A wind swept through the grasses outside The Great Henge. The gods arrived in small groups. They compared events of the last weeks and they spoke of those who they had lost. Some produced refreshment, garnered from private reserves, while others remained silent, watching the conversations transpire. All made time to greet and congratulate the cross-dimensional band known as Bullets, Axes and Pain.
As the mood lightened many of the gods more concerned with the events unfolding on earth became perturbed at the time being wasted here. As the uncomfortable mood permeated the masses it became clearer that no one present was certain who had called the meeting. Some drew weapons and readied themselves for an ambush, but everyone knew that the Great Henge could not easily be used as a weapon for any reason other than defense.
Arguments began to arise and tempers flared. Many readied to leave, moving toward the clear crystal keystone at the center of the henge. As they did a hush descended over all present. Using the keystone like a royal throne was the ghost of Loki.
“Tell me you missed me?” a wolfish grin played across his face.
For a long heart beat, silence. From somewhere near the back someone produced a perfect cricket-chirping noise. A small chuckle of the gathered gods echoed the sound.
“What do you want dad? I assume you arranged this meeting for a purpose. Spill it and let us get back to trying to prevent the end of the universe,” Harlan said stepping forward.
“You wound me child. No, ‘Hey how’s the afterlife treating you?’,” Loki asked.
Laurel pushed past the crowd and addressed the specter, “Answer your son. Then you can tell me where my daughter is or so help me, I will push your putrescent ectoplasm back to Hel myself, and insure it stays there until she abdicates her realm.”
“That-a-girl,” said Apollo stepping along side his own daughter.
“I didn’t draw you all here, scout’s honor!” the trickster replied, smile fading, “And if you think I’d waste my limited energy on trying to pull one over on a room this size, you’re dumber than I thought.”
His eyes scanned the room and locked on a select few who it was known Loki thought less of.
“Did any of you stop to think that perhaps you’re exactly where you were meant to be? You have a tool that the universe itself constructed and you aren’t using it,” Loki patted the keystone as he stood, “As for your daughter… She is right where she wants to be, no coercion necessary. She’s too busy to deal with your teeny-tiny problems but I’m sure you’ll see her soon enough.”
“If that’s all?” Harlan asked.
“I’m leaving,” his father replied defensively, “I’ve said my piece.” And with that the ghost was gone.
Harlan turned back to the gathered masses searching those gathered for a purpose.
Gunnar approached and cleared his throat, “Seventy-one percent of them are magicians of one variety or another. Prophets, soothsayers, you name it.”
“And the keystone amplifies their abilities,” Brendan said, “As I’m certain they all know. Perhaps fate is attempting to help us discover how Hurucan was able to prevent his own capture?”
Dionysus approached the band, “There are a couple of other questions that have been troubling us.”
“Like what uncle D?” Laurel asked.
“Like Crom Cruach and its ability to carry on without a head avatar,” Ciara said, “We’ve been so busy running around catching avatars that almost everyone has forgotten that the Tuatha are falling apart at the seams. We’re not being attacked in a traditional fashion either – we’re just… crumbling.”
“Bingo. And until we have something in Tartarus to hold over Crom Cruach’s head, it’ll keep happening,” Dionysus replied.
“Come, those of you with the powers to divine fate’s plans may be of great assistance,” Apollo said stepping toward the keystone.
Ciara, Gunnar and Laurel each followed and joined in the circle of magic. Each of the gods took their turn with the stone -staring deeply into its center and plumbing the mysteries of the universe. As each finished they announced to the group their finding, so that those who followed could divine new answers based upon the previous findings. The stars twirled above the congregation and many hours passed until at last a sliver of truth was discovered and a plan had been built.
“So it’s agreed then? The best chance of success is to break into three separate parties,” announced the elephant-headed god Ganesha, “The first group will be a combined force of the Atzlanti and the Devas. We will act as a distraction, drawing Hurucan and his forces out from Ehekatoyaatl and engaging him in battle as long as we can. This will buy time for the second group to infiltrate Hurucan’s fortress. This group will consist of the gods who have already sealed a majority of the avatars. With them they will take Shango, from the Loa, who should have mastery over the forces of storm and sky that they will need. Finally, a third party will attempt to ascertain the identity of the head avatar in Crom Cruach by usage of magic within the titanic realm itself. This group will consist of Dievas, Shennong, Marushten, Ptah, and Lakshmi. Together this last group’s mastery of Earth, Health and Fertility should be able to stave off the deleterious effects in Crom Cruach long enough to discover a clue. Are there any questions?”
