Micheal Ravencroft, Scion

It may sound strange, but I can’t remember all that much of the life I had before I learnt of my heritage. There are snatches, sure, but it’s the colour and not the shape of my past that remains.
My first clear memory is when I first met the guys in a small camp near the outskirts of Cizre. We were receiving instructions for recon mission under the command of a Major Andrea Hill, a real hard-ass, despite looking a bit “Girls with guns” centrefold at times.

The op was apparently a tough one; the guys tell me that we took out three Iraqi patrols and successfully laser-painted several mobile missile sites, allowing them to be destroyed by smart weapons and paving the way of the opening acts of the war. We were, I’m told, fucking glorious. But when I try to think back over it, there’s almost nothing there. I can remember the taste of blood in my mouth, the feel of sand whipping at my face, the flashes of gunfire and the smell of cordite and, strangely, the sound of the Major’s voice as we shared a bottle of whiskey and watched Iraqi arms depots burn.
My next memory is of the jungle. We had been sent on a black ops mission to Brazil, a mission I’m told was to break up a drugs ring we suspected of having ties to the Brazilian government by taking out some of the hidden airfields they used to distribute their products. I remember the air, heavy and fragrant after the rain, the sounds of the monkeys screaming in the trees, the hot sticky feeling of sweat running down my back, the frustration of trying to navigate in the jungle and the feeling of my blood turning to ice as we finally reached our destination. The village. Fuck. If ever there was a scene I wish I could forget, that would be it.

We had been heading there to meet up with some kid called Xavier who apparently had information that would lead us to the airfields we’d been trying so hard to find, but when we got there…. what we saw….
The place had been killed. Not burned down or razed to the ground, but…. killed. It was as if some great clawed hand had reached down and torn the very soul from the place. The people had been butchered, strung up in their homes, bled like animals and then – in some cases – skinned. The air was flat with the metallic tang of death and the floors and ceilings of the small huts vibrated under an undulating carpet of flies.

I remember cutting down the bodies and taking them into what must have once been the village hall. I remember seeing three generations of the same family lined up as pale lifeless slabs of meat on the floor. Feeling the cold stare of the blank, milky eyes of a girl with no face follow me around the room….
We burned the hall. Set it as a funerary pyre and hoped that the flames would cleanse the remains of the evil and corruption that had been visited upon them. And we stayed to pay our respects. Though looking back on it now, I’m not even sure why.

When night fell we set up a defensive perimeter around the village, wary that whoever – or whatever – had slaughtered its inhabitants the night before might return. We set claymores at the main entrances, established kill-zones and set up watch. We thought we were prepared.

We were wrong.

They came in the darkest hour of the night, wave after wave of them, wearing the faces of the dead. By the flickering light of the fires of the dead we fought them, first with explosives, then with bullets and then finally, with knives. I watched as my team fell one, by one, to the horde. I watched as they disappeared under a seething mass of corpse-clad madmen. Until I was the only one left.
Suddenly, they fell back, forming a wide circle around me. Surrounding me with what seemed like hundreds of dead, decaying faces filled with hungry, darting eyes. A low murmur passed through them like a deep throated growl and, as with one mind, the horde parted before me, leaving only a small, hunched figure in my path. Slowly the creature stood up and turned towards me, dead eyes staring out from a young girls face. Then, without seeming to have moved through the intervening space, it was beside me – and a long dark blade was poised over my heart….
Darkness came over me.

And then the voice, gentle as a summer breeze, hard as obsidian, low as a mountain’s roots.

“Wake, child, you and I have much to discuss”

My eyes flickered open. I was sitting on a tree branch as wide as a double-decker bus with my back against the main body of the trunk as overhead stars of purest gold arced through fractal skies. The man who’d spoken stood next to me, his single eye looking out of a face that spoke of great wisdom – and even greater hardship.

“My name is Odin and I am your true father. I have saved you because I will have need of you in the battle that is to come. I….”

I turned to him and, with strength I didn’t know I had, rasped

“My team…?”

He stopped for a moment and a look of what could have been either pride or ire flitted across his face.
“Your men will be returned to you. It seems they had already been marked.”

“Marked?”

Again his face displayed evidence of a remarkable emotional dichotomy.

“To join the ranks of the Einherjar. Hildr’s work, if I’m not mistaken.”

He paused as if waiting for a reaction but, seeing none, continued

“There is much you need to know if you are to be of use to me, much that I need to tell you. But there is little time and my enemies force my hand. As such, I offer you a choice. I can give you what you need to fight this battle and let you work out the rest on your own or, if you wish, I can let you see a small part of the bigger picture and prepare you for the battles that are to come. Be aware though, this knowledge will be dearly bought and what you lose you will not be easily regained.”

I thought over all that I had seen over the last twenty four hours, the pain, suffering and death.

“The knowledge, will it help stop… whatever those things at the village were? Will it help me fight against them?”

“Yes.”

“Then I choose the second option, I will endure whatever cost or hardship to make sure that the horrors I have seen today will not be repeated.”

