The crowd was as animated and noisy as ever. Everywhere, merchants were screaming their prices at the top of their lungs while potential customers answered even louder, rough as they pushed people out of their way to rush to the shops. There were the laughter of children in front of street artists as well the cries of people whose purses had been stolen by pickpockets.
In the heart of the Aurvangran market, where making a sole step could be difficult, the heat was almost suffocating. Coming with it were the sharp smell of sweat, food and dejections, making a mix Gabriel still couldn’t quite ignore. It was in these times that he almost wanted to free himself of his vessel and fly back to Heaven, to his wondrous home and wonderful mate. Once again, the archangel questioned himself on how humans could stand having senses so intense and diminished in the same time: only five but so sensitive it still made him dizzy.
Of course, it was nothing compared to the first few weeks, when he had felt like his overloaded senses would make him implode. At the time, only the firm restrains he had put on his grace had stopped him from blowing everything around. Still, there had been unfortunate accidents on his wake: a few small miracles and mysteries that went unnoticed in the hold’s capitale.
So much happened in such a city that events like the resurrection of a stray cat, or pots breaking were fast forgotten when there were rumors about the jarl’s daughter wanting to adopt her mate’s children in their clan. An official adoption to let them take her clan’s name as if they were her biological offsprings. Of course, it didn’t help that Skalmöld’s mate was another female, ten years older than her. On the top of that, her mate’s oldest child was only eight years younger than Skalmöld, already an adult. Humans could be so peculiar sometimes and everything about the couple always seemed to fascinate them.
What would they say about angels, Gabriel thought with amusement. Billions of them and so many possibilities. Angels weren’t picky nor judgmental in terms of gender, seing that they lacked one. In numbers neither as soon as every party was fine with that. A world where clans and adoptions were unknown as they had a sole parent. Age gape? Ezekiel and himself had thousands of years separating them, and because he was a seraph, he was one of the oldest after the archangels.
Speaking of which, he glanced at the hand on Einarr’s left wrist. Its skin was as soft as the gentle wind on his wings, with delicate fingers that had a grip not remotely human, strong enough to make Gabriel move. Not powerful enough to do so if the archangel wanted otherwise, but he knew Laguz could stand his ground fairly well against any other angels. Maybe even overpower the lesser choirs. One of the perks of being only half-human, even if Gabriel suspected the Nephilim had taken more of her angelic side than human’s, if only for the body that was neither male nor female. Longevity too, as Laguz had implied a few times she had lived long enough to see the end of the Kingdom’s Golden Age, when the Winternid’s clan still birth the Kingdom’s High Kings and Queens so many years ago in humans’ tiny lifetimes.
Laguz was so very old by human standards and her relationship with Einarr sometimes reminded Gabriel of his with his own mate. In the same ironic way, both were currently unable to be with them. And he should stop here, before dwelling on the reasons why. These thoughts were best left alone.
Instead, he concentrated on the flutter of smoky ethereal ivory tendrils of grace on her back, the Nephilim’s heritage. Not wings that were able to fly and not even a proper grace. Instead, they had an ersatz of the former, because their body produced grace in small amount and it accumulated into their back, taking the shape of wings. Fortunately for them, it wasn’t angelic enough for the Host—archangels being the exception, of course—to differentiate them from humans: that would have been so easy to track them when most of the Nephilim weren’t even aware of what they were.
They stopped in front of the long stall where fruiterers were installed, barking happily to costumers as they moved behind the counter to take and answer to the orders. They made them a nod of acknowledgment when they passed, and one pointed the high column between their stall and the confectionary.
“Your friends are there,” the young man said while rubbing his nose. “Ljúfa is with them. D’ya think she’ll be okay to buy us a lil’ something? It’d be great if she did. Nothing better for the business than Thengill’s daughter coming here. That’d make a good publicity. Just imagine: ‘the Godi’s daughter shops here, we’re blessed by the Æsir’!” He made big gestures while he spoke, a large grin on his face before he laughed and added, none less amused. “But then again, our young lady shops almost everywhere in town.”
The girl was there indeed, her laughter as loud and cheerful as ever while Rafn pointed a bunch of big green apples. He was telling the tale of some clansman who had won a battle using only apples; one of these extravagant stories he liked to create and that never failed to amuse his listeners.
“Ein!” There were sparkles in Ljúfa’s eyes when she saw them coming and in greeting, the moment they were next to them, Laguz finally let go of him. The girl jumped on his vessel’s back. She slid her arms around his neck and Gabriel put Ein’s forearms under her thighs to support her. “Lag. Good morning to you.” She giggled when Gabriel tickled her just behind the left knee while Laguz blew her a kiss. “As I was saying to Rafn and Rix earlier, sorry I couldn’t come to greet you yesterday.”
“Don’t be. At least you’re here now,” Laguz answered with a sweet smile, patting the human on the head. “Now, where’s Rix?”
“At The Giggling Jester—”
There was a tug at the edge of his perception, sudden and so loud it stole his attention away from everything around. In the human crowd, the graces were like the sound of drums, its echoes resonating with him. Gabriel could feel it in him, shaking his real him: ripples that made his own grace grow agitated. The aching familiarity of home and the need to hear the Host. He had to think loud enough for the angels to pick it up within the constant buzz of human minds. Let them know he was one of their archangels. They needed them after the Fall of Lucifer. He should be with them, soothing their sorrow at the loss of their Morning Star, while trying to persuade their Dad to make things right again.
No, no, no, no. He was so not going to do that. He was certainly not going to let some stupid nostalgia stop him to have his own liberty, pull him back into that dreadful situation back home and suffocate him little by little. Heaven wasn’t home anymore, Gabriel reminded himself. Hadn’t been for a very long time.
He couldn’t let himself even hear the songs of his peers, for he would be too tempted to reconnect with them. Five years had passed since his last time with his siblings. If sensing, not even seeing them, angels around made him want to fly back to his brothers, there was no way he would be able to listen quietly without making contact, thus returning to Heaven.
Gabriel knew he wouldn’t find the will to go away a second time.
Despite his determination to stick to his decision, reining himself took much more than he had first expected. Not only had he to go against instincts instilled in him since his creation, but his folded wings twitched so much it was painful. Even worse, the itches were distracting and he couldn’t afford to lose his concentration. On the top of that was Einarr’s body, which was mimicking in its own way Gabriel’s struggle. The archangel felt every muscles stiffened as well as the heart, pounding so hard and loud that made an awful din.
The archangels hadn’t had to see his siblings de facto to recognize them. The most powerful grace of the trio, bright and warm, was Balthazar’s. As restless as its owner, shifting around him as the dominion used it, probably to walk unseen amongst the humans. To his flanks were Inias and Samandiriel, much younger and weaker than Balthazar, like small candles standing next to a pyre. The two were of the last generation of angels, not cherubs anymore but not quite adult since they hadn’t achieved their final form yet. Thus, their grace weren’t anything much significant but he would always be able to tell them apart. Their bunch was—had been—Gabriel’s responsibility and he had taken care of them from birth until they had grown enough to joined his troops.
Why were they here, though? His last orders were about Himinsfall, and there had never been any angels in that part of the Kingdom either, not for five years anyway. Even if Gabriel knew that was stupid, turning to Laguz was a pure reflex, as well as the pang of something uncomfortable—he couldn’t say what, maybe worry?—that was definitely not his, but a small taste of Einarr’s emotions going through the mental link tying them to each other. These instances were rare since the tie between them couldn’t be thinner.
When they had come to this arrangement, they both had agreed the circumstances had rendered a temporary cohabitation necessary. Einarr wanted power to protect loved ones; Gabriel needed a vessel to use his power. Einarr was of his intended vessel’s bloodline, strong enough to host him. Moreover, he had made the promise to watch over what was left of Kára’s family, namely Einarr.
Their link was nothing approaching what he had with his precedent vessels. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—read the Nord’s memories or emotions, except for the sparse remnants here and there. He could neither put Einarr’s mind to sleep nor tucking him in a faraway part of his brain. While Gabriel had control of the body, Einarr was there all along watching him in silence. He would also retained the memories once the archangel would find another body and give his own it back to him.
Basically, the link was nothing more than a contract, one giving his consent to welcoming the other in his body. That was all
Gabriel asked from him. As soon as he found another vessel he could hide in, he would be out.
It was Laguz’s hand that took the archangel out of his thought. Her fingers were on the stump where Ein’s right hand should have been, pressing hard into the soft skin to gain his attention. She was answering to a question, something about food, but her mismatched eyes were fixed on their left. She made a small head gesture in that direction.
Gabriel already knew what she had spotted, feeling himself tensing more and more with dread and worry as the angels were progressing, their rhythm slow but steady amongst the crowd. He couldn’t be after him, he told himself. They never knew about Einarr being his current vessel. He doubted Laguz or Rafn had caught their attention enough for them to remember his face.
That when he spotted him, using his elbows to make his way between the people as fast as he could. Every now and then, he looked back where the angels were, his expression nothing but fear. The Nephilim had messy short blond hair and a young face marked with small injuries bleeding with blood and grace, making his cheeks glistened. There were some parts of his leather armor missing, on his sides and his shoulders. His grace wings were like strings of light trailing behind him, their tips traversing the ground.
So that was it. They weren’t the reason of their presence here. He was.
Now that Lucifer had Fallen on Earth, the Host was free to pursue the hunting of the Nephilim while keeping an eye on the archangel; Lucifer wouldn’t take his punishment kindly, everyone knew that. The other archangels more than the rest. The highest choirs present on Earth must have been surveying his older brother, leaving the others to complete the commandment their Dad had issued in what felt like centuries ago for Gabriel when it had only been five years.
