*Everything written in Chapters 1-5, the blurb and novel description and the title is Copyright owned by ME! Everything is also very much a Work In Progress so there may be punctuation, grammar, spelling and tense mistakes within the novel. It is also the reason why I have decided to share some of my novel as i develope and rewrite it in the hope some keen blog reader will choose to give me feedback (good and bad is welcome) on how the story goes, what they think of the characters, the plot etc. So please don't be shy. Either way I hope you enjoy my norse fantasy."
Chapter One: The Old Ways Never Die
My work took me to the old Viking city of the north, York. I sipped my hot cappuccino in Starbucks and crossed off another name on my quota. I heard the radio in the corner announce that a serious car crash had occurred on the A64, east of York, and the road would be closed for at least four hours. I wondered which of my colleagues had performed well that time.
I gazed out through the open door and into the street. I observed silently as tourists, teenagers and families, who passed by going left, carried no bags but the necessaries. The rest of the crowd, going right, held several bags from a variety of stores. York was always good at selling. My elders told me the city had been a fast and strong trade centre for countless generations and although they weren’t completely in tune with the movements of the twenty first century, they, like me, were glad that York had managed to adapt with ease to the needs of the times.
A shadow blocked out the summer sunshine as Kate joined me for our first coffee break of the day. A silver torque bracelet, the trade mark of our group, dangled and glimmered around her slender right wrist. She took off her large, yet oddly stylish hat as she sat down, revealing her always shimmering corn blonde hair.
“Just like the weather back home isn’t it?” She remarked, placing hat and bag under the table. She noticed my quota out before me. Her eyes began switching from me and the list until she sat down and finally met my gaze.
“It is indeed. How many have you got left to visit today?” I asked.
“Have about, ten, maybe eight left. How about you?”
“Same, more or less. Would you like a coffee?” I offered, my hand reached into my handbag for my purse and I put my quota away at the same time.
““No thanks, this morning’s lot were too peaceful to deserve me earning a coffee. Rather treat it like a treat than a regular morning drink. Where are the rest of the girls?”
I paused to recall our briefing at sunrise. “I think Lizzy is somewhere along the A64 towards Scarborough, Susan is travelling with her, as she has some to collect there anyway. Debbie is at the Monks Cross shopping centre. Can’t quite remember where the rest are.”
She sighed and fiddled with the drinks menu, looking around the coffee shop and watching the other customers’ que up for their hit of hot caffeine or sweet overdose of sugar from the cakes and pastries.
The radio’s voice, just about dominating the mix of conversations, informed any who were listening, about the sixth soldier to die in Iraq in as many days.
“I still can’t believe the Boss chose Alison and Joanne to go to Iraq of all places.” She complained suddenly to my surprise.
“Are you saying you would have liked to go there?” That was the first sign of any interest in the jobs she had shown, at least before me.
She looked at me with a small, sheepish smile. “Well, it would be nice to do a job abroad for a change. I’m getting bored of Europe, that’s all. I’ve been working this area for too long.”
“Well, perhaps you should have nominated yourself if you’re that bored of this place.”
“So where is your next visit of the day?” She opted to change the subject avoiding my rather accurate comment. I let her do so with a sly smirk.
“Great, I have a child to visit there as well.” It would mean one more child to add to the vast flock of orphans that she brings to our fold.
I glanced through the windows, turning in my chair so I could see the familiar towers of York Minster. My mind changed focus, from the present to the past. I could remember a moment in my life where I beheld a dawn when the Minster’s great towers didn’t dominate the sky. Even when Clifford’s Tower was made of wood.
Landmarks, famous faces and world events always reminded me about how much time has truly passed. In each case I remember how I came to be in the position I am now and all I’ve done since. All the women on the team, like me, lived a torn existence between what was, what is and what can never be. At least they had a past to mourn the loss of; my old life was as ghostly to me as the sun concealed behind a dawn mist. No one yet knows the cause of this strange amnesia or how long it will last. I kept recalling the old adage; time is a great healer, after nearly ten years I was beginning to doubt my mind would ever recover.
“That night in March, I think it was, when all those Jews were trapped inside and the tower was set alight. That was my first job with you and the girls.” My voice became distant as memories of those belief shattering experiences drifted around me. I found my gaze had returned to my half empty cappuccino. I didn’t see the warm liquid but all the faces of those I had saved and lost, swirling in the froth and rising in the steam.
