Bifrost

The Rainbow Aurora

 

Little Jenny Shawley got up from her stool, milking-pail and duty forgotten. Slipping into her boots, she ran out of the warm stable into the chilly spring day, craning her neck to get a better look.

The northern lights were out, and clearly visible even though it was in broad daylight.

Noticing a further wonder, Jenny sprinted out of the village’s opened north gate, ignoring the questioning shouts from her father. Why he and the rest of the village was not running with her, she could not understand. Couldn’t they see?

The northern lights were touching ground just beyond the hill.

 

After being sent back to the village and finishing the milking, Jenny had been sent straight to bed. She could not decide if being mad at her father was fair, as her father had not actually scolded her. He had been stunned to silence before he could finish the sentence.

As he had crested the hill behind her, the scolding that was surely on his tongue died away, forgotten. Ahead of them in a small crater of melted water, Jenny could see exactly where the lights were touching the ground. A human woman, covered in cuts and bruises, was lying on her side, clinging onto a beautiful staff with the colour of an aurora, and a shining crimson shard suspended in the staff’s crown. As more men from the village arrived, the northern lights vanished, and were no longer visible in the day sky. Then Jenny saw no more of neither woman nor staff, as her father all but dragged her back to their house.

 

The following day, as soon as Jenny had finished her chores, she ran over to old Martel’s house. Due to its size, it served as the village’s infirmary when necessary. After much pleading, her father had told her that the mysterious woman had been put there, along with her few possessions. As usual, the door to Martel’s house was unlocked, but the door leading into the guest rooms was closed with lock and key. Old Martel must have heard the creak of the front door, as he came into the entry hall.

‘Oh, good afternoon, little Jenny Shawley. What brings you here without your father?’ the old man said, chuckling.

‘I finished my chores. Dad said I could visit the strange lady from yesterday, but you locked the door, so I can’t get in. Would you unlock it for me, please?’ Jenny pleaded.

‘Well, considering the state that woman was in yesterday, she needs to rest. But because it was you who found her, I’ll let you in. Just this once. But do try to refrain from waking her up, she needs to rest, you understand?’

Jenny nodded vigorously, and Martel unlocked the door to the guest room with the keys hanging around his neck. The room beyond the door was clean but sparsely furnished, containing only a chest with no lock, a small low table, a small bucket for water and a bed, currently occupied by the woman from yesterday. She was clearly resting uneasy, tossing and turning under the thick blanket. The distinctive turquoise staff was leaning against the far wall, the crystal shard twinkling gently in the spring sunshine streaming in from the window.

While Martel opened the window ever so slightly, to let some fresh air in, Jenny walked over to the table and looked over the woman’s possessions. A tattered dark-green cotton robe, with a sleeve on the verge of falling off, a small leather pouch and, of course, the staff. It seemed bigger than both Martel and the woman in the bed, and seemed to draw all attention in the room to itself. Forcing her attention away from the staff leaning on the wall, Jenny moved closer to the bedside. The sleeping woman was mumbling words under her breath. While Jenny couldn’t make out what she was saying, it conjured up unpleasant memories of 2 years back when poor Klart had come back alone from a scouting trip for the Crossroads Haven garrison. When Jenny visited him a few days after he was carried into the village by a small escort of Lionguard, he had been acting exactly like this, slowly repeating the names of the missing scouts. He had only calmed down when a kindly soul had given him a tattered old teddy bear to hold. A week later, Klart had been taken back to the garrison to help him recover. Jenny hadn’t heard a word about him since.

Thinking back on this, Jenny looked back to the small table at the items displayed. None of them looked like a good substitute for a teddy bear, and again her attention was drawn to the turquoise staff. It was the only item distinctive to her in any way, and the woman had been holding it when they found her in the melted ice. Silently walking over to the staff, Jenny grabbed it as firmly as she could, and all but ran back to the bedside. Behind her she could hear the creak of the floorboards as Martel turned towards the noise, and then everything happened very quickly. Ripping the blanket away, Jenny thrust the staff towards the woman’s clenched hands. Martel grabbed her by the shoulder and turned her around, with a very cross expression on his face. The normally kind old man asked her what in Dwayna’s name she was thinking, when a single snore, clearly audible through Martel’s raised voice, sounded through the room. The woman had stopped turning and tossing and seemed to be sleeping quite soundly.

Afterwards, Martel sent Jenny home to her parents, firmly telling her it was so she could not disturb the poor woman’s sleep any more for the day. But Jenny could not decide for herself whether old Martel was angry with her or pleased his patient was better.

