title: The Restless
warning: Mentions of gore, cannibalism and animal cruelty, non-explicit
disclaimer: "Thor" belong to MVLFFLLC, Marvel Entertainment and Paramount Pictures. For purposes of other fanfiction, plots not recognized to be canon belong to me.
summary: Pre-movie. Brothers, Sif and Warriors Three are looking for adventure. They end up exploring rumours of strange occurrences near a Midgardian village. They run into something unexpected.
Art Master Post:
Thor dropped his goblet again. Loki had trained himself not to wince at the noise, but it didn’t get any more pleasant with time.
“I’m bored,” said Thor. “Isn’t there anything to do?”
“Well, here’s a nice lamb,” said Volstagg, stuffing the leg of said lamb in his mouth.
Thor barked out a laugh. “Yes, Volstagg, you could do nothing but eat all day long. But I want more. Is there no adventure to be had?”
“They say Dwarf’s Ring has a new serving maid,” said Fandral.
Thor chuckled. “Aye, but I doubt lass could handle us all.”
“There are rumours of strange occurrences in Midgard,” said Hogun.
This caught everyone’s attention.
“What are they, Hogun?” asked Sif.
“There have been reports of cattle found with flayed skin and broken legs, corpses sometimes gnawed on.”
“A great beast, then. But is it a worthy quarry?” said Volstagg.
“And there is a spot in the woods,” went on Hogun, “that no one dares cross; any creature who does is gripped with madness, ending its own life. There are tales of strange mist rising at night, and people lost in it returning as corpses, mauled by something of a superior strength.”
“What is suspected to be the cause,” asked Fandral.
“There are speculations about a gateway to a sinister realm,” said Hogun.
“Giants,” said Thor.
“That does not account for madness, brother, though it’s possible they are involved,” said Loki
“What of their shamans?” asked Sif.
“From what records of the last war say, they possess no such power. Else we would have been in a much greater trouble,” replied Loki
“But it is possible there could be a new one that has risen in power?” asked Sif.
“Yes,” Loki admitted grudgingly.
Thor laughed. “Beware, brother, Lady Sif might want to expand her territory from battle to magic.”
Loki smiled thinly.
They exited Bifrost in a hilly area. Grey clouds were floating in the sky. According to Hogun’s map, they were a mil away from the village.The path towards it was strewn with dried red and yellow leaves, making their approach more audible than they would have preferred.
They entered the village. The people were already gathered in the square, looking at the newcomers warily; none spoke a word in greeting or threat. Thor and Volstagg began to bristle, but thankfully Fandral stepped in the front and spoke to the homestead master instead.
“When did this start?”
“Autumn three years ago, young master.”
“Three years?” asked Loki.
Old warden glanced at him and nodded.
“And it has continued constantly?” Loki pressed on.
The old man shook his head. “Nay. The hauntings die down with new grass of spring, then come back with fallen leaves.”
Loki glanced at Hogun condescendingly. So much for your intelligence reports. Giants? Portals? No, this is indeed a haunting if I ever saw one.
Fandral coughed, annoyed at the interruption. “So, has anyone seen anything?”
“Goodwife Helga says she saw a blue thing that smells of rot walking the roofs.”
Well, there is a possibility that there is more than one problem, thought Hogun. He went over the details of the report in his head again and then asked, “What of the spot that any living thing that passes over drops dead on?”
“Eh, that one? We’re not sure. Some travellers saw it. Our people, we never go there. That’s where the barrows of warriors are.”
“Barrows?” asked Loki.
“Aye, where they’re buried. It’s disrespectful, to disturb the dead.”
An old hag sitting in the corner interrupted him with a cackle. “Well, they sure are disturbed already. Who do you think rides the sheep to death and haunts the women to madness? Giants?”
Loki almost chuckled. ’Tis a sad day indeed when an old Midgardian wretch has more common sense than finest of Asgard. He turned to the woman. “What do you know, old mother?”
“It’s the drow! Drow walks the night! Probably those blasted adventurers stirred it in the first place, and well were they served! Bones cracked like twigs! Pity he didn’t get the blabbering fool, too, but the coward hid well and went running the next morn. But you, Thorbald, you gave him food, and now the drow is haunting us for aiding his quarry. Better that you have left him tied in front of the mound.” The old woman shook her staff at the old man.
