"I beseech you heartily, scurvy, lousy knave, at my desires, and my requests, and my petitions to eat, look you—" Loki slapped David across the face with the leek "—this leek; Because, look you—" He slapped him with it again, and David took a large step back this time. "You do not love it, nor you affections and your appetites and your digestions doo's not agree with it, I would desire you to eat it."
Loki brandished the leek in David's face. David jumped, raising his hands in defence as if Loki held a dagger.
"Not for Cadwallader and all his goats," he snapped, and spat on the ground, folding his arms.
"There is one goat for you." He looked down at the leek and struck him across the face with it again, and then shoved him to the ground. "Will you be so good, scauld knave, as eat it?"
David glared up at him, his face set in a murderous scowl. "Base Trojan, thou shalt die."
The audience laughed, and Loki grinned at David before redoubling his grip on the leek, and advancing.
Loki made his final exit, finding Kitty waiting in the wings with his eyeglasses and an open bottle of Coke. She handed him the eyeglasses first, peering around him to the action on the stage. Once Loki had the glasses settled, he looked over Kitty’s shoulder to watch the rest of the scene play out. He took the Coke from her and took a drink as the scene on stage drew to a close.
“And now I get to go get felt up,” Kitty complained quietly.
Loki frowned. “This director’s an idiot,” he whispered back. “Hal shouldn’t even touch Kate until the kiss.”
Kitty sighed as the stagehands bustled past them to change the scenery. “At least it’s the last night.”
She took her mark along with the others in the scene. The lights rose, and Loki stepped back from the sight lines to watch the beginning of the scene. Like every time before, he rolled his eyes at the portrayal of the eponymous king, all but groping Katherine when he was meant to be charming her, and made quiet tracks back to the dressing room to await the curtain call.
Loki stood out amongst the humans, even when he altered his appearance to match theirs. Short of completely changing his form, he’d always stand out. He stood taller than most of them, and was at least three times their weight. How, he couldn’t determine, because he wasn’t anything near three times their size. He supposed he could have also shrunk himself to a more unremarkable stature, but the idea of relearning his own height seemed like far too much effort.
A stolen pair of spectacles made him something to be ignored. An overcoat too wide in the shoulders seemed to make him disappear entirely. He didn't even have to use magic. Superman, eat your heart out. It was an illusion that suited Loki perfectly, at least for the time being.
In the dressing room, listening to the dialogue from the stage over a tinny speaker, Loki pulled his hair back into a tail and took off his eyeglasses, blinking several times to clear his vision. Technically, he was meant to remain in full costume until curtain call, but he felt as if he was suffocating beneath the heavy make-up. He unscrewed the tin of cold cream and absently cleaned his face with a stained rag. Looking back up into the mirror, he could see the dark circles under his eyes. Opening and closing nights were always the toughest, he thought. Opening, because he could practically taste everyone’s nervous energy, and closing because he was positively exhausted. The after-party was a custom he’d come to loathe, but in which he participated all the same. So much time spent in this false, human skin, under burning lights was almost enough to make him choke some days. But it was worth it, he thought. Even with idiot directors, he couldn't think of anything he'd rather be doing.
In the hall outside, the stage manager announced curtain call in two minutes’ time, and those around Loki slowly began to shuffle out of the room. Loki put his eyeglasses back on and stared back at his tired reflection in the mirror. If he hadn’t known better, he have mistaken the man staring back at him as just another human. It was almost frightening.
“Once more unto the breach,” he told himself as he grabbed his Coke and returned to the wings.
Loki sat backstage, half-listening to someone’s lover tell stories about art school. Loki hadn’t been paying any attention when the man had introduced himself, and he was coming to regret it. At least if he’d known which actor had invited the incessant fly in his ear, Loki could have returned him to his keeper. Whatever the young man was talking about, he seemed quite excited by it, even if Loki didn’t laugh at what might have been the humorous parts. He was just on the point of damning politeness and walking away when Kitty rushed over, barging in between the two of them and cutting off the fly mid-buzz. She was leading a short, brunette woman by the hand, who looked just as bored by the party as Loki felt.
“Here he is,” Kitty said. “The one I was telling you about.”
Loki’s eyebrows rose. “You were telling someone about me?” he asked. “Should I be worried?”
“Only Georgia,” said Kitty with a wicked grin. “You two should get to know one another.”
Before either of them could protest, Kitty was gone again, leaving Georgia standing awkwardly.
