“I don’t think we should leave today. Tobih is obviously not rested enough to walk,” I reasoned and glanced to the man sitting in his cot.
“Nonsense. Hoelbrak is less than a day away. We can get plenty of rest there,” Angel replied, seeming set on her plan already.
I balled up my fists in either anger or fear, “No, we need to stay here.”
“I’ll be fine,” he chipped in as he stood up, his armor clattering lightly against its neighboring piece. Tobih truly did look back to his normal self. He did so well in hiding his sickness from us.
Angel shot me a mean glare and picked up her sword, “We should leave soon. Go get packed.”
I stood up and nodded to the both of them before exiting the housing. I hurried across to the other hut and found my way inside, shutting the door gently behind me. Ragnvaldr was already packing his own gear. I gave him my best forced smile and carried on with my packing.
“Was he okay?” Ragnvaldr knew that I had gone to check on Tobih. I suppose he wouldn’t have been so oblivious to my excuse after I had already expressed my concern for Tobih.
“Just tired. I don’t know if he can keep up this journey right now, but he and Angel are convinced that we should leave today. She says it’s less than a day away so we should be fine…” I sighed, “She is the traveler I suppose.” I stuffed my spare socks into my bag.
“He has a strong will,” he pulled his bag shut, “And if he thinks he can make it, I trust that.”
I stood up and threw my own bag over my shoulders and looked at the staff I had brought back with me. I could learn to use this weapon; in the hall if felt so perfect in my hand. I picked it up and checked the balance of it between my hands. The crystalline fire on top sprang into life before me without my calling on it.
“A new toy?” Ragnvaldr asked as he approached me. The quiet flame reflected in his dark eyes, “It’s a beauty.”
“Yeah. It’s the only thing I found that was usable there,” I ran my hand across the shaft of it, “We just kind of… clicked.” I looked to my wand, which I had been found with originally. Obviously, it had been a favorite of my past self but I wasn’t her any more, I was me. ‘It’s only a short walk,’ I thought as I latched the wand onto my backpack and nodded. The perfect amount of time to play with this new staff. “That should do it,” I said and turned to Ragnvaldr, “I’m ready.”
We stepped outside into the snow and rounded the corner of a stone fence. Angel and Tobih were already standing by the wooden frame of the northern exit. With a glance to Tobih I tried to convince myself that he looked just fine. He caught my glance and gave me his biggest smile.
“If we walk northwest from here we should eventually meet the beaten path. We’ll take that all the way to Hoelbrak. Nothing but hills, snow, and dirt from here.” She pointed towards the northwest before tightening the strap of the bag she had tossed over her shoulder. It was then that I noticed that she hadn’t braided her hair today and instead allowed it to freely fall over her shoulders and down her back. It wasn’t like her to journey with her hair in the way, so I wondered what was going through her mind. It was a futile effort, as usual, so I dropped it. I have to admit I was rather mesmerized with each gold lock as they floated lightly when she turned to lead us.
Through the exit we found ourselves surrounded on both sides by mountainous stones and hills that quickly disappeared into a snowy plane of gentle slopes. The cold stung my face as the snow floated around us. Walking resulted in stirring the snow and leaving both small and large footprints behind us until we hit the road. It was an icy dirt path dusted with fresh snow that crunched beneath our boots. With one hand I carried the staff and used it as a walking stick; It produced more heat than my wand and I assumed it was because staves were known for being much more powerful. It was a new power I would have to learn to harness. The other hand grasped Ragnvaldr’s leather vest. He looked down at me every so often and I would smile back up to him.
Angel kept her lead on us by staying near the front of our group or walking ahead of us. The roads were quiet and I wondered if they were like this often. Wild dolyaks stood at the side of the road, eating what frozen blades of grass they could find and others rubbed the bark from trees. A moa here and there but otherwise empty of life on the road.
The sights around us were new and interesting. The light snowfall permitted me to see longer distances than the last few days of traveling. I could now see the mountains in the distance around us and beautiful, tall evergreens blanketed with white. Their branches sagged underneath the weight like the bushes covered in ice that littered the side of the path. Huts and tents with fire pits burning in the distance informed me of the number of people who actually inhabited the land here.
It was clear that we were coming closer to civilization with every step. The plains gave way to houses and fences and other structures. It was a frozen farmland where people picked at the ground with hoes and shovels. The Norn in the area seemed rather friendly, waving as we walked past. I gave a small wave back each time. It was nice traveling a road where people actually lived rather than across the unbeaten path for once.
