Author's Note: No long-winded apologies. I merely quote my good friend mr. monkeybottoms: "I suck!" But, hey, I'm updating, so if you're still following the story…Bless You, and the fun stuff starts this chapter.
"Max, I really think you should listen to Doctor Morrison." Tess pleaded as she and the doctor handling Wright's case watched in despair as the FBI agent got dressed to leave.
"Tess, they've run every test imaginable!" Wright said in exasperation as he pulled on a sweat shirt. "I'm fine! There's no reason for me to stay! Tell her, Doc."
Dr. Patrick Morrison, M.D., a gray-haired, normally-jovial fellow, regarded Wright in the same way a 10-year-old would regard a Picasso. "Agent Wright, while it's true that you seem to be in perfect health, it is not true that there's no reason for you to stay, mainly because you shouldn't be in perfect health! You should be back in that bed convalescing! It should have taken weeks - no, months! - for all your wounds to completely heal and for you to be able to walk around on that leg, but it's as if you were never hurt, and I should think you'd want to stay so that we can figure out the answers to two important questions, namely 'How?' and 'Why?'"
"Look, Doc, I don't know what you think you're gonna find out in the next day or so that you couldn't figure out in the last two!" Wright said. "You examined me head to toe! No wounds, no broken ribs. Can't we just chalk it up to a miracle, thank God and call it even?"
"I've got no problem with miracles" Dr. Morrison said. "I'd just like to figure out how this one happened so I could maybe share the wealth with my other patients, and that would be a little hard to do without you here to study…or maybe you'd like to pass the request on to your guardian angel or whoever you've got going to bat for you with the Big Guy?"
Wright couldn't think of a response. Could he get Sybil to do whatever she did for the other patients? Or was he supposed to do it? Or was he still in a hospital bed dreaming all of this? The Caduceus charm had disappeared almost immediately after he'd gotten out of the bed, and Sybil had disappeared with it. He had no idea when she'd be back, or if he could summon her to appear, and if the doctor and Tess would be able to see her either way. It was enough to make his head explode, which was the last thing he wanted. He was on his way out of the hospital, and wanted to avoid anything that would put him back in. "Listen," he began again…
Just then there was a knock on the hospital room door, then two men in suits and trenchcoats came in, one tall and Latino, the other short, bald and pugnacious. "Excuse us," that one said, with a slight Texas accent, "is Special Agent Maxwell Wright still here?"
"I'm Wright." Wright said, drawing the men's attention.
The Latino agent introduced himself and his partner as they showed their ID's to Wright. "Special Agents Quintana and Bryer, OPR."
Wright stiffened. This was the last thing he needed. "What can I do for you gentlemen?" He said guardedly.
"We heard you were being released from the hospital today." Quintana said.
"He released himself!" Dr. Morrison cut in. "Against medical advice!"
"That's a rather quick recovery." Bryer said. "You were shot five times."
"Yes," Wright said, with his brightest smile, "but I'm feeling much better now."
No one laughed. "Special Agent Berman is still recuperating from his injuries, Agent Wright." Quintana said.
Wright's smile melted. "I'm going to see him before I head home." He said.
"Any chance you could also answer a few questions for us before you head home?" Bryer said. "We'd been waiting until you were strong enough to talk to us and, well…here you are."
"Here I am…" Wright muttered, then said, "Look, gentlemen, I may look like the picture of health but technically I'm still on sick leave, which means I don't talk business. So what I'm gonna do is make a final pit stop, then my wife and I are gonna visit my friend Ian Berman and then go home, and maybe - maybe - after I've had a good night's sleep in my own bed, I'll answer some of your questions tomorrow."
Bryer raised his hands in acquiescence, but otherwise the two OPR agents made no attempt to leave as Wright turned to head into the bathroom. Once inside, Wright closed and locked the door, leaned against it and sighed. At best he'd simply delayed the inevitable, and not for very long. He'd have to answer the OPR agents' questions sooner or later - more likely sooner than later. The problem was he didn't know what to say. He didn't want to lie, but he also didn't want to hand them his boss's head on a platter. He still hadn't sorted out what had happened at the Starlight Motor Inn in his own mind, and until he did, he couldn't trust his testimony.
He sighed again and resigned himself to doing what he'd told everyone in his hospital room he'd do, starting with what he'd come into the bathroom for. He stepped up to the bowl and unzipped and got down to business, and was halfway through when he heard her:
"I see you're doing well, Milord."
