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Wufran: the Beginning

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Wufran: the Beginning

Once they started the fire, that set all the other events in motion.

The fire quickly spread from the outbuildings to the stable, as fires are wont to do, when set in an area of timber and thatch buildings that had been drying for many seasons. Once the thatch on the stable roof caught, the horses started screaming in panic. The two steady old plow horses and the grey mare that was used for riding by the smith that called the stedding home, all were voicing their terror at the top of their lungs.

The young girl, started to rise from her hiding spot at the edge of the tree line. Her blue eyes were huge with tears, seeing the devastation of her home, and she just couldn't let the horses die too. Her brother reached for her but he was too late. The small, golden haired form darted for the burning stable.

"Freda! Come back..."

The voice trailed, into silence, afraid to make too much noise. The boy was probably around 10 years old and he was frozen in indecision. His job was to look after his little sister. Papa and Mama both had repeatedly drilled that into him, but the cautious part of his nature recoiled from following his sister to the burning building. Knowing the raiders were still there, ransacking the main house, made matters that much worse. Adding to the emotional mess, was the fact that Wulfran was hidden because his sister had sensed something amiss on this cold evening in early spring.

The children had been seeing to some final chores after their supper: Wufran gathering wood and a fresh bucket of water to be used in the morning, Freda had taken the evening slop to the pigs. Freda thought she had seen someone lurking in the shadows, so she ran to her brother just as the attacked began. Both of the nordic children knew their best hope at surviving lay in hiding and seeing what remained after the raiders were gone. They had heard the sounds of fighting from the house: Papa was away at the jarl's but Mama was a nordic woman, well used to the violence of the frontier and well practiced with her axe and shield. There were also Hosti, Osten and Brida, cousins of Mama who lived at the stedding, who assisted with the work of farming and Osten was also apprenticed to the smith. Everyone worked, and everyone trained to fight off bandits, bears or worse, that could come out of the forrests.

The fighting sounded like it had died down, when Freda made her dash for the stable. She disappeared inside it and Wulfran stood, but still remained in the shadow of the large spruce tree that had helped conceal them. Little Freda managed to open the main door to the stable and was going to get the horses when one of the raiders came around the stable from the far side and grabbed her. The long angular face of Freda's captor betrayed his Altmer heritage, and he laughed as he carried her, kicking and screaming towards the house.

Two more Altmer emerged and though Wulfran couldn't hear what they said, he could see them laughing, and then there was a dagger in one's hand and he drew it across Freda's throat. Blood fountained out and the three Altmer laughed. Wulfran was momentarily stunned but the sound of the laughter jarred him back to consciousness, as he watched his sister's body fall into the mud, discarded by the Altmer like a broken toy.

Wulfran howled and charged across the yard at the murderers, his only weapon being his belt knife. 

He could never remember what happened next but when neighbours came, after seeing the smoke and flames, they found him weeping and cradling his dead sister's body, next to the remains of three altmer in Thalmor uniforms, that had been brutally hacked to pieces. Wulfran's small knife was found on the ground, its blade broken and left in the eye of one of the bodies.

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Pursuit and Failure

The acrid smoke stung his eyes as the nord warrior made his way through the smoldering remains of the stedding. What had once been a prosperous holding, harvesting from both farm and timberlands was now nothing but a memory. Thankfully most of the dead were burned to ash with their home; their remains ash that no one needed to tend to... but not all.  He briefly regretted leaving Axel behind him, ignoring the older man's warnings but a sense of urgency drove him onwards. As he searched the wreckage, a dark, sinister voice taunted him,

" Run Away home boy.. you cannot hope to win.. go home now... I will have what is mine... and I will take all that is yours. .."

Wulfran gathered the corpses of a middle aged man, an old woman and a teen-aged boy, as gently as he could, and started searching for tools with which to make them a barrow. He was able to find a serviceable shovel on the wall of one of the hulks of an outbuilding, and used it to pry free enough stone to make a cairn for the dead. He didn't know how close they had been in life, but they would be together in death.

After he finished the grisly task, he searched again around the perimeter of the small settlement, not knowing why or for what. He spied a splash of crimson on the snow, at the edge of some woods. He froze and slid his hand to the hilt of his sword, as he heard manaical laughter echoing from a distance. He pulled his blade free and followed what turned into a blood trail. The voice in his head mocking him again.

"Too late fool! You couldn't save her, anymore than you could save Freda. Her flesh was succulent, her blood sweet and now Molag Bal will feast on her soul."

