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fanfiction (Novel) Ark Ragnarok: The Valhalla Experiment


ArkWriter
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This has been a HUGE project over the past 6 months. Originally done for myself because I wanted there to be a lore and history for Ark Ragnarok, I have decided to publish it here where hopefully others will enjoy it. Two chapters will be posted at the beginning of each week, as long as people seem to be liking it. Feedback is always welcome!

Thanks!
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Prelude

 

It was hard for Sven to imagine a time when he wasn't Sven. Or rather, he preferred not to remember it, at all. Sven figured, everyone had to be someone before the person they were now. Everyone had a past. And everyone had the ability to wake up one day and say, 'You know what? Today is a new day, and I'm going to make a change in my life for the better'. For Sven, that day was when he died and woke up here. He woke up on the peak of a mountain, in a region that the locals affectionately called the “Murder Snow”. It wasn't a very inventive name, but it sure got the point across. He was naked then, but not as he was before in his past life. Where he was once frail and weak, now he was some sort of ridiculous hulking mass of muscles. He had stood there and laughed, because it felt right; it felt like the thing to do, though looking back, it might have just been the effects of hypothermia. He wasn't alone though. There had been a brain rattling roar and Sven had suddenly found himself running, bounding from ledge to ledge with a mechanical t-rex chasing him down.

This place, he had come to learn, after being eaten by that great, mechanized beast, was Asgard. The Asgard. The mythical land where Nordic warriors went after they died, to fight on and feast with Odin in Valhalla, the castle of the Gods. After having not died from the metal dinosaur – after all, one cannot stay dead while in the afterlife - Sven decided to throw himself into the role, the role of this large, jolly Viking man, with long flowing golden hair. Even before, in his past life when he wasn't yet Sven, he still had an interest in Norse Mythology. And unlike others around that time who found interest in it thanks to comic book movies, his interest predated it. So when Sven was reborn in this place, it just felt right to throw himself into the character and praise Odin.

Then he actually met Odin.

Yes, of all the silly and impossible things. It didn't make sense. None of this did. And nine months after living in this place and getting situated, and finding friends and a roof over his head, it continuously made less sense every minute he was here. And why dinosaurs, he'd ask? Why didn't they have cows? Was it too much to ask from Asgard to have a rib-eye steak once in awhile? He guessed dinosaur meat is okay.

But yes. Sven met Odin. The god, Odin.

It was during one of the yearly feasts with the High Garden tribe. That's one of the three tribes that lives in Asgard. There were three of them, all distinct and differing in their culture and the sway they had on the people who identified with them. Sven didn't know the whole history.

There were Vikings, Sven's people, who lived on the Northern coast of the island. They were great warriors who never shy'd away from a battle, and the most fun at parties, Sven had decided.

The River Kingdom was what the tribe in the Southern jungles called themselves. They setup their settlements along the great South River and they took a particular interest in controlling the flow of spices and minerals, many of them being renowned traders in their past lives.

And then finally there was the High Garden tribe, which contrary to the name, existed in a valley in the center of the Island where the land was most fertile. They were an interesting folk. On the one hand, they kept many of their traditions from when they were on Earth. Many of their tribe had come from Asian nations, which showed in their architecture, most of which resembled what a person might read about in a text book on feudal Japan. They were farmers and artisans. The artists of the tribe seemed to be inspired by one too many tales of Elves – they created great, big figures, ten stories tall, carved into the cliff sides protecting the valley, as if these figures watched over them and protected them from harm. But enough about them.

Aido, one of the tribe's leaders, explained the whole middle earth thing to him in detail. “You see, in the end it's about pride and about taking charge of your surroundings. It's about a decision to work together to make a place your home.”

“But”, Sven would argue, “wouldn't all that time carving up the mountains be better spent elsewhere?”

“With the 'Middle Earth' statues as you call them, we have beautified the land and brought unity to our tribe. We have left a mark on the land stating that we are a community, a community with a culture and passion. Who would come here for a festival if it was held in a Spinosaurus infested wasteland?” Bjorn would probably still come. As long as there was food and women, Sven's friend would show up anywhere. But beyond just Bjorn, Aido had a point.

Every year to promote unity among the tribes, High Garden threw a two day festival, culminating on the final day in an open air feast. Hundreds of people from across the land attended and spread across the valley. The High Gardians even offered Spinosaurus rides; tamed one's, of course. They had devoted several acres of land to the sport, setting up a course where you raced through forested dirt paths, up and down hills, and even crossed a bog. It wasn't for the faint of heart. Several people would die while completing each year, but, no matter, they would be reborn the next morning. That's what happened here when someone died. If you somehow ended up dead, at dawn the next day you would materialize out of thin air in your home. He didn't like to think about it – despite having gone through it himself, it still left him with an uneasy feeling deep inside him.

Luckily, right now he didn't have to think about it. He was too busy laughing with his companions and enjoying the mead. They'd come from the Viking Bay region, being that they were all self described Vikings. They weren't the only ones from their tribe who attended, but they were the only ones who came by land. The rest had decided on the safer choice: traveling by air. For long travels, his tribe rode on Pelagornis; basically giant Pelicans, big enough to support a single rider.

“Are you sure the gods will be making an appearance”, he asked Freyja, one of his tribe mates. She stood about a head shorter than Sven. She was fit but not filled with bulging muscles like Sven was. She was still wearing her hide leggings and bracers from the ride here, but had switched out her hide shirt for a cloth one instead. She had intense blue eyes and blond shoulder length hair.

“Yes, Sven!”, Freyja laughed, “You need to calm down. Enjoy the food. There's still time in the day. Odin will be here.”

“Of course Sven is excited”, put in Bjorn. Bjorn was Sven's other friend. He was about even in height with Sven. He was fit, but the flab around his stomach betrayed his love for ale and good food. He was of Nordic descent with short messy looking blond hair, with a goatee which he always kept neat and trimmed. “I mean, what do you expect from a man who seems to modeled his entire existence on the guy. Not that there's anything wrong with it, by the way. It's okay to be a little star struck.”

“Sven isn't star struck.”, Sven protested. “Sven just wants to know that he's meeting Odin and not some other Sven type of person putting on a show.”

“Two of you? I don't think this party could handle two Svens”, quipped Freyja. Sven and his friends shared a laugh and he took another drink. “And of course he's coming. I'm a goddess after all, so you have to trust me”, she winked at him. She wasn't really a goddess, at least Sven didn't think so. She shared a name with a goddess in Norse Mythology who was charged with love and death, among other things. Freyja's only love was having fun. She sought out adventure even more than Sven did. It was probably why the other Vikings had elevated her to be one of their leaders. That, or the Goddess thing.

Sven looked at her dubiously and grinned. “If that's true, Sven wonders where your golden chariot is. I don't think I've seen you ride it into battle while I've been here.”

“Creative license”, she replied smoothly, smiling back. “But I do have the Sabertooths that supposedly pull the thing”. Yes, Sven thought, two very lazy, well pampered Sabertooths. They spent most of the time lounging in the Sun and eating table scraps. They were quite large, but not in an athletic way. “And anyway”, she continued, “Stories get changed all the time, with every person who tells it. Then you have the stories being translated and re-translated into dozens of different languages. It's no wonder a few aspects of my life were changed.”

Bjorn laughed, “By that logic, who's to say that I'm not really Odin? The cloak of Raven's feathers and the eye patch? Same thing. Details mixed up in translation. “What Sven really needs is a woman. A little companionship, you know? With your physique and all the stories you have, you should have no problem finding someone here”

Freyja laughed. “Of course. I mean, all of us women just flock to someone who's built like a boulder and have good stories. We're all completely superficial like that.” Freyja chuckled, ”Though for a one night stand, I think there are any number of women here who would have tied him down. Assuming Sven is into that”.

Sven cleared his throat, and scratched the back of his neck, uncomfortably. “Sven hears all this noise coming from Bjorn and Freyja. If finding companionship is so easy, why are there only the two of you standing before Sven? Where are your companions?”

“I'm not looking right now, thanks”, responded Freyja. Sven couldn't help but notice the wounded look that briefly graced Bjorns face as he looked away. Bjorn and her had something once, Sven was sure of it, but he wasn't dumb enough to open that can of worms. “What about you, Bjorn?”, she continued. “You brought it up. Where's your woman?”

Sven was expecting this question to further hurt Bjorn, but instead he seemed to brighten and got a wistful look in his eyes. “As a matter of fact, I did meet someone. It was last night, while you and Sven were talking with Aido. I was watching this street performer who was juggling plates while on stilts when an Allosaurus tried to steal my Parasaurus drumstick.” An Allosaurus was certainly a large dinosaur to be roaming around, standing several people tall. Most had left their dinosaurs in one of the large barns acting as stables, but it wasn't uncommon for some to walk with their owners. Once a dinosaur was tamed by person, that dinosaur was then fiercely loyal to them and was no longer a danger to others. It's like when they bonded with a person it overwrote their base instincts. Like with Sven's bear, Barry. She would never hurt a fly, unless Sven commanded it.

“Oh, yeah I know the one you're talking about”, replied Freyja. “Not like there's a lot of Allosaurus's running around. I think hers is the only one. It's, Sunny, right? That paleontologist lady's. I ran into her the other day as well. Having a big Allosaurus walking around is a good conversation starter.”

“Especially when it starts stealing from you.”, agreed Bjorn. “We really hit it off though. I was telling her about how Holly attacked that Yuty of her own accord, and how smart she is. She was really interested in meeting her, so I took her back to the stable with me.” Holly was Bjorn's tamed dinosaur. A Dienonychus – kind of like a big, feathery Raptor.

“Awe, that's cute!”, Freyja smiled and clapped her hands together. “Bonding over your dinos. So where is she now?”

“Probably sleeping in. We were out pretty late last night. There might have been a few shared drinks”

“So you spent the night together”, she stated more than asked. Sven wasn't about to ask himself as it seemed more of a private matter. Especially when it came to Bjorn. He loved women, but the truth was, he really didn't know how to act around them.

“Unfortunately not.”, Bjorn sighed. “Said she needed more time to get to know me. But she wants to come back with us to Viking Bay and stay for awhile, so here's hoping.”

 

 

Eventually evening took hold and Sven stopped thinking about Odin and just allowed himself to enjoy the gathering. At this point, he was pretty sure that the God wasn't coming and that the whole thing was just make believe. The High Gardians set out tables with lines of tankards filled with ale, and trays of fried vegetables and meats. Sven and his friends had met up with a bunch of the other Vikings, several of them gathering involved in an impromptu arm wrestling tournament, which was already drawing a crowd of onlookers.

The sky was turning dark. No one else seemed to be paying it much mind. Looked like a thunderstorm was rolling in. A few moments later, a lightning bolt blasted a crater in the middle of the outdoor hall, shattering the table the Vikings were sitting at. Sven was standing about a dozen feet away and the energy of it still knocked Sven back onto his butt. His eyes were useless. All of his vision was white. When it returned, the skies had cleared and an old man was standing there in the ruined remains of what was once a very large and solid table. Splinters and wood chips were everywhere, along with men and women picking themselves up and dusting each other off. In the center of the carnage was an enormous man with a burly gray beard, with muscles visible under his darkened chain mail. A cheer went up from all those in attendance and everyone raised their mugs, as Sven's friends helped him to his feet. Odin himself laughed a hearty laugh. He strode over and took the men and woman still on the ground by the arms, and effortlessly lifted them to their feet. Giving them a quick inspection and deciding that they were alright, the man held out his hand, and a moment later a mug of ale came flying into it from a near by table that had survived the blast.

“I salute you all”, he laughed and boomed, “my warriors of Asgard. And while most of you have seen many years in my kingdom, I especially want to cheer and salute our newcomers”, he paused and took a swig of his drink, pausing and looking around. “Sven! Where are you, Sven?”

Sven just stared. His friends laughed. “See, we told you he was real”, they said as they gently shoved him forward, his tongue temporarily stuck in his throat. It would go down as one of the only times in his new life that he didn't know what to say.

“Ah! There you are!”, he walked over and put his arm around Sven. “This warrior began his life here in my realm in the Murder Snow, being chased down the mountain by packs of snow leopards. He killed one with nothing but his hands, and then climbed on the back of another, racing down that mountain. You remember what you said to me then?”

Sven remembered. “Um”, he whispered to Odin. “You want Sven to say it”

“Yes”, Odin whispered back. “Nice and loud so everyone can hear you. It's a good story, there's no reason to be quiet about it.”

“Odin! Is that the best you can do?”. He shouted the line just the same as he remembered it.

“Yes!”, Odin roared, slapping him on the back and turning to the crowd of people that stopped eating and gathered around. “And what do you all think I did in answer”

“Struck him down with a bolt of lightning”, someone from the crowd yelled.

“So that's why he always refers to himself in the third person!”, Freyja joked.

Odin laughed, “Yes!”, then he looked to Freyja. “To striking him down! Not to the speech, thing. That's something distinctly, Sven.” Odin cleared his throat and looks around, sloshing some of the beer from the tankard. “Where was I?”

“Um... you struck me down”, Sven hedged.

“Ah, yes!”, Odin took another drink and then continued. “I stuck him down, but not with lightning! Obviously”, he motioned at Sven, “this warrior seemed sure of himself, so I summoned a great mechanical beast, and it gave chase all the way down the mountain. I daresay, you might have survived, Sven, if that Sabertooth you were riding hadn't taken such a big leap and broke your back with the landing. I think the next time you need to choose your mount more wisely” Was Odin joking with him? As if Sven had time to consider the options and choose a different one.

“Next time Sven will be sure to lash two of the beasts together, braiding rope from his own hair!”

“A warrior through and through. Everyone lift your glasses. To Sven!”, Odin shouted and raised his mug.

“To Sven”, repeated the banquet hall. Everyone drank and laughed.

“To me!”, Sven roared and grabbed a tankard himself and sloshed the creamy liquid down. To be honest, he wasn't quite sure this magical man standing beside him really was Odin. Everything was happening too fast at this point. Of course, his friends told him that Odin would be here, but he could just as well have been an actor. If he was one though, Sven did have to hand it to the man, he was a very good one. And he had knowledge of Sven's exploits, but that wasn't very hard to know. Sven, after all, was a very loud individual and liked to tell stories.

Everyone went back to their conversations and Odin leaned in and spoke quietly to Sven. “Walk with me, Sven”. Sven gave a look to his friends, as if needing their approval. Bjorn gave him a thumbs up. Freyja looked at him and mouthed, 'go', smiling and waving him away.

And so they walked. He walked with this man appearing to be Odin, and where they walked, people politely made space. Sven couldn't believe it. If he really was a God, wouldn't people be trying to bother him with all the things and questions they must have? They walked in silence, up a flight of stone stairs to a spot that overlooked the grassy canyon below. Odin went out to the edge, resting his over sized arms on the wood fence, looking out at the evening sun. “I sometimes forget how beautiful this place is”, he said, almost wistfully.

“But, is this not your kingdom?”, Sven ventured. “Sven would think you would know every inch of it.”

“Of course it is”, he replied, “but it's been my kingdom for many cycles, and from within my castle, my starlit sanctuary, well”, he paused and scratched his beard, “there's a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of numbers, to running a kingdom. It can be easy to get caught up in all of that.” He smiled and grabbed Sven's shoulder. “Sometimes to see the beauty, one needs to look with a fresh pair of eyes, with a fresh perspective”. Odin chuckled. “I'm sure you of all people can understand that sentiment”.

He could.

“If you are referring to my past life”, now it was Sven's time to pause. The breeze carried sweet and savory scents. Trees rustled. The sounds of cascading water from the many waterfalls in the region. This man smelling of beer and spice. Maybe this man really was a god. He was jovial one minute and thoughtful the next. But not normal thoughtful. The kind of thoughtful that must come from being deeply old and with that age, the loneliness. Maybe. “I haven't told anyone of my past life”, Sven finally responded.

“Let me give you some Godly advice”, Odin said as his gaze turned back to the horizon. Though it seemed as if maybe he was looking beyond it. “You shouldn't be ashamed of it. Your past life doesn't make this one any less special. In fact, for you, it's quite the opposite.”

“But if they knew my past”, Sven said in a very meloncoly, very unSven like way, “Sven wouldn't be real anymore. Sven would just be a character.”

Odin nodded and smiled, “We're all characters, lad. Every single last one of us. But that doesn't mean we aren't real.”

Another silence descended. But not one of those awkward silences that Sven dreaded. This seemed to be a silence of intent. A silence as a punctuation mark. Or maybe Odin just fell asleep. If he really was as old as Sven guessed, then he must be tired.

“I'm not asleep, you dolt!”, Odin shouted at him. “And yes”, he said more quietly so that no one else could hear him, “I am tired”

“Wait!”, Sven exclaimed, looking to Odin in confusion, “How did you know what I was thinking?”

Odin laughed a great belly laugh and pointed an index finger at his chest. “God”

Right. That makes sense, Sven thought. “Well, maybe you should take a nap.”

Odin looked at Sven and sighed, “Wish that I could, lad. But being that I'm a God of this domain, I don't get to have naps. If I take a nap, there's no telling what will happen to this place”

Well, that's a terrifying thought.

“Don't worry. That's billions of cycles away. Nothing Sven needs to worry about. But Sven, I didn't summon you over here to talk about the inner workings of my kingdom.” He chuckled. “At least not yet. You've had a question ever since arriving here. So out with it! Ask the question.”

There were many questions Sven wanted to ask right then. After all, when face to face with a god, it's like admin level access to the universe. But that was Sven's old life poking through. Ever since arriving and noting the metallic diamond shaped implant in his left arm, he'd wondered about it's function. Was it's purpose to control? To manipulate your thoughts? Maybe it was where Sven got his super human strength. That should have been his question. Unfortunately though, as a God would tell you, anytime one appeared before you, the question was always the same. It was a little uninventive, a little predictable, but it needed to be asked. It was, after all, the first and immediate question since his arrival.

“Odin, why am I here?”

---

 

Chapter 1

 

It was the greatest joke of Selene's life, or her afterlife in this case. You're dead, they bury you in the ground, and then you ascend, where you immediately encounter the first joke; not the greatest, just the first. The joke being that instead of an afterlife promised by the most popular Earthly religions, it turns out that Nordic mythology had it right all along. The second joke which Selene found out very early, when she first appears, was that almost everything here wanted to kill you. And the third and final joke, the biggest joke of them all, was that she was currently forced to be here, at the South Oasis Trading Company, cataloging spice shipments in a stagnant, hot warehouse. Even in the afterlife, you were expected to have a job.

The port city of Oasis was settled on the southern-most shore of Asgard, where the Gaia River emptied into the sea. The name, Oasis, owed from the fact that the river created a natural Jungle Oasis all along it's banks – a respite from the miles and miles of desert that you would find if you journeyed further inland. It was always hot and humid. Of all the places on the island of Asgard, it was probably one of the least comfortable. Each area of the island seemed to have it's own micro climate. If you went further north into the mountains, the temperatures dropped far below freezing. North of those, the extreme weather became more temperate. The highlands area where Valhalla was located, and the surrounding area where the self proclaimed Vikings lived, tended to be the most desirable. The weather there was a constant 65 degrees F with very low humidity. So Oasis wasn't located in the most comfortable spot. It was still the largest city in Asgard, owing most of that to the fact that the other tribes had to come here to trade for salt, spices and medicines that the jungle provided.

“Selene!”, shouted Horas, her boss, from the other side of the warehouse. He was a tall, stately looking Middle Eastern man. He was bald with striking brown eyes and a strong jaw line. He wore a white vest of the finest silk, his bronzed chest exposed, with a soft sheen of sweat. Selene might think him attractive, if not for the fast that he quarreled with her so often. He was a very strict task master and needed everything in the warehouse to be placed in exactly the correct spot, down to the millimeter.

“Yes, what am I doing wrong now?” Selene grunted as she placed a large jar of tree sap down on the shelf. As she did, her curly red hair tumbling into her eyes. She reached into her pocket pulled out a small beaded cord and pulled her hair back through it. She dressed light, just a white blouse and tan colored breeches. Even wearing so little, she was still sticky with sweat.

“What?”, he said in surprise as he walked towards her. “Nothing. You aren't doing anything wrong today that I can tell. I just wanted to let you know that Jarold and Tarneth won't be joining you today.” Jarold and Tarneth were her coworkers – dock hands, really. They loaded up supplies between all the various boats and flying dinosaurs that made anchorage here. “They both left early for the festival”

“I figured that when they didn't arrive for work”, she said, matter-of-factly, as she turned towards him and hopped up to sit on the shelf.

“Don't think me unfairly for allowing them the day off. They both have tenure on you.” Selene didn't think it unfair. She just found it ridiculous: tenure in the afterlife. She shook her head at the notion.

“It's quite alright, Horas, I assure you. I wasn't planning on going to the festival anyway. I'm just going to finish off my shift and then I can get back to my research.” Everyone knew about her passion. Why should she be quiet about it? She was a scientist. Unfortunately, as she found when she arrived in the city, they didn't need a scientist, they needed a warehouse worker.

Horas came to stand beside her, picking up the jar of tree sap and inspecting it, turning it in his hands. “Your research, as you call it”, he paused. “You are chasing ghosts. Your scientific mind is trying to grapple with the fact that you were wrong. There is more to life than your science can explain. And now, instead of accepting that fact and moving on, becoming a true part of our community, you keep searching for something, anything, that would prove you right; that there is no afterlife.” He set the jar down, his attention turned back to her. “Even though the evidence of this afterlife is all around you.”

“Is that your professional opinion?” She jumped down from shelf and took a few idle steps, her hands on her hips, her brow raised in skepticism. Horas was a therapist in his past life. It was part of the reason why there was so much tension. It always felt to Selene like he was treating her like his patient.

“Always turning to sarcasm”, his brow furrowed and he ran a hand over his scalp. “Can't you see that your tribe is worried about you? You could have a home here. You could have a family, or friends. Instead you close yourself off, and spend all your time immersed in your 'research'”, he punctuated the word while his hands made air quotes. “The only company you've kept has been your Allosaurus”

Selene walked off to a desk on the other corner of the room, several partially melted candles providing soft, warm illumination. There she picked up one of the order forms, ink on papyrus paper, and went with it back over to the tree sap jar, placing the form under it. The properties of this sap made it an ideal salve for burns. It would eventually be shipped to the High Garden tribe in exchange for cereal grains. There was no currency here on the island; different tribes merely bartered with each other for supplies they needed. “I can't give it up”, she replied, finally. “I know you and everyone else here thinks I'm crazy, but there's just something wrong with all of this. No one wants to hear me out, so of course I'm feeling a tad alienated. And Sunny never judges me. He's been here for me since the very beginning.”

“Companion animals are healthy, Selene, but they aren't a replacement for human contact. You need to make friends”

“I'll take it under advisement”, she said, curtly, as she walked back over to the desk and grabbed another order form. This one detailed another shipment to High Garden; this one of Sulfur. Wonderful, she thought. Another odor that would linger on her.I know you're trying to look out for me, Horas, but right now, I'd just like to finish up my work.

He stood there with a look on his face like he was appraising her. “Alright”, he said at last. “I guess I can't be upset with your work ethic. But at least try to consider paying the festival a visit. Who knows, might be fun.” He gave her a nod and then left her to her solitude.

 

 

It was an hour later when she finally finished her work and locked up the warehouse. Now she could finally get to her real passion. But before that, she would walk to the other side of town, beside the north wall separating them from the jungles, and visit the stables, or rather, the large trampled field next to the stable where a large metal pen with four meter high fencing contains the carnivores. Most of the dinosaurs that the tribe kept on hand were utility dinos – herbivores that were housed in the stable. There were several Triceratops that, due to their size, were able to carry very heavy loads; their horned, armored skulls great at clearing out brush and small trees. The tribe also had a half dozen Anklyosaurus; their large, club-like tail tips made them perfect for smashing boulders and aiding in mining. Though most of the tribes dinosaurs used to help them get around on a daily basis were Parasaurus; a little bigger than a horse, with similar temperament.

She walked up to the steel enclosure. Usually, it would just be Sunny in here, but today he shared the pen with two dozen Utah Raptors. They stalked around the perimeter making their raspy trills, perhaps trying to send threatening. She put her hand up against the bars of the fence, letting the Raptors sniff her hand. They raised their heads and chirped; their version of a 'hello'.

“Hello to you, too!”, she smiled and ran her hand through the crest of feathers on it's head. “Have you been good raptors while you're visiting us? Haven't been bothering the Allosaurus?” They looked at Selene and then glanced behind them, uncertainly at the tan and green Allosaurus – her Sunny – who was currently curled up in a ball, napping; one eye open, watching. These raptors were only being kept here until next week, when they would be transferred to a ship heading to Viking Bay. Of all of the dinosaurs here, only Sunny was once wild. All of the others were domesticated; bred in captivity. They were mostly docile to humans and other dinosaurs, but in regards to the cage, it didn't hurt to be safe.

The gate to the enclosure was locked. Thankfully, Selene was given a copy of the key by the stable master since she was here every day. She grunted with exertion, opening it only a crack, just enough so she could get through. The Raptors all rushed over to her, poking her with their noses, probably sensing hints of Sulfur from earlier. “Gotta let me through”, she complained as she tried side stepping around them. “No, you can't get out. You need to stay inside”, she scolded as a few tried to sneak through the gate, unnoticed. The raptors all trilled at her, crowding in around her even more – they had wickedly sharp talons, and even though they were domesticated, accidents could still happen.

