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Raven Heart - Part III

Raven Heart

Part III

Okin was cold without his jacket. This made waiting for the smith to finish his work all the more agonizing on the slope of that frigid mountain. But at the very least, it gave him something to focus on besides what came after.

Dvalin had asked him what sort of weapon he’d prefer, since the shape didn’t really matter, and Okin had thought carefully before giving his answer. His first instinct was to say ‘a sword’, since that was the sort of weapon that most destined heroes were supposed to wield. Yet the fact that there were about fifty different kinds of swords and he didn’t even know the names of most of them stopped him.

An axe was also out of the question. Okin’s one strength in a fight was his speed, and all an axe would do was slow him down. A knife would be far quicker, but that would require him to get far too close to a literal god for his liking. So his thoughts began drifting to what sort of weapon would be long but light, which had finally led him to a spear. He’d had some training with one, so at least he wouldn’t make a total fool of himself, plus it would be good for piercing, which meant that it might be possible to end the battle with a single strike. Hopefully.

But beyond this, there wasn’t much planning he could do. For all his cleverness, this was going to be a fight, plain and simple. Back home, every man knew how to hold his own in one, but this… this was something different.

Despite the warmth of the fire in Dvalin’s parlor, Okin still shivered. He was scared, of course he was, if only because he had no idea what to expect.

“Is something wrong?” Valki asked, who only now seemed to notice his inner turmoil.

“I just… I have no idea how I’m going to make it out of this one,” he confessed.

She just looked at him. “You thought the same thing about the Volk, did you not?”

“Well, of course, but that was different. I didn’t have to kill him.”

“Perhaps,” Valki shrugged. “But you accomplished something much more complicated than that. You jumped right into his mouth and you’re still alive to tell the tale. I’m not sure anyone else in the cosmos can brag of such a feat.”

“But that was just lucky,” he admitted sullenly. “I just happened to come up with a plan at the last minute.”

“Well, then you’ll do it again.”

“Because of fate?”

“Even if you weren’t destined to do it, I think I’d still believe you could.”

“You’ve only known me for a day,” he almost laughed.

“And if I’ve already seen you perform tasks that would normally be considered impossible all within that time, I think I can look forward to many more impossible things in the future.”

She grabbed his hand, and he squeezed back. Even if she wasn’t human, even if she was something alien and nearly incomprehensible to him, her touch was warm. For once he thought he might be able to understand her, what she was thinking. She really had no doubt he could do it.

He didn’t necessarily feel any more confident, but now he knew that if he failed, he’d be betraying her trust in him. He tried to pull something positive from that.

“Ack, I’m interrupting, aren’t I?” Dvalin stood on the threshold of the room, covered in soot and sweating despite the cold.

The two pulled apart, and Okin’s ears turned red.

“Not at all,” Valki said, entirely calm

Dvalin shot Okin a sympathetic look, before revealing what he’d been keeping under a cloth. It was, of course, a spear. But if its tip was made with the Volk’s tooth, it was impossible to tell. It looked more like pearl than anything, as he could nearly see his own distorted reflection in its surface. At the right angle, it nearly glowed.

“You brought me far more than I needed,” the smith said. “So I made a sword as well. You know, just on the off chance,” he winked, but that didn’t make the implication any better. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to make a spear today, but here she is.”

He held it out, but Okin hesitated to take it.

“Go on, she’s yours. You’ve earned it, I’d say.”

The spear’s shaft was warm to the touch, and Okin was surprised to discover just how… right it felt in his hands. Maybe the skill of the smith really did make a difference.

“She’s called Gungnir,” Dvalin beamed. “I’m proud to say she’s one of my finest pieces. She’ll strike true, I guarantee it.”

“Thank you,” Okin muttered, suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed.

Dvalin put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, lad,” he said, “the Trickster’s a right push-over in a fight. All ‘e had was his pretty words and now he doesn’t even have those.”

“He’s destroyed entire realities,” Okin retorted.

“Well, push-over for a god, anyway.”

After expressing his thanks time and time again, it was time to leave. Time to meet with his fate, whatever that really meant. It had only been a day, just over two maybe, since this had all began. He was just a farmhand, really. He couldn’t do this, who did he think he was?

Yet once, a long time ago, he’d been even less than that. He’d just been a single raven. But that raven had vowed to be more, dreamed of it. And now here he was. The only thing to do was simply to do it.

“We’re almost there,” Valki said, pointing ahead. For the last few minutes, more and more crumbled structures had peeked through the mist of the Other, but Okin’s eyes widened as he looked ahead. The mist parted to reveal a positive graveyard of realities. Bits of buildings and huge clumps of earth floated in the abyss. Crumbled Gothic buttresses were all mixed up with twisted industrial steel.

