The Walls Of Sparta

By Artie Gallezi

Adventure

Smits

"You're always saying we need to get the lay of the land." Jacob reminded.

"He lives on the other side of the city." Artie snapped. "Have some self control."

"Self control?!" Jacob motioned around them. Not the little cafe, but the city. "This is Amsterdam!"

"We're not on vacation." Artie frowned. "We're not here to take pictures of monuments or whatever tourists do when they get here."

"Sorry," Jacob shrugged. "I forgot."

"Did you also forget we have an address?" Artie sipped his coffee.

"No." Jacob looked away.

"Then why would we go to De Wallen?" Artie asked. "What's there?"

"Hey, excuse me?" said a voice.

Artie turned in his chair to see a sixty-something man sitting at the table directly behind them. "Yes?"

"I think I know why you're brother there wants go to De Wallen so badly." He held a hand. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but these tables are sometimes too close together."

"No problem." Artie returned the smile. "I didn't people spoke english here."

"Well, the official language is Dutch." said the man. "But a good majority of the people have a firm grasp of English and German."

"That's good to know." Artie remarked. "So what's in De Wallen?"

"Oh so many things." the man winked and whispered in Artie's ear. "Most come for the . . . "

Artie's cheek flushed a bright red as he stared at daggers at Jacob. "Oh . . ."

"It was just a suggestion." Jacob said sheepishly when the man returned to his coffee.

"And what do you suggest for your tombstone?" Artie demanded. "Because Artemis will kill you."

"Not you?" Jacob raised an eyebrow.

"To paraphrase Kangaroo Jack," Artie said. "She'll kill you in front of me and then make me clean it up."

"That's not so bad for you." Jacob chuckled nervously. "I thought she might feed us to alligators or something."

"That might not be so bad."

"I can think of ten different ways that might be better than being eaten alive by alligators."

"Not if you go first and I get to watch." Artie smiled.

"Funny." Jacob said flatly.

"I thought so."

Tor Smits was glad his audition for Eric Bakker's play was over.

It was only by the skin of teeth, and the fact his mother was head of set design, that he was the fourth stand in for the lead role of Thor Odinson. If by some unfortunate series of incidents, or act of a god or two, and three Thors were suddenly incapable of performing, Tor would be wielding Mjnoir while frost giants danced and sang around him.

Mr. Bakker's original productions had made him a local celebrity in Amsterdam. Though not all were as fortunate, those who starred in his plays and musicals often went on to better roles on the professional level. He had also won a few awards praising his work as both a writer and director.

The problem, as often was the case, all the praise combined with the desire to break into the bigger budget productions of the professionals had swelled his already bloated ego. He had no problem insulting those who auditioned for him to hysterical cries.

"Het was rommelig!" exclaimed Mr. Bakker. "You call that banshee screech singing?"

"Meneer Bakker?" squeaked the woman on stage.

"I've heard better on my uncle's farm when I was boy and he had me kill a pig!" Bakker waved a hand. "Naa — "

"Don't you think you're being a little hard?" asked Tor's mother, head of set design, Maartje Smits.

"Hard?" Bakker repeated. "Freyja is — "

"Yes." Maartje agreed. "But perhaps she would be better suited for one of her daughters. Hnoss maybe? The way you wrote her to be shrill and annoying would be perfect."

Tor smiled. He knew his mother was playing Bakker. Maartje was as sweet as she was skilled at making sets come to life. She might have sounded insulting, but Bakker would never do what she wanted if he knew she disagreed with him.

"Fine!" Bakker rolled his eyes before speaking to the girl on stage. "Report to Gustav and have him fit you for Hnoss." He called after her as she ran off stage. "Rehearsal is at seven sharp!"

"Are we done for today?" Maartje asked.

"Let me see." Bakker checked his clipboard. "Hmm."

"What?"

"A three way audition." Bakker read. "For Loki, Sigyn, and Heimdallr."

"Are you sure?"

"It's what I wrote." Bakker scratched his head. "Dat is vreemd. I think I would have remembered writing that down." Bakker shrugged. "Oh, well. Naast!"

