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Instead, she turned her attention to the devastation now surrounding her. She had stepped from one scene of destruction to another, with only one difference. The city she had been standing in moments before had been levelled by means Hera could not define, but here, its source was all too clear.


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Hera had walked these boulevards before, in a past embassy to the Nordic pantheon. Her memories of that time overlaid what now greeted her senses, seeing breathtaking statuary and spiralling towers adorned with golden runes and intricate knotwork, where now there was only the gold grey of rubble, slowly swallowed by falling snow. She knelt, brushing the frost from the stone visage of some great champion of the distant past, now shattered and broken.

Terrible violence had happened here. Hera pressed through the streets, framed by gutted buildings that cast shadows like rows of broken teeth. All of the shadows stretched, including their own, growing taller with the oncoming night.

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And as the Queen of the Gods and her protector passed into an abandoned courtyard, Hera's shadow warped, twisted, and slithered loose from behind her. Argus whirled around to face it, bracing against a shriek so jarring and unworldly that it threatened to turn one's blood to ice. With a bellow of rage Hera's giant hurled a massive fist toward the ragged silhouette materializing before him.

The shade boiled away from the attack, blurring like ink in water. It flowed around Argus, leaving nothing but a rime of glittering frost on his broad stone knuckles. With nothing to absorb his strike, the giant stumbled forward as the shadow reshaped itself behind him. The creature hissed as it looming high over Argus' back, its long skeletal fingers lengthening into talons. The shade reeled as Hera raised her sceptre. The radiant field that surrounded her like a sphere of sparkling crystal flared as it made contact with the shadow creature.

The monster loosed a keening wail that rang out over the ruins as it burned before Hera's power, evaporating into a mist the color of a dark bruise. Within moments what little remained of the shadow was carried off by the wind, leaving nothing but the echo of its chilling scream.

Argus regained his footing with a growl and returned to Hera's side. His fists clenched and unclenched, the wheel of his many faces twitching as it spun, searching for the next threat to come. The giant calmed immediately, rising out of his fighter's crouch. The clamour of ringing steel and inhuman roars drew Hera and Argus to the temple. She slowed at the entrance of the grand structure, now little more than a single wall and a dark stone floor punctuated by broken pillars. The ground was littered with the bodies of gigantic, hideous monsters, things of slab-like muscle and crude runes tattooed upon flesh as blue as the lips of the dead.

As imposing as they were lying slain upon the ground, the frost giants were even more monstrous alive. A trio of the foul creatures stood at the opposite end of the temple, bellowing in rage as they sought to crush a single armoured figure opposing them. Hera could only make out the stranger in half glimpses between the walls of enraged blue flesh, seeing intricate battle armour, a helm crested by a pair of curving horns, and the brilliant flash of a shining spear blade.

The warrior had faced down this horde alone, and despite the odds had winnowed his foes down to these final three. But it was clear to Hera that his strength was waning, and the countless wounds he had suffered were beginning to take their toll. The attacks and footwork she watched were degrading into staggers, sweeps and lunges of the spear relying on momentum over skill or fighting technique. If she did not intervene, he would fall here.

She pointed toward the combat. A stark clash rang as Argus thudded a fist against his chest. The relish was clear in his posture as he pounded toward the frost giants. These were no shadow things, tricksters keen to drift and fade away from honest combat. A frost giant was a creature of flesh and blood. And they would not find it so easy to escape from his wrath. It turned at the last moment, its bark of pain and alarm muffled as its head was engulfed in a crushing fist. Argus landed low, smashing the frost giant down head first in a cloud of spinning stone splinters. With a roar Argus spun, dragging the giant's head in a grinding orbit around himself until he had carved a deep furrow into the stone with its face.

After finishing the ring, Argus used the momentum he had built to hurl the creature away, smashing it into a mound of rubble where it slumped and went still. Enraged, the pair of remaining frost giants rounded upon Argus, sinews clenching like bands of iron across their arms. The closest seized Argus in a grappler's embrace, spraying Hera's guardian with foul spittle from behind its cage of broken yellowed tusks. Argus leaned forward, the wheel of his many faces spinning into a blur that sliced into the monster as they met.

