride, vanity or any selfish goals always result in self-destruction in Luunus; we have had to learn the hard way that the only way to survive in the night desert is through complete cooperation and faith, whether it be faith in a higher power or faith in each other.’
Morrigan frowned as she listened to Malkus’ speech, attempting to peer through the painted mask to the obscured face and see what manner of man was giving her such a lecture. He spoke like an old village elder of a nomadic tribe, yet he had the voice of a young man, admittedly it was fairly deep and with the lyrical accent of a Luunite, yet it was unmistakeably that of a man that was spared from the ravages of time. Indeed, what little of his face was on display she could see was smooth and pale, although the tuft of white hair on his chin could have been mistaken for belonging to that of someone elderly.
Malkus nudged Morrigan with his knuckles playfully and picked up a book from his pile. ‘Anyway, that’s enough of my lecture for now. I know you are too tired to care about the ramblings of some priest, so I think it’d be best if we continue researching,’ he said as he opened the book and turned to the first page. Morrigan looked back at the desk and stared at the pages in front of her.
‘Fucking priests,’ she thought. Rather than voice her distaste she merely grumbled quietly, ‘Sure, let’s do that.’ She once again opened up Surtr’s history book and began pouring over it.
Eventually she found more details to guide her. In the year 2065 anno domini a great threat rose up in the new UE. With the perfection of artificial intelligence man was able to create a new form of machine; equal in intelligence to humans yet inferior in social status. One of the inventors behind these machines, a man that called himself the Romantic, programmed new ideas and thoughts into them and urged them to rebel. Whether he was doing it for the machine’s benefit or his own he was uncertain, yet a large number of them did indeed form a rebellion, devastating the armed forces and nearly overwhelming the regime. It was only when humanity somehow managed to win back a victory that the augment programmes of the previous generation were reconsidered for military usage. ‘A new wave of these would be created, only the original five prototypes were not of the abominations that caused strife throughout the globe.’
A map appeared on the next page revealing the size and shape of the island previously mentioned. The UE described in the book was a new government set up from that island and the map revealed that it expanded over a large portion of the nearest landmass. She snatched a more recent map and examined the pair of them. The geography was very different by now; far more islands and continents than that of the Sundered Earth. Despite these differences, however, she could still see similarities in the geography; most of the continent of ‘Europe’ from the Machine Age would later be swallowed up by Nimia, the most westerly regions of that and a neighbouring continent of ‘North America’ would form Fenus in later years. That island, along with some other unidentifiable land masses would form the uncharted northern wastes that they were to journey to.
‘Malkus,’ Morrigan smiled. ‘I think we’re closer to finding it.’
It was never a real visit to a town for Rogan if he didn’t visit at least one pub or tavern. The pub for the Tyr’s Eye battalion of Jotunheim was an exemplary example of a drinking establishment; one that brought nostalgic memories back to Rogan’s misty eyes.
The place was full of Jotun soldiers in various states of inebriation, chaos ensuing around Rogan and his group. Roars of laughter and drunken singing were booming over the various sounds of combat from the far side of the bar. Over all of this, Rogan, Blitzfaust and Gibralt were grinning like lunatics. They were sat at the longest table, a solitary Jotun taking up the end of it and staring at his drink.
‘I can’t believe this place hasn’t changed,’ Rogan beamed.
Blitzfaust chuckled and drummed his fingers on the table. ‘Aye, the soldiers have changed but it’s still the same; always good craic and fighting.’
A loud yelp from behind Gibralt made everyone look towards the bar. Ludwig was returning with four tankards, dodging and ducking between the soldiers. He looked so out of place here; although he had clearly changed and moved beyond the image of a Nimian astronomer he still seemed too middle-class for a pub like this. He placed the tankards down with a loud thump and sat beside Gibralt, chewing his lip frantically in anxiety.
‘Hope you don’t mind rum, it was the cheapest thing they had,’ Ludwig tried to smile, yet it seemed more like a wince.
The pirates laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘We had to live on the bloody stuff when we were at sea, lad,’ Gibralt giggled.