Tor was startled by the sound of a single trumpet breaking the silence before it was joined by what he somehow knew were flutes, trombones, violins, cellos, some saxophones and one harp. The curtain slowly began to rise as a young woman's voice began to sing. To his ear, she sound just heavenly. As she sang, Tor got a good look at her. This woman had fair skin, light brown eyes and braided dark brown hair. She had an angular face with fine eyebrows and a narrow nose. Her clothes were nice, but not flashy. Just a pastel blue dress and matching shoes.

We quarreled and we spatted

From morning until night

We used to think it funny

But now it isn't quiiiite

The laaaaaaughs it waaas befooore

So if you'll open the doooooor

I'll bother you no mooooore

Then the music began to swell and another voice began as a young man entered from left stage. He was lean with a deep tan and had an average build. He had a well trimmed mustache and goatee that matched his long chestnut brown hair that he kept tied back. He wore a suit that Tor had seen in one of Bakker's other plays. The one about Italian gangsters trying to establish a base in Amsterdam. He even had the fedora with a white band around it, a red rose in the breast pocket, and sunglasses to hid his eyes.

While the girl had sounded pleasant and maybe even great with some lessons, the guy in the suit was in a league of his own. He was all charming smiles and oozed confidence as he sang his way to the girl who pretended to be surprised at his intrusion.

At the same time, entering from the right, was another guy. He was very lean and thin, making him look taller than he was. He was clean shaven, but had the same deep tan as other. He even had the same hairstyle, although Tor saw this one had streaks of bright silver streaks. Like the other guy, a close relative Tor guessed, he had sunglasses as well as a hat and rose. His voice was decent enough, but he was the least of the three.

From then on they began switching lines back and forth. As they sang and the girl acted as if she was shocked to see them both, Tor understood. He had heard this song used in auditions before, but only as duets. These three were not only making a trio, but they were throwing their own modern spin on it.

My little chick-a-dee

(You may say that you're through with me)

You'll have no more to do with me

(You're all through with me and good day)

But you'll find that love won't let you get away

The girl pretend to scowl and sang to each in turn. The boys simply smiled while they continued to switch answers.

It's finny and done with!

(Who will have fun with?)

You're no laughs to be with!

Who you'll watch TV with?

You're no one to pine for!

(Who will chill the wine for?)

This is too-da-loo, we're through!

Tor found himself tapping his foot and he noticed his mother was pleasantly bobbing her head along as the two suitors sang sweetly to the girl. No sooner than they finished, she continued to resist and sang a line to each suitor.

Just leave no trace at all

(Hide your heart any place at all)

I won't miss your embrace at all!

Or that face at all, Come what maaaaaay!

Darling, girl, I hope this won't upset ya

(But I'd like to bet ya, love won't let ya get awaaay)

Tor leaned carefully to see what Bakker thought. From what he could tell, Bakker was studying them carefully. Tor wasn't sure what Bakker was looking or waiting for, but it wasn't the usual insulted scowl he had been wearing all day. He kept that same straight impassive look while the music continued and the girl danced with each man while other would pretend to swoop in and steal her away from the other.

Then they began to sing again. The girl still refusing each man playfully while they kept on pursuing her with smiles and winks.

Darling, you astound me!

(Put your arms around me?)

But we're through completely!

But you kiss so sweetly?

Must you always flatter?!

(Must you always chatter at times like this?)

Tor expected the girl to chose, or at least make a show she had, but she seemed choose both. She would dance to each in turn as sang together in a duet for a line then switch to other, all the while bringing the suitors closer until they stood next to each other with her in the middle.

Well, here we go again

(Caught in love's undertow again)

Latching on to that glow again

(Here we go again, hip-hooraaaaay)

They finished the last verse with a line each before finally belting one heck of power chord for the finale as a trio.

Let the cynics laugh and try to bet us

Their doubts won't upset us

Love won't let us get away

Love. Won't. Let us. Get awaaaaaaaaaaay!

The song barely finished when Maartje stood and clapped enthusiastically. Tor didn't jump up like his mother had, but he clapped too. Even the stage hands and the one janitor sweeping in the corner were clapping and yelling cheers in Dutch. Only Bakker held back, though it was clear on his face he was impressed.

"Hmph!" Bakker pointed to the girl. "You are not the worst to audition for Sigyn so far. Come back tomorrow and I will decide who will understudy whom."

The girl bowed and ran off practically skipping with joy.

"Now, you!" Bakker pointed to the guy without the silver streaks in his hair. "What is your name?"

