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Aaron Stewart-Ahn & Yoon Ha Lee
Billowing hot breath came from his attacker’s mouth, mixing with the wild drifts of snow. More scimitars: the jaws of a vicious and gargantuan animal. The teeth snapped at him in lunging, impossibly rapid bites. Scalding saliva dripped onto his skin. One bite came too close. As the mouth surged in again, Thor swung upwards, a blunt hammer uppercut.
Mjolnir slammed the fanged mouth shut. The beast retorted with a wild snarl and retreated into the murky depths of the blizzard.
A burst of red flame erupted. All the snowflakes in the air vaporized in a dome around them. Thor could see perfectly now. The creature was a tiger three times his size. It was growling and hissing, and a tempest of supernatural fire the color of rose petals in summer, or blood, engulfed its body.
The situation must be dire if her first move was to attack him. She’d always struggled with her temper. How could he talk her down? Especially if, as he feared, her bestial nature had gotten the better of her?
Thor lowered Mjolnir to his side. In his most commanding voice, he said, “I come all this way across the desolate cosmos and this is the greeting that awaits me?”
The tiger drew a sharp breath and then roared with such force and heat that snowflakes vanished in the cloud that steamed from its mouth.
“Now, then, Horangi!” He edged forward. “Good tiger, no need to be angry. Just calm down, so that we may be friends again. Friends?”
The beast growled. The echo shook snow loose from the ground.
She wasn’t responding to her name. That’s not a good sign, Thor thought. He took another step toward her. “There, there . . .Kitty”
Thor dropped Mjolnir and reached out with the other hand, as if to pet the tiger.
The tiger roared and its eyes seared with red flame.
“It is good to see you, old friend, but why are you so angry?” Thor tried, lowering his hand.
The tiger swiped at him with a fiery paw as Thor backed away, grazing his cape with the edge of a single claw and catching it on fire. More flaming claw strikes punched molten holes into the snow. He retreated backwards, clambering up the rocky steps, seeking to gain higher ground. The flaming monster pursued him, a ferocious gleam of red spilling all around the snow, impossible to lose sight of now.
The steps became more solid up here. Thor planted himself in the ground and raised Mjolnir. Every muscle in his body tensed and coiled. From the clouds, brilliant flashes of blinding light broke out. And then came the sound.
Of thunder. In the snow.
Thor pulled from the sky like an inhalation, and prepared to let a massive lightning strike flow forth.
The tiger’s hind leg hit him dead in the chest with a straight kick. Thor saw the clouds and heard the rumble dwindling as he soared through the air until he hit a wall. The wall was icy and rigid but broke beneath him like glass. Still flying, he crashed straight through until he cracked his bones against a stone floor, tumbling and rolling onto his back. Mjolnir flew from his grasp and banged across the floor beyond his reach.