Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 31

Then I heard a yelp. Bjorn, being marched back down the street by a pair of soldier types.


I guess this place wasn’t as abandoned as we thought. “Let him go. He’s with me.”


It was a gamble.


“It’s dangerous to be around here…” he started. Then he looked at me. Down a bit, of course. “Who the heck are you?”


“Siglaugr Lokisdottir.” Hopefully he’d at least heard my name.


Apparently they were, what? Here to stop people falling down a mineshaft? Local cops from whatever the nearest remaining town was.


His eyes narrowed. “I know that name.”


“Then you know why you should let us go.”


The other released Bjorn. “Shouldn’t have told them who you are.”


“They can tell I’m not from around here.” Glamor might work well to fool humans. It wasn’t going to work on any fire giant past puberty.




“Bjorn here was showing me the damage. The problems you are having. I may be able to help.”


“We have orders about her,” the one who had been holding Bjorn said. “We’re to take her to Surtur.”


“I wouldn’t try to follow that order.”


Bjorn was doing the sensible thing. Running. I wasn’t about to argue or try to get him to stop.


“Because you’re going to fight us.”


“If I have to. Surtur only claims his intentions are honorable.”


The implication I left there – although his attempts to coerce me into marriage pretty much counted.


“The king would never.”


“The king is desperate. I figure if we can remove his desperation he will leave me alone. There are giantesses who would literally kill for his attention.”


For a moment, I thought it was going to work. Then they tried to jump me.


It was a hard fight solely because I didn’t want to kill them. If I hadn’t tried so hard to avoid doing so I would probably have won.
As it was, one of them got me on the side of the head with the pommel of his sword and I went down into darkness, with my last thought being that I had really screwed this one up.


At least I knew I was not going to die.




…and then darkness.

Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 30

We went into the abandoned village. “I do assure one thing. I don’t intend to kill him.”


Bjorn looked startled.




“That’s how you take over, though.”


“I don’t want to. I’d just as soon see somebody sane who knows the politics here and then walk away.”


He looked at me. “I don’t know if there is anyone.”


“As you pointed out, you’re just a kid.” I looked towards the capital.


So, they were turning their fire into weapons.


Which meant what? Destroy the weapons? Destroy the forge? I wasn’t sure I could achieve the latter and the former, well, there were probably too many of them at this point.


Destroy the forge. That was a goal, if not a plan. That would at least keep things from getting any worse. I stepped into an abandoned house.


They had taken everything not nailed down. Except for a scrap of paper. I picked it up, looked at it.
Failed to read the script, so I put it in my pocket. It was probably part of a shopping list or something.


It was a reminder. Of course, shutting down the forge might be enough, which came back to getting rid of Surtur.


Why had he not thought of that?


Because he knew he would have to fight another war. Because he genuinely believed that, with everything in his being. Of course he didn’t want to destroy weapons, stop making them, or anything like that.


How had we got here? Because…


Because everyone knew Ragnarok had to happen and the fire giants had to start it. They were self fulfilling the prophecy.


Or maybe it was more than that. I rather thought I’d need to talk to a Norn about that.


“Bjorn?” I called, realizing I’d lost sight of him.


There was no answer. Frowning, I stepped out of the house and looked around.


No sign of him.


No wildlife, either. It had likely died or moved on. The fyrhund, though, was sitting in the middle of the street, looking a specific way.


“What are you smelling, boy?”


I didn’t question the fact that I hadn’t brought him here. He seemed to know ways between the Realms of his own.


Or maybe he could go wherever I was.


Maybe he was part of me, but either way, he was on full alert. I did not know why, so my hand drifted to my sword hilt as I went over towards him.




Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 29

Unfortunately, none of this gave me a solution.


Bjorn hesitated then, “Let me show you some more stuff.” He offered me his hand.


I took it, even though I wasn’t sure he wasn’t flirting again. We moved further away from the dead forest, and I saw that at the edge of it was a town. A dying town. No doubt, whatever their purpose had been had to do with the trees and everyone had moved out.


There was a mine, too, I noticed. “What did they mine here?”


“Gems. We used to trade them to the dwarves, but you can’t eat gems.”


“The dwarves probably can.”


He laughed. “Probably, but we aren’t dwarves.”


I liked dwarves, of course. But they were so tied to the rock I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t draw at least some sustenance from it. Some energy, at least.


Maybe fire giants drew sustenance from fire and that was why they’d moved out. “You were born here.”


“One of the last to be. We had to leave. And it’s spreading.”


“I know.” I let out a breath. “The energy was used up in the fighting.”


