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.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 20

Council of war. Not the dwarven king. The twins. Myself. Kanesha. Thruor. Loki.


Not Mike. I’d seen him, he was apparently enjoying himself talking to the dwarven police. Yes, they had police, although the penalty for most things short of murder seemed to be a fine and a night in the drunk tank.


Loki’s presence really had been solicited. “We may need a trickster,” Jorun said with a grin.


“Oh, I agree. I was just surprised.” He wasn’t, after all, the most popular person in the Nine Realms. “Given…”


“Given he’s generally viewed to be on the side of speeding up Ragnarok not stopping it.”


At that he gave her a sardonic grin. “Well, my daughter went and put herself right in the middle of things.”


That made me relax. Maybe I really had stopped Ragnarok. I had certainly done my best. “Not my fault Surtur developed a crush on me.”


The sardonic grin was turned on me. “Oh, I don’t know.”


“If I’m subtly altering my appearance I’m not doing it on purpose!”


He laughed. So, after a moment, did everyone else.


I laughed too, but my cheeks had turned slightly scarlet. Maybe I was…no. If I was doing something subconscious wouldn’t it be to keep Surtur away?


Unless I was more attracted to him physically than I wanted to admit. Not much I could do about that.


“So, Loki suggested ambushing Surtur and taking him out and hoping his army melts away. He’s using conscription, so…”


Ebba shuddered. “Ugh. Although at least conscripts are generally easier to fight. Just…ugh.”


Clearly she thought it was utterly dishonorable. Or maybe she didn’t want to fight people who didn’t want to fight. Maybe she felt that was something akin to murder.


Or, no, that was my own personal feeling, and I probably shouldn’t transfer it over to her or anyone else. That it was wrong to kill somebody who had not chosen to fight, freely and willingly.


That had to…no, maybe it did come from my father.


“And he’s about to come after my daughter,” Loki said grimly. “Who has the right…” He glanced at Kanesha. “…to choose her own consort.”


He might not agree with my choice, although I knew it was because he was worried about me being hurt by transience, not because he cared about her being a woman.


“So does Surtur,” I joked. “The problem is that his right to choose stops at somebody else’s right to not be chosen.”


That got a round of dwarven laughter.


“So, let’s come up with a plan.”


We were talking assassination. As the more honorable option. I wondered what that said about us or the situation.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 8

I was lent the horse again…Kanesha doubled behind me as we rode back. She had refused to be left somewhere safe.


Either Surtur would lose and we would be safe, or he would win and be honorable and we would run, or…or we would have to finish the job.


That was how it felt. As if this might be the end of it. I could hope, anyway.


Helgr became queen, returned things the way they were, I went back to Midgard with Kanesha and pretended to be normal until I couldn’t any more.


It appealed.


The horse’s hooves under me, the sense of his strength and magic. I wanted this, too.


You will never be one of my sisters.


Thruor’s judgment. No, prophecy. But we rode.


We rode until we met the guards, but the flag Helgr had given to Thruor was apparently a symbol of passage.


He knew. He knew why we were here, and he knew what we meant to do. I wondered if he was confident.


A small part of me wondered if he cared any more. If he might not just let her win.


There was something in the air, though. It felt like fire. It felt like magic. It felt like the fire was about to go out of control, all of it.
As if some grip was being lost that went beyond politics. I shivered, even though it was too hot.




Kanesha’s voice from behind me. “I don’t like this. Something’s happening.”


It might be the start. It might be that…hell, it might be that I’d started it by working with Helgr. If that was what the prophecy said, then it was possible everything I did to try and prevent Ragnarok would end up being part of what caused it.


But if the prophecy simply said that I could do either, then…then I was free.


I wanted to feel free. I wanted to be free, free to ride a good horse with the wind in my hair. Free to love. Free to live.


No man made my fate.


No god made my fate. I would make my own, and in that moment, it all seemed to snap together.


What happened would be my choice, and if it went wrong it would be because I was no Norn to see the future, nor ever would be.


Nor would I be a Valkyrie.


