Valkyrie grinned savagely as Grunt charged her. She had been waiting for this moment to teach him a lesson. His thundering approach shook the ground but as he came within a leg’s length away she rolled out of the way, unsheathing her sword in the process. There was a roar from the crowd and when Valkyrie chanced a look she saw Hilda and Maan going at it fiercely across the clearing, their silhouettes bathed in a fiery glow amidst the flames.
There was another roar, this one much closer since it came from Grunt, as he twisted in mid-charge to assault her. Valkyrie nearly committed whiplash to evade his swinging punch at her face before bringing her sword up to slash him. To her great surprise, he grabbed her blade in midair and slammed a fist into it, providing a substantial dent in the metal.
Valkyrie stumbled backward, her mouth agape in disbelief. Grunt saw her shock and grinned ferally.
“Didn’t know I could do that, did you?” he boasted.
She cracked her neck, dropping the sword and acquiring a ready stance with her spear in hand.
“You just made me angrier,” she responded.
He lunged at her with both hands poised to grab her but she rolled out of the way once more, rose to a crouch, and as he turned with that surprisingly quick speed of his, she bashed the spear in his face. He reared back, his nose bloodied but Valkyrie knew from experience that wasn’t going to be enough to take him down. The injury was only set to stun him and she used the opportunity to assault him with another barrage of heavy blows to his body with the butt of the spear.
She understood that the Test of Valor was a battle to the death but if she was to be King of Asgard she thought it would be a greater show of strength to leave her challengers alive. It would show that she was merciful and there was no reason to kill fellow Asgardians. Thanos had taken enough of her race. There didn’t need to be any more deaths.
She thrust the blunt tip of her spear into his sternum but this time he absorbed the blow, grabbing the weapon and yanking her to him. He tried to grab her but she ducked just in time. She, however, wasn’t able to evade his fierce kick to her back. She fell to the ground hard and tasted blood.
This isn’t good, she thought a second before he grabbed her hair from behind and picked her up. She struggled in his grasp but she wasn’t able to escape his vice-like clutch.
“Good night, your Majesty,” he boomed through bloody teeth before slamming her to the ground so hard it felt like she had been rammed into a wall.
Everything went black but two of her senses were still operating surprisingly well; her sense of hearing and touch. Around her, she could hear the wild roars and oohs-and-aahs of the crowd, the clash of swords and the grunts of the challengers fighting one another for supremacy. And then her other sense flared with an unbearable pain that coursed through every part of her body from Grunt’s lethal attack.
She couldn’t move even though her muscles seemed to be screaming. Deep down inside she wanted to lay down and give in to the darkness that threatened to succumb her. It would make things easier. But what would Thor think or more importantly, what would she tell Priscilla if she ever saw her again in Valhalla? She could imagine the look of surprise on Priscilla’s face. The surprise that would turn into disgust.
“I guess that’s why we died,” Priscilla would say. “You’re no leader. You’re really a coward.”
The thought, whether it was a figment of her imagination or not, made her angry. She forced herself to open her eyes, to tighten her slack hands into fists, and to begin to rise from the ground even though it felt like every fiber in her Asgardian being was shredding.
She could hear cheers from the crowd followed by those chanting, “Valkyrie! Valkyrie! Valkyrie!”
She let the Asgardians’ support imbue her with strength. It gave her the energy to grab her spear, to take a shuddering breath, and rise to her feet. Risen to her full height she spat a wad of blood onto the grass before assessing the clearing.
Several yards away, Maan was lying on the ground facedown and in the distance, Hilda was barely able to hold off Grunt’s advance as she stumbled backward, swinging at him with that ax of hers. It wouldn’t be long before he got past her defenses and ended her with one mighty punch.
Valkyrie used every dreg of strength she had left in her to run toward one of the lines of fire, dip the tip of her spear into its blazing glory, and charge the two remaining challengers. Grunt, seemingly surprised to hear Valkyrie’s voice, turned, ignoring his current opponent who would be his downfall.
Valkyrie screamed, “No!” just as Hilda swung her ax at his head. Grunt was a goner but Valkyrie had other plans. She threw her spear as hard as she could and with an aim that was true it clashed with her ax just as her blade was about to cleave his head clean from his neck.
