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Two for Joy

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Once upon a time, there was a boy named Loki. This is not his story. There was also a girl named Verity. This is not her story either.

Yes, it is.

Excuse me, who's telling this story?

I am, apparently.

Well, you can't. It's my story. I'm the omniscient --

Unreliable.

-- narrator around here. Wait, what?

The word you're looking for is "unreliable", not "omniscient". Not with the amount of lying you've been doing.

It's a story about Loki, somebody's got to be lying. It might as well be me.

See? You're lying. You've just said it wasn't Loki's story.

Fine. There was once a girl named Verity and a boy named Loki. This is their story. Are you happy now? On second thought, don't answer that. And quit hijacking my narrative!

The boy named Loki was a trickster and that made mischief his gift and malice his curse. We all have our faults, some of us more than others. We all have our triumphs. We all have our tragedies. For the girl Verity the greatest of each of these was her name. Nothing and no one could lie to her -- not even artful storytellers such as myself.

Imagine, if you will, the scene: the place is Midgard and it's been over a thousand years since the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.

Like anybody knows when that was.

Then they're uncultured gits and need to educate themselves.

Lying. You're just a terrible storyteller.

Now, who's lying?

Still you, I'm afraid.

I'm not getting paid enough to deal with this nonsense.

You're not getting paid at all.

My point exactly.

Where was I? Oh yes.

Midgard, in the recent past or the close future, and the boy Loki and girl Verity are planning a trick. Loki has a trick and Verity is along for the ride or perhaps it is the other way around. Do not push me.

There was a trick in the making or more than one. Almost definitely more than one.

There always is, with Loki.

Often. There often is, with Loki. Not always.

You're really new at this, aren't you?

So in that small Midgardian apartment where multiple tricks were or were not being played, our protagonists hatched a plan.

Heroes. Not just protagonists. We're the heroes of this story.

You teamed up with Loki.

So?

So, how new are you? It's Loki. At best, at absolute best, he does anti-hero.

Can I please get back to my story now?

Who's stopping you?

You are, with all the interruptions and the pretending that Loki is a hero and not a murderer.

Speechless, are we? Chew on that while I get back to my story.

There was a plan being made and a trick being played. If you think there isn't, you're either the one being tricked, or you're the trick.

There were tortilla chips on the coffee table and tequila no one was drinking in fancy champagne glasses no one was touching.

"Amber," Loki said.

Verity took a chip. When she was finished eating it, she said, "My name is Verity."

"I know." He stuck a chip in the dip and gestured with his now-free hand. "I meant, we're going to need a ton load of amber for this thing to work."

"How much is that in Imperial?" Verity wriggled her toes. Some of her nail polish had stuck to the inside of her sock and there was a big spot of pale skin showing on her left big toe. "Hey, do you still have that black nail polish?"

"Thirteen thousand pounds." He took a bottle of nail polish from behind his back and handed it to Verity.

"You," she said as she unscrewed the bottle cap, "have something very specific in mind."

"Yeah." He downed his glass.

"You want to elaborate on that?" She held out the bottle to him. "This actually going to stay on, right? Not disappear wherever it came from?"

He nodded. "We need the amber to focus the ambient resurrection energy and bring back the dinosaurs."

"Loki, that's the plot of Jurassic Park. Be serious. What do we need the amber for and where are we going to get it?" She finished coating her nail with a new layer of black polish.

"Is it? I didn't see that movie and I told you we need the amber to focus the ambient resurrection energy." Loki finally took his chips out of the dip. "I take this tortilla chip and eat it."

Verity rolled her eyes, the way she always did when she could tell Loki was making a reference to something, even if she had no idea what that thing was. "You spend too much time on the internet. What resurrection energy?"

"Lifestream, Phoenix Force remnants, as," he dragged out the s like he was changing his mind about what he was saying and scrambling for an alternative, "well as several others. What are we going to do with it? We're going to end the world."

"Please tell me we'll put it back after." It was Loki. Such things needed to be asked.

