Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 13

I opened my eyes again. “Well, I know this is…it’s the only good choice.”


“Which you’ll regret,” says Thruor.


“Exactly.” Because it implied I would be able to regret it. I still felt that sense of freedom, though. “So…here’s the thing. Surtur doesn’t know what this would look like either. He knows it’s possible.”


“And he’s not doing it because…”


“Because he still thinks he can win the war and that winning will somehow keep Muspelheim intact. Perhaps as the only realm. I think that’s it anyway.”


She grinned. “That does seem to fit what he’s been saying and doing. And he’s holding something like this in reserve.”


“But the thing is that if we do this we interrupt the cycle.” And destroying the forges? Would that interrupt the cycle?


Or did we need to do it anyway?


Or… I forced my thoughts. “He doesn’t want that to happen.”


“But we need a good long prep time. I don’t think he can teleport,” Thruor mused.


“So, we make a light show. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“I can help with that.”


“Shame your dad isn’t here.” Thor could make a better light show than any of us.


She grinned. “I know a bit of illusion magic, so do you.”
Ebba and Jorun. I looked at them.


“Nothing we can cast directly,” Ebba said. “Dwarves don’t do that kind of magic. But we can make sure you don’t get interrupted by any more…locals.”


From the way she emphasized it, I was pretty sure she knew that fire giant hadn’t been a local. But there might well be somebody up here, hiding from the war. And there was still wildlife.


“At least keep the curious wildlife away, although it doesn’t seem like anything’s wandering up to us.” They probably got hunted. I let out a breath. “So…”


“So, I think I have a good illusion idea,” Thruor said. “You’re right. He won’t know what to look for.”


“I can lend you some energy.” We had practiced that, albeit only once. “I wish Clara was here.”


“If she was here we’d still have demonic hordes.”


“Still, she could do this way better than either of us. No offense.”


She laughed. “None taken. Let’s do it.”


I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but I nodded and took her hands.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 12

“Okay. I have no clue how we do this,” I admitted. “We have to make it look good, but not actually do anything.”


Thruor nodded. “Well, we can’t do it. Only somebody bound to Muspelheim can actually do it.”
And the fyrhund was not here. Good. He might qualify. “Which none of us are. But does Surtur know that?”


“Yes, but he does not know you didn’t bring some random fire giant here.”


I grinned. “Good point. Although I wouldn’t.”


“Even if they wanted to do it?”


I knew what would happen, in my heart. “Maybe.”


If Surtur did it…well, it would be his free choice. Asking anyone, even saying it was something we needed or wanted?
That would make me responsible. But it should be him anyway. The king is the sacrifice.


“So…it’s a shame my dad isn’t here.” The only illusions I ever did were glamors to cover myself. Faking a spectacular ritual? I hadn’t tried that.


I glanced at the dwarves. “Got any ideas?” I’d come all this way thinking I would somehow know what to do when I got here.


The stars seemed much closer. No. I didn’t want to actually call one. I wanted to get rid of Surtur and then get the dwarves to destroy the forges.




I would regret this. Maybe…but if I ended up permanently dead would I have regrets?


Or would I be yelled at by my sister. She would not, I thought, be happy with me.


But would…


I shook my head. “Give me a few here.” I thought I was right, but I needed to calm my thoughts in order to know what to do.


I stepped away, towards the tree, and I was back in that vision again.




A sun god. Who had done that to me because he genuinely believed I was going to end the world. And maybe I had. Maybe none of this would have happened if I had not existed to be a target for Surtur’s desires.


Maybe sometimes there really was nothing you could do to change fate.


I would regret doing this. But I sensed for a moment that I was at a cusp of times and choices. I could say I couldn’t do it, go back down the mountain. Fight for the dwarves.


Probably die. And with the barriers down, I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be permanent anyway.


I could run.


I could go back to Earth, I could cast my lot with those protecting it.


And I realized that every choice I would make, that wasn’t hiding in a quiet corner, led to my death.


I realized there was no escape. The knowledge was not depressing. Quite the opposite.


Because there was no escape I was free to do whatever I needed, and Loki had Kanesha in a safe quiet corner.


