GWW is bringing you this content in partnership with Serial Box. You can learn more here and enjoy 10% off your order using code “geeksworldwide”.
Aaron Stewart-Ahn & Yoon Ha Lee
That was uncalled for, Thor thought, his own temper igniting. The tingling charge of electricity that coursed through his veins was gone. Try as he might, something about this cavern had cut him off from his connection to the clouds.
At least the snow had put out the fire on his cape. He would have a moment to gather his wits and prepare for the next bout, since his efforts to help Horangi seemed so unwelcome.
He looked around. It was a cavern, but made by hands working in tandem with enchantments. On second glance, rough-hewn stone in blocks were stacked together to create something that was more of a lair—a home. There were bookshelves, and a cozy bed with lots of blankets, and a fireplace with a cooking pot. Thor worried for a moment. What has Horangi been eating all this time?
Red streaks of light rippled down an icy corridor leading to an entranceway. The tiger was approaching, and its flames had only grown fiercer. Drops of water began to trickle from the ceiling as the heat wave surrounding the tiger drew near and melted every stray pocket of ice and snow.
Thor whipped his head around looking for Mjolnir. He couldn’t see it. Then he saw the hilt buried deep in a snowdrift. He reached out to summon the hammer and couldn’t help but think of how dangerous this battle with an old friend had grown. He did not want to hit her again.
The tiger prowled forward, head lolling, lips curling around the sword-sized fangs. Water sizzled into vapor on the floor and in the air around it. Its eyes burned with feral rage.
Thor could have called Mjolnir to him as easily as breathing. But he hesitated. He didn’t want to escalate the fight, despite Horangi’s own combativeness. One more try.
Thor planted his feet and bellowed, “Stop this at once. Why are you reacting like this?”
The tiger leapt through the air, ready to pounce. Thor knew this would be a mauling. He winced in anticipation.
Halfway through the air between them, the tiger’s flames flickered white-hot and the tiger shrank smaller and smaller, landing right before Thor. A claw became a slender finger jabbing straight up at him. Even in a crouch he had to look down to meet her eyes.
“Because! This! This is all your fault!” she said, half growling.
Thor relaxed. He wouldn’t have to summon Mjolnir for a fight after all. She’s talking at last, he thought. Maybe now he’d find out what the problem was.
Before him was a petite Korean woman, ageless, with sharp features and bluntly cut hair, dressed in a martial robe from a time long past. Despite this smaller form, she still radiated animal cunning and ferocity.
“And how dare you call me kitty or speak to me that way,” she added.
Sheepish, Thor replied, “It’s been a long time, Horangi. I wasn’t quite sure if I could get through to this part of you. I was trying to communicate with your cat form as best I knew how.”
She jabbed his nose with fingers extended like claws. “Horangi means Tiger, you Asgardian lunkhead.”
“There is no need for insults after I came all this way,” Thor retorted. “Calm down, you’re really letting your emotions get the better of you.”
“My emotions are going to rip your throat out. I only take this human form so I can interact in this clumsy vocal manner for your sake. And I saw what you were up to. You were going to blast me with lightning.”
“Who’s being emotional now?”
Thor smiled at that. “It’s good to see you, cat friend.”
Thor started over. “Horangi, I have kept the secret of your exile, at great difficulty and even danger. That respect you shall always have. When you summoned me I came at once. Maybe I even missed you. I’m a little worried you might be isolated out here? Do you have anyone to talk to?”
“Talking is for blowhards like you.”
An earlier worry returned to him. “What are you even eating?”
She crossed her arms. “None of your damn business.”
“I am your guest and I’m rather hungry right now. Do you have a bowl of bread, perhaps?”
“It makes me angrier when you’re charming. Don’t think for a second I’m not mad at you still.”
“What could I have possibly done to make you this angry?”
Her brows drew down. “I will show you, Asgardian.”