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  1. That's it! That's a wrap on Book 1 of Ark Ragnarok: The Valhalla Experiment! Over the next week I will be making minor edits on some of the earlier chapters based on feedback I received. If you liked the story and want to see it continue, this is what I need for you to do: 1. Comment! Otherwise I don't even know if anyone read it and I'll probably work on other projects, so you need to tell me that you read it and want me to continue with Book 2! 2. If you have a friend who might enjoy it, let them know or mention it on social media! Thank you! Thank you for taking the time to read my story! I hope that you enjoyed it and that my passion for the world and characters have paid off. Goodbye for now!
  2. Chapter 13 “There's only enough rope for one of us”, observed Selene as they reached the base of the mountain, the dinosaurs and even Barry looking a little uneasy, as if they thought they would be forced into climbing up the mountain themselves. Originally, Sven took her comment to mean that she was afraid of climbing. Ever since the reveal that people wouldn't be coming back from death, she seemed preoccupied. He'd tried to help. He tried to explain that she had a giant Allosaurus for Odin's sake, tried to tell her that she had less to fear, that all of those big scary predators lurking around every corner were mostly just in her mind. He caught glimpses of the level headed scientist she and others claimed she was, but that lady was behind a wall of anxiety. “Sven can climb the wall alone if Selene feels more comfortable on the ground”, he said as he began the process of untethering the dinosaurs. In the event that they were attacked by something, he wanted them to have full freedom of movement to defend themselves. “We only need one bundle of rope.”, he pointed out. “You could climb up ahead of Sven, and Sven could be there, right behind you for support. If you lost your footing, I would catch you.” “It's not that”, she said, looking down on him from on top of the Allosaurus. The fact that she was staying firmly up high in the saddle, he found to be very telling. “Why make this more complicated than it needs to be? Perhaps you are right and that I shouldn't be afraid to live, and perhaps once we are done here and everything quiets down, you can instruct me on climbing. But right now, your friends...our friends”, she quickly amended, “are up there.”, she paused and looked upwards. Interestingly, Sven noted, so did Sunny, almost in unison. She looked back down at him. “Now, as it seems from what you said earlier that there is no danger a top the mountain; that the point of this journey is to collect them and bring them back to High Garden as quickly as possible, I would suggest that you alone are more suited to the task without me slowing you down.” Okay, Sven thought, so she did have a good reason beyond just being scared. He nodded to her as he finished unsinching the knots. Holly immediately jumped up on some of the rocks, digging in her claws and perching there, giving a soft roar of contentment. Meanwhile, Flotti pawed at the now slack rope, and then, apparently deciding that it was thoroughly dead, circled and laid down. Freyja had always said Flotti was the most active of her three cats. Sven chuckled to himself. If Flotti was the active one, the other two must be constantly asleep. He guessed that would explain why he'd only seen them the once or twice he'd been in Freyja's house. She wasn't there often, preferring adventure even above Sven. “Alright”, he said with determination in his voice as he approached the ridge with his climbing gear. A cool breeze blew across him, and he was suddenly glad it was so early in the morning. He was also grateful that this wasn't much of a mountain compared to the ones that ran through the islands, center. Those snow topped peaks rose several thousand feet. He turned back towards Selene. “The animals shouldn't wander too far. If anything happens though, just give a yell.” Though he probably wouldn't hear her from so high up. “Actually, just have Sunny roar. Sven will definitely hear that.” Though, the only thing that could possibly be a threat was the dragon Selene had seen earlier, and he figured, if it showed up he'd probably notice it without any assistance from Selene or Sunny. – The climb to the top was only about five hundred feet. He had to admit, it was saving a lot of time having Selene stay behind. If she accompanied him, he would have needed to continually anchor her with the rope and climbing pins. As it was just himself, the side of the cliff provided more than enough texture and cracks to function as hand holds, and his body in this realm was built like a tank, so he wouldn't need to worry about any flagging endurance – at least for a climb of this height. He stayed focused on the task at hand. His mind wanted to slip, wanted to think about how he was going to investigate the source of the energy drain as Odin expected him to do. He'd kind of volunteered without fully thinking it through. He briefly wondered how he was going to investigate anything, looking as he did. This body didn't exactly lend itself to subtlety. He reached up for another handhold, but the spot crumbled and in flash his of adrenaline, he found himself dangling by one hand, his feet also slipping off their previous position. He breathed and reached for a new crack in the cliff side; this one much sturdier that could handle his weight. Stay focused Sven, he reminded himself. As he neared the top, he could hear voices. Poking his head over the precipice, he was relieved to see his two friends, although a little confused when Bjorn was bent over grunting with Freyja carefully teetering over his shoulder. “Bjorn! Freya!” On hearing his voice the two of them toppled over in surprise, Freyja giving out a shriek of pain, cradling a crudely bandaged arm. “Sven!”, Bjorn exclaimed, crawling out from under Freyja, and offering him an arm which Sven gladly grabbed, allowing his fellow Viking to haul him up. Bjorn grunted with the exertion and then hunched over, wiping his brow. Freyja had her teeth clenched. “It's good do see you; better than you could possibly know. I have all of these questions about where you've been, but for the moment, I'm just glad I don't have to lower Freyja back down on my own. Did you see a Pteranodon down there?” “Sven didn't see one, but it's alright. Sven and Selene brought your dinos with us” “Selene's down there?” Bjorn straightened himself and seemed to have a second wind over the news. His face got a silly grin on it, as if he was a school boy let out on recess. He sat up, somewhat wobbly, and walked over towards the edge to look down, a hand on Sven's shoulder to steady himself. “She is down there”. He laughed. “And Sunny is there, too!” He waved, and Sven wasn't sure the speck in the distance would even be able to make him out, what with the Sun above them. Bjorn would probably only appear as a dark silhouette against the otherwise bright sky. “Aren't you going to ask what happened to me?”, complained Freyja. “Why is Bjorn getting all the attention. I'm the one who's injured”. She gave out a pitiful chuckle, clinging that arm of hers. Sven grabbed Bjorn's arm and pulled him away from the edge, then knelt down beside Freyja for a better look. She was in rough shape. Her arm was broken; he couldn't tell how badly. It was wrapped in some kind of white fabric, discolored dried blood spoke of perhaps more than simply a broken bone. Her arm was roped onto a makeshift splint. “Sven is just glad you're still alive.” He looked up at Bjorn. “Both of you”, he added. “There is much to tell both of you. Most of it can wait for when we get back, but the most important part right now is that you can die. I mean”, he corrected, stumbling a little over his words, “Right now if any of us die, we won't come back.” Freyja laughed and winced. “So I can't off myself and re-spawn whole? That's cruel. Glad I didn't try it.” “But why?”, asked Bjorn. “Why can't we regenerate?” “Sven will explain it all once we get off this rock and are on our way back to High Garden. We must make haste.” – It was another ten minutes before they were ready to begin lowering Freyja. Bjorn originally thought to make some sort of cradle or hammock, and lower her down, but making one used up too much of their rope. In the end, they had to combine the two lengths of rope in order to have enough to lower her completely. They made a loop on one end that she could stick her feet through. Then the two of them just had take hold of the rope and slowly snake it down. They found a large, smooth rock beside the castle that they could run the rope around to act as a pivot point. Now all that was left to do was put their plan into action. “Don't look so worried”, Freyja said to Bjorn. “If the two of you screw up, I fall to my death and then I can spend eternity haunting you both.” She always made light of a situation when she was nervous. “Though as much fun as that could be, I'd rather you make sure I survive this. I don't think that poor paleontologist down there could mentally handle it.” Sven agreed. None of them could handle it. Freyja stuck her feet through the loop and grabbed the rope with her good hand. He and Sven looked at each other and braced themselves as best they could, each of them taking the rope and wrapping it around their hands. Sven bent his knees and tensed his muscles. She nodded to them and then jumped over the edge. She disappeared from view and a moment later the rope went taught. Sven felt the burn as the hemp fibers dug into his hand. He stumbled forward a step and then leaned backwards, trying to re-center himself against the pull of the rope. “Freyja, are you okay?”, Bjorn shouted. Sven figured she must be, otherwise the rope would have gone slack. “I'm fine”, came the strained yell back. “Just get me lowered to the ground.” Bjorn and Sven slowly fed down the rope. They didn't look behind them to see how much rope was left. They just had to trust that there was enough to get her down to safety. Each of them was sweating with exertion, but with the two of them working together, it was manageable. “Hey Sven?”, Bjorn asked. “All that time with Odin, did he tell you what the secret is to getting into this castle. Or does the god have to teleport you inside?” Sven knew that there were many things about his experience that he wouldn't be able to communicate. Even now, such a short time later, some of the details were beginning to fade from his memory. But this was one thing he could share. “Sven wasn't in that castle”, he responded, pausing to take a few deep breaths of air as all of his muscles continued to strain. “Sven was in Valhalla, but that isn't Valhalla. It's...”, there was a specific word that described it, so instead he just finished with, “it's a misdirection.” “But why?”, Bjorn grunted. “Why would Odin place this here? To deceive us?” He was about to respond when suddenly he was out of rope – the last bit of it slipped through