Author: Maelstrom

Chapter 1

           Beyond the tall, stone walls, Sean Davys heard the war trumpets roar. He’d been hearing them for every hour, on the hour, for days now, but each one sent a shiver through him regardless and another step closer to insanity. Each time they announced their presence, the soldiers would run back to their posts at the battlements, stand up straight, and stare at the boundless hoard of monsters and warriors across the open field of tundra grass only to realize they weren’t sounding the attack, just their assault on breakfast. Then they’d tread their way back down, leaving the skeleton crew of guards to stay alert, their heads hanging down as their rusting armor clanked with each sullen step.
           What was he doing here? A decade ago, he was a Catholic bartender in Dublin, as Irish as a shamrock and twice as green. Now where was he? Done up in chainmail with a shield strapped to his arm, a hand axe in his right, and a revolver with one bullet cradled on his hip, looking out from a castle’s wall while giants, elves, wargs, and god-knows-what-else threatened what little existence he had left to cling too. Seriously, what were the chances of that?
           God. There was another joke to the running mockery that was his life. All the years of praying, not drinking on Saturdays so he didn’t have a hangover for Sunday mass, and wearing that rosary like a pair of dog tags… was it all for nothing? Did he waste all those years only to be shown the true way of things?
           Trotting back down the walls with the rest of his weary, armored companions, he looked up once from the steps to see that damned statue of that one-eyed bastard Odin in the yard, the mud at his feet glistening with last night’s rain, stony flesh pitted and worn with weather and time. Ten years ago, he didn’t even know that old god’s name, now it was the only one that mattered… Odin, Thor, Loki, Baldur, Frigga, Freyr, Vidar… now he knew them and their stories by heart, Genesis… Eve and Adam...two-thousand years of unrivaled belief replaced by a bunch of fables. They played through his head every time he closed eyes.
           What would he have done ten years ago if someone walked up to him and told him the apocalypse wasn’t Y2K, or 2012, or zombies, but was going to be a battle between the ancient Norse gods and creatures for the realm of Asgard? He would have punched that blasphemer-loving fuck right in the face. But that wouldn’t have changed the fact he was right, would it?
           It made him angry. Furious. Thirty years of his life had been a lie… hell, everyone’s life had been a lie up until that point. So sure they all were… what were the chances that everything was just bullshit?
          Ragnarök, they called it, the Norse prophecy that was the equivalent to Christianity’s rapture… no one saw that coming, or even what happened before it. Even after years of soaking his brain in remnants of whiskey left after the cataclysm, Sean could still remember every bit of those dark days… even worse than the ones now.
           By the traditional Norse tellings, Ragnarök was to be heralded by three signs. The first was winter. A winter harder and colder than anyone could have predicted. It was a glorified ice age. Scotland… Russia… Ireland… those were the first ones to be taken by the ice. If I didn’t think alcohol could freeze then, I sure as hell know now. Sean snorted with a dark humor, earning him an estranged glance from a nearby light elf, his sharp eyebrows arching under a half helm. He ignored it, just another numbness to add to the cold.
           After the cold, came the famine, then the wars, which was the second sign. Everyone fought… for all that talk of the UN being an alliance, they sure didn’t let that stop them from tearing each other to piece. United States against Canada. Ireland against Scotland. Germany against Russia. Old fires rekindled, new ones sparked to life. The dead were strewn across continents, and refugees wandered the roads in thousands trying to escape the encroaching devastation. And through it all, I drank and fought and survived… what were the chances of that? Of surviving while so many didn’t?
          They thought this was the apocalypse; this was the ending of a civilization they spent the last six-thousand years building, blowing each other to bits and picking through what remained. How wrong we were…
          Unbeknownst to their silly mortal awareness, wars of a different kind were being waged in places only their faintest fantasies could have believed in. The third sign took place there, in the fields of Asgard, home of the Aesir… or gods, as they are more commonly known.
