“So let me just get this straight. The entire town is empty. Just outside the gates a pack of wolves larger and more ravenous than any I’ve seen before is waiting for us, and to get in here we had to fight off an enchanted undead giant. Now that we are inside something with serious magic reserves is toying with us, we find frozen blood on the steps of the Citadel and clear signs of an escape, and the only clue we have is a petrified girl holding an unpetrified flower.” Bow counted the facts off on her fingers, like the links of their very own chain, tying them up and holding them down. She was looking upwards at the darkened ceiling of the tower. The torches trembling along the walls barely hinted at the vaulted dome above their heads.
“Whatever was contained here must’ve used the girl to escape. I’ve got no clue how, but at least she’s petrified and not dead. We can still save her if we get an antidote,” Vrendel said. He tried to lift the little girl up, but the weight of the chain plus her stone-charmed skin fused her to the ground. Grunting with the exertion, he gave up quickly, dusting his hands off on his pant legs. “Maybe she can tell us what happened here. We should make finding that antidote top priority. Besides, we need to explore the town a little more. I doubt it’s completely deserted.” Bow squinted upwards, only half-listening.
“Something, I think, is moving up there. I can almost see its trails. We’re not the only ones in here.”
“Anything that high up can’t be human,” Vrendel said. He positioned the shield on his left forearm and swung the mace in a grumbling circle in the shadows.
“Can’t get a shot in this gloom. Let me try something.” Bow sprinted over to a small fiery goblet closer to the glass tunnel. She pulled an arrow from the quiver strapped to her waist. It was heavier and stunk sour of oil. The arrow was lit in a swing of fur and plated arm. It was on Blood Thunder like a fiery word. She aimed at the iron sky and fired into it with an unceremonious twang. The blip of torching light zoomed upwards like an ascending star, fading into the dark. Silence echoed back. A gust of wind shook the doors on the entrance to the Citadel. The torchlight played broken red patterns of light on the tapestries. Bow wanted to stare at them longer; they portrayed kings, castles, and winds she’d never known before.
“What happened to it?” Vrendel asked, squinting up into the dark.
There was a clattering sound above their heads, followed by a metallic whine of aged steel being released. It looked like the sky was falling on them, like the air above their heads was being lowered for some sort of inspection. Vrendel charged over and knocked Bow into the glass tunnel. A giant steel square shattered the rock and jostled the massive chains that were surrounding her. A form slunk down the wall like a centipede, and scurried into the glass tunnel towards the entrance. The only detail Vrendel could see of their visitor was a white round mask glowing on the top of its massive head. The figure was too big to be human. Vrendel cursed, wishing at least once they could face off against something from the right side of the Jotunheim Mountains.
It took the two hunters a few seconds to adjust to the booming shakes of the Citadel. It was like they were stuck inside a metal stomach that was empty and hungry. Eventually, Bow got to her feet and scanned the chamber.
“We’re not the only assassins here,” Vrendel said. He dusted himself off from the grimy sediment skulking about the circle and chains. The chamber stunk of rock and blood.
“You got a look at it, I was nearly knocked unconscious by an overprotective brute,” Bow said.
“Just saved your life, that’s all.”
“Next time, try not to crack my ribs. I feel like my left side is shorter than the right.” Bow shook her body and spat a little bit of blood. “Shorter, and bloodier, but mostly shorter.”
“You’d have been an ugly smear in this waste of space. Let’s get outta this hall and into some fresh air. Nothing here but empty chains and broken torch light.”
“What about the assassin? Did you see if it was the one from before?”
“Yeah, I saw. And it wasn’t. I wish it were, too; I’d rather have dealt with that unknown than this particular old face.”
“So you recognized them? You know who it was?”
Vrendel had started to wander through the glass tunnel. Some of the walls had been taken out by the figure. They were shattered like lost dinner dishes, and their red and blue fragments caught the random light.
“Yeah. Yeah, I saw him,” Vrendel said. He paced wildly towards the entrance.
