Karr sat on the highest level of the Watchtower, the same tower from which he had nearly jumped to his doom from once, after facing a Grendel. It was not suicide that came to his mind now, only weariness. Ever since his last run-in with the Grendel, his Grendel half had developed it's own personality. Any thoughts were like a committee meeting. He sighed, trying to quiet the dark voice, mumbling on and on, disturbing Karr's peaceful moment of musing.
'Silence, you,' he thought sharply, mentally whacking the Grendel half. The only response was a angered grumble and a moody retreat into silence. Karr sighed again, this time in relief, and went back to staring at the water. 'So beautiful, and yet so deadly,' he thought. The Grendel half, not to be silenced for long, parried. 'You once nearly embraced that deadly beauty.'
Karr sighed. 'I am not a committee,' he thought. 'I thought I told you to shut up.'
'You did, but you didn't make me shut up, now did you.'
'Can't I have a little while to myself? It's very annoying when you pop up.' Another mental whack, harder this time.
'All right, all right, I'll be quiet for a while.'
As the Grendel half withdrew into silence, Karr resumed his musing. Staring at the water, the Norns having fun on Islandtree, this, that, and the other thing.
Karen, floating by in a Soap Bubble, saw him sitting there and musing. She smiled, it was always so easy to find him. She timed her descent perfectly to land on the Watchtower floor, and then sent the Soap Bubble back into the air. Sitting down next to him, they sat in silence, just them, the two immortals. Karr had to smile, the one thing he liked best was Karen's company, especially after his Grendel half had been bugging him. Ever since the Hand had made him immortal, he and Karen had been unofficially engaged. Karr had been a bit surprised about this at first, because she had been in love with Nathan, and that love had never wavered, even when they had parted on discovering that Karen was immortal.
In another Albia, another Grenorn lived. This Grenorn was much unlike Karr in every way. He also had one Grendel arm, but he also had a Grendel foot, eye, and teeth. And he was insane. He lived on the secluded platform above the island, and in that isolated place, his insanity had plenty of room to grow and prosper. He had been blocked from the teleport back to the mainland by a force field, but he didn't care. He was too crazy to care. But he was, at least, interested when the Hand floated by. The Hand had left him alone for a long time, deciding that the mad Grenorn was no longer a threat. But now, the Hand came here to expel the Grenorn from his Albia, determined to make sure the creature would do no harm. The Grenorn suddenly found himself in darkness, isolated more than he had ever been. Meanwhile, the Hand sent him in an electronic mail message to the owner of Karr's Albia, saying, 'This one is trouble. Try to analyze his genome and see what's wrong with him.'
When the other Hand got him, however, he imported the Grenorn straight into his Albia. Knowing freedom for the first time in ages, a crazed smile came over the grenorn's face. He loped over towards the tree, with dark intentions.....
Karr shivered suddenly. He had sensed that something very, very bad had happened. His Grendel half also sensed it, but its reaction was one of dark delight.
"Of course I know him, the cursed Grenorn nearly killed me once!"
It was the Grendel whom Karr had once fought. The foreign Grenorn was smiling at him darkly.
"You need not worry about anything of the sort from me, dark friend. I know the power of evil. And I use it."
Dark, low laughter from the Grendel.
"Well then, I suppose we had better start getting more grendels. I alone can't take on a world....."
"Grndl lonely," said the grendel for the eighteenth time. The Hand had been importing Grendels galore, in a semmingly futile effort to calm the Grendel's lonliness. In the process, each of them now had names. Grend. Grah. Grugg. Grndl. Grendan. And so on. Finally, the Hand gave up, and let the Grendel try to be content with the company.
Instantly he flashed a huge smile at the Hand, who sighed in relief and floated off. The grenorn came out of hiding, and he and his evil friend began briefing the new Grendels on their role. Training them. Before too long, they were ready to conquer the world.
Karr gasped, the impression was strong. With careless abandon, he leapt to his feet and jumped over the other side of the Watchtower, proceeding until he got the the waterfall, which he cleared in a leap of faith. Running throught the ancient Shee city, he got to the cable car, where he slammed the button. The machine started chugging over to the treehouse, While Karr anxiously bit his lip and tapped his foot. When the cable car stopped, he walked carefully to the Grendel tree. Parting the leaves, he peeked through and was confronted with a scene of utter horror.
