Valhalla, Ch. 8 – Rituals

Previously on VALHALLA

Ryan and the new souls arrive in the great hall of Valhalla, where
they become accustomed to the strange and erotic rituals of the Valkyries
and the fighters awaiting Ragnarök. 

Meanwhile, Eira has to obey an order from the All-Father, one that might
prove to unsettle her new friendship with Ryan.

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven |

CHAPTER EIGHT

RITUALS

 

There was something comforting about falling through the darkness…
Ryan came to, bolting upright. Cool air rushed down his lungs and chilled his body.
He realised he was panting as he came back into the world of Asgard, free-falling from the depths of his subconscious.
His vision was blurry with sleep, his mind foggy from the fall.
“You’ll be here for Dad’s birthday, right?”
The voice made Ryan freeze from where he sat. It came from behind him, barely audible. But he knew that voice anywhere.
Ryan turned to look over his shoulder. His mother stood there, wearing her old turquoise sundress she wore around the house to relax in. Her eyes, marked with crow’s feet, lit up at the recognition that he could see her.
“We haven’t seen you in so long, son.” His mother said, with a slight hint of eagerness to it.
“Mum?”
Ryan’s heart kicked into overdrive.
“Is that really you?”
“If you can’t come, I understand. Your father and I know that money can be tight. Travel is expensive.”
Ryan felt his head shake ever so slightly. “No. No I manage…”
There came a knock at Ryan’s door, causing Ryan to whip his head back in its direction.
Ryan Kennedy? A voice on the other side said quietly.
Eira, Ryan thought. He looked from the door to the corner of his room. His mum wasn’t there anymore.

As Eira stepped into the room, chills slithered up Ryan’s spine.
What the actual hell?
“Do I disturb?” Eira said, catching Ryan’s face drained of colour.
Ryan waved his hand in the air. “No No. Not at all.”
In Eira’s hands was a large plate consisting of crisp sausages, salty bacon, scrambled eggs, grilled mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Beside the mushrooms, a glass of orange was balanced carefully.
“Prima normally does her breakfast rounds to those who wish their breakfast to be in bed, but I thought I would deliver yours myself.”
Eira put the plate down beside Ryan carefully. He could instantly smell the food, causing his stomach to rumble.
“Does that mean you like to watch me eat…?”
Ryan delivered this in a manner that would’ve – should’ve – indicated he was being dry in a humorous way, but Eira looked at him with those large grey eyes blankly.
Instead of laughing, she stood there, wings and arms tucked behind her.
“Uh, never-mind. Thank you”.
“Are you feeling alright, Ryan Kennedy?”
“Please, uh, just Ryan. I keep telling you that.”
“I am sorry. Have I offended?”
Eira cast her eyes down. Ryan’s stomach sank further. “No no, not at all. It’s just…casual, yeah? I mean, I’d prefer it..”
Eira nodded, still keeping her eyes cast down.
Ryan cleared his throat as he cut a piece off his sausage. He wasn’t sure if he was hungry after seeing his mum
(It was just a dream)
but he knew he needed to eat something.

Ryan looked at Eira as she moved her gaze to the ground, her eyes darting as she went deep into thought – but what was she thinking about?
When he couldn’t find the answer, he put the bit of sausage in his mouth. It was still hot, and the taste of grease and meat flooded his mouth at once. He was careful, in the presence of Eira, not to look like a complete slob and let the meat juices fall from his mouth.
In fact, the mere presence of Eira standing in front of him as he ate, coupled with the appearance of his mother in the corner of his bedroom, create an anxious ache in his stomach that wouldn’t leave him alone.
If you can’t come, I understand.
His mum seemed so real, as if he could have reached out and touched her.
And I would never be able to come to another birthday again came a thought that brought with it a pang of sadness.
He didn’t feel like eating then, and pushed his food onto the bed, much to the curiosity of Eira, whose eyes moved from the full plate to Ryan.
Eat” Eira said. “You need your strength.”
“Why? What are we doing today?”
What was life in Valhalla like? Surely, they didn’t train or day and party all night. And where are the books or televisions? What do people do here?
“Eira? What is there to do in Asgard anyway?”
Eira’s face lit up in a smile at the question.
The sight stumped Ryan momentarily. Eira, though certainly passionate, had been a quiet one so far in their time together. This moment was one of few times he had seen her smile.
“Why there’s the Fensalir forest behind the walls of Valhalla, that’s to our south. To the east of Valhalla, there is the Djúpr Valley. There’s something so magnificent about those canyons. I like to go there and meditate sometimes.”
Eira had sat herself on the bed on Ryan’s right. The morning sun that filtered in through the bedroom windows lighted her grey eyes.
“You meditate?” Ryan found himself asking.
Eira nodded. “Mhm! I recite my prayer and then listen to the cosmos. I can feel the energy all around us.”