His head whipped around to the sound of Sybil's voice. She was standing to his left and just behind him.
"D-Hey!" Was all he could think to say as he scrambled to finish and close up.
"Did you say something, honey?" Tess called in through the door.
"Uuhhh…no! Just…noticing how well my leg wound healed!" He called back, then he hissed at Sybil: "What in the hell are you doing here??"
"Forgive my intrusion, Milord," Sybil said, tactfully looking at nothing in particular on the far wall, "but I wanted to be sure you were alone before I spoke to you again."
"Why?" Wright said as he zipped up again. "I thought you said only I could see and hear you."
"'Tis true, Milord," she said, turning to him, "but I am not blind to how others would perceive you if they witnessed you talking to someone they could not see, so I waited as long as I could for you to step away from the others."
Wright flushed and Sybil stepped out of his way as he moved to wash his hands. As he did so he said: "Well, why not wait till I got home? I could have sent Tess out for take-out or something."
"I'm afraid the looming crisis would not wait for that, Sir."
"What 'looming crisis'?" He said as he reached for some paper towels.
"It is time for you to honor your commitment, Milord. An ancient evil threatens innocent lives and only you can stop it."
The paper towels dropped unnoticed to the floor. "I didn't dream that?" Wright whispered.
Sybil sighed. "I had hoped my healing you would convince you, as you suggested." She said.
It didn't register. "I'm not dreaming any of this?" He said.
"No, Lord Max," she said indignantly, "nothing that you have experienced in the past few days has been a dream. You were wounded while protecting the innocent, I brought your soul to the Hall of Heroes to request your help in fighting evil, you committed to doing so by binding me to your service, you asked me to do for you what your healers could not, and now we are here in this chamber, and I am telling you that more innocents are in peril. Will you not honor your oath to save them?"
"Okay! Okay," he said, "I get it, I just…ya gotta give me a minute here! This is a little much to take!"
"I'm afraid we don't have a minute, Milord. We must leave now."
"I can't leave now! What would I say to Tess? Or the doctor? Or those two OPR goons outside?"
"I assure you that the battle you are about to fight will take place beyond the senses of mortal men. We can be gone and back before you are long missed, but we must go now."
"All right! How do we get out of here?"
Satisfied, Sybil stood tall and stretched out her arm. "Step close and touch my cloak," she said, "And we will be there with the speed of thought."
Wright took a minute to regard her. Sybil's face was deadly serious. He still wasn't sure he wasn't dreaming, but she wasn't giving him much of a say in the matter. With a sense of dread, he took a step toward her, reached out and seized the black fabric of her cloak with his fingers.
A second later he was enveloped by what felt like the same black cloth, cloaked in darkness and fighting desperately for a way out. The effect lasted only a moment, and he found himself standing on solid ground - or, mostly solid. His feet were sunk halfway to his knees in deep snow, and a chill breeze blew a light dusting of snow around him. As he got his bearings he realized he was standing on the peak of a mountain, one that gave him a commanding view of a vast mountain range. A flutter of black in his peripheral vision alerted him to Sybil's presence. She was standing on his left, hands folded and legs together and bearing regal, as if she didn't even notice the wind. It was odd to see, since the breeze made it easy to see just how little she was wearing under the flapping garment. It reminded him that he was wearing no more than street clothes himself, and he had to wonder how she was keeping them both from freezing to death.
"Where are we?" He called out over the wind.
"Norway." She said in a normal voice. He was surprised that he could hear her perfectly.
He looked around again. The range seemed peaceful enough. It was bathed in twilight, and there was no one within range of his vision. "Okay…why are we here?" He said.
"Your foe is here." She said.
"That's wonderfully cryptic…" he muttered as he looked around again. It was then that he heard a rumbling off in the distance, like the sound of an avalanche. It stopped after a few seconds as he looked for its source. There was a second or two of silence that made him give up, then the sound came back. Again he looked for the source, and again it stopped before he could find it.
After he heard the sound the third time, he said: "What is that?"
"The footsteps of your foe." She said.
His face twisted in confusion. "Who is he?"
"He is the scourge of the Norse Peoples and their Gods. He was old when this part of the world was in its infancy. He is the Cold Earth Incarnate. He is Ymir, The Frost Giant."
