The journey on Bifrost was quick, as it was not like walking at all, so much as skating quickly upon a frictionless lake. They flew past the stars as they continued to flicker out, victims of Fenrir’s insatiable hunger and The Interloper’s all-out war on the lesser gods. They flew high into the sky, past human reality and into the realm of the gods, towards the shining beauty of Asgard.
“We shall be in Asgard soon,” Freya said skating along next to Astrid, “I do not know what we shall find there.”
Astrid nodded, amazed by her ease of movement. It was as if her limbs bore no weight, as if she flew like a feather caught in a gale. She tore upwards, her heart racing in excitement and wonderment. Higher and higher they climbed until suddenly Freya yelled out in surprise:
“We must stop, the path ahead is blocked.”
They slowed to a stop and Astrid squinted her eyes to see what Freya was speaking about. In the distance, near the apex of the bridge, was a large gate, made of pearl and locked against entry. Two sentries stood in front of it: a large wolf with human limbs and a man whose features Astrid could not quite make out.
“That gate wasn’t there before. Never have the paths of Bifrost been blocked.”
“Who are the sentries,” asked Astrid.
“The wolf-man is Fenrir, he sleeps, exhausted from eating. I cannot tell who the second is from this distance. Whoever it is, a fight lies ahead of us.”
Astrid and Freya continued slowly towards the gate, keeping a wary eye on the sentries, neither of whom moved.
“Perhaps they are asleep,” said Astrid.
“No,” replied Freya, “they are waiting.”
“I don’t know.”
As they came closer, the second sentry turned to them, his face obscured by a hood.
“Halt,” the familiar voice from underneath called out.
“Father Ansgar,” asked Astrid, continuing forward.
Ansgar pulled back his hood to reveal himself and began to laugh, “silly little girl. Did you think Freya there was the only one to disguise herself?”
“Be careful,” whispered Freya as they approached the sentries, “I do not know who he really is, but he must be powerful if The Interloper placed him there to stop us.”
“Powerful and not deaf, dear aunt. You always were soft on these mortals. Helping their crops, giving them children, guiding them to the underworld. All the while you should have been treating them with the disdain they deserved. They live to serve us, Freya; you and my mother forgot that. You lost faith and then turned the All-Father into a simpering fool who valued peace and understanding over war.”
“The one and only, dear aunty. I enjoyed setting traps for the humans, fooling them, stomping them under my boot when they took me as naught but a jester. Then my father put a stop to that, exiled me to the realm of the frost giants. Then came The Interloper: He promised to give to the humans the greatest lie and let me be its herald. To spread His word of ‘peace’ while using convincing men to deliver fiery death to all who worshipped the elder gods. I joined Him and displaced my father and mother, sending them to exile.”
“Treacherous fool,” cried Freya, “you think he will share power with you?”
“He doesn’t have to, for He is truth. I will gladly serve Him and destroy His enemies. The lie He gave to humanity isn’t that He is The Almighty, dear Freya. It is that He is a peaceful god full of love. No, He is jealous and vengeful and has naught but disdain for these humans. He made them, you know, made all of us. Made us to worship and raise Him up.”
“He has lost his mind,” Freya whispered to herself.
“Then why is he only now trying to wrest Asgard from Odin? Why did he not make Odin bow before him from the beginning?” asked Astrid.
“Oh, dear puny mortal. Such silly questions; ones to which I will give no answer other than, it was His will.”
“Have you sacrificed sense to this God of yours? For none of this speaks to reason.”
“It doesn’t have to,” cried Loki, enraged, “I believe it wholly! Enough talk!”
The face Astrid knew as Father Ansgar grew red with rage as the god within’s scream reverberated down Bifrost. The mouth ripped open as the scream became a cackle, Ansgar transformed into a titan: his bald pate grew long raven-black locks, his atrophied muscles became supple and strong, his sallow skin shed off and was replaced with the visage of youth. Ansgar was gone and in his place the impressive, horned form of Loki had appeared.
As Loki transformed, Fenrir woke with a howl and a stretch. His fangs dripped with the dust of a thousand stars as he smiled at Astrid.
“You are beautiful, shield maiden,” said Fenrir, “come closer so I may taste you.”
