Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 31

“The stars,” I said, simply.


“They are beautiful.”


“They are the answer. They can…bring energy into the system.” But at what cost? I suddenly wondered. Would we destroy another world?


“They sing, but they do not sing to me. Muspelheim sings to me.”


“You can do this. And then you can end the war, put things back the way they were.”


“And then will you join me?”


I shook my head. “No. But whoever does will be a woman who loves you.”


He looked up at the stars again. I felt energy, I felt tension, but I felt something wrong.


Something not right about what he was doing.


“Not that way.”


He stopped. “How do you know? You are not…”


“You wanted me to help you start the end of the world, because you thought it was the only way to save your world. Can you trust me now?”




“I’m talking to you, not trying to kill you.”


He laughed bitterly. “For now.”


Had he read my mind? “I’d quite rather not kill you.”


“You just don’t want my job.”
The energies shifted again. I felt something else, some pressure. Something from outside. And I reached out. “Oh no you don’t, whoever you are.”


“What is that?”


“A demon. Seeing their advantage. You would open the gates of hell, and they’re a crack open. Can we work together?”


It was not desperation. I wanted to. I did not want to wed him or bed him. I wanted him to find his honor again.


Because now I remembered everything, I knew we could be friends, if he allowed it. I could allow it. I wanted to forgive him.


Maybe I couldn’t, but I wanted to try.


And I felt the presence of Hell. “A demon I know. A demon I thought had been demoted.”


A harsh laugh from Surtur. “Is he a rival for your affections?”




I thought for a moment, then elected not to speak Tyz’vel’s true name. But I had it handy.


“It all boils down to you.”


“What does the prophecy say?” I demanded of him.


“I don’t know.”


So, he had not heard the words either.


But the skies were full of stars and the gates of Hell were opening here.


And on Earth.


And there was nothing I could do.

Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 30

The stars pulled at me. What were they? Actual stars. “Are those your stars?” I asked Jorun.


“No. They’re…I’m not sure what they are.”


“They pull at me. They want something from me.”


“Are you sure it’s the stars,” the dwarfmaid said quietly.


I frowned. “I…think so. I had a vision. Stars and dead trees.”


“Then it is you after all,” she said, cryptically, but nothing further.


I did not push her for an explanation, but mounted the borrowed steed. He pawed the ground once then set off at a smooth gait that was faster than a walk, slower than a gallop.


Tolt, my memories supplied. Easy to ride, easy for him to keep up.


And we swept down a hill and were behind enemy lines.


A sentry stepped forward.


“You will let me pass. You will tell me where Surtur is, or have somebody take me to him.”




“Look up, fool. Do you truly want the world to end?”


He stepped out of my way, but did not tell me where Surtur was. He almost did not need to.


The horse walked into the camp, ears pricked. I tried not to think about certain awkward relationships.




You will never be one of my sisters.


It is you after all.


It is me for what? The stars burned down. Whatever they really were.




I felt on the edge of understanding something that, perhaps, only Odin and those at his level could touch.


Maybe Surtur understood something of it too, because I saw him.


Looking up at the stars. A sad, lonely figure. Were it not for the guards it would be the perfect opportunity.


I was not sure they would even stop me.


It was not my task. Instead, I dismounted, and walked towards him. “You see what you have wrought,” was what came out of my mouth.


“Not I alone.”


“You. King.”


And he turned, and I saw terrible anger and fear in the back of his eyes, held by iron will.


I shivered, but I had committed myself now.


I had to try.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 29

“That was productive,” Thruor murmured. “But I think…”


“I think we need to move now, before things get any…”


And the sky split open. “…worse,” I finished.




There were stars above Muspelheim. Were we too late. Was time cracked, was the tree burning, was the…


I felt myself start to panic, felt that flow through me. Felt as if it really was over.


My life. The world. Everything.


“Breathe,” Thruor told me.


I realized I was holding my breath. “It’s over.”


“Not quite yet. Not quite.”


“Can we reverse this?”


“Yes. But it will take a lot of effort and time.”








“You have an idea.”


I shook my head. “An idea for afterwards.”


“No. Not for afterwards.” She turned towards me. There was a look on her face I had never seen there before. “Spill it, Siglaugr.”


“Falling stars. Energy.”


She nodded. “You think you can grab one.”


“No, I think the king can.”


That slight nod again. “You think that you might be able to…that…”


“That we have one last chance to try diplomacy, or rather I do. Before we have to kill him.”