          No one knows the whole story of what truly happened in the beginning of Ragnarök, just bits and pieces here and there. The details were fuzzy, even for Sean, who’d lived for more than a decade after Ragnarök, or as some of the youngins born post-apocalypse liked to call him, The Old Breed. From what he’s gathered through the multitude of half-truths, downright lies, and moderately acceptable tales, one line of events seemed to shine through.
          Unlike like the other Aesir, such as Odin, Thor, and Baldur, Loki, the god of trickery, was not actually from Asgard, or even the Aesir at all. He came from a place called Jotünheim, realm of the giants, or jotün, who warred with the Aesir on an almost constant basis. During one of the many battles between the Aesir and their foe, Odin found an orphaned jotün babe among the carnage, parents and family killed by his Valhallan warriors. Instead of spearing the squalling monster as any other Aesir would have, he was overcome by a feeling of grief and guilt. Odin took the child in, taking him back to Asgard and raising the jotün orphan as one of the Aesir, giving him the name Loki.
          But the other Aesir did not take Odin’s view of equality to heart. Loki, despite growing among them and learning their ways, was still a jotün, no matter how much sorcery he used to hide it. They shunned him, mistrusting him, believing that one day he would come to age only to betray them. He was treated as a second class citizen in the halls of Asgard, his only true friend in Odin, who, in his duties as chieftain over all the gods, could not give him the attention he desired.
          Where once a bridge between to the two realms could have been built to broker peace, Loki matured into a bitter man, the magic he used to hide his jotün appearance twisting and contorting inside him to form a malicious power. The need for revenge brewed, fueled by the motivation of power. In the dead of night, Loki left Asgard through the bifrost, a gateway between the realm of Asgard and Midgard, the home of man. It is here, on Earth, where the Norn’s convene, three beings of power known as Vanir.
The Vanir were more or less gods like the Aesir, hailing from the realm of Vanaheim. They were masters of both magic and prophecies, the foretelling of the future. Of the Vanir, the Norns were the most powerful. They met, every night, at the Norn’s well, weaving and deciphering the fates of all nine realms. Here Loki found them and posed the trio a question: What was the third sign of the coming of Ragnarök. They knew his intentions. After all, they knew everything. Yet still, they told him.
          Back in Asgard, there was a warg by the name of Fenrir, a monstrous, wolf-like beast, held prisoner in the bowels of Odin’s hall. The chieftain of the Aesir imprisoned the warg after he learned it was impossible to be killed, even with his godly powers, leaving only the option of keeping the beast locked away for the rest of eternity lest it wreak unbidden havoc in Asgard. Release the beast, and he will reveal the path you must take, they told the god and with that, turned back to their well and vanished.
          Armed with this new knowledge, Loki returned to Asgard and enacted his plan, using his powers of disguise and deception to sneak into his father’s hall, slay his guard, and release the beast chained to stone walls of his prison. With the chains broken, lying at the warg’s paws, the creature regarded Loki with a manner of cautious perplexity.
          Aesir, he snarled, why do you release me from these bonds? Do you wish battle? A test perhaps?
          I am no Aesir, Loki replied, anger stemming from his voice, Smell me, if you do not trust my words. The warg lifted his snout to the air, nose twitching as he compared what his eyes were seeing to what his nose was sniffing, recognition flaring in those yellow eyes.
          Loki knew the answer without even thinking, Revenge. The Norns told me you’d show me the path to Ragnarök.
          At the sound of the word, the warg managed something of a smile, a curve in his lips as he bared his teeth, Then listen to my words: Go to your home of Jotunheim, go to the realm of the dwarves and the dark elves, rally your allies to your cause, and on the fifth night from this one, send forth your army to Asgard’s gates. I will meet you there. Be ready, be prepared.
          So Loki went. To the realm of Jotünheim, he gathered the people who once could have been his brethren, spurning their leaders to action against their ancient enemy with the promises of power and victory. To the realm of Nidavellir, he gathered the dwarves, breeding rebellion in a people who the Aesir viewed as nothing more than labor for the creation of their weapons and citadels. To the realm of Svartalfheim, he gathered the dark elves, using the injustices they once suffered as slaves to the Vanir and the chance to free their light elf brethren as drive to fight.
