War of the Realms
“THIS IS IT,” FREYA WHISPERED to herself. “War in the realms.” It was too terrible to consider, but there was no avoiding it.
The young Valkyrie stood outside the closed barn doors at Valhalla Valley, the home of her Earth family. She and Archie had been thrown out by Thor, who was furious with her and held her personally responsible for the start of the war.
Thor was partly right, but she hadn’t intended anything like this to happen. All she had set out to do was free her twin brother, Kai, from the Keep of the Dark Searchers before he took his final vow and drank the potion that would destroy his voice forever. She couldn’t let him become one of the feared Dark Searchers without offering him the choice
of another life. How could she have known that going to Utgard would cause so much trouble?
After a few minutes, the barn door swung open and a large Dark Searcher shoved Kai and their young cousin Mims outside, to join Freya and her best friend, Archie.
“I am no child!” Kai protested loudly as he tried to push his way back inside. “You cannot throw me out while the ‘adults’ talk. I am a Searcher; my place is in there with you!”
The imposing Dark Searcher said nothing, but held up a warning finger to Kai. After a moment, he closed the door and they heard it lock behind him.
“Thor is really mad.” Mims turned to Freya. “He’s blaming you for everything.”
“Seems like they all are,” Archie added. “But if the Searchers in there hadn’t followed us from Utgard, Dirian would have killed them, too. They should be thanking us, not treating us like criminals.”
Freya nodded and pressed her ear to the door. The discussions inside the barn were heating up as Asgardians, Angels of Death, and humans clashed. Thor was raging, and blaming Loki as much as he blamed Freya.
“Thor is accusing Loki now,” Freya reported. “He’s saying that Loki and I went to Utgard to cause trouble.”
“That’s a lie!” Archie said.
A fist slammed against the other side of the door, knocking it into Freya’s cheek. “Ouch!” she cried. She
rubbed her bruised cheek and punched the door back.
A moment later it opened, and the same Dark Searcher who had evicted Kai and Mims poked his head out. He wasn’t wearing his helmet, and his dark blue eyes blazed in threat as he snarled, “You have caused enough trouble, Valkyrie. Leave here, now!”
“Come,” Kai said to everyone. “If we are not welcome, we’ll go.”
They moved away from the barn and headed back to the farmhouse. They climbed the three steps up to the porch and stood there, glaring at the barn.
“We should be in there,” Freya said.
Kai nodded. “They only see us as children. But we are warriors, and we are prepared for this war.”
“How bad do you think it’ll get?” Archie asked. “I mean, you don’t think this could actually be the start of Rag—”
“Don’t say it! Don’t even think it!” Freya said quickly.
Archie was being trained in Valhalla to fight and wield a sword, alongside the soldiers the Valkyries reaped from Earth’s battlefields. He was lucky enough to be personally tutored by one of Valhalla’s best warriors, Crixus, the ancient gladiator. So it was no real surprise that Archie had the Great War on his mind.
Mims looked at Archie and frowned. “What are you talking about? What is Rag?”
Freya realized that her cousin—the daughter of a wingless
Dark Searcher and a human mother—had never been told any of the Norse myths. She knew nothing of her origin or the stories of her Asgard people.
“It’s actually called Ragnarök,” Freya corrected. She hated to have to be the one to tell her about the legendary war, but Mims needed to know how bad things could become. As Freya filled her in, all the color drained from her cousin’s face. “Ragnarök means the end of everything—all the realms, including Midgard,” Kai added.
“But isn’t Earth called Midgard?” Mims asked.
Kai nodded. He was taller than Freya, with eyes the color of ice. His long hair was jet black, contrasting with the brilliant white feathers of his wings. He was the only Dark Searcher with white wings, so they had caused him lots of trouble over the years, just as Freya’s black wings had done for her, among the white-winged Valkyries.
“I’m sure it won’t go that far.” Freya tried to sound reassuring.
“But it could,” Kai said.
“What a little bundle of joy you are,” Archie said. “Look, if everyone in the realms knows about Ragnarök, they’d be insane to start a war that big.”
Kai tilted his head to the side. “Are you serious? Weren’t you just in Utgard? Didn’t you see the frost giants up close? Do you really think they care, or even plan beyond their next meal?”
