The mission was going great until we got knocked out of the sky over Western Pennsylvania. This country is ridiculously huge, we weren't even close to Toronto and already we were in trouble – ah the joys of being a Kane. Carter was cutting Freak loose from the ruins of the boat and the rest of us were checking ourselves for broken bones when the wolves attacked.
At first I took them for Set-beasts – hey, they're not that different – I threw down my staff and it turned into a lion which promptly charged the shaggy beasts. It and two of the wolves started rolling around in the dog-cat fight to end all dog-cat fights. Meantime Carter and Julian had morphed into golden glowing combat avatars and some of the wolves had turned into steel mailed warriors, wait …what was with that?
I dipped under the surface of the Duat to try and get a clearer idea of exactly who we were fighting and saw – nothing? Horus and giant sized Julian were going hand to hand against swirling eddies of Duat stuff; ditto for my lion, and Jaz's, and Sean's bull. A super-eddy shoved me back into the Real World where I found wolves gnawing on the remains of three broken staves.
Then a voice cried, "Hold!" and one of the steel shirt guys was raising empty hands in the universal sign for let's-talk-not-fight.
I was beginning to get the idea that maybe these guys didn't belong to the enemy. Carter must have had the same feeling because he backed off and lost the avatar. After a minute Julian followed suit. I took a closer look at the guy in the steel t-shirt and my, wasn't it a lovely view!
You may have gotten the impression I like my guys dark and sultry – well I do but this blond was gorgeous enough to make me consider changing my type: His hair was kind of longish and yellow stubble covered a jawline to die for. He was definitely older than Carter – though maybe not by much – and topped six feet easy. His mail covered his broad shoulders and chest like a scaled second skin and short sleeves showed off a splendid set of biceps and triceps. He had gold rings around those arms and his neck too and they sure didn't look Egyptian.
"You stand on alien ground, Southron," he said – and to top it off he was a fellow Brit. Not a Londoner though, he sounded like an East Anglian. "Who are you and what do you seek in the North?"
Carter may have lost the hawk's head but he hadn't lost the attitude. "I am Carter Kane, Blood of the Pharaohs, Follower of Horus, Overseer of the 21st Nome!" he shouted; "We're trying to save the world here, you stupid Brit! The 100th Nome is under attack, Apophis is rising and if we don't stop him a giant serpent is going to swallow the sun, so either help or get the hell out of the way whoever you are!"
He really shouldn't have said that.
I kind of realized that myself, Sadie. In my own defense I'd like to point out I was worried sick about what might be happening in Toronto and we had all nearly been killed just now!
"Who am I?" The blond guy said his voice dropping to a soft and dangerous note. "You want to know who I am, Southron?"
I gulped. Suddenly I really didn't but it was too late now.
"I am Wolf-brother, Raven-feeder and Death-friend. You say that the sun will be swallowed by a great serpent? I say she is pursued daily across the sky by Skollgarm the great wolf and someday he will catch her. Yes, someday darkness will fall. Ice will cascade down from the North and Fire rise high in South and Middle Earth be torn asunder between them… but not this day."
Suddenly there was this unbelievably long sword in his hand, leveled point first right at my throat. "I am the sword that stands between Midgard and the End. I am Captain of Heroes and Champion of the High gods. My Ulfednar and I fight the Long Night to win time for the world of men. We watch our death come with steady eye, weapons in hand. Our hope lies in the new world we may win but shall never see." He lowered the swordpoint to the ground. "That is who I am, Carter Kane."
Not even Sadie could find a word to say – which is real unusual. Suddenly he sighed and made the sword go away looking like a kid again, a seriously buff kid in scaled armor but still a kid.
"Sorry, I've had a bad day. Did you understand a word of all that?"
"Yes," Sadie squeaked. We both looked at her. "You're a Norse godling aren't you? You're talking about Ragnarok."
He nodded. "Got it in one." He folded his arms. "So, the Ancient Egyptian gods are acting up too. That's interesting."
"Too?" My voice went high making me sound like a serious dweeb.
(Sadie: You are a serious dweeb, brother mine!)
"Yeah, I hear the Romans are having trouble with their eldest gods, the Titans. And Muspelheim is rising…." He rubbed his chin, whiskers making a scratching noise against his leather glove. "I wonder if there's some kind of link…"
"Romans," I echoed. "You mean the classical gods are real?"
He nodded. "Think yours were the only ones? Frankly we should be so lucky. What's this about Toronto?"
I'd almost forgotten. "Our people there are under attack – or will be soon. We were heading up there to help -"
"Until we downed your transport," the Norse godling finished for me. "Sorry about that but like I said we're having Muspelheim problems. We sensed wizards with Southern powers," he shrugged, "and we jumped to conclusions. We'll get you to Toronto, it's the least we can do."
