Legend – Chapter 15

Chapter 15.

And that tells me what I need to know.

He whipped the silver blade out and down before his prisoner realized his intent; even the Great Werewolf barely managed a widening of its eyes before the pure metal blade severed its heart and shattered its spirit.

Wiping the blade, he turned and opened the door of the cell. “Dispose of the remains,” he said to the warrior of the Dead who stood outside on guard; it bowed and went inside to carry out the directions.

I had suspected  . . . but this was a fortunate find. They knew much which was hidden from us all, and which explains a very great deal.

The Hall of the Half-Lady was huge and filled with winding corridors, but his powers had fully returned and even within this other realm his senses could not easily be clouded. He strode swiftly through the passages until he came to a great door in a high tower and threw it open.

She was there, as he had known she would be, directing the movements of hosts of warriors in drills. He paused a moment, unwillingly awed by the size of the field and the forces arrayed thereon; they seemed almost limitless, armed fighting men and women stretching from the base of the tower to dwindle in the distance to ant-specks and smaller, a sharp-edged sea of the dead yet moving.

“My Lord?” Hel turned and regarded him curiously. “I had thought you were scouting the Mortal World. What do you seek of me?”

“I would speak with you in private, where not even the ears of your subjects would hear,” he said. Any conflict between allies had to be done where it would not be known to the forces below – at least so long as he had need of those allies.

She tilted her head, then nodded, turned from the parapet and led the way inward, finally arriving at one of her sitting-rooms. “Here none might see us or disturb us, my Lord. What then is of such importance?”

He smiled grimly. “Let us speak of Zarathan, my Lady. Let us speak of the Great Seal, and its breaking, and what that means to one who chose to stay here, on the far side of that Seal.”

She made an abortive movement – an attack? An attempt to flee? – but restrained herself; still, the gaze of Hel was enough to send a chill down his back. “You speak words I had thought you knew not, Lord. A surprise indeed.”

“Yes, a surprise, Lady, that I know such secrets. Secrets you had thought to keep from me, had hoped I would not suspect or unravel, so that I might not suspect the whole of the truths.” He seated himself at a table and looked up at her, allowing a sneer to appear at the edge of his mouth. “Some proceed to the Infinite, but many do not. Most either are to be reborn, or proceed to their own place.

“But you . . . you have taken those not destined for the Infinite. You have played the most desperate gamble over the ages, and now it is not at all just a matter of revenge, is it? It is a matter of survival, for those who return will look for those that are theirs, that should be waiting, and when those are not found, they will know who has taken what was meant for them.”

She tossed her head, and her full-smile seemed that of a skull in all aspects, not merely on the one side. “I wonder where you came by this  . . . sudden knowledge, my Lord.” She closed her eyes. “I see . . . A prisoner . . . but what man would have –“

Suddenly she was white, paper-white as though all of her were dead as bone, and she stepped back against the wall. “No. Even you, Lord, even you would never be so mad. You did not question one of the Destroyers of Souls.”

“I did, and killed him when he served no more purpose.”

She looked at him in horror. “Have you no knowledge of what you have done? What doom you have brought upon us? The sentence of the King shall be on you, and –“

“Their King is dead, dead and gone these five years and more,” he said with a laugh.

She stared in disbelief. “He was before Asgard was built, he watched from the shadows when the ancient empire fell, and all those he slew came not to my halls, nor to those of my brothers and sisters, nor have they passed to the Infinite, but were his, and his alone. He cannot be killed.”

“Even they say he is dead, Lady, dead and gone, and they hide in fear that those who slew the Werewolf King shall seek them out as well. So he told me, yes, and told me much more before he died.” He smiled. “He told me what he saw, Lady, what he could see when he looked upon me, what he would have taken if he had dared.”

He stood and looked down on her. “Who am I, Lady? Your own father, perhaps, trapped in your snares for his crime of playing both sides, for having a wife that was not your mother? Surt’s shade? Or from farther off, perhaps one of your own whom you now seek to bind to you?”

Faint color slowly returned to the living side of her face and Hel smiled again, not as a skull but as a woman. “Ah, my Lord, you see . . . yet you do not.

“But,” she raised a hand as he opened his mouth, “you have learned much, enough that I now know I must hide nothing more from you — and that I have, perhaps, chosen better than I knew.”

“Yes, Lord. You are — or could be — one of us, an Aesir, an Olympian, a Kami-sama or Great Spirit, one of the gods, in short.

“But,” she reached out and touched his face, and the caress both burned like ice and warmed like the touch of sunshine, “but, my Lord, you are not one of those who went before, one of those returning in godly or mortal guise to this world they fled. You were born in the moment the Powers returned to Earth, born of your bitterness and hatred and rage and of the clear, cold vision of the hypocrisy and evil that lies beneath the surface of every human being. Human beings know they are evil, they fear themselves in the mirror of that truth, and because they know this, because they acknowledge that hatred, because they know it lies within them, because of this they have given to you the power of their hearts.”

“And the others . . .”

“Indeed, Lord.”

He smiled, a chuckle rolling like faint thunder around the room. “And so by our bargain I would give unto you the new gods, to be . . . not mere subjects, I think.”

Hel looked at him expressionlessly for a moment, then sighed. “Your powers are greater than I had imagined, Lord. So even that you have guessed, or seen.

“Yes, you are right. I can hold such spirits within me, make them in time a part of myself, especially if there be a way to break the ties of the world to those spirits. So I held you, for a time — until you emerged to Midgard, indeed.”

He threw back his head and laughed. “So you would take these new gods, gods who do not know what they are, but that touch the source of magic, perhaps the source of power eternal itself, and  . . . make them yours. Become greater than those who return, remain the true ruler of the dead, even against the great Demons, the other Heavens and Hells, that even Hades, Anubis, Yama, and others whose names have not been spoken on this world ere now will be but your vassals, their realms but parts of your own.”

She nodded.

“So.” He studied her closely. “You released me. You allowed me to return to life, to breathe again the air of Earth, Midgard as you call it. Why? I know my power. Why would you release me when you have so much to gain?”

She smiled and told him, and he laughed again.

“As I had suspected. So it is not accident, it is fate, and so long as he has not been utterly defeated I must remain. As for the others . . . I believe I know how they might be delivered unto you, all of them. It will require patience, but you have waited for millennia; we can take months.”

She bowed low. “You trust me, Lord?”

“I trust that your own interests align with my own, and that you do indeed need me. You have sworn an oath in your own name to serve me until the world is destroyed as I desire. Now it is time for us to take your powers and mine, to seek out your brothers, and begin. And I shall lead them, and your armies.”

“None who is nameless can do this, my Lord,” she said warningly. “You have passed from life to death to life again, but you have spoken no name, and I may not give one to you, for in names there is power and the one who follows may not hold that power over the one they follow. If you would lead me, if you would have my armies follow you and my brothers call you Lord, you must have a name.”

He smiled, and he saw that even she stepped back at that smile. “Then a name I shall have, Lady. As always the destruction of the world needs a name.

“Your own ending was incomplete, and you seek to finish what was begun, yea, and to be the one survivor to fulfill the prophecies that lie beyond the end.

“Then I shall take that ending and make it my own, complete the destruction of the world in its name, in my name: Ragnarok.”