Freya shuddered as she thought back to their experience in Utgard, the land of the frost giants. She recalled how she and Archie had nearly been squeezed to death in the hand of a giant. Kai was right. Frost giants wouldn’t think twice about starting a war that big.
She’d never encountered the fire giants outside of the Ten Realms Challenge, but rumor had it that they were even worse. To all of them, the future was abstract. War, peace—it was all the same. Dark Elves were just as bad. Granted, they were more intelligent, but it was well known that they were as short tempered as the giants. It wouldn’t take much to set them off.
“We’ve got to stop it,” Archie said.
“Isn’t that what they’re discussing in there?” Mims asked.
“Yes,” Freya said as she jumped down from the front porch. “And we should be in there. If only they would trust us, I’m sure we could help.”
“Gee, where are you going?” Archie called, using his nickname for Freya.
“Back to the barn. I have to hear what they’re saying.”
“But that roadblock of a Searcher is guarding the door,” Archie called after her. “You’ll never get in.”
“I’m not going to the door. Look—there’s a large window into the hayloft. We can fly up there and hear what’s going on.”
“Freya, are you determined to have Thor cut off your wings?” Orus cawed from her shoulder.
“They’re talking about the War of the Realms, and that involves all of us. We have a right to know what’s going on.” She turned to Kai. “I’ll carry Archie up if you take Mims.”
Freya and Kai flew through the open hayloft window and landed on the upper level of the barn. Creeping forward over the bales of hay, they peered down upon the large gathering.
Thor’s voice boomed as he pointed an accusing finger at Azrael, the Angel of Death. “You should have warned us this was coming. Why didn’t you say something? You could have told Odin at the Ten Realms Challenge!”
“For one thing, we couldn’t be certain,” Azrael said calmly. “Yes, we knew something was brewing, but we had no idea who the traitor was or when they would strike. Two, Odin already knew something was in the air. Like us, he wasn’t sure who the instigator was, so he remained silent until he had more information. Had he revealed his suspicions too soon, he would have given Dirian the opportunity to plan his attack more carefully. But now, because Freya intervened at Utgard, Dirian has exposed himself before he was ready and has had to move his plans forward, which may cost him dearly.”
“It has already cost us dearly, Angel,” Kris, Freya’s uncle, rasped, his face red with rage. His blue eyes flashed as he pushed through the line of Dark Searchers. Even without their helmets on, they were an imposing sight and an intimidating force. “Dirian has slaughtered our brothers
and destroyed our keep with his betrayal. We, the few who remain, can never return there.”
“You didn’t belong there anyway,” Eir, Freya’s mother, said. “You are our kin. You should have lived with us in Asgard and not been exiled to Utgard.”
Loki waved his hand dramatically. “Not that this family reunion isn’t touching, but all this talk is getting us nowhere. Bifröst is closed, and soon the frost and fire giants will march on Asgard.”
“They cannot get there with Bifröst closed,” Thor said. “Just as we are trapped here until father has Heimdall open the bridge again.”
Loki’s eyes opened wide in disbelief. He gasped and then started to cough with explosive laughter. “This . . . this is what I’ve always loved about you, Thor,” he gasped. “You’re all brawn and no brains!”
Thor’s face contorted with rage. “Stop laughing at me!”
The more Thor protested, the harder Loki laughed. “Stop . . . please . . . you’re killing me!”
“Thor said stop laughing.” Kris caught Loki by the neck and hoisted him off the ground. “Now is not the time for your games,” he growled.
Loki clutched at the Searcher’s gloves and kicked out his feet.
“Kris, enough!” Freya’s younger uncle, Vonni, intervened. “All this bickering is getting us nowhere. You’ve
banished the kids from being a part of this discussion, but you’re behaving worse than them!” He caught his older brother’s arm and pulled it away from Loki’s throat.
Freya studied her two uncles closely. Vonni had been raised on Earth. His wings had been removed by Azrael when he was born and, like Mims, he had never been told his true nature. All he knew was that he, like his mother, was immortal. Vonni was a gentle and loving husband and devoted father, but he also had great strength and all the powers of the Searchers.
