Kali returns to the hotel, because her allies are dead, and someone must tend to them. And she is Kali, who walks the cremation grounds.
She finds Mercury collapsed behind the counter, and burns him, with a quick prayer to tell Hades that his kinsman has fallen.
She cleans the hall, separating Odin and Perun, moves the Baron and Macha, gives them all a little space and a clean fire. Ganesh, she sighs over, and burns him like the rest -- he will be back, because he is Ganesh, a son beloved of a powerful mother.
Zao Shen, she will send his bones to the Jade Emperor, and let that august personage cope as he would. Lyr is already dissolving, so she needs not burn him -- but she should send word to his people.
She saves the banquet hall for last, because Baldur is there, and Gabriel. She sighs. One was steady and sober, dependable as the sunrise; the other was flighty and fierce, shaky underfoot and bright laughter. She will miss them both.
She opens the door to the banquet hall, expecting to find two bodies, abandoned in the dark.
Instead, there is a woman, a dog, and a dead man.
Baldur has been moved off to the side, on his back, covered with a tablecloth -- respectfully laid out.
Gabriel, though -- the woman is crouched over Gabriel, her hands dirty with the ash of ruined wings. The soot and burnt feathers are ruining the fine blue wool of the woman's long dress.
[Great Lady, the foreign war-goddess ...] the dead man says, in a voice that is hollow and familiar. He is barely there, a human soul worn so long and so thin that he is barely even a ghost.
"Yes, Þórólfur, thank you," the woman soothes, her hand patting his leg as he stands beside her. His eyes, faded like the rest of him, watch Kali warily.
The woman ignores Kali. She is, instead, picking at the outline of Gabriel's wings, sliding her hands under the ash, and carefully pulling. The ruined, insubstantial limb peels off the floor and folds like a fan. The woman brings it forward, to lay over Gabriel's body like the edge of a cloak.
"What are you doing?" Kali asks
"I am laying out my father," the woman replies. She has not yet looked up at Kali. The ghost, though, is watching Kali; the dog, a terrier, small and ridiculous, watches, too.
"He was not your father. He was not even Loki." Kali snaps, her rage at his deceit, his distrust of her bubbling up again. "He was an archangel of YHVH. He was Gabriel."
"Yes, he was Gabriel," the woman said, finally looking up. Her eyes were cold, hard and deep. "Taxiarch and messenger, the bearer of the Trump of Doom. I know this. He was also Loki the Liesmith, far traveler, skywalker, and my father."
"Who are you?"
"I am Loki's daughter. I am sister to Ulf and Orm," the woman smiles, showing teeth that are sharp as wolves' fangs. Her face is sharp, and beautiful, but disquieting, as if there is something hideous under the surface. "I am Hel Half-Rotted, Great Kali."
Kali takes in a breath through her teeth. The Norse gods might be fading, might be hanging by a thread, but gods of the underworld, no matter how shattered their pantheon, are always to be respected. And this one -- this one claims an archangel as her father.
"Gabriel died valiantly," Kali says. She tells his daughter the bare truth, because it is the truth, and she wants it known how he died. Attractive trouble that he was, she loved him once, and his name and his valor should be remembered. "He held his brother off, so that I, and the destined Vessels, could escape. I regret that he died for it."
Hel blinks her cold eyes, and Kali sees black rot flit over the other goddess' sharp and severe face for a passing moment.
"I couldn't defeat Lucifer, not here," Kali admits, the truth as bitter as gall. It was humiliating, to have been defeated by disgraced and dismissed servant, not even a true god. "In my homeland, in my place of power, I could. But the Apocalypse will be here in America, and my strength is limited. Lucifer was not even harmed, and if Gabriel had not intervened..."
Kali sighs, and looks down at Gabriel's corpse, his shining sword still in his chest, and one wing sprawling to the side. He looks... small, and so strange lying there dead. If not for the glory -- the angelic Grace -- fading by the moment, and the burnt feathers, he could be a dead human.
Hel was straightening him when Kali came in -- she is laying her father out for his pyre. The least Kali can do is help, so she kneels down to do so.
"How may I help?" she asks, and at Hel's raised brows, explains, "He was my friend, and he died because he wanted to help me."
"Thank you, Great Kali," Hel says, and puts her hand to the sword.
Kali holds the body down as Hel pulls the archangel sword from Gabriel's chest. The cold goddess looks at it for a moment, her face unreadable.
[That is an unlucky weapon, great lady,] the ghost says.[It killed its master.]
Hel smiles at the dead man. "Unlucky or not, I need it. If it can kill one archangel, it can kill another."
The ghost snorts, and pulls his wolfskin cloak around his insubstantial shoulders. [It is treacherous and dishonorable. It will turn in your hand.]
"Do not worry yourself, Þórólfur Shield-biter. I know how to handle the treacherous. After all, my kin are Jotuns. This sword will serve me," she says, and tucks it into her belt.
The ghost frowns again, unconvinced.
