Howl tore the Legion Ghulra from Siegmund’s helmet as his body lay twitching and, standing over the Eye Of Kord, the large prism that channeled divine energy into ‘The Rainbow Bridge’, he planted it into his own brow. The Eye glowed brightly, and, from the clouds of fire above, lightning struck the Einherjar. A moment passed as the Warforged known as The Promise Of Distant Thunder, soldier of The Legion That Waits, raised himself up once more.
Karl turned to Rivenhart with a look of pity on his face. This was perhaps the first time his companions had witnessed such an expression of emotion from the Death Dealer, and, had the sky not been raining fire it would doubtless have attracted more concern.
“Rivenhart, it’s time.” spoke the Gnome, calmly. Rivenhart had been watching impassively, sword sheathed. Looking across the quartz as it shone with the flames above, The Promise Of Distant Thunder called to his brother in arms, who stood waiting.
“What have you done, Rivenhart? What has become of this place?”
“Thunder… I have failed, brother. My duty… was to wait, but I could not. It has been…. so long.
The Rainbow Bridge is the source of all divine knowledge. Our creators understood that Ragnarok would one day come, and in their wisdom they created the Bridge so that we would be mindful of the powers above. They also saw fit to create the Einherjar, warriors such as you and I, so that when the end came we would bear the salvation of mankind. As creators, nurturers, and protectors we have maintained our vigil for countless aeons. It has always been so, rebirth follows destruction, as it was since the beginning of the world.
But it has come to pass in this age that men have sought to use the bridge for their own ends, and set upon each other with sword and spear. It was the ancient kings of Thruthgelmir, Mycklegarth and Hamingjen, whose greed led to a century and a half of war. One by one the kingdoms of the land were consumed by the desire to possess the unknowable secrets of Byfrost, and one by one they destroyed themselves in a war which took this land to the edge of extinction.
We Einherjar had always served mankind. Ours was the land above the clouds, and here from the Crown we watched as humanity began to tear itself apart. We were created to protect mankind, but we could not protect it from itself. The council of the Legion met to decide on a course of action, and finally it was ordered that, as we could not fight the enemy we had sworn to protect, we would instead ´wait´, taking the secret of the Bridge with us.
The Legion disbanded, each of us taking to the farthest corners of the realm where we have remained ever since, awaiting such time as mankind would need us in the last days. Each legionary made their refuge in a hidden place, and when the call sounded we would be ready to serve once more.
From amongst the Legion I was appointed the rank of Awakener, I, a lowly acolyte whose only virtue was… patience. While all others of our kind took to the earth, I was to remain. It was my solemn duty to awaken the Einherjar when Ragnarok came, mine was to sound the call at the end of time.
And so I kept myself hidden from the eyes of men, but those were dark years. I witnessed war on a scale we never had known, and such suffering as I care not to mention. The rivers ran red with blood and the dead fell like leaves upon the fields of battle. In their desire for utter destruction men unleashed weapons that should have remained lost. The great wyrm Nidhog was the among the most terrible, but there were many so powerful that the kings themselves could not control them.
In those desperate times I saw that I had no choice but to emerge from the shadows. I began to fight. I fought countless monsters in defence of mankind, battle upon battle, death upon death. I walked through the fields of the fallen, I climbed mountains of bones, while the wind carried the cries of the dying to the worlds end. I had been ordered to wait, but I would not, I could not. I could not stand by and watch as humanity was destroyed, as all that we have strived to create and nuture was erased. Tell me Thunder, had you stood in my stead, would you not have acted? Would you not have done as I did?"
“I have seen what you have done.” replied Thunder gravely, “I would not have acted as you did.”
Aengus ventured forward. “It is admirable indeed that you should strive to save the human race, but it is what happened afterwards that we have a slight issue with.” Dian Cecht nodded thoughtfully. Karl stood by, his face still a picture of sympathy.
“It took me close to 30 long years of slaughter before I finally faced Nidhog,” continued Rivenhart, "by which time I had learned much of ending lives, more perhaps than anyone should ever know. It was I who slew the wyrm to finally bring an end to the war. But there was still much work to do, restoring order to a fractured people. If it became known what I was and the secret I carried, the Crown would once more be placed in danger, and so I walked amongst them as one of them.
We built the hall of Himinborg from Nidhog’s bones so that all would remember the folly of war, but I had gravely underestimated human nature. They wanted to make me king, imagine, a legionary made a king! I refused the throne of course and gave it instead to a human, who in all those dark years I had come to call my friend. He was a good king, and had been a loyal ally, but in time his strength failed and the throne of Himinborg fell to another, and then another. Soon, the Crown Wars were forgotten, and men looked at the newly formed Beastlands and found cause to take up arms and march once more. I sometimes wonder what would have been had I taken the throne of Himinborg all those years ago. Unlike mankind our strength does not fail, our will does not wither, and the years do not desert us like sand through a glass.
