The Fog of Severed Peaks part 09

    Una was staggered by the clarity and reason coming from a drunken gambler.

    “You might have a point, Orri, but what’s important right now is that we don’t get killed. Not by the King, and not by that big oaf.”

    “How are you gonna keep them from doing that? Cut off my head and show everyone who the backstabber is?”

    “It wouldn’t help us at this point. Your head is worthless, and we don’t have enough gold to pay off both the King and Hild.”

    “So what, then?”

    “I’ll come up with something.” She turned for the door.

    “I can’t believe you came here alone. You left yourself vulnerable if I felt like a fight.”

    Una called over her shoulder as she exited. “No, I didn’t.”

    Orri sat there, the hut quiet now that she had gone, when Inga emerged from the darkness behind him, scowling at him before leaving him there, alone.

 

    At the nursery, Signey and Wary paced, agonizing over the many unpleasant outcomes they were faced with when Una barged in. She emptied a chest and dug in the pile it left, finding a woven basket with its lid sewn shut.

    “What’s going on?” Signey demanded.

    “We need all the gold we can gather.”

    Una untied the lid and lifted it to reveal a pile of coins.

    “This won't be enough.”

    She looked to Inga.

    “Go down the market streets and explain to everyone that the King will unleash the giants on us if we don’t come up with enough gold. Ask for two coins each.”

    Inga nodded and was off while Una placed the basket into a leather pack.

    “Where are you going, then?” Wary asked.

    “To the farmers to ask for the same.”

    “So we’ll pay the King and tell him we aren’t trading anymore?”

    “No.”

    “You want to ask Hild to forgive us? I don’t think it’s wise to keep company with someone who’d just as likely murder us!”

    “No.”

    Wary searched for another option. “What are we doing then?”

    “The King will come for his tax either way, and Hild is going to threaten us until she’s got a better deal. We’re as good as dead when that happens, and it’s only a matter of time.”

    “That’s great!” Wary flopped his arms in the air and rolled his eyes. “There’s no hope!”

    “Oh, yes there is!” Una grinned.

    “Una?” Signey asked, curiously. “Who’s the gold for?”

    With a sarcastically comical expression, Una replied. “It’s for Hild.”

 

    “Ah! My favorite young merchants!” Hild declared as the twins arrived at her shop. “I hope you have some good news.”

    They couldn’t help but notice Ketill picking up a sword that looked more like a rusty sheet of metal with jagged edges.

    “Indeed, the traders have been found.” Una said, emphasizing the end her statement as if to conceal something.

    “Good! We can get back to business then.” Hild paused and thought about Una’s answer for a moment. “You did get rid of them, of course.”

    “Impossible.”

    “Ketill! Get over here.”

    The brute took plodding steps; they knew they could outrun him, but they’d be running forever. Una had one chance to convince Hild. She slung the pack from her shoulder and pulled out a bag. She bounced it in her hand, allowing the coins inside to jingle.

    “I can pay you to get rid of them, but it won’t be easy.”

    Hild raised her hand, signaling Ketill to hold.

    “They must be dangerous. You’re too ambitious to leave it for someone else.”

    “They are the King’s Giants. They invade our village and take what they want.”

    “Ketill is mighty big, but he can’t take down two giants. No deal.”

    “Hild, think about this; you get paid for this and the grains come again. You’ll make money on both ends.”

    “Can’t enjoy it if you’re dead, child.”

    “We’ll help, others from the village, too. We aren’t strong enough on our own, but with you, and especially Ketill, we can do it.”

    Una tossed the bag onto the counter, its contents resonating over the thud. It was heavy, nearly overflowing, and Hild wanted it.

    “Ketill?” She asked. “You wanna get in a fight?”

    He nodded and flicked the edge of his blade with his fat thumb. Hild crouched low to meet Una’s eye and smiled.

    “When do we leave?”

    “If we leave for Wilverth today, the giants will be there when we get back.”

    “Perfect. No use waiting around.”

