Part 5

By Shane Lutz

For a moment, there was only darkness; a black void threatening to swallow everything in existence, even life. There was a numbness that caressed the air and a symphony echoed somewhere far away, singing of times long forgotten and fervently destroyed. They clawed forward, searching for something to hold on to, something that would take them back to when they were golden and alive. Before they had died. Before they had been replaced.

And then the cold Shelby Sparks.

It was completely unexpected as the black immediately turned to wailing white. The atmosphere was so frigid that if it were any colder Shelby was positive it would be solid. A harsh wind laced with ice blew against her huddled form in the high stack of snow and chilled her to the depths of her soul.

Then it all came back to her.

Hel, the Cold Goddess.

Nidhogg, the Devourer of Corpses.

Ragnarok, the Doom of the Gods.

Shelby stood up shakily, her head snapping in every direction, looking for the two immortal creatures. There was no sight of them anywhere. Had she failed? Why hadn't they been teleported with her? Something was wrong here. Something wasn't quite right…

A roar behind her scattered any doubts she had just had. Taking a step forward, the white blizzard immediately changed to the slab of black rock: the portal. Shelby blinked, her eyes adjusting to the immediate color change. The blizzard that tore around her must've been thicker than she thought. She stepped around it and on the other side stood Nidhogg, raised on his hind-legs, glaring down into the icy abyss below that was the kingdom of Niflheim.

And dangling from the edge was Hel.

She was screaming something incomprehensible in a language Shelby didn't understand. It was probably the Ichor Tongue – the primeval language of the gods – that the human mouth found almost impossible to form. Shelby wondered if Nidhogg understood what she was saying. Wasn't he older than even the Golden Bloods? But if he wasn't a god, then what exactly was he?

Feeling a tug at her waist, she instinctively looked down and saw her whip still wedged in her belt, connected to Nidhogg's ankle. Her head bolted up as she remembered the sai still lodged in the Devourer's neck. How was she going to get the blade out without risking getting flung over the edge of the Drop of Destruction?

The powerful wind screaming against her, Shelby grabbed the whip and snapped it. The force just flowed along the chord, loosening its hold over his foot. She flicked it again, harder this time, and the audible crack of the tip lashing against his ankle whistled over the roaring blizzard. She had gotten his attention.

Immediately, he turned around, growling at her, and she realized that his maw, lined with dozens of razor-sharp teeth, looked even larger from this angle. She tucked the whip back into her belt, pulling out her remaining sai, noticing that the snow and ice flying through the air seemed to bend around the blade. Nidhogg snarled at the sight of it, hesitating.

"Yeah, you remember this, don't you," Shelby taunted, moving closer to him. "What's a matter? Scared?"

Whether he understood what she had said or just registered the tone in her voice, the Devourer of Corpses roared…and charged.

Just like she planned.

Know that momentum would carry him forward, Shelby flung herself to the left quickly, dodging his stampede by inches. She bent her knees as she her feet hit the ground, using the fast movement as a springboard. She launched herself forward, towards Nidhogg. The arch of his back was too high for her to reach, but she didn't need to get that far up, she just needed a little bit lower.

Her hands clasped the warm hilt of the sai as she hit his tough hide with heavy force and gravity yanked it free as she tumbled back to the ground. The Devourer turned on her, but snarled at something over her shoulder.

Immediately, Shelby turned around, realizing that it would make her vulnerable to attack. But Nidhogg didn't move against her, he just stared at the recovered Cold Goddess with animosity while Shelby was filled with surprise. She had figured that Hel had fallen over the edge when the Devourer of Corpses had so quickly charged at her. Turns out she had been wrong.

Nidhogg took a step forward, moving closer to the edge of the Drop of Destruction. Shelby, at first, was filled with the realization that she was caught in between two extremely powerful beings, but that trepidation was replaced by the sound of a crack below them. She looked down at the ground. Wasn't it rock that they were standing on? Using her foot, Shelby pushed the snow away from the surface, revealing a thick, murky layer of ice, not stone.

Which meant that it could shatter at any second.

And with the immense weight of Nidhogg…

A plan immediately formulated in her mind, but Shelby had to get off the ledge before the Devourer got too far onto it. Moving slowly at first, backing away from the direct line of fire, and then running, she worked her way back to where the black portal stood menacingly, staying close to it but making sure not to touch its surface. The Cold Goddess was unaware of the danger that loomed before them as was the primordial monster that slowly scraped across the ice, acidic saliva dripping for his snarling maw.

Wait for it, Shelby told herself.

Hel's body suddenly began to change color, morphing into a hideous block of obsidian. She crumpled on the ground, writhing in pain from the curse that had been inflicted upon her by Odin before he banished her.

Wait for it…

The Devourer of Corpses released a hideous sound that might've been a scratchy laugh that his mouth wasn't crafted to emit. He bent low, arching his back, and Shelby had fought enough predatory creatures – like the Skinwalkers and Cercopes– to know that his stance meant he was about to pounce.

