"I just keep thinking about Thor. [...] he killed himself. He put a gun in his mouth and blew his head off in Philadelphia in 1932. What kind of way is that for a god to die?" (American Gods, chapter 13.)
I sing the end of one of the Æsir
I sing the final hour of a broken man
Betrayed by his own.
31st August, 1932. Philadelphia.
The hotel room is gray as iron and as stone, and in the afternoon heat, it smells of despair and neglect. A thousand weary travellers have passed through this room before him, settled to sleep fitfully on the narrow bed he is currently sitting on and paced the worn floor.
He has grown weak in his dotage, and to him it is as though he has shrunk in on himself as the old faith fades. Thor the mighty has become a doddering old man, forgotten by too many. No longer do people name him when the thunder rolls. No longer do they consult him before long voyages. He is too weak even for the work that he was forced to do to make a living.
There is grey in his beard, which once curled fiery-red. Before Sif succumbed to the wounds long disfavour had caused, her golden hair had paled to the colour of cream, to bone, to moonlight. Not even fair-metal hair, magically spun and crafted by dwarves could outlast the march of time and their slow fall out of memory and grace. Griðarvölr which once slew giants now supports him as he hobbles along like an old man, and his arthritic hands can no longer pull on Járngreipr.
He has faded in these new lands, and it is hollow comfort that it has been the fate of many before him. Did they not voyage here triumphant, nestled comfortable in the heads and hearts of their people?
There is no need for old gods here. No need to ask him for protection for sea-travels now that ships are built of steel instead of wood and voyages are smooth. We are at their mercy now. They forsake us when we no longer content them.
The shard of stone that has stayed embedded in his skull since he slew Hrungnir aches now, more so than it has before. Before, it was a marker of his victories. Now it only serves to remind him of the fact that those days are long gone, that he is becoming a husk of a man who can barely lift a tankard, let alone slay Jörmungandr as he must do when Ragnarök comes.
"I see you got my message." Loki is standing in the doorway, a brown paper bag tucked under his arm.
"I did." He doesn't get up, not even when Loki crosses the floor to stand in front of him.
"Chatty today, aren't we? I brought mead. I thought we could drink to old times."
"And drink to forget these new times." He gestures at the single chair in the room. "Sit. Now tell me why you called me here."
The weapon Loki has pressed into his hand is polished to high shine. It has belonged to someone who took pride in his weapons, as any proper warrior should.
"There's a storm coming, Thor, one too huge even for you," Loki says, folding Thor's fingers over the handle of the revolver. "Get out while you can. Bifrost will still be open for you."
He hasn't seen Loki since Sif died. He looks no different, but surely that's just another guise.
He shouldn't trust Loki. All that's brought him is pain and humiliation, and it has brought pain to those he loves. Loved. The thought of Sif makes his heart twist in his chest. Gone. Gone like all their children, like his mistress. Järnsaxa fell so long ago he can barely remember her face.
"Is this Allfather's opinion as well?" he asks, weighing the revolver in his hand. Such a small and strangely intricate weapon. So many parts. Mjöllnir is haft and head, that is all. He can feel it weighing around his neck, shrunk small now as it is the only way he can carry it.
Loki doesn't answer outright. He never does. "There will be an end to us. To the old gods."
He shakes his head, setting the gun on the nightstand before drinking deeply from the bottle of mead Loki hands to him. It is sharp, sharper still than the bootleg liquor that the speakeasies charge so much for. Nothing like the mead that Sif brewed, the mead that tasted as sweet as her kisses.
"Ragnarök? No. Is this not summer?" he asks. The temperatures have been coming up near ninety for days and he feels the heat in his bones as keenly as the cold these days. "I did'nt think I would have to remind you of what the runes foretold. Fimbulvetr, with three years of winters weaving into each other."
"Things have changed. The omens have changed. Haven't these hard times starved us as much as any harsh winter might? Three years now, Thor. Think about it."
He would prefer the winters over the slow misery they're suffering. Winter he knows, unlike these new times with all their strange tidings. Winters are honest, and he knows chill and snow and ice over inky waters. But no. In the place of Fimbulvetr and marrow frozen in the bones, the end times come when the air ripples with heat.
"To think it has come to this," he muses. "That it should find us when we're not fit to charge ahead. Old wounds are beginning to take their toll."
"Yes," agrees Loki. "You still have that thing in your head," he goes on, reaching over to tap a gentle finger on the scar left by Hrungnir's whetstone. "It must hurt, and worse now that you are not as strong as you once were."
