The lights in the room were dim, I suppose in an attempt to keep me asleep and healing. The morphine was a doing a much better job of that than the lights, and the room’s illumination could have been amped up to a thousand watts and strobing and I would have slept through it, with the morphine floating in my system. I’m fixated on the lights, I suppose.
And the morphine. I had recently been shot, drowned, and beat to hell before being resuscitated. But that is a different story. This story is way crazier. Way crazier.
The point I was getting to is that the lights were dim when the old man slipped into my room in the Portland Hospital. My eyes snapped open, tracking him. Pulling the room’s visitor chair to the side of my bed he utilized it, harrumphing as he settled.
“Who are you?” I returned his greeting.
“Your next client. My name is Loki, and I need to die.”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
He stroked his grizzled face, fingers scratching through white stubble. “I think you heard me just fine. I believe what you meant to say was; are you insane or do mean something other than what you actually just said.”
It didn’t take me long to think it through. “Hm. Okay, I think possibly you are insane. Could please clarify what you said so that I no longer think you insane, and then, possibly, as a follow, let me know why you are approaching me in a hospital?”
He laughed. “Well said. I can answer the second more easily than the first. I’m approaching you now because later would be too late. This is my last echo. This is often the case with things that are time sensitive.”
My head hurt a bit. Words seemed to merrily dance around actual intent every time this guy opened his mouth. So I shook my head, clearing it a bit. This guy was insane. Did he actually think he was a Norse god, or had he just parents with an unusual bent in naming their children? “Okay. Let’s start sideways instead. Loki is a rare name. Are you Scandinavian?”
“Mr. Stone. Again you ask a question that is not the question you want answered.” He snorted. “What you mean to ask is; how did we get back to me thinking you insane. Do you actually think you are a Norse god? In answer, my brother Thor was a brute, thought with his muscles. My father Odin, yes, he actually only had one eye. What I am matters little. What the world thinks I am often matters much more.”
I blinked. Facts quickly added up. One; I was blitzed on morphine, but had snapped awake the second he walked into the room. Two; he was answer my thoughts, not my words.
“No, not your thoughts,” he said. “It’s more like I am answer to the most probable thing you are thinking… and after this long alive I’m really—really—good at reading faces.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. Oh great, now I’m going to be conscious of every expression my face makes.
That which is not impossible… so which was less probable? A god trying to get me to do something, or a telepathic senior citizen faking being a god to get me to do something which I wouldn’t do for a telepath but that I would for a god. Neither seemed particularly plausible, but his being Loki was at least less complex than the latter. Screw it.
“Okay. Why would a God need to hire me, and why shouldn’t I think that I’m just have a Douglas Adams inspired drug induced dream?”
“Would you also like me to give you the answer to life, the universe, and everything, Mr. Stone?”
I blinked. It somehow made me warm that Loki, if that was indeed who this was, had just dropped a Douglas Adams reference back on me. I could live in this universe. “Okay. So, explain, please? Why do you think you need to die?”
“Fate, Mr. Stone. I am in a way, already dead. This me that is here is a whisper that is still connected to the pattern. And I need to be disconnected from those bitchy sisters.”
“Excuse me?” I got some of what he was assaying, but mostly it made no sense.
“Life is… more complex than you realize. Free will is a thing, but the decisions of the person become a kind of… thread, and all those threads together form a pattern. Not a pattern, a momentum. That momentum, to you would look like a pattern, and that is Fate. From which I must be disconnected. There is really only one way to do that, which is to die. So I need to die.”
“And why do you need me to help you die?”
He cocked his head to the side. “Gods aren’t easy to kill. We’re kind of like spiritual nuclear reactors. If you try to shut us off the wrong way well…” He slapped curled hands together then jerked them apart, spreading his fingers wide as a made an explosion sound. “Religious Chernobyl. The problem is that I have already gone critical.”
I blinked. “I’m not even sure I can imagine what that would look like.”
“The inquisition was a tremor, just a tremor, from the death of Shiva.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Okay. Say I’m on board with this idea,” I realized with a start that I actually was. Perhaps it was the aforementioned morphine. Don’t hold it against me, I was high as a kite. That’s kind of the point of painkillers. “What exactly is it that you need me to do? I just got drowned, shot, frozen, and then bitten. It’s been a spectacularly bad week, and I’m not sure I’m up to that much.” Don’t ask. Like I said, it was a bad week.
