A/N: After writing "Doing Things By Halves," I had assumed I wouldn't write anything else about Valkyrie Profile for a while, that I would return to my ordinary haunts and continue with my ordinary stories. Then I felt a sharp little poke in the back and I looked over my shoulder to see Hrist jabbing me suggestively with the tip of a halberd. I may be quite new to the fandom, but I know a hint when I see one. ^_- Incidentally, though it should quickly become apparent, this story is set in the "normal" (Lenneth/Covenant) timeline rather than the "alternate" (Silmeria) one.
~X X X~
The blood-tinged light faded, and with it they were gone.
It had all happened so fast, thought the battered Hrist Valkyrie. The Sovereign Rite, ripping the soul of Silmeria Valkyrie out of her mortal vessel Princess Alicia of Dipan. The sudden emergence of the Lord of the Undead, Brahms, from within one of Silmeria's einherjar. The brutal struggle. Freya, hurling her vengeful Ether Strike at Brahms to wreak his final defeat—
—and Silmeria flinging herself between goddess and vampire lord, taking the blast, being frozen into a crystal shell. And then, while the forces of Asgard sat stunned, Brahms smashing his fist into the ground, summoning his unholy power to whisk himself and the imprisoned Valkyrie off to who-knew-where.
"Silmeria!" Hrist screamed. Freya's eyes flitted in her direction in some surprise, before sweeping the room. A scowl distorted the beautiful features of the blonde goddess's face.
"He's gone. I cannot trace his path. He is the vessel of Niflheim's power on Midgard, and his treacherous necromancy bears the silence of its cowardly defilement." She clenched her fists at her sides, her gaze sweeping the ruined throne room where the last remnants of men's plans to surpass the gods had come to such a brutal and pointless end. "Come. There is nothing more for us here; let us return to Asgard."
"Hold it," Arngrim spoke up. "We come here, wreck the joint, then the dead guy starts kicking ass, runs off with Silmeria, and we're just going to leave?"
"Did you not hear me?"
"Yeah, I heard you, which is why I'm asking what you're planning on doing about it."
Now the goddess's fury turned directly on Arngrim, and even the irreverent mercenary had to quail a little.
"You dare to challenge me, pitiful shell of a mortal?" Her hand started to rise, blue-white light shimmering around it.
Hrist lurched forward. Even though her violet-and-gold armor had been battered and cracked by Brahms's initial assault, she'd placed herself resolutely between Arngrim and the angry goddess.
"Lady Freya, the einherjar is mine to discipline."
Freya actually hesitated for a moment, then let her hand drop.
"Then do so. If he cannot learn to hold his tongue before the gods then Lord Odin will lash him back to the cycle of mortality and be done with him." The two women locked eyes for a moment, and Hrist felt like she'd never been closer to snapping. After all the back-and-forth she and Silmeria had done...They'd never seen eye-to-eye, really, and the unique nature of the Valkyries made it rare that they could simply talk to one another. But while Silmeria had been pursuing the Dragon Orb, they'd been able to sit down together.
While Hrist had had to keep up her facade, Silmeria had recognized her at once and Hrist knew it. So when she spoke, it was Hrist Valkyrie she'd spoken to, trying to make her understand.
And Hrist had betrayed her.
Taken Arngrim, taken the Dragon Orb, wreaked the All-Father's vengeance on Dipan, only to have it all go completely out of control. The King's sacrifice had been meaningless, thanks to the wizards pulling his strings. Nothing would be left of one of the land's greatest kingdoms but ghosts.
Silmeria Valkyrie had let her soul be locked away, cut off from the world in a prison she could never break free of on her own, to save the Lord of the Undead. Even the Vanir were nowhere near as foul as he. It was a betrayal of all the three sisters of destiny were, and yet...
Why am I the one who feels guilty?
Like she'd betrayed Silmeria again, by...what? Not taking her side? Not intervening to stop the Sovereign Rite in time? Not saving her?
Not keeping my little sister from throwing her life away for...that thing?
None of it made any sense.
Was this what your high ideals were about?
None of it made any sense.
Hrist clenched her jaw tightly, fighting for control. The world seemed to be falling into chaos around her, but she still could cling to the one thing that mattered to her above all else: loyalty. Loyalty to the All-Father, whom she served above all things, and loyalty to her einherjar, whose souls were in her hands.
"If that is Lord Odin's wish, then let it be so," she said. "But in this you do not speak for him."
Her voice did not creak, nor did she tremble where she stood, and she counted that the victory all on its own.
That Freya nodded once, gravely, in admission that Hrist was correct was merely the reward.
~X X X~
Odin, Lord of Creation and All-Father of the Aesir, reclined on his seat. His crimson cape was the only spot of color besides the rug leading up to the dais in the audience hall of Valhalla. Everything else was the bitter sterility of white, gleaming in Asgard's sun. The cathedrals that mortals raised on Midgard were but pale mockeries of this grand chamber, testaments to the purity of the gods' eternal glory.
