The blood looked shallow, like feathered rubies layered against the backdrop of the imposing steel doors. Both hunters had known their share of blood. Dried, dripping, rippling, chunky, stained and spotted; they had seen them all throughout their career. Blood didn’t faze them; not anymore.
The door ached a little on the winter breeze. The cold had a narrow bite blowing down from the tower of metal. Evening would be coming soon to Frigga. It would creep in behind the overcast sky like a slow release of orange dye. There would be no torches to light in Frigga. The city would be dark, deep, and fear-thick with an unsolved nightmare.
“A lot of blood, but it stops on the outside of the door, sorta.” Vrendel scraped at the stain with the head of his mace. The blood was fused to the stone in icy patterns. “Blood was from a while ago, obviously, so it’s probably safe to go in there.”
“Why would that thing stop the wolves, but then make us come here first?” Bow said aloud, more to herself than in the hope that Vrendel might have an answer. She’d been watching the city lurking behind them. All intersecting streets, roads, buildings, and rooftops flowed towards the Iron Citadel, like a towered eye of the storm. “I mean, why? He trapped us while in motion; that requires a lot of magic. They don’t just hand out that kind of stuff. I’m beginning to think we got screwed with this assignment.”
“Well, if that three-eyed monster wanted us dead, we’d still be walking in circles. Night’s coming. We can’t sit out in the dark uncovered. If we light torches in the Citadel, the light won’t bleed out to our friend,” Vrendel said.
“I thought that was obvious. I’m just wondering why the entire city would be gone. The people, I mean—right on the eve of Ragnarok?”
“I’ve never known you to be this concerned with religion and prophecy. You’ve never had a hard time focusing those pretty eyes on anything that needs to be killed, but now you’re getting all metaphysical about the afterlife? It’s like you’re turning into one of those star-struck theologians.”
“I’m not unfocused you asshole. I’m just pointing out the circumstances.”
“I don’t believe in those circumstances.”
“Well, too fucking bad for you. I guess I won’t be seeing you in Valhalla, Vren.”
Vrendel laughed and knocked on the steel doors with his mace. He struck the sculpted vulture’s wings, which threw a brass and metallic echo into the streets and alleyways. It was a defensive gesture by Vrendel to laugh at Bow. Her temper was like another personality, a mass atop a form. She would get angry, and that’d be it, there’d be no other break to her character. There would be just rage.
“It’d be nice to take a break from killing. It shouldn’t follow me to my supposed afterlife,” he said.
“And you wanted kids in this world,” Bow said. She tilted her body through the narrow gap between the massive doors.
“I still do,” Vrendel whispered. Bow was already worming into the bowels of the Citadel. He wished she had heard him. He didn’t know why.
The entrance to the Iron Citadel was a stained glass tunnel, which curled over their heads like a captured role of luminescence. Both hunters were expecting something stone-based, dark, checkered, and layered with leathery-empty cobwebs. Instead, it felt like they were walking through a tunnel of enslaved light. They couldn’t figure out where the tunnel was getting its glow, but they were thankful it wasn’t like a typical Citadel to worship the gods. Every city, town, and village had a Citadel of sorts to pay homage to Odin and his family. None had a glowing tunnel like this one.
In Frigga, it was odd to see such a large and an elaborate square of metal for just a reasonably sized city. Citadel’s usually matched the world around them in scope. Both hunters figured with the city so close to Jotunheim, a little extra godly help wasn’t such a bad idea.
The tunnel of red, blue, and yellow glass stretched on further, like the hunters were trapped on the end of a light spectrum. Bow and Vren kept their weapons out, and watched the glossy platted walls for a single inch of shadow to move. The tunnel was just wide enough for them to walk through shoulder to shoulder. On the ground were cracked gouges of cobblestones, like the marks from the red figure walking earlier.
“This is a weird thing, even for the Iron Citadel,” Vrendel said. He wanted to snap the tunnel open with his mace, but he didn’t want to attract too much attention.
“You think this is another spell from our tour guide?”
“No, I think it was meant to stop people from going in, to make them feel clumsy and weird. I can see variations to the pieces, so I think it’s going to end at some point,” Bow said.
There was an orange and cement glow at the end of the color-ridden tube. The mouth was getting bigger and bigger, and eventually the two hunters emerged into a massive chamber. Above them the walls stretched upwards with no end in sight, the ceiling lost in the darkness as if it were merging with the night sky. Blazing torches, with clawed metal holding them, glowed about the brick walls. Hanging tapestries of massive lengths drooled downwards to the concrete floor. On the hanging tears of cloth, pictures were sewn with the world’s histories, both god and giant. In the center of the chamber was an enormous circle, wedged up from the ground like a fixed dinner plate.
The circle was covered in layers of dried blood, which flaked upwards in little black specks. Four massive chains were draped across it like pieces of old clay. The chains were fused into the walls at four surrounding points. Each link was easily the length of Vrendel, and twice as wide. They were black as the walls, and etched with pictures and runes. They dangled empty and alone, as though they missed whoever -or whatever- they had been tying down. Surrounding the chamber’s center were piles of books, rotted food, and the skeletons of miscellaneous animals.
Bow scanned the rafters of the Citadel, and the shadows frolicking in the torch light.
“There’s nothing here, and clearly something got out,” she said. The fur on her shoulders was feeling heavy. Her small legs were tired from walking. She wouldn’t do very well in a sprint. Some of the hair from her ponytail had swung loose and was making her neck tickle.
“Yeah, those chains are the ones they use at shipyards. I’d say it was a giant,” Vrendel said. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his bearded face. The air smelled salty thanks to the blood. There was no skin, bile, or bone-parts on the circle. Just blood.
A hissing sound was merging with the air. Something was feeding air into the Citadel from the rooftop, but it was muffled or blocked.
“What in Midgard was chained down here?” Vrendel said. He prodded the chains with his mace. They didn’t move, not even out of respect.
“It couldn’t have been a giant. Not even an Elder; the links are too big,” Bow said. She walked to the opposite side of the circle on the other side of the entrance. Something grey and tiny was pinned beneath the chains.
“Look! Over here!” she barked.
Vrendel clanged over and inspected the spot. A little girl, with long hair, a thick dress, and clunky boots was pinned beneath the chains. She was completely petrified in a fresh grey shade of stone. Her body looked like a renegade piece of art, a sculpture gone wayward from its gallery. In her hand was a purple flower free of the rock prison. Vrendel shook his head, not even bothering to conceal his confusion as he looked to Bow with misty eyes.
“What was she giving the flower to?”
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