Monday, May 30, 2016

Valhallopolis: 5/23/16 - 5/29/16

"Collectively they agree to exhale and be free / Now one after another they tumble silently"

(The Russian Legion)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

Brothers shall fight - and fell each other
And sisters' sons - shall kinship stain
Hard is it on earth - with mighty whoredom; 
Axe-time, sword-time - shields are sundered, 
Wind-time, wolf-time - ere the world falls; 
Nor ever shall men - each other spare

Monday: 5/23/16


"... repeat, the Interim President is dead. Dan Quayle was shot and killed while under COMPANY protection, apparently by one of the AGENTS tasked with guarding his life..."


"... portions of the city are still burning tonight, following a titanic struggle between two groups of higher entities. At this time it is still unknown why the Olympians traveled from their White City to confront the Aesir, in Moscow..."


"... blew his face clean off. Six shots, right to the skull. And then what she said afterwards..."


"... told you Islam was trouble. I told you we should just deport them all until we figure this out. Was I right or what...?" (CHEERS) "Yeah, we knew. We knew. But they didn't listen..."


"... Russian forces fell back to a safe distance after it became clear they could not contain the elemental energies generated by the battle. Hurricane-force winds and lightning strikes were encountered..."


"... reports of strange behavior on a global scale. Civil servants, military figures, governmental officials, and other highly-placed persons have been caught trying to sabotage or destroy sensitive systems and vital infrastructure...."


"... a clearly-shaken Speaker of the House, after addressing an emergency joint session of Congress, to discuss how best to handle this Constitutional crisis. General speculation is that he will, in turn, take over as the Interim President now. A position he went on record as not wanting, before..."


"... lightning was accompanied by other things, including what is being described as bolts of darkness, waves of water, and, finally, a punishing burst of solar energy that has incinerated a great deal of eastern Moscow..."


"... and then, when they're caught, these people are all more or less saying the same thing. Allegiance to IS. They did it for Allah. Some group called Al-Hidhah..."


"... clearly the COMPANY bears ultimate responsibility for this. The assassination happened in their facility, by one of their people. Apologists are saying mind control was involved, but my sources tell me those clones have always been a little wonky..."


"... chariot of the Olympians limped home not long after the sunburst. At this time it is unknown how many of them were wounded, or may have died..."


"... Candidate's numbers have surged dramatically among independents, given his tough stance against Muslims and the White City..."


"... still seeking confirmation that a Chinese General almost launched ten nuclear missiles at India...."


 "... Freedom Force continues to help guard Moscow, and contain the menace inside. They are getting a lot of help from the Russian Legion, a massive force of tactical strike robots. Some say the androids may have won the battle, and continue to keep the peace. Others wonder.."
"... string the pink-haired (BLEEP) up and shake her the (BLEEP) down until we get every single terrorist (BLEEP) out of the (BLEEP)ing Heptagon, you ask me..."


"... this just in, the White City has turned black. Perhaps in mourning. Perhaps for some other reason..."


"... thousands of ultra-nationalists from all over Europe trying to smuggle themselves into Moscow, in spite of the Russian Legion, to join the Aesir..."


"... calls for the self-proclaimed Republican Candidate to explain his full relationship with the late Secretary Wheeler continue to go unheeded. So do a lot of things. Following the unsuccessful attempt on his life, the other week, his public appearances have been restricted to campaign speeches in very secure locations, and with high security profiles..."


"... the United Nations Space Service has issued a Security Blackout to all Astronomical Observation posts and telescopes. It would appear that Earth is, once again, about to come under attack..."


 "... he was not the greatest Vice President, and perhaps not the best person to sit inside the Oval Office in time of emergency. But he was there when his country called upon him, ready to take on a thankless job, just to keep the nation going through the crisis. And for that he should be remembered, and thanked by every American..."


"... sight of the head of the so-called Lord of Death, Satanoth, perched upon the front of the Mayor's Residence in Moscow. Some say it's still alive, and trying to scream. Others say it's as still as death..."


".. some twelve to fourteen million civilians, trapped within the city limits of Moscow. Unable to leave, enduring unknown hardship as they languish under the boot of an invading force. The world stands helpless, wondering how this stand-off will end, and who shall survive..."


"...And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying

Tuesday: 5/24/16

"Three days, sir," Campaign Director Straffer says, looking rather weary over the video screen: "They took advantage of the Opposition to launch more 8-Balls at us."

"But you can hold them off?" the Speaker of the House -- soon to be the new Interim President -- says, his face already developing the lines that come with the job.

"Yes, but it won't be easy," the blonde cyborg admits: "It's exponentially worse than last time. They didn't double the numbers. They squared them."

"That's... wow," the man says, scratching his head and looking around his soon-to-be-vacated office on Capitol Hill: "That is pretty bad."

"Yes it is," Straffer says, wondering when someone's going to bring him some coffee: "We're blowing them apart before they get to the halfway point, but sooner or later we're going to make mistakes. We'll miss a few, or they'll throw us a curve ball. And then, well..."

"Well what?" the Speaker asks, his eyes wide as dinner plates.

"I'm sure you've played Tetris, sir?"

"Well, yeah. A time or two. Not really my thing."

"Well, you know what it's like when you lose control of the game, and it all starts raining down, and it's all you can do to keep up at the halfway point on the screen, rather than down at the bottom? And it's harder to plan, to see, and to act in time?

"Now imagine that with particle cannons, fired at things that, if one gets through, it'll be the ISS again if we're lucky, and Miami if we're not."

The Speaker nods, getting the point.

