The Beast of Eden
“...Garm took my arm. Garm...arm... it’s really funny if ye think about it!”
The sound of Tyr’s rumbling laughter jolts Freya to attention. The large crowd filling the stands of Eden’s grand amphitheater slowly trickles into focus, hundreds of voices converging into a single indiscernible murmur.
She turns to see the blue-bearded brute give Freyr a pat on the back that nearly sends her twin reeling out of his seat.
“Y-yeah, I suppose...” Freyr groans in exasperation, obviously regretting the decision to indulge the Aesir warrior. Taking notice of her gaze, Freyr smiles, reassuring as ever.
“Hey. You doing alright?” He asks with a sincerity that leaves Freya feeling almost envious. Her brother had lost just as much as she had during Ragnarok. Her family is -- was -- his family, too. Freyr had a love of his own as well. But his eyes remain strong in ways her’s cannot. And so she looks away as if to hide her fragile self. As if she could.
“Yeah...I’m fine.” She wasn’t. They both knew as much. Freya’s fingers trail along her torc, as though touch alone could stoke the flame within. The flame that Odin had seen fit to seal away. Had the old Aesir tyrant kept his wits about himself and not given in to the fear of premonitions easily avoided, then their family’s hearts would beat till this very day. You should have killed him the moment you saw his future. Freya thinks, almost afraid of the tone within her own mind.
It’s cold, dismissive, uncompromising; it’s anything but the woman she wants to be. Who was she to question what Odin had seen? She herself had been spared, right? Odin must have seen something in her future. That’s why instead of meeting her end at a sword, she wears this torc. She stares down at her hand for a moment before dropping it to her lap with a soft sigh.
Before Ragnarok, on the days she’d teach Throoth of magic and realms beyond Asgard, Freya would venture past Fenrir’s cage. On those days, Fenrir never seemed so bad. A dog much too big for a home, but not deserving of a cage. His only crime had been his strength. A strength that threatened Odin.
“O-oh, h-hello, Lady Freya.” Like a miniature Sif, Throoth stood with her long Aesir hair freely on display, azure locks running eagerly down her back. A pair of glasses constantly fell down along the brim of her nose and waited there until Throoth would readjust them.
“We really need to do something about this hair.” Freya laughed, fishing her fingers down the back of Throoth’s head and through her hair. “If you come by later, Gersemi could braid it for you. It should be fun.”
Throoth smiled up at Freya before looking back to the cage. “Fenrir was just telling me about Jotunheim, and how cold it is there..I..I know it sounds bad, but I’d really like to go there someday. Can we, lady Freya? You, me, Fenrir, and...”
Freya grits her teeth and forces the memory out. She tilts her head and gazes towards the sky above. She tries to find peace in the stillness of the distant horizon, but the sight of far-off worlds leaves her feeling empty and afraid. Like all the feelings and memories could just rise up into that lonely abyss and vanish.
It scares her because a part of her wants it. It would be easier to let it all fade away. The hurt is always there, demanding retribution that isn’t hers alone to take.
She brings her head back down and stares out into the packed area before her. Freya and the Aesir have the best seats in the house -- the space in the amphitheater usually reserved for the Christians had been politely offered to them. From here, she can see everyone clearly; a seat truly befitting a king of kings. Bannermen stand at the sides of each stone bleacher, draping a flag with their pantheon’s sigils displayed overhead.
Gracing the orange-gold flags closest to the Christian seats is an Ankh. The shirtless bannermen have heads like hyenas and tunics fashioned around their waists. Between them sits a group of gods. A man and a woman occupy the front. The man has the head of an ibis and wears a headdress adorned with gold, tied around his neck is a dark violet scarf that drapes along his bare shoulders. To the man’s side is a woman with her arm around his. She wears an orange dress and a headband that frames her neatly cut pea green hair while also holding an ostrich feather in place.
“The House of Ra.”
Freya turns her head at the sound of Sif’s voice. The Aesir queen makes her way towards the empty seat at Freya’s side, casting a small smile down at Freya before sitting and nodding in the direction of the family she had been watching. “What’s left of them, at least. Like us, they lost their king during Ragnarok. But it wasn’t at the hands of Jotun, the predictions of Odin, or the negligence of the King of Kings. Their leaders were assassinated.”
“Psychopomps,” Freya interrupts, drawing another smile from the older goddess.
