No matter where she was, Bianca always felt like she was at home. Whether it was the middle of Philly, en route to the club, or in Manchester England, cheering for Adonis to knock out some pussy in the ring. Bianca was always comfortable. But there were times (as fleeting as they were) where she'd feel...out of place.
It's not that she did not love the bright lights of Philadelphia, the rain soaked streets often called to her in the early hours of the twilight, and there was nothing Bianca loved more than to sit inside and listen to her own music while Philadelphia awoke from its slumber.
But, deep in the back of her mind, she could not help but feel something was wrong. Even now, as she edited her music and sipped her coffee in her apartment, she felt like something was calling out to her. But she couldn't understand what.
That morning, Bianca awoke to the sound of Adonis Creed making her breakfast. The young boxer had slept the night at her place. The night before, she had a performance in which she debuted her latest song, and right in the first row was Donnie Creed, son of the greatest boxer the world had ever known. And now, he was making her breakfast. Cracking eggs with one hand, while swirling pancake batter with another.
"My, you're quite handy in the kitchen," Bianca said. She slipped her legs from the couch cushions and onto the carpet where she had spilled a glass of apple juice the week prior. She had always wanted to get tile put in, but time kept managing to get in her way.
Adonis smiled, "Yeah, my moms was always on me to learn how to cook, and recently I started helpin' out Unc at his restaurant." Donnie shrugged and poured the whisked egg into a burning skillet. The pan sizzled. "Tell me you like 'em scrambled."
Bianca shrugged, "Scrambled's good."
"A'ight." Adonis took a whisk and fluffed the eggs from one side of the skillet to the other, He moved like fighter. Taking in one moment, and then silently proceeding to the next without stopping. There was a dexterity to his footsteps, and a lilt to his breath. These were the movements of warriors. "I really liked your song last night." Adonis said as he stirred.
"Thanks D." Bianca was used to compliments, small wonders that escaped the lips of those who marveled at her work. Club owners, fans, and fellow musicians always seemed to marvel at her lyricism. She would be lying if she said she didn't like the praise. "I worked pretty hard on it."
"Well, it showed ma'," Adonis said. "I-I just...I can't believe you even got those sounds like that. It was...magical."
Her song...the one she had titled "Forgotten Homeland." The song was odd. Where Bianca's usual music was comprised of old Blues tones, and rhythms that could be heard on any Philly street corner, her latest song sounded more like something out of a Norse myth. Blaring horns that signaled victory, rather than the low jazz permeated the streets. Where her usual sound was sly, and intricate, the song she played last night was boastful and strong.
And stranger still, she felt more of a connection to that song than any she had written before. When she sang this song, it was as if her heart were being called to another land. A land with horned helmets, and golden pride. A realm far beyond any she could ever had dreamed of. Far from the smoking corners of Philly, far from Mighty Mick's boxing gym, far from Adrianne's restaurant that Donnie would sometimes work in. Across a rainbow bridge, and towards a golden palace that Bianca-she swore to all the gods above-had seen somewhere before.
"Bianca?" Adonis asked. "Food's ready."
Bianca ran her fingers through her thick braids. "Yeah D," she said, "I'm comin'."
This was a secret Bianca never told anyone. Hell, it wasn't even something she fully believed herself, despite its truth. Bianca wasn't born in Philadelphia. For all of her knowledge of where to get the best cheesesteaks, and which clubs played the best music, and which lingo was best to use in which location, she was not a Philly native. But, that wasn't even the strangest part.
Truth be told, she wasn't sure of what her origins really were. It was almost like a dream. She first awoke in a hospital. Her head in a daze, her body concealed by a long white hospital gown. And everything around her was pure white that made her feel as if she was intruding on something sacred.
"Can you hear me? Do you know where you are?"
And she awakened to the sound of a nurse's voice, and the gloved hands of a doctor. Everything seemed to unfamiliar to her, like she was just arriving in a new world that she had only heard of in passing. Idle gossip from the tongue of a man who had not yet learned humility.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"You're a Saint General, here in Philadelphia," the nurse said. Her eyes spoke of a strange softness that Bianca (for all she knew at least) had never experienced. "We found you outside, scrapped up like you were in a battle or something. Y-you're clothes we-"
"They were in tatters," the doctor finished. He grabbed the chart at the end of Bianca's bed, and flipped through its pages. "Multiple cuts, and deep blade wounds. A nasty gnash on your head."