The large group murmured, but no single voice raised a significant concern.
“As we are aware, our prophecies do not predict certain success. Only that this is the most likely scenario to bring about that which we need to protect our pantheons and indeed the mortal realm itself,” Ganesh said.
The group dissolved, each individual disappearing to a henge elsewhere in the cosmos. In a few short hours the last major offensive of the gods would begin.
“Job accomplished,” said Loki as he appeared within the domain of Fate.
“Then the final hours are upon us,” replied Prometheus, “Are we ready?”
The younger Atropos glanced at the elder Atropos saying, “We’ve done everything we can. We’re out of…” she paused as the older Atropos gave her a cautionary look.
“We’re out of… time,” the young woman said.
Both Loki and Prometheus made note of the odd moment and looked at each other questioningly. Neither seemed aware to what the two women were up to.
“Then I shall take my leave,” Prometheus said, “I have a few last things to set in order in Muspelheim now that it is mine.” The titanic avatar dematerialized from the cramped white room of Order.
“And I suppose I have those last few messages to deliver?” Loki asked.
“Indeed,” answered the elder Atropos. Loki faded into nothingness.
As Loki disappeared the elder Atropos lowered herself slowly into a chair. She brought forth a single strand of Fate.
“It is time child,” she said turning to look at her protege.
“I’ll take good care of things,” the young demigod said sitting across from her mentor.
The elder Atropos handed a pair of shears to her junior and held taught the strand of Fate. Doing as she had learned the younger woman took the shears and carefully snipped the chord, catching the loose ends and knotting them. A smile played across the face of the old woman as she took her last breath. Her eyes illuminated in a million sparkling colors until they shone as white diamonds.
“You can’t do any worse than us,” she exhaled. And with those final words the last of the three original Fates withered into ash.
The blades of Ciara’s black helicopter cut through the air veering the craft left to avoid a stymphalian bird’s razor sharp feathers. The bird exploded as a lightning bolt arced through it at the behest of Shango’s whim.
Before the group was a maelstrom so large and fierce that only Gunnar could see its edge or hear over it’s noise. Images and words streamed between each of their minds, feeding each other the information that they could not perceive themselves.
The helicopter will never be able to make it through the storm’s wall, thought Ciara.
I could teleport us inside, but there are too many variables. I can’t promise we’ll all arrive together. Someone might get caught by the storm, Gunnar’s mind answered.
Relax children, this is why you brought me, came Shango’s thoughts.
The large muscular god stepped off the aircraft and hovered alongside.
Ms. Vogel, please stop the rotor, thought Shango.
Ciara did as requested and a large gust enveloped the craft. Shango held one arm to his side directing the flow of air current around the helicopter levitating it alongside himself. The Loa god moved toward the vortex with the other gods in tow. Winds began to whip past the group and storm debris pelted the windows. Shango slowed as the walls of the storm surrounded the group. Gusts ripped through the cabin attempting to tear the scions from their seats. If not for Ciara’s quick action, Harland would have been thrown from the helicopter as a larger gust buffeted the team.
All present could feel the strain in Shango’s mind through his self affirming mantras; This is nothing, I cannot fail now, _ Just a little farther_.
All time seemed to alter as seconds crawled past like hours. None knew Shango well enough to predict if he could accomplish this. If he could not though, then there were none present who could.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the winds began to slow and Shango’s pace grew. They were through the deepest edge of the vortex and bit-by-bit visibility began to become clearer. A cage of lightning spiraled around the inner circle of the storm and as all became aware of the danger it was already too late.
Pain wracked the bodies of the group as electrons flowed into and back out of their ichorial forms. Several gasped at the pain and in a second pang of fear, found the air too thin to breathe. They were in deep trouble. The lightning cage could arc to them from any angle and there was no way to ground the group.