An army of grendels was sitting there, and two figures stood at the front. Squinting, Karr realized that one figure was the Grendel he had faced so long ago, and the other figure was...
"Rrak," he whispered in horror, then fled.
"Attention, please!" Karr screamed at the top of his lungs. Everyone turned to look at him.
"We are in grave danger! My..." he winced. "My.....brother has somehow escaped from his prison on another world and...."
Everyone was looking at him strangely. He realized he had to explain a lot.
"Everyone gather under the Waterfall," he sighed, "and I'll tell you."
Later, when everyone was assembled, he continued.
"I originally came from a different Albia than this one. I was not the only grenorn there, apparently that world was a grenorn breeding ranch. One of the other Grenorns was, well.....crazy. And...." he winced again, not wanting to say the word. "And he was my brother. His name is Rrak, and trust me, you do *not* want to see him. He's as hideous as he is crazy. He was locked away in a very isolated prison on another world. Somehow though, he broke loose."
"So what does this have to do with our being in danger?" asked Sassy, one of Karr's former students.
"Well, he was locked up because he was a threat to the other norns and grenorns. But somehow or another, he's gotten into this Albia, and he has allied with the grendel I once faced, and made an army of grendels. And he plans to attack us."
Mixed gasps. He saw the fear in their eyes, knew that they were silently begging him to be kidding. Much as he hated to let them down, he had to tell them.
"It's true. I'll have to fight him." The grendel in him was screaming blue murder, demanding that he join them.
'Think of the power, Karr....think of the _power_!'
'No way, Grendel. I'm not full norn, but I'm still loyal to my norn half.'
'He *is* your brother.'
'He's also evil.'
A hiss, and the Grendel half suddenly took control of Karr's action, forcing him to topple over the side and into the water, much to the fright of the other norns. Karen and Sassy helped pull him out of the water.
"The.....the Grendel....in me.....made me....fall.....over the.....edge..." Karr gasped, breathing hard. His long white hair was dripping water around him. He shivered. Karen hugged him.
"I'm sorry, Karr...."
"If you don't want to fight your brother, you don't have to," said Sassy. You could tell she was forcing the words out. "We...we'll understand."
Karr was silent for a while, still trying to catch his breath. "I'll have to. This is my home, and I love you all, as sort of a second family. I will defend you all to the end."
He meant what he said.
Rrak snickered from the trees. The other norns were too scared to form an army. They all crowded in their kitchen, too scared to come out....
"Is it time?" asked d'Graht, the Grendel Karr had faced. Rrak's face twisted into an evil grin.
"Yes, dark friend, it is time."
Karr had been training to fight Rrak, despite mighty protests and an occasional attempt at physical harm by his grendel half. Suddenly he was startled by a loud, booming voice.
"Meet your doom, norns of Gardenfalls!"
Karr gasped. Rrak! No ifs, ands, or buts, he had to fight him now. Racing from the Kitchen, he sprinted across Albia, and entered the Jungle. He took the lift up to the tree, hoping he could get to Rrak in time.
Rrak snickered as the army of Grendels ravaged the helpless population of Gardenfalls. Like angry Vikings, they swarmed over the community, not killing but wounding, and looting and plundering.
all in all, things were going well.
"You!" hissed Rrak. "It's you. I would have thought you wouldn't have the courage to fight."
"It's been hard summoning the will," Karr admitted. His voice was level and calm, belieing the tumult inside. Grendel and norn figthing furiously. As furiously as Karr was about to fight.
"Come on then," hissed Rrak.
Karr stood stock-still, struggling against his inner conflict.
"Coward!" spat Rrak, and charged.
Tiar gasped. He was Islandtree's prophet, visiting Gardenfalls. He rushed over to Karen, with an urgent message.
"Karen!" he said. "Karen, this is urgent. You must become pregnant."
Karen looked at him with a very strange look.
"It's important. You absolutely must."
She smiled. "Actually, I'm already pregnant." She smiled, it was her first try with Karr. She was looking forward to the child.
"Good," said Tiar. "This is very important."
