Freya’s crimson eyes flash open and she stares into the parted gates of the palace, the sight of golden, intricate hallways sprawling out like some sort of beautiful maze. She makes her way inside, looking left and right; not a soul in sight. Those evacuated from the arena were likely relocated elsewhere.
She wanders down the stretch of hallway laid out before her, taking slow, quiet steps. She comes to a halt when something flickers a few feet before her. An invocation circle forms upon the floor, a pentagram with all manners of runes scrawled throughout it. The symbol ignites into pink flames and a portal is formed where the circle once was. The silhouettes of two feminine figures rise through the opening, leaving it to become ash once they’ve surfaced.
Of the two women, the one with large, red horns catches Freya’s attention first. Her hair is like a dark mesh of seaweed and her skin is green. Scales run up her arms and legs, and she has a tail that’s like a dolphin or maybe a shark. She uses webbed fingers to brush ashes off her cloaked shoulders and tattered robes.
Beside her is a much more familiar woman. The rose-colored hair is a dead giveaway, but so is her voluptuous figure and the blossoms springing to life beneath her heeled shoes. An Olympian wearing a hot pink skirt suit that’s littered with flowers must be Persephone. While Freya hadn’t met the woman directly, she did remember how sensationalized her kidnapping had been.
Persephone stretches and yawns. “Ah! You were right, Levi. We should have left sooner! Hope we didn’t miss too much.” Once she’s cracked her neck, Persephone lets her hand fall onto her cocked hip. “Ohmygosh. Look at all the gold decor. Lovin’ the theme here. It’s so much prettier than back home, right?”
Levi, the other woman, eyes her surroundings and shrugs. “It’s alright I guess. The grass is always greener, Persephone.” She runs her fingers up one of the gold banisters and checks it for dust.
Persephone rolls her eyes. “Come ooooooooon, Levi. Don’t be such a drag! When’s the last time you were in Eden? More importantly, when’s the last time you were in Heaven? Dunno about you, but I got a little bit of spending money from Hades on the way out so I’m gon’ grab a few outfits while we’re up here. You think Angel chic will go over well in Hell? Yes? No? Maybe so?”
“I don’t know.” Levi sighs. “Why ask me?”
“Good point.” Persephone reaches out and tugs at the tattered cloak over Levi’s shoulder. “You do kinda just wear rags everywhere you go. Ick. Listen, babe, I’ll touch down with Aphrodite while we’re up here-”
“No thank you.”
“We’ll get your hair done-”
“No thank you.”
“Find a glamour spell or two that works well with your tone-”
“No thank you.”
“And get you a new outfit! You’ll be all like ‘Roar, the apocalypse sucked but look at how goddamn cute I am!’.”
Levi exhales. “Alright. Fine. After I see Michael.”
“Oh? Someone’s in a rush,” Persephone says, throwing an arm over Levi’s shoulder. “So Michael’s your favorite Archangel? See, I was more of a Zadkiel gal myself. I liked the whole bad boy vibe he gave off.”
“Ahem.” Freya clears her throat, snaring the other women’s attention. Why they were there or who they are isn’t much of her business, but seeing as they’d mentioned Michael and the Archangels, she figured she could at least point them in the right direction.
“Oh! Look, it’s the help!” Persephone claps her hand and from the smoldering hole in the ground comes several large vines. Each fern carries a massive bag that is dropped into Freya’s grip in quick succession of one another. “Carry those to the room reserved for the Princes of Hell, would you?”
“The Princes...of Hell,” Freya asks.
Freya knew who the Princes of Hell were, but like many, she hadn’t actually seen any of them. The Princes are more like wardens than royalty, with each of them guarding one of the seven sectors in hell. Eight if one were to count the glorified holding area, Purgatory. Because the princes are powerful enough to keep the strongest demons and greatest sinners in check, Freya had come to make assumptions about how they’d appear. To put it bluntly, she expected more Michael and less...valley girl.
“Did you really need to bring half of Hades’ things with you,” Levi asks, shaking her head.
“Pft, it took a decade to get here, you better believe I’m making a trip out of this. Besides, those are only the essentials.”
“Right.” Levi looks over at Freya. “If you’d be so kind miss, please do show us to that room now.”
“I like her outfit. Be sure to tip her, alright Levi?”
Freya thinks about dropping the bags, but out of respect for their titles, she sets them down gently.
