Freya The Fearless or Foolhardy as her father opted to call her, drove her axe into the ice and lowered her head, as a spray of snow showered over her. She was halfway up a steep wall of ice, using her pair of dual axes as makeshift ice picks. Every now and then she had to pause, as a strong gust of wind buffeted against her, flattening her against the cliff face. She looked up. It was hard to make out the summit of the ice wall, as there was so much snow and mist swirling above her. Trying not to dwell on her predicament too much, Freya raised her free arm and drove the second axe into the ice wall, a little higher than the first. She was eager to reach the top.
The longer she delayed here, the more danger Horatio would be in. At the same time, she had to remind herself then rushing could be costly. The wall was slick and footing scarce. One wrong move and she would plummet to a certain death. So, gritting her teeth, Freya pushed on, choosing her path carefully, as she ascended to her destination. With her heavy furs and dark skin, she looked like some winter animal scaling the wall. The only thing that stood out in the blanket of whites and greys was her hair. Long, tied into a tight braid and shaved on one side, she sported a shock of purple hair. From afar it looked like a blank canvas with a single fleck of purple paint in its centre.
She was making steady progress, despite her aching arms and legs, when she heard something that made her pause for a moment. Freya had grown up in the woods of the Salam Valley, taught at an early age to track and hunt, sharpening not only her eyesight but also her hearing to best locate her prey. She cocked her head to one side and listened intently. There was a very faint crunching of snow underfoot from somewhere in the distance.
A second later an arrow thudded into the ice wall beside her. Freya flinched but maintained her grip on the wall. She had come too far to be bested by some irrelevant bandits. Another arrow buried itself into the wall, mere centimetres from her right foot. It was time to move. She heaved herself up and drove an axe into the wall. There was a deep rumble and crack from under the ice. Freya bit her lip. The wall was starting to crack. It couldn’t take much more. An arrow whizzed through the air. Freya’s quick reflexes kicked in and she ducked down, the projectile smacking into the wall where her head had been mere moments ago.
She breathed out deeply. That was too close. Another tremble shook the ice wall. One more arrow and it would fall. She glanced up, to try and see where she was in relation to the top. But it was too concealed by the cloud of snow and sleet shrouding the sky. Narrowing her eyes, she thought she could just make out it’s dark outline. It didn’t look too far but that was assuming her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her.
Another two arrows were loosed, Freya picking out the elastic twang of the rope pinging back. Tensing all her muscles, she let out a warrior scream and launched herself backwards off the wall and up into the air. The arrows struck the ice wall and there was a tremendous cracking noise, as a jagged fork spread throughout the ice. There was a deep groan from beneath and parts of the wall began to break off and tumble down into the abyss. Freya flew upwards, blood pumping madly in her ears, as the wind rushed past her. She cleared the ravine and kept going up.
As she rose, she looked down and caught sight of the three archers crouched at the edge of the chasm. As gravity began to tug her back towards the ground, she gripped both axe handles tightly in her palms. The three archers looked up in stunned surprise, as she shot like a bullet towards them. The first to recover, raised his bow but received an axe in his chest for his efforts. He fell forward in the snow and lay still. With her one remaining axe, Freya gripped it in both hands and landed on the second archer with an almighty force, driving the axe deep into the man’s head. He was wearing a helmet, but the force of her attack was so strong, it tore through the armour like a knife through hot butter.
She let go off the axe as she hit the guard, rolled forward in the snow and came to a stop a little way away, face down. The one remaining archer, who had watched these quick successions of events open mouthed, took hold of his senses. Stringing an arrow in his bow, he moved forward cautiously to the felled warrior. She was still lying in the same position, completely still, her face buried in the snow. He stopped in front of her and pointed his bow at her back. There was a moment’s hesitation.
A tremendous rumble made him start and he looked round in time to see the rest of the ice wall detach itself and avalanche down into the ravine. Freya’s arms shot out. She seized the archer by both ankles and pulled as hard as she could. The man let out a yelp of surprise, as he was flung backwards. The arrow he had ready, rocketed up into the air and was gone.
Next moment, Freya was on top of him, reigning blow after blow on his face. He tried to fight back but she was far too strong, her muscular arms pounding him unflinchingly. Freya brought back an arm, muttered something incomprehensible under her breath and delivered her final blow. It was so powerful, that in drove the archer’s head deep into the snow, so only a blooded patch amongst the white was left to show.
Freya knelt in the snow and regarded her bloodied fists for a moment. Her face was burning hot with rage and her fists throbbed with a dull ache, yet the cold around her made her shiver. Wiping the fresh blood from her knuckles on the snow, she stood up and turned around. The other two dead archers lay before her. She retrieved her axes, the one embedded in the second archer’s head taking a bit more effort to wrench free then the first.
Inspecting the archers, she found nothing to indicate where they had come from, but their lack of armour or clothing puzzled her. Even if they had a camp nearby, being out in these frozen wastes with these measly garments, they would have frozen to death in a matter of minutes. Sheathing her bloodstained axes, she looked up.
A great, towering black shape slumbered in the distance, concealed by the thick screen of falling snow. It rose and fell at certain points, giving it a jagged, broken outline. This was her destination. Taking one last glance at the corpses in the snow, Freya began to trudge her way around the ravine. The mystery of the measly garments would have to wait. She had more important matters to intend to.
