An Eye for an Eye
Written by: Gray
Story concept by: JEB and Todd Jensen
Previously on Timedancer...
"Wha...?" gasped Xanatos at the sight of Fox's transforming hand. Fox growled in a deep voice and fell against the windowsill as the pain of transforming wracked her body. The redhead spun around as she stood and Xanatos could see the jewel at the base of her neck glowing brightly. She grabbed the eye with one hand and screamed as more power flowed out of it, changing her even more.
The screams turned to a howling roar as further convulsions shook Fox's body. Xanatos unconsciously stepped forward a step when Fox reached out to him, then gaped at her and moved away as the transformation was completed.
The now completely furred and larger Fox began to stalk Xanatos. There was nothing familiar in her eyes at all.
"I thought so," mused Xanatos to himself as he went for the small tranquilizer pistol under his coat.
* * *
"...Legend says the Eye of Odin is supposed to endow the wearer with power and insight..." said Xanatos, then went into further detail about what the Eye had done to Fox.
* * *
"Now Xanatos!!" Hollered Goliath as he pressed Fox back against the sign and electricity arced through them both. The armored man dashed forward and grabbed the medallion around Fox's neck. The different kinds of energy coursed through his armor and he screamed, but still managed to rip the eye of Odin off of his fiance. A final discharge of energy threw the three people apart.
Xanatos bounced once and rolled onto his side. He looked at his opening hand and gazed at the source of all their troubles.
Fox howled for a moment. Her voice softened to weak gasps as she reverted from werebeast back to human. She took a few deep breaths, then collapsed.
~ Eye of the Beholder ~
The Magus sighed in resigned frustration.
"My old master, the Arch-mage, calls the dance. I've seen the Eye of Odin on his brow." The Magus raised his arms and shrugged. "It has clearly transformed him into a more powerful sorcerer."
~ Avalon, part II ~
The Arch-mage smiled as Goliath sank out of sight beneath the ice. He knelt down in hope of seeing his foe's last moments. His eyes widened as Goliath surged rapidly back up out of the depths. The lavender gargoyle burst up through the ice covering the lake and grabbed the jewel on the Arch-mageís brow. The magician retaliated by teleporting the two of them about the lake, hoping to dislodge Goliath. As the Phoenix Gate deposited them on the ice Goliath threw the Arch-mage onto the shore, keeping the ancient talisman in his hand.
"You lose again Arch-mage," said Goliath as he walked to shore.
The Arch-mage stirred, again dressed in his old robes. "You fool!" he spit out as he stood and pulled apart his long, pointed beard. "I still have the Phoenix Gate, and the grimorum arcanorum is a part of me forever!!" The Arch-mage spread his arms wide and tilted his head back as he crowed.
A second later his head snapped forward again as bands of energy suddenly swept around his body. Fear etched his features as he clasped his head in his hands.
"NO! The grimorum!! Without the eye I cannot control the power!!" The Arch-mage screamed as the energies inside him consumed his body, leaving only the Phoenix Gate.....
~ Avalon, part III ~
"The Eye has granted amazing powers, the extent of which I do not comprehend."
'Uh, oh,' thought Maza. "Is it safe?"
"This form is but a powerful manifestation of my inner self." Goliath smiled at her.
* * *
Angela stepped forward. "This doesn't sound like you." She looked at Elisa and the older female nodded in support as she turned to Goliath.
"It's the Eye. The Eye has gone to your head!!"
Goliath raised a brow ridge quizzically. "The Eye has merely made me a better protector." He stepped forward and actually patted Elisa on the back of the head like a child, or a pet. "That is all you need to know." He started walking toward the front of the cave.
* * *
"--Please protect me!!"
Angela's plea distracted Goliath from his fight with Odin. "Angela." He looked down at his open hands. "What have I become?" Resolve clenched all the muscles in Goliath's upper body as the truth hit him like a hammer between the eyes.
Forgetting Odin, Goliath launched himself at the nearly closed fissure. He was barely able to reach down to grab Angela then yank her out of the dwindling chasm before she was crushed.
Goliath threw Angela away from him. She grunted as the impact drove the breath from her.
Goliath grabbed the collar that the eye was hanging from. He bellowed as he tried to take it off. Light enveloped the lavender gargoyle momentarily. When it faded he was his old self again. The eye fell from his hand as he collapsed...
~ Eye of the Storm ~
* * * * *
Pristine. There was no other word to describe it. The traveler stood at the treeline for a few moments. He looked at the open space before him and marveled at the beauty of the sky's frozen tears that had covered the ground ahead. Finally he started forward, a flicker of sadness in his eyes over being the one to violate the stark majesty of the snow-covered clearing. The frigid temperatures and howling winds seemed not to affect the questing figure at all
The winds sweeping snow around the field prevented the traveler from seeing his destination until he was more than halfway there. The five tall white columns were easily camouflaged by the blowing powder. They were connected at their tops by a circle of thin marble. At the center of the circle was the object the cloaked one sought.
"Halt!! Stand and be recognized!" The voice came from all around and the tall pilgrim did indeed stop in spite of himself. The snow halfway between the traveler and the structure ahead heaved upward and a figure appeared in the small crater left by its movement. Raw flame and wild energy flickered around the figure's armored body. The cowled being stood with his arms across his chest and regarded the figure before him.
"Who would approach the Well of Knowledge?" asked Mimir.
The other raised his hands to throw back the hood of his star-speckled, black cloak. "I would, ancient one," answered Odin, leader of the Aesir.
