Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 24

So, Surtur had things wrong.


Or Ratatosk did, but he talked to the World Tree. I was inclined to believe him over the fire giant.


What Surtur planned might still work for the wrong reasons. But maybe…how did you free up locked energy?


I supposed it probably needed just a little bit of a nudge. I had the idea, though. The idea of what I could do.


Of what Surtur could do if he stopped obsessing over me and apples. But nothing to help stop the next attack.


Which was going to be some time today. Clara had tried to scry and found herself blocked. The giants had thought of that, I supposed, and taken precautious against scrying. They did have magic, after all.


So there was little I could do other than not schedule any work and be ready. If we still had Mike…


If we still had… I reminded myself that Mike was fine, even if he couldn’t help us, and turned my focus back to reality.


Reality: Surtur or one of his minions was going to set something else on fire.


And this time it wouldn’t be a tenement in Southeast.


No, I was pretty sure that he was going to go after something…more important this time. Not a Metro station – they caught fire enough on their own these days.


Union Station?


One of the museums?


“If I was him,” Kanesha said grimly, “The castle.”


“That’s not a bad one. But it’s such a target rich environment. The archives, maybe? I just have a feeling he’s going for something really big this time.”


She nodded. “And we can’t scry it, we can’t stop it, and…is there any reason I can’t kill him?”


“He’d burn you to a crisp.”


“I know, but I almost feel it would be worth it if I could take him with me.”


“He can’t die on Midgaard.”


“That’s why I’m not going to do it.”


I was rather relieved I couldn’t take her to Muspelheim. I still planned on going there, of course, as soon as I could find somebody to go with me.


What Ratatosk had said made it more urgent to see if I could track the energy patterns somehow rather than less.


Track the…


I closed my eyes. “Neither. The bastard. I know where he is now.”


“You do?”


“They can block scrying. They can’t block another fire being. He’s going for the school.”


“Is Clara there?”
“Yes. Call her.” And with that I set off at a run, trusting Kanesha to find some way to catch up after she’d warned Clara.


I could sense three fire giants. They were beacons to me, and if I just trusted the fire.


If I just let it lead me I could find them, could know exactly where they were.


As if I really was meant to be the one in charge of them.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 23

“Okay. Well, what can you tell me?”


“Too much energy being used.”


“Being used at once? Is that the problem?” The answer to where it was going. Too many fire giants?


He tilted his head as if listening. For a long moment. For a longer period of silence than I thought he was capable of. Thruor whispered to me, “He really likes those comics.”


I managed not to laugh. The ultimate Ratatosk bribe had been discovered. Now I’d have to collect Squirrel Girl stuff.


Possibly two copies.


Finally, he responded, “They fight. All the time.”


Thruor shook her head. “That’s in the nature of fire giants.”


“Doesn’t have to be,” the squirrel said. “Or rather…”


“Maybe what they need,” I mused, “is an outlet. But now…”


“Fire tied up in the weapons from their wars. They are at peace now, because they have to be…”


“Surtur thinks he needs to add fire back into the system. You’re saying it’s all still there but not in a form they can use?”


This had definitely been a good idea.


“The fire can’t go anywhere. Ragnarok will free it all.”


“I promise I am not trying to start Ragnarok.”


“But you will have to start something.” The squirrel sounded very serious. “You know, I think, what you have to do.”


“Right now, I’m most worried about stopping Surtur from starting random fires.”


“Can’t help with that. Any more stories?” He was abruptly back to normal.


“No, but I have trail mix.” I offered him the bag and he took it. Comics and trail mix vanished into belt pouches that were definitely too small for them.


“You’ll work it out.”


“Which means you know exactly what I’m supposed to do but telling me would spoil the fun.”


“Yup!” He laughed, then turned and bounded away, tail seeming to get higher with each bounce.


“That was a lot more than people normally get out of him. He must really like those comics.”


“Well, now we know what to bribe him with.”


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 22

Thruor opened the path between the Realms in its usual rainbow swirl. But we did not step into Asgard.