his fingers and the sudden lack of tension lead to him falling on his butt. Bjorn lurched forward and let go of the rope, and Sven had only an instance to think of what this meant. His friend was falling. They had let her down. And that was the end of it. No coming back. Thankfully a moment later, the rope went completely slack. Freyja must have only been a meter off the ground, at least that's what Sven hoped. A glance was shared between he and Bjorn, and Sven popped back up on his feet, both of them rushing to the edge of the cliff face to see what had become of their friend. Down below he could see Freyja and Selene standing side by side. Apparently, she had made it down without any injury. Bjorn and Sven laughed. The two of them made it down a few minutes later, after having sinched the rope around the rock and tying it off. – “Time to explain what's going on”, stated Freyja. Sven could tell she was in a lot of pain. Her eyes had rarely strayed from straight in front of her since they began riding, with her jaw mostly clamped tight. Her sabertooth was doing the equivalent of a light jog – all of the animals were, except for Sunny whose strides were much greater than the others. “Sven doesn't know where to begin”. So much had happened in such a short time. Everything Sven had believed about this place had been shattered. Even beyond the mental block Odin had put in place to hide some of the specifics of his rule, there was much he could tell, and none of it good. The knowledge wouldn't bring peace. It certainly hadn't with Sven; much of it he was still processing, himself. Maybe there was a way he could just tell them the basics, or line it in a way that didn't drastically alter their beliefs. Was that the right thing to do, he wondered? “Come on, Sven”, chimed Bjorn. “Don't leave us in suspense. Start at the beginning” “Yes”, agreed Freyja, managing a weak laugh. “I could really use the distraction.” Sven rubbed his chin. The others expected him to be a goofy simpleton. This at least gave him a few moments more to consider. He might as well tell them as much as he could. Odin said he would be meeting with all of them tomorrow night. Might as well prepare them. “Asgard is in trouble”, he began. “We can see that”, remarked Bjorn. Sven looked to him. “Don't interrupt Sven when he's story telling.” He paused and sighed. “To be completely honest, I don't want to tell you the whole of it. It's made Sven's life a lot more complicated than it was a couple days ago. But I know if I don't tell you, you won't be able to help save this place.” He sighed again. Such a heavy burden knowledge could become. “Sven?”, Selene's soft voice came down from a top her allosaurus. “You don't have to sugarcoat anything. I'm a scientist, and I already know from my own observations that Asgard isn't what we believe it to be. You can tell us. We can handle it.” “Very well”, he replied. He then went on to tell them the entire ordeal. How the energy that maintains Asgard was faltering. How, to fix it, they would be required to somehow prove themselves worthy. And how, to give them more time, the God couldn't let anyone else regenerate. The others rode in silence, listening. None interrupted when Sven took a pause to organize his thoughts. And once he was done, it was several more minutes before anyone spoke, though Selene could be seen leaning forward and quietly mouthing something to her dinosaur. Bjorn broke the silence. “What I don't understand is, why you, Sven? You're basically saying that there's an issue with Asgard's energy grid. Why would Odin come to you rather than someone like Selene? Someone who is...”, he paused, rubbing his neck. “...more of an academic.” “I admit”, commented Selene. “Sunny and I were wondering the same thing”. Sven stared at her for a moment, Selene suddenly blushing under his gaze and turning away. It must have been tough not having any friends for so long, he reflected. To not have anyone to talk to, the way Sven had Bjorn and Freyja. “Sven... wasn't always like this.” He closed his eyes and thought back to that previous life. A life of pain and disappointment, some of that pain coloring his voice. “On Earth, I worked with computers.” “You worked with mathematicians?”, asked Selene. “I think he's saying he worked with like PCs and Macs”, replied Bjorn. Selene chuckled. “Oh. I have no idea what those are, but carry on. Maybe I'll be able to understand from context.” “I was a system administrator. I worked with servers, mainframes, that sort of thing.” “Nope”, Selene responded. “More gibberish.” “So let me get this straight”, questioned Freyja. “You're telling us you've been like some sort of reverse Clark Kent the whole time? You're built like a tank but you're secretly some kind of nerdy, super genius?” “Something like that”, he responded. All this time trying to distance himself from his past life. Now it would all come rushing back. “Please don't tell anyone. I don't want to be looked at differently” “Why not”, Freyja laughed. “This is the most amazing thing I've heard all day. You're like a James Bond sleeper agent.” “Right?”, responded Bjorn. “Basically, you're telling us that you're the whole package. Why would you want to hide this?” “I know why”. Sven and the others looked up at Selene. “All 'academics' as you put it earlier, Bjorn, understand.” “Well”, Bjorn responded. “For all us non-academics, perhaps you can clarify.” “It's rather very simple”, came her curt reply, a little saltiness making it's way into her voice. “Being smarter than most of your peers can be isolating. People treat you differently. Take me for example: there's a reason why I've had so much time to research the strangeness of this island and question it all. I'm lonely. And the more I see and the more I question, the more people don't want anything to do with me. And I can't even blame them. I can imagine how that would feel, to have someone thinking circles around you; it would just make you feel dumb by comparison. No one wants to feel that way. That's the curse of being too smart.” “But I don't feel that way when I'm with you”, Bjorn blurted. “I think you are amazing. Sunny is pretty amazing, too”, he added. The way Sunny raised his head a little higher almost made Sven think that he understood the compliment. “Heh, thank you”, she managed, her cheeks taking on a light pink tone. “Sven just wants to be treated like Sven. Just a normal guy, you know? A normal guy that can bench one thousand pounds and fight off a horde of dinosaurs.” He chuckled weakly at his own joke. The truth was, with the cat out of the bag, Sven didn't know whether things would ever be the same again. Others in his tribe of Vikings would start referring to him as the 'brainy one'. Maybe some would even wonder if he really fit in to the tribe. “You're a dummy”, laughed Freyja. “Of course you'll still be Sven, the guy that runs screaming into battle in just his underwear. Nothing is going to change that. Those poor decisions are going to be with you forever.” She smiled. “But you can be smart, too. With how big you are, I think there's room in there for all of you.” “Of course”, agreed Bjorn. He looked to Sven and up to Selene. “Having someone smart on the team only makes us more dangerous.” Selene looked down and glared at him. “Hey, aren't you forgetting someone?” Bjorn grinned. “You're right. Sunny is pretty smart, too!” They all laughed, and Sven thought, you know, maybe it would be okay. After all, back on Earth he'd never had close friends like Bjorn and Freyja. And maybe Selene now, too. Unfortunately he didn't have faith in some of the others in his tribe, but they didn't have to know. Maybe he really could count on his friends to keep this side of him a secret. By now the Sun was nearing the mid point of the sky and they were coming up through the cliffs and now the trail starting winding down into the valley. They passed the giant stone guardians that stood guard, chiseled into the cliff sides. Ahead of them, down below, they could see the roof tops of buildings, now with wisps of smoke from many cook fires drifting into the sky. “There's one other detail that Sven has to tell you. Something very important.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “Odin showed Sven a map of where most of the regenerations on the island happen. And almost all of them are happening in the High Garden region. People here are either exceptionally clumsy, or there's something else going on.” “Something else, like what?”, asked Freyja. “I do not know. And neither does Odin. He wants Sven to investigate for him. Sven doesn't know where to even start. But if we are able to find out before Odin arrives tomorrow night, Odin might allow for regenerations again.” “I suppose you could just ask Aido”, reasoned Selene. “Being that he's one of the leaders, I'm sure he would be able to help.” Bjorn laughed. “I'm sure that would go well. 'Excuse me, Aido, but do you know anything about why your people seem to be so prone to death'? “Oh come on”, Selene shook her head. “We wouldn't frame the question like that. All I'm saying is that Aido really cares about the people on this island. Maybe he knows something or maybe he could at least point us in the right direction.” Sven had never met this person, but to him, it seemed like as good a place to start as any. --- Chapter 14 Aido had never seen Sven up close. He had never seen a man this large before – even larger than a sumo wrestler. He looked like the charactiture of an American body builder that he might see in a manga back in his past life. All of these hulking muscles and the smile that came far too easily to the man's lips. It immediately made sense to him why Odin would seek him out, being the perfect image of a Nordic warrior. Or at least, a cartoon version of one. Initially, he was disappointed by the Viking man's reappearance. It would have been a much better rallying cry to the people of Asgard if he had not returned. Fortunately, multiple paths forward were still available. “So you re-appeared in High Garden, precisely where you vanished the day before?”, Aido raised his eyebrow, “Then what did the rest of you find in the castle?” Perhaps there was still something else there that could be exploited. He had to hope. It was very nearly noon and people were expecting him to give a speech and report on the situation. It would be a very short report, otherwise. Granted, the amount of words coming out of his mouth wouldn't matter and would not be remembered. Actions mattered. He was meeting with the three Vikings and Selene his small, private office in the back of the council building. Aido sat behind the desk in an ornate wicker chair, while the others stood on the opposite side of his desk. Unfortunately his ceremonial robe was not very comfortable, having been made of thick fabric with raised shoulders. Mr Tao recommended he give the people a show. And there definitely would be a large audience for his theatrics. The town was packed. Everyone was being kept in suspense. Well, soon they would know. “There was