Karr let out a punch with the Grendel fist, catching Rrak full in the gut and knocking the wind out of him. Rrak, gasping for breath, countered with a weak slap that knocked Karr almost off balance.
"You....can't kill me, you know," said Karr, regaining his balance and smacking Rrak across the face.
"Oh?" demanded Rrak, kicking Karr in the shins. "Why is that?"
"I'm immortal," replied Karr, countering with a punch.
"Oh....?" asked Rrak, his voice suddenly soft. He coiled back, cat-like, and just as Karr was letting down his guard in puzzlement, he swung his norn hand around, smacking Karr as hard as he possibly could. The blow knocked Karr off balance, sending him flying towards a branch. There was a sickening crack, and soon, Karr was dead.
"I guess you aren't so immortal after all, brother," snickered Rrak and walked away, not sparing the corpse a second glance.
Just that very instant, Karen's egg was laid. It was a red egg with yellow stripes. Tiar looked on worriedly. Would things proceed as they were meant to?
"Karr is dead!" Rrak cried triumphantly to the army of Grendels. "Cease the destruction.........KARR IS DEAD!"
A shout of triumph went up from the grendels. d'Graht, however, was puzzled.
"Why should we cease our attack? Karr was all that stood between us and total world domination. We could rule Albia now!"
Rrak grinned evilly. "Right now they are expecting us to keep attacking. If we withdraw and allow them time to recuperate, they will figure that we have decided not to fight anymore. That will be when they are most vulnerable to attack, and we could easily swoop in and destroy them." d'Graht laughed. "I must tell you, dark friend," he said, "you are quite a general."
Rrak grinned. "Why, thank you."
Grugg spoke up. "What if they're thinking we would do that?"
"Trust me, they won't. If anything, they'll thank their lucky stars that we've left, and try to resume life as normal. Then we attack."
That convinced them all.
"Shall we retire to our base for a little R&R then?" asked d'Graht. Their base was the lowest catacombs beneath the island.
"Yes," grinned Rrak. To the army, he said, "Grendels! Back to the base!"
They were in high spirits as they marched to the base, confident that they would eventually dominate Albia.
The egg was much larger now, and the norn was visible inside. Sam, Sassy, Annie, and Tiar were all gathered around it, waiting for it to hatch.
Karen, however, was up in the tree, cradling Karr's lifeless body.
'It is my fate,' she thought. 'My mates will always die...always!'
"Why?" she asked the Hand, floating sadly nearby. "Why did you let it happen? Why did he die?"
"Some things can even kill immortals," said the Hand sadly.
"Karen! Come quick! it's hatching!" came Annie's voice from below. Karen gasped and dashed back to the bridge, where she had laid the egg. The Hand lingered. It tickled Karr a final time, then sadly floated away.
The tiny baby inside the egg woke up and realized all was darkness. Some inborn instinct told him it was time to break out. Pushing on what he percieved as the top of his egg, he heard a cracking, which scared him. But he kept pushing, and soon a slit of light got through. With new strength, he pushed the top of his egg completely off, blinking in the bright sunlight. He heard voices around him, vaguely familiar voices, and four figures that he halfway recognized.
"Wotcha gonna name him, Karen?"
"Oh, he's so sweet!"
"You know, he reminds me of someone."
The fifth norn, standing off to the side, breathed a sigh of relief. It was as it was supposed to be. He whispered in Karen's ear about his prediction, and exactly what had happened. Karen's face suddenly lit up. Gently, she picked the baby up. Still rubbing his eyes, the baby said, in a tiny voice, "Mommy?"
Karen smiled lovingly at him. With a knowing gleam in her eyes, she hugged the floppy-eared, white-haired baby and said, "Hello, Karr."
One of the watching norns, a boy, suddenly started blinking. "Huh? But--but Karr died!"
Everything clicked suddenly in the newborn's mind. Sam. Annie. Sassy. Tiar was standing nearby, and Karen was holding him! He opened his eyes wide, suddenly bewildered.
"Huh? What? Wha? Wait a minute.....huh?"
Annie grinned. "Karr! It really is you!" She turned to Sassy and Sam.
"Guys, it's really Karr!"
