“What is wrong with her?” Khor inquired as he watched the little Shoohk rush back and forth through the halls outside Tisiphone’s room, but no sooner had one opened the door to slip inside, he knew.
He could smell it, just like before, back on the ship; but again, and so soon? The aromatic fragrance released during this time was enough to drive even one’s kin, mad with lust and had he not savored his moment with Lithia a short time ago, he feared even he would suffer greatly from the presence of her need.
“Shit.” He sighed, running his hands through his long, dark hair, contemplating what this would mean for each and every male in the keep.
The keep was being cleared and the Shoohk were adamant that no one return for at least a few days, and now Khor knew why. If Tisiphone was about to embark on another round of needing…
“What has happened?” Lithia appeared at the end of the hall, making her way towards him in a long, velvet colored gown that dragged along the floor. “Oh!” She stopped short, catching a whiff of that alluring aroma. “Has she been seen to?”
“Of all the questions, Lithia…” Khor shook his head. “That is my sister you speak of.”
“Sister or not, she is suffering.” His love reminded him with a smile. “As her kin, you should be searching for a worthy candidate.”
“There are no candidates.” He growled. “We’re so far from the nearest city…”
“There has to be someone.” She sighed. “What of Loki?”
“My father would kill me, and then I would kill me.” Khor grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Well, if you do not find someone to help her, I fear she may find other ways to cope.” Lithia frowned, eyeing Tisiphone’s door.
“She has already been lost to the fade once, if she were to return in such a state, we may lose her for good.” Lithia explained. “Her focus is off, her emotions unchecked, how do you expect her to control herself in a place such as the fade. It will consume her mind, Khor.”
“Then what the fuck do we do?”
“Find her a male, Khor, and find one fast.” Lithia warned, and hung her head.
Gill approached Hippolyte as she was explaining an exercise to those who stood before her, and he waited until she was done. He was impressed at her skill and her knowledge of battle strategy, but he couldn’t help but feel concern as he stood in the sun, waiting.
It was a short while before she gave the command to train, and when she turned to him with a grimace on her face and those words, so harsh… “What can I do for you, Valkyrie?”
“You made a remark yesterday, about the Valkyrie Wars.” He eyed her expression, hoping to catch a glimpse of truth in the matter. “It helped to remind Mist of an incident she faced with Malice, and you were there.” He stopped again and scratched at the stubble on his face. “Do you remember what happened?”
The female’s countenance changed with frightening speed, from her normal almost arrogant tone to an anger, Gil thought, would lash out and swallow him whole. There was clearly some deep-seated hatred going on, nonetheless, he needed to know.
“I became, a martyr if you will, though one that was not needed. Malice, a female I once called my sister, a female that I had looked up to, had failed me on purpose. I, among thousands, were sacrificed so that she could see her will brought forth.” Hippolyte snarled, reaching out with lightning speed, she grabbed Gil by the front of the tunic and hurled him across the courtyard. “My sisters and I fought hard for her cause. We died, for her cause, only to learn that her just and noble words had been seeded by darkness and anger.”
Before Gil knew what was happening, he was sailing through the air, his body wrenching and twisting in order to get his feet beneath him “Not too shabby!” He grinned, landing the fall rather nicely.
A bit confused and a little surprised at the agility he now possessed, he hadn’t seen the others approaching from behind. There was a cry from Mist and an angry growl from Hippolyte, both of which snapped Gil out of his daze, his hand reaching for his own sword.
“Gil…” He heard his name again, cocking his head to one side as the sword came out and clashed steel against spear, stopping the warrior dead in her tracks with a blade mere inches from Gil’s throat.
“Whoa…” He managed to let out as Hippolyte lunged forward, breaking free of Mist’s blade, but Gil was quick, dodging the spear and using her own momentum he found her throat with his hand, and slammed her down into the ground as hard as he could. “Enough!”
Her anger subsided just as quickly as it had arrived and she stopped struggling, once again mastering her composure. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, centering herself before speaking in a calm voice. “As you wish, Valkyrie.” She let out and he released his grip, leaving her to shake in fury on her own accord.
“He is trying to help us, you ungrateful wretch!” Sif growled at her. “This rift between you and Mist should have ended a long time ago, but you are both too stubborn for words. This feud has to end, right here, right now.”
“How can we trust each other?”
“We fight now, as we did then, for the same cause.” Mist cut in and Hippolyte cringed.
“The cause.” She rolled her eyes. “It was always for the cause, until the cause was no longer just, and even then, you wanted us to fight.”