3 days later, Jenny was cleaning out the stables when she heard a commotion out in the village square. She could hear several of the men of the village, as well as some deeper voices she did not recognise. Leaning out of a window, she saw the source of the commotion. 3 armoured norn were arguing with a group of some 8 village-men who themselves were in work-clothes.

The norn only resembled the traders the village usually saw by their height. Their skin was pale, almost blue, and their armour had swirling blue serpent-like designs. Their voices had a strange quality, like a man shaking in the cold, and they carried their weapons openly.

From this distance, Jenny could not hear what was being said, but neither group seemed pleased about what had transpired so far. The village-men were gesturing towards the open gate the norn must have come through. Jenny was too curious to just ignore this. Leaning the broom against a wall, Jenny ran out of the stable and hid behind a corner so she could hear more clearly.

‘ –  this again. Shaman Kolvirr says that the aurora-woman is in your village,’ the biggest of the 3 norn boomed. ‘If you will not hand her over, we will take her by force.’

One of the village-men crossed his arms. ‘And I’ll repeat myself. We still don’t know who you’re talking about. We don’t have any ‘aurora-people’ in our village. Just humans. Though you wouldn’t think it if you looked at Benny over there.’ While the jest caused much laughter among the men of the village, the trio of norn did not follow the humour. Nodding to each other, they began reaching for their weapons when a whistling object sped across the square, embedding itself as an ice dart in the left shoulder of the norn who had spoken. With a grunt, he took a step back and removed his hand from the axe-handle.

‘Draw that axe, and the next one will be further to the right.’

The strange woman was standing opposite the group, leaning on her turquoise staff. Dagger-sized ice shards floated around the head of the staff, glinting menacingly in the midday sun.

‘Return the staff, human. Refuse, and this village will not live to see the next full moon.’ the norn boomed, seemingly unaffected by the ice shard embedded in his shoulder.

‘Shout and bluster all you want,’ the woman shouted back, ‘I am not handing anything over to your Grenth-damned shaman.’

The norn and the woman stared at each other across the square, each silently daring the other to back down first. The norn backed down first. Saying nothing, he reached up and ripped the ice shard from his shoulder, throwing it at the woman’s feet. He then turned around and walked west out of the village, with his 2 cronies in tow. The entire square breathed a sigh of relief as the 3 armoured shapes disappeared over the snow-covered hill. Now actually looking at the group of men, she spotted her father talking to some of the others, so she darted back into the stable again.

A little while later Jenny heard a knocking behind her, just as she was finishing the cleaning. The woman with the staff was standing in the doorway, not quite leaning on it, but definitely keeping it close at hand.

‘Good afternoon, Jenny,’ the woman walked into the stable, sitting down into the fresh hay covering the ground. ‘Your father told me you were the one who found me in the snow?’

Being unsure what to say, Jenny just nodded, the woman responding by slowly nodding back.

‘So I know who you are, but do you know who I am?’

‘How would I?’ Jenny responded slowly.

‘Quite, but you never know,’ the woman stuck out her hand. ‘Marla Webbley, elementalist formerly with the Seraph, now independent.’ Jenny looked at the hand, then back up at Marla. With a shrug of her shoulders, the woman rested her hands on the staff now lying in her lap.

After a few awkward seconds, Marla placed the staff in the ground and stood to leave.

‘Well, I just wanted to thank you for, eh, finding me. Vanishing in this frozen wasteland would be unfitting for a Webbley from Shaemoor.’ Turning around, the woman began to walk slowly out of the stables shade. Before Marla vanished into the bright sunlight beyond the stable roof, Jenny finally gathered the courage to ask the woman the question that had been stuck in her mind since she had seen the woman lying in old Martel’s infirmary bed.

‘Who were all those names?’

Marla stopped in the entryway and turned slowly back towards her.

‘Names? What names?’ the woman responded with a curious expression on her face.

Jenny took a few hesitant steps towards Marla. ‘When you were staying in old Martel’s guest room, you were mumbling some names in your sleep.’

Marla’s face was utter puzzlement, but her eyes seemed to tell a different story. ‘The only names I can remember are my own and those of my parents,’ the woman gave a little shrug with her shoulders. ‘I’m still tired and sore, so maybe once I have rested some more, I’ll be able to recall more names. The Six knows I served with a fair few back in the Seraph. But I will be staying for at least a few more days, so I promise you I’ll say so if I remember anything. And again, Jenny, thanks.’ Marla left the small stable, moving towards old Martel’s house.

