“Valhalla? Like the hall of the dead? Viking heaven?” Maize questioned, astonished.
“That’s the one,” Thor answered, his tone sinking in sadness.
“Why on earth would Odin want me there?” Maize questioned, becoming more and more alarmed. Thor was never hesitant, and this was the only time he wasn’t looking Maize in the eyes. He was silent for an extended period of time.
“Thor. Not once have you ever held anything back from me. What’s happening?” Maize questioned softly. It was like everyone in the room knew something she did not.
“You were not my father’s choice to succeed me. He has been violently outspoken of the matter once he was informed of William’s program and the decision to indoctrinate you into the role.”
“He wants to kill me.”
“Simply put, yes.”
“So it’s a suicide mission, facing Odin?”
“Unfortunately.” Thor paused.
“Well,” Maize began with a breath. “Then it’s a good thing I came prepared to die. I mean, I’ve already done it once.”
The news had hit Maize like an earthquake, but she was withstanding the aftershock. Death was no longer a fear of hers. She knew that even in immortality, she was still destined to die. Maybe she wasn’t so far removed from her humanity than she had previously thought she had been. And at that moment, she was more human than she ever was, willingly giving herself up to the fight.
“It seems like we should get going, then. No sense in keeping Odin waiting.” Maize spoke to the room that was speechless. Maize walked out of the front door of the bar and tilted her head back to admire the New York sunset, the pastel clouds lingering at dusk, and she summoned Mjolnir. Thor came up behind her, putting his hand on her shoulder in a quiet and empowering embrace. Thor didn’t want this for her, and he didn’t want it for himself. But, she was doing exactly what a hero would do.
The rest of the wedding party joined them outside on the sidewalk, and in the time it took Maize to take a deep breath, Thor had pulled them all into a ring of golden light that lifted them up to Valhalla.
When the light faded, Maize was in her battle armor under a black sky, feet planted firmly on cracked lava rock, and unable to see further into the distance beyond the heavy fog and the mountains.
There was no more golden light.
Maize turned her head and looked over her shoulder back at Arawn, Savannah, Steve, Meaghan, and Thor. Their hearts were heavy, and their faces were long, knowing what was coming for Maize. Wordlessly, Maize began to move forward, one step at a time. She was leading in front, the group following behind her. After all, this was Maize’s battle to fight, and everyone else was there for support. There would come a time where she would have to be alone.
When the fog cleared and the group was at the base of the jagged mountains, there stood a guardian, fifteen feet tall with the skull of an ox, a heavy fur cloak and a rapier with its tip pointing downwards, the head bowed to the hilt of the sword. The lava rock below them had patterned grooves in it to form an unfamiliar Norse rune.
“Travelers,” The skull spoke, a deep and ancient voice resonating from the bone. “It is by no mistake you have found this place.”
“Einherjar, we ask you to grant us safe passage into Valhalla,” Thor spoke to the beast.
“Son of Odin, only the dead may enter Valhalla. A worthy sacrifice must be made, and only then may those of Norse blood enter.”
“What do you mean a worthy sacrifice?” Arawn spoke up from the back. Thor and Maize whipped around to meet his eyes in a panic. Einherjar answered.
“He who sheds his blood and gives his life for another in a most honorable way may open these gates to Valhalla.”
“I’ll do it,” Arawn spoke. Before anyone could even respond, the loosely made plan had been entirely derailed. Nobody was supposed to die, especially not Arawn.
He stepped forward, past Thor and Maize, to meet the empty gaze of the beast. Arawn was standing in the middle of the rune before he sunk to his knees and knelt before him. Savannah ran up and stood between the ancient being and her beloved, turning to him.
“Ari, you can’t do this. Please don’t do this. What are you thinking?”
“Sav, I’m the god of the dead. This is my duty. I spent my entire life trying to find my purpose, and I have finally figured it out. This is it.”
“You’re going to give up your life for Maize and Thor? Is this really what you plan on dying for?”
“Yes, my darling.” He spoke with a soft smile.
“I just found you and I don’t know how you can leave me so soon,” Savannah spoke with anger. “How could you do this to me?” She cried out, a tear streaming down her face.
Arawn reached up and cupped her cheeks in his hands and looked deeply into her eyes.
“My love, this is not goodbye. In fact, it’s far from it. You’re the goddess of the underworld, have you forgotten? I’ll be back soon. If I wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t be doing this right now. I could never leave you. Kiss me, Savannah.” Arawn explained.
He was asking Savannah to put every ounce of trust she had in him that she worked so hard to build. He knew he was asking for a lot, and in fact, he knew there was no guarantee he would be seeing her again. He was trusting himself as much as he expected her to trust him, but some part of him was more confident in this action than anything he had ever done, besides asking Savannah to marry him.
Savannah pressed her lips to his for one last time, one sweet embrace before the sacrifice.