Karr blinked. This was confusing. "But.....but I was just fighting Rrak, and then he hit me really hard, and then suddenly I've just hatched and...." His voice had taken on a slight whine towards the end, and then he had just trailed off.
Karen smiled. "Tiar, I think you should explain this to him.".
Tiar grinned back. "No problem." He looked at Karr, grinning. "This was supposed to happen. When you died, Karen laid her egg. You--your essence, that is--just transferred to the egg."
"Wait just a second here! I'm the one who got her pregnant in the first place, and now I'm hatching out of the same egg I fathered???"
"It's a bit of a paradox, yes. But I'm sure you'll agree it's for the better."
"For starters, look at your arm," said Karen. Karr blinked. His arm? Why should that make any differe.....
He gasped, unable to believe his eyes. His arm was a normal norn arm! No malicious Grendel voice argued with him, no trace of Grendel blood still in his veins....
"But how?" he wondered aloud. "Wouldn't some Grendel blood have come through?"
Tiar smiled. "No, The direct transfer purified your body somehow, so now you're a full norn."
It took a few moments for what Tiar had said to sink in. But once Karr realized exactly what had happened, he was elated. For the first time ever, he was free of the dark blood within him.
Karr plopped down on the floor, exhausted. 'The problem with being pure norn,' he thought, 'is I don't have a Grendel's hardiness anymore.'
He had been relentlessly training for most of his second life, preparing to fight Rrak again. It would be easier this time, because Rrak would be older and less able to fight. But Karr still had to train. It was probably a competitive reaction that caused him to train so *hard*.
"You know, Karr," said Karen, with just the faintest hint of amusement in her voice, "I thought you were trying to train, not to kill yourself."
Karr shot her a look, then sighed and held his head. "You're right," he said. "I am training too hard. But I still don't feel like I'm ready to fight him."
Karen walked over to him and kissed him softly on the cheek. "You're more than ready physically," she said. "You're just not confident that you can do it. If I guessed right, it's because you're still thinking about how he killed you when you were immortal. Right?"
"Right on the button," he said. "I'm scared. Maybe that's why I'm over-training - to assure myself that I can kill him."
"You're awfully determined to keep training," she said. "Use that determination against Rrak - be determined to fight."
Karr nodded slowly. "I'll try...."
The mad grenorn whirled around to face Karr.
"What do you want, urchin?" he hissed at the adolescent boy. But he was brought up short by the gleam in Karr's eye.
"It's been a long time, hasn't it, brother?"
Rrak started to reply, but then stared at Karr in disbelief.
'The stance is right....I know I've seen the gleam in his eye before, and his did call me 'brother'....'
"Who are you?" Rrak asked. Karr grinned, but didn't lose the predatory gleam in his eye.
"No.....!" Rrak hissed, his eyes opening wide and his face draining of all color. "Y-you c-can't be......!"
"I am," said Karr. "An egg was laid at the same time that I died. My essence transferred to the child in the egg - along with all the memories, thoughts, and *old hatreds* that went with it."
Rrak went even paler, if that was possible. "Y-you remember.......!"
"How could I not?" demanded Karr, stepping forward. "It was, after all, the most intense memory I had...and the strongest hatred."
Rrak gulped and suddenly seized just a tiny bit of hope.
"I would imagine the Grendel in you would keep you from fighting me now, then. I'm sure he hated you for getting killed instead of joining me."
Karr laughed harshly. "That's where you're wrong, brother," he said, coming closer. "There is no Grendel in me now. I was purified as I entered the egg. Now I am pure norn, and you......are about to be dead."
As Rrak struggled to figure out what Karr meant, Karr made a fist and hit his brother full in the chest. Old as he was now, Rrak went down instantly, the wind knocked out of him. Karr planted one foot on his brother's chest and started smacking Rrak mercilessly. There was no joy this time, only cold fury - and a desire for revenge.
Clenching his teeth, Karr grabbed Rrak by the shoulders and stared him in the eyes. The gleam in his eyes, the dark, angry, predatory gleam, struck fear into the mad grenorn's heart and caused him to break out in a cold sweat. Suddenyl, without any warning at all, Karr summoned all his strength and flung Rrak away.
Into the same branch that has caused his death.
There was a hard crack as Rrak suffered the same fate that had befallen his brother.
