1.Eyia (Our Blunt, Battle Junkie Valkyrie!)
Recap: We learned about the disgusting character this nine-tailed male Vulpes is, and how manipulative he is to the women in this district and our poor innocent little teenage fox boy. Eyia is not one to cross or underestimate, though … It’s time for the frosty Valkyrie to show him what kind of angel she is.
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Eyia watched the five-tailed Vulpes leave with a neutral expression; the fox believed herself powerful—Jin would laugh, but it wasn’t funny to Eyia. If her sister hadn’t made the promise that not a single Vulpes would be felled by their hands, then she would have no one to blame for her slit throat but herself.
She hated places like this—full of false confidence and bravado. An Asgardian knew when a fight was hopeless and faced it with courage … This was not that.
The creatures of this Realm have lived in a bubble for too long. Blissful ignorance ensnares the minds of those outside these walls, and it is the same within. What awaits in the rift below this city will ravage them.
Of course, her sister was trying to liberate them of their false sense of security.
A portion of the blame could be put upon the individual; the curse could be overcome, given the desire and will to push outside of one’s comfort zone, yet so few appeared to achieve it.
Sora or Tola had to break the illusion for them to face the uncertainty of this world and expose the dangers therein. The few her sister had touched proved how insecure and unprepared for reality these Vulpes were.
If it weren’t for Sora’s heart, they would be victims of natural selection, and this entire Realm would be decimated. The Vulpes Council—supposed to be filled by wise leaders to direct and teach—had long since been corrupted, and it would take a significant amount of work to cure the poison.
She glanced over at her sister, concern pricking Eyia’s heart. Sora was compassionate and somewhat innocent herself; although, she had been exposed to the accursed Fenris Wolves that had opened her eyes to the terrors inhabiting their existence.
Sister, do you know how difficult this task is?
Eyia’s mind had been in a storm as their time here went on. In her sister’s heart, Eyia knew she wished to fix all the issues that plagued this Realm, but a task such as that was not corrected so easily.
As aged and caring Tola was, she did not have the capabilities to heal these people, and when it came to Founders, it was never so simple to deal with their schemes, which was why most avoided them at all cost.
Eventually, Eyia knew Sora would be faced with a situation where there is nothing she can do to save the hundreds of millions of Vulpes across this planet. It might be possible her family was fully restored, and proper order was restored, yet such happy tales were rarely sung among her own people’s history.
Still, there was the chance, and that meant she had to try … Eyia understood that.
On the other hand, she couldn’t understand creatures like Kestirva and those she’d seen in the Yellow District. They were filled with envy—a worthless emotion that overshadowed gratitude and poisoned the soul. Hate could be channeled—envy could not because those envious can never truly acknowledge it without great sacrifice … and few sacrificed to bridge that gap.
Her gaze shifted to Keizer as he gave her an appraising look. “How about a bet between the two of us?”
“What are you scheming?” Kari growled. “You’ve already made a deal with Sora. Do you want her freedom, too?”
Sora’s tails shifted the opposite way, smiling at the male fox with a leer. “Losing faith in the Vulpes in your District?”
“Oh, Dear,” he walked to his chair and sat again, resting the back of his hand against his cheek. “That would imply I have faith in them, to begin with. The only faith worth anything is the one placed in one’s self.”
“Sad,” Kari mumbled.
Keizer’s amused, calculating eyes slid back to Eyia; she’d been patiently waiting for the dull posturing to end to hear his offer. “How about I open up another, oh … a hundred spots seems appropriate … All for Sora Moore to take with her to the next level—Surely, that will infuriate Bietria, the Overlord of the 4th-Level.”
Eyia’s head shifted to her sister for a response; it was up to her in the end since this was entirely her plan. It made little difference to Eyia either way. Although she was sure, there was a trick, and Sora posed the question that surfaced in Eyia’s mind.
“Hmm … two-hundred? Does that mean Eyia will need to face two hundred of your Vulpes … And, of course, you wouldn’t happen to have beef with the 4th-Level?”
Keizer’s grin twisted a bit. “I might, and wouldn’t it only be fair to the past contestants to keep things equalized?”