 

    They made the hike to Wilverth, navigating the steep ridge that hung high above the village instead of taking the usual route that curved around a gentler slope. It was by design that they climbed down the jagged rocks; from there, they could watch the giants’ movements and lay out a strategy.

    The giants kept watch over Wilverth by posting on opposite corners of their small walls. It allowed them to see everyone coming and going throughout the village, and maintain a constant, menacing presence. It was difficult to catch them off-guard, such a feat would be mostly luck, except when they switched corners. About mid-day, the giants would pace along the wall to the vacant corner to continue their watch from a new vantage point.

    “You two hide along the wall and wait for my signal.” Una instructed. “We’ll go around and in through the gate. They’ll recognize us, so they won’t suspect anything.”

    “And what are you doing while we’re out here crouching behind rocks?”

    “We’ll get the others ready to take out the other one.”

    “Okay.” Hild said, with a flippant tone.

    “Alright, let’s move.”

    Suddenly, Hild grabbed ahold of Inga and held her back. Una nearly shouted, but quieted before she blew their cover.

    “What are you doing!?”

    “She stays and fights this one with us.”

    “We fight together. Always. We never split up.”

    “Well, this time, child, you’ll have to find a way. One of you is staying with us as insurance that we don’t get double-crossed.”

    “That wasn’t the plan. No way.”

    “Then the whole thing is off!” Hild growled.

    Una was breathing heavily, trying to think of an argument good enough to stalemate her. Seeing her struggle, Inga took things into her own hands.

    “Fine! I’ll stay!”

    And she wriggled loose of Hild’s grip.

    “No, Inga! I’ll stay with them.”

    Una put her hand on Inga’s shoulder and drew her close.

    “You know what to do. Just like we talked about.”

    With that, Inga began the climb up and Una led the party below, staying out of sight.

    Ketill added a level of difficulty that Una wasn’t used to. She and her sister were fast and small, and could easily find ways to sneak about. Ketill, on the other hand, was slow and enormous. It took them all morning, waiting for something to distract the giant and guiding Ketill to a boulder or a stump large enough to give him cover.

    They finally made it to the wall; Una and Hild knelt down while Ketill had to practically lie flat, and waited for Inga’s signal.

 

    “They’re out there, ready to go.” Inga told Wary and Signey.

    Signey watched as Inga stormed in, her emotions getting the better of her. She was snatching up her armor and throwing it on in a fit. Something was out of place.

    “Wait, where’s Una?”

    “She’s with them! It was the only way they’d do it.”

    “That doesn’t work! She’ll be caught along with them!” Raised Wary.

“We’ll make it work. Just get ready, there’s not much time.”

Inga ran through the streets, quietly alerting the villagers. It wasn’t long before everything was in place and all they had left to do was watch and wait.

 

The Fog of Severed Peaks part 8

Vog held out his arm, inviting the woman over. She was much shorter than he, and gracefully slid under his arm. He let her show him up the stairs even though he was well aware of where they were going, and waved over the guard once they reached the rooms.

The guard was a short, round man who sat on a stool at the far end of the loft. He was there to make sure no one got any extra time or services they did not pay for. Vog made a habit of tipping him in order to get a little leeway with the girls, and was going to need to do just that for what he intended on this night.

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The Fog of Severed Peaks part 7

Tensions were running high during the next hike to Gatespoke; what was once a lucrative venture had become one with no reward. Una and Inga had determination in their step, coupled with a bit of aggression; something Signey and Wary had noted throughout the journey. They spoke softly to each other while the girls marched ahead, wondering if they had something planned, but there was no more time for speculation.

    “We will complete this trade as usual, girls.” Signey said, optimistically. “There will be plenty of time for disruption back home.”

    “Right.” Wary added. “You don’t want to go picking fights in the wrong places. After all, it’s not Hild you’re upset with.”

    The girls just kept moving onward without a reply.

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The Fog of Severed Peaks part 6

The woman looked vacantly at Wary for a moment before calling to someone out of sight behind her.

