"Headin' in or headin' out
Standing on the shore
Pause a moment to reflect
Which trip costs you more
Between the ever restless crowds
And the silence of your room
Spend an hour in no man's land
You'll be leaving soon
Victims come and victims go
There's always lots to spare
One victim lives the tragedy
One victim stops to stare
And still another walks on by
Pretending not to see
They're all out there in no man's land
Cause it's the safest place to be
But sanctuary never comes
Without some kind of risk
Illusions without freedom
Never quite add up to bliss
The haunting and the haunted
Play a game no one can win
The spirits come at midnight
And by dawn they're gone again
And so it seems our destiny
To search and never rest
To ride that ever changing wave
That never seems to crest
To shiver in the darkest night
Afraid to make a stand
And then go back and do our time
Out there in no man's land..."
Bob Seger, No Man's Land
I want to go home. I want this to be over and I want Gunnar to be okay and to stop being so quiet.
And while I'm taking the time to want things that aren't going to happen in the near future, I want world peace and I want the titans to just decide to play nice or give up or both and I want a room full of puppies and I want an easy bake oven that dispenses brownies on command.
Brownies sound really good right now. Hell, any real food sounds good right now. As long as it is hot and not made of questionable beef.
I've spent the past nine days eating protein bars and drinking water so cold I'm surprised my lips don't freeze to the bottle. I want that to be done with, too.
The trip has just been tedious from the beginning, since I busted my ass falling onto one of the frozen roots of Yggdrasil.
At least I didn't fall into the water like some of the others. Like Gunnar, especially. It sucked watching him have to pretty much strip down to warm back up. I was wracking my brain about how I could help him, and all I could come up with was to treat him like a normal hypothermia victim and strip down with him to share my body heat. I just wasn't sure my body could handle the cold here if I were nearly naked too, and having recently been repurposed as an incubator, I figured he of all people would understand that I didn't really wanna find out.
And that was the fun part of the trip through this wasteland.
We warmed everyone up and we started walking. And we kept walking. There was darkness, and there was snow, and there was a road bordered by bones. Charming.
We fought giants who started things off on the wrong foot by calling us "meat." Long story short, we won. Gunnar actually let one - the only one who survived - surrender, telling it to spread the word not to fuck with us. We weren't meat, he told them. We were something else. Something about us being bullets and axes. I added that we were pain. Bullets and axes and pain. I like it.
We'd been walking for a while longer when Nate started freaking out, saying that he couldn't feel? his wife anymore. I dunno. I've heard weirder, sometimes from my own mouth, so I didn't really ask. I did sit my happy ass down in the middle of the road to Helheim - which, like everything else in that fucking place, was cold - and asked Sibyl to show me a thing or two about a thing or two.
What did I see?
Well, I finally got my vision of sunshine and puppies. Well, one puppy. Well, I didn't really see it. Fuck it, I'm counting it anyway. Before that though, I got a cold marble barrel against my temple - I remembered to unload it - and then I felt sunlight on my skin.
Twenty feet away from me was Alison. Blue dress, red and white picnic cloth. Blossoms on a cherry blossom tree. Must have been spring. The sound of little feet in the grass. A little boy, not any older than six, came around the tree trunk. He was wearing a leather sheriff's vest and Nate's Stetson. It had seen a lot of use, thing was all beat to Hell.
Alison asks if the boy caught something, a male something, but the boy explains that the dog ran too fast. He asks why Dad can't have a picnic with them. Alison gathers the boy into her arms, calling him Ethan and explaining that Nate has a very important job to do. Nate loves them and wishes he could be there. Like kids do, I hear the kid starting to ask, "But why?"
Then the feel of the sun faded away - I think I whimpered just a little as the cold settled back into my skin and my bones. I was back in Nifelheim and I told Nate that Alison was going to be fine. Six years, ish, saw her playing with their kid and having a picnic. I told him they missed him, but that they were fine. I'd have told him more, if he asked. He doesn't ask nearly as many questions as he should.
Oh and I started bawling like a little girl with a skinned knee because my kids won't get picnics with either of their parents. Instead they get Jack and because I'm being nice and trying to reassure a friend and help him decide whether to turn back and go home to his wife, I get reminded that my kids are going to grow up without me. Best day ever.
And after that, we walked some more. Harlan bitched a little. He had the right though, the cold was taking the hardest toll on him. It's really weird having someone around who is even squishier than Brendan. I tried keeping an eye on him, since he'd been nice enough to set my weapon on fire for me. He hadn't bothered to make sure I could handle it, and when I asked he gave a very Gunnaresque answer, saying that I looked like I'd have been fine. I guess it was a compliment?
Oh and after that we walked some more.
And then there was a snake. For once, it didn't immediately curl around Gunnar. It tried curling around me instead, and buried its fangs in my shoulder, and that hurt like a bitch. Nate tried pulling me free, and that didn't work. It just wiggled me around on the fangs and that hurt like a bitch suffering from PMS. Then Gunnar busted out some of those explosives.
"You've got five seconds," he'd grinned as he shoved a pound of C4 past me, down the serpent's throat.
A lot of wives would be upset.