“We had a challenge that night. What with the children and women crying and the men, well they weren’t being much help to anyone.”
“Oh Kate, have you forgotten how you felt when you discovered the truth?”
She paused in replying and stared at me. I could see the answer in her eyes. The endless battle to control the memories, the sights, the sounds, the faces, the emotions. She couldn’t have forgotten, no one ever did. The truth is the truth, unavoidable and undeniable; it is now a part of us we can never escape nor forget.
“OK, I admit it; if you weren’t there we wouldn’t have been able to escort so many to Valhalla safely. It was unfortunate that we had to lose so many of the men, but Hel must always claim some, we can never save everyone. Besides it’s not our fault that the powers that be took so long arguing over who should be allocated where. Lucky for them we don’t turn away suicides. We weren’t the Angels they were all hoping for but after more than a century in purgatory they wanted peace with anyone.”
I chose to allow this change of subject; she was my elder in more ways than would appear in the light of day. She had seen and witnessed far greater change in the world than I had during my time with the team. I owed her a lot of respect for the way she aided my own conversion to this new life. Having now witnessed countless others embrace the truth of reality I understand now how difficult I must have made it for her.
“If we didn’t make exceptions you know our numbers would dwindle into non-existence. There are too many faiths and so few believers.”
“Isn’t that the truth of it all.” She sighed; her hands folded the menu into even more tighter squares. “Our methods have changed a lot even before that big intake. Now we have to copy what the Angels do. It is not the most effective way of selecting worthy warriors. Things worked better the way they used to be. I miss the old days when it was all decided by the way you died, not by the way you lived. If you died bravely or by the sword you go up, if you die of old age or illness you go down. It was so much simpler back then.”
The Bitfrost test is a method we now use to determine what afterlife a soul deserves. It is a method my Elders hate using but the traditional methods can only ever be applied in areas of war and civil conflict. I realised then that was the reason why Kate was jealous of Alice and Joanne. She missed the old days and its old ways. To go to Iraq would be to relive their glorious memories of centuries gone by.
“You really should have put your name in the pot. You are more deserving of Alice or Joanne to do the job abroad.” I added, a small knot of guilt in my stomach.
“And leave you to cause a mess? I don’t think so. Five years doesn’t make you an expert in this business.” Her smirk lessened the criticism.
“Have some faith in me, Kate.”
She laughed, releasing the bent menu to sprawl itself free of creases on the table and twisted her hair around her fingers instead.
“Come on; let’s not keep our clients waiting.”
I gulped the last of my cappuccino and slung her matching white leather bag over my shoulder. “Ok let’s go.”
With that we left Starbucks and made our way through the throbbing streets towards the York District hospital.
“You got your leaves?” Kate asked briskly as we lingered beneath the only small piece of vegetation in the entire District Hospital car park.
“Yes, somewhere.” I rummaged through the depths of my handbag and eventually pulled out a rather flattened hessian pouch.
“Get a handful out, I’ll set the marks.”
“Thought I was going to do that this time?”
“Tell me how you were going to do it then?” She folded her arms and stared hard down at me making me feel nervous as I explained it to her as best I could.
“You forgot one thing.”
“Cameras. A modern girl like you should know we’re watched now more than ever and it’s not always mortal eyes behind the lens.” She swung her head to the left and right and I saw there were two watching over the car park.
“Yes, you could have given our position away all too easily and invited trouble right on our tails.” She tutted, moving further round the tree out of sight from any surveillance. She pulled out a short knife from her pocket and began whittle several lines into the wrinkled tree bark. I could feel the air tense as each rune was carved deep into the tree. “That is why I’m still the teacher and you are still the student. Now add the leaves.”
I scrunched the green Ash leaves together as tight as I could and pushed them into the runic cracks.
“Now add the fire.”
I took out a lighter and lit the leaves and runes, the fire crept amongst the cracks without engulfing outside the runes, the flames flared white and then all was quiet. We had evoked the spiritual dimension of the earth around us. Only spiritual beings, such as ourselves and those that have passed from the physical plain into this would exist, everything else became a background of statues. We both unfolded our bags into our luscious white swan feather cloaks. The contents of which were kept in special pockets so in either form nothing was lost. We strapped around our waists a leather belt with several sheathed runed daggers hanging from it. Every job has its dangers after all and ours wasn’t any different.
“Mine is on the second floor, where is yours?” Kate asked after checking her own quota.
