“It’s touch and go. His left lung is deflated, and the subclavian artery in his left arm was clipped by the bullet. His heart stopped twice on the operating table. If Mr. Andrei is a fighter, he will make it. It’s up to him; we’ve done all we can. If any of you are religious, I suggest you pray.”
With those words the Doctor walked off. He hadn’t seen this kind of extensive wounds in a while. He hadn’t mentioned that the two bullets that had entered the chest cavity had torn out the back, severing muscles that they had desperately tried to reattach. The exit wound on the left arm had broken the humerus almost at a half-point for the bone, splintering it around the entry and exit wounds. His heart had stopped beating twice during operation, only coming back after they used a defibrillator. This was touch and go of a level most doctors did not want to see in their patients, all they could do was keep him on life support and hope he kept breathing.
Otis was fighting a losing battle. He had expected to wake up on an operating table, but he hadn’t. Instead, he had woken in a small cave wearing nothing but a loin cloth and sleeping next to an axe and shield. This was definitely one of his weirder fever dreams. Most likely a byproduct of no sleep, intense shock and pain, blood loss, and then whatever the hospital had pumped him up with. Deciding they meant something important in the dream, he grabbed the shield and axe, slipping his left arm into the straps on the backside of the shield and holding the axe with the handle in his hand and the head resting on his shoulder.
The shield was around three and a half feet all the way around, a center boss shield like Vikings had used, but instead of wood it was iron. It had a snarling wolf painted on it, with the words Iron Within, Iron Without in a raised Roman style type around the edges. Death Bringer was inscribed in the iron haft of the axe, pressed into the iron instead of raised like on the shield. As Otis walked across a hellish landscape of cracked earth and bone dust, a voice tore open the red and black sky, shaking the ground. Its sheer power and terror nearly dropped Otis to his knees, but he refused to bow, even in any fever dream.
“Listen to me mortal child! I have given you this chance, this chance to prove your deserve life and not death. If you show yourself worthy of all the attention I have placed in you, then you shall return to your body. If you fail, then your soul will be cast back into the forge until it is remade, like Iron.”
Otis had no idea what any of that meant. A slight niggling at the back of his mind caused him to turn suddenly, barely avoiding been stabbed to death by a weapon he recognized as a spatha like the Roman infantry had used. The creature using it wasn’t Roman, it wasn’t even human. It wore a Roman cassis and lorica segmenta, and carried a clypeus shield. Otis almost lost to the spatha as he froze in a bit of consternation. He was a history buff sure, but he didn’t know enough about the Roman army to give him that information. He felt a trickle in the back of his mind, a trickle of information telling him all kinds of things, battle, arms, armor, codes of honor, not just Roman in nature but from all over the world. Dodging the swing of the inhuman creature, Otis blocked the sword with his shield.
The Daemon was about six feet tall, and shaped like a gorilla. Short legs, long torso, long arms. Lots of muscle, and Otis felt another strike of the creatures’ sword almost dislocate his shield arm. Dodging, Otis swung his axe in a one handed grip, lodging it deeply into the creatures’ collarbone, smiling grimly as the subclavian artery was cut in half, drenching them both in the demons foul blood. Yanking the axe blade from the wound, Otis spun, putting all of his weight and force into the hit, striking the daemons head clean from its neck. As the head went flying, the daemon fell to its knees, its armor jangling and shield and sword striking the ground. Then, a whispered voice spoke from the very same ground the demon had spilt its black blood upon.
“…. My name was Doras….”
Then the earth shaking voice roared with laughter and spoke again.
“Well done! You have only slain one. There will be many, many more my little warrior. Until you water these grounds with their blood, then we will see. If you die before then, go to hell knowing you are a failure!”
Otis still didn’t understand what was going on. As he looked around for anywhere, anyone, to explain that voice, he watched new shapes rise from the ground. Two tall Daemons, dressed like medieval knights, both in full armor. One carried a sword and kite shield, while the other held an axe to mirror Otis’s own. Gripping his axe handle hard enough for the depressions of the words to mark his hands, Otis waited for the charge.
Ariel knelt sat in the waiting room. Her parents had left, had asked her to go with them. Couldn’t they see she couldn’t leave until she knew? What if she left and he died? Or worse, what if she left and he woke up and she wasn’t here? That would be worse to her. She wanted to go in his room and look at him, but the doctors were forbidding everyone except family, and his grandfather had just went in there about half an hour ago.
“Ariel, take this. You’ll need it.”
Ariel looked up as JB handed her a cup of coffee, sipping it thankfully. She looked over to the other man that had arrived with them, she still didn’t know who it was. JB apparently knew him, and from what she understood, JB, Otis and the other guy had went to school together, and always ran around with each other. Whatever explanation he had given, JB was satisfied with it.
“What was it like last time? When he got shot over Makayla?”
JB looked at her, and the other man moved closer. JB thought for a moment, and then spoke.