“She does this,” Georgia said, annoyed. “I can go find someone else to talk to if you want.”
“No, it’s fine. Stay,” Loki said. He quickly got to his feet, offering Georgia his chair. “Sit down. Please.”
Georgia hesitated only briefly, studying Loki curiously before sitting. She crossed her legs at the knee, exposing a small bit of her thigh. Even through her stockings, it was clear she kept her legs shaved. It seemed a very recent trend amongst the women of the realm, and Loki wasn’t sure he liked it much.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you at one of these before,” Loki said, doing an admirable job at not staring at Georgia’s legs.
Georgia snorted. “No, you wouldn’t have,” she said. “Kitty’s my cousin, and she’s got it into her head all of a sudden that I need to meet a man. Apparently she thinks vapid and shallow is what I need in a man.”
“Ah.” Loki noticed the art student throw his hands into the air and stalk off, so he took the vacated seat for himself. “She does enjoy playing match-maker, doesn’t she?”
Georgia managed not to roll her eyes, but only just. Loki thought he could rather get to like her before too long.
“So how do you know her then?” she asked, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her handbag.
“We met a few years ago during Earnest,” Loki replied. “I annoyed her by looking better in a frock than she does.”
Finally, Georgia laughed as she lit up. “And just how the hell did you find that out?”
Loki shrugged. “I get bored sometimes. Don’t you?”
“Sometimes,” Georgia said. She looked around, but Kitty had disappeared. “I bet we could liven things up and make Kitty happy if we thought real hard.”
Her eyes were back on Loki, looking at him properly for the first time. “Or are girls not your speed?”
Loki hadn’t intended to take her to bed, but he rather felt as if he were being challenged to it now. And it wasn’t exactly like he was against the idea. He leaned in close and looked at her over the rims of his glasses.
“Perhaps I ought to show you around,” he offered. “Since it’s your first time here.”
He stood, offering his hand. Georgia took it, letting Loki lead her through the maze of prop closets and side rooms. He quickly found an unoccupied costume room and guided Georgia inside, leaning in to kiss her before the door was even closed. He half-expected her to pull away, or worse, slap him but she eagerly kissed him back instead. Loki deepened the kiss, backing her to a disused vanity against the wall. He lifted her up onto it, putting himself between her knees.
“What’d she say your name was?” Georgia asked suddenly.
“Luke,” Loki answered breathlessly. He started trailing kisses down her neck as he let his hands wander across her body.
Georgia hitched herself up slightly, allowing Loki to reach down to unfasten some of the various clips and snaps of her undergarments. “Where’s that accent from, Luke?” she asked.
“England,” Loki answered, deciding suddenly that her brassiere needed to come off as well.
“You’re English?” she asked.
“Nope. Just learned the language there,” Loki said. He forgot about her brassiere and instead moved to open his trousers instead. “Did Kitty tell you I’m a prince?”
“I thought she was just bullshitting me so I’d talk to you,” Georgia said.
Loki laughed easily. “There may have been a bit of that as well.”
He took her right there on the vanity, neither of them bothering to keep their voices down. It wasn’t as if half the troupe hadn’t done similarly at one point or another.
“So, where—where are you from?” Georgia asked, her breath hot against Loki’s neck.
“Very, very north of England,” he managed.
Suddenly, the door slammed open. Loki froze, not sure if he should be annoyed at the intrusion, or that he’d left the door unlocked.
“We’re at war with Japan!”
Loki adjusted his glasses and turned to glare at their intruder. He was a stagehand called Peter or something. At this moment, Loki didn’t particularly care.
“We’re a little busy,” he said, jerking his head toward the door.
Peter belated realised what he’d walked in on and quickly shut the door, muttering an apology.
“Peasants,” Loki complained.
Georgia laughed, burying her face in Loki’s shoulder. Shaking his head, Loki couldn’t help but laugh as well as he slid his hand back under her skirt.
“Where were we?” he asked.
Loki woke alone, his limbs dangling off the edges of the small Murphy bed in his Brooklyn apartment. The space was becoming comfortable, despite its smallness, which meant it was almost time to start looking for new lodgings. Every few years, by the local calendar, he had to move to avoid suspicions, but for the last fifty or so,during his visits to Midgard, he'd been staying around New York. It was large and crowded enough that he could go to a different part of the city and never cross paths with anyone who might recognise him.
