Thx. Not sure how the search for the stolen souls will play out. Just been planting seeds. ;)
As the blue rune floats along the boundaries of dream and spirit it catches the sounds of a symphony of sadness. It hurries over. No...these runes sing of something called Black Death. The search continues. Do spirits really dream? His training said they do...
Not a single piece of evidence, not a single survivor, of the victims of the one called Soul Eater is to be found. Perhaps the Spirit Realm holds them trapped. Traveling there is much more dangerous.
Runes drift in and out of the realm, with more frequency than dreamers enter. Spirits and dreams intermix freely. Some of the runes try to interact with each other, as if they knew each other in some past life. A few of the runes are successful, and their groupings match those of musical compositions. The songs they play when they meet seem to be guided by some unknown composer. Others simply clash about until they are pushed aside by the haunting melody.
One rune drifts towards these gatherings, as if to see if it fits. Or perhaps it searches for other kindred runes. It moves on.
He wanted the kiss to last a lifetime. It'd been much longer than that since he felt one. No. Not that long ago. He memorized the feel of it, it's taste, it's warmth. Finally, he pulled away.
"I'm still Jack Hammer. But Jorgen too. ...I'm both. Neither. Neither name fits."
"You may be one of them."' Hurriedly, he adds, "That may be wishful thinking on my part."
He blushes a deep red "Yes. It's a long story. Shall we sit?"
"Maybe I should cover up a bit." He wraps a blanket around him and recalls his spirit walk and his discoveries.
His green eyes twinkle as his face reacts to the tickle.
"I found out how we Jacks came to be," he offers quietly, tentatively. He reaches up to touch her face, but hesitates.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Lise...Lyn", as he hastily covers his strategic part with one hand and holding his Death Mask with the other. "It's me."
A wisp of clouds blows down from the mountaintops, and the screech of an eagle pierces the afternoon. A man walks out of the mist.
Jorgen finds himself standing on the balcony of the room he, the other part of him, shares with Lyn. He relishes in the feel of the mountain air against his naked body, and the heat of sunlight upon it, his eyes closed for a moment. He breathes in deeply, as if it is a new sensation.
Just a heads up, I'm heading out for the afternoon to take my kid to the fair and I may or may not be able to check in briefly before gaming tonight.
And here I am, all naked, with nuthin' to do in this mist...
Target has a sale on paper towels. You know, to clean up that coffee you spit up. ;)
- narrative of the spirit walk of Jorgen Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn, blacksmythe of the Ch’ack Clan. (aka Jack Hammer of the Angry Jack Cult) Part 7 – Death Ain't What It's Cracked Up To Be
Death is weird. At least for me it is. No white light, no golden fields, no family waiting to greet me. Instead I'm still here where I fell. Not that I expected my wife and daughter to be there and we would enter the Halls of Valhalla together. Still it would have been a bessing if it had happened. My wife would have, should have, been a valkyrie. My daughter, though so young, still had the fighting spirit that would have marked her as a Ch'l warrior and a valkyrie herself. I'm sorry, Father, for not being strong enough to join you in the halls of our ancestors. Death is cruel.
I float above my body, swinging my hammer harmlessly at the foes that struck me down, while they continue to hack at my corpse. Perhaps they fear that I will rise again? That knowledge makes my spirit smile. I roar, swing, punch, and kick at these curs. All to no effect. It's so frustrating. One by one my companions join me. Their actions mirror mine. The number of our enemies was greater than we guessed. Numbers enough to overwhelm even a Ch'ack. Even after we have all fallen, we fight on. Together in life, so we are in death. Our own bodies are surrounded by a small sea of the enemy's, yet their spirits do not rise to give ours battle. Even in this we are denied. Perhaps they are without souls. After a few minutes, a few hours?,...it is strange, time 'feels' different now...we cease our struggles and move to the bodies of our families. We search again for any small spark that we can cling to. Yet again, we are denied. It is a strange thing to look upon yourself, unable to feel. It is worse to look upon the bodies of your loved ones and know that you have failed them. In final insult, our bodies are left for the crows to feed upon. No funeral pyre, no songs, no honor. We yell silent curses at our enemies as they withdraw.
