“Relax,” Loki said. “I’m not going to kill you. Unlike most gods, I can take a bit of ribbing. But the earhole?” He glanced down at my crotch. “That’s sort of a small hole, or do you disagree?”
I could only stare as I sorted through the swirl of emotions. Instead of smiting me for my years of insolence, Loki was sitting here in front of me, joking with me about the size of my member.
Aiden’s bark of laughter made my cheeks heat.
“Yeah, no,” I said. “It’s small.”
He reached over and pinched my cheek and spoke as if talking to a baby. “Don’t worry, sweet cheeks. It’s not the size that counts.”
“No. Wait. That’s not what I—”
Loki held his hands up as if the cops had said freeze. “No worries. Your secret is safe with me.”
“What are you doing here?” Aiden said.
“I have a summer home in Atlantis,” Loki said, “I come here often now that I do not have a Nexus to protect. It can grow rather dull at times, but I have my fun where I can.”
“Could you really hear me every time I cursed you?” I asked.
“Of course,” Loki said, smile never wavering. “There is power in a name. You should know that by now. Liamorandus.”
My head swam as he pushed will into the annunciation of my name. I was certain he’d articulated each syllable the way my parents had when they first looked upon my face and pronounced me. There was no hurling of power, ether or wyther. He’d simply exerted his will upon mine while speaking my name. I thought I might vomit. I swallowed the acid taste and tried not to pass out.
The gods of earth are old, as in, they are some of the first beings to settle there. There is much debate about the origin of man, most of it coming from some source of mythology, but there is no dispute around the fact that it is the gods who have shaped human civilization for eons. Though many of them have allowed their names to fall into the category of mythology, they do exist. And they are petty as fuck. And egotistical beyond measure. I mean, for good reason. For all we know, they are eternal and far more powerful in regards to raw magical ability than any mage in existence. And I’d flippantly and defiantly cursed the one sitting beside me for years.
“Do not fret, dear,” Loki said. “I assure you, I do not intend to turn you to a pile of ash. Where is the fun in that?” He sipped on his coffee. I sipped on mine. I got the feeling the uncomfortable silence was one-sided.
“Okay,” Aiden said with an unhealthy amount of irritation in his voice. He always bristled at a threat, even if that threat was a literal god capable of showing him his insides with a thought. “You’ve had your fun. What do you want from us?”
Loki pursed his lips, humor returning to his eyes as he studied Aiden. “Mmm mm, and he has a bit of sass in him as well. The delights we could enjoy together.”
“What do you want?” Aiden demanded. “Or do you expect us to believe this is a chance encounter?”
“And he’s observant. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” He crossed his chest in the Catholic fashion, biting his lower lip.
“A god praying to another god,” I said. “That’s not something you see every day. But seriously, you must want something from us.”
He shrugged a shoulder, making the gesture look both seductive and nonchalant. “I might have overheard your predicament just now. Being stuck here without a way back to earth, while being strong-armed by someone more powerful and holding all the cards. That must chafe.” He adjusted the bulge in his crotch. And winked at Aiden.
We had been enclosed in a sound-proof shield. How had he heard us?
“Oh,” Loki said, waving a hand. “I doubt any other god was sitting about. Few around here could have penetrated oh-so-sweetly that tight little sphere.”
“But you did,” I said. “And so you know—”
“I do know. Theseus is an ass though, so I might be willing to help you,” his eyes looked Aiden up and down again, “for a price.”
Aiden shook his head vehemently. “No way in hell—”
Loki leaned in and quickly placed a finger over Liam’s lips. “Shh, my little dumpling. We can talk over the details later. At my place.”
He stood, straightening his purple coat.
“Your offer is kind,” I said, “but we have to make some arrangements, and—”
“Oh hush. You can’t afford a room here outside of the Shadow Streets, the one place Theseus allows a crime ring, of a sort. And you’re more likely to find yourself waking up on ice with your ethereal talent ripped from you and sold on the black market than to get a good deal on a bed-and-breakfast. You are staying with me, and I won’t take no for an answer.”
Loki had a point. The gods were not exactly our enemies, but we weren’t exactly cozy with them either. If an underground society existed in Atlantis, I had never heard of it, but I sure as the chili-dog shits didn’t want to meet them.
“Look,” Loki said, “I promise not to trick you into bonding with me while you are in my home.”
“Since you put it that way,” I said, “I suppose—”
“We can procure our own lodging,” Aiden said. “It’s no trouble. I have plenty of coins.”
“Oh, but Scrumptious,” Loki said, “You could spend those little coins-y onesies on some more of those delicious tight pants rather than some dank old squatty hole. I could show you some great places to go shopping.”
“We accept,” I said, not completely certain why. Maybe it had something to do with the look of horror Aiden gave, following my pronouncement. Friends can be the most cruel of people sometimes.
“Excellent,” Loki said. “It’s this way.”
He snapped a finger. I felt a surge of power, ether and wyther. A hole ripped into the street just outside the Starbucks courtyard. A minotaur avoided it as if a cat had jumped in front of him rather than a portal to another place.
As I made to follow Loki, Aiden grabbed my sleeve. “What. The. Fuck are you doing?”