And somewhere in the center of it, there was something there, something waiting for him, Okin could sense it. Something malicious, something that wanted him dead.

He shivered, trying desperately to keep his wits about him.

“I can’t accompany you in this fight,” Valki’s voice came out a whisper, “so you’ll need to move on your own. Think you can do it?”

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. She let go of his hand, and for just a moment, Okin was filled with the irrational fear that he would simply fall. But he didn’t, just floated. Fighting the urge to pump his arms like he was swimming, Okin did the one thing he could think of: he imagined he had wings. And once more, Okin flew.

Still, a part of him wished he couldn’t. Because now Valki was no longer holding his hand. He felt like she was very far away.

“Then the Morrigan awaits.”

Valki turned her head, and there, standing on a discarded lump of snowy plain, a cloaked figure was waiting for them. As they approached, a strange breeze whipped both Okin’s tunic and the figure’s billowing mantle, and he gathered the distinct impression that he should be afraid. There was something very ominous about her, very… inevitable. Yes for some reason he didn’t. He nearly felt like he was coming home.

“Hello again, little raven,” the voice that emerged from cracked, blackened lips was surprisingly lilting, smooth. “I have been waiting far too long for your return.”

She didn’t lower her hood, so all he could see were those lips, and a small hint of paint that circled around them on the one side.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t arrive sooner,” Valki bowed deeply. “There were—”

“—Complications,” the Morrigan smiled, not unkindly. “It seems the Volk didn’t take well to them.” She turned to Okin.

“I…” he found himself a bit tongue-tied. “I managed, yes.”

“Then you have it.” It was not a question.

Okin grabbed the spear and presented it to her. The Morrigan took it delicately, the metal clinking gently against the bare bone of her hand. She examined it slowly, all the while Okin holding his breath as if he’d been the one who’d made it.

“I suppose it will do,” she said finally, the barest hint of a smile dancing on her lips. She handed it back to Okin, before turning off to glance towards the center of the maelstrom behind her. “I’ve kept him here as long as I can. I feel his rage will be great.”

“That won’t matter if he’s dead, right?” Okin asked, trying to instill confidence in himself as much as the others.

“‘Dead’ is an impossible feat for one such as him,” the Morrigan replied. “But still, I wish you the best of luck, little raven.”

He nodded, but before he moved, he turned instead to Valki. “Thank you,” was all he could manage.

“No thanks are necessary. I was merely performing my duty.”

“And that duty involved saving me a couple of times,” he insisted. “So I’m going to say them anyway.”

Mouth tilting upwards just slightly, there was not even a hint of fear in her eyes. “You’ll succeed,” she whispered. “I know it.”

Truly, he needed that. Gripping Gungnir so tightly his knuckles turned white, Okin faced the howling wind and began walking. It was time to face his destiny.

He barely even noticed the edge of the snow, as he was too busy observing something in the distance. It was at first nothing more than a small, black shape. Yet there was such a wave of menace coming off of it that there was only one thing it could be.

The Trickster was there within the chaos. And he was waiting for him.

He was smiling. Okin had no idea how he knew that, considering that no lips graced his skeletal visage. Yet somehow, that goat skull was grinning, laughing almost. His large horns nearly swayed as his head tilted, the two, green orbs he had instead of eyes following Okin’s approach.

Under that skull, he didn’t appear to even be material. A cloak of shadows covered him from head to foot, and when limbs emerged, they were wispy and as dark as the cloak itself. Would Okin even be able to hit a shadow?

The Trickster did not speak as Okin halted a dozen feet from him, simply continued to leer. There was intelligence in that gaze, it was undeniable. He did not seem to be the simple animal that his appearance belied. Okin almost wanted to try reasoning with him, he even opened his mouth to do so. But something made him pause. The Trickster’s head, though the gaze never faltered, was twitching erratically, almost as if it was being jerked around by some unseeable force. Even the very air itself around him seemed to warp and shift. He hadn’t noticed from far away.

It was clear as crystal: this god was mad.

“I don’t know if you can actually speak,” Okin called out to him, adjusting his grip on his spear, “so I don’t expect a response. But I want you to know: I’m here to put you out of your misery.”

A response, however, certainly came. With a slow, creaking movement, the jaw of the goat skull opened, and from its depths emerged the most rattling, chill-inducing laugh Okin had ever heard. His head tilted to the side again, and equally as slowly, a hand the consistency of smoke arose from the cloak. The Trickster snapped his fingers…

And the world around Okin turned upside down.

Of course, there was no gravity in the Other, so Okin didn’t fall. But still, his body kept telling him he would, and by the time that he fought off the accompanying nausea, the Trickster had vanished.

