Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge

by Sandman

Story originally written for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys by: Gerry Conway

The sky was dark and forbidding, with clouds that rippled like the roof of an open screaming mouth. They raced furiously by, shrouding the sun with their flat grey color, foretelling more snow. The wind struck the sides of the small building with the power of the fists of a god (or demigod) causing the walls to shudder and groan, caving ever so slightly under the pressure and straightening with each turn of the wind. The powdery snow blew relentlessly, drifting up to almost cover the small building, then was tossed away when the wind changed directions as if following the pacing of a lunatic.

Inside the little building it was so warm the smith was dripping in sweat. The forge roared louder than any sound from outside and the flames rose in great licking tongues that forked and tested the air with reptilian speed and grace. The heavy scent of molten metal pulled on the air, not letting the heat rise to melt away the insulating snow.

The smith focused on the task at hand. A strange metal this was! And a strange ragged fellow that had brought it to him as well! It had taken so much longer than any metal the smith had worked with before to melt, and when it finally had become liquid, retained an almost congealed state, moreover, vapors of foul odor rose from it, tainting the cloistered air in the small building.

The smith turned the mechanism that tipped the bucket, allowing the molten metal to pour into the mold provided by the stranger. He watched carefully, not wanting to spill a drop, but found to his amazement that there was exactly enough of the congealing liquid to fill the mold to the correct level. He snapped the back onto the mold and the liquid reached the edges perfectly without losing a drop. The smith held back the astonished shake of his head. This was simply too perfect.

From outside a tremendous clap of thunder pealed through the frigid air. The smith looked up startled. A winter thunderstorm? He raced to the window rubbing the condensation away in a tiny circle, and looking out saw a single bolt of lightning trace a jagged path through the leaden sky seeming to strike near where the land met the sea.

He turned back to the ragged stranger, brows creased. “A storm’s coming.”

The stranger laughed sardonically. “Yes, it will be here before you know it.” He nodded to the mold, still steaming and sizzling. “Is it finished?”

The smith shook his head. “It needs an hour to cool.” He stared at the strange mold that resembled a demented mask with slashed eyes and strange small spikes. “Nasty thing. What is it for?”

The ragged stranger turned around and faced the smith, and as he did so his appearance changed. His hair was no longer tangled and matted, his clothes began to shine, losing their filthy dullness. His face lost its despair and glowed with the golden light that bounced off his blonde hair.

“It’s for my brother, Odin. A small token of affection.” His face smiled but his heart grieved.

The smith dropped to his knees, touching his forehead to the floor as Loki laughed sadly.

Odin walked scuffling through his home slowly and listlessly. His voice was flat and eyes vacant. He walked stiff and defeated, seeming totally unaware of the manic wind and blowing snow that beat against the walls of his abode.

Hercules walked beside him, feeling the pain this god felt, knowing what it was like to lose a son, but not familiar enough with Odin to offer more than condolences.

“Before we ruled this land, the frost giants ruled Asgard.”

Hercules nodded, thinking about Greece and how his own father had come to power over the Titans.

“And before the frost giants there was the ice,” Odin continued flatly. “When Ragnarock falls the ice will return, cold beyond imagining.” He threw open the door and stepped outside onto the bridge that lead to the Norse land.

Hercules stepped out with him, pulling his fur cloak tighter around his torso while Odin stood without a wrap, letting the frigid wind pull at his hair and wrap itself around him. His clothes flapped straight back as if they could tear themselves off his skin, but Odin didn’t notice.

“And what about Earth?” Hercules asked uncertainly.

“Earth will live,” Odin reassured, “but the gods are lost already.” He stared into the snow, watching it lift and swirl as his hair and beard was covered and grew hoary. He stood silently looking across at the land he was responsible for. “And without the gods perhaps humanity too may fall.”

Hercules turned to Odin decisively. “You don’t know that!” he declared uncertainly.

“I know that my youngest son Balder is dead. I know that my eldest son is in exile for his disobedience. And I know that because he is nowhere to be found, my brother Loki is a coward.” There was no fire or anger in Odin’s voice, only regret and pain.

“Worse than that,” Hercules spoke softly as he touched Odin’s arm to stop is forward progress, turning the Norse God to face him. ”Loki arranged for Balder’s murder and Thor’s exile.” Hercules didn’t hide the pain it cost him to reveal this to Odin. No father should have to learn of a brother’s betrayal or suffer the loss of his sons.

“I wish I was surprised,” Odin sighed heavily as he stared blankly at the snow blown landscape. He turned woodenly and walked back into the protection of his personal quarters as Hercules followed.

“You told me of a prophesy predicting three tragedies before Ragnarock.”

“Balder’s death, Thor’s exile,” Odin answered without attempting to make eye contact with the Greek demigod. He wandered further into the dim, windowless, torch lit room.

“That’s’ two, what’s the third?” Hercules prodded desperately hoping that there was something he could change to prevent Ragnarock.

“It’s riddle,” Thor intoned. “When the light dies, then Ragnarock will begin.”

Hercules paused, confused. This wasn’t clear or even open for interpretation. “What do you make of it?” he asked Odin.

Odin threw up his hands. “Nobody knows. Your guess is as good as any.”

“If we can prevent this tragedy, we can prevent Ragnarock,” Hercules answered a bit too eagerly.

“Impossible,” Odin answered blankly. “This is our fate. We can’t escape it. It has been foretold.”

“I believe we make our own fate!” Hercules declared, turning away from Odin. If he was to make a difference, he had to act quickly. Odin stood woodenly, not even looking at Hercules, as Hercules strode quickly away.

Frigga watched intently, worried for her husband. It was bad enough that she had lost her sons. For Odin to be so distant was no help. She needed to approach the Greek Demi-god herself if she wanted to have any hope of rectifying the situation. She dashed out onto the bridge, catching up with him just as Hercules reached the mid point.

“Hercules!” She reached out a hand to touch his shoulder.

Hercules turned around. “Yes Frigga?” he asked with a sigh of frustration.

“If ever a father needed his son at his side, Odin needs Thor at his.”

Hercules met her eyes and could see her ancient wisdom and kindness. But he pushed aside his rage at these gods who simply let Ragnarock happen without a fight.

“Is that why Odin banished Thor from Asgard? For disobedience?”

Frigga heard the unspoken judgment in Hercules voice. “Surely you’ve noticed we Norse gods often allow our tempers to overrule our wisdom,” she answered with simple honesty.

Hercules couldn’t help but let a small smile creep upon his lips. That Frigga acknowledged a shortcoming of the Norse gods, and to a foreigner, was interesting. She trusted him, Hercules realized, and wanted his help.

“He should call Thor back from exile,” Hercules answered, testing.

“My husband is a proud man,” Frigga sighed.

Hercules thought of Odin’s counterpart, Zeus and pondered whether perhaps as king of gods, pride was a given.

“He thinks it a weakness to show remorse,” Frigga explained. “He’s never understood that some kinds of weakness can be a strength.” Frigga stared into Hercules’ eyes as the icy air swept around them both with a power that caused the bridge to sway.

Hercules smiled, honestly liking this goddess and respecting her candor. “My mother once said the same thing to me about my father.”

Frigga reached out to Hercules, placing a warm hand gently on his arm.

“Bring home our son.”

On a frozen mountain top, a wolf howled. The snow lay thick, insulating those that hibernated and causing great consternation to those that didn’t. The wind whipped the hoary flakes up and spun them crazily, so that though it wasn’t actually snowing, it may as well have been.

The mountain top was desolate, unaccessed by mortals and avoided by the gods. Jagged boulders rose to poke razor edges out of the drifts. Above, the grey sky threatened like a growling dog on a fraying leash.

Thor raged against the chains that bound him to his frozen rocky prison, leaving a thrashing imprint in the snow beneath him. His hair was wet and tangled, his beard icy. He wrenched at the manacles which restrained him as the wolves continued to howl, anticipating an easy kill, a warm meal on an icy night.

“You want me? Then take me, you dogs of the night!” Thor bellowed defiantly, raising his head out of the snow and shaking the ice away.

A howl answered his angry exclamation, closer than last time and Thor heard the soft patter of small feet moving stealthily through the snow.

“Take me!” Thor howled back in frustration, unable to break the bindings, unable to fight back against whatever was causing the coming of Ragnarock.

The howling answered, closer still, and Thor tore at his shackles. His father had no idea what evil lurked at the heart of Ragnarock. He couldn’t know either, but whatever would cause the death of a kind god like his brother must be true evil. His father would never have imprisoned him like this if he had the slightest idea of what was behind Ragnarock. Thor snorted and pulled harder, attempting to loose the chains. He might not know the face of the evil that had arrived on his shores, but he understood instinctively that it was a power greater than the Norse gods and able to shield itself from their omniscience.

Suddenly, silently, he felt a presence. He stopped his struggling, eyes narrowed and breath slowed to silence. There would be no Norse gods that defiled Odin’s edict. And no Mortal would have managed to have climbed this steep slope in the ice and snow. There were only two other possibilities, neither one made Thor happy.

He felt a hand gripping the shackle which restrained his right wrist unrelentingly. Another hand gripped his shoulder, holding him down with a strength that surpassed any mortal.

“Get up!” he heard the foreign demigod order as the restraining cuff snapped off.

“What are you doing here?” Thor questioned, not sure whether to be glad for the intervention or resentful that he hadn’t been able to free himself. He glared angrily at Hercules, his pride stinging like a jab from a hot poker.

“Looks like I’m saving you,” Hercules grinned down at the glowering Thor.

“Leave me alone!” Thor raged, infuriated at his helplessness and the fact that it had been visible to this meddlesome foreigner.

“Don’t thank me,” Hercules answered curtly. “Just the sight of your cheerful face is all the reward I could ever want:”

“These chains were forged by Odin himself. No god from Asgard can break them!” Thor raged as he thrashed in the powdery snow, fighting his impotence more than Hercules’ intervention.

“Looks like a half god from Greece can,” Hercules answered as he proceeded to break another shackle.