The notion seemed beautiful to Ryan. He had never thought much of meditation, his life consisted of getting up, working, coming home, eating. Did he lose part of himself along the way.
Noticing Eira was looking at him, he filed the thought away in his mind and set the plate of breakfast aside.
“Give me a tour of this place?” He asked.
Eira led the way.

***

Eira led and Ryan followed.
Valhalla was an enormous structure that Ryan was starting to believe was just a labyrinth of stone and rooms belonging to warriors from all parts of history and from all over the world.
Eira told Ryan what she knew of the place – Valhalla consists of 540 rooms and was originally designed by the two tribes of Gods and Goddesses – the Aesir and Vanir – for a place to come to rest. Soon, conflict arose between the two groups – a conflict that sparked the Aesir-Vanir war.
Eira would not go into the specifics about the war, except to say that ultimately the peace treaty between the two groups has lasted to this day.
Ryan walked beside Eira mystified by the stories but also feeling out of his element. At one point, during Valhalla’s gardens, he had to stop because he was feeling lightheaded.
Something from his past life – that was what it was now, a past life, he is dead. Gone. Finito. – came back to him. A childhood pet, the smell of coffee, his mother with her warm eyes.
With all this came one alarming thought – what did your life amount to? What did it accomplish? And will whatever role he plays in Ragnarök make up for whatever he didn’t amount to in his other life.
He wanted to ask Eira these questions, if only just to get her opinion, but she was in her element leading him on a tour.
Only…
How many of these has she done before? How many people has she led through these halls?Walking back through the halls of Valhalla, chanting began to light up the room. As the two took a few more steps, the chanting grew louder.
It came from a room to their right and, as Ryan drew near, he could make out several voices all at once, speaking in the old language.
He stood at the edges of the doorway and peeked his head in, so as not to disturb whatever ritual was taking place.
Ten Valkyries knelt in the nude, their bodies forming a U shape that curved around a sole nude Valkyrie that stood before them, her arms held up outstretched and her legs parted.
The sole nude Valkyrie, hair kissed by fire, deep blue eyes – stood before an altar lit with candles from one side to another.
Her face was blank, her eyes focusing ahead. Not once did she glance at Ryan.
Standing behind the red-haired Valkyrie was another Valkyrie, with silver hair.
This Valkyrie held her hands behind her back and observed quietly.
Ryan watched the interaction, his mouth agape in fascination while his mind jumped to the nearest logical point – that he was watching a documentary about old tribes he found on YouTube late at night.
“This one is reciting her intiation” Eire said in a hushed whisper.
Ryan looked from Eira back to the red-haired Valkyrie in the centre of the room.
“Initiation?”
“Upon arrival into Asgard, each Valkyrie, should they consent to the role, begins her initiation, followed by her training.”
“Wait – everyone trains?”
“Of course! A Valkyrie must understand not only come to completely understand herself but her place in the cosmos. Awareness, control of pain, discipline. These are things we are trained in.”
A beat passed, then Eira went on. “Each Valkyrie negotiates her contract and terms of her collar to the All-Father. But…there are similarities to each of our training. In the end, this ritual is only the beginning..”
The chanting died down and the room fell silent.
Now, only the redhead Valkyrie spoke, in a shaky, barely audible voice. Ryan couldn’t understand what was being said in the old tongue, but the redhead seemed to grow more confident with each word she uttered.
“Come” Eira said to Ryan. “We have more to see today.”
Eira led and Ryan followed.

