Demons and Destiny Excerpt

Any places, situations, events or characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, places, situations, or events is purely coincidental. Any resemblance to existing fictitious places, situations, events or characters appearing in this work is purely coincidental.

Text Copyright © 2016 by Catherine Milos. All rights reserved.

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What else are friends for, but to rescue you from a deranged reincarnated dark Viking shaman serving a lazy lesser Celtic god?

To friendship.

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The land was silent in anticipation. Mists hung heavy over the water in the hour before dawn. The blue warriors waited, eyes fixed on the sea before them. They hunched behind shrubbery or stood against tree trunks, hidden from view. The large, looming ship was illuminated by the first rays of dawn that crept over the horizon. Shadowy ships sped through the water around it, appearing and disappearing as the mists engulfed them. The barbarians were coming to take their land.

The town, meters from the shore, had already been evacuated. A scout further up the cliffs spotted the ships in the middle of the night when the clouds cleared and starlight illuminated their shapes. Now, the first line of defense waited for the enemy’s arrival.

The blue warriors were sacrificial lambs. One must survive to return word back to the tribes, to warn them of what threats this enemy might bring. But only one was required to live. The others were to bring out the weaknesses, the rage, and the power of the enemy for the survivor’s story.

Some of the warrior’s eyes were large, their hearts pumping in frenzied fungus- or mint-induced courage. One muttered delusions of dragons carrying him away to the gods. The oldest among them had used too much and lost his mind. Perhaps his was a better fate than being aware of what lay ahead.

Madigan pressed against a large oak tree, the roughness beneath her palms grounding her as her heart beat fast. She had been a Druid once. Almost. She failed the final test and had been given the choice to die as a sacrifice or fight as a blue warrior to reclaim her honor. There was no difference. In the end she would die, but battle had seemed the better option at the time.

She muttered a prayer under her breath. Would Nuada forgive her? No other god had ever considered her worthy of their attention. Now, he too abandoned her. She failed him after all. Maybe, Madigan hoped, maybe he would forgive her, hear her prayer and worship, and guide her to a better fate.

“May I find honor in death and regain your favor once again, great Nuada.”

The water slapped loudly against the shore as the enemy got closer. Madigan crouched to pick up her short sword from the earth. Moss and lichen climbed under her fingernails as she scraped the surface. She rose and stepped out of the cover with the others, joining their ranks as they began to line the land, a blue barrier to intimidate the foe.

She knew the man standing to her right. A large scar stretched the length of his torso. His name was Finnegan, and he bore the mark of an adulterer on his naked hip – a scarred brand of a crooked phallus. Madigan read the loss in his eyes when she healed him. Her fingers tingled with magic as tissue, bone, and skin sealed. While she used her Druidic skills to mend the wound, he told her about love. Finnegan described how much he loved a woman. His heart raced at the sight or scent of her. His need to be with her had been fierce and unyielding. He was here now for that love. She was married. It was forbidden, they knew, but the gods decided their fates for them. Finnegan seemed driven by this mysterious force of love and held no shame in his eyes. Madigan wondered what it would be like to love, to have a husband. A daydream. She would never know love. She would never know kindness again.

They all knew their destiny. Death was the only way to regain their honor. They were thieves, adulterers, murderers, and failures like Madigan, all of them disgraces to civilized society. Her healing alleviated their immediate pain, but prolonged their wait for death. They may beg her for relief, but no one thanked her after the pain was gone. Why would they?

 Their whispered battle cry broke her rumination and focused her on the battle to come.

“For honor.”

It rippled softly through the blue line then the air grew silent again. Madigan squared her shoulders and redistributed her weight, ready. She would not die without a fight.

*

Riveted wood interlocked in a violent embrace. The keel held fast, balancing the body and mast. It reeked of tarred dyr hide, a necessary stopper against the water. The flapping flag, blood red, summoned fear in all who witnessed its rise on the horizon. A quiet stillness fell under the light of the quarter moon. The fleet of Viking ships took on a supernatural foreboding as the troops prepared for battle. Tyr could see their fleet from his position on the recently acquired vessel. Although taller and more luxurious, this pirated ship was no match for their own, which moved with the waves instead of resisting the sea. Their fellow warriors had to slow their approach in order to keep pace. He imagined the hulk of a ship would be traded away soon.