“Let Loki’s wolves eat my liver if that’s what Odin wants!” Thor raged, resisting rescue as much as he had silently hoped for it. But not like this. Not from the hands of another.

Hercules stopped, staring off into the mountains and thinking of Prometheus, likewise bound by Hephestus’ shackles as the birds of prey pecked at his liver until Xena rescued him.

“Your father wants you home,” Hercules answered reassuringly as he snapped the last two shackles from Thor’s ankles.

“I have no home! I deserve my fate!” Thor spat, closing his eyes in pain. He had let down his brother. He had let down his father. He had lost his father’s respect. He had failed to keep his brother safe. He had caused his mother untold pain. What kind of son was he? And he had been rescued like a helpless baby by a strange demigod who defied the laws of Odin as if they didn’t even exist, snapping the unbreakable bonds like tinder.

“Spoken like a true coward,” Hercules replied, sardonically.

“Bite your tongue,” Thor growled as he pushed himself into a sitting position in the snow.

“Or you’ll do what Thor, whine at me some more?”

“I said, watch your tongue!” Thor warned as he pushed himself to his feet and sprung at Hercules. Every stretched muscle fiber responded to Thor’s rage at Hercules and towards himself. He hurtled forward, only to be deflected by the demigod’s gauntleted forearm. He rose again thundering toward Hercules, all his unfettered frustration fuelling his attack. This time he anticipated Hercules’ move. When the two men actually made contact the exchanged power was as jolting as contact with Thor’s hammer. Both flew backward, landing awkwardly in the snow. And both jumped surely to their feet, readying for the next attack.

Thor jumped aggressively at Hercules again, and for the second time the demigod deflected the attack, moving aside at the last minute, then whirling to face the snow covered Norse god who rose from the frozen terrain and lunged towards him like a dervish. This time he used Thor’s forward momentum, and sticking a leg out at the level of Thor’s ankle caught him off guard. Holding his arm securely, he moved closer to the off balance Norse god and pushed a lowered shoulder into his mid section, standing and lifting him and tossing him supine into the snow.

Thor jumped up again, covered in snow and not bothering to shake it off, and launched himself against Hercules in frenzy, only to find a moment later that Hercules was standing staring at him and he was seated once again in the powdery snow. He shook his head, realizing at last that he wasn’t getting anywhere and slumped back dejectedly, not caring about the frozen snow coating his beard or hanging in long icicles from his hair.

“How did you do that?” he asked defeated for the first time and ashamed on many counts.

“There are better ways to fight than by brute force.” Hercules lectured, thinking of Iolaus who could topple the biggest men by simple using his body as a lever rather than a battering ram. “There are better ways to face fate than to surrender; your brother Balder understood that.”

“My brother Balder is dead,” Thor stated angrily. “So his understanding didn’t help him survive.”

“You can still save what HE stood for,” Hercules countered urgently.

Thor shook his head and slowly stood, raking the powdery snow from his hair and beard. “What are you talking about?” he queried suspiciously.

“Balder hoped that the gods would learn that they needed to protect humanity. If you all so readily go to your death, so does his dream.”

Thor sighed disgustedly. What did this foreign demigod know about Norse beliefs? If Ragnarock was coming, then nothing could stop it. The Norn was never wrong. She had prophesied without error since the beginning of time. He turned his eyes away from Hercules’. How could this one be so wrong, yet arrogantly think he was right?

Hercules watched as Thor stared sightlessly at the snow, no longer locking stares with him. He felt a subtle shift in power. As if a lever had been inserted into Thor’s moral consciousness and now it was up to him to apply enough force to move the powerful Norse God’s beliefs just enough to accomplish the turning of the path to Ragnarock.

“Even if you don’t care about Asgard, you must think about the people you claim to protect,” he chided.

“Nobody can stop Ragnarock!” Thor spoke softly to the snow, and then lifted his eyes not to look at Hercules, but to gaze in pain at Asgard.

“Then I guess I’m nobody!” Hercules declared, abruptly turning his back on Thor and striding away.

Hercules walked in silence through the softly blowing snow, trying to follow his footsteps back down the mountain, but the wind had whipped up the dry snow, erasing the tracks as surely as a school marm’s rag on the board. Hercules found himself wishing again that Iolaus was here. Surely he would have found a slight trail, a tiny imprint, a remembered object in the vast whiteness of this northern land. He let a tiny finger of loneliness creep in to his heart as he trudged along, feeling the snow crunch and squeak in the bitter cold, tiny flakes that added up to big drifts. A cliff rose up beside him, appearing first as simply a snow tossed mound, and then rising up as Hercules paralleled its path, until it cast a giant shadow, blocking out the sun.

Hercules shivered. This was definitely a cold and remote land. He turned his gaze from the heights of the cliff, ahead to where a wisp of smoke rose in a curl from around its face. Interesting, Hercules thought. He hadn’t noticed this place on the way up to save Thor. He must be coming down a different trail. Darn, knowing the way home was something Iolaus was better at. That pang of loneliness returned.

He rounded the edge of the cliff’s foot and spied a forge, small and tightly closed, smoke issuing from its chimney. The windows were steamed up, and Hercules remembered the many times he had helped Iolaus in the forge. But Greece was never this cold, and he imagined the smith was dripping in sweat, but not to the extent that they had done.

Hercules stopped, and in the insulating winter silence he heard the beginning of a low growl. The noise rose and fell with the icy wind, growing louder and taking on the timbre of an angry beast as it drew nearer.

Hercules wasn’t afraid. This wasn’t the Nemean lion, nor was it a Hydra or even a Minotaur. He stood still and ready, waiting for the beast to show itself. He heard the soft padding of feet, almost silent except for the squeak of the snow, but the insulating snow kept him from locating the direction.

His patience was rewarded as a black dog bounded from the back of the forge, growling. Its fur was stiff and spiked with dampness. Tiny balls of ice and snow dangled from the longer fur on the flanks and drooping tail. It looked to Hercules like a mix between cur and wolf, having eyes of flame and curled lips, but not nearly enough lean muscle to be truly wild.

The black dog stopped for a second when its eyes met Hercules’ and for a moment, the demigod almost thought he saw a spark of recognition there. But that couldn’t be. It was a mangy cur, and mean by the look of it. Hercules stared at the object the dog carried in its mouth. At first he assumed it was a bone. It shone and had an irregular shape and the dog carried it so possessively that he’d supposed the growling was simply its way of communicating power and ownership. But he saw now that what the dog carried wasn’t a bone or even food.

It was carefully forged metal that looked to be shaped in a bizarre mask.

The dog growled once again, a warning, and bounded away from the demigod, running along the length of the cliff until it disappeared. From the distance Hercules heard a howl of anguish, then silence.

Above him the Norn appeared with her easel on the heights of the cliff. She called down to Hercules.

“Loki rushes to achieve his destiny!”

Hercules stared up, fixing on the old woman, understanding finally the depth of her knowledge and wisdom of her words. “When the light dies, then Ragnarock falls. You know what that means.” Hercules tried to get her to answer the riddle.

“That which fate has not yet written cannot be known,” she answered sadly, her eyes meeting Hercules’ unwaveringly.

“That’s what I keep hearing,” Hercules shouted up in frustration. “Tell me what the riddle means!”

Hercules spotted the Norn’s book lying in the snow, bent and picked it up. He walked closer to the forge, seeing the flames through the misty window and lifting it as if to throw it.

‘I only paint what I see,” the Norn answered serenely. “What do YOU see, Hercules?” she challenged. “What DOES the future hold?” Hercules heard her unspoken message. He could change the outcome, if not in whole, at least in part. He grabbed the book he’d threatened to destroy and started pouring though the pages for an answer.

Odin stared out at the rainbow bridge where the Norse warriors were crossing over. Balder stood greeting them as they passed on to Valhalla. Odin shook his head. This Balder was simply a shadow as were the fallen warriors. True, he shone a bit less dully than they did, but Odin knew he couldn’t touch his son. Nor could his son turn away from the fallen ones. They needed a guide if they were to go to their reward. And this Balder knew what the Norn had written: That Valhalla was for mortals, the gods couldn’t enter.

No matter, Ragnarock was to begin soon. Streams of Norsemen would pass over the rainbow bridge to pass out of the care of the gods, who would also die. And when the last of the Norsemen had passed and utter destruction lay across the land, the god would no longer even have spiritual form. They would simply disappear. It was simply a matter of time.

“Brave heroes all,” Odin muttered softly. “Gods and fallen warriors alike. If courage were a shield, no doom could defeat us.”

At his side the stooped and hoary form of the Norn suddenly appeared, reaching out a gnarled hand and placing it on his arm. “Doom may yet be denied, Odin, father of all. The half god Hercules seeks the answer to the ancient riddle. He hopes that knowledge will give him power over destiny.” She nodded slowly as Odin turned to her in disbelief.

“And will it?”

The Norn could hear his disbelief, the tiny edge of hope he suppressed and pushed back her sorrow. “The answer lies within those who have the eyes to see.”

She extended her thin arm as she held out a freshly forged mask, her fingers trembling.

Odin’s eyes widened as he reached out and took it from her. The metal was still slightly warm and so shiny. He turned it in his hands, observing the craftsmanship. Truly, this was no ordinary mask. And the Norn had offered it to him with the prophesy that one needed the eyes to see.

He slowly lifted it, admiring the simple gift and in his heavy heart hoped sincerely that this would allow him the vision he needed to see his way clear of this troublesome time. Yes, he would at least try it. Whether or not it worked, he at least needed to try and see if it clarified the prophesy.

He placed it against his face, securing it snugly.

The Norn bent her head and wept softly as the sharp knives sprung out from their hidden recesses, imbedding themselves into Odin’s eyes instantaneously, the simple contact of mask to face the trigger mechanism.

