The Final Tale
Success! After all the years of research finally he had found what he had been looking for. Years upon years of searching out vaguely hinted at leads that led to nowhere. But not this time … this time he had found the fabled ore adamantite. Long he had pored over ancient and yellowed books and scrolls, some pages breaking away bit by bit, their writings fading forever as they fell into the dust that coated the floor.
Slowly he rose to his feet, his hands shaking as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. He was so close now. In the last few years he had almost given up on the quest, but soon … Very soon he would have his revenge.
The bow was already crafted and sat on the table beside him. The wood he had carved from a branch of the Great Oak that had been shorn away during a storm, and there was a power one could feel flowing through it.
The string he had braided from the thin strands of hair of the goddess Valtera. Fortune had been smiling on him then, the day when A’a was overthrown. On that day Lord Ica had swung his mighty Morgenstern at Valtera’s neck. She had laughed at him as the sword rebounded from her rune-protected body, the blow proving ineffectual against her magic and yet … not.
Seemingly no one else had seen, but floating down gently amidst the violence occurring all around were five strands of her delicate hair. To this day he couldn’t say why he had noticed or why he had secretly gathered them up as if they had been made of the purest mithril. Perhaps Kali was looking out for him, knowing what his future would hold not ten years further on. No one can say, but there was no denying that the strewn hairs were stronger than any other material he had ever seen, and yet somehow flexible enough to prove to be the greatest bow string yet woven.
His hand reached out to the three arrow shafts lying beside the bow, their hollowed bodies carved from the horns of the spiral dragon. The body of the shafts were heavy enough to be useful in hunting yet, when made hollow, they flew through the air with a speed unseen in the lands. They shattered upon impact, but if his plan bore fruit, he would not need more than one shot. Tapered around one end of the shaft were the white feathers of an owl he once called friend. Patiently he had waited and long did he have to follow that old bird, but finally he was able to find her nest and sneak up to it while she was away. The days had been long but his patience had been rewarded.
The feathers of another bird probably would have sufficed, but he would take no chances on this venture. Many years he had spent in this search and now only the arrow heads were left to be crafted, and the ore for their making now rested in his hands. An ore that, by its very nature, cut through and absorbed magical fields. Yes, this would be the end of his long sought after quest. Loki’s days were numbered, now was the time to set the rest of the plan in motion.
Placing the ore on the table, he pulled aside the leather flap that held the wind at bay and exited his lean-to. He strode down to the beach and sat in his now very worn chair of office and ran his hands over the emerald green dress of his wife.
“Soon, dear one … soon ye will be avenged”
End Part 1
The piercing cry of a hunting falcon broke across the gorge, interrupting the monotonous hammering coming from the forges in the hills ahead. It had taken him years to build up the trust of this small clan of dwarves. They were few in number but their skill was even renown amongst their own kind. At first they wouldn’t even let him, an elf, get within eyeshot of their forges, but time wore on and he put the patience of his race to the test. Now he was almost a regular sight in this gorge in the Misty Vales.
The price for his acceptance here was to keep the surrounding area clear of giants and vale dragons. It was a hefty price to pay, but he knew that some day their skill in metal crafting would be useful, and that day had finally arrived.
A week ago now he had made the bargain with Garak, the forge leader of this small clan. A week of waiting … Garak’s price had been high, but it was worth it. Garak wanted all that remained of the ore when the arrow tips were done. The ranger smirked to himself. He would have no need of it if the three arrows failed to do the task, but they would not fail.
He quickly dismounted from his black war stallion and tied him loosely to a nearby tree before proceeding within the stooped and rocky roofed confines of the forge. It had been constructed so that the very mountainside shielded them from the outside, with slanted air shafts placed here and there above wells of murky water. Garak saw the elven ranger and nodded to him as he approached. Handing his work off to another, the dwarf approached him and drew him out of the forge and into what served as his office. The walls were sheer and had but two small openings just the size for a crossbow bolt, one on either side of a metal wrought door set perfectly within the stone.