It was hope. And then there was the backup plan. I can grab one.




I can’t. Not while…not while there was some hope that I could save the king. I hated him.


I hated him with a passion. A passion that was not so far, after all, away from love.


And this could get me out of all of it.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 28

Whatever it was, it made me tempted to send her with the kids. They seemed to like her.


But I knew she wanted to be in this at the end.
There was something akin to an explosion in the valley below and I turned back towards it, frowning.


“Sabotage,” Thruor murmured. “Good.”


Good, because as Jorun had said, anything that slowed them down was good.


Anyone working against the regime was our ally. And I looked back at the kids. “You know. I think maybe we can use you.”


He smiled.


“Can we trust them?” Thruor asked.


I glanced at Kanesha. “I think we can. We’re planning on taking Surtur out.”


He nodded again, nervous. “I…”


“You don’t have to be involved.”


“Like the dwarf said, you want more of that, don’t you.” He indicated the explosion.


“More of that wouldn’t be bad, but mostly? Mostly we need people to be ready to resist. And we need to know who is only following orders and who is enthusiastically singing along.”


He laughed at that. “You’re right, Lady. You do.”


He sounded as if he was not sure what title to use for me. I decided Lady did well enough. I wasn’t quite a princess or anything like that.


“We need as much information as you and your friends can give us.”


“Do we have time?” Kanesha asked.


“No, but we still need it. It’s a shame we don’t have a spell for rapid transfer of information.”


But we didn’t, we were going to have to sit and talk. And then move quickly. And the urgent sense of the world starting to fall apart, the image of the dead tree becoming the image of a dead ash tree in my mind.


No, we didn’t have time, but we couldn’t afford not to.




The longer we waited. The more it seemed we might have to pull Muspelheim…and I understood.


It was a possibility. But it still required…I began to see the picture of the thing.


I began to see what we could do, even as the kid started to go through names. I had to force myself to focus.


Who could we trust?


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 27

Which meant that I was a target too. Of course, Surtur would be very mad if I was permanently killed.


He might not object to temporarily, though. It occurred to me that Kanesha was probably the one he least wanted to see dead.


Because who knew what would happen then. I wasn’t sure I did.


And then I heard people behind us. I whirled, drawing my sword, watching the blade reflect the fire.


“We come in…uh…peace.”


A group of young fire giants, adolescents. Armed. Nervous.


Glancing between me and Kanesha. “You might not want to be involved in what we’re involved in,” I said, not sheathing my sword as if to make a point.


“If it’s stopping what’s going on, we, uh…we…”


The dwarves were flanking Thruor.


“It’s still not something you want to be involved with.” I sighed. “We’re trying to stop the war, yes.”


I felt the barrier weaken further. It was not going to stand much longer. “But…”


“We don’t want to fight a war. We want to go home.”


Teenaged conscripts. Deserters.


Could we use them? I didn’t think so. “Are there more of you?”


He nodded. “And more who haven’t got away.”


“Then the best thing you can do to help us is to…slow things down. If he manages to invade our realm.” It was Jorun who spoke. “Then we move a major step closer to Ragnarok.”
The youth swallowed.


“And we have to…what we’re doing is best done by outsiders.”


“We’ve already committed treason,” he said, simply.


“Once this is over either we will all be dead or…I’ll make sure you’re okay,” I found myself saying.


He glanced at Kanesha.


“So will I, if it lies in my power.”


She sounded fragile, but also determined.
What had happened while she had been in Surtur’s hands?


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 26

I stayed below the ridge, leaving the horse on the other side, and watched them.


They could not fit more than a few through the portal. No doubt what we had seen was a scouting force. But this was an army, and I could feel…


…I could feel that the force of their will and intent was wearing on the barrier between the worlds.


In that moment I understood what Ragnarok was.


It was all of the barriers coming down.


Possibly all of them, possibly also the ones that protected Earth from Hell and from Heaven.


This could start it on its own. This could be it. I saw no sign of Surtur. I saw a woman who I suspected was the general.


I saw a lot of unhappy-looking troops. I could feel that, too.


And I knew the only thing that had saved us was their hesitation, their lack of belief in the one they followed. We were alive because Surtur had been foolish enough to use conscripts.




I forced myself to breathe. “Shame we don’t have a nice big distraction to drop in the middle of that lot,” I said aside to Thruor.


