Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Welcome to Las Vegas. Leave your money on the fridge.

Our return to the United States was quite a simple affair. Hans elected not to return with us, preferring to stay in Europe. Personally, I think that he was just tired of us asking him questions. Ty convinced me that Hans wasn't to blame for his ineptitude with providing reports and information. After all, if he had been properly trained, or even briefed, by his superior, then he wouldn't have had a problem. I'm sure that he'll be much happier returning to his usual role of messenger and delivery man.

Hans did drive us back to the airport in Switzerland, however, and then said goodbye at the aircraft. I spent the car trip and flight reading the few reference books that had been provided for us. Over all, I would have to say that I was unimpressed. While they certainly did provide quite a number of interesting starting points for research into the Norse pantheon, the informaiton itself was quite sketchy. Much of it was contradictory and, in many cases, directly contradicted the small fragments of fact that we'd been told by either Hans or our patrons.

I was certaily glad of the chance to read some of the books written by and for mortals in regards to the Norse gods, but certaily don't intend to take it as gospel.

We arrived back in Las Vegas late in the afternoon. It took quite some time to get a cab from the airport, which is unsual. Vegas is one of those cities where you can usually expect to find a convenient cab within 5 minutes of needing one. Possibly because the airport is so close to the strip, cabs are rarely far away.

When we finally did get into our cab, I was shocked and appalled to hear the driver announce, as though it were a perfectly reasonable thing, that there would be an additional $10 fee for him to drive us all the way to the hotel. Now, perhaps I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that driving to the hotel was the actual job of a cab driver. When questioned, he explained that the additional $10 applied only to fares that terminated at hotels on the Strip.

Isn't that 98% of their business?

I had a strong suspicion that this "charge" was not one that was endorsed or even understood by the cab company itself, and I simply refuse to be forced to pay money for nothing. So I told the cab driver that he could simply drop us off on the edge of the Strip and we'd walk to the hotel.

The driver was not happy about this, and intimated all kinds of bad things could happen to people walking through Las Vegas at night. I've visited Vegas any number of times, and have never found this to be the case. Nonetheless, I was happy to advise that my 6'4" cousin was certainly able to protect me. (Mind you, I'm 6' myself now, and hardly a delicate wallflower.) The driver was still dubious about it, but clearly not concerned enough to simply drive us the extra quarter mile without charging us the ridiculous $10.

$10. Seriously?

As we were walking along the Strip, however, a number of things became clear. This was not the Las Vegas I remembered. Dark clouds covered the sky, and the entire city felt oppressive. No one was on the streets. Well, no one but police cruisers. And there was a huge rent in the road where the viking ship had landed a couple of days ago.

Something was clearly wrong.

We made our way back to the Luxor, and formulated a plan. First, something to eat. Then, shopping for new clothes. (The downside to suddenly being larger than life is that none of our clothes actually fit us anymore.) Finally, patrolling the street looking for trouble so that Ty could try out his new abilities and weapon. Plain and simple. Right?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The End of the Beginning

When Hans drove us back to the Wolfs Mantle Tavern, we finally got to finish our meal and indulge in some beer. Finally.

Ty and I talked briefly about our options. He was clearly excited about his new abilities, strengths, and weaponry. We both seem to have somehow grown a couple of inches, and look more ...heroic... than when we went into the forest. I suppose that's a side effect of finding out about our divine heritage. (Even thinking that thought is ridiculous.)

Still, he's eager to put his new skills to the test. It seems to be the logical thing to do. So we decided that the best thing to do would be to head back to Las Vegas. According to Hans, there were plenty of titanspawn running around the city when we left. So finding a fight shouldn't be too difficult. For myself, I don't feel the need to start throwing punches and hitting people with sticks. But, of course, I don't want to dampen Ty's enthusiasm.

The intelligent thing to do before battle, however, is to find out as much about the enemy as possible. So I asked Hans about the titanspawn that we're likely to be fighting. He's not really very good at reporting information. But, after an interview that felt like pulling teeth, I've got a basic list of the types of creatures that we're likely to be facing. It seems that the most common titanspawn are Fenrir, Fire Giants, Frost Giants, and Basic Giants. I tried to get a list of strengths and weaknesses of each, but Hans wasn't a great deal of help. It seems that we will have to determine much of the intelligence ourselves. It's not the way that I prefer to go into a mission, but it will have to do.

