I watched from the parking lot of the Hog’s Breath Cafe as the van pulled up.
They were right that he’d stop here.
I briefly wondered if there was someone who knew me well enough to predict me like the government agents working with Lyrebird and Elsewhere had predicted Trainwreck.
I flipped the big foldout map around in my hands, pretending to alternately look at it and the street signs of the roads of the intersection next to the restaurant.
The agent in the driver’s seat to my right lit a cigarette. I glared at her.
Foul, disgusting habit.
The agent smiled, and said, conversationally “You were looking at them too intently. They can see you a lot better than you can see them when the lights are on inside the car.”
“Is that why you lit that thing with the windows up? To make me look at you instead? You’ve got to know what that habit does to you.”
“I know. People tell me every day.” She shrugged. “Right now if you did get anyone’s attention, they are seeing a guy with a map getting upset at a woman smoking a cigarette in their car with the windows up. That’s a lot less threatening to an observant criminal than a guy with a map in the parking lot staring at their vehicle.”
“Thank you for the spy lesson. Can you put out the cigarette now?”
“I’ll step out and lean against the car to finish my cigarette, angrily, upset at you for yelling at me for smoking in my car.” She smiled at me, and blew a puff of smoke in my face. I coughed and waved my right hand in front of my face as I turned away from her.
She just played me like an instrument.
She opened her door with an angry heave, and got out of the car, apparently very angry. I couldn’t help but turn back and stare at her.
Dark skinned Asian facial features, jet black straight hair. Nobody would ever mistake Agent Anno for a beautiful woman, but she wasn’t ugly either. There was strength in that face, and I could easily imagine people being attracted to that strength. I had been told they were putting me in a car with one of their best agents and that I should listen to her. After the last few seconds, I could believe it.
She took a deep drag of the cigarette, and leaned back in to say something to me. “You can look at them now. His size is extraordinary and a few seconds staring won’t be strange. Rude, but ordinary. People at the extremes of human appearance are used to people staring. When we go into the restaurant, a little staring will be normal too, but you need to shake your head and look away if you stare more than a couple seconds. Especially if any of them look at you while you are staring at him.” As she was speaking, smoke was coming out of her mouth.
I almost didn’t hear her words, I was entranced by the smoke in front of her face curling and writhing like a living thing as the words she spoke changed the air patterns in front of her face.
“Fine.” I waved my right hand again, not pretending my disgust as I pushed the foul smelling cloud away from me.
Agent Anno just smiled, jerked her torso back, slammed the car door, and then flopped back against the side of the car, looking up at the sky as she took deep drags of her cigarette. I just stared at her for a few seconds.
Aren’t we supposed to be trying to keep a low profile?
She’s the expert.
I stopped staring at her, and looked around the parking lot, and saw Trainwreck getting out of his van.
Holy crap, he’s huge.
I had never seen a human that big that didn’t have an active super power. I had certainly never seen a human without powers that was that big and still mobile on their own feet.
Not only was he tall, but he was wide. He looked like a short, stocky person in profile. I had seen pictures, but they didn’t prepare me for the sheer amazing size of him in person.
Giantism. It’s got to be giantism.
He was extremely careful about where he put his feet as he got out of the van, I noticed.
After he settled himself on his feet and stood straight, he pulled a cane out of the van as he held onto a vertical bar behind the driver’s seat, which was set an absurd distance back from the steering wheel.
Another man quickly got out of the van as Trainwreck removed his cane. Chicken Little. He was supposed to be about six feet tall. Trainwreck’s cane came up to mid-torso on him, and was about as big around as the smaller man’s wrist.
Agent Anno opened the door of the car. “Have you found it yet?”
Chicken Little looked at us when Agent Anno opened the door and leaned in to talk to me. I saw her look at Trainwreck through the glass of my window, and her jaw dropped noticeably. I looked back towards Trainwreck and saw Chicken Little grinning at us, apparently enjoying the reaction he was seeing.
As I watched Trainwreck take a couple steps, it seemed as if he wasn’t carrying the cane as an affectation. Based on his limp, he needed it. He wasn’t walking gingerly though. Deliberately, carefully, but there was no hesitation.
Agent Anno muttered “Turn away from them and put your hand in front of my face, slowly.”
