Eventually, the water changed to the red-orange reflection of the sinking sun, and the alarm of Altera’s phone rang. She looked at the clock, and her shoulders dropped in relief. Finally, the wait was over. It was time to see Eric and Ragna.
Back at her cabin, Ragna and Eric were lying on the ground. Their arms splayed out as if they were trying to create snow valkyries. Paper was scattered everywhere, and the two stared at the roof. The room was in such chaos that one would think a tornado had raged inside. Ragna and Eric were sweating, and their breath was heavy. Some of the runes flickered in black light.
“It looks like you succeeded.”
Ragna and Eric turned their heads. Ragna jumped up and grabbed the nearest paper that was flickering.
“Look," she said with a grin and gave Altera the papers, like an elementary student who got her first ‘A’. The runes were Hagal, Iwaz, and Ura.
“We got both ‘hail’.” A sense of pride overcame Altera. Even though it was trivial, it was a feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie.
“Really?” Ragna jumped. For a moment, the two were like schoolgirls who had bought matching accessories.
“How can you be so energetic?” Eric groaned and rose. Lacking Ragna’s vitality, he had the agility of a Draugr who had risen from the dead but lacked its instincts to do anything but to walk and search for brains.
“I’m full of life, old man.” Ragna snapped her fingers and pointed them as guns at Eric.
Eric raised his eyebrow. “Old man? I’m 26.”
“Really?” Ragna whistled. “I thought you were like over thirty…not that I have a problem with that. I like silver foxes.”
“Then I will ask you out once I'm thirty,” said Eric. "Hopefully, by then, you'll look like an adult."
Ragna dropped her shoulders. "Yeah. I deserved that."
Eric showed her his runes, and Altera spoke. “With the three at my disposal, we have all of the eight runes and Hagal twice. Anyway, if you want to use them in combat, you draw the rune on any surface, and the effect will then happen. But it’s best if you can touch the rune or the object with the rune.” Altera paused for a moment. “Just to make it quick, these are the effects: Hagal allows you to summon ice. Fehu is telekinesis and acceleration.” She summoned a dagger made of ice on her hand. The weapon levitated and sped through the room. It crashed against the wall and splintered into shards.
Ragna clapped her hands. "So, that's how you tore through the train roof and the cell bars. Though that dagger didn't have much of a punch."
"It's simple physics,” Altera said. “Force equals mass times acceleration. So, the bigger and faster it is, the more powerful it becomes."
“Wait…so, you can only make the ice move because of the Fehu rune?”
Altera nodded. “Hagal summons ice. We can mold it to our likening and make it grow, but that’s it. It cannot leave its initial position since ice cannot move on its own. As for the other runes, Teiwaz is augmentation. It gives your body a temporary boost.”
“What kind of boost?” Ragna asked.
“Agility; strength; resilience; moral; health: these are some of the aspects that you can boost. It is an augmentation of all that is admirable in a noble warrior.”
“So, basically, your stats get a short-time bonus.”
Altera looked at Ragna in confusion.
"Like in a video game," said Eric.
Altera still didn’t understand, but it was better if she didn’t bother with that topic any further. “Anyway, Ura manipulates water or creates it. Unlike with Hagal, you don’t need Fehu for that, but you cannot change its aggregate state. It also disappears shortly afterwards, so don’t try to solve world problems.”
“Dying children in Obelisk,” said Eric. “Not that high on Twice’s priority list.”
“Naudiz allows you to teleport to a place that you have marked with a rune. The range is not that great, though. So, using it for quick travel is useless. Iwaz creates poison.”
“What kind of poison?” Ragna asked.
“No idea. I actually don’t know how that rune works. I think it’s different from person to person. Anyway, Burisaz…” Altera pointed to the ground. Out of it, a thin spear-like structure rose. “…can summon thorns and stakes on any surface you can see, and Isan makes things colder. Both physically and mentally. It can create a feeling of apathy. It also slows down the movement of objects.”
Ragna stared at Altera. “Eh…so, Hagal is creating ice, and Naudiz is…”
“You don’t have to learn them all right now,” said Eric. “It’s enough that you know what you can do.”
“Okay,” said Ragna. “And now what?”
“Touch the paper. Visualize what you want to summon and materialize it.” An ice sphere constructed itself above her hand. Layer by layer filled the ice its form until the ball was whole. “The rune is brush and color in one and the world, your canvas.”
