“Calm yourself, Loki.”
“Calm myself? Are you serious?” He blurted out, pacing back and forth at the end of the bed. “You’re telling me that she is watching our past? Right here, right now?”
The thought of it scared the living daylights out of him. The things he’d done, the people he’d done them for, no wonder Tisiphone was filled with such rage. She’d tried to kill him, twice, spouting words like Traitor, Betrayer and Treason.
“She is learning.”
“Come on, Navina, you know more than just, she’s learning.” Loki shook his head, then scratched at the stubble on his chin. “And don’t give me that, I cannot intervene bullshit. This isn’t The Order and Pathen can’t hurt you anymore.”
“You too, are learning.” She replied, her back to him as she watched the flames in the hearth.
“And what, you’re my teacher?” He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest as he muttered to himself.
“No, she is.”
Those words circled in his mind and he had to think hard. How could Tisiphone teach him anything? She was so young.
“Age means nothing when you can dream as she does.” Navina turned with a grin on her face. “Look at you, an ancient no less, yet you cease to learn from your mistakes. You are impatient and temperamental. You do not think before you act and you never take responsibility for that which you have left in shambles.”
“Yes, and you’re such a perfect being, we might as well call you Ellaria.” He snapped back at her. “But then, our most benevolent Lady of Light had a few skeletons in her closet too, didn’t she?”
“No one is perfect, Loki, not even Ellaria.”
“At least we both agree on something.” He choked out as Tisiphone began to toss and turn once more.
“Traitor.” She hissed, though her eyes never opened.
“We may make mistakes, but at least we learn from them!” Navina’s eyes closed and the room grew colder. “Now it is your turn…” She smiled, waving her hand before the hearth and the flames inside began to dance higher than before.
Loki couldn’t stop what was happening, his body felt light as a feather and the sounds of footsteps began to echo in his mind. “What are you doing?” He asked, fear taking hold as the scenery melted together and the footsteps grew even louder.
“Watch, and learn, Loki!” Navina’s voice was but a distant whisper and the next thing he knew, he was back in the cold, dark caverns beneath Rihmsjalier…
Gil and Mist were deep inside the bowls of Rihmsjalier when he looked down, yet another set of endless stairs. He was already feeling a little claustrophobic, but now, he wasn’t sure if he was holding his breath or the whole damn place had caved in around them.
“She’s down, there?” He managed to choke out, receiving a nod in reply. “Just how far down are we going?”
“Those who live in darkness suffer in the light.” Mist let out, descending the steps one at a time. “When she first arrived here, she’d been blinded by the exposure and her body had already started to burn.”
“She lives down here where the light cannot harm her, as Rihmsjalier sits in full view of the day star and sees only a few hours of night.” Mist explained. “The Ghost Keep rests in the shadows of Ghost Mountain, the day star shrouded in clouds and rain. It’s absolutely miserable, yet the dark ones relish the misery.”
“So, we have to go all the way to the pits of hell to see her?”
“Wait a minute…” Mist turned and narrowed her eyes. “You acted like this when we visited Orinald’s workshop.” She paused again. “Gil, are you are afraid of enclosed spaces?” The Valkyrie inquired.
“Well, when the enemy’s idea of torture was to stick you in a box and leave you there for days at a time, no light, no food or water, no way to relieve yourself…” He shook his head and shuddered, only to feel her fingers sliding down his arm to take his hand. “Boxes are no fun.” He finished with a sigh. “And neither are deep, dark staircases that lead to an abyss.”
“No, I would imagine not!” She smiled and closed her eyes, touching the wall with her other hand, and the torches burst to life before him. “Come, let’s see if she’ll be as willing towards your plan as you are.”
As they descended the stone staircase, he wasn’t so much anxious, as he was irritated. “That female should do us all a favor and buy some sunscreen.” He muttered under his breath, his heart in his throat, beating so hard he could barely breath.
The first few flights of stairs had been large enough for three, full grown men to walk side by side, comfortably even, but now there was barely enough room for him and Mist and he feared one of them would stumble and fall. He took to counting the steps, hoping to keep his mind occupied and learned quite quickly that it only served to make matters worse. One, two three, four, six hundred and fourty-eight; he had to stop, for he realized he really didn’t want to know how deep they were going.
On and on for what seemed like an eternity, one step after another along the tight and narrow steps until the last stair ended and a large cavern began. Dimly lit and smelling of must, Gil let out a shiver as his eyes adjusted to the shadows. He could make out various pillars and posts, an odd shaped wardrobe and what looked like a bed in the center of it all. Did someone live here? Did Ashe, live here?
Sure enough, a voice echoed through the cavern from across the way and the little grew brighter as he followed Mist across the cool, stone floor. “What brings you into the darkness?”
It was Ashe, working with an object on a table near the far wall. When Gil saw the etching of a complex blueprint out before her, a Browning Hi Power, he couldn’t help but lean in to learn more. Gone was the fear and anxiety as he admired the handgun, covered in a twisted, three-dimensional swirl; and the note that came with it.
Gil stood there a minute with the gun in his hand; barely able to hold the beauty high as it shook in his fingers. “Really, it’s for me?”
Mist winked at him as she blew him a kiss. “Yay or nay?”
Gil looked around, raised his right hand and clenched it into a fist, a sign of respect in regards to their traditions; then let out a holler. “Yay, darlins’”
The aura in the room went wild as a golden glow lit up all around them. He felt a wave of warmth surrounding him, lifting him up as if he was floating. When he came to, he had every set of eyes on him, followed by smiles and hints of mystery in their eyes.
“Now what?” He muttered, hoping those mysteries were of the good variety and not more secrets that would plunge them into eternal darkness and war.
“Come with us, you need to see this.” The words sounded so sweet coming from Mist, but there was something in his gut that made the waves churn. “My mother has something she wishes to show you.”
“Your, mother?” If the alarm bells hadn’t been going off before, they surely were now.
“She will not harm you, my love.” Mist assured him, taking hold of his hand.
One minute, Gil was standing in the deep, dark chasms that lay beneath Rihmsjalier, and the next, he was facing a pool of water with a surface that shone like stars high in the night sky. Out and over a small stone bridge, across the waters so still it was like he was walking over glass...
“Where is this place?” He managed to let out, his eyes wandering as far as they could see.
“Look down, my love.” Mist grinned, nodding towards the waters that did not ripple against the posts sticking out of them.
Oddly enough, he felt no fear as she followed her instruction, gazing into the depths of what very well could have been a bottomless pit with a million or more hideous monsters waiting to scare the living…
“Your mind wanders, my son.” Came a voice he’d hoped not to hear again any time soon. “Oh, come now, I cannot be that bad.”
“If you say so, my lady!” Gil replied, a little confused as to why she’d brought them here, and more importantly, where here was.
“You act as if I am a stranger, when in fact, we are all joined by the blood that flows through our veins. We are Valkyrie.”
“You are Valkyrie, I was Human.” He corrected her only to watch her reach down and touch the surface of the water.
“We are all Valkyrie, even you.” She nodded to the image in the water.
In the reflection he saw his face, but where there had been scruff hair and stubble for days, was now a clean-shaven baby-face and hair that flowed like the wind blew through it. Tawny colored hair and deep gray eyes, complete with a set of elegantly pointed ears. It was him, but it wasn’t. He was no Elf, nor was he Valkyrie; but he had to admit that this was one of the most amazing transformations he’d ever seen. From an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, he remembered the story as if he’d heard his grandfather reading it to him now.
“Despite what you may think, that is, you.” Lady Ashlyn smiled. “A son of both the Humans and the Valkyries.”