“Dreams will always fade to memory and eventually be forgotten, but those feelings will carry over to the future believed in by the dreamer.”
--- Miryia Kant ca. 1100 M.C.
~October 3, 999
Visitors lately, she believed, didn’t have the courtesy to even knock. A heavy hand will break her poor shack’s door, and she really loved her shack, much as it needs demolition and rebuilding, so she regretfully left behind her re-fried tilapia fillet with rye bread. “Keep your shirt on, I’m coming!” she hollered hurriedly before patting her stomach and looking longingly at the food “so much for nutrition.”
Opening the door, she took one glance at her night visitor and yanked him inside by said shirt. “Try to be more inconspicuous next time, would you? Do you actually want the Crown to find me?” the Royal Guard scolded, running to a cupboard and getting a towelette, tossing it over to the redhead in a black suit. “What kind of man shows up in front of a someone’s home in the rain on a black suit with shades on, at night, anyway?”
Her visitor took it gratefully and wiped the rain from his face before putting it down the nearest table and said, “Father Bamph wants you in the office, within the hour, if possible.”
“Direct to the point; I like that.” Seirin went back to her table and tore the bread down to the middle and stuffed the tilapia fillet in before noshing it down within a half minute. She turned to look at the agent and stared, waiting. “Well?”
The agent held out his hand to lead her out. “Ready to depart, Marshal Leiden.”
“Oh, God. No. Please, never, ever, ever call me ‘Marshal’ in my own home; I am a waif, a waif! For God’s sake, turn around! I’m not going to give you a peepshow, no matter how strictly professional you black suits claim to be.” She slapped his hand down in embarrassment before taking something else out of the cupboard: her armor. Looking at it with pride, she held it up to fully appraise it, before remembering she wasn’t alone and saw the man looking at her with confusion. “What? I am not going to do black-ops missions in civilian clothes.”
The agent turned around, a faint blush on his cheeks while he heard the sound of a skirt falling to the floor and some metal banging against a stony surface. Not a minute sooner that she was already at the door, right in front of him. “How did you-”
The Royal guard looked back to him, holding up a rolled piece of paper in one hand and grabbing him by the wrist with the other and opening the door. “Agil scrolls. You said Father Bamph wanted me there within the hour right? I’ll have us there before you can even finish reciting the Fadr-var” After hanging up her sign on the door, they were off into the rain.
“Based on these old documents, we have reason to believe that there is a piece of Ymir’s Heart somewhere in Glast Heim.” Father Bamph pointed to an old, yellow parchment that one would expect from old yellow parchments, tearing corners, faded ink, and holes. “It’s good news. We don’t have to look far, but also bad, since Glast Heim is, well, cursed, but I’m sure you’re already aware of that, Marshal Leiden.”
“Please stop say- actually, never mind,” Seirin relented, taking the paper from the Priest and skimming over it with proper precision “this is a forwarding document, from…480 years ago? Huh, what does this have to do with my summoning at night?” she asked. From what was on the document, it dictated and accounted for every piece of coin, ingot, and speck within the royal treasury to be transferred from the Prontera Palace to the new capital of Glast Heim. The paper dated at the year 520, and according to the attached inventories notation, to be the last of the ongoing freights, containing the most valuable treasures of the kingdom back then. It was all listed down and her proficient reading didn’t seem to spot anything that would warrant a late night mission. “I see that Rune-Midgard was rich even back then, but why is this relevant now and what does it have to do with Ymir’s Heart?”
Father Bamph didn’t answer her question, his own nose also buried in another book from the pile on his desk. Reading over it again, she took notice of the small addendum within the fine print, finished off with the identity of the note’s writer, someone named Heinrich. “Now why does that name sound familiar?” Consulting a history book that was also on the table, it turned out that the person known as Heinrich was the defense minister and head adviser to the king of the time, and according to the added personal command, an unknown item is to be sealed within a box of cedar locked with steel chains, and that a specialized unit of the king’s soldiers will escort another person designated to bring the box personally to His Majesty.
The name was something that brought uneasiness, and the Royal Guard felt something tick inside her mind, strands of light bluenette, maggots, a stench of death and horrific laugh, but her thoughts of it were diverted just as fast when she saw Father Bamph opened another old tome in her peripheral vision.