“Sunny!”, she voiced in cautious annoyance. “A little help?”

She couldn't see much past the herd of curious Raptors, but she noticed she was suddenly in a large shadow, which meant her dinosaur was probably standing. Though the shadow didn't seem to move at all, nor was the ground shaking, which probably meant he was taking his time and stretching. “Sunny!”, she complained with a bit more urgency. All these snouts poking at her were beginning to spike her anxiety. “Sunny! Speak!”

She crouched down and covered her ears as her Allosaurus roared. This close to it, even with her hands over her ears, it was almost deafening. She could feel the roar in her bones and in her chest. A second later, all those noses sniffing her turned the other way, and the Raptors quickly slinked off to the far side of the enclosure. Selene stood up and dusted herself off, looking up at Sunny and smiling. “About time you decided to help.” She smirked. “So sorry for interrupting your beauty sleep.”

Her dino gave a big yawn and then took a step towards her. “Alright, buddy”, she patted his front leg. “You want to come with me to the Temple? And then afterwards, we'll go out hunting and you can kill something. How's that sound.” In reply, he made a cooing sound, which she took as approval.

 

 

The adobe temple was resplendent in it's detail. The great domed ceiling was twelve meters high at it's peak. The outside featured carved designs embossed in gold. Much of the detailing was cracking and flaking off, but it was still quite impressive. Inside there was a central worship area, and in the middle of the room were statues depicting Odin, his wife, Frigg, and their son, Baldr. Or so she was told. Personally, she was never too interested in Norse mythology. By all accounts and observations, it was the oldest structure in the River Kingdom Tribe. From this single structure, the city of Oasis branched out.

Though Horas had tried to convince her to come along for the festival in High Garden, insinuating that her research could wait, she didn't want to risk losing focus. She was a student of science. And science would not allow her to accept that she was somehow in a mystical fantasy land, where no one died and dinosaurs lived. It was impossible. And yet it was. Sunny was curled up at the base of Odin's statue. He raised his head and looked at her with the Allosaurus version what might be annoyance or indignation. He sometimes did that; like he could sense her thoughts. She went over and patted his flank.

“Don't worry, buddy. Just because the fact that your sitting beside me shouldn't be possible, doesn't make me any less thankful for your company”. She took a few steps closer to the big carnivore and gave him some scratches under his muzzle. This seemed to placate him and he gave a content snort and lowered his head, resting it on his fore paws. He was a living, breathing example of everything that was wrong in this world, but she couldn't help but love him. For a huge, scary monster, who by all rights should not have been tamable under any circumstance, he was the best friend she had. In exchange for those days where she tended his wounds, he had decided to imprint on her, and now rarely left her side. A domesticated dinosaur.

The others in the River Kingdom Tribe, and well, everywhere on Asgard, were so quick to accept this place. Horas would tell her that sometimes instead of questioning everything, you just had to accept it at face value. Accept it. Accept that of all the world religions, Norse Mythology was the real maccoy, and those Norse Gods, they apparently adored dinosaurs. Completely plausible. And if this was Asgard and it was the afterlife, why couldn't she or anyone she talked to remember dying? Horas would tell her, “Maybe our deaths were traumatic and our minds have locked away that memory”. Horas would say that. But Selene wasn't buying it. Selene's last memories were of her lunch break. She'd left the natural history museum where she was professor's assistant and had purchased a Salome sandwich from a street vendor. It was a great sandwich, but not worth dying over. And why would the gods put these chunks of metal in everyone's arm? She scratched at it – it itched whenever she gave it any thought. I mean, it was a piece of metal lodged in her arm that shouldn't be there. That alone should be enough to make others pay attention to her theories.

She put the thought out of her head and went back to the task at hand.

Today her goal was to unearth several partially exposed dinosaur fossils that appeared to be imprinted in the adobe floors. It was so annoying to her that the rest of this tribe didn't see the obvious: fossilization is a process that takes thousands of years, the age of which this structure is not. Hence, these fossils must be fakes. Of course, she experienced push back from the rest of the tribe, which is why today she and Sunny were putting in the extra work (though mostly her). She had brought in several chisels and a magnitude of brushes which Sunny curled up around, keeping them safe for her. She slowly lifted up one leg and slid her way over the dinosaur, and to the tiny pit of her equipment he created.

“I know you think you are helping, but you really aren't making things easy, buddy”. She pocketed a few brushes and slid herself back over him again. He didn't bother moving to make things easier for her. Instead, he just opened one eye and silently watched. “Uh-huh.”, she said dubiously. “Don't give me that look. You don't get to look so amused”. To anyone else, they would just see an Allosaurus, but Selene could read him like an open book. And right now she was sure this open book was grinning at her. “You know”, she said, “you're lucky you found me. Before it was just all, 'roar, roar', constantly running around and eating things and running from bigger dangers. Now look at you. You're practically a house cat”. In response to this, Sunny gave a growl. “Yes, yes. Very threatening”, she coolly replied as she got to work carefully removing layers of dirt from the fossil. “You realize house cats did that too, right?”. Unfortunately the dinosaur had never seen a house cat. Just another thing the gods here decided didn't need to exist in the afterlife.

Suddenly, she heard a deep resonating voice. It made her jump in surprise and drop her tools to scatter on the floor.

“I'm not completely sure what a house cat is, but yes, I try to be at least moderately threatening. Why is life worth living if it doesn't keep you on your toes, or talons as it were”.

That accented male voice came from Sunny. After a moment of controlled breathing she managed to calm herself regain her composure. She bent down and scooped up her tools while remembering the obvious: dinosaurs can't talk. “Alright, alright”, she said as she moved towards the dinosaur. “Who else is here? Miguel, is that you?” Miguel was one of the guards and a practical joker. He was bored most of the time with his job and pestering her seemed to be his favorite past time. She looked around the room and behind Sunny. No one. Hmm. Maybe a two way radio? Except for as far as she knew, they didn't exist here.

“No, Selene, it is me”, the voice said, in a exacerbated sort of way. Sunny had his head raised and was looking straight at her.

She put a hand on the side of his muzzle, looking him in the eye. “You know, if this is a joke, it's a really cruel one. As I recall, I was speaking with Horas earlier today and he seemed to be insinuating that I wasn't spending enough time with other people. Maybe that I was humanizing you too much.” She stroked his cheek. “And now, supposedly you're talking to me.” She sighed and turned away. “This is a really mean way to drive home a point, Horas.”

Sunny huffed and nosed her, almost knocking her over as she regained her balance. “This isn't a deception. This is me. Is it really so hard to believe that dinosaurs intelligent enough to ignore their baser instincts and urges, and form emotion bonds with prey animals such as yourselves, would be able to handle verbal communication?”.

It was a good question, well phrased. A ridiculous one, but Selene was starting to get used to the ridiculous and even accept it. But she also had her sense of logic. What was left of it, anyway. “Yes, yes it is. But, by that logic why isn't everyone walking around and having discussions with their dinosaur friends”, she walked around him and didn't see anyone hiding or any gadgets that could transmit a person's voice.

“They aren't?”, asked the voice. “Well, perhaps Allosaurus just possess greater mental faculties than the rest of the dinosaurs”

“About that. Your brain is the size of a peanut.” She paused as the dinosaur regarded her and then quickly added, in case this wasn't really some trick, “No offense”

“Oh, we're playing that card are we?”, Sunny the Allosaurus snorted. “Well, if we are comparing sizes, I'm using my whole brain while humans only use a small percentage of theirs at any given time. No offense.”

Selene couldn't help but laugh. “Clever. It just goes to prove one of my oldest hypothesis's. Most people are idiots.”, she giggled and moved closer to Sunny and had a closer look at his muzzle. “But if that really is you, my friend, why doesn't your muzzle move when you talk? I suppose the question is mute since the shape of your mouth and motor control shouldn't allow you to speak so.. eloquently.”

“You're quite right”, Sunny stated.

Selene waited for him to elaborate. When it appeared he wasn't going to be forthcoming she prompted. “About people or..?”

“Both of your statements; about human intelligence and my facial limitations. I'm not speaking verbally. I'm speaking in your mind.”

“You mean like telepathy?”, she asked. Sunny nodded in reply. “Convenient. Thanks for informing me of that upfront so I don't go around the city holding conversations with myself like a crazy woman.” She paused and ran a hand through her hair. Did any other people here have this sort of relationship with their dinosaurs? She hadn't heard anything before now and she imagined if that was really the case, she would have noticed it by now. As much as Horas teased her, she wasn't really in her own little world. “Is this normal?”, she finally asked.

Sunny tilted his head to the side, and gave her a quizzical look. “I'm not completely sure. I've never felt the need to ask the other dinosaurs about it. The larger ones I usually end up running from. And the smaller ones end up in between my teeth.”

“Was that suppose to be threatening”, she asked as she went back to work on her fossils.

“Not a threat. Just a fact”, the Allosaurus got up and arched his back, stretching, and then took a few steps towards her. With how big he was and the size of his stride, a few steps was all he needed. “What are you doing there, anyway?”

“Testing a hypothesis”, she said as she worked the fossil with her tiniest brush. “By the way, I'm curious. Assuming this is really happening and that I didn't fall asleep or bump my head or something, how long have you been able to speak to me? And why did you choose now to start?”

“I've been getting to know you. Ever since you rescued me and nursed me back to health, I've felt a trust between us. A bond. Which I felt was very unusual until we came here to this city and discovered a similar bond between other dinosaurs and humans. I suppose it wasn't unusual after all.”

“You didn't answer my question”, Selene pointed out.

“No, I didn't. Tell me what you are hoping to learn from the remnants of a tiny, dead creature.”, he said as he leaned over and sniffed at the fossil, his breath actually helping to blow some of the debris from the area.

She was pretty sure this counted as changing the subject, but she chose not to press the matter. “Something isn't right about this place.” Sunny looked up from the fossil and cocked his head at her. “I believe this building to be only a few generations old. The general degradation of the adobe would seem to confirm that. But these remnants of tiny dead creatures”, she paused to consider how best to describe it. “These remnants would have taken many thousands of years to become like this”

“That's it?”, Sunny asked in what sounded like a condescending manner.

“Of course that's it.”

“You mean to tell me that you missed an opportunity for great amounts of sustenance, a feast as you call it, just because you're trying to age check a building? And not only did you miss out, but you also deprived me of the opportunity as well.”

Jeez, so melodramatic. “Don't go giving me that, 'poor starving Allosaurus' story. Technically the festival goes on for two days. But it's a little dangerous to travel alone”.

“Didn't we forget something?”, Sunny said sarcastically. “I'm an Allosaurus. I'm much scarier than anything we'll find between here and the valley”

“And what if we get overrun by smaller predators. Or if there's a rogue t-rex?”

“Well, in that unlikely event where we have to run, I believe I'm faster. I certainly won't be standing in one place and allowing other carnivores the pleasure of eating us.”

“Fine. We'll leave in a couple hours. But I had better not die. I haven't died yet on this island and I don't plan to start now”. Though she reflected, it would be fascinating if not grotesque to study her corpse.

“Good. So we will still be able to make it there before night fall. And then you and I will both be able to eat well. If anyone is in need of a feast, it's you. Your body is so tiny. You could certainly do to add some more muscle.”

Selene rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I can't believe you're giving me advice on my figure. I like myself just the way I am, thank you.” He didn't know what he was talking about. She was perfectly fit. She walked over across the room to the other fossil and began giving it the same treatment as she had the first. After a few minutes, she was beginning to notice something. “Hey, Sunny? Can you come over here and let me climb up on your saddle? I need a higher vantage point”. He laid down and let her get on the saddle before raising up to his full height.”

“I'm still not sure what you are doing.”

She looked from one fossil and back to the other. And then it finally hit her. These fossils were exactly the same; not just the same type of creature, but an exact match. A copy. “They're exactly the same.”

“Which means, what exactly?”, the dinosaur asked in a bored tone of voice.

“Which means, it's unnatural. It's fake!”, she exclaimed. “It means that this entire building which is the catalyst for this sprawling village that the tribe built, this building was weathered to make it appear older.”

“And why exactly does that matter?”

“It matters because, well, we are in Asgard; that's the entire notion which we have been told to believe. This is suppose to be the afterlife. So why would the gods put something here to deceive us?”

“Maybe it's just because of my peanut sized brain, but I've having a hard time understanding this concept of afterlife. You are alive right now, aren't you? So a building in your human settlement isn't what it appears. What's the greater context?”

Selene was silent for a few moments, sliding off Sunny's back and slowly pacing around the room. She wasn't sure she could properly convey her thoughts to him. Even being that he was somehow capable of communicating with her, he was still just a dinosaur, and understanding the world from that perspective. She'd need to sit him down and do a full theology class just to get him to understand the concept. In the end, it didn't really matter if he understood or not. Surely, if he hadn't started speaking to her, she wouldn't give it a second thought. “It shows that the world isn't as it appears. Meaning, we have a mystery. And if there's one thing humans can't help but try to solve, it's a mystery.”

---

 

 

The experiment is proceeding as planned. Subject zero no longer shows any aggression. He has been sufficiently sedated. Our pharmacists are showing great improvements in the effectiveness of the narcoberry extract. The implant appears to be fused to the subject's flesh, with hair width tendrals interconnecting with his nerve cells, possibly linking it to the subject's nervous system. We will begin testing to see if the implant shows any signs of being affected by external stimuli. Subject will be exposed to visual and auditory stimuli. We will update you once this phase of the experiment has been concluded.

 

-T

Chapter 2

 

Sven wanted to visit High Garden because he was told he could meet Odin. Bjorn wanted to visit High Garden for the food. Freyja just wanted to go there for the challenge.

She really could care less about meeting Odin. There were some in her tribe that believed her to be one of the gods, herself; a god hidden in plain sight. She liked the idea of that being a thing. It was a fun idea, and for that reason, as long as people didn't get out of hand with it and start fan-girling her, she was happy to roll with the idea. She never told anyone she was anything other than a regular human being, but she also didn't out right deny this mythical heritage. In the end, she wasn't looking for Odin's approval. She was just out here having the time of her life – well, her afterlife. Every day was an adventure. That was enough for her.

The yearly feast at High Garden was, in a word, amazing. Days of festivities. All sorts of food from all the different cultures that existed here, influenced by everyone's time on Earth. Deserts were Freyja's favorites. Unfortunately her favorite desert from back on Earth still hadn't been perfected, based on the facts that no one had discovered cocoa trees. I guess that was something she could speak with Odin about.

But in the end, it really wasn't the destination that mattered. It was the journey. For anyone who wanted a simple and safe afterlife, well, they were missing the point. This was Asgard. Tales from Earth told that it was full of Earth's greatest warriors. Obviously from being here so far, that wasn't quite right. But, plenty of things on Earth got lost in translation, and stories changed and evolved over the centuries. Asgard wasn't a place where the greatest warriors went after they died. Asgard is a place where great people go to become warriors. None of this was the final destination. It was just the journey. And the immediate journey, the one to High Garden - why did they call it that, anyway? It's in a valley! - the journey to High Garden was one of great peril. Any journey across this island was risky, and you never new what kind of alpha predators you would encounter along the way. So you brought your best friends and your best dinos, and a small arsenal of weapons and armor. Or you took a flier, like an Argentavis or a Pteranodon, are the clumsy seagull like birds known as Pelagornis. But that was the chicken's way out, and Freyja and her friends weren't chickens. Plus it's not like everyone on the island had a flying dinosaur friend. You had to tame one first and many of the fliers had a propensity of pecking your face off.

The Viking settlement that Freyja helped to found didn't initially have a name. It started small, as settlements usually do, but then over time spread out all around the bay. Until at last a trader from the River Kingdom referred to it as “Viking Bay” and from that point the name stuck. Viking Bay never slept. During the day, black, wispy smoke clouds could be seen drifting into the sky from the forges up the hill from beach. At night, those same forges lit up the settlement with fiery, glowing dots in the surrounding darkness. Not everyone bore the title of Blacksmith, though everyone in the tribe at least had some proficiency at it. It was what the settlement was known for; it's what they used to barter with the other tribes. As a person got closer to the water, they would see the market. It started off as a few fish monger's stalls and spread out from there to include dozens of shops for all kinds of food and wares. And then finally you would get to the docks, with lines of small canoes docked there.

They woke before dawn, Freyja and her friends, and began the process of packing for the journey. There were no roads on the island. The immediate areas around the tribes had dirt paths, but as you got further away, there was just wilderness. The three of them were in the stable. Freya was saddling up one of her Sabertooth cats – Flotti, meaning 'Freedom' in the old Norse tongue. She was tawny brown with black stripes along the sides of her abdomen, and was the fastest of the three Sabers. Against many of the larger Apex predators, speed and maneuverability were what would win a fight. Beside her, Bjorn carefully brushed out his Deinonycus's feathers. The dinosaur seemed to be enjoying it as it bobbed it's head up and down and made soft yipping noises. He had named her, Holly, after his old dog. In the far corner of the stable was Sven and his dire bear, Barry. Even though the bear was tamed, all of the other animals gave it a wide berth, giving it weary glances.

“There's no need for you and your animals to stay so far away”, Sven was saying. “Barry is a well mannered bear. He's practically house broken. He wouldn't hurt a fly”

“Have you seen the flies here, big guy?”, Bjorn laughed. He was right, of course. The flies here were not the annoying kind from back on Midgard – the Nordic word for Earth – the kind that Freyja would often swat at while outside. Flies here in Asgard were much more dangerous; most were around six inches in length, and often times would be found swarming in packs. “Besides”, Bjorn continued, “whenever I go near him, he growls at me.”

“That's just his way of saying hello”, Sven replied.

“I'm not willing to test that logic. When an animal growls at you, that means, 'stay away', not, 'hey, how you doing?'”

Sven took a chunk of smoked Salmon meat out of the saddles shoulder pack and threw it up in the air in front of Barry, who snapped it up into his muzzle and downed it in one swallow. “Sven agrees, when an animal growls at you. But when a bear growls at you, it's a sound of endearment.”

“A bear is an animal, Sven!”. Bjorn shouted in frustration as he paused brushing his dinosaur so he could flail his arms about, emphasizing his confusion at Sven's words. Freyja saw a brief grin from Sven, suggesting that everything he was saying was just to rattle poor Bjorn.

Freyja chuckled, “So it's the Bear equivalent to purring?”

“See”, Sven motions towards her, “Freyja understands”

“Not really”, Freyja stated, “But Sven here is the bear expert. I only know cats.”

“No, don't encourage him!”, Bjorn tossed the brush he was using in her general direction, and then swung into the saddle, giving Holly a soft nudge with his left boot and guiding her forward and out of the stable. “I'll be waiting outside.”

“Is that because you can barely contain your excitement? Or is the thought that Sven has so much bear knowledge unbearable?”

Freyja cringed. “Are you sure you weren't a dad in your past life? Because if not, your talents were going to waste.”

Sven became quiet for a moment, resting his hand on the edge of Barry's saddle. “Old Sven was never a dad. He never had the opportunity”, he said softly.

“I'm sorry, big guy”, she looked over to him and frowned. Sven was like this sometimes. Most of the time, he was the most jovial person around. But he let Freyja see another side of him. Maybe he was interested in her. If he was, he never officially made a pass at her. It could be too that he was just lonely. Everyone needed someone to talk to and confide in, no matter what they said.

“I was”, he paused. “A lot of women felt I was intimidating.”

“What? Intimidating?”, Freyja exclaimed. “Was it just that you were all Hulk'd up and the women you were dating thought you would break them?”

He gave a soft chuckle. “Mostly the other way around.” Freyja didn't know what to make of that statement. Obviously, everyone was different on Midgard, but she had a hard time imagining Sven as fragile. Why would anyone worry about hurting him? She was trying to figure out a polite way to ask since it obviously was something that caused him pain, when he brightened up and said, “But enough of old Sven. Present Sven is what matters, just as present Bjorn and present Freyja matter. Besides, now is not the time to wallow on the past. We are about to embark on a great journey. If Sven is lucky, it will end with Sven meeting a god. That's not something you can say everyday!” With that he lifted himself into the saddle. “Come, let's be off!”

She looked him up and down, just wearing a pair of cloth pants with his muscly chest exposed. “Aren't you going to put on some armor?”

“Armor will just weigh Sven down”

Freyja chuckled, “Suit yourself. Or don't, I guess, in this case. But if you fall off Barry and get eaten, you'll miss your chance to meet Odin.”

 

 

Twenty minutes later, the three of them were ready to go. Freya and Bjorn each wore hardened leather armor with crossbows. Sven had apparently thought better of his idea of riding off without even a shirt on and had adorned himself with a full set of chain mail, with a matching set for Barry. Instead of a crossbow, he had brought a DireWolf sword, which he placed in a scabbard connected to his bear's saddle. A few dozen others would be joining them in High Garden later in the day, though they would most likely be traveling by air. Most of the tribe would be staying behind. It's not as if everyone could just up and leave – forges still needed tending, fields needed to be farmed and the tribe's borders defended from wild dinosaurs.

As they began riding south of the settlement, the sun was just poking up over the horizon, and there was a light breeze. A number of wild Pelagornis could be seen flying high overhead. The trip to the High Garden region would take them through a mountain pass. These same mountains that separated the two tribes was also home to the palace of Valhalla, located at one of the mountain's peaks. Sven was on Barry, riding in the center, with Bjorn and Freyja riding their mounts on either side of him. Sven looked up and shielded his eyes from the sun.

“Why do you suppose we never see him?” Sven asked.

“See who”, asked Freyja.

“Odin”, Sven responded, motioning with his hand towards the golden castle at the top of the peak. “He's practically our next door neighbor, but it takes a feast to get him to come out”

“Maybe he's just a foodie”, Bjorn laughed. “I could understand that! Hey, why don't we hold our own feast to Odin? Best case scenario, he'll show up, we'll all become friends, we'll go on a hunt and he'll invite us back to Valhalla. Worst case scenario, he doesn't show and there will be more food for the rest of us.”

Sven patted himself on the chest. “As long as Sven doesn't do the cooking”, he stated. “Sven doesn't know how to do anything fancy. Just a chunk of meat, dry rubbed with rock salt and thyme, and cooked over an open fire.”

Bjorn just continued to laugh. “I'm pretty sure you just described barbecue”

“Whatever you call it, it isn't good enough for a god, otherwise Odin already would have joined Sven beside the fire.”

“You bring up an interesting point though”, Freyja said, thoughtfully. “I'm not sure why Odin only makes an appearance in High Garden. Maybe it's the splendor of everything. Those High Gardians put a lot of work into it.” The truth was, she hadn't really pondered it, but she was beginning to think she should have. For a god to appear at all before a group of people could be regarded as favoritism.

“So what you're saying”, responded Bjorn, “If we carve out some statues, we could maybe get a god as well. Obviously nothing as elaborate as those hundred foot sculptures in High Garden, but we could make some smaller ones. It wouldn't be enough to entice Odin, but we could settle for Thor.”

Sven laughed, “Why settle for Thor? We already have a goddess among us”

“That should give us an edge!”, Bjorn laughed. “As long as Freyja agrees to attend”

She smiled at both of them. “If the food is good, I'll think about it.”

The two of them kept chattering away as Freyja's mind wandered. They were just going though the mountains now, Freyja catching a last glimpse of Valhalla before it was hidden from view. I wonder what the gods are doing up there, she thought. From all her years in Viking Bay, looking up at the place, she'd never seen any movement. No one coming or going. No ominous lightning blasts in the area. Of course, Viking Bay was several miles away from it. It's not as if you would actually be able to see anyone 'people sized' up there. But you should at least be able to see something. Golden flying chariots? A pack of giant dire wolves? Were those things that the gods would have? For sharing the name of a Norse Goddess, she knew very little about the mythology. Just bits and pieces, really.

As the mountain pass wound down the other side, a pack of Gallimimus appeared and ran past them, all yipping at each other in agitation. A moment or two later, and Flotti's hackles raised and she stopped and growled. The others on their mounts kept moving forward. “Wait”, she called to them, interrupting their conversation. They both reared in their mounts and looked back at her and immediately noticed Flotti.

“Something spook your cat?”, asked Bjorn.

“Ooooh!”, Sven exclaimed excitedly. “Are we about to be tested?”

“She got a whiff of something”, replied Freyja. “My guess is it's the same something that those Gallis were running from.” The galli would run from anything, so unfortunately that in of itself wouldn't tell them what it could be. It could be anything from a raptor pack to a pack of allosaurus. Many of the predators in this area of Asgard wouldn't be hunting alone. Luckily whatever it was is down wind from them. So in theory, as long as they stayed out of sight, they should be able to go unnoticed. “Let's go slowly, but be ready to set your mounts running if needed.” Sven and Bjorn nodded to her and spurred their mounts forward. All of the talk from earlier had stopped. The mood was suddenly tense, as they were all anticipating battle, and hoping that whatever this island threw at them, that they would come out on top.

Around the next bend, they caught a glimpse at the beast that blocked their path: a Yutyrannus – slightly smaller than a t-rex, with feathers covering most of it's body. It's possible they could score a lucky shot to the neck with a crossbow and the creature could bleed out. For their size, they were lightning quick. In the end, it wouldn't matter how much armor you were wearing if one of those got you in it's muzzle. It's teeth would slice through hide armor and chain mail like butter. A set of full plate would just crumple from the force, literally crushing whoever wore it.

“The plan?”, Bjorn asked softly.