We stepped into what I at first thought was a trail in woods, with an odd scent. Then I realized the trail below us was not mud or dirt.


It was bark. I decided looking down too much would be a bad idea. “We’re on the tree.”


“Yes,” Thruor said. “We’re on the branch that supports Midgard.”


“I don’t think I want to look down.”


She laughed. “You can’t actually fall,” she promised. “We’re not in…it’s hard to explain, but you’d just float off and I’d have to toss you a rope.”


I grinned. “Alright. Where might we find the squirrel?”


“We just have to get his attention.” She then whistled.


There were words in the whistle, but I couldn’t catch them. Like she’d sped them up to something that would carry in pitch and frequency.


I examined the ash bark beneath me while waiting. It felt very solid. More solid. If anything, Yggdrasil was more real than anything else.


Perhaps the most real thing…or at least the most real being…there was. Of course, Sabriel would argue that point.


I decided it would be an interesting philosophical discussion for later, but then the squirrel came bounding down the branch.


Needless to say, Ratatosk was no ordinary squirrel. He was a red squirrel, of course, but he was easily the size of a small dog. And when he sat up I could see he had a belt with pouches around his waist.


“Hey there Thruor who did you bring with you who are you what are you doing here do you have any nuts?”


It took me a moment to put it all together, as Ratatosk did not appear to believe in pauses or punctuation. “I have nuts. And stories.”


He perked up. “Nobody ever brings me stories do they think squirrels live only on nuts?”


I held out the comics.


“Ooh!” There was a pause this time. “Squirrel person squirrel human is she a squirrel goddess?”


“No, she’s a completely invented thing some human came up with, but she’s a squirrel who saves the world.”


“Are there more?”


I had to nod.
Thruor laughed. “Oh dear. I think you just became Ratatosk’s comics pusher.”


I laughed as well. “I think there are worse fates.”


“What do you want?”


“I want information about…about creation and the energies of the realms.”


“Ooh deep stuff.”


“And about what’s going on in Muspelheim.”


The squirrel slowed down to normal speed. “Bad things. Very bad things.”


Did he actually use two sentences to say that?


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 21

Getting him to stop talking. That didn’t exactly make me look forward to the trip. I had a feeling I’d be spending a lot of time trying to steer the chattery squirrel to the topic of conversation we wanted.


Thruor had also suggested an appropriate bribe. I couldn’t think of anything to bribe a squirrel, even an intelligent divine squirrel, with other than nuts or maybe Squirrel Girl comics.


I bought a couple of the latter, just out of craziness. And read them. I decided that Loki must have whispered a couple of ideas in the ears of the writers who came up with this.


Which wasn’t a bad thing.


“Squirrel Girl?” Kanesha teased.


“Thruor’s taking me to talk to Ratatosk. She suggested a bribe.”


Kanesha laughed. “Squirrel Girl comics?”


“And nuts, of course. What else do you bribe a squirrel with? I think if I was a squirrel I’d like a story about squirrels saving the world.”


Kanesha considered that. “I like stories about black girls saving the world. Aren’t enough of them.”


“Yeah. Ugh. Does that make me the white girl protagonist and you the plucky sidekick?”


She made a face. “At least I get to be the love interest, even if I don’t need a man.”


I started laughing at that and couldn’t stop.




“I’m…sorry…I…” I closed the comic. “I think I just needed to laugh at something.”


“Maybe you need more comics.”


Maybe I did. Or something. A good, funny movie maybe. Ghostbusters was gone, but…hrm… “I think I need a funny movie.”


“I’ll look what’s on.” She kissed me on the cheek.


I didn’t think there was much good on, but I was sure Kanesha could, at least, find something on Netflix. I looked at the comics then put them in little bags.


It probably was stupid, but I needed to know what the squirrel could tell me. Not, exactly, what he knew, of course. It didn’t work like that.


What he could tell me. What he was allowed to say, what I could understand. If he was translating for the World Tree that might not be very much.


But it couldn’t hurt. I supposed if he got mad with me he might decide not to talk to me for a few centuries, but…


What could a squirrel do?