          And finally, at the fifth night Loki gathered his three armies, separated by the ethereal voids in-between the realms. As a god of power, Loki could manage to traverse the earthly bounds of the realms, but his armies were mortal and unable of such feats, but Fenrir had a solution to that as well.
          The bifrost, normally only a bridge between Midgard and Asgard, could be used to transport his armies, but the power involved would ultimately destroy the entrance to the bifrost itself, and possibly more. Loki hesitated at first, but seeing no other option, relented. After the ritual needed to charge the bifrost with magical energies was completed, Loki’s three armies advanced across their bridges to the realm of Asgard to unite.
          It was a slaughter for both sides. Odin’s Valhallan warriors, the beautiful valkyries, enslaved light elves forced to fight by their Vanir masters, and the gods themselves battled against the unified forces of dark elf, dwarf, and jotün, with Loki at their head and Fenrir reeking what mayhem he could. Taken by surprise, the Asgard forces were initially at a disadvantage, but as Odin and Thor entered the fight, it soon became apparent that no matter now large their host was, Loki’s army wouldn’t hold out for long. But there was a plan.
          The plan was made long, long ago by Fenrir, who had a millennium to plot as he was locked away in Odin’s prison, finalized now that he knew of lengths Loki’s powers. The prophecy of Ragnarök told that Fenrir would die at the hands of Vidar, Odin’s other son, and Loki at the hands of Odin himself. To ensure Loki’s safety and the safety of the army in turn, Fenrir had to kill Odin first. The chieftain of the Aesir was a mighty target, but he too had his weaknesses, and Fenrir was just as strong as the day they incased him in chains.
          The two fought, each sustaining wounds of their own in battle, but Odin’s lack of a second eye would prove his downfall. In the heat of battle, Odin raised his axe to cleave Fenrir’s skull in two, but the warg shunted to the right and out of sight. In the moment of Odin’s confusion, Fenrir leap at the god’s throat, tearing it free in a bright spray of blood.
Muzzle dripping red, he turned to face Vidar, who came just in time to see his father murdered. He had been hunting Fenrir since the battle began, knowing how the prophecy ended himself and that he was supposed to be the end to the warg’s reign of terror. Loki and Fenrir had planned for this as well.
          Come on then, boy, I’ve grown to like the taste of you Aesir, the warg goaded, bearing his teeth.
          In a fit of wordless rage Vidar charged, poising his spear at Fenrir’s breast, but then Loki took action. Appearing in the guise of his dead father, Odin, Loki flashed in the corner of Vidar’s vision. It was enough.
          Vidar looked at Loki in a second of misunderstanding, stopping in his tracks and letting his spear point dropped.
          Father? Vidar’s voice wavered.
          Loki smiled and shook his head, No.
          Fenrir was on him in second, jaws wrapping around his head as the god screamed. There was a sickening crunch and Vidar was no more.
          Without Odin or Vidar, the fight soon took and even bloodier turn. Loki and Fenrir systematically hunted down every Aesir and Vanir that didn’t flee. The valkyries fled the field without Odin to command them and what Valhallan warriors weren’t routed, were slaughtered. Effectively, the battle was over. The Aesir were dead, all the haughty and prideful snobs lying in pools of their own blood. Asgard was under Loki’s control now. His army rebelled in their triumph, celebrating and feasting and calling Loki’s names in their toasts. He had finally had his revenge…
          …but he wasn’t done.
          What came next was even more cloudy and mysterious than everything before it, for no one truly knows what happened next in the tale of Ragnarök, least of all Davys. Everyone seems to have their own ideas though. Some say Loki began to hunger for more power, more than from simply ruling Asgard; that he wished to have full dominion over the nine realms instead of just partially. Some say the king of the jotün pushed it on him. Some say the dark elves wished an even more complete revenge on the Vanir for their enslavement and goaded Loki into taking action. And even others think that Thor, in a last, desperate act against Loki, did the deed himself.
