by Doc Quantum, CSyphrett and Libbylawrence
In Stockholm, Sweden, a pretty blonde woman had awakened from an uneasy sleep in the middle of the night. Britta Sundin was normally an early riser, as her years as an actress on Swedish television had conditioned her to get up early in order to rush off to the studio for hair and make-up work. She yawned, stretched, and smiled slightly as she imagined what the weekly tabloids would do with photos of her at this hour. They’d probably claim her good looks were due to special effects, she thought, smiling.
She slipped out of bed and wrapped a pink robe over her white nightgown. She left her husband asleep in their bed as she quietly made her way down the hall to see their young daughter, who was also sleeping. She smiled as she looked down at little Annika, who at eleven months and two weeks was nearly a year old now.
Britta entered the brightly painted nursery. A colorful mural covered one wall and part of the roof. She and Alvar had decorated the room themselves, but her husband had done most of the work. As a renowned artist, Alvar possessed a similar amount of talent for painting that Britta had for acting.
She bent low over the crib and gazed down at her daughter, feeling her heart beating faster, while her breathing became shallower as she felt a cold chill of panic. What would happen to little Annika if a deranged fan — like a man who had stalked her a few years ago — somehow abducted their baby? She shuddered and prayed softly, trying not to envision their precious little baby in the clutches of a fiend.
The young mother shook her head firmly in an attempt to remove the vision from her mind. It was becoming more and more difficult for her to justify being a mother and an actress at the same time. She and Alvar had the conversation before. What little strife existed between the couple came about because of their chosen careers. She had originally wanted to resume her acting career when her one-year maternity leave was over as of next month, especially since they needed her second income, but now she wanted nothing more than the ability to provide the child with security. She would stay at home to take care of Annika instead of returning to work, if she could persuade Alvar to agree.
As Britta pondered the possibilities that might plague their little baby, Alvar rushed into the room and took her arm. “Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked, concern on his face. “Can’t you sleep? Is it the baby?” As a new father, Alvar was still anxious about their child’s safety. Even though his anxiety sometimes made him overprotective, he was a good man and knew the call of selfless duty that formed such a large part of being a parent.
Britta took his hand and said, “We’re fine, and we’re going to be fine. But I’m serious about staying home. I want to be Britta Sundin, wife and mother, not star of the small screen.”
“I understand,” said Alvar, “and you can rely on me to be there for you both.”
Britta said, “I know you mean it this time, but at the first sign of financial trouble you’ll be asking me to go back to work.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” said Alvar, smiling. “If we get behind on the bills again, I’ll just find a part-time job.”
Britta frowned and gazed into his eyes. “Will you be able to adjust to this change? You so loved having the time to concentrate on your art.”
Alvar smiled and said, “Britta, I started wondering how this would all end two years ago, and one thing came to me. It was when I first learned you were pregnant with our daughter. I didn’t know the baby’s gender just yet. I didn’t know what he or she would be like. I’d never held her. I’d never seen her. All I knew was that I loved her. Well, that’s why I can say that it doesn’t matter if the baby means that my days as an artist are history or not. I love her all the same, and I’m going to make her happy and show her the kind of love I always wished I’d had as a child.”
She kissed him and said, “I love you so much, honey. You’re a good husband and a great dad.”
In Britain, Jock o’ Kent ran into Liverpool, where his remarkable wizard senses had told him that another false figure of myth had appeared. He hoped Edward Constant wasn’t in serious trouble, or he would be getting his just desserts on this night. And there was also the Prince of Wales to find, but he figured that problem would probably work itself out somehow without his help. The Welshman decided he would handle one thing at a time, and as he raced through the wind blown streets, he knew he was facing a big problem indeed. A thirty-foot-tall giant with a single eye was standing in the middle of the city, while torrential rain and winds scoured the asphalt and buildings around him.
“You! Hey, you!” shouted Jock, trying to get his attention. “You’re not welcome here!”
The giant rested a redwood of a club on one shoulder as he examined modern Britain. He did not look pleased to see the hero. “Have you come to challenge mighty Balor?” boomed the giant, smiling with shark-like teeth.
