Monday, June 27, 2016

Valhallopolis: 6/20/16 - 6/26/16

"I will walk into a court while erect / screaming "Yes! I am Guilty, Mother!@#$ers. I am Death!"

(What Rough Beast, Come Round at Last)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)


* * *
14
* * *

"Somehow, I don't !@#$ing think we're in Kansas, anymore," SPYGOD says, turning up his collar to the harsh cold and wind of the world that he and Chinmoku have just appeared in.

"That seems readily apparent," the tall, Asian man says, adjusting his black, round glasses as he looks around the utterly white landscape.

They stand ankle-deep in show in a field that seems to go on for quite some distance. Beyond that field is a large and timeless forest, filled with pine trees as tall as castles. Beyond them are impossibly large mountains, seeming as large as worlds.

And here and there, lit up in spaces within the storm, mighty castles made from impossible materials...

"This is... Valhalla?" Chinmoku asks.

"If we !@#$ing got sent to the right damn place, then yeah," the superspy replies, adjusting his own glasses -- for all the damn good it does him -- and cocking his ears to listen for any noises hidden within the wind.

And he does not like what he hears. 

"If we do not move, we will be set upon," Chinmoku says, perhaps stating the obvious.

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, creating a pair of very short, very heavy swords -- one in each hand -- and starting to trudge forward through the deep snow: "Either that or !@#$ing freeze to death."

"I would prefer to die quickly," the Kung Fu master chuckles: "But something tells me that I do not die here and now."

"Good for you, then," the superspy grumbles, looking ahead into the grey, snowy wind -- trying to see if the tall, imposing mountains above the treeline are their destination, or just another damn horizon to aim for. 

Because they're going to have to get to where they're going the hard way...

* * *

It sounded simple -- in theory, anyway. 

All SPYGOD had to do was go back to where the Aesir came from, and see if he could get some help from any beings that had been left behind, there. He was hoping for Odin, but frankly he'd settle for anyone at this point. So long as they could talk some sense to the beings that had taken Moscow, he'd call it good. 

As for getting there, he knew he had to go back to the Beehive. He also knew he had to hope no one had messed with it in the meantime, so he could just go back to the last place it had been aimed at. Because trying to figure out its controls was something he didn't have !@#$ing time for, right now.

Not with the world about to end and all, thanks to the Aesir's savaging of fortune, the goddamn Antichrist Godzilla-stomping around Eastern Russia, and more 8-Balls on the !@#$ing way...

He also knew he'd need a lot of death-based energy, because that was what the infernal thing ran out. It was how those commies in SQUASH had used it, before. It was also how Odal had used it, this time, if he'd understood the sequence of events in Moscow correctly. 

Lucky for him, he knew someone who could get him death energy to spare. Luckier still, he was still able to call Tombo up, using her calling card, and get her to agree to meet him in the Beehive that day. 

Unfortunately, the timing was more than a little off. 

Tombo was always saying that time went !@#$ing weird in the land of the dead, and she was damn right about that. He'd had situations happen before where he'd talked to her about something, only to find out they'd already had the conversation, before. Which meant that, at some point, he'd be having another conversation about that very same something, but it would be the first time she'd ever heard of it. 

Well, he'd called her up again when he got to the Beehive. Only this time he didn't talk to the same Tombo he'd conversed with the other morning in Washington DC, after his meeting with the Interim President and what remained of his Cabinet. This time, he was talking to the Tombo he'd sent into the deepest parts of the Deadlands -- off with Chinmoku and Doctor Power, in search of information on the Decreator from the oldest of the dead gods down there. 

Of course, after everything that had happened, he didn't remember any of that. All he knew was that he needed what she could do for him, and she wasn't !@#$ing prepared for it. She did, however, have an ally he could use, along for the ride. 

And given that he was already dead in the here and now, well, wasn't that just perfect?

She she'd done her thing, Tombo had. She summoned up enough death energy to activate the Beehive, and open a portal to the last place the mechanism was aimed at -- the afterlife of the Norse gods, nestled in some weird, frozen corner of Godspace. 

She channeled it all through the sorry remnants of the necromancer her future self had abducted from Detroit. It really couldn't have done that poor !@#$ any favors, but to hear everyone talk she'd had it coming, and then some. So SPYGOD didn't really give two tugs on a dead horse's dong what happened to her. 

What he did care about was the fact that, while she could piggyback the spell the machine created, she couldn't really recreate it. Which meant she could get SPYGOD and Chinmoku to Valhalla, but not in the same way the others had gone. 

Which meant they couldn't travel at the speed of thought -- appearing exactly where they intended to be, right away. Which meant they'd have to find the great hall of the Aesir, themselves, and travel however far it took to get there. 

Which also meant they'd have to deal with whatever !@#$ed-up things were laying in wait, between their landing place and the hall in question. 

And that meant that SPYGOD had really underpacked for the journey...

* * *

Running, now, and without looking back. 

Whatever the !@#$ was behind them is gaining. They're sure of that, just as they're sure that SPYGOD's shooting blindly into the white, whipping snow-wind behind them had either not hit it, or just made it !@#$ing mad. 

"We should stand and fight," Chinmoku opines, but he's clearly in no hurry to do either.

"We should run like !@#$ing !@#$!" SPYGOD insists, pointing ahead to something dark. Is it a cave? A chasm? Either has to be better than all this plain, level white. 

It breathes down their backs, practically. The smell is ungodly -- curdled milk and rotten meat, like the rank stink of a dog's breath.

(Is that what's harrying them, then? A giant !@#$ing dog?)

The dark hole comes closer still. It's a cave of some sort. Smaller than they thought, but that might just be perfect. 

They look to one another, and the decision is made. They take two long strides, and then, as one, bow and dive into the blackness ahead of them. 

Wet rocks. A horrible, dull smell. Blackness -- slight and then absolute. 

And the feeling of hitting every single hard and jagged surface on the way down...

* * *

When SPYGOD comes to, it's to a world of pain -- total, sharp, and roaring. 

He feels like every piece of him has been either battered or sliced. He can tell that there's broken bones, healing under his skin, as well as cuts knitting themselves together. 

He can also tell they're deep down in the cave. It's warm and humid, and he can actually see the walls. Phosphorescent fungi, maybe. Or !@#$ing radioactive rocks, which is the last damn thing he needs...

Where's Chinmoku? Oh, he's up ahead. He can see him, there, in the lime half-light given off by the rocks. A blur of white motion, there -- punching, kicking, sliding, breaking...

Fighting, though what he's defending himself from isn't easy to see.

"Well, !@#$ me in the ass with a stalactite," SPYGOD mutters, realizing his jaw his just over getting broken. He gets to his feet like a damn drunk, hoping his legs have healed up enough to walk right. 

And then he's forming swords, and joining in the fight against whatever his companion is dealing with. 

"They tried to eat us as you slept," the tall, Japanese man explains, driving his open palm into the grimy, iron helmet of something that seems as much dwarf as rat, and then sending one, two, three more reeling with well-timed kicks.

"How long was I !@#$ing out?" SPYGOD asks, slicing another rat-dwarf-thing into rough, spurting quarters before moving on to the next, and the next.

"Not long," Chinmoku answers, calm as ever: "Perhaps an hour. Perhaps two."

"We don't !@#$ing have time for me to be snoozing for a goddamn hour or two!" the superspy shouts, continuing to kill their attackers, one after another, and wondering what the exit strategy is.

"Relax, friend," the Kung Fu master says, executing some move that should be anatomically impossible, but kills half of the mob attacking them in one swoop: "Time moves differently in Godspace. We may have been gone for a minute. We may come back in a year. We have no way of knowing until we arrive."

