Keith R.A. DeCandido (kradical) wrote,
Keith R.A. DeCandido

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release day for Marvel's Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings

It's release day for Book 2 of the "Tales of Asgard" trilogy, Marvel's Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings!

The town of Flodbjerge is being menaced by a dragon, and it's up to Sif to save the village from being destroyed -- but the dragon holds a nasty secret that could mean more danger for the people of Flodbjerge and for Sif......

It's Sif vs. dragons in this second book of the epic trilogy that's on sale today! Ask for it at your local bookstore or order it online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or Indie Bound.

(Don't forget to pick up Book 1: Marvel's Thor: Dueling with Giants [Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indie Bound], and you can preorder Book 3: Marvel's Warriors Three: Godhood's End [Amazon | B&N].)

Here's an excerpt from the book:

Flodbjerge was not too far from Asgard, at the base of the Valhalla Mountains. To get there, Sif and Frode had to traverse along the Gopul River.

Frode had no mount. “Many of our horses have been wounded or killed by the dragon. The few able-bodied ones that remained were deemed too valuable to risk on a journey to Asgard.”

As Sif clambered over a large rock that blocked their path, she said, “I understand why. The passageway to your village is not suitable but for the heartiest of steeds.”

Even as they continued on foot along the Gopul, Sif noticed that they were not alone. Someone had followed them from Asgard, but Sif decided that the trail was difficult enough that eventually their pursuer would have no choice but to reveal herself. She kept her counsel for the time being, not wishing to worry Frode. While the young man was abject in his insistence that Sif was a perfectly adequate substitute for Thor, Sif also knew that the rest of the villagers might not think the same.

She had dealt with such idiotic disappointment in the past more times than she was able to count. “But you’re just a woman!” “You’re not Thor.” “But there are three of the Warriors Three!” “You seem rather, well, small for a warrior.” “They call you a shield maiden—shouldn’t you be carrying a shield instead of that heavy sword?” And so on.

At one point, they had to cross the Gopul. The western bank was no longer passable, but the eastern bank opened up to a wide plain that Frode said would lead directly to Flodbjerge. Looking up, Sif could see the Valhalla Mountains, at the base of which was located the village.

The river was also at its narrowest here, and several rocks that were larger than the river was deep allowed easy passage across.

“It shouldn’t be long now,” Frode said as he leapt onto one of the rocks. “Be wary, milady, as the first rock is slippery.”

“Thank you.” Sif followed him, making sure to keep herself sure-footed as her boot landed on the wet stone.

A minute later, when she and Frode were most of the way across, Sif heard a small scream and a splash.

Turning, Sif looked down as Hilde flailed her arms and legs in the river, having slipped on the first rock.

Leaping back a few rocks to be closer to Volstagg’s daughter, Sif smiled down at her. “And you were doing so well up to that point.”

“You knew I was following you?” Hilde asked, treading water.

“As I said, Hilde, I have not come close to teaching you all that I know.” Sif reached out with her hand.

Hilde grabbed the hand and allowed herself to be pulled out of the water. Sif guided her to the eastern bank, where Frode was waiting.

“Who is this?” Frode asked, confused.

“Hildegarde, daughter of Volstagg the Voluminous. Hilde, this is Frode of Flodbjerge.”

To her credit, Hilde attempted to curtsy, though it was difficult in water-logged clothes.

Introductions finished, Sif looked down at their pursuer. “Why have you followed us?”

“Um...” Hilde looked away. “I’ve never seen a dragon before.”

“I should send you back to Asgard.”

“Please don’t!” Hilde grabbed Sif’s armor and looked up at her with a pleading expression. “I want to see the dragon! And I want to help! You spent all that time teaching us—I want to put it to good use!”

Sif shook her head. “You realize that if anything happens to me, your father will likely sit on me until I expire.”

“He won’t! I promise! Besides, I can take care of myself!”

Frode spoke up, then. “Milady, we must hurry.”

Shaking her head, Sif pulled Hilde’s wet hands off her armor. “Oh, very well. It’s probably more dangerous for you to find your way back across the Gopul without me keeping an eye on you.”

Hilde grinned. “I thought I was keeping an eye on you.”

“Ha!” Sif chuckled. “Come, let us tarry no longer.”

“We will be there within the hour,” Frode said. “I fear that Oter will attack again soon.”

