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“Gather round, my children, and hear the Fornaldarsaga of the Valkyries, the story of our race’s birth,” said the aged Valkyrie as she fluttered her wings. After many long years of flying, they had begun to show signs of decay, but they were still strong, and kicked up a swirl of snow in the courtyard.
The group of youngsters quickly surrounded her. “You have come of age, and are now old enough to know this dark tale. For though our story is horrible and gruesome, it must never be forgotten. Do not be embarrassed to shed tears. Tears are not a sign of weakness. Empathy is our great virtue, and we learn it from our origins. As you listen, recall our code, and the oath you have all taken.” Shaken by the elder Valkyrie’s serious tone, the boys and girls sat in silence, their wild-haired heads bobbing attentively in time with her story.
It is true that the Piercing of the Veil brought many terrors into this world. Yet we cannot ignore the awful truth: The world has twisted souls who do not need the influence of a Veilstorm to commit acts of the most terrible kind.
In one of the mighty fjords of our Realm, the was a small island that held an even tinier village. Hardy folk lived fished and roamed the fjord, mostly young people and a few persevering elders. Unimaginable alterations swept through the land after the Piercing; yet this tiny village somehow managed to weather the storms on this remote island. Life became very hard when the rocking waves and fierce winds destroyed their boats, cutting them off from the mainland. Hunger seeped through the village like a poison, as fishing was difficult and no one could get to the mainland without a boat.
A young lady named Brynhildr was one who never gave up hope. She roamed the small island, clutching the necklace her mother gave her for luck, looking for precious driftwood to help the boat-makers with their task, though they never asked her.
Brynhildr had always been a willful child. She was much more interested in the aggressive games that the village boys played than in the dolls that her little sisters liked. From the time she was very small, the girl excelled at their gambols and their battle training, surpassing all the boys her age. As they all grew, the boys eventually surpassed her in size and strength, but she changed her fighting style accordingly. With her martial skill, she became a match for anyone.
She became known as a protector early on. When one of the warlike games played by the older boys grew too rough, leaving the younger ones on the verge of tears, it was Brynhildr who stepped in. Ducking and weaving, she brought down the older, stronger boys with a few well-placed blows. “Don’t do that again,” she told them firmly. “Fight someone who can fight back.”
From then on, the smaller boy she’d saved followed her movements, trying to learn from her.
Her parents were very proud of Brynhildr’s accomplishments, for in her chest beat the heart of a true warrior. The girl promised to keep her mother’s necklace safe forever. But that promise would prove as difficult to keep as catching the autumn wind.
The wind blew over the island, making the long grasses wave their fading green finery in supplication of the sky. The wind carried a salty cold that made the island’s inhabitants shiver. The few children who were doing their chores glanced up and hoped it wasn’t another storm. Something about the cold wind made them want to go somewhere, want to go exploring, anywhere on the little island that they hadn’t seen before, as if to escape the rattling wind and its icy fingers. It was the wind of the coming fall, bringing a new or different scent of the sea, of things roiled in the black deeps. The wind whistled through the cracks in the walls and the wicker baskets that they carried across town.
The wind brought a dot on the horizon that grew and grew, grabbing the attention of the villagers with a glimpse of salvation. The cry rang round the village like the tolling of a bell: A sail, a sail! A ship from the mainland!
The villagers rejoiced, dropping their desperate boatmaking and their daily tasks. They rushed down to the shore, waving their arms excitedly. Rescued at last! Men and women laughed and smiled a welcome, overjoyed at their good fortune. They couldn’t have been more horribly wrong.
As the sail rode the ominous wind closer to the island, some of the older villagers grew concerned, for it had the look of a warship. But they had nothing worth taking in their little village, and the weapons on deck stayed in their scabbards. Fear faded as the men and scattered women of the crew smiled and waved to the villagers on shore as if they were long-lost relatives.
Brynhildr stood among the crowd near the shore. She smiled and nodded with the other girls as they laughed in relief and commented on which warrior was the most comely. Something in her heart felt sick with fear, though Brynhildr could not say why. She fingered the amulet around her neck, then hid it under her shirt.