Freyja took a deep breath. “We have two options. We either run past it while it's distracted, or we keep away from it and kill it from a distance. That's really it. The pathway isn't wide enough here to give us much maneuverability.” There was a third option as well that Freyja didn't bother to mention: they could turn around and head back.

“Sven thinks the two of you should go on ahead. Shoot it with your crossbows, get it to give chase. Your mounts are both faster than it. You can outrun it. Barry cannot.” Usually Sven would be the first charging into battle, but in this case it made sense. He didn't want to risk losing his bear. And if Sven died, his body wouldn't regenerate until morning, making him miss the first day of the festival.

“Alright”, Freyja replied as she clicked a bolt into ready position in her crossbow. “Bjorn, with me.”

The two of them road off towards the Yutyrannus, which was currently ripping the flesh off of a smaller unidentifiable dinosaur. Freyja took the lead; her Sabertooth being slightly faster than Sven's Deinonychus. As her cat propelled them forward, she aimed the crossbow best she could at the alpha predator's neck, which was no easy feat while riding. She pressed the trigger and the bolt flew through the air and struck the creature in the eye. It threw it's head back and roared as Freya and Flotti rushed past. She glanced behind her, expecting to see Bjorn on her Sabertooth's heels. Instead, she saw his dinosaur veer towards the Yutyrannus, Bjorn struggling with the reins. She reared in Flotti just as Bjorn's Deinonychus leaped up onto the side of the Yutyrannus, Bjorn doing everything he could to stay on the saddle as his dinosaur dug it's claws into the alpha. The Yutyrannus couldn't reach them with it's muzzle, so it thrashed side to side, giving off another roar. Bjorn and Holly disappeared from view, but Freyja could see chunks of bloody meat being thrown into the air. A moment later, the Yuty fell over, Holly still attached to the neck, now on top of it, it's head bobbing up and down as it bit down, each time tearing away more flesh. It must have hit an artery, each pulse of the dying creatures heart sending fresh globules of blood onto Bjorn and his dinosaur, coating them in red. Feathers were flying everywhere like some crazy pillow fight. From behind came Sven and Barry. Barry was at a full gallop (is that the right term for a bear?). As he got close, Sven leaped off the bear into the air, his DireWolf sword unscabbard the point aimed down at the creature's rib cage. Sven roared as he drove the tip into the Yutyrannus's chest, and then the creature went slack – it's head hitting the ground with a deafening thud.

Sven pulled his sword out of the Yutyrannus's chest and yelled, “That..was..awesome!” He tossed the sword to the ground and went over to Bjorn, who was now standing beside Holly breathing heavily. Sven slapped him on the back. “Sven couldn't believe his eyes when you dove straight into the beast. Taking advantage of the beast being blinded like that. They'll be singing stories of your deeds if Sven has anything to say about it!”. He laughed and jumped down. “Though in stories you don't realize how sticky blood is.”

“He didn't plan it”, Freyja stated. “Did you Bjorn?”

“No. As much as I agree with Sven, and agree that songs should be written of it; it was Holly's decision. I was literally just along for the ride.” He jumped off the carcass and cringed as he caught a whiff of himself. “I need a bath. Don't suppose I'm getting one anytime soon.”

“Not until we get to the rivers of High Garden.”, Freyja responded. “And that's a problem since every predator between here and there will be able to smell us coming.”

 

 

The rest of the journey wasn't as much fun. It was difficult to be fun when you felt like you had to creep along, constantly vigilant over every sound, because any of those sounds could be something following the scent of blood. Freyja didn't have the nose of a dinosaur, but even her human nose could smell the oppressive stench coming off of Bjorn. Bjorn stayed quiet after the fight, owing to the fact that once the midday sun was upon them, the blood dried into a orange-ish brown sludge. He looked thoroughly unhappy as Freyja prodded her Sabertooth to take the lead. Her nose couldn't stand being downwind of him any longer.

As they came out of the mountains they gained a few Raptors that tailed them. Freyja was able to see at least three of them at times, but they stayed out of range and mostly hid in the tall grass. A few Raptors, they could handle, which was probably the reason why they hadn't been attacked. The ones following them were curious but they probably wouldn't attack. Raptors, unless they had superior numbers, preferred to attack weak or wounded prey. With any luck, most of the larger carnivores in the area would be attracted to the overwhelming scent of the dead Yutyrannus. Freyja was sure that when they came back this way after the festival, there wouldn't be a trace of it left.

They descended into the valley that was High Garden. The valley was surrounded by arid, sandstone cliffs, with numerous waterfalls around it's borders, cascading down into the many lakes and rivers inside the valley. Even before seeing the settlement, Freyja could smell the smoke from the cook fires, mingling with the pleasant floral aroma of the Cherry Blossom trees that were planted around the town. As their path wound it's way down, they finally got view of the town. There was a high stone wall running along it's perimeter, with gates on the North, East, and South sides. Most of the buildings within two or three stories, based on feudal Japanese architecture.

They made their way down to the bottom of the valley, where a wide pathway lead them through the trees and to the North gate; two fully armored riders mounted on the backs of Spinosaurus stood guard on either side of it. The Spinosaurus were three stories tall, with a long snout like an Alligator, and a large dorsal fin running along it's back. The rider's saddles were strapped around the creatures' chests, with the rider sitting just in front of the fin. Both of the gargantuan dinosaurs immediately turned to stare at Bjorn, their nostrils flaring. As terrifying as these creatures looked, Freyja knew that they were domesticated. Still, hopefully their training ran deep; the smell of alpha dinosaur blood could still make even domesticated dinosaurs unruly.

“Whoa, get a look of this guy, Shang”, one of the guards called to his partner, pointing at Bjorn and Holly. “We're suppose to welcome guests to the festival, but we can't let you in here looking like this.”

“Guessing that's not your blood.”, the other guard, Shang, commented.

Freyja looked up to them and then back at her friend. “He decided to solo a Yutyrannus.”

“I didn't decide...”, Bjorn blurted out, and then seemed to hesitate. It wouldn't be good if he admitted that his dinosaur acted of her own accord. It might suggest that Holly couldn't be fully controlled, and a tamed dinosaur that couldn't be controlled was a liability. Bjorn had hopefully paused and connected the dots. “I just saw an opening and took it down”, he finished.

“Well, whatever happened”, the first rider continued, “You're going to need to go East to the river and clean off. We can't have you going into town looking”, he coughed and raised a cloth up to the front of his helmet, “and smelling like that. You other two are welcome to go inside. You can either stable your dinos or keep them with you if no one complains and they are well behaved.”

Freyja looked at Bjorn and chuckled. “We'll stay with our friend. Come on, Bjorn, let's get you all cleaned up.”

---

 

Will post the next two chapters on January 17th. Thanks for reading!

Edited by ArkWriter
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Chapter 3

 

It was a couple hours before sunset by the time Selene and Sunny made it to High Garden. Aside from Kaprosuchus, which resembled big alligators, along the banks for of the river, their journey was largely uneventful. The Kapro were easy to avoid and overall with Sunny's height, he really wasn't something they wanted to tango with. Their journey through the mountains brought them close to a few Argentavis nests, but the giant birds didn't seem to want anything to do with them. Her talking dino was right about the trip. And also, now that she could communicate with him, he made for really great company. It surprised Selene at how easily she accepted the fact that he could speak to her. Yet it was still a lot easier than believing that this mysterious island was Asgard.

“It's all about energy”, Sunny was saying as they made the final length of the journey through the mountain pass. “Yes, an Argentavis could attack us and decide that we look tasty. Or even a Tyrannosaurus Rex for that matter. But why attack a target that can fight back? Of course, all creatures are going to fight back or try to flee. As far as I'm aware, no one wants to be eaten. But whatever creature a carnivore decides should be prey, it wants to expend as little energy as possible in killing it.”

“But what about those Sabertooth that are stalking us”, she pointed to a few who's heads were poking out behind a large rock. Immediately the heads popped down and disappeared. “Yeah, I see you there! You aren't that sneaky!”, she shouted. They reminded her of the pet cats she used to have on Earth. Just a little bigger and with more teeth. “They aren't just curious. That's definitely, 'I'm thinking of pouncing you' type of behavior.”

“They are merely looking for an opportunity. If we were already injured, they would strike. If we ran, they would also give chase. In both of those instances, we would be showing weakness. We want to show strength.” Selene reflected on just how intelligent he was. It wasn't the kind of intelligence where she would have him solving math equations anytime soon. It was more carnal. Instinctual. Even before being able to communicate with her, he still possessed it. But now that he was able to share his knowledge with her, she felt even safer traveling with him. It certainly helped that the saddle she was riding on was about sixteen feet off the ground.

They had just made their way into the lush, forested valley. And in front of them, Selene was relieved to see the large gateway come into view, signaling that her journey was over. The guards stationed on their impressive Spinosaurus mounts, nodded to her, welcoming her to the festival. Sunny's gaze seemed to linger on the dinosaurs as they passed. Each was easily three times the size of him.

“Never turn your back on one of those things.”, he warned her. “They will attack anything if they feel they have the edge. It doesn't matter what kind of creature you are. With that long snout and rows of teeth, big or small, if they want you, you will become their dinner. I'm amazed you humans keep them with you. None of them can be trusted.”

Selene patted his neck and waited until they were through the gate to quietly reply. “That almost sounds like prejudice, Mister Sunny. I'm sure a lot of creatures on this island would say the same thing about you.”

“Even a pack of my kind couldn't cause the amount of carnage that a single Spinosaurus could”, his nostrils flared as he sniffed the air, “and from the smell of it, this valley is teeming with them.”

Selene took a deep breath. Nope, no hints of Spinosaurus – the only things should could smell were food, mixed with the subtle but unmistakable aroma of alcohol. Looking around, she still couldn't find a single Spino. All around them, hanging from the trees were lanterns. They looked to be made of animal skins, and had Japanese kanji written on them. Unfortunately she never learned to read it. As she looked at them, she noticed a warmth against her wrist – the one with the metal embedded in it. She looked down to see it glowing blue. Then, an instant later, the glowing faded. She looked back up and to her surprise, she could understand the kanji. It translated to, 'God of Fortune'. She looked up and saw a large banner hanging across two trees, also in kanji, that read, “High Garden Welcomes You”. How do I know this, she wondered? And over there; a large stone and wood structure to the side of the path, with a wood sign post on it declaring it the “Dinosaur Hotel”. On top of this structure, she could see several Argentavis heads poking over the edge of the roof.

“How can I suddenly read all this stuff? I never learned Japanese.” She rubbed absently at her arm and wondered. “Sunny, are you able to read written languages?”

“I shouldn't be able to comprehend what written language refers to. I should have no basis for the concept. But I do. Perhaps it has something to do with our bond. As for what is means, however, I find that I neither know nor do I care.” He arched his neck to look back at her. “Unless there's written language for, 'fresh meat'.”

She laughed and patted him. “There is”

Sunny snorted. “Okay, show me where it's written and I'll learn that.”

Most of the people walked around alone or with a pack of their human friends, a few here and there had dinosaurs with them. But none of them had a dinosaur as big as Sunny. The pet dinosaurs walking along side their humans were herbivores, such as the horse-like Parasaur, with their colorful finned head crests, or the Iguanodon, with it's versatile, fluted neck. It was unlikely that these dinosaurs were from outside the valley. It would have been far too risky to travel with herbivores alone. Unless of course, you were Horas, her boss at the Oasis docks, who had apparently noticed her and was walking towards her with his dinosaur by his side: a Therizinosaurus. It was a furry herbivore that stood two humans tall, walking upright on it's hind paws with huge foot long claws protruding from it's fore paws. Those claws were razor sharp, but were actually used for foraging and defense, rather than attack. Horas smiled as he approached her.

“Ah, Selene, it's good to see you've decided to come out of your shell.” To Selene, it sounded like he was being condescending, but it was probably just her imagination. Everything he said sounded that way. Sunny eyed him and snorted.

“Is that the therapist in you talking?”, she asked, perhaps with a bit more snark in her voice than she intended. Horas seemed to tense, making Selene pause and consider. “I'm sorry. Truth is, I mostly decided to attend for this guy”, she motioned to Sunny. “Figured he'd probably enjoy getting out and traveling around the Island.”

Horas looked up at her Allosaurus appraisingly, running his hand over his smooth head. “Hmm. Well I suppose it's good that your dinosaur friend motivated you to come here. But we still need to do something about people sort of friends. Why don't you join me. I'm meeting up with a couple people to watch the Spinosaurus race, and I think you might have something in common with one or two of them.”

“Are they scientists? Paleontologists? Archaeologists?”

Horas laughed, which sounded odd to Selene since she'd never heard him do it before. “No, nothing like that. They're Vikings.”

“Vikings?”, her face scrunched up, slightly. “Not that there is anything wrong with Vikings. What would I have in common with them.” She didn't exactly have a lot of experience with the Viking tribe, what with living on the opposite side of the island from them. Her only exposure came from one or two cargo ship captains who would occasionally come to port to trade. Those Vikings were burly and gruff and looked like they could be a part of a United States Army news reel.

He chuckled. “You're both very stubborn.” He and his Therizinosaurus began walking and he motioned for her to follow. “Come on. Let's go.”

Just walking away, sure that I will follow, Selene thought in irritation. She grabbed the rope step ladder coming down from Sunny's saddle and gave a tug, and the two of them moved beside Horas. “Shouldn't I get Sunny set up in a stable?”

Horas looked over to him. “He's fine. I know you're newer to this whole 'afterlife thing'. Once a dinosaur bonds, regardless of how mean and scary they are, they are no longer any danger.”

Sunny glared at him. “How rude! No longer a danger? I could kill you with a thought.”

Selene reached up and patted his side, thankful that no one else could hear him.

“Just be mindful that one or two people here might have PTSD when it comes to large dinosaurs.”, Horas continued. “So if you see anyone having a panic attack, probably be considerate and head in the opposite direction.” She hadn't really considered that angle before. The thought that even in the afterlife, people still had mental health disorders. People still needed therapists.

She followed Horas in silence, still considering the implications of that thought. People couldn't die here in Asgard. Well, she considered, they could, but they didn't stay dead. The sun would rise the next day and that person would have a new body and would be good as new. Without the fear of death, why would a tamed dinosaur, one that by Horas's account would no longer be a threat, scare anyone? Take Horas's dinosaur companion for example. The razor sharp claws weren't scary to Selene; they were fascinating. They were such an interesting evolutionary trait of that creature's biology. It really made Selene wonder what would have happened if a meteor hadn't hit the Earth and wiped them all out.

Horas held his hand in front of her, breaking her out of her musings. “Whoa, hold on there. You're going to fall right into the race track”. She looked down, just now realizing that she was on the edge of a large, muddy trench. The trench was probably about forty feet wide, zigzagging every which way. “We'll want to jump up on our dinos to get a better view”, said Horas as he swung up into the saddle with much more dexterity than Selene gave him credit for. Selene climbed up onto Sunny, and Horas motioned forward. “Looks like we made it here in time. My friends should be somewhere nearby. Come on.”

Horas led her along the perimeter, approaching a large, stone structure, which Horas said was where the Spinosaurus and there riders would be preparing for today's race. Their dinosaurs carefully made their way through the other spectators. There were probably a couple hundred in total spread around the East side of the race track. Horas and his Therizinosaurus suddenly stopped; Selene pulling back on Sunny's reigns to stop from plowing into them.

“Horas!”, a female voice called from in front of them. Horas hopped down from his dinosaur and Selene followed suit. The woman who called to him had reached up and was scratching under the Therizinosaurus's chin. “How are you doing, Omari?”, she asked fondly. “Are you being a good girl?” The dinosaur, Omari, inclined her head and leaned into the young woman's hand. She looked to be in her early twenties – the woman, not the dinosaur – about equal height with Selene. Her hair seemed to tumble in wavy curls down a little past her shoulders. Selene was instantly jealous; she couldn't get her hair to do anything without product, which was unfortunately missing this whole afterlife experience.

“Omari is always a good girl”, Horas replied, resting his hand on the Therizinosaurus.

“Does she still help you on your spice runs?”, inquired a man standing next to the woman. He stood about a head and a half taller than the woman. His hair was a jungle, but his beard was short and tidy. Those exposed arms of his though. Selene felt herself start to flush and looked away.

“Oh, she'll always help with spice runs”, Horas chuckled, “I don't think she'd have it any other way.”

“Wait”, inquired Selene. “Spice runs? That's not some sort of code for drugs is it?” The others looked at her and laughed.

“No, no, though I'm sure there's a market for them”, replied Horas, still laughing. “Spices. Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger. Those things that you help move in the warehouse?”

“You're the one collecting all of those?” Selene said in surprise and immediately felt like an idiot.

“Of course I do”, Horas replied. “I'm not the only one. There's plenty of others who help.” He paused to give her a look. “What do you think I do most of the day?”

Selene opened her mouth to respond with something sarcastically and then stopped. Instead, she looked to the man and woman and asked, “So who are your friend?”

“Oh, of course!”, he rubbed his forehead, “where are my manners? Selene, this is Freyja and Bjorn”, he motioned to each of them, “from the Viking Tribe.”

Selene blinked. “You're Vikings?... I'm sorry”, she amended. “Of course you're Vikings. I don't know why I was thinking you'd all be eight food tall body builders like I'd see in the picture shows back on Earth.”

“Picture shows?”, asked the man, Bjorn. “That's an interesting way to phrase it. What time frame did you come from?”

“Excuse me?”, asked Selene, puzzled by what he meant.

“Oh, he's wanting to know what year it was when you were on Earth”, Freyja clarified. “Time on Asgard works a little differently from what you were used to. People show up on this island from all over Earth's history. If you're referring to picture shows, I'm going to take a guess and say you lived sometime in the early twentieth century?”

Selene blinked as the gears in her head began to spin. She had never considered this possibility. The thought that time might not be linear... well... that gave rise to a million other thoughts and ideas and notions that would need to be considered the next time she had some time to herself. Selene noticed that the others were looking at her, expectantly. “Sorry”, she said rather lamely. “I sometime get caught up in my thoughts. The last memories I have are from the 1920s when I was working at the Natural History Museum in New York City.”

Bjorn laughed. “You worked for a Natural History Museum. So one minute you are looking at Allosaurus bones, and the next you are riding your own real life version.”

Selene smiled. “For a moment I thought you were going to comment how appropriate it was I worked for a Natural History Museum since I'm apparently ancient history.”

Bjorn grinned at her. “For a moment I was. But I figured upsetting you might be a bad idea with your body guard at your side.” He looked up at Sunny.

“Bodyguard!”, Sunny said excitedly, though only Selene could hear it. To anyone else it would look like he perked up and raised his head slightly higher. “I know that human term. That's precisely what I am.” He looked down at Selene. “At least until I teach you enough so you can be self sufficient. Oh, I like this human!” Sunny bent down and pressed his nose into Bjorn's side, surprising him and throwing him off balance, causing him to stumble back.”

“Whoa, whoa there!”, Bjorn exclaimed, pressing his hands on either side of Sunny's snout. “Don't assault me. I swear I didn't insult her.”

Selene laughed and moved forward and pressed her hand against the Allosaurus's cheek, and Sunny took a half step back. “Just means he likes you, is all. It's how Allosaurus's show affection.”

“I like him too”, replied Bjorn as he took a cautious step away. “but I'm going to have to be careful. If he decides to show me too much affection, I might find myself barreling into the Spinosaurus pit.”

 

Everyone had a good laugh at that. A moment or two later, a trumpet or similar brass instrument began playing and a series of Spinosaurus and riders made their way out of the giant stone structure and out into the trench, where they lined up horizontally beside one another. The Spinosaurus all had bright colored drapery attached to their saddles that covered their sides. Their riders, all except one of them, wore simple colored hide clothing, matching the colors of their dinosaurs. The remaining rider, the one riding the blue Spinosaurus didn't appear to be wearing much at all.

Selene turned to Bjorn. “Given how dangerous all this looks, I figure they would be wearing metal armor. Something to keep them a bit safer.”

“The hide armor keeps them the safest”, he replied. “If you fall, you want to be able to roll yourself out of the way before you get trampled. Steel armor isn't going to protect you from that much force. It would just crumple like a tin can, crushing the rider inside.”

On the other side of her, Sunny stirred, moving another half step back and huffing. His head shifted from side to side, and when over Selene, his nostrils were blowing out streams of hot air that might as well be lava. She reached up above her and managed to stroke his neck. “It's okay, Sunny. Those mean Spinosaurus's aren't going to hurt you.”

“I would rather not stand here and find out”, he snorted. Selene looked up at him shifting around and suddenly found herself wondering if perhaps if Sunny had had some kind of traumatic encounter with one in the past that was flavoring his opinion of them. Could dinosaurs get stress disorders? Well, she supposed they could. And if so, it would be pretty cruel of her to subject him to something he so thoroughly did not want any part of.

“I'm sorry”, she said suddenly, turning to the others. “I'm going to have to get going. Sunny really doesn't like Spinos. It was really nice meeting all of you, though.”

Freyja reached across Bjorn and took Selene's hand, clasping it and letting go. “It was good to meet you, Selene. Yeah, you had better get your Allosaurus away before he accidentally tap dances someone to death.”

Bjorn turned to Selene. “By chance, are you hungry? Maybe you, me, and Sunny could get some dinner.” He looked up at the Allosaurus. “What do you think of that, Sunny? Would some Parasaur meat help you feel better?”

Sunny nodded enthusiastically. “That would be splendid”, and immediately turned and began walk away, leaving Selene rushing to reach the rope ladder and pull herself up into the saddle.

“Seems he likes the idea”, she said, now in the saddle and pulling on the reigns to slow the Allosaurus down. She leaned over the side, to look down at Bjorn. You'd better come up so you can show me where to go.

Bjorn grabbed the ladder and pulled himself over the top to sit behind her. And then leaned over the side, “Enjoy the race! Tell Sven I'm sorry I wasn't able to see him lose!”

 

 

The sun had gone down by the time they made it to a restaurant that Bjorn recommended. The building looked like a large wood cabin, with a deck that extended from a front porch and led around to an additional outdoor seating area behind the building. Warm light streamed out from the windows, and a wood sign hung above the door, featuring a carved image of a bird: “The Magpie's Nest”, it read. Bjorn and Freyja swung down off of the saddle. Flute music greeted them as they walked up to the door.

“You and Sunny go around back”, Bjorn smiled at her. “Pick a table. I'll be there in just a moment.”

Selene cautiously led Sunny around to the back of the restaurant. Restaurant. It feels so out of place on my tongue, she thought. Sure, there were a few places to get something to eat in Oasis, but they were mostly street food vendors, nothing that resembled the extravagant variety she was used to in her previous life. Not that she could afford most if it in her previous life with her meager salary. Plus half of those restaurants and clubs required that you be hanging off of a man.

The floor boards creaked in protest to the large Allosaurus, causing Selene to cringe, wondering if Sunny would be too much for the structure to handle. The restaurant was built on the edge of a small lake, and the back portion of the deck was built on stilts. This was like walking on thin ice. So far other than continual groans from the wood with every step, they hadn't fallen through. The deck was large, but still, Sunny took up about half of it. All the tables were speckled on the far side, with a large empty space in front, perhaps meant for dancing or perhaps a parking spot for dinosaurs. I couple groups of people were sitting at a few of the tables. Selene could barely see them in the darkness; their faces lit only by the candles centered on each of the tables. Sunny's stomach gave an Allosaurus sized rumble, and she patted his leg.

“Don't worry, buddy. We'll get you some food soon.”

A moment later and Bjorn returned with a middle aged woman wearing an apron and a smile. Her dark hair with wild curls silhouetted her face. Her eyes glinted in the soft candle light.

“Sit anywhere you like”, she said in a very motherly way, a hand going to Selene's shoulder and gently guiding her in the direction of an empty table. Sunny took a step to follow. “Not you, Mister”, she squawked, turning to the Allosaurus. “You gotta stay in the dinosaur landing pad. That section of the deck is reinforced with stone pillars to take the added weight. The rest of the deck though.. well.. you're likely to fall right through and tear up the restaurant in the process. That happens, I'll end up being real cross, so you might as well lay down where you are at and we can get you some food.”

Sunny snorted and looked to Selene, his eyes the only visible part of his face in the darkness beyond the candle light. Meanwhile, the woman in the apron moved to a table and pulled the chairs out and motioned for the Selene and Bjorn to sit down.

“That's pretty impressive how you were able to get Sunny to stop in his tracks”, Selene commented as she took a seat.”

“Sunny, huh?”, the woman laughed. “Good name. Well, those dinosaurs and us might not speak the same language, but doesn't mean we can't understand each other. And I don't have time to coddle them – I have a restaurant to run. So if Sunny wants to get something to eat, he'll do as I say. Works that way for both dinosaurs and people.”

Bjorn spoke up. “Eliza's restaurant is one of the afterlife's finest.”

“It is”, Eliza agreed. “Never mind the fact that there's barely any competition in that category. People here on this island are just so busy. They are busy trying to figure out this whole afterlife thing, or tame the forests, or trying to gain favor with the gods. Not me. I always wanted a restaurant back on Earth, but life had other plans for me. Now that I'm dead, I'm making that dream come true. And while you're my guests, you can forget awhile about Odin's Hunger Games, and just relax.”

Selene looked to Bjorn and back to Eliza. “What are Hunger Games?”

“Just a pop culture reference”, Eliza replied. “Don't worry about it. You two just sit right here and let Eliza take care of everything.

