"You have to. It's bed-time," he argued. She started to cry and struggled to get away, a useless gesture that only tired her out more. He pushed the door open with his free shoulder. Hiko looked up as he did so; she was just putting Raiko to sleep in the crib.
"We're not sleepy, are we?" Hiko said with a smile. Hichan wailed harder, as a flash of light changed her to into sleeping robes and Rayden sat down at the edge of her small bed.
He sat her down.
"It's time to go to sleep," he told her. "The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner you can wake up."
"Don't want to!" Hichan yelled.
"Sssh, you'll wake the baby," her father cautioned. "How about I tell you a quick story?"
Hichan sniffled, shutting her mouth quickly. Hiko, coming around from the other side, pulled back the blankets, and the girl scooted in. "A long story," she said.
"We'll see," Rayden replied, noncommittally. "What kind of story do you want? Not--"
"Meesians!" Hichan yelled, gleefully. "Meesians!"
"Sssh," Hiko said, putting a finger to her lips. "You have to be quiet." Hichan nodded, shamefully, but quiet.
"I'm not telling the Maresian story again," Rayden griped. "You've heard it about a million times already."
"Meesians!" Hichan protested, in a whisper.
Hiko giggled. "That was a funny story," she agreed.
"I don't think we need to hear it again," he protested. "Aren't you supposed to be on my side?"
"It is a funny story," she repeated.
"If you had been the one getting dunked, I doubt it would be as amusing," he countered. He looked down to Hichan, who was waiting expectantly. "We'll tell a new one, tonight."
She started to protest, and he held up a finger. "What kind of story would you like?" he asked, not letting her argue.
She looked thoughtful. "A story about a little girl."
"A little girl?" Rayden repeated, the same thoughtful look coming onto his face. "Hmm."
"There's the one about Tangela, Goddess of Weeds," Hiko told him. "That one's kind of cute."
"I was thinking about that one, but I think I have a better one," Rayden replied. He settled himself in. "This the story of Verdandi, a little girl who saved an entire Realm."
"Oh, I love that one," Hiko concurred.
Hichan smiled, already interested. "Are there mortals?"
"Yep. Lots of them. This story begins several generations ago, in the Realm of Asgard...
"In the Realm of Asgard there once lived two deities, Hugin, God of Thought, and Munin, Goddess of Memory. And they had three daughters: Urde, who was to be Goddess of Thought; Skuld, who was to be the Goddess of Memory, and Verdandi, who was the be the Goddess of Justice. She was going to be the first Goddess of Justice, in fact--"
"Like me!" Hichan suddenly blurted.
"You're not the Goddess of Justice, dear," Hiko corrected. "Lady Amai is."
"I'm the first Goddess of Lightning," Hichan replied. Her mother and father exchanged a look, and Rayden smiled.
"That's true enough, Sparky. Now, as I was saying..."
"They all lived together in a big Manor in Asgard, which was very cold, but the girls didn't mind because they liked to ski--"
"It's a sport. That you do on snow."
"Oh. What's snow?"
Rayden sighed. "I'll tell you when you're older. Now, it was very cold in Asgard, but they always dressed warmly when their parents told them to, so they were happy. And there were lots of mortals, too, called...uh...Asgardians--"
"Asgarders," Hiko corrected, quietly.
"Right. Asgarders. Now, the girls didn't get to visit with the Asgarders very much, because they lived all the way in a big valley, and the Manor was at the top of a big mountain. No, bigger than our hill. A big, big mountain.
One day, they decided to go to see the mortals--they'd never played with them, like you have, they've only watched them for a little bit, and they decided today they were going to do that again. So they dressed very, very warmly, and got on their skis--which are like...well, I'll tell you that when you're older, too--and they set off. Skuld led the way, because she was very bossy; Urde was next, and then little Verdandi, who was very small. Yes, like you.
Now, Skuld was very, very bossy and she made Verdandi carry the pack that had their lunch in it. It was very heavy, because they had packed a lot of food. Munin had meant for Urde to carry it, because Urde was the oldest; but she didn't count on Skuld being so bossy. Anyway, what happened was because she had this big pack to carry, Verdandi couldn't keep up, and she started to lag behind her sisters--"
"They're mean," Hichan interrupted.
"They were indeed," Rayden agreed, quickly. "Now, Verdandi kept trying to catch up--"
"Didn't she yell at them?" Hichan wanted to know. "Yell, hey, wait up?"
