I hadn’t taken more than two steps into the room before the giant monster decided I would make the perfect snack. With a savage howl, he flew at me with lips pulled back from his awfully sharp-looking teeth.
Instinct kicked in and pushed everything out of the way. Not thoughts, no feelings – just pure fight-for-your-life survival.
Throwing the cloak on the floor, I quickly grabbed my knives, but before I could use them, the wolf was stopped mid-leap by the silk string around his massive neck. A furious snarl bounced off the walls in the dimly lit room. He was clearly not a happy camper, and I would have liked nothing more than to slowly back away and shut the door between him and me. After seeing this beast, who could blame me for walking away from this job? Who in their right mind would willingly take on a destined God-killer?
The beast hurled its massive body at me again, but the string held. He was not getting lose and judging by the livid look in his yellow eyes, he knew it.
Still not believing the scene in front of me, I watched as the wolf started to pace back and forth in the large room. He couldn’t get far, but it was still way too close for comfort.
I was eyeing the wolf’s massive teeth when something behind him caught the light from the torches.
Careful not to agitate the wolf more than he already was, I slowly moved a few steps to the right. There, hidden in the shadows between the wolf and the wall, was the large chest. The lid was open, and the shiny treasure had spilt onto the floor. The chest was filled with gold coins as big as my palm.
Okay, so I had managed to find the chest, but there was no way to get to it. A large and extremely grumpy wolf was blocking the path. How anyone had managed to get past this beast, and hide the lighter there in the first place, was beyond me. It would be pure suicide to get any closer to the chest, and no matter what some of my colleagues claimed, I wasn’t suicidal.
I looked up to see the wolf watching me. He looked back at the chest behind him before meeting my gaze again. I didn’t like the intelligence in his yellow eyes; too much was going on behind them.
“What? What are you thinking?”
Fenris moved to the chest. With surprising delicacy, he started pushing some of the gold coins towards me.
I raised an eyebrow. “You are out of luck if you think you can tempt me with gold. I’m only here to get the magic lighter.” Even to me that sounded slightly crazy. Maybe I should take advantage of the mental evaluation that my sister had so kindly offered to pay for when I saw her last.
The wolf looked at me for a moment before he moved back to the chest. He gave it a shove, and the sound of thousands of coins hitting the floor echoed in the room. After sniffing around for a bit, he started digging in the pile of gold. It didn’t take long before he found what he was looking for.
A lighter with a cartoon image of a shaggy-looking dude and a goofy Great Dane emerge from the treasure.
Careful not to crush the cheap-looking lighter beneath his big muzzle, the wolf started pushing it towards me.
My pulse beat faster at the sight. This was one clever wolf. He had understood what I was saying, and now he had found the one thing I was looking for.
The rope around his neck tightened as he moved forward. When he could get no closer, he pushed the lighter towards me. Sitting down, he looked at me with those intelligent eyes.
“What are you up to?” I didn’t trust this beast. Something was wrong, but I just didn’t know what it was. The lighter was about a metre from Fenris, so he wouldn’t be able to slice me in two with the sword between his jaws or grab me with his massive paws. It seemed like the lighter was mine for the taking, but I didn’t like it. It was too easy. Why would he give up his bargaining chip? Did he expect me to be all noble and help him out after I had the lighter?
The wolf didn’t move. He just sat there and looked at me.
I considered my options. I could turn around and go back to Freyja without the lighter. If she threw a hissy fit because I didn’t finish the job, she was more than welcome to retrieve the lighter herself. I’m sure the prospect of tangling with the mighty Fenris would be just her thing.
I looked at the little piece of colourful plastic between Fenris and me.
My second option was to throw caution to the wind and try to get the lighter. The downside, of course, was that Fenris might have laid a trap that I wasn’t smart enough to figure out.
I looked at the lighter. I looked at the wolf. Oh, what the hell. I had come this far, so I might as well see what fate had in store for me.
With a firm grip on my knives, I inched closer to the lighter.
Fenris kept watching me, but he still didn’t move. It was unnerving as hell.
Never taking my eyes off him, I knelt and picked up the lighter. Nothing happened. I got up and quickly put my hard-earned treasure in my breast pocket, knives still at the ready. I started to back away, but before I reached safety, the wolf jumped up and twisted around.
His jaws might have been unable to reach me, but his massive body still could. Something I hadn’t thought of until I saw his massive ass coming towards me like a furry high-speed train.
He slammed into my side, and I was thrown across the room where I hit the wall a second later.
I didn’t have time to think about the blinding pain because I had ended up in a corner where Fenris could reach me, and he was coming straight at me, sword between his jaws and a feverish look of victory in his eyes.
My knives were gone, so I raised my hands and grabbed the only thing that was between me and some big-ass teeth. The sword dug into my palms, and pain exploded in my hands. Luckily, the sword was ancient, and age had made the blade dull. I might lose some skin, but for now, my hands would stay attached to my arms.