“AHHHHH!” Odin screamed in pain as he was instantly engulfed in blackness, his eyes shooting with agony as the meaning Norn’s riddle suddenly became clear, that the loss of light was the all encompassing blackness and disorientation of blindness. One god would lose sight, resounded in his mind, filling it with words instead of pictures. He would never see his beautiful wife again, watch the soft snowfall over his land or watch gratitude glow on his people’s faces as he ruled justly. His rule had ended. The horn had not yet sounded, but Ragnarock had begun.

Odin’s shoulders stooped as the blood ran down his face. His arms fell defeated to his sides and the mask slowly released its grip on him as he bowed his head, sliding out of the orbits, tearing free of the hard shells and letting the vitreous seep out, the cilliary muscles shredded and no longer able to contract and dilate in response to light, the retina sheared off and flapping uselessly, unable to focus light. He was a sad icon of a fallen reign.

The Norn closed her eyes and gasped at the depths of her deception as Odin fell to the floor screaming in pain. Though he grasped his eyes, she knew that it was his heart which had been broken.

“AHHHH!”

Frigga heard her husband’s cry and rushed into Odin’s chambers. She clasped her heart and fell to her knees, picking up Odin’s head and cradling it against her chest. The sightless sockets dripped against her as she turned him into her for comfort. “No! NO!” She cried.

The Norn shimmered transparently, and in her place Loki appeared. His hollow eyes were streaked with tears, face reddened and body slumped as he slowly stepped backwards, his heart heavier than the rocky mountains that defined their land. Loki stared down at his brother, feeling the horror of his deception. He tried to tell himself that he was working for the greater good, but as he saw his brother slumped to the floor, mask off and orbless sockets gashed and bleeding, he had to fight had to make himself believe that he could somehow conquer the plans of the monster that had claimed the Norse lands as his own.

He turned his face away from Freeda as she wailed in agony, rocking Odin against her chest and moaning in pain. He spun away, shimmering into nothingness, hoping that he was no more than nothingness, watching in morbid fascination unseen.

“Oh!!” Frigga moaned, pulling her husband close. Eternity wasn’t supposed to end. Odin was supposed to remain strong and dominant. She wouldn’t be able to go on without him, and he wouldn’t be able to rule blind. There would be no vision in the scrying glass. He would lose his desire to lead. He had lost Balder, Thor, his brother. Loki had turned against him. This would be the last straw. There was no reason for him to go on living. And without him, Frigga couldn’t go on. She had no desire to be without her husband of eternity.

“AAAHHH!” Odin screamed in pain and impotence. His hands were tight fists as he pushed them against the empty sockets in anger. Crimson trails flowed down his cheeks and plopped onto his fur collar. He pulled his hands away from his face and reached for Frigga, for comfort in the touch, her feeling and her scent.

Loki tried to speak, but found he had no voice, only a strangled choking noise came out when he opened his mouth. He reached over and gently placed his hand on Frigga’s shoulder.

She never took her eyes off Odin, didn’t have to. She may not be able to see who touched her but she knew Loki’s heavy and powerful grip.

“Oh Loki!” she wept, dipping her head down and resting a pale cheek on Odin’s head. “What have you done?”

Hercules dashed into the room, too late to prevent the prophesy staring toward Loki with a steely stare. But Loki shook his head tightly, became small and feathered, and with a flap of his raven wings soared away.

Hercules turned back to see that Frigga had torn a sleeve off her robe and was binding Odin’s bleeding eye sockets with it. She had it tightly across his upper face and secured it skillfully and tenderly, not wanting her husband to suffer any extra pain.

Odin pulled away and pushed himself up to his knees. He moaned and reached out and Hercules was there for him, helping the old god to stagger to his feet. The demi god tried to steady him as he swayed, knowing that even in his current state of disability, the older god deserved respect.

The dying of the light, that’s the blinding of Odin!” Hercules spoke in realization. “That’s the third tragedy!”

Frigga nodded, remaining calm and silent for her husband’s sake, though tears stole a path down her cheeks.

“No one should have to lose their eyes in order to see clearly,” Odin intoned as he shuffled forward slowly, not knowing where he was headed, only that he felt stronger standing and moving and that sight involved more than simply eyes.

Frigga moved to her husband, placing one of her blood stained hands into his own sanguineous grip. She swallowed hard, knowing that Odin’s fate was sealed, but hoping that there remained one salvation for the Norse people.

“But what of Thor?” she asked Hercules, her voice husky with pain.

“He blames himself for Balder’s death,” Hercules answered.

“He told you that?” Frigga answered, surprised that the usually reticent Thor had confided in Hercules.

“Not in so many words,” Hercules retorted as he supported Odin, feeling his legs give out momentarily. He slipped an arm around Odin and steered him towards his throne, taking slow steps and holding him erect.

“We gods are like humans Hercules.” Frigga spoke softly. “We love and long to be loved. It is our weakness and our strength.”

Hercules nodded as he hefted Odin onto his throne one last time, appreciating Frigga’s candor.

He circled, feeling the frigid air pulling him earthward and stopped fighting it. He had fought the slicing winds’ down draft, trying every muscle until it ached. The force of the air currents had pulled him off course a bit and he’d had to correct, at the cost of a few ruffled feathers. But raging against the forces of nature had helped him realize that through adversity he grew stronger. And if a small creature like a mortal bird could face the toil and difficulties, how much more should he, a god, be able to do it. He was here, over the god-forsaken mountain and he spread his shiny black raven wings, no longer beating the air away and let it carry him downward, alighting softly on the snow. With a thought, his bird form faded.

Loki stood outside Dahok’s cave. The snow was deep there and the overcast sky let no sun through. The world seemed grey, hard and bleak, not the glistening, white sparkling light that he had seen dance across the Norse snow before. No longer an insulating blanket, here it was simply a layer of ice and dirt. Behind him, the snow draped cave gaped opened like a hungry maw waiting to swallow the Norse people.

Loki shuddered as he tried to push the ugly visions of what he had done from his mind. It couldn’t be undone; he reminded himself when the screams of Odin or the sight of Balder’s surprise as he slumped to the floor, lifeless in seconds, intruded. He couldn’t keep thinking like this. He had a role to play if any of the Norse people were to survive the upcoming days. He had shunned his duties for centuries, playing and letting his brother and nephews take on the real responsibilities. But for Ragnarock he would stand strong.

Now it was crunch time, and a job had to be done that only he would ever have been able to pull off. The evil deity had its expectations. Balder would have reasoned with the evil one, and to no effect. Odin would have tried to exert power against it, and Thor was sure to rage against it. None would have survived the encounter, because only a trickster could understand the thinking of a God that sought to deceive the Norse people into its own control. And as much regret and pain that Loki felt now, he knew it would be magnified a hundredfold if he failed to convince this beast that he was malleable and a follower. When the time was right he would grieve and atone for his family loss, but now he had to do what was necessary to keep the Norse people and their way of life alive.

He turned, facing the gaping mouth of the cave.

“Great one! I am ready.”

Echoing from the depths of the cavern a cruel tight voice answered.

“Are you sure you’re ready? The time is near.”

“Oh yes, I’m ready,” he reached to his side and picked up a large horn. “Gimla’s horn, torn from the skull of a frost giant by my brother’s own hand and lost for an age by the spreading ice…until I found it.”

Loki laughed, trying to appear giddy with excitement. He reached for the horn at his side, grasping it and raising it to his face.

“One note on this and night falls on Asgard forever.” He fought the urge to toss the horn away and instead smiled, evilly he hoped. He placed the horn to his lips, drew in a deep breath, and pressing the horn tightly against his lips he inhaled sharply, then let it escape, sounding a great note that echoed out, rebounding off the glaciers, the mountains, falling into the valleys and reverberating with such force that the land seemed to tremble in response. Around him the ground shook and snow fell from the heights of the cliffs, crumbling away like Balder at the touch of the evil one’s dart, sinking in brilliant splendor into deadly, suffocating powder, a limp mass of icy death that seemed to suck every sound into it, leaving a silent void.

Loki stood like a statue as his world changed around him, fearful and grieving, but unable to show it. His loss seemed all encompassing and suddenly he felt small and insecure.

He turned to face the mouth of the cave. “You promise I’ll be okay and that everything will be mine?”

He could hear his pathetic weakness, and while he hated it, he knew that it only made him seem more under the control of this beast. Yes he had his doubts, but he also had his convictions.

“As long as you are under my protection you cannot be harmed,” the disembodied voice spoke.

Loki heard the true meaning, that favor offered protection, and that as long as he acted just as the creature desired he would be spared. He decided to push just a bit. Surely the beast didn’t expect total subservience.

“That raises an interesting point,” Loki countered. “I know why I’m doing this, revenge, power, a few cheap thrills, but you never said what’s in it for you.”

Loki stared into the cave feeling the silence of the snow covered mountaintop, insulated from the destruction below as avalanches of snow loosened by the horns vibration descended on the village.

“Come closer,” a deep and foreboding voice commanded.

Loki hesitantly stepped forward, stopping a few steps away from the cave opening. Going into caves was never a good thing. Monsters lived in caves; society’s dregs took refuge there. Yes he was a god and could send any of those into nonexistence with a gesture, but never the less it was a fact, that caves meant problems.

“Closer!” The disembodied voice demanded in a tone which didn’t brook refusal.

Loki made sure he stood tall and kept his gaze into the blackness of the entrance as he took two more steps forward, ending up directly at the mouth of the cave.

“You cannot enter?” the voice taunted.

Loki accepted the challenge and steeling himself entered the edge of the blackness.

It was one step too far.

A claw grasped his face, digging its talons into his flesh. He felt the grip tighten, digging almost to the bone as he was lifted like pigeon to a dining hawk’s jaws.

Loki struggled in its grip, his body convulsing in attempt to find release,

“My motives are my own.” The voice sounded displeased. The talons dug in deeper, one crushing Loki’s windpipe and holding firm in spite of the god’s insistent ripping at the clawed grip that held him captive.

“Understand this, you are a tool,” Loki heard the voice growing distant as his body convulsed. The hiss of the stronger god’s speech and its fetid breath engulfed him as the world darkened. “I owe you no answers. My motives are my own!”

