Teaching Old Gods New Tricks

A Norse God trilogy, containing:

Devil King of the Sixth Heaven

Death Warmed Over

Devil’s Food Kate

Glossary

Darragha Foster

 

Prologue

Her bottom smarted from the burn of the hot sand against her soft pink cheeks. She considered changing positions. Considered … briefly. With her legs spread wide to allow her lover entry, and her arms instinctively pulling him in for the kill, she knew she had no choice but to go with the moment.

She succumbed to the satisfying weight atop her realizing that a heat rash on her bum was nothing compared to the intensity of their lovemaking. Her bum would heal. An orgasm by someone else’s hand was worth a few days’ discomfort, the end of her thousand-year-long wait for love, and the absolute freedom she was experiencing for the first time—ever. She wasn’t about to ruin their coupling by whining about the heat or a few grains of sand getting into crevices that never see the light of day!

Joined in sexual union, they sank into the dune, fully entwined. Little good the serapé under them did. It could have been nailed down and still, they would have torn it up during the throes of passion. Passion. Incredible passion!

His smooth, olive-toned backside was exposed to the midday New Mexican sun—at least in this position. He’d be sleeping on his belly for a week if they didn’t head inside soon.

He was like a starving man suddenly placed before a banquet, eager to consume her with his need. She was the appetizer, first course, salad and dessert all rolled into one tight little package.

Her lover, deeply imbedded within her and moving against her body to the beat of the world’s oldest rhythm, Hel felt the building surge of orgasm spark and ignite. Her clitoris blossomed with each pass of his shaft.

It had been so long—so very long—since she’d been made love to. The sensations, the sounds, the aroma of sex—all of it seemed new, again. Almost painfully new. She was a born-again virgin in that respect. And he was a well-hung, ardent man seeking to penetrate her very soul with his enthusiasm.

After one round of hard, satisfying sex, she wasn’t finished. She felt infused with his zeal and prowess. She rolled her lover over and mounted him with a vengeance. Both would suffer burns from exposure to the sun, the desert and their fervor. They were burning for each other. On fire.

Her lover came, grinding his pelvic bone against hers. She felt his climactic surge, but sensed his continued readiness, as well. Her own orgasm spiraled from her like a dust devil.

His mouth found hers as she cried out. He silenced her cries with a kiss.

Sand had settled in every cranny of her body. Hot, sweaty, sticky and sated, she wondered if she could convince him to go inside. If he was this good on very dry land, how much better could he be under the cooling mist of her outside shower?

Chapter One

Five Days Prior

Hel’s well-manicured nails clicked against the keyboard of her laptop, sounding much like unforgiving drops of rain striking a tin roof in a thunderstorm. She wanted to finish one last entry in her blog before packing up and moving on.

I, Hel, Queen of the Underworld, hereby abdicate my throne and title by command of the Fates. When next I make entry into this cyber-diary, I shall no longer be Queen of the Dead, though the stain and marked flesh of death I shall carry with me forever. It shall serve as a bitter reminder of all I once stood for. I am away—away from the only life I have ever known. From my crown, my throne, my birthright.

She sighed. “It’s a bit dramatic, but what’s a displaced queen to do?”

The end of Hel’s reign had come at a time when the Underworld was undergoing a dramatic shift in climate. Always sporting an icy bite, her realm was fast becoming a frozen wasteland. And with the land, went her heart. Hel had quite literally, frozen over.

Distracted by lights flickering outside her office window, she glanced up from her keyboard. The vault of the Underworld shimmered in the perpetual half-light of its mysterious midnight sun, and snow was falling. Amongst the lacy flakes, gentle blue flashes of light danced upward—danced outward. The last souls in her care were being reborn.

Hel had witnessed rebirth thousands of times. The process reminded her of matches being struck, then immediately extinguished. Each glow had a face and a story. She was the keeper of their past lives as the eternal call of rebirth and renewal ushered them into their next lifetime. They were her friends, lovers and adversaries. And she had been their queen.

Hel saved her blog to the internet and closed her laptop. She slid her favorite connection to the outside world into her shoulder pack. She had packed lightly for her journey. Whatever she needed would be provided above. At least, whatever she needed materially. Physically, emotionally and spiritually her needs were too great for even the best concierge to provide.

She looked dolefully around her large, regally-appointed office, breathing it in for the last time. Ice crystals were forming on the tabletops and window sills. Soon, the plush jewel tones, amber and whiskey-colored tapestries, pillows and carpets would be enmeshed in a thick layer of permafrost.

“Garm!” she called, hoping her dog was within earshot. The old bloodhound sauntered out from behind a green velvet and gold-gilt settee. He stopped at Hel’s feet and waited for her to scratch his ears. “Ready to go, boy?”

The dog dropped to his belly creating a loud thud as his weight hit the floor.

