I am known as Alfrun, daughter of Briet and Dómari. Born in the 806th year after fracture, these gardens without compare I will call my cradle. Under the guise of he, who shall garden the fractured lands, our lord Eikthyrnir, I have lived 14 years of bliss. But now these days have ended. The people of Ymir have come. From the three corners of the world, they have gathered. To purge us.
“This is…” Eric exhaled and shook his head in disappointment, and Altera closed her eyes, looking away.
The room in front of their eyes was aquamarine. In itself, the room was not different from any other. But this chamber was void of objects, and it was void of life. There were just bodies, perhaps thirty in number. In another situation, one could joke that the inhabitants had applied the temple’s numerical motif to themselves and adopted it – consciously or subconsciously – into their behavior. Skeletons were scattered everywhere. Their flesh and skin have long withered away. Layers and layers of dust covered their white bones. They lay on the ground – have given up all hope – and waited for an end. Some had fought a battle they couldn’t win. One had struck a knife into their ribcage. Two bodies were embracing each other – their bodies connected through a kiss that would last beyond death. Ragna saw the bodies of grown men and some that would not even reach her knees. In a corner sat two adults, and in their arms, they cradled their infant child.
All we know and all we have gathered will cease to be. And when the last token of our lives vanishes, our god will die as well. I do not know the reason for their desire. What have we done? Why do they fear our lord? We lived in peace in our garden. We never conquer. We never threaten, and we have nothing to offer.
Ragna raised her body and walked towards the room. Standing at the entrance, she stopped.
Should she take another next step and enter? And disturb the final rest of these souls? As horrible as it was, if she wanted to leave this place, then they would have to explore every spot in this place to find clues. There was no way around that.
Ragna took a deep breath. She had to enter this grave.
“I must depart on my way, nor stay in the same place ever,” she said to herself. “If I bide too long on another’s bench, the loved one soon becomes loathed.”
The only certainty I know, I have to carve proof. Proof that we lived. Will this folly of mine have any meaning? But as I wonder if there will be a tomorrow, I can only write. Perhaps this is my attempt to remain at my wits and not lose to the madness. We are trapped. As we gathered sanctuary in the ground, we lost access. We have been blocked out. The doors are shut. We cannot open them. Was it an act of our Lord? Or a ploy of our enemies? What should be a lifeline became our tomb. We can only hope that we will be saved once a man of good faith gains access.
With newfound determination, Ragna stepped inside the room. Altera and Eric repeated her words and entered. They walked past the dead, their hollow eye sockets following their every move. Every corpse represented a future their ancestors had snuffed out.
“This is horrible,” said Ragna.
“There is a reason no one worships the old gods anymore.” The warmth in Eric’s voice had turned into a cold bitterness, and disgust colored his words.
“But didn’t that happen millennia ago?” Altera inspected one of the bodies lying next to her.
She wasn’t an expert in forensic anthropology or archeology. Her scientific knowledge didn’t exceed what she had learned at the academy or what she had read in textbooks. But they couldn’t have passed away more than a century ago. Their bones looked intact, and ligaments still held them together. If they had died during the age of the old gods, they should have turned to dust a long time ago.
My friends and neighbors and my family are all with me. One small sliver of happiness that the gods have granted me. I can only be grateful to not die alone. They are all scared. Time passes and my breath becomes heavier. Even thinking costs will. But I cannot think of this. I should thank Lif for giving me this diary. I must write. Until the door opens. I must believe in our lord.
“Honestly,” said Eric. “This whole building defies logic. Here is so much that just doesn’t make any sense. I had heard of theories that said our precursors were more advanced than we had thought, but that it would be to this degree, is ridiculous. It makes one wonder why it took us so long to achieve the same technological standard. We were inferior, yet we exterminated them. History isn’t a movie. The underdog loses.”
That reminds me, I wanted to talk with the elder about the stairs. 21 floors were too much. To go up and down every time was not an activity we should waste time on. We should put the altar into a lower room. Then I can sleep longer. But in no way does that influence my decision. I notice my writing has become simple again. Is it because of the room? I should learn more about telling stories.
But tomorrow I want to learn about the other gods. About Jormungand, Fenrir, Cath Palug, Ogress, and even Ymir. I do not believe that they are a bad god. I do not believe that all their followers are bad humans. A few rotten cannot infect the whole harvest. I must say that again and again to myself. I will not hate them even if this were to be my final hour.
