Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five) (2 page)

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
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//Name unknown / God from plane seeks you / Urgent / Query: Tell him location?//

//Query: Which god?//

The answer to that would tell me what plane was burning. There was a pause, during which time I stalled with Granuaile and Oberon. “Something’s up with Kaibab. Hold on.” They knew better than to interrupt, and they took this news as an invitation to be on their guard, which was wise. Anything worrisome to the avatar of the environment you currently occupy should rouse you to a caffeinated state of paranoia.

//God’s name: Perun// Kaibab finally said.

Almost unconsciously, I sent //Shock// in reply, because it was truly my reaction. The Slavic plane of existence was burning, perhaps even dead? How? Why? I hoped Perun would have the answers. If he sought me in hopes that I had them, we’d both be disappointed. //Yes / Tell Perun location//

I’d also like to know how Perun even knew to ask for
me—did someone tell him I’d faked my death twelve years ago? There was another pause, during which I filled in Granuaile and Oberon. Thanks to Immortali-Tea, they hadn’t aged any more than I had.

Oberon asked.

Yep, that’s the one

I don’t know why, but perhaps you’ll get a chance to ask him

//He comes// Kaibab said. //Fast//

“Okay, incoming,” I said out loud.

“Incoming what, Atticus?” Granuaile asked.

“Incoming thunder god. We should move near a tree and get ready to shift away to Tír na nÓg if necessary. And get the fulgurites out.” Fulgurites would protect us from lightning strikes; Perun had given them to us when Granuaile was just starting her training, but we hadn’t worn them for years, since all the thunder gods thought I was dead.

“You think Perun is going to take a shot at us?” Granuaile asked. She shrugged off her red backpack and unzipped the pouch containing the fulgurites.

“Well, no, but … maybe. I don’t know what’s going on, really. When in doubt, know your way out, I always say.”

“I thought you always said, ‘When in doubt, blame the dark elves.’ ”

“Well, yeah, that too.”

Oberon said.

We stood in a meadow of bunch grass and clover.
The sky washed us in cerulean blue, and the sun kissed Granuaile’s red hair with gold—mine too, I suppose. We had stopped dyeing our hair black because no one was looking for two redheads anymore. And after twelve uncomfortable years of being clean-shaven—my goatee had been distinguishable and damn difficult to dye—I was enjoying my new beard. Oberon looked as if he wanted to plop down and bask in the light for a while. Our backpacks were weighted down with camping gear that we’d bought at Peace Surplus in Flagstaff, but after Granuaile retrieved the fulgurites, we jogged over as best we could to the nearest stand of Ponderosa pine trees. I confirmed that there was a functioning tether to Tír na nÓg there and then looked up for signs of Perun’s arrival.

Granuaile noticed and craned her neck upward. “What’s up there, sensei?” she wondered aloud. “I don’t see anything but sky.”

“I’m looking for Perun. I’m assuming he’s going to fly in. There, see?” I pointed to a dark streak in the northwestern sky trailed by lightning bolts. And, behind that, at a distance of perhaps five to ten miles—I couldn’t tell from so far away—burned an orange ball of fire.

Granuaile squinted. “What’s that thing that looks like the Phoenix Suns logo? Is that him?”

“No, Perun is in front of it, throwing all the lightning.”

“Oh, so what is it? A meteor or a cherub or something?”

“Or something. It doesn’t look friendly. That’s not a warm, cozy hearth fire that you gather ’round with your friends to read some Longfellow while you toast s’mores. That’s more like napalm with a heart of phosphorus and a side of hell sauce.” The lightning and the fireball were turning in the sky and heading directly our way.

Oberon said.

I hear ya, buddy. I’m ready to scoot too. But let’s see if we can talk to Perun first

The sky darkened and boomed above, making everything shudder; Perun was traveling at supersonic speeds. He crashed into the meadow about fifty yards away from us, and large chunks of turf exploded around a newly formed crater. I felt the impact in my feet, and a wave of displaced air knocked me backward a bit. Before the turf could fall back to earth, a heavily muscled figure carpeted in hair bounded out of it toward us, panic writ large on his features.