"Well, that doesn't !@#$ing fill me with a damn ton of !@#$ing confidence..." the superspy grumbles, deciding not to be shown up by Chinmoku -- even if he is the only living practitioner of Hungry Ghost Kung Fu -- and creating a literal tree of blades from his hands, killing all the assailants on his side. 

"It is not supposed to," Chinmoku counsels, deftly finishing off the last one of his: "I am merely saying that we cannot worry about being too slow, as being too fast will not help. We need only do what we have come to do, and hope that we return in time to be of use."

"I really don't !@#$ing like operating like that."

"I know. But unless you brought some device that allows us to control the flow of time, what we like and do not like has very little bearing on the situation."

"Well, alright then," SPYGOD says, after a moment. He collapses the tree of blades back into his hands, leaving the dead to fall to the ground. 

And then, carefully, they try to feel and sight their way out of the cavern they've just turned into a slaughterhouse. 

* * *

How long are they down there, in the half-lit dark? How many more fights do they struggle through, against these strange, half-rats? How many more lives do they take to survive?

They don't know. After a point they stop counting. They stop talking. They only move, and fight, and kill, and pray they're actually going up, instead of further down into the wet, warm depths of this world. 

On the way, they begin to encounter things other than rude, wet caves. They walk through rooms that have been hewn from the living rock. They feel their way along expertly-carved surfaces -- walls and ceilings made smooth, and decorated with repeated motifs.

What were these rooms made for, and for who? The rat things they've been fighting? Other creatures, or beings? Or did those beings eventually become these rat things, over the ages?

As they puzzle over that, they realize things are getting colder, and lighter. Before long they can actually see, and then they know they're on their way to the surface. 

And in a sudden burst of white light, they come out into a wide, tall cavern mouth -- one studded with crumbled, ancient structures much like the one exit from.

One peopled with legions of the scrabbling rat-things, clearly unhappy that something other than themselves has appeared directly behind them.

In the light, he can see them clearly. They walk like men, but hold their paws like rats. They wear armor that is old and rusted, as though it were found in a trash heap. Some of them carry weapons, but the swords and spears were clearly made for hands, and not paws.

And all of them have red, angry eyes, and very long, jagged incisors -- all wide open, and in their direction.

"Well, !@#$,"  SPYGOD grumbles, looking at Chinmoku. They're both coated in blood -- their own, and that of countless others -- dirty, grimy, and very tired. 

But the only way out, it seems, is through. 

Which is when they raise their hands, once more. And when the hordes of rat things hiss as one and run towards them.

And when a bright burst of snow-wind turns the entire cavern stark white, and they can both no longer see a damn thing...

* * *

A warm drink. Somewhere between wine and honey. Spiced and strong. 

SPYGOD's drinking it. It doesn't know how, anymore than he knows how he got by this fire, or in these warm furs. 

The cup is metal. Brass, he thinks. Expertly carved in a style that reminds him of old, Norse carvings he'd seen in a museum, once or twice. 

He sips the drink. It's better than anything he's ever had -- even without having had to fight for his life for the last day or so, down in the caves. 

"So, if I may make short of your long tale," the person tending the fire says, tapping he roaring flames with the butt end of a heavy, blackened spear: "You were chased by hungry Garm into the cave of the Ratdvergr, where you did somehow survive against those crawling beasts for what may have been a day and a night, or longer. Would I have these words correct, stranger?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, grinning as he drinks more of whatever this is, and wondering why he can't see anything but blackness beyond the fire -- or make out his new companion's facial features: "That's about !@#$ing right. I just didn't know what the hell chased us..."

"A perceptive man, you are, then," the stranger says: "For indeed, the dog was of Hel."

"You don't say?"

"Ah, but I do. The beast was left hungry when its mistress took her leave to Midgard, along with the others. I suspect it loosed its mighty chain to seek food upon the plain. Had you and your friend not blundered into the cave of the Ratdvergr, you may well have been its meal."

"Thank !@#$ for caves, then," SPYGOD says, wondering why the cup isn't empty, yet. How long has he been drinking...?

"But another part of your tale has me curious, traveler," the stranger goes on: "The one who came with you. The dead man who walks. He says that you seek the hall of the Aesir?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD nods, having two more hits of the stuff in due course: "We gotta !@#$ing find Odin. See if we can get him to come back to Earth with us. Talk some !@#$ing sense into those guys. Tell them to stop !@#$ing with luck, go back where they came from."

The stranger considers this for a time, and then nods: "The cup, stranger. I would have it back."

"Yeah, I guess I bogarted this !@#$ enough," the superspy grins, handing it back. 

The second he does, he stops smiling. The happy, warm drunk he'd been feeling is gone. All that's left is the fact that he's naked under the furs, baked by the fire. 

And sitting in the presence of the most perfect and beautiful man he's ever seen.

He's tall, pale-skinned, and well-boned, this man. His mustache comes down to his breasts and his eyes are as blue as the underside of an iceberg. His hair is golden brown, straight, and pulled back into a very handsome, well-knotted tail.

And his neck is adorned with a cord, knotted with gold teardrops.

"So you seek the hall of the Aesir," the man says, putting the cup down and handing SPYGOD a wine skin. It's full of water, and suddenly the superspy realizes just how badly he needs some.

"We do, yeah," SPYGOD says, downing the skin in one massive, heavy squirt: "I know you don't !@#$ing know us, or anything. But we'd be massively obliged if you could tell us where to go."

"Tell you?" the man chuckles: "Why, friend, I think I should show you, else you will doubtless become food for Garm, or else be frozen by the winds ere you get there. This world is not kind to mortals. It is barely hospitable to the likes of we."

"And who are you?" the superspy asks, wondering about a few things, now.

"One who knows you to be telling the truth," the stranger says, tapping the brass cup -- now filled with wine, again: "And one also who wishes the Aesir home. As our interests are as one, there is no reason I should not help you."

"Do you have a name?"

"I do, aye," the man says, smiling just a little, and then leaving the fireside without giving it.

SPYGOD holds the wineskin up, somehow not surprised to see it's filled itself once more. He has another full blast of the sweet, lukewarm water inside, and then another.

And then, against all reason, he lets himself sleep in the furs, by the fire -- somehow knowing he can trust this handsome man, here in the dark.

* * *

"So what happened, then?" SPYGOD asks between bites -- eagerly tearing into the tender, aromatic goat meat that their host provided them for breakfast.

"We found the oldest of the old gods, down there," Chinmoku says, deftly tucking into the meat with the same gusto, but somehow maintaining some semblance of decorum: "It was a reptile of some kind, that much was certain. Its shape was... fluid. It was every dinosaur I have ever seen a picture of, and yet none of them."

"That's !@#$ing odd," SPYGOD opines, grinning a little: "Was it having a gods-damned personality crisis or something?"

"Doctor Power claimed it was the Ur-God of the dinosaurs, and was affected by their memories of themselves," the martial artist goes on, either not getting the joke or not caring to respond as expected: "Tombo said it had been down there for so long that it had forgotten its original form. I suspect the truth is somewhere in-between."

"But it hadn't !@#$ing forgotten the !@#$ing Decreator," SPYGOD says, having a heavy hit of some weird bark tea -- something with twice the power of espresso. 

"No," the Japanese man says, looking over his dark glasses: "It remembered that very well."

They had both woken up around the fire, and were gently ushered out of that darkness into the light of a well-appointed hall made of the hulls of wrecked ships.The place stank of goats, and every so often a tall, well-fed beast would run into and then out of the hall, quickly corralled by the children.

The people who tended to them were simple and kindly folk with long, red hair and a notable girth. They clearly liked to laugh and to eat, as they did a lot of it. They did, however, always keep one hand upon their sword.

(And one eye upon their guests.)

"So you found out what I needed," SPYGOD says: "If I remember my files right, it was that the Chandra Eye was from the Decreator?"