***

 

For his first day after arriving at Valhalla, Ryan observed the training process, along with a handful of souls.
These souls sat on the side lines as Eira led a demonstration into training, sparring with another Valkyrie named Líf, whose eyes were golden and who seemed to have a prickly attitude.
Back and forth Líf and Eira danced, their wooden swords smacking against each other amidst their grunts.
The two Valkyries moved gracefully, matching each other blow for blow. Eira was the quicker Valkyrie, by the time Líf had finished her move, Eira was onto her next attack.
Ryan watched in awe, his mind stumped at how this quiet, soft spoken woman that had led him through the forest was now darting and twisting and bending backwards to avoid the Valkyrie named Líf’s moves.

When Eira swung the legs out from under Líf and pinned her wooden sword to her throat, Mist cleared her throat.
“A fine demonstration, Valkyries.”
Eira and Líf found their feet, bowed at each other and then at Mist.
“Fighters as well as lovers!” Mist barked. “The best of the best are here among you, warriors! Soon you too will learn from them!”
Learn to do that? Ryan thought. That would take years to learn all that.
He watched as Eira and Líf stood by either side of Mist.
There, in that line of Valkyries, Ryan saw Kára.
If Valkyries had a special sense of knowing when someone was looking at them, Ryan didn’t know about it. But when Kára looked his way instantly and smiled, something in his stomach twisted.

Training broke for lunch, where grilled chicken and vegetables were served, as well as creamy mead and dessert, the likes of which Ryan has never tasted before – not in his over lifetime anyway.
Training would resume after lunch again until dinner, in which a three-course meal of the finest meats and vegetables were served to the point Ryan was feeling exhausted and stuffed.
Eira was there with him all through the day, answering his questions, helping him practice his fighting stance and swings.
Occasionally, with a glint of shyness to her eye, she’d ask if he would like to engage in intercourse.
Still feeling embarrassed after losing control and smacking her, Ryan found the words to politely decline the offer – and stressed his gratitude all the while.
When the hour grew late, Eira escorted him back to his chambers.
Part worried what Eira would get up to in his absence (though he didn’t understand why), part worried an apparition of his mother would appear in his room, her warm eyes acting as tiny lights that would peer at him in the darkness from the corner of his room, it took Ryan a while to find sleep. He tossed and turned and turned and tossed.
Tomorrow, he would have to observe fighting, maybe even spar himself. The thought curdled the food in his stomach.
For now, he had to try and sleep.

To be continued…

 

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Valhalla, Ch. Five – ‘The Passage’

Previously on VALHALLA:

Heading home after work one night, Ryan Kennedy intervenes in a mugging-in-progress and is killed. He wakes up in Asgard, realm of the Norse Gods, and befriends a quiet Valkyrie by the name of Eira, who introduces him to rituals and customs of the Valkyries, the Gods and the souls on their way to Valhalla.

Together, they board a longship that will take them straight to the shores of Valhalla.

CHAPTER FIVE

 

THE PASSAGE

 

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Ryan could smell the ocean as the longship made its voyage to Valhalla. The salt that drifted up to him from below tickled his nostrils. He stood on the side of the longship, resting his hand on wood of the railing that was smooth and polished.
The dizzying aspect that screeched this was all a dream did not leave his mind; rather he looked upon the sunset of his second day in Asgard and felt a daze drift over him.
It came back to him then.
His first kiss as a sixteen year old with Susie Parker from Religion. They kissed in the bedroom she shared with her little sister, while they were alone. Nervousness slithered its way through his stomach.

