by Libbylawrence and Doc Quantum
In a small house in Stockholm, Sweden, Alvar Sundin was busy at work on a painting in his studio. After the visitation from the being called the Super-Wizard, the artist had been inspired to paint a scene straight out of a celestial vision that had come to him in a dream that very night. Although it wasn’t yet complete, the large canvas before him displayed a painting he had been feverishly working on of a golden city in the clouds. Perhaps, he thought to himself, he could sell it to Omni or a science-fiction magazine like Asimov’s. It would certainly make a great front cover. He smiled at the thought that his artistic dry spell might now be over.
Alvar was startled as he heard his wife scream, and he quickly ran upstairs. He rushed to Britta’s side and saw as she looked toward the empty crib.
“Britta, where’s Annika?” he asked, panic rising. “Where’s our daughter?”
He followed her line of sight and stared at the corner of the room in terror. There a small, net-like ball of leaves and branches was suspended above the ground over a wooden tree stalk rooted in the floor. Judging by the discarded mattress, blankets, and bits of metal around it, the cocoon-like tree had apparently grown itself from the little girl’s wooden-framed crib. The two could hear the same soft breathing that they already knew came from their young daughter.
“Annika is in that thing, Alvar,” Britta Sundin said as she moved forward and gently touched the leafy sack. “She’s alive, but something has her!”
Dazed by this unexpected development, Alvar stumbled forward to get a better look at the frightening sight. He gasped as he examined the leafy cocoon, believing that in some strange way the magic talisman he wore had brought this about. He had worn it since the Super-Wizard had given it to him, telling him that he could use it to become a hero named Thor, god of thunder. He realized with a sickening feeling of horror that this potential blessing could actually have been a curse. The power that could make him more than human had cursed their toddler to be less than human.
“Britta, she’s OK,” he said, panic in his voice. “She’s got to be. Maybe… maybe it’s something… I don’t know… something natural that did this. She might even have somehow created it herself. I think she… she might be more than human.”
“What in the world are you talking about?!” Britta screamed. “We’ve got to get her out! We’ve got to!” Frantically clawing away at the leaves and branches with her hands, she revealed their daughter’s soft pink skin beneath it and wept with relief as she brought the little girl to her in an embrace. “It’s OK. It’s OK. Mama’s here.”
Tears running down her face, she almost didn’t notice her husband’s shocked expression. Britta quickly placed the girl on the ground and looked at her from head to toe. She saw no damage, but she did see quite a change in their young daughter. Annika was not yet a year old, but she had grown taller and was heavier than she had been only an hour ago.
“Sh-she looks older,” said Alvar. “She was somehow changed in that tree cocoon and emerged from it much older. It’s as if our little girl is aging rapidly. We have to get help.”
Britta nodded as tears began flowing freely from her eyes. Alvar fell to his knees and cradled his wife and their child, frantically wondering what medical science could possibly do to stop what was obviously arcane magic.
Traveling through the countryside of West Germany by pickup truck, Jack Bicci and Wesley Ajax made their way into Munich, where they swiftly reached a scene of chaos. A small crowd had gathered across the street from a row of policemen and paramedics. The old building in question was a small martial arts center.
“Dona works there after school,” explained Wesley. “She’s a whiz at judo and other Oriental fighting arts. I guess I started her off early. Seeing how Sally and I had to deal with my injuries, we just couldn’t stand the thought of her being unable to defend herself, since she never inherited my great strength. Of course, she long ago moved far past my own level of fighting skill. You could say she’s an independent girl.”
Jack glanced up at the Krueger School of Martial Arts and saw the police surrounding a powerful man who had a long beard and wore an outfit of fur and leather and a winged helmet crowning his head. “That fellow with the Viking complex seems to be the source of the problem,” he said to Wes. “Looks like he rampaged straight through the school, judging by the path of damage.”
A tall, dark-haired girl of sixteen rushed out of the crowd to greet them. “Dad!” she cried. “That clown literally smashed through the wall in the middle of class. He started demanding that we send forth our best warrior. We evacuated the kids while a couple of the teachers tried to occupy him, but he just plowed through them like they were nothing.”
Wesley set aside his crutches to embrace her and said, “Dona, this is Jack Bicci. I think I’ve told you about him before. He came out to help us with the attacks on our cattle and was still here when you called. He’ll settle this joker’s hash.”
Dona Ajax rolled her eyes with the supreme look of contempt that only a teenager could muster. “This is ‘Sinistro, Boy Fiend’?” she said. “Looks more like some Vegas lounge singer.”
Jack Bicci chuckled and said, “Hey, I’ve been known to do a mean Wayne Newton in the shower. Seriously, though, let me try to calm our Nordic friend before he harms anyone. He might look like nothing more than a misguided man in a costume, but there’s something strange about him.”