Loki felt his body growing limp, thought he could see the way to Valhalla, but suddenly the pressure on his neck was released and he felt his body tossed disdainfully into the snow where he lay limp and disjointedly. The smell of the evil newcomer dissipated as Loki slowly opened his eyes, gasping in the frigid air. He shivered not with the cold, but with the sudden realization of what he was up against, and the knowledge that this being could easily eliminate him when he was no longer needed. Nothing was secure, all his scheming and subterfuge against his family might have been for naught.

Loki stood on shaking legs. He couldn’t let himself think like that. He must do whatever it took to ensure that he survived Ragnarock. The Norse people couldn’t be left without the guidance of a god, one strong and tricky enough to survive the most difficult times.

His thoughts turned to Hercules. This Greek god wasn’t mentioned in Ragnarock. Perhaps he was an unknown factor that could be used in his favor. Loki shook his arms, loosening his muscles. He bowed his head and shimmered before disappearing.

A shiny ebony raven stood lightly on the soft snow. With a flap of its glistening wings it rose silently, leaving the cave and its evil inhabitant far behind.

Hercules stared down at Thor, sitting dejectedly in the snow, reminded of his half brother Ares. This was one thick and angry god.

“What is it going to take to make you go away?” Thor grumbled, wondering why his brother ever summoned this meddlesome demigod.

“I have something to show you,” Hercules answered dryly.

“What?” Thor thundered, shaking the snow off his clothes and rising to stand eye to eye with Hercules.

“It’s a surprise,” Hercules answered sarcastically.

Thor faced Hercules, and before the Norse god could even think, he was punched in the face with a force hither to unknown. In an instant the snowy landscape disappeared.

Hercules picked up the unconscious Thor, tossing him over his shoulder and started out for his destination.

Hercules dumped Thor unceremoniously into the snow. “Here we are,” He grunted, hoping the change in position and colder resting place would wake the Norse god. Thor stirred, shaking his head and letting the present engulf him.

In the distance a wolf howled, its mellow tenor trembling and fading under the grey sky. It was answered by a series of yips and howls that faded into low moans and echoed away, leaving the silence of the falling north night.

“I know this place!” Thor spoke in recognition as he stood easily in the soft powder. Even through the light dimmed and the blanket of white blurred the surroundings, the local inn was clearly visible.

“You should,” Hercules snorted. “You told me the Vikings that lived here where under your protection.”

Thor nodded and turned in a slow circle taking in the silence. “Where is everyone?”

“Where you put them,” Hercules retorted too quickly. “In despair.”

The town inn was full. The village inhabitants had gathered for safety, feeling the comfort that they were together among friends and family. The horn would be blown. Ragnarock would begin, and soon they would all be called to sacrifice; the men to battle, the women to man the farms, provide for the children. And the children…gods above… they would suffer most, with fathers dying and mothers absent, provisions short, the children would drop as quickly as the men. The Inn had an air of quiet panic, and it would take only one person to lose control to allow all havoc to break loose. Every person in it knew the signs.

And happen it did.

“We’re all going to die, die die!” Erik, brother of Hilda, the maiden saved from trial by axe, shouted as he tossed his hands in the air.

“You’re wrong. The gods will protect us!” a voice answered back.

“Hel-lo! Anybody home? The gods don’t care about us!” Erik retorted.

“Balder cares,” A voice from the crowd called out. “He saved my life. And Thor, the protector of all Vikings is still here for us.”

“Thor!” Erik spat. “He doesn’t care. He deserted us…left us to die just like all the other gods.”

The crowd was listening. They nodded in agreement with Erik.

“Die, die, die,” they chanted.

Hercules and Thor stood just inside the door of the Inn, Thor invisible to mortals and Hercules simply blending into the background. Thor looked on in horror while Hercules found himself lost in thought.

Hercules heard the condemnation of the mortals, the pain they felt as they realized that their trust had been misplaced. They had relied on the gods and the gods had left them to face the final battle alone. He saw their disappointment and it touched his heart in a way that he’d refused to let any mortal touch him …since Iolaus.

Suddenly he realized that he wasn’t so different from Thor or the other Norse gods. He had left the Greek mortals without a champion. He had run away licking his wounds after Iolaus’ death with no thought to the others that depended on him. They certainly would feel no different than these Norse men who had lost their champions.

Hercules understood the lessons that Mabon had emphasized, the ones he didn’t pay so much attention to before: that he was a leader among gods and more than a god to mortals. The depth of the statement had eluded him…Hercules, a leader of gods? Yet here he stood, fighting for and teaching the Norse gods what it meant to be an advocate for the people.

Thor stood shoulder to shoulder with Hercules, his jaw dropping in surprise. He thought he had shared camaraderie with his people. Sure, he was no Balder, healing the battle torn and ill, feeling in his heart the pain of the Norse people, but he stood with them in so many ways to ensure justice, fought at their side in battles, both small and large. How could they think he would desert them now? But he had, he realized suddenly. He had played a part in their beloved Balder’s death, and surely they knew that he had been condemned to eternal torture by his own father’s dictate, and now they faced Ragnarock alone.

The demi god and the Norse god of thunder stood shoulder to shoulder united in their sense of failure to their people.

Hercules knew at that instant, that when this was over, he would return to Greece to make amends with his people.

Thor knew at that instant that he would do anything to have the belief, the devotion and yes the love of his stubborn and hearty Norsemen.

Erik, stop!” Hilda, the braided maiden who had been saved by Hercules and found her inner strength, shouted to her brother urgently, tugging at his sleeve.

“What?” Erik responded. “It’s the end of the world. Balder is dead; Thor isn’t able to help us. There is nothing left to do but drink and die, drink and die!” He lifted a mug of ale into the air then let it fall to his lips and sucked heartily on it. Behind him, the crowd continued chanting.

“Drink and die! Drink and die!”

Thor watched with determination, letting himself become visible and strode into the crowd.

“Stop! Break it up!” he spoke angrily.

One of the Vikings close to Thor turned to him in disdain. “Who needs you? You call yourself a god? Now you come, after our fate has been sealed!”

Thor heard his pain and despair.

Hilda turned to face Thor, the god who stood by while she twirled on the wheel, accepting her fate patiently while two men readied to throw axes at her. She had let herself accept fate just as Thor had done, that she knew.

“So what will you do?” she challenged, knowing that she had found her independence and hoping that Thor had somehow learned that he didn’t have to blindly accept fate.

“Go back to Asgard!” a Viking from the crowd called out angrily.

Hercules turned to Thor, knowing that this was a pivotal point for the Norse god.

“You said you were their protector,” he both accused and reminded.

Thor met his stare unwaveringly. “I am!”

“Really?” Hercules shot back challengely. Balder taught these people that the gods care whether they live or die. They looked to you for protection.”

“It was the truth,” Thor countered.

Show them that,” Hercules countered.

From a distance a horn sounded, first softly, but growing in volume and intensity.

“Gimla’s horn,” Thor turned to Hercules to explain as the crowd in the inn grew silent. “Loki must have found it. From out side the rumble of avalanches began, first softly, but growing in intensity as the killing snow flowed downward. Villages would be engulfed. His people would die.

“We’re too late. It’s started.” Thor spoke flatly to Hercules.

“Ragnarock,” Hercules answered softly under his breath, feeling the floor shake beneath his feet with the power that had been unleashed. He’d hoped to stop it. Now he would simply have to try to contain the damage.

Thor ascended the mountain at a full run, never once slipping on the powdery snow in spite of the difficult angle of the climb. He plunged forward like a mountain goat, not even shivering as the snow fell on his head and shoulders, pilling on his beard.

“The path is this way!” Thor bellowed over his shoulder

Hercules was hard pressed to keep up. In spite of the work of climbing the mountain, he was cold. His fur cloak was tied loosely around his neck so that his arms were free, and while the cloak was plenty warm if wrapped, activities like mountain climbing weren’t conducive to keeping the cloak around his body. Instead it flapped behind him, doing a fair job of keeping his backside warm, but exposing his front and arms to the bitter cold. He felt his feet slipping and struggled to catch up.

“We’ll never reach Asgard on time,” Hercules shouted back, wondering if his words were being lost in the howling wind. “We’ve got to find a faster way!”

Thor ignored Hercules’ and pressed on. “This is where I lost my hammer,” he stopped finally and paced in a circle, his brow furrowed. “When Father came to pronounce my punishment, he took the hammer and it disappeared. Then he took me to be chained.” Thor’s voice was low, rumbling with pain and anger. Hercules stood scanning the area, trying to imagine where Thor’s hammer had been hidden. It could be anywhere, given Odin’s power. But Thor, son of Odin and full god, had led him here, sure that this was his hammer’s location. Hercules could only hope that it was more than impulse that led Thor to this remote path, that he knew his father and that the hammer was more than a simple weapon, but an extension of Thor’s own body.

Hercules began pacing in the snow as Thor stood quietly, focusing on his hammer.

In tandem the two men moved toward a flattened spot on the mountainside. Hercules began pounding at the snow in the flattened area. “Give me a hand!” he grunted. He punched with all his strength and a hole appeared in the side of the hill, giving way to the blackness of a vault.

Thor used his considerable strength to enlarge the hole, punching the packed snow at Hercules’ side.

“Unless Loki got to it first, your hammer should still be here,” Hercules spoke, wondering why Thor considered his hammer more important than all that was currently happening.

“I hope you’re right,” Thor responded as he pounded his fist into the snow, letting the curtain of hard packed snow and ice fall away, exposing the cave beyond. He reached in and grabbed his hammer, drawing it out by the handle.

“I felt like I lost my arm,” Thor commented. “Now I feel whole again.”

Hercules watched as Thor gripped the hammer, raising it and letting it fall as if testing his attachment.

“Can this thing get us to Asgard?” Hercules questioned, suddenly realizing how weak Thor had been without his hammer. A full god unable to release himself from chains? Thor not coming forward and confronting his people? Suddenly Hercules realized what Thor had been hiding, that his power was entwined with his hammer. Just as he was stronger with Iolaus at his side, Thor depended on his hammer.

