Kashell just wasn't feeling like himself, he thought as he stared at the target ahead of him. Aside from a couple of crossbow bolts sticking out from near the edges, it was untouched. It figured.
It was late in the evening, and the sun was beginning to set. They'd been training all day as usual, that time in the rudiments of archery; Ull was standing watch over them as they adapted to bows and crossbows.
He'd spent some time trying to decide with weapon he preferred, had lingered over both for a long moment, and then had finally just shook his head and grabbed a medium crossbow - it was fairly light, he could probably learn to use it with one hand, and it looked a lot easier to shoot than the normal bows. And he'd been right - it had been easier to shoot, but if he was any judge it was a hell of a lot harder to aim.
The three Einherjar were firing into the sunset, their targets barely visible... which went a long way towards explaining why only one of the archers was hitting his target. But then, that didn't surprise Kashell in the least. Badrach tended to shoot everywhere and hope that something hit the target, and didn't seem used to taking aim at all; Janus was damn good with a crossbow and the light didn't seem to bother him all that much.
Kashell, on the other hand, was going half-blind just trying to look at his target. Besides, he couldn't really feel what he was doing; he didn't really care. He'd been like that for the past two days, now... ever since he'd made that visit to Midgard.
He loosed another bolt, not bothering to aim. There wasn't anyone out there that he'd end up hurting anyway. He was too preoccupied to -
"Ha!" Badrach shouted triumphantly, right into his ear. "Damn close to a bull's-eye! What do you think of that?"
Janus lowered his crossbow and studied the targets. "That isn't one of your bolts," he said quietly.
Kashell looked up. Sure enough, the bolt that had made it within a finger's width of the bull's-eye on Badrach's target was fletched with blue feathers. It was his. He looked away, trying not to meet anyone's eyes. "Heh, sorry, guys. Guess I'm just not in the mood today." He shook his head and walked away, patting Llewelyn on the shoulder as he headed out. "Your turn," he said as he passed, trying his best to sound friendly about it.
No one made a move to stop him, which in a weird way made him feel worse. Lawfer and Aelia should've said something, at least. Maybe they all thought he needed some space... hell, maybe he did. Maybe he was just being a big baby about the whole thing - it wasn't like he had any excuse for not being able to do a damn thing right.
Tyr was waiting for him at the gates of Valhalla. Kashell stood up as straight as he could manage, bracing himself. He'd been expecting this. "Hey, sir," he said, trying to sound casual.
The war god didn't acknowledge his greeting. He was frowning slightly, and there was the slightest trace of concern in his eyes. "You seem to be distracted, Kashell. You've done poorly lately," he said. His voice was deep and hoarse, and almost completely emotionless. "Ull tells me that you've had trouble with archery."
"Yeah, I know," he said miserably. "I'm really sorry about that."
"What is it that is troubling you?"
"Dunno. Just had a bad week, I guess." Kashell shifted his weight from one foot to another. "I'm gonna skip the feasting tonight and get some rest, ok? Maybe that'll get whatever's going on off my back. I mean, I don't wanna disappoint anyone."
"I suppose." Tyr stepped aside. "I expect some improvement from you soon, however. I don't wish to have to speak to you a second time."
"Improvement. Yeah, sure," he answered, forcing a smile. "Sounds like a plan. I guess I'll see ya in the morning, then." He walked into the castle. He really did need to lie down, he thought - he'd said that just to get away from Tyr, but maybe he had something there. He hadn't slept all that much for the past two nights, and it wasn't helping his state of mind.
He wasn't even sure why it would be bothering him so much. Maybe it was just superficial - he'd thought he'd known somebody, and then they turned out to be completely different. Maybe it was just the shock of seeing it.
Maybe it was the tears on her face, or the way that she whispered out her apologies to a dead battlefield. Yeah, he thought, that was probably it. Didn't sound to him like she was too happy about what she'd done. In a weird way that made him feel a little better, at least in a sense; if she wasn't happy about it, it didn't seem so bizarre. But why would the Aesir make her do something like that if she hated it? Didn't seem right...
Kashell turned a corner and looked up, and had to catch his breath. Frei was standing right there, near a pair of Aesir maidens. They were talking, and the maidens were smiling brightly. Frei, however, was just barely smiling. She wasn't looking them in the face, and Kashell could hardly hear her voice at all.
Finally the maidens turned away, walking down the hall. Frei watched as they walked away for a long moment, as they laughed and shook their heads. Then she bowed her head and turned around - and stopped. "Kashell?" she asked dully.
"Hey," he said, smiling. "Haven't seen you in a while."
"Oh, um, I've been kinda busy," she said quickly, trying her best to really smile. It was half-convincing, and never quite reached her eyes. "What about you? What's wrong?"