The nurse gently placed her hands on Bianca's shoulder, "Are you in some kind of danger?" she asked. "An abusive boyfriend? Or just…" she paused, as if too afraid of the possibilities her mind could conjure, "W-what's your name?"
But there was no answer that could satisfy either of them.
"I-I can't remember," she said in a daze. She looked at her hands, raw and bare, as if she had been holding onto something for dear life. A baseball bat perhaps? A weapon to defend her from an oncoming menace?
You will not defeat me giant. So sayeth-
The nurse leaned to the doctor and whispered, "Do you think she's from New York? After that whole incident with the Avengers, we've had people coming from all over the country with head injuries."
The doctor just shooted the suggestion away, "If that were so, why would she be so far out here? No...she's gotta be a native to Philadelphia."
This city has to be her home, right?
Bianca always found much of her inspiration from the city itself. Sometimes she'd wander the streets and listen to the drops of rain against the window panes of the bank, or the stare in amusement at the tourists taking their pictures with Rocky Balboa's statue. The click click click of the cameras was a lovely melody. Who wouldn't want to find a way to capture it?
At first, the hospital did everything it could to try and find Bianca's home, but everything failed. There were no phone calls, no missing persons reports, no Facebook notices. It was as if there was no one searching for her. Maybe there wasn't. Who could tell, really?
So, in the end the hospital set her up with an apartment down by Mighty Mick's boxing gym. They helped her form an identity (well, a temporary one, at least). She chose the name Bianca, and slowly she began to melt into the folds of Philadelphia. She lost herself in this new world, and slowly she became a part of it.
Whoever she was before did not matter any longer. Bianca was all that was, and all that would be. Who needed to worry about ghosts and relics from some dusty bygone. All that mattered was now.
But that past always has a way of making itself known.
The Katz Klub was located just down the street from Rocky's statue. It was a new place that just opened up a few weeks ago, and Bianca had been invited to perform her newest song there. The manager had listened to her work, and marveled at her eclicitiy. This latest song was a mixture of low town blues, and soft jazz...and something else as well.
"These tracks are wild," he said with a grin. "Where do you come up with this stuff, ma?"
Bianca only shrugged, "I just get inspiration from the place I'm from, Philly."
"Really?" the club owner asked, "We ain't got a lot a' harps and pan flutes Philly."
Bianca's new song was cut from a different cloth. For some reason, she had decided to mix a new sound with something far more ancient. She added a panflute as an under melody, and (because it felt like it needed it) she added the soft strings of a harp. Never before had she merged such different sounds together. Jazz and Blues were songs of mourning, and hard earned strength. Black Americans knew of this pain. But there was something deeper beneath her liquid tones. A pride that shined like a golden breastplate. There wasn't anything in her repertoire that conveyed that sense of unrestrained pride...so she found another world to explore.
"I just wanted to do somethin' different," Bianca said. "I think it works."
"It really does," he said. "Come by the club tonight, and you can play it. Cool?"
Sometimes the hospital would call her. They'd want an update on her whereabouts, how close she was to regaining her own identity. Bianca would just shrug, wrap her fingers around her braided hair and smile. "I'm still lookin'."
"Do you have any leads?" they would ask,
"Naw, not yet. But don't sweat it. It's gonna be what it's gonna be, right?" Was there really a need to rush things? Was there really a reason to worry? The way Bianca saw it, if there were people looking for her, wouldn't they have found her by now? And what if they did return? She wasn't even sure if she wanted her old life back.
She had her music. She had Donnie. She had the wondrous streets of Philadelphia. Why would she give that up for anything?
It was the day of her performance, and the Katz Klub was jammed ass to thigh with dancers, musicians, and people pushing shit that wouldn't fly at other clubs. But Hell, Bianca wasn't here to judge, she was here to play her music and do what she loved. The club was lousy with fog, and strobe lights that made the room look like it was spinning.
Bianca stared out into the crowd, and saw Donnie smiling. His eye was still swollen from his last boxing match, but he came regardless.
Bianca smiled back, and raised the microphone to her lips. The stage fell into a deep silence. A kind of trance that Bianca was familiar with. The hush before the battle. The song before the hunt. The moment before the final blow.