“That certainly seemed likely,” Sif responds, tapping a hand against Freya. She leans forward and directs her attention to the Olympians, who are seated across from them in the amphitheater. Hera sits beside Erebus, Hebe, and a number of Spartan warriors, sipping casually from her golden goblet. Standing before Hera’s soldiers are two young women. The larger of the two has light pink hair kept short in the front and tied into a ponytail that juts up from behind her head. Beside her is her smaller twin, whose voluminous hair carries a much more vibrant shade of pink; both have inherited hints of Hera’s beauty. They hold their helmets at their sides and have the posture of commanders.
“Erebus finds truth in the shadows. He informs Hera, and she informs me. The Psychopomps didn’t have a hand in this, but it was still an organized attack. Those involved all wore a mask bearing a peculiar symbol. That of a serpent consuming its own tail. That’s all we know.”
“So was it a coincidence that the Jotun attacked us at the same time? Is Ragnarok a footnote to these king slayings?”
“That’s what I thought -- but Hera’s smart.” Sif’s lips curl into a smile as she stares at Hera across the distance of the Arena. Even with all the space separating them, the other woman smiles back. “She reminded me that it should have been impossible for Fenrir to escape Gleipnir. He must have had help. Someone freed him.”
As Freya mulls over this information, she catches a glimpse of movement in her peripheral. She turns towards Freyr to see he’s trembling all over. Freya reaches out to offer a comforting touch.
“It’s okay, Freyr,” Freya whispers. “The Archangels have the resources to find whoever did this.”
“I wouldn’t count on it”, Sif says. “I don’t think they have the faintest idea what they’re doing. They’re grasping at straws just like the rest of us.”
The speculation doesn’t go much deeper than that as everyone’s attention is drawn forward by the sound of a trumpet. Gabriel enters, spins and waves their arms about, trying to garner everyone’s attention. One quick scan around does show that the Olympians and the House of Ra are paying Gabriel mind. Then there are the ones with that new banner, the emerald flags with the yin-yang dragons, that Freya saw earlier. The lot of them seem mostly uninterested in the archangel’s musings.
Silence makes itself known as the sound of Gabriel’s horn recedes. When Freya looks centerstage, she sees that Gabriel has been joined by a taller man. This man wears a loose-fitting white coat over a tight-fitting black shirt that matches his dark slacks. His pants bunch up over his white loafers which go unscuffed even as he steps through the sandy arena. Embroidered onto his shoulders is an emblem of a green cross, much like the blue one on Gabriel’s outfit. Like other angels, he has light colored hair that doesn’t differ much from the hue of the wings on his back. His eyes, nose, and lips all carry an elegant thinness to them and his face is structurally sound and angular. A pair of gold-framed glasses rests atop his long nose.
“Raphael”, Sif whispers. “Leader of the Archangels and adviser to the King of Kings. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of him. He rarely ventures beyond Eden.”
A heavy silence falls upon the amphitheater as the massive stone doors underneath the stadium seats swing open, making way for an imposing figure. The newcomer wears similar robes and symbols to Gabriel and Raphael, yet they’re emblazoned by a fiery crimson, in place of Gabriel’s cool sapphire or Raphael’s vibrant green. A massive blade hangs at his hip as he strides out.
“Michael; blade of the king”, Sif scoffs. “Surest sword in the cosmos. Right. But where was all that strength when we needed it?”
The audience seems to share Sif’s disdain, as they boo and jeer at the sight of the warrior. It’s in stark contrast to the last time Freya had seen him when his existence alone was enough to merit applause. Michael set a standard with his power. Unmatched in the way of the blade and formidable in every known martial art, Michael was believed to be the reason The Christians possessed such a small army. Beyond the elite group of Archangels, they only had a hundred or so angelic knights; not even a fraction of Hera’s army. The Aesir had lost more than half of their forces in Ragnarok, but even they still dwarfed the Christian army in numbers.
Those numbers were meaningless in the face of unparalleled strength. There wasn’t a soul in all the nine realms that could hope to match Michael’s capabilities. He could silence the audience by simply drawing his blade, but instead, he stands there and takes his lashings as though he deserves it. As though he’s a criminal like Fenrir.
Behind this new Archangel are two angels of lower rank, holding the chains to the collar around the neck of the monster to stand trial; a hulking wolf that follows along rigidly. Fenrir’s gaze rakes over the crowd for a moment before he fixes his amber, predatory eyes on Sif and licks his lips. Slowly, the beast raises one of his massive arms, extending a claw outward to point in her direction.
“Mm...I remember you!” Fenrir’s voice fills the arena and ushers in a moment of silence. Freya turns to face Sif and sees a scowl form on the older woman’s face. She stares right back in Fenrir’s direction but doesn’t give him the satisfaction of a response. Undeterred, Fenrir follows up with a rumbling laugh.
