No World For Tomorrow - Scion
The Amazon, Or How Meja Met Sydney
Meja woke up as the wheels hit the tarmac at the Val de Cans International Airport in Belém. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she looked out on the familiar city and smiled; it was good to be home. Or at least close to it. She’d been to Belém many times over the years, her family had even come here on vacation once or twice when she was a kid.
But this was a working trip, not a vacation. As soon as they were permitted, she and her crew hopped out of their seats and started unloading their gear. Cameras, more cameras, tripods, fishing poles, cameras, backpacking equipment, and, you guessed it, more cameras were pulled out of overhead bins or extracted from the belly of the plane. Meja was fairly bouncing on her toes by the time the arduous and exactingly detailed process was finished.
She understood- indeed, she insisted upon- taking one’s time and making sure everything was just so when people’s lives were at stake, but the exacting nature of the care and feeding of camera equipment had always felt like a waste of time to her. It didn’t help that they were technically behind schedule; they’d been supposed to arrive yesterday but a storm over the city had delayed flights. Now the boys weren’t going to get their last night in a real bed and one last hot shower before they hit the river. Besides, couldn’t they do the umpteenth check of the equipment while she was trying to find their guide on the docks? It was boiling hot out here. She wouldn’t dream of complaining about the heat on the African savannah, but why fry in the sun on acres of concrete if you didn’t have to?
But no, the Sacred Rite of the Cameras must be performed immediately and perfectly. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, willing herself not to lose her temper at how long it was taking. Again.
They baked in the sun for a good hour or so until everyone had everything they needed and were certain 10 times over that nothing had been broken. The ‘taxi’ was packed and ready to cart them to the docks, and as the stripped down, rusted old bus took off Meja could tell today wasnt going to be normal. Something hung in the air heavier than even the humidity… Fate was watching.
When the crew arrived at the docks, one bumpy, rump bruising ride later, Meja instantly saw their guide. He was in his mid forties and a foot shorter than Meja was, but his snaggle toothed smile was the same as ever. Alih had been her guide her first time through the Amazon, and after she’d saved him from a misstep and certain doom off a waterfall, he’d sworn he’d be her guide any time she needed him.
However standing next to him was a woman Meja didn’t recognize. She was fair skinned and freckled, her dark hair braided around her head and she looked utterly miserable in the sun as she swatted at the bugs pestering her. The smell of sunscreen and Alih’s personal smell almost covered the faint scent of mead and fire over the slight breeze. Whoever this young woman was, she was a Scion. Of the Aesir no less.
Meja greeted Alih with a hug as usual, grinning and bantering with him in rapid-fire Spanish for a second before she greeted the newcomer with a smile. “Meja Espinosa, pleased to meet you. You a friend of Alih’s?”
Boy she hoped that whatever Fate had in store was just this woman. Appearances could be deceiving, but she didn’t look like she meant any harm.
“Sort of,” the woman said in a cultured European accent with a wince and offered her hand to shake. “I’m Sydney Lawson. I’m the emergency medical specialist. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She looked utterly miserable, but her smile was genuine.
“Not a fan of bugs and heat, huh? Well, this is going to be an interesting trip for you, I’m afraid,” Meja said with a sympathetic smile as she accepted Sydney’s handshake. “Don’t worry, Alih and I are pretty good at keeping the bugs at bay. Welcome to the team.” She turned to Alih and nodded, that being all the communication the old friends needed to communicate that it was time to get shit in the boats. The camera crew was already filming; just B-reel stuff, so she mostly ignored them as she, Alih, his assistants and the unoccupied crew members started schlepping bags into the narrow boats ubiquitous to the river.
Sydney was pulled aside by the producer, a short, slightly rotund man with curly hair and glasses in his khaki and wide brimmed hat to make sure she’d signed all the releases for television. She was going to be mostly off camera and only there for emergencies, so hopefully not needed, but there was still paperwork to be signed.
Once everyone was ready, Filming began in earnest and the camera turned to Meja for her to begin explaining where they were going, why and what she was going to be doing on this episode.
Meja turned to the camera with a smile and began her spiel, which she’d composed and rehearsed on the flight before her nap. Imagining an eager kid sitting on his couch, leaning forward, she explained to that boy how excited she was to be back in the Amazon, and how beautiful and dangerous an environment it was. “We’re here to meet the indigenous peoples of the region, to learn their tricks and strategies for surviving in such a wild land. When I can, I always try to seek out local knowledge when entering unfamiliar terrain. The local tribes have been living and thriving in these forests for thousands of years, and nobody knows more about what we’ll encounter than they do. Even superstition can hold a grain of truth that might save your life. Let’s find out what they can teach us.”