          But Davys? He thought Loki was just sick of the whole affair and wanted to end it all in the most complete and spectacular manner of he could. That’s what he would have done anyway. But somehow the god managed to botch that too.
          Regardless of what anyone thought, what happened, happened. Yggdrasil, a massive ash tree in the center of Asgard, was an unfathomable source of magical energy that not even the Aesir fully understood. It roots and branches served as unearthly bonds between the nine realms, not physically holding them apart, but magically, repelling the realms apart much like magnets would when their positive ends faced each other.
At its canopy rested Asgard, Alfheim, land of the elves, and Vanaheim, high above the other mortal realms. Then, progressively down the trunk of the tree, were Jotünheim, then Midgard, then Nidavellir and Svartalfheim. At the base of the tree, among its roots, were the last of the realm, the most discarded and decrepit; the two hells. The first of Muspelheim, the land of fire, and the second was Niflheim, land of snow and the dead unworthy of Valhalla. After the battle for Asgard was said and done, when Loki was sitting pretty on that high chair in Odin’s hall, something happened to the tree. Regardless whether it was Loki, his brother Thor, or some other third party, the connections of Yggdrasil were severed. Permanently.
          When that connection collapsed, the universe was turned into a shit storm. Imagine it now, when one realm would be forcefully merged into another? The destruction? The chaos? Now imagine nine of those, one right after the other. Midgard, being that it was the center of Yggdrasil, was the point of impact for it all. The apex, if you will. It was a cataclysm unlike anything before it.
          As traumatic as it was, for Davys it was all a blur. He was lucky though, he was off fighting in a ragtag army in the mountains of Germany at the time, far away from oceans and the cities. From his vantage though, he saw it all.
          The earthquakes were the first sign something was amiss for him, the force of them were enough to tear him from his feet and send avalanches down the mountain sides. The rest came soon enough. Along the coast, tsunamis roared over the cities by the sea as the ocean’s levels rose to alarming rates. Entire islands and countries slid under the ocean overnight, replaced by new, foreign landmasses from the other realms. Mountains rose up and cities crumbled like they were made of sand. Storms bellowed nonstop for days, lighting tearing through the inky sky like clockwork. Cellphones couldn’t connect, computers had no power, cars ran out of fuel, and planes crashed into the ground. Entire countries died. Millions died… if not billions.
          And they kept dying. When the first of the other races appeared through the carnage, humanity acted as they always did to something new and strange. They fought it.
          Finally, maybe a year or three after the beginning of it all, something of the hostility began to die. People accepted that this was there life, that the jotün, the dwarves, the elves, were just another set of survivors of their own cataclysm. Sure, the fighting still was there. The scramble over food. Over fuel. Over slaves. Over women. Over booze. Hell, Davys was a part of it, but the survivors of Ragnarök finally began to settle… maybe not forget, but settle all the same.
          Ten years it took. Ten long, arduous, death filled years. Ten years it took for civilization to finally find some semblance of momentum, for a restart. And where was Sean Davys? Sitting, huddled in the mud under the shadow of a stone wall. Ten years ago, what were the chances…
          He didn’t even know if he could be angry anymore, now he was just cold, numb, just waiting for an end or a beginning, something to cut him off or start him anew. Who was he going to yell at? Some long dead god he couldn’t believe in? Loki? Odin? The elf sitting next to him? He was in the same boat as he.
          He could just end it now, couldn’t he? Kill the tension and just do himself in? Slowly, he surveyed the courtyard of the castle with the eye for suicide. He could leap off the ramparts? No, he put the idea out of his head. Too messy, besides, the wall wasn’t that tall, he might just end up at the bottom, organs splattering out his sides as he died slowly in agonizing pain. He could act insane and pick a fight with one of the soldiers on his side, get run through with a sword? That’d be quick, at least quick enough… but what if he was a shoddy swordsman? Skewering him a couple times before he found some vital bit? No, scratch that off.
