A/N: EDIT: Ach, so many typos! Fixed 'em!
Just an FYI, the author's note below is a bit of a repeat of the one we saw in "Snow".
Just another reminded to one and all, as stated earlier "Snow", and "Journey" are written monthly.
Ergo! One update per month! Maybe more if Slifer and I can double team it. The previous chapter was in December and now, its January, therefore...update!
RWBY updates will be restarting soon as well, got a few to wrap up, and others to continue as season nine nears.
I'll say it plain, if this email opt-in business with the Fanfiction site doesn't get resolved soon, I'm probably going to retire. The app helps for some, for others it doesn't. It HURTS to say that; but with this new system, reviews and readers have dropped to an all time low, authors are leaving the site in droves, and it feels like the end of an era.
If you're not already aware of it, ever since the 16th of November -More than two bloody months now!- you now have to turn ON your email alerts in account settings-MAKE SURE YOU CLICK SAVE SETTINGS!-else you won't be notified when anyone updates. No alerts, no email, no nothing. Apparently that's a thing we all have to do every ninety days or so, now. Alas, not many are aware of it...which is a problem. As things stand this new "fix" as it were, has cut everyone's viewership/reviewers in half because most folks don't know about it. Authors are leaving/quitting because of this.
Sometimes opting in works. Sometimes it doesn't. Really depends. Hopefully the devs can fix tweak/update this system before everyone leaves. No questions this time. Only story...
As ever, I own no references, quotes, themes or memes. Not a wit or a one! Really, they're just tributes..
I'm just a humble author trying to make his way in this wild world, one word at a time.
Time and feedback will determine if this remains a story. Simple as that.
In other words...its up to YOU, the reader. Do let me know~!
"You are the key to all of this. The past. The present. The future."
...who am I, you ask? You already know the answer.
Atreus did not sleep well that night.
Resting outside was all well and good, he'd done that before with Mother on occasion, but tonight was different. Tonight his dreams were fitful and furtive, filled with pain and loss so poignant it made the poor boy whimper in his sleep. Dark specters haunted his every step, bitter memories of his own powerlessness -his weakness!- tormenting him in a fog of uncertainty and ugly doubt. And with them came the voices. They were the worst of it by far. They belittled him at every turn, demeaned him, humiliated him...
Not like Father...or your brother.
He tried to shake them off, tried to flee from them in his dreams, to no avail.
Quite suddenly the haze cleared.
In place of the once-daunting darkness in which he'd been trapped he now found himself...somewhere else. An endless grassy plain sprawled before him, far as the eye could see, sheltered beneath a bright blue sky leading up to a lively green tree. Golden apples dangled from its fertile branches, enticing to the eye. He felt his mouth water at the sight of them.
A woman stood before them, her back to him. "...Hello, little one."
He flinched and she laughed, a soft, musical sound that soothed his ragged nerves.
"You needn't fear me." She turned to face him fully. "Please. Come closer. I shan't bite, I promise."
Warily, he did as she asked. And as he drew nearer-he saw her. She was very...strange for a lady. Almost translucent, really. Like some sort of green ghost. He could see right through her to the tree beyond. Yet for all that she was solid enough to hold one of those very apples in her hand. Likewise her eyes glowed a molten shade of gold as though lit from within by some harsh inner light.
"Who are you?"
"No one of importance." she pressed an apple to her lips and took a hearty bite from it. Doing seemed to make her more solid, real somehow. "Merely a stranger."
His brow furrowed. "Then what do I call you?"
"Names mean little here," She smiled then, a smile that reminded him so much of mother. It made his heart ache. "But you may call me Athena."
He didn't know that name. It sounded nice. He gave his own without a second thought. "...Atreus."
"Tell me what ails you, young Atreus."
What was the harm? This was a dream, after all. Not like it could affect reality or anything. And besides, after all he'd been through he was more than happy to have someone on his side; someone to rant to without fear of any harsh words or dismissal. And so he did. He told her everything. The green woman didn't question him. Not once.