Wait for it…

The dark tone to the Cold Goddess's skin began to fade, her pale, blue-tinged color returning. Merciless eyes met Nidhogg's as she glared up at him from her eyes that burned with icy, pitiless flames. There was a second when the air hung still and time itself seemed to slow down, and Shelby thought that maybe he wasn't going to attack…

And then the Devourer of Corpses roared.

And Shelby drove her twin sais into the ground.

The hollow sound of breaking ice as the entire ledge tore away and the screams of Hel and Nidhogg as they plummeted back into their eternal prison would haunt her darkest nightmares until the day she died.

"You're awake."

Shelby's unusually bright tone welcomed Josh as he blinked his eyes open. The foggy images before him swam and the back of his skull throbbed. His throat burned, and when he tried to speak all that came out was a hoarse rasping.

"Here, drink this. It'll make you feel better."

She put a glass to his lips that contained a suspicious blue liquid that smelled like licorice. But once he swallowed it, the scorching dryness in his mouth ceased and his vision stabilized, even though it was still a little blurry. Even the pain in his head as well as practically everywhere else in his body had faded to a dull throbbing.

"Where am I?" Josh managed. He tried to sit up in the bed he was in, but pain warped his spine and he collapsed back down.

"You're in the Brotherhood's ward," Shelby replied happily. "Being treated by Asclepius himself. It took a little coaxing and maybe a few threats, but I finally won him over. You should be feeling a lot better by tomorrow, but they said you have to stay here for a while, which means no more missions for you."

"What about Nidhogg?" He whispered, not wanting to strain his still resistant voice. "And Hel? Did you stop Ragnarok?"

Shelby's face bloomed into a wide grin. "Yeah, Josh, we did it. After you used that spell – and nearly killed yourself, you big idiot – I was able to teleport both of them back to the Drop of Destruction where, with the help of the big, fat Devourer of Corpses, I broke off what was left of the icy ledge and they tumbled back into Niflheim. We did it, Josh."

He sighed in relief. He couldn't believe it. They had risked everything – their lives, the gods, even the world – but they had won, and that's all that mattered. A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he furrowed his brow.

"What is it?" She asked, worry in her voice.

"It's…nothing. It's just, well, remember when you ran after whatever you saw in the trees?"

Shelby bit her lip guiltily. "And left you alone to defeat Nidhogg and Hel? Yeah, I remember, and I'm so sorry, but…"

He waved his hand dismissively. "No, not that. Did you…catch whoever it was?"

He saw her jaw clench, and he wondered how much of the whole story she was going to tell him.

"It was a golem, 'one without a soul…'"

"I know what a golem is," Josh said impatiently. "I'm the mythology nerd here," he added with a wink.

"Yes, well, he said that he was sent by someone to awaken Nidhogg, but that we were the only ones who could raise Hel."

"We were tricked. I figured as much. Did he say who sent him?"

Shelby shook her head. "No, he didn't say. He…uh, died before I could get any more information out of him.

"So you mean you killed him?"

She shrugged, and then laughed. "But none of that really matters. We're back, you're safe, and we saved the world. And hey, the best part is that with you almost killing yourself and all, you get a week off from anything else that might threaten to kill you."

"Great," Josh muttered.

"Hey," she said, punching him lightly in the shoulder as she stood up. "We're the best the Brotherhood of the Snake has. So suck it up."

He laughed. It felt good to relax and smile after everything they had just been through. When Shelby started to turn away from him, he stopped her.

"Where are you going? You're not going to stay and play Go Fish with me until I get better?"

His light tone didn't erase the shadowed mask that Shelby wore. She looked distracted, like she was worried about a lot of different things that were out of her control.

"I have to go to the library…Well, what's left of it after we killed Thoth and blew up the place."

"You killed Thoth and blew up the place," he corrected.

"Yeah, of course," she agreed remotely. "But there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up. I have to get some answers about what's going on. We can't be in the dark like we were, Josh. We were used and manipulated and almost destroyed the world. There's absolutely no way I'm letting that happen again. So I'm taking over your job and doing some research before my next mission."

At the mention of what had happened, a question that had been bouncing around in his mind every since Shelby had replayed her tale of what had happened came back to him. When he had been knocked unconscious, he had thought he was dead, and he probably would've been if she hadn't gotten to him quicker. Which is where it got complicated.

How had she come back?

She had said that she transported Nidhogg and Hel to the Drop of Destruction. Had she used the black portal? Of course she had. He, being a sorcerer and able to protect himself with magical barriers, could've touched the cold stone without its deadly effects striking him. But Shelby was human; she was mortal with no knowledge of magic whatsoever. So how had she touched it without severing her soul from her body?

"Um…alright then. Keep me posted, OK?" he replied, his voice a little more saddened than it was a few moments ago. She nodded at his request and walked out of the hospital ward, not looking back once, leaving Josh alone to wonder just who exactly Shelby Sparks was.