AR 1216-06-23 Elsie travels toward Melinir with the group

Sunup on the Bone Hills was a remarkable thing. The yellow rays pressed against the boundaries of the horizon, straining that distant line past its ability to contain the light. Gracefully, the sun then danced across the red, and brown, and orange rock walls of the large valley, and further off to the dark greens and blues of the forest nearby. It wrapped all those colors up in vibrant yellow, and presented a picture that could only have been painted by the most talented of even the gods. Elsie was struck dumb and motionless in sheer awe.

Around her, the rest of the group seemed otherwise unaffected. Franziska was already awake, her nose buried in her book of spells, cramming arcane incantations into her head for later use. Krunch and Zen were stationed on opposite sides of the camp, eyes outward, focused on detecting dangers, and not the natural beauty of their surroundings. She had seen Yari wander off with Sardi about an hour ago, presumably to find a quiet place to offer their daily prayers to the Allfather. Elsie, alone it seemed, was paying any mind to the colors of the valley, and she offered up her appreciation as her own prayer to the gods who created it.

When the sun rose high enough, she caught the glint of light off a large body of water near where she knew Melinir was; it must have been cold Lake Ganif. How she couldn’t wait to see so much water in one place; how amazing that must be! Elsie hoped there would be time to actually get in and swim in calm, clear water that went on forever. All her life, the closest thing she had done to that was let the river current take her for a few miles, or to wade in shallow pools no deeper than her waist. To swim where her feet couldn’t touch the bottom – that surely would be a thing to experience!

They would walk out of the Bone Hills by day’s end. Covered only in grass and dirt, Elsie understood why legends had formed that the hills were burial mounds of giants. There were so many wonders for her to see and do! Life outside her parents’ inn was so much larger than she had ever imagined; it was both exciting and scary. She was so lost in these thoughts that she didn’t hear Yari walking up behind her.

The cleric – her cleric – rested his elbow on her shoulder, shocking her from her reverie. With his other arm, he gestured grandly out before them, and intoned, “Welcome to Thunder Rift!” If it was even possible, the colors of the panorama intensified, as a shaft of divine light pierced the sky and engulfed everything she saw.

She smiled a smile of sheer happiness. “Nice trick,” she complimented.

“Ah, c’mon,” he pretended to whine. “How d’you know that was me? The Aesir welcome you to the next chapter of your life. Let it never be said the gods, or their representatives, do anything in half-measures!” He stuck his tongue out at Elsie.

12:00

They were sitting just off the side of the road eating lunch glad to be out of the Bone Hills and into the more level and grassy lands of the Thunder Rift.

Elsie said loud enough for all to hear, “My family has never been one to follow just one god, but with what I am about to do, you know spying on the syndicate, that I thought it might be a good idea to pick one god to follow so I have someone to pray to in case I get into a tight situation. I am open to suggestions on which one would be best for me. Thoughts anyone?”

Silence hung heavy on the group as each person thought about the question and how best to answer it.

Aldhis spoke up first, “I follow Tyr. He is a god for warriors and one who understands hardship and those who are handicapped by something. I feel he helps me everyday deal with the pain from the scars I carry from the fire. I think he could help you also if you choose him in this great cause against evil we are on.”

“Like most people, I don’t have all that much to do directly with the Deities”, Franziska told Elsie. “It seems to me that the Clerics and Paladins could give you the best advice. That said, if you would pray mainly to just one of the Deities, Heimdall rarely sleeps and has exceptionally keen hearing if you should call out to him in your time of need. And as a Deity of light, he can shed that light on those who might be closing in on you, aiding you in knowing who and where they are. That could give you an advantage in escaping.”

Cutting some barbs that had gotten caught in Inuki’s fur Wolf spoke up next, “You definitely do not have to ask just one god or goddess for help. Myself, I get my powers from both Sif and Berranor.”

Putting his mug of ale down, “Tis true lass,” Krunch piped up, “Myself, I follow all tha dwarven gods.” And thinking that was enough of an explanation he filled his mouth with some jerky and continued with finishing off his mug.

Elsie looked at Zen next, “If you want my views I will share them but they are not popular, and I would prefer not to start an argument with our healers, if you want to know what I think ask me when Yari, Sardi, and Rissa are not around. Now excuse me nature calls.” Then Zen got up and walked toward a distant bush.

“Nuh uh,” interject Yari. “You don’t get to do that. ‘Oh, I don’t want to be insulting,’” he said a mocking tone, as though to imitate Zen, “‘so talk to me when these three people, right here next to me, aren’t around, because what I want to say is going to insult them.’