Years go by. Centuries? It is hard to tell. Our bones dissolve beneath the ground. The beasts of our home avoid this place. They must be able to sense our ever-present anger. At some point, a new battle was waged upon this spot. Our spirits fought alongside the living, trying to succeed in death where we had failed in life, hoping against hope that we could undo the evil that had been set upon us. No one notices. After the battle, more spirits join us in our eternal exile. They join us in the game as the years pass and yet another battle is waged. More spirits join us after this one as well. What is it about this place that denies certain souls their eternal reward? Cruel indeed to draw battle, then more cruel to trap the souls of the strongest warriors that fall.
At some point something strange happens. We feel the call to our sprits. Hoping that finally we will be able to enter the Halls of Valhalla, we rush to the call. Fate remains as cruel to us now as she was all those years ago. Instead of valkyrie to welcome us, a host of golden men await our answer. I use the term 'men' loosely. They had no souls, no minds. They were shells. Still they offered us the chance to regain some semblance of life. We took it eagerly. The compulsion for battle was laid upon us. Heh. As if we needed much prompting on that accord. The faces our those soulless men we had fought so long ago were etched upon others of these constructs. With relish, we waged our war yet again.
After our victory, (ours?), some force tried to shunt us back to our hell. We resisted. Using the power granted to us in our upbringing, our training, our will, and our desperation, we refused to yield the bodies of bronze given to us.
Perhaps the fates took pity on us, and were giving us a second chance? Or perhaps this is yet another cruel game? It does not matter. I will search the lands in this undying body. I will find my wife and my daughter. I will not fail them again.
I am Jorgen Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn. I am a Ch'ack.
- narrative of the spirit walk of Jorgen Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn, blacksmythe of the Ch’ack Clan. (aka Jack Hammer of the Angry Jack Cult) Part 6 – I Meet Death
We wept. We roared our anger at the sky. We wept some more.
Remnants of some of our hunting parties soon arrived. They had been ambushed, or lured into battle with large forces. This enemy was stronger than any before.
Kellish called us together. He helped us turn our misery into anger, sharpening it as I would a blade on my wheel. “Some of our loved ones still live,” he pointed out, “the trail is fresh. Together we shall rescue them. We have each other. We always will. We cannot leave our families in the enemy’s hands. We are the Ch’acks!” These simple words struck deep within our hearts. Gathering what supplies we could scavenge from the ruins of our home, we set out. The remnants of the hunting parties added their Death Masks to ours.
The trail was wide. Many feet had trampled the ground hard as it made a beeline to the mountains of the north. The number of feet that caused this trail mattered not to our now forty strong band. We knew that we possibly marched to our death, but better to die fighting for what you hold dear than to grow old walking as if you were. Still, there were stories of Ch’acks that had won battles against odds of ten-to-one. We would test our mettle against those tales. The plan was simple. Carve a path into the enemy forces and rescue as many of the captives as possible. With their numbers bolstering our own our chances would improve. We would hold back nothing. Every tool, every weapon we had, would be used in this battle. Even the war dogs would be painted with the woad. Losing was not an option. Losing meant extinction, the end of our clan.
Three hours after we had found our home destroyed, with darkness set full upon us, the hunt for the attackers was halted as a scream pierced the night air under the new moon and soft clouds. Ch’ack women, especially Ch’ls, rarely scream. This scream certainly had the power behind it of a Ch’ack. Was this a ploy? We were close, and paused only long enough to exhaust our supplies of woad, discard any loose gear, and check our weapons one last time. We approached in one single wedge. I opted for a throwing hammer, to aid us in creating an opening in the enemy line. Not knowing how we meant to see we were relieved to find the enemy force laid out before us just over the next hill, with torches mounted around their camp. And more importantly, around a tight circle in the middle. That must be our families. Silent as death we approached.
The enemy somehow knew of our approach, though we expected them to do so, but instead of charging us they simply parted, revealing the captives. Or what was left of them. Quickening our steps we rushed forward. The light from the tall torches revealed the heaped bodies of our loved ones. No calls for help were raised. No hand reached out to us. No life was upon them. Their eyes stared at us, unseeing. White as the snow, soulless, reflecting only the fires of the torches. It dawned on me then what had happened. Their souls had been sacrificed to whatever being these animals worshipped. They would have no afterlife, their souls hidden away from their ancestors by some dark magic. I searched for the faces of my wife and daughter, hoping that I would not find them. I did, and that memory was etched upon my mind as surely as if placed there by a chisel.
