Fan Fiction

6 June 2004, 10:46 AM

Part I: Egil's Charge by Jonathan Goss []

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Egil knelt to the cold, wet earth, his keen eyes tracing the shallow dents in the snow. At the raising of his hand the entire troupe of eighty berserks halted their march and fell in behind him. Tyrfing, his lieutenant, drew up beside him, kneeling in the snow to add his sapphire eyes to Egil's scrutiny. For a moment the two were silent, examining the tracks that they had been following for two hours. It was mid morning, and as the distant sun began to melt the tops of the snow the tracks became weaker and weaker. But this was the Stair of Grief, there was sure to be more snow, and more tracks.

"They were joined by Ghol." Egil said darkly. "Maybe twenty."

Tyrfing traced the tracks. They seemed to be bunched together, as if the Ghol had milled about for a while before heading further east. He shook his hairy head. "Twenty'll be nothing unless they're carrying bits o' Wight with 'em."

"Aye," Egil replied. "But they've covered a lot of ground. I'm sure the Ghol have outpaced the Soulless. We'll have to split our forces to catch them both."

Tyrfing ran his fingers through his thick auburn beard. "I can take just as many with me, we can cut them off if we hurry." He looked at Egil with hesitation. Would the veteran take the chance with Tyrfing as their leader?

Egil thought for a moment. Tyrfing was invaluable. He couldn't afford to lose him. Finally, he nodded. "Take Gwyon and his kin, and whoever else has experience with the Ghol. Leave the rest for me."

Tyrfing nodded with a smile hidden under a thick beard. "Aye," with that he rose from his leader and strode back towards the throng of tireless Northmen. Egil watched him as he was eventually lost from sight amidst the snow drifts and howling winds. Things just got more complicated.

Of course, that was no new thing for Egil, or the rest of the armies of the West. For five years now they had been fighting the Fallen Lords, Balor's relentless push over the mountains resulting in more than one blood-soaked peak. And now it seemed there would be another added to the list.

It was not of Egil's choosing, however, that had him here with his brave warriors. No, it was a mandate of the Nine. The Avatara, in all of their infinite wisdom, decided that a picked force of eighty or so berserks be sent to retake the Stair of Grief from the throng of enemies passing through it. No one had survived the last attempt, but that was nearly a year ago and led by Ajax, a captain in the Armies of the Province. At least he was, until a Wight blew up, scattering him across the mountain passes. Needless to say all the others met a similarly gruesome fate that day.

But Egil was determined not to let that happen again. His eighty berserks were the hand picked men of his own clan, all with as many notches on their belts as hairs on their heads. They knew how to fight, and they knew how to win. Unlike his weaker, scrawnier comrades in the West and the South, Egil had taught his brethren how to fight and kill, not fight and survive. Survival was a concern for the foolish, and the weak. Egil only cared about victory, no matter the cost.

And now was the perfect time. He rose from his crouch and turned to address his men. By now two groups had formed, a small one of eighteen or so with Tyrfing at their helm, and a larger one with all eyes on Egil. He grinned toothily at them, like a jackal.

"The Soulless are not far." He shouted over the howling winds and snowstorms. "Whoever is leading them has sent Ghol to intercept us. But we're not going to buy it. I'm sending Tyrfing to catch the scythe-wielding runts before they can encircle us. They'll watch our backs while we take care of the Hollow Men." Numerous nods confirmed his observations. By now Tyrfing had the full contingent of twenty Northmen. He stood twenty meters down the slope, listening to his leader's orders. "Now I know some of you are worried you won't get to kill much, but don't worry, there'll be enough for everyone. I promise." He looked downward, at Tyrfing. "Now go, before the cold freezes our prey!"

With that the groups parted, bare, scarred forms disappearing in the raging snows. Tyrfing and his group sprinted with haste across the slippery, icy slopes between the passes, trying to take whatever shortcuts they could find, no matter how dangerous. Egil and his large force of sixty raced further along the pass, following the fragile, purplish haze left by the floating Undead. Long years of harsh wars and harsher winters had given Egil a keen set of senses. His beady grey eyes could pierce the densest fog and his hooked, broken nose could smell the scent of decay and wormrot. The past five years it had come in handy. The war had not gone well for the Armies of the Province, and the berserks had been all but begged to pick up the slack.

Glory drove them south.

To the aid of the West.

And now, ironically, it was glory that had driven Egil and his men north, towards their homelands. And here, today, there would be a chance for much glory. He would soil the snow with the bones of the Soulless. Today was going to be magnificent.

Egil raced as fast as his legs could plow through the shin-high snow. He was almost fifty, and covered in scars and grey hair. The color of his beard did not change much with the snowfalls, nor did the braided locks of hair that fluttered behind him as he ran. Of course, many of the men he commanded were younger. Much younger. But out here, in the miserable ice and snow, one could hardly tell the difference. Not to mention the fact that Egil was steadily outpacing his own men in their race. Even with the wind pushing against his front and the snows numbing his bare skin Egil was slowly distancing himself from the sixty berserks following him. His fisted arms pumped in front of him, his large claymore secured tightly to his back. It had been nearly half an hour since he could feel his feet, and he was pretty sure frostbite was somewhere in his future. Not that it mattered, only victory mattered. Only glory.

