I dreamed of running, of being hunted, of people calling my name to help me, to entrap me. I awoke in the land of the dead and immediately thought of the girls.
I hoped that Joseph was okay and not comatose. Surely, he would have gotten a hold of my mother by now.
I snorted at my own thoughts. As if I had a real sense of time in the spirit realms. What a ridiculous hope. It was as likely I'd been out for only 10 minutes as it was 10 months.
Mercy walked in and eyed me. "You look much more energetic. You want to get going?"
I shrugged. "Sure. Where to now?"
"I considered checking out niflhel, but we can also head over to Freyr's hall. It's not far from Tyr's, which is one of the places Fenrir's prison bridges worlds."
I nodded and bounced on the balls of my feet for a moment. "Either one is good for me."
"Let's take the horses," Mercy suggested.
The innocent tone of her voice should have warned me. But I suspected nothing until I was staring at huge steeds that were part fully living horses of every conceivable color and the stripped, dried bones of skeletal horses. The woman working in the stables brought me a steed of opalescent blue with a navy mane and one eye of blue fire while the other was perfectly equine.
I mounted the beast with some hesitation. The creature stomped a skeletal hoof and tossed its head, prancing in the small space.
I glared at Mercy. "Aren't they... lively?"
Mercy rolled her eyes at my pun. "Come on, hero. Show us what you're made of."
"Mostly anxiety and a crippling fear of heights," I muttered, trying to guide the creature out of the stable and onto the road behind Mercy's cotton-candy pink mount.
Once out and pointed in the right direction, the creatures promptly ignored their riders and simply raced along the road, snorting flames of green at each other. I soon found the rhythm and relaxed in the saddle.
I glanced over at Mercy, who had also relaxed into the gait. "So why do these... whatever you call them. Why do they look so... um, colorful?"
Mercy laughed. "Most horses in the spirit worlds look pretty odd in some way. I think it's because of the fascination horses hold for the children in Midgard."
I nodded as we came upon a grove of trees surrounding the road. The path turned dark and shadowy within the trees, and I couldn't see the other side.
Mercy dismounted, and I followed suit. "So, why are we here?"
The Valkyrie nodded at the dark copse. "Niflhel is where the worst of beings are kept after death. Even their presence would degrade the afterlives of others, so they are separated. There."
She stepped forward and I followed without hesitation. That surprised me. I was curious about the closest thing to the Christian hell that the Norse realms had, but it was still not something I necessarily wanted to experience.
We strode into the thicket and along the darkening path. Within a few moments, it was as dark as midnight. My steps slowed when could no longer see the ground, but I kept moving forward. A sickly yellow-green glow showed several beings approaching. I glanced over at Mercy. Her expression was concerned, which somehow calmed my own reaction.
I turned to the beings and greeted them. "Thank you for allowing us to visit, spirits of the dead-"
One of the beings began laughing. It was a cruel sound, and I barely kept from flinching.
"At least, mortal, you did not call us 'honored'," he said. "That would have been a blatant lie, and nigh unforgivable. Then you would be no better than we are."
I stared the being down. His words were a little too close to Jehovah's accusation for my comfort. After a moment, I remembered a drop of wisdom that I'd picked up from popular media. "Only evil deals in absolutes," I said. "Perhaps your being unforgiving has made you unforgivable."
The being raised his eyebrows. "An interesting thought. I'll have centuries to ponder it. Thank you for that entertainment. We have travelled the world several times between us all, yet we bore each other with the same stories and arguments. Ask and we shall answer one question true."
I frowned. "Oh, um." I glanced at Mercy, but she shrugged with wide eyes.
I thought wildly, trying to come up with a question I really wanted answered, but that would give me the most information. I thought about the gods and creatures I'd already met.
Inspiration hit me. "Why should I look for Odr?"
The spirit beings recoiled. They flowed around each other, agitated, for several moments before facing me again.
"When you find Odr, many mysteries will be solved. When you discover Odr, many will become one. When you track Odr, there will be celebration and mourning for that which was lost, found and destroyed. When you catch Odr, you will stop Jehovah."
I opened my mouth, but the being who spoke gestured sharply. "We have given more than you deserved. Leave now, mortal, lest we take our due in pieces of your life."
My eyes went wide with shock, and I backed away. I caught a glimpse of Mercy out of the corner of my eye. She was moving back as well. After a few steps, we both turned and ran back to the mounts. Or at least, a direction we assumed to be back toward the beasts. I could hear a soft, amused voice calling my name over and over.
I stumbled once we left the sickly glow of the dead. My feet lurched forward, hopeful each time I would reach the end of the blind darkness. Instead, I just staggered another step. I choked, hopelessness creeping through me. I was going to be trapped in this darkness forever, fleeing from beings too evil to be near the rest of the dead.
Finally, the soft glow of Helheim's twilight appeared before me. Another few steps and I spotted the mounts. Mercy was nearly brushing against me, she was so close to my side. We linked arms and staggered to the mounts, not stopping until we were in the saddles and heading back to Hel's hall.
"Why do you keep taking me to meet these... weird... things?" I demanded, rocking with the creature's gait.
Mercy shook her head. "I was told I needed to take you to meet Heidr by a völva. One of the Norns said you could die if you didn't see all of the Nine Realms, including Niflhel."
I stared at her. "And you didn't think to tell me? To warn me? Here I thought we were going on a fricken’ amusement park style jaunt, and, instead, we are facing down fire giants, the evil dead, and gods know what else is waiting."
Mercy cut her eyes to me. "Well, it got you to come with me. I just didn't think you would go for the truth. A jaunt is fun and exciting. I decided you needed that more than an obligatory inspection."
I shook my head. "Fine. I get it. But no more of the tricks and lies. I'm having enough trouble with navigating this crap without you playing god-creature games with me, too."
Mercy nodded. "Okay. That's fair." She looked over at me. "So are you ready to move on? Back to Asgard for a bit."
I nodded. "Yeah, I could use the break from this craziness."