The Ice Bridge

PATRIOT NEWS

Thousands Report Strange Phenomena                                                   

Eye-witness reports and amazing footage is coming in from across the country of inexplicable phenomena. Giant figures have been glimpsed traversing the land while storms continue to rage over several states. Power lines have been pulled down, recently in the blackout of millions of homes. Government sources have advised citizens to avoid contact, but ‘not to be alarmed’. The White House is monitoring the situation, and the military is on standby. Some witnesses have claimed to have seen these ‘giants’ protecting key assets, and patrolling the centres of cities under curfew.

Chapter 15: The Ice Bridge

As they burst out of the hall at break of day, the enemy was waiting for them. The ranks of the Devils Hogs formed a semi-circle in front of the large carved doors – restless slathering figures garbed in wolf-skins, weapons ready, growling their hate. Beyond them stood the silent Jötun, dark columns disappearing into the morning mist like tree-trunks, and, high above, eyes like birds.

After a night of intense preparation – smithying into the small hours, and preparing their packs and winter gear – the Wild Hunt was ready. With the force of a snow-plough, the Hammer smashed her way through those who blocked the track, with aurora-haired Sol following close behind – melting away the drifts with her upraised hands. Her long golden hair and white furs contrasted with The Hammer’s shaven temples, single braid, and dark, oily leathers. Together they made an effective team, clearing the route back to the bikes.

The rest of them fought of the attacks as they ran the gauntlet. The Devils Hogs hurled themselves like rabid maniacs, heedless of their own safety. By sheer force of bodies One-Eye’s crew stopped most of their rivals – now more animal than human – dead in their tracks. The Jötun were less easily resisted – hurling fistfuls of the dry-stone wall and tree-trunks, though few now remained in the white, barren landscape.  One splintered log narrowly missing Eddie, but he was thrown to one side by Cruz. ‘You owe me one, Red,’ she grinned, before lashing out at a Hog. Winded, he did his best to keep up with the rest. He did not want to get left behind!

            For a moment Eddy turned to see Frithgard vanish – a single shaft of sunlight piercing the caul of cloud shone directly onto the empty circle of stone and then that was gone too.

By the time they reached the bikes, they had all been cleared of snow, which melted in gobbets and rivulets from the chassis. Engines were running, filling the air with exhaust fumes. Supervised by Rig, the club’s best mechanic, teams of bikers attached chains to the wheels. While they had recovered the previous night, the Road Captain had worked with feverish intensity to forge metres of chain. Eddy had played for them – his guitar fortunately surviving the escape from Peel. He had started with a blues set – suiting the sombre mood – but towards the end picked it up. The weary warriors found new energy, stomping on the floor or striking the tables with their fists in rhythm. Some got up and swayed drunkenly to the music. The Elders looked on approvingly, One Eye giving him a respectful nod. It was good to feel part of a team, to feel he had something to contribute, something that was appreciated. Just as well, for he was no fighter!

Blitzen looked up from attaching another chain. ‘Made it then.’

Eddy caught his breath, holding his side from the stitch. ‘Just, thanks to Cruz.’

Blitzen grunted and continued his task.

‘Listen, I’m so…’

‘Save it. We may be drinking mead with Dash if we don’t get these tyres sorted. Give me a hand.’

They didn’t have long. Down the lane after them thundered the Hogs and the Jötun.

‘They would be on us in minutes!’ shouted Tear. ‘We need to cover our retreat!’

Honer stepped forward, an assault rifle in one hand and a belt of grenades in the other. ‘Leave this to me!’ he snarled, cricking his neck.

Tear nodded, and hurried them on. ‘Get your asses on those bikes and go! Now!’

Eddy gunned his Buell and skidded out of the way as all Hell broke loose behind him. Honer was not going down without a fight. The rattle of the rifle came to an end, and then, whump, an explosion cut through the morning air.

With Cruz riding Fen’s bike and Sol on pillion, hands blazing like twin suns, they blasted out of the lane – clearing the last drift that blocked the way to the main road.

To everyone’s relief it had been cleared of the bulk of the snow, even gritted.

