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Ylvis Saves the World 2: Ylvis vs. Godzilla

Chapter Text

Bård trailed his hand in the now placid water of the Pacific Ocean, watching the sparkling reflections of the sunrise flow past his hand. “Why do I let you talk me into these stupid things?” He took off his black T-shirt and dunked it into the seawater lapping against the yellow and orange rubber of the lifeboat. "I could be home right now in my garden."

Vegard glanced up from the lifeboat’s bright orange emergency bag and frowned at his younger brother. “You can’t blame this on me.”

Bård squeezed the water out of the shirt and laid it over his head. He peeked out and his blue eyes caught the sparkling light reflected from the dawn. “I’m going to get sunburned if we're out here all day. For once I wish I were a Turk like you.”

Vegard smiled, his white teeth a striking contrast to his tanned skin, dark brown eyes and the loose jet-black curls of his hair. “You’ll be okay, Bård. If I were worried, Calle would be the one I’d be worried about. He’s so pale he’s almost transparent.”

Calle grunted from beneath his own shirt and gave Vegard the finger. “If I die of sunstroke it’s on you.”

Vegard squinted at the sun and then back at the emergency beacon. “I don’t think you’ll get sunstroke this early in the morning. Let me be sure this transponder is activated and we’ll unfurl the canopy.”

Bård looked at Calle. “How can he be so calm?”

Calle shrugged. “He’s happy when he’s prepared.”

“Actually I’m surprised he isn’t giggling. Look at all the gadgets he can play with now.”

"The situation will inevitably lead to an embarrassing gadget boner."

Vegard smiled but muttered, “I can hear you, you know. I’m right here.”

Bård asked, "How do you know how to work all that stuff anyway? Or are you just faking it?"

Vegard reached to his side and held up a laminated sheet. "Instructions." He put the sheet down and turned the beacon over again.

Bård sighed and looked around at the empty horizon. “Where do you think the others are?”

Vegard shook his head, frowning. They’d scheduled a week long June trip to Tokyo for a segment for their show. They'd had an interesting week showcasing some of the weirder entertainments to be found in Japan and their host, a Mr. Hirata, had arranged for a short cruise south along the coast. Last night was supposed to be their last night in Japan and their crew and their sidekick Magnus had elected to return to Tokyo for a final night of karaoke and drinking. Calle and the brothers had taken up Mr. Hirata’s offer for a night cruise on his 90-foot yacht. Vegard had been eager to learn about the workings of the ship and had spent the first few hours badgering the small crew about details of the boat. Later he'd joined Bård and Calle on the open deck and they’d relaxed under the clear night sky drinking sake with their host.

It had been around 3 am local time when a strange bright blue light had appeared in the water off the port side. Mr. Hirata had been extremely alarmed at the sight and had cautioned them to put on life jackets as he’d run off to the bridge. Vegard ran for the life rafts and Bård and Calle had barely enough time to slip on their vests when their ship had been hit by a huge black wave, knocking them both overboard.

When the wave had hit, Vegard was at the starboard life raft stowage and had almost been knocked overboard as well. When the ship heaved back down he’d looked behind him, expecting his brother and Calle to have followed him. But they were gone. So he took hold of a raft valise and dove out into the water. He’d inflated the raft, lit the signaling lamp and had found Calle almost immediately. But they’d spent a frantic ten minutes looking for Bård before they finally saw his vest's light. It was lucky that the turbulence had gone as quickly as it came; Vegard didn't think they would have found Bård at all if the waters hadn't been so placid. Regardless, Vegard had been so terrified for his brother for those ten minutes that he was sure the experience had shortened his life by at least the same number of years.

The three of them spent the next two hours sitting quietly, stunned by the whole situation and isolated in the light of their raft's lamp. The night was moonless and the waters around them were dark and silent. They'd spoken only in whispers until dawn.

The most upsetting thing, however, was that the sun revealed no trace of the yacht. In the dark Vegard had thought they surely would have seen the ship’s lights, or the ship would have sounded its horn for their benefit, and so he feared the worst. The ship had disappeared as completely as the freak wave and the blue lights in the ocean. Vegard had liked the crewmen immensely, and he feared the ship went down with all hands.

Vegard reassured himself again that the emergency beacon was working and then got up to unfurl the canopy of the four-man life raft, ignoring Bård and Calle's conversation and friendly taunts. He was thankful Calle was keeping up Bård's spirits while he worked. He and Bård had been friends with Calle since they were young and Calle knew how Vegard worried about his little brother.

Vegard smiled and finished tying off the lines that tied the canopy over three-quarters of the raft's floor and then turned to see Bård and Calle both unzipping to urinate into the ocean. He immediately backed up under the canopy slammed the flaps together to shield himself. He called out, "Oi oi oi! You have to piss downwind!" Almost simultaneously the two men began vigorously cursing.

When it was safe Vegard peered out and saw both men had jumped in the water, presumably to wash off. They were hanging onto the rope fastened to the side of the raft. He frowned at them. "This isn't a party, you know. You both know better."

Calle looked up at him, grinning. "So, Father, are there sharks in these waters?"

Vegard raised a disapproving brow. "Get back in the boat and save your energy." He held out a hand to Bård and pulled him back aboard. "Now you're all wet again."

Bård flopped into the boat and slicked back his dark blond hair. "Yeah, but at least I won't die out here covered in my own piss." He turned and the two of them dragged Calle back aboard.

Calle pushed back his short platinum hair and stretched his wiry, muscled arms. He was two years older than Vegard and the tallest of the three. Which he felt meant he should probably be in charge. But the Ylvisåker brothers were both so ridiculously stubborn that he had to be devious if he ever wanted to get his way. Right now all he really wanted was a cigarette. A far distant second on his list of concerns was survival. "If I don't get a smoke in the next few hours you are welcome to kill and eat me."

The two brothers responded in English accents and in unison, "Urghhhh! With a gammy leg?"*

Calle squinted at Bård. "You two creep me out sometimes."

Bård scooted back under the canopy and peeled off his soaked khaki pants revealing neon blue briefs. He handed his trousers to his brother. "Would you dry these out for me? I'm going to take a nap."

Vegard rolled his eyes. Bård could sleep anywhere under any circumstance. It was a talent Vegard envied tremendously. "Sure. Probably best to sleep in the day; it will get pretty hot. I'll dry these out while I keep Calle from dying of nicotine craving."

Calle frowned at Bård. "Why is your underwear always so bizarre?"

"Why are you looking at my underwear?" Bård put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. "Wake me if we get rescued. Otherwise, fuck off." He drifted almost immediately into sleep.

 

* * *

 

"Bård, Bård! Wake up."

Bård squinted into the bright light streaming through the canopy opening. "What's happening?"

Vegard shoved his now-dry shirt and pants into his hands. "Get dressed. Something strange is happening." He left and Bård struggled into his clothes.

A minute later Bård was peering out of the canopy at the dense fog surrounding the little raft. "What in hell is this?"

Calle shook his head soberly. "Don't know. We saw it coming at us like a wall and suddenly we were in it." He was shrugging into the white button-down shirt he'd been wearing when they were swept off the yacht. "Suddenly got colder too."

Vegard frowned and picked up a life vest. "You should put your life vests back on. We could hit something or get knocked over without any warning."

Bård took the proffered vest and buckled it on. "Any sign of rescue?"

Calle looked around at the fog, tapping his fingers on his thigh nervously. "We haven't seen any. A whole squadron of fighters went overhead a hour or so ago."

Vegard added enthusiastically, "I'm pretty sure they were F-15 Eagles. Very cool."

"Fighters?"

Before Vegard could answer, all three men jumped as the air was suddenly filled with a high pitched shriek. It abruptly ended, leaving them in stunned silence.

Calle whispered, "You guys heard that, right? I'm not delirious yet from nicotine withdrawal?"

Vegard put a comforting hand on Calle's shoulder. "We all heard it."

The fog suddenly cleared and they were about a half a kilometer from the shore of a volcanic island covered with lush plant life. Beyond the jungle there was a mountain or volcano peak, perhaps five kilometers in. Vegard immediately pulled out a map from the boat's supply bag and frowned up at the sky. "I must really be confused about where we are."

Bård muttered, "First time for everything." He grabbed a paddle and started making for shore.

 

 

*Quote from: The "Lifeboat" sketch, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Season 2, Episode 13, 1970.

Ylvis vs. Godzilla photo LargeYlvisPosterBetterSpelling_zpsrwuf6ugx.jpg

Chapter Text

They pulled the raft up onto the sandy beach and secured it to a piece of driftwood sitting well away from the water's edge. The two brothers sat down on the sand and rested against the soft wall of the raft and watched Calle pacing back and forth. Vegard took a drink from one of the pouches of water from the life raft and yawned. "Calle, sit down, you're making me nervous. We'll rest up a few minutes then we can build a signal fire."

Calle nodded at the jungle looming only a short distance away. "We might not need one. I'm going to go explore. Maybe there are people here."

"You shouldn't go alone."

"I'm faster than you or…" He looked at Bård, who had fallen asleep again. "How can he sleep now?"

Vegard shrugged. "We can wake him up. I'll go with you, just give me a minute."

"Nope, I'm faster alone."

"At least take my knife." Vegard began digging through his pockets.

Calle pulled a folding knife out of his white jeans and shook it at his friend. "I've still got the one you gave me."

Vegard smiled. He'd given Calle the knife years ago. Every time Calle pulled it out Vegard felt proud of their friendship.

Calle put the knife away, leaned over the edge of the raft and fished out his sandals. "Be back soon. Bye." Calle slipped into his sandals and walked briskly into the jungle.

 

* * *

 

After Calle's abrupt departure, Vegard checked their distress transmitter again and then worked to set up a little camp around the raft. After another hour or so he'd woken Bård with a warning to stay awake to watch for rescue. Then he'd crawled back into the raft to get a few hours of sleep.

Around midday Bård shook Vegard to wake him. "Hey, Calle's still gone."

Vegard squinted up at him. "That's not good."

"No."

"Are you okay? You look a little green."

Bård swallowed. "Hangover. Too much sake last night."

"Aw, poor kid." He rubbed Bård's forearm sympathetically. Being hungover was so awful. "Drink some water."

"Already have."

"Who are those men behind you?"

"What men?"

"Watch out!" Vegard sprang to his feet and shoved Bård to the side with his shoulder. A spear flew past only inches from Bård's head and buried itself in the wall of the raft, releasing a high-pitched squeal of air. Bård turned around and saw a dozen or so men, all dark-skinned and wearing sarongs slung low around their hips. They were all carrying spears or harpoons and were closing in. Vegard put out an arm in front of Bård and pushed him back with enough force to throw him onto his backside in the sand. "Stay behind me."

Bård swallowed hard. Vegard always did this. When they were kids Vegard would let anyone, including Bård, beat on him and wouldn't fight back. But if anyone threatened Bård, Vegard would go crazy, shrieking and throwing himself at any would-be assailant, regardless of his size. Granted, Vegard usually got pretty beat up doing it, but he always said afterwards, "No one gets to beat you up but me." Bård didn't want to see Vegard get hurt, so he looked around frantically for a weapon.

Vegard addressed the men in English. "There's some mistake. We landed here by accident and…" He was cut off as the strangers, only momentarily confused by the racket coming from the punctured raft, charged them.

Vegard swore and grabbed the nearest thing at hand, a woefully inadequate paddle from the raft. The first man to reach them was holding a spear and thrust it at Vegard's belly. Vegard dropped the paddle, side stepped the thrust, and grabbed the spear at the base of the spearhead. He stepped wide in front of the man with his back against him, flipping him over his back onto the sand and wrenching the spear away. A small victory, but Vegard really didn't know how to properly fight with a spear. But he knew about levers and centrifugal force, so he held the spear near its head and began swinging it with all his strength.

Behind him, Bård crab walked backwards until his back was against the side of the slowly deflating boat. He grabbed a light wooden paddle and ducked just as Vegard was disarming the first attacker. Time seemed to slow down as the man sprawled onto the sand. Bård whacked him over the head with the paddle and dazed him.

When Bård looked up again, Vegard was grunting and yelling with exertion, swinging the spear and clubbing the men's weapons away. Vegard seemed to have a few inches on the short attackers, and the strangers didn't seem particularly agile. Bård thought he should help but he was in as much danger from Vegard's swinging spear as the other men. He scooted back along the side of the raft closer to the water's edge until it was safe to stand. He pushed himself to his feet and cried out in sudden pain. He looked down and saw a slim metal blade with a jagged edge sticking out of his shoulder. Whoever had speared him was still behind him, because Bård was pulled down by the shoulder wound and back to his knees.

"Bård!" Vegard turned and charged Bård's attacker, who immediately started trying to tug his harpoon free of Bård's shoulder. It was agonizing and Bård screamed in pain as the blunt end of Vegard's spear thrust into the harpoonist's solar plexus. The attacker released his hold on the harpoon and flew backwards, but the now freed harpoon swung down and ground the cutting edge upwards. Bård helplessly tried to reach the spear with his left hand but couldn't reach it.

Vegard said breathlessly, "Hang on, Bård," and stood between him and the islanders, holding his own spear firmly. He called out, "We don't want to fight you."

Of the remaining men, at least six of them were now holding their weapons in the air, ready to throw. One of them, a young man wearing green said, "Surrender or you will both die right now."

Vegard could hear Bård behind him, grunting and moaning with pain, and the men facing him looked determined. Vegard had some combat training in the service, and a lifetime of wrestling experience with Bård, but it was a miracle he'd lasted as long as he had so far. He wasn't a scrapper. He sighed and threw down his spear, raising his hands saying, "Okay."

Behind him in the sand, Bård was in too much pain to be paying much attention, but when Vegard said, "Okay," he looked up to see his brother silhouetted in the sunlight, his hands in the air. Then a blow to the side of Bård's head knocked him sprawling onto the sand. He blinked twice at the men swarming around him and fell into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Calle took in a deep breath of the moist earthy air of the jungle, and immediately descended into a coughing fit. He cursed and picked his way over the lush ground cover, making note of a few landmarks, such as twisted trees or odd boulders, as he went along. He'd been walking no more than five minutes when he came along a definite footpath. He breathed a sigh of relief. If there were people here they would surely have phone service or some such and they'd be able to call for help. He followed the path and soon came upon a freshwater stream. Even better. The mountain, or volcano, such as it was, was slowly filling up his view of the sky. Calle was wondering whether he should turn back to get the brothers just as he reached a clearing at the base of a small hill. He climbed to the top of the hill, thinking he could get a better view of the area. If there was fresh water it surely came from the mountain, and if there was fresh water there might be people near its source. He climbed up a rocky path and abruptly found himself on a ledge overlooking a small village hidden amongst the palm trees. He could see people dressed in bright colors moving about and he moved forward eagerly, raising a hand to catch their attention, and lost his footing. He slid down a pebble-covered slab and sailed out into the air and into a thick patch of palm trees, bouncing and sliding down through the fronds and curved trunks. He landed on and tore through a fabric tent of some sort and ended up flat on his back in what appeared to be a large family's midday meal. The villagers leapt to their feet with surprise and peered down at him. He smiled at them uncertainly and waved his hand. "Hallo?"

* * *

Bård swam back to consciousness with effort, only now he was face down in the sand and something heavy was on top of him. Someone pulled his wrists behind him and tied them together with rope, eliciting a shriek of pain as his right shoulder wound was twisted. The harpoon head wasn't tugging on him as badly as before but that didn't make the pain much better. Rough hands shoved a knotted cloth into his mouth and tied it behind his head, muffling his groans. He wanted to pull away but all his mind could focus on was his shoulder. He slipped back into darkness.

The next time he opened his eyes he was upside-down, or rather, the world was upside-down. He heard Vegard call his name from very far away and he realized he was slung over someone's shoulder and he was bouncing with each step his captor took. Every bounce was agony and he was distantly aware he was crying in pain through his gag. His head hurt and he was getting nauseated from all the bouncing. It was probably better to just go back to sleep. He closed his eyes.

In his dream he was at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by sparkling revelers and colorful streamers. He was weightless, floating on air, sipping from spheres of undulating water floating around him. Vegard was shouting up to him from the ground, "Come down here. You'll hit your head! Bård!" He wanted Vegard to leave him the hell alone but his voice got louder and louder.

"Bård!"

Bård opened his eyes with a start and blinked.

"Bård! Can you hear me?"

He looked around and saw Vegard was sitting a few meters away from him on a stone floor, or rather the floor of a cave. Bård squinted upwards. The cave was brightly illuminated by a five-meter opening in its roof, open to the sky. Vegard was stripped to the waist and had his back against a stone pillar, his arms drawn behind him, several loops of rope pulled around his chest. Bård frowned and asked, "Where's your shirt?" The question came out as just a garbled grunt, and Bård remembered angrily he'd been gagged. He didn't know how he could have forgotten; his jaw was killing him.

Vegard let out a loud breath. "Thank goodness, I thought maybe they'd given you brain damage or you'd lost too much blood."

"Mrrrph?"

"Those islanders that attacked us. One of them clubbed you in the head and knocked you out. It's been hours."

"Arrrph?" Bård's head hurt and his shoulder was throbbing. He glanced down and felt sick to see the harpoon point was still protruding through his right shoulder. His wrists were still tied behind him and he could feel the cold stone pressing against his bound hands, trapped between his back and the rock. At least four loops of rope wound around his bare chest, keeping him pressed tightly against the pillar.

"Try not to move your shoulder too much. They detached the harpoon head from the shaft before they brought us here. I think if they'd tried to yank it out you'd be bleeding worse..." Vegard frowned at him.

"Umphhmmmumph?"

Vegard nodded upwards. "Up there." There was a ledge several meters above them, and on the ledge were a half dozen of the dark men, looking down at the two Norwegians impassively.

Bård shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to work out the gag. The movement of his neck pulled on the shoulder wound and he grunted in pain.

Vegard shook his head. "Since they brought us here they haven't said a word to me. I think they're waiting for something."

Bård looked back up at their captors. They seemed agitated.

A few minutes later three older men came down the stone steps leading to the floor the brothers were sitting on. They crowded around Bård and murmured to each other. One bent down and held his chin, looking curiously at his face while another man ran his fingers through his hair. Bård stared defiantly back at them until the third man took hold of the harpoon head and wiggled it, shooting hot pain into Bård's neck and arm. Bård shut his eyes tight and screamed into his gag. Behind the men Vegard swore and shouted at the men to leave his brother alone.

The elders drew back and murmured to each other, and then moved to where Vegard sat and examined him as well. Bård groaned with pain as he watched them poke and prod his brother. Vegard spoke quietly to them, but they didn't answer.

They finally finished looking at Vegard and walked up the steps to the ledge where the other islanders stood. The elders spoke softly to the other men. Then two of the men solemnly walked to a large rope hanging down from the ceiling and began pulling on it.

Vegard swore. "Fy faen, we're in trouble. They're letting in the tide."

Bård followed Vegard's gaze to see water rushing in from a widening gap in the wall of the cave. It quickly began swirling around them. Panicked, Bård struggled to push himself to his feet, dragging his wrists painfully against the rough stone of the pillar. He drove hard against the ground with his legs to overcome the friction of the ropes holding him. He only managed to gain a half-meter or so and in doing so he'd gotten painful rope burns on his chest. But that was nothing compared to the pain screaming at him from his shoulder.

Vegard shouted urgently, "There's a water line on the wall. It's at least three meters high." He shouted up at the men watching from above. "We haven't done anything wrong! This is a mistake!"

Bård looked back frantically at the islanders as the water swirled around his knees. He glanced at Vegard and saw he was struggling against the ropes around his wrists and chest, trying to inch himself up as well. Vegard shouted above the din of the rushing water. "I've been trying to get a hand free…"

Bård pulled against his own bonds but it seemed as though the more he pulled against his wrists the tighter the ropes became. He'd gotten his feet beneath him but the water was already up to his waist.

Vegard wasn't having as much success moving upward and the water was already swirling around his neck. He was cursing and struggling but glanced up at Bård. "It's caught on something. I can't…" And then Vegard was straining to keep his face above the water.

Bård locked eyes with his brother.

Vegard looked back sorrowfully at Bård. "I'm sorry." Then the water surged up and he was gone.

Bård cried his brother's name against the gag and strained against the ropes holding him in place. As the water swirled upwards over his chest he desperately fought to climb higher. It was no use. The water roiled up and he took a deep, final breath. And then he was underwater. Above him the surface pulled away with terrifying speed.

He shook his head, desperate not to suck the water into his lungs. He was horrified to see Vegard, his eyes squeezed shut and his hair billowing around him, still thrashing under the water. Vegard's face twisted in agony but after a few moments his features relaxed as his body went limp, large bubbles of air escaping his mouth.

Bård suddenly realized why Vegard's last words had been "I'm sorry." It was because he knew he'd drown first, and that Bård would be left to die alone.

At least it wouldn't be long before he joined his brother. Bård knew he couldn't hold his breath much longer and he had to let his air out slowly to keep water from rushing into his nose. His lungs were burning and the urge to just let go was overwhelming.

He closed his eyes, despairing that he would never see his wife and children again. There were so many things he should have said to so many people…

…and then there was a sudden, violent tug at his chest and the ropes fixing him to the pillar fell away. He opened his eyes in shock and saw a flash of purple beside him as invisible hands pushed him to the surface.

He willed himself to stay conscious just one moment more and when he broke the surface he sneezed out the water in his nose and sucked in a deep, delicious lungful of air. Air had never seemed as sweet and beautiful as it did now. To his dismay he realized he couldn't easily stay up with his arms still tied behind him, and he sank back down, his feet touching the stone floor a meter or so below. He pushed off and up into the air again, but this time he was stabilized by someone holding him from behind. The rescuer pulled the horrid gag out of his mouth and down around his neck. He gulped air in through his mouth as he was pulled through the water toward the high ground of the cave opposite the islanders. After taking several great breaths he had enough air to shout at his savior, "My brother is still down there!" But before he'd finished the sentence Vegard's head broke through the surface alongside that of one of their rescuers.

"Calle?!"

Chapter Text

"Hallo?" Calle looked up at the dark-haired people standing around him. They looked vaguely Polynesian, and both the men and women were wearing brightly colored sarongs. After a moment of astonished silence they all broke into excited whispers.

Calle sat up, checking his own arms and legs. Everything appeared to be intact. In English he said, "Well, I guess your uh… roof… broke my fall. Sorry about that."

The crowd parted and an attractive young woman edged forward. Her straight, shiny dark hair was swept up into an elaborate pile and pinned with a large purple flower that matched her purple batik sarong and matching sandals. She bowed her head to him and said, "Welcome, Spirit of the Air. I am Mio."

Calle frowned and wondered how it was possible that the woman was speaking Norwegian. Maybe he had hit his head. "Pardon me, but I think there might be some mistake…"

The woman held up her hand and bowed her head again. "Please, come with me." She turned on her heel and took several steps. She turned her head and said, "Please, Spirit, come with me. I will not harm you."

Calle swallowed and nodded and pushed himself to his feet, immediately banging his head on a crossbeam. The people that had been crowded around him stepped away with surprise. Calle realized he was at least a foot taller than all the men in the room, and he expected that with his white trousers, white shirt and white blond hair he looked a little odd. He ducked his head, muttered, "Sorry, excuse me, sorry…" and followed Mio out of the little building.

Mio walked through the little village and into the jungle, Calle walking uneasily behind her. "Excuse me, Miss… uh… Mio, is that Miss Mio or is Mio your first…" He coughed politely. "So… do you just have the one name or…?"

The woman walked serenely into the jungle without turning around. "You will follow me."

Calle turned and walked backwards, waving to the villagers still standing at the edge of the huddled buildings. "Thank you for everything, I'm just going to… uh… go with… Mio?" The villagers stared at him impassively and Calle's smile faltered. "Okay then! Have a good one!" He turned back to hurry after Mio, his long legs making up the distance quickly.

"So, uh… Mio, then… are you a priestess or a… tour guide… or…?"

Mio didn't look at him but replied kindly. "I am Mio. Those villagers believe you are a Spirit. I know that you are not. How should I address you?"

"Calle. Thanks." Calle ran a hand through his short white-blond hair. "How is it that you speak Norwegian?"

Mio smiled and shook her head. "We all speak the same language on Odo Island. I was sent here by the Elias fairies to find you. The Earth is in grave danger."

Calle nodded in his most thoughtful, serious and journalistic way so as not to let on that he realized that Mio was completely fucking crazy. "Ah. Well, then… it's certainly lucky we've run into each other."

"Yes it is. I believe you and your friends can help us to save the Earth."

A short walk later they were in a little shrine decorated gaily with red and orange flags next to a little freshwater stream. The air was fragrant with the scent of flowers and birds sang in the trees above them. It should have been relaxing. But Calle was desperate for a cigarette. He felt nauseated and had a pounding headache. Despite Mio's claim of doomsday danger, she seemed to be in no hurry. She bade him to sit down on the woven rugs on the floor of the shrine and served him an herbal tea and small sweet cakes. The snack helped Calle's headache immensely and as he finished off the last of his tea she walked softly behind him and began massaging his shoulders.

"Are you feeling better, Spirit Calle?"

"Yes, thank you. You can call me Calle."

Mio laughed softly behind him. "Thank you, Calle. Now the fairies will come to meet you."

Calle was glad Mio couldn't see his face. But he tried to sound agreeable. "Yes, of course they will. I'm really looking forward to that."

Mio rubbed his back and patted him gently. "I will leave you to rest. Wait here."

Calle wondered if he should mention the brothers he'd left on the beach. This woman might be insane; perhaps it was better to leave them out of this for the time being. Mio withdrew and Calle rested back on some of the pillows scattered along the walls of the shrine. He was soon asleep.

When he awoke, he was immediately apprehensive. Not only was he unsure how to get back to the life raft from the shrine but also because he thought the tea Mio gave him might have been drugged. It wasn't like him to drift off to sleep so easily. He sat up and rubbed his eyes and abruptly realized what had woken him up.

"Spirit Calle?" The question was not asked by a single voice, but two female voices in unison. He looked around but didn't see the speakers.

"Hallo?"

"Spirit Calle, look down here."

Calle looked down at the woven rug on which he was sitting. Two tiny beautiful young women, perhaps only 30 cm high, were staring up at him. One was wearing an orange satin sarong, and the other was wearing a matching dress in light blue, and they both had their hair up in little ponytails with a fringe of dark bangs. They were each wearing dainty little slippers and a flower in their hair to match their dresses. They said in unison, "Hallo, Spirit Calle."

Calle jumped violently in surprise and then peered down at them. "Hallo, tiny ladies. You can just call me Calle. Uh… am I still asleep?"

The girls giggled and continued to speak in unison. "No, Calle, you are awake. We are the Elias: Lora and Moll."

"Pardon, but who is who?"

The girls smiled and the girl in blue bowed. "I am Lora. And…" The girl in orange bowed and said, "I am Moll."

"Moll and Lora. Those are pretty names."

Both girls smiled and bowed their heads. "Thank you, Calle. Your name is also pretty. We need assistance that we believe you and your friends can give us. But first: Your friends are in grave danger. We have called for Mio but you must hurry if you wish to save both of their lives."

Calle decided that if he was asleep he might as well play along. This was a better dream than the one he'd had the last time he'd slept; it had been about a math exam for which he hadn't studied. He hated that dream. He clapped his hands together and said enthusiastically, "Well, alrighty then! Lead the way?"

The little women bowed their head and a sparkly orange butterfly flew into the shrine and the Elias fairies jumped on its back. "Follow us!" They flew out into the jungle.

Calle frowned and muttered to himself, "I have got to find a cigarette," and ran to follow what was surely a nicotine withdrawal-fueled hallucination.

The butterfly flew through the jungle not far from the ground, and after having to jump a few low obstacles Calle found they were running on another well-worn path. He could smell the salty air of the ocean and sure enough they were soon at the tree line and on a rocky beach. He paused and the butterfly zoomed back towards and around him, the girls on his back crying out, "Hurry, Calle! Your friends are drowning!" It shot away again towards a cave-like opening in a huge boulder and he followed.

He ran into the cave and down a smooth footpath and could hear water rushing ahead. Within moments he stopped short at the top of a stone stairway in a large open cavern filled with water that was swirling around several long pillars that reached up to the sky. His arm was jostled as Mio rushed past him. She shouted, "Get the dark-haired one; he is under the water!" She dove into the water and swam quickly towards one of the pillars.

"Dark-haired one?"

The Elias' mount flew back to him and the fairies shouted, "He is drowning! Hurry! Follow us!"

Calle didn't hesitate but kicked off his sandals and dove in. Once under water he saw Mio pulling someone toward the surface. Nearby there was another figure tied to the bottom of a pillar. In a flash he realized with horror that it was Vegard.

Calle swam quickly to Vegard's side and pulled out his knife. He flipped open the blade and frantically cut the ropes securing his friend to the pillar. As soon as Vegard was free Calle grabbed his waist and pulled him back up to the surface and back towards the stairs from which he'd come.

Once Calle had his feet under him, he pulled Vegard's limp body up onto the footpath and rolled him onto his side, letting the water drain from his mouth. He pressed two fingers to Vegard's neck but couldn't feel a pulse. He rolled him onto his back again and began chest compressions, counting out loud. He heard a shout and glanced behind him. Bård was lying on his side on the stone walkway, gaping at his brother in tearful dismay. Mio was kneeling behind Bård, cutting through the ropes around his wrists and watching Calle anxiously.

Calle looked back down at Vegard's placid face. His lips were blue. That was bad. He paused to roll Vegard towards him and cut the ropes around Vegard's wrists in order to position him better. That done, he resumed the chest compressions and when he got to thirty he shifted his position to kneel over Vegard's face, tilting up his friend's chin with one hand and pinching his nose with the other. He locked his mouth tightly over Vegard's and blew in two breaths. He pulled away to repeat the compressions and said urgently, "Come on, Vegard. Don't be an asshole."

After another thirty compressions he sealed his mouth over Vegard's again and gave him another two breaths. But this time when he pulled away Vegard began choking and coughing. Tears of relief flooded Calle's eyes as he rolled Vegard onto his side again. "Oh thank god." He squeezed Vegard's shoulder and watched him gasp in droughts of air.

Vegard squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then blinked up at Calle. "Calle? What happened?"

Behind Calle, Mio said, "Spirit Calle gave you the breath of life. You are truly blessed."

Calle shook his head. "It was just CPR."

Vegard grimaced and put a hand to his chest, coughing and spitting again. "Just CPR? Jesus Christ, Calle. You saved my life."

Calle smiled and said in English, "Now that's two you owe me, kid."

"I guess I do. Helvete. I think you might have broken a rib."

"Sorry."

"No, it's okay. I'm grateful for it." He looked around and coughed again, holding his chest. He finally managed to choke out, "Where's Bård? He's hurt."

"Behind me." Calle shifted position so that Vegard could see his brother.

Vegard startled and said, "There's a giant bug! Get it off of him!"

Calle turned and saw Bård was lying flat on his back, his face turned towards them, his eyes were closed and his face was suffused with emotion and pain. The Elias fairies and their mount were sitting on his chest, looking curiously at the harpoon point in his shoulder.

At the sight of Bård's injury Calle grimaced in sympathetic pain. "Fy faen. Bård, what happened to your...?" Bård's blue eyes snapped open but before he could answer Calle did a double take back at Vegard. "Wait, you can see the sparkly butterfly too?"

"I think it looks more like a moth. Look at the hairy feelers. That's definitely a moth."

Calle sighed. "Okay, professor. But you can see the sparkly moth? And the tiny girls?"

"Yes. Are we dead? Is this heaven?"

"No."

"That's a relief. I told everyone I didn't believe in heaven." With a sigh Vegard rested his head back down on the stone, sighing, "Jesus Christ."

Twenty minutes or so later the men who had tried to drown them had meekly assisted Calle, Mio and the fairies to bring the brothers back to a little hut near the shrine. During the trip the fairies had introduced themselves to Bård and then enveloped him in an orange cloud of golden sparkles, which from what Calle could tell, put Bård to sleep. Once at the hut they installed Vegard into a small but comfortable bed and laid Bård on a long table. Calle helped Mio gently pull the thin harpoon head completely through Bård's shoulder. He held pressure on the wound to staunch the blood that briskly followed as Mio cleaned and bandaged it. Then the little fairies climbed onto Bård's chest and held hands, singing a sweet little song in a strange language.

From his bed Vegard offered groggily, "Organum-style harmony in fourths. That sounds so cool."

Calle shushed his friend and watched the little women weave their enchantment. When their song ended the golden sparkles faded and Bård seemed to sleep easier.

Mio took Calle's hand and drew him outside. "The Elias have blessed him; he will heal quickly. We must allow the brothers to rest tonight. Will you stay and watch over them?"

Calle nodded with a sigh of relief. "Of course. So, Mio, or… should I call you Doctor Mio? Or, Queen Mio?"

She smiled warmly at him. "Only Mio."

"So, Mio, you said something about saving the world?"

Chapter Text

The next morning all three men woke early, feeling refreshed. Bård's right shoulder was still in a lot of pain, but he could move it freely, much to his relief. Although he hadn't said so before, he'd been terribly afraid he would lose the use of his right arm or hand. Vegard must have been worried about him as well, because at some point in the night Vegard had gotten up and sat down on the floor next to Bård's bed, holding his hand. He'd fallen back to sleep like that, but insisted when they awoke that he still felt much better and wasn't stiff from sleeping in the odd position. Even Calle thought it was the best night of sleep he'd ever had. He still really wanted a smoke, but at least his nausea and headache were better.

They'd only been awake a short time before Mio knocked softly on the door and brought in a jug of cool drinking water along with a platter of fruits and little cakes. She set them down and promised to return with the fairies later that morning. She directed them to a small nearby natural waterfall and pool in case they wanted to bathe. Although all three men felt they'd had enough of water the previous day to last them a lifetime, they were soon swimming and splashing in the fresh water like children.

When they returned to the hut afterwards the brothers found their missing shirts and shoes waiting for them, clean and dry.

Vegard shrugged into his grey pullover shirt, grimacing a little as he did so, and then helped Bård to dress. He said, "It's so beautiful here I still have a nagging feeling that we died and this is heaven. I was sure I'd never get in if it actually existed."

Calle laughed and patted Vegard warmly on the back. "Vegard, if a sweet guy like you can't get into heaven, then the rest of the human race has no chance."

Vegard rolled his eyes. "Drit i det. I'm not sweet."

"Well, don't worry regardless. This can't possibly be heaven. I am definitely headed straight to hell."

Bård smiled. "That's very reassuring… and also a little scary. I hope you're not going to tell us you've actually murdered a dozen people."

"Not a dozen. Pfft. That would be ridiculous."

"That's a relief."

They finished dressing and strolled outside to enjoy the fresh air. The hut was in an area free of the dense plant life of the jungle. Vegard pointed out it would be a good location for an airstrip if the island ever needed one. This earned him a half-hearted punch in the arm by Bård with the order to "Stop ruining everything."

There were four chairs near the hut in the shade of a palm tree and Vegard watched Bård carefully as he sat down. "Does your arm hurt terribly? Is there something I can do to help?"

Bård said sharply, "No, Mamma, there's nothing for you to do. I'll be okay."

"I just want to help."

"Jesus Christ, Vegard, you're the only one here who actually died. Worry about yourself."

Calle held up a hand. "Boys, boys, no fighting in paradise. If you want to worry about someone, worry about me."

Both brothers frowned at Calle. Bård said crossly, "What happened to you anyway? If you'd been there maybe those men wouldn't have tried to kill us."

Calle's face fell. "Hey, Bård. I'm sorry about that." All three men sat in awkward silence for a long minute.

Vegard intervened. "It's okay, those men had a lot of weapons; you would have just been hurt as well."

Finally Bård sighed. "He's right. I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault."

Calle nodded.

Vegard asked, "What did happen to you, Calle? We were worried when you didn't come back to the beach."

Mio appeared from behind the hut. "He didn't come back because the villagers thought he was a god." The fairies were with her, their little moth mount flittering merrily around her.

Calle turned and smiled at Mio and then looked back at the brothers with pride. He straightened his shirt, slicked back his hair and grinned broadly. "That's right boys, you're sitting with a real live demi-god."

Vegard laughed and then grimaced and put a hand to his chest. "That would happen only to you, Calle."

"Well, of course."

Mio sat down and the little moth perched on the back of her chair and looked at Vegard. "Is your chest still bothering you, Brother Vegard?"

Vegard looked incredulously at Mio and then at Calle.

Calle prompted his friend, "Answer the lady, Brother Vegard."

"Uh… no, Mio, it only hurts when I laugh. It's fine."

Mio smiled. "When the villagers saw Spirit Calle give you the breath of life they were convinced they'd been right to worship him."

Bård smiled and said, "Now Calle will be insufferable."

"I'm going to want a better dressing room."

Vegard nodded. "I think we can arrange that for you, Holy One."

"Excellent." Calle smiled and then looked at the fairies uncertainly. "We're just joking around, ladies. I don't actually think I'm a god…"

The fairies giggled and said in unison, "We know."

Mio sobered and said, "And now we must ask a favor of you. We need your help. The Elias wanted you to have a chance to heal and sleep and eat before discussing this. We hope you are feeling better."

Vegard glanced at Bård. "We are feeling better, but I'm sorry, we're a little confused about the two of you."

They girls nodded and said in unison, "We are the Elias. Some call us the Cosmos. This is Fairy." Moll motioned to their little moth mount. It squeaked. They continued, "We are guardians of the Earth. It is in danger and we need your help."

The three men glanced at each other.

Vegard finally said, "I was thinking maybe this is a hallucination. One of those dreams you have because your brain doesn't have enough oxygen. We drowned on the yacht with everyone else."

Calle nodded. "Owl Creek Bridge."

"Right. But whose dream is this, then?"

Calle shrugged. "It must be yours. My end-of-life hallucination would have a lot more naked women and booze in it. And I'd have something to smoke."

Bård looked curiously at the fairies but said to Vegard, "Why are you so sure this isn't real? My shoulder definitely hurts like hell."

Vegard frowned. "Because of the two tiny sparkly women?"

Calle added, "On a sparkly butterfly."

Vegard frowned. "Definitely a moth. A weird hovering moth."

Bård didn't take his eyes off the fairies but said, "You two are too cynical. We can't all three be having the same hallucination. Let's hear what they have to say."

The two girls bowed to Bård and continued in unison. "The Earth is guarded by a benevolent spirit called Mothra. It usually lives in the body of a very powerful single giant moth. But the last Mothra laid two eggs and there are two Mothra now. We would like you to help us communicate with Mothra so we can most efficiently fight Godzilla and any other beasts awakened by this attack on the planet."

Bård didn't bat an eye. "And what's a Godzilla?"

"Godzilla is a giant dinosaur that mutated as a result of atomic testing in the last century. In the past he has come to the defense of Japan, but has awoken now because of the attacking creatures."

"Ah. And how can we help?"

"The two of you are brothers." The fairies pointed to Bård and Vegard. "You have a very strong bond. We witnessed your concern for one another when the villagers mistakenly captured you, and we see the way you move and speak together. Also, you can sing and improvise music, which is of course essential."

Bård started, "There are many people in the world who can improvise music…"

Vegard finished, "…that's nothing special."

"But you are brothers, so you sing with the same voice. And you both can fly or tumble in space, and you have a great deal of experience speaking to a variety of people and know many languages. You even have military experience. And you are sons of Thor. Between you, you have all the necessary skills to commune with a Mothra spirit and coordinate with the humans to defend the planet. This is why the Earth, in her wisdom, brought you to us."

Bård nodded and looked at the other men. "Okay. I'm in."

Vegard and Calle looked at each other. Calle finally said, "You know, it seems like we would have heard about a giant radioactive dinosaur in Japan. I think you might be right, Vegard."

Vegard's face crumpled. "I didn't say goodbye to my children properly when we left. And I argued with my wife. She didn't want me to go to on this trip."

Calle sobered and rubbed Vegard's shoulder. "It's okay, buddy. They know how you feel about them. Everyone knows. Anyway, maybe you're not dying. Maybe you're just delirious. Remember how you were when you had that fever in school and you were convinced that your hands were turning into metal? Maybe you got some bad sushi or something."

Vegard turned and hugged Calle. Calle patted his back and looked at Bård, worried.

Bård shook his head. "Vegard, for once in your life can you just suspend your disbelief? If you're dead it doesn't matter anyway. Open your mind. Why not just see what happens? They're right, our people used to be Vikings. Sons of Thor. Have courage!"

Vegard hiccupped into Calle's shoulder. "I don't want to be dead."

The little fairies began singing. Their little voices swirled in the men's heads, their harmony sweet and inviting. Vegard turned around to look at them, transfixed by the beauty of the song. All three men startled when the sunlight was suddenly blocked out. Looking up they saw two moths similar to the one the fairies were riding. Except these moths were at least forty meters long. The moths circled and landed on the ground, both facing the group, the wind from their wings surprisingly gentle.

Vegard stood, marveling. "They're bigger than 737s!"

Bård and Calle stood as well.

The fairies laughed. "These Mothra are very small compared with their mother. But their strength is not so much in their size, but more in their magic."

Bård asked the fairies, "Do they talk?"

"They sing to us. But we are used to aiding only one Mothra. The last time there were two Mothra one of them died in battle. We believe it was because we could not effectively assist both of them at the same time. But now you are here. If you are willing, you will be able to communicate with them as we do, and help us to strengthen them."

Bård nodded. "What do we do?" He looked at Vegard, who was still gaping at the enormous creatures.

"First you must join your minds. Then you will be able to hear their voices."

Bård swallowed hard. He wasn't sure he wanted to join his mind with Vegard's. "Would that be a… permanent thing?"

The fairies giggled. "No, you are only humans. Even with our blessing you can only join your consciousness for short periods of time. But it will be enough. Then you will be able to ride the second Mothra and guide her in battle with your song."

Calle put his arm around Vegard's shoulder. "Come on, Vegard. You know you want to ride one. It can't hurt to play along."

"It would be incredibly dangerous to fly in the open air on those."

Bård volunteered, "I definitely want to ride those things."

Calle poked Vegard. "You'll regret it if you don't try."

Bård growled, "Because I'll beat you up."

Calle frowned at Bård. "Hey now. No need to threaten Mister Metal Hands."

Vegard turned toward the fairies chewing his lip. "Okay. Against my better judgement."

The fairies smiled and bowed and behind Vegard the two giant moths trilled softly, making the ground under them rumble gently.

The fairies beckoned Vegard to come closer and directed him and Bård to sit down facing each other and hold hands.

When they had done so, Vegard looked at Bård and said, "This is scary."

"Yeah. I don't want to see into your head either."

Vegard nodded and turned to the fairies. "Go ahead."

The Elias began singing a new song and as Calle watched, Vegard and Bård seemed to fall into a trance, both with their eyes closed, both gripping the other's hands tightly.

After a half-minute or so, they hadn't moved a muscle. Calle watched them and really wanted a cigarette. Of course he was worried about his friends, but he wished they'd do something. He really needed the distraction. Thirty seconds was a long time without a cigarette.

A few seconds later Bård and Vegard took a simultaneous deep breath and pulled violently away from each other, staring into each other's eyes, aghast.

Vegard leapt to his feet and walked quickly into the hut, slamming the door behind him. Bård's face fell. He shook his head and buried his face in his hands.

Calle looked at the fairies. "So. That went well."

Chapter Text

Calle knocked softly on the door of the hut. "Vegard? Can I come in?" There was no answer, so Calle pushed the door open and peeked inside. He was expecting to find Vegard in a blubbering heap. Instead, to his relief, he found him lying on his bed, his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Calle stepped carefully into the room and sat down on the bed next to his friend.

"Vegard?"

"I don't want to talk about this."

"Mio asked me to come in here. You should probably talk about it."

"I'm not going to talk about this."

"She thinks you should really-"

Vegard cut him off, exclaiming, "He fucking hates me."

"Okay. And no, he doesn't."

Vegard glared at Calle. "I was just in his fucking head. He hates me."

Calle blinked several times, surprised Vegard actually wanted to talk. Vegard rarely wanted to talk about things this personal. "I don't understand."

"If he hates me, why hasn't he said anything?"

"He says he hates you all the time. But he doesn't actually hate you, obviously."

"All of this." Vegard looked back up at the ceiling. "ALL OF THIS. What is all of this? What have the last fifteen years of my life been about?"

"Okay, buddy, let's calm down a little."

"He's hated and resented me since the beginning. He hates how close I am to our mother. He hates the way I look. He thinks I'm better than him at singing and music, and he hates that. And he thinks I'm a show-off. He hates that I lecture him all the time; he thinks I'm boring and an embarrassment."

Calle smiled. "We both know you sometimes lecture Bård specifically to annoy him."

Vegard didn't seem to hear him. He said, "He hates that he has to work with me, he really, really hates that. He was the one who was discovered, not me. But then I was dragged into it all and he was stuck with me. I didn't want to do any of this."

Calle said quietly, resigned to be involved in the stupid conversation, "As I recall, you were in the school shows before he ever was. You're the one who got the best reviews. He knows better than anyone that you are an asset to him."

Vegard nodded. "Oh, I know. He knows people aren't interested in him as a solo act. I know because he's looked into it. He even told me. Jesus Christ, when we get home I'm quitting. Helvete, I'm going to go off and fly planes. Helvete!"

"You love performing and you love making music and making people laugh. You'd miss it."

Vegard hesitated and looked at Calle carefully. Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't really just quit like that and abandon you and… everyone. Fucking hell, you just saved my life… I didn't mean I would…"

Calle patted Vegard's arm. "I know."

They sat quietly for a long minute, Vegard frowning at the ceiling and absently rubbing his chest with his hand.

Calle cleared his throat and said, "Are you sure your chest is okay? It's bothering you, isn't it?"

Vegard nodded, still looking at the ceiling.

Calle sighed. "You know, from what I've seen he worries about you and goes out of his way to protect you. Mostly from yourself."

"You mean he thinks I'm a hopeless, socially awkward nerd."

Calle tried not to smile. "Vegard. Buddy. You are a hopeless, socially awkward nerd. But I know Bård would rather be home taking apart a vacuum cleaner than chatting up celebrities at some martini mixer. Neither of you are ultra cool socialites."

Vegard frowned.

Calle continued, "You know, I knew you were going to be a great father before you even started a family, because of the way you look out for him and his kids."

Vegard blinked at Calle, confused. "That's… really nice of you to say, although I'm a terrible father. Right now I'm here instead of at home with my children. That was my stupid choice."

"You're a better father than me, anyway."

Vegard winced.

Calle continued, "Regardless, Bård looks out for you as well."

"Not out of concern for me. He likes nothing better than to see me humiliated and suffering."

Calle counted to ten in his head and tried not to fantasize about nicotine. "Vegard, there are days when you are walking around like a zombie, completely exhausted and he takes care of work you'd normally have to deal with."

"He just doesn't want me to pass out and cause a fuss."

Calle sighed, wondering how he, of all the screwed-up people in the world, had suddenly become the resident psychologist for these two brothers. "Vegard, I've never done a Vulcan mind meld with anyone, so I'm no expert, but is it possible you didn't get the whole story? You were only in there less than a minute. Bård has to have more than a minute's worth of substance in his head."

Vegard threw an arm over his face. "I don't know."

They sat in silence again. Finally Calle offered, "And here I thought you two would be mad that you both have fantasized about each other's wives."

Vegard shook his head. "We both knew about that."

"Or that you both masturbate so much when you're on the road."

"Knew it. It's a little weird that you know."

"Actually I just guessed. Everyone does it. But did you both already know-?"

Vegard cut him off. "I… I don't want to be rude. Especially to you. I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for you. But… can I just be alone for a little while? I have to think about all of this."

"Sure thing." Calle stood and walked out into the mid day sunlight. Bård was gone. Mio was sitting alone, wringing her hands. The fairies and the giant moths were gone.

"Where's Bård?"

Mio pointed toward the waterfall. Bård was sitting with his feet in the water, facing away from them. "We did not expect them to become so upset. Could you go to comfort him?"

Calle wanted to comfort Bård about his feelings almost as much as he wanted to stab himself in the eyes with forks. But he said, "Sure, Mio, I'll go talk to him."

"Thank you."

As Calle approached, Bård glanced at him briefly and then looked back at the waterfall. Calle hesitated. Bård's eyes were red from crying. Calle hadn't expected that at all. Bård rarely cried, at least not in front of him. Calle asked, "Can I sit down with you?"

"I don't care."

"Okay, great. Fantastic."

Bård shook his head. "I don't want to talk about this."

"Mio said you should talk about it."

"I'm not going to talk about it."

Calle started to get up. "Okay, we don't have to talk about-"

Bård cut him off, asking, "What did he say? I know you went in to see him."

Calle blinked at Bård and sat back down. "I thought you were just in his head. What do you think he said?"

Bård swiped at his eyes. "I don't know. I don't think I really know him."

"You mean he's not the arrogant know-it-all passive-aggressive jerk you thought he was?"

"I didn't say that."

Calle sighed and decided to just go for it. Why not? He had nothing better to do. He was stuck on a fucking island with crazy people and fairies and no alcohol or cigarettes. Fuck it. Might as well say what he really thinks. He looked at Bård and said, "You didn't realize how much and how unconditionally he loves you and so now you feel guilty for treating him like shit."

Bård sucked in a breath. "That's a little unnecessarily harsh."

"He thinks you hate him."

Bård looked sharply at Calle. "Of course I don't hate him."

"Something in your stupid fucked-up brain told him you do."

"How could he think that I hate him? I've put up with him every day for more than thirty years."

Calle squinted at Bård. "Do you hear yourself?"

"Of course I don't hate him. That's absurd."

Calle sighed. "You constantly say you want to get rid of him. And everything is a competition to you. Always asking which one is the favorite. It's childish."

Bård frowned. "Only in public."

Calle laughed mirthlessly. "In public. So then it's okay. You made him cry on national television by making him confess to that stupid childhood mistake. We all watched it in the office when you two were out doing an interview. That was just premeditated cruelty. Seriously, Bård, what the fuck?"

Bård flushed with anger. "Believe me, I know! I got an earful from our mother about that. And Magnus, of all people."

Calle smiled. "He must have been pretty riled up to chastise his hero."

Bård shook his head. "Whatever. But come on, Calle, of all people you know that all that infighting isn't real. That's just our public persona. We play with it but … just logically speaking: We would never get anything accomplished if we didn't work so well together. Most of that stuff where he looks stupid is his idea anyway."

"I know. But I think you two take the joke a little too far sometimes."

Bård frowned down at his hands.

Calle shrugged. "Maybe you two should go to counseling."

Bård shook his head. "That's also absurd. My relationship with Vegard is stronger than with anyone. There's nowhere to hide from him. We have to get along. We make it work."

Calle sighed and said irritably, "Obviously, this is between you two. And you get your work done. But it seems to me that you are both hanging on to the same mindset you had when you were kids. You are still whining about him getting all the attention and he's convinced your success, safety and happiness are his personal responsibility. You both should just grow the fuck up."

"That's not true."

Calle stood and said angrily, "Fucking hell, I need a cigarette." He stomped off into the jungle, determined to find something, anything, to smoke.

Bård sunk his face back into his hands and sighed. "That's not true."

Chapter Text

When Calle returned to the clearing an hour later, he found the fairies had returned and the two brothers were sitting facing each other again, but not looking at one another.

Calle hailed them. "Back for another try?"

Vegard looked up at him. "I just need to know… before I decide anything."

Calle looked at Bård. "You too?"

Bård shrugged.

Mio cleared her throat softly and said, "The Elias do not want to upset you. You do not have to try again if it is too painful."

Vegard sighed. "No, we have to try again. We can't leave it like this."

Bård said, "This might make it worse."

The group fell silent.

Calle pulled up the empty chair and sat down. "Listen, when I was walking around the jungle, I was thinking about it and I decided that if you decided to try again… well, whatever you do, don't think about how fantastic your wife looks naked while you're having sex with her. Otherwise it will be the first thing the other one sees."

Vegard and Bård both looked up to glare at him furiously, saying in unison, "Oh my god."

Calle grinned back at them and gave the double thumbs up, waggling his eyebrows. "Am I right?"

The brothers glanced at each other and then back at Calle. Calle's grin widened.

Vegard shook his head and said, "You are a disturbed man."

"I told you I was headed for hell."

The brothers looked at each other and both started chuckling self-consciously. Vegard actually blushed. He said, "It feels wrong to do this now."

Calle said, "You might as well go ahead; both of you are thinking of the other one's wife right now."

The brothers said in unison, "No, I'm not!" They looked at each other suspiciously.

Calle nodded. "I win."

Vegard let out a breath. "Let's get this over with before I lose my nerve."

Bård nodded. "Or I beat the hell out of Calle."

Bård and Vegard took each other's hands and closed their eyes.

Calle said softly, "Just don't think about… you know what."

Without opening their eyes both brothers shouted in English, "Shut up!"

Calle grinned at Mio who shook her head at him with disapproval. He whispered, "Hey, they do better unified against a common enemy." He hooked a thumb at himself.

Mio frowned and turned to the brothers, "Are you ready?"

They both nodded and the fairies began singing again.

 

* * *

 

This time the brothers stayed in their trance a long time. The fairies had sung for the first few minutes and then had fallen silent, watching them with great interest. Calle spent the time pacing back and forth, trying not to think about cigarettes. He glanced at his watch and leaned down to Mio and whispered, "How long are they going to be like that? It's been over an hour."

Mio said, "As long as they wish. But I believe everything will be all right now."

A short time later the brothers opened their eyes and looked at the fairies. They said in unison, "How do we separate?"

The fairies bowed their heads and then smiled. "You only have to decide to do so. It will be easier if you let go of your hands."

Calle boggled. "Wait, are you two stuck together right now?"

They answered in unison. "Yes."

"What's that like?"

"It's like being trapped in a very small closet together, wearing each other's boxers."

Calle rolled his eyes. "Who's in charge?"

They shook their heads simultaneously. "Both. Neither."

Calle frowned. "That's really bizarre."

The fairies asked, "Can you sing together?"

Both men looked at the fairies and immediately sang a baroque cadence, with Vegard singing harmony below Bård, "Yes, we can sing just like… this."

Calle backed up. "You're creeping me the fuck out."

They continued, now singing in a folksy rhythm, "We can even rhyme it - it's actually quite easy. And stay in time it's so sublime to make Calle feel queasy!"

"Who is doing that?"

They quickly answered in unison, "Both of us as always. Just much faster."

Calle frowned. "For the love of everything decent and good can you please stop doing that? You're even blinking at the same time."

The brothers looked at each other and let go of their hands.

After a few moments Vegard shuddered violently and said, "Fucking hell. Bård's body feels wrong from the inside, and his mouth tastes weird."

Bård blinked several times and pushed his hands through his hair. "I'll never feel clean again. I'll never get the Vegard smell out of my soul."

Mio stood and bowed. The fairies said, "We will leave you to rest briefly, but we will return shortly so you can practice with the Mothra. Then we must hasten to help the people of Tokyo by dawn." Mio walked back toward the village, the fairies flying beside her on their chirping moth mount.

Calle sat down. "So? Are you two weird psychic freaks friends again?"

The brothers looked at each other and then back at Calle. Vegard nodded. "Yes. We just had an incredibly long and honest conversation."

Bård sighed. "I never want to have a conversation like that again."

Vegard nodded in agreement. "A little too intimate for my taste also. What time is it?"

Calle looked at his watch. "Around 1530."

Bård swore. "It's the same afternoon? It felt like we were up all night talking."

Calle shrugged. "You can probably say a lot more if you don't have to spend any time actually speaking." He looked at Vegard. "So?"

"We're okay now."

Calle looked at Bård. "Well?"

"Well what? It's none of your business."

Calle smiled. "That is exactly true." He paused thoughtfully and added hesitantly, "And… you say it was intimate…" He glanced at Bård and asked, "So… you're okay with that whole thing… with me and Vegard back… you know…"

Bård frowned. "No. What do you mean?"

Calle cringed and said, "Oh, I thought you could read all his memories."

Vegard shook his head, "What do you mean, 'Me and Vegard'? Which whole thing?"

"You know, about that one time? When we were at Hilde's party. Back in school."

Vegard and Bård looked at each other. "No?"

Calle sighed, "Come on, Vegard, don't make me say it. About you and me and that bottle of vodka in Hilde's brother's bedroom. Remember? We found his stash of porn and…" Calle's voice trailed off and he took a step back. "You really don't remember?"

Vegard was horrified. "No, I don't remember any of that!"

"Oh. Right. Well, you were really drunk. You're a very affectionate drunk. Very… uh… obliging." Calle shifted uncomfortably. "Do you really not remember, Vegard? I feel a little hurt. You said you loved me."

Bård closed his eyes and clenched his fists tight enough that his knuckles whitened. He asked softly, "Calle, did you perform… some sort of… homosexual sex act with my trusting, virginal brother while he was too drunk to remember?"

Vegard shuddered. "Oh my god."

Calle made a face. "Well, I wouldn't call what happened technically a sex act."

Bård tried to keep his voice calm. "You know you can talk Vegard into anything even when he isn't drunk."

"That is true."

Vegard protested. "No you can't."

Calle and Bård both said simultaneously, "Yes we can."

Bård frowned murderously at Calle. "Talking him into something like that when he's drunk is just… wait, is this why you wanted to do that two-men-one-suit thing?"

"No? Is that what you think we were doing?"

Vegard cringed and said hoarsely, "I can't believe you never told me before. I'm going to be sick."

Bård met eyes with Vegard. They both turned to Calle, furious.

Calle looked back and forth between them, blinking rapidly and backing away for a beat and then stopped, threw his head back and laughed. "You are so gullible!"

Vegard rolled his eyes and shouted, "Oh thank god."

Bård punched Calle in the arm hard enough to push him backwards. "You motherfucker."

Calle rubbed his arm. "Ow?"

Bård pushed his hands through his hair in frustration. "I was about to fucking strangle you."

Calle put a finger to his chin and looked upward thoughtfully. "Hmm. Did Hilde even have a brother?"

Vegard exclaimed, "How would I know? I barely knew her!"

Calle grinned. "You two have a poor sense of humor when it comes to buddy sex. And you clearly have a very low opinion of my moral character."

Vegard let out a relieved breath. "For good reason. You just scared the hell out of me." He shuddered violently. "Blecchh."

"That's what you get for making me play marriage counselor to you two idiot fucks."

Both brothers hesitated and looked at each other. Bård smiled. "Fair enough."

Calle folded his arms. "Regardless, I'm glad you're yourselves again. Voltron Ylvis was super creepy."

Chapter Text

A few hours later Mio returned with a plate of steamed vegetables, bread and fish. Calle literally shouted with pleasure when he put the first forkful into his mouth.

Bård grinned. "You've finally got all that cigarette smoke out of your mouth and can taste your food."

"This tastes fantastic."

Bård nodded his head and glanced at Vegard, who had his head near his plate, shoveling food into his mouth as if he'd been starved. Bård took a proffered piece of bread from Mio and motioned to Calle with it. "Maybe you'll finally put on some weight like a normal human."

Calle frowned. "What?! And lose my girlish figure?"

"I can see through you in bright light. You're skin and bones."

"I'm not skin and bones. I'm… willowy and… lithe."

Bård snorted. "Like a scarecrow."

Mio laughed softly and nodded towards Calle's plate of food. "You are opening your senses, Spirit Calle."

"Just Calle, thanks. And yeah, I think maybe I should seriously try to stop smoking completely. I think I'm through the worst of it. And it is nice to smell and taste again."

Mio stood and walked gracefully to Calle's side. She knelt beside him and reached up and put her hand to his chest. She closed her eyes. "You are killing yourself with this poison you crave."

Calle sighed down at her. "You are not the first person to tell me that."

Mio nodded. "I've been able to retrieve these for you." She pulled out a small package wrapped in red cloth, unwrapping it to reveal all three men's phones and wallets. "They were found by your raft on the beach. You'll be able to use them once you leave the island in the morning."

Vegard looked up and said around a mouthful of food. "Wah ish deh telefahdeh woh?"

Bård grimaced at his brother but said, "He's asking: didn't the phones get all wet?"

Calle picked up a phone and tried to power it up without success. "I'd bet the batteries would be dead anyway. It's good to have our wallets and passports back, though. Thank you, Mio."

She smiled. "It has been a pleasure to meet all of you. I will miss you."

"You aren't coming with us?"

Mio shook her head. "I must stay on the island."

"Ah. Then I have to ask you: How do you know about phones and… atomic testing?"

Mio smiled again but didn't answer. "Eat your fill. You will need your strength."

She bowed politely and headed toward the two giant moths now parked in the clearing.

Vegard turned to look at the moths again and swallowed heavily. He wiped his mouth vigorously with one of Mio's cheery orange cloth napkins and said, "Come on, Bård, let's do this. I can't wait to try again."

Bård grabbed a piece of bread and stood. "Calle, you might as well stay here and get some sleep. They've got to teach us a bunch of songs and spells or some such."

Vegard grinned, "And we know we freak you out when we're synced up."

Calle speared another piece of fish and waved them away. "Go away and rehearse. I will happily finish off the leftovers."

Calle watched them walk briskly towards the moths and the fairies and then went back to concentrating on the food. He savored the delicate flavor of the still steaming-hot fish, taking his time to eat until he was completely and unashamedly stuffed. Then he put his feet up and watched the brothers rehearsing at the other end of the clearing. As the sun sank below the trees he could hear their voices and those of the fairies combining in harmonies reminiscent of Far Eastern music. He felt a twinge of jealousy that he couldn't participate, but he didn't think the experience would be worth the invasiveness of sharing his mind with another person. Still… it would be incredible to feel the world through someone else's senses. When night finally fell he lay down on his bed in the hut and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the jungle and the distant singing.