The director called cut as Meja climbed into Alih’s boat, and she sighed with a wry smile. It wasn’t her favorite part of the job, the pageantry and hyperbole, but it beat the pants off a desk job.
Sydney was in the same boat, seemed that she’d been instructed to keep an eye behind them for the crew who was less experienced than Meja, though that didn’t mean they were incompetent. Though Meja and Alih were the only ones in front of the camera, no one was filming her just then. The lead cameraman was of course with them as well, the four of them the only ones that could fit in the boat with the camera gear, and he was filming scenery, no sound.
“So tell me,” Sydney asked Meja, seemingly in relief to be moving on the water where it was a touch cooler and bug didn’t bother as much. “Where are you from?”
“Campeche, Mexico,” she answered with a smile over her shoulder. “I grew up there my whole life. It’s a similar ecosystem to here, at least, so it kind of feels like home. What about you?”
“Olso, Norway,” she said with a fond smile. “My father had a shipping company there. My mother is English, so I spent a significant amount of my childhood in London as well, by my heart and roots lie in Oslo.”
“Nice! No wonder you don’t like the heat,” Meja said with a laugh. “I think my mom’s from somewhere near there. I’ll have to ask her again. Is this your first time up the Amazon?”
Wilting a little around the edges, Sydney looked around her as is looking for something positive that she could find to comment upon. “Yes. Well… for more than just a stopover, yes. My husband and I have been through but not… well neither of us like Equatorial weather. We’re both from Norway, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to him. He hates hot weather more than I do.”
“Hah. Well, don’t worry, I’ll show you the ropes.” She bit her tongue against asking more… personal questions. Anything to do with the Aesir and reasons as to why another Scion would’ve wound up on what was supposed to be a completely mundane film shoot would have to wait until and unless they could find a private moment to talk. “I have a feeling we’re all going to be glad you’re along by the end of this, Amazon virgin or no.”
Sydney chuckled and pulled out a cellphone in waterproof casing. Meja had been enough places to recognize a satellite cell when she saw it. They were expensive, but they worked anywhere in the world. It seemed that Sydney fired off a text message before stuffing it back in her pocket and looked back to her guide. “My husband will find that phrase exceedingly amusing,” she said and winked. “And I’m happy to be of help. In anything… unexpected that may occur,” she added giving Meja a look that said she was on the same page. The weight of Fate’s eye had not lifted, and Meja could see that Sydney also seemed to be aware of it.
“Good to know. By the way, when I give Barsky an earful about finding me a greenhorn medic, I’m giving him a hard time. I’m not worried about you at all, but busting his balls is both a respected tradition and an entertaining spectator sport,” she explained with a wink. “Definitely popcorn-worthy.”
“Good to know,” Sydney said with an amused giggle. “I honestly hope that my services aren’t needed, one way or another. Just because I’m a medic doesn’t mean I like people getting injured. I do have other ways to entertain myself.”
Meja chuckled and turned her face back into the wind as the little boat sped up the massive Amazon river. “It’s always good to have hobbies. Where’d you get your training, if you don’t mind my asking? Military?”
“Red Cross,” she said with a smile. “I’ve been a volunteer for the Red Cross and the Peace Corps for over ten years now. Went to school, never got a doctorate, but I find writing papers doesn’t help people as immediately as being in the field.” Meja could tell they were getting near the point they’d be entering the rainforest, and while it would be another hour or two before they started filming, the danger would still be present. “What about you? Hobbyist?”
“Basically. I needed something to do that was impressive enough to keep Daddy happy and that would keep me out from under my brothers’ feet,” she answered. “I’ve always been drawn to a challenge, but stuff like this is my favorite. Y’know, replacing equipment with skill, that sort of thing. Hunting down a lion with a team of twenty people and a gun that shoots bullets the size of a watermelon from a mile away so fast the lion won’t even hear the shot that kills it? There’s not a lot of challenge there. Walking into the jungle with nothing but the clothes on your back and a good knife and walking out again even a day later? Now that says something about your skill and character. Speaking of which, I think that’s our takeout,” she said, pointing. “We’ll be near the river pretty much at all times. Granted, it’s hard not to be. For now, just watch where you put your feet and your hands.”
“Feet and… hands?” Sydney asked, swallowing a sudden lump in her throat.
“Snakes… and other teengs to kill you,” Alih said with his checkered grin. “Crocodiles teenk you taste good.”
“Alih, be nice,” Meja chided with a grin. “The caiman are a concern, it’s true. The thing to remember is that humans are solidly in the middle of the food chain in the Amazon.” She gave another shrug, this one apologetic. “But Alih’s right, as usual. Watch your step, look before you grab something. If you’re stumbling through the jungle and grab a Give-and-Take tree, you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
“Medicine is focused on human biology,” Sydney said, her eyes glued to the approaching shore, “Not botany or external biology. What in the name of Asgard is a Give-and-Take tree?”
