THE TRIUMPH OF THE WINTER ROSE
Transcribed by: James
In Game date: December 2008
“It’s not my fault!” Eric Laufy cried out again as they all struggled to move up the windswept mountainside. “Everything went exactly like I planned it! You can’t blame me that Jack didn’t hold up his part of the plan!”
The howling wind almost drowned out Eric’s protestations as they looked down on an epic landscape that somehow seemed larger than life. The mountainside was steep and a stand of gigantic pine trees swayed and creaked in the high winds as the group made their way through the thigh deep snow as fast as they could. They all knew that death followed hot on their heels.
“I can’t believe we are all going to die over a damned Giant Chicken!” Roy Mullinex puffed out with exertion as he pushed his body to the limits of his conditioning. The Detective was in excellent shape but running up the side of a mountain during a windstorm while being chased by angry creatures out of a fairy tale was a bit much to take even for someone with his experience.
He hazarded a glance over his shoulder trying to glimpse the monsters that had dogged their trail since last night. The heavy snow and pine trees kept them hidden from view, however. He knew in his heart that they were there. And he feared that he might die in this godforsaken place.
It was beautiful though. Even he had to admit to that. He looked back down into the valley below and saw the Iving River flowing into a bend miles below. Even from here he could tell that the river was massive in its scope. He had once crossed the Mississippi River while in the Army but the Iving was far larger. In fact everything here seemed to be on a scale that dwarfed anything he had ever seen on Earth.
Nestled into the bend of the curving river that marked the border between Asgard and Jotunheim sat 50 or more massive halls crudely constructed out of whole trees and thatched straw. Sneaking into the camp to steal the rooster had been the easy part. And Eric was right. The plan should have worked.
“What happened to Jack?” Roy thought anxiously.
The detective hadn’t always trusted the young man. In fact the crafty young wizard had a history of breaking the law and that had brought the two of them into conflict several times in the past. Despite that he couldn’t help but worry about him. He might not approve of Jack’s rebellious outlook on life but he had learned to respect him over the years. Jack would never leave them in the lurch like this. Not unless something terrible had happened to him.
Roy slipped in the deep snow but a strong arm grabbed him saving him from a nasty spill.
“Thanks,” Roy muttered to Leif Wotensen.
“We have to keep moving,” the son of Odin urged him as he pulled him up. “They aren’t far behind.”
The young doctor gathered up Sleipnir’s reigns and continued to lead the magnificent eight legged steed up the side of the mountain. He was still amazed that his motorcycle had reverted into an aspect of the actual horse from Norse Mythology when they had crossed over to this world. Jottenheim clearly was a place of magic so he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised.
Leif pushed his worry about his friend, Jack Youngblood into the back of his mind and desperately sought a way out of their predicament. If they all died here it would be his fault.
“After all,” the young doctor thought, “I was the one who brought them Eric’s Plan and talked them into going through with it.”
For a brief moment his gaze met Zeb Einar’s who was riding on top of Sleipnir. He could see that the old man knew exactly what he was thinking. The Wizard’s steely gaze did nothing to indicate it, but Leif could tell that the Warden did not blame him for their predicament. His calm visage seemed to say that they had all known the risks and made their own choices.
He turned his eyes to the huge cart that his horse pulled up the incline that held the massive 250 pound rooster in its enchanted cage. The flightless bird was a truly magnificent beast its plumage colorful and majestic. It calmly regarded him in silence looking almost bored. The cage had been magically enchanted by Zeb to prevent any sound from escaping its confines. We are not going to die for this damn chicken. Leif turned away. He wouldn’t allow his guilt to force him to do anything rash.
“Hey,” he called out, suddenly alarmed, “Where’s Riley?”
Riley was several hundred yards down the mountainside and if Leif were there he would have been puzzled by the guilt etched across the rugged former SEAL’s face. It was that guilt which had motivated him to linger behind the rest of the group and try to throw off their pursuers.
Mathew Riley was desperately attaching wires to the detonator he held in his freezing hands. In the canyon below him 30 angry frost giants charged toward him. The earth shook with their every footfall.