 

* * *

 

"Calle? Calle! Wake up!"

Calle blinked at the grey early morning light streaming in through the open door of the hut. Vegard was silhouetted in the doorframe, and Calle could only see his grin; it was so wide Calle thought Vegard's face would surely split open.

Calle didn't want to wake up yet, and his mouth tasted like feet. He only managed to groan, "Blergh?"

Vegard stepped briskly to his bedside and grabbed his arm. "Come on, we're going!"

Calle pulled away. "We can't go. I'm not wearing pants."

Vegard bent over him, his dark eyes sparkling with excitement. "That's never stopped you before. Get up and dress. We're ready to go."

Calle, starting to wake up, cleared his throat and said, "You look eager." He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and held out his hand.

Vegard pulled him up to stand. "Here are your clothes. We had the most amazing night. You have to hurry, we're going." He grinned and started dancing around the room, his index fingers pointing at Calle. He sang, "Hurry up, follow me, hurry up, follow me," and shook his bottom.

As Calle pulled on his shirt he said blearily, "Never, ever be this… delighted again; you are shaming our species. And you don't have to stay. I can dress myself."

"Bård says to personally bring you with me or not to come back at all."

"Okay, okay, sheesh." Calle zipped up his trousers and stepped into his sandals. "I'm ready, Señor Happy Dance, let's go."

"Yay!" Vegard grinned and grabbed his hand, pulling him out of the hut.

Dawn had broken and only a few pink clouds were floating in the otherwise clear sky. At the far edge of the glade the two giant moths were resting, their wings glittering with dew. The view was spectacular. Calle wondered vaguely if his appreciation of its beauty was also somehow related to his having stopped smoking.

Calle had to jog to keep up with Vegard, who was barely restraining himself from skipping with excitement. "This is going to be amazing, Calle. Amazing! We talked to the Mothra; they're awesome. They've been around forever… since the beginning of life here, when insects were the only animal life on dry land. Can you imagine?! That's millions of years ago!"

Calle nodded, thinking he should really pee before they went anywhere. "How are they going to carry us?"

Vegard turned and jogged backwards. "Wait until you see! Hurry up!" He turned and sprinted the last few dozen meters to Bård's side. Bård was calmly standing beside one of the Mothra, his arms folded. He called out to Calle, "He didn't give you a chance to pee, did he?"

Calle shook his head and Bård pointed to some nearby bushes without saying anything more. Beside him Vegard was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet with impatience. Bård glanced at him and rolled his eyes.

When Calle returned the brothers were nowhere to be seen. But Mio was waiting for him. She handed him a little bundle of cloth. "Something for your trip. Be careful, Spirit Calle, I will pray for you." She pulled his head down and kissed him lightly on the lips.

When she let go he could feel himself blushing. He never blushed. He said awkwardly, "Thank you for everything, Queen Mio."

She laughed gently and bowed in thanks. "They're waiting for you." She pointed to a rope ladder beside them, dangling down from the moth's back. "Be safe."

Calle bowed again, still feeling awkward, and climbed up the five meters or so of ladder. Bård was waiting for him and pulled him up to stand. The moth's back was covered with soft, rubbery iridescent spines that came up to his waist and bounced away as he waded through them. Bård led him to a depression on Mothra's back just behind her head and between her enormous wings; here the spines gave way to a patch of fluffy long white feathery tufts. From here Calle could see the fairies flitting around the second Mothra, leaving a trail of sparkles in their wake.

Vegard was sitting in the fluff and jumped up to give Calle a hug. "We already flew a little last night, it's unbelievable."

Calle patted Vegard's back. "Can you add the time to your pilot's log?"

Vegard squeezed Calle and then held him at arm's length. "You don't… steer her; you'll see. You're going to love this!"

"Yeah, can't wait. So I guess you guys didn't have to be all combined after all?"

The brothers answered simultaneously, "No, we're definitely linked."

Calle drew away hastily from Vegard. "Gah! Don't do that!"

Bård's lip twitched upwards and said, "Don't worry, we've learned the trick to moving and speaking as individuals. But having him my head is very distracting; he's constantly whispering minutiae at me and giving me unsolicited advice."

"How is that different from the normal situation?"

Vegard winked at Calle. "Don't let Bård fool you. He's loves this."

Bård pushed a lock of his straight dark blond hair behind his ear and sighed, "I do. But at least I look cool doing it." He looked over at Vegard and said, "Time to leave."

Vegard motioned for Calle to sit down in the fluff and said, "Before we go, we have to cast a spell we learned from the fairies."

Bård and Vegard stood together, facing Mothra's head, and sang, harmonizing in fourths:

Mothra, O Mothra,
Protect us as we fly.
Shield from the wind,
Strength from the sun
As you race through the sky.
Guardian angel, we pray to you.

Sparkles of light danced around them and grew to form a layer over Mothra's back. When the song ended, Vegard added a little cadenza, singing, "Blueberry!" and Calle felt the giant creature trill softly in response. Both brothers grinned and reached to hold onto several of the long tufts.

Calle realized his mouth was hanging open and he snapped it shut.

Bård said, "Hold on, here we go."

Calle yelped as the enormous wings began to beat, lifting them into the glittering air. He grabbed hold of as many tufts as possible, trying not to look alarmed. He glanced up at the brothers, both standing easily and watching the sky. The second Mothra rose up beside them, the little fairies' miniature Mothra mount darting around its cousin's enormous body. The wings of the larger creatures beat gently, and were not as flexible as a real moth's would be, and they didn't churn up the air the way Calle had feared they might.

As they began to race over the ocean, Bård frowned and put an arm around Vegard's waist to steady him.

Vegard swallowed hard and nodded. He looked down at Calle and explained, "I got a little thrown by the ocean last night. Because of when I… uh… drowned… in the seawater. I'm okay now. I'm completely fine. Really."

Beside him Bård frowned fiercely but remained silent.

"If you say so. Not to aggravate your seawater phobia, but… what's to keep us from falling off?"

In unison the brothers answered, "The spell we cast, it forms a shield around us. We can't fall off."

Calle winced and waved his hands at them defensively. "Stop doing that! It's horrible!"

They both grinned wickedly and sang, "Don't do what? Don't you want us to speak together? It saves so much time."

Beneath them the Mothra purred.

"Oh great, the giant moth is in on it too."

Vegard's smile widened. "I call her Blueberry. Because she's blue."

Calle looked at the wing pumping up and down beside them. He hadn't noticed that although the inner pattern of the wing was orange and yellow, the outer rim of the wing was a rich blue. The other Mothra's outer wings were bright orange. "Ah. Very nice. But why Blueberry? Why not blue moth or blue butterfly or something like that?"

Vegard lit up. Bård made a face but he grudgingly sang along, harmonizing in falsetto, "Because she's my little sweetie berry. Yes she is!"

Bård looked like he'd just tasted something foul. He hooked a thumb at Vegard, saying, "He's in love with the ancient earth spirit."

Beneath them Blueberry trilled a higher note than before.

Both brothers laughed without explanation.

Calle sighed and looked at his watch. This was going to be a very long, very weird ride.

Chapter Text

It had only taken a minute for Calle to force himself to his feet and stand beside the brothers. He couldn't have them standing if he was going to cower like a little girl, and he felt fairly certain he'd seen Bård mouth the word "pussy" at him. Fortunately, once he got the hang of Blueberry's movement, it was actually a bit like surfing or skiing. So he stood next to the brothers, who were both clearly having a wonderful time. They occasionally sang out a question about their progress to Blueberry and could evidently understand her responses.

The sun was well above the horizon and Calle was relishing the fresh sea air when Blueberry trilled. Vegard and Bård both suddenly said, "Whales. We're slowing down."

The orange Mothra continued to fly at speed, with the fairies' mount zipping along beside it, and was soon far ahead of them.

Blueberry banked right and flew low, the ocean spray and salty tang filling the air. Calle leaned out, straining to see, and was astonished to see at least two whales and a dozen or more dolphins racing alongside. The creatures were chittering and lowing as they swam and Blueberry was answering in a rumble.

Calle looked back at the brothers and shook his head with amazement. "They're talking to her?! Can you tell what they are saying?"

Bård and Vegard were both frowning with concentration. Bård said, "There's some sort of bad creature in the Pacific a little northeast of us. It's slaughtering the sea life there. Very bad."

Vegard shook his head with distress. "Blueberry wants to take a look and then meet up with Blossom. Something is happening in Tokyo."

"You named the other one Blossom?"

Bård pointed at Vegard without comment.

Under his feet Blueberry rumbled low and let out a warbling cry. The brothers sang in Norwegian:

Gå hvor du trenger     (Go where you need)
Vi vil følge deg           (We will follow you)
Vår skytsengel           (Our guardian angel)
Vi vil adlyde deg        (We will obey you)

Blueberry hummed and rose back into the air, picking up speed, leaving the dolphins and whales behind. Calle frowned at the brothers and when they opened their eyes he said, "… you'll obey her? That is to say, is she possessing you or…?"

Bård pointed to Vegard. "Don't look at me, they weren't my lyrics. He's the one in love."

Vegard blinked. "She's hundreds of millions of years old. If you can't trust her experience how can you trust anything? Calle, she's so beyond our comprehension, it is awe-inspiring."

"Vegard Ylvisåker. Have you found religion?" Calle shook his head with disapproval and added, "It's always the loudest atheists that become the most ardent evangelicals."

"Don't mock me about this."

"I'm not mocking you." Calle sighed. "Okay, I'm mocking you."

Vegard pouted. "If you could just feel how she feels. She's so unconditionally protective of everything. It's not like anything I've ever experienced."

Bård shook his head. "Of all people, it is Vegard that has the religious epiphany with a pair of giant butterflies."

"Come on, Bård, I know you're impressed with them too."

"I'm impressed, of course. There is no question that they are awesome, beautiful and loving creatures. This entire situation is amazing, of course. But I don't think Blueberry is a god. She's just an advanced part of nature we don't fully understand. Perhaps she operates in a higher dimension we're incapable of sensing. Some… mathematical principle we haven't discovered yet."

Calle shook his head. "You are starting to contaminate each other, I think. You sounded just now a bit like Vegard."

"If it gets worse, please kill me."

Vegard ignored the gibe and said, "Actually, the mathematics of it is the most amazing part!"

"Okay?"

"I figured out the reason the Elias fairies wanted siblings for this job. Related singers are best at setting up harmonic resonance, right?"

Calle nodded. "So you guys are making overtones I can't hear?"

"Well, that and we can easily produce interference beats in the higher registers, but evidently Blueberry can hear the ones we make at lower notes. Her fundamental is crazy low; we can't hear it at all."

"But we can feel it; that's the rumbling?"

"Exactly!" Vegard beamed. "What's even cooler is that the defensive spell we sang earlier didn't need the overtones, but for offensive spells we get more power using a harmonic progression, and I mean, in the wavelength sense, half, third, fourth, and so forth."

Bård glanced at Calle and asked, "You were saying I sound like Vegard?"

"I take it back. I would have just said the power is in harmonics."

Calle smiled. All three of them shared, to varying degrees, a love of sound physics. "That's what Vegard just said."

"But I said it in five words."

"True." Calle blinked rapidly. "Wait, did you say offensive spells?"

Both brothers grinned and said, "Blueberry is amazingly powerful. She can generate lightning with her wings and laser beams out of her antennae."

"That's pretty cool."

 

 

They sped north, and soon Blueberry slowed and gained altitude. She warbled and the three men climbed closer to her head to see what had captured her attention.

Calle whispered, "What. The. Fuck."

Below them the ocean was a vortex of iridescent debris, and from the center rose the head of a titanic black snake with battered and rusted metallic scales. The air smelled of sulfur and the snake was bobbing its head towards the east.

Vegard and Bård breathed in unison, "Every scale on that thing must be the size of a car… or a truck. How big is it, do you think?"

Calle shook his head. "I can't get my head around it. There's nothing to compare it to… maybe 100 or 200 meters? "

Bård shook his head with disbelief. "If it's a snake it's either swimming or it goes down a long way."

"Isn't the Pacific ocean five or six kilometers deep?"

The brothers sang softly, "Does it reach the bottom?"

Blueberry sang in response and Vegard and Bård audibly gulped in unison.

"What is it?"

"She says it doesn't go to the bottom; she says it goes around the planet."

Rumbling filled the air and the snake drew back for a moment. It belched forth an enormous fireball that shot high into the air heading east, followed shortly by a sonic boom.

Bård and Vegard quickly sang, "Blueberry, let's get the fuck out of here; that snake is too big for you to fight."

Calle nodded in agreement and added solemnly, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop smoking."

 

 

Blueberry turned and headed west towards Japan, following the smoke trail of the fireball. The men were lost in their thoughts for several long minutes and then Bård said, "Can you talk to him? He's convinced again that he's drowning on the yacht and that this is all some hallucination."

Vegard looked terribly lost, and Calle said, "I don't know. I might be with Vegard on this one. I'd much rather believe I'm mostly dead than a giant snake monster surrounds the world."

Bård shook his head. "It's Jormungand, don't you think?"

"That would be preposterous."

Bård barked a laugh. "We're riding a giant moth. We're way past preposterous."

Blueberry warbled high.

Calle turned and asked, "What does she say?"

The brothers said, "We're going to meet Blossom in Japan. Then we fight."

"You're going to fight Blossom?"

"No, idiot, we fight… the monsters."

"There's no need to be cranky with me, Creepy Conjoined Ylvis. This isn't my fault. What can I do to help?"

"Nothing. We're dropping you off."

"We should stick together. If that thing was Jormungand it's the end of the world."

The men looked at each other, realization dawning at the same time that they were in Japan while who-knows-what was happening in Norway. Vegard choked out, "We should be at home." He put his hand over his eyes.

Bård turned to look back the way they'd come and pushed his hands through his hair. He groaned, "Fy faen."

They rode in silence a long time. Both brothers were facing pointedly away from him, but Calle didn't think they needed to do so. He felt like crying as much as they did. Finally he looked up and sucked in a breath. "I thought it couldn't get worse. Look."

The brothers turned to follow his gaze. They gasped together.

A thick wall of black smoke rose from the distant coastline ahead.

The brothers said in unison. "Oh my god."

Calle squinted at the rapidly approaching land. "Is that Tokyo?"

Blueberry trilled and the brothers said, "That was Tokyo."

"Do you think the crew got out okay?"

"Don't know."

Calle grimaced, wondering if this really was a portent of the end of the world. "I want to help."

Blueberry chattered but the brothers didn't translate. Calle suddenly felt utterly useless.

A hand clapped on his shoulder. He glanced back and saw Vegard studying him. "I'm sorry you can't come with us."

Calle nodded. He wondered if he'd ever see the brothers again after today. If he'd ever see anyone he knew or cared about ever again.

Vegard leaned closer. "Whatever happens, you're still my hero; you saved my life." He hesitated and added, "…and you've been a good friend to us."

Calle sucked in a breath. "Thanks. I appreciate that."

"I'm glad."

"You've been a good friend to me as well, Vegard." Calle glanced back at Bård. "But you, on the other hand, are a fucking sack of shit."

Bård smiled. "I love you too, you crazy motherfucker."

Calle turned back to look at the burning skyline with dread. He set his jaw. This was going to be very, very bad.

Chapter Text

As they approached the coastline, the acrid black smoke of the inland fires began to darken their view of the sun. Blueberry's luminescent blue eyes did little to light their way, and they lost their view of the city. The brothers were holding hands and singing an anthem-like song to Blueberry:

Holde oss trygge                      (Shield from harm your humble servants)
I himmelen så blå                     (Shield us in heaven's air)
Gjemme oss, slangen er stygg  (Hide us from the ugly serpent)
Holde skitt ut av hår                 (Keep dirt out of Calle's hair)

As far as Calle could tell they were strengthening the shield around them against the smoke. He asked, "Does it have to rhyme?"

The brothers grinned. "Not necessarily, but it tightens up the spell and Blueberry appreciates the effort."

Calle squinted forward into the smoke and they suddenly broke through, perilously close to the ground. Blueberry flew upwards to avoid the buildings, but she didn't have to fly very high. Calle remembered Tokyo's taller buildings had risen forty or fifty stories into the air. It didn't look as if anything beyond ten stories remained standing. He caught his breath as they flew near one truncated building; he could see torn sheetrock scattered among dozens of bodies on what was left of the top floor. He looked around. As far as he could see, the city below was blackened. The steel frames of former skyscrapers were only twisted ruins; cars, trains and trucks were thrown about like toys. He breathed, "All those people…"

A sonic boom startled all three men, and from the east a fireball like the one they'd seen Jormungand produce passed overhead in a high arc. A missile rising from the west met it midair and the remains of the resulting collision crashed into the far side of the city, throwing up an enormous plume of smoke. Calle looked askance at the brothers, but they were occupied with a sparkling flash of orange flittering around their heads. It was Fairy Mothra, the fairies' mount. It flew over them, chirping, its little blue eyes glowing.

Vegard and Bård said, "The Elias sent Fairy to guide us to safety. Hang on, we're going in fast and hard."

Blueberry banked quickly and they sped west, the blackened destruction of the city giving way to deserted streets and abandoned cars. A group of five jet fighters flew towards them and then zoomed overhead back to the east. Calle finally saw Blueberry's destination, a massive airport or air base, and a surrounding tent city of sorts, packed with refugees. As they neared the ground to land, many of the people below looked up and cheered.

Bård and Vegard said in unison, "They know Blueberry is an ally."

"If they all recognize her, do you think it's odd we've never heard of a giant moth monster?"

Bård said, "Don't start casting doubt on the situation; it makes Vegard nervous."

Vegard responded with a "No, it doesn't; I'm fine" as Blueberry gently came to a stop on one of the larger runways. A ground crew of four men rolled out on a truck and then guided them to a parking area. Two men pushed forward a mobile stairway and Blueberry trilled as the three men stepped onto the tarmac. Calle didn't bother commenting on the weirdness of deplaning from a giant insect onto stairs. If the situation weren't so terrible they'd all be rolling on the ground with laughter.

A young blond Caucasian man in fatigues nodded at them and said politely in an American accent, "Gentlemen, I'm Lieutenant Olsen. Do you speak English?"

All three men answered in English, "Of course."

Olsen smiled. "Excellent. Then if you'll follow me, the commanders and the Shobijin fairies are waiting for you." He glanced up the Elias's mount and said, "You too, Fairy." He turned and walked briskly back toward the main building.

Bård asked, "You've met before?"

Olsen smiled. "Just today, but I'd like to think we're friends."

Calle grumbled under his breath, "I didn't realize the little moth's name was actually Fairy. That's just confusing."

Vegard asked, "You're with the USA's Air Force, sir?"

"Yes I am. I'm a chaplain here but I'm pulling administrative duties today. It's a shame, because so many refugees and airmen need me, but we're running short staffed, as you can imagine. I'll be your guide for this morning at least."

Calle glanced back at Blueberry and saw Blossom appear from behind a large hangar and walk towards her sister. He hooked a thumb back at the Mothra and asked, "I mean no disrespect, Lieutenant, but shouldn't they come with us?"

Bård and Vegard answered together, "They'll listen through us."

"Right. Weird." Calle glanced around at the military personnel all hurrying around them and said softly to Bård, "Come on. Don't you think it's a little… odd that no one is surprised by the giant moth?"

"I'm serious about Vegard. Besides, we've missed three days… maybe this is old news."

Vegard muttered, "I'm fine."

The passed a large sign marked, "Yokota Air Force Base: Administration" and entered a large steel and brick building. As they passed through the door Olsen asked, "Excuse me, but would you tell me your names, so that I can make the proper introductions?"

They did so and Calle saw a woman walking by tapping into a smartphone. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone. Miraculously it powered up. "Hey, my phone works."

Both brothers immediately reached for their own phones. Olsen glanced at their phones and apologized. "I'm sorry there's no commercial phone service at the moment; most of the nearby cell towers are down and so are many of the satellites and underground cables. There are some landlines still functional if there is an emergency."

The brothers said in unison, "We've been missing for more than three days; we would like to let our families know we're alive."

Olsen hesitated for a moment. "You speak together like the Shobijin."

The brothers glanced at Calle and shrugged at the chaplain. "The fairies recruited us."

Olsen said, "Ah. Well. As for calling home… that's a problem for most of the refugees as well as service people here. I'll see what I can do. For international communications with some countries we've fallen back on old-fashioned radio and Morse code through the old lines from the 1960s. Where are your families?"

"Oslo, in Norway."

"Ah. I have family there as well." A shadow passed over Olsen's face but he didn't elaborate. "Here we are, gentlemen."

They entered a large room with a long grey conference table surrounded by men and women in varying types of military dress. The fairies were standing in the center of the table and they bowed as the Norwegians entered the room. Olsen introduced them to the base commander and invited the three of them to sit down.

 

* * *

 

Ylvis took their seats and the other men in the room followed suit.

A dark-haired white man in his forties in dark blue military uniform addressed them with a slightly American Southern accent. "The Shobijin have explained the nature of your relationship with the second Mothra. I'm told you're Norwegian."

B: Who's this man again?
V: Colonel Sheppard. He's the commander of the base.
B: Will you going to handle the military people?
V: Yeah.

The brothers responded in unison. "Yes sir."

"So you've both served compulsory duty there?"

V: Just say yes.

"Yes, sir."

Sheppard nodded and then hesitated. "Hold on, did you say Ylvisåker? You weren't those brothers involved in that terrorist incident in Canada last winter, were you?* You're musicians or some such?" *[Author's note: See "Ylvis Saves the World"]

The brothers nodded.

"Well, you seem to attract trouble. But I'm glad you've proved you can function under pressure."

"Thank you, sir."

"Very well. You have something to report about the Pacific?"

"Yes, sir. There's a giant rusty snake monster in the water coughing up fireballs that are apparently landing in Tokyo."

"I see. There is only one?"

B: He didn't seem surprised at all.
V: This is so surreal. Oi, oi, oi, I'm getting that feeling again.
B: Stop. This is real. You aren't drowning.

"We only could see one with its head maybe 100 meters above the water. Blueberry thought it was the head of a much larger creature extending around the planet."

B: He doesn't know what we're talking about.

"Blueberry is what we call our Mothra."

"Ah. The Shobijin tell us that kaiju are awakening all over the planet."

B: What the hell is that?
V: Shobijin is their word for the fairies. Kaiju are giant monsters. Pay attention.
B: Pay attention? You pay attention. I can barely think for all your random thoughts.
V: They aren't random. I'm making connections.
B: Shut up.

A Japanese man in a dark suit leaned forward. "This is the first time we have ever had the opportunity to pair humans with a kaiju. We would like to give you radio and video equipment so that we can coordinate with our ground and air forces."

V: Who's this?
B: United Nations Monster Wrangler or something.
V: Oh, yes. UN "Kaiju Countermeasures".
B. That's what I said.
V: I'd like to do this; we could use air support but they'd need to coordinate with us in order to not get caught in our turbulence.
B: You deal with that.

Vegard spoke alone. "Of course, sir. I could maintain radio contact while my brother concentrates on the mission."

The fairies said in unison, "The Mothra can sense some of the other friendly kaiju, such as Gamera or Rodan, but these other creatures are alien to all of them. The enemy creatures are very old."

Ylvis asked, "Creatures? How many are there?"

Sheppard said, "I'll have Major Lorne and Ms. Saegusa debrief you on the situation, but reports are coming in from all over the world of monsters running riot and destroying population centers. Communications have been spotty as towers, cable and satellites have gone down."

B: All over the world.
V: Olsen looked worried when we mentioned Oslo.

Bård asked, "You said all over the world. Have you heard from Norway?"

"A few hours ago we got a message about some sort of giant dog or wolf burning a swath through Scandinavia." Sheppard leaned forward. "All the apparitions are emitting a high frequency signal that we believe they are using to communicate with each other."

B: Holy fucking hell. Fenris.
V: Ragnarok.
B: We should be home.
V: I hope they're safe.
B: Don't think about - Jesus Christ I can't unsee it.
V: I'm worried about her and the kids.
B: Fine, but do you have to think about her doing that again?
V: I can't help it. That was the night before we left.
B: We should get Blueberry to take us home.
V: We have to stay here and fight. It's our duty.
B: Let's go home and fight. We have a larger duty to our families.

Both brothers startled as Blueberry's thoughts rumbled through their bodies. She said, "We must stay. If we triumph here, all the Earth will be saved. The ouroboros is the source of the attack."

Ylvis said, "Blueberry says Jormungand is the source of the attack. We should concentrate on him."

The fairies nodded. "Both Mothras agree about that."

"If Jormungand were truly circling the Earth you'd be able to detect it, right? Much of it would be underground."

An younger Japanese man with Japanese Air Defense Force Lieutenant epaulets asked, "Jormungand?"

Ylvis answered, "It's a legend from Viking mythology. A snake… an ouroboros… that surrounds the earth that kills the Norse gods during Ragnarok… the apocalypse. A giant wolf is also supposed to appear at Ragnarok. And a dog. And giants. And… supposedly the oceans also boil."

"You seem to know a lot about this."

Bård said, "I was helping my daughter with a school report about mythology last month."

Sheppard sighed. "I've got a daughter as well, back in the States. She's thirteen. It's not much better there. There are wendigos running amok in North America, and we're getting reports of kraken in the Atlantic, the Four Horsemen in Europe, griffins and lightning birds in Africa and so forth. But US Command thinks they're all just manifestations of alien creatures, using our own legends to frighten us. Right now we're using everything we have to hold back the alien ground forces. More importantly we must stop the firebombs the larger creatures are hurling at us."

The brothers sucked in a breath.

V: Jesus Christ, firebombings. And aliens.
B: And alien ground forces. What the hell does that mean? And fuck, your chest hurts. Why isn't it any better?
V: I don't know. It's fine.
B: It's not fine, it hurts like hell.
V: Your shoulder hurts.
B: Not nearly as bad as your chest.
V: It's fine. Shut up.
B: You shut up. If I weren't stuck in here with you and your tiny, itchy body I'd punch you for ignoring it.
V: Lucky me!

Blueberry rumbled a question in their heads.

The Japanese JADF lieutenant asked, "Does your… Mothra companion have the same offensive capabilities as the other?"

Ylvis nodded. "She fires electrical discharges from her wings, energy beams from her antennae, can generate gale force winds and has a defensive particulate shield to deflect attacks. She can discharge the shield as a cloud of caustic poison. We can augment her attacks with sonic boosters. Songs."

The Shobijin nodded.

Ylvis said, "Blueberry wants to know about the ground forces you are talking about. Is that Godzilla… the dinosaur?"

"No, the fireballs contain a shard-like transport. It carries two to four alien fighters. They're armed with some sort of high-energy blaster and they shoot anyone they see. So far we are able to kill them with conventional weapons, but they're starting to overwhelm us with sheer numbers." Sheppard slid a photograph towards the brothers of the aliens in question.

"Ah."

V: They look like skinny versions of those lizardy things from Alien.
B: Or Halo. Their back legs are on backwards. Like a goat.
V: Helvete.
B: Fy faen!
V: What if they got into the house at home?
B: Faen!

Colonel Sheppard nodded as well. "Major Lorne, would you take the Ylvisåker brothers and their friend down the hall, debrief them and take a survey of their resources? Then I want both Mothra wired for video and audio tracking. We should be getting reports from the Fleet within the hour and we'll have the mission details more solidified." He turned back to Ylvis and Calle and said, "If time permits, try to get some sleep. You may be in for a long shift."

"Yes, sir."

Chapter Text

Major Lorne guided Calle and the brothers into a large office. A petite Japanese woman in her twenties wearing a dark green JSDF army dress jacket and skirt followed them and sat down as they did so. She had a pixie haircut and unusually protruberant ears, but they didn't detract from her quiet beauty.

Lorne motioned to her and she bowed her head slightly. He said, "This is Miki Saegusa. She's a telepath and works as an advisor with us. She is an expert in kaiju research."

Calle was sitting closest to her and held out a hand. "Ah. My friends call me Calle. You're a telepath?"

She took his hand gently and shook his. She said in excellent English, "Yes."

"Can you read my mind?"

"No. But I can communicate broad concepts with certain kaiju. I have limited telekinetic powers as well."

B: Of course she has telekinetic powers.
V: I'm starting to wonder if everyone in Japan is some sort of mutant.
B: Maybe all the atomic bombs and nuclear meltdowns.
V: Maybe it's the food.
B: There's a lot of seaweed.
V: Maybe the seaweed is radioactive.
B: Stay away from the sushi.

Calle looked at Lorne and said, "It seems that there is a lot about Japan that hasn't made it into the international news. Godzilla and telepaths seem the kind of thing that people would hear about and remember."

Lorne nodded. "The last attack was long enough ago that much of it is chalked up to be urban myth. That is, until three days ago."

V: I'm thinking maybe all the conspiracy theorists might be onto something.
B: Let's focus on the current problem so we can get home.
V: You're right. I want to get home to-
B: Gah. Don't think about that either! You're doing it on purpose now.
V: Nei, nei, nei, nei.
B: If I'd had any idea you were such a… free spirit…
V: Ha! I can still surprise you, little brother.
B: Hm.
V: Oh my god. Why would you show me that?
B: Two can play at this game.

Calle asked, "I am sorry to bother you with this, but we're missing several people from our group. Is there any way to track down missing persons?"

"Some of the American and European survivors have been drifting towards the American bases. We have several hundred such refugees here; I can have someone take you out there if there is time."

"I appreciate that, Major, thank you." Calle glanced at the brothers and added, "I served in the Navy back home as a radio communications specialist. Maybe I can be of help in some other capacity?"

"I'm sure you can. We need every man we can get. And right now we're depending heavily on radio. As a matter of fact…" He glanced at Miki. "Perhaps you can accompany Miki and her assistant up to Sosa in the morning. That was the last known location of Godzilla and we've lost communication with the area. We haven't been able to spare anyone to go with her and I don't want two women driving alone. No offense, Ms. Saegusa."

"No offense is taken, Major Lorne."

"Would that be acceptable to you?"

Miki smiled. "Yes. Thank you."

Lorne nodded. "Also, Mr. uhh…"

"Larsen is fine."

Calle had learned long ago it was just easier to shorten his name in some situations. Americans were already so confused by "Calle" that it was just cruel and unusual to make them remember anything more than two other syllables.

"Mr. Larsen, I have an ulterior motive; I want to reestablish radio contact with Sosa. We'd set up a defensive line near Sosa two days ago; I had a team of good men out there and they was supposed to be a rendezvous with the Japanese maritime forces. I need to know what's happening. We'll outfit you with a portable comm unit."

Calle nodded. "I'd be glad to help."

Ylvis said, "We could fly them out there; it might be safer."

Lorne frowned. "Possibly, but depending on the next few hours we might not be able to spare you. We've had word that Russia dropped a nuclear weapon in Kiev."

The three Norwegians stared at him agape.

B: What the fuck?
V: Putin better leave Finland and Norway the hell alone.
B: All of Scandanavia. Helvete. As if it weren't bad enough already.
V: Jesus Christ.

Lorne continued, "Supposedly it was to wipe out a large ground force of these zombies… that's what the troops have been calling the skeletal aliens. And there was supposedly a giant tree monster of some sort running around in Ukraine. We don't know for sure. Regardless, we have enough to deal with here."

Calle asked, "Is the USA going to use a nuclear bomb the giant snake in the Pacific?"

"We're trying to find out what the effect of the warhead was in Kiev. Japan's experience with some kaiju has been that high energy weapons actually feed the creatures' power. We don't want to contaminate the entire area with fallout just to discover we've made the monsters stronger."

Major Lorne spent another fifteen minutes updating them about the utterly bewildering chaos of the last three days and then called Olsen and left. Olsen returned to take the brothers to a room somewhere to clean up and get some sleep. Calle wasn't tired and remained in the office, gathering his thoughts. He was tempted to go in search of a cigarette but remembered Mio. Everyone told him he should quit, but her quiet disapproval had made him actually feel ashamed. He reached into his button-down shirt for the little cloth package she'd given him. He opened it up and found a half-dozen of Mio's tiny cakes. They were a bit squashed but were still spectacularly delicious. Maybe he would try to quit for one more day, in Mio's honor. He was sucking the last bit of honey from his fingers when Miki returned. Calle looked up, his thumb still in his mouth, and mumbled, "Oh, hallo."

Miki smiled and bowed her head slightly. "You wanted to look for your friends? I am free right now and would like the fresh air."

"Yes. Thank you."

She hesitated and looked at his hands and all of the crumbs on his clothes.

He said, "Maybe we should stop at a washroom to wash my hands? I'm a bit sticky."

She smiled.

 

* * *

 

Ylvis flopped onto the twin beds in the little room arranged for them. Bård closed his eyes and said, "Go to sleep."

Vegard replied, "I won't be able to sleep. I hate sleeping anyway."

"I don't want you to screw up because you're exhausted."

"Okay fine."

Several minutes later Bård was still awake. He opened his eyes and watched Vegard. Vegard was lying on his side with his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

B: What the hell are you doing?
V: Trying to sleep.
B: Your sleeping attempt is keeping me awake.
V: I can't help it. I'm worried.
B: Worry more quietly.
V: How can you sleep with all this excitement?
B: The moment things slow down around me I'm bored.
V: I'm never bored.
B: You should try being bored.
V: How can you ever be bored when there are so many unanswered questions in the world? When the future is changing every second? I read last week they are going to be using 3D printers to print food. Imagine what that will do to the world! Finally people in the third world will be able to print and eat pastries.
B: You are definitely adopted.
V: I'm just trying to make connections.
B: Focus on the present.
V: We're about to go fight. We might die. Of course I wouldn't be able to sleep. No sane person would.

Bård sighed out loud.

B: Okay, I'm going to teach you how to fall asleep.
V: You can't teach someone how to-
B: I'm thinking of a spinning grey ball. Do you see it?
V: Yeah.
B: Concentrate on the ball and nothing else. Think about how round it is, how smooth the surface is. How it is spinning at a constant rate. Just focus on the ball.
V: Okay.
B: You've got it in your head?
V: Yeah.
B: Just concentrate on that.
V: Is it precessing?
B: No.
V: Is it moving through space in any way?
B: No.
V: Okay.
B: Just concentrate on that. I'm going to sleep. You'll be asleep soon if you concentrate. Regardless, think quietly.
V: Okay.
V: …
V: Bård?
V: …
V: This is a little boring.
V: …
V: …

When Olsen came in to wake them four hours later, he smiled. Both men were deep asleep, lying in the exact same position, on their sides, clutching a pillow under their heads. He wondered if they did everything in such a synchronized way.

 

* * *

 

Calle was horrified by the sheer numbers of refugees sheltering in the tent city on the outskirts of the air base. Miki said there'd been no warning when the fireballs had begun hitting Tokyo. People had obviously fled the city in a hurry; he saw as many people wearing pajamas as business suits. Although the field hospitals had mobilized as fast as possible they'd seen less initial wounded than they'd expected. The bombardment and ground attack had been so thorough that people either had escaped or died immediately. Or they'd been left behind. Calle said he expected there might have been rioting over food or water in the following days. Miki smiled and said, "We are Japanese. We know how to behave properly in a disaster."

They'd been walking for about twenty minutes through the areas where European and American nationals had gathered when Calle heard someone call his name. He turned and saw an enormous mass rise from within a group of children under one of the canopies.

"Magnus!"

Magnus walked slowly towards him, his progress hindered by the number of young children clinging to his legs and arms. He had one little redheaded girl who looked about four years old riding on his shoulder. Trailing behind him were some older children of varying ethnicities, none of them more than seven or eight. Some of them were holding hands, looking very forlorn.

Calle jogged briskly over and leaned over the mass of children to clap Magnus on the arm. He squinted up at his tall friend.

Magnus was wearing a red plaid button-down shirt over a Tshirt that featured Hello Kitty declaring, "I Love Tokyo!" His clothing and his wavy blond hair were both rumpled and dirty. Magnus tried gently plucking away some of the children clinging to him without success. "Hey, Calle, I'm so happy to see you. We didn't know what happened to you. Are Bård and Vegard with you?"

"Yeah, they're okay. Where's everybody else?"

Magnus shook his head. He was obviously exhausted. "I don't know. We were out at this karaoke bar and I got tired and left to walk back to the hotel to go to sleep. I could see the hotel a few blocks ahead of me and it just suddenly exploded. Then the whole city was on fire and I just followed the crowds out of town.

"I'm glad to see you're okay, Magnus."

"Yeah. Same here. Really glad."

Calle introduced Miki and she looked up at Magnus with amazement. Calle switched to English and explained, "We grow them extra big in Norway." Miki looked almost comical next to Magnus. He was at least a half-meter taller than she was. The little girl sitting on his shoulder said with a lisp, "I'm hungry." This prompted a chorus of "Kuma-san! Me too!" from the other children.

"Okay, sure." Magnus looked wearily at Calle. "I was wandering around and somehow I ended up with all these kids following me. There are a lot of children separated from their parents."

Beside him Miki made a sympathetic noise. She moved forward and picked up one of the toddlers clinging to Magnus's leg, a little Japanese boy with ruddy cheeks.

Calle grinned. "It must be your naturally cheery disposition and love of children. You big softy. Or should I call you Kuma-san?"

Magnus sighed heavily; his perpetually sorrowful face looked even more discouraged than usual. "The kids seem to think I'm some sort of big friendly bear...kuma."

Calle couldn't help laughing out loud. He leaned down and picked up a little blond girl who was holding her hands out to him. She said something that sounded vaguely French.

Miki said, "There is a dedicated area for displaced children. I'll take you there. We will be able to get them food."

Magnus blurted out, "Oh thank god!" He glanced guiltily at Miki. "I mean…"

She smiled, "Don't worry. Let's get these children looked after properly."

 

 

By the time Calle, Magnus and Miki returned to the main building it was late afternoon. Miki led them back into Olsen's care. He took them to a locker room and they both gratefully showered and changed into camouflaged fatigues provided by the base. Magnus was thrilled that the quartermaster had found clothes to fit his oversized frame. After they were dressed Olsen brought the two of them to the dining facility and left to wake Bård and Vegard.

Magnus was on his second plate of meatloaf, potatoes and green beans when Bård sneaked up quickly behind him and threw his arms around his neck. "Magnus!"

Magnus dropped his fork, turned and said around a mouthful of food, "Hey Bård."

Vegard was grinning ear-to-ear. Both brothers were wearing fatigues and their hair was still wet from what was presumably a recent shower. Calle thought they looked a lot better than when he'd left them.

The brothers said in unison, "We were worried about you."

Magnus smiled and glanced at Calle. "I was worried about you as well."

Bård let go of Magnus's neck and moved to stand beside Vegard. They said, "You don't look worse for wear."

Magnus frowned at them and said uncertainly. "I was pretty lucky."

"We're relieved you're okay. We'll be right back, we want to get some food." They followed Olsen to the food line.

Magnus blinked uncertainly at Calle. "Why are they talking at the same time? Are they just fucking with me?"

Calle speared a forkful of beans. Even the air base food tasted better than he'd expected. "No. They are psychically linked with each other and a giant butterfly called Blueberry that shoots lightning bolts out of her wings." Calle looked at Magnus soberly. "Obviously."

Magnus blinked at Calle for a long minute and then shrugged and said, "Fine." He returned to his plate.

They were well into their meal and catching up on news when the room suddenly shuddered violently.

The brothers said urgently, "A fireball got through. More are on the way. We should get back to Blueberry."

A siren began to sound and about half the people eating in the dining area got up and ran out of the hall.

Olsen glanced around and put up a hand. He said, "Those airmen are on-duty and are running to battle stations. Please, just, wait here. This building is fortified and is a designated shelter. Just give me two minutes. I'll be right back." He ran out.

Magnus said, "Uh… this is a little alarming, guys."

Calle met eyes with the brothers. "Listen, we're all supposed to be off with missions in the morning. We might have to leave now instead. Why don't you come with me and Miki? I think it would be okay and it sounds like it isn't any safer here than anywhere else."

Magnus looked at Bård. "Is that okay? Should I go with you guys instead?"

Bård answered, "It's the end of the world. You can do what you want; you don't have to get my permission."

The brothers added in unison, "But you can't go into a fight with us on Blueberry; it's too dangerous."

Magnus nodded and looked at Calle. "Okay partner." He bumped fists with Calle.

Another explosion rocked the hall.

Ylvis stood and said in unison, "We have to go now. Come on." The brothers turned and ran out of the hall, Calle and Magnus in close pursuit.

They met Olsen as they passed through the doorway to the dining facility and he turned to run with them toward the exit. He shouted, "Looks like the base is a target now. Miki's bringing around the truck. We'll take you to Blueberry and leave from there. She's all geared and ready to go." Calle could hear the brothers chanting something but he couldn't quite make out the words.

They exited the building just as another fireball hit the road outside. A plume of smouldering dirt flew up into the air and all of them shrank back against the brick wall of the building. Calle reflexively threw his arms over his face but realized with relief he wasn't hurt or burned. In front of him, Bård and Vegard were still chanting, and now he could hear what they were singing:

Mothra, hear our plea
Shield us from the worst debris
Ward off shrapnel, rocks and fire
Otherwise we'll all expire

Magnus gaped at the brothers, awestruck. Calle was impressed as well; they'd managed to throw up a shield like the one they'd made on Mothra and the debris that hit it disappeared in a flash of sparkles. Moments later a large black SUV squealed to a halt in front of them. Olsen shouted, "Go! Go! Go!"

When Olsen flung open the SUV's front passenger door, there was an older Japanese woman already there. Despite its size, the SUV wasn't built for seven people and all the equipment stowed in the back. Calle opened a back door, shoved Magnus inside and then clambered onto his lap. The brothers squashed inside beside them and Olsen shouted, "Go!" and shut the door. The tires squealed and Calle looked behind them just in time to see Olsen get obliterated by another fireball. "Faen, Olsen just got killed." He met eyes with Vegard briefly and swallowed deeply. He felt sick. "I really liked him."

The brothers started their chant again, but this time said,

Mothra, hear our panicked plea
Bubble up this SUV
Save us from the fireballs
And the - Jesus Christ!

Miki cursed and swerved around a crater in the road; it threw Calle off of Magnus's lap and he sprawled onto the brothers.

He gritted out, "Focus, Ylvis. Focus!"

Both brothers grabbed hold of Calle to stabilize him and took up singing again.

Mothra please keep our way clear
Fortify our magic sphere

Miki called out, "Blossom is already safely away. She'll go in search of Rodan. Calle and I will find Godzilla. Blueberry will look for Gamera."

Magnus said, "Guys. There are dead bodies everywhere. Also a giant butterfly. I thought Calle was lying about that."

Keep us safe and shield increase
We want to go home in one piece

"I wouldn't lie to you, buddy." Calle had his back against both brothers' chests and they were holding him fast in a death grip by his arm and hip. He couldn't see a thing other than the back of the front seats. "You guys don't have to hang on this tight, I'm o-"

The car shrieked to a stop, and then backed up and swerved again. Calle coughed, "Okay, actually, holding on works for me."

Magnus cleared his throat. "Guys. Aliens, twelve o'clock."

The woman in the front passenger seat produced an assault rifle and pushed open the moon roof. She stood up and started shooting.

Calle braced against the back of the older woman's seat. "Vegard, when you get on Blueberry, check our old channel. We can stay in contact."

Vegard nodded without pausing his singing.

Forgive our crap rhyming techniques
Kill these bony alien freaks

A nearby explosion rocked the SUV and the woman in the moonroof fell back limply into the car, splattered with blood. One of her arms flopped into the back seat onto Calle. It didn't move.

Miki cried out, "Azami!"

The car was suddenly illuminated with bright light. Calle asked, "What the fuck is going on?!"

Magnus said hesitantly, "Uh… the giant butterfly there just shot a beam out of its head and it made a huge bunch of alien zombie guys disappear."

Calle and Vegard both said, "It's definitely a moth."

The SUV swerved and skidded to a halt. Bård and Vegard let go of Calle and got out of the car. Vegard held out a hand to Calle to help him sit up and said rapidly, "Start driving. As soon as we're on Blueberry we'll follow and cover you until you're out of danger. Look for me around 300." Then he closed the door and was gone.

Calle reached over the older woman's corpse, "Give me her gun and ammo."

Miki handed it to him and floored the accelerator. "Hang on."

As they tore away from the airfield Calle pushed himself up through the moonroof. "Let's do this!"

Chapter Text

Vegard shut the door of the SUV and looked down the road from where they'd come. Beyond the scattered bodies of the aliens Blueberry had just killed, a dozen of the pale aliens were loping towards him. They looked much like the velociraptor-alien-goat things in the photos they'd seen, but these aliens had deformed human arms and curved horns like rams. They reminded him of demons from medieval paintings about the Black Death.

Blueberry's voice rang in his head. "Children. Hurry."

Vegard ran, and Blueberry closed the gap by clumsily lumbering toward him on the tarmac. Bård was already climbing up rope ladder dangling from her neck.

B: Hurry up! They're behind you!
V: I know, I know.

The moment he took hold of the ladder Blueberry began beating her wings and fired a prismatic energy beam from her forehead at the attackers.

B: She killed the demons but another wave is on its way. We need altitude.
V: I know, I know.
B: You're so slow!
V: For fuck's sake.

Vegard decided not to look down. When he reached the top of the ladder, Bård leaned out and grasped his forearm tightly. Vegard grabbed Bård's arm in turn and Bård pulled him up.

Blueberry thought, "Shield yourselves."

Bård was wearing a headset and handed a similar one to Vegard. As he pulled it on, Vegard was surprised to see a blond woman in camouflage kneeling in their flying spot. She was concentrating on several displays on three large open military cases.

Bård was singing, and Vegard realized he was singing along and harmonizing. He could hear Bård over his headset and in his head but it seemed only mildly distracting. Mirroring his brother's words and movements was becoming effortless, the way it always was when they improvised music together. Maybe they did have a special talent. He wondered if it would become more difficult to separate himself from Bård when this was over. He felt Bård wondering the same, and telling Vegard to focus, but they were both singing together:

Put up a barrier
On our moth carrier…

Vegard let Bård worry about the lyrics and knelt next to the woman. She looked about his own age and had a nametag that declared: "Sweeney". She looked up and saluted, saying, "Lt. Sweeney, G-Force, sir." She didn't seem surprised by the singing. Or the giant bug.

He reflexively saluted but in between verses asked, "G-Force?".

Behind him Bård sang (and he harmonized): "…i vårt forsvar, og følg… Calle's car"

V: Cheater.
B: No one said it has to be in only one language.

Sweeney said, "G-Force is Japan's counter-kaiju special forces team." She motioned to the displays. "Sir, we've got cameras mounted on Mothra's forelimbs, one looking down, one behind and one ahead. You can control them with these joysticks. The cameras feed to G-Force HQ as well as these monitors."

"Where is G-Force HQ?"

"HQ is in Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo. Sir, we've caught up to Miki's groundcar." She pointed to one of the displays.

Vegard sucked in a breath. The black SUV was speeding along a highway strewn with destroyed cars. He could see the open moon roof but not Calle. A squad of aliens awaited the SUV, half a kilometer ahead on the road. Blueberry blasted them with her rainbow energy beam. Their corpses scattered to the side of the road and the SUV sailed through without difficulty. The road ahead looked clear otherwise.

Vegard concentrated and Blueberry let out six short cries: "--- -.-" [Morse: OK] and almost immediately the SUVs car horn sounded in reply, "--- -.- --. .-.." [OK GL]

 

As Vegard and Blueberry peeped "good luck" back at Calle, Bård said, "They're safe for now. Let's go back and support the base."

"Yeah."

Blueberry wheeled around and was shortly flying over Yokota base. Much of it was in ruins, although they only saw the wreckage of three jets. The brothers hoped that meant the majority of the fighters had escaped. Sweeney opened up a fourth case. "I can try to raise Yokota."

"Do it."

The fireball bombardment had apparently ended, but hordes of the alien demons were roaming the grounds, killing anyone trapped on the base. Blueberry let out a shriek of anger and fired her beam at a large crowd of the creatures that had amassed around the refugee camp.

As they passed above the destroyed tents and shelters all three of Blueberry's passengers gasped. Strewn among the destruction at the western edge were hundreds of little bodies, dead children, some no more than toddlers.

The brothers, both in tears, belted out a simple but furious song: "Kill those alien bastards!"

And Blueberry did, shrieking as she avenged the little human children she loved as her own.

 

* * *

 

Miki glanced at Calle, who was balancing precariously on his haunches on the front seat, one hand hanging onto the front seat headrest, the other still hovering over the SUV's car horn. She asked, "What did you just do?"

"Morse code. I just told him we're okay. If I know them they'll go back to help the people in the base. They've got a good view of the road ahead. I think we can assume it's clear for a while."

"I see."

Calle met eyes with Magnus. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think so, thanks."

"Help me move… I'm sorry, what was her name?"

Miki stared resolutely at the road ahead. "Azami."

"I'm sorry… for your loss, Miki. Uh… Magnus, help me move her to the back seat for now?"

"Yeah, sure."

The two men maneuvered the dead woman's body to sit in the back seat. As they did so, Calle saw her shoulder, neck and right cheek were scored with bloodied track marks. There was a pointed triangular shard lodged in her collarbone and dark burn through her right temple. At least she had died quickly. Calle took the shard before letting Magnus pull the body away. He turned the metal spike over in his hand as he watched Magnus buckle the corpse into place. Miki directed them to a pack behind the back of seat that contained a blanket. Magnus draped it over the body and sighed with relief.

In Norwegian, Calle asked, "Are you okay?"

Magnus sat back, grimacing. "Yeah. This is a little intense."

"Is this your first time with a dead body?"

"No. There were a lot of dead people in Tokyo."

Calle leaned over and patted Magnus on the upper arm. "I'm sorry."

"This sucks."

"Yeah."

"Well, now what do we do to fight back?"

Calle smiled at his young friend. "That's the spirit!" He turned to sit down properly and pulled on his seat belt. He switched back to English. "Magnus here wants to know how we will fight back."

Miki nodded. "We are going to Sosa to recruit Godzilla, the powerful giant dinosaur. He can help us to fight the sea snake."

Magnus let out a long sigh. "Okay. That sounds fine."

They drove for two hours without incident. Most areas they passed through were either destroyed or abandoned. The only real difficulty was getting across some areas of road that had been firebombed so completely that Miki had to detour in order to pass. They saw a fair number of people either in cars or walking in groups on foot along the highway, but despite the obvious misery of the refugees, they didn't see any gangs of miscreants or obvious looting. Magnus asked several questions about the Yakusa and Miki conjectured that the Yakusa would have transportation and safe houses, and wouldn't need to rob from survivors. At least not yet.

Calle looked back at Magnus, "Why are you interested in the Yakusa?"

"I saw a bunch of those guys in Tokyo. Tattoos. Wearing suits. They were scary motherfuckers."

"Yeah."

"Maybe I should get a tattoo."

Calle smiled. "If we survive the apocalypse, I'll get one with you."

"Deal."

Several times helicopters or fighters passed overhead. Calle found himself searching the sky for a giant moth or two. He hoped the brothers were safe wherever they'd gone.

They drove in silence for a while and Magnus coughed and said, "Hey, guys. About this lady… I don't mean to be… disrespectful… but…"

Miki cleared her throat. "There is a funeral home in Funibashi, only a ten minute detour from our route. As far as I know Funibashi has not been attacked and I know one of the people who works there. We will leave Azami in their care."

Thirty minutes later they were leaving the funeral home, the exterior of which looked more like a convenience store than a church. But Miki seemed satisfied and the clearly overworked funeral director had been overjoyed to see Miki was alive. Calle could tell Magnus was relieved to have the dead woman out of the car and he persuaded Magnus to sit in the front seat, pointing to the improved legroom as an excuse. They stopped at a lone open gas station for fuel and snacks. The proprietor was happy for the business and claimed he had no reason to close. When they began driving again, the streets were still mostly deserted despite the good condition of the town. Magnus commented on the unnatural quiet and Miki pointed to a high school as they passed. It bore a sign marking it as an evacuation center. Miki said, "If the people are not in their homes, they are here. They're safe for now."

The sun was beginning to set as they drove over the increasingly rural roads. They passed many small homes with little farms, and their owners were working in their fields, as if nothing were wrong. Although he knew it wasn't true, Calle's heart felt a little lighter to see some evidence of normalcy. He felt a little guilty about it, especially because Miki was obviously mourning for her friend and Magnus was even more dazed than usual. Calle expected he was a bit shell-shocked and didn't think light-hearted chatting would be helpful.

Calle turned to look at the equipment piled in the far back seats and floor of the SUV. He spotted what looked like a portable communications unit. He hung over the back of his seat and made a grab for it. "Is this grey case the radio?"

Miki replied, "I believe so."

Calle grunted with effort to pull it onto the seat next to him.

Magnus peered back at him. "Hey, Calle. So… what's that you're doing?"

Calle pulled on a headset. "This is a portable radio communicator. Let me see if I can reach the Ylvisåkers or survivors from Yokota."

Miki glanced at him in her rearview mirror. "If you cannot contact them, we can try G-Force command in Tsukuba. They'll have updates as to Godzilla or Gamera's location."

Although he had no idea what G-Force was, Calle nodded and powered up the unit. Yokota didn't answer and G-Force was deploying some mechanized monster to meet up with them on Kimigahama beach, northwest of Sosa. He briefly spoke to Vegard, who said they couldn't talk because they were negotiating with a giant flying turtle. Calle signed off and sighed.

Magnus turned around and asked, "Is Bård okay?"

"Yeah."

"Okay."

Calle squinted at Magnus. "Vegard said there was a giant flying turtle."

"Huh."

"You aren't surprised?"

Magnus shrugged. "Ever since I met all you guys it's been one weird thing after another. I used to worry, but that didn't help."

"Ah."

Miki said, "The turtle is Gamera. He is a friend and won't harm them. Also…" She broke off and rubbed her temple.

Calle asked, "What is it?"

"Godzilla. He is nearby." Miki pulled off of the road and parked on the shoulder. She opened the moonroof and stood up. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

After five minutes or so, Calle met eyes with Magnus, who shrugged. They both got out of the car to stretch their legs. Calle patted down his own pockets by habit and realized he was looking for a cigarette. He said, "By the way, I stopped smoking."

"Again?"

"This time I really did. It's been four… five days."

"That's a record for you."

"Yeah."

Magnus stretched. "These clothes really fit me well."

"Oh yes? They must have a lot of tall men in the USA military."

"Yeah I think so."

Calle sighed and looked around. The landscape was flat here, the horizon broken only by buildings and homes. To their east was a hospital, only three stories high; its lights were starting to glow in the gathering dusk. Calle said, "They don't have many tall buildings here."

"I think because of earthquakes."

"Speaking of which, do you feel the ground trembling?"

They both stood still.

Magnus said, "Yeah I definitely feel that. Must be a little one."

"It's getting stronger."

"Yeah. Should we do something, do you think?"

Calle didn't answer; his mouth was hanging slack.

Magnus turned to follow his gaze. He said, "Huh. There's something you don't see every day."

Peering over the hospital at them was an enormous dinosaur. It had huge yellow eyes and was studying them intently.

Calle found his voice and said, "It must be fifty meters tall!"

The monster threw back its head and roared. It stalked around the hospital and looked at Miki, still standing in the moonroof. She opened her eyes and bowed. "Konnichiwa, Gojira!"

Godzilla roared again.

Miki pointed to Calle and Magnus. "Kochira wa Calle-san to Magnus-san desu."

Godzilla looked at the Norwegians and snurfled.

Magnus said, "I think he has a cold."

Miki said, "No, he is injured. He has a metal spike in his shoulder. Can you see it?"

Godzilla turned and lumbered back toward the beach, letting out intermittent howls. Calle couldn't see anything unusual… he corrected himself… he couldn't see any metal shard. The whole situation was definitely weird city.

Magnus said, "He's got a thorn in his paw."

Miki, not recognizing the allegory, said, "No, it is in his shoulder. The ocean water stings it and he's unhappy to be trapped on land."

Called asked, "So what do we do?"

"We need to climb up and pull it out."

Calle blinked at Miki several times.

She said, "He will help us fight the new monsters but his pain is making him unreasonable."

Magnus nodded. "He does seem a little cranky."

Calle continued to blink at the two of them but finally said, "Maybe we need to call in the cavalry. I'll go… do that." He got into the SUV and put his radio headset back on.

 

* * *

 

By dawn the beach was alive with activity. Calle sipped a coffee proffered by a volunteer and squinted up at the helicopter hovering overhead. Godzilla was standing in the water and the fairies were floating around his head, presumably convincing him to stay still while the JSDF engineers lowered on lines attempting to winch the shard out of his right shoulder. The Mothra wheeled in the sky, high above them, keeping watch.

Vegard patted Calle on the shoulder. "Pretty cool, right? Monster First Aid."

"I thought we were going to be fighting Godzilla, not patching him up."

Vegard shrugged. "I'd rather not fight him. The fairies said he shoots radiation out of his mouth."

"…æsh."

"I know." Vegard shrugged and hooked a thumb over his shoulder without glancing behind. "Here comes Bård."

Calle looked over his friend's shoulder and saw Bård walking towards them, Magnus trailing behind.

"You're being creepy on purpose now, Vegard."

"Yup!"

Bård put an arm around Vegard's shoulders. "Did you tell him that I'm a genius?"

Vegard smiled. "Bård's a genius."

Calle sipped his coffee. "Agreed. And…?"

Bård smiled brilliantly at Calle. "I like you more every day, Spirit Calle."

"Everyone likes me more every day. Try harder."

Magnus said, "Guys. Check it out." He pointed at Godzilla. The engineers had pulled away the metal shard, which appeared to be one of the alien transport pods. If the aliens inside could escape, they hadn't made the attempt.

Godzilla roared as the giant splinter came away, but didn't move. The engineers and helicopter beat a hasty retreat.

"Pretty impressive, isn't it, gentlemen?"

Calle turned to see Major Lorne, wearing fatigues and army boots, trudging up the beach towards them.

Calle sobered abruptly. "Yes, sir."

Lorne smiled. "Good to see you made it. Mission accomplished. Well done."

"Thank you, sir."

Lorne nodded to the brothers. "Looks like we have a plan. We're meeting over by the main tent. We'll need you men and the shobijin there."

Vegard and Bård nodded in unison and replied, "Of course."

Lorne nodded to Calle. "You too, and Miki." Lorne looked doubtfully up at Magnus, who gave him a lopsided and hopeful smile. "Uhh… teams Rodan and Gamera are on their way. We're just waiting for Colonel Sheppard. Ah, speak of the devil."

An armored personnel transport wheeled onto the beach and Colonel Sheppard emerged, his left arm in a sling. Lorne waved to him and turned back to the Norwegians. "Well, gentlemen, let's get the party started."

 

* * *

 

When they got to the meeting there were already a dozen men there. They were murmuring to each other, all dressed in camouflage, and ready for action. Among them was one older blond man wearing a UN patch who looked eager and a bit German. There were two Americans beside Lorne and Sheppard and most of the remaining men were Japanese Self-Defense Force officers.

One of the JSDF men was a burly Japanese man with graying temples. The other men treated him with deference. He was wearing a nameplate that read "T. Aso" and Calle thought from his uniform that he must be at least a lieutenant general. Miki and another Japanese man, wearing a "K. Shinjo" nametag, were the only ones wearing G-Force patches.

Major Lorne opened a breifcase and pulled out a sheaf of papers and spread them across the top of the hastily erected conference table inside the equally hastily erected tent. He took care not to let any fall where the two fairies were standing, in the middle. Lorne nodded to Bård and said, "We have Mr. Ylvisåker here to thank for this. It was his idea. Tell them."

Despite his earlier boasting, Calle wasn't surprised that Bård obviously felt uncomfortable with the praise. Bård shook his head and said, "It just occurred to me… that maybe the monsters we were seeing weren't reconstructions of our various cultures' legends. Maybe our legends were based on the monsters."

Lorne pointed to a timeline. "We established contact with some of the historians and astronomers at UC-Berkeley to ask them to look into it. Turns out, there's a comet that flies near us once every 658 years. It's quite close right now. The last years it appeared were 1356, 698, and 40AD, and before that 618BC, et cetera."

Sheppard rubbed his jaw. "Okay, did anything important happen those years?"

Vegard blurted out, "The Plague?"

Lorne pointed at him. "Yeah, the plague. Started around 1343, and by 1356 the population of Europe was in pretty bad shape. They probably would attribute a bunch of monsters to the "Wrath of God" or some such. In 698 several interesting things happened. It's about the time historians think Beowulf was written. And also when the Catholic Church formalized All Saint's Day, the day after Halloween. Also it's the same time a number of temples and cities were mysteriously abandoned in Mexico and South America. There are even accounts of magical deeds by evil sorcerers documented in Japan that exact year. Back another orbit to 40AD… our guy in California thinks it might have coincided with the death of Christ or at least Paul's visions of the apocalypse; however, the comet didn't fly all that near the Earth that year, so it may be unrelated. 618BC is about when Muhammed founded the religion of Islam. A lot of the flood myths start popping up another 658 years before that."

The UN officer asked, "Surely there would be archeological evidence of these enormous beasts somewhere? And where are all these footsoldiers coming from?" He pointed to a set of photographs of the alien troopers.

