PYRAMID POWER – snippet 19:



            To prove that he could still change, the god blurred—and a mouse skittered across the floor.


            That was too much for the snake. When it had last had a tasty mouse? Even a mouse with Loki-eyes?


            It flung itself off the rock shelf and down onto the pit-floor; then, across the floor at the mouse-prey. Jerry desperately looked for something to deal with the huge snake. Why did Loki have to be some damned precipitate? Jerry was sure that, if he could work out spells to deal with iron bonds, he could have come up with something for snakes.


            The snake struck. It struck so hard that it hit the wall, and bounced back slightly stunned.


            It had missed its prey, which was surprising in a way, because the prey was now a lot larger. The hawk still had Loki’s eyes. It also had its talons dug firmly into the snake’s neck, just behind the head. Sigyn calmly stepped onto the snake’s tail as the snake attempted to lash that up and around the hawk.


            Loki changed again, back into himself. He was still holding the snake behind the head. Now, with the other hand he grasped it behind Sigyn’s foot, and held it aloft. He grinned at them. “Roast snake, anyone?”


            “You might tell me next time,” said Jerry, keeping a good safe distance.


            Loki shrugged, still smiling. “It is that way with me, I’m afraid, my sorcerer friend. I tend to act first and think later. It has gotten me into a fair amount of trouble over the years.”


            That was in character, Jerry supposed. Trouble and Loki would never be that far apart. The secret was to avoid having trouble with Loki when he turned nasty.


            Sigyn shook head ruefully. “That is true enough. Now what are you going to do with that snake?”


            “Spit in its eyes?” suggested Loki.


            “Dash its brains out,” said the more practical Sigyn.


            “I thought I might save it and put down Skadi’s front,” said Loki evilly.


            “Huh. She’d probably enjoy that. They’re her pets, Loki. Kill it and be done with it.”


            He did, with a whip-crack. He used the snake itself as a the whip, which was singly effective if not something Jerry ever wanted to try himself. Uncle Fox was a lot stronger than he looked. He could have broken the bonds had they just been made of iron, and not magic.


            “Now why don’t you transform yourself and fly out and drop us a rope?” suggested Jerry, as if such shape-changing was something he saw every day. That was one thing about the mythworlds—you became quite numb to the impossible.


            “A good thought,” said Loki, blurring again. The hawk flew upwards… and stopped.


            Loki dropped down. “Not quite so easy. And not knowing the nature of the spell Odin has set there will make it harder. Oh, well. Roast snake while we wait for Skadi? She won’t be long, now that her pet is dead.”


            “Better that you go and lie on the slabs again and pretend to still be bound,” said Sigyn.


            Loki nodded. “I’ll put the snake back on the rock-shelf, and lie in wait for our huntress.” He looked at Jerry. “You’d better contrive some kind of binding for the bitch, friend sorcerer.”


            “And take cover,” said Sigyn. “She’s nearly as strong as Thrúd.”


            Jerry sincerely wished that he could follow either instruction. There really wasn’t any cover, and as for a binding…


            Loki plainly wanted him to come up with some kind of magic, and right now his mind was a perfect blank. All he could think of was how nice some handcuffs and secure cell would be. He could have hidden in the cell.


            True to Sigyn’s prediction, Skadi was not long in coming. And the giantess daughter of Thjazi was not a small woman. Actually, she wouldn’t have been a small man, either. She took one look at her snake and reached into her girdle—for another.


            Sigyn gave her a bowl full of venom right in the eyes.


            And then things got really ugly.


            Skadi plainly couldn’t see. She was screaming, both in pain and rage. Neither stopped her from attacking them. There wasn’t a lot of room to dodge. Loki attempted to grab her, and got himself knocked back against the wall. Sigyn threw the empty bowl at her head and it shattered. That didn’t seem to give Skadi any pause at all. Loki grabbed the dead snake and flung it around her neck and started trying to throttle her with it. Skadi grabbed the snake also and was doing her best to pull it off her neck. The snake from her girdle had escaped and was now cornering Sigyn. The two fighters had staggered close to the fire, and were now standing next to it. Which one would win—or whether the body of the snake would give first—was a moot question. The snake certainly was no normal creature or it would already have been torn in half.


            Jerry searched desperately for a way to intervene. All he saw were some pottery shards. And the fact that Skadi the huntress was wearing top-boots—quite wide at their top—and she was right next to the fire.


            Using two scraps of the broken bowl, Jerry scraped up some of the coals and poured them into one of her boots. Then, hastily, he did the second boot. Skadi was too busy straining at the snake to notice. Smoke started coming out of her boots, and Jerry shoveled a second load in, for want of any better idea.


            The dead snake broke. Loki tumbled backwards and Skadi suddenly realized that her feet were on fire. First she danced frantically, in the process stepping on her live snake—which latched its fangs into her leg. She sat down hard, grabbed the snake and flung it at the wall—narrowly missing Sigyn. Then she tore at her boots, hauling them off, scattering coals.


            But Loki had seen enough. Grinning like a fiend he took a whole handful of live coals and poured them down the back of her neck. His hands seemed completely impervious to their heat.


            Skadi jerked backwards and Loki assisted her with a mighty shove. Her head hit the floor with an audible crack. She lay still for a moment, before she rolled over screeching, pulling her smoldering dress away from her body and standing up to scatter more coals. She stood on a coal, yowled, leapt backwards, and tripped over Loki’s prison-slab. She landed with an even louder crack. This time, before she could move, Sigyn was onto her, pressing a sharp fragment of pottery to her throat. “Lie still, bitch, or you will die right here.”


            Blinded, stunned, snake-bitten, and obviously in a lot of pain, Skadi moaned weakly—but did not move. How could she know it was just a piece of pot? Jerry actually felt a little sorry for her. She had tortured Loki for centuries, so Loki and Sigyn plainly had a grudge. On the other hand, Loki did tend to bring things on himself.


            Skadi was a fairly minor and obscure member of the Norse pantheon, and Jerry didn’t know much about her. But the way Skadi was reacting to the pottery shard that she couldn’t see, and his memory of the most famous binding in Norse myth had given Jerry an idea. What was it that the chain that bound the Fenrir wolf was supposed to be made of? Ingredients such as the sound of a cat’s footfall and a fish’s breath. If he could fool this giantess that she was under duress of similar intangible bonds…


            “Hold the knife steady, Lady Sigyn,” said Jerry, as calmly as he could. “It wants but a few more chants and scratching of the runes until we have her bound with the invisible net.”


            “Will it hurt her?” asked Sigyn, in a voice which said that she wanted it to.


            “Not unless she moves,” said Jerry. “If she stays still, it will feel as light as the finest cloth. But the more she struggles, the tighter it will bind. It is woven from the teeth of birds, moonlight gathered at noon and the…”


            Inventiveness failed him, The best he could come up with was “tomb dust from an ancient king,” and hope that Skadi was hadn’t read much Gothic horror.