public

Hel is a Four Letter Word. Chapter Eleven.

It's the morning after and James reflects on his life and the case in the clear cold morning air...

a year ago

Latest Post Three Poems by Edward Shaddow public

Previous Chapters.

I woke up with a start, my arms empty and I was alone in the bed. It took a few waking minutes to survey the room and confirm that last night did in fact happen and wasn’t just a perverted dream. The empty mini-bar bottles and bloody towel on the bed helped resolve my memories of the night. Tired and sore I pulled myself out of the bed and stumbled my way into the shower. There was no sign of Hel or her clothes. It wasn’t the first time a woman has disappeared on me and wouldn’t be the last so I wasn’t entirely concerned. I figured that I had made my way into her good books enough not to suffer too much in the next life. Might even be fairly pleasurable if the affair continued post mortem, as it were.

Dodgy hotel heating meant that in the middle of my relaxing lukewarm shower, it suddenly decided that it would only offer up freezing cold water. I ended up avoiding the water till I needed to wash the soap off, spending the rest of the time dodging the stray streams of ice  that managed to shock me every time. What should have been a long, leisurely start to the morning quickly became a rude awakening. In the end I was clean and alert but not happy about it. I decidedly avoided looking directly in the mirror, it only showed me terrible things this early in the morning.

I wandered back into the main room, towel wrapped around my waist hoping to warm up a bit near the radiator. The heating was as helpful as the shower and I was slowly dripping water onto the ugly brown carpet, but I didn’t care that much. Instead I investigated the room’s tea and coffee making facilities when I found the note. Scribbled hastily on hotel stationary in an almost rune like script were the words ‘getting breakfast’. At least she hadn’t run away entirely. I took comfort in the knowledge that she cared enough to leave a note or even to contemplate coming back. I looked over at the pile of dirty clothes on the chair and cursed silently remembering the suitcase I had left in the boot of the hire car. Luckily there wasn’t much in it apart from a few shirts and trousers, I always travelled light on jobs, less things to hold you back. I dried myself off quickly and climbed back into my unwashed clothes. The rough fabric of my shirt clung to my cold, damp body as I buttoned it up.

I absent-mindedly ran a hand through the rough stubble adorning my face. I was going to need a shave soon but my kit was safely inside my lost case. I made a mental note to pick up a new razor when I next had the chance. It was my experience that women loved the look of stubble in theory but the practicalities of it was another story, not that I was expecting our little tryst to repeat itself. Once was a gift, the second time a hope, and the third a relationship. Judging by our time frame and her waning powers it would be a while before we saw each other again after the job was done. I’d be better off seeing how things play out and hope for the best. It wasn’t in my nature to push a good thing too far and ruin what little happiness I had. I almost laughed at myself for that thought.

I heard the door unlock as I finished making myself presentable to the waiting world. I poked a head through to the main room to see Hel, dressed in her all black gear carrying a large brown bag that brought with it the smell of pure joy.
‘Honey, you brought me bacon!’ I said taking the bag from her hands. I cleared the small table by the end of the bed and unpacked the breakfast. Takeaway containers held everything you needed to make a full English breakfast, with the welcomed addition of sausages and pancakes.
‘I couldn’t carry tea as well.’ She said taking off her jacket and settling into the room’s only chair. The simple electric kettle clicked off as it boiled. I smiled.
‘Already taken care of.’ I said getting up to turn the hot water into two cups of instant caffeine. ‘This early I prefer coffee anyway.’ I said. Hel looked at me quizzically.
‘I tried that the other morning. I didn’t like it that much.’ She said turning her nose up at the thought of the beverage. I emptied a sachet of instant coffee in a mug and the smell filled my nose instantly perking me up.
‘It’s one of those acquired tastes.’ I said adding a teabag to the other mug and finishing the beverages.