On the other side of the ravine there was a wide and snaking path or more accurately what once was one. The continual downpour of snow had hidden it but after a few moments of digging with her axe, Freya hit stone. It was a cobbled path she ascertained, by the smoothness and unevenness of the stones. She glanced up, surmising in her head. The path was leading away towards the black outline in the distance. It was quite possible that it could lead off in another direction further down the line, but it was a good bet to assume that it led roughly in the direction of her destination.
Although, she now had a clear indication of where she was going, progress wasn’t easy. The six inches of deep snow tugged at her boots, sucking on her legs with every swathe she made forwards. She looked up at the looming black shadow. It was growing steadily closer and beginning to take more shape. Not soon enough, Freya thought to herself. All her muscles felt stretched to breaking point. The jump she had performed off the ice wall had worked in her favour, but it had taken a great amount of energy and strength. Fatigue was starting to set in, not aided by the awkward terrain and cold weather.
She hugged her furs closer to her body. When Freya had become an adolescence, she had to take part in a clearing test. This involved enduring extreme conditions and temperatures from searing hot to bitterly cold, not to mention fighting such formidable foes as trolls, giant arachnids and swarms of Skrill. She shivered at the memory of the winged, skinless creatures with their razor-sharp teeth and forked tails. Despite all this, she still spent most of her time in her native woodland and as such, was less accustomed to sub-zero temperatures.
Freya gritted her teeth and trudged on through the snow. Pull it together, she told herself. She had made it this far. To turn around now would only result in shame and ridicule from her tribe. Neglecting a tribe’s and elder’s orders was heavily frowned upon. But her punishment and shaming would be far worse if she returned empty handed. So, bearing this in mind, she powered on to her goal, pushing all thoughts of cold and discomfort to the dark recesses of her mind. The path she was following snaked its way through a tall ravine, towering ice walls either forming side of her. Although, Freya disliked being in tight spaces, it was a relief to be sheltered from the wind for a moment.
She paused and alighted on a partially submerged rock. A small pouch hung from a belt at her waist. From it, she withdrew a small package constructed of leaves and twines. Unwrapping it, she extracted a sticky round brown substance. It was formed in a circular ball and although light, had a certain denseness to it. Freya took a small mouthful and wrinkled her nose. Gum bread was a popular choice among travellers and hikers, as only a small morsel could keep an adventurer going for hours. The problem was that it tasted awful and tended to stick between one’s teeth. Freya sighed, as she chomped the tough bread, trying to stop her mouth from cementing itself shut.
There was a rumble and shudder from the wall to her left. She eyed it cautiously, pausing mid chew. It fell silent once more. Thinking nothing of it, Freya returned her attention to finishing her meal. The icy surfaces made strange noises. Freya had heard that first hand on her climb up. Although it still made her uncomfortable, she had trained herself to become accustomed to the sounds. It was only natural.
Freya was packing away the remainder of her gum bread when a shadow fell across the ravine. She shivered. The clouds must be passing over. That wasn’t a good sign. Where they were clouds, storms were bound to follow. The last thing Freya needed was to be caught in a blizzard. She hopped down from the rock and brushed the bread crumbs from her furs.
Then, without warning a tremendous force slammed down behind her. The rock was obliterated, shards of the structure flying outwards. A section caught Freya in the shoulder and she was spun round, falling on her back in the snow with a heavy thump. The pain in her right shoulder blade was excruciating and she covered her head to block her face from smaller chunks of rock raining down through the air. There was a tremendous rumble that seemed to vibrate through the walls and ground beneath her.
She forced herself to look up and immediately wished she hadn’t. Two giant frosted hands gripped either side of the ravine. They were attached to a ginormous creature. Its body constructed entirely out of ice. Only it’s eyes showed any semblance of sentience. They were steely blue and swivelled around in their ice encased sockets with a strange liquid like sensation. Freya felt rooted to the spot, as the ice monster leaned back and let out an almighty roar. The ground and walls shuddered so violently this time, that Freya felt her teeth rattle in her skull. Portions of ice broke free from the force of the roar and plummeted towards the ground, where Freya lay. She rolled over just in time to avoid a large patch of ice colliding with her head.
Scrambling to her feet, she made a dash for the ravine exit. The ice giant bounded after her, his large hands and feet thumping into the ice walls. Freya had to zigzag, jump and roll to avoid dislodged loose ice that was raining down around her. The giant was getting closer and Freya noticed with a sickening churning of the stomach, that the ravine was starting to collapse in on itself. The exit was a little way off, but the walls were starting to landslide in. She made a dart for freedom. If she could just make it a little further.
The giant landed above her and thrust an enormous hand down into the ravine. Freya sidestepped out of the way and attacked it viciously with her axe, chipping off bits of the giant’s hand. The creature roared in pain and retracted it. Freya instantly regretted her decision. The giant’s roar was the final straw. The exit caved in on itself, the walls crumbling and land sliding into the ravine. Freya felt fear flood her body, a sensation she had never been familiar with. There was no way out.
Two fragments of the wall crashed into the ground either side of her. She looked up. The giant was staring down at her, it’s cold blue eyes narrowed. In any moment, the ravine would collapse in on itself entirely and she would be flattened to death. She returned her attention to the exit. Before she knew what was happening, Freya was running forwards at speed. There was a little outcrop in front of her, where some of the fallen ice and snow had landed on top of each other and formed a slight ramp. Freya raced forwards. As she darted towards the ramp, she reached behind her back and pulled a small staff from out of a holster on her back.
