A Raging Thunderclap - Chapter 19 - Magma_terra (2024)

Chapter Text

Baldur Odinson woke up more excited than he’d been in nearly a decade.

Swimming in the Lake of Souls had been exhilarating! It was like swimming in lava, but deeper, richer. It was like when he’d had his magical tattoos done, but it didn’t fade after the first few seconds. It was like that spell Frey had hit him with before the kidnapping attempt. Father had banned him from Vanaheim for a while after that.

Speaking of Father, Baldur was enveloped in a cyclone of ravens that resolved into his father’s pet ravens that he could never remember the name of. He was in the study, with the Rift.

“Where the f*ck have you been?!” Odin demanded as soon as the ravens had landed.

“I was swimming in the Lake of Souls, Father! It was amazing, I could feel my soul itching, this might be what I’ve been loo-”

“Modi is dead!”

Baldur’s brain froze. “What?”

“While you were distracted, the Jotnar you were supposed to be hunting killed Modi, and it might actually stick!”

“Shouldn’t he be in Valhalla?” Baldur asked blankly. Sure, the Valkyries were missing, but they were training new ones, and they had been helping with managing Valhalla.

“No one had seen him, not the new Valkyries, not the soldiers, no one. Thor would have come out if he’d found Modi. You’ve taken so long to find them that I have to actually consider if this Jotnar figured out how to permanently kill one of us!”

“I…” Baldur scrambled for something to say, something that wasn’t pathetic. He had to make up for this. “Where were they?”

“Good, you have your head on straight. They were looting Thamur’s corpse. I sent your nephews to investigate. Be careful, I don’t want a third death in the family.” Odin said before the ravens started circling again.

“I won’t let this happen again, Father.” Baldur vowed.

When the ravens cleared again, he was standing in the ruins of Njordholm. He immediately began looking for tracks, signs of combat, anything.

He couldn’t afford to waste anymore time.

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“So, Mimir, what do you know about Muspelheim?”

Thrud grabbed one of the stretchy hair tie things Brok had offered as Atreus asked Mimir a question. She’d been too hungry at breakfast to pay much attention, but now that they were putting on their armor, she could listen.

“Well, you’ll want to leave your furs here, lad. Muspelheim isn’t quite as hot as it used to be, but that’s like saying Ygrdrasil used to be smaller.” Mimir said.

Kratos had left him with them as he bargained with Brok. The giant had given her a few strange looks ever since she woke up. She could understand that, at least, since she’d killed Modi, but her rather hazy memories of her rampage told her that Kratos had been going for the kill as well. They’d all tried to kill Magni, before Odin took him away. Her memories of her rampage were clearer, now that she’d had a good night’s sleep.

(Magni’d recognized her, but Thor wasn’t anywhere near the temple. That meant no one believed Magni, and they all still thought she was dead. Or he hadn’t told anyone. That bothered her less than she thought it probably should, given she had proven to herself that they weren’t invincible.)

“Wait, leave behind our furs?” Thrud asked as her brain caught up with the conversation. “You’re talking like we’re going there.”

“Oh yeah, you slept through dinner. The chisel was frozen through.” Atreus explained.

“We are going to Muspelheim so we can find a Greater Crest of Flame, which should be hot enough to thaw the enchantments out.” Mimir added.

“Cool.” Thrud said.

“No, that’s Nifelheim.” Atreus quipped.

Thrud snorted as she finished tying her hair up into a high ponytail, to keep it off her neck for the journey through the Realm of Fire. She probably should have looked into hair dyes or at least changed her hair style before this, but it had never occurred to her. She liked her hair, so some part of her rejected the idea of just chopping it all off. The braids she normally wore on her shoulders had been cut off before she woke up, as they were apparently ruined when Kratos found her. It wasn’t a big loss.

(One of the only things Sif had been present enough to teach her was how to care for her hair. She’d gotten some of Sif’s golden hair, so it was almost like cleaning gold braids, rather than normal hair. She hoped Brok didn’t notice the jar of metal polish she’d swiped from his forge back at the Road House.)

“Children, come!” Kratos called from the main hall.

“Coming, Father!” Atreus said as he hurried to put on his quiver and rush through the door.

Thrud picked up Mimir’s head as she followed.

“Thank you, lass.”

“Here, boy. Put that on.” Kratos ordered as he tossed something to Atreus as they came into the main hall.