He’d been lazy lately, though. Careless. He’d grown close to Kitty and several others from the troupe, and now it was coming time to sever those ties. Loki never did relish those times.
But he didn’t think about any of this as he reached for his watch on the small bedside table, squinting at the dial in the low light. It was barely past midday — far too early to contemplate upsetting his make-believe life. Too early to even be awake.
He kept heavy shades on the windows and half a dozen locks on the door to ensure his privacy. He could have warded the apartment with magic, but the spells would have to be renewed every so often, and he had a tendency to be gone far longer than he ever planned. But the humans valued privacy. To them, a locked door was a sign that they weren’t welcome, rather than an invitation to test their strength. Loki liked that, because it meant that even on Midgard, he didn’t have to keep himself completely hidden. While in his small apartment, at least, he was free to wear his own skin.
He shifted about in bed, debating going back to sleep. The show had closed, leaving Loki with little to do until the next interesting script came along. In the end, he got up, if only to shower away the smell of sex and cheap alcohol.
He detoured to the kitchen first to see if anything substantial had materialised in the icebox overnight. It remained woefully empty. He stared into it anyway and tepid water dripped down his neck from the ceiling. Loki shut the icebox door and reached for the broom, which only ever served a single purpose. He pounded the tip of the handle against the ceiling five or six times, nearly cracking the plaster.
“Empty your tray!” he shouted, setting the broom aside. Not that he expected anyone to listen. “Or I’ll come up there and do it for you,” Loki muttered to himself. “And you won’t like it.”
He grabbed an empty bowl from the sink and dropped it in the puddle on the floor. He could deal with it properly when he had the energy. And the first step toward that was a hot shower.
As Loki stood beneath the water, he thought he could hear someone singing. Someone very far away, almost as if they were praying. Loki ignored it, choosing to wash his hair instead. No-one prayed in earnest anymore. Only those at parties, looking to frighten their friends. Sometimes, Loki would indulge them and answer their prayers, but he wasn’t in the mood for it this time. It was still far too early in the day.
Maybe next time.
For weeks after, Loki heard the prayers, or singing, or whatever it was. The more he heard it, the less he was sure of what he was hearing. It wasn’t a constant noise, mercifully, but it did grow louder with each day. Something desperately wanted his attention, and Loki was feeling just contrary and spiteful enough to ignore it’s beck and call. He found other things to occupy his mind, letting him ignore the voiceless noise. He went to clubs with Kitty and some of her friends, he saw other plays in the area. On Saturdays, he went to the cinema to watch the news reels.
Films were being played alongside the news now. Not just serials either, and the idea fascinated Loki. He especially enjoyed the animated films, and at present, he had the choice between Dumbo (again) or a short string of Bugs Bunny cartoons. In the end, his quarter went to the rabbit.
The small house was no more crowded than usual, but it was unusually loud. Half the price of the ticket went toward the newsreel before the feature, and Loki had been rather eager to see what the humans had been up to over the previous week. Someone in front, however, wasn’t so interested in it, seeming to think that shouting to start the picture would convince the man in the projection booth to change reels.
By the third scathing catcall, Loki started to get out of his seat. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do to the idiot at the front of the house, but he was sure he’d figure something out along the way. Make him think he was sitting on hot pins, perhaps.
“Hey, you wanna shut up?”
At the second voice cutting over the reel, Loki took his seat again. If someone else was going to deal with the problem, he was more than happy to let them. The heckler stood, turning to loom over those around him.
“What?” he asked. “You wanna take this outside, pipsqueak?” he asked.
Someone else stood, the two of them completely blocking Loki’s view of the screen. He rolled his eyes and sunk down into his seat, waiting for them to hurry up and get interesting or leave.
“Yeah. Yeah, I do,” said the boy. At least, Loki thought he was a boy, despite his voice.
The two left the house in a hurry, the larger one pushing the other up the aisle as the news shifted slightly from propaganda to developments from overseas. The reporting was at once terribly sensational and heavily censored, giving only the barest facts. One thing was clear, though. Something had happened in Norway. Tønsberg, to be precise. Loki sat up in his seat to listen more attentively, hoping to glean anything useful from the report. He recognised something about the name, but it had been years since Midgard was the topic of conversation around Asgard. Loki had been all of ten when the decree to lock off the realm was issued. But still, the name stuck in his mind like a thorn. By the time the reel finished and the cartoon began, Loki had lost all interest in what played on the screen. He got up from his seat and wandered outside to think. Something was deeply important about Norway, but Loki couldn’t remember what it was for the life of him. The only thing to be done was to go have a look for himself.