Placing the two steaming hot mugs on the table I took an awkward seat on the edge of the bed and we started to eat in relative silence. I watched as the goddess ate hungrily, tasting everything she had brought as if for the first time. Apparently I had stopped eating and was just watching her, something I hadn’t noticed myself doing until she stopped herself and looked up at me that is. Bits of egg clung to her perfect chin, almost comically and I couldn’t help but laugh.
‘What?’ She said looking at me. Eyes wide she looked truly horrified. ‘What is it?’ She asked again. I grinned stupidly and indicated to her chin. She hastily wiped it clean with a napkin and glared at me. ‘I like food ok? I don’t really eat when I’m at full power and on the very rare occasions I do get to visit all I want to do is experience everything. Which, of course explains last night…’

I’ve never seen a goddess blush before. Tell a lie, I did see Pallas Athena blush once in response to something Aphrodite said. To be fair it also made me blush a deep red so I don’t think that really counts. I smiled at her.
‘If it’s any consolation I had a good time. One to tell the grand kids…when they get older of course.’ I quickly covered up my babbling by putting a mug of coffee to my mouth. Silence fell on the room once again as she continued eating and I drained my cup of it’s bounty. I mentally lamented that we had drunk all the whiskey last night and couldn’t Irish-up my morning start. Instead I decided to move the conversation forward and started to discuss the day’s game plan.

‘I think we should go back to the Hotel Midgar. Retrace Baldr’s steps from the beginning.’ She looked at me, confused by the suggestion.
‘Isn’t that where people are trying to kill and or kidnap me?’
I waved a dismissive hand. ‘I’ve got a feeling I know who was feeding you the false information.’ I said picking up the last sausage from its plastic tray. ‘If we lean on him just a little I think we can find out where Baldr is, or at least where he’s headed.’ I wiped my hands clean, stood up and grabbed my jacket. ‘Hope you like walking goddess, I can’t afford a cab or another hire car, even if they would rent one to me.’ I offered a hand to help her up, she looked despondent that we were leaving some of the food behind but followed me out the door nonetheless. We checked out as quickly as our host would let us, slugging me a huge amount for room service in the process. Eighty pounds for drinking such a small amount of alcohol? I was daylight robbery and I said as much to him. It almost came to fists but luckily Hel was a little more level headed and calmed the situation down. As we left I thought I could hear the owner say my alias and when I looked he was busy talking on the phone. I gave him a weary look but continued walking anyway.

The dull English sun struggled to be seen through the expansive cloud cover, giving the world a muted tone. It reminded me a little of Hel’s domain, colourless and dark. All we needed was the famous London fog to wash in over the streets and you could be mistaken for feeling like the recently dead. We walked the hour into the city proper in relative silence which suited me fine. The shared experience of last night was either forgotten or ignored for now, although part of me rather strongly wanted to claim back some of that late night passion. I had to accept that the goddess most likely wasn’t looking for a long term thing with a mortal, and to be frank neither was I, but that heady pull of a new relationship is strong. As I walked on I contemplated how much of an idiot I was in between formulating some sort of plan for the Hotel.

Usually I didn’t bother with pre-planing, I just let ideas form on the fly. This was also why I got hurt more often then not. I had a gut feeling that Siegfried was in on the whole deal, not sure why though. The guy came across as a little too well connected within the whole hotel not to have some clue, more so than the night manager at least. The trick was going to be getting to him without alerting our pursuers or my former employers. Going into the hotel clearly wasn’t the smartest of options but our options were lacking. Knowing what kind of power base that place has and all the loyal staff we’d be lucky to get past the front desk without being dragged into a back room somewhere. We were going to have to draw him out and I knew just the way to do it.

