Tristan examined the charred beams of the two-story house. Black stone and burned timbers were all that remained of the small Norwegian village whose name he had already forgotten.
“What did you say did this?” he asked. “Some kind of dragon?”
“A linnorm,” the local magus named Leif corrected him.
“Oh, like lindworm from the Isles,” Aurora said. “A wingless serpentine monster with two clawed arms in the upper body.” Tristan rolled his eyes. No doubt she had memorized that from some book of magical beasts just for this occasion.
“You know our lore,” Leif said. “I see the Enclave has sent us their best.” Aurora’s drew her lips into a pout and flipped her tangled red locks petulantly. What a pair, Tristan thought. He could almost picture their children—straw-haired boys with square jaws and girls with Aurora’s flowing copper curls—not one ever able to enjoy a day at the beach.
“And these are the claw marks?” Indigo asked, kneeling over three deep groves raked into the fire blasted lawn. In his urban gothic outfit—black coat with pointless folds and flaps, loose black pants, black boots, and a shock of beetle-blue hair—Indigo looked at home in the wasteland of the village.
“There are more both inside the village and out,” Leif said. “Have you seen enough?”
“I think so,” Aurora said, taking the lead as she always did. “Who is the head of your order?”
“Ragnar,” Leif said, his voice heavy with contempt. “He’ll be waiting.”
They piled into Ragnar’s red, weathered Volvo and climbed the road into a landscape of grey rock and folded green hills. Tristan had yet to meet a magus with a decent car.
“Do these linnorm attacks happen… often?” he asked. It was a stupid question but the words tumbled out before he could stop them.
“If you consider every thousand years often, then sure,” Leif scoffed. “They are creatures of the Void. The spells to summon and defeat them are old. I don’t know why they sent you.”
Tristan decided not to ask any more questions. It was a long ride, with Aurora sulking and Indigo watching the bleak landscape roll by with his usual look of I-don’t-give-a-fuck-I’d-rather-be-somewhere-else.
After about an hour, they came to a town not that much larger than the ruined village and stopped at a large farmhouse perched on a rugged hillside. Inside, Leif took their coats (except for Indigo’s) and led them to a cozy living room.
“These are the magi from the Enclave,” Leif said to a man sitting in a large wooden chair. he looked to be about sixty, though his deep-set eyes glowed with vigor. He had thinning hair cropped short and a beard styled somewhere between well-groomed and wild. All in all, a proper looking magus.
“You must be tired,” Ragnar said. He rose to his feet and walked to the back of the room. “This will help.” He uncorked a bottle of gold liquid sitting on a table against the wall and poured five small, wooden cups.
“Mannalögr,” he said, handing the cups around. “The only mead worth drinking.” Tristan took a sip. A bright bloom of honey blossomed in his mouth and faded into a rough but comforting warmth.
“Leif has shown you the village?” Ragnar asked. “What do you think?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Aurora said. “A Void beast crossing into our world. It’s almost unheard of.”
“Even here in a land full of myths,” Ragnar said. He pointed to a banner on the wall bearing the image of a sea serpent. “The sjøorm or wyrm of the fjords.”
“So where did it come from?” Tristan asked.
“It was summoned,” Leif said. “But we can send it back without your help.”
“Then why are why here?” Aurora asked.
Ragnar scowled. “Leif speaks of an ancient magic that I will not use.”
“Why?” Indigo asked.
“Because it is dangerous,” Ragnar growled. “It was made when magic was raw and wild and performed with no thought to consequences. It is not to be used.”
“We must use it!” Leif cried. “The longer we wait, the more lives will be lost!”
“Enough!” Ragnar roared. “Speak no more of this! They are here now and they will help us.” Leif muttered something under his tongue, but a look from Ragnar silenced him.
“I apologize for my apprentice,” Ragnar said. “Leif will take you to the inn. Eat, rest and we will talk again in the morning.”
“Ragnar is a fool,” Leif said as they drove. “He had no right to involve outsiders in our problem. A problem we can easily solve.”
“What is this magic Ragnar is so afraid of using?” Tristan asked.
“It is called Niddhogg, the Serpent’s Fang,” Leif answered. “Some say it a shard of Void magic itself.”
“If that’s true, I can see why Ragnar wouldn’t want to use it,” Aurora said. “Where is it?”
“Ragnar will not say,” Leif said coldly. “He keeps it hidden somewhere in the vaults of our lodge, rotting away in darkness.”