"Why have you come?" Mimir's eyes said he recognized the petitioner before him, and that Odin would not be treated any differently than any of the others who had journeyed this far.
"I come seeking that which only you may grant. I seek the knowledge to destroy mine enemy, Ymir; lord and father of the Frost Giants." "You would use this knowledge for destruction of a people? The Frost Giants are but pawns in the conflict between the sons of Avallach. They do not deserve to be removed from the realms any more than the Aesir do." Mimir glowered at the bearded fay in front of him.
"I seek to protect myself and those who look to me. I am needed to help ensure the continuance of the younger races." Odin's face showed the strength of his resolve.
Mimir looked at him for a long few seconds. "You know the rules that bind those who come here. Since you were unwilling to labor for the knowledge you seek, you must choose: trial or sacrifice."
"I have no time for further quests. I choose sacrifice."
Mimir stepped forward. "Be sure, young one."
"I have spoken." Odin glared at the figure before him.
"You may approach the Well of Knowledge," Mimir looked Odin up and down, "after you pay my price." The two looked at each other steadily.
"I would take your eye," said Mimir finally.
Odin's eyes widened, and he almost gasped in surprise. His face returned to its stony set almost immediately. "So be it."
Mimir's left arm snapped forward. His hand covered the right side of Odin's face, almost touching the bearded countenance. Energy flared between hand and head and Odin's scream silenced everything for miles.
"It is done." Mimir stepped aside and gestured for Odin to proceed. Once the All-father stumbled past him the elder being looked at the object in his hand. The transformed orb was now deep blue and framed in gold.
Nearly blinded by his agony, Odin staggered forward, his hand over his mauled face. He fell against the side of the well, then pushed himself to his feet. After a few seconds he bent forward to drink from it. After a long swallow, Odin straightened rigidly and his other eye flared blue as the power of the well blasted through his brain, making him completely forget his injury. He stepped away from the well.
"Now I understand," muttered the bearded Fay just before he staggered past the well's guardian. Mimir watched him go without comment until Odin's silhouette was swallowed up by windblown snow.
"It is as you foretold, shapers of all," said Mimir, looking down at the talisman in his hand. "A new journey begins." The ancient being called up his power again and slowly faded away. He would return long before the next wanderer would come in search of the well.
* * * * *
Second century A.D.
It had not been a good day. The leaders of the two tribes had at first been merely arguing about the territory that both wished to control. Words grew more heated and, finally, the weapons came out. Time flashed by in a mad scramble to survive.
The battle that resulted from ill-chosen words had been raging for half the day, and would probably last until twilight. Everyone was resolved to settle their dispute in a completely physical manner.
The leader of one tribe of Norsemen was Grimhild, a hulking mass of a man. He was nearly six feet tall and heavily muscled. He wore leather clothes under the cloak made from the skin of a bear he had killed himself. Grimhild smiled as his bloodlust carried him from opponent to opponent, leaving a bloody swath in his wake of the men who'd fallen beneath the battle-axes he used like extensions of his arms.
Nearby, thin Franmar wasn't faring so well. Wounded but still on his feet, he was slowly being beaten back by the swordsman he faced. Determined, Franmar ducked under a blow meant to take his head off, then tried another series of attacks with his short sword. He did manage to wound his opponent's arm, but it wasn't very deep and only succeeded in angering the other swordsman. The bigger man roared as he made a frenzied effort to run Franmar through.
The berserker's attack was so swift that Franmar barely dodged to the side. The other's sword sliced open his tunic and left a shallow wound below his ribs. Franmar struck the man on the head with the flat of his sword, and he crumpled.
Franmar looked at his downed opponent for a few seconds, and so missed the man coming to attack him from behind. One of Franmar's fellows, Vors, blocked the attack and dealt with the man.
"C'mon Franmar," shouted Vors as he pulled his blade out of his foe, "You can't be standin' 'bout while there's fightin' to do." Nodding reluctantly, Franmar joined Vors in looking for another opponent.
It was just after sundown when the battle turned into a rout. The other group was run off, followed by the cheers and jeers of the Grimhildís Norsemen. Not all the jesting was about the vanquished group.
"Still with us, Franmar?" taunted one of the Norsemen, slapping the smaller man on the shoulder hard enough to stagger him. "Tyr himself must have been on your shoulder today!"
"That wasn't Tyr, that was me, Glorn!!" called another man from where he was plundering nearby.
"I thought it was Vors!" laughed a third man as he walked by.
Franmar was spared from responding by another man coming through and passing on orders for all the men to quit the battlefield and go back to camp.
Before long the Norsemen were celebrating and well into their cups...
"Ho there, brave warrior! Where are you goin'? Searching for another to test your great skill against?"
Franmar smiled tolerantly at the joke as the rest of the men around the campfires roared laughing. He walked away from the campsite and kept going until he came to a good place to drink the mead-filled skin he had brought from camp with him.
"Franmar!" The small man didn't quite jump up at the sudden voice. "What are you doing here all by yourself with a skin?"
Aylmer stepped out of the shadows to walk towards the thin man. He sat down on the same downed trunk next to Franmar. "You know it's not right to keep a whole skin to yourself. All the camp must hear the oaths you make to All-father Odin and Tyr the war-god." Franmar handed over the meadskin to the patrolling Norseman.
"I needed to get away from the others for a few moments. I don't feel well, and my head hurts."