“Want some help, Jack?” asked Wesley. “He looks like a tough customer.”
“I’ve handled tougher customers, Wes,” said Jack. “But I appreciate the back-up if I need it.”
He rushed forward, and the police parted in his wake. His look and firm tone of command combined to give him far more authority than the cynical Dona could admit to. “Officers, I am Jack Sinistro Bicci, owner of Wunderkind International. Allow me to talk to our excited friend in the furs.”
The two officers he addressed seemed stunned by his celebrity. “J-Jack Bicci?” said the younger officer. “The billionaire?”
The older one said, “That Viking over there left Polizeimeister Grunewald battered and stunned when he tried to halt his charge.” He pointed at a police officer to one side receiving medical treatment.
The Viking-styled villain saw Jack Bicci and smiled. “At last — you send forth one worthy of battle,” he roared. “The Norns shall sing of this day when noble Tyr, god of war, visited Midgard once more.”
Jack saw how the other man’s brute strength had allowed him to toss men around like rag dolls, and he sensed his otherworldly nature. “Tyr, you dope! You idiot! You shame yourself by doing battle with mere mortals,” he said. “Why, none of these guys deserves a place in Valhalla, and you risk your own right to the praise of the Skalds by such petty spite.”
Tyr frowned. “Aye? Perhaps you speak the truth. Still, I reckon you to be worthy of the gift of peril and bloodshed.” He raised a small, round-headed mace and swung it at the dapperly dressed Jack Bicci, who evaded the mace using his mini-jets to fly above the bigger man even as he turned to grapple with him.
Jack knew that he was no physical match for this misplaced Asgardian, and instead avoided his attack in order to try a few subtle tricks of his own. He twisted through the air once more, barely managing to evade the other man’s arms as he landed on the ground a few feet away. “Tyr, you bore me,” he said with a mocking tone he had once reserved only for action-heroes. “Surely a son of Odin can do better. Oh, well. I guess your reputation must be just as mythical as you are.”
Tyr growled menacingly and brought the mace down to the ground. It shattered the floor, and a gaping hole opened up before him, widening and threatening to swallow up Jack until he took to the air once more.
The genius-level inventor spotted something beneath the rubble and grinned. Spreading his dark blue opera cloak over the rubble, he laughed in a scornful tone and said, “Tyr, Tyr, Tyr. Perhaps you should beg leave from Odin to allow you to join the ranks of his handmaidens, for you are surely no longer worthy to count yourself among the male warriors.”
Tyr’s dark eyes seemed to cloud over as he heard the taunts, and he roared in fury. It was exactly this kind of Berserker fury that Jack had hoped to raise from the would-be god. He waited and then hurled himself away with his mini-jets as the angry Asgardian god smashed into the pile of rubble covered by the opera cloak, only to receive a massive shock from below. He staggered for a moment, sparks dancing around him, before crashing to the ground. Tyr groaned in pain, and then his very appearance began to rapidly alter until he turned into a much smaller bald man in a suit.
“That’s Herr Krueger!” said a surprised Dona Ajax, rushing forward to see the man’s face. “He runs the school. How’d he turn into that bozo?”
Wesley followed in his crutches and said, “Krueger is no madman. My guess is he’s a victim of something beyond his control.” He turned to look at Jack. “How’d you beat him, anyway?
Jack bent over the groaning man. “It was a gamble. If he had been more than a poor mortal wearing the assumed power of a god, I could never have beaten him as I did. As for how, it was when I spotted sparks under the rubble that I realized Tyr had uncovered the wiring in the floor. Waging that a well-placed dodge would put an end to the battle before it could really begin, I covered up the sparks with my cape and goaded him into striking me at that precise spot, then jumped out of the way at the last second. You saw the result. But I’ve got to say that the real Tyr — if such a god actually existed — would have laughed at my efforts. Still, there’s no doubt that Krueger was somehow draped in authentic magic. I wonder if the appearance of this god of myth has anything to do with the mythical manticore of Doctor Diabolique. This might not end up having any connection with your cattle problems, Wes, but I think it’s a more urgent problem.”
Dona stared at him with a look of wonder and affection. It was clear that the spirited girl’s opinion of the dashing Jack Bicci had greatly changed after witnessing him in action.
“Right,” said Wes. “What now?”
Jack grinned. “Now we try to learn how this occurred. We also find out if something like this has happened elsewhere.”
In Stockholm, Alvar and Britta Sundin had hosted several guests in their home since little Annika had begun to age rapidly over the last several hours. Friends and family had come to offer any thread of hope of a possible cure for their girl’s condition. All of them offered plenty of compassion, but nothing they did helped. They could do little but pray.