"Yes," Chinmoku says: "This god remembered them falling from the sky. They gathered them to use against its creatures, and realized it could also be used against it. But by that time it was too late, and the beast had eaten its fill."

"And then it !@#$ed off back to the stars."

"Yes, but they knew it would one day come again."

"And I !@#$ing killed it," SPYGOD grumbles: "Only not !@#$ing hard enough."

"It would seem not, from what you have said," the only living master of Hungry Ghost Kung Fu says, having some more of the strong tea: "But I suppose this will not be my problem, as I am dead, now."

"Yes," SPYGOD admits, not seeing a reason to lie: "Do you need to know details?"

"I do not," Chinmoku says, smiling a little: "The first thing I ever did to walk this path was to see the moment of my death, clear and without distraction. I saw my end, and accepted it, knowing that this meant that I could not fail in any endeavor until that moment. And even in death I still succeed, for in so accepting, and understanding, I was judged worthy."

"Well," SPYGOD says, not sure what else to say. He's rather !@#$ing impressed, all of a sudden. 

(And from him? That's saying something.)

"You need not worry about Doctor Power," the Japanese man goes on, having some more of the tea: "He was... disposed of, as you requested."

"Painfully?"

"In a sense, yes," Chinmoku says: "He behaved as he has always behaved, and it was his undoing. He sought more power to be able to hold off those he had bargained power from before. And it worked, but it came with a price he did not expect."

"So... what? Is he gone?"

Chinmoku smiles, taking some more of his tea: "What happened is a thing neither I nor Tombo will speak of. But you may be assured that he will do no more harm to any, given where he has to remain. And he will have an eternity to consider the foolishness of his actions, there."

"That's not as good as !@#$ing dead."

The Japanese man shrugs, and puts down his tea: "Sometimes even the dead will come back to haunt you."

SPYGOD thinks, then nods -- slowly -- and puts his tea mug down: "Was Tombo alright with it?"

"She, like you, was in favor of a more stringent penalty. But as events unfolded she came to understand he was given exactly what he deserved. Unfortunately, three can make the journey easier than two, and we quickly became lost on the return. So it was very fortunate you called upon the wrong version of her."

"Damn straight," the superspy says: "Speaking of which. What do you make of our host?"

"He spoke to me first, as you know," Chinmoku says, finding the choicest piece of meat that remains on his bone, and quickly eating it. 

"Yes. And?"

"I had no reason to lie to him. I told him everything, without need of his special cup of wine. He was wise to be cautious, of course, which is why he spoke to you, and used that wine."

"Crafty !@#$er, huh?" SPYGOD says, looking around to make sure the man in question isn't nearby, listening.

"Yes, but I sense no deception in him. Only the guile one learns to live in such a world as this."

"You got that !@#$ing right," SPYGOD says, roughly tearing into what's left of his portion of the meat: "Mythology wasn't really my damn specialty. I got experts for that kind of !@#$. But I knew Thor, back during the war. I remember the stories he used to !@#$ing tell, late at night. Seems like everyone was pulling a big damn fast one on each other."

"And fate alone carried the day," Chinmoku chuckles: "A lesson for us all, I should think."

He smiles at that, and sips his tea. If he cares to elaborate, he does not.

* * *

"It will be a few days' travel on foot," their host tells them, helping SPYGOD put on a set of heavy, fur-lined armor as his many helpers bring out supplies for the journey: "Which is why we three shall be doing something different. No offense to you, but I doubt you would last a half a day in this storm."

"Is this normal?" Chinmoku asks, politely refusing the same armor -- and getting very strange looks from his hosts.

"If you mean snow and wind and frost and ice?" the stranger says, smiling: "Then yes, friend. It is. But it has worsened of late, given what has taken place."

"What's that, exactly?" SPYGOD asks, taking the sword and axe they gave him, even though he really doesn't need either.

"I fear I must now dash your hopes upon the stones, my friend," the man says, looking sadly towards the door of the hall -- shaking on its hinges from the hard and bitter wind outside: "You have come to find Odin, but he is no longer here to be found."

"Wait, what?" SPYGOD almost shouts: "Odin... he's !@#$ing dead?"

"Aye, that he is," their host goes on, turning to look at his now-incensed guest: "And with his passing, the natural order has broken down. The wind has become as swift and hungry as the Hel-hound you barely escaped, the snow thicker and deeper, and things that should remain below that snow have become bold enough to crawl to the surface, as you have seen."

"When shall the season change?" Chinmoku asks, adjusting his robe -- seemingly ready to go back out into the cold -- and not too surprised to hear this news.

"Not until the coming of the Wolf-Time," their host says: "And if what you tell me is true, then that time is now upon us. And we shall all fall before Fenris as he rages across the sky."

Their host looks sad for a moment more, and then smiles -- big, perfect teeth: "But that day is not today, I think. And we have many more deeds to be done before then."

* * *

'Something different' is a snow chariot, made from the once-proud prow of a raiding ship, and hauled through the snow by somewhere between ten and twenty of the largest, most muscular goats SPYGOD has ever seen. 

He laughed at first, but once it started going he stopped. The chariot somehow even outraces the wind, and turns the landscape into a blur of white, black, and green. It quickly spirits them away from the hall -- just up the shore from a frozen sea, dotted with cracked and rotting ships -- and towards the destination their host has in mind.

"We shall make the hall of the Aesir well before nightfall," he says, turning the chariot slightly to the right to avoid an obstacle that is far off when he starts to turn, and then upon them a second later: "Once there, you must fend for yourselves. I am not permitted to enter."

"I understand," SPYGOD says, wondering how they can hear each other over the crazy, whipping wind: "Thanks a lot for this. You have totally saved our !@#$ing asses."

"I have, yes," the stranger replies: "I am only sorry that the man you have traveled here to see is no longer here to be seen."

"Well, there's gotta be someone else, there," the superspy says: "Someone else I can !@#$ing convince to come back and get the Aesir to leave."

"Mayhap there is," the man says: "But I fear you may be disappointed further still ere this trip is over."

"Then why help us?" Chinmoku asks.

"Because I feel you are good of heart, or at least well of intention," their hosts answers: "And, if I am being completely honest, my friends? I now believe that you were put before my path for a reason. And in that, I think you may return the favor before long."

"That is the !@#$ing plan, yes-"

"Look!" Chinmoku says, pointing far ahead of them -- something in the white winds that only he can see, at the moment. 

And then they all do. 

And then their host screams -- in anger and surprise -- and just barely turns the chariot in time to avoid the giant, blue foot that's about to step just where they were about to be. 

* * *

As their host explains later (much, much later) the blue giants are called the Jotnar -- the Frost Giants of Earthly legend, and magical fact. 

Most of the time they are confined to their icy home world of Jotunheim, further down the World Tree -- barred from leaving it, both by magics old and hoary, and the threat of the Aesir raining fire down upon them. But with the passing of Odin, and the Aesir's leaving for Midgard, the massive creatures are free to ravage the world once more. 

This, then, is the true reason for the worsening of the winter. For the Frost Giants have brought their cold with them, and stumble through the plains and mountains in search of prey and sport, now that the Aesir are no longer there to provide them with either. 

He might have told them that at the time, but they had the very bad fortune to encounter an entire group of those giants -- all of them some three hundred feet tall. It was only by the grace of Chinmoku's eyes, and his steering, that they were able to swerve around each and every footfall, and then the heavy, tree-wide spears the creatures launched after them. 

Even now, two hours later, they must go from side to side so as to avoid being struck by one of those spears. 

Even now, two hours later, they must work the goats near to death to stay well ahead of the giants, who pursue them still through the seemingly-endless white waste, whose dark horizon of ancient trees seems no nearer now than when they started. 