Then there was his older brother, Kris. A full-winged Dark Searcher who had been raised in Utgard at the Keep of the Dark Searchers. Trained to be vicious and obedient, he was a powerful fighter. As much as they looked alike, they couldn’t have been more different.
“Kris, please,” Vonni repeated. “Let him speak. If there is another way to travel beyond Bifröst, we should know about it.”
The huge Dark Searcher looked at Thor for direction. When the son of Odin nodded, Kris released Loki.
Loki collapsed to the floor, gasping and rubbing his neck. “You could have killed me, you great big oaf!”
“And you would have deserved it,” Thor said. “Now talk. How will the frost and fire giants reach Asgard? Surely Bifröst is the only way—everyone knows that.”
“Everyone is wrong,” Loki said, rubbing his neck. “There is another way, and you should be thanking me for knowing it.”
“There is no other way,” Kris rasped.
“Oh no?” Loki teased. “And just how do you think I’ve been getting in and out of Asgard without Odin’s permission when Heimdall is always at his post?”
“You used drugs,” Eir said. “Just like you did when you helped Freya cross Bifröst without permission the first time. You used a potion to render Heimdall unconscious.”
Loki nodded. “True, because getting Freya killed in the tunnels wouldn’t have done me any good.”
“Tunnels?” Eir demanded. “Those are an old myth.”
Loki turned on her. “Ragnarök is a myth too, but suddenly everyone here is talking about it. And you’re right to do so. Now that Bifröst is closed, those hidden tunnels connecting the realms through the roots of Yggdrasil are the only way to reach Asgard from the lower realms. And I hate to say it, but most of them pass right through here in Midgard.”
“What are you saying?” Vonni demanded.
“I’m saying that before long, Earth will be crawling with every kind of frost, fire, and mountain giant there is. They’ll be coming out of one tunnel and finding their way to another leading up to Asgard. Not to mention the Dark Elves and dwarfs—and anyone else who has sided with Dirian.”
Up in the hayloft, Freya inhaled and looked at Archie and Kai. She leaned closer to her brother and whispered, “Did you know about these tunnels?”
Kai shook his head. “I knew about the ones in Utgard
that ran under the keep and the other one that ran under the outer wall. But I’ve never heard of the roots of Yggdrasil.”
Freya flashed back to her visit to the keep in Utgard. To the dark tunnels, cut into the ground with the roots hanging down, smelling of mold and earth. They had barely been wide enough for her to spread her wings. But they were there.
Down below, Thor exploded. “You’re lying!”
“Are you willing to risk it?” Loki challenged. “You know I have been deceptive about many things in my life. And perhaps I do enjoy a bit of mischief—now and then. But this is too serious for games.”
“This is just another trick,” Thor spat.
“I’m not lying,” Loki insisted. “There are tunnels that cut through all the realms. I know of at least five entrances scattered across Earth from the lower realms. And if I remember correctly, there are seven leading out of Midgard to the upper realms. If the frost giants want to go up, they need to pass through here first.”
“Surely we would have known,” Balder said.
Azrael cleared his throat. “Though I am loath to admit it, Loki is correct. There are many tunnels that pass between the realms. I have no doubt that if the giants know about them—and I suspect they do—Earth is in a lot of danger. . . .”
* * *
Freya and her friends remained in the hayloft unnoticed for half the night, eavesdropping on the arguing below. They
all knew the problem, but there seemed to be no solution. Finally Freya shook her head. “I’ve heard enough. All they’re doing down there is shouting. I need some fresh air.”
“Me too,” Archie agreed. “Those guys couldn’t agree on the color of the sky, let alone how to stop the war.”
They flew out the barn window and touched down on the ground outside. The night was cold, but the air was fresh and clear. Stars blazed in the black sky above them and the moon was dipping on the horizon. Freya looked at all the peaceful beauty around her—the trees, the snow-capped mountains, and the lake in the distance. All of it could soon be lost.
“All this is going to be destroyed, and it’s my fault,” Freya said.
“Gee, stop it,” Archie said. “It’s Dirian’s fault, not yours.”