“Atticus! We must flee this plane! Is not safe! Take me—save me!”

Normally thunder gods are not prone to panic. The ability to blast away problems tends to turn the jagged edges of fear into silly little pillows of insouciance. So when an utter badass like Perun looks as if he’s about to soil himself, I hope I can be forgiven if I nearly shat kine—especially when the fireball
into the crater Perun had just vacated and sucked all the oxygen out of my lungs.

Granuaile ducked and shrieked in surprise; Oberon whimpered. Perun was tossed through the air toward us like a stuntman in a Michael Bay film, but, upon rolling gracefully through the landing, he leapt back up, his legs churning toward us.

Behind Perun, the fire didn’t spread but rather began to shrink and coalesce and … laugh. A high, thin, maniacal laugh, straight out of creepy cartoons. And the fire swirled, torus-like, around a figure twelve feet tall, until it gradually wicked out and left a lean giant with a narrow face standing fifty yards before us, his orange and yellow hair starting from his skull like a sunburst. The grin on his face wasn’t the affable, friendly sort; it
was more like the sociopathic rictus of the irretrievably, bugfuckeringly insane.

His eyes were the worst. They were melted around the edges, as if they’d been burned with acid, and where a normal person would have laugh lines or crow’s-feet, he had bubbly pink scars and a nightmare of blistered tissue. The whites of his eyes were a red mist of broken blood vessels, but the irises were an ice blue frosted with madness. He blinked them savagely, as if he had soap in them or something, and soon I recognized it as a nervous tic, since his head jerked to the right at odd intervals and then continued to twitch uncertainly afterward, like a bobble-head doll.

“Go, my friend, go! We must flee!” Perun said, huffing as he reached us and putting one hand on my shoulder and another on the pine. Granuaile followed suit; she knew the drill, and so did Oberon, who reared up on his hind legs and leaned one paw against me and the other on the tree.

“Who in hell is that, Perun?” I said.

The giant laughed again and I shuddered involuntarily. His voice was smooth and fluffy, like marshmallow crème—if the crème also had shards of glass in it. But he had a thick Scandinavian accent to go with the nervous tic.

“This p-p-place—is M-Merrica, yes?”

A twitch, a stutter,
an English-language learner. He’d drive me insane just listening to him. “Yes,” I replied.

“Hah? Who? Thppt! Raah!” He spat a fire loogie and shook his head violently. Perhaps this was more than a twitch. It might be full-blown Tourette’s syndrome. Or it might be something else, as the signs all pointed to a highly unpleasant conclusion.

“Who gah, guh, gods here?” He giggled to himself after this, pleased that he’d managed to ask the question.
There was a disturbingly high squealing noise coming from his head, like the sound of fat screaming in a frying pan or air slowly leaking out of a balloon. The giant rested his hands on his knees and scrunched up his shoulders in an attempt to steady his noggin, but this had the unsettling effect of turning his flamelike hair to actual flames. The noise intensified.

“You are a god here,” I said, taking an educated guess. I could have confirmed this by looking at him in the magical spectrum, but there was no need. There wasn’t much else that Perun would fear. “But I don’t know which one. Who are you?”

The giant threw back his head and roared in delight, clapping like a child and high-stepping as if I’d asked him if he wanted ice cream. My jaw dropped, and Granuaile muttered a bewildered “What the fuck?” which mirrored my own thoughts. What had happened to his mind?

Perun chucked me urgently on the shoulder. “Atticus, is Loki! He is free. We must go. Is smart thing to do.”

“Gods below,” I breathed, gooseflesh rising on my arms. I’d feared he was Loki once I saw the eyes, but I’d also clung to the hope that he was something a bit less apocalyptic, like an escaped military experiment along the lines of Sharktopus. Instead, Loki, the old Norse villain of the
, whose release from captivity heralded the start of Ragnarok, was unbound and ready to paint the town batshit.

Perun and Oberon were right; the smart thing to do would be to leave. But the smarter thing to do would be to get Loki to leave too. I didn’t want to scarper off and leave Kaibab at his mercy; I wanted Loki off this plane as quickly as possible. Time to lie to the god of lies.

