Chapter 69: A Father’s Final Farewell
From the moment Carina closed her eyes and entered the icy domain that surrounded the frozen cortex of Viktor’s heart—everything felt different. The splash of cold water that rose just above her ankles, pooling around the Duchess’s elemental greaves, caught her by surprise. Thankfully, her leather boots were already enchanted with waterproof abilities, though she felt the coolness of the icy lake all the same. She glanced down at the blackened ice below her feet, which was all but translucent aside from the many cracks that had spread across its surface.
Carina couldn’t decide if the plain of ice was sinking or the water simply rising through the cracks. Her attention quickly shifted to the frozen cortex, which flickered faintly on the small, tiny island of snow where only Viktor’s skeletal head remained above water. The rest of the immortal dragon’s body was visible, even from a distance, as it sank slowly beneath the ice.
‘What’s—happening to this place?’
The Duchess summoned her spear as she waded toward the dying god across the flooded icy field. Her ice-blue eyes scanned the water’s rippling surface that melded into the dark sky above them, where the faint twinkling lights of distant stars watched in silence as if holding their breath.
‘Lumi, are you here?’
The scriva materialized beside her and flattened its ears against its flawless sparkling fur as it whined uneasily.
“Yeah, me too,” Carina murmured as she placed her left hand reassuringly against the elemental wolf’s shoulder. “I wasn’t expecting—”
“So, you’re finally here, little Duchess!”
Carina stiffened and gritted her teeth before turning to face the Scarlet Witch, dressed in her customary crimson armor, standing on what remained of an elemental tree trunk only a few yards away.
“I’m relieved to see you came dressed for the occasion,” Kirsi continued with a faint smirk as she summoned a crimson spear to match the Duchess’s. “As your teacher, I must say that I’m rather proud of the progress you’ve shown. Unfortunately, it still won’t be enough to save you.”
“I did not come here to fight you, Kirsi.”
“Tsk, tsk. There you go again, playing the part of the merciful savior,” the Scarlet Witch muttered distastefully. “Just because your half of the soul was given our rightful name doesn’t mean that you’ll be the one to fulfill the Unmaker’s prophecy.”
“We are both halves of the same soul, Kirsi. That’s why we were meant to merge together—not fight each other.”
“Only a delusional imbecile would believe that two personalities both polar opposite and independent of one another could merge together again simply because they wished to.”
“If that’s true, then why wait so long to get rid of me? Why bother teaching me anything?”
“Because of Viktor,” Kirsi growled, fang-like teeth appearing beneath a sneer as her ice-blue eyes flickered toward the sinking immortal. “But things are different now that he’s all but stardust. Viktor can no longer interfere. But, since I know how fond he was of you, I thought it only fair to send you off together—to whatever fate awaits you both beyond the veil.”
“It sounds like your mind is made up,” Carina observed cynically, stroking Lumi’s fur to soothe the growling elemental.
“Did you honestly think that after centuries of battling Saints, Gods, and traitors—I would give it all up—hand everything over to you—just because you carry our true name?”
“No, I suppose not. After all, before my meeting with the Unmaker, I felt the same way you’re feeling right now.” The Duchess smiled bitterly. “Up until then, I was convinced that I was little more than your shadow, an unwelcome forgotten shard of your soul, an interloper in this war between you, the Pope’s Church, and the Gods.”
“Ha!” Kirsi spat out with a venomous sneer. “And what? Do you actually believe that something as insignificant as a name could alter our positions so significantly?”
“My name is not insignificant!” The Duchess’s voice echoed over the sudden discord of ice breaking beneath them as the cold water surged up to the ice witch’s knees. Carina’s panicked gaze quickly moved to Viktor as the immortal dragon’s skull began to slip further and further towards the edge. “It is the only piece of my identity that I was able to bring to this world. And it was gifted to me by my father, Viktor—”
The Duchess laughed softly as her gaze returned to the other half of her soul. “I have spent the last eight years carrying the name of a ghost who made me feel guilty and undeserving. And then, when I finally started to put my interests and beliefs above hers, you appeared and forced your name and will upon me. I am done playing the part of placeholder. I will not share my name with you or anyone else. Because it is my name, it is the name the Gods gave me, and it is all I will have left of Viktor when he is gone.”