In an instant the creature's grip slackened, and a bludgeoning strike from Argus sent it thudding to the ground. The final giant gripped its fists together, swinging them like a club into Argus' back. The blow threw Argus to one knee, and he felt the beast's thick fingers seize hold of his wheel to wrench it from his shoulders when a shining steel blade burst out from the monster's chest. The last breaths feathered out from the frost giant's lips, before it toppled forward onto Argus and sent them both crashing to the ground.

With an annoyed grunt, Argus climbed out from beneath the dead frost giant, giving the body a derisive kick as he rose. Hera tutted at her champion as she crossed the temple floor, and Argus lowered his head in submission. With a strained effort he wrenched the blade of his spear loose, and rested his head against its haft as he leaned on the weapon for support. Hera took a moment to appraise the warrior before her. The craftsmanship of his iron and knotwork armour was exquisite, a priceless marriage of art and martial function clear to see despite the horrific damage that had been inflicted upon it.

The spear he held alone was breathtaking, an immense halberd that none but the divine could ever hope to wield, a weapon that could only have been forged within the divine halls of the Aesir. It has been many years, Hera. Argus caught him before he fell, helping him down to recline against a heap of rubble. Odin laid a hand on the giant's arm in way of thanks, before waving him away.

Hera thought back to her confrontation with Loki, and what the trickster god had said. Both mortal and divine alike finally pushed into the precipice, and devoured by oblivion. Long have I seen their coming, and long have I laboured, so that when it comes at last, we might have hope to stand against it. To be the rock that the tide breaks against, and rolls back.

He gestured out, casting a tired hand across the broken vista. Asgard, my kingdom, lies in ruins, and the lands of the mortals with it. I failed, because I was unable to stop the spark that would ignite Ragnarok, one that would come from my own hall. A howl pierced the night sky then, coming from far away yet with a strength that felt as though the beast that had issued it was but a pace away.

Argus raised his fists, and Hera looked out across Asgard, to the dark silhouette of the grand palace in the distance. She dwelt within the prison of my making for too long, and now through unleashing Ragnarok she sits upon the throne of Asgard, if only its ashes. Hera spread her arms wide. You speak to me of the end of days, Allfather, of apocalypse. I see one that has been averted. I look out and see a land razed by fire, but by its ashes shall it be nourished and reborn. I see hope.

GEIR-LYFR, Cymraeg a Saesnaeg, Yn Cynwys yr holl eiriau yng Eirlyfr Dr. Davies.

Odin gave a deep chuckle that quickly soured into a fit of hacking coughs. But what you say is true enough. There are those out in the world who believe that they have turned the darkness back, that disaster has been averted and hope restored. But I have stared into the webs of fate that have yet to transpire, and I have seen that the greatest darkness has yet to come. One that will soon arrive and manifest its destiny as the ender of days.

It is coming, Queen Hera, and it will destroy us all. Hera was silent for a moment.


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  7. Flakes of snow winked into soft puffs of steam against her barrier. She looked over at Odin, a broken king who was cast in reflection of his broken kingdom. Would he agree with you, lying in the rubble of all he holds dear, and wait with you in silence for what little is left to be taken from him as well?

    Or would he rail against it? Would he stand like the warrior king he is and refuse to allow such a fate to happen? Would he view anything less as nothing but the actions of a coward? Odin winced at that final word, as though it had been a physical blow. Leaning upon his spear, he rose to his feet, his gritted teeth gleaming like pearls in his iron-colored beard. Argus shifted, but went still with a gesture from Hera.

    You have no conception of the blood that was spilled to try and stop this, of what was sacrificed. You wouldn't have the numbers to count the dead, nor the stomach to hear their screams. And how could you, from your pretty mountaintop? Odin made to respond, but instead sagged back down amongst the rubble. Hera saw rivulets of dark blood leak out from the cracks in his armour, catching the moonlight. There is always a choice, Odin. You say that the worst is yet to come, well then I say that we must gather the strength needed to face it, and cast it back into the darkness from where it came.

    Odin spat onto the ground, watching for a moment as the pinkish saliva boiled against the newly fallen snow. The world will be remade by this, but there is still time to guide the shape that it will take. There are things that exist in this world, secret and hidden and believed lost, that hold great power. If they were to be found, those who are worthy can wield them to deliver all from ruin. Hera paused. Her mind raced at the revelations that Odin had made, of Ragnarok and the fall of Asgard, of the greater evil coming and the hope to oppose it.