“It’s a small tree that grows in the jungles here. They never get very big, but the trunk is completely swathed in poisonous thorns as long as your pinkie finger, and let me assure you they are plenty sharp. So if you grab it, it will hurt. And as I’m sure you’ve already worked out, broken skin in an environment like this is an infection waiting to happen, plus there’s the sting of the plant itself. That’s the ‘take’ part. The ‘give’ part is that the sap of the tree is a pretty damn effective painkiller and antiseptic, and is the only known antidote to the bark’s poison. Fun, huh?” Meja’s grin was large and teasing and she shared a surreptitious wink with Alih.
With a sigh as the boat came to a thump on what passed for the shore of the jungle, Sydney and Troy the camera man shared a look of exasperation and trepidation. Troy’s asnwer was to double check the rain cover on his camera, while Sydney retrieved her medical kit and messenger bag, sending off another rapid fire text before tucking her phone safely away in a zipper pocket. “Well we can’t all do Barbados, can we?” she said through a clenched teeth smile.
“We actually do have a “shipwrecked in the Pacific” episode slated for later in the season. Talk to Barsky if you want to tag along on that one. Honestly, it’s not that bad a gig as long as you can get water and shade squared away.” Meja slung a bag over each shoulder and started carrying it up the shore far enough to be out of the mud, then stumped back down to repeat the process until their trusty little boats were unloaded.
It was hot, slightly tiring work getting the boats safe and above high tide line, then moving the camera equipment where it needed to go in order to get the first part of the show filmed. One thing Meja had to give the Norwegian-English Red Cross medic was she didn’t seem to mind being outside in the wilderness (Had no issue with the lack of toilets or the mud), she seemed to just be miserable in the heat and disliked the bugs.
Meja did rib Barsky somewhat endlessly about both his clumsiness and his apparent inability to find an experienced medic, but it was all taken and given good-naturedly. It took a few takes to get everything to Troy and Barsky’s satisfaction, but once the major filming was done, most of the cameras went away and they started off up the trail with Alih up front and Meja behind him. There was nearly always a camera of some persuasion rolling, either recording Meja trucking along, or pausing to explain some bit of the local flora or fauna. By the time they were anywhere near camp, they’d already recorded enough footage to fill an hour-long episode and they hadn’t talked to a single local yet.
“Does this happen often?” Sydney asked good naturedly as she took off her boots to change out of wet socks into dry ones. She made sure there was nothing in the boots, one at a time, before tying the laces. “The whole filming far more than you need, I mean. Afraid I’m not overly familiar with the Telly business.”
“Oh, it does. When we get home, we’ll look through the footage, I’ll help Barsky string it together into a narrative that makes sense, we’ll use semi-useful bits like talking about that grasshopper a minute ago to make sure the length is right and we’ll keep the rest for some other time if it’s needed.”
Nodding politely, Sydney was looking around them and noticed for the first time since they’d met that morning, she and Meja were alone. The crew was in sight, Alih showing them some things about the jungle off to the side while a few of the camera crew got some more footage. And it seemed to not be a coincidence either. for longer than it should have taken a bird to fly over, a shadow was cast, and both Scions looked up to see a true harpy swoop over and disappear into the trees a bit off from them.
Lawson sighed. “Well, I guess that answers my next question.”
Meja, who had looked up at the same time, also sighed. “Mine too, funnily enough. “Barsky!” she barked, causing the rather rotund fellow to jump slightly. “The new girl and I are going for a walk. You’re in charge.”
“But… why? And… of course I’m in charge! I’m the producer!”
Meja ignored him, inviting Sydney to join her with a tilt of her head as she went off into the woods in the direction the harpy had disappeared.
Grabbing her bag, Sydney followed without hesitation letting Meja lead the way and following her footsteps exactly. After a moment when they could no longer hear the crew she said, “So, how long have you been at this? And by this I mean what we’re doing now, not the Telly program. How long have you been a Scion?”
“Couple of years. Funny story, both my brothers are, too, and we all got our visitations around the same time.” She whistled sharply and the trees and grass nearby rustled, and a calico cat that could not be any smaller than an adult siberian tiger slipped out of the brush. Her fur was long and flowing, her ears proudly tufted, and her tail raised like a ship’s flag. She did not look pleased.