Me? I'm a sucker for that grin, and I knew what I was getting into when I said my vows. Well, I thought I did. I knew that life married to Gunnar was going to include both snakes and explosions. I just mistakenly thought it was going to be one or the other at a single time.
I did manage to shimmy off of its fangs and get away, everybody else backed off too, and the explosion was kinda anticlimactic. I told Gunnar he should have used more.
And then there was more walking. And a blue kid. Not a smurf, a frost giant. When I saw my first frost giants earlier, I had realized that when Gunnar said his dad was in Scandinavia because of the frost giants (oh yeah, Gunnar's dad is in Scandinavia after the frost giants pulled something on him and now Gunnar has this gorgeous car), that's probably what I'd seen with those icy gates when Frigg gave me future-vision. Smurf kid and his creepy granny fed us, put us to sleep, and I woke up with Harlan slapping me in the face. He's lucky I didn't punch him. Harlan said she was up to no good. So we took her firewood and gtfo'd. We should have taken her food too. Protein bars suck.
Then we ran into a dragon. Well, it was a dragon we'd already run into before. It had wanted to chomp on us at the beginning, but Harlan's valkyrie - yeah, I know, we were too busy getting on with things to react with a proper "What the Fuck" - said we were under her protection. So the dragon was all like, "Rawr, they're only safe when you're with them," and then she told Harlan she was going to Hel's hall and we could have fun with the nine-day-walk. Bitch.
She should have told the dragon that distance from us would have been for its own good. We fucked him up pretty good, after he hit us with some "never should have existed" fire. I got the ball rolling, using that "Hey look over here fucker" trick that I do so well. It went a little too well. It was interested only in me, kept trying to claw at me. Once it tried to take off with me, which was funny when it failed really hard. Also, FIRE AXE!!
We gave it a gaping chest wound, thanks mostly to Brendan and Ciara. Then Gunnar almost blew it up. And he almost blew everyone else up. I don't think they took it well, maybe they'd forgotten what it was like working with him while we'd been working separately. Harlan, apparently deciding that I was not in fact as sturdy as I looked, saw what was going on and pulled me back before Gunnar hit the detonator. Then Gunnar freaked the hell out in mid-attack on the dragon and hasn't been talking much since. He just jumped off and started doing I don't know what. After I tore the dragon a new one with my axe I went to follow Gunnar to make sure he was okay, but Ciara and Kassandra were calling out to me along with the others. I guess they thought it was a bad idea to let this dragon die.
I slapped it. It made it better.
I also started trying to take some dragon scales from it, as souvenirs to leave with the boys when we handed them over to Jack, but I really sucked at it. I was either so cold or so shaky or so confused about Gunnar... I dunno. I was just tearing the scales up and about to make the whole "healing the dragon so Nidhogg and sons don't hold a grudge" thing utterly pointless. Oh. Yeah, this was one of Nidhogg's sons.
Then Ciara, I guess deciding she hadn't been enough of a badass when she was surfing on the thing in midair while the rest of us were busy being useless (and being the only one of us who was able to pull Brendan's spear out), offered to help me. She was able, after five minutes, to hand me one perfect dragon scale about the size of a piece of toast. Which reminded me again that I was hungry and that even toast sounded delicious. I didn't even need butter on it. Just bread sounded good. Or bread and tzatziki. Potatoes and tzatziki. Potatoes and guinness... I miss guinness.
Uh, anyway. Dragon scale. It was kinda ugly, actually. Greenish black and not pretty at all. I asked her to get me another. It would be hard to make something for two boys out of one scale.
Then we kept walking. And Gunnar, who had been kinda talkative before while he was teaching Ciara Old Norse, just clammed up. Didn't really even say anything when the blizzard got worse and he looked like he was about to freeze to death.
Though, I guess it's worth pointing out that Harlan didn't really say anything either, and he looked like he was about to fall over. There was something up between Gunnar and Harlan, and no one was saying what and it was almost a relief when we came up to a golden bridge, Gjallrbru (it means "golden bridge." The Aesir are not very creative). Gunnar spotted it first, and said the first thing he had since the dragon.
Altogether there were nine fucking days of not-exciting-at-all walking before we got to that bridge, and when we got to that bridge we were greeted by a giantess who wanted nothing more than for us to try to kill her.
I nominated Ciara as our resident badass.
Well, by nominated I mean, I asked her to participate in a one-on-one potential maiming since that didn't strike me as something a pregnant woman should do. And when I asked Ciara to do it, I pulled her away from the group so they wouldn't hear (though Gunnar probably heard anyway) and I told her why I couldn't. The whole, "being two and a half months pregnant with twins" thing gets in the way of honor battles. Part of me didn't want to let that stop me, but the other part that still has a few brain cells screamed at me that if that giantess hit me in the stomach with a good blow, I'd probably lose the boys.
Ciara said yes instantly. Then she asked to borrow my axe. I handed her that, and the ring Heimdall gave me and she used both like a boss. Modgud was happy to let us pass, and not quite so happy that she thought she was sending us to our deaths.
And that's how I spent my summer vacation.
No, seriously. I lost three months when I got out of there. That comes later, though.