          Then there was the gun at his hip. He pondered it for a moment, one bullet, instant death, instant relief. Perhaps that’s why he had always saved that one, not for one last safety net in case something went to shit, but to off himself? He fiddled with the latch of the holster, snapping it off, then on, off and on, thinking.
          But then something of the idea repulsed him. Maybe it was the remnants of that dead Christian inside him, the fading memories of a preacher pulling some sermon about the fires o’ hell, where suicide and sex would send you. Maybe his instinct to survive was just too great, for all those years of living by the skin of his teeth that it would be just an insult to take the easy way out. Slowly, he stood. If he was going to die today, he was going to do it on his feet with a full stomach.
          He clanked his way past Odin’s statue, making sure to spit on the stone man’s feet one last time. A few men and elves who held the dead gods, maybe even revered them, eyed him with contempt. Whatever. Fuck em’. They’ll be dead just like the rest of us within the day.
          Davys trotted up the stone steps and passed through the massive, oaken doors into the keep’s hall, where the second half of the army sat, eating what scraps they could until the shift change came around and they took their turn at the walls. Technically, Davys was still supposed to be out in the yard, waiting, but no one said a word as he sat down with a plate of burnt rat and potatoes. Good ol’ siege food.
The rat was exquisite. Some of the best rat he’d ever had. He didn’t know why it tasted so, maybe the cooks saw the end coming to and decided that if best spices weren’t used today, they wouldn’t be used at all. There were no seconds, so Davys tried to let the meal last, letting the hot potatoes burn his tongue before swallowing, the rat’s grease tickling his chin. But the meal never lasted long enough to fill that gnawing at the base of his stomach, the plate sitting empty in front of him. But it was enough for today. He just needed one last drink. Again, he stood
Awkwardly, Davys approached the jotün table on the left side of the hall, the site of their grey hulks enough to make him second guess himself. They were tall alright, the shortest being just under seven feet, all with thick arms, brutish faces, and sloped shoulders, all corded with scars and muscle, clothed mostly in furs, but with a few in scraps of scavenged chainmail. Each only gave him a glance as he approached the table, but then turned their brooding eyes to the empty plates in front of them.
          “I need a drink,” Davys declared suddenly. They looked up again, silent. He waited, expecting them to just ignore them, maybe throw some eating wear at him and curse him in their language. But then, one by one, the jotün passed a skin to each other, down line, the closest one handing it to Davys with a nod. A sign of understanding.
          Normally, the jotün and Davys never really saw eye-to-eye, no pun intended, but they always seemed preoccupied with their own tribal desires, talking in that thick, guttural language of theirs. But something was different now. Probably the same reason I needed a drink and why the rat was so good today.
          “Thank you,” he croaked out, then brought the skin to his lips and pulled a drought down his lips. It burned like a white-hot brand, but Davys forced himself to drink deep, letting the fire fill him. Jotün mead. Might as will be drinking rubbing alcohol. When he finished the taste of the dregs still lingered. He coughed, sputtering up some of the strong drink, and one of the jotün snorted. Davys gave him a grin, “Thank you,” he said again, handing the skin back, “See you on the wall.”
          They nodded to him and looked back to their plates.
          Halfway to the door, he heard it.
          It was another war horn, but this one was longer, more powerful, aggressive even. Everyone in the hall froze, spoons partly in their mouths, bodies rigid. Another horn joined it, then another, and another, joining together to form a sound that flooded over the castle.
This was it. This was fight they’d been waiting so long for.
          Oddly, relief flooded through him. It was strange, nothing about the situation should have been relieving, but it was like a weight had left his shoulders. Today, he was going to die, but he felt a sudden rush of euphoria. He could have stood their and contemplated this feeling, but he just adjusted his shield, shifted his belt, and reaffirmed his grip on his axe. Now was the time for fighting.
