Chapter 94: The Immortal Heart of Kirsi
Beneath the blinding white storm of agony, a memory emerged. A train station covered in snow in the cold grip of winter. The black train tracks were mostly cleared, with mounds of snow piled on either side. Wide paths of footprints tracked up and down the station to the boarding platform, where a little girl wrapped in a purple woolen winter coat clutched two tickets tightly as she pressed large white mittens against her pink nose and cheeks.
A woman dressed in the uniform of a train attendant spotted her. The woman drew closer while glancing about, no doubt looking for the child’s guardian or parent. When she finally reached the little girl, the woman knelt and offered a friendly smile.
“Hello,” the woman said as she stared into the child’s ice-blue eyes. “What’s your name?”
“Carina,” answered the child, still hiding behind her mittens.
“That’s a pretty name,” the woman answered. “Mine is Sarah. How old are you?”
“I’m six. Sarah is also a pretty name.”
Sarah smiled and once more cautiously searched the platform of passengers. “Carina, are you here with anyone? Your mom or dad?”
The child looked at the two tickets she held and nodded. “My Daddy.”
“Do you know where he is?”
Sarah frowned. “Hiding?”
“He said the bad men were here,” Carina explained, her voice dropping to a whisper. “And that I must wait for him by the train.”
“I see,” said Sarah as she reached into her coat pocket for a hand radio. “Well, you did a good job staying put, Carina.”
The mittens dropped for a moment as the child smiled. It was not the smile of someone happy to be praised but a glimmer of hopeful relief. Sarah ignored the hand radio and pulled out a cotton candy lollipop instead. “Since you’ve been such a brave girl, Carina. I want you to have this.”
The child’s pretty blue eyes blinked as she ducked behind her mittens again and shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Oh?” Sarah felt silly as she nodded her head in understanding. “Did your Dad tell you not to accept candy from strangers?”
Carina nodded. “I’m—not supposed to talk—but you have a uniform. So you’re not a bad person. Right?”
Sarah blinked as she pushed her hand back into her pocket and brushed against the hand radio. “That’s right. I’m going to make sure you stay safe until your Dad gets back. Is that alright?”
Carina nodded slowly and sniffed.
“Oh, look at your ears, Carina. They’ve gone a bit blue,” Sarah murmured as she unwound her scarf and wrapped it snuggly around Carina’s face until only the child’s blue eyes peeped through. “Can you breathe alright in there?”
The child blinked but did not answer.
“That’s a good girl,” Sarah said with a confident smile as she held up a finger for Carina to wait, then moved back a few steps to pull out her radio. “Control this is AZ639. I have a child here that matches the description of Peter Hawkins’s daughter. Over.”
“AZ639. This is Control. Where are you? Over.”
“Platform 5B. Found the kid on her own. Should I bring her back or stay here to keep watch in case Hawkins’s shows. Over.”
“Negative AZ639. Bring her in for questioning. Hawkins already slipped past us. Over.”
“She’s only six,” Sarah glanced towards the girl, still clutching the two train tickets. “Her dad told her that he’d be coming back. We should at least try—”
“AZ639. You have your orders. Hawkins cut her loose because she was dead weight. The kid wasn’t even his, just some orphan he picked up from the outer zone, so I very much doubt he’ll take that chance. Bring her in. She might give us information about who they were staying with. Over.”
Sarah lowered the hand radio with a softly muttered, “Fuck!” She glanced around the train platform but found no sign of the wanted terrorist ringleader that her unit had been sent to intercept. “Damn it!” Sarah raised her radio again and pressed to send. “I’m bringing the kid back with me to HQ. Over.”
When no response came, Sarah shoved the hand radio into her coat pocket then walked back over to Carina. She knelt and once more offered the little girl a friendly smile as she tugged the scarf away from Carina’s ears. “Hey, Carina. Good news. I got in touch with your Dad. My friends managed to find him and help him escape from some very bad men. He’s a bit busy right now, but he asked that I bring you over to him.”
“Daddy is okay?” Carina asked, her voice squeaking slightly with relief.
“You know your Dad,” Sarah joked lightly. “He’s pretty much impossible to stop.” She sighed and brushed away the snow gathering on top of the girl’s dark raven hair. “But lucky for you, I have a car around back, so we can meet up with him in no time.”
“Okay—but,” Carina looked at the tickets in her hand. “What about the train?”
“Well,” Sarah said as she stood up and reached into her pocket once more. “The great thing about those tickets is that you can always come back and exchange them for another ticket tomorrow.”
“Oh!” Carina nodded and, with some difficulty, unbuttoned a coat pocket and then placed the tickets carefully inside.
