Carl “Jötunn” Benoit swept open the door of the van and smirked at the beaten man lying in its belly. Two young Sons of Hel crouched grinning like gargoyles on either side of him.
“Party’s starting, boys.”
The guy on Ivan’s right hoisted him upright. He jeered, “Look at the boss when he’s talking to you, man!”
Ivan narrowed his bruised, bloodshot eyes at Jötunn. He spat at him weakly.
The glob of sputum landed at Jötunn’s feet. The two Sons started wailing on Jones.
Ivan didn't even try to hold them back. His arms felt like the joints were stuck together. He wasn't sure if that was from the swelling or the way one of them was bent in the wrong direction.
Jötunn halted them with a raised hand. “Ease off, lads. We don’t want Ivan here blacking out before the main event…”
They lifted Ivan out of the van like Christ off the cross. He could smell salt. Looking out, he saw the moonlit sea lapping at dark sands, cradled in a crescent of rock.
Whistle Beach. Ivan had swum here all the time as a kid. Even tried surfing once or twice.
He wondered if Nick had ever been.
Jötunn and his minions dragged Ivan down the concrete stairs to the beach. Nearly twenty Sons of Hel were gathered in the light of a thicket of tiki torches. Bleach-dyed hair and shaved scalps abounded. Half of them were wearing wetsuits, others ratty leather coats, like if the SS had sourced uniforms from their grandmothers.
Nick’s was way cooler.
The night echoed with screeching hate music. The Sons of Hel lined up either side of Jötunn’s procession, whooping and spitting on Ivan. A few of them were chugging a gallon jug of something, heads thrown back and necks bulging like ducks trying to swallow a breadstick. Ivan assumed it was booze, but then someone thrust the jug in front of him:
“Come on, Jötunn, give him the test!”
Jötunn laughed. “Can’t hurt!”
The Nazi on Ivan’s right forced his mouth open as the jug was brought to his lips. Something cool, heavy, and rich flooded down his throat. It might’ve been pleasant, if he could breathe.
Ivan heaved and vomited onto the sand. The Sons of Hel all laughed.
“Are we sure he’s white?”
Milk. Why the shit are they guzzling milk?
Jötunn put an arm under Ivan’s shoulder. “Come on, lad. Nearly there.”
He almost sounded like his dad.
There was a plank raft resting on the waterline. A long, wormlike mass lay hidden under a white sheet. Gas fumes stung Ivan’s nose.
Under his breath, he whispered, “What in the fuck…”
Jötunn whistled with his fingers. “Turn that music down! We’re starting!”
The screamed racial slurs and industrial beats softened to a gentle roar. The Sons of Hel assembled around Jötunn and Ivan, making sure to block off any exit.
With almost a magician’s flourish, Jötunn ripped the sheet off the raft.
Against the protests of his cuts and bruises, Ivan yelped and jumped backwards, only for one of the Sons to shove him to the ground.
Marcus’s corpse lay on a bed of gasoline-sodden straw and shredded newspaper. His throat was a rose of shredded flesh beneath a slack, grey mask. Glassy eyes regarded the stars above with frozen terror.
Jötunn peered around at his followers. “Had to go to a lot of trouble to get our boy Marcus here. His lib parents wanted to leave him to rot in a graveyard, waiting for some dead Jew to whisk him off to Heaven.”
The Sons booed.
Jötunn grinned savagely. “But our Marcus isn’t going to Heaven”
No shit, Ivan thought ruefully.
“He isn’t singing hosannas to an Arab god while the sand-niggers swarm over Middle-Earth! A white-warrior like him? He’s in Valhalla! Fighting and fucking forever!”
The young men screamed and shouted with rising rapture. Like their buddy had hit the lotto instead of getting thrown through a window.
Ivan wanted to laugh. Valhalla? Middle-Earth? And they thought the Jesus stuff was bullshit?
Jötunn gesticulated wildly and stamped the sand underfoot. A preacher would’ve killed for that kind of energy. He spat into the night air, “And we’ll see Marcus again soon! Come Ragnarok, come the wolf-time, he’ll be at our side, drowning the world in our enemies’ blood.”
Ivan looked back at Marcus’ corpse. He used to be so frightened of that man. That racist little scarecrow with the bad teeth. Why? Because he had a gun? Because he had some friends in a fucking fantasy cult?