"And, just to make matters worse," Straffer says: "After the last time we learned the platforms can't handle constant operations. We can only use one for so long before we have to rotate over to another one. Otherwise the control interface shuts down to save the platform serious damage."

"But you can fix it?"

"No," the Campaign Director says, deciding to just be honest with the incoming all-too-temporary leader of the free world: "The Olympian who designed them is seriously pissed off at the Space Service Director. That's if he's even alive right now. After Moscow..."

Straffer lets his words trail off, and furrows his brow. The Speaker nods, and then gulps, quite visibly.

He does, however, recoup very quickly: "I can't pretend to know what you're doing, or how it gets done. And I can't fix your machines, either. It sounds like no one can.

"What I can tell you is that, as the United States is one of the major members of the United Nations, I will do everything in my power to make sure you get the resources you need."

"That would be muchly appreciated, sir," Straffer says: "And if I can make a suggestion?"


"Interceptors, sir," the Campaign Director says: "We were promised more attack craft. Once these things get past the moon we can't fire at them. Our fleet is the only thing that can take one of the things down, and they have to concentrate firepower to make sure they get every last piece of them."

"Are these things that dangerous?" the Speaker asks.

"Sir, if a single lump makes it through the atmosphere and lands... well, you might not have Miami again, but you'll have an ecological disaster, somewhere. And we might not even see it until it's turdscaped an entire region."


"Yeah, that's what we're calling it. I'm sure some eager beaver in the Pentagon will show you pictures of what the inside of Miami looked like before we cooked it. And I'm told the floor of the Atlantic Coastline looked pretty damn bad before they used that pink stuff to kill all affected life in the area."

"That's... a term I could do without hearing again."

"Well, if you can get us our interceptors, hopefully it won't ever come up in conversation," Straffer says: "There's been some issues with construction. That's what my Director is saying, anyway."

"Not anymore," the Speaker says, putting his hands on the desk: "If America must lead, sir, we will. I'll have our UN Ambassador start rattling cages and getting to the bottom of this."

"Thank you, sir," the cyborg says, having some idea how well that's going to go: "That would be most helpful."

"Meanwhile, I suspect you've got some... 8-Balls to knock off the table?"

He smiles at his joke -- big and dopey. Straffer smiles back and hopes the man doesn't give him any more reasons to worry.

And as he goes to rally the troops for the mother of all shootouts, he hopes his fiance is alright, and wonders where the hell he's gotten himself off to, this time.

* * *

"So, what's the last thing you remember?" SPYGOD asks the man he found in the cryo-chamber, who's just now getting unfrosted enough to think straight.

"I don't know for sure," Senator Cruz says, sipping at the coffee his rescuer brought him: "I think it was seeing that giant brass bull come for me. And then..."

He shudders, trying not to remember.

"He put you inside of him, sir," SPYGOD explains: "It's what he does. What he did. He put you inside him, lit you on fire, and used that energy to power him, somehow."

"I burned," the Senator says: "But I didn't burn. I screamed in pain. It hurt terribly. And then I blacked out, and..."

He looks around, then down at the coffee: "Did someone shoot him? I seem to remember a gun."

"Yeah," SPYGOD admits: "There wasn't a bang, but something got fired at Moloch. He got rendered inert, fell down, and turned to dust. And there you were in the center of it all, crispy and black."

The Senator sighs, looking at the coffee: "I thought I was dead. I was just dreaming, though."

"Yeah," the superspy says: "And then someone stole your body out of the morgue, and we haven't found you until now."

"What's happened to me?" Ted Cruz asks: "I didn't get a scratch on me when the bomb went off. It cooks me like a hot dog on a grill but I'm still alive. And then they freeze me and... I'm alright now?"

"Well, I got two theories, sir," SPYGOD says, gulping down his own cup of Syrian army coffee: "One is that you got God on your side, like your daddy !@#$ing thought."

"Well, now-"

"And the other is that you, Senator, have got superpowers," the superspy says, pointing a finger at the man's nose: "Which is good for you, maybe. But it's a !@#$ing headache for me. Because I know the Mahdi had you all this damn time, and god !@#$ing knows what he might have said to you."

"I don't remember anything, sir," the Senator says, clearly annoyed at the accusation.

"Yeah, but do you really?" SPYGOD asks, leaning in: "See, he could make you forget. Or make you tell me he didn't. Maybe you'd even believe it.

"And right now, with him dead, and a whole city full of !@#$ing undead monsters running around at night? I got to be really damn careful. One wrong move and we're both dead.

"And let me tell you, Mr. Senator sir, after all the !@#$ I have been through over the last couple weeks? I am in no goddamn mood to get dead because you got !@#$ing programmed to mess my fine gay ass up."

"So until I know what's going on, I got two eyes on you," SPYGOD goes on, tapping his glasses with two of his fingers: "One because you got powers. And two? Because you might do something stupid."

The Senator says nothing. And SPYGOD reaches over, takes the man's coffee cup, and helps himself to a healthy sip. 

Wednesday: 5/25/16

"There they !@#$ing go, again," Red Wrecker says, looking down the way at the edge of Moscow.

"Yeah," Dragonfly says, shifting her weight from hip to hip as she watches the Russian Legion firing at the latest group of idiots trying to sneak into the city.

At some point the warbots went from having legs to no legs. After that, they perpetually hovered, forming a tight-fitting interlink of heavily-armed war machines -- some five units tall in most places, with guns pointing both forward and back.

Nothing is getting out or in. But that doesn't stop people from trying...

"How many does that make?" the short heroine asks, sipping at her mint-flavored health shake and wondering who decided what "mint" tasted like when they manufactured it.

"Today, or in total?"


