A slender woman with no helmet and wearing what looked to be light leather armor ran across the sand to Thor as Odin slowly walked across the sand towards me and my family. The two ravens perched on the tree-like throne on the opposite side of the circle of sand hopped off the branches, madly beating their wings very briefly before gliding with small adjustments of their wings to land on Odin’s shoulders. The two wolves who had been sitting next to Odin’s throne stood and walked over to meet Odin as he crossed the sand, falling in beside him, one to his left, and the other to his right.
I saw the woman look at Thor and Trainwreck briefly, before she turned and called for assistance while pointing one by one at nearby armored figures at the edge of the sand circle. The ones she pointed at immediately ran across the sand to her and waited for her instruction. Two small floating carts, each being hauled by one of the flying goats began crossing the sand as a dozen people gripped Trainwreck’s armor and limbs to both lift him and support his bleeding, mangled arm.
As the two wolves padded up to Odin, his presence seemed to intensify in some way. I was not able to look away from him, and everything else became peripheral. Nor was I able to look at his face. When I tried, my eyes slid off to look at a raven or a wolf instead. My family, in my peripheral vision, appeared similarly entranced.
As he grew closer, I saw that Odin was not walking towards me, he was walking towards Coyote. He stopped, a single pace from Coyote, and spoke. “In the days that we both once thought were our greatest days, I would have spoken to Raven.” His mouth quirked slightly. “We share a common symbolism, though it is most of him and only part of me. You have overtaken him, overshadowed him.”
Coyote nodded. “For now, yes. I hold no joy in supplanting his power and influence, and if he desires it back sufficiently, he will surely challenge me for it in time. Our hierarchy is far more fluid than the Norse ways. It is a little strange for me to find myself in a position as a benevolent deity, as no Native American deity has ever really been exclusively benevolent. We were always capricious, changing, with many disparate cultures. I worry for my brothers and sisters that I may turn some of them slightly more towards darkness as a balance to my benevolence.”
Odin merely stood, motionless, for a moment before responding. “Without darkness, we cannot recognize light.” He turned his head, clearly looking towards Loki, and then back at Coyote. “We are defined by mortals, but you found a way to use mortal ways to shape their definition of yourself. I cannot see any of the Norse gods doing the same. As you say, your pantheon was always more fluid, unpredictable. So many smaller human cultures with so many different views, less defined.”
Both Coyote and Odin turned to look as Thor cursed and batted hands away from him, forcing himself to stand after many hands finally removed Trainwreck off his legs and left arm. The woman in leather calmly walked over to him, slapped him on the cheek hard enough to turn his head abruptly, and then began speaking rapidly, holding a finger under his nose. I heard something about “Pig headed” and “Tell Sif”. After a few seconds, Thor nodded, hung Mjolnir on his belt, shrugged, and then slowly walked over to one of the carts. Two armored figures just happened to walk over and stand next to the back of the cart, pretending that they didn’t see Thor at all, and as he approached, they leaned against the tailgate of the cart, pushing it lower.
Thor turned and sat on the tailgate of the cart, without having to hop up, and then slapped good-naturedly at the arms of the two who had held the cart down for him, grimacing a bit. They backed away, nodding as Thor leaned back into the bed of the cart with a loud groan.
Trainwreck was carefully being helped to his feet by at least ten people. Once he was standing, the woman in leather simply pointed at the other cart, and Trainwreck walked over to it, cradling his injured arm. He stood next to the cart’s tailgate, and clearly didn’t trust the cart to hold his weight. The woman in leather simply slapped the tailgate, and Trainwreck nodded reluctantly. He turned around, and, while carefully holding his injured left arm with his right hand, backed up to the tailgate until he touched it with the backs of his knees before slowly sitting. The cart sank down and nearly touched the sand. He said something to the people around him, and several helpers grabbed his legs as he extended them, holding them down as he slowly let his torso down into the cart, going from a seated position to a lying one. The front of the cart sank, and the tailgate raised. The goat made a complaining noise as the cart creaked loudly.
Both Thor and Trainwreck were laying on heavy blankets and men pulled those blankets, pulling the two occupants fully onto their respective carts.
