The night had taken a turn for the worst and there was nothing Khor could do about it. Surrounded by fur-covered beasties that scurried about his knees, he listened to his sister scream and wail behind the door; helpless and ever more frustrated with each cry. She was, ill. Plagued with a hunger he could not quench. She was not dying, though many would have seen death as a far better fate, than to suffer such a need as this.
All males had been cleared from the tower, but him, and even now he questioned his judgment. Had he and Lithia not just… he couldn’t even say it, for surely, it would lead his mind towards that which he so desperately fought to avoid. He had to remain clear minded, focused on the task at hand. His sister needed him to stand guard, to protect her from even herself.
“You will unlatch this door.” She shouted from inside the room, and a moment later, something smashed against a wall and two little Shoohks materialized before him shaking their heads.
“She is fars too gones for our wisdoms.” They let out and hung their heads. “Only yours mate is permitteds insides.”
“Very well.” He bowed his head, accepting their plea, with hopes his beloved….
The word alone made him quiver, the scent of lust so profoundly intoxicating….
“Perhaps, yous too, should leaves this place?” The Shoohk looked up at him. “We wills find the ladys to helps us.” They stopped, looking back at the door. “She is calms now, best yous go and rests yourselves.” He spoke, not only to Khor, but to all who waited in the halls.
Rest sounded so divine, but then, how was he to relish in sleep if he knew full well what his sister went through? And so soon after the last? What had brought it on? What had set this curse upon her?
“One shoulds nots thinks of such things. Gos, offs with yous all.” He shook his hands and Khor rose from him perch on the stool.
“You will see that she is…”
“Yes, yes. Gos. Gos.” The little beastie grumbled, then shook his head.
Khor had no choice but to abide by the thing’s wishes, but where was he to go? Lithia was beyond that door and he knew not of any place to rest that would help him clear his mind. Nonetheless, he found one foot falling after the other and before he knew it, he was back outside and wandering amongst the flowers.
“Is he actually thinking about sneaking into Ghost Mountain and stealing the keystone away from Malice?” Hippolyte asked.
“Yes, he is.” Mist replied and Gil began pacing back and forth.
“But, how can she have it, if you gave it to Skuld? And why has she never said a word?” Sif was clearly confused.
“I do not know.” Hippolyte replied. “It has been a long while since last we spoke.”
“If Malice somehow lost it or the stone was stolen, would she be crippled by it?” Gil cut in again, trying to think of a way into the darkened stronghold. “Would it hurt her?”
“You would certainly have her undivided attention, but how are you going to steal something from around her neck?” Mist questioned, still watching her husband as the wheels in his mind turned and twisted.
“She has to take a bath sometime. Maybe we could grab it then?” Hippolyte suggested.
“Maybe we can switch it out for a fake? I know a Drawf named Orin, who could make the forgery look genuine.” Mist grinned, a sudden warmth flowing over her and that grin grew into a smile. “What if that stone is what controls her? If we can switch the stones…” She paused as a knock came at the door, but Sif was quick to wave her on as she tended to the intrusion.
It seemed but Sif were in approval of the idea. Sif bit her lower lip before she added. “Well I guess it’s worth looking into… What do you need us to do?” She let out, before opening the door.
Gil looked down for a moment before he answered, eyeing the commotion at the door. “We need every scrap of information that can be found on the layout of the mountain itself. Then we need to talk to Hayden and Ashe, pick their brains…” Gil stopped short and walked to the door. “What is so damned important?”
“It seems we have a visitor in Misthaven, my lady.” Sif turned back to Mist and her eyes narrowed.
“Oh?” She let out.
“Indeed, and I find it funny to learn that he was found in the forge, with Orin of all people.” Sif laughed at the coincidence, if that was in fact what it was.
“Who? Gil inquired.
“Loki!” Sif laughed, closing the door. “Seems he claims to need Orin’s services, to help us.”
“Oh, does he now?” Mist growled. “Or is this just another part of his plan? Call me home so his minions can…”
“Easy now.” Gil set his hand on her arm. “He won’t be doing anything.” He added as the door opened and a head popped in.
“You alright in here?” Robert inquired, still covering his eyes.
“Yeah, Rob, I’m fine.” Gil chuckled and Rob lowered his hand from his eyes and entered the room.
Gil laughed when he saw the weapon his old partner was carrying. A fully-loaded, MG-Forty-Two.
“Going hunting, are we?” Gil nodded to Rob, and then to the gun at his side. “You never know what you’re walking into with you three.” Rob replied with a chuckle. “Just being safe.” He teased, but there was a frown hidden under that smirk.