The elf stooped low and sat in the chair offered to him before turning his eyes back on Garak. He looked about the room, trying to sight the arrow tips that he had come for. There was a small fire set into the wall behind him and a thin trail of black smoke curled out of the pit and into the room. The odor of the room was somehow odd, but the bowman was here for reasons other than to critique dwarven cooking.
Garak smiled at the elf as he saw him sniffing the air and said in answer as he cocked his head in the direction of the forge, “Someone seems to have burned the meat for the evening meal again.” He said laughing to himself, “We are many things, but great cooks is not one of them. But enough of such trivial things, you are here for these …”
And with that, he wrapped his hand in a swaddling of dirt stained cloth and reached within his belt pouch to withdraw three blackened arrow tips, each tapered down to a small hollow tip to allow air to pass through them in flight. He dropped them quickly into the rangers waiting palm and smirked with pride at the expression on his customer’s face.
“I take it you are happy with them then?” he half laughed.
“Aye … These are Exactly what I needed. Thank ye Garak. Ye have proven yer skills tae me yet again.”
Rising from his chair, Garak stood and began moving towards the door.
“Good, good. Now if you don’t mind, you caught me in the middle of some work in the forge that requires my immediate attention.”
The ranger rose and followed the dwarf out of the office, his eyes for nothing but the arrow tips he now held in his hands. Trollhater stopped just outside the office and turned to say, “Ahh, of course and thank ye again Garak. Ye have outdone yerself taeday. I meself have some work tae see tae ... Something that I have been working on fer years. Good day and good forging tae ye, Garak.”
And with that he untied his horse, leaped astride it and rode out of the gorge, but not before saluting the dwarf one last time.
Garak stood and watched the elf as he left, a wide smile breaking across his bearded face as laughter broke forth as if long reigned in. The dwarf turned towards the forge, laughter now echoing off every stone in the valley. There was a bright flash of light and the sound of in-rushing air as the very face of the gorge changed. Black smoke poured from the forge and the bodies of several charred dwarves lay scattered all about. In there midst, where Garak had once stood, was now a tall robed figure in hooded black robes, the symbols of chaos adorning the chest and back in white.
“Oh what a game this has been my dear, dear Trollie. I will be sad to see it end.”
With a burst of thunder that caused a small landslide to fall down into and fill the gorge, the figure was gone. When the dust cleared all that was left was pile of rubble and the sound of laughter fading slowly away.
End Part 2
Thunder broke across the mountainside causing the stallion to become skittish for a moment before his rider could bring him under control.
“Easy boy, easy. ‘Tis only a storm …” the elven ranger said as he patted his horse’s neck while looking up at the cloudless sky. “The sun is still out, but the storm must be on its way. Best we be out of these mountains and back on the Causeway, eh? The sooner the better fer both of us methinks.”
Slowly the stallion cantered down the steep slope leading out of the Misty Vales but before long, the pounding of his hooves could be heard heading south and away from the giant infested mountains. South they rode, skirting the fetid and rank mires of Evermarsh until they came upon the path that led west towards Kegvale.
Rider and steed thundered their way through the vineyards and on into the Lowly Downs only to cut a path north into the forest of Ashwood. A certain sense of happiness entered the stallions stride as it recognized where its friend was steering it. A smile broke on the old elf’s face as he stroked the horse’s mane.
“Aye, old friend. Ye know where we are going, eh? Lead on friend, ye know the paths as well as any do, maybe better.”
Soon the stallion found itself roaming free under the boughs of a great oak tree, feeding to its delight on the grass that grew beneath while the ranger strode on to the western glade to pay respects to his long lost love.
Sunlight filled the glade and in the center had been placed a white marble headstone. Freshly cut red roses littered the ground before it, left behind by those wishing to pay their respects. Kneeling down, he ran his scale gauntleted hand over the marble stonework only to see a rotten apple dropped amidst all the flowers. Disgusted by this act of desecration, he picked up the near blackened apple and hurled it into the trees lining the glade. Muttering under his breath, he again turned his attention to the headstone.