Sora sat back, glaring at the man, her arms folded under her breasts. “Hmm … What’s the condition?”
He twisted his wrist dismissively. “Nothing, really … I saw this creature call a weapon to her side earlier. Would it not be interesting to see her combat potential without the instrument?”
Kari lifted an eyebrow, leaning forward to give Eyia a small smirk. “You want a Valkyrie to fight without her weapons? Huh. Interesting choice.”
“What do you think, Eyia?” Sora asked.
She could feel the confidence in her sister’s aura, which caused a great deal of happiness to bloom in Eyia’s chest. “It has been some time since I have battled solely with my body as a weapon. I have no quarrel with the suggestion. Although, my methods will be far rougher on the Vulpes of your District.”
“Fascinating,” he mumbled, rubbing his chin. “Very well, it’s a deal. Would you be willing to start at this moment?”
“Now?” Kari whispered, her amber eyes darting to the door where the Kestirva only just recently left through. “How long will it take for everyone to be ready?”
“The women?” Keizer’s deep chuckles shook his body. “… I could care less about if they are ready or not—Motivation is best served in the heat of the moment.”
Eyia brushed back her thick blonde locks, stretching out a little as a small smile brightened her lips. “I am Eyia, a Valkyrie, Chooser of the Slain, Battlefield Maiden of the Great Wars of Asgard, and I am bound by my word—the expansion of one hundred defeated five-tailed Vulpes for binding my arsenal in the contest—safe passage of two hundred of my sister’s choosing, including the boy.”
Her mother’s necklace appeared at her throat along with Gram, causing the Vulpes’s posture to straighten as he cautiously watched her. The gold, gleaming sheath of the mystical weapon caused the room to shimmer, and an offensive aura of chilled energy leaked out of Eyia’s body, causing her frame and irises to radiate sapphire light. “This contract includes my armor as it is also a weapon I use. Do you agree, Keizer?”
She held the hilt for him to take; it symbolized how serious she was taking this battle and would complete the ritual contract.
“… What is this?” he asked, staring at the gleaming weapon. “I’ve … never seen something so … brilliant.”
“Eyia,” Sora forced a laugh, getting to her feet, “do you really need to go this far?”
“I do,” she replied. “Gram was fashioned by the greatest Dwarves in their Realm, rune imbued by my father’s own hands, and contracted with the Immortal Oath Tree, Barnstokkr. By taking the hilt, we are both oathbound.”
“… And if one of us were to break that oath?” Keizer whispered, vision narrowing to slits.
“Barnstokkr will enact her punishment upon the guilty party.”
“Hmm … Scared?” Kari teased.
“Heh—I fear nothing, girl,” he stated, holding out his hand to grasp it. “… Although, this is certainly a first for me—perhaps, if you were to die, I could use such an item.”
“You would need to speak to my father to make that deal,” Eyia replied. “My weapons are bound to me by ancient rites that I cannot remove.”
“A shame,” he sighed, fingers clasping around the edge. “I accept!”
The other two took a step back as the weapon’s dazzling light intensified, gold chains wrapping around both their hands before being sealed by a white lock.
“Amazing…” Keizer whispered, freehand grasping his chest. “I … have never felt such overwhelming power…”
All of her weapons were far more powerful than Eyia, and she couldn’t so much as pull out a fraction of their full capabilities, but it was the reason they were entrusted to her.
Her father’s voice returned to her mind as the chains wove around her entire being; it left a burning heat that couldn’t be stopped. “Eyia, my daughter. When you master these artifacts, you will be ready to return to Asgard—you will be our Realm’s greatest hope, yet once the fight is finished, your death is written.”
Eyia brushed aside the bitter memory of her fate as the chains vanished in a flash of light, signaling the completion. Barnstokkr was also known as the ‘Guardian Tree,’ ‘Binding Tree,’ and ‘Mother Tree,’ since it was used as a conduit by women during childbirth to cry out and pray to the gods for their child’s future, offering some form of personal sacrifice as payment for their hopes.
“It is finished.” She let go of the blade with Keizer, and the weapon straightened in the air, sheath rising a little. “The sword will remain in this spot until the oath is fulfilled.”