Okin didn’t realize he was behind him until he felt that rattling breath on his neck. He twisted desperately, and a clawed hand slid right past his ear. Blindly, he thrust with the spear, but once again, the Trickster was gone.

To his right now. Okin stabbed and now he was to his left. Every time he struck, the Trickster simply vanished. Was it all an illusion? It must be, what with the world still upside down and all. Unless the Trickster had powers that he didn’t know about.

Still, illusion or not, it mattered little. He needed to get to solid land, and quickly. He couldn’t put any real strength into his weapon out here, let alone properly get his bearings. Luckily for him, there were several crumbling scraps of realities floating around, no doubt destroyed by the very entity he was fighting. One of them caught Okin’s eye, as it still—somehow—had a functioning streetlamp, and Okin started forcing his way towards it.

“You don’t have to make it a fair fight, but at least don’t make me fight upside down,” Okin called out. “Come on, you can’t even brag about a fight like that.”

From somewhere in the subjective direction of “up” came a nearly mirthful laugh, and Okin flinched as he heard a snap right next to his ear. The world abruptly righted itself, and Okin fell onto the bricks under the streetlamp.

“Thanks,” he muttered, before the black cloak fluttered into shape right before his eyes and he barely avoided another lightning fast attack. He sent one of his own back, but yet again the shadows twisted out of view. Okin blinked, and the Trickster now floated a few feet away, leaning back with his legs crossed in a lazy manner. He raised a hand slowly, but before Okin could do anything to stop him, he snapped his fingers once again.

He wasn’t upside down this time. No, the scrap of land he was collapsed on started spinning like a top. Okin grabbed desperately onto the streetlamp, afraid that it might just actually be his vision that was spinning.

Yet it must have been real to some degree, for the Trickster followed his movement with his head. Was he waiting for something? Okin watched as, almost in slow motion, an arm unraveled itself from the cloak, and a clawed hand shot through the air.

He tried to twist out of the way, but it was simply too late. Okin cried out as the claw plunged directly into his eye socket, and upon pulling back, took a shimmering, golden eye with it.

The Trickster rolled it between his fingers, simultaneously curious and gloating. His teeth clenched together, Okin tried to ignore the taste of blood as it poured down his face and into his mouth. Whatever chance he’d had before, that was mostly gone now. This battle was nearly over. He couldn’t fight like this.

Still gloating, the Trickster held up the eye to either examine it, or to show it off, and Okin braced himself to let go of the pole. He shut his remaining eye, trying to get a grip on the pain, when his heart nearly stopped. For as soon as his eyes closed, everything was still. The world had stopped spinning completely, yet his hand still gripped the cold metal of the streetlamp.

He smiled, just a little. So that was the Trickster’s power, not to warp the world itself, but to warp your sense of it. But you couldn’t fool eyes that couldn’t see.

Of course, Okin was no expert at battle even with his eyes open. He needed every advantage he could get. So he let himself fall back to the pavement and lay there, clutching at his eye.

It was agony, sitting there in the dark, his eye socket throbbing, waiting. If he was quiet enough, the Trickster could simply kill him before he’d even know. But this might be his only chance.

Just at the minute he felt he himself would go insane, he heard something: the quietest flutter, and that low, raspy laugh, just to his right. He held his breath, and waited yet longer.

Then he sprung up, and praying that Gungnir would indeed aim true, thrust at the spot he hoped the Trickster would be. There was a wooshing sound, and the spear hit only air. But Okin wasn’t done yet. Both times he’d gone on the attack the Trickster had dodged to his left. So once again he struck out through his imposed blindness, and his spear was halted. He dared open his eye, and even the Trickster looked surprised to see Gungnir piercing his wrist, right under the fingers poised to snap yet again.

And right before both of their eyes, his hand simply disintegrated, breaking off into several small pieces. He shoved the appendage back under his cloak, and much to Okin’s shock, a roar emerged from the jaws of the otherwise silent creature.

He flew towards Okin, the green fires that were his eyes raging. He swiped at him once, twice, thrice with his remaining hand, and the pole of the spear nearly bent from the force. The Trickster sped away just as quickly, and though his heavy breathing nearly rattled his skull clear off his cloak, he composed himself.

Once more, he raised his hand, and stared at Okin. This was bad. The Trickster wasn’t playing around anymore. Who knew what he was really capable of when he was actually trying? Okin had to get to him, and fast. He pushed off of the pavement, sending himself hurtling towards the Trickster. But he was too late. Those shadow-like fingers once more let out a snap that echoed abyssally through the nothing. And then a dark, black pit opened up behind him.

It was almost like a black hole. Okin’s momentum was already sending him in its direction, but now he couldn’t stop. He tried to close his eye, but this thing, whatever it was, was real.