“This can’t be because of me. It’s not my fault,” he chanted to himself as he raced to finish his grim task. “Jack is fine.” But despite his words the SEAL’s heart sunk in fear and shame. He was determined to save his friends even if he had to give his own life to do so.
Riley jumped in surprise as a huge spear twice as tall as he was slammed into the snow packed mountainside right next to his feet as he finished the last wire. A frost giant scout cried out in blood lust and used his mastery of frost to manifest a wicked, gleaming sword of ice out of thin air and swung it at the guilt ridden sailor. Stepping beneath the blow Riley gave a triumphant cry, looked directly into the savage creature’s eyes and turned the handle on the detonator.
The entire mountainside shook as several charges of C-4 erupted burying the vanguard of the frost giant column in tons of snow and rock and blocking passage through the canyon. The giant howled out in fury and Riley steeled himself content that his betrayal may not have doomed all of his friends after all. Closing his eyes he muttered a quiet prayer hoping that Jack would forgive him some day.
The blast echoed across the landscape and the ragtag party stopped in alarm.
“My vision!” cried Lief, “I saw Riley die alone fighting a frost giant!* We have to save him.”
*see The Players Chapter 6
With absolutely no hesitation the old Wizard cried out some words in Latin and a powerful wind swept him up and he flew down the mountainside to aid his companion. Leif unhooked the cart from Sleipnir’s harness and told Eric to guard the Rooster as he rode after him with Roy fast on his heels.
The massive icy sword swung toward the guilt ridden sailor’s bowed head and it seemed as if nothing could save the beleaguered SEAL from its bite. But at the last moment Zeb Einar, looking every bit like The Magma Kraken from a past age, landed next to his companion in a swirl of howling wind.
With an incredibly deft flick of his wrist he turned the giant’s blade aside with his Warden’s Sword causing it to fell a huge pine tree. The giant howled in frustration as Riley quickly rebounded from his malaise to unload a full clip from his M-14 into the beast’s center mass at point blank range. It did little more than anger the giant further as several rounds bounced of its thick hide into the trees.
Ignoring the puny human the giant swung its huge blade at the Warden intent on cutting him down but his blade rebounded off the force shield that protected Zeb from harm. With a cry the magician slapped the giant’s sword with his enchanted cane sending a piercing high pitched sonic blast into it shattering the ice sword.
The giant realized that Zeb’s wizardry was a potent threat and used its own magic to summon a whirling mass of dagger sharp ice to ravage the old Warden cutting him in countless places. Riley knew the wizard was in trouble but before he could act to save his ally the Son of Odin arrived to do battle.
“FOR ASGARD!!!”, cried Lief Wotensen astride his 8 legged steed. The sunlight gleamed down on Lief partially blinding the enraged frost giant who cried out in fear as a vision of Odin froze him momentarily. Lief hit him like an avalanche with all the mass of mighty Sleipnir behind his strike ramming his spear into the powerful creature’s belly.
Realizing that he had been deceived the giant snarled and with surprising speed grabbed the startled son of Asgard in its mighty arms. Zeb desperately used his wind magic to fling debris from the felled pine tree into the giant’s eyes but the creature grimly held on to its prize. Lief knew that he would be crushed to death in moments. Yet he had seen this all happen before with his fate sight. He knew exactly how to defeat the monstrous humanoid.
“Riley, Willy Pete! Now!!!” Leif screamed pointing at the giant’s feet.
Riley, letting his rifle fall to his chest on its harness yanked out one of his few remaining White Phosphorus grenades and dropped it right at the feet of the maddened assailant. The giant stepped right on the grenade as it went up with a loud “Whump!”
The frost giant’s body totally shielded Lief and his allies from the blast and its legs were burned and blasted to the bone as it bellowed in agony. Having finally arrived to the fight Roy walked up to the giant and calmly placed his pistol right on the giant’s temple and said, “Eat this!”
The single shot rang out across the mountainside with finality and the giant’s body stiffened and seemed to fall in a majestic slow motion arc to the ground. Everyone gasped in relief as they stared at the giant’s corpse.
