Alexander never thought that he would live long enough to enjoy quiet nights like this. He noted it was a particularly cold night as he stepped onto his back porch. His breath sent out a little fog, and he marveled at how peaceful winter could be in the Icelandic forest. The freshly fallen snow sparkled as the Northern lights flashed through the night sky. Alexander never grew tired of watching their fiery dance. He only wished his wife, Helga, was still around to enjoy the peace and quiet. Sighing contentedly, Alexander reached down, grabbed a bundle of firewood, and turned to head back inside. Suddenly he froze. He felt it, a tingling he hadn’t felt in a long time, danger. Scanning the surrounding forest, Alexander couldn’t see anything out of place, but the feeling that something was out there, something that didn’t belong, still pulled at him like the tide. Alexander stared into the darkness for a few more moments, but the forest remained silent, unwilling to give up its secrets. Alexander shrugged and went back into his house. For the first time in years, he locked the door behind him.
As Alexander sat by the fire, the warmth failed to chase away the feeling that someone or something was out there roaming his forest. A familiar howl rang out from deep within the forest, pulling Alexander out of his thoughts. A second later similar howls answered. Alexander could identify each individual wolf by their howl; he had known this pack for years. Settling back in his chair, he envisioned the wolves in full force. The howls continued to ring across the forest. In all his
years living in the forest, Alexander had never heard so many wolves at once. They sounded agitated. They must sense it too, he thought.
Alexander groaned as his knees popped and his old bones protested the sudden movement of getting to his feet. It was as if his body knew what he was planning to do and was voicing its discontent. It had been decades since he had been in a fight, but it seemed he was being called out one last time. Hell, Alexander thought, I may see Helga sooner than I thought. Pulling on his thick wool parka, Alexander grabbed the double-bladed ax he used to chop wood. The weight felt comfortable in his hands. The ax had been his weapon of choice from the time he was strong enough to swing one. His mother had pushed him to branch out and learn to use other weapons, but it wasn’t meant to be. The ax was the weapon of his ancestors, and he honored them by using it. The cold hit Alexander like a hammer, clearing his senses and waking him up to the world around him. The Berserker had laid dormant inside of him for decades now, but Alexander could feel the old battle lust stirring within. The forest had gone too quiet, the howls of the wolf pack had died down. Goosebumps speckled Alexander’s body as the tension in the air thickened. Alexander knew why. A
predator not of this realm stalked his forest.
Alexander silently crept through the forest. The snow crunched lightly beneath his weight; his senses screamed at him to turn back, but he ignored them and pressed on. It had been decades since he had felt the thrill of a fight, and he relished the feeling.
A bird pierced the silent forest with a loud squawk. He peered through the tangle of trees and branches; he could barely make out a blotch of darkness that seemed to be darker than the surrounding forest. As he moved closer, the air blew warm breaths on his face with each step. Alexander was within ten feet of the odd black blotch when he noticed that the snow had completely melted away. Steam rose from the freshly uncovered earth in a circle around the object. Thick drops of water splashed down from the tree branches above, puffing into steam upon hitting the forest floor.
Alexander continued to move slowly around the dark object but didn’t see anyone or anything. Creeping ever closer, his feeling of unease intensified. As Alexander stepped around the inky darkness, the heat had him sweating through his clothes. He stopped dead in his tracks. His blood ran cold. From the back, the round black object drank in all the available light, but now that Alexander was in front of it, he could see it opened up to a world of fire and lava. Alexander knew what he was looking at; he just couldn’t figure out why it was here. The dark blob was a bridge to another realm. However, it differed from any bridge he had used in his youth. This thing was more like a rip in the fabric of reality. Whoever did this was immensely powerful. Peering into the gateway, memories from a lifetime ago came flooding back to him. Muspelheim, the realm of fire and lava. The home to an unimaginable evil. It was a place he had hoped to never see again.
As if in answer to his thoughts, something rose out of the molten river that lay beyond the bridge. Alexander’s stomach backflipped as he recognized the creature that was steadily stalking towards the bridge. It’s the beginning of the end, Alexander thought. Ragnarok is here.