They arrived at the inn and Leif helped them with their bags. “Ragnar will send me to fetch you in the morning,” he said. “It’s a waste of time.” Without another word, he stomped off to his car and drove off.
After they settled into their rooms, the three met the inns’ small restaurant for dinner.
“So what do you think?” Aurora asked, picking at her salad.
“Typical master/apprentice conflict,” Indigo shrugged. “Happens all the time.”
“Is there really such a thing as a shard of Void magic?” Tristan asked. “That sounds pretty freaking dangerous.”
“Yeah, it would be,” Indigo said. He sipped absently at a tall glass of dark beer. “Still, I’d love to take see something like that. Did you know Ragnar tried to tag us back in the village?”
“He didn’t!” Aurora gasped.
“Tag us with what?” Tristan asked.
“Duh, with a spell,” Indigo said. “I think it was some kind of Norse rune or something. I got rid of it. I hate it when magi pull that shit.”
“Pull what shit?” Tristan asked. “What’s a tag?”
“Jeez, I always forget how new you are,” Indigo said. He took a long pull of his beer and wiped his mouth. “You tag someone when you want to follow them. He doesn’t like that we’re here. Knowing where we are makes it easier to keep us out of the way.”
“Well, this is all fascinating, but I’m beat guys,” Aurora said. “I’ll see you in the morning.” She excused herself and left Tristan and Indigo to their meals.
“Have you ever tagged me?” Tristan asked. Indigo just smirked and finished his beer.
They woke the next morning still feeling cold and groggy. As they sat down to a breakfast of smoked salmon and eggs, Leif rushed into the dining room.
“Come now,” he said. “Something’s happened.”
“Another attack?” Aurora asked.
“Just come!” he shouted. They rushed to get their coats and met Leif at his car.
“Where are we going?” Tristan asked as they sped away into town.
“The lodge,” Leif said. “Ragnar’s dead. His body was found in an abandoned building not far from here.”
“What! How?” Aurora asked.
“The linnorm,” Leif said.
“Burned?” Tristan asked.
Leif shook his head. “Torn to pieces,” he said. “The other magi are investigating now and cleaning up the mess.” Tristan knew what he meant. A murder was a difficult enough thing to hide. A murder by magic, even harder.
“Shouldn’t we be trying to track down the linnorm?” Aurora said as they pulled up to the lodge.
“Yes,” Leif said. “But I have something to show you first.”
He led them inside and up the stairs to Ragnar’s study. The room looked much like it did from the day before. But instead of the bottle of mead and cups, a dark rectangular box lay on the table against the back wall.
Leif picked up the box and held it before them. It was of a dull, dark wood and carved with strange, twisting designs.
“Can you open it?” he asked.
“What is it?” Aurora asked.
“I believe it is the Serpent’s Fang,” Leif said, reverently. “It was with Ragnar.”
“Why can’t you open it?” Tristan asked.
Leif glared at him. “I do not know these spells,” he said. “Even as his apprentice, Ragnar did not trust me with them.”
“Let me see,” Indigo said, stretching out his hands. Leif hesitated and then handed him the box. As a spell thief, there were few barriers Indio couldn’t get around. At least that’s what he boasted. Tristan had seen him in action a number of times, but never with something like this.
“I can’t read these runes but I feel their crafting,” Indigo said.
“Can you open it?” Leif asked.
Indigo placed the box on a nearby table and knelt before it. His fingers hovered over the edges of the box tracing its shape. He whispered a few charms and shaped a pattern in the air above the box. Shaking his head, he traced another more complex pattern and smiled.
“The seal is broken,” Indigo said. He rose and took a few steps back. “But I’m not going to open it.”
Leif snatched the box from the table and eagerly wrenched off the lid. Tristan leaned forward to look, but Leif turned and walked to the table at the back of the room. Tristan caught a glimpse of a long pale crystal and felt a sharp stab of Void magic pierce the room.
“Is that it?” Indigo asked.
“Yes,” Leif said, without turning. “I have what I need. Now go.”
“Wait a minute,” Aurora said. “The Enclave sent us to—”
“Ragnar asked you to come!” Leif yelled, “And as he is gone and I am the master in his stead, the doors of this lodge are closed to you.” More than just an insult, Leif’s words were a command, and one they could not violate without a directive from the Enclave.
“You heard him,” Tristan said. “Let’s go.”
Aurora started to speak, but Indigo was already rushing out the door.