“What manner of warriors were buried there?” asked Sif.
“Raiders from long ago,” started Thorbald.
“When I was a pretty young thing like yourself,” chimed in the old Helga.
Sif’s lip twitched. If you knew how old I was, hag... But she held her peace.
“They came to the village, half a score of them. By their misfortune, we have retreated for the winter. Old Ingvild had read the bones and the flight of birds and early fruit said it will be a great and terrible one, greater than any the oldest crone in these lands could remember. Only one man, Hrolf, remained so the village wouldn’t be empty. The winter bound them; they ate the salted meat, and then they ate Hrolf, and then gnawed at those of them who fell, but the cold had them all in the end. When it thawed, and we returned, we built the barrows in the glade where we seldom pass - better places to hunt, not on any route - and left them there. Hrolf’s bones, too, we buried there.”
Sif frowned. “And you say it’s these dead raiders, then, that rise from their grave and walk?”
“Maybe. Maybe only one. Maybe two. Maybe Hrolf stole one of their bodies and walks in it, cursing us for leaving him behind,” said the old woman.
The group pulled back a little to discuss the situation.
“Well, maybe it’s giants who disguise themselves,” grumbled Thor. “They are blue, too.”
“Aye, it does sound better than corpses of dead Midgardians,” said Volstagg.
“I must admit, it’s not very palatable to me either,” said Fandral, thinking of smell of rot entering his fine if practical raiments.
“Surely the famed Warriors Three and future King of Asgard do not fear corpses of dead Midgardians?” asked Loki.
“Peace, Loki,” said Sif, “no one said anything about fear. But dealing with dead is not a business to be taken lightly.”
“Have you ever heard of these “drows”, prince,” asked Hogun Loki.
Loki grimaced a little. “Hardly. Few sources in Asgard concern themselves with creatures of Midgard, and those that are things of Midgardian-only legends are dismissed even more readily.”
“Well, then, maybe we could examine this spot,” suggested Fandral.
“And drop dead?” asked Volstagg.
“Well, can’t prince Loki detect a spell?” asked Fandral.
“You presume these creatures are using magic known to Asgardians,” said Loki.
“Oh. So there is magic not known to even you yet, prince,” said Sif, smirking.
Loki barely managed not to grit his teeth. “It is hardly my failing that every single scholar before me failed to take Midgardian magic into consideration.”
“Well, then, this is a unique opportunity indeed,” said Hogun, trying to diffuse the situation.
Thor chuckled. “Yes, brother, you might get to write a long, boring manuscript yourself.” He clapped Loki’s shoulder.
Loki smiled. Perhaps. If secret is worthless enough to share.
“Still, it might be prudent to see the place, if only from afar,” said Hogun.
“Do we have the exact location?” asked Sif.
“Yes, the scouts...” started Hogun.
“With all due respect, it might be better to consult a person familiar with the place,” interjected Loki.
“That does seem wiser, but who would dare to go there?” asked Fandral.
“The old woman,” said Loki.
“You cannot be serious,” said Sif.
“Why not? She seems familiar with the story. And willing to do a lot to be proven right.”
“Or could be simply superstitious,” said Sif. “We have no proof that her story is any more true than the portal or frost giants.”
“And it would be cruel to make her walk so far at her venerable age,” said Fandral.
“Then you may carry her, oh gallant Fandral,” said Loki.
Fandral opened his mouth to protest, but snapped it shut when Thor laughed.
Thor clapped his brother’s shoulder again, still chuckling. “Well said. Now, let us go ask the hag to guide us.”
Fandral looked to his comrades for help, but they avoided his gaze and hid their smiles. Traitors.
They turned back to the square. The old woman was still sitting in the same place, staring at them.
“See? She waits for us. She wishes to tell us more,” whispered Loki.
Thor was about to call out, but Loki raised his hand. “Allow me, brother.” We don’t need you scaring or insulting her.
Loki approached the old woman. “Good day, old-mother.”
“And a good day to you, young sir. What is it that you want from this old woman?”