“We should have brought rocket launchers for this kind a deal…” Lamented Roy over the fallen giant.
When it moved they all nearly jumped out of their skins.
“A..ugh…a little help here,” Lief cried out from beneath the massive body. “This thing weighs a ton. Literally!”
While they dug the young doctor out from under the giant he reflected on how they had gotten here. When Eric came to him with the idea to steal the fabled rooster, Fjalar, whose crow is fated to herald Ragnarock he balked at first. But if they took the bird out of Jotunheim at the least it wouldn’t be able to warn the Frost Giants that the doom of the Aesir was nigh. While there were two other roosters, one in Helheim and one in Muspelheim who were also fated to crow for the forces of Hel and the fire giants respectively, if Fjallar were removed they might give Asgard a tactical advantage if the forces against it were uncoordinated. Fjallar’s removal from Jotunheim might even be enough to prevent Ragnarock from happening at all.
He knew that if he went to his father he would be forced to forbid him from going on the raid. If Odin got involved in an attack on Jotunheim it could bring on the Aesir’s doom immediately. It would have to be done by an outside party with few if any ties to Asgard.
“My relationship with the All Father is tenuous at best so I doubt my being on mission will be a problem,” he had reasoned. “But I can’t do it alone.”
It was Lief who brought the Son of Loki’s plan to his friends asking them for help. Jack was the first to volunteer. After all he and Lief had had some grand adventures a few years ago in Asgard and he seemed eager to go back. However, the expedition would not work if they tried to make it to Jottenheim by crossing over the Iving River directly from Asgard. The Frost Giant’s were far too vigilant about their borders for such a plan. No, they would have to make their way directly from Midgard to Jottenheim. They would need magic.
For the plan to work they needed the young Warden to create and hold a direct passage to Jotunheim from Midgard with his wizardry. Zeb was a formidable Warden but he did not possess the raw power to make a passage from Midgard to Jottenheim and hold it open long enough for them to finish the mission.
Jack was upset but he recognized the need to stay behind. Everyone in the group trusted him to do everything in his ability to bring them home safely. The plan had gone off without a hitch. They had sneaked into the giant’s camp and captured the fabled rooster with little difficulty.
Eric, ever the trickster, had left a bucket of KFC extra crispy behind in the bird’s place and they had made their way to the opening to Midgard just in time to see it vanish from existence with a sudden flash of light. The alarm sounded from the giant’s camp only moments later as Fjallar was found missing and the hunt was on. They had managed to stay ahead of their pursuers throughout the night but Lief knew that wouldn’t last.
“We need to figure out what to do,” Lief said looking at his companions. “Does anyone know what might have happened to Jack? I can’t believe that he would leave us like this unless something happened to him. Something terrible.”
Leif was looking right at Riley when he said that and it was clear that the stoic SEAL jumped at the mention of Jack. Peering into his eyes Lief knew immediately something was wrong.
“Riley? Hey, do you know something?”
But the SEAL would say nothing and turned away from the Son of Odin’s eyes. His mouth moved as if he was desperately trying to speak, his whole body trembling with effort, but nothing would come out. Roy had been a detective for years and he knew a guilty person when he saw them. Even if he had trouble accepting it it was clear to him that Riley was being torn up inside by something. Something terrible.
“Dammit, you son of a bitch! What do you know?” the detective screamed grabbing the sailor by his jacket and shaking him violently, “What have you done to Jack?”
“I…guh…I cuuuh, can’t!” screamed Riley obviously in agony tears running down his face.
Zeb Einar had seen this kind of thing many times and he knew almost immediately what was happening to the sailor.
“A geas.” the wizard said calmly putting his hand on the angry detective’s shoulder.
“He has been put under a geas. He can’t speak of what happened unless it is broken.”
The detective stopped, releasing his hold on the jacket and a look of pity crossed his face as he stared at Riley. They had fought side by side for years now. He knew the man wouldn’t betray them if he had a choice. Yet his choices were not his own. They were made for him by his mistress, The Exiled Handmaiden of Winter herself.
“Odianna!” he spat.
“I think we can break the geas and find out what he knows but it won’t be easy. The fact that Riley was able to say anything at all tells me something though,” said the old man.