Ragna looked at the corpse that sat next to her. They leaned against the wall and had their head erected. What had gone through their heads? Did they feel lost and had abandoned all hope? Could they have been relieved that it would be soon over? She couldn’t even begin to comprehend how much they must have suffered. It was hard to believe that their murderers were supposed to be the underdog in this story.
Was this also about perspective? How did her ancestors feel? Did they mourn their victims? Were they happy because they had succeeded in spreading the dominion of this Ymir? Or maybe they had been too busy burying the bodies of their friends, who had fallen during these countless holy wars. What the people of the forest saw as the end of the world, was the beginning of Veil.
One side was happy, and the other miserable. One side had committed crimes to flourish. With countless heartless enemies, wasn’t it logical to believe exceptions didn’t exist and that one couldn’t afford to let their guard down? It would be an understandable mistake…Fuck. She couldn’t believe that she tried to find an excuse for genocide. As much as she tried, she couldn’t justify such a crime. This time, her side was the evil one.
Thinking about things to write about is difficult. Words used to come easy to my pen. I was always the best in writing…I remember it is my turn to cook. What should I make? Do we have enough vegetables? Or should I hunt for meat? Small Dóta stopped breathing. Bless Eikthyrnir that she was sleeping. Her face is serene. Neither worry nor pain she had to suffer. Yet what will await her? Will she be barred from the heavens? Ugly thoughts crept into my mind. I don’t want to think about them. Dóta…I remember when I first held her in my hands. She cried and cried. Not a winter had passed. What her future would have been? I don’t want to think about this. I want to cry. But I cannot. I have to write, transform my mind into words. More of us fell.
They searched the room, trying their best not to discredit their resting place. In the end, they found nothing that could help them. Thus, they had no choice but to search further and open the other tombs. There were twenty-nine more rooms they had to inspect; twenty-nine graves that reeked of death and despair. Lost dreams filled them, and lives, hopes, and futures ripped away. Each room they entered, weighted more and more on their souls. Increasing its dark weight, they intoxicated them with a cocktail of emotions they couldn’t suppress.
Breathing and thinking have become difficult. I want to sleep. I want to sleep. Edda refused to sleep. But she refused to wait as well and took a knife. Even if Eikthyrnir has abandoned us, I refuse to abandon my god. I will not rest. I will continue.
The only ray of sunshine within this catacomb was a single empty room. Inside it, they encountered neither death nor dust or decay, just emptiness. They wanted to smile and be relieved. But they knew that this was simply one room that did not add to this horror. To say the crimes were not as bad because of this one room would be an insult to the victims, and if they were to think of such feeble thoughts, then the next door would crush them into shards.
I will not continue. No rest. This test. Blessed. Crest. Nest. I wish I were a bird. Then I could fly into the heavens. Seven. Wings I spread. In the books, I read. My parents, both are gone. I cannot cry. I don’t want to die. Please. Anyone save us.
In the hands of a dead pagan, Ragna had found a book. Ragna apologized to the skeleton and took the book with her to the surface level. It might be hypocritical, but she didn’t want to disturb the dead by reading their final words in this room.
Why did god abandon us? What did we do to deserve this? What have we done wrong? I pray and pray. But there is nothing to pray to. I am all alone. I cry. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts so much. I know I know I cannot write longer cannot write longer. I don’t want to die I don’t want to die. Sleepy heavy dream white heart no one here. It is over. I know I cannot continue. This is the end. All is gone and I too will be gone. There is nothing I can say more.
Ragna sat on the stairs next to the underground door and opened the book. Her finger brushed over the first sentence: I am known as Alfrun, daughter of Briet and Dómari.
To her surprise, the book felt solid and didn’t crumble away at the slightest touch. And luckily, the book was written in the runes of the Futhark. As they believed in another god, it could have been possible that they did not receive Twice’s gift. But as the first page showed, they had given the people of the forest their language. At least under Twice, they were all equal.
Even if there were no clues or solutions for their freedom, at last, she would learn more about the people here. At least one of the corpses could gain a face. One long-forgotten story she could get to know and – even if it was just in her memories – preserve.
I regret the first entry of this new diary will become my last. My prayers and cries are empty. No screams no wishes. Mother, father, I am sorry. I have failed to continue your teachings and to pass them on. My life ends here. Mother, father. I love you more than anything. I’m dying. I can’t breathe I am sorry
The book dropped out of Ragna’s hands. And as it landed on the floor, tears fell on it, wetting the brittle paper. She had tried to hold them back for so long, but now there was no way she could anymore.