“Yeah, no way I’d forget a rack like that. That king of yours tasted pretty good goin’ down! Shame to cut a three-course meal short, though; how ’bout we fix that?!”
Sif opens and closes her mouth for a moment, face flushed and brow furrowed.
“What, didja not hear me?” Fenrir takes a lumbering step forward. “I said that your king was TASTY, and you look downright delicious. Mmm...just look at all that queen-meat. You’re spilling out all over the place, bitch! I can practically taste it, all the way down here. Don’t tease me, now! Come on down and I’ll reunite you with daddy dearest!”
Michael turns to stare up at the beast, a hint of disdain breaking through his stoicism. “That’s enough”, he warns.
Fenrir bellows with laughter, and before Freya knows it those amber eyes are staring right up at her. “Mm...this one’s tasty, too. Wait...I remember you too. Thaaaat’s right...” he darts his eyes back to Sif, grinning. “She taught your little girl, yeah? How’s that tasty rat doin’, anyway? Such a tiny thing. She fill out like her mama?”
Sif practically hurls herself over the banister; Tyr places a hand on Sif’s shoulder to steady her. “Easy lady Sif, easy! This pup’s bark is worse than his bite. Don’t let him get to y-”
“Shut up! SHUT! UP!” Sif struggles against Tyr, writhing as she glares down into the arena. “Don’t you talk about her, you monster!”
“Feisty.” Fenrir snickers. “I like that. Keep writhing around up there for me. Get all nice and slick with sweat. That’ll help you go down real easy.”
Michael exhales. “Can it. You’re barking in my ear. Let Raphael finish so we can get this over with. There’s a lot we still need to get to.”
“Oh?” Fenrir cranes his neck back. “There’s more?” He laughs. “There’s more to all this than the mighty devourer?”
“Yes.” Michael looks ahead. “Over half of the people here didn’t know Odin, and even more of them didn’t like him. I wanna get through this so we can cover the important issues.”
“The important issues,” Sif mutters, spitting as she speaks.
“The important issues?” Fenrir stumbles back. “More important than me? You’re trying to psyche me out, little man, but it ain’t gonna work. Everyone gathered here today to witness my trial because they all want me executed. It’s obvious I’m the main event here!”
“Believe what you want,” Michael says. “Just believe it a bit more quietly.”
“Sorry bud,” Fenrir says, stretching. “I don’t do quiet.”
Fenrir’s jaw parts and the wolf descends upon the angel to his left, engulfing the entirety of his head in a vicious bite. A geyser of crimson rockets out of the jagged remnant of his torso as Fenrir pulls away, the decimated body falling gracelessly to the arena floor as he rakes a massive paw up to slice into the remaining angel from the ground up. His body dissects and falls apart in bloodied slabs of meat.
Freya stares towards the carnage in a daze, one hand raised to cover her mouth. She was no stranger to violence, but this was something else entirely. Had this monster torn her daughters apart with the same primal disregard?
Her head feels like it’s swimming, but the sound of Fenrir’s horrible laughter brings her careening back to focus. Michael, blade drawn, circles the wolf, glancing down towards the brutalized corpses.
“You just sealed your fate, dog. You do realize that, don’t you?”
Fenrir grins down at the archangel and shrugs, picking a bone out from between his teeth and flicking it off to the side. “Whoops! Guess there’s only one way to settle this now, huh?”
Growling, Fenrir hunches down and adopts an offensive stance. “Fight me, angel boy.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’m serious as shit, asshole. I have the right to a trial by combat, don’t I?” Fenrir reaches up, grabs hold of the collar around his neck, and prys it off with a grunt, tossing it aside. “I’m tryin’ to go out with a bang, know what I mean? Let’s give these cunts a good show.”
Michael turns towards Raphael, who sighs and nods. “Very well, then. A trial by combat it is. But remember, Michael...”
“Yeah...I know”, Michael grunts. “I won’t kill him.”
Fenrir roars and charges forward. Michael doesn’t budge. He stares the beast down as he bullets towards him, raising a single finger that he uses to poke Fenrir in the chest the moment he’s within arm’s reach. Fenrir careens back at dizzying speed and stops just short of colliding into the opposite end of the arena.
The sound of laughter breaks out among the crowd as Fenrir slams a fist into the ground childishly. “You...you fucking bastard! Don’t TOY with me! I’ll KILL you!”
An iridescent glow ripples out from the center of the arena as Fenrir barrels towards Michael once more. The outline of a girl takes form within the shimmering light, filling out from the top down.