Hel turns her attention back to the corpse, and begins peeling Gabriel's other wing off the floor to arrange properly -- though it is more difficult because it fell on floor and table, and seems shattered. Kali busies herself with smoothing down Gabriel's hair; she can do so very little for him now, but making him presentable is something.
His hair is fine and soft under her fingers, and Kali remembers other times, happier times, when she had her hands in his hair, her hands on his shoulders and around his waist. He had laughed for her, in days long past, and brought her ghee and paneer and skyr from his northern lands and they both ate the dairy offered by devoted humans in joy.
The little dog barks suddenly, shaking Kali from her introspection with a sharp challenge that descends into growls.
Kali whips her head around to see what has upset the dog. There at the door, two wolves stand, heads down and whining in distress.
"Garm!" Hel chides the little dog. "It is only Geri and Freki. You are not afraid of Odin's wolves, are you, my pet?"
The dog tilts its head and then snorts, holding its head high. The wolves whine again, and slink in like chastened puppies. They sniff around Baldur's wrapped corpse, snuffling unhappily, and then over to Gabriel, where they cringe away the fading remnants of his Grace.
[It's all right, pups,] the ghost says, and crouches down to stroke their ears as if they were hounds. The divine wolves allow this, one going even so far as to lick the dead man's cheek, which makes him laugh.
"Thank you, Þórólfur." Hel says.
The ghost nods to her, [They're just worried, lady. Everything is unsettled, and the eagle-chieftain's death was strange.]
"I do not think one of the archangels had ever died before," Hel admits.
Kali thinks she is right, and it worries her. YHVH's servants killing each other is disrupting the balance of the universe; it is just like him to not care how his people effect everyone. It is one of the things she detests most about the western god -- his utter self-centeredness.
[It was a good death though, was it not, Lady?] the ghost asks. [The eagle-chieftain promised me a good enough death.]
"It was. Your place is secure, Þórólfur Ketilsson. My father's promise is kept."
The ghost grins, and goes back to petting the wolves. Kali ignores his actions, because the ghost keeps the wolves from bothering her as she removes the blood and char from Gabriel's body, and because his very appearance sets her on edge. She had ignored the fact that the servants of YHVH indwell, instead of manifest as gods do. At least Gabriel's promise to this dead soul -- a death worthy of Odin's hall -- will not be false.
Finally, she and Hel finish. Gabriel is as presentable as possible under the circumstances -- his legs are straightened, his hands folded over his chest, and his insubstantial wings wrapped over him like a cloak. His hair is smoothed away from his high forehead, and his eyes are closed. His face is blank and inanimate, and that is the only wrong thing -- even when he slept -- feigned sleep, Kali now suspects -- his face was always alive, emotions flicking across it like sunlight on ocean waves.
"Would you do me the favor of lighting the pyre, Great Kali?"
Kali raises her eyebrows at the other goddess.
Hel gestures at Gabriel's corpse. "I rule the Cold Hall -- fire does not come to my call as it does to yours."
"I will," Kali says, "for he was my friend." She calls fire to her hands, and goes down to one knee beside the body. One hand goes to his head, one hand to his heart, and the mortal shell that Gabriel inhabited is seared to powder in an instant.
She does not weep, though her breath chokes in her throat for a moment. It is not time for sorrow, not when Lucifer walks the world, killing gods and humans alike. He will not stop until they are all dead, until he is the only thing outside of Heaven but the beasts and the birds.
"What will you do now?" Kali asks.
Hel sighs. "You are the Great Kali, and you have a billion worshipers, and yet you could not stand against the Morningstar?"
Kali frowns, and shakes her head. "No, I couldn't. I tried, and lost."
"Then I will take Þórólfur Ketilsson to my uncle Odin's hall." Hel glances at the ghost where he pets Odin's wolves and Hel's dog, at the man her father wore for so very long. She turns away, as if looking at him, who has Gabriel's form but is so manifestly not the archangel, is painful, "He was promised a place among the Einherjar, and he has earned it. Also, Frigg must be told her husband and her son are dead."
"And then?" Kali asks.
"And then," Hel says, "I will go after my other uncle. If I can not challenge Lucifer Kinslayer himself, then I will kill every demon, every human, every ally that dares to follow his banner. He can stand alone against the Host of Heaven. For there is a debt to be paid for my father, and I will accept no weregild but blood."
Kali raises her brows. "You're ambitious."
"If I can do no else," vows Hel Lokisdottir, daughter of a murdered archangel and goddess over the dead, "I will warm my hands at Lucifer's funeral pyre."
Kali looks at the other goddess. She looks young and skinny, beautiful yet rotted. But she has an archangel's sword in her belt, divine wolves at her feet, and the command of all the inglorious dead that the Norse ever produced.
Kali laughs, "When that happens, I'll bring the mead, and my dancing shoes."
Hel smiles, and they are agreement.
Lucifer Morningstar, killer of his own kin, will regret this day, soon, and for the remainder of his life -- however long or short that may be.