Hiko started to laugh and had to get up to quiet herself down. Rayden looked at little irritated at that, but concentrated on the story. "I was just getting to that."
"Now, Verdandi yelled at them to wait up, but by now they couldn't hear her. I'm sure that if they could hear her, they'd wait; Skuld was bossy, but they weren't that mean. And pretty soon they were out of sight, too. So little Verdandi was all alone. She stopped, and looked around, and she decided that she might as well go home, since she couldn't go anywhere without her sisters.
But just as she was heading back, a big storm started to grow. It was very windy, and she couldn't see where she was going, and she kept skiing and skiing, but she wasn't sure if she was anywhere near her Manor. She had no idea where it was. And soon she began to worry that maybe she'd never reach her Manor at all, that she'd--"
Hiko poked Rayden on the shoulder, and he snapped out of the spell to see Hichan peering at him, wide-eyed and horrified, peeping out of the blankets. A little sheepishly, he continued:
"Of course, she knew that even if she got lost, her parents would find her and bring her home. So she wasn't really in any danger at all. But she was still pretty worried, because she was getting cold, and she was starting to get tired, too.
But then the storm started to let up. Verdandi was very happy, because that meant that she'd be able to see where she was going and find her way home. But when the wind died down, she couldn't tell where she was at all. It was a very strange place, some place that she'd never been before, not even with her parents.
She thought about trying to go back, only she didn't know which way was back, so she did a very sensible thing and stayed where she was. She had lots of food, so she could wait until her parents found her, which they were going to do, any moment, she was sure of it.
While she was waiting, she thought she could see someone coming over the side of the mountain. It looked like a man, but it wasn't her father; it was a mortal man. He was carrying a deer over his shoulders, he'd been hunting--"
"He killed it?!" Hichan wailed, suddenly. Raiko, across the room, woke up and started to fuss. Hiko got up to soothe her while Rayden dealt with their older girl.
"No, no, he'd, um, found it dead, and thought it would be good to eat. Not that they ever ate deer before. He was just going to try it. So he was coming home with his...find, and he saw what looked like a little girl sitting all alone in the big snowy mountain.
"Hello," he said, "what are you doing here all alone? Where are your parents?"
And Verdandi didn't say anything, because her parents had told her not to talk to mortals, and she was a good little girl and did what she was told.
"Can you speak?" the mortal, again.
She just looked at him. So he decided that he would take her back to his village, which was just over the hill-side, and take care of her while he found her parents.
"I think you should come home with me," he said. "You'll freeze to dea--you'll freeze until you get really sick, and I don't want to see that happen to such a cute little girl. You'd better come with me."
So she got her pack together--"
"Wait!" Hichan interrupted, frowning. "What if he was a bad man? She shouldn't go with him."
Rayden blinked. "That's very true, Sparky. You're right. She shouldn't have gone with him, normally. But she heard a little voice say that it was all right to go with him, that she'd be safe, so she did."
Hichan frowned again. "Whose voice was it?"
This Hiko supplied, coming back to the bed with Raiko in her arms, rocking her back to sleep. "The Creator. Whenever you don't know what to do, you can ask the Creator, and usually you'll get an answer, unless you know the answer for yourself."
"That's right," Rayden agreed, enthusiastically, glad to have an solution.
"So she heard a voice--the Creator's--telling her that it was all right to go with the mortal. So she packed up her bag, and got on her skis, and headed after him. And he was nice and made sure she could keep up, since she was such a little girl.
And soon they came to his village--and the mortal, whose name was Sigurd--led her to his house. There she met his wife, Brynhild, who was very nice and gave her some fresh, warm clothes to change into, and some soup to eat.
And Verdandi was very happy to be there. She'd been frightened, out alone on the mountain. She knew her parents would come for her, so she wasn't worried about that at all, but she was happy to be with other people. Only her parents had told her to stay away from the mortals, and not let them know that she was a Goddess, so she was worried about that. That's why she wouldn't speak. She was afraid Sigurd and Brynhild would find out that she wasn't a little mortal girl, like they thought.
After she was done her soup, she tried to leave, so that her parents wouldn't find out that she had let the mortals see her, but Sigurd caught her trying to sneak away, and told her that she was a bad little girl; she shouldn't go out alone, another storm might come up.