He kept them shut, however, as he continued drawing closer to the Trickster, hoping beyond hope that his teleportation was also just an illusion. Okin pictured in his head when he would reach him, and when the moment was right, shot out a hand and grabbed him by one of the horns.

The Trickster wasn’t affected by the darkness’ gravity like Okin was, but he couldn’t stop himself from being pulled in with him. The god squealed and bleated, kicked and thrashed, but Okin held on tightly.

“You’re not getting away this time,” he grunted in between clenched teeth. “Now it’s time… to put an end to this.”

Despite the thrashing, with his free hand, Okin aimed his spear, struggling against the darkness approaching behind him, and against the wild braying of the Trickster.

But this time, Gungnir did strike true.

The Trickster fell silent, the black hole closed, and for a second, everything went still. The god stared at the spear sticking out of his cloak. And then the fires in his eye sockets sputtered out, and he started to fall, leaving a trail of inky black fragments behind him. Okin’s spear was covered in the stuff.

He followed the Trickster back down to the pavement under the streetlamp, his hand still glued to the spear’s shaft. By this point, the cloak had become a formless mass of shadow, and the goat skull had disappeared somewhere within it. All the while the shadows were growing smaller, sloughing off into smaller shadows that began to float away in all sorts of directions. Okin wondered if he should prevent them from dissipating somehow, but legs shaking, he discarded the thought. If it was a problem, it wasn’t his job to deal with it.

Looking back at the shrinking shadows that had been the Trickster, Okin squinted in confusion. As they shrunk away, he saw something… white emerging from them. At first, he thought it was the Trickster’s skull re-emerging, but no, it couldn’t be. The texture reminded him more of… hair?

He watched as the shadows melted away, first revealing a face, and a head, and eventually, all that was left was a man laying on the pavement, the only indication of his previous form the slightly smaller pair of goat horns that looped around his ears.

At first, he didn’t move. Until Okin tapped him with his foot, at which point he groaned, and then coughed. After a minute, he opened one eye, then the other, revealing them to be a startling hue of green. The man blinked a few times, then, frowning, he sat up, rubbing his temple with a hand. As soon as he did, however, he froze. He ran a hand through his hair, then stuck both of them in front of his face. Confusion quickly turned to utter horror.

For the first time since regaining consciousness, he acknowledged Okin’s presence, turning abruptly to look at him.

“What the hell did you do to me?”

Okin was so surprised to hear him speak that all he could think to do was shoot back. “Me? How should I know? You’re supposed to be dead!”

“As I believe I already told you,” came the lilting voice of the Morrigan from over his shoulder, “anomalies are not capable of achieving that thing called death.” She and Valki landed gracefully on the pavement. “He is merely… fragmented. Split off into a thousand different facets.” Holding out her hand, one of the small blobs of shadow graced upon her palm. “Don’t worry,” she smiled, seeing Okin’s expression. “You performed your task flawlessly. This is the result I had hoped for. His madness has also been fragmented. He shouldn’t pose a threat anymore.”

“Fragmented?” the man spoke up. “Aw, are you serious? What fucking bullshit.”

“This is what’s been left behind. The fragment that retains his memories.” The Morrigan narrowed her eyes. “And I believe it was your fault for getting yourself cursed.”

“Hmm, that’s funny. I seem to recall some high-horsed bitch saying something like: ‘go for it, Trickster! Steal his shit, he won’t notice a thing!’”

“You will watch your tongue,” Valki took a step towards him. “Remember you stand before a goddess, and you are no longer her equal.”

“Well, geez, thanks for rubbing it in.”

The Morrigan put a hand on Valki’s shoulder, before turning back to Okin and ignoring the man entirely. “I offer you my sincere thanks, little raven,” she bowed deeply. “Without your aid, the very cosmos itself may have fallen to the Malice.”

Okin ran a hand through his hair, embarrassed. “Valki’s the one you should really be thanking. She’s the only reason I made it this far.”

“Then my thanks to you as well, Valki. I’m afraid the war is far from over, however. I would require your aid once again to bring it to a happy conclusion.”

“Anything, my lady,” Valki immediately replied.

“Of course,” Okin said. “Though… it might be nice to catch my breath for an hour first.”

“Well, that’s all settled then,” the man who had been the Trickster chimed in suddenly. “So I guess I’ll just be on my way.” He hopped to his feet, and made to float off into the Other. “Farewell, good luck, sayonar—”

“Where do you think you’re going?” The Morrigan asked.

“Uhhh, away?”

“Funny thing that,” She smiled, holding out a finger towards him before curling it back, and the man flew back to where he’d previously been sitting. “I seem to recall you and I having a little deal.”

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