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Owner First Chapters Revealed!

Chapter One 

 

Thor

 

The Blood Brotherhood is a secret cabal of powerful priests and laymen who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of evil on Earth. I was brought into the Brotherhood because of my fearsome powers and my talent for finding anything and anyone, no matter where they might roam. I have slain giants. I have broken the wills of tyrants. I have saved families from the ravages of famine, war, and poverty. I do not mention any of this out of a sense of ego. I mention it because right now in my hallowed role as a member of the clandestine Blood Brotherhood I am staring at a bucket. It is not even a special bucket. It is just a slightly rusty old metal bucket.

 

To be fair, that is what we are all doing. Myself. Bryn, the somewhat disputed leader of the Blood Brotherhood. Crichton, the demon butler. Mrs Crocombe, the demon cook. And of course, Bryn’s wife, Nina, the vessel of angel blood. There is more dark magic and angelic power in this room than in the entirety of the vale. There is great education too, though that is not currently conscious. Steven, keeper of ancient knowledge, snores in an armchair in the corner. 

 

You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re engaging in some arcane ritual, but this could not be more mundane. 

 

Plunk

 

Plunk

 

Plunk

 

Water drips into the bucket steadily, in an easy to interpret and predict rhythm. It’s coming from the roof, and through the ceiling. It should not be doing either of those things. 

 

The reason for the bucket is complicated and begins over a thousand years ago. Direview Abbey was built in the thirteenth century, and it is showing its age. The roof was replaced around sixty-six years ago. It is time it was replaced again. 

 

“A million pounds,” Bryn says. “How can anything possibly cost a million pounds?”

 

He already knows, because the contractor already told him. These historically listed buildings can’t just be fixed with any old materials. They’ve got to match the original as best as possible. That means craftsmen have to be involved, real craftsmen with degrees in history, not just builders. Then there’s the materials. And inflation. And a whole lot of problems none of us can solve by stabbing something, which would be our strong preference. 

 

“The bucket is working,” I say. “Could buy a lot of buckets for a million pounds.”

 

“If we’re broke,” Nina interjects. “Could we sell some of my blood? I hear that fetches a high price?”

 

Bryn refuses that idea outright. “Only among those who practice dark arts. We are trying to project a legitimate front. One that can produce tax records.”

 

“But you’re a priest, and churches are tax exempt.”

 

“That’s… that’s not how it works. We still have to produce evidence of income, or churches would simply become unquestionable money laundering venues.”

 

“Is that not what they are now?”

 

“No.”

 

“You’re so naive sometimes.” She rolls her eyes. 

 

Nina is a lot younger than her husband, and so therefore still imagines she knows everything. It’s nice to see her holding onto some of her innocence after all she has been through. 

 

“This place is like a museum. What if we open it to the public?” Bryn makes the suggestion, surprising everybody with what a terrible idea that is for so very many reasons. 

 

“Why don’t we open the secret and sacred seat of our brotherhood to the grubby fingered public?” Crichton is the first to be overtly offended. He does not like people in general. He finds the general public almost completely intolerable. 

 

“No. I think this is the best idea,” Bryn insists, having heard no other ideas whatsoever. “We’ll open the gardens and the kitchen to the public in an effort to make some funds to re-do the roof. We’ll display a few artifacts of interest and sell cotton candy. I can announce it to the congregation, and we can use the internet to attract interest from further afield, so Nina informs me. Thor, are you in?”

 

“Sure,” I say, wanting to be a team player. “Why not.”

 

***

 

One Sunday later…

 

Why not? So many reasons why not, as it turns out. We have erected little stalls in the garden in order to display our exhibits, which makes me feel like I should have pigtails and a lemonade stand. There is something all too humbling about presenting these parts of ourselves. The visitors have no idea that they are being shown some of the most priceless and arcane objects in existence. Some of them seem to think that this is a fete, and the items are for sale. Other people keep trying to buy raffle tickets. We are a secret brotherhood and this was not a good idea. Bryn is trying far too hard to be normal. I know he wants to do that for Nina, but we have gone too far.