Mist hung her head. “The cause had always been just, it was its leader who had fallen.”
“And now that leader walks another path, shadowed in darkness. Why do you wish to speak of the past and pour salt on old wounds?”
“Because, she is still out there. Now answering his question!” Mist replied firmly.
The female rose slowly, wincing as she tried to straighten her back. She made it to her feet, wobbling a little bit to the left, and then the right, taking her sweet time.
“Can we talk about this inside, please? We have made enough of a spectacle already.” Mist pleaded.
She was angry with the female and Gil knew it. She had known there would be a scene, but this was becoming intolerable. Gil nodded, going inside would give him more time to calm down as well, for his emotions were spiking. He was ready to kill Hippolyte, and having already come within a hair of losing control, he too thought it best to be inside with the guards. The female was limping slightly as she moved along behind then and he called to one of the Einherjar.
“Find Saylon, tell him there is an injury and he will find us in my conference room.” He told the man.
“As you wish, Lord Gil.” The male replied, standing not too much taller, but oh, the bulk that filled him out showed how well his lady did feed him.
“Hurry along now.” Gil nodded and the male saluted before leaving to find the healer.
Gil took another look at Hippolyte and felt ashamed of himself. He’d left her in this way, a female… He growled to himself and fell behind to offer his shoulder for her to lean on. His own females followed the pair inside, not a word spoken nor gripe elicited from the lot as they passed through the doors.
“I’m sorry, Hippolyte.” He hung his head. “I’ve never done anything like that before.” He grumbled and helped her to a nearby chair to rest a moment, then he too took a moment to pause and think about what he had just done.
A slow smile crept across the female’s face and she looked upon him with a sort of, new found respect; perhaps understanding now, as he did, that he could have killed her easily and neither Mist or Sif would have intervened.
“I had that coming, Gil.” She finally sighed. “There’s nothing for you to apologize for. I have suffered worse, for less. I should have known better than to pick a fight with you.”
“Yes, you should have.” Mist interjected, as she and Sif stood beside them.
“Ladies, play nice.” Gil cut in and Mist shot him a look.
“He is right.” Siff added and she too, received a look. “Okay, I know this is tough on the both of you, but you need to stop bickering or we are not going to get anywhere.” Sif commanded in a tone of voice that said she was at the last of her patience with the two of them. “This has to end.” She eyed them hard as Hippolye rose to her feet and continued down the hall on her own, but she did not leave them, turning back to ensure they followed.
Saylon was waiting for them when they entered the conference room and Gil helped Hippolyte onto a low divan, then stepped back to let the healer do his job. He still felt guilty for what he’d done, but there would be a time and place for that, and that time was not now. He too needed to know what had happed during the Valkyrie Wars.
“So, who did you pick a fight with now?” The healer asked in a conversational tone as he ran his hand gently over her body.
Hippolyte winced before answering. “Him, ouch!” She yelped as the healer’s hand jerked.
“Him? Gil?” Saylor seemed genuinely surprised that Gil was able to inflict such punishment, nonetheless, he went back to the task at hand, a soft glow emanating from the man as he worked to heal the damage done.
“How about you, Gil?” He called back to break the silence. “How do you fair?”
“I am well enough, Saylon. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I just, lost my temper.” Gil admitted in a troubled voice as the last of the adrenaline left him.
Saylon was before him quickly and handed him a pouch. “Mix this with water. It will help you feel better.” The healer said as he put a hand on Gil’s shoulder, then he packed his gear just as quickly and left the conference room.
Gil handed the pouch to Mist to let her mix the potion for him. When she handed it back, he took a drink, making a face at the taste. What the hell had he just consumed?
“That good?” Sif joked as she rubbed his back, keeping an eye on both Mist and Hippolyte, neither of which would look away from the floor or ceiling they stared at.
Gil shook his head as he drank the rest of it down. “I sometimes think that man is truly trying to poison me.” He said ruefully and set the cup down, turning his attention towards Hippolyte. “You said that you were a sacrifice, one that didn’t need to be made. What did you mean?” He let out, his desire to know burning a hole through his chest.
The First of all Einherjar’s expression turned decidedly sullen as she looked at Mist and gave a gusty sigh as she answered the question. “It was supposed to be the final battle, but she never arrived. After all the fighting, all the promises, Malice was nowhere to be found…”
“She wanted to be.” Mist let out and hung her head.
“Wanted to be? Without her presence, hundreds of us were captured and put to death, only to be brought back to serve the realm.”