“So much fighting. I mean, it’s in our nature to fight each other, but I’m told it wasn’t as bad.”


“You need a safe channel for it. Mortals have…outlets. You need something similar.”


“Surtur thinks the only good outlet…”


“Surtur is a king. He is not as wise as he thinks.” I let out a breath.


“And you’re a kid, same as me.”


“I’m Loki’s daughter. I think that counts for something.”


“It does to Surtur.”


“I think he thinks that I count as at least a bit of extra fire.”


“But you do! Your fire isn’t drained, isn’t depleted.”


“It’s not depleted. It’s locked up.”


But in what? I closed my eyes as if to enhance other senses, and I felt a flow of energy away from here. “That way. What’s that way?” I pointed.


“The capital. If we’re avoiding Surtur, we don’t want to go there.”


“Something there is stealing your fire. Some kind of weapon or weapons.”


“They forge a lot of weapons.”


My own sword was dwarven. “The one thing the dwarves won’t sell you.”


He looked startled. “Yes.”


“Maybe one day that will change.”


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 28

His back door was worse than the route I’d taken in another realm with the cliffs. With the owl woman.


That seemed an oddly long time ago.


But this was bad in a different way. It was a tunnel, a tunnel in which even I sweated with the heat. I had a feeling anyone without fire giant blood or some other protection would spontaneously combust within a few paces.


It was that hot. I realized eventually that we were sneaking in through a lava tube, hopefully one that would not become an active lava river at any moment. “This is a place kids play to hide from adults, isn’t it.”


He grinned. “Oh, absolutely. And don’t worry. The river hasn’t flowed in a couple of centuries.”


Which was likely a side effect of the very thing I was worried about. “I wasn’t worried,” I lied.


Flash floods were dangerous regardless of what they were made of, though, and I stayed wary until he hopped out through a hole in the roof.


We were in a dying forest. The trees, no doubt, were a similar species to the fireblooms Surtur had shown me, but now they looked like the apple tree I’d seen under the stars.


Not quite dead, but not truly alive either. I rested my hand on one of them and shuddered. “This place…”


“This place was beautiful, I’m told, before I was born.”


“I…how do I not have your name?”


“Bjorn. Well, it’s Bjorn plus half a dozen syllables.”


I laughed. “Bjorn will do.” He wasn’t that bearlike, I thought. “But yeah. This is the right place.”


The trees were not getting enough fire to live. They were not dying, but sleeping…but if it went on too long they would die.


That understanding came through the touch. So, where had the fire gone? Could I…I closed my eyes and tried to get a sense of it.


I felt only a sense of dryness, of lack. Of cold, even, despite the tremendous heat of this place. Heat I could easily get used to.


Heat I could easily feel at home in. But not that lack. This place was beautiful before I was born.


“This is what Surtur should have shown me in the first place.” We could have worked together. I mourned that, briefly.


“Surtur believes that this is the center and that if he releases a lot of fire here it will…”


“The fire’s still here. It’s just a matter of finding it.”


I could sense it.


But I could not sense it with enough detail to know. What I could do was release a tiny bit of fire. Just let it flow out of me.


I felt the tree respond. I felt it uncurl in hope before returning to its state. “He’s right that this place needs more, though.”


“He’s Surtur. Of course he’s right.”


“About the problem.” I turned to Bjorn. “Not about the solution.”


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 27

Of course, when I was trying to avoid fire giants, they seemed to be on every street corner.


When I was trying to find one? Not a one to be seen. Fortunately, I had an advantage.


A canine advantage.


Of course, he couldn’t find a specific fire giant. But between his nose and my senses I was able to locate all eight of them in town.


Hopefully one of them would be sympathetic to my ideas rather than loyal to Surtur. And the one I did find?


I’d met him before. He wasn’t any older than I was. “Hey.”


“You’re looking for me?” His tone was suspicious as he glanced at the fyrhund.


“You or somebody like you. I need to check something out and I need some help. And I need it under Surtur’s radar.”


He shuddered. “He’s losing it.”


“Figured you’d say that.”


“But it’s hard to get to Muspelheim under his radar.”


I could imagine that. “Do you know a back door?”


“I do, but it’s not a fun route. Of course, you’re as immune to fire as I am, but you’d better not…”


“I don’t plan on bringing anyone else.” I smiled at him. “I want to look at what’s going on without being shown a nice, pleasant guided tour.”


He laughed. “I get that. And I think I know where to take you. But what’s in it for me?”


“I’m trying to keep Surtur from starting Ragnarok. And I’m trying to solve your problems. I have some insight, but I need to see what’s going on.” And feel it. And know it.


It scared me. I was afraid it meant something.


