The Mightiest Warrior

They rose through the sky, soaring like asteroids but with the grace of albatrosses. Two of them, black as sin and straight as arrows. They flapped their oil sheened feathers furiously, the howling wind providing little resistance. They passed over grand cities, their lights twinkling and their people unassuming. They flew over vast plains of countryside, the delicious and plentiful corn fields not even averting their gaze. They climbed over mountains and paid no mind to crashing waves that crashed below. They had to deliver a message, they had great news to tell. The blue skies slowly began to darken, from cyan, to indigo, to ozone purple before they faded into and became one with the darkness that swallowed them.

They flew on unwaveringly, as stars burned to infinite all around. They flew past the pale face of the moon, past giant orbs of swirling fire, dodging thousands of swirling rocks. Past nebulas, twisting vortexes of bending lights and a thousand dying suns. They flew in nothing. Nothing for millennia around. Then they saw the sparkling rainbow jutting out of the nothingness and they followed its path. They cawed to the man standing watch at the peak of the rainbow and he waved in return. They flew over the rainbow and saw the great, old city through their beady eyes and yet still they did not falter. They arrived at an impossibly large hall and flew inside through one of the thousands of windows. They circled the great hall like crows over a battlefield. No one noticed them as they danced through the twisting smoke.

Finally, they stopped.

The two ravens perched themselves on each of the man sat at the high table’s broad shoulders and they whispered gently in his ears. The man’s one eye shot wide open in surprise and he jumped to his feet in wild excitement, startling the two wolves that slept by his feet. Even though the grand hall in which the feast was taking place was humungous, with every seat on thousands of benches all taken by burly warriors – all devouring roasted pork, downing horns of mead and telling stories of valour and battle – all fell silent as a ghost ship as the All-Father began to speak.

“My ravens bring me great news!” bellowed Odin, so even those at the very back of the great hall of Valhalla could hear him. “The Valkyries are bringing to us a mighty warrior of more strength and bravery than any who feast in this hall at this very moment. For he has achieved more glory and claimed more crowns than any of us could ever possibly imagine.”

The warriors all sat in stunned silence, all of them who feasted in Odin’s hall had died on muddy battlefields. Fighting to die gloriously and be taken to Asgard. To fight and feast and feast and fight until the end of days. They had taken arrows to their hearts, axes to their faces and shields to their skulls. They had had their limbs cut from their bodies and drowned in sludge and blood. They were all ecstatic to see a warrior who, according to the Gallows God, the god who sacrificed himself to himself, who gave his eye so he could see even further, was mightier than all of them.

All were ecstatic. All except one.

While every other warrior sat in silence as Odin went on about this warrior’s accomplishments, laughter rolled through the hall like thunder from the god sat beside him. The man with arms like pythons and an imposing red beard laughed so hard that the mead in the horns began to ripple. “All Father,” began Thor, “How can you say that this warrior is braver and stronger than any who sit in this hall when I sit right here right beside you?” he chuckled. “Have you not seen with your one good eye the amount of giants I’ve slain with just one blow from my hammer? Have you not seen through your all seeing eye how I wrestled the Midgard serpent and nearly drank the sea dry? How many acts of bravery, how many feats of strength have I displayed? Yet you say there is one mightier than I, a mere mortal at that? How? I demand to know how, oh wise one who sees all.”

The silence in the hall was now clammy and awkward and was only broken with the occasional nervous cough. All the gods sat at the high table looked on with trepidation, aside from Loki, whose face was adorned with a sly, subtle grin. Odin turned to Thor, who was staring at him with the eyes of a mad man, “you can witness for yourself. Bragi, play the music.”

“With pleasure.” Said Bragi, the god of eloquence and poetry, as one of Odin’s ravens flew away from his shoulder. He plucked his harp gently initially, but with every note the tone and volume got higher and higher. Every head in the room was turned towards the biggest of the doors. Bragi rolled his tongue to make a sound no one in the hall had ever heard before and shouted something that sounded like “abungho!” The god of poetry then began to play a beat, yes a beat, from his harp that was again new to the gods and the warriors.