“Oter is the dragon?” Sif asked. Frode had been parsimonious with details up to this point, so focused was he on his mission.

“Yes, milady. He named himself the first time he attacked. ‘I am Oter,’ he cried, and then breathed his unholy, flaming breath upon us. However, those three words are the only ones he has spoken aloud.”

“How often does he attack?” Sif asked.

“There has been no pattern to it, but what is most passing strange is that he turns his attention to a different portion of the village on each occasion.” Frode shook his head sadly. “Our village will be naught but a cinder soon, unless you stop him, milady.”

Sif had no response to that, and so instead asked the next obvious question. “Where does the dragon come from?”

“The mountains, milady—but a more specific location, I could not say. Fast is Oter, and wily. He comes from a different spot within the Valhalla Mountains on each occasion, and we cannot see his destination when he departs for all the smoke caused by his foul breath.”

Hilde spoke, having spent much of her time since they crossed the river trying and failing to wring the water from her soaked clothes. “We should try to track the dragon. Perhaps we can beard Oter in his lair!”

Regarding Hilde dubiously, Sif said, “‘We’ shall do no such thing, young Hilde.”

“But you said my tracking skills were excellent!”

“Of a deer, which does walk through the forest upon hooves that leave distinct marks upon the ground. How, pray, shall you track a dragon through the air?”

Hilde looked down, abashed. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“In any case, child, it is I who shall do any bearding.”

Frode pointed and said, “There it is!”

Turning, Sif followed his finger and spied the village. Several small structures lined the river, with larger ones a bit farther inland. Sif also saw many boats in the river, all close to a natural port at the water’s widest point.

As they drew closer, Sif observed that many of the structures were burned and pitted; there were also many piles of wood, ash, and stone that had once been buildings.

“We have been fortunate thus far,” Frode said, “in only one way: The dragon has yet to turn his attention on our fishing boats.”

Hilde smiled. “My father has often spoken very highly of the fish from Flodbjerge.”

For the first time since Sif met him, she saw a smile on Frode’s visage. “High praise indeed from Asgard’s finest epicure.”

Sif noticed a boathouse that seemed abandoned—but also not burned. “What of this structure?”

“The Gopul overflowed last spring, and it caused water damage to the boathouse. It was always too small for the purpose in any case, and so we built a new one farther north. This boathouse is no longer used.”

Two women and one man ran toward them as they passed the abandoned boathouse. “Is he coming?” the man asked breathlessly.

“The god of thunder is unavailable,” Frode said.

One of the women said, “You were told to bring Thor.”

Sif stepped forward. “Thor was badly injured in battle with the frost giants. I am the Lady Sif, and I promise I shall defend your village from this scourge.”

Both women looked up at Sif with awe. “We are honored, milady.”

“Thank you for agreeing to defend our village.”

The man, though, just frowned at her. “I thought you’d be taller.”

“When did Oter last attack?” Sif asked, pointedly ignoring him.

Before anyone could answer her question, a voice cried out from the direction of the port. “The dragon is back!”

Amid the screams, wails, and curses that followed, Sif turned back toward the river and saw a distant, green-scaled form winging its way toward the village. In the small amount of time it took her to register the dragon’s presence, it was almost on top of the port.

Quickly, Sif brandished her sword and sprinted toward the river. She ran as fast as she could, but the dragon had reached the port and was breathing fire upon the fishing boats.

The dragon flew up into the air, and then circled around to take another pass.

Sif kept running, but slowed her pace so she would reach the water’s edge at just the right moment.

As Oter made a low pass near the river, again breathing fire at the fishing boats, Sif leapt onto the creature’s left wing.

The wing was about twice as long as Sif’s height, and her extra weight caused Oter to list to the left, nearly plummeting into the river.

Sif plunged her sword into the wing. Oter screamed, fire blasting from his maw.

Oter started to flail about. Sif yanked out her sword and struggled to gain purchase on the wing. Green blood oozed from the wound and down the wing, making it slick to the touch. Sif felt herself unable to hang on.

“You will trouble this village no longer, dragon!” she cried as she attempted to clamber along the wing toward Oter’s body.

The dragon replied in a deep, resonant voice that sounded as though it came from Hela’s domain. “If I cease, it shan’t be thanks to your pitiful doing!”

With that, Oter dove straight for the river and through the surface.