‘You met Siegfried at the hotel didn’t you?’ I asked Hel as we walked along one of the busier streets. People stopped constantly to window shop at the various designer stores, I even caught Hel looking at a few once or twice, an excited hunger flashing across her eyes at the offerings. ‘Uh, yes.’ She said thinking about it for a moment. ‘He helped me find the newspapers and get these clothes. Although I’d much rather something like that.’ She pointed towards a shop window mannequin wearing a decidedly rockabilly black and white polka dot dress. I looked at her curiously.
‘We’ll get it for you on the way back, it’s a little…impractical for now.’ I reasoned without luck, I had already lost the argument when she stopped at the shop entrance. She looked down at her denim pant leg flapping in the soft breeze, exposing her bullet wound dressing.
‘It would be much more practical than these.’ She said ignoring me entirely and pushing her way into the store. I sighed heavily and followed her in.

She was already asking the sales assistant for help when I walked through the door. I had to admit that the dress did look nice but it didn’t really scream ‘inconspicuous’. When a goddess gets an idea in her head though, us mere mortals can only stand back and let her go. Hel was directed towards the dressing rooms at the back while I awkwardly stood around trying not to look too out of place. A task which I failed at spectacularly. When she finally emerged from the changing rooms I admit I was taken back a little. The large white dots stood out against the black background of the material, blending the colours of her hair with the design rather nicely. A large heart shape was cut out around the chest exposing a lot without being too revealing. My eyes ran down her body as she did slow turns in the large mirrors. Her bandaged calf was still exposed as the hem of the dress fell just above her knees but somehow it all worked.

I may have let out a sly whistle as she walked towards me. Her black lips curled into a giddy smile.
‘Looking good kiddo.’ I said checking her out once again. I got her to turn around and grabbed a look at the price tag hanging from the back. ‘Ouch.’ I said mentally calculating how much cash I had left. I half expected her to use the old puppy dog eyes on me but instead she just stared blankly at me.
‘I don’t have enough cash for this and I don’t have an expense account to fall back on now, unless you’re loaded?’ I explained. ‘Looks like you’ll have to leave it behind.’ Her blank stare quickly turned into a frown.
‘I don’t think so.’ She said ripping the tag from the dress and storming out of the store. I called after her but she disappeared out the door. I suddenly had the realisation that I had become the patsy for a minor theft. I moved quickly and calmly towards to door hoping the sales assistants wouldn’t notice. No such luck however as the one who helped Hel with the dress came over as I neared the exit.

‘Did you need help with anything today, sir?’ She asked a little too sweetly. I shook my head putting on my best indifferent face.
‘Not today, love. The lady changed her mind.’ The girl looked around a little confused.
‘Lady…?’ She asked not quite sure.
‘Yeah, the lady I was just with. She changed her mind.’ I made for the door slowly.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you were with anyone. Have a good day anyway sir!’ She called cheerfully as I walked back onto the street. Hel was standing a few shops down waiting for me. Her new dress catching on the gentle breeze that swept down the street. She looked pleased with herself when I caught up to her. ‘What was that then?’ I asked. She started walking and avoided the question, her black lips letting a smile slip across her face.
‘I don’t know what you mean.’ She said avoiding eye contact with me. Bloody goddesses.
‘You know, you could have done that trick when that con artist was trying to overcharge me for sub-par booze!’ She kept walking and I let an annoyed silence fall between us. About a block later I broke the self imposed silent treatment by saying she looked nice. Her smile grew wider but she remained quiet. Her hand brushed lightly against mine and neither of us moved them away.

Soon we found ourselves less than a block from the hotel, it’s impressive stone work visible from a distance. As the clouds moved across the sky shadows rose and fell along the intricate carvings, giving the illusion of movement in the stone branches. A long dark shadow caught my eye as I watched it slide down to the ground and disappear, for a moment I could have sworn it looked just like a snake but dismissed it as my tired eyes playing tricks. The world was a strange enough place without my twisted mind adding to it. I gently pulled Hel aside and let the throng of early afternoon shoppers trickle pass us.
‘We need to get Siegfried out of the hotel and you’re going to be our bait.’ I said keeping an eye out for anyone who didn’t look like they belonged. I pointed to the red and glass phone box on the corner. ‘Call the hotel, ask to talk to him and tell him to meet you out by this laneway.’ I said pointing to the slim gap between buildings. It was a dead end but would suit my purposes well enough.