“It never ends” Came a voice, knocking Ryan back into Asgard, all these years later.
He turned to see her approach, just as her silver wings faded out of view, tucking themselves back behind her.
“What does?”
“The ocean. There is no end to it.”
“How can that be?”
Eira’s matter-of-fact face, calm and serene, regarded him for a moment, before her eyes left him to look upon the water.
“It is not like that in Miðgarðr, is it?”
Ryan shook his head and turned to look at her. Suddenly that serene expression of hers gave way to something sad and unspoken.
“Do you remember anything about your life, Eira?” Ryan found him asking.
A frown formed across Eira’s face as she stood glancing at the ocean.
“I…remember….ice. Everywhere.”
“You mean snow?”
This time Eira glanced from the ocean up to Ryan, her eyes slipping back into that quizzical look.
“Snow.” Eira said flatly. “Snow….is that the word? We don’t get that here.”
“Is Ice all you remember?”
Eira frowned and looked out across the ocean again, only nodding silently.
Silence fell between them, giving way to the sound of the longship cruising against the water beneath it.

Ryan looked ahead of him and shielded the rays of sunset from his eyes as he gazed upon something in the distance.
When Eira saw him squinting ahead, she followed his line of sight to what loomed far beyond in the distance – Valhalla.
“What happens to me when we get there?” Ryan found himself asking.
“You train with the rest of the souls, as best you can.”
“And you? What happens to you and I? Does that mean our….courtship….ends?”
Eira opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Did Valkyries shrug? Ryan wondered. Did she even know the answer to his question?
“You should get some rest, Ryan Kennedy. There is a long effort waiting for you on the ‘morrow.”
The sadness that Ryan thought he saw earlier crept back over his face. He wanted to ask why and what was on her mind, but the sheer suggestion that he should sleep brought fatigue to the forefront of his mind.
Eira extended her arms across to the railing and stood silently watching Valhalla in the distance. As she did so, Ryan once again caught a glimpse of the pale scarring on her upper arms – thin white slits that seemed to stretch up to the palms of her hand.
He remembered he had seen these markings before, shortly before his arrival to this realm, but what had happened to her?
He stood for a moment, hoping she’d turn and say something, maybe even reveal she was telepathic and answer his question – but nothing happened. To her, it was almost like he was already gone.

Mulling over this behaviour, he said his goodnights to her and made his way to the cabin Eira had directed him to upon arriving on the ship.
Around him, creatures of all shapes and sizes he didn’t recognise sang in a song he couldn’t understand.
Mead splashed on his tunic as he passed, turning on the side to move between two Elves, skin as pale as the moon and eyes blood red, and pardoning himself as he went.
The wooden hallway ahead of him was empty, dimly lit by the lanterns on the wall above him, evenly spread apart from one another.
He moved quietly through the corridor, ignoring a creeping sense of sudden dread and ignoring the sudden urge to break the silence by clearing his throat.
From a few doors ahead of him came the sound of voices, low and hushed.
As Ryan crept closer, he could hear it was a woman. No – not one woman, a few. They were chanting, in time, again and again, as if in prayer.
Stopping just at the door from he room, he glanced inside.
The room within was low lit with the lanterns that sat above the doors in this corridor. Nine Valkyries, nude and head bowed, knelt in the centre of the room, gathered in lines of three in front of a shrine made of wood.
The shrine itself was surrounded by candles and bore a resemblance to three triangles, interlocking with one another.
“The Valknut” Came an equally hushed voice from behind Ryan.
Ryan turned around to see Kára leaning against the doorway, her dark eyes looking back and forth at him.

“It is the prayer given to us by The All-Father, meant to remind us that we are always with him and He with us.”
Ryan looked from Kára back to the room full of Valkyries chanting alongside one another.
“As we are His, we are to recite it in the nude morning, noon and evening. Though some, as you see, choose to do it together”
Ryan turned back to Kára and kept his voice. “You don’t?”
“I choose to keep to myself” Said Kára, a smirk forming across her lips.
“Say, walk me to my cabin?”