By, of course, trickery.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 11

He was delaying us. Stalling. I thought of walking out of the cabin. We could take him.
I did not want to fight him. I rather thought this was his place, that he was tied to it. Or something else was going on.


I wasn’t sure. “Please let us go.”


He hummed. “Maybe tea first.”


“We don’t have much time. Can’t you feel it?”


“Maybe some of us don’t have to fear even Ragnarok.”


My lips quirked. “You think that you can just hide in your quiet corner. I don’t think it works that way.”


If it did, I would have Kanesha tucked away in just such a place…no, I wouldn’t. She wouldn’t let me. But the temptation would be there.


Maybe Mike. Maybe…no. He was what he was because he wanted to fight and protect others.


I realized nobody I truly cared about would let themselves be protected, and I realized that was my own fault. I couldn’t, wouldn’t have friends who would hide.


“Maybe not. But if you do what you have in mind, then my mountain won’t be a quiet corner any more.”


I saw his point. “I did not choose this.”


“Yes you did. You chose it, at some point. You set foot on this path and it led you here.”


“Surtur forced me to it.”


“And if you were a different woman you would wear a crown now.”


I did not ask him how he knew. I did not need to. I smiled. “I rather thought you were not a fire giant game warden.”


“Perhaps not.” He smiled back. “But are you bent on this?”


“Got a better idea?”


“You may regret it.”


“I think I will regret any choice I make.” That was likely true. Any choice I made at this point could lead to death and destruction. Or to other things.


“Perhaps.” He smiled. “Go. Get on your way.”


Mike was looking at me as we stepped outside. “That wasn’t a fire giant, was it.”


“Nope. That was a test.”


“What do you think you’ll regret?” he asked.


“Any choice I make. It’s fine. I just have to find the regrets I can live with.” Or not live with as the case might be.


The mountain rose before us. We still had quite a bit of climbing to do.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 10

If there was a later. I realized how exposed we were a moment later. And then a voice. “Stop.”


“Somebody not fighting the war?” I couldn’t resist but say, although Thruor and Ebba were ahead of me.


“Somebody trying to protect what we have left. Who are you?”


“We have a plan.”


“Take your plan to the lowlands.” A bearded, wild looking fire giant…the entire mountain man thing was even more both intimidating and ridiculous at giant size.


“I can’t.” I couldn’t push past the others on the trail.


“Who are you?”


“The person who plans on stopping Ragnarok, if you will let me. Or help. Would you rather have these mountains denuded or restored?”


Hesitation. “Oh, come to my cabin. We will talk.”


We had him outnumbered. Heck, me and Thruor could have taken him. Possibly solo. But Thruor nodded anyway.


Maybe she figured he would be useful. I wasn’t as sure, he seemed like a crazy game warden.


Maybe that was exactly what he was. A game warden. The Muspelheim equivalent of a park ranger.


His cabin was of rough stone, with wood used only for the door and window frames. He had glass windows but no shutters. “So…” he said as he opened the door. “Why up here?”


“Because I had a vision telling me it was the best place.”


He laughed. “Little…” A head tilt. “Little goddess. Why not go running back to Asgard?”


“Because if this isn’t stopped there might not be an Asgard to run back to.”


He stopped. “A valkyrie, an einherior, a baby goddess and two dwarves. Perhaps that is strange enough company to do something.”


Or throw a ring into a mountain, I couldn’t help but think, although we had no hobbits with us.


Jorun laughed.


I didn’t. Something about this guy was triggering thoughts in my head, thoughts I was not sure I liked.


Something about him. “We intend to do something. Or fail. And if we fail, then there will be no need to protect this mountain.”


I thought that he shuddered, under the furs he wore. It was hard to tell. Maybe this was cold for a fire giant. For me, with my mixed heritage, it was nothing at all.


“Perhaps you are right.” He fixed his eyes on me. “And if you succeed.”


“I’ll get out of your hair.”


He laughed ringingly at the human saying. “Perhaps.”


And I knew he had reason to doubt me on that particular front. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t assume I wanted power?


