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.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 14

Not knowing how to help put me in a dark mood that lasted through Niagara Falls, as spectacular as they were, and now we were heading back to home.


I’d still put in my notice at the apartment. With the money I was getting I could afford somewhere bigger.


Somewhere better for a couple. Part of me had almost spontaneously proposed at the Falls, but my mood was too dark.


Maybe it was better that way. I hadn’t really been logistically ready. I didn’t have a ring.


I still had doubts about making it formal. Fears, maybe, that that would somehow put her in even more danger.


Fears that it would be the signal for Surtur to take her out. Fears that I could not protect her, in the end.


And she could certainly not come to Muspelheim with me. But that did not matter. Thruor could look after her, and if I did not come back, make her disappear.


Make her look like somebody else and vanish where nobody could find her.


I was not convinced that…I was not convinced that a part of me did not belong there, in the realm of fire, in the realm so completely unlike the Hell I had had to enter to help Loki.


Both realms of fire.


But Muspelheim could be lovely if you let yourself see it, if you let it be part of you.


Part of me.


That was what I was really afraid of. And with the nose of the car pointed south…


…I was not entirely surprised when we were suddenly flanked by Valkyries. I rolled down the window. “Let me guess, you’re not here to show me a biker bar with really awesome burgers.”


“We need to get you back to DC and fast.” Thruor’s voice. The other was not Kara. I couldn’t remember her name.


“What did Surtur set on fire now?” I could not help but ask.


“Several things. It’s bad.”


I nodded. “Let’s go then.”


“Hold on. We’re going to take a shortcut.”


So, vacation, such as it had been, was over. Kanesha was pale under the dark of her skin. Pale and afraid, but strong.


I could feel her strength. It supported me, lifted me up. I could feel her faith in me.


It helped.


I was starting to know what I had to do, but if Surtur was going to push the issue.


The road suddenly fragmented into glowing rainbow shards. I kept my foot on the pedal.


I had a feeling going as fast as possible was what was needed.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 13

Muspelheim. Fire is water. A dead apple tree.


What if the fire giants were losing their immortality? That would certain explain Surtur’s desperation.


But why? The chain was a weapon.


A war. A civil war. Or rather something factional. I’d already seen the edges of it. Maybe part of why he wanted me was as a way to not choose a bride from any of those factions, not to take sides.


But Angrboda might be right. He wanted apples, thinking that would fix it.


Lugh clearly did not want…or no, he had wanted to show me that. Unless Odin had interrupted whatever he had planned, moved me somewhere else.


Entirely possible.




Would Odin care if Muspelheim died. Yes, because then the fire giants, with nothing to lose, would start the final war.


And Loki might join in if he thought Midgard was dying too. And maybe…


Maybe if one realm died it would take others with it. Maybe Ragnarok needed to happen to restore them.


Would I start it if it was…if everyone was going to die anyway? I frowned, because part of me was saying that it did not matter at that point.


That rebirth was better than a cold decline into death under brilliant stars. Of course it was.


But stopping the decline was better.


Of course it was.


Assuming that was the way my thoughts should go, I had to make a decision. Stealing apples for Surtur seemed likely to start the war for different reasons, in a different way.


Maybe I could get dad to do it. It would be expected from him.




I wanted to ask Angrboda what gave immortality to the giants. It wasn’t the golden apples. But she had already left. I had to find out, anyway, from a fire giant. One of the nice kids I’d bumped into.




Kids who deserved a future. I frowned again.


Okay, what was the most likely reason why Muspelheim would be dying? A lack of fire. Fires going out.


If fire was water there, then that would be like emptying an aquifer.
And combat could use up fire, use up energy faster than it was supposed to. The slingshot chain.


To say I liked this idea would be wrong, like when Facebook only allowed you to like the news of your friend’s wife getting cancer.


Liked, definitely not the right word. Hated. But it felt right. It fit everything except the cold stars.


The cold star nymph.


Who was she? I’d find out one day, I suspected. Or maybe she had merely been an idea. A metaphor. Perhaps even an echo of myself.


“If Muspelheim is low on fire, how do I give it more?”
Kanesha frowned. “The apples increase…”


“…life force. He’s hoping they’ll supercharge some of the fire giants so as to add more energy back into the system.”


I wasn’t sure he was right, but it felt very much like a way that could be seen as working. By a certain logic. Then I frowned. “They’d die.”


Surtur would…


Then I frowned more. “Not fire giants. Himself. He intends to sacrifice himself.”


“Which would solve the problem of him starting Ragnarok.”


“Not if Ragnarok is caused by him stealing the apples.”


It all fit together now.


All of it.


I felt sorry for him. But I was not sure how to help.


Episode Thirty-One: Roads: Scene 12

The burgers were every bit as good as they smelled, and the root beer was probably nearly as good as the actual beer.


While we munched, I filled Angrboda in on the riddle.


“Muspelheim is where fire flows like water.” She shuddered. “I couldn’t even set foot there. I’d melt. Literally.”


I nodded. “I seem to have picked up more fire nature than ice.”


“Oh, definitely, and you’ve been there.”


I nodded again. “Quite…”


“Comfortable. Homely.” She frowned. “Ah well. You’re fiery for a reason.”


“I managed fine in Jotunheim too, but…”


“You’ll never be happy there, I don’t think. It’s fine. We can always meet up at a dwarven inn.”


I laughed. “Or here.” I frowned. “What do you think it all means.”


“Surtur told you Muspelheim was dying.”


I tried to remember when I’d told her that. I drew a blank. I obviously had, but I must have been drunk.


“Right. Which means…”


“A dead apple tree, or not quite dead. But that’s more about Asgard.”


I nodded. “But Surtur seemed to think I could…you think it’s connected to what he thinks?”


“He might think he needs some apples of youth to restore things. And that you could get them for him.”


“And he’d never ask Odin.” I glanced at Kanesha.


“What if he does?”


“I don’t know.” I frowned. “I mean, I don’t want an entire realm to die. Any realm. Surtur’s not the only person who lives there, after all.”


“Good,” Angrboda said. “But if you start taking responsibility for Muspelheim…” She tailed off.


I shuddered. “I ain’t taking charge. With him or without him.”


But I didn’t want the place to turn into some kind of black desert with dead trees. I thought of what I had glimpsed.


Trees with flowers of fire.


Rivers of lava.


It was beautiful. But…


“But you still want to save the place.”


“It’s beautiful,” I admitted. “Maybe not to you.”


She laughed sharply. “No, not to me. But I’m not you. I’m just an old frost giant, and kind of set in her ways anyway.”


“An old frost giant who likes to get people drunk.”


She didn’t deny it. Meeting her, though? This was the kind of not normal I didn’t mind at all.


Especially as she paid for the burgers.
And did not start a bar fight. This time.