The Shadows met on a ruined corridor.
The palace was a majestic structure, a complicated mass of towers and spires and corridors such as this one. But most parts of the palace were not buried in deep snow, nor were they assaulted by barbed vines.
The roof above the corridor had been blown away by cannon fire, and so the Shadows had a clear view of the Morrigan as she flew across the night sky, trailing death in her wake.
Cu Chulainn flexed his grip on his spear, the same spear he used to claim his throne fifteen years ago. Across from him, Boreas took a deep breath and steadied his feet. Baldur started to move forward, but Boreas stopped him with an outstretched arm.
“No. The crown is mine, I will take it myself,” Boreas said.
Baldur immediately stepped aside, brushing the snow off a nearby stone bench before sitting down.
“Tell me, how long have you been plotting against me?” Cu Chulain suddenly thundered with the voice of a king. Just the sound of his voice would have been enough to send most people scurrying off, but not the two men standing against him tonight.
“Ten years,” Boreas replied, “ever since the Oracle told me that I will be king.”
Cu Chulainn was silent for a moment. “I see. So it is destined,” he said finally. “But I do not have to calmly accept destiny, do I?”
Boreas grinned. “I don’t expect you to.”
With a cry, Cu Chulain threw himself forward, swinging his spear wildly. Boreas stretched his arms, and all the snow in the corridor surged toward the Berserker.
The ice clung to Cu Chulainn’s limbs. He continued to push forward.
A mighty blizzard started to blow across the palace. Soldiers who were in the middle of fighting were forced to drop their weapons and look for shelter. The Morrigan flew higher, her eyes fixed on the broken roof of the corridor.
Boreas did not let the storm up. Windowpanes started to shatter because of the ice wind. Palace workers hid themselves under beds or tables. Those who have been in the palace for many years went to hidden nooks beneath the floorboards, or behind the walls. Crown Challenges have always been difficult for them, and they have learned that the only way to ensure their survival is to hide as well as they can.
The corridor itself no longer had walls. Cu Chulainn knocked a huge portion of the western wall off as he struggled against the ice. His spear continued to slice, his fists continued to crush, but he was getting tired. His body was no longer visible. In the middle of the room, only a massive pillar of ice and snow stood.
Finally, the Berserker lost himself in his rage. Steam started to rise off his body. All coherent thoughts disappeared as his mind was overcome by the clarity of pure bloodlust.
A crimson mist started to rise from beneath the snow pillar. The next moment was a flurry of snow and blood.
Boreas’ instinct told him to pile more ice onto the pillar, but his body did not obey him. Instead, he allowed Cu Chulainn to break out. The madman crossed half of the corridor in a single leap, raising his spear to skewer Boreas.
But in that moment, the Oracle proved true.
The maddened Berserker was not able to defend himself as icicles rose from the snow-covered ground. The first frozen blade hit him squarely in the chest. In less than a heartbeat, he was pierced by more than a dozen blades in more than a dozen places.
Still, the Berserker fought. Blood poured from his wounds, but still he fought. In the end, even his blood froze solid. Not just the blood pooled beneath his feet, but also the liquid left in his veins.
The victor was clear. The Island had a new Ruler. The Morrigan rushed down to meet her new master. Baldur brushed the snow off his shoulders as he stood up.In twelve minds all across the world, a single voice spoke: “Cu Chulainn has been felled. Loki now rises.”