6: The Bridge
Naylia runs through Asgard, her feet carrying her along the cobblestone road inlaid with glittering flakes of silver, gold, and diamond. She passes her favorite fountain, the broad one with the tile mosaic depicting a gaily colored orange octopus swimming in a bright blue sea. A single arc of water shoots up from the edge of the fountain to cross three-quarters of the broad, five-meter wide circle and fall into the water, creating ripples that seemed to animate the beast without ever obscuring it.
She reaches the palace, a magnificent construction of columns and gold, the two lions that guard its gates turning their majestic golden heads to watch her as she passes. "What is the matter?" she demands as she enteres.
Vili bows as she enters. Her clothes transform around her, enrobing her in the white of her office, the staff of her authority appearing in her hand. "My Queen, it is as bad as we had feared. The Muspeli have acquired a dragon."
"A dragon?" Naylia feels stunned. In all the years she's been in Asgard, the dragons have belonged to Asgard. The great beasts live under the city, and if the night is very quiet and the wind is still, one can hear them snoring in the deep and stony distance. She had ridden them a few times, but flight wasn't the sort of thrill for which she had chosen to live in Asgard. It was the quiet, the food, and the peace of the libraries that she loved. The people of Asgard were charming and humane.
The universe is still prone to mischief. She's dealt with an earthquake a decade ago, and storms swept through once every other year or so, just to keep things interesting. And that sea monster last year had a been a fun distraction.
"What's the recommended course of action?"
Vili gestures toward Ve. Her Commander of Civil Authority says, "My Queen, the best course of event is to unleash as many dragons as we can awaken to kill the alien."
"Kill?" Naylia is horrified. The dragons had succeeded in harrying and driving off the sea monster. They hadn't had to kill it. "Is that necessary?"
"It must be," Ve says. "There is a strong risk of sacrifice. Many of the dragons may not come back." He looks determined, and not distressed at all. Something is wrong. "We need your decision quickly, your highness. There isn't time."
"There is always time," she argues. Maybe that's what's in play. The dragons unbalance the universe. The universe has figured that out and wants to take them away.
"Not this time! A dragon in the hands of the Muspeli could wreak havoc. If they choose to unleash it now, it could destroy all of Asgard!"
Naylia doesn't understand that. Nor does she like it. The universe is off kilter. But the game has rules, and so she plays. "Fine. If the threat is that dire, have your men unleash the dragons." Maybe it's just for a light show. She hopes it's just for the light show.
Ve bows. "It will be done."
"And find me Heimdall! He and I are going to have words."
Duke is listening to the city. He has listened to it for centuries, heard the voies as the superheroes do their business. Blackjacks and Jokers outpace each other down on the streets below, and in the air Supermen and Spidermen zoom past in different generations of tights and capes, some with the yellow pants on, some with the black.
Duke started out here as a barbarian, an overmuscled freak with an axe and an attitude. He had traded in the axe for a couple of rings of power, a kind of Green-Lantern-meets-Mandarin mix that goes well with his blow-dried hair and a comfortably fitted pin-striped suit draped over his still-barbaric frame. He's stopped playing for keeps and now just wants to have fun with the crazy, hazy world of Gothamopolis. It's a bad mix of everything and he knows it, but in the daytime the restaurants are fantastic.
He feels a wind at his back. He knows who it is, turns and looks. The man standing behind him is small and pale and youthful and beautiful. His long hair streams behind him, his smile so lovely Duke already wants to kiss him. Angel used to run with this blond-furred gorilla chick, but it turned out guys are more his thing and so now he's with Duke, who's mostly hairless but also kinda gorilla-shaped. "Up for a game tonight?" Angel asks.
"What kind?" Duke asks, his deep voice grating. He'd been going for sexy. His voice doesn't quite make it.
"I hear there's an alien incursion underway."
"Huh," Duke says. He can stand a little play before the play. "Hadn't heard that."
"You aren't paying attention." Angel points upward. Duke's eyes follow and he finds himself staring into a horde already blocking out the atmosphere. Tonight's game is black-clad supersoldiers on surfboards all kitted in armor and dripping with guns, ready for mayhem. "That doesn't look challenging."
"We'll find out," Angel say. "Race ya!" He kneels downward and suddenly launches himself into the air, his wings spreading out like a kestrel's, barely moving even as he rockets upward. The laws of physics don't apply in Gothamopolis the way they do elsewhere.
Duke points his hands at the ground and is launched into the air by his ring of flight courtesy of the Legion. He can't catch Angel, but that doesn't matter. He'll catch up. Angel is already among the supersoldiers, bouncing off them like a pinball, knocking them off their surfboards to fall to their deaths.
Then the impossible happens. The soldiers get a bead on Angel and one of them manages to put a bullet through his head. Brains spray into the atmosphere, a fine mist of that part of Angel that truly loved Duke.
Duke stares in a horror he's never felt before. The universe couldn't do this to him. It wouldn't! It just had. He puts his fists in front of himself, willing to full power two rings he has never used in conjunction. "I am going to kill you all!" he shouts. The rings are unleashed. Beams of light flicker from Duke's fists. Ichor rains from the sky.
In sixty-three different worlds, similar battles are enjoined, and similar decisions are made. The votes are tallied, but the conclusion was never in doubt.
Deep inside what was once the Arendelle Colony Mission Personnel Module Number Two, power is applied to hardware that hasn't seen activatation in centuries. Codes are unlocked. Signals are sent. Hell is unleashed.