Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 28

No. He had alienated me.


He climbed, and I stood there, next to the tree. Knowing that I would not kill him.


Knowing somebody else might. Knowing the end game had to happen.


It might not be my task, but I would do it if I had to. I wish I knew what would break the cycle for sure.


What would put things back to normal. Or whether there really was a normal.


And then I saw him. He saw me.


“You would not.”


I smiled. “Would not what? The cycle’s turning, if we don’t break it somehow…”


“With you I will win.”


“Without me you will lose. You know what happens then.”


“Are you in so much of a hurry to die?”


I smiled. “No.” But I would if I had to. “But I am not twisting around every way I can to avoid it.”


“Join me. I know I…”


I cut him off. “You lost any chance of that when you resorted to threats.”


“To save my people.”


“To save your people and yourself. With yourself as the most important element of this.”


He flinched as if I had struck him.


“The king is the land. It is you who ails. It is you who has forgotten honor.”


“Then what? Do we fight?”


“No.” I took a deep breath. “Not my wish. Unless you intend to attack me.”


He looked as if he was about to. “I…”


“Whatever you feel for me, you threw it away, you cast it off. You have nothing left.”


“Except.” He pointed up at the rift.


“To let your world and people die with you. Is that it?”


“If I have to. It will restart the cycle, and there will be a new world.”


A new world. I smelled the acrid stench of fire and blood washing over me.


It was stalemate. I drew my sword.


Knowing I would have to defend myself.


Knowing we would fight again, and again, with no resolution, stalling things, slowing them down.




…for me to see rainbow reflected in Surtur’s eyes.


I did not turn to see who had opened the bridge. Any option was, I thought, good for me.


Bad for him.


Rainbow reflected in his eyes and the rift starting to grow again.


This was it. This was the breaking point.


This was the end.

Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 27

I closed my eyes. I could feel him coming.


Not my task to kill him, but I knew I had a task here nonetheless, even if I was not entirely sure what it was.


Maybe I had already done it.


What if Thruor killed him?


What if…


The dwarves. It boiled down to the dwarves. Twin heirs. Who decided which one ruled. Which was older they had not told me.


Maybe they were not the heirs, maybe the dwarves did not allow women to rule.


Maybe…they had come here for a reason of their own, but I trusted them, cared for them.


I could think of worse.


A sense of something being disturbed, of a door opening.


Of a way opening. I opened my eyes. “Somebody’s coming.”


“I know,” Thruor said, hand on hilt. But whatever it was they were…taking their time.
With the barriers thin, maybe this meant they were coming a long way. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it wasn’t Coyote or Lugh. Somebody who did not truly belong here, but who had an interest in helping or hindering.


Above me, I heard wings. I looked up. A dragon circled. Watching, not attacking. I wondered who’s side it was on.
Dragons were usually evil.


Usually. Not always. Perhaps this one had simply come to see what came of this conflict, what came of the king. It was, of course, a fire dragon, trailing smoke from its wings.


It was not the same one I had so foolishly tried to ride. Well, as long as it did not trouble me, I would not trouble it.
The feeling of something approaching came, though, from three directions. Surtur. The dragon.


Whoever or whatever was hammering on the barrier between the realms.


It occurred to me in that moment that Coyote’s realm would be the perfect place for Loki and Kanesha to come in peace.


Maybe it was both of them.


Maybe it was something that meant to destroy me. I could not assume this was an ally that approached.
Surtur, climbing the mountain. Alone.


It was the end game. He needed to be alone. I did not. That, perhaps, was the difference.




He did not need to be alone. He simply was alone, any friends he might have had were gone.
That was the difference between us. I had not alienated my people, those who cared about me.


Only him. I had only alienated him.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 26

He did not come right away. Likely he was still catching his horse.


Poor beastie.


But I was happy to wait. This might be the end of everything, or at least the end of my everything. No anticipation this time.


Just enjoying every second of existence. Wishing she was here, yes.


Wishing that that last time, her walking away with Loki, had not been the last time. Which it had to be.


She could not be here.


I could not leave.


That was why gods did not love mortals, and I had been warned. She had been warned. We had both known it was a bad idea and done it anyway. Then again, perhaps that was the entire history of women who love women.


That right there, because when had it ever been a good idea by any definition other than the one which was woven all in with the way we loved each other.


I could have chosen otherwise.