At the time, he had welcomed it because it had reunited all the archangels under the same banner. For a while, everything was going fairly well. It hadn’t been perfect of course, but better than before. That hadn’t last, though and soon the situation had turned to excruciatingly bad. Kára’s demise—the thought of her demise made him wince but, at least, the ache had dulled—had only been the beginning of a succession of events that somehow achieved to be worse each time.
Their Dad’s return hadn’t been what it should have. Lucifer had been banished on Earth. The Host was far from united. And amongst all problems, not remotely heavenly but worse than all of that in his own way was Loki.
The sole mention of his name still made him angry, and some of it must had filtered to Einarr because Gabriel sensed an echo of his own through the link. The smug bastard that had made Gabriel’s life a nightmare, all the while with a horrible smirk and stupid flirting. And he hadn’t had the pleasure to watch the puny god die, even if the Nord divinities had assured the archangel what they reserved to Loki was worse than death.
He shouldn’t dwell on that, Gabriel reminded himself. He sighed, pushed the thoughts back in the recess of his mind to focus on the current situation. Positive point: his cover hadn’t been blown up. Negative point that stopped him from feeling any relief: the Nephilim would pass in front of his little group, so would the angels. It wasn’t something he looked forward to.
“What are you all looking at?”
Rafn and Laguz turned their heads to Ljúfa at the same time, both wearing an apologetic smile. She was fidgeting, kicking the air with feet then decided to climb higher and sat on Einarr’s shoulder, bending a little forward, her belly resting on his vessel’s head.
“I can’t see anything there.” Her words were followed by a short puff. “What was there?”
“Just some man with a multicolor patchwork cloak that really need to see a weaver.” Rafn chuckled.
Of course the former godi would be able to see the angels, maybe even the Nephilim. The archangel suspected a life of serving supernatural deities had given him some sort of very sensible sight and hearing. It wasn’t so abnormal coming from someone who had fought against a dragon.
“A performer I think, he seemed fairly eccentric. He’s already gone though. Maybe we’ll cross paths with him later, who knows?” Gabriel added to give more substance to the lie.
“I hope we do, he seemed interesting.” Laguz eventually said with a soft smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
Ljúfa seemed satisfied with the explanation, only letting out a curious “oh!” before leading the conversation back into much more trivial matters. They were speaking about food and what they would bring back with them. Rafn captivated the child’s attention by letting her pick the fruits and vegetables they would buy. Meanwhile, Laguz was shifting next to him, she put an arm around Ein’s waist like she often did when the body belonged to her mate.
She offered him the same kind of smile, but her eyes were nothing but cold. Moreover, Gabriel could feel the intricate mix of grace and seidr in her gesture, trying to restrict him. He let her think it had some influence on him, when breaking the spell would require no more effort than blowing a candlelight. She leant on him, pressing herself on his side. Her free hand came to gently stroke Ein’s scar on his left cheek but there was no real warmth in the gesture.
“Don’t look at them. Don’t let them know you can see them,” she muttered in his ears, her voice smooth and velvety like she was whispering words of love and promises to her mate.
“I know,” Gabriel replied as low as she had spoken, but his tone clearly annoyed. Who did she think he was? And more important, who did she think she was to say such things to him? He stopped himself from snorting at her so very human arrogance.
“Are they here for you?”
Gabriel didn’t answer. Instead he was watching the man, struggling to make his way into the crowd. He was nearly at their level now. He looked briefly at his pursuers, closer to him than before, then turned back. That was when he caught the archangel staring at him, brownish green eyes meeting Einarr’s. When his mouth formed a perfect o, Gabriel knew he was seeing him, in the same way that Laguz had known he wasn’t Einarr the first time they had met while he was in the Nord’s body.
The man slowed down his run, to look at the angels and at Gabriel a quite few times, blinking. The archangel mentally cursed, feeling apprehension building up in him. Don’t stop, please, don’t stop. He took a deep breath and forced himself to watch elsewhere.
“Cenrix said he was tired of berries and nuts, so I’m thinking on taking grapes,” Rafn was saying to Ljúfa gesturing to a fruiterer in the meantime. “And apples of course. Maybe some pears and plums.”
“Sir?” Gabriel ignored the man like he wasn’t talking to him, but he could feel the intensity of his stare as well as the certainty that something bad was about to happen.
“Sir?” the man repeated as Gabriel sighed, eventually looking back at the Nord. He was shaking, lips moving without making intelligible sound, terror literally oozing from him making the archangel sick.
“Could you help me please?” The Nord eventually asked when he came to a halt, only a few steps away from where he stood.
He wished the Nephilim was invisible; that would be a perfectly acceptable excuse to do like he didn’t exist. Now, not only he couldn’t not answer the question, but worse.
“What do you need help for?” Gabriel forced himself in the Nephilim’s eyes only and not beyond his shoulder.
The angels had caught up with him and stood at less than an arm’s reach from the man. Gabriel knew the only reason they weren’t acting yet was himself. They wouldn’t kill the Nephilim in plain sight, so they were waiting for him to go away in order to snatch him, make him invisible, then accomplish their deeds.
“Dear Æsir! are you well? You look awful.” Ljúfa said before the archangel could answer. She went down from Einarr’s shoulders to walk to the man, her expression one of worry as she examined him from head to toes. Gabriel didn’t like where that was heading. “All these injuries,” she muttered as she took his battered hands in hers like he was a delicate thing that could be broken anytime, careful not to touch any of the wounds. “That must be painful. We can’t let him in that state,” she added, turning to them.
The lines of her face were firm, her determined frown making a small crease between her brows. She wouldn’t take no as an answer. Laguz and him exchanged a look.
“Of course not.” It was Rafn, a crate full of fruits in his hands. He addressed her a grin. “Let’s go back to The Giggling Jester, we’ll take care of you there.”
The last part was directed at the man who seemed as much surprised at the turn of events as Gabriel were, even though he kept Einarr’s face blank.
“Don’t worry, he’s right.” Ljúfa’s smile was bright and she extended a hand to him. “My name’s Ljúfa Thengilsdóttir of the Snjárudr clan and valkyrie in training,” she said in the typical Nord fashion. “You have my words, we’ll help you.”
At her words, the Nephilim’s expression gradually transformed from stupefaction to a beaming smile as he took in the meaning of her words. Ljúfa was the daughter of the hold’s godi and the granddaughter of its jarl, destined to be a valkyrie on top of that. There weren’t much Nords with a nobler status.
“Æsir be blessed! You be blessed, lady Ljúfa!” he exclaimed, then bowed low in front of her while he shook her hand. “I’m Orlygr Válason and forever in your debt.”
Gabriel stopped himself from making a derisive noise. Trust a human—or part-human in that case—to think a problem had been taken care of when it was merely delayed. Much to the archangel dismay. He pulled out a fake smile, feeling the strain of Einarr’s facial muscles.
“Let’s go, then. The quicker we’ll take care of these injuries, the best it’ll be,” he eventually said.
The Giggling Jester was the finest inn in Aurvangr, expensive but not that much of a problem. In fact, they hadn’t really had a choice— not that Gabriel cared, he didn’t need sleep after all—since the fees were paid by Thengill. Something about Einarr being his cousin and if he could help him after the fall of his clan, he would. Also, he had refused to let Rafn sleep in a less luxurious environment. In his book, it wasn’t worthy of a godi, even if said godi wasn’t in service anymore. Gabriel thought it was mainly because Ljúfa had taken a liking to in them and Thengill didn’t want his daughter to see the filthy taverns they would have slept in otherwise.
Their room was more than fine in Nords standards. It was spacious enough to accommodate four single beds with each a small wooden nightstand with a candle and some sweets in a basket, as well as a chest at the end of the furniture. When he entered, Gabriel was welcomed by the singing voice of Rafn that meant he was using his seidr. There was also the smell of clean sheets and moss, thanks to the incense burning in a small cup on the table under the stuffed bear head on the opposite wall.
The Nephilim was seating bare-chested on Rafn’s bed, the remnants of his armor and shirt lying in a pile on the ground. Rafn himself was crouching in front of him, his iron staff in one hand while the other glowed lightly, his wrist circled by a luminous glyph. He put it on a nasty yellowish green bruise on Orlygr’s collarbone, making it gradually fade. For seeing practiced it multiple times, Gabriel knew the healing seidr was a painful process. If it accelerated the natural human regenerative capacity, all the pain and discomfort that came with an injury and should have been staggered on a certain amount of time was concentrated in a sole moment.
Orlygr was lucky because it only had been bruises and cuts, but he was still whimpering while clenching Ljúfa’s hand, who sat next to him, patting his shoulder. He only stopped when Rafn fell into silence.
“Laguz and Rix ordered some ale for you, I hope you’ll be down before they finish it for you,” Gabriel snickered at Rafn and Ljúfa. In the meantime, he kept avoiding looking at his own bed, which Balthazar was seating on. Samandiriel and Inias were down, standing not far from the table Cenrix and Laguz had claimed.
“I’ve healed the worst,” the priest announced, letting out a sigh. Next, he was standing up, putting his staff back against the wall. “Your body will take care of the rest well enough.” Then, he gave the archangel the stern look that clearly said he knew what the former was doing. “Let’s go down, Ljúfa, you know how impatient Cenrix can be.”
“You’re welcome to join us when you’re finished getting dressed,” Gabriel added.
Orlygr let out a panicked gasp at his words, then winced. Ljúfa seemed to sense his unease because she squeezed his hand. “You’re safe here,” she said in a reassuring voice.