The Scarlet Witch drew her lips into a grim smile as she glanced from Carina to Viktor and then to the silent stars above them. “I can appreciate the sentiment. But you must understand, Carina, that there is no life in which I will ever accept becoming the shadow of your glorious future!”
“The feeling is mutual, Kirsi.”
“Then—may the best witch-shard win.”
“And may the loser graciously resign themselves to their fate.”
Kirsi’s lips twisted into a cynical smile at the Duchess’s quiet confidence. “Very well. Agreed. But on that note—I hope you don’t mind that I reclaimed my authority over the Unforgiven that you so helpfully transformed into scrivas for me.”
The six white elemental wolves with crimson red eyes took form on either side of the smirking Scarlet Witch. Lumi bristled in response, growing in size even as the ice continued to crack threateningly beneath their feet.
“I am sorry it had to be this way, Kirsi,” Carina murmured as she placed a steadying hand on Lumi’s shoulder.
Kirsi’s cold blue eyes narrowed before she picked up her spear and lunged forward, the Unforgiven closing ranks around her as they splashed across the steadily creaking black ice towards the Duchess and her single glowing scriva.
The water ebbed slowly away beneath the Duchess and her elemental as a small mound of ice formed below. Carina’s chest and eyes glowed with the power of the frozen vortex as she dismissed her spear, held out her right hand, and sharply snapped her fingers.
The Unforgiven shattered one by one in sudden bursts of exploding snow and ice that transformed into swirling clouds of snowflakes, temporarily blinding the Scarlet Witch, who quickly jumped above the chaotic haze, arching her spear over her shoulder as she aimed for the stationary Duchess.
Kirsi’s eyes narrowed in confusion as she met no resistance nor spotted any defensive shields. The Scarlet Witch gritted her teeth and then scoffed in silent disbelief as Carina dismissed Lumi. Just as the tip of her spear was about to pierce through the little ice witch’s armor—the Duchess vanished in a flurry of snow similar to the exploding Unforgiven.
‘What? But when—’
The Scarlet Witch laughed as she stabbed her spear into the cracking layer of ice and spun around to search the sinking elemental plains around her. “Clever, Carina. You used the destruction of the Unforgiven to create a mirage. It’s a nice trick, but it won’t work twice.”
“You still haven’t noticed.”
Kirsi flinched as Carina’s voice echoed across the cold waves of dark water around her and spun around to where the Duchess now stood, solidifying the ice barrier around Viktor’s skeletal corpse. “Really? We’re in the middle of battle, and you’re using what precious time you could buy with that stunt to save a dying god? Honestly, Carina. This is exactly why I will never accept—” The Scarlet Witch flinched as something massive slammed against the thin mound of ice beneath her feet. “What the hell?”
‘Was that Lumi? No, I’m pretty sure those were white scales—not fur. Could it be Viktor?’
“You told me this once before,” Carina replied calmly as she placed a hand against the dragon’s premaxilla bone. “That everything within this domain belongs to me. Even then, you must have acknowledged it subconsciously, the fact that this elemental realm, which once belonged to Viktor, has now passed to me as his heir.”
“What of it?” Kirsi snarled. “Yes, it was annoying when you were the only one allowed in, but that’s no longer the case.”
“Isn’t it?” The Duchess removed her hand as she turned to face the Scarlet Witch. “You were allowed to stay here only because Viktor permitted it.”
“And he’s all but dead now, so—”
“The only reason you were able to enter Maura’s body is because you succeeded in making me feel so small and insignificant that I was grateful to you for allowing me to remain in control—when, in reality, I was always the one in control.”
The Scarlet Witch’s expression tensed momentarily before she belted out a cynical laugh. “Really, Carina, the lengths you will go just to avoid feeling like a failure—”
“The time for lectures is over, Kirsi,” Carina interjected as she summoned her dual-fanged spear. “You’re no longer my teacher. In fact, if we were to look at your history and the hundreds of lives you’ve taken over, only to fail to achieve either revenge or immortality—then the only true failure standing here between us is you.”