“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not the help. Like you, I’m an emissary. Freya, of Asgard.”
“Freya...” Persephone’s voice trails off.
“...Of the Valkyries.” Levi finishes.
“Leviathan. Persephone. You’re here.”
Raphael’s voice moves in behind Freya and she looks back to see him approaching. The Archangel wastes no time and puts himself before the women to shake both of their hands.
“I pray you’ve both been faring well?”
Persephone opens her mouth, but Leviathan steps in front of her.
“I’m disappointed. Is there any reason Eden’s security system is down? We were able to materialize within the castle walls instead of being redirected to the front gate. What gives?”
“Ever the little worker bee, even when on administrative leave,” Raphael says with a laugh.
“See,” Persephone says. “He so just called this a vacation.”
Raphael motions around the hall. “Things have been on the ‘fritz’ around here lately. I’ll clarify during the meeting. But our security system isn’t the only thing having trouble. If you are worried about our safety then I take it everything has been sorted out in Hell, yes?”
Leviathan doesn’t respond. Persephone gives her a concerned look.
Freya knew that the laws of in Heaven extended throughout the cosmos, especially in Hell, but to see one of Hell’s wardens fall in line for this Archangel is mystifying. Both Michael and a Prince of Hell are subservient to this man, Raphael. It makes sense as The King of Kings’ adviser Raphael has the authority and Freya just has to get used to that.
Persephone claps, wrangling the attention on herself. “Oh, right! Daddy told me to give you his regards and apologize for being unable to meet with you directly.”
Raphael arches his eyebrow. “Daddy...? Hera told me that Zeus was...”
Leviathan sighs. “She’s referring to Hades, sir.”
Two vines sprout up from behind Persephone. One vine places a pair of thin pink glasses on the bridge of her nose while another presents her with a scroll. She unravels the document, clears her throat and reads.
“As you know, following The Apocalypse there was a massive influx of prisoners and souls entering Hell. We’ve kept a great deal of them in holding, but Hades has been swamped with work processing them all and incarcerating the demons who didn’t escape during the jailbreak back into their designated circles. As such, Hades has sent me in his stead.”
Persephone rolls up the scroll and hands it to Raphael. “This is a copy of Hades’ report. He believes you’d understand and that this parchment will suffice as an update on Hell’s current status. Given the Bifrost has fallen, it’d be inconvenient to send messengers back and forth, so he hopes this will show that progress is being made for the time being and you won’t require further updates until we’ve secured a more consistent means of communication.”
Well, Persephone seemed professional all of a sudden.
“Hades remains diligent as always,” Raphael says with a smile.
“I have some information to share as well,” Leviathan says, stepping towards Raphael.
Leviathan holds up her hand and a green flame erupts between her digits. The fire flickers for a moment before fading, leaving another scroll in its place. Leviathan hands the document to Raphael.
“Escaping from any Circle of Hell should be impossible due to the power of each prince and the sheer size of the domains. Yet a breakout still occurred. This map shows all the escape points we’ve located. It would seem that the escapees were aided by a hellfire user.”
Hellfire. That’s a technique Freya hadn’t heard of in some time. According to the eldest Vanir mages, hellfire was a power unmatched in the cosmos. A magic not unlike fire, but with the capability of burning more than matter. Hellfire could burn away concepts themselves, as though a direct answer to The King of King’s creation magic.
Leviathan continues. “We’re trying to determine whether it was The Phantom Queen or-”
“That’s enough,” Raphael says. “I appreciate your efforts, but the majority of the fugitives came from your circle,” Leviathan says nothing. Raphael takes the map. “But we’ll save that discussion for another time. Come, we’re to meet with the others right away.”
Raphael looks over his shoulder at Freya. “Still here?”
“Oh,” Freya says, startled. “I’m sorry, I should’ve-”
“Take it from the cosmos most curious man; it’s okay to have interest in things far beyond your scope. Just make sure you don’t lose yourself amidst all the new information. Stay the course, Freya.” Raphael finishes and walks away. Persephone and Leviathan follow.
As the trio turns the corner and disappears, Freya clenches her fist at her side. “Damn it…”
Freya nearly jumps at the sound of Sif’s voice. She reaches out and Freya pulls back.
Sif smiles apologetically. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was just accompanying Hera and the twins to see Athena and caught sight of you...are you doing okay?”
Freya sighs, shakes her head and steps back. “What do you think?”
