The great arm of Nidhoggr, as thick around as the largest tree, slammed into the hard earth of the Brocken, sending up a shower of snow and loose stone as the long black claws dug into the earth. Cat rolled across the ground, missing the blow by precious little space as she quickly got back on her feet just in time to see the undulating coils of Nidhoggr’s seemingly endless tail lashing at her like an immense whip. Cat ducked low, the tail’s diseased flesh passing over her with terrifying force. Her sword lashed up, barely grazing the rapidly moving flesh, but even that was enough to send another scorching cut across its flesh, the wound burning with blue flame as it ate at Nidhoggr’s flesh.
Cat straightened herself back up as Nidhoggr pulled back its head, lungs swelling as its mouth and throat filled with corrosive gas. She raised her hand, concentrating as a great shield of wind and frost formed before her, thick layers of colorless ice spreading like a spiderweb just as the powerful jet of hellish gas collided with it, eating through the first few layers as it spread across the mountaintop.
With a thrust of her palm, the ice shield shattered into a floating field of razor ice, and with another gesture all of it launched at Nidhoggr as a swirling wind of mist cleared the poison from the mountaintop. The ice couldn’t do real damage to the dragon, but it still winced as it cut at its eyes and gave Cat the time she needed to close the distance between them.
Nidhoggr braced itself on the ground, head darting down to snap at Cat, but she was quicker than she looked, magic flowing into her feet and legs as Nidhoggr snapped at empty air. The dragon recoiled, but not quickly enough to stop Cat from rending a long diagonal gash across its armored chest. Ceruleamor, shining with power, cut easily through bone and armored scale as it tore at the very spirit of the dragon.
Nidhoggr roared in mixed pain and fury, and Cat had to lunge to the side to avoid being crushed as Nidhoggr’s claw tore at the ground where she’d been standing.
“That all you have, dragon!?” Cat jeered, watching her feet as she tried to keep herself aware of Nidhoggr’s entire gigantic sinewy body. Speed was the key here. Cat didn’t think she could kill Nidhoggr by swinging her sword. She needed to keep the dragon occupied, keep its mind on her, and try to weaken it as much as she could before the spell took hold. She couldn’t match it in strength or endurance, so Cat needed to use her size and her agility to her advantage.
As Nidhoggr pulled back, a new ugly black scar still sizzling on its chest, Cat readied herself for the next blow. Nidhoggr’s tail seemed like it was kilometers long at times, and Cat had to be careful it didn’t come from behind and catch her off guard. She turned, just in time to see it sliding across the ground at her, leaving a trail of thrown earth and ice in its wake.
Cat had only seconds to react, leaping over the tail with an impossible jump, leaving a small crater of ice behind. She was vulnerable in mid-air, however, and Nidhoggr’s tail coiled like a spring before lashing at her again, hitting her with a glancing blow that threw her across the mountaintop until she smashed painfully onto the ground.
A glancing blow from Nidhoggr’s tail was like a glancing blow from a speeding train, and Cat was thankful none of her limbs were broken as she scurried back to her feet. Her entire left side was in pain now, and the wind had been knocked out of her entirely, but she was still standing. Her armor, Megame’s charms, and the reinforcing power of magic would hold her together.
For a time.
Cat rolled her shoulders, trying to ignore the painful stretching of her muscles. She was being worn down. Nidhoggr hadn’t managed to hit her but avoiding the dragon while trying to get her own blows in was taking its toll. Sooner or later she was going to slip up or Nidhoggr was going to get lucky. She just hoped she could stall that moment for as long as possible.
The sparrow stands against the storm
The fish against the deluge
No foe or battle to be won
Fate and Time itself thine enemy
Nidhoggr was talking. Good. Every moment it was talking was another moment its jaws weren’t snapping for her.
“I don’t see fate or time in front of me!” Cat shouted back. “All I see is a big ugly dragon that’s already half dead! Did you expect me to surrender, Nidhoggr!?”
Nidhoggr charged her, throwing its vast weight forward in her direction. Cat froze up, looking for a way out as the entire bulk of the massive dragon came at her, wings whipping up a whirlwind as its great claws smashed into the earth.