My daughter’s angelic face, so full of life, now only held terror. My Liselle, her lifeless arm draped over Aiselle as if she were still trying to protect her. Gone in an instant were the good things in life. Something deep within me broke.
As one, my companions and I raged as we have never done before. As never any Ch’ack has done in time remembered. We fell upon the enemy with reckless abandon.
As battles go, it was glorious.
At least, up to the point where I died.
I cursed the Serpent as the last of my breath left me.
- narrative of the spirit walk of Jorgen Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn, blacksmythe of the Ch’ack Clan. (aka Jack Hammer of the Angry Jack Cult) Part 5 – Vengeance
For three days we tracked our foe. It was easy. Their numbers made it impossible to hide their trail. We found them camping beside a large stream as dusk settled in. They outnumbered us by more than two to one. We looked at each other and smiled behind our masks.
Applying the woad only took a few minutes. Then we divided ourselves into 3 groups, so that the enemy could not escape. Kellish and his war dogs led the center, I took the left flank, and Hanjel took the right. My earthbreaker felt alive in my hands as I recalled the last time my daughter played with her second cousins. By the set of my companions’ jaws I was not alone in my thoughts. We wrapped ourselves in our anger.
The fools hadn't even set sentries, secure as they were in their numbers. Strange though that they had not a single banner to declare their allegiance. We had no hint as to their identity. Such is life. Without warning our missiles flew; arrow, spear, and axe, our bodies following close behind. We rolled down the hills like an avalanche, blood in our eyes and screaming like devils. A few of the invaders recognized our death masks and knew what that foretold. They fled, but the water blessed us by slowing them down. Like howling death our warriors crashed into their forces. My earthbreaker sent broken bodies flying with each pass. Malik fought like a man possessed, hacking his way through their forces. The screams of dying men told me that Kellish’s and Hanjel’s squads enjoyed similar success. The war dogs of the Ch’ack Clan savaged the enemy almost as fiercely as we did. So few of the enemy made the fight worthwhile. How they managed to overcome our settlement so completely was a mystery left unanswered for now. The battle was over in minutes. I take no pleasure in its memory. Only a few of us were wounded badly enough to magical healing. The salves we carry took care of that.
Ours was like butcher's work. When angry, Ch'acks make very good butchers. We grabbed the nearest missile weapons we could find to slow the escape of the smarter ones who fled when we first approached. Those few smart ones, if they can even be called that, were chased down and rounded up like stray cattle. The time for answers was at hand. These fools would carry the fear of the Ch’ack Clan with them into the next life. But not for a while yet.
At first they were defiant, these few prisoners. Spouting praises to some Great Serpent and curses at us. They tried to make us believe that their god had unified several of the cave clans into a large host, and that the Ch’acks were targeted for destruction. Eventually they broke down, and began telling us many stories and begging for release or a quick death. We gave them neither, and the stream flowed red for a long time. For a full day we ignored their pleas, to be sure that in the afterlife they would not forget us. With vengeance exacted, we turned for home.
My cousins would rest in peace.
Two hours out from our village we saw smoke on the horizon. Without delay we began a forced run north. As we approached, our hearts sank in our chests and our minds panicked. A black crowd of crows circled above our home, and thick tendrils of smoke curled into the sky from dozens of fires. No sound reached us but the crackling of the flames and the calls of those thrice-damned birds. We sprinted. The devastation was like the small settlement but tenfold in its severity. Bodies lay everywhere. Our brothers, our sisters, and...”Oh, No!” I raced to my home. The forge had resisted the flames eagerly seeking out new fuel, but its doors looked as if some large child had simply ripped them open and let them fall where they would. My breath seized in my chest and I raced in. ”Mother!”, I called to my mother’s lifeless body. She was pinned to the wall by metal rods from my own ovens, a pair of tongs still clenched in her fist. Her eyes were strangely empty, and pure white. This sight left a cold knot in my stomach. It was unnatural. Numerous punctures and slashes raced across her body and face, and her dried blood laid congealed on the ground beneath her feet. The damage in the area gave silent testament to the fight she had put up. All this my mind registered in a quick moment, but one that seemed to last a lifetime. ”Liselle! Aiselle!” I raced to our home. Kicking in the door, I ignored the smell and heat of the still smoldering flames as I searched for them.
