Chapter 17 – Hear. Fear. Clear

Ragna tried to shout, but her words subsided under the sound and croaked in her windpipe. They covered their ears, hoping to find sanctuary from the hellish noise. Ragna’s eyes wandered through the cabin, and on the window, she located the source of the sound. An unidentifiable object scratched against the porthole. It was crooked like a hook, oozing a metallic dull green. An eldritch object lost to the otherworld and sinking through the depths of the ocean for eons. 

Yet, it was indiscernible if this thing was of organic or inorganic origins. It was the perverted hybrid of two worlds that shouldn’t have crossed paths. Like fingernails, the noise gnawed on their very souls in the same endless rhythm. For a moment, it rested, but then, just long enough to start to relieve in the silence, its act continued. The hook creaked. It creaked and creaked and creaked against their skulls, drilled into the lobes of their brains. Ants infesting the surface, nibbling and nibbling on the soft matter with their mandibles. 

All three fell on their knees. 

Ragna pressed her teeth and tried to crawl. Her body refused to obey her mind. She was shivering; her muscles expanded and contracted; continuously, relentlessly. And the vessels in her skin constricted. From every pore of her body, sweat excreted. Her breathing intensified and played to the invader’s music. 

Was it cold? Was it warm? 

Ragna couldn’t tell. Contradicting sensations ravaged through her: They clashed against each other and switched their domination. Not a sliver of rest they granted, for when one torture ended, the other took over. The fine hairs on her arms stood up, and electric impulses raced through her spine. 

Move. Move, you damn body. 

To no avail: Spasms paralyzed her in its frantic torture. 

Why won’t you move? Why? Just move. Please.  

The hook scratched on the window’s surface until fissures ran through it, and the noise disappeared. Ragna looked up. The hook had stopped scratching. Tears formed at the corner of her eyes. 

Is that thing gone? Please. 

She begged, to Twice and anything capable of responding to her plea. She pleaded that this thing would not come again, that it wasn’t another cruel joke and the scare over. What this thing was didn’t matter as long as she would never see it again. 

She tried to stand up, but she failed. Invisible deadweight pinned her body down. They wouldn’t move. Whatever that noise did, the effect was still there. She couldn’t even open her mouth anymore. It was sewn shut. Even her tears wouldn’t flow. Ragna wanted to scream; She wanted to cry. She could barely breathe. The only command she could preserve was over her mind and her eye’s movement. 

Then, she heard a bang hammering against the window, and her eyes saw it: The hook. It rammed against the glass, and the tears grew. Like insects, the shrill buzzed, buzzed, buzzed in her ears. Again, it pushed itself against the window, and it crashed. Water poured inside the room, and the hook charged at Ragna. She tried to move. But her body still didn’t listen. 

Ragna closed her eyes and waited. And waited and waited. Nothing was happening. Ragna opened her eyes. The hook was floating in front of her, encased in a casket of ice, frozen. 

From the broken porthole, thin needles rose in a circular motion, covering the open area with their surface. They created a new window, closed the leak, and a layer of ice grew over it. A plop emerged. The frozen hook crashed to the floor and shattered into many shards. 

At that moment, all the weight and interceptors on Ragna’s body and muscles were lifted. She had regained control over her body and turned around. 

Altera breathed heavily. She had rammed the partisan’s winged diamond head into the ground. Her hand grabbed its pole, clenching it tightly, and her knees trembled, barely able to support her. She had stretched her free arm; her face had twisted in pain expression. Exhausted yet determined, the face of a woman trying to push against an immovable object, or wielding the enchanted weapons Mjölnir and Caliburn, when they had declared the wielder unworthy of their might. Without thinking, Ragna rushed towards Altera and lifted her arms for support. With a hand movement, Altera told her to stop and regained the composure herself. 

“Thank you.” Altera retracted her weapon from the ground. “But I’m fine. How about you? Are you okay?” 

Ragna nodded. She didn’t say a word. Her heart told her she didn’t deserve to speak to her. Altera turned her head. Eric was still lying on the floor. If they didn’t hear the occasional grunts he made, they would mistake the adventurer for sleeping or dead. 

“What about you, Eric?” 

Eric held his thumb up as he tried to raise his body – and dignity – above floor-level. He managed to lift his head. 

“How could you attack that thing?” Ragna asked 

“When it stopped scratching, I felt how the paralysis began to loosen its hold. Then I forced myself to move.” 

Altera and Ragna looked at the broken horror. Its pieces had shattered across the floor. The main body connected to the largest ice chunk and stuck out of it like an arm. 

If one were to describe it, one could say that it resembled a tentacle made of the same technorganic material as the hook-like appendix on its end. But whereas the ‘hook’ was still and broken, the ‘tentacle’ twisted and jumped like a lizard’s tail ripped from the main body or a fish out of water. Liquid oozed out of its end. It was dark and blue, like ink only mushier. The same liquid dripped down the wall from the porthole. 

So, that’s what happened. When Altera shut the porthole, she had dissected the tentacle from the main body. 

“Altera, you are amazing.” Ragna smiled, but her voice was devoid of strength. As she spoke, she had averted her face from the gaze of the Valkyrie. 

“Not yet,” said Altera. “Whatever that thing was connected to is still there and probably attacking this ship.” With a wink of her hand, she gesticulated at them. “We have to neutralize the threat. Let’s go.” 

She opened the door and with Eric, who had managed to stand up again, exited. Ragna watched her. 

Altera’s amazing. 

Her smile shrunk and her eyelids lowered, transforming her face to a broken, sad mask. While she was lying helplessly on the ground, Altera not only forced herself to regain control, but also saved her life and defeated that thing. Now she understood why they had chosen her. As a Valkyrie, as the hunter of her father, as her protector. The gap between them was just that big. Just why was Altera so amazing? And why was she not? 

Ragna grimaced, but as much as it sickened her, she couldn’t muster up an ounce of envy or hatred. In her mind, soul, and heart, she found only admiration for Altera. As a Valkyrie. As a hero. And as a woman. She shook her head and left the cabin. Now wasn’t the right time to think about her deficiencies. They had to deal with the main body first. 

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