Bolthorn the Cursed Raider Skin

Although he carried the signature axe of a Raider, Jarl Bolthorn gained a reputation among his people by killing his enemies with his bare hands. Such was the reason they took to calling him “Raven-Hands.” A brutal ruler dedicated to his people, Bolthorn grew tired of his clan’s constant losses. Each passing year, he saw his people grapple with natural catastrophes, dastardly invasions, brutal wars and dwindling resources. Seeking to put an end to their constant plight, Bolthorn left his throne, swearing he would one day return with the means of salvation.

For years, the Viking explored territories west of Heathmoor. In the vastness of the desert, he stumbled upon an old temple, half-buried in the sand. There, he found the Scarab Bracelet, a magical artifact that once belonged to a great civilization. Bolthorn brought the relic back to his people -- but an ancient curse laid dormant in the bracelet. Now his people suffer more than ever before, and Bolthorn is cursed to walk the lands of his dying home as the bracelet’s dark magic slowly takes hold of him.

The Sands of Ruin

Part I.

The sun was its apex, bearing down on Bolthorn with the might of a burning god. The hood he had fashioned himself out of an old blanket threatened to come down with every slap of the ceaseless wind. Still, the Raider held on to it, and still he walked. The wind should have offered a reprieve from the heat and the sun but, in the desert, it was just one more obstacle to overcome. His skin was red from constant exposure to the light, his lips cracked from lack of water. His muscles ached with every movement. How he longed for the cool breeze of Valkenheim, for the snow-capped mountains on the horizon, for the refreshing taste of mead. And for the touch of anything against his skin that wasn’t as coarse as this miserable sand. It all seemed so far away. Another world. Another life. This was no place for a Viking, and yet he had come all this way of his own free will.

Long ago – he didn’t even remember how long ago – he had left home behind with a sole promise: no longer would his people know suffering. His clan were a proud bunch, but they had endured so much in so little time. Constant war had claimed the lives of family, friends and brothers-in-arms. The elements themselves had caused ceaseless ravages. Too many bodies had been buried – and far too few cries of victory had reverberated through their halls. It was time to put an end to the slaughter, to the losses. It was time for the Vikings to know glory once more. And if glory couldn’t be found back home, then he would find it somewhere else.

Bolthorn had ventured further than any other from his clan. But after all this time, he still hadn’t found anything of note. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There was one thing: the Scarab Bracelet. Not too long ago, the Raider had made friends with a stranger while exploring an ancient tomb. Bolthorn had nearly fallen into a lethal trap, but he had been saved by the stranger. The two men then found the resting place of the mythical bracelet. The stranger had said the bracelet held the power to restore life. But he had also explained that this was not a power meant for mortal men, and that it should not be disturbed from the hallowed grounds in which it lay. In payment for his life saved, the Viking had agreed.

Now Bolthorn was headed home, empty-handed. He contemplated his return to Valkenheim, and wondered how his people would greet him. Would they be happy to see him? Or would they look upon him with nothing but disappointment and resentment?

Before he could decide on an answer, the Raider was snapped out of his heat-induced haze by half-a-dozen Desert Brigands who emerged from their hiding places. Buried in the sand a moment ago, they had sprung to their feet in blinding clouds of dust, and were now attacking their solitary prey.

The Brigands shrieked in a tongue he didn’t understand – but he didn’t need to. War was a language he understood, no matter where he was. The truth was, he was anxious for a fight. He had spent far too much time walking and exploring. He raised the axe he had long used as a walking stick, its bladed glinting in the sunlight, and Bolthorn responded in kind. He dodged and blocked the slashes of the Brigands’ swords, lopping off the head of the enemy closest to him. But that hit cost him, and two others struck him from the back. Bolthorn fell to his knees, but managed to crush the head of one of his attackers with his bare hands. The cuts on his skin were deep, but he fought through the pain. Armed with his axe and a sword from one of his victims, Bolthorn killed two more. Then another. And finally, the last brigand tumbled down a dune, never to get back up again. Under the scorching sun, Bolthorn stood triumphant, drenched in the blood of his enemies. A momentary refreshment from the sun: ruby-red rain that reinvigorated him.

Still, the wounds he had sustained were bad – worse than he cared to admit. He knew he would never make it back home in this state. He needed help. And in this godforsaken desert, there was only one thing that could truly heal him… something that could restore his life.

