A Birthright Refused

When Jack, Jim, and Jewls return the shackled spirit of Ixion to Washington they are welcomed with open arms by Odin, Loki, and Thor. After the hand-off, Thor pulls Jack aside. "Son, times move faster than I thought and it seems that Ragnarok is truly at hand. I'm afraid I'm going to need Mjolnir back. Jormungandr stirs and my entry into Valhalla is close at hand. Let me show you something."

He turns and strides through the White House, with secret service and staff stepping quickly out of the way of his massive frame. In the back is a large expanse of perfectly manicured lawn, and on that lawn are the two goats Gnasher and Tooth Grinder, whose image is on Jack's hood ornament. They tear at the base of a tree and have almost pulled it down, but Thor stops them. "Ho! We fly!" The goats run into the trees and come back moments later harnessed to Thor's golden chariot. The thunder god steps aboard and ushers Jack to follow and soon the two are hurtling through the air faster than the eye can see. Jack blinks and almost misses the entire journey.

Thor's chariot slows and stops on a familiar mountainside, though it takes Jack a moment to recognize it. It's only been a few months but it feels like years since he first encountered that other Thor here in Iceland. Thor steps down and leads him to a cave entrance hidden in a copse of trees. "Here is where I found Utgard-Loki. It was not Asgard you found, but a dream made by the king of the giants. It took very little convincing for him to tell me of his scheme." He turns to the cave entrance. "Honored King, you have visitors!"

A man who looks to be perhaps 60 steps out of the cave a minute later, shoulders covered in fenrir fur and a large axe made of ice at his side. Utgard-Loki, Lord of Jotunheim, looks to Thor and then to Jack. "So the youth returns, eh? I trust there are no hard feelings for my little joke?"

Jackl does not reply, and Utgard-Loki looks at Thor. "I see your boy didn't inherit your boisterousness." He turns back to Jack. "It was just a little illusion. I was hoping you'd see through it and let slip where the real Asgard had gotten off to. But it turned out you were as in the dark as I."

Thor gives a begrudging word of dismissal to Utgard-Loki, who turns and walks back through the cave entrance. They hop back on Thor's chariot and a moment later are standing outside the home Jack grew up in. It's older and more run down than he remembers, but that would be understandable if it's been sitting unlived in since Thor killed himself years ago. Several men and women are moving around, cleaning, unpacking, and otherwise getting the place back in shape. From their orderliness and manner it's clear they're from the army corps of engineers or some similar branch of service, though they wear no uniforms.

"Take a break folks. My son and I have some stuff to take care of." The men and women quickly disperse, most taking up seats in the back of a large moving truck, and the tunder god ushers Jack inside.

The place is dingy, but not dim. The windows have been cleaned and the rest of the house is slowly coming back into shape, returning to its familiar albeit very dated decor. "I'm sorry son. I shouldn't have left you. But when your mother passed I tried and tried to be there, but the loss was too great. Shari was everything to me, and I'd even given an oath of monogamy to her here in the new world where those sorts of things have meaning. I swore to her I'd keep that oath until we met in the afterlife, and I mean it still."

"I left you alone and in danger, so I could selfishly hurry my passage to Niflheim and seek her out. She had not died in battle, so neither could I. Not if we were to be together again. Had I known about the maneuverings of the titanspawn or Braintec's designs on you, I'd not have done it. Can you ever forgive me?"

Fearing the response, Thor continues before Jack has a chance to answer. "But in any case, the world is what we have, and we've got to make the best of it now. The end times are upon us and it seems Ragnarok draws near. I took you to Utgard-Loki so you could understand exactly how long Asgard has been lost to us. The old giant has been searching for it for centuries, as has the All Father. Now we believe Hel to be seeking it as well. She has cloaked herself from prophecy and mystery, and her Fate is snarled in the tapestry. But yours is not."

"Odin has seen that Hel wants Asgard for herself, though the rest of her fate is unclear. He has also seen that it will be you who gives it to her. I don't know what that means, but I do know that no son of mine would be treasonous, so I chalk it up to the vagaries of the old man and his Sight."

He reaches a hand towards Mjolnir. "May I?" Jack hands the hammer back to its rightful owner. "Worry not, lad. I will not leave you defenseless in these times. Odin has asked that I pass this on to you." As he speaks, Thor rifles through the bags and moving boxes to pull out a long, ancient looking spear. "This is Gungnir, the swaying one. It served Odin well, but he has a replacement nos and wishes you to have it. It should see you through the coming days."