Commander Aso pointed to maps of the Pacific. "We believe the source of all of these creatures is ultimately the Ring of Fire… the circum-Pacific seismic belt. This series of trenches from the Mariana Trench south of Japan, all the way up to the Aleutians near Alaska, and down the west coast of the Americas. It may take some time for the creatures to make their way across continents, which could account for kaiju and monster legends outside the timeframe of the comet. Alien infantry killed in combat seem to disintegrate within a few days of death; there wouldn't be remains for scientists to find.

Sheppard nodded. "Okay, but how does this help us?"

Lorne pulled out several more reports and slid them towards Sheppard and Aso. "A couple of ways. First, if it comes and goes with the comet, it may just be a waiting game. This is the closest the comet has come to Earth, and so we don't know for sure how long the effect will last. Not more than a year or two, we believe."

Sheppard winced. "That's a long time to wait with monsters killing civilians."

"Of course. The more immediate benefit to this theory is the legends of how these creatures were defeated in the past. The ouroboros in the Pacific is slowly making its way towards us. Hurling fireballs in what seems to be a targeted way." Lorne slid several faxed reports on UC Berkeley letterhead towards Sheppard. Calle could see one had a heading that read: "Old Norse Apocalypse Lore" and felt a thrill of recognition.

Lorne continued, "There are several accounts of a giant sea serpent so large it surrounds the world: in Greek, Egyptian, Aztec, Hindu and Viking mythology as well as the use of the ouroboros symbol in alchemy and even Chinese philosophy. The only definite tale of its destruction comes from the old Norse, where Thor defeats it and is almost immediately killed by the serpent's poison."

Sheppard grunted, "Thor? Like the comic book Thor? God of Thunder?"

Lorne glanced at Calle and the brothers but replied, "Yes, sir. Berkeley says he killed the snake by hitting him with his hammer or with the use of lightning or both. Also there is a story that he fished the snake out of the sea. We're trying to reach Princeton; they've got a Thor specialist there."

Sheppard glanced at Aso. "Seems like a stretch."

Lorne nodded, "Yes sir. But the attack patterns do seem to point back to the location of this sea snake. And the shobijin believe defeat of the snake will be sufficient to win the planetwide war."

The Elias fairies said, "He is connected to, and is poisoning, the heart of the earth; the other creatures feed from him."

Aso added, "We do have the advantage of the strength of our military assets as well as the combined powers of the kaiju. We may never be stronger than we are now."

Bård and Vegard cleared their throats and offered in unison, "If Thor's hammer is what we need, both Mothra can discharge tremendous electrical energies from their wings."

The fairies nodded and added, "Rodan also has a powerful heat discharge beam and can produce shockwaves, stronger than any hammer. And Gamera feeds on fire. Gamera will be very useful in defense against the fireballs."

Miki raised her hand and then said haltingly, "Godzilla will be at full strength. His radiation beam is… very powerful. The shobijin, the brothers and I… can coordinate the kaiju attacks… …with those of the human military. The kaiju are united in their anger over this desecration of our planet… and… wish to destroy the monsters."

The other G-Force soldier "Shinjo" looked down at Miki with undisguised affection. Then he bowed slightly to Aso and said, "Mecha-godzilla is also ready to fight. Its heat-shields are working at maximum capacity."

Calle met eyes with Vegard, who mouthed the words, "Mecha-godzilla? Cool!" at him. He gave Vegard the thumbs up, glad to see Vegard had stopped doubting the weirdness of the situation.

Sheppard looked around the table and back at Aso. "This is your call, Commander, but the US forces already here and the Naval assets in range are ready to fight if you give the word."

Aso took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "So be it. Let us end this war."

Chapter Text

For the next several hours Bård, Vegard and the Elias were busy with the strategists that wanted to coordinate the kaiju in the attack. There wasn't much need for Calle to be there so he wandered back onto the beach, feeling a little bit useless as military people dashed around him. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised that a giant turtle was splashing around in the surf with military engineers climbing over its back, but he was surprised to see Magnus standing directly in front of and under the thing's right eye. Magnus hailed him as he approached.

"Calle, come and meet my new friend. He's called Gamera."

"It's good to see you've taken my advice to get friends more normal than us."

"Yes. Gamera, this is Calle. He's a very nice man."

Calle raised a brow at Magnus.

Magnus hesitated and then said, "Say hello to him so he doesn't burn you with fire."

"Ah. Hello, Gamera. Please don't burn me with fire."

Gamera made a rumbling noise and his eye rolled around.

Magnus laughed. "Those engineers are putting cameras on him."

"I see. A Gamera camera."

"Right. They told me Gamera was raised by a little boy and so he loves children."

Calle blinked at Magnus for several seconds, unable to think of anything to say about the preposterous statement. Fortunately he felt a tap on his shoulder. A young JSDF soldier asked him to come to the communications center with him. Calle looked back at Magnus and said, "Well, I guess this is goodbye."

Magnus said solemnly, "Ah. Well. May the Force be with you."

"You too. Try not to die."

"Yep."

As Calle walked down the beach, the soldier, who was apparently named Ozaki, asked him if he'd be willing to help. Calle was only too eager. When they got to the trucks housing the radio gear, there was a message waiting for him and the brothers. Evidently someone acting on Olsen's orders had gotten through to Norway and checked the missing and dead listings; so far none of their wives or children had appeared on the list. It was something, at least. Calle mentally thanked Olsen, wherever he was. He'd been a good man and Calle ached to avenge his death. Calle asked a runner to bring the message to the brothers and then got to work.

 

* * * * *

 

Ylvis had given up being separate for the time being, at least. It was easier to just remain linked, and they couldn't help being amused by the startled reactions their synchronization caused in people they encountered.

When they received the message from Calle, they both choked back tears. They had the same thought in the following moments: that when they got home they would be the best uncles of all time, because the depth of feeling for the other's children was so magnified and felt so immediate. This entire experience had been incredibly emotional. But at least they weren't embarrassed anymore about sharing their thoughts. Not after what had happened on Odo Island with the fairies.

Despite what Calle believed, Bård and Vegard couldn't reach into each other's memories at will. But since their talk back on Odo Island, they'd been gradually showing each other memories of their lives together. Between the two of them they were usually able to fill in those memories with startling detail. And it was incredibly intense for one to see a memory from the other's point of view. For the most part it had been gratifying to see the other's affection throughout, affection that hadn't been evident at the time. The most intense and painful memory had been one they'd shared from their childhood, the time in the little shed, the memory they'd never spoken of, the memory that had put up a wall between them their entire lives. A wall they hadn't realized was there.

Reliving that memory, and understanding what had really happened, had made their mental union possible. They found themselves occasionally prodding that memory a bit ever since, finding it strangely comforting.

 

One summer, when Vegard was ten years old, and Bård seven, they'd been running around outside and had discovered that the little shed near their house was unlocked. They were normally forbidden from going in there, so they immediately sneaked inside to look around. Inside was a collection of power tools and general supplies for fixing the house or grounds. Bård spotted a thin coil of rope and picked it up.

"This would be a great lasso."

Vegard put down a circular saw he was examining and turned to look. "Oh yeah, rodeo."

"Come on, let's try it."

Vegard was hesitant. As the older one, he would take the blame if they were discovered in the shed. "We shouldn't take anything outside. We'll get in trouble."

Bård knew he could talk Vegard into anything. "No one is looking, come on. We should really learn how to throw a rope. It might come in handy one day."

"Fine. But keep an eye out for Mamma."

Bård led Vegard outside and they puzzled over knotting the rope into something resembling a lasso and then both tried over and over to swing and throw it at a post near the shed. Vegard figured out the correct knot to use but Bård was the first to master the throw.

It wasn't long before Bård tried roping Vegard. Vegard had lost interest in watching Bård practice and had been looking up at the sky, trying to estimate the time by the sun's position. When the lasso landed on him, Vegard let out a surprised yelp. Bård immediately pulled in the slack, and the rope pinned Vegard's upper arms to his chest. Vegard tried plucking it away but Bård looked so delighted that Vegard couldn't help but smile. "Nice throw, cowboy."

For his part, Bård thought it was hilarious to see his big brother, his brother that he idolized, struggling against the lasso like a trapped animal. When they wrestled while they played, Vegard was so much bigger and stronger it was never really a contest. That didn't stop Bård from trying to pin him, and sometimes Vegard let him win. That infuriated Bård more than anything; he wanted to be stronger and smarter on his own merit.

Maybe he could finally best his brother by tricking him. It occurred to him that there was more rope inside the shed and he started pulling Vegard along. "Come on, goat."

"Cowboys don't lasso goats."

"Fine. You can be an Indian. Like in the books."

"Why do I have to be an Indian?"

"You look like one."

"I think Indians have red skin."

"What, like an apple?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

Bård frowned at his brother. "It doesn't matter. I captured you. Now I'll take you to the castle for questioning."

"You mean the fort."

"No talking, prisoner. Come on."

"Fine, but it will be lunchtime soon. I'm starving."

"No talking!" Bård tugged on the rope and led Vegard back into the shed. There was a post supporting the roof in the middle, and Bård pushed Vegard against it and began wrapping the rope around him. Vegard looked down at Bård's progress and commented, "I'll be able to get out of this, easy."

Bård narrowed his eyes at his brother. "I bet you won't."

"Bet I will. You aren't even using the good knots." Vegard had insisted Bård start tying his own shoes when he was five, before most of the other kids ever learned. Once he got the hang of that their father taught them a few basic sailor knots that even Bård's little fingers could handle.

Bård frowned. "I can do it, don't move."

"Start over and…"

"I can do it, don't tell me."

Vegard sighed, "Fine." He slid down to the floor. "Go ahead."

"The prisoner can not talk."

"Fine, fine."

Bård puzzled over the rope, determined to show Vegard up. He eventually got his brother wrapped in a tangle of knots he thought would be foolproof. Then he took another short length and tied Vegard's wrists behind him.

"That's too tight, Bård, you're hurting my wrist."

"It's fine. I don't want you to escape."

Vegard twisted to look back at his brother. "No, it hurts. You don't have to tie it so tightly."

Bård glared at Vegard. "The prisoner is not allowed to speak."

"I can show you how to do it properly."

That was it. Bård was angry now. He slid his hands over Vegard's mouth. "No talking!"

Vegard pulled away. "Cut it out!"

Bård looked around and grabbed a roll of duct tape. Vegard protested, "You can't tie me up with tape. That isn't the bet."

Bård pulled off a strip and attempted to smooth it over Vegard's mouth. "No talking!"

Vegard shook his head but couldn't stop Bård from plastering his mouth with tape. Vegard's wrist hurt and he lost patience with the game. Bård had left enough slack around his other wrist for Vegard to start picking at the knot.

Bård saw what he was doing and stopped him. He wrapped a third rope around Vegard's wrists, pulling it tighter than he probably had to. But he'd finally beaten Vegard; there was no way he would get loose on his own.

Vegard's muffled protests stopped short when they heard their mother calling them for lunch. Vegard panicked. They weren't supposed to be in the shed at all. His mother would be furious with him; he was supposed to be in charge. He grunted and struggled against the ropes.

Bård moved to stand in front of his brother and hissed, "Be quiet!" He pressed his hands over Vegard's face. He could go stall their mother; Vegard was panicking for no reason. "Shush!"

Vegard tried to shake free. Bård was covering his nose and he couldn't breathe. He fought harder and Bård grabbed an almost empty bag of plaster and dumped the remnants on the floor. He pushed it over Vegard's head and whispered fiercely, "Stop making noise!" He pressed his hands over Vegard's face until he quieted. "Okay, stay here, I'll go tell Mamma." He grinned. "Unless you can get loose. I bet you can't!" He smiled and took a last piece of tape and wrapped it around Vegard's head and the post. His big brother was definitely stuck.

He ran off to answer his mother. When she saw him she cried out, "What have you been doing?"

Bård looked down at himself and realized he had white plaster dust all over his hands and shoes. He thought quickly. "It was Vegard. He made me go in the shed and it spilled on me."

"What?! You aren't supposed to be in there. Where is he?"

"He's still in there. I told him to come but he wanted to stay and play with Pappa's tools."

"Those are dangerous!" His mother frowned and walked as fast as she could towards the shed, encumbered somewhat with her heavily pregnant belly. Bård hung back; he'd beaten Vegard twice over. Now he'd get in trouble with their mother as well. When his mother opened the shed door she shrieked and rushed inside.

Bård frowned and his heart sank as he realized his mother would know he'd been the one to tie up his brother. On the other hand, Vegard had said it would be okay. He could say Vegard made him do it, like an experiment. That's something Vegard would do. He heard his mother scream, "Vegard! Vegard? Bård! Come here, hurry!"

Bård walked quickly to the shed, comfortable with his story and saw his mother had pulled the bag and the tape off of Vegard's face. She was slapping his face, puffs of white plaster dust shaking loose from Vegard's hair and shoulders with each slap. She glanced at Bård and said urgently, "Go next door to Ole's mother. Vegard stopped breathing. We need the doctor. And have her call Pappa. Hurry!"

Bård ran as fast as he could to the next house, his heart pounding, tears streaming down his face. It surely must be his fault that his brother was sick. He'd thought Vegard had just given up struggling; not stopped breathing. He hadn't put any rope around Vegard's neck; he didn't understand what had happened.

It had taken a few minutes for him to run next door and for Ole's mother to understand his mother's message. As she turned to the phone she'd said, "I'm calling. Run back to your mother and tell her that help is coming."

By the time Bård got back to the shed, his mother had cut Vegard free. She was crying, sitting on the floor, holding her son and rocking him gently. On the ground next to her was a utility knife; Bård remembered Vegard once using it to cut up some cardboard under their father's supervision. Bård hadn't been allowed to touch it. Bård looked back at Vegard, lying limply in his mother's arms. Bård saw Vegard still had remnants of rope tied around his left wrist. He wondered if he'd made the knots too tight for his mother to cut.

His mother looked up at him as Bård stood frozen in the doorway. She held out a hand to him and when he came close she pulled him into a one-armed hug and kissed the top of his head. "He's breathing again."

"Are you sure?" Bård looked down at Vegard's face. He looked like he was asleep.

"Yes, is Pappa coming?"

Bård nodded. He swiped his face and sniffed. He was suddenly embarrassed to be crying and was ashamed that he'd hurt his brother. It hadn't occurred to him Vegard could get really hurt; he'd thought Vegard was invincible. He watched his mother rocking and petting Vegard's hair and suddenly Bård had to escape. He turned and ran into the house, into his room, into his closet, and shut the door, huddling on the floor. He wept. He didn't deserve to be all right if Vegard was hurt by what he'd done. After what felt like forever, he fell asleep.

 

* * *

 

When Bård had tried to silence him, Vegard had struggled against Bård's hands, his panic rising. Bård was smothering him and didn't realize it. Vegard tried to warn him, but Bård couldn't understand him through all the tape. It wasn't long before Vegard gave in to unconsciousness.

When he woke up, he was lying on the ground outside, and his mother and father were leaning over him, looking at him with worry. He blinked against the sunlight coming from directly overhead. It must be about noon. He squinted down at himself and saw his shirt was pulled up and a man he didn't recognize was listening to his chest with a stethoscope.

His mother put her hands over her mouth, "Oh thank god!"

Vegard looked up at her. Her eyes were all puffy from crying. He asked groggily, "Did I miss lunch?"

She laughed and shook her head, "No, you didn't miss it."

"Good." He closed his eyes.

He heard his parents talking with the man, who was evidently a doctor assigned to the families of the people working with Vegard's father. The doctor said Vegard was going to recover and to let him rest. His father picked him up and carried him to the room Vegard shared with Bård. His parents helped him wash up and change into pajamas and then they tucked him into bed. Then his father asked his mother, "Where is Bård?"

His mother sat down and held Vegard's hand. "I don't know. He ran into the house. He's here somewhere."

Vegard said, "He's probably in the closet."

Bård woke up in the closet when their parents brought Vegard into their room. He tried to remain completely still, hoping they wouldn't hear him, and he trembled when he heard his father's stern voice. He realized he was in terrible trouble, and his heart lurched when he heard Vegard betray him. The door was violently opened and his father grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out of the room. Bård shrieked, "I didn't mean to do anything! He told me to do it! Vegard, tell him!"

Vegard watched Bård hanging onto the doorjamb with his free hand, looking back at him with terror. "Vegard! Tell them!"

Vegard blinked heavily at Bård. "You... did you try to kill me?"

"No! I didn't mean it!" Bård was yanked out of the room and Vegard heard him protesting and screaming all the way down the hall.

Vegard's mother looked grimly out the doorway after her younger son. She is sighed heavily and squeezed Vegard's hand.

Vegard said, "It was an accident. He didn't know I couldn't breathe." He told his mother what had happened. "I let him do it. It was an accident." He turned toward the doorway. "Pappa wouldn't hurt Bård, would he? Don't let him hurt him. It was my fault."

His mother patted his hand. "I'll go check. You just rest for now."

 

* * *

 

Bård sat stiffly in a kitchen chair, looking at his hands, telling his story while his father angrily paced back and forth. Bård made sure to say over and over that Vegard had given his permission, and had even given him advice on how to do a proper job. When he'd finished his story his father had pulled up a chair to face him.

His father said, "You covered his mouth and nose; that's why he couldn't breathe. Without air a person's brain will be damaged and finally stop working. Vegard almost died."

Bård shook his head and said meekly, "I didn't cover his nose."

"People can't breathe through plastic bags. You know better than that."

Bård held his breath. He knew his father had reached a decision.

"Look at me. Bård. Look at me."

Bård looked up at his father, his eyes wide. "Are you going to kill me?"

His father drew back with surprise. "What?"

"I almost murdered him. Don't you get killed for that?"

"Why would you think that?"

Bård trembled in terror. "Please don't kill me, Pappa! I'm sorry! I won't do it again!"

His father took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm not going to kill you. I wouldn't ever do that." He studied his son's face. "What do you think I should do?"

Bård burst into tears. "Send me to jail?"

"Hmm. I suppose I'll have to think about that. You sit here and think about what you've done. Don't get out of that chair."

Bård had been sitting in the chair for what seemed like forever when his mother came into the kitchen. She made some sandwiches. Eventually his father came to sit at the kitchen table and ate lunch silently, not looking at Bård. His mother left with a plate. Bård expected she took it to Vegard. Bård realized then that his parents no longer loved him. They weren't going to give him any food and he would have to sit in the chair until he died of starvation and turned into a skeleton. He wondered if they would bury him in the yard or wait until he turned into dust and just sweep him up into a dustpan and dump him in the garbage. A new baby was coming that would replace him and they probably wouldn't even tell the new kid about his evil brother who was a murderer. And Vegard would be the favorite forever and they would never speak Bård's name again. Eventually his parents would forget him completely and then they would finally be happy again, freed from the shame of having a psychopath for a son.

His father washed up after lunch and then left the house to go back to work. He hadn't spoken to or looked at Bård again.

His mother returned to the kitchen at some point and found Bård wiggling frantically in his chair. She instructed him to go to the bathroom and return to the chair immediately afterwards.

Bård watched the afternoon pass through the kitchen window. His father came home from work and his mother made supper. It smelled delicious. But Bård's parents ate dinner without talking to him and left him alone again afterwards. Bård could hear them speaking in hushed tones in the front room and knew his mother had gone back in to watch over Vegard. He watched the sun setting out the window and wondered how long it would take to starve to death. He hadn't eaten since breakfast. He looked at the clock. Almost twelve hours. No food or water, and a family that hated him. He would have run away if his father hadn't told him to stay in the chair.

It was dark when his father finally returned and kneeled in front of his chair, looking at him speculatively. "Well, what have you decided we should do?"

Bård had decided he really didn't want to starve to death. He thought they probably had food in prison. He said meekly, "Send me to jail?"

His father frowned. "Hmmm… and what would be your crime?"

"Murder?"

His father looked at him seriously. "You didn't murder anyone. Vegard will be fine. But you did a bad thing. A bad mistake."

Bård's lower lip trembled.

His father sighed. "Have you learned anything today?"

"I shouldn't cover up Vegard's face."

"Or anyone's face."

"Or anyone's face."

"Will this happen again?"

Bård shook his head. "No. Never."

His father stood and poured a glass of water. He handed it to Bård. "Drink this. Your brother is sleeping. Go clean up and change and get into bed. Don't wake him up. In the morning you'll tell him you're sorry and then you'll help your mother all day. She is very tired from worrying about you boys."

"Yes, Pappa."

"Go ahead."

Bård hurried to follow his father's orders and crawled into his bed. He lay for a while blinking up at the ceiling and finally got up and leaned over Vegard's bed. He could hear Vegard breathing. He jumped slightly when Vegard whispered, "Are you okay?"

Bård pulled back. "Did I wake you up?"

"No. What happened with Pappa? You were gone all day."

"He said I gave you brain damage."

"I have brain damage?"

"That's what he said."

"I don't think I do. I feel the same."

"You probably wouldn't know if you had brain damage."

"What did Pappa do? Did he punish you?"

Bård paused. The boys always feared their father might beat them the way other kids' fathers did. And Bård had to sit in the chair being scared all day with no food and it had all been an accident. Even his father knew it was just a mistake. It wasn't fair. Bård suddenly felt hot with resentment. He swallowed deeply and whispered, "I almost murdered you. What do you think people do to murderers?"

Vegard sucked in a breath. "Are you hurt very badly? I didn't hear anything."

"I'm not supposed to tell you." Bård paused for dramatic effect. Then he said hesitantly, "He covered my mouth so you wouldn't hear my screaming and beat me with a hose like William's father so it wouldn't leave marks."

Vegard remained silent. It was too dark for Bård to see his face. Bård added, "Then he made me sit on the kitchen chair and told Mamma not to give me food or talk to me all day. Don't tell them I told you. He said he would beat me worse if I told."

Vegard let out a breath. He'd begged his mother to tell him what happened and she'd said Bård was sitting in the kitchen with no food. He couldn't believe his father would be so terribly cruel, but it had been a very bad situation. "It was my fault. I shouldn't have let you tie me up. I told Mamma it was my fault."

Bård couldn't help himself from blurting out, "You're lying. If you told them he wouldn't have hit me so much. You just want to be the favorite one so they send me away."

"No, I don't. I'm not lying."

"How would you even know if you lied? You have brain damage. Be quiet now or Pappa will know I woke you up and he will probably kill me." Bård pulled away and climbed back into his own bed. He could hear Vegard crying softly in the bed next to him. He didn't feel better by making Vegard upset; he felt even more guilty than he did before.

In the morning, Bård apologized to Vegard in front of their parents and resolved never to talk to Vegard about it again. He couldn't control himself from looking at Vegard with resentment over the following weeks, getting dark satisfaction from seeing Vegard suffering with guilt. But days and weeks passed and slowly things went back to normal.

Over the years it became apparent to Bård that he was more quick-witted than his older brother. It took Vegard forever to catch on to things that were obvious to Bård. He was hopeless at word play, at least in comparison. And Vegard was completely useless at sports or with girls. As they got older, Bård overtook Vegard in size, which seemed odd as well. Every time Bård noticed some new failing of Vegard's there was the nagging thought in the back of Bård's head that it was his fault. That somehow Vegard would have been the best and smartest and strongest one if only he hadn't gotten brain damage from Bård's mistake. As an adult he realized, of course, that it had all been a tragic accident, and he shouldn't feel guilty about it. But when Vegard was being clumsy or stupid or annoying Bård knew it was his duty to stay with him no matter what. He'd never be free of responsibility for his brother, and it was his own fault.

For Vegard's part, he never doubted Bård's story that his father had been so overwrought that he'd tortured him. Vegard knew his father loved them and that he would never do such a thing under normal circumstances. But once Vegard had his own children he understood the depth of emotion a father had when it came to his children's safety. He vowed to never lose his temper in such a terrible way. But he didn't blame Bård for resenting him, and he always tried to downplay his successes around his brother. He got better at letting Bård win without letting him know.

When the Elias had helped them join their minds a second time back on Odo Island, the brothers had shared the painful memory of the entire incident. They'd both been shocked by the truth of what had really happened. And an enormous weight lifted from both of their souls. They'd sat in silence for a long time after sharing the memory.

Bård had said, in their heads, "I was a little shit to lie about Pappa hitting me."

"You were a little kid and scared. It wasn't your fault. But I'm very glad to know our father isn't a psychopathic child abuser after all. I've been a little scared of him for the last twenty-five years for no reason."

"I thought you told him I tried to kill you."

"Of course I didn't. When we get home I'll have to apologize for some of the things I've said to him over the years."

"You don't have to do that."

"Don't worry, I won't tell him what you did. And I don't have brain damage. That's just silly. I probably wasn't cut off from air for more than a minute."

"You wouldn't know if you had brain damage."

"Bård. I don't have brain damage. You're just better than me at some things. You're better than everyone at a lot of things, actually. It's not a crime to be gifted."

"You are very short."

"I don't think brain damage makes you short. Anyway, I'm relieved you don't hate me for all of that. After that day, every time anything good happened for me I felt you resenting me for it."

"I don't resent you."

"You do sometimes. When I win over you at anything your first instinct is to punch or kick me."

"No, it's just a joke and…" Bård hesitated and finally admitted, "…well, sometimes, I might feel a tiny bit resentful when you best me at some things. I didn't want you to know, though, because I realize it is childish. I was so worried you'd see how childish I really was that it was all I could think about. So that was the first thing you saw when we joined the first time."

"I understand."

"Before, when I saw you in that cavern… drowning… "

Vegard's heart lurched, remembering the sensation of drowning. "That was bad."

"I thought maybe it brought up the memory. We never talked about it; I thought maybe you'd forgotten."

"No, I didn't forget. I never forgot that day, Bård. All I could think to say before the water covered me was that I was sorry for letting it happen again."

"I thought you were saying you were sorry for leaving me alone to die."

"I wasn't thinking that far ahead. But I'm sorry for that as well."

"I forgive you."

"Thanks. Me too."

 

* * *

 

Ylvis sat at the conference table late that afternoon, looking at the maps of the Pacific Ocean, their determination renewed by the knowledge their families were likely alive. When Commander Aso's staff finished the summary of the plan he cleared his throat and glanced at Colonel Sheppard.

"One last thing. We finally have confirmation that the Russian bomb in Kiev did kill the monster laying waste to the city. When the monster fell, the alien ground forces disintegrated. We have to assume the larger creatures are either spawning or sustaining the aliens."

Colonel Sheppard said, "I don't think destroying a city with a radioactive nuke is much of an improvement over a monster stepping all over it. And after hearing back from Princeton I'm convinced more than ever that those soldiers aren't alien. Some of my staff have started calling them mermen… most of them seem to think they're unlikely to be mermaids…" Sheppard winked at one of his female staff members who smiled back at him. "That being said, we've got three nuclear subs on stand-by if this operation goes south."

Ylvis glanced at the Elias and said to Sheppard, "Surely you can't drop nuclear bombs on that snake so close to Japan. Wouldn't that leave fallout all over the water and island? Worse than the Fukushima meltdown? Or Hiroshima?"

Several Americans sucked in a breath at the mention of Hiroshima. Ylvis realized belatedly that the bombing of Japan in World War II was probably a touchy subject for the Americans working here.

Commander Aso sighed. "If it is the only way to save our planet, Japan is ready to make the sacrifice. But I am hopeful we will not have to resort to such drastic measures. I believe we are ready." He glanced at his watch. "The operation will commence at 1800. I wish you all good luck."

He bowed his head slightly to the group and they all stood. Ylvis looked at the Elias. The little fairies were agitated. They said, "We must not allow them to use those terrible bombs. We must win."

Ylvis nodded their heads, unified in body and mind. "We will. Let's go."

Chapter Text

"We are going to fuck those crazy motherfuckers up."

Calle sighed and tightened the strap on Vegard's life jacket. "Vegard, is that you saying that or Bård?"

Vegard and Bård shrugged. "We don't know."

Calle patted Vegard's back and then went to stand in front of Bård to check his gear. Ylvis said, "If we fall off of Blueberry we'll be dead before we get a chance to drown."

"Navy rules, boys. Operations like this in open water, you get a life jacket."

Lieutenant Sweeney heaved herself up the rope ladder and clambered up on top of Blueberry. "Hello, sirs. I mean… Ylvis."

Ylvis waved. "Glad to see you."

Calle looked at Sweeney. "Take care of them. They're not usually this disturbingly weird."

She smiled brightly back at him. "I'll do my best."

"Do you have a channel for us?"

She leaned in and said conspiratorially. "I'll keep you in the game, sir. Compliments of G-Force. Miki Saegusa saw to it herself."

"I knew I liked that woman." Calle turned to the brothers and held out his arms. "Group hug?"

Ylvis moved forward immediately and wrapped him in a heartfelt embrace. After a few seconds Calle said, "Now it's getting awkward, boys."

"Right. Sorry. Be careful." Ylvis stepped back.

"You too. Thor dropped dead after killing that thing. Be sure to keep your distance."

"We will."

Calle took a long last look at them and shuddered. "I hope you boys will be able to separate after this. You're even breathing in synchrony now."

"We'll be fine."

"I'm off!" Calle eased himself down the ladder and dropped out of sight.

Sweeney put on a headset and took a look at the gear set up before her. She ran a preflight check with G-Force HQ. She pointed up. "Here come the Eagles. That's our cue."

Ylvis looked up with excitement. The F15 fighters were the advance force, meant to harass whatever forces were in play around the world snake after the destroyers softened them up with a barrage. The last flyby of one of the few working navigational satellites suggested that giant squid or something similar were surrounding Jormungand the snake. Fortunately those monsters were being taken down fairly easily with the guns from US destroyers positioned up to 100 km away.

As the fighters passed overhead, Sweeney hooked two carabiners onto the brothers' harnesses, pointing to their parachute lines and fixed lines as well as the emergency releases if they needed to ditch. Blueberry began beating her wings and they were soon in the air.

Sweeney pointed to the six viewscreens on her large console. "The fairies helped us anchor all this to Blue Mothra without injuring her. Even if she barrel rolls everything should stay secure." She pointed to the screens. "Video feeds from Orange Mothra, Rodan, Godzilla, Gamera, Mechagodzilla. Also the carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the destroyer USS Stethem. We've got satellite imagery as well. We're also hooked up to US, JASDF and South Korean fighter squad high command. US, JSDF, G-Force and South Korean HQ are all getting this same feed as well as many others. We don't expect the cameras to last long on Godzilla or Gamera, but we're hopeful. And here are the feeds from below and behind us. Those are the cameras mounted onto... Mothra... er... Blueberry."

Blueberry chirped.

Ylvis stood in front of the video feeds and chewed their lips. "So Russia and China didn't want to help us?"

Sweeney frowned. "No, sirs… they said they're busy with their own monsters." She stood and helped them put on their headsets. Bård took the one with the direct line to G-Force and Miki. Vegard took the headset connected with Naval Operations. It didn't really matter. They were the same person now. And now they were experts at multitasking.

Ylvis heard Blueberry's thoughts in their minds. They could hear echos of communication between her and the other kaiju. Then she sang, "Prepare yourselves, children. The fight is upon us."

Ylvis said, "It's started. The remaining sea life is evacuating."

Sweeney turned to look at the monitor connected to Blueberry's forelimb. She could just make out the schools of whales and dolphins below, moving briskly west.

Ylvis said suddenly, "What's your first name, Sweeney?"

Sweeney adjusted her headset and tapped a command into her console. "Susan."

"Do you have family from wherever you are from?"

"My husband works with G-Force. He's co-piloting Mechagodzilla today. I have a brother and two nieces back in Kansas. In the States."

"Do you know if they're okay?"

Sweeney turned to look at Ylvis. The brothers were looking at her with what appeared to be genuine interest. She bowed her head slightly and answered, "Thank you for asking. I know they were okay as of a week ago, so I'm hopeful."

Ylvis nodded and said, "Let's all get back safely to our families. Gamera and the fighters are near the target. We're depending on you to watch our six. Blueberry feels sure we'll get attacked by the smaller monsters."

"I will."

The brothers closed their eyes and began singing in Norwegian. A golden iridescent barrier covered their bodies and then spread outward. It was protecting them as well as Blueberry herself. Sweeney could keep track of the humans with her gear, but Ylvis had the benefit of Blueberry's telepathic gifts. Ylvis could see through every kaiju's eyes as well as the those of the fairies. Every now and then they even felt Miki's mind whispering to them as well.

Through the kaijus' eyes, up close, Ylvis thought that Jormungand's head looked hilariously similar to that of an erect penis and they giggled to themselves as they sang. The pterodactyl, Rodan, approached the fight at a lower altitude, spitting a red fiery beam into the enemy monsters. Gamera, the turtle, was spinning and floating in the air, working to stay in front of Jormungand's mouth. The snake's head shot up and retreated down with dizzying speed, vomiting up fireballs every thirty seconds or so. For the most part, Gamera was absorbing the fireballs and redirecting the fire downwards, killing the spawning wraiths skittering up the serpent's neck.

Ylvis could also see that the F15 fighters were battling with flying creatures as big as houses. The things were emerging from the water flapping enormous batlike wings. More than anything else they looked like dragons, although they didn't seem to be breathing fire. Yet.

Below the jets and dragons there were tentacles twenty meters long reaching up and waving from the water's surface. They were grasping at low-flying jets but weren't fast enough to catch them. Ylvis saw a set of tentacles suddenly flop limply back into the ocean. The comm chatter suggested a submarine torpedo had found its target.

The kraken and dragons were kept busy with the fighters but they weren't being destroyed very quickly. Over Bård's headset Miki's voice announced, "Mechagodzilla and Godzilla are on approach."

Ylvis barely heard themselves singing anymore. Flinging up their shield felt as natural as putting on a jacket. They could feel the wind through Blueberry's wings and antennae. They felt the hot power radiating through their bodies, ready to discharge as deadly lightning. Their hearts were beating in perfect synchrony, every thought and breath in exquisite alignment.

One of the fireballs got past Gamera, and headed for Blueberry. Blueberry shot upwards as Rodan came diving toward them from the north, swerving to miss them, and then beating his leathery wings to deflect the fireball down into the ocean.

In their headsets, Ylvis heard Sweeney reporting their position and then Miki said, "Blue and Orange Mothra, gain altitude, hang back until we've cleared away more of these defensive forces. Be ready for possible boarding. Over."

Ylvis hoped they'd be boarded. They felt invincible.

 

* * *

 

Magnus watched as Gamera blasted into the sky, followed by the jet fighter squadrons and then the Mothra. He was fascinated by the turtle; its back legs had retracted and a blazing furnace emerged from each hole, leaving a trail of smoke and the smell of sulfur as the fire propelled the creature upwards. When the turtle was out of sight, Magnus sighed and turned. The soldiers were fortifying the beach and he'd have to move now if he didn't want to be on the wrong side of the barricade once the battle got here. He walked to one of the communications trucks with a giant transmitter on the top. He could see Calle near the door. There were four men inside, all wearing headsets in front of computers and communication gear. Calle was concentrating and flipping switches but he glanced at Magnus and beckoned him over. He handed him a headset and motioned for him to put it on.

Magnus fitted the set onto his head and heard people talking in short, clipped sentences. Calle waited for a break in the work and then hurriedly whispered, "That's the line to Bård and Vegard's moth as well as G-Force and Mechagodzilla. Just listen. They can't hear you over that set. If you think they're getting into trouble let me know and I'll switch over to them if I can. I have to stay on this channel between the ships this side of the fight. I…" He paused and turned back to the bank of switches, saying, "Say again, over?" He gave Magnus the thumbs up and waved him out.

The headset had a long cord and Magnus was able to go to the back of the truck and sit down. No one was saying too much. He sighed. Now he had to worry about the Ylvisåkers and Gamera, to say nothing of the still-missing crew from TVNorge and everyone back home. Ah well. He'd wanted to travel. Be careful what you wish for.

 

* * *

 

Ylvis watched the human forces withdraw as Mechagodzilla blasted into the area along with Godzilla. Ylvis had to admit that Mechagodzilla was the craziest and coolest thing they'd ever seen. It was silver and shaped like a standing Tyrannosaurus Rex, with VTOL-style engines that allowed it to hover over the ocean. Its own energy blasts, firing from its "eyes", weren't effective against the bigger monsters but they turned the smaller infantry into twisted and flaming balls of charcoal. Godzilla's spiked back crackled with blue flame and then he roared, a blast of blue radiation spilling over the dragons and kraken, shriveling them into grey dust.

The fighters had pulled back to let Godzilla work but were doing strafing runs against the enemy soldiers (amphibious infantry?) in the water outside the worst of the fight. Ylvis could hear chatter through Vegard's headset that said that the soldiers (mermen?) were swarming onto even the most distant destroyers and the men and women serving aboard were locked in close quarters fighting. The fairies were listening as well and didn't think the sailors would last long against the onslaught. The fairies asked Aso to allow them to attack. He told them to wait.

Two minutes or so later the last of the biggest monsters in the water were dead and Godzilla turned his attention to Jormungand, blasting him where his body met the water. Mechagodzilla made several strafing runs over Jormungand and attempted to free Gamera from the attention of flocks of the smaller enemy creatures.

Ylvis said, together, into their headsets. "Jormungand is generating the mermen faster than you can kill them. Send us in. Over."

There was a pause (Ylvis thought Aso must be consulting with the other commanders) and then Aso himself said, "Mechagodzilla, pull back to safe distance. Orange and Blue Mothra, Gamera and Rodan, engage."

Ylvis nodded at Sweeney and each grabbed a handful of Blueberry's tufts. They sang in Norwegian:

Forover!  Forover!                                    Ride forth! Ride forth!
Over Stillehavet                                        Over Pacific waters
Fra vårt hjemland                                    Far from our homeland but 
Men fortsatt velsignet                               Still blessed

Vi kjemper for familien, for landet           We fight for family, country, Mankind
Drevet av deg                                          Empowered with you
Som Naturen er drevet                            As Nature is powered

Forover!  Forover!                                      Ride forth! Ride forth!
Du er luft, vi er jorden                               You air, we earth
Vi kjempe nå                                             We will defeat
Disse dyrene av ild og vann                       These beasts of fire and water

Vi kjemper for nå, for alltid, til siste mann  We fight for now, forever, to the last man
Med viljestyrke                                            With force of will
Som mennesker er drevet                                      As man is powered

Ring lyn fra himmelen                                Call the lightning from the skies
Ring hevn med sjel                                    Call the power with your soul
Ring vinden, malstrømmen                             Call the wind to speed your flight
Ring skjoldet, holde oss hel                        Call the shield to keep you whole

Forover!  Forover!                                       Ride forth! Ride forth!
Som Thor kjempet for Midgard                   As Thor fought for Midgard
Vi kjemper for jorda og vårt kjære land       We fight for Earth and our beloved land.
Vårt hjem er, var og vil alltid være her         Our home is, was and will always be here.
Alltid!                                                         Forever!

 

Dazzling light and electricity bubbled and rose around them, brighter and brighter as they sang. By the time they neared the monster, the brilliant light was almost palpable, the air humming and buzzing and saturated with the smell of ozone. Blueberry's body was sparkling with radiant power and she shrieked her battle cry. She dove at the north side of Jormungand's head, lightning flowing from her wings and engulfing the serpent. Her sister targeted the south side and they swirled clockwise around the serpent, the lightning dancing over the monster's scales.

As they fired, Ylvis was aware that although Gamera was forced to clear the area to avoid being struck by the electricity, he circled anxiously behind them. Rodan, immune to Godzilla's atomic breath, taunted the creature lower down its body, and Godzilla kept a stream of his atomic breath at the ocean surface to control the hordes of creatures bubbling up from the sea. Ylvis was elated. Along with the kaiju, they were working as a team. A completely kickass team.

Jormungand managed to belch up a fireball that came perilously close to hitting Blossom and the two Mothra spun and danced faster around the snake, firing with all of their power. The serpent's skin began to smoke and char.

Sweeney had been maintaining a steady stream of communication with G-Force but she suddenly cried out, "Behind us! We've got dragons coming in on our six."

Ylvis bristled with exultation, and before the little enemy dragons began their assault upon them, they held out their hands. They both cried, "Sweeney! Ditch! Now!"

Sweeney hesitated, but then disconnected her fixed line and dove away from the battle, spreading her arms out. She was wearing a powered wingsuit. Ylvis had a momentary flash of astonishment, adding "fly a powered wingsuit" to their now-combined bucket list, but quickly regained focus. When Sweeney was clear, Ylvis roared together and electricity fired from their hands, spreading over and close to Blueberry's surface, freezing the attackers momentarily in place until they dissolved into smoke.

Although they weren't hurt, both of their headsets were destroyed by their burst of Ylvis lightning. They were cut off from communicating with the humans in any way except through Blueberry. But through the kaijus' eyes, Ylvis could see that the tide of the battle was turning. Jormungand's movements were more agonized and spasmodic, and the speed at which monsters churned from the ocean had slowed. Ylvis crowed with delight and sang more beautifully than they ever had before. They felt a berserk, riotous ecstasy. They'd never experienced such pleasure as they did now, fed by the sound resonating from their voices and the righteous power roiling through their bodies. Ylvis had become a force of nature, as great as any kaiju. They had become gods.

And then, without warning, the fairies were flying around their heads. "You must go! The snake is near death. You must warn the others!"

Blueberry's voice rumbled in their heads. "We will finish the beast. You must survive."

Ylvis gulped in great breaths of air and locked their hands together, using their bodies as a combined force to keep their place. They shouted, "We won't leave you!" But they concentrated and Blueberry began shrieking "RETREAT" in Morse code. The other kaiju took up the call in chorus.

The fairies lifted their hands and little sparkles of light shot toward Ylvis, wrenching the men from their handholds. Blueberry rolled and the brothers tumbled off of her, dangling by their safe lines. Before Ylvis could protest, the fairies fired little energy bolts to break the fixed lines and Ylvis tumbled away.

The brothers held on to each other… to themselves… and the fairies' mount dove to pursue them. Ylvis cried out as they fell, desperate to be reunited with Blueberry. Bård's parachute, damaged by the electrical power they'd unleashed on Blueberry's back, tore open. Bård's body was ripped away from his brother's as he tumbled into the tangled lines. Vegard's left arm was caught in the edge of the jumble of rope as well, but Ylvis managed to wrap Vegard's forearm around and around in the mass sufficiently to anchor but stay otherwise free.

Ylvis could feel that Bård's arms and his left leg were completely ensnared and one of the harness straps was wrapped around Bård's neck. But Vegard's body was still free and it pulled Bård's towards itself, one trying to get close enough to free the other.

Suddenly Rodan was underneath them and Ylvis landed in a heap on one of his leathery wings. Rodan went into a glide and the fairies drew alongside. They called out, "Get Bård into your arms and hold onto him! He cannot hold himself and will tear free."

Vegard's body climbed over the parachute's wreckage to where Bård's body was tangled and got one of the loops around Bård's neck free. Vegard's already tangled left arm wound itself into the harness straps around Bård's waist and pulled at the remaining loop that was strangling Bård. Without warning, Rodan turned, dropped his wing and flung them back up into the air and away from the battle.

Vegard's arms worked at freeing Bård's body from the straps, but Ylvis wept while they did so. Ylvis realized the two Mothra had resigned themselves to suffering Thor's fate and Ylvis grieved for their loss. Roaring filled the air, and in their minds, Blueberry said, "Goodbye, children. I'm proud of you."

The sky exploded.

In the next moment, the brothers' minds were suddenly and brutally separated.

And they were alone.

And they fell.

Alone.

 

* * *

 

Chapter Text

Magnus closed his eyes and adjusted the headset Calle had given him, listening to some woman called Sweeney talking in English to G-Force. It was hard to hear because of all the gunfire down on the beach; some weird demony squid men and women were attacking all along the beach and the soldiers were mowing them down with machine guns. So far none of the monsters had gotten past the barricade, but Magnus figured that the soldiers would eventually run out of bullets. It was pretty scary.

He concentrated on the voice on the headset. Most of what she was saying was a running commentary about what the Ylvisåkers and the big blue moth were doing, which was, of course, being awesome. Magnus heaved a great sigh. He sometimes thought it wasn't fair that the brothers had good looks, talent and extraordinary luck all at once. On the other hand, it was pretty cool to hang out with them, since a lot of their good luck spilled off of them and splashed onto him.

When he heard them get permission to attack the big monster snake thing he perked up. And when they started singing "Ride forth! Ride forth! Over Pacific waters…" he leapt up to walk back to the door of the radio truck to tell Calle. He needn't have bothered; someone had put it on a speaker and the four men inside were listening. Calle had his phone on and was recording it.

Magnus thought that most of the men listening would be baffled by the Norwegian lyrics. But the sound of Bård and Vegard's combined voice was having an electrifying effect on everyone. They'd fallen silent, listening. Magnus met eyes with Calle and saw he was in tears. Magnus was moved as well, thinking of Norway and wondering if he'd ever see it again. And then the Ylvisåkers' radio went silent. The three other radio operators shook themselves and returned to the business at hand. Calle flipped to Miki's channel and said, "Miki, this is Calle. We've lost Blue Mothra. Can you see them? Over."

There was a moment delay and Miki responded, "Blue Mothra is attacking Jormungand with lightning strikes. The power is likely interfering with the signal. We can see Ylvis. They are still fighting. Over."

"Roger. Out."

Almost immediately Miki reported the same over the main G-Force channel. Calle looked at Magnus. "They're not dead. They're attacking the snake." Keep listening to G-Force; Miki will keep us updated. Calle looked back at his panel and flipped a switch. "Come in."

Magnus walked back to where he'd been sitting. Miki was saying, "Mothra attacks effective. Boarders repelled. We've lost all radio contact but all kaiju are still in battle." Magnus whipped off his headphones when his ears were blasted with a series of short distorted shrieks. There was a pause and Miki said, "All the kaiju are roaring together. What is that?"

Miki transmitted the barking sound, at a lower volume, and almost immediately several people, including Calle, said at once, "Morse Code." "Retreat." "Retreat." "Retreat."

Commander Aso's voice rang out, "All forces, withdraw immediately. All forces, retreat."

At the same time a siren went off behind the communications trucks. Magnus looked toward the beach. The demon people had broken through the barricade and they were pouring toward them. The soldiers were killing many of the creatures, but for every one that fell two more would take his or her place. Magnus backed up to where Calle was working. The four men were all talking calmly into their headsets, even though Magnus could tell they'd seen the attack.

Magnus turned back to watch the shrieking tentacle-haired nightmare-people and realized that they were all naked and all extremely beautiful, if you didn't look at the tentacles or fangs. He thought maybe he should panic as he saw the beguiling creatures rushing toward him. Panicking wouldn't really help. There were worse ways to die than by being torn apart by fashion models. Being run over by steamroller very slowly would surely be worse. He'd read an article about some disease where worms ate you from the inside out. That would be horrible. Also food poisoning. Magnus hated having diarrhea.

 

* * *

 

Vegard howled in terror and pain as Bård's consciousness was violently snatched away. It was several moments before his stunned mind could work well enough for him to realize they were flying upward. Their forcible ejection from the battle zone had hurled them so far into the air that they'd flown up into a tight mass of clouds. The clouds were thick enough that he couldn't see Bård, although he could still feel the tangle of lines around his left arm. But he couldn't hear anything but wind and the weirdly hollow and tiny sound of his own voice. And he didn't know if he was right side up or down. He felt as if he'd been torn out of his own skin. As if he'd suddenly been ripped in half, top to bottom. He felt like vomiting. His head hurt with the worst migraine he'd ever had. Blueberry's warm, maternal comfort was gone and every part of him, inside and out, screamed for her to return. And he couldn't feel the lines around Bård's arms and leg and neck that had been hurting so terribly immediately before the explosion. He couldn't feel or hear Bård at all.

Vegard was suddenly gripped with dread that the reason he couldn't hear Bård's thoughts was that Bård was also dead. He cried out his brother's name and groped into the mass of fabric and rope flapping around them. He finally felt an arm that wasn't his. "Bård?! Bård?!" He pulled himself closer.

They shot free of the cloud and into clear sky above. Bård's face was purple, and the second strap was still wrapped around his neck. He wasn't dead. He just wasn't in Vegard's head any more.

It was a relief to see him alive, but he was being strangled. Bård was trying to untangle one of his arms but the billowing silk of the parachute kept yanking his arms out and behind him. The wind was crucifying him and his face was suffused with panic and pain. Vegard pulled Bård closer and made a grab for the offending strap, but couldn't pull it free.

He felt around the surface of his own vest until his hand closed around his parachute shroud cutter. He yanked it free and the next time Bård was thrown against him he grabbed Bård around the waist with his legs, pulling his upper body towards himself while he cut the strap free.

The moment Bård was safe from strangulation Vegard looked down at his own gear and realized he couldn't reach the manual release to open his own parachute; his left arm was ensnared in Bård's lines and pinned across his own chest. Vegard's chute should have opened when he fell from Blueberry; somehow it must have been damaged as well. Or maybe the line had been severed. Sweeney had said there was an automatic altitude-activated chute in their gear as well. He really hoped the automatic chute would go off, or they would end up as a thin layer of Ylvisåker soup on the surface of the ocean.

He looked back up at Bård, who was still jerking in agony, but at least he wasn't purple anymore.

They reached the top of their climb and for a moment hovered motionless. They met eyes and then began falling back down through the cloud toward the earth. Vegard's eyes stung from the wind and the cold (how high had Rodan thrown them?!) and it was a little hard to catch his breath. He was so disoriented and in such pain he didn't trust his guess: 15,000? 20,000 feet? But when they came out of the cloud he could see they were still headed west. That was something, at least. Just that much closer to home.

Vegard thought he probably had a minute before the chute would deploy… or they died. He cut four of the six lines around Bård's left arm and Bård pulled his arm free. The wind was howling so loudly again Vegard couldn't speak to his brother, but he trusted him, and handed him the blade.

Bård was clumsy with his newly freed left-hand but squinted at the blade and nodded, turning to cut his right arm free while Vegard unclasped and clasped carabiners between them, anchoring them together by their gear. As Bård's arm came loose, the freed chute billowed above them and yanked them into a slow spin. They were slowing down a little. Not really enough. And if they slowed down too much the automatic chute wouldn't deploy.

Bård cut at the tangles around his lower leg, kicking the lines free. Now Vegard was the only one attached to the lines and they yanked painfully on his left arm. Bård pulled Vegard close and tangled his legs more tightly with his brother's. Bård cut the two remaining lines biting into Vegard's arm and then pulled the cutaway handle on his own vest. Vegard held onto Bård as the useless and torn parachute floated free and drew away above them, billowing in the wind. Bård looked up and then back down at Vegard. He yanked the release on Vegard's main chute and it shot above them, catching the wind and slowing their descent.

Bård wrapped his arms around his brother and Vegard pulled him closer, fighting the air's attempts to separate them. They hugged and he could feel Bård's ear against his own. He couldn't get Bård close enough and the embrace felt unnatural and awkward. They'd been in each other's minds and souls and they would never be the same. Vegard assumed Bård was in as much psychic pain as he was. Neither made the attempt to speak.

Neither realized how fast they were coming down and they splashed into the water hard. Vegard yelped with pain that shot up his right ankle and saw the parachute coming down atop them. Vegard spit out water and motioned for Bård to swim away, unhooking the carabiners that joined them. He didn't want them both trapped under the parachute.

Bård said nothing but immediately pushed away. The parachute settled on top of Vegard and, trying to ignore his leg, he unbuckled his harness and let it float away from his body. He followed the line of the parachute outward until he was free. Bård came up behind him, grabbed him by his vest and locked his arms around Vegard's chest.

Vegard let out a sigh of relief and misery. They'd landed in the water. They weren't dead. They beat the bad monster. They'd won.

Then he heard a rumbling sound and from the east there was a wall of debris falling from the air into the water, approaching frighteningly fast. Followed by a wave at least three meters high. Spreading from the impact from the snake's explosion.

Before they could react, the mass of water threw them upwards. Bård gripped Vegard hard and he felt Bård jerk with surprise as they were pummeled by debris falling like thick hail around them. A few bits fell on Vegard's arm and they burned and stung but as he was tossed around in the water they washed away. Some larger chunks splashed around them and Vegard realized with a mixture of disgust and dismay that they were bits of the snake's carcass, its brood and possibly even Blueberry. Nothing looked particularly moth-like but still… it was horrible to think they were swimming in her grave.

When the debris stopped falling Bård tightened his grip around Vegard's chest, but said nothing. What could he say? What could either of them say? They floated silently for a while, allowing the life vests to support them. Vegard's heart was heavy with grief for the loss of his brother's and Blueberry's presence in his head. He expected it was the same for Bård. There was no reason to talk.

Time passed and they saw some fighters heading west overhead but nothing much else. Vegard was looking at the brightly hued sunset when Bård finally whispered, "Vegard."

"I'm here."

"I'm dying."

Vegard sighed. "Me too." He felt so empty. He knew Bård must feel the same.

"No, I'm actually dying."

"What?"

"I just said."

"Let me go. Let me see."

Bård released his hold and Vegard turned around to face him. Vegard gasped, "Helvete."

There was a six-inch glistening shard of what looked like a one of Jormungand's scales embedded in Bård's right shoulder.

"Jesus Christ, Bård. That shoulder is never ever going to heal if you keep getting pointy things stuck in it." He inspected the wound. "It's not bleeding much."

"It's not the bleeding that's killing me. I think it's poisoned." He held up his hand. The normally pale blue lines of the veins on the back of his hand were a greenish black. Vegard looked at Bård's face and saw the veins on the surface of his neck and right cheek were darkened as well. Vegard was horrified to see the black marks were visibly creeping across Bård's face like slugs leaving a poisonous trail.

"No. You can't be poisoned. Not after all of this." Vegard took hold of the shard and pulled it out. He let the foul thing sink into the ocean.

Bård cried out and gasped, "Fy faen, that hurts."

Vegard hissed in distress. Instead of blood, greenish-black oil oozed from the hole the shard had made in Bård's life jacket. "No. This isn't happening." He shouted at his brother. "This isn't happening!"

"If you get home, tell everyone…"

"I don't accept this."

"Sorry." Bård closed his eyes.

"No. Don't die. Don't leave me." He shook Bård violently and then slapped his face gently. "Bård. Bård! Please, don't joke about this. Bård…" He hugged his brother and wept as the sun sank below the horizon.

 

 

Long after Bård stopped responding, Vegard was still holding him tightly, stubbornly keeping him upright. He let Bård's chin rest on his shoulder, keeping Bård's face and mouth above the water. He refused to check Bård for a pulse. He refused to accept he was dead. He refused to accept any of this. Maybe he was still back on that yacht on their last night in Tokyo, drowning as the boat capsized. Bård and Calle were thrown free. They were both athletes. They would be fine. He was the only one drowning and this was all a hallucination in his oxygen-starved brain.

 

 

Vegard felt so drained. It was so dark and peaceful now. The moon was a crescent, and there was enough light for Vegard to see some of the debris marring the smooth surface of the water. He carefully attached Bård to himself by the straps of their vests. He was terribly worried he'd fall asleep and wake to find Bård floating out of reach or gone completely, pulled down to the black depths.

He'd checked every pocket on his and Bård's gear. All of their electronic equipment had been destroyed by their final electrifying spell. They had no radio, no light, no transmitter. He couldn't imagine anyone could possibly find them, especially with all the debris floating in the water. The water was warm enough to be comfortable, although Vegard knew it was just cold enough to kill them before they died of dehydration. He expected there were worse ways to die. His ankle had stopped aching. His chest pain had returned. He wasn't sure if it was getting harder to breathe or just harder to do everything. It didn't matter. At least he and Bård were together. He pressed the side of Bård's head against his own. He wouldn't let Bård die out here alone.

He looked up at the stars and tried to orient himself. He expected the most direct way back to Norway would be northwest over Russia. It was still a very long distance away. It was probably sunny there right now.

He remembered an afternoon when he was a teenager, lying on a grass lawn in Norway in summer, looking at the sky, watching the clouds rolling by, Bård sitting nearby, making him laugh with a story about a girl he liked. Bård had always been the funny one. No. Bård was still the funny one. Bård just thought so fast. Too fast to keep up. Vegard's mind felt slow and ponderous without Bård in his head, dragging him along. It was no wonder Vegard always lost at games like stein, saks, papir; Bård saw Vegard's hand starting to move before he threw. He was so fast Vegard had never noticed. He never thought Bård let him win anything in those days. Maybe Bård thought Vegard would begin to be suspicious if he never lost.

Vegard frowned. Bård said a lot of his stories were boring. Maybe he was just too slow in his delivery. He wondered if he really did have brain damage. Nei, nei, nei, nei, that was silly. He smiled and patted Bård's back. "No, you're just the super fast talented genius, Bård. I'm just the normal guy."

As the moon rose, Vegard stroked Bård's back and sang to him, enjoying the view of the clear sky. He could see the Milky Way and picked out constellations, describing them to his brother, telling the stories he knew about some of them. He debated whether one star was actually a planet. It was hard to tell.

 

 

He hadn't seen much in the way of airplanes, but he supposed it was far too soon after the battle to expect commercial flights to be operating. He fantasized that he was looking at this same sky but from his home. He wondered if the attack had worked, if by killing Jormungand he and Bård had made things safe back home as well. He hoped so. He thought about his and Bård's children. He missed them. He was sorry he wouldn't have the chance to see them grow up. It was all such a terrible shame.

 

 

He caught himself falling asleep for the third time. The moon was setting. He should stay awake if he could; surely he could make it at least until dawn. He had eternity ahead of him to sleep. Sleep was a waste of time.

He startled as he felt something brush past his leg. Had all the monster parts in the water attracted sharks? Or were they attracted to his and Bård's body heat? Vegard glanced around and sucked in a breath when he saw three fins approaching from the west. With Bård fastened to his own body he couldn't easily maneuver. He let out a resigned sigh. He wouldn't leave Bård, and he couldn't fight or swim as he was. He was so tired. He felt the beasts bumping against his legs and back. He closed his eyes, held his brother tightly and waited for the first bite. He hoped their deaths would be over quickly. He hoped they took Bård first. He didn't want his little brother to die alone.


 

 

Chapter Text

The comms were jammed with reports of fighters, ships and the smaller craft retreating from the battle between the kaiju and the world serpent.

Then Miki's voice rang clear, "The serpent is destroyed. The Mothra have destroyed the serpent."

A cheer went up among the men in the truck. Calle glanced out the door; he could see Magnus's silhouette in front of the horde of wraiths swarming up from the beach. He was impressed the younger man wasn't running in screaming panic. Maybe he was just paralyzed with fear. Calle's own heart was pounding so hard it hurt; he wondered how long the closed door of the truck would last against the attackers. He shouted, "Magnus, run!"

Magnus didn't move, but as the demons were about to overwhelm him they melted into steaming puddles on the ground. Magnus hesitated for a long moment and then put his hands on his hips. He turned around, met eyes with Calle and said, "That was horrible."

Calle sighed with relief and took his hand off the door's latch. "They killed the sea monster."

Magnus smiled. "Kjempefint! Are they coming back here?"

Calle held up a finger and picked up Magnus's headset. He adjusted its mic and asked, "Miki, can you see the Ylvisåkers?"

"We do not see them. Stand by."

Calle glanced at Magnus and listened for a moment in his own headset. It sounded like the demons attacking the destroyers and naval carriers were melting away as well.

Calle jumped as sirens started howling from the speakers atop the truck and the truck engine revved. Soldiers began streaming away from the beach. Over the speaker an American voice announced in English and Japanese that there was a large wave and debris cloud speeding from the site of the main explosion that would cause dangerous wave cresting.

"Magnus! Come on!" Calle held out a hand and Magnus jumped into the truck. Two other communications trucks were also moving, overtaking the people on foot and driving inland.

Calle said anxiously, "If a big wave is coming, it's probably loaded with snake meat. Twenty minute warning."

"Is there going to be a tsunami?"

"I don't know."

"Are the guys okay?"

"I don't know."

They kept moving, following the soldiers fleeing inland. More trucks and vehicles moved beside them and stopped, taking people onboard and then speeding onto the highway heading west. The convoy grew larger but after about ten minutes it drew to a stop and people got out of their vehicles. Calle spotted an American soldier and asked what was happening.

"We're behind a sea wall here. Even a earthquake-driven tsunami won't make a wave high enough to crest it, much less an explosion."*

"Do you know where the G-Force group would have gone?"

"No, sorry."

An hour later Calle was still working from the truck, although the chatter had moved from his channels and back to channels specific to each fighting force. So there wasn't much to do. Magnus sat beside the truck, waiting for the activity to die down a little and for Calle to be free. The wave had hit but evidently had been smaller than expected; it didn't get past the walls and now people were moving back toward their respective command centers, but they were scattered and civilians who had also responded to the sirens only added to the chaos. It would be a while before the troops would be properly positioned again.

Finally Miki contacted Calle. His heart sank when Miki told him both Mothras and Rodan had perished in the explosion. But she said she thought the brothers were alive, and possibly injured, but she didn't know where. He repeated the news to Magnus and then asked, "Can't you… do some type of telepathy… or something?" Miki explained that something was wrong with her psychic connection with both the brothers and the fairies. She could only vaguely sense them. Regardless, the few assets that could be spared would only be able to search for all of them until sunset, and that was drawing near. Calle signed off and turned to Magnus. "Let's go help out; I'm sure…" His voice trailed off. "Where did he go?"

 

* * *

 

Vegard's heart hammered in his chest. The sharks were still jostling, bumping and rubbing into and against his legs and his back. It was still night, and the sky had opened into heavy rain. Lightning crackled above him and the water's surface churned and splashed in his face. He kept Bård's face out of the water the best he could but he had despaired completely of surviving the ordeal. The rain was making it almost impossible to see, but he got occasional glimpses of the fins circling them. It was also getting harder to breathe. Did sharks play with their food the way cats did? The tepid water had slowly sapped away all feeling of warmth from his body. Maybe the cold would take him before the sharks. That would be a blessing.