I intend to put together a full intelligence portfolio of the titanspawn that we face, of course. Working on the assumption (as yet unproved) that all of this is true, it's important to catalogue as many of the facts as possible.

And so we ate and drank, enjoying Hans hospitality at last, while we plotted our return to Las Vegas - this time with an entirely different type of fun in mind.

If you go into the woods today...

We disembarked the private plane in Switzerland, and made our way to customs. Oddly, Hans simply walked through the area, and none of the customs or immigration staff seemed to notice him. He gestured for us to follow, but I think Ty and I had the same idea on that.

Firstly, you don't just walk through customs without declaring yourself. It's just wrong. Secondly, it can be difficult to leave a country if they have no record of you entering. And thirdly, if we were about to walk into the middle of some kind of jihad-based religious cult, we wanted some kind of official record that we'd entered the country!

So we ignored Hans' growing frustration, and made our way through customs as normal. Neither of us was carrying anything illegal, so it really wasn't a problem. Soon enough, we were in another black SUV (a rental vehicle. I wonder if the last one was as well.) making our way north towards the German border. We cleared customs there as well, and Hans drove us to a small town called Wolfsheim. On the way, he explained that we were going to a local lodge to "freshen up" before heading into the Black Forest to meet "our fathers".

When we finally arrived in Wolfsheim, he drove to a lodge called the Wolf's Mantle Tavern. Ty and I had a brief conversation, wherein we both agreed that if we were going to go ahead with the charade, we may as well get it over and done with straight away. Hans, again, seemed surprised, but he continued driving into the Forest to some clearly designated area.

We got out of the vehicle to discover that we were in the middle of the forest. There were no obvious markers (although clearly Hans had spotted something), and the road that we'd been travelling on was little more than a dirt track. We both looked to Hans for further instructions.

"Walk into the forest until you get separated and lost," he said.

Seriously, what kind of instruction is that?? It's ridiculous. The two of us are experienced hikers with combat training. (Although I admit that after working a desk job for a number of years, my skills are rather more rusty than I'd like.) There was no way that either of those things would happen. But we headed off into the forest anyway. There seemed to be little point in arguing.

We set off into the forest together, with Ty leading the way and me barely a step behind him. I don't really know how long we walked. It was for quite a while. And then Ty stepped around a tree. I followed. And he was gone.


It was the strangest thing I've ever experienced. Seeing flying pirate ships and men with fire for hair was one thing, but not being able to trust my own instincts (and Ty's extensive experience) was something completely different. There was no possible way that he could have vanished into thin air in the 2 seconds that he was out of my sight. But, possible or not, that's what happened.

I looked around for him briefly, called out his name, and then decided to stop and wait. Various scenarios ran through my mind. Perhaps there was some kind of cloaking field around a compound? Perhaps we'd actually been hit with some kind of airborn toxin that had rendered us briefly unconscious, and then we'd been separated and left to wake up. Perhaps much more time had passed, wherein we'd been captured, spoken to, and then electro-shock treatment had been used to erase our memories of the event.

The possiblities were endless.

Still, there seemed to be little point in staggering around a dark forest on my own, with no notion of which way was which. So I found a comfortable spot to sit and wait. If someone was looking to find me, then there was no reason to make it harder on them. And if not, then I'd be better served conserving my energy for survival rather then staggering around and getting further lost.

I didn't have to wait for long. A man approached the small clearing where I was sitting. He came out of the forest, but didn't seem to be "of the forest". Whatever that means. He was an attractive man, with unusual clothing, and was carrying a tall staff. He introduced himself as Forseti, told me that everything Hans had said was true, and claimed to be my father.

Now, let me make one thing clear. I am well aware that a man was required at some point in my mother's life for my conception to take place. I've been well aware of that fact since I was quite young. But that doesn't mean that I've ever considered the fact that I have a 'father'. Once I was old enough to understand the role that a man plays in creating a baby, I came to the conclusion that my mother had simply made use of a sperm donor. The fact that he "donated" during a one night stand had little to no relevance. The man in question had just as little to do with me, my mother and our lives as if he had simply been a nameless, faceless man exchanging a paper cup for food money.

