Valkyrie IV: From the Ashes

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Summary

Malice freed from Marwoleaths influence is in a struggle for her life and her memories of the last five millenia. As she struggles to cope there is a new enemy waiting in the wings.

Genre:
Fantasy / Erotica
Author:
Mark McQuillen
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
10
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

They had summoned her from the pleasure house to the great court and paraded through the banquet halls like a prized pet; but then, she was a pet. Here in the palace, everyone was a pet or another. Dressed up and led about by their collars, only to taste freedom when granting a position of worth.

That was something Andromeda had tasted and lost. She had been headmistress once, now reduced to the position of a body slave after the discovery of her betrayal. She had suffered much at the hands of her masters, and it seemed there was much more to come.

Sure, she had everything she could ever want, save for the love of another. That was forbidden. That had cost her everything. She was a nobody. The lowest of the low. She’d give anything to get back what had been.

“Ah, there you are!” The voices rang out through the grandiose hall, littered in gold and jade with pillars marked with the victories of her masters. “Come, Andromeda. Come to us so that we may see you naked from all ambitions.”

They asked for much, but who was she to disobey? Born of a vile tryst and lost in the secrets and lies, she had grown up among her father’s kind, afraid to ever seek out her mother’s people. She was a bastard. A halfling. Unwanted.

“Come now, Andromeda, your very being is why we have called you here!” Their voices rang out again. “You are one of us, Andromeda, but it is your mother’s side, that makes you unique!”

“How so?” She let out a sigh and bowed her head before her Queen.

“You are Shadow, Andromeda, but you are also Valkyrie. Your mother’s people may despise you for what you are, but they cannot deny that your blood is the same. You can feel them, you can track them.”

So that’s what this was about. Andromeda had heard the rumors but dared not believe them to be true. Nonetheless, Enote was ripe with the news of Malice’s betrayal.

“You think this exciting?” The voices chimed in, plucking at her thoughts as if they were their own.

“I find it intriguing!” Andromeda replied.

“Then perhaps you will also find this intriguing. You may smile and wish for the Valkyrie to prevail, but she will not. You will bring her to heel, or end her once and for all.”

“And why would I do that?” Andromeda asked as another entered the great hall.

“Because it was Malice, who murdered your mate; and, your son!” His voice was not like the others.

Singular, but still filled with hate, she recognized the male with the salt and peppered hair. “I had no mate!” Andromeda hung her head, to admit that she had once loved a male, not of the palace.

“Andromeda, this is no place for lies. We all know that you loved him, and we know that you bore him a child. A son.”

“And I know, that it was Malice who shot his ship from the skies that night, killing your mate and newborn son.” The male added. “So, you see, you will track her for us, and you will claim your vengeance!” He grinned, holding his hand up before him and the collar she wore fell to the ground.

“What must I do?”

“Travel to Adea and infiltrate Mist Haven. The Valkyrie, Malice, must not survive!” The voices sang out and the Queen rose from her throne. “Do this, and you shall have back your freedom.”

She didn’t have a choice. If what they were saying was true, Malice had killed Lokaryn and Lyncan and she was honor-bound and mate and mother to see her pay for their deaths. Andromeda would have to find Malice and kill her.

Elsewhere Malice moved cautiously looking all around them expecting something to jump out of the bushes at any moment.

All around them were large buildings either temples or palaces Mal realized. But so far, no people.

The Valkyrie picked up the Mau kitten as she moved forward not wanting to be separated from her only tangible piece of reality.

'Where are the beings that live here? The place is perfect like it was built yesterday.' Malice told her companion as she ran her hand down a smooth column.

The smooth surfaces of the marble startled her but what was beyond that even more so. There were endless swathes of green grass along with the endless smell of life that filled the air along with a sense of peace.

In the foreground were two huge statues depicting who the Valkyrie thought were the beings that called this paradise home. They embodied male and female perfection, the gods that ruled this place. They stood beside a large pool that teemed with magic to even Malice reduced senses. On the far shore stood two majestic oaks. One with golden leaves and the other a silver-leaved tree.

The most curious thing of all was the grass beside the rocks that was mown in such a manner that it looked like a chessboard.

Mal moved quickly thinking she had heard whispering voices she crouched down behind the female statue.

'Mal what are you doing?' the Kitten asked.

'Hiding, I don’t want him to find me.' Mal replied she was pale and shaking. The Valkyrie needed help.

“So much for letting you handle things!” She spat out at him.

“I thought that went rather well!” Loki chuckled, but the split in his lips was growing wider with each word.

“This place is a shit hole!” She shouted, tugging once more at the chains that bound her to the pillar. “It’s cold, damp, and reeks of mold, how do people live like this?”

“Welcome to Kalvash!” He grumbled, no longer able to keep his own spirits up, let alone hers. “Home of the blue-skinned and easily irritated Kalvashians. Or rather, their new home.” He shook his head and closed his eyes. “I should have known.” He growled with his nose in the air, and even Ambrosia caught the hint of Jasmine in the air.

“Should have known what?” Ambrosia let out as the cell door opened with a series of clicks and clunks.