Perhaps not even myself.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 9

The youths directed us to a mountain. It would be a good half day on foot – riding was not going to be helpful once we hit the base. A mule or mountain goat might have been able to do it. Our horses would be struggling and probably happier to be left behind. They were intelligent and could be trusted to look after themselves.


The mountains rose up quite sharply, low foothills and then steep slopes, and there was a game trail. Fortunately it was a fire giant scale game trail, and we had no difficulty with it. The horses might even have managed if it had not been for the vertical cliff that blocked it, one we had to scramble up with the help of a somewhat rusty chain.


No doubt the chain was there for hunters who might come this way. And there was game, although we disturbed it. I saw a deer run down into the trees, and birds alarmed as we passed.


There was no war here yet.


But the sky above was still not the sky of Muspelheim. Open to the void.
Not stars.


Unborn gods. Perhaps some of them would fall to alien worlds to become what they were going to become.


Did love between gods call them? Probably. It was a point of cosmology I would ask about if this did not end with my permanent death.


Or with the destruction of everything. Except that it would not reach them.
Were they also real stars?


Did worlds die to birth gods? I shook my head, and kept climbing. The height increased rapidly and no doubt the air was a little thinner, although not enough yet to affect my stamina.


Not enough yet, but it might be before we reached the peak by the dead tree, and I knew this place.


I had never been here before, but I knew this place.


It was where things would move to the next stage. “I’m starting to get a feeling this is actually going to work.” I helped Jorun up. The dwarves did not do well with climbing, and I remembered the bear den.


“Why?” she asked.


“I know this place. I know this mountain.”


“Have you been here before?”


Thruor was assisting Ebba. Mike was bringing up the rear, and he practically was a mountain goat. Had he done mountain climbing as a kid or something? He’d never mentioned anything like that to me.


Then again, I had never asked. But I would have thought if he was an enthusiast he would have tried to drag us to an indoor wall at the least.


Maybe he had lost it somewhere along the line. But he climbed easily. “You’re good at this,” I called to him.


“Funny how rusty skills come back.”


Maybe it had taken dying to get it back. “You never took us climbing.”


He fell silent and did not answer. I realized it might not have been the best question to ask.


Another one, perhaps, for later.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 8

“So, that’s Jorun’s idea?”


I nodded to Thruor. “Got better?”


“No. But we need a mountain.”


A mountain. “We need a mountain with a dead tree close to the peak.”




“Because…I don’t know. In my vision the dead tree was on the plains, but I know now…I have this image. That everything will be settled there.”


“Dangerous,” Thruor said. “But…”


“I’m not arguing with myself on it. You said we need a mountain.”


“One of those local kids can find us one.” She drifted off to find one. We had moved away from the army. Which was now in a state of siege. Both sides had full supply lines. Neither side seemed to want to be the first to attack. It was as if they both feared one sword stroke would be the true start of the end.


I tried not to think about what was happening on Earth. What was happening to Zaid and Sebastian and Clara and Father Will.


To my coworkers.


To the innocent people.
Heck, I was even worried about Sarael, and if anyone could look after himself it was him. The angel had plenty of fighting ability and plenty of courage and plenty of experience.


No, I did not need to worry about Sarael, but I did anyway.


One mortal soul. Enough to open the gates to Hell. I assumed it meant a living mortal. Mike, after all, did not seem to count.


Maybe she would only truly become mine in that sense when…


I remembered my conversation with Hel. Realized I would like to talk to my sister again about things. But there was no time for side trips. No time for anything but to do this and get it done. Although I felt there were things I still had to do before the end.


I wished my instincts would tell me what they were.


Mike, sitting down next to me. “I have to admit I have no clue how we got here.”


I laughed. “Your fault for getting yourself killed, or…”


“…I’d be on Earth. Probably fighting demons. Probably getting myself killed.”
As if it had been inevitable. “I blamed myself to start with.”


“I’m the one who chose to be involved in this. And I still choose to be involved.”




“Because of you. And more than that because of Kanesha.”


“It’s my fault she’s involved.”


“That one you can take responsibility for. To a point.”


“I don’t think any of us choose who we fall in love with,” I mused. “Even and perhaps especially the gods.”