I've never needed or wanted a father. Mum and Aunt Beth have been parents to me. Ty is closer than a brother. We have a home. We have a history. We have a name. Unlike many of the people I grew up with in Kellogg, I didn't waste my time dreaming that one day my father would come home and rescue me from my life. Nor did I waste time plotting out what I would do when my father inevitably revealed himself to be a rock star, famous politician, or wealthy prince from a far-off land.

So perhaps Forseti expected some kind of emotional greeting when he made the announcement. If so, he was sorely disappointed. I have no need for a father, nor any real room in my life for one. If what he says is true, and he did provide half of the necessary ingredients for my birth, he still has no more claim over me, my emotions or my life than the teachers who provided my education or the store that provided my clothing. (Possibly less, in fact. At least they had an impact on my development.)

Still, the things that Forseti said did make a certain amount of sense. His talk of being inaugurated into a war between Gods and Titans seemed, on the surface, to support and explain much of what Hans had been saying, and also the events of the previous couple of days. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's all true. But, if I accept that it's a possibility, then it is clear that I must have been sired by one God or another. So there's no reason to believe that Forseti isn't telling the truth about that aspect of things.

My conversation with Forseti was short. He didn't try to convince me of anything. He gave me some "facts", explained the role he had in my birth, and then presented me with his gifts.

The staff that he was carrying was for me. It's really quite impressive. He explained that Peace Bringer (that's the name of the staff) could be used either to enforce a truce amongst people when they meet, or to beat people around the head until they're peaceful. And he also presented me with a lap loom that he explained could be used to riddle out the mysteries of the world.

I took both proferred gifts - there didn't seem to be much choice at the time - and then he left. He advised that I should just walk through the forest until I came across Ty. The instructions seemed to make about as much sense as last time, so I did what I was told.

Sure enough, it took only a few minutes until suddenly Ty and I were walking together, and able to navigate our way back to the car. Ty seemed in high spirits. He was excited about meeting his father, and thrilled to have a weapon that could change into anything he wanted. He's always been more trusting than me, and more willing to take things at face value. But the last thing I would ever want to do would be to dampen his enthusiasm.

It looks like Forseti was right about one thing. Whether I like it or not, I'm stuck in this situation. If nothing else, I'm going to need to keep an eye on Ty and make sure that no one takes advantage of him.

Flight of Destiny

The flight from Las Vegas to Switzerland was uneventful. Ty and I talked briefly and asked Hans a few question, but then we settled down to sleep. Hans seemed somewhat unnerved by this. Possibly he expected us to be nervous wrecks. Possibly he expected us to be excited. Possibly he expected us to actually believe all the nonsense he was saying. Regardless, he was mistaken. Any rational person knows that if you're heading into an unknown situation - especially when you're still recovering from a hangover - sleep is a weapon. So we slept.

Perhaps I should actually go back briefly, though, and mention one event that occured just before the plane lifted off. We'd made our way to the airport in a black SUV, which we'd left parked on the airstrip. Clearly this is not a good move in regards to insurance. We'd no sooner boarded the aircraft when a second vehicle arrived, and three ...creatures... left out and started attacking the SUV.

They were big men with bulging muscles and charcoal-coloured skin and ... hair of flame. Actual flame. And the flame somehow didn't consume them. It was very ... odd.

On the positive side, they obviously weren't very clever, because rather than coming after the clearly departing plane, they contented themselves with ripping the roof off the SUV and howling with deadly rage when they found it empty. They reminded me of those soccer hooligans you see on TV.

I decided not to dwell on the event too much. I had no rational explanation for what had happened, but that didn't necessarily give any more credence to Hans' talk of gods and wars and the like. For the most part, I figured that Hans was attempting to recruit us into a religious cult.