“Please don’t blame yourself for this.”
“And why shouldn’t I? I could have killed that girl, and for what? Vindication? ‘Justice’? I could have killed her and been NONE the wiser for it! So, my queen, PLEASE, tell me why I shouldn’t blame myself!”
“This was NOT your fault! If I hadn’t-”
“But you did! And I don’t blame you for that. Truly. These are MY powers. I fell into darkness and I LOST myself. I would have killed him. I wanted to. I wanted to kill him and I lost sight of everything else. Odin was right about me. I’m dangerous. I’m no better than Fenrir. Maybe I’m worse.”
“Freya, STOP. You’re being ridiculous! Just listen to me!”
“At least the wolf was honest about his hunger! I tried to lie to myself, right up to the very end, and Athena could have died. What does that make me if not a monster?!”
Sif rushes forward to close the distance between them, and before Freya can resist she’s pulled into a tight embrace. “I’ve always...envied your strength”, Sif whispers. “Even at your most fragile, even when you’re hurting, you’re so, so strong.” Freya can’t help but close her eyes and lean into the hug. “Strong enough to let yourself feel pain. To confront it. You’re not running away. You’re not crumbling under the weight of it all. Even now, you’re fighting. You’re fighting for everyone else, whether you know it or not. I’m…” Sif’s voice falters. “...kind of broken, you know?”
“I’m broken and I’m angry. I want to believe I’m strong, but more than anything, I’m scared. But I’ve never been scared of you, child. Because I trust you. And I hope you’ll learn to trust yourself, too. You’re a good person, Freya.”
“Am I…?” Freya’s voice breaks, and she burrows into Sif. “How do you know?”
“I just do, okay?” Sif runs a hand through Freya’s hair. “Stay by my side, and I promise you -- you’ll see it too. In time. Together, we can make a difference. You’ll see.” Sif brings Freya’s head towards her, leaning up to plant a comforting kiss on her forehead.
“But-” Gabriel’s horn blares, cutting Freya short. Sif frowns and slowly pulls away.
“You should go”, Freya steps back and folds her arms, sighing. “Raphael’s calling for a meeting and I don’t think I’m invited.”
Sif arches an eyebrow. “How do you know?”
“...I followed along with Athena. Raphael was there, and...Athena, she said that Jesus Christ had been killed.”
Freya opens her mouth to respond but stops short at the sight of Sif shaking her head. The older woman sighs in exasperation before taking a step closer and lowering her voice.
“Do you trust me?”
“What? Of course, I-”
“I want you to listen in on the meeting.”
Freya blinks, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Raphael has no reason to exclude you. You have as much right to be here as anyone else. So use that magic of yours.” Sif smiles. “If not for yourself, then for my sake. Can you do that?”
“I…” Freya pauses, then nods. “...yes. Of course.”
“Good”, Sif grins, squeezing Freya’s shoulder supportively before walking off. “You and I are in this together.”
Freya looks around the hallway until she spots the dim flicker of candlelight through an open door. She peers inside, finding what appeared to be an empty study. Bookcases circled the small room from one end to the other, as though built into the wall itself. At its center sat a modest desk stacked with scrolls and a single candle that served as the sole source of light.
Hearing faint footsteps coming from the other end of the hall, Freya walks in and closes the door behind her, leaning into it from behind. The footsteps grow closer, and while she can’t make out the words, she recognizes the sound of Hera’s voice and the two princes of hell, accompanied by the fluttering of Gabriel’s wings. Two more voices she doesn’t recognize follow shortly after. Freya exhales, closes her eyes, and focuses, reaching out with her mind as if following the voices.
Freya hadn’t used a scrying spell in ages, but soon enough the details fall into place. Images and sounds slowly filter into her mind as though appearing through a fog that lifts and fades away, revealing a large council chamber. Raphael was situated front and center behind a podium that overlooked the ornate room of silver and gold. Michael stands on the ready at Raphael’s side. Sif was already in attendance, occupying a seat in the center aisle, tapping one of her heeled boots impatiently.
The doorway leading into the chamber parts and Gabriel peeks in briefly, nodding once in Raphael’s direction before floating off as Hera strides in. She smiles warmly in Sif’s direction and takes the seat closest to her. Following the Olympian queen, Leviathan and Persephone walk in and take a pair of seats on the other end of the aisle that Hera and Sif occupied. Leviathan and Michael give one another a hard look over before gazing elsewhere.