“I am Eldhár,” I called out to him in Old Norse. His
laughter, already dying out, choked off abruptly, and he focused those blue-and-blood eyes on me. The name was one I’d used before: It meant “flame hair” in Old Norse, and I’d employed it years ago when I’d gone to Asgard to steal a golden apple. “I am a construct of the dwarfs of Nidavellir.” Tapping into my adrenaline and an older, more primitive part of my psyche, I smiled at the giant in the same disconcerting way he had smiled at us. “Glad am I that you are free, Loki, for that means your wife is free also, and I was built specifically to destroy her and all your spawn. I will behead the serpent. Eviscerate the wolf. And as for Hel: Even the queen of death can die.” I laughed menacingly, hoped that it was convincing, and thought that would serve as a good exit line.

Without giving him a chance to respond, I pulled my center along the tether to Tír na nÓg, bringing Granuaile, Oberon, and Perun with me, shifting us safely away from earth and leaving Loki to consider how to address this new problem. Hopefully he’d return to the Norse plane and start asking questions—and hopefully the dwarfs had fire insurance.

I had plenty of questions for Perun—like how had Loki gained entrance to the Slavic plane, what was Hel up to now, and whether Fenris was still fettered—but foremost among them was finding out what idiot had thought it a good idea to teach an old god of mischief how to speak English.

Chapter 2

I didn’t linger in Tír na nÓg but rather shifted us right away to an island in the middle of Third Cranberry Lake in Manitoba. It was one of my favorite escapes, covered with evergreens and rarely visited by humans.

I was breathing heavily even though I hadn’t run anywhere yet. “It’s too soon,” I huffed. “He’s not supposed to be going around burning things yet. We have a year left.”

“What are you talking about?” Granuaile asked. She crossed one leg over the other and leaned on her staff.

“Perun will remember this,” I said, catching his eye. “Remember when we were in Siberia and we ate that rabbit stew and told stories before we went to Asgard?”

, I remember. I say, ‘Next time, eat bear.’ ”

“Well, after dinner, Väinämöinen told us that story about the sea serpent. And I didn’t say anything then, but there is this old time-bomb prophecy that the sirens spoke to Odysseus when he was tied to the mast—the only one that hasn’t come true yet, and I thought the clock started ticking then. The prophecy goes like this: ‘Thirteen years from the date a white beard sups on hares and talks of sea serpents, the world will burn.’ ”

“That’s weird,” Granuaile said.

“Is more than weird. Is unhappy stomach from spicy food. Is ass on fire,” Perun asserted.

Granuaile cried, unused to Perun’s attempts to be colorful in English.

Perun shrugged and tried again. “I mean is much discomfort. Ass on fire is very bad, yes?”

“Agreed,” I said, “but those same sirens accurately predicted the rise of Genghis Khan, the American Revolution, and the bombing of Hiroshima. That pattern suggests they’re talking about something bigger than a small fire, camp or ass or otherwise.”

“You think my world is world of this prophecy?” Perun asked.

“No, I don’t think the sirens would speak of planes other than this one. Plus we’re a year too early. But that’s what has me worried: The prophecies regarding Ragnarok aren’t worth a damn anymore, yet it still might happen now that Loki’s free. The sirens of Odysseus were always right, but maybe this time they’re going to be wrong—or maybe just off by a year. I don’t know. Killing the Norns screwed up everything. I suppose all I know is that there’s a tsunami of shit heading toward a ten-dollar fan and we’re standing on the fan. Jesus spoke to me of cataclysms, plural, and maybe we could avoid them if we got rid of both Loki and Hel, but who knows if Ganesha and his gang will let me pursue that now, because I promised I’d wait until—”

“Atticus,” Granuaile said, touching me gently on the arm. “You’ve stopped making sense. Calm down.”

“Right. Thanks. I need to slow down. You know what sucks about prophecies?”

“They never predict anything fun,” Granuaile answered. “Just once I’d like to hear a prophet tell someone,
‘Thou shalt win a bitchin’ Camaro on a game show.’ ”

“Good point, but I was going to say that everybody has them. Prophets have been around as long as prostitutes.”

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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