Sailing through the wave of exams with Eloise nowhere around felt least to say strange to Maddie. She befriended Eloise during their first study year and they haven’t been split ever since; not until she vanished with the Bifröst, at Thor’s side.
Maddie was also troubled by the temporary solution she found with Jörmungandr shortly after they returned from their journey to the north of Norway. The shapeshifter, equipped with the inherited and dangerously sharp skill of lying, made sure that Eloise’s disappearance was nothing more than a prolonged field research. Jörmun had to play in turns the role of a teacher and the adoptive parent of his sibling in order to attempt at making his and Maddie’s lie-based plan work.
So far so good, the sides were convinced by the field research internship that Eloise apparently received from a renowned historian. However, that did not make Maddie feel at peace; quite the contrary. She was stressed head over heels thanks to the fact that they sank so deeply into trouble. All they initially planned on doing was a journey in order to find Fenrir, the missing brother; however, their adventure went in an entirely different direction given Thor’s unplanned appearance.
But while the pressure of the exams was slowly easing from Maddie’s chest, she still had no news from Jörmun regarding the plan of bringing Eloise back. In fact, she wasn’t even sure if the other had a plan at all. By the looks and sound of it, it really did not look as if it was the case.
The months were rolling on, soon landing into spring. All things considered, Maddie was still under radio silence ever since Jörmun abandoned her bundled with concerns and a half-done cover job for Eloise’s disappearance. She could feel that the teachers or the parents would soon enough demand details of her friend’s prolonged absence. The worst case scenario was playing on repeat in her head; what if the University decided to give a call to Eloise’s parents and ask for details? All their carefully crafted plan would end up in ruin. Not that it had ever been a solid solution for the problem.
“Oh I hope you have news,” Maddie mused to self as she caught glimpse of the familiar lean silhouette waiting next to the main entrance of the university campus. After a quick observation the girl concluded that his fiery hair was longer than she could recall it. She was sure it wasn’t touching his shoulders before.
“Hey, Jörmun. I was actually hoping that my worrying thoughts would echo loud enough to reach you, wherever you may have been all this time,” Maddie greeted him without much visible excitement, despite of her burning with curiosity on the inside.
“Hello,” he flashed a smile which Maddie received with a twitch of her eyebrows. “Frankly I heard none of your desperate calls, but I thought I should pay you a visit regardless.“
“Very thoughtful of you. How’s the plan of retrieving Eloise going? I hope well,” she pressed on the subject she was interested in as they left the campus grounds.
“Oh, the plan. Yes,” he nodded deeply and felt the girl’s eyes on him. “Well, I was hoping you’d have one,” he added jokingly.
“Are you out of your mind?!” she snapped loudly and stopped in place, capturing the attention of few passers-by. “What the hell have you even been plotting all these months if not bringing her back?”
Maddie watched him shrug casually, without looking much affected by her outraged self. She could feel the blood rush to her face and light up her cheeks and ears up to a matching shade of red with Jörmun’s hair. Additionally irritated by people eavesdropping at their conversation, she snatched the other’s wrist and guided him into a nearby cafe. While it wasn’t the best place for a heated talk, she hoped that the relaxing atmosphere there would actually calm her down.
“Please explain yourself,” she demanded as soon as she sat at a table with two drinks, one for each of them. She did not even bother to ask him for preferences; she cared none of it at that moment.
“I have been looking for ways to reach Asgard without using the Bifröst…” he started to explain. Jörmun saw the impatience growing on Maddie’s features as she urged him with nothing more than a stare to continue. “I was not exactly successful,” he confessed and watched the girl’s shoulders slouch shortly after the news.
“This is seriously getting out of hand. If I am found guilty of masking Eloise’s disappearance I will end up either in jail or a psychiatric ward, because nobody in this world will believe me that she was taken by Thor, the Norse God of Thunder,” she muttered as low as she could, even if she wanted to scream every word, choked by the despair she bathed into.
“I will do my best not to have you get into such trouble.”
“And why would you do that?” Maddie’s eyes narrowed with scepticism.