The giant ascertained what was going on, a few moments too late and rushed forwards to try and stop his fleeing prey. Freya jumped up onto the bottom of the ramp and twisted the staff in her hand. It instantly grew several feet in length and suddenly Freya was making her way up the ramp with a full length fighting staff. At the top of the ramp, Freya drove the end of the staff into a rut into the ground and gripping the pole as tightly as she dared, pushed off from the ramp.
She vaulted up and through the air in a circular arc. At the highest point of her arc, Freya let go and soared through the air. It was all a blur, snowflakes covering her eyes and wind screaming in her ears. The blocked off exit rose out of nowhere and Freya felt her stomach lurch, as she flew towards it. She cleared it by a hair’s breadth, the layer of snow covering the top, whipping up in her wake.
A large hand swung out at her from towards her left. There was nothing she could do. She was wind milling through the air with no control over her body. The hand whooshed past, the outstretched fingers brushing Freya’s streaming hair. There was an almighty bellow of rage, as Freya descended towards the ground. She braced herself for a rough impact. She hit the ground hard and skidded several feet in the snow before coming to a rest, spread eagled in the snow, completely still.
Freya was awoken by a strange sensation. Something cold and wet kept brushing her arms and legs. She tried to roll over, but she had expended all her energy. Her muscles were exhausted. The cold, wet sensation had gone, and, in its place, Freya was assailed by stinging pains at various points over her body. Next moment, something large pushed on her side. She tried to push it away, but her arms were like jelly and fell back uselessly. Again, the large thing pushed on her side and this time with so much force, that she was turned over onto her back. A sky of pure white blinded her.
Then a large shape appeared above her, blocking out most of the light. Freya squinted, trying to make sense of what it was. After several blinks of the eye, a large wolf’s head swum into her vision. Its yellow eyes looked down at her curiously. Instead or scream or try to wriggle free, she smiled. It was the first time since she had set foot in these cursed wastes and it felt good. Somewhere, an unknown strength gripped her, and she sat bolt upright, grabbing hold of the large wolf’s body and hugging it tightly.
‘Dagur, you came.’ Freya said overjoyed, her face buried in the large beast’s fur.
The wolf said nothing but licked one of the wounds on Freya’s forehead. The cut remained but the bleeding stopped. Freya sat back and regarded the Dagur with tired eyes.
‘I lost my staff.’ She said despondently.
‘But you are still alive.’ Dagur’s voice said in her head.
The wolf spoke seldom, preferring to communicate with action rather than words. But when he did, Dagur only ever spoke telepathically to Freya. The wolf was Freya’s spirit animal, gifted to her when she was a child. The two forever shared a bond.
‘Have you been sent here to bring me home?’
Dagur nodded, watching her with keen eyes.
‘Well you can tell my father that I am not coming back till I rescue Horatio.’ She said defiantly.
In her fit of passion, Freya tried to stand up. Her legs gave way and she tumbled back down to the ground. The wolf grinned, exposing his sharp, pointed teeth. Then he moved forward and lowered himself onto the snow.
‘Come child. Horatio needs your help.’
Freya looked at Dagur in surprise and grabbing hold of the wolf’s fur, clambered onto the beast’s back, where she lay panting. Dagur stood up on all fours and glanced at the castle. It was visible now, just. The high towers and peaked battlements thrusting up into the winter sky.
‘Hold on.’ Dagur advised and howling loudly, dashed forward towards the castle.
Freya was used to riding Dagur. She had grown up hunting with the animal, using him as a mount to hunt down their prey. Even so, her legs and arms ached sharply, and she had to summon great energy and focus onto holding on. Dagur leapt over a fallen log, that was hidden in a coat of snow and thundered on, his strong legs pounding the snow below them. She felt an immense love for her spirit animal rise within her. Dagur had come to help her, when no one else would. Even though, she knew deep down he was against the idea.
The castle rose out of the mist and snow to meet them. It was an imposing sight with its black stone walls and ramparts, yet Freya felt no apprehension. Instead, the sight of the towering castle served to renew new life in her. After days of trekking through snow, fighting off attackers and not to mention the harsh landscape itself, Freya had finally reached her destination.
Dagur slowed, as they reached the castle’s entrance. Freya pulled out one of axes, glancing all about her, as the wolf padded forwards. So far, she had been attacked by bandits and a frost giant. She was not about to go charging full steam ahead at a castle door, not matter how tempting the idea might be. There could be sentries, guards. It was quiet. The only sounds to be heard was the rush of the icy wind and the soft crunch underfoot, as Dagur padded forward.
The castle was surrounded by a circular moat with a drawbridge. Typically, the bridge was up, meaning there would be no straightforward walk in the door scenario. The water in the moat however was frozen solid. Dagur stopped, sniffing the ground in front of him and glancing from side to side tentatively. Only when he felt the coast was clear did he allow Freya to dismount.
She climbed down off the beast and blew a loose strand of hair out of her eye. Her cheeks and nose were rosy red, and her eyes had begun to run from the sharp wind. Yet, she strode forward confidently to the moat. Just having her faithful hound Dagur by her side had instilled new purpose in her task. The wolf watched her approach the moat, his ears pricked up, searching for anything out of the ordinary in the snowy landscape around them. The castle from the outside appeared to be abandoned but that didn’t comfort Dagur in the slightest. The animal was aware of the Mage’s power and trickery. It was the complacency which got you killed around wielders of magic.