How long since he was last touched by someone with intent that was not to get him out of the way? How long since he was touched by another god? Not since... not since Sif died. Allfather had been there at the wake, but had kept his distance. Strange that so small a gesture can mean so much to him. None of the other gods had offered him much in the way of consolation when Sif died and he was left to suffer alone. Loki is the first one to return. The first one to offer words of companionship.
"It always hurts," he says flatly. "Though what does it matter, if indeed the world is ending as you say? Won't that pain be snuffed out soon enough?"
Loki's smile is as strange as it always has been.
"We need to choose our battles carefully these days, Thor," says Loki before he leaves, leaning on the doorframe. "I'm not forcing anything on you. I'm offering you a way out."
He feels the ire rise in him, up past the dull pain for a moment. "A coward's way out!"
"Keep your voice down."
He bristles, knotting his fist. Loki always knew how to rile him up, and he always played into Loki's hands, raging like he was expected to. Like he did now. The anger subsides, and the desperation that takes its place sinks sharp claws into him.
"The choice is yours," continues Loki. "But remember that this is the battle to end all battles. Are you strong enough for that?"
He pauses. He has slain giants, so many of them, but Loki is right. His strength is waning. Once he might have wandered far and wide and fought all those he met along the way, but now he is an old man. In a new country where old gods are sapped of their vitality, he is not what he once was.
Loki takes his silence as agreement. They exchange no parting words.
Below, in the street, a strange hush is falling. When he looks up and out of the window, he can see a thin sliver of dark creep along the farther edge of the sun, but he cannot make out what it might be before the harsh glare forces him to close his eyes. Loki's words return to him. Things have changed. The omens have changed. Despite the heat, gooseflesh ripples along his arms.
He cannot bear to look up at the sun, which he now realizes is being eaten away. He is too old to heed the call to battle.
A wild loud call sounds outside, something which may have started as a shrill fire alarm or a siren, but he knows it for what it must be. Heimdall's last horn-call. Loki was right, liar though he was. The end has come, and here he is, old and weak and far away from his own lands and his own kinsmen.
All the beasts must be loose by now. Fenris, with jaws gaping wide and teeth sharp as spear-heads, is breaking his fetters, Gleipnir tearing like wet grass. Sköll, as loathsome as his sire, is finally swallowing the sun which he has chased across the sky for ages untold, and no amount of noise will scare him off. Soon, the battle will begin, and no god will walk away unscathed. The worry swims heavy in his stomach, slithering like a great snake that has coiled inside him to feed on his heart's-blood. The Jörmungandr serpent, shrunk impossibly from its world-circling size to fit inside the chest of a man, to ruin him from the inside. His ribs will break as this serpent grows, fed on his fears and his life.
I'm offering you a way out.
His hands shake. The barrel of the gun feels all too small and narrow where it rests against his tongue, and the taste of gun oil is acrid.
He fears the weapon will be too feeble.
He fears it will be too strong.
His hold tightens on the trigger, the metal arch welcoming the pressure and yielding. Just a fraction more. He relaxes his grip once more, his free hand fumbling around his collar for Mjöllnir. The chain it hangs by snaps easily, and he clutches the hammer - now shrunk to the size of a brooch - so hard his hand aches. A way out. He draws a deep breath, raising the gun once more. His teeth clack painfully against the metal, causing his heart to stutter for a beat. Squeezing his eyes shut, shutting out the drab room and imagining instead far nobler surroundings, he pulls the trigger.
The bullet dislodges the shard of whetstone that has pained him for so long, the new weapon more forceful than the wisest and most cunning of all sorceresses, and with that, the pain eases for a shining moment before being eclipsed by new pain. Inside his skull, thunder echoes in sweet remembrance of old deeds.
Then there is nothing. In a tiny hotel room - as small as Bilskirnr was large - in Philadelphia, a body crumples to the worn wooden floor. The fiery eyes of the thunder-god grow dim. His hair and beard are red once more, but it is the red of spilled life.
Ásabragr is no more.
He who was Einriði rides no longer.
In the street, the noise of the gunshot is barely audible over the noise of people and traffic. A tall man looks up toward a second-floor window of the hotel, smiles briefly and then pulls a hat down to cover his red-gold hair. He clamps a hand-rolled cigarette (contraband, and so precious) between scarred lips, lights it and saunters off.