Savannah stood back and noticed how calm Arawn was. Arawn laid down on the lava rock rune, and within a brief moment the beast had descended his rapier down onto Arawn. Slowly, his thick, dark red blood filled the ridges of the rune until it was complete, and the guardian of Valhalla stepped aside. The misty mountains parted, and a familiar golden light bathed them all.
Thor and Maize stood side by side, having to walk past the fallen god in order to enter Valhalla. There was no time to mourn. There was another battle that had to be won first.
The mountain gates closed behind them and they stood still, the figure of Odin appearing and approaching them from the distance.
“Thor, my son.” He spoke. Maize immediately recognized the voice; it was the raven.
“Odin.” She gasped. “It was you all along. The voice in my head, every time I had a vision, it was you. You showed me this.”
“Well, it took you this long to figure it out. Not everyone can be as clever, I suppose.” Odin remarked in a backhanded insult.
“Father, why have you done this? Why have you tormented us for months?” Thor asked. “We must put an end to this.”
“Son, you are right. I refuse to let William dictate the mortal that will rule Asgard. That is not his choice to make, and it is not his place, nor is it yours, to meddle in our royal lineage!”
“Have you found somebody more worthy than thee that stands before you, Father? Because I see nobody more worthy than she to rule Asgard. More so than you. You are no longer a leader. You have sat upon your golden throne and have done nothing for the good of Asgard for centuries.”
“You always thought you could do better than I could. You thought you could be a better ruler. You are so quick to criticize the one who raised you. But you don’t know what and who is good for Asgard. Brynhild, come.” Odin responded after chuckling. A lean, tan noble fighter with long, dark, curly hair came out from beyond and stood at attention behind Odin.
“Thor, this might not be the time, but why don’t I have a cool Norse name?” She muttered to the side.
“You do,” he responded. “Torunn. It means Thor and love. What a true leader should be. Loving.” Thor whispered before Odin reclaimed the narrative.
“Brynhild is the true Asgardian heir, Thor. She has royal lineage, unlike Maize, and the command of Asgard and the role of Thor was destined to be hers. She has trained her entire life for this battle, for the moment to take down the human that threatens her position on the throne.”
“Asgard is a people, a mindset, a moral code, not a place, father. And it seems to be that your moral code has been gone for some time. Have you forgotten the massacre of the Valkyrie? That alone has made you unfit for the throne and unfit to choose who is next to rule Asgard. You have chosen somebody with the same ideology as you, father, and I refuse to let the Asgardian people face such violence again. This shall be the last violence our people shall ever see.”
“Violence, son? Is that a challenge?”
“Yes, Odin. It is.”
“So mote it be, son. I thought you may have been wise and level-headed for once and simply let Brynhild ascend. But we shall fight, and I am sorry to see it come to this.”
“I am not,” Thor spoke before striking the first blow with Mjolnir.
Maize remembered the first thing that Thor had said to her. Do what is right, not what is easy.
It would have been easy for Thor to forfeit the fight to his father, but that wasn’t the right thing to do. He believed that what he was doing was right, and more than anything, he believed in Maize.
Maize stepped into the battle, engaged with Brynhild and her spear. She had obviously been expertly trained since birth since it was Odin’s plan all along to have her on the throne instead of Maize. But, Maize refused to fail. She had a lot to fight for and she refused to succumb. Maize used her lightning attacks and hand-to-hand defenses against the warrior before her. Brynhild had the technique, but she didn’t have the will, the motivation to fight for what was right like Maize and Thor had. She was fighting to fight, and that put her at a disadvantage. She was simply following orders, doing what she was told.
Maize had a purpose.
She wasn’t just fighting for the throne. She was fighting because Thor’s life depended on it, and he had given her everything.
Maize ducked out of the way of the spear coming towards her, and she attempted to disarm Brynhild with no success. Thor tossed her the hammer, to which she caught effortlessly, and used it against Brynhild, knocking her to the ground with one blow to the abdomen. However, it only made her skip a breath, and she was up on her feet again and had regained her footing in a matter of seconds. Maize used the hilt of Mjolnir to block another spear attack, giving her time to duck away. Maize swung the hammer once more, upwards towards Brynhild’s chin, causing blood to spatter at Maize’s feet. Brynhild’s jaw had been broken, and that bought Maize and Thor time.
Unfortunately, Odin took Maize’s moment of vulnerability to strike an attack of strength against her, grabbing her by the neck and tossing her across Valhalla. Maize landed with her full weight onto her side, causing her to cough up blood. Odin’s heavy golden boots stomped towards her and towered over her menacingly.
“You will not defeat me. You will not survive.”
Maize laughed, blood dribbling from her mouth and nose.
“Odin, I’ve survived death once before. I will survive you.”