As the being stepped through the bridge and into Alexander’s world, the frigid forest air hissed and steamed in protest to the fiery monster’s trespass into Midgard. Alexander stared up at the molten giant and thought he looked even taller than he had appeared decades ago. Alexander backed up, making sure he was out of range of the monster’s hulking sword. He knew a fight was inevitable. Alexander closed his eyes and freed the dormant Berserker, embracing the longforgotten thrill of the fight. Icy fire burned along his veins as his muscles grew and strengthened. Alexander knew, even in his enhanced state, that he was no match for the force of nature that stood before him. He only hoped to fend the giant off long enough to create an opening and run for help. Hopefully, with luck, he could lose the creature in the forest.
Alexander opened his eyes, filling his old frame and flooding his veins with the familiar icy burn of the Berserker. Any thoughts of running vanished as a thin red haze of rage colored the edge of his vision. Fear and doubt evaporated and was replaced with excited determination at the chance to cross blades one last time with a worthy foe. Who gives a damn that I’m well into my sixties? Alexander thought. “I am the last of an ancient and powerful Berserker clan, bestowed with the power of Thor, chosen to defend Midgard from invaders such as you. How dare you step into my realm, Surtr,” Alexander growled. “You aren’t welcome here. I will say this one time; return to Muspelheim or face my wrath.”
Surtr’s molten eyes studied Alexander. A voice Alexander had hoped to never hear again thundered in the clearing. The fire giant’s voice washed over Alexander like an oncoming forest fire.
“You arrogant and foolish Midgardian. Do you have any idea who you are speaking too? Face your wrath? Don’t think I don’t remember you. You are one of the few beings who was lucky enough to escape me the first time we fought. You will not be so lucky this time. By Hel’s will, I have been given a second chance to finish the fight you started many years ago.”
“You think I’m afraid of you, giant?” Alexander boasted, “I have faced hundreds of enemies and killed them all. Last time we faced, we were in your realm, but now,” Alexander gestured around. “You are far from Muspelheim. I have the advantage here.”
Surtr laughed and pointed his massive sword at Alexander. “You truly don’t know what I am, do you? I cannot be killed by the likes of you.”
Surtr blurred, moving with a speed no normal human could track. But luckily for Alexander, he wasn’t a normal human. This also wasn’t his first fight. Alexander had been waiting for Surtr to make the first move and was ready for him. Surtr’s burning blade slashed through the air mere centimeters from Alexander’s face as he dodged out of range. A blast of scalding air washed over Alexander as Surtr’s blade sliced through the air. Alexander rushed forward, relishing the speed his Berserker state granted him. Alexander hoped to throw Surtr off by attacking him head on. Slashing upward, Alexander attempted to split open Surtr’s unarmored stomach. Before the ax hit, Surtr lashed out, kicking Alexander square in the chest, causing him to fly backward. He slammed into a tree trunk with a bone crunching crack. Alexander felt the ancient pine sway back and forth from the impact. Snow rained down from the branches above, pelting him in wet kisses. Alexander struggled to catch his breath. Damn, that hurt. I can’t afford to take too many hits like that, Alexander thought. Struggling to his feet, Alexander felt every cell in his body struggle with the pain. He suspected a few of his ribs cracked, but nothing felt permanently damaged or out of place.
Luckily, years of training had taught Alexander to never let go of his weapon in a fight. Even in his old age, he still had the wherewithal to keep hold of it. Alexander used his ax as a crutch and looked up at Surtr. His enemy hadn’t even bothered to follow up his attack; he just stood there studying Alexander.
“You’ve grown old, Berserker. You weren’t a match for me decades ago. You certainly aren’t one now.”
Alexander eyed the giant, “Ha, I’m just warming up, Surtr. Before long I’ll have you running back through that bridge, crying to whoever sent you here,” Alexander boasted. However, deep down he knew he was finished. That kick had hurt him more than he cared to admit. His back was ablaze with pain and his legs felt like wet noodles. I must have damaged my spine when I hit the tree, Alexander thought. “This fight will be over before I get a chance to heal,” Alexander grumbled.
Alexander eyed the fiery giant and quietly thanked the gods he had the foresight to leave a letter to his Berserker heir. He had wished he could have had more time with his daughter and grandson. He’d wanted to introduce them to the idea of realms, gods, and supernatural creatures slowly, but as with all great plans, it fell apart. Alexander could only hope they would find the journals.