"You were wounded during the fighting. Of course you feel unwell; you should." Aylmer gave back the meadskin after taking a few good draughts from it. "What matters is that you're alive, now. Many cannot say the same." Franmar also took a long drink. "Would that the others thought as you do, my friend. Their taunts ring in my ears still. I fought as well as I could. That I am still alive is because of the strength in my own good arm, not just because some of them helped me when I was in trouble."
"True, true," responded the man who knew he needed to get back to his patrol. "Has the Leech seen to your wounds yet?" Franmar shook his head after just taking another long swallow.
"He is watching those over who will journey to Valhalla tonight. I can wait until after the dawn tomorrow."
"You are a good man, Franmar," said Aylmer as he stood. He clapped his hand on the other's shoulder. "One day you too will stand before Odin and Tyr. I think they will be surprised to listen to you, hear off all the battles you have fought, and see the scars you bear."
"Aye, mayhap," answered Franmar half-heartedly as Aylmer went back to his circuit.
Franmar sat quietly for a while longer, just thinking and drinking. He was snapped out of his reverie by the sudden appearance of a growing sphere of fire only a few arms' length away.
The little man only looked on, shocked, as the ball of flame flickered out, leaving behind two figures bigger than any he'd ever seen before. The light from the fire faded immediately, but the eyes of the two large beings glowed like embers from a bonfire as they looked cautiously around.
"Hunnnnhhhh, wonder where we ended up this time?" The red creature, winged with a mane of hair the color of fresh snow, saw Franmar out of the corner of his eye, and turned to look at him. "Maybe you can tell us?"
The small man fell back off his log when the other winged beast also turned to look at him.
Franmar jumped to his feet, wide eyed and plainly terrified, then turned to run. "Trolls!! Hel--" The wind was driven out of Franmar as the first 'troll' overtook him and tackled him to the ground.
The creature flipped the little man over and slapped his talon over Franmar's mouth. In the dim starlight Franmar could see its demon's horns and large beak.
"Take it easy, okay?"
The other creature, with a hide as green as the trees, moved into Franmar's vision behind her white-haired companion.
"Beloved, someone is coming," said the dark-haired creature. The female creature wrinkled its nose. Holding onto the front of his jerkin with one claw, Brooklyn lifted Franmar to his his feet without strain. "We aren't trolls, and we don't mean you any harm, all right? We don't want to fight." Brooklyn followed Sata into the bushes just to the side of the path, taking the little man with them.
"We aren't going to hurt you. Do you understand?" Franmar nodded.
"Okay then, I'm going to let you go. Please don't go nuts and run off, okay?" Another nod, and Brooklyn released him.
The three watched as two of the guards passed by, one staggering from the drink he's had already. Both were muttering curses at Franmar for making all the noise.
"He was sitting right here." said Aylmer, obviously the more sober of the two.
"The runt probably saw a rabbit in the shadows and ran back to the camp thinking he 'ad seen a troll or witch." returned the other, and belched.
The first man shrugged. "Mayhap. There is no sign of a brawl." He looked around again. "He must have gone back to camp."
"Tha' tis what we should be doing. All the mead will be gone before we get to it."
"What do you have to worry about? You drank your share already."
The reply of the staggering man was muffled to unintelligibility as the pair separated. The unsteady man moved down the path towards the Norsemenís camp and Aylmer went back to his patrolling. The two gargoyles looked at Franmar once the others were out of earshot. Sata took a step back as she pulled a small fan out from the back of her obi. She started waving it in front of her face, trying to keep the stink of the thin man out of her nose.
Brooklyn was doing to do his best to ignore the stench. "What's your name, buddy?"
"I am Franmar, son of Gunnar. You are not trolls?" The little fellow's eyes moved over both of them. "What are you then, thralls of the alfar? Where did you come from?"
"We aren't anybody's thralls." Brooklyn frowned at his unconscious slip. "We're gargoyles. My name is Brooklyn, this is Sata, my mate." The green skinned female bowed stiffly. "We are...travelers from a distant land. We have become lost and don't know where or when we are. I don't suppose you can help us?"
Confusion and curiosity showed on Franmar's face. " 'When you are'? What does 'when' mean?" The two gargoyles traded an almost startled look.
"Oh, great," muttered Brooklyn. "Just forget when. Where are we? What land is this?"
The small man puffed himself up. "These are the lands of the Norse, the greatest warriors in the world!"
Brooklyn didn't have to look. He could feel Sata bristling indignantly behind him.
"The only way men such as this could be considered great warriors is because their stench prevents the men facing them from defending themselves properly," she said sharply in Japanese.
Brooklyn forced down his urge to laugh. Franmar was, of course, completely uncomprehending and it showed.
"The Norse, eh?" 'Norse? Norwegian?' Brooklyn's eyes narrowed and a memory flashed through his mind. Freyja. Mother of all, he hadn't thought of that girl in decades.
'Oh, great, the blasted thing dropped us into the laps of a bunch of Vikings!' He looked at Franmar steadily. "I've knew some of your people when I was younger. They were furious fighters."
"We are all furious fighters. You should see our chieftain Grimhild. He fights with an ax in each hand!"
"Does he now? Hmm, I don't know if I'd want to fight such a man. Is he like you, then?" The buttering up almost worked, but Franmar was overcome by a wave of honesty.
"No, I am not like him." The small man's shoulders slumped a little. "I am better with spear than sword, but I still often need aid during battle."
"Then you should hone your skill with the spear. Not everyone is meant to bear swords," said Sata, still standing behind Brooklyn.