Sif leans forward, eyes widening as long purple hair spills out over a shapely figure, a pair of gray eyes darting up just in time to take note of the beast.
“Athena?!” Sif exclaims, cutting Freya’s query short. She rises in tandem with the rest of those gathered, panic rippling through the amphitheater like a chorus.
“What?” Freyr chokes out. “How?!”
“What the hell?! Where’d SHE come from?!” Tyr shouts.
Freya’s on her feet, staring down into the center of the arena to see the girl roll out of Fenrir’s path and summon two golden spears.
“Oh. Oh, my. Fenrir, I - ah!“, Athena gasps and ducks, narrowly avoiding one of his massive paws. “...presume?” She finishes, crouched low, bringing both spears up to shield herself. Athena darts her head to the side and she sees what’s left of the guards’ bodies. “W-what in the...?”
Fenrir makes his way towards the girl, a twisted grin splayed across the wolf’s face. He lunges forward and takes another swipe at Athena. She scurries back as quickly as she can, but his claws make contact with the golden armor piece adorning her torso and the impact sends her hurdling several feet to the side. She yelps and manages to stop herself by plunging her spears into the ground, regaining her balance. She steadies herself, looks up, and finds a sea of razor-sharp teeth looming over her.
The wolf descends upon Athena, maw gaping, frost pouring out and coating her like a veil of fog. Her body contorts, each of her luminous spears fading into golden dust as she trembles in place. Fenrir lunges forth and grabs hold of Athena.
“Help her!” Sif shouts towards Michael and Raphael. Freya stares down at the two Archangels. Raphael nods in Michael’s direction.
Michael adopts a defensive stance and takes a step forward, eying Fenrir, but he takes no immediate action against the beast.
“Damn it, don’t just STAND there!” Tyr yells.
Movement from the other side of the arena diverts Freya’s attention, and she stares across in time to witness Hera’s generals, her twin children, rushing forward. As they lunge towards the arena the bigger girl shouts and thrusts her palm in Fenrir’s direction. From the center of her hand comes a steady stream of swords. Each blade collides with an unseen barrier. The smaller twin lands atop the invisible obstruction and attempts slashing at it with two short swords she’d pulled from her shoulders.
“R-really now! What do you have to gain from attacking me?!” Athena exclaims. “Just think! You’re in a strategic position here!”
“You look tasty”, A growl rumbles out from between Fenrir’s lips, monstrous tongue hanging loose as his sizes the godling up.
“Me, tasty? Oh, goodness, no, not at all, I imagine. Please, let’s stop and-”
Fenrir whips his arm down, slamming Athena into the ground below. She lets out a pained cry, sand flying into the air, before she’s yanked back up, coughing and gasping.
“No...no, no, no...please, no...” Freya stares on, breath catching in her throat.
Michael moves closer, cautiously, blade at the ready. “Put her down, dog”, he warns, but Fenrir doesn’t seem to pay him any mind.
Michael looks to Raphael, visibly agitated, but the other Archangel merely shakes his head. His eyes flit across the crowd as if searching for something. Why weren’t they doing anything?
“C’mon, you bastards!” Tyr shouts. “What the hell are you two doing?!”
“This can’t be happening...” Sif stares in disbelief.
“No! Please, my...my mother is queen of the Olympians!” Athena cries out in between coughs and pained gasps, wriggling in Fenrir’s grip. “Certainly we can come to an-”
“I’m hungry. You think you can just pop in with all that meat and walk away from me? Mm, no. No, that’s not what’s gonna happen here.”
“Dammit, let her go! She’s just a godling!” Sif shouts desperately. “Please!”
“You serious? This bitch is a godling? Damn!”
Fenrir turns his attention to the stands, eyeing Hera. “That your mommy...?” Fenrir leans in with a wild grin. “Hell, maybe I should hold on to you for a while -- let you fill out a bit more. I’ve waited a long time for a good meal. I can wait a bit longer. I’m sure I can find other ways to play with you in the meantime. More than one way to whet an appetite, am I right?” Athena shudders and doubles down on her efforts to wiggle free. Fenrir merely reels back with laughter and stares up to Hera again.
“You Olympian sluts are somethin’ else, you know that? Mmm...gobbling you down would keep me full for a while. How ’bout it? Wanna switch places with your little princess here?”
“My flavor’s a bit strong for the likes of you, mutt”, Hera responds, remarkably unphased by the events unfolding around her. “I wouldn’t want to give you tummy troubles.” She brings her goblet up, taking another sip while staring right back down at Fenrir as though she couldn’t care less.