The last to enter are two men Freya wasn’t acquainted with. She recognizes one -- the man with the head of an ibis that she’d seen in the amphitheater. Freya assumes that this must be Tehuti, advisor to Ra. He bows courteously upon entering and takes one of the remaining seats between the princes and the pair of queens.
The man that follows enters in a way that doesn’t just demand respect, but downright commands it, adorned with ornate green robes accented with gold. His outfit, if Freya remembers right, is a Mianfu. Pair the caliber of his clothing together with his top knot and neat facial hair, and Freya figures he must be the Jade Emperor. He doesn’t bother making eye contact with any of the others, taking his seat in the aisle closest to the entrance and farthest from everyone else.
“Thank you all for coming”, Raphael begins, looking around the room with a pleasant smile. “I wish it were under better circumstances. I have come to learn that Jesus Christ, heir to the King of Kings and prince of the Christian pantheon, has been murdered.”
The Jade Emperor laughs. Everyone else falls into silence for a moment.
“Allow me to offer my deepest apologies”, Tehuti bows in reverence. “While I never had the pleasure of meeting the prince in person, tales of his generosity of spirit attest to-”
“Blah”, Jade interrupts, yawning before turning his head towards Raphael. “Don’t tell me this is why you called upon us.”
“Emperor, please”, Raphael sighs. “Respect is not demanded, but nonetheless, some...restraint would be appreciated.”
“Ugh, fine, fine”, Jade rolls his eyes. “Please accept my deepest condolences for your dead boy.”
Hera tilts her goblet up and nods. “Indeed. A shame.”
Leviathan and Persephone both bow. “I’m truly sorry”, Leviathan says.
“Yup, same. That’s really sad. Poor kid”, Persephone pouts.
“Pity”, Sif says.
Jade clears his throat loudly. “So...are we going to discuss that nonsense in the arena, or are we just going to sob in a circle for hours on end?”
Raphael sighs and adjusts his glasses. “Yes...about that. I’m sure many of you have questions-”
“Oh, you’ve got that right.” Sif cuts Raphael off with a glare.
“Ah, Lady Sif. I apologize for any distress my actions may have-”
“Inaction; you stood by and did nothing as that monster defiled that poor girl!”
“...you’re right”, Raphael admits. “But it was not without due cause. I have reason to believe that Ouroboros -- those we’ve come to learn were responsible for assassinating so many of our leaders -- may have infiltrators within the ruling pantheons.”
“That doesn’t explain a damn thing! And at the very least, you could have informed us of your suspicions. You left us in the dark, Raphael.”
“If I may”, Tehuti cuts in. “Didn’t Fenrir say something about this... ‘Ouroboros’? I recall overhearing the name during the evacuation. Is the wolf in some way connected?”
Raphael nods. “Indeed. Though I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple. During his...episode, I glimpsed into Fenrir’s mind and saw, quite frankly, nothing. Determining the scope of his involvement in Ouroboros is problematic. He himself knows less than we do.”
Sif narrows her eyes. “What exactly are you implying?”
“Someone or something made a puppet out of the wolf. I’ve never seen anything like it. Finding the one pulling the strings will be no easy task.”
“All the more reason to work together, then.” Tehuti chimes in, followed shortly by a loud groan courtesy of the Jade Emperor.
“Oh, won’t you shut up already?”
“Can you do nothing more than uselessly parrot back what you think everyone else wants to hear? Grow some backbone, you dolt.”
“Forgive me, emperor, but what is it precisely that you have contributed to this discussion thus far?”
“The personality you sorely lack.”
“Stop it, both of you”, Sif fixes the two men with a glare.
“Excuse me”, the Jade Emperor clears his throat, regarding Sif with mild disdain. “Who are you again? I don’t believe the blood of Odin runs through your veins. Your name is not Magni, Modi, or Throoth. Beyond them, the next of kin would be the...quiet one.” Jade snaps his finger as if trying to catch whatever name was fleeing him. “What was it again...Vidar, that’s it.”
Sif shoots him a look and he parries, looking off towards Raphael. “You are about as necessary as this knight in a conversation meant for kings.” Pausing, he points to her. “In case you’re unaware, I’m saying you shouldn’t be here.”
“Should a queen not sit among kings?”, Hera asks. “Zeus isn’t here, so I’m acting in his stead. The same is true for Sif.”