At its side, a long Viking warship cut swiftly through the water, led by a masthead carved in the likeness of the dragon Fáfnir. The dwarf-turned-dragon served as both a warning against greed and a promise of treasure. The warrior Sigurd had slain Fáfnir, casting the dragon’s heart into flames. Sigurd snatched the heart out of the fire with his bare hands after it was cooked, tearing into it with his teeth.  The essence of the flames seared into his flesh, granting Sigurd the ability to understand the language of the birds. Tyr smirked knowingly the first time he heard the tale as a young boy. The language of birds was the ability to speak any language, a gift of the Angels to Sigurd.

It was a gift Tyr retained after his fall from Heaven into mortality. It was the reason he was so well regarded in his clan. That, and he was a decent warrior. If he hadn’t been a translator, he would be a captain by now.

The pounding of oars against the sea echoed his own heartbeat as Tyr stood watch over the frozen night. His comrade, Dirk, stood silently at his side. This was not their first battle, but Tyr could not unfasten the sense that this darkness and silence was an augury. Perhaps he would die today. There was no more noble a death than one in battle, but it wasn’t what Tyr hoped for when he had descended into mortality.

After Avalon, Tyr decided mortal life was the better option. How was Tyr to know his choice would lead to an exodus of Angels? Now here he was in all his Viking glory, a mortal born to a spákona, fighting mortal battles with all of his memories of his Angelic strength and glory. God must be punishing him, Tyr decided. Not that it mattered.

At least as a mortal, Tyr had options. In Heaven there was only orders and light. Here, Tyr could listen to the whispering Shadows and slip into other worlds. Here, he could feed the darkness within as equally as he fed the light. Here was the only place Tyr could really be himself without the full wrath of God. If this was the punishment for leaving Heaven, he’d take it. Lucifer’s fate had been far worse.

Dirk nudged Tyr, interrupting his thoughts.

“How is our precious translator faring the waters? Not going to sick up in front of the men are y’?” Dirk tormented.

Tyr smirked. “They say the talkative ones are the weakest links in the chainmail.”

Dirk drove a hard blow into Tyr’s stomach. Dirk may have been half Tyr’s height, but he was almost as wide. Dirk’s bare-fisted might struck its mark. Tyr winced and decided to change the subject before they caused an on-board brawl. Translator or not, Commander Ulf would have Tyr’s head if the ship descended into chaos and brought his expedition to ruin.

“How is Dagna faring?”

“My son is turning her inside out with his strength, or so she tells me. Metta was working on relief for Dagna the morning we ran free of the docks. New sword?” Dirk nodded his head at the weapon strapped to Tyr’s side.

“Metta is a right skilled witch and will no doubt ease Dagna’s pain. I can only imagine the poisons Metta needs to make for the little rat, if the babe is anything like his father.” Tyr dodged another jab with a smirk and continued, “Aye, the blade is new, a gift for my duties on the last voyage.”

“The chief rewards y’ handsomely while I get scat. Share the wealth, why don’t y’?”

“I let you share my cabin and take up half the room, ungrateful as you are. Who did you think the second gleaming suit of armor hanging on the wall was for? Not for me – I am no lass, changing garb in the middle of battle.”

“I want the blue one,” Dirk grinned.

“I’ll give you a blue one alright.” Tyr raised his fist as though to strike Dirk in the eye and to chase the mischievous gleam out of his stare.

Commander Ulf opened the door to the captain’s cabin and called Tyr’s name.

“Duty awaits,” Dirk mocked as Tyr turned away.

Tyr’s footsteps pounded heavily against the deck. His hair was sopping from sea spray and his shirt clung to his muscled bulk. The Commander’s cabin was warm and dry, lit with fat lamps and stocked well with maps, mead, and nautical instruments he had no desire to understand.