There is no way this attack is random, Alexander thought. A being such as Surtr doesn’t leave his realm unless provoked, and for a bridge to open right in his backyard, linking Muspelheim to Midgard – it was too much of a coincidence. The gods were moving against each other; he could feel it.
Wincing in pain, Alexander steeled himself.
Whispering reverently, Alexander breathed into the icy wind, “Odin, Allfather, my time on this mortal plain has come to an end. I, one of Thor’s anointed, choose to die with an ax in hand, and can only hope to be welcomed into the halls of Valhalla.” A raven cawed an answer to Alexander’s prayer somewhere in the trees. Even though Surtr was far stronger than him, Alexander couldn’t just roll over and die. That wasn’t the Berserker way. Taking a deep breath, Alexander took a two-handed grip on his ax, feeling the smooth grip of the handle form perfectly to his weathered and calloused hands. He charged, bellowing a war cry. Surtr moved in as well, sensing the fight was coming to an end. Surtr brought down his massive sword in an attempt to split Alexander in two, but Alexander saw it coming and blocked the attack with his ax. Sparks flew in all directions as the two blades met. Alexander’s ax blade chipped and bent along the edge where it met Surtr’s sword, but that didn’t faze Alexander.
Quick as lightning, Alexander swung for Surtr’s outstretched forearm. Alexander thought he had scored a hit, but it merely bounced off Surtr’s thick hide. Alexander, unwilling to relent, swung a horizontal slash meant to take the giant in the knee, but Surtr’s burning blade materialized and Alexander’s ax slammed edge first into the flat of Surtr’s broadsword with a loud clang. The resulting tremor ran up Alexander’s hand and arm, causing them to momentarily go numb. Dodging to the left, Alexander averted a savage punch aimed for his head.
Alexander ducked and dodged Surtr’s onslaught. He never gave up, always looking for an opening to attack. Spinning the ax between attacks, Alexander continued to duck and dodge, waiting for the giant to make a mistake. Alexander knew he couldn’t keep this up for much longer, but he couldn’t waste his attack either.
Alexander backed away. Overconfident, Surtr grew bolder with each attack and was swinging wildly. Just as he had hoped, Alexander’s opportunity came as he ducked under a slash meant to take his head off at the neck. Ducking under the smoldering blade, he stepped in as Surtr’s blade slammed into an ancient pine tree. The force of Surtr’s blow nearly cut the massive tree in half, but luckily for Alexander, the blade stopped three-fourths of the way through.
It only took him a second, but that was all the time Alexander needed. Alexander knew this was his only chance, and he swung with all his might. His blade hit Surtr in the stomach. Sparks fluttered to life as Alexander’s ax impacted Surtr’s hardened skin. A look of shock crept across Surtr’s face; Alexander’s blade carved out a shallow cut. Surtr blurred, attacking faster than Alexander thought possible. Not knowing where the attack was coming from, Alexander flung himself backward, but it wasn’t fast enough. Surtr’s blade buried itself deep into Alexander’s right shoulder.
Alexander crumbled, falling to his knees as Surtr pulled the blade free in a spray of blood. Alexander’s vision blurred. Through the pain, Alexander focused on a thin trickle of molten orange blood seeping out of the cut chiseled into Surtr. Surtr followed Alexander’s gaze and looked down. He dabbed lightly at the bleeding wound.
In his grave voice, Surtr intoned, “You are the first to injure me in decades. Be proud as you go to your death.” He heaved the sword above his head, “Give my regards to the Aesir. Their rule over the realms has ended. Ragnarok begins.” Reverently, he brought his sword down for the killing blow.
Alexander, broken and bleeding, moved on reflex, brought up his ax in an overhead block, but it wasn’t enough. Knowing that his time had finally come, Alexander hoped he had made his ancestors proud and that his family would be ready for what was to come. The Berserker mantle that he had held for so long would finally pass on.
A flutter of wings and a caw from the onlooking raven were the only sounds in the silent forest as Alexander slumped back, dead. Surtr took a long moment to stare down at his fallen foe before turning and disappearing through the bridge.