    But to find the truth of it, and seek these things out, you will need allies. Gods of great strength, who yearn for justice and the defense of all life. Gods like my son. Odin met her gaze. With Argus at her side, Hera set off in search of the God of Thunder. The path to him was clear to her, for it led to the palace where Hel the usurper sat, and was strewn with the fallen hordes that had dared taste the wrath of fabled Mjolnir.

    The closer she came, the more recent the scenes of battle, until finally she could hear the music made by those in combat just ahead of her, and steam still rose from the slain at her feet. Lightning burst across the sky like blazing silver talons. For an instant Hera's heart raced at the awesome, familiar sight, but she steeled herself, refusing to allow the grief she kept locked inside to resurface. The booming crack of thunder followed the lightning's flash, so close that the Queen of the Gods felt it thrum within her chest. She saw Thor at that moment, bathed in the lightning's glare.

    He stood alone in defiance of Hel's armies, an island amongst a sea of monstrosity. Throngs of frost giants surrounded him, and every shadow peeled away into the very creatures that had attached Hera and Argus after they had arrived in Asgard. The full might of Hel descended upon Thor, and he answered back. The legendary hammer Mjolnir flashed in Thor's grasp, as though it had caged the very lightning that streaked across the night sky. The weapon wove through the rushing tide of frost giants and shrieking shadows, and nothing caught in its path survived to draw another breath.

    Hera watched, frozen for a handful of heartbeats as she beheld the brutal artistry of the Nordic god in battle. Thor moved fast as quicksilver, his strikes faster than mortal eyes could track, and every blow landed from Mjolnir rang like the tolling of a gigantic bell. Frost giants were hurled away like child's toys, spinning through the air. But, for all its deadly majesty, it was not enough. For every monster felled, two more took its place.

    Even Thor's strength would wane in time, and the crush of Hel's minions would drag him down. Hera would not allow such a thing to come to pass. Pale energy shivered around her sceptre, pulsing brighter with each passing moment. A portal flashed into being above the densest concentration of frost giants and shadows, while another appeared beneath Argus' feet. He fell, appearing suddenly out through the other portal and hurtling down toward the battle. Argus struck the ground like a meteor.

    Monsters were flung in every direction, the energy from the impact tearing out like violent ripples across still water. Immediate he laid into any monster within reach, joining Thor in the melee. Argus was reaping a fearsome tally, but against such numbers Hera knew there was only so much he could do before he too was overrun. All she needed was for Argus and Thor to buy her a few seconds' concentration, and she would do the rest. Hera closed her eyes, both hands gripping her sceptre as she summoned her power.

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    Her mastery over the natural world surged up from within the core of her being, forged by her mind and channelled through the sceptre. Gathering more and more, it threatened to overtake her control, but she tightened her grip over it, her mind empty but for a single image. Then, as the power reached its peak, wreathing Hera in blinding aura of prismatic light, she released it. In an instant, Hel's army vanished in a cloud of dense white.

    Thor held in place, bewildered, his face sheened in sweat, shoulders rising and falling with exhausted breath. With the sudden sound of a thousand wings beating the air, the cloud exploded as a vast flock of white doves leapt up into the night. They scattered in seconds, flying far enough that they became indistinguishable from the snow that fell across Asgard.

    My destiny is clear, and this is far from the end of its path. There are many more feats left to be done and foes to slay for me, before my final day dawns. Hera told Thor of her meeting with Odin, of Ragnarok and the evil to come, and her plan to stop it. Suddenly Thor's affable manner was gone, replaced by a lethal focus. You will have Mjolnir's power, and my strength in wielding it. You have my oath that they will be yours, wherever you choose to lead me, but for this I ask one thing in return.

    Thor looked up at the palace ahead, and the glowing fires within that bathed its halls in a baleful, crimson glow. The timeworn strips of leather bound about the handle of Mjolnir creaked as the God of Thunder's grip upon it tightened. He looked back at Hera, slender webs of lightning turning his eyes to blazing silver orbs. The grand palace of Asgard, where Odin had ruled all the realms of his dominion, was now an empty and broken place.