nothing there”, responded Freyja. She looked in pretty bad shape. Aido eyed her arm. Hopefully it wouldn't become infected. If so, Asgard would lose a competent warrior, and Aido would lose a potential valuable ally from the Viking tribe. Aido tapped his finger tips together. “A solid gold palace, an area apparently so sacred that beasts are not able to exist there. And yet, you found nothing. No Odin, no lesser gods. Absolutely nothing.” He stopped his tapping and clasped his hands together. “How detailed was your search? Perhaps there is something else in the castle that could be of value. At the very least a clue as to it's desertion.” Bjorn shifted as he spoke. “It wasn't deserted. It wasn't even a castle, not really. It was meant to look like a castle, but there's no way inside. It's just a prop.” Now that was something Aido could use. He smiled inwardly to himself and turned to Selene. She was standing off to the back of the group, almost hidden from view. “This seems to confirm some of your theories, Selene” The others turned to her and she stepped forward to the forefront. Her eyes gleamed as she glanced at the Vikings and then locked her eyes on Aido, her brows nit in determination. “Those theories can wait.” she said, placing her hands on the edge of the desk. “The Obelisk you wanted me to inspect? It's not stone at all. It's meant to look like it, but when you get up to it, the illusion breaks and you see it for what it is.” “Which is?”, Aido prompted. “I don't know. It's some kind of metal. I've never seen anything like it before. But the more immediate problem I spotted on my way back: a dragon. It came from our south and flew straight at us. I thought Sunny and I were lunch, but then it grabbed a Raptor in it's talons and flew away.” Perfect. Aido smiled at her. “I am very glad you made it back to us in one piece. I'm assuming the appearance of the dragon is connected with the Obelisk and Sven's...ab”, he began but paused as the hulking Viking glared at him. “Sven's disappearance”, he finished. “Sven, certainly you must have some insights” “What can Sven tell you?”, asked the Viking. What, indeed, thought Aido. Of all the Vikings Odin had to pick, he had to pick this lumbering idiot. Aido would just have to spell it out for him. “You spent an entire day with Odin”, responded Aido, diplomatically. “Surely, you must be able to tell of his mental state or at the least, what the purpose was behind him taking you.” The Viking stared ahead and rubbed his neck, absently. He looked to his friends, his body tense with what appeared to be uncertainty. Perhaps expecting a simpleton to be able to process this kind of experience was asking too much. Aido was about to change tactics when the Viking cleared his throat and coughed. “Sven was summoned to destroy a great beast that threatens all of Asgard.”, Sven suddenly smacked Aido's desk and roared. “It was a glorious battle! Sven jumped on the creatures back and stabbed it with a magical axe, but, the creature reared and threw Sven aside like he was a toothpick. Unfortunately, Odin overestimated Sven's abilities.” The Viking looked to his friends and seemed to lose a good deal of his bluster. “Sven wasn't able to defeat the creature, and Asgard is still in danger.” “Was the creature the dragon that Selene spoke of?” Sven shook his head. “The creature was a trans-dimensional beast with many tentacles. Those tentacles are stretched all throughout Asgard, slowly choking off the realms life force.” Aido was close to writing off this entire tale as the delusions of an addled mind, but then Sven had said those words. Life Force. Our sudden and unexpected mortality. Aido leaned forward. “Sven, where is this creature? You said it's tentacles were all over Asgard, but we cannot see them.” Sven laughed and the room shook. “Of course you cannot see them. The creature is trans-dimensional. You can only see it by visiting Odin's realm such as Sven has.” Aido stared ahead and took a deep breath. “Then perhaps, my friend, we should all visit Odin's realm together. I could assemble my warriors and you could assemble the Vikings and we could end this threat.” The Viking sneered. “Vikings could but Sven thinks the High Gardeners are too soft, too prone to death. They are artists with far too many comforts. Not warriors like Vikings” “I assure you, High Garden is more than up to the task. No one has died here in months. We are more sturdy then you give us credit, as you will soon find out.” He closed his eyes to try to recenter himself. He was wishing now more than ever that Odin had kept this Viking. It would have been far better for everyone on Asgard. There came a knock on the door. “Yes”, Aido snapped with more bite in his voice than he intended. The door inched open, revealing Mr Tao. “I apologize for the interruption my Emperor, but the people are ready for you.” Finally, Aido thought. Finally all these years were about to come into focus. He stood up and straightened his robes and looked at each of the Vikings and Selene in front of him. He was hoping that this would go well. The Vikings were self described warriors. It might take them time to understand that Odin didn't represent their best self interest, but he was sure they would understand the stance that Aido was about to make. And Selene was an outsider – a woman of science, of logic. He felt a sort of kinship with her. She would stand by his side in all of this. Aido extended his arm, motioning for the door. “I have a few final preparations to make, but I will be out shortly.” He smiled at them; not a political show, but one of great gratitude. “Thank you for the information you've provided. You have all been absolutely invaluable and I look forward to strengthening our friendship.” Selene gave him a brief smile. The Vikings gave a soft nod. They all turned to leave, walking out of his office. “Mr Tao”, he said before the door could close, “If I could see you for just one moment.” Mr Tao stepped in and closed the door. He bowed. “Yes, your excellency?” “Is everything ready?” “Yes, your excellency. Everything is prepared.” Aido closed his eyes and breathed deeply. It was finally going to happen. Years of planning – more than years, decades! The tree that he had carefully cultivated and nurtured for so long was finally about to bare fruit. --- Chapter 15 Bjorn turned to Sven as they were exiting the back hallways of the council building. His friend was wearing a reserved grin, about as subtle as he was capable of, or so he would have thought before today. Their boots all echoed on the polished marble floors. He spoke in hushed tones so his voice wouldn't carry. “I see what you did back there. Pretty clever.” Sven laughed, his booming voice reverberating back from all around them, like an army of Sven's. “Aido expected a big, dumb idiot. Sven was only giving him what he wanted” “I'm not sure the theatrics were needed.”, piped in Selene. “We could have just asked him. Besides, all we really learned is that he doesn't know what's going on.” Freyja hurried beside them. “What I want to know is why you made up some story about heroically battling a space demon... or whatever those words were coming out of your mouth.” “It is as Sven said”, he boomed, and then on hearing the echos, lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “It is as Sven said: Aido expected an idiot. He expected someone all brawn and no brain, and that's exactly what Sven gave him.” He threw his head back an laughed again, apparently quite proud of himself. Bjorn wondered for a moment if this was a common occurrence – of his friend fooling everyone and having a good laugh about it. That thought went out of his head as he and the others turned the corner and entered the council chambers. The chambers, which were completely filled to the brim a few minutes earlier, were completely empty. They all stopped where they were, and looked around, trying to process things. Selene grabbed Bjorn's hand. He looked down at it in surprise, and then met her eyes. Her cheeks went pink and she awkwardly released his hand. She walked forward a few steps, apparently still taking things in, leaving Bjorn to rub his palm where she had touched. He wasn't exactly that knowledgeable when it came to women, so he wasn't sure if he should take the touch as meaning something or just that she was startled and his hand was the closest thing to grab hold of; a matter of reflex and nothing more. “Did we pass through a portal into a different dimension or something?”, asked Freyja. “Like a mirror universe?” Bjorn chuckled. “They probably just ushered everyone outside since not everyone was going to fit in here.” Though if that's all it was, Bjorn couldn't explain why he had a feeling like someone was walking over his grave. Something was off. Selene shhhhh'd everyone. “Everyone be quiet.” Bjorn and the others stood in place. She had her hand cupped around her ear, apparently listening intently, but to what, Bjorn couldn't say. “There. Do you hear that?” “Sven doesn't hear anything other than his own voice bouncing off these polished stone walls.” “Exactly!”, chirped Selene, excitedly, as if she'd just made a huge scientific discovery. “Think of all of the people here for the festival. The hum of noise with that many people is a constant, especially since we returned. All those people talking and speculating. And let's be honest, it's not as if Vikings are known for being quiet.” As if on queue, Sven laughed and clapped Bjorn on the shoulder. “So what you are saying”, Freyja chuckled, “Is that it's quiet.” “Too quiet”, agreed Bjorn, though he wanted to roll his eyes at turning such an expected phrase. He looked across the room at the stained glass windows and those reinforced doors; suddenly a very imposing sight. There was a moment of pause. “What do you think is out there”, Sven asked into the silence. “I don't know”, replied Selene, “But I guess we are going to find out.” – Hundreds of people stood nervously in the town square, all grouped according to their tribes; whether forced to do so or out of a sense of comfort and familiarity, Freyja did not know. The weather had taken on a brisk chill, uncharacteristic of this part of the island. The sky had gone gray. And on the rooftops, on the walls, standing on every vantage point the town had to offer, were what appeared to be an occupying force. They stood and knelt, their black ninja garbs in sharp contrast with all the other inhabitants of Asgard. It didn't matter if a person identified as part of the River Kingdom, a member of High Garden, or a Viking – all stood in uncertainty. At first glance, it didn't appear that the ninjas were armed, but when Freyja looked closer, she could see what looked like a crude submachine gun strapped to their left arms. That explained why there was no fighting. They weren't outnumbered, but they were massively out gunned. “We need to warn Aido”, whispered Selene. She had grabbed Bjorn's arm. Bjorn showed no indication that he noticed. His eyes were studying the ninjas, darting around; he was probably