Where All Roads Lead

Midgard River

It took most of the afternoon for Thor to build his raft. He was still the God of Thunder, mightiest of the Aesir in physical strength, but in his new form of a pre-adolescent girl he had merely a fraction of that strength available to him. Where he could once carry great logs with one hand across the land, he now had to drag one from where he had felled it to the riverside with both hands. It was strength well beyond that of any mortal man (and certainly a little girl) but it was still a severe handicap for him.

So it was with a breath of relief that he finally collapsed onto his back atop the wooden raft, merely a series of logs bound together with scavenged rope and vines. He laid there for a few minutes, staring up at the late afternoon sky as he considered his options.

First on his list of priorities was wringing the life out of Loki with his bare hands, even if he doubted he could wrap his fingers around his adopted uncle’s slender neck with these new tiny hands. He had expelled most of his volatile anger earlier in a series of long curses at the sky and river. It had been cathartic but ultimately resolved nothing, and left him there to stew in his impotent rage.

To reach that first priority, however, he would need to find Loki. To do that, he would need to know where he was. Rivers meant settlements and people, so he had decided to raft down the river until he reached a town. From there he could navigate either back to Asgard and Valhalla or, if he found a lead, to wherever the treacherous Loki had hidden himself.

He sighed again. His fury had not ebbed, but it needed to be restrained for the time being. He could imagine the Allfather’s chastising voice for letting his anger rule him, and he knew that it was his rage that Loki so often counted on. He would need to wait, to keep his emotions contained until he found Loki so that he could properly unleash his wrath. It would be a satisfying moment to say the least.

Picking himself up, Thor hopped on spindly legs and went to retrieve a long thinner branch to use as a pole to pilot his new vessel. Taking it in hand, his hammer sent back in the form of a weightless lightning bolt, he began to push and shove his heavy raft into the river.

When he hopped aboard, the portion of the raft above the waterline nearly sank halfway down, far more than the weight of one small girl should have accounted for. That, at least, was one blessing to him even if it endangered his fragile craft. Thor was small but intensely dense as well. His fists were small as mallets but struck like sledgehammers, and his skin still had the impenetrable quality of the gods. He was still the God of Thunder, just now a very small one.

With some effort he pushed off onto the river and the raft departed the shore, floating away with the current as Thor used the long pole to guide it.

The river wasn’t very wide, nor particularly fast, but it carried him at a steady pace westward as tall trees passed on either side. There were no mountains he could see, and he would need to wait for nightfall to check the stars to guide him. Until then, his only hope would be to search for signs of human occupation, or hope perhaps that someone would come to find him. Still, he did not envy the idea of the Aesir or Vanir finding him like this. Preferably he could track down and kill Loki first, undoing whatever spell he was under and simply telling it as a humorous story later.

Thor’s fingers drummed absentmindedly on his steering pole. Loki had become more trouble than he was worth. From Odin’s vision they all knew what was to come with Ragnarok. It had happened before and would again with the release of Nidhoggr from its prison beneath the world tree. Before that fateful day, Loki had been bound deep beneath the earth, where on of Nidhoggr’s venomous serpents had dripped its terrible poison over Loki’s eyes.

Once Loki had been merely a mischievous figure, worth a laugh and always getting into trouble, but something dark had overcome his spirit. There was an evil in Loki now that could not be brushed aside. This trick he had played on Thor seemed like on of his older pranks, but Thor was sure that there was some fouler motive at play. Perhaps Loki simply wanted Thor out of the way for a time and figured this was the best way to do it. Either way, Loki would pay for what he’d done and anything else he had enacted in Thor’s absence.

The sky began to change in color, darkening in the east as the sky was painted in the west, bright reds and oranges reflecting on the river’s dark waters as Thor’s raft quietly cut through them. The first of the stars began toappear overhead, but they were too few and Thor’s knowledge of their movements too hazy for him to guide himself by them yet.  As he continued, however, he saw that perhaps he wouldn’t need to. There was a fire down the river, its bright orange flames flickering over the water as a trail of white smoke traveled upwards to the sky. As he drew closer, he could see it was indeed a campsite at the water’s edge, trees cleared to allow for a group to set themselves up there for the night, and the intoxicating smell of cooking meat soon reaching his nose. Without hesitation, Thor began to maneuver his raft sluggishly towards the riverbank.

As he drew closer, however, his stomach sank.

A trick of perspective and his own diminished height meant he had not quite realized the size of the figures sitting stooped around the campfires. As he drew closer, however, they were unmistakable in their size and brutish ugliness.

Thor, in his continuing streak of foul luck, had just steered himself to a camp of Jotnar. Thor hated Jotnar.

The giants spotted him and his raft before he could slip away over the dark river, and they rose to get a better look at the pilot. There were four of them in total, all nearly twice as tall as a mortal man, thickly built and dressed in skins and leather armor, their arms thick as tree trunks as their hulking forms moved to look at him.

“Would’ja look at that” one of them muttered, elbowing his companion “S’a little girl on a raft way out here”

The one he had elbowed chortled “Watcha doin’ out here, little morsel. Get lost playing in the woods? It’s dangerous out here, you know, there’s giants and the like about?” The Jotnar laughed at his won joke, earning a few chuckles from the others.

Thor couldn’t remember if Jotnar ate people. At the very least it seemed like something they would do. Thor really hated Jotnar.

“I’m fine.” Thro grunted, trying to maneuver his raft away from the shore. He tried to keep his calm, not to start anything. He wasn’t confident in his strength just yet, and he needed to save all his wrath for Loki.