Why did this seem so different than before?
It was like something from an epic ballad. Blaring horns that signaled battle. Wooden ships that loomed on the horizon. Winged horses that carried brave warriors into battle. And among them, stood a young man with hair the color of the sunlight, and eyes bluer than the skies themselves. When he spoke, it seemed as if the very clouds parted, and thunder struck the ground.
And a rounding cheer was heard throughout the land, and off into battle they went. Swords held high. Pride held even higher. But...what did any of that mean?
The crowd erupted in applause, and Bianca stood with her lips dry and her voice hoarse. She felt like she had just won a battle. Her bones were too tired to hold her up straight. She looked out into the crowd, and
Bianca left the stage, her head in a daze. And found herself in Adonis' arms.
"You were incredible," he said, his perfect teeth shining in the strobe lights.
And Bianca smiled and felt herself reeling within Donnie's arms. She was in Philly. She was a musician. Her name was Bianca.
But that vision, and those voices, that blaring music that seemed to whisk away everything Bianca had known...why did it seem like she had felt it before?
"You good B?" Adonis asked.
"Y-yeah," Bianca said. She moved her braids from one side of her shoulder to the other. She was tired. She was confused. She was scared, and even Adonis' presence couldn't hinder that encroaching feeling that something wasn't right. "Hey D, would you mind taking me home?"
Adonis frowned, "You sure? You don't want to dance a little? Bask in the glow of all your-"
"Please baby?" Bianca pleaded, "I just...want to take a break from all of this." She leaned her head against Adonis' chest.
Without a second word, Adonis nodded, took her by the hand, and the two escaped into the night.
The air of Philadelphia had never felt more foreign to Bianca than it did now. The light from the salted streetlamps felt strange against her eyes. Philly was her home now, so why did she feel so out of place?
Adonis and Bianca had found themselves on the outskirts of the city. Far from the confusing rhythms and the oversized T-shirts. Out here, in the folds of the stars, things felt purer, clearer, cleaner. There was something about the stars that made Bianca feel nostalgic. The stars were like jewels weaved in an ever present veil.
"You feelin' better, B?" Adonis asked. His arm draped over Bianca's shoulder.
"Yeah. I-I feel...much better."
A little time away was all that was needed. Adonis huged her tightly, protected her from the chill, took off his jacket and folded it over her chest. "You were magical tonight Bianca. Just incredible."
Adonis always knew the right thing to say. His voice was like honey, and his eyes twinkled like the drops of dew on a blade of grass.
"You really mean that?"
Adonis nodded, "I do. Every word of it."
Nightmares could wait for another evening. Visions could always be held off with enough time. For now, all Bianca could see was the light in Donnie's brown eyes, and the love he had for her. The love that he shared freely. The love she wrapped around herself like chainmail, and held close to her chest.
"I love you Donnie."
Morning crept into Bianca's room the next day like a cat, silent and more concerned with wedging itself in where it didn't belong. Adonis offered to spend the night, to make sure Bianca had a good rest...among other things. But Bianca only shooed him away, thanked him for walking her home, and promised she'd call the next day.
She unwrapped her head scarf, and allowed her hair its freedom. It poofed, and curled, and stretched with the morning's com arrival. It would take hours to braid it again, but she did not care. She had nowhere to be, and last night's show was such a success, she could allow herself a little leisure time. Right? If Beyonce could do it, so could she.
A knock at the door. A hard pounding that resonated from wood to wall.
"Hello?" Bianca called as she slipped out of bed, and wrapped herself in her robe. She walked passed her mixing tables and studio equipment, left the night before after a hasty rehearsal, and peeked into her door.
The knock came again.
It was strange, all she could see was the figure's chest. He (at least, from what she could tell, it was a man) had a broad chest that stiffened each time he breathed. His shoulders were so defined that they could be traced from the outline of his shirt. A checkered jacket hugged his arms tightly, and his chin held small puffs of blonde hair that dotted his cheeks.
"Hello?" Bianca called again. "May I help you?"
"Y-yes," the man said, his voice rolled from his throat like the roar of the clouds. "I am in search of a maiden named Bianca. Does she dwell here?"
Who the fuck was this?