Talk my ear off, apparently.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 20

Thruor shook her head. “You couldn’t do much without killing yourself.”


“I think that’s Surtur’s plan. Use the apples to super boost himself and then…”


She frowned. “Except that the theft would start Ragnarok, I don’t think I’d actually have a problem with that.”


I certainly wasn’t dying permanently to save Muspelheim. Except as a last resort craziness. “I don’t think I would either. But then, I might just be a bit biased against him.”


In all honestly, yes, I was. Hugely biased against him. I wouldn’t mourn his death.


“But he wants you…and not just to help him with the theft.”


“To be somebody maybe all of the factions can support so his death won’t start another war and undo everything he did.” I sighed. “You know, maybe if he’d come to me with this and maybe if we could…”


“…trust Odin not to be stubborn.”


“But I don’t want to be a queen anyway.”


“Sure about that?” There was a slight twinkle in Thruor’s eyes.


“Positive. I don’t think I’d be all that good at it.”


“You might be surprised. In any case? I can warn Idun.”


“Don’t ask why she was throwing apple cores at Loki.”


Thruor laughed. “I don’t need to ask.”


“No more than I do, but, ya know, I can only handle hearing about my father’s sexual shenanigans so much.”


“Yeah, I can imagine it gets…awkward.”


Awkward was one word for it. On the other hand, I’d asked him to…well…we were never going to have a normal father-daughter relationship. I supposed the best I could hope for was a reasonably healthy one.


Which it was right now. “In any case…so, it wouldn’t really work as a time-buying option.”


“Not really. You might slow things down a bit, but not by more than a couple of years if they’re as bad as they seem to be.”


“So, we need another source of fire. Could the dwarves do something?”


“Dwarves make things. I suppose they could make a gem or jewel to transport fire from somewhere else that you could release,” Thruor mused. “But we don’t have a good source.”


“Okay. So, how was the fire made in the first place?” And I thought there was a source, just not one we could get to.


“Part of the creation of the Nine Realms.”


“So, a one off thing, supposed to last until Ragnarok.”


“Supposed to last a long time yet,” Thruor admitted. “There’s one entity that might have a clue.”






I choked. “The squirrel?”


“The squirrel. He talks to Yggdrasil and stands at the foundation of the realms. And talking to him isn’t the problem.”


“What is?”


“Getting him to stop talking.”


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 19

I talked to Clara over a sandwich after school. She would have joined us on cleanup, but she was still in school.


“I almost played truant to come help.”


“It’s fine. There’s enough hands. I’d rather you tried a scry to see if you can locate the next target.”


“I can do that.”


We were in the sub shop I’d worked in for a while. The fyrhund was actually present. In the toaster oven. “Thanks. So…what do you know about places becoming drained of magical energy?”


She pursed her lips. “It can happen. You have to do a lot of magic in the place.”


“Do they recover?”




“Is there any way to speed it up?”


“Hrm. Pull magic in from some place else.”


“If there isn’t a some place else?”


She fixed eyes on me. “Do you think…”


“From what I’m gathering, Muspelheim has lost energy. As a realm. There’s no place to pull it from.”


“Well, where is it going?”


“It’s being used by belligerent fire giants fighting each other. I don’t think we’re talking about a fast drain. Something that’s happened over centuries, even millennia.”


She furrowed her brow. “It has to be going somewhere. Do they take energy with them when they die?”


“I don’t know.” That would be something to ask Thruor. She knew more about what happened when somebody died.


“They shouldn’t be, but I don’t know that much about fire giants. So…”


“All of this is because Surtur is convinced Muspelheim is dying and he thinks I can help him get the energy to save it from the Aesir. Or failing that start Ragnarok and reset everything.”


“Which would obviously work, but I don’t think we need to go that far. And…I assume…”


“He wants to use theft, not diplomacy. He’s pretty sure Odin won’t give him what he’s asking for.”


“Would he?”


I paused. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Maybe if there’s no other way…but Odin is stubborn.”


“He’d push things to Ragnarok before giving in, wouldn’t he.”