“To start with, and we will take this slowly, I just need you to listen.”
“Well, easy enough. I’m listening.” Again I raised an eyebrow at him.
He shook his head and held up a finger. Digging around in his pocket, made a couple of old-man-slightly-senile faces until he pulled his hand out of the pocket and held up a pearl. “A-ha!”
It was… weird. The pearlescent sheen of the stone—are pearls gems, jewels, or stones? I’m too doped up to remember which one they categorize as—glowed with an interior light. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I need you to listen with your heart, your soul. With your pattern of choices. Just reach out and take this from me. Quick warning, you’ll have hallucinations as you fir—”
December, 1176 A.D.
Kaine grabbed the hammer’s handle but Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, wouldn’t move. Lightning flashed through the snowstorm. Crags and sheer drops surrounded him as he stood on the rocky outcropping on the side of the mountain Sildpollneset. He glanced at his youngling, then back at the god’s hammer. It was the stuff of legends, and the legends were, apparently, true in this case. Thor bled at his feet. The first of the immortals had fallen. Yet still the hammer was stuck.
Kaine wiped the golden blood off his mouth. “Drink child. The power you gain will be immeasurable.”
Vlad Tepes stared at his sire, then dipped his finger in the viscous fluid welling from the fallen god’s throat. “This makes no sense to me … how have you done this?”
Kaine smiled. “They feed on belief the way we feed on blood. They are no different than us, other than being able to feed on countless victims simultaneously. I attacked him at the source of his power. His food. That is what you are going to do, Vlad.”
The younger vampire looked confused. “How?”
“Belief.” Vlad leaned over and lapped at Thor’s throat while he listened. “While I attack the gods, you will attack the other gifted species. The Shifters, the Fey, the Angels, and the species that draw power from faith. It will take centuries, but you must change how they are seen. You must change what they are. Kill them as protectors. Make them villains, make them monsters. Then make them jokes. Take away the fear, and leave them no place to live but in stories.”
Vlad finished his meal and looked up to Kaine. “I believe I understand. The same way that the Ottomans disparage Wallachia and Christianity, attacking us with rumors, I must attack the very words that the commoners hear and speak.”
“Exactly. You have been given the gift of death. You have been cut free from the Threads of Fate. In a world of blacks and whites, you are gray. You can sway between the poles of creation. Not mortal, not divine. That is the curse, and the gift, of the vampire—and those like us.” Kaine reach down and tore Thor’s head off. He handed it to Vlad. “Give this to Stephen Bathory. He will deliver it to the Turks. The shifters are attacking his family, giving him this gift will do well to secure the future for you. You must pass along the protection of your country.”
Vlad turn the head over, studying it. “I don’t understand. Of all the things you have asked, why do you insist I must give up my homeland?”
Kaine placed a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “I know you don’t understand. But the world must be shaped. I have been granted visions by my mother, the mother of Night. Someday, a werewolf will be born that cannot change. His blood will be the shape of the container we need. He will be able to hold power like no other on this planet. At the same time another like my brother will be born. When that vampire is born, one that doesn’t need blood, alongside the werewolf who cannot shift, I must have them both. The vampire can define the power within the wolf, and the wolf must be there when the unblooded is born. It is the key to our kind becoming gods.”
“We must reshape the world until the gods themselves believe that those two must be brought together. Changing the future is not an easy feat.” Kaine squeezed Vlad’s arm. “But while we shape events, I can promise you this—I will destroy the Boyars over time. You must trust me. I will hand you the world. You are so much more than you realize now. Your father may have been of the order of the dragon, but now you are the dragon, and when you roar it shall shake the pillars of heaven.”
The two stood in silence and watched as the snows slowly buried Mjolnir. Vlad stood, cradling the head. “I shall make them monsters. As you command.”
I blinked again. The pearl was gone, the vision dissipated. The adrenaline high was still there, at least in pieces. Exhaustion was tapping on my shoulder, hiding behind the adrenaline high. Wow. “What the hell was that?”
Loki smiled at me. “That was a memory, a dream. I have many memories, pieces of my lost sisters and brothers.”