"I really should have brought a !@#$ing gun," SPYGOD grumbles as they veer hard to the left, yet again -- just managing to avoid yet another spear as it lands almost ahead of them. 

"If you refer to one of your loud, Midgard weapons?" their host asks -- his face somewhere between a sneer and a laugh: "I fear it would do you no good, friend."

"Oh, you haven't seen some of the !@#$ing guns I have."

"Big or small, it would avail you not," the stranger explains: "Their breath brings the cold, and their skin the snow. The things you fire upon them will either lose their way to the target, or shatter ere they got there."

SPYGOD looks rather dejected at that, and their host laughs, apparently very amused by the fact that they might die at any second. 

But somehow the goats do not die, and the spears do not hit them.

And somehow, the dark horizon that seemed to be no nearer a mere minute before is now looming tall before them. 

And into that dark they go, down a thin, white road of tightly-packed snow.

* * *

The forest brings its own dangers, in time. They learn to duck when they hear the sound of an arrow whipping towards them. They duck down even further when their stranger does, knowing he can somehow tell the presence of a thin, brass wire, stretched between trees and ready to take off their head. 

Goblins of some kind, he explains. They lay tricks and traps for the unwary, always hoping to get a meal. In times past this road would be well-patrolled, and goblins nailed alive to the trees as warning to the others.

In times past, he says, sadly. But then grins once more.

On their way they see more wonders. A castle made of ice as blue as a sky. A keep made of cast iron, and burning hot to the touch. The bones of dragons and giants lashed together to make war engines, broken and abandoned by the side of the road as their long-vanished armies retreated. 

And then, at long last, the great hall of the Aesir -- beetling magnificently upon a hill, surrounded by palisades and walls of stout tree, stone, and bone. 

"Inside, friends," the man says, slowing his cart down for the first time in hours. Somehow the goats do not stumble and fall down, but merely stand about -- stupidly staring into the wind. 

"Can we... just !@#$ing knock on the front door?" SPYGOD asks, not sure what the etiquette is, here. 

"You may, if you plan to stand there til comes the Doom of us all," their host laughs: "None guard these walls, now, friend. Your pleas for entrance fall upon the ears of the deaf and the dead."

"Wait," SPYGOD says, feeling even more dejected now than he did when he learned Odin was dead: "You mean there's no one here?"

"Indeed. I suspect others have been here, for word of Odin's passing was spread in some manner. But it is a cold and empty place, now. Its chimney does not smoke, laughter and song do not fill those halls. The dead alone are home, there, and they alone may keep it."

"Then we remain fortunate," Chinmoku says, leaping down from the back of the ship-turned chariot: "How shall we enter, if none may greet us?"

"Merely enter, as a friend, and with no motives hidden and dark," the man explains: "It will allow you in."

"No motives hidden and dark," SPYGOD says, looking at their host from the corner of his eyes: "Why do I get the !@#$ing feeling you can't go in, yourself?"

"You see much, friend," the man chuckles: "But not so quickly as you should. Take care. That may be your undoing."

SPYGOD looks to the man, now, and sees a different thing than what he saw before. And yet, somehow, he cannot be terribly angry.

Somehow, when he looks behind the forced smile in the man's eyes, he thinks he can understand...

"Thank you," the superspy says, shaking the man's strong, large hand: "Saving our lives was good enough of you, but bringing us this far was a kindness, whatever your real reasons."

"If you would have my thanks?" the man says says, leaning forward to speak softly -- all laughter gone from his eyes, with only wistful sorrow remaining: "Then know my reasons, friend. When next you see fair Freyja? Tell my wife she is missed greatly. Tell her the golden tears she sends me are found, in time, and I wear them all. 

"And tell her I, Odr of the Vanir, will be with her come the Wolf Time, if she will have me there by her side."

With that, he lets go, and indicates SPYGOD should go after his friend -- who's already opened the mighty, tall door to the palisade, and entered without any problems. 

And by the time SPYGOD can follow him -- wondering if his sins and secrets will strike him down -- the goats have spirited their host away, into the blinding white. 

And then he's gone, and there's only the long, steep walk up from the walls to the great hall.

And whatever lies inside. 

* * *

"Well, !@#$," SPYGOD says, looking down at what's left of what they came to find.

The hall itself was easily breached. The front door was left open, and stuck by the snow. They were both able to squeeze through, somehow, and entered the darkened space beyond.

There, their noses were assaulted by the smells of carnage and death, rot and decay. There was blood on the floor, and offal spilled every which way. All the great tables had been hacked to pieces and fed into the dark and cold fireplace. All the food had gone bad, the mead spilled to mix with the blood, heaps of bird!@#$ spattered all over the floor...

And Odin, himself lay on the ground before them -- hacked into more pieces than they can easily counted.

"This place is dead," Chinmoku says, looking around: "Our friend did not lie, in that."

"Didn't !@#$ing tell us a whole lot of truth, did he?" the superspy grumbles, wishing that just one bottle had survived what was either one hell of a fight, or the mother of all post-fight vandalism jobs.

"He had his reasons," the Japanese man says, smiling somewhat: "We have been agents of love, this day. A message of hope from a man long lost and far from his heart."

"That's great, but it doesn't !@#$ing do us any good," SPYGOD grumbles -- all the good will he showed earlier, with Odr, evaporating: "There's no one else here, man. No one to talk to. No one to bring back! We !@#$ing wasted our goddamn time..."

"Somehow, I do not think so," Chinmoku says, holding up a hand: "But please, allow me to concentrate."

SPYGOD looks at him, and then around the room: "If you're going to feng shui the place, I think you're gonna need a damn mirror-"

"SPYGOD?"

"Yeah?"

"Please do not take this the wrong way," Chinmoku says, turning around to look the man in the sunglasses: "But could you please be silent?"

And, somewhat chastened, the superspy decides to find some half-broken thing to sit down on, and do exactly that.

* * *

Minutes pass. Hours. Half the damn day.

Chinmoku stands silent and still -- one hand raised up, as if to feel the room.

All the while, SPYGOD sits there, quietly, thinking of all the time they're wasting. All the time they've wasted, chasing this !@#$ing mirage.

He should have stayed back on Earth, he thinks. Gone back to the Eldridge to find some of the deadlier, world-killing weapons he had locked up there. Maybe some of his stranger toys from his office in the Heptagon.

(How many of them are still there, though? He's lost so much damn memory he doesn't know what's been used and what's still sitting around, waiting for the one, black day such a terrible weapon would be called for...)

He looks at Chinmoku, thinking he saw him move, or at least inhale. He hasn't been breathing this whole damn time. More Hungry Ghost bull!@#$.

And then, suddenly, the man drops his hand. He takes a deep breath.

And he says one word -- "Chikusho" -- muttered as if he'd just stepped in something nasty.

"What's that?" SPYGOD asks.

"Nothing good," the martial artist says, sighing and rubbing his eyes: "I am sorry. I have tried to call the ghosts, but they will not speak to me."

"Can't be the first !@#$ing time that ever happened?"

"No," Chinmoku says, turning to look at SPYGOD: "This has never happened. Ever."

"Never ever?"

"No. And this is very... troubling."

"So, just to sum up..." SPYGOD says, holding his hands up: "We got brought here by a guy who first didn't tell us Odin was dead, and then didn't tell us until we got here that there's no one else here to talk to, just so he could have us send a !@#$ing love letter to his wife, and for all we know there's some kind of goddamn restraining order on the door because he couldn't come in here, himself?"

The martial artist just looks at SPYGOD -- clearly not wanting to dignify the awful truth with so much as a nod.

"Well, that's just !@#$ing great,"  SPYGOD spits, getting to his feet and kicking the half-a-chair across the damn room. "Worse than !@#$ing Arabs."