“To Surtur? Yeah. So I’m looking for an alternate source of fire energy.”


“That isn’t you?”


“I don’t think I could do enough.”


Clara nodded. “I don’t think you could. But you might be able to buy a bit of time by temporarily draining yourself, if you were in the right place. It would suck, but…”


“It would leave me wide open to being abducted by Surtur.”


“Yeah. It would.”


I decided to put that on the back burner for now. At least until I could find out how much time it would buy.


It might be worth it.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 18

Then I did detect a fire giant. I turned. Tall redhead. Smirking.


“Enjoying your handiwork?” I told him. Maybe I could get the cops to harass him, cause him trouble.


“Your handiwork. Not mine.”


I felt my lips twist a little. “Nobody is responsible for the actions of their enemies.”


“You can stop this any time you want.”


Not Surtur, no. Obviously somebody he trusted. “No, actually, I can’t. I know what your boss wants. I know what would happen if he got it.”


Ultimately, him setting fires here was less damage, less destruction than if I gave in. Ultimately, I knew I really was not responsible.


But I felt it, I could not help that. I could not change that. All I could do was hold firm and hope I came up with an answer.


“Suit yourself.”


A pause. “You know, there might be another way to solve Muspelheim’s problems.”


He turned. “If Surtur can’t come up with one, who can?”


He had a point on that. “Think about it. Surtur might be too close to the problem.”


“The next fire will be in two days,” was all he said before walking away.


And nothing to go to the police with even if doing so wouldn’t get him to change his target to a police station.


I thought of attacking him, but there had been enough destruction here. I’d catch him. Somewhere with a bit more space, somewhere less flammable.


Maybe he would even think a little bit about what I said. Surtur was too close to the problem.


Heck, I was probably too close to the problem at this point.


Bring more fire to Muspelheim, but from where? Hell was tainted…and damaging the balance of Hell might let more demons out.


It wasn’t like I could go catch an actual star that nobody was using and move it, I thought wryly. There had to be stars nobody was using, of course. They couldn’t all have planetary systems with life in them.


It was a silly and completely impossible idea and I tossed it away.


Fire was water in Muspelheim. Wasn’t exactly anywhere with a huge surplus of water, either.




It was all about energy and wasting it. Who would know a lot about energy? Not Father Will, of course.


Witches? Maybe. They certainly knew more about magic than I did.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 17



I turned at the name. It was Father Will. “Why am I not surprised to see you here?”


“This is a mess,” he said as he approached me. “What really happened?”


“Fire giants,” I told him. “Surtur threatening to keep burning stuff until I go with him.”


Will rolled his eyes. “He’s a winner, isn’t he. Do you have a plan?”


“No,” I admitted. “I know what he wants. I know why he wants it. I have absolutely no clue what to do about it.”


Will nodded. “Okay, then…anything I can do to help?”


I shook my head at that. “Not that I can think of right now.” I wished I could. Will was the kind of guy you wanted on your side.


But I was pretty sure all I would get from asking him was more confusion. Sometimes you can have too many angles on a problem.


“I’ll talk to Sabriel.”


“That…that would be useful.” The angels could at least step in to protect people caught in the crossfire. They could at least do that.


What could I do?


Go to Muspelheim was one answer. Go with somebody who was not a toady of Surtur, so I would not only see what he wanted to show me.


See what I could work out about what was going on. Feel the energy for myself.


“Kanesha, I…”


“You’re probably going to have to take a trip without me.” She made a wry grin. “Don’t worry. I trust you.”


“To come back intact, you mean?”


She grinned. “Yeah. And to come back and not get tempted.”


“I could never live somewhere you could not be,” I promised her. “Although I’m fairly sure we could find a way for you to spend some time there.”


“Some kind of fire protection artifact,” she mused.


“Yeah.” But for right now, we didn’t have anything like that. And I didn’t have a suitable guide.


So I went back to helping with cleaning up the mess, but keeping my eyes open for fire giants. Good or bad.


One of the kids I’d met would be perfect…or would they? What would a teenager know of what was really going on?