Freya, he thought, never quite got the joke. She believed in her heart of the righteousness of the Aesir. She had sympathy for mortals, but in exactly the same way as a human would have for a pet.
Odin knew better.
"Lord Odin—" the golden-haired goddess began, but he cut her off with a wave of his hand.
"There is no need to recount bitter memories for me, Freya. I observed all in the Water Mirror."
She bowed her head to him.
"I am sorry that I let this opportunity to defeat Brahms slip through my grasp."
"That would have been advantageous, yes, but it is by no means fatal to our plans." The "our" was, of course, a mere courtesy to Freya; in its literal meaning it was completely false. "Dipan's ambitions have been crushed; in the decades to come it shall become a by-word for those who seek to flout the gods' authority."
"What of Barbarossa's mages?"
He waved that aside.
"They were finished as a threat the minute they chose to become undead. Let them slink and cower in the darkness of their ruined castle and dream their pathetic dreams of toppling the gods until I am bored enough to send them to their new mistress in Niflheim."
"Don't you feel it?"
It was not a fair question. Freya, after all, was no Creator, just an ordinary, albeit powerful, Aesir. Her soul was not attuned to the fluctuations of power that flowed through the World Tree. She would not know, instinctively, what Brahms had done, until her senses could detect its secondary effects.
That was why he'd asked the question, of course. It was useful to remind the Aesir of the difference between the All-Father and them, and such examples were better than more overt displays for enforcing knowledge without inspiring resentment.
"No, Lord Odin; what has happened?"
"He has used Silmeria's power to replace the Dragon Orb."
Freya's eyes widened in shock.
"What? The blasphemy—"
"Is utterly perfect," Odin finished the sentence for her in a way he was fairly certain she had not expected.
"My lord, what do you mean?"
He had to give her credit for not stammering.
"Without the Dragon Orb, Midgard will eventually fall to ruin. Its presence is needed to regulate the flow of life energies from Yggdrasil. Without it, there will be chaos and death, eventually ending in the utter annihilation of Midgard. It was therefore necessary for me to decide which course of action would best benefit the Aesir. I had to seize the Orb to keep Silmeria from using it to defend Dipan, but until now I faced the difficult choice whether or not to put it back once the danger was past."
"You would condemn Midgard to destruction?" It would seem that even Freya could be shocked. But then again, a human would be shocked at the slaughter of a herd of horses.
"For the salvation of the Aesir at Ragnarok?"
"I see..." Freya mused.
"But now, I need not choose. The Dragon Orb will remain mine, to use against the Vanir, even against Hel, as I see fit. And Midgard need not be lost, but remains our resource to use as we may. Better, in fact, for Silmeria's soul can only partially fulfill its function, and moreover is held in its place by the corrupt power of a vampire, by power drawn from Niflheim. Can you predict the result?"
"If...if the very life energies of Midgard are being tainted, even as they are being dispersed through it..."
"Then chaos and malice will seep into human hearts. The weak will be tainted, drawn under, and strife will rule. It shall be the axe-age, the sword-age of prophecy, and in the crucible of this era of war shall the purest souls be forged into blades—our blades, to wield as einherjar. against Valhalla's enemies. In his pathetic desire to protect Midgard—for whatever reason—Brahms has given me the key to defeating Surt and Hel both."
Freya pursed her lips thoughtfully.
"If this is true, though, it will make it much easier for the undead to manifest. Niflheim's armies, too, will be building."
"That is true, and therefore we must take precautions. But there is an easy answer, is there not?" He explained what he meant, and Freya nodded along, seeing it.
"And Silmeria?" she asked.
The smile vanished from Odin's lips.
"That one would defy me to the last. Her current situation is a direct result of her act of outright rebellion. Let that be her punishment, then. When the last days descend, Brahms's power will wane and you and Hrist can retrieve her and end that threat for once and for all. Until then, let her remain where she is and meditate on the cost of disobedience."
~X X X~
Hrist was pacing. Arngrim, meanwhile, leaned indolently against one wall with his arms folded across his chest. It seemed he could not be bothered, or maybe he just didn't care (and why should he, a traitorous part of her spirit whispered, when he is merely a soldier drafted by force into your war?). But Hrist was fulled with restless energy; fully recovered physically from her trials in Dipan she wanted to don her armor again and rush out to crush her sister's kidnapper.
For some reason, her sisters favored dresses when they changed from their armor. Lenneth's skirts would be swirling about her ankles were she to pace like this. Hrist, though, preferred utilitarian garb even when "off-duty"; she looked very much as she had in her guise as Leone the mercenary except that her black hair was worn loose as she did as the Valkyrie, straight and long enough to reach the middle of her back. No one would ever mistake Hrist Valkyrie in any form for a lady, a pampered noble. She was a Battle-Maiden, and it was to battle that she yearned to be sent.
There as a soft sound, like the rippling of water, and Freya appeared at the far side of the waiting room, just inside the doors to Odin's throne.