I gulped. “That is the most screwed up thing I…” Words failed me. I gave it a shot anyway. “It feels like someone installed a THX theater behind my eyes and Morgan Freeman just narrated a private screening of someone else’s memories inside my brain-pan.”
He smiled gently. “You’ve just seen the universe from a much wider perspective than you are used to. Your species is fairly closed minded, and I’ve just pried your perception open with a crow bar.
I couldn’t believe it. This was the real deal. Loki.
Or the best Morphine ever created.
But my gut said Loki. “Okay. I think I’m on board. That was… Kaine? As in the dude that killed his brother in the bible?”
“It was,” he smiled. He seemed to do that a lot, which for the god of mischief made me a bit nervous. “Though it is never so simple as it seems. The story of Kaine and Able is nothing like the story told today.”
“So what is the real story?”
He held up another pearl. “Listen closely. Though it has many layers, you will learn the story.”
I held out my palm and Loki dropped the pearl into my waiting hand.
April 15th, 1912 A.D.
Loki the Coyote
Somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean …
A man, dressed in the rough-and-tumble fashion of the American Old West, strolled along the decks of the passenger liner. He stopped next to an elegant woman dressed in a flowing, midnight purple silk evening gown. Fiery red hair framed a perfect, dark-olive complexioned face, her impassive visage practically glowed in the moonlight.
Sounds of a band playing “Asleep in the Deep” and revelers laughing in the distant, crystal-sparkling dance room of the ship first-class section floated demurely across the decks. It was too bitter cold for most passengers to enjoy the night’s shockingly clear black skies. Not for this woman, though … or this man. They both stared into the icy gusts as if it were balmy summer. He brushed an errant lock of hair away from his forehead and inhaled deeply, enjoying the scent of salt in the air. “Evenin’, Lilith.”
The woman regally nodded her head a single time. “Loki.”
“You look radiant tonight.”
“Considering the magnitude of the occasion, I thought I should.” She laughed lightly, a musical sound quietly permeating the roar of the ocean.
Loki watched the low shadow on the horizon. If you didn’t know it was there, it would have been impossible to spot. If you had looking glasses you maybe could see it, but Loki held the only pair on the whole ship. If the sky were only a bit brighter, or if a moon would surrender its merest crescent smile … but the moon was absent on this night, and the invisible shadow remained invisible, though it didn’t keep its place.
“Indeed, my lady. I have brought the gift you sought.” Reaching into the pocket of his vest, digging around for a moment, and pulling out a small pearl, seemingly made of light. The Trickster grinned.
Lilith clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, my dearest Loki. I can’t believe you actually pulled it off. Are all of the Angel’s memories in here?”
Nodding solemnly, Loki rolled the pearl between his fingers. “They are, indeed. I don’t like doing this. He was a brave ally in our struggle against the gray ones. I fear that without him the gods will fall.”
Lilith nodded, watching out of the corner of her eye as the shadow upon the horizon grew larger. “The fall of the Angel now means that the werewolf that can’t change will be born. He is the key to stopping the vampire that doesn’t drink blood. If the Angel was not contained now and allowed to shape events, he would stop the wolf from being there when the vampire is born. But not now. Now we get an ally returned, and the balance against our enemies.”
She pointed at the pearl. “In sixty-five years, when his essence is dissolved and he finds a new host, he’ll be more powerful than ever. You know if we leave him in the state he is in, he will be worse than useless—until he drifts into oblivion.” She shrugged. “Losing his memories will bring him to the brink of madness. But he will fuse his soul to a mortal and the fiery sword shall rise again, my friend.”
“I get that.” Snapping his fist closed around the iridescent bauble, he grimaced. “The Gray Ones gather strength and our allies are all gone. They may be just a cabal of lesser powers, but they don’t bicker. Where our moves are plain, they are hidden, we stand alone and they strike as a united front, and we fall one by one. We stand alone. In this especially we stand alone, and it isn’t like either of us really trusts the other. Are we to simply spend the next century rebuilding allies, creating new power bases?”