Long he knelt there before breaking the silence of the glade. Picking up a rose that had been placed at the stone he sighed sadly, trying to force a smile as he spoke.
“Soon lass, very soon ye will be avenged and ye will be able tae truly rest. I came tae tell ye … I came tae tell ye that I love ye, dear one. There is only one more thing tae do, and then this quest will be solved and my heart can rest knowing that ye are at peace. I will return here when all is said and done lass.”
And with that, he stood and strode out of the glade and horse and rider were soon trotting their way out into the surrounding wood, heading off to the Western Causeway. As the sound of the stallion’s hooves faded into the distance, thunder broke from the trees beside the glade and laughter echoed through the wood, soon fading away.
End Part 3
He had been keeping tabs on him for years, hunting and tracking him across country and through small towns, making note of his activities so that when he was ready, he would at last be able to hunt this man down like a fox. His name was Rintz, a little known fact and one the ranger cared little about, but everyone must have a name and that was his. He had built a small temple in which to practice his faith in the woods of Darkwell and that was where the trap would be laid.
No visitors ever came to this building except for his quarry and that suited his case all the more. The fewer involved now the better. His legs shook as he knelt in the nearby shade of the trees, but it was not from exhaustion. The adrenaline pumping through his veins at the knowledge that he was so close … That soon, he would have his hands around his neck …
He checked the small clearing for his quarry before rising to stretch his legs and try and shake it off. Too long he had waited to make mistakes now because he couldn’t control himself. There would be time for that later, now he needed control. He again knelt among the underbrush and smiled grimly to himself. He was going to enjoy this. Oh how this man was going to pay. He fingered the now complete shafts of his prize arrows as he waited. It was only a matter of time now …
As if in response to his thoughts, the sound of horses hooves clip-clopping on the hardened earth reached his ears. Quickly he reached into his quiver and set an arrow to the string. This was not one of the special arrows, those were for this man’s master. No, there was nothing special about this arrow, nothing except that it would begin this last stage of the quest.
Rounding the bend in the trees came a tall thin man dressed in the black robes of Loki, the chaos symbol firmly emblazoned on the chest in white. He was riding a fearsome black beast with fire in its eyes. Like unto a horse it was, but then not. Slowly, rider and mount cantered in front of the hidden ranger as its master approached his destination.
There was a sharp twang and the horse let out a scream of pain as the arrow drove through its heart. Horse and rider collapsed to the ground as the hidden ranger leaped from his cover, an already drawn dagger in hand. With one quick stroke, he insured the beast would never rise again before he turned his attentions to his true quarry.
Rintz was struggling to his feet using a nearby tree for support obviously favoring his right ankle where the torn and bruised skin was already beginning to swell. He looked up at his assailant and roared, “Who DARES attack me so … Oh, Oh hOoo. It is you, the ‘great’ Hero ranger. What do you …” but his words died in his throat as he saw the look in the elf’s eyes.
Black blood dripped to the ground from the dagger in his hand and sizzled in the dirt. But Rintz’s eyes could not tear away from the look of pure hatred on the ranger’s face. They sat and stared at each other for a long moment before the silence was again broken.
Rintz looked at the ranger hero oddly before speaking, “What? … You’re mad. Do you honestly think …” Before another word was spoken, the ranger’s mailed fist crashed into the priest’s mouth.
“Run … or die.”
End Part 4
He watched in grim satisfaction as blood trickled out of Rintz’s nose and faded from his complexion. He was scared now … He should be. For today he was going to die. But instead of running he raised his head with an arrogance that reeked of his knowledge that his Lord would protect him from any harm and began weaving his hands through the air in intricate patterns, carving invisible runes between himself and the ranger. Trollhater leaped forward and caught his right hand in his and held it against the trunk of the tree before shoving his dagger clean through, effectively mounting it into the wood.