Wulfran shook his head, try to rid himself of the laughing voice, but the laughter just gained momentum, filling his consciousness with its insane peals. He stumbled on, and came into a clearing. In the center, the body of a girl in her early teens, just on the cusp of young womanhood. Her blue eyes were widem her face frozen in a grimace of terror, her throat torn open and her clothes disheveled, her skirt riding up too high to hide the evidence of the other abuses she suffered. Tears streaming down his face, Wulfran made his way to her and closed her eyes. Part of him knew this wasn't Freda: she'd died so many years before and this girl was years older than his sister had been, but the gold hair, the blue eyes and lost innocence tore at his heart. He straighted her clothes, as well as he could and then gathered wood. There would be no cairn for this girl: there would be a pyre, just in case her attacker had cursed her into becoming one of the undead. Fire would cleanse her and hopefully she would find her way clear to Sovngarde.

*******************

The path had led north out of the small village on Bleakrock Isle, and Wulfran was determined that it would lead to a reckoning. He'd been following Erikk Thaanos for weeks and the long, bloody trail, filled with too many corpses of young,blue-eyed, blonde haired girls, had to end. There was no where else to go.

He knew the vampire was playing games with him, that he was being led, but he couldn't stop himself. This had to end. It had to.

"I know you're near!" He shouted into the wooded valley, nestled in the snow covered hills."Show yourself, coward!"

Laughter answered him. Not the laughter that had been echoing in his mind for the majority of his pursuit, but real laughter, coming from a being that was close.

"Come to me, so I can put an end to you; I will give you the True Death you crave!"

"So confident, Young One. Maybe I will keep you as a pet. You can guard the door to my keep."

Wulfran was almost shocked as his quarry stepped from behind a tree, a short distance in front of him. The vampire was big, almost as big a man as Wulfran was himself, but size was where their similarities seemed to end. The vampire's hair was black, and it as well as his mustache and goatee were carefully trimmed and tended. Sinster red eyes gazed down from a handsome, almost beautiful face. In contrast, Wulfran was clean-shaven and his red-brown hair blew freely in the wind. Green eyes filled with hatred as he stared at his quarry.

With an incoherent roar, Wulfran pulled his sword and charged his enemy. Erikk laughed and parried the younger Nord's initial onslaught. Wulfran's rage meant his attacks were easily predicted and defended against but the same was not true of Erikk's counters. After several minutes, the adversaries broke apart and seperated.

"You are skilled but a fool. I will train that out of you, after I make you my servant." 

The words stung the younger Nord and he choked back a retort that had been on his lips. Instead he attacked with more purpose, with strategy, instead of blindly lashing out as he had previously. The tide of the battle began to turn. Wulfran still bled from small wounds he sustained as the fight went on, but he was driving the vampire back against the trees. Finally, Wulfran thrust past Erikk's guard, his blade punching into the vampire's stomach. But the wound no visible effect. Wulfran wrenched his blade free and attacked again.

"Why. Won't. You. Die?"

"That is not for you, mortal."

Again a separation and lull in the fight, but this time, Erikk's hand slid to a small hidden knife, its blade stained with poison. He flung it at the younger nord, who dodged but the knife found a gap in his armour at his left shoulder. Wulfran shrugged it off, not realizing the true danger.

"Hah! Is that your best, worm? Maybe I will give you...the...no... not..."

And Wulfran collapsed in the snow.

 

 

 

 

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The Old Man

He left the young Bosmer with the Argonian amid stern warnings that if she returned yet again….if she rejoined the hunt…he would give her to the Lady Justice to put in dresses and be kept inside the house to sleep on beds with only books for company. He told her if she disobeyed him yet again, he would expel her from his pack. Ridiculous threats, but she believed him and he tried to forget the hurt look and the cowed spirit as he headed back out to rejoin Wulfran who had eyes on the dead thing named Erikk. They had been asked to wait for the orc called Reaper who had a debt to repay this creature for his attack upon Lady Aly’sande. And so he had left the boy there to watch as he took the waif away from the dangers of a vampire hunt.

He was getting too soft with these folk. He who had felt nothing for so many years, was now wounded by the look of betrayal from the little slip of an elf who adored him. How had this all happened? He brooded as he rode, taking the wayshrines closer to where the lad watched their quarry whom they had treed on Bleak Rock Island.