By the end, she had words for him. They were not what he expected. "If you fear being left behind, then stand up for yourself. No one else will.
"Easy for you to say." he kicked at the grass sullenly. "You're a ghost. You aren't real. You don't know what its like to be weak.
For some reason that seemed to amuse her. The Green Woman -Athena!- smiled at him. "Do you seek power, then?"
His heart skipped a beat. "What?"
"Another time, then." She looked past him, to something only she could see. "You have a friend in me, young Atreus." A gilded green hand laid itself on his his forehead. "Sleep now."
Remarkably he did just, sleeping a dreamless slumber undaunted by nightmares. When he finally awoke some time later he felt rested...and to raised voices coming from within Freya's home. Father had left him to sleep on the grass outside, evidently to argue with his older brother. He probably hadn't mean anything by it, but it still stung for some reason.
Drawing himself up, he edged toward a window, the voices growing louder with each step.
Finally, he saw them:
"Whaddya mean, no?!" Naruto pushed himself up on Freya's bed, face flushed, sweat slicking his forehead. His bandages were clean, but thee could be no denying his cough. "I'm just fine! I can do this!"
"Your fever has worsened overnight; you are not recovered." Father intoned, visage carved from stone. "You will rest here until we return."
His brother absolutely hissed an batted his hand away. "I will not be left behind!"
Father's face darkened like a thundercloud. "You will do as I say, boy!"
"Enough, the both of you!"
Freya pushed herself between them, distracting them and Atreus saw his chance. He slipped inside when they weren't looking and made his way to Naruto's bedside. A part of him worried about his brother's health; the other was happy to finally be of use, to be chosen, to have father rely on him for once. To show that he could be someone.
"Atreus!" Naruto's voice snapped him out his reverie. "Talk some sense into him! Tell him I'm fine!
Athena's words hummed in his ear. Stand up for yourself. No one else will.
...don't worry, we'll be fine without you."
Naruto recoiled with a look of such pain that Atreus immediately regretted his poor choice of words. He'd hurt him. He knew he had. He hadn't meant to say it like that, only that they could handle the journey to Alfheim without him.
"I mean...!" he hastened to amend at the blond's forlorn look, "I'll be sure and bring back a souvenir for you."
But the damage was done. Naruto rolled over and presented his back to him. "Go. Have your fun."
Freya laid a hand on his shoulder. "Let us be off, then."
Atreus perked up. "You're coming with us?"
She smiled softly. "Only for a little while. May I have a moment alone with him first?"
Father grunted. "Only a moment."
He paused and laid a hand on Naruto's shoulder. Even now he favored him. It wasn't fair.
An ugly seed of jealousy was planted in Atreus' heart as Father ushered him outside.
He tried to shake the feeling off. It still took root.
"Well? Say your peace."
Freya really tried, bless her.
"They just want what's best for you-
"Best?!" Naruto couldn't control the hiss that fled from his lips, nor the pain that followed. "What's best? His voice piqued in distress, triggering another coughing fit before he mastered himself once more. "They wouldn't know what's best for themselves if it smacked them upside the head!" Perhaps that wasn't kind of him, but anger burned through him all the same. "Father's stubborn and after that disaster, Atreus wants to prove himself. They're going to do something stupid-
"True." She laid a hand on his chest, forcing him back to the bed. "But trust that they'll make it past that; trust in them." His face closed down, to which she took ahold of his chin and steered him back to her once more. "I know it isn't simple, but nothing is where family is concerned."
"I speak from experience." The bed creaked as she said beside him. "I'm a mother myself. At least I was." she looked away. "I haven't seen my son in a terribly long time."
Naruto bit his lip until his tasted blood. Don't say anything. Mustn't say a thing. If she knew he'd punched past his invulnerability...
She read him like a book. "You've met him already, I believe. Baldur."
...I have. We fought.
"Hmm." she didn't say anymore on the subject. "He is the way he is...because of a mistake I made."