"Three," Dragonfly says, scratching her chin: "Or maybe four. It's hard to tell, since they have to kill them twice."

"Right," Red Wrecker says, wincing as her body reminds her -- yet again -- that she's still healing up, and should still be back in bed.

(!@#$ that, she thinks. She's lazed around enough.)

The shooting stops, as abruptly as it began.

"So does anyone have any damn idea where American Steel is?" Red Wrecker asks, looking her white-clad friend in the eyes: "Everyone just !@#$ing shrugs. I'm kind of tired of not being told."

"No one's sure, no," Gail says, shaking his head: "Dr. Uncertainty says she was having problems with her armor and had to go into 'repair mode,' but wasn't sure where she went to do it."

"We never see her out of that armor, do we?" Florence says: "You think she's like Hanami? Or Free Fire?"

"What, an android?"


"Might be," Dragonfly says: "I kind of doubt it, though."


"I dunno. I think it's just..." she starts to say, but then gets interrupted by the Russian Legion shooting the idiots again.

"Damn," Red Wrecker says, squinting her eyes to look: "I think those !@#$ers moved quicker now that they're dead."

"They're less scared, now," Dragonfly says, knowing a thing or two about death: "Or not at all. They've got an order and they need to carry it out. Worst that can happen is they die again, and then they're free."

Red Wrecker nods, and then winces: "I just... I think of Blastman when I see that, you know?"

"I know, hon," Dragonfly says, putting an arm around her short ally -- careful not to hit any tender spots: "He didn't suffer for long. He wasn't suffering at all. It wasn't even really him. Just his body."

Florence nods, putting her arm around Dragonfly: "You finished it, right?"

"I did, yeah," Gail says, not liking to think about that moment; the second she realized the latest resuscitated casualty to stumble into her kill zone was once a good friend -- minus his helmet, his head crushed and broken.

His eyes wide and raging, no longer him.

She didn't even hesitate. She kicked him in the skull as hard and fast as she could -- finishing the job that Thor's hammer had started -- and then leaped towards the next target. And the next. And the next.

Over and over and over, until she was at least fifty kills past him, and able to truly realize what she'd done...

And what did she feel, then? How did she feel after she really knew her friend and ally was dead, and she'd been the one to put him down?

Nothing. Not a damn thing.

It was as if she was numb in the heart -- gone well past her capacity to care, much less grieve, and was running from event to event on a shake-brained adrenaline high.

That's been over a week ago. She has yet to come out of that state. Even hearing that Satanoth -- her abusive former "owner" -- had died hasn't made her feel anything.

(Except maybe relieved, for obvious reasons...)

This is not normal for her. Not at all.

She'd lost allies and friends in the field before, and while she had to keep going -- finish the mission, or just !@#$ing survive -- she felt something for their passing. Sadness, rage, pity, or just dark amusement if they'd had it coming.

Hell, when Black Card bought it she'd been wrecked. But then she'd loved the crotchety old bastard. She'd betrayed him all the same, when the moment occurred, but she'd have confessed sooner or later.

He may even have understood.

And Disparatre! Losing him had been torture. The loss of what was. What could have been.

All that time wasted, waiting for what happened next, but never did...

But now? She's lost Blastman, and Swiftfoot before that. Free Fire is in pieces, they say, and SPYGOD's missing in action.

The President is dead. Katy killed him and then herself.

And so many dead Russians, around her. Heroes she'd only met seconds or hours before the fight. Soldiers that had flirted with the cute American heroes, knowing they had no chance in hell but eager to try, anyway.

So many dead. So many lost. And she can't feel a goddamn thing for any of them.

She wonders if this is more fine print to the new deal she'd made...

* * *

"So here's my proposition, Gail," Tombo said in Satanoth's ghost larder, some time ago: "I can get you out of here. I can make you a new body, just like your old one. I can bring you back to life.

"But there's a catch. And I'm not going to lie, hon. For you? This is going to be a tough one."

"What is it?" the ghost of Red Queen asked, desperate to leave before he comes back to eat her.

"You ever watch Babylon 5?" the red-haired ghost asked, smiling a little. 

"Not really my thing, no. I was more into... wait, why does that matter?"

"Well, if you had seen the show, which is awesome, by the way, you'd remember that the main character dies between seasons. And when he comes back there's a being with him that's given him some of his life, so that he can keep going. Not enough to give him a normal lifespan. Just another twenty years or so. More than enough time to do what he has to do, and keep going for a while."

"So... you're going to give me twenty years?"

"No," Tombo said, shaking her head: "I'm going to bring you back to life. I'm going to put you back in your old body and heal it. I'm going to send you back into the world to live there for as long as you can. I mean, you'll die eventually. Maybe it'll be old age, but..."

"Yeah," Gail said "That's not gonna !@#$ing happen."

"You never know," the red-head sighed, perhaps remembering her own, extremely stupid and unfair demise: "But here's the thing, hon. And I am totally serious about this. I have to give you a condition, and you have to stick by it or else everything I do will be totally cancelled. 

"You will die, again, and this time there will be no coming back. No deals, no miracles. Nothing."

"What is it?"

"If you would be saved by death, you must never invoke it again," Tombo said, her eyes narrowing: "And that means you cannot kill another human being, ever again."

"What?" Gail gasped. 

"What I said, hon. No killing people. Not by direct action, nor by indirect. No bullet to the head, no knife to the heart. No claymore in the ground, no spiked pit in the jungle. 

"Now, you can wound, you can knock out. Hell, you can even cripple people. You can do anything you like up until the point of no return.

