On Mimir’s lower right arm, the Naudiz rune glowed in crimson light. Ragna appeared on it the next second and exhaled.
Who would have thought that worked? Using Eric’s blood to mark Mimir’s body with the Naudiz rune allowed him to warp her on his arm. It could have been the case that vertical teleportation was more difficult than horizontal.
She looked up at the mask. On its upper righter corner – diametrically across the cracks – Eric had painted another mark.
It would have been nice to teleport to the mask, but with all the beams he fired, she couldn’t guarantee that the lights wouldn’t hit her. After what Altera had gone through, the last thing they needed was another person losing their mind. Well, beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Along the strings, Ragna started to run up her arms. If she couldn’t teleport to the mask, she would go up there herself.
The mask looked down on the giant’s arms, and Mimir waved it around. The strings shook as if an earthquake tremored through Mimir’s body. Ice grew from Ragna’s feet and froze her to Mimir’s arm before the force would throw her off. Mimir waved his arm in all directions, but the ice wouldn’t break off. Ragna pressed her hands against her temple, trying to keep her head still. Her stomach started to tumble, and her head spun.
Ragna ground her teeth and suppressed her gag reflex.
She had to stop him. If Mimir kept going, the force would rip her body apart.
Her eyes glanced at the seax stuck beneath her stocking.
Maybe it would work?
Ragna reached for the blade, the Iwaz rune she had carved in its metal blinked, and Ragna rammed it into the string.
“What the Hel's going on?”
Ragna stared at Mimir’s body. His screams rumbled through her mind, and the giant’s movements stopped.
When she had tattooed the runes on her body, she had carved her weapons as well and came to terms with her reluctance to use poison. To survive, she had to go all out.
But that this would happen? Whatever, she had to make use of the situation.
The ice thawed, and the Fehu rune Altera had drawn on the back of Ragna's hand activated. With the extra speed boost, she ran over Mimir’s arm.
The screams subsided, and a shadow started to cover the sky. Ragna looked up. Trying to swat her like a fly, Mimir let his hand fall on his arm.
Ragna summoned a water sphere under her feet. The liquid soared into the sky. It propelled Ragna, and she landed on Mimir’s second arm. Ragna continued her sprint upwards, and another shadow appeared above her head. With water, she catapulted herself a second time on Mimir's limb. Ragna ran upwards; Mimir’s shoulder blade was in sight. And a third time, Mimir tried to smash her with his palm.
The Naudiz rune on Ragna’s nape glowed, and Ragna stood on Mimir’s face. Ice glued her to the mask’s fabric.
“That was your plan?”
The mask flashed, and, breaking of the ice, Ragna jumped back into the air when the golem's fist decked its face. The cracks on its surface grew. Mimir turned his face, and the light beam shot through the construct, pulverizing it.
Ragna summoned a batch of water, forming it into a lasso. She winded it around the mask, grabbed its lower end, and swung on it as if the liquid were a liana. Above the cracks, Ragna let go and landed on the mask’s “wound”. She stabbed with her seax into the opening. Dragging her sword behind, she ran over the surface and tore through the face.
The masks dropped into the water, and Altera froze all openings shut.
“We’ve won.” Ragna smirked as she fell.
The headless giant grabbed Ragna with his hand, and his fingers squeezed against her flesh and bones. Ragna groaned. Her face distorted in pain.
The Naudiz rune glowed, and Ragna disappeared from his hold.
She appeared next to Eric and held her hand against her ribs.
“Thanks…But why…did that take so long.”
“Sorry. With all the water splashin’ around, I had to draw the marks agai-.”
Altera grabbed the two and jump-dived. Where they had stood a moment before, a cross swooshed by and crashed into the ice.
“Congratulations, girl. Your eyes saw my attack coming. I had expected nothing less from you.”
The three turned their heads. The giant grabbed one of the crosses, pulled it out from the sea, and threw it like a shuriken.
Their eyes widened, and a second later, they disappeared and reappeared on one of the several rune marks on the frozen lakes Eric had drawn as his blood had scattered across the battlefield.
“I apologize for defiling these graves. It brings me great shame to commit such an act, but for the sake of the ordeal, I have to comply. Even if these are empty and do not correspond to the reality of the dead.”
Mimir pulled another cross out and threw it at the three. Eric teleported them away, and Mimir repeated the process.
“Since we are at it, you wondered what happened when your sword pierced my body. So, let me explain to you the effect of the Iwaz rune. For you, the poison mimics the effects of the deadly nightshade. Administered to an individuum with low Mana or someone not actively in combat, it kills the victim. But on an individuum with sufficient amounts of Mana in the heat of battle, it deals damage that slowly chips the Mana of said person away. Only once low enough can it start to work, but the body's regeneration of Mana will fight the poison. And as for me, it seems the Seidr that contain these fragments are weak to poison. But do not expect it to work again, for they have built an immunity.”
The mask materialized in the sky. It started to glow, and Mimir threw another cross. Eric teleported them to another spot when the Mimir looked at them and fired his light.
A barrier made of ice rose in front of them. Altera and Ragna created multiple layers strengthening the construct. The light shot through them until it reached the lowest layer, and the surface reflected the light at Mimir. Four of his arms blocked the attack and evaporated.