“I know, sweetheart. You hate this weather, but we have a situation. Appearing to rifle through the cat’s fur, Meja revealed a harness that the cat wore, and pulled free a spear. “Theeere we go. Now I feel better. Kisa, this is Sydney. Sydney, meet Kisa. If you ever need to keep yourself awake on watch, contemplate all possible meanings of “a kitten the size of a rottweiler.”
Kisa sneezed derisively and laid down on her side in the terribly final manner of a disgruntled cat, ignoring both Scions completely.
Sydney giggled and bent down fearlessly to pet behind Kisa’s ears, curious to see what a purr from such a large cat sounded like. “My husband is a Scion as well. I can sympathize with how interesting your lives were, have been with more than one of you. Loren’s more of a dog person, but I love all animals.”
Kisa’s purr was briefly startled as she wasn’t entirely used to anyone but Meja touching her, but large green eyes slowly drifted shut as a rumble that sounded a bit like Alih’s outboard set up in the beast’s chest. Meja grinned. “Aww, look, Kisa! You made a friend. You must be thrilled.”
The vast flag of a tail flicked sarcastically, and Kisa yawned, showing lots of long, needle-sharp teeth and a tongue that looked like it could rasp your face clean off given a chance, but she just butted her head into Sydney’s chest and kept up the purring.
“So- harpy. We only saw one, but where there’s one there’s probably a flock.”
“Oh most assuredly,” Sydney said with a nod, standing after giving the large feline an affectionate smile. “Harpies rarely travel alone. The smallest group I’ve ever seen were four. Granted, that was plenty. I bloody hate harpies,” she grumbled and dug in her bag a moment, pulling out a small, oblong but round and smoothed stone with a rune carved into it. Rubbing it with her thumb, Meja watched as Sydney’s eyes glassed over a touch and the familiar pull of legend occurred.
After a moment of silence in which Kisa watched the other Scion carefully in interest, telling Meja by the cat’s actions there was still something happening, Sydney’s eyes cleared and she sneered. “Bloody hell. There’s six of them, and a wyrm. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I know I feel outnumbered. Dont suppose you know a psychopomp who’s bored right about now?”
“Wish I did,” Meja answered with a shake of her head. “But that does sound like not the best plan.” She scratched the back of her neck and wrinkled her nose. It wasn’t the most honorable plan, but she was generally of the opinion that it was far better to come home from a fight than to die gloriously and endanger her crew, who would look for her. “Any chance we can lure them off one at a time and pick them off that way?” she suggested reluctantly.
“That’s a plan,” Sydney said and unzipped her cargo pocket to retrieve her phone. “Not one to discard even if Loren doesn’t have a better one.” Hitting a single button that indicated speed dial, Meja heard a voice answer on the other end and watched Sydney’s face light up in spite of the most recent turn of prophetic events. “Hello love. Hit a bit of a problem. Well I expected you would. No my love, six of them and a wyrm. So you were just scrying to see how short my shorts were?” The giggle she gave implied that she might have guessed accurately. “Excellent. I love you, minn svass.” Ending the call she smiled up to Meja and tucked her phone away safely again. “He’s sending back up.”
Meja blinked as the language switched to something that sounded… oddly familiar and yet was not the language her mother muttered to herself in when she was cross or just thinking very hard. “Oh, good. What kind of backup? Do you…!”
She leveled her spear at something behind Sydney, a defensive posture rather than an aggressive one. “Where did you come from?” she asked the biggest wolf she’d ever seen, gray and grinning, red tongue lolling happily over white teeth.
Sydney laughed, but not mockingly so, it seemed purely in amusement. Especially after Kise fluffed to twice her normal size and leapt up beside her mistress. The medic turned and reached up to hug the giant wolf that made Kisa look far more of a normal size in compare and kissed his grey snoot. “This is Ulfr,” she said fondly. “Ulfr, this is Meja and Kisa. Be sweet, they’re our allies.” Turning to Meja, Sydney winced apologetically. “Though I will say he does not like to be petted by anyone but me…”
With a chuckle and a shake of her head, Meja put her spear down. “Fair enough. Nice to meet you, Ulfr. Kisa, stop growling,” she admonished her cat fondly as the still-fluffed feline had indeed set up a low growl deep in her chest that ended with a querulous squeak at her mistress’ request.
“What? He’s a friend. It’s alright.” She shook her head again and looked back at Sydney. “Well, I feel a lot better about our odds now. Shall we do this?”
With a nod, Sydney swung up onto Ulfr’s back as if she’d done so a million times before and held on. With Kisa’s size, she seemed to make the assumption that Meja would follow suit as Ulfr took one giant leap and was suddenly running faster than something his size should have been able to through such thick foliage.
