Where All Roads Lead

Valhalla Burning

While the forces of Nidhoggr and Typhon laid waste to Europe, and other Primordials staked their claim in the world beyond, there were other realms brought back into existence that demanded the attention of the dragons of chaos. Nidhoggr, the Serpent of Yggdrassil, was born of many realms and in the dragon’s envious fury it had set the bulk of its armies of the dead against its most ancient enemy.

On the once-pristine world of Asgard, vaunted home of the Aesir, the armies of Nidhoggr’s enslaved and risen dead clashed against the bulwark of the mightiest army ever built. The Einherjar, the souls of the powerful and valiant dead, claimed by the Valkyries and brought to the great hall of Valhalla. For centuries they had tested themselves against one another and sharpened their skills, now they held the line against Nidhoggr’s numberless hordes of rattling skeletons and monsters.

Giants had taken the field, joining Nidhoggr in an alliance of convenience against the Norse gods, great strides crossing rivers and valleys and clearing a path through the Asgardian ranks with swings of their mighty arms. Jotnar of many realms had come to stake their claim; lesser dragons as well had taken to the skies at Nidhoggr’s commands, burning through the forests and fields as they went.

Little by little, the Aesir and Vanir of Asgard had been pushed back to their stronghold of Valhalla and there they waited and planned, under perpetual siege by the Serpent of Yggdrassil’s nightmarish horde. Today, Odin the Allfather, chief of the Aesir, had gathered all others into his hall to speak, an address many had waited for with bated breath and all who heard the call had come.
There were still, however, a few noticeable absences.

Odin did not need both eyes to notice the significantly empty chairs in his hall. Three, specifically, were left unattended, and these were not the seats for nameless elves or dwarves or lesser of his kind.

Valhalla was an immense and opulent feasting hall. It was built from the hulls of great warships with beams hewn into the shapes of spears, the roof was thatched with the shields of thousands of warriors. The seats of its tables were draped in coats of mail, and the mounted bodies and furs of massive wolves and eagles dotted its borders. At the center of the hall, space was made for the tree, Laeradr, from which a goat casually ate amidst the proceedings.

He stood before his own chair, still dressed in his favored long grey robe above the armor he had donned, looking with his one great eye and empty socket across the gathered masses. For all his power he still looked an old man, with a long grey beard and a wizened face, none of which did anything to conceal his vast cunning and divine power.

“Tell me.” He said, his quieter voice still carrying the echo of a booming shout across the hall.

“Where is Thor? For that matter, where is Loki? Freyja is missing as well.”

There were a number of soft murmurs and a few rolled eyes. If the three of them had gotten involved in some farce again it was not worth looking to deeply into for fear of being pulled in.

Thor, God of Thunder and Odin’s mightiest son, had a habit of doing as he pleased when he pleased and not giving much mind to forethought. Odin’s brother by oath, Loki, was equally liable to go missing when needed, likely up to some mischief that was usually at the expense of mighty Thor or proud Freyja. The Mistress of Folkvangr was usually dutiful about this sort of meeting, and it was regarding her absence that the first voice spoke up to answer Odin.

“Lord of the Host.” It was one-handed Tyr who spoke, rising from his seat to let his voice carry across the vast hall. He was a massive man, broad-shouldered and fully armored, curls of red hair falling past his shoulders, his one good hand resting on his helm placed on the table at his side, his other arm ending at a stump above the wrist.

“I have news of Frejya, though not the other two.”

“Speak then.” Said Odin, gesturing to him.

“Heimdall gave me word,” Tyr continued. “So that I might carry to to you while he keeps the Bifrost safe. He says that Freyja traveled to Midgard to speak with these other pantheons we’ve heard of. It seems she seeks audience upon their mountain called Olympus.”

There was a great clamor as discussion and debate broke out, only to be silenced again, as if by magic, from a single gesture by Odin.

One voice, however, still rose to spoke. That of another of Odin’s sons, Vidall.

“So she abandons us in our time of need?” He asked the crowd. “The mighty Lady of the Slain Freyja flees to foreign realms and foreign arms rather than fight here on Asgardian soil? Now I suppose we see the valor of the Vanir.”

There was an instant uproar as Freyr, Freyja’s brother as beautiful and powerful as his sister, rose to challenge Vidall.

“Watch your words, Son of Odin, my sister is as strong in the arm as you are and twice as strong in heart. She seeks allies and companions in our war, not refuge.”

Tyr, still standing, spoke in turn. “Valhalla needs no allies. We’ve spent thousands of years crafting an army the likes of which no world has ever seen. The Einherjar will hold the gates of the hall against any threat.”

“They will.” Freyr nodded. “While all nine realms fall to ruin around it! Nidhoggr has taken lordship of Niflheimr, Svartalfheimr, and will soon command Alfheimr as well if reinforcements are not sent. Even here, most of Asgard has fallen to dragons and giants!”

Freyr turned his attention from Tyr and Vidall back to Odin.

“Is it so surprising, Father of Hosts, that Freyja has looked for reception elsewhere when you commanded your einherjar to abandon Folkvangr?”

Silence once more fell upon the hall, thick as fog as it rolled across the assembled masses. The burning of Folkvangr had been a controversial decision to say the least. It was the second of Asgard’s mighty strongholds, Freyja’s realms as well as barracks for half the fallen warriors and the Valkyries. It could have held out for many months, and they all knew it would likely still be standing if it had been reinforced, but Odin had made the decision to withdraw his Einherjar and his Valkyries, leaving Freyja to retreat before the armies of Nidhoggr surrounded her on all sides. She escaped with a small host, but a vast number of her troops had been destroyed in the flight to Valhalla.

