1. The Wayfarer
Hel stumbled into the kitchen of her apartment. She turned the tap on full force. She leaned over the sink and started scrubbing at her arms. It was useless. There so much blood, not just hers though. She cupped her hands under the tap, dipped her head to suck in mouthful after mouthful of the chlorine-heavy water. She eased back, shrugging off her jacket. Besides the blood, there was a scorched hole through the front.
The attack had been swift and she could just kick herself for getting caught off guard like that. Five of them. The witch and the seer had been the ones in charge. They commanded three howling things. She didn't know what exactly they were. Beasts had been corrupted and deformed into giant, snarling beasts. Her protection spells hadn't been strong enough to repel all three of them. While she'd been distracted by the cats, the witch and the seer had attacked, their words heavy with dark magic. Hel had barely escaped alive.
How had they even managed to track her down to into territory so far removed from the central domains? Breaching the barriers of a non-magical world was heavy business. Aside from that, what kind of magic was so powerful that it could unveil a wayfarer of Hel's caliber?
Her bones still hummed from the witch's blood spell, transubstantiation of ill-will pumping poison right down to the marrow. Her trembling hand went to her stomach. She summoned every remaining ounce of energy. Her hand glowed briefly. Too briefly.
"Stay alive," she urged. "Please, just stay alive." Those whispered words became a mantra as darkness descended.
Hel woke up with a massive headache. That she'd awakened at all was miracle enough, she supposed. She frowned. How had she gotten into bed? The last thing she remembered was engaging in a none too friendly meet and greet with the floor.
She slipped out from under the covers. The crippling pain was gone. Her legs still felt like jelly but it was amazing enough that she could evens stand. She was weak and dizzy but aside from the headache, all of her parts seemed to be intact. Her bedroom door was open. Strains of Brahms came from her living room stereo. The volume was turned down low.
Hel tensed. She hadn't forgotten the attack so soon. Whoever had invaded her home had probably saved her skin. Still, even such a person was suspect at a time like this. She could bash their head in first and thank them for saving her life later. She tiptoed to her bedside table sifted through the drawer. Out came a dagger, so seldom used it was still shiny at the tip.
A little jolt went through her spine as the weight of another body filled the doorway. She whirled with a snarl, hurling it as hard as she could. A microsecond too late, she yelped in dismay as she recognized her would be victim.
She gaped at the man standing in the doorway. He was so tall he had to dip his head low, just to enter the room without banging his head on the top of the doorway. Liquid black irises bored into hers. A jagged scar ran from his left ear to cheek. She winced at the memory of the blade that had done that. Hers--to be more specific and in a disconcertingly similar manner to what she'd just nearly done.
He looked older than she remembered which made sense. It had been fifty years and a hundred worlds since she'd last laid eyes on her husband. How had he found her? What was he doing here now?
"Well, hell." She eased back. "All the ghosts of my distant and regrettably unforgettable past seem to be resurfacing all at once. How exactly am I supposed to take this? I wonder."
"I see some things haven't changed much." Charls grinned at her. "Is that really how you'd go about thanking the man who saved your life?"
She glared at him and sank down onto the bed. She was having a little trouble breathing and trying to hide it. "Well?" She was demanded breathlessly.
He didn't think she realized that she was leaning sideways, on the verge of toppling over. The odd pose didn't make for a very intimidating attempt at interrogation.
He blinked. "Well what?"
"What are you doing here?" She'd never been a very patient person. "Why are you in this world?" She enunciated slowly, as if speaking to an idiot, eyes sharpened into glittery slits. "Why now?"
He stared at her for a long, hard moment. "I see you're still not quite yourself yet. Why don't you lie down a while longer?"
Hel's mouth opened then clapped shut. She bit her lower lip and glared at him some more. She hated it, absolutely hated it whenever he pointed out that she was being ungracious. It was a bittersweet realization. The years that had passed and the distances between worlds hadn't really changed that much between them. He smirked and dipped his head to leave the room.