“We would like to hear more of the ‘drow’, if you please.”
“I said what I know; I was not there when it happened, only to bury the bones.”
“You know the place, then?”
“I do, I do. But why would you want to stir the old bones? It is no concern of yours. Why bring the curse upon yourselves?”
“Old woman,” bellowed Thor from behind, “we wish to help. Is that how you treat your saviours?”
Loki winced and tried his best to look apologetic.
The old hag snorted. “And what makes you better than the group that stirred this in the first place? You may say you will save us, but you are more likely to damn us even more instead. That hammer will do you little help against drow, boy. They are tougher than they seem.”
Thor bristled. Three and Sif gathered around him, ready to restrain him if need be.
“Don’t, prince,” whispered Sif in his ear. “She knows not who she is talking to.”
“Have mercy,” whispered Hogun in another, “she is but an ignorant mortal.”
“And old and feeble,” added Fandral. “To raise arms against her, justified as your anger may be, is wrong.”
“Aye, no honour in that,” said Volstagg.
Loki focused on woman’s words instead, trusting the four to handle Thor. “Are they so strong? Or is there another reason why no weapons work?”
“How do you kill something already dead? Some say you must push it into the ground. But their strength exceeds that of many a man. Some say you need to burn them. Some say you need to cut off the head first, then burn them.”
“Will you not show us the place? My brother will not be deterred from his adventure, I’m afraid. And it’s better that you may warn us not to offend the spirits even worse.”
The old hag smirked. “It may very well be so; but I can hardly walk like you young saplings.”
“Fear not, old-mother, we have a steed for you. Fandral!”
Fandral sought words to object, but was unable to come with anything not insulting. He glanced at Thor and saw he was smiling. He sighed and decided to go with it for the sake of peace. He walked to the old woman and bent, throwing Loki a glare as he did so. The sorcerer merely smiled.
The group walked out of the village, followed by the laughter of few children and incogruous looks of grown-ups present. They exited on the road and walked due north, entering the forest just before path diverged in two.
They walked in silence, save for the woman’s directions. Thor was altering between offended and amused with the old woman riding Fandral. Fandral was wallowing in his misery. Hogun was checking the woman’s instructions and landmarks they passed against the map scouts drew. Volstagg was scanning for threats. Sif was still mulling about possibility of other culprits. Loki was going over the old woman’s words. Then, he remembered:
“How did adventurers disturb the corpses?”
“They say they just passed. But Helga knows better: they were after money.”
“Money?” asked Volstagg.
“Aye, money. Do you not bury people with their treasures where you come from?”
“We do, old-mother, but you said they were raiders,” said Loki.
“Well, they raided quite a loot before they had misfortune to come here,” said the old hag.
“And you put it with them,” said Hogun.
“Took blood-price for Hrolf and money for eaten food, but the rest is with whom we found it. We don’t want them coming back to ask for it, old Ingvild said, and right she was. Not a peep from them for three scores now, until the greedy fools came along.”
They went on in silence until they emerged in a clearing. Scattered across it were eleven mounds. Ten were in a circle, but one was away from them, at the edge of the forest.
“There,” Helga said.
Everybody focused on the mounds, trying to see anything off; yet none dared step forward.
Loki decided to try something else. Carefully, so the woman would not notice, he turned a decaying branch from a tree on the edge of the clearing into the snake. It slithered over the mounds one by one.
Sif noticed and narrowed her eyes on Loki. He paid her no attention, focusing on commanding the snake. Then, he felt a dreadful feeling come over him. The snake began to sway left and right with no purpose, then to writhe. He felt nauseous and darkness began creeping at the edge of his vision.
He shook his head and broke the connection with the snake; it wound itself into a knot, pulling at opposite sides until it was unable to breath any more and passed away. It turned back into the branch, wound up in unnatural manner.
Loki noted the spot it happened. “Who is buried in the barrow nearest to Hrolf, old mother?”
“We know not his name. He was the largest, and the one left untouched. All corpses were piled up in the corner of the room, but he died near the fireplace. He had a fine axe and decent sword - so said Olaf, and he’s the one that would have known the most of such matters. He had a necklace of silver links around his neck, too. He might have been the leader; he might have killed him and stolen his treasures. We know nothing of the men, and Ingvild refused to ask the bones. No good of looking into matters of dead, she said. A finer wise woman you will not find.”
