Of Fire and Ice

I’m taking it slow
Feeding my flame
Shuffling the cards of your game
And just in time
In the right place
Suddenly I will play my ace

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14. Chapter Fourteen

The morning was cold. Loki felt the ice creep into his bones the moment she left the bed. He had fallen asleep in his chambers in Asgard. He could still recall the scent of pine that burned in his nose and the feel of her body, hot against his. But when he woke, he found himself lying in that old shack on Midgard. The bed was uncomfortable, and the chill crept in through the floor so that even the stove that was still burning in the corner, was not enough to warm him.

It was an illusion, he told himself. The feel of cold against his skin. It was not real. That is what she told him the night before. Odin could not change him. Could not make him human. But he could make him believe it. And the first step in returning himself to his natural state was to fight the illusion. Relish in the cold. Allow it to consume him so that he could be whole again.

He didn’t know where Bridget was. He’d felt her leave the bed in the morning when the sun began to rise from beyond the small glass windows. He didn’t hear her return, but the fire continued to burn. He sat up and pressed his bare feet against the cracked and faded wooden floor. He almost wished that she had kept the illusion for him. So that he could wake in Asgard where he rightfully belonged. But it would not have been real, and he knew that she wanted him to see his reality. So that he could fight to change it.

She had left his clothes neatly folded on a chair beside the bed. He quietly put them on but refrained from covering himself with the coat she had given him. He needed to embrace the cold again. Even if it hurt his skin and ached his bones. It was not real. He moved toward the door and opened it to the outside.

There was no more snow on the ground. He hadn’t spent very long looking at the place she had brought him. But the shack itself had been built inside a meadow. The grass had gone to seed and bees and other insects buzzed around bushels of wildflowers. The trees were tall and green and the sky was vibrantly blue.

It was an illusion, he realized. It was too peaceful. Too perfect. And despite how it looked, he could still feel the cold. He stepped out onto the grass, feeling the wet dirt on his bare feet, and spotted her. She had her back to him again, but he knew now that he would not succeed in harming her. She knew he was there before he arrived.

Her hair had been released so that it hung around her shoulders in tight curls the color of blood. He remembered the night before when he’d pulled the pins out so that he could see it drape over her bare shoulders. Her skin had burned him, even in the illusion, and he still felt the effects of it across his chest and thighs from when he had slid into place between her legs.

He approached her from the side and stood still. She had her dark eyes open, scanning the forest for things that she was keeping hidden by her illusion.

“Where are we?” he asked her.

“Canada,” she replied.

“Show me.”

She glanced at him before nodding quickly. The illusion faded almost instantaneously. The sky darkened, covered by thick gray cloud. The trees dripped from the rain on their needles. Snow powdered the dirt and buried the seeded grass. There were no insects or sunshine. No birds sang. And the cold and wet washed over him as the dream faded.

“It’s beautiful in the spring,” she spoke. “I thought you might like to see it.”

“We should stick to what is real. It fuels my rage,” he explained. She nodded.

“I agree. Nothing will motivate you to strive for greatness quite like living in squalor.” He turned to her and looked at her face.

“Show me,” he repeated. She turned her dark eyes on him.

“Show you what?” she asked.

“Your face. Your real face.” She smiled lightly and returned to scanning the trees.

“What makes you think my face is an illusion, Prince?” He reached out to pinch her chin between his fingers, forcing her to look up at him.

“Because it is too perfect,” he explained. “Too beautiful.” She smiled again.

“You see? You are getting better. You can feel it now, can’t you? The magic?” He couldn’t feel it. He felt nothing but the chill and cold. But he did not want her to know that. So he nodded slowly.

“Show me,” he told her for the third time. She pulled from his grasp and took a step back. Then she placed her hands over her face.

“It has been so long since I’ve shown my true face,” she explained from behind her hands. “You want to see what Odin did to me when he sent me away? What he did to a blameless child?”

“I want to see.”

She moved her hands over her face, removing the illusion she wore as a permanent feature. The right side of her face remained unchanged, but the left morphed, showing him the large scar that started from her chin and curved through her eye and into her hair. She was lucky that her eye had been left unharmed, but the scar was gruesome. A scar left by magic so that it could never leave her. He had seen scars like these before and he knew they would ache until death. He also knew it was not a scar, but a brand. A mark Odin had left on her face so that others would know her as a traitor to Asgard.

“What did you do to deserve such a mark?” he asked. She smiled. It was crooked now. The scar left part of her face numbed so that her lips could not curve the way he had seen in her illusion.

“I was born,” she explained. “Born of Asgard and Muspelheim.”

“Muspelheim?” he questioned. He stepped forward. “Then I understand Odin’s choice to mark you as a traitor.” He reached up and touched his thumb to the end of the scar on her chin. He dragged his finger up the length of it, gently touching her eyelashes, and stopping just below her hairline. “Fire demon,” he murmured. She nodded. “I should have known. Your mother?”

“My mother was of Asgard. She dedicated her life to sorcery and magic. I was conceived in love. And my mother had no choice but to hide me away. And when Odin learned the truth, he could not allow us to stay in Asgard. She branded us and cast us out.”

“You said your mother wants to return home.”

“Asgard is her heart. She wants to be free.”

“And you?”

“I have no home. I do not belong to Asgard or Muspelheim. My father’s other children will not count me as one of their own. Asgard will not have me.”

“You wish to remain here? On Midgard?” She stepped away again and waved her fingers as she turned her back to him. Grass began to sprout through the snow until there was nothing left of it. The illusion returned, showing him the meadow in early spring again. Where bees buzzed and flowers bloomed.

“Midgard is my home,” she explained to him. “They worshiped me once. They built me shrines, brought me offerings. They loved me. But the world grew fearful and they shunned me. I went into hiding. And I was able to stay happy that way—for a while. But the world changed and grew. They developed technologies and wars and they began to exploit people like me. I helped build Extremis to save people, and they destroyed it. That is what humanity does. They take, they control, and they destroy.”

“I would have ruled them.” She turned back around and smiled. The scar had disappeared from her face, leaving the perfectly symmetrical one behind. The smile curved perfectly even on both sides. Lovely, but untrue.

“And you would have done a wonderful job of it,” she remarked. “Had you not failed so miserably.” His jaw clenched and he gritted his teeth. She laughed then. “Oh Prince, do not be angry with me,” she said as she spun around in the meadow. The false sun shone on her hair and lit it up like a halo of fire. “I think you should have aimed higher. You could never have gained control of Midgard. Asgard is where you belong. On a throne of gold. You rule Asgard. You rule the nine realms. You would rule Midgard and Muspelheim and all that lies between.”

“And you will have Midgard?”

“I do not want Midgard. I want a severed head. I already told you that.” He stepped forward and grasped her hand, stopping her from spinning in the grass. Thunder rolled through unseen clouds from above. He could not see them, but it was a break in her illusion.

“Listen,” she whispered. “Open your mind and listen.”

He did as she said, holding his tongue, and hiding his suspicion that she wanted more than just Odin’s head. She moved her hand to the side of his face, sliding her burning fingers into his hair. He could feel her cup the shell of his ear. The birds went silent. The bees no longer buzzed. Though he could see the meadow in spring, he could hear the rain dripping from wet pine trees. He could hear the cold place she was hiding from him. And beyond that, he made out the sound of a raven, squawking through the forest. She smiled.

“Odin’s spies,” she told him. “They are looking for us.”

 

Thank you guys for being patient with this story. I still have every intention of finishing it and I still love it, but it keeps getting pushed aside. I'm trying to force myself to complete it now so hopefully I'll have regular updates again soon. We're getting there!

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