Eventually, their stay in Eren ended. They boarded the ferry and arrived in Orkney at the coast of Glast within thirty minutes. They stepped into new territory, Altera had recovered her energy, and she and Ragna fell back into their old routine of arguing.
“I’m telling you," said Ragna. “King Arthur was a woman.”
“There are historical records of him. And contemporary witnesses.” Altera’s eyes twitched as Ragna told her opinion regarding the gender of Glast's first ruler. “Why would they pretend he was a guy?”
Over the ages, countless historians had that same debate. Sometimes they argued with theses, theories, and evidence....and sometimes with fists, swear words, or feces.
“It was several millennia in the past, and men are sexist.”
Altera hawked. “That may be true. But what about Mordred?”
Mordred was the biggest flaw in the arguments of the Girlers. King Arthur's only son, who eventually betrayed the king and brought the kingdom of Glast – then called Camelot – to ruin when he killed his father, dying himself in the process. Unlike Arthur’s gender, Mordred’s parentage was clear, and historians could confirm his lineage.
“They just did. Love doesn’t need logic. It conquers all.”
“You know Mordred’s mother was Morgan, right?” said Puck. “She raped Arthur.”
“Then how about this. Arthur and her wife wanted a child. So, they asked the wizard Emrys for help. He used his abilities to make it possible. Like maybe he created a magical penis. But then Morgan got in the way. She seduced, drugged, or enchanted her so that she would carry little Mordred.”
Everyone except Altera nodded in agreement. That line of argument made sense. Given Emrys’ character and his supposed abilities, such an action was a definite possibility.
“What do you think was that other ship?” Grendel asked.
Ragna jerked up.
Fuck. Of all the topics Grendel could have picked up. If he had undone her efforts to cheer Altera up, she would kill him.
“If that thing was the Twisted,” said Altera. “Then perhaps the ship…”
Ragna exhaled in relief.
“That’s unlikely.” Grendel interrupted her. He looked at his hooded friend. Puck nodded in silence, and Grendel continued to speak. “No one would ever survive the void. Why would anything go there? It's a place of nothingness. Some creatures can utilize its powers, but that’s it.”
Eric laughed. “Didn’t know you were one of those whack-a-doodles from the Clocktower.”
“The Clocktower does a lot of meaningful research.” Grendel's face darkened. His face lost all brightness. “I’m truly indebted to them.”
“If you studied at the Clocktower," Altera said. “Then, you lived in the City of Avalon, right?”
“Where I was born and raised. Why?”
“I’ve always wondered, why is it so difficult to enter the city?”
Grendel looked at his companion again.
“You will find out once you arrive there,” said Puck.
Ragna smiled. "Glast's kinda strange."
"True." Altera nodded. "I don't know how you feel, but since I've set foot on this continent, it feels like someone is watching or following me."
Grendel looked at Puck and arched his brow as his eyes darted across the road. Yet, neither said a word.
“The Flamingo had become like, seven meters, so Puck had to shoot the spiked noodles with his motorcycle.”
Listening to one of Grendel’s adventure stories, Ragna observed the road in front of them.
The asphalt had stopped a while ago. Earth and dirt replaced it, and a pine forest any signs of civilization, modernity, or the beach. One could be two thousand years in the past, and nothing would change. Railroads were likewise non-present.
“How did you manage that?” Eric asked.
“We swore to never speak about how I did that,” said Puck
It fitted what she heard about the technological discrepancy. The further one was from the capital city – ports like Hlessy excluded – the more backwards the technology and poorer the people became. With the largest territory of all kingdoms and its reverence towards nature, Avalon had it worst. The Progress Stasis imposed after the Great War didn’t help or that scientists tended to flock to places with sufficient infrastructures and funding. The occasional old-fashioned member of the Mad Scientist Guild notwithstanding.
“Anyway.” Ragna lent an ear to focus on Grendel’s story.
She should have paid more attention, as it was impossible for her to follow the snippets she had caught.
“The flamingo crashed right into Lorelei. That used to be some kind of rock formation, and many ships crashed into it.”
“Every child in Midgard knows the Lorelei.” Altera puffed her cheeks. Perhaps it was because she had lost the earlier argument about King Arthur, but it seemed she thought he was mansplaining, even if he wasn't.
“People thought for a long time that it was a siren called Lorelei who bewitched seamen with her beauty and her song, causing them to crash,” added Eric. “Hence the name.”
“Really?” Grendel made big eyes. “In Avalon, we have a similar tale with Dahut. Apparently, men all around the world think similar.”
“Yeah, because men would rather blame evil women than admit their incompetence.” Altera sneered.
The men looked at her, opening their mouths to retort, yet were unable to respond. They had lost this round.
Altera smirked. No doubt this was payback for earlier.
Ragna chuckled and turned around towards Grendel. “Anyway, what's your story actually about?”
Grendel hesitated. It took a second for him to gather himself together and recover. “Just how Puck and I became friends with a conspiracy of ravens.”
“That was the third-most humiliating day in my entire life." The frown under Puck's hood grew. "It took me ages to remove the stench of chili from my body”.
Grendel laughed. “Don’t take it so hard. The ravens gave valuable information.“
“How did you two meet?” Ragna asked.
“We had signed up for the same mission on a mission board,” Grendel said. “We were a good team and decided to help each other with a personal mission.”
“You see.” He pointed at his companion. “Puck was tasked to find a runaway prince.”
"A prince?" Eric narrowed his eyes and rubbed his chin.
"As for me..." Grendel's smile disappeared. His pupils turned to slits; his voice lost all joy. “I'm searching for a monster.”
“A monster?” Ragna asked.
Didn't he mention a monster when they first met?
“It's a coward. Masquerades itself as harmless, in need of help, and attacks anyone naive enough to pity it. It took my mother. I lost a brother. And until I bring it to justice, I will not rest. That monster will pay. For all the pain it brought, for every life it took.”
Grendel’s eyes were burning like an electrical circuit. Had he spoken out commands, he might as well put them under his control.
Ragna was about to comment, give Grendel her condolences when her eyes caught the attention of three flags erected on the road.
No, that couldn't be...
Ragna ran towards them. She could discern the symbols halfway through, but Ragna didn’t stop. She had to be sure. A vortex of emotions overcame her, and the rage that Grendel’s eyes had reflected infected Ragna as well: pain, loss, hatred, and desire.
Twelve crosses overlay to form a twelve-pointed star, their heads connected to a circle enclosing it under a cardinal red banner. There was no mistake: This was the banner of Vaix.
They were here.