“I enjoy the Olympians well enough. You take pleasure in debauchery that would make a devil blush. You have as much right to your throne as Zeus did. It’s a right you’ve shared since before you were wed. A right you both earned at birth.”
Setting her cup down, Hera laughs and nods to the Emperor. “Indeed. And just as I have my claim, so too does Lady Sif. She is the queen by marriage.”
“She is the queen because her husband would have been king, but unfortunately that king is no more. His children or brother have more claim to the title. Even his bastard has more right than this one.” Jade motions dismissively towards Sif, who shoots back a look of tremendous aggravation.
“Hold your tongue, Emperor.” Hera smiles. “By marriage not to Thor, but to his brother, Vidar.”
Sif’s gaze snaps to Hera and her mouth’s agape. This seems to be news to her as much as it is to everyone else in the room.
“The quiet one? Well. I never thought it in him to do that kind of thing...”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sif speaks up, earning little more than a cursory glance from the Emperor.
“Oh, nothing, nothing. Just that I didn’t take him for the type to leap so quickly into the bed of his brother’s widow. I assumed he was a touch more honorable than that.”
“Really now, what is this fascination you seem to have with men of power? All this talk of honor and kings...do queens not interest you? Though”,
Hera pauses to take another sip, eyeing Jade. “I can’t say I’ve ever really cared for kings, so I suppose I understand the inclination. Perhaps you should have been wed to Zeus. My late husband may have fared better with a King than a Queen”, she cocks her head towards Sif. “Rest easy, emperor. Vidar doesn’t share in the particulars of your proclivities. He certainly enjoys Sif well enough in his brother’s absence. Honorable or not, I can attest to that.”
Hera raises her goblet in the direction of a blushing Sif before turning her attention once more to Jade. “In case you’re unaware, I’m saying they’ve consummated their marriage.” Jade chuckles, shakes his head and sinks back into his seat.
“...right then”, Raphael clears his throat and turns his attention towards Sif. “You mentioned I’d kept you in the dark. Surely you understand that trust has to go both ways.”
Sif looks poised to respond but seems to think better of it. Raphael waits a moment longer before following up.
“When exactly were you going to tell us about the Bifrost? How long as has it been functional?”
“Semi-functional”, Sif clarifies. “Brokkr finished only recently. There’s still a lot of repairs to be done, and Brokkr has yet to begin rebuilding the passages towards Jotunheim or Hell. As of right now if one were to use it, they’d need shards of pure Bifrost as a conduit for travel.”
“A...necessary design flaw?” Raphael asks, smiling.
Freya thinks back to the barrels of Bifrost Sif had brought to the meeting as a token of goodwill. The Aesir queen hadn’t seen fit to bring this up; likely a result of her growing distrust in Raphael.
“So how might we acquire some of this Bifrost?”, Raphael asks. “Shall we continue the partnership the King of Kings put in order that allowed all beings to use the bridge freely?”
“Yes”, Sif nods. “So long as they continue paying the Bifrost tax to the Aesir.”
“The Aesir employ the dwarves who know how to make the Bifrost”, Hera says. “It’s safe to assume that without the Aesir, we have no means of travel. Asgard is in ruins, and development of Bifrost was moved to Midgard. As a result, production has slowed and cost has increased. It only makes sense that Sif be able to charge what she wants from now on.”
“Hera…” Sif casts her eyes towards the fellow queen, who nods and smiles back in her direction.
“Well, that does seem fair”, Raphael nods. “Especially if we factor in all the Aesir have lost.”
“So we should expect a small increase in the tax?”, Jade asks. “Can the Archangels enforce that? Will they still be the debt collectors? And what of those who might not be able to afford the price hike?” Jade looks to Tehuti with a small smirk.
“What...what are you looking at me for?” Jade simply chuckles and looks away.
“No tax increase”, Sif speaks up. “No tax. I want people to buy Bifrost, by the pound, individually, at whatever price I see fit.
Jade laughs and stares at Sif, bewildered. “You’re crazy. The price would have to be consistent, and agreed upon by-”
“By who, exactly? Weren’t you the one who thought the idea of a council was laughable? I’ll charge what I want. If you aren’t willing to pay, enjoy spending decades getting home.”
Jade glares for a moment before sighing and looking away.