“When have any of us ever given you any indication that your atheistic views insult us, Zen? Now, sit yer ass back down and say what you want to say.”

Zen blinked in astonishment, processing the chastisement he had just received. “But, I really do need to –”

“Then tell us when you get back!”

Wiping his lunch from his chin Sardi stifled a laugh as he watched Zen retreat. “Odin has had my devotion since before I can really remember,” he said. “My father followed him. Dad always claimed it was Odin that stopped the spear from killing him, giving him a chance to live long enough to try to raise his sons.”

“How nice!” Elsie said, then looked expectantly at Yari. “I assume you follow Odin because of your father, too.”

“After a fashion,” the cleric answered. “My dad kind of, uh,” he trailed off and shared a glance with Rissa, “hates Odin. It’s a long story, and I don’t really think it’s relevant to the topic at hand. I doubt Odin would be a very good fit for you, anyway.”

Before more inquiries could be made, Zen reappeared and found his seat. “If you really want to know my opinion about the gods,” he sighed, “most of what you hear about them seems to be myths and fables.

“What about the clerics, you might ask, and their powers. From what I can tell, it comes from the person. The healers channel energy, albeit differently from the way the mages do, from their beliefs and convictions, not in a super-being, but in what they believe is the way to live and perform righteous deeds. It’s likely what opens their bodies and minds to the energies they channel. Believe in yourself, and your cause. Yes there are creatures out there more powerful than us, and travel between the realms is possible. Does the ant worship the wolf?”

“Now, was that so hard to say, Zen?” Yari asked, and grinned at his uncomfortable friend.

19:58

If sunup in the bone hills was breathtaking, sundown was heart-stopping. They climbed the last of the hills, and looked out to see miles of tall grass below them, as far as the eye could see. The sun was just setting to their backs, lighting up the grass and occasional wildflower in a vibrant bath of orange and red. Yari’s ravens each let out two caws, and flapped into the sky, as though to get a closer look at the beauty of the gods’ work.

Climbing up and down the hills all day had pushed her untrained muscles further than ever, and Elsie was glad for the chance to sit and massage her aching legs. It was with some comfort that she reminded herself tomorrow’s walk would be all downhill to Melinir. Melinir – the first real city she would ever have been in. The sights and sounds of the place defied her imagination, and she shook from the excitement and anticipation.

After Franziska cast her protection ritual for the night, Wolf surprised the group with nearly a dozen rabbits he and Inuki had managed to catch earlier in the day. Everyone agreed it should be safe enough to cook them for supper; though, it was obvious their stomachs were more in charge of decision-making than their brains. Inuki, having done the bulk of the hunt, was rewarded with two rabbits for himself; the rest were split equally amongst the group, every bone being picked clean.

When she finished, Elsie stood to take her utensils outside the protective barriers of Franziska’s spell for cleaning; rather, she tried to stand. In a comic pratfall even Rissa couldn’t replicate, the poor girl righted herself, and then promptly collapsed back down in a heap of limbs and rabbit bones. Elsie’s muscles were in full boycott, and there wasn’t much she could do about it.

Aldhis, seated closest to her, jumped immediately to catch Elsie and lower her more gently back to the ground. “Here, give me that, Chickidee!” she chastised. “Now, lay down over there, and I’ll see if I can you feel better in a moment.”

Unable to resist if she cared to, Elsie did as she was told and released her eating-ware to Aldhis. Yari was at her side in the next instant, his arm underneath hers, helping her limp to the spot she picked out to sleep. “I know you’re prob’bly full,” he whispered, handing her a large, dark red berry, “but eat this. It’ll help.”

She did, and it did – at least a little. As Elsie was situating herself in her bedroll, Rissa asked teasingly, “‘Chickidee’, huh? You two-timing Zen, Aldhis?”

Aldhis turned bright red – not from embarrassment, but from anger. However, she had spent enough time with the group to know when Rissa was baiting her, so she took a deep, steadying breath before calmly answering, “Not a chance, Rissa. Chickidee is what we kids called Elsie when we were young. It just kind of came out is all.”

Chickidee, Elsie thought. I haven’t been called that in ages! Part of her was embarrassed, but mostly she was just glad for the old familiarity of the name. Still, there was embarrassment to be felt, and she was sure not going to be the only one to feel it.

“No, no,” Elsie said at Rissa, “Fish is right. That’s my nickname from our childhood.”

At this, Zen, who was ignoring the conversation, had his interest renewed. “Fish?” he said. “You never told me your nickname was so exotic.”

Aldhis glared at Elsie, but she realized she had brought it on herself. “Really put my foot in it here, huh?” she asked the aching girl.