Hel nodded. “I’m not ready, either. But away we must, old hound. Let’s go.”

* * * *

Hel fumbled for the correct key buried amidst the dozen or so dangling off her circlet key ring. It was a key to lock, but not unlock. Hel thought it akin to rape—the gate an unwilling participant and the key a master of forced assault. And here she was, the catalyst, wielding unforgiving power against the gate which had been nothing but welcoming and invitingly open for centuries.

Her breath created a cloud of vapor as she exhaled. She shivered from the cold. The wintriness of Niflheim, her kingdom—the Underworld—had never disturbed her before, but now it cradled her like the arms of an unkind lover. The dead do feel the cold as much as do the living. Since both aspects held sway over her body and soul, she felt the cold—and longed for warmth.

The key in her hand felt unfamiliar. It bore no signs of wear and tear, though it had hung beside well-used keys for more than a thousand years. Every other key on her ring was alive with its own heartbeat and memories. This key could be used only once. Once turned in the lock, it would become a dead thing. An unclaimed space. Just like her. However, authority behind the key was all-powerful. Again, like her. It represented great endings and great beginnings. She was the literal embodiment of life and death. She was the beginning. She was also, the ending—and was now, at her own end.

She grasped the smooth, brass key between her fingers and slid it into the lock. She turned the latch. The tumblers clicked and sealed for the first—and the last time.

Eviction was bitter sweet. It pained her to abandon that which she had ruled for so long, while at the same moment she looked forward to life above—with the other old gods now making their way in the modern, mortal world. Hel laughed to herself. Old gods learning new tricks. That’s us!

Accepting the changes thrust upon her meant she would continue. If she didn’t accept change, she would pass into legend—instead of adding to her tale, or creating a new one. Her favorite Darwinian quote came to mind: It is not the strongest of the species who survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

Changing venue was more difficult for her than it had been for the other gods. They, at least, had human form. They could slide into mortal society unnoticed. She did not have human form. She could not help but stand out in a crowd. The serpents encircling the left side of her head ensured that much. Then of course, the fact that she wore the gray pallor and parched flesh of death on her left side, opposite the fresh, supple beauty of youthful womanhood on her right, might turn a few mortal heads, and stomachs, too.

She pulled on the gate. It was securely fastened. There was no turning back. “This is unpleasant,” she mumbled, a twinge of angst stabbing at her solar plexus. Trembling, she again shook off a chill attempting to subdue her. Though she was heavily cloaked, she was as frigid as the crackling, frozen ground beneath her feet.

She had expected a bit more fanfare at her departure. There had been no feasting, no epic poetry and no flower-strewn path upon which she might depart the Underworld. Like a family with too many children, the first got everything. The last, little or nothing. There would be no photos of her departure for the godly family album.

Speaking aloud with no one but her dog to hear her, she watched the little pockets of warmth dissipate as her breath turned to vapor against the frigid air.

Hel let the key drop into place on her ring. She turned with a sigh. “One would think this a solemn occasion with mourners and black feathers and all the regalia and trappings of bereavement.”

The blood-breasted dog of the dead sat patiently, head tilted to one side awaiting her command. She patted her leg to call her hound to action. “That’s it, Garm. The Underworld is now void of life—or unlife—and death, as the case may be.”

A will-o’-the-wisp danced before her, illuminating the upward, spiral path to the surface. Hel smiled at the swirling orb. “Thanks for the light.” She turned to her faithful bloodhound. “There’s our path. Come on, boy!”

The hound snapped to her side.

Together, they began their journey out of the Underworld, following the flickering sphere comprising the essence of the will-o’-the-wisp.

Their road was well traveled. An eon ago, it would have been crowded with the souls of the dearly departed and the comings and goings of the old gods on their journeys around the Nine Norse Worlds.

She had been queen to men who had failed to die with a sword in their hand, women who had passed away in childbirth and children by disease. She had been worshipped, feared and called upon for favors by the gods themselves. Now, she was dethroned, evicted and nearly forgotten. Forgotten by all but one die-hard modern-day worshipper faithful to her, for whatever good it could do him. She was in no position to grant boons or intervene in humanly affairs. She knew of the existence of her sole devotee because he had proven himself to be a sleuthy devil in unveiling her hiding place on the Internet. How he knew her website writings weren’t the postings of some delusional woman wracked by intermittent bouts of lucidity was beyond her. From first contact, she had recognized that he knew her true identity.

Instead of blocking him as spam, she read his increasingly steamy emails to help alleviate the trepidation in her heart during the short weeks between receiving the notice to vacate her Necropolis and her physical departure. Plus, it was kind of flattering to have someone “talk dirty” to her.

He, the true believer, referred to himself as her “servant” and professed his undying love in quite expressive—and sometimes explicit—language. He had signed her guestbook. He sent her silly e-cards. He composed poetry. He spilled his wicked thoughts out in lengthy emails, each one growing more fevered than the last.