"Yeah, what she said," agreed the red gargoyle.
"But we fight with swords! Spears are for hunting and fishing."
"Baka," spat out Sata. "The stink from their bodies must be affecting their minds, Brooklyn. How could they not think spears would be of great use in battle?" Again, she spoke in her native language.
Brooklyn answered the same way. "We must be in the ancient times, before even the hatching of my ancestors. The humans are very primitive in this time, even by the standards of the 10th century. When I was growing up the elders had to remind me several times that it was very impolite to speak in front of a person when they couldn't understand me."
Sata's eyed widened at the rebuke, then she nodded, dropped her eyes and dipped her chin. "Hai. Sumimasen Brooklyn-sama. Gomen nasai." His mind automatically translated the Japanese as his mate spoke. 'Yes. Please forgive me, Brooklyn, Iím sorry.'
Brooklyn turned to look at her and saw her demure posture. It made her look smaller somehow. "Ai stiteru yo, Sata-chan." The female did not look up but her lips quivered slightly.
Brooklyn looked back at Franmar. "Excuse me a minute." He stepped up to his mate and put his curled finger under her chin. Brooklyn lifted Sata's face up until their eyes met before again speaking in Japanese.
"As you said, not everybody can be as lucky as you. Civilization takes time. Remember, I was originally from a era not much different than this one. I was lucky to have the chance to know people who showed me a better way." Sata smiled at the subtle compliment. "They'll learn better in time."
"Hai. Wakarimasu." 'I understand.'
Brooklyn took her hands in his. "By the way haha-san, have I told you that you look beautiful tonight?"
"Yes you have." The loving smile Sata threw at him almost took Brooklyn's breath away. "You do every time I see the love in your eyes."
"I don't deserve you."
"This is true." Trying to kiss your mate when both were laughing quietly was just a little difficult but Brooklyn managed.
Still chuckling to himself, Brooklyn turned back to Franmar. The Norseman was now more curious than frightened.
"Please excuse us, Franmar. We needed to discuss something in private."
"You must be servants of the Aesir, to be able to speak in different tongues. You should meet Grimhild! Surely your coming is a sign from the gods!!"
"I'm sorry, Franmar, but you're mistaken. We have nothing to do with the gods."
The thin man was so excited he barely heard Brooklyn's words. He had started down the path to camp without them. When he noticed the gargoyles weren't following, Franmar hurried back to them.
"Come, come. You must meet Grimhild!" He very nearly grabbed Brooklyn's arm, but remembered himself at the last second. Brooklyn looked at Sata and shrugged. She raised an eye ridge questioningly in response.
"All right, Franmar. We'll come with you." said Brooklyn reluctantly. 'I hope this ain't a mistake.'
Grimhild was not quite as drunk as his men, due to his size, but he still staggered a bit as he approached his tent. He thought of his woman Morna as he ducked under the hide covering the entrance and smiled. The smile faded to befuddlement as he saw her asleep under their furs. She was supposed to be waiting for him.
"Grimhild, son of Egaon, I would have words with you." Grimhild whirled at the sound of the other's voice and the half-filled skin in his hand was flying across the tent towards the intruder instantly. The stranger in the shadows raised a hand and the skin stopped in mid air before him.
The intruder gestured and the meadsack ignited, filling the tent with light. The figure standing by the wall of the tent was taller then even Grimhild. He was clad in metal armor; something Grimhild had never seen before. A cowl obscured his features except for his glowing eyes.
"I am not here to fight with you, Norseman," said Mimir as Grimhild approached with ax in hand. "I am here at the request of All-father Odin. I come to bestow a gift to you." At Mimir's gesture, the burning meadskin moved to a place between the two men.
"A gift from Odin?" Getting the hint, Grimhild rose out of his fighting stance and looked at Mimir, bewildered and curious.
"Yes. I have been sent to help you achieve greatness." Mimir pointed and the midair torch moved upwards two feet towards the central pole holding up the stretched-out hide.
"HAH! I am a chieftain of the Norsemen, sorcerer. I am already great!!" Grimhild brandished his battle-ax as he closed on Mimir. The elder being held out his hand and displayed the jewel in his palm to the man before him.
"This talisman will give you power to make you greater still," Grimhild eye's widened at that bit of news, "and also give you insights beyond your dreams."
"Insights?" muttered Grimhild to himself as his desire overrode his suspicions. He stepped up to pluck the Eye of Odin out of Mimir's hand. He looked at the jewel closely. Light seemed to move around the surface of the orb.
"You are welcome, Norseman," said Mimir, shaking his head. The elder being extinguished the burning meadsack and stepped into the shadowed corner of the tent. Now the only light came from the dimmed blazer of coals near the center of the tent and the gem in Grimhild's hand.
"Grimhild!!" The voice shouting outside grew louder as it approached "Grimhild, come quickly!!" The big Norseman looked up as Ulrik, one of the scouts, burst into the tent. The chieftain was across the tent in two strides.
"This had better be important for you to come bursting into my tent like that." Ulrik gulped at the sudden sight of a battle-ax resting under his chin.
"You won't believe it until you see it yourself, Grimhild." The scout motioned toward the camp outside. "The mighty Franmar," Ulrik's voice dripped with scorn, "has brought something back to camp that he wants all to see."
Grimhild looked around for Mimir and was shaken that the strange visitor was not in sight. "A curse on all magicians," spat out the chieftain as he pushed Ulrik out of the tent. Grimhild put the jewel into a pouch on his belt, for later attention, and went outside.