I remembered.


Not everything. Enough.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 4

We endured a stiff dinner, with Kanesha speaking only when spoken to. I took a cue from her and limited my own conversation to asking for condiments to be passed.


This was making Surtur practically froth at the mouth, and not because he was a horse with a bit in it.


“I think we made him mad,” I asided to her as we were escorted back to our gilded prison.


“Good. I think…”


“I think he’s actually more attracted to you than me,” I quipped.


“Gods no.” Pause. “I mean, you’re right, but eww. And I’m not just saying that because of parts.”


I laughed. “Oh, come on, the parts aren’t as important as…”


She considered. “The hair…you’re right. But still eww.”


“I agree.” The dog had somehow got out while we weren’t there. I was glad. I didn’t want him locked up.


And it was not like I would be sleeping alone.


Or, given the message, sleeping. I still wondered how she was going to get past the forcefield.


Or if she was.


She had dwarves with her. I wondered what they could really do in a pinch, if pushed. True, most of the amazing things I’d seen from dwarves had been enchantments that took time.




She did have dwarves with her. So I suppose I should not have been surprised when midnight was marked by a rather loud kaboom.


I had no idea what they had blown up. I did not want to know. Once we’d been left alone I’d changed into practical clothing.


Unfortunately, they hadn’t left Kanesha her original clothes. She was in the simplest dress in the closet. It was, I thought wryly, a good way to slow down a martial artist.


But I also suspected she could hold her own in the dress. I tossed a belt buckle out the window.


“Forcefield’s still up.”


“Then we go the other way,” Kanesha said grimly, one hand on the hilt of her sword.


“You realize…”


“That I might not survive this. I trust you.”


I wasn’t sure I trusted me, but Thruor was in the area anyway.


We positioned ourselves on either side of the door, and I dang near beheaded the maid who came through. “Ladies…ack!”


“Don’t scream,” I hissed. “You aren’t my enemy.”




“I know. Is it safe here?”


She nodded. I smiled…and pushed her into the room as Kanesha grabbed her keys. Then we locked her in. Hopefully she had been telling the truth.


Maybe she had intended to tell us more, but I did not want to or need to know. We started to move down the stairs.


The guards had all run away, or rather to deal with whatever the twins had explodified. (It’s a word now).


I kept moving. We might be able to get a good way without a fight.


No, I was not going to wait for rescue.


But I heard his voice behind us. “This way,” Kanesha said abruptly and pulled me into a closet.




“I’ve been suborning the maids while waiting for you. They have their own passages.”


I laughed a bit. “Good work.”
And indeed there was a door in the back of the closet, no doubt for moving linens around.


“The guards…”


“Oh, they’ll check here. Eventually. But he won’t.”


I laughed. “Doesn’t know all the secrets of his own palace.”


“He doesn’t care.”


I was distinctly amused, but moved into the servants’ passage easily. It was narrow by giant standards.
We were not giants.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 29

It was, of course, too late. Or it would have been without the enterprising dwarves. We could hear guards come running. Then they stopped, and we heard footsteps in various directions.


The force which descended on us was thus somewhat reduced and much easier to handle, especially as we got out of the entrance and into a room. The room appeared to be occupied by the guards – what better way to protect a little-used entrance than have a couple of soldiers sleep next to it, I supposed.


But it was enough space to bring all of our weapons to bear without being so much that we could easily be surrounded.


I had to kill another of them, though. And Thruor did for a third – the one who had fled us was nowhere in evidence.


Maybe he’d decided he was too injured to continue and seen the better part. I hoped so, anyway.


But once we had the five of them knocked out or dead, we kept moving. “Helgr said his quarters are at the top of the spire. I’d imagine the swan room is close to there,” Thruor reminded, taking point for now.


Mike between us. Me as rearguard. My blade glimmered with flame and blood. I really, though, would rather have avoided all of this.


Even as I enjoyed the fighting itself. I wanted to be fighting for something that wasn’t this, not fighting my way in to rescue the princess in the tower.