“Kovak!” Loki growled once more, “I could smell you from a mile away!”

“Kovak? You know this goon?” Ambrosia hissed, eyeing the male up and down.

He towered over them and yet, he was no more than skin and bones. Blue skin, draped over thick, bony appendages as he swayed back and forth beneath a mop of long black hair. “Loki, you troublesome bastard, it is you!”

“In the flesh...” He coughed a moment. “... and a little bruised!”

“Sorry about that, but you know how it is. we got our orders to follow.” The blue bastard let out as another entered the room.

“Ransom demands have been sent, Sir!” The second, blue-skinned, fuck head choked out.

“Ransom demands?” Ambrosia blurted out. “You can’t be fucking serious?”

“Word has it that the Lady of Light has summoned the two of you, and well...”

“You got it all wrong, Kovak!” Loki chuckled. “We were making for Mist Haven when you ambushed us.”

“Yes, and who do you think is in Mist Haven waiting for you?” Kovak’s yellow eyes grew wider.

“Fuck!” Loki hissed as the male retreated from the cell with a laugh.

“Oh, Loki, I guess we shall see how much you are worth to our beloved, Lady of Light!”

“Who the hell is the Lady of Light?” Ambrosia turned to him with a scowl.

Mist stood with her arms crossed as she watched Ellaria, yet again, work for her hands over Malice. The worry was clear across her face, something was wrong and Belvaya felt the guilt rise even more. Had she stabbed Malice too deep? Not deep enough? Was Marolwaeth still inside her?

“Speak, Belvaya, and end this horrid silence!” Mist called out to her and she emerged from the shadows.

“She has found them!” Ellaria spoke up, but she did not vary from her task.

“I have!” Belvaya replied with a sigh. “And you’re not going to like it!”

“Like what?” Jack’s voice took her by surprise as he and Vanessa stumbled through the door.

“Sorry...” Van let out as she helped the elder across the floor. “...I had to hit him!” She shook her head. “He wouldn’t listen!”

“Not hard enough!” Gil groaned as he too entered the room.

All of them stood there with their hands clasped before them, eyeing the Valkyrie who lay deep in sleep before them. It was a wonder she even drew breath, all of them had given time and precious energy to keep Malice alive.

“You worry, my friend, sometimes too much!” Mist smiled at him and turned to Belvaya. “Tell us what has happened.”

“They were ambushed, near Kalvash!” Belvaya hung her head.

“Bloody hell!” Ellaria cursed under her breath and the glow at her hands ceased. “Summon the Angel guard.”

“No!” Jack cut in. “I’ll go! You send the Angel Guard in there and it will be war!”

“They have grown restless; they are more dangerous than ever!” Ellaria warned. “We knew this would happen, that some would not adapt as well as the others...” Her words faded as she looked at Ashlyn. “But it could not be stopped. Their homeworld was far too...”

“I know, my friend, I know!” Ashlyn put her hand on Ellaria’s shoulder.

“I tried to save them, and they hate me!” She sighed. “And they are not the only ones!” She whispered as she shook her head.

Belvaya knew what she meant. She had heard about Euphamia and what had happened to T’ryx, but now was not the time.

“No, it is not!” Ellaria replied, plucking Belvaya’s thoughts. “They have taken Loki and the female, because of me, and they will not give them back without a ...”

Before she could say another word, the room filled with a bright light, and when it subsided, they all came face to face with an Angel in full armor. Long white hair and eyes like diamonds, wings of brilliant white on silver, he was breathtaking, to say the least.

“Nissa? What is it?” Ellaria called to him and the Angel knelt on one knee.

“There has been a ransom demand, from Kovak!”

“I see, and where has he suggested we make the exchange this time?” She sighed.

“And what does he require in return?” Mist cut in.

“A trade. Two of our prisoners for Loki and the female, Ambrosia.” Nissa replied. “Two days' time, on Garanoa. Something about the waterfront.”

“I know the place.” Belvaya cut in. “Kovak runs a shipping route through there. High priced cargo and one hell of security detail, but it’s doable!”

“Trust an assassin to know the ins and outs!” Jack chuckled and looked at Vanessa. “What do you think, Lass? Shall we go save your man?”

Vanessa grinned as Belvaya chuckled, but Ellaria felt the need to warn them again. “Kovak will be expecting this, you must be careful.”

“Oh, he won’t expect this!” Jack laughed, taking a swig from his flask to ease his headache.

“What can you tell us about his business? Where would he keep them?” Mist’s eyes narrowed as she paced the room.

“The docks are the easiest way in. The ships come and go carrying his cargo and the gates are always open. Once inside, we make for the main keep, he’s got a few cells down below!” Belvaya snickered, rubbing at her wrists as the memory of his chains dug into her skin. “He’ll have twenty, maybe thirty men guarding the area. A few Insid and Kalvashians, the latter being much quicker than any of us.”

The thought of Insid, with their green skin and barbaric, cave-dwelling space-ogre attitudes, made Belvaya shudder. The massive, nasty ass beasts lived for battle and packed quite a punch.

“Then we go, now!” Mist let out and looked at Ashlyn. “You will stay here with Malice!”