“Cupid with arrows, eh?”


“I don’t know about that. Cupid doesn’t have authority over me. No, it’s Freya’s fault entirely.”


He grinned. “Freya is scary.”


“She is definitely that.” Because she was love and death and the power of visions.


But then, no god is anything but scary, in the heart of things.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 7

“One star,” Jorun said. “Could save this realm or destroy it.”


“Destroying their weapons would do it too.” I looked up at the sky. “Thoughts?”


“The king could call a star, but it would probably kill him.”


“Could somebody else bound to Muspelheim?”


“No. All we could do is ask them.”
Ask them. “What are they?”


“Gods that have not been formed yet,” she said, simply. “Unborn deities.”


So, I was one once? I did not remember. “That would be like asking an unborn child to sacrifice themselves. I don’t think I can do that.”


Jorun smiled. “Good.”


“So, we destroy the weapons.”


“We destroy the forge. Why do you think I and Ebba came, really?”
“To beat on Surtur.”


She grinned. “That too, but the plan was to take him out and then destroy his forges, which would release the energy.”


“I hadn’t thought of that.”


“You,” she said firmly, “Are not a dwarf.”
We sat on the ground. “So…now Surtur knows we are here.”


“We pretend to ask a star.”


I laughed. “I had a vision that implied…”
“That we need one. And maybe we do, but I’d rather avoid it as much as you would. And I,” she added, “Am only a dwarf.”


“Kanesha is only a woman. Nobody is only anything.”


“Kanesha is a hero,” Jorun said. “And I mean that in the ancient sense.”


I thought about it. “Let’s not tell her that. Her ego might swell.”


Jorun grinned. “Why do you think I waited until she was very, very far out of earshot?”


“So…we fake him out. Because…”


“Because if we actually did that it would end his reign. He wants that on his own terms. If he’s going to sacrifice himself…”
“What if it causes him to do it?”


“Then Muspelheim is restored for a while and they have to choose another king.”


I decided that was a quite reasonable outcome.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 6

The demons ran for the collapsing portal. Tyz’vel had simply vanished, perhaps using some magic to get out faster.


Surtur let out a bellow as his prey disappeared. He was injured, but still on his feet. Thruor’s bet had been pretty accurate.


But it had given the dwarves time to regroup and get things more together. The fire giant army, on the other hand, was in disarray.


I decided this was a good time to disappear. “Where’s Kanesha?” Thruor asked.


“She went off with Loki. Apparently one mortal soul is enough to give access for demons.”


Thruor frowned. “She is yours.”


“Well, taking her away seems to have worked. He promised he took her somewhere safe.”


“I’d believe him. I think he likes her,” the valkyrie said wryly, “Fortunately.”


I didn’t mention he also said he wanted to talk to her, which was more than a little bit ominous. I mean, you never want your parents talking to your partner.


But I did trust him not to actually hurt her. Play with her head, sure. Hurt her physically, no.


No, he would not do that. And it might well be that…


…oh, I knew they were plotting against me. It was heartening to think so, to think that somebody thought there might be life after this.


The departure of the demons had achieved nothing in overall terms. They had bought the dwarves time.


But now I understood. Ragnarok. Armageddon. All of the ends of the world would happen if one was triggered. Heck, maybe Surtur’s problems reflected…


…a cycle. A cycle that always reached a testing point at certain intervals. This was the testing point, and this was worse than normal. People had died already, more people would die, souls harvested for Heaven and Hell and Valhalla and Elysium and all of the other realms of the dead.


I had to stop it and I had to stop it now. Unfortunately, Surtur now knew we were here.


“Ambushing him is going to be tricky now,” I murmured to Thruor.


“I blame Tyz’vel.”


I blamed him too. Forcing us to take sides, forcing us to reveal ourselves, and Loki had left. He wasn’t here to help and probably had never intended to help.


“It bought the armies time.”


“Yes, but now we need something to deal with Surtur.”


I looked up at the stars. “I tried to talk to him.”


“It’s too late,” she said, grimly. “Sometimes the cycle means something or somebody is lost. Sometimes somebody precious. Last time it was your brothers.”


