It was as if that was an omen, because now it started to rain. Yes, it does rain in Muspelheim, and it rains water – but hot water that almost seems to scald the ground as it touches.
It makes rock as slippery as any other kind of water, though, and while it was not exactly a storm, it slowed our progress.
Anxiety about how Helgr and the dwarves were handling their side of the operation did not help. We had no way of communicating, of course. Nothing but planning and trust.
I did not trust Helgr. I did trust Ebba and Jorun, and that part of things had been their idea.
Maybe one day they would be here for real. Maybe. But I kept climbing, through the miserable rain.
Then, thank the Aesir, the path ducked inside the edge of the spire. It was not enclosed, mind, but rather running behind pillars and a sort of rail of stone. I had a feeling that meant we were almost at our destination.
Then I heard a yell from ahead and Mike was charged by a fire giant wielding an axe.
We had not expected it to be entirely unguarded. I had my blade out in a moment, even as Mike and the guard started to trade blows, sending sparks from where his sword – and he had clearly been practicing – struck the solid haft of the axe.
“My quarrel is not with you,” I snarled, but he was undoubtedly a palace guard and it might well have been more than his job or life was worth to not do his best to stop me.
The bad part was that it was too narrow for me to help him. The same was true on the other side, of course. Nobody else could come up on Mike, but I needed to work out a way for him to fall back if needed.
He was holding his own for right now, though. I glanced around, and then something occurred to me.
And I turned to face the outside just in time. A smaller fire giant, a woman, came swinging through the opening.
A daring move, but I didn’t want to think about how she had known. The yell, perhaps. Perhaps that single syllable had carried more information, to one trained in a code.
Either way, I slashed at her with my sword, not trying to get this one to surrender without a fight.
She didn’t quite have her blade out, it having taken both hands for her to pull off that move. I stepped to the side so I was back to back with Mike, knowing that if I dealt with her, we could then spin so I could handle the other if he needed me to.
And that put Thruor on her other side. She seemed to realize her misjudgment, but it could have been worse for her. She drew not one sword but two and was fighting both of us off.
For now. I could already see her flagging, though. I mouthed ‘Don’t kill her’ to Thruor.
I wanted them alive.