“Quick as a thunderbolt,” Thor answered as he pulled Hercules towards himself and gripping him tight, preparing to disappear. Loki appeared, standing strongly and laughing at Thor. “Typical Thor. You never did have the common sense to come in out of the cold!” he called as Thor and Hercules began disappearing.

“YOU! I’ll kill you when this is done!” Thor called to his uncle, stepping forward and releasing Hercules from his grip.

Loki simply laughed, blinking out of sight and reappearing high on a ridge above Thor and Hercules.

“Balder got the heart, I got the brains. You got the mouth! All of this talk about wanting to protect the local villagers, did you mean it? Or were you just blowing off as usual?” Loki spouted hopefully.

“He meant it,” Hercules interjected as he held out an arm to restrain Thor.

Loki nodded, grinning. “Well, then my oldest nephew has a big decision to make.” He snickered and tossed a paper folded and winged at Hercules and Thor, watching in satisfaction as it soared, arcing down to Hercules and Thor.

Thor caught it before it hit the snow, unfolding it and starting at the picture inside.

“Just a little something I found in the Norn’s book of fate,” Loki clapped gleefully. “Apparently someone knocked over a torch in the Viking Inn. Clumsy me!” he smiled tauntingly, though his heart ached for his people.

Hercules peered over Thor’s shoulder at the picture. His lips grew tight and thin and his face was grim. It was a picture of the Inn engulfed in flames. Dahok, Hercules thought suddenly. This had to be the work of the evil one. Loki was a joker but all this killing of family and now the fiery deaths of a whole village of people just didn’t feel like the Norse god’s work. He felt an iceberg sitting in his chest where his heart used to be and swallowed hard. He gripped Thor’s shoulder.

“This is happening now!”

Thor crumbled the paper in his oversized fist. And let it fall in to the snow where the icy wind caught it and sent it dancing like fanned flames.

“Well Thor, who are you going to save?” Loki taunted. “Your family and fellow gods in Asgard? Or the Vikings you ‘claim’ to protect?” He crossed his arms on his chest and tapped a foot impatiently. “Hurry up, time’s running out!”

Loki tied to make it sound as if he was teasing Thor, but in reality, he challenged his nephew. Either the people or the gods must live. Loki didn’t fully know the powers of the foreign demigod. Optimal outcome might not be met, but total devastation could still be prevented.

Hercules’ eyes met Thor’s as he spoke urgently. “Your place is in Asgard, I’ll go to the villagers.

He thought of how he wished he’d been able to save his own family when they died at the hands of Hera and hoped to give Thor a chance to do the same.

But Thor wasn’t Hercules. In his heart he knew that the gods were doomed and there was nothing he could do to stop that. His presence might bring comfort, but Thor was a god of action and not a god of words. Ragnarock would be the demise of the Norse gods, but not the people. Yes there would be carnage and legions of warriors ushered into the beautiful fields of Valhalla, but some would survive. And Thor was intent on helping as many of his people as his time allowed. He would not go down without a fight.

“NO!!!” Thor bellowed, flashing a look of angry determination. “My place is with my people!” He raised his hammer arm high and with tremendous force slammed the hammer onto the ground.

Hercules felt the ground shake beneath his feet and the next thing he knew, he was standing on the rainbow bridge. He shook his head in defeat. “On second thought, I’ll go to Asgard.” He took off running, hoping it wasn’t already too late.

The Inn was fully engulfed in flames. Its roof was nothing more than tattered lace through which torrid fingers of fire beckoned. The still of the night was broken by the crackle of the bowing wood, the hiss of the snowy air turning to steam, and the terrified cries of the Norse people trapped inside.

Inside, people panicked, pushing and shoving each other, frantic to find a safe exit. Smoke swirled, disorienting and suffocating. The air was thick and heavy and every breath the trapped Norse people took hurt, sucked the oxygen out of their lungs. The cries of the frightened people were muffled by the groaning of the burning wood and the crackling of flames. Children wept, not quite understanding what was happening, but feeling their parent’s fear.

Hilda grabbed her brother’s arm. The foreign god was right. Each person had value and everything a person did was important. Hilda knew that what she did today could make a difference. She looked at her brother with concern. He had slumped in a chair and sat, head on arms, waiting to be consumed by the hungry flames.

“Erik! We have to get out of here!” She grabbed his shoulder firmly. “And we need to get as many people out of here as we can.” Her brother lifted his head slightly, turning it to her. Smoke was thick in the air, swirling as if stirred by the rushing movements of the trapped.

“Look on the bright side. We won’t freeze to death,” he snapped sardonically.

“No Erik, and I refuse to let us all burn to death either!” She grabbed his arm and yanked him to his feet, pulling him to her side just as a large ceiling beam fell, splintering on the chair where he had sat.

Hilda fanned the dancing smoke away, ignoring the crackle of the crimson wood as embers fell around her and ashes rose like ghostly wisps, bourn upward on the heated air current. The constant movement of the smoke, the cries of the people and the flicker of the flames was disorienting. Hilda scanned the Inn, trying to find a point of familiarity. Many of the supporting beams had fallen. The bar had burned away far earlier and the tables and chairs had had been toppled and shoved aside. The Inn looked no more familiar than the surface of the moon, Hilda mused.

“The door!” she called, tugging her brother’s arm as she spied the barest of outlines that pointed the way to escape.

“You’re just seeing the smoke,” Erik put her down.

But Hilda didn’t listen. She knew what she had seen. “Come on!” she called hastily as she grabbed the nearest child and pushed him in the direction of the door. “Get up! GO, go, go!” She pushed her brother toward the door to open it for the children, help them out. “That’s it!” she encouraged as she felt the sudden draft of cool air, felt the fanning of the flames around her. She pushed the children forward first. “Stay together,” Hilda instructed as she grabbed the hand of a small child, who then grabbed the next child’s hand. A chain was formed with the biggest pulling the others like a caravan out the door. Hilda heard a heavy snap above her and felt a gust of cool air swooping down. She looked up to see the roof starting to collapse.

“The roof! Erik, get the children out!” she screamed, trying not to let panic get the better of her. A roof panel crashed to the floor, flaming and splintering as it hit, and one of the support beams groaned as it bent under the power of the flames. Hilda could see the crack in the beam lengthening, spreading on the diagonal. It was simply a matter of seconds until the beam was split and the roof collapsed in its entirety, claiming the lives of every Norse person not through the door.

A crash sounded and Hilda turned to see a massive wall beam had fallen, blocking the door. Erik turned to her grimly, holding a half string of children and trying to keep them from being trampled by the adults, so panicked they were pushing like senseless horses, not working together to remove the obstruction.

Hilda sent up a silent prayer. If this was Ragnarock, they were doomed. The gods were dead and evil had befallen the land.

But suddenly her prayers were answered. A sturdy figure with ram’s horned helmet crashed through the obstruction at the door, splintering the wall beam and opening the door once again.

Thor! Hilda stared in wonder. Well there was still one god who lived, one protector of the people. There was yet hope.

Thor pushed passed the children, split the disorganized crowd and pushed Hilda out of the way just as the main ceiling beam cracked through and thundered downward. Thor reached up and used every ounce of his divine strength to hold the massive beam up and support the collapsing roof.

“Get them out of here!” Thor commanded, bellowing to be heard over the roar of the flames, the cries of his people and the groans of the Inn as it continued its desperate implosion.

Hilda grabbed hold of the hand she had momentarily dropped and turned to see her brother urging people out the door. She felt the tug on her hand as the caravan of children started to thread their way out the door.

“GO!” Thor bellowed as the embers fell around him and the main beam burned on his broad shoulders. “Get them out of here! Hurry, hurry! GO faster!”

Hilda saw Thor bowed with the weight of the Inn resting on his shoulders. She watched as his beard smoldered, and she reached out and smothered the embers that sought to engulf the God of Thunder.

Pieces of the doomed Inn fell around Thor as he struggled to hold the frame aloft.

“Go!” Thor commanded her, grateful for her ministrations, but knowing that he was in fact doomed, and this might be last chance to prove his love for the Norse people before the ravages of Ragnarock over took him. This was what he was meant to do. He turned a stern look on the courageous young woman who anchored a line of his youngest followers. Truly she was exceptional. It was people like her that made him realize the importance of his place among the gods.

Hilda nodded and acquiesced to the tug on her palm, heading toward the door, her eyes still on Thor as he struggled to hold the Inn aloft while his people made their escape. Pieces of the Inn began their incandescent descent around him as Hilda let the smallest child pull her to the exit.

Just as the line of children raced to the cold freedom of a starry night, a roar like thunder erupted overhead. Hilda could see the flaming beams of the ceiling as they shuddered, finally relinquishing one large timber with a good size chunk of fiery roof. It hurtled towards her Shooting sparks as it descended.

“Go!” Hilda screamed as she let go of the smallest child’s hand. “Go out the door! Run!”

She watched as the child looked back but was pulled from the outside by the child connected to her. The beam and roof section fell with a thud and a crackle. Hilda looked over at Thor, bent with the weight of keeping the building from collapsing.

“I’m trapped!” she whispered to herself wondering if this great strong god of Thunder would be able to find a way out for them.

Hercules ran through the door of Odin’s great palace. The silence was enveloping and Hercules felt the sudden grip of icy cold that had replaced the natural warmth. The silence contrasted with the previous sense of life he’d felt in Odin’s residence. He raced through the icy silence calling out.

“Frigga!” He spoke with shock as he found the goddess crumbled to the floor, skin blue and gaze distant.

Odin lay only feet away, but blinded, he was as good as miles apart.

“Frigga?” He called, but the goddess was too cold and too close to death to answer.

Hercules could see the futility of Frigga’s state and turned instead to Odin.

“She can’t answer,” he pointed out, placing a hand on Odin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. Let me start a fire.”

“No,” Odin responded. “No amount of warm can ease me now.” His voice shivered. “Where’s my boy?” Odin demanded. “Is he with you?”

