“You wanna end your journey here and there?” Kim asked. “Kill me, and all will be for naught.”
Altera lowered her weapon and growled at him like an animal. “Then, shut up!”
“You were different from everybody, and not just because of how you looked. No, no, no.”
Fire; volatile; reckless; aggressive; hyperactive; deficit; restless; selfless.
The right side of the world started to bear words. For each one Kim spoke, the invisible artist would draw another. They crept into Altera's already torn brain. The words resonated with her, increasing the euphoria and tore her consciousness further apart.
Altera activated the Fehu rune. She swung her weapon and beat her wings, but the bindings wouldn’t budge.
She was great. Nothing would stop her. All the evils and all the obstacles she would conquer. As long as she didn't lose her head, everything would turn out fine. Yeah, she deserved happiness. She deserved it. Pain and bigotry made her suffer, but she endured it. And she would do everything for a better world. So, why shouldn't she be allowed to be happy? There was nothing wrong with that.
She would overcome him and Kim and Quin. And the tower. She was a beautiful flower. She would show them what she was. And she would bloom and bloom and triumph over all doom and gloom. Out of this room, she would get, and Geißel would eat his words. Geißel would wear and tear. And Ragna and Eric would like her.
Possessive; burning; insanity; high; addictive; ticking; hurdle; double-edged.
“Please, you shouldn’t be angry. See it as a gift.”
“A gift?” Altera looked at him aghast. “You think this is a gift?”
Was he mocking her? He couldn’t believe the words he had spoken, or did he? Who in their right mind would want her unstable brain? That guy was crazy. He was sprouting crazy talk. Crazy talk and crazy talk. And if he continued, she would show him what would happen to those who insulted her.
On the right side of the world, the temperatures rose. The heat combusted the air molecules, and embers started to tinder over the floor.
Mania; thorns; roses; self-harm; obsessive; self-destructive; unfocused; swinging; craving; trigger.
“Oh, what would I give to be like you.”
Jealousy; insanity; burn-out; heat; flames; uncontrollable; freedom; creativity; light.
“Are you insane?” Altera laughed and activated her runes anew, trying to free herself. “Why would you want to be like me? Do you have any clue how much it affects my life? How much I have to restrict myself?”
“And that’s your mistake. You ought to let it all out. I definitely would burn.”
Excess; irritable; abundance; inferno; racing; wild; untamed, delirium; ecstasy; delusion; euphoria; frantic; ephemeral; disturbance; psychosis.
“You’ve no idea. Continue to talk, and I’ll end you.”
Kim shook his head and brushed his hair away. “All I see is potential: How it allows my art to elevate into higher highs. This extreme contradiction in such short time, I would love to experience it and translate my mind onto my canvas.” His speech became faster, his voice higher. Every word continued his disassociation with reality and created a mirror that let the world see his descent into insanity. “The words I would get, the images I could create. It would be the purest expression of raw psychotic disorder. And if I had to suffer, so be it. For the sake of my art, I would gladly give up my sanity and break into a thousand pieces. For what worth does art have if there’s no suffering?”
"Say that again.” Altera’s face darkened. Her voice reached its lowest tone; her eyes displayed nothing but fire and rage. “I won’t care if I fail. I’ll kill you and kill you and kill you and find another way to get to Drake Griffin.”
As she glared at him, her eyes reflected the words: the fire and the ice that had covered the world. The once blank canvas displayed thousands upon thousands of words and runes. Endless contradictions lay scattered around her and crawled into her mind. Two elements clashed inside her brain. On the left side, ice had frozen everything; all movement had come to a standstill. On the right, a fire raged; the world was in constant flux: stagnation and progress; cold and heat – all mixing and separating, raving inside her.
Kim shrugged. “This was a pipe dream, anyway. In the end, I’m sadly mentally healthy. Unlike you. Your mind’s broken and in disorder. I could use a plethora of metaphors and list a bunch of descriptions to paint an image of your state of mind that even I would get bored with this. So, I will go straight to the point and tell you right in your face that frankly, my dear, you're not right in your head.”