The Nephilim passed a trembling hand on his face. “I’m just kind of nervous to be alone right now.”
No kidding. Who wouldn’t be when your executioner, whom nobody was able to see, was just in front of you, lazily examining the fingers of his vessel like he had all the time in the world, which he indeed had.
“Angered a vættr and afraid he’ll come back haunting you, haven’t you?” Gabriel smiled jokingly. “I’ll stay with you if you want. I’ll even give you a new shirt.”
The words were out the moment he thought that was a very stupid idea. His bag was where he had left it in the morning, on the side of his bed, right now in Balthazar’s wings. Any sensible angels would have them folded while on Earth, even when they stayed invisible: feeling something pass through their most sensible body part, even incorporeal while on this plane, wasn’t painful but it wasn’t a nice sensation either. Balthazar wasn’t any angel though, his standards for what was nice or not were confusing at the very best. And he didn’t seem to be willing to move them in the next minute.
That meant Gabriel had to put Ein’s hand through his wings to take it back.
“So, everything’s fine in the end,” Ljúfa said with a bright smile as she stood up. “See you two in a moment.”
No, Gabriel thought. Everything wasn’t fine. On the contrary, it was horrible. He wasn’t supposed to have to go through that kind of torture. Angels weren’t supposed to be here at all and he wasn’t supposed to attract Nephilim, except for Laguz who had come in a bundle with Einarr. He certainly shouldn’t feel like Einarr’s innards were compressed and about to explode anytime now. The sensation, only mildly annoying at first, had only grown with his unease and worry because of the angels’ presence to be downright awful now. Not quite as horrible as having to resist to the pull that told him how stupid he was for not reaching to his peers’ while he still could, but enough to make to give his treacherous mind another reason to stop hiding: at least, he wouldn’t have to experience the unpleasantness ever again.
“Now that we are finally alone,” Balthazar said as soon as the door closed, examining his vessel’s fingers like they were the most wonderful things in creation. Einarr’s entrails seemed to twist on themselves and that hurt like it shouldn’t have. “What sort of games are you playing?”
“I don’t understand,” Orlygr answered and Gabriel’s wings would have fluttered with embarrassment and annoyance in normal circumstances. Why couldn’t Orlygr just ignored Balthazar and not give him clues that Gabriel wasn’t as human as Einarr’s body suggested? Stupid human.
“Not you.” Balthazar’s wings twitched with exasperation, grace shifting even more frantically around him. “I’m talking to you, Gabriel.”
Gabriel so wished he could take flight and vanished from that specific dimension.
“And don’t think you can ignore me, I’m not an idiot, I know it’s you.”
Two choices were offered to him now. The first was quite simple, dropping every pretense to be a boring lambda human and revealing himself. Being finally able to use thoughts and grace to communicate, even if it was only with Balthazar. Maybe even getting to touch his wings. All of that are things he had been craving to do since he left. It had become agonizing to deprive himself of things that were natural when they were right in front of him, even if it meant his cover could be blown into oblivion and forced to go back to his duties.
The second was much more complicated and best in the long term. That was what he shouldn’t even hesitate to do because the first was a stupid move. He shouldn’t even think of it in the first place. He should just keep ignoring Balthazar, continue to inflict himself what seemed like a useless torture when there were angels around; it was so easy when he was alone. Let the dominion speak and Orlygr answer with all his stupid ignorance that had basically just blown his cover to pieces.
In an ideal universe, the five years since he had last seen Balthazar would have made him an oblivious idiot.
“Oh, come on. The silent treatment? Really?”
But, of course, the universe wasn’t remotely ideal and seemed to take a liking to annoy him in the worst possible ways. Although he had none in his original form, Balthazar crossed his vessel’s arms over his chest in a very natural way, like he had done that all his life.
“But I have to say if the Nephilim hadn’t come to you, I wouldn’t have noticed you at all. And the wings trick? That’s really some beautiful artwork there.”
“I know right,” Gabriel eventually said after a long while, deciding that he could admonish himself later.
He lifted Einarr’s stump to Balthazar’s eye level to let him examine it, nodded his permission when the other ask with a brush of grace. The skin was colder than the average human’s, also slippery as if there was a thin layer of water cast on it. The dominion passed a hand on the shifting iridescent shards that were here and there, too small and sparse to be noticed, even less by the human eye and its limitations. But Gabriel had seen some of them blink and rub their eyes, before turning away when they caught it: the instinct not to watch the sun to avoid blindness.
Gabriel had folded his wings around Einarr’s body, forcing them into forming many fine layers over his vessel’s skin. It was uncomfortable, itchy because his feathers were always ruffled from being so compressed, but no angel would be able to spot them from afar, which was the goal overall. However, obviously, if he had caught one of his siblings’ attention, the trick wasn’t very effective.
Anyway, the feeling of Balthazar’s fingers on his feathers shouldn’t have been so electrifying and awesome. Only a few years that had felt like an eternity. He had really missed the sensations of be groomed, the relief of crooked feathers being plucked out and plumage being smoothed. Balthazar was humming, his grace warm and soothing while he worked, not trying to reach for Gabriel’s though and the archangel was grateful for that, even if his body was telling him he should reach out.
“Do they know yet?” The words were spoken in Enochian and that too, felt more than good.
“The total disappearance of an archangel isn’t one thing to go unnoticed. But you’re you and five years is less then a blink for us,”
Balthazar stopped when Gabriel let out a sigh as the other unravelled a knot at the base of Einarr’s spine, sending pleasant vibes through him. His smile had a touch of smug when the archangel twitched as he moved to take care of another bundle of entangled feathers. “With the matter of Lucifer in his hands, Michael won’t come searching for you. Not that anyone can imagine an angel wanting to escape from Heaven. An archangel even less. They think it’s just one of your quirks, so I guess no. Since our almighty Father isn’t there to tell them to take you back to Heaven, you can say that nope. They don’t know yet you’ve got no intention to come back.”
Gabriel felt a mix of relief and disappointment at that. At least, he had some time of tranquility ahead of him. Still it was kind of jarring to know they wouldn’t care about his whereabouts if their Dad or one of the other archangels didn’t order them to look for him.
“How is Zeke?”
“Fairly good for someone whose mate as gone missing overnight. Always a good soldier, your seraph is.”
“That he is.”
“I really admire your wits, Gabriel, but I have to say.” Balthazar stepped away from him and Gabriel stopped himself to order him back to his grooming. “This.” He gestured to Einarr’s body. “Won’t be any good for long. Hiding your grace or folded your wings like that. It won’t be sufficient, you’re still too angelic. Moreover, who do you think the Host will search for first when they’ll want to see you? This vessel is from the bloodline bred specifically for you, you won’t be able to stay in here for long.”
“I won’t rat you out but to be frank, even with that, I don’t think you’ve got much time left. Now that Lucifer is grounded on Earth, our brother doesn’t seem to feel like he’s got to play by Heaven’s rules anymore. It’s said he’s preparing for war, real war this time. And he wants to involve Nephilim and humans. Michael will want to have Raphael and you by his side. If it’s known you’ve escaped, it’ll be even worse because Lucifer will also want to recruit you. You’re not in the easiest position.”
“I know,” Gabriel repeated, feeling Einarr’s gusts twist again. “You don’t need to tell me that,” he added not without some exasperation.
He had never been in an easy position. Being an archangel meant he always had duties to perform, more and more with the millennia passing by, responsibilities he had to take and decisions to make for the sake of his whole brethren. There were only four archangels to carry an entire species and as powerful as they were, it wasn’t as natural and easy as the angels seemed to think. For Gabriel anyway: Michael and Lucifer were literally born to do that and reveled in governing the Host. Raphael, like himself, tagged along because they had no choice and loved their Dad and brothers too much to want to disappoint them. Gabriel was done with that, though.
“What will you do?”
“Find another vessel, find a way to shield myself from the Host’s eyes.”
“Good luck with that.”
“What are you going to do?” Gabriel looked at the Nephilim, who hadn’t dared to move since the beginning of the discussion. He was hugging himself and trying very hard not to look at any of them. His lips were moving without a sound, but Gabriel supposed he was praying to his deities. Humans tended to pray a lot. “Oh yeah, a shirt,” he said , shifting back to Norse when he noticed Orlygr was still bare-chested, remembering he had told him he would give him one.
Balthazar materialized one on him before Gabriel could make any movement. “Here.” He let out a dry amused laugh when the Nord gasped. “Don’t worry, boy, I’m not gonna try to kill you here. My boss wouldn’t take that kindly and the lady wouldn’t like that. Never upset the ladies.” Complacent little bastard. He slipped back into Enochian to add: “I can’t let him live though, as soon as you and your little mates are out of the picture, he dies.”
“I don’t care. Just wait until Ljúfa is gone,” Gabriel answered in Norse. “Come on, we’ve been here for too long now, let’s go downstairs.”
In the middle of Aurvangr was the Great Temple, a three-story majestic stone building, higher than any other with the spires. All around the place that housed the religious structure were large pillars carved with runes. The priests stood on a platform in the center, their acolytes gathering the cattle that would be sacrificed and the other offerings, jewelries as well as weapons donated by the clansmen.
People had already begun to fill the square in a joyful hurly-burly that made Gabriel wince, eager to watch the ceremony. The first time they had been here, they had just fled from Himinsfall, weary and exhausted, with those who had survived. The streets had been mostly empty and they had feared the draugar had gone there too. It was only when they had approached the center of Snjárudr’s capitale that they had been relieved when seeing the crowd. Rafn and Laguz had laughed, before explaining to Cenrix and him what day it was. Once per month, Snjárudr’s godi had to perform a worshipping ceremony to some divinity of prosperity, or peace, whatever. Gabriel hadn’t care to remember the deity or the event’s name.