I have an idea, thought Laurel, Shango, if you can provide air to breathe, I think I can halt the lightning.
I can provide air, yes. What do you plan to do? Shango thought back.
Laurel crawled outside the helicopter, onto it’s roof. Carefully, she reshaped her body to envelop one of the helicopter’s blades, forcing reminders of Ixion’s mechanically fused creations out of her mind. The goddess of motherhood sent a thought to Ciara; Start the rotor.
Ciara did so and Laurel’s plan became clear. As the rotor turned so did she, and the Unseen Shield she brought into existence. She poured her might into the shield and strengthened it. The group felt oxygen pumping into their lungs as they watched the lightning cage arc across the surface of the Unseen Shield, leaving them unharmed. Shango pushed forward with all his energy doubling the speed at which he flew, until finally, they arrived.
Floating at the center of the maelstrom was a perfect crystal fortress, in the image of a snowflake. Standing on it’s outer edge were giants, each the size of a skyscraper armed with glittering spears of lightning energy.
Everyone, hang on, thought Gunnar. A rainbow explosion delivered the party to the outer edge of the fortress where the group bounded out to engage the giants. Laurel and Brendan took direct blows from the spears as they did so and their insides liquefied with the influx of energy. Harland worked quickly, crafting illusions that redirected the attention of the giants toward their own allies. The illusions didn’t last long, but it worked as a distraction that allowed Gunnar to hurry the group past the sentries towards the interior of the fortress.
Ciara held back, protecting the team’s retreat. She grinned at the chaos of giant fighting giant As the illusions faded and the sentries spotted the scions Ciara shouted out agsint the sound of the storm, “I can’t believe you’re just going to let him get away with that,” and pointed towards one of the giants in the rear rank. Chaos rippled across the giants as they redoubled their efforts in killing each other. Ciara sprinted after her teammates knowing they would not be followed.
At last the band arrived at the snowflake’s frozen core where a crystal sphere as large as a person levitated above the ground. Within was a brass mirror.
“That’s Hurucan’s mirror… I think,” screamed Brendan, “He wear’s it like a trophy. He pins it to his forehead with an axe to demonstrate his might.”
But why is it here? thought Gunnar. When we were in Svarga he had it on him. Unless…
Gunnar concentrated on the strands of Fate that were present and saw at once what Hurucan had done. Wrapped around and through the mirror were all of Hurucan’s own Fate-bonds, from his very first to his most recent. Somehow, Hurucan had shunted his fate onto the mirror and hidden it here. The titan must have be wearing a false replacement.
This is it, this is what we need to capture Hurucan, thought Gunnar.
“Then let us take it and retreat from this place,” yelled Shango.
Laurel shifted uncomfortably. The band had seen this before. With so many vigil brands placed upon her wards they constantly tugged at her attention. The greek goddess made eye-contact with her husband, and he returned a knowing look. She followed the pull of danger and was gone.
Shango looked questioningly at the scions.
She had something else to deal with. She’ll be back when we need her. thought Gunnar.
Laurel appeared next to her sister, Susan. Thigh-high snow surrounded the group as they stopped to process their guardian’s arrival.
“Everyone get down,” Laurel shouted as she created an Unseen Shield above them.
Mortar shells exploded above them like fireworks as the sound of frost giant battle cries echoed over the valley. An army, laying in wait, poured down the valley’s rim like an avalanche.
“Get ready,” yelled Susan as a silver bow manifested at her side.
Her bandmates drew weapons and moved to cover each other’s backs.
Alex and Eric stepped close to their mother and Brendan Gair drew close. He looked up at her with pride. “Thanks mom.”
Laurel grinned a radiant smile. She missed hearing that.
Fuck it. Let’s Just take it, thought Harland.
I’m almost certain he has it warded, answered Gunnar’s mind.
It is a trap. When we take it, we’ll have to deal with Hurucan, thought Ciara.
Shango stepped forward and ran his hand over the icey sphere, “If it is a trap, I say we spring it.”
Gunnar shrugged, “Okay. Everyone be ready!”
Shango’s fist hammered down and cracked the sphere. What happened after was a blur of action.