"Uh oh. The boss lady doesn't look happy," Arngrim murmured under his breath. "She ought to try walking once in a while; it might loosen her up."
"If you cannot be civil then at least be silent," Hrist snapped. The mercenary would make a superb warrior here in Asgard but if he could not learn to restrain himself...
She stopped in her pacing and stepped forward to meet Freya halfway in the hope it would keep her einherjar from interjecting any offensive remarks.
He'd been right, though. Freya did not look happy.
"Hrist, I..." Freya began, then broke off. "I'm so sorry."
Fear tore through her, a sudden near-panic that was all the worse for being virtually alien to Hrist's experiences.
"No...She can't be dead! I'd have known if she were gone!" The bonds between the Valkyrie sisters were strong and subtle; she could feel that their trinity was still intact. Couldn't she?
Freya shook her head.
"No, that isn't it. Brahms...Brahms has set her imprisoned soul in place of the Dragon Orb."
"We have no idea. He may be seeking to corrupt Midgard for the sake of Niflheim. Or he may be playing his own game; he has never been one of Hel's loyal minions. He may have some more...quixotic scheme in mind. The problem is that we can't retrieve her."
"Why?" Hrist expected.
"Brahms's castle is sheltered by the powers of darkness. You know that; it's why we have not obliterated him before now. To find him, to root him out of his rat-hole would require so much power that it would leave us vulnerable to the Vanir's war-hosts. Lord Odin cannot put Valhalla at risk for any one Aesir. It would be the same were it you or I."
She gritted her teeth, but knew it was true. It was one thing when the Lord of the Undead was moving through the world. That was why he'd concealed himself within the einherjar Dylan. But sunk in his bolthole...and whatever he meant to do, using Silmeria's soul in this way, he would not leave her where she could be easily retaken.
Yet, if Odin were to exert his power...
"It will not be forever," Freya said. "One day we will destroy this monster and reclaim her soul."
Years? Centuries? Eons? How long must the three of them be only two?
How long before I can ask her why?
Silmeria, she thought, would have asked that question immediately.
Hrist did not ask it at all. Her fists tightened slightly at her sides. Her heart was in her throat. But she did not ask. Instead, she inclined her head once, slowly. This was the will of the All-Father. It was not hers to question.
Only to grieve.
She felt Freya's eyes on her, testing, measuring.
"You have been through much of late, Hrist Valkyrie," the golden goddess said gently. "If you wish, Lenneth can take up your burden for a time—"
Hrist shook her head emphatically.
"Please, Lady Freya. Sleep will do nothing for me. I need—"
"I understand. And there is work for you, Battle-Maiden. In using Silmeria in place of the Dragon Orb, Brahms is holding that contradiction together with his own bloody magic. Thus, the energies of Yggdrasil become tainted by his curse, and it becomes easier for souls to be corrupted into the undead and demons to enter Midgard."
"He would use Silmeria as a pawn to swell his legions?" Hrist exclaimed, almost screamed.
"Those souls must be purified, the undead destroyed and the human spirits freed to return to the cycle of death and rebirth. It is you, Battle-Maiden, to whom this task falls, for your work brings you naturally to Midgard. Seek out the darkness, and in battle let the spirits of your einherjar be tempered, so that you can send Asgard's armies polished heroes, not base metal."
"Gladly, Lady Freya. I shall purge Midgard of this stain, and let every one of Hel's legions that dies at my hand be a warning to Brahms of the reckoning to come!"
She summoned her armor then, greaves and breastplate, gauntlets and pauldrons and black-feathered helm. But it was not the sudden transformation that caused Freya and Arngrim alike to gasp.
Mortals called Hrist the Black Valkyrie, for her hair and her sternness. Not knowing that there were three, they imagined that Hrist was the Battle-Maiden when wrathful.
Now it was the literal truth.
Where it had once been violet, the armor that clung to her like a second skin was now a dull, coal black.
Hrist Valkyrie would grieve in the only way she knew how.
And every demon that fell to her blade would be a tear of mourning.
~X X X~
A/N: I had some fun with this one. Of course, the point of the story is to explain why Hrist's armor is black in Lenneth (and the Seraphic Gate in Covenant) while it's violet in Silmeria (though I cheated a little; the flashback scene in Dipan suggests that it was black then as well...but hey, who am I to let mortals' inability to tell different dark colors apart to get in the way of a good story?). But I also got to explore other points. There's Arngrim, of course, who we find out in Covenant got kicked out of Valhalla for mouthing off to Odin and that's why in Lenneth Freya won't let Lenneth transfer him up (so he's conveniently available for the A-ending story sequences...). But also, in Lenneth, the instant Hrist takes over the body, she immediately goes flying off after Brahms, without taking time to prepare, so the question has to be asked why she didn't do it earlier if she was so emotional about it. My solution is to assume that she couldn't get there, that Brahms's magic kept his castle hidden from her view and that it wasn't until Ragnarok was nigh and all bonds were breaking down that it started to be seen at night...