Valhalla was a well known center of revelry in Asgard. Valaskjalf was the high seat of the Brown Wizard, Voltam, or Odin as he is more commonly known. Odin is noted for his wisdom and knowledge of traditions lost in ages past, and his magic deals mostly in the Astral realm. He is notorious for having an appetite for mead, women and violence, though not necessarily in that order. His nightly feasts are legendary… no, not legendary, infamous. Since Veriand's father had been a Viking, Odin welcomed him into the clan happily, leaving a standing invitation to visit anytime. Veriand resents but tolerates his anonymous father's heritage. Rape by a pillaging berserker isn't the sort of memory his mother cherished. If Veriand ever discovered his father's identity, he'd probably kill him.

As the travelers emerged from the wooded path in front of the keep the gates swung open and a young Viking descended with his arms wide in greeting. His long blonde hair framed a youthful clean shaven face that was lit up in a bright smile. He was tall and lean but had broad shoulders. His fur covered boots were cross gartered over tight brown leather breeches and his matching fur vest was wrapped in a wide belt with three daggers sheathed on either side of a gold buckle. His broad sword was strapped to his back and a large red stone in the hilt winked in the sunlight.

His crisp blue eyes sparkled as he descended the stairs, "Veriand, brother!" Magnus said brightly. "It has been too long since we have seen you at Valaskjalf!"

"Magnus," Veriand grinned at his colleague, "I haven't seen you since the last Gatekeepers' council. Spending all your time here then, sampling Odin's Valkyries and mead?"

Magnus didn't seem to hear the comment as he paused and stared at Veriand's companions, quite distracted by the young woman they were guarding. She boldly returned his gaze but stepped a little closer to the dark Elf beside her.

Finally Magnus returned his attention to Veriand, "Odin called me here just this morning, apparently the Guardians are up in arms about something. He wants to speak with me after the feast." He looked back at Laurel, and smiled warmly.

Brolyn stepped in front of Laurel to shield her from Magnus' overt perusal gaining a glare from the Viking Gatekeeper. Veriand just sighed at the obvious posturing and interrupted it with an introduction.

"Magnus, this is Lord Brolyn, highest leader of the Dark Elves of Arcadia." Veriand said.

"From Mt. Yildun? What brings you north, and who is this vision you hide from me?" Magnus demanded.

"I have come to speak with Odin, not to banter with an arrogant Gatekeeper…" Brolyn's retort was interrupted by Veriand.

"Lady Laurel is Duke Rhyvôs' daughter from Eton Harbor," Veriand answered quickly to diffuse the brewing fight. He had business on his mind and shifted the conversation right to it. "Their troubles concern me. I fear the enemy has begun the war right under our noses. Those in power are oblivious to the danger, or worse, some may be part of it. Infineon will divide and return to the chaos of the Age of Shadow."

"Silence!" Magnus warned, "Do not speak in the open of such things. You asked where I have been spending my time; there is much to tell you."

"The time has come to gather the Council," Veriand said evenly.

Magnus frowned, caught Veriand by the arm, dragging him away from his companions and lowered his voice, "Our last meeting took place over a hundred years ago, need I remind you of our discussions? Nashira brought up face creams, Girflet spun endless stories of Camelot and Yric sat in a corner and brooded."

"There was no danger then," Veriand said defensively. "We need to bring them into this. As Gatekeepers, we are the only ones without divided loyalties."

"You have more trust than I, my sentimental Elf. Yric worries me," Magnus said flatly. "Anyone who works for the Mistress of Tartarus cannot be neutral."

"That is where you are wrong, Magnus. Yric Von Zybrux is the only one among us who is truly without divided loyalties. He doesn't trust anyone."

Magnus still didn't like it, "After the feast, when I've endured Odin's messages of woe, we will go to the Ring and call the others."

"Good, and we will bring them with us," Veriand said as he turned back to his companions.


"They are in the middle of the conspiracy and do not know it."

Magnus sighed in resignation, "Fine."

Veriand was annoyed by Magnus' tone. "Brolyn, come here," he said and paused while Brolyn joined them. He gave Magnus a smug look and just said, "Show him the pouch."