“...now then”, Raphael looks around the room. “If, indeed, this ‘Ouroboros’ is responsible for ushering in both Ragnarok and assassinating our leaders, then our best hope in combating them lies in the formation of a joint council.”
“Don’t speak as though your word is law”, The Jade Emperor cuts in. “I have no interest in such an alliance. How would this benefit my empire? Moreover...your prince is dead. What rightful claim do the Archangels have to preside over us? You are leaderless.”
Michael narrows his sight on Jade. Before he can say a word, however, Raphael raises a hand, silencing him.
“Make no mistake; I am aware of the situation at hand”, Raphael says. “I do not presume to rule over any of you. All I suggest is that we move forward in unity. Surely peace is incentive enough?”
“I agree”, Tehuti speaks up. “Given the circumstances, is it not in our collective interest to find some common ground?”
“How utterly unremarkable”, Jade comments dryly. “What a surprise to find the Egyptian house opting for the path of least resistance. How can you keep a straight face, acting as though you possess a single shred of authority?”
“I’m here on behalf of Ra as a representative. Does that in itself not grant me a ‘shred of authority’? More importantly, is it so wrong to-”
“Stop talking, boy”, Jade cuts in sharply. “Ambition, like a river, flows only in one direction. Forward. This ‘common ground’ you speak of breeds little more than complacency. We are not united. We will never be united.” He pauses and glances around the room. “Let’s not make this farcical affair out to be more than it is; a waste of our time. ”
“‘Farcical’ or not”, Raphael speaks up, “I’m sure, Emperor, even you wouldn’t argue that each of us is now faced with a common enemy.”
“The Kingslayers? Hardly”, Jade laughs. “I survived. Others did not. That’s their fault. Let them come at me if they choose. They’ll fail and I’ll win. Why should I concern myself with what fate befalls anyone else?”
“Because the last thing we need right now is another war”, Tehuti says with a frown. “Regardless of any advantages your house, or anyone else’s, may have over another. That doesn’t change the reality of our situation. Kingslayings aside, we’re faced with a shortage of divinity and no feasible means of acquiring more. Our struggles for power have already eliminated that option. If we continue down this path, it’ll destroy us as well.”
“Survival of the fittest, then”, Jade leans back in his seat with a smirk. “As it should be.”
“Come now, boys”, Hera interrupts, sighing. “Play nicely. We didn’t come here to squabble. Let’s get down to the matter at hand, shall we?”
“Yes...let’s do that”, Sif begins, staring up at Raphael with grim resolve. “Let’s start with Fenrir. You’ve established his involvement in this...Ouroboros plot. But if your magic revealed such a stark lack of awareness, what good can come from keeping the wolf alive? If he knows nothing, what’s the point? Execute him and let us finally be done with it.”
“That would be a callous mis-step”, Leviathan says. “Acting out of vengeance won’t bring us any closer to the truth.”
“The truth?” Sif practically growls as she turns to face Leviathan. “What truth can we expect to find by keeping that beast alive? Raphael said it himself -- there was nothing to find in that monster’s head! He’s nothing but a mad dog. He needs to be put down. The fact that he’s been kept alive this long is an insult to each and every life extinguished during Ragnarok!”
“Those lost to Ragnarok died swiftly. It would be an affront to their memory to grant their killer the same fate. The scale of his crime exceeds such a punishment. That isn’t justice. In the face of all that destruction -- and in the wake of all the fallen -- that’s mercy.”
“Mercy?” Sif spits, glaring daggers. “You can’t seriously think that-”
“Sif, dear, please”, Hera intervenes, smiling softly. “Do try to relax, won’t you? For me?”
“I...but what of Athena? Don’t you want justice for your daughter? She could have died!”
“Yes. And she didn’t. She’s resilient...like her father.”
“Lady Hera, I must commend you for maintaining such poise throughout this ordeal”, Raphael comments with a pleasant smile. “You’ve set an example for us all.”
“Yes, yes, I know”, Hera smiles back, tracing a finger along the edge of her goblet.
“Fine, fine”, Sif growls. “If the beast is not to be executed, what then? What’s the point in interrogating one who knows nothing?”
Raphael shifts his attention back to Sif. “It’s always possible that answers lie hidden deeper inside, just out of my reach. Unlikely, but possible. It will take time and diligence to find them, however.”
“Right. And in that time, what’s to stop one of these members of Ouroboros from getting to the dog first? You yourself believe that there may be infiltrators here on Eden.”