‘It’s been too long,’ Rogan smiled nostalgically. He raised his tankard and grinned. ‘To the Fenrir’s Maw; may she cast herself to the depths and take that evil sod Blackfoot with her!’ They all clashed mugs save for Ludwig, who had begun drinking already. ‘Come on, lad. Knock my fucking glass already.’
Ludwig spluttered and did as he was told. ‘Sorry, I wasn’t part of your crew so I thought it was just between you three.’
‘You may not have been,’ Blitzfaust began, ‘but you’re with us now. That means you can count yourself among the Fenrir’s Maw now. Your name’s Ludwig, right?’
The ork nodded and took another swig of rum, coughing as he answered. ‘Yeah, Ludwig de Rostand.’
‘Crap pirate name,’ Gibralt muttered as he placed his mug down.
‘What do you mean?’ Ludwig raised an eyebrow and his lips thinned. ‘I could say the same thing for Rogan Darkmoor or Gibralt Mikkelson.’
Rogan raised his clockwork hand and smirked. ‘Aye lad, but those aren’t our pirate names. Those may be our given names and we may call each other by them but we were only given notoriety through our pirate names. For example, mine is Rogan “The Bastard” and Gibralt is “Floater”. They have nothing to do with my parentage or his crap; it’s all based on our achievements. Hell, Blitzfaust isn’t even the dwarf’s real name; he earned that title onboard the Maw.’
Ludwig took another swig of rum and sighed loudly. ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to achieve something with you then.’
‘Well, you done anything of note yet?’ Gibralt asked.
‘Only astronomy work,’ Ludwig belched and immediately looked embarrassed. ‘I managed to work out Pluto’s track across the sky but the rest of it was just confirming other people’s work.’
Rogan scratched his chin. ‘Astronomy, huh? Until you do anything better you’re now Ludwig “Starchaser”. May sound a little fruity but that’ll just give you more bloody incentive to do something!’ Rogan and the other two pirates laughed loudly and even Ludwig had to chuckle. The Jotun raised his tankard once more. ‘To Starchaser; here’s to getting a better name in future!’ The group clashed mugs one more and drained them.
Almost immediately Rogan raised his mug once more and began singing. His growling voice turned to a surprising baritone as he sung and waved his tankard in the air. No sooner had he finished the first note than his companions joined in, providing tenors to join him.
‘I now sit before you a ghost of a man
Although I am nowhere near dying,
Commanded a ship that sailed every sea
And that isn’t my drunken lying
Mine was a name that struck fear into men
And regret into plenty of lasses,
Oh, how I wish I could bring back those days
As I stare at our empty rum glasses
So we’ll drink up!
The men that I fought are matched only by the all women I bought
So drink up!
I’ve killed and shot and stained both my hands with innocent’s blood
And if I could go back and change how it ends
I’d make all those mistakes again
I’d kill every last one of those bastards my friend!
The Maw was the last sight that many would see
As we tracked down our prey in a hurry
The sounds of the cannons and screams of our foes
Would herald our path into glory
These memories were bought with the lives of good men
It was quite an awful large price
We all knew it well but we continued on
‘Cause we knew that everyone dies
So drink up!
The men that I fought are matched only by the all women I bought
So drink up!
I’ve killed and shot and stained both my hands with many innocent’s blood
And if I could go back and change how it ends
I’d make all those mistakes again
I’d kill every last one of those bastards my friend!’
The group laughed heartily and Gibralt thumped Ludwig in the arm playfully making him fall onto the solitary Jotun at the end of the table. If chaos had already ensued then the seventh Hell had came to Jotunheim. The Jotun leapt to his feet and towered over the table. His head and arms were covered in bandages and he was dressed in black furs. He rivalled Rogan in height and musculature.
‘How dare you attack a Fenrir!’ the Jotun growled, picking up Ludwig with ease. ‘I could have you executed for that, cur!’
Whether fuelled by alcohol or his wilderness-based confidence, Ludwig reared up to his full height. Despite only reaching the Jotun’s chest, Ludwig seemed somewhat more imposing now. ‘Listen my friend, that was an accident and you know it. Now, don’t go making idle threats; I don’t care who you are and I doubt you’d execute me for falling over.’