I did as she asked. She absently slapped my hand away from in front of her face and stared for another half second at Trainwreck before looking away, and then whispered “OK, fold up the map quickly and wrong, and then jam it onto the dash. We’ll follow them in, in a few seconds.”
“Won’t they think we’re following them?” I said in a quiet tone.
“Yes, they will. But that’s OK, they will think we’re following them to see a spectacle.”
Trust the expert.
I looked one last time at them as they entered the building. Chicken Little was walking to his left, and the woman walking to Trainwreck’s right had to be Mirrormaid. She looked like a child next to him; his forearms looked to be nearly as thick as her waist, and his cane was armpit height to her. She could have used it as a crutch.
Damn, if she seduced him, she’s a brave woman.
I shook my head, folded the map quickly and badly, and then jammed it onto the dash. Without speaking, Agent Anno and I got out of our car and walked to the entrance. The not speaking was pleasant while it lasted. She was complaining about roads and directions and my map reading skills as we entered the restaurant. I just repeated “Yes, Dear.”, “No, Dear.”, “Of course, Dear.”, and similar terse agreements, clearly without meaning any of them. I couldn’t help but be glad that Anne and I had never devolved to a relationship like the one I was pretending to have with Agent Anno.
We passed Trainwreck and his companions at the booth they occupied. I couldn’t help but stare a second, and then shake my head and look away as I saw how the restaurant had accommodated his size. They had pulled out the booth’s table completely and let him seat himself at the back of the booth, where he took up the entire back end, where three people would normally sit. As I watched, they pushed the table back towards him until it was a few inches from his belly. The table now was pushed two feet out into the floor of the restaurant, while the same size table in the booth next to him was flush with the end of that booth. I saw him pulling a tablet computer and a gigantic stylus from a shoulder bag.
Everything about him is larger than life.
No wonder he doesn’t come out in public much.
We sat in our booth, Agent Anno looking away from Trainwreck’s booth, but clearly watching him in the reflection of the glass. I faced Trainwreck’s booth. After a few moments, the greeter left, and our waiter appeared. He asked for our drink order and handed us each a menu. We both asked for water and he left.
When the waiter returned with the water, we asked for about five minutes to decide what we wanted, and the waiter politely agreed.
As he walked away, Agent Anno looked at me and winked. “I’ll have my usual.” She took a drink of her ice water, and pushed her menu to me, and continued staring at Trainwreck in the reflection. A second later, she flickered briefly.
I opened my menu and there was a note inside. “Delay two minutes. Management threatened to hit their alarm. We had to talk them down without making a fuss, we’re still getting agents out.” I looked at my watch. 6:37:28 PM. I was supposed to have moved in thirty-two seconds.
I dry swallowed and then took a drink of water to get something wet in my throat, which helped with the nervousness and dry throat. After a second sip of water, I started to page through the menu. There wouldn’t be a waiter returning to my table, but there was a waitress at Trainwreck’s, taking what appeared to be a very long order. That was almost certainly a real person. Ali had agreed to make lifelike illusions to replace the staff and patrons of the restaurant, perfectly duplicating the scene in the restaurant as it had happened an hour before Trainwreck got there, before everyone was evacuated except a few agents with experience in the restaurant business. He had refused to make solid illusions, saying he didn’t have the time to do them right, unless everyone wanted to wait till tomorrow. Someone had to carry physical objects to the tables, like silverware, drinks, and menus. The waitress started talking back to her customers, repeating the order, and then turned and walked away towards the kitchen.
Six-thirty-eight and twenty seconds.
It was almost impossible to not stare at Trainwreck. His head was above the top of the booth back when he sat up straight, and apparently even though his posture was poor when standing, it wasn’t bad when sitting. I noticed that he was scanning his surroundings over the top of the booth as he talked with his companions. At first it was just casual scanning, but after a few seconds he was looking around with a little bit of puzzlement. Shortly after that, his eyes squinted as he was looking towards a table near me, and he stopped talking, looking closely at table after table until he caught my eye.
He’s figured out something is wrong.
Six-thirty-nine and thirty-eight seconds.
Trainwreck lifted a hand and crooked a finger at me.
I guess we start this a bit sooner than the agents wanted.
I’ll try and give them a bit more time.
I pointed at myself and looked puzzled.