“Of course!” the Elder replied as if there was any other answer.

Meanwhile in the servant's quarters in Mist Haven Marolwaeth staggered into her chamber in the form of the maid that had been with the Valkyrie fools when Malice had suicided.

She didn’t blame the Valkyrie for wanting to be free of the masters. Marwolaeth and Tol’len had often spoken against Pathen’s hosting. Borowain had been strong before he had joined with the Kormhian fool.

Now Tol’len was dead and she was stuck with this drudge.

Marowaeth mourned her mate as did Malice. The words that Malice had said to her only days prior took on a more prophetic meaning.

The Valkyrie loved Marena and wanted Pathen dead that was logical enough for the hand of death to start an alliance.

Compromise will be required but the end would be worth it. Marowaeth thought.

It was time for the reign of the masters to come to an end.

The Hand of Death moved out of her hiding place. She had her vengeance to prepare for.

Van looked at Jack, “We are going to need Morgan, she’s good at the ...” she broke off wiggling her fingers.

“Magic, I think is the word you’re looking for.” chuckled Gil.

Jack coughed as the scotch hit the back of his throat, “We are going to have to get a little dirty lass for this to be believable.”

“Wait ... what? I don’t do dirty things.” Van grumbled. “Morgan’s going to love this, she has always wanted to be a dirty smelly pirate.”

“Wait here,” Jack growled and promptly disappeared.

Van looked around smiling when suddenly she heard Morgan behind her.

“Van, what have you agreed to?” Morgan stood tapping her foot.

“I didn’t.... he did....” Van pointed straight at Jack who stood there chuckling.

Jack cracked his knuckles then checked his forty-five and the Springfield as the rest checked their weapons before the transport to Garanoa.

Mist punched in the emergency access code for transport. She had to be careful not to transport them into something.

When they arrived the streets of the city raged with people protesting their forced relocation.

Apparently, the populous had been told that this move had been for their own safety. Even Mist wasn’t clear as to the exact reason why.

Then there was the conflict between the ones from Vash and the current residents.

Vashians were very clannish, so were the residents of Kalvash. Old rivalries had flared into open civil war.

Mist moved through the city with Bel and the girls with Gil and Jack bringing up the rear. They scouted the area, looking for weak spots, possible alternate entries, and how many guards were posted.

Van’s nose began to wrinkle as they moved through the crowds of protestors. The smells of unwashed bodies, garbage made for a rather pungent mix of aromas.

“Oh my god, what is that god awful stench?” She hissed.

“Shhhhhh!” Mist hissed back, rolling her eyes at Jack. “Whose idea was it to bring Miss Prissy with us?” Her voice sharp in Jack’s mind causing the older man to just shrug and wink.

“Well, she does have a way with fire lass. The more excited she gets the bigger the boom!” He chuckled.

Mist rolled her eyes again as she almost visibly facepalmed.

“So where is that pretty god being kept?” Van queried, this time. Morgan actually ran her hand over her face and sighed.

“Van if you shut up for a second, we can figure that out and work out how we are going to get him and whoever is with him out!” Morgan tried to explain.

“Oh, that’s ok, just show me where and boom it’s open and there he is! Grateful to me, err ready to be rescued.” Van blushed as she giggled.

Jack just sighed, shaking his head trying not to laugh.

Back in the forge, the elder Valkyrie watched as El worked feverishly to keep Malice breathing as Ashlyn tried to figure out what had exactly gone wrong. The plan had been to separate Malice from the host. Well, that had happened but not the way that the Elder had designed the necklace to work.

Creating a magic item was not something that you left to amateurs. There were risks to the creator as well as the person using the object. The design had been perfect until someone had changed the design. There were only two suspects, Albrecht and Loki.

“Goddess Damned Loki, He changed the spell in the pendant,” Ashlyn said aloud causing El to turn.

Malice still had the pendant around her neck. None of them dared to remove it, not being certain what would happen if they did.

“Loki did what?” Her oldest friend asked with some heat. Loki was in real trouble now.

“I think he changed the spelling.” Ashlyn began carefully she could feel El’s wrath rising.

“Instead of trapping Mal's spirit in her body like the pendant was designed he changed the spell where it transported Malice’s soul somewhere else.”

“I’m going to kill him,” El told her.

“Not before he tells us what he did and why my love,” Ashlyn said as she embraced her oldest friend.

“Loki may be the God of Trickery but he loves Malice, always has since they were young. He still does, he’d never do anything to hurt her. He wants to keep her all to himself, the greedy little cretin.”

Damn, what a trip, but it had been well worth it. She was finally here and there wasn’t a single soul who could stop her from finding what she’d lost.

Riddled with heartache and bursting at the seams with rage, it was a wonder that she herself was still alive. The fights. The booze. The Drugs. Whatever it took to reach the destination, and look, here she was.

“Let’s see life catch up with me here!” She laughed out loud, with no fear of being watched, no worry that someone would arrive to force her to go home.

What home? She didn’t belong there. Her mother had made that perfectly clear. She’d made a choice, for both of them. All three of them actually. One choice that had ended two lives, one of them, for good.