The punch from the Jotun echoed across the pub and all went silent. Ludwig fell to the floor with an almighty thud and stared up in shock, clutching his cheek. His fang had snapped and his cheek was turning a vicious red. Rogan and Blitzfaust leapt to their feet and paced over in front of him.
‘Calm the fuck down, this isn’t in your fucking jurisdiction. You have no power here, Fenrir,’ Blitzfaust hissed. ‘Do you know who we are!?’
‘I answer only to Loki, dwarf,’ the Jotun snarled. ‘Now step aside before I’m forced to hit you too.’
A long pause passed as the three glared at each other. In frustration the Jotun lashed out and went to smack Blitzfaust aside. Before he could lay a hand on Blitzfaust the dwarf had snatched his hand, squeezed it until the Jotun’s fingers broke and punched him in the bollocks in one lightning manoeuvre. The Fenrir collapsed in a heap, coughing and groaning in pain. A trio of Fenrir’s leapt to their feet from a nearby table and the pub began emptying.
The Fenrir’s drew long, curved knives from their belts and pointed them at Rogan and Blitzfaust. Gibralt squawked, attempted to pull his sword out and fell over backwards off his chair in a drunken pile. ‘Fucking lightweight,’ Rogan thought. He drew his blade-hand and watched Blitzfaust pull a deadly-looking mace from his back that had been obscured by his long ponytail. Ludwig had picked himself from the floor and snatched the first weapon he could find; a steak-knife lying on the bar.
The battle was quick and bloody. The Fenrir’s charged as one at the dwarf and Jotun. Rogan span and sliced the throat of on Fenrir open. As he clutched at his neck in vain Rogan ran him through with his rapier. At the same time Blitzfaust ducked a pair of them and hacked at the knee of one of them. As he fell in slow motion Blitzfaust bludgeoned his head into a bloody pulp. The final one stopped and turned to stab Blitzfaust only to be stabbed in the gut by Ludwig. The ork quickly slashed at the Fenrir’s gut, giving him a Vomiting Maw. The Fenrir clutched at his guts, trying to keep his innards from seeping through his fingers and he fell to his knees, groaning in agony as his life slipped away.
Everyone stared at the now panting and shocked Ludwig. ‘Fucking… That was brutal, lad!’ Rogan laughed in a high-pitched, amazed tone.
‘We’re going to have to hurry out of ’ere if there’s Fenrir’s after us,’ Blitzfaust sighed. ‘We’ll get some more transport and then be on our way.’
It took a day to leave Jotunheim and escape its shadow. Blitzfaust had provided them with a number of cockatrice-led wagons. The immense bipedal birds, taller than a man, were dressed in heavy iron armour and furs showing that they were military steeds. The guards gave them no trouble as they all left as clearly they had no idea of what had transpired in the pub.
Morrigan was displeased beyond words. Rogan and Ludwig had hurriedly snatched all of the books around her while she was still in the library and threw them clumsily into the back of a wagon. Only when they’d finally left Jotunheim had she been able to rearrange the papers and pages in order.
The camp was set up for the night fairly quickly. It was the only dark night they’d had for weeks; a massive dark cloud covered the sky like a black blanket. Thunder rumbled over the horizon in the direction of Yggdrasil. The occasional drizzle passed over the camp and the cockatrice shook as they attempted to dry themselves. The tents were covered in damp patches yet the rest of the group slept peacefully within. Morrigan was the only one awake. She was sat around the slowly dying fire reading once again.
She had found no more details on the Tyne region or the Godmaker. An annoyed grunt escaped her as she slammed her book closed and threw it into her tent. Ludwig snored loudly behind her, groaning every time he rolled onto his bruised cheek. Morrigan looked around the camp and sighed angrily. She was bored out of her mind and had nothing to do.
‘Oh for fuck’s…’ A loud muffled yell came from a tent. It parted to reveal a disgruntled Blitzfaust, grunting and making obscene gestures. He span and looked shocked to see Morrigan. Without thinking he pointed at the tent. ‘Gibralt’s a dirty fucker,’ he began. ‘Just caught him having a wank beside me.’
Morrigan tutted and rolled her eyes. ‘I wouldn’t expect any less from any of you, seems like something you’d all do.’