Destruction I found. Signs of looting I found. Signs of battle and of blood.
But no bodies.
Dare I hope that they escaped? I raced out of the house calling their names.
My companions were doing the same thing. We searched but found no survivors. Not a one of our clan was left simply wounded. We did, however, find signs that our enemy had taken captives this time.
In our haste, our grief, and our rage, not a one of us removed our Death Masks. How appropriate. For if ever a Jack ever exuded Death, it was now.
Due to the feedback, I think I'll stretch this out a bit beyond 4 parts. It's fun for me and cheaper than a bookstore for you all. ;)
- narrative of the spirit walk of Jorgen Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn, blacksmythe of the Ch’ack Clan. (aka Jack Hammer of the Angry Jack Cult) Part 4 – Anger and Blood
the pages in the Book of Life turn...
In the late summer of Aiselle’s, my shining star’s, fifth year, reports of raids just outside of the borders of our lands began trickling in. Many arguments were had in the mead hall as to whether they posed a threat to our home or not, and no calls for our aid were made from our neighbors. Our chieftain, Kellish Strongjaw, sitting at the head of the table, flanked by his two pure-white wardogs, heard all sides as the hours passed. The lands surrounding our homes were either bound by treaties or inhabited by the cave-dwellers. We increased the numbers of our hunting parties to watch for signs of these troubles in our land. Weeks went by, but the attacks never approached more than a days' march to our land. One day that changed. A small settlement of my cousins on our southern border was attacked. Like thieves in the night, the attackers stole their lives. Women, children, warriors, and even the animals were killed in the most brutal manner possible by a large force. It was strange to us that the attackers sought not to raid, but to destroy. Crops, so close to the harvest, were put to the torch and the settlement burned to the ground. Our clan's blood boiled over with the news.
Kellish called a war council. It was decided that thirty warriors would track down these cowards and gift them with slow, lingering deaths. In my mind I pictured my cousin's face, and those of her two small sons, and fire burned within my heart. My hammer was the first weapon raised. Kellish himself was to lead our band, along with my friends Malik and his cousin Hanjel of the Ch'l sect, a fierce woman warrior with no peer. Thirty of our best would don our bronze Death Masks, and avenge our kin. Once we left our village, we would not remove our masks until our return, so that any aspiring to challenge us would know our hearts and be in fear. Legends live through the ages of the Ch’acks of Bronze, warning would-be kings of their doom should they dare grow too ambitious. These legends hold true, for as the village blacksmythe I make the masks for the new warriors and repair the others. I know the magic that each holds. The warnings are well-founded.
This night though, we would toast our slain kin and be with our families, for once we don the bronze faces we become something else; single-minded, deadly, and focused on our task. This night though, we remained human. The Pah-ma chanted the stories of our ancestors, and gave honor to our fallen kin. After we had our fill of honey mead, we took to our homes.
My wife and I played with our Aiselle until she fell asleep in my arms. I gazed long upon her beautiful face and her smile as she lay dreaming. Her laughter would ring in my mind and be the magic to pull me back from the abyss we berserkers cradle when we don the masks of death. My wife and I made love until the early hours of the morning. The touch of her embrace, the feel of her kisses, the scent of her perfume would draw me back home, lest I lose myself in the rage and wander the mountains until my death. Liselle would be my compass.
At dawn, our band gathered at the village gate. With one short glance at our homes and families we donned the Death Masks and took off at a run to find the trail of the Stealers of Life.
Even the clouds in the sky fled before us.
- narrative of the spirit walk of Jorgen Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn, blacksmythe of the Ch’ack Clan. (aka Jack Hammer of the Angry Jack Cult) Part 3 – Discovery
Days pass into years, as I am shaped by the strains of survival. We are the Ch’ack, strongest of the Northern Tribes. Our name strikes fear into lesser tribes, but it is only because they are fearful of life itself. While they hide amongst the stones, grubbing in the dirt, we live on the surface, living and dying in the struggle to survive another day. The gods bless us with what we need. We only need to be bold enough to wrest it from them. Knowing from whence our bounty flows, we give thanks to our gods. We celebrate them. We celebrate living for another day. Our strength comes from within, but also from each other. Family. Clan. They are both part of who we are. To fail is to die. But better to die than to bring shame to the clan. Even in death we Ch’acks live on. The clan makes sure of that.
