It was a silent walk back to the more populated parts of the fortress, and Mist was the first to break that silence with a sigh that sounded as frustrated as she appeared. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
Gil wasn’t sure how to reply. Had Sif said something?
“I am sorry I cannot be of more help, Gil. I just do not remember.”
Gil shook his head as he answered. “I can’t imagine you failing at anything Mist, that, and with your lack of memory are wrought with a foul stench.”
“I know Malice was good, I fought to ensure others knew it too, but the how and the why, the events leading up to her fall… She loved him and it drove her crazy when he disappeared. I should have seen the signs..,”
“And what would you have done? How would you have stopped the darkness from claiming your sister?” He asked her, his hands on her shoulders. “We know you tried, countless times, even after she had joined them…”
“And it cost the lives of hundreds, if not thousands in the wars that ensued. There are still factions that do not fully trust us.” She shook her head. “Elves. Valkyrie. Asgard. We are a broken realm.”
“When your mother lifted the veil, it should have returned all of your memories.” Sif cut in, her hand on Mist’s shoulder.
“If I knew what happened to my sister, believe me, I would tell you both; but there is nothing there.” Mist hung her head. “She was there by my side, then she lost P’tah…”
“And no one knows where he ended up?” Gil cut in and Mist shook her head again.
“That information was lost when the temple was destroyed.” Mist sighed and Gil remembered Kat mentioning they’d lost a good portion of their histories that day.
“The temple Malice is said to have destroyed.”
“That is just it, I too have looked through the scrolls, not one person actually saw her destroy it. One mentioned that she had been there, but no one actually knows how or who destroyed it.” Mist let out. “It was of ancient Valkyrie design, no one male or female could wield the power to do such a thing.”
“And this all happened, before the Valkyrie came to Asgard?” Gil piped in. “I have spoken with Kat, yes.” He admitted and watched as she nodded her head.
“And then there is that. I remember visiting the Elven kingdoms while my mother toured the lands, we would call home. I remember attending the academy with Malice and even our first missions with the Red Hand where she met P’tah, but before that...”
“How old were you when you arrived here, in the Realm?” Gil inquired as he sat her in a chair.
“Six, maybe seven-thousand?” She turned to Sif. “It was not until we moved here, permanently, that Malice began to lose her grip on reality, but the why, and what came before…”
“How old are you now?” He raised a brow. “Officially?”
“I am almost twelve-hundred and ninety-seven, give or take a few years. In the eyes of my people, I am still very young.” Mist laughed, just a little. “Malice and I were two of seven children who relocated to Rihmsjalier.”
“And the elders?” Gil tried to keep her talking and the memories flowing.
“My mother, Sigrun, a handful of Einherjar. We kept it small at first, so as not to overwhelm the people, but after the wars it was made law that all of the Valkyrie live in the Realm of the Asgard.”
“Would be easier for your mother’s veil to cover the Realms, instead of the Verse.” Gil cut in. “Keep them all in one place.” He added. “But, where did you live before the Realm?”
“We lived free, wherever we wished, but I cannot see those places. They are blurred.” Mist rubbed at her eyes in haste, angry and frustrated. “Ugh, my mother will not speak of the wars save to say she did what she had to do, and no one has heard from Sigrun in many years.”
“Hey now, it’s alright.” Gil held her close. “We’ll figure this out.” He cooed as he stroked her long, dark braids. “You mentioned Einherjar.”
“I too was very young when you arrived, but I do remember those who came with you.” Sif smiled. “Though many have fallen in battle, there is one other person who may know more.”
“Hippolyte.” Mist groaned. “She will not speak with me.”
“I wonder what she remembers.” Gil bit his lip as the words slipped out. “Let’s at least speak with Freya, first. She’s a lot less touchy.”
Mist and Sif both chuckled, an immense relief following the sorrow that had surrounded them; but then, who wouldn’t find it funny that Gil was a little intimidated by the First. She was a scary female, with one hell of a grudge against Mist. Had she lost someone in the wars? Did she blame Mist?
Mist was right, there was a lot of friction in the realm. Some hated Malice, others hated Mist. Gil needed to get them focus on the real enemy. The darkness that controlled them all, and he swore her name was Marena.