Fenrir seems taken aback and glares up at the Olympian Queen before responding in an almost sullen tone. “Whatever...too much divinity for your own good. I’m thinkin’ we should balance the scales a little, yeah?” Squeezing Athena tighter still and drawing out another pained yelp, he raises his arm up and dangles her above his head, shaking her back and forth in a taunting manner. “Your girl here should do the trick...”
“Come on, Fenrir, think this through!” Michael shouts up at the beast. “Don’t you want the chance for life outside a cage? You can still repent. You can still be forgiven. Just put the girl down!”
“No...I wanna show you something.”
Fenrir brings Athena to his mouth and prepares to bite down. He draws her in slowly, razor-sharp fangs inching towards Athena.
“Athena!” Freya calls out, finding herself at Sif’s side, leaning over the banister. “No...”
“Ngh, p-please! Please, don’t do this! Stop! PLEASE!” Athena cries out. Freya falls back into her seat, drawing her arms and legs close as if making herself small at this moment could hide her from it all. She covers her ears and clenches her eyes shut as Fenrir lets loose another roar.
“Stop fucking whining! You’ve lived long enough, haven’t you? Don’t be selfish now. Just think of it as a new experience. Once you’re inside me you’ll be a part of something bigger than you can imagine!”
Freya feels her face twisting, grief and rage set in. She wants to block out Athena’s cries, wants to run from all of this pain, but instead she lunges forward, taking hold of the banister once more, staring down at the nightmare before her.
“No, no, no, I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” Athena’s shouting and crying, nearly choking on hysteria, and Freya’s seeing nothing but red now as that burning, wretched thought ripples out like wildfire and consumes her entirely.
Kill him, kill him, KILL him, KILL HIM! KILL HIM!
“Raphael!” Michael shouts and Freya’s eyes dart towards Raphael, who once again merely shakes his head.
“Just a bit longer! Have faith!”
“Have FAITH?!” Sif yells. “What does THAT mean?! What the hell does that mean?!”
“Ngh...p-please!” Athena cries out, groaning, squirming uselessly in Fenrir’s grip. “Please”, she gasps, and Fenrir draws her in closer, snarling, laughing, row after row of teeth gleaming, the beast’s giant tongue grazing along her face.
“Release her”, Michael’s voice cuts through as he takes another step forward. “You have nothing to gain from this. Let the girl go. Now.” Fenrir simply squeezes tighter.
“A-agh! STOP!“, Athena begs. Drool cascades out from Fenrir’s maw and coats the godling in a layer of filth, a sadistic grin distorting the wolf’s face as he brings a claw up towards her.
Athena cries out only to be silenced as Fenrir’s grip clamps down hard enough to cut her voice off entirely, leaving the girl twitching silently in his hand.
“LAST warning!” Michael moves forward only to be cut short by another vicious snarl.
“SHUT UP!“, Fenrir roars, hateful eyes fixed on Michael for a moment before turning towards the crowd. He extends his arm out, dangling the captive godling back and forth.
“What the fuck do you know?! What do any of you know?! Nothing! NOTHING! NOTHING!” He bites down into Athena, but draws no blood and doesn’t leave so much as a dent in her armor. She cries out all the same.
“SIR!” Michael turns to Raphael and shouts. “Please! We need to act! NOW!”
Freya looks to Sif; the older woman stands there, mouth agape, staring down into the arena. Slowly, she turns to meet Freya’s gaze.
“I’m sorry...” Sif murmurs, still staring right at Freya. She takes a step forward, one hand clutching her necklace.
“What are you...?” Freya steps back as Sif closes in, briefly casting a glance to Tyr and Freyr respectively.
“Oh...oh, of course!” Tyr exclaims. Sif carefully pulls her necklace off, and just like that, Freya gets it.
“What are you doing?!” Freyr rises to his feet. Tyr moves in to block him off, grunting.
“I’m sorry, brother, but this is the only choice we’ve got!”
“The key”, Freya gasps, eyes wide with disbelief. She brings her hands up to clutch at her torc.
“Sif, please! Don’t do this!” Freyr shouts, struggling against Tyr’s grip to no avail.
“What else would you have me do?! What other choice do we have?! We have to HELP that girl!”
“If they were going to do something, they would have DONE it by now!” Sif cuts Freyr off.
“But I...I can’t do this!” Freya blurts out.
“Yes, you can!” Tyr shouts. “You’re the only one who can!”
“I’ll fight,” Freyr says as he pushes past Tyr. He focuses on Sif. “Just please don’t send my sister down there!”