"Jacob Gallezi." he answered.

"Someone give Jacob a script!" Bakker barked and waited until Jacob had a script in hand. "Page twelve line four, read!"

"Um . . . one second. I have dyslexia." Jacob cleared his throat as he read. " Enough! You are, all of you are, beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by submortals!"

"Hmm . . ." Bakker considered Jacob then shrugged. "I've seen better, but it will have to do. You will be Loki." Bakker turned to the other guy. "As for you, your name?"

"Artie Gallezi." he answered.

"Brothers, huh?"Bakker shrugged. "Shame it would made some fine irony to have actually brothers acting as brothers, but we already have four Thors." Bakker motioned for another script. "Both of you, read from the top of page sixteen."

"Okay," Jacob turned to Artie. "What troubles you, gatekeeper?"

"I turned my gaze upon you in Jotunheim but could neither see you nor hear you." Artie said stoically. "You were shrouded from me like the Frost Giants that had entered this realm." Artie frowned and turned to Bakker. "Hold on, you stole this from Thor."

"Excuse me?" Bakker scowled. "That script is one hundred percent original. I wrote each line myself."

"Well, this bit Ashely Miller and Zack Stentz wrote." Artie pointed to the page. "Read it, every word is lifted straight from the scene when Loki orders Heimdallr to keep the rainbow bridge, or Bifrost, closed to anyone until he finishes dealing with Thor on earth."

"You are sorely mistaken!" Bakker frowned.

"Then stop me when I make mistake." Artie handed the script over to Jacob and began switching voices from his stoic Heimdallr to a calm Loki as he recited the rest of the scene. "Perhaps your senses have weakened after your many years of service. Or perhaps someone has found a way to hide that which he does not wish me to see. You have great power, Heimdallr. Did Odin fear you? No. And why is that? Because he is my king, — "

"Genoeg!" barked Bakker.

"He has a point." Maartje flinched when Bakker flashed her a look and Tor wished he had hammer to knock his block off. "Perhaps it was playing on the television in the background while you wrote."

"Hmm . . ." Bakker's eyes flicked to Artie. "I had the feeling I had heard that somewhere." He spoke up. "It seems you are a correct, but criticize my work again and you won't be able to set one voet in a theater not even to sweep!" He waved his hand. "Away with you. Have Gustav fit you both for Loki and Heimdallr."

The Gallezi brothers quickly left the stage.

Tor was surprised Bakker was so calm after someone accused him of plagiarism, but then he found out Bakker had other ways of letting off steam.

"Maartje, I am meeting with a journalist." Bakker shrugged on his coat. "While I give an interview, please see that we have a convincing Asgardian garden for Odin and Hnoss to frolic in."

"I thought you said you liked the set I painted." Maartje said.

"Yes, but I want it feel like a garden." Bakker said. "Detail is everything. I want bees buzzing and some birds fluttering. Maybe a hawk circling overhead with a falconer in the back too."

Tor clenched his jaw tight. His mother had slaved over the garden set for days. Odin's castle floated in the background while the sun set. The only way the trees and flowers could look more like like would be to use actual flowers and trees. After it was done, Bakker took one look at it and said it would have to do like he was hoping for more. There just wasn't any pleasing him.

Tor knew he would be in for a late night. His mother might the one in charge of set design, but he was the one unofficially in charge of set effects. It was up to him to make sure all of the sandbags were properly filled to the right weight. Bakker always insisted on stages that could function without electricity as an homage to Shakespeare. It was also up to him to come up with whatever was needed to make Bakker's vision come to life. One time, for an underwater scene, Tor had managed to flood the stage so the audience would be splashed with water as Beowulf tangled with a sea serpent for under one hundred euros.

Another time, for a scene that involved angels fighting as they fell from heaven, he designed and built a large conveyer belt that would move several dozen yards of painted curtains behind actors suspended on wires to make look as if it they were really falling. When Bakker said he wanted the swords to be on fire, Tor hammered the steel prop swords for hours in a welding shop to make the edges appear they were on fire which he later painstakingly painted for hours. To add to the illusion, he added pieces of flint along the blunted edge of both sword so sparks would fly out when they collided.