I had no doubt that we'd disembark the plane in Switzerland and travel to a remote location where we would be met by a charismatic older man who claimed to either (a) be a god, or (b) be a representative of a god. Then the man could convince us that we are somehow the "chosen ones" who have been picked to fight a war against a previously unknown enemy. We'd be offered specialist training and/or equipment, and told that "only we can save mankind from this evil". Then we'd probably be sent to bomb the Pentagon.

You'd be amazed how often these things happen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I would definitely have to say that our first night in Vegas went well. I'm basing this judgement on the fact that it was 2:00 in the afternoon before I managed to climb out of bed, and my memory of the previous evening was almost non-existent. As an added bonus, I didn't even have any additional tattoos or piercings. And that's not always guaranteed when I go partying with my cousin, Ty.

As always, we'd started the evening together and then gone our own ways at some mutually agreeable time. I have a foggy memory of him getting a lap dance in a strip club, and I'm pretty sure that's about the time I parted company. I have no real recollection of anything that happened after that. At least, not until I woke up in my hotel room with my usual hangover. I called room service and ordered coffee, water, and a bacon, egg and hot mustard sandwich, and then collapsed on the bed until it arrived.

Fortunately, I know from previous experience that Ty isn't likely to recover much earlier than I am. As usual, we ran into each other in the hotel gym. There's nothing quite like a good workout to get the blood moving (and the alcohol sweat happening) after a big night out. So, after plenty of rehydration therapy, and a second sandwich, we were ready for night two.

That's when I discovered that we'd apparently done something heinous in the hotel restaurant the night before, and were banned from re-entering. Damn it. So Ty and I decided to head down the street and find somewhere else to eat.

I'm glad that we did. We found this amazing place in an upstairs loft of one of the other restuarants. They specialise in ribs - I think it was called Harga's House of Ribs or something similar. We ordered, and we were each brought a huge platter (too big to call them plates) of amazing, hot, smoky bbq pork ribs. And a pitcher of beer. Heaven.

We'd just ordered second helpings each (although I think we were up to our 4th pitcher of beer each) when there was a commotion on the street below. Both of us went to the side to look, obviously. You don't get to our positions in the military without being aware of your surroundings. (Even if, in my case, my surroundings are usually a conference room or office of some kind.)

There was this incredibly scene unfolding on the street below us. It's pretty hard to describe. Essentially, there was a Japanese man who seemed to be glowing from within, and he was being attacked by a group of.... I don't even know what to call them. Superheroes seems far too ridiculous. And it's not like they were in costume. But they were... Well, they were wielding swords and giant handguns and other odd weaponry. And one of them was flying with what looked like replica angel wings. But they didn't seem to be able to harm the glowing man at all.

(At one point I had to hold Ty back so he didn't go rushing off to the rescue of the man. He seemed to have it under control, and we really had no idea what the fight was about.)

Then this giant ship came sailing in. Through the air. I suppose it would have to be, since Vegas isn't exactly known for its access to the ocean. This viking ship landed, and hordes of undead vikings suddenly flooded the street. They didn't seem to be on anyone's side in particular, but were happy to hack and slash at anyone who got in their way.

Ty and I watched, both fascinated and distrubed by what was going on below us. The group of six promptly began fighting the undead zombies, and the glowing Japanese man was lost in the crowd. And then the zombies started retreating, got back on their ship and flew away. The six ...people... gathered together. The glowing man was gone. (Or, at least, not glowing, and therefore not as noticeable.) And the street was in carnage.

I don't know what happened after that, because we were disturbed by a man who approached us and demanded that we go with him. He talked a lot of nonsense about gods and danger, and offered to bribe us with beer if we'd go with him. In the end, we did so. For myself, at least, I agreed mostly because he seemed so intense. He seemed to believe what he was saying. That, of course, didn't mean that it was true. He could just as easily be insane.

We went with him to the hotel, where he told us that we had to go with him to Switzerland, or we'd risk "titanspawn" killing us. (He also introduced himself as Hans Gruber.) Ty and I discussed things briefly, and then gathered some belongings and agreed to go. Perhaps it was his intensity. Perhaps it was idle curiousity. Or perhaps, as Hans would have us believe, it was Fate. Who knows. But soon enough, we were boarding a private plane at the Las Vegas Airport, enroute to Switzerland.

Luckily we both had our passports with us.