Brolyn complied and Magnus recognized the symbol instantly. He paled and handed it back, "This is more serious than I thought. We my have waited too long to act."

"You know what this is?" Brolyn demanded.

"Symbol of the Dark Star," Magnus said.

Veriand frowned, "The third star is a myth."

"No, the third star is no myth, the Guardians know the truth. Only one of them would know this symbol for what it is," Magnus said seriously.

"Then how do you know it?" Brolyn asked suspiciously.

Magnus just shrugged, "I never kiss and tell…"

Veriand just rolled his eyes and pointed toward the hall, "Let's get this feast over with."

On the shores of the Emanon River, Vorgyn's ships lined up for loading of supplies and warriors. Among those joining him were Goblins, Trolls, Satyrs, Dark Elves and Pirates. It was an eclectic collection of Infineon riff raff and it warmed his heart to see it.

"Fart!" Vorgyn barked.

Fart ran over to him, "You bellowed?"

Vorgyn wrinkled his nose against the stench making him even more irritable, "Where is your Mistress?"

As if on cue, a woman stepped out of a crowd of goblins and answered, "I am here, clumsy Elf!"

Vorgyn turned and slowly smiled. Wrapped in a rich black cloak was a woman of obvious grace and beauty. Her figure was most pleasing and her eyes seemed to burn him with their intensity. She withdrew her hood and Vorgyn just smirked. Who else could it possibly have been?

"Lady Malice," he chuckled, "I might have known. Are the fires of Tartarus not enough for you?"

Shayde gave him one of her well practiced sensual smiles, though her words were icy, "You disappoint me, Vorgyn. Such a shame… I find Elves so… enticing. But I can hardly reward you for your numerous failures."

Vorgyn recognized her game, "Perhaps I can make amends," he said huskily as he stepped closer to her and pulled her into his arms leaning down close to her ear. "Appease your wrath in some…" he paused, tracing her lobe with his tongue and pressed his already bulging arousal against her hip, "…other way." He finally finished his sentence.

Shayde moaned with pleasure, "Just tell me you killed the human and all will be forgiven," she said breathlessly.

Vorgyn abruptly drew back, "Brolyn took her away, no one knows where."

Shayde slapped him, "Fool! Your carelessness will ruin all my plans. Bring me the Stone! I'll have to deal with this rotten little wench myself!"

Vorgyn was confused as to why a human was so important, but he wasn't about to argue the point now. Shayde was in no mood to be gainsaid. "As you command, my Lady Guardian."

Shayde slowly smiled with a wicked glint in her eyes, "Good, now take me to your cabin and start begging for my forgiveness properly."

Vorgyn grinned, "My pleasure."

Shayde just reached over and rubbed his firm bulge enticingly, "It had better be mine."

Duke Rhyvôs chartered a ferry to carry his party back to Eton with all speed. When they finally moored back in their harbor Rhyvôs stormed into his castle with Odo on his heels. He wasn't sure what his next move was going to be, but his first destination was the dungeons.

"You'd best meet with the guards and council members to prepare for another attack. I have a feeling we are overdue for more trouble," Rhyvôs said with a hard edge to his tone.

Odo scowled, "I'll accompany you to the treasure vault first, if for no other reason than to keep you from doing something rash."

Rhyvôs rolled his eyes, "I am fortunate to have you as my captain, but I do not need you to be my conscience."

The pair descended the long stair into the sub floors of the old keep. These musty old rooms dated back much farther than the current castle and were now mostly unused, but they were still just as ominously grisly as in ages past. The Duke wound through hidden passages until he came to a dead end. He paused, giving Odo a firm glare.

"I expect you to keep this knowledge in confidence," Rhyvôs warned.

"Open it," Odo said in annoyance, "Save your false concerns over my loyalty."

Rhyvôs tripped a hidden switch and the wall opened revealing a small hidden chamber. The room was completely bare except for a small stone table in the center where an intricately carved wood chest sat. The Duke opened it and then went pale.

"It's gone," he whispered in shock.