He wondered if the sharks had already started eating him. Maybe he was so hypothermic that he wouldn't feel pain in his legs. The thought frightened him, so much so that he didn't dare feel for his own legs. He couldn't bear the thought of discovering only shards of bone and flesh below his hips. He gripped Bård's body tighter and wished it would be over. Finally he said out loud to the sharks, "Helvete, just finish us. Why are you waiting?"

In response something huge approached, blocking his view of the moon. The thing sank underneath them for a moment, and then lifted them both out of the water. Vegard's legs crumpled beneath him and he and his brother ended up as a tangled heap on what felt like the rubbery surface of a whale. Vegard fumbled for the straps holding Bård to his chest but his fingers were uselessly cold and he couldn't see.

Then he heard and felt a low call, deep and resonant. Vegard said uncertainly, "Thank you… whale… uh… Herr Hval? I don't suppose you would mind giving us a lift to Tokyo?"

A bright light suddenly dazzled him. A voice asked in Norwegian, "Hi! Are you okay?"

Vegard squinted. He couldn't see anything now. "Hallo?"

The voice answered through the rain, "It's Gamera. Come here. Get on his shell."

The light was a flashlight. The glare was blinding.

Vegard realized the thing that had lifted them from the ocean was the giant turtle's head. He gasped, "Help us. I can't move my legs. My brother here and I are tethered together."

Someone jumped onto Gamera's head and gave Vegard his flashlight. "Let me help you. Don't worry."

"Magnus?!"

"What happened to Bård?" Magnus kneeled down and examined the straps between the brothers' vests.

Vegard swallowed hard, unwilling to say Bård was dead. "There's a knife in my right front pocket. Cut him free."

"Okay."

Vegard clumsily directed the light to his pocket. "How did you find us?"

Magnus cut the attachments between the brothers and caught Bård as he rolled away. "I didn't. I just asked Gamera to find you and he let me climb on. We've been floating around all night. Some dolphins led us here. So, what's wrong with Bård?"

"He… he was poisoned with a sliver of one of Jormungand's scales. He passed out."

Magnus grunted and picked Bård up. "He's cold." He carefully turned and carried Bård up to Gamera's shell. Vegard followed him with the beam of light, his chest tight. Bård was limp in Magnus's arms. If he were dead he'd be stiff with rigor mortis, wouldn't he? Vegard watched as Magnus settled Bård behind one of the enormous raised scales on Gamera's shell.

Vegard struggled to get up, but his leg hurt, it was difficult to breathe and he was numb and cold. Vegard held up an arm and said hoarsely, "Help me up. I can't climb on my own."

"What's wrong with you?"

"I don't know."

"Okay." Magnus half-carried, half-supported Vegard onto the turtle's back. "You're cold too."

Vegard rubbed his own chest. "I'm fine. Can you help me keep Bård warm?"

"Sure."

Once they were firmly ensconced on Gamera's back, Magnus said loudly, "Okay, Gamera, we're ready. Say thank you to the dolphins for me."

Gamera made a grumbly sound and the shifting forms circling them in the water chattered merrily. Gamera ignited his back legs and they rose into the rain. Vegard huddled against Bård and Magnus did his best to shelter both of them with his own enormous body.

Magnus inspected Bård with the flashlight, revealing the dark veins that covered Bård's face. "What are those lines?"

Vegard coughed again into his hand. "I don't know."

"Is he dead?"

"I don't know."

Magnus played his light over Vegard's face. "You have blood on your lips. You're coughing up blood."

"Am I?" Water dripped into Vegard's eyes and he pushed the curls of his soaked hair off of his face. His hand was trembling violently.

Magnus turned the flashlight away from Vegard and said loudly, "Gamera! Hurry. They are hurt very badly!"

Gamera's boosters flared and they sped up. The sky began to lighten and they caught sight of land.

Vegard squinted at the approaching coastline with relief and coughed again. "I'm so tired. Get Bård to a hospital. Make them call our families."

Magnus replied but Vegard couldn't quite understand the words. So Vegard simply said, "Or take us back to Norway. I want to go home." He closed his eyes and drifted into darkness.

 

* * *

 

Two weeks later…

Vegard flipped through the channels on the television in Bård's hospital room while the nurse's aides washed his brother and changed his bed linens. As usual, there wasn't anything particularly interesting to watch; Japanese daytime television was so crazy it had started to be boring. And the only news feed was in Japanese, and seemed to only show images of Japan, not the world.

After that terrible night in the Pacific, Gamera had delivered the brothers and Magnus back to the beach on Sosa. From there they'd been taken by helicopter to a mobile military hospital and stabilized. Vegard had woken up a day or so later to be told that his chest pain and cough were due to a collection of blood near the surface of his lung. The doctors thought the condition was partly due to his gunshot injuries the year before**, when he'd taken two bullets in the chest while wearing a Kevlar vest. That, combined with the trauma from the CPR Calle had given him, and the large variance in altitudes to which he'd been subjected, had led to a tear in his left lung. It had been frightening to wake up with tubes coming out of his chest, but that fear was more than offset by the news that Bård wasn't dead after all. They told him Bård was in an intensive care unit nearby.

A day later they'd sedated and moved the brothers during the night to a different unit, supposedly because of security concerns. Evidently the apocalypse had brought forward a number of fringe groups that wanted the Ylvisåkers' heads for putting a stop to the destruction of mankind.

For the next week Bård was in and out of consciousness, variably sluggish and moaning or demented and screaming for them to kill him or let him die. Bård was most calm when Vegard was nearby, and so they'd been installed in the same room, although they kept Bård in four point restraints, which Vegard hated.

The US and Japanese government sent men to debrief him the day he'd awoken. They'd fallen over themselves saying that the Ylvisåker brothers would get the best possible medical care. Since the move, Bård and Vegard had been installed in this sunny, clean and well appointed room.

That being said, the private wing they inhabited was locked, and they were guarded by military police all of the time. Vegard thought there must be something that the doctors hadn't revealed. The staff told him that Calle and Magnus had been flown back to Norway, which Vegard found difficult to swallow. Surely their friends would have come to visit before they left. And now two weeks after the battle he was still being told that international communications were down. Something was wrong. Had the serpent's death not finished the war for the planet?

Vegard missed his and Bård's children desperately, but he couldn't have left Bård behind even if he wanted to. Every day the misery caused by the separation of their minds worsened, but he felt most calm if he was physically close to his brother. So once the doctors allowed him to sit up, he spent as much time as possible at Bård's bedside, holding his hand or reading to him from out-of-date English language magazines brought to him by the perpetually smiling nurses.

The nurses finished washing Bård, checked his IV line and restraints and left. Vegard settled into the chair beside Bård's bed and took his hand. Bård's dark blond hair fanned out over the crisp white hospital linens and he was sleeping peacefully with a half-smile, as he always did. The doctors kept Bård sedated much of the time, and technicians came in to draw blood samples at least once a day from both Bård and Vegard. They both also had been subjected to a battery of tests, including frequent EEGs and radiologic imaging. Both brothers were also fitted with portable brain and heart monitors. Vegard didn't understand why they wanted to test him as well as Bård, but he felt too physically weak to make a fuss.

A week ago, after a lot of debate using technical terms he didn't understand, the doctors told him that the poison from Jormungand's scale wasn't being excreted by Bård's body. They'd tried filtering his blood with some sort of dialysis machine. Bård had woken up in the middle of that procedure, enraged and shrieking profanities at the doctors. After they'd given him yet another injection, Bård had gone completely white and had a seizure. That had been terrifying and had given Vegard nightmares of Bård convulsing and foaming at the mouth every night since. The horrible black lines snaking over Bård's skin hadn't faded at all since the night in the ocean, and had taken on a sickly green sheen. They looked awful. And Vegard wasn't sure if Bård was just losing weight, but the muscles in his arms and shoulders looked more defined than they had before.

Something was terribly wrong.

There had been a steady stream of flowers and gifts sent to the brothers by people all over Japan, and it did keep the room cheery. Today the sun was streaming in through the large windows and the room smelled of roses.

Vegard sighed and turned off the television just as there was a perfunctory knock on the door. Two male Japanese doctors entered and told Vegard in broken English that they were going to try using electrical shocks on Bård, much like shock therapy used in some mental disorders. They'd used this successfully on some test animals, although some of them didn't survive the process.

Vegard looked over at Bård with dread. The prospect of having him here delirious and combative was infinitely better than the prospect of losing him completely. And the entire situation was going out of control; surely all these tests and experiments meant the doctors didn't know what they were doing. He said, "I don't understand how electrical shocks would clear away a poison. I don't mean to insult you, but is there some way to consult with other specialists? Or maybe I just need a translator? Maybe I don't understand because of our language differences?"

The two men looked at each other. One said, "We will discuss this with the team. In the meantime, perhaps you should move to your own room. It would be safer for you."

Vegard clenched his fists. They weren't going to go over his head. "No."

"We will arrange for a pleasant room of your own."

"If you want me to leave Bård's room you'll have to drag me out kicking and screaming. What's really going on here?!"

The doctors looked at him carefully, and then bowed slightly and left. Vegard could hear the deadbolt slide into place after the door closed.

He rubbed his chest. It still hurt like hell. He murmured, "What the hell do I do now?"

"Vegard."

Vegard jumped in his chair and whirled to look at his brother. Bård was watching him calmly, his blue eyes determined. "They're keeping us here because they're afraid of us."

"Bård. I thought you were … Fy faen! You weren't faking it all this time, were you?"

"Of course not. They've been… drugging me…" Bård glanced up at the camera on the wall. He locked eyes with Vegard and said softly, "Come closer and untie me."

"I don't understand."

"We've got to get out of here."

Vegard looked down at himself. The doctors had removed the chest tubes five days earlier, but his chest still hurt like hell. He wasn't exactly in peak fighting condition.

"We're both injured, Bård. You don't realize how badly."

Bård looked him over critically and let out a long breath. He said softly, "Please. Help me. Before they come back in. They'll be back with an injection for both me and you this time. I don't want to be drugged again. They're experimenting on us. Can't you see that?"

Vegard moved closer and drew back the white sheet covering his brother. Bård angrily pulled against the restraints. He looked healthy enough, if you didn't count all the bruises on his arms from all of the blood samples they'd taken. And the black serpentine veins covering his skin. Vegard said hesitantly, "Last week you broke the nose of one of the assistants."

"Don't you think it's a little odd that they have such burly orderlies here? I…" Bård sighed and blinked slowly at his brother, his eyes welling up. He whispered, "Please, I'm so afraid…"

Alarmed by Bård's uncharacteristic tears, Vegard moved forward to hold his brother's hand in both of his. "No, you're safe. I'm here, you're right. Let me untie this…" He pulled at the strap and buckle holding Bård's left hand in position. The moment Bård was free he reached up and grabbed Vegard by the back of the head and pulled him forward until their foreheads were almost touching. Bård whispered fiercely, "Now listen to me, you wretched little useless idiot. They're keeping us here because they're afraid of our power and they want to see how it works. But they don't want to cure us; they want to use us. Or kill us. We have to escape."

Vegard tried to pull away. "You're hurting me."

"Get me loose or I'll break your fucking neck." Vegard was suddenly transfixed by Bård's eyes, only centimeters from his own. Up close he could see Bård's blue eyes were shifting with an oily greenish haze.

"No. There's something wrong with you. You should stay here until we figure out what is…"

Bård hissed, "Why won't you ever shut up?!" and pressed his forehead against Vegard's. Vegard's body arched with shock as a new mind pressed into his own.

 

* * *

 

Vegard blinked into the darkness. "What is this?"

He could hear breathing, a deep slow breath drawn in, and blown out, all around him. It was cold. He asked, "What is happening?"

"What do you think is happening?"

Vegard turned, but still couldn't see. "Bård?"

A candle flickered into existence. Vegard turned and saw his brother, dressed in black, holding the candle, smirking at him. Something was off. The lines on Bård's face were still there, but his eyes were black. His hair was longer and loosely curled, and he had a beard, and… he was wearing Medieval Viking armor and a black cape. Actually, he looked pretty cool.

Vegard inched closer. "What is this? Where is this?"

Bård sneered, "In our heads, idiot. In your heads."

Behind him, a voice said, "Vegard."

He turned and gasped with alarm. Bård was on the floor, his back against a stone wall, wearing the fatigues he'd been wearing when Gamera pulled them out of the ocean. His skin was clear of the dark marks, but his wrists were locked in heavy black chains fixed to the floor at his sides. He was beaten, bloodied and fixed to the wall with a glittering black spike that pierced through his right shoulder and into the stone behind him. Vegard rushed to his brother's side and kneeled next to him. "What happened? What is this?"

Bård opened his clear blue eyes to look at Vegard and then slid his gaze back to the other man.

Bård's captor regarded them with a half-smile, and then his long hair went as dark as Vegard's. He said in Vegard's voice, mocking, "What happened? What is this?"

Vegard pulled at the spike pinning Bård to the wall but it was firmly set in the stone. He shouted at their captor, enraged. "Who are you? What the hell did you do to him?"

Their captor smiled with Bård's mouth and now Vegard's eyes. "I have had many names: Apep, Satan, Tiamat, Lilithu, Mara, Marzanna, Lucifer, Ahriman, Iblis, Gauna, AhPuch, Vucub Caquix, Tzitzimime, Tornarsuk, Kali…"

Vegard shook his head with disbelief. Beside him Bård spit out blood and growled, "Oh, shut the fuck up!" He looked up at Vegard, saying, "Call it Bob. That makes it angry."

Vegard nodded. Surely, even men named Bob didn't want to be called Bob. He gripped Bård's arm for reassurance and asked, "So, Bob, what's this all about?"

Bob blinked steadily at Vegard, smiling. "I don't care what you call me. You are going to help me destroy the creatures infesting this planet. If we finish the job in time, I will give you back your brother. If we don't, I will turn his body into a drooling wreck, and keep his mind here. I will listen to him scream for eternity while I wait in the core of the earth."

Vegard narrowed his eyes at Bob and then said to Bård. "He seems evil. He also smells a little of dead dog."

Next to him Bård said, "It's not a he. It's an it. And it's the beard. It has an evil beard."

Vegard said, "You're right. Bob, I don't think we should help you. Your facial hair is off-putting."

Bob turned around on his heel, his long dark hair whipping around his face in slow motion, as if he were underwater. Vegard raised a brow. He didn't think the situation could have gotten more surreal. He was wrong.

Bob held his hands outstretched, green flame dancing around his fingers, and said, "You're braver than I expected, older brother."

"I'm fairly certain you are a hallucination. I think most likely Bård is delirious and is throttling me to death." He glanced at Bård. "I forgive you for that, Bård."

Bård winced. "Thanks."

Bob clucked at Vegard. "So cynical. How to prove myself? Well, I could allow you to wake up in the outside world, torture your brother and allow you to watch him suffer. Would you be impressed if I made one of his eyes deflate? That would look interesting."

"That seems unnecessarily harsh."

Bård said, "It likes to be dramatic. It's a real prima donna."

Bob stretched out his hand and Bård convulsed, screaming in agony.

Vegard stood up, positioning himself between Bob and his brother. "Stop that! You don't have to hurt him. Just say what you want."

Bob laughed, a deep, echoing, taunting, evil laugh.

Vegard frowned at him. "Now you're just overacting. Say what you want from me."

Vegard was picked up by invisible hands and thrown against the stone floor. He lifted his head, dazed, but was dragged by his hair to the edge of a well and pushed into it headfirst. A hand held his head underwater and Vegard thrashed, terrified to be drowning again. Just as he felt he couldn't hold his breath a moment longer Bob pulled him up and bent down until their noses were only millimeters apart. Bob pouted. "The human race has lost its sense of fun. Here's... what you… will do... for me."

 

* * *

Ten days earlier…

Two days after bringing the Ylvisåkers back to Japan, Magnus found Calle at the ruins of Yokota Air Base, helping the soldiers bury the dead and clean up. Calle had been thrilled to see him and hear of the brothers' rescue, but worried when Magnus told him he hadn't been allowed to visit either one in the hospital. After unsuccessfully trying to contact Miki, they'd spent another day making their way to G-Force headquarters in Tsukuba and had finally argued their way into seeing Miki in the late afternoon. She'd asked them to wait here in the G-Force cafeteria four hours ago.

Calle took a sip of the surprisingly tasty coffee from one of the vending machines and sighed. He glanced at Magnus. "Something's wrong. This is taking too long. Why would she keep us waiting like this?"

Magnus nodded and clumsily poked at the rice in the bowl in front of him with his chopsticks. He was struggling to pick up more than one grain of rice at a time. "Yeah. Det er ugler i mosen."

Calle looked at the clock again and pushed his hands through his blond hair, resting his elbows on the table. He watched Magnus's attempts to use the chopsticks and finally said, "You're shaming the fatherland. Just get a fork."

Magnus sighed, "I couldn't find one." He put down the chopsticks and lifted the bowl to his mouth, scooping the rice into his mouth with his fingers. He mumbled, "Oh. Here she comes."

Calle stood as Miki approached with a tall and handsome Japanese soldier at her side; they were both wearing G-Force fatigues. She bowed slightly and said, "You remember Lieutenant Koji Shinjo, yes?"

"Ah, yes." Calle shook Koji's hand and asked, "What have you discovered?"

"We had the same difficulty you did when we inquired after them; for some reason their location was a secret. But now we know they are not far from here. Come with us."

The sun was setting as Miki and Koji drove them to University of Tsukuba Hospital. By the time they arrived it was after 2100. The front desk attendant said visiting hours were over and they'd have to come back the following morning. Koji frowned and made a phone call back to G-Force headquarters. Twenty minutes later an apologetic administrator arrived and led them up through the intensive care area and into an isolation ward. When he opened the door to the ward their entire group gasped with shock. Several dead or unconscious hospital workers lay on the floor and most of the lights were off. Koji pulled out his service pistol and gently pushed Miki behind him with a warning to hang back. He told the administrator to run for help and slowly advanced into the room. He checked each of the four patient rooms in turn, and when he'd looked into the last one he sighed and replaced his gun, glancing back at them. "They're gone. Someone took them."

As emergency workers entered the ward to take care of the injured nurses, Miki peered into the rooms marked "G-Force Patient 1" and "G-Force Patient 2". "It doesn't look like there was a struggle. But…" She held up a business card and handed it to Koji. He read it and gave it to Calle.

Calle looked at the elegant red and black card. It featured a white diamond-shaped logo and Japanese characters. Phone numbers and a website address were listed on the back. He shook his head. "I don't understand."

Koji frowned. "Yakuza."***

Chapter Text

Vegard yelped as Bob threw him against the wall at Bård's left side and slapped thick manacles on his wrists. Bob threw his head back, laughed maniacally and then stalked off into the darkness.

Vegard sighed. "Huh. Nåvel."

Next to him Bård asked angrily, "Nåvel? That's all you can say?"

"It's so dark. Can you see anything?"

"No. It's dark because it took the light with it. Try to keep up."

Vegard let out a breath. Bård was frustrated and in pain. If he wanted to take it out on him, Vegard would let him. To a point. Vegard offered, "He's a little too evil. He's a caricature."

"Not he. It. It is trying to impress you. It thinks that is how you expect evil to behave."

"I'm more imaginative than that."

"Yeah."

They sat in silence. Finally Vegard said, "I can kind of feel you in my head."

Bård elbowed him. "That's because I am in your head, idiot. We are in our heads. We aren't actually in a dungeon or… wherever this is supposed to be."

"I just got here. I don't know the rules."

"Try harder."

"Fine. I'm glad to have you back."

"Of course you are."

Vegard sighed and rattled his chains. They were almost comically thick. "If this isn't real why are we stuck here? Let's just wake up."

There was a long pause and then Bård said, "I've had some time to think about that. How long has it been, by the way?"

"About two weeks."

"It feels like its been two months."

"I thought you were dead for a while there."

Bård grunted. "I hope you weren't crying like a little girl over my lifeless, yet still handsome-as-hell, corpse."

"There may have been some girlish crying."

Bård sighed and then elbowed him again. "Really, Vegard, you are such a baby."

"Unnskyld."

"Regardless, I think Bob is a manifestation of whatever that snake was supposed to be."

"Why do you call Bob an it?"

"Bob sometimes shows up as a woman, or a dog, or a skeleton, or a pointy stick. Once Bob was just a big blob of white pudding."

"Like a blancmange?"

"Exactly. A giant blancmange that whacked me with a tennis racquet."

"That makes total sense."

"It was surprisingly painful."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

They fell back into silence. Finally Vegard ventured, "You woke up a few times screaming for us to kill you, or let you die. Was he… torturing you or something?"

"It, not he. And no. It just told me that you and I would destroy the world. The few times I could feel the real world I thought it might be better if I didn't survive."

"That's very heroic of you, lillebror. I'm proud of you." He nudged Bård with his elbow. "Are you in much pain now?"

"Yes. My right shoulder hurts like a motherfucker."

Vegard chewed his lip, angry that Bård had undergone his trial alone. He asked, "What else did he do to you?"

"Not he. It."

"Sorry, What else did it do to you?"

"The usual. Mostly punching and beating. Once it came as a sort of pig and sang showtunes with my voice nonstop. That may have been the worst week of my entire life. But… nei… Bob says I'm not fun to torture because I'm such a pussy. No point in boiling me in oil if I scream and cry like a little girl when it just gives me a little pinch."

"Is that a good thing?"

"I don't know. Evil Bård looked pretty cool, though, didn't it?"

"Yeah. Badass."

"I need an outfit like that. Excellent evil cape."

"I liked the armor."

Bård grunted. "I hope there won't be an evil Vegard. That would be silly. That would be like an evil fluffy kitten with a pretty pink chainsaw."

Vegard grunted in return. "Evil Vegard would look cooler than evil Bård. Evil Bård with dark hair was more evil than blond evil Bård."

Bård laughed. "No it wasn't. Anyway, it isn't possible for you to look evil even when you are extremely angry. Me, on the other hand… people are scared of my intimidating yet sexy normal face."

Vegard grunted. "You've been here a bit too long. You have a little kid face that doesn't frighten anyone. And I've seen you scared of me plenty of times."

"Of course. Who wouldn't be terrified of a kitten with a chainsaw? That's completely fucked up."

Vegard smiled. "Okay, you win."

"Of course I do. You know, the few times I woke up you were just sitting there watching television or reading. Why didn't you try to escape?"

"Why would I want to escape the hospital? They were helping us."

Bård remained silent for a long minute and then said, "Tell me you knew we are being kept as prisoners in that hospital room."

"Prisoners?"

"Did you truly not realize we were kidnapped?"

Vegard hesitated. "We were kidnapped?"

Bård shouted with exasperation, "Oh my god! Vegard! You didn't think it was odd that only a few days after you were rescued you woke up in a completely different place with completely different doctors and no explanation?"

"They said extremists wanted to kill us for stopping the apocalypse."

Bård's chain rattled as he hit the floor with his fist. "Faen!"

"I don't…"

Bård cut him off. "Listen to me carefully and think about it. No one could even make a phone call. There were no newspapers. There was no internet. How would anyone outside a few people in the military even know we were the ones riding Blueberry? Jesus Christ, Vegard."

Vegard went hot with embarrassment. He supposed it was a blessing it was dark. He didn't want Bård to see him blushing with shame.

Bård said, "I know you're embarrassed, Vegard. I'm in your stupid gullible head."

Vegard swallowed. "I suppose I can be… a little gullible."

"Jesus Christ."

"Well then. Who kidnapped us?"

"I don't know. I've been in a motherfucking coma, genius. Obviously someone who wants to experiment on us and control or imitate our powers."

"But we have no powers."

"Yes we do, idiot."

Vegard didn't know what to say. He felt like a fool. The silence stretched.

After what felt like an eternity Bård sighed and said softly, "Don't feel bad. You would probably have realized what was happening if it weren't for your terrible brain damage."

"Fy faen! I don't have brain damage!"

Bård laughed and Vegard couldn't help but smile. Vegard felt around the stone floor. It was uncomfortable and poor Bård had been here for months in his own head. It was Vegard's fault Bård had been alone here all this time. As if the situation weren't bad enough.

Finally Vegard said, "Fine. If we have powers, and we're together here, then let's just decide to wake up now."

Bård snorted. "I've tried that, but I think Bob is some ancient powerful spirit, like Blueberry. In the astral plane it's much stronger than we are. So we're stuck unless we can get help from the outside. Maybe the fairies could help."

"I see." Vegard had wondered why the fairies hadn't visited them in the hospital. He hoped they weren't dead like Blueberry. He let out a breath and asked, "So, what have you been doing all the time when Bob wasn't torturing you?"

"Sitting in the dark. Lots of alone time."

"That's sounds terrible."

"Even worse, I couldn't… wank the crank… "

"…spank the monkey…"

"…pull the salmon…"

"…sand the lightning bolt…"

"…shake hands with danger…"

Vegard hesitated; he couldn't think of another one. "Uh…"

"…or buff the banana because my right arm hurts so much."

Vegard felt even sorrier for Bård now. "Oi, oi, oi, oi. A tragedy. What's wrong with your left hand?"

Bård sighed. "I don't want to go into it."

"Well. We need to get you out of here so you can get back to the manly art of masturbation." Vegard let out a breath and said more gently, "It must have been torture to sit in the dark so long."

"I didn't have a choice. I've been sitting here, in the dark, nailed to this jævla wall, waiting for you to recover from your injuries."

"Why did you have to wait?"

"Bob can't start destroying the world until you are well enough to help out. Something about us being synced up with Mothra when the snake exploded."

"That makes no sense."

"Hey, I didn't write 'The Evil Earth Spirit Rulebook'."

They fell back into silence. It was very quiet. Vegard tried to listen for Bård's thoughts. He'd been aching with loneliness without Bård or Blueberry in his head. He even held his breath for a moment. He could hear Bård breathing beside him but there was absolute silence otherwise. He concentrated and thought he could hear his own pulse. That was pretty cool, actually. Acoustic processing in the brain was really cool. He waited until he got the beat of his own heart and then listened carefully. He could hear Bård's heartbeat as well. Bård's breathing was so loud it almost masked it. He wondered if he could hear his and Bård's intestines churning. That would be cool.

Bård sighed loudly. "For once, can you just concentrate on the problem at hand and not think about your… stomach noises? You are such a nerd."

"Sorry." Vegard sighed with disappointment. He thought he was also hearing his eyeblinks and now Bård was talking and they were drowned out. "I was trying to hear your thoughts."

"I'm telling you my thoughts now. Regardless, you aren't even hearing actual sound. This is in our heads. It's all thoughts."

"I said I'm sorry." Vegard exhaled slowly. Bård was frustrated and in pain. Vegard would not let him goad him into anger. Finally he said, "My mind wanders. It's just a defense mechanism. I don't know how to get us out of this."

"I don't know either. I think this will get a lot worse before it gets better."

"When do you think that will be?"

To their left, they heard a clanging metal door unlock and swing open. Bård said, "I think that will start about… now."

Searing green lightning shot through and around them and they cried out in unison.

 

* * *

 

Jin Yasuda scratched his neck and checked the time. Only another two hours and he'd be done with his shift. He had a date after work with a girl his Yakuza boss had arranged for him and he was fairly sure he could get home early enough to get a few hours of sleep before he'd be expected back here. Not that watching a couple of sick gaijin lie in bed was difficult work. That was fine. The blond one occasionally went completely crazy and he'd go in and sit on him until the nurses could knock him out with a sedative or strap him down. The darker one had tried a few times to strike up conversation in English; Jin pretended not to understand. The last thing he wanted was to know more than he was supposed to about the two men. He wanted to keep breathing.

Through the monitors he watched Doctor Okubo and his assistant talk to the darker prisoner. They wanted to use electric shocks on the crazy one to see if it diminished his power. He thought it was a waste of time to cajole the dark one into cooperating. If Jin were in charge he'd just strap both the prisoners to tables and let the scientists do their work. Screaming didn't bother Jin; he'd had to torture and kill enough people in his career that it just seemed like background noise.

He let out a breath as the doctors left the patient room. It seemed as though the scientists had decided to just bypass the dark one; he was getting too suspicious. That was fine, but when they'd kidnapped the brothers out of their room at Tsukuba University Hospital ten days ago, the dark one had been drugged and unconscious. The blond one had woken up in the ambulance they'd used to bring the brothers here. Struggling with the blond one had earned him a black eye. He'd had to cover the bruise with makeup and that annoyed him. He hoped the dark one wasn't as violent. He wanted to look good for his date.

Jin sighed and looked at his watch again. This shift was taking forever. He took out his phone and checked for messages. The girl he would see later was confirming the time. Well, that was fine. Most girls were very polite to anyone they knew was Yakuza. Jin liked that girls were always a little afraid of him. And all girls were impressed by his Yakuza business card.

Jin stretched and looked at the brothers' room monitor. Odd. The dark one was leaning over the blond one. Jin couldn't quite see what was happening but the dark one had his face very close to the other's. Maybe they were kissing. He'd been told the two men were brothers. Jin grunted with disgust. Europeans had no morals whatsoever. Outsiders brought nothing but bad influences to Japan.

The monitor abruptly went to static. Jin leaned forward and checked the cameras in the other prisoner rooms he'd been watching. All seemed fine there. Maybe the camera in the brothers' room had just shorted out.

He sighed and pushed his chair back. He put on his suit jacket and grabbed his pistol. You couldn't be too careful.

He called out to the guard in the other room. That guard was watching the cameras monitoring the medical labs on the other side of the building as well as the area outside the building. Jin explained the situation and said he'd be right back. The other guard couldn't have been less interested. Well. That was fine. Jin would have to keep an eye on him. Perhaps he wasn't doing as good of a job as he should and should be reported.

Jin buttoned his suit jacket and rapped the brothers' door with his knuckle in the hopes they'd stop whatever it was they were doing before he entered. He unlocked the deadbolt and pushed the door open. A meter-wide jet of green fire shot out of the room and blew through his chest, vaporizing his head. His hand still held the doorknob for a moment before the severed arm flopped to the floor, knocking the door open wider.

Bård and Vegard stood together in the center of the room, both barefoot, both in white patient scrubs, both covered with black veins. Their eyes were black as well, but green fire flickered around their hands, eyes and mouths. They dropped their heads back and bellowed with fury, sending a pillar of neon green energy through the roof and into the sky.

 

* * *

 

Calle checked his rifle again. This entire business was making him nervous as hell. Ten days ago they'd discovered that the brothers were kidnapped by the Yakuza (in plain sight, if one could believe the security cameras). After that Miki and Koji took Calle and Magnus back with them to G-Force and installed them there in their own quarters.

Calle had been grateful to be under the G-Force roof. They had clean running water and the food was pretty good. Magnus had been in a stunned daze since he'd found him back on the airbase and solid sleep and regular food had been good for him. Also good for them both had been a call to America through the USAF radio and landlines. He'd talked to the youngest Ylvisåker brother, who was living in the USA. Calle lied and said he'd seen the brothers two weeks ago and they were fine then. In return, Vegard's youngest brother said he'd talked to their mother and she had reported that Bård and Vegard's families were safe and sound. She had also said that as far as she knew Calle and Magnus's nearest and dearest were also safe. Although Sweden had been ravaged terribly during the crisis, Oslo had remained relatively unscathed. Bergen had the worst of it, as the west coast had been the prime target for the monsters of Norse legend.

Meanwhile in Japan, government and military efforts were aimed at clean-up and restoring infrastructure. Calle had been dumbstruck that the Yakuza were publicly helping citizens get sufficient food and water, and had set up air-conditioned rest stations for the very old or young who might be affected by the summer heat. Koji and Miki's attempts to discover where the Yakuza had taken Bård and Vegard were obstructed by bureaucracy more than anything else. It was inconceivable to Calle that the gangsters were so blatantly tied to the political structure of the country.

Calle had spent much of the last week trailing around after Miki and Koji. They were babysitting Godzilla as the monster was apparently hesitant to go back into the water poisoned by the world serpent. Gamera had been hanging around for the same reason. A slightly smaller Godzilla-type dinosaur creature had emerged from the tainted water to lumber around on the beach with the other kaiju. Miki called the little one "Baby"; Magnus found the name so hilarious he had literally fallen on the ground holding his sides, crying and laughing hysterically. Calle wondered if Magnus had completely lost his mind.

This morning Koji came to breakfast with the news that he knew where the brothers were being held. The word was that they were not doing well and Miki was adamant that they should try to rescue them as soon as possible. The Yakuza would probably not like the interference, and so they'd have to attempt the rescue unofficially. Not as G-Force. Koji had a few close friends willing to help, and Miki insisted on coming along; she'd been a prisoner of the Yakuza once and did not wish that fate on anyone else. She wanted Calle there as well; she thought that if the brothers were terribly sick or hurt they might do better hearing a friendly voice in their own language. Calle had rejected any suggestion that Magnus come along. The kid was a wreck as it was.

So now he and Miki and Koji were packed into a van along with a grizzled older man called Yuki who seemed to know what he was doing. There were also two younger men, but Calle hadn't caught their names.

Calle checked his rifle for the fiftieth time. It was a clunky-looking rifle made by some Japanese company and it felt alien in his hands. Koji had gone over the weapon with him back in G-Force headquarters. But Calle wasn't supposed to be holding a rifle. He was supposed to be holding a cool mixed drink. Or a cigarette. Or a microphone. If there was any exchange of fire he was pretty sure he'd be the first one to get his head blown off. He was a head taller than everyone else in this expedition and a prime target for gunfire with his big blond head. He was doomed.

The van stopped in a parking lot and Koji said, "Okay. They are in that building."

Calle frowned. "It looks like an ordinary office building."

"Maybe so, but we think this is where they are keeping a few high-value prisoners. There are only a dozen or so guards."

Calle sighed. "A dozen is still more than us."

Koji said, "Yes, but…"

Koji was cut off by a massive explosion from the building they were watching. An enormous pillar of lime-green lightning and fire shot up into the sky, throwing up debris from the roof and windows and showering down onto their van. A multitude of car alarms began sounding around them and people on the street screamed and scattered in fear.

Yuki grunted and opened the door of the van. He said, "There's our distraction. Let's go."

 

* * *

 

Vegard blinked at the greenish light streaming through the chink in the stone wall. He shaded his eyes with his hand to get a better look. He could see himself and Bård in chains, surrounded by swirling green lightning and smoke, writhing and shrieking obscenities. He had to get to them. He had to help those men. He pulled back and studied the stone of the wall. It was a sandy color and brightly lit by the late morning sun above them. Tufts of grasses peeked out from the base of the wall, and a little grey cat was lounging on the top of the wall high above him and peering down at him. The wall itself looked familiar. Was it the wall outside the school? He started to say, "Where is…" and stopped abruptly. His voice sounded wrong. It was squeaky. "Hallo?" Something pulled on his left wrist. He looked down and saw his brother looking up at him. "What is it, Bård?"

"What's happening? Lift me up so I can see."

Vegard blinked. Bård looked as he had when he was about four years old. His head looked too big. Kids had weirdly big heads. Big heads with big brains and a little body that had to catch up. Brains were pretty cool. Vegard held out his own arm and realized it was virtually hairless. "I don't…" He hesitated. His voice was too high. The wall wasn't immense; he was just shorter than he had been. He was a kid too. "How old do you think you are, Bård? I think what's behind the wall is too scary for you to look at."

Bård held his hands out and inspected his little fingers. He lisped, "I'm smaller. Six? Three? I don't know." He swiped at his eyes and sniffed wetly. "Let me look. I'm not scared."

A loud crash sounded from the other side of the wall and the light streaming out of the hole in the wall cut off. Bård startled and his blue eyes dilated wide. He said insistently, "Is it coming? It wants to catch us. It wants us to do bad things. What should we do? And… who's that lady?"

A gentle voice behind Vegard said, "Hello children."

Vegard turned and looked up. A tall, beautiful young woman with twinkling blue eyes smiled down at them. She wore a delicate bridal crown decorated with blue and yellow jewels and her feathery golden blond hair cascaded in waves and floated around her shoulders. She was dressed in a splendid bunad much like his mother's, but with blue, yellow and orange butterflies interspersed between the flowers embroidered into her bodice and around the bottom of her skirt.

Bård walked up to her and tugged on her apron. "Are you a princess?"

She kneeled down to look at him carefully and then reached into her embroidered purse. She pulled out a silken handkerchief and offered it to him. "No, Bård. Dry your eyes." Bård took the cloth and noisily blew his nose into it.

Vegard frowned at the woman and said uneasily, "We're not really supposed to talk to strangers."

She stood and beamed down at him. "That is a wise rule for a child. But I am not a stranger, am I?"

Vegard bit his lip. "I'm not sure."

"Well then, you will have to decide if you trust me. I hope you will; I want you to come with me now. Bad things are going to happen and I don't want you to remember them."

She held out her hand and Bård took it, saying, "When I grow up I'll marry you and we will kiss all the time."

She smiled. "You are very flirtatious for someone so young, little Bård." She held out her other hand to Vegard. "Will you come?"

Vegard hesitantly took her hand. It was warm and soft and made him feel safe. He looked up at her. "But what should we call you? You have a name, don't you?"

"I do have a name, Vegard. You gave it to me. You may call me Blueberry. I'm sorry I kept you waiting."

Chapter Text

Bård howled as the green lightning swirled into the dungeon and danced over his skin. His body spasmed uncontrollably, pulling painfully on his shoulder wound and the cuffs around his wrists. The light was blindingly bright and his screams were drowned out by a terrible sound like shrieking monitor feedback. The shrill noise grew until there was nothing in his world but the sound and the light. Even squeezing his eyes shut tight didn't keep the light out. And smoke filled his lungs until he couldn't breathe. He thought he could feel Vegard pressing against his arm but the pain in his own muscles became so intense he no longer could feel anything but pain. Just as he thought he couldn't take another moment more of the sensory overload he heard a voice say in English, "Hello? Hello? Sir, can you hear me?"

Bård startled awake. It was quiet. He wondered if he had been driven to deafness, but then the voice asked again, "Sir, can you hear me? Sir?"

Bård blinked into the light shining into his eyes and realized it came from just a flashlight. He coughed and said, "Where am I? What happened?"

"Hold on, sir, we're almost through to you. If you can shield your face, we are going to try to get this slab of wall off of you. There might be a lot of dust."

"Dust?" Bård was sitting against cold stone or brick with a slab of some sort only inches from his face. He was trapped in this little cramped space and his right shoulder hurt like hell. His hands were twisted under him and his legs were pulled up against his chest. His whole body ached.

And then he could hear people grunting and the slab pulled away. Two soldiers moved forward to examine him and behind them stood Olsen, looking worried. Bård swallowed heavily; he could have sworn Olsen had died. "Lieutenant Olsen?"

Olsen kneeled down beside him and put a comforting hand on his left shoulder. "Just hang on a few moments while we make sure you're stable. Then we'll get that rebar out of you."

Bård looked to his right; a bent piece of rebar protruded from his right shoulder. He couldn't move; the rebar had him pinned to the wall behind him. No wonder it hurt. A soldier knelt down and began cutting through the metal between him and the wall with a hacksaw. Every vibration of the rebar hurt like hell and it took every bit of Bård's resolve not to scream. But there was no way he'd cry like a baby in front of all these macho soldiers. Bård looked up at Olsen and gritted out, "Vegard was beside me. I can… feel he's nearby… he's hurt."

Olsen played his flashlight beam to Bård's left. Vegard lay amid the rubble and two medics were kneeling over him. Bård groaned and looked back at Olsen. "What… happened? Where are we?"

"Fireball strike, a bad one. Possibly a nuclear strike as well. We're still in the dining hall at Yokota Base. It's a designated shelter and saved our lives, but this side of the building took more punishment than it could handle. And I'm afraid you may have woken up to World War Three."

"How can that…?" Bård broke off as he felt Vegard regain consciousness. In his mind he asked:

B: Are you hurt badly?
V: I… no, I'm fine. What happened? Your right shoulder hurts.
B: Yeah. I got skewered in the arm by some rebar. Olsen here says a nuclear bomb went off.
V: How can that be?
B: I know you're hurt. I can feel it. It hurts when you breathe.
V: I'm fine. I was having a terrible, very weird nightmare.
B: Me too.
V: Where are Calle and Magnus?
B: I don't know.
V: I can't feel Blueberry.
B: Neither can I.

Vegard asked, "Where are Calle and Magnus?"

Olsen frowned. "They didn't make it. I'm sorry."

Bård cried out as one of the medics pulled the rebar out of his shoulder. A second medic immediately put pressure on the wound. The misery from the pain was quickly replaced by grief for his friends. Vegard asked quietly, "What about Blueberry?"

Olsen sighed. "The Mothra didn't make it either; I'm so sorry."

Bård thought he should probably be crying or screaming with sorrow, but he only felt numb. This couldn't be happening. This was another nightmare. The soldiers lifted him onto a stretcher and rolled him into the center of the cafeteria where other wounded were being cared for. A blond female medic with the nametag "Sweeney" joined the two medics taking care of him and she said she would give him some morphine. He felt an ease wash over him and he was asleep again.

When he woke again he was terrified, screaming and struggling against hands holding him down. In his mind he heard Vegard telling him to calm down, that he was safe. When he finally recovered his senses he discovered he'd been strapped to his bed. That was familiar. No, this was a dream as well. His body was still in the Yakuza hospital. He was back in the cell with Bob. This was another trick.

But days and nights passed. Vegard stayed at his side, holding his hand, reading to him, soothing his mind, murmuring to him that he was safe. Most of the time he felt nothing but confused pain and panic; Vegard said he had a bad infection from the shoulder injury and he had injured his head during one of his delirious seizures.

Then one morning Olsen visited and handed them a copy of a typed report, saying, "I think you deserve to know." Then he told them the bad news: Russia had attacked the countries to its west, unleashing nuclear weapons on Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, London, Vilnius, Minsk, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and... Oslo. The US president had been hesitant to antagonize Russia, giving Russian nuclear submarines the chance to launch attacks on Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. India and Pakistan had dropped bombs on each other and someone had detonated a bomb in Israel; Israel immediately retaliated against the countries surrounding it. Central and South America were in turmoil as drug cartels and military dictators fought for domination. Africa was a tumult of civil wars, as usual, and Australia and Canada had simply stopped allowing anyone to enter their countries. North Korea sent dozens of missiles that completely destroyed Seoul, and after its arsenal was depleted, China rolled tanks up to Pyongyang and simply executed the government. So far, fear of nuclear winter had prevented any country other than North Korea from sending more than a handful of nukes to any other. Tensions between Japan and China had been escalating and both had been making grabs for weaker countries in the Pacific. So most of humanity was leaderless, injured, starving and terrified. Olsen said most of the US military bases were taking orders that began with generals, not politicians. And the monsters were running amok. It truly was the end of days.

Bård and Vegard hadn't heard anything past the news that Oslo was gone. Olsen sighed, said a prayer under his breath and left them alone. Vegard sank into the chair next to Bård's bed and grasped his hand. Together they raged and cried with anguish.

After an eternity Bård finally fell silent and then said out loud, "The utter waste and stupidity of it all. Maybe humanity was meant to die. Maybe humanity deserves to die."

In Bård's head, Bob laughed triumphantly and slid into Bård's mind, saying, "I knew if I gave you enough incentive you'd welcome me in. And look, you think you're in that Air Force base, recovering from an infection. But you're not. You're still a prisoner of the Yakuza. Isn't it funny how time flies when you're dreaming?"

"No... wait... no, I take it back. I just lost my temper..."

"Hush now, just let go and enjoy the ride. I'm going to give your soul a little test drive and then we're off to destroy humanity. But first, let's destroy your brother. He won't know it's me. He'll think you killed him. Won't it be fun?!"

"No... herregud, Vegard. "

"It's already fun and I haven't even started. The best part is I don't even have to do much more than poke your dark side a little. Watch and learn who you really are, boy. Watch and learn."

Vegard rested his forehead on his forearms on the side of Bård's bed, oblivious to the change in his brother, still believing they were in a hospital room at the Air Force Base, still believing their families were dead. So he was holding Bård's hand for dear life and weeping when Bård lost control. Bård looked down at him and was suddenly gripped with resentment. If he hadn't listened to Vegard they never would have come to Japan. Stupid fucking Vegard. Bård growled, "Vegard. Stop crying. Jesus Christ."

Vegard shook his head and mumbled, "Don't do this now. I can't fight with you today."

"Let me loose. God dammit."

Vegard looked up, his eyes swollen with tears, and answered, "Something's wrong with you. You aren't… you don't feel like yourself. You're so angry."

Bård shouted, "Of course I don't feel like myself! Of course I'm angry! Those bastards just killed everyone and everything we care about!"

Vegard drew back. "I know but…" He paused, puzzled, and muttered to himself, "This feels so familiar. Deja vu. That can't be possible." He glanced around the room. "I don't understand this." He looked back at his brother for help.

But Bård was struggling like a madman against his restraints. "Untie me right now!"

Vegard frowned. "No. What if you have another seizure? You really hurt yourself last time."

"I haven't had one since my fever broke. It's stupid they still have me tied up like an animal. I'm not some motherfucking mental patient."

Vegard looked down at his hands and said softly, "You're the only one I have left."

Bård's anger flared hot. "How dare you suggest that somehow… that I… would be some substitute for our children! Or that you could replace them! You?! You're nothing!"

Vegard sucked in a breath. Bård felt Vegard's temper shoot up, and he was almost impressed that Vegard didn't immediately punch him in the face. He would have. Instead Vegard went into stubborn mode, like he always did when he got cornered. Where he just acted like a logical robot and implied that Bård was being overly emotional. It infuriated Bård; he felt sure Vegard had read the tactic in some book. Vegard couldn't possibly have figured that out for himself. He was so embarrassingly stupid.

Vegard looked at him steadily and said calmly, "You know I didn't mean what you suggest. People get very emotional when they are grieving."

When Vegard dug in like this, yelling wouldn't help. So Bård bit his lip and then said more evenly, "Listen to me. We can fix this. Let me loose."

Vegard shook his head "We can't fix this. Nothing will ever fix this. They're all gone. You're in denial. Denial is the first stage of grief."

Bård said between clenched teeth, "But we can lay down retribution. I can feel you want revenge as much as I do."

"Revenge doesn't serve any purpose."

Bård hissed, "Liar. I can feel how angry you are."

Vegard let out a long breath. "Of course I'm angry. But you're not being reasonable. Revenge against whom?"

"Putin. Russia. All of them. Everyone. And all of the monsters. Between us, we still have power. We can wipe the Earth clean without leaving it destroyed by a nuclear winter. We can send humanity back to the stone age and let them… try again."

Vegard turned his face away, but Bård could tell he was disgusted by Bård's suggestion. Finally he looked back at him. He said, "Blueberry is gone. How can we do anyth-" Vegard broke off and pushed himself out of his chair as gunfire sounded outside their window. He rushed to look through the curtains and exclaimed, "The monsters… the…mermaids or... whatever they are. They're attacking the base again!"

"That's it then. Let me loose."

"No, I…"

Bård choked out, "Vegard. I beg you. I'm sorry for what I said. But... don't let me die helpless like this. At least let me go down fighting."

"Of course I'd never let you…" Vegard sighed and released his brother and helped him sit up. "But, now what? We have no weapons." They could hear gunfire getting closer.

Bård closed his hand over Vegard's right shoulder and then closed his eyes. "We are the weapon, Vegard."

Vegard tried to pull away but Bård held him fast. Vegard cried out, "What are you doing? You're hurting me."

Bård squeezed Vegard's shoulder until he could feel his nails digging into the flesh. Once he could feel his nails against Vegard's bone Bård's rage flowed into his brother like a river's current. In his mind Bård felt Vegard's confusion and fear. It was surprisingly pleasing.

V: Stop, please! Don't do this!
B: Be quiet.
V: What is this?! Where did this power come from?
B: Accept it. Just relax.
V: No, it's too much. I can't think. Don’t do this, Bård, please. Think. This isn't you.
B: Just take it and shut up.
V: It's too much. It hurts.
B: Fy faen, Why won't you ever just SHUT THE HELL UP?!

Bård shoved the power and rage into his brother until he couldn't hear Vegard's complaints anymore. Then he pushed Vegard into a little corner of their minds and built a sturdy brick wall around him to keep him there where he wouldn't cause trouble.

Now Bård could feel every bit of Vegard's body as his own. There was no resistance. There would be no more sharing. Bård spread out in their two bodies and it felt good. It felt roomy.

He let out a long, satisfied sigh. Finally. Ylvis was two Bårds and zero Vegards. This is how it should always have been.

And so it followed that the brothers turned as one when they heard the knock on their door.

The door swung open, revealing one of the Yakuza thugs outside their door, holding a pistol. Without hesitation Ylvis blasted the man into dust. Ylvis didn't notice the Yakuza man shouldn't have been there at all. It wasn't important. All that mattered now was revenge. So they called to the spirits of the earth for the tools they needed.

Around them the building shuddered and cracked, and debris was caught up in the wind that swirled around them. Their bodies clasped hands and rose into the air. They flew forward, lost in fury, and roaring:

Metall og jord           Metal and earth
Kom til oss               Bend to our will
Bygg en drage          Build us a dragon
Å drepe, å slåss       To fight, to kill

Below them the earth cracked and splintered, and rose to meet them. The rock and dirt and twisted metal churned into the air and took shape, a colossal golem to deliver their vengeance. Smaller debris swirled around their bodies, wrapping them in armor. They looked down at the hordes of beasts below them and sang:

Straffen vil komme.       The punishment comes
Sorg og gjalle                Dark sorrow will call
Vår endelig dom:          Our final judgement
Døden til alle!               Death to you all!

They alighted onto the back of the golem, and together they began carving a swath of destruction through the infested Japanese countryside.

 

* * *

 

Calle was jostled more than once by the panic-stricken people fleeing the Yakuza building as he followed Yuki, Koji and Miki inside. The building quaked and light fixtures and chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling onto them as they ran to the nearest stairwell. Yuki tore through the door to the second floor's landing, followed closely by Miki, and Koji motioned for Calle to follow him up to the third. When they pulled the door open they both stopped short, astonished.

Most of the walls of the third floor had been damaged, to the north and west the floor ended abruptly into thin air and the ceiling was open to the sky. In the middle of the mess Bård and Vegard were hand-in-hand, floating a meter or so off of the ground. Their skin was covered with black veins and their eyes were completely black. Both had several weeks growth of beard and their hair whipped around them in the wind. Debris whirled around them and clung to their bodies, finally coalescing into what looked like black leather and armor. Bård was clad in glittering golden chainmail, Vegard in dark silver, and both had billowing black capes, secured by a large black metal clasp shaped like a serpent's head with its fangs buried in their right shoulders.

Calle shouted to them, but they didn't seem to hear him. They rose into the air, singing, and soon the entire building was shaking along with the earth around it.

Koji shouted over the din, "What are they singing?"

Calle swallowed hard and tried to make out the words over the sound of cracking cement. "Uh… they're summoning some kind of dragon and they are declaring war… on everybody. That can't be good."

Koji frowned and raised his rifle towards the brothers. Calle slapped it down, "What are you doing?!"

"We must stop them."

"They're possessed or something. You can't just shoot them!"

A terrifying roar filled the air and an enormous beast with two serpent heads rose into the air, beating a gale with its enormous bat wings. It had curved sharp talons and its scaled tail ended in spikes.

The brothers floated into the air to stand on the terrible thing's shoulders. It turned and slowly began moving west, burning the ground before it clean with green fire.

Koji lifted his gun and shot at the beast without effect. As he lowered his weapon in frustration Calle could hear Miki calling to them. Then he saw her waving frantically up at him through a gaping hole in the floor. "Hurry! Please, help us! They're trapped inside!"

He and Koji maneuvered carefully down the stairs to the second floor. Yuki and Miki were pulling at the corner of a heavy door that was bent and already partially off of its hinges. Between all of them they were able to free the door enough for Miki to squeeze inside. After only a few moments she pushed a little pet carrier out through the opening and into Calle's hands. He unzipped the top and gasped. Cringing in the corner and looking tearfully back up at him were the fairies. Lora and Moll were holding each others' hands tightly and were clearly very relieved when they saw him. Together they exclaimed, "Spirit Calle!"

"Hallo, ladies. We didn't know you were here. I'm sorry we didn't come sooner."

Fairy, the fairies' little orange moth mount, flew out through the damaged door next, followed closely by Miki. She said, "There is no one else still alive in this building. We should leave immediately."

Calle reached into the pet carrier and the fairies climbed onto his hand. Fairy hovered close and they climbed onto her.

Miki nodded and said, "Quickly, fly to safety. We will join you outside."

They nodded and flew out through the open ceiling.

Miki looked at Koji and he took her hand. He glanced at Calle. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

 

* * *

 

In his tiny, hot, humid and pitch-black brick cell, Vegard frantically felt along the surfaces of the walls, floor and ceiling. They were uncomfortably pressed against him and he struggled to turn in the space to check every square centimeter. He couldn't feel even the hint of a crack in the stone and mortar. There was no air coming in or out. He pounded on the wall and screamed, "Bård! Don't do this! Let me out! I can't breathe! Bård!" He flinched as he realized he'd scraped his knuckle on the brick and drew his fist to his mouth. He tasted blood.

Vegard's panic rose. He told himself, "It's not real. It's in my head. There's no blood. I can breathe. The walls aren't real. I'm alive. This isn't real."

He held perfectly still for a moment, desperate to hear something, anything, over the pounding of his own heart.

There was only silence.

Chapter Text

After they escaped the Yakuza building Calle and his companions ran straight for their truck. Koji grabbed his radio from the dashboard to report the new kaiju threat as the rest of them piled in. Calle sat down next to Miki in the second row and was buckling on his seatbelt when the fairies zoomed in through his open window and landed on his lap.

They smiled up at him. "Thank you for rescuing us, Spirit Calle and Miki."

He grinned down at them. "My pleasure, ladies."

The fairies looked up at Miki. "We will call Mothra now." They closed their eyes, pressed their palms together and began to sing in harmony:

Mosura ya Mosura
Dongan kasakuyan indo muu
Rusuto uiraadoa
Hanba hanbamuyan
Randa banunradan
Tounjukanraa
Kasaku yaanmu!

Everyone in the truck stopped to listen, enchanted by the sweet melody. The little women were also swaying and gesturing in time with the song, and as they repeated the verse golden sparkles began to swirl around them.

When they finished they nodded their heads in unison and then opened their eyes. They said, "Mothra is on her way."

Yuki grunted and hit the truck's ignition, turning back to head for G-Force headquarters.

Calle met eyes with Miki and then looked back down at the fairies. "Your song was beautiful. What did it mean?"

Lora and Moll looked at each other and giggled shyly. They said, "In our song we have called to our beloved guardian Mothra over distance and time. She knows we are here and is coming to help us and our friends."

Calle cupped his hands around the fairies and their mount to steady them as the truck bounced on the bumpy road. "I'm happy to hear it, but I thought the Mothra died in the battle with Jormungand."

"Mothra is a spirit of the world. Only her body can be killed. She is reborn in the eggs we guard so carefully on our island."

"I see." Calle didn't really understand.

Miki smiled at him and asked the fairies, "How did you end up in that awful cage?"

"After we released the brothers from Blue Mothra's back, Mothra told us to fly away as fast as possible to awaken her egg. We cast the spell to quicken the egg on our island and then flew back to look for the brothers in the ocean. When we could not find them we returned to the military base. There we were tricked by a man we thought was a soldier. He brought us to that terrible place."

Miki glanced at Calle and said, "The little carrier they were inside was itself inside a safe. The damage to the building caused by the brothers broke open the safe and I was able to sense the shobijins' presence."

Calle rubbed his temples. "Okay, so what do we do now? And what's wrong with Bård and Vegard? How do we save them? If I don't take those two boys home to Norway I'm going to have to explain it to their families and rioting legions of hormone-crazed teenaged girls. Trust me, that would be an apocalypse on its own."

The fairies looked at him solemnly. "Do not worry. Mothra is coming. She will know what to do."

 

* * *

 

Vegard slumped against the wall of his cell. He just had to slow his breathing until he could figure out a way to get his brain to understand he wasn't actually in a tiny airtight prison. Surely his body outside was safe. Bård said Bob needed Vegard to help with the spells. Even if Bob possessed his body he… it… would need Vegard to be alive. So he had to stop panicking. But it was so hot. Was Bård… no… was Bob intentionally roasting him or was he simply feeling his own body heat? It wasn't real. He pushed his fingers through his hair; the roots were damp with sweat. He could feel sweat running down his skin. He could only hear his own breathing, which was getting shallower and faster. It wasn't real.

He wondered whether his body would die if his mind died in here. When he was young he'd heard that if you died in your dream your body died too. But he had had nightmares in his life in which he died and he always woke up. Maybe if he suffocated in here he'd wake up.

He was furious that Bob had compelled Bård to infect him with the snake's poison. Bård would be devastated when he returned to his senses, not only for killing his brother but also because Bård simply hated to lose.

On top of all of that, Vegard was incredibly confused about what was actually happening. This cell felt as real as anything he'd ever experienced in his life. But the last month felt like nightmares within nightmares within nightmares. Was he really inside Evil Bård's head? Had World War Three truly started? Was Oslo destroyed? Had they been kidnapped by the Yakuza? Were they back on Odo Island? Was he still back on that yacht and drowning? Or was he safe in his bed in Oslo? He hoped desperately he was in his bed and this was all a terrible dream. He'd had more drowning and suffocation in the last month than he needed for five lifetimes. Maybe a pillow had just fallen on his face and all of these dreams were meant to wake him up.

It was so hot, and the air was so stale. He fell onto his side, his face pressed against the brick paving of the floor. He realized he'd have a brick pattern on his face if Bård ever… if Bob… ever came to pull him out of the cell, and he laughed out loud. That was probably a bad sign. He must be giddy with hypoxia. He whispered, "Bård. Fight it. Help me."

 

* * *

 

Evil Bård/Bob, his black cloak and now shoulder-length golden hair fluttering in the breeze behind him, frowned at the smoking girders of the building that his two-headed rock dragon minion had just destroyed. He didn't remember seeing any one on the rooftop. Maybe it had been full of humans. He shrugged. It didn't matter. He glanced at Vegard the Meat Puppet standing beside him. Even though Bård was controlling his brother's body Vegard still looked stupid. More stupid, really, if that were even possible.

Bård thought the Rock Dragon should be bigger, but when he sang his spell through his and Vegard's throats it wasn't as big as it should have been.

The dragon roared and Bob flinched. The dragon felt they needed Vegard to help. Bård shouted angrily, "We don't need him. You're doing something wrong."

The dragon's voice rumbled through Bård's body's feet so violently that he could feel it in his guts. He frowned and said, "You do not tell me what to do, minion. I'm the one in charge."

In his head, the dragon said, "If he dies, you will fail, and we will spend the next 658 years together at the bottom of the ocean."

Bård's lungs let out a long breath. "Fine."

Bob closed Bård's eyes and found Vegard inside his head. He approached the brick cube with a sledgehammer. He sighed. It was only a meter and a half on each edge. He wondered how he'd managed to squash Vegard inside the tiny thing. Maybe he'd broken Vergard's virtual spine in the process. Ah well. No loss. He wound up and swung the hammer against the brick. He half hoped he'd crush Vegard's stupid face as a bonus.

A few moments later Bård was dragging Vegard's limp, sweaty, stupid little body out of the rubble by his stupid dark hair. He threw him onto the cement floor and kicked him in the side. "Wake up, idiot." He let a spotlight shine right onto his brother's ugly stupid face.

Vegard asked groggily, "Bård? Is that you?"

Bård kicked him again. "I should have let you die. But I need you for the spells."

Vegard pushed himself up and squinted into the spotlight and panted, "I won't help you murder anyone."

Bob cursed and two black rivulets as thick as his forearm flowed out of the darkness. Despite Vegard's effort to fight them off they soon wrapped themselves around his arms and legs, pressed him to the floor and hardened. They glinted like dark peridot in the firelight. Bård grinned. "Don't struggle; they'll only squeeze you harder." He flicked his hand and one of the crystals liquefied. The cold black slime poured itself over Vegard's eyes and recrystallized, immobilizing his head.

Vegard stopped struggling. He said slowly, "Bård, this isn't you. This is Bob… that thing… you can fight it."

"I only need your voice. Just sing along or I'll start chopping you up out here in the real world. You'll be useless as a performer without your arms or legs. Or eyes."

"I won't help you murder anyone. I won't help you force Bård to murder anyone."

"Too late for that. I'm sure plenty of witnesses saw you two blast through a Yakuza man a little while ago. And I think this place we just destroyed was an apartment building. I'd bet there were plenty of folks in there when it collapsed. You're already a murderer; why fight it?"

Vegard drew in a breath. "So now you're killing women and children? I can't let you hurt anyone else. I won't."

Bård let out a breath. "You know, big brother, I don't actually need you to kill people. I just need you to kill people faster."

"This isn't you, Bård. This isn't your fault. If you can hear me in there: I forgive you for this. You have to forgive yourself as well."

Bård kicked him again, this time in the stomach, hard. "Shut up." Another runnel of the dark crystal wound itself around Vegard's mouth and hardened. "Just shut the fuck up!" Bård walked away, leaving Vegard imprisoned in the sickly glowing stone.

Vegard lay on the cold floor, trying to catch his breath and grunting with pain. He startled when he felt something tickle his ear, and then heard quiet purring. How did a cat end up in here with him? The creature licked his ear with its raspy little tongue and then purred softly, "Have courage, Vegard. Help is coming." The cat moved away but Vegard seized on the scrap of hope it had given him and clung to it desperately.