“Yes, you, mate.” His voice was remarkably deep. “You seem to be the only one in here other than my tablemates that’s reacting to me. Your companion seemed to be live too, but hasn’t reacted to me talking now, so she’s probably been evacuated by some sort of power or trickery.” He paused. “The shadows and reflections are wrong too. I’m seeing two suns reflecting off the tables on that side of the building.”
A woman’s voice announced “No answers thirty seconds out.” Mirrormaid, of course.
I didn’t think anyone considered that he would be able to look over the top of his booth, and that he would expect to see people reacting to him doing that.
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men.
Trainwreck looked at me. “I don’t plan on hurting you, but I do want some answers. Someone’s gone through a whole lot of effort to get us alone with you. They clearly know about at least one of my companions as well, since she didn’t pick up on this until thirty seconds before I noticed the fact that nobody was staring at me. It takes a lot of planning to fool a precog, even a limited one.”
I overheard Mirrormaid’s voice again. “Oh, shit, TR, whatever you do, don’t hurt him even by accident. He’s got some freaky power that goes off if you hurt him. That goes for you too, Chicken Little.”
Trainwreck looked down someone I couldn’t see, probably Mirrormaid, and said. “OK”
There was another voice of agreement which had to be Chicken Little.
I moved sideways to get out of my seat, talking as I stood. “Yes, we wanted to get you three alone with me, and hopefully there won’t be a fight.”
I grabbed an empty chair out from under an unoccupied table, and carried it over to the table jutting out from the booth, turning it so the back of the chair was resting against the edge of the table. I wanted to be able to throw myself back away from the table if I needed to. As I finished sitting down, I realized how silly that was with this particular super.
I decided that Trainwreck probably wouldn’t change with the other two in the building as well. They weren’t in costume, so they had no armor at all, and the building would fall apart around him as he grew. Even a restaurant had enough massive components in its construction to severely injure a normal person if it fell apart.
As I put my arms on the table, Trainwreck’s hand shot out and pressed itself onto my right forearm, pinning me to the table, just short of pain.
The surprise of how fast he moved almost set off a change, I felt the power shifting but was able to repress it.
Trainwreck looked at me quizzically, “I’ve been told hurting you is bad. It’s hard for me to avoid hurting normal people if I try to restrain them. I still prefer to keep you right here with me though. CL, please use the identify app on my tablet to tell us who this fellow is, if he’s on record.” Trainwreck pushed his tablet over to Chicken Little, who picked it up and fiddled with it for a few seconds, and then pointed it’s camera at me for a moment before fiddling around with it for a few more seconds.
Mirrormaid’s eyes bugged slightly, but she only said “Remember, don’t hurt him.”
Chicken Little said nothing, but silently pushed the tablet back to Trainwreck, and stared at me with a glitter in his eye that told me he was ready to fight.
Trainwreck, as he was accepting the tablet from Chicken Little, nodded at Mirrormaid and then looked down at his tablet.
Mirrormaid is NOT the leader here.
“Am I right to do what I’m about to do, Mirrormaid?”
Mirrormaid concentrated a second. “Yes, it looks like it.”
I flexed my right arm, thinking about trying to pull it out, knowing he didn’t want to hurt me.
Abruptly, he let me go, and said in a calm voice. “Pull your chair back ten feet from the table, and then sit down again.”
I did as he asked, and after I sat back down, I said nothing.
What the hell is going on here?
Trainwreck stared at me. “It’s a bit troubling that someone has sent a vigilante killer to meet us. Why?” There was no fear in his voice, but the other two were watching me carefully.
“I am most definitely not here to kill anyone.”
Mirrormaid started, looked at me, looked at Trainwreck, and started to laugh.
Trainwreck looked at her. “Calm down. Is it important?”
Mirrormaid choked out an answer as she tried to stop laughing. She hiccupped halfway through the word, “No.ope”
“Go on. I’m glad you aren’t here to kill anyone. There’s more than that, I’m sure.” Trainwreck commented, while clearly watching me closely.
I decided I might as well just tell the truth. “I was told that Mirrormaid had seduced you and led you off to join her bank robbing group as muscle, since Chicken Little’s power was becoming less useful for vault-breaking due to new inertial damper technologies being installed.”
Mirrormaid looked at Trainwreck’s right hand, and then reached out with her left hand and grabbed his index finger. “Lift your hand, TR.”