A hum was Loki’s only answer, focused as he was on the mound.
“Well, what now?” asked Volstagg.
“We shall come back at dusk,” said Thor.
“When they are strongest?” asked Loki.
Sif jumped at the opportunity to pay him back. “What? Surely you do not fear corpses?”
“He fears trollskap, as you very well should, girlie. Did you not see how easily his little branch-snake withered?” said Helga.
Everyone was watching the old woman warily. She cackled.
“Oh, you thought old Helga couldn’t see? I know not who you are, and I care not. I’d advise you to leave here. If you won’t listen, tangle with drow on your own peril. But do not bring them upon us, or I will come back and dance on your roofs and ride your cattle to death.”
“Fear not, old mother,” said Thor, “we shall vanquish these drow of yours and come back to dance under your roof and eat your cattle.”
“If there is a drow,” Sif muttered.
They returned to the village, where a modest feast was prepared. They ate and drank well past dusk. Both Hogun and Loki, deciding more investigation to be necessary, kept silent and didn’t remind Thor of his words. But something did not sit well with Sif. She sidled up to Loki and hissed “How did you know which grave was Hrolf’s?”
“It was pretty obvious, lady Sif,” said Loki.
Sif narrowed her eyes and thought of the barrows again. “The one apart.”
“Correct. I presume they wanted to put him apart from his murderers. Maybe there is more meaning to the position, but it’s unlikely that the old woman knows; the wise woman back then seems to have been in the charge of burial.”
“Would the current one know?”
“Do you see anyone that matches the description?”
Sif looked around. Indeed, Helga seemed to be the most venerated of womenfolk; the rest present were wives of villagers, and they were busy serving. There were a few old women huddled in one corner. And no girls, much to Fandral’s disappointment. She glanced at her friend who was indeed looking around, corners of his mouth gradually dropping lower. Hidden, most likely. Anyway, if there was a wise woman, she would have spoken with us when we came first. Or we would have been pointed in her direction. She turned back to Loki.
“It’s not that I haven’t considered other options, lady Sif,” he whispered, “it’s just that this one is the most plausible. If there were giants, why do they attack only in certain intervals?”
“Maybe they need it to be cold,” said Sif.
“True. But why do they never go further? Indeed, why not kill all the villagers? I looked around, and so have the others; their passage is not easy to mask. Their size alone makes them leave traces difficult to mistake for anything.”
“But if they have powerful shamans...”
“Why haven’t they expanded, then? What is the gain? They would need to expand a lot of energy. If they are scouts, why bring the attention of locals? Besides, I’m sure Father is still keeping his eye on Jottunheim; and Heimdall must be watching as well. I doubt they would let them sneak past three years in the row. Of course, accidents happen, but I think it highly unlikely.”
Sif nodded grudgingly. “What of portals elsewhere?”
“Even if they somehow managed to conceal the tremendous rip in fabric of realm that would be necessary for that three years in row, and for length of two seasons, to say nothing of the even greater disturbance in the matter of universe it would create as it opens and closes; even so, to what gain is it to open a portal here thrice and do not much more than harass villagers? Unless there is more to it than we were told - or indeed, more than they know. I myself detected nothing out of ordinary here; mounds are a different matter.”
“Yes, I’ve been meaning to ask that, prince. What happened?”
Both Loki and Sif started. They haven’t noticed Hogun had joined them. Sif cursed herself for letting her guard down. Loki regained his composure and answered:
“It is difficult to describe; I have never felt such before. The old woman mentioned ‘trollskap’ and I heard this word before. It is used by Midgardians to describe magic. But this was no magic of Asgard, not of All-father's runes. First thing that came to my mind when it touched me was wrong. Then malice. Now I have not touched death magic beyond knowing the theory necessary to recognise and resist,”
Yet, thought both Hogun and Sif.
“but I believe this might be it. The energy of life that courses through all was not absent, it was more...inverted. Not-life, rather than lack thereof. But this is but a fleeting impression. I must admit, I did not dare examine it for long.”