trying to estimate their numbers. “It's too late to warn him”, Freyja responded with more calm than she felt. Inside, she was cursing herself that she'd grown soft. This island is constantly testing us, she thought. The fact that we are in a settlement makes no difference. “I don't know if you missed it, but they have guns attached to their arms, and they have the high ground. Melee weapons and some crossbows aren't going to be able to compete.” “Not just that”, Bjorn turned towards her, then turned back to the nearest ninja and pointed. “Look carefully. See the gun on that one's arm. It's not strapped to the arm; it is the arm. It's literally a gun arm.” Freya shook her head. “Why not just give them guns to use? Why lose an arm for it?” “Unless they were missing the arm to begin with”, Selene said in understanding as she released Bjorn's arm and took a step forward. Freyja and the others didn't say anything. Freyja was still trying to piece it together. Selene turned back to them and motioned to her left wrist. “Don't you understand? They are all missing their left arm. What's in your left arm?” It took a moment for Freyja to catch on. “The implant” Selene looked to Sven. “You know more about what's going on than anyone. So I'm wagering you could tell us what would happen if someone were able to remove it from their body?” Sven looked down at his own implant and rubbed the skin around it. It glowed a soft, blue light. “This implant monitors vital signs. If it were suddenly removed...” He paused and his mouth hung open. “The regeneration energy” – Sven had a look of understanding on his face. That look was something Selene understood well. It was the same look she got during the thrill of proving a hypothesis, or making a scientific discovery. She felt a twinge of annoyance that it was Sven who had it and not her. Selene was still unable to make sense of it, other than the realization that whatever was going on had to somehow involve the implants. Aido had shown her an implant that had been removed. As far as she was concerned, it was just a geometric chunk of metal. She was still trying to piece it together. “Are you saying”, she asked Sven, “that by removing implants, they are somehow harnessing regeneration energy?” “Sven is saying that when you die, the implant no longer detects a pulse or neural activity, and it sends out a signal that triggers Asgard to create a new you.” “They tricked the system”, exclaimed Freyja. Apparently everyone was understanding now, except Selene. “It's a clone army! They are all copies of each other!” And now Selene finally understood. Whoever or whomever was responsible for this probably would still be in the shadows, amassing an ever larger army, if not for Odin noticing and putting a stop to it. By making it so that people could no longer regenerate, he had forced their hand. “So what are they all waiting for?”, Selene asked. Sven and Freyja began moving through the crowd, towards the gathering of Vikings, leaving Bjorn and her to follow. Bjorn's eyes were on their silent watchers. “Whoever they are, they're well trained.”, he commented. “If this is an occupation or some kind of take over, they are most likely waiting for their leader to show up where he or she will probably lay out the terms for the town's surrender.” “At least it doesn't look like their intent is for a slaughter”, she observed, quietly. “No sense in a slaughter”, replied Bjorn. “Once you've taken out the opposing fighters and taken over, you're going to need the civilian population to keep the economy going. That's assuming there was an economy or resource worth claiming. Despite all the sculptures and architecture in this place, that's hardly worth anything of value. But aside from artwork, High Garden has the most fertile farm lands, and that's definitely worth something.” “Wow.” Selene was genuinely surprised. She didn't know anything about military conquests, but what Bjorn was saying sounded completely logical. “How did you suddenly become so knowledgeable with military tactics and economics?” Bjorn looked over to her and smiled, giving her hand a soft squeeze. “I'm allowed to be smart sometimes. Gotta show that I can keep up with you, after all.” He gave her hand another reassuring squeeze and then let go, letting his hand drop to his side. She chuckled and grabbed his hand and cupped it in between hers. “You don't need to walk on eggshells with me. You're plenty smart, and if I've ever given you any cause to believe otherwise, I'm sorry.” She grinned and pat his hand. “Maybe you're not as smart as Sunny, but really, who is?” “Sven probably. If he spoke dino, I'm sure the two of them would by talking about astrophysics or something.” He was quiet for a moment and turned to her and moved his other hand over hers. The warmth of it felt nice. For just a few moments she forgot that they were being surrounded by an army of ninjas, with machine guns for hands, which by the way, seemed completely impractical. Think of the weight of carrying around something like that all the time, the strain it would cause on a person's shoulder and spinal column. She began to wonder about the long term health implications. Not now, brain!, she chided herself. “You've never given me any reason to need to prove myself”, he said, softly. “That's all on me. I just, sometimes, don't feel very special. I'm part of the Viking clan because that's where I felt I best fit. But there are plenty of better warriors than me. High Garden is full of artisans, but I've honestly never been very good at creating things. And The River Kingdom, a hub of commerce; I would have settled there but it sounded like too much work and that's not what I wanted. After Earth, I figured I was due a vacation” He smiled at his joke, but the smile was brief and turned to a look of concern. “The truth is, I don't really fit in, anywhere.” “That's not true”, she looked up at him, into those eyes of his. “You have friends who care about you, friends who don't always fit, themselves. I think you are right where you need to be.” She smiled and squeezed his hands. “I think I need to listen to you more often” He leaned forward, his face, his lips, inches from her. “See.” She breathed. “I told you.” She stroked his cheek, felt the soft stubble on her finger tips. “Plenty smart” “Friends, Neighbors, Guests!” A voice shouted from somewhere behind them. She and Bjorn pulled away from each other in surprise. She knew that voice. She turned and looked up. There, on a balcony on the second floor of the council building was Aido. He looked resplendent in his robes and a gold circlet now rested on his head. His outstretched arms, a show of welcome contrasting with the armed forces all around them left Selene with a sickly feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Welcome to the beginning of a new and unified Asgard!”, he continued. “For far too long we have existed in this place, this untamed paradise. But this land is no paradise, it's a fiction; a fantasy. Through very elaborate means, we have been made to believe that this place is the afterlife. We have been led to think that we are immortal. But I am here to tell you that that is a lie. When you die, it isn't you who returns but a copy, a clone; made to look like you, and think like you, and it even has your memories. But it is not you.” “Lies!”, shouted someone from the crowd – a gruff, scratchy voice that Selene had heard before. The other Viking Sven was speaking with in the square earlier. “Our God, Odin, has appeared before us! We have seen him with our own eyes, and we have seen his power.” “I understand your hesitance”, Aido replied evenly, his voice raised to carry throughout the crowd. “But whatever that being is, it is not a God. Just ask your fellow Vikings, Bjorn and Freyja. They visited Valhalla to look for their friend. And do you know what they found? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! The golden castle was a deception, only made to look like one from the outside, from the distance. But no gods live there. If you need more proof that what I say is true, you only have to look to my soldiers. Commander!”, he shouted. “You and your men may remove your masks. The time for mystery is over.” One by one, the ninjas undid their face masks, confirming Aido's words and Selene and her friends suspicion. The crowd around them collectively gasped. Murmured voices all around her, everything from, “It's a trick”, to, “What does this mean?”, to, “It can't be true?”. Aido stood there waiting patiently, allowing his show to reach it's full affect. Aido raised his arms. “This man, Enkidu, is one of the founders of High Garden. A more dedicated and loyal man you will not find anywhere. He was willing to go as far as needed to prove his theory, and do whatever it took to best serve his people. It's through his research that we now know the purpose of that metal device that each of us has in our arms. It is constantly tracking us; our movements, our thoughts, and our vital signs. When it detects that we have passed away, the Island creates a new one of us, with all our memories leading up to when we perished. Enkidu and his assistants discovered that by removing the device, he could trick the Island to generating a new one of him. “Now!”, he shouted and waved his arms dramatically, “I don't want any of you chopping off your arm in an attempt to make other versions of yourself! There is something very wrong with this world, and perhaps because of that, regenerations are no longer happening.” The crowd of people around Selene broke out in chatter. That's not exactly what Sven told them, but given these developments, Selene wasn't about to correct Aido. After another moment or two for his words to strike home, Aido continued. “The threat to our existence has never been more real. It is not just giant dinosaurs we need to contend with. Selene, the scientist from the River Kingdom who accompanied Bjorn and Freyja in their quest to find their friend, has returned with tales of a dragon to the South. We are very thankful to her for bringing us this news. “The time has come for the tribal structure of this Island to be abolished. We are no longer members of the River Kingdom, or the Vikings, or even members of High Garden. We must come together, all of us, as Asgardians, united as one people, under one ruler. Together we will cast out our would be gods, and unlock the secrets of this land and become it's master. It's time for you all to bow down and name me your Emperor.” END OF BOOK 1
  3. I've done a lot of searching and other than a couple brief reddit posts theorizing on the topic from over a year ago, I am not able to find an answer as to what it represents. Is there an official answer? If so, what is it? If not, what are your theories? My own theory is that this giant floating ring represents the Master AI watching over the survivors. The Ocean Biome is the only biome to have this ring visible in the sky, and it's also the only biome where it's Master AI is still intact and hasn't been deleted.