The giant’s body ruptured through the sky and threw its remaining set of arms at the three. Eric activated the Naudiz rune and teleported Ragna and Altera away. He formed his blood into a vine and swung it at the giant. Wrapping around Mimir’s forearm, it pulled Eric towards the limb.
Mimir reached out with his other hand, and Eric swung in the opposite direction. He performed a double flip, escaped the giant’s fingers, and landed on his arm. And the strings started to tremor. The blood looped around Mimir’s arm, preventing Eric’s fall, and with the boost of Altera’s Fehu rune, Eric ran towards the shoulder blade.
The colossus splashed his hand against his arm. Eric swung around it with his blood and reached Mimir’s underarm.
He grabbed a nick within the double helix strings and held onto it. His blood retreated into his body. Eric reached for the next notch, and piece by piece, he climbed up the colossus. Mimir’s body shook and trembled. Eric’s grip loosened, but he pressed on. He forced his finger to hold. The strings ate into his flesh and sliced his skin open. His fingers burned; blood glued his hands to the strands. Eric ground his teeth. He had to ignore the pain.
He reached for the next nick, and Mimir flung his arms. He whirled them around, back and forth. Nausea overcame Eric; his head and stomach started to turn upside down. His vision blurred; the strings turned into mist. His brain throbbed against his skull, and Eric lost his hold.
He fell off the giant, his blood shot out of him, and glued itself to Mimir’s arm. Creating a lifeline, it lifted his body.
Mimir threw his other arm at Eric, but stakes shot from the ground. They reached between the fissures of the double helices, and his movements stopped. They pierced through his palms and joints, pinning Mimir down.
Wiping away the sweat and nausea, Eric took out his gun and fired. The bullet flew and expanded into an umbrella. Blood rained down. It drenched him and Mimir in crimson and sliced off Mimir's arms.
All three – Eric and Mimir's limbs – fell.
Eric smiled. Mimir had lost access to both of his arms.
The frozen lake opened up; the limbs sank into the pool, and Ragna closed them.
“You okay?” Altera caught Eric in his arms and carried him off to the ground like a bride.
Eric nodded, unable to say a word.
The mask turned around. It started to glow and fired a beam of light at Altera's flying figure. A barrier of ice rose from the surface between the two. Ragna strengthened her mirror with multiple layers, and the light shot against it. It burst through the outer levels until the barrier’s surface managed to reflect it. Unable to block it with his arms, the light hit the mask. Cracks run through it, rays leaked out, and Mimir's face disintegrated.
Ice started to cover the giant’s body. It froze, and one final stake cut through his spine, dissecting the colossus. His upper half fell. The ice opened up, and like before, the two halves fell into the sea and sank.
Altera and Eric landed next to Ranga and plumped on the ground. All three breathed heavily.
“Is...is it over?” Ragna looked at the sky.
The mask materialized anew, and they widened their eyes. Despair started to manifest in their thoughts. After everything, they still had not defeated Mimir.
“Do not worry. You have completed the task.”
“Really? B...But how?”
The right side of the mask cracked away, and behind it shone a single carmine eye.
“Defeating me was never a possibility, but you managed to destroy my fragments. It would take an hour to regenerate them. So, therefore I accept your victory. I hope I did not make it too easy on you.”
None of them could respond to his words. They all let themselves fall on the ice and stared at the gas planet in the sky. It hovered above them, replacing the sun. Yet, it gifted them no light.
“First and foremost, congratulations. You have managed to earn victory against a foe you could not defeat. I am not sure whether that aligned with the task master’s intentions, but that is not my concern. I see brilliance before me, and whether that will lead to comedy or tragedy is yours to decide. But likewise, do not forget that the possibility for both will always exist. I will not say your journey will reward you with a happy or a bad ending, but perhaps this might give you support to stir your journey into a conclusion that makes you content. This world is complicated. That is undeniable and cause for fright as well as joy.
"There is so much to explore and so much to understand. The facts before your eyes are seldom what they seem to be. Be it your allies, your adversaries, or what you had accepted as a universal truth. You will discover the layers your eyes could not see before. It will affect you and may change your perspective of reality. The constants in the world, perhaps they are not as constant as they seem? Learn and discover the complex nature of this universe.
"But keep in mind that you should not get lost in it. Keep your eyes open for the core. It can be suffocating, but often the truth is simple. Yet do not use this as an excuse to avert your eyes and play ignorant. That is all. I may not have the ability to weave the future, but I wish you good luck, Valkyries. It was an honor meeting you, and I believe in your victory. You have the means to succeed in your hands. Just learn how to use them.”
The ice thawed, letting the water come to the forefront. The crosses cast their shadows. Countless lives they might sacrifice for whatever reason might arise. Perhaps they would fill these graves; Perhaps they would end up empty. They couldn’t know. Just like light could litter this sky without sun, the world didn't have to be the way it seemed. All they knew was to keep going on and doing their best. That was all they could do in this bizarre world, for going back had long ceased to be an option.
And with this, Ragna, Eric, and Altera had cleared the fourth level.