"Your racism is not helping matters," Chinmoku says, turning to look at something.

"It's not racism, friend. It's a fact of the culture. They never !@#$ing tell you bad news right away if there's a business deal involved."

"So you say."

"That's damn right, I do say. I ever tell you about the time I got !@#$ing led around the nose by some asshole contact in Dubai that didn't have the heart to tell me what I'd come for was long gone?"

"You did not, no," Chinmoku says, still looking around the room -- his eyes trying to find something either very small, or very hard to see.

"Well, one big damn meal later, and a few !@#$ing business proposals under the table-" SPYGOD starts to say, but stops when he realizes he can see it, too.

A shape that sits in the corner, shaking and cold. They thought it was a shadow at first, but then realize it's the darkened, transparent ghost of an old man.

An old man with a long, grey beard, and one staring, blank eye -- the other eye long gone, with only a raging, black socket to mark its passing.

"Odin," SPYGOD says, getting up to head to the spirit of the man they've come to find: "Holy !@#$ing !@#$..."

"Wait," Chinmoku says, holding SPYGOD back with a deceptively-gentle hand: "It is not him."

"But... wait. How can it not be him?"

"He is missing something," the master of the Hungry Ghost path says, indicating the blank stare on the face of the ghost: "He is a shell. The remnant left over when the higher self leaves the body, and only the armor of the soul remains behind to guard the body."

"Wait, what?" SPYGOD asks, clearly confused.

"It does not happen always, or often," Chinmoku explains: "The Egyptians of old believed the shadow of a person lived on after their death-"

"They also thought your heart would !@#$ing narc on you in front of some hungry alligator thing. So !@#$ing what?"

"So this is the shadow of Odin," the martial artist explains: "That is why I felt nothing, for there is nothing to feel. That is why I was ignored when I called, for he is not here to reply."

"So where's the rest of him, then?" the superspy asks, looking around: "Jesus !@#$ing Christ on the dance floor, Chinmoku. This is not a good time for him to be !@#$ing not here with the rest of his damn ghost."

"The same place he has always been," Chinmoku says, noticing that it's night time, now.

And as the night falls, the ravens return.

* * *

They say that, a long time ago, Odin the All-Father made some bargains with the world, in exchange for certain powers and magics. 

He hung for nine days and nights upon the world-tree, Yggdrasil -- self-wounded and ready to die. He tore his eye from his head that he might see all things. 

And he gave his mind up to two sleek, black ravens, so that his thoughts might have no boundaries, and his memories no limit. 

They are Huginn and Muninn -- thought and memory -- and he often sends them out into the world to see all, hear all, and report back to him. 

Without them, he sits immobile and staring into space, as all old men must one day do when their brains fail them. With them, he is all-knowing, all-seeing, and surprised by very little. 

How, then, could he be surprised by a death come too early? Perhaps that is a tale told later, when more of its actors are within the scene. 

But as the ravens return to the mead hall, and perch upon the throne their now-dead master once ruled from, SPYGOD remembers something from an old thing he read -- long, long ago -- and indicates that Chinmoku should try to reunite the ghost with his ravens.

And as soon as that is done, many things change...

* * *

 "You know,  normally when you bring someone back to life, they !@#$ing thank you," SPYGOD grumbles -- his swords extended towards the two large, growling wolves that have forced him into the corner the ghost-shadow of Odin once sat in.

"Normally, when someone stands before the throne of the All-Father, they show respect," Odin's ghost replies, not without some bite: "As this one does."

He indicates Chinmoku, who has fallen to one knee before the majesty of Odin's soul -- the mind of an entire world bound within it -- and remained silent.

"I would have this tale told me again, save that I do not need to hear it to know that it is true," Odin pronounces, putting his hands before his face and steepling them: "My ravens show me your travails, both of you. They show me your hearts, and your deeds. And if they had not, were you base rogues, the doors of my hall would not have allowed you entry."

"So we pass the test?" SPYGOD asks: "Can we call off the !@#$ing dogs?"

"Dogs?" the All-Father chides him: "Boy, have you no wit? A dog was what almost had you for its meal, four days previous. A wolf stands before you, now, but will not aspire to the same goal unless I command it thus. You were best faced by a wolf than a dog. One can be trained, but only the other can be truly taught."

With that, he waves, and the two wolves stop growling, turn, and lope back to the side of their master's throne.

"You have purpose, here," Odin says, putting his hands down at the sides of his throne: "I know it, but I would hear it from your lips. Mayhap some details yet escape my knowledge. Mayhap some consequence yet escapes my mind."

"Alright, then," SPYGOD says, collapsing his swords and walking before the throne: "It's like this. Some !@#$ing assholes in this racist organization, run by a strategic talent who's also got the mind of a Nazi war criminal, are running around on Earth with the souls of your gods inside of them. They joined up with people so they'd have more of a hold on the world, unlike some other !@#$ing gods we got there now, who are mostly just themselves."

"The Olympians," Odin says, nodding: "I had heard of their return to Midgard, many years past. I had also heard of their betrayal, and how you took their powers and changed them. A very foolish thing to play such games with gods."

"You got that !@#$ing right," SPYGOD nods: "And for what it's worth? I tried to tell them-"

"This is also known," the All-Father says: "And I have seen what you did, which was very brave. For that you have my admiration and respect."

"I... what?"

Odin shakes his head: "For one who calls himself a god, you can be so very human at times. But please continue your story."

"Well, okay," SPYGOD goes on, still very confused: "So it's like this. These Aesir, on Earth? Midgard? I guess joining up with these people turned them into !@#$ing bastards. They took over a whole city, turned the dead into soldiers, and they were going to take over the whole damn world if we hadn't stopped them."

"A mighty feat, unto itself."

"Yeah, well, thank !@#$ing god for repurposed Warbots, that's all I can !@#$ing say. So they've been walled in up Moscow, turned the damn city into a !@#$ing slaughterhouse. They can't get out, but they can affect the world. And they've turned everyone's luck from bad to !@#$ing worse. I mean like 'stub your toe getting out of bed and falling and breaking your neck and lighting the house on fire and burning down the whole !@#$ing city' bad luck."

"They have worked a Doom upon the world entire," Odin says, leaning forward: "A dark and unwholesome magic! They should know better than to meddle in such things."

"Yeah, well, I think we left 'know better' a million !@#$ing miles ago, Odin. We're deep into the Bad Idea Jeans continent, right now, and the natives are !@#$ing restless."

"I understand not your words, but yet their meaning is clear," the All-Father says, leaning back: "You came here to find the one Aesir who was not upon Midgard, in the hopes that he could come back with you, speak sense into them, and make them release both the Doom and their hold upon the world."

"Yes," SPYGOD says, relieved that he doesn't have to !@#$ing say all of that: "That is what we were hoping. Yes. Please."

"But that is not all, I think," Odin says, leaning forward again: "Tell me truly, (REDACTED) of Neo York City. What else would you have me do, there? What other scheme do you carry within those words?"

And SPYGOD looks at Chinmoku -- who looks back at him with a look best described as "told you so" -- and, with a deep breath, fesses up to the mother of all sneaky plans...

Saturday: 6/25/16

"... I... I don't know how to say this," the Interim President says to the few remaining members of his Cabinet, afraid to meet their eyes as he reads the speech they've cobbled together over the last day.

"If you don't, we're all worse than dead," the white-faced Secretary of Defense hisses: "You saw that... that thing. You saw what it's doing to Russia. What it can do to the world."

"And it says that... dear God, it says we've only got three days before the rest of the 8-Balls get here," the Secretary of State insists: "We've lost half of our interceptors, already, hitting the ones that got through the last of the platforms. What will we do when they arrive."