It was common knowledge that Marena had taken part in drawing Malice into the fold, but no one knew how, or why. She had been taken from her people, used by the very same darkness that had corrupted Malice, and once returned, shared the horror of missing memories and violent nightmares. Who had done this? Pathen. Why? Because he wanted his own little part of the Verse to rule over. He was dead though, slain by her mother’s own hand, as was his mistress, Anaxa. She had been said to control them all, but she too was gone. So, who had taken their place?
She had to think. Just like her Uncle Gil, it was all right there before her, she just needed to find it. Marena had controlled Malice, Pathen had controlled Marena, and Anaxa had controlled Pathen… Who had controlled Anaxa? Where did Marwolaeth fit in? Or To’llan? Had Anaxa been one of them?
So many questions, not enough answers. Why had her mother made it so hard for her to unlock the past?
Tisiphone was furious. All these secrets and cover-ups…
Waving her hand to open the door before her, she made her way into the hall. She needed some fresh air, she needed to get out of that bloody room. She’d been cooped up for weeks and a walk would do her some good. Problem was, she had no idea where she was going. The keep was massive, despite appearances from the outside.
Where was everyone? Khor? Lithia? That little, fur-covered beastie that slurred his words? They hadn’t all left her, had they?
All throughout the halls, an eerie silence awaited her. Down one set of stairs and up another, across an elegant and yet faded ballroom and out through the kitchens that sat unused and covered in a thousand years of dust. This place, if it was indeed Ashlyn’s private keep, had once hosted parties, the likes Tisiphone had only dreamed of attending.
Lady Ashlyn had been quite the socialite and many a night were spent with drink in hand, hosting negotiations with all sorts of people. Where she hid now, Tisiphone had no clue, but she’d love to have a little chat with her.
“Please…” The voice sounded distant and strained, but as Tisiphone moved closer to the door at the end of the hall, the sounds became louder, more erotic.
There was no telling who was in there, the words muffled in whimpers and moans, but Tisiphone couldn’t pull herself away. She wanted so badly to open the door and watch the sin unfold, but then, she also wanted to experience it for herself. It had been weeks since she’d taken that guard aboard her uncle’s ship, and come to think of it, she couldn’t even remember his name.
It didn’t help that she’d just watched her other uncle embark on a mission to please four females at once. Her body was burning and those whimpers and groans sounded absolutely divine. One minute she was standing before the door, the next, she had her back against the wall and her hands were roaming freely beneath her nightgown. She could not see them, but she could feel the pleasure emanating from beneath the door, just as it had in the story.
They may not have been Valkyrie behind that door, but their bond was….
At that, her hands stopped, as did her heart. She could no longer hear the occupants in their raw and sinful moment. No panting. No whimpers, only footsteps…
The door opened before she had a chance to escape and Lithia appeared in the doorway. Oh, for the love of… Lithia, and Khor? And Tisiphone had had her… She should have known. She should have sensed her brother’s bond with his female the moment she walked up, but she was so overtaken by the…
“Tisiphone? Are you alright?” Lithia inquired, but the hall began to spin. “Khor, your sister needs help.”
“No!” Tisiphone shouted out. “Stay back.” She added, turning to run down the hall that twisted under her feet.
This was bad. This, was very bad. She had already suffered through this once, she couldn’t do it again.
“No, no, no. Why? Why has it come back?” She cried as the wetness between her legs grew and each step sent a wave of tingles throughout her body.
Where was Markhon? Why wasn’t he here with his medicines to help her? Her mind raced as she tore up and down stairs on her way back to her room. She needed to hide. She needed a distraction…
The topmost level of Rihmsjalier was where Freya kept her apartments. When they knocked on the door it was immediately answered by Jack, who stood with a grim look on his face.
“Is Freya here, Jack? We need to talk to her.”
“Shouldn’t you three be lost in some love triangle?” Jack asked with a raised brow.
“This is important.” Sif let out and Jack led the trio into the apartment.
Freya was sitting at an ornate desk in her study and when she looked up her smile turned to a scowl filled with concern. “From the look on your faces this is not a social call. What is going on?” She inquired, getting right to the point.
“What can you tell us of the Valkyrie Wars?” Mist asked, her eyes red from tears.
