“Breathe, curious creature. Relax and breathe.”
Aura’s eyes slowly opened. All she could see was dim light. Everything else remained blurry. “What?”
“You exerted power beyond your strength and fell unconscious.”
“Oh.” She rested her head against the rock. Her body ached. “How long…?”
“I have no concept of small time. I can only tell days from nights by the slight change of temperature from the higher rocks.”
She tried pushing herself up, vision clearing. “I need to help Loki and Thor. I need to, need to free Jormungandr.”
A strong hand kept her sitting. “You have freed me.”
Her deep blue eyes found the human figure squatting in front of her. She blinked a few times. “Jorg?”
“I suppose I could say quite literally in humanoid flesh.”
After her head finished clearing, she studied his new form. He was long and lithe, cut but not overly muscled. His head was bald, earless, had no eyebrows, but still retained the blinkless red eyes. A bare torso revealed dark, ashen skin traced with green-tinted runes and scars. Loose, black pants finished him off. A forked tongue appeared, and a smile showcased his pointed teeth.
She shook her head. “Why didn’t you do that before?”
He rose to his ten-foot height. Gestured to the deep scar in his midsection. “The cursed wound kept me from shifting. Every time I tried, the wound would reopen. The only way I wouldn’t bleed out was by staying in my true form. Only then would it mend enough to keep me from dying. That was how Odin kept me underground.”
“I see.” Her gaze fell. “I’m sorry I couldn’t heal your scar. I don’t know how, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to master it.”
“Scars are badges of honor, not shame.” He squatted again to be more at her level. “They’re testaments. Proof you’ve fought battles and won. I earned all my scars, and I proudly wear them. My scars prove I’m still fighting, still surviving. Still living. And that’s the majority of the war, there. Living when others want you dead.”
Her eyes lifted. There was definitely more to him than he let on. If he was a true torturer, he wouldn’t value life as much as he had just claimed. “So you will help us?”
He lowered his height even more, making eye contact with her. “As I’ve stated before, I will help you, and you alone. What do you require?”
“Aid in this battle. You know Odin needs to be stopped. Loki and Thor have already started the battle. Those who can fight from the magic school wait in shrouds to join. In the vision Trillenger showed me, Odin doesn’t factor you as a threat. You will throw him off-guard.”
“Who is Trillenger?”
“I—I’m not sure. They’re three ancient beings who sent me here. They’re scrys. That I know for sure. They have magic pools.”
He was amused with her careful statements as she tried not to offend them. “You’re sure Odin won’t suspect my presence?”
She nodded. “You weren’t in the vision at all. And he was making a point to slay all who could threaten him. I don’t think he’ll know what to do when he sees you on the battlefield.”
A grin traced his lips. “Excellent.”
“But there’s one rule. You cannot kill anyone.”
His smile dropped, tongue flicking out in aggravation. “But it’s a war.”
Aura pushed herself up. “It’s to show Odin’s true nature. Loki and Thor are making a point. Odin is the killer; they just want to be peaceful. Besides, if their party is seen killing Asgardian troops, the people won’t trust them. Only disarming of weapons is allowed. Can you agree to such terms?”
Jormungandr mulled it over for several moments, a slight hiss escaping him. “As much as I’ve been dying to sink my fangs into a few beings, I will agree to your terms. As long as I can watch Odin fall.”
She gave a nod. “That is fine.” Then she looked up. “Trillenger, we—”
Before she could finish, they both were teleported back to the scrying room of the magic school.
The Tormentor collapsed to one knee, covering his eyes with an arm.
Aura rushed to his aid. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been living in dark tunnels lit by meager torches for several millennia. I’m not accustomed to such light.”
Her eyes slowly looked around the room. She hesitated. “We’re not even outside….”
“Silence,” he hissed.
Trillenger moved upon him. They placed a spell over his eyes, allowing him to see in light. Whispering incoherent words, they inspected all his runes.
He slowly removed his arm. His slit pupils eventually adjusted, but a grimace remained. Then he froze as he the three beings circled him. The triplets were more ancient than anything he had ever come across. He couldn’t discern their true nature, and it unsettled him. When they traced their bony fingers across a few of his raised runes, it took all he had not to lash out at them. His skin crawled.
They settled for his right arm, holding it out so they could see the underside. A long green rune made of many smaller ones etched down his forearm. “This is the one we seek. This is a combination of spells that binds you to Odin. It cannot be undone nor destroyed. It can only be changed. But it will bind you to another.”
The Tormentor wanted his arm back. He didn’t enjoy them touching him. Seeing their pupil-less stares turn upon made him cease thinking. “As long as I am freed from Odin.”
All of their gazes shifted from him to Aura, though they remained speaking to the snake. “As you wish. You will find your hatred for living things and your desire to torture vanished. They were Odin’s wills, not yours. Though be warned. Should your new master wish the same things, you will fall back into your vile life.”
“Then who is to be my new master?”
They bent over his arm, making preparations. “One who wishes you to be free.”
His blinkless gaze fell to Aura.
The young maiden’s eyes widened with realization. “I have no desire to be anybody’s master!”
Trillenger straightened, voices hardening. “Would you rather him be bound to someone who would use his powers for evil? Like Odin has done? Do we need to show you what kind of future that would hold?”
She shrunk back. Not meaning to have made them angry. “N-no. I do not need to see that future.”
“Good,” they huffed. “We have always chosen you to be the permanent master of Jormungandr. Your heart is pure. It’s your desire to not be a master that makes you the perfect choice. He will still be free because that is your wish. It is when he gets out of hand that you can command him. Do you understand, child?”
Remaining silent, she nodded.
They turned their stares to the other being. “Do you object as well?”
Jormungandr shook his head. He did not wish to anger these beings. The power they possessed made him feel small. A feeling he wasn’t used to having. He also assumed they had the power to do whatever they wished.
Giving final glares to the pair, they resumed their task of rewriting the rune. They erased the symbol of Odin. Replaced it with a symbol they designed for Aura. Sealing it into his arm, they backed away. “Now you can aid the others. Do you whatever you must to keep Odin from prevailing.”
He studied the revised mark. Touched the new engraving on his hard skin. Inside, he felt different, too. He didn’t feel choked with hatred or bloodlust. He felt…free. It was odd, strange. Curious like the creature who would now be master over him. Glancing at the young maiden, he shook his head. He knew nothing about her. Yet, he knew everything he needed to know.
Trillenger seemed agitated. They had moved, standing around the transportation pool. “Are you two going to stand here or help the princes? The battle will be over before you get going.”
The former Tormentor gave a nod. In a swift motion, he picked up Aura and placed her on his shoulder. She wouldn’t be able to keep his pace. Especially if he ran. He acknowledged the triplets one last time. His long and smooth gait carried him to the door.
They dragged talons for fingernails across the stone of the pool, making the other two cringe. “Are you taking the long way? Or would you prefer the fastest way?”
Jormungandr turned around. “Was that necessary?” But he went to the pool and carefully stepped inside. Avoiding their soulless glares. Instead, he glanced at the girl on his shoulder. He could feel her rising nervousness.
Aura gripped his neck tighter as the waters surrounded them. Trying not to squeeze too tightly. She didn’t want to choke him. Uncertainty touched her heart. Though she tried staying resolute. They were, after all, off to war.
“Breathe, curious creature. Relax and breathe.”