Kanesha would like the image of herself as a princess, though. She would like that very much, and that emboldened me to push forward.


Then the dwarves came rushing in from the side. “He’s got Helgr, but…”


“Let’s keep moving. We can go out the way I got in. It’s an easier route than Helgr thought. Not quite mountain goaty.”


“You know us dwarves don’t like to climb.”


“You’d rather stay here?” And Thruor was rushing upstairs. The dwarves reluctantly followed her, but at least this was enclosed.


Maybe the real reason they’d insisted on the two pronged approach…well. They were here and I would trust them with my life or Kanesha’s.


And then Thruor cried out. There were fire giants everywhere – and one of them had got lucky, tossing a spear into her chest.


“Leave me,” she hissed.


I knew that if she died she would only go home. But I still…then I steeled myself.


She was right.


I had to stop thinking in mortal terms. We could get in and out without her. She was not in true danger, this being Muspelheim, not Asgard.


The only one in true danger was Kanesha.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 6

Loki setting the demoness on the fire giants might give me a respite.


Or it might make things worse.


Hoping for the former, I headed to work the next day – keenly missing Monica. Nobody else quite…it was not to say they didn’t understand me.


No, really, it was the reverse. I didn’t understand them. I enjoyed talking their language, but they seemed to come from some other world.


They were all talking about the gang violence – so that was how the news had rationalized away the minor demon invasion. I was glad that my black eye had already healed. If I had been mortal I would have had some explaining to do in makeup. Although, I could probably have told a slightly modified version of the truth and got away with it this time.


“The world’s going to hell in a handbasket,” a brunette near me said. “They really should send all the Mexicans home.”


I bristled, but didn’t say anything. I’d learned to ignore casual racism – it really was a minority, and I had to be professional.


And make sure I didn’t sit next to them for makeup.


“About time we took America back for decent people,” another girl said.


I bristled even more, and vacated as soon as I was finished back to the changing room. “Ugh.”


“You didn’t end up sitting between Alicia and Josephine, did you?”


“More or less.”


“Build a wall, send the Mexicans home, only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” The other girl, who’s name escaped me, wrinkled her nose. “I know you’re safe. I saw your girlfriend.”


I laughed. “Doesn’t make somebody immune to being racist. I know plenty of racists who date black people.”


“You don’t seem the fetishist type.”


I considered that. “Hard to tell. Josephine doesn’t exactly wrap herself in a confederate flag, does she.”


The girl laughed. “I’m Maureen.”


“Jane,” I said, extending my hand. “Surprised we haven’t properly met before.”


“I wanted to be sure you weren’t, you know, like them before saying hi.” She wrinkled her nose again.


“I actually appreciate that you know I’m not.” Which I did. Although the last thing I really needed was another friend to get hurt.


“So what do you think about the gang violence?”


I shook my head. “I think it was drunk idiots that started it. Nothing to do with skin color. Just people being stupid.”


She nodded. “Yeah. People always are. Sometimes I wish benevolent aliens would invade and tell us how to live better.”


“Yeah, but then we’d be slaves.” Which was why I wasn’t supposed to…we weren’t supposed to actually interfere with people’s choices.


“I suppose, but I’m worried we’re going to blow up the planet.”


“We won’t,” I reassured her. Wishing I felt more confident than I did that the planet was not going to be blown up. “I’m more worried about climate change.”


“I suppose we can adapt to that.”


“If we aren’t too unwieldy.” I liked her, I decided.


But I couldn’t risk anyone else.


Episode Thirty-Three: Taken: Scene 5

Ten minutes later, my dad showed up. “Okay, so you have an exhausted angel on your couch. That’s new.”


Sarael made an annoyed noise that was probably something rude in angel.


“He said he couldn’t make it to a church.”


Loki laughed ringingly. “Well, your couch is more comfortable than a pew anyway.”


“So, what happened with you and the demon?”


“We had a very interesting conversation.” He looked entirely innocent.


In a way that implied it really was an interesting conversation. “Spill it.”


“I’m your father. I don’t have to tell you anything.”


