Contents Under Pressure
by David Noonan
Every soldier in the Valkyon Federation wonders a bit about the berserkers. After all, berserkers relish the battles everyone else would rather avoid. Berserkers set free their emotions on the battlefield. When everyone else is trying to stay cool and keep one particular emotion-fear-at bay, berserkers are livid with rage... and not shy about expressing it.
Combine a natural curiosity about berserker rages with the carefully controlled moods of a high elf, and you have a recipe for gossip in the ranks. For two rank-and-file soldiers observing a high elf berserker in action, it's not at all clear what makes her tick.
"Is she really a berserker?"
"Are you kidding me? You've never heard of Naurene?"
"Should I have?"
Naurene paused as the other soldiers ran forward, running a gauntleted hand against the already-cooling cheek of her centurion.
"Your death will fuel our triumph," she announced to the dead bodies nearby. "Revenge is bitter food, but ever so nourishing, eh, friends?"
Bowing quickly to the corpses, Naurene picked up the immense axe from the ground next to the fallen man. "May your axe aid me." Then Naurene ran ahead, sprinting past the advancing soldiers.
As Naurene passed them, the soldiers heard her keening war-cry rise above the battle. Some later said it was like the howl of a wolf. Others called it a scream of an eagle. The wail persisted after Naurene crashed into the orcan barbarians, her axe spinning great circles as it cleaved them apart.
The orcan chieftain threw an incendiary bomb, which Naurene slapped away with the handle of her axe. The chieftain shouted an insult in his native tongue, and Naurene responded with a glare as she stalked forward, her axe dripping withorcan blood.
"I get that she's good with an axe, but... she's a high elf, right?"
"You never struck me as the prejudiced type, Brother."
"I'm not -- the elves are great, but..."
The basilisk nest was hidden at the back of the cave, just as the scouts had said it would be. Naurene rooted through the debris, and found the bloodstained robes first. She carefully set them aside. A few more minutes of searching, she found three skulls: one adult, two children.
"The woods should have been safer, friends," she said, holding the adult skull aloft. "Accept this petty act as recompense for our failure."
Naurene raised a mail boot above the basilisk egg. A quick crunch, then another and another, until egg shells littered the cave floor.
Outside the cave came low snorting and the breaking of branches. Naurene grabbed her axe and twirled it as she walked toward the cave entrance.
"So much for the children. Now for the parent."
And a mile away in the town of Crescentia, villagers heard a keening wail from the woods to the north.
"Every berserker I've met-well, the whole point is that they go berserk."
"How observant of you."
"High elves always keep a lid on things. It's just how they are."
Bruised and bandaged, Naurene limped back to camp. She hung her axe on the peg outside the hut her unit had commandeered and went inside. Naurene emerged a minute later clad only in undergarments. Ignoring the cold, she walked barefooted to the stream, finished undressing, and began to scrub the blood from hair, from skin, from nails.
A few of the braver camp guards approached as far as the stream bank. "Tough day out there?" one said, his eyes looking everywhere but Naurene's face.
A grunt was Naurene's only reply.
"If you want to warm up when you're done, um, bathing, we've got a fire going in our hut..."
Naurene submerged briefly, then rose from the water, ignoring her clothes as she walked past the guards. Then she turned back and glared.
"Yes, a tough day. Tough for our enemies. Tough for the weak. Tough for the dead." She kept walking.
"So you're saying that because elves keep everything bottled up, they have more anger to release in battle."
"Exactly. They're under pressure all the time."
"But that's my point... what does a high elf have to get mad about?"