Trainwreck smiled, and lifted his hand. Mirrormaid folded his other fingers down, and wrapped her fingers of both hands around just his index finger. Her fingers did not reach her thumb on the part of his finger closest to his palm. The other hand overlapped finger and thumb slightly. There was still the entire last joint of Trainwreck’s finger visible above both of her fists. “If TR is built down there with proportions anything like a normal man, he would wreck me. Besides, I’m married, to that goon.” She pointed to Chicken Little, who grinned.
Trainwreck looked uncomfortable and muttered. “Clearly, I’m not.” He coughed and continued. “That’s neither here nor there though. I was not being highly secretive about what I was doing, but several people still really hashed it up pretty badly, and they apparently all agreed with one another. That means a third party is almost certainly involved.” He paused a moment. “I recruited these two, they did not recruit me.”
Something was definitely not right here. “You told people you were doing this, the government, your team?”
“Yes. I spoke to several people by video conference. They didn’t like it, but I’ve been talking about it for a while, there was no surprise.”
“Ali! Are you there, I need to talk to you.”
There was no answer. “OK, something is very wrong here. Ali should be nearby. He said he would be.”
A new voice started speaking behind me, and I started to turn to face them. “Your young friend is where he needs to be, Strangest, close to you. I am temporarily performing his duty to protect you from practitioners and others who would misuse the power you collect, though I can see that at this time, there is nothing to try to steal from you.”
He can see the soul well even when it’s not active?
Mirrormaid started muttering, a bit hysterically. “I can’t see them. I can’t see the man or the boy. What are they doing here, who are they?”
I finished turning, and saw a tall, thin man with jet black hair, bright white skin, and sky blue eyes staring at us. When my gaze crossed his eyes, I shivered uncontrollably. In one hand, he wielded a pitch black staff that seemed to drip darkness off of what looked to be a curved blade set into the top. The blackness of the staff and blade was so complete that I couldn’t see details, even though the lighting was good. His other hand was held out nonchalantly, one finger pressed against Ali’s lips.
Ali was looking at me and just shaking his head. Clearly he knew I was thinking about shifting to protect him.
“Your partner here is begging me to tell you who I am, before you do something, I quote ‘Ignorant and foolish.’ I feel generous, and will do so, in a manner of speaking. I am a signatory of the contract between yourself, your partner, and various others like me.”
The glittering eyes pinned me. I couldn’t even think about moving. The figure continued. “I suspect that this tells you enough to prevent you from acting in an unfortunate manner?”
This is a god, but I don’t know which one.
Ali was nodding vigorously at me.
I found myself able to talk again. “For now, yes. You have my attention. If you have signed that contract I don’t think you would want to break it.”
Trainwreck spoke up. “Strangest, do you know who this guy in a bad Merlin costume is?”
I winced. “He’s…”
My mouth slammed shut.
“No, no, that will not do. I am the one with answers for the one who wishes to go out in a blaze of glory.”
Trainwreck was staring at the guy and wasn’t frozen like I had been when I met his eyes. “You seem to know a lot, BadMerlin. I’m thinking you might know how what I was planning on doing got so mixed up.”
The figure looked a bit startled at Trainwreck’s ability to stare him in the eyes, and then peered closer. “Ah, so that is where Jaxr disappeared to. I heard a few years ago that he was nowhere to be found. It’s rare that an elemental lord finds a mortal host capable of sustaining him, even for a short time. You are ignorant of the honor you were given, mortal.”
Ali’s eyes bugged out and he stared at Trainwreck.
“I don’t know what a Jaxr is. All I know, BadMerlin, is that my plans seem to have been scrambled, despite the care that I took to tell several key people what I was going to do. They didn’t like it, but they accepted it. Or so I thought.” Trainwreck commented.
“Your health fails you, the elemental lord’s presence consumes you from within, and you seek a grand final battle with companions who can likely witness your battle and survive. All of these things are truly worthy of the warrior who still possesses the thews to fight but has sure knowledge that death in bed will be a certainty if death on the battlefield isn’t found soon.” The figure spit to one side.
“Your choice of where you wanted to go was not acceptable, as it is a place where I do not want interference. However, in my vast benevolence, I have found you a new place to test your mettle in glorious battle against enemies of mankind who have failed me too many times, and a pair of companions who should be able to survive the adventure and return to tell the tale.”