Rintz screamed in pain and fell to his knees as the uncompleted spell fizzled into the air around them, leaving no more than a rotten stench to foul the air. Cameron rocked the blade of the dagger back and forth causing only more howls of pain from his victim before finally pulling it free. The priest pulled his bloody hand to his chest and wallowed in his pain as the ranger leaned closer once again.
“Run, ye piece of crap … Run!”
Rintz hobbled to his feet and spit in his assailant’s face before hissing, “You will pay for this! Loki will make your soul howl in pain! YOU should be the one running, you accursed elf. Loki will hunt you down like the animal that you are.”
A smile broke on the ranger’s lips as laughter began to break free. “Oh, I am counting on that. Now run before I slice ye again …”
Rintz began to run limply off into the darkly shadowed woods, fear truly touching his heart now. What good was his Lord’s protection if it arrived after this madman was done with him? He hobbled this way and that, losing himself in the woods, stopping to turn and see how far behind the pursuit was, but it was nowhere to be seen. He hobbled on for few more steps until he tripped and fell with a cry over an unruly tree root.
Slowly he crawled to a nearby tree and leaned against it for support as he searched the surrounding woods for any sign of the ranger, finding none. He reached into a small pouch at his belt for the healing herbs held there and began to utter a small prayer to Loki as he ate when suddenly pain exploded from his left shoulder forcing him to drop the pouch. He screamed aloud and winced with the pain of his new wound. When he opened his eyes he found an arrow protruding from him, the feather still vibrating from the impact.
From the impenetrable shadows came the ranger’s voice as it rumbled through the area. “The chase is nae over so easily ye lackey. Run. Run, if ye value yer miserable hide!”
He rose to his feet again and ran as fast as he could. Where was his Lord? Why wasn’t he protected from this man’s rage? Questions broiled through his mind as he hobbled on, trying to lose the maddened ranger. After several minutes he rested at another tree, his ankle, shoulder and hand now causing him severe pain as he ran. He was beginning to feel light headed and tore a patch of cloth from his now ragged robes to bind his hand when he heard the faint sound of a bowstring being pulled back.
He screamed again as yet another arrow pierced his body, his left thigh this time. Again the gruff anger filled voice of the ranger rumbled from the woods around him. “… Run …”
Rintz cried out in desparation, “Save me Lord! Save your faithful follower from this madman!”
Again he heard a bowstring as it was pulled back and the instant of a hiss as another arrow ran through him, this time mounting him to the tree by his right shoulder.
“Yes, beg fer yer miserable hide … call tae yer master, fer yer death is very near ye.”
Again and again he pleaded for his Lord to come save him, and every time another arrow would pierce his now blood covered body. Seven arrows now held the priest firmly to the tree when his eyes began to flicker as if consciousness was quickly fading away.
Trollhater strolled into the small clearing and approached Rintz; the blood stained dagger again in his hand. Placing the tip of the blade beneath the priest’s chin, he lifted it so he could once more look him in the eyes.
“Where is yer God now, priest? It seems ye have been abandoned tae me nae so gentle hands.”
With a last ounce of strength the heavily wounded priest opened his eyes and whispered, “… Mercy … I beg of you … Mercy …”
Rage filled the ranger as he gripped the man’s jaw in his mailed fist.
“Mercy?!? Ye wish mercy from ME?!? How DARE ye ask from me what ye and yer master did nae give tae me wife! Did she nae beg fer mercy as she lay in the wedding glade, surrounded by flames? Mercy ye ask … There is nae mercy fer ye here!”
And with all his strength, Trollhater plunged his dagger up to the hilt in the priest’s heart. For a long moment he stood there in silence, staring at the now dead priest as his body hung limply from the tree. His mind broiled within him. Loki had not shown up to save his servant … All he had planned, everything had hinged on the immortal arriving in answer to his lackey’s prayers … Now he must … Now he …
He turned and roared his pent up rage to the boughs of the trees. “Where are ye, ye bastard?!? Loki, where are ye?”
