Apparently Claudia Dubois was getting married to Kaye’s cousin, which meant that she and Danny would be basically related, which in turn meant that Ruben and Danny would be basically related. This, in combination with the fact that his girlfriend had explicitly not been offered a plus-one, amused Ruben to no end. Naturally he interpreted his lack of invitation as a sign to just crash the wedding, but as tempting as it had been to test himself on whatever passed for magical security at shmancy Pureblood gatherings, his girlfriend’s promise to come home drunk and horny as long as he behaved himself proved to be a more tempting offer. She knew him too well.
After a short visit with her dads (including a too-easy swipe of their wedding gift in order to add his signature on the card with the scrawled addition The real gift to you is my absence), he left the three Packmen behind in America. Instead of crashing Claudia’s wedding, today Ruben was going to fulfill the promise he’d made in return to Kaye and find literally anyone else’s wedding to crash.
...What he was crashing now was actually the opposite of a wedding, but it met the general requirements.
With every grunt, his braided hair swung, the ravens tattooed over his shoulders fluttering restlessly as it skimmed past. It seemed every bit of exposed skin - and there was a lot, as he was stripped to his briefs - was streaked with sweat, brine, and mud. Using magic here was a risk, though, and audience or not he always appreciated a chance to make use of his impressive physique, so the pickaxe it would be.
Behind him was a winding tunnel network, leading to an underwater cave that had once been accessible from the southern edge of Torget island. The erosion of the rocky shores had long immersed a section of the path deep enough to be past the point of ‘inconvenience’ and well into the realm of ‘completely overlooked’ - which was fantastic, as it meant no Muggles from the summer campground had ever stomped over here and made a mess of things. It also meant that his return trip might get a little tricky, but right now Ruben was focused on what was in front of him.
There was a thunk as the thick wooden panel split around the axe blade and he tugged it loose to investigate, shining his headlamp behind it. “Fan, fortsätter det?” Apparently two layers hadn’t been enough for whoever built it originally: behind the wood, there was more stone. He pried the wood back, cracking the panel in half, and swore again in relief upon discovering that it was not solid but a pillar of sorts framing a dirt wall. At one time the dirt had probably been hard-packed, but it crumbled as he ran calloused fingers across, and it didn’t take much effort to hack his way through.
With a speed that made up for the past hour of manual labour, the Swede soon found himself in a dark cavern, facing several mounds of roughly-cut stones. Targeting the largest one in the centre, he began moving the stones aside. The further down he went, the more the stones became mixed with metal pieces and others of indeterminate use, and then his hand closed around a leg bone too long to have come from an animal. Setting it back in place, he more carefully cleared off the top layer until he was standing over an outstretched skeleton, one disjointed arm laying in pieces at its side, the other crossed over the rotted remains of a leather sheath.
Ruben grinned. Seemed three was the charm after all.
The first two burial sites he had gone to were inland, located nearer to the site of the viking-age Alþing. That had been way back in the autumn, strategically timed near the end of the wildfire season as an excuse for him to claim extra shifts at the Skellefteå firehall when Kaye asked why he kept abandoning her. She hadn’t pressed him as much as he expected - she’d gotten caught up in her new degree pretty quickly, and he couldn’t blame her when her textbooks had diagrams of medieval torture racks and shit - but it was still good to be prepared. (And he had picked up a couple shifts, so it wasn’t like he was lying.)
After finding nothing of value at either site, Ruben had gone back through his notes, ultimately revisiting the normally-soggy, then-frozen ruins of the Snorresson manor. While he didn’t mind making the trip again, he was getting annoyed by always winding up with his spine on the outside of his body no matter how many different ways he skirted the wards, but his efforts were rewarded when he finally identified the compass that had led him to his current location. Trygve, the last of the Snorresson line - infamous in certain circles for never leaving a body behind, including his own, his death a few hundred years ago still unproven (though Ruben suspected that if he was still alive in any form he wouldn’t have gotten this far) - hadn’t made it easy to find.
Ironically, while Kaye was at a wedding now that reflected her family’s Pureblood ties, here he was participating in a version of wedding customs from his own distant heritage. Ever since swords became more popular among the Vikings, men had kept a tradition of breaking into the tombs of their grandfathers to steal the family sword and give it to their bride for safekeeping, often receiving a sword from her family in exchange. For obvious reasons, this was much better than just swapping rings.