Cat couldn’t run to her sides and there was no turning around. Seeing her only chance, Cat charged the massive dragon in turn, raising her sword as the distance between them evaporated. She ran headlong towards the dragon’s jaws, which opened to reveal its many rows of teeth and void-like throat beyond as it opened wide to swallow her whole. Cat breathed in deep, steadying herself, and in one swift motion the ground beneath her feet turned to ice and she slid by a hairsbreadth out of the path of Nidhoggr’s great jaws, rushing past its neck as it tried to bring itself to a halt. Cat’s sword flashed, the blade cutting into the skin of its long neck as the massive claw came rushing at her. Ducking low, she charged and slid against the icy ground just out of the grasp of its clawed fingers. The massive dragon wheeled around, trying to encircle Cat within its bulk. As its hand dug into the ground to maneuver itself, Cat lashed out again, the sword cleaving through one of its massive fingers, thick around as Cat’s chest as the dragon roared with pain, ripping its hand free and leaving itself unsteady.
Cat had an advantage now, and she charged for the monster’s chest. If it had a heart, she intended to find it. As she closed the distance, however, Nidhoggr’s other claw came lashing around, and Cat had barely enough time to throw herself out of its path as it tore through the air. Not quick enough, she saw, as the edge of the iron-black claw still cut through her side, sending her off her feet and into the air, a trail of blood in her wake until she slammed into the hard earth.
This time she really felt it. The cut in her side was like daggers of ice slicing through her body, sending a numbness into her side that slowed her right arm. Cat stumbled to her feet, disoriented and breathless just in time to see the massive tail of Nidhoggr whipping at her again. Cat barely had the time to throw up her arms defensively as it slammed into her with bone-crushing force.
Again she was thrown across the ground like a ragdoll, her head spinning as her entire body shuddered with spasms of pain.
Come on, Cat told herself. Can’t stop, keep moving.
Cat all but threw herself forwards just as Nidhoggr’s disfigured hand slammed down again where she’d been, stumbling as her feet resisted her ever command and her sword hung limply at her hand. She glanced at her injured side and saw Evangeline’s fine chain work had been sundered as if it hadn’t even been there, the links and padded armor beneath stained red.
She was already bleeding from a multitude of cuts, several of them across her face as she pushed her hair back into place and her hand came back bloody.
If Nidhoggr got in more hits like that she was finished, it was as simple as that. She already should have been dead several times over, only alive by the grace of several brands of magic. Cat wasn’t sure how long it could hold up.
Nidhoggr drew itself up to full height again, staring down at the battered Catarina with the utmost contempt. Cat stared back at it, refusing to look away from its burning blue eyes. She knew why it hated her. This serpent, this great force beyond even the gods was being forced to fight at her level. It was like a human being brought down to the level of an ant or an amoeba, and worst of all, Cat had the audacity to simply not die as all else before it did.
Nidhoggr was a vicious, cruel serpent of endless malice, and now a world’s worth of hatred was focused entirely upon her. She wasn’t sure how long she could stand against it.
Cat couldn’t let the dragon take the initiative like that again. Even as her legs protested, even as she felt like a dagger was being shoved in her side with each breath, Cat charged Nidhoggr. The dragon readied itself, head bending low like a waiting serpent as its tail coiled and readied itself. As she ran, Cat threw her hand out over the snow on the ground and in the air, her well of magic getting dangerously low as it began to whirl around her. With one swift gesture, the small whirlwind of snow condensed and evaporated into a billowing cloud of steam that filled the mountaintop in an obscuring fog as she dodged swiftly to the side and ran for one of Nidhoggr’s legs. She was small, and Nidhoggr was big enough she could still see it moving as a great shape in the steam.
All at once, the dragon uncurled itself, tail lashing through the air as it flapped its enormous skeletal wings. Cat had to stop her charge and brace herself as wind whipped past her face and easily dissipated the cloud of steam until it spotted her. Cat lunged for its leg, and with a great slash cut deep into the massive trunk of its arm, almost the depth of her hilt as Ceruleamor cut cleanly through the Primordial flesh.
Nidhoggr whipped its arm away, nearly knocking Cat over with the force as it raised it into the air with a great draconic roar of pain, vile black ichor seeping like a slow waterfall from the burning wound.
Cat took the moment to look up at the sky, hoping to see some change, but there was nothing, just the same roiling black clouds.