 

 

***

 

“How are you enjoying my baby sister?” Kára asked Ryan, as they walked along the corridors.
“I don’t…I mean, the whole sex thing is…”
“Not for you?”
“It is! I just…would rather…getting to know someone before, you know?”
Kára grinned. “I get it. You wouldn’t be the first man or woman in all these years to feel queer about it. But my sister is treating you well, right?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Good. Valkyries – they can be reassigned should you desire. No fault of theirs or yours.”
Ryan shifted uncomfortably as they walked, hoping Kára wouldn’t notice. Her eyes were ahead.
Kára was dressed in grey silk dress, her silver wings tucked behind to avoid dragging on each side of the walls.
“I do have a question though.” Ryan asked, breaking the lull in conversation.
“Yes, Ryan Kennedy?”
Is she your sister?”
Kára giggled at the answer. She bowed her head and held her hand to her mouth to suppress the giggle.
When she was done, she flashed Ryan a charming smile.
Enchanting was the word that instantly came to his mind.
“Why, we’re all sisters, Ryan.” Kára replied. “I just call Eira my baby sister because she’s the newest to our ranks – Ah! Here we are!”

Kára stopped in front of the door that led to her chambers. She opened wide the door, revealing within a room covered in the light of the moon.
Against the wall to the right of the room, facing horizontally was a feather bed, wrapped in the finest fabrics. To the left was a wooden table and chairs.
“For reflection” Kára replied, catching Ryan’s glance. “Speaking of…”
Kára stood in the doorway and reached behind her, smirking as she did.
With a gentle tug from behind, her grey silk dress fell to the floor, revealing her nude body.
Her body was covered in ink that slinked up her arms and across her torso, while piercings covered each nipple, her belly button and her clitoris.
Kára’s eyes did not leave Ryan. Instead, they watched him carefully for any kind of reaction. Even the smirk from her lips was spreading to her eyes. They glistened with mischief.

“Are you sure I can’t be of service to you, Mister Ryan?” She said, her hands brushing the curves of her breasts on their way down to the thin strip of dark hair that covered her mound.
Ryan felt his face burn. “You don’t have a soul of your own to look after?”
“I do! She has found herself into a drunken stupor in her own quarters – typical of a Dwarf, if you’ll allow me to be outspoken..”
She bowed her head at this.
Ryan didn’t know what to say, so he nodded.
“So again I ask you – Are you sure I can’t be of service to you?”
When Ryan nodded, sensing discomfort pierce his stomach, Kara’s eyes seemed to lose her mischief in a heartbeat.
“As you wish. Good Evening.”
Kára closed the door gently, leaving Ryan standing in the corridor alone.

 

***

 

Despite feeling tired when he rested his head on his own feather quilt bed, he did not find sleep quickly. Rather, he tossed and turned, unable to adjust to the rhythm of the ship rocking.

He laid in bed, staring up at the wooden ceiling, and wondered how his family were, if time moved the same on Earth as it did in Asgard.

When he thought of his mother and his father despairing at his death, his stomach churned.

And he began to cry.

 

To be continued…

Valhalla, Ch. 3 – The First Night In Asgard

Need to catch up? Here’s Chapter One and Two!

CHAPTER THREE

 

THE FIRST NIGHT IN ASGARD

 

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The sight of the orgy made Ryan forget his footing.
He tripped over his feet.
To his surprise, Eira caught him lightning-fast by the elbow, looking at him with those same curious eyes that fell upon him when he refused her body.
The two regarded one another a moment, before a shriek coming from the distance tore Ryan back towards the bonfire.
The towering inferno lit up the clearing around it, painting the people celebrating – celebrating what, Ryan thought, around it.
People whooped and hollered, moaned and groaned, a mix of noises all contorting together around the fire.
Ryan had never seen anything like it in his entire life.
He’d never been to a strip club, wasn’t interested in a dance or watching, it felt impersonal.
And orgies wasn’t something he’d ever thought about joining in on, he was more a one-on-one interaction.
As if reading his mind, Eira piped up.
She was walking in front of him, raising her voice so he could hear from behind her.
“As I mentioned earlier, the Valkyries, every so often, like to hold a celebration for the new souls.”
Something to Ryan’s right caught his eye and he looked to see a raven-haired woman sitting on the ground nude, with her back against a plank of wood and her legs raised above her head, held in place by rope tied back to the plank itself.
Upon closer inspection, Ryan saw the raven haired beauty was wearing a necklace featuring what appeared to silver decorated in the shape of wings.