“There are some people that really piss me off.” Morant replied, shaking his head.
“Me too, my friend, me too!” Gil sighed, feeling the eyes at his back.
Hippolyte? Skuld? Malice? That stupid stone….
“Why is Loki in Misthaven and what does he want?” Mist raised a good question, but no one knew the answer.
“It is not as if I believe everything that comes out of his mouth, but this, this I do believe. There is no doubt about it, I can smell her upon him.” Ashe growled, though whoever she was talking to, kept to the shadows.
Loki’s head was ringing and each word she spoke was like a dagger in his mind. “If he tells the truth and the daughter of Malice does indeed search for her mother amongst the darkness…” The voice paused, feminine in nature and bearing a hint of disgust. “Quiet.” It hissed. “He is awake.”
“Your tricks will not work here, Loki.” Ashe called to him as he turned over on the dais.
“I have no tricks to play. I only wanted to…” His chest heaved and the ribs, surely broken, ached with each breath he took.
“You say that Malice has once again fallen into darkness?” The voice spoke to him.
“I am saying we don’t know what the hell is going on.” Loki managed to get out. “Malice, Ashlyn, Belvaya, Janice and Kember, even Ambrosia; all of them just, gone. Sigrun and Freya, too!”
“And you would have us believe that her daughter has asked for us to help find her?”
“She searches for the Shak’ Morikai, her mother’s most loyal companions.” Markhon cut in, as he too, roused from a slumbering state upon a dais a few feet away.
Like pets they perched upon pillowed pillars in the center of a room, one that held no lights and yet glowed as if it were on fire. He had heard of the room carved out of rubies, its very walls shimmering in the moon’s light as it poured in from the open ceiling above. ’A magnificent splendor for all to see, if one could only get past the lady of the keep.’
His tutors voice rang out in his ears and with it came memories of old. This place was haunted with the ghosts of Ashe’s ancestors and harbored many a secret; one of which, now lingered in Markhon’s mind. A name, finally fitting to a face.
“You are called, Skuld!” He spoke up, staring into the darkness at the figure who had yet to show herself.
Silence followed and Loki laughed. “It is you.” He chuckled some more, but his ribs still ached. “I should have known you would be here.”
“And why is that?”
“Where else would you go?” Loki laughed again. “Ashe helped you then, and if I am right, she is helping you now.”
“Wait, you know her?” Markhon spat out in disbelief, his jet-black hair falling in front of his face.
“Her name is Skuld, protector of Thorns.” Loki grinned.
“You are mad.” The voice replied.
“No, I am quite sane. A little broken, but quite sane.” Loki shook his head. “The only thing I cannot seem to figure out, is why you have been hiding for all these years?”
“Would you walk about in the light of day, knowing a target rests on your back?” The voice inquired and took a few steps toward him, though still, the veil of shadows covered her face. “The Valkyrie are a wondrous and noble people, though forgiving, they are not.”
“You, stole the Keystone?” Markhon mumbled, remembering a little of his history lessons with Nan.
“I stole nothing!” The female growled, stepping forth into the light to reveal long, luscious, strawberry-blonde braids, littered in beads and leather.
“I know!” Loki replied, “I was there.” He added with a chuckle. “The First gave it to you, begged you to keep it safe.”
Now that was not written in any text and left Markhon a little confused. “Hippolyte?”
“There was no one else.” Loki grinned, drawing Skuld’s attention and she narrowed her eyes.
“We were surrounded by our own people, and though there had been no word from Malice or the others, we held that keep as long as we could.” She paused; eyeing Loki hard. “I do not remember your presence that night.”
“I was there, trust me.”
Ashe let out a laugh, but was soon silenced by a wave of Skuld’s hand. “We had mere seconds before they would burst through the door and most of us were on our last legs. None of us could get out…”
“One of you did.” Loki smiled. “She had given you the stone and told you to run, and you ran until you saw that green light.”
“It was you?” Skuld let out quietly at first. “You lit the way to the tunnels of old?”
“He lies, Skuld. He always, lies!” Ashe hissed, but again, she was silenced.
“No one knows about that light.” She sighed, shaking her head. “I never spoke of it to anyone.”
“I helped you then, and you must help me now.” Loki stood before her, his hands clasped before him and his head bowed. “You must believe me when I say that very same darkness you fought to dispel all those years ago, has returned.”
Ashe looked positively enraged, though she said not a word, and Skuld bowed her head and sighed once more. “I know.”
Gil wondered just how much history had been made in the shadows of Ghost Mountain, but before he could ask, Orinald came in to the room.