Wretched thing of brief design
Less than maggots upon the bones of Ymir
You strike at the hand that binds
Lash at the wind that will tear all aside
“Yes I will!” Cat roared back at it. “I’m going to keep fighting, we’re all going to keep fighting to the very end because that’s who we are! That’s what we are! And I’m never going to let anyone forget, Nidhoggr, that I made a great Primordial, the Serpent of Yggdrassil, mad at a single little girl with a sword!”
Nidhoggr opened its jaws and bellowed with a roar that shook the world itself to its foundations, the Brocken quaking and cracking under her feet as Cat threw her hands as best she could over her ears.
Since time immemorial, since the forging of the realms, there was one thing Nidhoggr hated above all else, and that was being mocked. Since the creation of the World Tree until its final escape the serpent had withstood an endless s verbal abuse from Ratatoskr and the Eagle. Now it was free, the king of all serpents, the harbinger of Ragnarok, and it was still being mocked by the most base and temporary creature in all the realms. A single human being.
All pretense of power and ego was gone as Nidhoggr attacked Cat with all its fury, matching the viciousness of when it had torn the great Eagle apart. It would rip the girl apart and devour her bones, let her spend eternity in its gut with all the forsworn and forsaken. If it had to tear the mountains to the root, if it had to wipe all life from this country, from this continent, it would rip everything from that jeering voice until there was nothing left but screams.
In that moment, when Nidhoggr’s roar of fury finished and its attack began, something shifted. Every living thing, everything with a soul be it human, spirit, or divine felt something deep in the very undercurrent of reality twist and then snap, like a thread they had all been following was suddenly cut loose. Nidhoggr paused, almost frozen in time as it felt the shift. Many were merely curious, most humans would shrug it off, but to a creature so bound to fate as Nidhoggr, the shift, like a rip in reality, was something much more dangerous.
A great arch appeared over the mountain, a parabola that rose over it so high that the top seemed to scrape against the sky. One side of the great arch burned with ceaseless flame, a great orange that ripped from peak to horizon. The other side was brilliant white, an endless frost storm of scintillating glass-like ice that rose and roiled until it met the fire at the peak of the arch. Where the two side of the arch met, a great burst of brilliant white light appeared. The meeting point of frost and fire and as the light grew brighter, the empty arch swiftly turned into a doorway.
The sky held within the arch vanished, held within the two great arms was a vast howling void. Cat could barely stand to look at it, like staring into the yawning void of deep space or the darkest ocean. But there was no bottom, no stars, nothing but this great arch of fire and frost that held an empty void within.
Nidhoggr stared into the void, great eyes burning before it rounded on Cat again.
What have you done
“Distracted you mostly,” Cat smiled defiantly, readying her sword.
Once more Nidhoggr’s jaws opened and a torrent of decaying gas was unleashed from its throat onto Catarina. Before she could respond, she felt hands on her shoulders pull her back as people ran up behind her. She saw a large round shield rise in the path of the dragon’s breath, scattering its decay across the sky.
“Close one, Cat,” Nicomede smiled at her, bracing himself as he kept the shield raised between them as others rushed to Cat’s side.
“Cat-chan! Let me see that…” Megame hurried to kneel beside Cat, her hand pressing against Cat’s injured side. Cat winced at the pain, but in moments it began to fade rapidly as Megame chanted quietly under her breath.
Something flew past them from behind, hurtling through the air until it collided with thunderous force with Nidhoggr’s skull, causing its foul breath to halt as it recoiled.
“Take that you stupid dragon!” Torleif shouted, calling her hammer back to her hand.
As Megame’s charms worked, spirits of healing and wholeness weaving Cat’s wounds together, she felt more pairs of hands lift her to her feet.
“Well done, Catarina,” Gisela said, pulling up her one side. “You’re making a good habit of surprising me.”
“Cat…” Rosa’s voice on her other side was quiet. “You’re okay. We’re here now.”
Cat could see none of them were in perfect shape. The attack outside the field Huldra had made must have been fierce. They all sported numerous cuts and bruises, both bleeding and a number healed over from where Megame’s magic had worked.
“I’ll manage,” Cat said. “But we’re not done yet. Where’s-?”