5 days passed in the little village. Jenny continued doing her chores as usual, and while she met Marla several times, the mystery names were not mentioned again.

The sky was painted a blinding white with clouds and an unseasonably cold wind that bit right through Jenny’s clothes. A few of the men were up on the ramparts, staring over the hills witha lack of vigilance born of boredom. The settlement was rarely approached by anything the villagers didn’t know to be friendly, and while the hunters who roamed far across the valley usually talked of snow leopards, actoduses(?) or bands of ice imps, even those had petered out over the last few days. Jenny’s father seemed unable to decide whether this was good or bad, while Jenny’s mother, like most women of the village, continued just like before. While Marla’s appearance had, at first, upset the daily routine, now she was considered just another sentry, albeit one who would be leaving shortly.

‘I’m sorry for leaving so soon, Jenny, but your little village is your home, not mine. After all this, I want to go back to my own family.’ Marla leaned on the top of the ramparts, turquoise staff casually leaning against her shoulder.

Jenny looked up at the woman(revise?). ‘But we still don’t know anything about the names or why you were here, you can’t just leave.’ Marla gave a little sigh.

‘Don’t worry on that account, I have not forgotten. But it will be easier to find the truth back in my own home-town. They’ll have records and such things. As for why I was here, in this frozen -‘ Marla seemed to swallow a word, ‘ – place, I suspect it has something to do with this staff. I certainly cannot recall having it before I woke up in that old man’s house. The plan is to consult a library back in Kryta, see if it’s not on record somewhere.’ the older woman gave a little smile. ‘Do not worry Jenny, if I learn anything interesting, I will be back to tell you. On that you have my word as a Webbley.’

A man with a longbow slung over his back gave a small respectful cough a little distance away.

‘Ah, and there’s my replacement. Which means I’m on my way home to Kryta.’ Marla slung her pack of belongings over her shoulders, gave Jenny a little pat on the shoulder, and began the walk out of the village without another word. When she had announced last night that she would be leaving, she had made sure to say goodbye to every member of the village before going to bed. Jenny had seen her walking all over the village, knocking on every door, checking every section of the ramparts.

Jenny went home and half-heartedly continued her chores. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her parents checking in on her several times, but made no mention of it.

Hours passed. As Jenny was finishing the clean-up of the yak’s pen, she heard some shouting from the ramparts, both from the village men and voices she recognised from the visiting norn a little over a week ago. While she couldn’t hear their exact words, it was clear from their tone that neither side was pleased. Before Jenny could put her shovel and bucket away, the shouting had ceased, and more men were running about the village, grabbing bows or spears, or heading for the ramparts. She wanted to see what was going on, but didn’t want her father to catch her, so headed for an elevated part of the ramparts that was otherwise not close to the active part. With the majority of the men now on the ramparts, she managed to get onto the small tower without being seen.

The wind had kicked up, so the groups of norn were somewhat masked by the flying snow, but their dark-blue armour made them easily visible against the white-snow. Their blueish skin uncovered against the cold, their dragon-tattoos were clearly visible, and filled Jenny with a dread she had not known before. All the norn she could see were armed to the teeth, and all had bows easily larger than even her father, with arrows to match. She could see Martel ordering young Klian onto a horse headed for the garrison, but just as he reached the gate, an unnatural howling and roaring reached the village. Jenny had heard cave bears before, and while these resembled those, they could not come from any animal she had ever heard of, and every human in the village could hear that they were coming from the direction of the garrison.

 

Soon after the norn had encircled the village, they started shooting volley after volley over the walls, causing everyone who could to seek shelter in the nearest buildings. Jenny’s house was close to that side of the walls, so when she arrived, she found it brimming with people from all over the village, some of them injured, some of them not. The little hut was filled with shouting and conversation as everyone this was happening and what they could do about it, all the while trying to tend to those who had been hit by the spear-sized arrows fired by the attackers. Some were saying they should gather everyone they could and make a run for the garrison, while those who had been outside when this all started argued that whatever that unnatural roaring had come from would either be blocking the way or attacking the garrison itself. Through all this noise, Jenny heard something.

The whistling and thudding of the arrows had stopped. Others must have realised it as well, for the conversations throughout the room slowly died down, and the men who could still move on their own hurried outside. Jenny snuck away to the back door to risk a peek outside.