Ragna and Eric did as Altera instructed them. They touched the papers, and their faces hardened. Displaying utmost concentration, they sat still. Their minds focused, and time passed. It may have been minutes – and it probably was – but for them, it felt like hours. Eventually, the ground froze.
“Huh.” Eric swiped over the slippery surface of the ice. “Altera’s mumbo jumbo was actually useful.”
Altera grinned from ear to ear.
“Not really,” said Ragna, and Altera’s smile vanished. “That art talk didn’t do a thing. Then I remembered how she had used the rune against Skyfrost. I thought, why didn't she do this instead. Like, why didn't she make him slip and fall off the train.”
“It’s not my fault.” Altera puffed and crossed her arms. Her companions gave her a weird look. “It really is not my fault. When I said that the runes are based on you, I meant it. It’s not that I didn’t think about it. I couldn’t because it’s not my personality." Wings grew out of Altera's as she activated her Fylgja 'Brynhildr'. "The runes – like the Fylgja – manifest your soul as abilities. You’ll only use abilities that suit you. But as people change, so do your abilities. I’ll learn new ones and forget what once used to be second nature. There will be many moments where you will ask, ‘Why didn’t you do that?’. I couldn’t.”
"I don’t buy that," said Eric. “If you write them down somewhere, you can always look them up."
Altera shook her head. "You’ll forget that you’ve written it down. Let me give you an example. Ragna, what was the name of your third SO?"
"My third...Mhm...There's John...No...He’s my sixth. Paul...No...George...Ah, I remember. It's Ringo. I was 13, and he was a nice guy. Never got to second base, though. He was always the quiet one in class."
"You probably had a nice time together. But how often did you think about him after you broke up?"
"At first, a lot, but it has been years."
"Exactly. Had I not asked, you wouldn't have thought about him at all. And unless it turns out you have some lingering feelings left, you’ll forget him again. It's the same with these techniques. They're an extension of your self. They can't be what you are not. And also, because they're an extension of yourself, runes can never hurt you."
Under Altera’s instruction, Eric and Ragna trained for several hours in an empty hall on the lower deck. As they soon learned, all three had different thought processes to activate the power of the runes. For Altera, it was art. She imagined what she wished to create. If she intended to summon an ice stake, she saw the object before her eyes. Ragna saw the effect she tried to achieve. If she desired to create an ice stake, she had to think she wanted to impale an enemy. And Eric had to think of commands like "I want you to do this".
“How can you use them in combat? To hold on to that piece of paper doesn’t seem to be a good idea,” Ragna said once they had gotten back to their cabin, and it had become night.
“You have to create a connection between rune and body.” Altera sat down on her lodge and crossed her legs. Eric and Ragna stared at her in confusion.
“It’s much easier than you think,” she said. “You can draw the runes on you or your clothes and weapons. But with the pens we have, they would soon fade away, so we can’t use that. Another option is…”
Altera rolled up her sleeve showed them the tattoo on her left shoulder.
“Using tattoos or burn marks creates the strongest connection. It furthermore makes it harder to separate the rune from you. Well, for now, just stick the papers you drew the runes on to your clothes. It’s not the best, but for the moment, it should suffice.”
“Ah, so the other one is also a hidden rune tattoo.“ Ragna pointed at her left hand.
“Correct. Any other questions?”
Eric raised his hand. “What can the other runes do? The ones Midgard cannot use.”
Altera shrugged. “I've no idea. While their origins are different, the usage of runes is virtually indistinguishable from a Fylgja. I was sadly never in a situation where I could have differed between the two.”
“I’m just wondering…” Ragna had a wide grin on her face. Her eyes gleamed in the light of a predator who had caught the smell of blood. “You can use three runes, right? That means you’ve three tattoos.”
“I didn’t see any tattoos when you were working out, and you only wore sports underwear. So, just where are you hiding the last?”
“I don’t why your so excited but it’s between my shoulder blades.”
“Oh.” Ragna pouted. “Can I see i-“
Sirens howled, drowning Ragna’s word under their noises, and a red light flashed in rapid succession. The cabin shook, and a shriek like knives, screeching against glass pierced through their ears.
Draugr – Mythological beings who didn’t die in war and had unfinished business. They lack intelligence, except for one single obsession that drives them like a program code. It is said those with high will power, can maintain their intellect and speed. Thanks to the Draugr Apocalypse genre, variants who are mindless but still fast have entered the public mind.