It was a book, lying next to a smaller pile of yellowed parchments. Inside the book were what looked like diary entries. The Priest put it down on the table and read each word carefully, summarizing as he went along. “It’s an old journal by a Knight named Nour, aMorrocan. It says here that on this date most Knights were commanded to gather in the throne room when the king was presented with a chained wooden box. He felt a surge of power when the king opened it, and started to feel different from that day on. After that, the king asked the courier if he ever looked inside, who said no. The king took out a sword and…sliced the courier’s head clean from his shoulders. As expected from the Mad King Schmitz.” Father Bamph flipped the book to the end, and nearly threw it down in shock the next second.
“What is it?” The Royal Guard asked in alarm. Upon closer inspection of the book, Seirin found the last page to be torn except for the topmost part were the numbers five, two, and nine were written, but what appalled her more was what had been on the end cover. There were clumps of wispy black hair bound together powdery coagulated blood, what looked like to be a half of a broken distal phalanx with dried tendons, and something else…
Immediately after recoiling herself ,Seirin reached for her back and spun the handle and vamplate of her Hallowed Long Horn, driving the spear down the cover of the book, chanting hastened and loud words. “Vade retro Loki et Surtr! Nunquam suade mihi va- Gukh!”
The force threw her back leaving the incantation incomplete but her spear held on, pinning down the book as a wave of malicious intent stole and dimmed the flickering light of the room and looked as thought it was struggling to come out from the book. “Damn!” She looked sternly at the Priest as she ran back to the book and drove the wedge of her spear’s tip deeper. “What on earth are you waiting for? Father, you need to purify and lay to rest the owner of these remains. I’m not part of the clergy so I don’t know the first damned thing about exorcising dark malicious energy. And if you don’t mind, hurry!”
Snapped out of his shocked stupor, Father Bamph immediately took to the nearest bookshelf, snatching and holding up a Bible then spat out, “MAGNUS EXORCISMUS!” At once, beams of light rose from the floor, enveloping the entire table and the nearby area where he stood. The book squirmed, writhed, and groaned as if it was alive, like Ridewords, but there were no teeth. The pages flipped backwards at erratic speed as the holy spear was driven deeper into its back cover and the holy light dispelled the oppressive malice. Soon the remains disintegrated into the light, and the book was cleared of any blood stains and bone, leaving only yellowed worn pages and a cover with a hole on it. Seirin picked up the book, holding it by the corner with her mouth downward in disdain before helping the Priest gather his bearings, who asked, “What happened?”
The Royal Guard dusted herself off, feeling disoriented as well at what just transpired. Going over to the table, she put the book down and began explaining at what just happened while fixing the disarranged files, the light in her eyes no dimming. “It was a soul, well more like, the splintered fragments of a soul, and it had been the last vestiges of self-control that were slipping away. I think that those remains and the soul shards were Nour’s. Fortunately the exorcism worked, but not so much as destroyed as it displace the evil energy.” She paused momentarily, trying to find the right words before continuing, “‘it’, whatever it actually is, was trying to consume the soul pieces and the magical energy around this room to get stronger before you dispelled it, Father. Sadly, from what I can gloss over through the small vestiges of memory and will, Nour died in a violent struggle that was insidious and malicious, binding the spirit to this world because of ‘unjustified death’ and was still too weak-willed that it succumbed to whatever that evil thing was. I don’t know what happened to the rest of Nour’s spirit; it could probably have moved on a long time ago to the afterlife, or more likely still be corrupted.”
Another pause, and then she spoke tenderly with such genteel “Niflheim is the fragments’ final destination. You can rest at ease; what splintered consciousness of Nour’s in those parts are sleeping and will recover as a whole, either on it own though it will take prohibitively long amount of time, or when the rest of the soul has been exorcised and sent. It will continue sleeping even in Niflheim. It won’t experience the pain of damnation because it’s a pitiful and innocent soul that was merely the victim of Glast Heim’s curse.”
“You...told it to rest?” Still a little worn down and disbelieving from the excursion, Father Bamph walked over to his chair and plopped down, catching his breath, confused. “How did you...even know all that, Marshal?”
Seirin looked at the older man, a bit flustered and unsure with her blue eyes shining in confusion, “I-I don’t know. It just seemed that way.”
