Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Part 21: Snakes and Staffs
Thoki cursed and threw the King James Bible against the wall where it dented the plaster and slithered to the floor like a brained bird. He’d read it from Genesis to Revelations; he’d also read the Koran and the Torah, and even the Morman book of Moses, but he was no closer to finding what he was looking for.
“I’ll never find it!” he moaned banging his head on the table in despair.
There was a nicker from Slepnir’s direction and Thoki looked at his brother. Slepnir was looking haggard these days from lack of sleep and his current diet of decaying plywood and the living room sofa. Thoki reached out a hand and pet Slepnir’s velvety nose. The horse seemed to calm a little and his ears relaxed for the first time in ages.
“Your brother’s a clueless moron, you know that,” said Thoki.
Slepnir’s gave a non-committal toss of his head as if to say, “Yes you are, but there’s no point in getting depressed.”
Thoki gave a hopeless hollow laugh and glanced at Lor sleeping peacefully on the sofa. He’d been lying there for six days now and while his wounds seemed to have cleared up, the giant was listless and pale. He’d wake up for a few hours, eat and then go to sleep again. It was beginning to worry Thoki, and he was powerless to do anything. Lor was far too big to move, even with Slepnir’s help. Lor had expended the last of his energy just getting here. Now in this fetid, vermin-infested, poisonous apartment, he was slowly losing whatever battle raged inside his massive body.
Thoki sighed and got to his feet. After trying to rouse Lor from his sleep with little success, he began to fall back into his recent habit of pacing. He prowled through the living room, kicking up dust and insects from the rotting carpet. Slepnir watched him with the mild interest of someone whose only source of entertainment had been counting his legs.
“What am I doing?” Thoki muttered. “I’m busy trying to find some stupid place that might not even be on Earth and it doesn’t matter because if I could even figure out where the hell it is I can’t go because my giant can’t move.”
“Well that does put you in an awkward position, doesn’t it?” said the familiar drawl of a continental gentleman.
“Hello, Hermes,” said Thoki without even looking around.
“I’ve brought a friend today,” said Hermes.
With a heavy sigh, and a depressed acceptance of the death that was to come Thoki looked up.
Hermes was grinning wickedly. He didn’t have the battle scars on him from his last encounter with Thoki. The last time Thoki had seen him, he was sporting broken ribs, a hurt leg and a crushed nose. Now he looked as fit and dapper as ever in his designer jeans, silk blouse and navy military jacket. Next to him was another olive-skinned aquiline-nosed god. Thoki gazed into a handsome face that was gorgeous almost to the point of freakishness. His full lips, golden eyes, curly blond hair, strong chin— they seemed to be cartoonish on a real face. Thoki felt a hot flush rise to his face which made him furious. He knew exactly who he was looking at. The staff in the god’s hand, a golden scepter with a snake wrapped around it explained everything, including Hermes’s miraculous recovery.
“Apollo, I presume.”
“Yes,” said the god in a deep soap-opera voice.
Good grief; he sounds like an old Superman cartoon, thought Thoki with a frown.
“To what do I owe this pleasure… and with such an item as that?” Thoki asked, eyeing the staff hungrily.
“You know what this is?” asked Hermes lightly, his smile widening.
Thoki nodded. It was the magical Rod of Asclepius—once belonging to Apollo’s son Asclepius, the world’s greatest doctor. It was said to cure all wounds, and in Asclepius’s hands it could bring the dead to life. For that hubris Apollo’s son was sentenced to death by Zeus himself.
“And you know what it’s capable of?” asked Hermes.
Again Thoki nodded and his eyes swiveled to look at Lor again. “What do you want?” he asked, his throat suddenly dry.
“We couldn’t help but notice that your hairy friend over there isn’t doing so well,” said Hermes.
“He’s just a bit under the weather,” said Thoki beginning to sweat, he had an inkling of what was coming next.
“Don’t bother lying to me. Apollo is a God of medicine himself, aren’t you brother?”
Apollo nodded his golden head but said nothing.
“He’s dying, Thoki,” said Hermes simply.
Thoki nodded dumbly as he fought the bile in his throat and tried to stay upright.
“So now he’s out of the way, you can win?” gasped Thoki. “Lor’s down for the count so you come here with your big brother and his magic stick to even the odds.”
Hermes blinked before regarding Thoki in disappointed bemusement.
“Are you being deliberately obtuse or are you really just thick?”
“If I say it’s the latter will you promise not to break my nose again?” moaned Thoki. “Seriously. Why are you here? I guess if you were going to kick my ass you’d have done it by now, but… you know… the trickster tendency to go off on ADD tangents is hard to override.”
“Fair enough,” said Hermes. “Yes, I fully intend to get my revenge on you… but I’ve been instructed to do otherwise… for the moment…by my associates. I’m here to offer you a bargain.”
Slepnir’s ears cocked upwards and he raised his head to look at the three of them.
“Go on,” said Thoki. He was nervous. Hermes was the god of diplomats and compromise as well. The bastard could turn on the charm if he had to, and also knew when to press his advantage.
“Apollo here will heal your giant if you swear a solemn oath not to seek Isfat.”
“And if I don’t?” asked Thoki, a cold sweat attacking his neck and the backs of his knees.
“Then your Jotun friend dies… and you’ll be much easier to pick off by yourself,” said Hermes calmly. He fingered his own staff, the caduceus, the double-snake staff of negotiation.
Thoki looked back at his friend. Lor hadn’t stirred through the entire exchange; his shallow breathing and pasty face told Thoki that Hermes spoke the truth.
It’s over, he told himself. There’s nothing left.
The realization came as somewhat of a relief after all this internal conflict. He would never find Isfat now, but now he had other things in front of him. He might even get to get a real life after this. Maybe this promise would silence all those delusions of grandeur and malcontent that screamed at him in the night. He could just be Thoki Lokison, a boring uninteresting short man who dreamed of nothing more ambitious than pancakes with bacon.
“Alright,” he said quietly nodding.
Apollo began his manly stride towards the sofa where Lor lay when Thoki shouted out to him.
“On one condition!” he shouted.
“I make the conditions, brat,” sniffed Hermes.
“It’s just a little thing,” he said.
“This means you don’t try to snuff me out later, got it?”
Hermes tried to look bored, but Thoki saw a flicker of relief behind his olive face. With Lor back in the pink Hermes didn’t relish getting his ass handed to him again by the behemoth.
“It’s a deal. Shake on it,” he added in a low stern voice.
Thoki took a deep gulp of breath and walked towards the outstretched hand smelling of cologne and espresso.