Ivan tried to picture Marcus as some great warrior at the end of the world. He couldn’t. Marcus wasn’t a Viking. Marcus was a kid who mixed bits of his shit into meth.
Jötunn was still shouting. “Marcus might be living it up with Odin, but we’ve still got to deal with his body. Give him a proper Viking funeral…”
The man struck a match and tossed it onto the raft. It burst into flames with a whomp. The rush of hot air singed Ivan’s arm hairs.
Jötunn yanked Ivan up by the collar, looking him right in the eye. “And you don’t send a Viking off without a thrall to wait on him.”
A skinhead emerged from the crowd carrying a red fuel container, upturning it over Ivan. Gasoline streamed down his body. His cuts sang fire. Tears retraced old paths through the fuel.
The Sons started chanting, “Burn! Burn! Burn!”
Jötunn spun Ivan around to face Marcus’ pyre. “Anything to say before you meet Hel, scrag?
Ivan watched Marcus’ face bubble and burn, like his hand had back in his apartment. Then he looked around at the Sons of Hel. Most of them looked like they’d never had a legal drink, and they thought they were the scariest things in the world. Because an old dude told them their skin made them Vikings.
They were wrong. Ivan had seen the scariest thing in the world.
And what was up with the milk? He was going to burn to death still wondering about that, wasn’t he? It’d probably be the first thing he asked Saint Peter. Or Odin. Or Nick.
Ah. Who was he kidding? The little guy was going to a way better place than him. Even if he had to sneak in.
Ivan let out a hoarse, terrible laugh. It kept coming, till he was bent over from it.
Jötunn frowned. “Stop laughing. The fuck is wrong with you?”
Ivan couldn’t stop laughing.
“Are you even Swedish, man?”
Jötunn was about to push the idiot into the flames, when something sailed into the firelight from the shadows.
The thing landed behind Jötunn. He heard questions leak into his boys’ laughter. Then it turned to screams.
Jötunn turned around and yelped.
A head lay face down at his feet. An honest to God head…
Surprise cut off Ivan’s laughter. He peered down quizzically at the head. Was this another Nazi funeral tradition?
Someone shouted, “Who the fuck is that?”
With great trepidation, Jötunn turned the head over with his toe, trying to avoid the blood leaking from its neck. Its eyes were hidden by square, authoritarian sunglasses.
It also had Jötunn’s nose.
Carl’s voice shook. “...Harry?”
A cold, piping voice:
“He died like an idiot.”
The words drew Jötunn and the Sons of Hel‘s eyes to the darkness. Two children were standing at the edge of the torchlight. A boy and a girl, ice-pale and mother-naked.
Ivan squinted at the boy. There were bloodstains on his lips.
Huh. God really did send angels. Dude must have a fucked up sense of humor.
Ivan kept repeating the observation in his head, as though one more repetition would stop him from shaking.
Some of the Sons of Hel pulled guns on the children, but Jötunn shouted them down:
“For fuck’s sake, they’re kids!”
The children blurred. The wind sighed, and suddenly they’d closed half the distance between them and Jötunn.
One of the Sons startled and flailed his gun. A muzzle flash erupted from the barrel.
The boy swept his hand over his head in an arc. He opened his palm in front of his face, tilting his head before throwing the undeformed bullet behind him like a melon seed.
A breath caught in Ivan’s throat.
Shit! He really is Neo.
The girl smirked. “Yeah. Kids.”
A hush fell over the beach. Jötunn began walking towards the children, leaving Harold Benoit’s decapitated head in the sand.
His men protested:
“Jötunn, what are you doing?”
The pair remained motionless as Jötunn approached. The boy was frowning imperiously, his arms folded.
God, he was beautiful. A boy—untouched by Hebraic barbarism—carved from moonstone. And the way he’d moved. He was a dream that made the night itself seem less real. There was power in those small limbs, Jötunn could tell. Even the delicateness of his features felt hard, like the edges of a diamond.
Who was he? Váli, son of Odin, who avenged his brother Baldur when he was but a day old? Or was he Herne the Hunter’s get, come at last to cleanse Middle-Earth?
As for the girl, Jötunn decided she was probably a baby Valkyrie.