  4. 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”, added Sven, “We should look to see what we can do to buy ourselves more time.” “What do you suggest?”, asked Odin. Sven hit a few buttons on his interface, and a hologram of the island appeared in the middle of the room. He turned back to the interface and selected the power management selection, which overlayed colors over the island based on the power usage. Most of the island appeared green, but there were several red splotches that indicated an increased power consumption over the past month. Sven turned to the hologram. “I noticed this a few hours ago while I was poking around. If the power regulation system is beginning to fail, and one of the Obelisks if offline, the best thing we can do is stretch out the available power.” “Interesting”, observed Odin, as he moved closer to the hologram and pointed at one red splotch in particular. “There is a large increase in the amount of regeneration energy being used. It appears to be happening within the borders of the High Garden tribe.”, he stroked his beard and said nothing more. “And?”, Sven prompted as the silence was getting uncomfortable. “Very curious, indeed”, remarked Odin, still rubbing his beard. “Every time a human dies and is reborn, it takes energy. A lot of energy”, he added. “This map appears to indicate that the people of High Garden are”, he paused. “Dying and being reborn a lot”, Sven offered. “Exactly.” Odin stood regarding the map in silence for a few minutes, moving around it and studying it, before finally nodding. “You are right, Sven. Until we are able to fully re-establish power, I will no longer allow humans to regenerate.” “But wait”, Sven protested, moving a few steps towards Odin. “Can't you just make it so that people within the affected area can't regenerate? Or perhaps you could send Sven back to High Garden and Sven could investigate.” Sven knew of all the people on Asgard, he was probably the biggest risk taker. It wasn't as if everyone would end up doing something stupid and suddenly dying by tomorrow morning. But shouldn't the other Asgardian's at least be given some sort of warning? The god looked at Sven with his piercing gaze and furrowed brow, and Sven thought the god might just decide to strike him down. Which of course, Sven reminded himself, was crazy. Odin still needed Sven. But Odin did not strike him down. Instead he threw his head back and roared; a mighty laugh, full of mirth and spittle coming out of his mouth. He slapped Sven on the shoulder. “We will do as you suggest”, he walked around the map. “We will send you back to High Garden where you can investigate what is happening. But your main objective is to prepare your friends for my arrival.” “Your arrival?”, asked Sven. “You're going back to High Garden.” The god nodded. “Two questions”, said Sven. “One: Why not just go there with me right now? And two: I'm assuming you mean Bjorn and Freyja. Why are they needed?” “And Selene. Her too?” “The woman that Bjorn was interested in, but had no chance of acquiring based on his inability to interact with women? Why her?” “She is part of my design”, Odin answered mysteriously as he began drifting away from Sven. “I am not investigating the matter personally because the only instrument I wield is electricity. And your friends are required because to gain the correct access level to visit the power regulation system, you are going to need their help.” Sven started to talk, but Odin turned and cleared his throat, holding his hand up for silence. “You have until the next sunrise to discover the cause of this spike in regeneration energy. At which point, you will gather your friends and stand together. It does not matter exactly where you gather, as long as you are together. “May Sven speak now?”, he didn't want to interrupt. The god nodded. “So I understand you. I have until morning to discover why so many people in the area are dying. And if I can't figure out by then, you will stop people from regenerating.” “No, Sven. You misunderstand.”, he replied seriously. “I have already stopped the regeneration protocol. Fixing the power management system takes priority. Your investigation will determine whether or not I reinitialize it.” --- A most curious occurrence has transpired. Our test subject has arrived at our facility with his arm still connected to his body, implant functioning normally. He was stopped by the guards as he approached the perimeter and escorted to my office. How is this possible? He shows no signs of the surgery at all. I left him there and went to seek out my assistant. Imagine the surprise of finding my assistant in the laboratory, monitoring the vitals of the subject, who was still strapped to the bed. -T Chapter 12 “Sunny! I'm ready to go!” Nothing. They had been able to hear each other so well just a few minutes ago. It had been just a few minutes, right? It must have been. And now she needed to get back up out of this hole in the ground, away from this metal that seemed to sing to her. She needed to study it further, but for now, though she still had no idea about the function of the Obelisk, she knew it wasn't what it appeared. She had to tear herself away from it while she still had the will, and get back to High Garden to give her report to Aido and the Council. “Sunny!” Still nothing. Well, she would just have to get out of here on her own power. Intriguingly, from the inside of this false rock, her view above her was unhindered. It was a bit like a one-way mirror in that regard. She stood back up and passed the barrier again, making it look like her lower half had melded with stone. She looked up at the slack rope, drooping down from above the hole. The dirt along the wall was uneven and looked like there were plenty of spots she could use as hand holds or steps. But would they hold, or just crumble away? There was only one way to find out. She pulled down more of the rope, about ten meters, until it finally became taught. She gripped it in her hands, took a deep breath, and then began to pull herself up. Selene grunted through the exertion, lifting herself only about a meter. Well, it was enough to get her legs out of the rock, and her feet found purchase on the uneven soil of the crater wall. She readjusted her hands on the rope, reaching higher, but as she did this, she placed more weight on her left foot, and the soil underneath it gave way. Her hands instinctively clamped down on the rope. “Sunny!”, she shouted, closing her eyes while she clung there. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes, muttering. “Where is that Allo? I guess he must still be up there, since the rope hasn't given up on me. Unless he suddenly learned how to untie the knot and re-tie it around a tree. Or something happened to him. “Don't think that!”, she verbally chastised herself. Selene whipped her head to the side to try to flick her hair back out of her face, and then once again began her ascent. This time, she was successful. The trick was to do most of the climbing with her arms, never putting too much weight on her feet. As she neared the top of the ridge, the rope began moving, and she was able to grip it and let it pull her up. As she made it over the edge, her arms gave out and she collapsed face first on the ground. Her hair was disheveled and matted with sweat. Her clothes were splattered with dirt and mud. And the muscles in her arms burned. With a great deal of effort, she pushed herself onto her back and laid there, looking up at the clear blue sky. The ground rumbled and a moment later, that view was obstructed by a large, Allosaurus face gazing down at her curiously. “A little late to the party, aren't we?”, she exclaimed between breaths. “I apologize. I appear to have lost myself, again. All I could hear was the humming. My mind went blank, only left with a vague impression that I was suppose to stay where I was.” He paused and closed his eyes. Selene could see the pain in them. When he re-opened them, that look of pain was gone. He asked: “How long were you down there?” “Not long, if the Sun is any indication. We have only been away from High Garden for an hour, perhaps an hour and a half. Still plenty of time to get back and report on what I've seen... and what I've felt.” Sunny sat down, staring off into the distance, as Selene got up and collected the rope. The air still buzzed and hummed with energy... and perhaps, something else. She didn't like it. She didn't like how the Obelisk made her feel; didn't like how it made Sunny feel. She needed to figure out this connection they shared and how it worked. Why did distance between them make him revert back to a normal Allosaurus, make him lose his ability to think and reason? And why did the Obelisk appear to have instigated it now? She gently rested her hand on him. “What are you feeling?” “It doesn't matter what I'm feeling”, he replied, still looking at the horizon. “Of course it matters. It matters to me.” “But it shouldn't matter.” He turned and took a few steps away. “Come along, Selene. We need to get away from this place.” “And we will”, she agreed, securing the rope to the side of the saddle. “But I need to know that you're okay.” “I said drop it!”, he growled, baring his teeth. He grunted and shook his head from side to side, stomping his foot. Selene had never seen him like this before. He was always so calm and collected. For a ferocious predator, he had a gentle nature about him. Why was he acting like this? Couldn't he see, she was trying to help him? That she cared about him? The fact that he was being so guarded made her angry. “No. We're not dropping it!”, she shouted, uncaring that they were making such a commotion. “We are talking about this. You've never showed me your teeth, never threatened me one bit. So why are you acting like this now?” He turned and stomped over to her, thrusting his head in her face; all of those sharp teeth just inches away. “Why am I acting like this? You mean you can't puzzle it out? Selene the thinker, but unable to comprehend why I might be upset.” “Well, I would comprehend if you would tell me.”, she hissed, not backing off one centimeter. “I don't want to talk about it!”, he roared. “Let it go, and let's get out of here, before...” “Before you eat me?!”, she shouted. He closed his muzzle and took a step back, regarding her curiously. “Selene, I would never hurt you.”, his voice had lost all of it's bluster.. I shouldn't have said that. Why did I say that? She knew Sunny would never harm her. It was just so frustrating. This damn island they were on. She had to figure it out, but if trying to figure it out led to more times where Sunny lost his mind? She needed time to think. Maybe this whole argument with Sunny was just their proximity to the Obelisk. Sunny angled himself so his side was facing her. “We need to leave this forest. Get up on my back. We can talk while we travel.” – Perhaps the tree dwelling Thylacoleo had heard the two of them earlier, for they all seemed to give them a wide berth. The forest didn't seem so scary now that they were leaving it. With every big footstep Sunny took, it felt like she could breath a little more easily. “You faced off an Allosaurus”, Sunny was saying with a tone of amusement as they exited the Redwoods and started their journey back through the mountain valley. “That was either very brave, or very stupid.” She smiled, but her voice sounded worn out. “It was you.” His head bobbed. “Yes. It was me. But I am still an Allosaurus.” She took a breath and rested her hand on his neck. “You're an Allo, but you are also more than that. You're more than the sum of your parts. I was never worried that you would hurt me.” She chuckled, and it sounded strained. “Granted, I was pretty upset and wasn't thinking clearly. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push. It's just difficult when you feel like you can't help someone you love.” Sunny walked in silence for a minute. She kept smelling Sulfur, but at least the Sun was a bit higher in the sky than when today's journey started; it's warmth on her face and arms felt reassuring. “That's what's been bothering me”, he finally responded. “I'm an Allosaurus, but I'm also more than an Allosaurus. And I've been telling you to trust your feelings; to trust what your environment is telling you.” He stood still and gave out a great puff of air, arching his neck to look at her. “I'm not used to these feelings, Selene: these human feelings.” She nodded slowly, leaning forward and running her hand against his fine scaling. “But surely all animals feel emotions. They aren't limited to just humans.” “Yes. Even before I could think and reason as I do now, I still had emotions. But now they are different. An Allosaurus shouldn't feel love the way a human does. And I shouldn't feel fear over something I can't change.” She leaned further forward with sudden understanding. “That's what this is about, isn't it? At the Obelisk, you lost yourself again. And it scared you.” He sat down on his haunches. “Yes”, he replied in resignation. “To have fear of a larger predator is normal. Fear keeps you safe, heightens your awareness. But what is this fear I'm feeling, that it clouds my thoughts even when I'm safe? It lingers, builds, gives me no peace. It feels like a predator, and it's always hiding just around the corner, waiting to attack. And even when you stay close to me and I think that predator is at bay, it strikes at me without warning.” He lowered his head. “And I feel weak.” She felt her eyes tearing up, and she climbed down from the saddle and walked over to rest her head against his and stroked the side of his muzzle. “Sunny... you aren't weak... you are my strength.” The smell of Sulfur suddenly intensified. A feeling of dread washed over her. Maybe she was just soaking up all of Sunny's anxiety, but she doubted it. The feeling was so strong in that moment, and Sunny must have felt it too, because they both jerked their heads back away from one another at precisely the same time. A moment later a resounding roar reverberated throughout the valley. She rubbed the tears from her eyes and scrambled back up into the saddle, and the safety that it represented. Sunny stood still. His head turned left, then right. “What the heck was that?”, Selene exclaimed. “I'm not sure.”, he responded, taking a couple steps, turning to look behind them. Selene wasn't particularly worried about the threat of T-Rexes. They were lumbering and Sunny was agile. They would be able to make an easy escape. And in the valley, you could spot a Rex a mile away. Her eyes didn't spot one. That sound though, it was nothing like any dinosaur she had ever heard. It could be the sound through the mountains playing tricks on her ears, but she wasn't willing to risk it. She pulled on the reigns. “Let's get going. Whatever that is, I'm sure we can outrun it.” In that instance, a great shape came flying around the southern bend in the valley. It was hard to distinguish color at this range, but Selene could clearly see it's form. As it completed it's banking turn, it's scaled leathery wings beat downward, and it's tail came whipping behind it as it leveled off. Awe, horse feathers, she thought. It was a Dragon, and it was headed straight for them. “Back to the forest!”, she yelled. Sunny was already sprinting back in that direction before the words had left her mouth. “First dinosaurs and now dragons? What's next, unicorns? Witches and Warlocks? The Spanish Inquisition?”, she rambled to herself. They weren't going to make it in time. Sunny was fast, but the dragon was faster. She could already see it's rear legs, talons outstretched as it swooped towards them. In those final moments, she thought at least that if she was going to die in this place, at least it would be to the height of absurdity. But then the moment passed, and she hadn't died. The dragon gave two huge beats of it's wings, and ascended upwards, gripping an unlucky Raptor. Sunny halted and the two of them watched as it flew ever higher, angling off to the right until it was just a speck in the sky that finally disappeared with the sun's glare. Selene leaned forward and collapsed against Sunny's neck. “Well, that just happened. Not enough danger on Asgard; now the island has to throw Dragons at us as well.” “So that's the name you give to it”, replied Sunny, sounding a good deal more calm than how Selene was feeling. “I haven't seen that type of creature before. Were there many on Earth?” Selene pushed herself back up into the saddle and brushed her hair back. “I'm not sure there were any on Earth. Different cultures had stories, mythos involving them, but there was never any evidence that it was true. Something that large shouldn't be able to fly. I'd love to be able to study one.” “I think returning to High Garden takes precedence.” Selene laughed. “Not right now! I'm saying later at some point, if the opportunity ever allows.” Sunny looked at her and raised an eye ridge, then turned and began heading towards High Garden at what, for an Allosaurus, would be described as a light jog. Their return trip seemed to stretch out, but Selene knew it was probably all in her head. She kept thinking if she looked behind her, the Dragon would suddenly be there, swooping in. Every now and then she cringed a little and took a look. Nothing, but she had to check. She couldn't risk leading it back to High Garden. Oh science gods, she thought, Bjorn and Freyja. It was heading off in that direction. Oh, horse feathers! And what if there are more of them?What if there were others burning up the country side? She was suddenly less worried about herself and Sunny and much more worried for her new friends. Bjorn and Freyja were in danger. Well, they were already in danger, she thought. But what if now they are in even more danger, and instead of rushing to their aid to warn them, I'm cowering back to High Garden? No, she reminded herself. Bjorn and Freyja could take care of themselves. At any rate, the mountains and the castle would surely offer some protection and at least make them difficult to spot. Her priority had to be getting back to town. She'd report on the Obelisk like she was suppose to, and say, 'Oh by there way, there's a dragon', and then she could head for Valhalla. Assuming Bjorn and Freyja didn't already recover their friend and were in High Garden waiting for her. She and Sunny finally arrived back in town. There weren't many people in the streets just yet. The locals were apparently starting their tasks late, and people visiting from other tribes were probably sleeping in or nursing hangovers. She rode directly to Aido's house. Was it a house”, she wondered. Or would villa be a more appropriate term? She would have to ask him once the more important news was out of the way. Sunny ran up the path and splashed into the koi pond. Immediately he bent his neck and dipped his head into the water, either fishing or drinking. She shook her head as she jumped off, her lower half getting drenched in the process. “Aido!”, she called. She looked at the entrance of his house, with it's sliding paper door. The damaged one was gone and a new one was in it's place. She tapped her knuckles on the frame which didn't make nearly as much noise as a sturdy oak door with a door knocker would have. “Aido!”, she called again. She listened for any stirring in the house that would indicate he was there. Nothing. He was probably already getting started with preparations for the day's meeting. He mentioned it would be in the council chambers. She should look there, where ever 'there' was. She ran back over and hopped on Sunny, her wet shoes making a sloshing sound with each step. Sunny had just lifted up his head, a fish sticking half way out of his muzzle which he slurped up. She'd have to apologize to Aido for that later. She rode Sunny back to the town square. She had no idea what building was used for these types of meetings, but she made an educated guess that it was probably the most impressive looking one – the one that resembled what in her approximation was a temple. Her knowledge of Japanese culture was very limited; something she resolved to change after all of this was concluded. She dismounted and ran to the door and tried to slide it open. Great, it's locked. “Aido! Is someone in there? It's urgent that I speak with you.” All her yelling accomplished was some blank stares by passersby on the street. She briefly considered waking the Viking leaders, or maybe finding Horas. Unfortunately she doubted the Vikings would have much tolerance for her right now. The same could be said of Horas. She threw her hands up in the air as she walked away from the building and back towards Sunny. “Well, I guess since we can't find Aido, we might as well see if we