Sarah’s smile wavered for a moment before she held out the cotton candy lollipop again. “Your Dad also said that you could have this.”
“Really? Thank you,” Carina said with a shy smile as she accepted the lollipop, then frowned as she looked from the wrapping to her mittens.
Sarah laughed. “I’ll open that up for you once we get to the car, alright?”
Special Agent Sarah of Verdine’s Terrorist Response Task Force held out her hand and smiled reassuringly at the adopted daughter of a man Sarah had received explicit orders to shoot on sight. Carina accepted the hand with the trusting smile only a child who had been sheltered from the world could possess. A strange sense of guilt prickled at the agent’s heart as she escorted the orphan down the platform. It was likely that after confirming the child knew nothing, Carina would be sent to Trog and entered into the cities foster system, where she would become lost like so many other children during these chaotic times.
The child looked back two or three times as they continued, still clutching her lollipop but perhaps sensing that something was not altogether right. The platform vanished, and soon after, the train station. Carina’s memory of her original world was buried in a flurry of snow that damped the distant crackling sound of a gunshot and a small child’s scream.
When the snow cleared again, a scarlet desert emerged, littered in the fallen bodies of mortals and witches. At the center of this massacre, two women stood in the shadows of a sand dune. The kneeling woman, dressed in scarlet armor that only emphasized her strikingly white hair, spat blood from her mouth as she clutched her gut, where an arrow that crackled with lightning had broken through her enchanted armor.
The second woman who stood over the kneeling Scarlet Witch held a spear that rippled with lightning at her side. Her gold-plated armor and blood-stained leather garments reflected the glow of her golden hair and eyes.
“Had enough, Kirsi?” Saint Harmonia asked with a note of weariness. “It’s time to stop running. To think you would raise an army of witches this time. Your transgressions might have been overlooked had you not unleashed another calamity upon this world.”
“Fuck you and Fuck Ramiel!” Kirsi hissed through clenched teeth. “You always blame me when something goes wrong.”
“And you going to blame Veles as usual? Or will it be Arachne this time?” Harmonia retorted in a mocking tone.
“I’m an Ice Witch, Harmonia. I can’t cause a flood or famine,” Kirsi remarked with a roll of her eyes. “Where’s your common sense? Or did Ramiel fry your brain along with your sense of humor?”
“Speak my god’s name one more time, Kirsi!” Harmonia thundered, her eyes exploding with divine light as she lifted her spear from the melted sand and stepped closer to the scarlet witch.
“You know we’ve been here before,” Kirsi remarked with a bitter sigh. “I’m sure you remember. Haven’t you realized that Veles is playing with time?”
Harmonia’s eyes narrowed, but she offered no retort.
“Any minute now, Veles will rewind time—or Arachne will come to collect my cursed soul—”
“The only thing that awaits you is death, Scarlet Witch. Surely even you have realized that the arrival of a Saint breaks Veles little time spell,” Harmonia countered as her spear shifted into a bow.
“Yeah, for a god, Veles certainly fucked the timing up on this one—,” Kirsi smirked and spread her arms in a deliberate show of defiance. “Still, even if you kill me, I’ll just be reborn again thanks to this—” she gestured at the flickering violet light that glowed behind her red armor.
“The heart of a god,” Harmonia observed through clenched teeth. “Why else do you think I am here, Kirsi? If the Witch of Calamity is allowed to live the world will end in ice and fire—”
“Oh—wow. Look at you,” Kirsi applauded sarcastically. “Reciting Ramiel’s prophecy like a parrot! But then I suppose being a Saint doesn’t require having much going on between the eyes.” The Scarlet Witch attempted to push herself up, but the unstable sand beneath her knee and foot gave way too easily to gain stability.
“I’m done being riled up by such petty insults, Kirsi.”
“Not denying it isn’t true then? Interesting,” Kirsi smirked to hide a grimace of pain. “Well, at least you got a pretty face for your fanatics to paint into their history books. I wonder how many lonely men will buy your picture and caress it while they dirty your name.”
“At least my name will be remembered. I can’t say the same for you, Scarlet Witch.”
“Oh, I won’t be forgotten so easily,” Kirsi replied defiantly. “My Covens still exist despite your best efforts to eradicate them.”
“What is the point, Kirsi?” Harmonia asked with a somber shake of her head. “The other gods want you gone just as much as Ramiel. Viktor’s heart has corrupted your thoughts and deeds—”
“No. Dying a hundred times and living through half as many disappointing religious spiels about prophecy and destiny over and over again has driven me crazy!” Kirsi growled out, her tone rising in a frantic hysteria of frustration that twisted into pain as she clutched the arrow in her gut then spat up another mouthful of blood into the sand. “So do me a favor and get this over with, Saintess. Your predecessor at least spared me the monotony of a farewell speech.”