Trainwreck said something I couldn’t understand due to the deepness of his voice, and two of the assistants looked to Eir, who nodded. The two then ran to collect Trainwreck’s wrench from the sand. Between them they carried the weapon with only a little difficulty, but Trainwreck casually plucked it from their grasp with his right hand as they held it next to the bed of the cart. After a moment, I heard the weapon clunk into the bed of the cart.
Though he lay on his back, Thor’s voice rose, loud enough to be heard by all around us. “Continue the preparations! We have been delayed enough. Eir will have Trainwreck and me ready to fight before you have your warriors ready if you do not hurry! Now, Eir, mend the two of us that we might battle, as these carts travel to the Jotunheim staging point.”
The circle of armored figures around the sand seemed to explode at that statement, almost everyone running away at a fast jog, except Odin, Loki, Eir, the two cart drivers, the warriors Eir had asked to help her, and everyone who had come with me, including the Raven Guard and Heimdallr. She dismissed all but one of her assistants after questioning them, and pointed the last of them at Trainwreck’s cart. The warrior leaned in, over the low side of the cart, and a few seconds later stood up straight, and ran off while carrying the red and black twisted pieces of Trainwreck’s arm armor.
Eir issued a command and both carts began to move. As they began to move, she walked over to Trainwreck’s cart, reaching in and doing something I could not see. As the carts moved farther away, she could be seen moving back and forth, from cart to cart.
Odin turned back to Coyote. “What you did wasn’t unnoticed.”
Coyote shrugged. “I only offered advice, and I did both ask permission and receive it. Nor do I mind terribly if others know.” He glanced towards Loki, who was simply standing to the left of Odin’s throne, watching Coyote and Odin speak, occasionally raising his golden goblet to his mouth.
Coyote made a small gesture, and there was an angry noise from Loki’s direction. As I looked towards him, I saw Loki wiping his face with a handkerchief. His goblet was missing.
Peripherally, I saw Coyote tucking his long cane under his left arm, so I turned back to him, and saw that he was nonchalantly holding a golden goblet in front of him, cleaning it out slowly and carefully with a handkerchief. After inspecting the inside of the goblet, Coyote casually tucked it into the inner pocket of his immaculate white jacket.
Odin commented, with a little smile, “I don’t remember giving you permission to take that, Coyote.”
Heimdallr stared menacingly in Coyote’s direction. “I told you the tableware wouldn’t be safe with him around, Lord Odin.”
Coyote raised one hand to his forehead and shook his head. “I just couldn’t resist, and was caught red-handed, oh dreary day.” There was a barely audible thump noise from Loki’s direction, and when I looked, Loki was gone.
When I looked back, Heimdallr was looking at where Loki had been standing, and was smiling.
Coyote looked at me, and then lifted his hand to his forehead, and drew a single claw across from side to side across the entire width of his sloped forehead above his eyes. Blood flowed for a second, staining his fur, and then stopped. The fur stayed red across his forehead. He looked me in the eyes, and said. “Oops. Looks like I lost. It was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose.”
I don’t get it.
Odin chuckled. “Was that the price Thor required of you? A loss for a loss?”
Coyote nodded. “A sacrifice I was intending to make at a later time in any case, but the symbolism was powerful.”
If Thor and Coyote made some sort of deal, why are they letting us know?
Odin stared at me. “Knowledge is power. It’s also dangerous. You have learned that, though you can’t remember it now. Your family did not hear the conversation you did, they heard simple banalities which will seem appropriate to them.”
Odin turned away and walked towards his throne again, after he was able to take a few steps, I was able to ask. “Lord Odin, won’t Thor be weaker now? He lost.”
Odin didn’t turn around. “A little, but not much. He lost to trickery, in a friendly match, to a friendly warrior, in front of a mostly sympathetic crowd who was angry at Loki, not at either Thor or Trainwreck. Trainwreck is imposing and is undefeated in his last eleven matches with other Einherjar, since he started training with Tyr. The Einherjar recognize him as a powerful warrior.” Odin never paused as he kept walking. “Don’t think that Thor threw the match though. He told you true, he would not do that. Remember that the gods that were amongst us here, and there were several present besides the ones you know of, can see intent, and Thor is very easy to read, for a god. He merely dragged out the match in order to allow Coyote the opportunity to help Trainwreck find an opportunity to win, with Coyote merely offering ideas, similar to what spectators at any contest of arms might be expected to offer. Rather good ideas, as it turned out. Nobody’s managed to use Mjolnir against Thor in that way before.” A pause. “Nobody is likely to be able to use that same tactic to defeat him again, either. Thor will value the lesson.”