So much of his life given over to hunting monsters while bound to one himself. The long hunt and the presence of companions…one the likely lad who had become much more than an ale drinking companion and a shield in a fight…the other the willful, disobedient elfling that could stalk prey as well if not better than he could…the wee slip of a thing that he would find curled at his back like a pup on cold nights…

All who had been bound to him had been lost. For all of his savage, martial prowess, he could protect no one. Had he not learned? More, and at the deepest heart of it….had he not sacrificed all and everything to the end that he would bring down every last living thing with a drop of  his enemies’ blood in its veins? The last of his clan…those staunch warriors who had first set out to avenge with him the atrocities committed against hearth and home…his lieutenant, his brothers in arms…all so much wood in the fire of his vengeance…all  given over to his vows of erasing every trace of his enemies from Nirn…

He had not meant for this to happen. To find himself amongst a clan, even one as unlikely as this, running what must be as cursed a path as his…attempting to pry a daedric prince’s talons from Nirn. In the forging of an alliance against a common enemy he had fallen in with a pack and he had not seen it coming. The healer that had looked at him that very first time and seen far too much, and in her recognition of who and what he was had given wordless acceptance and forgiveness. The young Imperial officer whom he had saved on the road…her brother…the Argonian that had hunted for the exact recipe of mead he had loved as a young man- mentioned only once…and the casks of the stuff left for him without comment when his demons drove him to the darkest depths.

He brooded on the faces of the souls that peopled his days now- as well as these new folk of Invicta. Softest bunch of so-called mercs he had ever encountered. Off rescuing folks and working against slavers left and right with pay seeming an after-thought. Good folk can never disguise what they actually were no matter the guise worn.

He wondered what they would all think if they could see a full accounting of his own monstrous actions? The folk given to the wolf inside him whose only sin was whose blood they shared? Women, old folk…aye even children. After the first, he told himself that at least he made it quick and painless….more than had been done for his own wife and children. But that lie had ceased to have any meaning a long time ago. No- he knew he was a monster in more than one measure. And irony of ironies, he had given his last weeks over to hunting down another monster...a freak like himself…for attacking a woman…for killing other women along the way….

He had watched the lad Wulfran shocked and outraged each time they came upon a feasting site of the vampire along his trail. Always blonde women with blue eyes. The old wolf saw a game being played in that, but had no idea of its significance. He only saw the lad grow more angry each time they discovered a grisly tableau… women hung upon trees, gutted with throats torn out, clothing in suggestive disarray. It wore on the lad in ways Axel himself had become immune to long ago.

He came out of the cold ‘in between’ of wayshrine travel with a growing concern as he started to worry the lad would try for the vampire alone. He felt a sudden urgency telling him to ride quickly to get back before…

He stopped abruptly.

All thought of the vampire or Wulfran or anyone else fled his mind as the wolf in him let out a sudden howl of excitement and he scented the spoor that had been his reason for living for the past several decades.

One of his quarry was near….blood of the blood of his enemy. A man….riding hard…in a direction opposite he needed to go to rejoin Wulfran.

In the end there was no contest. There was perhaps a split second of inner debate. The urgency he had felt to get back to his hunting companion faded away as the geas to destroy those sharing blood with his sworn enemy overrode all else. He did not stop to think how strange it was that this scent would happen right now at this moment. He was no more than one of the skooma addicts he abhorred in that moment- rolling in gutters filled with their own filth doing anything for one more taste…and for him as always, that addiction was vengeance.

And so he turned away from the path that would have returned him to Wulfran’s side, and he gave voice to the hunter’s cry and followed the second trail instead.

Justice Mercy and the Midnight Squadron Crew

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Ghosts

Fierce joy and endless hunger swirled between him and the wolf that rode his soul as they relentlessly tracked the fleeing horseman over war torn, frosty terrain. He rode until his sturdy northern destrier had blood foaming from wide, flared nostrils, then leaped off and gave over to the wolf who ran tirelessly after the fleeing mortal…getting closer and closer. At last he came to a tumbled down old keep whose last remaining tower jutted upwards into the night sky like a sword hilt whose blade was buried in dead flesh.

Undead roamed the tumbled, neglected grounds, and the old man waded in, giant two handed sword slashing as he put them back down for good. The ghosts however…they were another thing entirely. Each wore the face of someone from his past. Each confrontation was a weeping figure of the long dead come to haunt him again, each wounding him in ways a weapon never could.  He found in the siege of a thousand faces that he was not as immune as he had thought he was, and grief ravaged him, bleeding a soul that had become a dark shadow of what it once had been.