In this case Ruben had no relation to the skeleton underfoot nor the dirty hunk of iron lying on its chest, and also wasn’t planning on ever getting married, so he wasn’t truly doing the marriage-sword grave-robbing thing here. But it was the sword of a necromancer’s ancestor with Hel knew what kind of magical abilities and he wanted it. No further reason was necessary.
Lightly nudging the arm on top, Ruben watched as the bones fell apart, femur rolling to the side, finger joints scattering between the discoloured ribs. He waited there in a crouch, counting out five slow minutes, nostrils flaring as he sought to sense anything out of place. At the end of five minutes there was no scent unexpected, no skin prickling, no warning heat from the Ægishjálmr pendant around his neck, so he leaned over and slid the sword free. The ridged hilt fit two hands comfortably, the blade heavy but not unmanageable, but there would be time to investigate it more closely later. As he turned to leave, the blonde noticed three things.
First, the hole he had made in the dirt wall was no longer there, the dirt having apparently reformed without his notice.
Second, there was half a fresh white skull leering at him from inside the dirt.
Third, a series of rapid clicks alerted him to movement from behind.
Ruben spun around, sword raised... as if that would do anything. Of the weapons he knew how to fight with, ‘big old sword’ wasn’t on the list, and he wouldn’t be scoring any points for intimidation against an opponent without eyeballs. He watched as the skeleton drew itself upright, bits of what he had thought was simple rubble flying together to form a stylized double-headed axe that made his abandoned pickaxe on the floor look like it came from an underpaid factory line in China.
“Knulla mig.” He had been eager to meet a reanimation, but he hadn’t planned on doing so in his underwear.
Thinking fast as the skeleton charged, he planted the tip of his sword in the earth and twisted around it, using the momentum to slam both bare feet solidly against its torso. A rib cracked off, and while most of his attention was on not getting chopped in half Ruben couldn’t help noticing when the fallen bone flew past his cheek a second later and snapped back into place. Huh. A second was all he’d need.
He dove to the side, the axe whistling past his ear, and lunged forward to hook the tip of the sword under the skeleton’s pelvis, angling to pop it out. But the skeleton spun with its weapon outstretched and, overbalanced by the sword (he was definitely blaming it on the sword, he didn’t just slip in the dirt like a fucking idiot), what was meant to be a smooth leap back turned into not that.
There was a good reason why he had avoided using magic so far. The bear sigil carved in the cave’s entry and accompanying runic circles had confirmed everything he had read suggesting that such ritual spaces were designed to reciprocate magical attack. Contrary to Muggle claims, which said that berserkers gained their powers from mushroom-induced psychosis, he had learned during his schooling at Durmstrang that their ruthless battle skill came from a binding ritual with warriors past - kind of a reverse horcrux, except instead of splitting one’s own soul for future benefit, they took on extras to feel the immediate effects of immortality and forget all need for self-preservation. In other words, berserkers ate souls, not shrooms. (They might have eaten shrooms, too. Dark magic and drugs weren’t mutually exclusive.)
Ruben landed hard on his back. Abdomen tensed, one hand still holding the sword while the other was already reaching behind to push himself upright, his eyes narrowed on a glint overhead. His headlamp had fallen off and was somewhere behind him, luckily facing out so that he still had some vision in the dark cavern, and it was this that saved him: he did not hesitate before dropping back to the ground, his free hand now grabbing the sword’s blade and bracing it over his face just in time for the axe to crash down. Ignoring the searing pain in his palm and liquid rolling down his forearm, he strained to match the strength of the enhanced skeleton as the axe bounced off the sword blade and came swinging down again, sparks flying.
Fending off the skeleton with magic would be more effective, but the odds of having it blow up in the face under ancient offensive wards did not appeal to him. If he was going to take that risk, he had better make it count.
Pushing harder under the next swing, he knocked the axe back and rolled to the side. Ruben jumped to his feet and thrust his sword at the skeleton again, aiming more by guess than sight, and feeling the sword catch he ripped out whatever that bone was. Probably an important one, gauging by how the entire skeleton wobbled. He darted in, using his already-bleeding hand as an excuse to again grab the sword by the blade and throttle the skeleton with it from behind - and was immediately annoyed when the now-headless undead grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over where its head should have been, the sword slicing his palm deep as it was flung out of his hands and thumped uselessly to the ground.