‘Now that’s just cold,’ Blitzfaust frowned. ‘We may be scoundrels and bastards but we’re not wankers… save for Gibralt apparently. Then again we all ain’t had a fuck in ages so I guess I could excuse him.’
‘Typical man,’ she grumbled. She scrabbled to pick up her book from within her tent in order to avoid conversation with the dwarf. ‘If you’re desperate to get to sleep then have my tent, I’m not going to sleep anytime soon.’
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like some conversation?’ Blitzfaust began striding towards her. ‘I’m a cunning linguist don’t you know; really good with my tongue.’
Morrigan opened her book and scowled in disgust. ‘Oh, piss off you crude bastard!’
The dwarf cackled with laughter and stepped to the entrance of the tent. ‘Fine, I know when someone doesn’t want me.’ He leaned in close to Morrigan before he entered the tent. ‘You’d better not fuck up when we’re on the ship though; I may have to have my wicked way with you.’
A sickened gasp came from Morrigan as she spun round to respond. He’d already disappeared into the tent and was drifting to sleep. ‘Sick bastard,’ she sighed angrily and resumed reading Surtr’s history book. Finally she reached some more information of use.
A number of years after the brief and unsuccessful machine uprising, around 2091, the combination of remaining augment dissidents, rebellious machines and a new virus that plagued the island known as ‘Bloodfire’ took a heavy toll on the people of the nation. The government of that country decided to reopen the research into augment technology that had been buried long ago. In order to prevent the mistakes of the past from being repeated, a number of alternative methods were explored on top of the previous ones. Five prototypes were created, each utilising a different form of augmentation; genetic manipulation, nanomachines, a failed cure for the Bloodfire virus and mechanical enhancements. Together they were sent to quell the anarchist augments and machines with great success. ‘The Government would use them as a template to our greatest foes,’ Surtr went on to say; ‘a foe that we still struggle against to this day.’
Loud chirps from the cockatrice startled Morrigan. She set the book down and stared at them. They were calling towards the sky as a rumble of thunder crashed across the camp. The first few droplets of rain splashed onto Morrigan’s face and she crawled over to Gibralt’s tent hurriedly, attempting to keep her distance in case he was still masturbating. ‘Fucking dwarf,’ she groaned to herself. ‘I could really grow to detest him.’
Malkus was dreadfully unaccustomed to Muspell. He may not have been used to the light and heat of Nimia and Jotunheim but in Muspell it was all enhanced to an unnatural degree. Everywhere around him were hardy Jotnar shivering and clutching at their furs while he was bathed in sweat. He considered removing his head-dress but thought against it; it would be sacrilege for him to do that and keep his eyes open, and if anything it was shading his head.
Thankfully he was not the only one over-heating; he could see the shifter and two Nimians were in similar conditions to him, and in various stages of undress. Even the four cockatrice seemed to be overheating. Only the dwarf, the Taur and Rogan seemed unaffected as did the tank lizard there were astride, although that would be because they had developed to cope with the heat assumedly.
All of the walls of the buildings were covered in posters. Malkus snatched one of them off the wall of a house and investigated. It was the wanted poster for a Wolvyn half-breed and a Jotun; apparently they had killed seven “Fenrirs” in a nearby town. He turned to Rogan and inclined his head.
‘What is a Fenrir?’ he asked in his thick accent.
Rogan smirked. ‘They’re arseholes that Loki, the lady of this town, hired as peacekeepers. Apparently she’s given them a bigger jurisdiction than just Muspell since she’s got them in all the cities now. Half of them are thugs and thieves just put there so she can fuck with people’s heads. Why’d you ask?’
‘There’s a wanted poster here for someone who killed some of them,’ Malkus replied and Rogan slowed his pace, looking worried. ‘A Wolvyn and a Jotun.’
At that elaboration Rogan sighed in relief and quickened once more. Malkus looked at the posters that lined the street. There was a great number of wanted posters, half of the featuring the Wolvyn and the others featuring a larger group. He clawed one of the second posters off the wall and gasped.
‘It would seem we’re in similar trouble to them though,’ Malkus gulped, his lips tightening. Everyone stopped and stared as he turned the poster around.