“Sorry, I did not get the memo about the meeting. I have spent the last three days working on some special things for you and your ladies. Consider this a wedding present.” The Dwarf clapped twice. Four other Dwarves walked in, each carrying a replica in his hands of the weapon Gil had shown Orinald the first time they’d met.
Gil’s mood shifted for a moment as he took his in hand, looking it over as he worked the bolt with a grin. “Thank you from all of us, Orinald!”
“I figured you would want them for your journey to the mountain.” The Dwarf chuckled.
“Indeed, and yet it would seem recent discovers may delay our journey yet again.” Gil frowned, still playing with his new toy.
“Ah, I see. And, uh, where would you be headed now?”
“Do you know a male by the name of Loki?” Gil asked with a raised brow, as the others continued to converse at the table.
“I know that wherever he is, trouble follows!” Orin frowned back. “And there is trouble, is there?”
“Misthaven.” Gil growled. “The bastard was stopped in Mist’s own city.”
“My word, you would think him of better sense than that.” Orinald grumbled, shaking his head as he fixed the tattered vest he wore.
“From what I gather, he doesn’t have a lick of sense in him and now we are faced with a choice. Make for Ghost Mountain and see our plan through, or make for Misthaven and prevent that heathen from doing whatever it is he’s up to.”
“And what if Misthaven was his real target?” Freya inquired, her voice, louder than the rest.
“You think he was just observing us, here in Rihmsjalier, only to verify that we were not in Misthaven?” Sif replied, her own tone rather rash.
“He was seen near the forge, correct?” Gil cut in, an idea popping into his head.
“Yes, the best in all nine realms. Rihmsjalier and Ghost Mountain are a close second.” Mist replied with a blush on her cheek as he smiled at her.
“What if it was our forge he was after, and not us?” Gil let out and the whole room went silent. “If he had need of it and could not get to it…”
“He would try for another.” Mist finished for him. “But what is he crafting? And why not do so in Ghost Mountain?”
“Would you craft something to, help Malice, under the eyes of her masters?” Gil chuckled.
“You mean, he is actually trying to help her?” Sif asked.
“We must make for Misthaven.” Mist called out and those in attendance raised their hands and shouted aye, before slamming their fists down to the table. “It is decided. We will seek out Loki and demand to know what he is up to.”
Oh, if only it would work like that, Gil thought as his females rejoiced, filling cups full of ale to celebrate; and perhaps dull the chaos of what was to come. Whatever the trickster was playing at, helping Malice or not, they had to be careful.
“Have the others continue to prepare for the assault on Ghost Mountain, we will take a small raiding party back to Misthaven, take him by surprise.”
“You want me to raid my own city?”
“There are hardly enough of us to pull off a mass strike in two places…” Gil was still muttering away as Mist’s eyes dropped to the floor, and then rose to meet Freya’s.
Both stood in silence for a time, before Mist sighed and shook her head. “It has been far too long since last the call was made.” She grumbled. “But, do you think they will answer?”
“They are Valkyrie, they must answer!” Freya smiled and bowed her head. “You are of royal blood, sweet Mist, they cannot refuse.”
“Then…” She paused and hung her head.
“It will be hard for all of us to see their faces again, but the veil must be dropped and the call must be made.” Freya tried to assure her, but her hands shook.
“Will you summon my mother?” Mist looked up, her face, those tears threatening to spill from her eyes; Gil could barely take it.
“Of course, she will!” He cut in, his hands on her shoulders, running down her arms and wrapping them tight in his own as he embraced her from behind. “We are all in this together.” He spoked against her cheek, those short, sandy bristles on his chin, tickling her ears as he nestled in closer.
It seemed as if she was calming as his warmth surrounded her, shielding her from the cold, harsh realities of the present. She would have sat down with him to plan their travel to Misthaven, had Freya not hung her head with a… “That, would be a problem, my lord.”
Mist tensed once more, shuddering against his chest as the frustration filled her. “Why’s that?” Gil inquired, finding it best to speak for his wife, who by now, was sinking into his arms.
“Lady Ashlyn has taken a vow of silence and returned to her keep, deep within the woods of Aclara. None may approach her, or seek her out, for one thousand days.” Freya replied, though the strain in her voice told them there was more. “So, you see, I cannot summon your mother…”
“I knew it.” Mist growled. “She has never been there when it came to Malice, and now, she refuses to be there for me, either.”
“It was not her way to interfere, Mist, she wanted you both to grow without any hinderance on her part. All of the lessons to be learned, had to be done so, on your accord; they way you handled them, a test of what she had taught you. She was ever proud of you both, of that, I can assure you.”