A great wolf leaped into view to stand beside them, fur black as the night sky with three mechanical limbs of obsidian, ebony, and silver. Angel’s shining blue lupine eyes stared at the dragon as it recovered itself. Nidhoggr stared back at the wolf, and Cat could almost see the recognition in its eyes.
“We’re sending you back!” Angel’s howling voice cut through the wind. “Back into the darkness. Into the pit. To the hell where you belong!”
A shattered corpse of great Tree’s Crown
A mired thing of metal and wolf
An abomination stands before
The dead walk to challenge its destroyer
Cat could almost hear the mocking in Nidhoggr’s voice as Angel shivered. Last time Angel had fought Nidhoggr, the dragon had torn her literally to pieces. This time, however, the dragon wasn’t at full strength and Angel wasn’t fighting alone.
“Everyone!” Rosa shouted. “Form up! We move together!”
The six of them and Angel pulled together, weapons in hand as Nidhoggr readied itself, head rising like a cobra as it regarded them, clawed fingers digging into the ground.
“Charge!” Cat shouted. “Push it back!”
All of them moved together. Cat, Rosa, Nicomede, and Megame took the front as Torleif and Gisela moved to either flank. Angel, the great wolf taking long running strides, swiftly over took them and charged headlong to engage the dragon directly. In one swift leap, her jaws closed on Nidhoggr’s shoulder where its sinewy neck met its body, claws both wolf and machine rending at its flesh, leaving the same trails of blue fire as Cat’s sword as Nidhoggr roared in pain.
The dragon tried to shake off Angel as it’s jaws struck down on the four of them at the front. Moments before its teeth struck, Megame raised both hands, Ofuda charm in hand.
“Blind, Amaterasu-Omikami!” She shouted, and from her hands a great chrysanthemum of pure sunlight appeared like a shield before them, blinding the serpent as its eyes were overwhelmed by divine sunlight.
As one, Nicomede and Rosa charged forwards, their spears bristling with lightning and burning with crimson energy as they were driven into the roof of Nidhoggr’s gaping jaws, the divine metal digging deep as Nidhoggr released a deep hiss of hatred that seemed to scorch the air itself.
Cat dove between them, vigor renewed as she drove her sword up into monster’s throat as a geyser of acidic black blood spewed across the ground from where her sword cut deep.
The three of them pulled their weapons free as Nidhoggr reared its head back, wounds still bleeding as it screamed. As it did, however, Cat saw the slim shaft of a black arrow fly towards it, burying itself in Nidhoggr’s eye before exploding into a mist of razor-winged butterflies that clouded Nidhoggr’s head as it snapped uselessly at the air, blinded and retching in pain as the butterflies sliced at its sores and open wounds.
Mere moments later, thunder echoed across the mountaintop, clouds flashing with light as Torleif unleashed a massive thunder bolt of pure white light that seemed to consume Nidhoggr’s massive head, arcs of electricity melting flash away as more and more pitted and rotting skull was revealed.
The face of Nidhoggr, now more skeletal, pale, and broken than before roared in fury, one of its eyes still burning with fiendish blue energy as it stared down at the humans.
Angel released her grip on its shoulder, but as the focus of the dragon weakened, the great wolf threw all of her massive weight against it as she buried her fangs in the base of its massive throat.
“This is how your invasion ends, Nidhoggr!” Even as Angel’s jaws cut into Nidhoggr’s throat, spilling its vile black blood, Angel’s voice came through clear. “I should have stopped you back then! I should have been stronger, but now I correct my mistake!”
Step by agonizing step, the great wolf pushed the colossal bulk of the dragon into the portal. Out of the inky void, great tree branches like clawing hands rose up, taking hold of both dragon and wolf they began to drag them downwards.
“This will be my penance. The price of my failure. Our eternity together at the roots of the world, Nidhoggr!”
Cat and the others ran to catch up with Angel, and Cat could see it was taking every ounce of Angel’s waning Primordial energy to force Nidhoggr back. She was going to spend it all, the very last of her being to ensure Nidhoggr’s imprisonment, even if it meant her own.
Nidhoggr was beyond words, roaring with draconic figure as its fangs sank into Angel’s back, tearing at the wolf’s withering wings as it tried desperately to free itself. Soon the bulk of its body and its wings were in the portal, being sucked down into an abyss far below the realms.