    “Ketill! I’ve got a haggler out here, doesn’t understand the prices on the board!”

    A door flung open behind the counter and a hulking beast of a man entered. His cloak billowed, black embroidered patterns on black fabric; the hood draped over his head, hiding his face in shadow; his massive arms were bare and intimidating.

    “Show this peasant what we do to those who don’t like the prices on the board.”

    The man moved toward Wary, who tried to reason with him.

    “I can read the board! These prices are fine!”

    But he wrapped his arms around Wary and began to squeeze. Wary kicked and squirmed as he was lifted into the air and the grip around him tightened.

 

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The Fog of Severed Peaks part 5

There weren't a lot of fighters in Wilverth proficient with a sword or axe, which left Una and Inga to teach themselves for the most part. They got pointers occasionally from traders who came through town, and filled gaps by trial and error. They enjoyed sparring one another, and worked their technique tirelessly, practicing every day, often twice. They set up obstacle courses and workout areas outside the village. People wondered why they acted as though they were about to go fight the King, but everyone in Wilverth knew the twins and they were all proud to see them growing into strong, young women.

Sweat dripped from their chins as Una and Inga sat near the fire pit in the center of their home, taking a break from practice.

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The Fog of Severed Peaks part 4

Wary pushed through the crowd.

    “Signey! Get out of there!”

    Ignoring his instructions, she gave her own.

    “Help me get her down! I’m not leaving her!”

    The Giant, amused by all the excitement, whipped Gavriila side to side and watched as the people looked on in horror.

    “No!” Signey bellowed in a primal tone.

    The Giant flung Gavriila one last time, a snap was heard coming from somewhere in her neck. Her body was tossed in the dirt with a thud; her limbs collapsing in awkward directions, plainly showing that there was no life left inside.

 

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The Fog of Severed Peaks part 3

 

Wary hustled back as fast as he could; when he got to the village, he found some familiar faces congregating outside the tavern.

    “It’s not what you think it is!” He was out of breath from his travels and gasped for air. “Something’s not right… It’s a mine!”

    “What are you trying to cough up?” Orri, a wagon driver and bad gambler, asked.

    “I saw it! On the old farm lands at the bottom of the valley.” Wary bounced and pointed.

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The Fog of Severed Peaks part 2

Wary had his cart packed up with as much as his small foal could bear to pull. It was time to make his trip to the neighboring village of Wilverth. Neither the horse nor the rig were large enough for him to ride, he would have to guide them along the path.

    “I’m off to brave the elements, Mother.” He declared, sarcastically. “The trails will be treacherous, but I will manage to conquer them.”

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The Fog of Severed Peaks

It is said the fog comes down when two halves were made whole in death. Answers to questions on where the saying came from, or what it meant, varied from village to village, even person to person. It wasn’t like the other stories; tales that would be told around fire pits with differing versions being recounted for all to hear. A vote would be held on which story was the closest to the original. From that day forward, everyone in attendance would only retell the agreed upon version, unless, of course, they took part in a new vote.

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Current, Part Fifteen

Olivia ripped the radio off the officer’s vest.

    “I’m not going to fight you anymore, Major, don’t worry. I’m going to the tomb myself. You can call off whatever… this is.”

    Dellucci scanned the room, catching eyes with the General who held a stoic look on his face.

    “All units stand down. Let her through.”

    The troopers didn't move, so Olivia marched up the road with the flutter of butterflies in her stomach, the surge of adrenaline in her veins. She had only made it a few steps when a voice rang out over the radios again.

    “And Sergeant? ...Good luck in there…”

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Current, Part Fourteen

Olivia reached the Clark and Lake station only to realize that it was on lockdown. She went to the top of the stairs and peeked out, finding troopers stationed on the street corner. Olivia had worried about the possibility of too many eyeballs being present for her to get to her destination on the street, and already had a backup plan in mind.

