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by Brian James
Genre: Urban Fantasy
The Viking gods have been banished from Asgard by Odin. Today they make the best of life on Earth. Thor is a professional athlete, Freya a prostitute, and Loki sells cheap products on QVC. Lurking in the background of their lives is a prophecy; one that declares that their time is at an end. Ragnarok is about to throw the gods into a state of civil war and the one who controls the hammer of Thor may be able to change the arc of destiny.
Brian James is a professional writer whose work has appeared in a number of mainstream publications. In the past he has written articles for the Detroit Free Press, The World Poker Tour magazine, Classic Rock Magazine, Audi’s various publications, and a score of websites. While working with the World Poker Tour, and a subsidiary website, Brian was also responsible for celebrity and player interviews.
“Rude awakenings. An early hour’s earthquake tops our morning news. Hi, I’m Lisa Way and this is the WRIF Rock and Roll Radio News. The biggest earthquake since…well, since ever, rattled the cages of Metro Detroit residents today. It shook Motown to the tune of 7 on the Richter scale. The quake paralyzed southeastern, lower Michigan—a state whose last geologic upheaval occurred when Kwame Kilpatrick slipped and fell during one of his many criminal proceedings. The destruction left in its wake is estimated to be billions of…”
The old man turned off the radio. Reclining back in his leather chair, he surveyed the carnage in his office. The quake had left its thumbprint all over the place. A vase had fallen from its stand. The thick grey shag beneath it had absorbed most of the impact and saved it from damage. Well that…and the people of the Ming dynasty really had a knack for making a durable vase. For a moment he stared at it like he expected the piece of pottery to put itself back on its stand. Picking the vase up off the floor, he reflected on the accidental wisdom of choosing carpeting over hardwood or marble. While this tiny corner of the office was now squared away, a quick view of the rest of the room emphasized how truly small a victory this was. Most of the books had been shaken loose from the shelves of his library. A framed Presidential Medal of Freedom hung cockeyed on the wall. In smaller frames next to it were invitations to the inaugurations of the last four presidents.
Sitting back in his chair and stroking his snow-white beard, the gentleman looked up at the mural painted on his high-domed ceiling. It wasn’t exactly the Sistine Chapel, but it was more impressive than the drop ceilings and fluorescent lights most people have in their offices. The painted surface depicted a battle. To the world outside the walls of his office, this particular clash was only an obscure moment in the long bloody history of war. In fact, outside of a few Dungeons and Dragons fanatics, most would be unaware this fight ever happened. The painting depicted the high honor of a warrior’s death that had been granted to King Harald Wartooth during the battle of Bravellir.
Odin closed his only remaining eye, and he let his thoughts drift back in time. “What a day that was.” He softly muttered to himself. It was one of the most exciting moments in his near eternal life.
King Harald Wartooth of the Danes, fearing death by old age, arranged the battle with his nephew, King Hring of Sweden. They had amassed the two largest armies ever conceived of at that point in history. Carnage and glorious death was the rule of the day. Wartooth would not allow the battle to end until he had attained a worthy death at the hands of the Swedes. The thousands who perished so that he could experience a proper warrior’s end were given over to Odin as a blood sacrifice.
Odin smiled as the memory flooded his ancient mind. That day he bestowed upon Wartooth, one of his favorite disciples, a gift that only one who was beloved by the king of Viking Gods was worthy to receive. Odin, disguised as Wartooth’s chariot driver, revealed himself to King Harald as the battle reached its apex. It was by Odin’s hand that Wartooth was slain, and in his arms, carried to Valhalla, the hall of heroes. What a glorious day. The celebration of Harald’s arrival in Asgard went on for days.
Odin opened his eyes and looked back to the artwork. This time he noticed a large crack, obscuring his own face on the mural.
“Typical,” he snorted.
He straightened up in his chair, and pushed a button on his intercom. “Agatha, get Simmons in here,” he said in a loud, booming voice. Odin made a point of always using a very loud voice. When he had the intercom installed, he also had a device put in to make sure the bass resonance of his voice was amplified. When he addressed his employees, he wanted them to have absolutely no doubt as to who was in charge.
He took a stopwatch from his pocket and activated it. With both hands he pushed himself away from his desk. Still holding the stopwatch, he got up and walked toward the framed medal. The award was given to his him for his company’s many innovations as America’s primary defense contractor. Since its inception in 1947, Aesir Engineering had revolutionized the art of weapon making to a degree that companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics simply could not attain. Most of their competitors were ultimately run out of business, absorbed, or kept alive by Aesir Engineering themselves to avoid the appearance of a monopoly. This success had left Aesir as the single supplier of weapons and defense technology to the United States of America. It had also made Odin a very rich man. His personal fortune stood at well over the ten billion dollar mark, with several billion more hidden, laundered, and stashed away in overseas accounts. Wealth and comfort was a good byproduct of Aesir but it was not the reason he had left Asgard, the home of the Gods, in favor of life with the mortals.