Gil neither understood Ashlyn’s motives, nor did he care to listen to them spewed out at a time such as this. Mist was shaking, her mind, spinning. She wanted so badly to fight, but there were too many choices before her; some of them, beyond her control to attend to. He had to help her, he had to sort this all out.
“No one, can seek her out?”
“That is right.” Freya replied. “She has chosen this time to recollect on past years, and our laws state that she be given this time to do so. It is believed that to be cleansed of one’s past, they must first face that past.”
“Is there anyone who can summon her?” Gil inquired and he felt Mist stiffen in his grasp, as if his words had frightened her.
“There is one, who could do such a thing.” It was Hippolyte who stood at the door, eyeing them all with a harsh glare.
“Oh?” Gil replied with one brow cocked.
Hippolyte entered and for the first time since this conversation had begun, Gil felt Mist’s body relax. “Who is it?” The words fell from her lips.
“Your Gods-Mother, of course!” Hippolyte laughed, though no one else found it funny. “I am sorry, I could not resist. The medicus of old suggested I read as he tended to my wounds. I was drawn back to one of those tales just now as the smell of this ointment hit my nose.” She laughed again and wrinkled her nose.
Gil chuckled; pretty sure he knew the tale she spoke of. There were a few, and in all of them, the young lady had a fair god-mother or some entity of mighty power to help her. If anyone was deserving of such, it was Mist; but those were only fairytales.
“If you are referring to the Lady in White, I have not seen or spoken to her, in years.” Mist mumbled, though in her eye was a sparkle Gil had not seen since last they’d lay together.
A mischievous twinkle, brought on by some amazing plan that swirled in her mind. “What is it?” He let out.
“She does have the authority.” Sif smiled, again hinting to this hidden, mischievous plan in Mist’s head.
“Who does?” He asked, louder this time.
“How would you summon her?” Sif went on.
“One does not summon the Lady of Light.” Freya chuckled. “One requests an audience and hopes it is granted.”
Gil could no longer take it. “Who, are we talking about?” He shouted out, leaving the room in chuckles.
“”My mother’s oldest friend.” Mist smiled, a devious smile, but a smile none the less. “Her name is Ellaria, but to others she is known as The Lady of Light, supreme ruler of this very verse.”
Gil laughed, for she couldn’t possibly be telling him the truth, but as he looked around at all the blank stares, his heart dropped. “Your mother’s friend, is a God?”
“No, she is a supreme being, from which, much of the Verse gained its wisdom from. She guides them, protects them…”
“And her name is Ellaria?”
“There was a time when my mother was the only Valkyrie in this Verse, a time in which she and Ellaria explored many worlds. It was Ellaria who helped my mother seed a new world for the Valkryie, and she is the only one my mother will listen to.” Mist sighed.
“Okay then. How do we get to her?” Gil let out, wanting nothing more than to get things going; wherever they were going.
“As Freya said, we must request an audience, and that can only be done from within one of her temples.”
“And where are these temples?”
“There is one in Misthaven.” Sif replied, taking hold on Mist’s hand. “We could see to Loki and ask the Lady of Light for guidance.”
“And what of Malice and Ghost Mountain?” Mist raised her hands in the air. “We cannot abandon the quest for that stone. It is far too powerful.”
“If Loki is trying to help, why not let him?” Freya inquired. “We can send someone to Ghost Mountain and assess the situation.”
“Find me Ashe.” Mist nodded her head. “It is high time her family reclaimed their home.”
“I will go with her.” Hippolyte bowed her head, but Mist eyed her hard, and Gil too, wondered if it was a good idea. “I will not harm her, I swear it; but I need to know the fate of the stone. I trusted Skuld with it, if she gave it to Malice, I need to know why.”
“Very well. You will go with Ashe and a special strike force comprised of twelve Einherjar.” Gil let out and Mist nodded her head in approval. “The rest of us will make for Misthaven and see if we can recruit a little help.”
“Aye!” The word rang out again, followed by another round of thuds as fists smacked against desk and tables.
“He was helping her.” Tisiphone moaned as the cool sponge passed over her skin. “He was helping her.”
“I know, my sweet. I know.” Navina whispered, wiping the sweat from her brow. “And now, he helps you.”