“Bah-da-da-dah, bah-da-da-dah” it chimed.

Everyone’s head began to bob to the upbeat tune, all aside from Thor who slumped into his chair, arms folded, unimpressed. Bragi then began to sing in a completely new way but everyone had stopped paying attention, as the great door was opening and a bulking man wearing trousers of a strange material that only reached his knees walked through. The warriors were going wild for this mighty hero, they were cheering and whistling. Some smashed their fists on the benches and others hurled their mead into the air. The man was also wearing a bright blue shirt with some strange form of writing etched upon it, he wore peculiar, soft look bracelets about his wrists and he wore his hair incredibly short to his head. No one had ever seen anything like this man before, but they were going wild regardless. All aside from Odin who smiled and Thor who sulked and Loki who grinned. This man was large, his pulsating arms were perhaps as big as Thor’s (don’t let him hear you say it though) and his shoulders stood like mountains. He was tall, broad and impressive.

“Come forward mighty warrior” Odin bellowed to the man who, it must be said, did look rather confused, “come up here and sit with me at the high table and feast among gods.” Gasps and cheers rang aloud from the warriors, as none of them had ever seated at the high table with the All-Father himself.

The man walked over cautiously, bewilderment sketched upon his iron-like face. Upon reaching Odin he met the Gallows God’s open arms and hugged him tightly in an embrace. “I’ve watched all your battles, all your defeats and all your victories with a keen eye, Champ. I’ve waited years but it pleases me greatly that you have finally made it to Valhalla.” Odin whispered into the musclely man’s ear.

“Valhalla, this is what this place is?” the man finally spoke, but only so Odin could here. “Yes my son, you are amongst the gods now. You died gloriously in battle and now for every day until the end of days” the man shuddered at that phrase “you will battle in my field and then at night you will feast to your heart’s delight and tell stories of your glory and valour.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, I guess.” the man replied, already looking calmer.

Odin smiled and held the warrior that he’d called Champ at arm’s length, “please, sit beside me, feast on my pork and drink my mead!”

While all that was happening Thor had drunk more mead than a blue whale swallows water in its lifetime. He’d drank so much that he’d even started to drink straight from the magic udder of Heidrun the goat. Thor never got drunk, but he’d drank so much that now even he was swaying and doe-eyed.

“This” he slurred, as he staggered to his feet, “is the so-called mighty warrior that is braver and stronger than any other warrior in this hall? This small, weedy… man? Just look at his stupid clothes! Look at his hideous hair! Where are his weapons? Where are the countless trophies you say he won All-Father?” Odin said nothing, he just looked at Thor with a potent mixture of embarrassment and shame. Without an answer, Thor continued to ramble. “I don’t believe this man is stronger than me, the god of thunder! And I’m going to prove it! You…” he pointed, just about, at the warrior, “you are not the mightiest warrior in this hall, you are nothing! We shall have a contest, it can be of your choosing, and whoever wins shall be named as the mightiest warrior! What do you say to that, you chump? I am the face of the gods, and you will fall to my might!”

The crowd of warriors all watched with their mouths as wide as caves, they began to gather around the high table and they held their breaths. ‘Champ’ threw down a rib of pork and sat up with purpose, pushing his chair back so hard that it tumbled over. Odin quickly placed a hand on his chest and tried to pull him back to his seat, but he shoved it aside. Suddenly, he was holding a strange, black object in his hand and began to speak into it.

“Well, well, well. It seems that everywhere I go it’s the same old story. Some big man with a chip on his shoulder thinks he can get made by bringing me down! Some big man whose words are usually harder than his fists!” A chorus of “oooooooo” erupted from the crowd. The warrior’s voice was being magically amplified seemingly by the object in his hand and even those at the very far end of the grand Valhalla hall could hear perfectly.