‘Thank fuck! Black-top!’ shouted Blitzen.

‘Take it slow!’ bellowed Rig.

As they roared out onto the road a patch felt his bike slide from under him, spinning into a drift.

‘Black ice!’ someone shouted, and the riders behind took the bend real careful. Eddy prayed as he steered, but the tyre-chains bit and the bike stayed upright.

The fallen biker, limping, was helped onto the back of another – his ride a right-off.

‘Quit arsing about! Next fucker who falls, we leave behind! Let’s move!’ roared Rig, anxiously checking back up the lane.

The column of bikers turned right, heading west, to the coast.

Eddy put all of his attention into keeping the bike upright – the spectre of Rig’s derision even scarier than the prospect of having a spill. As long as he took it easy, and didn’t tip the bike on the bends, he managed, but it wasn’t relaxing riding. Shame, as the place looked eerily beautiful: the island unrecognisable after the heavy snows. The blizzards had abated, for now, at least. But the low, dark clouds promised more.

The progress was painfully slow, but, after the siege, it felt great to be moving again. Riding on the giddy adrenalin of the escape, Eddy felt euphorically alive. Every moment snatched from death was a victory.

But it could be a short-lived one.

He had no idea what they were going to do when they reached the sea, for surely no ferry would be sailing in these conditions.

Iceland? They would be lucky to leave the Isle of Man alive.

They met no one else on the road, only abandoned vehicles.

One of them was the snow-plough, with the driver frozen inside.

‘Poor fucker,’ Blitzen commented, as the rode slowly by.

They stood looking out over the frozen wasteland of the sea from what remained of Peel harbour – the flattened lifeboat station and dark lighthouse, smashed dories locked into the ice, the seawalls bulbous and white as elephant skulls with stalactite tusks. Only the crenulations of Peel Castle escaped from the glacial field, although icy tentacles clawed hungrily at its outer walls and gate house.

Amid the smithereens on the ghostly quiet quayside, One Eye sat astride his steel horse, exhausts snorting in the frigid air. Even on his beast of a bike, the President looked all the world like the god of old upon his eight-legged steed, thought Eddy. Flanked by The Hammer, Rig, Sol, Mani, Tear and the other Elders, he addressed the gathered warriors. Their numbers were reduced by a third, but still they made an impressive presence – a couple of hundred strong. They had been tested by the storm, by the enemy, but they had survived, and looked stronger than ever – grizzled, battle-scarred but unyielding: tempered steel.

‘Thanks to the noble sacrifice of our tailgunner we have made it to this threshold,’ One Eye spoke, his voice cutting through the sudden silence. ‘Our road lies northwest, to Iceland. We must cross the Bridge of Ice. My ravens have told me it is frozen all the way to the land of fire. It is nearly a thousand miles. We must take fuel and supplies. Any who do not wish to go can leave now. You keep your lives, but lose your colours…’

‘…and your honour,’ muttered Blitzen, looking at Eddy.

No one moved.

One Eye nodded with grim satisfaction.

‘Very well. Make ready then. Search for supplies. Prepare your bikes and your bodies for the hardship ahead. We do not have long before the enemy catches us. We ride in one hour!’

Eddy searched the ruins of the High Street with Blitzen and Cruz, boots crunching over broken glass and ice.

‘Schiese. When the wave hit it really hit bad,’ breathed Blitzen.

Most of the lower floor windows were smashed out, debris strewn across the road, congealed into the ice.

‘Hey, check this out!’ called Cruz.

By the gutted supermarket, they managed to find some tins and packets of crackers, noodles and nuts beneath a fallen shelving unit, which also hid the frozen body of a shopper.

‘Frozen food, anyone?’ joked Blitzen, grimly.

Gingerly, Eddy helped extricate the supplies, casting them into a buckled shopping basket.

A dislodged shard of glass, smashing onto a bonnet, made them freeze, and scan the surrounding buildings.

Cruz nodded to a first floor window.

Taking the basket, Eddy followed the others as they stole across the road. There was an open doorway, the front door ripped from its jambs. Beyond, a flotsam-strewn staircase.