All of the Norsemen who were sober enough to stand were brandishing their weapons as they watched Franmar and the gargoyles approach the campfire. Most were muttering between themselves and casting unfriendly eyes on the trio.
Both gargoyles were on their toes, but not making overt threatening movements. Sata had one hand over her nose and mouth. In the palm of that hand was a tiny sack containing crushed fragrant herbs. Her eyes were watering slightly.
The men quieted as Ulrik and Grimhild approached.
"What is this? Franmar! Have you lost your senses??" said Grimhild in a tight voice as he pointed at the gargoyles. "You would bring trolls to my camp? Do you wish us to all be destroyed!?!"
"These are not trolls, Grimhild." Franmar's words masked Brooklyn's muttering of "Here we go, again." "This is Brooklyn and his mate Sata. They are gargoyles from a distant land. They do not mean any harm to us."
"How do you know that, Franmar?" asked one of the other men. Several of the Norsemen grumbled quietly about trolls' magics controlling Franmar's mind.
"Because they said so. They appeared in a burst of flame and --"
"They did what!?!" said a number of men, Grimhild the loudest of them.
Brooklyn slapped a hand over his eyes. "Uh, oh." As she turned to stand back to back with her mate, Sata went into a semi-crouch and put her hands on her katana, one on the scabbard, the other on the haft.
"After Loem and I heard your shouting we came to find you, Franmar," said Aylmer, "I looked around and saw no sign of fire where you were sitting."
The grumbling grew louder. "Mage." "Sorcerer." "Demons." "Alfar." A few of the besotted Norsemen woke up and shakily got to their feet.
"Grimhild, the trolls must have taken his mind!" shouted Ulrik as he pointed at Franmar. "We can't let them bewitch us also!!"
"They'll not bewitch us!!" Grimhild grabbed his other battle-ax off of his back. "Kill the trolls!" The other men readied themselves. "If Franmar does not die with them he will be banished!"
Brooklyn felt a familiar tingle from his belt as Franmar shouted "No!" The crimson gargoyle reached forward to grab Franmar's cloak and pull him in close. The light and energy of the opening Phoenix Gate made all of the Norsemen jump back, and inspired a few to run off into the woods.
When Grimhild's eyes cleared he saw there was no sign of Franmar and the trolls. As the others also recovered from their shock he put his hand on the pouch containing the Eye. 'Power.....'
The kaleidoscopic inside of the Phoenix Gate took Franmar's breath away. He gaped in wonder at the shifting colors and shadows that enveloped him and the two gargoyles. It came as a shock when their journey abruptly ended.
The Phoenix Gate deposited the gargoyles and Franmar near the top of a ridge that ran along one side of a small valley. It, the valley, was for the most part occupied.
Sata staggered one step to the side and put her hand to her head. Her mate was at her side instantly.
"Are you all right, Guriin-chan?" His anxiety was obvious in his tone.
"Yes, thank you Brooklyn-san. I was dizzy for a moment. It has faded already."
The red gargoyle looked around again. They were not very far from the outer tents of a much larger camp. Only a few men could be seen moving about in the light of the few torches.
When he next looked at her, Brooklyn saw Sata was smiling wide and looking away from the center of camp. She was breathing deeply. Brooklyn sniffed the air and caught the smell of the ocean being carried on the night's winds.
Brooklyn had raised his head to smell the air and saw the stars shining through the clear sky. The almost full moon caught his eye and he tilted his head back to look almost straight up at it. "Gotta be the middle of the night." said the crimson gargoyle. "Everybody's probably asleep."
Once his eyes were adjusted to the darkness again, Franmar had also been looking around cautiously. He nodded automatic agreement with Brooklyn's words. "What --"
Sata's sudden warning hiss quieted the thin man and he joined the gargoyles in moving to crouch by the side of the closest tent, out of sight of the man approaching loudly from the inner camp.
"Ah." said Franmar as the man came into view. He stood up.
"Iee, mate," cautioned Sata as Brooklyn missed his grab at Franmar's arm.
"No, come back," called Brooklyn quietly.
Ignoring the gargoyle's whispered warnings, Franmar stepped out away from the tent.
"Harald!" called out Franmar. The other man, who'd walked right past them, turned back sharply at the sound of his name, hand on the hilt of his short sword.
"Franmar?" Harald's eyes widened in surprise. "It cannot be."
"How are you, you foul son of a lame ewe?"
"This can't be," said Harald again. "We all saw you die moons ago."
"Then I'm the first ghost with a beating heart. I'm not dead, you fool! Do I have to show you the scar that matches the one on your shoulder to prove that it is really me?"
Smiling, the two men approached each other. Only a few feet away both raised their empty right hands. Both laughed as they struck their forearms against each other.
"How can this be, Franmar? Where did you go if the fire did not kill you?" Harald grasped his friend's arms and shook him, perhaps to see if he was really there or not.
Franmar frowned. "I do not know." He looked at the cautiously approaching gargoyles. Beside him, Harald dropped his hand back to the hilt of his sword. "What did happen to us?"
"Take it easy, Harald," said Brooklyn immediately, and stopped out of range of the other's attack. "We aren't going to fight with you."
"They will not hurt us, my friend," reassured Franmar. "Trust me."
"Where did we vanish to, Brooklyn? We were surrounded by the spinning lights for only a few seconds, but Harald said moons have passed. It was almost time for the snow to fall then, but now it feels like the new buds will soon be showing."