She could not, she was born to be as she was. Or her soul had chosen it before her birth. Maybe one day I would understand.


The stars were unborn gods.


Not the real stars, though, and perhaps I only saw them as stars because of something in my own mind. What was real?
The tree was.


The power that echoed across the land was. The tree was still dead.


When it bloomed I would know I had won. It was still dead, so things were still undecided. Uncertain.


I did not know whether I was going to win. I cared.


Win or lose, though, that was the last I had seen of her, walking away.




Never to come back into my life. I would find somebody else, I would release her soul.


Which I could do, but I did not. Not yet.


Thruor would take care of her if I could not. Or Hel would. I trusted my sister.


So I did not release her.


It would have been too much like breaking up, letting go, moving on, when what I so dearly wanted was the opposite.


“I love you, Kanesha,” I murmured to the tree, as if in that way she could hear it.


Hear it and know it to be true.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 25

And it boiled down to why it had to be here. Feeling a lot better for soup and rest, I stood with my hands on the tree.


“It is dead, right?” Thruor asked.


“As a dodo. But not permanently. Besides, I don’t think it’s the tree itself that matters.”


“It’s the land.”


“Right. And what I’m doing might, might just resonate with Surtur as me being willing to change my mind about being queen.”


“Are you?”

She looked at me with serious blue eyes. I returned the gaze. “I might have no choice.”


The slightest of nods.


“We do what we have to do, right?” I wondered how often she hated her job, how often she wished she could choose differently.


No, she had chosen to be what she was. She was Thor’s daughter, she could be many things. She had chosen this.


I would choose it too, but she herself had told me it was not an option.


“We do.” A slight smile. Slightly sad.


“I can’t bluff him any more. I have to make this about the two of us.”


“You do.”


It was not my task to kill him.


It was also not my task to wed him. I hoped.


Even if I thought he actually might be willing to share.


No, but this would end now. And perhaps I would only be remembered as the one who stopped the cycle.


Or as a murder victim. Like my brothers.


Like my brothers who had never had the chance to become whatever they would have been. I was older.


I was not much older. I was a woman.


I was not sure I was ready to be a queen.


But I rested my hand on the wood and made a promise. One way or another, I would save this land.
And something started to shift, not a sudden shift, but a slow tectonic drift.


I felt it. Perhaps Thruor felt it.


Certainly Surtur felt it.


Now he knew what was up here.


Would he come back? “If he comes back, we do not attack him.”


Thruor nodded. “No. We do not. But anyone he brings with him.”


“We chase them off the mountain if possible.”


I was in charge. I was absolutely terrified.


I was very sad.

Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 24

Needless to say I woke up horribly stiff. With Thruor checking on me.


“He got clean away, right?”


“He did. You did well, though.”


“Not well enough. I’m starting to think it is so much not my task that I should go do something else and let the rest of you try without me. Or…or just stay here.”


I was still exhausted. Not sure why I was quite so tired.


“That’s blood loss talking.”


I shook my head, “No, I was already thinking.”


“Shut up and drink this.”


She had, of all things, a thermos flask. It was full of some kind of heavy, meaty soup. Probably just what I needed right at that moment. So, I shut up and drank.


“Okay, so, Surtur is terrified of what he’s being asked to do to stop this. He’s going to redouble his efforts to cause the end,” Thruor said, finally, while I finished the soup.


“And everything I’ve done has made it worse.”


Except the one thing I had not done.


“Say one thing that’s made it better.”


“Got rid of the demons.”


“Which were here because of me.” Maybe it was still blood loss talking. I felt pretty useless. A good fighter, and maybe more than that.


Just not doing the things that needed to be done in the right way. “Where did he go?”


“He camped in the foothills. At least he has to find his horse.”


I laughed. “Then maybe we still have a chance.”


But with what weapon? What we needed, I thought, was something more sophisticated. Mike’s magic gun wouldn’t do it.


Well, maybe it would, but he had never been a sniper.


“To do what?”


“Give him no choice but to come back up here on his own,” I said grimly.


“He’s never going to do that.”


“He is if he thinks it will change the outcome. If he thinks I have found a way to save Muspelheim without having to reset the cycle and without him dying.”


I was not sure how to achieve it, but I knew who would be.


That person was not here. So, I had to come up with the answer myself.