“When the berserker frenzy dies down and Ulster is ours, we’ll need to establish trade lines with the locals until expedition is possible again,” the captain was saying as Tyr entered the cabin.

Captain Mar nodded at Tyr’s entry. Ulf shut the door behind him and stood off to one corner. Although he headed the excursion, Ulf was a lone, terrifying wolf of a warrior who trusted his second-in-command to establish strategy and logistics. He was a rare breed of berserker-Commander. It made his men fear him. Ulf could be volatile and enact gruesome punishment upon his followers and enemies alike.

His standoffish attitude, his refusal to celebrate with the men, and the tales of berserkers killing their own kin made him all the more fearsome. In battle, if his warriors broke formation, they answered to Ulf’s berserker frenzy. He once killed a man for breaking formation by half a foot. One rumor swore he ate a man’s heart, tearing open his chest with his bare hands, his eyes glowing red and wolfish fangs stretching from his mouth.

“That is where you come in Tyr, if Odin doesn’t take you to Valhalla during battle. We’ll need to negotiate with these Celtics to secure our settlement. We’ll let the skalds spread tales of our wrath, but a show of diplomacy will be needed. Do you think you can navigate their faerie language?”

“I can.” Tyr nodded.

“Good. Those hearth-bound idiots have the tongues of snakes and terrible magics behind them. We’ll have Magni take care of their magics and rely on you to capture the snake.”

Magni nodded to Tyr in greeting. The shaman was tall and lean with a hawk’s nose and gull-black eyes. He was the bird perched on the shoulder of the wolf. Tyr held a tense civility with the man. There was something about Magni that made Tyr uneasy. He was no fool and he wished never to cross the shaman.

“Tyr, tell the men we will begin with svinfylking charges, like the boar they are.”

There was a round of subdued laughter in the cabin, which Tyr did not join.

Knowing he had been dismissed, Tyr left the cabin with a nod, closing the door behind him. This ship did offer a better means to plan attacks than their own vessels, but luxury and battle did not mix. He drew his gaze to a small cluster of six men by the wheel. The navigator looked very distressed. The huddled men were exchanging low murmurs, clearly getting into trouble. He approached silently.

“How does it work?” one man asked.

Tyr knew the speaker as the youngest Viking on the ship. He hadn’t made the effort to learn the boy’s name. Now he was glad he hadn’t. Tyr didn’t tolerate this kind of stupidity well.

“Hold it up to the horizon,” an older man murmured. Tyr recognized the older man as Skjold, a well-seasoned warrior with whom Tyr served several campaigns. No doubt he had dared the men into this situation to pass the time. Skjold was a trickster like that.

As the young Viking raised his arm and the flash of their treasure hit his eye, Tyr tensed. A treasure like that was not a toy.

“What do we have here?” Tyr demanded.

The men startled and separated, leaving a direct line from Tyr to the young Viking, who held the sunstone out to the horizon. It was a large, square chunk of clear crystal. Viking captains, shamans, and navigators often carried such stones with them. It was translucent, like pure ice with glinting rainbows in its heart. When waved along the horizon, a dart of yellow light inside the crystal would appear, telling its holder the direction of the sun, even when the sky was filled with clouds. It was immensely valuable. No doubt they had bullied it out of the navigator’s hands.

“We were curious to see its magic work,” said one of the men.

“You wanted to see the sunstone’s magic work at night?” Tyr snapped, snatching the stone from its captor’s hand. “Fools! Back to bed with you lot. We attack at dawn. Tell the others we charge in svinfylking.” He cuffed one of the younger men across the head as they scampered away.

Tyr returned the stone to the navigator at the wheel. “Don’t let this out of your sight again,” he warned, “or your life will be ended dishonorably.” He turned and stalked off to his cabin, cursing the lot of them for their simple-mindedness. A sunstone could mean salvation for a crew lost at sea. The stone guided a ship towards land, giving direction when all hope was lost. Tyr flared his nostrils in frustration. Magic wasn’t a play-thing.