After the excitement died down, a realization entered the Royal Guard’s mind and she marched over to the table. She started to acknowledge what her mind had been trying to prod into her consciousness. Her concentration peaked as she reread the records from awhile ago, finally stopping when her sight landed on a particular appellation from awhile ago.
More memories stirred, this time of what happened in her intermediate past mixing with a fog in her head sealed memorials that involved Glast Heim. Very few survived the ruination of the once glorious city, and one figure in particular came to her mind; Heinrich, the first Royal Guard and right hand man of the Mad King Schmitz.
Adventurers would go there to seek the forgotten treasures of a fallen dynasty, or to strengthen their power. Any Priest-class, Geneticists, or others, each had their own reason, assuaged by the will to grow stronger or profit. In her case because she was adverse to hurt living things (unless struck first), she would spend her time fighting in Glast Heim to hone her skills and experience. It was the land forsaken by gods and men alike, the downfall caused by the hubris of a man who wanted what was impermissible. Deeper in her mind, it brought on strange feelings, recollections of a sense of thirst then blood, and hate, lots and lots of hatred, yet strangely, also heartache. Then back to her recent memories, like the piece of saintly cloth, an old worn-out shield, and the lucid words of a shade.
But Heinrich. Could it be?
“You’re telling me that a man from 470 years ago is responsible for the safekeeping of the gods’ most powerful divine artifact? And he’s the reason why Crusaders and Paladins become Royal Guards?” Father Bamph sat down, disbelief on his face. If she hadn’t gone through it herself, she wouldn’t have believed it either. On her honor and holy vows, she spoke the truth to him, and he knew it. “Why didn’t you write this in your reports?” Rather than angry, he was genuinely curious.
Seirin bowed her head and looked at the floor, unable to answer. Perhaps it was negligence or unintentional omission on her part? Unfortunately, she remembered far too well the tensions back then; beating Heinrich at his own contract, finally taking her vows freely, and then…She winced. The additional duress and her illness at that time must have made her forget.
Father Bamph continued on, his forehead creased as he tried to process this information. “It doesn’t matter. Could this be the work of demons? How Glast Heim fell was already suspicious and even church records have been bleak at best on the matter. If your memory is right then a heart piece must be in the old capital; you need to go and hurry to the palace to interrogate him.” He leaned back on the chair and stared at the ceiling in contemplation, before taking out the tome they looked at before and giving it to her. “Take this. It disturbs me that a man who once served as a retinue centuries ago had been responsible for the militants of the Church turning their backs on God and serving mortal men instead, and that he’s even still alive today. I’m not too sure he’s even human at this point, Marshal. Take vigilance on confrontation.” “He sat back down, a thoughtful expression on his face then asked, “the problem is though, how will you get in without being arrested?”
With a relaxed smile, she assured him, “God will take care of it. One way or another, nothing is impossible through faith in God.”
“Maybe I should have prayed for the rain to stop first.” Seirin looked down at the moat below and wondered what fishes lived within, or better yet, what carnivores lived in it with them. Looking across the western wall, she knew the moat was far too wide to sprint and jump, and the incline on the other side was too steep and slippery. Not to mention her armor was too heavy to swim across in, and a night swim on the home of those who want her dead? Looking to the sky, she steeled her nerves and sighed, “Haaah, God, if I am to succeed this mission, it is your will.”
Determined now, she took cover under a nearby tree and unclothed her armor, leaving her only in a black sports bra and boyshorts in the cold rain. She left her shield on the ground as well, albeit hesitantly, taking only her two spears and an extra sword she brought along as a precaution. Within the next moment she threw her two spears across the moat with all her might like javelins; the Long Horn and Imperial Spear embedded into the wall with success, the former atop the latter. She smiled with pride, happy that her unusually high dexterity paid off. “Now, how do I get from here to there?”
Her bare feet didn’t have any time to agree with her brain though. Not a second later did Seirin immediately slip into the deep waters of the moat, the mud making her fall and coating her back as she slid right in. Rising up to the surface, she wasted no time in swimming to the other side despite the cold rain. She tried not to pay any mind at the fact that she felt something nip at her toes. Pushing her limbs to the limit, she could almost touch the other side but felt her foot unable to move suddenly. Diving down, she couldn’t see anything in the watery darkness. The water was too murky to let any light from the moon or palace through. Tugging with her leg, she could feel something bind at her ankle. A rope, a submerged trap? Swimming deeper, she felt for the bind on her ankle; fortunately, it was something soft and squishy, a tough underwater plant leaf, most likely. She tore it halfway and swam to shore, hanging on to what she can of the palace brick wall’s crevices and cracks.