“For someone with such big ears, you are hard of hearing,” said Jock. “Get out of Britain immediately.”
“Why should I listen to you, midget?” boomed Balor. “Am I not king of the Fomorians? I go where I will.”
“We’ll see about that,” said Jock, gritting his teeth in anger as he strode forward.
The two combatants came together with a mighty crash that rattled windows up and down the street. Balor realized he should have called his followers to join him. Now it was too late. The Fomorian giant swung with his club, but Jock smashed the weapon in two with one blow as he strode forward. He picked up a broken end and smashed his foe in the leg. Balor hopped up and down for a second as Jock swung the staff against the other leg. The one-eyed giant went down to his knees.
Jock o’ Kent seized Balor’s head in a lock and began to strike quick but powerful punches to Balor’s face with the other hand. With each punch, he said a word in a sentence: “Don’t–” WHACK! “–come–” WHACK! “–back–” WHACK! “–here–” WHACK! “–again–” WHACK! “–because–” WHACK! “–you–” WHACK! “–are–” WHACK! “–not–” WHACK! “–welcome–” WHACK! “–in–” WHACK! “–Britain!”
The hero released the dazed giant to drop on the ground, then executed a flying uppercut to Balor’s chin. The giant somersaulted over a lorry, crashing down on the other side of it. Jock watched as the unconscious, thirty-foot-tall giant shrank into the form of a five-foot-tall lorry driver.
The rain stopped as Jock waved smoke from his hands. “First Amazons, then a demon lord, and now a Fomorian giant,” he muttered. “What’s next? A pack o’ bloody unicorns?”
Back at the ranch in Bavaria, Jack Bicci heard something while he slept that had made him snap awake, aware of his surroundings. A small sound like a cow snuffling came to his keen senses.
He jumped out of bed, pulling on his shoes before stepping out of his window, ensuring he remained quiet so he wouldn’t wake Wesley Ajax, who was sleeping alone in the room across the hall. He stood on the porch roof, letting his vision adjust. When he was ready, he jumped off the porch and walked along warily to where the cows had been corralled. He knew Wesley’s beast was out here somewhere with him.
Jack heard a claw scrape on the gravel drive. He turned softly, waiting for the creature to make the first move. It didn’t fear him as a normal animal would. He sensed that as it gently padded toward where he stood. He saw it finally, a dark form crouching against the lighter driveway. It seemed to be glaring at him as he watched it.
The former Sinistro watched his adversary quietly. It was a strange beast and looked deformed and unnatural. It glared at him angrily with almost-human eyes, and Jack could tell it was going to attack, so he fell into a guarded position. The thing somewhat resembled a lion but had a strangely shaped head that looked eerily human. It had three rows of sharp teeth like a shark, its paws seemed to be equipped with retractable claws, and the end of its tail was covered by sharp spiky quills. Jack couldn’t quite make out the color of the coat in the dim light, but the way it shifted in the available light made him think it was reddish. Based on the description, he knew what it was. It was a legendary creature known as the manticore.
The creature leaped at him, claws extended for rending and tearing. Jack traced its flight, stepping out of the way before it connected and avoiding its spiky tail. He swung the edge of his hand against its neck before it could twist around in midair and try to bite him. It landed in a roll, gaining its feet in an instant.
An odd sound vibrated in the air before the combatants could renew the fight. The manticore raced off with a strange humanlike huffing. Jack chased after it, barely keeping it in sight as it plunged across the ranch. He wondered where it was going.
Soon it slipped out of sight, and Jack Bicci stopped his pursuit to examine the unusual track left behind from his quarry. He determined that he was still going the right way and kept on the indicated direction until he lost the visual clues that had guided him. The manticore had vanished just like the other times. This time was different, though, because Jack was not an ordinary man and would not be put off when he was so close.
He closed his eyes, concentrating on his other senses. He began mentally cataloguing what he smelled and heard, sorting them into what to follow and what to dismiss. He heard a squeak that seemed out of place, and then a familiar chemical smell drifted to him.