Odin reached his tree-throne, and turned to sit. With a brief fluttering of heavy wings, the ravens hopped off his shoulders into the overhanging branches of the throne. The wolves at Odin’s sides walked to either side of the throne, turned around, and laid down. “Enough of the past. Let us now be concerned with the future. Anne Collins. Are you prepared to accept the offer of a boon for your husband’s benefit, and did you listen carefully to Sigrun, whom I did bid to speak to you frankly about my expectations and the dangers associated with asking for an inappropriate boon?”
Anne cleared her throat and spoke in a small voice. “Yes, to both, Lord Odin.”
“I grant you a boon then, Anne Collins, to use on your husband’s behalf, in exchange for helping to bring a new warrior to Asgard, helping to cement his reputation as a warrior, and offering closure to his family.”
Anne squeezed my hand hard, I heard my knuckles pop and felt them grind together a bit. “Lord Odin, on my husband’s behalf I ask for the full restoration of his body, mind, and soul.”
Odin nodded his head. “Very well then. However, I will need your husband to come to me and stand before my throne to receive the boon. If I were to gift him where he stands, he would render all of you, his family, to attack him as he is restored. I do not believe this is what you wish him to experience as his first memories after recovery.”
Her husband? Oh, that’s me.
I stepped out onto the sand, walking directly across towards Odin’s throne, nearly a hundred feet away. I could hear Coyote and Heimdallr asking my family to step back to a safer distance, and mumblings of agreement from them as they agreed.
Odin looked at me as I walked up. “It all seems like some sort of soap opera to you, doesn’t it, Zeke Collins? The gods playing our little mental games with each other, and with you. Mortals being made into pawns. We seem like a dysfunctional family, and yet, we’re supposed to be more than human.”
Lying to Odin seems like a bad idea.
“I don’t understand it, Lord Odin. Not now.”
Odin smiled, and said nothing.
I stopped two paces from the throne, standing before him. “Should I kneel, Lord Odin?”
“Not in a private audience. Not for a boon.” Odin paused. “However, I will ask that you lay on your back on the sand, as you will not be able to remain standing, kneeling, or even seated during the healing.”
The healing that Thor wanted to avoid.
Odin’s face grew solemn. “Yes, Zeke Collins, your caution is appropriate. This healing will be unpleasant, but in your case, I will say that staying unhealed would be more painful.”
I sat on the sand and then let myself down until I was prone on my back. I wriggled around a bit, forming the sand to fit me. After I had a comfortable nest of sand, before I even realized what I was doing, I found myself swinging my legs and arms to create a distinctive shape in the sand.
When I looked at Odin, I swore there was the last trace of a smile on his face, before his features grew a little sad. “I apologize to the child in you, Zeke.”
Odin held out his hands in front of him, above the level of his shoulders, and his ravens hopped down out of the branches of the tree-throne onto his hands. When they were perched, Odin drew them close to his face. “Huginn and Muninn, I have granted a boon to this man’s wife on his behalf, and she has requested the full restoration of his body, mind, and soul. Most of the damage is to the mind, your realm. His soul appears undamaged. Repairing his mind will allow him to attend to the perfect healing of his body. This task falls to you. Fly!”
With the command to ‘Fly!’ Odin raised his hands rapidly, and both ravens spread their wings, flapping rapidly with loud rustling, shrieking “CAW” at a volume that seemed difficult to believe, coming from forms so small. As their wings caught the air, they appeared to be flying towards me, but they were not growing larger.
I can’t move.
The ravens’ wings were moving as if they were flying, and they were facing me, but they still seemed to be the same size.
Something is wrong.
I tried to blink but I couldn’t. The ravens had pulled in their wings and seemed to be diving like hawks, straight at me, but they now seemed to be getting smaller.
There was a pain in each eye, and the ravens were gone.
A great claw with talons as large as a backhoe boom descended and ripped Odin, his throne, and his wolves away. I heard another colossal impact behind me, and saw my family, Coyote, Heimdallr, and the Raven Guard similarly ripped away by another massive claw.
No! Mom, Pops! Anne! Danny!