No kidding. The man was utterly mad, crazed and desperate to feel something -anything!- after a lifetime of numbness. That would drive anyone insane.
"Have you thought to undo it?"
"I...cannot." Now it was Freya's turn to look away. "He will come to harm and surely die."
He could sense the fraught topic there, rife with danger, and wisely chose to skirt it. "Is there a point to this...?
"My point is this." she dared to lay a hand on his, gripped it now, to keep him from tugging it away. "Don't let fear control you as it controls me. That's not a life worth living." He grunted and she sighed. "You're going to be stubborn about this, aren't you? Very well. I'll be back shortly." no response, yet still she pressed on. "After I lead your father and brother to Alfheim, I'm going to range deeper into the Wildwoods for some potent herbs; hopefully they'll be enough to help break your fever. Will you be alright with Hildsvinni and Mimir for awhile?"
Naruto's temper flared anew in a rush of heat, turning his cheeks red. Did even she doubt him? It was too much. "I'm not helpless!"
"I'm not saying you are." her words were soft. "You're wounded and ill. You need rest, yes, but you'll recover."
He tore his hand from hers with more force than he should have. "Not soon enough."
She touched his arm, sighed when he shied away, and stood. "...as you wish." For once, she took the hint. "I'll leave you be."
Something in her voice made him look up.
Freya had paused at the door and looked back, eyes full of sorrow. "Have faith in your family. Don't lose them to fear the way I did mine."
He didn't want to lose them. He wouldn't. He just wanted them to understand. "...I'll try.
Her face lit up. "That's all I ask."
She left and silence reigned. It gnawed at him like a wolf with a bone. A minute passed. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.
He looked toward the table. "Nothing to say?"
Mimir creaked his good eye open. "Didn't think it was my place to interject."
No, of course not. For a talkative man he'd been unusually silent. He chose to see it as kindness.
"Do you think I'm weak, Mimir?"
"Weak?" The old sage chortled, head rocking a little where he'd been set. "Not at all, brother. You're one of the few I've seen stand up to Thor and come away with their head intact." a bemused note threaded its way into his otherwise cheery disposition. "You battered that bastard the same way he battered you. He'll think twice before tangling with ya again."
That drew a rueful smile to his face. "But I couldn't beat him."
"Few have and lived to tell the tale." Came the reply. "Just rest, brother. Get your strength back. It'll all be right as rain by nightfall."
He closed his eyes. A moment passed. Another. A minute now. "No dice. "I can't sleep."
"Suppose that's no surprise, given how riled up you were just now." Although he currently lacked the capacity to shrug, the old sage conveyed his mirth with a chuckle all the same. "Alright. Lemme tell you a story or two to pass the time, then. Any preferences?
Naruto shrugged helplessly. "Not really heard all that many. Tell me a good one."
"Aye. Lets see...how about Surtr and his flaming sword...
And so Mimir began his tales. One after the other.
Gradually, a fog fell over Naruto's mind.
Sleep came easily.
A rift had begun to form between the boys.
Kratos could sense it, feel it in the way his sons had looked at one another before their departure. Even now it hung over him like a pall. The words of Atreus had only served to further widen it. He was not blind to such strife, but he did not know how to bridge the gap between them. Atreus had chosen to walk ahead of him and for once, he couldn't bring himself to call the boy back. He was hurting, burdened not only by Faye's death, but what he saw as his own weakness. Perhaps this time apart would allow their wounds, both physical and mental, to finally mend.
Time healed...most wounds. Not all, but most.
"Doesn't it, grumbles?"
He nearly missed a step. Again! Again he heard Faye's voice! What manner of madness was this? Had he truly lost his mind? Or was this some other power at work? Was he insane?
A foreign feeling fluttered in his old, cold heart. Did he dare to hope? Faye was mortal to the extent of his knowledge, but he had encountered specters of such before in the past. The same could be said of the "dead" here in Midgard. Sometimes ghosts were known to linger when they had tasks or regrets left unfulfilled. Did she have hers? He'd thought her at peace when she passed...