 

I end up standing at a stall with my most treasured and priceless possession before me, being largely ignored by people who keep asking for more of Mrs Crocombe’s hot chips and battered fish. 

 

I think we’ve all realized that nobody is interested in a museum, but practically everybody is interested in Mrs Crocombe’s cooking. This will no doubt be the first and last attempt at a museum style open house. I can already see impatience written on Bryn’s face, and he’s fairly patient when it comes to dealing with the public. He is the pastor of this parish. A respected pillar of the community hiding a deep well of darkness and pain. His wife has changed him for the better. Nina is wandering about, a red headed beauty with an elegance and grace few people naturally enjoy. 

 

She is not for me, but I can admire her beauty and hope that one day…

 

“Wow, what an incredible artifact.” A female voice comes from somewhere near me. 

 

Most of the female people here are either older, younger, or the parent of someone younger. In other words, inextricably entangled in a set of personal circumstances that makes them off-limits for a member of the brotherhood. I know this is not supposed to be a hook up spot, but I must admit that the English nights have become lonely of late. Living in a big old abbey with two demons, a newlywed couple, and a very old man is not precisely the lifestyle I had in mind when I travelled from the frozen Nordic realms to this green and pleasant land. I suppose I have come today hoping in some small way that someone sees my hammer, as it were, and likes it. 

 

“Hm?”

 

“The hammer,” the young lady says. “That is…” she searches for an adjective. “Amazing!”

 

I have to look down quite a way to give her my attention. She’s short. 5’2 short. The sort of stature that probably allows her to slip into small places, but makes top shelves an astonishing mystery. 

 

She seems to have a real appreciation for ancient Norse craftsmanship. And she’s cute. Very cute. Short and curvy with curling dark hair cut at the level of her chin. Her lashes are dark and her eyes are an intense blue. The kind of blue that seems to stare right through me. She’s wearing make up in a way that makes her look as though she’s giving the entire world the middle finger. If one doesn’t know what that mean, I cannot help one. 

 

I have always had a thing for girls like this. The bad girls, the ones who announce themselves as trouble. 

 

“It’s fake though,” she says. “A piece like this would be in a museum, if it were real.” She smiles as she says it, her brows lifting just a fraction. She wants to see what kind of reaction that statement will get. 

 

“I can assure you it is real. It has been handed down through the generations of my family. And there’s no way this will ever end up in a museum. It’s still useful.”

 

“Yeah? What do you use it for? Show me.”

 

I take it from the glass case. “It’s a functional hammer. See the way the ends are beaten from centuries of labor?”

 

“Almost looks like there’s dried blood on the ends,” she says.

 

I look carefully. Well damn. There is a little dried blood, and some blonde hair sticking out of a bit of inscription. The DNA of giants reposes on this artifact, which is why I haven’t scrubbed it up and polished it until it looks like a cheap replica you might find in any Oslo gift shop.

 

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

 

“No,” I say. “I’m from Norway.”

 

“Very cool. I love the accent. Of course, there’s a lot of people indirectly from Norway in the country considering the whole…” she lowers her voice. “Viking thing.”

 

She is referring to the way my ancestors ravaged their way through this land, spreading their seed among the Ango-Saxons. That was in 793, so over 1200 years ago. Long enough ago that most people don’t consider it taboo, but she speaks about it as if it were a far more recent travesty. For most modern people, the Viking thing is something to make shows about and dress up in. It’s like pirates, and ninjas, the horror of the past becomes the amusement of the present, a kind of historical bread and circuses. 

 

“May I hold it?”

 

“It’s very heavy.”

 

“Doesn't look that heavy.”

 

“Well, it is.” 

 

She smiles at me, as if she knows something she’s not supposed to know. 

 

“I can’t believe this is here, right here, at Direview. Who would have thought!”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“What’s your name? Let me guess.” She has dimples on her cheeks when she smiles. She’s adorable. “Thor.”

 

“Yes,” I say.

 

She laughs. “Of course it is.”

 

“Thor Larsen,” I say. “At your service.”

 

“What are you doing here, Thor?”