Jötunn knelt before the children, his cousin completely forgotten. “My lord.”
The boy-god’s lip curled in amusement. His burgundy eyes flashed. “Now that’s what I like to hear!”
Jötunn gazed up adoringly at the child. “What is your name, lord If you would so bless my ears?”
The boy adopted a very bad Scottish accent, “Name’s Nick. Nick Collins.”
Nickcollins? The name grazed Jötunn’s memory. Was he forgetting a god? It didn’t matter right now.
“Is it time? Has the final battle come?”
Nickcollins shrugged. “For you lot, yeah.”
Jötunn laughed. The Sons of Hel let out a cheer. Ragnarok was here.
Years of waiting. Years of Christ-fellating Cousin Harry saying he was a loon. Years of the Knights of Walpurgis and the Brotherhood of the Blush calling him a fucking Wiccan. But Jötunn was right. The gods were alive—
Jötunn took a closer look at the girl. Specifically, at her eyes.
“...Is she a nip?”
The girl grinned. “Korean, actually.”
Tabitha swiped at Jötunn’s head. It tore from his shoulders with a wet crack. Blood fountained from a ragged stump of bone and still twitching flesh. Like cousin, like cousin.
The Sons of Hel screamed and clamoured like night gulls. Their voices blended with the churn of the surf. Most of them were swearing in horror and confused rage. Some wept with fear. Others begged their newfound god to tell them what Jötunn had done to earn his wrath. A few even tried confessing their sins:
“—And my grandpa’s Polish!”
Ivan heard none of that. All his attention was focused on Nick. The boy was laughing and high-fiving his friend.
Three notions fuzzed in Ivan’s brain. One, A man had just got his head torn off. Two, Nick was laughing about it.
Three, it was kind of amazing.
Nick managed to restrain the giggles to address the Sons of Hel:
“Odin wanted me to tell you guys—you can all suck his dick.”
As though the insult had woken him up, one of the Sons shot at the children, only for the darkness to swallow the children as he pulled the trigger. The sand exploded as the bullets struck where they’d been standing.
The rest of the gang followed suit, firing wildly into the dark, feeding the night their ammo until their guns became a cricket-chorus of hollow clicks.
For a moment, the sea-sounds had no rival.
Then, somewhere, the children laughed.
A son pointed his empty pistol at Ivan. “Where are they? What the fuck are they?”
Ivan was lying on his side in the sand. His chest shook with more rasping laughter. “Guys. If I was in charge of this, why would I be here?”
Something fast and white slammed into the Son who had fired first, knocking him out of the patch of firelight.
There was a choked scream, and a squelch. The children reemerged into the light, now painted in fresh blood.
Tabby grinned and jeered, “Guns? I thought you guys were Vikings!
Nick pointed at a Son with a scraggly blond beard. “Just a heads up, you’re the one who gets to live.”
Panic and bubbling over hate bound the Sons of Hel into a herd. They screamed and stampeded at the children, swarming them like overgrown hornets.
But the children danced through the young Nazis, light and quick and sharp. Their blows were like flashes. Ribs and spines cracked and popped like firewood beneath their fists. The humans tried to grab at the pair or smother them with their size and numbers, but they might as well have been empty husks. If not for the blood.
Nick found himself humming the theme from one of Ivan’s really old video-games as he snapped a man’s neck in the crook of his arm. Something about shooting and chainsawing demons.
Except he was the demon here. Was a demon better or worse than a Nazi?
A Son of Hel charged headlong at Nick with a switchblade. The boy struck him in the face with an open palm, driving the bridge of his nose deep into his grey matter. Nick snatched the blade out his hand as he fell, tossing into the back of some idiot trying to creep up on Tabitha.
Right now, Nick didn’t care if he was better than these people. All it mattered was that he was stronger.
Tabby jumped and skipped around the biggest Son of Hel: a six-foot nine mountain of a man with a red, meaty face covered in Roman numerals.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, ducking and weaving around a fist’s worth of cheap skull-rings. “Master—” Swing. “...Race—” Swipe. “...Can’t catch—” Punch. “—A little girl?”
The enormous Son of Hel raised his fists above his head and roared, “Die, myling!”
He pronounced the last word as two. Tabby jumped backwards, avoiding his attempt at an evil bear-hug.