“As you wish,” Harmonia replied with evident contempt. Her expression, however, appeared conflicted as she formed an arrow and placed it against the bow for which she attained her fame.
“Really?” Kirsi arched a brow. “You’re going to poke me to death. You’re such a fucking bitch, Har—”
The arrow sliced through Kirsi’s left eye, and the Scarlet Witch shuddered. Her right eye flickered with pale blue magic as Kirsi mumbled out one final parting word, “Cunt.” Then her head exploded, and the Scarlet Witch’s body toppled limply to the ground.
“May you remain in the underworld where you belong, Isbrand witch,” Harmonia muttered darkly as she lowered her bow. “This time.”
The clouds rumbled with thunder above, and Harmonia glanced towards them, then bowed her head humbly and turned to resume her quest to annihilate Kritanta’s newest consort.
The blood-stained battleground where Kirsi had fallen darkened as rain clouds loomed in, and a sudden deluge mixed the blood of the Saint’s army of mortals with that of the Scarlet Witch’s Red Wolf Army. A monstrous yet feminine figure rose from the crimson pool that gathered admist the dead, her face eyeless, her mouth a cave of fangs, her long, muscular chest and arms pale and covered in scales; her lower body was that of an eel. She slithered towards Kirsi’s body, her tail knocking aside the corpses that got in the way while her clawed, webbed hands stroked the bloody nub of the dead witch’s neck. The eel-woman’s teeth clattered like knives as she raised her eyeless vision to the storm above.
“Too soon, Ramiel! Kritanta’s consort was nowhere near strong enough to be considered a real threat!”
“Do you think he cares?” A raven, feasting on the face of a deceased mortal, shuddered and flapped its wings, then sprouted into the figure of a man in dark robes, toppled with age, who leaned on a staff as his red eyes glared at the eel-woman. “Kirsi defied the will of the gods again and you placed her too close to his precious Saint, Arachne.”
“It was your covens who brought the Saint here, Veles!” Arachne hissed as she scooped of the body of the scarlet witch. “The time cycle was broken by your children—not mine!”
“My air witches did not cause the famine, and you know it, you manipulative monster!” Veles shouted back, then sighed as he kicked the body of a dead mortal. “This—did not go according to plan—”
“Famous last words,” Arachne muttered sarcastically as her claws slowly cut away the armor that shrouded Kirsi’s body.
“We still have time,” Veles muttered frantically. “You can just find another host!”
Arachne stiffened and twisted her sightless gaze towards him with a snarl. “Do you imagine it is easy, finding a body with enough Isbrand blood to hold Kirsi’s soul? After you and Kritanta have harvested the Isbrand witches for years to extend your precious pure-blood lines.”
“I only culled their numbers to give Viktor more time!” Veles protested. “You agreed that it was necessary to prevent the last of our brother’s magic from being drained away. And Kritanta is—doing what that bitch does best. Fucking things up for her own personal gain.”
“Either way, my choices grow fewer and less desirable,” Arachne grumbled as she cut away the last leather strap of Kirsi’s chest plate and tossed the piece of armor to the ground. “Those damn ice witches seem to have noticed our interference. They’ve gone underground and even stopped breeding while they hide the last Isbrand prince.”
“I can influence him if you desire, Arachne.”
“We desire the same thing, so get that bastard runting again and give me an optimal host!” Arachne snapped as she ripped aside Kirsi’s protective leather jerkin.
“All this effort and for what? What are the odds Kirsi will change her mind this time?”
Arachne’s hands stilled as she placed her palm over the dead ice witch’s chest where the blue light of Viktor’s heart flickered. “Perhaps—I might have a way—of changing the outcome.”
“What do you mean?” Veles growled with evident worry. “What have you done, Arachne?”
“I put aside something of value for a rainy day?” Arachne replied with an almost human-like shrug. “Seems like it might prove useful to us right about now.”
Veles drew in a sharp breath, exhaled, and pressed a hand to his aged face. “This is why—I don’t like you meddling—”
“Don’t judge until I explain,” Arachne retorted as her claws dug into the dead witch’s chest, breaking through Kirsi’s ribs and sternum, which she snapped and moved aside like pieces of dry wood. “When Viktor’s daughter died the first time, I may have—snipped off a portion of her soul.”
“What?” Veles squinted as he leaned against his staff. “How?”