Still, when all else has failed, it’s often worth asking yourself exactly what Loki would do.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 23

Apparently they were. And realizing they could not grab me, they eventually fled.


I was too tired to follow. They had got what they wanted, which was to hold me back while their master, while their king escaped.


Escaped the star, which was what he was running from. Escaped the land, which asked him to become one with it.


I understood a little more now. Could I give that? Maybe I could.


Not yet, but when it was needed.


When the cycle reached this point again and desperate things were needed. Of course, then it might not be this realm but another that needed such sacrifice.


The tree.


I crawled, almost literally, back up the mountain.


“Did he get away?” asked Jorun.


“The troops held me off. I’d have yelled for help, but…”


“Too narrow.”


I nodded. “Too narrow, yeah. They ran once he had enough of a head start.”


I stumbled back over to the dead tree and sat down with my back against it.


The star had gone.


I was not sure when it had gone and where. It was not my task to kill him. “I think this is happening because killing Surtur isn’t my job.”


Ebba laughed.


“I’m not just saying that because I couldn’t beat him, you…”


“Dwarf?” she supplied.


“Dwarf,” I agreed. “And no, I can’t beat him.”


“You weakened him.”


“But it was not me he ran from.” I shook my head a bit. It was not, and it felt like a loss, not a victory.


Not even a stalemate. I would never get him back up here now.
Which meant that I knew what I had to do.


Just not yet.


Not until I had…




Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 22

It seemed like we would be fighting forever, but he was pushing me back up the slope.


The tree.


If we damaged the tree. Some symbolic thing there, something bad would happen, and it caused me to redouble my efforts.


I was bleeding, and my blood felt like fire, and I saw red. Yet, I still could not get all the way through his guard, nor he through mine. How long could two such as us fight if we were this evenly matched.


Then, abruptly, he broke off. He stared at the sky for a moment, then turned and ran.


I could not help but follow his gaze.


A star hovered above us. Watching. Threatening and promising. I knew it was the one from the vision.


And he ran.


“The king is the land is the king,” I said upwards.


I got no response in words.


I got understanding. He was running, though. Once the others realized, they ran after him. Well, the six that were still alive.


“What…” Thruor looked up at the star.


“I think we got a bit too much attention.”
Then I set off after Surtur. I had to. I could not let him get away. Could not bring myself to admit that he had escaped. I was already exhausted as I ran down the mountain, as swiftly as I could over the strange terrain.


I saw Thruor drop past me, envied her the wings for sure right now. She could get ahead of him that way.


Was it her task after all? I had certainly softened him up for her if so.


The star hovered above us, but then I dropped into a wall of giants.


They could only come at me one at a time, the first with an axe, but I had no way to get around them and what was true of them was true of me…my backup could not assist either.


All I could do was fight and wish he had not run. This was supposed to be the place.


Or perhaps it was supposed to be the place for something else, perhaps my mind had confused visions with each other. I was no Norn to keep such things straight.


Maybe they couldn’t either and that was why they were so cryptic.
The giant’s hand, and her axe, went falling off the mountain, followed by stones.


I could not keep this up much longer.


My best hope was that they were under orders not to kill me.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 21

Seven in. Four out. Too long to wait.


Pounding feet. They were practically running up the trail, but I had no doubt that they knew their own endurance.


We, meanwhile, were at the end of ours for waiting, adrenalin threatening to crash before the fight even started.


Or whatever passed for it. It was all, for me, about energy and magic. Fire.


And I could not draw from the fire here. It still felt sickly. It wanted me. It also wanted Surtur.
The land would have liked both of us, united. “Sorry,” I whispered.


And knew that the land understood. Understood that it was wrong to force it. But it was still a dream.


Not my task to kill him.


He had to die.


And with that the first of the fire giants came around the rock…


…to take a bullet. It didn’t kill her – it was a woman – but she was thrown back slightly. Then she charged, letting battle fever take over.


A second shot at Surtur, second in line as I had suspected.


“What?” he said, abruptly.


“Surprise!” I yelled and leaped over the rocks towards him.


“I don’t want to kill you!”


I felt the same way, but my blade was out. “You have given me no choice. You could have asked. You could always have asked.”


“You would never have said yes.”


I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I might have said if he’d been saner. “You lost your chance when you tried to force me.”


Our blades struck against each other, crimson sparks into the air. Tried to force me. I heard the echo of my words from the mountainside.