Wright looked around again. All he could see were the mountains, and all he could hear were the avalanche-sounding footfalls. "Well, where is he?"
Sybil merely pointed toward part of the range. Wright's gaze followed her finger. He couldn't understand what she was pointing at. All he saw were mountains. He squinted, trying to see some figure making its way down one of the peaks.
That was when it hit him. Some of the peaks had gotten closer.
He scanned those peaks as closely as he could, trying to find any indication of Ymir. Was he riding the peaks, somehow moving the mountains like a humongous sled? Suddenly he spotted what looked like two massive caves in the center peak. Maybe Ymir was in one of them, slamming his feet so that his footfalls echoed across the range. It seemed insane, but it was the best explanation he could think of…
…until the caves blinked.
And as realization dawned, a tiny voice in Max Wright's subconscious congratulated him for going to the bathroom before going with Sybil.
He turned to the woman with a look of abject horror on his face. "That's Ymir The Frost Giant?!" He yelled.
"Yes, Milord." Sybil said.
"And you want me to fight him??"
He glanced back at Ymir, then turned back to her. "What are you, HIGH??"
"Is there a problem, Lord?"
"Is there a problem? Is there a problem? HE'S A WALKING MOUNTAIN RANGE, SYBIL!"
"You say that as if you don't expect to win."
"Well, what am I supposed to do to him? Find a banana peel the size of Mount Rushmore and throw it in his path? HE'S A WALKING MOUNTAIN RANGE!"
Sybil sighed. "Have I not told you that I will aid you in your battles, Milord?"
"You mean you know where I can get a banana peel the size of Mount Rushmore? 'Cause past that I don't see how much help you'll be!"
"I can call upon the powers of any hero you may need, or the attributes of most of the mythic figures of History. I have already demonstrated this to you."
"Well, I hope one of those mythic figures is Robert Oppenheimer, because nothing short of Fat Man and Little Boy is going to be of any use against that sumbitch!"
Sybil merely smiled at him and shook her head. "So naïve." She said. "So ignorant of the old ways. You pine for the feeble machinations of Man as I offer you the power of Gods." She stretched out her right arm, letting the wind blow the fabric of her cloak from her wrist. There was another charm hanging from it.
Wright came closer to see what it was. "Is that a hammer?" He said.
"It is the icon of Thor," Sybil said, "Son of Odin, God of Thunder and Champion of Midgard and its People."
"Oh, that Thor." He said, smirking. His eyes never left the charm.
"When Ymir last walked the Earth, it was The Mighty Thor who defeated him." Sybil said. "With his power at your command, you may defeat the giant this day. Take the charm from my wrist, Milord."
He glanced at her, then turned back to the charm. "What did I get myself into?" He muttered as he reached up and took the charm.
There was the same rush of power and light that he'd experienced before. As it faded he felt a heavy weight in his hand. It started to drag him down, so used his other hand to steady it. The heaviness faded almost as soon as he got a good grip and the object began to take shape. He was holding onto the handle of a massive hammer.
Sybil noticed the look on his face as he stared at the hammer. "What is wrong, Milord?"
"I guess it's not what I was expecting." Wright said. The handle was about half a meter long and at least two inches wide, made of some impossibly strong metal and wrapped in leather bands. The head looked like an outsized version of a typical hammer, with a massive bludgeon at one end and a long, sharp prong at the other. "I read the comic when I was a kid. I guess I just expected it to look the way Jack Kirby drew it. This looks like you got it at some evil Black & Decker outlet."
"I know nothing of this 'Jack Kirby' or of Black and Decker, but the look of Mjolnir is easy to explain. It is a true war hammer, designed to maim or kill armored warriors in battle. It's size may be attributed to the fact that it was made for the God of Thunder, who was a much larger man than you are."
"Okay, but how am I even lifting it?"
"The charm gave you access to all of Thor's power, including his strength."
Wright nodded, then another avalanche-footfall drew his gaze back to Ymir. "How do I use this against him?"
"You would use it as you would against any other foe. Bludgeon him or impale him. The weapon is enchanted and will be proof enough against him with Thor's might behind it."
"Obviously it would be a waste of time going toe-to-toe with him. I don't suppose I could throw this thing at his head?"
"Of course you could. Hurling Mjolnir was one of Thor's best skills."
"Well, that's great, but suppose I needed to get closer anyway?"