Out in the real world Bård grabbed Vegard the Meat Puppet's right hand and yanked back hard on its little finger. It snapped with a satisfying crunch and he could hear Vegard's muffled cry of pain in his head. Bob shouted "Faen!" as he realized he could feel the pain as well. Why did Vegard have to be such a useless shit? He couldn't even be properly tortured without causing trouble. Bård's voice said out loud, "Okay, dragon, let's go kill everyone on the next block. We'll see if there are any little girls there to kidnap. I'll get Vegard to cooperate one way or another."

The dragon roared. Bob compelled it to move forward.

 

* * *

 

Back at G-Force headquarters, Calle tried to explain what had happened to Magnus over a snack in the dining hall.

Magnus frowned. "So, the guys turned evil? I mean, sometimes they're assholes but I always thought they were basically decent people."

Calle shrugged. "I think their bodies are possessed, you know, mind control."

"By Jormungand the World Serpent?"

"Maybe?"

"That's pretty fucked up."

"Yeah."

"Spirit Calle!" Both men looked up as a beautiful woman walked briskly into the dining hall. Her long black hair was pulled back and secured with a silver chain in a piled braid on top of her head. Her form-fitting cuirass was made of glittering violet enameled metal plates connected by small purple silken thongs and lay over a padded lilac silken doublet and skirt. Her arms were covered with silver chain mail and her legs were protected by dark amethyst boots with large silver knee pads. She had a dagger on her silver belt and walked holding a two-meter naginata. The shaft of the polearm was covered with colorfully painted flowers, and the long metal blade glinted silvery-blue.

Calle smiled and stood to greet her. "Mio! I thought you couldn't leave the island."

"Mothra asked me to come to help save her children."

Calle blinked at her.

"Your friends. Brother Vegard and Brother Bård. And the people of this island."

"Ah. Right." Calle hesitated and then added, "You look fantastic Mio. I feel a bit disloyal to my wife; I think I'm becoming a bit infatuated with you."

Mio smiled brightly at him. "You flatter me, Spirit Calle, although I feel I may be a little too old for you. I've served Mothra for over 80,000 years."

Calle squinted at her. "You don't look a day over 50,000. Let me introduce you to my young friend Magnus. Magnus, this is Mio. Magnus, close your mouth."

Magnus snapped his jaw closed; it had been hanging open as he gazed at Mio. He blushed and bowed his head. "I'm glad to meet you. Are you a warrior?" He reached to touch her polearm's blade.

She jerked it gently away. "Be careful, Magnus, it is very sharp."

"Oh, sorry."

"I am a warrior when I need to be." She smiled at Magnus in such a warm way that he blushed again. She laughed and turned back to Calle. "So, tell me, did you start smoking your poison again?"

Calle grinned with pride. "No I did not! You cured me."

"I'm glad to hear this. Please excuse me, I must meet with Miki Saegusa and the Cosmos to prepare for Mothra's arrival. I will see you soon."

Calle and Magnus sat down after she walked away.

Magnus let out a low whistle. "Wow. She is hot."

"Yes she is."

"You sure know how to talk to women. I couldn't think of a thing to say."

Calle raised a brow at Magnus. "I was just being honest; I really have no choice. I find it impossible to bullshit her. I have to be myself."

"But yet she still likes you."

"Yep."

"How does she know Norwegian?"

"Magic."

"Why does she call you Spirit Calle?"

Calle sighed. "Be quiet now. Pappa is trying to think."

"Okay. I'm going to get another sweet bun."

"You make me very proud, my son."

 

* * *

 

Evil Bård finished securing his latest prisoner and squatted down in front of her. He caressed her cheek and said softly, "Go ahead and cry, little one. Your terror is beautiful."

He stood suddenly and scanned the surrounding Japanese countryside. "What was that?" He heard the call again and he spun around, trying to localize the sound. It sounded like a challenge. Well. Despite his eagerness to complete his work before the comet left, he knew he had to answer the challenge. He raised his arms and compelled his dragon to turn ponderously toward the east. There was plenty of population to kill between here and the coast; he wouldn't be bored.

 

* * *

 

Calle sat down at the conference table, grateful to be included in the discussion, grateful that they spoke in English for his benefit, but clueless as to how he could be of any use. He nodded to the two fairies, who stood in the center of the table, and to Mio, who sat next to Commander Aso.

Lieutenant Sweeney pulled down a screen and pulled up an image on her laptop. She stood and pointed to the image of Japan and the Pacific.

"This is where the main target, the mizuchi, the world serpent, was destroyed by our combined forces. The resulting explosion and small tsunami that originated here spread the monster's poison and debris, some of which finally made landfall last week. We know one of the scales from that initial explosion infected Bård Ylvisåker. I was in the water at the time and barely avoided a similar fate. We are fortunate he was the only one affected."

Commander Aso frowned. "Is it possible others that may be poisoned as well?"

Miki answered, "I sense no other demons and everyone who was in the area at the time has been accounted for."

Aso nodded. "What are the capabilities of this rock creature, this dragon?"

Sweeney nodded and pulled up survellience and satellite photos of the golem. Calle sucked in a breath. One of the photos showed Bård and Vegard on the thing's back. It looked bigger than when he'd seen it, and its two snake-like heads looked even fiercer than they had before.

"Other than just the destructive power afforded by its size, it can discharge a green beam of fire from either of its two heads. We believe this energy is much like the fireballs the original serpent produced in the ocean. We believe this dragon is powered by a fragment of the original mizuchi's spirit."

Calle leaned to whisper to Koji. "Mizuchi?"

"Water Demon."

"Ah."

Sweeney added, "In addition to G-Force, we are fortunate that Gamera, Godzilla and Baby Godzilla are still on Sosa beach. They are willing to help."

She smiled at Miki, who nodded and bowed her head slightly. Miki added, "Mothra will be there in less than an hour and she will also help."

Aso asked, "What about the two men riding the dragon? Are they prisoners or accomplices?"

The fairies nodded and said in unison, "They are both. It is coercing them to help."

"What if we target them? Will that stop the creature?"

Calle tensed. A sharpshooter might be able to kill Bård or Vegard if he could get to a high enough position.

"No, they are merely puppets. We must target the mizuchi's spirit."

"How do we do that?"

"Mothra will help us."

Aso let out a breath and nodded. The room fell silent. Calle hesitantly raised his hand. The fairies said, "Spirit Calle?"

"Is there some way we could rescue Bård and Vegard from the back of that thing? A helicopter or…?"

The fairies answered, "Vegard, yes. But Bård is not the man in that photo. He is not on the rock dragon's back."

"I don't understand."

"Bård is a prisoner inside the rock dragon. He... is... the rock dragon."

Calle's mouth dropped open. He met eyes with Miki and she nodded. "We cannot rescue him without Mothra's magic."

 

* * *

 

"The utter waste and stupidity of it all. Maybe humanity was meant to die. Maybe humanity deserves to die."

That was the moment. That was when Bård realized he'd fallen into Bob's trap.

When the thing that looked like Olsen had said Oslo was gone, and that humanity was destroying itself, Bård had been wild with grief and anger and for a moment he'd forgotten about Bob. Just for a few moments he'd dropped his guard. But even as he finished the sentence "…humanity deserves to die" he realized what he'd done.

It had all been a lie. From the moment he woke under that slab of rock and Olsen said their friends were dead, until Olsen visited them in the hospital and said Oslo was gone. That had all been a lie. And when his rage and grief compelled him to pronounce a death sentence on humanity he felt Bob slide into his brain and take control.

Then he watched his own mouth tell his brother he was stupid and ugly and meant nothing to him. He watched himself overpower his brother and violate his mind and shove him into a little space that would kill him. He watched himself puppetting their bodies and he watched himself kill the Japanese guard. And summon the golem. And destroy the buildings. And the people.

He couldn't control his movement, because his arms and legs were stone.
He couldn't say anything, because his mouth was filled with dirt and rock.
He could see everything, because he couldn't close his eyes.
He could feel his brother's thoughts, but his brother could only feel what the monster allowed him to feel.

Although Bob had his own agenda, he was using Bård's darkest, most terrible thoughts to perpetuate and justify these crimes in front of Vegard. It shamed him. If Bård didn't fix this he would be remembered as a morally broken man who fell to temptation and became a psychopathic beast that destroyed the world.

At least Vegard still believed in him. Vegard was his last hope.

Also Bård itched everywhere and he couldn't scratch. This sucked.

 

* * *

Chapter Text

Vegard woke from a dreamless sleep and panicked when he couldn't see or move or speak because of the smooth stone around his limbs and face. Then he remembered where he was. He wondered how long he had slept, and how long it had been in the real world. He wondered if his real body was hungry or thirsty. Would Bob remember to feed him? If his body died, would he remain here? He'd always wondered whether humans would eventually evolve into pure energy. Was he energy now? He couldn't move his arms and legs. It wasn't good to be immobilized like this. He wondered if he could get a blood clot in this virtual world and whether it would affect his real body. That would be pretty bad. He'd read a story about a pilot flying five hours straight in a private single prop plane that landed and dropped dead on the tarmac afterwards because of blood clots that went to his lungs. Vegard tried to tense and relax his leg muscles within the stone confines without success. He sighed out loud in frustration.

Close to his ear, Bob said softly, "Boo."

Vegard startled.

"So. Big brother. You're stuck on the floor in here, all alone, in the dark, in the cold. It’s the end of the world and you have nothing to look forward to except an eternity of torture, loneliness and despair… but you're worrying about getting a blood clot?"

The rock over Vegard's mouth liquefied and fell away. He spit out some of the watery residual stone in his mouth; it weirdly tasted like grape drink. He sucked in a long draught of air through his mouth, if it really was air. "It's a legitimate concern."

"Those aren't your real legs. Your real legs are standing up just fine."

"If my virtual legs get a clot, won't that change the way my brain moves blood through my real legs?"

Bob chuckled. "He's right. You must be adopted."

"Fy faen. Where is he? Where's Bård?"

Bob laughed with Bård's voice and then whined, mocking Vegard, "Where is he? Where's Bård?" He ran his finger down Vegard's nose and then poked the tip playfully. "Boop."

"Is Bård alive? Is his body okay?"

Bob patted Vegard's cheek. "Aw, that's so sweet. Is the firstborn worried about his whiny younger brother? You should hear him wailing and begging in my mind. 'Oh, please, don't skin me alive, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, stop dismembering me, it hurts, put my intestines back in, oh the burning, blah blah bitch bitch moan moan.' He's pathetic. He's not worth your time. You do realize, don't you, that you could have done so much more, gone so much farther without him weighing you down your whole life?"

Vegard ground his teeth. "That's not true. Jesus Christ, maybe you really are Satan."

"I thought you didn't believe in Satan."

"I didn't believe in the Midgard Serpent. I'm feeling more open to possibility."

"Wait until you meet Santa Claus. He's an asshole."

"Where is he?"

"The North Pole, I think, or Finland."

"Not Santa. Bård."

"Forget Bård. He's weak. He welcomed me into his mind. He said he'd do anything for revenge."

"You tortured him for months and then drove him to such grief, despair and rage that he didn't know what he was saying. But I know him. I've been in his head. He would never do what you've done. You're just evil."

"Evil is a matter of perspective."

"Torturing people, killing people… that is always evil."

"Is it? You know, it occurs to me. A man like you… I bet I can make you do what I want just like your brother. But I won't need months for you. I bet you'll be on your knees begging to serve me in under a minute."

Vegard said coldly, "I'll get Bård back."

Bob chuckled. "Do you really want to see him? I don't think you'll be impressed with what's left."

Vegard struggled against the stone, infuriated. "Let me loose. Face me like a man."

Bob laughed. "I'm a spirit from the depths of this planet, boy. I'm from a time before your ancestors crawled out of the ocean. Me? Face itty bitty teeny weeny widdle you? You are nothing."

"Then what are you afraid of?"

Bob didn't answer.

Vegard listened carefully. He didn't know if Bob had left or…

A female voice said softly, "You're braver than you realize, Vegard."

The stone over his eyes softened and pulled away. He blinked at a candle burning to his left. A hand tenderly caressed his cheek.

"Do you remember me, I wonder?"

Vegard stifled a groan. "No, Bob, don't use her face."

A young Somali girl was kneeling next to him. She smiled down at him warmly. "You do remember me."

"Mariam. You're dead."

"You were my best friend."

Vegard swallowed hard. "No, I wasn't."

"You were. I was in love with you."

"I know. But I didn't know then."

"You were the only one from school that came to visit me when I was dying." She pushed the hair from his forehead. "I loved you for that. The cancer was so terrible, it was so painful, but you weren't afraid to see me."

"Bob, don't use her face. Please. Let her rest in peace."

Mariam smiled. "You know what else I liked about you? You were so logical. I could listen to you for hours in school explaining all the wonderful things you knew about. Other boys just talked about girls or sports. Not you."

"I wasn't special."

"You never treated me differently even though my parents were from Somalia. You stood up for me."

Vegard looked into the girl's eyes. "I should have done more. I'm sorry I wasn't nicer to you. I should have realized how you felt."

"That's okay."

"Bob. I'm begging you, don't use her face."

"May I ask you a question?" She rested her hand gently on his chest. "Do you remember me like this? Or like this?" As he watched, she became gaunt and hollow eyed, and her hair fell away, leaving her grey and trembling.

Vegard felt his composure disappear and he turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut. "Jesus Christ, stop this. Please."

He felt soft lips kiss his temple. "I'm sorry, you can look at me now. It's safe. Open your eyes."

Vegard turned back and saw Mariam's youthful radiance had returned. She said, "That was terrible, I'm sorry. But may I ask you: was it right that I had to waste away in terrible pain for months, watching my family weep over me, knowing I was going to die?"

"They were trying to save you. They loved you."

"Wouldn't it have been better to let me die when I was still beautiful and full of energy and strength? Not shriveled and in pain, a drain on the emotions and resources of my family?"

Vegard grimaced. "You're talking about euthanasia. That wasn't up to me."

Mariam sighed and patted his chest affectionately. She said, "For millions of years, this planet has been inhabited by strong creatures that preyed on the weak. The sick and old were culled from populations and the survivors became better, stronger, and smarter because of it. And the earth prospered and the creatures that thrived on and under its surface lived vigorous, healthy lives."

Vegard almost smiled. That argument sounded like something Mariam would have said. Vegard had been friendly with her in school because she was always discussing philosophy. Most kids thought she was a little weird, but Vegard had found her interesting.

He said, "I know about Darwinism. But that doesn't apply to human beings, unless you're Adolf Hitler. And what does any of this have to do with you torturing me and my brother, Bob?"

Mariam ignored the gibe. She said, "Ten cycles ago, about seven thousand years ago, there were less than seven million humans on the entire planet. Now there are over seven billion. The next time the Midgard Serpent rises how many of you will there be? Ten billion? Twenty billion? And how many of those will be nonproductive, sickly, genetically damaged weaklings you humans have struggled to keep alive beyond their usefulness? Leeches who do nothing but eat and use and pollute the planet? Your species is changing the biome itself, welcoming genetic mutations into the gene pool, allowing people to live who should have died in childhood. Allowing the weak and inferior to pass on their DNA."

She looked at him thoughtfully and lightly ran her finger along his jaw. "And your species is destroying the earth itself. In another 658 years will the ocean be clean enough for the whales? Perhaps humanity will welcome me, and my kind, as a means to cull its miserable, contaminated herds. Or will you have turned to war and cannibalism by then?"

"What's your point?"

Mariam smiled and stroked his hair, twirling it around her fingers. "I always liked your hair, but it's pretty this way too."

Vegard worked his jaw, determined not to let Bob make him cry. "I said, what is your point?"

"You say I'm evil. Is a fire that clears an overgrown forest evil? Is a wolf that eats a sickly deer evil? That wolf not only assures its own survival but it improves the chances that subsequent generations of deer will be more resistant to disease.

"But you enjoy it. You relish the violence."

Mariam threw her head back and laughed. Vegard's heart caught. He'd forgotten her laugh. It had been so many years ago, but it came back to him as if he'd seen her yesterday. He was not going to cry.

Mariam said, "Of course I enjoy what I do. Do you think a wolf spends his day regretting that her pack tore apart and devoured a colony of hares? Angsty predators do not survive long enough to reproduce."

"We are humans. We're better than that. We can choose not to kill."

"Don't flatter yourself. You can make that choice because your species developed complex language and puzzled out how to farm grains and raise lower animals for food. A fish would have done the same given the chance."

"Soon we'll be growing meat in laboratories. We won't have to use animals anymore."

Mariam grinned. "You haven't changed. You're trying to change the subject, as usual. I won't let you." For several minutes she stroked his hair, his chest, his shoulders, looking at him fondly. Then she said, "My parents came from a country where human beings happily, openly, killed each other for territory, food, women or money. And, you know, it wasn't so long ago that your ancestors gleefully killed and raped the weakling Christians in Britain and France. Humans are not so different from wolves."

Vegard let out a breath and pulled at his trapped arms. He just wanted to cover his eyes and ears until Mariam's ghost went away. But he couldn't, so he said, "I won't accept blame for crimes my ancestors committed hundreds of years ago, or crimes that sociopathic murderers commit in the present."

"So you agree it is in your nature to kill."

"At least we try to overcome our nature. If you're trying to use this argument to make me agree to let you keep torturing Bård and keep murdering innocent people, it isn't going to work. You can't make me join up with you."

"Hm, we'll see." She fell silent and began petting him again.

Vegard gritted his teeth. This was torture.

 

* * *

 

After the G-Force meeting, Calle had gone looking for Magnus. An hour later he found himself in front of the G-Force headquarters main building, unsuccessful and bewildered. The kid had just disappeared. Calle stood wondering what to do next when Mio rode up on a purple Yamaha motorcycle with a purple motorcycle helmet that matched her purple armor. She skidded to a stop next to him and handed him a helmet. "I can give you a ride to the battle."

Calle blinked at her for a moment and then took the helmet, strapped it on, and got behind her on the bike. "How do you know how to ride a motorcycle?"

Mio laughed. "I've been on this earth a long time, Spirit Calle. I've driven many vehicles. Here we go." She gunned the engine and they took off. As Mio accelerated the motorcycle, Calle held onto Mio's waist for dear life.

It occurred to Calle that perhaps getting on the back of a motorcycle with an 80,000-year-old senior citizen wasn't the wisest of moves. Mio drove like a maniac. On the other hand, they were getting wherever they were going very quickly, and riding with her was fun. He began to relax and leaned into the turns along with Mio, and after only a few miles the ride seemed as natural as any other. They'd been tearing down the streets for about thirty minutes when Calle began to recognize the terrain. They were headed east, towards Godzilla and the weirdness.

When they arrived in Sosa Calle was surprised to see the area was already packed with military trucks, tanks and soldiers. Mio parked her motorcycle next to several other civilian cars and shut off the bike's engine. As Mio took Calle's helmet she said, "Did you enjoy the ride?" She pulled off her own helmet and then rewound her long braid into a pile on top of her head.

Calle watched with interest. "Yes I did. How do you manage to keep your hair stuck in place like that?"

Mio smiled. "Practice." She pulled a long cylinder off of a holster on her thigh and gave it a vigorous shake. It expanded into the polearm he'd seen earlier.

"Now that is a very cool weapon, Queen Mio. Can I be your sidekick?"

She laughed. "I would choose no other."

Calle followed her into a large tent, filled with equipment and people. They were mostly G-Force personnel, although there were many US and JSDF uniforms in the crowd.

Several men were gathered around a long table displaying a map of the surrounding terrain. Commander Aso, Major Lorne, Miki and Koji were there, and Calle recognized one of the communications operators he'd met before. They were discussing strategy when the fairies on their little moth mount zoomed into the tent and landed on the table. The fairies looked up at Commander Aso and Miki, wringing their hands.

They said in unison, "We visited the rock dragon; he is headed this way. The mizuchi is torturing him and his brother and a little girl." Lora covered her face and Moll hugged her.

Moll explained, "Lora loves the innocence of children and is very upset."

Commander Aso frowned. "Are there other hostages?"

The fairies said together, "We did not see others."

Mio said firmly, "I will rescue the child."

Aso nodded. "Thank you."

Calle frowned. Using a little kid as a hostage was beyond despicable. And it was odd that Aso had immediately deferred to Mio's words; he obviously trusted her capabilities.

Major Lorne asked, "Is the rock dragon spawning footsoldiers the way the serpent did?"

The fairies replied, "We did not see any."

Aso nodded and said, "I fear for the hostages, but ultimately the safety of the entire world may depend on us destroying the dragon and his passengers."

Miki said, "It is not the creature we must destroy, it is the mizuchi spirit. It will simply summon another golem if it escapes us."

The fairies nodded. "If we can capture it, Mothra can send it back to the bottom of the ocean."

"Very good." Aso nodded and looked around the table. "We have our plan. We have evacuated civilians from the area. Now we must only wait for the monster to come to us. Go to your battle stations, and good luck."

The crowd murmured assent and dispersed.

Mio turned back to Calle and studied him. She asked, "Do you truly wish to be my sidekick, Spirit Calle?"

Calle felt a twinge of fear but, oh, what the hell… "Yes."

She nodded. "Then follow me. Mothra approaches." Mio took Calle's hand and led him toward the beach.

When they got there Calle spotted Magnus's unmistakable hulking silhouette pacing around in front of Gamera. Calle should have guessed Magnus would seek out the giant turtle.

Calle followed Mio up a small hill and she pointed out to the ocean. "Do you see her?"

Calle searched the skies but saw nothing. Mio glanced at him and said, "She is not in the clouds. She is in the water. She only just hatched a few days ago."

Calle frowned, "I only see a brown blob…"

Mio smiled. "That is a Mothra larva. That is Mothra."

Calle grimaced as the Mothra larva wiggled its way onto the beach. The enormous caterpillar was brown and smooth. It had Mothra's mouthparts and little blue glowing eyes. Otherwise it looked a bit like a very large ugly earthworm. Oh well. Beauty was in the soul.

He asked, "So… can she still help when she is a caterpillar?"

Mio nodded once. "We are fortunate she is in her larval form. We have the best chance of rescuing our friends with her now." She squeezed Calle's hand. "Now, come, we must ready ourselves for battle. The enemy approaches."

 

* * *

 

Mariam stayed by Vegard's side in the candlelight for a long time after their argument, silently stroking his head and looking at him lovingly with her dark eyes, occasionally leaning close and kissing his face or brushing her lips over his. She smelled of strawberries. After a long time she whispered, "I loved you," and disappeared, leaving him alone in the dark. Only when she was gone did he finally give in to tears of old regret and grief.

So he cried out with surprise when, without warning, he found himself standing upright and breathing real air again. He was assaulted by the glare of sunlight, by the sound of sirens and by the smell of burning wood and rubber. He fell to his knees, covered his ears and squeezed shut his watering eyes as he adjusted to the real world. His chest hurt. His right hand hurt; his broken finger was throbbing. The rocky ground was shuddering up and down in slow rhythm. He could hear a child crying. He blinked until he could see.

He glanced around him. He was high above the city. He, no… the ground was moving. How could that be? The buildings he could see were on fire. A cacophony of police sirens and car alarms filled the air.

An adorable little Japanese girl, between two and three years old, was sitting in front of him on the brown rocky ground and crying. Her hair was in two little pigtails held in place with bright pink ribbons. She was wearing a Hello Kitty shirt that proclaimed "I Heart Tokyo" and a pair of little pink shorts and matching sandals. She had wet herself. A long iron chain was wrapped several times around her waist and fixed with a ridiculously large padlock. The other end of the chain disappeared into the stone ground.

Vegard sucked in a breath and crawled forward to comfort her, but discovered he was chained as well, at the ankle, and the little girl was just out of reach. He looked around, infuriated, and found Bård on one knee, studying him curiously.

Bård was wearing gold chain mail and black leather Viking armor. He was picking at his teeth with the nail of his little finger.

Vegard growled, "What kind of animal chains up a little baby girl?"

Bård sucked at his teeth and hooked a thumb at himself. "This guy. Your brother. Secondborn."

"You aren't Bård."

"You wanted to see him. Here he is. All in one piece. And looking very handsome, I must say." Bård pushed his fingers through his golden hair. His hair was braided at his temples, and tied off with black leather thongs. Vegard thought the braids looked ridiculous and vain.

Vegard sat back on his haunches and said, "No, you aren't Bård. You have the evil beard."

"Evil? I thought we'd settled that question. Besides, I wouldn't call it evil, but rather just properly trimmed. In contrast, your facial hair looks scruffy and random. You know, I'm sure we can find another barber among all those people screaming on the ground. Would you like a stylish beard trim?"

"No. Where's Bård?"

The heaving ground rumbled and a deep roar filled the air. Vegard flinched and asked, "Where are we? What is this?"

Bård grinned and stood. "This is our creation, Firstborn. With every passing moment it gains strength and power, drawing from the bio-energies of the earth and the people and creatures we slaughter. Isn't it cool?" He pointed up.

Vegard looked up and realized they were riding on the shoulders of a gigantic monster made of stone and metal. It had two thick necks extending forward with snakelike heads and fangs. He could feel its anger. This was wrong. This wasn't like it had been with Blueberry. She had been serene. He and Bård served her out of love. All he felt here was pain and hate. He looked back at the little girl. "Why would you bring a child here?"

"I don't know. Why would she be here?" Bård tapped a finger on his chin and looked thoughtful. "Hm. That's a tough one. Oh wait, I remember. I brought her here to keep you company. And the good news is that she won't be missed, because I killed her whole family. You should have heard her mother screaming while I carved up the rest of her children. It was hilarious." He pulled a long dagger from his belt. The blade was still red with blood.

"Oh my god." Vegard felt sick. "Don't hurt her."

Bård sheathed his blade and walked briskly to the toddler. He picked her up by her chain, eliciting a terrified scream. "Don't hurt her? Why not? Shall I break her finger like I did yours? Baby bones are so soft. It won't sound nearly as satisfying when it snaps."

"No, please…"

Bård's eyes lit up. "I have an idea. Let's play a game of Oppgave Med Straff."

"Don't do this."

"Your first task: Swear to me that you'll do whatever I ask. Go ahead."

"What? No. I… I can't."

Bård shrugged. "Ah. You prefer punishment. Fine." He casually tossed the toddler off the monster's back. The child screamed and disappeared over the side.

Vegard cried out in horror and leapt to his feet.

Bård laughed. "I love this game. You should see your face."

Vegard staggered as close to the edge of the rock monster's back as he could with the chain around his ankle. He could still hear the child shrieking and her chain was pulled taut over the edge. He couldn't reach it. "Pull her up!"

Bård folded his arms.

"Pull her up!"

"Tell me you'll do what I ask."

Vegard swallowed hard and said quickly. "Pull her up, and let me hold her, and… promise you won't hurt any other children and I'll do what you ask."

Bård frowned. "You are so stubborn. The task is not negotiable." He bent down and pulled the fixed end of the chain out of the creature's stone shoulder with a grunt. He showed Vegard the end. "I'll just let this go and drop her all the way to her death. At this height she'll probably burst open like a melon when she hits, so you'll want to watch. Then we'll start over with a new baby. Maybe a slightly younger one would be more persuasive?"

"No! Please don't let go! I'll do what you say. Don't kill her! Please."

Bård smiled. "Fine." He sauntered slowly toward Vegard and gave him the end of the chain. "I told you I could turn you in under a minute, big brother."

Vegard frantically pulled the girl back up, grimacing with pain from his broken right little finger. Her face, left arm and left ankle were scraped and bleeding, and she was hysterical. He held her against his chest and rocked her gently, glaring at the monster wearing Bård's face. "You haven't turned me. This is just… extortion. And you aren't my brother. If even a scrap of Bård were in your head he would never, ever hurt a child like that. Where is he? Is this even the real world?"

Bård grinned and took the end of the child's chain and plunged his hand into the ground up to his elbow. When he pulled his hand away the ground sealed itself, fixing the chain back into the ground next to Vegard. Bård dusted off his hands and said, "This is the real world. And here I am."

"No, that's just a body that looks like him. Where is my brother? Where is Bård?"

Beneath them the rock dragon roared and then chuffed three times.

Vegard frowned.

The dragon repeated its message: Behhh bib bib bib.

Vegard's face dawned with dreadful understanding. He looked down at the immense creature they were riding. "Bård? Bård? Is that you? Don't you worry, I'm going to get you out of there!"

The rock dragon let out an exasperated sigh.

Vegard hugged the little girl and she started to quiet. He looked back at Evil-Bob-in-Bård's-body. "Okay. You've got me. For now. I surrender. What do you want me to do?"

Chapter Text

* * *

 

Magnus rested his cheek against Gamera's front left foot and blinked at the sun rising over the ocean. "Be careful out there, Gamera. Bård and Vegard are wily and devious opponents even when they aren't possessed by demons."

Gamera grunted low. Magnus hugged the expanse of reptilian skin.

"Ahem… excuse me, sir?"

Magnus turned to see a burly American soldier looking at him with concern. "Uh, I need to check Gamera's camera right away and… uh… we have incoming hostiles and…"

Magnus nodded and moved aside. When the specialist was finished he cleared his throat and asked, "Aren't you with the men who are prisoners on that thing? The Mothra brothers?"

Magnus sighed, "Yes, that's me."

"If you would follow me, sir, I'm supposed find a spot for you to watch the video feeds from the battlefield. There are monitors in the main command tent. We have all the kaiju wired for video as well as a number of drones circling in the air."

"Thanks, I'd like that a lot, actually." Magnus turned to Gamera and kissed his enormous claw. "Stay safe, Big Turtle." He turned back to the soldier. "Let's go."

"Uh… right this way, sir."

 

* * *

 

The command tent was crammed with people and video monitors. Commander Aso, Major Lorne and several other military chiefs sat at a table in front of the monitors. The monitor from the Mechagodzilla cockpit flashed red and Miki's voice sounded. "Sir, we have Rokkudoragon on visual. He is less than one kilometer from the ambush point."

Aso nodded. "Maintain your position."

Magnus leaned down to a brunette female American soldier watching the feed and taking notes into a tablet computer. He whispered, "Pardon me, but why are they speaking in English and not Japanese?"

"Standard protocol for pilots; most people in G-Force start in the Air Force. Also, makes it easier for us Americans to understand."

"Huh. What's Rokkudoragon?"

The soldier grinned. "That is what they call the Rock Dragon. Japanese English."

"Ah. Thanks."

"Sure thing." The soldier moved off.

From the monitors Magnus could see there were a number of remote controlled drones circling the rock monster. One of them got close enough for Magnus to see Bård clearly. It got closer and Bård grabbed it. Magnus could hear the sound of breaking plastic and metal. Maybe Bård had broken the wings. Bård looked curiously into the camera and then fixed it in place. He backed up and said, "Look, Vegard, they want to watch us. We're on TV, wave to the nice people."

Magnus groaned when he saw Vegard's sorry state. He had several weeks' growth of beard, his hair was completely wild and he had blood on his face and neck. He looked like he had lost weight and was wearing a darker and shabbier version of the armor Bård was wearing; it hung loosely on his thinner frame. There was a thick chain locked to Vegard's booted ankle. And he was sitting down and holding a little girl in his lap who was wrapped in chains and covered with blood as well. They both looked terrible.

Bård said cheerily into the camera, "Hello, G-Force! You are watching "Ylvis Behind the Scenes" bonus footage. We were just about to throw up a magical shield wall to protect us against your ambush. Come on, Vegard, let's sing for the audience so they can see how we work. You can start. But in Norwegian, I think."

Vegard blinked heavily towards the camera and said, "Kan du hjelpe oss?"

Bård snarled and kicked his brother in the leg. He smiled sweetly into the camera and said in English, "Vegard will sing his lines or else there will be punishment."

In the command tent Aso beckoned Magnus forward to translate.

Vegard swallowed and sang, "Kan du hjelpe meg?"

Magnus said, "Vegard is asking if we can help him."

Bård grinned and said to the camera, "Carl Fredrik, I hope you're listening!" He sang in response to Vegard, "Nei, vi bygge en vegg."

"No, we… have to build a wall.

Vegard hugged the girl on his lap and sang, "Han har tatt kontroll."

"He says HE has taken control… I'm not sure if Vegard means Bård or the demon thing."

"Shuddup, vi lager et skjold."

"We're making a shield."

"Dette barn blitt skadet."

"The little girl is hurt."

Bård clapped his hands with pleasure. "Ja, jeg har skadet barnet."

Magnus winced, "Bård says he's the one that hurt the girl."

Bård laughed and said, "Fy faen, det er gøy!" He kicked Vegard again and walked back up to the camera and said gleefully in English, "Th- th- th- th- that's all, folks!" Then the feed went black.

Commander Aso frowned. He turned to a JSDF soldier and spoke rapidly in Japanese to him. He looked back up at Magnus. "We will send another drone. If you would stay here to translate?"

Magnus nodded. "Of course… sir. But that wasn't Bård. He wouldn't do those bad things."

"He is possessed by the mizuchi. Do not worry." Aso smiled kindly. "This is not… my first rodeo. Hm."

* * *

Bob, quite comfortable in Bård's body, tossed the broken video drone away and looked over the city. The buildings glinted pink in the light of the rising sun and beyond that to the east he could see the Pacific Ocean beckoning. To the northeast Mechagodzilla stood silently, but Bob could sense the tension of the crew inside. Directly ahead Godzilla watched his approach, and behind him and a bit to the south stood the younger godzillasaur. It was stamping its feet impatiently, eager to fight. Bob took a deep, satisfying breath. It felt good to have lungs. He clapped his hands and turned to Vegard. "It's showtime, my brother!"

Vegard hugged the little girl. She was surely hungry but fussing quietly. She was too injured or exhausted to scream, and that worried him. "I can't help you kill civilians, Bob. I couldn't if I wanted to. Even if you kill this baby… I just can't. My brother wouldn't either. You can see in my head. I'm not lying."

Bob pointed angrily at Godzilla. "The civilians have evacuated. We are just fighting the giant dinosaur." He clenched his fists and stalked over to Vegard.

Vegard cringed, anticipating a blow, and put his arms protectively around the girl. After a few moments he opened his eyes and found Bob kneeling next to him, looking at him thoughtfully. For a moment Vegard imagined it was Bård looking back at him, and not this monster with Bård's face.

Finally Bob said, "I need to get to the ocean. It's only a kilometer away. Then I can rejoin my brothers in the water. Help me get there and I'll let you and the baby go."

"I don’t believe you. You want to kill everything."

Bob let out a breath. "The comet is passing out of range. I just want to return to my brothers. We'll wait for the next cycle. Help me get to the ocean. I'll do everything, you only have to join your voice to mine."

"What about my brother?"

"I won't need this body when I get to the ocean. He can have it back. Help me get past the kaiju."

Vegard swallowed heavily. He was exhausted. Every part of him hurt. He thought Bob was probably lying, but if there was a chance to get Bård and the girl out of this… "I'll help."

Bob grinned and stood up. "Good man. Let's do this." He called out, "You hear that, boy? Get me to the ocean and you can be free to live your little insignificant life."

Bård roared and started beating his enormous stone wings. Mechagodzilla responded almost immediately, igniting its engines and rising into the air.

Bob rubbed his hands together. "I think something a little Black Metal would suit the occasion, don't you?" They began singing:

Vi bringer natt.                       (We bring the night)
Mordet og vold.                      (Violence we wield)
Vi bringer hat                         (We bring hate)
Blod! Blod! Det er vårt skjold  (Blood! Blood! This is our shield)

Emerald green sparks spit into life and coalesced into a domelike shield that covered Bob, Vegard and the baby. Then Bård rumbled as he built up power, finally disgorging two columns of green fire from his twin fanged heads. The blasts knocked Baby Godzilla on its back and it slid violently away leaving an enormous cloud of dirt in the air.

Godzilla roared angrily and charged up his own blast; the bright blue power sparked and danced over the plates on his back and built up in his mouth. Then he spewed a torrent of blue power at Bård, knocking him backwards. Although Bård struggled to right himself, Vegard and Bob remained in their place as surely as if they were strapped into pilot seats. Mechagodzilla hit Bård with its laser cannon. It chewed a hole through Bård's tail and he folded his wings and landed back on his feet. Bob growled, "We take out the Mech first."

Vi bringer lidelse                    (We bring suffering)
Røyken og lyn                        (Storm and electrocution)
Vi bringer smerte                   (We bring pain)
Dø! Dø! Dette er vår hevn       (Die! Die! This is our retribution)

Bård blasted Mechagodzilla's chest, and it left a satisfying smoking hole where his chest cannon had been. It responded with a guided missile that severed Bård's left head. His right head howled, shooting fire into the morning sky.

Bob folded his arms and sighed. "Time out for repairs."

As Bård staggered backwards Bob and Vegard sang to him,

Bringe oss stein                      (Bring us stone)
Stål og jern                             (Steel and iron)
Bringe oss vann                      (Bring us water)
Liv! Liv! Bli hel igjen                (Live! Live! Be whole again)

Bård reached out with one claw to grasp a parking structure. It collapsed and crumbled and merged with his arm. At the same time his left head regrew and his tail healed itself. Although the process only took a few seconds, Godzilla had advanced close enough to whip Bård with his tail.

Bård sucked power from the ground and shot back at Godzilla. One of the fiery blasts was intercepted by Gamera; he swooped in, absorbed the heat and shot it back at Bård. Bård swiped at the turtle but wasn't fast enough to connect.

Mechagodzilla shot two thick electrified cables and buried them in Bård's chest. Rather than pull away, Bård leapt forward onto the machine and sank his fangs into its shoulders. Once he had a good grip he enveloped Mechagodzilla with his fire breath and destroyed the machines arm cannons. He let his stone turn to sand around the cables and they fell to the ground. He powered up for another breath as Vegard and Bob sang:

Vi bringer død                         (We bring death)
Kvelning og brann                   (Suffocation and fire)
Vi bringer frykt                        (We bring terror)
Røm! Røm! Hvis du kan           (Run! Run! Escape if you can)

Vegard shouted, "Don't kill the crew! You promised."

Bob grunted at Vegard with disgust. "You are surely the most gullible man in history." He turned back to look at the battle, but the momentary distraction had been long enough for Mechagodzilla to shoot Bård with its laser eye cannons. Godzilla roared and whipped Bård again. The combination of attacks successfully knocked both of Bård's serpentine heads off. They crumbled into boulders as they fell.

Vegard cried out, "Bård!"

But Bård merely stopped moving and began absorbing dirt and wreckage again. Vegard expected Godzilla to finish them off while they were stuck, but Godzilla held back and a helicopter flew over them. A figure in purple leapt off of the helicopter and onto Bård's back. It was Mio.

Mio shook open her naginata and adjusted her grip, the long blade pointed at Bob. She said, in Norwegian, "You are not Tiamat. You are only a shadow of Tiamat." She tilted her head and raised a brow. "Or are you less than that? Perhaps you are simply a naga?"

Bob gave her Bård's lazy smile. "I think your memory must be going, Inanna. I suppose it is to be expected; we aren't as young as we once were."

She hissed, "Young enough."

"So you are still doing Her dirty work? What a hypocrite She is. Sending a human to do a celestial's job."

"She will not kill her children. She shouldn't have to do so."

"Inanna, Inanna…" Bob folded his arms and looked Mio up and down appreciatively. "You may be old but you look damn good. You're wasted with Her. Join me. You can be my consort and we will bring this world to its knees. I offer you freedom from the chains She fixed upon you so long ago."

Mio said impassively, "We will not allow you to return to the ocean."

"And how do you intend to keep me from doing that? You can't kill my golem; his flesh is born from the earth Herself."

"I do not know; that isn't my mission. I am here to rescue the child."

Bob threw his head back and laughed with Bård's laugh. "Living among the humans has finally made you soft. Or is that baby your special pet?"

She pointed upward toward the helicopter. "My second is coming down to take the child. When I see she is safely away, I will leave as well."

Behind her, Vegard rose to his feet, still holding the baby. He said, "Nei, nei… please, Mio, don't leave. You have to stop him! Or even… you have to kill both of us."

Bob frowned, "Vegard. Shut up."

Mio didn't take her eyes off of Bob. "I'm sorry, Brother Vegard, that is not an option I have been given. I promised the Japanese commander I would rescue this baby. So, Tiamat, will you allow my second to drop down?"

Bård threw up his hands, "Fint, be my guest."

Almost immediately the helicopter flew back overhead and Lt. Sweeney dropped down on a line. Mio swung her blade and cut through the chains fixing the baby to the rock and then turned back to Bob. Sweeney leaned forward and held out her hands. She met eyes with Vegard and he hesitated for a moment but then carefully handed her the baby. She nodded respectfully at him and the helicopter pulled away, taking Sweeney and the child with it. Bob smirked up at the pilot and waved. "Ha det bra!"

Back at the command center, Commander Aso leaned forward to squint at the video feed from the camera mounted on Mio's shoulder. "Look at the blade; she's got his blood."

Magnus squinted at Mio's blade, and realized its edge had a fine coating of blood. Vegard's blood. Vegard hadn't reacted; maybe she'd cut him without him noticing. She must have done it when she cut the chain on the baby. Magnus looked back at the feed from the drone hovering near the rock dragon's slowly regenerating necks. It looked as though Evil Bård hadn't noticed Vegard's wound either.

Before Bob took his eyes off of the helicopter, Mio lunged forward and plunged her blade into Bob's right shoulder. She pulled it out, spun her weapon, and buried the bloodied blade into the rock.

Bob grabbed his shoulder and screamed with fury. Mio yanked her blade free of the stone, turned and threw herself against Vegard. They toppled over the edge of Bård's monstrous back, followed only by the chain still attached to Vegard's ankle, the freshly cut end glinting before it disappeared.

Mio shouted, "Hang on!" and let her armor take the brunt of the friction as they slid down the granite surface of Bård's shoulder. Bård roared, green fire shooting wildly into the sky from the stumps of his still unfinished heads. He began flapping his wings and Mio twisted midair, plunging her weapon into Bård's midsection, bringing them to an abrupt halt, still twelve stories up. Above them, Mechagodzilla and Godzilla both blasted Bård's wings. The air shook with the kaijus' bellows and Bård's stone wings cracked and fell into pieces, some of them passing frighteningly close past where Mio and Vegard were hanging.

Mio said, "One or two more falls and we'll be safe. Ready?"

Vegard, recovered from his initial shock, nodded and wrapped his arms and legs around her. "Go."

Mio twisted the silver band around her naginata's shaft, retracting the blade. They plunged downward another ten meters until she caught them again briefly on Bård's leg and then released, this time falling free until Gamera swooped in to catch them on his head. The turtle chuffed and banked to zoom back towards the dragon.

Mio turned to look down at Calle, also kneeling on Gamera's head. She gently pushed Vegard into Calle's arms and then kneeled and pulled out her dagger. She used it to slice through the iron manacle around Vegard's ankle; her blade cut through the iron like butter and the pieces fell away. She asked, "Do you have him?"

Calle nodded and tugged on the three lines attaching him to Gamera's shell and a nearby first aid pack. "We're secure." He shifted Vegard slightly in his arms and hooked another carabiner to his friend's armor. "Be careful."

Mio smiled brightly at him. "I will." She closed her naginata and stuck it back into her thigh holster. She waited until Gamera was positioned above Bård the Rock Dragon again and then dove out of sight.

Gamera veered off and headed west, away from the battle. Calle looked down at his friend. "You look terrible."

Vegard was clutching his right shoulder, grimacing in pain. Calle gently lifted Vegard's hand away; beneath it there was a black and silver clasp, shaped like a snake's head, with long fangs piercing into Vegard's skin. "Tell me how to help."

Vegard gasped, "Get it off of me."

"It's stuck in your…"

"Pull it off!"

Calle pulled out his pocketknife and cut the leather thongs attaching the clasp to the armor and cape underneath. Then he winced and yanked the clasp away without warning. Vegard cried out but flashed a pained smile when he saw the bloodied clasp in Calle's hand. He panted, "Get rid of it."

Calle whistled, "Gamera, tenk fort!" He threw the clasp and Gamera swerved to gulp it down.

Calle dug into his pack and pressed a wad of gauze onto Vegard's shoulder wound. The black lines that had emanated from the shoulder wound were already fading. He said, "You look like shit. But the fairies insist you're going to be okay."

"I'm glad to hear they're alive. How did you do all this? And why you?"

Calle grinned. "I've been promoted to being Mio's sidekick. Right now she wants you far away from Bård, and there's a medic waiting for us up ahead."

Vegard shook his head. "Nei, nei, nei, you have to take me back to Bård and Bob."

"Bob?"

"It's what Bård calls the demon… thing."

"Ah. Don't worry. Mothra knows what to do."

"Listen to me. Bård wants to blow himself up and take Bob with him. I can hear his thoughts again, finally."

Calle frowned down at the blood soaking through the gauze and reached back into his pack for another stack of gauze. "I know. Mio broke the spell. That's why she cut you."

"Cut me?"

"Yeah, look." Calle pressed a fresh piece of gauze against a slash through Vegard's left boot. It came away with blood.

Vegard frowned. "I didn't even feel that."

"Her blade is insanely sharp. She cut you and then cut Bård and then pushed the blood from you two into the rock dragon monster thing. She mixed all your blood into the rock so you and Bård could get back into sync." Calle shrugged. "Some magic spell or something."

Vegard shook his head. "Nei, Bård is in the rock dragon monster. Bob is in Bård."

"We know. Mothra is taking care of him. Bård will be okay." Calle cut away more armor from Vegard's shoulder. He frowned at the bruises and cuts peppering the skin underneath. "What the fuck did he do to you?"

Vegard suddenly sucked in a breath and clutched at Calle's arm. "Herregud, I can hear his thoughts." He concentrated a moment and then his face twisted with horror. "I can hear him."

"Mio said you might freak out. Don't freak out. We're almost there." Calle pressed harder on Vegard's shoulder; it wouldn't stop bleeding.

Vegard hissed with pain and asked, "When was the last time you saw me?"

"Yesterday. The yakuza kidnapped you two a couple of weeks ago and we only found you yesterday afternoon. Then you both got possessed by Satan and summoned a giant rock dragon monster… as usual… you crazy kids."

"Yesterday?"

"Yeah."

"I thought maybe it was months."

"Just one day."

"Is Oslo okay? Was there a nuclear war?"

"Oslo is fine, the families are fine. There wasn't a nuclear war. One bomb in Ukraine, that was all."

"Okay." Vegard blinked heavily down at his broken finger, and then down at himself. Calle was right; he was a wreck. He noticed a little grey cat sitting next to his thigh. It was extremely unlikely there was a cat there, and so he didn't bother to ask about it. He was probably going into shock. He said to Calle, "I think I'm going to pass out now. I feel dizzy. I might have internal bleeding. And I don't think Bob fed or watered me at all."

"Then he's a shit gardener. Go ahead and pass out if you have to. I've got your six."

"Takk."

Vegard closed his eyes and Calle gave him a more heartfelt hug. He could see the medics waiting for them on a landing strip in Narita Airport. He shouted, "There they are, Gamera. Be gentle with us, you big, crazy turtle!"

Chapter Text

Mio landed lightly on Bård's enormous granite back, rolled on her shoulder and back up on her feet. The demon, Bob, still inside Bård's body, was kneeling on the rock, clutching at his bloodied shoulder, his hair whipping around him in the wind. He looked up at her and roared, "What have you done?!"

Mio shook her weapon open and eyed him warily. "I've focused the three of you around your golem."

"For what possible purpose?"

"So you can not escape."

"You've trapped Her children as well!"

"Perhaps. Bård, human, hear me! Your brother is safely away from here. Stop moving. He cannot force you any longer if you resist."

Mio and Bob both staggered as the rock dragon came to an abrupt halt. The dragon crouched down on all fours and lay down both of its heads, now fully reformed, flat onto the ground. It let out a stereo sigh of relief.

Bob frowned at Mio and then began sinking into the stone below them. She cried out, "Do not let him pass through you, Bård!"

Bob stopped, buried to his knees in the stone, and then popped back out like bread from a toaster. He shrieked with rage and reached for his knife.

Mio advanced quickly and her blade was at Bob's neck. "You may yet return to the sea, but only if you submit. Do not make me destroy you and that boy's body. If it dies now you will have nowhere to go but oblivion." She glanced up at the silk strands falling down around them. "Just hold still."

Bob howled, "Faen!". The dragon chuffed out another double sigh and curled its long heads around its body. The larval Mothra was now in plain view. A stream of sticky silken threads shot from her mouthparts and down upon and around them. Bob could see Mechagodzilla hovering to their left, and to their right Godzilla was dancing his victory dance, showing off for the baby Godzilla.* If there was one thing that really annoyed Bob, it was a dancing ceratosaur. He hadn't seen one in four million years, and he'd forgotten how infuriating they were. Jævla dancing dinosaurs.

 

* * *

*Footnote: If you want to see Godzilla's victory dance, go to YouTube and search for "Godzilla Victory Dance." That's what I did!

* * *

 

"Vegard? Vegard, can you hear me?"

Vegard drew in a breath. "Five more minutes."

"Vegard, take a nice deep breath and open your eyes for me."

Vegard opened one eye. A blond woman wearing camouflage fatigues leaned over him, her nose close to his own. Vegard startled and she drew back. He heard a laugh to his right; Calle was sitting in a lounger next to his bed.

The woman said, "You're safe in the hospital, sir. I'm Captain Haugen; I'm your nurse. How are you feeling?"

Vegard sighed, "I'm in the hospital… again? Or is this a hallucination? Or have I been kidnapped? Again, I mean."

The nurse smiled at him. "You're in the hospital and you've got a squad of US airmen watching over you. I promise you are safe from the yakuza here. Your friend has been watching over you as well." She nodded to Calle. He gave Vegard the thumbs up. She asked, "Do you have any pain?"

"Not bad." He glanced at Calle. "Don't worry. I'm fine."

Calle snorted and said in Norwegian, "That's odd. Because you look like shit."

The nurse checked a bandage on Vegard's shoulder and said, "Call me if you need anything. You've had quite an adventure. Just concentrate on resting and getting well." She smiled again and left, closing the door behind her.

Vegard yawned and asked blearily. "Where's Bård?" He squinted at Calle.

"He's safe."

"I feel a little weird."

"Yeah, they call that morphine. The good stuff."

"Do I have all my arms and legs? I'm scared to look."

Calle chuckled. "Yes you do. But you got pretty badly hurt."

"No, I'm fine."

"You really aren't."

Vegard insisted sleepily, "Nei, nei, I'm fine. But I feel like something is missing…" Vegard's eyes snapped open. "I don't feel Bård. Or Bob."

"Bård is okay."

"I can't hear him in my head."

"He's safe."

"I can't feel him at all again. Herregud, I saw Mio stab him."

Calle moved forward and sat down on the side of Vegard's bed. He put a comforting hand on Vegard's arm. "I swear to you he's safe. Mio and Mothra are watching over him."

Vegard groaned. "Mothra. I know she means only the best but I can't take any more of this magic nonsense."

"Agreed."

"How long have I been here?"

"Since yesterday morning. You were in the Intensive Care Unit all day and they moved you here this morning."

"I just want to be home and be normal."

"We'll all go home soon, don't worry. But you've never been normal. That's an impossible dream."

Vegard smiled. "Takk."

"Yep."

Vegard inspected his arms. Both were bandaged to boards and had IVs going into both of them, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand were taped together on a splint. Calle offered, "They said your finger will be fine; you'll be back to playing major ninths just like new."

Vegard let out a breath. "How far gone am I? I didn't even think about playing piano with it."

"A demon possessed your brother and almost beat you to death; it's possible you've had things other than jazz chords on your mind. Besides, you could still play guitar."

Vegard mumbled, "Keyboards forever!" and clumsily pulled up his blanket with his fingertips. He looked down at himself and muttered, "Jesus Christos." Beyond his hospital gown his legs were covered in bruises and both his ankles were wrapped in bandages. There was a urine catheter and another chest tube coming out of him. He groaned, "Fy faen, the jævla chest tube is back. This morphine must be amazing."

"They said Bård kicked you and broke your rib. It reopened the other injury and they had to give you a blood transfusion. He really beat you up."

"That wasn't Bård. That was a demon wearing his body."

Calle held up his hands, "Right, sorry. The fairies came by after Bård's Evil Twin was captured. They did some healing magic on you; that's how you got moved out of the ICU so quickly. They'll be back tonight to work more on your lungs so you can fly again. I told them that was important to you."

"Takk for det. What about the little Japanese girl? Is she okay?"

Calle winced. "She's safe; they said she'll recover… physically. They don't know who she is yet, though."

"It… that demon… told me it killed the rest of her family. It showed me the knife it used."

"Bård stabbed a whole family to death?"

"It wasn't Bård. I think it might have been Satan."

"Gamle-Erik himself? Have you truly found religion, Vegard?"

"Nei, it seems ridiculous but… it came to me in Mariam's body and tried to talk me into selling my soul. That's what Satan does, right?"

"I've stopped trying to analyze any of this since we flew to Japan on a giant blue butterfly."

"Moth."

"Moth. Right. Wait, Mariam? Cancer Mariam from school?"

"Yeah."

Calle and Vegard stared at each other for a long moment. Calle said, "That is completely fucked up. Are you going to be okay? I mean, will you go psychotic or…?"

"I don't know. I'm more worried about Bård. I assume he could see what was happening. Don't people get PTSD from that sort of thing?"

"You realize, I hope, that we're all worried about both of you. And I mean all of us. You two are The Heroes of the Battle to Save Earth. The troops here call you The Mothra Brothers."

"That's absurd."

"I thought it was catchy."

"Ylvis is better."

"Granted."

Vegard shrugged and regretted it immediately. His right shoulder ached. "I need to talk to my mother. I have to tell her about Bård."

"No, you don't and you shouldn't. Not yet. I skyped with Helene and your mother last night. I told them you were in the ICU and Bård was unconscious but that you were both stable." Calle shrugged. "It was the truth."

Vegard felt heartsick. He desperately wanted to talk to his wife and hear the voices of his and Bård's children. He said so.

"They're eight hours behind us. Don't wake them up unnecessarily; they need the sleep. They've been beside themselves with worry about you two. Regardless, you should wait until after the fairies come by tonight; the women will be hysterical if they see you the way you look right now."

"What's wrong with how I…" He lifted his bandaged arm and felt his face with his fingertips. His lip and right eye were swollen. And he really needed a shave.

Calle frowned and asked softly, "Did Bård… I mean Bård's Evil Twin, did he do all that to you? Was any of that the yakuza?"

"No, it was all the demon. I thought it might leave me alone, because it could feel my injuries, and it said it needed me. But I think beating me upset Bård, and that was worth the pain to Bob."

"What you just said makes no sense."

"Unnskyld."

"Nei, I mean, you were half-dead last night. If Evil Bård needed you why would he do that to you?"

"I think it's like that fable about the scorpion and the frog. Bob is a scorpion; its nature is to torture and destroy."

Calle sighed sympathetically. "All these years I thought Bård beat on you way too much, but he was clearly going easy on you before."

Vegard smiled. "Bård usually uses a rubber hose so it doesn't leave marks."

"Why wouldn't a rubber hose leave a mark?"

"I don't know; it was just something we heard when we were kids. A boy told us his father hit him with a…" Vegard frowned, remembering the childhood accident in the shed. Bård had been so upset when he'd almost accidentally killed Vegard he'd carried the guilt with him for decades. How would he react to what Bob had done to him, let alone all the other victims?

Calle said gently, "You got lost in the middle of that sentence."

"I… was just thinking…"

"It's fine. Like I said, it's called morphine. A good thing too; you look like you just did ten rounds of boxing with a gorilla. You should have seen your face before the fairies came last night."

"Do I have brain damage?"

"No one said anything about brain damage."

Vegard chewed his lip. "What about just in general? Before all this? Bård told me a few weeks ago I have brain damage from a childhood injury."

Calle made a face. "He was just screwing with you. You're one of the brightest guys I know."

"Not bright enough to get us out of all this."

Calle sighed and patted Vegard's arm. "We're big boys now, father. We have to take care of ourselves. Maybe you should just try to sleep." He stood and sat back down in the chair next to the bed.

Vegard didn’t want to sleep. He wanted Calle to stay and distract him from the pain and worry, but he couldn't say that. So instead he asked, "Did you tell my mother about Bård being possessed?"

"No? I just said you two saved the world again, you got hurt doing it, you would be okay and for now it was all a secret."

"You helped save the world, as I recall." Vegard frowned. "And didn't Magnus save our lives as well? Where is he, anyway?"

"He's watching Bård. You two are very difficult and stressful to babysit. Always getting into trouble. I hope you will remember our heroics when the Hollywood movie deal goes through. I want to be played by Channing Tatum."

"The obvious choice."

"And I'll wear a black mop on my head and play you."

Vegard shook his head. "You're too tall to play me."

"I'll stand in a trench."

Vegard smiled and couldn't help adding, "I'm glad you're here, Carl Fredrik. Very glad. Very thankful."

Calle's smile faded and he said suddenly, "I'm going to go get you some water."

"I don't need any-"

"Because if I don't leave right now I'm going to start crying like a girl."

"Calle, I would love to have a glass of water."

"I'll get you one." Calle stood and practically bolted out of the room.

Vegard sighed. "I'll just… wait here."

 

* * *

 

An hour later Calle sheepishly returned and they silently agreed to not mention any possible crying. When dinner came Calle helped Vegard eat, although Vegard didn't have much appetite. Calle wolfed down the rest, oohing and ahhing over how delicious the food was. Vegard didn't bother to correct him. He was glad Calle had stopped smoking. They'd done gene tests on themselves as a segment for their show, and since learning Calle was at risk for a clot Vegard had had a recurring nightmare that he'd found Calle all twisted and dead from a stroke. In the dream he usually found Calle in his childhood closet, but sometimes he found the corpse in an amusement park. He wondered what that meant. The way the brain processed information during sleep was pretty cool.

After the meal, a shy young nurse's aide came in to shave Vegard's beard away, and as she was finishing they heard a soft knock at the door. Miki came into the room as the aide was leaving and she placed a small vase of sunflowers on the windowsill. She bowed and smiled warmly at Vegard. She said in English, "I am pleased you are awake."

"I'm lucky to have brave friends like you and Calle to rescue me."

Calle clucked and said, "Aw shucks, Sheriff, t'weren't nothin'."

"I owe you my life three times now, Calle."

"I think actually that means you are my slave for life."

"Nope."

"…or we are married. Or both!"

"Nope."

"I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere."

"Ah, then it must be true. Okay, wife, start ordering me around."

"You would be the wife."

"Nei, you look better in a dress."

Calle smiled coyly and batted his eyelashes at Vegard. "Flatterer."

Miki coughed politely and they turned to look at her. They were spared having to apologize as Nurse Haugen chose that moment to re-enter the room. She nodded to Miki and Miki turned to open the window. As she did so, a draft of warm early evening summer air flowed in, smelling faintly of freshly cut grass and roses.

The fairies zoomed in on their Fairy Mothra through the open window. They hovered in front of Calle. "Hallo, Spirit Calle."

He smiled warmly at them. "Hallo, my dear ladies."

The fairies bowed their heads to him and then turned to look at Vegard, saying, in unison, "Brother Vegard, we are very pleased to see you."

Vegard relaxed into his pillows. Just seeing the tiny women did wonders to relieve his worries. "I'm pleased to see you too. I missed you."

Miki offered, "Lora and Moll were kidnapped by the Yakuza at the same time you and your brother were. That is why they couldn't come to you sooner."

Vegard frowned. "Did they hurt you?"

The fairies shook their heads. "No."

"Tell me, is Bård alive? I can't hear him."

"Yes, he is safe and you will see him soon. But now we are here to help you heal faster."

"I would really appreciate that. It still hurts to breathe from before."

Vegard glanced guiltily at Calle, who asked, "What happened to 'I'm fine'?"

"What were you going to do about it? No need to worry you."

Calle rolled his eyes. "This is what we humans call friends. The job of a friend is to worry." He looked at the fairies and added, "Friendship is a difficult concept for Brother Vegard to master; he's decided he has to be a pillar of strength for the rest of humanity."

Vegard made a face, and waved his bandaged hand in denial, "Nei, nei, nei, nei…"

"…or he might be a robot."

The fairies covered their mouths and giggled daintily. Fairy Mothra landed on the bed next to Vegard. With Vegard's permission, Calle helped them climb onto his chest. They kneeled there, held hands, and began singing. Vegard watched them with great interest for a few moments and then said sleepily, "How do they sing with such low voices when their airways are so tiny? That defies the laws of physics."

Calle rolled his eyes and shushed his friend. "Sleepy time now, little Vegard."

When the fairies began producing sparkles that slowly covered Vegard's body, he relaxed back into his pillow, closed his eyes and sighed with relief.

A short time later the fairies finished their spell. Vegard was fast asleep and his nurse moved forward to quietly examine him. The fairies bowed their heads respectfully to her and then to Calle.

Calle whispered, "What now, ladies?" He held out his hands to help them back onto Fairy.

They answered, "We will return once or twice more, and then take him to Mothra. Soon. He can help us awaken Brother Bård and banish the evil spirit."

Calle asked Nurse Haugen, "These women are amazing, aren't they? How is he?"

The nurse put away her stethoscope and smiled. "He's vastly improved; we'll be able to remove the chest tube. I'll get what we need to take it out safely."

As the nurse closed the door, Calle asked the fairies, "This evil spirit… is he a fallen angel or something?"