Pulling out their guns, Blitzen and Cruz led the way.

They all carried now, no longer bothering to hide them. If the authorities were still around they had other priorities. Eddy didn’t like the iron at his hip, he never had, but they were living by the law of the gun now.

Reaching the first floor they were confronted with two doors, and a further passage. Blitzen indicated the one on the left, and lifted his weapon.

He kicked open the door, gun thrust forward, to be confronted by screams.

‘Blitzen, don’t shoot!’ shouted Cruz.

Eddy scrambled up behind them.

In the front bedroom, open to the elements, there huddled a family – the daughter holding fast to her mother, the infant son hiding behind his dad.

Blitzen lifted up his pistol, and held up his free hand. ‘It’s okay, we mean you no harm.’

The family were clearly terrified by their appearance, and Eddy realised what a fright they must seem – wintry warriors, wielding weapons, and daubed in strange runes.

‘They’re terrified,’ Eddy said, appearing behind his friends – which made the family flinch further.

‘They’re starving,’ said Cruz.

Eddy noticed the pinched look in their faces, the shadows under their eyes. ‘Here,’ he offered some food from the basket, but they were too terrified to take it, so he laid it on the floor before them.

‘We need our supplies!’ hissed Blitzen.

‘We can find more,’ interjected Cruz. She was clearly moved by the state of the children. Suddenly, she pulled the amulet from her neck and dangled it before them. ‘Take it. Thor will protect you.’

The parents were reluctant, but the young girl reached out, seeing the kindness in the strange woman’s eyes. Her small hand clasped the amulet and quickly pulled back, returning to the safety of her mother.

‘Come, we haven’t much time!’ barked Blitzen.

Giving them one last look, Eddy followed, as they descended.

Once out on the high street again, Eddy glanced up and could see the family nervously looking down.

‘Back to the deep freeze section then,’ groaned Blitzen.

Eddy’s thoughts turned to his loved ones, and he felt the strong tug in his chest. Whatever it takes, he vowed, come Hell or high water, I am going to make it back home.

They continued to scavenge, but the pickings were slim.

            ‘It’s like the place has been ransacked,’ muttered Blitzen, throwing down a box of dog biscuits in disgust.

            ‘Barbarians,’ Eddy joked, but his heart wasn’t in it. The thought of his family struggling to survive back in Gimli haunted him. He should be with them. Protecting them. His grandfather, Running Bear, would make sure they stayed fed, that was for sure, he smiled, taking some comfort in the thought.  But who knows what perils they faced – now that monsters walked the land? The possibility chilled him.

            ‘Hey!’ Cruz hissed. Her nostrils twitched. ‘Can you smell that?’

            Eddy and Blitzen sniffed the air.

            ‘Can that really be … bacon?’ Eddy marvelled. His stomach growled.

            Cruz pointed to an old fisherman’s cottage – not much more than a boatshed with a room above it. Firelight could be seen glowing from the upstairs window.

            Together they cautiously approached, entering through the smashed door below. Their boots crunched on shattered glass and furniture, but above them a voice sang, heedless. As they reached the foot of the stairs, they could hear the sizzle of the frying pan, and the words of ‘Danny Boy.’

            Cruz went first, weapon ready; Blitzen followed; and then Eddy. The smell of the cooking was making his mouth water.

            The shadow of a man sitting by a cooking fire flickered on the walls of the simple dwelling. On the first floor, it had escaped the worst of the tsunami – the storm damage had reached the top of the steps, but no further.

‘Ah, guests! Just in time for a fry up! Pull up a chair!’ The accent was immediately recognisable to Eddy, and he strained to catch a look from behind the others. ‘Bog? Is that you?’

Sitting over a makeshift firepit and skiddle – a reclaimed washing machine drum and a shopping basket – was the Irishman, wrapped in a leopard-skin fake fur blanket. His friend looked unshaven, but none the worse. ‘Red, you mongrel bastard! You’re alive! It must be the Viking in yous! And you’ve brought your pals too!’

‘Cruz, Blitzen – this is Bog of the Banshees. He’s saved my ass a couple of times.’