"I'll explain later." evaded Brooklyn. "Can your friend tell us where we are now?"
"Yes," agreed Franmar, "What has happened since we last saw each other? By the size of the camp the tribe has prospered..."
"Life was the same after we thought we saw you die. We fought with other tribes through the winter for food and shelter. Loem and Davik are drinking among the Valkyrior now."
"Our journey to becoming such a large tribe began when Grimhild pulled our lives out of the jaws of Gorn just before the great beast would have given us up to Lady Hel. We were nearly beaten by a tribe that was bigger than we thought at first, but Grimhild saved us. In the midst of the fighting he was suddenly wrapped in a glow that made him look like a bright star. When we could see him again Grimhild was the size of a giant and wearing iron clothes. His change frightened our enemies and some of them ran. Those who didn't fell beneath Grimhild's fists." Harald held his fists up in front of himself. "He slaughtered two or three-score men with his bare hands. We didn't have to help him at all.
"There were three more battles during the next moon, all of them the same. We followed behind Grimhild and cleaned up after him after he was done beating the enemy all by himself." Harald shrugged. "The next time we went out to battle, those who stood against us asked to join us instead of fighting. Two more tribes have joined us since then. We are the biggest tribe ever heard of. There are none who will fight us now." The redheaded man frowned and crossed his arms in front of himself. "But that doesn't mean we've stopped battling. Any time word of another tribe comes to us Grimhild leads us against them, no matter how small they are.
"We who know Grimhild of old do not know what to think. What we do now is not fighting, it is slaughter. Since he changed Grimhild is not the same person. He has become cruel, and angry all the time. All he speaks of is war and conquering. We are not happy following him as he kills tribe after tribe, but none will face him and say he is wrong.
Brooklyn traded a look with Sata. "This is not good." The red gargoyle stepped up to Harald. "Grimhild changed after he put a jewel on?"
Brooklyn frowned. "Can you describe it to me?"
"It is on a gold chain. The jewel itself --"
"Hear me, brothers!!" came a shout from the middle of camp, and all heads turned. There was a curious echoing affect to the voice.
"Is that Grimhild?" asked Franmar.
"I think I need to see this myself," said Brooklyn, almost to himself.
"We need to see this for ourselves," asserted Sata, steel in her voice.
"Yes, ma'am. Harald, do you know where we can find cloaks to hide ourselves with?"
The other nodded. "Yes. Here." Harald took off his own heavy cloak, made of elk hide, and offered it to Sata. She VERY reluctantly took it out of his hands and shivered as she put it around her shoulders. Franmar ducked into a nearby tent and grabbed the fur off a bed to give to Brooklyn. Together, the four stuck to the shadows as they moved towards the center of the camp.
"--are the greatest tribe in the land!" Most of the crowd cheered. "What they have seen is nothing compared to what we will do! For many seasons we have heard tales of the Romans from the south. They come to conquer our lands!! Will we let them?" The shouting of "No!!" was almost as loud as the cheers and the gargoyles couldn't hear what Grimhild was saying.
"--has come for us to show the Romans that they are not the great men they thought they were! We shall show them what great really means!" A few of the men exchanged looks. "After we drive their armies into the ground, we shall march south ourselves until we lay waste to Rome itself!!" More of the men chose to not cheer at Grimhild's revealed plans. Most of the men who weren't cheering looked worried.
Brooklyn and the others were more then fifty feet away, and had no trouble seeing the Norse chieftain. The transformed Grimhild stood nearly twelve feet tall. He was wearing black plated mail edged with gray and red from his neck to his lower thighs. A furred cloak of midnight blue with small splotches of white on it here and there was thrown around his shoulders. His boots were also made of black fur. There was a silver helm with spiraling horns held in one arm.
"Now, that's impressive," said Brooklyn softly. Sata nodded. The crimson gargoyle focused his vision to the chest of the massive Norseman. He saw just what he was afraid of. "Ahhh, great."
Sata was also looking. "What is it, beloved?"
Brooklyn opened his mouth to answer, but was distracted by a sudden commotion in front of Grimhild. A veteran warrior with a few streaks of gray in his brown hair was standing before the giant.
"How could we even think of fighting the Romans? We are not enough men for that. The very idea is madness!! You must be raving to think we have a chance."
Eyes and pendant glowing, Grimhild moved with a speed surprising for his size. He grabbed the defiant man one-handed and lifted him until they were nose to nose.
"That was very foolish," growled Grimhild. He turned and threw the unfortunate man towards the distant woods without another word. Brooklyn was glad they were too far away to hear the sound of his impact.
"Does anyone else have something to say?" demanded Grimhild. As one the other men all took a step back away from him. "I didn't think so. We march on the Romans in the morning. Be ready." Grimhild stomped back to his tent.
"Wonderful." The other three all turned to look at Brooklyn.
"What is it, Brooklyn?" asked Sata.
"He's got the Eye of Odin." Brooklyn shook his head and again cursed all the fay he could think of.
"The what?" said all three of them together.
Brooklyn sighed. "The jewel Grimhild has around his neck is the Eye of Odin. It's what's made him so big and strong. That's what it does. It makes you strong, and it drives you crazy."
"'It drives you crazy'? I do not understand." Franmar was looking back towards the center of camp while Harald asked his question.
"Uhm, it's made him mad, insane, raving," offered Brooklyn. Harald nodded.
