We grabbed a couple bags of loose-meat on hoagie sandwiches and a half-pound of mozzarella sticks from a local sandwich shop before heading to a park to eat. We laid claim to a picnic table and spread out our paper-wrapped loot. After we'd all gotten a few bites down, Joseph swallowed some lemonade to wash the sandwich out of his mouth.
“So,” he said, looking at Muriel. “You are hoping to start Ragnarok, huh?”
Mercy choked on her mozzarella stick. She grabbed her drink and gulped it down, her eyes darting from Joseph to Muriel and back.
Muriel was unfazed. “Yeah, Ragnarok will wash the world clean. It's like, a fresh start.”
Mercy laughed with a trace of bitterness in the sound. “That's one way to put it.”
Muriel frowned. “What do you know about it?”
Mercy shrugged and gave her full attention to her sandwich.
I jumped in. “Muriel, did you ever think that maybe Keith isn't telling the whole truth on the Ragnarok thing?”
Muriel shrugged. “No one ever tells the whole truth. But, so what? This life sucks. There's so much wrong that it's pretty much impossible for regular people like me to get ahead. Better to start clean, even if it isn't as rosy as what Keith says.”
“Rosy?” Joseph said. “How about most people are supposed to die during Ragnarok? And you are talking about fighting in it? You wouldn’t survive. You wouldn’t get to see that shiney, clean new world.”
Muriel raised her chin. “That's a sacrifice that some of us are willing to make for everyone else.”
I blinked. Muriel had never been a mean or selfish girl, but this level of self-sacrifice was a little on the extreme side. I touched her arm. “You would do that? Why? Who are you saving?”
Muriel smiled sadly. “My life isn't going anywhere. I got nothing to work for. I got no goals, nothing. But I got you, and you got Ella. And there's millions of other little kids out there. They can survive. They can have a better life than what I got.”
I drew my hand back and covered my mouth in shock. She was willing to die for my daughter. That was crazy. It was beautiful. It was... wrong. I blinked at the tears that came from nowhere. “No.”
“You don't get to throw my daughter under the bus for your cause.” I stood up and grabbed a handful of wrappers to throw away. “Find something else to salve your ego on.”
I walked away, bristling. How could she do that? She effectively laid her life at my daughter's feet as if it was her right to that kind of emotional burden on someone. It wasn't that it was a bad thing to do, but really? I would never be able to tell my daughter why her aunt died because, well... Imagine the guilt that it would leave on my child.
I threw the papers into the trash bin.
People have a hard enough time living up to living when someone dies saving them from fires or car accidents or normal things. Starting a war of gods and volunteering to die in that war so my daughter could have a better life? That was too much for me to deal with. And it was too much to be putting on a little girl. I stalked back to the table.
Muriel stood up as I approached. “Nicola...”
“No!” I pointed at her. “You sit down and listen.”
I stared at her until she dropped into her seat. “You cannot use my daughter - or any other kids - as an excuse for your actions. You can't do that to them. How would you feel if you were told that someone you loved started a fucking war and died so you could have a better life? Would you be thrilled? No pressure?”
Muriel swallowed hard and shook her head.
“Damn right,” I continued. “That's a really crappy thing to do to someone. And just so you can feel like you finally have a purpose in your life, right?”
I pressed on. “You need to seriously reconsider your motives on this little jaunt into the jaws of the hounds of war. And stop making it out like you are doing people a favor. You don't know that.”
I paced in front of her, grabbing at the words flooding my head, hoping it would make sense to Muriel. “It doesn’t matter if this war thing is real or not, if what you believe is real or not. You are taking risks and placing the result of those risks at the feet of a Kindergartener. I need you to see how unfair that is, how hurtful that is, even if it seems to be for the best intentions.”
I sat down and grabbed a mozzarella stick, chomping down so hard I almost bit the inside of my lip. “If you feel have to die for Ella, at least have the decency to not tell us that.”
Everyone sat in silence for a moment. Mercy chewed on her sandwich, eying me as if sizing me up. Joseph kept his head down as he finished off his drink - a smart move, him having experienced my rages before. Muriel sat with her hands in her lap, staring at me and chewing on her lip.
“Now that we've gotten that straight,” I said, finally breaking the ice. “Muriel, it's time for you to really explain what is going on and why you are so into doing this... whatever it is.”She nodded and gulped down her diet soda before she started talking.