Maize crawled up to face Odin once again, summoning her godly strength to push him away and disorient him just in time to see Brynhild and Thor battling it out. She was stronger than Thor had originally calculated, and with Odin’s help, Thor was quickly becoming weaker. Maize pushed herself between them and tried to divert Brynhild away from Thor. Maize was able to grab the spear with her bare hands and snap the staff in half, using Brynhild’s own weapon against her and ruining it. Maize slashed Brynhild across the cheek, blood gushing from her face further than her broken jaw. Seeing this, Odin tossed his spear to Brynhild as he was in the middle of continuing his fight with Thor.
While Thor was distracted with fighting his father, Brynhild dodged around Maize and came upon Thor, jumping onto his back and raising the spear over her head. She brought down Odin’s weapon in an arc. Brynhild plunged her javelin into Thor’s heart, pushing it deeper into his chest after the initial puncture. Maize screamed out in protest and Thor grunted in anguish, falling to his knees.
Brynhild slid off Thor’s back and joined Odin at his side. Maize had abandoned the fight for a moment to be at Thor’s side, tears immediately streaming down her face.
“Thor, no, no, no. Please don’t go. This can’t be it. I need you. I always needed you, Thor. Please, please, please. I can’t do this without you.”
“Torunn, the beautiful and strong. I have taught you everything you need to rule Asgard. You will win this fight. I will be with you always. You have made me so proud. You are an honorable hero. You don’t need me. Remember the Pegasus hair and the red ribbon. We will meet again, do not cry, fierce warrior. I will always be a part of you.” Thor spoke, his voice fading into a whisper before a blinding blue light escaped from his chest, eyes, mouth, nose, and hands.
When the light had disappeared and all that was left was Thor’s still body, Maize had remained. There was still half a battle to be won, but she stood up feeling energized and full of power. Her hair had turned an icy white and her veins underneath her translucent skin had turned black, forming shapes and runes that were tattoo-like and gave her all the power she would ever need.
Turning to Odin and to Brynhild, Maize summoned a bolt of lightning that had enough power to turn the earth to ash. It was balled up in the control of Maize’s hands.
“Odin, you did not deserve Thor, nor did you deserve Asgard. Neither do you deserve a warrior’s death. You shall perish for your iniquities.”
Maize turned to Brynhild.
“Brynhild, you are no noble warrior. You stood on the side of malevolence and killed the most honorable god there was. You have no place in the true Asgard. Prepare to die alongside the one you sacrificed your honor for.”
With one hearty blow, Maize directed the lightning at Odin and Brynhild, obliterating the pair into nothingness.
Valhalla was silent.
No longer was it a battleground, but its true landscape was revealed to Maize. Odin’s rule had oppressed Asgard along with the other Norse realms. Now that he was dead, the spirits were free to celebrate once again in Valhalla. The spirits of the fallen warriors began to rise, and Maize felt enveloped in love and light.
“Praise Torunn! Our new Queen!” The spirits chanted and repeated. Maize couldn’t stop herself from crying.
Just like Arawn whose purpose ended up being death, Maize had finally found her purpose. She had been so upset that this was her role, that she never had a choice in the matter of being a god, but now she understood what it was all for. These spirits would not be free without her. The entire Nine Realms would still be under Odin’s oppressive rule.
Maize quietly slipped out of the celebration and back out of the mountain gates of Valhalla. Having only taken a few steps out onto the lava rock, the scene before her unchanged, but her fellow gods waiting for her.
They saw that Thor wasn’t with her. They knew what must have happened. They surrounded the god with support and love, knowing the battle was finished, but at the ultimate cost.
All was quiet.
Everything was still.
Maize looked out onto the horizon, tears still flowing down her cheeks. They all knew what was coming. It was almost Maize’s time to go.
After a long and mournful silence, Maize turned to face Meaghan, Savannah, Steve, and the others. She summoned her hammer and held it by her side.
“I have something greater than myself to guard now, it seems. Asgard is waiting for me just beyond the sunset.”
“Promise us you’ll come to visit sometime back down on earth, okay?” Meaghan said, her voice choked up. “You know… if you’re not too busy ruling the realms.” She chuckled, trying to bring light to the situation.
Maize hugged Meaghan tightly. “I promise I’ll be back to visit. I know that you’ll have it all under control here, but if you ever need me, I’ll be here no matter what.”
“I know. I know.” She smiled. “Stay safe. Take care of yourself out there, Maize.”
“You too, Meaghan. I love you.”
It was soon that the group was going their three separate ways. Maize was headed across the galaxy to Asgard. Savannah would be going to the underworld and she would be taking Arawn with her to be reunited. Meaghan and Steve were heading back to base camp where they would continue what William started.
Maize took a deep breath and lifted Mjolnir high into the sky, raised above her head, letting it take her home to Asgard. Before Meaghan could even look back, Maize was already gone.
The hardest part of leaving is letting go.
Being willing to start the journey all over again is even harder.
But an end cannot exist without a new beginning, and for Maize, it laid just beyond the horizon.
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