You think you understand the world. There is the Sect, the Patrons, and the Arena. Pilots race and crash for the crowd, grand shows of hot fire and hard metal. You live inside the walls of Metal City, where you need only worry about mundane threats. Will that stranger steal my coin? Will what I say end up in the wrong ear? Human concerns. You think the Sect are monsters?
You don’t know what a true monster is.
This story begins like many others, out on the cold, lonely icy roads to the north. Along those ancient highways, a man is truly tested.
You think the storms here in Metal City are bad? Those of us in the north, we know the true reason to fear the storms. Storms are more than just bad weather. Storms bring monsters. Demons. Why, this one time…
“That’s the last of ‘em, CeeBee,” Sigurd said, as his truck barreled down the highway. “All the ice, nice and packed. Nothing left to do but haul it back to Metal City!”
The engine rumbled like a pampered lion as it hauled the cargo-bed behind. Sigurd sang with the music blasting through his speakers as his truck kept on rolling along the south road back to Metal City. It made his cab feel less empty. Every now and then, his short-range radio joined in with a bit of static. CeeBee couldn’t sing very well, but Sigurd took what he could get.
There was a time when Sigurd liked these long trips south and back north, in the days when going north meant going home. Now, he simply hauled the ice back to Metal City until Lord Ian had another job for him. Sigurd used to be part of a caravan. Back then, CeeBee was always sputtering out some random joke or song as they staved off the hypnotic glare off the frost-covered highway.
“Did you see Hulda at the village, CeeBee? She passed by while I was hauling ice, looked like she was going to come over and say hello,” Sigurd sighed, a smile on his lips as he looked out the window, as if he could see his girlfriend…his ex-girlfriend standing out there. He could almost picture her red hair blowing in the cold mountain air as she leaned out of a truck, laughing as they raced the ice, both trying to keep their rigs from tipping.
He was sure she was still waiting for him. He had promised to return with the horn, after all, and a Jötunsson always kept their word.
“Didn’t see Ma or Pa, but I doubt they’d have said anything either. Couldn’t even get one of the young shamans to invoke the rites for safe travels,” Sigurd said, though his words were accompanied by somewhat nervous laugh. “Hope the gods won’t be too offended. They usually aren’t, right CeeBee?”
The radio sputtered out with static. Sigurd could almost make out the garbled words. He went silent, trying to hear the chatter beneath the layers of white noise and broken signals. “Breaker One-Fiver…Yak Riding from behind…” “Copy…Demons out to ski today.”
“Hmm, can hardly make them out. Must be traveling a different road,” Sigurd said as CeeBee went silent again, its hum fading into the background, drowned out by the hard guitars playing through the speakers.
This was the life of an outcast. There was not much else to do on these long rides, traveling through the empty country from the periphery back to the city. Sigurd knew every place to scavenge scrap and every rest stop along the highway. The nearest one was still a two-day ride out, if the weather stayed good. Sigurd watched the road crawl in front of him, felt his wheels turning on the ice.
The natural beauty of the ruined world could only hold his attention for so long. It was so easy to let his thoughts wander as he drove.
As if on cue, CeeBee started sputtering to life again. This time, however, Sigurd could tell this wasn’t the background chatter of other truckers. There was something strange about the way this static sounded, almost like a harsh choking laughter.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Sigurd shouted, bringing his fist down on his radio as he smacked it around, but it didn’t stop the laughter from filling the cab. “Damn it, CeeBee!”
“Well, gooooood afternoon, Sigurd Jötunsson! This is…” The radio cut out in a hiss and fit of sputtering distortion, sounding almost like a growl. “…The Giant-Slayer, with your local weather report. Looks like the storm giants are having a bit of a wrestle up there. Expect heavy storms your way, good buddy! Lots of snow and ice. Hehe!”
At that, the short-range radio went dead. Not even its normal low hum could be heard in the cab. Sigurd sighed. “You’re the worst conversationalist, CeeBee. Just going quiet after something like that!” It wasn’t the first time Sigurd had heard his one permanent companion act up like that, but even so, his fingers clutched the wheel so tightly they were turning white as his heart raced.
CeeBee had mentioned a storm was coming. Storms meant snow. And ice. And winds.
Storms meant demons.
His people talked about the Twilight of the Gods, when the Old World fell and the earth was rent apart by great earthquakes. The demons emerged from the cracks, driving the Northmen’s ancestors further and further into the ice, before the giants returned.
Sigurd didn’t know if the old stories were true. He hadn’t been there himself. Demons, however, he knew very well. Terrors that were as big as the machines in the arena, with razor-like claws that could tear through ice, shattering it with ease. They came in all different shapes and forms, but they followed the storm clouds, for they liked to hunt in the cold and snow.
Ahead, the sky was turning dark from the gray clouds. The first few flakes of snow were already starting to land on Sigurd’s truck, the Icebringer. In the quiet cab, without even the hum of CeeBee, Sigurd could hear the howling in the distance. “So much for our easy ride, huh?”
Most of the truckers from the north villages traveled in caravans for protection. It was harder for a demon pack to take down a caravan of drivers who knew the road and could handle the slipper ice. A lone driver, without any friends to back him up…well, that was a much more tempting prey.