Such things always do, with Loki.

"I happen to quite like the world," Loki said, "so just this once, yes, we're putting it back after."

"Alright," Verity said, "but why?"

"Why not?" He was Loki and that made this as good a reason as any to do anything, be that end the world or --

Kill someone?

I was going to say 'invite a friend over for drinks and chips', but, sure, that works too.

Don't make jokes. Someone is dead. This is not the kind of crime that is easily forgiven.

I know. But, really, it depends on what you mean by 'someone' and 'killed' and 'dead', if I have to be honest.

Can you even be honest?

That's rather for you to tell me, isn't it? Now, where was I? Ah, yes.

And Verity said, "Be serious."

And Loki said, "I can't."

And Verity decided not to point out he was lying. They both knew it, what would have been the point?

Let us move our story forward to later, but on Midgard, still, after the door has closed behind the girl called Verity.

"The greatest story never told," Loki told himself. "A fascinating mystery, the greatest con in history!"

Verity was right. He did spend too much time on the Internet.

"Soon."

Who was he talking to?

Loki.

Uh.

Yes. Can I continue? Thank you.

It took a few days, but soon they were both ready. Loki had his vanishing coat and Verity's boots were made for walking, which was good as that was exactly what they would be called to do in a fairly short amount of time.

"Where's your coat?" Loki asked. "You'll freeze if you go dressed like that."

"Thermal spandex." Verity tugged the edge of her sleeve and let it go, the sound of it sharp.

"Spandex? What are you, some sort of superhero?" Loki took chalk out of his pocket and started drawing.

"I hang out with you. I'm either a superhero or a supervillain and I'm not quite ready to pal it up with Doctor Doom just yet." Verity took a step back, letting Loki draw arcane symbols where her feet had just been.

"Shame, really. Victor is quite nice, once you get to know him." Loki closed the circle and gestured for Verity to get in.

Verity got in. "No. One of my flats got destroyed in one of his fights with the Fantastic Four."

"I have it on good authority that was a Doombot." Loki kept writing on the floor.

"So what? If the man builds robots that keep turning homicidal, maybe he has no business building robots. Loki, why are you writing rhubarb over and over again?"

I'll skip here over the rest of the ritual. Suffice to say Loki did not have a good answer to offer Verity. Instead, I will bring us to the next part of this tale, still in Midgard, but this time in Latveria.

"Loki, what did I say?" Verity crossed her arms. It was an impressive sight, with Doomstadt looming behind her.

"I know, I know. I don't know how we got here," Loki said. He was lying, of course. Did you know that Latveria has long been famous for its rhubarb?

No, it hasn't.

Well, it should.

So who died?

What?

Who died?

It was Loki. Why do you ask? It is not as though you care.

Someone's dead. Of course I care.

Now who's lying?

Fuck you.

I'd rather not, if that's all the same with you. I feel like we've got something real special going here, Verity. I wouldn't want to ruin it.

Verity raised an eyebrow -- yes, exactly like that -- don't look at me that way -- and Loki shifted. Soon, a tall woman with hair the precise shade of a raven's wing -- I am allowed some poetic license, dammit! -- stood where he had.

"A word to the wise," she said, "don't mention Eurovision."

I still don't know what that is.

What can I say, you’ve been vastly deprived.

Wow, thanks for that.

You're welcome.

They made their way to Doomstadt, where the Amber Room reconstitution was currently on loan from the Russian government. Loki had lied, because of course she had. She was Loki, after all, and anything else would have been surprising.

It was far easier for them to find their way into the exhibit and empty it than might have been expected. You would have thought someone like Victor would take greater care of artefacts of this much magical power. You would, apparently, have been wrong -- or perhaps Loki was owed a favour by a friend or perhaps said friend wanted Loki to owe him a favour.

There are worse people to be indebted to than Victor von Doom.

You would know.

Yes, I would.

"Damn," Loki said. "It's not enough. I thought for sure, the Amber Room..."