“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t intend to tell me something.”


“Thank you, Kanesha.”
She was handing him a can of coke. He cracked it open and took a swig.


Kanesha rolled her eyes at me past the god of chaos.


“So. Spill it.”


He grinned. “She’s hunting fire giants.”


“That’s evil.”


“The worst thing she can do is banish them. Giant souls aren’t useful to Hell. And maybe they’ll banish her.”


I shook my head. “I won’t even ask how you managed that.”


Probably a combination of charm and interesting ideas.


“What? It’ll keep them distracted for a bit. Maybe long enough for you to do something.”


“I still don’t have a long term solution. And don’t suggest marrying somebody else. He’d kill them.”


Loki gave Kanesha a speculative glance. “The thought had crossed my mind, and at one point he wouldn’t have. Now? He’s insane.”


“I know.”


Kanesha pulled out two more cans, offering one to me. I took it.


Sarael was just kind of glaring from the couch, rather as if he was suffering from some form of angelic hangover and we were making entirely too much noise for his head to deal with.


“So, in the absence of a good plan to make him less insane…”


“If we could fix Muspelheim’s issues.”


“Might work. Might be too late. Might need his help to fix them.”


“The king being linked to the land and all.”


Loki nodded. “Exactly. But it’s probably the only way to save him. Otherwise, well, Muspelheim needs a sane king.”


At least he didn’t say queen. At least he wasn’t on that bandwagon, at least not yet. “Well, you aren’t a good candidate.”


He laughed. “Oh, me? King of anything? That’s the comic book character who wants that.”


I grinned. “That and the ridiculous helmet.”


He snapped his fingers and was suddenly wearing the entire Marvel Loki outfit.


“Definitely ridiculous.”


He snapped them again and changed back. “Yeah, I don’t know why they had that view of me. Wrong hair color too.”


“Did they get anyone’s hair color right?”


He considered that. “Odin’s.”


All of us laughed at that. Even Sarael.


Episode Thirty-Three, Taken, Scene 1

There were demons everywhere. Whoever had opened this gate had been powerful and sloppy. Or, of course, this had been their intent.


Some black witches were crazy enough to try and start an infernal invasion. No, I needed a better name than that.
Warlock. Right. That was the right term for people like that, a term which didn’t insult Clara.


My sword was having fun, though. To be honest, so was I, and I was secure in the knowledge that anyone who remembered this night would remember it only as a nightmare.


Besides, it was good practice. Individually, none of the demons were anywhere close to being as good as me. As a group? I was glad I had Sarael to partner with, and the angel was good.


Probably better than me, but then, who knew how old he was. Probably older than me.


“You’re enjoying this,” he accused.


“Guilty as charged. Remember what I am.”


“Yeah.” He cut the head off another demon. “Of course, I can’t say this isn’t close…”


“…to what you were made for?” I responded as I thrust towards a demon’s heart. It burst into flames.


“No, not at all, but to what we’ve become.”
There was something sad about that, and I thought I’d work it out. Later. When I wasn’t fighting a demon horde. Right now, that was about all the banter we had time for.


Another demon went down, but a third jumped me from behind, dragging its claws through my shoulder.


I spun to deal with it, but that hurt, and it hurt with a sting that suggested it wouldn’t heal as well as normal. A flesh wound, though.


A badge of honor. And the horde was thinning out. Thinning.


And then gone.


“I think we got them all.”


“We got all the stupid ones. We’ll be cleaning out imps and the like for weeks.” He looked at me. “May I?”




He reached for my injured shoulder. I let him, even if I wasn’t sure angel healing magic would work on me. It did, at least to a point. The wound was still there, but the sting vanished.


“What was that?”


“That kind of demon is venomous. Wouldn’t have done you permanent harm, but…”


“Thank you.”


Now I could ask him what he meant, but it still felt like the wrong moment. Not what he was made for but what he had become.


Thruor, and some of the things she had said about choices and our nature. The angel was not so different from me.