Thunder pealed through the area as the rolling voice of the God of Chaos answered, “Right behind you dear Trollie. Right behind you.”
End Part 5
Cameron pivoted on the ball of his foot and, dropping the dagger to the ground, removed the bow from his shoulder and drew an arrow to the string in one swift movement. Hatred burned in his eyes but his hands shook as his heart beat wildly in his chest, adrenaline coursing through his veins once again.
But Loki was not even looking at him. His eyes were on the sorely wounded Rintz, blood still dripping from the body of his former lackey. He ran his fingers along the cheek of the priest and lifted his head to gain a better view of his face. Loki tilted his head to the side and sighed before turning his gaze towards Trollhater.
“Now that he is gone, I find that I miss him. Strange …” he spoke slowly, a new smile once again spreading across his face. “But he was entertaining to the last, don’t you agree? Especially when he began to beg you for mercy. I really liked that myself. How about you?”
Trollhater’s eyes squinted at the immortal before him, confusion furrowing his brow. The angle of the bow lowered slightly as he spoke his questions aloud. “Ye mean, all that time he was praying tae ye … all that time, ye heard him? But ye did nae help him?”
“Oh, yes. Of course I did. There is nothing more annoying than someone expecting you to come running to their aid every time they get into trouble. Besides it was much more fun to watch you kill him. I didn’t think you had it in you.” Smiled Loki as he mocked the ranger, “ ‘There is nae mercy fer ye here?!?’ Very riveting. It made a shudder run down my spine.”
Disgust and anger overcame the elven ranger as he re-aimed his bow at the God of Chaos. All the more now did he know he had made the right decision. No one who could be so callous towards life deserved to live, be he a man or an immortal. He began to speak but was interrupted as Loki drew closer, his eyes for the bow and arrow aimed at his heart.
“Ooh, I see you finally finished your bow. Very nice, very nice. I especially like the detail you put on the metal trim. You really should have become a tradesman my dear lad. May I see it?”
Trollhater drew the arrow back as far as he could before growling in response, “Aye, let me show it tae ye …”
The arrow flew from the bow and struck the immortal full in the chest, the shaft exploding into hundreds of flesh cutting shards upon impact. Loki looked down at the arrow in his chest, blood seeping the white chaos symbol on his robe.
“Oh my …” whispered the immortal as he fell to his knees, his hands fingering the gaping wounds. Loki looked up at the ranger and saw a look of satisfaction upon the elf’s face before his own fell to the ground. For a moment his body shuddered as the pool of blood grew wider and wider around him but then, finally, it grew still.
Thunder rolled in the distance as somber grey clouds moved slowly in to cover the sun. Soon the storm would finally break. Trollhater collapsed to his knees, a wide grin breaking upon his face as his task was finally complete. Loki was dead, his body lying beside him and joy washed over him as tears ran down his cheeks.
“It is done ... Finally dear one, finally, ye can rest.”
Thunder rolled again, bringing the elven ranger back to reality. Using his bow to steady his now fatigued legs, he rose to his feet. He turned one last time to spit upon the dead remains of the immortal, but the body was gone! His lackey still hung mounted to the tree behind him, but Loki was gone. Not even a mark was left upon the ground where his blood had stained it but a moment ago.
A chill ran down the ranger’s spine as he turned and stumbled off towards where he had left his horse to graze. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Thunder continued to peal from the sky above him urging him on faster until he finally found his way into the clearing. He whistled as he ran, calling for the old stallion’s attention. Hurriedly he leaped astride the horse and urged him out of the clearing.
Lightning flashed, lighting up the sky, quickly followed by the roar of thunder as the horse reared back. Before them, blocking the path was a tall black robed figure slowly walking into the clearing. Trollhater fell to the ground landing roughly on his left shoulder and nearly lost consciousness from the pain. Nursing his arm he tried to gather his senses as the figure approached him. He reached for his dagger and cursed himself for having left it with the corpse of Loki’s Lackey.