She cringed. I’m less ready to meet an Internet admirer than I am to abdicate my throne. He fails to tire of his adoration, though I ignore him. He certainly knows how to get my attention! He is frighteningly ardent—and he knows the right words. The old words. Words once used in oath-taking. He doesn’t cast and conjure meaningless spells in order to get my attention. He knows we don’t like that. All that silly wizardry is certainly not my style, nor is it the style of Norse gods. The trick had always been to ignore us—for then we would be more inclined to come out and play. He pursues just enough to keep me interested and never bored. How does he know me so well? He is a clever, clever human. What would he think if he discovered I am alive and well and living in Santa Fe? Would he worship me? Adore me? Truckle to my will? Or would he command me and control me to protect me with his very life if need be? I’ve always wanted to hang on the arm of a strong-willed man.

Hel laughed. It doesn’t matter … for our paths shall never cross. To live above is to relinquish the old ways—the worshippers, the devotion and adoration. To live above is … going to be a challenge!

Being the perfect visage of life and death, her choices for life above were limited. She had opted to join other outcast gods living on the fringes of upper-class society in, of all places, Santa Fe, New Mexico. From what she understood, due to New Mexico’s dry climate, the “allergies” to humankind from which the gods suffered were somewhat lessened. The intrepid souls of her kin who chose to live in less arid climes apparently gave into and accepted their conditions, or had purchased stock in Benadryl and were amongst the wealthiest of those in society busily suppressing histamines.

Like the phases of the moon or the natural rhythm of a woman’s cycle, Hel’s appearance was ruled by the seasons. A frightening thought struck her. What if I develop a horrid allergic reaction to mortality and remain in my winter phase?

She shook off the biting chill of fear. Winter never fails to turn into spring. I’ll be fine. That one fact is a constant in the universe.

A thick root of the Tree of Life, the Yggsdrasil, stretched across their path. Hel had ordered the gigantic root excised and formed into a bridge, making the passage into the Underworld more accessible for the dearly departed.

The Great Seal of the Niflheim had been burned into the center of the root-bridge. Once she stepped beyond the Seal, there would be no turning back. Symbolically powerful, it represented her sovereignty. She knew she had to cross it and keep her back to it—to formally relinquish her throne forever and always.

The bones of Nidhogg, a fearsome she-dragon who had spent thousands of years chewing on the roots of the Tree of Life, lay strewn across the riverbank. Garm pounced on a dragon bone still covered with a bit of stringy flesh. Hel laughed. The sound seemed amazingly out of place. Not many laughed at the entrance to the Underworld. “That’s nasty, Garm. Leave it here,” she commanded. Garm looked up briefly, then resumed his feast.

Nidhogg’s empty lair loomed to the left. The cave was devoid of life, but resounded with the glow of Hel’s most cherished memories. The cave percolated with delightful masturbatory fantasies and rich, heart-warming recollections. Memories of her first love. Memories created nearly a thousand years prior.

It had been springtime in the mortal world. The fresh scent of new flowers and green grasses wafted down through the abyss, teasing her. Floral scents and woodsy aromas titillated her—enticing and inviting her to tryst. They were forbidden fruit—all things above and from above. She could have whatever she wanted below, but nothing was as sweet as that which beckoned to her in the mortal realm.

Spring’s purity touched her in such a manner that her fair skin gleamed like a midnight sun and her hair reflected her inner glow like glass. From the waist up, her beauty shone like a lantern the dark. From the waist down, death festered, hiding beneath her skirts, awaiting the advent of winter. That was the way of things—she manifested the physical attributes of life and death, never one or the other—always both.

It had been a spring filled with laughter—and a lover—her first lover of substance. He was quite unlike the spectral beings inhabiting Niflheim whom she had taken into her arms a time or two. Making love with a spirit was far from the penetrating act of love between a man and woman—or a god and goddess. In truth, she had been a virgin queen until Hermod entered her life, heart and body.

He had come to her with a message from the High Seat of Odin and stayed for the season. Nidhogg was restless that spring and had abandoned her cave to travel the root-line of the World Tree in hopes of finding its weakest measure upon which to gnaw.

The dragon’s comfortable cave, warmed by steam vents leading to Musplheim, the world of fire, was private, secure and too inviting to ignore. Nidhogg’s warren became their lair. A steaming, hot den of passion borrowed from a dragon and ransacked by wild sex.

They forgot about everything, save each other. He forgot why he had traveled to the Underworld. She forgot her part in the highly choreographed prophecy of the gods. They became out-of-step performers in an intricate, balanced dance. Each and every god had played his or her part in the production in perfect sync with the prophecy. No one had missed a beat for over a thousand years—until Hermod and Hel fell into each other’s arms.