“That’s precisely why Fenrir should be relocated to hell”, Leviathan says. “For a time, at least.”
“Hell? As in the very same hell that countless rapists and murderers have escaped from?” Sif scoffs. “That’s a bit ill-advised, don’t you think?”
“It’s true that our security was...compromised, to put it lightly. But Persephone and I have already addressed these concerns with Raphael, and I assure you, Lady Sif”, Leviathan pauses and looks over the entire room. “I assure all of you -- that it won’t happen again.”
“I admit that I share some of Lady Sif’s trepidation”, Tehuti speaks up. “But I believe this may well be the best course of action available to us. If Raphael’s suspicions prove true, Fenrir should be relocated as soon as possible. If there are indeed Ouroboros collaborators lurking in the shadows of Eden, what other choice is there?”
Raphael nods. “Precisely. Fenrir can be interrogated in Hell while we investigate matters here in Eden. It may not be the ideal solution, but it’s the best we’ve got.”
Sif sighs. “I only want to see justice served. To that end, Raphael...I’ll be transparent with you.”
“My daughter is alone on Midgard, just as Athena was. Your prince -- a mere child, was cut down with us none the wiser.” She pauses, looking around the room, her expression softening. “Midgard is no place for godlings. We’re going to bring her...to bring them home.”.”
“And how do you propose to do this?”
“Freya and Freyr could operate as a rescue party. Athena’s proven someone can make it here from Midgard. So we’ll send them at once. I have the utmost confidence in their abilities, and more importantly, I trust them.”
“Very well then. Lady Sif, instruct the Vanir twins to prepare for travel and see them off. Do keep in mind that the Archangels will find out if Freya’s power is unleashed and will act accordingly. The ability to manipulate reality itself cannot remain unchecked. What transpired in the arena should serve as a reminder of that. ”
Sif nods, and Raphael’s gaze sweeps across the room. “Alright then. Leviathan, Persephone -- I’ll see to it that the guards currently keeping watch over Fenrir escort him to you. As for the issue of a joint council-”
Jade groans, rises to his feet and briskly strides out the door.
“Well”, Raphael clears his throat and shrugs. “I suppose we can discuss it another time. For now, I thank you all for your patience and cooperation”, Raphael bows to the remaining deities. “That will be all.”
Gradually, the emissaries begin filtering out until no one remains but Raphael. Freya’s about to sever the scrying spell when she notices Michael and Leviathan pay one another a knowing look. This one lasts until she leaves and Michael approaches Raph.
“Jackasses,” Michael mutters.
Raphael is silent for a moment before turning to Michael, chuckling. “I do wish you wouldn’t scowl so much Michael. You don’t look the least bit angelic when you do that.”
Michael exhales, letting his heavy shoulders fall. “Sir. You should have allowed me to intervene the moment Athena appeared. Frankly, I don’t understand. What was the point?”
Raphael smiles almost apologetically. “Perhaps you’re right. But sometimes we must act against our better intentions. Order would not exist without chaos. The construct of law sits uneasily upon the frenzy of ambition. Neither of us is naive enough to believe otherwise”, Raphael pauses, fixing Michael with a look.
“And Hera is unapologetically ambitious. Though this marriage to Vidar is questionable, it’s quite clear Sif grieves for her late husband. But Hera and Zeus were never on the best of terms. And Athena is more the daughter of Zeus than she ever was Hera’s.”
“I understand that, sir”, Michael nods grimly. “But that doesn’t make any of this feel any better...and that doesn’t answer the question.”
Raphael adjusts his glasses and inhales. “I believe that Hera may be, in part, responsible for Zeus’ death. If, indeed, he is dead. She inherited the throne under a rather suspicious set of circumstances. Fenrir is responsible for the death of Odin and linked to the organization behind these king-slayings. What better faction to align oneself within the pursuit of power than one dedicated to eradicating the competition?”
“Ambitious, yes, but do you truly believe she’s ruthless enough to allow her own daughter to endure that sort of torment?”
“...and you were willing to allow chaos to unfold to gauge her reaction? That doesn’t seem like the most...appropriate course of action.”
“Perhaps not”, Raphael sighs. “But chaos is ugly, and the truth of one’s character tends to surface when tensions are high. Either Hera is even more cunning than I had anticipated or her indifference to Athena’s well-being is greater than I’d imagined. Regardless, I have no actionable information to condemn her one way or the other, so for the time being, we should turn our attention to other matters; namely, the prince’s assassination.”