"Uh...yeah. Hold on." Bianca unlatched the door, and slowly pushed it ajar. The man who stood before her was a giant. His blonde hair was tied into a tail, hidden beneath a dusty old baseball cap. They didn't get a lot of visitors in this part of Philly, and they certainly didn't get a lot of white people down here. Aside from the occasional mailman, and Adonis' Uncle Rocky, this part of town was blacker than Harlem. Well, before gentrification. "May I help you?"
The man's eyes lit up, bright and innocent, expectant and yet restrained. Why did those eyes look so familiar to her. "N-no...I..I uh...mean, yes. My lady, I...uh…"
"Are you alright?" Bianca asked.
"Your music!" the man screamed, a little too loudly. His voice pummeled through the empty air like a jackhammer. It was almost as if he were remembering something someone had told him. A little tip, or a secret hint. "I-I love your music."
And if Bianca had followed her instincts, she would have shut the door, and dialed the police as quickly as possible. Having a fan was a nice idea, but someone she'd never met before? And one who had found her residence? Hell, she had heard horror stories from some of the other girls who worked down at the clubs, and none of them ended well.
But...she did not slam the door. Even though every bone in her body screamed to leave this situation right now, she knew...she just knew she wasn't in danger. This man was a stranger to her, and yet she felt as if she had known her for longer than the millenia's could oversee.
"Would you like to come in?"
This was probably the strangest thing Bianca had ever seen. Stranger than meeting the long lost son of Apollo Creed. Stranger than waking up in a hospital she had never heard of before. Stranger than staring up at the sky and feeling like she was gazing at another life. This man sat on her couch and sipped tea with a shaky hand.
"I-I'm sorry," Bianca said as she sat down beside him, "What was your name again?"
"I...I am Donald," he said. "Donald Blake."
Donald Blake? Not really the most creative name, in fact, it kind of sounded like something out of someone else's lie. But...stranger things have happened. "Is that a stage name or somethin'? You a musician?"
Donald shook his head, "N-no. I am not, however I do love music. A-and I've been a fan of yours for a while. I heard your new song. Forgotten Homeland. It was beautiful. Worthy of the halls of Valhalla."
"Oh," Bianca said. "Well….no one's ever said that about one of my songs before." Where exactly was this guy from? He sounded like he had just learned English, but at the same time, there was a familiarity to his voice. A soft commanding presence that Bianca felt she had always known.
Donald finished his tea and smiled. "Truth by told my lady," he set the cup onto the coffee table, "There is another reason for my visit."
"Oh?" Bianca asked, this ought to be good.
"You asked if I was a musician?" he said as he placed his cup onto the coffee table, "I must confess I am not. I'm…" he trailed off, trying to find the perfect words, "...I'm a storyteller. And you're song was the perfect thing I needed for my tale!" His face lit up once more. "It was so...inspiring! Worthy of the ancient bards!"
He was...a writer? That would explain his oddities.
"Well, I'm glad I could help."
Donald rubbed his neck, and scratched the back of his calf with his boot. "Would you like to hear it?"
Would she like to hear his story? Bianca, a woman who lived alone, made music while her hearing was still strong, and loved the sound of her tunes more than warm good morning kisses? Bianca, who invited strangers into her house, served them tea and marveled at the names they chose for themselves.
But this man was not someone to be feared, Bianca knew that. She knew it without knowing it. Just as she knew she wanted something that only he could return to her.
Donald raised his hands to mouth, wiped the last drops of tea from his lips, and began:
"A long time ago, in a kingdom of gold and splendor, there lived a young woman. She was a fierce warrior, strong of soul and gentle of heart. She was the most feared warrior in the entire kingdom, and never backed down when there was honor to be defended."
And Bianca listened with intent. A growing curiosity that turned into a hunger for more. A golden kingdom. A strong maiden. A homeland that had yet to be remembered.
"She held the envy of every woman, and the eye of every man. For as wise and strong as she was, she was also beautiful to behold. A deep, dark complexion that captured the sun's majesty. Hair that would obey no one's laws, and lips fuller than Hogarth's cup at a celebration."
And the scene became clearer. The pieces falling into places that Bianca never believed could have existed.
Hogarth the grim. The man who never smiled. A filled up and a cold joke. Sitting next to Volstagg the giant, a man whose stomach could hold more than an entire fleet of battleships. A celebration all throughout the land to welcome a new victory. And Bianca was there. She sat perched upon a place of honor, a sword on her hip and a smile in her eyes. She belonged there.