But first we had to thaw out Freak, who somebody had quick frozen into a block of ice in the first seconds of the fight. Then we followed the wolves, who'd all turned into Norse godlings in armor and shaggy cloaks, through the trees to a creek that looked much too shallow to float their boat - a Viking longboat no less.
It was about the same shape as an Egyptian boat but made of overlapping boards instead of papyrus reed bundles. It had a big, square red striped sail and as soon as everybody was aboard the oars started working – presumably by magic.
"So," Sadie said to the wolves' captain whose name turned out to be Dane – real appropriate. "Roman gods, Norse gods, any others you know about?"
He shrugged. "Well there are the Celts, a disorganized mess if ever there was one. Between the reincarnation and transmigration of souls it's hard to tell the players, much less the score. And we've had a few run-ins with Native American shamans but other than that I really couldn't say. We're north-western gods and heroes here. We don't take much interest in anything south of latitude 30 or east of longitude 60. If I were you I wouldn't worry about it. Crossovers don't happen much. It's almost like we operate on different frequencies."
"Uncle Amos did say something once about Manhattan having other gods," I reminded Sadie.
Wolf-boy nodded. "That would be the Romans. Mount Olympus is directly above the Empire State Building."
"What?" Sadie and I said almost in unison.
He shrugged again; "Seems appropriate enough to me. So, Sadie, how does a nice English girl get mixed up with Egyptian gods?"
My sister rolled her eyes. "By being descended from two dynasties of Pharaohs that's how. The Kanes go all the way back to Narmer the first king of Egypt. And Mom's family is descended from Ramesses the Great."
"Congratulations, or should that be sympathies?"
"Sympathies, definitely sympathies," Sadie said with some emphasis.
I couldn't disagree.
The longboat didn't cross into the Duat, but it didn't physically cover all the miles between western Pennsylvania and the Toronto waterfront either. I guess it wrinkled time or space or something because within minutes the creek had become a lake and a city was visible on the shore directly in front of us.
"The headquarters of the 100th Nome are on the east side of the Rouge River on the edge of the city proper," I said one eye on my phone and the map, the other on the shoreline, "Right about -" my voice died. Black smoke spiraled into the sky just where my finger was pointing.
"That doesn't look good," Dane said grimly.
Our Viking friends took their boat right up the river and tied up at a private dock in front of a burned out shell that had once been a mansion. "They've bought it," a redheaded hulk said behind me, "You guys got a nice afterlife?"
I whirled on him gripping my wand and the gorgeous Dane stepped between us arms spread. "Not sensitive, Ben," he said over his shoulder.
Ben the Red seemed genuinely puzzled. "What? Men die, Cattle die," he spoke to me across his leader. "Your people must have fought like heroes. I hope your gods reward them. Ours would."
"Cultural differences, Ben," Dane answered him. "I don't know much about Ancient Egypt but I'm betting a glorious death in battle wasn't their highest aspiration." He looked inquiringly at me.
"Not hardly!" I said. We'd done Norse mythology last term. I'd never expected to get any use out of it but some had stuck with me. I remembered that every good Viking wanted to go down fighting and be carried to Valhalla.
Dad, on the other hand, had clearly not covered Woden, Thor and co. in his homeschooling as my brother was looking frankly horrified. "You mean dying in battle is your aspiration?"
The Vikings all shrugged their metal clad shoulders. "It's what's going to happen to us all sooner or later," a different redheaded guy explained, "and after that Valhalla."
"Where the party never stops," Ben grinned. So did a few of the others.
"Personally I think the best part will be finally getting to see as much of my Dad as I'd like," a pretty, dark girl said kind of wistfully.
"I've thought of that too," a blond guy nearly as gorgeous as Dane agreed.
"I can't wait to get my hands on my Mom's library," said a girl with a short braid of lint white hair showing under her helmet.
Dane rolled his eyes. "I know you, Krista. You'll disappear into the depths of Sokvabekk and we won't see you again until the End."
"Sure you will, I'll have to do some training."
They were talking like Walt did sometimes, like they didn't mind dying before they'd had a chance to live. I wasn't buying it from him and I wasn't buying it now. "That's horrible, it's unfair, it's -"
"It's what we were born to do," Dane said, kindly but firmly. "The cause is worth the cost, Sadie. If we didn't all believe that we wouldn't be here." He looked at Carter. "I'm assuming you'll want to search for survivors?"
My brother looked back at the smoking ruin. He didn't look hopeful. I wasn't very hopeful myself but we had to check. We had to be sure. "Yeah," Carter said.
There were no survivors. But Apophis was there, lying in wait. Yeah, it was a trap. I should have known. As soon as we were well spread out, poking among the ashes uncovering fragments of staves, wands and shabti, he made his move. Red chaos energy oozed from the crumbling walls it coiled itself around me and I shouted, "Get out!" at the same time throwing a defensive wall around myself and calling on Horus for more power. My bird-headed buddy did his best to respond but the chaos energy was interfering with his signal. Not blocking it but defusing and weakening the power he was sending.