One of the boys, a younger brother to the one that Brynhildr had saved, ran down to greet the first man that splashed ashore. Beaming up at the tall, roughly dressed warrior, the boy grinned happily. Even though the lad barely reached the warrior’s knee, he burst out, “Let me carry some of your gear ashore, sir!”
The stranger grinned in return and tousled the boy’s auburn hair. Without changing expression, the man drew his sword and swung it in a tight arc, cleanly separating the boy’s head from his shoulders. It happened in an instant. The boy’s helpful smile spun as his head bounced away, and his lifeless body collapsed onto the sand, gushing blood.
There was a moment of stunned silence among the onlookers. Then, as the rest of the warriors howled and leaped ashore, they broke and ran screaming. None of them could run very far; the island was small and had nowhere to hide. They were gathered together like stray cattle, with no chance to organize a defence against the overwhelming power of the raiders. The days of brutality had only just begun, dark days that most only speak of in the faintest of whispers.
The invaders ran amok, murdering villagers in ways that should have sickened even the most hardened warrior. And yet they were just getting started. Some of the villagers were bound and used for target practice. Several young men were castrated and used by the invaders in the most horrific ways. This was not done to fulfill bodily desire. The strangers wished for power and pain, causing their victims to suffer in the cruelest way they could conceive.
The village elders were treated as pack animals. The invaders competed with each other to devise ever-crueler ways to humiliate and demoralize them. Contests were held to see who could come up with the most novel way to break an old man through sheer exertion. When the last of this group died, the tormentors turned their attention to the dozens of imprisoned villagers.
Commencing a drunken feast, they separated the survivors into two groups. One group was immediately forced to serve their new masters. They were made to posture like dogs and beg for what little food they were given. This first evening was filled with laughter, folk weeping in between playing the mad game.
The more awful their abuse, the more the invaders laughed and celebrated their own imagined bravery and strength. They forced the villagers to thank them for the “honor” bestowed on the “lucky” survivors. The warriors drank themselves into a stupor at their vile feast, yet never relaxed their grip on their weapons. There was no question of resistance; the surviving villagers were weak and shivering with humiliation and fear.
The new dawn did not deliver true daylight to the village. The sun rose faint and red, sickly and ominous. The second group of captives had been dressed in their finest garments and told to wait until their “kindly new masters” summoned them to that night’s feast. The minutes turned to hours, and their apprehension mounted as they recalled the sounds of the night before; The terrified screams and desperate sobs of their friends, mingled with the derisive laughter of the warriors.
They prayed to the sky, to the old gods, to any powers that would save them and their lost loved ones. But when the summons to the feast finally came, there was still no response from the heavens.
Shuddering, the villagers were dragged to the central square. Each captive in turn was made to stand on a table. They were then measured and assessed in every degrading way possible. Each warrior, according to rank, was allowed to choose one villager. The rest were told to stand ready, in case any of the chosen didn’t “want to see the new morning.”
A “priest” was called forth, a grinning and dancing fat man who draped white cloth over his armor. In a mockery of ceremony, each of the captives was wed to the warrior who had chosen him or her. Then, their hands bound, the newlyweds were dragged into private rooms for their ‘wedding night.’ The horrors that went on there were greater than anything that had come before. The subhuman torturers laughed and laughed long into the night, stopping only when the villagers were fortunate enough to stop screaming forever.
As time passed and the days blurred together, the terrors eventually became predictable. Some sufferers grew numb, and walked aimlessly about, mere shells of human beings. This emotionless state irritated the invaders, for they hungered for the struggle, for blood and terror. So the warriors began to devise new and unthinkable ways to torture their captives, trying to make them respond. Some of the aimless ones were beaten with spears, while survivors were forced to beg for more abuse each night.
Through everything, Brynhildr tried to retain her sanity. When she hadn’t seen her parents for days, she knew they were gone. She was luckier; passed over for some of the worst horrors, and only kept in a pen like an animal, along with the boy she had once defended. He survived the castration and ensuing abuse, and endured quietly, teeth clenched, while others wept.
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