 

“I am staying with Father Bryn here at the abbey.”

 

“Ah, for long, or?” She lets the question dangle. 

 

“For as long as he has use for me. I am part of the brotherhood.”

 

“Like a monk?”

 

“Not in the celibate sense,” I say. Then I realize that’s not necessarily what she was asking. 

 

She laughs. 

 

“You’re funny,” she says. “Well, I guess if you’re not going to let me hold your hammer, I should see about some fish and chips.”

 

The hammer is humming. Threatening to dance. I have to hope she doesn’t notice that. I have to hope that she doesn’t notice many of the little oddities around the abbey. We are banking on people bringing their sense of the mundane to this place that is anything but. There are things here no mortal should ever set eyes on. One of them is cooking the popular meals. 

 

I glance down at my hammer again. I’d love to let her taste the power of it, but I know that it’s not worth the risk. The insurance alone…

 

“See you later,” she says with one last bright smile. I watch her saunter off toward the line for chips, and that’s the last I see of her. Nobody else comes by for about thirty minutes, at which point it doesn’t matter anymore because the abbey has caught on fire. 

 

“FIRE!” The scream goes up from what’s left of the straggling crowd. I can see smoke near one of the thatched overhangs of an outbuilding. If that goes up, we lose valuable history forever. Over a thousand years gone in a flash. I race toward the smoke, to discover some moron has has set a fish and chip wrapped alight and stuffed it in some of the undergrowth that should never have been allowed to grow there. I grab an as yet to burn corner of the wrapper and stamp the flaming mess out on the ground. Chip and fish smear beneath my boot.

 

“What’s this?”

 

“We let the public in for two minutes and they start to set the place on fire. They can’t help it. It’s the residual Norse DNA,” Crichton deadpans. 

 

This is no attempt to sack the abbey. This was an attempt to rob me. I run back to my stall, but of course it is already too late. The top of the glass display case has been shattered. There are shards of glass absolutely everywhere. The hammer is gone. 

 

So is the girl. 

 

I raise my voice and begin to stalk the grounds, though I know she’s probably already made a run for it. She doesn’t look like the type to enjoy cardio, but brains can fix what brawn misses. 

 

“Has anybody seen a short, curvy minx holding a hammer bigger than she is?”

 

Nobody has seen anything. The remainder of the visitors are politely but firmly shooed out of the abbey.

 

I curse underneath my breath. To have lost the hammer would be a misfortune, but to have allowed it to be stolen out from under my very nose, that feels like carelessness. 

 

***

 

“Yep. There you go,” Bryn says, sitting back in his chair and putting his hand to his mouth to hide the smirk. He knows this is a big deal. The biggest deal. But he has been through worse. A missing object is nothing compared to a missing bride. 

 

It’s also quite amusing, I suppose, when one watches the video with a level of detachment, and sees the way the local wench scammed me from the moment she came up to me. The cameras follow her around to the kitchen, where she has a few handfuls of chips - actually eating them out of her fisted hand like a small scavenging creature, before darting around behind the outhouse - which I now know used to be a quarantine hut for monks who happened to be infected with whatever the latest plague was. She set the wrapper on fire there, then made a big circle out around the bushes before screaming FIRE, panicking everyone, and making me run over like a massive marionette on her strings.

 

“I like her,” Nina says. “She seems cool.”

 

Nina is American, which means she thinks anything reckless is cool. She's also young, approaching her twenty-first birthday fairly soon. The young lady who ripped me off is a little older, perhaps. 

 

“The last thing we need around here is any more bad influences,” Bryn says, quirking a brow at his wife. 

 

“I’ll find her,” I vow. “And I’ll get my hammer back.”

 

“Make sure you don’t lose anything else in the process,” Nina smirks. 

 

“Like what?”

 

She gives me a sweet smile and tosses her hair, her features assuming an all too knowing expression. 

 

“Like your heart.”

Chapter Two 

 

Anita

 

I’ve cut my bloody hand, but that doesn’t matter. I have a bit of paper chip wrapper around it and that’s enough to stop it dripping blood in an obvious way in the back of the ride share I grabbed with a nice old couple who happened to be leaving around the same time as me. 