Freya eyed the frozen moat apprehensively. It wasn’t her first choice by any means. The ice although thick creaked and moaned from time to time. The last time Freya had been on top of an ice structure, the whole thing had collapsed, her nearly with it. She looked up at the drawbridge fixed firmly in place and ran an eye over the walls and sides of the castle. There was no other way in. Even if she wanted to climb the castle walls, she would still have to cross the frozen moat.
She placed a foot on the frozen moat and applied a little pressure. It held. Lowering herself onto the ice, still holding onto the bank for support, she scrunched up her face, waiting for the inevitable crack. But nothing happened. The ice didn’t break, and Freya found she could stand upright without fear of the ice breaking. Footsteps approached from behind and turning she saw Dagur padding towards her.
‘No.’ She commanded, holding out her hands firmly.
The large wolf growled at her deeply.
‘You are too heavy. Wait here and I will climb over the drawbridge and lower it for you.’
Dagur eyed her sceptically for a moment, before huffing and sitting back on his hind legs. Freya nodded.
‘Won’t be long.’
She turned and started making her way across the wide moat. The occasional rumble and crackle from beneath set her on edge but she carried on regardless. This was no time to be getting cold feet. Not when her objective was in arm’s reach. Well nearly. A long shadow passed underneath Freya and she froze on the spot, glued to the ice. There was a tense moment, as she waited for the shadow to return. When it didn’t she let out a sigh of relief and went to step forward.
The ice in front of her shattered, as something very large and long burst out from underneath. Freya fell back, sliding across the slick surface. Broken chunks of airborne ice rained down around her, forcing Freya to curl into a ball and cover her head. A long shadow fell over, so all-encompassing that it nearly blocked out the entire sky. She looked up, higher and higher her eyes went, until finally she was able to look upon the creature’s face.
It was a hideous sight. The water creature’s body was long and windy like a snake’s, with four stubby limbs hanging limply from its torso. But it was its head that drew the most attention. A long narrow face with a pronounced snout and small, beady eyes, jet black and devoid of any emotion. Freya watched in horror, as the sea serpent pulled back it’s elongated neck and opened its huge mouth. Inside were mammoth sized, razor sharp teeth. There was some thick liquid dripping from the side of its mouth, making the sight even more nauseating.
Dagur was barking and growling fiercely, his whole body taut and tensed. He was stood at the very lip to the moat but had obeyed Freya’s orders of staying on land. There was a horrible, gurgling noise and Freya watched the great sea monster. Its neck was convulsing and jerking spasmodically. Freya started to scramble backwards. Something bad was about to happen.
As if in answer, the sea serpent brought its head forward and a ball of green mucus shot out of its mouth. It was headed straight for Freya. She rolled out of the way just in time, jumped to her feet and started sprinting across the ice towards the drawbridge. The ball of green slime hit the ice and then was a sizzling noise, as it began to eat through the surface. Freya stumbled, as the ice gave way to the acid patch.
The sea serpent let out an almighty shriek. It was so high pitched that Freya winced in pain but continued. Reaching the wall of the castle, she paused and glanced over her shoulder. The sea serpent had disappeared. Freya began to climb. This was no time to hang about. The fact that the creature had disappeared back under the ice was more unsettling then being able to see it.
The wall was hard going. It was slippery and had little in the way of hand and footholds. Freya persevered however and reached the bottom of the closed drawbridge gate in good time. She swung an axe up into the wood and tugged on it, to make sure it was secure. Satisfied, she brought the second axe up next, a little higher. Repeating this process, Freya slowly began to make her way up the wooden surface. She glanced over her shoulder at Dagur. He was pacing up and down the shoreline, watching the ice anxiously. Freya glanced above her. She was nearly to the top.
A tremendous crash broke the still air and for the second time, the sky was full of flying ice. Freya concentrated on the task in hand, reaching the top of the drawbridge. That long, enveloping shadow began to rise behind her, until once again it loomed over her like an angry cloud. She heard the weird retching noise and the shadow began to quiver and shake. Knowing what was coming, Freya sped up. She reached the top of the drawbridge in the nick of time.
Another acid patch thudded into the wood beneath her and immediately, it began to eat through the thick surface. The shock of the blow made the drawbridge shake and Freya held onto one of the chains, keeping it in place to steady herself. Steeling herself up, Freya turned to face the monster, her two axes extended out in each hand. The serpent pulled back its head, ready to strike. Freya closed her eyes and breathed out slowly.
The serpent went to strike. Freya’s eyes sprang open, as she raised her axes, ready to meet the beast. The serpent was jerked back suddenly. It screamed that high pitch scream and then tried to dart forward. Again, it was wrenched backwards. It turned its head and glared at Dagur, who had jumped onto the monster’s tail and was biting at it savagely.
‘Go.’ Ordered the wolf, attacking the serpent’s scaled skin with a savage clamp of its mouth.
Freya turned and brought the axe down on one of the gate chains. It slackened slightly but still held firm. She attacked it again, hacking it with all the energy and strength she could muster. The links broke, and the chain gave free. The drawbridge lurched forwards a foot then stopped. The other chain was still holding it up. Freya shimmied along the top and began attacking the next one. A sudden loud whimper made her glance round. The serpent had shaken Dagur free and the wolf had been sent flying across the ice. The poor animal lay against the bank on its side.