“Listen junior, I’ve been all over the world, I’ve faced every competitor there is to face and you think you’re any different? You think you’re gonna do any better than all those who rise up, but are then quickly put back down? Hell no! I’ve got more passion, more strength, more bravery than you can even imagine, and if you wanna go, oh we’ll go. Me and you. One on one. No weapons, no tricks, just a god and a man beating the holy hell outta each other until one of them is down for the three count. You think you’re the mightiest? Well, son, then you sure as hell can’t see me! You wanna go? Let’s go! But first… just know… my name is John Cena, recognise.”

The warrior who called himself John Cena dropped the object in his hand and it bounced on the floor and echoed. He jumped from the high table and walked through the now ballistic crowd, through the great door and to the courtyard, where he waited for a furious Thor to join him.

 

II

 

All of the warriors and all of the gods in the hall filtered out through the hundreds of doors as quickly as they could, the excitement felt so heavy in the air that it was as if you could reach out and touch it. Within moments the grand hall was completely empty, aside from two gods at the high table. Loki’s footsteps echoed as he walked towards the quickly sobering and the absolutely seething Thor, whose face was nearly as red as his beard. “You know Thor,” the conniving trickster said, “you have to win this match because if you don’t the shame and embarrassment will be too much to bear! Just imagine, for a moment, if after that drunken outburst in front of the whole of Valhalla you then go and lose? No one will ever be able to take you seriously again, your words will have no meaning, the giants will no longer shake in fear at the sound of your name but instead, they’ll laugh. If you lose, life for you won’t be worth living in Asgard.” Thor looked sober and thoughtful and maybe even a little regretful, as he contemplated Loki’s word. “You’re right Loki, of course, you are and so I must not lose.” With that Thor turned from Loki and walked with vigour to the courtyard, as the trickster struggled to hold in his laughter and delight.

 

III

 

In the expansive courtyard outside of Valhalla, the carpenters of Asgard had been quick at work. In minutes they had resurrected benches so high that everyone from within the hall now had a view of the arena of battle at the centre of the four wall of benches. The arena was known as a “ring”, which was rather peculiar as it was not spherically shaped at all, but rather a square. Within it stood John Cena, who was staring right at Thor and beckoning him to join him.

Thor walked headstrong without pause, amongst the thousands cheering and singing, he climbed up through the ropes, into the ring and faced off with Cena. They were eye to eye and the tension was palpable. Cena had removed his garish shirt which revealed yet more bulging muscle and, for the first time ever, Thor was worried.

“We need a referee!” shouted Cena, there were a few moments of silence before a distant voice replied, “I’ll do it!” It was Loki emerging from the door and walking towards the ring, now wearing a strange black and white striped garb. Cena shrugged his shoulders, “fine with me” he said. Thor looked nervously up to Odin, who was on a throne with the best view in the house. The All-Father shifted uneasily in his seat, but then nodded with a smile. With all worry and doubt expelled from his mind, “let’s do this” bellowed the god of thunder.

A bell rang and the match was underway. It started off as a cagey affair, with both men trying to figure out the other. There were lots of grapples and light submission holds, and the occasional jab. The match had started off slow but the crowd were electric, they oooed and ahhed after every move and chants of “let’s go Cena! Let’s go Thor!” were being sung so loudly they could be heard in Niflheim.

Quickly the match began to gain pace and it soon degraded into a full on slugfest, the duo were giving one another all they had. Punches and kicks, clotheslines and stunners, suplexes and slams, they were putting on, some may say, a six-star show. After one particularly exhilarating sequence both men were on their backs, so Loki began to slowly count to ten, which was strange as his earlier attempts to count to three, whenever Thor was being pinned, was rather fast.