“That—is because Arachne hid you—a piece of my soul and the key to Viktor’s power from me!” Kirsi snarled. “I am the one with decades of magic and combat experience. I am the Immortal Scarlet Witch who battled against the Saints and the endless line of Harmonia’s bastard Popes. Clearly, between the two of us, I stand the best chance of fulfilling the Prophecy to destroy this world and the Gods who thrive off it!”
“And that is why I will stop you.”
“Bahahaha!” The Scarlet Witch cackled as she slapped her knee, ignoring the creaking, groaning ice pushed on top of each other by the silently moving creature below. “You can try, little ice witch.”
The Duchess’s lips curled into a sinister smile as she placed the fingers of her left hand against her chest. “I am Carina Morana Valda, Viktor’s true heir. And you, Kirsi Isbrand, stand within my domain.”
“Fuck you!” Kirsi snarled as she lunged forward, sprinting across the water-clogged ice with little heed to the looming pale white shadow that followed beneath the surface. “I don’t need you—or Viktor. Once I’ve taken his power from you, I will be the one to walk the moonlit path to immortality. I will have my revenge. And when I’m done, whatever’s left of this world and your old world will never remember that you ever existed.”
Carina effortlessly lifted the dual-fanged spear above her head before letting go. The hovering, glowing spear filled with the light from the flickering vortex that grew gradually brighter as the weapon spun in place, building momentum as it filled the dark plain with a blinding, pure white light.
The Scarlet Witch grimaced as she was forced to look away, but not before hurtling her spear to where the Duchess had last been standing. She heard the weapon strike the cold water and ice below and quickly summoned a knight’s sword and shield as she pivoted, waiting for an attack that never came.
“What the hell? Why aren’t you fighting? Enough of these childish games of hide-and-seek !”
“It seems you still haven’t realized your mistake—despite the extra time I’ve given you.”
“Realized what? That you’re a spineless coward?”
“No,” Carina murmured as she tapped the Scarlet Witch’s shoulder, disappearing in a mist of snow just as Kirsi cut through the air where she had been, only to tap the Scarlet Witch’s other shoulder, vanish, and then repeat with each lower limb.
“What are you doing?” Kirsi snarled, blinking in confusion at the strands of power connecting her to the flickering vortex. “What is the point—” The strands thickened, then split, before forming chains that dragged the startled Scarlet Witch violently to her knees and then onto her back as they pulled the growling Isbrand Witch toward the pulsating vortex of power. “What the hell is this? Let me go!”
“You should be able to feel it now,” Carina observed as she returned to her position beneath the spinning dual-fanged spear. “Your power, your magic, it’s all being drained back into the vortex where it belongs.”
“No…That can’t be! You don’t have this sort of power!”
“Oh, but I do,” Carina corrected with a shake of her head. “If everything within this domain belongs to me, then that would include my scrivas, the Unforgiven, and you—naturally.”
“I do not belong to—” The Scarlet Witch blinked in horror as her armor, sword, and shield shattered into mists of snow that were quickly swept into the vibrant swirling pillar of the domain’s power vortex. “Stop! Stop this! This isn’t what I had in mind. My legend can’t end—like this?”
“It’s true. I had rather hoped we could work together. Maybe I could even find a way to spare at least a small fragment of our soul to preserve your legacy,” the Duchess commented with a note of bitter resignation. “But as you so often remind me. Only a fool would offer mercy to a serpent with the power to bite back.”
“No, wait! I’ll agree to that. I’ll agree to anything! Just release me, Carina!”
“This is not a negotiation. You have already lost, Kirsi,” Carina observed coldly as she raised a finger toward the spinning spear above her. “And we agreed that the loser would accept their fate—graciously.”
“I would never have agreed to that had I known you intended to take advantage of Viktor’s domain in this way! Outside of this place, you are nothing! Merely the weaker fragment of my soul borrowing from my experience and leaching off Viktor’s power! You cannot win without me, Carina!”
“You’re the one without a body, Kirsi. Outside of this place and Maura’s shell, you’d be nothing more than a specter, a remnant at best.”
“Even then,” the Scarlet Witch snorted defiantly. “I’d still stand a better chance than you. You have every advantage I never had, yet you refuse to use them. Your selfishness and naivety have condemned thousands of innocent lives to the plague that you could end simply by sacrificing one mortal or forcing the Saint to awaken and do her damn job.”
“You and I both know what could happen if Hana were to become the Saint.”