"What do you mean?" he hedged.
"Well, I heard stuff, you know? Ull's a little disappointed, and Tyr's all worried. Don't tell him I said this, but he thinks really highly of you and that something's gotta be up-"
"Not really." Hell, enough hedging. He was going to tell the truth; it had always worked for him before. "Mostly I've been wondering about you."
The smile flickered away suddenly, and her expression faded to a wan sort of sadness. "Kashell... I don't know what you mean," she answered slowly. "I really don't..."
He glanced around the hall and lowered his voice. "Look," he whispered, "I saw what happened. I was worried about you when you just ran away, and I followed you. I know what... what you did. I don't look down on you," he said quickly as her face fell. "I mean, you're one of the Aesir, maybe you've gotta... do things like that sometimes, right? Just... it's bothering you, I can tell, and I want to help out. Listen, if I can, or-"
"Shh." She pressed a finger to his lips. "I... don't want to talk about it here, ok? We'll go to...'" She paused to think, then brightened just a tiny bit. "We'll go to your room."
"Yeah." He nodded as he spoke - at least she'd agreed to talk to him. Maybe everything would be ok after all. "That'll be fine."
They walked back to the room in relative silence; Kashell didn't try to start any conversations on the way. He was afraid of how she'd react if he tried to press the issue too quickly. When they arrived he opened the door for her, and let her walk in ahead of him. She sat down on the bed again, and stared up at the Vainslayer again. But her face was full of pain, not mere benevolent interest; it seemed as if her heart was about to break.
Kashell didn't sit down that time. He stood up, and leaned against the wall. It was cold against his back, but he forced himself not to notice. He waited patiently as Frei fidgeted around on the bed, trying to make herself more comfortable.
"Ok. So... you said you saw all of what happened," she said, her voice wavering. "So what exactly did you see?"
"I saw you," he said, hesitating only slightly. "You were standing there, just watching as that.. that sword destroyed all of the golems. I've heard of that sword, Frei. It's a legend on Midgard... some people thought it was just a fairy tale. " As soon as he said it, she closed her eyes, and he knew it had been the wrong thing to say. "Sorry," he backpedaled. "I didn't really mean to -"
"It's all right." She looked back up at him, still trying to smile. "The sword's been with me for a long time now. Ever since... well, it's a long story."
"I've got time."
Frei nodded. "You know how I told you about how I got sent over here by the Vanir? Well, it happened shortly after that. I don't know how or anything. The sword just... found me." She shook her head. "I don't even know why it waited so long. I mean, it was in Odin's palace, said it had been waiting there ever since he claimed the throne of Creation, and then when I came in this new body... it said that it had known I was coming. That it had been waiting for me. And ever since then, it's always been... nearby, somewhere, just waiting for me to call it."
"To call? You mean, it doesn't just... appear when it's needed?"
"It can't," she answered. "It said that it has no eyes or ears of its own. It has to rely on mine. And I have to call it to look at a situation when it wants, because it can't do that, either. Its creators said that it would've been too powerful if it had been able to act on its own."
Kashell scratched his head, and his curiosity got the better of him. "Well... what about when the Vanir were fighting you? Why didn't you use it then?" He knew as soon as he said it that it had been the wrong thing to ask.
"I tried. Odin asked me to, so I asked it to help us whenever they attacked. But it said no. It said..." She scrunched up her face, as if trying to remember. "It said that it existed to help preserve the order of existence, and that destroying the Vanir would only make the things that it wanted to destroy worse. I tried to ask it what it meant - I mean, wouldn't having the Lord of Creation killed unbalance all kinds of things? But it wouldn't say. It just told me I wouldn't understand."
Kashell looked at her, his surprise beginning to fade. He thought that maybe he was beginning to understand. "And you wanted to-"
"I just don't like it," Frei interrupted, staring down at her fingers. She didn't seem to have heard him. "I don't like having to tell it what to destroy. If I could get rid of it, make it go away... sometimes I think I'd be a lot happier."
"Maybe it chose you because you don't like telling it what to do." It had come to him without thinking - he'd been strongly reminded of something he'd said to Celia once, when she'd been upset about having to kill a man because he'd refused to surrender to them. Celia hadn't liked to kill when she didn't have to, either...
"What?" Frei looked at him, puzzled. In her mind, that didn't make any sense. All weapons were made to destroy, even weapons like Gungnir that were rarely truly used. That was why Frei hated them all so much.
"Well, look up at that." He pointed to the sword above him, the one that Frei had noticed before. "I know that it's not much up here, but back on Midgard it was a really powerful weapon. More powerful than most people ever saw, even... and I know what some people would do with it. They'd kill everything they could." His face darkened. "But I don't think it was made to be used that way. It wasn't meant to kill everything, just dark magic. Evil things. I guess I'm lucky that I'm the one who found it, so that it didn't fall into the wrong hands."