‘What should I tell him?’ She asked as I pressed a few coins into her hand.
‘You’re a smart queen of the underworld, you’ll figure something out.’ I said a little too sarcastic. She screwed up her face and shot me a look before heading over to the phone box. I headed to the laneway and made myself comfortable inside a deep doorway. The large garbage bins would help to hide me till he was far enough in so as not to be seen from the street. I wasn’t sure what Hel said to him on the phone but I didn’t have to wait too long before the blond man stalked towards me in his spotless crimson uniform. The fancy gold buttons shining as they caught the light.

Hel was leading him further into the laneway closer to where I was waiting. I could see he was slightly nervous but still he followed the black and white woman into the unknown. As soon as he was close enough I stepped out of the shadows. Despite my form not being terribly impressive, the surprise of me suddenly appearing showed on his face. I didn’t give him a chance to say or do anything as I rushed him and held him hard against the wall by the lapels.
‘Hello Siegfried.’ I said. ‘Remember me? I’m the guy you helped setup.’ I flashed my teeth as I smiled at him. ‘Now I’m certain that you remember the lady, lovely goddess from the underworld. Tell her you like her new dress, Siegfried.’ He looked worried and stammered something. I slammed him against the bricks jarring his head back where it thunked solidly. ‘Louder Siegfried.’
‘I…I like your dress, goddess.’ He stammered. His hands were gripping my arms as he tried to steady himself against my force.
‘You’re not a stranger to godliness are you son? I thought you a demigod when we first met but now I think about it only true gods would be allowed to cross the bridge between worlds. You must be one of the lesser Asgardians otherwise your power base here wouldn’t let me do this.’ I slammed a fist into his stomach forcing him to double over as I knocked the air from his lungs. I hauled him upright again.
‘Now, you know it’s not nice to set up one of your own right?’. His eyes were glazing over but I could see the fire of resistance growing on his face. I was going to have to be quick about this, I could feel my arms straining just holding him up. I decided to cut to the chase.

‘Where’s Baldr, Siegfried? Where is he?’ I slammed my fist into his stomach again. ‘Tell me and I’ll let you go back to being the good little bell hop for your masters.’ He coughed and spluttered as air struggled to fill his injured lungs. I heard a noise come from his throat but couldn’t understand. He repeated it but I still couldn’t understand. I pulled him up again and gave him a slap across the face for good measure. His coughing stopped and the anger in his face rose another notch.
‘Hallgrímskirkja!’ He spat at me.
‘Hall grim, ska what?’ I asked, looking at Hel. ‘What’s he saying?’ Hel took a step forward, her hands neatly held behind her back as her dress billowed in the unseen breeze of the alley. ‘Hallgrímskirkja. It’s a temple in Iceland. Odin’s temple.’ She said, whispering the All Father’s name.

‘He’s headed home then.’ I concluded. ‘Couldn’t he just go back to Asgard through the Hotel?’ I asked them both. Hel shook her head and so did Siegfried.
‘Only the living can travel through the Midgar bridge. Baldr might be out of my realm but his body was destroyed a long time ago.’
Siegfried chimed in. ‘I sent him to the All Father’s temple to be reborn. The golden child will come again, you’ll see.’ I wanted to slug his stupid face just because he was starting to annoy me, not to mention his part in setting me up. My arms were getting tired though and I wouldn’t be able to keep this tough guy act up for much longer. I threw him to the ground and laid a boot into him.

‘We’ll see about that. You tell my ex-employers that they can keep their other fifty percent. I don’t like being played.’ I motioned for Hel to follow me when I remembered something. ‘Oh, and tell them that the two guys they sent to finish the job aren’t coming back, they belong to her now.’ I said nodding towards the goddess. We were almost out of earshot when he yelled back, ‘who?’ I ignored him as we walked back onto the street. I rubbed my sore fist. The guy was stronger than I had counted on but I got what I needed. Across the street there were several hotel staff milling around the entrance, probably looking for Siegfried. I pulled Hel along and quickly walked back the way we had come, away from the hotel. I could feel her protesting a little but I didn’t let go till we were several blocks away.