Black clouds spilled out of the sphere into the shape of ten separate Hurucans, who each raised their quauhololli and targeted the nearest enemy. Ozone sparked and lightning jumped from the weapon but in that instant half the team was gone, rainbow bridged to safety by Gunnar. The lightning bounced back, ten arcs joining into one and headed for Shango’s heart. Ciara, seeing this closed the distance and prepared to accept the full strike.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Laurel’s Vigil Brand on Ciara went off. Accustomed to the sensation, she felt the danger but could not sense it’s severity. The moment of hesitation was all it took though. At the head of the advancing frost-giant army rode an individual she had seen before – Utgard Loki. Not long ago she had helped free her father-in-law from the titan avatar’s clutches.
Snow and Ice erupted from underneath and clamped Laurel’s leg like a vice. Laurel, unaccustomed to such pain winced as bones snapped and tendons twisted. She felt the ice embed itself within her marrow and she wavered. The world around her grew dim and sounds began to mute.
“Laurel? You got-” she heard Derek’s voice but couldn’t focus, “-urel? Laurel?”
Ciara had been launched against the far wall, her chest was smoking and her eyes were trying to refocus on the threat. She wasn’t sure if Shango was engaged with eight or sixteen copies of Hurucan but she couldn’t let him do it alone. Her grip tightened on Scáth na Spéir and she stumbled forward as a rainbow blur appeared behind the sprawl. She couldn’t let it stop her, she swung and the swords wide arc sliced through the room striking one of the Hurucans across the chest.
The titan’s scram of pain erupted like thunder. Shango braced himself as another bolt struck true, sending the Loa flying.
“Oy, that’s enougha that ya uncultured git!” Brendan’s voice rose above the din. “Ere we are in yer home and we don’ even get as much as a hello? One more outcry and I’ll have to give us all thirteen years bad luck.” The sound of glass scratching glass followed as he ran Orna’s obsidian edge down the brass mirror."
Gunnar, visibly worried moved to intercept, “Brendan, that’ll kill him. Don’t do it.”
Ten cacophonous voices replied in tune, “YOU WOULDN’T DARE. THE FALLOUT WOULD BE TOO GREAT. YOU WOULD DIE AS WELL.”
Brendan’s eyes narrowed, “Try me. I’ve four wee ones at home, and I’m not impressed with yer temper tantrums. There’s too much at stake to put up with yur bellyachin’. Stand down, I won’’t say it again.”
Ten arms raised charging with energy. They pointed at Brendan prepared to call the bluff.
“Before you make the last mistake of your life, you should ask yourself something,” said Harland who stood next to Brendan, “How sure are you that I haven’t made you think this stupidly courageous Irish boy isn’t just your mirror dressed up in illusion? I mean, they might not even be there. They might be back on Earth, ready to break the mirror if they learn you didn’t stand down. Are you really willing to risk it?”
Ten arms charged with energy slowly lowered, “YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS. ALL OF YOU WILL LAY AT MY FEET, BLOODIED AND BEATEN AS I DESTROYED THOSE YOU SENT AGAINST ME THIS DAY.”
“Maybe, but that day isn’t today,” replied Harland. “Now let me tell you a story…”
As Harland spoke Gunnar silently crept up behind Ciara and Shango. He touched each of their shoulders and silently rainbow bridged to the outer surface of the icey fortress where the real Brendan and Harland waited with a the real brass mirror in hand.
“Nice, but he’s going to figure it out soon,” said Ciara.
“Maybe after my illusion stops talking,” Harland admitted. “But we’ll have this in Tartarus before that happens.”
“Actually,” replied Gunnar, “We have to make another stop first.” His wedding ringed hummed with a constant vigil brand for Laurel.
The band as a whole came running to Laurel’s side who was using Susan like a crutch. Her leg had been removed and the stump was frostbitten. Mortar shells still rained down on the Unseen Shield with little effect as the frost giant forces closed in.
“Dad!” shouted Eric.
“Hey kids, looks like you’re having some fun without us,” said Gunnar as he knelt to look at Laurel’s injury.
A few the kids chuckled nervously.
“That looks bad,” said Brendan.
“It feels even worse,” she said. “Can we please get out of here?”
Shango lifted the entire group into the air with another creation of wind and the party soared away, beyond the reach of the frost giants.