“He stayed behind,” Hercules responded. “People were dying. He wanted to save them.”

Odin turned his eyeless face in the direction of Hercules’ voice. “Finally! I told my sons often enough to stand with the strong, but for the weak. Only Balder ever seemed to listen.”

He heard Hercules sudden sniff, smelled the scent of the Greek demigod’s hair as his head jerked.

“You’re surprised?” Odin inquired, wondering what the stranger’s gods had taught him, but knowing now he’d never find out.

“These days all the time,” Hercules replied, thinking how he had come to respect the Norse gods. They respected their mortals, and though their actions may have initially seemed crude, at least they interacted with the people, tried to solve arguments and saw their roles as supporters of mankind. He only wished the Greek gods had hearts as big. The land might be icy, but the hearts of the people were plenty warm.

Odin’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Take me to Frigga.”

Hercules reached out to Odin, slipping a strong arm around his torso, feeling the frigid skin trough the god’s robes. He lifted him to his feet, noting the unsteadiness lent by blindness, by aging, and by exposure to the unnatural cold.

“Here,” he spoke as he steadied Odin, feeling pain at the great god’s decline. He guided him slowly to where Frigga laid slouched and silent, ice forming on her hair, frosting her eyebrows and lashes. Her limbs were stiff and bluing, eyes open but unseeing. If it wasn’t for the minute rise and fall of her shoulders as she breathed Hercules would have thought she was dead already.

“Here.” Hercules spoke kindly as he let Odin down to his knees next to Frigga.

Odin reached for his bride, wrapping an arm around her once broad shoulders, now feeling them to be frail and frozen. “Frigga,” he moaned as he drew himself closer to her, knowing all the while that she was closer to Valhalla than he wanted, that every second had meaning and was precious.

He slipped his arm around her tighter, remembering when they realized their love for each other, seeing in his mind her beauty and wisdom, growing greater over the ages. The time of the gods was at an end. Ragnarock would leave the people rudderless. He needed to do one more thing for his mortals before he accepted his fate. The wildcard had been cast and he chose to use it to his advantage. “I need a sword,” he directed Hercules, even as he felt his power growing weaker.

Hercules scanned the chamber, sighting one and reached for it, handed it to Odin, finally realizing that the Norse gods and their people saw dying with a sword in hand as the honorable end to existence. It wasn’t meant as violence, but as protection of land and loved ones and a measure of manhood.

Odin gripped the hilt weakly, hoping he had enough strength for one last gift to his people, and the last hope to end Ragnarock before its destruction became full reality.

“Thank you Hercules,” he spoke softly. “Tell Thor a father was never prouder of a son.”

“I will,” Hercules answered.

“I’m tired, wife,” he spoke softly to Frigga, who lay still and icy against him. There was no longer any cloud of breath, or even a twitch of an eyelid. Her blue eyes were open and sightless, though Odin would never know.

Odin leaned heavily against the icy stiffness of Frigga and in his mind saw Valhalla looming large. The faithful warriors were being greeted by Balder and he and Frigga approached their son hand in hand. He felt the coldness of Ragnarock, and the pain of his sightless sockets fading away. But he heard the soft moan of the Greek demigod, the pain he felt at the Norse gods passing, and he held on just a second or two longer.

Hercules saw that Odin’s sword hand had buckled and lay upward at an awkward position. It wouldn’t do. He must die as the warrior he was, not fallen with his sword cocked unusable, like a coward. Hercules reached down and took the blade of the sword carefully in his hand, meaning to restore Odin’s integrity.

Odin was seeing Valhalla longingly, but held back. There was still one more task. As Hercules grasped the sword and Odin felt the pull, he called on his last reserves of power to send through the blade which attached them. In an instant, he transported Hercules away from his frozen home of death and back to the Inn, to help Thor. Maybe with two gods…

Odin felt the sword fall to the floor, Felt Frigga’s pull towards Valhalla. He no longer smelled the Greek god’s soft scent or sensed his power. His last task was done. Odin let Frigga tug him towards their beloved Balder, secure that Thor would be protected as long as possible and that the Norse people would have some guidance. He let Frigga squeeze his hand tighter and turned away from the tasks of a lifetime. Eternity continued for them, just in a different locale.

Hercules found himself at the inn, dizzy and staggering after the quickest godly transport he’d ever experienced. His feet slid in the snow and even though he felt the cold acutely, he was aware of the heat hitting him and as he gasped in surprise, trying to regain his footing. The cries of frightened people cut through the roar of the flames and the crackle of the burning wood as they pushed each other seeking escape and piling through the open door like mice escaping a sinking ship.

Hercules struggled to get his bearings, fanning away the cloud of smoke. He scanned his surroundings and quickly and focused on the inn. Thor was laboring to hold up the main beam as the timbers burned around him, sending sparks and cascades of fire in a frame encircling him. Hercules stared in horror as he took in Thor’s untenable position.

“GO! Get out of here! GO!” Hercules screamed in pain and despair rushing towards the escaping townsfolk. He watched as the throng swindled to a steady stream and then to a trickle.

“Hold on!” he called to Thor. “I’m here!” He moved into the crumbled remains of the inn, but was driven back by the huge flaming timbers which tumbled down, narrowly missing him as he vainly sought entrance.

Loki looked on from his hidden perch and shivered in fear. This was all that the beast of a god had told him, death, destruction, a downward spiral that wouldn’t end until he determined that Norse people had been broken in spirit and were ready to follow any deity. Loki would be that deity, and he would reassure them that the all powerful Dahok cared about them and was ready and able to take over where the Norse Gods had failed them in their time of need.

Loki wasn’t sure he was ready for this. He had never been noble and caring like Balder, just and fatherly like Odin and as he saw Thor straining to hold up the Inn which crumbled around him, beard and hair glowing with embers and skin redder than a crushed raspberry he knew he was a pretender. He’d never earned the peoples’ trust and the only ones who readily worshipped him were the jokesters, the party people.

He stayed hidden; watching the sweat roll off Thor’s straining muscles just as a few stray tears fought their way down his cheeks. He knew clearly that the shoes he would be trying to wear would never fit. They were far bigger than what he could ever hope to be. Thor, Balder and Odin had no idea of the depraved evil God that had planned to set Ragnarock in motion. And they wouldn’t have believed him if he’d told them. He’d been joking to long. He was the god that cried wolf, and now the time had had come accept this new fate offered to him, rather than death at Ragnarock like his family. He shrunk back in the shadows as the flames roared and snapped, casting a flickering light his way, accepting the concealment offered by the sturdy trunk of a Norwegian Pine.

Hercules rushed to the burning Inn, took in the sight of the main beam and its great timbers glowing and splintering as they sagged and fell, crashing in bursts of fire and flaming ash all separating the two gods. Thor coughed spasmodically, his lungs irritated by soot and hot air. His reddened eyes scanned the area, checking to see that all had gotten out.

Hercules heard the low rumble, the hiss of wet hot steaming wood and felt the main beam shudder just as Thor released the doomed structure from his divine support. Around him the roof crashed and timbers fell faster with a thundering roar, splintering into fiery bits as smoke rose, carried by the intense heat. Thor sprang forward, rushing to a spot where the flames were subsiding and the cool outside air rushed in. He dove through the remnants of what once was a sturdy wall, but now was a flaming void, reaching the outside, rolling on the snow, extinguishing his burning garments as the Inn collapsed with a final groan, wood beams splintering as they dashed against the snow, steaming as the wetness extinguished them. He landed at Hercules’ side coughing violently, his face blackened by soot and his hands reddened by the heat.

“Thor?” Hercules questioned, his worry evident in the raised pitch of his voice.

Thor lay against him, gasping for air, his lungs and airway constricted and charred. But all his Norse people had made it to safety.

“You’ll be okay. You took in too much smoke,” Hercules spoke tightly, seeing the pale skin beneath the dark ashes.

Thor shook his head, gasping for air between coughs. “Hercules, I told you these people were under my protection. It wasn’t a lie.” Hercules nodded, hearing the urgency in Thor’s voice.

“You tried to save my life when you unchained me, but instead you saved my heart. You showed me my true destiny.” His voice was weak and he lay heavily against Hercules. Speaking was an effort and his lids were growing leaden.

Hercules reached to support Thor’s slumping body. Feeling the Norse God’s muscles grow soft he pulled him closer, tried to sit him up. It was then that he saw the tiny dart sticking out of Thor’s back, the one with the soft little sparrow feathers on its’ shaft, and recognized it immediately.

“Thor!” Hercules gasped as realization hit him. “The same dart…LOKI!” he screamed as he tugged the instrument of Balder’s death from Thor’s back.

In the distance a wolf howled mournfully. The Norn appeared, standing at Hercules’ side and unfurled a scroll with a picture clearly drawn on it. It showed Thor, obviously dead and cradled in Hercules’ arms.

Hercules wondered what it was about him that let him survive while those who worked for good, the ones he cared about, were struck down by the gods.

“Loki!” Hercules screamed in pain and anger, feeling the betrayal, knowing how the pain was worse when it happened at the hands of family.

The Norn disappeared silently and Hercules let Thor’s body drop to his knees.

The Norse people had been left rudderless.

Hercules threaded his way through the soft weeping throng that had escaped certain death as Thor valiantly bore their fate. He felt at a loss, a stranger in a land of ice, where the beliefs were so very different than his own. There was nothing familiar about trial by axe, about days that were endless night, so cold that even time seemed to freeze. Around him people stood stunned, children clinging to their parents and young people empty even of anger. All eyes were blank, without sparkle or understanding and the people moved wordlessly toward Thor’s body as the Inn melted behind him into nothing but embers, the heat dissipating and leaving nothing more than the frigid air to enshroud them.

Hercules moved away. Thor was long since departed to Valhalla to welcome all those who had fallen righteously. He finally realized that he was supposed to be here, he felt it in his heart. But all the gods who truly cared for the Norse people were dead. What was he to do and who was he to lead them? For the first time since he’d arrived Hercules felt truly alone.