“That’s cold! What is it?” Atreus said as he inspected it. Now that Thrud got a better look at it, the object was a vial of frosted over glass with white wind swirling inside.

“Thats a coolin charm.” Brok explained. “Itll keep ya from meltin.”

“But what about Thrud?” Atreus asked as he slipped the necklace onto his neck and tucked the vial under his collar.

“The Blades of Chaos will keep her safe from the fire.” Kratos explained. “Leviathan will be enough for me, as well.”

“And the head?” Thrud asked as she held up Mimir, who made an offended noise at Thrud using Kratos’s description.

“I don’t quite feel temperature in the same way anymore, lass.” Mimir said. “I’ll be fine, although I do appreciate the concern.”

Kratos grunted his understanding before turning towards the Realm Travel room. “Come.”

Thrud waved goodbye to Brok as they filed into the center of Tyr’s Temple. It felt kinda odd to go without her bear fur outer layer, and not just because it was comfortable. Being in just her armor, as good as it was, reminded her of Asgaror. She tried to suppress those memories, as always. They made her skin crawl.

“Hold me up, lass.” Thrud complied with Mimir’s request, holding him up to about eye level with Kratos. “Alright, it’s been a while since I’ve done this, not since I came to these lands, but this should still work. I need to give you the travel rune for Muspelheim, and I can’t quite do the normal ritual. Place your hand on my forehead, brother, and I’ll do the rest.”

Kratos grunted and did so. Mimir’s eye glowed a strange mix of gold, green, and blue for a moment. Thrud was hit by some kind of vision of a flame that burned true, and yet burned less and less every second as it ate through the fuel it was built on. Looking at the fuel made her head hurt, but thankfully the vision ended shortly after that.

“What was that?” Thrud asked, somewhat dazed.

Kratos caught Mimir before she could drop him, which the head certainly noticed. “Sorry, lass, I think I hit you with the ritual too. Travel runes are complicated, like everything else about this temple, so you probably saw some of the concepts behind Muspelheim itself. What did you see?”

“A fire, eating at fuel that made no sense.” Thrud said.

“Fuel?” Atreus asked. “Isn’t Muspelheim the origin of fire? Why would it need fuel?”

“That’s quite the debate you’ve stumbled upon, lad! It’s complicated, but there is no denying that the original flame is cooler than it used to be. Running out of fuel is certainly one way to explain it, I suppose.” Mimir said.

As they were talking, Kratos had been operating the central table. The room began heating up as soon as he locked in the choice for Muspelheim. The strange thing for Thrud was that, well, that wasn’t quite what it used to feel like. She knew it was hot, and that normally she would have started sweating at this point, but it was like knowing the sea was freezing as they got closer to winter. An intellectual fact of reality, not something that felt inherently dangerous, or immediate. It was just there, in the back of her head.

The room took on a dark red glow as the process completed and red flowers grew across the vines of Yggdrasil that grew throughout the chamber. It brought a wave of pure heat from the doors, which made Thrud blink a few times to alleviate her suddenly dry eyes. They followed Kratos out of the chamber, but Atreus stopped on the Light bridge back into the central hall.

“Whoa! What’s that, down there?” Atreus pointed at the gap between the Realm Travel room and the rest of the temple.

“That, lad, is lava! Pure molten rock, so hot it’s melted like ice into water.” Mimir explained.

“I thought you said it was cooler!” Atreus objected.

“Oh, it is! Used to be that nothing could stand here! Now, there’s a nice layer of earth that’s safe enough to stand on. Tyr’s Temple in Muspelheim was built into the caldera of a volcano, hence the lava.” Mimir continued.

“Do not fall in.” Kratos said as he kept going towards the exit.

Brok wasn’t in his forge, in this iteration of the temple. Maybe they would run into Sindri again.

It only got hotter as they left the temple, emerging into a landscape of volcanoes, lava flows, and ash grey skies. The bridge was covered in volcanic rocks, and there was an entire lava flow visible down one of the stairways down to the boat. The other was completely blocked off by volcanic rock.

“Is that… snow?” Atreus asked as he held out a hand and let the ash fall onto his hand.

“Ash. It only falls like that for great fires.” Kratos said.

“It’s everywhere.” Thrud said before coughing, because some of it had gotten into her lungs. “Tastes like sh*t.”

“Should we go back inside for our scarves?” Atreus asked.

Kratos dug into his pouch and produced two lengths of cloth, which he handed to Thrud and Atreus. “Tie those over your mouths. They will protect you.” Kratos said before producing his own and demonstrating how to do that.