“What was I supposed to do? Force her up, out of that cavern. She had lost everything, Hippolyte!” Mist shouted back.
“The cause, was her everything. Abolishing slavery, protecting the weak….”
“She, was weak” Mist snarled. “What the slavers had not taken from her, the council did in the days that followed. Her love, her mind, her sanity, then played it off as if it had all been her fault.”
“She should have been there. We could have stopped it all.” Hippolyte was off the divan and mere inches from Mist’s face. If it had no been for Skuld…” She let out and then covered her mouth.
“What about Skuld?”
Hippolyte was silent.
“What about Skuld?” Gil narrowed his brow. “Answer the question.”
“She helped us, those who had no choice but to serve.” Hippolyte growled. “She stepped in, where Malice had failed.”
“Malice did not fail anyone, the council, failed Malice.” Mist shot back. “They could have seen reason, but their need for an alliance was too great, their need for that stupid stone had blinded them.”
“What stone?” Gil piped in as a flash from the past surfaced in his mind.
“One of great power. It bestows the holder with immense strength and wisdom.” Sif did her best to explain. “With it, the council would have been able to strengthen the temple, instead, it was presumed lost with the temple.”
“That stone would have seen our cause to victory and the ways of the realms set right again.” Mist growled, clenching her fists. “And you, lost it.”
“I did not lose it.” Hippolyte sighed and shook her head. “I kept it safe.”
“What?” Mist gasped, her body shuddering as she fought to control herself. “You lied, to the council?”
“I did not trust the council then, and I sure as hell do not trust them now.” She laughed. “I am sorry, Mist, but the quest for that kind of power would have led us all into darkness, as it did Malice.”
“The keystone would have protected her from darkness. You were supposed to retrieve it, for her.” Mist growled.
“And she was supposed to be there, to help us. We never stood a chance against the fortress…”
As the two of them where arguing, Gil’s mind went back to when he first encountered Malice that night in Almaren. She’d had him by the throat, and as he’d struggled, he’d caught sight of the large, wire-wrapped, stone that she’d been wearing around her neck. So captivating it was, as it glowed about her chest, almost surrounding her with an eerie, blue hue. The more he tried to focus, the harder it was to see the pendant, but the chills ripped through him all the same. He would have still been lost in his efforts if another round of yelling hadn’t brought him back to the here and now; but the question still lingered. Was is the same stone?
“Stop!” He groaned, reaching for his head as it began to ache, speaking to all who would listen. “What does this thing look like?”
“It is an uncut, star-shaped sapphire, about the size of a Robin’s egg and bearing the same color of blue. Why?” Mist asked, cocking one brow. “Have you seen it?”
The conference room hushed and all eyes were upon him, a feeling he did not take too well as he hunkered down into a nearby chair and let out a long, drawn out sigh. His head hurt. His body hurt. His ego… he’d lain hands on a woman. A giant, warrior woman with skills far beyond his own, but a woman no less…
“Gil, have you seen the keystone?” Sif inquired, her hand now resting on his shoulder.
“Yes, I’ve seen it.” He groaned, knowing the next words to fall out of his mouth would alarm them all. “Malice, is wearing the damn thing.”
Gasps filled the silence that followed, from all but Hippolyte. He was right, he could already feel the unrest rising in his females and once again all eyes were on him.
“How do you know this, my love?” Mist asked, drawing closer with her hand on her chest.
“When she spoke to me, that night in Almaren, she wore it around her neck. I just caught a glimpse of it again and it frightens me to think of what she could do with it.”
“She has the keystone?” Hippolyte was not the one to gasp, her mind racing as she eyed Gil, hard. “You are sure of this?”
“She had it on a silver chain, the stone itself was hidden in her blouse but as she moved about, I could see it glowing…” He tried to remember more, the shape half-hidden by a pair of such round breasts; not unlike Mist’s own.
“Then our danger has just increased, tenfold. With that stone she has the power of a goddess.” There was an unfamiliar tinge of fear in Hippolyte’s voice, and her eyes darted back and forth as if she too was recounting old times in hopes to make sense of this news.
“That, is impossible. She cannot have it.” Hippolyte let out. “I gave it to Skuld…”
All three looked at her as if she’d gone crazy. “You gave the keystone to Skuld?” Mist growled.
“Then it’s a good thing she’s coming with us.” Gil grumbled and rubbed at his eyes. “She can tell us all about it as we approach Ghost Mountain.”