"What?" Odo exclaimed, "How? Only you have access to these rooms…"

Rhyvôs paused a moment, suddenly recalling a conversation he'd had with his daughter their last day in Eton…

"I fear leaving it behind and I fear taking it with us," he had confided.

"Leave it and be at peace, father, it is well hidden. No one will know where it is," Laurel had said with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Oh, Laurel!" he said sadly, as he realized what she must have done, "I hope that she and the treasure are safe."

Odo's heart dropped into his stomach at the thought, "Infineon is doomed."

Laurel entered the hall on Brolyn's arm, tucked close to his side. He'd ordered his warriors too keep close ranks around her, and they were all on guard for trouble. He'd warned her to keep her hood up and not to make eye contact with anyone. She surveyed the room, taking in the boisterous conversations of the warriors who'd already drank too much mead. They were all in good spirits, especially Odin who was seated on the dais with several Valkyries fawning over him. He had long gray hair and an even longer beard and his aged features seemed even older for the eye patch her wore. His one eye seemed glazed over as he drained mug after mug of mead, laughing and jesting with his men. But as she watched him, he met her eyes with a mischievous grin. She quickly turned away, taking her seat beside Brolyn and feigning interest in the meal. It would be a mistake to underestimate the old Wizard; that was plain.

Brolyn glanced around the room spotting Thor immediately. Their eyes met and Brolyn inwardly cringed at Thor's dangerously playful grin. There was no help for it, they were going to scuffle. Thor rose from his seat and crossed the room like a man on a mission, but his greeting was light and cordial.

"Brolyn? What brings the Dark Elf Lord to Valhalla?" Thor asked lightly.

"Just a brief visit, I'm afraid. I am here with Veriand who needed a moment of Odin's wisdom…" Brolyn said vaguely.

Thor glanced back at Odin, still flirting with several Valkyries and swilling mead. "Ah, yes. His wisdom is most apparent this night," he said dryly.

"I noticed, "Brolyn chuckled.

Thor finally glanced at Brolyn's companions and gave Laurel his full attention. "Good Even, fair Lady…" he paused mid greeting and looked at Brolyn curiously. "You brought your own companionship? The Valkyries will be jealous. They were all most accommodating on your last visit and speak most fondly of you."

Brolyn glared at him, "That was a long time ago, Thor. I have settled down now." He kissed Laurel's hand and smiled proudly, "This is Laurel."

Thor looked at her with scrutiny and then reached out and brushed her hood back. His reaction was abrupt, "A Human? Oh, you didn't… you bloody rascal…" he stuttered in shock. "Then it is true…"

Brolyn stifled a growl as he got to his feet and leaned close to Thor's face, "My Lady is the finest woman in Arcadia and I'll quarrel with any man who insult's her!" he grit out, barely controlling his volume.

"I've no quarrel with you Elf," Thor said lightly. "My lady, you must truly be an extraordinary Tribute to reform such a scoundrel, but do keep your eyes on him…"

"Damned Viking, curb that wagging tongue," Brolyn warned.

Thor frowned, but there was a glint in his eyes, "If I offend, then by all means, try to silence me."

Brolyn rolled his eyes, "Must we scuffle over naught?"

Thor slowly smiled, "You're the closest thing to a real challenge I've had since your last visit." He set down his hammer, spit in his palms and rubbed his hands together before raising his fists. His grin broadened and he cocked a brow at the Elf.

Brolyn just wordlessly unstrapped his sword and handed it to his guard, raised his fists and smiled back, "Very well, hammer boy. Bring it on."

Thor wasted no time, leading off with a respectable right cross squarely connecting with Brolyn's jaw. Brolyn's head jerked to the side, but he seemed barely affected by the blow. He grinned at his opponent as he kicked Thor's feet right out from under him. Thor tumbled and rolled right back to his feet quickly, chuckling and shaking his head.

"This is fisticuffs, not one of you drunken brawls," Thor said.

"Look who's talking," Brolyn shot back.