“I’m sorry, child...I know this isn’t fair.” Sif moves in and wraps one arm around the Freya, drawing her close. She holds her there for just a moment, running a hand through her hair. Freya’s eyes dart towards Tyr and Freyr. Freyr’s still struggling, and Try just nods as he locks eyes with her.
“Get your justice.”
Freya feels something pressing at her chest. She stares down and sees her torc light up -- a dull flame that explodes into an array of ethereal lights that spread out all around her. Freya tears her gaze up to see Sif staring right at her.
In the next moment, Eden is eclipsed in total darkness and Freya finds herself alone. A faint ethereal glimmer takes form within the nothingness and Freya feels herself floating as if guided by some invisible hand, towards the source of the light. Through the growing distortion, she can make out the sight of a lush, verdant landscape; Vanaheim.
The sight of her home unfurls around Freya until the darkness is drowned out entirely. Familiar warmth presses against her from both sides and just like that, Freya’s heart fills with love and pain in equal measure.
“Hnoss...Gersemi...” Freya whispers, falling to her knees. Each of her daughters follows suit, clinging to her in a tight embrace as tears spill from her eyes. She holds her girls tight, burrowing between them as she trembles.
“I won’t let go...”
“We’ll go to paradise together”. Freya’s own words echo all around her. The warmth fades as Freya looks up in horror to see the color fading from each of her daughters. They grow still and turn gray before a resounding snap shatters them to dust and robs Vanaheim of its light in a single stroke, darkness descending once more.
“What sort of mother are you?”
Freya wants to respond -- wants to let her fire loose upon this mocking, hurtful voice -- but she’s given pause as another light ripples out from the void, hues of violet washing over the form of a girl suspended in midair.
“Athena!” Freya rushes forward without a second thought. Just as she closes in, flames burst forth from every inch of the darkness. A hulking shadow appears within the inferno, but she pays it no mind as she leaps forth, rips Athena out from the air, drapes the godling over her shoulder, and runs.
The shadow darts from one flame to another as if taunting her, a monstrous, rumbling laugh echoing out across the hellscape. She stops running and lowers Athena to the ground, trailing a hand along the godling’s cheek.
“It’ll be okay...” Freya whispers before tilting her head back to stare at the shadow in the flames.
A single thought, like an ache, blossoms forth to fill her veins.
The flames part and reveal Fenrir. In a blur of motion, Freya’s body courses through the now dying embers to deliver a single punch to the beast’s maw. It sends him twirling out to the side, and in an instant, Freya flies forth to send her fist rocketing into his twitching, howling face again and again.
“I’ll kill you”, Freya shakes, delivering a bone-crunching punch to the wolf’s massive jaw. “I’ll kill you”, she repeats, her breathing ragged as the rage inside her boils out and fills the darkness with flames of her own. Fenrir’s snout crunches under her fist again and again. He seems to shrink a little with each and every hit, and before long he’s smaller than Freya herself.
Reaching through the flames to seize hold of him by the scruff of his neck, Freya pulls the burning, battered monster out, drawing his face close to her own. “Look at me”, she growls, forcing his swollen eyes open.
“Look at me”, Freya shakes, rage twisting across her face as her grip on Fenrir’s skull tightens. The beast’s entire body quakes as ichor oozes from his eyes.
Freya extends one arm, a glowing dagger materializing in her outstretched palm. “I’ll cut you”, she seethes, bringing the blade down to slice across Fenrir’s cheek. “Stab you”, she pierces his chest as he howls. “Break you...” The dagger pops out of existence and Freya balls her hand into a fist that she sends plummeting down to meet Fenrir’s arm. The limb bends back and snaps, collapsing uselessly at his side.
“Drown you...” The flames dissipate, embers rising up to form a massive sheet of suspended water. With a snap of her fingers, it all comes roaring down. The torrent navigates around her and barrels towards Fenrir, filling his gaping jaw and burying him beneath a swirling vortex. “Choke you...”
Freya reaches out with both hands to grab hold of his neck, glaring down as she squeezes. The wolf twitches, and with another snap of her fingers, the water fades away only to be replaced with a thick, viscous liquid that spreads across his entire body. “Tar you!”
Freya begins tearing into the ooze and grabbing at the furry flesh underneath, frantically pulling and picking at it. “Skin you!” Freya cries out, pressing a palm against his maw and unleashing a barrage of fire. “Fry you!”
Fenrir’s resistance dims as the flames engulf his face. “Flay you!” Freya roars and rakes her nails along his crippled arm, gripping at the flesh and tearing into it, skin breaking beneath her fingers.