Navina was well aware that the visions were only helping to occupy the mind, but the systems were ever persistent and she was not sure how long the moment would last. Her body burned, her skin ached for the touch of a male, the need to be devoured, conquered…
She shuddered to think of the last time her own need had set upon her, the way her mate had taken to her to ease the waves that ripped through her. Tisiphone did not have the luxury of a mate, which some thought a crime as others took relief in knowing she would never succumb to the loss of a lover; like her mother…
Bloody hell. With all the secrets and all the lies, it was hard to determine what memories were useful and which ones should remain locked away. To’llan was a great help in such times, but there were some instances, such as now, that not even she could offer assistance. Playing Hosted for To’llan took its tolls on her, but it was the least she could do for her sister. Navina would do anything to keep Marena at ease, even when asked to watch over the daughter of her sister’s lover…
“How is she doing?” Lithia’s voice filled the room.
“Not good, I am afraid. She seeks the visions to ignore the need, I fear they may consume her.” Navina replied, hanging her head low.
“You look so very much like her!” Lithia smiled, but Navina shook her head.
“Marena was far greater an oracle than I could ever be.” She laughed and looked back on Tisiphone. “She was destined for great things, at the hands of the wrong master.”
“So, you believe your sister should be owned, mastered?”
“Have you ever been a slave to something, Lithia? Were it not a ritual you observe or a lover, you adore?”
Lithia blushed, thinking of Khor. “I would do anything for him.”
“Then you know the heartache it bears.” Navina looked up and smiled. “When I say master, I mean of course, the one who makes her feel, as Khor does for you.”
“Yes.” Navina replied. “You, have Khor, Marena has Malice, and I have many, who’s smiles make my heart full.” Navina smiled again, but it faded into a frown. “Tisiphone does not yet have that in her life, and she suffers for it.”
“On the contrary, it makes our job easier, for that bond has not yet wielded to another and would not hinder a coupling to pass the spell.” Lithia let out.
That bond was a fierce thing to overcome and the trouble with the need, was that the bond made it almost impossible to find full release with anyone other than your bonded.
“The sex may be great, but it is nothing compared to the passion that fills you with the bond.” Lithia grinned. “And she has no connection to speak of, therefor, her need could be fulfilled by absolutely anyone.”
“There is no one here, save for you and I, and Khor.” Navina shook her head. “And I doubt the male would stray in such a direction.”
“Then we must find her someone. Perhaps we could seek one out in the villages nearby?” It was an absurd idea, but as Tisiphone whimpered again, her mind so close to falling into the visions of the fade, what other choice did they have?
“What if we made for Ghost Mountain?” Navina eyed Lithia for a reaction, but the female was already tying back her long, ebony colored-locks and untying the skirts she wore about her waist to reveal and set on tight, muscular legs draped in black leggings.
“You too, may want to change.” Lithia smiled back. “It will take mere seconds to get there, but not even I know what awaits us.”
“You think Loki may have failed?” Lithia raised a brow as she laced up her boots.
“I have no faith in the male, though he has, surprised me, a few times; and yet, every memory I have of the Shak’Morikai, every memory To’llan has, is shrouded in mystery. It was as if they were not to remember.” Navina laughed, eyeing Tisiphone as she removed her bright white cloak and replaced it with a fur-lined, shall of gray, instead. “What about her?”
Lithia took one look at Tisiphone and without speaking a word, waved her hand over her body and the young female disappeared. This left Navina in a bit of shock, but Lithia just laughed, assuring her that Tisiphone was quite safe inside the little orb, that she now slipped into her breast pocket.
“You know, Pathen had a way with their minds. He played with them, both.”
“Yes, but all of his tricks dissolved, when he did.” Navina laughed. “No, this one is not of his doing. I can remember them, but not where they are, what became of them; or Malaness for that matter.”
“Then there are other reasons you wish to visit Ghost Mountain?” Lithia grinned. “Good. Secrets were never meant to lie dormant for so long. Now come, we must sneak out of here.”
“Why sneak? What about Khor?”
“Our little friend may be contained inside this orb…” She patted at her chest, “…but the essence that plagues her could still be sensed by the opposite sex.”
“Would not be able to contain the madness within. You see, it is one thing to ignore the scent when it is right there in front of you, but it is quite another to smell a thing, and not know where it is. It is like an animal, in a frenzy, no control save that which draws them to the prey they must have.”
“It masks her presence, but not what ails her.” Navina nodded her head.
“He would kill for what was in this orb, knowing not that it was his sister until it was too late.” Lithia shook her head. “Dangerous, but our only way to get her to Ghost Mountain, and fast. Now, follow me. The Lady of the Keep had a shield in place so that none could get in or out while it was up. The Shoohk have raised it, so we have to be careful. She also had many hidden exits for personal use, we must find one.”