“And you and I both know that neither of us can stop it from happening if Ramiel chooses to awaken her himself.”
The chains dragging the Scarlet Witch towards the blazing vortex of power went slack as the Duchess’s raised hand wavered. Kirsi quickly rolled onto her feet, desperately trying to break free of the woven strands of magical energy, even as they drained her existence.
“If there is a way to spare Hana from being used as a tool by the gods, then I will find it,” Carina whispered grimly.
“Is this some pathetic mortal fantasy of overcoming evil with the power of friendship?” Kirsi sniggered even as she sank weakly to her knees. “We both know that’s not how the real world works, Carina—certainly not one controlled by unscrupulous gods. Nesta is a ticking time bomb, but you treat her like a lost kitten that just needs food, shelter, and lo—”
The Scarlet Witch’s eyes widened slightly as the Duchess dropped her hand. For a moment, Kirsi only stared silently through the blinding light of the spear that pierced her chest to stare at the Duchess, who slowly approached. “I—wasn’t sure you had it in you.”
The Duchess knelt down to one knee before the already fading outline of the Scarlet Witch. “We both know that the world of men cannot be kept safe by hopeful ideals and feeble promises,” Carina murmured as she reached out to grasp Kirsi’s barely visible shoulder and offered the dying remnant of the Isbrand Witch a parting smile. “I already have plenty of mortal blood on my hands. But I promise you from this day forward, I will no longer hesitate to meet injustice with justice, violence with violence, and betrayal with vengeance.”
“Well—if I wasn’t already dying—I’d probably say something about—holding you to that—but I guess—I’ll just have to take your word for it.” The Scarlet Witch grimaced as the dual-fanged spear sank down to pierce the frigid water and black ice behind her as her legs and torso faded from view. The feeble glow of the Duchess’s spear was the only thing holding the remains of the Isbrand Witch’s temporal figure together. “Promise me that you’ll kill them all. Kritanta, Arachne, and Veles…”
“And promise me—that you’ll kill Ramiel and his bitch of a Saint!”
“If I can kill Ramiel—I will.”
Kirsi grimaced at the Duchess’s omission but closed her eyes tiredly as her chin lulled towards her already fading chest. “I had wished—to see them kneel. I had hoped—to see Viktor—one last time. Bastard…”
Carina’s hand fell through the fading fragments of the Scarlet Witch’s spectral form as both her spear and Kirsi’s fragmented soul dissolved into a flurry of icy mist that was carried back into the swirling vortex that waited by Viktor’s glittering bones.
The Duchess rose to her feet as Lumi reappeared at her side, and the pair rushed towards the sinking dragon. The vortex brightened one last time, transforming the flooded icy plain into a blinding mirror before it vanished, leaving only the glowing immortal standing before them in the suddenly dark oasis.
Carina held her breath as Viktor took a tentative step toward her, his temporal form fading in and out of focus beneath the silent twinkling stars. Behind the star-like immortal, the giant ice dragon’s bones grated against the ice as the skull sank lower. “Father?”
“I don’t have much time left,” Viktor commented with a sad smile as he held out a hand toward her. “But I am grateful for every moment that remains.”
“I’m sorry—that I couldn’t fix things with Kirsi.”
“Do not blame yourself. I was—perhaps—too optimistic in my hope of a peaceful resolution. Ultimately, you still gained the experience and knowledge you needed. Once you absorb the last of my power, Carina, your soul will be fully restored and empowered with the full might of my immortal authority. All that remains are the trials that await you.”
“More trials?” Carina asked with a hint of bitterness.
“Yes, Carina Morana Valda.”
The Duchess flinched and quickly turned to where the glowing white stag walked across the dark waves towards them, the black ice of the weakening domain crumbling beneath its delicate white hooves.
“You are here, ᛞᛖᛊᛏᚱᚢᚲᛏᛟᚾ,” Viktor murmured, uttering a name that made Carina’s soul tremble even as all recollection of it was immediately erased from her memories.
“As promised,” the Unmaker replied, its pale white ears flickering with what might have been a hint of impatience. “Though you have kept me waiting for a very long time.”
“It was worth it,” the immortal whispered as he took another trembling step towards the Duchess. “She is ready now.”