 

What a rush! And all totally worth it. I would cut my hand a hundred times over for what’s now in my back pack. We’re almost back to town and I’m still out of breath. I'd not run that far or that fast in a long time. 

 

“Would you like some water, dearie?”

 

The lady offers me a bottle. I take it gratefully and down about half of it. Part of my thirst and dry mouth just comes from sheer adrenaline rather than exertion from exercise. 

 

“Thank you,” I say. “That’s really nice of you.”

 

We’re almost back at the village. I don't know why, but that makes me feel safer. 

 

Direford village sits just above the river Dire, which runs through the valley. The abbey is further up on higher ground, because historically monks and abbeys and nuns and convents were always being ransacked and they needed the extra visibility to hide the good shit away. If I found Thor’s fucking hammer sitting out in the open today, I can only imagine what kind of relics they have hidden away. 

 

“This is me,” I say. “Thanks so much for letting me tag along.”

 

I give the nice old couple a couple of pounds. At least, I try to, but they refuse. They’re too nice to take money from someone like me. Someone obviously poor. Someone who has a priceless treasure in hidden away. 

 

I hurry through the streets. Obviously I didn’t get out at my actual place. I don’t want the oldies to be able to tell the big muscular Norwegian who just lost one of the most precious relics in existence where I went. I weave through the picturesque cobbled streets and over the little foot bridges over rivulets that feed the river Dire, and I make my way to the much less romantic part of town where I live. 

 

The rest of the water comes in handy. All this running about and skulking works up a thirst. I just want to get inside as quickly as possible. They’ll call the cops for sure, and they’ll give them my description and I’m probably going to get a visit from the local plod. Got to take that into consideration. 

 

I go in the front door and scurry up two flights of stairs. I am not pleased to see that the pull-down steps to my attic room are down. Someone’s up in my fucking room, and I know just who. 

 

“Get out of my room, Brad!”

 

Our flat is a shit hole. I’m technically unemployed, and that means I live with six people in a three bedroom house. Brad was allowed to move in on the condition he slept in the bath at night, but he’s always trying to sneak into the bedrooms just to lie on a mattress. It’s kind of sad, but I also hate it when he’s in my room. That’s where I keep my secrets. And my food. 

 

I like being tucked up in the attic. It feels private - or at least, it does when Brad’s not invading my personal space. Again, it’s not technically a room, not by council regulations. It is a room by my reckoning, though, based on the KEEP OUT sign I’ve stapled to the trapdoor that sits up in the middle of the hall, right next to the rope that hangs from it so you can pull it down and open it up.

 

“Sorry!” Brad shoots me an apologetic look as he comes down my steps. “Your cushions are so comfy.”

 

“I am going to staple a cushion to your balls if I ever see you in here again. This is my space. Mine. Get it?”

 

“Yeah. God. Chill.” He cuts his eyes at me and then slouches off like he’s the wronged one. Guys always think they’re the victims. 

 

I am not going to chill. What I have in my possession is so powerful, so important that I can never leave it behind. My room isn’t secure enough. Nowhere is secure enough for what I found today. There’s not a temple, not a fortress, not a distant space station manned with hostile beings, nowhere secure enough anywhere in creation. But it doesn’t matter. Because this treasure is more than capable of looking after itself. 

 

Clambering up into the attic, I pull the steps up after me. I am immediately shrouded by shadows. It’s a dark little space, this attic, but it’s my dark little space. There is one window that looks out to the outside world, but I’m keeping the curtains shut for now. Instead, I turn on a little hurricane lamp. It throws a pleasingly diffuse light around me room as I dump my bag down off my back and reach into it. 

 

I wrap my hands around the shaft and I feel a deep sense of power flowing through me.

 

“Thor’s actual hammer,” I whisper to myself. The priest might not have known what he had, but I do. I lift it up to inspect it properly for the first time. 

 

It’s smaller than I expected it to be. There are some legends that say only Thor can lift his hammer, but obviously that’s not true, because I was able to heft it out of the display case and into my rucksack without issue. 