I stood up off the sand, and started running after the monstrous raven that was carrying Odin and his throne in one claw, and my family in the other. As I ran, I heard more turmoil behind me, stone tearing and falling. The Earth itself shuddered, and I saw a second huge raven using both claws to cut into the rock, tearing great rents in it, until it broke loose the circle of sand, and carried it away, leaving only darkness where there was once stone and sand.
Odin’s ravens have gone mad and attacked him and my family, I have to go get Thor!
I panicked, and ran in the direction that Thor and Trainwreck had been taken. A moment later, I found myself at the copper gates, but they were closed. The portcullis was down, its bottom ends embedded in stone.
Thor didn’t go this way!
There was nobody near that I could see. I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Help, please. Odin’s ravens have gone mad! They took my family!”
Moments after the first echo of my scream for help came back to my ears, there was a terrible “CAW” of tremendous volume, and a great beak broke through the rock in the ceiling, gripped the copper gate and its portcullis, and effortlessly ripped them both from their moorings. I watched the raven fly away with the gate and portcullis in its beak, bits and pieces of huge machinery that had been hidden within the walls were visibly hanging from the ends of the gates.
I ran through the gap where the copper gate had been, into the room where the goat drawn cart had let us out, looking for all the footmen and drivers, they had all had swords!
I found the other raven ahead of me, already sweeping all the carts, footmen, and drivers together into a pile with its wings.
I’ve never seen a bird sweep with its wings like that.
The raven looked at me and screamed “CAW” as it sank its talons into the stone on either side of the pile of carts, goats, and people. The huge bird heaved itself into the air, ripping a chunk of rock out of the ground that was the size of a football field, carrying away the pile of carts, goats, and people like a server’s entrée platter.
Nobody’s even trying to fight them. Nobody else can move.
As I stood, dumbfounded, I felt more hideously powerful tremors, and talons the size of battleships appeared through the walls of the cavern. A moment later, the entire top of the mountain was wrenched off and carried away by a raven so large that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend its size.
How do I stop this?
What do I do?
A thunderous “CAW” came from behind me. Despite their size, the ravens made no noise when they flew. As I turned, the building-sized raven behind me cocked its head slightly. It looked just like the head movement of a hen preparing to catch a grasshopper.
I ran, as fast as I could, finding myself, somehow, a few moments later, at the bridge gatehouse with Hildr, Sigrun, Brightarrow and Starshine, next to the rainbow road.
“Hildr, Sigrun, Help, please! I’m being chased by giant ravens!”
“Nooooo!” was all I could manage to scream as a monstrous shadow blocked the light, and two massive claws came out of nowhere, one scooped up the kiosk at the end of the rainbow road, and the other closed over Hildr, Sigrun, and their mounts. The raven flew off, screaming its cry of “CAW!”
A moment later the other raven appeared, this one was so massive it was able to grab the bridge in one claw, and the rainbow road in the other. A beak the size of a skyscraper speared into the ground next to me, and I fell into nothingness as I watched the stupendous-sized raven carry off a stone bridge that I remembered must be a mile long, and a road that must have been fifty miles long.
A moment later, I found myself in a room, with Cupcake and Octagon, eating a cheeseburger. One raven smashed through the side of the building and grabbed my cheeseburger, and another, much larger one grabbed Cupcake and Octagon, and took them away as well.
A raven carried away the Grand Canyon, and another carried away a thousand miles of highway.
I watched an entire lake get ripped out of the ground, and then a black and white house with a red barn, where I had met… someone.
A great metropolis, carried away.
A vast landscape of ferns, ripped away by raven claws.
There was nothing left. The ravens had taken it all. And yet I couldn’t remember what they had taken, just that it was gone. And yet, there were stars. Tiny pinpricks of light, and they called to me. I reached out to one and took it into my hand. When I looked at it closely, I saw a woman giving birth. “CAW!” a raven swooped past me, ripping the pinprick of light out of my hand. I punched at the raven as it passed, to no effect, it was too fast, already out of reach before I realized it was attacking.
I can at least save some of these stars from the ravens, I hope!
I grabbed another star, and held it, closely guarded, within both of my hands, fingers interlocked. I held the double-fist up to my eye and gapped the thumbs apart, slightly to look at the shiny star I had collected. A marriage. A beautiful woman whose name I couldn’t remember, and a man that looked a lot like someone I thought I should know, but somehow I felt they were taller and thinner than the one they looked like, whoever that was. I stared at the image for a while, cupped protectively between my hands. All of a sudden my head was being buffeted painfully by wings. I raised my hands to protect my head and a raven streaked by and grabbed the star I had tried to save, carrying it away.