“Excellent!” Keizer clapped with his greedy eyes on the floating mystical metal. “We begin at once! The contest will be held at the center square, and the task…” A wicked grin split his lips. “As is custom, you must strip the opposing Vulpes of their fur.”
“Dirty bastard,” Kari growled. “I knew there was some trick at play! You took away her weapons to make it more difficult.”
By looking at her sister’s face, Eyia knew she was beating herself up for not probing deeper into the actual content on this level. “I assume most of the time, the Vulpes are killed … and skinned by the opponent?”
“‘Skinned’ … I like that word,” he mused. “Indeed. I have an entire museum dedicated to chronicling each year’s contestants. It serves as a reminder to the women.”
“Gross … You’re a psychopath. What does the boy think of it?” Kari asked.
He gave her a confused smile. “I am unfamiliar with that word—What a strange connotation—No, laughable!”
Eyia giggled, pulling their attention; the only issue she had with his ‘collection’ was that they were not his own trophies. “He-he-he. Is that all? I believed this to be a much more challenging trial. Let us go—It will not take long.”
“Oh? Is it confidence, arrogance—or ignorance?” he mumbled, walking to the door for it to open with his magic. “… In any case, this is sure to be entertaining, and I look forward to Sora’s company.”
“Not even in your dreams,” Kari snarled.
Eyia’s eyes narrowed at the statement, knowing the meaning. “It seems you do place faith in your people, after all. Let us continue.”
She caught Sora’s shiver, even if she was trying to hide it. “Worry not, Sister … This will be over soon.”
Her chilling aura deepened as she followed the fixated male Vulpes out of his building, tiny flakes of snow following their passing. Niki and her older sister trailed after them, keeping a small distance while mumbling to one another.
Niki was crying over her sister’s recovery, but the older sibling focused more on figuring out what was happening. Sora ignored the pair to keep up appearances, but Eyia was a bit suspicious of Kari—the Fenris Wolf was far more focused on the girls than she should have been, and with the unusually soft stare, she gave them unnerved Eyia.
What is she thinking … Surely, she would refrain from eating the pair since Sora saved them. Although … She is a Fenris Wolf.
Hundreds of Vulpes were now gathering outside, following them; it appeared that the throng had some way to communicate because every envious gaze slid from Keizer to her.
When they arrived at the square, several dozen more blurred figures materialized in the sky to watch the upcoming challenge. A few of the two and three-tailed Vulpes that made it out of the 7th-Level had made it to the square as they did, likely guided there by others.
The much younger Vulpes were staring around uncertainly at the groups of four and five-tailed—their elders, and seeing the vitriol and envy in their heated glares. Every look screamed murder, which was likely not what the young foxes expected from their heavenly utopia on the upper levels.
Eyia made it to the center of the cleared-out square; it was large, and most of the five-tailed Vulpes were floating in the air, leaving the tops of buildings, windows, and streets for those that couldn’t.
Sora, Kari, Niki, and her sister stopped at the edge where the triplet Vulpes with three tails jogged toward, engaging them with bows and questions. Eyia turned her attention to the crowd, though, analyzing everyone present at a glance—observation of spiritual Cores was a specialty of Valkyrie, able to catalog and determine vast amounts of data on battlefields with a single look.
Precisely as she expected.
Hiding her hands behind her back, Eyia spun in a slow circle before Kaizer could introduce them, enhancing her voice. “I am Eyia, your opponent. Your Overlord has made a covenant with me—Zeri, the teenage male Vulpes, the one hundred Vulpes from the 7th-Level, with an additional one hundred of my sister, Sora Moore’s, choosing, will be leaving the 5th-Level with us.”
Hatred flared to life as the Vulpes’s voices increased in volume.
“You won’t take Zeri away from us!”
“You’re the greediest thing in existence!”
“She’s worse than Kaizer!”
“… P-Pick me…”
“Typical,” Eyia breathed in a deep, calming breath before getting into a combat position. “Two hundred opponents—I do not care how you attack, I will not use my weapons—only what I can do with my own body, spirit, and mind … Come and face defeat.”