‘Dagur.’ Freya screamed and paused in her chopping.
The wolf lay still for a moment. Then very slowly, Dagur climbed to his feet. One of his legs was bleeding. The serpent turned back to Freya and began to move in to attack her instead.
‘Lower the bridge.’ Dagur said so forcefully, that Freya did as she was told.
She hacked and sliced at the chains, not caring about the approaching sea monster, or the inevitable plummeting drop that would come from the fall. The monster started to regurgitate its vile acid liquid for a third time. Freya delivered the final blow to the chains. The links broke free and the drawbridge came loose. At the same time Dagur rushed forward and leapt. The wolf slammed with all his weight into the side of the serpent, knocking it over onto the ice.
The sea serpent screeched and re righted itself, just in time to see the drawbridge swinging down towards it. There was a loud crunch, followed by a splat, as the wooden surface crushed the creature beneath it. Freya landed on top of the drawbridge heavily. The air was knocked from her lungs and it took her a while to recover her breath. Finally, she lifted herself up onto her knees, her chest heaving up and down heavily. One of her axes lay beside her. The other was nowhere to be seen.
‘Dagur.’ She said hurriedly and scrambled over to the edge of the drawbridge.
The serpent lay flattened to the ice, completely still. Dagur was nowhere to be seen. There was a sudden crack and the ice beneath the still sea serpent gave way. Freya held onto the corner of the bridge, as she watched the monster sink beneath the water, it’s long and slinky body slipping slowly under the surface. She waited until the last bubble had risen, and then turned and climbed to her feet, clasping her now only weapon. Her face, which was an expression of sad acceptance suddenly morphed into one of ecstatic joy.
‘Dagur’. She exclaimed and rushed forward.
The large grey wolf was sat at the now open entrance to the castle, watching her curiously. She embraced the wolf in a tight hug but pulled out quickly, when Dagur winced.
‘Sorry, I forgot about your leg.’
The fur was bloodied and stained dark red, but the wound seemed to have stopped flowing.
‘Where’s your other axe?’
Freya looked down at her feet awkwardly.
‘I see. Well try to hang on to that one. I hate to think what is waiting for us inside if that was the sentry guard.’
Freya gripped her one remaining weapon in her hand tightly and nodded. She glanced down the drawbridge at the castle’s now visible inner courtyard. There wasn’t an army of soldiers waiting on the other side or a line of archers posted along the ram tops. Freya took the opportunity to recover her breath and check Dagur was alright. The large animal’s wound had already begun to scab over, aided by the creature’s tongue. Freya had learned from a young age, that wolf’s salvia has incredible healing properties, hence why she had recovered so quickly herself after the fall. Still, it was an instinctual reflex that she worried about Dagur, when he was badly attacked.
‘Onwards and…inwards I guess.’ Freya announced, composing herself.
The stone archway to the courtyard rose over the two travellers, as they stepped off the drawbridge and into the castle itself. As soon as Freya passed underneath and onto the other side, she felt a strange tingle, as the hairs on the back of her neck stood to attention. Dagur sensed it now, sniffing the air with his large snout. But that was it, the lack of air was unusual or rather the stillness. The archway was tall and wide, and the courtyard wasn’t sheltered from above, but the wind seemed completely non-existent. The air was stagnant and thick. The two glanced at each other warily.
At some point a great battle had been fought here. Dust covered skeletons littered the ground, their armour cracked and broken. Freya inspected a few of the corpses, out of morbid curiosity. One of them was slumped against a stone wall, a fancy curved rapier protruding from between his ribs. Freya sheathed her axe and gripped the sword’s handle. She had to place her foot against the dead soldier’s head, as the blade had been rammed so forcibly between the victim’s ribs. Eventually though, with a great tug it came free and Freya stumbled back, holding the rapier up in the air victoriously. She looked round at Dagur. He was watching her with a disapproving expression. She shrugged her shoulders and moved on.
Dagur barked to get her attention and Freya looked in the direction the wolf’s head was pointed in. At the very rear of the courtyard, stood a tall, crumbling and frankly unfit for purpose tower. Despite it’s apparent state of decay with half of its roof and left side of the wall missing, there was a light coming from within. Even Dagur’s keen eyesight couldn’t make out clearly if there was anyone in there. Freya had a feeling though. This was her destination. The ice wall, archer bandits, frost giant and sea serpent had all led to this.
There was one problem however. Their way was barred by an immense wall of debris. During the great battle, a catapult must have been launched at the castle, because their way was barred by a huge section of half broken wall. Freya looked around and spotted a section of the castle rear wall that had been blown out. Dagur was strolling up and down in front of the blockade, trying to see a gap or way through. She didn’t mention it. Dagur wouldn’t be best pleased if she revealed that they could have just snuck in round the back.
Freya glanced around at the devastation. Bodies lay piled up on one another. A few horse skeletons were dotted here and there where presumably a cavalry charge had been attempted. Discarded weapons scattered the ground and arrows were embedded in crates, barrels or corpses alike. A door stood in the corner of the courtyard drew her attention. Two bodies were tangled up in front of it, one of the skeletal hands was attached to its handle. She wrenched the joint free, making a horrible snapping sound and cast it aside. Then she kicked the corpses out of the way and rattled the handle herself. It was locked. No surprise there.
