Ryan came to.
His chest felt heavy and his vision was a blur.
He could make out the table across from his room; he could definitely make out the light that flooded in through the open window
Did you open that, mum?
And he could feel the breeze on his exposed feet that stuck out the side of the bed.
Had someone woke me? He wondered, rolling on his back to face his bedroom door, expecting to see Eira.
No one came.
As he sat up in bed, he felt a dull pain crisscross against his chest. As if someone had held the handle of a…knife…against his chest tightly.
That’s when his eyes fell upon the item resting on the bedside table. It was a piece of parchment, faded yellow.
Ryan swung his legs out of bed and scooped up the parchment, his eyes scanning the jet-black ink.
The writing seemed feminine, he noted, as he began the first line.
I have been summoned by my All-Father to
Seek out a new soul.
Please forgive my absence, I
Shall return shortly.
In the meantime, training
Resumes as normal. Do see
Battle Mistress Mist if you require
Rubbing his chest where it still felt constricted, Ryan re-reads the letter.
A new soul.
Does that mean her loyalty now belongs to this newcomer? Or do we share? Or…
Ryan dismissed the thought. He had to get dressed.
Ryan found Mist standing to the sides of the large empty field. Around them, men and women sparred, their grunts echoing across the field.
Ryan looked to his left, then to his right.
The field he was standing on was as large, if not larger, than the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne.
In the distance he could see another group of gathered warriors, their cries echoing back down to him.
As he stood in the shadow of Valhalla, still stretching inward from the morning sun, he watched the woman and man spar. The woman, a fellow warrior Ryan noted, swerved to the right and out of the man’s swing, meeting the attack with a fierce jab of her elbow.
With a cry, the man fell back on his ass. The woman laughed and cracked her neck.
All Ryan could think of was that he could never fight like that, like her.
“You are the one Eira brought recently.” Came the stern voice beside him.
Ryan turned in the direction of the voice, only seeing Mist, her back straight, hands behind her back rigidly, as she regarded the field.
“I am. Uh, Ryan. Ryan K-“
“You look concerned.”
Mist’s head moved in his direction, her body staying perfectly still.
“Well, I’m not a fighter, I guess. The last fight I was in was when I was eight. I…”
“All this can be taught. What matters…is the spirit. Which is why you are here…”
Ryan wasn’t a fighter. He had avoided any of that. The only fights he had been in was any high school jock picking on him as a teen, in which they did most of the punching. Ryan always took it. He didn’t know how else to react.
Anything after high school were verbal confrontations, defused with words or separation.
The last fight, his fourth physical fight in his lifetime, ended his life.
“Remember the past. Acknowledge it, even. But move forward, strengthen yourself.”
“Do you re….”
Mist was watching him closely, her deep blue eyes intense and focused.
She remained stiff, never faltering, never relaxed.
“Not every fighter, not every Valkyrie recalls their life. Some have fragments, some grow consumed by it, and some choose to forget. I choose to remember what we are fighting for. What I am fighting for.”
Mist turned her gaze from him and bowed as warriors approached Mist and bowed themselves, before beginning their duel.
“In another life, I was took part in the Marines. My squad featured some of the fiercest warriors I have ever met, some of them were even chosen to serve the All-Father along with me.”
There was a ghost of her smile on her face.
“Líf was one of them. “
Líf stood thirty metres away on the field, fighting against another Valkyrie. From where Ryan stood, she was a blur.
“My life would come to end earlier than hers, however. Amidst liberating Kuwait, something searing hot-“
Mist’s face drew into a scowl as she spat out the word hot. Her eyes became fierce.
“Clipped my neck. I woke up her. Before the All-Father and Mother themselves.”
“And you remembered?”
Ryan asked, his mind racing with thoughts.
“Not at first. The All-Mother spent some time guiding me on what they were trying to achieve. After the first few months, the dreams came. And after a while, so did the memories. Now…”
Mist turned to face Ryan once more. “I choose to remember. I just do not let it control me…”
She turned back to face the field, raising her hand in the air.
Líf, who had beaten her opponent in the spar, saw the signal and headed towards the two of them.
“Ragnarök is coming, Ryan. We need all you can give to us.”
Ryan felt a lump lodge in his throat as Líf approached. She fell on one knee.
“No need of formalities, Líf. Care to spar with this gentlemen here?”
Líf’s golden eyes fell upon Ryan and her face lit up in a smirk that was strangely charming.
“Gladly, old friend.”
As Líf cracked her neck, Ryan gulped.
Líf beat Ryan, to be sure. By the time they broke for lunch, his buttocks were sore from falling over and his legs were aching from practicing the stiff defensive stance.
Yet through all that, Líf never grew impatient. She encouraged him, helped him up where he fell. Gave him pointers on reacting to her blows.
Despite all this, she did not hold back her blows, landing several hits that Ryan could tell would welt by the morning.
By the evening, Líf left Ryan at the entrance to his bedroom with a formal bow. She had asked if she would be needed for the evening, but Ryan politely decline, causing her eyes to darken and her brow to frown. Regardless, she bowed again and continued on down the hall.
When Ryan collapsed on his bedroom, he could feel the familiar dull ache of his chest. It was still tight from the morning, hanging around with that familiar dull ache.
It didn’t take long for sleep to find him.
The following morning, Ryan sat by himself in the great hall, around a table that smelled of mead. It was too early in the morning for him for mead, however, so he settled on a coffee, hoping for a caffeinated boost to the system.
Eira was still absent. Kára too, he noticed. Both must’ve been given the task of accompanying a new soul (or souls) on their journey to Valhalla.
When the doors to Valhalla creaked open, silencing the music and the hall itself, Ryan joined everyone’s head in turning to see who was arriving.
A group of Valkyries stepped forward, their soul either standing beside them, or behind them. Ryan tried to count as they stepped forward and got as far as ten before he saw Eira emerge, walking beside another woman outfitted in a pale grey dress. The woman brushed the dirty blonde hair out of her eyes as she looked around the room, her eyes widening.
Eira searched the room, her face in a frown.
It was only a matter of time before her eyes found Ryan, sending chills up his spine for reasons unknown.
Was it that she found him amongst the crowd? Or that he was thinking that this new woman might be Eira’s new focus?
Ryan hoped the coffee had the answer and would provide him with it shortly after the caffeine boost.
Eira didn’t make her way over to him, Ryan noticed. Rather, she stood in a line amongst the Valkyries, bowing her head.
Ryan’s eyes moved to the front of the great hall, where Odin sat, his piercing grey eye looking out amongst the newly arrived warriors.
In stepped more warriors and Valkyries, and more still. Ryan stood watching, cradling his coffee, thinking on what Eira said about the size of Valhalla and how many warriors it can hold.
Amongst the crowd, Ryan spotted Kára step through the doors, walking with a posture as perfect as Mist.
Beside her was a man.
The man who had ended Ryan’s life.
Ryan’s chest began to ache.
The End of the Chosen arc.
And now, some notes:
For some reason, I have designed Valhalla like a comic book, divided up amongst several arcs – with one leading into the next and continuing little plot points that I had been building to.
This chapter acts as the end to the introductory saga (as a draft anyway!) with more to come in the near future.
I don’t know what to do with this series just yet. I have, as of March 2018, 25 chapters planned of this story, characters and their relationships and I am considering a novel, or just putting all this away in a box in my house because maybe it’s not good enough.
I mean, maybe it isn’t? Maybe it just needed to be written. It is still a draft, one I will no doubt be rewriting to the end of time, but being the perfectionist anxious bugger I am, I don’t know how skilled or entertaining I am of a writer.
In any case, this is going on hiatus for now.