‘Well, three’s the charm! A pleasure,’ he tipped his fingers to the others. ‘Looks like you all need a good breakfast! You’re in luck. Bog’s full Irish is the best in town!’ He offered them the half-drunk bottle of Jamesons.

Cruz shook her head, but Blitzen took a careful sip, then past it to Eddy, who raised in toast. ‘You’re a sight for sore eyes, my friend. Looks like you’re doing alright for yourself…’ He cast his eyes around the room, which was stacked with food and drink.

‘Not much to do around here since the wave hit, except a bit of shopping.’ He accepted the bottle back and took a slug. ‘Ah. Bacon butty anyone?’ Grabbing a bag of supermarket sliced white, he slapped a couple of rashers inbetween two slices and handed it out. 

They squatted down and thawed out by the fire, munching on the sandwich in contented silence for a minute.

‘How did you …?’ Eddy asked, between mouthfuls.

‘I was sleeping off the grog when it hit. Slept through the worst of it. Woke up to half the town slopping at my door. Looks like my fellow Banshees were wiped out, or have fled for drier ground. Lost touch with the lot of them. Only signals around here are smoke signals. I’ve been hunting and gathering; repairing my bike; figuring what to do next.’

‘We’re leaving. Heading to Iceland,’ Eddy said.

‘You’re joshing me, right? Across the fucking ice? Are you insane or something?’

Eddy shrugged. ‘One Eye wants us to go there. Figures it’s important.’

‘Staying alive is important!’

‘Bog, I don’t know about you, but I’m desperate to get back to my family. We’ll be heading past the coast of Ireland. Come with us.’

The Irishman considered this, taking a slug of the Jamesons. He gazed into the fire. ‘I’d be lying if I told yous I hadn’t been thinking about my folks back home. They may be a bunch of Fenian eejits, but I love them, so help me Mary!’

‘We’ll help you get back, if you can share some of your supplies with us,’ suggested Blitzen.

‘Ah, finally we’ve come to the trading. Well, I’m a fair fella. I could just sit here, in the snug and dry, and eat and drink myself to death … but where would the fun in that be? Risking my neck and freezing my butt on a sea of ice with a bunch of crazy fucking Vikings? Now, that sounds more like my kind of party! Give me five, fellas, and I’ll pack my things. And help yourself to whatever you can carry.’

Eddy finished securing the supplies to the back of his bike – a petrol can and a sportsbag filled with tins, snacks, and an extra blanket. Bog’s stash had been shared out fairly. The Irishman’s bike had been kitted out with some spare chain, and he sat, ready to go, dressed in an old-fashioned pilot’s jacket with a thick-fleece lining and retro goggles beneath a Russian fur hat he’d found somewhere. As a member of a friendly-club bringing supplies, he had been welcomed in. The brutal truth was they needed all the numbers they could get.

The road captain, Rig, had estimated that between them they had enough gas to get them two-thirds of the way there. Addressing concerns about being stranded in the middle of a frozen ocean, he said he was ‘pretty confident they would find a ship or two’. He had taken charge of the organising of the crossing – this was his ‘turf’, as Blitzen put it. He tirelessly went around, personally checking all of the bikes and luggage, ensuring they were road-worthy for the way ahead. He encouraged all the bikers to wrap insulating material around their hands, and as many layers as they could wear. When he was satisfied, he nodded to One Eye, who revved his engine and set off, down the boat-ramp, onto the ice. The tyres maintained their grip as the chains did their job. The ice creaked under the weight of One Eye’s bike, but held, and he led the way out of the harbour, followed by the line of bikers.

It was a surreal feeling, riding across the frozen sea. Eddy tried not to dwell on the icy fathoms opening up below them as they left the shallower waters. The Irish Sea was well and truly frozen as far as the eye could see. This was like no winter he had ever experienced, even in Manitoba where it could reach minus forty below. He’d goofed around on a frozen lake before, with a light dirt-bike, but this was in a different league, literally. They were riding over the fucking sea! screamed the voice inside. But then, nothing lately had been normal. Giants roamed the land, and here he was hanging out with Norse gods!