Freya took a step back, then rushed forward and shouldered the wood as hard as she could. The door’s jamb snapped from the force and swung backwards, smashing into the wall. Freya wind milled, her arms flailing, as a descending spiral staircase rose to meet her on the other side. There was a tug on her hood, as she was pulled backwards. Regaining her balance, she straightened up.
‘You can let go of me now.’ She instructed Dagur, who was still gripping her hood in clenched teeth.
The animal consented and padded forwards, sniffing the air. A torch affixed in a bracket on the wall inside burst into life. Dagur snarled at it. Freya laid a hand on the wolf’s giant head and stroked his fur soothingly.
Dagur didn’t look convinced but the pandering did help. Freya unhooked the lit torch from the wall bracket, gripping the newly acquired rapier in her free hand and started down the spiral staircase. She could feel Dagur watching her, sensing his apprehension. Freya understood his reluctancy to go on. Self – lighting torches were not just creepy but also indicated there was magic about and from what she had witnessed so far, it didn’t seem like the friendly, good natured type. Nevertheless, she had a mission to complete and this appeared to be the only way to reach the tower, so she had no choice but to push on.
The two had to be careful descending the tightly coiled staircase, some of the stone steps were slick and partially broken. The torched helped a little and Dagur had strong night vision but even so, it was slow going. It was with a welcome sigh of relief that they reached the bottom of the staircase and emerged out onto a low roofed but wide underground chamber. Freya felt the tight sensation in her chest alleviate somewhat. She was not claustrophobic by nature but combine that with poor light and dodgy footing and she had found her breathing becoming a little strained at points. A sudden gust of wind rushed through the chamber, extinguishing Freya’s torch and spraying dust and grit into her eyes. The two coughed and spluttered.
‘Dagur…. can you see anything?’
The wolf was about to reply, when several torches lining either side of the chamber flickered into life. Dagur growled again and Freya gripped her rapier more tightly. The chamber was made up of several black and darkened cells, lining either side of the walls. Freya discarded the now useless torch and made her way forwards through the chamber. Some of the cells were open and Freya paused to peer inside. Dagur kept glancing behind him but there was nothing there. There were more corpses in the cells, although these ones were adorned in half rotted hoses and shirts of simple design and plain in colour. Most of them had chains around their ankles with heavy lead balls attacked at the end. Some of them even had metal collars around their necks. Freya shivered. The skeletons themselves didn’t scare her. She wasn’t easily frightened by corpses but the thought of their no doubt torturous imprisonment put her on edge.
There was another door at the end of the chamber room. Freya moved forward to inspect it. It was similar in design to the cell doors with its heavy metal bolts and iron bars. Once again, she tried slamming her weight against the door but this time it held. Damn. She unhooked a nearby torch an inspected the door more closely. There was a keyhole in the right-hand corner. A rustling noise made her spin round. Sword raised, the two waited for another sound. A small, dark shape scurried out from one of the cells. Dagur leapt forward, bringing a paw down on the scurrying shadow. There was a high-pitched shriek and then silence. Freya relaxed, as the wolf set about feasting on the captured rodent.
The ante chamber fell silent again, albeit for the soft tearing sounds, as Dagur worked on his meal and the occasional flapping of the torch flames, as the wind rose and fell again. Freya was about to turn back to the door, when a sudden strong gust of wind swept the room, extinguishing all the torches, bar Freya’s. Dagur paused in his devouring and lifted his giant head. The torch lit up a small area in front of Freya but beyond that it was a wall of impenetrable darkness. With all the torches lit, Freya had felt a little warmth return to her bones but that had now gone.
She shivered, her long hair lying limp and damp against her skin. There was still a coating of snow and ice on her fur hood. A grinding noise began somewhere far off in the darkness. It sounded like metal scraping against stone. Dagur continued to growl, his thick fur standing on end like a feral cat. He backed towards the door and came to a stop next to Freya. His legs were spread apart and his muscles tight and tensed, ready to spring into action of necessary.
A soft clinking sound had joined the scraping noise. It was growing gradually clearer and more pronounced, as whatever it was evidently drew closer. Both had keen eyes and they made out the shapes well before they reached the torchlight. Nevertheless, both hound and human had to take a moment to fully absorb what their eyes were telling them. Several of the recently deceased skeletons were lurching towards them. The scraping and clinking sounds revealed themselves to be the clank of the dead’s shackles and jangle of the heavy balls following behind. Freya and Dagur eyed one another, then dashed forward to encounter their foes.
Dagur reached them first, as he took a small starting jump then launched himself at his attackers. Freya gave a satisfied smile of triumph, as he landed on two of them and they immediately disintegrated, their bones rattling across the stone floor, as they fell apart. Three of the dead prisoners were closing in on Freya. She swiped the torch at them, forcing them back momentarily. But it only worked as a temporary solution, as they regrouped and advanced again.
Freya cursed and threw the torch on the floor. It remained lit. That was good. It would aid her in combat. One of the skeletons swung its leg round and the ball attacked to its ankle whizzed around in an arc. Freya jumped up, avoiding the ball and accompanying chain by a millimetre. She landed and responded by slicing both the undead prisoners legs off with her sword. The skeleton fell to the stone floor with a loud rattle. Another lunged forward and seized her arm. Its bony grip was strong and dug into the flesh. She roared and brought her sword down on the attacker’s arm, severing it off completely. The dead assailant stumbled back, surprised but the severed arm remained attached to her arm. She tugged on it hard, but it refused to budge.