“Angel!” Cat’s legs were pumping across the stone-strewn hill, the others behind her as she tried desperately to catch up. “Angel don’t do it!”
With one last mighty heave the wolf pushed through the portal, vanishing into the great void as it dragged Nidhoggr with it. All of them stopped, staring as Angel vanished and Nidhoggr struggled to keep hold, one great claw, wounded by Catarina, and its head the only thing still left in Midgard as it struggled to break free. As it struggled against the earth for purchase, Cat could see the rift was beginning to shrink. In mere moments it would close entirely. And Nidhoggr had to be completely past the threshold for the imprisonment to last.
By no force will I be stopped
Not by Fallen Eagle or Rising Wolf
The end of Midgard the fate woven for me
The dragon let out a long spiteful roar as it worked to drag itself free, inching slowly out of the portal.
This is my Destiny!
In a single shining moment, everything became clear to Cat. The world seemed to become silent save for the pumping of her heart as her mind was cleared of fog and she realized what all of this, her journey, the path she had walked was leading towards. The last few steps from Rome to her destiny.
Before any of the others could react, before any of them could reach out to stop her, Cat charged.
She ran, feet heavy, one step at a time straight towards Nidhoggr’s snapping jaws. Her ears were ringing, she could hear the others calling behind her, could hear their footfalls trying to catch up, but none of it passed further than her ears. This was it, the last decision, and Cat was going to see it through.
With one great shouting charge Cat leaped as Nidhoggr’s great jaws opened and rammed her sword to the hilt straight into the beast’s upper jaw, blade slamming into the dragon’ brain as she buried it to the very hilt.
Nidhoggr spasmed, its injured claw releasing the earth, and in one great push the first Primordial, the Serpent of Yggdrassil, was pulled into the void of the Ginnungagap Rift, and Cat along with it.
She couldn’t see anything. Cat couldn’t see a thing save for brief flashes of movement in the total darkness. The rift cut through space and time, a portal from Midgard to the very depths of the World Tree that ripped through fate itself. There was no light here, only the sense of falling eternally, the screams of Nidhoggr that echoed past her, and the feeling of warm tears running across her face as they blew back in the wind.
Cat braced her foot against the roof Nidhoggr’s mouth and pulled herself free until she was falling alone through the great abyss.
This was it. She knew it. She didn’t know if she died on impact at the other end of the Ginnungagap Rift or if she would be trapped forever in Helheim with Angel and Nidhoggr. It didn’t matter. She’d done it. She saved the world.
Cat closed her eyes briefly against the darkness, letting herself fall as the tears flowed freely.
“Sorry everyone,” She said quietly, voice lost in the howling wind. “I did my best. I really did…”
She opened her eyes again, turning to look blearily into the wind as she looked into the abyss below. At first, there was only darkness. She could sense the mass of Nidhoggr falling with it, and hear its echoing roars but she couldn’t even see the great bulk of the dragon in the total darkness. She stared a moment longer, ready to close her eyes again and wait for the fall to end, but in that last moment, something appeared, half-real and half-illusion.
A light in the darkness.
In mere moments it grew and grew as it flew towards Cat, and she had the wind knocked out of her as something…no, someone collided with her. Arms wrapped around her as hands took tight hold, and in the darkness Cat could see shining blue eyes looking back at her.
“Catarina!” Angel was in human form again as she clung to her, and Cat couldn’t help but hug her back. Even as she stared, however, the light faded from Angel’s eyes. In the waning light Cat could see the wings on her back were now gone. There was nothing left of the Primoridal, the Eagle, only a broken wolf.
Cat pressed her head to Angel’s chest as the tears ran freely, the two of them falling together.
Angel wasn’t a lost Primordial, nor was she a broken wolf. She was a Wolf of Rome, Cat’s friend, a part of whom she’d carried all this way.
A part of her.
Cat’s eyes went wide. Her hand was still on Ceruleamor. She pulled her arm in, the blade pulled between them so both of them could see the sword.
And the shining blue gem in its hilt, still glistening with remnant energy of the great Primordial.
Angel’s eyes went wide with realization.
“Catarina!” Cat could barely hear Angel’s voice. “That’s your sword! I gave you that power as a gift!”