‘Well, this is a new kind of crazy, isn’t it?’ laughed Bog, riding beside him.

Eddy was glad to have his friend with him. Blitzen was subdued after losing Dash, and Cruz wasn’t the chatty sort. A bit of company would help keep his morale up. He figured he’d need it.

The endless white, apparently devoid of detail, became a screen upon which he projected his thoughts. The image of the starving family back in Peel came back to him. They had looked so frightened – but he was one of the good guys, surely? There must be countless millions, perhaps even billions, like that. Terrified by whatever the hell was happening to the world. It felt like he had a chance to do something about it, with this crew. One Eye had not elaborated upon his plan, but Eddy suspected they were heading to Iceland for some final reckoning. If anyone could stop this, surely the Elders could. He hoped so anyway… For what was the fate of humanity, otherwise? It seemed like all hung in the balance.

‘Now, this ain’t so bad, is it?’ grinned Bog. ‘Before we know it, we’ll be sinking a proper jar of the dark stuff. None of that imported shite. What the fuh—’

The ice suddenly vibrated, making the riders nearly lose balance.

‘The Jötun!’ Tear shouted, pointing back to the harbour.

Eddy turned to see the frost giants lining the beach, and before them, the Devils Hogs – now on their own bikes.

‘Jesus-fucking-Christ! Look at the size of those fellas!’ Bog whistled. ‘What is this? It’s a Knockout?’

‘We’ve got to stop them!’ The Hammer roared, skidding her bike around. ‘They never give up until they’re all dead!’

‘Daughterson, allow me…’ One Eye roared past his offspring, sending up a spray of ice-crystals behind him as his chained tyres bit into the frozen surface.

He skidded to a halt about a thousand feet from the shoreline. Kicking down his bike-stand, he stiffly climbed off the saddle and stood, stretching his legs and arms on the ice, as though warming up for a race. Or a fight. Whistling, he took his time as the Devils Hogs roared closer, the Jötun lumbering slowly behind – their mass making the iceplates creak.

Then One Eye shook his head, jumped up and down a couple of times, and raised his hands to the sky.

‘What’s he doing? Has the old man lost it?’ said Bog.

‘You ain’t seen nothing yet,’ replied Eddy. ‘He’s changed. They all have.’

The air became charged, and arclights crackled from his fingers. Around the president an aura emanated, through which the approaching Devils Hogs were a dark blur – an absence of colour in the spectrum. The roar of their engines were overwhelmed by a piercing whine that made everyone cover their ears.

Then, a blinding flash, followed immediately by a deafening boom, and lightning whipped down, shattering the ice between One Eye and the pursuers.

‘Holy …!’ gasped Bog, speechless for once.

The approaching bikers were going too fast to start, and slid into the black water.

One Eye laughed at their cries – a harsh sound like the caw of a crow.

The weight of the Jötun made the remaining ice on the other side of the fissure buckle and one by one they collapsed into the water too. Yet they emerged to stand waist height in the freezing waters. Slowly, they continued wading forward, ignoring the cries for help of the Devils Hogs, intent on only one thing: the destruction of their attacker. They were too heavy to climb back onto the ice without making it shatter, and so they started to smash their way forward in their fury.

One Eye laughed and called down the lightning once again.

This time it struck the water. It instantly boiled and when the steam dissipated the bodies of the Jötun and the Devils Hogs floated upon it like so many dead whales and fish.

One Eye got back and his bike, and whistling, rejoined the group. ‘I’ve taken out the trash,’ he quipped, riding by and leading them onwards.

‘Saint Patrick’s pinky! Did you see that! He deep-fried the whole fucking lot of them! I’m glad I’m on your side, Red!’