Okay, Yari’s thoughts came suddenly to Elsie’s, full of amusement, I know that a story’s coming to explain this all, but ‘Chickidee’? Really?

Shoosh, you! she answered silently. In response to both Aldhis and Yari, Elsie stuck out her tongue.

Krunch was demonstrably less patient than Yari, and demanded more information immediately, “S, how ye get those nicknames anyway?”

“Massage first; explanation later,” Elsie insisted pathetically.

Aldhis paused to consider her options, then asked, “I don’t really have a choice in this, do I?”

“Nope!” came the collected response of everyone else.

“Fine,” she sighed, and crouched over Elsie’s legs to begin her work.

As Aldhis’ fingers pressed into Elsie’s flesh, the girl let out a groan, half-pained and half-pleasured. “Well,” Elsie began, “Fish got her name one day when we were swimming in the river that runs by the town. She stood up, and there in the bosom of her swimsuit was a small fish. We told everyone about it when we got home and, well, the name just stuck.”

There was a brief moment of silence, and then everyone erupted into laughter. Everyone that is, save for Aldhis. Aldhis merely blushed, and pressed harder than she needed to into Elsie’s legs.

“Hey!” complained Elsie. “Just telling the truth!”

“Yes, but did you have to mention where the fish was?” Aldhis waited for the chuckling to die down, continuing her massage, then patted Elsie’s rear. “Chickidee, here,” she began with satisfaction, “got her name because she would talk all day long if you let her. We came up with it when we had an overabundance of baby chickens one year. If you stood too near ‘em, you couldn’t hear yourself think.”

She smiled cruelly, then added, “We started to call her ‘Chicky’, but she complained too much, so it warped into Chickidee. You know, just to make her stop talking!”

Ouch, Yari thought at Elsie. That’s kinda harsh.

She means well, answered Elsie with a seriousness that startled her boyfriend.

Aldhis swallowed hard against an onslaught of painful memories that were suddenly besieging her. “Of course it was her voice that saved me that day,” she whispered, “when the fire broke out. My parents were asleep on the second floor where the fire broke out. Even though I was o the floor above them, they never made it out. I only woke up because Elsie was screaming my name outside.”

Tears cascaded down Aldhis’ face, and she clenched her jaw against the emotion. After several failed attempts, she managed to whisper, “I only jumped out of the window because her voice was so insistent… like a baby bird who wouldn’t shut up!”

Silence stood heavy in the air between the listeners. The anecdote had gone from amusing to horrible without warning. They licked their lips, all dry, and desperately searched for a way to save the light-hearted atmosphere from before. It was not to be.

“I was horribly burned, jumping out of the window,” Aldhis went on, oblivious to the others around her, simply relishing talking about the experience for the very first time. “Broke a lot of bones on the landing. I almost left Midgard forever that night, but for Elsie’s insensate chirping of my name.

“She’s my little chickadee…”

Zen walked over and placed a hand on Aldhis’ shoulders. The woman had since ceased massaging her charge, though Elsie had said nothing in complaint. As Aldhis leaned into Zen, a tear ran down her check.

Elsie laughed awkwardly into the stillness, “It’s not like I could just let my best friend die…”

Zen led Aldhis away, and the others solemnly found their sleeping spots. This day was spent; tomorrow was another go.

23:34

The sound of a pebble skittering into the bushes roused Yari from his dozing. He searched out with his mind, and found Elsie’s. What’s up?

You never told what god you think would be good for me, she answered, just that Odin would not.

I was thinking, answered Yari.

Got an answer?

I think so. Sure you want me to tell you? Might be more fun to wait and see if I’m right on your own.

No! I want to know now! she complained

Heh, heh. Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you’d be spoiling the fun.

I consider myself properly warned, now spill.

The cleric’s answer was brief, Skadi.

Okay? Aren’t you going to explain?

Sure you want a history lesson this late?

Yes!

Fine, I’ll summarize: Skadi was a giant of a lady, quite literally one of the jötunn, who was once wronged by the aesir. She came seeking vengeance, and was told she could have her choice of them as a husband to make up for their transgression. She picked wrong, and entered into a loveless marriage that ended badly. Eventually, she married Odin, and the two raised many, happy children together.

That sounds nice, replied Elise.

It should sound familiar. Anyway, she was a great counselor, and a powerful warrior. The mountain blizzards are her axes, and the howling winds her battle cry. She warned Loki to turn away from his path of evil, and when he did not, it was her punishment that was meted out. She was beautiful, and majestic, and fierce, and when I look at you, I get a see all that in your soul. I think Skadi is a good fit for you.

AR 1216-06-23 Elsie travels toward Melinir with the group

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