So Brynhild took Verdandi to have a nap--"
"Eww! Naps!" Hichan bristled. "Naps are bad!"
"Verdandi was very tired, though. She'd been out skiing all day," Hiko reminded her.
"Even though Verdandi was very tired, and the bed was very comfy, and she didn't have to share it with her sisters, she couldn't go to sleep--"
"She wasn't tired!" Hichan interrupted smugly. To her, the moral of the story was clear already.
"Hichan," Rayden said, warningly, "Do you want me to finish?"
Hichan nodded instantly.
"Then you have to stop interrupting."
She nodded again.
He cleared his throat, and continued.
"Even though she was so tired, Verdandi couldn't get to sleep. She was worrying about what her parents would think. So she waited until Brynhild left the room, and then she hopped out of bed. She couldn't sneak away, because she knew that Sigurd would catch her again. She wasn't sure what she should do. Then she decided she'd make a portal. She didn't know if she could, or not, because she was such a little girl. But she knew she had to try.
So she concentrated very, very hard, and thought about being home, and being with her parents and her sisters, who she knew would be missing her, and the harder she thought about them, the more a portal started to form. It was very slow, but steady. It was almost done when her memory slipped a little bit and she thought about being all alone on that snowy mountain; and what happened was the portal ended up taking her to the mountain, instead of to her Manor.
When she realised what had happened, she started to cry. Now she was all alone again, and the mortals didn't know what had happened to her, and she was too tired to walk back to her Manor since she had been straining to make the portal. So she cried, and cried, and before she knew it, another portal opened up, and her mother and father stepped out. They had heard her crying, you see; when she had been with the mortals, she had been so quiet, like a mouse--"
"Like a monk?" Hichan clarified, hopefully; she wasn't too sure what a mouse was.
"Exactly like. She had been quiet like a monk, and they hadn't been able to find her. But when she started to cry, they heard her, and came running. They missed her a lot, and were very worried about her, but now she was safe. So they took her home, and gave her something more to eat, and then put her to bed because now she was very, very tired, and she fell asleep immediately."
At this point Hichan yawned, broadly, and snuggled down more under the blankets. Rayden exchanged another glance with Hiko, who was still rocking a gurgling Raiko back to sleep. He lowered his voice, and continued.
"Now, her parents had been very, very worried, and they waited until Verdandi woke up to tell her that they were very mad with her. They were mad with her sisters too, for leaving her behind, but they were especially mad with Verdandi for staying with the mortals. Hugin believed that mortals were better off without knowing about the Gods and Munin didn't care in any case, and besides, it wasn't her Realm--"
"No editorials," Hiko hissed.
He smiled at her, teasing, and then continued:
"But anyway, they were both mad with the girls and said, "From now on, you can't go see the mortals until you're all old enough to know better."
And Skuld and Urde were mad at Verdandi because they had liked going to see the mortals, and they didn't think they'd done anything. And Verdandi was upset because she had liked Sigurd and Brynhild, and she missed them. They had been very nice to her. And now she wouldn't be able to see them any more.
A few weeks went by, and although the girls got used to playing just around the Manor, they got very bored and restless. One day, Skuld decided she was going to try and argue to her parents about letting them go away from the Manor. Urde didn't care, particularly, as she was more of a bookish sort of girl, she liked spending time in the observatory instead, but Skuld convinced her and Verdandi to all go together.
So they waited until their parents were having a quiet afternoon, and started towards the conservatory. The door was closed, which was unusual; Skuld opened it a crack and then they could hear their parents arguing.
"I told you!" Munin was saying. "It should have been repaired ages ago."
"It's not that dangerous," Hugin was insisting. "It's just a small crack."
"It'll cause chaos in the lower ranges," Munin replied. "Avalanches, earthquakes, maybe even volcanoes--the mortals in that area will be dead within days. Surely--"
"They'll just think it's a natural phenomena," Hugin retorted. "And anyway, I thought they were 'just mortals' to you--"
"You're editorialising again, dear," Hiko remarked.
"No I'm not," Rayden replied, innocently. "Honestly, that's what they were arguing about."
"Not in the version my mother told me," Hiko answered.
"I can't help how the Lady Hisan would like to interpret things," Rayden finished, firmly. "Now--" He started to go back into the story when he noticed that Hichan was now deep asleep. "Ah. Mission accomplished."
