Chapter Three

Ares

 

“That’s her.” Hermes hits my shoulder with the side of his fist. “Your soulmate. How many Tilgivelses can there possibly be?”

“Many?” Hades suggests. “For all you know, it’s a common name where she comes from.”

Hermes shakes his head. “Nah. It’s her. I know it. What are the odds that a different Valkyrie named Tilgivelsecomes looking for him?” He turns to me. “Seriously, I have to travel and grovel, to get Joy”—who preens beside him—“and your mate is served to you on a silver platter?”

I shrug. I’m cool. Not at all thrown off my game by this situation. Though I may be a little glad Sei is projecting a one-sided sound barrier around us. “On a flying horse, more like. Begging for this.” I indicate my hot bod with a sweeping gesture.

Hephaestus smacks me upside the head. “Asshole.”

My unfailing radar of people’s intentions toward me doesn’t work on brotherly scuffles. I don’t know if it’s because I can’t read their intentions, or because they love me even if they wanna punch my lights out some days. Feeling’s mutual, by the way.

“Why is she here?” Sei asks. “Other than because she can’t resist you.” That sounded sarcastic. “What made her look you up?”

How the fuck should I know? “She wants to talk to all of us. That’s why I called you.”

Irine rolls her eyes. “Knew it wasn’t to brag over finding her.” She spreads her palm, and Hades smacks a fifty-euro note on it.

“You’re all assholes,” Hephaestus says. “Hope you realize.”

Moira takes hold of his tree-trunk-like arm with both hands. “But you love us.”

I expect him to brush her off, but he ruffles her hair with his free hand, the tight lines around his mouth smoothing out. Our new sister-in-law—wedding pending—is making him soft. Not a bad look on him.

“So why are we gathered on this side of the room, while she’s all the way over there?” Denny asks.

“Because I didn’t want you jerks to say anything about soulmates and scare her off.” I cross my arms over my chest and steal a glance Tilje’s way.

She’s sitting in place, hand on the hilt of her sword and eyes wide, as Lena is talking her ear off.

“And why is Lena here?” I ask.

“Because she’s our sister,” Sei says.

Irine makes a face. Technically, Lena’s her sister, but she is the reincarnation of Athena, which also makes her one of us.

I arch an eyebrow. “So is Aphrodite.” Not that I’m going somewhere with that.

“Yeah, well, Aphrodite’s on a different show.” Hades sounds tired. I don’t blame him. These fuckers are my family, but they’re a bit much.

“Are you almost done there?” Tilje asks. There’s a desperate plea in her voice.

“Yeah, this is rude,” Lena supplies. Or should we be calling her Athena?

Sei nods. “You’re right, ladies.”

Barrier’s gone, then.

As we make our way across my converted loft apartment, I feel oddly exposed while flanked by my brothers. Tilje’s looking at me like she can see right through me, and I can’t have that. I don’t wanna know what I hide deep inside, let alone allow a female a glimpse.

She can’t possibly read my mind at this stage, but I throw up my mental walls and reinforce them with pure steel, as that show-off Hermes—must be him; he’s smiling so hard, his face will split—conjures seats for us all in my Spartan living-room area.

If I wanted more furniture, I’d fucking have more furniture. Couldn’t he park his ass on the floor?

I can’t make myself comfortable, so I perch on the arm of an armchair and wait for introductions to be over, before looking at Tilje expectantly. “We’re all here. What’s this about?”

“Valhalla is in trouble.” Her voice is matter-of-fact, like she just said we ran out of milk.

Given that she already mentioned Thor and she’s a fucking Valkyrie, I shouldn’t be this surprised Valhalla is real. And given that I’m not the kind of guy to yearn, I really shouldn’t yearn for a place I’ve never been to. But I’m feeling irrationally homesick at the sound of it. If the stories are to be believed, Valhalla’s heaven. My kind of heaven. Fighting all day, and drinking—and fucking—all night. What can be better than that?

The silence around me is eerie, so I say, “You’ll have to give us more than that. Half an hour ago, I didn’t know Valhalla existed.”

Tilje lets go of her sword and steeples her fingers together on the flat of its blade. To the untrained eye, she may seem relaxed, but I notice what others may miss. The straight back. The tense muscles in her thighs. The way her eyes take everything in, on the lookout for a threat.

“Odin stopped Ragnarok,” she says.

Cue shocked gasps, including mine.

C was insistent that we get a spherical education, and that included other pantheons’ mythologies. At fourteen and after two years on the streets, I found the idea of going back to school annoying. I fought him over it on more than one occasion, but he’s not someone you win an argument—or a fistfight—against.