“Thank you”, Selene said, but by the time the words left her mouth, their hostess had already turned and was heading back inside. She turned back to Bjorn but then her eyes caught a glimpse of the lake beyond the restaurant. Dozens of lanterns dotted it, each glowing a different color. Each lantern sparkled and pulsed with it's inner flame, and the light reflected on the water. They reminded her of the fire flies she would see in her grand parents back yard growing up. It was beautiful; probably one of the prettiest things she had seen since arriving here. Not that it was a very high bar.

“It's odd, isn't it?”, Bjorn interrupted her thoughts. “the connection we have with our dinosaurs. My buddy Sven, for instance, he has this great big polar bear.”

“Technically not a dinosaur”, Selene pointed out.

“Technically not.”, Bjorn agreed. “But the point is the same”. Bjorn paused as Eliza returned to their table with two decorative metal goblets and then hurried off again. “Anyway”, he continued. “Sven loves that thing. He treats it better than he treats himself, sometimes. And in a fight, it's like he and the bear become one being. It's like that with everyone I've met here. It's like that with Holly, too.”

“Who's Holly?”, she asked as she cautiously picked up the goblet, giving it's contents a soft swirl and lifting the rim to her nose. It smelled slightly fruity. She let some of the liquid touch her lips.

“Holly is my dino. She's a deinonychus. Kind of looks like a larger raptor. She's got these purple feather tips, like someone painted them. But the way she looks at me though. Has your dinosaur ever looked at you in a way, like, I'm not even sure I can describe it. Where it looks at you, like it's looking at your soul or something? It's like a moment where you somehow get the feeling like there's something more to it. And it sends a shiver down your spine. But you're not sure why.”

She looked over in the direction of Sunny, and her eyes caught his, and something about them held her in them. He was so focused on her. Unnaturally focused on her. She had people she loved from before all of this, and not even they would give her this sort of feeling when they locked gazes. “Has Holly ever done anything you couldn't explain? I mean, aside from being a dinosaur. Has she ever done anything of her own accord that shouldn't have been possible? Or gotten in your head, almost like you could hear her talking to you?”

Bjorn finished a long swig of his drink. “I talk to Holly all the time. Sometimes she'll give me a look like she understands what I'm saying. Not sure if I'm just making it up or not. Like I want to believe she's more intelligent than she is. I guess us humans have a tendency to humanize things.”

The two of them kept talking about their dinosaurs, and with the arrival of their meal – Parasaur shoulder in a thick gravy, potatoes and corn - their conversation turned to High Garden and observations about the different tribes that had formed. Bjorn was really interested in trying to piece together why different people identified with a particular tribe.

“For that matter, why are we the one's who made it?”, he asked. “What made this particular group of people worthy of the afterlife? There were billions of people on Earth just during the period I was living, to say nothing of all the generations that came before me throughout Human history. Is it random, like a lottery, or is there something more to it?”

Selene paused. “Are we actually having an intellectual conversation?”

“Um. If that's okay with you?”, Bjorn responded, unsure.

Selene grinned ear to ear. “Okay with me? Of course it's okay with me! I'm a scientist, and nothing of this world makes any sense. You're the first person here who actually wants to talk about this kind of thing. Most of the people just treat me like some sort of kook.”

“To be honest with you, I haven't brought it up very often”, he paused to take another gulp of the wine before continuing. “A lot of time if I talk about my inner thoughts, I get labeled as 'brooding'. Freyja and Sven are always willing to listen to me, and for that, I'm really grateful. But..”, he paused again and his brow furrowed in thought. “It feels like a lot of the people here either don't care about the details of why we are here, or don't want to care. But I feel like they should. I don't know about you, I didn't really have family beyond my mom and dad back on Earth, but they didn't make it here to Asgard. I want to know what happened to them, you know? I want to know if I'll ever see them again.”

Selene sat there silently, sipping the wine. She never knew her Father. He'd left when Selene was still a baby, so she didn't have any memories of him. Her mom remarried but she wasn't particularly close to her step father, especially once she left the house to follow her passion. She was kind of glad now that she hadn't fallen in love.

She looked over to Sunny. He was still curled around himself about fifteen feet away. He'd been fed a large tray of meat, and was now resting with one eye open. He'd been quiet in her thoughts since arriving at the restaurant. Well, she thought, she might not have family here with her, but she had him. He was her emotional anchor.

“Bjorn”, she said suddenly, as an idea began to form; several ideas, really, that all seemed to tumble out. “How long have you had Holly? How did you find her? Do you know anyone who hasn't connected with one of the creatures here?”

Bjorn just blinked and stared at her.

“Sorry”, she grinned nervously. “Too many thoughts.”

Bjorn chuckled. “No, it's not that. It's just all those questions seemed to come out of left field.”

“Welcome to my brain!”, Selene laughed. “But I promise, it all makes sense. You were talking about how you weren't connected to anyone back on Earth. At least not in a wife and kids sort of way. It got me wondering if that's it; if that's the common thread.”

Bjorn laughed again. “So you're thinking Asgard is some sort of singles resort?”

“That's the hypothesis. People that were loners. People who would charge forward and not look back.”

Bjorn rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe. But if that were true, why was a brainy person like you brought here to question it all?”

Selene shook her head. “That's a very good question. I don't know the answer, but it's a good question.” It didn't make sense to her either. If only certain people were brought here – a singles resort as Bjorn had termed it – why bring a person here to question the status quo?

Bjorn chuckled. “Guess you aren't so brainy after all.”

“Hey!”, Selene protested, “You're lucky you're out of reach of Sunny. A person could get their head chomped off insulting my braininess like that”

“That's because I'm smart.” They both shared a laugh. Selene was happy. She couldn't remember any other times since her arrival that she was able to enjoy herself – to allow herself to enjoy herself. That was her biggest problem. She would see something that didn't make sense, and needed to figure it out. It just so happens in doing that she developed tunnel vision.

“But speaking of dinos”, Bjorn continued. “You asked about Holly.” He took another drink and wiped his lips on his forearm. “When I first arrived on Asgard I was in the red woods. Heck of a place to find yourself just stripped down in your underwear.

“Well, I came upon a nest with two dead, partially eaten Deinonychus nearby. There was blood smeared everywhere. It looks like they were fending off a predator of some kind. In the nest were a bunch of broken eggs. I didn't think much of it at first, other than a twinge of sadness from the whole situation. I was turning to leave when I heard a chirping sound. I walked over and took a closer look at the nest. Hiding beneath one of the egg shells was a baby Deinonychus. Well, I couldn't just leave her there all alone to die, so I foraged around for something I could make a sling out of.

“Thankfully, some of the Viking Tribe were out hunting and found me, and I've been living in their village ever since. I nursed Holly to adulthood. I took care of her. These days it feels more like the other way around.”

Selene took a drink as she was listening to him. She had gotten the idea in her head that maybe the island was providing everyone with a dinosaur, kind of like a feature to keep a person emotionally invested in where they were in the present, rather than looking back on their past life. Bjorn's story was really endearing to her; the thought that even with his life in danger and being in an uncertain place, he'd still take the time to try to save an orphaned dinosaur. It spoke a lot of the kind of person he was when push came to shove. But it definitely wasn't this place imposing some sort of will onto him. Perhaps it wasn't a feature of this place, after all. Perhaps it was just human nature. Perhaps, like the domestication of dogs from wolves, humans just looked for companionship in the form of a favorite pet.

“I'm really lucky to have her”, Bjorn smiled fondly. “She's super smart; kept me out of harms way dozens of times. The latest was while we were traveling here, actually. We saw a Yutyrannus on the path and were going to ride past it. Freyja shot it in the eye with her crossbow. I'm pretty sure Holly saw that it was blinded and decided that she could bring it down, with ol' Bjorn here attached to her back, flailing around like an idiot, just trying to stay in the saddle.”

Beyond her hypothesizing on the dinosaur/human dynamics, she was also thinking about her own bond with Sunny. She was hoping that perhaps she wasn't the only one hearing her dinosaur, and was trying to get him to say it without revealing all of her cards. Maybe she should just out and tell him. Just tell him that Sunny speaks to her and be done with it. She was treating this like some deep, dark secret – like he would suddenly regard her as a crazy person.

“She's really distinctive”, Bjorn was saying, still talking about Holly. “She's got two deep purple feathers on the back of her neck. Makes her stand out from all the other Deinonychus I've seen.”

Selene choked a bit on the liquid in her goblet, coughing and setting the goblet down.

“You okay?”, Bjorn asked, kneeling forward.

“Your dinosaur... has purple feathers?”, she said through a final fits of coughing.

Bjorn nodded uncertainly. “Yes...”

Selene smiled ear to ear, excitedly. “Don't you see?”, she paused to look at him, at the curious expression on his face. “Clearly not”, she laughed. “Bjorn, Holly has purple feathers. Purple feathers aren't natural. Deinonychus are suppose to have muted colors. A vivid color like purple would make a predator stand out, and generally speaking, predators don't like to stand out and wave a flag at everything that says, 'Hi! I'm here to eat you!'.”

“I suppose”, responded Bjorn, in a way that made Selene feel that he still didn't grasp what she was trying to say. “So you are saying it's not natural for her to have those feathers. Kind of like an albino squirrel.”

“I'm saying that...”, she regarded him. “Actually, yes! Well, no. Well, partially. An albino squirrel is that way because of a recessive gene mutation. And that's what it means here, as well. It's evidence of a mutation. And that means...” She let her words as her mind raced ahead.

“It means...”, Bjorn prompted.

“Bjorn”, she said, suddenly. “Do you think it would be possible for us to meet Holly?”

“Us? I've already met her.”

“Oh, sorry”, Selene chuckled. “I meant, me and Sunny.”

Bjorn took another swig from the goblet. “Sure, I suppose so! I mean, I've already seen yours, so it's only fair you've seen mine. Why though?

Selene finished off her wine, setting her goblet down with a thud. “Testing a theory”

 

---

 

Chapter 4

 

Sven thought that he would be able to leave his old life behind – his plain, boring, ordinary life. His life where everyone pitied him. Odin brought it all back. That's because Odin needed something from him. He needed experience from Sven's past to fix a problem. And for Sven to be able to help, Odin told him everything.

“Odin, why am I here?”, he had asked.

“For a very specific purpose”, Odin had responded. He had turned and looked back at the others at the gathering. “For them, their purpose is to live to find a purpose. But for you, this isn't the case. A kingdom survives because of redundancy and fail safes. There will always be unexpected problems, and a kingdom has to be ready for attacks from the outside as well as within.”

“Sven doesn't understand”, he had replied, somewhat frustrated.

“No, I don't suppose you do. But you will very soon.” He let that sentence hang. Other people walked by them, glancing out of the corners of their eyes, but hurrying along as if it didn't matter to them. Sven was expecting Odin to say more, but he remained quiet.

Finally, when it became apparent that the god was finished talking and wasn't going to say more without being prompted, Sven inquired, “You mentioned a purpose, but you did not tell me what that purpose is. Is that just the way of gods, to be cryptic?”

Odin looked back over the ridge and breathed deeply of the air. “Sven, you are my redundancy; my fail safe. I had hoped that I would not need your assistance for quite some time. But some things are out of the control of even us gods”

An answer, albeit a cryptic one. Why did it all have to be so cryptic? Sven didn't want to have to puzzle out every single riddle that came out of the gods mouth; just tell him what he wanted. So Sven was a redundancy, that God had said. Well, Sven thought, I guess that's something. It felt good to be wanted, to be needed; to have validation at last. So of course, he was all too eager. “Tell Sven what needs to be done. And please”, he added. “Please can you just tell Sven straight what it is? I am more of a run in and smash things type of person.”

“You weren't always”, Odin put his hand on Sven's shoulder. His voice was soft and caring. “There is more to you than this body I have created. You once were quite good at analysis. Hopefully you still are. Unfortunately, what needs to be done cannot be told to you. You need to see it for yourself.”

Sven had begun to open his mouth to ask another question when his vision suddenly went white. All around him, there was nothing. No color, no substance, no shadows. Just even, white light. He blinked several times hoping that would somehow help. It didn't. He raised up his hands in front of him. Okay, at least those were there along with his arms. He looked down and saw the rest of him. There was still substance. He took a few stumbling steps around, which was very disorienting. Apparently the white nothingness below his feet was solid.

“Odin, what is this?”, he shouted. “Where am I?” He moved in a circle, shouting in all directions. “Odin!”

Eventually the white faded, replaced with contrast and color. Blue hues. Glowing walls. He looked all around him, but Odin was no where in sight. He was standing alone in a large room. In fact, large was probably an understatement. The walls of this room were all curved like a cylinder. It must have been hundreds of feet in diameter. The floor, the walls, the arching staircase in the distance, all of it seemed to be made from a shiny, gray metal, which seems to self illuminate. It pulsed softly, giving off a cool blue light. Sven knelt down to look at the floor. Inlaid in the metal was a pattern of tiny hexagons. And Sven looked up at the ceiling, he noticed it wasn't really a ceiling at all. The metal became an intricate lattice, and through the shapes it created, you could see the stars.

Sven suddenly shivered. He just now realized how cold it was here; cold enough to see his breath and give him goosebumps. He rubbed his arms. “Odin”, he shouted again. His voice returned to him a second later, echoing from all around him. He took a few cautious steps forward and an image appeared in front of him, suspended in air like a hologram. It showed him the island of Asgard and the ocean that surrounded it. The three dimensional image slowly spun, letting him see the island from all angles.

“Do not be afraid”, came the disembodied voice, that seemed to come from all around him. “I am here.” The voice sounded like Odin, but didn't have the same warmth, the same mirth that it had had a few minutes ago.

“I can't see you”, said Sven as he spun around. “Where are you? Where have you brought Sven?” The room he was in changed hues, from a light blue to a deep violet and then back again. Pulsing.

“I am all around you.”, the room pulsed with the words. “ I've brought you here, to Valhalla. You are the first of the Asgardian's to set foot here, Sven. Or should I say, Ben.”

Ben. It was Sven's old name, from back when he lived on Earth. Hearing it now made Sven suddenly feel anxious. It felt wrong to him. The name no longer fit.

“Sven doesn't go by that name anymore. It's my past, but it doesn't reflect who I am. I have changed. I have become more than I was.”

“Yet in this moment”, the room pulsed again with the voice, “Ben's services are the ones that are needed.”

“What could Ben possibly offer you?”, Sven replied with skepticism. Ben couldn't even help himself most of the time.

“Look at the map”, boomed the voice. “What do you notice about it?” Sven looked closely at the giant map. He'd already seen most of Asgard from the sky. The Vikings had kept a flock of Pelagornis for when they needed to scout or get around in safety. As he looked at the map, two things stood out.

“There”, he pointed. “The dormant Volcano. In this map, it's not so dormant. The land all around it has been scorched. It is barren. And there”, he pointed to the region known as the highlands. There was a giant split in the land. “The land there has opened up. Earthquake? It looks like it spans for miles.”

“This is the eventual outcome if we do nothing to stop the instability.” The map faded out, replaced by videos showing the eruption and the ash going into the atmosphere. The video switched and he could see a time lapse of the lush jungle drying up and becoming a desert. “This must not be allowed to happen. You must help me to fix it.”

Sven gripped the back of his neck and rubbed. This was all too much. One moment he's with his friends at a festival. The next moment he's being whisked away, to Odin knows where. Valhalla, apparently. Though this didn't look like the fabled castle that was so close to Viking Bay. The scale of the room he was in alone was much larger. The the view of the stars so much clearer than anything he had seen before now. He shook his head. “Odin, this seems like a problem for a God. Or perhaps a teraformer. You mentioned it was a job for the old me; before Sven. How could that broken shell of a person possibly help you?”

The room pulsed, going through a rainbow of colors before arriving back on blue, and the hologram changed again. The map was gone and in it's place was some kind of diagram or schematic. It seemed to be a cross section of the Island, as if someone sliced straight through it's center, affording Sven a view of everything above the surface, and apparently, everything that was hidden beneath.

“I must ask something of you, Sven, before we continue.” The voice now sounded closer somehow, as if it was right behind him. He turned and saw nothing

“What is it, Odin”, he asked.

“I need you to keep what you see next, private and not speak of it to anyone. This is for every one's benefit. If the people of Asgard knew the full extent of their existence here, it would give them a purpose not of their choosing. I cannot risk that. The people must be allowed to live and discover their purpose without distraction.”

What does all of that mean, Sven thought? Whatever it meant and whatever was to come, Sven doubted he had the power to refuse. After all, who could refuse a God? “Sven will keep whatever secret you want. But if I'm to help you in this mystery task, eventually it needs to not be a mystery. So tell me what I need to know.”

Suddenly above him came a loud buzzing. Tiny flying insects, gnats maybe, started streaming out of vents in the metal lattice of the ceiling. More and more appeared, streaming out, creating a cloud that swarmed around him. But they were more substantial than a cloud. A cloud was hazy, as these silver flying insects contained substance and began taking on the properties of a fluid. The cacophony of noise quieted, and this swarm because taking shape about twenty feet in front of him. And as it took shape, the many bug-like creatures joining to become something all together larger and solid, Sven suddenly understood why he of all people had been chosen to help. Unfortunately now he was filled with a burden that would change how he viewed Asgard and all the creatures living here. And the worst part was, he had given Odin is word.

He couldn't tell anyone.

 

---

Check back on January 24th for the next two chapters. And as always, thank you for reading!

Edited by ArkWriter
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Amazing. Visual and auditory stimuli do indeed appear to have an effect. Subject has been allowed to regain consciousness. Narcoberry extract being used at minimal levels. He has been strapped to a chair and his arm hidden from view. Higher levels of narcoberry extract were later used to achieve the correct temperament. We have shown him chalk paintings depicting various tools. My assistant, aided by their previous experience as a psychiatrist, brought out a series of inkblots. The implant began glowing a soft, blue hue. Now we must determine the exact stimuli needed.

 

-T

Chapter 5

 

It was late morning when Selene woke up. She wasn't sure what the time was when she'd finally wandered into the Inn and asked for a room. She was still wearing all of her clothes. Bjorn had insisted on walking her there after leaving the stable. She had hoped to be able to see Holly's marking for herself and thoroughly check Sunny for a similar splash of color. Unfortunately she hadn't really thought about the fact that it was the middle of the night, completely dark at the stable, and all of the dinosaurs there were fast asleep. She'd insisted that she could take a candle and sneak in to have a look, but Bjorn had stopped her and told her that in her state, she'd probably trip on something and end up setting the entire stable ablaze. And after a few moments of consideration, she thought better of it. He'd then insisted on walking her back to the inn. He was very gentlemanly about the whole thing. He helped her get to her room and then squeezed her hand, said he had a lovely time, and bid her goodnight.

She sat up in the bed and rubbed her eyes. She wasn't used to staying up quite that late, or having quite so much to drink. She could remember maybe about half of what they talked about. The rest of it was a blur. Wait, did I tell him I wanted to go home with him to the Viking lands? She groaned and rested her head in her hands. Why did she have to be so impulsive? Really, with the holes in her memory, she had no idea. But it must have been for a good reason. Everything she did was for a good reason.

“The mutations!”, she suddenly said aloud. She sprung up from bed with determination written on her face. She gave her blouse a sniff – it still smelled okay – and bound for the door.

She supposed she should visit the stables and check in on Sunny. He was usually up at the crack of dawn – one of the reasons she rarely slept in. She got into a pair of trousers, and took out a blouse she had packed, along with a leather vest - she'd played the paleontologist for so long now, it felt odd to go anywhere without it.

She arrived at the stable and Sunny to find a man standing by her dinosaur. He was short for a man, and slightly pudgy, with a shortly trimmed goatee. He was wearing a tunic and baggy brown pants. Sunny didn't seem to mind his presence, and when she neared, he turned toward her and smiled.

“Ah, you must be Selene”, he said with a silky, smooth voice. “I am pleased to finally be able to meet you.”

“And you are?”, she asked.

“Aido Takashi.” He put his palms together and bowed. “Leader of the High Garden tribe and your host for these festivities.”

“Good to meet you”, she replied, awkwardly bowing slightly in return. “Is it usually for you to personally introduce yourself to every person who attends?”

He smiled and nodded. “A good host tries to greet all of his guests, but no, given the sheer number of guests that High Garden hosts, it is not something I am able to do. However, I've been speaking with the Elders of Oasis. Your research has confused some of them and angered others. One of the Elders told me that it was an unhealthy obsession that would only lead to a sense of unfulfillment. I decided then that I needed to meet you.”

Great, she thought to herself. Apparently I don't even need to tell people I talk to my dinosaur: I'm already considered crazy. “So are you my new therapist?”

He smiled and chuckled. “Hardly. Consider me a kindred spirit; one who is every bit as inquisitive of the world we find ourselves in. And every bit as suspicious.” He began walking towards her with his arms outstretched. “You have been making your observations and I have made quite a few observations myself. I thought you and I might compare notes.”

Interesting. So not everyone on the island blindly bought into all of this after all. “Sure. I'd love to.” She got a whiff of something not too pleasant and coughed. “Do you mind if we compare notes someplace that doesn't smell like animal feces?”

“My thoughts, precisely”, he said as he began walking. “Perhaps a place where we can get something to eat that's away from all of the congestion and noise of the festival. I know just the place.”

Selene patted Sunny's side and spoke softly. “Do you mind staying here for a little longer?”

“He's offering food and you're telling me to stay here? I suppose there's more food for me if I stay put. Plus I've been able to discover more about Holly”

“Anything interesting?”

“Her intelligence must be purely instinctual. I believe she's able to reason and problem solve, but she doesn't possess heightened communication. Not beyond that of any ordinary dinosaur, anyway.”

“Coming along?”, asked Aido.

“Just making your Sunny is still comfortable. He seems fine.”, she gave him one final pat and turned to leave, walking along side Aido. “Where are we going?”

“My residence. I'm afraid it's the only place at the moment where will be able to privately.”

 

 

On the way back to Aido's house, they stopped at a street food stand for some takoyaki – octopus dumplings – and some steamed buns with fried daedon belly inside. Aido told her that it was a rough approximation to Asian cuisine. When he said he was bringing her to his house, she had imagined something modest. You had to climb a series of stone steps carved into the rock face to get there. The area around the horse was filled with cherry blossom trees, and the house itself was a was a two story structure. It was done in a traditional Japanese style with a flared thatch roof and paper or hide windows. In front of the house was a small koy pond with a raised stone path going through the center and large rocks oriented in pairs to act as natural seating.

“I never lived extravagantly in my past life, but the others in my tribe insisted.”

“It's beautiful”, Selene commented as she was looking around. Every single detail had been though of.

“The cherry blossoms aren't natural to this environment. Everything you see here was carefully curated and sculpted”, he gave a subtle smile as he motioned around him. “You may not have noticed yet, but my tribe places a lot of pride in landscaping. If you are going to make a place your home after all, it should be a work of art.”

He opened a sliding door which lead to a room with wood table in it's center, raised only a foot or so off of the floor. Kanji was carved into the table's perimeter. On the floor on each side of the table was a fabric pillow. “Please make yourself comfortable”, Aido said while motioning for her to sit. “I will make us some tea”. He left the room but Selene could still hear him – he appeared to be in the next room over. She could see soft shadows on the paper wall separating them.

She brushed her hand over the carvings on the table. “What does the kanji say”, she asked.

“They are the names of family members”, he replied through the wall, while moving about. She could hear some porcelain clinking. “You see, my family is very important to me. I miss them, and I never want to risk being here so long that I forget who they are.”

“Do you think they are still out there somewhere?” Now that she thought about it, Selene felt bad. She hardly gave any consideration for those in her past life. Of course, she didn't remember being too slow to people. Sure she had work colleagues but there was nothing more. Her parents had passed away when she was in her late teenage years. And she wasn't in a hurry to settle down and start a family of her own.

“I have no idea which are still alive or if time even works the same in this life. But I have to hope. Family is everything. If we lose that connection, we lose a part of ourselves. Everything I'm doing now, I'm doing to get back to them.” He came back into the room, carrying a tray with a tea kettle and two small tea cups. He carefully set everything in the center of the table and took a seat, opposite to her. “I'm hoping you can help me”

Selene reached over the table and poured some tea for herself. She slowly brought the tea cup to below her nose, letting the steam from it rise up and breathing it in. “Jasmine?”, she asked.

“Very good.”, he responded with a pleased look on his face. “Unfortunately there isn't any jasmine on the island, but I think we have done well in finding a close match.” He took the tea pot and poured himself a cup.

She allowed herself to take a moment to enjoy the flavor, which was mild and slightly sweet. “I... miss my old life as well.”, she said a little reluctantly, as if voicing the thought gave it more power over her. “I wasn't ready to leave it. I don't even remember how I died. Horas, who seems to think he's my Shrink, says my death was probably traumatic and we often times choose to forget traumatic memories, but I'm not buying it. I would at least remember something. I don't know. Maybe that's why I've been trying so hard to find something wrong with this place. I just can't accept that I died and just move on.”

Aido was watching her intently as he sipped his tea. He carefully put the tea cup down. “Perhaps”, he said thoughtfully. “Perhaps that is the case and neither one of us was ready for this. But regardless, there is something wrong with all of this.”, he raised the sleeve of his left arm, revealing the same diamond shaped piece of metal that was in Selene's own arm. “Do you have any thoughts about what this is?”