‘So. Iceland.’ I said, once I felt we had put enough distance between us and the hotel. ‘Never been but I’ve heard it’s…cold.’ I couldn’t tell if she was mad at me or just deep in thought.  ‘He’s got at least two days on us.’ I said, thinking out loud. ‘If we try and catch up to him using conventional methods it’s going to be too late, if it isn’t already. We almost need divine intervention.’ I said looking at Hel. Her pale form was getting pinker by the hour, soon her black lips would fade into a cherry red and she would be no more a goddess than I was. ‘You’re not going to be much help with that. No offence.’ I said holding up a friendly hand. I quickly poured through all our options in my head and one solution stood out. ‘Come on.’ I said heading over to the nearest phone booth. I fed in enough coins to make the call and he answered on the third ring.
‘Hello?’ Came the distant and vague voice.
‘Steven.’ I half shouted over the crackling phone line. ‘James here. I need a favour.’ The static was bad but I was sure I heard a sigh come from the other end. ‘It’s not a big favour and not specifically for me, Steven.’ Silence or delay I wasn’t sure but eventually I heard a response from my long suffering Demi-god-with-benifits.
‘Oh hello, James. How are you? Well, oh I’m glad. I’m doing ok too, missed you at the Raven the other night but I’m sure you intended to call me and cancel.’ I cupped the phone receiver and cursed.

‘Shit.’ I said to no one in particular. Hel looked at me, leaning against the phone booth’s door propping it open. I put the phone back to my ear. ‘Steven, I’m sorry I had a job that couldn’t wait. Look, I’m in England and I need to get somewhere else rather urgently.’ I didn’t want to tell him everything right up front, people tend not to want to help you if you tell them exactly how big a favour you’re looking to cash in. I didn’t wait for him to respond. ‘Is your mother still dating Aurvandill the Valiant by any chance?’
‘England?’ He was never the brightest demi-god to exist but he was a good man where it counted. ‘What are you doing over there James? How did you even get in, I thought they had checks and blocks against people like you?’
‘Very funny Steven. I’m sorry to be so short but my new client is in a bit of a hurry.’ You couldn’t force Steven but you could hurry him along. Sometimes.
‘I hear Heathrow has a good airport, James. Wait, why did you want to know about my mother?’ As I said, a little slow some times.

‘I need Aurvandill to help me get to Iceland. He’s still got that ability doesn’t he?’ Aurvandill had a small but dedicated cult in the Americas, of all places. This gave him enough of a power base to exert some effect on the natural world, the primary form of this was instantaneous transport.
‘Iceland?’ Came the response a few seconds later.
‘Steve!’ I yelled loud enough that a few passers by shot me a dirty look. I gave them one back as I turned away from the street. ‘Steve, seriously I’m on a time limit here I’ll owe you and old Valiant huge favours but I just need to get from England to Iceland as quickly as possible. Can you make that happen?’ I didn’t like getting short with him, he’s a good bloke and I owe a Hel of a lot to him. I’ll have to make this up somehow, maybe he could have an apartment next to mine in the misty realm. My foot tapped impatiently as I waited for his response.

‘Ok.’ He said quietly. ‘I’ll ask him now, he’s actually due to come around in a few minutes. Once I explain that it’s a favour for the great James Carol I’m sure he’ll jump at the chance to help.’
‘Sarcasm doesn’t become you Steve. You’re too good for that.’ I said smiling. ‘Thanks love, I owe you big time.’
‘You bet you do, old man.’ He said before hanging up. Steve had the biggest heart I knew and it made me happy knowing his demi-god status would mean he’d outlive me by a few millennia. I climbed out of the booth and moved to a more isolated section of the street, Hel following quietly behind.
‘Ok, so transport should be along any moment and hopefully it’s not too late to get this thing wrapped up.’ We stood about silently for a while waiting awkwardly on the sidewalk. I watched Hel as she took the time to look around wide eyed at everything she saw. From buildings, to people, everything seemed new and exciting to her and I envied that. When I looked around all I saw was pain, suffering, and the nearest place to get a drink. Clearly I didn’t have a poetic bone in my body.