Water smashed into Sif’s body, and she struggled to breathe while holding onto both the dragon and her sword.

She maintained her grip on the sword, but when the dragon broke through the river’s surface to once again take to the sky, he left Sif behind in the water.

She managed to swim to the surface, and found that fewer of the boats were on fire as had been before Oter dove underwater. No doubt the splash from the creature’s displacement of the river soaked many of them, thus negating the dragon’s work.

Of the creature himself, she saw no sign. His speed was as great as Frode had indicated, and he was already long out of sight.

“Next time, Oter,” Sif muttered under her breath.

As Sif started to swim toward the port, she heard a familiar voice cry out, “Don’t just stand there, get those rafts moving!”

It was Hilde, directing the villagers, who Sif saw were standing stunned at the devastation wrought by Oter.

Frode was the first to act on her words, saying, “She’s right—we must retrieve those people before they drown!”

“Help!” came a voice from behind Sif. She whirled around to see that there were two people, a man and a woman, struggling to stay afloat.

Quickly, Sif swam toward them and grabbed each with one arm. “Hold on,” she said, and then used her powerful legs to kick herself toward the shore. It was much slower going without the use of her arms to swim, but she managed to get them safely to the port.

Frode and two other men were waiting for her, and they pulled the two people out of the water. Once they were safely on dry land, Sif hauled herself up—her armor now even more soaked than Hilde’s clothes had been after she fell into the river earlier.

Over the next hour, Sif helped retrieve all the villagers from the water.

At one point, she noticed Hilde helping people off a boat that had been docked during the dragon's raid. Sif walked over to Volstagg’s daughter, who was giving a blanket to a soaking-wet child, and asked, “Was this boat attacked, as well?”

Hilde nodded. “It’s the only one that was in dock that was hit. Bad luck.”

Sif, though, wasn’t so sure.

As night fell over Flodbjerge, a boy ran up to Sif. “Excuse me, milady?”

“Yes?” Sif knelt down so she was eye-to-eye with him.

“I bear a message from the village council. They’re ready to see you as requested.”

“Excellent.” Sif stood upright. “Where?”

The boy pointed.

Sif followed the boy’s finger, which led her to the town’s meeting hall. Or rather, what was left of it. The walls were made of stone, but there was still considerable fire damage, and the roof had been destroyed.

“Can I come with you?” Hilde asked as they approached the hall.

Shaking her head, Sif said, “No, Hilde, I wish you to aid the healers. Many were injured.”

Hilde rolled her eyes. “Anyone can do that.”

“Perhaps.” Sif stopped and looked down at Hilde, putting a hand on her shoulder. “But look at these people, Hilde. Their homes have been devastated, and they’ve spent the past several weeks cleaning up after repeated vicious attacks. They’re exhausted. I believe that the sight of a strong young woman of Asgard who does not walk around as if she’s already been defeated will do wonders to help the injured get well.”

“All right,” Hilde said. “I want to help.”

“This task will help immensely.”

Nodding, Hilde ran off.

Sif entered the hall. Without a roof, the inside was just as cool as the outside now that the sun had set. Stools had been brought over from the tavern—which was also a burnt, pitted wreck—as the hall’s furniture had been destroyed by the dragon.

The village council sat on the stools, along with Sif. The council included Frode; two other men, Bjorn and Olaf; and one woman, Helena. Olaf and Helena were two of the trio who had greeted Sif on her arrival—Olaf the one who’d expected her to be taller. The third person she'd met was Bjorn’s wife, who was the town healer, and was well occupied elsewhere in the wake of Oter’s carnage.

Helena spoke first. “To begin, Lady Sif, may I express the gratitude of all of Flodbjerge for your assistance today. Several of our people would have died had you not driven off the dragon so soon, and then aided in the rescue efforts.”

“Of course,” Sif said with a bow of her head. “Although I am not entirely convinced that I was the cause of the dragon’s departure. But of course, I am pleased to aid you in whatever way possible.”

“Again, thank you.”

“To that end,” Sif continued, “I would like to know the full story of how the dragon came to beset you. Frode began to tell me, but the dragon’s attack curtailed his narrative.”

“Of course,” Helena said, and turned to Bjorn.

