Peace. That was something he knew very little of. In all his time, he had never experienced this stillness and he lived longer than any man had any right to have. Not surprising, for Kratos was only half a man and half…something else.
How he came to find himself in these surroundings, he remembers not. But he was grateful for it. The turmoil and storm that normally raged within him has been appeased by his solitude in this snow-covered landscape. He was no fool, he knew it would not last. After all, there was no rest for the wicked. No true peace.
Eventually, he would have to fight and kill once more. When such a time comes, he would do what he must, just as he had always done. However, the spartan decided to enjoy this brief moment of respite, fleeting as he knew it was.
His time in this perpetual winter had seen him grow a beard, and he wore more now than he ever had, save when he wore plated armor. Though that was not to say he was fully clothed. Draped in thick white fur from mid torso down to his feet, as well as his forearms and wrists, all held in place by a band of red cloth pulled taught. His chest remained bare. He had gotten the fur from a bear that was stalking him, killing it with his bare hands for its troubles and flayed it with a small knife he had on his person.
An axe was strapped to his back along with a bow. The weapon had a handle of deep brown wood with remarkable golden etchings on it as well as the flat of the blade, the runes were carved masterfully into the metal. It had an ever-present chill coming from it and mayhaps his connection to it allowed him to not feel the cold as he ought to.
He fashioned his bow from a branch he took from a tree bearing his colours, its bark almost as white as the snow surrounding it while its leaves looked red akin to blood, the crimson colours clear as day amidst the white snow. There was a face on the trunk of the tree that looked to be crying, its tears an ominous shade of red.
Kratos suspected his resemblance to the tree would be the cause for much annoyance on his part. Still, the spartan held some hope such a disturbance would come later rather than sooner.
…He was foolish to hope.
Kratos knew there were people in these lands. How could he have not known, given the many signs of life he came across during his time in the tundra? He intentionally stayed well away from any of their camps or villages. He would extend his isolation for as long as he could if he had his way, deciding to conveniently ignore the pessimistic voice in the back of his head telling him it would not last.
The fates and his luck would prove it right.
How dare he know peace? How could the Ghost of Sparta finally have a life free of provocation?
Kratos was far from surprised when he came across a small group of this land's people while he was hunting, about thirty or so of them between women and children, looking haggard and worse for wear. Dry lips, panicked eyes, boney figures, they looked a strong chill away from a trip to the underworld. The terror in their hearts was palpable, as if they were fleeing for their very lives.
Some of them were too old to make it far if that were the case, Kratos knew. What they were running from he could not tell, but it must have been something truly terrifying. However, their matters were none of his business. The spartan grunted and was about to turn and leave these people to fend for themselves when he heard a blood curdling shriek.
It sounded like the painful wails of a fury or a harpy, unlike any animals Kratos came across in this wilderness. Whatever it was, it was not natural. He hesitated for a while, knowing if he stopped the unknown creature attacking this group of women and children, it would mean the end of his peaceful days. He was not sure he was ready to give up such a thing.
Another shriek resounded in his ears, much closer this time. Kratos looked to see what became of the group and noticed they had frozen in fear. 'Why do they always freeze in fear?' he asked himself.
He heard the clear sound crunching of snow and whipped his head to see what this creature was, a figure coming from the path the people had appeared from. It held the general shape of a man but a man it was not. Its skin was hard and had the pale blue hue of ice for skin, whatever hair it had was wispy white, looking closer to frost, coming from its head. Its eyes were a stunning blue, glowing even and devoid of all feeling for anything living. It carried an unrefined spear made of ice and was wearing all black. Its approach was slow and confident like a predator, knowing these people would not outrun it, slowly savouring the fear falling off of them in waves.
Kratos's decision was made for him when a child's wail reached his ears when they saw the creature. Unstrapping his axe, the spartan sprinted towards them, his fur covered feet barely making any noise in the thick snow. The creature loomed ever closer to the group, 'who had stopped moving!', raising its spear to slash down on the nearest prey, but it proved much wiser than a simple monster, its tremendous instincts alerting it as the creature turned quickly to see Kratos leaping towards it with his axe poised to deliver a devastating blow. The creature lazily set the spear in a position to block, as if it did not expect the attack to do any damage.
It would regret such hubris.
The axe and the spear clashed in a flash of light and a deafening boom. The light faded, and the helpless group watched in awe as the creature flew through a few trees and laid sprawled out on its back. 'Impossible,' 'By the Old Gods' and 'Have the gods come to save us?' were among the multitude of thoughts going through the heads of the women and children who witnessed the feat. They were of the belief that this was an act of divinity and when they got a good look at their saviour, they were more certain of that fact.