One time, the archangel had pointed out to Rafn that, for a former godi who had decided not to serve anymore, he seemed still very invested in religion. After all, Rafn was one who insisted to come to Aurvangr each month for this precise occasion. To that, the human had answered that servicing a god and giving his beliefs up weren’t the same thing. Gabriel had had nothing to say against that.
“So, what did that spi— angel and you talk about? That was so fucking long.” Cenrix walked to the balcony rail, a mug of ale in one hand. He bent over it, eyes watching the crowd. “You said they would try to drag you home if they found you, he didn’t try that, did he?”
“Not this one.”
Gabriel had been lucky it had been Balthazar. Anyone else would have asked many more questions, even tried to talk him into coming back to Heaven, maybe succeeded. More than anything, they would have ratted him out to the other archangels. However Balthazar wasn’t like that, he wasn’t as pliant and obedient as the others; since his birth, he had always had a little sparkle of humanity that had made Gabriel appreciate him, even though he could be a pain to deal with.
“He warned me. I need to find another vessel,” the archangel said, looking below at Rafn and Ljúfa circled by guards, leading them to the corner w here stood Snjárudr’s jarl and his wife. Skalmöld was next to them, speaking with her brother. She waved at her niece when she approached. Thengill hugged his daughter before greeting Rafn, the two of them soon talking.
“It was time, it’s already been five years,” Laguz said, not looking away from her book. Of course the Nephilim would say that. The sooner Gabriel was out of Einarr’s body, the best it would be for her. That was the only reason she had stayed by his side was for her mate.
“It’s a fucking shame you can’t just use anybody. What’re you gonna do?”
Thengill was now marching to the platform, high and proud, his long staff in one hand and brown hair making like a halo around his head. The godi turned his eyes on them, nodding. Gabriel returned the sign before he turned, his back leaning on the rail. The crowd cheered when Thengill began his usual speech, a spell amplified the volume of his voice enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear it.
Gabriel passed a hand on Einarr’s face, sighing. “A little while ago, maybe one or two years, Svipdagr told me he thought there’s a way for me to be able to disappear from the face of the Earth. Or rather, he said he knows someone that could make it happen.”
The fold of bright red scarred flesh just above the cloak that covered the lower part of Cenrix’s face was a clear indication he was smiling. The human cocked an eyebrow, brown eyes sparkling with amusement. “And if you didn’t jump on the opportunity, I suppose that ‘someone’ is Loki.”
Gabriel had instantly dismissed Svipdagr’s offer to take him to where Loki was. The bastard wasn’t someone he wanted to have to deal with ever again. Thinking of him still made the archangel want to smite, or plunge his blade into the puny deity the same way he had done to his vessel, while Gabriel watched, totally helpless. And that only had been the beginning.
“I don’t know if Loki really has a solution, if he’ll be willing to share it or what the price will be. Not to say that I really don’t want to see his face again.”
“Whatever grief you have with your family has nothing to do with us, but the more you stay in Ein’s body, the more you’re endangering him. And me.” Laguz shut her book and put it aside. “Right now, Loki is the only thing that could provide a solution. You should at least hear what he could do for you. The Æsir said his punition for Himinsfall’s demise would be exemplary, whatever it is, Loki will be willing to do anything to escape from it. Loki is said to be the most resourceful Ás, I’m sure he’ll be able to help you.” When Gabriel didn’t answer, the Nephilim shook his head. “As much as I wish, I’m not the one who can force you out. Do as you wish, but remember you have a promise to keep.”
When Gabriel finally brushed his thoughts aside, the candles had burnt away. The only source of light left was the faint rays passing through the tiny cracks in the walls. The odor of the potatoes and leeks soup his companions had eaten for diner was still lingering in the air, even if the plate had been emptied what must had been hours ago, considering the humans’ position. They were huddled on the makeshift fur beds on the ground, nothing but deep breathes, occasional snores and groans when one shifted, bumping into the others.
He hadn’t seen them go to sleep, or even remembered them finishing their meal. Like often recently, he was so pensive he had ended up being out of touch with reality. That wasn’t normal, he wasn’t just anybody! He was an archangel, he should be able to multitask. Interacting with his surroundings and thinking about multiple things in the same time? That should be easy.
For a long moment, he watched them sleep, peaceful look on their faces. He so wished he could do the same; if only for a few hours, escape from his delicate situation. The years passed since Einarr had lent him his body had taught him otherwise though, and the archangel sighed.
Almost a month had passed since their visit to Aurvangr and he had been considering Laguz’s suggestion the whole time. No mattered how he was looking at the situation, how he turned it, the conclusion was always that Laguz was right.
The three vessels strong enough to sustain him were currently being used by his brothers so he couldn’t snatch them. Balthazar had said he was safe for now, but the Host could begin searching for him anytime. He would never be able to find another host amongst all these humans and persuade them to accept to be his vessel. All the while without the help of neither his wings nor his grace, otherwise he would become a giant shiny beacon for every angels roaming on Earth.
Moreover, he was sure the moment Michael and Raphael, or Lucifer would reallywant to reach him, his little trick would be uncovered. They would also be able to see Laguz was a Nephilim. Gabriel couldn’t let that happen: he had given his word to both Laguz and Einarr that he would protect the other. He couldn’t let them be dragged into the war he was so much trying to escape he had left his own mate behind. He wouldn’t let himself be back in that horrendous war zone the Host had become.
Time was running out, he had to make a choice and Loki was the best solution he had.
Careful not to make any noise, Gabriel stood up from his chair then slipped out of the house. When he finally stepped outside, a gush of cold air hit him, and he imagined it was like the icy wind gliding on his feathers when he was flying. How he missed being able to stretch his wings and take flight anywhere, traveling so fast from one point to another humans thought it was instantaneous.
The autumnal air was fresher than the previous year: it had snowed a few times already and at occasions, Gabriel had spotted ice here and there. It was an enjoyable contrast to the house’s hot and heavy atmosphere due to the humans resting in it like a litter of cherubs before sleep became totally useless for them.
With nostalgia, Gabriel remembered when his brothers and him were nothing but limbs and feathers in the lap of their Dad, squeaking with glee under the kind touch of His power while He was telling the best kind of stories: the creations He was working on. However, Gabriel should know better than dwelling on these reminiscence, not that he could stop himself to do so. Still, he hoped that, with time, he would slowly cease the stupid habit.
Gabriel took a few moments to listen to the sounds of the nature all around to distract himself: the song of the insects in the grass and foxes yapping in the distance. There was the lapping of water and the slow breathes of the old man seating on a stool by the lake. The full moon on the clear nebulous sky was casting silvery reflects on its surface, giving it an ethereal shimmer that reminded Gabriel of Heaven.
At Svipdagr’s feet was his overgrown grey wolfhound, Gramr, rolled on himself and napping, oblivious to the fact his tail was in the water. The two didn’t bulge when Gabriel approached, then reached to the old man’s grace wings, a conglomerate of rock-like shards embedded in a smoky material. That was his way to greet him, even though the archangel was aware the other wouldn’t feel anything. After that, he sat next to the canine, scratching his back.
The silence between them was companionable, both looking at the surface of the water ripple when fishes were swimming close to it. From time to time, one would take the bait and it would soon be added into the basket near the stool.
Gabriel was writing a verse of an old poem in Enochian—composed when his Dad was still home—in the mud with a stick when Svipdagr put his fishing cane aside.
“So, Gabriel, have you made your mind yet?” The Nephilim’s voice was soft and gentle, like he was speaking to a young child and not a millennia-year-old entity who could crush him with a thought. “How much time have you left?”
The words hadn’t changed since the first time Svipdagr had proposed to bring him to Loki. Each night, when Gabriel would go out of the house, Svipdagr would ask him these questions: a ritual of some sort between the two of them. Usually, he would shrug it off and change the subject. Not this time however.
“I don’t think I have a choice anymore.”
“And once again, I’ve got to disagree with you.” Svipdagr chuckled. “We all have choices to make, whether they’re good or bad. You just made yours. Don’t try to make it sound like the Norns forced you.”
“Angels aren’t meant to have free will, that’s the gift Dad gave to humanity.”
Svipdagr’s smile dimpled his already wrinkled cheeks and his laugh was loud. He passed a hand in his white long beard. “Your home isn’t really fun, is it?”
“Nope. Why do you think I left?”
“Because you’re not any angel and you’ve got the free will you’re not meant to be? If I understand what you told me of your brothers, nobody could even think of running away. And yet, you are here, speaking with good old me. What do you make of that?”
“I hate you sometimes.”
“They all say that when I’m right. And I’m often right, old age do that to a man sometimes.”
For a human, but then, human lifespan was so very short and it was a wonder they could do anything at all. Or maybe that was the reason why for they could achieve anything at all, there wasn’t much time to delay when you could die so easily as slipping on ice. Ridiculous, really.
Gabriel looked at the beautiful shifting blue lights of the aurora up in the sky, illuminating the area almost like it was daylight. The weather had grown colder and amused, the archangel was puffing to watched the tiny clouds Einarr’s breath was making. In the meantime, his vessel’s hand was playing with Rafn’s coat thick fur, admiring its warmth and softness against the skin. The former godi had insisted to lend it to the archangel. Not for himself—weather had no effect on him if he didn’t want it to—but for Einarr when he would be alone in his own body. To Gabriel, he had given a benediction that had seemed shallow for an archangel. Then, he had gone back into the cottage to pray, Gabriel supposed.