"He is a Spirit of the Earth."

"Vegard seems to think he is Satan. Is that true?"

"He is a spirit that gains strength when the Celestial Spirit of the Earth is weakened."

"Ah. Such as when there is an evil comet nearby?"

The fairies nodded.

"May I ask you, is this Celestial Spirit… is that what we call God? Our one true god?"

The fairies looked at each other and then at Calle. "There are many spirits in this universe. Which one do you mean?"

Calle sighed. "Never mind, I don't really know myself."

The fairies smiled and Fairy rose into the air. "We will see you soon, Spirit Calle. Be safe." They flew out of the window. Miki made her apologies and left as well.

Calle sat back down and watched his sleeping friend. Vegard looked more peaceful than he'd looked in a long time and most of the swollen bruises were gone from his face. Calle rested his chin on his hand and said softly, "Fy faen, Vegard Ylvisåker, how did we get mixed up in all of this?"

Chapter Text

The next morning the fairies returned to work their healing magic over Vegard. When they were finished he could breathe pain free and was able to take some wobbly steps with his nurse's help, and by noon he felt his strength returning. After lunch the nurse's aide shooed Calle out of the room and helped Vegard shower and get dressed in some comfortable scrubs.

Calle returned freshly showered and wearing clean fatigues. Vegard realized Calle hadn't changed since the rescue and told him he ought to have done so.

Calle shook his head and slid back into his chair. "I promised Mio not to let you out of my sight. Besides, you love the manly smell of my unwashed body. I can tell."

Vegard watched the aide leave the room and eyed him warily. He knew Calle well enough to know something was afoot. "What's going on?"

"We're going to get Bård."

"Get him? I thought you said he was safe."

Calle grinned. "He is, don't worry."

"The last thing I remember hearing from his head… he was a little distraught."

Calle's smile faded. "You mentioned that back on the giant turtle head."

Vegard chewed his lip. "That demon drove him to despair and… maybe he thought he was being heroic by wanting to take Bob down with him. I've been a little scared all this time that something… very bad… happened with Bård and you just aren't telling me."

"Nei, nei, you know the real story. And I wouldn't lie to your mother. Well. At least not about this."

"You said he was unconscious? Like in a coma?"

"Mio said he would be asleep while you recovered. Don't worry."

Vegard sighed. As his physical injuries had healed his worry for Bård had grown exponentially. And the morphine had dulled the worry to some extent. For that he felt a little guilty; he really should have been doubled with worry this entire time. Regardless, now he was truly desperate to see Bård for himself.

Nurse Haugen came into the room with a wheelchair. She disconnected Vegard's remaining IV lines and helped him into a robe and slippers and then into the chair.

Calle remarked casually, "You look a bit Scandinavian. You're as blond as I am."

Nurse Haugen replied, "My grandparents were from Norway. They came over after World War II. I grew up in Minnesota."

"Since we are probably cousins, I can tell you that the night nurse said I could push Vegard's wheelchair."

She smiled and said, "I wasn't born yesterday, sir."

Vegard added, "If you let him push the chair he'll roll me into the ocean and laugh and point as I drown."

"Hm."

Calle rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't point. Much."

The nurse did allow Calle to ride in the military ambulance with them, and Vegard was glad of his company. When they arrived, and the back door was opened by two armed military police, Calle jumped out of the van and almost immediately let out a startled "What the fuck?!"

Vegard craned his neck to see. "What is it?"

Calle shook his head wordlessly and beckoned to Vegard.

As the van's lift lowered his wheelchair to the ground, a roar went up from a nearby crowd of people. Vegard shrunk back instinctively and his nurse patted his shoulder. She leaned down and said, "There was no way to keep the crowds away; it's too big to hide. But you have many people guarding you, more than you can see here. I'll be sure the way out is blocked from view when we leave. Do you want a blanket to put over your head?"

Vegard desperately wanted an entire pile of blankets to hide beneath but he shook his head. After everything that had happened there was no point in being a coward now. "No, it's fine. I'm used to big crowds looking at me. Helvete."

She put a folded blanket in his lap. "Just in case. Here we go."

When they left the shelter of the doors of the van, Vegard didn't really notice the people gathered. Because, as Calle had said, what the fuck? Before him was an immense mound of white shiny fabric. Under it he could see the shape of the rock dragon, crouched on the ground, positioned like a sleeping cat, its two long necks wound around itself. Atop that was an enormous figure, also swathed in white, which was at least double the height of the crouching dragon.

"Brother Vegard?"

Vegard startled and realized the fairies were hovering next to him atop Fairy. He also realized his mouth was hanging open. He shut it. "What is that thing on top of Bård?"

"It is Mothra. She is ready to emerge from her cocoon. The people here have been awaiting her rebirth. And she has been waiting for you."

Calle turned and grinned at him. "You see that? She was a caterpillar! Now she's becoming a butterfly!"

Vegard said absently, "Moth. But what about Bård?"

From behind them Magnus said, "He's inside. Hey Vegard. Hey Calle."

Calle turned to give Magnus a high five. The fairies nodded. "Follow us! You need to be with your brother when Mothra awakens."

Surrounded by their armed escort, the nurse rolled Vegard up to the side of the dragon where a careful flap had been cut into the wall of the gigantic cocoon. From there they put him into a harness and hoisted him up to the dragon's back. Vegard felt a little embarrassed about it, but he didn't protest. At the top, a half dozen military personnel awaited them, including Colonel Sheppard, Miki, Koji and Mio. Despite the crowd outside, it was very quiet and dark inside. The roof of the cocoon rose high above them, joining with Mothra's tall chrysalis.

Vegard's nurse guided him to a seat waiting for him. He realized some of the people that had waited for him were speaking to him but he couldn't tear his attention away from Bård. He was standing motionless, completely encased in the white silk, held in place by shimmering fibers glued to the ceiling and chrysalis above and the dragon's back below. Vegard expected only he would recognize the figure as his brother. But it was definitely Bård.

Vegard said, "He isn't moving. He isn't breathing."

The fairies landed their mount on Vegard's lap. "He will awaken with Mothra. The evil spirit is still inside him. Are you ready?"

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Mothra will pull him out of Brother Bård's body. You must hold onto Bård's consciousness here with the golem so the evil spirit doesn't take it with him."

"How do I do that?"

Mio said gently, "Concentrate."

Vegard looked at Calle and said in Norwegian, "This is scary."

"Just do your magical brother thing."

"I don't know what that is."

"Then do your bossy older brother thing. That's a thing."

Magnus added, "From what Mio told me, you just imagine you are sitting on him so he can't get pulled away."

Mio said, "When you feel your brother start to awaken, let him know you are here so he has something to latch onto."

Vegard looked at Mio. "Okay, give me a few seconds and then go." He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind. "Bård? Wake up."

The fairies joined hands and began to sing as their mount flew them upwards:

You, child of the sun
You, child of the light
A mature Moth, now awaken
O Mothra, our Guardian Angel
Awaken! And with you bring
Courage, Wisdom and Love

Mothra began pushing her way out of her encasement and at the same time green fire began shooting out of a multitude of holes in Bård's casing. Vegard opened his eyes when he heard Bård let out a muffled grunt.

Mio put a restraining hand on Vegard's shoulder when he tried to stand and move to his brother. "Not yet. Wait a few more moments."

Mio's grip was surprisingly strong, which was just as well because when Bård began screaming Vegard found it impossible not to struggle against her. Calle grabbed his arm as well and shouted, "Wait! It's not him. That's the demon!"

The green flames of what Vegard thought must be Bob's spirit drew away from Bård in long tendrils up toward Mothra, and as they did so they burned through the silk that had trapped him, exposing his face and body. He was still in his armor and his face was red with fury. As Bob's bilious spirit was torn away, it clung to Bård with grasping fingers. Mothra won the tug-of-war in the end though, and as the last of the fire pulled away and upwards Bård fell to the ground, senseless.

Mothra shrieked and Vegard looked up. Her new form wasn't fluffy as it had been before. Now she was silvery and sleek, and the green fire swirled around her head. Vegard could see the fairies zipping over and around her. In his head Vegard heard Mothra whisper, "I'll return soon. Be strong!" and the warmth and comfort in her voice was so reassuring his vision blurred with tears. He wiped them away as she unfolded her enormous wings, tearing through the outer layers of the cocoon.

Now Vegard could hear the chanting and shouting of the masses of people outside. Mothra trilled again and beat her wings, rising into the air and out of sight, followed by the fairies.

The spell broken, Vegard pulled away from Mio and Calle and knelt in front of his brother. Nurse Haugen had rushed over when Bård fell and was checking him as well. Vegard put a hand to his brother's cheek; the black veins were gone but his skin was cold. Is this what Mothra had meant by telling him to be strong? Did she know Bård was dead? He said numbly, "I can barely feel his mind… he's not talking to me. And he's cold."

The nurse looked up. "No pulse. We'll start CPR."

Mio held up a hand. "Stop, he's not dead. His body is merely frozen in time." She knelt beside him and pressed her hands onto the rock of the dragon's back. It glowed beneath her palms and pushed upwards, coalescing into a ball. She pulled it away and showed Vegard the now smoothly polished, perfectly spherical stone, the size of a small apple. "You need to guide him back to his body. His soul is inside this."

Vegard swallowed hard. "He's inside that ball?" He closed his eyes, concentrating on Bård's mind. It felt close by but muffled.

Magnus grunted, "Like a Pokémon?"

Mio frowned, perplexed by the statement. Miki smiled and said, "Yes, like a Pokémon."

Calle said, "What the hell is a Pokémon?"

Magnus answered, "You don't know about it? It's a kid's thing. It's like cockfighting… but with cute anime monsters."

"That's insane."

"It's Japan."

Calle looked at Miki. She shrugged. "The Japanese people can be very creative."

They all looked back at Vegard, who was still frowning with concentration. He finally opened his eyes and sat down crosslegged on the granite next to Bård and the nurse. His heart was pounding so loudly with fear and anticipation he thought the others must be able to hear. He looked up at Mio and said, "Tell me what to do."

Mio carefully gave Vegard the reliquary and he looked at it curiously. It felt strangely warm. He said, "I still don't know what to do."

Mio said gently, "Just sing to awaken his spirit, as the fairies did with Mothra. They said to use your own song; whatever feels right."

"Okay?"

"One other thing. When he wakes he will be very confused. Let him hold onto your mind. The confusion will pass."

"Okay." Vegard glanced at Calle and Miki while he thought about what to sing. He thought Bård deserved something pretty, and it might take a bit of time to build up the spell.

He drew a long, calming breath and began to sing. As he did his skin and the stone orb glowed with a warm yellow light.

 YouTube Link to Vegard's Song to PokéBård

Do you hear my voice?                                        (Hører du min stemme?)
Can you hear me through this warforged stone? (Du er låst i stein og metall)
A prisoner                                                          (Du er fangen av)
To a wrathful spirit dark and old                        (Én ånden mørk og gammel)
You were betrayed                                              (Du har blitt forrådt)
Be restored to life, back to flesh and bone          (Du ble såret av en djevel brutalt)
Don't be afraid                                                    (Ikke vær redd)
Feel the fire, warm this marble cold                    (Varme denne marmor kaldt)

Reach for my hand                                              (Ta min hånd)
Break out                                                            (Bryte fri)
Break free                                                           (Bryte fri)
I'll be your beacon                                              (Jeg skal lede deg hjem)
Come home
Come back                                                         (Alltid)
To me                                                                 (Alltid)

I hear you now                                                    (Jeg hører du nå)
Take a breath and you will be born anew             (Pust og ikke forlat meg)
Do not let go                                                       (Ikke la gå)
My brother I have chosen you                              (Min bror, jeg velder deg)

 

The light from his spell coalesced around the stone sphere and grew so bright that Calle and the others had to look away. When the light finally faded Bård was sitting up and Vegard was murmuring softly as Bård clung to him in a tight embrace. Calle and the nurse moved forward to help.

Colonel Sheppard stepped forward as well and said gently, "Sorry to intrude, but Miki here said we should witness the evil spirit go and the man return. Otherwise we'd have to lock him up. It's pretty clear the evil guy is gone now." Sheppard glanced at the others and leaned in. He said softly, "If it makes you feel better, I got possessed by a spirit a few years ago. And they let me run the airbase now; all is forgiven."

Calle whispered, "How common is it for people to get possessed around here?"

Sheppard shrugged. "You'd be surprised."

Vegard glanced up at the other people watching them. Bård's mind was a confused jumble. He knew Bård wouldn't want people to see him like that. He met eyes with the Calle. "Could we have some privacy? Just for a few minutes?"

"Of course." They quietly withdrew to where the rest of the witnesses stood, a few meters to the other side of the now completely inanimate dragon's massive shoulders. The nurse stayed and checked Bård's pulse. He didn't seem to realize she was there.

Bård was trembling despite the blankets Nurse Haugen draped over his shoulders. Where his face touched Vegard's neck he was still deathly cold.

Vegard murmured, "You're safe now." He sucked in a breath as he was suddenly bombarded with Bård's more coherent but still frantic thoughts. He could barely keep up.

B: I couldn't stop it from killing all those people.
V: I know.
B: I tried to kill you.
V: Bob tried to kill me.
B: It was my fault.
V: No, it wasn't.
B: I let it in.
V: It tricked you.
B: I could hear you, and see you but you couldn't hear me. That wasn't me.
V: I know.
B: I said terrible things to you. I did terrible things to you. I tried to kill you.
V: Not you.
B: You should be dead.
V: No.
B: You died.
V: I got better.
B: I don't know what is real and what is in my head.
V: This is real.
B: I'm dangerous.
V: Not to me.
B: I killed those people. I can feel the blood on my hands.
V: Bob did that. Not you.
B: I'm sorry forgive me…

Vegard realized Bård wasn't listening to his side of the mental conversation. He sighed and rubbed Bård's back, still covered in chain mail. The armor reminded him how ludicrous this situation really was; he couldn't decide whether he should laugh hysterically or scream with anger. Perhaps both?

Instead, he said out loud, "You have nothing to apologize for. I swear I'm telling you the truth."

Bård was silent for a long moment, and then he began trembling more violently. His teeth were chattering.

Vegard looked up towards Nurse Haugen, who was checking Bård's temperature with an ear thermometer. She glanced at him. "His temperature is coming up. The shivering is normal."

Vegard nodded said softly, "Bård, listen to me, calm down. You're okay. You're safe."

Bård shook his head and began to sob hoarsely, blasting Vegard's mind with a wave of terror, fury and relief. Vegard thought of Mio's advice and just held him close, reassuring him that he wouldn't leave him.

The nurse approached them gingerly and suggested gently to Vegard that they move to somewhere safer and more private. Vegard reluctantly agreed, and he was relieved that the military people seemed satisfied Bård was back to himself. Most of them left quickly as Nurse Haugen continued to tend to Bård. Vegard wondered at her restraint and composure in this bizarre situation; he'd have to ask her about it later.

Colonel Sheppard was the last VIP to leave and before he did so he knelt down beside the brothers and said softly, "It's gonna take him a while to get over this. When it happened to me I shot a good friend of mine and it's tough to come to terms with that. If you or he wants to talk about this, I'm here for you two. It's the least I can do."

"Thank you, sir."

Sheppard patted Vegard on the shoulder and disappeared down the ladder. From the torrent of self-blame and apology pouring from Bård's mind Vegard felt fairly sure Bård had been completely unaware of the exchange. That was just as well.

Vegard knew Bård wouldn't recover from the nightmare of the last few weeks easily, but Bård was tough… and he was alive. He met eyes with Calle and Magnus, both watching them with undisguised worry.

Vegard kissed the side of his brother's head and hugged him more tightly. The important thing was that he finally had Bård back. They would fix this.

Somehow.

Chapter Text

"Bård, human, hear me! Your brother is safely away from here. Stop moving. He cannot force you any longer if you resist."

For the first time since he'd been imprisoned inside the stone dragon, Bård felt a flicker of hope return. He willed the stone to stop moving, and the golem sank down to the ground. He didn't have fine enough control over the golem to crush Bob without hurting Mio, but surely there was a way to destroy the demon.

He distantly realized that Vegard could finally hear his thoughts again. Vegard was terribly injured. He was dying. Bob had killed him with Bård's hands. Bård could still feel the sensation of Vegard's finger snapping. Every blow he'd landed on Vegard's body reverberated in his own. Bård was vastly relieved that, at least, was over. Now he just had to find a way to end his own torment, provided he could take Bob with him to Hell.

Blueberry's soft and calming voice intruded on his thoughts, washing away his anger and fear in a soothing wave. She whispered, "I'm here with you. Go to sleep. I will watch over you." And so he did.

Then it was morning, but Bård didn't open his eyes. He didn't want to wake up just yet. The sheets were soft against his skin and the bed was deliciously comfortable. He opened one eye and closed it again, not ready to face the sun streaming in through the large open window and onto the white linens of the bed. The sweet smell of the summer morning breeze washed over him and he let out a lazy sigh of contentment. He could hear his family, already in the kitchen, making breakfast. He felt a little guilty for oversleeping, but he was so cozy. He would just stay here another few minutes.

He snuggled his face against the soft pillow and then frowned. He thought he heard Vegard's voice. He was singing. Then he was calling to him. Was Vegard here for breakfast?

The door opened and Vegard stuck his head in the room. The hall behind him was flooded with too bright light. "Bård? Did you hear my voice? I was calling you."

Bård pulled another pillow over his head and mumbled, "Just a few more minutes."

"Come on, it's time to come back to me. Come back to the real world."

Bård opened his eyes and pulled the pillow off of his head. He startled and sat up, terrified. The walls of the room were dark stone and splattered everywhere with blood. The smell of summer had been replaced with the foul smell of blood and rotting meat. He turned to look at Vegard for help and drew back. Vegard was drenched in blood as well and he was holding the limp body of the little Japanese girl in his arms. His right eye was swollen completely shut and his hair was matted with blood and bits of flesh. He took a step forward accompanied by a heavy metallic clank; Bård realized his brother's body was heavy with thick chains.

Bård cried out, "Did I do all of this?!"

Vegard smiled at him encouragingly, his white teeth a grotesque contrast to his torn and bloodied skin. He held out his hand, "Come with me. You're safe now." Bård looked at the hand; Vegard's little finger was broken and projecting at a horribly wrong angle.

Bård shook his head and backed up in the bed, pressing against the headboard. He looked down. He wasn't in a bed. He was sitting on a pile of twisted, dead bodies, some of them still warm. He recognized them. Men, women and children. He remembered killing them. He remembered the feeling of their hot blood spurting over his hands. He began screaming.

Vegard's mangled hand closed around his wrist. "You're safe now. Come back with me."

There was a rush of wind and then suddenly the bright light was gone. It was dark. He was cold. In the darkness he could just make out Vegard, looking whole and grown-up and murmuring, "You're safe. I'm here." Ah. It had only been a nightmare. All just a terrible, stupid nightmare.

Bård flung himself forward and into Vegard's embrace. Vegard seemed too small. How could that be? Oh. They were adults now. Okay. Bård tried to speak. He wanted to say, "Please forgive me," but he hadn't used his own voice in several weeks. It came out as "Varsnshnlldbleshh." Vegard seemed to understand.

Why was he so cold? He was shivering. Vegard's neck against his face and his back against his hands felt feverishly hot. Maybe all of this was a hallucination. A fever had caused the nightmare. No, wait, he could feel Vegard's concern for him. He could feel the cold edge of the chain mail against his wrists. It wasn't a dream. He wasn't a child any more. He was a monster, just as his mother had discovered in the shed. When he'd killed Vegard. This was real and he was a monster after all.

And then all he could think about was what Bob had made him do. He couldn't tell Vegard how sorry he was fast or earnestly enough. He was ashamed he had killed Vegard again. He didn't deserve to be alive. No, Vegard would forgive him. He always did. Stupid Vegard. Bård clutched at his brother and psychically wailed at him.

Vegard was telling him to be quiet. He was always bossing him around. Fucking stupid know-it-all Vegard. Wait, was Mamma coming? She would be angry he'd killed his brother. Bård swallowed heavily. His mouth was dry and tasted awful. What had he eaten? When had he eaten? He couldn't remember. The last time he'd had anything in his mouth it had been that knife. He'd pulled it out of that woman's bashed-in skull and then ran his tongue along the blade, tasting the coppery tang of her blood and brains. Oh god.

Now he was vomiting and he vaguely realized there were other people around them. Vegard wasn't angry with him for puking all over him, and that was a relief. Someone was wiping his face and he pushed the hand away. He realized again that he was still wearing the chainmail and it was icy cold. He wanted it off. He had to get it off. It was killing him. He pulled at it. Bob had willed the armor into existence around him and he didn't know how to get it off. There were no zippers or buckles. He begged Vegard to help him. He thought he might be screaming again. Someone was screaming. Was that his voice? It sounded strange.

Vegard's voice came through his head, clear and strong, "Bård! Listen to me! Stop fighting me, Bård. We'll cut the armor off of you but stop fighting."

B: I want it off! It's freezing me! It's covered in blood!
V: Hang on. We'll get you to the hospital and we can get you all cleaned up and…
B: No, get it off of me now! Hurry, Mamma is coming.
V: Fine, fine. We will. We are. Just stay still.
B: I'm so cold.
V: We'll get you warmed up as soon as we get this off.
B: Am I dying?
V: No.
B: I deserve to die.
V: No you don't. Hold still.
B: I killed those people.
V: Almost there, hold still.
B: I killed them all.
V: We're pulling the snake's fangs out of your shoulder.
B: Just pull them off. I want it all off. It's poison.
V: Hold still. Okay, there. Let us wrap you up in blankets.
B: Don't let go of me. I'll die if you let go.
V: I won't.
B: I'll hate you forever.
V: I won't.
B: Don't let go. I'll fucking kill you if you let go.
V: I won't. You're safe.
B: I'm sorry. I love you. Don't tell Mamma I said that. Don't let go.
V: I've got you.

Now they were in an ambulance. He was lying on a stretcher and Vegard was standing on his left, his hand protectively resting on his shoulder. His arm hurt. Bård blinked up at a blond woman about his age in army fatigues; she had wrapped a rubber tube around his left upper arm and was holding a needle. Was she going to draw blood? Or give him a drug? Bård looked frantically at Vegard and said, "No. Don't let them kidnap us again."

Vegard let out a sigh of relief. "I was worried you couldn't speak out loud properly. Your speech has been so garbled."

Bård tried to pull away from the nurse and realized he was strapped to the gurney. No. He wouldn't let this nightmare start over. He thrashed against the restraints and Vegard was suddenly over him saying, "Hold still. She just wants to give you some fluids; you're dehydrated."

"Don't let them drug me. No I.V. Vegard. Listen to me. Help me this time. Don't let them get away with it like you did with the yakuza. You're so fucking useless."

Vegard frowned, obviously hurt by the reminder, and looked at the nurse. He asked in English. "Could we wait a little while, until he gets his bearings a bit more? He thinks we're back with the yakuza."

The nurse studied the two of them and then nodded. She pulled off the tourniquet and said, "I was going to give him a sedative through the I.V. but I could just give it as a shot." She pulled the blanket snugly back over Bård's arm and tucked its edge under the gurney's foam mattress. Bård's arm was now as trapped as the rest of his body and his panic escalated.

Bård shouted in English, "No drugs! Please! Vegard, tell her!"

The guard in the front passenger seat asked, "Do you want me to come back there to hold him down?"

Vegard leaned protectively over Bård's body. "No, please, don't. He's just frightened and confused. He knows me. He'll be okay, please." Vegard looked down and said urgently in Norwegian, "Calm yourself down. They worry you will hurt yourself. Be calm and they'll leave you alone."

Bård nodded, still terrified, but he could pretend to be calm. He had a lot of practice at pretending to be calm. He drew in a long breath and looked at the nurse. She studied him, but nodded and withdrew to the seat across from the gurney. There was a grey cat sitting on the shelf above her. It looked familiar. That was odd.

"Bård."

Bård looked back up at his brother. Vegard was leaning over him, bracing himself against the movement of the ambulance by gripping the edges of the gurney. He looked terrible. He was pale and sweating. There were fading bruises around his right eye. Bård remembered giving him the bruises. Stupid Vegard. Why didn't he run?

Bård asked hesitantly, "How long has it been? Since Mio rescued you from me?"

"According to Calle, just a few days." Vegard smoothed the blanket over Bård's chest. "Do you know where you are?"

"In an ambulance."

"That's right."

"I was… in a giant gargoyle. Bob… it was Bob."

"I know. You're free now. Were you suffering inside that rock after Mio took me away?"

Bård shook his head. "No, I was having a really nice dream. I was home. There was breakfast."

"I'm relieved to hear that."

"You ruined breakfast. I had to wake up."

"You're safe now."

Bård thought, "I'm sorry about everything. It's your fault. You made me so angry."

Vegard said, "Speak out loud. You're mind is still jumbled. Concentrate on speaking. Concentrate on the moment."

Bård worked his jaw with resentment. Vegard was so bossy. Why did he have to be the older one? No. Vegard was right. He was confused. There was a flood of horrifying memories and emotions that pressed on him from all sides. He had to stay calm. He had to concentrate. Finally he said, "You look terrible. Sit down."

Vegard smiled. "I refuse."

"Let me loose."

"It's scary enough in here with you belted in properly. What if there is a car accident?"

"You aren't wearing a seatbelt."

"I'm not you."

"That isn't… remotely logical. Let me loose."

Vegard's smile widened. "You know, in the last several weeks, you've been strapped to a bed against your will several times. But I admit I like this."

Bård sucked in a breath, horrified. "Vegard wouldn't say such a thing to me. He wouldn't want to see me suffer. Not like this. Not now."

Vegard sobered abruptly. "Fy faen, that's not what I meant!"

"Take your hands off of me, Bob. You made me kill him."

Vegard pulled away as if he'd been burned. "Nei, nei, nei… Bård, it's me."

Bård swallowed hard and turned his head away from Vegard. He shut his eyes tight. He had to hang onto his sanity long enough to get back at Bob. He'd make Bob pay.

V: I swear to you. I didn't mean-
B: Get away from me. I'll kill you for this. For everything. For everyone.
V: Listen to me.
B: You aren't real.
V: I meant that seeing you like this upset me before, but right now I feel reassured knowing you can't run off and get into trouble. That you are free now.
B: You aren't real. I killed you.
V: Of course you didn't.
B: You died. I saw you die.
V: Of course I didn't die. But now I know you're safe. It's a relief. That's all I meant.
B: Go away. You're dead.
V: What can I say to make you believe me?
B: Nothing.

Vegard remained silent for a long moment. Then he asked aloud, "You want to make Bob pay for this?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Wasn't it your desire for revenge that got you into this trouble to begin with?"

Bård sucked in a breath and turned to look back at his brother. Bob wouldn't say that, would he?

Vegard said softly, "I'm sorry. That was unfair. But…"

"Don't apologize."

Vegard frowned and pulled up the edge of the blanket, freeing Bård's hand. He grasped it. "Don't tell me what to do, lillebror. I'm sorry. For all of this."

"Nei, I'm sorry. I remember beating you up. You still look terrible. Your idiot face is all bruised."

"It wasn't you." Vegard smiled at him. It was the smile he gave fat old women when he told them they were still pretty, despite all evidence to the contrary. Surely Bob wouldn't be capable of such a ridiculous smile. Such an unnecessary kindness. Maybe this wasn't Bob.

Vegard added, "I can prove it wasn't you. Bob almost beat me to death. You, in contrast, are terrible at beating me up. You've never punctured even one of my lungs. It's an embarrassment, really. You should try harder next time."

"You are truly stupid, Vegard."

"Yep."

The driver said suddenly, "Captain Haugen, we're almost there."

The nurse thanked the driver and stood next to Vegard. But she didn't tell Vegard to sit back down, for which Bård was grateful. Maybe these were truly allies. Maybe this was the real world. There was no way to know for sure. There never would be.

Chapter Text

Once they arrived back at the air base, the medics wheeled Bård up to a room big enough for both brothers and moved him into one of the beds. Bård was still obviously confused, and was mumbling to himself, but being freed of the stretcher had definitely relaxed him. Vegard refused to leave Bård's side, which meant that he ended up sitting on one side of the bed while Nurse Haugen tended to his brother from the other. Calle and Magnus installed themselves in chairs in the corner of the room and refused to leave. Which was fine with Vegard.

Nurse Haugen was fussing with Bård, looking into his eyes with a penlight and listening to his heart and such, when Calle said, "Nurse? Vegard is too polite to ask, but I'm not. Why aren't you freaking out from all the weirdness?"

The nurse looked up. "Are you asking me seriously?"

Calle and Magnus nodded.

She glanced around. All four men were watching her carefully. She put down her stethoscope. "I'm from a unit that deals with unusual situations. As Commander Aso likes to say, this isn't my first rodeo."

Magnus asked, "So are ghosts real?"

Calle smacked Magnus's arm with the back of his hand. "What kind of question is that?"

"It was the first weird thing I could think of?"

Bård asked, "Are they? Are ghosts real? Do they haunt their murderers?"

Vegard turned to Bård with surprise. He hadn't thought Bård was aware of what was going on around him. He rubbed Bård's forearm sympathetically. Poor kid.

Nurse Haugen looked kindly at Bård. "I've never seen a ghost. I have seen some giant flying moths. And fairies. And some other things I can't tell you about."

Magnus asked, "What about aliens?"

The nurse winked at him. "I can neither confirm nor deny that."

Magnus let out an awestruck, "Cool!"

Calle said, "Well, I'm impressed with you. And no offense, but I thought Americans only let doctors be in charge."

"I trained as a nurse practitioner, actually, that gives me more seniority. And I have more experience with unusual cases like yours than anyone else in Japan."

"So what did you think of all this?"

"It's been my experience that whenever magic is involved, everything I think I know goes out the window."

Magnus asked, "What about when aliens are involved?"

She raised a brow. "That's classified. Now be quiet and let me work. I think Vegard needs to change into clean bedclothes, and I think Bård wants to have a bath or a shower? And perhaps a shave?"

"Yes, please." Bård looked up at her, his blue eyes round. Vegard thought he looked like he did when he was about ten. Oi, oi, Bård was a mess.

Vegard offered, "Go ahead and shower. I can change on my own out here."

As soon as Bård and the nurse disappeared into the attached bathroom Calle and Magnus both leapt to their feet to help Vegard walk to his own bed. He picked up the neatly folded t-shirt and sweatpants the nurse had put out for him. He asked, "Do you think Nurse Haugen might be telepathic? I was just thinking I wanted to change into this."

Calle sighed, saying, "I'm beginning to feel I'm the only person in Japan without superpowers."

Magnus asked, "What's going on with Bård? Is he brain damaged?"

Vegard had a headache. His hand hurt. He felt nauseated. He rubbed the back of his neck; he could feel the knots he'd developed from the stress. He just wanted to lie down. He asked, "Why is everyone obsessed with brain damage?"

Magnus said, "He seems a little brain damaged."

"He's just confused. I think he was dead for a while. He's confused about when and where he is. He isn't any less intelligent."

Calle helped Vegard struggle into the t-shirt. He asked softly, "Does Bård remember what happened?"

"Yeah."

"Jesus Christ."

"I'm worried about him."

Magnus asked, "What can we do?" Vegard could see Magnus was terribly upset; he'd always openly idolized Bård.

But Vegard was tired and his whole body ached. He couldn't take care of anyone except Bård. Not Magnus. Not even himself. He pushed a hand through his hair. He wanted another shower. "I don't know what to do."

Calle took Vegard's arm and gently pushed him down onto his bed. "I do. You just rest here. You are dead-tired. I will go hunt down my radio buddy with the military comm laptop. We'll set up a call home. Even if Bård is too confused to talk it will be good for you. Your family will be relieved to see both of you are alive and awake. Your mother doesn't seem to believe me about that."

Vegard let out a breath. "I would really like that."

Calle clapped Magnus on the arm. "Come on, sidekick-of-the-sidekick."

Magnus protested, "I think I am a first tier sidekick, actually. Or, first-and-a-half?"

"To those two, of course." Calle waved dismissively down at Vegard. "But I am Mio's sidekick these days. And you are my sidekick."

"Is that a promotion, do you think?"

"Yes, my son. It is. Come! We have a mission! We shall phone the Fatherland!"

Magnus brightened and the two of them left with a promise to return soon.

Vegard leapt out of bed and back into the bedside lounger the moment Bård emerged from the bathroom. Bård looked more relaxed, and he was infinitely more so after Nurse Haugen helped him shave away the evil beard. Bård held Vegard's hand throughout the process, evidently unashamed to be doing so in front of the nurse. From some of Bård's comments Vegard expected Bård was still confused about how old they were. That was fine. Bård was alive and free and a human and maybe things would start to go back to normal. Whatever that was.

After Bård was situated properly, Nurse Haugen looked critically at Vegard. "You need to rest."

"I feel more relaxed being close... I mean near to him in space... to my brother. He does too, I can tell."

"Hm. You can sit here bit longer." She pushed a pillow behind Vegard's head and excused herself to clean up and fetch food for the brothers. When the door closed behind her Bård squeezed Vegard's hand tightly.

Vegard frowned, "What's wrong?"

"Do I look calm?"

"You do."

Bård swallowed heavily and looked at the ceiling. "I feel like screaming. But I don't want them to sedate me. I don't want this to start over."

"I won't let them drug you if you don't want it. But you must let them hook you up to an I.V." He pointed to the I.V. heplock in his own forearm. "This isn't the yakusa. I promise you. From what I can tell you haven't had anything to eat or drink in at least three days."

Bård squeezed his eyes shut. "Don't talk about eating. I'll vomit again."

"Okay. But you have to let them help you."

Bård thought, "You can't imagine the horrible things I did…"

"Speak out loud. And I don't have to imagine. I saw. You did some of them to me. And you were showing me the horrible things on the way here." Vegard tapped his own temple. "It's in here."

Bård looked sharply at Vegard. "Was I?"

"I want to help you; this wasn't your fault."

Bård looked back at the ceiling. Vegard felt Bård putting a wall up between them.

"What are you doing? I can't see in your head."

"I don't want you to see the horrible things."

"Don't shut me out. This is not a good time to shut me out."

Bård swallowed hard. "Is Mothra coming back?"

"Yes. She said to be strong until she does."

"When she returns, if I'm not lucid, make her cut off the connection between us."

Vegard sucked in a breath. "I refuse."

"You're an idiot to want to see this horror."

"It has been my lifelong job to be your idiot. I probably deserve a raise."

Bård frowned at Vegard and said angrily, "No, I should fire you. If you stay away from me it will probably save your stupid life."

"You can't fire me. We've discussed this."

"I can't bear to let you see this. To let anyone see this."

Vegard said gently, "There's no point in cutting the connection. We were practically telepathic before any of this started."

"It's not the same and you know it. Jesus."

"You need to keep the flow going between us so you can see… so I can prove to you… that I know you're still a good person."

"Fy faen, Vegard. You're so stupid sometimes that I want to punch you."

Vegard felt his patience give way. He grunted, "Fine. Then punch me. Again. I can obviously take it." Vegard motioned to his face. "Give me your best shot. Make my left eye match the right. Or here," Vegard held out his bandaged hand. "Break another finger."

Bård narrowed his eyes at Vegard. Vegard stared back at him defiantly. They were still staring daggers at each other when there was a knock on the door. Calle peeked in, holding an open laptop. "Is the coast clear?"

Vegard stood and grimaced. "Maybe now isn't the best time to…"

Calle walked in, followed by Magnus. He looked down at the laptop and grinned. "The call is going through. Sit down."

Bård frowned, "What is this?"

Vegard sighed. "Time for your best behavior. I think we are about to Skype with Mamma."

"What?!"

Calle handed the laptop to Magnus and turned Vegard's chair to face away from Bård's bed. Then he looked carefully at the brothers, to make sure Bård would be visible behind Vegard, and said, "My friend said the connection should be secure but it would be best not to say any things that are classified." He put the laptop onto a rolling table in front of Vegard.

"What things are classified?"

"I don't know. Secret things? Do you know anything secret?"

"I don't know." Vegard looked down at the screen. The video feed flickered into life and he was looking into Bård's living room back home. Not only was their mother there, but both of their wives and Bård's oldest daughter. There was a brief delay and then the scene erupted in shouts of joy immediately followed by a chorus of female weeping.

Vegard glanced up at Calle, who looked incredibly pleased with himself, and motioned for him and Magnus to leave. Which they did.

Vegard had no idea what Bård was doing behind him, but he smiled at the screen. This was no time to let the family see them fighting. "Hei, hei!"

 

* * *

 

Fifteen minutes later they were still on the call. Vegard hadn't said too much, as the women had been speaking over one another asking a million frantic questions. Vegard found he was doing all the talking at his end, as Bård had motioned to his throat and croaked out an excuse about his voice being gone. That was fine. Likely Bård was afraid he'd say something upsetting. Vegard could understand that. Regardless, Vegard knew Bård felt as relieved as he was to see their loved ones safe and sound.

Vegard was also relieved to hear that when the bizarre worldwide attack had reached Norway the entire family had retreated to a friend's cabin armed with rifles and canned goods. Vegard ached at the thought of his family in fear while he was away, but his wife assured him the children were all terribly brave and would be fine.

Evidently Bård and Vegard had been on the news back at home as well, as someone had gotten footage of them climbing onto Mothra back on the day of the big fight with Jormungand. Once Tokyo had gotten back on the grid the clip had been uploaded to YouTube. (Vegard wondered how the military kept any secrets with the public so hungry for YouTube celebrity.) Then today Vegard and Calle had been filmed as they got out of the ambulance underneath Mothra's cocoon. Bård seemed to have thankfully escaped notice. Bård's daughter wanted to know if she could ride on or at least meet Mothra and Vegard promised to ask on her behalf. Their mother wanted details of their injuries, but Vegard dodged the question by saying neither of them could remember what happened but they were doing well now. The wives wanted to know when they were returning. Vegard had looked back at Bård for help on that one, but Bård had just shrugged.

Fortunately Nurse Haugen returned with meals on a cart and she gently told the family watching from the other side of the planet that the men were still recovering and needed to eat and rest. After much protest from home and many heartfelt expressions of affection Vegard signed off.

He let out a long sigh of relief; although he'd been infinitely happy to see everyone he didn't like having to lie to their family. But he knew they couldn't talk about Bård's ordeal to the family until they were home. Even then, he wasn't sure what they'd do. He turned to the nurse. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me. Eat. Then I need to hook you back up to your I.V. and you are going to bed." She took away the laptop and rolled the food tray up to him. She turned to Bård.

Bård said softly, "I'm not hungry."

Vegard said simply, "If you don't eat I'll sit on you myself and help them put in the I.V."

Bård grunted. "Fuck off."

Twenty minutes later Bård was back in restraints and had an I.V. going into his left arm. As the orderlies who'd helped subdue him left the room, Bård howled with anger at Vegard, "Vegard, you're a fucking traitor!"

Vegard picked up his fork and took a mouthful of the now cold potatoes on his plate. He said calmly in English, "Nurse Haugen, do you think he should have a sedative?"

Bård hissed in Norwegian, "I will kill you if you let them drug me! You idiot! Do you want to die? You fucking quisling!"

Nurse Haugen pushed her white blond hair back into place; it had gotten a bit rumpled in the struggle. "I think he needs the sleep."

Bård gulped and said contritely in English, "No. I'll be calm. Please. Don't drug me."

"Will you let us feed you?"

"I can't eat any of that. I'll vomit."

"You need to try."

Bård frowned and glared at his brother. "Only if Vegard does it. Make him feed me."

"He needs to rest."

Vegard didn't look up from his plate. "I'll help. Can you get him some porridge or soup? And bread. And napkins. He's bound to spit some of it at me just for spite. Because he is acting like a child." He scooped up a mouthful of green peas. They were pretty good.

Nurse Haugen hesitated and then asked, "Can you read his mind? Will he really cooperate?"

Vegard nodded. "Yeah. I'll help."

She sighed and said, "Alrighty. I'll be right back. Ring the bell if he becomes overly agitated again. Do not leave him alone."

As the door closed behind her, Bård growled, "Fuck you, Vegard. Burn in hell."

"Yep." Vegard sighed. He was exhausted.

 

* * *

 

A half-hour later Calle returned to the room alone. Nurse Haugen was sitting in the corner doing paperwork. She seemed busy. So Calle leaned on the wall with his arms folded and watched Vegard feeding porridge to Bård. Bård glanced at him several times and finally asked sourly, "What are you looking at?"

Calle shrugged. "Vegard never ties me up and spoon feeds me baby food. My one fantasy. I'm insanely jealous."

Bård narrowed his eyes at Calle. "I will fucking kill you if you tell anyone about this."

Vegard pushed another spoonful into Bård's mouth and asked, "Where's Magnus?"

"I made him go to bed. I don't think he slept at all watching over Caterpillar Bård on top of Dragon Statue Bård. The kid's all worn out." Calle sighed and flopped into a lounger. "So. What's actually going on here?"

Vegard sighed and wiped Bård's mouth with a napkin. "It was the only way to get him to let us put in an I.V."

"It doesn't look like he let you do anything. Also, you look like shit." He glanced at the nurse. "Can we tie up Vegard next? He needs rest too."

She didn't look up, but said, "I generally dislike putting patients in restraints, but that's an excellent idea. Let me finish writing my notes in their charts here and then I'll call in the orderlies."

Vegard abruptly put down the bowl of porridge and walked briskly to his own bed. He kicked off his slippers and got under the sheets. "I'm resting now."

Calle said dryly, "I'm disappointed. I was going to call this chapter of my autobiography Ylvis in Bondage."

Vegard muttered, "You are a bad man."

Nurse Haugen finished her notes and then looked up at Calle. "Are you staying here tonight again?"

"Until Mio tells me otherwise I'm on Ylvisåker watch duty."

"Good, I'll let the guards know you're staying." She stood and fussed over Vegard a bit and then hung a new IV bag and attached it to Vegard's heplock.

Bård said, "You should really tie him down, you know. He'll just get up when you leave."

Nurse Haugen checked Vegard's pulse and said, "The reason you are in restraints, Bård, is that you were preventing us from treating you because you were agitated and confused. That is not meant to humiliate or punish you. You've been through a terrible ordeal and I'm trying to ensure that you are safe."

Calle met eyes with Vegard and they looked at Bård. He was still staring at the ceiling.

The nurse moved over to Bård's bed, helped him finish eating, reclined his bed back and fluffed his pillows. Vegard didn't have the courage to comment on the process. He didn't want to seem agitated; Nurse Haugen seemed cross and Vegard didn't want to end up tied down like Bård.

Calle lost patience with all the tension in the room and turned on the television. He switched to a Japanese game show where a man dressed as a cat was pushing a woman around in a wheelbarrow on an obstacle course that looked like giant strips of bacon. The commentators were dressed as vegetables and were waist deep in what looked like a vat of pudding. Calle thought the show fit the brothers' situation perfectly. Total insanity.

Finally Nurse Haugen said, "I'll give report to the nurse relieving me; she'll be in to check on you in about twenty minutes. Calle. If you are willing to stay, don't let Bård hurt himself. Don't release him. Call us if he needs to use the washroom. If he becomes agitated, he is getting sedated, regardless of what his brother over there says."

"Yes, ma'am." Calle glanced at Vegard. He looked miserable.

"And I agree that Vegard needs to stay in his bed."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll be sure to sit on him if he tries to be helpful again."

"Hm. Don't take matters into your own hands. It's better to just call us if you are concerned." Nurse Haugen looked down at Bård. "Do you need anything, Bård?"

"A different brother."

She leaned over him and asked kindly, "Let's try again. Do you need anything, Bård?"

He looked up at her, cowed. "No, ma'am."

"Do you understand that these restraints are meant to help you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good." She put the call button in his hand and straightened. "Gentlemen, get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."

After the door closed behind her, Calle kicked off his boots and rested back in his lounger. He said, "Tell me this didn't all happen because of the call home."

Vegard peered at him over the edge of the blanket. "It didn't. The call went fine. Thanks for that."

They both looked at Bård, who was staring resolutely at the ceiling, working his jaw.

Calle asked Vegard, "Is he going to be okay?"

"I don't know. He's angry. I don't blame him. Turn off the television and the lights. I'd better get to sleep. I'm scared of that nurse."

"Me too, but in a sexy way. How old do you think she is? Thirty? Thirty-five?"

"You're very strange sometimes, Spirit Calle."

"I am who I am, Brother Vegard."

Chapter Text

"Nei! Herregud, Vegard!"

Calle woke up abruptly several hours later to the sound of Bård's screaming. Their night nurse, a petite middle-aged woman called Captain Davis was leaning over Bård, trying to calm him.

Bård looked up at her; he was obviously terrified. He began screaming and struggling and calling for his brother to wake up. He begged the nurse to let him loose. One of the guards ran into the room and flipped on the room lights. He moved briskly to the bed and pressed Bård's shoulders back down against the mattress. Calle realized they probably didn't understand Bård; he was screaming in Norwegian. Then Bård shouted, "Calle! Calle, help him! Wake him up! It's killing him!"

Calle looked at Vegard. Vegard was staring blankly at the ceiling. He was drooling, and tears were streaming from his eyes. Calle leapt to his feet and began shaking him. He wasn't breathing. He called to the nurse in English, "Help, please, something's wrong with Vegard!"

Nurse Davis hit a panic button on the wall and another nurse ran into the room and pushed Calle aside. Calle backed up against a wall, feeling helpless as more people ran in, wheeling equipment in with them and huddling over Vegard's body. Helvete, what had happened?

In his dream, Vegard had to pee. He blinked at the ceiling of the hospital room and thought about Nurse Haugen's warning. Would it be okay to get up? He really had to go. He'd get up, surely that would be okay. He wanted to pull back the covers and to stand up. But he couldn't move. He couldn't move his arms for some reason. Something was holding him down. Bård whispered in his ear, "You can't make a sound." Vegard looked over at Bård's bed. Had he gotten loose? No. He was there in his bed. He was staring back at him. He looked frightened. The voice whispered again, "You can't move." It was Bård's voice. No, it was Bob's voice. Vegard looked up and his heart fell into his throat. It was Bob. But now the demon had the body of a snake, a big, heavy snake with with big, heavy dark coils draped over Vegard's body. And it had a human head, with Bård's face and Vegard's hair. It was soaking wet. The water soaked into Vegard's clothes and dripped down onto his face. It smelled like rotting fish. Bob smiled with Bård's blue eyes. The blue eyes glistened in the moonlight streaming in through the hospital room's window, and the snake slit pupils within dilated wide. It said, "I'm killing Her. And when I'm done killing Her I'm coming back to kill everyone and everything you love." It leaned in, until its nose was only millimeters from Vegard's. It flicked a forked tongue over Vegard's face and hissed, "But I can kill you here while he watches. You'll never wake up. But he'll watch you die and for the rest of his long, miserable life he'll remember he couldn't save you. Poor boy. I think it will break his mind completely." The demon's mouth gaped obscenely wide, the teeth elongating and dripping venom onto Vegard's face. Vegard tried to scream, but all he could manage to make were little gasps. Bob drew back high over him, winked slyly at Bård, and then struck, engulfing Vegard's face with its mouth, locking onto his head with its pointed teeth, forcing its slick slithering tongue down into his throat until it pressed against his heart. Vegard couldn't breathe, or choke, or gag, and the poison burned like fire. He could hear Bård screaming, "Nei! Herregud, Vegard!"

And then suddenly his entire body was on fire and he was awake. Dark figures crowded over him. He choked and gagged; there was something down his throat. He couldn't move. He couldn't see Bård, but he could hear him shouting out loud and in his head to wake up. He felt some strength return to his body and he began struggling feebly. Most of the hands on his body pulled away along with gasps of surprise.

A woman's voice asked in English, "Vegard, do you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."

He tried to answer, but his heart was pounding so hard it hurt. His entire body was trembling violently. He was hot. He squeezed the hand. He gagged again.

The hand squeezed his hand back. "Hold on, Vegard. You stopped breathing. You have a breathing tube in your throat. We're removing it. Hold on."

The tube pulled away and he choked and gagged. A man's voice said, "Take some deep breaths. Do your best."

Vegard sucked in a gasping breath.

The man said, "Good job. Keep breathing. I'm giving you some oxygen until your muscles start working better." A breathing mask settled over his face. "Take in a big breath now."

Vegard took a breath. It was difficult. He was so weak.

The woman's voice asked, "Do you know where you are? You're in the hospital. You stopped breathing and your heart was beating too slowly. You're okay now. Squeeze my hand if you understand."

Vegard blinked up at the voice. He couldn't see properly. And the light was blinding. His mouth was bone dry. He tried to say, "Bård?" but it came out as a gravelly cough.

He heard Bård's voice. "Vegard." And then in his head he heard Bård say, "I'm here."
V: Bård! Are you okay?
B: I couldn't help you. I couldn't move."
V: I know.
B: I promise I won't go crazy. Make them let me go.
V: I can't talk yet.
B: We have to stay awake.
V: I know. He said he's killing Blueberry. Send Calle.

Bård said out loud, "Calle, Vegard wants you to find Mio. Bob said he's killing Blueberry."

Calle hesitated and then Vegard heard him say, "Don't die while I'm gone." Vegard heard the door open and close.

V: The light's so bright. I can't see.

Bård said, "Vegard says he can't see."

The woman's voice said gently, "It's a side effect of the medicine we gave you to help your heart beat properly. It will pass."

Vegard wanted to push her away but he was too weak. The pain of the venom in the dream was gone but he was shuddering with the memory of the attack. He tried to wet his lips and croak out, "Let me see Bård." It came out as only a whisper.

The door opened again and Vegard heard Nurse Haugen's voice. She said calmly, "Report."

Nurse Davis began to explain what had happened; she used a lot of technical jargon that was gibberish to Vegard.

V: Jesus. I think I pissed myself.
B: Maybe you died.
V: I want to see you.
B: Yes, I'm working on it.
V: My throat hurts.
B: I've almost got my right hand loose. I'm coming over there.
V: No, don't! You'll get in trouble.
B: Fuck that.

Nurse Haugen said suddenly, "What are you doing, Bård?"

"Vegard's all scared and wants me to come over there. The demon attacked us in our sleep and tried to kill him and make me watch. We are safer together. So I'm getting loose."

Nurse Haugen hesitated and then said, "Hm. I suspect this demon doesn't know our ACLS protocols or it wouldn't have tried something as simple as triggering a cholinergic crisis."

Several of the other people in the room made "Aha!" noises. Vegard blinked up at them. They were still all blurry.

Bård asked softly, "Please. He can't see properly. He can't talk. Can I… May I come sit with him? I'll be good."

"Yes, I think you may." Nurse Haugen took charge and began shooing people out of the room.

When Calle returned an hour later with Mio, the situation in the hospital room had changed dramatically. Bård was free of the restraints and now he was the one sitting beside his brother's bed. He was clutching Vegard's hand with both of his, his eyes so haunted and pitiful that Calle began to lose confidence Bård would make it through all this with his mind intact. Vegard was equally pale and looked utterly spent.

While Mio conferred with Nurse Haugen, Calle sat down carefully on the side of Vegard's bed and explained, "I found Mio camping down on the beach with Gamera and, as it turned out, Magnus, who doesn't listen when I tell him to go to sleep." He gestured at the doorway, filled with Magnus's enormous frame. Magnus shuffled into the room and flopped back down in his chair in the corner. Calle added, "We came back here as fast as we could. Are you okay?"

Vegard shook his head.

Bård said, "He pissed himself. Or, Bob made him piss himself."

"Yeah, well, I just about pissed myself when Vegard stopped breathing."

"They had to change his clothes and the bed… he was a mess. He vomited too."

Calle sighed. "Hang in there, buddy."

Mio stepped over to Vegard's bed and put a hand on his shoulder. She listened carefully to Bård as he described what had happened.

Mio thought carefully and then said, "Mothra and our allies in the oceans have been in battle with our enemies since she took Tiamat's spirit out of your body, Brother Bård. But I do not sense that she is losing the battle. I expect Tiamat is too weak to attack you in any way other than as a nightmare. Perhaps he thought to strike at you and the others in this way as an act of petty revenge."

Bård asked, "Others?"

Mio glanced at Nurse Haugen, who said, "You aren't the only patients here at the base that were tormented by that demon."

Mio said, "The little girl Vegard protected on the golem has been suffering terribly as well."

Vegard closed his eyes and whispered, "Helvete, I can't take any more of this."

Bård looked up fearfully. "We can't escape. None of us can. There's nowhere we can hide from it. All we have to do is sleep and it will kill Vegard again. It's going to kill Vegard just to punish me. It's all because of me. Because of me."

Mio said, "I will protect you." She closed her eyes and after a moment the room went completely silent. The sounds of the hospital, the outside and even the rumble of the air conditioning vents in the ceiling cut off suddenly.

Calle blinked and said, "It's like a… sound booth in here. How did you do that?"

Mio smiled. "No thoughts or spirits can come in or go out of here while I guard you. You may sleep safely now."

Nurse Haugen asked, "Are you sure? I would like to give them something to sleep…"

Bård said fearfully, "Please. Bob will kill Vegard if we sleep. Don't let it kill him. Don't make us sleep. It will kill him and it's my fault."

Mio insisted gently, "You must trust me. You must preserve your strength until Mothra returns. She will be very angry with me if I allow you to die. And I would too soon grieve your passing."

Vegard cleared his throat and whispered, "Personally, I would like to live to see my grandchildren. And Bård's."

Bård nodded. "Me too."

Magnus raised a hand hesitantly and said, "Me too."

Calle frowned at Magnus. "You don't even have regular children."

"It could happen."

Nurse Haugen said, "I'll put both of you on heart and oxygen monitors. If you're attacked again we will know immediately. You'll both be safe."

Mio moved to Vegard's bedside and put her hand on his forehead. His eyes fluttered closed and he was asleep.

Bård sucked in a breath and stood quickly. He leaned over Vegard and put an ear to his chest, listening for his heartbeat. "No. Please. Wake him up. Don't put us to sleep. He'll die. He can't die." He sucked in a breath and looked at Calle for help. "How do we know this is real? How do we know she isn't Bob?"

Mio put her hand out to cover Bård's. "You're safe. Sleep now."

And just like that Bård was out cold, sprawled on top of his brother.

Calle helped Mio and Nurse Haugen carry Bård to his own bed. As they did so, Calle said, "Queen Mio, I don't mean to doubt you, and let me just say here that you are more scarily magical every day, and I'm very impressed by that, and I wouldn't want to annoy you by voicing my concern…"

Mio smiled and helped Nurse Haugen straighten the blankets over Bård. "Just ask."

"Ah, well, it's just that they both seemed really frightened. I've never seen Bård that frightened. Ever. And we've been through some crazy scary stuff."

"I promise they are safe."

Calle nodded. "I want to trust you. I'm just worried about these two. I promised their mother I'd protect them."

Mio smiled and guided him to sit on the lounger he'd claimed earlier. "Of course, Spirit Calle. Put your fears to rest. Sleep."

And he was asleep.

Magnus looked around the room, now filled with his sleeping friends. This was a little scary. He cleared his throat to ask to leave but his voice cracked. He took a deep breath and said, "I'm not really tired. Is it okay if I go back to watch the ocean with Gamera?"

Mio smiled. "Sleep."

 

* * *

Chapter Text

* * *

Calle took in a long, contented breath and opened his eyes. He was in the hospital lounger in the Ylvisåker's hospital room. There was a cozy blanket over him and a soft pillow under his head. The shades were drawn but he could see sunlight peeking through the edges. He blinked, remembering the night before. He was annoyed that Mio had knocked him out but he'd had a wonderful, refreshing sleep. He felt great. He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost noon.

He pushed himself up and looked around. The brothers were both in their beds, asleep, with a variety of wires and tubes leading from their beds to monitors and I.V. bags on poles positioned beside them. Magnus was in a lounger like Calle's, also asleep, his mouth hanging open, his feet hanging off the end.

A gentle voice beside him asked, "Spirit Calle. Did you sleep well?"

He rubbed his eyes. "Mio. Yes I did. You knocked me out. That was a little uncalled for." He blinked several times and added, "Sorry. I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Don't turn me into a newt."

Mio bowed her head. "I apologize. It seemed the best course of action."

"I forgive you. It probably was."

"I don't have the power to transform you into an animal."

"That's good to know."

"Come with me. You are likely hungry?"

"Is it safe to leave everyone here?"

"It is now."

Calle grabbed his boots and his jacket and they left the room quietly. As they passed the nurse's station he saw Nurse Haugen. He wondered if she'd ever gotten to go back home last night. She looked awake and cheery now. She waved and said, "I'll go back in and watch over them. Go get some food and enjoy the show."

As they waited at the elevator, Calle asked, "Enjoy the show?"

Mio smiled. "You'll see."

 

* * *

 

Vegard blinked. He was standing up. That was… unexpected. He peered down at his bare feet and wiggled his toes in the grass. He was wearing the fresh t-shirt Nurse Haugen had given him and clean khaki sweatpants. Was he asleep?

Bård stood next to him, wearing the scrubs he'd been wearing in the hospital. He glanced down at Vegard and said in a small voice, "Are we dead? Is this Bob? What's happening?"

"I don't know. But we're together. That's good. I think." Vegard took Bård's hand. They stood together, looking at the little yellow cottage. The sun was bright overhead and the breeze was cool. The cottage stood within a circle of trees, its roof covered with grass and little yellow and blue flowers, a plume of white smoke coming from its light stone chimney. The windows were painted bright white, and the garden was crowded with orange, yellow and blue flowers. A little grey cat peered down curiously at them from the roof for a moment, and then began licking its paw.

Vegard started when the door began to open. He squeezed Bård's hand. They were together. They could face whatever this was.

A pretty young woman a bit shorter than Vegard stood in the doorway, wearing a delicate bridal crown and a light blue bunad embroidered in yellow and orange flowers and butterflies. Her golden blond hair fell in waves behind her. She smiled sweetly at them and Vegard felt his worries melt away.

Before he could react, Bård broke away and rushed into her arms. He began weeping like a child. She murmured to him and stroked his hair and his shoulders. She looked sorrowfully at Vegard with her sparkling sky blue eyes. He stepped forward and joined in the hug.

 

* * *

 

Nurse Haugen sighed. She loved her job but the paperwork was neverending. She decided to check on the brothers. When she opened the door to their room, she gasped. Bård's bed was empty.

"He's over there." Magnus pointed lazily back towards Vegard's bed.

She turned and moved closer. Vegard was sleeping on his side, his arm under a pillow, his face serene. Bård was curled up behind his brother on the narrow bed, also asleep, his face pressed against Vegard's shoulder. His monitors and I.V. were all still attached to the mobile stand that he'd obviously dragged over with him. It was running on battery power and so the alarm hadn't sounded. She narrowed her eyes. Patients were very sneaky.

Nurse Haugen let out a breath. They looked peaceful enough, although there wasn't much room for two grown men in one patient bed. If they were so desperate to be next to each other that she wondered if she should just have the orderlies come in and move their beds together.

She sighed and bent down to pick up the trailing power cord from Bård's monitor and plugged it into the wall behind Vegard's bed.

"You don't think that looks too… gay, do you?"

"Hm?" She turned to look at Magnus and put a finger to her lips. She whispered, "They're brothers."

"I know, but do you think that demon turned Bård, you know, homo…"

She repressed a laugh and stood in front of him. "No. My boys do the same thing when one has a nightmare."

"How old are they?"

"Ten and seven."

"Are they homosexuals?"

"I… don't know. I don't think so. I suppose they'll let me know if they are when they're older."

"So they might be."

She folded her arms, amused. "If you're awake, you should go outside and watch the show and let my patients sleep peacefully."

"You're kicking me out."

"Yes."

Magnus shrugged and heaved himself up. "What's the show?"

She pointed to the door. "Out."

 

* * *

 

Calle leaned back in his chair and licked the last bits of chocolate off of his fingers. "I don't know what you did to me, Mio, but food is amazing now."

Mio smiled. "Food was always 'amazing'; you were not paying attention. You were distracted by your cigarette poison."

"If you say so." He wiped his hands with a napkin and studied her. "May I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"You said you're 80,000 years old. But you look… perhaps… 27?" He hastened to add, "…and very beautiful. Very young."

Mio smiled. "Thank you for the compliment. It's not necessary."

"It's the truth." He cringed. "You don't have to answer my question."

Mio stood and held out her hand. "I will answer. Come and walk with me. I want to show you something wonderful."

"Okay."

Mio took Calle's hand and led him out of the tent that had been set up as a temporary dining hall while the old one was repaired. They slowly walked along the gravel pathway back toward the hospital. She said, "Long ago, our people, and I mean human beings, spread across the planet. We came from what you call Africa and across the continent of Asia and from there to the other side of the world. About 80,000 years ago I was a young girl in a village on one of the islands a bit southwest of here. We were fishermen, and we had language, and told stories. I had two younger sisters and an older brother who I idolized. I followed him everywhere, and pestered him to teach me to fish and fight, when my father wasn't looking, of course."

Calle nodded, "Old-fashioned, was he?"

Mio smiled and nodded. "One day, when I was perhaps fifteen, the sky became dark and terrible creatures attacked our men that were out fishing on the waters. They tried to return to shore but many died. My father was one of the ones that were killed. My brother made it back, but he was wild with grief and hungry for revenge. The next evening the monsters came out of the ocean and onto our land. They swarmed through our village, killing most of us. The people that died were good people, friends and loved ones. The monsters killed my little sisters before I could find them in the panic."

Calle frowned and squeezed Mio's hand. "I'm sorry."