He assessed the distance to the shore. The mists, having slowed their progress, were only starting to lift. They were still an hour out. Weariness caught up with him and he decided to return to the cabin. A short rest would restore him and give him the needed strength for battle.

*

The Council’s chamber was silent. Carefully, Nuada crept across the floor. He was a god of war, a king of demi-gods. He forged the weapon with the help of the Council to save his people, then They had it taken from him. It had been his idea, his sword, not Theirs.

Now, it was locked away here because its owner decided to become mortal. Angels were always more alike to mortals, he always said that. The Council should consider an army of demi-gods instead to rule over the mortal realm. There were already pockets of demi-gods strategically placed across the mortal worlds. At least three existed on Earth where the demons were the most concentrated. The demi-gods kept the mortals in line and could do the same for demons. So what if a few demi-gods stepped out of line now and again to create disasters and mortal casualties? All was fair in war. Why They ever decided to create imperfect mortal lives was beyond Nuada.

With his sword, Nuada would be complete. He would be restored to his full glory and rule the demi-gods again. Then he would send the demi-gods after the demons as The Others commanded. The Council of Gods thought he was like an Angel? That They could order him about like a servant? Take his sword, rob him of his people, then send him to chase mere menaces back to the realm of Hell? It wasn’t his mess to clean. It was an Angel who started all of this, after all. He told Them the Angels weren’t worth the trouble.

The rows of chamber seats stretched the length of the room. Each bench was divided from the others with tables to hold the member’s greatest treasures. The scissors of the Fates were held in a glass container in front of their post. Down the line of benches, the metallic flashes and colored glints of treasure formed a rainbow as Their garments, weapons, jewelry, even sacred plants and animals sat in their places.

Nuada found what he was searching for. On the top row, between Darkness’s black umbrella and Light’s torch, was the sword. Crouching, Nuada placed his hand against the glass. The sword glowed gold with his nearness. He quickly surveyed the room to ensure he was alone, then went to work.

Balance was the only god, aside from the Crone, who could open the container. Which was exactly why he had paid the old woman a visit and stolen a tarot card from her. It was payback for convincing the Council to rob him of his weapon and his kingdom. Nuada slipped the silk-wrapped prize from his pocket and carefully unwrapped it, careful not to touch the card with his hand. It was said that a single card from the Crone’s deck could scatter a being across all the timelines, bursting it into tiny molecules never to be put back together again.

He turned the bare face of the card, the three of swords, and slapped it against the top of the container, his hand protected by the piece of silk. The lid glowed and popped open. With a grin, Nuada pushed the lid open farther and reached for his prize. The silk cloth and card fell to the chamber’s floor. As fingers locked around the solid handle, the weapon pulsed with his heartbeat.

You are finally home.

Nuada grabbed the sheath from the bottom of the case and slid the sword into it. Shadows crawled up the blade and immersed the sword. A swirl of light snaked around the billowing darkness. Heat radiated up Nuada’s arm, causing him to drop the sword. It clanged loudly and skidded across the chamber floor.

Nuada leaped after it, but the sword evaporated as he landed. His hand closed around smoke. Rage filled him and he pounded his fist into the ground.

What are you doing here?

Nuada stood and spun around. Balance stood before him.

What are you doing? You are not supposed to be here. Balance insisted.

Nuada watched as her eyes darted to his left and widened. She saw the tarot card. There was only one thing to do. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder, throwing her down.

Nuada! Balance fell backwards on to the card. Its three swords pierced her heart. Then, like hundreds of water droplets evaporating in the hot sun, Balance’s form separated and fizzled away.

To the Council chamber!

Nuada heard the call outside the room and panicked.

He snatched up the silk from the floor and wrapped the card in it, tucking it back in his pocket. Nuada sliced through the air with his fingers. The realms revealed themselves in thin lines, like the layers of a cake. He touched one and slipped through. To ensure no one could follow him, Nuada would bounce from realm to realm for a while before returning to his own to begin his search. He had to find that sword.

 

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