The ground was littered with arrows and a few people who had not made it inside. Men were rushing about, trying to shore up the gates with whatever was available, but it soon proved inadequate. Roars like a winter-blizzard erupted outside the walls, and 2 of the town’s 3 gates exploded inwards in a cloud of splinters. Huge creatures made of black-and-blue ice forced themselves through the now-open gates, with the armoured norn following in their wake. The men tried to form a group, but their weapons did little against the huge ice-beasts.

The eastern, and final, gate of the village cracked inwards, but no ice-beast emerged. Instead, jagged rocks had sprung out of the ground and smashed the gate aside. As all eyes in the village turned to the now-open gate, several fireballs arced through, striking ice-beasts in the chest, forcing them back towards the smashed gates. Jenny felt a slight tremor pass through the ground beneath her feet, and a massive boulder flew over the walls, driving another ice-beast to the ground in an instant. Bolstered by the unseen support at their back, the men of the village drove back into the norn, but the blue-skinned giants were unperturbed. With shouts to Jormag, they began driving the remnants of the towns militia back towards the center. Lances of rock soared from the eastern gate, nailing several norn to the ground in a gory imitation of their own arrow-volleys. A slight crackling sound, and a taste in the air like after a storm. Jenny sensed the bolt coming, but still shut her eyes a moment too late. As she opened them again, she could still see a bright after-image of the lightning-bolt that had scattered a small group of norn all over the town square.

‘I told you Six-damned dragon cultists what’d happen if you drew weapons.’ Marla stepped through the shattered gate, holding the turquoise staff out before her. Her hair was standing up ever so slightly from the lightning fields surrounding her wrists, and her robe was steaming. At this change in the situation, the fighting in the centre had stopped, but three norn, the same who had visited the village a week prior. A flash of heat intense enough flash-melt all the snow in the eastern part of the village. Marla swept her hand in front of her, and a pillar of flame dwarfing the sentry towers engulfed the trio, immediately reducing them to ash. ‘Seems like this abominable cold slows even a norn’s brain. Last chance. Clear out or you can continue your blustering in the Mists.’ The elementalist held a fireball in the left hand while glaring at the invaders. The town had grown very quiet, when a hoarse chuckle from the northern gate was followed by an elderly norn. His skin seemed more ice than flesh, and his left arm was covered in the black-and-blue ice the ice-beasts had been made from. His right held a firm grip on a staff made of bone. His robes seemed to blend entirely with the building blizzard around him, and his eyes were orbs of dark-blue ice.

‘So THIS puny(?) human is the one who stole Aurora? Praise be to Jormag that you came to us. A good brawl is always preferable to simply loosing the hounds.’ The last words were spat out as he slammed his staff into the ground, and 2 wolf-heads of ice streamed from the sky towards Marla, baying like hounds on the chase. The woman countered with the fireball she still held, turning both projectiles(?) to slush. Another tremor flew past Jenny. Marla slammed the butt of the turquoise staff into the ground, sending a man-sized boulder flying towards the shaman. With contemptuous(?) dismissal, his left arm shattered the attack with a swift slap, sending fragments into the reawakened(?) battle in the town centre. Thrusting his bone staff like a spear, the shaman sent a black lance soaring through the town towards Marla at the eastern gate. A gust of wind cold even through this blizzard swept by Jenny. A half-dome of clear ice formed in front of the elementalist, barely stopping the lance in its path. The clear ice in Marla’s shield seemed to take in the colour of the lance, collapsing into a pile of black-and-blue ice. Whipping her hand forward, Marla sent a hail of ice arrows towards the old norn, but it was clear from Marla’s surprised expression that she had seen what Jenny saw too. The ice that former her arrows was black and blue. Where they struck the shaman’s body, they melted onto him, forming more patches of black-and-blue ice-armour. A laughter erupted from him that would have been hearty indeed, had it not sounded like the roar of a winter-blizzard. ‘Fighting a chosen of the mighty Jormag with ice and snow? You make a fine jest, woman. Kolvirr’s the name. Kinfailer they call me in that cozy brewery they call ‘Hoelbrak’, but here, among the truly blessed, I am called Beastfather. And that staff,’ Kolvirr’s icy left arm pointed at the turquoise staff. ‘ belongs to Svanir’s heirs, not to some meddlesome conjurer.’ In response, a man-sized ice boulder flew from the eastern gate, smashing into fragments on the shaman, doing him no visible harm. The elementalist was breathing heavily now, eyes shooting daggers at the elderly norn. ‘Marla Webbley. So what is it to you, this staff. For something that belonged to you lunatics, it sure was not guarded very well.’ Marla spat back, the ice around her again flash-melting into water. The elementalist swung her arm upwards, and circle of fire erupted around the shaman, quickly working itself upwards into a fiery twister. The ice-beasts nearest to Kolvirr gave a hollow shriek and retreated from the blaze. With a sigh, Marla turned her attention towards Jenny’s father who had left the fighting to run over to the elementalist. They talked quickly in hushed tones, so Jenny couldn’t hear the conversation over the noise in the village, but made out 2 words. Escape, and Ascalon. As they talked, the twister slowly died down, revealing a sphere made of the black-and-blue ice, slightly steaming but unbreached. The blizzard picked back up, and the air was filled with shouts to Jormag and Svanir. A spear-like arm punched through the ice, revealing Kolvirr emerging smiling and unscathed. ‘Hah, a spark like that is barely fit for a cooking fire. But enough. I tire of this prattle.’