“Now now” One of the Jotnar said “Come join us, little girl, We’ve got hot food ready to eat. Bet you’re hungry.”

The words ‘little girl’ struck Thor like blows to the heart. He ground his small teeth together, the current pulling him closer to shore. It was an insult, whether they knew it or not, and it demanded answer.

“You can shove your meat up your asses!” He shouted “Damn filthy, lice-infested, ant-brained, sister-bedding giants!”

The four Jotnar were all taken aback at the sudden hostility. That was the kind of abuse a giant expected from a god or another giant. Not tiny girls on rafts.

Too late to take his words back now, and Thor meant every word.

Their confusion soon turned to anger. Little girl or not those insults demanded reply, and one of them cracked his massive knuckles as another brandished a club.

“Why don’t you raft a little closer, little girl” one of them growled “We couldn’t quite here you.”

“Oh I’ll get closer.” Thor answered in his own angry growl, far less meancing than the giant’s. “I’ll drive this entire raft through your ugly skull you goat-screwing, rock-toothed lackwit!”

Thor abandoned the steering pole as he pulled his massive gauntlets on. If they called him little girl one more time…

“Little girl’s got a big mouth on her small head. What’s her name?”

That did it.

Pent up fury was unleashed as Thor made a divine leap from his raft, the logs splintering beneath his boots as he shot up into the air, falling like a metor onto the closest of them as his tiny but incredibly dense body slammed into his face, puny fist all but caving in his skull as he crashed to the ground. Thor rose from where the giant’s body fell, turning on the other three. He raised a hand into the air, a bolt of lightning flashing down from the clouded sky and landing in his hand, the unmistakable form of Mjolnir forming between his fingers.

“I am Thor! God of Thunder you wet-backed limp-dicked excuses for giants! You’ve heard the thunder crash now it’s time to taste the lightning!”

Mjolnir hummed with energy in his hand, light dancing around it as he pointed it at the closest giant, too stunned to flee. That would be his last mistake as a blinding bolt of lightning shot from his hammer, running like a spear through the giant’s chest and felling him instantly.

Thor took a step forward, pulling back his arm before hurtling Mjolnir towards the next giant. He was weaker than he had been, but rage had fueled his arm like a fire bonfire within him, and it was all his old strength that his hammer whistled through the air before smashing in the head of his target, flipping away in ricochet before pausing mid-flight and changing course to return to Thor’s waiting hand.

He took another step, turning to face the last giant. Seeing his three companions fall was enough to prove to him who his opponent really was. He immediately turned to flee, but Thor would not be denied. The last two had been killed much too impersonally. Thor wanted to feel the satisfying crunch of his hammer in his hand.

Thor returned to the riverbank, his pursuit finished and his entire right side now coated in giant blood. Thor really REALLY hated Jotnar.

He paused only to wash himself in the dark waters of the river, night having fallen in earnest now. As he washed his hands and clothes of the giant blood, a familiar scent in the water caught his notice. It wasn’t a pleasant scent, it was as if there was something foul in the river. Familiar…but not in a good way and hard for him to pin.

“I thought that might have been you, suppose I know for sure now.”

A voice, deep and echoing rolled up from the water, a booming sound of deep malice and endless hunger, with a mouth full of sharp teeth and lungs full of poison. Thor froze. He recognized that voice and the smell now, and it was much worse than giants.

The water swelled and heaved, rolling over the banks as his small raft rolled shakily with the swells. Something colossal moved within the waters, displacing much of the river as it undulated in the inky black waters. White foam appeared on its surface where a spine or the edge of a frill breached the water. On instinct, Mjolnir flew back to its owner’s hand. This was not a fight he could manage at anything less than full strength.

“Have you come for a second round!?” Thor’s tiny voice bellowed over the water “I won last time, I can win again!”

“Last time was more of a draw, don’t you think?”The booming sunken voice echoed from the river.“And you seem to be at something of a…disadvantage, though you were always small to me.” It added with a teasing bite.

“Show yourself!” Thor feared nothing, but even he knew when to be wary. This thing, this colossal monster, had once killed him after all. “Jormungandr!”

The river heaved as the colossal wyrm moved beneath the surface. As wide as a valley and long as the world, the Midgard serpent was larger than the river it lurked in.

After a moment passed, however, the river calmed, its surface grew still, and only the water near the shore began to forth and churn as something far smaller than the world serpent pulled itself free.

“There, we’re even, see?” The world serpent smiled its new teeth as it shifted into human form. The giants had ignorantly mocked him in their usual dim fashion. The world Serpent had a subtler edge, and so had taken the form of a (Slightly taller) young girl just to mess with him.

Thor grimaced “You want to fight that badly?”

Jormungandr fell backwards onto his raft, nearly collapsing it and sinking most of it beneath the water as the serpent’s massive weight fell upon it. “Nah, too tired, you know?”

“Damn lazy snake” Thor’s expression had not improved. “Then get off my raft!”

“Make me” Jormungandr grinned at him, retaining her sharp teeth.

This really was the last thing he needed right now. Thor waded out to his raft, pulling himself aboard and finding himself now ankle-deep in water as the raft struggled to carry them both.

In one form or another it didn’t matter, even if the monster had shrunk enough to fit (barely) aboard his raft, Thor knew he could never lift the entirety of the World Serpent. He was stuck with her like he was stuck with an anchor, the hitchhiker from Hel.

Stubbornly, Thor retrieved the steering pole and tried to shove off from the shore. His journey had barely started and he would have taken anyone else in all nine worlds to be stuck with.

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=25&sl=754

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One thought on “Where All Roads Lead

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

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