Trainwreck was clearly becoming angry. “What if I’d rather just go do what I wanted to do before? Do you think you can stop me?”
“Your belligerence is amusing to a point, but it grows tiresome. I have dealt with enough of your kind to know that you won’t be silent, so I’ll assist you to keep you from saying too much.”
Trainwreck’s mouth opened, and then snapped shut. His eyes blazed.
“No, warrior, I will not permit you to change into your other body.” He glanced at me. “Either one of you. That will happen soon enough.” He turned back to Trainwreck. “I must finish preparing my gift for you, warrior. Unfortunately, it has been nearly three thousand years since I last did this, and it was never a task I approached with much interest before. I’ve heard that there are less painful ways to do it, but I’ve never cared enough to learn them.”
He made a gesture and Trainwreck’s eyes closed. “Gird yourself, warrior.” With a cruel smile, the figure called out a word, accompanied by a sharp crack of his staff on the tile of the restaurant floor. “Hildr!” A glowing symbol appeared in the air. Another crack of the staff, and the symbol split.
“Even though you are not known to my brothers and sisters, should you die a valiant, worthy death, warrior, the Valkyrie, Hildr, will seek you out because I command it. I still have that right. To make this possible, however, you must be marked so that she can find you. I will let you have your speech again, so I can hear your joy.” The staff cracked a third time on the tile and the two glowing runes moved too fast for me to track, and Trainwreck screamed.
This has to be Loki.
I struggled to free myself to act as Trainwreck’s screaming continued.
I can’t move anything.
Loki’s blue eyes struck me like lashes. “If you do not stop struggling, I will introduce you to pain to make this fool’s pain seem like a lover’s caress.” He paused. “I suppose I should also make him immune to the effects of the soul well. His final battle won’t be all that impressive if he exhausts himself trying to fight you, and it wouldn’t do for me to offer a warrior’s soul to Hildr, only to have it consumed by the soul well attached to you. She would be less than pleased.” His lips twitched. “Perhaps a jest for another time.”
Loki reached into a pouch at his side, and retrieved what appeared to be a clear sphere of glass the size of a small marble. He muttered a dozen incomprehensible words and breathed over the bauble. It began to move and struck Trainwreck in the center of his forehead, before beginning to bury itself. All I could do is watch in horror as the glass burrowed into Trainwreck’s skull, and Trainwreck began screaming even louder than before.
“There. That’s done. It didn’t hurt too much, did it?”
Trainwreck mumbled something.
“You are fortunate that nobody else understood that, warrior. Nothing stops me from taking my gift back.”
Loki turned to Chicken Little. “It’s a bit late to be thinking about that, mortal. It’s not too late to forget you had the thought. You and your wife failed to protect your employer. He will not return to chastise you for your failure though, and you will not witness his end. That duty has been passed to another, who can survive where they shall be going. Either attack me with your pitiful power now, and you and your wife will die, or leave, and live.”
Trainwreck managed to speak. The pain in his voice was palpable. “Go. Look in ashtray.” As he spoke the words, he managed to pull his keys out of a shirt pocket and throw them clumsily across the table to Chicken Little. As he straightened to sit fully upright, the pain in his expression was greater than the pain in his voice. The blood was still flowing out of the hole in his forehead where a sparkle of glass could be seen, and from his eyes, flowing out the corners from his branded eyelids.
Loki looked at Trainwreck and raised an eyebrow.
Chicken Little grabbed the keys with one hand, Mirrormaid’s hand with his other hand, and they left, running out of the door and crossing the parking lot towards the van.
Trainwreck glared back. “I’ve been in pain before. I don’t know who you are, but if you’re done playing with us, end it or give me what you’ve been promising.”
Loki’s lips twitched. “Give my regards to Thor and Volstagg when you see them, warrior, you are one of very few who might give some modest challenge to them both. Jaxr will leave you, but the memory of his power within you on your death will still be potent.”
Loki made a motion towards Ali, who practically flew between the two of us. I could have sworn Ali was snarling.
“You two shall be his skalds. Do you know the Norse poetic forms, young Jinn?
The top of Ali’s head shook back and forth slightly.
“No? I see, you are too young. Your father will certainly know the ways, and he will know others who know the ways if he does not have time to help you. If you botch the tale of the first warrior I’ve sent to Valhalla in nearly three thousand years, I will extract a price from both of you, regardless of the agreement we are entered in.”