"You are indeed wise creatures, wiser than trolls. Grimhild should never have just ordered you killed without talking to you first."
"Yeah, well that's par for the course for gargoyles." Harald and Sata were both looking at him strangely again. "Never mind. I mean that's what usually happens to gargoyles."
Brooklyn growled low in his chest. "Everybody who wears the Eye is turned into a cruel, vicious..."
"Berserker?" offered Harald. Franmar had turned his gaze back to his companions.
Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah. Exactly. A Berserker. We have to get the Eye away from Grimhild. Any ideas, anybody?"
Sata and Harald shook their heads. Franmar had a tight smile on his face, though.
"I agree, Brooklyn. We have to get the jewel away from Grimhild. I think I know a way." He slapped his hand on Harald's shoulder. "All we need to do is get a little help..."
Shortly Harald had gathered almost a score of men who he knew did not want to continue following Grimhild if his behavior and judgment remain troublesome.
"Brothers, I know that all of you are worried about Grimhild. I believe we may have a way to get him back to the way he was. It will not be easy, and you will have to put your lives in the hands of those you have little reason to trust. Will you do that?"
"The only ones I have no reason to trust are strangers. I do not like trusting strangers. Do you trust these outsiders, Harald?"
"Yes, I do. One of them is no stranger to us..." He gestured and Franmar stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the torches carried by Harald and two others. Behind him came the gargoyles.
Both Franmar and Harald tried to silence the protests of the men. It would be a problem if Grimhild woke from his sleep to see Franmar and his guests talking with his men.
"Have you lost your mind, Harald?" demanded one of the men. "You want us to trust a pair of trolls and their puppet?"
"For the last time, we aren't trolls!!" snapped Brooklyn. "We're gargoyles, and we're here to help you. Grimhild is not right in the head. We have to get him back to the way he used to be." Brooklyn looked around at the men and saw the disbelief on their faces.
"Why do you wish to help us?" asked one of the men.
"I was chosen to go on a long quest," answered Brooklyn after a lengthy silence. "Sata chose to travel with me, to help me. Wherever we appear we're supposed to assist those who need help." Another pause. "It is our destiny." Several of the Norsemen nodded.
"Then you are thralls of the Norns; Urd, Verdandi and Skuld." This time almost all of the Norsemen nodded, even Franmar. "They weave the paths that all lives follow."
Brooklyn and Sata exchanged a confused look. "Uh, yeah. I guess so." The red gargoyle shook off the implications of that surprise and got back to the matter at hand. He looked around at the Norsemen.
"You have a choice: you can let us help you get the old Grimhild back, or you can let him lead you to your deaths." He shook his head grimly. "That's right. He will lead you to your deaths. Grimhild will lead you against the Romans, then the Romans will wipe all of you out when you try to fight them. I know the Romans. They are too many for you to fight. If you want to live, you have to help us help you."
"The Romans are coming. There can be no doubt of that," said one of the older warriors.
"Yes, they probably are," agreed Brooklyn. "The question is: will they find a fight here, or will they find new allies? You have to decide." A brief, intense discussion ensued. After a few minutes Harald nodded and smiled at the other men. He then approached the gargoyles and Franmar, who were waiting patiently for the Norsemen's decision.
"All right. We are with you." Harald leaned in close. "I just hope you have a good plan. No one wants to end up like Ainselm did."
Harald and the two gargoyles looked at the thin Norseman. "Well..."
The plan was simple, the best kind of strategy. Brooklyn and Sata agreed with the scheme and they were in business. A little while later Franmar snuck into Grimhild's tent. The giant of a man was nestled among a big pile of furs with his eyes closed, apparently asleep.
The thin man crept forward. The relaxed giant didn't move. Franmar slowly reached out for the Eye.
The only problem with Franmar's idea was something he was not aware of. Now that he was using the Eye, Grimhild no longer had any need of sleep. During the late night hours the big Norseman retired to his tent out of habit. While there the talisman influenced him to lie down so it could induce him into a state resembling slumber. As Grimhild's body rested the Eye worked on changing his mind and personality, making him more prone to violent, bloody, actions.
Just before he would have touched the chain the Eye was hanging from the talisman glowed brightly and Grimhild's eyes snapped open.
"Thief!!" Grimhild grabbed Franmar and threw him across the tent. The small man landed against a shield hanging from one of the stout support poles.
Eyes flashing to match the jewel on his neck, Grimhild stalked across the tent and grabbed the would be robber by the arm.
Franmar was shaking his head to clear it when Grimhild lifted him off the ground.
"You. So, Franmar, you aren't dead after all." Grimhild grabbed the front of Franmar's tunic and they were face to face. "Too bad you will be leaving so soon after your return." Almost without effort, Grimhild threw Franmar through the entrance to the tent. The small warrior landed twenty feet away from the tent.
Smiling evilly, the giant of a Norseman followed him outside. He took three steps and stumbled as a rope pulled by several of the Norsemen helping Harald and Franmar snagged his foot, nearly tripped him. The large warrior was off balance just long enough for the gargoyles to strike.
Brooklyn and Sata glided down over Grimhild's tent and passed just to either side of his wide shoulders as they went to land right in front of him. As they passed both gargoyles grabbed one of the arms thrown wide for balance. Both of them twisted around to keep their grips on Grimhild's arms. The gargoyle's momentum pulled the giant with them. The winged pair landed on their feet, crouched into balls, but Grimhild was driven chest first into the ground.