Silence answered him.
Kratos grunted and shook his head. Enough. Dwelling on such things would bring him no peace, only pain. Best to put it from his mind for now and focus on the task at hand.
He looked to the Girl, still silent by his side as she walked. "This temple you speak of, it will take us to Alfheim and the light we seek?"
"It will." she nodded gravely, granting him a sidelong look. "And I know you're worried about them."
He glared down at her. "Who?"
Clever. Kratos grunted again. It did not dissuade the Girl.
"You're trying, bless you." she dared a smile. "That's what matters. They'll understand."
Hrmm. He was. Faye would've known what to say. He struggled with such gratitude and so let the Girl speak instead.
"That said, I will not be able to join in Alfheim you for long." her words held a note of caution now. "The curse placed upon me prevents it. I'll likely be torn from the realm and cast back here, to Midgard. Before that, and before we move the temple, here is what you must do...
He listened intently to her words. Wise of her, to prepare them beforehand.
"The boy...he will be well?"
Her eyes flashed with fire. "I will not let him die."
Naruto woke with a start.
Burning. His entire body! Burning!
He sucked in a ragged gasp and tried to sit up, only for his body to fail him.
By the log, breathing hurt. Everything hurt. His wound ached; it felt as though a mountain were seated on his chest; even the act of breathing threatened to bring on a fresh coughing spasm. Questions raged through his mind, each without an answer. Where was everyone? Where was Freya?! Why was it so blasted quiet, and dark? He pushed himself up with a start. Squinted into the gloom now, only to realized the fire had dimmed.
A muffled grunt came from the table. "Mmrgl!"
He looked to where he'd last seen the smartest man alive and frowned. Someone had draped a cloth over his horned head. Gagged him too, by the sound of it.
"My apologies," a low voice intoned before he could think to free him. "I didn't want to be seen...or interrupted by the head."
A man was standing before the hearth, tall of shoulder and broad of back, his head concealed by a dark-hooded-fur-cowl. His voice was low. Hoarse even, as though he hadn't spoken in quite some time. Naruto felt his hackles rise at the sound of it. He'd never heard it before in his life, yet he found himself on edge all the same.
The stranger didn't turn to face him. Not yet. Their gaze remained fixed on the fading flame.
"Kratos." he said suddenly, apropos of nothing. "You are his son."
Naruto bit back a cough and lifted his chin. "...I am."
"Hmm." came the answering grunt. "Not of his blood, but if he took you in, blood does not matter. Here." the stranger turned fully, revealing an earthen cup cradled in well-worn hands. A pale blue mist wafted from within its confines. "Here. A remedy from my...homeland." he paused, correcting himself at the last instant. "It will ease the pain." Naruto eyed the cup warily-the stranger's approach even more so!-until said intruder sensed his trepidation and finally sighed. "Your caution is unwarranted, boy. I did not fight my way through fire and death just to poison you. Drink."
Reluctantly, he took the cup with aching hands and and lifted it to his lips. It tasted strangely sweet. The ache in his chest began to recede, bit by bit, and with it, his lungs began to clear.
"Finish it all at once." the stranger instructed. "Spare not a single drop."
He complied and guzzled it down. Almost immediately, the world began to blur. "M'sleepy again...
"A side effect." The man crouched down, bringing his face level with his to consider him for a moment. At length he spoke again. "I've observed you for some time now. You wield my weapons well."
His head felt like it was filled with cotton. "Your weapons?"
"The Arms of Sparta." he glimpsed the ghost of a smile within the shadows of the hooded cowl. "I once wielded them briefly...in another life."
That didn't make any sense. Those weapons had belonged to Da-Kratos, he corrected himself quickly. No one else had touched them.
"Who are you?" It was getting harder to think. He could feel the medicine taking effect.
...hrmm." that grunt. It sounded just like his old man. "I suppose there's no harm in telling you. You'll understand in due time."