Trainwreck pushed the table back. “Enough jabber.”
“Thor’s going to love you like a long-lost brother.” He paused, and a ghost of a smile crossed his lips. “Probably a lot more than a long-lost brother, for that matter.” Loki turned his head and spit on the tile again. “Skalds, don’t forget to stay close to our warrior, remember well his deeds, and collect the souls of those he lays low!”
Loki’s staff crashed onto the tile and my vision fractured. I heard another crash, and then, distantly, a third crash.
Then there was bitter cold. Ali was slapping my face and yelling over the sound of a screaming wind, but I was numb and couldn’t feel it. “Zeke, change before you freeze to death! I can’t use my power here until you are safe from physical harm.”
“What about Trainwreck?” I could see Trainwreck on his knees, looking around. He was shivering violently but certainly better off than me, as well insulated as he was with his sheer mass.
“He won’t be affected by your power, Loki made sure of that. Change now, your core body temperature is dropping!”
I made the conscious decision to shift, and my point of view changed. The sensation of coldness disappeared.
Ali breathed a deep sigh of relief, and turned to Trainwreck, who was struggling to his feet, blood frozen across his face.
Ali waved his hand and I watched the hole in Trainwreck’s forehead seal shut, except for a little bit of glass protruding.
Trainwreck reached up, touched his eyes and forehead, looked at Ali, and said something I couldn’t hear.
Ali shouted “You’re Welcome. Now, change! I just used a magic here that doesn’t belong in this land. If you want to die a warrior’s death, it comes for you now, the Jotunn will arrive soon!”
Trainwreck nodded, and walked away a few steps, and then turned back to us and shouted something I couldn’t make out. Ali put his palm on the ice and closed his eyes briefly. “The ice will support you!”
Trainwreck nodded once, and shifted, his body stretching and transforming from a mountain of a man into a small mountain shaped like a man. Watching the transformation was amazing. The end result was a being what looked like a cross between an old steam locomotive and a giant science fiction robot. The chest was shaped like the front half of a locomotive, the head was a caboose, there was a smokestack from each shoulder that raised several meters above his head, and heavy black soot came from each stack. The arms and legs looked like boxcars, but clearly had components inside the shells. Each foot was a cowcatcher. The hands were metallic and boxy, but I wasn’t able to identify any train theme to their construction.
Since I’d never been to Australia, I’d never seen him up close, of course, not in his powered body. I just gaped for a moment.
A huge grey form approached through the wind-driven snow and ice. Trainwreck spun in its direction. The grey form looked startled at finding something nearly twice its height in front of it, but screamed its fury and attacked anyway leaping with incredible power. It’s leap placed it within the range of my power. It tried to avoid Trainwreck and was clearly going to attack me. Trainwreck had moved to his left slightly, and as the Jotunn passed him, he hit its head so hard that the skull was visibly flattened on one side as the dead Jotunn fell to the ground with a crash.
Trainwreck leaned over and grabbed the spear that the Jotunn had carried and took three steps closer to me. It was more of a long dagger to him than a spear, but it would add ten feet to his reach for at least one strike before it shattered.
After he was standing near me, Trainwreck threw back his shoulders and his whistle shrieked impossibly loud, both of his smokestacks spewed black in funnels ten meters straight up before the shrieking wind could arrest its vertical movement and carry it away. I could hear the sound of answering war cries mixed with the sound of cracking ice.
A tide of huge grey-skinned humanoids approached, most were only about half Trainwreck’s size, and he dispatched those contemptuously. As they approached him, they lost interest in him, and tried to attack me. A few of the larger ones were not so easily attracted to me, and fought Trainwreck gamely for a few seconds before their attention wavered towards me. If he didn’t kill them before they turned their attention to me, they died to a quick strike after their attention turned to me. At this point Trainwreck was using a huge staff that one of the largest Jotunn had dropped on its death. Many of the Jotunn he killed were dead before they reached my range.
Eventually, after nearly a hundred Jotunn died, they stopped sending in the smallest, who were clearly not able to resist my presence. Now only the largest that we could see were approaching us. I noticed that there was one Jotunn, larger than the others, who was using a brush to trace a liquid in shapes on the chests of the largest warriors, and not approaching us. I grabbed a splinter of one of the spears, all I could lift easily, and smacked Trainwreck’s leg after he killed a pair of Jotunn, before others could take their place. He looked down at me, and I pointed at the largest Jotunn. “Don’t let them control who you fight. That one looks important!”