“Understandable,” said Hogun. “You know not what caused the snake to behave like that, then.”
“I...there was a whisper of a suggestion, on the edge of my mind. But it was diluted through the bond; and I cut it as soon as I felt it. I can say no more.”
“And you are among the greatest in skill,” said Sif. Loath as we are all to admit it. “I guess there would be no point in asking for backup from Asgard.”
Loki spread his hands. “I cannot think of someone possessing enough lore of death magic that is not an exile.”
“And seeking advice of such might be even more dangerous than now,” said Hogun. “These are grave news indeed.”
“And how likely are they to sway my brother?”
The other two shook their heads ruefully.
Fandral plopped in the seat next to Sif. “I see that the prospects of war council are as gloomy as that of a maiden fair gracing us with her company tonight. Present company excluded, of course.” He bowed to Sif lightly.
“The prospects are gloomy indeed, Fandral. It appears that the dark magic causes madness. You witnessed prince’s creation succumb to it today,” said Hogun.
Fandral frowned. “Yes. You mentioned other animals succumbing to it. But would we Asgardians be any stronger?”
“The reports...the reports mention the animals...let’s see, few crossing, one of scout’s horses tossed the scout off and ran straight into a tree trunk, piercing its skull on the branch through the eye socket...” mused Hogun.
“What of the scout?” asked Loki and Sif simultaneously.
“The scout...merely the feeling of something sinister.”
“Then it doesn’t work!” said Fandral.
“I was controlling the snake. It’s possible I was affected because I was in the touch with its mind. And even so, there is no saying how hard the effects would be. I felt no compulsion.”
“Yes...all deaths of people are due to broken bones...or wasting due to constant ‘haunting’...”said Hogun.
“Then we stand a chance,” said Sif.
“But what of the weapons?” said Loki.
“Our blades are sharp enough to cut heads,” said Fandral.
“And I daresay we are not slouching when it comes to great strength,” said Sif, glancing in Volstagg’s and Thor’s direction.
“Do you know any fire spell, prince?” asked Hogun.
“Yes. There should be enough material in the forest to start the fire through usual means, too.”
“What was that?” interrupted Fandral.
“What?” asked the rest.
Everyone tried to ignore the singing, turning towards the roof, rising slowly. There was dull thunking. Then silence. The singing stopped too.
“Is it...” said Thor.
Then they heard the bleating. The Asgardian group rushed outside.
They saw sheep running around with no aim. At the head of the herd, a man-like shape was riding the leader ram. In little light there was, its skin appeared pale bluish-grey.
“Right! After it!” bellowed Thor. He raised his hand and Mjolnir flew into it. He charged after the creature, sheep scattering left and right.
The villagers began to murmur. The remaining companions glanced at each other uneasily. Hogun asked for torches. They rushed after their leader as soon as they got them.
They reached the edge of the forest.Thor was nowhere in sight, but the ram was there. Skin off its flanks was peeled off, its neck broken, and it was gurgling pitifully. Hogun ended its torment with one swipe of his knife. Fandral tilted his head, listening.
“I think I can hear something in the forest.”
They followed the sound and found Thor, cursing but well. “He turned into the mist and disappeared,” he said.
“Could he be near the graves?” asked Volstagg.
“That’s the only place we can think of to look at,” said Sif.
They walked back to the entrance and from there towards the clearing. Suddenly, a raven alit on Thor’s head. He swiped at it, but it didn’t budge. When his hand came in contact of it, the flesh didn’t yield. Thor felt the pressure on his head increase.
Volstagg bellowed and pushed the bird. Thor pushed too. Hogun and Fandral joined, trying to find the purchase where they could. The bird tumbled off, turning into mist again.
When they entered the clearing, they could see the creature. It resembled a man of robust build, nearly seven feet in height. Its skin was blue, and so were its eyes. It snarled at them; they could see its teeth were bluish-tinted too.
Thor swung his hammer. He hit is straight in the chest; the creature stood still as a rock. Hogun, Fandral and Sif rushed in with blades, but they drew no blood. Thor called lightning, but while it did scald it, it did not move a step. The flesh wounded with blades was slowly mending already.