Large firs speckled the land, snow gathered in their needles with soft winds blowing flakes from each branch. In the distance I could see the peak of a large building, the Great Lodge. I remembered the structure and colors of the buildings when I passed through the first day. We were getting very close to our destination. I threw a quick glance to Tobih, who was walking as well as he usually would. Perhaps I was worrying too much. He had made it with us this far. When he spoke, it sounded as if he was dying, but in truth he was probably worried about us leaving him behind. Of course we couldn’t leave him behind; Tobih was our friend and he had already come this far with us. To send him back would be an insult.
As I tried to turn my glance away from him, I saw corruption in the distance. It was the very same as the Svanir base I had seen in Wayfarer. A typical norn building that was covered in those familiar blue crystals. The sight of it gave me chills as I felt its corruption at the back of my neck. The ice seemed to glow a bright blue despite the fact that the rest of the land had grown dark in the night.
I jumped as Angel spoke suddenly, “There is a group up here who sells ale and meat from their home. I’m going to stop by and have a drink.” She smiled as she marched forward, unphased by the construct on our right. Ragnvaldr looked down at me as I became startled at the sound of Angel’s voice. I smiled sheepishly and continued on.
“If you wait until Hoelbrak, I’ll have one with you.” Anything to get as far away from this place as possible.
She looked down at me, “You sick?”
“No. I just want to go ahead and get to Hoelbrak,” I replied and then tacked on, “It’ll take some of this anxiety away.”
“I will be holding you to it.” She chuckled, “Bet you can’t even hold one drink.”
Tobih chimed in as well, “If you’re buying, I’ll partake.” She seemed to give it a minute’s thought before nodding.
“You in too, oaf?” she directed to Ragnvaldr with a sort of ‘almost kindness’.
“No thanks. I don’t drink.” He waved his hand.
“Oh, right. You’re the sober Norn. Lighten up and have some fun.” Angel scoffed.
I stopped. The area had gone quiet other than us talking. There were no longer any people around save for some figures around us, if they could be called people. Icy armor on frozen skin attracted my attention as they approached us. The Svanir were making their move again.
“Dragon’s ritual can be completed,” one of them said, “I think we just found some volunteers.” The others stepped in, surrounding us from all sides. My stomach churned as I relived my past encounter over again in my mind. If anything, I was afraid.
Angel turned around and laughed, “I could take all of you on with both hands behind my back.” She was getting a right laugh out of this. “Do you hear these guys? They think they can take us!” She pointed at them and laughed madly.
Of course, it only made things worse.
“We will show you our strength, Dragon’s strength! Get ’em!” the leader shouted. The group of Svanir charged in, meeting with blades, arrows, and fire alike. Close quarter combat wasn’t really something I was very good at. I prefered shooting from a far range. As one Svanir got close, I made use of my weapon more as a bo staff than something used for magic. They were too close for me to comfortably use my magic. I still had a few chances to churn the earth under their feet into fountains of lava, keeping close eye on the proximity of the liquid to my own team. Ragnvaldr seemed to look equally as distressed with the close combat and chose to bring out his dagger to ward off nearby Svanir.
Quite suddenly I was being dragged across the ground by my hair. In the shock of it all, I had dropped my staff and reached for it. As it became further and further away, I kicked and screamed and tried to pull myself up. ‘Why did they always come for me?’ I cried in my own mind but the answer came quickly, ‘Of course, scholars are the easiest to pick off.‘ From a short distance away, I heard a booming voice call out. jarring me from my own thoughts, “Let go of her!” Ragnvaldr shook off two of the Svanir, throwing them to the ground and drew his bow.
The Svanir pulled me up and held a knife to my throat. I breathed as shallow as I could in an attempt to stay as far from the knife as I could. I couldn’t stand it any more though, I had to call out; I was scared.
“Help!” I cried. I tried to see a way out of this, but I couldn’t. Not under these circumstances. I couldn’t even think straight any more.
“Last warning, let her go. Now!” Ragnvaldr warned, his face scrunched and more serious that I had ever seen. There was anger and hatred across his face. Tobih had stopped moving and so had Angel.
“Shoot and she’s dead,” the Svanir reminded as he pressed the blade closer to my neck, “Now lay down your weapons and come peacefully.” Angel stepped forward and at this point I could feel the blade in my skin. This was an all too familiar situation. How did I escape last time? Right, I had my weapon. I looked towards the staff on the ground and then back up, but before I realized what was going on, an arrow flew through the Svanir’s hand and caused him to drop his weapon. Angel seemed to have distracted him in time for Ragnvaldr to attack and as soon as I put two and two together, Angel was beheading the attacker as I slumped to the ground.
I couldn’t look behind me. Just knowing what was there sickened me. So I stayed in the snow. I didn’t want to get up and see the blood.