“You’re thinking a bomb?”


“I don’t want to kill conscripts.” I sighted down my hand at the general. “Shooting her, though…”


Thruor grinned. “None of us are top snipers.”


“A shame.” I let out a breath. “Can you feel it?”


“Yes. And if they invade, then the first barrier goes down and even if we stop it it’s going to be hard to get it back up.”


“But not impossible.”


“No. But it will take work on both sides, and Surtur does not plan that.”


“He plans destruction.”


“And is using you, now, as the excuse for it.”


I knew she was right. “I think we need to find a way to take her out. Put them in disarray. Buy us some time.”


But she was also right that none of us were snipers. I could not shoot at that range. We would have to get dangerously close.


We would have to compromise our primary mission. “Maybe somebody should go back and find a sniper.”


“We don’t have time,” came Ebba’s voice from my other side. “We have to move now.”


I knew she was right, but I wanted that woman dead. Not personal, I didn’t hate her.


Pure strategy.


War turned people into targets. Nothing more and nothing less.




Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 25

We hid in the dark, while an army went past us to kill those we should have been protecting. Loki was not with us. He pointed out that he stood out too much.


I rather thought he just had a nostalgia for when he and Surtur had been friends and wanted no involvement in this.


I wondered if there had ever been a point when he had thought the match was a good thing.


Probably he had until he found out what Surtur planned. Or most likely, until he found out I wanted nothing to do with it.


He respected me. And I was no older than those dwarven kids, but it was good to be treated like an adult. Then again, I was insisting on it.


I was taking responsibility and leading and I didn’t like it, but it seemed as if I fell further down that rabbit hole with every decision I made.


With every decision I made I sealed my own fate. I was sure of that now. The sad part was that I was not sure what my fate was.


I put a hand on the fyrhund’s ruff. Another person who had insisted on coming against, perhaps, my better judgment.


Then again, in some ways, he’d been with me through it all in a way even Kanesha hadn’t.


He needed a name.


I could not name him until after the fight.


Unless it was already too late. I felt my fire, pulling within me. My heritage.


But only part of my heritage. Fire and ice and the strength that kept them both together. When had I chosen the fire?


I was not sure, even with memory. I was not sure, but I knew I had at some point.


And in my heart I knew it did not matter. And then what happened to Kanesha.




I trusted Thruor. If something happened to me, I trusted her and I knew Kanesha did too. If I died. If I died for good, she would still be protected.


The fire within me, and I knew when the last of them had passed, although I said nothing, waiting until the twins thought it was clear.


Better to be safe than dead, I thought. Better to be safe and on our way, although I knew I would never be safe again.


Whatever happened, I was not meant for safety, and we moved through the tunnels.


“They left their gate open,” Jorun said.


“No doubt,” Thruor supplied, “So they can easily bring more troops through.”


It went without saying that we should open our own, and we did, moving down a side tunnel and then stepping out onto a hillside in Muspelheim.


Below us, an army mustered.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 24

We chose our best route to Muspelheim, planning it using a map. It would lead us to the capital by a route that avoided other towns.


Thus, we hoped, it avoided collateral damage. We wanted the fight to happen somewhere where there would be few civilians to be hurt, little property to be damaged.


We wanted to hurt as few people other than our target as possible. That, I supposed, was what honor we could keep in this. A surgical strike.


Except we had no smart bombs. And nothing like that could be made magically. I asked.


Yeah, I had to ask. But there was no way to do it without risking a lot of damage.


Back to plan A. Back to just beating the guy down. Defeating him in an unfair fight.


Well, he might have bodyguards to make things more even, but we already knew that he could not be beaten in a fair fight and did not respect his own laws.


We would make it, thus, as unfair a fight as we could. We set out at dawn, or what the dwarves claimed was dawn. As before, we went into deep passages, leading the horses, to make our exit.


We did not see the sky. It was a slightly longer route, intentionally, than they had rescued me by.


When they had come before they had been concerned about proximity to medbay. Now, apparently, this route would position us better for surprise.


Not right into the Capital. That might have been better surprise, but we knew we would be dogpiled and arrested or killed before we could do anything.


I really needed to find out whether the city had a name, or whether, as I suspected, city and realm were named the same.


I was pretty sure that was the truth. Should have asked Surtur, I thought wryly, while we were exchanging barbed civilities.


Through the corridors, then, and then ahead of us I saw fire.