They continued onwards over the bridge, which was gradually consumed by the volcano around them until the statues appeared to be carved from the mountain itself.

“The bridge has seen better days.” Thrud said.

“Aye lass, the volcano must have opened a new crater nearby, which let loose lava, which eventually hardened into these rocks.” Mimir explained as they walked through an echoey cavern. “In my day, the fire giants would have cleared away all of this by now, but they have all long left this realm, save for Surtr himself.”

“Why did he stay behind?” Atreus asked as they left the tunnel, only to find another of those wooden triptychs. “Oh, a triptych! Maybe this will explain why?”

“I’m impressed it’s lasted this long, but that is Iron Wood. It doesn’t burn easy.” Mimir commented.

“Iron wood?” Thrud asked as Kratos opened the panels.

“Iron Wood, lass! Wood named after the supposed paradise of the Jotnar. But that’s a story for another time.” Mimir explained.

“Yeah, this one’s about Surtr, like I thought!” Atreus said. “It’s about how he makes a flaming sword and uses it to fight the Aesir? But does he do it in the future or the past?”

“Both, lad. Surtr has fought the Aesir quite a few times, although not since people stopped trying to subvert Ragnarok. He was the original fire giant, and the patriarch of their people. He did not take Odin’s attempt to hunt them well.” Mimir said grimly.

“Does his sword have a name, or does he just make a new sword every time he fights?” Thrud asked, because that sounded kinda cool.

“No one knows, although with how he treats his blades I doubt Surtr cares enough to name them. He’s a swordsmith, and a perfectionist at that. Rumor has it that one of the triggers for Ragnarok is Surtr naming a sword, which he will then use to assault Asgaror.” Mimir said. “That’s probably what the triptych is depicting.”

“Are we likely to encounter him, head?” Kratos said as he pulled Mimir off of his belt and held him at eye level.

“No, I don’t expect him to leave his forge unless something were to interrupt him, or an Aesir were to show up. Traditionally, he is a very solitary man.” Mimir said.

“Where is this crest you spoke of?” Kratos asked.

“The fire giants were a very competitive people, and the Greater Crests of Flame were one of the prizes for standing at the top of a given field. If we could find a way down the mountain, we should be able to find a fire giant settlement, which may have one in a vault of some kind.” Mimir said.

“You do not sound confident, head.” Kratos observed.

“Truthfully speaking, I was never welcome in Muspelheim. My knowledge on this realm is somewhat lacking compared to most of the others.” Mimir explained.

“Maybe we could use that compass Freya gave us?” Atreus proposed.

Kratos growled. “We cannot trust the gifts of the gods, boy.”

“A compass?” Mimir asked.

“Yeah, Freya gave us a compass that would ‘guide us towards our goals’ when we first met her. I almost forgot about it.” Thrud explained.

“Ah!” Mimir said. “A Compass of Desires! Those are quite valuable, and work off of strong Vanir magic. This is exactly the scenario they were built to aid with.”

Kratos grunted but he brought the compass out. The blue strip of cloth in the center of the spherical object seemed unsure for a moment before pointing directly back where they had come. Kratos took a deep breath and it began pointing towards a precarious path to the right of the bridge.

“How does it work?” Thrud asked. She was familiar with the concept, but she’d never seen one.

“The cloth in the middle will not point directly at what you seek, but the next step on your path towards what you seek. The path will be tailored to whoever is holding it, but that shouldn’t be a problem in this case.” Mimir explained.

“So we could ask it about going to Jotunheim?” Atreus asked.

“These things have limits, lad, or Odin would have used one already.” Mimir chuckled. “Believe me, he tried! Locked himself away in his study for a year with a hundred of them and came back out with every single one smashed to bits.”

Thrud snickered.

Kratos drew a length of rope out of his pouch and used it to create a harness for the Compass. He tied that rope to his armor’s neck guard, like a more secure necklace. “Come.”

Atreus climbed on his father’s back, and Thrud followed both of them as they climbed the side of the volcano. The Blades seemed to like this place, but Thrud didn’t know how she knew that. She just got a brief wave of nostalgia from them when she used one to carve out a new handhold when the one Kratos used broke. Maybe they were made by fire giants? Was Kratos descended from fire giants? It would certainly explain the brief heat she’d felt right before they met Freya.