Selene looked down at her forearm and rubbed the metal. “I don't. I have some hypothesis's based on other observations since my arrival here. But I'm not sure. I know it's not natural.”

“It's technology”, remarked Aido. “I'm not sure what it does. Perhaps it's a tracking device. Perhaps it's some sort of wearable Bluetooth tech.”

“Bluetooth?”, she talked. She had never heard of that term before.

“It's a wireless communication protocol from the early twenty-first century”. After noticing the confused look on Selene's face, he added. “It doesn't matter. What's interesting about it is if a person dies here, their old body, assuming they weren't eaten, will decay and the device will remain behind.” To emphasize the point, he reached in a pocket and took out another one of the devices, turning it in his hand. It looked the same as hers, except while hers had a soft, blue glow to it, the one Aido held in his hand didn't give off any light. It was just a dull gray color. “This is one of mine.”

“One of yours?”, she asked as he reached across the table and handed it to her. It was cold to the touch and smooth on all sides. There were no distinguishing markings. “If you're saying this is yours, are you telling me you died”

“We all died”, Aido replied. “But yes, I've died since arriving on this island. A parasaur got spooked and knocked me off a cliff. Thankfully I hit my head before sliding off which knocked me out, so I don't remember the fall. I just remember waking up in bed in my house. It was as if the whole thing had been a dream.”

“More like a nightmare from the sound if it.”

“Yes, well, after appearing in my bed, I left to find my body. Now seeing that was the nightmare. Seeing your flesh being slowly ripped apart by a few dozen Compy's isn't a sight you will soon forget. I couldn't stomach seeing myself like that. I know it was no longer 'myself', but seeing that is like coming face to face with death. I waited, and came back to the spot a day later. By then, my body, even the bones were gone, but on the forest floor, the device remained.

“I've studied it; tried breaking it apart, but whatever it's made out of it stronger than the metal we can forge. All my examinations couldn't even make a scratch.” He reached out his hand for it and Selene handed it back. He took it and looked at it. “I thought maybe I could smelt it down. Or at the very least, if it contained an energy source, maybe the heat could make it destabilize.” He shook his head and set the device down on the table. “Nothing”

Selene thought about what he was saying. She knew a bit about batteries becoming volatile when heated, but beyond that it was difficult to understand him. He mentioned the early twenty-first century. He spoke of it with familiarity, so obviously that was the time he had lived in. That put his old life about one century ahead of hers. Even though she didn't understand everything, there was a lot that she could put together through context. “Why would gods need to use technology?”

“Precisely!”, he exclaimed, clasping his hands together. “Precisely! Gods inhabit all things. Or 'god' if you prefer to think of it in terms of monotheism. A god would not need technology to manipulate a thing. They would simply will something to be, and the universe would change to suit their desire”

She took another sip of her tea. “This is in line with my own observations as well. As I'm sure you've been told by now, I'm an archaeologist and paleontologist by trade. I've examined fossil remains throughout the island and have found that many of them to be, well, for lack of better words: stamped. The fossils aren't just the same type of creature, they are the same creature appearing in the same pose. As if their purpose is a form of theater. Just as your observations with the metal devices. These fossils are not natural and seem to be placed to give the perception that this land is much more ancient than it might in fact be. I believe my observation leads to the same hypothesis that you are trying to prove. Where ever we are, it is not the mythological realm of Asgard. It's a deception.”

“Yes”, nodded Aido. “It's a fake. You used the term, theater, which is appropriate. And our theater master, our ultimate deceiver, is Odin.”

 

 

Aido brought out some scones and they continued to sip tea and speak for countless more hours. Selene was barely aware of the passage of time, other than noting the shadows of the trees moving against the paper walls. They spoke more of Odin, and of Aido originally trying to disprove his existence and then being proven wrong.

“I certainly didn't think Odin would appear in front of me at the festival. It was suppose to be the closing of a chapter and allowing us to turn a page to the consideration that there are no gods here, so that we could ponder the greater picture. Instead he appears and we are in a state of stagnation. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we are in a state of mental decay. I was lucky in that my death on the island did not permanently scar me. Others on this island have not been so lucky. Some have died here so many times that they have entered a state of madness.”

“Excuse me, Excellence”, said a short man who appeared in the doorway. He bowed low.

“Yes, yes, what is it?” Aido barely spared a glance.

“It's just that Odin has already appeared and now has left, but”

“I really don't care. Even if I had been there, he wouldn't have made any great effort to speak to me.”

“Yes, but that's just it, your Excellency”, the man said, staying bowed. “Odin did speak to someone at length. Someone from the Viking tribe.”

This piqued Aido's interest and he stopped drinking his tea and turned to the man. “Curious. And what did they speak about?”

“No one knows. When Odin disappeared, he took the Viking man with him.”

The man now had Aido's full attention, and Selene's as well. “He abducted someone?”, Aido asked.

“It appears that way”, the man stated.

Aido stood up, Selene following suit. “Take me to where it happened”, he said and then turned to Selene. “My apologies Selene. It looks like any further conversation will have to wait. We can speak more later this evening if you wish.” The servant began leading the way with Aido following.

“I'm coming with”, she stated, hurrying to catch up. “I might be able to find some clues concerning what happened. At the very least, I want to be useful. I didn't come to this festival for the relaxation.” Technically she came here to stop her newly talking dinosaur from whining that he'd missed out on something. But whatever the circumstances, she was here now.

They arrived on the scene to find some familiar faces amongst a circle of angry vikings – at least Selene assumed they were angry by the volume of their voices. There were too many voices to pick out any in particular. Standing with them were Bjorn and Freyja. The vikings quieted as Aido and Selene approached. Bjorn waved to her.

“Selene! I was wondering where you got off to. Have you heard the news? Odin took a liking to my friend, Sven. Given how much of a fan Sven was, I'm sure he's getting the grand tour of Valhalla.

“Aido, I'm glad you're here”, exclaimed Freyja. She then turned back to Bjorn. “My friend here doesn't seem that concerned that Sven's been taken.”

“And my friend here”, Bjorn motioned toward Freyja, “seems to be jumping to the conclusion that something sinister must be going on. Selene, you're another woman; can you talk some sense into her?”

“Um, excuse me?”, replied Selene, with a little irritation suddenly sneaking it's way into her voice. “Okay, that's rude. Like all women are just fluent in speaking crazy?”

“Thank you”, said an equally irritated Freyja.

“And I happen to agree with her.”

“You do?”, asked Bjorn.

“Of course I do! Aido, in all the years since Odin has appeared, has he seemed to take an interest in anyone else? Has anyone else been whisked away?”

“None from this festival, or anywhere else on the island to my knowledge.”

“Exactly”, said Selene. “And that should be at least a little worrying.”

Aido stepped forward. “We need to take a moment to reflect upon what's happened and get more information. We cannot just allow ourselves to start panicking.” He turned to the man from earlier. “Perhaps you can tell me if anyone was able to overhear what the two of them were talking about.”

“Not that I'm aware of”, the man responded. “I stayed near them the entire time. The two of them walked to one of the overlooks. They spoke quietly. There wasn't any sign of arguing or anything that would suggest this was some kind of punishment. None of the their body language indicated any tension.”

“I'd believe that”, Freyja piped in. “Sven was Odin's greatest fan. He just wanted so badly to be noticed by him.”

“I think many of the population here have felt that way”, remarked Aido.

“Not like him”, said Freyja. “Sven's entire persona has always revolved around the Norse gods, before he even knew that they existed in this place. When he found out, there was nothing he wanted more than to attend this festival and get a chance to say even a few words to him. I'm sure that where ever Odin took him, Sven agreed to it wholeheartedly.”

Bjorn spoke up again. “Hence my saying that everyone is over reacting. This”, he motioned with his hands, “is suppose to be a party. Aido just said not to create a panic. Everyone needs to just relax a bit”.

“Yes”, Selene stated, “but just because your friend was relaxed around Odin doesn't mean that he isn't in need of help. If this was an abduction, and that's a big if”, she added, “then what happened probably came as a surprise to Sven. But the truth is, we don't have the information needed to make that judgment. Instead of standing around here, why don't we just visit Valhalla? We've got fliers. I'm sure we could get there in fifteen or twenty minutes and find out for ourselves about what is going on.”

“You haven't been on the island long enough to know this”, responded Freyja, “but that's just not possible. Animals are completely spooked by the place and won't go anywhere near it, no matter how well trained they are. We'd have to use climbing gear. Unfortunately doing all that tonight while it's dark will probably just get us all killed. Sven is amazing, and if it was anyone else who went missing, he'd be the one leading the charge. But I also don't want us all falling to our deaths.”

“I may not have first hand knowledge”, Selene says, “but if we fall to our deaths, we just come back. Death isn't permanent here. So maybe we should try.”

“No”, said Aido in a tone of voice that suggested there would be no argument. “I spoke to you earlier about my own death. Each death takes a psychological toll on a person. It's different for everyone. Some people can die once or twice; others can die a dozen times, but eventually the mind breaks. I've seen it happen and I will not see it happen tonight if it can be avoided. Let us review the possibilities. One: Odin wished Sven harm and Sven is dead. If this is what occurred, whether we rushed off now or several days later would not matter.

Or two: Sven is Odin's guest; either against his will or not. Once again, whether we go now or wait a day will not change the outcome.

If this was a hostile act, at this moment we have little recourse. We do not possess any power as of now to take on a god. We, who are three tribes with no standing armies or even local militias. The unfortunate truth of what we have seen today is that Odin could come for any of us at any given time, and we would be unable to do anything about it.”

Aido finished speaking and let his words hang in the air. The Vikings began arguing with themselves. “We can do something!”, one of them from in back yelled. “We can storm that bloody castle and get our friend back!” There were cheers and cajoles from the others. Around them, candles and lanterns were beginning to be lit as the twilight hour was almost upon them. Selene felt uncomfortable. She knew Aido was just trying to spell out that panicking about things and acting rashly wouldn't get them anywhere, but the tone of his words took on more dire note than he probably intended. As she thought she had already stated, there was no proof to assume malice. Probably the opposite, overall. Many of these people has lived her for dozens of years, with new arrivals, like herself, showing up all the time. The thing they needed to figure out was, why now? And why, Bjorn and Freyja's friend? “What was Sven like”, she suddenly asked.

“Huh?”, responded Bjorn.

“What was he like”, she repeated, a little louder to get through the other voices. “Freyja mentioned that if this had happened to someone else, he would have been the first person charging in. I want to know more about him. What makes him so special?” The Vikings quieted themselves.

Bjorn chuckled. “Well of course he's would have charged in. He would charge in without any armor or weapons if we didn't stop him. He loved battle and any chance he could get to prove himself in combat.”

“So he was a warrior”, said Selene as she paced in a circle. Is that why he was taken? The god just needed a warrior? But there were hundreds of warriors on this island. “He was a warrior and a fan of the God. But that wouldn't make him unique. There has to be something more than that.” Selene ran a hand through her hair. It just didn't make sense.

“There is more than that”, replied Freyja, with what sounded like an air of certainty to her voice. “There was something in Sven's past. I mean, we all had a past before we came to this place, and Sven has always been very private about his. But for the glimpses he's given me, it's always sounded like he was a very different person back then with a very different set of skills.”

“But we don't know what those skills are.” Whatever was going on with Sven had to do with his past experiences. Selene was certain of it. In any case, it was all they had. “Let's assume Odin needed something from Sven. He needed something that only Sven could help with. Let's also assume that Odin could have taken him whenever he wished. He could have appeared weeks before now and whisked him off while he was alone in the middle of the night. He didn't though. He picked a crowded festival with multiple onlookers. Why would he do this if he wished Sven harm?”

“Perhaps”, said Aido, “it was meant to intimidate the people of Asgard. Or Sven offended him in some way.”

“Maybe”, Selene responded. “But since we don't have enough information to conclude anything, I suggest that we rest the night and then tomorrow we visit Valhalla.”

 

 

The others all agreed to Selene's proposal. Aido would stay behind, telling her that she and the Vikings should investigate and he would appreciate it if she would report back to him with any updates. Now she just needed to get some rest, but before she did that, she needed to check on Sunny. The scientist in her needed to know if there was a marker on him signifying a mutation, but more than that, she missed him.

She felt guilt as she headed back to the stables that evening, as the sun neared the horizon. She hadn't intended to be out all day. Hopefully Sunny wasn't too upset at her. She found him sitting off by himself away from the other dinosaurs, silently watching. He didn't move as she approached until she stood almost beside him, and he turned is head and brushed the side of his muzzle against her.

“There you are.”, he said fondly. “I've missed you. I have had the most interesting experience.”

Awww, Selene thought to herself. “I've missed you, too. I'm sorry I was gone all day. I didn't mean to leave you alone that long.”

“To be honest, I wasn't aware of the passage of time. The further away from me you are, the more I feel my mind start to slip. It's a very disconcerting feeling. It was interesting, but I can't say I liked it.”

“That sounds absolutely horrifying”, she winced and pressed herself against him, now feeling even more guilty about leaving him behind. “I can't even imagine what that would feel like. I'm so sorry.”

He was silent, perhaps in thought. Hopefully he wasn't resentful towards her. She didn't know what she'd do with herself if he was truly upset with her – in general it wasn't a good idea to upset a creature with that many teeth. She listened to the deep rumble of his breathing. In and out. He sounded calm, and that at least helped her to feel a little bit better.

“You didn't know”, he finally replied, breaking the silence of the moment. “Neither of us did. And while losing one's mind is not a comforting prospect, it is at least comforting to know that it seems my mind will return along with you.”

She pressed herself off of him slowly and took a step back to look at his face. It didn't shift or change with emotions in the way a human face would, but his eyes would tell the truth. There was something in those eyes and the way the pupils responded. He was worried. She reached up to stroke his cheek. “I'll try to stay closer to you from now. I won't let your mind slip away again.”

“Selene, that is an unrealistic promise; one that you cannot possibly be expected to keep. There are many places within your human settlements that I can't accompany you. You know this to be true. For right now, this is the reality that we both must accept.”

He said it all with such a resignation that Selene didn't know whether to ball up her fists and punch something, or whether to cry. Perhaps both? Cry punching? In the end, it was the latter that one out. How could she not cry knowing that her closest friend was suffering – was going to suffer – and that she was part of the cause?

Sunny shifted, sending hay scattering as he laid down and pressed his nose against Selene's chest. She wrapped her arms around his muzzle; as much of it as she could get them around, and closed her eyes, the tears still leaking from them. His breath was steady and felt like a warm summer breeze against her. She stayed like that for a long time, eventually blinking her eyes several times, trying to clear them. When they finally unblurred she saw Sunny's steady eyes watching her intently. “I care for you, too”, he said softly.

Selene wiped her eyes on her sleeve and took a step back from him. She steadied herself and took a deep breath. “We will figure this out”, she said with a calm resolve. “You're right. I hate it, but you are right. I can't promise we will constantly be at each other's side, but I can promise that if I have to leave you, it's to hunt for answers. And I will always return.”

Sunny gave a slight nod. “Tell me then, how did your hunt go today? You seemed rather excited to leave with that human earlier. Aido, I think he called himself. Does that mean you have already moved on from Bjorn?”

“Wait, what?!”, she exclaimed and frantically waved her hands. “No no no. It's nothing like that. And I don't even know if it's 'like that' with Bjorn. I..”, she paused. “I don't really have much experience with relationships; romantic one's, any way.”

“What's the difference?”, her Allosaurus innocently asked.

She paced a few steps. “Well...” She thought about it. “How do we go from me crying my eyes out over you, to me having to explain how the birds and the bees work?”

He flashed her a look. “I know how mating works, or the 'birds and the bees' as you are referring to it. Any living creature can figure that out”, he said almost incredulously. “I just don't understand the concept of romance.” He paused and regarded her. “It seems you are nervous about it.”

Selene stopped pacing. “I just never figured I would be teaching a class on it.” She pressed her fingers against her chin. “Fine. When two humans like each other and are interested in becoming... are interested in...” She took a breath and started over, and began pacing again. “When humans are looking for a prospective mate, we like to do nice things for each other, like gifting each other with things and.. “

“It seems you don't understand the concept yourself”, he observed.

“Oh, I understand it just fine”, she huffed.

“I see”, he responded, doubtfully.

“Don't give me that tone. It just feels weird is all, explaining to another creature this concept with is, well, really personal and intimate.” She paused again, expecting him to say something, but he just laid there, watching her; waiting for her to continue. She rubbed her neck. “Okay”, she said, finally. “The concept of romance describes a set of cultural mating rituals that humans go through whenever they are interested in someone in that way.” The irony, Selene thought, is that in describing romance, she probably found the most unromantic way to describe it.

“So what you are saying is that you do not wish to mate with Aido.”

“Yes, exactly!”

Sunny nodded. “You could have just said that from the beginning.”

“Ugh”, she rubbed her temples in frustration. “Yes. Anyway... “she held out her arm for Sunny's inspection. The room was bathed now in twilight, making the implant in her arm stand out. “This glowing metal in my arm. Aido says it's some kind of technology. I think he hypothesized it could track a person's movements. We started wondering how a god would have a need for such a device in their subjects.”

“Hmm, that is interesting”, said Sunny as he stretched his neck and sniffed at it, uncertainly. “I haven't given it much thought. I just assumed it was a human thing. But if it's meant for tracking, wouldn't the other animals on the island have similar devices? I would think it would be far more valuable to track larger and more dangerous creatures.”

Sunny had a point. So perhaps it was more than just a way to keep watch on them. Her eyes wandered as she thought about what that may be. And then her eyes spotted something unusual; spotted something that she was never able to notice in the light, and even now in the dim twilight, it was only barely visible.

“Sunny, your back leg is glowing.”

 

---

 

Chapter 6

 

“Of course I can ride.. still ride my Argy!”, shouted Gorm, as he laughed and sloshed beer all over himself. Gorm was a viking in name, though he looked more like Black Beard the Pirate. Maybe that's who he really was. Gorm told everyone he was crab boat captain in his previous life. Could that just be a cover? Well, whatever the case was, Freyja liked him. He was a ridiculous, fun loving man. He never took himself too seriously. Case and point, right now: standing on a wooden step ladder that was along side his Argentavis, Arne. One hand on the saddle, the other on the tankard of ale. He was clearly drunk – even the bird could see that, who glanced at his master dubiously. It fluffed itself up and flapped it's wings. The act threw Gorm off balance, but he stayed upright, more of his beer now getting on him than in. All around them were their fellow tribe members who were raucously encouraging him.

“Of course you can!”, someone shouted and in a lower voice asked, “who wants to bet on where he'll fall?”

It was later in the evening after their talk with Aido and Selene and the group of vikings had moved to one of the stables. It was Freyja's idea. Half the lot of them wanted to go flying off into the night sky to parachute drop onto Valhalla like some sort of tactical commandos. The idea of it had made Freyja laugh. None of them had experience with anything like that. It seemed born from experience playing one too many video games back on Midgard. A couple of the others had cut up bed sheets and were planning on just jumping and gripping either end, as if that could end any way other than poorly.

Gorm managed to lift his leg over and get himself mounted in the saddle. “There you see!”, he yelled in drunken triumph. “Now the rest of you have no excuse. We can do this!” He paused and raised his cup up above his head. “To Valhalla!”

Unfortunately at that moment, he tipped his tankard a little too far in his excitement, splashing beer all over his Argentavis' face. The giant bird gave a shriek and reared, sending Gorm toppling off to the laughter of all around him. The bird gave a couple flaps of his wings, sending a few other Vikings off their feet and onto their backsides.

“There you see”, said Freyja through her own laughter at the situation. “You all get into the sky tonight and it won't be Operation Save Sven. It will be more like, Operation Dumbo Drop. All you'll succeed in doing will be killing yourselves and then needing to morning to reappear. So might as well get some sleep tonight and start fresh.” There were grumbles across the room and a few shouts of, “But we're warriors”, but for the most part, they saw the logic now that most of them were too drunk to do anything. Others could be heard saying that Sven would be fine and that he could take care of himself. The truth was, she didn't know whether he was fine or not, only that he was her friend and she was worried about him. He was a giant, ridiculous goofball and having him around made living in Asgard much more fun. Maybe there was nothing to all of this. Maybe it was as simple as Odin giving a tour to a devoted fan. Whatever it turned out to be, they would find out tomorrow.

They all made their way out of the stable, stumbling in the streets. Many of the vikings were not done celebrating yet, going off in search of their next drink. But Freyja hadn't drank a drop since learning about her friend. Bjorn hadn't drank anything either, but Freyja was pretty sure his motives were less about Sven, and more motivated out of the hope that Selene was going to seek him out. He tried to talk with her earlier in the evening, but she had told him she wanted some time alone with her thoughts. Not surprising, Freyja thought. She was basically just a researcher, a person of the sciences. Those sorts of people usually stay away from conflict. And now out of nowhere, she was joining them on the front line. Of course, she probably wasn't in any great danger. Her Allosaurus would protect her on most of the journey. For the final bit, well, hopefully she was good at climbing.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a lot crackling noise coming from, what sounded like all around them. If in the distance, the sky glowed and flickered a bright red. The other Vikings around her stopped what they were doing to stare up at the horizon. In fact, everyone around them, Viking or not, looked to the sky.

“What the blazes is that?”, shouted Gorm from somewhere nearby. It was a good question. The flickering and the sound, it was like nothing Freyja had heard before. The flickering was in the direction of one of the obelisks – there were three of them, one in each corner of the island. They were great spires – stones with glowing runes on them, that floated high above the ground. No one knew their purpose. It was just another mystery, like the metal implanted in everyone's arm. Freyja guessed that these obelisks might form some sort of protective barrier – though she had nothing to base that opinion on other than fantasy films she had watched back on Midgard.

Freyja shared a glance at Bjorn and they both looked back to the stable. They had the same idea. “Gorm”, she said as she ran up along side him and rested a hang on his shoulder. “Do you think your bird, Arne, would be nice enough to give me a lift? I want to get high enough in the air to see what's going on.”

Gorm shifted on his feet, trying to get his balance and scratched at his beard. “No one else has tried riding him. But you're welcome to try. If you fall to your death, I get to laugh at you.”

“Hah”, she laughed, giving his arm a squeeze. “If he throws me off, I'm putting him on a no meat diet for a week.” She turned to Bjorn and nodded and the two of them ran inside the stable. Gorm's argentavis, Arne, was preening himself. “Okay, Arne, my friend and I need your help. Don't you dare throw us from your saddle.” The bird didn't nod or show any signs that it had understood her, it just went about preening it's wing feathers. Freyja ran up the ladder and jumped into the saddle. The bird stopped for a moment and angled it's head to look at her, before going back to what he was doing. Obviously having her on his back was of little consequence to him. Next, Bjorn jumped on behind her. The bird reared slightly and squawked in protest.

“Hey, whoa whoa you silly bird.”, said Bjorn as he suddenly wrapped his arms tightly around Freyja's waist and pressed against her to avoid falling. The bird quieted down and he pushed himself upright. She glanced back at him and she thought she saw his face flushed. “Sorry” he said, somewhat sheepishly.

“Yeah, you better be”, she chuckled. “What if your girlfriend saw you all cozied up to me?”

“She's not my girlfriend”, he protested. “But she'd probably have Sunny take a bite out of me.”

She laughed. “I'm just messing with you. Hold on tight.” She took the reigns and tapped her heel against the argentavis and the bird started walking forward to the exit of the stable. It kind of lurched side to side, rocking Freyja and Bjorn in the saddle. They got outside and the both leaned forward, pressing themselves as flat as they could against Arne's back, as the bird lowered it's body. A moment later, the bird gave a great flap of it's wings and leapt into the air. The ground dropped away and Freyja felt the chill of the night air whipping past her. “Up, up!” she shouted to Arne, pulling back on the reins, signaling to the argentavis that she wanted it to keep climbing. They climbed high into the night sky, high enough to finally see what was going on.

“Oh my..” Bjorn let the words hang in the air. They looked to the floating stone obelisk in the northwest of the island. The stone and it's runes would usually be glowing red. But this time, they looked over to see the the stone pulsing red, white, purple and then back to red. With each pulse came a reverberating sound – like the crackle of lightning but more angry. As they were looking, they could see the obelisk, which usually floated completely vertical was beginning to list to one side. A moment later and the pulsing glow of colors went out completely. There was nothing but blackness, only cut by the soft glow of the stars above. For a good thirty seconds, all was silent. Until at last there was a loud boom and a sudden, strong gust of wind. The argentavis squawked and beat his wings frantically, trying to steady itself. But it was too late. The sudden, hurricane force of wind had knocked the bird off balance. Freyja felt her stomach lurch as suddenly she and Bjorn were flipped upside down. She squeezed the argentavis with her legs and clung to the saddle, not so much out of any thought, but shear terror. Bjorn's arms were wrapped so tightly around her that she couldn't breath.

So it was that they fell from the sky. The bird kept beating it's wings, as if it was a fish that got caught in a wave. They flipped several times and dropped hundreds of feet in an instant. Freyja frantically looked around, trying to find all lantern lights dotting the valley below – or above or beside. She wasn't sure which way was which, anymore. She spotted the moon coming out from behind a group of clouds, just as Arne, the argentavis, was able to steady himself and flapped his wings to hover, level in the air. Freyja was a little dizzy now, but she was pretty sure at least which way was up. Bjorn released his grip slightly; enough for her to breath, at least. He was wheezing, heavily. A moment later without any warning, he leaned to the right and promptly released all the contents of his stomach.