    The breath-taking statues of champions of the Aesir that had lined the boulevards were torn down and shattered, their blank faces staring up in silence at an uncaring sky. Thor paused at each one, kneeling to whisper to them and swear oaths for their vengeance. Fires smouldered from the shells of ruined buildings, their flames casting the shadows of Hera and her companions high as Titans' against the palace walls. No warriors stood sentinel before the doorway leading into the palace to bar their entry.

    After the bloody fighting to usurp the throne and the battle against Thor and Hera, most of the armies beneath Hel's banner were gone, growing cold upon the ground or taking flight within new bodies upon the midnight air. The great high doors of rune-etched iron and gold were open, left to reveal the darkness within as the three warily approached. It all reeks of Loki, and my brother's progeny are no better. Hera paused at the name. She had not caught sight of sound of the trickster after following him here. Had Loki even stepped through at all, or was this yet another one of his tricks?

    Had he led them here into a trap? Argus gave a low growl, his fists clenching and unclenching in the soft scrape of a rockslide. His faces spun as he searching their surroundings, the twin wills within him tugging his body in opposite directions. Hera reached out, resting her fingertips upon the giant's arm. Argus calmed, his focus restored. The halls of the palace were a reflection of the devastated Asgard outside. Rubble choked the ground, with helms, weapons and limbs visible within the mounds. The only light came from what few fires were still crackling, unable to rid the bone-deep chill from the air.

    Great fissures ran across the walls in close rows of four, the marks of monstrous claws that could only have come from one being. Thor raised Mjolnir, sending a shivering chain of lightning about its head to light their way. They walked through the halls within the sphere of stark illumination, studying the irrevocable destruction that had been wrought.

    Everywhere they looked, priceless artworks had been defaced, with every likeness of Odin, Thor and the other rulers of Asgard ruined outright or covered in thick black pitch. A dim light flickered ahead at the end of the thoroughfare. Thor stopped as an immense shadow played across the wall, a hunched form prowling on all fours, gone as quickly as it had appeared. Hera gripped her sceptre tighter, and Argus grunted as he ground his fists together. They continued on, following Thor as he made a walk that he had done countless times, though never in such circumstances.

    And in the name of the Allfather and all those who sleep upon the ground of Asgard forever more, I shall have it. The great hall of Valhalla was a long corridor of stone and intricately carved hardwood. Low wide bowls were spaced along the central passage at intervals, the oil within them still and doused to leave the chamber in darkness. Hera walked down the carpet of furs leading to the dais where Hlidskjalf, the mythic throne of Asgard, took pride of place.

    Hera could feel Thor's anger rise at the state of the throne room, its relics and treasures collected over the millennia by the Allfather defaced and ruined, and his father's throne occupied by the usurper that had unleashed Ragnarok upon the world. The figure who sat upon Hlidskjalf was only partially visible to Hera, such was the darkness that shrouded the chamber. A great pyre burned to the right of the throne, illuminating a visage of stark, ethereal beauty that transcended even the splendour of the gods. Hera faltered for a moment as she saw her, but Thor continued on, stepping forward and setting a boot down upon the first step of the dais.

    Welcome to Asgard, travellers. She leaned forward, the right side of her face lit by the glow of the flames, the other masked by the shadows. Did you find him crouched in a corner, sifting through the loops of a goats insides to try and learn the future? Her smile became a bright flash of teeth, a huntress baring her fangs. Oh to be the favoured one, the heir, mighty Lord Thor, the God of Thunder. There's no need to put on airs here, Uncle.

    The only source of your rage is that it is someone other than you who sits upon this throne. For the first time, Hel turned her gaze upon Hera. Her eyes gleamed, even the one shrouded in shadow. At that moment, Hera became aware of a low, wet rumble coming from the shadows beside Hel. Argus growled, plodding forward onto the dais, but Hera stilled him with a raised hand. Like my grandfather, master of all he chose to be master of, and the rest he cast down to the shadows, forgotten in their chains. Even the dead. The warriors and the battle kings, the great champions who fell atop heaps of the enemies they had slain.