Cenrix had decided to go with him. He was currently putting bags of food in the boat, where Svipdagr and Gramr were already waiting. When the Celt lifted his own luggage, he made him a little wave of encouragement with his left hand. Gabriel sighed then glanced at Laguz, who was standing not far from him, eyes on the sky.
“This is it, then,” she muttered after a while. There was a smile on her face, like the one she had addressed to Einarr, a large toothy grin.
It was gone when she turned to him, mismatched eyes searching for Einarr’s, like she could see him inside. She took a few steps forward until she was close enough for their chests to touch. Then, her fingers were on that point, just under Einarr’s jawline, where his scar ended. It was a large and puffy irregular line of a red as bright as the thick curls characteristic of the Himinsfall clan. It went up, pass through his right cheek only to stop above his hairline, partly hidden by his hair.
With an infinite tenderness she had never used with him before, she traced the mark until the eyelid, permanently closed because of the injury. Not that there was an eye to speak of under anyway. Her other hand came on the smooth stump where Einarr’s right hand had once been. She kissed his brow.
Einarr was a man that had travelled much more than his contemporaries, bearing so many cicatrices the archangel could have cured with only a thought, before deciding against using his grace anyway. A half-blind vessel was nothing since he didn’t need eyes to see. However the lack of one hand had been disadvantageous at times when he couldn’t use his grace. Hadn’t he promised the Nord he would give him his body back in the exact shape he had acquired, he would have cured at least that.
“I want him back exactly how he was.”
The threat wasn’t even veiled, but Gabriel brushed it off. Like a Nephilim could be dangerous to him. “I’ll keep my word.”
Laguz wasn’t fazed. She took a step back to stare at him, eyebrows raised. “Are you sure? You promised Ein’s sister you’d protect their family. And yet, Ein’s the only one left. That’s not a really good job, is it? Loki wants to kill their entire bloodline and Ein’s the last. Loki’s an Ás and he outwitted you quite a few times now. What tells me you’ll be able to protect him if Loki wants to kill Ein? What tells me he’ll be back? Archangels or whatever you are might be strong, but I’m still convinced you’re nothing compared an Ás.”
Gabriel snorted. Humans and their pagan deities, always thinking fake gods were more powerful than entities older than time itself, birthed by the most almighty being in the whole Creation.
“I’ll try to keep my word,” he corrected himself. “Even if it’s the last thing I do,” he added to be sure the Nephilim would be out of his back.
“We have an understanding then, Gabriel.” Laguz smiled, then patted Einarr’s head like he was a cherub. “And good luck with Loki.”
On these words, she simply returned to the shack without looking back.
“Here we go then!” Cenrix exclaimed joyfully when Gabriel hopped into the boat moments later, nodding at the old man.
Svipdagr made a small gesture and muttered a galdr. The runes engraved in the wooden deck glowed briefly, followed by a loud creaking sound that made the archangel wince. There was a violent shake that almost made him fall, before the ship finally moved.
Gabriel watched the house that had been his for the last five years disappear into the distance until there was nothing left to see but light blue water, and the shimmering reflections on its surface. He didn’t know where he was going from now, he realized, bitterness in his thoughts.
Until now, he had never stopped to think about the future: he had always been much more at ease with living in the present, dealing with what was coming at him without caring about the consequences before they hit him in the face later. When he had been in Heaven, it had been easy. He had orders from his Dad and his older brothers, he just had to carry them out. Then, there had been the whole disaster on Earth and he just had had to find a vessel. After that, his sole goal had been to stop Loki, guide the survivors to safety and reach Svipdagr’s small cottage. Once there, it had been nothing but living one day at a time. For five years, there had been no real problem to be dealt with and he had actually began to forgot—or rather put in some dark corners of his mind—there were important matters to take care of.
And here he was now, half-collapsed on the rail of a boat, a big wolf dog bumping Einarr’s calf for some petting time. He didn’t know what would be asked of him—except to get out of his vessel—where he was going, what he would or could do. At least, he sighed, he knew where he was coming from and where he would certainly not go.
There was a hand clasping Einarr’s shoulder, and Cenrix appeared at his side, the bands of fabric masking the lower part of his face hanging around his neck. The distorted line of his perpetual grin were even more crooked than usual because he was munching on a potato.
“Laguz wasn’t too hard on you, was he?” Cenrix said between two mouthfuls, not even making the effort to articulate. “He can be such a handful sometimes. He wasn’t so overprotective when Ein and me first met him. But well, I can understand his point of view. He’ll just like you better when you have another body. Don’t worry about him.”
“I’m not worrying about Laguz.”
“Oh. Loki, then.”
“What do you think about it?” Cenrix rose an eyebrow and squinted his eyes. Gabriel explained, “You’re not a Nord, you must have a different opinion than the others.”
“I was a druid, Gabe. I believe in gods. I fear gods. It’s hard not to remember they aren’t like us when—” With an index, he traced the lines of the wound that froze his face in a perpetual crooked grin that run from one ear to the other. He poked Einarr’s stump in a playful way. “—you’ve seen what men can do to please them. I’ve been raised to serve them, and did in so many ways. Actually, you remind me of one. Well you and the other angels we’ve met, but especially you.”
Gabriel snorted. “I’m not one of them,” he said with disgust, sightly offended that he could be compared to one. As if he was one of these so-called gods roaming the Earth since the dawn of time.
The wrinkles around Cenrix’s eyes went deeper and in no time, he burst out laughing. “Gods, Gabe. You should hear yourself talking, you sound just like one.” He finished his potato in one gulp. “If you want my opinion. Gods, angels, I don’t care. That’s just two denominations for the same kind of entity.”
“So, you fear me?”
“Yes.” Gramr let out a loud bark and Cenrix bent to pet him while humming. He didn’t look at the archangel when he resumed, “No. Certainly not as much as I should seeing that I chose to go with you. And I don’t mean going with you see Loki either. I mean that I fucking intend to stick you with as much as I can. Youyou, not Ein.”
Gabriel starred at him with disbelief. Humans were definitely more than weird, and he couldn’t see a reason why one would want to travel with someone who was constantly attracting trouble. Cenrix looked up at him, and he made a full grin, his tongue on the corner of his lips.
“Come on!” He put his hands on Einarr’s shoulders, looking at him with the determination of a very mad man. “You’re far too fascinating for me to let go of you just like that. You’ve known me for quite a long time now, do you really think I need a better reason?”
“You’re completely mad,” Gabriel answered, sighing.
Somehow, his companion’s grin grew even larger. “Quite right. More seriously, though.” He passed a hand in his hair, brushing a few strands out of his eyes. “We spoke quite a little bit with the others and we doubt you’ll stay with us for long when you have another vessel. I don’t think you should travel alone either. I’ve been dying to get out of here for a while now. I don’t like staying in the same place for so long. Five years are far too much for me. So when you go, I’ll follow you.”
When Gabriel was about to tell him he didn’t need a stalker on his heels, Cenrix had already shifted, stroking his arm as he walked away to talk with Svipdagr, who was standing at the bow of the ship, eyes on the horizon as if searching for something.
“So, where are you bringing us to? Where’s Loki?” he was asking when Gabriel joined them.
“He’s been imprisoned under one of the roots of the great Yggdrasil, not far from the Hvergelmir.” Gabriel thought it should have been somehow impressive, but neither Cenrix nor him knew what the old man was talking about. His companion scratched his brow with an apologetic smile. “Not in Midgard, this realm,” Svipdagr finally explained.
“This realm,” Gabriel repeated as memories came back to him. Mostly unpleasant memories also associated with Loki. How surprising. “You mean, another realm like Nidavellir?”
The Nephilim’s bushy eyebrows rose in surprise. “You went to Nidavellir?”
“Yes. It’s a long story so don’t ask,” he added when Cenrix shot a curious glance at him. “The ending wasn’t good anyway.”
“The realm we’re heading to is called Niflheim.”
Cenrix fastened the straps of fabric dangling around his neck for them to protect his reddened cheeks. Then, he adjusted his cloak, and rubbed his hands. “How are we supposed to go there?” he said, blowing air on his fingers.
Svipdagr smiled. “Look.” He pointed an index straight right, showing a high and large rock in the middle of the water, covered in thick layer of a silvery ice. “The gate is just here, and I happen to know how to open it.”
He sung a short galdr, making the runes carved into the boat glow with power. Golden lines appeared in the air in front of them, gradually drawing a giant glyph half sunk underwater. It formed a large double door with intricate patterns Gabriel didn’t know the sense of. As they approached, the atmosphere was growing significantly colder and heavier, crackling with seidr.
Cenrix was putting the hood of his cloak over his head when Svipdagr rose a hand in the air. The sound of his fingers snapping resonated in the air. In front of them, the doors opened. Show-off, Gabriel thought with a snicker as he ducked under the rail to avoid the sudden gush of hard snow and icy wind coming from it. Beside him, the Nephilim was laughing as Cenrix let out strings of curses in his mother tongue.
They emerged in a fjord, flanked by majestic glaciers and surrounded by icebergs. Above their head, the aurora had gained pale green rays of light that seemed to dance amongst the stars. The sky was moonless but luminous, void of any clouds, even though the chilly gale carried snow.