“Odiana could have wiped Riley’s memory or silenced him in any number of ways. I know how that bitch thinks,” a scowl crossed Zeb’s face as he remembered the tortures he had endured at the hands of the Winterrose for a year*.
[[BOOK 03: THE CAULDRON OF MURDER: CHAPTER 09 | *see The Cauldron of Murder Chapter 9]]
“I think she might have wanted us to find out what he knows otherwise we would not have a chance to break the geas,” he said his eyes going cold, “but it won’t be easy and we are all going to have to work together.”
Detective Mullinex, an expert interrogator, led the line of questioning while Lief used his keen insight to read Riley’s reactions and Zeb used his knowledge of magic, and geas in particular, to direct them. It was a difficult, painful process, especially for Riley, but they eventually were able to discover the whole story.
SEATTLE: TWO MONTHS AGO….
“Goddammit I’m coming!” Mathew Riley growled at the door as someone banged on it relentlessly.
He was still a bit bleary eyed and tired but all in all he felt pretty good considering he had just gotten back from Forks, WA a couple of hours ago after helping to destroy a Master Black Court Vampire*.
* See The Hunger Games: Chapter 6
He grabbed a t-shirt from the small pile of laundry in the cramped room that he was forced to live in. It was a flea ridden, rat infested hell hole with every conceivable space crammed from floor to ceiling with weapons and explosives. The pounding at the door intensified and Riley whipped it open before it was knocked down by the assault.
“What the fuc…Oh. Squire. What do you want?” Riley asked the hulking ogre.
“The Lady wants you. Now!” He growled poking the sailor in the chest with his massive finger nearly knocking him to the floor.
Squire was obviously in a foul mood. He looked like a thug and would sometimes act like one. But Riley knew that he was far more than that. He had seen the massive monster outmaneuver and utterly annihilate more than one opponent that underestimated him. The former Navy man was determined that he wouldn’t be one of them.
His behavior was odd though. The ogre would act with great violence when it was necessary but Riley had rarely seen him this agitated nor had he ever noticed him act out of cruelty without a reason. And he had always been respectful of Riley’s skills as a tool in his Lady’s arsenal.
“Should I come as is or do you want me to get dressed?” Riley quipped standing there in his navy t-shirt and shorts.
Towering over Riley his hands clenched in furry for a moment it seemed like the ogre would finally end the former SEAL’s torment and rip him limb from limb. Instead he turned away and punched the wall instead causing the whole building to shake.
“You will put on the suit the Lady gave you last month and meet her in her chambers in 20 minutes,” he spat out.
The worn wooden floor shook as he stormed off down the hallway.
A cold feeling ran up and down his spine as Riley quickly got dressed in the expensive, tailored suit that Odiana had had fitted for him.
He arrived at the Winter Rose’s door and knocked quietly. The door opened immediately and he stepped from the hallway of her nightclub into a scene right out of a Tolkien movie. He had been to Odiana’s demesne on many occasions but it always unnerved him when he crossed the threshold from his world to hers. He shuddered at the cold as the door closed behind him.
When he looked up he saw a long row of evergreen trees that stood in a line on either side of him almost like the columns of a church. A light snow drifted down on the chapel of pines that were decorated with savage Celtic looking runes and designs while the heads of the Handmaiden’s vanquished enemies decorated a row of pikes rammed into the snow covered ground. Vines from the the fabled WInter Rose majestically framed her throne. It was a beautiful if savage scene and yet it was not what took Riley’s breath away.
Lady Odiana stood before him completely naked surrounded by mortal women, all of whom had ended up in her debt in one way or another, who were dressing her.
“Puppy!” Odiana cried, slapping an attendants hands away and rushing up to stand before Riley in all her glory. For once the mortal man was truly glad it was so bloody cold in Odiana’s “chambers”. Zeb Einar had once told Riley that if he ever succumbed to the Lady’s charms he would be forever bound to her with no way to escape. Even with that warning her beauty was enough to make anyone forsake their reason and risk destruction for just a night in her bed. Riley shook his head to clear it.
