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When Strength Fails [Asynja Mournskold]

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quick backstory of the events which will lead asynja to her position at game start. this story contains violence and the undead.

When Strength Fails
[Asynja]

The morning was brisk. The mists over the marshes were turned a faint purpled hue as the sun peeked over the horizon, the cabin just another silhouette amongst the twisted shadows of trees and stone. All was silent, save for...

Crack. Thunk. Crack. Thunk.

Asynja hefted the axe, swinging it above her head, muscles tensing, ready to bring it down upon her foe -

Crack.

- the common log. As the wood split in twain, she tossed the pieces onto the small pile already gathered. The Nord paused, sniffing and wiping her nose. Green eyes swept over her handiwork. Seemingly satisfied, she gave the axe one final swing, burying it into the tree trunk below with a grunt. Scooping up the pile of kindling into her arms, Asynja glanced back to the horizon.

The sun rose slowly.

A sleepy murmur came from the cabin as she entered. "Arni? Is that you?" The woman lay on a bed of furs near the embers of a dying fire, hair wispy and white. Her face was beautiful once, eyes alert, body strong - but now she was like a dried husk doll, tiny and thin.

"No, mama. I brought firewood." It wasn't the first time she had been mistaken for the youngest of her elder brothers, and it wasn't likely to be the last. She'd long since given up trying to correct her mother - her mind was old, clouded, and not easily changed. Asynja knelt to the fireside, sweeping away the ashes before carefully arranging the kindling.

"Will take more than that to warm these bones." Came a mumble from beneath the furs. "Do check on the herbs."

Asynja sighed, sweeping the tangled mass of ginger hair out of her face before striking the flint together, sparks leaping to the damp wood. "The garden's fine, I checked it this morning on my way to get wood. D'you want me to get you some-"

"The herbs, Asynja." Her mother's voice was remarkably alert, back to the commanding tone it once held - Priestess Signe, lady of Arkay, rising forth from the tiny frame. It wasn't so much the tone that caught Asynja off guard, however - it was the use of her name.

Her mother hadn't called her by it in a year.

Realizing her mouth had fallen agape, she cleared her throat and poked at the fire to ensure it was properly stirred from its slumber. Signe had fallen back into her bed of furs, mumbling away to herself again - was it just another hallucination from the sickness in the old woman's mind, Asynja wondered, or was it a momentary glimpse of sanity?

In any case - she'd nothing more to do for the morning. It was worth it to check, if only to calm her mother if the issue arose again.

- - -

A sudden blast of wind from the north - icy and smelling of the sea - greeted her as she exited the cabin. Memories of her father drifted back to her at the scent of salty air, and she winced in spite of herself. Gathering her cloak, she walked to the cabin's south side, where a wicker fence enclosure guarded their collection of herbs and vegetables from the rare rabbit.

The gate was open. Her eyes grew wide. It was closed just a half-hour ago, surely it must have been the wind. She glanced around, listening carefully, then entered the small enclosure, peering carefully at the plants.

There was no sign of an animal's feeding, no stray leaves and plant matter strewn about, no half-eaten remains. A frown. Everything seemed to be in order - until her eyes alighted on a slight difference in color in the small blue mountain flower bush in the corner. She pushed away little branches until she found the source - one of the branches had been cut, neatly, as if by a blade. It was in such a location that had she not been looking, she would not have noticed...

Asynja began to thoroughly investigate the other greenery, now, looking for the slightest differences. Someone had done the same to the lavender, she soon discovered - but naught else. Crouched on her boots, her brow furrowed. Blue mountain flower and lavender. What would a thief want with them? The latter was rare in Hjaalmarch, to be sure, but the former could be found growing even between the homes of Morthal...

She made certain to lock the door behind her upon re-entering the cabin. It was warm and inviting now, and her mother had found stockings to darn. The scent of woodsmoke and the familiar sound of her mother's humming was almost enough to drown her worries from her mind. But not quite.

Brushing back her hood, she strode over to the single wooden plank that served as the household bookshelf. A tome on burial rights, no, a prayerbook, no, myths of old nordic heroes, no, marriage rites - no. Her fingers traced over the spines as she squinted, looking for the familiar green lettering...

Medicinal Herbs of Skyrim. Yes.

Asynja flipped through the pages as quickly as she dared. Many of the words were unfamiliar to her, but the pictures were not - and thankfully, for the sake of academia, there were many pictures.