To his left, Hercules heard a low moan and a cough. He tuned and saw an elderly lady lying in the snow, mouth open, covered with ashes and reaching out to the unseeing crowd. He strode over to her and scooped up some snow in his hands, letting his body’s warmth melt it.

“Here, it’s water,” he spoke softly and let the melted snow trickle form his hands into her parched mouth.

The old woman sighed as she swallowed the last of the melted snow. “Thank you,” she said softly. Hercules simply nodded and turned back to the crowd.

He spotted Hilda wrapping the burned arm of a child with the torn hem of her skirt, her fingers moving smoothly and decisively. He strode up to her. “How are you doing?” he asked awkwardly, hoping she didn’t know that he had godly blood. He was no Norse god simply a Greek demigod hoping to help a troubled soul.

Hilda turned to him, her eyes ice blue and demanding. “What’s going to happen to us?” Her shortened golden braids wore an ashen coating and her cheeks, nose and chin bloomed red from the cold and wind, but she didn’t shiver. Her heart burned as surely as the Inn and her movement in caring for the injured kept her warm enough.

Hercules could feel her anger, could see her fear in the way she leaned across the child to protect him from a gust of wind and the light coating of snow it carried.

“You’ll survive,” Hercules answered, meaning to reassure her, but instead sounding curt.

Hilda cut him off from finishing.

“How can you survive without the gods?” Hilda challenged. She swung an arm around at the people, milling in confusion, quietly desperate and mourning. Her words came out in cloudy puffs of icy vapor and Hercules realized that most of these people had lost their outer garments to the fire.

Hercules followed her gesture, thinking of the warmth of the Inn, of how the people would have removed their capes, not going back for them in the rush to escape… He saw that Norse people didn’t even seem to notice, so lost in their confusion and fear that even while their skin was tinged blue from the cold they simply walked to Thor silently staring, forming a group to pay their last respects.

“People don’t need the Gods to live,” Hercules spoke urgently, hoping that Hilda would fully grasp the message.

“Perhaps you don’t, but we do,” she responded tartly. “Do you know what it’s like when the sun doesn’t shine for months?” She stared at Hercules’ blank expression and nodded. “And it’s so cold your teeth ache from chattering?” She gently placed the child in her arms on a bed of soft snow and putting her hands on her hips, rose to meet him as close to eye to eye as possible. Hercules considered her silently.

Hilda raised an eyebrow. This one had no clue about the Norse way of life, yet he judged them and advised them as if their circumstances were the same his own kind. She meant to tell him exactly what he needed to know.

“Well it’s a fight to stay alive. Maybe we need something that’s bigger than we are to believe in, like the Gods.” She shook her head in disdain of the demigod’s ignorance. “What else do we have in the cold and the night?”

“Hilda,” Hercules rebuked softly, knowing that the young woman spoke for her people and that her challenge was righteous. “You are going to find that your own strength and that of your people will sustain you. Your Gods aren’t dead; they’ve simply left the Earthly realm and wait to greet you in Valhalla. They see you. They care for you. They’ve taught you many lessons and their influence isn’t to be forgotten.” Hercules hesitated, knowing that every word he said was being weighed. “The gods are here simply to teach and guide but people need to learn the lessons and move on from there.”

Hilda stared seriously at Hercules, his words inking in. She’d learned to think for herself at this strange God’s urging. He wasn’t what she was used to; softer than the Gods she worshipped, but his words were spoken in earnest truth and part of her wanted to believe people had learned enough to be in charge of their own destiny.

She nodded and turned away at the sound of a whimper behind her.

“I’m here,” she spoke kindly to the elderly man whose left arm was charred and withered, still smoking and steaming as he bathed it in the snow.

Hercules pulled the folded paper from the pocket in his cloak, unfolded it carefully and stared at the picture on it, that of Thor being burned on a pyre. He stared at the picture realizing the Norse sent their sent their dead out to sea on a burning boat. This was picture drawn for a Greek.

Hercules strode up to the Norn’s small cabin. It stood isolated and cold, no fire to warm it, not trees to provide shelter. There was simply a tall ridge of snow and the ineffective glimmer of the rising lip of sun which lit the single room home with its shuttered windows and cast its cool lemon light across the snowscape. He scanned the area for rising smoke or footprint, turning a slow 360 degrees. When he had circled to his original position he saw the Norn, standing in her crudely woven black cloak, hood falling heavily over her hoary head standing on the top of the ridge as still as the ice around her and casting a knowing stare at him.

“No more riddles,” Hercules declared. “This time I want the truth. Balder found this page before he was killed.” He held out the picture of the funeral pyre accusingly. “Loki gave the other one to Thor.” He stared into the Norns opaque blue eyes, her face as unrevealing as a statue.

“Did you do these?” he questioned, knowing the answer.

The Norn stood solidly, her eyes fixed on Hercules. The dark hood and cape reminded Hercules of Celesta and caused him to wonder if the Norn was more than the giver of fate, but the deliverer of souls as well.

The Norn spoke to Hercules, the quiver of her voice giving away her age.

“I only paint what I see.”

Hercules stared assessingly at her, pushing his distrust of the gods back down. The Greek gods may have been deceitful, but the Norse gods had so far represented themselves truthfully.

Hercules nodded, maintaining eye contact. “And you didn’t see this,” he spoke knowingly. “Both pictures show future events, but you only draw the present in your book.”

The Norn stood regally and unmoving, her eyes fixed on Hercules’ like teacher on her prized student.

“And what does that tell you?” She avoided the leading question, waiting for the student to come to the correct conclusion on his own.

“Hercules looked down at the painting, comparing it in his mind to the paintings of the Norn.

“Loki made then himself,” Hercules answered with conviction. He looked up and the Norn was gone, no longer above him on the ledge of snow. He turned once again, disoriented and when he’d made the full circle saw he down in the snow in front of him.

“Come closer, Hercules,” her ancient voice commanded. She reached out to him and he moved closer.

“Somehow this paint affects fate. You only paint what you see, but Loki painted what he wanted to see, and made it happen.” The Norn nodded solemnly.

“Fate is what we make it.”

Loki sat on his brother’s throne. The ice was thicker than he was used to and he shivered, wondering if he could indeed stand in the shoes of Balder, Odin and Thor. He laughed dryly as he shivered. He had been kidding himself. His fear of Dahok had motivated his actions. He should have stood beside his family and died fighting the evil one. But instead he’d let himself be used and implemented all of Dahok’s plans. He was a coward, a jokester, Loki, the foolish god. But in truth, he deserved no better. This throne wasn’t his. It wasn’t earned and his worshipers were few and far between. This had all been a mistake. Ruling under the hand of a despot like Dahok was just simple puppetry. Loki realized that in all reality, Dahok would dispose of him as soon as his own master plan was complete. Odin’s throne seemed huge and exceedingly cold and Loki understood that he couldn’t ever rule from Asgard. He wasn’t half the man his brother was. He had been someone who lived for the day without contemplating the future or the past, and this had led him to uncorrectable mistakes. He didn’t cherish glory or riches or even power. But he did see an opportunity. The Norse gods shouldn’t be plunged into extinction.

He wondered if he had the courage to do what had to be done.

Loki slumped, leaning forward as he held his head in his hands. He had buried himself and his family, not to mention his people. In front of him, Hercules rushed through the door, his breath coming out in cloudy puffs. He reached the throne of Odin and skidded to a halt.

“Loki, you don’t have to do this. You can stop this madness!” Hercules called to him breathlessly as he skidded to a halt at the foot of the throne.

“Hercules, you don’t see the whole picture, We’re doomed.” Loki shook his head without raising it. “I’ve set the end days in motion. Dahok will kill me when it’s done and my people will perish.”

“No!” Hercules shouted as her reached for Loki’s arm.

But Loki growled low and deep.

Hercules could feel the Norse god quiver in his grip, his arm growing thinner and, the muscles melting away to tendons and sinew. Loki was transforming into his escape form. But Hercules wasn’t going to let the dog run loose again, unafraid of the beast’s aggressive posture.

“Loki, it ends here! Talk to me! I didn’t come all this way to quit. I came to help!” He gripped the black dogs fore leg tightly, and heard a whine replace the growl as he held the dog firmly in Odin’s icy throne.

Loki sighed, returning to his godly form and pulled his restrained arm free of Hercules’ grip.

“It’s useless,” Loki grumbled as he sunk deeper into the throne. This beast that’s directing things,” he shook his head in frustration, “isn’t giving an inch.”

“I know the beast,” Hercules spoke firmly, keeping his eyes on Loki’s. This is the same being that killed my best friend, my partner.” His voice boiled with hate. And I want him gone even more than you, so work with me on this!”

Loki didn’t take his eyes off the foreign god that Balder had summoned. He wanted nothing more than to see Dahok defeated and life returned to Nornal, but one demigod, who’s understanding of the Norse people was extremely limited… could he be of actual use? He stared at the eyes, steely in their determination. Better an ally than an enemy. After all they both wanted the same thing.

“What do you have to offer?” Loki responded, pulling his arm free and settling uncomfortably into his brother’s huge icy throne.

“Only this,” Hercules answered carefully as he drew out a vial of the Norn’s ink and held it just out of Loki’s reach.

“Where did you get that?” Loki questioned anxiously, feeling his heart pound faster and harder.

“You stole yours to do Dahok’s bidding, so you could bring about Ragnarock and ensure your own safety. I asked the Norn to show me where you hid it.” Hercules stared into Loki’s face of disbelief.

How could he work with this foreign god, who saw him as a lair and thief?

Loki lunged for the vial, knocking Hercules in the chest with quickness the demigod didn’t foresee. He reached for the vial, but Hercules’ arm was longer and the force of the blow jarred the vial loose, sending it flying out of his hand and skittering across the icy floor following an irregular bouncing path out of the reach of either god.