She knew what he was trying to do, but it wasn’t working. “It was me, and we both know it. I’m too impulsive—always jumping in without thinking of the consequences. We shouldn’t have gone to Utgard.”
Freya looked up at the raven on her shoulder. “Orus, you were right. You tried to warn me, but I wouldn’t listen. Now look at the mess I’ve made.”
Orus ruffled his feathers. “Freya, feeling sorry for yourself isn’t helping. If we hadn’t gone to Utgard, you wouldn’t have found your brother.”
Kai nodded. “And I’d be dead now, because I would never
join Dirian. So would all the other Searchers and maybe even Thor and Balder. Is that what you’d prefer?”
“No, of course not. But . . .”
“No buts,” Orus continued. “If what Loki says is true, Dirian has found a way to keep those he kills dead forever. We might have been the trigger that started the war, but it was going to happen anyway.”
“Only now there are still a few Dark Searchers left to defend Asgard,” Kai finished.
Archie nodded. “Gee, this isn’t the time to doubt ourselves. Odin needs us now more than ever.”
“So does Earth,” Mims added. “If it’s true that giants are going to come here, what will happen?”
“From the little I’ve seen and heard of your world, it won’t be good,” Kai said. “Midgard isn’t prepared for this—they don’t even know giants exist. It will be down to us to stop them.”
“What can we do?” Freya said, still sounding defeated. “There aren’t enough of us. A few Valkyries, a dozen or so Dark Searchers, Thor and Balder. I don’t know about the Angels of Death and whether they could join us or not. But even if they do, what can we achieve from here?”
“A lot!” Archie insisted. “And before you discount us humans completely, Earth does have its own defenses. We have armies and big weapons. We’ve even got nuclear warheads. We could do just fine against them, and maybe even stop the giants before they reached Asgard.”
“What?” Mims cried. “Fight the war here on Earth?”
“Why not,” Archie said, “if the giants are coming here anyway?”
“It won’t work,” Freya said. “I’ve been to plenty of Earth’s battlefields and seen what your military can do. One frost giant can do more damage than a whole country’s army. If they come to Earth, the best thing to do would be to stay out of their way.”
“Surrender?” Archie cried. “Are you serious?”
“Very,” Freya said.
“She’s right,” Kai agreed. His blue eyes grew intense. “Do you have any idea how powerful one frost or fire giant is? Even a small one? By their size alone, they could destroy this home with one kick. An army of them will decimate Midgard in days. Even Asgard, with all of Odin’s strength, won’t be able to stand against the united giants for long.”
“You’re saying we’ve already lost,” Mims commented.
Kai shook his head. “No. I’m saying that this war won’t be won with open engagement. If we were to rely on strength alone, the war is over long before it starts—especially against the giants. We need another plan.”
“Well, who do the giants hate?” Mims asked.
“Us,” Orus said. “And everyone who sides with Odin.”
“I liked it better when giants just hated each other.” Freya sighed.
“Exactly!” Kai said. “United, they are a danger to all the realms. They will be unstoppable.”
They began walking toward the lake in silence, each lost in his or her own thoughts. They occasionally heard the sound of raised voices coming from the barn, Thor’s ringing loudest as they argued and debated a way to save the realms.
They stood by the lake, looking at the dark beauty around them. In the distance, the howl of wolves shattered the silence. Their lonely calls, echoing off the mountains, only added to the deep sense of desperation.
“I’ve been thinking.” Kai stretched and flapped his large white wings. He rubbed his shoulder to massage away an ache. “Not all the giants will join the war or fight against Odin. I had a few giant friends in Utgard. And there are others who make Asgard their home. I wouldn’t be surprised if they join Odin’s forces to fight against Dirian.”
“So there are some giants on Odin’s side?” Mims asked.
Kai nodded. “Not all giants hate Odin. Right now Dirian’s united the giant kings against him, but I doubt it would take much to set them on each other again. . . .”
The moment Kai finished, there seemed to be a collective understanding among them—a simultaneous idea that offered the faintest glimmer of hope.
“So, if we could find a way to set the giants against each other again . . . ,” Freya started carefully.
“It could stop the war!” Orus finished. “That’s it! That’s how we defeat them. We don’t—we let them defeat each other!”