An ominous sign stretched across the skies.
All along the snowy coast of the Skagen Peninsula, the wintry winds could be felt blowing north. Low clouds tinged icy blue followed in the wake of crying gales, shedding soft flakes across the horizon for cover as they made a hasty retreat to the sea.
Even the weather could sense the turning tides of war.
Though despite the cold front's general withdraw, a single line streaked south across the shrouded skies. The oppressive veil of lower clouds concealed the sight from all but a few faithful, and only the most devout recognized it as a possible sign of the divine.
...And for once in the span of centuries, they were right.
Thousands of paces above ground, a pressurized bubble of ether and air blew apart yet another airy cloud. Leaving behind shockwaves of an expanding sonic boom, the figure within continued his journey forth at speeds beyond the fragility of mortal men.
But on this day, prayers for miracle and intervention were not meant to be.
"Where do you think you're going?" a tranquil, feminine voice laced with holy serenity pierced straight into the turbulent mind of the Stormlord.
The breakneck flyer instantly banked into a spiraling ascent. The brutish figure climbed through the icy air as he decelerated from his godly speed. Clad in hard leather and sturdy chainmail, his bulging arms effortlessly spun a static-charged greathammer into a readying stance.
The immortal warrior had yet to see the speaker who interrupted him. But even without sight he already knew the immaculate voice that entered his thoughts.
"YOU!" his thunderous boom burst outwards with enough pressure to shatter air.
The highest clouds parted to let forth a beam of the purest light. Descending from the heavens was a woman of unearthly grace. Loose fabrics extended from her white, silken robes and long strands of pristine, silver hair floated around her thin figure, as though a sacred spirit untouchable to the soaring winds.
"Yes, me," the female announced calmly as her hand raised its only 'armament' -- a long willow rod with branches sprouting out.
"It's been four hundred years, Sigurd. Not even a kind greeting for a once companion of the battlefield?"
"You have too many names," the man identified as Sigurd scoffed back through his thick, bushy beard. "How am I supposed to remember which one to use?"
"Are you no different? Siegfried? Perun? Taranis? Perkūnas? Thor?"
Despite her challenging words, the white lady spoke through warm eyes and a calming smile. Hovering effortlessly in the air, she gently laid the willow branch over her other arm as her figure drifted to within twenty paces.
"A name means little to those of us who travel worlds," her voice flowed on, crisp as the gentle mountain stream. "Only Peter remained steadfast in holding onto his mortal identity."
"Fine! I'll settle for what I can actually pronounce then, Kannon," Sigurd growled back, never letting down his guard for a second.
"Did the others send you to stop me?"
"No," Kannon's gaze held unwavering as she offered her sincerity. "I am here on my own accord, Vanguard Sigurd. Patience has never been your virtue. But nevertheless you must halt..."
His mouth twisted to reveal clenching teeth. His sneer provoked with a silent 'make me'. Yet the saintly lady did not show the slightest hint of noticing as she continued on:
"--The situation is not like last time. Should you continue, you shall set forth a most terrible and regretful act that would surely trigger disaster."
"HA! Halt!?" came the scornful reply at last. "By you and what army, Grand Strategist!?"
"I may not be able to defeat you in single combat, but I could certainly stalemate you long enough."
The casual statement came without an inkling of tension. Then, before her opponent could even consider calling a bluff, Kannon's spring-green eyes turned to cast a cursory glance toward the southern horizon:
"Besides, there is the army down there..."
"--You wouldn't dare!" Sigurd snapped to cut her off. "Your intervention would be just as illegal as mine!"
"Ohhh? So you do realize the grievous offense you are about to commit -- that you do not have the Right of Armed Intervention until your homeland, the Fimbulmark Isles, have fallen under direct assault. Then why...?"
Lightning crackled and surged across his hammerhead as Sigurd's simmering wrath boiled into his ether veins.
His leather-clad fist swung south with a directed finger:
"I have twenty thousand kinsmen down there! Twenty thousand more, after thirty thousand already lost before my eyes this year! WHY NOT!?"
"We have watched millions die in the course of lifetimes," Kannon spoke, her gaze calm as a meadow in the gentle breeze. "Unpleasant it may be, it is a necessary step in the great cycle of life--"
"Oh frack your self-delusional fantasies of reincarnation!" Sigurd interrupted once more as a dry thunderclap resounded from his hammer.