can find Bjorn and Freyja. But first”, she said giving Sunny a pat. “Let's walk you over to the stable so you can get some food that isn't Aido's pet fish.” He snorted. “They were pets?” “Um, yeah”, she said as she began walking, Sunny falling into step beside her. “What did you think they were?” “I thought they were for eating. Obviously. Why would someone keep them as a pet? They don't do anything. They just swim around looking tasty.” – She wasn't the only person in the stable this early. On their way towards the food trough, she and Sunny walked past a hulking, shirtless Viking, with blonde, slightly curled locks that ran down past his shoulders. He was currently very involved giving baby talk to a Dire Bear. “At least I should be thankful you don't talk to me like that”, Sunny joked. She giggled and poked him, imitating the Viking. “Is that so? Oh, ish my lil' Sunny jealous? Oh. So grumbly looking. Whose a pretty dino? You! You're a pretty dino!” He stared at her flatly. “I will eat you.” Her voice returned to normal. “We both know that's not true.” “Mmm, yes. Well then”, he amended. “Stop or I'll go back to that pond and eat every last one of Aido's fish.” “And how's that a threat to me?” “Alright. I guess if you don't mind being seen as the Beta.” She chuckled and Sunny turned away from her and dipped his head into the trough. It smelled horrible, but Sunny seemed to like it. Obviously, his stomach was much stronger than hers. She'd only just now noticed that the other person in the room had stopped talking to his bear. Oh gods, she thought, I've been having this conversation with Sunny, and I completely forgot that I wasn't the only person here. She slowly turned to face the Viking, and found him and his bear staring at her. “Sven is sorry. He and Barry did not mean to stare. Sven has just never heard a person make two sided conversation with an Allosaurus before.” Immediately embarrassment hit her, causing her cheeks to go bright red. She turned away from him, but then stopped. What did he say his name was? “Sven?”, she turned around to face him, despite the state of her cheeks. “The Viking who went missing?” “Missing?”, he laughed. “Sven isn't missing. He's right here”, he pointed to himself. Selene stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “And before Sven was here, he was helping Odin. There must have been dozens of people who saw me with him before we left for Valhalla.” “So you weren't abducted.”, she replied. Of course he wasn't. Just as she had thought, the others immediately jumped to the most sinister conclusion. “Abducted? Heavens no. Is that what people think? Were Odin and Sven seen arguing like some old married couple?”, he threw his head back and laughed again, his bear looking over to him and licking his face. “Barry, no, not right now. Sven is telling a story.” He wiped the bear slobber from his face and continued. “I offered to help Odin, so he brought us back to Valhalla so Sven could make good on the offer.” “I tried to tell the others that. Between your disappearance with Odin, and the fallen Obelisk... they haven't even heard about the dragon yet.” “Dragon? You saw a dragon?”, Sven scrunched up his brow. He sounded interested but perhaps not surprised; certainly not afraid. “Yes...?”, she hedged, carefully. “Aido... he's one of the council members, the leading council member, I guess... he asked if I could investigate the Obelisk while Bjorn and Freyja looked for you.” “Bjorn and Freyja”, he stood up and walked towards her. “Where are they?” “This human interrupts a lot”, commented Sunny. Selene ignored him and continued. “I was getting to that”, she replied, somewhat testily. “They were heading to the castle.” Sven threw out his arms in an exaggerated fashion. “You're telling Sven that you left them at that castle, just a stones throw away from where you found a dragon?” “Yes.”, she paused. “No.”, she paused again and looked towards Sunny, perhaps for support, before turning back on the suddenly loud Viking. “I didn't leave them anywhere. They traveled their on their own. Same as I traveled on my own. We just left High Garden at roughly the same time. And I saw the dragon on the return trip. I guess I could have rushed off from there to Valhalla.” She tossed her hands in the air in frustration. “I don't know. I'm not some sort of amazon warrior woman.”, she faltered. “I'm just a nerdy, book reading paleontologist. I came back here to warn Aido or one of the other leaders about what I saw.” He ran across the room towards Bjorn's Deinonychus, Holly, hay being thrown around in his wake. “There's no more time to waste. We have to get to them. They are in great danger.” He paused and looked around, then refocusing on Holly, grabbing her saddle and practically hauling her back towards Barry. “If you mean from the dragon, couldn't they just hide inside the castle?” “There is no castle!”, he shouted, as he grabbed a leather strap and tethered Holly to his bear. “It's a prop. A fake! Not real.” He finished tying the knot. “Just a big block in the shape of a castle to give people something to look at.” “Um”, Selene began as her brain attempted to parse this new information. “You know”, she said to herself, “that makes a lot of sense.” She took a few steps closer to the Viking. “Wait, just hold on a moment”, she reached her hand out, Sven paying little attention. “If it's your intention to go back and help them, you can just take one of High Garden's Pteranodons.” “Oh, no.”, he said dubiously, “We're going by land. I'm not getting on one of those deathtraps. Sure it will take longer, but with Barry, and your... um”, he paused and looked up at the Allosaurus. “What's his name?” “Sunny” “Sunny”, he repeated and then turned back to hop on his bear. “With Barry, Sunny, Holly, and Flotti” He spurred his bear and it started lumbering out of the stable with Holly following close behind. “we're going to get my friends back.” “Hey wait”, she called, hurrying to climb up the leather step ladder hanging off of Sunny's side and getting into the saddle. Sunny began following without any direction from her. Given his strides, it didn't take long to catch up. He carefully ducked under the door. “Wait!”, she shouted and Sven and Barry slowed. “Flotti!”, Sven shouted into the square. “Flotti! Sven knows you can hear me, you lazy feline!” He drew back on the reigns and looked around. “Flotti!”, around the square, the other people out and about stopped to stare at them. “Sven!”, one of them waved and yelled, hurrying over – a fat Viking, with long, messy black hair and wearing a wrinkled white shirt and trousers. “Gorm!”, Sven yelled back. “Gather the other Vikings!” “Where have you been?”, Gorm called back as he approached. “Feasting with Odin? You had these High Gardener's worked up into a lather”, he laughed. “There's no time, Gorm.”, Sven said has he jumped off his saddle. “You need to wake the other Vikings and arm yourselves to defend this valley. A dragon was spotted.” “A dragon?”, Gorm laughed, spittle coming from his mouth. “An actual Knights of Camelot, King Arthur kind of dragon?” “Yes, that type of dragon” Gorm laughed again. “Odin's giving us the chance to kill a dragon? Praise the god. I have always wanted to fight one of them.” “No”, Sven took him by the shoulders and shook him. “You can't go off running into battle. Not this time.” “But isn't that what Sven usually does?”, the round Viking pointed out. “Yes, but not this time. Gorm”, he looked him in the eyes. “We can't regenerate right now. That's what Odin told me. If anyone gets killed now, they'll stay dead. They won't come back.” “What?!”, Selene snapped in shock. How was that even possible. “But lad, we're already dead.”, puzzled Gorm, scratching his chin. Sven pushed away from him and threw his hands in the air. “Sven can't explain everything right now. He and...”, he looked towards Selene, who took a moment to figure out that the conversation stopped and he was looking to her. “Your name?”, he prompted. “Selene”, she sighed. “Yes.”, he continued. “Sven and Selene need to rescue Bjorn and Freyja. Can Sven count on you to protect this town until we return?” While the two of them were shouting at each other, a light brown Sabertooth Tiger sauntered out of the neighboring stable, stretching it's fore paws out in front of itself and arching it's back. Selene hazarded a tap on Sven's shoulder. “What?”, and then he looked past her. “Flotti! There you are. Come to Sven!” The large cat lazily looked at Sven and then up at Selene, letting out a raspy, 'meow', as if to ask her if it really had to. “Shouldn't we be protecting our home, instead?”, asked Gorm as Sven went over and tethered Flotti to his bear. “Everyone is already gathered here”, replied Sven, “and this place is in a valley surrounded by cliffs. Hopefully it will stay hidden from the dragon longer, at least until we can bring Bjorn and Freyja back safely and figure out our next steps.” “Sunny”, she bent forward and softly spoke to him, “are we really doing this?” Was she really risking her life with Sven for people she met only a couple of days ago? And now, apparently the risk was quite permanent. He nodded. “Everything up until now, we have done on our own. You may have been afraid.. I may have been afraid.. but we've persevered. We didn't give up. And this time we will be part of a pack. We can help them.” “Is helping other creatures the kind of thing Allos usually do?” “Maybe it's not. But it does seem to be the Human thing to do.” “Selene!”, shouted a deep voice. Sven's voice. “Are you ready?” She took a deep breath, calmed herself as best she could, and spoke in what hopefully would be an even voice. “I'm ready” – The dirt path leading through the mountains was quiet. Perhaps the creatures of the island were still on the defensive, but that didn't make Selene feel anymore confident. Sunny was right; look at all they had accomplished today. Unfortunately, the situation had changed since learning from Sven that death was no longer an unfortunate condition that one recovers from. According to Bjorn's stories, he and his friends encountered a Yutyrannus somewhere in this area. Sunny was large, but a Yutyrannus was bigger. Even with him, Sven's bear, and the other tamed dinosaurs following, there was still no guarantee that they would get through safely. Of course, there was always the option to turn tail and run, but