It took Loki almost a day of shadow-walking to find Tønsberg, in the south of the nation, and when he did find it, it was a mess. He had been to that region of Midgard before. Early in Thor’s Sjálfsmynd, Loki spent time in Lappland and Svalbard, looking for new methods of intoxication. Buildings lay in ruin, some still smoldering. It had been, by his calculations, at least three days had passed since the attack on these people, and still they remained scattered and panicked. Looking around, he wasn’t entirely sure what else to expect from them though.
A young girl stood on the cobblestone road, crying. Loki couldn’t very easily judge the ages in young humans, but she seemed old enough to speak. Loki stepped from the shadows and knelt down in front of her.
“Can you tell me what happened here?” he asked softly.
The girl began to cry in earnest, wailing for her mother.
“No, of course not,” Loki mused quietly. He pressed his thumb to his lips, apparently in thought, before bringing it to the girl’s face to wipe away her tears.
“You’re far too young to remember any of this, aren’t you?” he said quietly, imposing his will. “Not even in your dreams.”
Loki noticed a young woman running toward him, and pointed to her.
“Is this your mother?” he asked.
As the girl nodded, her mother stopped to pick her up.
“Thank you,” she said to Loki.
Loki nodded. “Can you tell me what happened here?” he asked. “What were they after?”
The woman looked around the devastation of her town, utter bewilderment written on her face.
“The church,” she said finally. “They wanted something from the church. That’s where it started.”
It was more than enough to go on. Loki nodded, recalling discussions of holy wars from his youth.
“Go home,” he told her. “It’s not safe out here, but help is coming.”
The woman nodded and turned slowly away. Loki watched her go, still unable to think of anything that would be worth this much destruction. No amount of wondering would answer his question, so finally he turned to walk down the road to the church, or what remained of it. Half of its façade had been blown away, taking its spires with it. Precarious mounds of rubble stood in the way, and against his better judgement, Loki climbed over them to get inside.
It was clear help had not even thought to arrive. While someone had at least cleared away what Loki estimated to be the bodies of two people — no doubt this church’s priest included — no-one had bothered to clear away the blood stains on the flagstones.
There was an open tomb in the centre of the room. Loki approached it cautiously and peered inside, but found nothing but someone long-dead. The only clue he gave was the position of his hands. Something had been taken from him. Perhaps whatever it was that lay shattered on the ground in front of his tomb. Apparently, not even places of worship were considered sacred.
“Your gods have abandoned you,” Loki muttered as he turned to leave. He kicked a bit of mortar, watching it skip along the ground.
“I am all you have left.”
As he walked back toward the entrance, a far wall caught his eye. Depicted on it was Yggdrasil, sculpted beautifully into the ancient, dark wood. Only a small panel was missing, too perfect and clean to be the result of the blast that shattered the front. This church held something much coveted by someone.
These were once Odin’s people, Loki knew. Odin taught them language and gave them runes. He gave them honour and allowed them into Valhalla. But the humans were fickle. They forgot their gods; traded them for bedtime stories. No-one ever prayed and meant it.
Someone, or something, had prayed. Something wanted to be found, and Loki ignored it.
Tønsberg. Odin first came here before the great war with Jötunheimr. Laufey struck here because it was a strike against Odin himself. It was with these people Odin left a means by which to defend the realm, though he left no instructions on how to use it. The idea had been that by the time the humans could harness its power, they would be ready to join the higher realms.
Loki looked around the shattered church, and to the destroyed town beyond. The humans were not ready.
"Ymir's tits," he hissed.
He looked skyward, for the first time since his arrival to the realm tempted to uncloak himself from Heimdall's gaze. But no. If Heimdall saw him here, now, he would only draw the most obvious of conclusions. What use was Odin's disappointed foundling, if not to cause trouble? Nothing Loki could say would free him from this blame.
"Fine," he spat to the sky. "One more thing you fouled up that I have to fix. I don't even care."
He kicked at the debris on the ground until he ran out of things to kick. Something had to be done, and he knew it. And who better to do it than Loki, apparent fixer for all the other gods' mistakes? He took several deep breaths to calm himself and listened. He would find the Tesseract, and he would do so without Odin or Thor or anyone else's help. All he had to do was listen.