“He’s right. We don’t have a lot of options. And this gives us an alibi. Just trust me. We’ll talk more later.”
“I’m getting really exhausted trusting you. If this goes poorly—”
“I know. You’ll haunt me. Got it.”
He nodded as if satisfied to have gotten through to me and stormed into the portal.
I followed. Being on the same plane, there was no disconnected feeling passing through the opening. I could have been taking a step on the same stretch of sidewalk. But when I got to the other side, I stuttered to a halt. And gaped.
The sidewalk ended in a wall of bars surrounding a compound of green rolling hills. A white path led from the entry to a castle on the hill that shimmered like pearls. Spires stretched from odd places to different lengths, topped with blue roofs. Unicorns pranced on the lawn and little winged creatures chased one another. We had not left the city. Or, we were at least still in a large metropolis.
There were skyscrapers in the distance and I could still hear horns from traffic behind me. Turning, I confirmed a wide street was filled bumper-to-bumper with the mismatch of devices. I did a double take when I saw a centaur standing behind a thunderbird. His lower body was that of a black stallion (Emphasis on the stallion part. Someone should tell him to cover that thing up. Sheesh.). His upper torso was human. He wore a button up coat and bow tie, and held aloft an open newspaper. Lowering it, he looked at me with an annoyed expression.
I swear to Loki—rather, any other god than Loki—he had Brad Pitt’s face. He flicked his newspaper and trotted forward, hooves clopping against the cobbled road as he edged closer to the car in front of him.
“Oy,” Loki said, nudging me. “Don’t be a tourist. Staring like a two year old. What’s wrong with you?”
“Come on. Let’s get you two settled.”
The gates opened as we approached. There was a hum of energy as we passed through, and the veil fell away. Inside the compound, there was no castle. The home in front of us was no less luxurious, covering more ground than the castle had appeared to from the street. The house itself was stacked at impossibly odd angles, like legos thrown by a child but somehow held together as they landed. Spheres connected the blocky shapes, which surrounded a giant pond, clear as glass.
Mermaids swam beneath the surface alongside mermen. The little merchildren chased schools of fish. Flat stone disks floated above the water, like stairs, leading to the front door, which was made of blue glass, the color of sapphire. At the center, silver snakes formed an S-shape, each circling one another biting the other’s tail. They appeared to be alive and slithering in unison.
He hid all of this from those outside his compound with intricate but subtle illusion magic. The kind of energy used to power such a veil must have been immense. But I felt nothing. Perhaps, I had been a bit hasty in cursing this guy all these years. He was no chump.
“Yep,” Aiden confirmed. “I really believe you are Loki now.”
“Or maybe I just stole his gorgeous face and incredible home.”
“But only a fool would take his symbol,” Aiden said, gesturing toward the snakes on the door.
“Careful,” Loki said. “I might believe you are complimenting me.”
“There is a lot of room between not a fool and genius.”
“Indeed,” Loki said, studying Aiden to see if there had been an insult in his words.
“I hate to interrupt,” I said, in fact quite happy to stop the conversation, before Aiden could chew on his toes. I waved my hand toward the city. “Why the deception?”
“Appearances, darling. I am the Trickster God. I must not disappoint my guests. Besides, I was bored.”
“You are exiled.” As the realization hit me, I spoke without thinking about the consequences. “You are here because the new Pantheon they are forming won’t let you return to earth.”
Loki’s demeanor changed. His jaw twitched. The twinkle left his eyes. He regarded me with a cold stare and said, “It is impolite to say such things. I would hate to end my hospitality swiftly and abruptly, before having the chance to wine and dine you.”
“But that’s why you want us here, right? You have an offer.”
The irritation faded as it had never been. He gave me an appraising look, and his mischievous expression returned. “You are far more capable than they gave you credit, Liam. Perhaps, you can pull this off after all. And serve my purposes as well.”
“Pull what off?” Aiden said, sounding no less guilty than he had earlier.
“Still with that, eh?” Loki rolled his eyes. “You need to work on that poker face, honey bunches. When there is time, I will give you a few pointers. For now, suffice to say, I’ve been all up inside those surface thoughts.”
With a sudden panic, I checked my mental shields. They were always in place and had not slipped. I refortified them with a bit of ether.
“Bah,” Loki said, waving a hand. “Won’t do you any good in here. This is my domain. My mini-nexus, if you will. I have absolute power over you.”
“Fuck,” Aiden said, turning toward the gate. He ran two long strides, then his foot froze mid-step.
“You said you wouldn’t harm us,” his voice squeaked.
“No. I said I would not trick you into bonding with me. And I won’t. I am a god of my word. However, I also will not allow you to leave until you hear my proposal and bind yourself to my cause.”
“Fuck you, Loki.”
“Like I told you when we met. Not my type.” He smirked. “But we can discuss all the details after I get the two of you settled in. Walk this way.”
My limbs betrayed me and moved puppet-like after Loki. This was fine. It was all fine. I had a plan, and we were going to need help. I could handle this.
Part of me actually believed that. The other part couldn’t even piss himself because Loki was in control now. Yep, I really fucked us this time. But hey, look on the bright side. At least Theseus wouldn’t be ripping us apart in the city square, while the Trickster god had us enthralled.
So we had that going for us.