Anyway, thanks to his persistence, I know Ragnarok is the end of the world, according to Norse mythology. Loki would supposedly set it off, and although Odin would see the string of events that lead to it, it’d be inevitable.

It was also nothing but a cool story, till now, given that the world hasn’t ended. Yet. Despite people’s efforts.

Hephaestus clears his throat. “Why are you all so surprised? Does the world seem to have ended?”

“Only sometimes,” Lena mumbles.

Must be hard for her, being thrown into our world without the preparation we got or even much warning. Not that I’m gonna ask, or offer sympathy, ’cause that’d be weak, and I don’t do weak.

“As I was saying,” Tilje says impatiently, “Odin stopped Ragnarok by locking Valhalla and all those inside it in a”—she scrunches her face—“time bubble, I guess. The einherjar, the warriors who’ve ended up there, have basically been reliving the same day. Which isn’t much different than normal, except that the gods are without sense of time too. But lately, days are different. Memories are different. Odin is afraid whatever is rocking the balance may crack the bubble open and force Ragnarok upon us.”

“Not again.” There’s a hint of exasperation in Sei’s voice. “The Titans just got stabilized, and now the fucking Norse are threatening to break the world?”

Tilje narrows her eyes. “They’re not the Norse; Norse is an adjective. They’re the Æsir—”

Yeah, my tongue doesn’t bend that way.

“—and the Vanir. And they’re trying to save the world, not break it. Aren’t you listening? Odin sent me to get your help. We need to figure out whether it’s safe to exit the bubble, and if not, find a way to restore the balance.”

Something doesn’t add up.

“Figure it out, how?” Hades asks. “I need to dust up my Norse mythology, but isn’t Odin supposedly all knowing?”

“All seeing,” Tilje corrects.

“Whatever. Shouldn’t he see what’s happening? If it’s safe?”

She tangles her fingers together, and this is the closest to relaxed she’s been since we arrived. “While he’s in this self-imposed stasis, he cannot see the future. He can’t actually see anything outside Valhalla, and can’t leave its walls without being certain such a deed won’t lead to Ragnarok.”

What felt wrong before finally clicks into place. “But you can leave?”

She nods. “I was created after the lockdown, so I exist outside it. I’ve been visiting Midgard, learning about it, and reporting back.”

“You’re their only connection to the outside world?” I ask.

She grimaces. “Only reliable connection. Loki can come and go too, because—in his words—he is larger than life and impossible to contain.”

Something she said earlier scratches at the edges of my consciousness. “You said Thor sent you to me and told you how to freak me out. So he knows me?”

She licks her lips, and I have this urge to help her. It must be the bonding, doing its magic, but I’m not like my pussy-whipped brothers. I won’t go gaga over a female, simply because we’re fated to be together. I will claim her in my own time, and she’ll accept my dominance.

“Thor knows who you used to be,” Tilje says. “The first time around. You were apparently sparring partners. And you were his wingman when he hooked up with Sif.” She drops her gaze at that.

“Thor and Ares hung out together?” Sei asks. “I thought we came first.”

Hermes lets out a choked sound between a cough and a chuckle. “Rude. I never come first,” he murmurs.

Next to him, Joy smacks his arm. “Focus, you nine year old.”

“Nine year olds don’t do this.” He waggles his eyes, pulls her in his lap, and proceeds to eat her face.

Except for sex, where I don’t mind a crowd, I’m not a sociable dude by nature. Having this many people in my turf has been pushing my limits to begin with. If I have to watch Hermes get happy while I sit on my thumbs, my soulmate a couple meters away and ripe for the plucking, I’ll snap.

Denny tosses at them a throw pillow that didn’t exist a moment ago. It magically—or divinely—only hits Hermes. “Focus now, play later,” Denny says. “Why would we help you?” he asks Tilje.

She smirks, and the defiance in that expression is beyond appealing. “If Ragnarok does happen, the world ends. Are you willing to sit back and watch that happen?”

Till yesterday, my answer might have been yes. I’d have helped save it anyway, because my brothers don’t share my blasé approach, but it’d be for their benefit. And maybe also because it’d be an awesome fight. Now… I want to see what’s next for me. And Tilje.

“How do we go about this?” I ask.

Her beaming smile betrays her belief and belies her former casualness. “For starters, I’m supposed to bring one of you to Odin. We’ll take it from there.”

I hop to my feet. “Let’s go, then.” And I’m only volunteering because I want to see Valhalla, not because the thought of any of my brothers riding behind Tilje is enough to send me into a murderous rage.

“You sure?” Sei asks in my head. “It could be a trap.”

“I sense no danger from her,” I think at him. “I’m going.”

He nods. “If you’re not back in forty eight hours, we’re coming after you.”

 

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