    But for me, I was granted reign over other souls. A queen, ruling a realm of the sick, the infirm, the old and the lame. The helpless. Hel sat back, resting her head against the worn leather knotwork adorning Hlidskjalf. I hated that I was just like the loathsome dead I ruled. Helplessness, Hera. That is what Odin meant for me. A prison, just as my dear brother too was imprisoned. The wet rumbling Hera heard grew louder, and a dark shape detached itself from the shadows. Great claws scraped against the stone of the floor as it came into the light, an enormous grey wolf of a size and strength beyond what the natural world could ever create.

    The beast's eyes blazed in the dark, glaring down upon Hera, Thor and Argus. Slowly, its black lips peeled back, exposing its gleaming fangs as a snarl built in its throat. Hel clicked her tongue once, and the creature padded to her side. It settled down onto its haunches like a guardian hound, even still dwarfing her and Odin's throne. With a slow, careful touch she brushed the coarse fur away from the great wolf's throat, revealing a stark band of hairless flesh pebbled by scar tissue.

    You have carried your poison out from the underworld and sowed it here, using Hades and even your own father. Hel laughed softly. Hades, though, was an easy touch, the poor deluded fool. The simplest ones to turn are those who do so eagerly, thinking of themselves as saviors. You expect the world to accept being swallowed by the darkness as though you are the only one to have ever suffered?

    The light always crusading for order, without ever knowing what it means, without ever thinking that it is they who have overstepped. Because order, true order, is balance, Hera. Coexistence between light and shadow. And the light has had its way for so very long. Fenrir clenched his paws, carving deep furrows into the floor in a screech of claw against stone. Hel looked to her brother, running a hand down his flank in affection, before regarding Thor and Hera once more.

    Perhaps we can dispense with the notion that you have come here for words alone, dear Uncle, and get to it? He squared up, sending a current of lightning shivering across Mjolnir. Hera blinked, and Fenrir was among them. The immense wolf crashed down, hurling Argus aside and rounding upon her. She leapt back, the radiant field surrounding her flashing as Fenrir's claws raked across it.

    Thor hurled himself at Fenrir from behind, Mjolnir a crackling blur as he brought it down in a blistering overhead strike. But the wolf wasn't there. Thor's hammer smashed a crater into the floor in a cloud of twisting stone fragments. He whirled around, raising his weapon just in time to put it between himself and Fenrir's snapping jaws.

    The two gods grappled, straining against each other with all their strength. Spittle flecked Thor's face as Fenrir snarled, enduring the lightning that seared his flesh as he sought to tear Mjolnir from the God of Thunder's grasp. Thor felt his hold begin to slip when a massive stone fist pistoned into Fenrir's skull, breaking the deadlock. The wolf sank his claws into the ground and skidded to a halt. He shook his mane, a deep snarl building in his throat as Argus charged him. Fenrir ducked under a swinging fist, letting his claws carve deep into Argus' side as he surged past him.

    He sprang onto the giant's back, fangs snapping down and biting deep into the bronze and marble armour of Argus' shoulder. Crimson light began to pulse beneath Fenrir's flesh as he fought, winding patterns that Hera realized were runes in some ancient Asgardian tongue. Iron-hard bands of muscle bulged across Fenrir's body, swelling and expanding his already monstrous frame.

    A sharp crack rang across the throne room as Argus' shoulder plating shattered between the wolf's jaws. Like a comet, Mjolnir smashed into Fenrir, hurling him off of Argus. The hammer continued on, singing as it cut the air, when Thor appeared before it. Mjolnir sailed into the grasp of its master, and with a bellow of rage Thor pressed the attack. Hera whirled her sceptre in front of her, drawing power from the natural world and weaving it together. The hair on her neck stood on edge as it build, surging across the sceptre in chains of purple and gold, before she sent it screaming toward Fenrir.

    Hera's Odyssey

    The ball of energy enveloped Fenrir, and a piercing howl shook the hall. The air was filled with the reek of scorched hair. The wolf thrashed under Hera's assault, unable to see or defend against Thor as he swung Mjolnir into his chest and left him sprawled at the foot of the throne, barely conscious as coils of stinking smoke coiled from his body. Hel rose from Hlidskjalf, gliding down the dais to Fenrir's side. The darkness followed her, clinging to half of her form to keep it cast in inky shadow. Hera then realized that it was not the natural dark that was obscuring Hel.

