“I’m comin’ home.”
Ted Callan ended the call. It was a hell of a message to leave on the machine after not talking to his parents in months. But the whole story would do more than eat up their answering machine’s memory, it’d also put their lives at risk. He was coming home to Edmonton. That’s all they needed to know.
He lit a cigarette, inhaling the mixture of butane and burning tobacco. Ted held it in, savouring the smoke, eyes closed. Expelled it in one long breath through his nose.
Whenever Ted saw fire, he heard the giant Surtur’s laugh, “Lock, lock, lock.” He still dreamed he was burning alive. If he turned northwest, Ted could almost hear the crackle of flames.
Going back to Edmonton wasn’t safe for Ted. Wasn’t safe for anyone. But it had to be done. Even if Edmonton wasn’t home—couldn’t feel like home, not ever again—speaking the promise made it real.
The wind scattered grit over the parking lot of the greasy spoon. Its egg-shaped mascot grinned down from the sign with its empty grin, giving Ted a thumbs-up. Hardly the greatest endorsement of his plan. But the franchise had begun in Alberta, and that seemed a good omen.
Though there was more on Ted’s plate than greasy eggs and bacon. The dvergar, the álfar, the jötnar, the Norns; his friends and his enemies. They’d all settled their hash at the “Council of Humptys,” and he felt he could leave Winnipeg in their hands. They’d promised to come when he called and in return he’d given each a token. Vera had scoured the Gimli beaches to find all those lucky stones. Each with a natural hole through its surface that Ted had run a cord through. On each stone he’d carved Raidho, a rune in the shape of a stylized “R.” A rune of travel. If shit hit the fan, he’d have backup. If they had his back.
They’d agreed to his treaty. But Ted had also had most of their blood on his knuckles before.
There was someone else, someone Ted had half-expected to crash the council, whom he’d bought some insurance against. He didn’t want to think of the fucker’s name. Speak of the devil, and all that.
Ted’s insurance was two thin golden chains around his wrists. Chains that were shards of something once used to terrify and bind him. Now they were a gift from Andvari’s dwarves and Youngnir’s giants. The dwarves had taught him Gleipnir’s song. He sang to the chain—the tune reminded him of The Flys’ “Got You Where I Want You”—and the chains separated, slithering around his forearms, and then rejoined, looking as if they’d never been broken. Better to have insurance, hoping you never need it, than not having it when you do.
He’d have to suss shit out quick and get out quicker. Pulling off this expedition into the lands of the enemy would take every bit of deception he’d ever learned from Loki.
Never thought I’d stop thinking of Edmonton as home.
Things change. Kick the asses of a few valkyries and a dragon, throw in the god of thunder and the goddess of death, and word gets around. Winnipeg wasn’t a big city, and it hadn’t taken long. Winnipeg became more—if not completely—normal. But after Hel’s invasion, the city would never be the same. Ted’s presence brought enough danger all on its own. Maybe today would be the beginning of the end of that. If Ted could pull it off.
Big fucking “if.”
But Ted also knew there was no way he’d be able to deal with Surtur—once and for all—from Winnipeg. Not with the fire giant squatting, brooding back in northern Alberta. Those fires had grown against nature or logic, but for the first time since Ted had put boot down on his weird road through the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, the fires had receded. This lull in the giant’s advance might be Ted’s only chance to find out what the goddess of death had meant when she’d told him how to kill Surtur.
Build a cage from Surtur’s Bones.
Only then will the Bright Sword appear.
None of his plans had worked. Hel had also warned him Surtur’s death was only for Ted, and he’d believed her. Tilda could’ve helped, but the last of the Norns was long gone. And while she’d said she’d see him at the end of the world, she never said she’d help him.
How can I build a cage out of his bones until I fucking kill him? How can I kill him without the fucking sword?
When Ted’s buddy Ryan had told him he was getting engaged last November, the wedding had seemed so far off. They’d left their friendship on a knife’s edge, and if Ted didn’t stand up for Rye, they’d be done. Another part of his old life—another part of Ted Callan—the Nine Worlds would have stolen.
So he’d said yes.
His monkey suit fitting was done. He’d pick up the finished product in Edmonton. Knowing his luck, the suit wouldn’t survive the trip.
Ted didn’t want to go back to Alberta without knowing how to kill Surtur, but he’d promised, and he wouldn’t renege. Hell, if he did, Rye’s mom Gloria would find a way to kill him, if Surtur didn’t.
He hoped there was a home left when he was done.
He passed by Gaol Road and the correctional institute there. Correction. Jail didn’t correct anything. Go inside, get punished, become a better criminal. Not that Ted had done much better at rehabilitating the monsters he’d battled. He’d tried, though. A little mercy could go a long way.
