Once the sun was shining in the morning sky, the party had to wake up, and after a breakfast that Quin had snuck in, they left for Ymir’s Tower alongside Nephthys, who acted as the chauffeur, and Quin, who accompanied them as well.
“So, this Ymir?” Eric asked. “It’s the same one our ancestors used to worship before Twice, right?”
“Presumably,” said Quin. “If I'm honest, I don’t know much about him.”
“You are the chieftess. Shouldn’t you know about your culture?”
“Ymir is not part of our culture.”
Quin’s words became a hiss, and Eric jerked back, bumping his head against the car’s roof.
“But you built a tower for him.” Eric winced. He put down his hat and massaged the back of his head.
“We didn’t. The tower was already here when my ancestors had arrived in this land. I don’t know if they still teach that in history class, but we Utgardians used to be called the ‘Wandering Empire’.”
Ragna looked at the two. While she had learned fragments of Utgards history, teachers brushed over and summarized anything before the Great War that didn’t involve Midgard’s past. Biology class had taught her more about the old world. Still, she couldn’t shake off the feeling that the mystery surrounding the old gods could end up relevant. It had zero connections to her father, yet they kept encountering these beings and buildings connected to them.
“You were the Huns,” said Eric. “A kingdom of nomads or barbarians. Or nomadic barbarians. Depending on whom you ask. Around the time the Trutner siblings rose to fame, the Huns had built a kingdom spanning across Aes. From Vanden to the borders of Midgard. At its height, one could call it the first world power. Of course, its foundation was rape, pillage, and burn. Cause those were the pillars of every functioning society.”
Quin nodded. “I won’t sugarcoat the crimes of my ancestors. But it is still my heritage, and I am proud of their accomplishments. And, in the end, the Hunnic Empire would soon fall when Ymir’s people banded together and attacked all so-called heretics.”
“There were other factors, like civil unrest and infighting among the high ranks, an economy dependent on invasions, or that a nomadic lifestyle makes for a fragile kingdom.”
“We were forced to flee.” Quin’s face darkened. She never experienced it herself, but the scars of an eons-long cultural genocide lingered on her to this day. “Ymir’s people took our culture and our god. I can’t even remember their name. And had my ancestors not found this Orichalcum reservoir, we might have perished alongside our god.”
Wait, that didn’t make sense. If the tower was in this city when the Huns had arrived, then shouldn’t it belong to Ymir’s people? They had access to the Orichalcum, but the Huns took it and used it to build a city. Shouldn’t Ymir’s people be at an advantage? That wasn’t the only discrepancy.
“Why did you keep a temple that belonged to your enemies?” Ragna asked.
“Excellent question. I would have expected nothing less from you.” Quin clapped her hands, and a modicum of glee flashed inside Ragna.
“We thought it would be a shame to destroy a building of such immense historical and cultural value. Even if it was a reminder of our defeat and humiliation.”
“That’s quite a modern sentiment.” Eric’s smile was like a fox in front of its prey. “Because it wasn’t the Huns who had discovered the tower. It was you, the Utgardians. When you had shifted to the Mana Realm after the Great War, you discovered the tower. It was always there in the world beyond.”
“How the Hel’s that possible? Just who’s Ymir?”
For the first time since last night, Altera had opened her mouth, and Ragna was relieved.
The confrontation with her brother hadn’t crushed Altera’s spirit. Even this time, she had been awake and doing her exercises before anyone else. And her gaze had remained determined.
"There’s a lot you don’t know about yourself. Both positive and negative."
"What is the treasure you wish to guard with all your life? What do you desire to preserve the most in the world? The which you are willing to shed blood for. And conversely, what is not.”
"Rather would you see her suffer, let injustice continue than let her hate you.”
"But your logic will often not apply to the actual world."
The words the woman and Quin had said to her came to Ragna’s mind. Would she let a crime happen instead of risking Altera hating her? No, that couldn’t be. That would go against everything she had learned, everything her parents stood for. And in the end, Altera would still hate her. That girl would never like someone selfish and evil. But if Geißel turned out to be right, and this journey would bring Altera misfortune and misery, or worse, death, then, could she, in good consciousness, continue? Without Altera, there was no way in Hel she could make it. But for that to destroy the life or happiness of her comrades? If she had to choose...
“When we explored the vast emptiness of this realm, we found a passage to a strange tower,” Quin said. “We don’t know much. There are writings, but the runes don’t belong to the Futhark. After years of research and exploration, we found out that the tower was in Ymir’s name. We also learned a bit about him. Among the many gods Aes used to worship, Ymir was one of the oldest. He is the ‘Outer God’, the god beyond Aes.”
“I don’t like the implications,” said Altera.
Quin nodded. In what was a million-to-one-chance, the two sisters-in-law agreed.
“There is more to it, but you can see it for yourself.” Quin removed her seatbelt, and Nephthys stopped the car. “We are here.”
They exited the car and entered a back alley. It would be one like a thousand others in Utgard, was it not for the red portal floating in the air.
“The Mana Realm is a recursive world. It is multiple layers stacked upon each other until one – hypothetically speaking – reaches the realm’s core.”
Without giving them time to process the meaning of her sentence, Quin walked towards the portal and disappeared. Nephthys followed her, and Ragna looked at her friends.
“It doesn’t look like we have much choice,” said Eric.
Thus, they entered the portal. A white light flashed and robbed Ragna of her sight. When Ragna could see again, the alley was gone.
In the air floated abstract geometric constructs. Beige in color, they twisted and bent in impossible angles and interconnected at their edges, merging into a larger body. A collective entity that covered the sky, or rather, this geometrical entity was the sky.
Millions of square holes saturated the object’s surface. From Ragna's viewpoint, they had the same distance to each other, but the further into the center the holes lay, the bigger they became. Where Ragna could peek, the interior of the construct expanded inwards into new landscapes and geometrical constructs.
“Just what is this?” Ragna took a step forward.
The ground resembled the sky, only that it was a smooth surface.
Where her heels had touched it, a rainbow circle formed upon the contact area and expanded outwards as if she had disturbed the water surface of a lake. And from these circles, symbols emerged. Again, from a runic system that was not the Futhark. They soared into the sky, and each time they had touched a substance, new circles and symbols emerged. Some of them bonded to strings resembling words or mathematical equations. Some lifted upwards like an elevator, others sideways, and some down.
“That’s not creepy at all.” Ragna checked on her friends. Their faces revealed the same degree of shock, disturbance, and curiosity she had. If this was the world this tower was in, what horror could it present them?
“Everyone, please close your eyes,” said Quin.
“Why?” Ragna asked.
“Ymir’s tower is a strange thing. As long as we observe it, it cannot exist. So please close your eyes, or you won’t be able to enter the tower.”
All four followed Quin’s words, and she closed her eyes as well.
Particles separated from the ground and the sky. And as they separated, their beige color changed to a blood red.
Mana in its unobservable quantum.
Ragna and the others walked without being able to see. Mana flowed into the realm’s center. Particle by particle, they conglomerated and built a cylindrical body that stretched into the sky. From the body, nerve-like roots grew out and docked into the ground, turning the construct into an inverted Agliz rune with multiple branches.
Mana assimilated on the main body to create disks around it. Eight in total, each possessing a radius smaller than the disk below. And every time the particles made contact, numbers and symbols burst out of them. Only the lowest and largest disks were complete. Cracks and missing patches ate through the other seven. Mana flowed into the incomplete disks, filling them bit by bit. Thus, Ymir’s tower started to exist, looming over a theoretical realm. And as long as no one would observe its phenomena, it would continue to exist and complete.
Ragna and the others had reached the tower. They came in contact with it and entered its interior.