“Well, you’re right, CeeBee. I’m not totally friendless. I got you, after all,” He said, smacking the radio again until it finally turned back on, the familiar static a reassuring sound to the driver. Sigurd reached down to pick up the microphone, turning CeeBee’s dials until he found an open channel. “Breaker One-Four, this is Icebringer, riding southbound on the Metal line. Giants’ are feisty today, moving fast. Over.”
No one responded. Sigurd wasn’t sure if no one was in range or if they were just ignoring him, as they usually did. He could turn back, try to reach the village from where he had set out, but it was unlikely he could outrun the snow and the winds. Besides, while it was unlikely, he had no guarantee they would give him shelter, even from such terrible beasts.
Not until he returned with the Horn of the Ice Giant.
There was no other choice.
“Looks like we’re going to be pushing our way through, CeeBee! Don’t worry, I got this! You just sit right back.”
Even before his exile, Sigurd had been one of the few willing to take on the more dangerous routes, traveling through the monster-infested mountain tunnels or along the treacherous Ice Cliffs, where too sharp a turn could send you careening off the side, tumbling down to join the other wrecks in the frozen valley below. As the sky above him grew dark, Sigurd started to prepare his machine for battle.
The demons skated across the ice, their talons leaving lines behind them as they glided across its surface. Dark, inhuman creatures, they moved with a lithe predatory motion, rocking back and forth as they came down from the mountainsides above. Sigurd stared out of the cab’s window, feeling his blood turn to ice in his veins. These demons were faster than any machine. They could tear steel from a truck as if it were paper. But there was one advantage Sigurd had over these demons.
This was HIS route.
The temperature in his truck started to drop as his exhaust pipes started to spout blue flames, casting the same color light upon the face of the mountain as his wheels kept on turning. They churned, tearing up the ice along the road, tossing it into the air where it stuck to the rapidly cooling rig.
The chunks and crystals hardened around the truck, forming a barrier of ice as he barreled through the winding road, the treads of his tires sticking as best they could to the low-friction pavement. The demons launched themselves from the mountains, using their claws to tear at his shield, ripping the ice off the Icebringer.
“Get off my truck!” Sigurd shouted, leaning his head out the cab window as he continued to steer the wheel, holding Icebringer steady. The demon on the top of his cab leaned down, hissing, its many teeth on display as it leaned down with its long neck, snapping at Sigurd. He could feel them rocking his truck as the winds picked up. He spun hard on the wheel to try to counter balance their efforts, all while trying to shake them off.
Some of the dark figures went flying off the edge, tumbling down the side of the cliff to the pits below, their shrieking hateful screams echoing across the mountain. The shamans said their screams were what caused avalanches. Sigurd could only hope they weren’t right about that as he continued to drive.
Others were flung in front of his truck, pulling themselves out of the snow and ice, turning their horrible eyes back towards the Icebringer. The demons started skating back towards him, and where the ice ran out, they created more with their touch. Sigurd smiled and turned to the radio. “Looks like we’re almost through this, CeeBee! You made sure to check the pistons, right? Don’t want this jamming on me!”
Sigurd pulled a lever down, lowering the plow on the front of his truck to scrape against the road, gathering the ice before him. The demons were charging, lined up in a group, shrieking as they went. They might be strong, but the brightest of monsters, they were not.
“Let’s show ‘em what this trucker can do!” Sigurd said as he pushed the lever back, the pistons below thrusting the plow forward as all the ice was sent sliding in front of him. Too high to jump and too thick to shatter, the demons had no options as they found themselves caught in the path of the frozen projectile. As it continued to push forward, they fell off the side of the road, clawing and scraping at the cliff face, their futile screams soon drowned out by CeeBee’s white noise.
Sigurd flipped the switch to turn his music back on as he threw his fist up in the air for a victory punch. “Woohoo! You got that right, CeeBee! We sure showed those demons who’s boss! Looks like we’re almost out of the storm too.”
The radio hummed a bit in response, the sound of unintelligible static.
“Nah, doubt those demons will get very far to bother any others. Maybe a giant or two will come across them and finish them off. For now, we got to get this ice to Metal City. Hopefully the storm won’t cause too many problems down the road…”
“Really, Sigurd? Demons? Magical storms? A possessed radio?” Earthquake Jenie asked, her voice not masking her disbelief as she leaned across the bar, resting her hands upon it. “That’s your reason for why you can’t pay your tab?”
“Well, Lord Ian took a penalty for the late delivery out of my pay, so…I was hoping you’d take pity on me and let me extend my credit?” Sigurd said, with a wide smile, rubbing the back of his head, his fingers running through his brown hair. His empty glass sat between them, his cheeks flushed after having finished his drink before he had even started his story.
Jenie stared at him for a good long moment, not saying anything, before shrugging her shoulders. “It’s not the most unbelievable excuse I’ve ever heard and you’re usually good for it. Alright. But don’t go making a habit of this, or you’ll have to come up with an even better story.”
“Thanks, Earthquake!” Sigurd said, giving her a big wide grin and a thumbs up. “So, mind adding a drink to go to my tab?”
“Don’t push it!”