“It’s something I’ve practiced on many dead mortals before. A demigod’s soul was so unique and enticing—I couldn’t resist,” Arachne replied. “Anyway, Minerva intervened and stole Kirsi’s body and the rest of her soul from me, so I almost discarded it—until I realized the soul wasn’t dying.”
“Kirsi’s soul is incomplete? Is that what you’re telling me?” Veles twisted his staff anxiously. “Is that why Viktor won’t let her die? A torn soul can’t be reincarnated.”
“Well,” Arachne grunted softly as she lifted the glowing crystal blue heart from the Scarlet Witch’s corpse. “Perhaps we should see if this fragment of Kirsi’s soul will be—more amenable to our demands.”
“You and your vindictive meddling,” Veles growled with evident disgust. “How many times have I sacrificed my witches to rewind and fix things. And all the while, you were keeping secrets—as usual.”
“Don’t sulk,” Arachne growled back, her fangs clicking in annoyance. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll let you monitor this fragment of Kirsi’s soul.”
Veles’s red eyes glimmered with interest. “That would—certainly increase the chances of our success.” He lifted his staff and gestured it sharply at her. “But you must promise me, Arachne, no more meddling! If we don’t get this right, Father will come after us both.”
“I am not afraid of that pretentious god,” Arachne hissed.
“Well, you should be,” Veles replied with a grunt. “Didn’t he threatened to drain every river, ocean, and lake if you prevented Kirsi from fulfilling her destiny? What do you imagine he’ll do when he learns of this fragmented soul nonsense?”
“Destiny?” Arachne laughed, a rather unpleasant sound that made even the God of Air cringe beneath his robes.
“You really enjoy watching this world tip further and further into chaos,” Veles muttered softly.
Arachne’s fangs twisted into a blood-thirsty smile. “I am as our parents made me. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.”
Veles flinched and nodded. “I accept your proposal. Where is this fragment of Kirsi’s soul—and how do you intend to connect it to Viktor’s heart without Kirsi interfering?”
“I used a page from Ramiel’s book and hid my secret treasure in another world,” Arachne replied as she stroked the glowing heart that quickly iced over beneath her touch. “It should be easy enough to bring the fragment over to this world once I kill off the host. And no one knows Kirsi better than me.”
“You—” Veles shook his head sharply in defeat. “Fine. Then what do we do for a host here?”
“The last Isbrand Prince should be able to offer us a suitable specimen,” Arachne replied as her eel-like body turned and slithered back across the mud towards the growing puddle of blood and rain. “I’m sure if you lure him into some temptress bed long enough to give us a few options.”
“But that will take up needless time!” Veles said sharply, then cursed as the Goddess of Nightmares and Secrets slid below the bloody surface. “Damn it.” The God of Air shook off his robes as two black wings sprouted from his back. “Well—at least I was able to spare the last of the Hawthorne bloodline. I’ll need to make them stronger but less detectable when Kirsi comes back. That bloody Saint can see through even Arachne’s disguises. Ah well, hopefully, Ramiel’s cunt will die killing Kritanta’s consort, and this Holy War will be just another blip in history.”
Veles scanned the wasteland of bodies around him and smiled as he raised a finger into the air. A ring snapped free of a dead air witch’s finger and flew towards him. “Mustn’t let this go to waste. I’ll give it to your grandson when he comes of age, Duke Hawthorne.” With a satisfied smirk, the God of Deception took to the skies, vanishing into another flock of crows that dipped low and scattered beneath the grey curtain of rain.
Left upon the blood-stained mud, the scarlet witch’s body lay like a pale flower amidst the dark battleground. The cold, black diamond ring flickered upon her right hand then flashed blue as her finger twitched and the ring vanished.
Carina’s eyes opened in alarm as the cold pressure of water closed in around her. She gasped and jerked, only to find her body trapped in the grips of black, corpse-like arms that dragged her further down towards a dark door that loomed beneath the murky water.
‘What is this? Am I dead? I don’t want to die!’
Panic sparked through her chest, and Viktor’s heart awoke again, flashing with a painful brightness that froze the specters arms in place. Finally able to pull free, Carina kicked and clawed her way towards the surface, where she reached blindly towards a stone wall that appeared through her blurred and darkening vision.
The trembling half-blood drank in her first breath greedily as she broke through the surface and draped her arm over the solid barrier. Too numb to think, she barely registered the looming figure of a statue, a woman surrounded by wolves, that stood in the center of the fountain she now found herself in.
‘I’m—in the royal garden?’