Warmth challenged the bitter chill in the air as Lilith gently reached out to touch his hand. “Dearest Trickster, we don’t have to trust each other. We just have to work together for a few small centuries to save our kind. Yes, we have to rebuild. You’ve done the right thing with his essence. It will make the next century hard, but the end game will be ours.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it, Lilith; doesn’t mean I have to like it. We sit here speaking in cryptic riddles, and the whole damn world is going to hell.” Loki shrugged as he threw the small pearl into the ocean.
As the dark waters of the ocean closed over the luminescent stone, the light faded, swallowed by the inky darkness. Light sparkled in Lilith’s eyes. Ripples of power flowed back in time from the souls that were about to be released from life. Prophesy boiled up in the ancient Lilith’s mind, and she spoke. “So mote it be. Threescore years shall we wait, before the sword is found, and two score more before the pieces shall fall into place.”
Loki rolled his eyes, sighing. He didn’t believe this. The wolf and vampire had to be kept apart, not brought together. But he had to play along. For now. “All right, Lilith. I get it. You’re mysterious. You know you could just say that we’ll rock this shit in the nineteen seventies, and be dealing with it for forty years. Guess we have a bit to wait.” He brightened up a little bit as a thought struck him. “At least I get another century of fun before I have to start taking things seriously. Thank us for small favors, eh?”
Lilith threw back her head and laughed. “I doubt you will ever be able to take things seriously. Use this time wisely Loki, and prepare your pieces. Those that move against us are powerful, indeed, and by their very nature obfuscated from our view.” She held up a finger. “Yes, yes. I know. Language. They are beyond our influence. You know damn well what I mean.”
He tilted his head to the side watching the shadow looming on the horizon as it became clear that it was an iceberg. “True. However, power without humor is a waste. They get too serious. They lose sight of what’s important in the universe. So do you sometimes, Lilly-Pad. It is the nature … no, the gift of Humanity to laugh at itself, and its curse to laugh at each other.” His fingers curled into a fist. “And the Gray Ones don’t understand Gift or Curse.”
The looming shadow dripped blackness until midnight blue was visible in the iceberg’s jagged face, now only moments from colliding with the ship, serenely drifted through the tide. “They lose sight of humanity, and of the humans.”
Ice ripped through ship’s metal hull, tearing a tragic scar in the face of history, and unfolding legend. Savoring the moment of impact, the two gods leaned against the railing of the Titanic, consuming the stray prayers of those aboard as history was made. As more and more passengers flocked to the decks, some fighting with each other, some trying to help each other, all trying to reach the lifeboats, Lilith and Loki slipped gently over the side of the ship, floating serenely down towards the water.
The two gods landed lightly on the ocean’s surface, strolling away from the doomed vessel. Once they were a suitable distance away, they stopped and turned around, watching the final act of the terrible drama. Both focused intently, helping guide the souls of those whose prayers they had collected. For almost three hours the two gods collected souls, shepherds of the last wishes of the drowning. For some they eased passage to their final reward, while for others they sustained and even granted life, by guiding lifeboats miraculously to those who could be saved, or away from jagged ice and the dangerous flotsam that loitered everywhere.
As history’s quill penned its last stroke, and the “unsinkable” H.M.S. Titanic sank completely into its own icy sepulcher, the two gods departed, not to see each other again for over sixty years.
“This is the strangest thing ever. It’s almost like... You know what,” I shrugged, fighting the haze, “it’s not like anything. I have no freaking clue how to handle this.”
Loki tilted his head, a strange dog-like affectation. “It’s about to start getting stranger. Your own narrative, your fate, is tied up into this.”
I opened my mouth. “uh…” I closed it.
I blinked again.
I reopened my mouth. Nothing came out.
Loki nodded. “Thought so. We have a hell of a lot still to go in order for you to be prepared for me to die. And I do mean a lot.”
“Is this the best time? Maybe I should get some rest tonight and we can do more in the morning?” Any time to process this…
Loki shook his head. “’fraid not, my young friend. There are a few reasons why that is a bad idea.”
I pulled at the hospital bedding, glancing around my room. I really was tired. “Well, hell. Why not?”
He smiled. “One, there really isn’t a lot of time. I have somewhere to be later tonight. Two; the morphine is helping you cope with this a lot. It’s also helping you accept this as real, which just makes everything faster on both of us. Ready?”
I shook my head no, but he dropped another pearl into my palm anyway. I fell asleep and dreamed.