Against my better judgement, I’m posting the prologue of RAGNAROK SUMMER. I do this with some trepidation. It’s one thing to write scripts for other artists to interpret and bring to life. Quite another to throw nothing but your own words out there. Yeah, I’ve written a hundred thousand bits of nonfiction, but it’s just not the same when it comes to prose.
Anyways, hope you like it and find it sufficiently intriguing.
Prologue: Virgrid Forgotten
Underneath the rocky soil of the Virgrid plain, the dead shuddered and were without rest. They fretted, lamenting the theft of that which they had died for.
The plain was an immovable patch of winter, stubborn and unmoved in the face of the endless summer which had ruled Asgard and the nine worlds for the last hundred years. A century of sunlight had not been enough to banish the frigid winds that blew over the field. The ice was meltless, this chill undiminished. The cold gripped the very air, a brittle echo of the Fembleveter which had grasped the land before Summer came. Nobody ever visited this place, Asgardians and misbegotten Jotun alike. Memory of the wounds inflicted was painful enough to drive away anyone who remembered this place.
(more after the jump)
Long blades of wild grass swayed in the wind, rich and fat from feeding upon the fallen. Buried carelessly, without respect for their deeds and honor in death, their sacrifice flourishing in cold green spears. Through the churn of stalks, the wind was a chorus of whispers, moving as one to a slow dance. At times, the whole of Virgrid seemed to stir, as if shaking off its sleep.
Deep indeed was the slumber, for the snarl of the approaching machine was not enough to wake the dead. The sound became a roar as it rolled to a stop just outside the unmarked boundaries of the plain. Dirty chrome glinted dully in the sunlight, scarred and marked with uncounted hundreds of miles, covered with the dust of nine worlds. It was a man-machine of dwarven craft, with a fiery heart made of burnished metal. Long pipes ran from the engine down along the sides, swept like saplings in the storm, steaming faintly in the cool Virgrid winds. The rider gunned the engine once more, simply because he could. He waited a moment, snorting as if in disappointment that his clamor had no audience. Then he killed the machine, and let the engine clatter into sleep. As he pushed away, the ground seemed to groan low.
Grease-black leather and faded denim creaked as he walked the perimeter of the field. There was a line he did not cross. He paced it, dared it, snarled at it and even spit its name, but he would not cross. Maybe it was fear that held him back, but at a glance, he belied no weakness. He stood as a man, but his stance was a wolf’s. It was a body that had been worn into fitness, comfort and fat scraped away until all that was left was iron muscle and taut. His hair and beard were full, combed only by the wind and the color of rust. Tension raked his face and skin, muscle swimming beneath the surface as he tried hide his unease. With feral calm, he drew a breath past his teeth.
And stepped onto the green grass then stood a moment, listening to the words that the field spoke to him. The winds yanked at his bristling red hair and kicked up a sharp veil of ice whipped him across the eyes. He was not welcome here. His bitter mirth boomed across the empty expanse.
“I come in laughter. As I will leave,” he spat.
In reply, the blades now stood up straight and sharp as the spears of an army on the march.
“Why should this year be any different?” he asked of nobody in particular, or maybe of the field itself. “Only the earth, and the son of Earth remembers you.”
The wind laid the grass so that it all pointed at him. Nettles and vines clutched at his boots and he snorted in reply. The wind then slackened, and silence rushed in to fill the absence.
“Yes. I would hate us, too.” He plucked a tuft of grass from the black soil and chewed upon it. The taste was blackly blood-salty. “I would hate us for not honoring you. For denying you. For robbing you of your death-right.” He spat the root from his mouth.
Moaning hollow, the cold turned bitter and gnawing. He would not cower. He simply crossed his arms before him and braced against the wind’s force. Ice and dust lodged in his beard, stinging his face and skin, a swarm of needles.
“I will not be moved. My words will not be denied. For I know that they still remember what transpires here. I know that they are all listening to this, though they would wish it away if they could.” He lowered his arms against his sides and addressed the sky.
“A toast!” he shouted with acid. “To my kith and kin. To all of you in Asgard City. To my father, Odin, the sightless master!” He sucked a long breath. “Poor old man,” he said quietly and without sadness.
He unzipped and urinated on the plain before him. His piss steamed in the frozen air, darkening the ground below. “A toast! All Asgard has done the same to this memory, and Thor shall not be denied his opportunity.”
Tucking himself away, he stood up straight and grunted.
He zipped up, making ready to turn and walk away. “Eighty summers later and it still sounds right: Fuck you all. Rot away in your glittering halls for all that I care. I’ll not obey any summons that you issue me. I am Thor. And I shall do as I please.”
The field was breathless in its reproach. For a brief moment, the grass tossed like long manes of hair, making Thor think of the Valkyrie as they harvested the Einerjahr from the fields of the righteous. He throttled the thought instantly, dismissing the vision of their silver locks and shimmering blades.
Satisfied his message had been received, he showed his back to Virgrid. For eighty years now, the residents of Asgard City had commanded his return to their ranks. For eighty years, Thor had laughed at them, waiting to hear their summons on high Summer, simply so that he could ignore it. This year he didn’t even wait for the message. Perhaps now they’d learn to stop calling his name. If only for a short time.