The rest of the Norsemen ran out of the shadows to assist the gargoyles in holding Grimhild still. They almost didn't pile on in time. The struggling giant almost threw the fifteen men and two gargoyles off of him.
"I'm going to kill you all!!" bellowed Grimhild.
"Mayhap," said Franmar as he stepped up to the crowd holding Grimhild down, "but not today." The studded mace made a ugly sound as it connected with the top of Grimhild's uncovered head. The giant flopped back to the ground, and was still.
"Quickly! Get off of him." The Norsemen were quick to comply with Sata's order. The two gargoyles had to make an effort to flip Grimhild over onto his back.
"I hope I didn't hurt him," said Franmar as he looked from his dented mace to Grimhild's unmarked skull.
"Don't sweat it, Franmar. The Eye should have protected him." Brooklyn and Sata looked and nodded at each other and together then grabbed the chain around Grimhild's neck. Power flared from the Eye as the two gargoyles made a big effort to pull the talisman off the Norseman. Brooklyn and Sata ignored the pain caused by the energy running over their hands and forearms, and managed to get the Eye off Grimhild.
A burst of light exploded from Grimhild's body. The next thing anybody knew Grimhild was back to his normal size and again dressed in leather and furs.
"Whew," wheezed Brooklyn at the same time Sata breathed, "We did it."
"Are you all right, Guriin-chan?" Brooklyn shakily got to his feet and moved to his mate's side.
"Yes, Brooklyn, we are." They smiled at each other as Brooklyn bent over to kiss her.
The Norsemen were all over Franmar, slapping him on the back and congratulating him as Brooklyn helped Sata to her feet. One of them started a chant of "With one blow!" that was quickly picked up by his fellows.
The two gargoyles looked at Franmar steadily until he noticed them and quieted his old friends. He stepped forward to stand before Brooklyn and Sata.
"You did good, Franmar," said Brooklyn. "Now the question is: what do we do with this thing?" He raised the chain still attached to the Eye. Franmar involuntarily took a step back.
"We get rid of it," said Sata quietly. "No one should have such power." Before either Brooklyn or Franmar can get a word out the female gargoyle grabbed the chain out of Brooklyn's hand. Like her mate Sata made a point of not touching the talisman. She quickly climbed a nearby rise and used it as a launching point.
"Well," said Brooklyn as Sata glided by overhead, heading for the ocean, "She does have a point."
"I am glad she took it. I would not want such power."
Brooklyn smiled at Franmar then clapped his hand on the small man's shoulder.
"You're a good man, Franmar. You've done well, and I bet you'll do better." The Norseman nodded and smiled as he duplicated Brooklyn's sign of friendship.
"Keep your eyes open though," said Brooklyn as he turned away to climb the same small hill, "I have a feeling that thing will turn up again someday." Cheers and songs sounded up from the ground as the red gargoyle glided by overhead, waving.
Brooklyn and Sata met in the air above the shore. The jade female had glided out perhaps a hundred yards before throwing the Eye out over the ocean. Brooklyn swooped around and moved in above Sata. She turned over and they grasped each other's arms. Brooklyn pulled her to him and Sata smiled as she folded her wings so she could snuggle close without fouling each other's wings.
"Glad you made it back," said Brooklyn as the Phoenix Gate opened around them. "We cut that really close." The pair was still over a shoreline. This time the air was warm.
"Hai!!" shouted Sata as she broke away from her mate. She dove for the shore and only paused long enough to shed her kimono, obi and weapons.
"Domo Arigato!!" she said, overjoyed, as she dove into the warm water.
"Come Brooklyn." she called to her mate, who was smiling as he stood by her discarded belongings. "We both need a bath!!"
"We do? Why?" The sides of his long mouth curled slightly as he wondered how long he could draw the teasing out.
Sata stood up in the thigh deep water, hands on her hips and the sight of her shocked Brooklyn so that he forgot what he was talking about. His eyes shot wide and his beak gaped open.
"Ima, Yukishiro-chan!!" She glared at him, her indignation betrayed by her smile at Brooklyn's expression.
Brooklyn started walking forward, his face not changing. "Don't move a muscle, Sata." He stepped into the water.
The jade gargoyle turned to look over her shoulder, expecting trouble.
"I said don't move," said Brooklyn in a strange, quivering tone of voice Sata had never heard before. She turned back to look at him quizzically. Brooklyn had picked up his jaw and was now wearing a dopey grin.
As Brooklyn got close Sata figured it out from the direction of his eyes.
"Hai," she said simply, holding back her own smile.
His arm trembling, Brooklyn reached forward to caress his mate's stomach, now slightly curved instead of flat. Sata cupped Brooklyn's jaw with both hands and he looked at her face again. The look in his eyes made her heart swell.
"Every time, beloved," said Sata with a loving smile just before Brooklyn kissed her and wrapped her up in a winged embrace.
* * * * *
In due time, in another place...
The small group of fishermen had done well this day. All of their nets were almost completely full. Their wives and small children stepped out into the shallows to help secure the boats. Before long the families were working at gutting and boning the fish.
One young man grunted to himself in surprise as his knife ran against something more solid than flesh or bone while he was gutting one fish. Carefully he looked through the entrails. A glitter of gold made the teen cut open the fish's stomach.
"Papa!!" Heads turned at the young man's shout. Both of his parents approached. "Look at this."
"What is it, Airk?" asked his father.
"I don't know, but it's beautiful," said Airk as he held out the large blue and gold jewel for his parent's inspection...
* * * * *
Not the end