    She was the very source of it. Tendrils of blackness emanated from Hel, bleeding from her silhouette like ink diffusing into water. She stopped beside Fenrir, her angelic half the very image of beatific sorrow as she beheld his wounds. Hel placed a hand over Fenrir, the limb pulsing with radiance. Golden rays of light washed over him, smoothing away the wounds and restoring his coat to its full, shining lustre. Strength flooded back into the wolf, and he surged back to his feet, turning his hunter's glare upon Hera, Thor and Argus. Fenrir filled his lungs, expelling it as a roar that shook Valhalla to its very foundations.

    The runes beneath his flesh blazed as he began to grow, doubling and then tripling in size. His claws extended to the length of swords, his fangs nearly as long as Hera was tall. Fenrir had become a giant, nearly needing to stoop beneath the ceiling of the throne room. Argus ran at Fenrir. Empowered by Hel's magic, the wolf reached for a pillar, wrenching the stone column loose and swept it out like a club. Argus took the blow's full weight, hurling him back to smash against the far wall. Thor threw himself into the air, Mjolnir held high. Fenrir roared at the God of Thunder as he flew toward the wolf's open maw.

    Fenrir's fangs snapped down to devour him. Thor snarled as he fought to keep the beasts jaws from closing with all his strength. Seeing Thor's desperation, Hera hurled bolts of energy at Hel. Her protective radiance flared around herself as Hel turned her attention from Fenrir and unleashed her dark power upon the Queen of the Gods. Hera gritted her teeth as the blasts of midnight energy crashed against her, each one a hammer blow even through her barrier. But she knew that every attack striking her was one less that was aiding her brother wolf.

    She glimpsed Thor through the wash of conflicting energies, seeing the God of Thunder course with crackling lightning just as Fenrir's teeth crushed down against him. Fenrir reeled back, howling in agony as bits of broken fang clattered over the ground. Thor broke loose from the wolf's maw, raining down blows with Mjolnir. Every strike shrank Fenrir, the runes dimming as he shrivelled back down to his normal size.

    One last hit cracked against Fenrir's skull, sending him to the floor where he stayed. Hel shrieked, breaking off her attack on Hera. The Queen sagged slightly as the assault ceased, the barrier around her dissipating with a soft snap. Panting, sheened in ozone and Fenrir's stinking saliva, the God of Thunder turned to Hel, who stood defiantly over her brother. She leapt at Thor, rage making her strikes a blur as she fought, but her uncle's rage was stronger. Hera held back, letting Thor settle it. This was a reckoning that must be brought to an end by Asgard. Thor yanked Hel forward, smashing his head against hers.

    She dropped without a sound, collapsing atop Fenrir at the foot of Hlidskjalf. Thor scowled down at the unconscious pair of his kindred who had wrecked so much havoc upon the world. Argus dropped to one knee before Hera with a hard thud, pressing a fist against the ground to steady himself. Hera looked over her giant, drawing in a breath at the grievous wounds he had suffered.

    His body was riven by claws and covered in cracks that spread over him like jagged spiderwebs. Whole sections were warped by Hel's magic, rendered loose and softened like molten stone. Any one of the injuries Argus had suffered would have killed a mortal warrior outright, or crippled a divine one. Hera had rendered her champion into someone capable of enduring such lethality, but the twin minds within his shell still bore the full pain of them, and she could feel the agony exuding from Argus like a heat haze.

    Lifting her sceptre, Hera closed her eyes, and reformed Argus. Her power reknit his body and healed his wounds, returning him to the full grandeur and strength he had known at the moment of his creation. Though such a restoration caused great pain itself, Argus withstood it, only snarling quietly against the hurt, to his credit. She had nearly finished healing Argus when she sensed someone behind her.

    Hera's intuition felt the knife coming as surely as if it had been buried between her shoulders, and the cruel laughter of the horned coward who wielded it as he sprang forth to strike. Hera spun, sceptre raised. She uttered an incantation and Loki disappeared in a cloud of crackling mist. A soft thud issued from the cloud, along with the irate bleating of an inhuman throat. He squatted down before the creature. Compared to your usual self she's made quite an improvement.