"What goes around comes around, brother...." said Karr. He stood there for a long time, staring at the corpse of his dark, evil brother.
He felt no regret.
d'Graht had been watching the fight silently, concealed in the leaves. When he saw Rrak killed, he plaed and broke out in a cold sweat.
'No,' he thought. 'I must warn the army!'
Unnoticed, he climbed down to the dock and sailed to the Island. As soon as he got there, he ran at a mad sprint for the lift and slammed the 'down' button twice to go down to the base. When he got there, panting and looking as if he had seen a ghost, the whole army looked at him worriedly.
"What is wrong, d'Graht?" asked Grendan.
d'Graht, panting, replied, "Rrak is dead. Karr killed him."
"WHAT?" shrieked Grah. "But Karr is dead too!"
"He was resurrected - rehatched," said d'Graht. "He killed Rrak."
"We cannot attack without him!"
"We need a leader!"
"How about d'Graht?"
"All in favor of d'Graht for general, make a show of hands!"
"It won't matter."
This last was spoken by the Hand. All eyes turned to it as it floated nearby, holding a bottle of something or other.
"What do you mean, 'it won't matter'?" asked d'Graht carefully.
"You'll all be dead soon anyway," said the hand, with a touch of grim resolution behind its voice.
"How is that?"
Wordlessly, the Hand drapped the bottle it had been carrying and started pumping it. Clouds of toxic mist sprayed out, causing all the Grendels to cough terribly.
More and more mist sprayed out, and several grendels dropped dead.
"Curse you (cough) Hand!" screamed d'Graht.
"Shut up, vile beasts!" shot back the hand, spraying more and more mist from the bottle. More and more Grendels died, and soon d'Graht was the only one left. But not for long, as soon even he, the toughest Grendel that Albia had ever seen, fell prey to the toxic fumes.
Sam bounded into the garden, almost bursting with joy.
"Attention, EVERYONE! *Karr is ALIVE!!*"
The norns in the garden exploded in cheers.
"He did it!!"
"I knew he would!!"
Karen was sitting alone in the Kitchen. She had somehow convinced herself that Karr wasn't going to make it, and was very depressed because of it. She barely heard the cries from the garden, and passed them off as wishful thinking. She sadly wiped away her tears, convinced that her beloved was dead.
"If I had a knife," she found herself murmuring, "I would kill myself."
"Indeed, beloved, am I so missed?"
Karen abruptly stopped crying and held her breath. Someone sat next to her, but she was afraid to look and see who, afraid that her suddenly high hopes might be dashed.
All doubts however, were erased as Karr kissed her, long and passionately.
"I.....I thought you were dead," she whispered.
"No," he replied, softly. "Rrak's life was taken today, not mine."
"You really did it," whispered Karen. "You really killed him. I - I heard the cheers from the Garden, but was afraid to believe..."
"Rest easy now, beloved," Karr murmured. "All is well, now."
She laughed softly, thoroughly relieved, and hugged him tight.
"Oh, Karr..." she said. "I missed you....."
They stood and hugged for a long time.
"Ok, Karr, there you go. Lot easier *this* time than it was the first time, because *this* time I know what to do!"
Karr laughed. He was being made immortal again. This time there was no anxiety, no sense of "Oh my God, is this going to work?", nothing like that.
"I sure feel good enough to be immortal," he said. "But we're not testing it this time, are we?" he added, with a sly smile.
"Not this time, I'm afraid," joked the Hand. "I know you're just *DYING* to sample the delicate flavor of Deathcap again, but it'll have to wait for another time, I'm afraid," it said, sending Karr and Karen into a laughing fit. Karr had never been so happy in either of his lives. His Grendel side was gone, his evil brother was killed, the army of Grendels had been destroyed, he was immortal again, and he was by the side of his beloved once more. His heart was light and filled to bursting with pure joy. Hand in hand, Karr and Karen walked back to the garden, which was filled with celebration that night. He smiled. 'Yes, friends, celebrate,' he thought. 'Tonight is a night for celebration.' As he and Karen entered the Garden, he laughed for pure joy. There would now, truly, be bright futures ahead. He felt he could never be sad, as long as his beloved was near. He would never be alone again.