The monkeys who called themselves human beings may be a lower order of life than the Asgardian Gods, but they had a certain knack for carnage that was unmatched anywhere else in the nine worlds. Only a human could look upon the jawbone of an ass and decide this was a proper tool to smack his fellow man with. The creativity of these shaved apes in the art of destruction seemed to know no bounds. In what seemed like only a blink of Father Time’s eye, the human race had moved on from beating each other silly with bits of skeletal material to lobbing laser guided atomic weapons at one another. This skill with weaponry both confounded and impressed the Gods. Back in Asgard, they were still swinging heavy pieces of sharpened metal at each other at about the same time Harvard scientists had accidently invented Napalm while searching for a cancer cure. Left on their own, mankind would simply develop more and more deadly weapons and then one day accidentally delete itself from the planet. If this talent were harnessed and directed by the gods, it would be an invaluable tool in the defense of the Asgardians. And it was protection that Odin needed. The time of Ragnarok was coming and for the first time in his supposedly immortal life, Odin could feel death stalking him.
Back in its heydey Asgard was plagued by the antics of Loki, the God of Lies. His presence among the Gods was barely tolerated but the situation became unbearable when his three children, Hela, Jormungand, and Fenris were brought into the world. Hela became the mistress of the dead and damned. Jormungand was a massive ill-tempered dragon that had little love for Odin or anything else from Asgard. Fenris was a wolf the size of a building. His favorite past time was treating the Asgardian Gods like chew toys. Eventually Odin, by trickery, magic, and strength of numbers had Loki and all his children banished. The peace had been short lived.
The removal of Loki had started the timer for the death of Odin and the rest of the gods. The Norns, three bitter witches whose only source of joy was ruining people’s day by making highly accurate prophecies about the worst parts of someone’s future, had looked ahead in time and saw the return of Loki. His children were with him along with an army of the dead. Worst of all, they were allied with the King of the Fire Giants, Surt. The Norns prophesied a battle that ended with the destruction of Earth and the death of nearly all the gods, monsters, and men. Odin would be counted among the dead. The earthquake that inexplicably struck the state of Michigan was a warning bell that Ragnarok was near.
The quake that leveled Detroit was not unique. It was just one more in a string of seismic incidents that had plagued every continent. As he went about the room picking up things that the quake had knocked from their rightful places, he thought about the explanations that the so called “experts” were going to come up with for this world wide epidemic of earthquakes. Of course, mainstream science and theology would never accept the truth.
Simmons came rushing into the office. He had been in the washroom when he heard Agatha’s page over the intercom. He finished as fast as he could, came rushing out from the stall and through the washroom door. Pulling his pants up and attempting to buckle his belt at the same time, he didn’t bother trying to compose himself outside Odin’s office. Prolonged waiting just angered his boss. His shirt was still hanging out of his pants when he stood in front of his master. Odin touched the button on his stopwatch.
“Three minutes and forty-three seconds. That is three minutes and thirty seconds longer than I should ever have to wait for you, Simmons.” Odin modulated his voice so he would get just the right hint of disdain in his tone. He puffed out his already massive chest. His frame was putting an awful strain on his suit as it was. Flexing for dramatic effect meant risking a burst seam.
“This will not happen again, Mr. Simmons,” he said through pursed lips.
Simmons lowered his head as he answered. “Ye…yes sir.”
Carl Simmons came to Aesir Engineering with an impressive resume, a very high IQ, and a complete lack of anything that resembled self-esteem. Despite a Harvard degree and genius-level intellect, he always rated himself in terms of his physical appearance. He was short, measuring only five foot six in his elevated shoes. Despite his slight stature, he had managed to pack on two hundred and twenty pounds. This created some problems in how he dressed. He was too fat to shop in the mainstream stores and too short for the big and tall places. Because of this, his attire always put him only one step ahead of most homeless people. The one item of clothing that he wore consistently, because it fit him, was his hat. He wore his black fedora almost constantly. At first it bothered Odin. He would insist that Simmons remove his hat while in his presence but after a while Odin got sick of looking at his own reflection in Carl’s bald head and gave him permission to wear the cap.
Simmons was also a very light skinned African-American. Because of this, he was shunned by a significant chunk of his own race. He also didn’t quite fit into the white society because of his bi-racial heritage. This meant that he lived his entire life in a cultural limbo.
Odin had picked up on most of these traits when he hired Simmons. Carl had more than enough intelligence to be useful, and low enough self-esteem to be easily dominated. Odin made Simmons his personal assistant. He was the perfect lackey. Within a year of hiring him, Odin revealed himself as the deity that he was. Carl was, of course, reluctant to believe what his boss was telling him and understandably felt a little cheated by this. Most people get a raise and a handshake on anniversary. But not him. He just got some fish story about his boss actually being an ancient god. This was perhaps the second most ridiculous thing an employer had ever told him.