“Self-centered, heartless, cunt!” She shouted into the skies above, watching as the clouds passed by without a care.

Here in this place, where it was said the loss could be found, she searched for him. Any chance to see his face again, to look into those deep, black eyes and know that the world made sense.

‘I cannot help him.’ She heard her mother’s words in the back of her mind and hissed.

“Could not? Or would not?” She scoffed, shaking her head as the long grass tickled her bare feet.

Alone, and totally surrounded by the beauty of nature, she let her thoughts run free and her broken heart soar. There was no need to cage it here. No reason to hide it away. It already lay in tatters. Shattered by her own mother’s betrayal.

“Fuck!” She sighed, letting her knees fall to the ground, weak and humbled beneath the weight of it all.

He had been her rock, her everything and because of that stupid fucking cunt, he was gone. All she had to do was raise her hand and let her gifts heal him. All she had to do was show up and help her, but she didn’t. No, she showed up and stood there, watching as the last breath left his body. So full of excuses it was sickening.

“Hello?” Came another voice and for a moment, she felt the shock of terror run through her.

There was someone else here, with her, and it wasn’t her mate. “Who the fuck are you?” She called back, rising to her feet and reaching for her blades, only to find that in this place they did not exist. “Shit!”

“I don’t know!” The voice replied softly, yet trimmed with fear. “I don’t remember!”

“Show yourself!” She beckoned for the new arrival to come forward from behind one of the statues. and when she caught sight of the long, platinum blonde hair and silver-blue eyes Mia couldn't help but be a little awed by the other woman’s beauty.

“I think my name is Mal!” The female explained. “But I could not tell you how I got here!” She added, coming to a stop before her.

Dressed in nothing but cream-colored, sheer gown, with nipples pressing through for all eyes to see, the female smiled and then spoke again. “Who, may I ask, are you?”

She thought about it for a moment, dressed in her own sheer gown in the darkest black. Who was she? Did it even matter? She had vowed never to hear another voice again, save him; and it’s not like she was returning home anytime soon.

Not with her mother lurking in the shadowed halls. The last thing she needed was a death warrant, and that’s exactly what she’d get if she knocked off Mama-Bear. The whole Verse would riot, and yet, that alone brought a smile to her face.

“I am No one!” She laughed, holding out her hand. “And since you don’t know who you are for sure, you can be a No one too!”

“I like it!” The female replied. “No one!”

“Fan-fucking-tastic!” She grinned as the female reached for a lock of her hair.

“I like this too!” She smiled wider. “Never thought prison strips could look so natural!”

“Spitting image of my father, which is a lot better than looking like my mother. Waking up and seeing her face first thing in the morning would scare the shit out of anyone!”

“So, you and your mother, you do not get along?”

“Ha, that would be an understatement, so let’s talk about something else.” She shook her head. “I know, have you seen anyone else here?”

“One other!” The female replied and No one’s heart skipped a beat.

“Really? Where is he?”

“Not he, it’s a she! And I really don’t know. She sort of just pops in and out.” The female sighed. “She knows who I am, she’s been helping me remember, but it’s so hard.”

“So, you have no clue what you’re doing here?”

“Nadda!” The female giggled. “Which should scare me, but it doesn’t.”

“Elysium has that effect on people. It helps them think and focus, find things that they’ve lost.”

“Is that why you’re here?” The blonde asked her. “I can see it in your eyes, the loss masks the purple in a shadowed haze.” She added, hanging her head.

“I lost someone, not something!” She sighed. “Had to do a hell of a lot of drugs to get here too, just hoping he’s actually here and this isn’t just another lie my mother told me when I was younger!”

“You really don’t like her, do you? I mean, a mother is supposed to help their child find things.”

“Unless she’s the one at fault for his loss!” She hissed through gritted teeth. “Can we just, not, talk about my mother!”

“I wish I could remember mine!”

“Well, here’s hoping she was a good mother, and not a lying sack of... You know what? I’m hungry!” She changed the subject. “You know how to hunt?”

The cat walked from the bushes and growled.

'As far as I know, I am the only animal here that talks. There are salmon in the river and lake also a bear and an eagle I have irritated.'

She sniffed the newcomer. 'She smells of drugs and alcohol but it’s overwhelmed by such a sad smell. She is more lost than you are Mal.'

Malice had breathed a sigh of relief as she realized it wasn’t the mysterious male who she was sure was chasing her it was another woman.

She was about three-quarters of her height is coming to almost her shoulder blades. The woman reminded the Valkyrie of someone but who it was she had no idea as the thought drifted away like mist into the air.

When she said her name was No One Mal chuckled.

“We are no ones. Would that make us no two?” She joked blushing slightly. “Well, we both lost something only I’ve lost my entire life. I’m here with my not so imaginary friend.”

When “No One” mentioned hunting Mal smiled as her stomach growled.

“I love to hunt, I think. My friend says there are salmon in the lake there.” Mal pointed at the pond.

Then she lifted her nose to sniff the air there were scents of game, the foliage, and other creatures. She spotted a rabbit running across the greensward.