“I hear a voice!” Atreus exclaimed as Kratos finished looting a large stone coffin that had been inset into the wall.

“People or animals?” Thrud asked.

“Both? Neither? I can’t tell.” Atreus said, sounding very confused.

A minute more of climbing brought them up onto a ledge, and Atreus shot off like an arrow as soon as he’d climbed down from Kratos’s back. “It’s over here!”

They followed him into some kind of arena, with a large statue of a sword in the center. Most of the blade was buried in the ground, but the hilt was golden, with a red grip. The clear path forward was blocked by a set of interlocking diagonal obsidian pillars, which Thrud was pretty sure they could have broken if they really wanted to.

“The sword was talking?” Thrud said skeptically.

FIre suddenly erupted from the sword’s pommel, weaving itself into runes in the language of the fire giants, Igni.

“It’s asking if we want to try the first trial?” Atreus said.

“Ah, the Gauntlet of Surtr. I had wondered if we would run into parts of this.” Mimir said.

“Explain, head.” Kratos ordered.

“The first giants were a very battle hungry people, and ultimately that manifested in the Gauntlet of Surtr, a series of combat trials designed to test their skills. I thought this would be further from the temple, but I suppose there is a reason this place was chosen.” Mimir explained. “It is said that Surtr himself can complete all ten trials in under an hour.”

Kratos held up the Compass, which was pointing directly at the sword. “Boy, ask the sword about a Greater Crest of Flame.”

The sword wrote more runes into the air.

“It says one is offered as the reward for completing the sixth trial.” Atreus translated. “It also says that trial six has been recently renovated, and is sorry that trials seven through ten are unavailable, due to lack of maintenance. The mountain krakens escaped.” Atreus paused. “What’s a mountain kraken?”

“Enormous octopi that live in the volcanic oceans of Muspelheim. There are a few in Midgard as well, but they are quite rare.” Mimir said.

“Enough. Ready yourselves. This will not be easy.” Kratos ordered.

Thrud drew the Blades of Chaos and cracked her neck as the other two did their preparations.

“The sword says we just need to defeat the enemies in the time limit.” Atreus translated.

A gate similar to the one blocking their way forward extended out of the wall where they had come into the arena. The sword made a ringing sound as several sections of the arena’s walls took on a malleable, pliant texture. It also spawned a large pillar of fire, which Thrud assumed was the time limit based on how it was already shrinking. The first section of wall fell, and combat began.

========================================================================

In the distance, a volcano erupted.

An Aesir had wandered into Muspelheim.

Surtr pulled his latest sword from the forge. It would be good enough to deal with whichever of Odin’s spawn had come to comb through his people’s ruins again, looking for clues to their sanctuary.

He had heard from Sinmara that Thor had been careless enough to turn one of his children into a fine red mist.

They could not have children, not until Ragnarok.

He would enjoy taking out his frustrations on whichever ungrateful spawn of Odin had invaded his home.

========================================================================

Kratos almost felt nostalgic as they worked their way through the combat trial.

This combat trial felt like something his people would have developed, if they had access to similar levels of arcane craftsmanship. It was actively tailoring itself to their skill level, after an initial wave of draugr similar to those that populated the area outside of the protection stave. The sword had some degree of control over the undead and monsters it sent at them, as the stronger ones typically went straight for him, while the children were faced with threats appropriate to their lower skill levels.

That was not to say the children were bad at combat. No, they were skilled, and could probably defeat most children around their age with ease, even children raised as he had been. However, they were still children, and that meant lower stamina, lower strength, and a greater reliance on magical equipment to make up for those deficiencies. It was their skill with their magical arms that set them apart, along with their divine heritage, as little as Atreus may have known of his.

Kratos could not rightfully blame the girl for hiding her connection to Odin. It had mostly been relevant after Mimir had joined them, which made revealing aspects of her true history difficult without finding some excuse to leave the head somewhere. His comments about the gods most likely did nothing to aid this, but she likely agreed with him anyway, after what Thor did to her.

“Something big’s coming!” Thrud said as the final section of the wall fell and the ground began shaking under their feet.

It was the largest section of wall, and the enemy within reflected that.

“It’s a troll!” Atreus exclaimed as a troll that looked almost as if it had been carved from the volcano itself lumbered out of the hole in the wall, carrying a totem pole that was brimming with energy.

“Remain calm, we have defeated trolls like this before. This will be no different. Focus on the legs first.” Kratos ordered as he eyed the pillar of flames that acted as their timer. It was getting low, but not unworkably so.