Was this their legacy? All the murder, pain, and misery? It was inhumane what these people had to suffer through. And for what reason? For a god, the crusaders themselves had stopped to worship? And this was just one story. How many more existed scattered around the world? And no ear to listen to their screams, no eyes to see their pain?
The world she knew was built upon a sea of corpses, and their deaths enabled the luxury and treasures she had enjoyed. It wasn’t that she didn’t know about Veil’s past. But what could she do? Should she give away what she had? To whom? Should she feel guilt for what her ancestors had done? What would that change? Just what should she do? There wasn’t anything she could do about their deaths. Those who had suffered were long gone, and the murderers too. No matter what she did, there would never be justice for them. But if she did nothing, wouldn’t that be an excuse to remain ignorant? There had to be something. As a future Valkyrie, it would bring shame to that name if she stayed apathetic.
“I have no idea what the right answer is.” Ragna looked up. Altera sat next to her, crammed in her backpack, and brought forth a pack of handkerchiefs, presenting it on her metallic fingers.
“Thank you.” Ragna sniffed and took one out. She blew into it. With a second handkerchief, she wiped away the droplets at the corner of her eyes and the mascara running over her cheeks.
“This topic is probably too complex for either of us.” Altera bent over and picked up the diary from the ground. “Some will tell you that you are using excuses to enjoy your privileged life in luxury. Others will tell you that your guilt is nothing but the condensing compassion of a privileged Veilian girl so that she can make herself feel better. Or even feel superior. Some will say that you are too lazy to give up your luxury. And some will say that your behavior is just another proof that we have become political babies, who will cry about anything potentially offensive. I am not going to tell you that you should do this or that. Or that it is our responsibility. I can’t. And perhaps I don’t even have the right to tell you. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is no right or wrong and never will be. The only thing I can tell you is that you have to decide for yourself. Come to your own conclusions. Whether you find support or opposition, who knows? For all we know, even that might change.”
“What about you?” Ragna asked.
Altera shrugged. “I will continue on my path. Guide the people towards what I believe is the right path and hope that such injustice will never be repeated.”
Ragna looked at her. Her crimson eyes burned with their usual luster. No, perhaps even brighter than ever. There were no signs of fatigue on her. They had explored the temple for hours, and she was fit as ever. Was this difference between them and a Valkyrie? No, that was unlikely. Her father was always tired. He could even sleep on chairs without problems.
“Sometimes ah wish ah coods become a spyug an’ jist fly awa’.” Altera summoned an ice sculpture in the form of a swallow. The swallow levitated into the air and flew around them. “Lit aw responsibilities faa an’ bide in happiness. Aiblins that’s wa mah flyga allows me tae fly?”
Altera let the swallow crash against the floor, and Ragna’s jerked up when she saw the bird’s grisly demise.
“I feel sorry for that poor thing. But perhaps that is the solution.” Ragna stood up.
“What d’ya mean?”
“Honestly, I didn’t understand everything. You were talking really fast”, said Ragna. “But you mentioned wanting to fly away, right? Alfrun wrote the same words in her diary. And on the door, it was written that one couldn’t set foot outside this forest. Perhaps they meant it literally.”
They entered the temple’s pinnacle anew. Sun rays shone upon the altar, and from their view, the morning sky was clear to see. Altera spread her wings and flew into the open air. Her graceful figure transformed into a dark silhouette approaching the sun that watched over them like the eye of a god. She shrunk and shrunk, and Altera had disappeared from their view. Soon enough, she returned and landed in front of them.
“It works,” she said. “I was able to leave the area.”
“So, we can leave the forest as long as we don’t walk on the ground,” said Ragna.
“Are you going to carry us?” Eric asked. “Only she can fly, after all.”
Altera smiled. “I have another idea.” Ice materialized in front of them, creating a bridge towards the branch of the nearest tree. “If we use the ice, we can walk on the trees and leave the forest.”
“You’re a showoff.” Eric chuckled and stepped on the bridge of ice.
Ragna followed suit. She left the temple behind her and turned around to look at the tomb one last time. There was nothing she could do for Alfrun. The past, she couldn’t change. It would remain horrible. And perhaps Clockwork was right, and she didn’t have the ability to create a better world. But as long as she breathed, she would fight to make even the slightest difference, to allow even one more smile to exist.
“So, now what? We still have to go to Hlessy,” Ragna said once they had left the barrier.
“I live in Hlessy,” said Eric. “I have a car parked not too far from here. If you want, I can drive you there. Might take a few hours, but I owe you at least that much. The treasure may be gone, but at we are still alive.“