The raging Vulpes didn’t need a second invitation, and they dove at her just as Eyia saw Kaizer’s amused grin above them, staring down. “Vulpes of the 5th-Level—Prove to me what Zeri means to you.”
Thirty Nogitsune whipped their red tails around, calling upon Foxfire; an inferno of magical orange flames fell on her as forty Kumiho channeled the magic in the area as a collective unit, generating a blazing cyclone to encircle her.
Working as a group. Not terrible, and so suddenly. I suppose learning to share a single boy comes with some cooperation benefits, even if it’s forced.
Gathering her own magical energy around herself, Eyia generated a frigid shell of repulsing waves that quickly counteracted the gale. Bending her legs, she kicked off the ground, shooting through the flames to the nearest five-tailed Vulpes.
Creating a spiritual platform at the woman’s back to stop herself, Eyia touched her back, instantly freezing her with the injected offensive pressure that cut through her defenses like a precision needle before the other Vulpes knew what was happening.
Her fingers slid down to the base of her tails, ice coating it and breaking away as she stripped all the hair off the Nogitsune’s tail, leaving her in shock to fall to the ground below.
Eyia darted down as more elemental attacks were thrown at her, far too weak to penetrate her shield since it was the simple atmospheric magic that humans typically utilized; they’d need to pull from a much wider area to gather enough to harm her with such a spread out form of energy such as Foxfire.
Landing on the ground, she caught the Vulpes she’d stripped of fur, stiff as a board in her arms. “The paralysis will pass in time—the sting you will remember for life,” Eyia explained, returning to the air to continue her assault.
The Vulpes were getting a bit desperate and confused as she ignored the attacks, her chilling light blue aura repelling everything they were throwing at her.
It was quicker and more efficient to use spiritual platforms instead of flying, and she was effortlessly outmaneuvering the Vulpes that were trying their best to keep their distance. Eyia bypassed the illusions from the Húli Jīng, practically useless if their opponent could penetrate their visual manipulations, and instead focused on the Nogistune and Kumiho.
A gray-furred Vulpes ran at her, claws extended as she lashed out like an animal, showing no form or technique with her movements.
Eyia increased her pace, sprinting at the panicked fox. Deflecting her slash, she used her momentum to close-line her, sending the woman spinning to slide across her belly against the rough cobblestone, ripping much of her robe, and as she turned, Eyia snatched the Vulpes’s clumped tails, stripping them to the skin.
In a single minute, she’d frozen and exposed sixty Vulpes; the others were growing desperate, hurting each other with their elemental attacks or shoving women aside to get to her. The battlefield was becoming hazed by the blizzard she was generating, further confusing her opponents with the spiritually laced, biting chill that conflicted with their senses. They were forced to combat every flake so it wouldn’t spread the ice into their spiritual network and Core.
She kept track of every move, and made sure no one died, which included saving them from their own team’s wild attacks, hoping to get her when distracted—she was rarely distracted.
Twisting around a Húli Jīng she’d just subdued, ice crystals flurrying around her, Eyia sent a burst of frigid energy at the inferno a Nogitsune sent at them both, forcing it to curve around them rather than completely overwhelm it.
The blast forced the red-haired woman back, disrupting her control over the energies keeping her in the air, which was followed by Eyia’s palm on her face, forcing her unconscious before freezing her beautiful fur and fragmenting it along her skin.
“Is this all you can do?!” Kaizer yelled from above. “It is one creature! Fight as a unit…”
It was far too late for that; she’d broken their ranks, finished key figures off that held sway over the rest, and made it nearly impossible to find her in the blizzard of spiritual force she was whipping up, which wasn’t that costly since no one knew how to contest her spiritual manipulations of the environment.
It was probably one of the easiest contests she’d had in her life—maybe some of the weak Draugar she faced when a child, but those were starved and manic.
By the fourth minute, she’d taken down a hundred and seventy-three of the Vulpes, causing Kaizer’s amusement to vanish entirely; he’d done everything in his power to give them the edge, and this was everything they could accomplish.
Eyia smiled at Kestirva’s feverish attempts to cut through the environment, one of the first to attempt the act, but it was to be expected; how many of their opponents over the centuries utilized her style of attack? Likely very few, given their response.