From then on it was all out war. They traded brutal blows relentlessly but appeared to be fairly evenly matched. Of course, right after their fight started, the entire hall erupted into a great brawl. Vikings lunged at each other biting, scratching, punching, kicking, yelling and laughing. Apparently, they were having a grand time.

Laurel was quite shocked by the display, but her attention was focused on Brolyn and Thor. She would never admit it, but she was impressed by the way he was handling the legendary Viking. With the hall in such an uproar, she never noticed anything else until a Valkyrie came over to speak to her.

"Welcome to Valhalla. I am Svafa," she said with a forced smile. "You are here with the Dark Elf?"

"Yes," Laurel said.

Svafa's expression was bland, "Oh… Well, Odin wants to talk to you." She just pointed to the dais and yawned, "He's over there."

Laurel ignored her rudeness and went to see the wizard. She'd barely reached his table when he pulled a chair out for her and offered a greeting.

"Welcome to Valhalla, Laurel of Eton," Odin said with a smile.

"How did you know my name, Lord Voltam?" she asked.

"Please, that is an old title, call me Odin," he said quickly. "A Wizard has many sources." He smiled and looked her over closely. Laurel was silent a moment, trying not to look nervous under his scrutiny. His expression suddenly turned serious, "You do not yet realize your importance. Carry your secret well, my lady. War is nearly upon us, and you and your Elf may save us much bloodshed."

"What can I do, Lord Odin?" she asked with wide eyes.

"You are much more a part of this than you know," Odin said and then he caught sight of a twinkle in her eyes, "but then, perhaps you do know."

Laurel slowly smiled, "I am just a woman, my lord."

Odin laughed as he glanced back at the fight. He sighed and took another drink from his mug, "I believe I feel better about the situation now." And that was all he said.

Laurel filled the awkward silence watching Brolyn and Thor's fight with shining eyes. "He is doing quite well against your champion," she said more to herself than to Odin.

Odin yawned, feigning boredom, "Last time those two fought I believe it was a draw, but today I think the Elf is trying to impress you. He seems to have the upper hand."

The feast, or brawl as it had become, went on into the early hours of morning before settling down. The Arcadians returned to the boat, but Veriand and Magnus remained to have conference with Odin.

"The uprising has begun," Odin said quietly, "An old nemesis has started organizing the revolt from the shadows."

"Shayde," Magnus said bitterly.

"I did not offer a name," Odin interjected.

"You didn't have to," Veriand said with a smirk.

Odin didn't deny it further as his expression turned angry, "Don't let her get the stone, and don't let her gain any more ground. She has too many followers as it is. The Gatekeepers may be our only hope."

Magnus rolled his eyes, "Yes, let us save the world all on our own…"

Odin scowled in annoyance, "From whence comes your power, Viking? Do not presume to complain! The wizards are too closely watched to interfere. Infineon's laws prohibit it."

"The laws prohibit a Guardian from abusing power, too," Veriand shot back.

Odin sighed as his expression softened, "I know, Elf, I know…"

It was nearly dawn when the Gatekeepers returned to the lake and boarded the boat. Neither looked overly happy, so Brolyn held his questions.

"Let's get out of here," Veriand said flatly.

"Where are you taking us?" Brolyn asked.

"The great Ring, my good Elf, the Gatekeeper's Ring," Magnus said stoically. "Veriand, it's your boat, open a gate. I'll call the others to meet us there."

Laurel felt a knot in her throat, "We're going to a Council meeting?"

Veriand glanced at her and recognized the terror on her face, "Gatekeepers are the good guys, remember?"

Laurel gulped and looked out over the water, "Not all of them," she muttered to herself.

The boat was once again wrapped in mist and Asgard was left far behind them. When the mist finally cleared, the boat sat on dry land in the middle of a dark wood.

"Leave your guards with the boat," Veriand said, but was interrupted.

"You order our leader about too freely, half breed," Ardryn said flatly with his arms crossed. "You have need of him, that is obvious."

Magnus just laughed at Veriand's indignant expression, "Oh, hang it all, Elf, take them all with us. They have nowhere to go."