So saying, the stranger lifted his cowl. Naruto couldn't see him, not entirely in the low light, not with his vision dimming but he glimpsed enough. A dark bearded visage stared back at him, marred by a vivid glowing scar etched into the left side of his face. It flowed down into a web of ugly marks from his neck into his lower torso, each pulsing with eerie life. He had never laid eye on this bearded brute, not once, yet for some reason he found himself reminded of Kratos.
"Why," he slurred the word, eyes drooping. "Why do you look like...?"
"You know me. I'm a dead man. The very same who helped Freya carry you down that mountain after your battle with Thor." the stranger stood to leave, uncaring of his grasping hand. "Sleep well, nephew. When we meet again, your training intensifies."
He tugged the cloth off Mimir's head as he walked away.
Naruto reached out a hand towards him. "Wait...
No use. Sleep claimed him once more.
A stranger barred their path.
Kratos didn't trust them for an instant; this odd, robed woman in white now stood before them, barring the way forward. Clearly elf, but not at all like the dark elf creatures they had encountered. He could only assume she was one of these "Light Elves" he'd heard tell of. Beyond that, he didn't know what to think of her. Worse, the Girl was no longer here to advise them on such matters; she had been cast away some time ago, torn from this realm and cast back into her own.
If was left to him to decide who or what this was, and moreover, what they wanted.
"Greetings, stalwart warriors." The Light Elf bowed her head. "I am Alva. I wish to reclaim this temple. Might I ask for your aid?"
Nonsense and drivel. They hadn't the time for such a quest. Kratos grunted and walked past her. "...no."
A hand touched his shoulder. "I can make it worth your while, Ghost of Sparta."
How did she know?
The Leviathan Ax set itself to the woman's neck. "Do not call me that!"
Atreus tilted his head. "Ghost of what, now...?"
"Is is nothing, boy."
"My apologies." the young woman raised her hands to show herself harmless. "I have nothing but respect for your craft and did not mean to offend. You seek the Light of Alfheim." beneath his watchful gaze she tugged back her veil, revealing a pale face, white eyes and hair the color of driven snow. "As do I. Our goal is the same. We would do well to work together." perhaps sensing the refusal on his lips, she hastened on. "I can speed your journey on, show you the hidden paths...
Atreus looked his way, no doubt bright and hopeful at the prospect of having an ally in this wretched place. "Well, if she wants to help us...
Kratos scoffed at him as much as his softhearted naivete. They did not know what she truly wanted. "You trust too easily, boy."
The Light Elf offered them a winning smile. "Rest assured, you've never had a friend like me...
"Oi, Sindri! Look what I gots~!
The sanitary smith looked up from his workbench. Fumbled now. "Is that a piece of Mjolnir?!
"Yuuup." Brok barked a laugh as he sauntered over. "You gonna help me with this sonuvabitch or not? Time's a' wasting!"
Naruto slept fitfully.
He wasn't sure how much time passed, but it must have; because he woke to Freya and Brok arguing at his bedside, only to drift off again. He dreamed of Valkyries. Of a song of ice and fire. Of a hammer that both was and was not a hammer. Of things that both should and should not be.
And there, at the end of his dreams, he saw them.
A man and a woman holding hands. One was fire. One was ice. Each were terribly tall. Giants...?
He tried to call out to them. Neither heard him. Neither looked his way. As though they weren't even aware of his existence.
They faded without warning, the dream shifted, and he found himself gazing at a familiar face...erm, mask.
"I bring you a warning, noble warrior."
Blue eyes snapped open. "Eir...?
She tugged off her mask and his mind fizzled as he beheld the Valkyrie in her entirety. Beautiful. That was his first thought, the first thing he noticed about Eir. Her eyes were a deep piercing green; they almost seemed to glow in the low light, framed by hair so dark as to be cut from the night sky itself. And yet for all that she seemed weary.
"Beware." Her form flickered even as she spoke the word again, tendrils of darkness creeping up her body. "Seek not the Green Woman. She is not to be trusted. Rise now. Awaken. You are needed."