“Crap. C’mon, Kisa, show ‘em how it’s done!” Meja declared, swinging aboard the cat and clinging to the harness as the feline took off like quicksilver through the trees. Keeping hold of both spear and cat while not getting scraped off on a low-hanging limb (some days she was pretty sure Kisa tried to unseat her deliberately) wasn’t easy, but she managed to keep sight of the gray brush of Ulfr’s tail through the trees.
As they approached, a sickening flavor to the air hit the back of Meja’s throat. The Titan taint permeated all around them, and she could hear the cries of the harpies getting closer. They’d killed something, perhaps some things from the stench of death, and the weight of Fate’s gaze was growing heavier the closer they came. Kisa made her displeasure at the smell and other energies to which she was also sensitive known with grumbling and yowling as she ran.
When Ulfr came to a stop, it was just outside where the harpies and wyrm could sense them, and Meja had the sense that something was obfuscating them. There was a clearing, the earth bare of green and flora where the taint of the titans had stripped the earth from its poison. The Harpies swooped and flittered above in the canopy, where on the ground upon a bed of dead vines and roots was coiled a large Wyrm. easily twleve feet long, its scale were black and seemed to ooze with ichor, and not the divine kind. around him on the ground were the corpses of what looked like a military team, though it was hard to tell what kind. But the most intereszting things was what the harpies seemed interested with; Hanging in the tree tied with his arms bound to his sides was a man. His hair was long and dark, hanging stringily around his face from sweat and blood, military uniform torn, stained and in blood tattered from where the harpies would swoop in and claw at him with hideous shrieks.
The man did not seem to be unconscious, but neither was he crying out when this happened, more of a grunt and taking it. He was a scion, he damn near had to be to not be dead, but from this distance over the Titan stink, it was hard for Meja to tell of what pantheon he heralded.
“Authna Aesir,” Sydney breathed quietly as if it were a curse of sorts at the site of this. Beneath her, Ulfr gave his rider a look that confirmed the curse suspicion though he seemed more amused than offended if Meja’s intuition told her anything before the dire wolf turned his attentions back to the scene before them. He rumbled a low growl with an odd cadence, but Sydney nodded as if she understood. “I’ll ask. Meja,” she whispered, looking to her companion, “How proficient with that spear are you?”
“Reasonably. And Kisa here just loves poultry, don’t you, girl. If you can get to him and get him down, can you get that guy on his feet and into the fight? I have a feeling he’s going to want a piece of these guys.” She wasn’t quite sure what’d just been said, but it’d sounded like “another Aesir”, which if it was true, could be a good thing assuming the guy was on their side.
“That was the plan. If you can cut him down, Ulfr can handle the harpies with some help from Kisa and then I can heal our Ichor infused friend there if you can keep the wyrm off me long enough for us all to regroup and take out the wyrm together.” Sydney looked down when Ulfr rumbled something else, but she just pursed her lips against a smile and pat his head.
“You up for this, fuzzbutt?” Meja asked, looking at Kisa though the wolf shot her half a yellow glare that looked about like the green one her cat was giving her. “I’ll take the murderous death-stare as a yes. Okay, I’ll help you cut him down, Sydney, then make much ado about nothing to keep the wyrm occupied until everyone can get there. Have fun with your canaries, guys.”
The offensively large wolf and enormous housecat peeled off, and Meja had the distinct impression there was about to be an impromptu harpy-slaying competition as she and Sydney made for the unfortunate fellow in bonds. She had to give it to the greenhorn, the girl kept up and didn’t seem any more concerned about the situation than it warranted.
“Hey, buddy,” she said as she skidded to a stop in front of the wounded stranger. “Cavalry’s here.”
Unceremoniously using the head of her gorgeously crafted spear to hack through the rope that held him up, she caught him as he fell and and helped Sydney get him to the ground, then pulled her belt knife and handed it to Sydney as she spotted the wyrm headed their way like an ooze-covered freight train. “That’s my cue,” she announced, getting a running start to meet the thing and using the spear to vault high into the air to come down at the thing’s face. Most creatures found that sort of direct attack deeply distracting, and that’s the game she was playing. Make it so mad it couldn’t think about anything but killing her. Then all she had to do was make sure it failed long enough for her backup to arrive.
With a series of swift blows that, while she hoped they stung, she doubted very much had actually injured the creature, she tried to coax it to turn so that it couldn’t see Sydney and the stranger anymore.
It worked rather masterfully, the wyrm creature so taken off guard by her charge that it didn’t seem to quite know what to do. The thing flailed and roared a terrible, bone shrivelling sound, but Meja had the distinct impression it was in frustrated bemoaning of its situation than a call for help. She was able to keep it writhing and off balance away from Sydney and the injured stranger as above her head Kisa and Ulfr were leaping supernaturally high into the air and taking down the half dozen harpies like it was their favorite sport.
