“Ha, ha, ha.” Émilien abruptly sat on the dais and leaned back against Hel’s chair, thankful it was stout enough to hold his weight. “Truthfully, I’ve felt better.” He met Hel’s worried gaze. “Think this is residue from whatever Drakk injected me with?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought the brothers were supposed to be here by now?”
Baldr’s thick brows rose. “You mean the two demons and a wolf cub? Those brothers?”
“Yes. They were here?”
“Since no one is allowed in here without your permission, I figured you’d sent them, so I took them downstairs to one of the empty guest rooms.”
Fenrir’s face scrunched up. “If there are guest rooms, why am I living in a cave?”
Hel rolled her eyes. “Because you want to and, yes, there are guest rooms. About twenty-five of them, if memory serves. There was a village of masons who needed things to do to stop their mischief, so I had them build rooms.”
“It was a great idea,” Baldr said. “When we discover where they’ve gone and get them back, I’ve been thinking about having them build better homes for the villagers and maybe even expand the warriors’ quarters. They could use an updating from the shacks they’re living in now.”
“They’re stupid enough to stay in the shacks,” Fenrir muttered.
“Probably, but it’s worth a try. We take care of everyone here.” Hel’s dark gaze met Émilien’s. “Even when they’re super annoying and overbearing.”
“Hey!” His wide-eyed gaze met Baldr’s and Fenrir’s. “I’ve been on my best behavior with her. I swear!”
“You almost died, Émilien,” she said. “That, in my book, is the annoying part, and you’re always overbearing. Unfortunately, it’s just your personality.”
“I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered.”
Baldr leaned in closer to him and whispered, “I’d go with the flattered part. She cares.” He straightened, ignoring Hel’s narrowed glare.
“Émilien, are you feeling worse?” Hel asked. “Baldr’s right, you really don’t look well.”
“I think it’s just residue and will have to work its way out of my system. It might not be a bad idea to talk to the brothers, though, to be safe. I’d rather not wake up dead in the morning.”
“I’ll get them and also make sure supper is served.” Baldr turned and left the room, leaving the three of them staring at each other.
Émilien wished there was a cool breeze or ice-cold pool nearby. He felt as if his body temperature had risen high enough for him to sweat. Thankfully, enough Elven genes remained, he didn’t have to pant to cool down, but he seriously wanted to.
Several gnomes entered the room, magically floating a table laden with plates of food. The few he could see were meats and cheeses. There was a massive bowl of pasta, fettuccine by the look of the white sauce. When he saw the shepherd pie, his mouth began watering, and he stopped looking at the other foods. It had been so long since he’d had Hel’s delicious meat pie.
Leaning forward, he inhaled the spicy aroma of sausage and beef but straightened, food forgotten, when Baldr returned, a serious expression on his face. Behind him, Émilien saw Brig with Drakk prancing along beside his father. He frowned at the god. “Baldr, what’s happened?”
“My brother is gone,” Brig answered. “One minute he was walking along a path near the village and the next, he disappeared. Drakk and I hurried back here.” His worried gaze met Hel’s. “My lady, I beg you, he did nothing wrong. Please let him return.”
Hel moved to stand in front of him and took his gnarled hands in hers. “This is not of my doing, Brig, I’m so sorry. More than just your brother have disappeared. That has to be the reason why we were sent back to ancient times. I now believe Freyja sent us to where we would find the answers we needed and not necessarily the answers for our quest. She usually doesn’t make a mistake when sending people through a time portal, so we were meant to find you, Drakk, and your brother.”
Dropping the demon’s hands, she stepped away. “This is not the only realm affected, but if it isn’t stopped, none of the Nine Worlds will survive. I’m afraid there will be no rebirth from this if the dead are not returned. Without them, the cycle of life itself is stopped.”
A buzzing sounded in Émilien’s ears, and he gripped his head as the pain increased. Leaning forward, he felt the room spin. The next minute, his body jerked, and he felt Hel’s cold grip on his arm as he flew backward.
Just when he thought he was going to be sliced into tiny pieces from crashing through Hel’s gigantic window, he pulled her into his embrace, so she wouldn’t get hurt. Instead of catapulting through glass, though, he slammed into something incredibly hard, then dropped onto his butt with Hel once more tangled in his legs.
The dwarf realm of Svartheimr
“Hey, are you okay over there?”
Leaning her head back against the wall, Shalendra breathed in several long, slow breaths to calm her rioting nerves and talk without her voice shaking. She hated sounding like a scared little girl. “I think so.” She forced her legs to stand, using her hands to inch her way back up the stones, and turned to face the small hole. “I’m sorry. I...Two?I’ve been here two whole days?”