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from
his Chariot. There was a cloud of dust, a hail of stones. Alvit gave a little
cry and dodged as small bits of rock went shooting past her head, and when
the
dust cleared there was a new look to the cave's mouth. Already Myelnir's
handle
was snugly back in Thor's right hand. A moment later, the Chariot was inside
the
cave, where he who rode it could smell the faint, unpleasant residue of the
creature he had just destroyed.
Entering an enclosed space many times larger than his Chariot, Hal looked
carefully around, with a god's vision keen even in semidarkness. When Alvit
pointed out to him the machine that generated the wraiths, he could think of
nothing to compare it to, except possibly a tangle of dead or dying tree
stumps,
projecting from the cave floor, shorn of all branches and leaves. Even Thor
had
never seen anything just like this before; but his long memory retained
garbled
stories of a spot deep in the Underworld, where some kind of engine described
as
similar to this one was said to produce strange images of the dead, in
pursuit
of some vast project whose purpose all living minds had long since forgotten.
Alvit rode bravely right beside the strange device, whose jagged outline
testified, even to one ignorant of proper shape and purpose, that it was
broken.
"Hal, is there anything you can do to fix it?"
Hal made a helpless gesture with his powerful arms, limbs grown even thicker
with his apotheosis. "Nothing that either Thor or I can think of." The
Thunderer's divine talent for constructive building or repair was almost
nonexistent, beyond some odds and ends of plain metalworking. Certainly
neither
god nor man were up to dealing with devices on this level of sophistication.
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"Then what are we to do?" Alvit sounded desperate.
Hal didn't know, and Thor's memory was of no help. Being deprived of wraiths
would cost the gods' forces one of their chief advantages over the demonic
army,
for wraiths could duel more effectively against demons than they could
against
human flesh and blood.
Again Hal was struck by how strongly the mysterious machine resembled an
underground complex of tree stumps. Neither Hal nor Thor could make any sense
of
it though Thor did have some memory, tantalizingly faint and remote, of
having
seen something like it somewhere before.
When more creatures of the Underworld suddenly appeared at the cave's
entrance,
Thor with a swift cast of his Hammer killed two of the latest attackers. The
strange, quasi-material shapes exploded at Myelnir's touch, and others turned
and fled before entering the cave.
But Thor's defense of the cave had come too late. The engine had been
effectively destroyed.
"We can do no more here," he told Alvit, "let's get back to the battle."
She could only agree, and followed on her Horse as Hal drove Thor's Chariot
high
into the air above Valhalla to get another view of Wodan's deployment and see
how the fight was going.
No more wraiths could be generated, and those already in the field continued
to
vanish under enemy attack, sometimes whole squadrons of them together. Thor
looked about him, reveling in senses enormously keener and farther-ranging
than
Hal the northman had ever dreamt of having. He felt a warrior's joy on seeing
that the enemy had come out of hiding and was once more on the attack.
Hal/Thor picked out a target
And hurled Myelnir!
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There had been a lull in the fighting. Again the enemy had pulled back out of
contact, but no one on the gods' side could be certain if this meant a
general
retreat, or that the enemy was reorganizing and nerving itself for a final
supreme effort.
With his strength augmented by the power of a god, Hal no longer felt the
exhaustion that had drained him when he was only mortal man. But even gods
could
tire, as he was discovering. He had landed his Chariot again, near the spot
where he had talked with Wodan, and he was waiting for the All-Highest to
come
back from his latest foray against the enemy.
Surprisingly, his right knee twinged as he turned round. It was a different
kind
of twinge than he had been trying to get used to in the last months before
his
chance came to be Thor. As one who had the experience of many wounds, he
recognized this as a therapeutic sort of twang, part of a healing process,
almost like a small dislocation popping back in place. He had no doubt at all
that the knee, Thor's knee, was going to be just fine from now on.
Hal was about to look around for Wodan, when a voice right at his own
Chariot-wheel distracted him.
"Hal, remember us?" There stood the youthful figure of Holah or was this one
Noden? one of Baldur's cousins or nephews, clinging to the vehicle in a
familiar
way. It was obvious that in the boy's ignorance he did not immediately grasp
the
fact that the man he recognized had become the great god Thor.
Meanwhile the speaker's slightly older brother was approaching. Being a
little
more perceptive, he must have realized the truth, for he was trying to drag
his
younger sibling back.
Hal gave them both a weary look. "So, you couldn't wait to get into a real
fight, hey? Well, no more could I when I was your age."
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Questioning the boys, Hal learned that they had experienced only a taste of
fighting so far. One of them seemed eager for more, the other not nearly so
enthusiastic, yet reluctant to admit the fact.
Now the elder asked: "What should we do now, sir Hal? The men we came to this
fight with seem to have disappeared."
"My advice to you both is keep your weapons handy and don't volunteer for
anything." Part of Hal wanted to tell them to go home, and had been on the
verge
of doing so, but another part admired their youthful daring and enterprise.
Meanwhile, his Thor component hardly took notice of the lads at all. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]