Bothorn Raven-Hands, proud and mighty Viking, killed by measly Brigands? That was unacceptable. He needed to survive this. He had been too close to yet another defeat. Another loss. How many more losses could he endure? How many could his clan?

No. No more. Now was the time for victory. For him and for his people. He wouldn’t go home without his prize. Valkenheim would have to wait for him, just a little longer. First, he had to go back. Debts and promises be damned – the Scarab Bracelet was his to take.

Part II.

Bolthorn’s hair danced in the ocean wind. Standing at the ship’s bow, he took it all in – the sights he had longed to be reunited with for years. After what had felt like an eternity in the desert, the outline of the River Fort filled him with a happiness he hadn’t expected. Hand firmly grasped on the edge of the boat, he looked at the Scarab Bracelet wrapped around his wrist. He recalled the warmth it filled him with when it healed his wounds, and the strength he felt when he saw it glow on his arm. With this relic, he would restore his clan’s glory. With it, everyone would revere the name of the fearless Raider, Bolthorn Raven-Hands.

Securing the bracelet had been easier than anticipated. After he had returned to the ancient tomb where he had first laid eyes on it, he had known to avoid all the traps that nearly cost his life the first time around. A part of him did feel bad for taking something he had sworn, on his honor, to leave untouched. But the situation was too dire. The fate of his people depended on this artifact. He had to bring an end to their misery – and a broken promise seemed like a fair price to pay for such deliverance.

After his ship docked, he disembarked; his boots, still sandy from his faraway trek, finally touching down on familiar soil. It was all as he had left it. The soft sound of waves. The dewy-sweet smell of flowers in the air. The verdant lands growing brighter under the sunlight – each the telltale sign of a fruitful spring. His return felt well-timed: it was a season of rebirth, and so too would he bring his people a new beginning.

A few villagers looked at him with surprise as he passed them by, pulling two heavy trunks of treasures behind him. Some whispered between each other. Others had looks of worry on their faces. It left the Raider apprehensive as he continued his lonely trek, reaching the entrance to the main castle. Beyond these stone walls laid his throne. But out came someone he hadn’t expected: the hulking Warlord known as Njal, wearing a new armor and flaunting a new posture that confirmed the Raider’s worry: in his absence, Njal had replaced him as leader of the clan. Clearly, not everything was as he had left it.

Visibly unimpressed with Bolthorn’s return, Njal didn’t hesitate to sic two guards on him. Realizing that he had left his axe back on the ship, Bolthorn heaved one of the caskets onto the guard on his left, golden treasures from afar spilling out of it, and he threw himself at the other. He stole his weapon and killed both men, before turning his attention to his “successor.”

“You shouldn’t have come back,” Njal said in a raspy voice, grasping his sword.

Bolthorn steadied his hand, shook his head. “And you should have remembered your place,” he answered.
The people gathered in a tight circle around the two Vikings as they charged at one another. For a moment, there wasn’t a single sound in the village, save for the grunts and yells of the two warriors, and the cacophony of metal against metal. The Warlord attempted to live up to the reputation that had seen him assume Bolthorn’s throne, but it was no use – the Raider was fighting with a passion and ferocity that couldn’t be matched. After all, he wasn’t fighting for his throne; he was fighting for his people. After deflecting, he stabbed Njal through the stomach, and pulled the blade out from his side. Blood gushed out in the dirt, creating a pool the Warlord’s lifeless body silently fell into.

The crowd didn’t make a sound, and neither did Bolthorn. He simply knelt beside the body of his opponent, and lay his hand on him. The Scarab Bracelet began to glow gold, just like it had done when he had first put it on. This time, the light moved through his arm, and onto Njal. With a sudden shock that left the people stunned, the Warlord spat a miraculous breath as he returned to life.

Rising to his feet, Bolthorn threw up his first into the air, and showed off the bracelet to the stunned crowd.

“Behold,” he exclaimed, “the means of our salvation!” The circle grew tighter around Bolthorn as he spoke. “With this weapon, I will make our clan great once again.” He turned, speaking to all with the conviction of a triumphant king. “We will not fear death. It will answer to us!” Approving murmurs between villagers grew louder. “It is time for all of Heathmoor,” he continued, “to learn the true might of Valkenheim.”