“Just as bad. Didn’t know if he was going to live. Didn’t know if he was going to die. Doctors couldn’t tell us a damn thing either way. One day he was never going to talk again, the next he’d be fine. One time Makayla came in here, trying to get them to turn over his wallet and apartment keys, even went toe to toe with Papaw. It was ugly. Then one day, the nurse went into his room and he was glaring at her, trying to talk around the tube keeping him alive. He was… Very unhappy to say the least.”
Ariel nodded. She wouldn’t mind him opening his eyes, she knew that much. As she thought, Otis’s grandfather walked back into the waiting room. Sinking down into a chair offered by the still unnamed man, he looked to have aged 30 years in only thirty minutes. JB grabbed him some coffee as well, and the old man wrapped his hands around it, letting the cup warm his hands up. They all sat in silence for a moment or two, waiting on what the old man would say. Sipping some of his coffee, he blew out a long breath.
“He’s fighting, that’s for damn sure. I haven’t seen him toss and turn that much since he was thirteen. They’ve got him strapped down to prevent harm to himself or others. He’s fighting though. Fighting to stay alive.”
Otis grunted as his back got opened up by a shallow slash. Turning, he smacked his newest opponent in the face with the edge of his shield, then ducking a return slash of the scimitar, brought his axe up from underneath, the sharp edge splitting the tough leather armor and the skin underneath. The Daemons blood and intestines fell out of his stomach cavity, and he fell to the ground on one knee, using his blade to hold himself up. Looking at Otis from behind veiled turban, he spoke, his voice like snakes slithering over sand.
“My name was Ahmed Ibn Abbas.”
The Daemon collapsed, turning into sand and rocks. Otis briefly rested, leaning into his axe. So that was Ahmed. Before him had been Alexander, in tough leather armor studded with metal and a mace. Then there had been Dak’ir, a Daemon with a lion’s head and man’s body, carrying short stabbing spears. The knights Sir Robert and Sir John, both the hardest fight so far. Then there was the first, Doras. Otis groaned as he watched the blood, bone and soil become a new opponent.
“Rest easy mortal. You are being granted a resting period, to recover your strength. They have decided you have proven yourself enough to earn that. I am Asclepius, and I am here to tend your wounds.”
Otis wearily sat down on the hard packed Earth. He knew who his healer was. Greek healer, demi-god. Son of Apollo or some such shit. He flinched as Asclepius began pushing and prodding on the most recent cut on his back. Otis had been wounded by the scimitar, but not badly. It felt like Alexander’s mace had broken his left arm, right in the middle of his bicep. It was making carrying the shield hard. Dak’ir’s spear had punctured a lung, but Otis had kept fighting somehow.
Asclepius continued to poke and prod, rubbing the wounds with salves and unguents of his own make to heal the wounds. They weren’t by themselves too bad except the lung, but together they were devastating. Healing the wounds, Asclepius stood.
“There young man. You are healed. Prepare for battle.”
“WAIT! What is going on? Why is this happening?”
“Because, they want to know you will fight for life and love before they let you have it.”
Otis screamed in frustration as Asclepius disappeared into the ground, only for a huge hammer wielding Daemon to stand in his place, swinging the hammer like it was a twig. Otis was so pissed off he threw his axe at the creature, watching it bury itself eye deep into the Daemons skull. It crashed to the ground, looking at Otis before it dissolved into blood and gore, leaving his axe behind. Once again, the whisper started.
“…. My name was Hager.”
Otis grabbed his axe as more Daemons appeared. Apparently, whoever was doing this to him was a bit pissed off because he had killed the biggest one he had faced so easily. He lost count at five. Otis shrugged and started fighting. It was all he could do. And if that was what got him out of here, then he would kill all these fucking things. He had unfinished business. Taking three steps and jumping, he brought his axe down into a Daemons head. Rolling, jerking his axe from its head as he went, he caught two blows on his shield before dealing his own blow back to the dual sword wielding demon. As it fell, bleeding from a crushed and hacked chest, Otis smiled. He was going to die here. There was no end.
Roaring a battle cry, he spun, catching another axe on his own. Smashing a spear aside with his shield, he jerked the axe from the other warrior’s hand, head butting the Daemon and breaking its nose. As it fell, he slashed vertically, splitting its head like a melon. His threw his shield, catching the second to last Daemon in its gut, knocking the air and balance from it. Grabbing the other axe from the ground, he waded back into the fight, burying both blades into the fallen Daemons skull. The last Daemon warily circled him, making short test slashes with its long sword. This Daemon was built like a human, only with longer arms and legs.
Otis charged, swinging both axes furiously. Parrying artfully, the creature tore the Daemonic axe from Otis’s hand, stabbing him deep in the side.
The doctors and nurses rushed around the bed, desperately trying to save this young man’s life. He was hemorrhaging and they wheeled his gurney to surgery for the second time that day. As they went dashing past the waiting area, Ariel, JB, Deke and Papaw watched them go running by pushing him.
Papaw buried his face in his hands and the man cried.