Loki moved away from Hercules and lunged for the vial. Hercules lunged for Loki, catching his torso just as the Norse god had his fingers almost onto the vial. Hercules pulled him back

“Loki, you haven’t proved yourself to have adequate judgment to handle the ink!” Hercules roared.

“I’ve had no choices!” Loki responded as he fought unsuccessfully to free himself from Hercules’ grip.

“Not true!” Hercules roared as he held Loki firmly in his grip. “You had a choice and let fear dictate your response, not courage. Look inside yourself Loki! Are you able to lead your people or will I have to write you out of the picture?”

Loki struggled to be released, but the larger foreign god held him tight. The vial was so close…yet his fingertips couldn’t quite reach it. He sucked in a deep breath and tried to extend his arm just a bit more, but the demi god had felt him shifting and pulling and hugged him tighter, sliding him down further away from the vial.

“Loki stop!” Hercules commanded. “It’s over. I won’t judge you for your fear, but I will note your inability to accept help. And as the last remaining Norse god, that certainly casts doubt on your ability to make appropriate choices, ones that work to benefit your people.” He felt Loki soften in his grip, fall limply against the icy floor that supported their struggle. “Loki, fear comes with caring,” Hercules soothed. “Together we can drive Dahok out of the Norse land. I know how finally.”

Loki stopped fighting. It was unthinkable that he would have caused the deaths of all his family, and yet he was being given a chance to right that wrong. Was Hercules trustworthy? Heck, what difference did it make, was he?

“I’ve made my mistakes,” Loki declared. “But they were made to save my people.”

“I know,” Hercules responded. “And you can right those mistakes now. But you have to be certain that you can lead your people in a difficult time.”

Loki moved to stand and Hercules let him. The bottle of ink was a fake, meant only to see if Loki would indeed come around.

“What do you propose?” Loki turned to Hercules, drawing himself up to his full height.

“Are you ready to lead your people?” Hercules queried as he studied Loki.

“My choices are to follow my family into Valhalla and subject the Norse people to chaos or to take responsibility for my actions and lead them to a life with the threat of Dahok.” Loki faced Hercules and stared seriously into the steel blue eyes. “This isn’t easy.” Hercules nodded, understanding the depth of Loki’s feelings, in the matter of choosing between family and humanity.

“Your choice is to help the living, or the dead.”

“Perhaps,” Loki countered. “But it could be to join my family or battle on against Dahok’s dark force as a leader of a people who see me as no more than a jokester. Don’t fool yourself Hercules; the people have no respect for me.” Hercules took a step towards the ice throne, his eyes on Loki’s, hoping that the Norse god would find the courage to be an example for the people.

“The people are pleading for a god. You are the only one they have left. They haven’t found their own strength yet, but don’t let that fool you, they will.”

“So they won’t need me.”

“Key word here is won’t, Loki, and that’s in the future tense.” He stared long at hard at smallest of the Norse gods. He was no brute like Thor, no tall kind guardian like Balder or commanding just figure as Odin had been.

Hercules realized with sudden clarity that Loki was like Iphicles, brother of the great god, taken for granted and not given credit for any of his own positive attributes. Longing for a single chance to prove himself before his people, but hiding behind someone else. Well Iphicles had come forward and over time evolved into an admired ruler, trusted and loved by his people. Loki could do the same. He only had to find it within himself.

“Loki,” Hercules urged.

“You know, all along I was fooling myself. I thought that since we were all going to die anyway, maybe I could save a remnant of the people by playing along with Dahok. He said he’d spare me as long as I convinced that he was the ultimate god and that I was acting as his emissary.”

Loki snorted and turned his eyes away from Hercules. He shook his head, realizing his second mistake. He was simply a cornered beast. Escape was the first option, but could he ever truly hide from Dahok?

“It’s not too late!” Hercules stepped closer, watching as Loki growled and started sprouting black fur. His teeth grew long and sharp and his mouth and nose extended into a muzzle, lips raised and wet. A low rumble started in his chest and tightened to a menacing growl as it hit his throat. Loki lunged forward. Hercules gripped his foreleg almost hard enough to break it and stood an arms length away.

“Loki, I have plan. You can lead your people and get rid of Dahok!”

The snarling black dog rearing up in the ice throne yelped in pain and relaxed a bit, sitting smartly as the rolling growl subsided tentatively. Black fur gave way to glistening golden hair which grew longer on his head and fell away from his body as gradually Loki returned to his godly form and pulled his arm free from Hercules’ grasp.

“What do you know that I haven’t considered,” Loki questioned as he jumped off the ice throne and paced in front of it.

“I know that your people need a god and you are the only one left to them. I know you care enough about your people that you wanted to spare as many of them as possible. And I know you are smart enough to keep Dahok at bay at least temporarily.” Hercules stared solidly into Loki’s eyes, knowing that like Iphicles, Loki needed to believe in himself and do the right thing to start becoming thee leader he was destined to be.

“Loki, you painted what you planned to happen, what you knew Dahok wanted. You caused it to come about. The Norn’s ink had nothing to do with it.”

Loki raised an eyebrow.

“The Norn only draws what she sees. The present, not the future. It’s the people and the gods that choose to interpret it. The Norn may speak of the future but she doesn’t paint it. And she doesn’t ever paint the past.”

Loki stared intently into Hercules’ eyes. “So the ink makes it happen as the Norn paints it…”

“She didn’t say that, but she implied it, and was specific about not painting the future.”

Loki nodded. “Do you still have a vial of the Norns’ ink?”

Hercules and Loki stood at the entrance of the Norn’s small cottage. What needed to be done had to be painted in her book. Loki knocked, at first tentatively, then with more insistence.

The Norn came to the door slowly. She was ancient, having seen the changing of the gods, and the beginning of the Norse people. She’d once moved forward with swiftness and grace, painted with fine strokes and saw the future with clarity. Now she walked with a slower gait. The future had been seen, the present cried out to be acknowledged.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she greeted Hercules and Loki. She looked up to the ridge along the path to her cottage and saw the Norse people standing solemnly, eyes wide and attention focused on Loki.

She nodded silently and turned an approving look Loki’s way. “So you told them?”

“Yes,” Loki spoke with a new hint of courage. “With Hercules’ help, I was able to let the people know that my actions were cowardly, but meant to save as many of them as I could.”

“You did fine,” Hercules nodded. “And I think you finally saw that honesty, not tricks, gets you respect.”

“It’s a lesson which took an eternity to learn,” Loki muttered. “But let’s start with ridding our land of Dahok.” He nodded towards the Norn and she read his thoughts.

The small wizened Norn walked stooped but steadily back into her cottage and brought out her easel, paper and ink, setting them in front of Loki where his people could see his actions.

The Norn nodded silently and stepped back, casting a knowing glance at Hercules.

The people stood in expectant silence. Loki had fooled them many times before, but the strange demigod had been true to his word, and he trusted Loki. They saw no choice but to follow him, the lone god surviving Ragnarock.

Loki stared intently at the blank paper and taking the brush in his hand, dipped it into the paint. He stroked the brush on the paper drawing a likeness of Dahok, making him fleeing from the Norse land in defeat, drawing himself as victor and adding his people behind him forcing the foreign god to seek safe haven and raising their arms in victory. And finally he drew Hercules, at his side moving to follow Dahok.

The people cheered as one, breaking the silence.

Loki handed the paint and brush back to the Norn. “Thank you. This should have been your job, but you let me do it instead.”

She inclined her head humbly. “I don’t rule the people. I only paint what I see.” She handed the book to him, watching as he held it aloft to the cheers and happy weeping of the people…his people. Warriors raised their fists in the air, butting heads with each other; women dropped to their knees or hugged teary eyed. Children danced, not even fully aware of why, knowing only that if their parents were happy, they should be as well.

The Norn turned to her easel, picking up the brush and facing the empty sheet of paper in front of her. She painted quickly and under her skilled hand a new Norse world appeared where Loki helped his people, encouraged their independence and accepted worshipful thanks only for the miracles he alone could do.

Hercules looked down at the smaller blonde, feeling a twinge of pain for his own loss at Dahok’s hands, and realizing that he had done nothing more than Loki had. He had let down his people. He had robbed them of their champion. And he knew that Dahok would be going to the place where he could make sure Hercules suffered the greatest. Greece.

Hercules had a long journey ahead of him. With no godly powers of instant transport, Dahok would have a head start. He could only hope that a fair wind was with him and time would be on his side. He would have time to plan his moves. This retreat from his grief and pain had been healing and he had learned the lessons the Druids and the Norse gods had taught. It was time to return and fight the final battle.

“Loki,” Hercules spoke urgently. “I need to go. The Norn is right, her vision is true. Dahok is fleeing to my land and my people need me.”

Loki turned away from the people, lowering the picture and handing the Norn back her book. He clapped Hercules on the back solidly. “Thank you for everything you’ve done. You were supposed to be here.” He nodded as he stared confidently into Hercules’ eyes. “I won’t let you or them,” he nodded to the people celebrating on the ridge, “down.” Hercules grasped Loki’s arm in a warrior’s shake, turned to the Norn and bowed his head to her.

“Thank you,” he spoke softly to the Norn. “You are kind and wise. The Norse people are lucky to have you.”

Hercules turned abruptly and trotted down the pathway from the Norn’s cottage, picking up stride as he recognized his way back to the water.

Dahok saw in his mind what had happened at the Norn’s cottage and raged at his stupid trust in Loki’s weakness and insecurity. The Norse people would never follow him if Loki died now. And Hercules was leaving to warn his fellow Greeks, who had previously held him in high regard, of the evils of Dahok. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. He needed to get to Greece now. The Norse people could be returned to. They were being lead by a simple jokester, a god who had never instilled any kind of fear or loyalty in mortals. Once Greece was under his control, he could easily come back and take over again…and dispose of the pesky Loki.

Dahok watched as Hercules ran toward the boat dock. Every second counted if he wanted to get the Greeks under his control before Hercules arrived. He closed his eyes, blocking out the demigod, the Norse people and the traitor Loki. He though of nothing other than Greece and felt the icy Norse lands fall away.

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