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The Mason Accords

The bite from the frosted winds felt colder than John was accustomed to. The winter world stood still, save the gentle snowfall that bounced around him. He had traveled this road many times before although never stopped to enjoy the view. Now was different, as he searched for the most beautiful spot he could find.

Howling made by strong winds whispered dark secrets to John that only he could understand. Everything had changed, and nothing would ever be the same for him. John was a strong man, and one could say he rarely shed a tear, but today he wept for his loved ones. He vowed to do right by them, and that started by going to Anvilmar.

Anvilmar, although mostly dwarf country, was known to be one of the deadliest territories in the Frozen Feilds. John felt confident in his trusty sled dogs to get them there as fast as possible but still feared for their safety. The place they were going to was ruthless to outsiders and where some say ancient beasts still roamed free. This expedition may be John's last, but at this point, he had nothing left to lose.

John couldn't have been more than one day's journey from the southern mountain range of Anvilmar. It was at this point in his journey where he had to decide either to let his dogs stop and rest for the night or push along through until morning. The choice was made difficult by the swirling black cloud mass on the oncoming horizon. Staying now would mean that it would take longer to complete his mission. Resting out in the open at night left them all vulnerable, but nature had made the choice for him.

With a heavy sigh, he commanded his fleet of dogs to stop and rest for the night. When every last pup sat in the snow surrounding the sled, John stepped off to reach for his saddle bag. He had wanted to hunt a fresh kill for his trusted companions, but tough beef jerky and day-old bread would have to do. John didn't pack much for this trip through the tundra, just the load on the sled and the clothes on his back.

He had always carried his trusted hammer at his hip that he used to protect himself. One thing that he never took on this trip before was a long barreled rifle. John had come across it in his days of trading with the dwarven colonies. By the looks of it, John was much stockier than the average man. Years of running through rough terrain and swinging the hammer gave him a considerable strength and iron build.

John breathed heavy as a cloud of white mist appeared and disappeared in front of his face. The dogs had all but finished their meals and where softly whining as they scavenged for crumbs in the snow. Lately, the nights have been getting increasingly worse as time went on and he did not look forward to this night. After lighting a fire, he laid down a thick leather cot at the edge of his sled for him and his dogs and waited for dusk.

Sometime in the night, John awoke to the sounds of his dogs viciously growling the dark. With a quick hand to his rifle, he peered out into the blackness and saw a dozen glowing eyes staring back at him. The returning snarls coming from the creatures confirmed Johns worst nightmare; a pack of wolves had discovered them. Even with his greatest fear before him, John's mind went to Sarah.

He saw her standing in their store, her back turned, and John could make out the royal purple ribbon that held together her auburn locks. John saw her turn and caught the moment she realized that he had come back from his journey. The memory of Sarah's smile and the way her eyes lit up caused John to gasp in agony. Then he heard her voice saying, "take me to the lights, John," which brought everything back into focus.

John was reminded that this could not be the end of him and he had to take Sarah to the Anvilmar Lights. He was going to take her there even if it killed him. This was it, the moment his back was against the wall and a chance to be with his love once again. With a savage roar, John let out several shots into the night and charged forward with his pack following close behind him.
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Zabajin walked the mountainside a few miles north of Frostmane Hold in search for personal solitude. He did not expect to hear the sound of gunshots so close to his village, and it stopped him in his tracks. The dwarves and the trolls were in constant conflict, but the last thing the troll chieftain would expect is for his enemies to be so brazen.

By the time Zabajin reached the noise, he had caught the end of a vicious bloodbath between man and beast. The troll warrior watched in utter fascination as a human hulk of a man beat down a wolf with his bare hands. Never had he ever witnessed someone fighting more for their life than what he had just seen. The stranger hand single-handedly, with the help of his dogs, beat down an entire pack.

The site of the bloodbath excited the chieftain as the man possessed the warrior spirit within him. When the battle was over the remaining pack had seen the writing on the wall and had disappeared into the frosted night. Many of the man's dogs had abandoned the fight entirely and were left to the wild now— all that remained where a few faithful dogs and their human master, bleeding out in the snow.

Just like that, the night was quiet once again; the balance of nature restored. Zabajain broke the tranquil space with the hiss of his leather strap releasing his six-inch hunting knife. His curiosity was like a devil sitting on his shoulder, and the chief had to get a closer look at the massacre. Zabajin crouched low to the ground and crept silently towards the group until he was standing above a canine laying in a pool of its blood.

The sled dog was miniature in comparison to his wolf mount, Lola-Jang. The troll warrior dropped to his knee and let out a deep sigh. "Sorry this happened to ya," he said as he tenderly stroked the dogs head, "ya fought well for ya master and will die in honor." Without another word, the dog let out a final whimper and became silent forever with the help of Zabajins blade.

By the time the chieftain had gotten to the man, he didn't expect for there to be any evidence of life remaining, he was surprised to find otherwise. The man was bleeding all over, but most severely around his throat. It was a gruesome sight and a miracle that the human was still breathing.  

The man had a beard that was thick with blood and ebony eyes that stared up at Zabajin filled with agony and bewilderment. Not many humans encounter trolls and live to tell the tale, so this could have very well been the human's first time he had ever laid eyes on someone like the chieftain. It was unfortunate that the last thing the human would see would be a troll and not his family. Zabajin put his blade high over the man's head and was prepared to bring the knife down upon him when the troll caught a blue glimmer of light in front of him.