That night he spent hunched over a workbench while everyone else had left hours ago and was asleep in their beds. He crumpled a sketch in his fist and tossed it over his shoulder. He was having a hard time coming up with a design for a pigeon. He had taken a few pictures with Polaroid of pigeons in the park, but he couldn't get an accurate design of their wings. It was like trying to design a car without knowing if was a truck or a limo.

He had expected his mother to come bursting in hours ago and demand he come home, but she didn't. It didn't really matter to him. He was used to long nights and tinkering helped him focus which any fifteen year old with ADHD found difficult. There was just something calming about the clicking and whirring of tiny gears, like white noise or the sound of waves crashing that people listened to fall asleep. He also felt a strange feeling, for the lack of a better word, of power. Like an artist with a canvas or composer at piano, he had the power to create something from nothing. Like a culinary master chef could make art from some basic ingredients, a knife, and some heat. All he needed was some tools, a few key materials, some know-how, and large amounts of creative passion.

He pushed himself away from the bench and rubbed his eyes.

"Long night?" asked a voice.

He jumped and fell on the floor. He looked up to see someone place a sandwich and a mug of coffee on the bench before they bent down and offered a hand. "Sorry about that?"

It was when Tor took the hand that he recognized the guy. "I know you. You auditioned with that girl and your brother."

"Yeah." He smiled. "I'm Artie. Artie Gallezi"

"Tor." he said. "Tor Smits."

"Tor?" Artie asked. "Like I tore some paper?"

"Sort of." Tor explained. "Its the old Danish name for Thor."

"Like the name of the play." Artie said. "Thor : Protector of Midgard."

"That and the Norse god of thunder." Tor said.

"Sorry. Norse mythology isn't exactly my forte." Artie shrugged. "I prefer the Greek gods." Artie paused. "Hold on. Danish? I thought the Netherlands were Dutch."

"They are." Tor rolled his shoulders. "But I'm from Denmark and so is my mother."

"Oh."

"What are you doing here so late at night?" Tor asked.

"Just checking up on something." Artie said. "You?"

"Bakker said he wanted some vervloekt birds fluttering in his gardens" Tor grunted. "So I'm building them."

"Birds?" Artie asked. "Couldn't you just cut some out of cardboard and stick them to the set?"

"He wants them flying around like real birds." Tor muttered.

"So you just hang them on wires?"

"No." Tor sighed. "He wants them to actually fly."

"And you can do that?" Artie looked surprised. "All by yourself?"

"No one knows how to build things." Tor rolled his eyes. "Bakker thinks my mother is the one here, but its always me."

"Anything I can do to help?" Artie handed Tor the mug of coffee. "Here, before its gets cold."

"Dank u." Tor sipped the coffee. "Not that I don't appreciate the offer, but I doubt you have a pigeon in your pocket."

"A pigeon?"

"Yes." Tor took another sip and was grateful for the pick me up. "So I can sketch their wings. I need some clear pictures of their wings so I can build them right so they can fly."

"Hmm." Artie seemed to be considering something. "Anything else?"

"Well, besides the pigeon I need a hawk too." Tor said. "Bakker said he wants a hawk or two to be in the trees."

"Turns out I can help with both." Artie pointed to the window. "Open that all the way."

Tor wasn't sure what he made of Artie. He seemed to be pleasant enough, but there was something off. For one thing, it was pitch dark and he was wearing sunglasses. Artie acted like they were plain glasses and seemed to have no trouble walking around like he couldn't see. He had said he was checking up on something, but hadn't said exactly what.

He carefully opened the window and peaked outside. The street was deserted except for a homeless man sleeping on bench and some cats seem to be rooting through a trashcan. The streetlights were on along with a few in the windows above shops. He squinted to see some birds perched on a lamp post a few feet from the curb, but he couldn't see exactly what kind.

"I don't understand." Tor said as he poked his head back inside. "How is this going to help."

"One second." Artie reached inside a pocket and pulled a small packet of crackers. They were the kind restaurants gave when you ordered soup."Just have a pencil ready."

Tor took the sketchbook from under the plate, he saw that Artie had brought him a ham sandwich, as Artie crushed the crackers in his hands and threw them out of the window. In less than a minute he heard the fluttering and flapping of two dozen pairs of wings. Artie smiled and reached down slowly.

"What are you — " Tor began to ask.