Meja roared back, not as impressive a noise as the wyrm could make, and ducked as Kisa, who was actually having trouble keeping up with the wolf’s numbers, mistimed a leap and went scudding by just over her head on the back of a panicked harpy. With a breathless chuckle, Meja settled her stance more securely and braced her spear as the wyrm prepared to strike. At least the cat was having fun. That should probably earn her some brownie points.
“Come on, ugly,” she murmured, watching the serpent’s head to try and predict what it was about to do. “Make a move.”
But it seemed the wyrm ws wise to her. In retrospect, as the Aesir Scion went flying through the air, the wyrm actually feinted, causing her to strike inaccurately and be thrown, ironically into a Give and Take tree. Hitting hard, not that many needles stuck into her back, but the handful were enough to feel the poison and sting.
A gentle hand moved to help her sit rapidly, and before she knew it the needles were out and the cool sooth of aloe on a sunburn covered her aches as Meja regained her bearings, Sydney saying, “Now aren’t you glad the green Amazon virgin agreed to come?”
Looking up, a wall of a man stood between them where Meja was sitting and Sydney knelt in the dried vegetation. His hair was long, roughly trimmed just past his shoulders as if done with a knife and black as the moonless night. And what shoulders they were, wide as an ox and squared with arms to match from what she could see. “Cover your ears,” he said in a distinctively American accent before it was revealed what he held in front of him out of Meja’s line of sight was some kind of fully automatic gun from the explosion of sound. Black blossoms of what appeared to be the wyrm’s blood exploded off different parts of it’s hide as the bullets struck true, the impossibly loud din of gunfire silencing to the sound of a wolf growling and tearing into the wyrm’s throat.
Meja shook her head to clear it and gave Sydney a grin. “I was already glad, but moreso now, yes. KISA!” she yelled, turning her head so she didn’t scream right in Sydney’s face. The cat deigned to appear, her face and paws spattered with harpy blood and dotted with stray feathers. Swinging onto her cat’s back with a wince for her healing injuries, she gave Sydney a half-bow. “Thanks! Back in a bit.”
With the cat, she had a little more mobility, circling in a manner reminiscent of a plains Indian hunting a bison, trying to stay out of the thing’s reach and the stranger’s pattern of fire while looking for a place to stick a spear in between its scales.
Luckily, as if he were prepared for it, Ulfr leapt back from his mauling just in time for Meja to see the creature’s beating heart (or she assumed that’s what the pulsing knot of black muscle was) in the gaping wound left by the dire wolf.
With a grunt of effort, she persuaded Kisa to wheel and give her some extra momentum as she drove her spear as deep into the knotty mass of vileness as she could, half expecting the whole thing to explode into maggots or something equally awful.
Ulfr circled away as the thing began to thrash and die, pinned to the ground by the young Aesir’s spear, and sat with his tail wrapped protectively around Sydney. He watched the new fellow with a steady, wary gaze, rumbling deep in his chest.
Sydney smiled and reached up to scratch under the wolf’s chin. “No, minn svass,” she said softly, with the implied “Later” tone for whatever the wolf was grumbling about.
Seeing that the wyrm thrashed once, twice and die, melting into a pool of ichor that seeped back into the earth, the harpies corpses followed suit and where they disappeared new, young green growth appeared. Unfortunately, the bodies of the military team were still present, and in the new growth of where the Wyrm had fallen, there were two items that the scions could see were Relics.
“You two should have those,” Sydney said with a wink to Meja where she stood in the green growth.
The other Scion shouldered his gun by its strap and turned to look at Meja. His jaw was squared and while his eyes were heavily lashed where he squint in the light, they were undeniably a crystalline clear blue like the heart of a glacier. A five o’clock shadow covered the lower part of his face and he looked tired, but the mountain of a man was cut like the tales of the gods would have people imagine. He took a step forward and nodded to her, holding out a hand as if he wasn’t wearing tatters of a uniform in the middle of the jungle having just helped take down a huge titan spawn, but instead as if they were meeting on the streets of London. “A pleasure. Thank you for saving me. I’m Master Chief Icos Doukas.”
She slid off Kisa’s back and accepted his handshake. “Meja Espinosa,” she answered with a tentative smile. “Least we could do. Um…” she looked around at the bodies on the ground, then up at him, trying to mask her concern. “What should we do for them?” she asked. In her experience, military folk tended to appreciate directness, but she didn’t want to be insensitive. These men were probably his friends.
“Uhm… Chief Doukas?” Sydney said stepping a bit away from Ulfr before he shimmered into being unseen, “Please don’t move or say anything for a moment?” When Meja looked back, the Chief and the bodies of his fallen comrades were all obfuscated as Barsky and the camera crew could be heard shouting Meja’s name.
