SS Headquarters, Wewelsburg Castle
The castle doors creaked open for the angel of death.
Two Nazi guards yanked the leashes of their snarling Dobermans and stepped back. "Guten Abend, mein Herr."
Keeping a wary eye on the dogs, Manfred von Streicher entered the castle gripping a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. The heavy doors shut behind him, sending a cascade of otherworldly echoes resounding through the stone fortress. Von Streicher shuddered.
No turning back now.
He marched alone through the grand hall of Teutonic knights. Armored sentries wielding swords and iron spears loomed on pedestals on either side. Von Streicher hastened past them, his boots clumping across the stones. His hand, bearing the death's head ring, tightened around the briefcase handle. The handcuffs chafed his wrist. The stiff collar of his black tunic constricted his throat. Taking controlled breaths, he wound through the serpentine corridors. The shadowy reaches of the castle moaned as if disturbed by his presence.
This is madness, Manfred. For God's sake, turn back! Destroy the research.
And what? Defy the Reich? Himmler will have me skinned alive!
Von Streicher stopped before a set of colossal double doors. Voices murmured on the other side, and then laughter erupted. They're in a cheerful mood tonight. Hate to spoil a good party. Von Streicher slicked back a few wind-blown hairs and opened the doors.
The laughter stopped. Goblets and silverware clinked on the round table. A dozen black-clad officers fixed their Aryan eyes upon the messenger in the doorway.
Von Streicher raised his arm. "Heil Hitler!"
Seated at the far side of the round table, Himmler scowled and checked his watch. "SS-Hauptsturmführer Von Streicher, you've missed three courses."
"My deepest apologies, Reichsführer. My plane was delayed in Norway. A storm--"
Himmler waved his hand dismissively. "Show us the designs."
"Right away, mein Herr." Von Streicher set the briefcase on the table, pulled a tiny key out of his gums, and opened the case. "My expedition in Iceland has led us to a breakthrough discovery." Von Streicher removed a stack of photographs and a dossier.
Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg grinned from across the table. "What is it this time, Von Streicher, more Nordic cave paintings?" Chuckles circulated among the men.
Von Streicher passed around photos. "Actually, Herr Rosenberg, I combined your research with mine." The photos were received with perplexed expressions all around.
A smile spread on Himmler's face. "You actually got this to function?"
"Our testing has proven successful on one prototype." Von Streicher took the thirteenth seat at the round table, where a plate of cold lamb shanks and a goblet of red wine awaited him. He slid the plate to one side and gulped the wine.
Reichsleiter Rosenberg, holding a photo, released a nervous laugh. "But this is merely a thing of legend."
Von Streicher smiled. "Like the world tree, Yggsdrasil, legends derive from an acorn of truth. My team discovered the acorn. Now with the powers of Odin, we can produce the tree."
Himmler said, "Not just a tree, gentlemen, an entire forest. We begin mass production immediately."
Von Streicher choked on his wine. "With all due respect, mein Reichsführer, we are still in the early stages. My team needs more time--"
"No more research. We've got weeks before Allies and Soviets hit our borders. We must strike now with a blitzkrieg that will shake the planet." Himmler handed a map to Von Streicher. "Don't bother to unpack, Manfred. You will be overseeing the entire operation at our new base camp." On the map a red box indicated an area near the border of Germany and Belgium.
"The Hürtgen Forest?"
Heinrich Himmler grinned and raised his goblet. "Once we engage these weapons into the war, no army will withstand the might of the reich. Heil Hitler!"
The Black Order raised their goblets. "Heil Hitler!"
Von Streicher held aloft his toast with a shaky hand. He glanced down at the map ... from the ice fields of heaven to the forests of the Green Hell.
The angel of death is coming. And I'm bringing my demons with me.