          The courtyard outside was like a hive of wasps by the time Sean left the hall. Sergeants were yelling at the troops, the quartermaster up in arms over the lack of oil being boiled over the gate, the remaining, uneaten horses nickering and whinnying as they kicked against their stalls. The jotün stormed over to the gate, forming a wall with their maces and hunting spears at the ready. Archers swarmed over the walls, the few guns available being passed to the best marksmen, mostly just old hunting rifles, but occasionally a piece of old military tech.
          Davys pushed through the rabble, shoving some of the greener men and woman to where they were supposed to be, and took his place in between two elven archers on top of the wall. The host across the tundra grass was now a surging mass, banners and flags attached to spears whipping in the chilling wind. The war horns had stopped, but were replaced by new noises. Mammoths trumpeted their own battle cries among the hoots and hollers of the advancing troops, lines of horse taking the flanks of the army while the infantry and spear battalions took the center, followed by the siege engines and the command groups.
          No artillery, Davys mused, studying the host, but I don’t like the look of those ladders…
          Then a voice filled the air below him, in the courtyard. It was the commander of the garrison. Mounted on a white steed, armored in heavy plate, and surrounded by his personal guard of six large, Nordic-like men who could have passed for jotün themselves if they were a bit bigger and grayer, he seemed to demand attention. Havnier was his name, long, perfect blond hair, medium build, and with a clean handsome face. He didn’t belong in this world; no one was that soft looking. He wasn’t a soldier, he was a nurse maid. Davys moaned, he didn’t need this guy to tell him what to do, least of all his words.
          “Now men!” he shouted in that gallant, over emphasized voice of his, ready to drown them all in some inspiring speech he had probably been working on since the siege began, “I have fought with you long and hard! Eaten with you! Drunken with you! Together we stand against-” his voiced was drowned out by more war horns and Davys just shut out the rest of it, tuning it out. It was just bullshit; the pretty fool probably thought they were going to make it through this thing in one piece. What were the chances of that? Besides, the army was getting closer.
          They hit like an ocean wave against a cliff, unhindered by the volleys of arrows and few, carefully aimed bullets. Any sense of groups or organization was lost as the steaming horde surged below us. The men on the walls who were not focused on drawing their arrows shuffled uneasily at the sight of it, but Davys just played with his axe in his hands.
          Over by the gate, a ram was being moved up, taking heavily casualties from the marksmen above. A ditch had been dug around the outside of the walls on either side of the portcullis which was on top of an raised hill, making the path to the gate an uphill gauntlet of bullets, rocks, and arrow. But every time one man stumbled into the mud with an arrow sprouting from his neck, another stepped up to take his place. The screams were beginning, but Sean blocked those out as well, they were only going to get worse.
          There was a long, extended creaking of ropes and a sullen clunk of wood on stone farther up the wall that could have only been the first ladder going up on the wall. Sean steeled himself. The rest of the ladders rose from the ground as well, slamming into the wall as their hooks clung to the ramparts. Without orders, the defending soldiers took their weapons to the ladders, hacking away at the hooks.
          Sean did the same, working on the nearest ladder, slamming his axe down, sending painful, rebounding jolts up his arm. It took a few swings and some of the enemies were already half way up, weapons gripped in their mouths, but his axe finally cracked through the wood connecting the ladder to the hook. With the help of one of the elven archers, he and Sean put their shoulders to the ladder, its own weight acting against it as it sailed out… and out… and out, until finally, it crashed into the host below, the soldiers scrambling to get out of its path. The elven archer gave a hoot of triumph, but his excitement was short lived as the first of the rabble on the other ladders vaulted over the crenellations.
          Now there was no more worrying. No more thought. Not even of survival. He wasn’t hungry, thirsty, or tired. The tension was gone. His blood flowed and his heart began to race. Something beastly roared inside him as Sean locked eyes with the nearest attacker, a big dark elf, unnaturally thick by any elven terms, but it would be unwise to think light and dark elves had anything uncommon accept for the ears. Especially this one.