He takes Mjolnir in his hand, and draw's his other palm across the tip of Gungnir. Several drops of his ichor splatter onto the flattened head of the hammer, and he tells Jack to hold still and do not worry. "What comes is troublesome, but not painful." Thor's massive arm draws back and Mjolnir leaps forward, it's massive head aimed straight for Jack's in a downward stroke so perfect it's perpendicular to the ground and aligned exactly with his spine.

Jack easily rolls out of the way, being almost as fast as his father and not needing to avoid what is clearly not a mortal stroke. He regains his footing with a solemn look on his face. "If this is what I believe it to be... it cannot happen. The visions Odin saw may well be true. I have tried to remove the brand Hel has left on me but it has only made things worse. I see visions of her on a mountainside calling me to come to her. I may well be the instrument of her ascendance. You would only bring about that devastation by further increasing my power. Odin is a lot of things but being wrong isn't often one of them. Until I have freed myself of whatever shackles she has over me, I fear I cannot fully realize my own potential. I will not bring her to power."

Thor seems confused for a moment, then proud. "Of course not, son. You're right about one thing, Odin is cagey, and rarely wrong. If he was concerned about this, would he have let me come to you for this?"

Jack would rather work through the troubles with Hel on his own, and though he knows that prophecy and Fate can't tie a scion's hands, the risk is not worth it.

"Well son, I won't push you where you don't want to go. And I can't fault your reasoning." Thor claps a hand on Jack's shoulder. "Your mother would be proud."

He stares into space for a second, then collects his thoughts. "Odin and Loki will move against Coatlicue soon. They hope to contain her themselves, along with the help of a few new friends. They'd rather not unleash nuclear Armageddon and the ensuing fimbulwinter, but will if there's no other choice.

"I'll be heading to face Jormundgandr. He stirs and destiny calls. If you make it to Asgard, look for me in the ranks of the Einherjar. Mayhap fate will be kinder with this second death."

Thor turns and rummages through boxes again, and pulls out a wad of very old newspaper. As he unwraps what turns out to be an ornate silver cup he continues. "This is from me, and I hope you will still take it today." He turns it around in his hand, polishing tarnished spots as he does. The chalice is plain except for inlayed runes in a repeating pattern. Interlaced stamps of the runes cweorth and ear make up the rim of the cup, and speak to its purpose.

"Hel has the wisdom of all the unhallowed dead at her disposal. Though the valiant go to Valhalla, the wretched are given to her care. And we both know how full the world is of those." He holds the chalice out to Jack. "This is the Draugrhorn, the ghost cup. It sits at every table in Valhalla, and connects to every man's lips who drinks there. With it you may call up the ghosts of the valiant dead, which may prove of use when braving the wrath of the first scorned woman."

"There were other things I wished to show you, but as you say. Perhaps it is an inopportune time."

      ---

"Thank you for the gifts, I am sure they will prove useful in ridding myself of this curse. Perhaps you can break from destiny as well. I'd hate to have to rescue you from death once more" Giving Thor a wink and grin, Jack reaches out to brand Thor with his own vigil brand remarkably similar to that on his own wrist place there by Thor. "If the prophecy is true perhaps I can help when the time comes"  Jack hopes to use his internal refinery to create an anti-toxin for Jormungandr's venom and save Thor from his foretold doom at Ragnarok.

For a moment Thor almost looks offended at the idea that he would ever need help, then he laughs uproariously and claps Jack on the back.

"I'm not sure where you're staying. Paperwork's not my thing, but I read your reports and it looks like you've been too busy to stay anywhere. You're welcome to stay here if you want, I'll even extend your curfew to midnight," Thor says, laughing at his own joke before turning somber again.

synergy rune"I don't know what Hel has in store for you, but she's been waiting a long time to exact her revenge on Odin for casting her out so long ago. I doubt she'll want to wait much longer. I'm likely to be a little busy with the whole 'end of the world' thing, but if you need me, send up a prayer. I'll respond if I can." Just before Thor leaves, he digs into a pocket and pulls out a handful of thumbnail-sized flat rectangular stones. Each one bears a rune, but its one Jack has never seen before. "Odin sent these. They represent a new Futhark, a new purview. He says it encompasses your band's ability to come together despite differences, and mirrors one of the modern world's finer aspects. One's for you, the rest are for Jim, Jewls, and Jack."

Sad that he has to go so soon, but excited by the prospect of battle against a worthy foe, Thor heads back out to the front lawn and mounts his chariot, disappearing into the sky. Almost as if she'd been waiting until he was gone, Jack feels the familiar dizziness that accompanied his last vision of Hel and his eyesight swirls again. This time Hel is standing atop an icy mountain summit looking down at the mining camp where Jack and Jim unearthed Mökkurkálfi. Jack's brand flares and Hel speaks into his mind. "It's time. Come to me."