Alih was the first into the clearing, and Meja noted Kisa was also hidden from sight, be it from whatever was hiding Ulfr or from her own ability to disappear. “Meja! Barsky said stumbling into the clearing and looking from Sydney to his star. “Are you alright? we heard gun shots?!”
Oooh, damn. Of course they heard the entirely mundane gun. They’d probably heard that thing in Quebec. “We’re fine. That wasn’t here, but all the same we should probably move camp. Might be drug runners. I’d rather head farther upstream than risk that kind of trouble. You go on ahead, we’ll be right behind you,” she said, pulling on her Legend just a little to try and get Barsky and the others to just go with it and not ask questions.
Barsky frowned a minute and looked suspiciously from Meja to Syndey, but when the green medic didn’t seem bothered in the least, he figured everything must be alright. Besides, if her were honest the Red Cross medic was probably safer with Meja than with his entire crew. “Alright guys, lets go break camp!” he said and turned them all around, shooing them back in the direction from whence they’d come.
Sydney breathed a sigh of relief as the Chief, Ulfr and Kisa reappeared, leaning against her wolf and half disappearing into his fur. “Now, you were saying?”
“If you can help me get them to the river, I can take them from there,” Chief Doukas said to Meja with a nod and careful glance. “It would be much appreciated.”
“I’ll be happy to help,” Meja said, not volunteering Sydney or her wolf. It wasn’t that far back to civilization, she reasoned as she started carefully scooping up the nearest corpse as respectfully as such an ungainly task could be done. He’d probably be okay that far, as long as he steered clear of any harpy nests. “Just be aware, there’s lots of stuff in the water that won’t respect your dead. The river’s full of scavengers,” she warned. Most people were aware of the predators, but the little scavenging catfish were honestly more of a problem here, and were… hideously horrifying in the way they went about their work.
“They won’t harm them,” he said firmly, looking finally over his fallen with a forlorn eye. “Not with a son of Poseidon as their guardian.”
“That… is likely very true,” Sydney said and looked up to Ulfr.
“Here,” Chief Doukas said and picked up the two relics. “Which would you prefer? You saved me, so you should choose.”
She debated for a moment, then chose the small, elaborately carved tortoise shell that was no bigger than a chicken egg. For some reason it called to her. “There, the other’s all yours. Thank you,” she said with a nod, slipping it into her pocket as she resumed trying to contain the bodies as much as she could and laying them across Kisa’s back. She wasn’t a psychopomp, but she was doing the best she could for these fellows. She felt awful that she and Sydney hadn’t gotten there soon enough to help them, too.
Doukas pocketed the second relic and did as much of the heavy lifting as he could until they were headed to the river. Sydney had swung up on Ulfr’s back and was lying atop him like she was enjoying a nice feather down bed, scratching the wolf’s ears absently and whispering to him in what sounded like a different language.
Ulfr lead to the river, plowing a path for Meja and the others with his sheer size and very little effort, the Chief seemed distracted. “I suppose Fate makes it known that you can’t avoid things like this, whether you want it or not,” he said absently, presumably to Meja for all he seemed to be staring somewhat blankly ahead.
“No, if you don’t embrace it it’ll come find you instead,” Meja agreed. “I went for a walkabout for a year after my awakening just to try to get my head on straight. That, and I had a kitten the size of a rottweiler who didn’t yet understand hiding from the mundanes. Or that it doesn’t matter if you’re playing, disembowelment means game over.” She sighed and chuckled, shaking her head. “Bunyips are… interesting. I’ll just put it that way. Oh, and the giant crocodiles the size of a bus? All too real.”
The Chief was quiet a moment as ahead Ulfr, still grumbling, stepped aside to reveal they’d reached the riverside. Stepping forward Icos bend to the water and before them he called on his legend creating bubbles large enough for the bodies of his comrades to fit inside. “It seems then.. that embracing it is the path I am forced to.” Placing his comrades in the bubbles, he stepped into the water, unhindered by the current and turned to the two Scions on the bank and their animal companions. “Thank you, Meja Espinosa. I hope that Fate sees to it that we meet again under better circumstances.”
She shrugged with a smile. “You’re more than welcome. As for meeting again- sometimes you can forge your own destiny. Since I told Barsky that the gunfire was the work of armed narcotics smugglers, it wouldn’t be hard to talk him into hiring on a little extra security, and it’d be doubly easy if you were the one applying. Just think about it.”