A  figure of a great white stag, the likes of which he never saw before, stood only a few feet away and was slowly approaching. Zabajin stood still in shock that a giant beast was able to come so close undetected. However, there was something even more unnerving about this stag than its surprise arrival, it had a supernatural appeal that captivated Zabajin. When it was only a few inches away, it stopped and lowered its head in front of the chief and stood calmly. The eyes of the white stag had an unnatural blue glow, and the beast looked deep into the troll warriors’ eyes for several seconds.

To Zabajin, those seconds seemed like centuries, as everything was made clear to him. The beast before him was none other than Apa'ro, a powerful and wise Lola, or ancient guardian who took the form of an enormous white stag. According to the seer, Apa'ro was one of the first living beings and long ago, he roamed the land as the protector of nature. Apa'ro's power lay in life itself, and he is responsible for the creation and nurturing of nature in the old world.

Zabajin recognized the stag, although he did not understand why it had revealed itself to him. The troll warrior was further puzzled when Apa'ro turned his attention from him to the man bleeding in the snow. The great stag nuzzled his nose against the man’s skull, gave his human face a lick with his enormous tongue, and then looked back at Zabajin. The chief's eyes widened when he finally interpreted what Apa'ro had wanted from him. "Ya can't be serious?" Zabajin huffed as he sat down hard in the snow, "why me?" he said shaking his head.

With a spoken shaman incantation, Zabajin summoned a Healing Stream Totem next to the human. This particular totem was new to the troll warrior, and he had only learned it for Orihime. The Healing Stream Totem was a wooden post, standing a little over two feet tall. It had a set of horns on top, wings on its side, and painted face with a water seal on its front. A steady stream of mana rippled out from the totem, creating a flow of waves that healed whatever was in its radius.  

Slowly the man's wounds started to stabilize, but he would need more attention than this. Apa'ro only stayed for a short time after, before casting a nod of satisfaction to the troll and disappearing back into the cold. The chief sat in uncertainty as to the authenticity of what had just happened and contemplated what he would do next. Even with the help of his Healing Stream Totem, it was not enough to guarantee the man's life. In any case, even though Zabajin had spared the human, he had no idea what he was to do with him now.

The troll knew one thing for sure, and that was that they wouldn't survive through the night if they stayed out in the open. Zabajin called his dire wolf mount Lola-Jang to him and walked over to the sled the man had arrived in. It was relatively small with only one large bundle loaded onto it. The chief figured he could remove the load on the sled and pull the man with his mount to safety. As Zabajin placed his hands on the load, he was surprised to hear the stranger speak.

Even though John welcomed the darkness that followed his defeat, the sentiment was bittersweet. He had failed in death, just as he had in life. All he ever wanted was to give Sarah everything she needed. John worked tirelessly, trekked through vast, borderless wastelands, and even now, he had beat down ferocious beasts, but it was never enough; Sarah deserved more. John thought that the only justice his wife would receive, was his own long and painful death.

When he felt himself begin to fade away, a face of a troll kept the fire lit a bit longer. John had never seen a troll before, and everything he had heard, pointed to that being a blessing. Yet, there he lay in the snow, face to face with a ferocious looking monster.

The troll was absolutely menacing, with two long tusks, and blood red war paint that covered his face below his pointed nose. John recognized immediately that the troll was not an average, run of the mill troll, and he had never been more afraid. Before the man could see any more, he lost vision and was ready to greet death.

Death was not in John's future this day and his eyes opened again to see a magnificent white stag walk into the forest beyond. John could feel waves of energy envelop him and his strength slowly return. He looked to see the troll hovering over his sled next to a colossal timber wolf.

"Sarah!" John thought to himself in a panic and dug his fist into the snow. While there was still life in his body, John vowed to protect to her and he struggled to cry out, "Wait!” while forcing himself upright.

The troll stopped, but kept his back to him and let out a chuckle. His wolf was not as candid and let out a deep and rumbling growl. John was shocked to see the troll turn around slowly, with his hands in the air, and with a cheshire smile. “Wait?” he asked, “wait until ya dead?” The troll shrugged his shoulders and motioned his wolf to stand down, before continuing, “Ya want to die that badly?”

John was ready to die, but he was not ready yet. He spat out blood and forced air out of his lungs, ”Not until I bury my wife and son,” John’s voice broke and he stopped to take another breath, Then I can die.” It was the first time he had talked about his wife aloud and it was more painful than John imagined it would be.

The troll stroked his chin and hung on every word that John said. He approached John and crouched in the snow, “Go on,” the troll encouraged him. So John told him about his wife’s wish to be buried underneath the Anvimlar Lights. Sarah had written it on a piece paper that she had pressed, dried, and made herself. His wife was incredibly talented and to her husband John, she had a beauty inside her like no other.

Whenever John came home from the Frozen Fields, Sarah would beg him to tell her every detail. She had never seen the snow before and he always promised to take her there, but he never got around to it, not before she died. After John had told the troll all about his vow to take his wife to see the lights, the two unlikely pair sat quietly in the snow together. It was like neither of them knew exactly what to do next and it took the troll’s deep sigh to break the silence. 

The troll took a long look at John, then asked, “What ya name be then human?” He told the troll that his name was John and reached for the troll’s extended hand. He then learned that this troll was called Zabajin, who introduced himself as the leader of the Frostmane Tribe. With the help from the troll, John stood to his feet and grimaced in pain from his wounds. The troll frowned hard at the man and questioned, “Ya won’t make it to sunrise like dis human.”

“I don’t care about seeing tomorrow troll,” John snapped back, “and I will bury my family tonight.”

The troll called Zabajin flashed a devilish grin to John once more and called his wolf to him. Zabajin put a hand on his shoulder and said, “You will bury your family tonight.” Without another word, the troll helped John upon his wolf mount and attached his sled. 
[Image: 2hwmr21.jpg]

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