          Sean charged first, but not before his enemy could run through one of his allies with a curved sword and send him hurtling down into the courtyard below. He caught the dark elf’s next swing on the middle of his shield, the force of it making him take a step back to stay on his feet. The next blow came as a lighting quick slash to his right, but Sean parried it with the haft of his axe and threw his weight into his shield, smashing the elf right in his face. The elf stumbled back, but regained himself in time to dodge Sean’s next swing.
          All around them, the ramparts were swarming with bodies as more and more enemies hurtled themselves over the ramparts. Archers abandoned there bows and pulled what weapons they could defend themselves with as their assailants came at them with maces, axes, and swords. No one wore any colors, no indication of whose side they were on and in the confusion one could easily mistake a friend for an enemy. Grunts and screams filled with air.
The elf and Sean traded blows, dancing back and forth on their section of wall as the world erupted around them. Sean may have been a bartender before Ragnarök, but now the axe in his hand was second nature to him, he wasn’t a master by any means, but he wasn’t a push over either. The elf was quick, skilled as well, but he was reckless too, leaving himself open to counterattacks almost every cut and slash. He didn’t wear a shred of armor save for the tanned leather of his jerkin and pants, but Sean’s axe would slice through that easily. He might as well have been naked.
          As the two fought, Sean turtled behind his shield, letting the elf hacked away at the scarred wood while Sean waited for an opportunity to strike. Suddenly there it was, the elf’s foot going just a bit too far as he stepped into his swing. The blow glanced harmlessly against his shield, sliding off and clanging against the stone at their feet. Sean surged forward, knocking the elf’s sword arm away and bringing his axe down on his shoulder.
          The axe’s head ripped right through the leather, the flesh, and the clavicle, sending a spasm of pain across the elf’s face. Sean tore his weapon away, newly released blood arcing away from it. The elf dropped his sword and hugged the wound as blood gushed freely, completely forgetting Sean in his pain. The axe came down again, fixated on the open wound, splitting it, then again, brain matter spraying out, and again. Sean’s face wore the mask of a savagery, not stopping his attack until the elf’s limbs stopped twitching and his head was a mess of unrecognizable, bloody carnage.
          When he looked up from the corpse, he could see the battle on the wall wasn’t faring well, the enemy surging off their ladders and pushing the defenders back. Soon they’d be to the stairs with the height advantage, then shortly after that, the courtyard. Then it wouldn’t matter if that battering ram managed to take the gate down, the fight would already be over.
          “The ladders! Get the ladders!” Sean shouted above the torrent. Two men picked up his voice and rushed over to one of the ladders, chopping at the hooks. One took a short sword to the side for his effort, but not soon enough. With a heinous crack, the ladder snapped and fell, taking the men climbing up with it. With the first one down, a rally stirred through the defenders, pushed by Sean’s constant shouting. One by one, the ladders progressively began to snap and fall, the defenders beginning to push the enemy back off their wall.
          The fight was an intoxicating blur for Sean, the smell of gunpowder and blood filling his nostrils, his body burning with unquenchable fire. Sweat coiled around him, sticking to his clothes. His axe took somebody at the knee, the snap of cartilage and bone followed by a shriek, then he spun and lodged it in another man’s back, using his shield to knock the screaming creature off the wall to silence him. Somebody next to him, be it friend or enemy, shook like he’d been hit by punch, blood from the bullet’s exit wound spraying Sean’s face. A sharp pain shot through his back as some sword bit through his chainmail, but not deep enough to kill. He spun around to face his attacker, but the surging of bodies separated them before he could retaliate.
          Finally, raging, blood soaked, Sean felt the mass of soldiers begin to calm. The battle for the wall was over, the ladders lying crumbled at the ground below the castle while the dying were being silenced. But the retort of rifles and yelling told me the battering ram was still operational, now much closer to the gate.
