Valnir: The Game
On Valnir Island, it is not important who you are.
Who you want to be, that is what counts.
Fires on the shore and the teeth of the storm
“Hard starboard! Row for your lives! Row, you dogs! Row or die!” Screams. Men’s faces, white and savage with terror, lit for a heartbeat by lightening. Thunder rips through the heavens as rock rips through the ship’s hull with a dreadful splintering that might as well be a god’s judgment. The ship bucks like a stallion. Chokes on the water which floods her hold. Creaks with her last breaths, even as gold coins spill glittering into the depths. She knows she is dying.
“Row! Row, you devils!” But there is no hope now. Only the hungry sea and the wrath of the storm, and the fires on the shore which lured you onto the rocks. No safe haven after all. Just death.
Another crack. Deep and final like the ship’s death rattle. She is keel-broken now and bucks again, and this time men are flung over the rail and swallowed in the suck and plunge.
Drowning into the dark
You hit the water and go down. Down in the cold darkness. Pale faces. Staring eyes. Streams of bubbles from the mouths of doomed men. But then, lungs screaming, you kick for the surface, claw at the hungry sea. You will not die this night!
A wave swamps you. Choking in its wake, you twist this way and that, looking for salvation. Around you just detritus, the leavings from the death feast: barrels and broken timbers and sail cloth billowing on the surface. Above you, white fire bursts in the heart of black cloud. The sea wants you. It craves more. Always more. You fight as you have always done, yet it pulls you down and you see them; corpses swaying amongst the weed bed, their hair floating like sea wrack. But that is not your fate and so you brawl and kick and pull your way to the surface once again, and this time a wave lifts you and you tumble through the roaring, gushing darkness. And then there is nothing.
Sand, sun and a dead man
You wake. Gasp like a drowning man. Cough and vomit warm brine onto the hot sand. It is so bright, the sun so fierce, that you can barely see. You are bone-weary but alive.
You struggle to your feet and get your bearings. The storm has passed and this stretch of sandy shore might be beautiful if not for the storm’s leavings; the pale corpses rolling in the surf, already swelling in the heat of the day.
With a new sense of dread, you notice that not all the dead are victims of the sea. Some have arrows sprouting from their flesh. Others have been butchered by sharp steel. The stench of death washes over you and you fight the urge to vomit again, then you hear a moan.
One man still lives!
A dying wish
Your crewmate looks at you with pleading eyes. He clutches the bloody wound in his belly. ‘The fires,’ he says. ‘They lit them to draw us onto the rocks. They killed everyone. Took…everything.’
Whoever the bandits are, they are gone now. You tell your friend to save his breath but you know he’s a dead man. He knows it too, and asks you to take the amulet which he has long worn around his neck and find a holy place, there to offer it to the gods that they might receive him in Valaheim.
‘The gods will welcome me and I will drink with my father and his father,’ he says, grimacing against the pain. So, you take his blood-smeared hand in your own and nod, feeling the amulet in your palm. You watch your friend pass beyond this life. Then you stand and gaze inland. What place is this? You take a last look at the corpses and the broken timbers which litter the beach. You are the only survivor. But you cannot stay here amongst the dead.
And so you start walking.
You are not alone
A cool shadow engulfs you and you look up to see a great winged creature swoop overhead, beating its wings into the east. Is this the afterlife? Your terrible thirst and aching belly tells you no. Whatever that beast was, whatever dangers lie ahead in this strange unknown, you must find what you need to survive. Perhaps there is a settlement nearby. You will find food there. But if you meet a stranger, will he help you? Or will you wish you had not lost your sword to the sea?