Tales of the Valkyrie [ Chapter 4 ]
Tales of the Valkyrie
“By the gears, why won’t he stop screaming?!” Terror swung in Estreon’s voice, but the captain held him back:
“Frozen heart, cold mind, soldier.” The familiar phrase somehow broke Estreon’s shock.
The captain himself looked no less pale than Estreon or Toria. And Calvin, by the gears, the old gods, and everything in between… Calvin was writhing on the ground screaming like a stuck pig, even though all he had done was loose a jet of water on the Arden magus. Some strange glimmer had traveled back through the stream, and after it went into Calvin he just collapsed, starting to scream bloody murder. In fact by now he was begging very vocally to be killed, a plea, Estreon felt, that was directed at the three of them. The Arden magus meanwhile seemed to be mildly amused by their terror and raised a throne-like seat of hardened earth from the ground with a lazy murmur. He sat down, giving them a challenging look.
Calvin was not the first. In fact, a bunch of bloody corpses, clearly rent by earth magic were strewn about the place. A full contingent of mundane soldiers had been felled by the intruders. It was lucky that two could be taken out with arrows, but the third had raised a high wall and barricaded himself on this side of Aquaris. When one of the few water mages that had been present had risen again, inexplicably aiding the Arden magus, all troops had been withdrawn, the ice dome had been raised around Lake Rahn, and the population evacuated as swiftly as was possible. Then the Frozen Fist was sent out to deal with the attacking magus. Kingdom gone and kingdom come had been declared on the city, and letter bombs had been sent out to the surrounding areas as quickly as possible.
That didn’t mean the situation made any sense at all. There was no rhyme or reason to the attack, and relations with Arda were excellent. Estreon for one would have been baffled if fear was not his main emotion at the moment.
“No water magic you have to maintain! Create projectiles, then cut your soul off as soon as they are flying,” the captain ordered.
After what had happened to Calvin, Estreon didn’t feel like launching a stone at the man with a trebuchet while a few hundred feet away, much less hurling water and ice laced with his own soul power, but his soldier instincts were keen, so he just replied with “yes, sir,” simultaneously with Toria.
“Smart boy, very smart,” gloated the Arden magus, “but I don’t need to spread it through your magic, mine will do fine.”
He hadn’t spoken before. Why was he speaking now?
“And once you are more cooperative, I’ll let you kill me. Then you’ll go home victorious. Am I not a generous guest?” He winked dangerously at them.
The captain seemed to notice it before Estreon and Toria, though how he could keep his awareness in the presence of what seemed like concentrated, overwhelming evil, Estreon could not tell. It was Calvin: he had stopped screaming, and the man had begun to talk at the perfect moment to completely draw their attention away from the fact – away from Calvin. An arc of water came pouring down on them like a waterfall from their now standing former comrade. The captain, having noticed a split second before the attack came crashing down, formed a wall of ice out of the snow that was lying all around them.
To obscure the city and weave a net through which any attackers may be more detectable, the mages had summoned a mighty snowfall onto the city premises, and visibility was low. The main reason the Arden’s ruse had almost worked.
The attack broke upon the wall, but it was too late for the captain. He grasped for his heart, his eyes widening. “Shit! You’re in command now, Estreon. One of you has to go to the lake right now, tell them what you have witnessed!” Then he drew his dagger and stabbed himself in the heart.
He stood so close to Estreon that he could actually smell the blood, and hear the suppressed scream as if it was directly next to his ear. Estreon’s gaze blankly turned to Toria who in turn stared on their twitching captain as he bled out quickly.
A roaring sounded over them as another surge of water soared towards them and the ground now began to tremble with earth magic, making their footing unstable. This was it. The contaminated water washed over them, and Estreon closed his eyes, ready for the pain to come, or so he thought.
But the pain didn’t come. Toria besides him breathed quickly, and he opened one eye to look ahead. He now saw Calvin, standing there, motionless. Poking through his chest was the blade of a shiny greatsword that was now slowly being pulled out.
When Calvin fell, a beautiful and terrifying figure stood behind him, clad in strange plated arm- and shin-guards, boots and gauntlets, covered with ornaments and inscriptions, the rest of her wrapped in many furs.
The helmet turned slowly towards the Arden magus. “You next,” said a cold, angry voice, “and you!” She turned to Estreon and Toria, now more hotly. Both of them flinched. “It had to be bleedin’ snow up to my arse, hm? I spent more booze money than I care to count on that cutpurse of a fur trader! When I’m done with this prick you better hold me a gods-damned fea-hurk!”