Noise erupts from every side and Freya finds herself on her back, someone or something dragging her away. Scrambling to her feet, she blinks and shakes her head, chest rising and falling with every heavy breath. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust, and when they do she’s greeted with the sight of Michael, the stoic archangel staring down at her without a word before turning his attention towards Fenrir. Rushing towards the wolf, he crouches down to examine his injuries.
“He’s alive, but only just”, he calls out before drawing his blade. “Sir, we should end this. Now.”
Freya darts her head back to stare at Raphael, situated at the opposite end of the arena, crouching down next to...
“No...” Freya’s knees buckle and she sinks.
Athena lies motionless, crumpled up beneath the archangel. Her clothing singed and torn, Freya could make out the sight of burn marks against her exposed flesh.
Raphael turns his attention towards Michael. “Indeed. It would seem as though I may have-”
The sound of rattling fills the arena.
“What in the...?” Michael steps back as Fenrir’s suddenly on his feet again. Heavy, ragged breaths rattle out from his bloodied, twisted face. A horribly broken laugh bursts out from his cracked jaw and he tilts his head unsteadily in Freya’s direction. She scurries back at the sight of his empty white eyes, ichor dripping from vacant pupils and spilling out along his matted, charred fur.
“Fall back! Make sure no harm comes to Athena!” Raphael exclaims as he rushes past her. Freya nods, sprints towards the godling and crouches down, huddles close and stares out in Fenrir’s direction.
“No, you...stay away...”
Startled by the sound of Athena’s voice, Freya tilts her gaze down to the girl; she stares up with teary eyes, groaning, and Freya’s heart sinks.
“I...I just need to make sure nothing happens to you, I...” Freya’s words come out like a gasp, and she fights to steady her nerves as Athena grunts and clenches her eyes shut as she attempts to inch away to no avail.
“I can’t move...I can’t move”, Athena groans, and before Freya can formulate a response an awful, scraping sound fills the arena.
Fenrir lumbers forth, broken, dislocated bone tearing through his flesh with every step and sending even more ichor spurting out. A burst of green light encapsulates the beast, dimming as it solidifies into a circular barrier. Freya sees Raphael situate himself before Fenrir, one arm raised and cloaked in golden light.
“Begin evacuating the amphitheater at once!”
“But sir, if I were to cut him down now-”
“That’s an order, Michael. Steady your blade. I don’t know what manner of magic this is.”
Freya’s barely able to hear the Archangels’ voices through the whirling, grinding noise of broken bones and the hum of magic; she’s able to make out Michael’s visage through the haze of light as he heads towards the stands, but her attention is quickly brought back to the lumbering wolf as Fenrir tilts his head back and howls.
“You can still be saved”, his voice is like a dying wind reaching out and coating every inch of the arena. “Ouroboros...ouroboros...ouroboros”, a rattling, bloody laugh courses through him. “Salvation!”
“What is...that...?” Athena’s trying to turn, trying to locate the source of this terrible voice, and Freya leans in, cradling her close, embracing her as she stares on in horror.
“Shhh, just stay still...everything will be okay”, Freya murmurs.
“Loss is inevitable, but rejoice”, Fenrir’s voice grows louder, clearer, as if something else is filling the beast with new strength. “Rejoice, for Ouroboros is eternal!”
“Open your eyes to the truth”, he collapses to one knee with a sickening crunch, grinning through it all as though the pain of his broken body meant nothing.
“Become a part of the Eternal Return.”
Letting out another rasping breath, Fenrir slumps to the side and falls, landing with a resounding thud that sends blood-speckled sand flying into the air. Raphael takes a step back and cautiously lowers his arm, the magical barrier that had surrounded Fenrir fading to nothingness. Freya blinks and turns her attention to the stands; Michael finishes escorting the remaining few deities gathered down towards the exit. He fixes his gaze on Freya for a moment and rushes over, huddling down next to Athena.
“Gabriel!” Michael calls out, and just like that they’re fluttering around the corner, eyes twinkling with excitement -- excitement that quickly dims upon taking in the sight of Fenrir’s gruesome body and the injured godling. Michael tilts his head in Athena’s direction.
“See to it that she’s taken care of. Immediately. Escort her to the palace; I’ll go and fetch her family.”
Gabriel nods, and after another moment passes, comes floating out towards Athena with a pair of cherubs holding a stretcher between them. Freya rises to her feet and takes a step back, giving the two room as they float down and gently move Athena’s body, placing her on the stretcher and rising back into the air.