Egil reached the end of their mountain pass, and was met by the craggy, snow covered slopes and rock faces of the Stair's indomitable terrain. High into the mountains as they were, Egil was cautious to set foot upon the cresting tops: a wrong step could send one to a most undignified end. But he had no choice, the sent was getting stronger. He was gaining on them. They were gaining on them.

Quickly Egil leapt onto the icy ledge and began sprinting across its broken length. The others followed suit without hesitation. To their right lay the inlet of the upward sloping terrain, to their left was the descending mountain side, a sheer rock wall covered in ice. Egil pumped his legs harder and harder, fighting against the wind. Then something else happened, something he did not expect. Another scent was now present though, one that did not seem to follow the Soulless necessarily, but came from their direction no doubt. It was fainter, subtler, as if it had drifted from the southern side of the mountains. It was the strong scent of death, and rotting corpses.

Egil knew the scent well.

He had smelt it many times before.


The Soulless had backup. With a grimace Egil began scanning the terrain for signs of tracks, while trying to to take his eyes off of the dangerous precipices. He saw none, and the lack of excited shouts from his comrades confirmed that there were none there. Unless of course the precarious terrain kept them from looking all together. Egil peered into the hazy snows, the wind blowing flakes across his eyelashes. For an instant he thought he saw something. A thin black line standing upright and moving to the left. It disappeared beneath a crest of white dust and powder.

Suddenly Egil stopped. He knew what it was. Without thinking twice he threw himself down onto the inlet at his right, burying himself in the snow. His men did the same, looking like a long line of fleshy dominos tumbling into the wet cold. Egil gazed down the line for a scout, someone he knew was experienced enough.

"Tyrgeis!" Egil shouted. "Tyrgeis!" A moment later a hairy blonde head poked out from the line of crouching men. Egil motioned for him to come over. The berserk rose to his feet quietly, feet sinking into the snow. He was short for a berserk, a mere five feet seven inches, and covered in war paint. Tyrgeis Of The Iron Gale. That's what they called him. His spirit was unstoppable, his tenacity on the field like a rushing wind. He was fearless. He was dire. He was perfect for the job.

"Tyrgeis," Egil repeated when the subordinate was closer. "The Hollow Men are not far; just below that crest." He pointed to his right, the crest a mere thirty meters beyond. Tyrgeis followed his leader's direction with his eyes, his head jerking towards the crest with an excited fury.

"Then we can catch them!" He said hurriedly. "Quickly, Kahn Egil, let me meet them! I want to be the first to-"

"No!" Egil refused. "I need you to spy their number, then come back to us. Do not let them see you, and save the Hollow Men your wrath for a moment or two."

"Aye," Tyrgeis replied. A moment later he was sprinting, half crouched, towards the crest. As Egil watched him go the other men slowly began to draw around their leader, clustering together in the cold.

"What's going on?" Asked Hervard Of The Bloody Stump. His face was contorted mass of wounds, ugly beyond repair. And his left arm was severed at the forearm, a wound inflicted long ago and earning him the title he now held.

"We're right on their backsides." Egil replied, his eyes never leaving the crest. "But they've got Thrall with them. I just hope we're in time to catch them before the Thrall move in between."

"Our luck has held so far, if we move quickly, we might be able to get in between them." Said Hervard. The burly hulk then proceeded to blow snot out of his nose, freezing instantly in the snow at his feet. "Damned Stair." He complained.

"If our luck holds." Egil repeated softly to himself. Suddenly Egil saw Tyrgeis approaching. The young berserk was racing with all abandon back to the line of comrades. In a swooping rush he flung himself into the snow where Egil and the others lay crouched. His eyes bulged and his chest heaved. "What is it? What did you see?"

"The Hollow Men!" Tyrgeis panted dramatically. "The Hollow Men, there are so many."

"How many?" Egil asked warily.

"So many that their spears would hide the sun!"

To that Hervard chuckled, his hideous grin exposing rotted and missing teeth. "Good!" He laughed. Egil turned to him with confusion and slight annoyance. Hervard saw it and subsided his laughter a bit to explain the source of his joy. "Then we shall fight them in the shade."

Egil smiled at his haggard comrade. What a demented fool.

"What about the Thrall?" He asked Tyrgeis. "How many of them did you see?"

"Myriads." Tyrgeis responded. "But they're all standing still, like they've got nowhere to go."

"Good, then we can still hit the Hollow Men." Egil decided. "Are they still moving?"

Tyrgeis shook his head. "No, they've stopped in the pass, now they're just milling around, maybe moving into formation. Almost as if they're resting."

"No need to rest when you're undead." Hervard remarked.