"Kashell... you don't understand," Frei said automatically. But her voice wavered, and her eyes weren't quite as anguished as they had been.
"Yeah, I know. It's a lot worse for you because it's more powerful, right?" Kashell walked over to the bed and sat down. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders, hoping that he wasn't overstepping any boundaries; it just didn't seem right not to do something like that. "It's not the power that matters, ok? It's how you use it. If you only use it when you have to, or when it helps people... well, you're doing okay. It's people who kill just for the fun of it that scare me."
Frei took off her brown cap and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. "I just hope I never turn into one of those people."
"I don't think that's gonna happen."
"You don't even know me all that well, though."
"I don't have to, do I? My friends always said I was a good judge of character."
She smiled. "Well, I sure hope they're right."
"Oh, of course they are. Trust me," he said, glib as ever. Not to say that he was calm, but things were... well, not completely out of control. Not quite what he'd expected, but in a pretty good way. "It'd be pretty stupid for me to try to lie to you, right?"
"You'd better believe it!" She laughed a little as she said it, sounding more like the person he remembered when he'd talked to her before. Kashell smiled too.
Seems like things are gonna be fine...
Frei had been surprised when Kashell had confronted her. She'd been even more surprised that neither her nor her sister had realized that they'd been overheard before.
But that didn't mean that she wanted to go anywhere, she thought as she leaned against his shoulder. She wrapped one arm around his waist and hugged him as best she could. Kashell might be mortal, but he seemed like a pretty level-headed mortal... and it was really nice to have someone around who knew about the sword and didn't treat her like a time bomb that was just about to go off. Even Loki had been kinda weird about that.
She would've been very happy to doze off there, maybe lie down and go to sleep; the bed was still lumpy and hard, but she was feeling pretty warm and cozy there. But she was really hungry, and Freya was going to be looking for her in the Great Hall. She couldn't just blow her sister off, or else she might come looking for her, and that might be a little awkward.
"I've got to go," she said sleepily.
"Oh... ok." Kashell sounded a bit disappointed, but he let her go without any protest. She stood up and stretched her arms over her head, yawning. "I guess I'll see you later then."
"Yeah," she said. Then a thought occurred to her, something that she was pretty sure that her sister wouldn't approve of. But it was such a good idea that she didn't really care. "Hey, Kashell, I've got an idea. You've heard of Alfheim. right?"
"Hm? That's... oh, yeah, the world of the light elves, right?" Kashell picked up her cap and held it up for her.
"Yeah - oh, thank you," she said, taking the cap and placing it back on her head. "Well, I... I'm gonna visit it in a couple of days. You wanna come with me?"
Kashell blinked. "Wow... really? You think it would be ok? I mean, Tyr wouldn't be upset or anything?"
"Not if I said it was ok! Trust me, it would be just fine. And I think you'd really like the place."
"Please, Kashell?" she interrupted. "It'll be a lot more fun if you come with me!"
"Sure, ok. As long as it's ok with everyone else." He grinned. "You talked me into it."
She laughed. "Okay! Just let me get everything ready, okay? It'll take a couple of days."
"Hey, I'm not goin' anywhere."
"Yeah, um, don't tell anybody about this yet, ok? Just leave it to me. I'll see you soon!" Frei grinned - then, impulsively she leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. Then she rushed out of the room, shutting the door quickly behind her.
Getting everything ready shouldn't be too hard, she mused. It wasn't like she'd be breaking any real rules, as long as she stayed with him the whole time. Still... she'd just done something that she knew that Freya was not going to be happy about.
And she didn't really care. She felt really good, if a little bit nervous. It had been a really sudden idea, deciding to take him with her like that, and she was really glad that it had turned out the way she'd hoped it would.
She kind of liked Kashell, although she didn't know him well enough to say much more beyond that. He kind of reminded her of Loki, in a way, which was strange because the two of them were nothing alike. Well, except maybe in the way they walked, that weird sort of swagger they both had. That was it, though - and she didn't know how to explain it, except maybe that she felt happy when she was around them. Most of the time, anyway. It was nicer with Kashell, if she thought about it hard enough, since he didn't say things that her sister would've disapproved of.
Her sister. Yeah, she was going to have to be really careful around Freya for a little while... she'd never approve of her being friends or anything with a mortal. But she'd be forgiven once she'd shown her that she'd made up her mind. She always was. Besides, she was really feeling too happy to worry about anything like that anymore; the bad mood she'd been in for the past few days was all but gone. Yes, it was really, really nice to have someone to talk to again....
She hummed a happy song to herself all the way back to her room.