The girl’s nose wrinkled in outrage. “Myling? You take that back!”
The man did not take it back. Instead, he wrapped his arm around Tabby’s neck and made to punch her in the ribs.
Tabby puffed her chest out. Her assailant screamed and released her as the bones in his hand cracked.
This idiot called her a myling. Such slander could not go unpunished.
Tabby glanced at one of the tiki torches, still indifferently illuminating the increasingly scarlet sands.
That would do.
Tabby cartwheeled across the sand, grabbed the torch, and jumped back towards the giant. She arced fifteen feet into the air and landed on his shoulders, knocking him flat on his back.
Tabby plunged the burning end of the torch into the man’s belly. His screams almost drowned out his sizzling gizzards.
Tabby grinned at the red heat she saw bloom inside him. She was trying to think of a proper action movie one-liner when two Sons grabbed her by the arms.
“Gotcha now, monster!”
Tabby jerked sharply. Her captor’s right arm tore from its socket with a hearty arterial spray. Tabby gleefully caught a few drops on her tongue like snowflakes.
The newly one-armed Nazi died of shock not long after that, but his blood did manage to splatter in his comrade’s eyes. The other Son of Hel screamed and stumbled backwards. Before he could clear his vision, Nick stepped out of nowhere and snapped his knees sideways with a kick.
The Son of Hel fell to the ground. He only got to writhe there for a second, before Tabby’s feet caved in his head like a rotten pumpkin.
“Nice!” Nick called.
It was. Junior dance troupes would’ve killed for that kind of coordination.
The vampires caught sight of a band of Sons edging backwards towards the path up to the carpark. The frontmost was waving a torch defensively in front of him like his peasant forebears.
“Stay back!” he shouted. “I warn ya!”
Nick looked at Tabby. “We probably shouldn’t let that many get away, should we?”
Tabby shook her head. “My mom would kill us.” She smiled. “Want to go first?”
Nick bowed grandly. “Thank you, m’lady.” He tipped an imaginary hat.
The Sons were moving up the stairs now. “Stay away!”
Nick looked up at the torch-bearer and shrugged. “Okay.”
The procession of Nazis slowed, seemingly confused.
“...You for real?”
Nick dug his toes through the sand. They brushed against something hard. He bent down and plucked up a couple of pebbles.
“I don’t need to.”
The torchbearer’s head flowered in a spray of misted gore and bone fragments, painting his friends red and pale pink. A splinter of his skull lodged itself in another Son’s eye. The newborn corpse took a few stumbling, autonomic steps—blood fountaining from his carotid artery—before slumping backwards into the panicked embrace of his fellows.
Tabitha applauded her spawn. “Bravo.”
Nick blew on his fingers. “Force multiplier, baby.” He crouched and grinned up at Tabby. “Wanna make it rain?”
Tabby fell into a sprinting stance. “Hell yeah.”
The children leapt into the crowd in a squall of gore.
All in all, it had taken less than five minutes to reduce the Sons of Hel to two: the designated survivor, and the other one.
Nick and Tabby threw the leftover onto the sand, landing deftly on either side of him. He was a boney, birdlike sort of man with a shaved head and a Celtic cross necklace tattooed around his neck, which to Tabby seemed like mixed signals. The planned survivor—wisely having kept to the sidelines— was cowering in the shadow of Marcus’ funeral barge next to Ivan.
To Nick’s quiet relief, Ivan was still breathing steadily. He was also staring glassy-eyed at him and Tabby. Nick wasn’t sure what to think about that.
Tabby sat down on the cross-man’s chest. “I don’t want you thinking you don’t have a role to play,” she said cheerfully. “You get to show your buddy what happens if he doesn’t do exactly what we say.”
Cross-Boy wept softly. Nick saw heat shift inside him. The smell of ammonia filled Nick’s nostrils. If a lot of things had been different, he might have felt sorry for him.
Tabby and Nick looked towards the fire still burning on the water. The survivor had Ivan propped up between his spread legs. He was holding his gun to Ivan’s temple.
“Another move, and I blow this fuck’s brains out.”
Tabby tilted her head. “Who says you’re fast enough?”
The man with the bad goatee smiled with a confidence he did not have. “Nobody.”