Volstagg prepared to charge in, but Loki stopped him. “The old woman mentioned wrestling it back into the barrow. Can you do that? Its barrow is the rightmost one, nearest to the one that stands apart.
Volstagg grunted in confirmation and tackled the creature. Foul smell of rot filled his nostrils, but he didn’t pull back. He pushed, and it pushed back. Others shouted encouragement. They grappled for well over an hour. Little by little, Volstagg managed to push the drow towards its grave. The creature snarled and clawed his arms, drawing blood; but Volstagg did not waver.
They reached the entrance to the barrow, and could not budge from there; it was necessary to raise it to enter. Here, Thor and Fandral came at the sides, and helped Volstagg heave the drow up as it howled.
Eventually, they were all in the barrow. The gold of buried loot glimmered. An axe and a short sword lay in the corner. They might have been fine once, but now the blades were ruined by rust, wooden grips rotten.
“What now?” asked Hogun.
“Hold it still,” said Fandral and unsheathed his blade. It barely cut into the neck. He didn’t dare swing it, lest he hurt his comrades; instead, he sawed slowly. Hogun let Sif take his place and sawed from the other side; he knelt to hold the creature’s feet still.
Loki calculated the distance from the door and observed position of the restl. Thor was at the creature’s back and farthest from the exit, but he could easily leap; Fandral and Sif were nimble enough, and Hogun was even more; Volstagg was the slowest, but he was the closest to the exit.
Eventually, the effort paid off, and head tumbled to the floor.
“Step aside!” shouted Loki. “To door!” He moved forward and raised his hand, pointing towards the body in order to make it easier to focus. The headless body was still twitching. He drew in a breath and reached out with his mind, willing the particles of matter to grind against each other, causing it to ignite; he went on until he was sure the entire body was burning. Sweat appeared on his forehead and he drew in deep breaths.
It was not until he was done and took the step back that he realised Thor was calling out to him. Hogun was holding onto him - probably to stop him from interrupting. Loki was thankful for that - breaking his concentration might have been fatal to all of them.
They moved outside and stood, waiting. The fire would not spread, but they wanted to see the creature burnt to ashes completely.
They met the dawn there, sitting on the grass. The fire finally went out just as the sun began to rise.
Tentatively, they peeked into the barrow. Fire consumed the drow and everything else flammable. Only gold, rusted blades and softened necklace of silver remained in the ashes.
They gathered earth and shut the entrance to the barrow again. Then, Loki inscribed the rune of sealing on the newly closed entrance.
When they returned, the inhabitants were gathered in the square again, looking solemn.
Thor frowned. Then he shouted, brandishing Mjolnir. “Rejoice! The drow is dead!”
The villagers cheered, but still remained guarded.
“Is there anything to eat?” asked Volstagg, exhausted by his wrestling match.
The tables with food and drink were brought out immediately. No one joined them as they sat.
Old Helga approached slowly. “My lord, I’m sorry for my words. I...”
Thor chuckled and waved it away. “No foul, old-mother, everything is well now. Won’t you eat something? Why are you all still sitting? Come! Is this not the joyous occasion! I say, it did burn to cinders, I saw it myself; we stayed until it was done. And now it is sealed forever. Just don’t let any travellers go there, eh?” He winked.
People sat and joined them. Slowly, the whole village gathered. Fair maidens included, to Fandral’s great joy.
It lasted until the late afternoon. When it was done, they returned slowly to the place they entered Midgard first, avoiding any followers.
Upon their return, they wasted no time in telling the tale. By the next morning, everyone was buzzing about living dead of Midgard. Still, it raised little concern; no one ever heard of such a thing happening in Asgard, and they didn't seem to pose a large threat.
Nevertheless, Loki used it as an excuse to study death magic.
Author's note: "Drow" is a legit phonetical variant of "draug". It came up in a saga I was reading as a part of research for this fic. Intrigued, I searched and barely managed to find one reliable-looking source mentioning that Gygax looked to Norse mythology for inspiration and it's likely "draug" is where the name of another kind of light-hating dark-blue-skinned evil creatures came from. Since WOTC seeks to brand them, though, there is no "official data".
Likewise, "mil" is not an error. It's a valid old unit.