    Argus grunted, plodding forward and scooping Loki up in one massive fist. The transformed trickster bucked and kicked in the giant's grip. Argus paid him no heed as he stomped toward where a ragged hole had been torn in the wall of the throne room, open clear to night-shrouded Asgard beyond Valhalla. Coming to a halt, Argus ignored Loki's flailing as he looked back at Hera.

    She gave her champion a nod, and without pause he hurled the creature out through the gap. Loki's cries filled the great hall as he sailed out through the collapsed wall and into the night, quickly fading until he had disappeared from sight. I will follow you, and whatever comes to stand against you, you will have the God of Thunder by your side. Hera smiled, but it faltered when her intuition struck her again.

    A presence was within the hall, but it defied sense. Hera peered back at Hlidskjalf, seeing the faintest impression of a horned helm, boots kicked up on one arm of the throne. And a cold, liar's smile. Hera considered putting an end to the trickery once and for all. The temptation was strong, but she pushed it aside.

    She had won what she wanted in Asgard, and there were far more pressing matters before her. Come, there's a place I'd like you to see. Hera, Argus and Thor left the cold of Asgard behind them. They moved south, and day by day the snow and mountains of Thor's domain gave way to rolling green hills, and the sun shined warmly over them in the sky. Their route took them tantalizingly close to Olympus.

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    Hera glimpsed the great mountain in the distance and felt the certainty of the palace walls call out to her, the security and familiarity they promised. But she could not return home, not now. Everywhere their path carried them, Hera found signs of upheaval. They saw cities and villages in various states of ruin, from towers brought crashing into rubble to whole areas swallowed by yawning fissures that had broken open in the earth.

    Columns of desperate mortals filled the roads, carrying what little remained of their lives as they sought sanctuary. Hera's innate connection to the natural world acted as her conduit to the world's suffering, as though deep in its core something was changing. Something old and malignant had yet to fully manifest itself, and its parallel's with Odin's cryptic words in Asgard hung heavily over Hera's thoughts.

    She concentrated, marshalling her focus. Other seemingly straightforward subjects may also have contained undercurrents, such as her Young Greek Woman Spinning of The specification of nationality might simply indicate a genre scene tinged with the study of distinctive clothing, but it could also have been a neoclassical reference to Arachne, the skilled and hubristic artisan of mythology, on her own before the contest with Athena. The boy is not simply playing. In the immediate moment, he concentrates on catching the large fly on the windowpane, having already captured another specimen and placed it in the downturned glass resting on the ledge below Fig.

    However, the woman who painted these canvases was very much engaged in the world, a keen observer drawing out cultural and emotional implications from what initially might seem like views of incidental existence, perhaps based on her own family. The detail of the drinking glass in the Fly Catcher , for instance, adeptly handles the challenges of perspective, the difficulty of rendering on a flat surface a round object that stands on a receding ledge, and the problem of convincingly depicting transparent, shimmering material.

    Even more transparent is the window, cleverly painted at its lower edge as though smudged with grime and otherwise suggested by the grid of its frame and lock rather than by any flaws or reflections in its glass. However, the view through the window is not the chief subject of the canvas, which insists instead that a domestic interior is a valid space and subject for art. Or, rather, it is the interplay between internal and external space, between flat surface and illusionistic depth, which is presented as the fundamental subject of figurative art.

    Whereas the window and its ledge are constructed at a slight diagonal to the picture plane, the dark green curtain—pulled aside as though to reveal the painting—appears to be parallel to the surface of the canvas. The other key and more evident element in the painting is the fly. The insect forces the eye to move between distant sky, imagined window, and the planar surface of the picture. His concentrated gaze and intense focus, seeming to draw in a breath, impel viewers to follow suit. He leans forward, the flap of his bright red jacket moving with him, and the diagonal of his body intersects with the reverse diagonal of the window, setting up a subliminal instability that adds to the sense of tense anticipation.

    Whether or not the insect will be caught this time, it is trapped by the gaze of the boy and of the viewer, carefully placed in the compositional pincer between eye and hand. Picturing the necessary conjunction of mental agility and manual dexterity that is central to the making of art, let alone the catching of a quick, erratic fly, the painting has already ensnared the creature in all its detail.