They rode on all morning without stopping. It was hard going on the ice. Eddy had to use all of his strength and skill to keep the bike upright, even with the chains providing some grip. Then there were the side-winds to deal with once they had cleared the coast of Man. With no obstacles arresting its force, the north wind blasted into their faces, sometimes making the bikes slide to the left. Only by tilting the bike into the wind could you maintain some traction and stay upright. His limbs were shaking from the effort, and he was dripping sweat inside his layers, but the momentum of the pack kept him going – forced on by the iron will of the road captain and the sergeant-at-arms bringing up the rear, barking encouragement. Finally, mercifully, Eddy realised they line of bikes were slowing. He looked up, neck stick from resisting the wind – and saw a dark shape loom before him. It took a moment to realise it was a fishing trawler, frozen into the ice. It afforded some protection from the relentless wind and the bikes parked in close. Stiffly, Eddy extricated himself from his saddle – moaning in pain.

‘Saddle sore?’ grimaced Bog.

‘And then some!’ groaned Eddy, stretching his back.

‘My arse feels like its frozen shut!’

Some of the bikers had clambered onto the deck, which tilted at an angle, pushed up by the ice.

They waited, stamping their feet and blowing onto frozen hands.

Heads popped up over the side of the deck.

‘Any luck?’ called out Rig.

‘A frozen crew. But the galley is still in working order. There are some supplies.’

‘Good. Unload those, but first, brew up some coffee! Let’s thaw everybody out!’

Soon, Eddy was cupping his hands around a polystyrene cup of black coffee, frostbitten fingers burning with the heat.

He stood huddled as close to the hull as possible, next to Bog, Blitzen and Cruz. ‘This ain’t so bad,’ he joked, blowing on his coffee.

‘My experience of life is generally – if it can get worse, it will,’ sniffed Blitzen, taking a sip and pulling a face. ‘Like this so-called coffee.’

‘Try to look on the sunny side for once,’ ribbed Bog.

Blitzen scanned the bleak vista. ‘That’s … pretty hard right now.’

Cruz reached out and touch his hand briefly.

Then the temperature dramatically increased as Sol herself came towards them, glowing with her own supernatural heat.

‘Wow!’ Bog marvelled. ‘She’s one hot dame.’

She beamed a smile at them, which melted Eddy’s heart at least. Cruz gave her a knowing smile, and Blitzen complained he was too hot now. 

Eddy shook his head. No pleasing some people!

He shuddered as he felt the warmth return to his limbs. They tingled painfully, but at least they started to work again.

The supplies were loaded up – including a couple of drums of oil – on one of the trikes.

‘Time to ride!’ hollered Rig, and they started to file out of the lee of the vessel.

Eddy braced himself. ‘Here we go again…’

‘Just as my arse-cheeks were starting to unseal,’ Bog sighed.

Just then an explosion sent him and their bikes spinning across the ice.

Eddy shook his head clear and looked up. His ears still ringing, the vision before him was a dream-like montage of fire and ice. The trawler had received a direct hit, and was sinking, creating an ever widening gap in the ice – black cracks spreading outwards. Sprawled bikers, stunned by the explosion, were now being consumed by the icy waters. Friend helped friend and was dragged in too.

Fortunately, the majority of the Wild Hunt had ridden far enough away from the blast radius to escape the worst of it. Bog, Blitzen and Cruz seemed to be okay, if dazed. Some of the Elders circled back to help rescue survivors from the water. Keeping their bikes at a safe distance, they crawled forward on bellies, reaching out to the floundering. Some used their weapons to hook them in, or their cloaks. The Hammer dived straight in and flung bedraggled bikers onto the ice.

‘Blimey! She is one tough mother!’ admired Bog, getting to his feet and brushing the ice from his jacket. ‘I wonder what she’d be like in the sack?’

Cruz rolled her eyes. ‘Shut up for once and give us a hand!’

‘Yes, ma’am!’ he saluted.

Between them, they got their bikes upright.

Thunder in the sky made everyone look up.

‘They’re coming back for a second attack!’ shouted somebody.

The deafening roar split the sky. Jets… They were being attacked by fighter jets!     

Eddy staggered to his feet, and struggled to upright his bike on the ice.

‘Get you’re red arse out of here!’ shouted Rig, lending him a hand.

Thanking the gods that his bike was none the worse, bar a few dents and scratches, he gunned her up and roared away with the others.

He turned to see Niggard, the treasurer, firing up at the jet as it swooped in for another bombing run. For a moment he was there, then there was a flash followed by the boom, and he was no more.