Hiko got up, putting the sleeping Raiko back in the crib, and the two deities crept out of the room, closing the door quietly behind them.
Rayden grumbled, his dishevelled head emerging from under the pile of blankets. "Hichan?" He stared at her, his eyes partly open. She was poking him in the rib area.
"Daddy?" she said, louder.
"What is it?" He rubbed his eyes and tried to sit up. "What time is it?" There was a pause as he tried to figure it out. Then he rolled his eyes. "It's too early. Go back to bed."
"Can't sleep," Hichan whispered. Her eyes were very wide in the moonlight streaming through the windows. "What happened to the little girl?"
Grumbling, he let his head fall back to the pillow. "I'll tell you later, Hichan, go back to bed."
She was still looking at him, solemnly. "Can't sleep. Worried about the mortals."
His eyes were adjusted to the dark and he could see how anxious she looked, how concerned and curious. He also knew that if she didn't get any sleep she'd be hell on legs come the morning, and everybody would be paying for it.
"Daddy," Hichan insisted, her voice growing louder.
Beside him, Hiko grumbled and rolled over, managing to pull most of the blankets with her. He sighed, and sat up.
The Temple was still, and dark, with the waxing moon lighting a path through the courtyard. Hichan was holding Rayden's hand as they walked through the courtyard. Now that he was up, he wanted some fresh air.
He settled down on one of the benches, Hichan on his lap, a blanket around his shoulders. She was looking up at him, expectantly.
"Now, Sparky, just because I'm doing this tonight that doesn't mean it can become a habit, okay?"
She nodded. "Just want to find out what happens."
He nodded, yawned, and started, trying to remember where he had left off.
"So, Hugin and Munin were arguing in their conservatory... that's right, they were arguing about the mortals, because there was a crack in the Realm and the mortals would probably die.
Now the three girls were crowded around the door, listening in, and they scurried away in horror, before their parents found out they'd been eavesdropping--"
"Listening in to other people's conversations," he explained, with another yawn.
"The three girls went back to their room.
"This is terrible," said Urde. "Those poor mortals. It's too bad."
"I know," said Skuld. "I hope Daddy fixes the crack before too many die."
Verdandi had been lagging behind, as usual, and she was sniffling. They asked her what the matter was.
"I don't want the mortals to die," she explained. "We should warn them."
"We can't," Urde said, sternly. "If we do, then Mummy and Daddy will know that we've been eavesdropping."
Verdandi went very quiet. Her sisters assumed that she agreed with her, so they dropped the matter, and went off to play by themselves--"
"They're mean, not helping the mortals," Hichan said, quietly, fiercely.
"Not really. You have to understand, Hichan, that they didn't think of mortals the way we do; not as people. They thought of them as trees, or something like that. Would you be upset if a tree was cut down?" he asked her.
"Yes." He looked at her, and she grumbled. "No," she admitted.
"Well then. That's how they thought of mortals, like trees. They were unhappy, but not too upset about it."
"Except Verdandi," Hichan put in.
He gave her a squeeze. "Except Verdandi."
"Verdandi waited until her sisters were gone, and then she ran to the door. Hanging up were her outside-clothes, and she bundled up warmly, and then she ran through the door. She ran for quite a while, until the Manor was out of sight, and then she stopped. She started to think very, very hard of Sigurd and Brynhild, of their house. She thought about how hard she wanted to help them, and a portal appeared in the snow beside her. She didn't waste any time, but leapt through.
Imagine Sigurd's surprise as he's sitting down to supper and a little girl suddenly appears, crashing down on the table! That's what happened. Verdandi still couldn't control her portals yet, you see.
She got to her feet, and both Brynhild and Sigurd realised that she was the little girl they had both saved. They were frightened, because she had appeared from no where.
"Are you a spirit?" Brynhild demanded.
"A demon?" Sigurd asked.
She shook her head. "No, no, I'm Verdandi, I'm the Goddess of Justice, and I came to warn you. You have to move all your people out of here!"
Both the mortals looked at her in horror. "You are a goddess?!" Sigurd cried, as both fell to their knees. "Forgive us, Lady, we did not know!"
"Please, get up," she begged. "You have to get your people out of this village, away from these mountains! There's going to be avalanches and volcanoes!"
"Have we done something wrong?" sobbed Brynhild. "Why are you punishing us, Lady?"
