“Who?” Gerard looked away from the ray tube television that hung from the pub's corner and streamed the soccer match between “FC Arklow” and “Real Magdeburg”.
“The one with the twerp.”
Gerard sighed, his voice degrading to a lament. “Rory, could you please stop hooking up with single dads.”
“I’m more of a daddy than a dad.” Clockwork appeared next to them. Leaning over the counter, he threw Rory a wink, and Gerard flexed his muscles and pressed his fingers against the wood.
“Get off my sister.”
“Brother,” Rory said nonchalantly.
“Get off my brother.”
"Who says I'm interested in Skyfrost, Mr. Big Muscles?" Clockwork winked and blew Gerard a kiss.
"Oh." A red shimmer drew across Gerard's face, and he drove his fingers through his mane. "Thanks for the compliment."
"Eyes back to me, pretty boy." Rory glared at Clockwork and smiled, showing his teeth. “It’s your end I’ll enjoy.”
“Try me, you wannabe flyter.” Clockwork snorted.
Rory grinned. Ice shards raised into the air, pointing at every spectator whose eyes gazed at them. Within seconds, they looked away and Gerard back at the screen.
Every warrior worth their salt had learned the ancient art of trash-talking. It was one of the fundamental pillars of combat and psychological tool that could unnerve the enemy. In the heat of battle, where millimeters and milliseconds separated life from death, a disruption of the opponent’s mind could sway one’s fate into either direction. Sexism, racism, homo- and transphobia, calling the enemy’s father a cumslut – All boundaries and political correctness ceased to exist. Whether it was in its normal or the less common rhyming variation, most combatants reveled in the opportunity to flyte, and, among all the Valkyries, there was no better flyter than him.
"You should be happy. I’m doin’ you a favor. In the underworld, you’re a big fat joke. I won’t have pity for a fuckin’ slaver, but face it: You’re a washed-up oak. No money, no men, and your opera froze. This rotten orange has become weak. And all that's left are these lame-ass clothes and a little girl too scared to speak."
"Oh, you got no idea whatcha talkin’ ‘bout, kid. You have never seen true horrors like I did." Clockwork swung his butterfly knife in front of Rory.
"This talk ‘bout power and liberty’s a charade, ‘cause all it shows, our transvestite’s afraid. There’s so much you couldn’t comprehend. Keep going on and meet your blood end.”
Millimeters before his eye, Clockwork stopped. The blade’s edge pointed at his pupil, reflecting it as Rory's copper eye mirrored the tip that could pierce his retina in a second. Yet, Rory remained calm. He didn't move, didn't react.
“Don’t forget your blood comes from Vaix. Before me’s a freak, all of Midgard rejects. You’re a fuck-up wherever you go. The only real question you know, is what are you doing, step-bro? Mess with me an’ see a horror show. So, bow down to the real maestro.”
Rory folded his hands, looking straight at Iris Servelf. “A criminal with a girl? That is a horror show. Tell girl, how often do you give’m that dough? I know we all wanna be obscene. But I prefer much less fifteen.”
Iris growled and bared her teeth. She reached for her pocket, but Clockwork gesticulated with his arm, ordering her to stop.
“A lecture from a sad troll who can only lie? Your lonely pea brain could never get our tie. I’m the best musician of the brilliant Coterie. Keep talkin’ shit and get a knife-vasectomy.
Rory giggled and licked his tongue. “Ha. You're sounding like every diddler ever. I have every right to send you to the nether.”
“You Valkyries think you’re o so unique. Bullies, imposing your will on the weak.”
“Of course, we are. We’re strong. We’re free. And we take your freedom with all brutality.”
“You’re what’s wrong with this society.” Clockwork grabbed his knife. He glared and pointed it at Rory.
“A human trafficker dares judgin’ a deity?” Rory laughed and crossed his legs. “There’s no justification for your crimes. Affronts against humanity as bad as your rhymes. You longed for the sounds of violins and burned the world with violence. You and this world simply can’t coexist. My advice? Go, seek a psychiatrist. Your clockwork clearly needs a new screw. Every judge would drop the hammer on you.”
Clockwork sneered. “We don’t need to justify evil. Taking free will from the people is the only crime in our existence. Don’t be surprised at our resistance. Havin’ to follow when ya impose yer values; it’s proof that yer class system shall loose. There was no evil when Aes came to be. And our birth, none known to humanity. But with society, the unwanted got the label. Back then, we didn’t need to justify, to disable. Even now, there shouldn’t be for any wretch. And so, to bring down society is my pledge.”