“You okay back there”, she said through her own heavy breathing. She was fighting her own body's reaction, trying to will herself not to be sick.

He coughed for a good ten seconds and spit over the edge. “No, but give me a few minutes and I will be.”, he shouted to be heard over the bird's wing beats. Bjorn breathed heavily for a moment or two before speaking again. “I'll take a hundred fights with a dinosaur over whatever it was we just experienced. What exactly did we experience?”

“I'm not sure”, she raised her voice. She took a deep breath and then tried to steady her heart rate. “I'm not even sure where we are right now. We should have been directly over High Garden. But there's nothing below us but darkness. I don't even know how high up we are.” Well, they couldn't be too high, otherwise she would be able to see the other obelisks, unless all of them had gone dark.

“Well, I for one would like to land”, said Bjorn in a shaky voice.

Freyja shook her head. “It's too risky. We could land in a Sarco infested swamp, or amidst a pack of raptors. Even if we landed away from predators, we might set down on uneven terrain and break Arne's foot. No”, she shook her head again, “It's far too risky.” She looked around, straining to see anything in the light of the moon. She thought she saw rocky terrain below her but didn't recognize where she was. At least it wasn't swamp lands – those were the worst. Whatever was decided on, it needed to happen fast. With two riders on his back, Arne's stamina wouldn't hold out forever. “We know the blast of wind came from the direction of the red obelisk.”, she said. “That means it probably pushed us to the southwest. Are you able to see anything, Bjorn? Does any of this look familiar to you?”

“It looks kind of mountainous”, he replied. “I know there's a line of mountains that cuts through the center of the island, separating the highlands from the jungles.” He was silent for a moment. “I can't believe I'm suggesting this after what just happened”, said Bjorn, “but assuming the other Obelisks are still lit, we'd just need to get up high enough, find the two others in the distance, and then we'd be able to reason out where the missing one was. Then we can just fly in that direction and we should be able to find our way back.”

It wasn't a suggestion that she was particularly looking forward to. She'd had enough excitement in the high skies for one night. But she knew Bjorn's line of thinking was correct. Another thought crossed her mind and she chuckled.

“What?”, he asked. “What's so funny?”

“I was just thinking, I'm glad we convinced the others to not take to the skies in search of Sven. Otherwise it would have been raining Vikings.”

“That would have been some messy business. Vikings falling from the sky. Think of all of the collateral damage. Think of what it would be like down below? You're in your bed, just trying to get some sleep, and a Viking falls through your roof. Depending on the person, that could either be a blessing or a curse.”

She laughed. At a time like this, she laughed. It felt good though to release some of that nervous energy. “Alright.” She patted the top of Arne's head. “You've been a really amazing bird, Arne. When we get home, you're getting your fill of t-rex meat.” The bird gave a high pitched chirp and Freyja ruffled her fingers through it's feathers and then tensed her body and gripped the yoke on the saddle. “Up, up! Up, up!” The argentavis rose higher into the air. She patted it's neck. “That's good, boy.”

She looked around and sure enough, she was able to see the other two obelisks lit up and glowing in the distance. One glowed green and the other, blue, just like they were supposed to. She reached out a hand and traced it from one obelisk to the next, and then moved it into the direction of the missing obelisk. She poked with her heel, motioning the bird forward as she pulled to the right on the reins. The bird angled to it's new heading. For a few minutes they didn't see anything, but then the rocky terrain opened up, revealing the valley of High Garden.

As they approached they saw all the people in the streets. It seems even those that had retired for the night had been awakened by the strange event and had gone out to try to learn what was happening. Freyja flew Arne to an opening near the north inn where they were staying. They landed amidst a gaggle of people, circling them and asking them what they saw up there. She didn't pay them any attention; she couldn't right now. She hopped off Arne, stumbled along the walkway into the Inn, and went up to her room and collapsed into bed.

 

---

That's all for this week! Thank you for reading! Check back in seven days for the next two chapters!

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Impressive. It's going to take me a while to read the entire story of 50+ pages of text to adsorb it's details. Do check out my adventures I have posted on this forum based upon game play the past six years to see how they evolved and changed.

 

I have used Ragnarok in three of my posted adventures. The most unusual one is the very long story of Training Flight 19. Several chapters are there where the lost flight aircrews have teleported to Ragnarok where they eventually end up in a confrontation with Vikings and Wyverns.

 

Enjoy.

 

The avatar is based upon "My Avatar" featured in my early stories.

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Further study requires that the implant be removed. Attempting to surgically detach the implant has proven to be quite painful. It seems to have delivered a electric shock directly to the scalpel my assistant was holding, without causing any pain to the subject. The shock was so intense, that it resulted third degree burns. Fascinating. I cannot risk another precision extraction but perhaps a less precise means of removal will yield the desired results.

 

-T

 

Chapter 7

 

I don't know why I'm surprised anymore, Selene thought to herself.

Sunny's back leg was glowing just above the ankle. She leaned down and investigated, which proved difficult as her Allosaurus was squirming around trying to get a good look at it himself.

“Whoa, whoa, hold still. If I get trampled to death, you and I are going to have trust issues.”

“Then don't stand so close”, Sunny said in frustration. “What is it? Did some sort of bio-luminescent bug land on me.” He paused and looked at her. “I'm sorry. No, of course I don't want to squash you. I just don't like bugs.”

She suppressed a chuckle. “You mean to tell me a big, mean dinosaur like you is afraid of a tiny insect?”

Sunny shifted. “They carry all kinds of illnesses, Selene. And this body wasn't meant for killing them.”

“Well, you can stop your fussing. It's not an insect. Now hold still and let me get a better look”. Sunny gave off a huff and then quieted down. What a fragile flower. She bent down and rested her hand on the glowing part of his skin. The pulsing blue glow was only about four or five inches in diameter.

“What is it?”, Sunny asked, anxiously.

“It's something under your skin.” She pressed the skin around it inward, trying to see whatever it was more clearly. It was some sort of rigid device. And instantly, it hit her. “Sunny, you have an implant chip!”

“An implant chip? Like the ones you humans have?”

She rotated her arm and placed it next to Sunny's leg, the implant in her wrist facing her. It's about the right size, she thought as she examined it beside the glowing part of his skin. She looked at the subtle glow of her implant, the subtle variances in brightness and intensity. She swallowed. The pulses were exactly in sync with the glow coming from Sunny.

“What is it?”, he asked, and she realized that she had gone quiet.

“I...”, she began, and paused again. “I don't know.” The stable now was completely dark; just the faint light coming from her and Sunny. It had been a long time since she felt weirded out by her implant. Once the initial shock had subsided of waking up here and having the thing lodged in her arm, it just became a part of her. Common place. But now seeing it's light, and that light being matched by the one embedded in her dinosaur, it took on something that felt more sinister. She rubbed at the implant – always cold, despite the warmth of her skin. The wrongness of it was screaming at her. “Our implants are synchronized.”

“I don't know what that means.”

“I don't know what it means, either.” She stood back to look up at his face; his eyes catching the glow and standing out in the darkness. He was watching her so intently. “More questions”, she mumbled to herself as she lifted her hair back over her shoulders. So many more questions. The most prominent question should be, did this chip implanted in Sunny have something to do with their special bond? The answer to that question seemed obvious. Yes. But even before considering the glaring question of how – how it affected it - a bigger question nagged at her.

Who put it there?

 

 

Several hours later...

 

After pondering the latest revelation, Selene had realized that her brain was mush – she needed sleep. She finally gets Sunny settled in, walks back to the inn and goes to bed, only to be woken up by a loud crash and a bunch of commotion coming from outside. Was a full night's rest too much to ask? Stupid Vikings, she thought to herself. Just thinking about themselves and no one else. Maybe if she waited a few minutes things would die down. Selene rolled on her side and closed her eyes, and tried to think about nothing, which was very hard for her to do under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, things kept getting through and cluttering her thoughts. Thoughts like, I wonder how drunk they are? Could I just tip one over and have them topple one by one like dominos?

A few minutes later, and things had certainly not quieted down. In fact, it sounded like more Viking voices were being added to the chorus. Selene rolled on her back, staring up at the ceiling boards and the thatch roof above them. It needed repair – she could see patchy holes all over where the stars shined through. Good thing there is no rain.

Shouting. More noise.

Fine, she thought as she climbed out of bed and got dressed. She asked for so little in this world. She was going to go out and give them a piece of her mind. She stormed out of her room, slamming the door behind her as she walked downstairs. The common room was dark and empty, but there was certainly still a commotion going on outside the Inn's walls. She opened the front door.

“Can't you all just go to bed? What in the world is so important that you have to be crowded around interrupting my rest? What does a girl have to do to get some sleep around here?” After saying the words, she noticed that it wasn't just the Vikings. Everyone was out: the Vikings, the High Gardians, the River Tribe – everyone. And somehow, Selene was able to get everyone's attention because for a moment, they all hushed. She felt a flush of embarrassment.

One of the Vikings cautiously approached her, like she was some kind of wild jungle cat. “We just got hit with some sort of wind wall. Did you somehow sleep straight through it?” The Viking turned back to her friends and said something. Afterwards they all laughed and went about their previous conversation, leaving Selene to wonder what the Viking was talking about? A wall of wind?

For the first time since rushing out of the inn, she took a look around. Many of the wood and thatch buildings were missing sections of their roofs. A few window panes here are there were destroyed. And there was debris in the streets. Apparently she really had slept through something.

She decided to visit Sunny and make sure he was okay. She came back to find lanterns lit all around the stable, and a whole lot more people than earlier. Apparently everyone had the same idea she did and were checking on their dinosaurs. As for her own dino, he was laying on his side and poked his head up to look at her as she approached. Other than the stable sustaining some light damage, he was fine. Though he seemed grumbly regarding all of the people milling about.

“You humans get so worked up over the weather”, he was saying. “Some air moves around more quickly than you expect and suddenly you're buzzing all over the place like meganeura.”

“Hopefully we aren't that scary to you.” She laughed. Some of the other people around her glanced over at her and then went back to talking to their own dinos. It wasn't unusual for people to talk to their dinosaurs and try to comfort them – it was just rare for them to talk back, but they didn't have to know about that.

“Some of you are more tolerable than others”

She laughed again. “Well, I'm glad I'm tolerable.” She patted his head. “You're very tolerable, too.” He gave a soft snort to that and lowered his head, closing his eyes. She stayed there and gave him attention for a few more moments until he started snoring softly. I should probably get some sleep myself, she thought.

The crowds outside hadn't thinned out very much as she made her way back to the inn. Above her she could hear the beating of many leathery wings. She looked up and could see the silhouettes of six large creatures fly over head. On the other side of the main square she could hear the wing beats quicken. A moment later, the torch light revealed them to be pteranodons, each with a rider on it's back. Selene jogged over as the creatures hovered in mid air, slowly descending to the ground. Each rider was wearing black leather armor from head to toe, and wore masks over their faces. They landed in a circle formation. As they landed and dismounted, three people broke off from the crowd and approached them, two men and a woman. She didn't recognize the first two, but the third was Aido. One of the riders approached the three where a discussion seemed to occur. Around her, people spoke in hushed tones, wondering what was taking place. The Pteranodon rider and three officials spoke for a few minutes. Afterwards, the rider bowed to the three and went back to tend to his dinosaur. Aido turned to the crowd with outstretched hands, and everyone quieted.

“Citizens and guests of High Garden, I know everyone's concern regarding the strange lights in the night sky and the hurricane force winds. We sent forth a group of riders to try to identify if there was any specific source of these disturbances. It appears that they were not able to discover anything.

“Our yearly festival has come to an end with many uncommon events, but one take away I would have you think upon is that despite what has occurred this past day, all of us are united in finding the answers.

“Tomorrow, the day after the festival, it is usually a day for friends to return to their tribes, but I feel there is much that we should consider. For anyone who is interested in how we can move forward as a tribe and, more than that, as a people – as Asgardian's – we will be meeting at the High Garden council chambers at midday. All are welcome to attend.

“For now, we suggest that everyone return to their homes or their inn and get some rest. There will be much work to do tomorrow. Thank you.”

With all of that being said, Aido bowed to the crowd and then turned his attention to the other two he was standing beside. They shared some words that Selene was not able to hear. The crowd of people around her nodded at Aido's words and were now finally beginning to disperse. Selene knew that she should go to bed, but his words didn't completely put her at ease. Quite the opposite. She walked up to Aido and the two others. He broke off what he was saying as he noticed her approached.

“Ah, Selene”, he said with a smile. “It is good to see you again. I apologize I wasn't able to find time this evening for more of our discussion.”

“I'd say you've had your hands full”, she replied evenly.

“An understatement”, he said.

“Why don't you tell me what's really going on.”

“What's really going on?”, he questioned.

“You gave a lovely speech”, she replied, sarcastically. “The only problem is, it was a lie. You had six riders go out. They come back and give you a report that lasted several minutes. It seems to me if your riders truly had found nothing, it would have taken much less time to convey it to you.”

Aido smiled. “Let's go for a walk” He turned and did a slight bow to the other two officials. “Good evening, Mister and Missus Tao.” He turned back to Selene and put an arm around her shoulder, and beginning to walk in the direction of his residence. He nodded to several people as they walked. Selene got the impression that he was doing his best to try to act natural. “Thank the gods the rest of the people don't read between the lines quite as well as you”

“So there is more than what you are telling them.”

“Yes, and they will learn of it soon, but I am hoping to have more answers first. That is why I'm relying on you, Freyja, and Bjorn to pay Odin a visit. I hope you are able to locate the other Viking, but whether or not that happens, it's most important that you arrive back to update me of the situation before the midday meeting.”

It made sense that he wanted more answers. In this short time that she had known him, he echoed her need for more information before drawing conclusions. But in science, there was also a requirement to share information, and that's where the two of them seemed to differ. She sensed that Aido wasn't telling her something. Obviously he wasn't forthcoming with all of the night's events, but it was something beyond that.

“We both want answers”, she stated. “But if you want me to be honest with you, I first need some honesty from you. What really happened tonight.” By now the two of them were walking in a much less populated section of town. She could see the gate to his private residence and the secluded forest of cherry blossom trees beyond.

“What are your theories regarding the Obelisks?”, he asked.

“I can't even begin to know what they are about”, Selene replied. “I'm a woman of science, and unfortunately the sight of giant, floating rocks seem to defy any reasonable explanation. I once observed a Pelagornis land on one. It stood around for a few minutes and then flew off.”

“Never mind on how they are able to levitate. What do you believe they do?”

“I prefer not to guess. And the truth of the matter is, I don't have any common frame of reference. Even back on Earth, there was nothing to compare them to. The closest thing might be the Stonehenge ruins in England. Even so, no one was ever able to discern their purpose. It was theorized that the stones might be for astronomical observation. Others speculated that it was a site for religion rituals.” They passed through the gates and were walking up the stone steps towards the koi pond. “In any case, why do you ask?”

“I was merely curious”, he responded. “I hope that the reason for their being is something trivial. But I suspect they are meant for something more. Tell me, Selene, did your examination of the Obelisks take you to the stone pedestal below them?”

“To be honest, I didn't get that far. As I approached all of my hair became statically charged and stood on end. It was a painful experience and more than a little unnerving.” Aido was now walking slightly in front of her, walking through the sliding doors of his house. They had bent in on themselves and had come off the track. The paper dividers were all ripped and torn. “Oh, Aido”, she said sympathetically. “I'm so sorry about your house.”

“Do not concern yourself with the state of things, Selene. I did not bring you here for your sympathy. I brought you here for the sake of knowledge.” He knelt down on his knees in front of a plain looking wooden chest, approximately three feet long by two feet deep. “I brought you here to show you this.”

He opened the lid to the chest. There was a deep rumbling noise and she could see an intense green, glowing light coming from within. She took a few steps forward as Aido stood and moved to the side. Inside, she could see a levitating rock, but it was more than that. The rock was jet black, angular, with veins of green light. You would imagine with all that light coming off that you would be able to see more details, but the blackness of the rock seemed to suck the light in and reflected nothing. “What is it?”, she finally asked.

“We aren't sure”, he said. “One of our expedition teams found it in Cold Eye: a giant ice cave in the mountains to the south west.”

“Cold Eye. As in, Cold Eye Ridge? It's suppose to be constant sub zero temperatures there year round.”

“It's no exaggeration. The source of the cold originates from the cave, and it gets colder the deeper you go. Deep within this cave our people found a monster and perished. But, after better preparing ourselves, we went back and killed it. I was part of that second expedition. I have no idea what kind of creature it was; some sort of furred worm, all white and standing several stories tall with pincers bigger than this room.”

“Sounds terrifying.”

“Oh, it was. But not as terrifying as what we found further in.” He took a deep breath and continued. “This creature had a nest of eggs. It looked like something out of a horror movie. The eggs were translucent and you could see more of those things squirming around in there.” He paused. “One of my companions slashed one open with his sword. The liquid that burst forth was some sort of acid. It burned away his fur armor and part of his arm. We decided to leave, but before we did, we saw this”, he motioned to the glowing stone. “It was in the center of all the eggs.”, he motioned to the glowing rock.

“So what's the significance? Why are you showing me now?”, she asked. She felt very uneasy in the presence of this thing, and noticed for the first time that her hands were sweating.

“I do not think this rock is a rock”, he replied, ominously. “I think it's a key.”

“A key? A key for what?”

“I journeyed to the base of the blue obelisk. The stone pedestal beneath has three hollowed out slots. And in one of them, this object fits perfectly. This is why I think that the Obelisks serve an important purpose, and why I think we may have a problem.”

“What sort of problem”, she asked.

“One of them just fell out of the sky.”

 

---

 

Chapter 8

 

As was usual, Bjorn just wanted to sleep in. He hadn't drank nearly as much as he was intending last night. All he wanted was to be able to eat and drink himself into a stupor – which was the best part of this festival. Well, aside from the hope of finding some companionship, but that was apparently impossible. No one in his tribe was interested in him like that, and apparently neither was the rest of the world. Sure, he had female friends, but that's all they were, just friends. He may wish for something more, but instead they all turned into drinking buddies.

It was that way first with Freyja. He cared about her, respected her, but she wasn't looking for any sort of deep connection. She just wanted to have fun – both in her adventures inside and outside the bedroom. And fun was good, but Bjorn wanted more. And now he had met another woman whom he was attracted to and who, it seemed, had also taken an interest in him: Selene. And though the circumstances were different, the outcome was the same. Another beautiful, strong capable woman, keeping him at arms length. She was so driven, but that drive is what she was focused on. Why, he wondered, did he always have to fall for women like her? Why couldn't he fall for someone who was more laid back? Maybe a little less independent? Probably because he didn't really want that. He wanted an equal, and someone who could keep him on his toes – maybe put him in his place from time to time when he deserved it.

Well, regardless if she was more than a friend or not, Freyja definitely did that. Like right now, as she was pounding on the door to his room. “Bjorn, get up!”, she was shouting. “It's dawn. It's time to go! We gotta get Sven back, remember?”

He did remember, he just didn't care. He didn't think Sven was in danger, and whatever was going on in Asgard could wait another half hour so he could get more rest. Unfortunately, as much as he wanted rest, Freyja was very hard to ignore when she wanted someone's attention.

“Bjorn, if you don't wake up and say something, I swear I'm going to break this door down and rip those bed sheets off. Selene is already waiting for us outside”

Bjorn sat up and rubbed his eyes. Selene. Hopefully after this business with Sven and Odin concluded, he'd have a couple weeks while she visited Vikings Bay where maybe, just maybe, he could win her over. For now, he thought, he had better get dressed. He started pulling on a pair of pants as Freyja began counting down from outside the door.

“10...9...8...7...”

He got the pants up to his waist and, keeping a grip on them so they didn't fall, and stumbled towards the door and unlatched it. He pulled it open. Freyja looked him up and down and grinned.

“Good morning”

“Uh-huh. Good morning”, he replied back unenthusiastically, as he turned and walked back towards the bed. There was a trunk at the foot of the bed for his belongings. He hadn't brought too many of those, so he'd just tossed them all on top. He pulled his shirt over his head and then put on the leather armor and began lacing it up and tightening it to his body. He could hear Freyja stepping into the room.

“Here let me help you with that”, she took another step and reached towards him.

“Thanks, but I've got it”, he said taking a step back. Freyja acted like what they once shared was no big deal, but it still hurt anytime she got too close. He did his best to move on, or at least to pretend that it didn't matter. He didn't want it to. Obviously, it didn't matter in the same way to her. But whatever his mind wanted, his heart was another matter. He finished lacing up the armor and walked over a shelf on the wall, which his crossbow was leaning against. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands.

“Hey, Freyja?”, he asked without turning around. “I know we haven't talked about it in awhile... but do you ever think about... finding someone? You know, like having someone you can depend on, creating a life together, a home? Having a family?”

He heard her footsteps as she walked over and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Is this about us? Your way of asking if I'd thought anymore about being with you?” He pulled away from her touch.

“Yes and no. Well”, he paused and thought it over. “Maybe. It's not specifically about us. It's just... I guess I'm still trying to understand you; understand your way of thinking. I keep falling for the wrong women. All the women are either unavailable or uninterested. And I'm trying to figure out if it's me or that everyone else is different. I mean”, he turned towards her, “There's a few thousand of us here. And yes, some of the people here are in dedicated relationships. But most are single and not looking. Well, not looking for anything more than some mutual fun every now and then.” He paused again and took a few idle steps around the room, listening to the creek of the floor boards.

“Back on Earth”, he continued, “or Midgard depending on what you want to call it, people collectively were looking for relationships. People are coded that way. It's tough to continue a species if that species isn't interested in procreation.”, he turned and spread his arms. “But here, it doesn't work that way, does it? So what gives? Is there a problem with the world we live in, or is there just a problem with me?”

“I think the problem is that you're groggy and haven't had anything to eat. People get overly emotional on an empty stomach.” Freyja chuckled to herself.

“Come on, Freyja. I'm being serious here. I really want to know what you think”

She looked at him for a minute, and then looked out the door behind her. “I think Selene is waiting for us down there.” She turned back to him. “But I think she can wait another few minutes, don't you?” She sat down on the bed and looked up at him. Bjorn sighed and sat down beside her. “I think you're fine the way you are. I think you are right. I think on Midgard there were all kinds of people. Obviously not everyone makes it to Asgard. Maybe there are lots of different worlds, lots of different afterlives. There are lots of possibilities, Bjorn. Warriors make it to Asgard. But maybe there's an afterlife filled with romantics somewhere.

“In either case, you can't get down on yourself thinking that you don't have anyone to start a family with right now. All of us here have eternity. Everything we are experiencing right now; there's more than that, I'm sure of it. The universe is infinite with infinite possibilities. We've barely scratched the surface. Don't look around and take this for face value and tell yourself it will never change.”

He nodded slowly and let his head hang. “Saying we have eternity doesn't magically make me more patient. I don't have to wait an eternity to find happiness, you know? I wasn't into all this Nordic stuff like you and Sven and most of the other Vikings. I grew up a Catholic. I kind of slipped away in my adult years. But the point is, we were always taught that if you did things right on Earth, your afterlife was like your happily-ever-after. Except it's just a continuation. We are all still humans. We still have blood that beats through our veins. But now instead of an entire world, we're stuck on this island.”

Freyja squeezed his hand and this time he didn't pull away. It hurt, but he also felt like she was doing it to show she cared – maybe not the way he wanted her to care – but she cared nonetheless. “Hey, you just need to give it some time, you know, and try not to force things. I'm not saying you need to wait an eternity to find what you are looking for. But you're letting it get you so down”, she squeezed his hand again. “You're a good man, Bjorn Iverson. You'll find what you are looking for eventually. And whose to say something won't develop between you and Selene? You have barely given it a shot and you are already jumping to conclusions. Maybe it will work out, or maybe it won't. But you need to give it an honest try. You are the author of your story; not anyone else.” She patted his hand and stood up. “Now come on. We can't keep Selene waiting.”

Bjorn took a deep breath and nodded. “You're right. Besides, we have a giant oaf who needs finding.”

 

 

Bjorn followed Freyja to outside the inn. The sun was just beginning to poke out on the horizon, and the streets were mostly quiet. In front of them stood Selene, who smiled at him and chuckled. “Well, good morning, sleepy head. Are you ready to find our missing person?”

“Hi, Selene”, he replied. “You're looking beautiful this morning.”

“And you're looking like someone who was tossed out of bed”, she laughed and turned to Freyja. “I hope you didn't take me literally.”

Freyja laughed. “No, he got up all on his own. It just took the threat of breaking down the door. I assure you, the door is still intact.”

Bjorn grumbled to himself.

They turned a corner and there was Sunny. He was sniffing at an Archaeopteryx, a small, birdlike dinosaur, that landed near him. The bird, apparently deciding it had had enough of the Allosaurus's inspection, turned indignantly and flew away. As they approached, Selene made a chirping noise, and Sunny immediately lifted up his head to look in their direction.

“You have him pretty well trained”, Bjorn said with a smile.

Selene turned to Bjorn, started to say something, then paused and looked back at Sunny.

“What is it?”, he asked.

“Oh. Just the look he was giving me seemed to say that it was the other way around”, she laughed as she approached his side and climbed up into the saddle.

How could she know he was giving her a look?, thought Bjorn. Well, he reflected, it was probably the thing any pet would retort with if they could talk. If Holly could talk, she'd probably think of Bjorn as some sort of larger, dumber, featherless Deinonychus.

