The Becoming: The Úlfhéðnar (Berserkers)

Originally appeared on September 6th on Kickstarter and

Attend me now young Úlfhéðnar and hear the tale of sorrow and suffering from which our race was born.  Let this forever remind you of the pain and sacrifice from which your power was forged and why the cost to wield it is so very great.

In the eons before the Piercing, when the Old Gods still walked the lands, our people and war were like two sides to a coin.  Our ancestors were explorers and warriors on both land and sea for unlike so many other peoples, we harbored no fear of the deep ocean and its mighty storms.  We fought for riches to be sure; yet we also fought in our Gods’ names to make known to the world the enormous power they still held.  However, this all changed with the coming of the mysterious storms from the heavens.

When these storms first spread through our lands, many among us rejoiced, hoping that the time of Ragnarök was upon us at last.  Sadly, these wild storms were not a sign of that divine event but rather were spawned by enigmatic powers from beyond even great Ásgarðr.  One such tale that would oft be repeated throughout the old world, tells of a family that was caught out in such a storm.  Still not fully comprehending the force of these storms, their children didn’t seek shelter and stayed outside during the worst of the storm.  One by one, they were killed or scattered by the storm’s might.  When the storm had at last spent itself, the parents wept openly, cradling the lifeless bodies of those that were not swept away.  They called on Odin’s strength and swore to search the world until they could reclaim their missing children.  For decades this couple walked among our people, braving the intensity of the storms but their missing children could never be found.  Hope can be a fickle thing, yet in the breasts of these parents, it burned ever brighter, aided some say by the unfathomable power of the storms.

After more than three decades of wandering, the couple came upon a meager settlement that was caught in the grips of a violent Veilstorm.  This storm, called a Malevolence by the Cursed Realms, had released a massive serpent from its gaping maw.  The couple stood starring helplessly as the serpent laid waste to the settlement with claws, teeth and unholy magic.  Squaring his shoulders and placing himself in the path of that hideosity, the settlement’s leader stood, sword in hand, shielding a group of children.  Knowing what would come next, most of the children cried in fear and terror, save one boy who stared defiantly at the enormous beast as it bore down on them.  The reality of that small, brave soul facing such a horror, after nearly a lifetime of fruitless searching for their own children was too great for the couple to bear.  The pair had reached the point of breaking.  They charged down from their vantage point on the hillside, screaming at the serpent with all their might and rage.  They once again called on the Allfather to grant them strength.  Perhaps Odin himself answered their call or it was the decades of anguish and of sorrow coupled with the fierce power the pair had absorbed while weathering these storms, the results were instantaneous.  Immense waves of power surged out of them and flowed back into the storm itself, feeding its intensity.  The land around the modest settlement shook this day, not from the steps of the great beast but from the weight of loss; for all parents know that no pain in the world can match the pain of parents who have lost their children.

The storm responded to their fury and will and as they ran, the couple altered.  Their speed was like that of Fenrir and as they raced down the hillside, the leader of the settlement faced the serpent.  A stalwart man he was, yet he was no match for the power of the monstrous serpent.  His end came swiftly and he died bravely, as a true warrior should, his sword shattering as it met with his enemy’s thickly scaled body.  The heinous serpent then advanced on the children, sensing that a tasty meal was soon to be had, when the boy picked up his courage and the broken hilt of his father’s sword.  Now young warriors, if this was a tale from the sagas the boy freshly energized by the loss of his father, would have slain the hulking beast himself yet this is not fable, it is the real world.  The boy tried to heft the sword and failed for it was too heavy and he too weak, yet his courage was unflagging so he tried nonetheless.  Fortunately, as the serpent neared the children so too did the couple and the enraged father grabbed the sword’s broken hilt from the valorous child.

Sensing this new and unbridled rage, the beast understood that it was now imperiled and it turned to face the new threat.  Rearing back and shrieking furiously, it unleashed its dark magic at the father, who would have been killed instantly if not for his wife’s instinctual reaction.  She was no warrior true, yet she possessed some skill in magic and while she wasn’t acquainted with the ancient magical tongues, her love for her husband and her motherly instincts were enough to summon forth a magical shield to shelter them.  The beast’s assaults glanced harmlessly off the shield and the enraged and now alarmed serpent summoned its darkest magic to hurl at the couple.  This time though, the father was waiting for it.

Many people believe that only a woman can scream with a truly soul-felt loss but on this day, the father’s scream was heard even amid the raging maelstrom swirling around him.  He screamed for his people’s losses and they were many; countless children, entire villages, the brave father who died this day defending his own and even for the pain felt outside their Realm.  Under the weight of these losses, his sword arm grew as strong as a bear’s arm and even the mighty Thor might have been no match for him this day.  Seething with rage, in a trance of fury the father swung the sword and as the creature spun to block the blow, the broken sword passed through scale, flesh and bone and cleaved the colossal beast in two.  Yet this creature was a serpent, hence the beast’s disembodied head continued to writhe and gnash its teeth while the father continued to hack at it, enraged and screaming louder as still more power flowed through him and into those around him.  Blow after blow he rained down on that horror till there was nothing left but scattered teeth, an eye and some undamaged skin and scale.  With the beast finally felled, the couple collapsed to the ground exhausted by their efforts.

For a week the couple lay sleeping, their bodies recovering from channeling intense torrents of power, guarded by the boy whom they had saved.  In truth, all of the remaining members of the village wanted that honor but the young lad drove them away.  When they finally awoke, the couple was fully restored in both body and spirit yet without any memory of anything beyond when they rushed down the hill into the settlement.  When the boy told them of the losses and of their heroism, they wept in both sadness and joy for they had saved the children.  They also knew that they had reached the end of their long quest; for during their long slumber the pair had shared a dream about the boy, their children, this settlement, our settlement.  Once the boy realized that the pair had recovered he made them know he must depart, as with the passing of his father, the well being of their people was now his to guard.  The couple asked the boy his name and as he left, still clutching the broken hilt of his father’s sword, he told the couple, “I am Sigurd, son of Sigmund, fallen leader of our people.”

While Sigurd’s saga is not yet complete, the heroics of the couple led not only to the salvation of our people; it is from their actions that our race earned our very name and our formidable power.  When the couple’s screams of fury released their storm-forged powers, that energy surged through us, altering us and making us more than simply human. While those brave parents knew from their dream that their missing children had passed long ago into the Veil; their search was not in vain, for they found and saved all of us, myself included.  We honor them every time we go into battle by screaming our name and remembering their pain.

Sacrifice, loss, and pain drive us, not the power of the storms as those in the Cursed Realms say.  We will never be defeated and we too will save our people, for that is who we were and will forever be.  We are the Úlfhéðnar and we wait for the day when our great King calls on us again to save our Realm, our world.

And so ends this tale.