It was of all of them. Along the top were drawings of the three pirates and Ludwig that had went drinking in Jotunheim and a subtitle stating they were wanted for ‘assault and murder of four Fenrirs’ while the rest of them were underneath for ‘aiding the escape of fugitives’. A look of worry spread among the group.
‘How far is Doc Tyrun’s Bar?’ Rogan asked monotonously, his expression fixed in shock.
‘It’s in the very centre of the street, opposite the fountains,’ Gibralt and Blitzfaust answered as one. As if by some unheard signal they all flicked the reigns of their steeds and rushed towards the pub. They stashed the tank and wagons to the side of the inn and rushed inside. Malkus was the last one inside and the only one to hear the call from down the street. He looked down from where they had travelled to see a group of bandaged Jotnar dressed in black strutting down the street, the one at the front of them with his hands cupped to his mouth shouting in the direction of the pub.
He clumsily slammed the door and backed away from it, towards his companions who were stood around the untended bar. Rogan drummed his fingers on the counter as a rotund man, too short to be a Jotun, came from the back of the tavern. He wore a large amount of fake tan and a high-grade wig. His beard and unusually coloured eyes were real and two short lumps on his head suggested he was either Taur or demon.
‘So, the fugitives actually decided to show up?’ he smirked.
Rogan grasped the barman’s hand and beamed. ‘Nice to see you too Doc,’ he chuckled warmly.
Doc Tyrun looked around the group and walked around the counter. ‘You’d best get upstairs, there’s a lot of raids going on here today, looking for you and the Wolvyn no doubt.’
Malkus coughed and spoke up ‘Actually I saw a group of men in bandages heading in our direction as we entered.’
‘Fuck,’ Doc Tyrun cursed. ‘Get upstairs and I’ll see to ’em.’ He shoved the group in the direction of the stairs. Rather than hiding in a room they all stood in the corridor, hiding around the corner from the stairs. Malkus was the closest to the stairs and so he crouched low and peeked out to see what was going on, ensuring the antlers of his head-dress weren’t visible.
The door flung open with an almighty crash and seven Jotnar, presumably Fenrirs, entered the tavern. Their bandages were presumably intended to both ensure the identity of this ‘secret police’ was kept secret and to intimidate those questioned. Uniformity stretched beyond the uniforms, however; they were all of roughly the same height and build. The tallest, presumably their captain, was brandishing a poster as though it were poisonous to him and slammed it on the bar.
‘Where are they?’ he snarled.
‘Sorry gentlemen but the bar’s only just opened, I haven’t seen anyone come in,’ Doc Tyrun replied, remaining positively cheerful.
The Fenrir punched the counter as hard as he could. ‘Don’t give me any bullshit, where are these men? I saw the Luunite come in here not three minutes ago!’
Doc Tyrun glared at the Fenrir. ‘You must be mistaken, sir. Why would I let one of…those into my tavern? It makes no sense; they don’t drink alcohol, they don’t sleep as we do… why would I aid one? There’d be no profit or benefit for me.’
‘I know they’re here, don’t make me do something you’ll regret,’ The Fenrir yelled, his lips smacking together loudly as his mouth foamed in anger.
‘Try it!’ the demon roared, his voice taking on an unnaturally deep quality. The air around him seemed to darken as he spoke and he appeared much larger than he previously had. ‘I guarantee it’d be you that regrets it! They aren’t here shit-brain now piss off back to the whore Loki!’
A long silence passed as the pair tried to stare each other down. Finally it was the Fenrir who relented. ‘I’ll be back,’ he growled. ‘And if I find any trace of any fugitives here I’ll gut you myself.’ He nodded at his fellow Fenrirs and left quickly. The door slammed and the doctor sighed loudly.
‘By the seven Hells, I never knew you to be assertive,’ Rogan chuckled as he and the others came down the stairs. ‘Fenus seems to have agreed with you!’
Doc Tyrun scratched at his forehead and tutted loudly. ‘Aye, it has in some ways. Not in others though,’ he smirked as he patted his large belly. ‘As you can see, it’s not safe for you here. I’d advise you get some sort of disguise going on then I’ll go with you.’
Gibralt waved his arms frantically. ‘Wait, wait… We didn’t tell you we were going anywhere, how do you know about that?’