"If we do not accept its terms, the world will die," the Secretary of the Treasury says: "We can have this... this mark on everyone within days. It's shown us how. It's not hard."

"I have to be the President who surrenders the United States of America to the... to that thing," the former Speaker of the House says: "Me."

"At least there's a chance," the Secretary of Defense insists: "God won't abandon us. You know the Bible. This is the start of Armageddon but it's not the end. Jesus Christ will-"

And then his white face turns red, and then bloody, and then he pitches face-forward onto the desk -- dead for WordCrime.

"Okay," the President sighs -- a little less shocked by it than he should be, given he's seen ten people die for using the C-word in the last two days -- and looks at the notes: "I guess I have to be the one."

"There's no one else who can speak for all of us," the Secretary of the Treasury says: "The NEU surrendered right away. Everyone else is coming around. We just need to go online and tell them, and then this nightmare will... will..."

He doesn't want to say 'be over,' because he knows it's a lie. But as what's left of the Secretary of Defense melts into the chair it was sitting in, no one can see any other alternative.

The Interim President's about to have a laptop handed over to him -- the last one in the whole building that hasn't succumbed to bad luck, yet -- when there's a weird, rainbow light over in the corner.

And then three people enter the room, smoking from their long journey down the World Tree.

"Mister President!" SPYGOD says, striding from the Bifrost with Chinmoku right behind him, followed up by a very ghostly Odin -- winged helmet on his head, spear in hand, and encircled by two ravens and two wolves.

"Oh my... what?" the man says, getting to his feet very, very carefully: "SPYGOD? You're here? What?"

"Hey, I said I'd be !@#$ing back!" the superspy says, looking around the room with something approaching triumph: "I got Odin here. Well, mostly here. And we're gonna go to Moscow and tell those !@#$ing Aesir to back the hell off with this bad luck !@#$, and then get the hell off the planet. How do you like them apples?"

He grins and holds out his hands, but no one grins with him. And then he looks at the President, and the melting lump of meat and bone that used to be a Defense Secretary, and the fact that the skies outside look very dark for this time of day.

"Um... what the !@#$ happened while I was gone...?" SPYGOD asks.

And someone at the table starts to cry...

* * *

WHAT THE !@#$ HAPPENED WHILE SPYGOD WAS GONE.

* * *

Monday: 6/20/16

They tried. You have to give them that.

The Union -- the NEU's premier super-team -- flew, drove, and ran right into the wake of the thing, seeking to score some semblance of a victory upon it. Just one hit, just one blow.

Just one lucky, damaging strike to show this 100-story abomination that while America's Flier may have gone down in flames, Europe would not be so easily cowed

They tried. You have to give them that.

Fifty heroes, one for each state in Europe. Fifty men and women, each one of them carrying the hopes and dreams of their countries with them.

Fifty of them raced out to do what jets, planes, tanks, artillery, and nuclear weapons could not do.

They tried. You have to give them that.

They flew into the zone where they giant thing was turning the world into filth, just like had been done to Miami. Its footsteps changing farmland into festering sewers, the very air changing trees to fecal matter, and impregnating buildings with strange, cancerous growths.

They hurled themselves past the grotesque changes and focused only on the thing, afraid to look too long for fear of breaking and running away.

They tried. You have to give them that.

Half of them died before they got within range of the thing -- the warping effect it had on the landscape also changing them. They twisted and changed upon heavy exposure to its wake, and by the time they realized it was killing them it was too late for them to retreat.

Too late to do anything but fall down, dead or dying, and be turdscaped with the rest of the world the beast was striding through.

They tried. You have to give them that.

The other half? That group made up of armor-wearing wonders, energy beings, and creatures not so easily mutated? They survived the wake of the thing, only to find that their best weapons weren't any good against it.

And no matter how hard they fired and fought, they may as well have been impotent flies buzzing about an irritated child.

A child capable of smashing them to pieces with nothing but a glancing blow.

They tried. You have to give them that.

Heroes from Ireland, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Hungary, Serbia, and Montenegro.

Stigande Sol of Sweden, firing the rays of the sun in the thing's eyes until it returned the favor and turned her to red, maggoty slop.

Chryso Kriari of Greece, charging its feet time and again until the golden, horned helmet he wore turned to dust, and it stepped on his body as it squirmed and spread.

Mursten, of Denmark, trying to contain the creature in the same Lego Bricks that kept him alive, only to be knocked clear into Africa by a glancing blow, and splattered across the Great Pyramid like a ripe tomato.

They tried. You have to give them that.

But sometimes trying just isn't enough...

Tuesday: 6/21/16

"Nuclear weapons are useless, sir," Director Straffer says, really tired of going over this point with these exasperating people from what's left of the United Nations on his office viewscreen: "We'd be better off using the arsenal to deal with what's coming at us from up above. And thank God the bad luck seems to be passing or we'd bomb ourselves to kingdom come, instead."

"But, the interceptors..." the new-new UN Director-General says, having just been promoted by simple majority after the last one got cut it half by a falling car in the parking garage on his way to work.

(Some asshole from Cyprus. No one else wanted the damn job, right now.)

"Are going to be gone within the first couple days, if these projections are correct," he says: "And we don't have time to get more up there."

"Well, that's nice," the man sighs: "What have you been doing with your time, Director Straffer?"

"Well, I was using the platforms to get rid of the cloud of 8-Balls that's on its way here, sir," the blonde cyborg spits, seriously tired of this !@#$: "Except that the first thing this beast did was to !@#$ing eat them all. God knows why it left the Interceptors alone. Maybe it wanted a damn laugh."

"I still think nuclear weapons are a bad idea," the President of Russia says: "At best, they will destroy my country, and merely make the thing angry. At worst, they will suffer the same fate as all other things we have thrown against it. They will melt into so much dermo, and be useless."

"Then don't target the thing, itself," the US's Secretary of Defense weighs in: "Have them blow up just outside the range of its effect. We now know it's a three mile radius. Blow them up outside of that and have the heat and force melt it."

"I think that us a good idea," the new-new UN Director says.

"Sir, it's not," Straffer insists: "You're not seeing what it can do-"

"You deal with the cloud of death that's coming towards us, sir," the man says, waving them off with a hand: "I will deal with this matter."

"Sir, I must protest-"

"Straffer, I've never been impressed with you," the man snorts: "Now, go do your job, or else stand aside and let someone else more capable deal with it?"

Straffer has nothing to say to that.

"We've got some backup plans for that cloud, sir," the Defense Secretary says, smirking at the UNSS Director's expense: "A couple villains we can use to deal with the ecological fallout, in case golden boy here can't deliver."

"Get them ready, then," the UN Director says, just before his screen goes dark -- along with all the others.

Straffer counts to five, waiting for the rage to abate. And when it does not he punches a hole through the desk.

And then the wall. Then another wall.

And then he really loses it...

Wednesday: 6/22/16

"... can see from these pictures, released from the UN Space Service, just this morning. The black crater you're looking at is what's left of Smolensk, where the thing was standing close to.

"And the roughly circular area that's not blackened? That's where the thing was standing. Three miles away, and it's like nothing happened. We're even getting reports there's no radiation in that area, though it's hard to be sure. The probes melt before too long.

"And now... yes, we're having it confirmed. It's walking towards Moscow, now. There's no stopping it..."

* * *

"Well, I realize my predecessor was not too fond of you," the new-new-new UN Director-General says, wondering what happened to the man's desk, and office: "But I am willing to listen, as you were so clearly right."

(A less foolish man from Cameroon. The previous holder was tossed from the chamber, first thing that morning, and then broke his leg falling down while having a damn heart attack.)

"Alright, then," Straffer says, tired of punching holes in his office and furniture: "All high-yield nuclear weapons need to be aimed and launched straight the hell up at what's coming. We'll have to hope to blow them apart and fry them with that before they get too close. 