I understood something then. Something important. This time it… “And this time it might be me.”


“Why do you think Loki hesitated?”


“Because last time it was his children and this time…” I smiled. “This time it’s going to be that giant bastard.”


“That’s the spirit.” Thruor’s grim face became a slight grin.
“But I have to out trick my father to do it.” And I had no clue how I was going to, and the smartest people in my life weren’t here.


Instead they were off plotting against me. Typical.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 5

This time the demons stayed back. They were quite, quite focused on the fight.


I dropped back, glancing at Kanesha.


“Maybe you should send me back to Earth.”


“Earth’s in as much trouble.” Then I walked over to my father.
“Using me as a bluff.”


I grinned. “Was it a bluff?”


“I thought Lucifer had a leash on him,” Loki grumbled.


“Apparently not a tight enough one. He’s doing this to get his rank back. With no understanding…”


“Oh, demons have no clue how anything works outside their own realm.”


“But we need to get rid of him.”


“I could take Kanesha somewhere he can’t get to. Want to talk to her anyway.”


I looked at Kanesha. “I know…”


“I’d rather stay and fight, but if removing me gets rid of the demons.”


“Tyz’vel could have been lying.”


Loki shrugs. “Demons tell the truth occasionally. I tell the truth…occasionally.”


Kanesha laughed. “I’ll go with him. If it doesn’t work he can bring me back.”


“I will bring her back. At the right time.” It had the tone of a promise.


A promise from a trickster. But then, the times Loki had said he would do something he always did.


He just never made promises. He had never actually promised fidelity to my mother. He had never promised he would not hurt Baldur.


This time he was making a promise and I trusted him.


Kanesha reached for his hand. “I’ll be back soon.”
And then they were both gone in a swirl of rainbow.


And a moment later, the gates of Hell began to close. He had told the truth.


He had told the truth thinking I would not send her into danger or expose the dwarves to attack. But Loki had taken her somewhere.


Somewhere he claimed was safe.


I would know if she was not safe. I would know if anything happened to her. And I knew if anything did it was not his fault.


Even gods could make mistakes.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 3

“I challenge you!” Surtur bellowed it to the sky. The dwarves, I could see, were fortifying the border.
Did Ebba and Jorun want to be there? I did not ask.


And Tyz’vel appeared. “Single combat? Really, how…”
Surtur rushed him. Dishonorable it might be, but he perhaps knew he was fighting one with absolutely no regard for the rules.


He knew what a demon was. And Tyz’vel generated a blade of pure darkness.


Thruor was right. Not much for the demon’s chances, but smaller demons, war demons, imps, were closing in.


“Let’s go help enforce the rules,” I said grimly, reaching for the reins of the borrowed steed.


Thruor grinned. “Let’s.”


I couldn’t believe I was helping Surtur.


I wanted both of them gone, to be honest. Tyz’vel was supposed to have been demoted and…


…but of course, he was trying to get his rank back with this maneuver. He would not get Muspelheim.


I did not like the idea of him holding it even for a moment.


He would not…and I charged into the demon hordes. My blade sang as a bunch of imps went down under the steed’s hooves.


Kanesha was following on foot, her own sword lashing through them, although I did not see the dwarves.


No, there they were, and Thruor, also mounted. It was just small demons. It was fun, it was perhaps not an honorable fight, but I hadn’t gotten to just shamelessly kill stuff in a while. Without feeling bad about it because they were just demons.


Just demons, and I dismounted to get better angles…they weren’t tall enough to fight from horseback.


Hooves flew next to me, but it was controlled, I trusted him.


I had to ask Thruor his name, even if I knew I had to give him back.


If we all survived. I took a hit, a nasty one, from demonic claws, my side feeling on fire, but I knew it wasn’t critical.


I kept fighting. I let the red film my vision – there was no reason to fight the battle fever in this situation. I still knew where and who my allies were.


I fought, but I was too busy to see what was going on between Surtur and Tyz’vel. And this horde would not stop just because their leader went down.


No, if they stopped, it would be because Tyz’vel had won. I did not want that to happen.


I wanted them both gone, but I did not want…


…I wanted the fire to flow clean again.