Dec. 1st, 2014

hecu_marine: (tiwaz)
When you have been old for a very long time, you start to smell Death coming. You catch a whiff of her on the wind one day and you know, you know, that she'll be turning up; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but she'll be there soon.

Sometimes you've smelled her coming before. Some people do. The difference is that when you've been old for a very long time and you catch that whiff of her on the wind, it starts being okay. You might need a little time to finish some things first, maybe get those last few stories written down before she arrives, but whenever she gets there, it's going to be okay. You've done enough. You know where she's going to take you.

Sometimes you've got a little niggling spark of spite and irony to you, one that says, I always knew something in particular was going to get me killed one day. Let's go see if I was right. So you put down the stylus- that hand of yours finally stopped moving anyway, there's nothing left for it to write now- and you turn out the light behind you, and you head on down to the hangar to see if there are any pilots willing to take an old man up for one last spin. She's coming for you now; there's nothing left about those fucking murderbirds that can scare you any more.

And you really see a hell of a lot from up here.

When you have been old for a very long time, you know how it feels. It didn't feel like that any more. Nothing hurt. Nothing was stiff. When he flexed his fingers, his left hand moved as easily as his right; when he looked around-


"Okay," he said eventually, "I'm gonna need some help here. This don't look like what I was expecting. This ain't Heaven, is it."

Not that he had any kind of an objection to a huge, tumbling field of grass and stone, rolling away into fog and forest in the distance, but there wasn't nearly enough mountain to it for it to be a proper kind of Heaven.

"No," said the woman next to him. He couldn't make out much of her face or form- body armor and a proper environmentally sealed helmet tended to obscure a lot of distinguishing features- but that was very definitely a woman's voice, and an amused one at that.

"Huh," was his response. If he squinted some he could about make out a big, slope-roofed building at the edge of the field, lights in all its windows and little curls of smoke rising from a dozen chimneys. "Ain't quite what I'd've figured Hell was gonna look like either."

"No," agreed the woman, who sounded if anything more amused than before. "Definitely not Hel."

"And you ain't Saint Peter or Gunny Hathcock," said Shephard, "so I hope you don't mind my sayin' so, but I'm drawin' a blank here. Mind tellin' me where this is?"

The woman laughed at that, a sound too sincere to be unkind, and started undoing the catches that held her helmet on. "There are," she said, "more fates than that for a man. When the lion took your hand, all those years ago, it changed one of your names."

tiwazRotorhead to tiwazRegulator. He hadn't thought of that in years. "Yeah," he said slowly. "So?"

"So you went and you looked for what remained the same. What it meant," she said. "And when you found a book to tell you about tiwaz, you kept reading and saw and who it stood for-"

Tyr is a one-handed god / and leavings of the wolf / and prince of temples

"Wait," said Shephard, holding up one finger. "Wait-"

"And you kept reading, didn't you?" The helmet came off; a golden braid easily as long and as thick as his arm spilled out from under it. She grinned at him. "Do I have to give you any more hints? I thought you were more clever than that."

"You're a fuckin' Valkyrie?" he spluttered, belatedly recovering just enough good sense to add, "ma'am."

"Something like that," she said. "Call me Sýr, if you like. Are you so surprised?"

"No offense or nothin', ma'am, but I died a Christian last I checked."

"Oh, yes," she said, "you did. But that one has a war-host already, and has no interest in more. And you never turned away when other gods smiled on you before, did you?"

"They were right in front of me," Shephard felt obliged to point out. "I wasn't gon' be rude."

Sýr laughed again. "No doubt! So there was that. I saw no reason not to make a move. You would have been bored soon in the other one's presence anyway."

She had, Shephard was forced to admit, a point.

"The time came," she went on, "and I came looking for you."

"Question," he said suddenly. "I thought you ladies were lookin' for warriors on the battlefield to take back with you. Ain't there somethin' in the rules about dyin' of old age disqualifyin' you?"

"Says the man who died in the gunner's seat of an attack helicopter on patrol." Sýr fixed him with an arch look. "You went out of your way to look for enemies one last time before the end. No one could call that the straw death."

Shephard fell silent.

"Come now. How much have you been through? Did you truly think something so small as dying could stop the… what did you call it… 'weird mythic shit'?"

"I suppose not," Shephard said, and squared his shoulders. "All right, then, ma'am. I'mma guess that building I'm seein' over there in the distance's Valhalla, then?"

"Not quite, but you could not be blamed for that mistake," Sýr said, almost kindly. "Óðinn only receives half of those chosen, the ones who fight for glory or valor or conquest. Those who fight in defense of home and country and family, to defend rather than to overrun, are chosen first for she who is possessor of the fallen slain and of Sessrúmnir. This field is Fólkvangr; the hall is Sessrúmnir, and beyond it there is anchored a ship of the same name."

She put two fingers in her mouth and blew a short, sharp note. Two dark, shaggy shapes came trotting across the field, the biggest boars Shephard had ever seen- well, no; one was a wild pig, to be sure, but a sow instead. And a familiar one at that. "Uh, ma'am-"

"She only tried to gore you while she roamed Elysium," said Sýr. "She will bear you now, if you like. Or walk if you would rather, but Sessrúmnir is a longer march from here than you can see. I will be riding Hildisvíni, myself. Are you coming?"


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Sergeant-Major Adrian Shephard

October 2016

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