The Snake and the Mirror

Slayers of Monsters

September 17th, 2024

 

Torleif hated the long walks most of all. Most of the time she could manage to hitch a ride on a cart or a horse or something. She wasn’t particularly big or heavy and didn’t take up a lot of room, but sometimes you just ran out of options and had to rely on your own two legs. Unfortunately, Torleif’s legs weren’t very long.

For all her power as the Champion of Thor, Torleif was still only twelve, and she got annoyed by how little progress a twelve-year old made on foot. She wasn’t dressed like a normal twelve-year old either, as any semblance of normal children’s clothes had been replaced by undersized armor of hide, mail, and leather. Her bright red hair was kept in a bun at the back of her head, with the loose strands woven idly together into braids. Her gloves were somewhat overlarge and reinforced with steel, giving her hands an oversized and almost clumsy appearance. The same went for her belt, which covered most of her waist. The most notable thing about her, however, was the hammer that she carried at her waist. It wasn’t a workman’s hammer, it was never meant for carpentry or building things. The hammer at her waist was a warhammer, the head a massive block of solid steel emblazoned with a shining Uruz rune. The hammer was a bit short, meaning she could only wield it in one hand, but Torleif kind of preferred it that way.

The hammer had been a gift from her patron, Thor, and Torleif had wielded it with deadly skill for months now. It protected her from bandit and monster alike, and she’d already started to gain a fearsome reputation among the giants and trolls that had started stealing into Midgard, the human world.

Torleif breathed a sigh of relief as she saw civilization ahead. The trees parted to reveal the withered remains of a ruined autobahn, a cracked and crumbling path lined with high grasses and trees and leading off towards a nearby city. With any luck, Torleif thought, the city would be inhabited by people.

Torleif was on a mission, after all. Odin the All-Father had commanded her to seek out both the goddess Freyja and other fearsome warriors like herself. So far Torleif hadn’t found anyone who quite fit the description. She’d met people of course, but Torleif had her standards. All of the people she had come across had needed rescuing, and so far none of them had managed to stand up on their own. Torleif might save a village from a rampaging giant, but no one had stepped forward and offered to help her.

As she stepped onto the old road, her eyes passed over the rusting and half-collapsed sign that gave her a clue to her location. The arrows still pointing off to the distant city read “Barcelona”.

“Barcelona…ah! I know that place!” Torleif had intended to head towards Rome, but her route had been a bit circuitous. She had difficulty traveling in a straight line and couldn’t plan her route very well as the old maps had been made irrelevant. Torleif had needed to rely on the direction of strangers and her own wits.

“I’m in France!”

Geography had never been her strongest subject in school.

 

By the time she was inside the city of Barcelona, the sun had set and the stars were shining overhead from between the roofs of the ruined buildings that rose around her. To her disappointment, the city seemed mostly abandoned. Signs of monster attack and human departure were everywhere, but Torleif pressed on towards the city center. The old cities were massive, and humans usually settled in one small section of them, and even if there were no people she might be able to find somewhere safe to take a brief rest. Torleif might not need to sleep as much as normal people, but she still liked to. She was getting pretty hungry as well.

Her eyes caught the glow of lights ahead of her. Hurrying on down the road, boots clomping over withered asphalt, Torleif saw a wall rise before her. It wasn’t a strong stone wall, but more of a reinforced palisade made of hardy wood and bolted with whatever loose steel and iron they could find. It wasn’t a castle, but it was strong enough to no doubt keep the monsters at bay. Torches had been raised across its length to illuminate the street, and she could see more torches moving around behind the wall through the gaps in the wood.

“Hello!” Torleif called, hands cupped over her mouth as she bellowed at the wall. “Lemme in!”

She heard a number of hurried words behind the wall, and a slot opened in the gate as a pair of beady eyes stared through. The guard glanced this way and that before finally spotting Torleif, no doubt shorter than he’d expected, standing before the gate.

“Who are you?”