Still, Eyia wasn’t one to play around—this was a contest, and she was there to show how simple their system was; it promoted raw strength over finesse.
Grabbing Kestirva’s wrist, she spun her around, hand sliding down her lower back to her tails as she cried, tears freezing on her cheeks. “N-No! P-Please—Don’t take him away from…”
“You were not strong enough to ever have him,” Eyia stated, her tone as cold as the icicles forming across the woman’s tails.
Eyia dropped her to the ground, causing the woman to stumble forward and fall to the ground, bald five tails wrapping around her front to hug them close to her breasts, eyes bugging out. “No … No … No…”
A frown touched Eyia’s lips as she noticed a sudden change in their spiritual flow. At first, it was hate and determination, but now, hopelessness was setting in among the Vulpes, trapped and trying to fight their way through the blizzard to find her.
“I … I can’t live without him…” Kestirva whimpered, hugging herself. “B-But maybe—maybe if he’s still here when I … Yeah … if I die, then…”
Her trembling claws darting to her throat went limp as Eyia’s hand enclosed the back of her skull, forcing her unconscious.
Devious foxes… She glared up at Kaizer, able to see him perfectly fine through her own veil of snow. He knew that if they grew desperate enough, they’d take their own lives—It could be seen as a breach in contract since no one is supposed to die in this contest. To be so attached to someone that you’d give your own life—having no sense of self-identity without them … What a disgusting place.
Eyia spent the next two minutes incapacitating the rest of the Vulpes; every woman eventually reached the conclusion Kestirva did, forcing her to knock them out with her suppressed spiritual pressure.
Once it was done and the snow died down, what was left in the night was a field of still bodies, suspended in time from her innate Valkyrie abilities. “I am victorious, Kaizer.”
He lowered himself to the ground, glaring at the slowly melting field of white covering the Vulpes. “You—have extraordinary talents—What were you again, a Valkyrie? Yes … And this time distortion … Not even Mofupsi can make these types of temporal warps, and the number … You are hiding your true strength,” he growled.
“Doesn’t matter!” Kari yelled from the stunned crowd observing the last remains of powder falling from the sky. “We won! Suck it up, ‘cause we got places to be!”
Eyia frowned at the glaring Fenris Wolf, but it soon turned to the man. “Will you hold your end of the oath?”
Eyia’s gaze darted to Mofupsi as she appeared out of shimmering light between them, floating in the air with her legs crossed. Her blonde hair was twisting around her fingers while studying Eyia’s own locks. “Hmm … a natural blonde color—lovely. In any case, what is this about an oath, Kaizer?” she asked, intense yellow irises fixating on the male Vulpes.
The throng of stunned Vulpes dropped to their faces with the mustard-haired Vulpes council member standing before them.
“Hmm … About that,” his composure returned, hands resting behind his back. “I had this little bet with the girls here … Zeri would be given to Sora, and a hundred more Vulpes could be added to the 4th-Level.”
“Heh-he-he-he-he,” Mofuspi’s sharp eyes narrowed with her quivering stomach. “I … I can’t believe you would—What could possibly get you to make such a bet … Oh…” Her wicked grin shifted to Sora. “… You wanted to have her all to yourself … Typical. So … What will you do?” she asked, nine-tails fanning out behind her and weaving back and forth with anticipation.
“Well—I sealed it with this magical sword this Valkyrie has—She said there would be consequences if I failed to adhere to the conditions. I’m a little curious about what this ‘Barnstokkr’ tree’s punishment will be.”
Eyia’s countenance fell. “Do not test the Barnstokkr tree; she will have what is owed.”
His down darkened considerably. “Do not tell me what to do, creature—You may be powerful, but I am by far your better.”
“I ask you this once,” Eyia returned the tone, causing a chill to sweep through the atmosphere; only Sora, Kari, and Mofuspi were watching. “Will you honor the Barnstokkr’s Oath?”
“Hmm?” Mofupsi’s irises settled on her subordinate. “Will you? I know you tend to push back against authority, but if you have made some kind of covenant with this—tree, heh-heh, then would it not be prudent to comply?”