 

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Her body was decorated in tribal tattoos, black flames curled up her arms and across her stomach.
Between her legs was another woman, her legs stretched out on the ground beneath her, her head buried into the raven woman’s crotch.
Eira saw Ryan had stopped and walked back to see what he was looking at.
“Oh. Would you like to watch?” She asked him, matter-of-factly. Not a hint of a tone in her voice suggested she was excited or jealous the women had Ryan’s eye. To Eira, it was another day.
“Perhaps join?”
Ryan instinctively covered his crotch.
“No” came out of him, and the raven-haired woman looked over at him.
He felt his cheeks burning, his stomach sinking. What on earth is this place, he wondered.
“Very well.”
Eira continued onwards and Ryan followed, passing a man engaging a woman in doggy-style to his right, his groans echoing out amongst the crowd.
A woman passed by him to his right, naked and wearing an ornament on her head that appeared to be made out of wood. It was ablaze, trailing smoke into the night sky.
The woman, her body painted in tribal tattoos, danced around the fire, holding her arms high in the air.
How many people were here, wondered Ryan.
He began to count, dotting the people with a wave of his finger in the air.
He gave up when he counted fourteen.

“Eira?” He asked when they came to a stop at an empty spot by the bonfire.
“Mm?”
“What….what…”
“I told you. Valkyrie’s are slaves. We, according to the All-Father, live to serve as slaves.”
“Is that just sexually?”
Ryan could feel the heat of the bonfire on his face, could smell that smoky wood-burning smell that he could associate with his youth, hanging around the bonfire with his mates and drinking.
The thought hit him hard. Mates.
He had lost touch with his mates from high school, hadn’t really made closer ones in the jobs he had been in. But still…would they mourn him?
“It is sexually, it is anything the new soul desires.”
“And this is something you’ve done, as well?”
As soon as Ryan said it, he braced himself for ridicule. He knew it sounded stupid, had felt it sounded stupid, but just had to ask, was curious to ask.
Eira just regarded him with a blank face. “Of course”
“What if I wanted, just wanted I mean, a guide..?”
Something flickered in Eira’s eyes. A moment of doubt, Ryan thought he saw, but couldn’t tell, for it was gone a second later.
“Do you wish to request a different Valkyrie? I can suggest-“
“No no, not necessary”
Idiot.
“I just..I’m not a fan of the casual sex thing in general”
“Casual? Hm. Are you interested in…males?”
Ryan felt his cheeks burning. “No, I just…I mean, straight up sex is…I’m not really a fan, you know. I’d like to get to know a person first, I…”
Eira was watching him closely.
“It’s not that this isn’t…all attractive, and you..I mean…this isn’t not a turn on, it is..I just…don’t…right now…”
Eira’s face and eyes relaxed. She smiled, seemingly satisfied with his answer.
“Eira”
A voice, low and commanding, came from their right.
Ryan looked over to see a fellow Valkyrie, tall and dark-haired, walking over to them. She wore the same necklace as the raven-haired woman Ryan saw earlier, her arms were covered with the same tattooed black flames twisting up the length of her lightly tanned arms.
Eira bowed and the woman bowed back, and then regarded Ryan with a half-smirk, her deep blue eyes glistening in the light of the bonfire.
“Your new soul?”
Eira nodded, staying silent.
“Why aren’t you naked?”
“I…”
“Furthermore, why aren’t you wearing your collar? You know the All-Father’s rules.”
Ryan looked to Eira, whose eyes seemed suddenly hurt.
One hand was raised to her neck, feeling for the collar that wasn’t there. Ryan hadn’t even noticed.
“I…I must have left it at my station.”
The dark-haired woman tilted her head at the response, her eyes moving to Ryan, still with that half-smirk.
“We carry that collar everywhere. Everywhere. It represents the All-Father.”
The dark-haired woman bowed with her left hand balled into a fist resting on her chest, while her right hand came outstretched, palm open, and Eira returned the gesture.
Ryan watched on as the two women faced each other.
The dark-haired woman was taller than Eira, with Eira coming to rest at the dark-haired woman’s shoulders.
“Don’t forget next time you go beyond, alright?”
Eira nodded. “Yes, sister”
Sister?
The woman Eira named ‘sister’ nodded. “Oh, and a word away from your soul? I’m sure he won’t mind a look around.”
Eira nodded and turned to face Ryan.
“This shouldn’t take long” She said and offered a little gesture somewhere between a curtsy and a bow.
With that, Eira and the dark-haired woman stepped away from him and Ryan was left alone.