“That remains to be seen,” the stag grumbled as its soulless black eyes briefly swept over the ice witch. “But I will uphold our agreement no matter which path she chooses.”
Viktor said nothing as he offered his hand to the Duchess again. “Come, Carina. It is time.”
The ice witch stepped forward begrudgingly and bowed her head as the immortal placed his hand upon it. Carina tried to ignore the sounds of the ice cracking beneath the dragon’s bones as she knelt silently in the rippling cold water at Viktor’s feet. The blinding light of his magic gathered in the immortal’s hands before swirling into the shape of a crown, similar to the one the ice witch had made during their first training lessons together.
“Today, I, Viktor, God of Ice and Immortality, grant my sovereignty, power, and domain to my successor, Carina Morana Valda, Duchess of Winter, Queen of Lafeara, and all the Covens and witches with ice in their veins.” The Duchess clenched her fist silently as the immortal spectral figure’s light grew fainter with each breath. “May you rule the world of mortals with grace and wisdom. Let your actions be guided by justice rather than empathy, for those who abandon their oaths, honor, and integrity out of cowardice or greed are undeserving of your mercy.”
“I will—Father,” Carina replied as she reached up to grasp his hand. Her heart sank as her fingers barely felt the outline of his already dissolving form.
“May the Maker and Unmaker watch over and guide you as you follow the moonlit path to whatever future you choose.” Viktor’s voice wavered in and out of focus as he bent to kiss the Duchess’s brow beneath her crown. “Never lose faith in yourself, my child, and never forget what it is to be mortal. Do not let the gods or their prophecy cloud your judgment. Soon enough, you will stand among them as their equal—and so much more.”
Carina closed her eyes as the immortal’s lips grazed her cheek. “I will—Father.”
“If you should feel lost or hopeless, look up to the stars, Carina. I will be there watching you, along with all the souls of the immortals of the past, present, and those yet to be born.”
The Duchess exhaled sharply in relief and then shivered as Viktor’s presence suddenly vanished. The groaning sound of the dragon’s bones grated against her ears before the ice immortal’s skull sank beneath the waves. Carina held back a strangled sob as she slowly willed her eyes open to watch as the last remnants of Viktor slipped away into the dark abyss below until it was indistinguishable from the thousands of stars reflected from the sky above.
Soon enough, the Duchess was alone, staring at her own reflection in the icy dark waters with only Viktor’s crown and the glowing white stag of the Unmaker to keep her company.
“He’s—really gone,” Carina murmured numbly as she raised her gaze to the silently twinkling stars above them.
The Unmaker remained silent as its gaze roamed the domain around them, where the cracking, crumbling ice continued its chaotic rumble of dissonance. The white stag turned back as the Duchess rose to her feet and removed the crown to stare at it silently.
“I don’t—feel any different.” Carina flinched as the receding island of ice continued to collapse around them. “And what—what is happening?”
“Viktor is gone. This domain cannot exist without him,” the Unmaker replied calmly as it moved to stand closer to the ice witch. “But there is no need to panic. You will remake it soon enough. Viktor has already given you the keys.”
The ghost of a smile touched the Duchess’s lips as she nodded, then frowned as she glanced about, searching for her missing scriva. “Lumi?”
“Was also a part of Viktor’s soul, and thus—cannot exist without him.”
Carina sucked in a sharp breath as the numbness at the back of her throat gave way to the prickling heat of grief. “Then—does that mean—I’m an immortal now?”
A deep cackling laugh boomed from all around the crumbling domain as the glowing white stag stared at the ice witch with soulless black eyes that reflected neither Viktor’s crown nor the stars above. “No, Carina. This—is only the beginning.”
Something in the god’s blank expression and tone filled the Duchess with a sense of approaching dread before her gaze snapped down to the black ice beneath them, where something pale and monstrous rushed up from the bottomless depths of the abyss. Carina’s eyes widened in horror as the white scales, fangs, and sinister black eyes shattered through the frail barrier to swallow the Duchess and her crown whole.
“And thus begins the legend of the Witch of Calamity,” the Unmaker murmured as it turned away from the broken remains of Viktor’s icy realm to the endless horizon of stars that flickered, then vibrated, and then grew rapidly in size before falling one by one to crash into the icy waves below.