Something in Mal switched on as she leaped sideways in front of the rabbit. Going into a forward roll she snagged the coney by the ears coming to her feet with the creature wriggling in her hand.

“How about rabbit stew?” Mal said as she walked back to Mia. Then she looked at the rabbit deadpanning to it.

“What’s up Doc?”

No one was impressed at her companion’s physical skills. She wasn’t human with moves like that.

“What race are you Mal?” Her companion asked.

Mal looked perplexed for a moment then answered the question.

“My friend says I am a Valkyrie.”

Back on Garanoa Jack was scouting ahead when his com signal chirped. When Mist answered it, he almost wished she hadn’t.

“The reason that Mal won’t respond is that Loki altered the spell. She was not in her body like I designed the pendant instead of trapping her soul in her body he sent it somewhere else.” The Elder told them her voice tinged with anger.

“That sorry son of a bitch. I knew we couldn’t trust him.” Jack started in as he chambered the round in his Springfield.

“Stand fast Jack, we need him alive,” Ashlyn told him.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t bend him some,” Jack growled pulling a World War one era trench knife with brass knuckles checking its edge then replacing it in the scabbard.

“You will do nothing Jack; we need his willing cooperation. We need to know where he sent Mal's soul if we have any hope of getting her back.”

Mist put a hand on Jack’s shoulder.

“She’s right between El and Ashlyn they’ve gotten her stable. Let’s go see what Kovak wants.”

A couple of hours later the group was headed down the docks to the Black Rose chapterhouse on Garanoa.

The Rose of the Waves was a sailor's hangout and gambling den not far from the rendezvous point. In spite of the civil war, the house seemed to be doing a booming business.

Once inside they had to push their way through the crowd. About three-quarters of the way down the bar with Jack in the lead the Einherjar saw someone he and Mal had busted.

He had lost count of how many times over the years. Kovak’s second in command, a little weasel of a male Kalvashian named Tierson. Jack pulled his forty-five automatic, stuck the muzzle of the weapon next to his ear, and cocked the hammer.

“Where’s Kovak? I’m surprised he let a little weasel like you out of your cage.”

Tierson jumped at the ratcheting sound the weapon made when it was cocked.

“J-jack it’s good to s-see you old friend. He’s at his usual table talking to a c-customer, or wenching you know how he is, in the Rose of the Sea’s.”

Down in the basement, the God of Trickery was still fuming over their capture by Kovak and his goon squad.

So far, so good, right? Ha, a trip to Hell in a handbasket would have been more fun. Still in chains and listening to the drunken ruckus up above. Loki growled as he thought about their situation before he snarled.

“Idiots! All of them!”

“And yet, they’re up there, and we’re down here!” Ambrosia snapped back, her arms sore and her head cluttered with what if’s.

“Just a detour you said, we’ll be perfectly fine you said, yeah, right!”

“We are fine!” Loki chuckled, but Ambrosia grabbed hold of her chains and rattled them fiercely.

“This is not what I call fine, you scruffy-looking bastard!” She hissed at him. “Where the fuck are we? And what did you do to piss that asshole off?” She added with a sigh as she scratched at her head.

Loki closed his eyes and shook his head as that conversation played out in his mind.

"Well, you see, sweet cheeks, our most benevolent Lady of Light is not so well-liked, having upset enough people to uh, well, form an army against her; and we just happen to have gotten caught in the middle of it. "

Yup, that would go over so well. Humans weren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the shed. They preferred to break the crayons, not color with them, not to mention their thing with colors.

Some were bad, and everyone had their opinions on which color was superior and blah blah blah. Loki was still waiting for the whole race to graduate from kindergarten.

“She’s a Goddess.” He blurted out.

“Who’s a Goddess?” Ambrosia chimed in and the sound of metal hitting the floor had Loki jumping to attention right quick.

“What the fuck?” He choked out as Ambrosia lurked about their cell. “How the fuck did you get out?”

“I’ve been bound more times than I can count, after a while, you just learn!” She shrugged her shoulders. “A few moments spent wriggling here, a little sweat and a hidden hairpin.”

“Son of a...”

“Daughter, I am a girl!” She huffed. “And you better fucking be nice to me or you’re not coming down from there!”

Loki laughed. She wasn’t serious. She was Human. She couldn’t protect herself against Kovak. Ambrosia needed Loki, or so he thought until the babbling blue brute scowled at them both through the bars.

“What is this?” He chuckled. “How did the little bird fall from her perch?” He asked, unlocking the door to the cell.

Loki growled at the thought of this male’s hands upon Ambrosia or any female for that matter. He knew fine well what Kovak, or rather his men, liked to do for fun.

Either way, Loki was chained to the wall with nothing more than a flurry of words to throw at Kovak, but the blue bastard wasn’t listening.

“This little bird was hungry!” Ambrosia sighed, crossing her arms over her chest like she owned the place. “Your room service is horrible!”

“Oh, Tierson was right, your voice is like a melody to the ears.” Kovak grinned. “Perhaps you should sing for the troops? Raise their spirits before the long haul!”