"I'm not!" Verdandi started to cry too, she couldn't help it. "I just want to help you. There's a crack in the Realm, please, you have to tell everybody to leave this mountain range!"
It took a long time, but she convinced her friends of the danger of what was happening, and they agreed to tell the village. Sigurd went, while Brynhild started to pack up their belongings. Sigurd took Verdandi with him. Anyone could tell when she talked that she was a not a mortal; she didn't know to disguise herself so that the mortals didn't know she was a goddess. Every time she spoke they fell to their knees in terror.
She was very upset, and didn't understand why they were afraid of her. She and Sigurd hurried to tell everyone in the village, and sent messengers to the other villagers in the range, to leave immediately, and head south, to the plains, where Verdandi assured them they would be safe.
The villagers were unhappy that they had to leave, of course, but Verdandi promised them that her father was going to fix the crack, as soon as he could; and then she would tell them and they could return home.
As soon as they could, the mortals headed out, heading south. Verdandi came with them, staying beside Sigurd and Brynhild. She had a terrible feeling that she had to stay with them.
They had been walking for only a few hours when suddenly towards the back, the mortals started screaming. They all turned and looked: an avalanche was starting farther up the mountain, right behind them. For a moment, Verdandi could even see the crack in the Realm that was producing the landslide.
Panicked, the mortals started to run. Sigurd tried to drag her with him, but she shrugged him off and actually started running towards the mountain.
She was very, very afraid, for she knew that the avalanche could bury her just as easily as the mortals, but she knew she had to do something to save them. And she stood her ground, and she wished with all her heart: Great Creator, save us from this...
The snow didn't stop; it couldn't. It had already begun.
She stayed where she was, closing her eyes. She wished with all her heart to stop the avalanche.
And just like with the portal, the harder she concentrated, the better it worked. Only she wasn't creating a portal; she was making the Realm respond to her. She was such a little girl that it shouldn't have worked, but she was so worried about her mortals, and so upset and so afraid, that her powers sparked around her, and the avalanche began to slow down. And it slowed, and slowed, and finally stopped. It had covered the village, but it wouldn't go any further. The mortals were safe.
Verdandi collapsed. Sigurd and Brynhild were by her side in an instant, and saw that she was only very, very tired. So they picked her up, and carried her with them as they hurried to catch up with the rest of the villagers.
When they got there, they found two new people, standing before the crowd. The people were not mortals; they were Hugin and Munin. They had come looking for their daughter.
Very timidly (the gods looked very intimidating to the mortals) the couple brought Verdandi forward, and gave her to Hugin, who carried her in his arms. They both knew that she was only very tired, so they gave her energy, but let her sleep.
"Mortals," Munin said, and at the sound of her voice, they all fell to their knees (if they weren't on their knees already.) "Mortals, we are fixing the crack in the Realm. We will take steps to protect your village, and the others. Thank you for caring for our daughter when she was lost."
"Thank you for caring for us," Brynhild said, quietly.
Munin smiled. "That role belongs to Verdandi, save your praise for her."
And they teleported away."
Hichan smiled, glad of the happy ending. "What happened to Verdandi?"
"She woke up in her own bed, with her parents sitting beside her. They told her that they were very angry about what she had done, since she had run away without telling them. But they were also very proud of her for going to save the mortals, even though she would have gotten in trouble. So they said that she wasn't going to be punished, and instead, she could go where ever she wanted to again (with her sisters, not alone) since she had proved herself to be responsible and sensible." Rayden leaned back with a sigh.
"That's the end?" Hichan asked him.
"That's the end."
"Then you should say, 'the end'," she informed him. He laughed.
"I'll remember that for next time. C'mon, Sparky, it's time to go back to bed." Hichan didn't protest as he got up and carried her back to her room.
Hiko got up early, like always, to check on Raiko. She noticed that Rayden was gone, so she assumed that he had simply gotten up a little earlier, probably to check on the baby. Or to make breakfast. She hoped it was to make breakfast.
Yawning, she padded her way down the corridor, and opened the door to the children's room. There was Raiko, awake and staring at the mobile that Johnny had insisted on installing over her crib, and there was Rayden and Hichan, curled up in Hichan's bed, fast asleep.
Hiko smiled to herself, picking up the baby, who tried to take a swipe at the mobile as she passed it. Then the goddess quietly tip-toed to the door, and closed it behind her, letting them sleep.