Of course nobody paid the slightest attention to my order but stood their ground and tried to fight – including the Vikings. One of them, a burly kid with dark curly hair, struck the red energy looped around him with the flat of his sword. Ice spread from the point of impact freezing the loops in place. Then he applied the edge and they shattered. Of course the next instant he was surrounded again but it was still pretty impressive. The other Vikings were doing at least as well as our own initiates. In other words they were holding their own but that was it.
Then it Got Worse, Apophis started talking: "Pitiful little magicians. Oh I grant you they tried but human magic is weak, and that of the gods almost as feeble. Chaos is all powerful. Human civilization is as straw in the face of a storm. You are ants to be crushed. You truly believe you can stop me, Carter Kane? You, a witless boy, a child pitted against one mightier than the gods?"
He wasn't saying anything I hadn't thought myself a million times. Despair welled up inside me, stifling my magic. My protective field flickered and I couldn't find the will to shore it up. Die now, die later, what difference did it make?
"I am the Great Serpent! I was before ma'at, before the gods! I will swallow the sun and send the waters of chaos crashing over your little world! You fool yourselves with false hopes, there is no hope -" Apophis was on a roll - until somebody laughed.
I just managed to turn. It was Dane, amusement on his face. The other Vikings in view seemed to find Apophis pretty hilarious too. "Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing." Dane quoted. "To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking: Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!" He laughed again. "You speak to heroes of the North, Serpent, to the doomed children of doomed gods. We know not hope – nor despair neither. Valor alone is our strength and glory not life our aim." He raised the point of his longsword: "Dane Wodensson am I, Captain of Ulfednar and Chief of the Asalingas. Now give me your name!"
"I am lord of chaos!" Apophis' sonorous voice boomed. The loops of red energy surrounding Dane reared high over him forming a looming serpent's head. "I am the Ancient One! I am the devourer of souls!"
"Very interesting," Dane said, unimpressed. "But what is your name?" His sword was beginning to glow, its point right under the snake's chin.
"I am the Serpent from the Nile! The Evil Lizard! He who encompasses the whole word!"
"I said name not titles," Dane moved his sword point sketching glowing signs in the air. Not hieroglyphs or anything like them; angular branchy sigils, ice white it color. The serpent's head reared back as if trying to avoid them. "I am Woden's son. I see through his Eye, Slitherer. I see your name – give it to me!"
Apophis writhed. The red coils surrounding us slid away coalescing into a single fiery serpent rising higher and higher. Dane was still unimpressed. "You stand on alien ground, Slitherer, my ground! I am master here; son and champion of the Allfather, bane of his enemies and prince of heroes. For the fourth and last time – give me your name!"
Apophis struggled, trying to smash the strange symbols and failing. His voice came as a gasp "Enemy of Ra!"
"Go, Enemy of Ra, back to your own place and leave the realm of the Allfather in peace!" Dane stabbed with his glowing sword and Apophis dissolved like bad dream. Dane slumped forward leaning heavily on his sword. The dark haired girl and one of the redheads were at his side instantly, supporting him.
I was seriously impressed. Looking over I could see Sadie was too.
"How did you do that?" I demanded. "We can't do that!"
Dane raised his head and gave me a weak smile. "Weren't you listening, Sadie? Your enemy is a Southern god and this is Northern ground. Here we are strong, and he I think has not achieved his full power – yet."
"You're right," Carter said grimly. "But he's rising – he's stronger every time we meet him."
"I see you have your hands full," Dane answered, "I hope his name will be of some use to you."
Carter blinked like that hadn't even occurred to him. I got to admit I hadn't thought of it either. I guess we were both kind of in shock. I mean it's not every day you see chaos incarnate totally owned!
"Uh, yeah," my brother said. "Yeah, thanks."
The Vikings gave us a lift back to Brooklyn House. It seemed their magic longboat could go anywhere there was running water, even the East River.
Dane had pretty much recovered from what must have been a serious power drain by the time we arrived. "Good luck with the end of the world," he said to Carter and me as our initiates filed over the gangway to the quay below Brooklyn House. "If not, see you on the plain of Vigard."
He smiled at me, "The field of the last battle."
We watched the longboat out of sight, Carter with the strangest look on his face. I was thinking how the Vikings, like us Egyptians, ran to incredible looking guys. I don't know what he was thinking.
I was wondering what it would be like to know your defeat was inevitable, Sadie. How you could live with the knowledge that the end of the world was a certainty and the best you could do was put it off. That you were going to die fighting for time for regular people to live their normal lives. And then spend your afterlife training for a final showdown that you would certainly not survive. Not fun!
It made me grateful to be an Egyptian magician. Maybe Sadie and I had the weight of the world on our shoulders but at least we could hope for victory!