“I couldn’t possibly sing with such a parched throat!” She rolled her eyes. “Really now, what sort of establishment are you running here? If my agent were here, he’d be on the phone arranging new lodgings. My word. I mean, do you even have a bath set up? Somewhere, clean?” She was shaking her head as she approached Kovak.

Was she fucking nuts? Hello, you didn’t just walk up to the enemy and bat, your, fucking eyelashes, Holy mother of all hells! Loki thought.

“Now,” She smiled at the blue bugger, wrapping her arm in his. “If we were to say, discuss the nature of our arrangement over dinner? I would be more than happy to entertain your men once I am properly prepared.

To think, standing on stage in this.” She gasped, tugging at the black leggings covered in filth. “And the stage, tell me you have the proper lighting? My hair needs to shimmer for the crowd. No shimmer, no pop.”

“Pop?” Kovak let out, and Loki felt the grin slide across his face he could feel the faint ripples of magic drifting in the air like an exotic perfume.

The bastard was so confused. Damn, that female could talk.

"Yeah, pop! Do you know? Bam! The Pizzazz!”

“Pizzas?” Kovak mumbled.

“No, no. Pizzazz! The thing that makes the crowd burst out in oohs and Ahs!” She giggled, up on her tiptoes to kiss the male’s cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you plan it, over dinner. This will be a show like no other and you’ll be the talk of the trading community.”

“I will?”

“Oh, most definitely. People find out that you host an epic shindig, they’ll swarm from all over the Verse to see the shenanigans unfold. Trust me, you’ll be a star. Might even boost business in other areas!” She finished with a wink, leading him towards the cell door.

“But first, dinner. I am starving, and then, we can get to stage setup, decor, and prop placements and go over music and admission.”

“Admission?” Loki heard the male mumble as they reached the stairs, their voices getting quieter as they ascended to the hall above.

Well now. This was great. Just fucking great. She’d gotten out and managed to lure the bastard away. But uh, Loki was still tugging on his chains, all alone in a cell with an open door. Too bad he couldn’t get to it.

“Son of a bitch!” The trickster growled.

Loki snarled in frustration as he struggled to get out of the chains. Nothing against the chains was working. Finally, he teleported finding himself alone in the corridor as he wondered at the woman’s skills, she reminded him of Malice.

She had Succubus ability he realized. Ambrosia had used her magic to twine Kovak along with his men around her fingers. Her escape from the cuffs was nothing short of miraculous.

As he moved upstairs the guardrooms were all empty, except for the scent of an exotic perfume that wafted through the air.

Loki didn’t have to wait long to see more of the young woman’s powers when he came to the door, he heard singing.

Opening the door cautiously the first thing he saw was Ambrosia dancing on one of the tables to flute and tambourine music that sounded like something from Earth’s middle east. All of the pirates including Kovak were sitting there in enraptured fascination.

Loki didn’t say a word he sat down and joined the army of zombies bound to Ambrosia’s undulating form.

The journey through the Shadowlands had been smooth, save for the lack of conversation, but Andromeda had needed the time to come to grips with her mission.

They’d offered her back her freedom. A chance to reclaim the life she’d once lived. To walk the streets of Sha’dai’ah with pride and bask in the rays of the sun upon the shores of the Sher’tia, no worry as to the words that fell due to her presence.

No longer would she be an outcast among the Shadows, the veil of shame lifted, and all she had to do was kill Malice. Her Queens had commanded it. Well, most of them, anyhow. Syra had spoken, her voices giving purpose, but that didn’t mean the council of Queens had agreed. It meant she’d gotten tired of the bickering and had vetoed the others.

Syra hated Malice, hate spawned from a broken heart. Her host, Marwolaeth, had been Syra’s right hand for as long as she could remember, her words, her justice. From a hatchling, Syra had raised her up, cared for her, even loved her. The day Marwolaeth's original host was said to have been killed by that bloody arrow, was the day the war between Eno’ Tai and Valkyr began.

Syra had been beyond furious, unleashing her heathens upon not one, but two verses. It had been nothing less than chaos ever since. Nothing mattered more to her than claiming her vengeance against the Valkyrie scum who had taken her love. Then again, they hadn’t killed her. They’d had no part in it at all. The truth always came out.

Talk about a slap in the face. Her sister Anaxa, one of the youngest of the Queens, captivated and full of ambition, had done to her eldest sister what Syra had been doing to the Verse for millennia. She’d taken what she assumed she deserved. She’d learned from the best, having watched every move her sisters made, she’d manipulated and maneuvered her way into position.

Before Syra knew what was happening, Anaxa had claimed a third of the mighty Queen’s armies and made for another Verse, but not before ensuring that Marwoleath’s host, had been delivered to Syra; her life escaping past a Valkyrian arrow impaled in her chest.

Syra’s rage had ignited a war that to this day, was still rippling across space and time, though it was now Anaxa, and her little pet, Malice, who reaped the benefits. Knowing that Anaxa had hidden Marwolaeth away for years, only to join her with something as vile as a Valkyrie.

Andromeda shook her head as she looked out the window of one of the safe houses on the planet, Pentar. That Valkyrie...