The distinct shimmer of an inbound god appeared out of the corner of my eye. Turning I saw the cold air ripple and shape a few meters away from us. It soon turned black and solidified in the shape of a rather tall, well built blond man. His black and white pin stripe suit strained against his well toned frame. A white dress shirt without a tie gave a casual attitude to the outfit, as did the well manicured blond goatee and moustache. Steven’s old lady had taste. Hel obviously felt the same way as her eyes locked on the now materialised god. He laid his eyes upon me and smiled that self centred smile that only a god could possess. I was pleased to see it wiped completely from his face when he looked at the polka dot wearing woman beside me. This entire ordeal was worth it just to watch a smug god be caught unawares. I stepped forward and Hel followed. As we closed the gap I extended a hand in greeting but Aurvandill dropped to his knee and bowed his head. I let my hand drop uselessly to my side as we stood in front of the bowing god.

‘Pleasure to meet you Aurvandill. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.’ It always paid to lay it on a bit thick when a god was doing you a favour, or so I had been told. Repeatedly. He looked up, still down on one knee.
‘Please, the pleasure is all mine to assist the wondrous and powerful Queen of Niefileheilm.’ He swept an arm out as an offer of subservience. I shot a quick look at Hel and saw that she was trying hard not to smile. Grunting a little I tried to ignore the unwarranted pangs of jealousy I was suddenly feeling.
‘Aurvandill, we need to get to Iceland, rather urgently if you don’t mind?’ I had never seen a man jump to his feet so quickly before. He almost took off into the air but thankfully stayed earth bound for the time being.
‘Anywhere the queen of the underworld needs to go I would be happy to take her. I hear Hawaii is much nicer this time of year though. Iceland hasn’t got much going on.’ Even though he was completely ignoring me I responded seeing as Hel had other things on her mind.
‘Iceland will do, oh Valiant one. We need to go to the Hallgrimsky temple.’
‘Hallgrímskirkja.’ He corrected.
‘Gesundheit.’ I said annoyed.

‘So you’re headed to Odin’s temple. What could the ruler of the land of mists possibly need there that she couldn’t get in Hawaii?’ He slipped an arm around her waist and started to lead her down the footpath. I made my way to the other side of the couple like an awkward friend trailing behind. If I didn’t need him I would tell him where to go. Before or after he destroyed my mortal body I couldn’t say but I’d give it a red hot go. Hel hadn’t said too much since Aurvandill arrived, she just kept her hands clasped neatly in front of her as she let him walk her down the path. There was a definite smile on her lips which pained me for some strange reason. I had obviously fallen too hard for the goddess without noticing or it was just the fact that I wanted the attention he was now getting. I didn’t like the way I was thinking and tried to focus on the task at hand, acknowledging that there might be an aspect of my personality that I needed to work on.  Possibly.

‘Hel here has employed me to help her find a certain person and my resources all say he’s on his way to the temple in Iceland. I’m not sure if Steven mentioned but we are on a time limit.’ The god huffed and spoke directly to Hel, still blanking me entirely.
‘Reykjavík, capital of Iceland it is then my beautiful Queen. Might I add that your dress looks absolutely ravishing.’ With a breath the world shifted into a haze and my body twisted in on itself. I had forgotten what it felt like to travel by divine intervention. The world spun and went black as I passed out along the way. After what seemed like hours, tiny pin pricks of light started to appear in my vision and solid ground formed under my feet giving gravity and orientation to my directionless body. As soon as reality came back into focus I fell on all fours and dry heaved onto the cold wet grass. My stomach retched as my mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened. It felt like the world had kicked me square in the chest and thrown me off a cliff for good measure.