Neither, of course, was the demon.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 26

Needless to say I wasn’t getting that wish any time soon. Whatever Monica was doing for Odin, it was on other planes.


Or he was keeping her away from me for the sake of not making things too easy. I was pretty sure, no, very sure, that Odin really did enjoy watching people struggle.


Never asking anything he wouldn’t give himself.




Okay. Now I was just being petty. But the school was empty, and the fire damage was…no worse than last time the school had been attacked because of me.


“It was supposed to be safe once I graduated,” I grumbled.


“Nah, it won’t be safe until I do.”


I sighed. “Hey, Clara. Sorry if I don’t seem happy.”


“I saw you talking to the fire giant.”


“He’s going to keep doing this until I agree to marry Surtur. At which point, Surtur starts Ragnarok. So I have to let him keep doing this.”


“Hrm.” She studied me. “Any progress on the Muspelheim problem.”


“Enough to know that Surtur’s idea is stupid, dramatic, and will start a war with Asgard for no reason. Not enough to know how to fix it. I’m going to have to go there.”


“I don’t have a fire resistance spell that can take that,” Clara grumbled.


“I know. Don’t worry. I’ll…” And I tailed off. “…take friends.”


How well did dwarves handle Muspelheim? The twins would be very handy to have along. Or they might know a way to help some of my other friends. Not Angrboda, of course. That would take an entire tribe of dwarves to achieve.


I wondered idly how my grandparents had actually managed to have sex without killing each other.




That wasn’t my problem. Talking to the dwarven twins was smart, but I was still blocked off from personal access between the Realms.


Which put me right back to finding a fire giant I could reasonably trust.


Already acting like a queen. No. I mean, I wouldn’t start Ragnarok to avoid it, but I would go hide in Jotunheim if that was what it took.


Surtur could not touch me there, I mused. But he’d keep hurting others until I came back out.


So, time to find a friendly fire giant. Or a dwarf. Either, at this point, would do. “I promise I’ll be careful. Keep an eye on Kanesha?”


“I will,” she promised.


That was one person I could trust, Thruor was another. Kanesha herself was a third.


She would, I decided, be fine.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 14

Not knowing how to help put me in a dark mood that lasted through Niagara Falls, as spectacular as they were, and now we were heading back to home.


I’d still put in my notice at the apartment. With the money I was getting I could afford somewhere bigger.


Somewhere better for a couple. Part of me had almost spontaneously proposed at the Falls, but my mood was too dark.


Maybe it was better that way. I hadn’t really been logistically ready. I didn’t have a ring.


I still had doubts about making it formal. Fears, maybe, that that would somehow put her in even more danger.


Fears that it would be the signal for Surtur to take her out. Fears that I could not protect her, in the end.


And she could certainly not come to Muspelheim with me. But that did not matter. Thruor could look after her, and if I did not come back, make her disappear.


Make her look like somebody else and vanish where nobody could find her.


I was not convinced that…I was not convinced that a part of me did not belong there, in the realm of fire, in the realm so completely unlike the Hell I had had to enter to help Loki.


Both realms of fire.


But Muspelheim could be lovely if you let yourself see it, if you let it be part of you.


Part of me.


That was what I was really afraid of. And with the nose of the car pointed south…


…I was not entirely surprised when we were suddenly flanked by Valkyries. I rolled down the window. “Let me guess, you’re not here to show me a biker bar with really awesome burgers.”


“We need to get you back to DC and fast.” Thruor’s voice. The other was not Kara. I couldn’t remember her name.


“What did Surtur set on fire now?” I could not help but ask.


“Several things. It’s bad.”


I nodded. “Let’s go then.”


“Hold on. We’re going to take a shortcut.”


So, vacation, such as it had been, was over. Kanesha was pale under the dark of her skin. Pale and afraid, but strong.


I could feel her strength. It supported me, lifted me up. I could feel her faith in me.


It helped.


I was starting to know what I had to do, but if Surtur was going to push the issue.


The road suddenly fragmented into glowing rainbow shards. I kept my foot on the pedal.


I had a feeling going as fast as possible was what was needed.