Kratos hesitated to call the troll weak, or the encounter easy. The troll’s totem pole contained some form of explosive magic, which left lingering explosions within the earth similar to those produced by the Dark Elves spears, except these detonated multiple times. This seemed to have some kind of cool down between uses, but the troll was incredibly aware of that cool down, and had tailored its fighting style around it. Kratos did not enjoy having to endure one of those explosions being implanted directly into his chestplate.

None of this saved it, and Kratos decapitated the troll after the children had knocked it to the ground via simultaneous attacks to the back of its knees.

“We won!” Atreus pressed his cooling charm to his forehead as the troll began dissipating into flames and the pillar of fire vanished. “But it’s still so hot.”

“We still have to do five more of these, Trey, remember? Maybe stick with your bow for the next one.” Thrud advised.

“No, no, I’m fine, I can keep going.” Atreus said.

“Remember your waterskin, boy.” Kratos said.

Atreus did not respond, as he was too busy following Kratos’s advice. He was glad he had remembered to fill extra waterskins before they had come here. He also resolved to keep an eye on the boy as they continued through the realm.

“I feel better now.” Atreus said as he wiped his mouth. “Oh! And the sword says we can claim our reward now!”

The sword had created an arrow of fire pointing into the cave the troll had emerged from. Following the directions led him towards an obsidian chest, which contained a pouch of hacksilver emblazoned with the realm’s rune and a few glass containers, which contained small flames.

“Smoldering embers! The fire giants were always stingy with how many they let craftsman from the other realms use, so I think Brok and Sindri will like those.” Mimir explained as he returned to the children.

“The sword opened a path.” Thrud gestured at the now unblocked path, where the pillars acting as a gate had vanished, along with opening the path back.

“Good. We will continue.” Kratos said as he led the way forward.

The path ahead led them across a thin bridge that led over a river of lava. Kratos had to suppress the urge to carry Atreus across, as he was unsure how much of his divine endurance had been passed down to the boy. The elves of Alfheim had certainly been frailer than he would like. Thrud hadn’t broken a sweat so far, and while that did not mean she was immune to lava, it did mean the sheer heat of the realm was not affecting her judgment or balance. She would be fine.

The path led directly to the second trial, which was similar to the first. They had to survive for a given length of time. This was made harder by the fact that the enemies within the trial healed at speeds he had not seen since Greece if left alone for even a moment. This reinforced Kratos’s belief that these were not true enemies, but merely copies or recreations of other foes. Such foes had a certain quality to them that he remembered from Greece, and the fact these dissolved into flames had been his first clue. The mountain krakens must have been the only living enemies they could potentially face.

The path onwards from the second trial was dangerous enough that Kratos did insist on carrying Atreus through it. The path led across platforms within a large lava flow, and he did not want the boy to misjudge a jump. He had to check the Compass at one point, but sure enough the path seriously expected them to climb next to a waterfall made of lava. He sent Thrud ahead, to carve new handholds, just in case.

They were treated to a view of the realm from the edge of the arena where the third trial was located. One of the neighboring volcanoes erupted before their eyes, and Kratos could feel the ground itself shake as the mountain poured flaming earth into the air.

As the children’s excitement about the eruption calmed down, Mimir hummed. “You said you had a map of the realm, right?”

“Yeah, Sindri gave us one.” Atreus said.

“Show it to me.”

Kratos handed the head off to Thrud as he drew the strange map of Muspelheim out of his pouch and held it up for inspection.

“What are you looking for?” Thrud asked.

“I’m not familiar with the area, of course, but if I’m reading the map right, Surtr’s forge is somewhere on that volcano.” Mimir said.

“Will that be a problem, head?” Kratos asked. He did not want to come into conflict with someone he suspected was a more warlike equivalent of Hephaestus.

“No, I don’t think so. The volcano we are standing on would have erupted if Surtr had a problem with our presence, not that one. He most likely has hit a fit of creative inspiration.” Mimir said after some thought.

“Then we will continue with the trials.” Kratos decided.

The third trial was somewhat strange. It required them to defeat enemies that continually healed like the enemies from the second trial except for within a golden ring on the floor. The ring moved frequently, and vanished entirely near the end of the trial. This forced them to apply heavy bursts of damage to the few enemies that remained, which was difficult, but not impossible.