The count was at eight and the two warriors had got to their knees. “Nine!” Loki was moments away from the ten, but the pair managed to stagger to their feet. With sweat running down their faces they met in the middle of the ring and exchanged a series of vicious forearms, which the crowd cheered with every blow. Then, suddenly, Cena lifted Thor onto his shoulders, he held him there for a moment as he screamed, and then he slammed Thor into the mat. He hooked the god’s leg, his shoulders were down, the referee and the entire audience all counted in unison:

“1-2-3!”

Cena was exhausted from the bout, but that didn’t stop him from lapping up the praise and adulation from the adoring public, who were going wild. Bragi the bard had begun to play the same song he’d played earlier but still no one heard the words over the cheers and the joy.

Cena then turned to Thor who was slumped on his knees, looking utterly broken. Some even say though they whisper it, that they saw Thor shed a tear or two. He got to his feet and without saying a word he left the ring and was never seen ever again.

 

IV

 

The years rolled by and eventually, all forgot about Thor. John Cena had all but taken his place. The gods and Cena went on many a thrilling adventure together. The Champ proved himself to be just as brave and strong as Thor in battle against the frost giants. Everyone loved hearing his stories of the battles and glories of a previous life and he was just as trustworthy whenever someone needed a helping hand or as intimidating when someone had scorned him. The only thing that remained of the god of thunder was his hammer, Mjollnir, that still laid in the courtyard mud, where the ring was constructed years ago, as no one else in Asgard could lift it.

The millenias continued to pass and eventually, all the gods entered an endless slumber. Only Heimdall stood to watch as the common people of Midgard grew and learned, expanded their horizons and developed new and marvellous technologies. He hoped that, with how smart the common people had become,  he’d never have to blow on his horn, that he’d never have to wake the gods.

His hope was foolish.

He watched in silence as the people of earth slowly killed their planet and then killed each other. Every patch of land burned, the sea turned black and everything in it floated dead to the surface. The children of Loki and the army of the dead and the demons of fire and all the evils you could possibly imagine all rose up to finish off what the common people had begun.

The end of days.

Ragnarok.

Then, and only then, did Heimdal blow his deafening horn that could be heard in all nine of the worlds on the life tree. From the dragon in the roots to the eagle on the top, and even the squirrel bouncing off the branches in between. They all heard it. The gods awoke from their long slumber.

 

V

 

They met on the battlefield of Vigrior. On one side was the army of monstrosities. The legion of death and fire, led by Loki whose face was now contorted and burned and betrayed no emotion other than hatred. His evil children and the giant fire demon Surtr by his side. Stood facing were all the gods and all of the warriors of Valhalla, ready to do battle one final time.

They charged headlong into the abyss, straight towards one another. Odin, the All-Father, made a beeline to Fenrir, the wolf who ate the sun and the moon and the first of Loki’s children of doom. Tyr, the one-handed god of war, made for Surtr, the demon whose sword burned brighter than the surface of the now absent sun.

Thor, however, was not there to take on his foe, the serpent that encircles the earth. Jormungandr. So John Cena took his place and he sought out the serpent without fear, but he was quite surprised when he eventually found it – as it wasn’t a serpent at all, but a snake. A viper.

“Hello there, John, who’d have thought our feud would still be going at the end of the world, huh?” said a man with a shaved head, his arms covered in tattoos. “Vince sure would be happy.”

“Randy, what the hell are you doing here? Why?” said John, exasperated.

“Same as you, John, to fight at the end of the world. Now, are we gonna go for one last time?” asked Randy.

John didn’t bother replying, he just charged at Randy and knocked him over with a thunderous shoulder tackle.

The two of them scrapped in the mud like no one had ever scrapped before. Randy planted Cena’s head into the ground, and Cena replied in kind with a fist directly to Randy’s skull as he laid in the sludge. Randy tried to choke out Cena, and the Champ responded by trapping Randy’s leg in his own crossing his arms around his face. The two were caked in mud, they kneeled in front of each other gasping for breath, as death rained all around them. The earth began to shake.