He howled and cried out and sobbed as he swung his enchanted blade, cutting the silvery misted forms and feeling the resistance in his blade as if he cut through flesh. Here he faced his demons and they were the innocents he had murdered, and those who had trusted him to lead whom he had failed in his casual sacrifice of their lives- all in the name of vengeance. Slowly they took their toll, stabbing at him with icy cold fingers, tearing away at him and a tide of death washing over him…the futility of lives lost unjustly before their time.

And as the anguish consumed him, the ghost of the man he had once been awoke and saw what had been done out of grief and loss, and the regret of it all was a stunning blow that dropped him to his knees and he wept as the tide of spirits washed over him and all became darkness as he prayed for death to any who might hear him.

He woke to the silence that can only be found in the eternal winter lands of the Nord, where only wind and the crackle of ice break the quiet of deep nights. He opened his eyes slowly, the twin moons peering down at him in aloof curiosity, the crisp spattering of tiny spinning stars like jewels in the blackness of the void.

The sweat on his body had frozen to a thin sheet of ice and the cold seemed to radiate from his very bones as he slowly came to his feet. He groaned at the ache of abused muscle and the slicing pain left from ghostly fingers. The ghosts had vanished and the mounds of slain zombies had gathered snow that disguised much of their individual horror; the winter dusting leaving them just another misshapen pile like the fallen stones of the ransacked keep that radiated from the broken tower.

Slowly he moved to the keep drawn by a cold blue light burning at the top. The wolf seemed far away, subdued somehow, the connection faint. Axel took the stairs inside, boots scraping against frosted stone, echoing loudly with each step. For the first time he could remember, he did not burn for this kill, and his soul was conflicted as he came like a reaper to end yet another life that had done no injury to him.

At the top he found nothing but a boy huddled against the stone wall, his back to the old Nord, arms clasping his own knees to his chest as if desperately seeking warmth. Axel felt nothing…no stirring from his beast and he stood there, arms hanging at his sides, sick to death of the killing. A sconce had fallen to the ground, an ice blue flame burning from the top. He knew this was not right but could not summon the energy to react to the mounting sense of unease. Instead he sighed, reaching down to right a splintered, half burnt chair and sat down with a deep exhalation of breath.

He knew this was no boy, and that he had been tricked.

“Well. Get it ‘oer with ye evil thing. Ye drew me here a’purpose. Have done, a’ready.”

Slowly the dark haired child turned his head to look back at the old Nord. A secretive smile curved pale lips and black, soulless eyes glistened in a white face. Slowly the haunt stood and faced Axel. “Oh, it is over already Old Wolf. You already chose. I’m afraid your prey is in another castle. Instead my Prince takes yet another you love from you…and you will be too late again. Always too late. Poor Axel.”

The figure vanished, leaving the Nord there alone at the top of the tower, the distant echo of laughter buffeting his exhausted spirit. It was a moment before he understood, and a schism of anguish jolted away his weariness.

“Wulfran!”

The chair went crashing as he got to his feet abruptly and raced down the steps, driven by panic. Not again…not this time….the lad would listen and wait for him…he would not have taken on the vampire alone…

And the wolf raced across frozen tundra, prayers cast into the void that he would get there on time.

Justice Mercy and the Midnight Squadron Crew

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Too Late

He spared nothing of himself, taking the longest jumps through the wayshrines he had ever dared, ignoring the recovery periods mandated by the old writings, until finally he arrived at the frozen rock of an island, Bleakrock.

An apt place for a vampire to claim, it was desolate and sparsely populated since the incursion of enemy forces had sent the inhabitants fleeing. The occasional poacher, looter, or unwary mercenary no doubt proved an ideal meal. It was here he had left Wulfran to watch and wait, and here he prayed the lad would be found safe and hidden watching the cave to which they had tracked Erikk.

He staggered as he stepped out from the void, the cold of the icebound island warm compared to the chill settled in his bones from shrine travel. Almost he wished his haste had claimed him; that he would have been lost to the icy ‘between’ of the celestial pathways. The thought was a flicker quickly set aside by his urgency to find the camp where he had left his friend.

The though settled uncomfortably on his mind. His friend. How long had it been since he had felt that bond with a mortal? How many lifetimes had he been part of the Wild Hunt, where companionship was simply the pack united by the lust for the prey? It had been a long time….a very long time.