Ragnvaldr raised me up and I just fell into him. I embraced his torso and cried into his vest. I dug my fingers into the cloth and let everything out. His arms closed around me, inviting me to do so and comforting me.
After a few minutes, he lifted me up and I hid my head in his chest.
“Crybaby,” I heard Angel growl, “It’s just a dead guy.”
“Angel,” Ragnvaldr demanded sternly, “Quiet.”
I heard her attempt to speak up before she stopped. We were moving again. When we were a fair distance away, I asked Ragnvaldr to let me walk again. I stared at my feet the entire time and pondered my usefulness to the team again. Perhaps it would have been better had I kept my wand out instead, a weapon I knew how to use.
We entered Hoelbrak sometime later that night. The bustling city was filled with the hearty laughs of Norn and the sound of fires crackling. On the clear night, I saw the projections from the fire and glass in the center. Over each lodge was their respective animal, portrayed on the dark clouds in blue.
The group moved down a hill and under a bridge and into the middle of the city. The lodges surrounded us on all sides. We were making our way to the Bear Lodge in particular. Ragnvaldr, of course was from the Wolf Lodge. Angel, naturally, would be from the powerful Bear Lodge. A few of the residents of Hoelbrak had stopped to greet Ragnvaldr, asking about his sister and her baby. I noticed that no one greeted Angel. It was as if no one knew her.
The inside of the lodge was warm and full of life. It wasn’t much different from my memory of the Wolf Lodge. In the back of the great room was a cave filled with torches leading into the mountain behind the building. We walked up a small set of stairs to the left of us where Angel sat us down at a table.
“Can I get some cushions or something?” I replied as I peeked over the top of the table.
“Cushions!” Angel laughed, “We aren’t as spoiled as you human brats. Don’t need anything but the bare wood underneath us.”
I looked to Tobih, who was a head taller than I was. He didn’t seem to have as much trouble, but it still looked as if he was concerned about his own height. “I just meant that I can’t properly drink at a table too tall for me.”
She laughed even harder, “Right, right!” She stood up and brought over two bar stools and set them up at the table. The two of us climbed into our new chairs which set us at a much better height. It reminded me of my first time in Hoelbrak, when I had met Ragnvaldr and he had to seat me at a child’s table. I gave him a look and smiled. He smiled back to me and flagged down the person we would order our drinks from.
Tobih and I, unfamiliar with Norn alcohol, just had what Angel was having. What they brought back to us was a stein I would never be able to find the bottom of. Angel downed hers as Tobih and I were taking our first swigs. Dinner came soon after and my cup looked mostly full. It seemed as though no matter how much I drank of it, I couldn’t put a dent in it.
Ragnvaldr took the stein from my hands and raised it up, “I think that after tonight, I need a good drink.” His smile spoke it all as he drank the rest of the ale. Tobih finished his as well. Another drink appeared in front of each of us. With a sigh, I brought it closer to me and stared inside.
Angel raised her drink, “To cold nights and good fights.”
I raised my own in defeat, “To not dying.” Ragnvaldr and Tobih raised their glasses as well before we all drank.
“Guess you’re not such a killjoy after all,” Angel told Ragnvaldr as they both set their empty steins down, “You still drink like a Norn.”
“I didn’t stop being a Norn by refusing to drink.” He called for another round for the two of them.
“She’d beg to differ,” I giggled and hid myself behind the drink before I could see her face turn red with anger, but it didn’t. She gave a hearty chuckle instead.
“You’re right. Drinking makes us who we are,” she joked.
I brought my hand to my neck, which was still stinging. “Here, let me get that for you,” Tobih said, his voice caring and soft. He leaned over and put his hand on the cut. With a glowing light, I felt the skin repairing underneath his palm. He pulled away and smiled. “Try not to get in any more trouble. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to heal you there.”
I felt Angel staring at us. “Thank you, Tobih,” I replied with a nod of my head, “I’ll try my best.”
“Where are we sleeping? I’m bushed,” Tobih asked Angel.
She pointed to the small bridge above us, “There. Make yourself comfortable.” He looked worried about the thin area over such a height. I was too. Tobih stood anyway and made his way up.
“Goodnight!” I called out and Ragnvaldr bid the same to him. Tobih gave a quick wave and walked up the flight of stairs leading to the bridge above.
“Tomorrow we’ll head to Lion’s Arch and gather our supplies. I don’t trust the asura gates to transport everything so…” My mind wandered off as Angel went over the plans. My body was warm and my thoughts were fuzzy. I laid my head down on the table with the idea of resting it there for just a minute or two. I had, instead, fallen asleep.