Of Roses and Thunder

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Quoth the Raven, Nevermore

♦️

Anne returned to New York quietly.

Maize had awaited her mother’s arrival from California and was sitting on the stone bench outside the front doors of the complex, kicking the toes of her shoes in the loose gravel, displacing the stones. She heard the sound of a car driving towards her on the gravel driveway and it wasn’t long before Anne’s car came into view. Maize could see her grief from a distance, but it felt like she and her mother were the only ones grieving.

Dike took the lead for the team and was doing everything in his power to steer them in a forward direction. Nobody had dared to whisper William’s name or to turn on the TV to the news.

Maize thought it was impossible that a billionaire would die silently, but Dike was forcing it to be a reality.

Despite everything he had done for them, built for them, put his whole life into for them, Dike wanted everyone to just move on. And surprisingly, everybody else was okay with that.

Maize didn’t have the energy to fight it anymore. She had experienced incredible losses in her short lifetime, and this was the most important one. She had just discovered that William was her father, but he was ripped from her in the most unfathomable way.

Every part of her was hurting. Her stomach was in knots and her throat was choked, her eyes constantly battling to hold back tears and eventually losing. She just kept telling herself, lose the battle, win the war. She was going to hurt now and was going to hurt for a long while after that, but she would make it through her pain. No matter what it took.

Anne parked the car and got out, carrying a simple stainless-steel urn in her arms. Maize fell into her mother’s pace as they walked together out into the forest, stopping at the very top of the hill that overlooked the city on the horizon.

There simply weren’t words that existed in the English lexicon that was able to do William’s life justice, so Anne and Maize remained silent as they stood together at the top of the hill, the warm wind blowing through their hair.

“Are you ready to say goodbye?” Anne asked softly, her voice like the breeze.

Maize paused and took a deep breath before responding to her mother’s question.

“I already have a thousand times.”

Anne opened the urn and let William’s ashes float away on the breeze.

**********

A few quiet weeks passed in the compound after William’s death. Nobody had spoken of their leader’s passing, but frankly, they hadn’t spoken much to each other at all. Nobody wanted to speak of death and keep bringing up the same painful things over and over again, even if they weren’t under orders from Dike to keep moving forward. Of course, he understood their grief, and he was missing William as well, but Dike rationalized that they couldn’t save other people if they were still stuck in the past.

Finally, after the silent days had passed, they each had emerged from their bedrooms with varying degrees of tear-stained cheeks. There hadn’t been any evil to fight, but even if there was the team didn’t have any energy left in them to fight it. But, the darkest days seemed to be behind them.

Arawn had always been one to keep his distance, especially considering everything he had gone through with the gods over the millennia. He was the ruler of war, the underworld and of death, so he had a lot on his plate until he was captured by The Order of the Black Rose. They tried to use him for information, to get into the mind of a god, to use his power over the dead for evil. Then, he was rescued by the Assembly, but the last thing he ever saw himself doing was sitting in the throne room with them. He much preferred spending his time with himself, the ghost in his apartment, and Savannah.

With that thought, he had a realization.

It was a warm and breezy evening as the two of them were sitting out on the fire escape, looking out onto the city before them and the streets below them. Arawn found himself staring not at the sunset, eventually, but only at Savannah. She noticed this and turned her head towards him with a smile.

“Why are you staring at me, Ari?” She asked playfully. His face was serious, his eyes locked on hers. Her long, black curly hair was blowing across her face and she brushed it aside and tucked a strand behind her ear with her pointer finger.

He didn’t answer her question.

Instead, he breathed out another one.

“Marry me, Savannah.”

Savannah whispered the most genuine and sure yes of her entire life.

**********

It was a beautiful summer evening on the day Savannah and Conrad were to be married.

The ceremony was meant to be small, with just the new gods and the Assembly members in attendance. Everyone in the compound had been buzzing about all week in preparation, despite Savannah and Ari not wanting to make a huge deal out of it. Neither of them wanted a bachelor party or any extravagant gifts, but what they did want was a serene and intimate wedding. They were all to meet at Mackie’s Bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at seven that night.

