Cyrus Clockwork tapped his fingers against the bar counter. He took a sip from his White Vaixian Plus, and his eyes scanned the customers around him.
Lately, the number of visitors who frequented the Corova Pub had increased, despite the current recession depriving many of their jobs. When money was tight, folks seemed more eager to spend it on alcohol. Not that he could blame them. The current situation burdened everyone. Hlessy famed itself for its port that allowed international commerce and travel to flourish.
Not without reason did the world dub Hlessy as the gate to Midgard. When Leif Erikson, Midgard’s first President, set foot on Viking alongside the Trutner siblings, he named the area around Hlessy “Newfoundland”. Utgardian spices, Erenian fruits, Avalonian tea, Raanian cloth, and Vaixian vodka – before globalization became the imperative society danced to, Hlessy served Midgard its first taste of international flair.
Every child could figure out the importance of the water routes and the port for Hlessey’s and Midgard's prosperity. When the governments decided to ban all sea travel in response to the Verne's sinking, the economy started to suffer. Despite protests, it didn't look like the lockdown would be lifted soon. Safety or business – how could one strike a balance between the two? At least, that was what official statements had announced. Reality tended to skirt along grayer lines.
Cyrus shook his drink, and his attention focused on a couple of drunks playing a party of pool in the bar’s corner.
If he approached those amateurs, he could rip them off before they could spell maestro, assuming they knew that word in the first place.
Iris nudged him with her shoulder and showed him a stern face.
“I know, I know.” The bar stool creaked, and Clockwork took a sip. He let the liqueur flood his tongue before he swallowed it down.
Five out of ten. The drink could use an extra shot of vodka. But for such a low price, he shouldn’t complain. If the owner didn’t bother with a price that fit the drink, he wouldn’t bother with the quality.
Midgardian folk music popped from a loudspeaker whose location he couldn’t determine. Some of the drunks babbled to the song’s drivel or smashed their feet on the wood.
Clockwork groaned and emptied his drink in one go.
What an insult to the art to call this music. Did Midgard’s citizens listen to this dreck? If that turned out to be the case, then the southern world would abolish itself and was a thimble away from its downfall.
No, he had to endure this and couldn’t complain. The Corova was the only pub in Hlessy that didn’t make a ruckus if someone with his reputation and fame entered the establishment and made use of their services, and they didn’t raise an eye about a minor accompanying him.
Iris's legs dangled over a bar stool that prevented her feet from reaching the ground. She drank her orange juice and rocked on her seat to the music.
Cyrus rested his head on his hand and stared at his drink. Without any liquid inside, the glass reflected his face and frown.
He couldn’t blame Iris for her taste in “music”. At her age, she had yet to develop the ability to separate art from trash and listened to a bit from everything.
“Barkeep.” Clockwork raised his glass. “Another, please. And put in an extra shot.”
What should he do? Thanks to the blockade, the ports, sea routes, and airports wouldn’t open. Cops and agents patrolled every corner. He couldn’t leave Hlessey, let alone Viking. How the Hel could he kill Ragna Griffin if he couldn’t enter Glast’s continent? He had vowed to get his revenge on her for his friends’ deaths. Since then, over a month had passed.
And, of course, the attack on the Verne involved Ragna Griffin as well. She, her Valkyrie friend, and that cowboy guy just had to board the ferry. Now, the world mourned the death of a Valkyrie candidate, but this wouldn’t fool him. Ragna Griffin still roamed this world and had sought sanctuary in Glast.
Clockwork let his head down.
Just what should he do?
The glass slid over the counter and stopped next to his shoulder. Its milk danced along the edge without splitting over. Clockwork waited until it had calmed down and emptied half of his drink.
He looked around. The players had stopped playing. Like idiots, they stood frozen and stared at the entrance. The pub noises had died down as well. The music was the only sound one could make out. Everything else had become silent.
What was now?
Clockwork glanced at the entrance, and while he remained quiet, on the inside, he started to scream like a baboon.
Why the fuck were they here? He and Iris had to get out before they noticed them.
Gerard Valkyrie and Rory Skyfrost entered the Corova Pub. Rory blew his nose as they walked past the customers. With every step, the wood creaked, and eyes followed them. Whatever activity had occurred in this pub came to a standstill the moment he and Gerard had arrived.
The question they all asked but couldn’t voice wasn't “Why were they here?” or “For whom were they here?”. No, it was “Whom would they take with them?”.
According to scientists, roughly 0.01 percent of Aes’ population had discovered the ability of their Fylgja, or however one wanted to call it. Out of that number, less had developed their powers to the point of gaining an advantage in combat. And in Midgard, the total of combatants capable of using runes numbered less than 7000.