“Bloody hell!” She sighed, picking up a set of her daggers.

Those daggers were meant for Malice, or rather, her chest. She was to plunge them deep into her heart and then extract the host from within. Marwolaeth was to be saved at all costs; the trouble was getting close enough to the savage without killing her outright then survive to claim her freedom.

‘Malice is the reason your love no longer draws breath.’ Syra’s words echoed through her mind. ‘Anaxa and Pathen ordered her to erase your line!’

But why? What was so wrong with her line? What were they afraid of? Her son? He’d been but a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. He’d known not what a weapon was, let alone how to wield one. She was so confused. Kill the Valkyrie but save the host. Kill them both and see vengeance served; and life of torture. Marwolaeth could not be harmed.

“Fuck!” She shouted.

Why tell her that, and nothing more? To be cruel?

“You know, you keep talking like that and I’m likely to take you up on that offer!” The voice crept in behind her.

“You will take your hands off me, or forfeit them forever!” She growled back, the dagger already at her back and nipping his groin.

“Wow!” He let out with his hands raised, backing away slowly. “When a lady is as pretty as you call out for attention, I...”

“Leave her the hell alone! Let her come to you!” Andromeda smiled as she turned to face him. “Let her ask the questions!”

“Understood!” He replied, his eyes sparkling beneath the salt and peppered hair. “What is your first question?”

“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my room?” She eyed him up and down.

He was hosted, she could sense it; but who lay inside his mind, and how easy would it be to escape them? She had a mission to fulfill, she didn’t have time for games.

“Down there!” Belvaya pointed across the small inlet, to the docks that led up the beachfront.

Vanessa and Morgan were right beside her, while Jack stood back admiring the view. It wasn’t every day that he got a peek at three, magnificent-looking sets of hips.

Looking up at the sudden silence, he sighed, knowing he’d almost been caught, as three sets of furrowed brows glared back at him.

“I know, they’re lovely assets!” Belvaya grinned, watching as the male turned red in the face. “But that’s not why we’re here, Jack old boy!”

“Unless of course, you want to head on over and get yourself captured like Loki!” Morgan chimed in.

“Ha!” Jack shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Looks like they’re readying for a long haul, check out those wagons!” Belvaya let out.

“I’m more interested in the flashing lights and the shouts coming from that tavern in the back!” Vanessa pointed out.

“Trust you to find a party!” Jack teased.

“Too bad we didn’t get an invite!” Belvaya laughed.

“Never stopped you before, lassie!” Jack was already eyeing the path down to the beach.

“Nope, not really!” She grinned and made for the said path. “Let’s hope they’ve had a wild night!”

Mist and Gil brought up the rear as the girls and Bel proceeded down the beach. The couple looked at the three vessels then at each other silently before communicating.

'Vashian Ikar class destroyers old but in very good condition. The engines look new. Whoever is financing these rebels is very well connected.' Mist was observed while still following Jack and the girls.

Gil nodded once before vanishing. When he reappeared under the dock next to the last ship, he attached a small metal box to its hull with a metallic click as the magnets on the bottom engaged.

Then he pressed a button on the side and a light came on for a moment before vanishing again, going back to his wife.

'Diversion planted, in case we need it. Is that singing I hear?'

Sure, enough over the noise of the seaport music could be heard along with drunken males singing along with one of the most angelic, sultry females voices he had ever heard.

What she was singing was a song from Earth that he and Jack immediately recognized. It was an Irish traditional drinking song called The Wild Rover, which was probably sung by soldiers, pirates, and scallywag’s the universe over.

I’ve been a wild rover for many’s the year

I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and beer

But now I’m returning with gold in great store

And I never will play the wild rover no more

And it’s No, Nay, never,

No, nay never no more

Will I play the wild rover,

No never no more

I went into an alehouse I used to frequent

And I told the landlady me money was spent

I asked her for credit, she answered me nay

Such a customer as you I can have any day

And it’s No, Nay, never,

No, nay never no more

Will I play the wild rover,

No never no more

I took up from my pocket, ten sovereigns bright

And the landlady’s eyes opened wide with delight

She says “I have whiskeys and wines of the best

And the words that you told me were only in jest”

And it’s No, Nay, never,

No, nay never no more

Will I play the wild rover,

No never no more

I’ll go home to my parents, confess what I’ve done

And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son

And, when they’ve caressed me as oft times before

I never will play the wild rover no more

And it’s No, Nay, never,

No, nay never no more

Will I play the wild rover,

No never no more.

When she finished there was hooting, applause, and catcalls along with calls for more ale as Jack entered with Vanessa, suitably attired or unattired as the case might be.

The little fire mage suddenly dropped her cloak as she glided past the stunned sailors before hopping up on the table with Ambrosia when the music began again.

Vanessa wrapped her arms around the other woman’s neck as she kissed her.

“Let’s give these boys a little show.”

Jack grabbed Loki as the females were busy keeping the pirates entertained. He practically had to smack Loki across the face to snap him out of it.