"We all met the Maker, the Enlightened, the Holy Father, the One God, whatever it is you want to call him! He was there, leader paramount of Celestia, supreme commander of the Archons. He was not just some distant Allfather but our ally! His greatest warriors fighting right alongside us and the noble Dragonlords!"
Heated breath rushed from Sigurd's nostrils as the unstoppable momentum of his beliefs plowed straight on:
"You may all walk away with a different opinion of just what he is, how he shapes the universe, and what virtues he uphold. But you cannot deny his one desire: that the bravery of souls is the single most strategic resource in fuelling his Archon armies in their eternal and unwinnable struggle against the Demonkind from the Infinite Abyss!"
"Evil always is and always will be, but that does not prove your conclusion as superior to our own," rebuffed the white goddess -- bodhisattva, in her own terms.
"Karma through the Eightfold Path will cultivate souls of the highest discipline to oppose the tides of sin. That is my conclusion and Gautama's. It may be the opposite of Peter's 'mass conscription' approach or your trial-by-combat, but it is certainly no less proven than your own," Kannon sternly marked an end to the tangential debate before moving on. "Regardless, none of this changes our agreement that the mortal realms shall have peace -- to which, I remind you, you gave your oath."
Sigurd could no longer contain himself as he barked a derisive laugh.
"Peace? You call this peace! Oh sure, your homeland certainly has peace! Your one intervention for Samara gave them everlasting military might! But what of my kinsmen? Are they just pigs to be butchered under the endless onslaught of Peter's zealots?"
This time, it was Kannon who revealed her true emotion, finally closed her eyes in a faint sigh:
"Would you rather witness the loss of twenty thousand, or the death of twenty million? If we Worldwalkers all ripped the treaty and freely imposed our conflicting views on the world through might of magic, then just what do you suppose will happen?"
The First Generation Worldwalkers had fought alongside the Dragonlords in the Dragon-Demon War. They partook in the Archons' Grand Coalition Offensive which cut deep into the Abyssal Realms. Even the least gifted survivor among them could rend armies and cleave mountains. Those most able -- like Kannon the Grand Strategist, the Wishgiver, the Thousand Arms, et cetera -- could harness enough power to alter the fabric of reality across an entire plane of existence.
Far from satisfied by mere logic, Sigurd spat open his mouth to retort. But the white lady was not yet finished, and she enforced his silence with unnerving composure:
"Your head isn't there just to call lightning and smash hammers, Vanguard," Kannon berated him just like the old days. "Your kin may not win against Marshal Peter's followers on the continent, but there are better paths to victory than stubborn resistance."
For a dozen seconds Sigurd's sky-blue gaze seethed on without answer. Then, as though the voltage of his thunder finally pushed his brain into overdrive, the huge warrior's eyes cleared in foresight at last.
"Really..." Kannon whispered as she gently shook her head with a faint smile. "It's a shame Admiral Winter couldn't transcend mortality in time. For most of his life Vintersvend knew the future of Hyperborean society lay in the New World, the Frontier. It's about time you caught up to your visionary junior."
"Let Peter rejoice in his followers' victory, for it will be his last against you."
"So which world are you off to save this time?"
As the conversations cooled, Sigurd thought one last question aloud before he departed his old comrade, unlikely to meet again for centuries to come.
"I'll be staying around for a while, actually," the blessed voice replied.
"What, you don't trust me?"
Kannon turned about one last time to give him a knowing look:
"You're tempestuous, but not an outright idiot. Otherwise I'd have never recommended you back then."
The Stormlord sent his annoyed visage, brows twitching and static charged for unleashing from his eyes. But the Grand Strategist -- or perhaps Wishgiver was more appropriate for this meeting -- simply smiled back:
"I'll be staying around to advise Gwendolyn when she comes back, since this is her first time..."
It took Sigurd a moment to remember the name: Gwendolyn was a Third Generation Worldwalker, a 'youngling' not even half a millennium old who went by the nicknames Arbor Sanctum and Faerie Sword.
"--Unlike your homeland, it shall not be long before her birthplace bears witness to the carnage of invasion and war."
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