Her eyes narrowed, as if it would force some great meaning to come forth from the words. Yet all she found listed for the two ingredients were properties of boosting constitution and vigor - no warnings as to poisonous qualities. It must've been a roaming traveller who'd no concern as to the property of others, or maybe it was a hunter in an emergency...

What should have calmed her did little to soothe her nerves. The gate was closed when she left in the morning, and she would have seen anyone walking to or from the cabin. There was the possibility that she'd simply overlooked it or been fooled, but she was a watcher, a guard, and her confidence in her own abilities was enough that there must have been something else.

A great sigh escaped her lungs as Asynja set the tome back on the shelf, turning to her mother. It would be several hours more before her watch of the nearby tomb - the very reason for the presence of she and her mother so far from civilization. She couldn't shake the feeling of wrong that pervaded.

That night was going to be a long one. She let herself fall into the pile of furs, forcing herself into sleep with that idea in mind. She needed to be alert.

She was the eyes for those that had none.
Posted Feb 13, 14 · OP
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Asynja woke to a crow's scream.

Sitting up with a groan, she rubbed at her eyes. Her mother was busying herself by the cooking pot, still humming to herself. Judging by the fall of sunlight from the crack between the window coverings, it was nearing sunset.

"Rabbit stew, Arni. Come and eat."

She took a big sniff to ascertain that her mother hadn't found some other bit of matter and tossed it in to cook. It certainly smelled like rabbit stew. Stirring herself, she grabbed a small strip of suede and tied back her mass of hair, before rising from the pile of furs.

"I put in some mushrooms, I know how you like them."

Mushrooms were her father's favorite. The ones that hid under the gnarled roots of the trees, bitter yet nutty. She bit her lip, looking sadly at the old woman in front of her. Signe wasn't always like this. Not when Da was around. Asynja quietly made a note to talk to Volundr, her eldest brother, the next time she made the trek south. She knew that there was nothing to be done, but maybe there was someone new to Morthal hold, someone who knew how to revive her mother's mind...

"Thanks, mama." It was all she had the will to offer, as she moved to grab two wooden bowls from the small cabinet by the cabin's far wall. She offered the two forward, and heaping ladelfuls of stew were deposited in each. Asynja set the two bowls aside, undertaking the daily chore of convincing her mother to sit.

"But your brothers haven't eaten yet-"

Large hands gently forced the old woman toward a stool. "They're old enough to feed themselves. Sit and eat, for Shor's sake."

"I won't eat until my growing boys do. They need their strength more than I-"

A few more minutes of arguing passed before Asynja finally sighed and spooned stew into three other bowls. Her mother seemed to calm at this, and the two ate in peace.

The sun lowered, and a strong wind began to howl down from the north. She shivered on instinct. Finishing her own bowl, she took to consuming the extra - she was likely to need it. The stew was delicious, her mother hadn't lost her talent for cooking (she assumed it was simply built into her bones, now), and it possessed the odd quality of boosting her spirits.

As the sun's light faded and the wind proved ceaseless, the young Nord stood. Her mother was starting to doze in the seat, so she gently slipped her arms beneath the old woman's legs and back, carrying her back to the furs, tucking her in. It was a role reversal, and Asynja was painfully aware of that fact.

"G'night, mama. I'll see you come morn." A single kiss to the aging priestesses' forehead - and then Asynja was gathering her things.

The brown dress she wore came off, replaced by a loose canvas men's shirt and cloth leggings. She grabbed the fur cuirass from the trunk, slipping it over her shoulders and tightening the fastening strips, following it with iron shin and thigh guards. Then the thick studded leather gauntlets, the iron boots, and lastly - her father's old plate helm from the shelf. Whilst his head was larger than hers, her mass of hair made the fit quite snug indeed - fiery strands escaping from all sides.

She strode to the door, boots thudding against the stone flooring. Her eyes fixed on the massive battleaxe hanging above the door frame - arms extending to lift it from its mounting. It was already in its holdings, and slung easily enough onto her back. One final stoop to grab her pack from the ground, and then the door was open - biting wind rushing inwards, causing the flames of the fire to flicker. Asynja closed it as soon as she was outside, locking it for her mother's safety.

The night had begun.
- - -

The tomb wasn't too far - only a few minutes walk from the cabin. It was hidden along the rock face that rose from the marshes, as if the earth had splintered like wood - and the thick grasses and mosses of the marshes covered much of it's opening. The only signifier that there was anything at all were the runes carved into the rock, surrounding the entrance - and Asynja's small fire.

She sat on one of the slowly rotting logs by the fire, trying to hunch herself against the cold northern winds. Her hands were firmly wrapped around the staff of the axe - in fact, she was near leaning against it for support. Despite the harsh environment, however, this was one of her favorite parts of the day.

Masser and Secunda were large and bright in the sky, their light illuminating the frostbitten marshes. In between blasts of wind, she could hear the world whisper - sections of ice scraping into one another, the rustling of the small scavenging animals, the odd flutter of the night birds. Sometimes the torchbugs would rise, floating above the surface of the water, like stars fallen to earth.

It was during these times, alone amongst the world, that Asynja liked to think. Sometimes she would try to craft songs or stories in her head, other times she would imagine an ambush and how best to defend against it. Other times her thoughts would lie in the past, in memory. This was one of them.

She remembered her mother taking her here, as a girl. When Asynja was very small, the tomb scared her, the thought of all the dead inside was frightening. She'd heard spook-tales from her brothers of the dead come to life, of the horrors of corpses.

"Little Kit, you have nothing to fear from the dead. They are our sleeping loved ones. While their souls go to Sovngarde, what is left is kept here until they return to the earth. If you are afraid of the dead, you're afraid of life - the trees, the mosses, the grass. The dead cannot hurt you."

A chuckle. She feared the dead no longer - now she was their guardian. A singular figure in the cold, alone and steadfast...

Alone.

Asynja edged closer to the fire, shaking her head. This was her duty. Watching the tomb, watching her mother. It was the way of things. Her thoughts drifted, though she was aware - ever aware - of her surroundings.
- - -

As the hours ticked by, and the twin moons rose to their peak in the sky, something set her on edge. Her surroundings didn't seem quite so lonely - and then she heard, ever so faintly, the crunch of snow.

Her fire was smothered in seconds, smoke stifled, and Asynja drew back into the tomb's cave entrance, slipping behind the moss. Her grip on her axe was tight. The crunching snow drew closer - coming from above. Her brow lowered, as she tried to estimate based on the sounds - one, two, maybe three men, at most. They were speaking in hushed tones, but her sense of hearing was keen.

"Y'sure this is the place? He said it was guarded." Male. Young - maybe younger than she. Accent wasn't local, but it was Nord.

"It is, you idiot. Was until recently, anyways. Look." Female. Husky tone. She didn't recognize the accent - the words flowed into each other like water, even with the harsh sentiment. They'd spotted the remains of the fire.

"I'm going to take a look." Footsteps thudded down the slope, circling around to the water's edge. Asynja could see him, now, backlit by the moonlight - a shadowed figure, hooded, in plain leather armor. Twin daggers glinted in the moonlight. Bandits?

A second figure, footsteps more graceful, jogged up behind the first. Female, wearing no helm - long hair flowing freely in the wind, pointed ears - and a billowing robe.

"Can't see anything." The male muttered. "Don't you have-"

The woman whispered something, and an orb of pure light rose from her hands. The two were suddenly brightly illuminated. The hooded man had a nose that appeared to have been broken many times, and the woman was elven - though looking more wild than the tales had given Asynja the impression of.

She crouched, readying her axe, listening carefully. Were they bandits, looking for easy loot? The few she'd come across didn't have any of the magic folk - and the only elves anywhere close to here had dark skin and red eyes, short and shifty. Wild-Elf was tall and willowy, with bright golden eyes...

"It's small." Wild-Elf sniffed, glaring down at her muddied hem. "The hill is not big enough to have that large of a tomb, and the ground in these marshes is too wet to dig in very deep."

Broken-Nose slumped, looking defeated. "Y'think it's a write-off, then? Shor's blood, boss is going to be angry-"

A short glare from Wild-Elf. "No. It will have corpses enough - and - what is it you people say? The more the merrier?"

Asynja felt her vision grow red. Steeling herself, she took in a few deep breaths, harnessing her rage as the elven woman talked on.

"We'll only need a few men. Let the rest wait. We'll be raising more help as we go, anyw-"

Wild-Elf's speech turned into a scream as Asynja charged through the moss. The elven woman tried to mouth something, hands coming aglow, but she was cut very short as an axe blade buried itself into her gut. The floating orb of light faded - casting Asynja and Broken-Nose into darkness.

Her remaining foe had already leapt into action as Asynja charged - stabbing at her back. Her cuirass was thick, however - though she felt the telltale sting of a knife blade scraping across her skin. Releasing the axe blade, Asynja spun with her arm bent - elbow smashing across the man's face, dazing him. Her leg lifted, kicking him square in the stomach, sending him sprawling onto his back - buying her time to release her axe from his companion.

Broken-Nose was half upright as she approached with her bloodied weapon back in hand. Broken-Nose soon became Broken-Back as the battleaxe slammed into his spine.

Panting as she surveyed the damage, Asynja winced as she grabbed at the dagger buried into the back of her armor. It'd managed to penetrate a good half inch into her shoulder, and as the adrenaline high faded, the pain only increased. Still, she knelt down to the corpses of her foes, searching for something - anything - to give her some idea of what was going on.

The elven woman had a book full of handwritten scrawlings and blank pages. Well. That was more than expected - but the letters were foreign to her.

She turned. Small lights were visible in the near distance, flickering - torches, if she had to guess. And many of them. A camp must be nearby - and they would notice their missing kin. But the elven woman spoke of 'raising help' - they must have been with a necromancer, and Asynja's duty was to guard the dead against such things, no matter the number. Straightening with a painful grunt, she readied herself to approach the camp-

Other lights flickered into her peripheral view. Closer. Her head snapped in the direction they had come from - and her heart stopped in her chest.

Mother.
Posted Feb 14, 14 · OP
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Red crept into the peripheral of her vision. Her body pulsed. The Nord spun in place, tossing her axe to one hand and sprinting back to the cabin. Her breath was sharp, escaping her lips in short bursts of fog as her boots pounded against the moss and marsh. The light near the cabin went out.

Asynja began to slow her pace as she approached the cabin, momentum slowly leaving her. Halting with her back flattened next to the opened door, she braced her axe in front of her - and her mind for what might greet her. Her eyes squeezed shut for just a moment, tears of stress escaping them, freezing on her cheeks - before she thrust herself from the wall, spinning to enter the doorway, prepared for anything.

The green lights coming from the tomb backlit her as she overlooked the darkened shack, lit only by the rectangle of light from the doorway surrounding her shadow. It was empty, there was nothing, her mother was gone, and then-

A shadow fell across her vision, followed by a wet slap. Asynja thrust her axe in front of her reflexively, as if to push back any attackers - but she was greeted by the sight of a hooded corpse lying on the ground in front of her, kitchen knife stuck in their gut, throat slit. She moved out of the doorway, letting the light better fill the cabin.

"Mama?"

Two tiny feet, wrinkled and bare, slipped into the light, followed by the small frame of her mother. Blood was on the old woman's hands, and her eyes were filled with a sad sort of regret. Signe immediately knelt, hands wrapping around her amulet - Arkay's emblem hanging from it - and murmured a short prayer.

Asynja felt herself fill with relief - and, despite the urgency of the situation, allowed the aged priestess to conduct the short last rites. She, meanwhile, cast her gaze out of the doorway, watching for others - listening for anything approaching.

A hand placed itself onto her wounded back and the bloodstained cuirass that covered it. Asynja looked back, to her mother's worried expression - and to far off eyes, half glazed, trying to make sense of the situation. She was about to speak, when there was a sudden explosion of light from the tomb, a sound like thunder cracking across the marshes.

The Nord cursed. There was only one option, she knew, but it would be to abandon her post, her duty, the remains of her people. Yet the other option was something unthinkable, barbaric.

She gathered her mother's furs, wrapping them around the tiny woman, and quickly downed a bottle of herbal draught meant to dull the sting of wounds.

"We're going to visit Volundr, Mama."
- - -

Volundr Mournskold was one of the few men who had marched away into the life of a soldier, lured by promises of glory and duty to his people, and lived to reach retirement. A solitary man, he'd been called a wolf by the men he served with - and now, settled with a henpecking wife and five children - had only his own pet wolves as a reminder of those glory days.

It was those very wolves that awoke him in the early hours of the morning, whimpering and howling. He groaned, rolling onto his side and scratching at his beard - the animals would sometimes do this, when they heard an elk outside or some such - and tried to fall back to sleep. An elbow to his side removed any thought of that idea, a sleep-ridden grumble coming from the other side of the bed - from his wife, Anneke.

"Shut th'damned things up 'fore they wake the baby." The woman mumbled - but a piercing shriek proved that it was too late for that. Rising to sit on the edge of the bed, Volundr slumped forward, rubbing his eyes before lighting a candle. His back ached with a dull pain, spine cracking as he rose to his feet. The man slowly crept his way down the stairs as the wolves continued to howl, and as he did so, a slamming on the door became audible over the ruckus.

Volundr's pace quickened to the front door, shielding the candle from the wind as he opened it.

"Kit?"

Before him stood his baby sister in full armor, panting and exhausted, her axe bloodied. Wrapped under one of her arms was his mother, shivering in the cold. The old soldier stepped aside, stunned, as Asynja hurried her mother inside. More footsteps thudded quickly down the stairs.

Frey, his eldest son and a youth of sixteen, stopped in his tracks upon seeing his aunt's wounded back. "... what happened to Aunt Asja?"

Volundr shut the door behind the two women, whistling at the wolves to silence. The baby upstairs had been quieted, and now there was nothing to be heard except the exhausted panting of his sister and the howling of the wind. Heavier footsteps thudded down the stairs - Anneke, baby clutched to her - squinted at the group in the dim light.

"Shor's blood!" His wife muttered, brown eyes snapping open. "Frey, help your poor grandmother to the fire, wake your sister, get her to put the kettle on." The tiny, rotund woman took charge amidst her husband's shock, her son leading Signe to one of the back rooms.

Asynja sank down onto a wooden bench in the entryway, removing her helm and setting it beside her. "The tomb." she muttered, looking up at her elder brother with exhausted eyes. "Necromancers. Raided it. Had to... had to get mama..."

"Necromancers?" Volundr's expression grew stern. "There's more than one?"

"Think... think so. Killed two, but think they were bandits. One was a she-elf, knew magic." The two siblings exchanged grim looks, before Asnyja took the journal she had found from her pack. "Was carrying this. Dunno the language, you've been around, you might know-"

"Oblivion damn the bloody book, Volundr - she's injured!" Anneke interjected, expression fierce. "Put Sanne to bed, I'll take care of your sister-"

"Anneke, love, if we don't figure out what happened now, they might come here, or to the village-" Volundr was cut off once more as the babe was put in his arms, candle taken from him.

"If they're necromancers, they aren't going to come bother the living - and they'll get killed 'fore they can blink if they try the village. Now let me tend to your sister 'fore she falls over." His wife's brown eyes held firm with his steely blue. He knew better than to argue, now - part of the reason he'd married Anneke was for her force of will.

Anneke helped hoist Asynja to her feet, following him upstairs. Still, his gaze was drawn to the journal left lying on the bench, brows furrowing.
- - -

What she had thought a nick had turned to be quite the cut indeed. The cold had gotten to it, and compounded with frostbite the injury took longer to heal than it should have. Three days passed before it was proper on the mend, and Asynja spent a day and a half of that sleeping. Exhausted from the incident at the tomb and her trek across the marsh, her body needed to regain its strength - though when she awoke, her mind was filled with resentment.

With fresh bandages, Volundr took her down the hill path from his home to the small village below, built onto the edge of the marshes. There they delivered the news - and amidst the horror that such a thing had come to happen, so too was blame cast by some to Asynja for failing to do her duty. The Nord remained silent, clutching her furs about her, even as her brother attempted to come to her defense.

Tempers began to flare on both sides in short order, before Asynja quietly raised her hand. It took a shout from her to get the more agitated of the group to pay attention, but they all silenced as she spoke her words.

"I will hunt them."

One duty for another.
- - -

Anneke tried convincing her otherwise - mages were dangerous, tricks and cheats - she should stay home, in Hjaalmarch, take care of her mother. Volundr, however, gave her his blessing - hand on her shoulder, eyes stern, before giving her a short, brief embrace.

So it was settled.

Anneke and Volundr's eldest daughter was to take care of Signe. Asynja overheard the argument as she readied herself for bed, the shouting carrying through the walls.

"I'm old enough to marry, papa, I can't stay in here all day-"

"She is your grandmother, she needs someone to talk to her, they say she needs it to keep her mind here-"

"So I'm to be stuck here, talking to a woman who doesn't even know who I am until I'm an old maid like Auntie Asja? You even say so yourself, Mama, she doesn't even know how to talk to people, she's been alone too long, why does she get to leave..."

Asynja left that morning. It was an informal affair - she had gathered her things, the journal she had found, and said her short goodbyes. Guilt rode in her for leaving her mother behind.

But, for whatever few short days, or weeks, or months it took her to track down those who had defiled the tomb...

She would be free.
Posted Mar 12, 14 · OP
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