“Vren? Who was it?” Bow asked again. She struggled to keep pace.
Bow stopped. She followed the tunnel back to the circle and piles of chains. Her eyes had a hard time focusing on anything but the chains.
“You think they captured him and were keeping him here?”
“No, even for Fraka those chains are ridiculous, but I’m guessing we’re looking for the same thing.”
“I’ve always wanted a shot at him,” Bow said. She smiled, and gripped Blood Thunder beneath her fur.
“Yeah, well, we’ll probably get one.”
“Why would the giants be interested in this anyways? Why would they send their top mercenary here? I thought he’d be watching over the gates into Jotunheim. What could possibly be more important than that?” Normally Vrendel was the one to ask all the questions, but the Fimbul Winter had her just as lost as anyone. This was out of her element. The figure changing the composition of the city had made her unsure of herself. She only knew how to kill, and how to disagree with Vrendel.
Almost as if on cue he grunted, shaking his head at all her questions.
“You’re asking me? That’s new. There must be something here that attracted the giants too, or else Fraka would never come this far west. Let’s get outta here though; we still need to go look for an apothecary for that girl.”
“You really think we can save her?”
Vrendel jostled his armored shoulders and breathed some frost through his beard. The temperature was dropping quickly. They need to find a place to sleep in. The Citadel didn’t seem safe anymore considering the circumstances.
“Maybe that figure with all the magic and wolf charms wanted us to get here to save her. He one-tracked us here.”
“You’re always optimistic, Vren.”
The two hunters reached the end of the glass tunnel and exited the Citadel without looking back. They didn’t want to stay there too long with Fraka lurking about. If they tussled with him inside the citadel, the glass would shatter and they’d be trapped by a sea of shards. Fraka knew that too, which was undoubtedly why he had dashed out without drawing his sword.
The streets were still quiet and empty in Frigga. The evening light was just fading away along the smeared horizon. A few trails of orange, where the clouds weren’t as overcast, beamed like little trails of fiery dye. They were heading back closer to the front gate, where the Fimbul Wall was. Bow was pretty certain she’d noticed the apothecaries sign hanging like a dead eyelid along one of the buildings.
They were halfway there, practically sprinting along the cobblestones, when the earth started to shake. At first, it was just the windows trembling with the empty shadows of fading white light. Then the bricks along the buildings and streets started to shake, like they wanted to uproot from the mortar, and dash towards the Black Ends. Doors started to ache in wooden shrieks, like they wanted to close tighter and closer to each building. There was a crashing sound just north of the city, just beyond the Iron Citadel and its cities edge. Bow and Vrendel couldn’t see past the rooftops, but they could tell whatever was moving around was big enough to make the city jump.
“What now? This is getting annoying,” Bow said. She aimed Blood Thunder at the pockets of alleys and quiet buildings. More rumbling, like the hidden forces didn’t want to answer her.
“Something big. We should ‘ave noticed it coming in,” Vrendel said.
“Yeah, I know that.”
A shadow suddenly cast over the two hunters like a broken piece of dark cloud. Vrendel saw it first, and pulled Bow to an adjacent house just to their left. He smashed the door down with his mace and hid them beneath an empty and dusty kitchen table. A boulder of brick, chunky like old bread, carved and crashed on the exact spot of street where the two hunters had just been standing. The crunching of brick deafened them. Debris pierced the short house they’d dived into, shattering the windows and sprinkling rock everywhere. Bow coughed more blood and moaned as her ribs ached from the strain. Vrendel crawled over to the shattered window, and strained his eyes in the waning light.
“Giants, two of them, coming this way,” he said. He quickly pulled Bow to her feet and carried her through the doorway and onto the street.
“They in cahoots with Fraka?” Bow asked, straining to look over his shoulder. She coughed some blood onto his chest plate, and wiped it off with her cheek.
“No, they’re feral.” Two shadows followed them, along with quakes of crunching stone.
“Geez, what’s next?” Bow said, as she loaded Blood Thunder once more.
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