He was suddenly uneasy, unwilling to look up in case he made eye contact with any one in the midst of an intimate encounter.
From across the bonfire, there came the sound of a woman orgasming, her cries echoed across from the other side of the bonfire, sounding, to Ryan’s ears, oh so delightful.
“You’re new” Came a voice, gruff and low.
Ryan looked to his right and saw a dark-skinned creature approach him.
It had the appearance of a dwarf, short and big-bellied. Its curious black eyes regarded Ryan as it sat down beside him, tucking its navy kilt underneath its bottom as it sat.
Ryan could barely hold back his scream. It came out like a hiccup.
The dwarf-like creature seemed to smile, revealing a crooked line of yellow teeth.
Along with the smile, Ryan’s eyes were drawn to its thick light-brown ears twitching on the creature’s head.
“It’s obvious by the bewildered look on your face”
The dwarf-like creature chuckled, deep and throaty.
Ryan stammered – but couldn’t find the words.
Suddenly the world seemed smaller, more dream-like.
He almost wanted to reach out and touch the tuft of fur on the dwarf-like creature’s chin, just to make sure what he was seeing was real and not the sort of characters he had read about in fantasy novels.
The dwarf-like creature’s eyes sharpened. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you that it’s rude to stare?”
Ryan averted his eyes, looked back down at his feet.
The dwarf-like creature threw back his head and laughed uproariously.
It smacked Ryan fair and square on the back, knocking Ryan off balance.
“I’m just joshing with you, lad! I’d expect a human to stare. It’s only natural to be curious.”
Ryan tried to force a smile but he just felt stupid.
“I am Mort, son of Martin. I hail from Niðavellir, home of the Dwarves!”
“Ryan” Was all Ryan could say weakly.
Mort laughed. “Ryan eh? I have not met a ‘Ryan’ yet. I shall journal this on the ‘morrow”
All Ryan could do was nod and avert his eyes. He suddenly felt a bit dizzy.
Home of the Dwarves? Is this really happening?
“My first time was the same, I do admit! Looking around and seeing all…this….there are no words, eh?”
Mort moved closer to Ryan. He was now shoulder-to-shoulder with him.
Not knowing whether to make eye contact or not, Ryan forced another smile, keeping his eyes pinned to the ground.
“It is a big honor, yes? Being chosen for the battle?”
Ryan brushed the smoke out of his eyes, making eye contact with Mort for the first time.
“Battle?”
“Aye, the looming battle! Has your slave not told you about what’s to come? Why we’re here?”
All Ryan could do was shake his head.
Then the curious creature named Mort told him everything.

