Valkyrie [ Chapter 7 ]
Her mouth opened wide and she gasped for air like a drowned woman after the water had been pumped from her lungs. It was the sweet breath of life but tainted with the horrifying realization of the price it had come with. The Valkyrie lived, but with this breath she also died, for she was now a Valkyrie only in title. The dark terror that had torn at her very soul had been expelled and destroyed, but at the cost of the only power inside of her that was great enough to stand against it: the fragment of Wyrd that her lord Odin himself had implanted in her soul had been shattered. She now was but an ordinary, mortal woman as she had been many hundreds of years ago.
Her armored limbs were heavy where the armor hadn’t been torn off and shredded during the fight and she felt helpless as a child.
“You awaken, that is good,” came the voice of a man.
The Valkyrie turned her head, her vision half-blurred and her mouth barely moving as she failed to articulate herself. Her head was pounding as if a herd of mammoths was stampeding inside and she felt heavy; too heavy. Her fingers twitched gently, but still she could barely move. The voice of the man… it was not the same as the one that had ended her. She felt a measure of relief.
“Should I give her some water?” It was the voice of a girl, coming from somewhere nearby.
There was a moment’s silence and then the Valkyrie felt a cool trickle on her lips. Greedily she tried to open her mouth, catch what she could with her tongue, but even those muscles barely responded. Somehow she managed to swallow the life-giving water, and it quenched some of her burning thirst. She felt as if she hadn’t drunk so much as a drop for eons nor eaten the tiniest morsel.
After a while the water seemed to restore some of her strength and she tried to push herself into a sitting position, her arms shaking. But half-way through everything began to spin, her blurred vision grew dimmer again, and she collapsed. She began to sob meekly and tears ran down her cheeks as she lay on the ground powerless and broken. The memory and the aftermath of the unspeakable violation that had been inflicted upon her were too much, and so she cried. She felt something soft and warm embrace her then but could not say what it was. It just made her sob even more, whimpering every now and then.
“There are two more Valkyries I think, but one is at the southern pole with the technocrats and the other one no one has seen for a long, long time. I do not think that they will be drawn here quickly enough to change your fate, before the five cities are secure. Besides, I do not think you would approve of their solution; or perhaps you would…?” It was the man’s voice again.
“Will they be alright? Your brothers at the other cities, I mean?” the girl inquired. She was very close; maybe she had taken the Valkyrie into her arms or lap.
“They will be fine. They are among the most skilled and enlightened of the Null, I handpicked them myself for this perilous journey. They will do their part. But I had to take over for one of them, so after this we must travel to Aerealis so I can liberate it as well. However, first, we will enter Arda so I can send a bird to the Black Sanctum,” the man said.
“Couldn’t you just send a letter bomb?” the girl asked then.
“No, the Black Sanctum does not have a resonator beacon, no letter bomb can lock on to it, and so no letter bomb can be sent there. When I say bird I do mean technology though, I have a little something for the occasion, but I still require a carbonic power-cell to make it work, so we will have to get past these walls here.”
The Valkyrie could hear no more as she drifted into unconsciousness again.
When she woke, she was finally strong enough to sit up. “Good, you are finally getting your strength back, drink this!” said the man and handed her a water skin.
The Valkyrie took it and began to sip. With every swallow of water she felt herself sob again, her body shaking.
“No amount of tears will return what has been taken from you, Valkyrie,” the man said roughly and yet sympathetic. “But it seems your gods are watching over you still: your strength has spared you a dire fate indeed and your presence here is destiny. You will walk with us until our work is done, and when that time comes, so yours will be.”
She coughed as she swallowed too greedily. “The Valkyrie does not-“,
but he interrupted her bluntly: “The Valkyrie does what she is told if she ever hopes to fulfill her duty and in turn perhaps be given back her gift. I understand the girl’s presence here as little as she herself, but mine own purpose is clear. I am Rei of the Null and I have come to join the last great war of this world. Before we are done here, you will blow that thrice damned horn of yours and then Helgard shall await us all.” And with that the talking was done.
The Valkyrie was too weak still to argue, and even if that had not been so, she would have had nothing to say to that. If indeed the man named Rei spoke true, she might be exalted by her sire Odin once more, for there could be no honor greater than to sound the horn at the right time. She lifted herself to her feet, shaking. As she looked around, she caught better sight of the man and the girl. She was young, very young. The Valkyrie could see it, feel it, smell it: this one was a babe. But she had seen blood as well, so like as not she would do. The man, however, was different. He was missing an eye and the wound was still fresh - very fresh - and his heart and mind were calm as the deepest waters. This one had great power; the Valkyrie could sense it. When she looked around to gather the shards that had been smashed out of her armor she found them collected and neatly stacked on a pile. One glance from her revealed the girl to be the culprit.
She gathered up the pieces. “Thank you,” she said meekly to the girl. “Thank you both,” she then repeated, also looking at Rei.
He rose as well then, as did the girl. “I’m Artemis…” she said shyly. “It is a great honor to meet you, Lady Valkyrie.”
The Valkyrie almost grimaced: formalities as such had little meaning to the northerners, but she kept quiet about it.
“We shall go then,” Rei said, beating the dust from his robes. “Since we all lost so much at her walls, we may as well impose on Arda’s hospitality.” He lifted one hand to the great earthen wall and a narrow pass just crumbled out of it into dust, the fine mass cascading past them and shrouding the air, making them cough.
“You are a magus of the earth…” the Valkyrie said in surprise. The mages at Aquaris had been powerless to use their craft against their attackers. How had this one managed to avoid the terror of the yellow glimmer?
Rei laughed at that, “Don’t be foolish now. I already told you who I am. I am Rei. Of the Null.” And there it dawned on her who she had here. She had been too weakened and preoccupied to notice the first time he had said it, but now she could not overhear it anymore: A Null. The last time the Aesir had roamed Midgard, or as it was called here, ‘The Great Land’, had been during the Age of Heroes, which was just called ‘the Great War’ back then. That had also been the last time the Null had roamed these realms before drawing back into seclusion.
The Null were unimaginably powerful; so powerful even that they could fight with the gods in fair combat. All magic and otherworldly crumbled before them, just like the segment of this great earthen wall had this very moment. The Valkyrie had roamed Aqualon for seven hundred years, but even when she was sent out on her great quest, the Null had already been in seclusion for a millennium. One of them standing here in the Middle Lands, openly proclaiming his affiliation and wearing the sign of the eclipse was as surprising as the sky cracking open and a giant eye poking through would have been.
And there could be no question about this man’s power now: he had fought against the monster that had so easily crushed her and prevailed. What role the little girl had played in this she did not know, but that his missing eye was a wound sustained from that very battle was evident.
“Very well,” she said now, “I shall follow you, Null… for now.” That was as much as he had expected it seemed, since he just nodded and walked on, but though hiding it behind her pride, she could feel in her bones that the things he had said before were true. He would be her best shot at a second chance. And that was all she wanted. Or… was it? Had she not cursed her former immortality just a day or two ago? She pushed the thought aside for now.
Soon enough as they walked laboriously over the dust mound, two sides of the thick wall towering over them, they were intercepted by the city guard. The path that Rei had created through the great wall of Arda had not gone unnoticed.