“We think Mist’s memory has been tampered with.” Sif added. “We know there was a veil to protect us all from Malice, but that was after she fell into darkness…”
“I do not understand.”
“Mist remembers nothing before coming to Rihmsjalier.”
“Nothing at all?” Freya again frowned.
“She remembers running through meadows, wild and free, and then moving to the Realm with her mother and sister. They studied at the academy, led a few missions with the Red Hand and the Black Rose, then Malice was bad.”
“I can remember the wars, the fighting and the unrest, but I cannot remember why they started, I know it has something to do with Malice, and I know it started before we came to Asgard…”
“You and your sister arrived just shortly after the wars started. Your mother thought it would be safer for you here.” Freya replied, “But I hardly think you had anything to do with it. Malice, yes, but you were always such a happy child.”
“What do you mean?”
“She put on a good show, but we could see that your sister was unhappy. We tried our best to satisfy her in all ways possible, but with the loss of that boy…” Freya shook her head. “I know not what happened before you arrived here with us, but if someone has tampered with your memories, I would surely like to find out who, and why.”
“So, you were not there when the temple fell?” Sif inquired.
“No, I was not. The council was still in session to determine the final details of the treaty, it took many years to work out the kinks.” Freya explained.
“I remember visiting with my mother and sister, we would stay for weeks, even months at a time, but we would always go home; and yet, I cannot remember where home was.” Mist hung her head.
“Your mother spoke of it often, though she preferred to spend her time here.” Freya smiled. “Even now, if the council did not keep her away, she would be here.”
Gil gave a mental sigh of relief, obviously Freya didn’t know any more than they did.
“Maybe we do need Hippolyte.” Sif suggested.
“She was with you the day you arrived.” Freya smiled. “She may know more about this than I do.”
“I fear we may have to ask her as well.” Mist grumbled. “Finally put to rest this trouble between us.”
“I will reach out to your mother, perhaps I can persuade her to open up a little. I know she does not like to speak of the past, but if there is chance, she can help us stop Malice…” Freya smiled, but Mist cut in.
“Malice is not the monster everyone has made her out to be.” She shook her head. “For too long we have lived in the shadows. It is time secrets were revealed and all that went wrong is set right.” She finished and made for the door with Gil following close behind her.
“What’s wrong, love?” Gil asked.
“Freya hides something, for my mother. I can see it in her eyes.” Mist replied. “She does it to protect me, I know, but if she knows what happened to Malice…”
“Sometimes, Mist, we don’t always get the answers we want. Things go badly, no matter what we try to do to change them.” Gil sighed. “The key is surviving the chaos, and you have survived.”
“Neither you, or Hippolyte, has ever spoken of what happened that day. I think it is high time you did.” Sif suggested. “I will find Hippolyte, you, relax.” She bowed her head and made off down the hall.
Mist finally threw her hands in the air as she gave in to both of them. “Fine as long as you two are ready for the fight that is about to happen. Stubborn old…”
Gil wisely kept silent. As much as he loved Mist, she had her stubborn moments too. He was certain that their conflict was based on the fact that they both had alpha personalities and he had also surrendered to the possibility that this discussion was probably going to take a while.
“How did you know where that entrance was?” Ashe’s words lingered in his mind and the vapor of the moon pool took hold of his senses.
Loki tried to fight it, knowing that Markhon watched from the side of the pool and he didn’t know what would be asked of him. He’d done some pretty nasty things in his time, most of them in pursuit of his love for Malice, but he didn’t need the pipsqueak knowing about any of it.
“Tell me, or the pipsqueak joins you!” Ashe laughed, plucking his thoughts from mid-air.
“During the war, Malice was stationed here. There are many entrances, some, not even you may know.” Loki replied through gritted teeth; the vapors were winning him over.
“And you would sneak through these entrances when she sent you out to do your dirty work?”
“You would know, you watched us from the shadows.” He chuckled, letting his head fall back. “A child who’d lost it all.”
“A lot of children lost it all that year, in the name of Malice.” Ashe growled, drawing closer to the pool.
“It wasn’t Malice.” He laughed, shaking his head.
“I know, but that did not make it any easier.”
“Yet you helped us.”
“I helped Mist, and only to ensure Malice would never use my home as her own personal slaughterhouse again.” Ashe hissed back as she too slipped into the waters with Loki. “For a thousand years she reigned from my throne and it was Mist who helped me reclaim it, not you, though your promises were sweet.”