Thor paused, boot crunching a knot of bone that jutted from the soil. There was a…sound, beneath his feet. At least he thought it to be a sound.
It wasn’t heard so much as felt, keening, a vibration that shot from the soles of his feet, through his guts and to the top of his skull. This continued for a moment, sundering Thor’s bravado from within, clutching his heart and wrenching it like a dog would a bone. Then more silence.
Until the earth screamed in rage, a shattering sound of stone cracking, clods of dirt and rock being spit from a maw that opened in the plain. Thor turned in shock as the earth ruptured, coughing black dust and bones in a grisly rain. A flock of rusted weapons without an edge, or even a memory of it, hung in the air before arcing back into gravity’s pull. Mail coats, decayed into uselessness, were cast into veils of bloody rust that blocked the winter-summer sun. A cacophony of dented metal helmets and skulls fell before the silence returned.
Frigidness crept from the base of Thor’s skull down his spine as he watched the fissure. The hot sweat of shame blistered the back of his neck and head as he watched the steam issuing from the ground like sticky wolf breath. Guilt seized and froze him in place.
Hands no more than bone scrabbled against the slope and pulled their way out of the newborn chasm. The wind shifted and brought with it the smell of dead things, as if the rift opened clear to Hel and its fetid air now slithered out of this hole. The stench twisted Thor’s stomach within him, gagging him before he could catch his breath. Corruption was the scent that boiled within, heroic flesh turning gray and soft as it became food for maggots, the weapons of warriors forgotten consumed by rot, the ground itself turning foul. Thor’s last meal passed his lips again, burning hot this time as he vomited onto the plain, falling to his knees.
He could hear nothing, but imagined laughter for a few wretched moments.
When at last his body permitted him to rise, Thor stood shakily, hollowed. Filth stuck to his lips as he gasped for air, but only drew the smell of open graves. He turned again to regard the plain, gasping heavily and no longer caring what the air smelled of, but only that he was breathing again.
“Thunder god, Son of Earth,” rasped a voice that was ground bone. “Face us.”
Tears streamed hot from Thor’s eyes. In his heart, he told himself that it was the stench, but he knew that was deception. He wiped with a leather glove and looked towards the voice, seeing only a grimy blur. “Who does this to me? Who attacks Thor?!” he screamed, full of bluff. Cornered, he made to reach for his hammer, then remembering that was there no longer. And that it hadn’t since the last time winter kissed this land.
His vision cleared. Before him stood a jaundiced skeleton dressed in flimsy rags of flesh and armor. Gobbets and strips of skin clung to the ridges of its skull, smiling through lips that were no longer there. Worms were its eyeballs. Between its ribs, beneath the tatters that clothed it, still beat a meaningless heart. This was a thing that belonged nowhere but Hel, yet here it was before him. It took a faltering step forward, threatening to come apart. Links of rotten leather and iron fell from its mail shirt as it lurched, as did small bones and finally a flap of skin covering its cheek.
“We will have what is ours,” it whispered with a chilling sibilance. Slowly, it drew a sword from a scabbard encrusted with dried blood and soil. The blade shone so cruelly in the sun, impossibly bright, as if no time had passed since it had been buried.
Thor backpedaled away from the ghoul. Careless in his haste he tripped over an outcropping of rock, as if the plain itself had tripped him. He watched helplessly as the blade described an arc, the end of which was his heart. The stroke was only half-completed when the corpse stopped, suddenly robbed of animation. It continued to move forward, but without motivation, simply falling. The bones came to Thor in embrace, before falling disconnected and hitting the ground randomly. What lay around Thor had no semblance of a man, hardly even a scattering of pieces. All that remained whole was an intact hand, whose index finger still pointed accusingly at him.
The stench lingered, though there was no sign of its origin. Thor felt it clinging to him with the strength of dried blood or unconfessed guilt. He looked back into the field and saw no rift, no bones, no rusted weapons. Even the body that had pursued him was gone now, no more than a lingering scent.
Thor limped away, like his insides were cast off behind him. He mounted his machine then clamped hard on the throttle, forcing a scream through its metal pipes and power through its frame. A grim chuckle coursed through him as he realized that indeed the field had taken the last laugh this year, that a century of mockery would move even the earth into reply.
The sound of Thor’s machine grew faint in the distance, becoming the soft babbling of a stream. Virgrid tumbled once again into its uneasy sleep.
He knew that nothing had changed in the eighty years since he had abandoned the warm comforts of Bilskirnir, his hall, and the mirrored greatness that was the rebuilt Asgard City. The Bifrost Circuit still glittered painfully as it arced across the span from Midgard to Asgard. Jotuns still used their greater strength to cower and destroy humans. Humans still built their cities and fought their wars, asking of the gods when needy, praising them when satisfied, and vilifying them when defied. Not that the gods had heard or cared. Muspellheim yet burned and Nilfheim was caked in frosty rime that would never melt, even should the world end.
It was not as if the world hadn’t ended once before. The Fembleveter had bitten into the land for three years without cease, the Jotuns had massed their host as had the Aesir and Vanir. Two mighty armies joined on the Virgrid and the blood there had flowed in torrents, blood enough to drown an age, as was intended. The plain itself could not absorb it and a new river was born, one that still washed to the shores of all the nine worlds. But that had not been the end of the world. It had not been any kind of an end.