Carina might have laughed if her body were not quivering in agony. Her left eye refused to stay open, while her chest cramped and spasmed as if it had been punctured by knives.
‘Fuck—is this—Kirsi’s pain?’
Carina heaved herself over the fountain wall and dropped down onto the stone pavement below, drinking in one breath at a time as she lay upon the ground and waited for the pain to subside.
‘I had almost forgotten—so this is what pain feels like.’ Carina cracked a smile and groaned as her head swam with memories. Kirsi’s memories. The urge to puke, cry, and smash her head against the stone wall, screamed together beneath the drowning weight of pain trapped inside her head. Carina shut her eyes and pressed her back to the fountain as she drew her knees to her chest and breathed in slowly. ‘Inhale—exhale—Inhale—’
A soft glow opened Carina’s eyes as the pain slowly receded and with it the whirlpool of memories that were too much for her to handle. The half-blood raised a hand to the glowing heart inside her chest. An old resentment that was not hers but belonged to the heart she shared with the Scarlet Witch flickered into focus as Carina pressed her fingers above Viktor’s frozen heart.
‘It seems Arachne is the one who brought me here and put me inside Maura’s body? But what is it they want from me? From Kirsi?’
“To be a willing sacrifice that will restore Viktor to power.” The voice echoing behind Carina’s ears made her shiver in recognition.
“So, this is the long-lost half of my twisted soul,” the Scarlet Witch responded in a mocking tone. “From the vision I saw, your name is Carina. How appropriate.”
Carina slowly raised her quivering hands to her cold ears as she looked around the garden.
“I’m inside you, idiot, where I’ve always been. I cannot be separated from Viktor’s heart. Though it would seem Arachne found a way to use you to restrict me.”
“I’m—not sure I understand.”
“Oh? I thought you were supposed to be clever?”
“What? Wait—how many of my memories did you see.”
“You were an orphan abandoned by some sort of rebel. You have an unhealthy friendship with someone named Jade, who is actually one of Arachne’s demonic pets. For some reason the ghost of the body we now both possess is following you around and causing trouble instead of in the underworld where she belongs. You have a secret organization named after some sort of dog. I—don’t understand the reference there. And you have multiple secret identities that give you power and influence, but for some reason, you’re not using them to their max potential. Shall I go on?”
“Ah, no—that’s enough,” Carina replied, blinking in confusion. “Though—I’m not sure I understand what you mean about Jade being Arachne’s pet?”
“Hadn’t figured that one out yet? Honestly, Carina, it’s a wonder you’re still alive at all. Anyway, I apologize for almost killing you. I didn’t realize who—no, ‘what’ you were until Viktor separated us. If I had killed you—well, I’m sure that would have messed up the whole immortal rebirth cycle situation.”
Carina smiled wryly as she massaged her still aching chest. “I—can feel pain now?”
“It’s only temporary. You’ll only feel pain like that when your life is actually at risk, so—try to avoid dying.”
“Ha,” Carina shook her head. As fountain water dripped down her hair and cheeks, the vision in her left eye slowly restored. The half-blood couldn’t help but wonder if this was all just some sort of elaborate illusion. “You mentioned something about a sacrifice?”
“Viktor didn’t explain that to you? I can’t say that I’m surprised. You and I are stuck in this bloody cycle of death and rebirth until we give the Immortal God back his heart and die for good. Of course, the catch to this is that we do so willingly, but I’m not sure how you feel about falling on a sword for an immortal who sacrificed his covens to remain alive.”
“What?” Carina stared down at the black diamond ring on her right hand. “Why would he?”
“That’s a long story, and you should probably head indoors. Last I checked, Lafeara’s Royal Palace wasn’t exactly a safe place for a witch to be traipsing about in a wet nightgown.”
Carina stared numbly at the pale peach and blue horizon of morning that stretched across the fortress walls, hedges and trees, and towering palaces. ‘Right, I should figure out how to get back to Lily Palace without being spotted or arrested.’
The answer came as Lumi pressed worriedly against the bracelet on Carina’s wrist. “Right, of course, that will work.” The half-blood pushed herself up against the fountain wall and smiled as Lumi appeared before her with an anxious whine.
“You have a scriva?” Kirsi commented with a note of surprise. “Not bad. How did you manage that all on your own with such limited experience with magic?”
“That’s a long story,” Carina replied as Lumi lowered herself to the ground to allow the dripping half-blood to climb on board. It was apparent that Kirsi didn’t trust Viktor. And while the Scarlet Witch’s accusations had certainly shaken Carina’s opinion of the trapped immortal god—she wasn’t going to take the word of someone who had tried to kill her moments ago that easily.