“Gee, I’ve seen incels on Insta with less edge.”
“Y...Your order.” The bartender placed two plates with Caprese sandwiches and two 0,5-liter mugs on the counter.
“Thank you.” Rory faced the bartender. His voice became high-pitched and lost its roughness. “And could you please give those two the same order? Of course, just some water for the girl.” He turned around and faced Clockwork and Iris while his hand slapped Gerard’s away as his brother was about to grab his meal. “Please join us. There’s so much I would love to discuss with you.”
“Go, do the old in and out with a horse.” Clockwork’s grip over his knife tightened, and the barkeeper nodded as he hasted away to the kitchen.
Rory sneered. “Maybe I will. It couldn’t be worse. At least, that penis would be big enough for my hand to hold it.” He pointed at his brother. “Do you really want Gerard Donnerschlag to convince you to sit?
Rory’s finger moved further and pointed at the wood Gerard had touched before. Black tree-like patterns drew through its texture, the smell of coal invaded Clockwork’s nose, and the realization of what Gerard could do, seeped into Clockwork’s mind.
Eventually, the barkeeper would bring the food and drinks Rory had ordered for Clockwork and Iris. The other guests had returned to their previous activities. That Rory threatened to impale any eye he saw looking into his direction with an ice shard animated the guest’s decision to pay the Valkyries no mind.
“What do you want? What’s the point of this?” Clockwork bit into his Caprese, munching on the bread like chewing on gum.
“It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t let you enjoy a last meal before I bring you in. You've quite a bounty, I gotta say. And don’t worry, before Midgard fries you, you can get a proper meal.”
“What’s up with this twerp?” Rory huffed with his nose. “She looks like she'd want to murder me any second, but she hasn’t said any word. Don’t tell me you’re one of these pathetic losers who can only deal with reality through escapism?”
Clockwork struck with his fork. At the last moment, Rory retreated his hand, and the weapon grated against the porcelain.
“If you insult Iris, I’ll kill you.”
“Oooh, how scary.”
“Bro, please stop that. She really can’t talk.”
Rory’s eyes wandered towards Iris's neck. Through the skin twisted a scar in the area where her vocal cords should be. His smile turned into a frown, and he looked at Clockwork.
It didn’t seem that the girl’s scaring involved him. Otherwise, he would have killed that bastard right away.
“I apologize for my behavior.” Rory looked at Iris. “This will be the first and last time today, but I’m sorry for what I just said, Iris Servelf.”
Everyone should try to grasp freedom. Most people failed because they lacked power and couldn’t defend themselves against him, but that shouldn’t include children. They had yet to understand this world's nature. Adults could grab power and turn their desires into reality. If they failed, it was the result of their shortcomings. They deserved whatever lot they ended up in. But children were born powerless. They had to learn about the world, society, and mankind. Only then could they vile for the power to set themselves free and walk the path that led to the fulfillment of their wishes and the attainment of happiness. Yet, adults wouldn’t care. They saw targets they could conquer, and so they would. Sure, the trauma could help children awaken their powers, but the mental scaring wouldn’t be worth it.
“But I guess one could thank you." Rory looked back at Clockwork. "Your failings have led to a collapse of the underworld. Your incompetence had more worth than any other action in your entire life. Not that it would delay your punishment. Midgard would never let one single act of good remedy a life full of crime.”
“That bounty on Ragna Griffin’s head said something else.”
“Bounty? Ah, right, I remember. That wasn’t us. Even if you had brought that Ragna brat in, we would sentence you too.”
“What?” Clockwork slammed his fist against the table. His eyes rose, and he pointed his fork at Rory’s throat. “I lost my men because of her, and it was for nothing?”
Rory laughed and brushed Clockwork’s hand away. “How lame? You lost against that Wannabe Valkyrie. I should end you right now. At least then, someone strong would’ve killed you.”
“Didn’t you lose against her, too?” Gerard asked.
“I didn’t.” Rory raised his head and struck a pose. “I lost against centrifugal force. That’s totally different.”
“Then, why don’t you buzz off and deal with your physics issues? Meanwhile, I will kill Ragna Griffin.”