The couple had taken Annika to a clinic to see their family doctor, but he just shook his head in confusion at the sight of the not-so-little girl, who looked several years older than the last time he had seen her. After a number of tests showed inconclusive results and offered no clues for the reason behind the unnatural growth spurt, he had thrown his hands up in the air and told them, “Mr. and Mrs. Sundin, I’m completely stumped. This goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my medical career.”
Out of desperation, the Sundins had finally used the media to seek help far and wide from psychics and those well-versed in magic. At a very late hour that night, the couple found themselves sitting alone across from two very unique people, a man and a woman. Each were familiar with strange situations such as these, yet each had different resources to call upon and conducted business much differently from the other.
The woman was about fifty and exotically beautiful, with Romani features and raven-black long hair unmarred by any sign of gray. She was a clairvoyant called Zaza the Mystic, the New York-based Queen of the Gypsies, and she had traveled with her husband Bob Nelson to Europe to visit with family over the approaching Christmas holidays. Strangely enough, she was already in Stockholm visiting Bob’s distant Swedish relatives when the Sundins appealed for help on television. Zaza arrived almost as soon as the appeal aired, and the clairvoyant explained that she had known from a dream that she would be needed by the young couple. Using a crystal ball that bathed the now-twelve-year-old child in a glow of refracted light, Zaza the Mystic spoke in hushed tones and concentrated until beads of sweat broke out on her brow.
“My friends,” the woman said, “your child’s affliction is indeed due to a mystical influence also encountered by several others in recent days. She will, in fact, undergo a transformation that can only be stopped by that selfsame magic… or perhaps something much like it.”
The stocky, bear-like man wearing an antique-looking suit next to her had thick dark hair and a beard. Baron Weirwulf had traveled all the way from his castle in the small village of Vlk in the Balkans, where he was the curator of the famed haunted library. “What she means,” the Baron growled impatiently as he looked at the girl’s father, “is that your talisman might save the girl.”
Alvar was stunned. He had not thought anyone else had even seen it, since he had locked it away in his studio. “Y-you mean my pendant?”
“Oh, don’t look so surprised,” said the Baron in a bombastic tone of voice. “Why, any fool with half a brain could sense its presence in this house before even stepping one foot through the door. I don’t know where you got it, young man, but its magic is powerful. Oh, it may not have caused your daughter’s rapid aging — that appears to be part of a larger magical trend as of late — but it certainly interfered with it, and possibly even amplified it. As far as I can see, you only have two options left to you. Either you let nature take its course and watch as your daughter might very well live out her full life in a matter of mere days, or you use the talisman and combat one magic with another.”
Britta exchanged a worried glance with her husband. “What is he talking about, Alvar? What pendant do you mean?”
“I’ll explain everything in a moment, honey,” he replied, then leaped to his feet and ran down to his studio. Moments later, he was back with the Mjollnir-shaped pendant, which he held up to show the others as he began speaking. “I was given this a few days ago by a strange being calling himself the Super-Wizard, but I almost forgot about it when our daughter started aging. The Baron’s right about everything. This little hammer on a necklace is supposed to be a powerful talisman capable of transformation. But I can’t possibly know what effect it will have on me, let alone our daughter.”
Alvar Sundin smiled and kissed the little girl and Britta, who looked at him with a scowl for keeping a secret like this from her. He placed the pendant around Annika’s small neck, then Alvar placed Mjollnir between his forefinger and thumb and began lightly brushing it, willing the transformative spell to happen. On some level, he had known this was their only hope.
In a few moments, the pendant began to glow brightly, and a light shone from it, revealing runic symbols previously hidden in the metal. The air became charged, and a distant sound of thunder could be heard. Britta and Alvar looked at each other in wonder.
At that moment, a bright flash of lightning, accompanied by a loud clap of thunder, struck the father and his daughter there in the living room. Britta Sundin, Zaza the Mystic, and Baron Weirwulf shielded themselves from the bright glare. When they opened their eyes once more, they saw two tall, shadowy figures standing in the midst of a billow of smoke. When it cleared, they saw something even more astonishing.
Little Annika had been transformed into a full-grown woman with long, golden hair trailing down below her knees. She wore a long white cloak fringed with gold that reached to the ground and had a gold band around her head. Around her delicate neck was a shining broad necklace that seemed to shimmer like a flame. She was stunningly beautiful and looked from all appearances like a goddess from Norse myth.
Standing next to her was a tall, blond, bare-chested, muscular man wearing a blue horned helmet, dark blue breeches, and blue boots, and in his right hand was a larger version of the hammer on the pendant. His face resembled that of Alvar Sundin, but he looked much stronger and more chiseled. Although he did not have the famous red hair and beard of the figure from Norse myth, he appeared to be the mighty Thor, god of thunder.
Britta fell to her knees and wept uncontrollably. Her little girl was gone forever, she feared, and now her husband was, too.