Michael sighs warily. “We hadn’t heard from the prince in years. We assumed the best and failed to prepare for the worst. We should think about retaliation as soon as possible. Any news from Youfiel on the whereabouts of The Horsemen?”
Raphael shakes his head. “No. With the Bifrost down I had no way of contacting anyone on Midgard. The best course of action may be to travel there ourselves.”
Michael grunts. “Travel? Without the rainbow bridge? That’ll take a century.”
“Well, so long as we play nice with Sif, she might be willing to part with some of that bifrost dust of hers. That’ll shave off a great deal of travel time.”
“I should have been there. If I was on Midgard then-”
“Then it would have been far worse. The king forbid you from fighting for a reason. Had the Phantom Queen touched your mind the way she did the others, I doubt any army in the nine realms could’ve stopped you. We would have lost more than the mortals that day. Moreover, the bridge being down may be of some benefit. While it does strand us here, it does the same for anyone else not aligning themselves with the Aesir. For the moment we don’t need to worry about Ouroboros advancing to any other realms or our more ambitious kings and queens from trying anything too risky. Now then, you should prepare yourself for a long stay on Midgard. I haven’t a clue if Sif will be willing to share enough of her powder for a round trip. I’ll put Gabriel on duty here and in any neighboring realm we can reach within a year’s time. They’ll search out any insurgents that might be here.”
“That’ll be all, Lady Freya”, Raphael pauses, smiling briefly. “You can stop eavesdropping now. And please do inform Lady Sif and Hera that they are no longer under suspicion. Best of luck on Midgard. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Just like that, the connection is severed and Freya reels back.
Exhaling, Freya stares blankly at the shelf ahead of her, gaze tracing the tips of uneven shadows cast by a lone candle.
Ouroboros. In the span of a single day, this organization had turned everything she knew upside down. If Fenrir was a ‘puppet’, as Raphael put it, then could he truly be held accountable? Had someone else twisted him into the monster she’d seen in the arena -- the beast that had devoured her children?
No. No more second guessing. No more fear. No more hatred.
Don’t let them win.
She’d spent enough time living in the shadow of questions. Now was not the time for what-ifs. Sif had entrusted her with a mission; a purpose. A chance for redemption. She turns, opens the door, and wanders out into the night air. She stares out towards the arena, draped in shadow and starlight, and glances to the realms above. Her eyes settle on Midgard.
“There you are.” She turns at the sound of Freyr’s voice and smiles. “Freya, we...er, Lady Sif, she told me that-”
Sif appears around the corner and walks up to his side, giving Freya a knowing smile.
“She was listening. She knows.”
“Oh”, Freyr mutters.
“Let’s do this.” Freya says. “Let’s go to Midgard.”
“Freya...after everything, do you really think you can do this? Do you think you should do this? You’ve suffered enough. You’ve spent enough of your life fighting. We both have.”
“You’re right, brother. But there’s a girl out there, alone, and I want to help her.” Freya pauses, turns to Sif, and smiles. “I want to help them all.”
“But...” Freyr sighs. “Okay. I just don’t want to see you hurting, y’know? Not anymore.”
“All the more reason to leave, then.” Freya chuckles and takes a step closer. “You know what they say about Alfheim, after all. It’s as beautiful as it is treacherous.”
Freyr can’t help but grin and shake his head. “You know damn well that nobody says that.”
Sif arches an eyebrow and stares at the twins for a moment before reaching back to remove the key from around her neck. She pulls it off and hands it to Freya, smiling.
“Thank you”, she murmurs, tilting her head towards Freyr. “Thank you both.” She reaches out, palm upturned, and Freya stares down at the small pouch resting in her hand, filled to the brim with dust that glittered like a rainbow.
“Don’t mention it.” Freya smiles and takes a handful of the dust. Freyr steps forward and does the same.
“So...how’s this gonna work, exactly?” Freyr asks.
“Until the Bifrost is fully repaired, you’ll have to rely on your memory”, Sif says. “Take the dust, close your eyes, and picture Midgard as vividly as you can.”
“Well, it would help if you both pictured the same place.”
The twins share a knowing look and nod. Casting one final glance up towards Midgard, Freya inhales, clenches her fingers around the sparkling dust, and closes her eyes.
Bring them home.