Thor waited patiently. He sat near the entrance of her lair. Even in her anger she’d become a gracious host and made him tea, and the cool breeze from the snowstorm mixed with the intense heat of the drink, rejuvenating him. He kept his distance, as he didn’t want her to sense that he needed this moment to recover. She was still his physical equal, even after all these years. He chose to think of their battle as sparring, but it had been truly dangerous at times. There was a certain intimacy you had with friends you fought with, hand to hand, a way of knowing them that others never would, and the fight was a reminder that Horangi was, despite her predicament and isolation, still intensely powerful.
She said they were going somewhere far away, and she needed to get ready. After she’d made them both tea, she disappeared into a back room. She emerged now and again, looking for something, making small adjustments to her outfit. Thor sensed that she was nervous. It made him sad to see her like this. She was digging through lacquered wooden chests and muttering something about where she had put an important piece of armor.
Thor reflected on what he knew about her. She was a demigod even older than he. Much older. Several millennia ago, on Earth, she and her sisters acted as the protector spirits of tribes of matriarchal hunter-gatherers in what would someday become Korea. Whatever joy she had ever known was in those days, so long ago. Thor knew this bitter sting in his own way. His childhood seemed so far in the past he wondered if it made the happiness he recalled of being a boy, of the complicated love for his father and the unconditional love for his mother, somewhat diminished by time and distance, to say nothing of his thorny relationship with his brother.
Horangi had always stressed to him that she did not think of herself as a deity, although she had played that role. She and her sisters had no knowledge of where they came from, perhaps somewhere far away in the stars, as Asgard was to Midgard. Somehow they had been summoned and bound to these people, and they lived to serve them.
But then someone came from the heavens, more powerful than they. He captured her and one of her sisters, and imprisoned them, and changed the land and its people until they worshipped him. He became their God-king, and wrote history as the victor until it became an enduring myth.
Thor had never pried beyond that. He knew only that something terrible had happened to her sisters, and Horangi had escaped their prison alone, and for years was pursued and hunted. At some point this God-king had lost interest and set off for new conquests. Horangi left Earth behind and began her own exile, tracking him for centuries across the cosmos, looking for the new planets he had conquered but never catching up to him.
That was when Thor met her. Full of vengeance and rage and loss, she’d been a feral monster stalking the worlds between stars. It was a memory he was reluctant to bring to mind, but he couldn’t avoid it. He discovered she was trying to figure out how a demigod could end her own life.
He turned away from the cave entrance and the swirling snow outside and looked at her, thinking of that. He had pleaded with her to stay alive, insisted she was still the lost protector of her people. Scorning his words, she’d flung herself into battle against insuperable odds, against monsters unnamed and beyond number. But he refused to give up on her, and he fought alongside her until the death-urge passed, and they emerged victorious. They’d never spoken of it again, but the bond of camaraderie remained.
She’d found her armor and was tying it on. She looked so fragile as a human. He had come to know her most private self, the beating heart of the tiger, and how vulnerable and wounded she could be. They were not close, and yet they had a private bond some friends never would.
She had gone into exile here, sworn him to secrecy about her existence. She felt the pull of Earth, her connection there, but if she’d ever returned, she never spoke of it to him. She said that she would wait for her people to leave and enter the cosmos, and she’d find and protect them only then. The Earth she had loved was gone forever, and the memories of her final days there, the ones least diminished by time, held nothing but tragedy.
The armor’s breastplate now hung perfectly against her robes. Every piece of her attire was handmade and impossibly old, but strangely impressive. Everything about her was a paradox; she looked old and young at the same time, especially her eyes.
She saw him looking at her. “What? Deep in thought for a change?” she snapped.
“You know me, Horangi. Never.” Thor grinned, attempting to defuse her mood with humor. She shook her head, smiling wryly, and his heart eased. He stood and...