Next to him, Cenrix had a hand on his eyes, trying to protect them from the flakes. He was trembling and coughing, his body obviously not happy with the drop in temperature and complete change of weather. Gabriel shifted, put Einarr’s left arm around the other’s waist and took one of his hands in his, sharing his body heath, much warmer than usual human. A glance to Svipdagr and Gramr informed him they were okay, the first being enveloped in a layer of seidr that shielded him and the second having a thick fur.
They watched in awe and silence the rocks around them as the boat progressed farther into the fjord. The crystalline plants covered with icicles were growing on their walls, making it seem like falling figures were carved into the ice. There were no animals, neither in the clear waters nor on the shores. There would have been no sound if not for the howling of the wind, reverberating all around them. Somewhere in the distance, they heard the splash of a block falling into the water.
Later—Gabriel was unable to pinpoint how much—after they had long emerged out of the fjord and into the sea, the ground shook so violently that waves formed around them, instantly freezing. Then, once the boat had passed, they would clash against the others. Gabriel was now sitting on the floor, hugging Cenrix close to him to keep him warm, and Gramr pressed against their backs.
“How do you know where to go?” he said after a while looking at the horizon that was nothing but a succession of whites and greys on a background of blues. “Everything looks the same.”
Svipdagr laughed with glee, and he seemed years younger when he answered, “I don’t need to see where I’m going. An Ás is guiding us, I just have to follow the lead.” He pinched the air between his fingers, rolling them like he would do with a thread. There was mischief in his deep voice when he added, “But maybe you can’t see it. Why would you if you don’t believe in the Æsir like a Nord does? Moreover, remember, Gabriel. I was trained for that. If Rafn was there, he would see it too.”
“You like mocking me, you little old bastard, don’t you?”
“It’s not often that we, mere humans, can see something you can’t? Can’t I rejoice for that?”
Gabriel snorted. Like Svipdagr was a “mere human” to begin with. “Mere humans don’t live for centuries.”
“They can. While they need some help, be it magic or gods, yes, they can,” Cenrix intervened before Gabriel could talk, his voice hoarse and creaky from the cold. “It’s happened quite a few times within the druidic orders. Some of the elders were centuries old, the eldest was going on a millennium when I left.” He lifted his head to look at Svipdagr. “I suppose it’s the same with godar and völur?”
“You already know that Nords value an honorable death in a battlefield. Godar are priests, but they’re not different: we’re still Nords and warriors. I’m the oldest godi alive, well, former godi to be more exact. I renounced to my position decades ago. It’s been twenty-five years now.”
Svipdagr’s features seemed much deeper and sad when he said the last words. Behind him, his grace wings were shaking. Gramr let out a plaintive whine, his tail tapping loudly on the floor. Something clicked in Gabriel’s mind, some trivia and memories of their first encounter but he decided against speaking about it—for now anyway—in respect for the obviously tormented man. Fortunately, Cenrix also had the brilliant idea not to press the subject further.
“Today isn’t a good day for grief, though,” Svipdagr said, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen between them. “On the contra—” There was another earthquake, even stronger than the others that made the Nephilim stumble then fall on the deck. “—ry.” He let out a pained grunt after that, but didn’t try to get up. “Better stay on the ground, can’t fall lower,” he grumbled in his beard when there was a new tremor, weaker this time. “So I was saying, we better celebrate the fact that Einarr will have his body back and Gabriel will have another one.”
“If Loki can help me.”
“If you’re ready to pay the price, he will.”
“What if he hasn’t got any solution?”
“He’s always got one,” Svipdagr replied, looking at Gabriel like he was an idiot for thinking otherwise. He felt Cenrix’s quivering against him, his laughter muffled in the fabric of his mask.
“What’s with humans and stupid blind faith?”
Not that angels were better on that peculiar point, not that he had been better either. But at least, he knew exactly what his Dad could do: anything. Except bringing peace between Lucifer and Michael, it seemed. Unless He wasn’t really trying, which was another plausible possibility knowing His antics. No wonder he had turned out like that with such a Dad. After all, Gabriel wasn’t the only one taking vacations from Heaven, its own ruler wasn’t even there half the time recently.
“You’re not human, you wouldn’t understand,” Cenrix answered back.
How wrong the human was. He wouldn’t let him know, through: there was no point in letting them be aware that angels had more in common with humans than what everyone thought. Not only his companions, but his siblings too.
There was a new earthquake and Einarr’s head banged into the wooden rail. Gabriel cursed while Svipdagr was examining the invisible thread again. With caution, the old man stood up, leaning on the guardrail in case of another tremor, his eyes squinted as he was observing around.
“We’ve arrived,” he finally announced with a grin.
There were on the snow-covered beach of an island, at the foot of a mountain. There was no wind there, and the temperature was soft enough for Cenrix to step away from Gabriel’s embrace when they were out of the boat, stretching their limbs. Svipdagr and Cenrix also took the time to eat one of the few fruits that hadn’t been damaged—as in frozen—by the travel. Gabriel hadn’t, discovering that tasting every molecule contained in an aliment wasn’t as tasty as he had thought once, when he was still observing his late vessel from afar.
After that, they let the Nephilim take the lead, even though there was only one path they could have taken: if not for the hole in the side of the mountain leading inside, there was nothing on the shore. Gramr was following them, stopping here and there to sniff at something before coming back almost running whenever the wolfhound saw them moving away a little too much for his taste.
They traversed a long tunnel whose proportions grimly reminded Gabriel of another quest, years ago, when he had travelled to Nidavellir to watch over his intended vessel. Everyone knew what a success that had been. It was narrow, only large enough to let one man pass, but high enough for a small giant not to bump its head on the ice stalactites on the ceiling. Fortunately, the small shockwaves that made the ground vibrate under their feet weren’t enough to make the icicles fall on them.
Soon, they emerged into a cavern. The floor was covered with a bright green moss and flowers that made Gabriel wondered how they could have grown there. To their left, a trickle of water fell from the ceiling, then formed a stream they followed until the middle of the area, where it flown into a large hole, its diameter around a twentieth feet. Although the bottom was nothing but pitch black, they could hear the distinctive sound of an underground waterway running deep down.
At the other side of the precipice stood a woman. She was bent over the border, incredibly long light brown hair hanging in the void, making like a waterfall of waves around her head. Over her dark red dress was fastened a golden cloak, embroidered with an intricate pattern of the color of her gown. She was emptying a large cup into the pit, a clear liquid slowly falling into it. When she rose to watch them approach, Gabriel could see she was taller than any human could ever be. And with these unnaturally bright violet eyes with white pupils, she couldn’t be human at all.
“That's an Ás, right?” Cenrix muttered, awe in his eyes as he was examining the woman’s body. “Gods, she certainly is fucking beautiful. Which one is she?”
“Gabriel, Cenrix, I present to you lady Sigyn,” Svipdagr answered, grinning at them. “She’s Loki’s wife.”
“Svipdagr, it’s been a long time,” the Ás said when they stopped a few feet from her. She nodded at them in greeting. “It’s good to see you. Di—” A small earthquake interrupted her. She passed a hand in her hair, her many bracelets clinking when she moved. “Let’s go to my husband, I made him wait long enough.”
She sighed, then turned on her heels, gesturing for them to follow her in a tunnel leading further down. Vegetation was growing on the walls, a plethora of small flowers with polychrome luminescent petals. They spurted a cloud of tiny glowing spores when Gabriel touched it.
“So Loki’s the one who’s making the ground shake, isn’t he?” Svipdagr said after another quake, leaning on the rock not to stumble. “What’s his punishment?”
“See for yourself.”
They were now in another cave, smaller than the first. Gabriel stopped at the entry to take in the view. The ceiling wasn’t rock or ice, but grey clouds and a snow that never went down, seidr maintaining it above. It was hotter in the room than anywhere else, to the point that Cenrix had stripped of his cloak and coats, discarding them next to a wall before seating on it.
He was staring at the center of the place where stood an altar made of three piled up blocks of white marble. Flickering glyphs were carved into the stone. Fine chains of a suspicious pinkish color were coming out of the floor and walls to bind a naked man to the heap, coiled around his limbs, neck and torso. Their metallic shine cast shifting reflects in the place.
An enormous snake was curled around the bonds, its scales of the darkest black, so big that, were they not magic, Gabriel doubted the shackles could have borne its weight. The animal’s head was a couple feet above Loki’s face, mouth open to show a purple forked tongue and large fangs, a transparent liquid was gathering at their points.
“I’m back,” Sigyn announced with a gentle voice as she crossed the distance to join her husband. When she grabbed the beast’s head, turning it away from Loki to place it above the cup, it hissed. A few drops fell below, on Loki’s face.
Loki’s breath went faster and jerky. Little by little, his body began to tense, then convulse. His back arched and his head tipped back, hitting the stone. The Ás opened his mouth but no sounds came out of it. Instead, there was a series of quakes.
“It’s okay, I’m here now,” Sigyn said softly, as if she was reassuring a child. A petulant child that only snorted then replied she had taken too much time. Sigyn was too good for the bastard. The woman was unfazed, though. “You’ve got visitors, dear.”
“Tell me it’s not my brother or one of his children again,” he groaned, his voice hoarse and croaky.
“It’s me, Svipdagr.”
There was a small silence before Loki let out a surprised “oh”. Then, he took a deep breath. “Hello, Svipdagr. Long time no see. It’s been, what, twenty-five years? Oh! Yes, the Battle of Loptbord and my dear Sökkólfr. He’s fine by the way, Hel is taking care of him. Sorry I can’t greet you properly, as you can see, I’m kind of indisposed now.”