The beginnings of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

“Good. Stand with your back against the tree and spread your arms out wide. There will be pain, and it will weaken you, but your strength will return in time and the knowledge will hold. Here…”

He reached out and placed his hands on my temples, a look of intense concentration on his face. A feeling of warmth stole through the darkest corners of my mind.

“I have awakened the blood within you, your body and mind should now be ready to adapt to what you will learn. Now…”

He raised his hands and two of the shadows surrounding the tree coalesced into the forms of large, black ravens, each of which held in its claws an iron nail flecked with dark, congealed blood. For a second they hung suspended in the air and then, in the blink of an eye they were upon me. The force of the blow lifted me high on the tree and through the haze of pain I felt my blood mingle with the clear, cool sap of the tree.

Slowly the world fell away and I felt like I was standing in the midst of a torrent of fire and ice, stripping away my memories. I felt the memory of my mother’s smile washed away, replaced by knowledge of linguistic structures and runic semiology and I wept.

Another burst of pain and I felt my body sag, the torrent abating. The knowledge settled into my brain, instinctual movements coding themselves into my limbs. Blood dripped from the wounds in my hands, soaking into the bark of the tree. And I felt weak. Weaker than I had ever felt before.

“Focus on the pain, let the blood within you – my blood – rise up and heal you.”

I grimaced and willed my body to react, willed my wounds to close. Slowly I felt the flesh knit over, saw the skin slide over the wound and seal it, leaving little more than two delicate sets of paper-thin scars.
I looked up to see him smiling down at me. He passed me a scabbard containing a golden-hilted and a small leather pouch containing some ivory runes and a delicate silver ring.

“You are weaker in body now, but stronger in spirit. Take these as my gifts to you; they will help you complete the tasks I will set. The blade, Tyrfing, has a long and glorious history – I hope you will continue to honour its stories. The runes I carved myself from the bones of ages-dead Mirnir, they will help you understand how the events of Midguard influence and shape each other, they will guide you. Finally, the ring will give you power over death and darkness that you might stalk and destroy those that stand against the Gods. Now, wake….”

The tree and the stars faded away from around me and I woke to find myself lying on the ground just outside the smouldering remains of the village, with my team lying in a rough circle around me – the blade and pouch tucked into my jacket. The wheeling stars above the world tree replaced by the seemingly static ones of the world into which I had been born.

I closed my eyes and sighed, letting the sounds and smells of the forest fill my senses. I could hear the sounds of my team lying near me, able to pinpoint exactly how far each of them was from me by the sounds of their breathing.

Slowly I pulled myself up from the ground, spoke to the guys, and our work began. Our mission now was to take down the cult of the five skins, the group that had laid waste to the village and attacked us. Returning to the ruins of the village I sought out the trail the cult had left, finding not only footprints in the soft earth, but also a strange scent that seemed to cling to the ground like a thick, oily mist – a smell of dead flesh, alcohol and cheap tobacco. Concentrating, I found that I could mentally separate the main “body” of the smell into about twenty distinct variations, like a rope made of varying shades of coloured string. With difficulty I resisted the temptation to further explore the limits of my sensory acuity and we took up the hunt.

The trail wound for several miles, exiting the jungle and leading us to the outskirts of a small town, tucked into a hillside. There the trail separated into a tangled mass, with tracks leading off in almost every direction. Unwilling to give up just yet and needing more information I began tracking each of the strands individually. It was hard work, several of them leading to a small dusty car-park where I lost the trail, but on the third try I got lucky. The trail led straight to a taverna on at the edge of town, a small, squat building lit by a flickering neon glow. The place was a dive; tired white paint peeling away to reveal rotting pink brickwork below and, lying in the street, the obligatory drunk - passed out beneath the glowing neon sign, burbling reverently into the light. From inside I could hear the clink of bottles, the gentle strumming of a guitar and the wailings of a mariachi. We waited.

After a couple of hours we were rewarded as a stocky, pockmarked man staggered out of the door and slid along the walls of the taverna. He paused for a moment, fumbled with his belt and then, face against the wall, began to wet himself. I gestured towards him.

Jason and Daniel moved across the street like shadows, grabbing the man by the shoulders, gagging him and dragging him away before he had a chance to react. A few moments later he sat slumped in front of me, his trousers steadily darkening. I looked down at him

“You were one of the fuckheads who hit the village yesterday. You killed a lot of good people, and you tried to kill us – not something we’re going to let go. But, you have a choice; quick, or slow. If you tell us everything we want to know we’ll end it for you quickly and without pain, if not, we’ll take you apart bit by bit, cut you. Then we’ll move on to one of your friends, give them the same choice. Sooner or later we’ll find out what we want to know…”

He stared at me dumbstruck for a moment and then, with a long drawn-out drunken scream, lunged toward my throat – a flick-knife appearing in his hand. I dropped and slammed the palm of my hand up under his chin, intending to knock him unconscious – instead there was a sickening “crack” as his neck snapped with the force of the impact.