"But if you go past that point and take a life, even if they totally deserve it? Even if the fate of the whole !@#$ing world lies on your shoulders, and your hands?"

She fell silent and looked at Gail, who would have gone pale if she wasn't already a shade: "I die."

"You die. And for good, this time."

"You're asking an assassin not to kill."

"Yes," Tombo grinned: "But I know you read The Invisibles, hon."

"Just that one weird issue where the guard gets shot by that guy in the mask," she shrugged: "SPYGOD was getting everyone to read it when we did that huge thing. All those clones and tanks in the secret base with Ben Franklin and everyone..."

"Yeah, well, I don't think anyone had any idea what the hell was going on, there," the redhead chuckled, raising an eyebrow: "Anyway, when you get back to life? I'll tell you where to find my comics stash. Pay attention to King Mob's character arc. You'll find it... inspirational."

"I haven't !@#$ing said yes, yet," Gail growled.

"I know, dear," Tombo said: "I'm waiting."

"For me to say yes? How do you know I will?"


"Look, I'm !@#$ing sick and tired of people just dropping deals in front of me!" the ghost of Red Queen shouted: "Ever since I hooked up with SPYGOD it's been one !@#$ing thing after another. Hey, do this. Hey, that went badly, now do this. Hey, that went even worse! Do this, instead.

"Every time I say yes. Every time it winds up even worse than before! And I'm !@#$ing sick of it!"

"Yeah, I know," the redhead said, giving the ghost a moment to fume: "And I'm sorry, Gail. I really am sorry. But I can't feel too sorry for you."


"Gail, you said it yourself," Tombo says, pointing a finger: "You're an assassin. You kill people. Some of them are people I've had to help. And maybe some of them deserved it, and maybe some of them really didn't. 

"But you killed them. You. Intentionally. For money. Or on orders, which is pretty much the same !@#$ing thing if you ask me.

"So did you really think you could just keep pushing the damn karma button and not get zapped, eventually?"

Red Queen looked at her, and then down: "I thought you cared."

"You think I'd be here if I didn't?" Tombo almost shouted: "You think I'd waste my time with some damn contract killer if I didn't feel sorry for you? Jesus Christ, Gail. Think once in a while."

There was silence, then. And then, slowly, Gail nodded: "Okay. Fine. You're right-"

"Yes, I am," Tombo interrupted: "And I've just offered you the mother of all sweetheart deals, provided you can get your head out of your ass and be willing to change."

Silence, again. Deeper this time. 

"So no killing," Gail said after a moment, looking back up again.

"No killing people,"  Tombo specified, holding the finger up: "Animals are okay. Undead is okay, too."

"What about cyborgs?"

"Depends how much meat they've got left. If there's a soul remaining, that's a no. If it's just parts and a program, well, fire away."


"I hate to sound racist, but if they're not human it's not my problem. Though I hope I could convince you to spare them, too."

"Gods...?" Gail asked, smirking. 

And as soon as Tombo told her the answer, the deal was as good as struck.

* * *
Red Wrecker's been crying. Gail almost didn't notice, given her reverie.  

"It's not fair," she says, holding her free hand over her eyes -- the tears pouring down: "He was a great guy. He didn't deserve to go out like that."

"We all get what we deserve, hon," Dragonfly says, hugging her a little tighter: "Maybe not right away. Maybe it takes a while. But sooner or later we go down. All we can do is hope that when we do, it means something. We help someone. We save something greater than ourselves.

"But that doesn't mean we have to like it, do we?"

"No," Florence says, wiping her eyes: "No we don't."

"We're going to make them pay for this, Florence," Dragonfly promises her, whispering into her ear: "You got my word on that. These gods are gonna !@#$ing suffer. They will fall.

"And when we're done we'll build a little mountain out of their damn bones, dose it with kerosene, and light the !@#$er up so bright it'll be seen from goddamn outer space."

It's not the most comforting thought in the world. But something about how Dragonfly says it makes Red Wrecker's sadness go away.

And they stand there, arm in arm, for quite some time -- waiting for the Russian Legion to shoot another group of racist, eurotrash morons that thinks it can sneak past a solid wall of warbots.

Thursday: 5/26/16

"It's okay, Karl," the voice says: "Just take a deep breath. Relax. You're safe now-"

"Safe?" Karl almost shouts: "Do you have any damn idea what you're saying? How can I be safe from... from that? From him?"

The kid looks awful. He's been burned so many times that his scars have scars. The left side of his face is a melted ruin, and some of his fingers have been burned down to the nubs.

And that's what they can see. Under the ripped and torn clothing he was wearing when they found him -- crawling through Moscow's sewers, looking for a way out -- he may have other, nastier injuries.

"Karl, look at me," the voice says: "Look at my face. Look at me."

He does, but just barely. He's crying and shaking and shivering, almost losing control.

"None of this is your fault," the voice says, its owner's hands taking the boy's hands and holding them tight: "You were forced to do this. I know. I saw."

"He made me," Karl whimpers, tears pouring out of his eyes: "He made me attack Jana with a knife. Made us... hurt each other. Do things..."

"Oh god," the voice says, going in for a hug: "Oh God, I'm so sorry."

"I wanted to scream," Karl goes on, hugging back for dear life and not letting go: "I wanted to be sick. I wanted to get away. I couldn't move!"

"I know."

"I couldn't moooooooooooooooooove....."

He falls apart, then. Hysterics upon hysterics. Screaming and crying and howling until his throat almost rips out of his mouth.

And Randolph Scott holds his beloved, lost son -- down in the hiding place he and his allies have made in the besieged city of Moscow -- and thanks the God he doesn't really believe in that his son, like his daughter Jana, are finally both away from the monster who took them. 