A pissed-off snarl showered me in hot saliva, and I was pinned against the stone. The string kept him from crushing me like a puny insect, but it still allowed him enough room to keep some serious pressure on me. I was trapped and there was nowhere to go.
Blood was running down my arms, and I was struggling to breathe past the pain. Everything hurt. Something had to give. I couldn’t keep him at bay forever, and he knew it.
My arms were shaking, and I could feel the strength leave them. Any second now, I would become a very dead P.I.
Inside me, something seemed to realise the danger and a familiar pressure began to build. A new kind of alarm burst through me. My curse was waking up.
“No, no, no.” I needed to shut it down before it broke free and made everything worse. I needed to calm down. I needed to think of my happy place.
With a furious snarl, Fenris pulled his head back and yanked the sword out of my hands. His yellow eyes watched me in triumph as he dived in with all his strength behind him to slice me in two with the sword.
I raised my hands in one last effort to stop him.
An explosion of blinding light was the last thing I saw before I was thrown across the room. A second pressure wave hit a moment later, and I was showered in gravel and dust.
Pain was everywhere. It was all consuming, but so was the relief. The pressure from the curse had vanished, and though every muscle was drained and achy, inside me there was only quiet. The burning feeling of magic had subsided, leaving me bruised but breathing.
Next to me lay a bloody sword. It looked oddly familiar, but before I had a chance to remember where I had seen it before, a big shape emerged from the cloud of dust.
One free Fenris wolf was looking around the room. The silk string was still around his neck, but it was no longer attached to anything. The rock that had kept the wolf tied up was gone. Completely obliterated. To make matters worse, his jaws were no longer locked with the sword.
I held my breath and slowly reached out to grab the only weapon I could reach. I must have made some kind of sound because his yellow eyes fixed on me with deadly intent. One bloodcurdling howl towards the ceiling was my only warning. Fenris came storming my way like a nightmarish hellhound.
Without taking my eyes of the wolf, I grabbed the sword and swung it with everything I had. It connected, and a pain filled cry told me that I had hit my mark hard enough to wound. Not wasting any time, I got up and ran towards the door. The thick dust coated the inside of my mouth and made it hard to breathe, but I kept going. A chilling howl behind me spurred me on.
Getting to the door, preferably in one piece, was the only thing on my mind.
I spotted Freyja’s cloak and was tempted to leave it, but it was probably my fastest way out of this crazy place.
Without slowing down, I grabbed the cloak. The swooshing sound of jaws closing just behind me made me throw myself at the open door.
I hit the hard stone floor just outside the room and only stopped a second to slam the door shut.
Not waiting to see if the magical lock could keep a furious Fenris wolf at bay, I threw the cloak over myself and thought of a falcon. In a split second, the world disappeared.
Darkness. Darkness and sounds of danger. Howling. Howling close by. Need to get to safety. Quick! Quick! Eyes see small patch of light. Light is life. Get to light. Up, up, up through narrow space. Wings almost too big. Poor, poor wings. Feathers ripped away. Pain. Need to keep going. Get away from howling. Get to safety. Up, up, up narrow space. Light gets brighter. Safety, freedom. Up, up, up until narrow space disappear. Beautiful lights in dark sky. Freedom! Life!
All of a sudden, I went from flying towards the stars to falling like a stone. The cloak was ripped away from me by the wind before I had a chance to cope with the sudden change. My poor brain was struggling to process everything, but it had managed to pick up on the fact that I would be hitting a concrete floor in the next couple of seconds.
I had nothing to break the fall. Even if I landed on my feet, the drop would shatter my bones. What to do? Think, Ying, think!
I remembered my backpack and quickly flipped in the air. It might just break my fall enough not to kill me on impact. It was a crappy chance, but it was the only one I had. Protecting my head with my arms, I closed my eyes and braced myself. This was going to hurt so much.
A pair of muscular arms caught me before I became a pile of broken, human goo on the dirty floor.
Huh? I looked up at a dark-haired stranger with the bluest eyes I had ever seen. The rest of him was pretty good-looking too. A pair of high cheekbones and some full lips were balanced by a strong, square jaw.
“Thanks.” It came out a bit breathless. The sudden stop had knocked the wind out of me.
The stranger gave me a brilliant smile; his blue eyes sparkling with humour. “You’re welcome.” There was a faint accent in his voice, but I couldn’t place it. He started to say something else, but the sound of footsteps in the darkness made him look away.
“Let her go.”
“Honestly, Freyja. You’re exploiting this poor human to do your bidding. Will you ever change?”
Stepping into the light from the pale stars above, Freyja glared at him with fire in her eyes. “Not likely. But then I guess you’ll never stop being such an ass.”
I tried to disentangle myself from the guy’s warm embrace, but he locked his arms around me. “Not so fast little bird. I need the thing you just stole from the chamber.”
“What she stole back, you mean. Let her go, Loki. Unharmed.”