He found the energy to pick up his speed to a stumbling run. Exhaustion was the toll for his travel and his very spirit felt thin and ragged and not all together here. Up the steep game trail to the hidden place between boulders overlooking the frozen lakebed he found their camp. The small fire had burned down to embers- he had been here just a short time ago! Axel looked out over the bluff, scanning the surroundings, desperately searching before finally seeing them- a man with coppery red hair fighting another whose skin was as pale as snow, dark hair contrasting vampiric complexion.

The young fool!

Something very close to fear drove him back down the path to the lakeshore, his lungs and muscles burning as he summoned every bit of remaining stamina he possessed, his arm reaching back to free the massive sword strapped to his back. He had eyes on them now and he gave a shout it did not seem they heard. Wulfran had backed the undead creature up against the edge of a cliff, and the vampire seemed the worse for wear. He watched as the lad dropped his shield and seemed to be saying something, his sword pointing at Erikk. As Axel approached at a dead run, he saw the hidden movement from preternaturally quick hands and the blur of a small metal weapon flung towards the young warrior.

Wulfran staggered back as if struck by a powerful blow and as he neared he could only watch as the vampire smiled a terrible smile and the lad slumped to his knees in the snow, sword falling from his hand, a puzzled look on his face.

Too late…..too late. Always too late.

He was no longer an old man watching a comrade fall on a frozen island. His personal nightmare broke free of the deepest, darkest pit of his mind where he had buried it.

He was young again- a different man all together…and he led a warband up the steep incline to his clankeep where black smoke and red flame had awoken dread and fear in his heart such as he had never felt before.

Bodies were strewn across the ground between the Meade Hall and the sturdy homes wreathed in fire and flame. With dread closing off his throat he slid from the back of his mount before the beast had come to a stop, a hoarse cry escaping him, calling for his wife….his sons….

His people had not gone quietly without a fight. Among the dead where men of another clan…clad in wolf skins, their faces blackened and painted in patterns of war. His lieutenant reached for him, calling his name, the horror in his own heart reflected in the man’s voice. He shrugged the restraining hand away and ran for the smoking forge where his wife worked her trade. His mind struggled to reconcile the burning ugliness of his home with what it had been a day ago…where he had teased his wife, ponderous with what she swore was a daughter this time- for being too fat to sit astride a horse and come answer the Thane’s call with him…

Something broke in him when he found her. Something essential and good and vital that sent shards of agony through every part of what was left. His boys had been cut down outside the entrance and lay partially cooked where they had fallen in her defense. And her…his heart and his joy and the other half of his soul…she had been staked down and used by the animals that had done this. When he saw the babe had been cut out from her belly his mind broke and he began to howl….

…and he howled now as he leapt into the trampled snow where the young man and the vampire had fought. Startled, the injured creature exploded into a mist but Axel was relentless, and this trick could not save him from the wolf whose keen senses tracked the fleeing essence.

It was not long before the vampire materialized again, lunging at the werewolf that savagely tore and clawed and shredded dead flesh. The thing laughed and choked as it faltered, echoing the refrain hammering in his heart…

“Too…late…you…are…too..late….”

A black leather vial came free of the vampire’s hand and the scent of it filled Axel with dread. He wrenched control back from the wolf, forcing his shape back to that of a man. He was gasping and panting and had expended resources beyond natural limitations. His heart thundered and his hand shook as he snatched up the vial, checking again…

Daedric poison.

In his mind’s eye he replayed the moment the vampire had flung something at Wulfran and the slow toppling of the tall warrior. He staggered away, forgetting the quivering mass of savaged undead flesh as he backtracked to where the lad had fallen. He found Wulfran writhing in the snow, the virulent poison tracking black pathways under his skin. Foam froze on his lips and his eyes were wide and agonized.

“I told ye t’wait ye damn pup…” Axel half sobbed as he tried to assess the effects of the poison. He fumbled at his beltpouch, trying to calm the other Nord, holding him down as he emptied the contents of a vial into the younger man’s mouth. He prayed the neutralizing reagents would halt the advance of the virulent concoction and buy them some time.

Grimly he bound the lad to minimize the thrashing, and drug him through the snow to his horse. With the very last bit of strength he had, he slung Wulfran over the destrier’s back. He had to get to the priestess…or maybe Smiles in her infinite knowledge of poison would have an antidote. He pushed away the taunting inner voice that told him there was no hope and he would only be too late again.

As the Old Wolf led the horse to the docks, the vampire pulled himself toward the cave, his savaged flesh slowly reknitting as he went.

Justice Mercy and the Midnight Squadron Crew

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