“My cat will be happy to see me again”, Freyja was saying. “I feel bad for saying it, but I kind of just left Flotti in the stable and forgot about her.”

Selene looked down at her from Sunny. “You should visit her as soon as we return.”

“As soon as we return?”, asked Freyja in confusion. “We aren't taking our dinos?”

“Wait, we aren't?” Bjorn was equally confused. “Then how are we getting there?”

“By air.”, she replied. “Well, at least the two of your are. Aido made all the arrangements last night. Come on.” She took hold of the reigns and Sunny began walking, Freyja and Bjorn falling into step and walking beside them. “You see”, she continued, “Speed is essential. We aren't the only ones looking for answers. And unfortunately traveling by land means having to follow the terrain and deal with any situations that happen along the way.”

“Then why are you taking Sunny?”, remarked Freyja before Bjorn could ask, himself. But then he realized that he already knew the answer. It was in the way she spoke about him during their 'date?'. Sunny was more than just a pet. He was like her emotional support animal. And overall, he could completely understand that, but it just didn't make sense to take him in this specific event.

“Aido doesn't want me looking for your friend” Selene paused and then seemed to start again. “Sorry, that might have come out wrong. What I mean is, there are multiple things going on right now, and both Aido and I think that between the two of you, everything's Jake.”

“Um, excuse me?”, questioned Freyja.

“It's old English slang”, responded Bjorn. “Means everything is okay.”

Freyja nodded and Selene looked down to give a prickly reply. “Well, it's just normal English to me.” And then she continued more calmly. “The two of you can find your friend. You don't need a scientist slowing you down.”

“Then where are you going?”, Bjorn asked.

“I'm not sure I am suppose to tell you.”, she said uncertainly. She leaned forward and put her head against Sunny's neck and then raised her head to look at Bjorn. “It's suppose to be on a need to know basis. That's what Aido said, anyway. But I suppose I can tell you.”

“Let me guess”, said Freyja. “Bjorn and I are hunting for a missing person. And you're hunting for a missing object. The floating kind of object. Is that close to the mark?”

“That's exactly right!”, she replied, excitedly, and then more quietly. “How did you know?”

Freyja shrugged. “Oh you know. You can tell by the smell in the air – it smells like dirt and sediment. Only something large falling to the ground could have that effect.”

Bjorn regarded her dubiously, while the look on Selene's face was much more impressed.

“Really? You deduced all of that from just the smell of the air?”

Freyja laughed. “No, dummy! Bjorn and I borrowed an Argentavis last night and investigated.”

“You actually saw it up close already?”

Bjorn rubbed his neck. “We didn't see it so much as we saw the absence of it. We kind of just flew straight up to have a look around.”

Freyja nodded. “There was a lot of turbulence. We really just went up, looked around, went, 'oh', and then landed again. Well, landed again after finding the our way back to town, because, you know, turbulence.”

Bjorn looked up to Selene. She looked happy – carefree, given the circumstances. He was really hoping for some more time with her, even if that time was all of them adventuring together. He receded into his own thoughts and was vaguely aware of her and Freyja continuing their conversation. It didn't seem fair; just another example of the afterlife teasing him, giving him hope. Maybe he should give up on hope and just resign himself to the fact that he was going to spend this new life alone, with perhaps the occasional fling, but no one he could call his soul mate. If there was even such a thing to begin with.

“...but we'll still need climbing gear to get us to the castle, unless the High Garden tribe has had more luck with training dinos than we have.” Freyja's voice snapped Bjorn back to the world around him. Climbing gear, he thought. Yes, that would be important to have.

“We're all being supplied with climbing gear: picks, stakes, rope. That kind of stuff.” Suddenly Selene looked uncertain. “Honestly, I'm not looking forward to it.”

“Oh, come on”, said Freyja. “You're getting the chance to examine the Obelisk. You sounded pretty happy about it a minute or two ago.”

Selene smiled but Bjorn thought it looked forced. “Oh I am!”, she responded, and then a little more quietly. “I'm just not looking forward to the journey. Of course, I'll have Sunny, but it means traveling alone through the Red Woods. The whole place is filled with predators. Not that I'm worried about most of them. It's just... I don't like the thought of being pounced by Thylacoleo.”

Bjorn chuckled. “The tree cougars won't bother you unless you are out there alone. Sunny is plenty scary. He'll protect you.”

“You think he's scary?” prodded Freyja.

“Me, think he's scary? No, as long as I stay on his good side.

Selene laughed. “You don't have anything to worry about. Sunny likes you. Well, he liked you a whole lot more when he smelled that blood on you the first evening and thought you had single handedly killed an alpha predator. But even after learning it was Holly, he still thinks you are okay.” She laughed again. She had a really sweet laugh, Bjorn thought. There was just an easy, good nature about her. And it was really endearing how much she personified her dinosaur. Bjorn could relate, and suddenly found himself feeling a little guilty that he hadn't spent much time with Holly in the past few days.

“Sunny is pretty special”, commented Freyja as she and Bjorn followed. “I really like hearing how you talk about him. I have my two cats, but if I doted on them as much as you do for your allosaurus, I'd be branded the crazy cat lady.”

Selene jumped off Sunny and motioned for him to stay. In front of them was a large barn looking structure with a flowing red and gold banner hanging from the roof, above the entryway.

“Sunny is really amazing. For the longest time, he's been my protector; like a giant, snarly guardian angel.” she smiled and chuckled. “And no one is going to say you are a crazy cat lady. Half the people here think you're a goddess.”, she laughed. “And everyone knows, if you insult a goddess you get turned into a toad.”

“I thought Toads were more of a witch thing”, mentioned Bjorn.

“Witches, goddesses, supernatural beings”, Selene gave a soft shrug. “It's all the same to me. I'm a woman of science, after all.”

Inside the barn, there were roosting platforms built into the walls for the pteranodons, with wood ladders leading up to each. The fliers weren't nearly the size of Selene's allosaurus, but wing tip to wing tip when extended, probably measured around six to seven meters. As they walked inside a team of people was tending to each, saddling them and strapping on the added climbing gear that Bjorn and Freyja would be needing. Aido and two people Bjorn hadn't met before, a man and woman, were standing on ground level, pointing and giving instructions. They turned as Bjorn and his companions approached.

“It's good to see you all again”, said Aido as he and the two others bowed. “I'm not sure you were ever formally introduced to my colleagues.” He motioned to each, who were wearing what looked like ceremonial robes, the same colors as the banner out front. “This is Mister and Missus Tao.” Each of them gave a subtle smile and bowed. “Together, we are the three leading members of High Garden's council.”

“It's good to meet you both. I saw you speaking the other night.”, Selene nodded to each of them and then clasped her hands together, looking at Aido. “Not to be rude, but I thought the people of High Garden elected to make you their leader. Specifically, emperor, did they not?”

Mrs Tao spoke up. “Yes, this is true. Aido has done so much for High Garden, that we affectionately wished to give him the title of Emperor. This is an honorific title and a way in which we could show appreciation for his continued leadership. She spoke very softly, very evenly – very matter-of-factually.

“The three of us still work together with the other council members for the good of High Garden and Asgard”, said Mr Tao. “It's just our opinions have a little more weight, due to us being the senor members of the tribe.”

“Yes”, agreed Aido. “I see myself in service of my tribe, and beyond that, all Asgardians. I am honored by the deference that the people have granted me. But I'm not some sort of dictator. A leader is only as strong as those he chooses to surround himself with.

“Your dinosaur mounts are just receiving final preparations and you will be free to go. We are happy to lend them to you to aid in your quest, which directly impacts the Viking clan but in truth, what you discover will affect all Asgardians.”, he turned and began walking towards one of the Pteranodon roosts. “Attached to the saddle of each flier is a pack containing dried meats, a leather pouch filled with water, and climbing supplies. We have also created some parachutes in case you are able to coax them to fly over the castle.”

“Which seems unlikely”, Freyja put in.

“Yes”, Aido replied, “But we wanted to give you multiple options. Has Selene told you anything from our conversation last night?”

“The one we were all involved with?”, Freyja asks.

“No. I met later that night with Selene. There is something else you need to know before you take to the skies on your mission to find your friend.” He paused and looked towards Mr and Mrs Tao, before turning back to them. “Something happened to one of the Obelisks.”

“We already know”, said Bjorn. “We were awake when the”, he paused, “I don't know what to call it.” Was it a hurricane? Windstorm? He couldn't decide. “When the bad weather struck. We were also some of the only Vikings not completely plastered. So we decided to go up and have a look. We didn't see much, which is kind of the point. The lights from the Red Obelisk were missing.”

Aido nods. “We are not trying to keep it secret, but we also are trying to get more information before we address the people of our tribe at noon today. Some people will naturally start to panic, and we want to avoid as much of that as possible”, he took a breath. “Which is why we hope for your speedy return.” Well, Bjorn thought, so much for the idea that the High Gardian's were gifting them the use of these birds just out of the kindness of their hearts.

“So it's these pteranodons in exchange for the information, then?” Freyja scoffed. “I gotta say, I thought you guys were trying to help us search for our friend, but it's more like you are using us.”

“Please do not be offended”, said Aido as he raised his hands in front of him. “A situation is not so black and white. It can be both. Yes we are using you, but yes, we also are trying to help you search for your missing friend. I believe this is referred to as a matter of mutual interest.” It made sense when Aido said it, but Bjorn still didn't like the taste it left in his mouth – like sweet wine that had gone rancid. Even with the climbing gear and fliers, the High Gardians were risking next to nothing. If anything happened out there, it would be him, or Freyja, or Selene that would suffer for it. Nothing was completely safe in Asgard. But Bjorn guessed it was safer if you stayed behind and let someone else do the dirty work.

“I get that”, said Freyja, who still didn't sound thrilled about the situation. She closed her eyes for a moment and then let out of puff of air. “Okay. No matter what way we all choose to look at it, we are wasting time the longer we stand around talking.” She looked at Selene. “Someone needs to get this lady a crossbow”. She rested her hand on Selene's shoulder, “I know you aren't a warrior, and I know Bjorn told you not to worry about tree cats...”

“They are actually marsupials”, Selene pointed out.

“Fine, marsupials. Like I was saying, you're going into the Red Woods. You need to be able to defend yourself. This island has a fun habit of throwing challenges your way. Sunny is your gallant defender, but you have to make sure you're ready for any situation that arises.” Aido nodded to Mr Tao, who walked over to a cabinet on the far side of the room and returned with the crossbow in one hand and a quiver of bolts in the other.

“I suppose I need to be ready to defend myself. I can't investigate solely from in the saddle.”, Selene said as she awkwardly took the crossbow and turned it over several times in her hands, momentarily losing her grip and almost dropping it.

“It's a lot heavier than it seems in a video game”, Freyja chuckled.

“I don't know that term: video game. My arms just need some bulking up.” She was holding it all wrong. She was more likely to hurt herself like that than anything threatening her.

“Here, let me help. May I?”, asked Bjorn. She gave a slight nod and he moved behind her and took hold of her arms. “You'll want to put the blunt end, the back of the crossbow, and position it here, against your shoulder.” He helped slip it into place. “Feel it there?”, he said has he gently rested his hands over hers, his chest pressed against her back. “Feel how steady it is now in your hands”

She looked back on him and smiled, her cheeks going a soft pink. “Yes, I think I've got it.”

“And when it's loaded and you're ready to fire – we'll go over loading it once we've landed – just take your pointer and middle fingers and slowly squeeze down on the trigger.” The trigger gave a click, and Bjorn stepped away.

“Hopefully I won't need to use it”, she commented, and then looked back outside to where Sunny was waiting. “I should get going. I have a lot more ground to cover. Be safe.”

She turned and walked out of the stable, leaving Bjorn to hope that she would be alright on her own. Of course she'll be alright, he thought. People don't die here. And a little part of him added: they fester.

He shook the thought away as he hopped onto his assigned Pteranodon. The saddles on these were much larger than the Argentavis saddles he was used to. The creature's body was too wide to throw one leg on either side of it. You either had to ride cross-legged or kneeling with your legs under you. Bjorn's Pteranodon turned it's head to look at him and rotated a few steps, now angling it's head up to the ceiling expectantly. The motion of it made Bjorn suddenly nervous. He was used to having more to hold onto. It felt like if he wasn't absolutely in sync with this creature, he'd end up being thrown over the edge.

One of the stable's attendants appeared beside him. “See these straps on either side of the saddle?”, he pointed. “Bjorn found one and took it in his hands. There was a metal latch on the end. “You'll want to clip these onto your belt on either side, and then pull here to tighten them.”

Bjorn gave it a try. “Interesting way strap you to a saddle.”

“What if you aren't wearing a belt?”, Freyja asked.

“Then clip the straps to each other and pull it taught and sit with your legs crossed under them”, responded another attendant. “Keep a tight grip on the reigns and don't try any mid flight acrobatics.”

Aido nodded to one of the attendants who stepped up to a large, iron crank mechanism on the far wall. He grasped it with both hands, and began turning with what looked like a good deal of effort. The building seemed to groan and creak. Bjorn looked above and saw that the two halves of the angular ceiling began separating at the center. Each side of the ceiling apparently rotated at the point where they met the walls.

Freyja and Bjorn share a look and nodded to each other that they were ready.

“These Pteranodons all respond to simple commands”, Mr Tao was saying. “Up, down, left, right, faster, slower, and land. In the event that there is too much noise to hear you, they can also be controlled with reins and with taps to their neck. One tap for up, two taps for down, three quick taps for land.” Bjorn was preferring Argentavis more with every passing moment. Aido gave a final bow to them and walked out of the barn, flanked by the other High Gardians.

Freyja was first to take to the air, the beating of the Pteranodon's wings starting a miniature cyclone in the barn that caused Bjorn's ears to pop. After she was up and out, Bjorn reached up and touched his Pteranodon's neck. “Alright, buddy. Up!” His flier extended it's wings, seeming to be stretching them. It kept them almost completely level. Bjorn regarded just how far they extended, tip to tip. Freyja's flier had just immediately taken off. “Come on, buddy. We need to catch up. What are you doing?” The bird raised and lowered it's wings a little. Maybe it was testing out the air? Or maybe it was doing the Pteranodon equivalent to yoga. He was starting to wonder if something was wrong with his dinosaur. But then it gave a quick downward beat of it's wings and they were off. It didn't seem to need any direction from him to figure out how to get out of this place. The fliers comings and goings from this barn were probably a daily routine.

In no time at all, the bird had caught up with Freyja. Bjorn kept his eyes forward and above him. He knew if he looked down, he might lose his nerve. People were not meant to fly – even in the afterlife. He finally was at the same altitude with her; what that altitude was, he wasn't able to say. They were high. To their right, the sun was coming up over the horizon with thin clouds speckling the sky. The Pteranodon's seemed to be built for being up this high. An Argentavis would be constantly flapping, but these fliers merely extended their wings, appearing to be mostly gliding on air currents.

He came up on Freyja's right side. Even with their forward momentum, the noise from the wind was reserved to a soft, whoosh. “I can see why the High Gardians like these things”, he remarked. Freyja didn't appear to have heard him. Her eyes were fixed in front of her. He followed her gaze and his jaw dropped. “Wow, that doesn't seem good at all”. Off in the distance, on the north east shoreline of the island was the Obelisk. It had come crashing down into the red woods. There as a trench dug out into the ground, probably where it originally fell and slid into the forest, knocking over several of the giant red wood trees before it finally came to rest. He didn't understand the floating boulders in the sky, but seeing one grounded like this gave him anxiety.

“I hope Selene knows what she's doing”, he remarked, looking off in the distance. “She shouldn't be going alone. Why can't High Garden spare more riders? And why does it have to be her?”

Freyja smiled. “This is what she does, Bjorn. She's a scientist. I'm sure the urge for her to study something first is almost irresistible.”

Freyja was right. The island was a dangerous place no matter what you decided to do. And if things did develop between him and Selene, there would be times when he wouldn't be able to keep her safe. He'd have to believe in her.

 

---

That's all for this week. The next two chapters will be posted February 7th! Thanks for reading!

Edited by ArkWriter
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  • 2 weeks later...

The subject was sedated and the arm with the implant removed. Upon being severed from the body, the implant pulsed three times and then went dormant, furthering my hypothesis that it was linked to the subject's nervous system. Once the subject has awakened, we will once again test his auditory and visual responses to see if there are any adverse effects.

 

-T

 

Chapter 9

 

Freyja wasn't prepared for her flier to suddenly jolt off to the side, as if it hit and reflected off some kind of invisible barrier. Everything was just fine. The Pteranodons gave no hint at all that anything was off; they were just gliding along as they approached the castle. Freyja was thinking that they may be able to make it over it. Well, that idea just hit a brick wall. She found her Pteranodon in a heap and falling towards the side of the mountain – just, you know, tons of jagged rocks – nothing to worry about. She hadn't even had time to see what happened to Bjorn, though he was flying directly behind and to her side so he probably didn't manage to dodge it either. Whatever 'it' was. Now everything was spinning so quickly it was all just a kaleidoscope of colors.

She had maybe twenty or thirty seconds before she would impact the ground and then it would be game over until her body regenerated. She looked at the Pteranodon – it was knocked out cold, it's head whipping limply left and right. Focus, Freya, she told herself. The flier isn't going to wake up in time. What are my options? Of course!, she thought. The parachute! She grabbed it and frantically tried to unclip it from her saddle – it was amazingly hard to coordinate and get your hands to do precise motions when you were falling from the sky. Next, she strapped the thing to her back. There was a hemp cord coming out of the backpack. She pulled on it. Nothing happened. She pulled again, much harder this time, and in an instant, the parachute came flying out and upward, followed a second later by Freyja being painfully yanked out of the saddle. It took her breath away. Her descent slowed. She watched below her as the Pteranodon continued spinning out of control, until about ten seconds later it's body hit the rocks and tumbled down the mountain side.

The ground was still rising up to meet her far too quickly for her liking. The parachute was obviously a prototype, and she was guessing that she and Bjorn and Selene were the beta testers. Unfortunately, Freyja thought, this will be the most painful beta test I've ever been a part of. Instead of my computer overheating and frying my video card, I might actually die. She thought cynically, if information on Sven was so damn important to High Garden, maybe they should have done more to keep us alive. Well, future her would be able to complain to them later about their bad engineering. Her last act before hitting the ground was to reflect on how she wished all her experience with first person shooters would have prepared her on how to actually be a good paratrooper. She tucked her legs beneath her so they wouldn't snap from the impact and hoped for the best.

 

 

Freyja came to with a searing pain in her right arm. She didn't scream – screaming would just attract attention and from the sounds of twigs breaking, it sounded like something else was already nearby. Her eyes popped open. Bjorn was scrounging around the cliff side. He peered over to her, noticed her eyes were open, and hurried over to kneel at her side.

“You're awake”, he exclaimed. She moved a little bit and yelped. “Easy, easy Freyja. Don't move.”, he said softly, with all the bedside manner of an intensive care nurse.

Oh gods, Freyja thought. If he's being this tender with me, then it must be bad.

“I'm trying to get a splint together for that arm of yours.” She started to look away. “Hey”, he rested his palm against the side of her face. “Stay focused on me for a moment, okay? And do us both a favor: don't look at your arm just yet. It's pretty bad. So just focus on my voice and try to hold still, okay?”

She grunted through the pain and nodded jerkily in response. He carefully took a few steps back to what he was doing before she woke up. He had a piece of wood on the ground along with some fabric that he was cutting strips out of with a pocket knife. She tried to sit up a little and budge herself over to a rock for support. She grimaced through the pain and finally got situated. The world got a little spinny with the exertion, and was slowly starting to calm down. “Is that your parachute?”, she asked.

“It was”, he chuckled. “Though calling it a parachute was generous given what you've been through. Judging from the smear your flier left on the landscape, it was better than no parachute, but only barely.”

“I take it”, she wheezed. “That your own flier fared better than mine.”

“You hit what looked like a force field. I barely had time to register what happened. Everything in front of us lit up like a blue wall with these patterned shapes. Hexagons I think.” he paused what he was doing. “Yeah, that's what it was. It was like a glowing barrier. I reacted out of reflex and fear more than any sort of conscious act. I pulled back and to the right on the reigns. Where as you hit straight on, my Pteranodon was able to sort of ricochet off. I tried to get the Pteranodon to dive after you, but I think it was spooked by whatever happened. It turned itself around and seemed to head back in the direction of High Garden. I had to fight with it to get it to land.”

“Well”, she coughed and then grasped her arm with her left hand as the pain spiked, “at least now we know why the dinosaurs don't go near the place.”

“It appears that way.”, he replied as he continued to fuss over that splint. “You know”, he paused. “I'm glad Selene decided not to come with us. She would have died here, for sure.”

Freyja huffed. “You're so concerned about Selene instead of me. I see how it is.” She wasn't actually upset at him over the comment. He was absolutely right. With her lack of experience flying or doing any sort of adventuring on Asgard, she probably wouldn't have survived the encounter with the force field. But, with how she was feeling right at this moment, teasing Bjorn a little would at least give her some amusement.

“I didn't mean it that way”, he backpedaled, “But you know how to handle yourself. I'm just saying that she's less experienced and more squishy. At least when her gallant steed isn't around to protect her.” He came over to her with the splint. “Here”, he said, gently resting a hand under her arm. She winced. Even his touch hurt. “I gotta lift your arm to get it all wrapped up. It's going to hurt a lot. Ready yourself.”

“Just..get it.. over with”, she rasped. Bjorn nodded to her and lifted her arm and began to tie on the splint. She squeezed her eyes shut tight as the pain took over. She struggled to keep her breathing under control.

“I'm going as fast as I can”, Bjorn said as he tightened the makeshift fabric straps, making a fresh wave of agony wash over her. The pain was so bad that she thought she would faint, and then she opened her eyes and happened to glance at the arm, seeing a white bone spur jutting out from it. She wasn't sure if she would faint, throw up, or throw up and then faint. He finally cinched it up and took a step back, wiping sweat from his brow. “There, all done.”

Freyja closed her eyes and tried to get control of her breathing. She would need a doctor to properly set the arm, and to sterilize and seal up the wound. She sighed. “Maybe the fall should have killed me, after all. Now I'm just a mangled mess that's going to slow you down.”

“Hey”, he reprimanded, “don't say things like that. You gotta think positively”

“Oh yeah?”, she said sarcastically, “What's there to be positive about? This body is broken and my crossbow and bolts both went down with the ship. Along with the climbing gear but fat lot of good that's going to do for me now.”

“Yes, but all the predators in the area will be attracted to that dead Pteranodon, and with you injured and unable to climb, now you get a free ride up the mountain side courtesy of Bjorn here.”, he smiled. He really was doing his best to cheer her up. Deep down, she appreciated the effort, and it made her feel a little better. Unfortunately, their current situation left her mostly full of rage. For his sake, she was trying her best to ignore it and stay calm. As calm as a person with a horrible injury and possible brain trauma could be.

“You'd carry me up a mountain?”, she teased, her voice straining a little. “I don't want your girlfriend getting jealous. Besides, we don't even know if we'll be able to get to the castle ourselves. That barrier felt pretty solid when I ran into it”

“Maybe it's like the drawbridge to the castle”, Bjorn suggested. “Maybe if we just get a little further up the mountain, we'll find a door buzzer or something. At any rate, I'm not leaving you behind. Face it, I care about you more than I care about how much pain my muscles will be in tomorrow.”

She laughed. The act caused her more pain which just made her more upset. She wanted to punch something but that probably wasn't a good idea. “Okay, fine”, she sighed, lifting herself up and hobbling over to Bjorn. “Lift me up. Carry me like a sack of potatoes.”

“A very argumentative sack of potatoes”, Bjorn added.

 

 

Now that Freyja was dangling against Bjorn's back, her good arm clinging around his neck, she was one hundred percent certain that she should have stayed behind. Her arm, the good one, felt like it was on fire. Bjorn had used the length of hemp rope the High Gardians gave as part of their climbing supplies to essentially tie her against his back, looping the rope under her arms and around her chest. She was at least glad to be wearing the leather armor – otherwise that rope would probably be chaffing against her breasts. Not that Bjorn would think of such things. That boy was blissfully ignorant sometimes. Well, most of the time.

She could see him gritting his teeth as he lunged the climbing pick into the rock and strained to pull them up another notch, then digging the other pick out to repeat the process. They were about fifty feet above the ledge that Freyja had woken up on.

“You know”, Bjorn quipped through his panting as his arm muscles flexed, bringing them ever closer to the mountain top. “You could really stand to lose a few pounds” Sweat was constantly streaming down his forehead. “If we make it out of this, you should go on a diet.” She suspected now that he was trying to make her angry, to distract her from how bad a situation she was in. Unfortunately for him, she wasn't going to give him what he wanted. Most of the fire had burned out of her. She wasn't even afraid anymore, and by all rights, she should be. One wrong move and they'd fall. No, she wasn't angry or frightened or any other emotion that would make sense. She was just feeling tired. Though, that might also be the loss of blood or perhaps infection starting to set in.

“You know, Bjorn”, she said between breaths, “I think you're the one who needs to lose weight. I'm pretty much all lean muscle over here. The only way I'm losing weight is if we get back and they have to amputate my arm. And in which case, I'm turning it into a club so I can beat you with it.”

“Ah” he panted, “Wouldn't that be handy? See I think you are getting a good deal. Most things in life cost you an arm and a leg. But both your legs are still working fine.”