"Her name was Valkyrie...and she was everything any man could ever dream of. And no man loved her more than the mighty Thor, prince of Asgard and future king of the realm."
"One day, the kingdom came under siege by giants of ice. Brutal monsters who wanted nothing more than to see the kingdom crumble, and the brave young heroine was the first to battle."
Asgard had fallen under siege by the giants of Jotunheim. And with them the Dark Elves of Niflheim stood at the gates of the kingdom. There was not enough time to act. Not enough time to gather the needed warriors to defend their home. So Valkyrie took arms and charged into battle. Sword held high, helmet strapped to her skull. Not a drop of fear in her heart. She rode into battle on her winged steed, down to the rainbow bridge where the enemy lay in wait.
"She fought bravely."
Giant after giant fell. No spell, or trickery could defeat her prowess. Not axe could graze her skin. No shield could halt her sword. She was a force, stronger than any storm the thunder god could conjure.
But all storms must soon give way…
"But when the cavalry arrived she had disappeared."
And the great Valkyrie, warrior of Asgard, leader of Odin's personal guard, fell. Down from the rainbow bridge. Down from the gates of Asgard, down into realms that even Heimdall could not see.
"No one knew where she had gone. Some believed she was taken prisoner, but a warrior such as her would never allow such dishonor. She would rather die. Others, the ones more foolish, thought she had run off once the battle became too much for her. And Thor placed those speculations to rest with haste. No matter what had happened to his beloved, one thing was sure, Thor would find her. Even if he had to search all Nine Realms until the Twilight of the Gods came forth and began the universe anew."
I shall bring her back to us.
"And so, his search began…"
Bianca's hands were wrapped around her arms. If she squeezed any harder her skin would have bled.
"Well…" Donald said with a sheepish grin, "That's just the beginning of the tale."
"Uh…" Bianca was almost afraid to ask, "How does it end?" That story...it seemed so familiar.
And Donald simply shook his head. "To be honest, I'm not sure myself."
Bianca stared, tried to keep her head cooled. There was so much that was new to her. The words of Donald's story, the feeling of wonder when he said the word "Asgard" and the feelings of loss she could never escape from. A forgotten homeland that was too distant to venture to. She knew this man...but how?
"Who are you?" she asked.
And Donald stood, "I am your comrade Valkyrie," he walked to Bianca, and cupped her chin in his great hand. "And I have come to bring you home, my love."
And their lips met.
Like lightning streaking across the black sky, Bianca's eyes alighted. She was Valkyrie. A warrior of Asgard. A protector of the throne. A guardian who rode her winged steed further and faster than even Heimdall could see. The woman who fell to Midgard at the end of the Frost Giant's siege. The woman Thor loved more than any other. Valkyrie.
"Thor?" she asked.
"Aye my love," Thor said, "I have found you at last."
Bianca (or rather, Valkyrie) stood by the Rocky Statue at the top of the library. Rocky Balboa. The man who showed the world that the impossible was possible. The uncle of Adonis Creed. The man who would someday be the greatest boxer Midgard would ever know of.
She had fallen from Asgard, her home, right into the lap of Philadelphia. When Thor found her, he wanted to return her to Asgard. To be with the gods once more and stand by his side.
"You belong in the golden city," Thor said. "Come, we shall away at once."
But she only shook her head, "Kind Thor, I thank thee for your efforts, but I cannot return."
It was strange. She had always felt at home anywhere. She could travel from one place to the next and find her comfort within the air that filled her lungs. Yet, she did not want to return to Asgard, or rather, she did not want to leave Philadelphia. There was a certain magic to this city that Asgard could never gain. A secret song that the horns and harps of Asgard's walls could never replicate. There was magic here, and through her life as Bianca, Valkyrie had become a part of that magic. Bianca had a life in this city. A man whom she loved. A world she was a part of. A music all her own.
How could she give that up?
"Very well," Thor told her, "But know this my love, if ye should ever wish to return to Asgard, all ye need to look to the skies." His blue eyes shimmered, "And I shall return."
Now, amongst the blue sky of Midgard, gazing towards the clouds above, she realized that she was something else now. Something more. And something less. A woman of two worlds that would never meet. An outside who could claim victor with a sword and a song. She was the product of two names, and her world was greater for it.