Brolyn gave his guards a proud smile. They were his most loyal and trusted, Ardryn, the outspoken one, Gordryn, and the youngest Dyrg. He missed his brothers, especially Gyron, but these warriors were as loyal and true as any blood bound brother.


November 9, 1888

Yric never cared much for earth in general, but he often returned to England for a break from Infineon. It was the only way to be completely unreachable by Shayde or her irritating wizard, Falnyid. About the only way he could be interrupted on earth was if another Gatekeeper called him, which was not very likely.

He had been in London for only a few hours when he found his way to White Chapel's seediest tavern. He took a seat in a dark corner and ordered a pint of bitter. The barmaid delivered his drink and made an obvious offer for companionship. It was always thus in this depressed neighborhood. He was dressed too fine, giving the impression of money on the hunt for a discreet tumble.

"Not tonight," he said as politely as he could, but gave her a generous tip for the drink.

"Let me know if you change your mind," she said with a suggestive smile.

Yric just downed his drink and ordered another. Why did he keep coming back to this wretched world? Wasn't it enough to carry the memories without walking the same bloody soil? He drank his second pint and reached into his waistcoat pocket for his watch when he noticed a glow coming from the pocket where he kept his key.

"Damn," he muttered softly to himself as he wrapped his overcoat around himself and left the tavern. He hadn't been called in a long time. He had to find a quiet place to answer. Commercial Street was too busy, but just ahead was an archway leading to Miller's Court. He ducked through the archway and was relieved to find all quiet. He withdrew his key and scowled at it.

"What the devil do you want?" he whispered to the tiny glowing key.

"Council meeting at the Ring, Zybrux, it's urgent, hurry," Magnus' voice answered.

"What, right now?" Yric said in annoyance, and then sighed, "I'll be there."

The key's glow faded and Yric shoved it back in his pocket. There were too many residences here to risk opening a gate in the court; he'd have to find a park or something. As he turned to go, he heard a commotion and turned back to look. One window was dimly lit by candlelight, and the shadow cast on the opposite wall was shocking.

"What in Tartarus?" he muttered as he went to investigate. He looked in the window and his blood turned to ice in his veins. He'd never seen a murder so grisly in his life, the victim was barely recognizable as human anymore and the man standing over the body looked positively evil. Yric had heard the stories, read the papers, felt the city's fear, but this…

It could only be one person. He was too late to stop it, but he'd make damn sure this was the last victim. He waited for the man to leave, and he didn't have to wait long. Yric stood by the doorway with his key in hand as the man emerged.

"Jack the Ripper, I presume?" Yric said coldly.

The man stopped abruptly and looked at him with quiet fury, "Not a funny jest, sir," he answered calmly as his hand slipped into his pocket.

Yric could smell the blood on the man's dark coat; saw the red stains on his spats. He didn't hesitate; he just raised his key and opened the perfect gate. "Black Bog Marsh!" he said, and a door appeared right behind Jack. Yric knocked the murderer back against the door and twisted the handle. When the door swung open revealing a dank cesspool of endless bogs, Yric just shoved him through the gate. Jack the Ripper fell into a smelly murky bog with shock clear on his face.

"Murderer, you are caught, face your sentence…" Yric said as he slowly closed the door. He could already see the glowing yellow eyes of the bogs only residents gathering around their unexpected guest. Yric just chuckled as he latched the door and it disappeared in a light puff of mist, "Bon appetit, Bog Goblins…"

With that matter dealt with, Yric had to get back to the business at hand. That gate would no doubt have attracted attention. He slipped out of the court and disappeared into the shadows. He wondered what was so all fired important that the Viking would actually call him.

The Ring was not what Laurel expected at all. It was a stone table surrounded by five stone archways equally spaced in a circle. The whole 'Ring' was hidden by densely packed trees in a forest that she could only speculate as to the location. The chairs were little more than flat boulders… only five, each directly in front of an archway. Veriand and Magnus each took their seats.

"Don't stand right in front of the archways, leave the gates clear," Magnus said to their guests.

There was little time wasted on waiting, for one of the archways lit up in a translucent glow, and a young woman emerged into the Ring. Her hair was long, thick and black, and her attire was unfamiliar to Laurel. She immediately took her seat and glared at Magnus.

