Figured I’d try this on you guys, see if you liked it.
Prologue: to Conjure Destiny
Ragnarok. Twilight of the Gods.
Whom the Gods destroy they first make mad… but when Gods purpose their own annihilation, what lunacy preludes that ruin? What malefic visions bring forth gibbering deicide?
Ragnarok… The end of all things.
It was an end, yes. But not final. A conclusion, not a consummation.
The savagery raged for days, no realm spared as celestials expended their very essence, destroying themselves to harness the primal energies needed to murder their kind. Their fury sent doom crashing across the three worlds like great waves of the deep. The heavens rent, the earth scorched, the underworld shattered… terror, woe, and havoc. Continents heaved, oceans boiled, stars exploded… for when gods make war, who can escape?
Time, space, day, night lost all meaning. We huddled and hid and dared not pray. All turned to rubble and ash – an utter desecration.
And then one day, the gods were dead.
And we who survived blinked in horror at what remained – that we remained – and called ourselves cursed. Remnants of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, scattered across the blighted landscape, fated to still draw breath, forced to sift meaning from desolation.
Minor powers remain, few, feral and precarious, their minds overthrown by pain and loss and dismay at the hells they helped unleash. On themselves. On us.
We shun them.
Ragnarok… The word twines from two roots, their true meaning: ‘to conjure destiny’.
The Gods abandoned us, took their capricious favor, their lofty scorn to whatever afterlife Gods go to. If there is such a place.
The only destiny that remains is what we conjure from the remains.
One: All the time in this ruined world
Year Three after the Grim Fall
Pain and more pain.
Lanced his ribs with every step, with every ragged breath pluming in the frigid air, Addas stumbled through the chaos of snow swirling in the bleak half-light. Warmth drooled down his belly, under his shirt.
He slid-skidded into a clump of scraggly bushes, glanced where his hand pressed against his chest. The horn had scored a long gash clean through the armor rings and hide jerkin. Blood seeped between his thick fingers.
God-cursed fecker near gored me. Add another scar to the batch, he grimaced. If I live.
He had smelt it an eye blink before he heard pounding hoofs. Twisted aside, just barely. Damn thing still bashed the air out of his lungs, sprawled him down the hill. Last he saw was the ass-end vanishing in the gloom.
Addas steadied his breathing. He peered through the bush, desiccated branches rattling in the wind like finger bones. View had dropped to a stone’s throw – maybe less. The beast had vanished. But not gone. Bastard was still out there, stalking him. He could feel its hunger.
The storm had hunkered down to stay; ugly, low and leaden. Bitter winds howled out of the north, bringing the cold that froze boiling water in the pot and a frenzy of large flakes the color of ash that burned skin raw. Dumping a foot in less than an hour, the landscape was disappearing fast. Only a few ragged humps of brush and black boulders jutted out of the icy slop.
Addas cocked his head, listened under the roar of the storm. Nothing.
He jerked his hand away from the wound, hissed as the chill bit exposed flesh. Ignore it, Chalk’s usual advice rang in his head. Bleeding ain’t important now – living is.
Easy for you to say, Addas muttered. You ain’t here.
The old knob used to beat the piss out of him. Three years day, night, rain, shine, blistering summer, freezing winter, Chalk took him scavenging. Learned him tricks, traps, tracks, snares, every skill a tracker needed. He’d cuff Addas at the tiniest mistake, bellowing, “World’s hard now. Get that in yer skull. You needs be harder.” Warty brute had been grueling, relentless. Those lessons had started the scar collection, everyone a jagged little revelation. Everyone a reminder of what was gone and what was now.
Still, Chalk had been his savior – if there was such a thing nowadays – the only one willing to take him in, half breeds being bucket scum even before the Grim Fall. Most of the other refugees from those days were in the dirt, so there must have been something to the cunning old fecker’s brand of schooling.
Addas’ bloody hand gripped the stumpy handle of the heavy cleaver sheathed at his side, the other hand clenched the shaft of his javelin. It was the good one with the iron head. Pitted and rust-scabbed, it still held a wicked edge.
Squinting into the gale, Addas froze still as a stone. He counted thirty heartbeats then reared up. “Come on then,” he roared. “Here I am.”
Good’un, he heard Chalk snigger. Charging the likes of you means it’s starvin’. So control the brawl. Make the ‘ungry bugger come to you.
Twenty more heartbeats. Nothing.
Then, snow scrunched, slithered on his right.
Addas shifted toward the sound, the javelin suddenly twig-thin across his meaty palm. Three fingers to steady, thumb and pointer to aim, like Chalk had taught. Coiled like a spring, he sniffed the wind ever so delicate.
Air was flat, sharp, hard as iron, but a sick-sweet hint of mange spiced the back of his throat. Skin rot on the beast’s coat.
“Oh, you want me, doncha? You royal fecker,” he murmured. Addas slow-stepped forward, half out of the bush, and planted his boots deep and firm.
“Come then,” he hissed.
At those words, a dark shape heaved out of the roiling squall like an avalanche, head down, long horn straight as a pike, fixed to skewer him like a hunk of meat.
Heart in his mouth, storm in his ears, time sludged, stretched like tar; a whole day in a heartbeat. Addas suddenly saw everything chiseled, separate and new; each flake of snow, the twine wrap on the shaft under his fingers, the muscles rippling on the wax-white mass, the snort of fog from its nostrils. That spike tip was mere feet away, but Addas had all the time in this ruined world.
He drove the javelin and pivoted in the same moment, saw the iron head sunk deep in the beast’s chest as it blew past, heard its scream of pain and frustration. Another dozen steps, the front legs folded and it dropped like a sack of rocks, furrowing the snow out into the gloom.
Addas whipped out the cleaver. Crouched. Waited.
Over the wind, he heard it thrash and grunt, raging against Addas, against the blizzard, against death. The cries grew steadily weaker, and he crept toward it, heavy broad blade raised over his shoulder.
He found it fifty paces on, kicking its life out. The javelin wobbled and twitched in its chest like a dowsing rod, snow darkening to a bloody mush underneath. It rolled its eyes, jerking its long head trying to stab him even as it wheezed its last.
That’s how ya live another day, Chalk cackled in his head.
The reek of offal churned in the wind as its bowels let go. Addas watched the creature shudder, slump and go still. A gust blew the stringy mane over one staring eye. It was gaunt, ribbed as a washboard, but there was still some meat to it. Better yet, the horn on its forehead. It was scored and dirty, but unbroken. Addas, hefted the cleaver. He’d drag it back for eats, but that was his.
Rare and valuable thing, unicorn horn. Piece plate armor, it would.
Addas Dashag, hunter, tracker, rover, scavenger and half-breed from the Black Sands Orc clan put his boot on the unicorn’s chest and yanked his javelin out. He wiped it clean, inspected it for bends or cracks. Satisfied, he strapped it on his back then he set to hacking the skull to get at the root of that lovely horn.