"The few of us that survived this second attack retreated to a small cave. We knew we would be killed if we were attacked again. My brother, my uncle, some of the older men, and I stood at the cave entrance with our harpoons, ready to fight and to defend the handful of children and women that were left. In the middle of the day and we saw the monsters coming out of the sea. They ran on two legs, but looked more like apes than men. They hissed and shrieked as they charged."

Mio let out a breath. "And then She appeared. Mothra. She swooped behind them and destroyed them with her rainbow beams of light. Afterwards She told me She was very interested in us. We were the first humans She'd ever seen. But She could see into our hearts and She said we had great potential. So She took us to Odo Island. And we've been there since."

Calle stopped short. "Is everyone on that island thousands of years old?!"

Mio shook her head. "Time moves slowly there, but only a few are lucky enough to be chosen by an Earth Spirit the way I've been. Over the millennia, She has chosen men, women or children that She knew had good souls and also needed Her protection and guidance."

"I feel a little guilty now for being upset with those islanders for trying to kill Vegard and Bård."

"They were very sorry to have done so. They were frightened."

"Do you ever get bored?"

Mio smiled again and shook her head. "Never."

"Do you get lonely?"

"It is difficult to be lonely when a Spirit of the Earth loves you and you love it as well."

Calle coughed politely. "But I mean, and maybe it's too personal to ask…"

Mio put a hand over her mouth and laughed. She said, "I may be thousands of years old in normal time, but I still have the body of a woman. I have had many wonderful husbands and happy marriages. Many beautiful and loving children. Wonderful memories. And when their mortal bodies died and they rejoined the Spirit of the Earth they joined with me as well. And so their spirits are with me. Always. And some of their many, many descendants live on Odo Island today. So no, I am never, ever lonely."

Calle gulped, wishing he hadn't brought up the subject. It seemed terribly sad to him, to outlive people you loved. But Mio didn't seem sad at all. The whole situation felt beyond his grasp. He asked, "Do you know where Mothra comes from?"

"She is like me, in a way. Her people roam the stars. She came to this planet long ago and fell in love with the Earth and Her children. And She joined with the Spirit of the Earth."

"Is Mothra a god, then?"

Mio frowned. "The word 'god' means different things to many. I sense even you do not know what you are asking. She is part of the Earth."

"So is she like, an angel then?"

"And what is an angel?"

"I… don't really know." Calle frowned, wondering if he really understood anything that happened. Ever. At all. Vegard seemed to have figured some of it out, and that was ironic; Vegard was the least spiritual person Calle knew.

"You called Bob a demon. Is he a demon? Like, in the Bible?"

"I call him a demon because that is the word you used."

Calle sighed. He was getting nowhere. "Do you think Mothra will take Vegard or Bård back to your island?"

Mio sobered. "Not Vegard. He is very strong and will recover. But Bård… perhaps."

Calle shook his head. "They're both strong, and stubborn as mules. I've never seen Bård give up on something he wanted, no matter what happened. He's just taken everything that life has thrown at him and plowed ahead."

"I may be wrong. But Bård was violated in a way that is outside of most human experience."

Calle felt sick about Bård, and said so.

Mio squeezed his hand and said, "You know them better than I do, Spirit Calle. They both belong with their own people. They may recover. But I believe She regrets recruiting them to help in the battle. They have suffered terribly."

"But we won the battle."

"For now."

"And you've been fighting this battle every seven hundred years."

"No. We, and those like us, fight this battle against evil every day. It just becomes apparent to the rest of humanity, and the whales, of course, on rare occasions."

Calle mulled that over. "So maybe you need the Ylvisåkers to help you."

"After what they've been through I do not believe She would ask them to sacrifice anything else. She would not take them from their families unless there was no other choice. But we will very likely take Fuu back with us, and perhaps a few others."

"Fuu?"

"The little girl Vegard rescued from the demon. He killed her family and everyone she knew. We will be her new family."

"I'm glad of that, actually. Vegard is worried about her. Will she recover?"

"She is already on her way to recovering. That is what I wanted to show you." Mio smiled as they rounded the corner of the administration building and pointed.

Calle stopped, his mouth agape. Mothra, looking as fuzzy and bright as she did when he first met her weeks ago, was holding court on a broad grassy expanse of land adjacent to one of the runways ruined by Jormungand's fireballs during the battle. A line of open tents stretched toward the refugee area, and under them a long line of people were waiting patiently to talk to or receive a blessing from the fairies and Mothra, many of them laying down gifts of flowers before them. To Mothra's side another large tent had been erected, within which were several dozen people, mostly young children and women. Calle was surprised and pleased to spot Magnus walking among the crowd. He had a little redheaded girl on his shoulders who was giggling and playing with Magnus's hair. Magnus spotted them and waved a long arm, beckoning them over.

As they moved toward the tent many of the people coming to Mothra for help bowed to Mio. Calle said softly, "I don't understand why I haven't heard of Mothra before. Obviously everyone here knows who she is. They all know who you are."

"Perhaps it is the same reason food did not taste pleasant before, Spirit Calle. You were not paying attention."

Calle grinned, "Everything you say to me blows my mind, Mio. But in a good way."

 

* * *

 

After the initial emotion of their reunion passed, Blueberry ushered the brothers into the little cottage and they sat down on a cozy overstuffed cornflower blue sofa, one on each side of her. Their bare feet sank into a plush white and yellow floral rug atop the polished pine floor, and the little white wooden table in front of them was laid out with little cakes, cups and a little pitcher of water. Bård leaned his head on Blueberry's shoulder and held her hand tightly without speaking. Vegard looked around. Everything in the cabin was welcoming and comfortable, the epitome of what he thought of as koselig. The furniture was clean and brightly painted, soft cushions lined every chair and bench, and bright potted flowers decorated every corner. The room smelled of fresh wood and flowers and… baking bread. Vegard thought he never had been in a place so filled with tranquility, safety and happiness. Could anything be this pure and good?

He looked at Blueberry and said hesitantly, "I was afraid... this was another illusion. That it had returned. The demon that hurt Bård."

She smiled and pushed his hair gently back from his face. "No, Vegard. The demon will not trouble you, ever again."

"Does this mean you are back? That you won't leave again?"

"Yes, Vegard. I'm here with you. I am resting just outside the hospital where you are staying. I will not leave without warning you. Ever again."

"And Bob is gone?"

"Yes. He is buried under the sea, nursing his wounds. He will not re-appear for a long time."

"How long?"

"Most likely long after your great-great-great-grandchildren have walked under the sun and stars."

Vegard frowned, not sure exactly what that meant. "Are we asleep?"

"You probably look as if you are sleeping to your friends. But you are awake. You will remember this visit very clearly."

Vegard glanced at Bård and grimaced. He looked so lost.

Blueberry said gently, "Mio has told me of your trials. I'm truly sorry I had to leave you alone for a time, unprepared for such an attack. I would not have done so if I had thought such a thing would happen."

Vegard swallowed. "It's fine. I'm not angry." He felt bewildered. He'd thought Blueberry's experience was infinite. That she would always know what to do. That she was omniscient.

Blueberry took Vegard's hand. "Although I've lived on this planet a long time, this is the first time I've asked any of the Earth's human children to take up the role of the Elias fairies. It was unfair to press you to such a difficult task, and it left you vulnerable to attack. Bård has paid a terrible price, and you have suffered as well. All because you volunteered to fight with me."

"I don't understand." Vegard looked at Bård. He had his eyes closed and was clinging to Blueberry's hand with both of his. For the first time in his life, Vegard thought Bård looked old. He always thought of Bård as the young one, but he could see the lines creasing Bård's forehead and around his eyes. His baby-ish cheeks had given way to a chiseled jaw and defined cheekbones. Despite the recent shave he'd had, his stubble was already evident. When had Bård grown up? Vegard knew, of course, that Bård was a grown man, with children and responsibilities and a car and a house… but perhaps through the lens of his firstborn affection for his little brother he hadn't truly seen him aging. It suddenly struck Vegard as extremely odd. Vegard worried over his own wrinkles every morning in the mirror, but inside, he felt the same way he always had. Maybe he'd always feel as he did when he was young. But somehow, Bård had changed.

Vegard's gut suddenly twisted with rage. Bob had stolen Bård's internal youth, and no one should be allowed to do something that terrible. And now Blueberry said it was her fault; that she let it happen. Vegard couldn't sit here with them and feel so furious. He loved them both desperately and he refused to let them see his anger. He murmured, "Excuse me," and gently disentangled himself from Blueberry's grasp. He leapt to his feet and walked out of the cottage and into the garden, closing the door behind him.

Bård said softly, "He's so stupid. He forgot we can hear his thoughts."

Blueberry stroked Bård's hair. "Then you know he loves you very much, don't you?"

Bård sighed. "Like I said. So stupid."

 

* * *

Chapter Text

Vegard stepped out of the cottage and into the sunlight. He looked up at the clear blue sky and pushed his fingers through the curls of his hair. He had to think. Was this another dream? Was he still back in the hell Bob had made for them? If this was just Blueberry, what was he supposed to do about Bård?

He jumped with surprise when a grey form dropped down on his right. It was the little cat. He squatted down to look at it and offered a hand for it to inspect. It rubbed its cheek on his hand and he scratched its chin, saying softly, "I keep seeing you, little guy." The cat looked at him with blue eyes and then walked off through the grass.

Vegard had no idea what he was doing outside. Or inside. Or wherever this was. The sky wasn't even the sky. The air wasn't the air. It was all in his head. He thought he heard a shout and followed the sound around to the back of the cottage. He stopped short with surprise.

The grey cat was walking towards two little boys playing in a clearing surrounded by blueberry bushes behind the cottage. The older one looked up and Vegard found himself looking into his own, albeit younger, eyes.

Vegard asked hesitantly, "What is this?"

His younger self stood. "Hei, hei! I remember seeing you before. You were in with all that green light and screaming, all chained up with that other man."

"You can't be more than… six or seven."

"I am six. But Blueberry says I'm very mature for my age."

The younger boy stood and turned to look at Vegard with wide, sky-blue eyes. Of course he did. Vegard's heart ached to see Bård so young and innocent. Before any of these terrible things had happened. Before he'd become old.

Vegard knelt down to look carefully at Bård. "Are you okay, Bård?"

Bård frowned and looked at the younger Vegard for guidance.

Young Vegard frowned as well and stepped to his side, putting himself between Bård and the strange man. "How do you know his name? And why aren't you wearing shoes?"

Vegard glanced down at his toes and smiled up at his younger self. "Blueberry told me your names."

His younger self stepped forward, curious. "Did she rescue you?"

"Yes."

Bård stepped around his brother carefully and studied the older Vegard. He lisped, "You can't marry Blueberry."

"I know. I already have a wife."

"Okay."

Little Vegard shrugged apologetically at his older self. "Bård wants to marry Blueberry. He's not even a prince or anything. I tried to tell him."

Bård wordlessly held up a blue wooden plane. Vegard took it gently and inspected it carefully. "That's a single prop plane. It's really cool." He handed it back and Bård seemed satisfied with his evaluation of the toy.

Young Vegard said, "If you're going to stay here, we have to make a bed for you. There isn't a bed big enough for another grownup inside."

"I won't stay that long. I have to go home to my own children. How long have you been here?"

The children looked at each other and shrugged.

Young Vegard nodded. "Not long. We're just staying here for vacation. It's really cool here. There are all sorts of animals in the forest and the food Blueberry cooks is so good."

The older Vegard didn't understand what he was seeing; had Blueberry visited them in their childhood? Or was this just an illusion? He wondered whether Blueberry could keep the older Bård here for "vacation". Maybe he could stay with her for a while, until he got his confidence back. It felt safe here.

Some of his anger and confusion dissolved. Maybe Blueberry could fix Bård and then everything would be normal again.

Bård said something unintelligible to his brother. The younger Vegard asked, "Bård wants to know if you play the guitar?"

"Why do you ask?"

Bård pointed toward the house. There was a yellow acoustic guitar leaning against the wall.

Little Vegard said, "Maybe that is for you."

Vegard walked over to the guitar and picked it up. His right little finger was still stiff, even here, but he didn't need that finger to pluck the strings. He walked back to the boys and sat down on the ground. He plucked a quick E major. Of course it was in tune. He began to play and for a little while he forgot his troubles.

 

* * *

 

Some time later, Vegard opened his eyes, blinking at the afternoon sun coming in through the hospital room blinds. Calle was standing over him with his phone out, obviously taking a picture.

"What are you doing?"

Calle put a finger to his lips and said softly, "Blackmail evidence."

"Was I snoring?"

"No. Actually, I just thought it was the sweetest thing I've ever seen. I want to show your mother."

"What?"

"Behind you. It's Bård."

Vegard realized there was someone snuggled against his back. He supposed he had subconsciously assumed it was his wife, but of course she wasn't here. He turned slightly to look and grimaced. Bård had been spooning him, his forehead pressed against the back of Vegard's neck. Under normal circumstances, Vegard knew that if Bård woke up like this he would be mortified. Probably best not to wake him. He gingerly extricated himself and moved to the other bed.

Calle was fiddling with his phone and then looked up at Vegard triumphantly. "Sent."

"Sent?!"

"Relax. I sent it to your mother."

"I see. Are you two are best friends now?"

"Well since Bård can't Skype with her and you are, according to her, very distracted, I'm filling in with sweet, sweet Calle comfort.

"That sounds disturbing."

"Your mother and I are already planning to run off together and have a wild affair."

Vegard made a face. "If you sleep with my mother I'm firing you."

"It will be worth it. She's one sexy fifty-plus woman."

"Stop. Now."

Calle grinned. "Did you get good sleep?"

"I suppose. We weren't really asleep the whole time. Blueberry was talking to us in our heads. She brought us to her house."

"Was it a giant lightbulb?"

"No."

"Okay. And?"

Vegard sighed and propped himself up on the pillows. "She saved backup copies of us from before. When you tried to rescue us from the yakusa."

"I don't understand. Copies?"

"You should have seen it. She had these little kid versions of us playing in a garden… she said she was saving them for us. Like backup copies of data you use if your computer gets stolen."

"I still don't understand."

She can wipe out all the time after you found the fairies with the yakusa and called her back to Tokyo. So she can take away all our memories of Bob's killing spree."

"What are you going to do?"

Vegard rubbed his forehead. "I'm not going to take the offer. What happened was horrible, but it's my memory. The idea of erasing a chunk of my life… it's too much of a violation. It would drive me crazy knowing so much had happened that I didn't remember. But Bård will take the offer. If he doesn't want to do it, I'll make him."

Calle studied him. "What do you mean you'll make him, Führer Vegard?"

Vegard shrugged apologetically. "I didn't mean it like that. But sometimes Bård doesn't know what's good for him. I'll think of a way to convince him."

"Hm. So what is Blueberry's house like?"

"Koselig. Imagine the best holiday cottage of all time. She even had a guitar for me."

"What kind?"

"Uh… well, it was imaginary so…"

"What kind?"

Vegard grinned. "It was a Paul Reed Smith… like that one I got to try in Los Angeles last year… it was amazing. And it was just what I needed. Something to focus on, to take my mind off of all of this for a few minutes."

"Now I know what to get you for your birthday after I become a billionaire."

"You're so good to me."

"Don't get cocky; I'm good to everyone. It's why I'm universally loved."

"True."

"On the other hand, you still look super stressed out. Maybe I should go find you a guitar to strum."

"I would love a guitar to strum. But even so, I don't think I can take much more of this business with Bård. It's just all too… weird."

Calle bonked Vegard on the head with his pillow. "You can take it, tough guy. You've got me to help as well."

Vegard pulled out his pillow and bonked Calle. He said, "I don't know if Bård will want you involved in this."

"He's got enough dirt on me to keep me quiet."

"Okay?"

Calle poked Vegard again with his pillow. "Isn't friendship grand?"

"I think we've all got plenty of dirt on each other."

"We could start a Blackmail Your Friends League, Nordic Chapter. I'll be the social chairman. Come on, Bård won't mind; he's got his kickass older brother to protect him."

Vegard frowned at Calle and poked him with his own pillow. "I obviously can't protect him from anything."

"You've protected him from me for years."

Vegard rolled his eyes. "I'm too tired even for that. I don't care any more if you completely corrupt him. I just want him to be happy."

Calle grinned. "Woo! Debauchery, here we come!" He whacked Vegard with his pillow in the side of the head.

Vegard rolled his eyes. "You are not starting a pillow fight with me."

"Mmm… yes I am."

"You're like a little girl."

Calle's grin widened. "Let's play pink unicorns and then I'll braid your hair!" He grabbed another pillow.

Bård woke to the sound of giggling and squeaking bed springs. He rubbed his eyes and saw Vegard lying on the other bed, with Calle towering over him and squashing him with pillows.

Bård shrieked with rage and leapt to the other bed. He grabbed Calle by the collar and threw him bodily against the wall. Calle shook his head, dazed. "What was that for?"

Bård closed his hands around Calle's neck and began choking him, shouting, "Who the fuck are you? How did you get in here?!"

Vegard grabbed Bård around the chest and pulled him off of his friend, leaving Calle gasping and coughing and rubbing his neck. Bård struggled against him until Vegard shouted, "Calm down! Bård! Calm down! He wasn't hurting me."

Bård turned to look at Vegard and threw his arms around him, words spilling out, "Are you okay? I didn't know, I'm so sorry."

Nurse Haugen rushed in, looking alarmed. "I heard shouting."

Vegard met eyes with Calle, who shrugged and said, "Bård had a nightmare. It's fine."

Bård trembled and begged quietly, "Don't let them drug me. Please."

Vegard wrapped his arms around his brother and nodded reassuringly at the nurse. "It's okay. I'm okay. You're safe, Bård. No one will drug you."

"He was smothering you. You couldn't breathe. It's all my fault. I didn't mean it. You have to believe me." His shoulders heaved and Vegard worked his jaw. They had to fix this.

 

* * *

 

That evening, after the air base had closed its offices for the day, Vegard, Bård and Calle got dressed in borrowed fatigues and boots and walked outside with Mio to visit Mothra in person. The long line of admirers and worshippers had left behind flowers that surrounded the tent next to where the enormous moth stood, and the cool air smelled deliciously of roses and lilacs.

As they walked onto the grass Calle asked Mio, "She has just been sitting there all day. Isn't she hungry? Should we have brought a giant leaf with us for her to nibble?"

"She only requires nourishment that … I don't know what the word would be. It is an energy that comes from the sun."

"Well, then. I feel a little better about coming to see her empty handed."

When Mothra came into view, Vegard commented, "When she came out of the cocoon she was all sleek and silvery. Now she's blue and fuzzy again."

Mio explained, "That silver skin was Her underwater form. Mothra has several forms She can take, for surviving on land, under water, or in deep space."

"Okay. Very cool."

As they approached the larger tent Magnus came out to greet them, one child in his arms and another on his shoulders. The fairies were atop their mount hovering nearby and smiling. Calle recognized the same redheaded girl was clinging to Magnus's head; he remembered also seeing her when he first found Magnus in the refugee camp. Vegard had told him that many children from the camp had died in the attack. He wondered if Magnus knew. If not, Calle supposed there was no reason to tell him.

Bård and Vegard stopped short upon seeing the other child, a little Japanese toddler. When she saw Vegard she held out one of her little hands and he rushed forward to take her from Magnus. He hugged her gently. She looked solemnly at Bård, her eyes wide.

Bård was afraid to move. He breathed, "Why isn't she more frightened of me?"

Mio said kindly, "For one, you look very different than you did when she last saw you. Second, Fuu feels safe and loved here next to Mothra."

Vegard looked at the girl and asked, "Fuu? Is that your name?"

The girl looked up at him with interest and said, "Fuu." Then she turned back to Magnus and held out her hands to him, saying, "Kuma?"

Calle laughed as Vegard reluctantly handed her back to Magnus. The larger man bounced her a little in his arms and explained in Norwegian, "The kids here call me Kuma. It means bear."

Vegard nodded. "That's an excellent nickname. And who is the little girl on your shoulders?"

In English, Magnus said, "Alice, these are my friends Calle, Bård and Vegard. Friends, this is Alice."

Mio said, "Alice and Fuu are going to come stay with me on Odo Island. We'll have so much fun!"

Alice smiled. "I can't wait! The fairies said there is a pool to swim in and the animals on the island let you pet them. Even cats."

Fuu mimicked, "Even cass."

Mio smiled and then nodded to Bård. "Mothra is waiting."

Bård turned to Vegard and handed him an envelope. It was closed and Bård had signed his name across the seal.

Vegard asked, "What's this?"

"A letter I wrote to myself. Give that back to me afterwards if I'm not too crazy. Don't open it. I don't think I will believe anything you'll say about all of this."

"I wouldn't either."

"Okay."

"Okay. Will you let me hear you again? In my head, I mean. One last time?"

"No."

"Okay. Good Luck."

"Okay."

They hugged awkwardly and Bård turned and climbed onto Mothra. She warbled and took off, flying south, and disappeared.

Vegard sighed. "I hope this works."

Calle clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry. It will. I've missed his sense of humor."

"Yeah, me too."

 

* * *

 

An hour or so later they were all sitting around the tent, playing with Magnus's young friends and the fairies when suddenly Vegard jumped to his feet.

Calle asked, "What is it?"

Vegard closed his eyes and frowned, "Bård. I can hear his thoughts again. Oh…" Vegard murmured a low curse and slowly sat back down onto the folding chair.

In his head, he heard Bård's frantic confusion. He was calling to Mothra, asking for Vegard, saying he was dying inside a little brick room. He was frantic; he said that every second counted.

Vegard tried to tell him he was safe, but Bård wasn't listening. He was screaming and crying and letting his mind gape wide open. And then Vegard saw what had truly happened before Bob had started his rampage on Tokyo.

They'd been floating in the Pacific after the battle with Jormungand, and Bård had been hit by the poisoned scale. Almost immediately Bob had overpowered him mentally and thrown him into the virtual dungeon, nailed to the wall by his shoulder. But he couldn't control Bård's body. So he'd bided his time, playing horrible pranks on Bård, waiting for Vegard to heal enough to use him.

For his first trick, Bob put an illusion of Vegard with Bård in the dungeon. The brothers had talked as they always had, and then Bob came to see them wearing Bård's face and body. He dragged Vegard to a wooden pole, tied him to it, and smothered him with duct tape. He forced Bård to watch Vegard convulse in a seizure and die of suffocation. Bård sat in despair with nothing to look at but Vegard's corpse for several days. Finally Bob visited and confessed that the body wasn't really Vegard at all. A short time later Vegard again appeared in the dungeon, supposedly newly captured, and the cycle repeated. Over and over.

Sometimes Vegard was killed almost the same way he had almost died in the shed when they were children, suffocated with tape and plastic. Sometimes Bård watched himself strangle his brother with a rope noose. Sometimes instead of the shed they were back on the island and Bård watched Vegard drown. Once Bob pushed Vegard face down into wet plaster and then Bård miserably watched it harden around his brother's limp dead body. Most of the time it was just a replay of the accident in the shed, and Vegard always died just out of reach, so Bård couldn't save him.

This torment was repeated. Over and over. Bård was unconscious for two weeks in real time… but because of the time slip in his mind he was in the virtual dungeon for many months. So each time Vegard appeared, supposedly captured, Bård had to be convinced that this time Vegard was truly there. Once he believed he would inevitably have to watch his brother die by some variation of being smothered, or choked, or drowned.

Vegard remembered that when he had finally and truly arrived in the dungeon, Bob had pushed him face down into an open well. Vegard had thought it had been meant to scare him into submission. But Bob's target hadn't been Vegard; it had been Bård.

Vegard recalled that in the fake yakusa patient room, Bård had emerged from the sedatives several times; each time he had screamed for the nurses to kill him. Vegard thought Bård was being altruistic, and maybe he was, in part. But putting Bård back to sleep meant he would relive the virtual physical torture of Bob's beatings and the mental torture of seeing Vegard die. No wonder he'd been so terrified of being sedated.

Vegard thought back to Bård's words after Nurse Haugen had put him into restraints. "Don't sedate me. I'll kill you. You idiot, do you want to die?" Vegard thought at the time that Bård was threatening him. He felt foolish for not having realized the truth.

Bård's experience also explained why Bård had shut down their mental connection. Of course he didn't want to subject Vegard to the mental image of being repeatedly murdered by Bård's look-a-like.

It was horrible. Vegard struggled to make some sense of the nightmarish images. Then suddenly, the mental connection was gone. Bård must have realized Vegard could see. Vegard let out a breath. Jesus Christ. Poor Bård. Vegard had thought nothing could be worse than the deadly rampage in Tokyo. He'd been wrong.

When Mothra finally reappeared Vegard didn't wait for Bård to come down. He climbed up and found Bård lying on his back on Mothra's neck among the fluffy spines, looking up at the stars.

When Bård saw Vegard he was obviously relieved and Vegard knelt down to hug him. "Are you okay?"

Bård nodded. "Of course. But Mothra said I've been out of it a while."

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"Bob told us about Oslo being destroyed and-"

"Oslo isn't destroyed. It's fine. The family is fine."

"Mothra said the same. But I remember that, and then Bob took over control of my body and tried to smother you in a little brick room."

"Yeah. You rescued me from that."

"Okay. Then we killed a Japanese man. I mean, I killed a man."

"It wasn't you. That was Bob. And in any case G-Force said that was a yakusa man. He was a murderer. But it doesn't matter. It wasn't you."

"…and then I woke up on Mothra's back."

"I'm so relieved you are okay."

"Are you going to tell me what I've missed?"

"Probably not. Not for a while anyway. Unless you specifically ask."

Bård frowned. "Fine."

 

That night Vegard expected Bård to ask for his own hospital room; but he didn't. And he didn't talk much as they ate the dinner the night nurse brought for them. Vegard didn't know what to say; he wasn't sure if Bård was aware of just how much he had shared with his brother when Blueberry rebooted his brain. Vegard certainly didn't want to do anything to make Bård more upset.

Finally Bård scooted down in his bed and closed his eyes, saying simply, "I'm tired. Good night."

Vegard answered with the same and switched off the television.

An hour later Bård was on the edge of Vegard's bed, frantically shaking him awake. When Vegard opened his eyes Bård said only, "I thought you weren't breathing." He apologized for waking Vegard and got back into his own bed without further explanation.

An hour later the same thing happened.

And so the pattern continued through the night. Bård woke up Vegard every hour or so, afraid he'd died. By the early morning, Vegard was frustrated and when Bård moved to go back to his bed Vegard grabbed his wrist and said, "Bård. Just stop."

"I said I was sorry."

"Listen to me. I know Bob played all sorts of mind games with you before he pulled me into your head. That was all just a nightmare. You never killed me. You would never kill me. I am not going to be killed. The doctors said my ribs and lungs are completely healed and are working normally. I'm absolutely not going to stop breathing. You don't have to worry."

Bård said nothing for a long moment and then frowned at his brother. "You think you know everything. You don't."

"I know more than you think."

"You don't. Trust me to know what I know. I'm not a child."

Vegard looked at the ceiling in exasperation. "Fint."

"Fint. Go to sleep."

"Okay."

…and then an hour later Bård was shaking him awake again.

Chapter Text

* * *

"Are you sure about this, Mio? This seems pretty … intense." Calle looped another coil of rope around Vegard's torso and the tent pole.

Immediately outside the tent Mothra trilled and Mio's eyes flared with blue light. Her voice became warm and kind and she said softly to Calle. "I will not allow him to hurt his brother. But if Bård is to recover from this experience, he must face his past."

Calle gaped at Mio a moment and then asked Vegard. "Is that Blueberry speaking?"

"I think so."

Calle looked back at Mio who nodded at him. "Hallo, Spirit Calle. I wish for you to hear me as well, and Mio has agreed to be my voice."

Calle waved uncertainly. "Hallo, Blueberry?"

Nurse Haugen turned from the cardiac crash cart she was fussing over and added, "I'm ready. We won't let Vegard be injured."

Calle met eyes with Vegard. "Are you okay with this?"

Vegard bent his knees and pushed himself to sit up straight against the pole. He was absolutely not okay with this. Every nerve in his body was screaming for him to call this off. But Blueberry was right. Bob had intentionally made Bård relive the experience in the shed over and over again. They had to figure this out.

Unfortunately this particular position reminded him uncomfortably of drowning in the cave on Odo Island, and that frightened him. After all, he had died there. He let out a breath and said, "No, make the ropes tighter. I could get out of this easily." Vegard hesitated. He'd said the same thing to Bård all those years ago. Maybe Bård was right about him. He really was patronizing sometimes. He didn’t mean to be. He just corrected people automatically, his friends and family the most. He needed to fix that. He could be more diplomatic.

He amended by saying, "I mean, when he did it… he was a kid so he did what you did and then just tangled it all together in a big uncomfortable snarl. I remember he worked on it a long time and I couldn't move my upper arms at all."

"Okay." Calle frowned and worked on the bindings. "Should I… do your legs as well?"

Vegard thought a moment. "I don't remember. I don't think so."

As Calle wrapped the rope around his waist and chest, Vegard considered the situation again.

 

Since Bård’s memory wipe three days ago, he’d been far more coherent and alert than before, but he had fallen into silence. He refused to talk to anyone. Not to Vegard or the nurse or Calle, or even the family back home over Skype. Vegard was especially frustrated and hurt that Bård was shutting him out, given what they’d been through together. Of course Bård had forgotten the stone dragon, but still…

The second day after the wipe, Calle and Magnus had gone off to visit the children under Mothra’s protection. All morning Bård had been pretending to watch television to avoid conversation, and Vegard had been watching Bård. By noon Vegard decided to intervene. Before this all started he never would have considered being so intrusive, but since they’d joined minds he felt he understood Bård enough to fix him, whatever the problem was.

So after lunch he’d sat down on Bård’s bed and patted his forearm. Bård had frowned but otherwise hadn’t responded.

Vegard had said, “I know you don’t want to talk. I won’t make you. But I know what Bob did to you while you were sedated in that hospital room. I know he made you relive that stupid accident in the shed when we were kids. I know it was horrible, but I know you can survive this. You’re stronger and tougher than I am. I would have broken. But you didn’t.”

Bård worked his jaw. Vegard wasn’t sure why Bård was so angry, but he was at least thankful Bård was at least sane enough now to try to cover up his fury. Maybe he should back off.

He watched Bård for another twenty minutes, his hand on his forearm, Bård staring ahead. Under normal circumstances one of them would have broken down laughing. But this had become a contest of wills. Vegard’s heart sank with every minute that passed.

Finally, without turning to look at him, Bård whispered, “Go. Away.”

“I want to help you. I know I can help you if you’d only let me.”

Bård turned abruptly to glare at him. “You said you would have broken but I didn’t. So you win the empathy contest, is that it?”

“What? Nei, nei, nei, you don’t understand.” Vegard started to pull away but Bård caught his hand and squeezed it.

Bård snarled. “You think you would grieve more than I could? You think that I don’t really care about what happens to you or me or the world?”

“You’re hurting my hand.”

“Don’t you dare say you know anything about this. Don’t you dare say you want to help. You can’t help. No one will ever be able to help!”

Vegard winced. Bård was squeezing his hand hard enough that his broken little finger ached. He said softly, “Eg er lei for det.”

At that, Bård had grunted and let go of Vegard’s hand.

Vegard said softly, “I… we miss your laughter, Bård.”

“I’ve been in hell.”

“But…”

“If you want to hear it, then go there.”

Bård spent the rest of the day staring at the television and hadn’t said another word.

After two nights of nightmares and sleeplessness a psychiatrist and a PTSD specialist had come by to talk to the brothers, both together and individually. Bård maintained a carefully neutral expression the entire time and had remained stubbornly monosyllabic. After the session the doctors told Vegard that it would take Bård time to recover from the experience and not to push him. They said they’d arrange for them to follow up with someone in Norway who was a specialist in “this type of thing”. If there really was such a specialist, Vegard wondered how common it actually was to get possessed by demons. The world was a stranger place than he’d ever imagined.

But they couldn’t wait for a specialist. Blueberry told Vegard she felt Bård's situation couldn’t be left to human science to fix. After that first night, Blueberry had flown off with the fairies somewhere to consult with other spirits. They had returned more than a day later, insisting they address the problem before the brothers went home.

 

So Vegard had agreed to this experiment. They would recreate the accident in the shed to force Bård to confront what had happened. To find out how Bob had wormed his way into his soul.

As Calle worried over the cords securing him to the tent pole, Vegard looked up at Mio and said, "When Bob put me in that sealed brick room, it was tiny. I could barely move. And when Bob attacked me in my sleep it paralyzed me before it tried to… whatever that was… French kiss me to death."

Calle made a disgusted sound and muttered, "I can't un-see that mental image now. Takk for det."

"Beklager."

Mio asked, "Why do you think that happened, Vegard?"

"Maybe Bob was trying to recreate our old childhood trauma because… it was something that we’d carried all our lives?"

"That isn't what I am asking. Why do you think Bård did this to you to begin with?"

"He was just a kid."

"Children have motivations."

"It was just normal sibling rivalry. He wanted to be in charge and it got out of control."

They heard the Fairy Mothra's chirp and then the fairies zoomed into the tent. They said, "He's coming."

A moment later Bård hesitantly entered. Bård stopped short and glanced around nervously. "What is this?"

Mio's eyes glowed blue and she said, "I took away the most hurtful memories of your violation by the spirit you call Bob, but your soul has not recovered. Mio believes the oldest trauma is the one preventing your recovery."

"Blueberry?"

Mio nodded.

Bård studied each person in turn and then fixed his gaze on Vegard. "Why is Calle… why is he tying you up like that? What the hell is this?"

Vegard nodded him over. "The scene of the crime. But Calle is useless at this. Show him how it's done."

Bård took a step back, horrified. "No. This isn't… this is Bob again, isn't it? Which one of you is it?!" His voice rose in pitch. "Faen! We're still in the fucking dungeon, aren't we? You did it to me again! Bob, you motherfucker! I'll fucking kill you!"

The fairies wrung their hands and said in unison, "No, Brother Bård, we are truly here."

“Shut up!” Bård fell to his knees, his face suddenly wild with despair, his eyes shining with tears. He met eyes with Vegard. “I’m not watching this. Do you hear me, Bob? I’m not watching this again!” He shut his eyes and pressed his hands over his ears, groaning in defeat. “I’m not watching him die again.”

Vegard’s heart leapt to his mouth. He knew, of course, that his brother loved him. But he hadn’t thought his death could cause Bård such terrible anguish.

He called out, “Bård, open your eyes. I’m not dead.”

“I’m not listening to this!”

Mio stepped forward and took Bård's hand. He tried to pull away but Mio held fast. Bård took a deep breath and then nodded without speaking.

Vegard met eyes with Calle. Calle said softly, “Poor kid.”

Vegard nodded and watched Mio murmuring to his brother. Finally, Mio pulled him back up to his feet.

Vegard sighed with relief. He said, "Come over here, Bård, and tie me up properly so we can get this over with. Like back in the shed when we were kids."

Bård worked his jaw and then his face went completely neutral again. He shook his head slightly. "Absolutely not."

"We have to figure this out."

"Why would I subject myself to this nightmare again?! Or you?!"

"Blueberry wants to recreate what happened to see why Bob was so interested in it. Then maybe we can fix you."

Bård looked at Mio. "Blueberry? You said this wasn't my fault."

"We feel the key lies in this memory. I told you before, Bård, that I have never interfered with a human mind the way we have done with you and Vegard. Other spirits have seen humans possessed by Tiamat and his kind before. Their minds usually remain broken afterwards."

Vegard swallowed heavily. "You didn't tell me that before."

Mio's eyes flared with light and Blueberry said, "Mio believes this exercise might help Bård and I trust her judgement." Mio blushed a bright red.

Calle thought it was rather sweet that someone as old as Mio could still be embarrassed by praise. He stood and said with some hesitation, "Look, Bård, we're all here. Me, Mio, Nurse Minnesota. We won't let you hurt him. And Vegard told me I'm fired if he dies."

Bård frowned, surprised by the statement. He looked at Calle with confusion, and finally answered, "I wouldn't fire you. You would just quit."

Calle sighed. "This is true. Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood."

Bård clenched and unclenched his fists and looked at Mio hesitantly. Finally he nodded and gently pushed Calle aside. He knelt down in front of his brother and tested the ropes. They were loose. He started loosening the knots and adjusting them. "You suck at this, Calle."

"Sorry. I failed my Introduction to Kidnapping classes in school."

Bård looked at Vegard and said, "I hate this. I'm doing this under protest only so we can go home."

"Yeah, me too.”

“I’m still not convinced this is real.”

Vegard’s mouth went dry. If Bård didn’t think it was really him he might not be careful. He said, “Blueberry wouldn’t lie to you. I’m here. So go ahead. Make it like it was."

Mio asked, "Try to recreate the event exactly."

Bård let out a breath and said, "I was a child. I don't remember it exactly. When Bob replayed it, each time it was more elaborate. So now I'm not sure about what originally happened."

"As best as you can recall, how did the incident begin?"

Bård took a fresh length of rope in his hand and began lacing it between the ropes Calle had tied. "We were kids. We found some rope and we were practicing throwing lassoes like cowboys. Vegard’s performance was extremely weak.”

Vegard nodded. “It’s true.”

Bård continued, “Eventualy I lassoed him and I thought it was incredibly funny."

Mio pulled up a folding chair and sat down. "Why was it funny?"

"Because he was struggling like an epileptic chicken."

Vegard smiled. "I probably was."

"What else did you feel?"

Bård thought about it, and Vegard offered, "You felt proud." He glanced up at Calle. "We shared the memory a while ago. I remember."

Bård sobered. "I was proud to have the upper hand. Vegard was bigger than me back then and you know how condescending and bossy he is."

Calle nodded. "Yes I do. But of course, that’s why I love him."

Vegard frowned at his friend. Calle shrugged.

Mio asked, "So you were proud to have captured him. And then what?"

Bård frowned and snugged the ropes securely around Vegard's chest. "I wanted to make him admit I was in charge, so I told him we'd play a game where I was an Indian and he was my prisoner. He was so gullible; I tricked him into thinking it would just be a game. But I was going to show him I was the boss for once."

Bård met eyes briefly with Vegard who nodded at him encouragingly, saying, "That’s right, but I was the Indian. You were the cowboy."

Bård narrowed his eyes at Vegard. "Some things never change. Who cares who was the Indian?"

"I'm trying to help."

"You aren't. You just have to correct everything I say. I don't think you are capable of treating me like an equal."

"Fy faen, Bård, if that's how you really feel I'm surprised you don't tie me up in a shed more often."

"I would, but eventually I'd have to let you go and I wouldn't want to deal with all the wounded expressions and silent treatment. You're like a woman."

Vegard glared at Bård and then looked at Calle for help. Calle shrugged. "You are a bit womanish in that regard."

"Traitor."

Mio asked, "What did you do next?"

Bård took another coil in his hand and began winding it around Vegard on top of Calle's efforts. "I… wanted to tie him so he couldn't get away. And then Vegard started analyzing my technique and telling me I was doing it wrong. He said it would be too easy to escape."

Calle barked in laughter. "He just said that to me!"

Mio persisted, "So what did you do?"

Bård looked at Vegard and wound the rope around and around him again. He pulled it tight and knotted it securely. Vegard didn't make a noise, but it was digging painfully into his arms. Bård was a lot stronger now than he had been when he was seven. They met eyes. Bård knew it had hurt. Vegard's fear sparked a little brighter.

For his part, Bård couldn't believe he was going along with this. He should just get up and walk out. That's what he would normally do. But Blueberry asked him to play along, and it was hard to say no to her. Regardless, Bård suspected this was all Vegard's idea. He was relentless when he wanted to be.

So Bård grabbed another rope, warming to the exercise, and moved behind his brother. "Yeah, here I am. Seven years old. Vegard is already better than me at everything, and he won't even let me do this simple thing without rubbing it in my face that I'm incompetent."

Calle's smile faltered and he looked at Mio. She shook her head slightly to warn him to remain silent. "How did that make you feel, Bård?"

Bård worked his jaw for a moment, glaring at his brother. If Vegard was going to bully him into this, he was due a little payback. Finally he said, "I was angry. I grabbed another rope and tied his hands. He started complaining that it hurt." Bård looped the rope around Vegard's crossed wrists, tied and pulled it tight, grunting a little with the effort.

Vegard yelped. "That does hurt! Jesus Christ. You don't have to make it so tight, I'm not trying to escape. I wasn't then either."

"Stop talking!" Bård worked his jaw and pulled another loop around Vegard's waist. "Fy faen, how much rope did you bring in here for this? You'll look like a mummy if I use it all."

Vegard swallowed and asked, "Why are you so angry?"

"Because this is stupid and I don't want to do this in front of everyone. I would just leave, but knowing you, you'd sit out here all night tied to the fucking pole with a pitiful face, making me look like an ass."

"I'm trying to help you."

Bård turned red and Calle could see a vein on his forehead beginning to stand out. Bård shouted, "No you aren’t! You say that. You always say that. You're never helping. You're just correcting me. You’re so fucking pedantic. And now you want to humiliate me and force me into this just so that you can look compassionate and feel better about it all."

"That's not true."

"If you really want me to do this, then just shut the fuck up."

"I'm trying to help you."

Bård raised his fist and switched to Norwegian. "I will punch you if you ever say that again. I swear."

Vegard cringed, expecting a blow, but none came. He looked at Mio for help. She seemed unfazed. She asked, "How did you feel then, Bård?"

Bård looked back at her and then gazed down at Vegard with fury. "He never, ever, shuts the fuck up. He always has to correct me and make me feel like an idiot. And he's the one with brain damage!"

"I don't have brain damage!"

Bård looked at the roll of duct tape on the table. He shouted, "He always has to have the last word! He does now, and he did then. I just wanted him to stop talking!" He stood, grabbed the roll and pulled off a strip.

Vegard looked at Calle. Calle nodded soberly. Helvete, he was scared too. He’d seen Bård lose his temper, but this wasn't Bård. This was crazy.

Bård kneeled down again and met eyes with his brother. Vegard was breathing hard. He was scared. Bård was losing it. In his head Vegard heard Blueberry telling him to allow Bård to do what he wanted. So he closed his eyes and let Bård put the tape over his mouth without fighting him.

Bård swallowed heavily, panting with anger and fear. "This is insane. Don’t make me do this. I can't do this."

Mio asked, "What can't you do?"

He ground his teeth and growled, "I was a kid then. And then… with Bob… this isn't fair to make us re-live this." He punched the pole above Vegard’s head.

Vegard flinched and opened his eyes. He stared fearfully at Bård, heaving in fury before him. Suddenly it all made sense. Of course, this was why Bob had focused on the incident in the shed. Bård didn’t know. Or he’d forgotten. They had to make Bård see it. He said through the tape, "I know what happened. Let me go and I can explain it." He expected the others wouldn't understand, but he and Bård could each understand each other’s gibberish when no one else could. But Bård didn't pull off the tape; he only flushed with annoyance.

Mio persisted. "What happened next?"

"Then he started talking through the tape, like he is now, being an ass, so I taped his mouth properly." He pulled off five, six pieces of duct tape in succession until Vegard's lower face was completely covered.

Bård sat back on his heels and admired his handiwork. He added, "Oh, and then Vegard started working himself free, even after he'd said I could tie him up." Bård grabbed another length of rope and wrapped it angrily around and around Vegard's wrists, knotted it, and then pulled his wrists upward and wound the rope around Vegard's neck and then fastened it to the pole. There was no way he could work free of this. He'd have to just sit there and stew and think about what a completely stupid idea this had been. He stood in front of Vegard and folded his arms.

Vegard grimaced. He didn't remember Bård putting the rope around his neck when they were children. Now he had to keep his arms twisted up or he would choke himself. Pins and needles shot through his hands. He imagined them turning black and falling off. How long would his hands survive without enough blood flow? Maybe they'd be okay. He remembered a story about someone getting a broken leg and having to tourniquet it out in the wild and it getting all cold and dark but ultimately it was still fine. Trauma medicine seemed pretty cool; maybe he should have been a nurse or something. The musical comedy brother career was certainly not going very well right now.

Bård poked him in the forehead. "I can't believe you're thinking about a change of career. Can you focus for once in your fucking life?!"

Vegard frowned. Could Bård hear his thoughts? Why couldn't he hear Bård’s? It wasn’t fair. Regardless, his hands and arms and neck hurt enough that he couldn't keep himself from writhing, trying to find a more comfortable position.

He grunted in pain and looked up at Bård. A chill ran through his body. Bård was wearing the same facial expression he'd had twenty-five years earlier. An expression of absolute triumph. Bob had made that face as well. Exactly the same face. Vegard panicked. This whole thing was going south. He just had to tell Bård what had happened. He began grunting and struggling in earnest, trying to keep the pressure off of his neck. He reached out for Blueberry but she didn’t answer. His fear skyrocketed.

Calle folded his arms and shuffled his feet with distress. Mio held out a hand to stay him; she knew he wanted to jump in and free his friend. Nurse Haugen also looked extremely worried. Vegard was clearly in pain and frightened by Bård's performance. And then Calle realized with dismay what was happening. He suddenly realized what had happened when the Ylvisåker boys were children. It was so simple. Why didn't Bård see it?

Mio asked softly, "And then what happened, Bård?"

Bård didn't answer for a moment and then he said, "My mother called us, and Vegard went crazy, trying to get free. Like he is now. I was going to go stall her for time, but she was going to hear him if he kept making so much noise. And then we'd be in trouble."

"What did you do?"

"I tried to quiet him."

"How?"

Vegard froze for a moment and then began shaking his head, grunting and protesting. Was Bård going to kill him? Had he wanted to kill him when they were kids? All the times that Bob had taken Bård's form, and smothered him... was it because he knew Bård had tried to kill his brother? This had to stop right now.

Bård squatted down in front of Vegard and calmly put his hand over his mouth and nose. Vegard tried to pull away, but the adult Bård was more coordinated than the child. Bård squeezed Vegard's nose shut and calmly watched as his struggles became more frantic.

Finally Calle pulled Bård away. "Stop it!"

Bård wrenched away from Calle and looked at a table set up near the pole. There were more coils of rope and a white plastic bag a quarter full of dry powdered plaster. Bård looked at it with disbelief. Vegard was such a perfectionist that he'd even gotten a bag of plaster for this insane little theatrical exercise. Bård upended the bag, allowing the plaster to rain down on Vegard’s head. Then he squatted down again, looking at his brother speculatively. Vegard was shaking his head, plaster dust forming little clouds around him. He was protesting, begging him to stop. His face was flushed a dark red under the white powder. Maybe the rope was cutting off his circulation. Bård frowned. Had he put the rope around Vegard's neck just now? That seemed odd.

Calle moved forward again, determined to free Vegard but Mio put a hand on his forearm. "Wait."

She asked, "And what did you do with the bag, Bård?"

Bård looked down at the plastic bag in his hands and shook his head.

"What did you do?"

Bård held up the bag in front of Vegard's eyes and hissed, "Why on earth… why would you put this here? Do you want me to kill you?"

Vegard whimpered and shook his head. His eyes and nose and throat were coated with the plaster dust, and it was more difficult to breathe. Suddenly he was back in the shed with his little brother. He couldn’t breathe and Bård was smothering him. He remembered the panic he had felt. But this time it was worse. His arms were getting tired; when he relaxed them the rope tightened around his neck. He could hear his own pulse pounding in his ears. He called out for Blueberry again, but he still couldn’t hear her. He would die here in front of everyone, and they wouldn’t realize until it was too late.

He looked up at Bård, mentally begging him to hear him.

In response Bård only ground his teeth with anger. He shouted, "Do you want to die?!"

Vegard struggled to breathe and shook his head again.

"Then why are we playing this insane game?! Why do I have to watch you die again?!"

Mio asked, "Did you want to kill your brother, Bård?"

"Of course not. I was just a kid."

"Did you want to kill him?"

"I idolized him. He was my big brother. He was my only real friend."

"Then why did you try to kill him?"

Bård turned to Mio and shrieked, "I didn't try to kill him!"

"Then what were you trying to do?"

"I…" Bård looked at Vegard and stood, clenching the bag in his fist. He paced back and forth, infuriated. "I just wanted him to be quiet."

"But when you were in that shed you saw something new."

"I…" In the corner of Bård's eye, he could see Vegard shaking his head and saying something so muffled by the tape that he couldn't understand. He expected he could open his mind and hear Vegard’s thoughts, but he didn't want to hear his platitudes. He didn't want to hear "I'm trying to help." He looked back down at him. Vegard was crying and coughing. He looked afraid. Good. He should be. He deserved to be afraid.

In the yakuza hospital Bård had watched Vegard die a hundred times. Bård had been tortured over and over while Vegard sat by the window in their room, calmly reading magazines. Every time Bob throttled Vegard to death while Bård was strapped to that bed, Vegard just sat watching television, completely oblivious to Bård's suffering. So, yes, let him be afraid now. Let him fear for his life for a few minutes. Bård hesitated. This felt familiar.

Bård turned to Mio suddenly. "He was afraid. He was terrified. Terrified of me. I'd never seen him afraid of me. I'd seen him afraid for himself, or for me, but not of me. Before that moment he'd been invincible, Vegard, the big brother, the leader. He was cooler than the adults. But at that moment… suddenly he was just a frightened kid like me."

Bård kneeled back down in front of his brother and slid his hand over his mouth and nose again. Vegard kicked his legs and tried to break away. Bård put down the plastic bag and held Vegard’s face still with his other hand. Bård said, "When I covered his nose, he got scared. He started struggling for real. I could tell he wasn't just faking it to make me feel like I was winning. I could tell he was scared for his life." Bård released his brother’s nose again and listened to his labored breathing.

Mio said softly, "And how did that make you feel?"

Bård held Vegard’s face with both hands and searched his eyes. He ran his finger down one of the wet tracks of Vegard’s tears over the plaster powder on his face. He answered, "I felt he'd let me down, by just being a plain human. A scared boy like I was. I felt he'd tricked me. It made me angry. I was furious. I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to be afraid. I wanted to really hurt him. I knew cutting off his air would terrify him." Bård let out a long breath and whispered, "Oh my god, Vegard. It was worse than if I'd just tried to kill you. I tried to torture you. You could have died so easily."

Vegard didn't move a muscle.

Bård looked at Mio and then at Calle in horror. He looked back down at the bag. "My father knew. He told me I knew not to put plastic on someone's face. I did. I knew I shouldn't. My father knew I did it intentionally."

Calle breathed, "What the hell did you do?"

Bård picked up the bag and grabbed the roll of tape in his other hand. Vegard stiffened and protested through the gag, struggling frantically against the ropes holding him in place. His efforts only tightened the loops around his neck and he choked and wheezed as he strangled himself. Why hadn’t Mio stopped this? He was dying, and no one was helping him. Surely Bård could tell he was dying. Did Bård think this was another hallucination and that it didn’t matter? Vegard mentally cried out for Blueberry or the fairies to help him. They didn’t respond.

Bård studied the bag and the tape and then met eyes with Vegard. Vegard froze. Bård said, "I was so angry. I put the bag over his head and held it there until he stopped… until he stopped struggling. Then I taped it and him to the pole."

Calle groaned. "Helvete."

Bård didn't break his gaze with Vegard and began speaking rapidly. "In that moment… I wanted to make him afraid. I wanted him to just be quiet and submit. I didn't want him to get me into trouble. I wanted to hurt him. For that moment I wanted to be… I don't know… Bjarte was going to be born and I was afraid of the new baby. I thought my parents and Vegard would like the new baby better than me. And then Vegard was just a frightened kid. He was afraid of little me. He was ruining everything." Bård's voice caught and he swallowed heavily. He was stunned. His childhood nightmares were true. He really and truly was a psychopath. He truly was.

He dropped the tape and the bag and held out his hand to Calle, "Faen, Calle, give me your knife. Hurry."

"Why?"

"I have to cut him free. He’s choking, hurry up."

"I'll do it."

Nurse Haugen moved forward with medical scissors. "I'll help you."

"No." Bård held up his hand. "I have to be the one to do this. Hurry."

She looked at Mio for help. Mio shook her head. “Bård has to do it.”

Calle studied him for a moment and then dug out his knife and handed it over. Bård kneeled behind Vegard and put the knife to his throat. Vegard froze, certain he was about to die, but then realized Bård was carefully cutting through the rope around his neck. Vegard wondered if Bård realized he'd just scared him half to death. In his head he heard Blueberry say apologetically, “Forgive me, he had to play out the memory, and it seemed your fear helped him to remember. I promise I would not have let you be permanently injured.”

Vegard groaned with relief. He was safe after all. He could feel Bård pulling at the remaining ropes and frantically cutting them away.

As Bård did so the words tumbled out, "All these years I told myself it was an accident. That I didn't really understand what I was doing. But I did. And then afterwards I made Vegard think I was the one who had been wronged; I told him our father had beaten me. He hadn't. I was angry I'd been caught. I was angry that my father knew I was a monster."

He grimaced at Vegard's hands; they were purple. Why had he tied them so tightly? What the fuck was wrong with him? In his haste he accidentally nicked Vegard's hand and when he saw the drop of blood forming he felt tears threatening his vision. He would free Vegard and then he would get as far away as possible from him and everyone he cared about. He wouldn't allow himself to hurt anyone again. Finally the ropes around Vegard's wrists and arms fell away. Now freed, Vegard wiped the plaster out of his eyes and began gingerly pulling the duct tape off of his face. Nurse Haugen rushed forward to help him.

Bård backed up, watching his brother, making sure he would be all right. When he was satisfied Vegard was safe he turned to run out of the tent. Calle took the knife out of his hand and caught hold of his arm, warning, "Oh no you don't. Not after all this trouble we went to for you. You aren't going anywhere."

Vegard finally got the tape sufficiently loose to take in a deep breath. As he and the Nurse continued to work at it, he looked at Calle, mumbling, "Did you figure it out?"

Calle said, "After he taped your mouth. How about you?"

Vegard nodded, "Same."

Nurse Haugen had used a wet washcloth to wash the plaster off of Vegard’s face and now she was using baby oil to help Vegard get the remaining duct tape off as painlessly as possible. The smell reminded Bård of his children and he shuddered, imagining what horrors he might have or would visit upon them if he lost control. If Bob came back. No, he would never return to Norway. Maybe he could get lost somewhere in Canada. He'd liked it there. It was a bit like home. A lot of space. He could find somewhere remote where he couldn’t hurt anyone. Bård could hear Blueberry trying to talk to him but he blocked her out. He knew what he was.

It took some time for Vegard and the nurse to remove the tape, during which Bård stood absolutely still and stared at the ground, his face carefully devoid of emotion, his fists clenched. Calle kept an iron grip on Bård's upper arm.

Vegard finally stood and moved toward Bård. Bård wasn't meeting his gaze. Vegard came close and Bård backed away as far as Calle would let him.

Bård shook his head and mumbled. "Don't touch me. I'm disgusting."

Vegard said gently. “No, you aren’t. You were a child.”

“It’s who I am.”

Mio sighed and said, "Human beings are natural predators…"

Bård said, "No. We're better than that."

She continued, "…and the desire to kill is ingrained into our nature. Killing is required for survival. To kill other animals to eat. To kill other people for the rights to water or hunting grounds."

The three men turned toward Mio with surprise. Her eyes glowed bright blue, and outside Mothra warbled softly.

"Humans also have the desire to dominate. Males especially. In most cultures and in many species, the males fight for dominance to have their pick of mates, of food, of land."

Bård tried unsuccessfully to wrench away from Calle, and Vegard stepped forward and grabbed Bård's other arm.

Mio said, "When we developed agriculture, we began to progress as a society. Physical prowess became less important for survival. We learned to work cooperatively. Successful cultures found ways to curb violence within its population, turning that aggression against outsiders in the form of war."

Mio nodded kindly to Bård. "You must not despise yourself for having a violent nature, but rather celebrate that you can overcome it. You had been told that the bag could hurt Vegard, but as a child you didn't understand what that truly meant. You wanted to dominate him. Had you killed him, you would have grieved his loss your entire life. Not because of guilt, but because you would have felt the loss of a brother you loved and cherished."

Bård didn't try to hide the tears of shame streaming down his face, but he said nothing.

Vegard said, "Back then, when we were kids, he said he was a murderer. But when he showed me the memory…" He looked at Bård, who was still staring at his own feet. "Bård. When you showed me the memory, you didn't believe you'd tried to hurt me. You believed it was all an accident and that you didn't understand what you were doing. You felt guilty for it but… you didn't admit to yourself that you were guilty." He squeezed Bård's shoulder.

Bård said hoarsely, "I remember now. I knew I was guilty then. I’d terrified myself when Vegard almost died. I had no idea I had such power over him, or anyone. But over the years I told myself that I wasn't responsible. That I didn't know. That it was an accident. I just told myself over and over again until it became true."

Mio moved closer and said, "The difference between the child you were and the man you are today is that you understand the consequences of your actions. Have you ever struck a child in anger?"

Bård looked up sharply. "Of course not. I've never hit a child, or a woman or…"

Calle muttered, "He's got a bad history with dogs."

Bård frowned. "That was an accident. But I do beat on Vegard all the time." He glanced at Vegard, who was looking at him not with anger, but rather just worry and pity. Didn't he understand what had just happened?

Mio smiled. "Every time you feel cross with Vegard, and you want to express that emotion physically, it doesn't mean that you want him to die. You would never intentionally injure him now.”

“Maybe…” Bård’s voice cracked with emotion. The group waited silently while he composed himself.

Finally Vegard ventured, “Luckily we don’t argue very often…”

Bård took a deep breath. “I would rather do anything than argue with Vegard. I go along with a lot of what he says just so we won’t have an argument. I suppose I’m afraid I’ll lose my temper and do something terrible.”

Vegard let out a long breath and said quietly, "I’m sorry you feel that way; that's not fair to you. You should tell me when you’re very angry; you shouldn't have to be afraid to have a fight. Like I said, you've never punctured even one of my lungs."

Mio nodded and added, "Tiamat, the spirit you called Bob, knew there was this old guilt buried in you and that your personality made you susceptible to the desire for revenge. You were subconsciously afraid, your entire life, that you would kill Vegard in a moment of anger and Tiamat used that fear to torment you. I suspect he expected that when he was finished with your body you would take your own life to avenge Vegard's death.”

“I don’t believe in the death penalty.” Bård thought a moment. “Well, not for other people.”

Vegard rubbed Bård’s shoulder and sighed sympathetically.

Mio smiled. “You are not a murderer, Bård. You are a good and loving man. Now. Stay here and speak with your brother, and consider my words. If you need to do so, argue with him. It’s safe here. We’ll be outside if you need us."

Mio nodded to Calle and took his hand, leading him out of the tent. The fairies followed suit. Nurse Haugen hesitated but finally said, "Call me if you need me." She handed Vegard another wet cloth for his face, turned and left the tent.

The two men stood silently for a long minute, not moving, Vegard's hand still on Bård's shoulder. Vegard studied Bård, and Bård studied the ground.

Vegard finally offered, "That Blueberry. She's a smart one."

"Yeah. I won't blame you if you… don't like me very much."

"I don't feel any differently about you. That was a long time ago. And, you know, I never realized you'd actually tried to hurt me. I never resented you for it, because I didn't know.”

"That’s stupid."

"Maybe."

Bård finally looked up. He said haltingly, "You're not stupid, you know. I just say it to make myself feel smarter."

"It’s fine. You are smarter than me. Faster."

"Shut up.”

Vegard smiled. “Okay”

“You’ve still got plaster all over your face.”

“Where?”

Bård let out a long breath and took the cloth from his brother. He started wiping the plaster away.

Vegard held still and searched his brother's face as he worked. He didn’t know what else to say.

Bård brushed the plaster dust out of Vegard’s hair. He said, “Blueberry took me to a dark place.”

“I was there with you.”

Bård nodded. “Are you hurt?” He lifted Vegard’s chin with one hand and inspected him. He frowned. There was an angry red welt just under his adam’s apple where the rope had dug into Vegard’s neck. “You’ll have a bruise here tomorrow.”

Nei, it’s fine.” Vegard let Bård examine him. He added, "You scared me half to death. But otherwise, I’m not hurt. How do you feel?"

"Ashamed.” Bård let go of Vegard’s face.

“Don’t be ashamed on my account.”

Bård smiled wryly. “I think you’re involved whether you like it or not.”

“I’m still sorry for what Bob did to you.”

“Not your fault.” Bård studied Vegard’s face, pleased it was all in one piece. He said, “Your black eye is almost gone. You’ll be okay.”

Vegard watched Bård enjoying the fact that he was alive, and a wave of emotion flowed over him. Bård truly had been devastated at the prospect of losing him again to Bob. Vegard felt privileged to have earned that kind of love from his little brother.

Bård frowned, “Are you crying again?”

“Of course not. I never cry.”

“You are.”

Vegard swallowed. “I’m just very relieved.”

“It's absurd to say, but I also feel relieved. And happy to be alive."

"Good. Me too."

"I might have killed you just now."

"Nei, nei, nei. You could have, but you didn’t."

"That is so stup-" Bård caught himself. "Right."

Vegard said, "I miss hearing you in my head. I wish you'd let me in."

"It's better this way. I was thinking some scary things a few minutes ago. And Blueberry says my connection to you made me vulnerable to Bob. Both of us, actually."

“What do you mean?”

“By opening our minds to each other and Blueberry we’re inviting other spirits to possess us in a moment of weakness.”

“I suppose you can teach me how to defend myself.”

“Of course I can.”

Vegard nodded. “Oh. I have something for you.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a rumpled envelope. A message was written across the front: "To Bård Y. from Bård Y. Do not read this unless you are sane."