“What do you want?” he asked.


“Should have asked me that a long time ago. Too late now.” What I wanted was in the past, out of reach. It was no longer possible to get there from here.


“I only ever…”


I struck at him again, causing a bit of blood to leak from his arm. His return blow sent vibrations all the way through my body.


But the bantering part was over. I could not take him, but I could hold my own. Not enough space.


If I fell…I no longer knew what would happen. But there were too few of us for me to get help.


It was not my task to kill him because I couldn’t. But I could hold him.


I could hold him until one of us tired into a mistake. That was all I could do.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 20

Thruor came back a bit later. “I see them. We definitely have company.”




“On horseback.”


He’d have to leave the horses. “We should…” I grinned. “Reckon our horses could herd his off somewhere?”


“So if he…” Thruor laughed. “Loki’s daughter.”


“It’s petty, I know.”


But I sort of felt sorry for Surtur’s horse. I’d been surprised to find they used them. Frost giants didn’t.


Angrboda. Somebody else I feared I would not see again, but there was nothing I could do.


He was coming, and task or no task, we were going to finish this. Unless it was so firm a prophecy that I could not be involved with killing him at all.


That might explain some things. If this did not work I would suggest to Thruor that I needed to pull out altogether. Help somewhere else.


I thought of Kanesha, used her as a sort of lodestone to focus my mind. Not that I was just doing this for her, but she was part and parcel of everything I was doing this for.


Focused. Dropped behind the rock. Waiting. “Maybe we should do another light show.”


Thruor nodded. “I’ll toss up a flare. Don’t need you.”


I suspected she wanted me to save my strength. My fire was far more useful in a fight, even against fire giants, than her, surprisingly lesser magic.


Or not so surprisingly. She was a valkyrie and a warrior. I was…what I was.


I was fire. Nurturing and burning. I let it grow within me.




He would probably be dismounting right about now. Thruor said he had eight with him, men and women.


More elite forces. Nine might be more than we could handle. What would they do if we took him out?


What if we sniped him? None of us had the requisite skill, or did we? “Could take him out right as he comes around the corner,” I murmured to Mike.


“I thought of that, but he won’t come first.”


I nodded. “Well. If we get a shot we should take it.” It might only wound him. But it would weaken him.


And if we took him out, then would those with him go crazy for vengeance or would they fold? I knew he likely hoped for the former.


But given how fire giants felt about assassination, they might…


He was coming up the mountain. I realized I was holding my breath. Forced myself to take deep, patterned breaths, seven in, four out.


It helped.


Episode Thirty-Five: Stalemate: Scene 19

“I think he’s calling our bluff,” I said to Thruor.


“Or just assuming that this would take a while.”


“What do we do if he is?”


Not my task to kill him. Was it Thruor’s?


What if it was the dwarves? That might make things better or worse.


Who’s task was it? Somebody I didn’t know.


“Go find him, I suppose.”


“Could do another light show then immediately head out.”


“Might be too slow to surprise him.”


Her tone reminded me that I had picked the location. I was responsible for failure.


“And…I still…” I looked at the tree.


“Still want to help the tree.”


“Yes.” It wasn’t just a tree. It represented everything. But tactics. I delayed purely from that. “Can you see anything?”


“No more than you can, but let me see.”
And she was airborne, a rush of black feathers. I felt envy for a moment. Flying. Wasn’t something I longed for, but how could one not be just a little bit jealous of such an ability?


I doubted Ebba and Jorun envied her at all.


Mike. “Is she doing recon?”


“Yes. And don’t worry, she won’t be seen.”


“I’m not. I’m worried about you.”


“Mike, I’m only going to do what I have to.”


“Exactly.” He studied me. “I’m not your father. I never can be. But…”


I let out a breath. “I wish I could ask you to look after Kanesha for me. Just in case.” But it was too late for that.


“You think you are…”


I turned towards him. “Mike, if I don’t make it through this, then it might not even be a concern.”
The rift in the sky was trembling. Quivering. Maybe Surtur had not come because every part of him was devoted to keeping it closed.


Could I help?


“I know.” He paused. “But I still worry.”


“In your nature.” I looked at the rift again. It felt as if it echoed the divisions in this land.


I wanted to be back in DC. I wanted to be worrying about a shoot.


I knew I would never again get what I wanted.