“On the fourth floor. Wait for me here when you are done.”
“Just remember, trust the jar not the soul, anyone will spin any great list of charitable events or feats of strength to live. There are no exceptions in this business. We’re not a charity, we don’t give second chances.”
“I know, I know, if the jar turns red they’re better off dead, if it turns white guide them to the light.”
With a final nod to each other we strode back round the corner, across the car park and into the building. No one gave us a glance as we walked around the motionless people inside.
I found the man I sought in a quiet solitary room at the far end of the ward. He lay in his bed as if sleeping. The monitors were quiet and his drips didn’t stir all the cables and leads hung loose at the side. A woman with a milk white face sat beside him holding one hand yet she sat at a small distance, as if afraid to get too close. She did not look up when I arrived. I stopped at the end of his bed.
I lifted up one side of my cloak and pulled out my tall ash wood spear, tipped with silver. My name in Futhark runes glowed upon its hand grip in dazzling gold. It was a holy item, specially made by the Boss. Just like his favourite son’s great long ship that could fold away into a pocket. This made it easier for us to hide and transport our most prized possession and most lethal weapon. All the women in the team received these spears, Freya, our team leader, gave them to us on our ascension into her squadrons.
Once I confirmed his identity I crossed his name off on my quota, I banged the butt of my spear upon the cold plastic floor three times.
“David Garret, you can wake up now.”
His face plain and peaceful began to twitch and twist. He licked his lips as if thirsty, gave a yawn and stretched his arms as if he had been in a deep sleep. I came closer to his bed ready to shake him awake if necessary. At my movement he opened his eyes, gave a small groan of alarm and scrambled back against the head of the bed as if I was a vision from his nightmares. To many in the past we were such terrible visions. Not everyone saw us as beautiful, athletic, warrior women, who rode the winds on the backs of Odin’s wolves.
“Who…who are you? What are you going? What do you want?” He managed to ask his voice trembling. He was frightened; they always were at this stage. His eyes kept flickering upon his female visitor who remained still and silent.
“Welcome to the next life David.” I answered with a soothing tone in my voice and sat at the end of his bed, trying to show I meant him no harm by keeping a distance between us, but near enough so I could grab him if he tried to flee.
It was inevitable that he wouldn’t believe me. After all, a young woman wearing a white feathered cloak, a tall spear and a pink v-necked t-shirt along with a long white skirt promote all the signs of a deluded mind.
He looked me up and down. “What do...do...you mean? I’m not dead. Tell her Laura? Laura?” the appealing looks of support on his face did not register with her.
“I’m afraid you are David. Laura can’t hear you, only the dead can. There’s no one else here but you and me.”
“No, no, I can’t be! I’m alive! I’m alive!” His eyes were transfixed upon Laura in her statue pose. “Laura? Can you hear me? No, no! It can’t be…I can’t be… Laura, look at me! Nurse? Doctor? Anyone!”
Before he could move any further in fright I grasped his arm pinning it against the sheets on the bed, I whipped out a dagger from my belt and slashed it across him. The blade passed straight through him and the bed. David gave a sharp shriek, then seeing no blood drain from what would have been a severed arm, became silent.
“Do you believe me now?” I asked as I sheathed my dagger once more and gently let go of him. His eyes stared at what he perceived to be flesh for ten seconds, pupils wide and mouth ajar. He stared up at me with huge eyes and gave a nervous, little nod.
“Good. I do have other dead people needing my attention besides you, you know.” I walked towards the tall window, pushed some wheeled cabinets aside and threw it open. No breeze blew through just still rays of sunshine bearing no warmth upon my skin. “Now, are you prepared to do as I ask?” I walked back to the end of his bed where he had remained and brought out the large glass jar which lay in the enchanted depths of my cloak pockets.
That was when something was clearly wrong.
David began to laugh.
Not the laugh of fear or even joy but of malice and hatred. He leaped off his bed and ran for the open window and jumped out into the sky before I realised the true situation. He did not fall, or even scream but glide out over the car park. I spat upon the floor in hatred. His laughter was recognisable, evidence of how many times we had crossed paths.
“Jake, damn you!” I yelled into the air, knowing Kate would hear me despite being several floors below. “Get back here with my soul! Or so help me I’ll….”
As a dark elf, Jake had the unfortunate talent of possessing a body upon their last breath then taking control of their souls directly. The true souls mind is awake through the entire experience. Unless the soul is freed to regain their will, they may face the wrenching pain of the Underworld as their essence is drained by Hel. Jake is a renowned trouble maker to all soul guides in any faith and he certainly was familiar with the tips of our spears.