* * *

"He must be somewhere, noble Heimdall," Ve hisses, his pale hands bursting into flame: "For just as none may enter this city, nor may any leave it. The siege wall of steel and fire has seen to this!"

"Indeed," the gold-eyed Aesir says, knowing full well where Karl is, and who is with him, but choosing to say nothing -- at least for now.

(And hoping Ve does not think to command him, outright.)

"Then how can he simply leave?" their leader shouts, throwing a wave of fire across a wall in what used to be the Mayor's study -- all but melting the handsome photographs and scorching the stately wallpaper around them.

"Perhaps he was spirited away by our new foes," red-haired Tyr offers: "Tossed into their chariot like some winsome wench, fresh from the pillage."

"We saw him not at the battle, itself," Thor rumbles: "But then, I would expect no less than craven behavior from him. He was no warrior, no soldier."

"But he was there before it," Ve insists: "At my side. Awaiting my bidding."

"So perhaps he has been taken as hostage by these Olympians," Freyja says: "Perhaps they seek to make him speak of things seen, and heard."

"Somehow I think not," Vili says: "It seems not within their ways to behave thus. It seems more a thing for we Aesir."

"Does it matter, truly?" noble Baldr asks: "As brother Thor has so forcibly pointed out, he was worth less than bum-splatter upon the floor of the servants' quarters-"

"He still had his uses," Ve insists: "And I was not finished with them."

"Come, brother," Vili says, taking a careful step forward: "I know of the needs you had in the past, before you came forth to hold the form you now possess. But now that we have returned to this world, was such a one truly worth so much trouble? Does his absence truly bode ill for our bringing of the Wolf-Time?"

Pale Ve just looks at his brother, and slowly nods: "No. You are right, my brother. It does not. He would be of little use for the battle we now fight. The things we must now do.

"My concern is this," the God in the pyrokinetic's body goes on, looking from god to god in the suddenly-small room: "Not that his absence changes things. But that his disappearance is a problem

"He should not have been able to simply leave, like some unwanted guest at the feast. 

"We should have seen him go. We should have known he was absent.  

"And yet, all these days... and now, suddenly, we notice he is missing?"

He looks around the room, focusing on each Aesir in turn: "How did he escape the hateful eye of Tyr? The senses of Thor? The watchful guard of Syn...?"

He looks to Heimdall, but says nothing directly to him, turning around to face the others instead: "How can we have been so blind as to allow such a jarl as he to merely vanish?"

"Mayhap some trickery is afoot, then," wise Bragi says, holding forth his hands: "Mayhap our trickster is not as bound as we would care to have him be."

Everyone gasps at that thought, and Ve all but wheels on Thor: "Could this be true, my nephew? Could you have failed to imprison foul Loki, as my brother, your father, willed it thus?"

The suggestion enrages Thor, clearly -- thunder booms in the distance, and the skies outside the window grow dark and heavy. But the thundergod dutifully drops to one knee to offer fealty: "My lord Ve, brother to the All-Father, my father. I swear upon my name, and his, and yours, that I did as I was commanded. 

"I bound him fast within the entrails of his son, Nari, and set him below the serpent, whose venom drips into his eyes and burns his brain. And I charged his wife, Sigyn, to hold a bowl above his head to catch the poison. But when the bowl fills, she must dispose of it, at which time the foul poison can do its work. 

"In this way, he is bound for all time. He cannot escape the clutches of his son's bowels. He cannot die, for he heals from the poison while the bowl is above his head. But in the pain of that poison he can perform no trickery upon us. Silenced is his tongue. Addled is his guile. He can only writhe and scream and curse his sorry woman for her kindness."

He looks to Ve, who looks down, and then nods - extending a hand for his nephew to take: "Forgive me, lord of Thunder, for doubting you."

"All well and good," Thor says, taking the hand and raising up to both feet again: "I feel a different explanation yet awaits us-"

"But yet, this binding is not permanent," Wise Bragi says, holding forth his hands once more: "No offense to your good work, Odinson, but were Vor here she would remind us all that, come the Ragnarok, we shall face our venomous brother once more. For he shall have slipped his bonds, and come to face us under the hoary banner of our enemies, the Jottun."

"Aye," Vili says: "In the time to come-"

"But is that time not now?" Bragi asks, looking about the room: "Have we not said this be the Wolf-Time? Have we not told our new foes we bring it hence, and here, by our words and our deeds?"

"What mean you, Bragi?" Ve asks, clearly displeased at the thought this produces: "If you've a truth to say, speak it plan!"

"I tell you my meaning plainly, here and now, my Lord Ve, my brothers and sisters," wise Bragi goes on: "If we have turned forward the seasons to the Axe-Time, the Sword-Time, the Wolf-Time? Then all that shall come to pass must surely do so. 

"Plainly put, that means that the half-brother of the Odinsons is free of the excellent bonds our friend Thor placed him within. And if we consider his nature, then we cannot expect that he would be content to sit in our hall and make sport with the body of the All-Father, and drink what mead we left behind. 

"No, my friends. We must believe that Loki Laufeyson walks the world as we do, a free man, ready to play his part in the doom that approaches..."

And all the Aesir gasp at that thought.

Friday: 5/27/16

"Here they come," Straffer says, looking at the horrendous thing his twenty specialists are all seeing through their helmets. 

It blots out the stars, the darkness ahead of them. A million million black balls -- approaching singly and in groups. 

And this time, they're not in straight lines, which will make it harder to get as many in one blow...

* * *

"Look at them, out there," the Candidate says, wincing at all the protestors at his rally, at the convention center: "Must be a couple hundred."

"About a thousand, sir," the head of security says: "We're making sure they don't get in."

"That would be a good thing," the man says, shaking his large head at the thought. 

Wondering how many of them might have a gun...

* * *

"Alright, then," the Campaign Director says: "You all ready?"

Someone shouts "Yes" -- perhaps too loudly -- but everyone takes up the word within seconds.

And a second after that, the particle cannons start firing -- atomizing 8-Ball after 8-Ball.

At which point the countdown begins, and all hands know how long they have until the platforms must be shut down...

* * *

In the far back, hiding up in the rafters, the man with the gun waits.

No one can see him. He's made certain of that. 
(High technology -- some purchased, some stolen, all effective)

It's just a matter of time before his target comes out, and he can take a clear shot...

* * *

The dark cloud marches, and the men and women fire at it.

Particle cannons roar silently in space -- lighting up for a brief second, then expelling a growing, solid cylinder of pure energy.

Some take the outliers. Some concentrate on the center. Some calculate angles and vectors, and try to take out as many as they can.

And with each volley the point of annihilation comes closer and closer to Earth...

* * *
"Sir, we can't have you go out there, yet," one of his lesser folks tells him after that ridiculous Governor from Alaska -- who showed up unannounced --  has had her say.

(And come back to pester him for a position, once again...)

"Why the heck not?" he asks, clearly upset: "Listen to that crowd-"

"We're having some problems with the audio feed," the gal says, holding up her communicator: "Just give us a few minutes and we'll have it sorted."

* * *

Time goes by too quickly. The darkness advances, the firing line moves.

And then an alarm begins to go off -- shrill and insistent.

"Alright," Straffer says: "Everyone get ready to move..."

And in seconds, there's another alarm. This one informing the specialists that the platforms are moving position, in time with the turning of the Earth...

 * * *

Too long, the assassin thinks as he shifts his weight. Much too long. 

The piece of !@#$ should have been out by now. He should have nailed him by now. 

It's all going too long. Do they know? Are they coming for him? 

Five more minutes, he decides. And then he's gone...

* * *

The relieved platform specialists take their helmets off and breathe. Drink. Go next door for a smoke. 

The new entrants pick up where their previous placeholders left off. Shooting their quadrants, just as someone else is now shooting theirs. 

In this way, there will be no overheating. The platforms will all be used in turn. 

All they have to do is worry about missing too many...

* * *

At the ten minute mark, the gunman sighs, packs up his weapon, and moves away.

Something isn't right here. Somehow they know he's in the audience. 

Somehow they suspect he's going to kill the Candidate before he reaches the damn convention. 

But it doesn't matter. If not today, there's tomorrow, and then the day after that...

* * *

And Straffer wonders how long they can keep this new plan going, given how much ground they're already losing to the attack...

* * *

And the Candidate takes to the stage, wondering why he feels so cold -- as though he'd seen an image of his grave, yawning open at him...

Saturday: 5/28/16

"... No, seriously. Pre-Death was a thing. Everyone talked about it, except in the mainstream media. But you talk to anyone who worked EMT shifts, or emergency or rescue workers? They'd tell you people just died before they were actually supposed to. Killed in their cars before getting into an accident, ODing before they took a single pill.

"Only now, the same people who were saying that it was a thing? They're now saying it's over. It's been gone for about a week, now. And that's really interesting when you consider the timing-

"Good evening to you all, our children, good people of the Earth. I am Seranu, King of Olympus, ruler of the Olympians.

"Please forgive this intrusion into your televisions. It is very rude to interrupt your evening in this way, and I would not do it unless it was a matter of the utmost importance. 

"But there is something that needs to be said. And now that we, here, within Olympos have come to an understanding concerning it, we must also speak it to you. 

"This message is being sent to you in all of your many languages, so there will be no misunderstanding, and no mistake. We recognize some ideas may not translate very well, and for that I apologize, again. Hopefully it will not impede understanding. 

"As you are all aware, last Sunday we traveled to your city of Moscow, there to confront the beings that have called themselves the Aesir. We hoped for a peaceable talk, hopefully followed by a change in their behavior, or a return from whence they came. 

"As you are also well aware, that did not happen. They attacked us, killing one of our number. We defended ourselves, and perhaps killed some of them. 

"And when it became clear that to press our attack would mean not only their death, but also the whole-scale destruction of that city, and the deaths of every human being within it? We decided to withdraw rather than allow that to happen. 

"Given the history of this world, I can safely say that no nation in living memory has ever seen the truly terrible results of a war between Pantheons. So you may choose to regard my reasoning as cowardice, or braggadocio. 

"Please do not. Please believe me when I say that when gods go to war with one another, the world suffers for the pride and folly of such beings. Humans become both weapon and shield, and the landscape is scoured and warped for ages to come. 

"We would not wish this upon you, our children. We wish only to aid you in your time of need. To be the guardians you have asked for. The assistance you have prayed for. 

"The friends and mentors you deserve.

"That is why I must speak to you, now, of these Aesir that have returned to this world. 

"When first we announced our awakening, I said that, so far as we knew, we were the only Pantheon that had returned. I spoke truly, then. I had no belief that we would see another body such as ours within a human lifetime, or even an epoch of ours. 

"For the time of Gods is long past, and our presence here is something of an anomaly. 

"The Aesir, as a group, should not have returned at all. Not for many billions of your years, if ever. 

"They speak of a time known as Ragnarok, when the end of the world shall occur as they have prophesied, and each God shall meet his or her appointed end in the battle. And whether that time should come at all was something of a question. 

"But now they have returned, and their return has come at the expense of many lives. Human vessels have been hollowed out and used to house their divine essence, so as to more fully live within the world, and affect it. 

"And the temperaments of those vessels has irrevocably tainted the divine essence, within, turning a pantheon once noble and virtuous into creatures both savage and depraved. 

"They no longer live within the boundaries of their prophecies, my children. They seek to accelerate their promised end. They desire to bring about their Ragnarok,  here and now.

"And the fact that its promised ravages will end all life upon this Earth is no barrier to them. For they do not care for you, the people of this world. They care only for their mad desire to fulfill their doom.

"There are those who support these creatures. The people who were in league with the vessels they have inhabited. The people who supported the ideals and beliefs of those persons, even if they did not belong to a group, or engage in their activities. What you refer to as single-issue voters, I believe?

"My children, all the peoples of the Earth. I beseech you. Turn your back upon these Aesir, and the ideas of the creatures that have merged with them. Deny them your support, your belief. Deny them the power that support and belief gives them. 

"If all of you turned your back upon then, Moscow would fall within hours, and the world could be clean of their taint once more. 

"Failing that, there are more drastic options. We have no desire to use them. Already we protect this world from an attack from without. We have no desire to engage a different sort of enemy from within. 

"But if we should lose another of our race? If we should be attacked, here in our home? If we should be denied the right to perform our duties, or hindered in our ability to protect you?

"Then we will do what we have to. What we were created to do. What we must.

"I am Lord Seranu, and these are my words. Heed them, please. And be well." 

"... and that's why I know those damn Olympians were behind pre-death, folks. Satanoth dies? It stops.

"Kind of makes you wonder what else they're up to, huh?"

Sunday: 5/29/16

"You sent for me, my Lord Ve," Heimdall says, walking into the Mayor's office.

"I sent no such order," the pale-skinned brother of Odin says, holding the cold head of a dead Olympian in his hands.

"You were about to," the gold-eyed man says, smiling through teeth made of the same substance.

"Yes, I was," Ve says, smiling through black lips as he puts Satanoth's head down on the table: "We need to talk, all-seeing Heimdall. 

"And I suspect you know of what we must discuss..."

* * *

"Look, no one wants to say it, yet," Peg says over the videoscreen, looking at Josie in her office: "But it's only a matter of time. The new President's going to want to clean house. We're kind of sticking out on the pile, right now."

"They can't trash us," Josie says, shaking her pink head and wondering if it's too late to start drinking on the job: "We're sentient beings, Peg. Just because we're clones doesn't mean a damn thing."

"Maybe not. But I have a bad feeling we're going to get blamed for what Katy did-"

"Katy didn't do anything!" Josie shouts: "She had something done to her. This isn't the first time someone's mind controlled someone into something."

"I know that, and you know that," Peg says: "But how long before grief turns to anger and they ask this new guy to do something? And how long before he decides doing something could be as simple as firing us all?"

"Then... I'll go to him, first," Josie says: "I'll go to him, talk to him, and try and get him to see reason."

"You want me to go with you?"

"No, just me," Josie says, nodding: "It'll be less of a threat that way. I might even catch him in a decent mood..."

* * *

"Tell me, Heimdall," Ve says, walking closer to the far-seeing warrior: "Who became you? Do you even know?"

"I do, yes," the gold-eyed man says, nodding: "A chronicler of fictions. A man terrified of the religion of the deserts."

"Which one?" Ve asks, grinning: "There are three, all with one sour, unhappy God sitting in what must be a staid and mirthless Valhalla."

"The one whose followers are sometimes guided to kill others in that God's name," Heimdall answers: "This vessel feels they are like that, or at least desirous of such a death, or that such a thing be done at all. His tales are diseased with fear of that happening, and he has allowed that fear to taint his own soul. 

"And yet, he is not an evil man..." the gold-eyed warrior goes on, looking askance -- as if the answer was through the floor, rather than in his own mind: "Merely a broken one, in need of rest and love."

"Then you are indeed fortunate, noble Heimdall," Ve says, patting his pale hands together: "For though I feel the desires of this man, and know something of his temperament, I know little of true consequence. I have some of his memories, yes, but they are as a goblet tossed upon the floor. Broken clay and spilled wine, mixed amongst the dirt and things tracked in from the muck outside the hall.

"All I can say for certain is the paleness of the skin, the black of these lips and eyes, the dreams of conquest and rule..."

And then he holds up his hands, and they burst into flame. 

"And the fire, last of all. Burning and bright, and oh so hungry..." 

* * *

"So, this is your plan?" Senator Cruz asks, shaking his head as something incredibly ravenous howls, a little too close for comfort.

"It is, yeah," SPYGOD admits, looking at the door they're going to be running out of, in just a few hours.

"Just wait until it's fully light, and then... what did you say-"

"Run like !@#$, Senator."

"Run like... like that," the man sighs: "Do you really think we can make it through the desert and get picked up by friendly forces while dodging those... things?"

"I think we'll have a !@#$ing easier time doing it in the daytime, when they're asleep."

"I still don't see-"

"Look, Ted? Can I call you Ted?"


"Okay, Ted? It's really !@#$ing simple," SPYGOD says, tapping the doorframe: "We can't !@#$ing radio for help. It's busted. I can't fix it. And we can't !@#$ing stay here because we might get bombed by the damn Russians at any moment. And we're about run out of rations and coffee, and that office has enough !@#$in it to grow mushrooms."

"Yes, it was getting pretty nasty in there."

"Exactly. So you and me need to get the hell out of town, get to civilization, and get help. And seeing as how you can't !@$#$ing die, and I can !@#$ing kill everyone I need to to get us out of country...?"

SPYGOD looks over his glasses -- dead, white eyes in his head -- and does his best to look serious.

"Then we need to leave," the Senator says, holding up his hands in defeat: "I got it. Yes."

"!@#$ing groovy," SPYGOD says, leaning back and checking his watch: "Let's put you back in the race, Senator. You've been gone too damn long..."

* * *

"I did not ask you before the others for a simple reason, noble Heimdall," Ve says, shaping the fire of his hands into a sword -- long, heavy, and brutal: "I wished to give you the chance to come to me. I wished to see if, indeed, you recalled your nobility. Your service. Your oath as a warrior to your King.

"Imagine my surprise and sadness when, days later, you still have not come to me. Imagine my displeasure at having to summon you to this room to ask you to reveal what you should have said before."

"And what is that, Lord Ve?" Heimdall asks, knowing full well how this is going to go.

"Karl," Ve says, leaning closer to his warrior: "Where is he?"

"I... I cannot say where he is, Lord Ve," Heimdall says, doing his best to hold to the truth of things.

"But you can see where he is," the pale Aesir says, pointing the sword's tip between the gold eyes of the all-seeing warrior: "Can't you?"

"I can, yes," the warrior admits.

"So you can see the truth, but cannot bring yourself to speak it," Ve sneers, putting the sword away -- fire turning to smoke in the air: "And wise, sonorous Bragi worried about the trickery of the Laufeyson. He would better to have seen to the trickery from within our own ranks!"

And there's nothing Heimdall can say to that. 

* * *

Up on the hill overlooking Moscow, some distance from the Army camp, an old, heavyset woman in a white dress uniform is clearly annoyed to have her observations interrupted. 

"Doctor Thokk?" the Russian Colonel says, saluting her from behind as she holds up a finger -- clearly indicating he should be silent as she watches the town through a complicated instrument. 

He stands at attention for some time. Maybe more than necessary. But, eventually, she deigns to put the scope away, slips a heavy cap onto the top of it, and turns to regard him. 

"Forgive the intrusion, ma'am," the young man says, saluting her once more -- marveling at how tightly her white hair has been pulled back by that severe bun: "I am Colonel Numetzov. I have been sent to ask you for your recommendations."

"My recommendations," the old woman says, chuckling: "In regards to what?"

"The Russian Legion, of course," the Colonel says, a little confused: "I was led to believe you are responsible for them."

"No," Doctor Thokk says, scowling: "You are thinking of Doctor Prisluga. Her genius created them. I merely adapted their programming to the fighting of such powerful beings."

"Then I am still in need of your expertise," the Colonel says: "My superiors wish to know when the crisis will be over. When the Russian Legion turn from containment to attack?"

"Only when the time is right, Colonel," Thokk says, turning away from him and going back to her scope: "To attack now would be to catch millions of civilians in the crossfire. And these poor souls would become creatures the Aesir could use to attack us."

"Oh," the young Colonel says. He clearly hadn't thought about that.

"So for now, we contain," she says, not caring to look at his clearly-clueless face any longer: "But when the time comes to act? Oh, we shall know, Colonel. We shall know..."

* * *

"Perhaps we have all been addled, Lord Ve," Heimdall says, taking a respectful -- and hopefully safe -- step away from the pyrokinetic: "If Loki does walk this world, as Wise Bragi surmises, all our actions are suspect."

"What do you mean?" Ve sneers through black lips: "Would you lay your perfidy at the feet of that half-a-giant? Can you not own up to your own failings?"

"My Lord, think, I beg of you," the all-seeing warrior says, putting his hands together in supplication: "Think of the hall, the day these vessels appeared. Think of how the debate went from lofty to base, and thereupon to violence and murder. Thor himself slew his father in rage!"

"And I have forgiven him. What more needs be said?"

"Only that we have not been acting as ourselves, even before we took these forms," Heimdall says: "That the mortal who spoke to us. Did his words not seem strange? Did they not feel as though they were a command, rather than a request?"

"So quick to place blame upon Loki, or enchantments," Ve says: "So reluctant to claim your own mistakes as a true warrior. Have you fallen so far that you can no longer see light from your grave?"

"My lord, please," Heimdall continues, choosing to kneel: "My life is forfeit. I knew this the day I first lied to you. But consider all we have turned our back upon. Our honor. Our place in things. The prophecies we hew to. The doom we know is coming-"

"Ah, yes," Ve says, narrowing his black and red eyes: "Now that, my servant, is a subject of some discussion. For is it not said that, come the Ragnarok, Loki shall be the one to slay you?"

"Aye," the gold-eyed warrior says: "At the battle with the frost giants. He and I clash swords for a day and a night, and at the end vile trickery looses itself upon me, and I-"

The fiery sword is back and whistling through the air before Heimdall can finish stating his oft-repeated doom. It severs his head in two, leaving blood and brain to fly everywhere. 

"Such be the way of prophecy," Ve says, kicking the still-kneeling corpse onto the floor, and dispelling the sword: "As I have said, Heimdall. If it be our doom, then yet have a say of how it comes to pass.

"Would you not say so, dead god of death?" the pale Aesir asks the head of Satanoth. When no answer comes, Ve laughs, and leaves the room -- wondering if he should incinerate the body, or leave it there as a reminder of things to come. 

As such, he does not see Satanoth's eyes go from the stare of death to the sharp focus of wakefullness. 

And he missed the grim smile upon the Olympian's lips, now that a death has fed him...

(SPYGOD is listening to Petals (Beth Orton) and having a Legion)

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