Once the ringing in my ears stopped I could make out the faint sounds of Hel and Aurvandill conversing beside me. Her laugh echoed through my aching head. Their voices gave me a focus point as I tried to push the sick feeling from my mind. Eventually the real world came back to me and I felt strong enough to stand. I stumbled a little as I tried to walk over to the two gods. I heard myself mumble something and through hazy eyes saw them both look over at me.
‘That was smoother than the last time I traveled like that.’ I said as soon as I could manage words without wanting to be sick. ‘I’ll never get used to it though.’ I said loosening my tie. Hel and Aurvandill started to walk towards the large town in the near distance. Looks like we’re going this way, I thought to myself and began to get my bearings. The first thing I noticed was the cold. It wasn’t a bitter frost but it was enough that I felt like I was significantly underdressed. It didn’t seem to bother the two gods all that much, although I could see Hel rubbing her arms slightly for warmth.

Spread out around me was a surprisingly green field of well manicured lawn running down a slight hill. As I followed behind the two talking gods I took in the scenery. In the near distance the solid patches of grass faded and was replaced by small two story houses, not unlike suburban England. The city was small compared to what I was used to but it could be considered large for Iceland, I could see the ocean in the distance, dark and moody, crashing against the rocks as the tide started to come in. I caught up to our travel guide as he was pointing out landmarks to the goddess. ‘…and that spire there is the top of the Temple of Odin. Hallgrímskirkja as it is known. Largest temple in Iceland and dedicated solely to the All Father.’ They both stopped short and I almost ran into the back of Mr Valiant. He turned and shot me a look like I was an annoying puppy following him everywhere.

After walking around them and a little down the side of the hill I could see the front of the giant temple. It’s main spire climbing up into the air taller than any other building around. Matching spires all progressively smaller than the main fell away from each side, cascading into a wide sweeping front that encircled the main entrance slightly. The body of the temple stretched out the back of the cascading spires looking like a modern rendition of the hall I saw in Hel, except entirely white. The similarities and stark contrasts between the two wasn’t entirely lost on me. While I was observing the architecture I noticed what the two gods had stopped for.

The roofs of the buildings directly opposite the temple were black. Black as midnight during an eclipse, except it was moving. Putting a hand up to my temple in a vague effort to help I looked closer and saw the the black was actually hundreds upon hundreds of ravens perched on the rooftops. Sitting there, observing the world around them.
‘Surely that’s not a normal thing?’ I asked, pointing towards the literal conspiracy of ravens. Hel shook her head. ‘I was about to ask the same question myself.’ We kept staring, and now that I had noticed them I could begin to hear the the noise of the birds softly cawing as it travelled along the wind up to us.
‘Well, you don’t need me any more.’ Said Aurvandill suddenly. He turned to Hel and gave a sweeping bow. ‘It was a pleasure my Queen. If you ever find yourself in need of my services again you only need ask.’ Hel gave a slight, regal nod and thanked him for all his help. ‘It was nothing, believe me.’ He looked at me, the happiness on his face dropped quickly. ‘James.’ He said with a curt nod.

‘Say thanks to Steven for me.’ I said as the god shimmered out of existence before our eyes. Soon the air stilled and we were alone again. I looked out at the foreboding army of ravens. ‘Are you ready to go out into that?’ I asked myself out loud. Hel responded however.
‘Do we have a choice?’ She said, looking at me seriously. I felt my gut wrench and flip. It would be much easier to just cut and run like I wanted to do but my mind for once was telling me that I had to do the right thing. ‘Doesn’t look like we do, kid.’ I sad, wishing I had kept that gun. Not much use against the gods but it would do wonders for my nerves. I started down the hill. Hel remained standing and I called after her, not bothering to look back. ‘Come on then. I’m not going to risk my life alone now.’ We descended towards the temple and the waiting ravens.

Chapter Twelve...

Header image by Aleksey Ihnatov from Pixabay.

Edward Shaddow

Published a year ago