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Current, Part Thirteen

The pendulum had swung, forcing Olivia to backtrack in search of a new path into the loop. Panic was setting in all around her as a familiar scene was beginning to play out once again. Hordes of military and disaster relief were filing into the city while tens of thousands evacuated from their homes.

    “These are only precautionary measures. There is no flooding at this time.” A trooper shouted over a line of people marching over the bridge. Olivia approached him.

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Current, Part Twelve

“I know I haven’t really been out here since the funeral.”

    Olivia tried to remember that painful day, but the only thing she could recall was being exhausted from so much grief.

    “I guess I deal with these things differently than you’re supposed to. You already knew that, though.” She let a smirk curl up on one cheek, which quickly faded. “I don’t know what to do, Mom. It’s like I’m trying to prove half of the world wrong and half of the world right, at the same time. I’m being pulled in different directions, and the stakes are as high as it gets. I’ve screwed things up so badly, at this point, I have to either stand up to this thing, which will probably kill me… or run.” She paused to swallow the cracks in her throat. “Running means being alone. Forever. Hardly an existence.”

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Current, Part Eleven

Olivia’s hands were fastened behind her back and the restraints around her wrists were tight enough to make her fingertips throb. One of the MPs got in the driver's seat of a jeep, leaving the two others on either side of her, in the back. As they drove, the adrenaline started to subside and she felt the soreness of having been in a fight. Olivia replayed the fight over and over again in her head. She felt like she could have given them more of a fight; she could have knocked them out and gotten away if she had done a couple things differently. It made her feel like a loser… Olivia hated losing.

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Current, Part Ten

Olivia entered Dr. Bradley’s waiting room to find his office door open slightly. She peeked her head in.

    “Hello?” She asked timidly.

    “Come on in.”

    “Sorry I’m late.”

    “It’s fine, it’s fine. Have a seat.” Dr. Bradley was looking at his phone. He silenced it and tucked it into his pocket as he got up from his desk and moved out to the chair opposite Olivia. “I’m sure you’ve been busy with the frenzy that’s been going on.”

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Current, Part Nine

The I.V. in Olivia’s arm was starting to feel irritated. She shrugged her shoulder and twisted around, causing a slight movement in the needle; a painless sensation, but an uncomfortable one nonetheless. The medics found she had been slightly dehydrated; the new fluids rejuvenated Olivia, and she was eager to be released.

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Current, Part Eight

The two of them plunged in, Olivia began guiding herself along the ceiling once again, thinking the woman would follow, but she did not. She was paddling in an unconventional way, exerting much energy and getting nowhere fast. Olivia turned herself around and reached for the woman’s hand. She then kicked hard and pulled her forward. Olivia found the ridges in the ceiling and placed the sides of her boots against them, thrusting the both of them further into the hallway. She repeated this motion several times before her body’s strain for oxygen could no longer be ignored.

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Current, Part Seven

 A levee was patched together the entire length of the city, but a new issue was arising… The Chicago River, which previously had several feet of clearance between water level and street level, was creeping its way towards the bottoms of bridges. Units were pulled from the lakeshore wall to begin construction on the riverfront. More personnel and civilians arrived to help save the city as the realization was setting in… the water was not stopping.

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Current, Part Six

Chicago’s Lakefront Trail was crowded most mornings with locals and tourists alike. If you biked or jogged the 18 mile path in its entirety, you would pass the world's largest convention center, Soldier Field, Navy Pier, several parks, and a whole host of museums. In the summer, the beaches are crowded with people passing footballs or Frisbees, playing volleyball, and drinking light beer until they can’t stand. The waves, which crash against the shore, aren’t large when compared to the waves on an ocean beach, but they are present… Which is why the countless people sprawled along the Lakefront Trail didn’t notice the rising water; not at first, anyway.

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Current, Part Five

People were scrambling all over the place; most were clearly nervous. It was like a beehive, made out of camouflage and gunmetal. Transport trucks were pulling up, some were dropping troops who jumped out and took off running, and others were being loaded with supplies; it was a madhouse. Olivia wove her way through the chaos to find the offices where she was instructed to report.

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