A loud creak echoes throughout the now-evacuated Amphitheater as the iron gate rises to make room for Gabriel and the others. As they begin carrying Athena off in the direction of the palace, Freya follows after them without a second thought.
“Lady Freya.” She stops when she hears Gabriel’s voice. “It’s alright. You can leave the rest to us. You’ve done more than enough.”
“Will she be okay?” Freya interrupts, glancing up at Gabriel briefly before returning her attention to Athena.
“Yes”, Gabriel says “Prior to your...involvement, Athena was in no real danger.”
“What?” Freya whips her head back towards Gabriel as they circle Fenrir’s body. “But what about Fenrir?!”
“I placed a protective spell around Athena right after she materialized.”
That would explain why Fenrir had been incapable of biting into the godling. Freya feels a sinking sensation in her chest. That also meant that...
“I...I put her in danger...“, Freya mutters, shocked.
“I know it’s asking a lot, but in the future can you try trusting The Archangels? We mean well, it’s just-”
Raphael clears his throat, cutting off Gabriel. “I don’t fault you or Lady Sif for taking action. You had no way of knowing. Unfortunately, the situation necessitated caution on my part.” Exiting the short tunnel leading into the arena, they arrive at a glimmering golden road leading straight up towards the sprawling central palace. Lush, silver forestry surrounded them at each side. Twilight had since given way to nightfall, the canvas of stars shining down upon the realm reflected in the sleek, mirror-like surface of the road.
“You knew something was going to happen...?”
“I had a very strong suspicion. I certainly didn’t expect Athena’s arrival, though...” Raphael trails off, picking up speed as he makes his way towards the others. Freya follows hot on his footsteps, glancing ahead at Athena all the while.
Upon reaching them, she’s surprised to see Athena’s eyes flit in her direction, shimmering under the starlight. Freya gulps and fights the urge to turn around and run.
“Athena. Good, you’re awake”, Raphael says, staring down at Athena tenderly. She doesn’t respond. “I’m sorry for what you went through back there, but I have to ask; how did you arrive in Eden?”
Athena groans and shakes her head. Freya, on instinct alone, reaches out to the girl.
“Leave me alone...” Athena grunts, glaring up at Freya.
“Athena, I...” Freya lowers her arm. What could she possibly say to make any of this any better?
Raphael looks to Freya, then back to Athena. “I’m sorry, Athena, but I need you to tell m-”
“The...dust”, Athena spits out, turning towards Raphael with another pained groan. “..Throoth’s...Bifrost dust.”
“Is that so...?” Raphael murmurs, adjusting his glasses. “And the reason for your journey?”
Athena stares up at him, eyes softening. Her lip quivers and her eyebrows furrow, as if she’s remembering something awful. She starts to shake.
“Athena?” Raphael asks as gently as he can manage. Athena lets out a small yelp and brings both hands up, cradling her own face and clenching her eyes shut as she attempts to turn around.
“J-Jesus! He’s...she wanted me to tell you t-that he’s dead”, Athena manages to gasp the words out, and just like that, everyone stops. The cherubs pause, Gabriel stops fluttering, and Raphael and Freya stop dead in their tracks. Silence lingers, only to be broken as Athena lets out another pained yelp.
“He was killed. I saw his body, I saw it”, Athena sinks into herself, arms wrapped around her own shoulders.
“Gabriel”, Raphael speaks up and Gabriel whips their head back, eyes wide. “See to it that Athena’s escorted to the medical wing, then call for a meeting. Gather up all the pantheon heads and direct them to the council chambers.”
“Didn’t...didn’t you hear me? Did you hear me?!” Athena glares up at Raphael, shaking, then whips her head towards Freya. “Don’t you care? W-what are you going to do about it?! He’s dead!”
“Athena”, Raphael exhales. “I promise you, we’ll investigate this thoroughly, but right now-”
“You don’t care! What’s wrong with you?! He was the PRINCE! He was my FRIEND!”
Raphael nods towards Gabriel, who begins to flutter away once more, Athena in tow. All the while, she glares in Raphael’s direction, stealing the occasional glance towards Freya.
“He’s dead! Your prince is dead! Do something!” She shouts. Raphael looks away, closing his eyes. “DO something!”
A moment passes, and with it, Athena’s cries fade into the distance. Freya looks towards Raphael, but he’s already moving ahead, a look of grim resolve set upon his face.
Freya stares up at the stars above. Her eyes trail up the massive spire of The Garden, watching as starlight reflects off the exterior of the palace. She closes her eyes and lets the cool breeze waft along her skin. For a moment, she loses herself to this silence. Just a moment.