Harsh laughter rolled across the clearing accompanied by the sound of applause as the storm finally broke and the first droplets of rain began to splatter against the grass.
“Oh very good, lad, very good indeed. You have become quite the entertainer over the years, but did you really think it would be so easy? Come now, you didn’t really think you would be able to kill me did you?”
Trollhater sat in stunned silence, “But how …”
“Please, dear ‘Trollie’, do I have to spell it out for you? Do I?” asked the immortal as he knelt down beside the ranger, so they would be eye to eye. “ ‘How’ you ask? Who do you think wrote those ancient scrolls you found, hmm?”
Realization finally hit home. Loki had led him around by the nose, holding the carrot out in front of him, but just out of reach.
“That’s right, you silly elf, I wrote them. You so obviously weren’t going to stop until you found something that you thought would do the trick and, after all, I was very curious to see what it was you were planning for me. And I must say, it was well worth it. Was it worth it to you too?”
Anger filled Trollhater as he struck the God full in the face. But Loki still knelt there, aiming that annoying smile at him all the more.
“An entertainer to the last I see.” Loki said as he rose to his feet and looked around the clearing “But sadly, all great plays must have an ending, and we have arrived at yours. But have heart 'Trollie' it was a good one. Now let’s see to that horse of yours.”
Precision, for so the stallion was named, had galloped to the other side of the clearing, the whites of his eyes showing as Loki approached. The immortal raised his hand and a ball of white hot flame appeared within it. Loki aimed, but then stopped. “No, no, this isn’t right. This play must have a better ending than this. Hmm …”
Loki tossed the fireball into the woods lining the clearing setting the trees there ablaze. Thunder rolled overhead as Loki thought. He stared intently at the horse for a moment, before turning back to the elven ranger who was rising to his feet and struggling to set an arrow to his bow as he cursed under his breath at the pain in his shoulder.
“Oh do stop being so foolish. It didn’t work the first time why would you … Ohh, you have given me an idea Trollie. Ooh, I like this one.” He said as he began to smile again. He waved his hand at the ranger as he approached. “Oh do be a good elf and be still.”
A black aura surrounded the ranger for an instant and then was gone, Trollhater’s ability to move gone with it. Loki reached out and took the bow and quiver from the unyielding Hero. He strung the bow over his shoulder and as Trollhater watched in frustration and anger, a transformation took place. Standing where Loki had stood but a moment ago was a mirror image of himself.
“How do I look, hmm? Now watch, Trollie and tell me this isn’t fitting.”
Laughing, Loki turned and strode towards the black war stallion. When he reached a point halfway between Trollhater and Precision, he took one of the special arrows and put it to the string. Slowly he pulled the string back until it was taut before letting it fly. Straight it flew into the horses side, the shaft shattering upon impact, making the scream of the mount as it fell, all the more unbearable. Tears rolled down the ranger Hero’s face as he attempted to turn away but couldn’t.
“That was your wife’s horse wasn’t it? All the more fitting that I kill it too, don’t you think? Even more so that I do it in your guise. You have brought death to all you come in contact with dear elf. Fins, Garak, this horse and so many others not even worth mentioning. But know as you die, that they all died because of you.”
And with that, the Immortal of Chaos strung the final arrow to Trollhater’s bow. “Good bye Trollhater. The joy you have brought me will be hard to beat.”
The arrow hissed across the clearing and sped its way into the ranger’s heart. The spell holding him still finally falling away as blood poured from the gaping wounds in his chest. Trollhater struggled to rise to his elbow one last time, but fell to the ground in a spasm of pain as consciousness finally faded from his grasp. A final breath issued from his mouth as a small yellow ball of light rose from his chest.
Loki watched on, as if in fascination as the light rose and then dissipated into the very air. Lightning flashed across the sky once more as the rain was finally loosed from its tether and came down in steady streams. Loki smiled to himself as his shape changed yet again. He looked on the now dead corpse of Trollhater one last time before he disappeared from view. Thunder rolled across the clearing along with the sound of laughter fading quickly away.