“Name’s Torleif, lemme in.”

“We don’t just allow anyone in, you could be a demon in disguise.”

“I’m not a demon, I’m twelve!”

Another guard spoke up behind the wall, speaking to the first.

“Come on, she’s just a kid.”

“She just LOOKS like a kid, she could be anything.”

“Including a kid, are you going to let a twelve-year old starve out there? Or leave her to the monsters?”

The first guard turned back to Torleif.

“How did you even manage to get here? Where are your parents?”

“My parents are dead,” Torleif said plainly. “And I walked here.”

The guards once more began to discuss between themselves as Torleif waited impatiently, fingers twitching as they moved towards her hammer.

“I don’t like it, it’s all kinds of weird.”

“She’s just a kid.”

“Alone? In the middle of the night?”

“What would Wilhelmina do?”

“She told us to sweat anyone who wanted in. She was the one worried about shapeshifters!”

“Ya but…”

Torleif yawned as they went back and forth, eyes wandering around the dark street until something behind her caught her eye. Something big with bright yellow eyes was moving in the shadows. As Torleif looked closer, more than one shape seemed to appear out of the darkness.

“Uh…hello?” She asked as the two guards bickered., but they ignored her.

The sound of large hooves and snorting breath rose behind her, and Torleif’s hand went for her hammer as she shouted.

“Hey!!”

“What!?” the first guard snapped angrily, but as he looked past her, Torleif saw his eyes widen and he fumbled quickly for the lock on the small gate door. As soon as Torleif heard it slide open, she threw herself at the door and ran inside, leaving the guards to lock it behind her as she ran for the town center.

She heard alarm bells begin to ring from the wall behind her as she shouted to anyone who would listen. “Monsters coming! Listen up, there are monsters at the gate!”

Soon Torleif’s small voice was drowned out by the echoing gong of what sounded like church bells. She saw people running out into a square before the steps of an immense cathedral, tall spires rising up into the dark sky as the bells echoed through Barcelona.

The people gathering didn’t look much like warriors. They were clutching spears and wearing whatever makeshift armor they had pulled on in the middle of the night, several were still wearing sleepshirts and nightgowns on underneath. They were talking hurriedly amongst themselves, organizing by some pre-made plan as they spread out among the square, and it took a few moments for any of them to notice Torleif approaching.

“Wha-get out of here!” The first one to spot her shouted. “Didn’t you hear there was a monster attack?”

“Whose kid is that?” Asked another. “Who let them out at night?”

“Hey I-“ Torleif was drowned out again by a thunderous crash behind her. The palisade had been smashed open and the guards fled as what looked at first like horde of demonic bulls rushed the town center. The gathered defenders scattered and Torleif thought, at first, they were just cowards fleeing for their lives, but she soon saw that they were taking up defensive positions around the roads and the cathedral, as if deliberately guiding the rush of bulls into the square.

One of the defenders grabbed her hand and tried to pull her away, but Torleif was neither as light nor as weak as an average girl her age and powerfully yanked her arm free, ignoring the fleeing people and gathering militia to face the oncoming threat.

“Get ready everyone!”

The sound of galloping hooves caught Torleif’s attention, and she swiveled as a tall armored woman astride a horse galloped into the square, sword in hand. Unlike the other defenders, this woman looked like a knight pulled from a storybook, all cloak and silver armor, polished sword in hand. She slid easily from her horse as it stepped into the square, watching the bull monsters approach.

“I want third and fourth up on the left! I want first and fifth on rear! Seventh, second, and sixth are on cathedral! The rest of you are on civilian protection! Guide them to me a-“

Her eyes spotted Torleif standing at the front and widened in alarm. She rushed forward, moving to get between her and the oncoming monsters as she shouted at her.

“What are you doing here! This is no place for a child!”

Torleif had never had a long temper, and her short fuse had finally run out. Thunder rumbled overhead in what had moments before been a clear night sky.