"This is my handwriting. What is this?"

"You asked me to give it to you. You likely don’t remember."

Bård frowned at it.

Vegard asked softly, "Do you think it’s safe to go home now?"

Bård pulled in a long breath and let it out. "Yeah. I think maybe it is."

Vegard held out his arms. "Can I have a hug?"

Bård grabbed him and hugged him tightly. "Don't tell Mamma. Don't tell anyone."

Vegard smiled. He thought their mother surely knew the day it had happened and had forgiven Bård immediately. But he said, "I won’t,” and hugged his brother.

 

***

 

That night, back in their hospital room, Bård waited until he thought Vegard was asleep, and then switched on the little light next to his bed. He reached under his pillow and pulled out the envelope Vegard had given him. He turned it over and over in his hands. The envelope was sealed and his signature was written across the join in the paper. That seemed like something he would do if he didn't want Vegard to look inside.

He glanced at Vegard. He was sleeping on his side with his face all squished into his pillow. His mouth was hanging open and he was drooling a little. He was definitely alive. And he seemed to have truly forgiven him about the shed. Bård smiled. Vegard was ridiculously bossy, but hopelessly softhearted. He supposed they were a good match, as brothers went.

Bård opened the envelope and pulled out a sheet of what looked like printer paper. Both sides were covered with his own writing, with more than half of it crossed out or misspelled. He took a deep breath and began to read.

Chapter Text

* * *

Vegard was with Bård atop Blueberry, flying over Yokota Air Base. It was the day of the firebomb attack that killed Olsen. They'd just seen Calle away safely and they came upon the refugee camp, the bodies of hundreds of children scattered amidst the debris. As Blueberry flew low to attack the monsters responsible, Vegard recognized his and Bård's children among the dead, their bodies twisted and broken.

Vegard came awake in an instant, shuddering in terror. He clutched his pillow and took a measured breath. It was only a nightmare. He just saw his children yesterday on Skype. Only a bad dream. Take a deep breath. He inhaled slowly, counting to ten, and was rewarded with the smell of whatever lemon-scented cleaning solution the hospital used. He was okay. It wasn't real. He opened one eye… and then both.

“Hei, Vegard.” The light filtering in through the hospital room window was still dim; if dawn had just gotten started it must only be 0430. Bård was lying on his side in the bed across from him, his eyes wide. He’d obviously been watching him.

Vegard let out another slow breath. “Why are you awake?”

“Nightmare. You?”

“Nightmare."

Bård nodded but he looked shaken.

Vegard offered, "The doctors said the nightmares should go away over time.”

"Okay."

"Okay."

"Vegard?"

"Bård?"

"I… owe you an apology."

Vegard smiled. “You don't. Go back to sleep.” He reached for the glass of water on the bedside table and took a sip. Hospital air was so dry.

Bård watched him drink and said, “I read that letter.”

Vegard got comfortable on his pillow again and studied his brother's face. “Will you tell me what it said?””

“Someday.”

“Fair enough.”

Bård hesitated, but finally confessed. “It said I beat you almost to death."

"That wasn't you. The fairies patched me up. I'm fine."

"Yesterday I thought I was the only one who suffered, but according to me, you went through hell as well. At my hands.”

Vegard let out a breath. "Bård. I swear to you. It wasn't you. You suffered far more than I did. Stop asking about it."

"Wouldn't you want to know?"

Vegard sighed. "You made the decision to forget all of that."

Bård frowned. "The letter said I'm the one that broke your finger."

Vegard smiled and held up his splinted finger. "You know, if that was you, I'm grateful. I appreciate you chose my right little finger. At least I can still play guitar. The fairies said I'd play piano again. So it doesn't matter."

"Stop being the brave hero. Just… stop it."

Vegard hesitated, confused. He said, "I'm not trying to…"

"You did this in Canada. You took all those bullets."

Vegard smiled ruefully. "That wasn't on purpose. And as I recall, you dived into a bottomless pit to keep me from being shot again."

"It was hardly bottomless. And what about what you did in the States? With those maniacs?"

"I…"

"I told you I'm never letting you do anything like that again. Never again."

Vegard sighed. "I was just…"

"And now you're trying to absorb the guilt for this. My guilt."

Vegard sobered. "No. I'm not. I'm not going to take the blame for what that monster did. I'm just saying you shouldn't either."

"You don't have to protect me. I'm an adult."

Vegard set his jaw. "You may not ever understand this, Bård. Because you have never been, and you will never be the oldest brother. But it has always been, and will always be my duty to protect you."

"That's bullshit."

"It isn't. Just as it's your duty to protect your children and my duty to protect mine, I'm compelled to take care of you if I can. It's just… biology."

Bård scowled at Vegard. "Don't be absurd."

"That responsibility never goes away. When I'm a hundred years old, and you're…"

Bård rolled his eyes. "Ninety-seven."

"Right. I'll still have to watch out for you. It will be unfortunate because I'll probably be senile, blind and incontinent."

"What did you dream about?"

Vegard blinked. "What?"

Bård hesitated, and then said, "In my dream, we were on Blueberry flying over the air base. There were dead children everywhere. And then I saw-"

Vegard cut him off. "I had the same dream."

"Are the kids…?"

"They're fine. We talked to them yesterday. Well, I talked to them. You watched. Don't you remember?"

"Yes. But I'm feeling a little doubtful about which of my memories are real." Bård frowned. Vegard had suddenly gone still. "What's the matter?"

Vegard explained, "Two nights ago Bob attacked us while we were asleep. It made me… I stopped breathing. You woke up and got the staff to resuscitate me. You saved my life."

Bård gaped for a moment and then groaned. "Jesus Christ."

"I know."

"Stop being so fucking fragile."

"Unnskyld."

"That nightmare we just had, was that Bob?"

"I don't think so."

Bård rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. If they were still in danger maybe it had been a mistake to forget so much. How could he defend against such bizarre attacks if he didn't remember previous ones? He rubbed his nose and asked nonchalantly, “Do you think it's too early to get something to eat?"

“Can’t hurt to ask.”

Neither brother moved. Bård said, “I’m too tired to find the nurse’s call button.”

“Me too.”

"I don’t want to go back to sleep.”

"Me neither." Vegard studied his brother. He offered, "If you want to come over here and sleep with me it's fine."

Bård grimaced and turned to look at him, his eyes shining in the pre-dawn light. "No? Where did that come from?"

"Before you decided to forget… you got into bed with me a few times because of nightmares."

"Tuller du?"

"Nei."

"There's no way I would do that."

"There's proof. Calle filmed us sleeping and sent the video to Mamma."

Bård shook his head and stared back up at the ceiling. "Kjempeflott."

"She showed it to the wives."

"Fan-fucking-tastic. Remind me to punch Calle in the face."

"Okay. But the wives thought it was sweet."

Bård groaned. "Where do I turn in my testosterone card? I might as well just have my balls removed."

Vegard offered, "It's okay. You were in pretty bad shape then. You were confused about how old you were."

“Fy faen. Did the family see me like that?"

"You'd been through hell. They don't know exactly what happened, just that you were really hurt."

"Helvete. Tell me a story.”

Vegard hesitated, puzzled by the request. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, tell me a story. A bedtime story."

"Now you're the one who is kidding."

Bård shrugged at the ceiling. “No. But if you tell anyone I’ll deny I ever asked.”

Vegard thought a moment. He asked, “Do you remember Blueberry’s house?”

“She has a house? It must be huge. Wait, is it a-”

“It’s not a lightbulb.”

Bård smiled. “I was going to say flower.”

“It’s not that either.”

“Tell me.”

Vegard hugged his pillow. The nightmare was somehow easier to deal with if Bård had had it as well. And it was good to see Bård smile. Bård could be as rebellious as he liked, but he would always be Vegard's little brother. So he said sleepily, “Okay, lillebror, I’ll tell you about Blueberry’s house and what we saw there. If you fall back asleep while I’m talking it’s fine.”

"And do the voices.”

Vegard chuckled. "Of course."

"Go."

"And so. Blueberry lives with a little grey cat and two little boys in a little yellow cottage with grass and flowers on its roof…"

 

* * *

 

"Vegard?"

Vegard groaned. Bård hadn't fallen back to sleep quickly, and it had taken longer than that for Vegard to fall asleep as well. He pressed his face into his pillow. "Five more minutes, takk."

Calle shook his shoulder. "Wake up. There's an ambassador to see you and Blueberry is leaving."

Vegard opened his eyes. "She can't leave."

"Get up, there are things to do."

Bård grunted. "What's happening?"

Vegard sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Calle says Blueberry is leaving."

"She can't leave."

Calle folded his arms. "You have five minutes to get ready. Come out to the tent. I'm going back there now. I don't want to miss saying goodbye to Mio. There are fresh clothes for you on the windowsill. Machen Sie schnell!" He turned to leave. Before the door closed behind him, Bård was already in the bathroom.

Four minutes later, Nurse Haugen and two base guards escorted the brothers to the tent. Blueberry was standing nearby as before, but now she had an airplane passenger stairway pushed up against her side. There were a handful of people milling around the tent, and they looked up curiously as the brothers approached.

The fairies zoomed over to greet them, "Are you feeling better?"

Bård and Vegard answered simultaneously, "Please don't leave." They both stopped short and stared at each other with surprise. Bård quickly looked away and back up at the giant moth.

Blueberry's voice in their heads was like a gentle summer breeze. "I will return tomorrow to take you home."

The fairies said, "Mothra is taking the children and Mio back to Odo Island. She wishes you to have her blessing before we leave, so that you will be protected from evil spirits."

The brothers turned as Mio approached, holding hands with Calle. He looked terribly sad. Mio was wearing her purple armor and had her weapon on her thigh holster. She said, "God dag."

They answered, "God dag."

"Last night Mothra, the fairies and I discussed your situation at great length. We expected your connection to have faded by now, but it hasn't. As long as your minds are open in this way you are vulnerable to another attack."

Bård said, "We had the same dream last night."

Vegard frowned slightly. He still longed to sync back with Bård. He felt slightly hurt Bård was still blocking him.

Bård punched Vegard lightly in the arm and said, "I'm keeping Bob out, not you."

Vegard narrowed his eyes at Bård. But he turned to Mio and the fairies. "We can't go home if there's a risk we might get possessed and hurt our families."

Bård added, "Or anyone else."

Vegard nodded. "Or anyone else."

Mio smiled. "Mothra's blessing will change you, so we wished to ask your permission first."

Bård frowned. "Will change us?"

Mio reached into her cuirass and pulled out a disc on a chain. "We would mark you on your right shoulder, where Tiamat entered your bodies before. This is Mothra's mark. It will allow her to find you in the future, will mark you as a friend to Her allies, and will warn off spirits who wish to harm you." The medallion was marked with a symmetrical cross inside a circle. Behind the cross was a depiction of the sun with emanating rays of light.

 photo MothraCross_zps89cfctiy.jpg

Mio added, "Over the years, Mothra has blessed very few living humans and whales in this fashion. But none have suffered ill effects."

Calle said, "You keep mentioning whales."

"Yes?"

"Should we be doing more to protect them?"

Mio smiled and turned to him. "All creatures have their time on this planet. Their spirits are eternal. Do not fear for them."

"Maybe I'll donate to Save the Whales just to be on the safe side."

Mio bowed her head slightly. "You are kind to worry for them." She turned back to the brothers, who were muttering to each other. "Do you wish for Mothra to mark you?"

The brothers answered an emphatic, "Yes!" and simultaneously pulled off the khaki T-shirts they'd put on only a few minutes before.

Calle sucked in a breath. Vegard had a few healing marks where he'd had the chest tubes removed, but both men had a pair of ugly purple wounds on their right shoulders where the snake clasp's fangs had bitten into their flesh. He asked, "Do they still hurt?"

The brothers nodded and curiously inspected each other's scars. They were eerily similar.

Mio released Calle's hand and held her hands out to the brothers. "Come with me."

Mio led them to stand twenty yards in front of Blueberry and then stepped to their side. She clasped her hands together and bowed her head in prayer. The fairies floated in front of the men and said, "The blessing will burn away any residual energy from Tiamat's curse. It may be painful."

Bård said, "I don't care if it hurts; I don't want any of that monster left inside me."

The fairies nodded solemnly and their Fairy Mothra mount flew them above the men. They clasped hands, closed their eyes and began singing a sweet melody in a language neither brother understood.

Bård held out his hand to Vegard, who took it firmly in his own and nodded at Blueberry. "We're ready."

The fairies and Blueberry were soon bathed in golden sparkles. Bård said softly, "This isn't so bad. I was expecting m-"

Bård was cut off as the golden shimmering cloud whooshed toward and surrounded them. Vegard gasped in surprise; he suddenly felt Bård's consciousness again.

V: I can hear you.
B: Okay.
V: Are you blocking me?
B: I'm trying.
V: Why?

Blueberry's gentle whisper interrupted their thoughts, saying, "Ready yourselves."

Both men stiffened suddenly and howled into the sky. The golden light had condensed into two glowing spheres, each no bigger than a fist, and had fused to their shoulders.

Calle winced in sympathetic pain. As the energy spheres burned their way into the brothers' right shoulders, the reaction released an oily black smoke that smelled of sulfur and burnt meat. But the process only lasted a few seconds, and then all the light faded. Both men were left with a six centimeter royal blue mark like the one on Mio's amulet. Underneath the mark the ugly purple scars had faded to thin white streaks.

Vegard looked down at himself. "Well. Now I have two tattoos. Welcome to the tattoo club, Bård."

"Yay?"

As they pulled their shirts back on, Mio turned to Calle. "And now I must bid you farewell, Spirit Calle."

Calle kissed Mio's hand. "Will I ever see you again?"

Mio nodded. "Of course. In this life, or the next."

Calle sighed. "That's a long time to wait. It's been an honor to know you, Queen Mio."

She stood on her toes and kissed him lightly on the lips. "I assure you, Spirit Calle, the honor has been mine."

"You're making me blush."

Vegard and Bård glanced at each other. Vegard shrugged.

Mio said, "Here comes your tall friend."

Magnus was trudging toward them with Alice and Fuu sitting on his shoulders, both holding little flowers. Three little Japanese boys were following behind, also holding flowers. Magnus stopped in front of the brothers.

"Hey guys."

Calle grinned. "Hei, Kuma-san."

Vegard approached Magnus and reached up to take Fuu. He gave her a hug and turned to Mio. "You know, I had been thinking seriously of trying to adopt Fuu if she had no one left. I feel responsible for her."

Mio smiled. "You are very generous to care for her in such a way. But I promise Mothra will watch over and protect her."

Vegard sighed and smiled affectionately at the little girl. She smiled at him and said, "Hana." She held out a daisy for him to sniff.

He did so and asked, "Will she be happy?" He smiled back down at Fuu and nodded. "A pretty flower."

Fuu made a show of sniffing the flower and giggled up at him.

Mio said, "I can promise you that she will have a happy life and be very well-loved."

"Thank you for that."

Mio smiled and beckoned to the children. "Now. Come with me, children, we're going for a wonderful ride on Mothra. You can show her your flowers."

The children cheered and Vegard and Magnus escorted them and Mio up the stairs to sit atop Mothra's back.

Calle looked longingly after them and sighed. "That was one amazing woman. If I were only 80,000 years older…"

Bård looked at him curiously but said, "How does Vegard know that little girl?"

Calle shook his head and watched Mio. "He saved her from a monster."

Bård frowned but asked, "Did you and Mio have some sort of an affair?"

"Of course not. She's far too old for me. Besides, I'm married now."

"Okay."

Calle raised his hand to wave at Mio and she bowed her head in return. Vegard and Magnus descended the stairway and helped an airman pull it away from Blueberry. As she took off, Vegard patted Magnus's shoulder and rubbed his back. Magnus swiped at his eyes, obviously sad to be saying goodbye to the children.

 

* * *

 

As Blueberry disappeared into the distance a tall white man in his fifties with blue eyes and pale blond hair approached them cautiously. He bowed his head and introduced himself as the Norwegian ambassador to Japan. As he shook their hands he smiled and said, "Call me Erlend. If you will follow me?"

The ambassador (and their bodyguards) escorted the four men to a conference room in the main building where a continental breakfast and one of Erlend's aides, a middle-aged blond woman, awaited them. As Bård was digging into his second plate of fruit, Miki Saegusa, Colonel Sheppard and Nurse Haugen joined them.

They spent the next hour discussing how the story of their involvement in the battle with Jormungand should be handled. The rise of the monsters three weeks earlier had led to many stories of heroism and sacrifice all over the planet, and so Bård and Vegard's adventure could conceivably be spun as just another story of unusual circumstances that would fade from the public consciousness along with the others.

The previous year, after Bård and Vegard had thwarted a terrorist attack in Canada, they'd been bombarded with interview requests and had been followed around by European and North American paparazzi for weeks. The experience had been incredibly unpleasant. They'd received some threatening emails and letters that made them anxious for their families' safety. They didn't want to go through that again.

This time, videos and photographs had been leaked on the Internet showing all four men in contact with not only the Mothra, but Godzilla and Gamera as well. It would be difficult to deny any involvement.

Colonel Sheppard pointed out that although there was some documentation of their role as victims of the stone dragon's rampage, there appeared to be no evidence of Bård's role as Bob's proxy. All the civilian witnesses had died in the attack with the exception of the little girl, Fuu, who was now safely away from prying eyes.

Vegard glanced at his brother, who was studying his hands. Vegard patted Bård's forearm.

Bård didn't look up.

The ambassador went on to explain that the world had been in chaos in the days before Jormungand died. The waves of monsters that appeared had convinced millions that the end of days had arrived. The most panicked people committed suicide in droves. Part of the problem had been the loss of communications; the temporary loss of Internet access had many fringe groups spreading rumors by word-of-mouth or ham radio that an alien invasion or a divine apocalypse was to blame. In some less developed countries, fighting had broken out abruptly, rebels feeling they had nothing to lose and dictators feeling the need to assert their dominance. Then when Jormungand died and the monsters inexplicably disappeared across the world, the conspiracy theorists had a field day, blaming the entire thing on governments or on minority groups. Or Hollywood.

Calle leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "And some of the crazies have gotten even crazier in the last two weeks."

Vegard asked, "Calle? You knew about all of this?"

Calle shrugged apologetically. "We… that is, Magnus and I and your mother and the family… we agreed to not mention it. Your doctors thought it would be better if we didn't burden you with this until you were out of the woods and Bård was more… lucid."

Bård frowned at his hands.

Vegard thought about the story the yakuza had told him. "Is it possible we might be targets for these crazy people if they knew we helped kill the serpent?"

The ambassador glanced at his assistant. He said, "There is worldwide interest in Mothra and the other Japanese kaiju. Only a few supernatural creatures appeared across the planet that fought on our side. Several cults have already sprung up that worship them."

Vegard rubbed his forehead. "I'm getting a headache."

Calle leaned forward again and asked the ambassador, "Mio said our two boys here still had some magical powers. How is that going to play?"

Everyone around the table looked at Vegard. Bård was still stubbornly examining his own hands.

Vegard shrugged. "We don't really have any important powers without Blueberry." He grimaced. "The last thing we want would to do would be a talk show circuit doing tricks for the camera. It would be… disrespectful to Blueberry, more than anything else."

Colonel Sheppard asked, "What sort of tricks are we talking about?"

Vegard started to answer but was cut off as Bård abruptly grabbed his hand and his thoughts appeared in his head again.

They said simultaneously, "We can do things like this." They held their free hands out and pink lightning danced around their fingertips.

Colonel Sheppard, the ambassador and his aide pushed to their feet. Calle said, "Okay, Ylvis, you made your point. Put away your scary wizard powers now."

Bård let go of Vegard's hand and the electrical sparks dissipated. Just as quickly, Bård was out of Vegard's head again.

Vegard frowned at Bård, "Was that really necessary?"

Bård looked carefully around the table. "We can defend ourselves if we have to."

Sheppard nodded and sat back down. The others followed suit. He said, "You might not want to show that to anyone else, unless you want someone to take one or both of you off to a lab somewhere to dissect you."

Vegard glanced at Bård but said, "We've already been through that with the yakuza."

"Ah. Right."

"We don't want to be dissected. We also don't want to be heroes or to be worshipped or any of that. We just want to go home and go back to our lives and our families."

The ambassador nodded thoughtfully and glanced at Nurse Haugen. Finally he said, "We'll prepare a statement for the press suggesting that you were badly injured in the fight in the Pacific and that you need time to recuperate."

Vegard nodded. "It's the truth."

"Hopefully public attention will have shifted by the time you are willing to speak."

Magnus let out a long sigh. "So much for fame and fortune."

Vegard grimaced. "Magnus, you saw what we went through last year. That crazy Belgian man who came to the office waving a knife around? And all those threatening letters and messages? You don't want any of that, I promise you."

"At least I made friends with Gamera."

Sheppard grinned. "There ya go. Maybe you two can star in your own movie."

"I don't think anyone wants to see a movie about a giant turtle."

Miki offered, "It would do very well in Japan."

Vegard looked back at Bård. He was rubbing his temples. Vegard leaned over and asked quietly, "Are you in pain?"

"Litt."

Vegard looked back at the others. "These last few days have been pretty rough for Bård. For both of us. Can we deal with this when we get back home? We will just not talk to the press for now."

The ambassador looked at Bård with concern and nodded. "Of course. I'll talk to my liaison in Norway and we'll arrange for a representative to head off any questions when you get there."

Sheppard stood and added, "My offer still stands. If either of you wants to talk."

Bård looked at Vegard and asked in Norwegian, "What offer?"

Vegard said softly, "Colonel Sheppard also was possessed once and his demon made him shoot his best friend. He said he'd be willing to talk to about getting possessed."

Bård looked at Sheppard with surprise and said in English, "I'd like that very much."

Sheppard nodded. "Come with me; we can go to my office right now."

Vegard watched Bård leave with Sheppard, followed by one of their guards. Nurse Haugen made her apologies and admonished Vegard to stay with Calle and the remaining guard until he could return to the room. It worried Vegard that he and his brother were assigned bodyguards here on the base. If they weren't safe here, how would it be at home?

Vegard stood to thank the ambassador, then turned to see Calle and Magnus approach Miki. Poor Miki had to strain her neck to look up at Magnus.

Calle reached into his pocket and produced a metallic shard about the size of his palm. He let out a breath and said, "Miki… This was one of the bullets that killed your friend when we were escaping the base. I thought maybe you should have it."

Miki soberly took the shard and bowed her head in thanks. She said, "I will have Azami in my heart for the rest of my life. Has this object reminded you of her?"

Calle frowned and nodded. "It has. And of Chaplain Olsen. They were good people."

Miki hesitated and then said, "I do not wish to dishonor your gesture by returning this gift to you, but perhaps you should keep it. So that you remember their sacrifice."

Vegard felt his eyes sting with emotion and he felt suddenly that he was intruding. He began to withdraw but Calle caught his arm. Calle said soberly to Miki, "I would be honored to keep it." He bowed his head to her and she smiled and bowed in return.

Vegard swallowed hard and asked, "What will you do now, Miki?"

She smiled. "I will continue my work with the kaiju and my school of telepathy. I have many promising students."

Vegard blinked. "Okay."

Magnus grinned and added, "And she's getting married to Koji Shinjo."

Vegard and Calle lit up, grateful to have some good news, and congratulated her enthusiastically.

 

* * *

 

A short time later, Vegard, Calle and Magnus were relaxing back in the brothers' room. They had the windows open and the television was on, with the sound off, turned to some ridiculous Japanese game show, as usual. Bård appeared after about an hour.

Vegard looked up with a smile, "Look! New phones!" He handed one to Bård. "I've already synced my phone with the cloud; I feel human again."

Bård glanced at the phone and nodded. He sat down on his bed and began pulling off his boots.

Magnus asked, "Hey, is everything okay?"

Bård answered, "Everything is hunky-dory."

The room went silent and the other men looked at each other with worry.

Calle finally said cheerily, "Hey, listen, I know we're supposed to stay here but Magnus and I could run down to the dining tent and get some snacks and things. They have some real American junk food down there. And cake."

Bård didn't look up. Vegard nodded and said, "That would be great. Thanks. See if you can find a Coke or Pepsi; I'm in the mood for one." He wasn't sure if Calle was giving them a chance to be alone or just running away from Bård; either way he was grateful.

"Great." Calle stood and motioned for Magnus to follow.

When the door closed Bård stood suddenly and sat next to Vegard.

"Bård, what is it?"

Bård grabbed Vegard's hand and they were suddenly connected again.

V: Oi, oi, oi, oi! Warn a brother.
B: Beklager. Don't think anything.
V: What's wrong?
B: I just need this.
V: What happened?
B: Nothing happened. Be quiet. Just… be here.

Vegard frowned down at Bård's hand. He was squeezing his hand so tightly that it ached. Bård relaxed his grip and Vegard put his other hand over Bård's.

V: I'm here.
B: I don't want to talk.
V: Okay.

When Calle and Magnus returned with snacks, the brothers were sitting side-by-side, holding hands. Bård let go of Vegard's hand but didn't get up. Vegard gratefully took a bottle of cola and drank it with gusto. Bård smiled up at them as well and grabbed some chocolate.

It wasn't long before Magnus and Calle were joking around again with Vegard, and the rest of the day passed quickly in good-natured conversation. Bård didn't say much, but smiled or nodded at jokes. He also looked at his phone, texting back and forth with his wife and daughter. The simple and familiar ritual relaxed him immensely. Throughout, he kept in physical contact with Vegard by pressing his bare upper arm against his brother's.

For his part, Vegard found Bård's presence in his head very comforting, even if Bård didn't want to directly share any thoughts. Despite Bård's relative silence, for the first time Vegard began to have real hope they would both recover from this ordeal.

And tomorrow Blueberry would take them home.

Chapter Text

* * *

Blueberry returned at dawn the following morning, and Nurse Haugen woke the men with a tray piled high with standard American breakfast food: eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, French toast, fruit and oatmeal. Bård complained about the unnecessarily heavy fare, and that brought smiles to the others' faces. Bård was starting to sound like himself again.

After breakfast it didn't take long for the men to pack. Calle and Magnus had some mementos of their stay; Magnus had a sheaf of artwork drawn by some of the children he'd befriended, as well as a chip from one of Gamera's scales. Around his neck Calle wore a small purple enameled medallion on a silken cord. It had the figure of a moth on one side and Mothra's symbol on the other. Mio had given it to him as a remembrance and blessing and Calle didn't think he'd ever take it off. It made him feel stronger and more confident. But that and Miki's alien bullet were the only things he had besides his wallet and phone.

Miki had retrieved Bård and Vegard's wallets and passports from the patient valuables safe at University of Tsukuba Hospital. Their new phones didn't take up much space. Everything else was gone.

So they left the hospital in borrowed fatigues from Yokota Base and best wishes from the staff.

The Norwegian ambassador and Colonel Sheppard met them at Mothra's side to wish them farewell and to tell them that Nurse Haugen was going with them to Norway. She would watch over them and support the story that they were still recovering. Best of all, they learned their families would be meeting them at the Air Station in Rygge.

Magnus was pleased to learn that Gamera would escort them home as well. He'd be flying interference should anyone take a shot at them as they flew across Russian airspace.

So they climbed up to sit on Blueberry's head amidst the fluffy white tufts. She trilled and the Fairy Mothra flew around them squeaking merrily.

Magnus looked around, smiling. "Guys. This is cool."

Calle nodded. "Wait until you see Ylvis here doing their thing."

The fairies nodded and said, "We will help as well."

Bård frowned. What was their "thing" again?

But Vegard nodded and took Bård's hand.

B: What are you doing?
V: One last song? We're going to be flying pretty high. We need a shield.
B: Ah. I don't know if we can still do that.
V: We can. You told me yourself.
B: Did I?

Mothra's thoughts interrupted. "I will help you. Sing with me and I will take you home."

Mothra began beating her wings and let out a hum so low that the humans could feel the bass note rumbling through their bodies. The fairies struck up a high harmony to her sound, and as she lifted off the brothers began to sing. A golden shield rose up around them and Blueberry flew higher and higher, so fast that the clouds and land blurred below. Magnus laughed and high fived Calle as Gamera roared and rose to fly above the clouds beside them, rolling his giant turtle eyes around with excitement.

When they landed, they found the ambassador had been true to his word. Although a few photographers were attempting to snap some pictures with telephoto lenses, all of journalists were kept away from where Blueberry and Gamera had landed. A representative from TVNorge read a statement to a crowd of reporters just outside the air station saying that Ylvis would not be appearing for interviews until they had recovered from their injuries.

The men were all overjoyed beyond measure to reunite with their families, and laughter and tears flowed freely. Also there to meet them was their three-man camera crew, who had survived and made it back to Norway safely. They'd brought their camera with them, at Ylvis's producer's request, but the camera mostly sat in the corner turned off while the group celebrated.

Blueberry, the fairies and Gamera all took their leave soon after they arrived, but not before Blueberry took the men and their loved ones for a short and low-flying ride over the Norwegian countryside. As they rose into the air the children cheered and the brothers high-fived each other with an enthusiastic shout of "Beste Onkler!"

All four men were in tears when they said their farewells to the magical creatures. The fairies (and Blueberry) assured Bård and Vegard that with the blessing they had been given, Blueberry or another good Spirit of the Earth would come to their aid should it be required. But it was still difficult to say goodbye. The brothers knew they would never consider calling Blueberry under any but the most extreme circumstances.

Magnus and Calle left after a short time to go home with their families. The Prime Minister had arranged for Bård and Vegard's families, parents and little brother to all stay in a large private home not far from Oslo. They all stayed up late that first night, catching up on what had happened in Norway while the brothers were gone, carefully avoiding much detail about their experience in Japan.

Although they'd gone to their bedrooms exhausted, sleeping had been difficult for both men. Vegard had only been asleep an hour or so when a nightmare about Bob throwing Fuu off of the golem woke him. He lay still in the dark, blinking up at the ceiling, telling himself it was just a dream. But he was unable to get back to sleep. He finally gave up trying and crept softly out of bed. He made his way down to the kitchen and wasn't surprised to see Bård there, chatting to Nurse Haugen, sipping a mug of hot chocolate. When she saw Vegard she got up to make him a mug as well.

Vegard sat down across from Bård and said in English. "Nightmare?"

"Nightmare. And jet lag."

"Yeah."

Nurse Haugen set a steaming mug down in front of Vegard. "Do you need anything else?"

"No. Thanks. This is great." He sipped and then looked up at her. "Are you okay?"

Nurse Haugen smiled broadly. "I feel fine, and I'm excited to have flown with Mothra. And I've always wanted to visit Norway; it's the homeland, you know." She winked and said, "I'll try to get to sleep so you two can talk. Come get me if there's any trouble."

"Thank you."

The moment she left the room Bård reached out and took Vegard's hand. Vegard felt relief wash through him as his brother settled down in his head. They sat quietly drinking their chocolate for several long minutes.

Finally Bård ventured out loud, "We'll eventually have to go back to our separate houses."

"I know. And you don't have to speak out loud. You can just tell me in my head if you want."

"Nei."

"Okay."

"I don't think the wives will want us to all sleep in the same room."

Vegard smiled. "You're right about that. And let's agree right now never to tell them about how we saw them both naked."

"Agreed."

They fell back into silence. Bård said softly, "So glad to see the kids are okay. All of them."

"Yep. Best uncles ever."

"Ja. Listen, Vegard… was Fuu the girl I tortured?"

"Don't ask me about that."

"It was in the letter."

"Maybe I shouldn't have given it to you."

"Nei, it's good I know."

"Regardless, that wasn't you."

"Right." Bård took a sip from his mug. He added, "We are going to have to tell them the story tomorrow. Mamma won't let us put it off longer than that."

Vegard sighed. "Okay."

"Okay."

Vegard looked around the luxurious kitchen. "It's so quiet. And white. Everything is white: the furniture, the appliances, the carpets, the walls…"

"It's a relief. That drab hospital was so depressing."

"I used to like this but… maybe a yellow or blue pillow would help. Like in Blueberry's house."

Bård smiled. "I wish I remembered it."

"I can show it to you."

"I'd like that."

The brothers moved to the large windowed living room and sat on its comfortable white couch. They held hands and watched the sun rise as Vegard gave his brother a tour of the little yellow cottage with the flowers on its roof. As the sun's light peeked through the trees in Norway they heard Blueberry's gentle voice in their heads. She said softly, "I will always be with you, children. In this life and the next. Be at peace."

When their families woke, they found the brothers sleeping on the sofa, Vegard's head on Bård's shoulder. Their little brother Bjarte whooped with laughter at the sight and woke them. As revenge, they both tackled and tickled him mercilessly until their mother stuck her head out of the kitchen and told them to stop. So they did. Mostly. Then the whole family enjoyed a delicious (and noisy) Norwegian breakfast. Bård and Vegard found themselves laughing along with the children so much that it took forever to eat. But breakfast felt familiar and happy and comforted them both tremendously.

When they finished clearing the table, Nurse Haugen took the children upstairs. The time had come for the brothers to tell their story.

So they sat next to each other on the sofa, arms touching, and told their wives and parents and little brother what had happened. Their family's reaction was initially skeptical, but they were all enthralled by the story of Odo Island and the battle with Jormungand. But when the brothers told what happened after the battle the room went very quiet.

Vegard filled in what Bård didn't remember, which was most of it, but didn't give much in the way of detail when it came to Bård's being possessed. After describing their night in the ocean and their bizarre kidnapping by the yakuza, Vegard said only that a monster captured and tortured them. And in the process they'd both been traumatized and injured, Bård so terribly that he'd agreed to give up his memory of the worst of it.

They didn't mention killing the yakuza man. Or about Bård seeing Vegard murdered over and over. They said nothing whatsoever about their revelation about the accident in the shed. Vegard ended their tale by singing the song that he'd used to summon Bård's spirit from the stone. Bård had forgotten it, and was visibly moved by the words.

When Vegard finished his song, the family sat in silence, looking at one another. They were all subdued the remainder of the day and both brothers wondered if they had told too much of the tale. On the positive side, they found themselves being almost continually hugged by one or more of their family from then on.

That night, Bård and Vegard were up again at four in the morning drinking hot chocolate in the kitchen. The nightmares were bad, but they were grateful to wake up back in the country and with the people they loved most.

 

* * *

 

Six weeks later, Bård was straightening Vegard's collar as they stood in the wings waiting to go onstage on Fredrik Skavlan's show. They'd been barraged with requests for interviews, but they decided to only go on Fredrik's show for now. He'd come out to Bård's house personally to talk to the brothers on his own, off-camera. He'd been so moved by their story that he offered to dedicate an entire extended show to only them, Calle and Magnus. Neither brother wanted to talk about any of it, but they did want to get back to work. It had become increasingly obvious they would have to give an interview before they could convince a sponsor that they wouldn't be a liability. TV Norge and other sponsors were anxious about the worst of the (completely untrue) rumours about Ylvis and Mothra. So the brothers agreed to a taped interview with Fredrik in front of an audience. Tickets for the show sold out in minutes.

The show began with Magnus and Calle, who talked a bit about their own experiences, in particular those with Gamera. Calle also talked about how odd it was to be with Ylvis when they were under Mothra's spell.

Back in the wings, Vegard shrugged off Bård's attempts to groom him and grabbed Bård's hand.

V: Are you ready?
B: No.
V: Let me handle this.
B: No.
V: If you need me to handle this, let me. Let me be the big brother tonight.
B: …okay.
V: Really?
B: I'm supposed to let you.
V: What do you mean?

Bård's response was cut off because they'd been announced and the audience was applauding. Vegard took a deep breath. This felt familiar and normal. Bård pushed past him and led the way, smiling and waving at the crowd.

They settled into their chairs across from each other, Vegard next to Calle, Bård next to Magnus. Fredrik welcomed them and began by showing a montage of some of the photographs and videos that had appeared on the internet over the two months since the battle with Jormungand. It was accompanied by the song they'd sung while charging into battle (Frem!/Ride forth!), recorded by Calle and others at the time. Many of the still images were fakes, but there was one real photo the brothers hadn't seen. It was a grainy photo of the rock dragon, showing Vegard sitting with Fuu, both in chains and covered in blood. Bård was kneeling in front of them, his back to the camera. Bård shifted in his seat and Vegard saw a flash of dismay pass over his face.

Fredrik asked, "Have you seen all of these photos?"

Vegard said, "No. Some of these are new to us. Some of them are photoshopped, total fiction."

Bård said, "We didn't actually grow wings or hang out with Grumpy Cat."

"Well, Bård didn't hang out with Grumpy Cat."

The audience laughed uneasily.

Vegard added, "Nei, nei, nei. It isn't fair for us to joke about it. The things that truly did happen to us were even more preposterous. And amazing."

Fredrik said soberly, "Even so, it's obvious that this wasn't all a fun experience for you."

Vegard glanced at Bård and said, "After the battle we got dumped in the ocean. Bård almost died there. And after that a lot of seriously awful things happened."

"There's been tremendous interest in your adventure in Japan. Yours was the only known instance of humans communicating directly with the Titans."

"Titans?"

"Titans are what the Americans call the creatures that fought alongside humanity against the Monsters. Calle and Magnus here have talked about their interactions with Gamera, but they and others have said you actually spoke with Mothra."

Vegard nodded, still watching his brother. "She is telepathic. She spoke to us in our heads."

"And this stone dragon you were seen on. The one that is now a colossal statue in Japan?"

"Yeah, that was a Monster. Bård called it "Bob" just to annoy it."

The audience laughed.

Vegard shrugged. "That was before Mothra was reborn, so she couldn't protect us from Bob. That's when the really bad things happened."

"May I ask what sort of bad things?"

Vegard waited for Bård to nod at him and said, "Well… we're talking to counselors about it. They've told us to think of ourselves as POWs, you know, prisoners of war, and that the… torture was just… that it wasn't personal. Bård took the worst of it. It's still too soon for us to talk about the details. We're still processing it all, talking to specialists, trying to work past it."

The studio went very quiet and Fredrik nodded sympathetically. "There are many cases of Monsters singling people out during the Invasion all over the world. None of the stories are happy ones."

Vegard let out a breath. "No."

"Then let me change the subject. A question many people have asked is: Why the Ylvisåker brothers? Why a musical comedy duo from Norway?"

Vegard replied, "We aren't anything special. Mothra needed a pair of Scandinavian siblings that could sing and we just happened to be there."

"It was a coincidence that you were there filming for your show?"

"Yeah. It was difficult worrying about people here while we were stuck out there."

"I'm sure you've seen images of the devastation in Stockholm."

Vegard nodded. "We were terrified for everyone back in Scandinavia, both because of the Monsters and also the bombing in Kiev. But Japan was off the grid. We couldn't call home." He glanced at Bård, who was wearing his carefully neutral face.

Vegard swallowed and added, "What Mothra said was that she wanted us to help fight Jormungand because we could sing and we were, in her words, 'Sons of Thor', that is, descendants of the Vikings, because Thor supposedly defeated Jormungand before."

The audience began to murmur.

Vegard shrugged. "We thought it was crazy too."

"Why did she need you to sing?"

"It had to do with harmonic resonance and the way some of her powers interact with sound."

"That's interesting. Vegard, in the past, you've been candid about your lack of belief in God or religion. Has this experience changed your attitudes at all?"

Vegard sucked in a breath and said, "It's opened my mind to the possibility. It is difficult to scoff at mythology when Jormungand is right in front of you, surrounded by American warships and hurling fireballs at Tokyo." He glanced at Calle. "Calle had the most experience with the spiritual side of Mothra."

Calle nodded and said, "The Titans definitely are on a plane above ours. But my sense is that they are not particularly interested in our day-to-day lives. They've been around for millions of years and take the long view when it comes to us. And the whales."

Vegard added, "It seems to me that if the Titans exist, so far above us, that it is possible there are other creatures far above them. Maybe those are what we think of as our god or gods. I don't really know."

Fredrik smiled. "Fair enough. You mentioned the American military forces that you worked with."

"And Japanese."

"Yes. The US sailors and airmen who fought with you have described you as The Magical Mothra Brothers. They've reported that you acted as a unit. That Mothra gave you special powers."

Bård said suddenly, "She did. They're mostly gone now, except…"

Vegard finished, "…except we are still stuck together. As a unit, as you said."

"What does that mean?"

Vegard looked at Bård and then said, "We can show you, but I have to switch seats with Magnus. We have to be touching to get it to work these days."

Magnus immediately got up to switch with Vegard.

Vegard sat down and he grabbed Bård's forearm. This time Vegard felt Bård open a door wide in the wall between them. Their minds came together as if they hadn't been apart at all. Vegard loved the sensation.

Ylvis said in unison, "Okay, now we are in sync." They blinked and crossed their legs simultaneously. The audience laughed.

Calle coughed politely. "I told you it was weird."

Fredrik said, "You know, people will think this is an act of yours."

Ylvis answered in prefect synchrony, "That's fine, although we aren't that talented. We are not here to convince people about what happened to us. We don't want to be defined by our experience in Japan. But we know we have to address it, and so here we are."

Calle said, "Isn't it creepy? They're even breathing at the same time."

Fredrik nodded. "What is that like for you two, to be united like that?"

Bård pulled his arm away from Vegard and answered, "It's made us closer, as brothers, but otherwise it's only confirmed what we knew before. That I'm a charming genius and Vegard is a clumsy nerd."

Vegard shrugged and nodded and the audience laughed. Vegard laid his hand back on Bård's arm.

Fredrik asked, "Can you read each other's thoughts?"

The brothers said, "Not without the other's permission."

"You mentioned before the show that you were writing a book."

Ylvis nodded and continued in unison, "We don't want to be disrespectful to Mothra or the soldiers we fought alongside, or the friends we lost during the battle. We don't want to tour around on a talk show circuit boasting about the whole thing. But we know people are very curious, so we decided to write a book. All four of us. All the proceeds, if there are any, will go to UNICEF."

Magnus nodded and said, "We saw so many children orphaned or killed in Japan that we wanted to do something that would help children everywhere in the world."

The audience applauded and Calle patted Magnus's arm with approval.

Fredrik asked, "So will you be giving the details of your story in your book, as much as possible?"

Ylvis nodded. "Yes. And then we want to return to our old lives. If we can."

Fredrik asked, "Let me ask you a different question, one that is hopefully a happier one. Watch this YouTube video clip; it currently has well over 20 million hits. Can you explain what is happening here?"

On the monitors a thirty second video played showing the shirtless brothers being blasted by Mothra's rainbow beam.

Vegard smiled. "It looks bad, but she was giving us a blessing." He immediately started unbuttoning his flannel shirt.

Fredrik said hastily, "You don't have to take off your clothing."

Calle rolled his eyes. "Vegard will use any excuse to show off his muscles."

Vegard said, "Yes, I want to show off my fantastic giant and muscle-bound Viking physique."

The audience laughed and Bård began reluctantly unbuttoning his shirt as well.

They both pulled open the collars of their shirts to show Mothra's mark, which had become a pale iridescent blue over the last several weeks. The audience oohed and ahhed with approval.

Vegard pointed to Calle and Magnus. "They've got their own marks."

Calle said, "Well, Magnus and I were jealous, and we'd promised each other to get tattoos if we survived anyway, so we got tattoos."

Magnus rolled up his sleeve and proudly displayed a turtle on his forearm.

Fredrik asked, "And what did you get, Calle?"

Calle stood and rolled up his right trouser leg to reveal a Senkveld tattoo that perfectly matched Vegard's. The audience laughed.

Vegard said, "Calle is the best friend in the world. He literally saved my life twice and got that silly logo fixed permanently on his leg."

Calle grinned and said in an American rapper accent, "It's all about solidarity with my posse, yo."

The audience applauded.

Fredrik paused and then looked at Bård. "Vegard insists you had the worst of this experience."

Bård nodded and looked at his brother. Vegard was watching him soberly. Bård pulled away from Vegard and said, "That's a matter of perspective. Vegard was so beaten up his lung collapsed and he had to have a blood transfusion. We're both lucky to be alive."

"Do you feel you can bounce back from that?"

"If so, we have to bounce back from that together."

"How will you do that?"

Vegard said, "We have each other, and our friends here. As I said, in the three weeks we were in Japan, Calle saved my life twice."

Calle nodded. "In return, Vegard has to be my slave from now on. I'm having a special ball and chain made for him as we speak."

Vegard smiled. "A ball and chain? I thought you said a collar."

"Ball and chain."

Vegard pointed at Magnus and added, "Magnus pulled us out of the ocean. We would have died without him."

Magnus asked, "Does that mean you're my slaves now too?"

Ylvis answered in unison, "No."

Bård hooked a thumb at Vegard, "Vegard saved my life three times."

Vegard frowned, "Three times?"

"In the water, on the dragon, and in the air, when I was tangled up in the parachute."

"Oh right."

Bård smiled ruefully and looked back at Fredrik. "I was the only one who wasn't a hero."

"Well, you and your brother, with the help of your friends, did save the world. That's pretty heroic."

The audience applauded in agreement. Then suddenly a woman screamed and a man in the third row stood. He shouted something unintelligible, pulled out an automatic weapon, and fired a spray of bullets at the stage. The audience shrieked and scattered as the set exploded with electrical sparks and shards of metal, plastic and glass.

 

* * *

 

Bård felt the danger first, and without thinking threw himself against Vegard. Their minds slid together and time slowed down as they turned as one to face their attacker. The blond young man in the audience was holding one of the "alien" footsoldier weapons, and had it aimed directly at the two of them. Bård's right shoulder burned hot and the power of his fury spewed down his arm toward the gunman. At the same time, Vegard's right shoulder and chest burst forth with a pressure wave that blossomed outward, encompassing the brothers and their friends, deflecting the shard-like bullets away.

For the next week, news outlets all over the world highlighted the few seconds of video footage that captured the entirety of the attack. When the film was slowed down and analyzed, it was clear that Ylvis had moved as one, their right arms sweeping outward, a blast of pale blue electricity arcing and slamming the gunman backwards. Experts watching the high definition footage frame by frame were able to map out the three-dimensional bubble surrounding the men on stage against which the majority of the bullets impacted and bounced harmlessly away.

As the studio's security detail approached the gunman, who lay twitching on his back in the audience, Vegard gaped at his and Bård's hands. They were both still outstretched toward the man, both still sparking with bluish electricity. He grabbed Bård's forearm.

V: What did you do?
B: I blasted him.
V: But, was that you or Blueberry or… Bob?
B: I don't know. I just reacted.
V: It felt like my chest exploded.
B: Fy faen. I know.
V: What was that?
B: I don't know.

Vegard met eyes with his brother and the two embraced.

B: Is this how it's going to be? Will everyone around us be in danger?
V: I think what this has proven is that everyone around us will be protected.
B: Jesus Christ.

They separated and turned to their friends. Calle was helping Fredrik up off the floor where they'd flung themselves when the gunfire erupted. Magnus hadn't moved at all, and was still cringing in his chair and peeking at them through his enormous fingers.

Calle looked the brothers up and down and said dryly, "You two will do anything for attention."

Bård nodded. "Are any of you hurt?"

"We're okay."

Fredrik shook his head in amazement as the floor assistants cautiously approached. He said, "I'm fine. But how did you do that?"

Vegard swallowed hard. "I don't think that was us. I think that was Mothra's blessing."

Calle patted Magnus on the shoulder and said, "Well, boys, next time you talk to her, tell Blueberry I said thanks for saving my life."

"Sure."

Bård looked around at the chaos. "So, are we going to finish the interview?"

Fredrik frowned at him and asked, "Are you joking?"

"Nei. One man with a gun is nothing after you've been thrown into the ocean by a pterodactyl."

"Ah."

Vegard said, "Besides, after this we're going to have to run off and hide from reporters again."

Calle smiled and rubbed Magnus's shoulder. "And I think I have to take our young turtle enthusiast out to a pub to get drunk."

Magnus nodded solemnly, "I will drink until I am unconscious."

"That's the plan."

Fredrik frowned but decided they weren't joking. Besides, it would be the interview of the year if they could show footage before, during and after the attack. "I see. Let me check whether we can continue."

Most of the audience was still in the studio when the attack ended. There had simply not been enough time to evacuate. The spectators applauded as the security team carried the limp gunman out of the studio and Fredrik conferred with the stage manager, his director, and the police that arrived soon afterwards.

The stage manager gave the audience members the option to return after being searched for weapons and interviewed by the police. While they waited, Bård and Vegard spent the time talking to the now awestruck fans. Autographing and taking photos felt familiar. It felt normal.

Three hours later, the five men sat back down on the stage with the wreckage and investigators milling around them as a backdrop. To their amazement, about three-quarters of the audience had stayed. The cameras rolled.

Fredrik said, "Well."

Vegard said, "Well."

"That was exciting."

Bård said, "We would prefer a less exciting interview next time."

Fredrik nodded. "First, I should thank you for saving my life. I was scared to death."

Vegard said, "You're very welcome."

Bård said, "We saved our own lives at the same time, so I wouldn't be that grateful if I were you. It was merely coincidence you didn't die."

Vegard smiled and agreed, "We're very selfish that way." He glanced at Calle.

Calle said, "You are. But now you're making progress on your life-debt to me."

"That's good. I honestly wasn't looking forward to being your slave."

Fredrik smiled. "But what did you do? It all happened so fast. We were looking at the footage and you reacted almost instantly."

The brothers shrugged and Vegard said, "We are just as confused as you are. We think that was all Mothra acting through her blessing." He pulled open his collar. The mark on his shoulder was glowing a soft blue.

Bård said, "In all seriousness, I'm actually a bit less worried now after experiencing that. I didn't realize we were under her protection in such a concrete way."

"Maybe you can add this incident as an epilogue to your book."

"Good idea."

"When you finish your book, what is next for Ylvis? Knowing what just happened."

Vegard glanced at his brother and said, "Our plans haven't changed. If we can get past all this, we'd like to go back to doing music and comedy. If not, perhaps we'll work in production. Or fly planes."

Bård sighed and said, "But it all seems so pointless now, you know?"

Fredrik frowned and asked, "What do you mean?"

Bård shrugged. "After joining with Mothra, and fighting those monsters, and seeing so many people dead or injured, and then being captured by Bob… and what just happened here… it seems pointless to go back to running around in insect costumes or doing pranks on bank customers. It feels like we should be doing something more important."

Fredrik shook his head. "I disagree. What I've seen is that people need a diversion. We were all traumatized by the Invasion. I certainly was. And what happened here tonight was unsettling enough that when we're done here I might join Magnus for a stiff drink."

Calle said, "You can buy the first round."

"Agreed." Fredrik sobered and studied Bård. "With all of the terror and grief we've all had to endure, we need to laugh more than ever."

The audience murmured and applauded.

Calle said, "I keep telling Bård that but he doesn't believe me."

Vegard added, "Me too."

Magnus said, "Why don't you guys sing something? That will make you feel better. That would make us all feel better."

The audience clapped in encouragement.

Vegard put his hand on Bård's forearm. The brothers looked at each other and then asked in unison, "What should we sing?"

Fredrik smiled. "Before any of this, your appearances usually featured you two singing songs that you made up on the spot. Can you still do that?"

Ylvis said, "Yes, that's our party trick. We can do that much faster than before. What would you like to hear?"

Magnus said, "Sing that song you sang on the way home on Mothra. That was very magical and sparkly."

Ylvis turned to Fredrik. "We can improvise if you'd rather we did that."

Fredrik said, "Actually, I think I'd like to hear another one of your famous magical songs. I think we all would after this experience." He gestured to the wrecked studio. The audience applauded in agreement.

B: Do you remember it?
V: Yeah, I think so.
B: Will it call Mothra? I don't want to bother her.
V: I don't think so. But I like this. Being together like this.
B: Don't be weird.
V: I do though. You like it too, I can tell.
B: Fy faen, just sing.

Ylvis stood and said, "This is the song we sang to Mothra on the way home, to thank her for protecting us and the Earth." They clasped hands and began singing a cappella, their voices strong. A golden cloud formed around them, growing brighter as they sang:

 

Ta oss hjem                                    (Take us home)
med kraften av dine vinger             (On wings of colored glory)
Hold oss trygge                              (Keep us safe)
med visdomen av dine fortellinger (In your wise and timeless story)

Skytsengel                                     (Guardian angel)
Himmelsk mor                               (Earth's maternal fire)
Synge med oss                               (Sing with us)
I vårt viet kor                                 (In a loving choir)

Vi vil alltid adlyde deg                    (We will always follow you)
Vi vil alltid respektere deg              (We will always honor you)

Ta vårt hjerter,                               (Take our hearts)
våre tanker og vår erindringer        (You may always call us forth)
Når du trenger hjelp                       (We are yours forever)
vi er dine lojale vikinger                  (Your devoted men of the North)

 

When they finished, the audience remained silent for a moment, entranced by the power of their voices. Then the studio exploded with enthusiastic applause.

 

EPILOGUE

 

Very early the next morning, Bård awoke, gasping. In the dream he'd been punching Vegard with all his strength. He could feel Vegard's bones breaking under his fists, but his brother didn't fight back. He only shielded the baby girl in his arms from the blows. Bård couldn't stop himself.

Bård rubbed his eyes and reached for his phone. He'd set it to silent mode, but the screen lit up as he lifted it from the nightstand. There was a text message from Vegard, just like there always was when they had a nightmare. The text read: "Nightmare?"

He texted back: "Nightmare."

Just knowing Vegard was sharing his misery helped. A lot.

Bård texted, "You okay?"

"Yeah. Are you?"

"I'm okay."

"Need me to come over?"

"Nei, takk. You?"

"Nei."

"Okay."

"Okay, god natt."

"Sov godt."

Bård put the phone gently back on the side table. He felt a little guilty that he hadn't told Vegard the truth yet. About how he'd been changed. About what he could really do. He almost blown his cover in the studio during the attack, but he didn't think anyone suspected the truth. It was best if no one knew but him and Blueberry. And he knew she could keep a secret.

He sighed and opened the drawer beside him, pulling out the wrinkled and folded letter he kept there. He always reread it after a nightmare; it made him feel better. The moon was full and shining brightly through the window near his bed. There was enough light to see the words written in his own handwriting.

 

Kjære Bård,

I'm pretty confused about what you are going to forget. There was a demon that was inside a big black metal sea snake cock monster in the Pacific Ocean that Ylvis killed. It wasn't totally dead and it took over my mind. I call it Bob. Bob spent a couple of months torturing me in a dungeon and making me watch it kill Vegard a hundred times. And while Bob was in control of my body I did actually try to kill Vegard as well. They said he almost died. He took it all pretty bravely and saved a baby girl that I tried to kill, so I expect he won't mention it unless you really piss him off. I also broke Vegard's smallest finger, so try to be patient with his piano playing because it will probably suck for a while (and you know how he is if he can't play a keyboard for five minutes). Also, I might as well tell you, because you won't believe it, but for a while your mind was stuck inside a dragon-shaped stone golem and while you were in there I killed a lot of people with your body. You didn't do any of that. I did it. It was evil. Mothra, the big giant blue butterfly (who I think also might be a magical Norwegian princess?!) offered me the chance to forget most or some or all of the terror and murder. So now you will just be you and all of the evil I did will die with me. That’s the plan, anyway. I know you will be curious, but do NOT ask for details. Do NOT try to remember. Trust me about this. If you have super bad nightmares, then maybe that's me. Just ignore me. I'll be dead. That is over and done. Only a few people that know what I did also know it was me that did it while Bob was controlling your body. No one else has to know. Don't ask the family about it, none of them know. Let Vegard deflect attention off of you if anyone finds out or guesses what happened. He's good at protecting you from that sort of thing. Let him protect you.

You survived all this for a reason. Be grateful and happy.

Kjærlig hilsen,
Bård

PS: So you know it's really me writing this: Didrik 22.02.92
PPS: Sorry for the mistakes and misspellings, but it took many tries to get this down on paper. I'm not sure if it even makes sense. It's very hard to concentrate the way I am right now. I don't think I've slept much since this started.
PPPS: Try not to kill any more dogs. That's on you.

Bård sighed. He knew it would take a long time to get over what had happened, even with the worst of it erased from his head. Logically, intellectually, he knew that what had happened in Japan wasn't his fault. Convincing himself emotionally of that might take a while yet. But he wouldn't be alone. He had his brother and his friends and his family… and a giant magical blue moth and two tiny fairies that seemed to really care about him. That was pretty special.

He carefully folded the letter back into the envelope and put it in the drawer. As he turned on his side and pressed a pillow under his head, his wife turned over in her sleep and snuggled against his back. He smiled. It would take a while, but he was going to be okay.

He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep. He dreamed of little grey cats and blue toy wooden airplanes.

 

END

Chapter Text

* * *

Ylvis Saves the World 3: The Prequel, now in its final draft and Coming Soon
A SNEAK PREVIEW

"Don't get distracted. Focus on a free end of the rope."

Bård concentrated and finally got the knot loose. "Got it."

"Takk." Vegard pulled his hands free and began working on the rope around his own ankles. In order to do so he had to press Bård against the side of the crate. He was pressing hard enough that Bård finally protested, "Now you're squashing me and I definitely can't breathe."

"Another few seconds."

"…still can't breathe." Bård's voice was tinged with panic.

Vegard straightened and kicked his feet free. "That's better. I'll do you, turn around."

"I can't move because your fat sweaty body is in the way. And you're using all the air."

Vegard fell silent for a moment and then said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but maybe I should just knock you out."

"Why?!"

"Because you're getting hysterical."

"I'll be less hysterical if I knock you out so you'll stop using all the air."

Vegard growled, "This isn't a joke."

"Faen ta deg, I'm not joking."

"It's just a little claustrophobia. There's enough air in here, so calm down."

"Stop patronizing me!"

"I'm trying to help you!"

"You can't help me, you dark little air-hogging monkey!"

"Okay. That's it!" Vegard began struggling to turn towards his brother. In response Bård wedged his legs and back against the crate walls, holding Vegard in place.

After a few long seconds of scuffling, Vegard gave up and started laughing.

Bård hesitated. "What's so funny?"

"I can't believe you are going to be a father." Vegard laughed harder.

"Just shut up."

"We are probably going to die in the next hour and instead of letting me help you, you are wrestling me. Just to be contrary."

"I am not. Shut up!"

"And the irony is that your DNA is going to remain in the gene pool. Whereas mine stops with me. Norway is doomed."

"Yours will stop with you because you're such a timid fucking virgin."

Vegard clucked and repeated, "Doomed!"

"Shut up!"

Vegard sighed. "Ah. I needed a laugh. I actually feel better about my imminent death. I hope it will be quick."

Bård sobered. Vegard was right. He was acting like an idiot. But he was scared. He hesitated and then asked, "Why aren't you scared?"

Vegard snorted. "Are you kidding? I'm terrified."

"You don't sound afraid."

"Don't I?"

"Nei."

"Must be all the practice I have living with The Terror That Is Bård Ylvisåker."

The truck sped over a particularly high bump and the brothers were slammed against the top of the crate. They both swore and when they landed they instinctively braced themselves against the crate's walls and each other.

Bård pressed his forehead against the back of Vegard's neck. He was on the verge of crying. And if he started crying he would totally lose it. He murmured, "How are you going to get us out of this one, storebror?"

"I don't know, lillebror. But I have to get you home.  Even a bratty little shit of a father like you is better than none."

"Fy faen."

"Okay. Here's my plan."

"You have a plan?"

"Yes. Because I'm the smart one."

Bård gave Vegard the finger in the dark. "And fuck you."

"Okay. Now shut up and listen."

 

* * *

 

The pickup turned off the highway and onto a gravel side road leading to a large farm. It pulled up to a low building with a single metal door.

The men got out of the truck and opened the back hitch of the pickup.

Billy pounded on the crate as Todd turned a key in the padlock holding it closed. "Time to come out, little lambs."

As Todd opened the lid, Billy leveled his shotgun at the inside. He'd assumed the boys would work their way out of the ropes on the long drive back home. And now it would be satisfying to see their disappointment when they realized they still had no chance of escape.

Sure enough, the boys had gotten free. But they were curled up in the crate next to each other and were both flushed, limp and covered in sweat. He poked the blond one with the end of his gun. Nothing. "Dammit, Todd, you didn't open the air vents wide enough for two."

"Guess I forgot."

Vegard groaned and opened his eyes. He nudged Bård. "Wake up."

Bård didn't move. He wasn't breathing.

"Bård? Bård!" Vegard shook his brother and then looked up at the men, eyes wild and filling with tears.

Ignoring Billy's rifle, he leapt out of the crate to attack Todd, knocking him to the ground. "You killed him! It's your fault! You bastard! I'll kill you!"

Todd threw up his hands. "Get him off me!"

Billy laughed and bent over to pull Vegard off of his associate. But Vegard struggled like a tiger, spitting and scratching at both men. Billy finally strong-armed Vegard's wrists together and Todd grabbed his ankles. They carried him through the metal door and maneuvered him down a short flight of cement stairs, grunting with effort as Vegard writhed and cursed at them. His voice echoed in the large, single room they entered. The floor and walls were cement, and the ceiling was over three meters high. The room was divided into three barred jail cells and the men carried their prisoner into the largest of the three. Vegard shrieked hysterically, his voice wailing and cracking as he cursed them with every English profanity he could think of. In response they slapped old-style medieval manacles on his wrists, locked them to a chain attached to an eyebolt in the floor, and left him there to weep helplessly alone in the dark.

The men emerged back into the sunlight squinting and wiping sweat off of their foreheads. Todd stopped short and swore. "Well, shit. Look."

Billy sighed. The crate was empty. That was going to be a problem.