I started trying to set traps for the ravens. I would grab for a star, and a raven would try to beat me to it, and I would sacrifice the star to strike the raven. Occasionally I managed to hit them, but never to any effect. The ravens grew faster.
A young child, maybe eight, with red hair, Ali, I remembered that name! Stolen by a raven.
A company, Exactitude, stolen.
A young woman in armor, Miss Perfect, Stolen.
An invasion of human-sized bugs. Ripped away.
Space elves. Gone
Blindside and Mindblade. Mirage and Fiction. Grabbed away by talons.
A tall middle-eastern man, old but in good shape, with a heavy jaw and a cane he really didn’t need. Ahmed. Snatched out of my hands.
A small dinosaur, laying on the ground. Ahmed. Pulled away
A voice on the phone, threatening my family. Gorgon. I didn’t even try to keep the ravens from taking that star.
Invisible beings that fixed my armor. Valsom and the Svartalves. No longer mine.
Me as a giant, pitch black man-shaped sponge that made everyone hate me. A black beak ripped it away.
There were no more stars. I stood in featureless blackness. I could vaguely remember that there used to be something else, but there was only blackness.
There was a fantastic tearing noise, and even the darkness was stolen away, two black shapes dragging the darkness away behind them in long streamers, easily visible against the whiteness, the nothing.
In the far distance, I saw the two dark shapes stop at a dark speck, and I willed myself to move towards them. They appeared to be weaving strips of darkness and sparkles of light into a concave object, rounded at the bottom. There were many other things woven into the construction. I recognized none of it, but it was something in the nothingness, and I could not resist approaching.
They apparently finished their weaving, and one of them turned to me. Before I even realized that I might be in danger, I was grabbed and swallowed.
Is this the end?
The end of what?
Too small in here.
I tried to stretch, no room.
My knees were against my chest, my head bowed forward, slightly between my knees, my arms were crossed, and my hands and forearms trapped against my chest.
I pushed my right elbow out and rubbed it against the surface there. Smooth. I drew my elbow back a couple inches, and slapped it against the wall, harder. I heard something crack. I felt with my left elbow as well, another smooth surface. I started slamming my right and left elbows against the walls of my prison, being rewarded by cracking noises.
The going was slow, but eventually, there was light, as part of my prison fell away beneath my left elbow.
Let me out!
I began slamming my heels against the prison as well as I could, and the back of my head. More cracking noises, more bits of light from my left. A little discomfort, the light was bright. Some light started coming from the right as well, and I could see bits of light from where the prison was cracking.
I went just a little mad at that point, slamming my elbows and feet and the back of my head against my prison harder than before, and all of a sudden, my elbows both broke through. I was then able to free my arms from against my chest and use my fists and forearms effectively, quickly breaking larger and larger holes in my prison, and eventually, with a scream, I smashed both my feet and head against the prison, while pushing my arms straight away from my chest.
The wall in front of my knees and chest broke through, and the top and bottom of the prison broke away. I was blinded by the sudden, full light. As my eyes cleared, and shapes started to form, I saw that I was laying under a tree, and in the tree were two ravens, staring at me.
I tried to scramble madly away from my attackers on my back, but there was a calm voice. “Zeke Collins, it is over.”
“CAW” the two ravens shrieked in unison, staring down at me, hopping from leg to leg.
I cringed away from the sound of the destroyers with a spray of sand, moving a small distance before raising my hands to protect myself, and the voice spoke again. “Huginn, Muninn, please go check on Thor’s healing and the preparations for the defense of the realm.”
The ravens ducked their heads, sounding like they were laughing for a moment, before taking off with a loud flapping of wings.
That same calm voice spoke again. “It is normal to experience a fear of ravens, crows, and other large, dark-colored birds for a time after Huginn and Muninn heal a mind. The fear is sometimes permanent.” He paused a moment. “They know nothing of gentleness.”
I looked around and saw who was speaking to me, but barely registered what the large, seated man with the salt and pepper beard and one eye was saying. The hands I held in the air were pitch black.
The memories flooded in, stunning me.