The jet rocketed away, leaving a temporary ice-curtain in its wake.

Two large holes in the ice – their cracks widening, joining up, until the waves below started to do their work. The shelf around them started to buckle and crack.

‘Come on! We’ve got to get out of here!’ roared Rig.

Eddy needed no further persuading. He tore after the others, all the time aware of the gulf opening up behind him, and the ice cracking beneath him – the sickening groaning and snapping of the frozen surface sending chills up his spine.

Out of the pall of smoke left by the second explosion burst The Hammer on her bike, just making it to firmer ground as the ice disintegrated behind her.

‘Nobody steals my thunder!’ she roared, dripping water and ice. ‘They will pay!’

In the distance, the jet arced around.

‘It’s coming in for another!’ shouted Tear.

‘Good,’ grinned The Hammer. She gunned her bike and shot straight towards the oncoming plane.

The fighter jet blazed its cannons, which ripped into the ice towards the careering bike.

At the last moment, The Hammer used a tilted ice shelf as a ramp to launch herself directly into the jet fighter’s path.

There was a blinding flash, as lightning split the sky, then immediately afterwards, thunder made the ice beneath them tremble.

Out of the explosion, the jet, torn in two plunged to the ground in a pall of smoke.

The bikers watched on, as the fireball faded away in the dark sky.

So, the gods could die.

‘Look!’

Eddy’s heart leapt as he followed the pointing hand. Out of the smoke a figure dropped to the ground.

As it got to its feet and started to run towards them, they cheered.

‘The Hammer lives!’

Smouldering from the explosion, her clothes burnt and torn, The Hammer skidded to a stop before them and grinned wolfishly. ‘That felt like the old days!’

The Wild Hunt greeted her with horns blaring. ‘Hammer! Hammer!’ they chanted.

Blitzen’s eyes widened. ‘Thor lives!’

Bog looked confused. ‘Eh? Dial back there a mo, Rudolph or whatever your name is. I thought Thor was meant to be a man…? Or am I missing something here?’

‘Does it matter?’ hissed Cruz. ‘She is what she is!’

 ‘Well, in the stories Thor was always dressing up as a woman…’ Blitzen struggled for an explanation. ‘Maybe the storytellers just got it the wrong way round…?’

Bog scratched his head. ‘Seanachies! Never trust ‘em, myself…’

Folding their arms, they returned their attention to the scene before them.

‘Pity about your wheels!’ said Rig, looking across at the smoking wreck.

The Hammer shrugged. ‘Maybe I don’t need wheels anymore!’ She leapt in the sky, and for a moment seemed to hover there, before crashing back onto the ice.

The Wild Hunt roared with laughter. 

She got up and shrugged it off, clenching her fists in fascination. ‘My power is coming back! I can feel it!’

‘Good! We’re going to need it!’ said One Eye. ‘The fight is not over yet, but we must get out of here. Most of us can’t endure the water like you either! Get on, daughterson!’ He skidded his bike towards The Hammer, who shrugged and leapt aboard the pillion.

Together, they led the flight from the widening gulf behind them, passing the smouldering fuselage of the jet fighter, which began to sink into the melting ice. The roundel was a black jagged ‘H’ over a white and red circle.

‘Hagalaz … the rune of Hel…’ murmured Blitzen, sounding worried.

Eddy’s mind was reeling. Somebody was sending in jets to deal with them.

Their flight from the Isle of Man onto the ice clearly had not gone unnoticed.

With hundreds of miles of ice ahead of them, Eddy suddenly felt very vulnerable, as though they were mice, scurrying desperately away from the attentions of an eagle.

And yet the Elders were no mice. What The Hammer had just done – taken down a jet fighter single-handedly! – was the stuff of legend. Yet the majority of them were flesh and blood, and even the gods showed they were not invulnerable. Honer and Niggard had been lost, and perhaps a dozen of the rank and file. They had lost over a third of their number already.

Would any of them make it to Iceland?

‘Do you wish you stayed in Peel now…? Eddy asked Bog.

‘Home is where the heart is, my friend. Let’s hope the rest of us gets there too.’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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