The other undead cellmate was drawing closer. Freya gave it one last yank and it came free. The action overbalanced her, and Freya spun, swinging the skeletal arm. By a stroke of luck, the arm connected with the approaching skeleton, resulting in slapping its head clean off. Freya couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of the headless skeleton staggering forward. She stepped forward and kicked it hard in the rib-cage with her boot. The headless prisoner was flung back into the darkness. A bony hand curled around her ankle. She looked down. The first undead inmate had crawled forward on his belly and was now hanging off her foot. Freya had to give them their dues. They were committed. Lifting her foot, she shook the skeleton free and drove she sword down into its skull. There. That should stop it.
It was a bit of ordeal heaving her sword out of the crawler’s skull but eventually it came free. Two metal chains flew out of the darkness, wrapping themselves around both of Freya’s wrists. They cut into the skin, forcing her to drop her sword. Next moment, Freya was swung sideways, her legs lifting off the floor. She flew around the room, tethered to the chains. Everything was a blur of blacks and oranges, as she spun through the air.
Suddenly, she collided with something very hard and solid. Freya groaned, as she collapsed to the ground in a crumbled heap. The chains began to tighten again, as the inhumanly strong skeleton began dragging her slowly across the stone floor towards it. Freya groaned and looked up. Her vision was swamped with black spots and her head was bleeding from a nasty cut on her forehead.
Dagur roared upon seeing his master felled but every time he tried to run forwards towards her, more skeletons would jump upon him, weighing him down. Freya had to get up. If she didn’t do something soon, then this chain wielding skeleton would have her in his bony clutches. But she was weak. The blow she had sustained had not only knocked the wind from her but cracked one or two of her ribs. She had been travelling at speed, when she had collided and despite her tough tribal skin, her injuries were besting her. Freya did the only thing she knew how to do.
She concentrated hard, drawing on all the anger and rage she felt at the undead opponent. But it was not enough. She focused deeper, remembering all the moments of fury that had fuelled her journey here. Anger at the warlock for stealing her betrothed, anger at her family for disapproving of her courtship and her mission and anger at these cursed beings for hurting her Dagur. She cocked her head to the right and observed the ferocious wolf. He was battling hard, but the hordes were relentless, and she could see him beginning to tire, his back legs buckling under the weight of the clambering corpses.
Freya’s torch went out and the chamber was bathed in darkness once more. Then from underneath Freya, a purple light began to glow. Dull at first but then brighter and fuller. The skeleton dragging the felled Freya towards him paused, intrigued by the light emanating from under her. It was spreading, rising from beneath her, until she too was surrounded by the purple light. It was bright now, severely so and the skeleton had to shield its socket less eyes from the glare. He went to pull on the chain but this time the links did not budge. The undead executioner forced its head into the light. Freya was no longer on the floor.
She was now stood before the skeleton, her whole body encased in the purple force-field, which was pulsating brightly. He gave the chains another tug and this time instead of doing nothing, they gave him a tug instead. He stumbled forwards, confused. Freya opened her mouth and roared, a jet of purple light bursting from her lips. At the same time, she gave the chains a flick. Purple lines streaked down either chain, setting the metal alight with violet flame. The skeleton exploded in an indigo inferno and let go off the chains. It ran around like a headless chicken for a moment, before the blaze became too much and the undead assailant fell to the ground, where it began to smoke.
Some of the skeletons who had been surrounding Dagur turned to advance on Freya. Still gripping the chains, Freya stepped calmly forwards to face her foes. She tore through the skeletons like they were pieces of paper, swinging, thrusting and slamming the chains into their brittle bodies. Dagur, who was still fighting off the remaining climbers, watched on amazed at his master’s mastery of the chains. She moved like a dancer, twisting and twirling her way through the room, spinning the chains around her like some choreographed routine. Lines of skeletons were knocked back as the chains decimated their ranks. When she had cleared a path to Dagur she let fly her chains.
One wrapped itself round one of the mounting minions’ neck yanking it back, another was caught around the foot and pulled off. In a matter of moments, Freya had stripped Dagur’s back of the skeletons. He looked round. She was stood a few feet away from here, glowing chains still gripped in her hands. Her face and arms were glistening with sweat and her hair lay plastered to her moist forehead. Her chest and shoulders rose and fell deeply, as she glanced about taking stock of her victory.
Burning piles of skeleton remains littered the underground battlefield around her. Dagur went to say something but was interrupted as Freya thrust out her arms. The chains streaked through the air and affixed themselves to the iron grilled door. She pulled sharply on them and the door wrenched free of its hinges. It landed with a loud bang and a cloud of dust rose into the air.
‘I’m impressed.’ Dagur said.
Freya knew that wolves couldn’t grin, but she could swear that the large animal’s mouth was curled in an expression of amusement. Now the threat had been dealt with, Freya could feel the anger leaving her body. At the same time, the purple glow began to fade. After a few moments the purple hue had disappeared completely, and Freya was back to her old self, apart from the purple hair of course.
‘That was new.’ She said, dropping the chains and retrieving the sword.
The room was dark once more, but the burning bodies did an adequate job of lighting the way. Freya moved over to the now open doorway and peered gingerly inside. A set of stairs rose before her, curling round and up.
‘Great, another spiral staircase.’