"Shh!" Artie said. "You'll scare them." Artie smiled gently at the window and began to make a sound that Tor recognized as a pigeon's cooing. "Coorrro . . . coorrroo . . . coorroo . . . "

Tor was amazed when Artie stood up straight and a gray pigeon with a green head was in his hand. It looked around curiously as it cooed and seemed to like it when Artie gently rubbed his head.

"No one is going to hurt you." Artie crooned sweetly. "My friend just wants to draw you." Artie turned to Tor. "I'm going to put him on the desk. If you want him to do something just ask nicely."

"Onmogelijk . . ." Tor whispered. "How did you do that?"

"I asked for his help." Artie set the pigeon on the desk. "Whenever you're ready."

Tor sat back at his desk and laid out his sketchbook. "Um, can you open your wings please?"

The pigeon cocked his head, but opened his wings wide.

"Thank you?" Tor turned to Artie who was watching with mild intrest. He turned back to the pigeon, feeling silly. "Just stay like that."

Like he had done hundreds of times, Tor kept his gaze on the bird while his hand sketched. He would glance down every now and then, but hardly at all. He saw its wing span was roughly twice as long as its body. It also had knees of sort, but bent back rather forward like people. Its feet and legs were a light red with surprisingly sharp talons, but nothing like a hawk or a carnivorous bird. He had it turn around and saw it very distinctive twin black bars on each wing and had white lower back feathers.

Tor quickly forgot his skittishness and produced a ruler. The pigeon allowed him to take measure and even held an end with his beak so he could jot down the numbers. He measured the bird like a tailor would for someone who wanted a suit, even measuring the distance between its legs which Artie snickered at.

He made a total of four sketches. The first two was the front and back of the pigeon with its wings spread wide open. The second pair, Artie having to assure the bird Tor wouldn't hurt him, were profile sketches of it flapping. The pigeon laid on its breast in Tor's large hand while his free hand sketched once with its wings up high and again down low.

"Done?" Artie asked.

"Ik ben klaar." Tor nodded as he rubbed the bird's chest gently. "Thank you."

Without a word the pigeon flew out of the window, but it seemed to give Artie a deep bow before it did.

"Now, you said you needed designs for a hawk too, right?" Artie asked.

"Yes." Tor nodded. "But I don't think some crumpled crackers is going to work this time. " Tor paused. "I'm not certain there are hawks in the city or the country."

"You're right about the city." Artie agreed. "They tend to like trees, but the Netherlands has a few like the Osprey. I've seen a few on my way here."

"Don't tell me you got them to follow you." Tor asked skeptically.

"Follow me, yes." Artie said as he walked to the window. "But not an osprey." Artie leaned out of the window again and Tor heard him whistle loudly.

Unless Tor was hearing things or dreaming, something he hadn't ruled out yet, the screech of hawk echoed. It didn't sound that far off. Then suddenly heard the fluttering of several dozen wings mixed with the panicked cooing of pigeons. Whatever Artie had called, probably a well trained pet, clearly ate pigeons.

A second later, perched on the windowsill with sharp focused eyes, was a brown and white hawk with brick red tail feather staring at him. After a long moment, the hawk apparently lost interest with Tor and looked at Artie with that same unblinking stare and chirped at him. Tor wasn't sure, but the way it cocked its head the hawk seemed to be asking Artie something.

"Might be." Artie said to the bird.

"Might be what?" asked Tor.

"Oh, nothing." Artie motioned to the hawk. "Tor, this is Tobias." He turned to Tobias. "Tobias, this is Tor."

Again, Tobias stared that unblinking stare and Tor had the uneasy feeling he was evaluating him somehow, especially when he cocked his head left and right.

"Tobias, Tor needs your help." Artie said politely. "He needs to draw you so he can design some model birds that can actually fly. Whadda ya say?"

Silently, Tobias fluttered to the desk and began picking at Tor's sandwich. Tor watched as he tossed aside the top slice of bread and tore chucks of ham.

"Uh, sorry." Artie said sheepishly. "Tobias isn't exactly the type to follow orders like pigeons are."

"Zit u er niet over in." Tor assured when he saw Tobias' razor sharp needle like talons. "Better that sandwich than me."

"True." Artie folded his arms and tapped his his foot impatiently as Tobias gulped down the last few pieces of ham. "Done yet?"