While Rory didn’t have any figures, runes remained a secret only the military had access to, which meant that Kemet-Raa and Avalon restricted usage to their top ranks. Utgardians couldn’t use runes for some reasons, and he had yet to meet anyone from Vaix capable of using either Fylgja or runes – excluding him. Though, he had never encountered a Paladin in combat before.
One could divide this world into two populations: those with power and those without. And here, that divide became apparent. The powerless feared Gerard and him, knowing that they couldn’t do anything to stop them. Well, that wasn’t true. Most loved Gerard. If one had nothing to hide, then there was no reason to fear his brother. Gerard served as Midgard’s protector, but the scum here knew their actions had revoked that protection.
Some pulled out their phones and locked the cameras on them.
What purpose would this serve? Were they trying to document his and Gerard’s activity to defame them and provide evidence, in case they abused their power, or did they hope to achieve some fame and instant gratification if they posted a video of them online?
If it was the former, then he could follow their train of thought. Social media could serve as an equalizer. It had ruined the lives of people regardless of how much power they possessed, and it had brought justice on occasions. Social media could create a collective consciousness, representing the masses' voice against which an individual could not compete. For the first time in their lives, the powerless could obtain power. All thanks to Social Media Almighty.
But such thinking was flawed. Social Media could provide power, but one could manipulate it as well. Photos and videos couldn’t depict reality. They framed a part of it and presented it as the whole reality. Writers and authors likewise chose when a story began and ended, which details it described and which it omitted. So, a post – which was nothing but the combination of photos, videos, or words, couldn’t do much more. It presented a part of reality and allowed one to recontextualize that reality and manipulate the world into believing the new truth. The true world became fiction, and fiction became the true world.
Rory's eyes wandered through the ram shack, analyzing every face they fell on. Hidden behind sunglasses, could these low lives not see on which of them he focused.
Well, he didn't enter the pub to arrest anyone in particular. This was a routine check the police would do without making a ruckus. Of course, given his and Gerard's fame, that was out of the question.
Some guests reached behind their backs. Whispers and murmur filled the room, alongside his steps.
Would they try to reach for a gun? Statistically, one or two could have acquired one on the black market. But the other equalizer wouldn't work either. Against someone like that dingus who blew himself up in Castle Gimli, it could, but not against Valkyries of his caliber.
Ice escaped Rory's feet, growing over the floor. It winded and twilled in vine-like patterns and encircled patrons, whose faces he recognized. Their bodies froze like the wood he walked on, and every muscle would tense up. The noose around their necks tightened; others relaxed, for the executioner's sword hadn't chosen them. Or so they thought. More vines grew from his feet and encircled some of them as well. The hope that manifested within their minds would turn into despair.
Ah, how delicious. Wasn't that a great deal to give away a second of hope for a lifetime's worth of despair? How many would fight back? No one, of course. What could they accomplish against two Valkyries?
Rory leaned over the counter, and Gerard hammered against it, leaving a dent in the wood behind.
The barkeeper rushed towards him. "H...How may I help you?"
"I've heard you make a good Caprese. I would like one, please. And a König Bils."
That oaf. Did he forget his promise to Miss Barton or that he couldn't drink alcohol in public?
Ice shards levitated in the sky and sped through the room, piercing every phone within their vicinity. Rory tilted his body backward and smiled at the barkeeper.
"For me, too."
The guests started to shiver, a mist of cold air became visible to the human eye, and Rory leaned back. Ice coated the door and the walls, and star-shaped paint decorated the floor.
Now, whom should he choose? To pay off his debt, he wasn't required to arrest anyone. His job entailed patrolling the perimeter, but the patrons wouldn't expect a Valkyrie to do menial tasks like that. A Vice-Captain and Midgard's greatest hero had arrived. What else but an insect’s arrest would that entail? It would harm the integrity and reputation of the Valkyries if he didn't destroy one life here. And if he had to ruin one life anyway, he might as well choose the one that posed the most danger to Midgard's society.
Rory lifted his sunglasses, and his eyes wandered through the pub again. This time, he could afford to let them know. He drew rounds through the pub until his decision fell. Rory's smile widened to a grin.
Now, that would be a catch.
Rory raised his finger. An ice shard appeared above it, levitating. He swirled his finger, and the construct started to spin. Like the wheel in a game show, it drew its rounds through the pub. With each second, the movements slowed down, and the guests began to see the shard's edge with their eyes. They didn’t dare to speak; didn’t dare to move away. Everyone anticipated the moment when the pointer would stop, when it had chosen the loser in this game of life. But little did they know that he had already cast the die.
The ice shard halted. Rory swiped his finger in the air, and the construct swooshed at his victim.
Clockwork drew his butterfly knife, and in the same motion, deflected Rory’s projectile. It crashed into the ceiling. The barkeeper and the guests nearest by Rory jumped up.
Clockwork pulled his top hat and showed a smirk.
Rory responded with a smile. “Oh, brother. Could you please bring this pretty boy to us?”