"Past that, I have nothing," he admits: "Though if anyone, and I mean anyone, is !@#$ing holding back some really cool spacecraft they haven't been telling us about, and I don't know about it? This would be the !@#$ing time to use them!"

"I'll... see what I can do..." the man says, holding up his hands. 

"Dear God, you had better," Straffer says: "We have nothing else to play, otherwise."

Thursday: 6/23/16

"Will these confounded things never let us through?" Ve screams, burning the street around him in impotent rage as the giant beast silently mocks him.

He's sacrificed everything, now. All his Odal soldiers, and several of the Aesir. All thrown at the wall of steel and fire that still encircles this city, though the Wolf stands just outside its gates.

All as ineffectual as that pathetic, last charge they witnessed Monday...

"I think they have no care for the situation, my lord," Villi says: "I think they desire to keep us here, come what may."

"Intolerable," Ve hisses: "Intolerable!"

"Aye," red-headed Tyr says: "And in more ways than one."

"What mean you, friend Tyr?" Thor asks.

"I mean that we have gambled and lost, dear friend Thor," the god of war insists: "We have risked all, and lost much. And here, at the end, we stand shackled as the Wolf we brought ourselves from Vahalla to fight stands just outside our reach..."

He extends his hand as if to grasp it, and bares his teeth in anger: "Would that my hand could be as large there as it is before my eyes, that I might crush it..."

"I'm crushing your head," Frejya chuckles, doing the same thing: "I'm crushing your head..."

"What?" Ve hisses, his black teeth burning. 

"Nothing, my lord," she says, rather quickly: "In truth, I am not certain from whence that came-"

And then Tyr gasps, and steps back: "It moved!"

"Of course it moved, dear Tyr," Thor chuckles: "It does that quite a bit, you know."

"No!" red-haired Tyr says, pointing to the distended, many-eyed head of the thing: "Observe how its skull opens, all of you! The Wolf is changing before us..."

Indeed it is.

The head opens up, as though the brains were desiring to step outside its skull and greet the world. As it does, something steps from the festering, churning innards and stands forth to be seen.

A tall, imposing man with red and blonde hair, completely naked, and smirking like he'd heard the best joke he could never tell.

Good afternoon, world, he says: Perhaps you remember me from before. Perhaps not. 

What I was is not very important, now. What I am is of maximum importance, especially if you desire to live. 

Call me Armilus. That is the name I was given, ages ago, by those who foresaw my coming with fear and panic. That is the name I was given when I was created, here, not so many decades before now. 

You may ask what I want, but that would be a mistake. I desire nothing, myself. I am merely an instrument of my father, who is in Hell, unhallowed be his name. 

Ask, instead, what my father wants. And the answer is simple -- your submission to him, through me.

From this day forward, you have a simple choice to make. You can kneel before the Devil, and live. Or you can resist him, and die, knowing that those who cast him down will not hear your prayers, or forgive your mistakes. 

Die, knowing that only Hell awaits. 

Know this. The thousand years begins this day. For a millennium, darkness shall reign. Evil shall be the only good. Suffering the only peace. The Devil the only God.

That is provided you wish to live. That is provided all nations bend at the knee. That is provided there are no further shows of insolence or disobedience.

For should you not wish to live? Should you wish to disobey? Well, my father would be the last to condemn you for that, considering his own history. 

But have a care, oh mortal man. For the Devil has sent the beast with wrath, and he has not come alone.

Above, in the sky, there are more of my brothers and sisters coming. Where they touch they shall bring change, and rot, and darkness. Where they stop they shall destroy.

And there are so many, many of them coming.

Submit, and they shall stop. They will simply stay in orbit, as a reminder of your bargain with my father. They will look down upon you, and you shall know fear, and obedience.

Do not submit, and they shall not stop. They shall crash through your sorry defenses, most of which I have destroyed. And they will turn this world into a black field of roiling filth. 

The choice is yours. But make it swiftly, oh mortal man. For the time is growing short.

And just in case there is any doubt that I mean what I say? Feel now the power of my father. From this moment forth, the title of the son of Yahweh shall be a killing word, and any who utters it, even to say my correct title, shall die.

I await your submission.

And with that, the being once known as Tempete Bleu smiles, and turns to return into the groaning, offal-filled cave of bone, flesh, and filth it came from. The head closes up once more.

And the world pauses to consider its response.

Friday: 6/24/16

"Here it comes," Shining Guardsman says, looking at the 100-story thing as they get word from the Interim President over their communicators.

"Have we got a plan?" Blastman says, glowing a little less brightly -- maybe in fear, maybe not.

"Stand far enough away that it can't hit us, and hit it with everything we have," Hanami says.

"Sounds !@#$ing good to me," Red Wrecker says, her voice strangely amplified in the American Steel suit that Randolph let her borrow for the occasion.

"Has there been any word from the White City, yet?" Myron asks over their communicator -- sitting well back from the firing line in his drill tank, with Gosheven, Swiftfoot, The Sound, and any other hero without ranged attacks or armor.

"You mean from Mister Chicken!@#$?" Gosheven snorts.

"I mean from Mister Freedom," Mr. USA says, standing there with the others on the front line: "And Shift, for that matter. And no, not a word."

"Hopefully he is getting them to help," National Man sighs, not liking the look of this.

"Chicken!@#$," Gosheven mutters, again. No one cares to correct him, this time.

So they stand there, waiting for the signal to run into battle. Hoping they can learn from the Union's mistake, and last longer. Do more.

Do better.

And then, as soon as the President gives the words, the signal is given. As one, they launch themselves at the foe -- never prouder or more brave than today.

As brave warriors, they shout. As avenging angels, they fly. As defenders of the world, they fight.

And then, as heroes, they fall...

* * *

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO... RIGHT !@#$ING NOW

* * *

 Saturday: 6/25/16

 "... so let me get this !@#$ing straight," SPYGOD says, looking around the room: "The Flier is gone?"

"Yes," the President sighs.

"The Freedom Force is...."

"Dead, we think," someone else says: "No word since yesterday."

"And everyone else is useless."

"Yes," someone else sighs. Maybe the Treasury Secretary, maybe not.

"And nukes have no effect."

"Yes," the President says: "And the rest of the 8-Balls are about to hit us, and... yeah."

"And if the world doesn't !@#$ing surrender to this thing that says it's the goddamn Anti-"

"Don't say the c-word!" the President shouts: "They'll hear and kill you."

"Okay," SPYGOD says, holding up a hand: "The Anti-C-Word? If we don't let it have its !@#$ing thousand years of darkness, it'll let the 8-Balls fall and eat us up."

The President just nods, weakly. 

"It would seem we have arrived at exactly the right moment," Chinmoku says, looking at SPYGOD.

"It would indeed," Odin says, nodding: "But we must move quickly, or else we will lose all advantage."

"Damn skippy," SPYGOD says, looking at the Interim President: "Sir, do not respond to that !@#$ing ultimatum. Give us 24 hours, first."

"What in the hell can you do in a day?" the Secretary of State whimpers.

"Build Rome," Chinmoku says.

And then there's a burst of rainbow light, and they're gone...

* * *

... to inside the White City, where -- just outside the meeting hall of the Olympians -- Shift is waiting. 

"Hello," he says, stepping forward and nodding to all of the three -- especially Odin's ghost, who he nods to with a very strange deference.

"Walker," the All-Father says, extending a hand: "It has been some time since I have seen you, old friend."

"And it will be some time, again," Shift says, his silver mask strangely failing to reflect Odin within it: "Though not, perhaps, for you."

"Yeah, yeah, can the !@#$ing small talk," SPYGOD says, waving towards the room: "Did Tombo do what like I asked her to, last time I talked to her?"