“Mmh…” he gave her a dismissive shrug. “I am more curious about this artifact than the oath itself, really … So, no…”
Eyia took a step back from the man, folding her hands in front of her lap. “The oath is broken—payment is due to the binder.”
“What is this tree going…”
Mofupsi and Kaizer’s grins faded as a radiant light illuminated the area, driving the councilwoman back.
Kaizer’s mouth was open, eyes lowering to his chest where Gram’s unsheathed blade penetrated. “Wha…”
“… Incredible,” Mofupsi mumbled in disbelief as white roots poked through various points of the male Vulpes’s body, sticking through his skin; he appeared frozen in time, and in a radiance, he was transported to face trial before the Barnstokkr tree. “Where … did he go?”
“… A Realm far distant from this one,” Eyia responded in a grave tone. “I have no control over the Oath Keeper. He must face the Barnstokkr tree herself—He will not return.”
“I … don’t know how I should take this,” Mofupsi laughed, looking somewhat confused as she stared at the empty spot, and Eyia could see every Vulpes above them just as stunned as their leader—an artifact had just kidnapped one of their most powerful Vulpes before their eyes.
Eyia held up her hand, causing the golden blade’s sheath to appear, and it smoothly slid back into place. “There is nothing to be done. Kaizer will not return; he has sealed his own fate—by the oath and the breaking thereof. He brought this fate upon himself.”
Mofupsi watched the blade vanish in golden rays, cupping the side of her face. “Hmm … Still, it leaves a significant power vacuum to be filled—many Vulpes are likely cheering at this prospect. Is he dead?” she asked with a sad look. “He really was a good lover.”
“Eww…” Kari mumbled, walking forward with Sora. “I didn’t need to hear that.”
Sora’s arms were crossed. “Yeah … Is he dead, Eyia?”
Knowing her sister wished to complete this without death, Eyia shook her head. “I cannot say, Sister. The Barnstokkr tree is a strict Oath Keeper—I suspect his fate is worse than death.”
“Serves him right,” Kari snickered, eyeing the collapsed five-tailed Vulpes around the area, still entangled in Eyia’s distortion. “Guy was a creep.”
“His touch, though,” Mofupsi mumbled, giving a sad sigh after a moment. “It is what it is, I suppose—He did bring it upon himself. Very well, a new contest will be held in the Tower to determine a replacement during the festival.”
Her countenance brightened in an instant. “Congratulations, Sora Moore, Eyia, Kari. I will honor the deal he has failed to comply with as the acting Ruler over this Level until a new one can be found. Until a new one is determined, the proceeding trials shall be postponed. Now, get some rest in the 4th-Level with those you choose; it shouldn’t take that long to find a replacement … Hopefully,” she mumbled, vanishing in golden light.
Sora sighed. “Why’d he have to mess everything up … What a bother.”
“You didn’t see this coming?” Kari asked with a laugh. “He screamed Oath Breaker!”
“I hoped that was not the case,” Eyia replied. “Barnstokkr does not enjoy it when an Oath is broken—even if I did not cause the void in our agreement, I chose to enter into the bond with him. I will need to improve my standing with her at some point because of this breach.”
“Asgardian Realm crap is always insane,” Kari grumbled. “Whatever—What’s up next, Sora? Oh, and I want to do the next one!”
“You sure?” Sora asked, glancing back at the utterly confused throng; apparently, a few were sneaking looks because they were whiter than the snow around them.
“What—No! Are you worried about me?” she asked in feigned shock.
“What would give you that thought?” Sora forced a laugh. “Anyway—ahem … Hey, you lot! Get in line. I need to figure out who I’m taking to the 4th-Level!”
Eyia smiled after her sister, getting back in character—Still, the Barnstokkr would call upon her when she next slept, and it would be a stern conversation she was not looking forward to.
She couldn’t even summon the strength to get angry at the Fenris Wolf as she followed Sora, instead, pondering on how she should respond to the ancient figure. It had been reckless of her to invoke the contract, but she had felt it was necessary.
How could he be of such low intelligence—His time with Barnstokkr will not be pleasant.
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