“Yes”, to prove the point she kicked him with one. “That's for the bad jokes.”

“Really?”, he paused for a moment to try to catch his breath. “I thought you were just putting your best foot forward.”

“Ugh”, she protested, “If it's going to be this way all the way to the top, just put me out of my misery.”

“Well”, he grunted, “you'll be happy to know that the top should be just over this ridge.”

He was right. He picked his way over the ledge and pulled himself and Freyja up, where he immediately collapsed, rolling on his side. Freyja wanted to tell him to untie the rope holding them together, but she didn't. Instead she stayed pressed against him, the warmth of his body a comfort against the chill wind, and her ear pressed between his shoulder blades, listening to the strong pulse of his heart. For a moment she almost forgot how much pain she was in. After a few minutes, wordlessly, he began unmaking the knot. A moment later and the rope went slack and she rolled onto her back, cradling her mangled arm. She closed her eyes. If all went as planned, they should be beside the castle. Freyja didn't look. It didn't sound like Bjorn was too concerned either – he sounded like a man desperately trying to catch his breath.

“Well, we made it”, Freyja observed. “You did it. Do your muscles hate you yet?”

He was still quiet for a time. Eventually he spoke in a raspy, dry voice. “I knew if I slowed my pace, even for an instant, we would just hang there, and my strength would fail me. So I kept going. I was so afraid I was going to let you down.”

“I'm glad you didn't.”, she cleared her throat and coughed. “Let me down, that is. That would have been a big let down.” Silence. Just his ragged breaths, which at least were beginning to sound less arduous. “Big let down”, she repeated. Again, just his breathing. “I'm trying to make a joke. Well, not that it's very funny, but this is suppose to be your kind of humor.” Still nothing. She rolled to her side and pushed herself up to a sitting position and then knelt over him. His eyes were closed. She pressed her fore arm to his head. It was cold and clammy. She looked around on his person and found the water skin tied off on his belt. She took it and gave it a soft shake, and could feel the water sloshing around on the inside. She undid the top and gently tipped if over his lips.

“Alright, buddy”, she said as some of the water poured into his mouth. “I need you to drink this.” He instinctively swallowed, but still didn't show any signs of waking. He didn't seem to be sweating very much, and it wasn't warm enough out here for a guy to get heat stroke. That she knew of anyway. She found herself wishing that she'd paid more attention regarding health matters. As far as she knew, he was probably just exhausted and over exerted. She looked over her shoulder at the looming castle. Already, it's golden walls were catching the sun's light, making it painful to look at. She turned back to Bjorn.

“Okay, buddy. Just stay here and rest. You got us both up here. You took care of me. Now it's my turn to take care of you.” Not that she knew exactly how she was going to do that, but she hoped if Bjorn could hear her that it at least sounded comforting. Hopefully she would be able to get through the invisible barrier and into the castle. And then Odin could heal Bjorn and reunite them with Sven, and then they could all leave merrily on their way.

She worked her way onto her feet and turned towards the castle. The castle didn't have any sort of wall around it, either due to how hard it was to get up here, or because of the force field she ran into earlier. At it's center was a long, rectangular structure with a triangular roof. There were two large doors at it's front. Off to the sides of this main structure were four spires. One main spire that was the largest and tallest of the four, and three smaller ones. Each spire was on a corner of the main structure.

She took a few steps forward, expecting to hit the invisible barrier at any moment. But she didn't. Freyja walked right straight up to the castle and reached out and touched the doors, which were a good twenty feet tall. They were cool to the touch and looked to be made of solid gold. There were no seams of any kind, no indication of it being made up of different metal panels. The detail on the doors was immaculate. There were round bolts patterned vertically along the door, but they weren't separate pieces. It's as if the entire castle was caste from the same mold, she thought. She pressed on the door. It didn't budge. The fingers on her good hand ran along the edge where the two doors met. It's solid! It's not really a set of doors at all. It's just made to look like them. Well, how the heck is someone suppose to get in? She banged on the door in frustration. It didn't even make a sound.

Freyja walked the perimeter looking for another doorway, or a window. But there were no windows, no doors, no openings at all. Perhaps, she reflected, Gods don't need doors, but if that's the case, why fashion something that resembles doors in the first place?

She made her way back over to Bjorn, who she was happy to see was now awake and sitting up. “Bjorn, how are you feeling?” She knelt down to have a better look at him.

“Like I was trampled by a herd of stampeding galimimus”, he complained. “My everything hurts.” He looked over at Freyja. “I'm sorry, I must have fallen asleep.”

“Yeah, you were completely out cold”, Freyja agreed. She didn't go into detail concerning how relieved she truly was that he was awake. And not just because without him she probably wouldn't be able to get back down.

“I'm not seeing Sven with you”, he observed. “That doesn't seem good.”

“It's not. Not only that, but there's no way into this castle. The doors are fake.”

“Damn”, exclaimed Bjorn. “That means we are going to have to climb back down.” He rubbed his neck. “I was really hoping Odin could teleport us back.”

“At least we have rope”, she pointed out. “We can just stake it in the ground up here and climb down. Heck, even one handed I should be able to manage.”

“It should be enough to make it to the ledge down below. Hopefully the Pteranodon is still there. The one that didn't break it's neck mid flight”, he added, unnecessarily.

“It's a flier. It's not like a group of compies or raptors could come up and nibble it to death”

“In which case”, Bjorn said, “Hopefully it didn't fly away”

“I guess we are about to find out.”

 

--

 

Chapter 10

 

Wheat grass rustled and swayed in the soft morning breeze; the gentle sound attempting to ease Selene's mind. Things seemed to be happening very quickly now. There were events going on, events no one here had dealt with before that gave a sense of urgency. It all meant something, and Selene had a sinking feeling that more would follow – like waves on the ocean: you could either travel with them or they would push you under.

The ocean. That's what this reminded her of. Looking down from on top of Sunny, seeing the rhythmic motion of the grass on either side of them as he walked along the narrow dirt path. They had only left town about ten minutes ago, but already it felt like they were a world away; just her and her Sunny. She wasn't alone. She knew that, but right now she felt it in her bones. That peace that she'd experienced over the last year. She didn't know it was peace at the time – she'd spent so much time trying to puzzle out what was going on. But now she recognized that's what it was. It was a blessing in a way, to have the time to hypothesize and theorize. She realized that she no longer had that luxury. People were actively depending on her. Whatever she discovered had island-wide ramifications, no longer for her own curiosity.

Sunny angled his head to glance at her. “You have been quiet. If you are worried for our safety, you needn't be. Nothing is going to bother us.”

She hadn't been actively worried. Not yet, anyway. Once they were in the Redwoods, well, that was another story. So she asked, “How can you be so certain?”

“Listen”, he replied. And she did. She listened to the wind, she listened to the rocks and gravel shifting under Sunny's footsteps. She listened to their breathing.

“I don't know what I'm suppose to be listening for. All I hear is us and the wind.”

“Exactly”, he replied. “Now close your eyes.” It was an odd thing to have her do, but she trusted him, and so she did. “Good”, he said as he continued walking and turned his attention back to the path ahead of them. “Quiet your mind. You humans like to think. You're constantly thinking, especially you. But you don't need to think all of the time. Sometimes you need to just let your body feel.”

“Hah”, she laughed. He knew her so well. Even now, her mind was turbulent; it was so difficult to turn it off. But she tried, even though in the back of her mind she thought to herself that it may be futile. Another thought – how annoying. This was going to be hard. “What am I suppose to be feeling?”, she asked.

“You feel whatever it is your body feels. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as you acknowledge those feelings and trust them.” And then there was silence. The rocking gait of his step had stopped. They were standing still. “So, what are you feeling?”

“I feel... bad. I feel an anxious, nervous energy. And it has it's claws around me, gripping me, and it's not letting go.”

“Open your eyes, Selene.”

And she did, and she saw Sunny regarding her. She and sunny on the ocean of grass. But an ocean is an ecosystem, and there would be hundreds, thousands of fish swimming beneath the surface. That's when she noticed, “It's just us. There aren't any raptors hiding in wait. No compies skittering under your feet. No birds. It's as if life has frozen in place.”

Sunny rumbled, a sound she knew that meant he was amused. “I will make you into an apex predator yet.” And Selene thought if Sunny were capable, he would be smiling.

“You have your work cut out for you”, she laughed, as some of that anxious energy seemed to escape her.

He rumbled more in amusement, or perhaps affirmation “I have faith in you.” He began walking again – relaxed, steady steps. “There is more than one kind of intelligence in this world. You have to be receptive to everything your body tells you about your environment. You also have to be aware that environmental factors that affect you are affecting others around you, as well. We won't be attacked because now is not the time. Now is the time for defense; for readiness. As long as we do not provoke, we may travel in safety.”

Sunny's intuition proved correct. It took awhile, about an hour, but they made it through the valley and into the Red Woods without any encounters. Though it made her feel safer, she still couldn't break free of anxiety. And that smell – a faint sulfur aroma, made her nose itch. She hadn't noticed it before, but as she moved further away from High Garden, it became ever more apparent. The mountain to the East of the valley was an inactive volcano. Great, she thought, that's all we need now for that thing to become active.

The Redwood trees towered over head, at least one hundred meters tall with the trunks being over a meter in diameter. Everything had a wet, mossy smell to it. They brushed up against smaller trees and ferns as they passed, the dirt pathway now left behind for Megaloceros trails. While they didn't encounter any creatures, Selene felt like they were being watched. She leaned over to get a look around the forest undergrowth. Whether real or imaginary, as she looked around she thought she saw glowing eyes in the shadows, but when she looked back, there was nothing.

“You shouldn't be looking at the ground”, said Sunny. “You should be looking up there.” He raised his head to indicate the forest canopy. She followed his gaze and up the tree line and felt a shiver run down her spine as she saw it. A Thylacoleo. If she was observing it in a zoo, she would have said it was beautiful, but out here, all she noticed were the size of it's muzzle and paws. It looked at her menacingly, baring it's fangs and licking it's lips. And then her eyes wandered two trees over, and she noticed another one. Their claws must be absolutely massive in order to hold them to the sides of the tree trunks like that.

“You are sure that they won't attack us? It sure feels like we are being hunted.”

“We are passing through their territory”, Sunny stated.

“You are saying they are just being curious?”

“No. This may be a time of defense, but they are still hunters, and if an opportunity presents itself for an easy kill, they still may take it.”

Selene nodded to herself, keeping her eyes locked on the redwood predators. “So don't give them an opportunity. Got it.”

“Mmm. It is as I said, they will look for an easy kill. But since when is an Allosaurus easy?”

She wanted to laugh at that, but the tension kept her quiet. Then again, she thought, what do I really have to fear? I've got Sunny, and if anything goes wrong, I'll just regenerate and I'm sure he can get back to High Garden without me.

One of the nearby marsupial predators showed it's teeth and hissed as they passed.

That's right, Selene thought. I might not need to fear death, but I sure as heck am not keen to get torn apart.

They left the cat-like Thylacoleo behind and kept going. Selene could hear running water somewhere nearby, but otherwise the forest was eerily silent. The Obelisk would be south of them. She tugged lightly on the reigns and Sunny banked to the left and passed over a shallow stream. The wrongness of everything was something she couldn't ignore, and that feeling only increased as they headed further south and she became aware of an omnipresent humming.

“Do you hear that?”, she asked Sunny.

“It is like the rumbling of a thunderstorm”, he cautioned as he sniffed at the air. “It smells like one, too.”

Yes, thought Selene. Ozone particles.

The woods were thinning out. Ahead of them peaking through the foliage, Selene could see the ocean, as a passing breeze brought hints of the salty, sea air. Blue skies could be seen above, and she thought to herself that cloudy weather would be more appropriate to what she was feeling. The closer they got to their destination, the more she became aware of the weight on her chest; not a physical weight of course. It was a deep sense of foreboding.

Sunny slowed his pace and took a few cautious steps beyond the tree line, and that's when she saw it: a giant, oblong slab of smooth rock, laying on it's side in the crater. The rock was massive. It was hundreds of meters from tip to tip. Selene couldn't even imagine how much it weighed. Of course, she had been near an Obelisk before, but one that was floating fifty meters off the ground – never one that was grounded. Seeing it in this crater, with all of these felled redwood trees in it's wake, she was able to fully appreciate it's scale. Sunny was standing on the edge of the crater, but the actual Obelisk was a good dozen meters below.

She grabbed her climbing gear and the rope, and started to dismount. At least she wouldn't have to worry about any animals getting the drop on her. They wouldn't be able to hide. Oh gods, she suddenly thought. How many lives must have ended when that thing fell? Though she didn't relish the idea of being eaten alive by a predator, they were still living creatures. Well, she thought, hopefully they had enough time to feel something was off and run away.

“You are going down?”, Sunny asked. “But we can see it from here.”

“Yes, but I need to touch it, examine it.”, she replied as her feet hit the ground. “As far as we know, this has never happened before. And no one has been able to get this close to an Obelisk.”

“There is probably a reason for that”. Sunny inched forward, sending some small pebbles over the edge, and glancing down at them as they bounced off the Obelisk. “I do not like this at all, Selene. Every part of me says that creatures were not meant to interact with this thing. Why else would it be placed in the sky, out of reach?”

She didn't know the answer.

“What's your hypothesis for that?”, he continued, as he moved back a few steps from the edge.

She began uncoiling the rope on the ground so she could check the length of it. “I don't have one. That's why we are here; to gather information. Then after I have that information, maybe I can form a working hypothesis.”

Sunny looked at her. “Then what is your best guess?”

“Nerts, I don't know!”, she raised her voice in frustration. “I'm sorry, Sunny. I'd rather not guess, because if I guess, I might assume the worst and I might get even more anxious than what I'm already feeling and might just say, let's turn around and head back.” She paused. “And I can't let myself do that.

“Maybe the Obelisks float in the sky for no other reason than to be seen”, she continued. “Maybe that's the only reason for them. Maybe they are meant to be seen, and for the people of Asgard to think, 'My my, that magic rock is terribly mysterious'”, she said, imitating what she thought someone in high society would sound like. “'What a terribly mysterious rock, and a terribly mysterious land we find ourselves in.' Maybe that's the why they exist.”

He looked down at her flatly. “If that were true, why would you be feeling so agitated?”

Her therapy dino seemed to have a point. She finished uncoiling the rope and looked at it. It would be much more than she needed. Now she just needed to figure out a way to hook it to something so she could safely get down there.

“You're right. It's not just for show. I think all creatures fear the unknown. It's a survival mechanism. Fearing the unknown keeps you safe, at least until you can observe it enough so that it becomes known. But there's more to these Obelisks than that.” The agitation that Sunny pointed out, it wouldn't go away. It was the noise – the noise was making it difficult to think straight. “I know I shouldn't anthropomorphize, but the sound it's making. I can't decide if it sounds angry, or if it's the frantic cries of a wounded creature.” She took the rope and began looping it around Sunny's leg.

“Wounded creatures can still be dangerous”, he pointed out. “It's in that moment when they know there is nothing left to lose.” He looked down at her and cocked his head in puzzlement, at the rope she was attaching to his back right foot. “What are you doing down there?”

“Connecting the rope to you. You are heavier than I am, so you should provide a pretty swell anchor for me to repel down. And once I'm done investigating, I'll give you a shout and you can walk backwards and pull me up.”

Sunny stared at the rope, his eyes traveling along it's length to where Selene was fastening it to her waist. “Smart”

She smiled. “I have my moments.”

“I still want you to be careful, Selene.

“I promise, I will be”, she said as she finished tying the knot. She triple knotted it, so hopefully it would hold. She was really wishing now that she knew more about using them and which type was appropriate for the circumstance. She gave the rope a tug. If either end of it failed, she'd probably still be able to climb out. Probably. Hopefully. For now, everything seemed secure.

“I'm going to need you to back up until you here me say stop. Then you can walk back towards the edge.” He looked at her skeptically, as if thinking it silly that she couldn't climb down on her own. “Don't look at me like that.” She raised her arm and flexed it. “I have zero upper body strength, okay? This is the most physically demanding thing I've done since waking up here. I promise, after all of this is over, I'll go to a gym or something, okay?”

Sunny raised an eye ridge at her. “Why do humans go through the process of creating and attending something artificial instead of just going into the world and exercising your bodies?” He began moving back, disappearing behind the tree line as the excess rope began following. “When do you think was the last time one of us attended a gym?”, he muttered, his voice still crystal clear to Selene's ears. “Have you ever seen a fat T-Rex?”

“No”, she said under her breath. “But then again, until this past year, all the T-Rex's I've seen were all skin and bones. Mostly bones.”

“Hah”, his laugh echoed through the forest.

Selene smiled and chuckled to herself. This was the first time she'd heard Sunny laugh. Ever. Humor wasn't a concept that dinosaurs should be capable of. Especially the human type of humor. Then again, he shouldn't be capable of anything else, either. But then another thought came to her, causing her face to scrunch up. “How could you hear that? I barely made a sound.”

“I can hear you just fine”, came his reply. And she acknowledge to herself that she could hear him just fine, too.

“I wonder if it's our implants? Maybe they function a bit like two way radios.” She looked down at the rope. “Oh. You can slowly come back now, Sunny.”

She carefully knelt down and lowered herself into the hole, holding onto the edge for a moment to steady her heart, and then letting go and gripping the rope. The loop around her waist held and she was slowly being lowered down. She felt vaguely like a burlap sack. The thick hemp rope above made a soft scratching noise as it rubbed against the dirt, which became harder to hear as she got further down. The stone Obelisk was getting closer and closer. The hum, the reverberation of energy, was getting louder and louder.

Thrum. Thrum. THRUM.

It reached a deafening crescendo as the gargantuan structure stretched out before her. She was now close enough to see the fine texture of the stone. Five meters. Four meters. Three. Two. One.

She stretched out her foot, attempting to touch the rock with her toe. And then a curious thing happened that she was not expecting. A thing so unexpected and wrong that he sent her anxiety skyrocketing.

Her boot-tip went through the rock!

And hugging her boot where it disappeared into the stone, a disk of pure white light traced the perimeter of the leather. Both feet now were submerged. She was kicking her feet frantically and finding nothing of substance. She yelled to Sunny. “Help! Lift me up!”, but the rope kept lowering. She gripped with her hands and tried to lift herself, but she was being lowered too quickly. Everything beneath her knees was gone. And then her waist. And then.

Her feet touched something solid.

She found herself suddenly standing, with her lower half into the rock like she was some sort of ghost. Well, I did die, so technically. She shook her head, her heart feeling like it was going to escape through her chest. “Not helping, brain!”, she protested aloud.

The rope was now slack. She released her grip and timidly tried to touch the Obelisk's surface. Where she touched, her hands disappeared beneath, leaving a ring of brilliant white light around them, the same light that encircled her waist. She closed her eyes and tried to steady her breathing. If this kept up she was going to faint, and that wasn't going to help any one. She had to figure this thing out.

Okay. She opened her eyes.

THRUM. THRUM. THRUM.

She could do this. Whatever was going on, everything was fine. Sure, her body was ghosting inside the Obelisk, but obviously she wasn't a ghost, and there was an actual solid surface somewhere that her feet were standing on. She needed to get a look at it.

She dropped down on her knees, just her head now above the false surface. “Alright, here we go.” She closed her eyes without really thinking about it, as if she was submerging into water, and plunged her head underneath. She breathed in. “Okay, still air, so that's good at least.”

Selene opened her eyes.

The surface below her certainly wasn't rock. It was some type of metal; a metal that Selene had never before seen. It was dark, like obsidian, but at the same time, it was not. It seemed to catch the light and refract it, change it. She reached down and ran her hand along it. It was cool to the touch, and completely smooth, as if polished. As she pressed down against it, she could feel it pressing back. It wasn't strong, but it was still noticeable – the feeling one would get from trying to touch two magnets together at the same pole. The more force she used, the more she felt the metal vibrate in acknowledgment.

As she spent more time looking at it, she noticed that the metal wasn't all the same color. It started off almost imperceivable, but over time she came to realize that there were hexagon shaped variations running along the surface. In her mind came a thought: it is a show of trust. Such an odd thought to have – it made no sense to her. Where did such a thought even come from? Her eyes were locked on the metal. The hexagon patterns rippled and changed.

THRUM. THRUM. THRUM.

The patterns pulsed with the sound of it. Were they responding to the sound, or were they the sound? As she listened, because at this distance she really had no choice, she noticed variations in tone and frequency. It wasn't a unified pattern. There was structure to the noise, a foundation, but over it, there was so much more. There was a language being spoken here; she didn't understand the words, but she was sure of it.

She suddenly wished that she could get a sample of this strange metal to study. Unfortunately, she reminded herself, she had no equipment to extract it, and without further observation she didn't know if extraction was even safe. Yes. The method needed to be followed. She couldn't cut corners out of excitement.

Selene closed her eyes and centered herself. Her mission was to observe and report back. Nothing more. And she had, she had observed – not just the Obelisk, but everything Asgard was trying to sell them. And after everything she had seen, and after what she had seen today, she came to one inescapable conclusion:

This whole island is a heap of hokum!

 

---

 

The story continues with another two chapters on February 13th. Thank you for reading!

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Hi everyone!

Quick update before I post the next two chapters. After this week's scheduled chapter drop, there's only three chapters left in Book 1. So for next week, instead of posting the following two, and the last chapter for the week after, I'll just post the remaining three chapters all at once. And that will do it for Book 1 in the series.

What happens after that? The feedback I've gathered so far is that the first couple chapters have a lot of run on sentences and some characters that show up where I talk about their character traits rather than showing those traits in action. This all makes sense to me. The first few chapters I didn't know for sure where I was going and wasn't as experienced when it comes to writing, and then I went back later and added to them. Once I finish posting Book 1, I'm going to go back and edit everything to help with the readability and immersion. And after that's done and I feel that this novel is as good as I'm capable of making it... I don't know. That depends on you. I have everything blocked out for book 2 of this series and where I'm taking it, but ultimately my goal is to be a published author. I can keep going with this story and writing for Ark, or I can write original stories where I have more control over them and more avenues to get them published. It's a tough choice. I love writing Ark - I feel like I know the universe really well and I'm passionate about it. But I want to be a published author - I want my work to be seen and hopefully appreciated.

TLDR: If I get the feedback and people reach out to me and tell me to keep writing, that they want to see where the story goes, I'll keep writing.

Thanks for reading this mind vomit, and back to the story!!!

Edited by ArkWriter
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Chapter 11

 

In this glowing palace among the stars, the true seat of power for Asgard, Sven finally understood it all. Well, all, in this situation was a bit abstract. He didn't understand the universe as a whole, but he understood his place in it. Unfortunately that understanding didn't bring about any peace of mind. It was always said, knowledge is power, but whoever first coined the phrase obviously had no understanding of the burden that knowledge could put on a person. In the situation that Sven was in now, a different phrase came to mind: ignorance is bliss. Sometimes you shouldn't know how the cake is made; you should just shut up and enjoy the cake. But now that Sven was through the looking glass, it was too late to ever go back.

Sven could see his breath. He wished he'd dressed warmer. In High Garden, the weather was perfect, around twenty-four degrees Celsius. Odin had been able to raise the temperature in his palace to above freezing, but his ability to do so was limited. This place had not been designed with humans in mind. Only the gods were meant to live here.

To his right, on one of the displays, a red indicator light was flashing. At first, Sven, or at least that part of him from his past, had thought it funny that a red flashing light was apparently the universal indicator of bad news. Odin explained to him though, that the light as well as the interface, had been specifically created for Sven. The god had no use for such clumsy controls; his will was all that was needed. Sven on the other hand did need the controls, and that annoying red light had been blinking ever since the Obelisk fell. Yes, Sven knew about the Obelisk and was worried that something he did or didn't do caused it to happen. He now understood their purpose. He knew that the island of Asgard could still survive with two working Obelisks, for the moment, but the fact that one was missing would put additional strain on the other two. So the clock was ticking to get the problem figured out.

Odin was standing beside him. “You don't need to appear this way”, Sven commented distractedly, his mind mostly pouring into the statistical readouts flashing over his displays. “You've already shown me your true form. It does not bother me.”

“It's easier to lean over your shoulder this way”, the god laughed. Then he quieted and became more serious. “I don't wish to distract you from our current situation.” Sven could appreciate that. Odin's true form sparked at least twenty questions that Sven desperately wanted answers for, and right now they didn't have time for twenty questions. Though Sven still wasn't much closer to being able to resolve the errors.

“I think I've done about all I can from this work station. The issue appears to be hardware, not software. And unfortunately, neither Sven nor Ben is trained in that department.”

Odin appeared thoughtful and stroked his beard. “If you were able to get to the power regulation system and further diagnose the issue, it is possible that I could talk you through how to fix it.”

“Why can't we just go there now?”

“We don't have access”

Sven laughed. He was used to Bjorn being the one to make ridiculous statements. That a god wouldn't be able to go somewhere, or couldn't grant Sven access. “That doesn't make any sense. You are in control of the entire island. How would you not have access?”

“Think of it this way, if you like. I am not the only god of this island.”

“Do the other gods look like you?”, he asked. “The true you?”

“No”, Odin rumbled. “They have less physical form, and their ability to process information is much more limited. These lesser gods are given control of very specific domains. And the domain where the reactor is located is not mine. I am not able to go there.”

“And Sven? Sven is not Odin.”

The god had that far off look in his eyes as he reflected. “You do not have the right access level. But perhaps there is a way we can change that.”

“In the mean time