Tobias seemed to nod and made a deep guh-runk sound in his throat.

"All right, Mr. DeMille, he's ready for his close up." Artie motioned for Tor to sit down.

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing." Artie said. "Just a line from Sunset Boulevard."

"Sunset Boulevard?"

"It's a movie." Artie frowned. "A really famous movie. A classic!"

Tor shook his head.

"It's been number twelve on the Greatest Movies of All Time for decades!"

"Sorry." Tor sat back at his desk. "Tobias was it?"

Tobias nodded.

"Could you spread your wings, please?"

Like before, Tor's hand began to sketch as he returned Tobias' unblinking stare.

Tor was surprised and impressed with how two members of the same species could be so different and so similar.

Like the pigeon, Tobias' wing span was considerably longer than his whole body, but it was huge. When he stopped to measure, he was shocked it was over a meter and half (about five feet). Another thirty centimeters and Tobias could cover him from head to toe. Gently, he felt how long and the shape of his wing bones and made note that they felt hollow, but surprisingly strong.

Like before, he made a total of four sketches with the front and back of Tobias' wings spread out and two of him in flying position with his wings up and down. He also made fifth sketch of his talons and noted how much thicker legs Tobias compared to the pigeon.

"I'm done." Tor nodded to Tobias. "Thank you, Tobias."

Tobias gave Tor a cut nod and went to perch on the windowsill.

"Got everything?" Artie asked.

"Yes." Tor flipped through the sketches. "Now for the easy part."

"Easy?"

"Yes." Tor pointed to a box. "Hand me that would you?"

"Sure." Artie picked up the small box. "Whats in it?"

"My tools that I use for cutting and connecting wire." Tor opened the box. "Along with toys and remote controls."

"Toys?"

"Just some remote controlled cars and things like that." Tor took out a screwdriver, a small roll of wire, and portable soldering iron. "I just have to remove the chip from a couple and solder them together."

"Just like that?"

"I also have add a switch so the pieces alternate between up and down." Tor picked up a screwdriver and began removed screws with a practiced hand. "Once I build the motors, I have to build the bodies around them."

"With what?" Artie asked. "Wood and plastic?"

"In a way." Tor grunted as he became engrossed in his work. "I'm going use toothpicks to build the geraamte. Skeleton I think is the word for it in english."

"And cover the outside with plastic?"

"No." Tor pushed aside the remains of a toy car and started on another one. "Paper. Plastic will make the entire thing too heavy to stay airborne and will drain the batteries too quickly."

"Couldn't you just use more batteries?"

"But then I add more weight." Tor said. "Which leaves me with the same problem. Weight is the issue. It is a very careful ratio of weight to wing span." Tor broke open the motors he took from the cars and began clipping wires. "I'll have to reinforce the place where the motor will sit so that means I have a very small amount of weight to play with when I factor in the tape and glue I have use. Not mention I have make sure the motor can adjust the tail so it can turn."

Artie stood back as it was apparent he was watching an artist at work. While he had caught a glimpse of him while he and Jacob tried out for the play, thank the gods he still had those magic breath mints Apollo gave him on his birthday, Artie gave Tor a through once over. Tor, like Charles Beckondorf back a camp, had the same huge child of Hephaestus build. To Artie, he kind of looked like a modern day Viking. Like Marv in Sin City, Artie sure Tor could blend in with a viking raiding party with a war hammer in his thick calloused hand. He wasn't the best looking guy, but Artie wasn't looking for America's Next Top Model. Tor even smelled like a child of Hephaestus. Artie never told any of them because he thought he'd insult, but children tended to smell like hot metal.

He seems to one of you. Tobias chirped in his mind. Only the smith's children could be so gentle and precise with those anacondas he has for fingers.

Not to mention he was able to figure out what he needed to make something fly. Artie responded. Though I never thought he could do so much with toys.

I always wonder why your kind continues to fight nature. Tobias jabbed his head to Tor who was oblivious to the world. Especially him and his siblings. If your kind was meant to fly or breath underwater, you would have been made with wings and gills.

True, but every animal has some sort of defense. Artie motioned to Tobias' talons. You have those and the ability to fly, cheetahs can run really fast, and humans have brains to figure out how to do all of it. I won't argue that we're better at it when it's clear we're not, but we can do it all.