“Because Hel asked me once not to cause you any inconveniences, regardless of our supposedly family situation.”
“Supposedly family situation? Are you telling me that was a lie as well?”
“It’s not a lie, but it’s complicated.”
“Jörmun can you please be open and honest for once? I am close to losing my mind,” Maddie squeezed her paper cup enough to make the hot coffee spill out of it onto her hands and down on her lap, causing her to hiss in pain.
“Are you all right?” he pushed the box of tissues from the table closer to the other, who was still flailing hands in a desperate attempt to liberate herself from pain. With a small sigh, Jörmun eventually made a short hand gesture. His emerald encrusted ring lit up briefly as he stepped back in time to the moment preceding Maddie’s question.
“Jörmun can you please be open and honest for once? I am close to losing my mind,” she said once again, unaware of the time alteration. Maddie was surprised to see Jörmun reach out for her paper cup and pull it from her grip right before she was going to squeeze it.
“Mind if I have my drink back?” she added and frowned, snatching the cup back from the other.
“Don’t hold it too tight.”
Maddie rolled her eyes, cursing internally at the diverted focus. She had been hoping for a plan. She had been thinking that during the past months he was going above and beyond just to find a way to bring Eloise back. It most certainly was not the case.
“I said this to myself before. I should’ve not joined you in your ridiculous journey. I was better off without all of this. But I did it for Eloise and look at the mess we’re all into now,” she sighed heavily.
“It wasn’t exactly in my plan for things to go this way.”
“I can’t hundred percent tell what you intended doing and what not. To me it appeared that you were following no random path, but you purposely kept us in the shadow. You masked it all as a rescue mission, only to find out at the end that Fenrir is likely dead for a while anyway.”
Jörmun stared at Maddie. She was dangerously good at reading between the lines. A threatening counter-skill to have against his sharp tongue.
“I believe you have been alone with these thoughts for too long, Maddie. You’re starting to believe a bit too much in your imaginary world.”
“Oh, it would be much better if I lived in your imaginary world, wouldn’t it?” she mocked him before sipping her drink. She was close to being at loss of words with the scandalous situation.
“I did not come to see you today so we can have this argument.”
“Then why did you?”
“Because I may have a way to reach Eloise,” he started, but got immediately interrupted by Maddie’s violent cough; she choked on her drink at the news.
“I thought-” she paused briefly to catch on her breath. “I thought you said you found no route back to Asgard.”
“That’s because it’s not straight to Asgard.”
“Your lack of smugness and the absence of a smirk tell me that it’s either not easy nor safe to go down this path,” Maddie narrowed her eyes in suspicion, studying every inch of Jörmun’s face.
“You’re frighteningly right,” he remarked, taken aback by the accuracy of her observation; he tried his best not to look visibly affected by that small fact. “But to confirm your thoughts, it is indeed not nice nor easy to cross the passage.”
“Will it work?”
“I don’t know.”
“Great…” Maddie muttered.
“But there is one thing needed to even attempt at making it work.”
“Another ring? Or maybe a matching pendant this time,” she scoffed, darting a quick look at his jewelry decorated finger.
“A boat?” she repeated while staring over the table in disbelief. She was not going to help him steal a boat if that was his intention. He was a good enough liar and a shapeshifter to do that on his own.
“I need your historian skills to find it.”
“This may be the only way we can bring Eloise back,” he tried to reason.
“Your plans and prepositions led us in the past to nothing else but trouble.”
“It also led us to a very nice viking reenactment celebration,” he bit a smile off his lips. He recalled how much of a good time they all had back then; that same memory was visibly causing a conflict in Maddie’s mind at that moment.
“That was not entirely your doing.”
“I had a small play in it,” he added proudly.
“Whatever! Where is this boat?”
“So, you’re helping me out?”
“I will give it a thought.”
“If you decide positively on it, let me know and I will give you more details,” he smiled pleased and finally took a first sip from his drink. His face contorted with disgust at the bitterness.
“I take it that a double espresso is not your kind of drink,” Maddie chuckled silently.