Barely able to hang on, she used her sword to launch herself into a precise momentum from the wall and wet steep ground to reach for the Imperial Spear, lifting herself up and distributing her weight evenly on the precarious makeshift perch. The rain washed away the grass and mud that stuck to her skin, helping lessen the weight and slipperiness. “Looks like I’m going to spend all night trying to wash my underwear after.” Shifting her balance, she stood on her spear and reached for her other one, displacing her weight against the wall evenly and grasping her Long Horn, taking her time before she swung her body like using her sword and the spear above as an axle, and with nimble reflexes managed to find herself sitting atop her Long Horn.
However, that left her with a dilemma. It was only recent that she focused on training her core than her strength, so her flexibility wasn’t all that developed yet. It meant leaving her Imperial Spear behind. “Ah damn! That’s the best weapon in my arsenal too,” the Royal Guard groaned when looking at its double-eagle heraldry, and sighed in acceptance. “That’s okay. If this is the way God wants it, even if it means losing a weapon I worked so hard to get, then I’ll accept it,” she told herself, although laughing right after because those words were just too ridiculous and unbelievable “like Hel!” As if on cue, the Imperial Spear finally loosened its puncture and fell into the moat, making Seirin laugh. “Oh f-” The loud rumble of thunder coursed through the sky and lightning struck the nearby tree she stood on awhile ago.
“I could just retrieve it later. Sorry!” she screamed to the sky. Her laughter stopped when she felt the spear she sat on also sink. “Fuuuuu-” Grabbing hold of the edge of the wall, she used the spear to springboard herself. “Just one chance. Gah!” And successfully grabbed the top, supporting herself and scaling up with her feet, finally standing on the palace turret.
Reaching down and proud of her own success, Seirin snatched her Hallowed Long Horn from the wall before it too fell, and shivered from the coldness of the rain. More lightning and thunder followed after. “The god Thor must be in battle. Such troubling times we’re in,” she said before turning to the stairs of the turret. “Let’s get this done.”
“For a place where Crusaders would gather, this place is far too empty for my liking. The Crown may want me dead, but even I wouldn’t wish such lax security on them. Where are the palace guards?” Looking around, Seirin squeezed at the lock of her hair to remove excess moisture. The dark, cold halls were devoid of any presence, not even a ghost, only herself. She didn’t know whether to be grateful because she was traipsing in the castle practically wet and half-naked, or cautious because of that feeling in her gut telling her to take to wing and flee.
Raindrops from her skin fell to the floor, nary a sound still as the what little illumination came from the lightning flashes and city lights outside. There was no Max von Shedough, and to her relief, the odious man Rebarev Doug was also absent from the premises. That relief was short-lived, however, as what unsettled her more was the fact that even if Heinrich wasn’t found yet, she felt as though she was being watched. Maybe they all retired for the night and went home?
After walking and turning the next hallway, the militant found a lone door at the dead end of the wall. Quickly approaching it, she tried to turn the latch but found it locked. It was either risk breaking one of her remaining weapons to open the door or find a key, but that decision didn’t take long anyway. The latch opened with her spear’s edge; after all, bone was stronger than steel, what more a brass lock?
What lay inside was an unpleasant reality. If she didn’t know any better she’d believed she somehow step back in time again, but no. There were signs of a struggle. She was able to make out puddles of dried blood with tufts of brown hair and scalp on the floor from the brief flashes of lightning. Brandishing her spear, she kept her guard up as much as she could for her current lack of a shield. Courage nearly left her with the boom of thunder though. “God!” the Royal Guard gasped, holding her chest and trying to calm the tempo of her heart. “Calm down, Leid. You can do this. It’s natural to be afraid, but also faithful to be brave.”
