Valhalla, p.1Jennifer Willis
by Jennifer Willis
Copyright © by Jennifer Willis 2011, 2012, 2015
Revised edition, 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Cover artwork design by Scamper Labs (scamper.com).
Author photo by Rachel Hadiashar.
Map illustration by Mike Volk.
Published by Jennifer Willis
Revised September 2015:
- Updated Iduna’s Apples preview
- Added “Call to Action” section
my love, my friend, and the wind in my longship's sails . . .
~ one ~
Sally blinked at the rune stones on the dried rabbit skin she’d spread out in the middle of her bedroom floor. Sitting cross-legged on the carpet in her sweatpants—beneath the elaborate ritual robe she’d made for herself out of hemp and raw silk—the teenager glanced at the alarm clock on the night stand.
It was already Thursday morning. She had less than 72 hours left. Sally had to get this right, or all hell would break loose. Quite possibly literally.
She blinked hard, trying to bring her tired eyes into focus. This was the third straight night she’d foregone sleep to pursue her carefully crafted rune rituals while her parents snoozed at the other end of the hall. She should have known sleep deprivation would catch up with her sooner or later.
Now she was pretty sure she was seeing things.
She reached for the overweight cat beside her and scratched the fur between his ears.
“Too bad I can’t just chug a Red Bull, Baron.” Her tongue felt heavy and slow in her mouth. She’d given up caffeine and sweeteners—and anything else that might interfere with her magick—two weeks earlier, and had just barely gotten past the withdrawal headaches. Lulled by the sound of Baron’s steady purring, Sally was tempted to just crawl into bed and resume her working at a more reasonable hour. But she didn’t have the luxury of downtime. After the coming New Moon—when her ritual work was complete and she’d permanently altered the course of the Cosmos—then she could sleep.
Sally sighed and stared down at her orange-and-black tabby. “No rest for the renegade witch.”
Baron—technically, Baron Jaspurr Von Pussington, III, of Frisky Mews, Whiskershire (named by Sally’s mother, who had watched one too many televised cat shows immediately before the family went to the SPCA to adopt)—stood up, stretched his hind legs and spine in a graceful display of flexibility, then padded closer to Sally’s work space. He sniffed at the rabbit skin and the silver-colored stones spread out on top of it, and sneezed.
“Baron! No!” Sally shouted in a half-whisper, mindful of waking parents who wouldn’t take kindly to rune magick in the wee hours of the morning, or any other time. She pushed the portly cat away and waved frantically at the air over the runes.
“This has to be exactly right. There’s no room for error, or for cats with allergies.”
Unimpressed, Baron started chuffing on a hairball, then swallowed hard and collapsed sideways on the carpet with a muted thunk. The cat rolled over on his back, exposing his impressively large belly, and stretched his paws toward Sally’s altar space.
“Mmm.” Sally grunted in agreement. “Let’s get back to it.”
She leaned forward and studied the hand-carved rune stones. Six pieces of polished hematite were spread out in a semicircle above a small square of paper with three interlocking triangles drawn in thick red lines, while the remaining eighteen stones sat in a pile to the side, waiting to be used. She’d scarcely completed the first section of Odin’s Return—the series of rune spells she’d spent months researching, with every piece timed down to the minute to coincide with Sleipnir’s Convergence—when she could have sworn she saw those rune symbols glowing.
The planets were coming into perfect alignment with the old constellations—Mercury in Durathror, Venus in Thiassi’s Eyes, Mars in Nidhogg, Jupiter in Vedrfolnir, Saturn in Dain, Uranus in Ratatosk, Neptune in Duneyr, poor demoted planetoid Pluto in Dvalin and the sun itself in Hellewagen. As near as Sally could tell, there had been no such astronomical convergence thus far in recorded history. Not that anybody paid attention to the ancient Viking constellations anymore. She’d taken it upon herself to name the astronomical event after Odin’s strong and swift—and eight-legged—white horse, Sleipnir.
Combined with a rare second New Moon in a single month—the Black Moon—this convergence offered an unprecedented opportunity for power and change.
Though she was only sixteen, this would be the great act of Sally’s life. The world—and the ancient spirits she resurrected—would thank her for it.
But once she started her workings, she had to complete the cycle of rituals and castings precisely on-schedule—unless she fancied having the entire universe implode. Or she might accidentally turn everything in creation an unpleasant shade of taupe. It was a toss up.
Sally flicked her strawberry hair over her shoulders and grabbed a fuzzy pair of pink kitten socks to pull onto her bare feet. She bent over the rabbit skin and reached for the cool silver-gray piece of hematite she had painstakingly engraved with an n-shaped mark.
Hematite to shield against negativity, grounding magick into the Earth itself, Sally’s brain ticked off by rote.
“Uruz,” Sally cooed softly to Baron, who watched her delicate, ivory-toned fingers. “This is the rune of primal power and change. Uruz is sacred to Njörd, father of the twins, Freya and Freyr. Its shape is symbolic of a pair of ox horns—AAOW!”
Sally dropped the hot stone. Baron watched it fall onto the white fur.
“Son of a bitch!” she spat, ignoring her own rule to never curse when doing magickal work. She held her burnt thumb to her mouth and sucked on the scorched flesh. Skin sizzled under her tongue.
Sally extended her other hand over the collection of stones on the rabbit skin before her. Heat radiated off them. The air practically crackled.
Hot runes? This was definitely a first.
As Baron crept forward to sniff at the hot stones, Sally scrambled across the carpet to the adjoining bathroom. She turned on the cold water and stuck her thumb in the stream, ignoring her reflection in the mirror over the sink. She knew what it would show her—dark circles under her tired green eyes, pale and hollow cheeks, and stringy hair. Come Sunday, when her spell-work was done, she’d indulge in some much-needed aromatherapy.
After a three-day-long nap.
She shut off the faucet and studied her singed thumb in the dim light. The symbol for Uruz—ox horns and all—was seared into her flesh.
“Great.” Sally closed her eyes and wondered just how badly an accidental self-branding might impact her work. Now everything she did would be tinged by Uruz’s energy of creation and wild manifestation.
Sally’s eyes lit up.
“Well, Baron.” Sally glanced back across the carpet at the tabby, who lounged half-purring, half-snoring, by the rabbit skin and stones. She waved her branded thumb in the air. “I guess this means it’s working, huh?”
Tugging gently on the smoky quartz pendant around her neck, she stepped out of the bathroom and sat back down in front of her altar space. Swatting away Baron’s paws—the cat had a bad habit of claiming her runes as play toys—Sally pulled the long sleeves of her ritual robe down over her hands to shield her fingers and picked up the still warm rune stones.
Valhalla by Jennifer Willis / Fantasy have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on36 votes