Rory narrowed his eyes.
He didn’t mishear him. He had mentioned for the second or third time that he intended to kill Ragna Griffin. What made him believe that she didn’t die on the Verne? Unlike him, Clockwork shouldn’t have a reason to think she survived. The news stated she was dead. Did he have another information network, or was he a conspiracy nut? And besides, he always said he would kill her, never that he would find her. Had he found out her location? Probably not, but it was worth a shot, and who said low lives couldn’t have any use?
“You seem quite hellbent on killing her.” Rory smiled. “You know she’s dead, right? But I guess, even you wouldn’t mess up killing a corpse.”
“Laugh all you want. I know she’s alive.”
“How? Do you know where she is?”
“Doesn’t matter. With the barricade, I won’t get to her.”
That would make sense. If Ragna Griffin survived the attack, then she would seek refuge in Eren.
“So, if I get this correctly, you know where she is, but you can’t get there because all water routes are blocked?”
Clockwork didn’t answer back. Rory crossed his legs and pulled out a lipstick case from his jacket. He rotated the container open and wrote with it on a beer mat that lay next to his mug. Once he had finished, he tossed it like a throwing star.
Clockwork caught it between his fingers. On its surface, Rory had written that they could make a deal. He told them where Ragna Griffin was, and in turn, they would let him go free.
“Why would I trust you?” Clockwork arched his eyebrow.
“Bro, would you?” Rory nudged Gerard on his shoulder.
“Oh yeah, sure.” Gerard turned around and let go of his mead. “I promise as a Valkyrie. Rory will keep his word.”
“Hmm.” Clockwork wiggled his head back and forth. “Nah, I think I could get away from you.”
“Then, what about a ride? If you tell us, we’ll bring you with us.”
“How would you get past the blockade?”
“We’re Valkyries. We don’t adhere to the same laws you muggles do.
Clockwork clenched his fist. “Let’s say, I tell you where that Ragna girl is, and you bring us there. What then? Who gets to kill her? I doubt either of us would be okay to let the other do it.”
“We can deal with that when the time comes. If worse comes to worst, we share. You stab Ragna from the front, and I stab her in the back.”
Gerard pricked up his ears but remained silent.
Clockwork sighed. “Fine.”
He offered his hand, and Rory took it.
“So, where exactly is Ragna Griffin?”
“She’s in Utgard.”
“How do you want to know that?”
Clockwork showed them his phone. He swiped on it until it displayed a picture. A man in his twenties partied at Rice Road and made out with an elderly lady, tongue kissing her. Within the background walked Ragna Griffin, and next to her was a woman whose stature resembled Altera Xion.
“Iris and I searched every corner of the internet for any leads, and then we found this pic of some random tourie in Utgard. It’s over a month old, but that’s all we have.”
Of course, they would be in Utgard. Why didn’t he think of that himself? Altera Xion had Utgardian blood in her. The Chieftain would be interested in harboring a Valkyrie loyal to his nation. And even if it was a month ago, the photo proved that Ragna Griffin had entered Utgard. It was impossible to enter Utgard without the officials knowing. She might have left, but the Chieftain could provide them some clues. Not that he had much choice in the matter. If he refused to cooperate, it would count as support of terrorism. Midgard could sanction the Hel out of Utgard or out him as a terrorist sympathizer. That should give enough reason to invade Utgard. It wouldn’t be a desirable outcome, but it could scare the Chieftain into giving them up. At least in theory. Utgard’s chieftain was an enigma. Only a few had seen his face, and fewer knew what personality he had.
Still. He had a clue, and all he needed to do was to get rid of Clockwork. Gerard had promised that he would keep his word, but that referred to letting him be free, not to take him with them. So, he wouldn’t be breaking any oaths.
“And how do you plan on getting to Utgard?”
“We use my boat while no one’s looking at night.” Gerard grinned. “I can power it with my Fylgja, and no one will notice.”
Rory looked at Gerard.
What the Hel was he doing? That fucking oaf. Couldn’t his brother read the atmosphere? They had all the information they needed and could ditch these criminals. Why the Hel did he have to be such a boy scout?
“So…Without you, we can’t use the boat?” Clockwork took another bite from his meal.
And thus, Cyrus, Iris, Gerard, and Rory entered an alliance to reach for the continent of Glast and bring Ragna Griffin down in Utgard.