“I will come closer, but the only thing you shall taste will be my blade,” cried Astrid as she drew her sword and rushed at the wolf-man.
Fenrir laughed as Astrid approached him, pulling a spear from his shining coat.
“Then let it begin,” he howled.
As Astrid’s blade met with Fenrir’s mighty spear, Loki turned his attention to Freya.
“Oh, dear Aunt. You must join us. My Lord is all powerful and I am his servant. He will give me riches beyond compare so long as I defend him.”
“No, Loki. You have killed your family, your own mother and father, for revenge; you can dress that as piety and sacrifice, but it is murder.”
“Do not lecture me, dear Aunt,” said Loki, his eyes glowing with hatred and magic, “we are a petty bunch, we old gods. Imperfect and incomplete. We must either serve Him, or perish.”
Lightning flew from Loki’s hands into the chest of Freya, pushing her to the ground, her limbs twitching uncontrollably. Looking over she saw Astrid in pitched battle with Fenrir, their steel clashing and the wolf-man’s jaws snapping at her. Astrid moved with the grace of a dancer, her sword expertly parrying his attacks, her limbs narrowly avoiding his bite with perfect timing. Freya got to her knees as Loki ceased his attack.
“I do not want to kill you, Aunt. Join us, kill the shield maiden.”
“I will not,” cried Freya, calling down a hail of arrows from the heavens. Loki dodged quickly, avoiding the bulk of the deluge. When the attack was done, Loki looked at his aunt, pulling arrows from his arms and legs.
“You will have to do better than that,” he said, releasing a storm of flame from his eyes, engulfing Freya. She screamed as she burned, in agony and in desperation. Next to her, Fenrir and Astrid continued to battle, Fenrir was now on the defensive as Astrid attacked him repeatedly. His reflexes were slow from his cosmic gluttony and she took full advantage of this. Striking over and over, Fenrir backed up until his back met the pearly gate. Then he cried out:
“You are mighty, shield maiden, but you are a mortal and nothing more; I will destroy you,” with that, he lunged at her furiously, teeth bared. Astrid stepped back to avoid his bite, and as his head passed her, she brought Ulfberht’s full weight down upon his neck, severing his head from his body. It continued to snap and snarl as it bounced down Bifrost towards earth.
Freya smiled as her skin fried, only Loki remained; fire pouring forth from his eyes like molten lava. Astrid moved towards him, sword at the ready. Without looking at her, Loki sneered and threw lightning from his fingertips. He began to scream with laughter as Astrid squirmed and Freya burned. Suddenly, his laughter stopped when he heard the ravens’ caw coming from above. The fire from his eyes ceased as he looked up just in time to see Odin’s ravens attacking. Loki shrieked as they latched onto his eyeballs and ripped them from their sockets. He screamed in fury at the birds. Astrid climbed to her feet just in time to see Freya, skinless and dying, stand.
“Astrid,” she said, “remember me.”
Freya ran forward and embraced Loki as he continued to wail.
“My poor misguided nephew,” she whispered as she cradled his head, “it is time for this to end.”
Light filled Astrid’s eyes, temporarily blinding her, as the two gods were engulfed by an exploding sun. By the time her eyesight had returned, they were gone. Only the ravens remained, perched on the now opened pearl gates.
“Beware, non-mother,” they called out, “we do not dare venture further. You are alone from here on.”
Astrid passed through the gates into what had once been Asgard, but the great city of legend was no more. She walked through a field of clouds and ruins, partially deconstructed and burning, victims of The Interloper’s war on the gods. Only the main palace remained standing, a gilded reminder of the age of Odin, untouched by whatever magic had befallen the rest of Asgard. There were no soldiers here, no defenses; the only sound was chanting coming from the palace. Astrid followed a path through the clouds, prepared for an ambush that never came.
Astrid stopped in front of the stairway to Odin’s throne room. She knew her husband awaited her among those chanting fools; Hrothgar was their leader, their holy man. She reflected on Odin’s words to her, about her need to make a sacrifice. Would she really be willing to kill the man whom she set out to save? Would she be able to when the time came?
Astrid steeled herself with deep breath and climbed the stairs.