Of course the fucking berserker skeleton knew fucking glíma. But even if he had considered that in advance Ruben wasn’t sure it would have helped, because he had never wrestled someone who didn’t have muscle and it was turning out to be harder than he cared to admit. Eventually, though, he had to admit it, if only because his arms were pinned to the breaking point and there was a hand over his face. Bony fingers were shoved up his nostrils and in his mouth as if trying to choke him out, and while they lacked the padding to make it work, the dust was in their favour.
His nose and throat were tickling, and if he sneezed or coughed it could very well cost the last usable oxygen in his lungs. Death by a skeleton’s fingers up his nose was among the more humiliating options he could imagine. He didn’t have a concrete plan to fix this, but he had always preferred spontaneous action.
Jaw clenching hard, he managed to bite off a finger joint and did the only reasonable thing with it in the second before it reattached: he swallowed it dry like a pill for safekeeping and started chanting in his head.
Something he had gathered from how the bones separated so easily was that this wasn’t a true reanimation, or at least, nothing of Trygve’s standard. (He would be disappointed about that later. It would have been great to go up against a real one.) If he had guessed correctly, the berserker soul, lacking an attachment since the death of its body, had just attached itself to the skeleton to animate it with strength, speed, and not a lot of style. So if he could pull the rest of the soul into this finger… It was either going to work spectacularly or fail just as well.
There was a moment where he was reasonably certain the entire skeleton was trying to jump inside of him to rejoin its lost finger. He pushed the curse harder, the words wheezing out with increasing strength, and as it turned out, he had guessed right. In the end Ruben was left very much alive and shaking bone dust out of his various face holes. This did nothing to resolve his spontaneous migraine, but it sure improved his self-esteem. The collapse of the cavern ceiling didn’t help his migraine either, but he did take satisfaction in the fact he anticipated it, managing to both grab the sword with his good hand and blast straight up to the surface before he could be completely boiled alive in the fjord.
Back at his lägenhet in Skellefteå, he locked the sword in a trunk acquired specifically for this moment. The wood grain rippled across in waves as it sealed under his bloody handprint. He then proceeded to hex himself in order to puke out the bone (along with an unfortunate number of sardines; it was the first hex he’d thought of) and tucked it into a pouch made of thestral hide. Wiping blood onto the opposite hand, a complex movement of his fingers tracing runes in midair caused the extra kitchen cabinet to fizzle into existence. The sole occupants of the top shelf were a book tied shut with dental floss and a vial of silver liquid, leaving plenty of space for the pouch to sit between them. The sardines were tossed unceremoniously in the fridge.
Priorities addressed, he turned to other things, like cooling down the burns on his legs, or pulling bone slivers out of his left ear and tipping in drops of a generic healing potion. Also a shower. A very long one. It would have been longer, but after running a mental time conversion he realized it was already evening in Montreal.
Hastily checking himself over in the bathroom mirror, Ruben prodded the locations of his various injuries, ending with a slight wince at his neck. He rarely bothered to clean up after a regular duel but this was a lot, even for him, and he didn’t want to raise any suspicions. Bruises were easily concealed by charms, and the replenishing jar of anti-swelling cream would help too, but despite looking normal he could feel the exhaustion in his entire body and his hearing remained one-sided. Hopefully Kaye came home as drunk as she’d promised. From past experience he knew Drunk Kaye was loud enough to counter any loss of hearing, and he was pretty confident that even if she noticed he was slower than usual, she would just mock him for not being able to keep up without really questioning it.
Not bothering to get dressed, he apparated back to their loft stark naked and immediately flopped onto the couch. If she asked what he’d been doing all day, the answer would be - he turned on the TV - watching Drag Race reruns. Alright. He could work with that. Sinking deeper into the cushions, casually throwing a leg over the back of the couch for maximum comfort, Ruben summoned over a bottle of vodka and settled in to wait for her.
Around the world, the thestral pouch and its innocently quiet contents waited as well for its next opportunity to be of use.
CW: contains some (filtered) violence... though does that really come as any surprise?