It has been 500 years since I built the hall of Himinborg and sat in the seat of the first knight, and in that time I watched as mankind reasserted itself. If they are not at war they grow restless, if they are given power they become greedy, given wealth they become jealous, and if they are free they become a danger to all around them. The council believed that we could not save mankind from itself, but I have found otherwise. I journeyed long into the underworld in contemplation, and in the darkness I learned how we could fulfill our promise. There I found Hel. She taught me her secret magic in return for my Ghulra. It was not lost, it was given. It was an easy price to pay, as my soul had died long before that day.
I had in my possession the answer to the riddle. Mankind could be saved from itself. It could be free from greed, jealousy, lust, savagery. It could be pure, free from the pains of the world and the ravages of time. I returned to the light bearing the secret of undeath, for what greater gift could a soldier grant to those he protects but immortality.
And so with this new magic I began my work. It was no simple task but without sleep nor rest I laboured for many years until I had completed my first ‘awakening’. I watched as the dead rose from their war graves. Everything that lay in the earth saw the light of day once more. I found for this new legion a purpose. I put them to watch over our brothers and sisters in case someone should come looking for them. I knew they would not understand what I was doing. I was the Awakener, but it was not the Einherjar that I would call to duty.
This was the time that men call the Curse, but it was a gift! From the bones of the dead that lay in the ground I awakened immortal beings, crude magic as it was, and imperfect. These creatures clung to the memories of their former lives and betrayed human thoughts and reasoning. This was not the creation that I had dreamed of.
My next ‘awakening’ will be better, for now my magic is much improved. I have finally learned to harness the power of the Crown, the power with which we were given time and time again to restore humanity to the land. Now I have achieved what once I only dared to imagine: undeath, with the ability to procreate, with no former human life by which it may be corrupted. I have created a new king, who shall take the next age as his own."
Rivenhart opened his chest and from where his Warforged heart should have been he produced a small bundle, which he cradled tenderly.
“When Ragnarok comes, Surtur and Thrymm will play their part and visit ruin upon the land, and then I will play mine. Into the wasteland I shall create a new legion, and mankind will dwell once more in this land, but this time there will be no more war, no more suffering. This time it will be perfect, and it is close, so close brother.
You have lived in the company of men, as I did many years ago. You have seen their bloodlust, their greed, their hunger for power, and their thirst for vengeance. What is life but desire and destruction? Why do you seek to preserve this? If this is life then life is not sacred. If this is life then I bring the gift, the gift of unlife as an answer to the riddle."
“Show me what you have made!” commanded Thunder, taking a step forward.
“Yes, I find myself curious as to what could warrant the perversion of life that we have found in the chamber below.” said Aengus.
“Very well, come close, and gaze upon perfection.” whispered Rivenhart. Carefully he revealed what appeared to be a peacefully sleeping infant. Aengus sensed a dark energy in the air around it. The companions were unsure of what to make of what they were seeing.
“At night I look to the stars,” spoke Rivenhart at length, “For it is they who speak of the coming end. The gods forged the world in war. Their fury shook the skies, the bones of the fallen made the mountains of the mortal realms, their tears filled the oceans, and from their blood were born men and beasts. As it was made so shall it be unmade. Surtur, the lord of fire, shall come. Thrymm, the lord of ice, shall follow. The great primordials are almost upon us. Fire shall fall, and Ice shall remain it’s wake. And, as ever, the Crown shall remain, and we in it. For he who holds the Crown holds the Bridge, and from the Byfrost Bridge shall the last among men watch the giants fall.”
“How exciting!” exclaimed Dian Cecht.
“This is not the answer Rivenhart,” began Aengus. “By extinguishing war, jealousy, greed and all that you claim, you sacrifice art, poetry, love, wonder, and all things that make humanity great.”
“Yes.” replied the Einherjar, flatly. “I have, but what I have made is pure and perfect yet without these things.”
“You have betrayed the Legion!” shouted Thunder, “You have betrayed every last one of our fallen brothers!”
“No, brother, I have not.” spoke Rivenhart, calmly. “I have remained true to our purpose, as I yet remain. I feared that you would not understand, and I was correct. If you will not join me in this next age, you must leave this place and face the end with your companions.”
“Like I said,” spoke Karl, “Rivenhart, it’s time.”