***

 

After Kára had finished going over the details for the passage to Valhalla, Eira made her way back to the bonfire.
Her mood was soured. Kára always had that effect on her, had always seemed to enjoy teasing her. Eira never understood why.
Kára was older than Eira and had arrived to Asgard well before Eira had.
She had been assigned to Eira to train her in combat, as well as slave training, and though the two became polite with one another, and Eira followed every training order and stayed out of trouble, Kára seemed to relish in being a strict teacher.
Other Valkyrie’s voiced their opinion about Kára to Eira. They had done so often as they bathed together in the spring outside the walls of Valhalla.
Everyone had decided that while Kára could be a bit of a strict leader, her heart was in the right place, especially when it came to her role as a slave.
As Eira drew closer to the bonfire, she recalled Kára’s ferocious dedication to being a slave, having walked in on her whipping her back while reciting the All-Father’s slave mantra with precise clarity.
Eira admired her.
When Eira arrived to the spot she was standing with Ryan when Kára first walked over, she saw he was nowhere to be seen.
The thought crossed her mind that maybe he chose a different Valkyrie after all, so she walked around the perimeter of the bonfire, side stepping between Valkyries pleasing their men and women.
Ryan was nowhere to be seen.
At least around the bonfire.
This isn’t good, Eira thought. Walking Asgard unsupervised at night isn’t particularly dangerous, but the forest was a labyrinth, one a new soul was surely to get lost in.
Eira walked around the bonfire again, scanning the area more carefully. And that’s when she spotted him, leaning against the tree at the edge of the clearing.
As she approached him, she saw that his face was darkened.

At the sheer sight of it, a chill swept over her bare arms.
“Ryan?”
Ryan looked up, his face never changing from its darkened state.
“Ragnarok?”
Eira’s stomach sank.
Ryan, as if reading her thoughts, spoke again.
“Oh a Dwarf told me by the bonfire.”
He laughed bitterly.
“I was chosen for that? Plucked from my family when I could’ve been saving them when it happens. W-when you could’ve saved them. What’s that about, I mean, life as you know it, as I know it – it’s all going to end right?”
The hurt Eira could see in Ryan’s eyes made her feel uneasy.
“So the All-Father’s dreams have said, yes.”
“And it’s actually happening? I mean, this isn’t some misdirection?”
“Yes, soon The Giants will attack, according to the All-Father’s dreams…”
Ryan scoffed and fell to the ground. Eira couldn’t read his expression from where she stood.
She knelt down beside him and spoke gently and carefully.
“I’m sorry…I was waiting to tell you after the bonfire, after your mind adjusted. It’s why we’re here. It’s why any of us besides the gods themselves are here. We are training for war.”
Ryan buried his face in his knees, which were pulled up to meet his face.
“I already knew. I just needed to remember it from my…previous life”
Ryan choked out the last two words; Eira could hear the strain on his voice.
Without really knowing if she could or should, she rested a hand on his knee.
“You were dying, Ryan. And I had a choice in that moment to let you die and go to Freyja or come to Asgard”
Ryan looked up from his knee, his eyes fierce. “To fight your fight”
The words stung but Eira couldn’t relent. It was important, even in his grief, that he understood. “To fight the fight of the cosmos…”

She went on.
“I saw your strength in that moment, a fighter choosing to stick up for something so little. The passion I felt from you, it was my duty then and there to decide – and I do not regret my choice..”
“Choice? I’m not a fighter. I know nothing of battle!”
Ryan rose to his feet. “And what is all this…this nonsense? People being happy, dancing around? Does no one care about the life they left behind”
Eira rose too. Now Ryan was raising his voice at her and she could feel something burning up within her as well. What was it? Rage? Hurt?
“People are here because they care about the nine realms, about your world. Yes, they grieve but that grief drives them for the moment ahead when everything, everything we know, faces its end. So I am sorry, Ryan Kennedy, that your life came to an end but you are not the only one here grieving. Each one of us lost our lives, just as each one of us has a duty now to save the lives of the nine realms”

Eira could see Ryan’s eyes drift down. She trailed their line of sight down to the thin white lines craved into her fleshed.
The mysterious scars on the insides of her arms, the mystery of her previous life still forgotten to her, suddenly made her put her arms behind her back.
“We need people like you, whether you believe that or not.”
His eyes met hers then and once again, she spoke gently and slowly.
“And I promise you, you will always be able to see your family”

To be continued…