When Hermod plunged into her that first time, she felt more alive than ever she had before. Nothing else mattered. Sunlight and laughter, a breeze off the sea or warm sand beneath her feet held no magical sway for her any longer, as Hermod’s body pummeling into hers was more wondrous than anything else could ever be.

He poured mead onto her withered labial lips and lapped it up with a skillful, probing tongue. He did not seem to mind that he was suckling and kissing the necrotic flesh of darkness.

He consumed her, lavishing attention on her soft, full breasts with their upturned pink nipples and devoured her tongue in his mouth, kissing her with the zeal of a man quenching his thirst after a trek across an arid plain.

Hel had returned his eagerness in kind. She gave herself over to him, giving him leeway to explore and conquer every opening of her body.

She fell in love with Hermod, the messenger.

As spring and summer came to the world above, so did death’s blue-gray tide wash over her. By late summer, her youthful, blonde beauty had faded leaving the frightening visage of Hel, Queen of the Underworld in its wake. Half corpse. Half woman. The corpse waiting to greet the dead. The woman waiting for spring, once again.

And her lover, Hermod, the messenger, had departed, as well. She mourned him as if he had died in her arms, not crept away from her bed with the stealth of a spider.

She had replayed the sequence of events surround her affair with Hermod a thousand times over a thousand years. Her love had wreaked havoc on the less-than-eternal timeline of the gods. Their mortality had rested in her hands, which she had recklessly used to arouse and pleasure Hermod. Her actions had closed the damper on the God of Light, Baldur. Without him, without his brilliance, there could be no gods.

Still, Baldur would have met his demise in the Underworld whether or not she and Hermod had set aside their roles for a bit of unscripted passion. Her deviation from her ordained path had only hastened the inevitable downfall of the gods when Baldur passed into legend early.

Unable to accept that her greatest love was catalyst for the downfall of her race, she learned to place blame for the devastating resultant effects of her affair on the actions of another god—and learned to loathe him for it. She convinced herself that it was Hodur—Baldur’s spineless, blind twin brother who set the wheels in motion for the exsanguination of light from the nine worlds. His actions had directly caused Baldur’s death. She was just the gatekeeper. Her heart grew cold and hard.

But that was all in the distant past. The Everlasting Winter had ended, and the gods had awakened in a new era. A new era living amongst humankind.

Through it all, Hel had kept her post to watch over the souls of the dead. She had witnessed history unfold and was now finally free to write a new chapter for herself—above. In Santa Fe.

Standing at the edge of Nidhogg’s cave, recalling her affair with Hermod, Hel felt a re-awakening in her nether regions. It had been too long since she had achieved orgasm by someone else’s hand. Or mouth. Or hard, thick member. She did not expect to ever feel that pleasurable occurrence again. Who would have her above—when the choices for love were as vast as the grains of sand or drops of rain?

Hel knew that she would see Hermod again in the above-lands. Would he want her when the spring came? Or would he shun her dark half while smiling politely into her radiant, blue eyes while maintaining a discreet and painful distance?

She turned away from Nidhogg’s cave and the painful, sweet memories. She closed her eyes and stepped boldly onto the carved-root bridge.

Garm looked up from his dragon bone, alarmed. He barked and rushed to Hel’s side.

The hound bit at her cloak, trying to stop her progress across the bridge.

“Let go, Garm. Let go!” She pulled the fabric from Garm’s teeth. The dog whimpered plaintively.

“Don’t be afraid. We must not be afraid,” she soothed.

Hel reached for Garm’s collar and dragged him across the Great Seal with her.

The vault of the Underworld did not collapse at their passing. Spirits did not rise from the river to reprimand her for deserting them. Only the little will-o’-the-wisp greeted her on the other side.

“That’s it, Garm. We’re out of Niflheim.” Nothing but a desolate plain of permafrost lay before them. To the east lay Iron Wood, a dank forest of pine trees with needles as sharp as steel. To the west lay the road to Svartalfheim—home of the naughty little dark elves with their lustful, dirty minds. Hel couldn’t go south. To backtrack would mean succumbing to the Everlasting Winter. She took a step north. North was the way out. The way up. The way to the surface.

Ice crackled under her feet as she made her way carefully across the plain. Garm followed at her heels, obviously insecure at being so far from his bed and stash of dragon bones.

After a quiet walk enveloped in a fog created by her own breath, with the only sounds being Garm’s panting and the crush of the ice beneath their feet, Hel stopped. The path before her had opened up, branching out in three directions.

In the absolute, still silence, she heard the footfalls of another’s approach. Whoever it was approaching made music with his heavy feet. The weight of his body broke the frosty soil with powerful, rhythmical strides.

Hel lifted her chin proudly. Through the misty twilight and vapors, she called, “Who walks Hel’s road?” She had not lost the commanding voice of a monarch. She would always be a queen—even without her throne.

 

 

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