“Stop!” She shouted, shoving her way roughly past the armored woman, hammer in hand.

“Calling! Me!” Her gloved hand tightened around the hilt of her hammer as lightning began to crackle about her body, her hair rising with static as her entire form seemed to bristle with white-hot glowing energy, all focusing down into the steel head of her hammer.

“A CHILD!”

Torleif hurled her warhammer towards the monsters stampeding their way. It flew from her hand leaving a trail of crackling lightning in its wake, and collided with the skull of the lead bull with a sound that could only be described as an echoing thunderclap. The entire front-half of the beast was obliterated in an explosion of pent-up divine energy, leaving the ones behind it stumbling over its fallen body, letting out echoing cacophonic  roars as electricity scorched their black hides.

Torleif held out her hand, and with a metallic rush the hammer returned to her palm. The Uruz rune on the hammer was still glowing with power, and stray flecks of lightning still sparked across her skin and hair. The armored woman stared at her in a mix of confusion in alarm, and Torleif noticed that a silence had fallen upon the defenders.

“My name is Torleif!” She shouted into the empty air. “Champion of Thor! I’m not some lost child! I don’t want your protection! I’m here to kill monsters so either help me or get the hell out of my way!”

Thunder rolled through the sky overhead as if to punctuate the sentence, and for a moment there was only silence in the square as the beasts in the road began to reorient themselves.

“Well then,” the armored woman stepped forward before addressing the other men and women of the militia “You heard the lady! Get to your posts! Now!”

At her command the militia scattered to their posts, the armored woman staying behind at Torleif’s side.

“I don’t need your protection,” Torleif grumbled.

“And we don’t need yours,” The woman said, holding her sword ready.

“You’re still just a normal mortal,” Torleif said. “This is what I was born to do.”

“I would not be so quick to count us out just yet,” Came the woman’s reply, and before Torleif could respond she had rushed forward towards the mass of bulls.

“H-hey wait up!” Torleif shouted, rushing after her.

Torleif still had fairly short legs, so the leader of the militia reached the bull creatures first. She had looked to be the strongest fighter here, but what Torleif saw was well beyond her expectations. The woman moved with a practiced swiftness and ferocity. The only grace in her movements as she went from one creature to the next was in the sheer efficiency with which her sword moved. No action was wasted as the silver blade chopped, hacked, and hewed its ways through the necks of the creatures, her body seemingly untouchable as they attempted to gore her through.

Not about to be outdone, Torleif charged forward, her hammers slamming into the closest monster like the fist of an angry god. She lacked that same precision but made up for it in overwhelming power, a mighty swing from her hammer able to shatter the bodies of these shadowy monsters and lift them off their feet entirely.

The other militia seemed almost unnecessary as Torleif and the woman tore through the ranks of bull monsters, only one or two making it past to meet the spears of the waiting Barcelonians. Soon, all of them lay slaughtered at their feet, leaving Torleif’s armor and hammer, as well as the sword of the woman, dripping with monstrous red blood.

“Are you a champion as well?” Torleif asked, slinging the hammer on her belt. “I’ve never seen a normal person fight like that.”

“Just a champion of this city perhaps,” She said. “I answer to no God but the one true God. But…I would never refuse a little extra help.”

“My name’s Torleif,” She said, smiling brightly. It was always a pleasure meeting another great fighter, champion or not.

“Yes, you made that very clear.” The woman said. “My name is Wilhelmina Koenig. “Although…I have to ask, what is a champion of Thor doing in Spain?”

“Uh…” Torleif’s face reddened in embarrassment. Spain!? “It’s umm…a long story.”

“Well, stay the night,” Wilhelmina said. “I’m sure many here would be glad to hear it. I’m sure you’ve been missing a hot meal and a bed.”

As if on cue, Torleif’s stomach rumbled and she nodded sheepishly. “Sure! Although…there is something I wanna talk to you about.”

“Me?” Wilhelmina asked. “What is it?”

“How much do you know about dragons?”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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