Maize pulled out one of her favorite sundresses from her closet, a blue and white polka dot wrap dress that she paired with beige heels and a braided bun in her hair. Peter matched with her and wore blue slacks and a white Oxford shirt with tan loafers.

“Are you ready to go?” Peter asked Maize, the car keys to his cherry-red Audi in his hands.

“Absolutely.” Maize confirmed, reaching out for his hand and walking down with him to the garage.

They rolled down the windows as they drove along the highway into the city, excited and happy for Savannah and Arawn. As they entered the bar, they saw that the tables had been pushed aside and the chairs were lined up in a few rows, and they sat down next to Dike and Thor. It wasn’t long before the bar was full of old and new gods alike, and the clock chimed seven.

Savannah and Arawn walked up to the front of the small crowd, hand in hand. Arawn was wearing a navy blue suit and a white shirt with the first few buttons undone, and Savannah had her curly hair styled into enormous, flowy beach waves to complement her white lace suit jacket and skirt.

“Thank you all for joining us tonight at the very place our relationship began. We cannot wait to be together for as long as the Fates will allow us to be. Now, without further adieu,” Arawn introduced, and Hera rose from her seat and joined them upfront. After all, she wasn’t just the leader of the Assembly, she was the Greek goddess of marriage.

“Now, we could do this my way, or the typical way. You choose.” She asked them, which got a chuckle from the crowd.

“How about both?” Savannah suggested.

“Sure thing,” Hera responded, shifting gears to the important part of the ceremony. “I hereby impart on Arawn, the god of the underworld and of war, and Savannah, goddess of death-“

“Excuse me, what?!” Savannah interrupted. Hera immediately knew what she had done wrong.

“My God, didn’t we tell you, Savannah?! Yes, you’re the goddess of death, which is why you can talk to the spirits and see ghosts, I swear I sent this out in a memo-!” Hera recoiled.

“Just continue, we’ll figure this out later-“ Savannah spoke, trying to bounce back from the groundbreaking news she just received at her own wedding. After a moment’s breath, Hera picked up right where she left off.

“I hereby impart eternal devotion, honesty, faithfulness, confidence, passion, strength, determination, and dedication to this union until the universe is no more. Now, would you like to exchange vows?” She asked, and they nodded. Savannah went first.

“Ari, you see me for who I am, not as who I once was. You were my knight in shining armor from the day you rescued me, and you continue to rescue me when I don’t even know I need saving. You gave me my second chance at life, and I am so blessed that I get to spend the rest of it with you.”

Everyone in the room was smiling. Arawn followed her vows with his.

“Until I met you, I always thought I would be alone. I thought I liked it better when I was by myself. I thought solitude was the only choice. Then, the universe gave me you. Every millennium of isolation all led up to the moment I saw your face. Never again will I go another day missing out on being yours.”

They shared a soft and tender kiss as the gods and goddesses in the room clapped in celebration for them. The bar was theirs for the night, and it wasn’t long before the tables were moved back into their places, Ares and Posideon were playing pool, Thor was drinking, and the other gods and goddesses were in celebration. The newlyweds were chatting with everyone as they wandered through the bar and everything was well until the front door to Mackie’s swung open, and an enormous and shadowy raven flew into the room and didn’t stop until it reached Maize. The bar went silent, and everyone stopped in their places, waiting to see what would happen next.

Everyone could see the raven, but nobody knew what it was or where it came from, and it seemed to be that only Maize could hear the words it was speaking to her. It was the same voice that she had heard in all of her visions when she had blacked out, and that alarmed her. Now, it was a physical embodiment of a year’s worth of struggles and pain and confusion, hovering in front of her.

“Maize of Queens. Give up your powers now, or else face the wrath of Odin himself. Surrender now before it is too late.”