“You’ve been a good dog so I am taking you out for a walk. Aren’t you just excited?” she asked breathlessly while pressing her lovely flesh against him. Riley held his face in an expressionless mask and concentrated on how much he would love to murder the Handmaiden with his bare hands.
She took in his stoic countenance and a coy look crossed her perfect features, “You hate me don’t you my Hound? You would love to murder me would you not?”
“Yes,” Riley growled without hesitation.
Odiana laughed long and loudly and just the lovely sound of it nearly broke RIley’s reason. Thankfully, he was distracted by Squire’s glare at this admission and there was a promise of death in the ogres red eyes as he clenched his massive fists. Odiana clapped her hands together rapidly in joy obviously pleased by the answer. She circled him like a shark.
“Oh, puppy,” she said, “You never fail to surprise me. Perhaps I will take you to my bed after all. I have heard grand things about the prowess of sailors.” She winked at him.
“But for now I need you to get the car ready. We are going to a meeting and you will be my driver,” she commanded.
Squire started to protest and she stopped and glared at him. The words died on the huge monsters lips and he turned to head for the door. Riley followed sweat dripping down his spine and freezing almost instantly. Why would she possibly want him to drive her rather than Squire? He was a well trained covert ops soldier. Not a body guard. It made no sense.
He had just stepped through the door back to the hallway in the Masquerade night club owned by Odiana when a massive paw of a hand pinned him to the wall and lifted him 3 feet off the floor.
“If anything happens to my Lady I will make you suffer pain the likes of which are beyond your comprehension, dog!”
Squire dropped Riley and stomped off toward the garage where the limo was parked.
Fifteen minutes later Riley pulled the massive limo in front of the Comet Tavern and parked. A light Seattle rain drizzled down from the layer of grey clouds that seemed to press down on the city like a smothering blanket. He leaped out of the car and shielded Odiana from the mist with an umbrella as he held the door for her.
There was the sound of a car horn and a loud crash as a mid sized sedan driven by a middle aged man staring at the Handmaiden of Winter in awe slammed into the car in front of him. The other driver leaped out of her car to yell at the distracted driver but she too was struck dumb by the beauty of the Winter Rose. Odiana smiled, dressed in black and blue leathers that seemed to hug her every gracious curve, and with a little delighted swagger in her step headed for the front of the tavern.
“Oh, and don’t forget the package,’” she called out merrily.
Riley was getting more and more concerned at her bubbly demeanor. She seemed absolutely giddy and he had been around the Winter Fae long enough to know that he and everyone around him was in a great deal of danger. He grabbed the heavy ornate wooden box and struggled to carry it while holding the umbrella over the lady.
He held the door for her and while the place wasn’t packed there were a fair amount of people bellied up to the bar considering it was a rainy Tuesday morning. As Odiana strutted into the somewhat famous dive bar a silence seemed to settle over the place. Her unearthly beauty awed everyone who beheld her. One man, gasped in surprise when he took note of the Handmaiden and he quickly pulled up the collar to his colorful jacket and slunk out the door with an expression of abject terror on his face.
“At least one person in the place isn’t brain dead,” Riley thought keeping an eye on the retreating man who had mismatched blue and green eyes and bright orange hair. “He must be a changeling or something to have recognized her.”
So intent was he on the man that he failed to notice the three other men whose hands slid quietly beneath their coats to the concealed weapons there. They kept an eye on the pair of newcomers but didn’t seem to want to be noticed.
“He…He’s waiting for you in b-b-b-back,” stammered the bartender, “Right through that door there.”
Odiana sashayed to the back door and waited for Riley to open it for her. She danced around like a child who needed to go to the bathroom she was so excited. Riley, a sinking feeling growing in his belly opened the door to what was obviously the dressing room for the bands that played at the venue.
Seated at a table in the middle of the room was a mousy little man with huge glasses dressed in a bow tie and a tweed jacket. On the table in front of him was a large wooden case. Another man with a shaved head stood rigidly at parade rest behind the bespectacled fellow. He was obviously a military man his eyes assessing any threats that Riley might pose.
