Hanna sat in the booth of a small corner cafe, sipping from a large mug of coffee as she flipped through her book. It was an old, wrinkled paperback filled with stories and legends of her people. She’d uncovered the tome from the bottom of a book bin at a mom-and-pop thrift store. Years of use had split the book’s spine cleanly in half; Hanna had taped it back together, pressing a strand of her hair into the fold. The spine had been perfectly resilient ever since.
Hanna was, in truth, not Hanna. Or, at least, she wasn’t just Hanna. Hanna was an outfit. Not a costume, by any means, but a presentation. She was like a bride aglow in her wedding dress or a military officer in a finely tailored uniform. Hanna was youthful and calm. To mortal eyes she seemed ordinary enough, though her waist-length hair would still attract some attention as it flowed gracefully behind her. But beyond the simple projection of Hanna, she was truly so much more. She was Hariasa, a goddess lost to time.
Hariasa was an ancient deity. She commanded legions of devoted worshipers in her prime. Most were fierce warriors, lusting for the glory of honoring her name in battle. The greatest of these were granted strands of her hair, precious tokens which never failed to bring out the peak of their natural talents. Bloody conflicts were fought for her honor. Great halls were raised in her name. She would be toasted for eternity by her bravest warriors, all spending their afterlives feasting in Asgard.
Yet her legacy came crumbling down. Other beliefs took hold among the mortals through conquest, correspondence, and connivance. The worlds of Yggdrasil are deeply intertwined; the gods of Asgard found power in the beliefs of their human worshipers in Midgard. When those beliefs wavered, their strength fell alongside. Asgard exists as a shadow of its former self, inhabited solely by the few transplanted dead worthy to partake in the pleasures of Valhalla and Fólkvangr. Asgardians may come and go, but all are drawn back to the hopes and dreams of power that Midgard might still offer. They wander the world hoping for opportunities to seize any fragment of glory they can before the coming of Ragnarök.
Some of the pantheon managed to forge small but solid footholds for themselves again. Thor had amassed a brilliant following which outdid the rest of his colleagues. He convinced a comic writer of his potential as a modern-day superhero and rose to global adoration in the blink of an eye. Others, too, had been elevated with their mythology’s refurbished popularity; Loki loved being loathed as Thor’s villain, and Odin reveled in his newfound status in literature as a divine con artist. The gods of Asgard were trickling back into prominence, and they all clung fiercely to the hope that the trickle might reform the rushing river of their past.
Hariasa was content to play a long, steady game. She drifted slowly, a decade at a time, from one place to the next. She worked simple jobs and rented affordable rooms. Her guise as Hanna was her vessel to connect with mortals, her method of attaining small, comforting moments of adoration. Hariasa was forgotten, but Hanna could reach people. She could listen to people needing to talk and give a shoulder to cry on for those needing to mourn. She gave meals to the hungry and did favors for her neighbors. Now and then, when someone was struggling beyond whatever they could take, she would weave them a bracelet to bring them good fortune. Her trinkets always hid a single strand of her hair within their braids.
The mortals didn’t need to know who Hariasa was. She had changed. Her old self was nearly as forgotten to her as she was to the world. She no longer craved the battles and halls which had once glorified her. The love of the people she touched was more than enough.
Strands of Glory by Ethan Hedman