But I get ahead of myself.
We are all shaped by the Forge of Life. Especially me, since my father is the clan blacksmythe. On the day I was born my father thanked the gods. The clan celebrated with him, and thanked the gods along with him. Blacksmythes are important parts of a village. Now, my father would have an apprentice that shared his bloodline, his affinity for metalwork. He gifted me with a toy rattle in the shape of a hammer, so that my hands and arms would grow used to having a hammer in them. The hammer became a natural extension of myself. As soon as I was old enough, I begged to help him in the forge. I remember the long hours, the strain of the work, the smell of the fire and the caress of its heat. Other children learned the spear, the bow, the sword. The hammer became my center. What else could have?
Our lives were not all work. I spent many an hour listening to the tales of the Pah-ma, the village storyteller. Other hours were spent in games. Games to grow our strength, challenge our intellect, bond us children with each other as no school could do. As I grew older, the games changed. The bow, the spear, and the axe became a part of many contests. I preferred the hammer. I could throw a hammer as well as any boy could throw an axe. Our games became more than contests of martial prowess. They took on personal meaning, as we vied for the attentions of members of the opposite sex. Mind you, our games had never been limited to one sex. Girls and boys both competed, but as the years sped by we found ourselves separated more and more. Some girls chose to follow the way of the Ch’l, a warrior subsect of our clan. These girls were well prized for their strength, their intelligence, and sometimes their beauty. One such model of perfection was Liselle, with eyes of deep blue and hair the color of the setting sun, and I set my eye upon her. At every opportunity I tried to impress her, oftentimes making a fool of myself in the process. When I received my first earthbreaker, I tried to impress Liselle and let my earthbreaker fly as I would a two-handed throwing hammer. It broke down the door to the mead hall. I spent two weeks replacing that door. My father made sure that I made it perfect in every way. My mother smiled through the whole ordeal.
As the years passed and I became a man, Liselle agreed to become my mate. The clan toasted our future with kegs of honey mead, so many kegs, and life seemed as new once more. My parents granted me ownership of the forge, and its outbuilding as our first home.
My father died the next year. We toasted his life, and his funeral pyre was heaped with treasures to help him in the afterlife. He never got to hold his granddaughter, my angel, Aiselle. When she is older we will tell her of him.
- narrative of the spirit walk of Joren Hammerstryke, son of Bjorn, blacksmythe of the Ch’ack Clan. (aka Jack Hammer of the Angry Jack Cult) - Part 2
Floating. I’m floating. Not for a great distance. Something is keeping me from floating away. Something flexible, but strong. I’m warm. I’m safe. What is that muffled sound? It’s so loud. I can feel its rhythm course through my own body. After a time it becomes a part of my world, a familiar sound. A heartbeat? It’s so much slower than my own, but it brings me comfort.
New sounds, some sharp that make me jump. Light? Is that what light is? I shy away. The boundaries of my home keep me trapped, but keep me safe. A loud noise. I jump again. A gentle pressure glides along my body, soothing me. Other sounds. Louder, softer, rhythmic. Music? I’m bouncing. I dance alone. The noise stops, the rhythms calm, and I fall asleep.
Days pass by. At some point I notice the walls of my home are closing in around me. Until...that day. Terror. My heart and its companion race. Light, brighter than anything I have ever sensed before. Something is pushing me from my home. I don’t want to go! The pain increases. The light is too bright! I can’t breathe! I can’t hear the other heartbeat! I’m alone!
Another sharp pain as something hits my skin for the first time, and I gasp. Crying out in pain and shock, I breathe air. But how? My lungs hurt from the change and I cry some more. My body shivers. The warmth of my home is replaced by cold. I’ve never been cold before. My crying continues. I feel myself moving through the air. I am placed against something warm. I hear, feel, the heartbeat I have known my whole life. It calms me. I am not alone!
Sounds, no longer muffled by my mother’s womb, assail my ears. Shouts of glee reward me as my mother takes me in her arms. I feel kisses for the first time. They tickle.