He just smiled, nodded, and privately thought that perhaps his boss had read one comic book too many as a child. He changed his mind after three spirits of the undead picked up his Chevy Geo and placed it on top of the roof of a local Hardee’s restaurant.
This was probably not the best working situation for Carl. He felt insignificant around most normal humans. His sense of inadequacy was multiplied ten thousand fold with the knowledge that he was working for an ancient and very powerful god. The whole thing baffled Simmons’ therapist. For the last few years he had made steady progress. Now it seemed he had crashed like the Hindenburg. When pressed about it in their sessions, Carl just curled up in a fetal position on the couch and hugged his knees. He dared not tell anyone what he knew. What could he say? If he yelled out that he worked for a genuine Norse deity, they would likely take him somewhere to “rest” and throw away the key. A future of white pajamas and primal scream therapy was not exactly what he had in mind as a career goal. Even worse, people would begin to question the one thing he perceived as his strong point—his intellect. For now, he just suffered in silence.
Odin handed Simmons a sealed envelope. The seal was of the old style. Red, melted wax with the company logo stamped into it. He ran his finger over the envelope, brushing at the black, waxen symbol of a Raven with full wing display. He wasn’t quite sure if he was to open it here, or take it back to his office. Odin bristled…
“What the hell are you waiting for serf? Open the envelope!”
Simmons moved quickly at his Lord’s command. Odin’s booming voice frightened Carl terribly, making even the most simple of tasks an exercise in clumsiness. Simmons dropped the envelope. He bent over to pick it up only to drop it again as he felt the cold stare of Odin’s single eye. He repeated the cycle of picking up and dropping the envelope two more times. Odin kept a stern look about him and sniffed heavily with each mishandled gesture but took a secret delight in the man’s obvious fear.
Once Carl finally got a good grasp on the envelope (and himself) he tore the flap from the wax seal. There was a folded message written in Viking runes. Odin was never partial to the contemporary styles of writing. He found them to be clumsy and without art. The ancient god stubbornly held onto the old ways and wrote his messages in runes.
This was a fairly large problem for Simmons. It caused him to spend hours in his office pouring over Odin’s simplest notes. Seeing as Rosetta Stone didn’t have a program for runes, he would often be up to his armpits in books about the ancient writing. The translations were truly a laborious task. He once was at the office till midnight deciphering a note that basically told him he could go home early. From that day on, Carl would go the library every night, and learn what he could about Viking runes. Two months of intense study, and over a thousand pots of coffee later, Simmons had enough understanding of the writing to be able to read most of Odin’s notes on the spot.
The document he now held in his hands was a list of names; some with addresses, some with a phone number, others with both. A few were simply names, a description, and last known whereabouts of the person.
Odin turned away from Simmons and faced the large picture window behind his desk. He stared off, his single eye not as much looking at the world outside as it was looking through it.
“Our future depends on you delivering every person named on that list to me.” Odin’s voice, for one split moment, had a nearly inaudible shake as he said these words. Simmons knew his boss fairly well. The primordial god had a definite flair for the dramatics. Everything he said or did was, for that moment in time, the most important thing in the world. Carl learned to eventually look past that. In most cases Odin would eventually lose interest in whatever project occupied him for a certain moment in time and be on to the next “most-important-thing-in-the-world.” That shake in his voice though, that was odd. Odin would never show weakness deliberately. Carl had a feeling deep in his stomach that more than the company’s future depended on these names. Usually feelings deep in Carl’s stomach had something to do with his lactose intolerance (his body was the gift that just kept on giving). He didn’t remember having any cheese recently. So he decided that the feeling must be a sense of dread. Carl was comfortable with that. He lived most of his life in fear so what was one more anxiety?
Simmons went back to his desk and began to screw the top off a bottle of Maalox that was kept in his top desk drawer. He took a large gulp from the container and looked over the runes. His eyes danced up and down the list. This was a catalog of Odin’s children and assorted hangers on.
For the first time in centuries, he was going to pull the Aesir back together. Considering their general feelings of dislike for each other as a whole, this could be a messy endeavor.
Carl wiped the chalky liquid from the corner of his mouth and looked to the bottom of the page. Runes covered the paper until he got to the last entry. It was here that Odin drew a hammer. It was a crude and very angry looking drawing. The lines were heavy and dark. There were at least two spots where he could see that Odin broke his pencil from pushing down too hard. The hammer was the symbol of Thor, the most powerful of the Aesir. Carl allowed a little smile to work itself across his face.
“Thor…Odin…the same room???” He tried to stifle a laugh. To his credit he managed to catch most of it except for a rather large snort that escaped out from his nose. Of all of Odin’s children Thor hated him the most. The situation had gone so far that Thor had become a palpable threat to the very life of Odin.
Simmons folded the note and put it in his desk. Even if he didn’t have an address or phone number for him, Thor was going to be the easiest of them all to find. He started making phone calls and thinking to himself how truly interesting this could be.