“I’m giving it back!” Cat shouted so she could be heard. “Take it! All of it!”
Angel’s hands closed around Cat’s, both of them holding the sword tightly. The light from the sword began to fade, the blade losing its sheen as the blue gem went dull. As the light left the sword, however, Angel’s eyes burned with power.
Once again, Angel wrapped her arms around Cat, taking tight hold of her, and in a burst of blue energy that filled the endless void of the rift, a pair of wings bloomed from Angel’s back, bristling with starlight.
Cat clung to Angel as tightly as she could as the wind slowed, Angel’s wings braking their fall before Cat’s heart began to drum even faster. They weren’t falling anymore. They were rising now.
Angel’s wings pumped the air as they flew upwards, the screams of Nidhoggr fading behind them as the tiniest speck of light appeared above. The rift on the Midgard side, the portal they had come through was now far too small for the great dragon. But it might, she prayed, still be just large enough.
The wind whipped at her face, but Angel didn’t slow down. Great eagle’s wings pumping the sky until, with one last great burst of speed they flew back through the portal as it closed tight behind them and into the free bright air of the world.
They hung there in the pale grey sky for a moment, marveling in the light of even a cloudy sky before they fell again to earth, Angel rolling off of Cat as she pulled herself to her feet, heart thundering in her chest as she looked up and saw the others, Rosaria at the front, tears running down her face.
Before she could do anything, before she could even speak, Rosa threw herself against Cat with enough force to knock her back down other knees.
“You idiot!!” Cat had never seen Rosa like this, red-faced and crying freely as her hands dug into Cat’s shoulder. “You ran ahead without…I thought you’d…”
Cat smiled, feeling her own tears sliding down her face. Without even thinking, she put her hands on Rosa’s hot cheeks, pulled her in and kissed her.
They stayed like that for a moment before Cat released her, red-faced as she looked into Rosa’s eyes. “Sorry,” she said. “For making you worry.”
Slowly, they got back to their feet and Cat hurried to Angel, who had managed to sit up. Angel’s jacket was gone, leaving her in a torn undershirt that revealed the metal and silver prosthetic of her arm. Her wolf ears and tail were still there, but her back was now entirely bare. That last flight had consumed all of her remaining energy. The Eagle was no more. All that was left was Angel.
“Catarina…” She said quietly. “I’m sorry…there’s nothing left for your sword, I-“
Cat hugged her, getting back on her knees as she threw her arms around Angel’s shoulders.
“It’s just a sword, Angel,” Cat said. “You saved me.”
“I….right,” Angel said quietly, and she felt Angel’s hands tentatively wrap around her to return the embrace.
“No hug for us?” Torleif said, doing her best to sound annoyed even though Cat could see the clear tear stains on her face.
“Hehe, come here, Torleif,” Cat smield, and Torleif ran forward to embrace her as the others gathered around.
Cat stood up, releasing Torleif as Megame hugged her tightly from behind, Nicomede putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“You had us all terrified!” Megame shouted. “Don’t ever scare us like that again!”
“You did amazing, Cat,” Nicomede smiled. “This is…beyond just being a hero.”
“He’s right,” Cat turned to see Gisela facing her. “You have…Catarina you have done what I always thought impossible. I’m…” For the first time, Cat could see Gisela struggling for words. She couldn’t help but grin as she pulled herself free from them.
“This wasn’t just me,” Cat said. “All of you I’m…we did this. Together. It’s over.”
Rosa smiled, pulling the small communicator out of her ear as she handed it to Cat. “Yours probably got fried by Nidhoggr and being in that rift,” Rosa smiled. “There are a few people who want to hear from you I think. It’s open to all channels.”
Cat put the communicator in her ears and could hear the nervous back and forth of dozens of people across the lines as they tried to discern what was happening. The monsters were in disarray everywhere, retreating.
“Everyone,” Cat said, and all the lines went quiet.
“This is Catarina Aldobrandini. Nidhoggr has been imprisoned in its realm.”
Instantly the voices returned, highest among them were Hildegard and Hanne calling to her.
“Cat! Are you alright! What happened!?”
“Catarina! The report! Is it over?”
“The battle’s over,” Cat could feel the tears running down her face again.
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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa