Let’s See Action

June 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Today, despite the crippling (it’s 42 degrees Celsius in Toronto!) heat, I managed to get some work done. Let me say that, despite having to work the night shift tonight, I am in no way sad, because this means I miss out having to do anything on one of the hottest days ever.

It’s a good feeling.

You know what else is a good feeling? Having more story for you. I would like to remind everyone that I periodically update my story through the On-Going Stories page, so that if you’d like to read it in a way that won’t melt your eyeballs, or so you can read it all at once, then you can get it there. I’ll update it soon, but it should be at part 18.

Enjoy!

XIX.

Wake up, Marcus.”

Amira gently slapped the Roman’s face. He murmured and tried to burrow his face further into the sand, but Amira was relentless. She gave him another tap on the cheek, harder this time, and Marcus’ eye snapped open.

“What?” He asked, as angry as his grogginess would allow.

“You need to get up, and we need to get moving. Dogen said Surtr is close behind us, and in any case, I’d rather get through this desert as fast as we can.”

Marcus rolled on his back and covered his eyes with his hands. “Another minute, mother, the Macedonians can wait another minute.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Just a memory I have. What happened to me? Why do I not remember what has happened for the last while?”

“You took quite a beating as we left Leviathan’s casino. A man named Dogen took care of you, and you’re alright now, but that will change if we don’t get moving.” She crouched down beside him and gave him another slap on the face. “Up, up, up!”

Thunder pealed in the distance and Amira glanced over her shoulder. Ugly, tumorous storm clouds hung in the sky behind them. Lightning danced between them in a constant rumbling roar, while fire lanced upwards to meet it. When they kissed, there was a rumble that shook the ground. The clouds grew and shrank seemingly at random, but it was definitely moving closer.

“Alright, if you so insist. But what could possibly be the reason to hurry?” Marcus slowly climbed to his feet. He seemed whole and hale, but he moved like a drunkard. It was, however, a great improvement on the comatose, expiring Marcus from before.

“Reason? Oh, just that.” Amira thumbed over her shoulder at the clouds.

Marcus exploded upright and grabbed Amira by the wrist. She stumbled after him as he ran, full tilt, away from the cloud.

“Why didn’t you wake me earlier?” Marcus complained.

“Earlier? I was a little distracted, Marcus.” They ran by four stone statues, the images trapped a moment before they were able to complete their strikes, and an abandoned fire pit. Marcus paid them no mind and urged Amira on. “And by the way, you’re welcome.”

“For what?”

“For saving your life, you idiot. You were halfway to gone before I was able to help you. But don’t worry about it, I was happy to help.” Amira wrenched her hand out of Marcus’, and concentrated as Dogen had taught her. While she had been running like a human before, now she floated an inch off the ground and kept pace perfectly with Marcus. He arched an eyebrow at her.

“You’re learning.”

“And you’re an ingrate.”

“I am. Thank you, for saving me.”

“You’re welcome. But now what do we do?”

Marcus glanced over his shoulder. The cloud was getting closer and he could see that beneath the clouds there was a raging firestorm. Tongues of flame stalked across the desert. Their heads swayed back and forth under the clouds, mixing and splitting and spitting sparks. The ghostly outlines of enormous figures, giants, moved through the fire as swiftly as the wind.

“We run. That is Surtr back there, or at least his greatest lieutenants. I feel, as a duly contracted employee of yours, to inform you that he would have no trouble catching, dismembering, and eradicating every last trace of us, down to the ashes, if he catches up to us.”

“That’s a great deal of help, Marcus. I’m so glad I hired you.”

“If it is any consolation, I am not. Leviathan was much easier to deal with than Surtr will be.”

Amira frowned at him, but Marcus smiled back at her. It was a grim smile, but it was better than nothing.

She drifted ahead of him and allowed her thoughts to wander. Running, or flying, was taking no effort, but her curiosity was getting to the better of her. There were so many unanswered questions that she had, and if what Spider had told her was true, she wouldn’t have much time before she’d be gone from here.

“Marcus,” she asked, “what happens if you, well, die here?”

“You want to know this now?” Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. Amira reversed herself to face him and flew backwards, a small smile on her face.

“Indulge me.”

“I see you are enjoying your new abilities. How wonderful.”

“Entirely. And you’re dodging the question.”

He scowled, but Amira was getting used to it. A displeased scowl seemed to be Marcus’ default expression, and besides, he certainly didn’t look bad scowling.

“Very well. It should be obvious that one cannot die again. The soul appears to be immortal, and cannot be destroyed. Enough mad spirits throughout history have tried, and as far as I know, all of them have failed.’

‘But while the soul might be invulnerable to destruction, as you saw, it can certainly be harmed. There is a part of the soul that can never completely divorce itself from the memories of its physical existence. No matter how much the soul believes it cannot be harmed, if enough damage is done to the soul, physical or otherwise, it will be lost.”

“I thought you said the soul could not die.”

“I did.” Marcus harrumphed at her interruption.“But it can be lost. If the shock is great enough, the soul believes it is dying again, and while it cannot, that shock might still drive the soul mad. Left mad and raving, the soul forgets who they are, and they are left to wander. No-one knows where they go.”

Amira shivered. “That sounds terrible.”

“It is. I have seen it often enough, and it has happened to me. It is never pleasant.”

“You’ve…died again?”

Marcus nodded. “Three times. I have felt my soul slip each time, but whether by luck of design, I have maintained my sanity. I do not wish to test it a fourth time.”

A question danced on the tip of Amira’s tongue and nearly forced itself out. She hesitated, thinking it hardly proper, but she desperately wanted to know. Behind how do I get out of here, the question of why am I here occupied her mind at almost every moment. The cloud grew closer, and Amira decided that propriety could take a backseat to necessity. The urge inside her had certainly grown to the level of need.

“Marcus, tell me. Why do you think you came here? Why, of all the places that souls can go, did you go to Hell? You were a practising pagan, weren’t you? You wouldn’t even have believed in it.”

Marcus scowled. To be more accurate, his pre-existing scowl deepened. “Are you truly asking me that question?” At Amira’s nod, he spat but continued. “Very well. I went to Hell because it was the only place I deserved to go.”

“Deserved to go? That’s a funny thing to say. I would figure that most people who sin enough to go to Hell either don’t care, or don’t know that they’re sinning in the first palce.”

“Sometimes, the Fates do not give us the choice to avoid sinning, and we are forced to damn ourselves for reasons beyond our control.”

Pain filled Marcus’ voice, and he shied away from Amira’s gaze. She was relentless. There was something he wasn’t saying, and Amira could tell it was something she desperately wanted to know.

“You regret it, don’t you?”

“Regret what?”

“Killing Caesar, killing your friend. You regret it!”

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

“Don’t lie, Marcus. I can hear it in your voice. You didn’t want to, didn’t you? Even when he became a tyrant and started to destroy your beloved Republic, you didn’t want to at the very end, did you?”

His eyes fixed on hers, and they were as hard as stone. “I regret a great many things. I regret that lust for power so devoured him that he became a man capable of destroying the Republic. I regret that Pompeii Magnus was not able to come to a compromise with him. I regret that he raised Octavian to be the monster that he was. But I do not, and have never, regretted killing him.”

“Then what do you gain by going to the Lethe, whatever that is. What’s in it for you?”

Marcus stopped abruptly. His feet kicked up sand as they skidded in the dirt.

“What are you doing, Marcus?” Amira asked. “Surtr’s getting closer. We can’t stop here!”

Marcus ignored her protest. “Bathing in the waters of the River Lethe is said to wash ones memories away. I would trade all of them to forget what I did, even if that would mean I were to lose myself. You asked the wrong question, madam. I do not regret killing Gaius, but the guilt wracks me with more pain than you can imagine. I admit to jealousy, because you have the chance to achieve what you desire. I can never undo the betrayal I rendered unto him, no matter how deserved it was. That is why I agreed to serve you, in exchange for the chance to bathe in that river. To lose that pain would be worth any price, even myself.”

“Now, if you have nothing else to ask me…” Marcus bowed to her.

Amira was shocked. He said it so casually, with such resignation that it was clearly a decision he had come too so long ago. Was this was Hell is really like? She wondered. Is Hell really just us reliving our worst pain until we can’t bear it any more? That, however, was a question for another time.

“Fine. I’ll stop being nosey. Lead the way sir, but how in Hell are we supposed to get away? This is a flat plain and you can see for miles. I can run forever, but I’m pretty sure they can too.” Amira bit her lip as she watched the cloud grow closer and closer.

“We’re not. With your permission, mistress, I have an idea. It will be risky, though. I cannot guarantee success, but with luck, we may survive.”

“We may survive?”

“Luck has served us well so far.” Marcus smiled, and Amira suddenly understood the phrase “gallows humour.” She looked back to the cloud and realized she was tired. Not physically tired, as though she had been running full-tilt away from a firestorm that threatened to devour her, but weary. All she wanted to do was sleep, sleep and not worry about giants or demons or gods for a few minutes. She wondered how she had ever been able to do it as a mortal, when taxes and wars and terrorists and angry bosses were around every corner.

And she recalled that the best sleep of her life had been in the same bed as a big, hairy, slightly snoring man named Patrick.

She nodded to Marcus, already certain of what he was going to do. Marcus, for his part, wiped his hands together and raised them high, as though he was faced with an armed police man.

“Hail, bastard sons of misbegotten half-gods! Surtr, I call on you!”

The firestorm raged and swelled in response to Marcus’ words. It roared up to them and halted a few feet away, snapping and showering them in sparks. The heat was incredible, and threatened to sear the skin off of Amira’s face. A pair of sunglasses fell across her eyes, materializing into existence from nothing and shielding her from the worst of the glare. Marcus acted as though nothing was amiss, and put his hands on his hips as he stared down the storm.

“Surtr would not move himself to squash such a bug as you, Midlander.” Brimir stepped out of the fire and returned Marcus’ stare, with interest. He was even bigger than Amira remembered, and was draped with a thick shirt of mail. Flames licked from his mouth when he spoke, and his eyes glowed red from beneath his bushy eyebrows. He carried an ugly longsword in his hand and from his elbow down his arms were wreathed in fire. An army of giants gathered behind him, each brandishing a weapon more deadly-looking than the last, but they didn’t advance past Brimir. He was clearly the top dog, and none of the giants were willing to test that.

“Bug I might be, giant, but you will find I still have enough of a sting for you. Why do you seek to assail my mistress?”

“What Surtr has commanded, I make so, and he has commanded that Ragnarok has come. She,” he pointed to Amira, “will open the Chaos gate for him, and then Midgard will burn and Asgard will be cast down. The time has come for gods and mortals to remember their place.”

Marcus tsked. “Lucifer will not think overmuch of that plan. Is your master prepared to war against Hell and Heaven, dog?”

Brimir spat a sizzling gob of tar as another figure, much smaller than any giant, stepped out of the fire. “You will find, Marcus Junius of the Brutii, that much of Hell approves of Surtr’s plan.” A small demon, half-goat and half-man with a peacock’s tail, bowed low in front of them. “It just so happens that Lord Lucifer is, shall we say, absent, and the demonic Senate has decided to abstain from opposing Surtr. His plan pleases us, and we have pledged any support we can provide.”

“You bastards!” Amira shouted. “What did you do to Lucifer? He would never agree to that!”

Adramalech smiled. “Of course. And it is good for us, then, that he is but one vote in Parliament, and even better that he was away when the vote was cast. Our armies are already marching, Amira Mehenni. The End Times are upon us.”

“You voted. On the End Times.”

Adramalech smiled, his goat eyes shining. “Fitting, isn’t it?”

“Quiet.” Brimir snarled. “Now give us the girl, bug, and you will not suffer when I destroy you.”

“I am afraid that I can not.” A dangerous smile, the same one that Amira had seen on his face during their escape from the casino, played across his lips. “The madam has hired me to be her bodyguard, and I am pledged to her protection. You will have to go through me if you want her.”

Brimir roared and dashed his sword against the ground. Sparks erupted where the sword struck stone and it ripped a molten tear out of the ground. “Look at the bug challenging a giant. Your gambit failed, little one. My men will crush you instead. I will not give you the chance to escape.”

The smile on Marcus’ face faltered and the giants laughed. They took a menacing step forward and Amira was acutely aware of quite how many there were compared to Marcus. While he had proven himself in the casino, that had been against unarmed guards in a confusing situation. These giants were ready and eager for violence, and Marcus looked very small against them. Fear made it’s disgusting way from her stomach up through her throat, and curled up against her tongue, waiting for her to scream.

Suddenly, Amira knew what she had to do. She most certainly did not want to do what she was thinking of doing, but it was the only way. It wasn’t that she needed to prove it to Marcus, or that she was certain he would lose. But she needed to be certain for herself. She couldn’t run forever, especially since she was going to a place where running wouldn’t work anymore.

Amira knew that she would have to fight. No, she thought, that’s not right. I choose to fight.

She stepped around Marcus and faced down Brimir. The giant looked down at her, and for all that he said about how valuable she was, she saw that as far as he was concerned, he was looking at an ant. That’s all we are to them. We’re just ants, ants to be stepped on, or used as currency, or eaten whenever the mood strikes. As she realized that, she also realized that it didn’t matter what he thought about her. It never did and never would. For all the fire that Brimir belched and all he spoke about burning the world to ash, he was the same as any two-bit bully.

Dogen was right: if there was no desert, then there was no Brimir. And, if there was no Brimir, then she could do anything. Now it was time to prove that.

But first, she styled herself appropriately. She had quite liked the dress she wore to Leviathan’s casino, and willed it around herself again. She made a few alterations in her head and, purely for the sake of flair, made a little mist pool around her feet as she walked. It looked, and felt, cool.

“Brimir,” she said, adding a little weight to her voice, “you’re backwards. We’re not worried about escape at all. It’s you that ought to worry. I’ll give you the chance to leave now, and if you do, I promise to spare you. But hurry, the clock’s ticking, and I’ve never been patient.” She smiled brightly.

“Little whore, I do not care for jokes. Give yourself to me willingly, or I will cut you to a more pleasing size.” He hefted his sword menacingly, but the other giants stopped in their tracks. Good, she thought, It’s working.

“What are you doing, Amira?” Marcus whispered urgently in her ear.

“I am getting us out of here.” She whispered back. “I have a plan.”

“Does your plan involve being crushed by Brimir? Because that is where this is going!”

“Asmishdah could not hurt me, and neither will Brimir. Stand down, Marcus. That is an order.”

“Amira!” He grabbed her shoulder.

She turned to him with darkness in her eyes. Shadows rolled off her like waves on the shore and crashed into Marcus hard enough to make him step back. “Step away, Marcus. I don’t want to ask you again.”

Wow! Being bad-ass is fun! Amira could not remember a time where she forced someone away just with words as Marcus obediently stepped back. I could get used to this.

Amira turned back to face Brimir, who stared at her through narrowed eyes. “Come, Brimir. You were so proud earlier. Surely a little girl like me would be easy enough for you to handle?” She crooked a finger at him. “Come on, then, if you’re too proud to run.”

Brimir, to his credit, didn’t do anything over-the-top like roar. Instead, he swung his sword at Amira, aiming to chop off an arm. Amira, however, had never really realized just how long a second was, and although the sword moved fast enough to catch a fly mid-flight, it was really embarrassingly slow compared to her. She saw the sword coming and knew that if anyone were to actually swing a sword around her, she wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near it.

With only a little pop, Amira appeared behind Brimir, who stumbled as his sword smashed through where Amira should have been and crashed into the ground.

“You missed.” She said, taunting the giant.

He spun around, recovering his swing and turning it into a fearsome slash intended to bisect Amira into two more manageable pieces, but she, obviously, wasn’t there.

She was far too sane to be anywhere near a man like Brimir, and appeared standing in the crowd beside two giants. The heat that radiated off of them would have cooked meat to a crisp in a second, but it didn’t touch Amira. In fact, the air was rather cool and pleasant. She whistled, shocking Brimir and the giants beside her.

Brimir had begun to lose his cool which, objectively speaking, he never had in the first place. He whipped his sword around his head and brought it around in a slice that would have cut an elephant in two. It missed Amira, but did a number on the two giants that she had been standing between. The four halves toppled to the ground with a crash and boiling black blood quickly congealed on the sand.

Amira stepped out of the crowd behind Brimir and tapped him on the hip, being unable to reach his shoulder.

“Are we quite done here, Brimir? Or shall I continue to embarrass you?”

His eyes burned crimson in his anger and nearly popped out of his head. Fire vomited out of his mouth but it just rolled off of her and dissipated into the sky. She smiled sweetly and touched a finger to her cheek. “I suppose not, then.”

Brimir swung his sword vertically, any thought of sparing her gone by the wayside. A bare millisecond before it would have cut her in two, Amira shook her head.

“I think not, sir.” And she touched the sword with the tip of her finger. It exploded into shards that tore through the giants but didn’t so much as scratch the fabric of her glove. Brimir stumbled back, his arm blasted into pieces by the force Amira put out. The light was quickly fading from his eyes, but he managed to stay on his feet. The giants in the crowd, those not cut down by the shards of Brimir’s sword, took an anxious step back.

“You…you,” Brimir managed, his voice reduced to a dull rumble.

“I gave you three chances, Brimir, and you took none of them. I think it’s time for you to go.”

Amira kissed the tip of her fingers and blew it towards the fire giant. A hurricane wind blasted from her lips that tore into Brimir like it was made of sandpaper. He stumbled back, his roar turning into a scream as he was blasted into ash by the wind. His flesh was flensed and his black muscles were shredded into dust. His legs blew out from under him and as his torso hit the ground it collapsed into ash that swirled away into nothingness, carried away on the wind that turned into a gentle breeze.

The giants hesitated, torn between testing their luck and running away. Amira didn’t give them the option. After all, she reasoned, if she could defeat their leader without even breaking a sweat, then surely she could beat all the others, whether they came at her at once or one-by-one. It wasn’t even worth trying.

She closed her eyes and when she opened them, the plain was empty but for her and Marcus. Adramalech must have disappeared the moment Brimir’s success was in doubt. The rest of the giants had simply vanished as though they had never been there.

Amira turned towards a stunned Marcus, and smiled brightly at him. “There, I think I’ve got the hang of it now!”

 

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