"Then lets not waste any time." Egil said suddenly. He rose to his feet to face his now shivering men. "We've caught our prey! They're just below this crest. But they've got Thrall down there so lets be careful and quick. In and out! We're here for the Hollow Men, not for those blade-blunting Thrall." A chorus of "Aye!"'s went up from the line of men. A moment later they had drawn their swords and were forming a vanguard behind the crest.

Egil looked behind him down the two lines of the vanguard. They were ready. Each sword drawn, each berserk hopping and anxious for some killing. Like a storm of pure rage the sixty berserks erupted from the crest, descending the slopes and filing into the gorge where their prey waited. The snow seemed to melt into rain from the hot-breathed shouting and bellowing of the charging Northmen.

But as they came into the gorge the vanguard was met by a wall of poisoned barbs. The javelins hurtled through the air as numerous as rain from the sky. Egil could not tell how many there were, only an endless sea of Soulless, with a throng of Thrall standing to their right a hundred meters away. The Hollow Men were not that far, luckily, but still the barbs were coming, like a wall of anguish and death. Egil ordered his men to break formation and instantly the bare skinned warriors began dodging the javelins. They ducked and weaved as and endless barrage of missiles coursed through the air towards the troupe. But they were too close, too tightly packed. The gorge did not have enough room for the berserks to space out, and within minutes the poisonous attacks had found their marks. The shouting of men's battle cries quickly turned into the screams of dying anguish. Blood spilled onto the snow, and more than one berserk fell face down, sinking into the earth as his blood melted the ice.

Egil found himself stuck in the shoulder, a javelin shooting straight through and out his back. In an instant another landed in his left thigh. The pain was intense, excruciating. It burned his whole limb, and drained it of strength. They had misjudged the distance of their enemy, and now they were paying for it. But they were Northmen. They continued. The desire for glory, for victory spurned them on. It didn't matter that the poisonous barbs left unhealable wounds, or that they were outnumbered four to one. Egil and his men would slay the Soulless. No matter what.

The barbs, for some unholy reason, seemed to only further enrage the berserks, and they quickly found themselves rushing up underneath the range of the Soulless. In an instant Egil and his men had sprinted, bristling with poisoned spears, up to the Soulless' lines and immediately began hacking away at them with their claymores. The first two ranks turned around to get some distance but were quickly turned to purple powder and piles of bones. The third line of Hollow Men began chucking barbs at the berserks with manic fury. Yet they continued. Suddenly it was as if a wall of flesh and iron had slammed into the ethereal line of bones and barbs. In no time the snow was thick with skulls and quivers and for a moment the berserks were the masters of the field, the remaining Soulless trying to regroup, backed against a cliff face.

During the momentary pause Egil turned to catch a glimpse of the Thrall's position to see if they were about to be outflanked. To his surprise, he saw them standing exactly as they were when his men had entered the gorge. They seemed to be terrified, frozen stiff and wholly incapable of advancing into the fray. Hervard saw it too, and a second later could be heard laughing maniacally, pointing at them with his powdered claymore. He bristled with javelins, one even sticking directly into the stump where his wrist used to be. Egil could only imagine the pain that awaited him if he survived.

Ten minutes later it was over, and the Soulless were nothing more than powdered remains in the snow. Not a single one had escaped. But it had cost Egil dearly. Nearly half of his force was now doubled over on the ground or lying in the cold wet earth, their wounds too painful to withstand. More than one was not moving. He found Tyrgeis lying on his back, staring blankly at the sky as his guts spilled out of his stomach. Three blood soaked barbs lay beside him. Obviously the young man had the strength to remove the things before he died. Egil found Hervard as well. He was pacing back and forth along the front of their lines, jumping up and down and shouting at the Thrall.

The Thrall.

They were coming.

Egil saw them begin to advance, bound by sorcery to their master's will. He was sure that even in their decayed and rotted minds the Thrall were hesitant to obey.

"Rally!" Egil shouted across the gorge. "Form the line!" He screamed as the Thrall drew closer. Egil's heart sank as he watched no more than thirty-five berserks moved into position between the Thrall and the acre of wounded men. "Fan out! Fan out!" He shouted. The Northmen spaced themselves out into three groups, one in the center and two flanking wedges. Eight men in each flank and nineteen in the center. Egil hobbled over to the front, trying to tie a bandage around his bleeding thigh.

"Here they come, Kahn!" Hervard shouted gleefully, blindly unaware of the dire situation before them. "Here they come! Come and get it worm food!"

Egil gritted his teeth. He barely had the strength to stand. His eyes were already growing dim from the poison. It wouldn't be long before he was convulsing and vomiting all over himself. Delirium would set in, and then the true nightmare would begin. He made it a point not to let that happen. He would sooner die than suffer that disgusting fate. Salvation awaited him across the icy tundra amidst the horde of Thrall. Glory was already achieved, victory secured. Now it was time to release himself from the prison of poisonous death that had trapped him and the others. It was time to die with honor.

Egil raised his sword. "Charge!"

~ You have reached your journey's end ~