The gun barrel was touching Ivan’s skin. Nick felt like he could outrun his own shadow, but somehow he doubted he could beat a bullet over a few inches.
He shot a look at Tabby. The flicker of her eyes might as well have been telepathy. She was bluffing, but Nick remembered the storm of bullets
“You’re lying. The gun’s empty.”
“No it isn’t.”
Nick squinted. His new senses told him a lot of things. They showed him the schools of fish lurking in the black water—storms of bioelectricity. They told him a few of his and Tabby’s victims were still breathing their last behind them. They told him this asshole’s heart was racing in his chest.
They didn’t tell him if there was a bullet in that gun’s chamber.
“Just leave me and Týr alone, and your friend gets to keep his brains.”
A wet sigh.
To Nick’s utter surprise, Ivan was smiling. “Nick… I don’t know what the fuck you are now, but it’s good to see you.” He nudged his head against the end of the gun, nearly making the goatee-guy flinch. “Go ahead, kill these fuckers.”
But Nick didn’t want to. Ivan was his friend. His only friend.
Except for Tabby.
Nick looked at her pleadingly. “Tabby?”
Tabby smiled softly. “Don’t worry, I got this.”
Tabitha gave Goatee a hard look. Nick saw the red glow in his hand die…
Goatee jumped to his feet and screamed. His hand was frozen solid, beads of sweat turned into clear jewels.
Nick hissed and leapt over Ivan, striking Goatee in the chest and knocking him onto Marcus’ still burning body.
The Son’s screams reached a new crescendo, briefly joined by the crackle of melting ice.
For a while, Nick just stood there on the shore, listening to Goatee burn, letting broken waves tickle his ankles. He was breathing heavily, sucking down air his body no longer needed.
Eventually—how long Nick couldn’t say—even the Son’s voice was devoured.
Nick felt a thick arm wrap around him. He almost thrashed against it, before he heard Ivan’s voice:
“Fuck… fuck, Nick, you’re alive…”
As gently as he could, Nick twisted around and hugged Ivan back.
Eventually, Ivan set Nick back on his feet.
“Jesus, buddy,” he said, voice wobbling. “You’re fucking freezing.”
Nick watched as Ivan staggered over to a fallen Son of Hel. The man stripped the corpse of its shitty coat and proceeded to wrap it around Nick.
“There, that’s better.” Ivan gave the boy a woozy smile. “Neo returns…”
Nick knew Ivan was going to faint before he fell. He caught his friend as best he could. As strong as he was, Ivan was still so much bigger.
Nick lay him down on the sand. He shucked off the coat and draped it over Ivan. It was a cold night.
“Ivan alright?” Tabby asked casually from atop Týr. She had a hand over the Son’s mouth. Didn’t want him spoiling the moment.
Nick nodded. “Just sleeping, I think.”
“That’s good.” Tabby looked down at Týr. “Plans have changed. Lucky you. Quick question, there’s still a bunch of you Nazis in Laflech, right?”
Any other time, Týr would’ve vehemently argued that they were actually white separatists, or nationalists or some other buzzword, but now he just nodded.
Tabby smiled. “Good. Well, not good, Nazis suck, but you know what I mean. Anyway, you’re going to make your way back to your buddies. And you know what you’re going to tell them?”
Týr shook his head.
“You’re going to tell them a couple of you snitched you out to one of those other white people gangs. I know you don’t all get along.”
Tabby and Nick had debated this part on their run to the beach. The ironical, ten year old part of Nicholas had wanted to blame the massacre on Afro-Jews in battle wheelchairs, but Tabby had pointed out that might lead to the Sons of Hel hassling blacks and Jews who didn’t have battle wheelchairs, which didn’t seem fair . This way, maybe the Nazis and Nazi-ish people would be busy killing each other for a while. Lilith smiled on sharpened kindness…
“We got that?”
Týr nodded vigorously.
Tabby removed her hand from the boy’s mouth and jumped off of him. “You can go now.”
Týr scrambled to his feet and ran towards the beach stairs. Tabby called after him:
“Oh, and leave the van, or I’ll eat your family!”
Behind her, Nick sat stroking Ivan’s hair like he was a sleeping Great Dane.
“It’s okay, Ivan. The scary part’s over.”