"Okay, so what do you need? We've come this far, it'd be stupid to stop now." Verity reached out over Loki's shoulder to run her fingers against the wall. It was amber for sure. If that wasn't enough, Verity didn't know what would be.

"We need legends and a mysterious disappearance." Loki took Verity's fingers in hers and pulled them away from the wall, shaking her head slightly as she did so. "This room simply isn't old enough. I'm sorry, Verity. It seems I dragged you halfway across the world for nothing."

"So what you're saying is you need the original Amber Room, not the copy." At Loki's face, she added, "did you miss the bit about the original having been lost at the end of World War 2? You did! A word to the wise: always read or skim the whole Wikipedia article, not just the first five lines."

"I didn't even google it," Loki said, her voice making it clear she realised just how stupid of her that had been.

"Are you new?"

"Yes." It was perhaps the first honest thing Loki had said that day.

Loki spoke a few words -- Verity would forever swear that more than one of them was "rhubarb" -- and soon they were gone.

They emerged in the original Amber Room -- wherever it was. It was in terrible shape, amber flaking off and rotting away. Verity sneezed.

"Yes," Loki said, "this will do nicely."

Verity sat on her heels and looked up at Loki. "Are you sure it'll work this time?"

"I find your lack of faith disturbing," Loki said. It was maybe even true.

"Whatever you say, Darth." Which just goes to show that not everyone can make pop culture jokes as good as Loki’s.

Keep telling yourself that.

I think I will.

Verity got to her feet and prodded Loki with the toe of her boot. "So?"

"Yes," Loki said, her long black hair casting strange shadows over her face. "I think it'll work this time."

"Remind me why we're doing this again? Because we're ending the world and putting it back and I still have no idea why we're doing any of it or why I’m along for the ride." Her breath steamed in the air, tiny clouds of dancing smoke.

"You're here because you're the realest person I know," Loki said. It was half a lie and half a truth: she was the realest person Loki knew, true, but that was not why she was there. She was there because there are times when people need friends more than they need anything else and this was one of those times.

Oh.

"As for what we're doing..." Loki sighed. "We're going to end up making Mephisto the most powerful being in all of Creation."

"I assume," Verity said, "that this is the ending the world part."

"Yes. It won't last long, but it will still happen, so we have to be ready to put the world back." Loki ran a hand though her hair. She bit her lip. "We're doing all this because I am Loki and there is a story about me written somewhere the All-Mother cannot access and I cannot be Loki properly while that story still exists."

"As the daughter of a librarian, I have to say that the prospect of erasing a story fills me with dread. Can you not amend the story instead? And why are my words going weird?" Verity looked around. The Amber Room was fading away around them.

"It would take too long and I wouldn't be only Loki." She smiled. "It does, however, have its charms. Symmetry is one. Only Loki is not a good thing to be, anyway. I would much rather be more than that. I want Loki to be what I make it to be. Show the world that I am not the pale copy of an echo of a scream."

"So you're having a quarter-life crisis?"

Loki carried on as though Verity had not spoken. "I think of no better way to do that than bring the echo and the scream back to life."

Around them, the Amber Room was gone.

"Quick," Loki said. "Look for a book."

"Which one?" They were in a library, shelves stretching up into the knowing dark and all around them in every direction, rows on rows of stories.

All of them -- Verity could tell -- true. That was, she supposed, why they were there.

Nice.

Thanks.

All of them -- Verity could tell -- true. That was, she supposed, why they were there.

"You'll know it when you see it."

And Verity did.

The book was titled Journey Into Mystery and sub-titled A Comedy in Thirty parts (or A Tragedy in Thirty-One). It smelled like fresh ink and magpies and death. She tugged it off the shelf. It was heavier than it looked. Within its pages were pressed someone's life and death.

That someone was Loki.

Say that again.

That someone was Loki.

What?

I said, that someone was Loki.

I heard you the first time.

Then don't ask me to say it again. Gods, Verity, were you raised by trolls? The Internet kind, not the bridge kind. There's a lot less overlap than most people think.