Thruor swore rather more profusely. “I think they thought of this route too.”


Fighting off an army was not what we were prepared for. Jorun and Ebba looked at each other, then headed down a side route. “We should not try to stop them. This should loop us back behind them.


“At least they’ll be having to duck.”


Both dwarves grinned at me.


But this was it. The war had come here, come to the hall, and it was my fault. Every death would lie at my feet.


I would work out later how to live with them. If there was a later. If I did not survive then perhaps it would be justice.


Still, I had not done this intentionally. I had thought I was doing it right.


A mistake, though, could cause as much pain as an intentional act. Sometimes more.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 23

I did not stay out much longer. It might not be safe, even armed.


I could not be sure that, well. What if he tried to just snatch me or Kanesha from here? He might have issues – but he might also have people who were good enough at glamor to disguise themselves from the dwarves.




Back inside, I found my way to the kitchens and scrounged some food. I felt as if I could…


No, I did not feel as if I could be part of this culture. I just vaguely envied those that were. I was not and never would be one of them, but there was so much to admire, and I could not understand those myths which characterized dwarves as just smiths as if there was nothing more to them.


Oh, they were smiths alright, but they were other things too. Brewers. Musicians. People.


People who loved and lived. There were a couple of teenaged dwarves snogging in a back corner as I left. I ignored them, but it added to that feel.


People who loved and lived. And some of them would die. I was sure we would not be able to prevent a war.


We might be able to mitigate it and we could certainly use it as a distraction. But we could not stop it, not at this point.


The scavengers would already be on the move, and I could still hear the thud of the forges.


Armor. Sword. What more did I need? A horse, but I had one I could borrow.


I intended to appear as a warrior queen. I intended to show him I was not a damsel.


I intended the last thing he saw of me was that I had not, and would not, bow to him or to any.


Well, maybe to Odin, but somehow…he had never asked me to bow to him. He did not need to ask.


There might have been a time when Surtur had not needed to ask either. That time was in the past.


A ruler who needed to ask was no ruler. I would remember that too. The king of the dwarves did not need to ask.


Anyone who had to demand respect had not earned it. I felt I had earned some, although I would never expect anyone to bow to me.


Just respect me as a warrior. The two kids broke off and looked at me rather sheepishly. I could not resist grinning at them.


They were just kids, and they did not know what the future would bring and maybe they would be married some day, maybe not.


It did not matter. What mattered was giving them the time and the chance to make that decision.


What mattered was making sure they got to live.


Episode Thirty-Four: Barriers: Scene 22

We made our plans. I would ride in, do something spectacular, demand to meet him. A simple ambush.


I would ask to meet him alone. I would make him think I was giving in, that I would be his.


I would not kiss him.


Well, not if I could avoid it. Then the rest could dogpile on him, weapons of choice available. It was dishonorable in some ways.


But he had, I rather thought, removed all right to honor. He was no longer what he once was, and I had to admit that saddened me. Even if I had never known that, I had seen the edges of a loyalty he had once claimed.
The king is the land is the king. Sacrifice. I still had to deal with that. I was not sure murdering…and let’s give it it’s name…him would make the sacrifice that was needed.


Would we be doing more harm to the beleaguered realm?
With that thought I took myself outside, on a trail that led towards an ancient passage to Jotunheim. I had not realized where my feet were leading me.


Of course I could not ask Angrboda to help. She would melt in Muspelheim. For advice? Maybe.


But I stopped short of actually heading into that realm. I stood on a mountain trail above a high valley, and I saw plains.


The dwarves did have some flat land, or at least rolling rangeland where they could grow crops and herd animals.


They were not merely their stereotype of dwellers in caves, although never in darkness. There was nothing dark about the hall under the mountain.


This land, I thought, was beautiful, but it did not call to me, it did not try to draw me to itself.


It belonged to dwarves and their kin. I might have been able to learn to love it, but it would be an exile.


Weird thoughts, those. I had no intention of hiding here. Mostly because I feared it would not work.


The trail led around the mountain and above the sun, bright on this land. Dwarves preferred to go forth at dawn and dusk, their eyes used to the dimmer light in the caves.


I did not mind the day. The brightness.
Falling stars.




I felt as if something was indeed coming to a close, and I remembered childhood. I was glad to have that restored to me.


The memory of being innocent and not understanding what it meant to be Loki’s daughter.


I clung to that. It might be what would keep me sane.