With both arms extended to his side, palms raised, channeling the rage of his forebears themselves, he declared: “The time of the Vikings has come!”
Then came the cheers.

Part III.

In Ashfeld, a farmer cried over his dead cattle, all of whom had perished overnight.

In The Myre, a young girl harvested dust from her family’s garden.

In Valkenheim, a Raider woke from his slumber, a sharp sensation in his arm…

The entire week had been filled with revelry. For six days, Bolthorn ate and drank like he never had before and, every night, he fell asleep with a heart filled with the adoration of his people. His heroic return had sparked hope in his people, something he knew they hadn’t felt in a long time. None seemed to mourn the end of Njal’s rule. Bolthorn was the rightful ruler of the clan, and he had more than secured his authority by killing the Warlord in front of the people – and bringing him back to life in miraculous fashion. Every night, as the people feasted, Bolthorn filled the halls with tales of his travels beyond the borders of Heathmoor – tales of barren landscapes, broken empires, felled enemies… and stolen treasure. Some looked at the Scarab Bracelet on his arm like they would a sacred altar. Others dared not even look at it, lest they give Bolthorn the impression they would attempt to take it from him. They all believed it was the source of a new power – one that he meant to share with them all.

After the last night of celebration, Bolthorn fell into a deep sleep. In his dream, he walked through the desert, a golden sea without beginning or end. A dark shadow covered him from the sun, wherever he went -- only there was nothing in the sky. Behind him, there was a figure on the horizon. Someone following him? It was impossible to say: the shadow was only getting darker.

The pain snapped him awake. Had he been sleeping only for a few minutes? Or hours? He couldn’t tell. His hand felt numb. He shook it ceaselessly, sensation slowly coming back like pins prickling his fingertips. Rays of light were creeping through the windows, but not as bright as they usually did at this hour. He guessed light clouds were gathering in the sky. But when he headed outside, hoping to catch the gleaming sunshine on the water, he realized it was much more than that. A thick haze filled the air, a golden veil that seemed to suffocate his surroundings. It almost felt like he could touch it, but when he reached his hand out, his fingers clasped at nothing but emptiness. And the emptiness, he realized, stretched beyond that. He felt it inside of him, deep in his chest. His breaths appeared to shorten, and panic slowly took hold of him.

He ran to the shore, hoping to splash water on his face. Instead, when he got there, he saw something that defied belief: the water, reaching and retreating calmly against the surface of the beach, had turned red. From one end of the horizon to the other. Frightened, Bolthorn stumbled backwards and fell. He picked himself back up and broke into a full sprint, towards the center of the fort. Horror struck him as he realized that the passage was littered with lifeless bodies. He stopped to check on one, only to find the villager’s eyes black and their empty face ashen. The grass that was yesterday green was now grey, and it crumbled to dust under his footsteps.

The pain in his arm shot out once again and this time, it brought him to his knees. Foaming at the mouth, Bolthorn looked at his wrist. The bracelet had latched into his skin in a vicious, almost bone-crushing manner. His skin creased under its talons and tore – but he did not bleed. Instead, a blackness had begun to spread through his veins.

Without reason or proof, he knew what he had done. The stranger from the tomb had told him the bracelet’s power was not meant for mortal men. And here he was, finding out exactly what happened when one man fancied himself a god. He believed he had brought back glory – but all he had delivered was more pain. More misery.

Hoping to put a quick end to this affliction, Bolthorn attempted to remove the bracelet. But not matter what he did, it did not move. Desperate, eyes bloodshot and tears falling down his cheeks, he found a nearby sword on the ground; likely dropped by one of the dead bodies around him. He grabbed the handle tightly, and placed his other hand firmly against the soil. Taking several long, deep breaths, he prepared himself for the torment to come.

Letting out a deep, guttural scream, he brought the blade down on his forearm. The shockwave took him by surprise. The collision blasted the sword backwards, shattered in pieces, and brought Bolthorn down on his back, the wind knocked out from his lungs.

Defeated, the Raider got back on his feet, and looked hopelessly at the devastation around him. A horrendous painting of red and gold. And its title was death.

The bracelet had a will of its own. It wouldn’t be removed. It wouldn’t destroyed. A price had to be paid.

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