And then there was light.
Naruto awoke to someone pinching his cheek.
"Rise and shine, whiskers!" Blearily, he recognized the voice and the blue face peering down at him. "Up with ya!"
"Brok...?" he coughed, grunted now as the dwarf pressed a glass of water into his hands. It cooled his dry throat enough for him to speak. "How long have I...?"
"Dunno." the smith shrugged. "You slept like the dead. Coupla days, I think?"
His eyes bulged and he all but burst to his feet. "Days...!?
Freya was there even as he stood, catching him with one hand. "Easy, now!. You've been out of it for awhile...
Naruto opened his mouth to refute her. Paused now. Wait. He could stand? Breathe, even?
In place of the once-crushing weakness and exhaustion that had plagued him, he felt only his usual brimming vitality. His lungs were full, his cough naught but a bad memory. Freya caught his eye and smiled softly, all too pleased with herself. Doubtlessly she'd tended to him while he slept. Or maybe the sleeping had sped his recovery on. He didn't know. B
She preened a little. "You're welcome. It was rather touch and go there for awhile...
"Stop making kissy faces, you two!" Brok butted between them. "We've gots something to show ya.!
Naruto quirked a brow, not at all comprehending. "Show me now, then."
"Not here, ya sonuvabitch" the azure vulgarian scoffed as though insulted by the very idea. "You and yours'll be needing a place to rest your heads first, and I ain't talking about that new blabbermouth of yours."
Mimir harrumphed at his side, rolling his good eye. "Rude little bugger, aren't you?"
"Quiet, you! Me and Sindri gots a place...and a gift for ya."
Naruto perked up at that. "What kind of gift?"
Brok grinned. "Yer hammer's ready."
A/N: The plot moves forward.
And yes, the stranger is who you think he is. I wonder how many people will realize that?
Better yet, do you still want weekly updates? Kinda need to know if this story is going to be a thing again.
So in the Immortal Words of Atlas....Review...Would You Kindly?
And enjoy the previews! Potential ones, I suppose.
Granted, some are far off:
WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!
SPOILERS AWAIT YOU!
YE BE WARNED!
"What do you want?"
He smiled. "How about peace?"
"You blind in the other eye, too? No way. Freya would never-
"On the contrary, I'm happy for her." he patted his shoulder and he flinched aside. "I always did love Frigg. Maybe I was a bit too harsh with some of those curses, but that was a lifetime ago. I'm glad to see her bouncing back."
Bouncing back? Was that what he called the suffering she'd endured?
Must. Not. Kill.
"Just, ah, being polite.
She knelt, wings tucked behind her back. "My thanks you have, for my freedom. Will you accept me into your service?"
Naruto sputtered. "Now wait just a second!
Mimir laughed. "Well, well!
"Is this all you can do? I must say, I am profoundly unimpressed-
"You talk too much."
Cold steel struck the Aesir god's face and sent him stumbling back three steps. He touched a hand to his cheek and balked now as it came away red. He saw the panic in his eyes. The shock. The fear...and then the anger that soon followed. This was no warrior. Any true Spartan would've scoffed at such. Emotions held no place on the field of battle.
"You actually hit me?!"
Brok barked a laugh. "Ha! Told you it worked! Go on, big guy! Kick his ass! We'll be watching!"
When will you wake up and remember?!"
EDIT: Hey, you made it! Thanks for reading!
As ever, the Embers rule remains: If people don't like this story? If they don't enjoy it? Well it will remain, but...I won't be able to continue it. That's no joke, folks. I'm so busy these days with two jobs; basically, I don't have time off. Not anymore.
Holidays are her, and my free time is limited to the extreme now. As such, I can't afford to focus on something folks don't like. Reviews keep me writing in these times, and keep the daily updates flowing. Silence...silence only hurts. I hate having to beg for feedback, but without it...well, it feels like I'm not making an impact.
Looking forward to chatting with you all when I get back from work!