Jack began following the scent, tracking it through the heavily wooded area that led onto the neighboring property of Wesley Ajax’s ranch. He had failed to identify the odor through his olfactory senses alone, but it seemed similar to ammonia. Something else was present in the smell, but he had no idea what.
Suddenly the scent stopped. Jack paused, standing still in order to concentrate. A faint scrabbling sound came to him. He bent down and examined the ground ahead, soon discovering a small hole the size of a gopher. He thought he saw movement inside the hole, but it was gone before he could focus on it properly.
So the manticore had the ability to shrink when it was done with its attacks, he reasoned. All that was left now was to find out who did it and why. Jack was sure that the beast had somehow been created by someone and was not merely an undiscovered natural creature. There was definitely a mind behind the animal slaughter. Otherwise the manticore would have attacked the neighbor’s property, too, since it was closer to the lair and easier for the thing to escape under cover in case someone saw it. He decided to wait until daylight before seeking his answers.
The home of Alvar and Britta Sundin in Stockholm, Sweden, was a typical small house. Britta’s income through acting had largely made such a home possible, since Alvar had always struggled to bring in a good income through his painting career, which had been faring poorly because of his lack of inspiration over the last few months.
Still, Alvar was persistent, and he tried to use bouts of insomnia to his advantage. After Britta had gone back to bed upstairs, Alvar began working in his artist’s studio in the basement, where he listened to late night radio while dabbling with an artistic experiment on a blank canvas.
Suddenly, a huge figure appeared before him, and Alvar gasped as he saw a large, muscular blonde man wearing a form-fitting blue suit standing directly in front of him. Although at first glance he seemed to be human, there was something distorted and alien about him. “Wh-who are you?” he asked, terribly startled.
The strange figure smiled and said, “Be calm. I am the Super-Wizard. I have come from outer space to offer you a chance to be a hero and champion the fight for justice.”
Alvar was speechless for a few moments, before he finally said, “I must be dreaming. A-are you kidding me?”
“I can assure you that I am not and this is no dream,” said the Super-Wizard. “My ray-scans of your mind have shown me that you are a good man who would use these powers to fight for justice wherever you may.”
“But you must have the wrong man,” said Alvar. “I’m just an artist. I wouldn’t know the first thing about being an action-hero. My brother Max is a government official who knows more about this country’s social issues than I — why don’t you bestow the power on him?”
“I chose you because of your own worth,” said the Super-Wizard. “You are an artist, a man with imagination, which is a necessary quality in a hero. Your chosen career also gives you the time to devote to saving lives and fighting injustice wherever you find it. Can your brother say the same?”
“Well, no — his career seems to keep him busier than anyone else I know,” said Alvar. “But as far as my being an artist, I’ve been coming up dry for months now. If I can’t even find enough inspiration to create a single decent painting, then how could you expect me to have the imagination you say I’d need as an action-hero?”
“The inspiration will come,” replied the Super-Wizard. “A mind like yours will find it quite impossible for creative inspiration to elude you once you attain the ability to soar through the clouds on a whim.”
Alvar was struck by the picturesque image. He seemed to drift away as he considered the artistic possibilities such an opportunity would give him. He could paint anything in the world, he realized, and possibly even anything in the universe, with all of creation as his model.
Then reality suddenly hit him once more. “But I’m a father. My daughter needs me. How could I possibly justify soaring off into the clouds when I should be working to pay for my baby daughter’s food?”
“What your daughter needs is a hero, Mr. Sundin,” said the Space-Wizard. “I am offering you the chance to be one.” The strange figure pulled out a small pendant shaped like an ancient hammer. As the visitor placed the pendant around Alvar’s neck, the artist recognized it as a representation of the fabled hammer Mjollnir, and his heart skipped a beat.
“When you have made your decision, use this pendant,” said the Space-Wizard. “Use it to become Thor, god of thunder.”
The alien being seemed to flicker away, and Alvar found himself alone in his studio once more. Had it all been a dream? Even before he reached for his neck and found the pendant, he knew that it had all been real. He also knew that he would use it when the right time came.