I swore. Copiously. Only to be joined by another voice, coming up with a number of phrases that even pissed off as I was, I could only describe as, “inventive”. I turned. There, floating above the body of the pockmarked man, stood an equally pockmarked ghost, clutching its temples and swearing at me. I listened for a moment and then, looking it straight in the eyes, said;

“Now, shall we try that again?”

It stopped mid rant and stared at me, dumbstruck. I unsheathed my blade and took a step towards it.

“I told you, either you tell me what I want to know, or I’ll take you apart. That offer still stands; after all, do you seriously think that I would have killed you without you having talked if I couldn’t get to you afterwards?”

I laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, knowing instinctively that that was the limit of my ability to interact with him and hoping to Hel that he bought it. Luckily, he did. His ghost slumped down dejectedly and he looked up at me;

“Son of a whore. You keep me from moving on; leave me standing here with a hangover that could kill a bull and now you want me to talk? Fine. I’ll talk. What do you want to know?”

“I want to know about you and about the organisation you work for. I want to know names, places and positions. I want to know who’s doing what and whose fucking who. Give me everything.”

“And in return? In return will you let me leave?”

I paused for a moment and nodded.

“I give you my word that, once we are done here, I will do nothing to stop you from moving on into the next life. But if you lie, if you miss anything out, I swear I’ll do everything I can to keep you here.”

He relaxed slightly, and with a strange shudder, began to talk. His name was Jose Escobedo, and over the next several hours he explained to me everything I could have wanted to know about the town, its people and the cult of the five skins of which it appeared he was a lieutenant. He gave me names, dates and passwords, and explained both the rituals they used and the religion on which they were based.

Once I had finished listening to what he had to say I sat down with the guys and, together, we put together a plan of action. The first job was to infiltrate the body of the cult itself, a tricky issue as, in order to get in at the right level, I had to become Jose. The original mission had always included scope for this sort of infiltration, but never to this degree. I focused all my efforts on the disguise, feeling the power of my father’s blood run through me as I formed the shape of the latex with a skill and precision that I could previously never even have dreamed of. By the next day it was ready and, feigning a heavy hangover I met up with the rest of Jose’s crew.

It worked.

Five days later no-one was any the wiser as to my true identity and, having managed to blend in with the crowd successfully, it was time to put the next stage of the plan into action. Over the next several ceremonial meetings I began to voice doubts regarding the security of several of what had been thought of as the most secure of the cults operations. Further, by using these concerns and playing the part of the up-and-coming lieutenant, I was able to convince other more senor members to tell me the security details of the sites in question as part and parcel of a “we don’t have to worry about that because….” response. I then passed these details on to Jason who would lead the guys on a flamboyant raid on one of the sites I’d questioned, using one of the methods I’d identified. Normally, of course, this would be suicide – but as I was close to the heads of security for each site I was able to make sure that they were either “busy” the night of the hit, or had had such a heavy night the night before that they were unable to deal.

Over time Jason’s hits and my ability to predict weak spots got me a meeting with Carlos Santana, the head of the cult in the region. He told me that, was I able to capture and kill the leader of the gang that had been causing so much trouble in the region, he would allow me to wear the man’s skin, and would promote me to his right hand – a great honour for one in the cult.

The next time I met up with Jason I told him what I need to do and, with some hesitation, he agreed. That night I injected him with a huge overdose of morphine, killing him instantly. I then, trying hard not to vomit, cut the skin from his body before finally calling his name and bringing him back. The sight of the exposed muscles of one of my closest friends twitching in a pool of his own blood is one I’ll take with me to the grave. Fortunately though the residual the effects of the morphine were enough to make sure he wasn’t in too much pain. I watched as his skin re-grew as he ate, slithering up and down the length of his body until he was restored.

The next day I went to see Carlos and showed him the skin I had taken. He congratulated me on my success and gave me a long obsidian dagger to symbolise my promotion. He also told me that he would be meeting with a group of Columbians later that evening and that, as his new right hand, he wanted me there. This was what I’d been waiting for; I had long suspected that the cult had been financing its operation through the production and sale of cocaine and heroin, I had also found – through my various contacts – that they had been in competition with the Columbians for some years and that it was rumoured that the Columbians wanted to “buy out” the operation.

That night we met the Columbians in Carlos’s mansion and, while they met with Carlos, I killed the two men guarding the money that was to fund the deal; making off into the night with just over two and a half million dollars. I also arranged for my guys to take the identities of a number of other cult members from different crews and hit the Columbian backup teams as they lounged around town.
The combination of events was enough to persuade the Columbians that Carlos had tried to double-cross them and, during the ensuing fire-fight, very few got out alive.

My last act that night was to stop by and speak to the ghost of Jose, thanking him for his help and telling him that I would not hinder his passing on but that – as I had not been keeping him there – there was nothing I could do to help him.

I left him that night with his curses ringing in my ears.

Since then my team and I have travelled widely, gathering a few favours on the way by aiding a number of other black-ops teams in the field as well as doing quiet work for a few government agencies – and finding each time that, behind some of the biggest mission screw-ups, lay the work of the Titans.