No one else noticed a set of light foot-steps on the stairs other than Malkus. He turned to see a thin figure pacing down towards them. ‘That’d be me,’ the figure said. He was a shaved Wolvyn half-breed. The dark hair on his head was clipped short and his facial hair sculpted into a goatee beard; apart from those and his eyebrows he was completely hairless, the only sign of his body-hair was an almost invisible stubble. A thick fur jacket covered his torso along with a dark linen shirt and his black leather jeans were rolled up around the bottom of the legs, revealing his bare feet.
‘And who might you be?’ Morrigan frowned.
The Wolvyn smiled widely and bowed slightly. ‘Vepar Palemaw, at your service. I do believe I was meant to join you in Bedoine, but Belial received the notice of this endeavour a little too late for me to meet you there.’
‘Well this is just such a charming little fucking get-together,’ Blitzfaust growled. ‘But we have to get ready to leave!’
Doc Tyrun stepped from behind the bar and wiped his hands on his apron and grimaced. ‘Like I said, you’ll be needing a disguise. Come with me and I’ll get you sorted.
It felt so degrading to be dressed by the demon, but there was no choice in the matter. Doc Tyrun knew what he was doing and had a fatherly air to him. It didn’t help Morrigan at all, however; if anything it made her feel even more pathetic and childish.
Her uniform, which had cost her a year’s wages, was thrown into the gaping fireplace along with everyone else’s clothes. Only Malkus was spared the indignation as he managed to convince Doc Tyrun to allow him to keep his more practical head-dress for religious reasons.
Somehow, and the demon would not reveal how, the clothes that Doc Tyron provided for everyone fitted perfectly, their measurements so precise and correct that they could have been ordered by each person individually before their departure had Morrigan not known otherwise.
Coincidentally, as the only female in the group she was sacrificed as the first to receive Doc Tyrun’s fashion advice. He shepherded her in a half-dressed state to the bathroom, left her to clean herself and promptly returned no sooner than she had finished tying a towel around her naked torso.
‘Do you mind?’ she screeched at him. ‘I need to get dressed first!’
The demon smirked and raised a pair of scissors. ‘Trust me; it’ll seem a little more conspicuous if the Fenrir’s spot you with long red hairs on your shoulders. They’re trained to spot those sorts of things.’
Morrigan sighed and paced over to him, hands on hips. ‘They’re going to notice my hair and ancestry either way, regardless of how long it is.’
‘That’s what dyes were invented for, my dear,’ Doc Tyrun coughed as he picked a bottle from a nearby cabinet. ‘Now, while I think of how best to cut your mane I hope you don’t mind me changing your hair colour to a jet black shade.’
A defeated groan from Morrigan was taken as a yes by the demon and he set about her hair with the scissors. For ten long minutes he butchered her hair until he left it short, in a style reminiscent of a pixie of legend that covered her ears perfectly. He poured a liberal amount of dye onto her scalp and instructed her to wash it off herself. She cursed loudly as the dyed waters stained her forehead and dribbled from her hair onto the towel. She refilled the tub promptly and scrubbed at her scalp for a quarter of an hour until it had turned a deep red rather than the dark grey of the dye.
Doc Tyrun hummed as he strolled into the room, carrying a bundle of brown leather clothing. ‘You’re a Nimian outcast who is living with her father in Jotunheim.’
‘No I’m not,’ Morrigan looked moderately at the jovial demon.
‘You’re clearly new to the idea of lying, aren’t you?’ Doc Tyrun tutted. ‘It’s your new identity for traversing Fenus! You’re living with your father, in Jotunheim, who was cast out of Nimia for deserting his post during a campaign in Dant. You’re travelling with the others so you may reach Renoit, your town of origin, and implore that the banishment be revoked. Got that? Because you’re going to have to quote that as though it were true.’ He thrust the clothes into Morrigan’s hands and indicated to her to leave the room. ‘Now if you don’t mind, you can change in any of the other rooms. I need to get everyone else sorted quickly before we can leave.’