Forward? Yeah, probably. But a Scion alone was a Scion vulnerable, and it seemed to her like things had gotten more intense in the last couple of years. Besides, saving him from the harpies just to abandon him to his fate seemed irresponsible, so she gave him an easy grin and took a step back from the shore. “Either way, take care and don’t be a stranger, Chief . Farewell.”
With a thoughtful, if solemn nod, Doukas dove into the river and disappeared beneath the waves as if he and his companions had never been.
From above on Ulfr, Sydney’s arm lolled over down his side. “I suppose this means I have to let you leave now.” Scritching Ulfr’s ears a little bit longer she slid down his shoulder to land gracefully and scratched under his chin. Meja could see the wolf’s foot twitching, like he was resisting tapping it in pleasure at her ministrations. “I’ll be home later,” she said with a smile. “I think a day or two, right, Meja?”
Meja, having paused to wash the wyrm-gross from her face in the river (after carefully checking for caiman) nodded. “Yup. Thanks for your help, Ulfr,” she said with a smile, offering her hand to the wolf to smell or snoot or whatever it was he’d do.
After giving Meja’s hand a cursory sniff for courtesy’s sake, he mischieviously stuck his cold snoot directly into Sydney’s ear with a snort, then sprang away into the bushes. Meja couldn’t help but chuckle at the look on Sydney’s face, and shook her head. “He’s a handful, isn’t he?”
Looking off after the wolf fondly, her affection for Ulfr couldn’t be denied as Sydney smiled widely. “You have no. Idea.”
Turning back upriver, Sydney began walking, keeping her eyes open as they walked, and held her arm out, a little green snake not native to the amazon region and glowing with divine power slithered down Sydney’s arm in a spiral and flicked a little black tongue out curiously at Meja. “Vili wants to say hello. He’s curious about you.”
Meja had blinked in mild surprise at the little snake, but smiled good-naturedly and offered her hands for tasting or crawling into. “Well, hello, Vili. Have you been hiding in her clothes the whole time?” she asked with a small laugh.
His tongue flicked out twice in rapid succession, and Sydney laughed. “He likes you. That means yes. He doesn’t normally talk to people so easily.” This fact seemed to delight Sydney.
She chuckled and kept her hands where the snake could get to them if he cared to. “Well, I like him too. He’s such a pretty color.” Taking a risk, she lightly tickled the tiny serpent under his chin. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen another quite like him.”
“It’s unlikely. He’s one of the few divine creatures that is said to be sired by Jormungandr that is not of the Titans,” she said proudly, clearly believing it. “He’s very sweet. A little skittish though. Don’t worry, he won’t be seen on camera. It’s one of his gifts.”
“That’s handy,” Meja agreed, gently petting the wee snake’s iridescent green scales with an easy smile. “Well, Vili, you are far and away the cutest snake I’ve ever met. It’s good to have you along, little one.”
The little snake’s tongue zipped out once more, and he butt his head against her hand before retreating into Sydney’s shirt again. The medic smiled fondly ahead of them as they approached the camera crew and sighed. “Well. Now back to the less dangerous stuff!”
“Less dangerous? I wouldn’t say that. You’ve never eaten Barsky’s cooking.”
The rest of the excursion passed… almost uneventfully. Barsky stepped on a viper late the next morning and would likely have either perished or lost his leg if it hadn’t been for Sydney’s intervention. Meja felt her pull on her legend as she examined the bite, and while the physical wound remained, no symptoms of venom ever manifested. The boys put it down to a “dry bite,” but Meja knew better.
After the few days of hiking in the amazon, a night of hunting and sharing the hunt with an aboriginal tribe and an exciting, and mostly comical run in with some scorpions in shoes the third day, filming wrapped in Guama where they’d made it back to, again crossing the river after Meja managed to strap together a boat from debris and vines.
In the small city, Sydney stretched her arms above her head and sighed as they unloaded the boats, giving Meja a tired smile. “Well, I have had a wonderful time with you and your crew of talented, business minded clowns. But I can’t say I’ll miss sleeping on the ground for a bit. I find snuggling my husband far more comfortable.”
Meja grinned. “I’ll bet. I enjoyed having you along. As far as I’m concerned, you have a spot on any of our trips you care to tag along for, and if you’re ever in Mexico, look me up.” She reached down in the boat and passed Sydney her bag. “I’d love to have you over for dinner sometime. Mom’ll love you to pieces. Granted she’ll probably talk your ear off about the old country, but what can you do?”
“I don’t mind,” Sydney laughed. “Home is where the heart is, but where you grew up will usually carry a piece of your heart.” Thinking a moment, Sydney seemed to come to an internal decision and hugged Meja briefly. “Be safe, Meja. And watch out for those brothers of yours.” With that, she turned and started to head for her cab.