The old man had closed his eyes when hearing the Ás’ words. He blew air from his nose, stroke his beard with shaky fingers, most likely reminiscing painful memories. Finally, he shook his head. “I brought you someone. I think you’ll find him interesting,” he said while giving a tap in Einarr’s shoulder to make Gabriel step forward. “Your turn,” he added with a laugh.
Gabriel slowly walked to the altar, a tight knot in Einarr’s stomach that filled him with unease and apprehension. He stopped at Loki’s feet, looking down on the bastard who had lifted his head to observe him. Despised familiar eyes the color of amber with touches of green met his vessel’s. Gabriel didn’t know how much time passed, each watching the other in silence. He didn’t know how to begin the conversation either, or what to say that wouldn’t be an insult or something close to “serve you right, despicable bastard” when he had come to ask for his help.
“Oh!” Loki exclaimed, a spark in his eyes that Gabriel didn’t like at all. “Himinsfall’s blood, of course. The one-eyed and one-handed boy. I remember you, Einarr, the last of your clan.” His derisive laugh made the archangel want to smite him on the spot. “Did you ask old Svipdagr to bring you here to contemplate what was my punishment? To mock me and humiliate me, maybe? I wouldn’t have guessed that when looking at you. Kinky, I like that.”
He passed a tongue on his dry lips and Gabriel felt disgust fill him. Was that really necessary to ask for his help when the smug bastard was pinned on a table, unable to move out? Had the Ás a solution to offer like the others were convinced, or had they only said so without being sure.
“Nothing to say, pretty boy? Do you intend to keep watching me like that all day? Not that I disapprove, mind you. There’s not many distractions here and it’s better than just little old Sigyn.”
“She’s your wife and she’s keeping you from getting hurt.” At the other side of the altar, Sigyn shrugged, but addressed a small smile to him.
“She’s my wife, yes. It doesn’t mean I have to like her.” He made a childish pout. “Did you come here to scold me, pretty boy? I so don’t need that right now. Do you even know how many Æsir come to see me? ‘Why did you anger Odin, he’s your brother!’, ‘Why can’t you just be a better Ás?’, ‘You’ve got responsibilities as an Ás, live up to your status’. ‘Loki, why are you so this? Why are you so that?’. This is just so boring.”
“You sound like a whiny child.”
Loki rose an eyebrow. “Yeah, your sister also said that once. I liked her pretty much, that one. Feisty and strong. That’s a pity she had to die.” Gabriel had to keep a hold on his control right now, otherwise he would be trying to kill the unnerving Ás. Echoes of an anger that was Einarr’s rippled through him and his fist tightened until the articulations were white.
“So, now, why don’t you tell me the reason why you’re here? Somehow I don’t think you came to listen to me rambling on my peers. Unless it’s for the reasons I told earlier, then, be my guest, look at me all while you can. Once I am out of these chains, the first thing I’ll do is finish what I began. You will have to die,” he articulated slowly, then made a wicked grin that made the archangel want to rip his face off.
Gabriel took a deep breath. He had to ask him for his help. He had come here for that after all. Everyone expected him to give Einarr his body back. “I need your help,” he eventually confessed, immediately feeling like he should turn back and go away.
The bastard burst out laughing madly, like he had been told the funniest joke ever. Not that Gabriel didn’t understand: from an external point of view, he was just some guy asking help from someone who just told him he wanted to kill him. He would have laughed too.
“I’m not Einarr. I’m in his body, but I’m not him.”
Loki went suddenly quiet, setting on him an unwavering stare that made the archangel flinch. After a while, he grinned and let his head fall back against the stone. “You’re the pretty spirit that was clinging to Kára and Einarr, aren’t you? And here I was, wondering why he was there and not you. A pity you got rid of your wings, I liked them. So, I don’t think we’ve ever been really introduced. I’m Loki Laufeyjarson, what’s your name, pretty?”
“I’m the archangel Gabriel.”
“Archangel, hmmm… You’re one of these guys that live in another realm and need to have a human host if you want to interact with humans when you’re on Earth, right? You obviously have a host already, why would you need my help?”
“I need another vessel.”
Gabriel explained him how he had left Heaven and the outlines of his situation, why he absolutely needed another vessel as soon as possible and why it wasn’t easy to find one he wouldn’t end up destroying because they weren’t strong enough. Loki stayed silent for a long time, his eyes on the snake above him.
“Why do you think I can help you?” Once again, the Ás lifted his head to observe the archangel. “The runes carved in the altar stop me from using my seidr, while the chains bind my body here. Do I seem in a position to help anybody?”
“I doubt you can do anything for me, but they all say you can help. I trust their judgment.”
Loki hummed. “I remember when we fought side by side against that small army of draugar.” Gabriel hadn’t forgotten either, the thousands of undead that would turn to dust when his wings brushed them, and the shield he had formed around his vessel and her mates. How he would have been able to get rid of them with a thought if he had been in a vessel that time. “Is that the extent of your powers or can you do better?”
What kind of question was that? Gabriel let out an amused snort, slightly offended that the Ás could even imagine that had been all he could do. He was an archangel, dammit. “Archangels are much stronger than you could ever imagine. Compared to us, your kind is nothing but little kids playing with magic. Getting rid of you wouldn’t require much more effort than lifting a finger for a human.”
“Yet, you are here, asking for my help,” Loki snickered, his face nothing but scorn. “Which I can provide by the way. Which I’ll happily provide if you’re half as strong as you imply. If you’re willing to pay the price. Mind you, it’s quite some price and I would totally understand if you decline and like the little coward you are, go back to wonder how to find another host before you’re found by your family.”
Gabriel’s control snapped. All the anger building up since he had laid an eye on the smug bastard, all these years ago and unable to avert his schemes since, not without support anyway. A part of his fury was directed at himself for being a powerless coward who couldn’t do anything but run away, or ask for help. All his frustration and fury broke free and in less than an instant, he was sitting above the puny Ás. Einarr’s hand was around his neck, wings deployed and grace flaring, ready to strike.
It was easy, he could just choke him right there, or use his blade, plunge it in his bowels like he had seen him do with his late vessel. Maybe that would even be satisfying: at least, the despicable fraud wouldn’t be around anymore. The Æsir had been too merciful with him, not only letting him live but also allowing his wife to help him during his predicament. Gabriel could remedy to that in no time. Loki gurgled in his grasp, his breath fast and jerky, eyes filled with a primal fear that pleased the archangel.
“Gabriel!” Svipdagr and Cenrix screamed in unison, both by his side now, hands on Einarr’s shoulders trying to push him back.
“Back to your senses, Gabe! You can’t kill him, you just can’t. Come on, let him go,” the later said panic all over him as he was trying to detach Gabriel’s fingers from the Ás’ throat. “He said he could help you. At least, let him speak!”
“He should just die,” Gabriel replied through gritted teeth. Still, he relaxed his grip enough for the bastard to breathe normally again. He coughed. “What’s your deal? Watch your words and don’t even think about killing Einarr because that will be a no-no, understood?”
Loki gulped and nodded. He cleared his throat. “You won’t be able to escape your family if you’re you. Not being you is the price you must be willing to pay.”
“What are you proposing exactly?”
“Fusion. Of you and me, that is. I can’t escape from here because that whole prison has been designed specifically for me. Like I said, the runes stop me from using my seidr, they would stop any Ás from using their seidr. The binds were made using the bowels from my own sons; nasty blood spell I can’t escape if I’m me.”
“What would be the consequences? What if you eject me after being freed?”
Gabriel wouldn’t put the Ás past abnegating his consent then boot the archangel out of his body once he would be out of here. Loki wasn’t known for playing fair, after all. The bastard rolled his eyes ostensibly.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not talking about an I’m-accepting-to-be-your-host-for-now kind of fusion. I’m talking about doing the whole thing, forming a completely new entity. Part angel, part god, but not completely one or the other. Something better, different enough for the blood spell binding me here not to be able to recognize me, and your family neither.”
The idea was as tempting as repulsing. He let out a deep sigh and looked away. Cenrix’s grin was telling him “Here’s your fucking solution, seize it!”, whereas Svipdagr had his eyes closed and a hand in his beard, like he did every time he was considering something with attention. Sigyn hadn’t moved from her previous position, her face but a blank mask as if she were a statue.
“What will happen to us as individual beings?”
“I. Don’t. Know,” Loki whispered, making a long dramatic pause between each words. “Isn’t that exciting?”
“You’re completely crazy.”
“I’m just very curious.” The Ás gestured to the snake with his head. “And willing to do everything to get out of here. The question is: are you?”
Was he? The archangel blinked. Even though he felt Einarr’s stomach contract at the idea that he was about to fuse with someone as despicable as Loki, he knew what the answer was. It had taken weeks for him to accept coming here and the situation hadn’t really changed then. If he wanted to be true to his decision not to come back to Heaven, contrary to what Svipdagr and the others thought, he had no choice in the matter. He couldn’t afford to take more time. That was even truer now that he had made a flashy display of power, and if he was sure there were no angels in this realm, someone might have sensed it. He hadn’t been careful. He didn’t think he was ready for what was about to happen, but yes, he was willing to do anything.
“How are we supposed to do that?” Gabriel eventually asked, finally moving Einarr’s hand away from the Ás’ throat, letting it grip the border of the altar. Loki followed the movement with his eyes and the archangel noticed his small sigh.
“You know, that’s the kind of ritual you would seal with sex and I’m really not picky about the gender or the species.” He winked at him. Gabriel rose an eyebrow. “But this body isn’t really yours, so yeah, moot point. That eliminates blood rituals too. Let me think.” He hummed, his face sporting a ridiculous pout. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, he clucked his tongue. “Found. Come on then, let’s do it like that. From the inside. Come in me, we’ll do it together from the inside.”