Hilda cried out, falling backward. The flames from the spear sent sparks into Grunt’s wild mane of locks, setting his head ablaze. He screamed, running around like a chicken with its head cut off as he tried to quench the fire atop his dome. In an attempt to abate the fire he simply ran and jumped off of the cliff to the ocean below, causing a massive gasp from the crowd. In the meanwhile, Valkyrie leaped forward, grabbed the still-burning spear, and before Hilda could react, had the spear in her face.
“Yield…or die,” Valkyrie said, her chest heaving.
Hilda sneered but dropped the ax anyway. Valkyrie released a breath of relief before turning to Volmas who was standing at the edge of the clearing. Her head was pounding and her vision was vaguely blurred but she retained a strong demeanor despite every notion to collapse on the grass.
“This ancient game of yours is over,” Valkyrie said. Throwing her spear to the side she stood, regarding the elder angrily. “I hope you enjoyed watching us nearly kill each other for power.”
Volmas didn’t respond. Instead, with thin lips drawn in a grim line, she raised her staff and turned to the Asgardian crowd with a powerful declaration. “It has been proven, through fierce combat, that Valkyrie will indeed be the King of Asgard.”
“All hail the King!” the Asgardians roared in unison, their cheers louder than the thunder that continued to crash overhead.
Valkyrie wasn’t happy though. Instead, she was furious. “Does anyone else care to see if Grunt is okay? He did, in fact, just go jump into the ocean during a thunderstorm? And what about Maan?” She glanced over at the young warrior and saw that his dark hair was matted with what definitely appeared to be blood. “Are we just going to let him bleed out like a bunch of savages?”
Hilda, clearly peeved that she had been bested in combat, nevertheless stood and approached Valkyrie. “You’re right. You go find Grunt. I’ll see that Maan’s taken care of.”
She nodded her thanks before leaving the cliffs and the Asgardian crowd behind, determined to find Grunt who may not even be alive. This entire situation was ridiculous.
The Test of Valor was a brutal practice that she wished she hadn’t participated in. And with the way her head was ringing and her body was aching, it seemed that the Test of Valor may have gotten the best of her.
It didn’t take Valkyrie long to get a boat and race onto the high seas amidst the roiling waves that tossed their small boat about underneath a lightning-filled sky. Valkyrie’s head pounded and every fiber of her was asking her to lay down and sleep, maybe forever, but she wouldn’t. Not until she had found Grunt.
There was a small voice inside of her that continuously said, “What are you risking your life for this guy for? He had his watery fate coming.”
But there was another side to her that realized that no matter how ornery he could be at times he was still an Asgardian and as King, it was her duty to keep every Asgardian safe.
The storm thundered around her, the waves crashed over the boat, her vision was filled with water, her mouth salty with the pungent taste of sea spray, but she was determined. Maybe more determined than she had ever been. She couldn’t understand why. Maybe it was an innate desire to never fail anyone else that needed her help. Maybe she wanted to prove that she could be a leader everyone loved, a leader who would protect her fellow Asgardian even if it meant the cost of her own life. If Grunt died, it was just another reminder of the women she lost on that fateful day so many years ago.
Just when it seemed that all hope was lost and that Grunt had been consumed by the hungry tempest that surrounded her a flash of lightning lit up the night sky and Valkyrie thought she caught a glimpse of a man struggling against the waves near the cliffs that towered above them. She cried out in joy.
She steered the boat in his direction and sure enough there was Grunt’s massive body struggling to stay afloat above the crashing waves. Valkyrie reached out to him and when he saw her his eyes widened in a sincere shock.
“Take my hand!” she screamed. “We don’t have all night!”
A fork of lightning coursed through the sky followed by a massive boom of thunder. He struggled against the current and reached out, his large hand enveloping her smaller one. With an obvious strain, she managed to pull him into the boat before hitting the acceleration and hightailing it back to New Asgard.
As Grunt lay on the floor of the boat, half of his locks charred to nothing and spluttering for breath, Valkyrie felt a sense of joy seeing him alive. His dark eyes focused on her and in them, she saw nothing but gratitude.
“I thought you were dead,” he said.
“Not quite,” she responded. “You didn’t finish the job.”
He chuckled. “I’m glad.” He grabbed her hand again. “Thank you.”
She smiled. “Never thought I’d hear those words come out of your mouth.”
“Never thought I’d have to say them,” Grunt responded.
As the thunderstorm continued on Valkyrie knew she had found not only an ally in Grunt but a lifelong friend.