She activated her runes again and again and beat her wings. Gales started to blow under them. Tears crept into the ink bindings; scraps of skin and blood fell from her wrists. Altera forced her body forward: one step closer to her opponent with each passing moment.
Kim tapped his finger against his temple, and with his brush, he attacked the air. A beam of ink pulsated from his weapon, and whatever particles the ink touched burst. Piece by piece, the cracks grew until their lines tore through the world, turning it into a broken mirror.
Five shards divided the world, and Altera tore her shackles. Pointing her partisan at Kim, she let the Fehu rune charge her body without rest. Altera screeched and jetted through the room.
Before she could dissect him, the liquid smeared Kim as well, and his legs dissolved into an amorphous substance, replacing his lower body.
Altera cut through the ink body and blew past him.
As Kim reformed, Altera stormed into the sky and attacked him with her partisan straight ahead.
“Let’s watch the fragments.” As if Kim had become ink itself, his body melted into the black liquid and splashed against the first shard.
Altera missed her attack. She hit the air and stared at the shard.
A Valkyrie was flying in a twilight sky. Her wings exceeded the confines of the shard’s border. Shadows hid her profile, and against the orange sky, the Valkyrie’s silhouette sharpened to a black figure that separated the heavens.
“Ah, yes. The Valkyrie’s ideals.” Kim reformed his body into its grotesque half-snake form. “We had already talked about it. But one last aspect needs to be mentioned still. What are you planning to do, Altera Xion? You want to burn brighter than anyone. Reach perfection. And then? Does such a concept even exist? An “after”? No. You expect to burn out at the height of your career when your light reaches its apex. Don't you? You want to reach the pinnacle of humanity, and if you crash afterwards, you're willing to accept it.”
“Of course. I would rather live one year of greatness than a lifetime full of mediocrity. What’s the point of life if you waste it away?"
Altera dashed forward with her weapon and attacked him again. The ink morphed within Kim's body, changing his structure. His torso split apart, and Altera flew through the halves.
“Of course," the voices of the two halves thralled in unison. "With a life as worthless as yours, you would want to spend as little time as possible.” The next two shards transformed; Kim reformed. Wind and snow blew through a tundra, and solar flares erupted on a sea of fire. “Ah, the cold...The frozen world and the burning fire. Two clashing states in your mind. They’re tearing you apart.”
Altera didn’t answer. She lunged forward with her partisan and slammed it into his head. Spider legs sprouted from Kim’s back. They formed a barrier around him and blocked the attack. Altera increased the force on her weapon, but the legs refused to budge, and she jumped back.
“Should you be a Valkyrie with your mental disorder? Will you be able to function? Without it, you won’t reach your heights. With it, you will fall. You only hurt yourself and your parents.” He shot the legs at Altera. “And Ragna.”
The partisan parried the legs. “What about Ragna?” Altera narrowed her eyes, and the shard showed her an image of Ragna.
“You’re fond of that girl, aren’t you? I get it, she can be a brat, but doesn’t she have quite the impish charm?” Kim chuckled. “But that will be your downfall. Forget your mental disorder, your hypocrisy, or your worthlessness. That girl is the true roadblock that’ll destroy your dreams. She’s already seduced you.”
“What are you implying?” Altera cut through the blockade. She dismembered the spider legs and thrust her partisan at Kim, its head aiming for his throat. “That I would put any relationship before my dreams?”
“I already know you’re incapable of such feelings.” New spider legs grew out of Kim. They positioned themselves before him, bending to a shield that deflected Altera’s thrust. The tip of his tail started to bubble. It formed into a stinger, its black shell reflecting Altera's face and propelled it at her.
She widened her wings and flew into the sky.
“It’s about your relationship, but in a different way. You're seeing her as a lost girl in need of guidance.”
The shards changed, showing scenes of them starting their journey.
“Do you want to say that it's arrogant of me to think that way?” Flechettes shot out of Altera’s wings. At full speed, they charged at Kim.
