Pantheon Online

C.256 The Lost Lords of Skardia (Part 4)Nov 11, 2023

"Bjorn, Fjora, can I speak to you for a moment?" Ania asked as she led them away from Skalr. "What do you two think?"

"Honestly, I don't know." Bjorn sighed as he glanced at Skalr. "After everything we've seen, I'm inclined to believe he really is a Runelord. If you're asking whether we can trust him, well, Runelords were notoriously devoted to Skardia's best interests."

"You're talking about Runelords from legends." Fjora sighed. "That doesn't mean Skalr is the same as them. What are you thinking, Princess?"

"I'm thinking something doesn't add up. Skalr turned up when we needed him. He found both secret tunnels. He showed us what happened here, and Skalr exposed the hidden elves." Ania groaned as she removed her helm. "Skalr said the elves have been among us since the village. They could have attacked at any time. But they didn't. Not until Skalr exposed them."

"Are you saying what I think you are?" Bjorn asked with a frown as he removed his own helm. "Do you think Skalr framed them?"

"I can't be sure. Even if we go to the other villages, we may find the same thing." Ania sighed as her blue eyes studied Bjorn. "There's a chance the elves really came to help these villages. They may have been hunting Skalr, knowing he was responsible."

"Yet they blamed our gods to convert Skardians to their religion." Fjora sighed. "They took advantage of the situation."

"It's only a possibility," Ania replied. "I don't want to trust him until we can prove he's not behind this."

"How would we do that?" Bjorn asked.

"We'll travel together to the other villages. With us and the Fenrir, I doubt he'll try anything stupid. You'll have to get Skalr to teach you about the runes he used." Ania stared into Bjorn's eyes before she continued. "At the next village, I want you to be the one to use the runes. Test them before we get there. Especially the Memory rune. If we remove Skalr's participation, we can be certain of the results."

"Sounds like a plan," Bjorn sighed as he glanced at Fjora. "But if he's guilty and we tip him off, I'm not sure we can handle him. The elves were hard enough, yet they were no problem for him."

"I have to agree with Bjorn here," Fjora grumbled as she kept pressure on her wounds. "The way he disappeared, and how he wielded his sword. Those moves were perfectly executed. He's seen a lot of combat."

"Then we have to be careful. Either way, we need his knowledge for the sake of Skardia's future." Ania replied while staring at Bjorn. "Are you up to it?"

"Leave it to me, Princess." Bjorn chuckled as he returned her gaze.

The trio returned to Skalr, who was still standing at the edge of the pond. Ania studied his carefree expression as she tried to guess what else he was capable of.

"Skalr, I have to ask for your help." Ania sighed. "We have to check the other villages, and you're the only one who can uncover the elves' treachery. Skardia needs you. Will you answer her call to action?"

"It would be my honour," Skalr replied while smiling before going down on one knee. "I, Skalr Firebrand, the Last Runelord, do pledge myself to Skardia and her people. To be her shield from the unseen threats and Her sword against all enemies. For this, I would freely give my life. By my blood, I so swear it." 𝑏𝑒𝑑𝘯𝑜𝘷𝑒𝑙.𝑐𝘰𝘮

Skalr took a runestone that had already been carved from a hidden pocket before slicing his palm on his blade. He clenched his fist and allowed the blood to drip on its rune before it glowed a crimson red.

"May this blood oath bind me forever more," Skalr said in a solemn voice before offering the runestone to Ania. "Should I ever act in a way that harms Skardia, this stone shall shatter, and my status as a traitor to all Skardia revealed."

Ania reluctantly took the runestone and stared at it with a curious expression. The light had dimmed from it, but it still glowed a subtle crimson colour.

"What happens if you die?" Ania asked while staring at the stone.

"Then the magic stored inside it will vanish. The stone will remain intact, but it will lose its colour." Skalr replied as he stood back up. "It was customary for every Runelord to present their oath to the High King of Skardia. The oaths would be passed on to the next one if a new one was elected. My people saw the High King as the representative of Skardia. So by giving the oath to them, they could monitor our order."