that wasn't an option that would help Bjorn and Freyja. That and Selene was doubtful Sven was the running type, unless that meant running into battle. Thankfully, they didn't see a Yutyrannus, nor did they see any Dragons. What they did see however were small packs of raptors along the edges of the trail and in the rocky hills on either side; their eyes watching closely for any sign of weakness, but for now, deciding that Selene's troop was more than they could handle. Down below Selene who was high up in the Allosaurus saddle, Sven laughed from a top his Bear. “Do you have to be so loud?”, she asked with perhaps more irritation than she intended, leaning over and looking down to him. “Predators are going to hear you and come running for us... or flying.” He laughed again and pet his bear on the head. “What's so funny, anyway?” “You are”, he responded and she felt a flash or anger that he would so easily mock her. “You're up there whimpering like a scared poodle, while riding one of the most ferocious creatures on the island.” “He's not wrong”, Sunny commented. “About me. I don't know what a poodle is, but I doubt you sound like one.” “You're not helping”, she mouthed while gently poking him with the heel of her boot. “Anyway”, she said louder, addressing Sven, “I'd think with the news you brought concerning regenerating, or lack there of, you would also want to show a little more caution.” Sven just smiled self assuredly, which only added to her irritation. Up ahead of them, high above, the golden castle of Valhalla was just now coming into view. “Maybe Sven knows things the scientist does not”, he responded somewhat smugly. “Perhaps”, she brought herself to reply, while biting back a longer and more honest retort. “Perhaps”, nodded Sven and laughed again. Selene didn't like to stereotype, but none of the vikings in her experience seemed to take a situation seriously. They made light of every event, no matter how severe. Well, at least most did. Bjorn didn't seem to fit that mold. He was more thoughtful. “But”, Sven continued, “It was Sven who spent a day with a god, not Selene. Perhaps you should trust Sven that some of Odin's godly wisdom rubbed off on him.” She growled back, “Maybe Sven should humor Selene, because Selene isn't used to putting herself in harms way and is trying her damnedest to keep it together.” Sven didn't laugh at that. He remained silent, his eyes snapping ahead to the path in front of them. She sighed. “Look, I'm sorry for being snarky, but I just don't know how you do it. How do you smile and make jests when our lives and your friends' lives are in peril?” He took his time to respond and the silence stretched a couple of minutes. The castle continued to get bigger until finally, from their vantage point, the castle disappeared over the approaching mountain. Finally he spoke again, and when he did, it wasn't with any mirth or joy, but it wasn't with anger, either. “Whether I am frightened or not, I intend to stay true to myself. Look at me”, he said, motioning with his hands, “would it be in character for someone with this body to be timid?” She scrunched up her face and looked at him with some skepticism, examining him and trying to judge his sincerity. “That would depend on whether or not you allow how you look to define you.” This, she reflected, after she admitted to herself she'd previously stereotyped him and his brethren. “I am Sven”, he said, as if that cleared up the matter entirely. He was either being extremely intelligent and insightful, or he was just an idiot, and right now in this moment, Selene couldn't decide which it was. And then he opened his mouth again, and she got her answer. “If it makes Selene feel better, Sven will tell her a secret he learned during his time with Odin.” “What could you have learned that will make me feel better?” “Did you ever wonder at why there are so many more carnivores on this island than herbivores? You would think that without enough food, the carnivores would die out. It's not sustainable.” “I didn't”, she stared at him and blinked, feeling surprisingly dumbfounded. How did she not recognize that? Of course there were far too many predators for the ecosystem to support. She was busy looking at fossils to draw these conclusions of hers when the real evidence was all around her, staring her in the face. “The amount of predators living on this island should be impossible, and so should the herbivores. The whole ecosystem is off.” “Yes, but that isn't Sven's secret, just an observation.” He grinned. “Sven's real secret is that dinosaurs too are regenerated, similar to humans; not same, but similar. “So if the humans are no longer able to die and be brought back...”, Selene began piecing it together. Sven nodded. “Neither is anything else.” --- Thanks for reading! The final three chapters of Book 1 of Ark Ragnarok: The Valhalla Experiment will be posted February 20th!
  5. 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!!!
  6. 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!
  7. My opinion is this: Helena being in a pre-established relationship (no matter the orientation), is giving the character clear motivation to survive the Ark and get back to her significant other. Trying to get back to the loved ones left behind is a pretty clear motivator that a large audience will be able to understand. I don't really think it changes the character - nothing was mentioned about a prior relationship in her explorer notes, but there's nothing saying she didn't have one, either.
  8. Hello Ark Forum, I joined a few weeks ago because, well, I play A LOT of Ark. I've run a small unofficial server the past couple years for some good friends of mine. Last year I played Ragnarok, and liked it so much (and was so disgruntled over the lack of lore) that I wrote an entire novel about it - protagonists, antagonists, character development, the works. I've been posting the novel in the creative chat, HERE: I post a couple chapters each week. So far I've posted about 30,000 words... we're about half way through. If you like adventure/sci-fi novels, check it out. Let me know if it's any good. The dream is to get a novel of mine published... Assuming it's good, I'd love to just write for Studio Wildcard and work on fleshing out a novelized expanded universe. It would be a lot easier to get published not writing about other people's IP, but I can't help it. I really love Ark and feel like there's so many places you can branch off from, using the current lore as a foundation. Anyway, rambling over now. Thanks for reading!
  9. 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!
  10. I just finished reading everything you have thus far. Overall the narrative style reminds me of someone who's played D&D, and perhaps has had some experience as a dungeon master. When you explain a setting, in those paragraphs it really reminds me of the "flavor text" that I would insert before asking my players: "Now what do you want to do". I like how you are introducing Helena and wonder if your group will end up meeting Rockwell. That could be very interesting, given how manipulative he is. There's definitely a lot of places you could go with this story and I like how you've tied it into early 1900 gold mining. It makes sense that characters from that time and place could find themselves on the Scorched Earth ark. I have a little bit of critique. For me, you start with your cast of characters and giving a brief description of each, and I feel like learning about the characters and seeing them develop is a big motivator for the reader. Without the cast section, I wouldn't be able to tell one character apart from another. You get right on with the action but we don't really learn about anyone's motivations or thoughts during it all. How do they feel about what's going on? If it were me, I'd be really freaked out. Especially WhiteFeather. He's 17. How the heck is he keeping it together? So that would be my bit of critique to maybe have some moments for character development - perhaps have them sit around a campfire at night from time to time, so we can learn about their thoughts and how their backgrounds flavor what is currently happening to them.
  11. I just started reading your Scorched Earth story the other day. I'll be sure to comment once I get more time to read it. And I'll have to take a look around the forums for your Ragnarok adventures as well.
  12. If you are going to solo, make sure the Gigas you have are clumped together as well as you can. I usually whistle them to follow/attack my target and then just keep left clicking to attach. Use group move commands in between waves to get them all in one spot. You need high quality saddles, but mostly just a ton of melee since you need to deal with corrupted dinos as quickly as possible.
  13. The difficulty scale is a bit broken. I believe the highest you can set difficulty on single player is 1.0. But when you set the difficulty higher, it results in higher level dinos you can tame, which then in turn make the bosses easier because the bosses levels/hitpoints stay the same, while your tames are able to have higher HP and more melee damage. Plus I believe the difficulty offset also determines the quality of loot you can get from drops. So having it higher means better loot. TL;DR - Boss fights don't scale. They don't get more difficult by setting the difficulty higher. They get easier because you have better dinos and gear to fight them with.
  14. PvE Extinction I watched my tribe, who are all newer players, struggle to tame the Desert Titan. As a more experienced player, I've been having to walk a fine line of preparing them for what's to come, but not spoiling anything. I advised they use the Quetz method, but the person flying the Quetz got it killed pretty quickly. They then decided to do a kamikaze method of jetpacking on top of the Titan, then having the lightning target themselves. Eventually, they figured out that they could hover under it and the lightning would strike the Titan and not them.... which *groans* was suppose to be the strategy from the get go. The tribe, after about a half hour, managed to get it tamed as a Beta. By the time they managed it, the desert floor below was littered with dozens and dozens of misshapen, dead bodies.
  15. 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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