Thumping the bone staff on the ground, the sections of ice from Kolvirr’s sphere shot into the air, arcing back down towards the pair. Jenny’s father ran back towards the fighting, waving his arms and shouting at the remnants of the militia. Marla thrust the turquoise staff into the air, creating a half-dome of fire to intercept the attack. Steam erupted, but not all the pieces were stopped. One crashed onto her leg, chaining it to the ground. The other hit her shoulder, encasing her chest and shoulders in the black-and-blue ice. Jenny could see she tried to break out of the ice, but it showed no cracks. Meanwhile, the men who could be spared were going through houses, ushering the villagers towards the eastern gate, while the tattered battle-line slowly retreated in the same direction. Lightning lit up the sky. No one seemed to be moving to help Marla, who was struggling with the now-expanding ice. Wanting to help, Jenny grabbed the nearest tool and rushed out from her hiding spot towards Marla. She swung as hard as she could, battering at the ice, but nothing happened. Marla’s eyes locked onto Jenny’s, and she could see the woman mouthing her name. A flash of cold so intense, Jenny was surprised her eyes didn’t frost over. When she opened her eyes(?), ice had formed on all the houses surrounding them, and the sky over the village had cleared of the storm, though the blizzard still raged around them. And the staff had changed. The turquoise colouring had been replaced with a pure white, and the small gemstones adorning the floating crown were now encircled by, and floating around, a tree-crown like mesh at the top. And the crimson shard was nowhere to be seen. While it looked stunning, it also scared Jenny. The ice almost encasing Marla turned almost completely clear, and cracked off when the elementalist straightened. With no word of warning, she swung the staff in front of her, a ball of ice arcing out of the ground towards the foot of free space between the norn and villagers. As it touched ground, it exploded into a huge wall of clear ice, cutting the norn off from pursuit. Her father was running towards her, guiding all those from her house who had not been in the fighting, but before he reached Jenny, Marla stepped in front. ‘Go east, like I said. Once you reach Ascalon, find some norn from Hoelbrak or a homestead, and follow them to safety. The charr probably won’t mess them, so you should be safe in their company. As for Jenny, I just need a quick word with her, then I’ll send her over to you, I promise.’. Her father glared at Marla briefly, but the woman didn’t back an inch, so relented. Taking a quick breath, the elementalist turned to Jenny. ‘I still don’t remember why I came north, but now I remember that I didn’t come alone. I remember their faces, how they looked, but not their names. I’m not sure why you triggered those memories, but thank you, Jenny. Now, run over to your father, you and the rest can’t stick around.’

‘You can’t do that either, Marla!’ Jenny countered, while trying to look defiant.

The elementalist bowed down and looked Jenny in the eye. ‘Well, Jenny, I HAVE to stay behind, make sure they don’t pursue. I promise you’ll see me again, all right?’ Before Jenny could respond, her father resolutely dragged her away, and Marla turned about to face the norn finally making it through the ice-wall, led by the returned ice-beasts. As the villagers ran, spears and arrows started flying, only to be intercepted by ice-shards before getting within any remotely dangerous range. Another ice-wall, this one of the black-and-blue ice, closed the eastern gate before the group could clear it, but an ice-boulder smashed through it as if it was made of paper. As the villagers were all outside the gate, huge ice-crystals thundered down, reducing all the gates to splinters, closing any easy exit from within the town.

As her family and the rest of the village ran for the pass back to Ascalon, Jenny looked back one last time.

The northern lights were out, streaming with all the colours of a rainbow, clearly visible against the clear day sky.

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