    Others have arranged their strokes, and cut their copper with greater labor; but he alone has dispensed with such fatigue, and has had the art of expressing Flesh, and producing Tints with a dry Point: the Effect of a beautiful tout-ensemble was his end, and he has attained it.

    The Prints of no Master have been more eagerly desired, or purchased at greater prices, than those of Rembrandt. The Freedom of his Etching, the Force of his light and shadow, and the perfect Nature expressed in his Portraits, have charms for the Artist, the Connoisseur, and the Gentleman. Zealous Collectors are not satisfied with having the best of his works, but are uneasy 'till they become possessed of Impressions from all his plates.

    John Barnard —84 was another of the great eighteenth-century English print collectors with a passion for Rembrandt. Barnard, the independently wealthy son of a British financier, was described by Dutch scholar and collector Frits Lugt as one of the best judges of art of his epoch. In his magisterial work on collectors' marks, Lugt said that among all of the English marks, Barnard's was the most revered. The perfect taste of this collector was almost never at fault, and consequently his initials The catalog lists individual sheets by Rembrandt, including an impression of the very rare fifth state of The Three Crosses Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves [B.

    His collection of prints and drawings, including twenty-eight etchings by Rembrandt, was sold in London in January Hibbert, an extremely wealthy merchant and member of Parliament who made his money in shipping, particularly to and from the West Indies, was also an inveterate bibliophile and collector of prints. In April and May , his collection of almost 10, prints was sold at auction in London by a Mr. Hibbert's largest holdings were of original etchings by Rembrandt and prints after Rubens.

    The former were sold in lots of one or more impressions, and the latter in lots. The impression of the fifth state of The Three Crosses was sold on the thirteenth day of the sale, and it is this impression that Jack Feddersen ultimately purchased from Harrods in London almost years later. It was an acquisition that linked four discerning collectors over the centuries. In assembling their collection during the latter part of the twentieth century, the Feddersens faced a daunting task. High-quality Rembrandt prints not only were in great demand and consequently quite expensive, but also were quite rare.

    Many of the best impressions were already in museums or private collections that had been assembled long ago. As a result, the easiest and most affordable way to begin a Rembrandt collection would have been to purchase posthumous impressions of lesser quality, examples of which were and are still readily available.

    Yet, despite these challenges, Jack and Alfrieda Feddersen were able to build an outstanding collection in less than two decades. Each print under consideration for possible purchase was inspected by Jack Feddersen and was subject to return if it did not meet his standards. Correspondence between Jack Feddersen and various art dealers still exists, and interviews with Stephen Spiro, the former John D.

    Reilly Curator of Western Arts at the Snite Museum; Dean Porter, director emeritus of the museum; David Tunick; and John and Ann Feddersen, two of the donors' children, have also provided valuable insights into the way in which the Feddersens acquired and shaped their collection. Although Jack and Alfrieda Feddersen lived in Elkhart, Indiana, neither was originally from the area. Alfrieda was born in Springfield, Illinois.

    Jack Feddersen was born in Clinton, Iowa, and attended Wartburg College for two years before transferring to the University of Illinois. After earning his bachelor's, Jack went on to get a master of business administration degree from New York University, where he wrote a thesis on band instruments. He sent his research to the Selmer Company, a manufacturer of musical instruments based in Elkhart, and in , he was hired as the company's advertising director.

    In , Jack was elected executive vice president of the company, and in , the same year in which he married Alfrieda, he became president. Alfrieda became active in the Elkhart Symphony Club and Elkhart Concert Club, while Jack continued to play a leadership role at the Selmer Company until he retired in The Feddersens purchased nearly all of their Rembrandt prints after his retirement. Jack Feddersen passed away in , and Alfrieda died in Although the Feddersens were always interested in art, they did not have any specific goals in mind when they began to collect.

    Jack Feddersen, a self-taught artist, developed a particular interest in drawing and printmaking. In general, he tended to favor black-and-white prints over colored ones. Then, looking to expand the scope of their print collection, the Feddersens purchased their first three Rembrandt prints — Christ and the Woman of Samaria among Ruins B. Stephen B. They were immediately attracted to the artist's unique, innovative style, and over time, this attraction became a passion. Once he got going on the Rembrandts, he wanted to know everything about them.