By now whatever clothes they had on were slowly disappearing as Jack hustled Loki outside. While Morgan had cast a glamour over the pirates so they could steal Ambrosia away. As the five of them were exiting they were intercepted by a pair of pirates coming in.

“Ello, who the hell are you?”

“Bloody hell!” Morgan swore under her breath as the two pirates stood in the doorway blocking the exit.

Looking down quickly and yanking her shirt open to show the girls off nicely, she stepped around Jack and Loki.

“Well, hello boys, you looking for some ale, or perhaps a little rum?” Morgan smiled at the two pirates, leaning forward a little exposing even more cleavage to the greedy eyes now staring at her chest.

“Err what the hell.... mmph.” Vanessa’s voice was suddenly stifled by Ambrosia’s mouth locking lips to keep her quiet.

“Well, well Darlin, where have you come from?” The larger of the two males growled at Morgan.

Morgan smiled broadly at him and began twiddling her hair around her finger, pushing Loki to one side, drawing the leering idiot's eyes to her.

She turned briefly snarling at Jack.

“Oi thought I told you lot no more rum for you, get out, get out now while ur still ave yer teeth.”

Jack looked puzzled at her for a second, before dropping his head.

“Aww, Ya be a nasty wench!” He slurred, “We’ll find our rum elsewhere. Come on you lot, we know when we’re not wanted.”

Morgan watched as they stumbled their way out the door before she spun around with a snarl, as the larger male pirate's arm went around her small waist.

“How about a kiss darling!” The larger male said as he leered at the Bard.

“What the hell do you think I am!?” Morgan spat out before stamping her heel down hard on his instep. As he howled, hopping on one foot he called out.

“Why ye ungrateful tease. I ought to...”

Before he could finish the sentence, the young woman reached back. Feeling for the chair behind her she grabbed it in both hands then swung it with all her strength at his head breaking the blasted thing into splinters, knocking the hapless pirate out cold.

His companion stood there watching with a wary look on his face as the Bard turned on him.

“I ... err... I’ll just ahh go and sit over there, I don’t want no trouble!" Pirate number two said as he backed slowly away.

“Oh!” Morgan smiled at him, “You don’t want your drink then?”

He just put his hands up, still backing away without taking his eyes off her shaking his head respectfully.

“No, I’m not thirsty.” He assured her.

Morgan looked at him flicked her hair over her shoulder, puffing her hair out of her eyes.

“Well, if, you’re sure?” She smiled sweetly, “I will just go for a walk outside.”

As she reached the door she ran into a large male body. Bracing herself for the worst, she squared her shoulders and lifted her head.

“Oi watch out mate!” She growled.

“I’m not yer mate lass, are you alright?” Came the relieving sound of Jack’s voice as his hands grabbed her arms.

“Ah, yea... yes.” She mumbled as he quickly dragged her outside and up the path to where the others were waiting.

As they reached the crest, she could see Loki’s eyes glued to Van, a smirk on his face, as she was almost yelling about blowing up the place, and why did they leave Morgan in there alone.

“Enough ya little firebrand she’s here!” growled Jack.

All eyes turned to face the pair, Loki’s eyes lighting up as he spied the goodly amount of cleavage Morgan was still showing off.

Jack tracking his eyes looked down and quickly stepped in front of her,

“Lass you might want to cover up a little!” He said quietly to Morgan.

“And you ya great idjit. Put your leering eyes back in ya head, before I blacken them for ya!” He snarled at Loki. Causing a strangled snicker to come from Mist, Gil, and Belvaya.

Elsewhere the hound skulked around the gate again. His thoughts, more human than dog, emerged.

“Thousands of years. How long has it been since I condemned myself? I don’t remember. The reeds have grown tall since the last flood. I stopped counting floods centuries ago.

The men who conquered this region and their son’s sons for generations have forgotten this place but all go here in their last moment, their misdeeds manifest."

"I am the Lord of Death, but once I was a warrior god until she...”

He paused.

Something rustled in the reeds near the gates. The golden and fuzzy spots like a miniature grass lion emerged.

“Mau.” It spoke.

A female. He thought and his heart ached.

I remember a female who took that shape. He turned, expecting the cat to hiss, arch, and run but she didn’t.

'You’re not really a cat, are you?' He pushed his dark snout closer.

'No. I don’t think so.'

'Someone put that shape on you, but you need someone else to break it. Too bad, little one. It is not my job.'

'I’m here about something else. The kitten sent her thoughts. 'My mistress suffers under a spell.'

He felt his form shifting into a man. Average height and powerful build, dark. surly, miserable but clearly immortal. He bent and picked up the cat. Her spirit spoke to him.

'Her spirit wanders. I was told you are the Lord of Death but also the Lord of Healing. Why are you a wolf/dog sometimes? A spell?'

'It’s just easier sometimes. I don’t like remembering some of the things that happened when I was in this shape. She lost her memory?'

'Look in my eyes and you will see her.'

And the man who had been a hound looked. He saw a tall muscular woman with silver-blond hair and black roses in a vine as a tattoo.

'Her?' he smirked, a good amount of lust coming to the surface. 'A Norse Valkyrie? Lost? Might be an interesting case.'

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