"Are ye the champion o' the Gods?" Asked one of the women hopefully.
"I champion no one. Especially not the gods." Kratos replied, in his deep baritone voice.
"But ye must be! Ye bare the look o' the weirwood tree! The Old Gods must o' sent ye 'ere to save us from the Great Other!"
There it was. Damn that tree to the pits of Tartarus. Kratos knew, he Knew! That tree would become a thorn in his side and behold, those Hades be damned Fates must be taking their pound of flesh from him at last. He grunts in annoyance, choosing to not deign the group a reply. 'They are already convinced; my denial would do nothing to change that.' He consoled himself, feeling a headache building up.
"Wh-!" one of the older women was about to say something but was startled by the rising of the "Other"? That is what they had called the creature, a term he would inquire about after the battle. The other arose and took stock of its surroundings. Kratos was not sure if it was confusion he saw in its eyes, but such a feeling would make sense…at least to it.
Kratos readied himself for the inevitable attack, which came as expected. Immediately, he could tell this thing had no skill whatsoever and instead relied on its superior strength and evident invulnerability to win its battles, its swings only matched by its sloppy and chaotic footwork. Any normal man would not have been able to hold it at bay, much less claim victory over it. Unfortunately for it, it did not face a normal man, its opponent was the Ghost of Sparta. The God of war was no mere mortal man, his strength and insight far eclipsed that of this block of ice.
Raw power aside, Kratos noticed that his axe did not do much to damage the Other. He suspected that it had to do with both the axe and the creature being of the cold, his opponent's elemental affinity rendering the weapon ineffective. Undeterred, he simply slung the axe into a nearby tree, took hold of the creature by the head, spun around to hold its neck over his shoulder and snapped it. The Other combusted into shards of ice and then became frost mist in the air.
It was deathly silent, there was not a sound in the forest. The only sound that could be heard was deep breathing. The spartan turned to the onlookers, his face completely neutral and stoic.
"What did I just kill?"
His voice broke the mortals from their stupor, their faces finally shifting from the look of complete shock as most of the elders could only fall down to their knees, fatigue finally setting in as their enemy no longer haunted them.
"T'was an Other. Ye o' all people should know tha' champion." It was one of the elderly among them who answered him.
"Hmmmm." Kratos hummed as he crossed his arms, eyes calmly observing the people in front of him and taking in their injuries and general state with a critical eye.
"They be man's great enemy, from the time o' our forebearers. Least s'what ma Maa learned me an' her Maa 'fore tha'"
"So, in truth you know nothing…very well. Where are the men in your tribe?" Kratos asked while scanning the surroundings for threats.
"Men folk stayed back to fight. Give us a chance to get way" said a young woman in the group, looking as if she was about to cry.
"Then they are dead." Kratos, ever the gentle one, held nothing back. Voicing the truth appeared to have been too much for the young woman, who broke out in tears immediately. swiftly following were most of the children also, of which there were nine at most.
Kratos knelt by a little girl and wiped a tear from her cheek. "This is no place to linger, and these are no times for tears, child. You must move, where were you heading?"
"We 'eard there's be a gatherin,' biggest one yet. Some Mants, Manz? or somthin' the other is uniting the free folk, 'posed to lead us south, 'posed to be, he can get us over the wall." She said reverently, a glimpse of hope in her reddened eyes.
'Wall?' That was information he would have to find out later, for now, there were more pressing matters to take care of. "Keep heading there, do not stop, do not rest. These forests are not fit for women and children."
"Yer no' comin' with us?" The child's hand almost reached out to him, before she caught herself and retracted it. Kratos sighed and turned around, deciding to focus on what he should do.
"No. I have my own matters to attend to. Things I need to do." His fists clenched despite himself.
"Then Who'll protec' us?" A woman, frail and desperately keeping her babe close to her chest, could only look at his back with building terror.
"I am no protector."
"What u save us fer than!"
"…It is what my Faye would have had me do." He said with as much vulnerability as a Nemean lion. "No more words, keep moving or die in these woods, decide for yourselves."
He stalked off into the woods in the direction he was initially coming from, not sparing a second look at the stunned party he left behind him. As the people found the courage to continue on their path, a girl looked back constantly to the direction their saviour went in. As she walked on, she clasped her hands together, naively trying to imitate the priest in her village when he prayed.
Looking forward, the child innocently wished to see him again.