"I see, it was a failsafe to prevent your people from rebelling or becoming drunk on their power," Bjorn replied as he stared at the stone in fascination.

"Exactly," Skalr replied as he bowed his head. "If you wish to become a Runelord, you shall do the same once you've learned the basics. I doubt I have much time left to live, given my advanced years, so I'll have to teach you the oath so you can raise a new generation."

"But, Bjorn," Skalr continued after a slight pause. "It is also the duty of a Runelord to prevent Skardia's people from suffering at the hands of the Kings and Jarls. One day, you may have to go against those you care about. Think on that."

Bjorn nodded solemnly while glancing sideways at Ania. It seemed to him that Skalr's recent action had raised more doubts in her mind. However, before he could think on it too much, Skalr pulled a small leather-bound book out from inside his cloak.

"Good, then this is the manual that covers the basic runes. How to prepare stones for the process of carving and everything else you need to know. You don't know how long I've been searching for an heir to the Runelord legacy." Skalr sighed as he placed the book in Bjorn's hands. "If anything happens to me, this book hides the location of the rest of the knowledge you will need to restore the order. But you'll only understand it if you can grasp every lesson in this book."

Bjorn sincerely thanked Skalr as he tucked the book into a pouch on his belt. 'These aren't the actions of a traitor. Unless he's trying hard to misdirect us.' Bjorn frowned while glancing at Ania, who was still studying Skalr. 'By giving me this book, he can pretend I have to learn its contents before teaching me something complicated like the Memory rune.'

Unbeknownst to Bjorn, Ania was thinking along the same lines. She cursed to herself as she glared at Skalr. 'He's cut off my plan to have Bjorn perform the runes at the next villages. There's no telling if the runestone he gave me is a blood oath or something else. When I get the chance, I'll have to ask Exile for help. Maybe the gods know more about this.'

The group returned through the tunnels and made a gruesome discovery. They found Jom's corpse with his throat slit. 'So the elves never intended to allow us to escape.' Ania thought as she closed his eyelids. 'So why did they not ambush us earlier?' Ania sighed as she ordered Fjora to carry his remains. Even with her wounds, the corpse barely affected her speed due to her strength.

'Someone is playing games with us. Either it's Skalr or someone hiding in the shadows.' Ania groaned at the thought. She had enough on her plate trying to expel the elven Pantheon from Skardia.

"We should rest in the village tonight," Ania suddenly said. "We can set out at sunrise for the next one."

The rest of the group agreed as they marched on. 'I'll contact Exile when I'm alone tonight. Hopefully, he'll shed some light on what's going on.'

Meanwhile, Eraldsfen was abuzz with activity as thousands of Skardian warriors poured in from all over Stormcrown. Harik grumbled as he looked out his window at the warriors gathering equipment from the royal armoury. 'They have to hurry up.' He groaned as he downed a horn full of mead. 'It's a long journey to the mountains.'

He stared at the letter from King Bargrux in his hands as he cursed. 'We can't lose the aid of the dwarves. To think there would be other dwarven kingdoms that want to attack our allies for helping us!' Harik slammed his fist on the desk as he stared at his armour waiting for him.

'Bargrux, Thovok, and the rest of their people are the reason Skardia isn't under enemy occupation right now. I'll be damned if I see them suffer the same fate they saved us from!' Harik suddenly spun around when he heard the soft padding on the floor behind him.

However, his eyes went wide when he came face-to-face with a giant wolf. The wolf growled as Harik lunged to grab his sword.

"I wouldn't do that, Harik," Skovi growled as he eyed the High King.

"Skovi?" Harik asked in shock as he stared at the wolf. "What happened to you?"

Skovi chuckled as he padded over to the fire to lie down. The great wolf curled up on the floor as he stared into the flames.

"Lord Exile saw fit to grace me with two gifts." Skovi grinned as he cocked his head to the side.

Suddenly, Harik's attention was drawn to the open doorway and he gasped. A second giant wolf sniffed the air in the room before padding over to Skovi's side and joining him on the floor.

"This is my bride. Skalla." Skovi chuckled as he licked the side of the she-wolf's face.