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Ragnar was out of breath, a position he rarely found himself in, despite his enormous size. He stood nearly 7-foot tall and was nicknamed 'the Bear' due to his bulk and size. He wielded a two-handed battle axe in one hand and a claymore in the other, all while wearing full battle armor and warpaint. He was ferocious on the battlefield and had never lost a fight. His body was pockmarked with scars. His long beard was braided with tales of his victories.
Yet here he stood, panting for air, his weapons sheathed. He was a man on a mission: the North had fallen to a Horde and there was no one left to stop it.
The battles over the last year had grown in intensity and frequency. The Northmen - a hardy people, consisting of dozens of tribes - had even put aside their blood feuds to deal with this new menace. The Hawk, Wolf, and Crow tribes had all been wiped out before the severity of the matter had been realized. By then, it had almost been too late to unite the other clans under one banner. Villages had been abandoned as they pulled back to form one front against the Horde. But even that had not been enough.
Scouts from the Horde had infiltrated behind their lines and took out every messenger that was sent to the South asking for reinforcements from the 'Southerners' - from the 'civilized' nations in the south. And then the Horde had closed in from all sides. How they had managed to flank the Northmen was still a mystery to Ragnar but it did not matter.
The Northern King - the one man who the tribes had agreed to lead them - had gathered his greatest warriors together one night, Ragnar among them. They were each given a scroll that would hold merit in the courts of the south and were sent on their way - to fight their way through enemy lines and make it to the South. There was no hope for the Northmen but at least they could try and warn the rest of humankind.
So Ragnar had gone, knowing his death would not be beside that of the King, not this day. And the fighting had been fierce - they had the element of surprise with them and the darkness to shroud them - but the Horde was many. In the chaos that ensued, Ragnar did not know who else had made it through as he had but they all knew what they were to do, where they were to go. So he had run - all through the night and the next day and the next night. And now, in the early hours of the next morning, he was gasping for breath, on a small game trail through the woods.
He wasn't quite sure where he was, just that he was heading southwards. The air was already heavier, the temperature warmer, than it was in the North. The birds were different and he had seen footprints on the game path, speaking that there at least southern hunters in the area. But he would need to rest soon, to eat and drink, before he would be able to continue on his journey.