“Too late for what?! Who are you? What are you? How did you find me, how did you get here?”

The raven answered none of her questions.

“Do you surrender your godly powers to me?”

“Who are you? Who would I even surrender to? Why would I?”

“You do not deserve the powers you have. Your lineage is tainted. What is your answer? Do you refuse?”

“Yes, I refuse to surrender to you!” Maize clarified.

“Have it your way.” The raven answered. “Take a glimpse of what is coming to you for this blatant disrespect to me.”

Suddenly, Maize was having the most vivid and intense vision of her life. Before her, she saw an unfamiliar landscape; dark green mountains in the distance that were concealed with a thick gray fog, jagged rocks that dark waves crashed against, dewy grass underneath her feet and the entrance to a cave that had a seal before it.

The deep voice seemed to read her a poem before she fell out of her vision.

Lo, there do I see my father

Lo, there do I see my mother and my sisters and my brothers

Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning

Lo, do they call to me

They bid me to take my place among them

In the place where the brave may live forever.

Maize’s eyes shot open and she saw the bar scene in front of her, where the crowd of gods and goddesses stood in horror, wanting to know exactly what just happened. Thor was nowhere to be seen.

Peter pulled up for a chair for Maize to sit down in, and she was still searching for the raven, but it was gone from the bar. Everyone had questions, but she took one at a time.

“Maize, what did the raven say?”

“It was- it was a warning. It told me to surrender my powers or face the consequences, then it showed me a vision of a landscape and a seal and a cave and mountains and a deadly sea.”

“Did it say who it was, or anything else?”

“No, but it was the same voice I’ve heard in all my other visions.”

“Here, can you draw the seal?” Dike asked, handing Maize a bar napkin and a pen. She sketched everything she could remember, as well as the scene.

“This doesn’t look familiar to me, or frankly, to any of us,” Dike answered after passing the sketch around the room.

“Maybe Thor would know?” Arawn suggested.

“He’s gone. He disappeared when the raven came.”

“We can do this ourselves, then,” Dike spoke, despite the image not striking any memories in him.

“No, I just ruined this wedding and I should go, this seems to be a message for me only.”

“Maize, you didn’t ruin our wedding. We want to help you figure this out. We have an entire room of gods and goddesses here, and I’m sure if we looked a little deeper into it, we can figure this out. Now, let’s push the tables together, grab some more paper and pens, another round, and we can start figuring this out.” Arawn spoke, gathering the group together. Maize was still quite rattled, but Arawn’s confidence and calmness soothed her.

“Okay, so this is what you saw in the vision. What else happened? What did it say? It was talking to you.”

“It told me to surrender my powers to Odin or else, my lineage was tainted, the powers didn’t rightfully belong to me. It also read me a poem that went along the lines of ‘there do I see my father, there do I see my mother and my sisters and my brothers, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning, do they call to me. They bid me to take my place among them in the place where the brave may live forever’. I don’t know what any of that means.”

“That’s a great start, Maize.” Hera praised as Arawn wrote down the things the raven said to Maize.

“Are you sure it told you to surrender to Odin?” Dike asked.

“I’m sure.”

Dike pursed his lips and crossed his arms. He was putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

The room was only silent for a moment before Thor appeared in the middle of the room. His eyes were wild and full of fear.

“It’s my father.” He spoke breathlessly. “We’re in grave danger.”

“Thor, what are you talking about?” Dike asked, trying to understand what he meant. “What is this place, do you know?” He continued, reaching across the table to grab the napkin with the sketch on it and hand it to Thor.

“Yes, I know that place and I know it well.”

“Do you care to share with the rest of us?”

“I’d rather not, because this place means death for one or all of us.”

“Thor, then you have to share if we’re in grave danger. This is what Maize saw; she’s being led there. I won’t let anybody die on my watch. You have to tell us.”

“It’s Valhalla,” Thor stated to the group, then turned to Maize. His eyes pierced her soul. “And my father wants you there.”

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