"You interrupted a very interesting performance," Nashira said.

"Sorry to ruin your social life, you spoiled Egyptian brat, but Zeus's parties are all the same and this is urgent," Magnus retorted quickly.

"I wasn't at Olympus; I was hanging out with Isis, Dianna and Venus, a sort of girl's night…"

"Yes, yes… very interesting, Nashira," Veriand interrupted, but didn't have to say more, for another gate opened and a tall blonde man strolled into the Ring.

He was dressed as a knight of the old realm and he was perfectly groomed. His long hair hung halfway down his back and his beard was trimmed short but elegant. He took his seat and frowned at the others.

"What is wrong?" he demanded.

"Calm down, Girflet…" Magnus said lightly.

"That is Sir Girflet to you, Viking," Girflet shot back a little too quickly.

"Now, boys, let's play nice," Nashira said with a smirk.

The knight glanced at her and his expression was suddenly pleasant, "Nashira, it has been too long since I have seen your lovely face."

"Cool it, we're here on business," Veriand said flatly.

"Then where is Yric?" Girflet asked.

The last gate opened and the final Gatekeeper joined them. Laurel crossed her arms when she saw him, shooting daggers with her eyes as he took his seat.

"It's about time, Zybrux," Nashira said in annoyance.

Yric just took his seat and looked at Magnus, "Cut to the chase, Magnus. What is going on?"

Veriand just looked at Yric with a cocked brow, "Why are you dressed like that? Been taking unauthorized vacations back on Earth again?"

"None of your damned business, Elf," Yric said angrily and then he noticed the Arcadians standing behind him. "What's the bloody idea of bringing outsiders into our Council?"

Nashira and Girflet looked at Veriand expectantly, waiting for an answer to that question.

"They are witnesses," Veriand said. "One of our Guardians is trying to offset the balance by stealing a Fire Stone."

There was silence among the members for a moment while they all let that piece of news sink in, but Yric was the first to speak up. "They were all hidden, none of the Guardians or Wizards knows where they are," he stated a little too firmly.

"And how, oh brooding one, do you know that?" Nashira asked cuttingly.

Sir Girflet answered for him, "Old Zybrux here is the one who hid them all."

Yric received a lot of confused looks. Veriand just had to get clarification. "He is the last to gain a key, how is it that he was trusted with the Stones?"

"Who said I was trusted?" Yric shot back bitterly.

"Shut up, Zybrux," Girflet said. "He was the last to accept, but Myrlin chose him first. Yric has been here the longest, seen the most and trained the hardest. You want answers, ask him."

Yric closed his eyes and cringed, "Thanks a lot, Girflet," he said sarcastically.

Veriand just nodded, "Very well, then tell me why a stone was hidden in Eton Harbor, and who would know about it?"

Yric looked back at those gathered behind Veriand and his eyes met Laurel's. "There is no Fire Stone in Eton," he said with his eyes locked on hers. "I hid nothing there."

"No, you merely took something from there," Laurel said.

Yric stood abruptly, but tried to answer calmly, "You were never told the full account. If you want to know what happened that night, talk to your father."

"He's not here, but you are," Laurel said angrily.

Brolyn put an arm around her and glared at Zybrux, "What is going on?"

Magnus just sighed, "Oh, she's that girl from Eton…"

Nashira just rolled her eyes, "You're a blithering idiot, Yric. Forget everything else and answer me this: If it was not a Fire Stone a Guardian was trying to steal, what in the Underworld was it?"

Magnus didn't have to think long on it to figure it out, "The Dark Star."

Sir Girflet slammed his fist on the table, "That is the most ridiculous thing you have ever said, Magnus!"

Yric slowly sat down and stared at the table in shock. "No, my good knight, it is not," he said quietly. He looked up at Veriand, and then the faces of the Arcadians behind him. He spoke evenly, but with a hint of worry in his voice, "I need to know everything that has happened."

The other Gatekeepers looked to their guests and waited for the tale. If Yric was suddenly serious, the matter was much more urgent than anyone could have dreamed.