Chapter 1

Suppose I tell you a story. A story so fantastic that it must surely be a fairy tale from ancient times, long before written history. A story about Good and Evil, Life and Death, and the balance of the world. Now, suppose for one moment – just a moment – that such a story was true. What then? How would you see the world? Would you still look at everything as being mundane and boring or would you start looking a little harder for something else? Something fantastic in the hopes that it was true?

Now, what if I told you that it were true? Hear me out and allow me to explain. There are worlds — Realms — beyond this one: Heaven and Hell and more besides than any one can conceive of in a single lifetime. Realms that most Mortals aren’t even aware of in all their histories. Not anymore. There was a time when Mortals were well aware of the energies and the flow of the world around them, but as they grew and became more “civilized” the more distant they became from the earth and everything natural surrounding them. But I digress. That is not the story I intend to tell you.

This story is about things beyond the Mortal Realm, long forgotten histories, and lost civilizations.  A story about legends and faerie tales, and Gods and Mortals.  It is a story about Good and Evil, Life and Death, and Balance.

Every kingdom has a secret.  No matter the size or the dimension; if it was an empire or a principality.  It could destroy lives, shape people, and alter the course of history.  Secrets were often dangerous, and sometimes liberating.  Heroes were created and villains born from the discovery of a secret.  And with every hero came a weakness; with every villain there was always a master plan.

Some secrets were mysteries, waiting for someone or an intrepid group of adventurers to solve the riddle.  Others were truths that had been long forgotten, sitting like a fabulous lost city, collecting dust, waiting and hoping patiently for an inquisitive mind to rediscover them.  Still more were the kind of secret that could only be understood upon re-examination.  It needed to be experienced, observed, and reflected upon before any sense could be made of it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Each story supposedly possesses a beginning. This one began after my death.  I died in battle as a shield maiden and woke to find myself in Fólkvangr, a meadow ruled over by the goddess Freyja where half of those that died in combat go upon death, and shortly thereafter become a Valkyrie.

This new life I found myself in was good.  I was able to wander where I wished to, visit nearly any world that I wanted when not performing my duties, and learn what I wished.  Most of the technology that I encountered was magic based, for it fueled nearly every aspect of life in Ásgarðr.  To me, they seemed far more advanced than what I left behind on Miðgarðr.  I had a little trouble adjusting to living amongst the gods, but I still found it strange.  I was still defined by my gender, yet I had more freedoms than I had in life. 

As a Valkyrja, I collected souls of those fallen in combat and sometimes determined the outcome of some of these battles with other Valkyries.  Once collected, we brought the souls either to Fólkvangr or Valhǫll, where they fought all day, died, were brought back to life, and ate, drank and told stories until sleep came.  This was repeated every day, all in preparation of Ragnarök.

In life, I thought the Valkyries only sought warriors on Miðgarðr.  In death, I found that our work wasn’t contained to only one world.  Our work encompassed many. Each new world I visited was different and full of wonderful, and sometimes, terrifying things.  They were at different stages of advancement and technology, and on each of these worlds we Valkyries were called different names: The Choosers of the Slain; Shield, Battle or Death Maidens; Crows; Ravens; Blackbirds.

On every world our presence was associated with an aspect of death.  We didn’t dissuade them from the thought, or from the fear, reverence, and awe our presence inspired.  The reception we were received by those on the battlefield only increased the association, and it worked well for us.

In time, I was given missions of my own and no longer required to journey with a platoon of Valkyries.  For solo missions, I was able to choose einherjar to accompany me if I so wished.  The decision was entirely up to me.  The freedom was refreshing, but I understood later why it was required in the beginning.  New recruits were normally uncertain and unsure of themselves.  Such power as deciding who lives and dies is often overwhelming.

I still joined my battle sisters to select the most worthy from a war to join the einherjar in Valhǫll.  It was during one of these excursions that we made our way to a planet called L’Main.  It was a fertile world rife with magic and rudimentary science compared to other worlds.  The battle we were to supervise was a territory dispute between two kingdoms.  We were told that there were great warriors that were to participate.

That battle was a fierce and bloody affair.  We waited as events unfolded before us, and I felt that there were equal amounts of detached curiosity and impatience from some of the younger Valkyries.  When both armies withdrew, I signaled to my element that we were to descend.

Each Valkyrie has their own way of collecting souls.  Some choose warriors without saying a word, collecting their souls and putting them away.  Others spoke to them, but what words they said I do not know.

I chose to speak with the warriors.  I remember my death on the field of battled as a shield maiden, and the Valkyrie that was at my side during my awakening spoke reassuringly to me.  It was because of this experience that I always made sure to speak with the warriors I chose to take to Valhǫll and Fólkvangr.

We left when we felt ready to do so, and returned to Ásgarðr with the warriors we selected.  I made sure that each was received in either Valhǫll or Fólkvangr and was on my way again.  I never stayed long unless it was requested of me.

I began to study L’Main in one of the many libraries and found that the planet was one of the oldest in Miðgarðr.  According to their history, their world was the cradle of civilization for their area of the Realm.  Our records did not disagree.