The rewards were the same as the first two trials, although the quantity of each had increased significantly. They would have plenty of materials to upgrade the Blades of Chaos, should that prove necessary. Thrud was proving quite capable with them so far. Kratos did somewhat worry that upgrading them would also increase the influence they might have on the girl’s mind, which was the last thing he wanted. He would have to bring it up to Sindri when they found him again.

(The Blades required meticulous work, which Sindri seemed to have more patience for than his brother. The children’s new armor had surpassed his expectations, which had only reinforced his choice to allow the dwarf to continue to maintain the Blades, if nothing else.)

They took a brief break for water and rations before heading towards the fourth trial, which was thankfully a simple journey up the cliff at the back of the third trial’s arena. That was the only thing simple about this, however.

“How are we supposed to do that?!” Atreus exclaimed as he read the sword’s description of the trial.

“What is the challenge, boy?”

“It says we have to defeat fifty foes in a row without getting hit once!” Atreus explained before wincing. An enemy in the third trial had knocked him to the ground and left a bruise on his cheek.

“How many warriors achieved this?” Kratos asked.

The flames seemed to hesitate for a moment before finally writing out something coherent.

“Over a thousand.” Atreus translated tentatively.

“Then we will achieve this as well. We have gotten this far already. This will not stop us.” Kratos encouraged.

“Yeah, we just have to-”

Thrud was interrupted by a loud ringing that echoed across the volcano. The gems set into the hilt of the sword flashed a dark red before it began writing in the air once again.

“What is it saying?” Thrud asked.

“Trial six escaped!” Atreus translated.

“Weren’t trials seven and up fighting mountain krakens? What’s trial six?!” Thrud asked.

Kratos’s instincts flared. “Get back!”

Kratos raised his shield just in time to parry the mace that came hurtling out of the sky at speeds he hadn’t encountered since Greece. Even after he deflected it, the mace embedded itself nearly a foot into the floor. The children scrambled back as the source of the projectile revealed itself, a heavily armored humanoid with enormous bladed wings that was racing at him with claws outstretched. Kratos rolled out of the way and readied himself as the humanoid, a woman, effortlessly ripped her mace out of the floor.

“No, it can’t be!” Mimir said with horror as Kratos and the woman began circling each other.

“You recognize her?” Kratos asked. His shield was dented.

“That is a valkyrie, or at least a very corrupted copy of one, brother. She is worthy of being one of Muspelheim’s strongest challenges.” Mimir said, still horrified.

“Stay back, children. I will handle her.” Kratos ordered. “Ranged support only.”

The valkyrie did not give him any more time to prepare or even think, really.

The only space left in Kratos’s mind was the rhythm of the fight, a bloody dance he had not performed at this pace in centuries. Pan was the closest comparison he could make, but where he was like fighting nature itself, this valkyrie had adapted to her environment perfectly, incorporating the volcano itself into her fighting style. She also had access to some sort of golden energy that felt like it objected to his very existence and did nothing when reflected back at her.

Pan had been one of many gods that were enraged by his assault on Olympus. The valkyries' rage was far more primal, and he was forced to tap into his own Spartan Rage just to keep up. Every strike went for something vital, every weakness was exploited, every bit of rust was forced to come to light. Kratos responded in kind, exploiting every weakness of the valkyrie’s ceaseless rage, every overextension her mind was too clouded to recognize, and every mistake he knew she would make with that state of mind.

She attempted to go for the children a few times, but Kratos made sure to harshly punish every lapse in her attention. The first time earned him a glancing blow. The second time nearly ripped off her left arm. The third time sent her mace spiraling off the cliff and down onto the third trial’s arena. This only made the rest of the fight marginally easier.

Her hand to hand combat style was just as polished as the rest of her skills, seamlessly incorporating her bladed wings into each flowing strike. They covered weaknesses no normal humanoid could cover, provided reach far beyond what her height implied, and allowed for aerial attacks. Her boots were styled after bird talons, and her gauntlets were tipped with claws, lending an even more feral nature to her fighting style. His armor was of little use near the end.

Kratos ducked under a wing strike and mercilessly punished the opening he had just created by slamming Leviathan deep into the valkyrie’s neck. He planted a foot on the back of her head, grabbed the base of one of her wings, and ripped it out of her back. The other swiftly followed, along with part of her spine. With that, the valkyrie let out a final scream of primal fury, shuddered beneath his foot, and died.