“Fucking waste of time!” Indigo fumed when they got outside. “Goddam dickhead Viking shit…”
“Can you do that tag thing you told me about last night,” Tristan interrupted.
“He’s inside, genius,” Indigo said.
“What about his car?” Tristan said.
“What are you doing?” Aurora asked.
“Just trust me,” Tristan said. “Can you do it or not?”
Indigo stormed over to the Volvo, ran his fingers over it, and shouted a few words.
“Happy,” he said.
“Overjoyed,” Tristan said. “Do we still have that car rental?”
“Yeah,” Aurora said. “I didn’t cancel it yet.”
“Good, let’s go get it. I’ll explain later.”
They took a cab and picked up their car, another Volvo, this one green.
“Now what?” Aurora asked, starting the car.
“Hold on,” Tristan said, turning to face Indigo. “How does this tag work?”
“I just focus and sense whenever Leif’s car goes anywhere,” Indigo said.
“And then you can follow it?”
“Great,” Tristan said. “Let’s go back to the inn and wait for him to go somewhere.”
“Like where?” Indigo asked.
“To summon the linnorm,” Tristan said.
“You mean banish the linnorm,” Aurora said.
Tristan shook his head. “It’s all been faked,” he said. “Leif wants everyone to think the linnorm attacked. But where did it come from? And why would it burn a whole village and not leave a mark in the middle of a busy town like this?”
“I think your grasping,” Aurora said.
“Hang on,” Indigo said. “Leif really wanted that Serpent’s Fang, so if he made Ragnar think a Void beast was loose—”
“Then Ragnar would go and get it,” Tristan said. “Leif must have followed Ragnar, found where he was hiding it—”
“And then what,” Aurora said. “He killed him and took it?”
Tristan nodded. “Leif doesn’t want the Serpent’s Fang to banish a linnorm,” he said. “He wants it so he can summon one.”
“He’s on the move!” Indigo said.
“Alright,” Tristan said, “Just tell Aurora where to go.”
They drove out of the town and into an increasingly desolate landscape which rose into the mountains. After an hour of twisting narrow, rugged roads, they spotted Leif’s Volvo parked by the side of a large cave.
“This doesn’t look good,” Tristan said.
“It never does,” Indigo said.
They approached the cave on foot and peered inside. To their surprise, it ended in a wall just a short way in. Aurora summoned a ball of light and they stepped inside to examine it.
“What’s that?” Tristan asked, pointing to a swirl of markings on the wall.
“What’s what?” Indigo asked.
“That,” Tristan said, reaching out his hand.
“Don’t!” Aurora shouted. But it was too late. Void magic shot through him and he found himself in a large lit chamber. But he was not alone.
“You!” Leif spat, spinning to face him. He shouted a word of power and paralyzed Tristan where he stood.
“You will be its first meal,” Leif said with a cruel grin. “And then, your friends.”
He raised the Serpent’s Fang and began to chant in a strange language, probably something old and Norse, Tristan though. Slowly, a shadow began to grow in the room and Tristan felt the awful cold presence of the Void. He felt a line of energy between the portal and the crystal. Then he had an idea.
Although he couldn’t move his body, Tristan’s mind was clear. He focused all of his will on the crystal. A thick cord of darkness emerged the cloud. The crystal was the key. The weak spot.
The magic in the crystal was clear and sharp. The cord of darkness took shape now—that of a sinister, fanged serpent. The power in the crystal filled Tristan’s mind. He opened something deep within himself and in the crystal. The power within it faltered and shuddered, and it burst apart in Leif’s hand.
The magus shrieked as the linnorm lurched forward and devoured him. It turned to Tristan, but already the portal was unraveling. With a stone-rending shriek, the linnorm dissolved into ribbons of darkness and the portal closed with a clap like thunder. Tristan collapsed, unconscious, to the floor.
He awoke outside the cave not knowing how much time had passed. Aurora and Indigo stood over him.
“Where the hell did you go?” Aurora yelled.
“Just off banishing a linnorm,” Tristan said as he staggered to his feet. “You know, what they sent us here to do.”
“They sent us to do shit,” Indigo said, “And that’s what we did. I need a beer. Fucking Vikings!” He stormed off to the car.
“You can tell me what happened after we get back to the inn,” Aurora said. “And after I finish a big bottle of wine.”
Tristan smiled weakly as Aurora helped him to the car. “I’ll have another mead,” he said. “It’s what all the dragon slayers are drinking you know.”