She felt something wet and soft press up against her arm. It was Dagur’s large snout. She gave the large wolf’s head an affectionate stroke. The two glanced at one another and in that one look, they understood each other. This was it. At the top of this staircase their final opponent waited dormant for them. That or some other trap the magician had devised. Either way, there was only one way forward and so doing her best to mentally prepare, Freya mounted the first step and began the long climb to the top of the tower.
It was a narrow and steep climb, but Freya hardly noticed how many steps she had climbed. The dull ache in her thighs and feet was a distant memory. Something had happened back in that room. That purple source of energy had not only given her unknown strength and speed, but it had also driven the pain and discomfort from her body. Occasionally she would pass an alcove in the wall and shiver, as the night breeze washed over her. Dagur padded softly behind her, panting slightly with the effort.
The staircase was lit by a series of burning torches, hanging from metal brackets set into the wall. Another breeze assaulted her from a gap in the wall. Freya thought nothing of it, as the flame of the torch flickered in the wind. A moment later, she froze on the spot. The torches in front of her had changed colour. Instead of the familiar orange glow she was accustomed to, they had turned to an eerie shade of purple.
Dagur brushed his large head against Freya’s shoulder. It was a simple action, but it did reassure her slightly. She pushed on, telling herself that this was good, as it was evident she was getting closer. A moan from somewhere above echoed and bounced off the walls, distorted by the accompanying draft occupying the staircase. Nevertheless, Freya and Dagur pressed on. They had fended off archers, escaped an ice giant, outsmarted a sea serpent, defeated an army of the undead. Despite those challenges paling in the shadow of the powerful magician she was about to face, it still resonated inside of Freya.
The purple light was growing stronger now, bathing the walls and steps in its deep violet hue. Freya’s sword hand was slick with sweat, but she held on to it tightly. Dagur’s fur bristled and he closed the gap between him and Freya. The large bulking shape of her beast friend gave Freya a burst of confidence and feeling a sudden surge of strength, she dashed up the last few steps and shouldered open the door at the staircases’ summit.
It swung open with a loud thud, as it smashed round into the wall. Freya and Dagur leapt into the room, the foremost with sword raised above her and the latter snarling and barking, his large paws dug into the soft patterned rug of the tower room. A bizarre and disturbing image rose to meet them. A body was suspended in mid-air, their arms and legs stretched out, held in place at the hands and feet by four glowing purple orbs. The floating figure’s head was tipped forward, slumped awkwardly on his chest.
A robed figure stood in front of the trapped prisoner, adorned in midnight black garb. He didn’t turn upon hearing them enter but there was a low murmur coming from his covered hood, accompanied by a low rumbling hum from the purple orbs. There was that disturbing moan once again and the suspended experiment raised its head. Freya gasped. It was Horatio. But something was different, something wrong. His eyes were not the dark brown they should be but a misty grey.
‘Don’t be hasty.’ Dagur advised.
But Freya wasn’t listening. Her feelings of concern for Horatio had morphed into burning anger at the robed conjurer. Before Dagur had a chance to stop her, she had dashed forward, sword in hand. The black clad figure turned at the last moment and in the second before Freya’s sword met him. The magician she loathed so deeply, flashed a smug smile of satisfaction. Freya drove the sword straight into his chest, pushing the blade through with such force that it broke free the other side. She released her grip on the sword and stepped back. The skewered magician dropped to his knees, as blood began to spread between his fingers, that clutched at the wound in his gut.
‘I won.’ He grinned, toppling forward onto the stone floor with a loud thud.
Freya stood frozen to the spot, the bloodied sword still thrust outwards in front of her. Dagur moved over to the fallen magician and snipped the body inquisitively. Both were at a loss for words. What had just happened? Freya should have felt victorious, relieved even but there was the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Like something was not quite right. The daze they found themselves in was soon shattered, when the purple orbs of light Horatio was attached to, vanished and the suspended prisoner fell to the floor.
Woman and wolf rushed forward, as Horatio staggered awkwardly to his feet. Freya threw herself at him, embracing the weak man in a tight hug. Horatio couldn’t help but go deadweight in her arms. Freya didn’t mind. She was twice the size of him and twice as strong. Dagur was watching them fondly but stole a glance at the murdered magician every now and then. The dead warlock did not stir but the wolf was still cagey.
‘I knew we could free you.’ Freya said, gazing at Horatio with tears in her eyes.
His face was ghostly white, and his eyes were heavily bloodshot but reassuringly brown once more. There were a few cuts and grazes on his face and his floppy hair was slick with sweat. His legs buckled, as fatigue began to take hold. Freya hoisted him up, refusing to let him fall.
‘Stay with me.’
Horatio’s eyes were drooping, and his head kept lolling forward like a ragdoll.
‘He needs help.’
Dagur nodded his large head and padded forward. Settling down on his belly, he allowed Freya to place Horatio on his muscular back. He slumped forward onto the large beast’s neck.
‘Hold on tight.’ Freya whispered in his ear, wrapping Horatio’s arms around Dagur’s neck.
The wolf stood up. Horatio looked like he was about to slide off but at the last moment, he gripped Dagur’s fur tightly in his fingers.
‘We need to leave now.’ Freya said, shivering as a breeze entered the tower, and ruffled the dead magician’s robes.
As they reached the door, Horatio’s eyes flickered opened. His head was pressed into Dagur’s shoulders. He raised his head ever so slightly and his face morphed into that of the magician. A smile creased his features, Freya glanced his way, as his face changed back and saw him smiling. She smiled back at him. They were going to be alright.
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