1Chapter 1

The feeling had followed Rock for the whole of the day. That something was wrong was easy enough for him to distinguish, he'd traveled the wilderness long enough to know when the animals sensed danger, how the birds were just a little bit quieter and how the deer had been absent all day.

Several times he'd tried to turn the tables on any possible pursuer, he'd 'accidentally' knock over any loose branches littering the forest floor. However, not once were the branches broken by an unweary foot. He moved through some dense brush and hid, lying in wait for whatever it was to reveal itself. He waited with the patience of a predator for it to make the wrong move, the smallest of noises. If so much as a leaf rustled in the wrong manner, he'd know.

A noise at his side caused him to react, and with a wild battle cry, his brought his mace down on its head. He was distraught to find not but a rodent trying to escape the obvious danger.

Chills of apprehension rolled through him as he realized how vulnerable he was to swift attack. He raised his weapon and rained hard destruction upon everything in reach. In a frenzy of rage meant for his stalker, he succeeded only in proving that he was as helpless as a newborn to his will. Rock was like a caged animal taken from the wild, all rage and fury but no useful way to direct it.

He changed his tactics, and in defiance, sat cross-legged in the forest's new clearing. With his mace on his knees, Rock meditated. In moments he could feel the wilderness around him. Whenever he'd meditate, he could feel the life of the wild around him, flowing through the trees, the earth, the animals, even the stones. Moving in symbiosis with each other.

Not now. The flow around him was gone. Stopped. Not by force, but by affect. Like life refused to move while this entity was present. Rock had felt this before, but only after the fact. He remembered traveling through lands destroyed by Nightmare. The stillness of the death lingering there. Bugs and insects wouldn't even go to feast upon his victims, too afraid to come near this brand of death. A death as poisonous as what Rock faced now.

He gave up. If it was Nightmare following him, he was obviously waiting for something. Perhaps something he had yet to do. No. That wasn't it. He wasn't on a quest. He was simply traveling. What then, could it be? Whatever it was, Rock wasn't going to do it, and as it was near nightfall, he'd make camp in the clearing he'd forced upon the forest. It was the least he could do to repent for his actions.

Within an hour, Rock had cleared a space and constructed a fire pit to cook the opossum he'd needlessly killed. Along with some jerky he'd made earlier during his travels, he had himself a meal. He sat on a log that used to be a rotten tree he'd taken down in his fury. Another such seat sat opposite the fire, Rock's way of showing his bravery to the presence.

He waited quietly.

He could feel the singular pair of eyes watching, assessing, waiting for the right moment.

Rock closed his eyes with a sigh, it wasn't the promise of conflict that ate at him, he thrived on challenges. It was waiting for the coward to show himself, to make know his intentions, that annoyed him.

As he opened his eyes, filled with blurry weariness, he saw a figure seated before him. It didn't look like Nightmare, but the trickster had his methods. It was dressed darkly, in loose, flowing cloth that hid it's form. Under a hood, Rock could see a pale, almost shiny face, bereft of facial hair. Rock cold just see through the fire, the tainted glint of unshined armor around it's shins. Any weapon it had was concealed by the cloak.

Defiance overflowed Rock's actions. "Hungry?" he asked, showing the remainder of his jerky, he wanted to drive even further the fact that he wasn't afraid.

"Most appreciated," the figure responded in a deep, clearly male voice. He stood slowly and walked purposely around the fire, showing Rock he wasn't afraid either. He slowly stretched out a gloved hand. The jerky was exchanged, and without saying a word he moved back to his seat. Whatever he was planning would come later.

They sat quietly, the silence a void filled only by the sound of the fire and the slow chewing of jerky from the figure, but soon, the jerky was finished and only the fire was left.

The fire-filled silence was maddening.

"What is your purpose in following me?" Rock demanded assertively. He hated the chink he'd put in his armor.

"I'm here to take your life," the man stated simply. Rock could swear he had heard traces of some emotion in his words, but the noise from the fire made it unclear.

"You seem confident," Rock stated.

"As formidable as the 'White Giant' is, I've nothing to fear from you."

The words hit Rock like a handful of pebbles, more annoying and insulting than painful. "I shall put your words to the test," Rock challenged, laying hold of his weapon.

"If you wish," the figure said as he stood. It seemed that he was several inches taller than Rock. He pointed off into the forest. "There's an open clearing in that direction. We will go there since you don't want to damage too much here."

Rock would have been caught off guard by the man's observational skills, but his mood wouldn't allow anything as weak as that. Not now.

He followed the figure through the trees, and soon they were in a small open field that the forest hadn't overtaken yet. The moon shone high in the cloudless sky, lighting the field more than enough for Rock to see.

The figure stood, facing Rock, several paces away. He took hold of his cloak and slowly removed it, revealing all underneath. He wore foreign shoes that curved upwards at the toes, the shin guards were confirmed, but that was the only armor he had, his clothes were as dark as his cloak and his shirt had no sleeves, showing off a pair of strong, defined, if pale, arms. He wore a mask over his face. It bore a wicked expression, probably meant to intimidate his victims. Strangest of all was the his hair. It was deep blue in color, something Rock had never seen.

The only weapons visible were a curved sword hanging from his belt at his back. There was also a small knife strapped to his left thigh. Rock determined that the knife was used for carving, it was a little too small to be useful in combat.

Rock raised his weapon as the man drew his sword.

"Loki," he shouted introduction.

"Rock," he shouted back.

"Its an honor."

Rock didn't respond, he'd said all he needing to say.

They readied their weapons.

All was still, the creatures seemed to stop their nightly routines to watch quietly.

The world seemed to sigh.

Simultaneously, they rushed each other. Rock took hold of his mace at the top of the shaft and threw it like a punch at the man. At the instant before impact, the man twisted out of the way and spun in a circular motion to connect with Rock as he passed. Rock began to feel cold as his weapon fell from his hands. He could barely feel the blood running down his back from the deep cut in the back of his neck. He fell to his knees involuntarily as Loki moved before him, his sword back in it's sheath. He took hold of the knife on his thigh as he knelt before Rock, looking him in the eye.

The blade was slid between his ribs without hesitation. He could feel the life drain from him like a waterfall. And before it all went dark, he thought he heard the man say something, as quiet as a whisper's thought. Something that made Rock understand his actions... and forgive him for them.