The world reminded me very much of my own world, Miðgarðr.  It was perhaps due to the fact that a similar culture was on L’Main that was on mine that I felt something stir within me that I could not identify.  Nostalgia?  Longing?  I was unsure.  A thousand years of experiences and suppressed emotions do a lot to one’s memory.

I took more assignments to collect souls on L’Main.  My purpose was two-fold: to learn more and to stay close to a world so like my own.  For all of my want to return home, that was forbidden to me.  Being so close to family and loved ones could cloud my judgment.  A rule put in place not long after the Elder Valkyries had made rash decisions on their home worlds in the Realm of Man.

I decided that L’Main would do, so long as I was careful and not become attached.  It would do me no good to favor a mortal.  The last thing I wanted was to repeat the tale of Brynhildr and Siegfried – to be loved, then cast aside and forgotten, only to have revenge consume me – , despite hoping for what Kara had with Helgi – to find my love in each lifetime, no matter how many lives I might live.  It was because of these two Elder Valkyries that later Valkyries would have their emotions suppressed, but not be unfeeling creatures.

I’m not sure how long I spent watching L’Main and collecting warriors for Woden and Freyja.  Months?  Years?  Centuries?  I mark time differently now, having lived in this semi-divine form for so long.  I would take mortal form now and again, but I always returned to Ásgarðr, to being a Valkyrie.  I explored other worlds, but always I returned to L’Main.

I think that someone – maybe Kára or Ölrún – took notice of my interest.  I received a summons from Brynhildr, and I thought for sure someone suspected that I still longed for my home or of a growing attachment to a mortal.  Such things would warrant a punishment, and I bore no desire to be stripped of my divine powers unwillingly.

When I heard the summons, I felt the blood leave my face and my body being to tremble.  My mind began to race.  Would I be told never to visit L’Main again?  Would I be demoted?  Would I be punished and forced to live as a mortal once more?

As I followed the messenger, I felt dread creep into my very core.  For once, I was glad that I could not feel fear.  Brynhildr was releasing souls in Fólkvangr when I arrived.  She turned toward me as I came to a halt, the faint sound of metal clinking against metal sighing in the air.  Her blonde hair was loose beneath her helm and her blue eyes seemed hooded and dark as her gaze flicked over me quickly.  Her shoulders seemed hunched and rounded, as if a great weight were pressed upon them.  There were lines on her face that were deeper than I remembered and her mouth was set in a slight frown, as if the business she had to discuss was unpleasant.  The leather cuirass she wore was in need of care and her skirt was smudged with dirt and blood, dulling the bright embroidery.

“You summoned me?”  I tried to keep my voice steady, but I heard a faint quiver.  Keeping myself from wincing I kept my eyes locked with hers and my head held high, clenching my hands into fists behind my back.

“Yes.”  Brynhildr gestured for me to follow her, turning away.  “Some of our battle sisters tell me that you’ve become quite familiar with a few planets.”

My heart sank as she spoke.  This was it.  I would have to abandon the few planets I chose for myself and move on.    “Yes, Brynhildr,” I acknowledged, but refrained from elaborating.  I tried to calm myself, as I didn’t really know if this was about my growing attachment, but the thought persisted.

“Which ones?”  She glanced over at me as we continued our leisurely pace.

My stomach churned and every fiber of my being screamed at me to lie even as I answered.  “Caselien, L’Main, and Laskanda.  There are a few outlying worlds associated with them as well.”

I watched as Brynhildr nodded, as if coming to some sort of decision.  “I’m gathering Valkyries together who are familiar with worlds,” she explained.  “I want you to start recording any anomalies you may see, experience, or hear about and report back to me.”  She raised a hand as I was about to speak, halting me.  “Only to me.  And don’t interfere beyond your normal duties.  No taking mortal guise, either.”

I searched her face as I nodded, my dread forgotten.  This was far from what I originally feared, but there was a sense of something else going on.  Something far bigger than concern of being prohibited from visiting these few worlds again.  I was now uneasy for an entirely different reason.  “Of course, Brynhildr, but why?”

Her frown deepened as she looked elsewhere.  “Something is wrong,” came her quiet reply, “and I need data to prove it.”  Looking back at me, she continued.  “Work alone or with a trusted Valkyrie or two.  No more than three of you at a time.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Brynhildr.”

“Good.  Now, go.”

With that, I knew I was dismissed and left the Elder Valkyrie with her thoughts.  Something was troubling her greatly and I wondered if these were orders from the All Father.  Whatever it was, whatever Brynhildr knew, it had her unsettled enough that she felt she needed to have work done in relative secrecy.

To be sure, it wasn’t uncommon to collect information about worlds, but why look for anomalies specifically?  What bothered me more was that I didn’t know what type, which meant Brynhildr didn’t know what she was looking for either; only that something was wrong and it was potentially dangerous.

With new found resolve, I gathered my things and made straight for L’Main.

Next: Chapter 2

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