Idunn smiled. “Amazing. They idled the engines to go silent.” She glanced at Freyja but quickly turned her gaze back to the exciting events unfolding before them. “Have you used the God’s Glass to watch all the worlds?”
“Of course. What good would I be as a goddess if I didn’t? We have the ability to see throughout the universe and learn what other worlds do…or create. Such as these humans and their tanks, automobiles, and planes.”
“I admit, I’m fascinated by their planes and have studied them—learning how they work is so interesting.”
Freyja chuckled. “And here I thought your only interest was flowers.”
They continued to watch as another wave of planes came through. Large spotlights highlighted the front planes, darting back and forth as they attempted to draw the gunfire away from the second wave of planes. The German units spread out, not paying attention to anything but the attacking planes. The anti-aircraft fire was deafening in the small area of trees as they shot at the canvas biplanes. The plane closest to the women banked a hard right to avoid gunfire. A spray of bullets cut across the tail, leaving the canvas material shredded and flapping in the wind.
“Magnificent,” Freyja breathed, her fingers digging into Idunn’s arm as she hung on to her friend for support. Standing on her tiptoes, she tried to follow the plane’s trajectory. The damaged aircraft turned around, heading straight for the Germans. Another plane flew overhead and dropped its two bombs. Both planes banked and headed back in the direction they’d come. Two seconds later, the damaged plane sputtered. Freyja held her breath. The Germans quickly repositioned their anti-aircraft guns and began firing. The damaged U-2 exploded from a direct hit to its already damaged tail as Idunn let out a horrified gasp. The distinct whine pulled at Freyja’s heart as the plane disappeared into the thick forest not too far from where they stood.
“Where did it go?” Idunn asked.
Freyja turned and jogged through the trees until she came upon the downed plane. She jerked to a stop, unable to keep the horrified gasp from slipping out. The plane was nothing more than splinters. The only thing left recognizable were the wings, which stuck up into the air like massive tombstones above the wreckage. Smoke billowed from the midsection where she could barely make out the top of the pilot’s brown helmet. One arm was hanging out through the canvas skin of the plane. Red blood ran along the top of her hand and down her finger, only to pool in the snow beneath the tip of her nail.
She shook her head, sorrow running through her for the loss of such a valiant warrior. Crossing her arms over her slim torso, she wrapped her hands around the sleeves of her jacket with a shiver. “I want others just like this woman.”
“What do you mean?”
Freyja spun around. “It is too late for this poor soul, but there are many others out there who deserve to be honored for their bravery.Sheis my reason for helping. These Night Witches are as valiant a warrior as any Valkyrie…and worthy of life. They can help change the tide of this war and stop Hitler along with his Third Reich. My idea is this…I will create my own race of warriors, like Odin’s Valkyries, to stamp out the heinous crimes thisführerand his SS commit.”
“Freyja, you can’t be serious! These pilots are Russians and know nothing of us. We cannot just pluck them out of their world on a whim. It simply is not done! Besides, Óðinn would never approve.”
Freyja smiled. “Óðinn will not know anything until after my plan is already in motion. As far as the Russians not knowing who we are, they used to know us long ago. Vikings settled the land centered between the three seas: the Baltic, Caspian, and Black Seas, using the waterways for trade. They are the ancestors of the people who live there now. We are in their legends and songs whether they realize it or not.”
Freyja moved closer to the dead pilot, her gaze never moving from the slowing drips of blood. “It’s sad, really. As gods, we have magic, immortality, and power over others, yet we lack the most important thing of all.”
Idunn wrapped her arm around Freyja and hugged her friend close. “What do we lack, Freyja?”
Idunn stared at the body of the Russian pilot and sighed. “I’m afraid your pilots won’t help us there. We’ve been on this path too long. Maybe Ragnarök would be a good thing. It is, after all, a sort of startup. Perhaps it’s what we need to rediscover basic emotions again. Like Thor and his human?”
Freyja nodded. “Jane was good for him, wasn’t she? Of course, after the Aether corrupted her…but that will happen in the future, and we need to focus on the now.”
Idunn grabbed Freyja’s arm. “The Aether is nothing more than a parasite that must be eradicated now or it will turn all matter dark within all realms. If it’s free, we must concentrate on it, not the human’s war.”
She patted Idunn’s hand, which still gripped her arm. “Óðinn has our own scientists working on a plan for that very thing. Let’s go home, my friend. We have lots to talk about if we’re going to get this plan in motion before the month’s end. The next battle will be fierce, and the Russians must win. Hitler cannot gain access to Stalingrad. I will need your help if we are going to succeed. In order to pull this off, I will take a few fallen pilots from the field of battle and offer them a second chance at life—and love—if that is their heart’s desire. To do this, your apple of immortality will come in handy.”
Idunn shook her head. “You’ve been drinking too much of Thor’s mead, that’s what you’ve been doing. You aren’t thinking straight. This plan of yours will never work and will get you into nothing but trouble. Besides, my apple won’t give them immortality. Actually, I’m not sure what it will do to humans.”
Freyja’s smile widened. “Then you’ll help me?”
Idunn returned her smile and shrugged. “Of course. That’s what best friends do.”
Mikhail Abramovich sipped the last of his chocolate-laced coffee and set the porcelain cup on the scarred wooden table. With a quick glance at his watch, he noticed his old university friend was late. He frowned up at the beautiful alpine skyline above the quaint village structures on this end of the medieval Swiss town.
Lucerne had always been one of his favorite places to visit growing up. Traveling Europe with his parents had been magical during his youth. Sitting with his mother in their private box at the concert hall and listening to his father play the piano had brought a beauty into his everyday life.
It had been hard living in Russia while his father traveled Europe as a concert pianist. One day his father returned from one such trip, and Mikhail hadn’t recognized him, so from then on, they traveled as a family. During those years, he had seen so many wonderful things—centuries of art in the French Louvre, the Grand Place in Brussels with its thirteenth-century merchants’ market, and Russia’s own Red Square in Moscow. His favorite places, however, were the natural ones. He felt at home in the wild mountain ranges scattered across Europe.
He remembered the day his family moved back to Smolensk to live with his grandparents while his father fought in the Great Patriotic War. He’d been unimpressed with the rustic town and had only wanted to return to his previous life in Germany. His father never had a choice either. The German army made that decision for him, so he fought.