If he would have been looking more closely Riley might have noticed the look of disdain the soldier gave the Fae. He might even have perceived the hatred on his face directed at Riley himself. It was as if he thought Riley was a traitor for consorting with the “enemy”.
“Good I see you have arrived,” the seated man said, “And you brought the package.”
“I have,” Odiana said taking the seat opposite the man without being invited. “You brought the Sword?”
“Yes. It was not easy to acquire. The museum in Copenhagen had a great deal of security.”
“Please, I need to see the item before we can proceed further,” he continued. Odiana nodded to Riley and the tiny silver lock on the front of heavily decorated box seemed to unlock on its own. Riley carefully placed the box on the table and swiveled it open.
Riley’s heart started hammering in terror as he looked upon the Maltese Falcon. The mousy little man stared at the statue with a rapt expression. “Excellent,” he said, "but before I give you the sword you promised me the information about how you acquired it. Our bargain will not be complete without that. "
“Oh, have no fear, sir, you will get all the information you need,” she cooed as she stood up from the chair and ran her fingers through the SEAL’s hair. “Won’t he, puppy?”
She placed an implacable hand on the shaken sailor’s shoulder and pushed him down into the chair. She looked into Riley’s eyes with gleeful determination. Suddenly Riley’s heart nearly stopped as Odiana’s deathly cold Winter Magic coursed up and down his body causing his every nerve to fire in agony. She straddled his lap grinding her body up against him suggestively. As she commanded him her every word slammed into his soul like an icy spike into his brain. Riley was bound to Odiana by his oath and she seized on that tie with her power.
“Mathew Riley you will tell us everything you know about how you gained possession of this statue. You will also answer all this mortal’s questions about whether or not Roy Mullinex had knowledge of who had stolen it from him.”
Riley convulsed and he gasped in agony as Fae magics coursed through his mind and body. He resisted the pain with every bit of training he had.
“Mathew Riley, you will tell this mortal everything you know about the wizard, Jack Youngblood’s wards and defenses as well as all your knowledge of his allies and their abilities. You will help devise stratagems to defeat them all.”
His entire body convulsing with heroic effort the SEAL did everything he could to stop himself from doing Odiana’s bidding. But no amount of training could prepare someone to resist her Fae magics. Magics that tore at his very spirit through the bargain he had made with her years ago.
“Finally, Mathew Riley, you will never speak of this betrayal to them.”
“I, Odiana, Handmaiden of Winter, Guardian of the Winter Rose, bind you! I have invoked your name with my power thrice and you will do as I command!” she screamed her voice cruelly triumphant.
“Speak, Riley, speak,” she whispered while patting him on the head, “Good dog!”
Cruel laughter echoed throughout the room and even the soldier looked on Riley’s suffering with a touch of pity in his hardened eyes.
JOTTENHEIM: PRESENT DAY
“I was right,” Zeb stated, “When she bound him she didn’t use his middle name. She obviously expected you to break the geas at some point.”
“Jesus. We are so screwed. I know who that was. I know who she gave the statue to. It was Ronald Parker*,” Roy said anxiously.
*See RONALD PARKER Esq. IV
“Parker? Your superior in the Venatori Umbrorum?” Lief asked puzzled, “Why would he make a deal with Odiana?”
“When Jack stole the statue from my house*, and yes I knew it was him, Parker was really upset with me. It is a powerful artifact after all. I think he suspected Jack did it but he had no proof. I could tell that he thought I was covering for him because of our past associations. I had no idea that Parker would be willing to make a deal with a Fae. It runs counter to the Venatori Code to do business with a creature such as Odiana.”
* See The Players Chapter 10
“She probably came to him with the deal,” Zeb said grimly, “She would quickly discover that the Falcon would offer her no power because it was stolen instead of won in a contest or given away by its rightful owner. Since Riley did as she bade him and brought her the item she could not hold him responsible for it not working,” the old Warden paused a moment gathering his thoughts.
“But Jack? Jack would have known that stealing it would rob it of its power. She would be infuriated that a mere mortal had outmaneuvered her. However, doing anything overt would be like publicly admitting that she had been bested by a wizard.”