So how do you plan to tell him? Tobias asked.

I was thinking of —

Artie paused when he heard the sound of stuff crashing to the floor.

"Did you hear something?" Tor stopped in his work and Artie saw he had a very detail copy of Tobias' talons.

"Yeah." Artie looked around. "You're here alone right?"

"Yes."

Artie produced a flashlight and handed it to Tor. "Here, let's go check it out."

Tor looked eager to get back to his work, but took the flashlight all the same. "It's probably a stray. Sometimes the janitor leaves the door open when he stops to smoke."

"Let's hope that's all it is."

Together, Artie and Tor came out from behind the curtain and walked down the stairs of stage. The lights were on, but so dim it hardly made a difference. Artie let Tor walked ahead with the flashlight as he removed his sunglasses so he could see better and cursed himself for leaving his quiver and armor back at the hotel with Jacob. He hadn't planned on running into Tor that night. He just wanted to see if the son of Hephaestus actually lived at the theater since the map had given them that address rather than a home address.

At least he still had his Kopis and the stone mallet Hephaestus had given for his son. At the moment the mallet was resting on his belt and his Kopis was ketp in place by leather jack against his chest.

"It was probably nothing." Tor said.

Artie sniffed the air. "Maybe."

Ruff!

Tor and Artie turned to see a dog the size of a car with glowing red eyes as it growled and showed teeth as long as daggers. It was large that a row of seats brushed its underbelly.

"Dat. . . kan niet. . . zijn. . . echt." Tor said his jaw practically on the floor.

"No sudden moves." Artie said quietly. "Hellhounds are faster than they look, especially this close."

"Waar heb je het over?" Tor kept his gaze on the dog who seemed to deciding on either eating Artie or Tor first. "Dogs can't grow that big."

"Normal dogs can't." Artie corrected. "Now don't look, but I'm going to hand you something."

"What?"

"A weapon." Artie said carefully. "I have one, but you might need one."

"GEEF HET DAN AAN MIJ!" Tor shouted.

Suddenly the dog pounce and Tor felt something push him to the ground, flashlight flying from his hand. As he fell, he saw the dog collide with the wall behind where he was standing. The dog shook it off and slowly stalked toward him, eyes glowing an evil red and snapping his teeth at him. Unable to stand, Tor began crawling back.

Then, Artie seemed to appear on top of the monster and he had a long slightly curved bright white sword. Faster than Tor thought possible, Artie turned the sword down and buried the blade into the monster's back to the hilt. The dog roared in agony and began to buck, Artie tossed something to Tor and he caught it.

Tor looked down and saw he was holding a mallet. It was barely a foot long and had several rawhide cords keeping a stone head securely fastened to the handle, but before his eyes it began to grow in size and weight. In the blink of an eye, Tor was holding a stone warhammer. The handle was leather wrapped bronze with a loop at the end and leather cords had become bronze bars. The head was a solid rectangular piece of polished white stone that was a foot long and six inches wide with bronze plates on each end.

"Use it!" Artie shouted while he gripped his sword as the monster bucked like bull at a rodeo. "Put the hammer down!"

When he played it back in mind days later, Tor still couldn't explain what made him do what he did. He stood and gripped the warhammer with both hands. Without knowing how he knew, but he pulled the handle farther out and he was holding a two handed warhammer. Then, with yell that his viking ancestors would have quelled at, he charged the monster and swung up.

The head collided with its lower jaw and Tor felt the bones and teeth crack and break. The hit made it stop bucking and Artie had just enought time to slide off the beast's back when Tor brought the hammer overhead and then brought down with enough force to flatten a diamond.

To his surprise, there was a lot less blood than he expected. The monster simply crumpled to gold dust.

"Wat . . . was. . . dat. . . schepsel?" Tor looked down at the hammer and it shrank back down to the little mallet he first saw it as. "Hoe kwam het dat doen?"

"Look, it's a lot to take in." Artie panted and picked up his sword and put on his sunglasses. "I'll explain, but first we need to do two things."

"What?"

"We need to get back to my hotel and pick up my brother." Artie laid a hand on Tor's shoulder. "Then we need to go to your house?"

"Why?" Tor asked.

"Because you're going to have questions that only your mother has the answers to." Artie smiled gently. "Questions about your father."

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