Kneeling before the blood, skin, and hairs, she felt a lingering spirit in the room, but not too strong. It’s departing on its way and headed for Valhalla. Intervention from her wasn’t needed. A brief illusory scene and radiant light from somewhere unknown gave her a sense of comfort. “I see. He bravely died in a battle for his life, but something else happened that ennobled his soul from Niflheim’s reach.” Unfortunately, she couldn’t speak to spirits except those bound to Niflheim, so when she saw the disappearing soul of Max von Shedough walk into the guiding light, that oddly had a faint feminine shape (valkyrie?), she could not ask who killed him. Before she could pay respects as he disappeared, she heard a loud clang, and though trying to keep brave, felt her heart beat just a little faster than before as the sudden warmth of light also faded just as fast.
Groaning at her limited vision, she relented. “Fine.” Blinking a few times, she moved her hand closer to her face, then to her left eye, then her right, plucking out the contacts from her eyes and hid them by the fringes of her brassiere. Adjusting fully to the darkness, her sight followed the direction of the sound, and she picked up a metal dish from the floor. Seirin stooped and picked it up, observing its dirty, ashy contents, tracing the dust and pinching it with her fingertips. It was wood ash, and a sense of relief filled her. With her luck she expected something like burnt bone, nail, or any body part from the poor victim of fate. Like before though, her relief was short lived and she suddenly felt chills run down her spine.
A gust of cold wind blew through her back that moment. Unlike the comforting coldness of Lady Hel, however, this one was purely infernal and malicious. Looking directly behind her, Seirin saw a mirror and a small table adjacent to it. It was still too dim to see for the militant to see her reflection, so she came closer. Upon closer observation, she saw on the table were a half-melted candle and a small book. With no matchstick, she squinted closer, relying on further eyesight adjustment to examine her reflection before somehow the candle lit up on its own with a dim fire. “Huh? In a room with no wind?” placing her finger near the flame, no heat came from it. “Whatever’s here is definitely preternatural.”
Gathering her wits about her, she looked around were she stood while backing herself onto the wall. “Show yourself, whoever you are! Demon or malicious spirit, come and fight me! I’ll expel you in God’s name.” Nothing answered but another thunderous roar from outside. When nothing would clearly show itself to her, she turned to the mirror. Looking closer at her reflection, the Royal Guard saw herself; only, it wasn’t her reflection. Rather, it was actually her reflection, but it was her as she preferred to have forgotten altogether. She hated it, looking at the coquette’s smile, the hair, the eyes. Faithless, worldly, abnormal. A scream nearly escaped her, but she held it back at her throat and chastised the reflection.“You’re not me. You can’t be me. I’ve changed everything.” Seirin’s hand reach out, and when her finger touched, the mirror followed her movements, and then it didn’t.
The smile distorted to an arrogant smirk and blood dripped from the reflection’s gums. Her hair was no longer the ideal cornsilk blonde, and her eyes flashed with a vehement scarlet fury. She drew back in recoil and stared aghast before the reflection disappeared and became normal. “What the Hel was that?”
A new reflection showed up not a moment too soon, however, and someone else’s for that matter. Someone else who should be dead. It was a face she had once seen, months ago when she was still willing to go far with her adventurer career. Before her, on the other side of the mirror was a very handsome dark-haired man. He had a discolored scar on the left side of his face, and wore the garb of a male Royal Guard. Seirin wasn’t fooled by his appearance, however, and saw the nicks and dents of his armor. As she listed them all in her mind, the reflection seemed to distort in shape, until she looked at his face again and bit down a scream.
The man’s eyes had been gradually hollowing, and soon it was just black emptiness. His mouth opened and blood poured from every orifice of his face, the eyes sockets staring at her while crying tears of blood, as with the ears, nose, and mouth. Her eyes dropped quickly to the book and she turned it over. The title on the cover said “Rune Royal Family Book”.
“I know this. If this is here, then the Mad King…oh no!” She had been familiar to its contents, privy to its existence after the tedious selection of the next king among the seven prince candidates. Her gaze drifted up again and now it was a misshapen, skinless abomination.
“Stop it!” Having had enough with its twisted appearance as the last straw, she punched the mirror straight on, shattering it into numerous little shards and running with the book in tow, jumping out through the window and into the castle grounds below, not looking back. Luck was on her side as no palace guard had been patrolling. There was no time left to lose, and she ran faster on realizing it, scaling the wall much more easier and jumping into the moat. “If what I confronted tonight was a mere forecasting of the forces and magics involved, I need to get to Glast Heim quickly, but I can’t do it alone.”