Kratos took a few shuddering breaths as he forced himself to come down off of the pure rush of catharsis and joy that such a grueling victory brought him. He had not had a fight that difficult and viscerally satisfying since he came to these lands. Baldur was mostly difficult because of how he refused to die. This valkyrie had been difficult because of pure skill and ability. He ripped Leviathan out of the valkyrie’s neck and used it to decapitate the corpse, just in case. WIth that done, he stepped off of the corpse and surveyed the damage their fight had caused.

They had literally reshaped the landscape. There was an entire new river of lava flowing down one side of the arena, and there were two swords in the arena now. He wasn’t entirely sure where the second one had come from, but there had been a minor avalanche at some point, which meant it was probably the fifth trial’s sword.

“Brother…” Mimir said, finally. He sounded very dazed, which was fair, as the pace of the fight meant he had been swinging quite wildly on Kratos’s hip. “You just killed a Valkyrie. That’s not something people are supposed to be able to do.”

“Children! Show yourselves!” Kratos called. He could remember that they were safe, but he hadn’t been able to pay attention to more than that.

One of the arena walls melted to show off some kind of seating area built into the rock wall, although most of it was melted and malformed. Atreus and Thrud burst out of it and rushed over full of excitement.

“Father! That was AMAZING!” Atreus exclaimed.

“Yeah, we saw the entire fight, and it was awesome!” Thrud said.

“That is why we train.” Kratos said simply.

He spun on his heel and had Leviathan ready as soon as he heard something from the corpse. A grey and green specter emerged from the body, appearing to be a tattered, worn down version of the valkyrie. She wasn’t immediately hostile, with none of the rage and fury he had dealt with before. Now she appeared more serene and relaxed.

“Freedom… finally.” The valkyrie said with a shudder of pure relief. “You have finally destroyed my physical body, and freed me from that prison.”

“You were… trapped?” Thrud asked.

“Yes, I couldn’t shift back to this form, and now I’m free to travel and do my job as I please. I beg of you, free my sisters!” The valkyrie sounded desperate.

“Of course, Lady Gondul.” Mimir said.

“Mimir? Is that you?” The valkyrie, Gondul, asked.

Kratos held the head up for inspection. “Yes, I was freed from my body as well. Do you know what happened to the rest of you?”

“No, I was one of the first to fall to whatever curse was cast upon us. I managed to get here before falling completely to insanity, but Surtr didn’t kill me like I hoped. He thought I was an assassin. He just trapped me and made me one of his trials. I could barely hear you all, but it was enough to direct my body’s madness towards something deadly.”

“We saw the message in your council chamber, Gondul. We will free your sisters.” Mimir said.

“Thank you, thank you. That was probably Sigrun. Maybe you can talk her into laying down her life instead of fighting, if you can find her. She always had a soft spot for you, MImir.” Gondul said. “I can’t stay any longer, I can already sense so much going wrong in the world, there are so many undead, I need to go start fixing things. Good luck with my sisters, you will need it.”

Gondul’s spirit ascended and dissipated into smoke.

“I will fight the rest of them on my own. You two will stand far back. Is that understood?” Kratos asked.

“Yes, sir.” Atreus and Thrud choroused.

“Tell the swords that they will give us the Greater Crest of Flame we came here for or I will personally find and take it.”

Both swords wrote identical runes into the air, including an arrow pointing towards the stands.

“They say the crest has been moved to the trial four chest, over there.” Atreus said.

“Good. Go collect it and find a realm travel gate.” Kratos took off the Compass, which has somehow stayed attached to his neck throughout the chaos. “Use this to find one. I will deal with the corpse.”

“Yes, sir.” Atreus said, and Thrud followed him.

Kratos turned back to the corpse and began stripping off the armor. This was good metal, and the dwarves could replace his armor with an alloy of it, especially once he had stripped all of the metal off of the wings. He could do that while the children ran through the first trial a couple of times for training.

This trip had been unexpectedly difficult, but far more useful than he had been expecting.

========================================================================


As Thrud followed Atreus and the Compass, all she could think about was what if that was what her uncontrollable rampages could become with enough training, then she needed to ask for tips yesterday.

(It was easier to let that drown out the idea that Kratos could have turned all of that strength on her.)


========================================================================


Surtr dealt with Baldur like he dealt with all of his most persistent problems.

He tossed the upstart into a volcano, and let the mountain krakens play with him.

A Raging Thunderclap - Chapter 19 - Magma_terra (2024)

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