Lead Warrior p. I

Another short story following my new character, Hel. Part I of II.

Hel brushed her long blond hair to the right, showing off the undercut on the left side of her head. She separated a small portion of hair and braided it as steadily as she had in the old days when the humans called her the Goddess of Death and sang songs to her on their icy trips through the twisting fjords, out into the unknown perils of the open seas and new lands. She secured the small, silver clasps around the braid, beginning another.

Much had changed since her days with the Austmen. She had traded furs and skins for leather and denim, the smear of red across her face had become bright colors of eyeshadow contrasted against the dramatic black of what may have been too much eyeliner for the more modest Diplomat Sirens. Her love for silver had never diminished, however; it covered her wrists, her ears, and her fingers. Tattoos of the old runes along with pictures of crashing waves covered her left arm, left bare for all to see, thanks to her fitted denim tank-top.

She finished her braid and checked her makeup. Bright green pigment framed her blue eyes. She stood and examined the black torn jeans. They were snug—she had never been lean or petite; just the opposite. She was tall and muscular, and nearly all of her clothes were a close fit. Still, she always chose clothes that moved easily with her movements. This was key for the Lead Warrior. You had to be ready for combat at any moment.

Hel looked down at the dagger with the golden hilt on the desk in front of her. Lead Warrior for the next four hours. Soon to be “former Lead Warrior.” She would still be called to battles, still be called upon by the new Lead Warrior for her counsel. But there would be no more planning, no more orders given, and no more weight of the lives of billions on her shoulders.

She picked up the dagger, the Lead Warrior’s dagger, and examined it. One braid twisted up the grip. The bow and arrow in the center of the grip glistened in the light. This blade had been at her side since she was traversing the green lands across the seas with her bonded people long ago. She had to admit, it would be odd to part with it.

But she was so tired of being surrounded by death.

No. To be in charge of death. To truly be a Goddess of Death. The new weapons that the humans had created to impose as much destruction and mortality as possible would never be less horrific to Hel, who had charged her people to battle with bloody spears and shields soaked with death. She, who had watched countless funeral pyres and heard the calls to Odin to take those who laid down their lives in battle and the calls to her to take the enemy to Niflheim, could not bear leading these new machines of death.

No, soon this blade would be passed on to Roxy, the new Lead Warrior. Her little sister would bear the burden of death and war now. Hel wondered if it was fair, this transition of power. She wondered if Roxy truly knew what she was getting into.

But Roxy wanted the position. She had to be free to make her own choice. Choices such as these were some of the few freedoms the Sirens had under their patriarch, Alexandros.

Hel leaned down to grab her black boots, pulling them over the legs of her jeans and zipping them up to her calves. They were worn thin around the soles; she would need a new pair soon. She would retire these just as she was retiring her hold on her position.

She was examining her reflection again—a picture of the old days made new—when she heard a knock at her front door. She looked toward her living room door from where she stood, then back to her reflection for a moment more. Satisfied, she walked out of the room to see who her visitor was.

She opened her door to see a short woman with brown skin, brown eyes, and black curls pulled up on her head. Roxy had her arms crossed tightly across her chest, running her hands over her upper arms repeatedly. Her red sweater hung from her thin frame and her black pants fell over her red sneakers.

“Well,” Hel said, looking her little sister up and down. “Don’t dress too nice for a formal ceremony. People might actually think you fought for this position.”

“I needed to be comfortable,” Roxy said with a wavering shake to her Australian accent. “I feel like I’m about to lose all my lunch. Which, mind you, wasn’t a lot to begin with.”

Hel moved aside and let her sister in. Roxy dropped her hands to her side, clenching her hands into fists and unclenching them over and over.

“Having second thoughts?” Hel asked as Roxy sat on her blue sofa. Hel took a seat in the matching armchair across from her.

“Not really second thoughts, just . . . what if I’m not cut out for this? What if Morgan was a better choice, after all?”

“Morgan isn’t the better choice,” Hel said, her voice full of definitive confidence. “Morgan is great as a Warrior, but she becomes too attached to one side. The Lead needs to be impartial. You’ve got that down.”

“Yeah, but…it’s just…I don’t know, I’m not as good at rallying people and emboldening entire armies as she is.”

“Which is a great thing to do, but also not something that falls into the responsibilities of the Lead Warrior. Your job is to be a leader of the other Warriors. You’ll be their commander and you’ll answer to Father. I mean this to say that you have a great deal of responsibility ahead of you, Roxy, but to worry about the human aspect of it is no longer part of it. The Warriors need somebody that can stay strong and calm when Father is berating them and still keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Morgan simply isn’t that person.”

Roxy sighed. Hel felt a tinge of sympathy for her sister; dealing with Alexandros was hardly anybody’s first choice for how to spend their day. He had always been a tyrant in the truest sense of the word, ruling over the Sirens with violence and contempt. Hel had stood in the path of many of his rages and the earlier guilt of now putting Roxy in that path returned.

Hel pushed the guilt aside. Roxy knew their father as well as she did.

“Look, I need you to see your abilities. Because if you don’t, you’ll never succeed. You can’t doubt yourself even for a second. Your job is to keep an even head and do what has to be done, whether it’s unpleasant or not. You always need to think three moves ahead.”

“Isn’t that chess?” Roxy asked.

“Chess and leading Warrior Sirens. Three. Moves. Ahead.”

Roxy was silent for a moment, looking down at the floor, shaking hands clasped in front of her. Finally, she looked back up at Hel. “What we do . . . it matters, right?”

Hel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes,” she said. “In a way. We aren’t working out differences between sides like the Diplomats and we most certainly aren’t lengthening lives like the Healers. But we change the course of human civilization. We stoke the fires to rise against tyranny and injustice. We may be the Sirens that watch destruction and death unfold, but we are also the ones who pave the way for the rise and fall of the humans’ world. What we do matters.”

Roxy nodded slowly, looking back down at the floor. Hel knew that the agreement from her little sister was only half-hearted.

“You should prepare for the ceremony,” Hel said, standing up and nodding toward the door. “It’s almost time.”

“Yeah,” Roxy said, the nervous shake back in her voice. She stood and crossed her arms again, walking toward the door. Hel walked with her and opened the door. Without another word, Roxy stepped outside and walked toward the nearby vanishing point.

Hel closed the door and closed her eyes.

Roxy knew what she was getting herself into. She was making this choice herself.

As Hel walked back to her bedroom, however, she couldn’t shake the feeling that Roxy was walking into something more than just the Lead Warrior position.