"As you command Thor's hammer, you may also command his chariot." Sybil raised her hand to the sky, and suddenly there was a peal of thunder, followed by the steady clamor of thunderous hoofbeats.
Wright turned toward the sound. There was an object descending fast out of the sky. He couldn't make it out until it was almost on top of him, and what he saw made his eyes pop. It was an ornate chariot, pulled by two of the biggest, meanest looking goats he'd ever seen in his life!
The animals and the chariot landed with a thud right next to him, shaking the earth and causing snow to fly all over. When everything subsided he saw that the goats were standing perfectly still, waiting for him to climb aboard. As he tried to gather his wits, Sybil prodded him. "It is time, Milord."
Wright looked at her, then at the hammer and chariot, then back at her. She nodded, and he turned to the chariot and got in. He held the hammer in his right hand and grabbed the reins of the chariot in his left. Then he didn't know what to do. "What the hell do you say to goats? Giddyap?"
"Thor commanded them by name." Sybil said.
"What are their names?"
"Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr."
"Of course." Wright groaned. After a moment he tugged on the reins. "Let's go, guys!" He said. When that didn't work, he sighed, practiced pronouncing their names, then called out: "Go, Tanngrisnir! Go, Tanngnjostr!"
He screamed as the goats came to life, leaping off the mountain and pulling the chariot along so fast it felt to Wright as if he were being towed by the Concorde! Worse, they were pulling him straight toward the head of the Frost Giant, and as the wind of his flight threatened to throw him out of the chariot, he was only mildly comforted by the fact that they were doing exactly what he needed them to do. With only seconds before he was within Ymir's reach, he fought the wind and brought up Thor's hammer, reared back, aimed and, with a final scream, threw it with all his might at his enemy.
He was surprised to see the weapon hit the giant squarely between his cavelike eyes with the speed of a bullet and the sound of a thunderstrike! Amazingly, the mountainous creature was staggered. Another massive cave opened in his head under the eyes, and Ymir issued forth a howl of rage and pain that shook the air around the chariot as Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr pulled Wright past Ymir's head. Wright was so stunned by this that he almost missed the decent-sized blur headed right for him. He caught it a second before it was too late and extended his right hand on instinct. A split-second later he felt the weight of Mjolnir's handle slam into his palm.
He looked at the hammer for a moment and smiled. "Okay," he said. "That part they got right."
Wright used the reins to steer the goats up and around to get them headed back to Ymir, only to find what looked like a wall of rock and snow in his path and headed straight for him. It was Ymir's open palm. The Frost Giant was trying to swat him out of the sky! Ymir roared as Wright dodged the blow, then Wright took aim again, wound up and threw the hammer. There was another thunderclap and another howl as the weapon struck the side of Ymir's head!
Wright cheered as he urged Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr on. He sped away from Ymir as the giant tried to swat him again and he waited for the hammer to return. Just as he was turning to look for the hammer Ymir clapped his massive hands together. The turbulence from the resulting shockwave tumbled the chariot, tossing Wright into the air before he knew what was happening.
The FBI agent fell for about five seconds before anything happened, then he saw a blur following him down. He reached out his hand and felt Mjolnir slam into his grip, and as he was wondering if he could get in one more shot before impact another, larger blur slipped under him. He managed to twist just enough to get a grip on the back of the chariot with his free hand, and the goats slowed enough for him to climb back in and grab the reins. Back in control, Wright urged the animals up and around, heading them right back toward Ymir.
The Frost Giant roared at Wright so loudly that he kicked up a blizzard, and he balled his hands into fists. His enormous right arm reared back, ready to deliver a death blow to his opponent. Wright, determined to beat him to the draw, set Mjolnir with the prong forward, drew back and threw it with all his might and a roar of his own.
There was a sound of thunder again as the hammer struck! This time it went between Ymir's eyes and through his head, emerging on the other side of the mountain in a spray of snow and dirt!
Ymir remained motionless for the next few seconds, then he staggered as the chariot went by his head. Wright watched him closely as he waited for Mjolnir to return. By the time he felt the weapon in his grip, Ymir's arm had dropped. As Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr turned the chariot back toward him, Ymir began to fall backward. Suddenly there was a rumble and a shower of rock, ice and snow that lasted for several minutes. When it was done, Wright found himself flying Thor's chariot over a perfectly normal mountain range.