A vicious smile crept across Randy’s face. “You didn’t think I was alone, did you, John?” Before Cena could answer the serpent appeared, it was bigger than anything anyone had ever seen. Its body stretched beyond the horizon, its head was as big as the moon, its fangs as long as the tallest trees. John looked up in horror as Randy chuckled. The Jormungandr slowly closed in on John, seemingly enjoying playing with its food. John had nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. But then thunder crashed in the distance and a flash of silver streaked like a comet across the sky and smashed into the serpent’s giant head and rocked it to the ground. The object zipped back across the sky and John followed its trail until it was caught in a hand. The red beard had faded to grey and the skin had sagged, but the man was undoubtedly Thor, the god of thunder, and in his hand was the hammer Mjolnir.

The pair looked at each other and gave a courteous nod, but there was no time for words there was a battle to fight. The last battle.

Thor raced off to face the now recovered serpent, hammer ready to strike, and Cena turned to face…

OUT OF NOWHERE Randy jumped up and grabbed Cena’s head, and on the way back down he brought it with him and crashed it into the earth. Randy slithered back to see the devastation he’d left in his wake, the viper watched as Cena lay on his face in the mud, but was startled as Cena began to get back up to his feet. “Not this time Orton, not ever again.” cried Cena.

They charged full pelt at each other but it was Orton that was sent sprawling after being decked with a clothesline. He got back up but was knocked down again, and again. On the fourth time Orton wobbled and struggled back up to a vertical base, Cena stood tall above him, looking down. “This is the end Randy!” he told him, “that it is John, that it is.”

Cena lifted Orton up onto his shoulders, just like he had done to Thor oh so many years before, and then he planted him into the floor with such devastating force that Randy Orton obliterated into dust.

 

VI

 

Exhausted, his muscles dull with pain, Cena looked up and through the smoke. He saw a triumphant Thor standing over the perfectly still body of the Jormungandr. He smiled a hearty smile and got to his feet, ready to embrace the man who’d left the gods so long ago. He was so close, he could almost touch him when the dead serpent spat its black, burning venom all over the god of thunder with the last possible will of its dying body.

“No” whispered John, as he slumped to his knees and watched Thor spasm and wrench in scorching agony, his hammer now lying by his lifeless corpse. Cena looked around him and all he could see was death and destruction. The battlefield was littered with demons and warriors and smoke painted the sky. The great wolf Fenrir lied still in the mud yet Odin was nowhere to be found, Bragi was on his back with countless arrows sticking out of his body, Surtr and Tyr could not be seen, Heimdall was lifeless in the mud.

All was eerily quiet.

The silence was broken by a hearty chuckle and a sarcastic clap, through the smoke walked Loki, half of his face burned and melted, the rest of him not looking too good either.

“Look John! I did it, I’ve won. All the gods are dead and the world is nothing but smouldering soil and raining ash! All the water of the world is black and the skies are choked with smoke. It is the end!” cried Loki with delight. In what came as quite a surprise to the trickster, John began to laugh himself, “you goddamn fool” he told him while wiping a tear from his eye. “You ain’t won jack, Loki! This isn’t the end of the world, oh no, this is just the end of the old times and the start of the new. Odin’s sons, Thor’s sons, Freya’s daughters and Induana’s daughters, all still live and together they will rebuild this world and they will learn from all of our past mistakes. They will do it right. You didn’t end the world Loki, you helped it grow even better, because our time is up, their time is now!”

Loki’s face grew contorted and he lunged at John Cena with daggers in each hand. Instinctively, Cena reached for Thor’s hammer and just as Loki was about to be upon him he swung a blow so cataclysmic, so thunderous, that they say, on clear and quiet nights, Loki’s body can still be seen shooting across a starry night’s sky.

John looked on satisfied at his shot, made a single salute to those with whom he had fought alongside and then the mightiest warrior in all of Valhalla fell into the mud never to rise again.

 

 

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