“So she used Riley to get her revenge instead,” Lief stated, his eyes lighting up in understanding and gazing at the SEAL with compassion, “Punishing him for his part in the deception while still keeping her reasons secret. Man. What a bitch.”
“So what about the sword? Why would she give the statue away for it?” asked Roy.
“I don’t know. We don’t have time to figure it out. We have to get back immediately. And we can’t rely on Jack opening a passage for us back home,” said the old wizard.
“Sleipnir is said to be able to travel between worlds. Perhaps he can lead us to another Way back home.”
“Of course! I am an idiot!” Leif cried. “Sleipneir, take us home!”
The magnificent eight legged steed snorted, tossing his mane and nostrils flaring set off up the hill. The small group followed close on his heals.
They marched up the steep moutainside for several hours before coming across the stone stairway. The steps were wider and taller than normal and while that made them difficult to navigate it was preferable to marching in the deep snow. However, they were completely exposed standing out clearly against the snow capped peaks. Leif had noted a pair of Ravens that dogged their trail for several hours and knew without question that the All Father was watching their progress. While he knew Odin would not act to aid them he took comfort from that fact.
Sleipnir tirelessly pulled the cart with Fjallar off to the side of the steps and led them steadily up the path. Zeb, using his magic, had also started to home in on the Way back to Midgard sensing it through the ether. He looked up the stairs and saw that they disappeared into a small passage between some massive peaks far above them. He would be grateful to get under cover. He felt completely exposed on the huge stairs.
They were all exhausted. They had been marching through the harsh terrain with few breaks for the better part of a whole day and night. Despite their fatigue they reacted with admirable vigilance to the massive shadows that blocked the sunlight from their path. With an earsplitting shriek three eagles, each with a wingspan of over twenty feet, swooped down upon them.
Riley, his reflexes honed by years of training and battle dodged their attack. He fired his battle rifle at one of the birds blasting holes in its right wing causing it to falter. Roy followed that up with a burst from his own assault rifle further injuring the massive bird in the chest.
Lief realizing their danger called out, “They are allies of the giants! Don’t let them get the cage!”
Thinking fast Eric Laufy used a glamour to make Fjallar’s cage appear several feet away from its actual location. One of the eagle shrieked as it passed right through his illusion and nearly slammed into the ground. As they came back around Zeb called upon his magic to create a ball of lightning that exploded in the midst of the raptors injuring them all but slaying the wounded one outright. The remaining eagles swooped in again and were again repelled by relentless gunfire. Zeb used his control of air magics to freeze one of the eagle’s wings causing it to crash further down the mountainside from them. With a shriek of surrender the last bird majestically wheeled off into the sky and to safety.
“We need to keep moving,” Zeb called out. “They won’t give up that easily.” As if to punctuate his words the wind picked up considerably. “Look!” he said pointing at the fast moving and ominous clouds that were bearing down on them with alarming speed.
“This is no natural storm,” Leif screamed trying to be heard over the sudden winds. “The giants are using magic to slow us down.”
They all turned their heads and started up the mountain as fast as they were able. Roy, looking over his shoulder through a momentary break in the sudden white out conditions, glimpsed a mass of giants making their way quickly in pursuit. It seemed that Riley’s avalanche hadn’t stopped them after all. They must have known of a different way around that canyon.
Despite the stormy conditions the party made good time and finally arrived at the top of the stairway. Ahead of them stood a fissure in the side of a sheer mountain wall. The passage through the fissure was narrow, but the walls quickly widened out as they went further into it. There was no plant growth in the gorge and in the middle of it stood an obviously ancient burial cairn.
“It’s here,” Zeb cried his eyes squinting in concentration. “I can feel it but I dare not use my Sight to find it. This place is just too…epic for me to do so safely. Everyone spread out and see what you can find.”
They all spread out through the gorge searching for something, anything that might get them home. They could all feel a menace to the forsaken place. Nothing living existed in the gulch and even the snow seemed repelled by some silent menace.
“I’ve got something!” cried Roy holding up an ancient Norse crown. Zeb ran over to Roy with the rest of them huddling around them. When he touched the rune carved crown he immediately sensed a connection to something. Some object that existed in Midgard. He also felt a great malevolence but he had no time to deal with that.