He summoned a globe of ink over him. The feathers shot through it and punctured his defense with holes. Drenched in black liquid, they hit the ground and stuck on the floor like tombs in a graveyard. The sphere exploded, and ink erupted in every direction. It sprouted and blew until the once white world had become nothing but tar.
Kim attacked anew, and Altera blocked. She went into the offense, and he defended. Back and forth shifted their movements with neither gaining any advantage. Two duelists engaged in combat on land where all possibilities they had destroyed. Behind them, the images of Ragna changed. Moments, Altera held dear, moments she had never encountered, all showing a different side of that imp. Each second, a new picture, the shards displayed. And while they fought, Kim continued his discussion with Altera.
“Yeah, kinda. But more importantly, do you think that this role is adequate? Yes, Ragna is lost. But can you really help her?”
“Of course. It’s my duty as a Valkyrie to guide her.”
The image changed. Altera and Ragna talked in the prison jail. Then, during their trip in the Bifrost and at the Iswafa river, and after Ragna had read Alfrun’s last entry.
“Your fake duty.” Kim sneered.
“I don’t care if it’s fake or not. I'll help Ragna.”
“You want to guide her towards the right path, but doesn’t it become clearer every day that you can’t help her? The path she walks on isn’t the one you want. With each step she takes, she drifts further and further away from the Valkyrie’s ideals.”
Another change. Ragna fought against Clockwork; She tried to kill Skyfrost; She tried to clear the first level; The paladin, Ragna had tried to kill in a blast; She killed one of Clockwork’s men.
“Some people can’t be saved. All you accomplish is that they drag you with them to their demise.”
Altera didn’t move. Her crimson eyes reflected a scene she neither remembered nor had seen before.
Ragna broke down before her. She cried and lashed out, showing her feelings, her insecurities, her pain. And then she kissed her, and within that same instance, killed her. Altera froze, her lungs and heart ceasing their functions.
Altera closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and discharged her feathers into all directions. They destroyed the shards and images, and all ink dispersed to droplets. Not even Kim was able to use them.
“You think I would stop because it’s deemed impossible?” Altera opened her eyes. “That’s the talk of the weak. It just means that others failed. Instead of accepting their own weakness, they shifted the blame towards the task. That they shouldn’t have tried, that it didn’t matter. If you think so, then go home and sit idly by with your failings. But I won’t stop. I will try and try and try again until the day comes where I succeed. You think Ragna is lost and hopeless? That she’s too far gone? No. It means she needs me more than ever before.”
“Why must you continue to disappoint?” Kim chuckled and tried to impale Altera with the spider legs. “See the final shard: your judgment. You failed. You’re ignorant and naïve. Instead of facing reality, you cling towards this dream. I cannot allow you to continue. Your journey ends here.”
“I don’t care.” Altera evaded the attack. “This is my journey, not yours. I don’t care if you judge me, and I don’t care what the world says. I'll continue to walk even if people call me a fool, even if they call me evil, even if the world rejects me and sees me as wrong. I will walk and fight for what I believe is right.”
Kim tried to attack again, but Altera avoided each of his attempts. She charged with her partisan and pierced through him. Jetting through the world with Kim dangling on her weapon, she rammed it against the wall.
“I’ll only say this once. Let me out of here. I want to leave this place and continue my journey. That’s an order.”
Kim groaned. Cracks ran through the impact point; stone fell from the wall. His body slid through the partisan. He fell on the ground, and the wall crumbled apart, revealing an opening back to the floor.
An albatross flew through the tower's floor. When its eyes met Altera's, it cawed and ascended towards a higher level.
Altera turned around. Feathers decorated the tar, transforming it into a mosaic of black and white.
How did she do that? She had never even thought of using her feathers like that before. Could it be that her mind was shifting towards a new paradigm? She fought brutally against him. Her fighting style and abilities had evolved, so her self may have changed. Or was it a result of her episode? She had to be careful, lest she could drift from her path.
Altera walked towards the opening and left the world.
Kim sighed. “I can’t believe it. She really rejected reality.” He chuckled. “That determination of hers will bring her far. But it’s also a tragedy that only waits to happen. Oh, how much I wish to witness that moment and capture it with my art.”