Otis screamed as he took his free hand and savagely beat the Daemon who had stabbed him in the face. He was not going to die to someone who looked like a fucking praying mantis! Grabbing at the Daemons chin, he forced its jaw apart and grabbed the top part with his other hand. Digging at the mandible bone, he jerked in two opposite directions. With a wet tearing and popping noise, the mandible ripped off the Daemons head.
It screamed a high pitched and terrible scream, grabbing its jaw off the ground and screaming. Otis picked up his axe and struck down from behind, burying it deep into the creature’s spinal cord. Yanking it out, he kicked the jaw from its hand.
“Tell me your name now motherfucker.”
All of the sudden, the whispers started, and he somehow knew it went from first death to last.
“… My name was Marius…”
“… My name was Bjorn…”
“… My name was Andrei…”
“… My name was Roland…”
“… My name was Rhianna…”
Otis flinched as he realized the last Daemon was the equivalent of a female. He had never struck a woman. Now, he had brutally murdered one. If this was how he was supposed to show he wanted to live, he was done with it. As if they could read his mind, which they most likely could, the next shapes that coalesced were all recognizably female warriors. They all carried spears and shields similar to his own. Spears and shields were no good. They could stab him from behind, work with the shields to create a wall that was nothing but pure defense and stab him from above and below.
Gritting his teeth, he gripped his axe harder. He wasn’t going to die like a bitch. He didn’t want to hurt a woman, but he was not going to die in this place, not until he found that voice and ripped the tongue out of the fucking throat that used it.
Ariel sank back down into the waiting room chair. She had been standing by the window, waiting for any news since they had rushed Otis by almost two hours ago. She barely noticed as Otis’s grandfather sank into the seat beside her and placed his hand on her kneecap. She took her hand and grasped his, squeezing it gently. He looked at her, and she could see the heartbreak in the old man’s eyes. She tried to give him some reassurance with her gaze and squeezing hand, but she wasn’t sure it was working. JB stood against the wall across from them, about 4 feet away. Deke had wondered off, and none of them knew where he had got to. As they sat, the old man began to speak.
“Otis wanted to be so many things in life. A firefighter like his father. A soldier like his grandfather. When he was very young, he wanted things like all little boys. A ninja, a pirate, a cowboy. Just all the little things that kids want to be. He’d watch GI Joe and pretend to be Duke or Heavy Duty with JB and Deke.”
JB broke in, smiling like a dead man.
“Yeah, we even all had to have those stupid ass codenames like the GI Joes did. He took it WAY to seriously.”
Ariel smiled a bit, trying to imagine a young, untattooed Otis playing GI Joe. It was a little hard. She wished she had known him then, before his father had died. She just couldn’t see that person. He was too much of him. She couldn’t see him as anything else. She listened as his grandfather began talking again.
“I remember the night I was called by the Chief. Otis was asleep at their house, and they wanted me to go with them to tell him. They had a devastated old man go with them to explain to his thirteen year old grandson his father was never coming home. We did the best we could after that. I couldn’t control him, hell; I still wasn’t in control of myself. He and JB ran around like a couple of idiots. I’m really surprised you boys didn’t die on me a few times back in those days. I knew how bad it was getting, how close y’all were to it. But I still didn’t stop you. Not until he was shot for the first time. How did I even let it get to that in the first place? He was shot because I didn’t tell him I thought that girl was bad business. Instead I kept it to myself, and she almost got him killed.”
The old man took a deep breath, and slowly exhaled.
“And now, here we are again. For different reasons, the kind of reasons that make me proud of him. The kind of reasons that would have made his dad proud of him.”
The old man gently squeezed Ariel’s hand, and looked to her, with unshed tears in his eyes, eyes that had known a lot more loss than he had ever done anything to deserve.
“I’m glad he fought for you. He’s here because of it, but he tried to do something good. And that’s all that matters, that he done good for someone.”
Otis watched the warriors, guards was more like it. They had gathered around him in a circle, but hadn’t done anything other than level their spears at him whenever he moved. He stared at them, ready for whatever they had planned. He was going to fight down to the bloody end. He had a shred of fear, a worm in his brain. If he died here, would someday in the future, another warrior kill a Daemon with shield and axe, who spoke his name as he fell? Otis didn’t want that future. He would find a way to beat this. He had to get back to his grandfather and his friends. Not to mention, he had to get back to Ariel, to see what could happen between them. He didn’t want to leave her yet; he had what felt like unfinished business with her.
He walked with the war maidens as they moved him forward. In the distance, a table sat with a small chair on one side and a large throne on the other. The throne had antlers and extensive knotwork carving, and gave off a pulsing feel of masculinity. The maidens stopped, with Otis next to the chair. Taking his cue from the maiden with a red crested helm, he sat and waited. A giant of a man appeared from no where and sat in the chair. He was dressed in leathers and chainmail, with a untrimmed red beard and red hair in a ponytail.
“Well, my little warrior. Let us talk.”
Otis looked at the man.
“Who the fuck are you?”
The man smiled.
“I have many names, but I prefer and you may call me Thor.”