“This is it! I can get us home but you need to keep those giants from making it up here to stop me,” he said. He immediately sat down and crossed his legs and began concentrating on the crown. Leif and Eric offered to help him lending their own magics to Zeb’s power in hopes of getting them home before the giants arrived. As time passed a small hole in the fabric of the worlds formed, slowly expanding as they concentrated.
Meanwhile Riley and the Detective made hasty preparations. Riley placed claymore mines strategically around the entrance while Roy marked clear lanes of fire. It was clear because of the narrow passage that only one giant would be able to navigate it at a time. Which was good.
“It reminds me of 300,” Roy told the SEAL with a smile, “we should be able to hold them here for awhile.”
“All the Spartans died at Thermopylae so don’t get cocky,” Riley admonished.
Realizing that they needed to slow the frost giants as much as possible they called out to Lief and went back out to the stairs. Riley and Roy started laying down suppressing fire at the climbing giants as best they could through the impenetrable storm. The giants, having never faced modern firearms before, were slowed to a near crawl by the furious assault. They were further scattered by the Son of Odin who used his magic to call down lightning on the stone steps cutting a huge swath through them.
“That ought to slow them down,” he said from atop his mythical horse.
“Guys! I think you better get in here. The old man has done it!” Eric cried to them in excitement. They made their way back inside to see the glowing passage way floating just above the apex of the burial mound.
“Hurry,” gasped the old Wizard. “I can’t hold it for long,” he spat out with effort.
Not hesitating for a second Leif charged through the gate leading Sleipnir with the rest of the party fast on his heels. Zeb heard a frost giant cry out in frustration from the mouth of the fissure just as he leaped through with the crown in his hands. He gasped in relief as he let the Way behind him collapse and the crown slipped from his grasp. It was a bit like riding a roller coaster as they flew down a glowing corridor that twisted and turned with such speed that they felt like the very fabric of their beings might fly apart at any second. Just when they felt like they couldn’t take it anymore it was over.
They all arrived on an abandoned hill in a flash of light each of them flying out of a glowing rip between worlds to land in a tumble of limbs on the earth. An ornate and ancient Norse sword stood stabbed into the ground glowing with powerful magics and the crown, with matching runes hung from its hilt. Around them the grass was dead and the trees were skeletal and it took Zeb a moment to realize where they had come out.
“Buel Hall. Of course,” he thought. “After Sawney Beane sundered the boundaries between worlds it is no surprise that they would be weakest here.*”
* See The Cauldron of Murder Chapter 9
They all jumped as a slow and deliberate clapping echoed across the night blackened hill. Startled they turned to see Odiana standing before them with a triumphant smile on her face.
“Oh, puppy, you are such a good dog! I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me. You fetched your friends here just as I hoped. And now my debt to you all for saving the Arctic Club all those years ago is discharged.* Oh, and I see you brought a new playmate! How lovely!”
* See Full Circle Chapter 12
As she clapped in delight a mist formed around the crown and the sword becoming slowly recognizable as a malevolent skeletal warrior armored in Norse armor. He nodded his head slightly to the Handmaiden and snarled something in Old Norse before returning to mist form and vanishing as his sepulchral laugh echoed into the night.
“What did he say?” Roy asked a chill going down his spine. Leif shook his head, “You really don’t want to know,” he said grimly.
They all jumped as Roy’s phone rang. “You might want to take that call,” Odiana said a beatific smile on her face, “It might be important.”
“Hello?” The Detective answered noting the time on his phone. Only 12 hours had passed while they were in Jottenheim. For them it had been two days. He had 23 messages.
“Oh, thank God! Roy, I have been trying to reach you for hours,” his partner, DETECTIVE JESSICA MONROE said frantically.
“Roy I don’t know how to tell you this but It’s Jack Youngblood. He has been murdered and his sister, Caroline, is missing!”
Odiana’s triumphant laughter was cruel and echoed across the tainted hill chilling them all to the bone….
END OF CHAPTER ONE