Trainwreck was at that point wielding a massive spear from a Jotunn that had been a few meters taller than him. He pointed the spear at the Jotunn that was marking other Jotunn with runes and his whistle screamed again; the nearest Jotunn ringing the area where we had been fighting staggered away due to the sheer power of the sound. The rune-writing Jotunn stopped what he was doing and slowly turned to face Trainwreck, who did not drop the spear’s point. The challenge was obvious, and the other Jotunn made a path from Trainwreck to the rune-writer.
The rune-writer shrugged, and reached out his right hand. A much smaller Jotunn with similar markings and regalia placed a staff in the hand, and with obvious reverence took the rune-painting brush the rune-writer offered in return.
Shortly after receiving his weapon and passing off his tool to what must have been an apprentice, the rune-writer nodded, and extended his staff much like Trainwreck was holding his spear.
One moment, Trainwreck was standing with his spear extended, the next there was pain. Pain like I couldn’t remember having ever experienced before. It went on forever, it seemed, and then abruptly stopped. I was flat on my back. Trainwreck was on all fours, in human form. He was practically skeletal, and shivering violently.
“Not. Done. Yet.” He found the strength to raise his head and stared at the rune-writer. “Jaxr, I don’t know who or what you are, but I’m almost done. From what the asshole told me earlier, I was a rare opportunity for you, and I hope I pleased you. I beg you to let me die fighting. As strange as it feels for me to be talking to myself like this, I think I felt you once or twice tonight, watching. I think I felt approval. If you really are there, one more time, Jaxr, please.
The rune-writer was slowly, confidently approaching, leaning on his staff with each step.
As the rune-writer came closer, Trainwreck shivered uncontrollably and fell on his side.
Ali shook his head, and whispered. “He’s done.”
The rune-writer stopped, standing over Trainwreck, who was still struggling to get back to his hands and knees. As the grey giant raised his staff, clearly intending to crush the tiny form at his feet, there was an unbearably loud shriek of a train whistle, and for a brief instant, Trainwreck was once again a twenty-meter-giant, on his knees, striking from the ground. There was a titanic impact, and a burning human skeleton wrapped in a scanty shroud of flesh fell to the ground. Shortly after the burning form hit the ground, a massive thirty-meter body violently shook the ice as it collapsed with a hole the size of a boxcar punched clear through its abdomen.
The desiccated corpse didn’t stop burning as it lay on the ice. The Jotunn that I could see looked to their fallen rune-writer’s corpse, and to the small burning form which didn’t extinguish, and would not approach, talking amongst themselves.
“Ali, his eyes have to be closed and his head must be facing upward for Hildr to find him, right?” I asked, looking at the burning body, which appeared to be face down.
“Yes, and the Jotunn are afraid of Jaxr after that last attack. Their shaman is dead. It won’t take long for the bravest to test and see if Jaxr is still active in the body; we need to act fast, and then leave.”
I moved as quickly as I could to Trainwreck’s body.
He’s on fire. This is going to hurt.
Ali just looked at me. I looked at him and shook my head.
I’ll do this.
The fire burning me as I shifted Trainwreck’s remains was excruciating, but I managed to push his still-burning body onto its back. The eyes were open. I looked at my fingers. Too big. Too clumsy. I would have to shift to human form, but then I’d have bare seconds to live before the cold consumed me here, even next to a fire. I’d be clumsy in human shape too, burning my hands and arms in the fire while freezing to death.
“Hold, Zeke.” Ali muttered something I couldn’t understand, and then spoke words I could understand. “Jaxr. Remember the Norse ways. This one is marked for Hildr to collect, but she cannot see him while his eyes are open. If this host mortal pleased you, please close his eyes. The body was so damaged in your service that if we were to try, we might make him invisible to Hildr forever.”
We watched the eyes slowly close, and two identical, intact runes glowed on the eyelids, brighter than the immolating flames.
“The Jotunn won’t touch him now, with Hildr’s runes visible.”
Ali found a flat mostly-vertical surface and created a doorway. As the door opened, I heard the sound of hooves and looked back to see an armored form crouched over a burning one.