“Take care of Ein,” Gabriel said to Cenrix and Svipdagr. Although they didn’t answer vocally, he felt their grip on Einarr’s shoulders grow stronger. That was all he needed before turning his attention back to the amber eyes that were staring at him. “I need your consent.”
Loki’s face lit up with a big smile that went from one ear to the other. “Come on, archangel, take it. Take my body. You’ve got my consent.”
Gabriel didn’t need more to let go, glee rushing through him as he was back in his original form, not bounded by flesh, wings quivering as he stretched them for the first time in years. He watched his companions take Einarr away from Loki, helping him to walk to where Cenrix had let his cloak and coat. His vessel collapsed on it, limbs shaking and eyes not focused as he was struggling to take the reins of his body back.
“Come on, you beauty,” Loki muttered, eyes following the length of Gabriel’s superior-left wing. His body was quivering, covered in a sheen of sweat and he was panting. His hands twitched and he hissed when the chains bit into the flesh, moving as they were alive. They tightened around him. “Come on, you have my consent already, what are you waiting for?”
Gabriel’s wings flapped. It felt weird not to have a throat to take a deep inspiration anymore. Yes, that state was very temporary but he liked the human habit and it was kind of disappointing. It wasn’t time to dwell on that, though. The archangel’s braced himself, then finally dove down into the smug bastard.
The room was lit by a shimmering golden smoke that was just floating around. Coming from everywhere were silver lines, making a web around him. He brushed a few strands and they exploded into a thin powder. Images of a pale woman whose upper part of the head was nothing but a cloud of pure darkness came pouring into his memories. The pure love associated with her, and the proudness to have birthed such a goddess, strong and beautiful, who reigned alone on the domain that bore her name.
He looked away, passing a hand on his face. However, he stopped himself before he had completed the gesture, looking with amusement at the hand standing just a few inches from his face. Oh, that was weird. He didn’t remember having hands of his own. He bent the fingers with fascination, as if it was the first time he did that, feeling with wonder the muscles flex.
After that, he mapped the features of his visage, tracing the straight line of his nose with an index until he touched fine lips. A mouth that had power, he remembered. Over billions of beings, angels and humans. The sheer force of his speeches had provoked countless emotions—from love to hate and including the whole palette—began wars as well as brought salvation. He loved to play with and abuse of eloquence, because he was a deceiver and that was one of his strengths. Most of all because it was funny what a few well-chosen words could do to someone, be it humans, gods or angels.
He stroked his cheek, the softness of the hairs feeling wonderful, just like the sensation of his skin dimpling when he laughed at the idea he could just will the beard away with a thought. His fingers snapped along and he found himself liking the sound. He repeated the gesture a few times, modifying his facial hairiness just to hear it until he eventually settled for going bare-cheeked for the moment.
Somewhere on his left, a flicker caught his attention. He reached for it, plunging his hand into the mist. This time, he saw thousands years of pure perfection. The Host’s songs through his mind, and most of all, the voices of his three brothers and mate’s reaching out to him. That made him feel sad and nostalgic, even more when Lucifer and Michael, as vivid as if they were there began to fight. Syncing with the battle, the vision went sinister; a swirl of pain and screams, deaths and losses he had only been able to watch from afar. That was one of the most traumatic events of his long existence, far more than the wars his Dad had ordered him to lead.
When he stumbled, he was caught by the silvery filaments. He recalled the recent death of his sons, morphed into enraged wolves by the will of his own sworn-brother. Restrained by Baldur, he had watched them kill each other and had been forced to watch again, as they had woven their bowels into chains he couldn’t break.
More recollections flew to his mind as he passed through the maze, tearing bits of the web in its wake. Each, in their own way, more intense than the others. The birth of his proud Sleipnir as he was a mare, the bolt that had pierced a hole in one of his wings, cast by Lucifer. Playing with the cherubs, doing the dirty work the other Æsir didn’t want to do. Now that so many scenes came back to him, he realized he really had underestimated how fucked up his families would be, were. He had put his hands on his temples, like it would stop the dizziness.
That was when he felt them quiver, like they were trying to mirror his pain, their weight on his back new yet familiar. Three pairs of beautiful wings with iridescent watery feathers that would shift under his touch to mold themselves to his fingers. Awe filled him when he rubbed them until they took a more solid aspect, sending pleasant vibes through his body. He let his index run along the long bone and eventually grabbed its end. Then, he gently stretched his upper-right wing in front of him. The eyes reflected in it were of the same amber speckled with green that he had once grown to despise. The liquid golden reflects he could spot if he concentrated were new though. Just like the tiny veins of the same color running through the transparent flesh of his appendage; their glow was dimmed and distorted by layers of feathers but here nonetheless, if one was close enough.
There was some regret when he let it go to fold his wings. The comfortable way they settled against him was relieving after having them coiled around him for so long. He hoped he would be able to fly soon, it had been so long and he definitely needed some exercise, at least to test them. Moreover, humans’ means of transport were so boring and so long.
Speaking of which, he could hear voices, rippling through the darkness left by the clouds and webs—his memories he had figured, not that it was difficult to find when he was assaulted by them each time he touched one—he had already absorbed. The headache had receded now that he had found a way to deal with the recollections, classing them in mental boxes that he would examine later, not to be overwhelmed once again. For now, they were carefully packed, separated into white and red recipients, one color for each part of himself.
As he picked up the fragments of his lives, clearing the area around him, the callings went louder. It echoed all around, making something vibrate in him. However, it was only when there were two spheres left that he understood what the voices were saying. It was his names, both of them ushered by familiar timbres he had grown to appreciate during the last few years. And the globes, one was a concentrate of the golden smoke that had been there, small enough to fit in his palm. The other had the same size, but was a ball made of pulsing silvery threads.
As soon as he touched them, he knew that was what he had been searching all along, the core reason of his presence here. The key to his identity. He grabbed them with a childish eagerness, grinning from one ear to the other when he felt them melt against his skin and impregnate him with a light so bright it ached to look at it.
Gabriel—or maybe Loki, he wasn’t sure about it—gasped, his body shuddering as he came back to reality with a migraine that made him feel like his head had been stepped onto by a giant. When his vision came back, after he blinked a few times, Cenrix’s face was on his left, the red line barring his face a perfect curve because of his pursed lips. It didn’t stay that way for long, because as soon as he looked into the human’s hazel eyes, he grinned at him and stepped back.
He looked up and his face went instantly more serious. “I really hope you can get out of these binds: the goddess has gone out to empty the cup and here it comes again.” He gestured to the snake above him.
Loki-Gabriel rose an eyebrow, fairly amused. “Don’t worry, kiddo.”
He felt the movements of two energies when his grace touched the chains. There was his grace for sure, but also something else mixed into it. Whereas grace was nothing but the refined fluidity of a stream of pure water, the power—his seidr—was raw and harsh, much more savage, like a force of an enraged nature. Both felt familiar and new, a little wrong and right at the same time. Excitement and wonder pulsed through the archangel god’s veins, making him eager to test it.
The glyphs carved in the altar glowed, trying to push against his seidr to restrain it, Gabriel-Loki just countered with his grace, forcing his way with the delicacy of a berserker. A loud creak resonated in the cave, followed by the stone he was on collapsing and the chains dissolving into nothingness. Right, back to the black snake with his mouth gaping at venom already seeping from his fangs. Loki-Gabriel had always liked to be showy and, fortunately, that hadn’t changed. He rose his right hand, feeling with glee his seidr-grace concentrate on his fingers.
The animal was disintegrated and a smirking Loki-Gabriel turned to Cenrix. “You see, nothing to worry about. Now, where’re the others kids?”
“Ein’s really fucking weak right now, and the old man has been watching over you and him. They’re resting in the other cavern right now. Gramr’s with them.” Cenrix observed him curiously and Loki-Gabriel winked at him. The human passed a hand in his locks, sighing. “Gabriel or Loki, which one are you right now?”
Gabriel-Loki’s wings flapped behind his back. Pensive, he tilted his head on the side. That was an excellent question there. Who was he exactly? “I’m neither them, or I’m both of them. I have Loki’s body but I’m also sure I can take Gabriel’s original form if I want to. Look, I’ve the wings too, you can see them, right?” He spread them behind him with a proud grin. Cenrix wasn’t impressed though and Gabriel-Loki remembered he had already seen them years ago. Pity he couldn’t see what had changed, how they had become even more gorgeous than they already were. “I’ve got all their memories too. So yeah, you can say that I don’t know yet.”
“Okay. You’re really not helping there. What the fuck am I supposed to call you?”
“My archangel me is supposed to be in hiding, so let’s do the whole thing correctly. Call me Loki. Are you still willing to travel with me after?”
“Are you fucking kidding me? Did you really need to ask? You bet I’m still willing to travel with you, even more with that you!”
“Then, when we’re alone, you can call me Gabe.” Gabriel-Loki had always appreciated the abbreviation, which Cenrix was the only one to use to this day. “Let’s go meet the others. They absolutely have to see my new self.”
Cenrix watched him from head to toes, an eyebrow quirked the particularly grotesque mocking expression he reserved for when he thought Gabriel was being thick. Loki-Gabriel scowled at him, not appreciating how a mere human was laughing at him, even if it wasn’t the first time and he was somehow used to it.
He put his hands in the air in defeat, and proceeded to explain, “They don’t have to see you naked though. Snap some fucking clothes on and we’ll go.”