“I did what I had to, to survive.” Loki laughed. “You did the same when you watched them torture all those innocent people. You were the rightful heir and you hid in the shadows.” He giggled.
“I was but a child.” She shouted. “I too, did what I had to.”
“And we said nothing when you stole from the kitchens and armories. We knew it was you, but we kept your secret.” He moaned, his head falling forward into the water.
“We?” She lifted his head and watched him gasp for air.
“Malice and I.” With that, she let his head hit the water again.
“That is absurd.” She growled and pushed his head under.
“He will drown.” Markhon shouted, but her guards kept him back. “Do you want his deaths of countless more on your hands?”
“What do you mean?” Vasha crept up behind him.
“He was sent here by others. He knew what awaited him, clearly, I did not, and yet he came here anyway.”
“Then he was a fool.”
“No, he was desperate. We all are.” Markhon struggled free of the guards. “You hated Malice for so long, because of the dark enemy within her.”
“I still hate her.” Ashe laughed. “And him too. Worthless excuses of what can be created out of ignorance and greed.”
“Well, if you don’t help us now, that darkness will return. It most likely already has.” Markhon explained. “Do you want to be the reason the Realms fall back onto dark times?”
“Malice unleashed her rage for thousands of years. It took everything we had to bring her to heal, and now you speak of her return?”
“Not her return, but the dark enemy who controlled her. We think Malice may have encountered them once again.”
“Have you spoken with Freya? Or Ashlyn?”
“Neither can be found.” Markhon replied.
“She too is unreachable. Trust me, lady, if there was anyone else, we wouldn’t be here.”
“If Freya is gone as you say, then who sits in her place? Who protects Rihmsjalier?” Vasha inquired. “You would have us believe they have been left unguarded?”
“Worse.” Loki managed to choke out, his body bobbing atop the surface of the pool.
“Silence.” Ashe growled, shoving his head into the water again.
“He speaks the truth, for fucks sake, why won’t you believe us?” Markhon shouted, pulling at his hair as he watched Loki struggle for air. “The Elders are gone, replaced by children.”
“And you think by using my portal, you can bring them back?” Ashe hissed. “And what is it you hope to find on the other side.”
“Not what, but who!” Markhon sighed. “The Shak’Morikai were Marwolaeth’s personal assassins.”
“The Shak’Morikai are dead.” Ashe laughed. “No word, no sightings since Malice rejoined the ranks of the Valkyrie, and I for one couldn’t be happier.”
“They are alive, and we need to find them.” Markhon growled back, “In my vest pocket is a letter, to you from Lady Navina, written in her own hand.”
Lady Ashe nodded for her guard to search for the letter, her fingers entwined in Loki’s hair as the male brought forth the small piece of parchment sealed with the sigil of the Guild. “And I should trust the words of a female, whose sister murdered my entire family?”
“You know who Navina is, what she is. She can see things we can’t even hope to comprehend.”
“Too bad she did not warn of all of the dangers that awaited you within these walls.” Vasha laughed, but her mother raised her hand to silence her.
“She claims that Malaness still exists.” Ashe looked up, narrowing her eyes as she examined Markhon’s expression.
“I can smell the bullshit from here, mother.” Vasha smiled. “Malaness was lost to all, not even Malice cared to search for it.”
It was true, no one really knew what had happened to Malaness after Malice and Marena had led the slaves in an uprising against their masters, it had just, sort of, disappeared. Sure, the rumors still lingered, multiplied on some worlds to an extent that their true meanings had become warped, twisted by exaggeration; but they had all been rumors, until Navina had seen it in a vision...
“Silence.” Lady Ashe motioned for the guards to remove Loki from the pool, and she too, waded to the edge. “You say she wrote this? Herself?”
“Mother, you cannot be serious?” Vasha argued, but Loki’s words echoed through the room a moment later.
“To’llan believes….” He managed between gurgles, then fell limp in the guard’s arms.
“Who?” Vasha cut in, completely confused and shaking her head as her mother made for the stairs.
“Take him to a room and see that he is purified. I will not have his filth in my keep.” Lady Ashe growled, crumpling the paper in her hand as she disappeared.