Odin, as was his nature, had never made any attempt to explain himself or his actions, despite Freyja’s furious public demands for reparation. Odin merely claimed it a cost of war, and had left Freyja to her fury.

“What Freyja does on Midgard is of little immediate concern to us.” Odin said, still quiet, yet still heard by all across the hall. “She will do as she will, and if she will not be present on Asgard then her absence at this meeting is a given. I will have no more discussion on that matter tonight. Still, no one has risen to give me news of Thor or Loki. Freyr, Tyr, Vidall, do any of you carry such news?” His eye fell upon each of them in turn, and each of them took their seats again, unable to respond.

In the silence, the sound of flapping wings could be heard as a great raven flew in through an open window, beating its black wings as it circled overhead in the rafters before swooping down to perch on Odin’s shoulder. The Allfather leaned in, as if listening to the chattering beak of the raven.
The raven (Huginn, or perhaps Munnin, only Odin could tell them apart) appeared to speak its piece before flying out again through the window.

“Word from Heimdrall.” Odin said casually. “It would appear Freyja is not alone on Midgard. Thor is there as well, though precisely where I cannot say. Heimdall says he saw Thor’s cart pulling away, and if Thor is there then no doubt Loki is somewhere nearby.”

He sighed, the brim of his hat shadowing his brow as he folded his arms, though those seated close to him could swear there was something of his enigmatic smile still on his face.

“Oh my aching…everything” Thor muttered to the much-too-bright sky as he woke up with his back to the earth. He was outside and on the ground like a common drunk, that much he knew. A normal person would think they might have had a little too much mead and passed out, and the resounding pain like rolls of thunder in his head certainly made that a likely story. That, however, was the story for a normal person.

And he was Thor, God of Thunder.

He rose to his feet, vision swimming as the world seemed to spin around him, the hammering pain in his head like blows against his temple as he tried to steady himself. Was this what a hangover was like? If so it was awful, all the pain of fighting with none of the excitement.

He blinked rapidly, trying to clear the light from his eyes as the indistinct blur of the world around him began to take shape. He was in a clearing in a forest, nothing but earth and grass beneath him, and he was very much alone.

Well that’s no fun, he thought to himself as his mood began to sour. There was no one to brawl and no beautiful maidens to bed. What kind of useless god passed out all by himself?

He tried to recall what he had been doing, or where he was for that matter, but nothing came to him. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure he was even still on Asgard. He sniffed the air, and he could smell the scents of fertile soil and full-leafed forests, but nothing else really came to him.

Trying to concentrate, the pain in his head beginning to ebb, he heard the soft rush of a river, and smelled the water on the soil. A river…that would be a start. Rivers meant navigation, meant fishermen and landmarks to guide oneself by. He had no companions, no cart, and no way to tell direction as the sun was almost directly overhead.

Best get walking.

Thor started to move through the forest and almost immediately lost his balance. He swore loudly, trying to gain his feet which felt almost spindly beneath him as he took his balance. It was then he noticed how vast the forest felt. The trees here were positively enormous compared to the ones he was used to. What kind of world was he on?

Well, the only way to answer that was to get moving.

Head still swimming, body still feeling like it was made of gelatin bound together with noodles, Thor stumbled towards the river. At one point, he tripped and almost fell onto his face, catching himself on his hands before he hit the ground. His bright red hair spilled around his face and he noticed a long braid in his hair that he hadn’t noticed there before. Shrugging it off as the amusement of some maiden he’d enamored, he continued to the river.

The forest parted and revealed a large slow-moving river before him. Suddenly overcome by thirst, Thor bent down to drink, wishing the river was made of mead. But when he caught his reflection in the water, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

It wasn’t the reflection he had expected.

Thor had a certain image of himself. Large, muscular, built like one would expect of the God of Thunder, with a beard and a full head of bright red hair.

What was staring back at him was a little girl who couldn’t be more than ten.

She was dressed like Thor, in armor and skins that had been appropriately sized down. Her hair was the same color, though it was more a bright splash of red hair rather than his preferred “Fiery mane”. Her large eyes were the same color, and she moved her spindly arms and legs as he did.

She still wore his massive gauntlets (once more, appropriately size-down to fit on the little fingers of a small girl). And with confusion and fury growing inside him he called down his hammer. A bolt of lightning fell onto the shore of the river, filling his hand as Mjolnir came into existence between his fingers.

He still had in him the strength to lift the hammer at least, he noted as he weighed it in his hand. Though it seemed far larger now.

Still, Thor let his feelings be known to the world as he erupted into a string of curses and vulgarity that echoed through the forests and down the river like the growls of an oncoming thunderstorm. The menace of it was somewhat muted by the high-pitched girlishness of his new voice.

Needless to say, this was an unacceptable turn of events. And when events became unacceptable, there was usually only one likely cause. Tiny heart filled with fury, tiny fist shaking towards the heavens, Thor called out his name in high-pitched rage.

“LOKIIII!!!!”

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=23&sl=485

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One thought on “Where All Roads Lead

  1. Pingback: Where All Roads Lead | The Cities Eternal

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