Morrigan glared at him, adjusted the towel to cover her small breasts and departed into the next room. She scrambled into the clothes Doc Tyrun provided and stood before a cracked mirror to inspect herself. She was dressed like a simple pair of leather breeches, a matching jacket, cavalry boots, an animal hide jerkin and a loose scarf around her neck. She looked like a peasant. No longer was she Morrigan the scholar; as far as anyone else was concerned she looked more like Morrigan the farmer.
Without waiting for a signal that she could leave, Morrigan slid from behind the door and crept down the stairs. The bar was empty, save for one hunched beggar huddled at a table in the far corner. Dressed entirely in rags and his face obscured by a hood all she could see of his face was a gaping grin with great gaps in the teeth that was poking through his tangled white beard.
‘You make a great peasant, Morrigan,’ the beggar squeaked. ‘What do you think of my beggar? Not quite fitting of the famed courtesan and lady’s man Gibralt Mikkelson if you ask me.’
Morrigan gasped and nearly leapt backwards. ‘Gibralt? That’s a fucking amazing disguise!’
‘One of the benefits of being a shifter, my dear; I don’t have to have Doc Tyrun molest my hair or face to disguise myself.’
Morrigan perched herself on a stool opposite Gibralt as the rest of the party filed in one by one as the minutes passed. First was Vepar, the Wolvyn, in essentially the same state as when he introduced himself unexpectedly but now carrying a heavy-looking bag.
Shortly afterwards came Cottontongue looking decidedly annoyed. At least, he would have if his face hadn’t been obscured by the bandages of a Fenrir. His horns had been sliced away so as to avoid any unwanted attention; the horns of each Taur was as unique as a fingerprint, no two were identical.
Next came Ludwig, dressed as a Borani merchant. A brown curled wig was placed upon his head, covering his short hair and his stubble was shaved and styled into sideburns.
After him came Blitzfaust wearing a mismatched Danten guard’s uniform. A number of different armour scraps were welded to form a basic chest plate, spaulders and helmet. His facial hair was shaved completely and his lower jaw seemed to lack a chin now that Morrigan could see his entire face.
Malkus was next, dressed in the black furs and dark goggles of a Fenite courier. No change was made to his pale hair or facial hair as it had been obscured by his head-dress the entire time. Somehow, Morrigan thought, he seemed to look as natural in these clothes as he had in his robes.
‘You look good like that,’ Ludwig stated, voicing Morrigan’s opinion.
The Luunite inclined his head and smiled briefly. ‘I thank you, but I am not sure the gods would agree with my dressed in this manner.’ He immediately quickened his pace on the stairs, snatched his head-dress in its bag and pressed it to Ludwig before whispering in the ork’s ear. A slight nod from Ludwig and a severe gaze between the two men were broken as Rogan strolled down the stairs with Doc Tyrun at his feet.
The Captain had been tidied up drastically. His long tangled beard and dreadlocks were gone; the beard was shaved close to his face and a ponytail stuck from the rear of a new, less weathered tricorne hat. In place of the long calico coat he wore a short red field-officer’s jacket. Pristine white breeches were tucked into his black boots and a white waistcoat and matching cravat poked from under the jacket. He wore bleached, gentlemanly gloves and, had it not been for his height and tattoos, he would have seemed almost regal.
‘Alright lads,’ he finally growled. ‘The good doctor and I have come up with a plan. Since they’re looking for all of us they’ll probably be on the look out for even the slightest matching detail; same numbers, races, builds etc. So what we’re going to do is go our own ways. Gibralt, you were on best terms with Falcus, you get him from Gaer tomorrow morning, okay?’ a brief nod from the arthritic, pauper-esque Gibralt signalled for Rogan to continue. ‘Me and the fastest of us, Vepar and Malkus, will depart now for Boran to fetch the rest of our officers and the rest of you are going to head for Renoit to secure the ship and drop off our supplies tomorrow night.’
At that Malkus and Vepar rose to their feet and swung their bags over their shoulders, all save for the one containing Malkus’ head-dress. ‘Remember what I said, Ludwig,’ Malkus grimaced and Ludwig nodded once more.
‘We should meet you all in Renoit a day after you arrive if all goes well,’ Rogan beamed as he opened the door to the tavern. With that he and the flanking albino and Wolvyn were gone.