Ted squinted against the sun. Sweat ran down his face, getting caught in his beard; pooling in the small of his back where his bag was slung over his shoulder. He wondered whether he could still get sunburned. He’d always had fair skin.
It would be utter bullshit if his dragon-scale tattoos would protect him from an inferno, but leave him pink and blistered by the sun.
Ted stuck out a few tentative thumbs to hitch a ride, but there were no takers. One vehicle slowed down as it passed him, but that was all. It was pretty much what he’d expected. When you’re 6’4” and covered head to toe in tattoos, the families and farmers see you with a different eye. Maybe when he got a little further away from the jail, he wouldn’t look like an ex-con on his first day out of the clink. Or on the run from it. Just an unkempt hitchhiker with more grey in his beard than red, and a bag slung over his shoulder, endlessly walking.
Ted checked his wrist by instinct, looking for the time, forgetting his watch had been trashed. He reached for his phone, but it hadn’t worked for shit since Loki had stolen it on their way up to Flin Flon. Ted barely trusted the thing to tell time. His stomach growled, threatening to chew a hole in his belly. Whatever the o’clock was, he could eat.
If his phone was accurate, it had been a long ten hours to Portage la Prairie, the August sun beating down on him the whole way. Ted needed a hot meal and a cold beer. He settled into a franchise pizza place. If you’re going to be overcharged and mildly disappointed, you may as well know that going in. After arguing all the previous night, and walking without sleep through the day, a full belly did him in. Ted found a hotel room and slept through the night.
He was back to the road with the dawn. He’d never been a morning person, but he’d woken up needing to piss, and decided on an early start. A couple hours beyond Portage, and at the beginning of the Yellowhead Highway, he felt oddly like his journey was beginning here at that prosaic set of lights and gas station. While he was on the TransCanada, he could fool himself into thinking he was going to Regina. To Vancouver. Anywhere but Edmonton. But here he was. Angling north. Saskatoon, and then Edmonton. He hadn’t heard of monsters in Saskatchewan.
Don’t tempt fate.
Fate. Doom. Destiny.
Words that had meant nothing to him before he’d met Tilda.
He left the town of Neepawa behind him. Sparks danced over the tattoo of Mjölnir on his right hand, though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A convoy of concert trucks rushed past, trailers plastered with the face of some teen pop sensation he’d heard of but never consciously listened to, buffeting him with displaced air and kicking up dirt and grit from the highway shoulder. Miles up the road, he came to a dead stop.
He knelt and touched the pavement. As if it were happening again, he could hear the wipers squeal trying to keep up with the pounding rain, feel his car hydroplane on the rutted, shitty road and slide to a stop on the soft, unpaved shoulder. This was where he’d almost run over Tilda on a rainy night in September. From here and back to the Trans-Canada intersection they’d joked and flirted for the first time. Where she’d explained that doom wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There was no one to hear. No one to judge him now. And so Ted said, “I miss you, Tilda.”
Saying it aloud made it harder. Made it real.
His phone chirped in his pocket and an electronic voice said, “Calling. Tilda. Eilífsdóttir.”
Ted didn’t have his voice dialing turned on. Didn’t have Tilda programed into the phone. As far as he knew, Tilda didn’t own a phone. Another of Loki’s tricks. Ted fumbled his cell from his pocket and ended the call before it connected.
He breathed a relieved sigh, but it didn’t last long. In the glare of headlights, Ted’s shadow grew long in front of him. Tires squealed. Burning rubber filled his nostrils. Someone laid on the horn. Ted realized he was standing in the middle of the highway.
Ted had an instant to wonder whether this was how Tilda felt when she’d been caught in his headlights. He scrambled to the shoulder of the road. His shirt and hair whipped in the wake of an Econoline van. The brake lights flared red as the van stopped. The reverse lights kicked in and the van backed up, gravel spinning under its tires. The side door slammed open. Ted caught the telltale “One-two-three-four” that could only mean The Ramones blaring from inside the van.
Advance Praise for Too Far Gone:
Too Far Gone was named one of The 49th Shelf Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2015!
“Ted Callan is that great creation—the hero who struggles as much against himself as his enemies. Yes, he can be a jerk. To his family. To his friends. But with the end of the world coming? Ted’s the guy I’d want in my corner. Real, gritty, and bursting with action as well as fantastic characters, TOO FAR GONE is a triumph!”
Julie E. Czerneda, author of The Clan Chronicles series
“Don’t miss this series! Chadwick Ginther is a compelling voice in urban fantasy.” — New York Times bestselling author, Ann Aguirre