"Wooooo-hoo!" He yelled, then he flew a couple of victory laps before steering the chariot back to where Sybil was standing. He landed with another earth-shaking thud, brought the goats to heel and hopped out. He walked over to Sybil brandishing the hammer and a huge grin.
"Well done, My Lord!" She said, smiling back.
Wright was still overwhelmed. "That rocked on so many different levels!" He said.
"You have saved many lives and kept your oath, Sir. You should be proud."
Wright suddenly got serious. "Is that it? Is that what you needed me to do?"
"That is all for now. Ymir is defeated and I foresee no other grave danger as yet. Rest assured, I will contact you again when the need arises, but for the moment you need only savor the fruits of your victory."
Wright grinned again, then regarded the hammer. "What do I do with this?"
"The hammer and chariot must be returned to their rightful owner."
Wright nodded and carried the hammer over to the chariot, then rested it inside. He took a moment to walk over to the animals that had served him so well and pat each one on its flank. "Nice Job, guys." He said when he was done. "Go on home, now." With that, he started walking back over to Sybil. He'd barely gotten three steps when a bolt of lightning struck behind him, throwing him to the ground. When he recovered, he looked back and saw that the chariot had disappeared.
"Whoa…" he said.
"It is time for you to return as well, Milord." Sybil said, drawing his attention. She had her arm extended, holding out the sleeve of her vestment. He got up, brushed the snow off his body and walked over. This time he didn't hesitate to grab the cloak. After a few more seconds wrapped in darkness he found himself back in the hospital bathroom. He was warm, his clothes were dry and his hair wasn't even mussed. The only indication that he'd just battled a walking mountain range was that his heart was still beating rapidly.
"I'll be damned." He whispered into the mirror.
"Honey? Are you all right in there?" Tess called from outside, startling him. He checked his watch, but he wasn't sure how long he'd been gone. He checked himself for any telltales, then turned and opened the door.
"Yeah, I'm fine." He said when he saw her.
"It's just that you were in there a minute or so after we heard you flush," she said, "and we were wondering…"
He flashed her a grin and said "Oh, I was just making myself look pretty, is all."
She still looked confused, but smiled back anyway, satisfied with the answer. He looked away then, and noticed that the doctor and the OPR investigators were still there. Without another word, he put his arm around his wife and walked out of the room, opting not to leave the hospital in a wheelchair.
"You don't know how good it felt to get out of there." Wright said later. He had just settled into bed for the night. Both he and Tess were in pajamas, but she had decided to get caught up on some work, so she was huddled over her drawing table, sketching. The drawing table light was the only one on in the room, so the ambience in the room itself was dim. Wright was enjoying it. It reminded him that he was home.
"I can imagine." Tess said as she worked. "I'm just as glad not to see you in there…but Max, are you sure you don't want them to take one last look?"
He looked over to her. "Babe, I'm fine. I can't tell you why I'm fine. I just know I that I am. Isn't that enough?"
She stopped working long enough to look at him and answer. "I suppose so. There's no sense looking a gift horse in the mouth, is there?"
"Not in my experience."
She smiled at him and went back to work. A second or two later she said "It must be time for the news by now."
Wright checked the clock-radio. "Actually, it's been on about ten minutes." He found the remote control on the nightstand, picked it up and turned on the TV in the bedroom. It was on a shopping channel, so he switched to a local station to catch the evening news.
"In international news," The anchor was saying, "a small town in Norway was apparently saved from a potentially devastating avalanche by a freak lightning storm. It's a story you'll only see here. Our network correspondent Chad Elliot has the details."
Tess paused again to look at the TV. "Wow. Talk about miracles, huh?" She turned to her husband, and was surprised to see a big smile on his face. "What's with you?"
Wright caught himself quickly before he answered. "D-uh…I-I was just glad to see that town get so lucky." He accompanied the feeble answer with a weak grin.
Tess regarded him for a moment, shook her head and went back to work. "I still think you should have stayed…" she muttered. Wright grinned for real and went back to watching the news.
And at his camp in the desert, the Old Medicine Man sat by a warm fire and meditated over the day's events. It turned out the Sybil's champion was more adept at wielding the power of the Old Ones than he'd realized. No matter, there were others ready to face him, gods and demons more capable than the bumbling Ymir. He would wait patiently and watch them work, until he had no choice but to intervene himself.