Bjorn leaned forward on the stool. “We have always been a quiet, peaceful village. We have relied lo these many centuries under the protection of Asgard and Lord Odin. We sustain ourselves through trade, as the fish in our waters are considered delicacies by most of the Nine Worlds. While oftentimes our citizens have been conscripted to do battle against Asgard’s foes—for example, many citizens of Flodbjerge fought against Surtur’s minions—for the most part, we have lived our lives in peace. That changed a fortnight ago, when Oter first attacked.”

Frode shuddered. “It was horrible.”

Nodding, Bjorn continued: “That first time was a bright, sunny day, much like any other. Midday here is our most active time: The boats have come in from the river, and the daily catches are sorted and stored. It was, in fact, right at midday when the dragon first appeared.”

Bjorn closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. This was a difficult thing for him to remember, and Sif felt a pang of regret for asking, but she needed information. Tyr may have taught her how to wield a sword, but it was through her own millennia of experience in battle that she learned the best weapon in warfare was intelligence. It wasn’t enough to know a dragon attacked the village. She needed details of how, which might lead to why. And why might lead to another how—to wit, how to stop Oter.

Finally, Bjorn went on. “He seemed to come from nowhere. One moment, we were sorting the fish, the next he was upon us, his girth blocking out the sun as he descended.”

Helena shuddered. “He destroyed an entire section of the village.”

Leaning forward, Sif asked, “Which section?”

“Does it matter?” Helena was confused at the query.

“It might.”

Olaf said, “The northeast corner of Flodbjerge. Four houses near each other. It was only those four, and then he departed.”

“And after that?” Sif asked.

Olaf looked helplessly at Sif. “After that, what?”

“I must know where Oter attacked each time.”

The council exchanged glances with each other.

Urgently, Sif asked, “Can you show me on a map?”

“Of course.” Helena rose from the stool and walked to a table with several scrolls, a few codex books, and a large map.

Sif joined her.

Helena pointed at the map's northeastern section. “That is where the first attack occurred.” Then she pointed at a place a bit farther west, but still on the town's northern edge. “Then here.” Then the northwestern corner. “Then here.”

The pattern Helena described indicated that the dragon was moving methodically through the city—almost in a grid.

Almost, because she skipped two sections. One was near the center of town, which should have come after the attack that damaged the meeting hall and tavern. The other, on the town's northern outskirts, should have been the third place raided. “He didn’t attack either of these two spots. What are they?”

Pointing to the northernmost section, Helena said, “There are four houses there that were destroyed in an avalanche last winter—and the same has happened five time in the last decade. The families who lived there chose to rebuild their homes elsewhere, and we have all agreed to leave that region free of construction.

Frode indicated the section nearer to where they now sat. “This is our storehouse. It is kept cold by spells we acquired from Niffleheim, and our winter stores are kept there so that we may eat even when the Gopul River freezes over.”

“So there are no people in either place?”

Olaf shook his head. “No one uses the storehouse in these warm months, no. Why?”

Sif nodded. “It makes sense. I believe that Oter is not attempting to destroy your village.”

“That’s absurd!” Bjorn said. “How else do you explain what has happened?”

“If he wished to destroy Flodbjerge, he could have done so the first day he blotted out the sun and ravaged the northeast corner of your village. But he did not. Instead, he has been moving methodically, predictably. Indeed, I can say assuredly that he will next set his sights upon this collection of structures along the riverbank.” She placed a finger on what would be the next spot on the grid.

“The repair shop.” Frode shook his head. “That is the facility where our seacraft are taken for repair when they are damaged. Much of the equipment stored there is unique and will be difficult to replace.”

“Then I suggest you remove those items, and quickly,” Sif said sternly.

“But wait,” Bjorn said, “he hasn’t been moving predictably. Like you said, he skipped the three homes and the storehouse.”

“Yes. Because I believe that he is not out to destroy. I believe he is searching for someone. The storehouse is empty at this time of year, yes?”

Helena nodded. “We filled the place to capacity months ago, and it is not yet winter. No one has set foot in the storehouse since long before the dragon started to attack.”

“That follows. Oter is in the mountains, and therefore has an excellent vantage point from which to observe your comings and goings. But he must be searching for a specific person, and so he is checking each of the populated areas. He is skipping those parts of Flodbjerge that are uninhabited because they do not serve his purpose.”

“But for whom does the dragon search?” Olaf asked.

Sif shook her head, sadly. “I do not know. But if we are to learn that person’s identity, we would be well to do so with dispatch.”

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