I don't care. What do you mean 'it was Loki'?

As I've said: It was Loki. Why do you ask?

You asshole. 'It was Loki'? He was you and you killed him!

I didn't have a choice! Do you think we would be here if I had? Do you think I would be here if I had?

I suppose not. So how did it work? If he was Loki and you're Loki, then who forced your hand? Wait, no, let me guess. It was Loki.

Yeah, it was Loki.

That Loki, what an asshole.

Heh.

So now you know. Leave if you want, but please let me finish this.

I was told sometimes people need friends more than they need anything else and this was one of those times. Both of these are true.

You might be an asshole -- worse, you might be Loki -- but you're my friend.

...

Verity and Loki were in the library, holding the book, and set about writing a new life for the boy Loki had killed to steal his life and wear his flesh.

And Loki made the words write themselves as he spoke, telling the story of how he came to be here.

And Verity was there also.

Yes. Verity was there also.

They used Verity's blood as ink. In that place -- no, in both those places, the library's power focused through the Amber Room -- that made the story true, no matter what the story was, so long as the story was about rebirth.

This is a story about Loki, once an old man, once a young boy and now a young man. This is a story about Loki, soon to be an old boy too.

Everyone is old when they come back to life, Verity. The things beyond the realms of reality age you before your time, even if you cannot remember them save in the soft places between sleeping and waking, when you know the nightmare is a nightmare and you know the nightmare is real.

I get those all the time. They're the worst.

Quite.

This is a story about Loki, who paid the ultimate price so he could change and who paid it twice. This is a story about Loki and so it is a story about change.

And change, as they say, is just another word for rebirth.

...

Verity, I don't think it's working.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Verity who had the greatest fool in all the Nine Realms for a friend.

"Loki," she said to him, "write the words. All your guilt, all that's holding you back, let it go."

The cold never bothered me anyway?

You're the Frost Giant in the miniskirt here, so I'm going to go with "yes".

My name is Loki, child of Giants. I killed the only chance at real redemption I ever had because I couldn't stand to stay dead and because I was aching to be born. The boy deserved better, that much is true.

I have written his name in both Amber Rooms and I stand now in the Teller's library, telling this secret.

The boy who was once Loki is alive and well on the streets of Paris. He calls himself Serrure as he did long ago before Asgard brought his whole world crashing down. He remembers who he was and what he lost -- who he lost -- but he is a god no more.

He is as real as Verity is real and that is very real indeed.

This story is the last story that will ever change his metaphysical state. (And the Fear Crown Mephisto holds draws its power from the god-who-was-a-boy and not the boy-who-was-a-god. The world has ended in the last five minutes and been put back together and no one has noticed.

I am Loki. I'm better than good.)

May this life be kinder to him than the last one.

My name is Verity Willis, daughter of librarians. All that turns comedy to tragedy is when you stop it, true, but all that separates tragedy from comedy is the same thing. This story, now and forever more, is a comedy. The boy is alive and allowed to grow and change outside the shadow of Loki. All of them and any of them. They are Loki and they can be whoever they want to be.

...

Did it work?

This isn't Paris, but I'm alive.

Hey, hey, hey! Stop that! Not the hair ruffle! Get away from me, you -- you -- you Loki. You're terrible and I hate you.

Seriously, though, stop.

You heard him, Loki, stop.

Well sure, if you're going to gang up on me. I'm stopping, see? This is me, stopping. Stop. Stoppity-stop-stop.

How old are you, honestly?

Five months, three weeks and two days.

Forget I asked.

Hi, kid, I'm Verity.

I'm Serrure who was once Loki. Pleased to meet you, Verity. You look a bit pale, are you alright?

That's just the bloodloss, she'll be fine.

She just fainted.

Ah.

I know this really nice doctor in the Urgences of La Pitié-Salpétrière. She'll help.

I know. I'm you, remember?

No. You're Loki. It's not the same thing.