I heard a gasp of breath as Kate finally joined me, charging through the door with a bang. Her eyes lit with fire when she spotted the dark elf flying lazily around in the air, appearing ever so confident, but I promised myself to reverse that dramatically and very, very soon.
“Did you manage to send the child away safely?” I asked eager for some good news.
“Yes, I heard you just as she passed under the rainbow bridge to Asgard.”
“Good. I feel the sudden urge to stick my spear through someone’s head and I intend to do it to him.” Pointing its silver tip in his general direction. He was so confident of himself that he was doing somersaults through the air and dives, warming up for the hunt I thought. A cocky fox prancing upon a farmer’s wall in front of two blood thirsty hounds.
“Jake, what do you think you’re playing at? You know that soul is ours by divine right so give it up?”
“Katherine, Katherine, you know full well I claim his soul in Hel’s name whether you like it or not. Everyone’s edible in her mind.” He let out another bold laugh.
“You know we’ll hunt you down. Why not make it easy on yourself?”
“I am just doing my job. I can’t help it if Jenny’s too considerate to catch me.” He shot a sly wink in my direction. I grumbled under my breath a hundred different ways I could skewer his being upon my spear.
“Then we must do ours. We won’t go easy on you.”
“I sure as Hel won’t, Jake!” I threatened, the battle rage already building up inside me as I imagined the spiritual death and agony I could cause him for such an insult.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less. Now if you excuse me, David has an important meeting to attend.” He turned tail and flew away, casting glances back inviting our pursuit.
That was what we did, we had no alternative, David’s soul was at stake and it is a responsibility the team do not take lightly. Guiding and safe guarding such souls is our job and our honour is rated by how efficient we are at it. To lose even one soul to a dark elf like Jake would be a black mark on our achievements. It would have to be an impressive gang of dark elves to defeat even a pair of us. That is why his remark felt like cigarette burns on my pride.
He led us on a goose chase as expected weaving in and out, up and over as many alleyways and buildings that he came across. We eventually went over the river where he swerved and headed upstream to the city centre. Kate and I kept up with him all the way, eager for a clear shot at him with our spears but Jake was familiar with such an attack and so used all obstacles in his way to prevent such a chance appearing.
“Stop being such a wimp Jake! It won’t hurt so much if you stay still!” Kate cried out gliding in front of me over the time frozen city.
“You have to catch me first.” He taunted flying further away, heading lower over the rivers surface. Our reflections were cast in segments against the small waves and swirling currents of the River Ouse. It still flowed in this spiritual dimension; water is one of the four prime elements and exists within all dimensions, physical, spiritual and divine.
“Snap trap.” I suggested into Kate’s ear as I flew past. It was one of the many catching techniques we as a team practise when we come across such situations.
As predicted Jake flew straight under the bridge with Kate in close pursuit, shrieking her war cry to intimidate. The Norns of Fate were on our side as he did not look back to see if we were both behind him. When he started to climb back up again I threw my spear from up high, piercing him straight in the stomach, I yelled with triumph for such a direct hit. My attack halted him in his tracks, giving Kate a chance to grasp and banish him with runes imbued with Odin’s power.
He let out a long groan of pain before his appearance evaporated in black plumes of smoke. My spear remained frozen in the point of impact. Beside them a wispy figure of the true David floated, his eyes wide and shocked at being so high yet not falling. I wasted no more time upon retrieving my spear. I scored an invisible line in the air at our feet and then using the flattened edge of the spear head, drew it in a tall arch over the line. Rainbow colours marked my magic drawing.
“Now David, no soul that deserves to go to Hel would be snatched by a dark elf so eagerly. Therefore I grant you access to Asgard. Pass under Bitfrost and be welcomed into the next life.”
He stepped forward in the air, tapping the spiritual plain we floated on. The mortal fear of falling still firmly in his mind. Then with one last glance around the world he once lived in, smiled at me and walked under the rainbow arch. His last mortal words were “thank you”.
“Right, I think we deserve a coffee for that. Could I tempt you to share a brownie with me?” Kate offered, not the slightest bit out of breath.
“Ha!” I laughed. “You know as well as I that a Valkyrie’s work is never done.”
Click here to go on to read Soul Chaser - Chapter Two - Trouble After Midnight