Toria loosed a short scream when a jagged, compacted spike of earth rammed the armored woman square into her fur-covered side, right where any sane armored person would have worn a breastplate. The woman was knocked off her feet and hurled some distance before hitting the ground hard. This was it. Estreon had actually felt the briefest moment of hope when this stranger had appeared, but clearly she was some sort of idiot – holding speeches while in the middle of combat, who did that? He turned to Toria, shaking, and spoke with trembling voice: “S-soldier! You will go to the city now and tell them what you have witnessed, spare no detail. They mustn’t send more mages into open battle or risk losing them to the enemy!”
Toria’s eyes, previously transfixed on the woman that was lying on the ground, slowly wandered to Estreon: “What?”
“You heard the captain!” Estreon said, his voice growing firmer, suddenly bellowing in command: “Move, move, move!”
On the last move the spell that held her seemed to be broken, and she started scurrying off, but comically ran into a wall of earth that sprang up before her.
“Toria!” he screamed in shock, turning back to the Arden magus, who now looked as if he was nearing the end of his patience.
“It was fun playing with you, but I think my sense is returning. I do, after all, have a duty to perform,” he said, almost regretfully.
In the corner of Estreon’s eyes there was movement, and he noticed as the armored woman got back up on her feet as though someone had simply knocked her over. She brushed the snow from her arm guards and furs, then turned to the Arden magus: “Hey you. Hasn’t your mother taught you to let a woman finish her sentence before you hit her?”
“I can’t say that I ever heard her say anything even remotely close to that combination of words, no,” said the Arden magus quizzaciously.
The woman wiped some blood from her lip with her left thumb; then grasped the hilt of her greatsword firmly. “I am going to cut you now,” she remarked coolly.
With a leap that would have made a Guantil-ya tiger look like a fattened house cat, she rushed at the magus, sword at the ready, but he was far less accommodating than before, got up from his makeshift throne, and reshaped it into a wave of earth meant to smack her away mid-air. The earth cracked, then crumbled as a gauntleted fist hit it with the strength of a battering sensôga moth. This apparently surprised the magus as much as Estreon, and the blade cut down his right shoulder, not severing the arm, but rather separating it into two useless strips, dangling from the man’s side. He screamed as blood gushed from the tattered remains of his arm, and with a mad look on his face, he raised the ground next to him once again, this time wrapping the useless bleeding flesh in compacting earth to plug up the wound.
The woman, unsure of his intention as he did so, leaped back.
His face was contorted in a grimace of pain and rage. “Alright. I guess I’m taking you then,” he said, his voice pressed and livid.
The woman looked at her sword, dumbfounded. “There’s a little crack in my sword,” she noted. “Why is there a little crack in my sword?”
A roaring wave of moving landmass was now flanking her, ready to bury and suffocate her. In the shifting earth Estreon believed he could see a flickering yellow gleam. “Watch out for the glimmer!” he yelled at her. But she just jumped back in front of the magus, readying her sword. When the earth came closing in on both of them like the maw of a terrible monster, Estreon could no longer see what was happening. Then the woman burst through backwards, and the earth crumbled back down again. The magus had sustained a new injury and was breathing heavily, as blood oozed from his chest.
The woman was just preparing herself for a third and final blow, when something odd happened: Her left gauntlet began to glow and vibrate as the runic inscriptions on it lit up. Then it shattered into a hundred pieces, leaving her bleeding hand unprotected.
“OW!” She yelled with gritted teeth. Then she tore off her helmet, revealing a flowing stream of golden hair and a fierce expression of burning ire on her face. She looked at her injured hand and the pieces of armor on the ground, which were still glowing red with heat. “Scite! You broke my fucking gauntlet, you magus filth! Do you have any idea what you just broke?!”
The man was visibly panting and swaying. “Your fucking gauntlet?” he offered with a grin. Then he collapsed, lying motionless on the ground.
The woman walked up to him and stabbed him in the heart for good measure. “Crack in the sword and broken gauntlet. And no Angel Saxon smith for hundreds of miles,” she spat. Then she turned around to Estreon. “A feast now. And then I’ll need a replacement. One of those hackneyed angelscript imitations you southerners are so proud of will do until I can get back to my folk.
I don’t care if your superiors pay for it, if you take up a collection, or go into debt. As far as I’m concerned, you owe me your life and you’re getting off cheap. You’re lucky that I am fast bound for Arda.”
Estreon swallowed. There was no doubt now. He had been saved by a Valkyrie, and if the situation in the Middle Lands was as bad as it seemed now, she would bring the Aesir down on all of them.