Northern Lights: Return to Whitewall
A barbarian of the ice walker wastes, Dangus is more at home with the creatures of the wild than in civilized lands.
Dangus’s exaltation came about thanks to his tribe’s totem quest. In this rite boys must walk out into the wilderness in a drugged sort of trance. When they awaken, they must slay the first animal they see. Dangus had been three days out from Ice Hall when his vision cleared. The first thing he saw was a tableau: a young huntress standing over a snared unicorn. The unicorn complained loudly that her captor was “very mean for a virgin,” but the girl only laughed and said that she would make it quick. This was Thuna, and she was struggling in the grasp of Pit, the god-blooded daughter of a hunting deity.
Dangus always listened to the stories in the mead hall at home, and so knew that it was wrong to slay a unicorn. He intervened, and was summarily overpowered by the younger and smaller girl. He kept coming back though. The god-blood would throw him away like swatting a gnat, but Dangus stumbled to his feet again and again, still trying to help the unicorn. Eventually the god-blood threw him high into the air, and Dangus struck a tree hard enough to crack its trunk. As he rode it down between the huntress and the unicorn he cried, “You do not kill unicorns!” With this deed he exalted.
Dangus has been on many strange adventures. He’s found weapons secreted high in the mountains. He’s made his way to the bizarre city of Whitewall, where people of no one tribe all live together. He’s fought great evils, been to other worlds, and still believes that his companions may do great good for Creation. If only he could complete his totem quest, he might be a true hero too. But Thuna is his greatest friend and ally. She loves him. And so the disk around his neck remains blank, no animal glyph to mark his passage into manhood. Despite all he has done, Dangus still believes he is a boy among heroes.
Dangus is the group’s primary face. This role is somewhat hampered by his status as a barbarian. While very charismatic, Dangus’s ignorance of civilized society can lead to problems.
While not an especially preachy Zenith Caste, Dangus does love stories. More than that, as he’s slowly picked up legends of the Unconquered Sun, he’s come to realize that the old stories he loves so dearly are all, in some way, about Sol Invictus. He passes these stories on to the most willing of audiences: birds and beasts. They have a way of gaining sapience as they listen, and they are generally friendly once they awaken to speech.
In combat Dangus wields a powerbow, flying high above the fray thanks to a gift from a lesser dragon ally.
The Story of the Falcon
The night lay still on the face of the water. A scatter of stars burned cold across the northern sky, and the only sound heard in that boundless silence was the occasional thud of ice against a wooden hull. Below decks, a circle of exalts slept in peace. Since the sharks and the Lunars, little else had disturbed their voyage. Sailing had become monotony, and Dangus had grown used to long watches in the dark. He had ways to pass the time.
“Tell me a story,” said Roc. The bird perched atop the railing, his feathers fluffed against the cold. He had a strange way of talking – all piercing glance and shifting wings, a few sharp chirps to form the words. The others said it was only nonsense. Dangus understood him perfectly.
“Once,” said the barbarian, “There were two children. One of them, the boy, had golden hair. The other one, a girl child, had –”
“Silver hair,” interrupted the raptor. “These children were the best of friends. But his playmates were unkind to hers, so the two could no longer spend time together. But as their friends fought one another, heedless of all else, they walked away quietly, and now keep their own company. Thus do we learn of kindness and companionship. I know this story.”
“Very well,” said Dangus. “Did I ever tell you of the snake and the dragon?”
Roc tilted his head and hopped onto the helm. “The snake was jealous of the dragon’s wealth, so she bit him as he slept. The dragon died, and for a time the snake was happy. She survived many winters on her victim’s borrowed wealth. But without the dragon to bring new food to the table and new gems to the hoard, the snake soon grew poor and weak with hunger. Thus do we learn of the perils of greed. You have told me this story also.”
Dangus smiled. “I’ve told you many stories, my friend. I fear you’ve heard all the tales I know.”
Roc looked then into his master’s eyes, and because it was a saying in Ice Hall that ‘only fools stare down the falcon,’ Dangus turned his head.
“Tell me,” said Roc. “How did I come to be? I am not as others of my kind. I speak with you creatures. I am fed, and do not hunt for myself. How has this come to pass?”
Dangus was silent for a time. The wheel pulled gently at his hands while Roc waited. Green arcs of aurora flowed across the sky.
“There was once a boy,” he said at last. “A foolish young boy with too much daring and too little heed. It was late in the season, and the ice was melting from the glaciers. His friends, far wiser than he, had already climbed the spires. While the boy wandered at leisure in the pathways of the forest, his friends had already gone among the aeries of the falcon tribe. They had taken their eggs safely down.
“You must understand, Roc, that humans have poor eyesight. We have no wings, and cannot hope to catch our food unaided. That is why we make allies of the birds. That is why this boy climbed, even late in the year, as the ice rotted and crumbled beneath his fingers.
“It was whispered that the best falcons came from the very tops of the mountains. Not to be outdone by his companions, this boy climbed father than was wise. High he went, up above the tree tops, even above the low hanging clouds he climbed, the ground a thing forgotten, a thing imagined far below. He went to the very pinnacle of Old Grayfather, the highest peak in the world, and there he found a nest. There he found the eggs.
“One of these he wrapped in warm cloths and straw, and tucking it inside his shirt, the boy began the journey down. But it was growing dark. He had taken too long in the climbing, and the way down was uncertain. His boots slipped. His fingers loosed. He plunged screaming from the heights. If it were not for the good luck of youth, he surely would have broken his neck for his foolishness. He very nearly died of the cold anyway.
“Unconscious from the fall, the boy only woke from a small sound – pey pey pey – near his heart. Pey pey pey went the cry – pey pey pey – and there was a small touch against his skin, light as sunbeams. It was enough to restore his senses. The new-hatched chick had saved them both.
“From that day the two grew older together, the boy and his falcon. They went out on the totem quest together, and there they met strange people and saw strange sights. A unicorn. A flying mountain. A shadowland and the sea. They were friends together, fought battles together, and today go to fight an evil chieftain and her hordes.”
Dangus finished speaking. The ice beat a tattoo against the hull. The wind ruffled Roc’s feathers.
“That is a good story,” said the bird. He opened his wings and jump-flew to Dangus’s shoulder. “But how is it that I speak? That you did not say.”
Dangus sighed. “I do not know. It was during our year in the wild, after we met Thuna and before we met the others. I still despaired of my totem quest, unable to complete my task and unable to return home. With no other company I spoke to you. I told you stories, tales of heroes and ancestors and animals, and one night you said, ‘Tell me another.’ So I did. That is all I know.”
The bird shook his head, an oddly human gesture. There was much of humanity in him now. “It is because you are what you are. You became a Champion. You passed some of that power to me.”
“I think that is true, yes.”
They listened to waves and the wind for a time. The sky flickered and danced. Roc said, “It is not a gift, this mind you’ve given me. This speaking. I worry for my people. These invaders from from the metal place burn the world before them. These Deathlords are wicked, and destroy without reason. What will become of the animal tribes? What will become of our aeries and our eggs?”
Dangus smiled. “But we are heroes of legend,” he said. “Surely that will not come to pass.”
“Yes,” said the falcon. “Surely.”
He left Dangus to pilot the ship, flying high to roost at the top of a mast. The kestrel looked back towards land, across the watery distance to his home. There was so much danger out amongst the world of man. Predators stalked the cliff face, eager to plunder the nest of Creation, and they were not kindhearted boys looking for eggs. They would destroy. They would kill. And what could he do protect his people? What could a falcon do to save the world?