          A sergeant began spouting orders, still ignoring the commander as he tried to be useful in the battle, “Archers! Rifles! Keep the walls! Fire on the ram! Infantry, to the gate!” Sean and the rest began flooding off the walls in droves, taking position with the jotün guarding the gate. The spirits were up, even someone as detached as Sean could feel it. A refreshed energy filled the men, with the ladders gone, they were that much closer, all that stood in their way was that battering ram. The host still outnumbered the garrison one to three, but if they could take out the ram, they’d have a few more days of living to look forward to while their enemy redrew their battle plans and began building new siege weapons. The faint possibility of victory today loomed, but what were the chances?
          They stood in oddly ordered rows, shuffling nervously as the battle raged just beyond that massive wooden gate. They held their weapons in hand, listening to the screaming and the gun fire while the commander tried to speak over it, but couldn’t find his words, unhinged by the music of war. Something about that made Sean smile, as disturbing as it was, it was satisfying for Havnier to finally see what fighting actually was.
          Minutes passed.
          “I’m out of bullets!” some riflemen managed to yell.
          “Me too!”
Seconds ticked by.
          “They’re at the gate! The ram is at the gate!”
          “Get the oil! Get the oil! Damn it, you fool!”
          A moment passed. A creaking of ropes.
          The gate shuddered with the impact, a layer of dust and dew shaking off it in a dirty cascade.
          A creaking of ropes.
          The gate shook, the chains holding it clanking to together, the wooden beams bracing against it moving an inch in the mud.
          A creaking of ropes.
          A creaking of ropes.
          A creaking of ropes.
          Boom. Crack.
          A creaking of ropes.
          Boom. Crack.
          A creaking of ropes…
          Suddenly, the gate bent inward, the point of the ram breaking through, then pulling back to give Sean a view of the horde outside.
          “Again!” someone from the outside order and the ram came again. The force of the next hit knocked the wooden beams away, snapping the chain as if it were made of paper. The enemy came rushing in.
          Everyone’s hearts fell, they’d lost, failed. But, seriously, what were their chances?
          The last battle was met, the jotün bounding ahead and smashing into the wall of attackers before the rest of the garrison realized what had happened. Sean charged in after them. What were the chances of keeping them at the gate? An arrow sailed past his ear. His axe took somebody in the neck.
          Sean head was filled with the ideas, the faintest hopes of escapes, the last, desperate images of a mad man destined for death.
          What were the chances of holding them if we retreated to the keep?
          What were the chances of escaping if he hurled himself of the wall?
          What were the chances of them boarding up the castle and tunneling their way to freedom?
          What were the chances they could live for just one more hour?
          The enemy was endless, pushing the garrison back and farther away from the gate. The wargs were inside the walls now, tearing their way through the masses. Jotün battled on both sides, turning heads to pulp and ripping limbs off. Havnier shrieked as his horse was taken by a warg, another tearing him from the saddle and ripping into his stomach. The elf that looked at him strangely earlier took a javelin through the thigh and was lying helplessly in the mud, not screaming, just crying.
          Sean spun around, deflecting what attacks he could, taking what he couldn’t. They were everywhere. A half an hour was too much to ask for. What were the chances for ten minutes? Five minutes?
          What were the chances… all of it… Loki… Odin… Ragnarök…
          The chances… Survival… Food… Shelter… Safety…
          The chances… Sanity…
          A jotün was charging towards him now. Gore covered club in his hand. Lips curled into a snarl. Sean took the first blow with his shield, but the thing splintered into pieces like it was made of glass, his arm shattering with a snap. He yelled out in pain, thrown back onto the ground by the sheer force.
          The jotün was above him now, weapon raised into the air for the coup de grace. The moment froze. This was the end. This was finale to the putrefied existence known as Sean Davys.
          But his good hand curled around something on his hip, ripping forth his last defense.
          One bullet. Six chambers. Davys tried to remember if he had the bullet in the right chamber this morning, but the memory escaped him. He had never thought of actually using it, so he never really bothered checking.
          One in six… one in six… one in six…
          What were the chances?
          Sean Davys squeezed the trigger.


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