And then there was the likely end. Civil war. Was that the best outcome I could hope for?


I was starting to hate the entire thing.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 16

The news said it was a race riot. The news said it was about cops killing black people.


Maybe it was. Maybe Surtur had used that as a subtle cover.


He’d threatened to burn this city. He’d threatened to destroy it. I knew he would not carry out the full threat.


Then he would have no threat left. But thirty people had died in the fires, many more left homeless.


A small thing in the grand scheme of things. Enough to build the growing anger. If leaving did not work…then what would?


Maybe he hadn’t noticed I’d left.


For now, though, I was doing what I could. Helping where I could. Showing people who thought that was really what had happened that not everyone thought they were animals.


Not everyone thought they were beasts. Certainly not me. Not all of them wanted my help, though.


They didn’t trust white people.


Kanesha came over and handed me a bottle of water. “They’re talking to me, if not you.”


“Find anything out?”


“Several people are pretty sure they saw a white agitator starting fires. The cops don’t believe them. A redhead.”


“Couldn’t be bothered to darken their skin. Or couldn’t.” Maybe whoever Surtur had sent hadn’t been that good at shapeshifting or glamor, whichever they were using.


After all, it didn’t take much in the way of smarts to drop a bit of fire where it would do most good. “Thanks.”


“At least one said he’d recognize the guy again, for what it’s worth. But no wonder they don’t trust white people.”


I let out a breath. “We can’t fix that right now.” I was frustrated enough to hit something. No, not something. Somebody.


Frustrated enough to do some real damage, and I knew it. What could I do, though?


Fix the problem. Pull the rug out from under Surtur. If somebody else did it, though, would they… “We have to fix the real problem.”


“And if we do, what happens?”


“We put off Ragnarok for a while.”


“And Surtur ends up dead,” she said, softly.


“I thought of that. But what’s the alternative?” A civil war in Muspelheim, a coup, would kill far fewer people.


“I don’t know.” She found another bottle of water, chugged it. “I just don’t know.”


She was so beautiful in that moment, but I myself still…did not know.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 15

And…the road that reformed was a bit north of DC. I could already see the fire. What had Surtur done?


Not burned the entire city, no. Not yet. Of course, if he carried out his entire threat at once, then he had nothing to threaten me with.


“Southeast. He set fires in southeast. Where nobody cares.”


Kanesha’s face was tight. “I care.”


“You know what I mean.” We had our escort. We had our blades. But what could we do. “Thruor, what…”


“It’s under control, but…”


“But clearly Sigyn was wrong and me ducking out of town didn’t help.”


“Goddesses can be wrong.” Her tone was grim.


I wanted to kill him. Especially as if I was right then the more fire he used, the worse things got.


What about the fire I used? Was it their fire or mine?


Mine, some instinct told me. All mine. I wasn’t, exactly, a fire giant. I was something else, something more than that.


A fire goddess. The thought scared me. If I was something else, would Surtur want me? I was fairly sure the answer to that was no.


If I was something else. But I was not sure I wanted to be.


I only knew I wasn’t going to marry him and I wasn’t going to steal apples for him. If it was Muspelheim or the other eight realms…


…no, I had to change that equation. Had to. The fires were going out as I watched.


“Thruor, do you think beating him up and demanding he promises to leave me alone would work?”


“It…might, but I don’t think you can beat him yet.”


“I don’t have a century or so to get enough skill and power.” I glared at the city. “I can’t kill him. I can’t stop him. I can’t let him keep burning things like this.”


Hot tears sprung from me. “I want to…I need to talk to a fire giant. Know if any are around. That aren’t on his side.”


Thruor considered. “There’s one good possibility. Come on.” She opened the door. “Hop on.”


“Kanesha, stay with…” I tailed off, still unable to remember the other Valkyrie’s name. “Beat up anyone who messes with you.”


She grinned at me. “Always.”


And then I was on the steed behind Thruor and we were moving into the city as the remnants of fire bounced off the gathering cloud cover of a storm, turning the sky orange.


Turning the sky like that of Muspelheim.