"She did indeed," Shift says, gesturing that they should go inside: "All are assembled."

"Then let's get this !@#$ing show in the goddamn road," he says, all but kicking down the door to the room, and striding into the center of it, where all the Olympians sit on their thrones, or stand around them. 

There's two obvious anomalies. One is Satanoth, who's little more than a head on a chair. The other is Tombo, herself, who floats beside him with her arms crossed, and something of a smug look on her face.

"Hey you," he says to her: "Thanks for this."

"You're !@#$ing welcome," she grumble, her cloud of dragonflies buzzing about her: "You know how long I had to carry this moron's head with me in the Deadlands?"

"Have a care how you speak to me, woman," Satanoth growls, but looks very comical doing so, all things considered. 

"I wasn't talking to you, asshole," she says, and looks to Odin: "I see it worked?"

"More or less," SPYGOD shrugs: "It's... a long !@#$ing story-"

"Which I don't have !@#$ing time for, right now," Tombo interrupts, extending a hand for Chinmoku to take: "If you come with me, I can walk us back to where you're supposed to be, more or less."

"And my fate, awaiting," the Japanese man says, nodding.

"Chinmoku," SPYGOD says, bowing as best he can: "It's been an honor, sir. Thank you for all the good work you did for me."

"You are most welcome," the only living master of Hungry Ghost Kung Fu says, bowing in return: "Thank you for a... unique opportunity."

And with that, he's moving towards Tombo, who wraps him in her purple cloak. And then they've faded from view. 

"So," Seranu says, putting his hands on his knees and leaning forward on his throne: "The deathwalker told us we must listen to what you have to say, if we wished to have our brother, Satanoth, returned to us."

"Well, I'm as good as my !@#$ing word," SPYGOD says, gesturing to the head on the throne: "Gentlemen, behold!"

No one laughs at his joke, and he curses inside: "Alright, never mind that-"

"This is a dangerous game you play, friend," Pontus threatens: "I pray for your soul that you have more to offer from this conversation that just annoyances-"

"Oh I have something, alright," SPYGOD says, looking at all the Olympians in turn, and then, finally, at Mister Freedom -- looking more like his older aspect, here in the throne room: "I have the goddamn truth, and the power to tell the world what it is."

There's a gasp at that, and then anger. 

"What, you didn't !@#$ing think we knew?" SPYGOD goes on, looking around: "Restriit? God of endings? Lord of black holes and entropy? Patron goddamn saint of the giant !@#$ing sinkhole at the end of time and space?

"You think I didn't know who made the !@#$ing Decreator in the first place?"

There's silence, then -- pure as crystal, hard as stone. 

"You think I didn't realize that the reason you !@#$ers didn't all jump the hell up out of your seats and defend this planet from a threat is because you couldn't destroy your own handiwork? You think I didn't know why you sat on your hands after Miami? You think I couldn't figure out that the reason you gave my fiance those weapons platforms is because you couldn't pull the !@#$ing triggers yourself?"

"So you know," Hoosk grumps: "What good does it do you, now? Can you really threaten us, now that this world stands on the brink of a thousand years of prophesied darkness? Who will listen? Who will care?"

"Oh, they will," SPYGOD says, raising up to his full height and pointing at Seranu: "Because let me !@#$ing explain something to you all. 

"I loved you, once. I went to the mat for all of you. I defended you. I protected you. And now, thanks to my new friend, here-"

"That remains to be seen," Odin corrects him: "You have my spear at your side. My hand in friendship? That is another matter indeed."

"Fair enough," SPYGOD goes on: "My ally, here, tells me I actually walked into the !@#$ing lions den and reprogrammed reality to save you from the !@#$ing bull!@#$ Heaven was going to force on you all. And I didn't remember it all, afterwards, any more than I remembered all of you. 

"But you remember. Because you were there. All of you. 

"And this..." he shouts, pointing to the sky: "This is how you !@#$ing repay me?"

"We are bound by rules..." Seranu says, weakly, and without making eye contact: "Things you cannot understand."

"Oh, I understand just !@#$ing fine, Seranu," SPYGOD goes on: "I do. I got rules, too. A whole !@#$ing ton of them. And when I need to break them? Well, that's that.

"But yeah, your rules are different. You break them? You stop existing. Something goes all curse-like. Some !@#$ing horse!@#$ happens and you're screwing your mom and pulling your own damn eyes out. I read the plays. I got the picture.

"I am rather lost," Odin admits.

"You may not want to be informed," Mister Freedom admits: "But he is right. We have stayed our hands too often."

"What would you have us do, then, Brother Restriit?" Seranu asks: "Break our bonds? Cease to exist?"

"No, you !@#$ing dumbass!" SPYGOD shouts, getting in Seranu's face: "I want you to do the same damn thing Hoosk did when he gave the platforms over! I want you to give mankind a gift!"

"One gift per occasion," Hoosk pouts, crossing his arms: "And one fix per gift. No more, no less."

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, grinning: "From one of you. 

"But here we are in a room full of Gods," he goes on, spinning and pointing to each one in turn: "And the way I see it? The rest of you have a chance to ante the !@#$ up..."

And there is suddenly a great deal of understanding in the room, followed by frenzied discussion, and promises.

And then, at long last, a sense of something finally going right for a change.

Sunday: 6/26/16

One minute past Midnight, son. Moscow time. 

I see the Moon from up above the damn clouds, here in this office, and the Moon... well, she sees a load of !@#$ that learned to grow like a tree and walk like a man, turning the world behind and below it into !@#$town. 

All the way down there, standing in front of Moscow like it was going to rain gold down on it. 

They tell me the thing's being piloted by Tempete Bleu. I thought the Colonel and I disposed of that piece of !@#$ the last time we saw it. I guess you just can't keep a bad penny down, after all. 

No matter, though. Not really. Not today.

Today? We take back the world. 

Today? We fix what was broken, and who.

Today? We show the Decreator that when we !@#$ing kill something, it better have the !@#$ing decency to !@#$ing stay dead.

Today, it's expecting some kind of capitulation. All the other countries are doing it, but it needs America to fall down on her knees, especially. World leader pretend and all that happy horse!@#$.

So today, it's going to have the mother of all goddamn disappointments shoved up it's !@#$ty asshole, along with its head and about 20 to 30 fists. 

Maybe even more, if this goes well...

Yeah, son. I got a plan. I got a dozen plans. I got people working every !@#$ing angle I can get my damn hands around. I got the tools, the technology, and the !@#$ing money to burn. 

I got your surrender right here, Mister Anti-C-word. And the word is... Nuts.

As in "going to kick yours into !@#$ing orbit."

Josie comes to the Director's office -- my office, once again -- tell me the Aesir have just radioed in. Which means Odin's had his Come To Asgard talk with them, down in Valhallopolis, or whatever we're !@#$ing calling Moscow, now. 

Which means that I can tell the Olympians we're ready to go with Second Christmas. Which means I can also tell what precious little is left of the Freedom Force that we're ready to party. 

Which means I can call my fiancee up, at long last, and tell him to get ready to unleash... well, not Hell, obviously. 

Unleash Heaven. I like the sound of that, under these circumstances. And I like the thought of seeing him with angel wings and a halo.

(At least until I !@#$ing rip them off with my teeth and pound his tight ass through a wall...)

Yeah, you just stand there, mister Anti-C-Word. Stand there and turn the landscape to !@#$. Stand there and turn good people's hearts afraid. Stand there and mock life and love and all the things that make this world as good as it is. 

Stand there and take what's coming to you, at long !@#$ing last. 

Right.... about... now.

* * *

SPYGOD Will Return in August
In
APOTHEOCLYPSE NOW


(SPYGOD is listening to DJ Shadow (Nobody Speak) and having an Asgard IPA)