 

I always carry a rucksack. People get used to seeing you with a big bag and you can put all sorts of things in it without raising suspicion. Except supermarkets and pound stores. They always want you to leave your bag at the door, or present it for inspection. I never do either of those things. Misdirection is my game. Most of what I do is what people on the internet call social engineering. People off the internet call it social engineering too, but not as often. 

 

I can’t stop looking at this hammer. It is both powerful and exquisite. Legend has it that the god Thor murdered a bunch of giants when they stole it and tried to ransom him. Mjolnir is its true name. Now technically, it’s not actually an item of legend. But it is obviously a very ancient attempt to embody that legend.

 

The runes hammered into the metal must have been placed there by a hand many thousands of years ago. Whenever I get to touch anything this old, I feel energies coursing through it. People must have been incredibly powerful back then. I wonder what made us so weak in modern times. We have so much more now. We have powers the ancients would have considered to be the highest magic, but I don’t get this sense when I touch an iphone. 

 

Maybe, in the distant future, someone will unbox a smart phone and experience this feeling of reverence imagining the world as it exists now. Maybe they’ll imagine someone like me, and maybe they’ll imagine that I was someone who mattered. 

 

Anyway. I am hungry. I need to find something to eat. There’s pot noodle in the cupboard next to me. I have my own kettle and I keep it primed. I keep a stash of non-perishable foods in my room. The idea is I don’t have to go out if I don’t want to. I quite often don’t want to. 

 

Brad was stealing from my food stash. I don’t keep anything shiny out and about. I keep the place looking, well, poor. I got the mattress I sleep on from a second hand store. It is lumpy and uncomfortable. I’m thinking about swapping it out for a hammock, if I can find one to steal. 

 

Everything I have, I have scavenged, borrowed, or outright stolen. I do not work. It’s a matter of principle. Work is a trap in my view. You get a job, you get tied into the system. I’m stuck inside the system too, but I’m not beholden to it. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I’m not a loser if I choose to lose, right? 

 

A lot of people would try to sell this hammer. But I already know there’s no way to sell it and get its true value. It won’t be appreciated for all it is worth by anyone - anyone except it’s true owner. Thor. 

 

I will eventually sell it back to him. But not yet. I’ll wait until he’s desperate. I’ll wait until he’ll pay anything to get it back - and that’s when I’ll get everything. 

 

 

Thor

 

“We should call the police,” Steven says. He’s furious to discover that my hammer has been taken.

 

“I am not calling the police. The last thing we need are more normal people involved in this situation. The mundane has infected our abbey and desecrated an artifact of irreplaceable value. We wouldn’t even be able to explain what it was she took without sounding completely bonkers,” Bryn says. 

 

Steven makes a set of generally offended sounds. “You know she tried to burn the bloody place down in order to get it. She’s an arsonist. That’s worse than a thief. She’s damn well dangerous. She could be back for more. We could find her creeping in the windows late at night, going through our drawers and smalls…” 

 

The mention of Steven’s smalls draws a few raised brows, but we know what he means. We made three hundred and twenty pounds in Fish and Chip sales and we’ve lost something irreplaceable. 

 

It’s time I inserted my own opinion into this mess. 

 

“I’ll find her. She’s a local. I know that much. And Direford is not that large a village. Someone will inevitably know her. I just need to make some inquiries. I found Nina in London in a matter of days. How hard could it be?”

 

“Famous last words,” Steven says. “I thought it would come when you called?”

 

“It’s a hammer, not a dog,” I remind him. 

 

“Sure, but it's a magical hammer.”

“It is a relic. It is an object of great worth and ever greater significance. We cannot afford to lose this. Better the entire abbey burn down than this relic remain in the hands of the mundane.” 

“Well,” Bryn says. “Let’s not go mad about it.”

 

It’s too late. I am already mad. I know my quarry very well. She's short. She’s naughty. She’s in need of a rough and thorough dose of discipline. When I catch her, I will make her more sore than she's even been in her short and sorry life.