“It most certainly isn’t,” he leaned back in his seat as he pushed the cup further away, not to be tempted at a second sip.
A couple of weeks passed ever since Maddie had the encounter with Jörmun. She couldn’t say that she took a decision yet, but she felt impatient to see the other again. She kept on hoping that he would show up rather sooner than later and with better news than last time, even if he never promised anything during their conversation.
Each time she returned to the apartment, Maddie came across various of Eloise’s belongings. It felt like a constant reminder that her friend was still away, likely in Asgard and hopefully still alive. She could only hope that Eloise was all right.
When Maddie’s longing wish eventually came true and she settled her gaze upon Jörmun once again, she felt empty in the head. She was sure that he would ask of her decision; however, her verdict was defined by indecision. She had a missing friend, pending courses and summer exams approaching faster than she would’ve liked them to.
“Good afternoon,” Jörmun greeted the girl with a smile; positive emotion which gradually faded after a proper look at Maddie. “You look pale,” he remarked without even giving the other a chance to greet him back.
“Hi,” she eventually replied. She didn’t rest well in a while; tiredness must’ve been catching up on her. However, nobody else, not even her parents which she visited no later than a week prior to the present day, remarked how exhaustion started to have a visible mark on her.
“Is this uhm… A bad moment?”
“The very first day you showed up in the campus was the beginning of a bad moment without an end ever since,” Maddie mumbled with a bitter smile. She resumed her walk with Jörmun following closely.
“I suppose you will not give up on this idea. You make me feel like some sort of omen,” he chuckled.
“How could I give up on it?” she frowned as she stared ahead, doing her best not to snap again as she did when Jörmun visited previously. “Have you been thinking of other ways to bring Eloise back? I hope you have good news this time.”
“I may have marked on the map some potential places of interest. However, I am still awaiting your decision,” he watched Maddie stop and look at him. He paused before her, waiting patiently for her reply; she didn’t appear to be pleased with what she was given to hear.
“So you did nothing,” she concluded.
“I need your help, Maddie. You know your realm better than I do and what is essential is that you’re studying the whereabouts of people in Midgard’s past.”
“It’s called history.”
“Do you know anything of viking history?”
“I am writing my diploma on that.”
“Brilliant!” the broadest grin grew in an instant on Jörmun’s lips, while his hands clasped Maddie’s shoulders in a gentle, yet excited grip. “Then you will surely be able to help me find and put together a Skuldelev,” he added with confidence.
Jörmun saw a mix of various emotions shifting over Maddie’s features in a short span of time after he gave away more of his objective. She looked as if she either couldn’t grasp at the concept, or was too sceptical to even attempt at it.
“I thought you wanted… Just a regular boat, not a viking longship,” she eventually replied. Her voice was silent. It took for someone to bump into her to realize that they were still standing in the middle of the pavement; essentially in everyone else’s way.
Maddie’s mind raced to some of the old boat remains placed in museums. Her guts jolted at the thought that Jörmun may be actually considering stealing one of those. She wasn’t sure how he would’ve even been able to do that, but she didn’t wish to question it much. She’d seen enough things coming from him that would’ve appeared to be impossible if she considered them previously.
Jörmun snorted at her reaction. “I don’t need just any boat or not even just any Skuldelev. There is one in particular I am looking for, but before I give away any other details I need to know your answer, Maddie,” he stared the girl in the eye, looking dead serious. “Are you helping me with this?”
“Do we have to travel again?”
“Is there a chance that Thor or some other Asgardian is going to come for us once more?”
“There is always a small chance.”
“They really don’t want you back there, do they?” Maddie sighed, feeling that she was already a foot on-board the journey once again, without even officially saying yes to it.
A smile played on Jörmun’s lips; he too felt that she was inclining into joining him. It made Maddie wonder, just like she did think about their first adventure, whether her choice was merely another illusion, and she had been enchanted into his plan long before she could even think about agreeing.
“A marvelous trickster,” the words echoed inside her mind alone. However, there was an equal chance that he did nothing in regards to that, and it was no more than her brain twisting with the concern and tiredness that contributed to the made-up narrative inside her head.