I was rather afraid…


“Why do you care?”


A pause. “Well, first of all, I have mortals I care about that I don’t want to see burned to a crisp or frozen into icicles in a war. Second of all, I guess I’m a soft touch for people in trouble. If it was just Surtur he could go hang, but…”


“Nobody cares about fire giants.”


“I do.” Of course, I rather suspected I’d have to be careful admitting that. “But I do have some of our blood.”


“And something else.” He grinned. “I think I know what Surtur sees in you.”


“Flirting won’t get you anywhere. But I think I can find some sort of reward for being a guide.” If nothing else, there was always tasty food he couldn’t get in Muspelheim.




It worked on gods.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 26

Needless to say I wasn’t getting that wish any time soon. Whatever Monica was doing for Odin, it was on other planes.


Or he was keeping her away from me for the sake of not making things too easy. I was pretty sure, no, very sure, that Odin really did enjoy watching people struggle.


Never asking anything he wouldn’t give himself.




Okay. Now I was just being petty. But the school was empty, and the fire damage was…no worse than last time the school had been attacked because of me.


“It was supposed to be safe once I graduated,” I grumbled.


“Nah, it won’t be safe until I do.”


I sighed. “Hey, Clara. Sorry if I don’t seem happy.”


“I saw you talking to the fire giant.”


“He’s going to keep doing this until I agree to marry Surtur. At which point, Surtur starts Ragnarok. So I have to let him keep doing this.”


“Hrm.” She studied me. “Any progress on the Muspelheim problem.”


“Enough to know that Surtur’s idea is stupid, dramatic, and will start a war with Asgard for no reason. Not enough to know how to fix it. I’m going to have to go there.”


“I don’t have a fire resistance spell that can take that,” Clara grumbled.


“I know. Don’t worry. I’ll…” And I tailed off. “…take friends.”


How well did dwarves handle Muspelheim? The twins would be very handy to have along. Or they might know a way to help some of my other friends. Not Angrboda, of course. That would take an entire tribe of dwarves to achieve.


I wondered idly how my grandparents had actually managed to have sex without killing each other.




That wasn’t my problem. Talking to the dwarven twins was smart, but I was still blocked off from personal access between the Realms.


Which put me right back to finding a fire giant I could reasonably trust.


Already acting like a queen. No. I mean, I wouldn’t start Ragnarok to avoid it, but I would go hide in Jotunheim if that was what it took.


Surtur could not touch me there, I mused. But he’d keep hurting others until I came back out.


So, time to find a friendly fire giant. Or a dwarf. Either, at this point, would do. “I promise I’ll be careful. Keep an eye on Kanesha?”


“I will,” she promised.


That was one person I could trust, Thruor was another. Kanesha herself was a third.


She would, I decided, be fine.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 25

I was not, quite, too late. I would have been if it hadn’t been for Clara. And I could see kids pouring out of every door.


She had pulled the fire alarm or got somebody else to before the fire had started. Which had given time for people to get out.


And at least the giants had not thought to lock the doors. Or maybe that was the next step. They were trying to piss me off, after all.


I saw redhead, though, and he had his hand lifted, ready to add more fire. “Who warned them?”


“Who do you think?” I said from behind him, drawing my sword. “I’m not going to fight Surtur. You, on the other hand.”


The threat was clear, I made sure of that. But it was still a threat.


He laughed. “I’m not going to fight you.”


“What? Under orders not to engage? Is he worried you might mark me? Or, I know, is he worried I might kill you?”


While we were facing off he wasn’t starting any more fires and people were escaping. I didn’t particularly care about the building.


Heck, I’d let it burn.


“No, lady. I have no desire to harm you.”


“Because you don’t want to piss off Surtur’s intended. Even if she has no intent towards him.”


He wasn’t even drawing a weapon. “Lady…”


“I am not your queen. I am Loki’s daughter and yes, I carry fire. But I am not your queen.”


“You sound as if it is not me you are trying to convince.”


“It is Surtur I am trying to convince. The only thing I want from him is to be left alone.”


“And then you…”


“No. I would not have your lives on my conscience. I have no intention of letting anyone die that I can save.”


“Then you are already a queen.” And he stepped backwards and vanished.


“I think he likes you,” Kanesha said, out of breath.


“I think he’s trying to flatter me on Surtur’s behalf. I wonder who he is. One of Surtur’s bastards, maybe?”


“I don’t think they look much alike, but then…”


“Powerful giants shapeshift. So…but he’s somebody who has a lot of Surtur’s trust.”


It is not your task to kill him. Monica’s words.


I wished I could talk to her.


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?