Eight for the Wish

October 03, 2018:

Angela chases Loki through a very magical and very complicated ritual. The two play a small game and make a deal that will surely kill at least a few gods.

A merry chase

Characters

NPCs: KITE MAN HELL YEAH

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"I trust you can find me. You are a hunter, aren't you?"

And that was the last Angela would ever see or hear from Loki the Trickster, hunger slaked upon a mountain of waffles and business thusly concluded.

At least, of course, until she saw and heard from Loki the Trickster again. Because Loki's tales are nothing if not a loving study in blatant contradictions and bemusing complication.

And so we bring to you today the straightforward and simple story of how Loki and Angela once more met.

~CHAPTER ONE: THE MERRY CHASE

It should be rightly noted before our tale begins that tracking tricksters when they do not wish to be tracked is a tricky proposition. And the concept of the realms' greatest hunter tracking its greatest trickster, then, is not all that dissimilar from the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Which is which does not really make much nevermind for the particulars of this parable; what matters is the paradox. Because the things that occur in the cracks of the impossible are where the magic truly happens.

It starts, as most good mysteries do, with a rumor. A clue, a scent. Whatever particular genre jargon you wish to apply, it leads, ultimately, to the seventh warehouse of Pier 77. Rumors tell they've seen a young woman with black hair and burning green eyes enter this place, only to find no one inside when they investigate. Like a ghost.

Like a trick.

It is here that Angela would discover not Loki, but a parliament of eight magpies, building a home of straw and detritus upon the warehouse support beams.

The eighth of them looks upon Angela, shouts "FEAR!" in the language of birds,

and promptly explodes with all due haste.

As the seven flee, as their nest was so rudely sullied, they leave behind something that glimmers within the pile of straw and plastic and hollow bone and giblets: a keycard.

Simple investigation into the name on the card within the mythical tomes of one's search engine of choice reveals the card leads to a suite at the Hotel Belle Monico in Gotham City. And a fine suite it is to be sure, save for the presence of a truly consternated bilgesnipe, who promptly seeks to messily murder anyone who enters. Sly negotiations or straightforward slaughter (for the bilgesnipe, very enraged and also not understanding of the language of man, made for a difficult party with which to parley) brings swift dispatch to the legacy of the beast, and while it does not easily explain the why's and how's of why and how a bilgesnipe would and could rent a hotel room in Gotham, certainly stranger things have happened; what it does do is yield a beautifully encrusted fabergé egg lodged within the throat of the monster, studded with seven black diamonds and one large, brilliant emerald to dominate its gilded glories.

The egg seems to hold no secrets, nor does it provide any obvious hints as to its owner or their location; it does, however, tempt the eye of Gotham's rakish rogues —

"KITE MAN!"

— who swiftly sweeps in to swipe the eggish bounty and soar away.

"Hell yeah!"

Catching him might well be a difficult task. After all, his kite glider carries him at speeds of well over a tiny fraction of the speed of lightning. But should Angela, in the ensuing negotiations or potential begging for lives or simple shakedowns, she might well find the only possession on the man (aside from his poached egg) is little more than a card. A card that leads to —

NEW YORK CITY — AGAIN!

— because a merry chase is not a merry chase if it does not involve a tedium's worth of back and forth.

The card leads to a vast, magical library beneath Studio 54. An institution that lies beneath an institution. A parliament of seven magpies waits for Angela at its entrance. They watch warily as if concerned engaging her might make another of their number feel the distinct urge to rupture anew. Within, a shriveled, small Librarian with a look of such stern character it suggests she is not one to be lightly trifled with, will direct Angela with that aforementioned stern silence to rows of books within the back. She'll have to find what she's looking for there, amidst those countless tomes:

A book with a well-aged spine, nestled between a copy of Le Mythe de Sisyphe and The Tale of Orpheus and Erudices his Quene.

A book with no name. As if it were daring any who found it:

Would you know more?


And that was the last Angela would ever see or hear from Loki the Trickster, eyes narrowing as her bendy-horned prey slowly but surely escaped by casually walking out of the Waffle House.

At least, of course, until you heard the story of how Angela found the tears of Manshoor's cursed princess hidden at the bottom of the royal ocean,

and how she tracked the living soot of the last burned vampire across the martyr stars,

and how she rescued Calcrina's lodestone-beast when the king of the mountain gnawers took her to world where there is only stone,

then perhaps you will understand why chapter one comes next.

~CHAPTER ONE: THE MERRY CHASE

Angela knew that she had to come at this hunt sideways. Magicians are more like deer than they'd ever like to admit. If they run for long enough they will eventually lie down in the cool tall grass. If you find the place where the cool tall grass isn't tall anymore, then you can approach them how they like to be approached and running will never quite occur to them. Don't walk directly toward them. Don't make eye contact. Approach a little strangely, a little slowly, and soon you'll be close enough to share a meal.

Angela is known by now in New York's occult underground. Anyone who has accomplished the things she has done and required as many services in return as she has demanded leaves an impression. As ever, the natural imperiousness of the one-time daughter of a handmaiden encourages her acquaintances to make little gestures to please her. Information comes quickly. Even people who know the value of words sometimes find them easy to give away.

Angela stands in the seventh warehouse of Pier 77, looking up at the scattering feathered congregation, who have left behind the feathers of their just-now-missing eighth member. As she reaches out to pluck one of the flutter-falling pieces out of the air to study it, a pretty ribbon swims through the air and returns to her mistress with a keycard wrapped in tow.

"I knew there was one too many of you," she murmurs.

The bilgesnipe comes crashing out of the bathroom — likely the closest thing to a bilge here that it could find — when Angela securely plants herself in the center of the hotel room. She was going to get a feel for the place. Instead, the bilgesnipe gets a feel for her, which goes roughly in the order of claws and teeth on her until it's her arms around its neck.

After every last piece of furniture in the apartment is smashed into pieces, Angela sits atop her defeated foe, who will sadly not be a trophy due to the extreme remoteness of her trophy room, while she considers the fabergé egg she found in its throat. It certainly explains some of the orneriness. Angela continues to consider the egg outside of the hotel, where there is a much smaller chance of running into hotel employees who are displeased with the mess they have found.

And, as you know by now, Kite Man was very pleased.

"I mislike this city," says Angela.

Angela was not very pleased.

This, if you're cross-referencing this scene from the later adventures of Angela and Kite Man, is where Angela traded that egg to Kite Man in return for his card and very, very generous catalog of favors that she would then call on to great effect later on. Seeing as how you're cross-referencing, you should now return to your own story and leave the present readers to follow Angela back to

NEW YORK CITY — AGAIN!

Angela stares down the parliament of seven magpies. Informing them in the language of birds that she was absolutely not to blame for the late number eight exploding does nothing to lessen the mutual tension between the two, but it does reveal that Angela has a lovely capacity for whistling.

From there, it's one truncated conversation with a librarian — as Angela has found most conversations with librarians to be no matter where in the universe she is — before the Queen of All Hunters comes to find a book that is descriptively nondescriptive, held up by Sisyphe and Orpheus, presumably while Erudices watches because she is indisposed by a plot contrivance.

Angela narrows her eyes at the book. It does not casually walk out of the Waffle House doors, but of course she can't see any bendy horns on it either. She reaches for it.

Because she would know more.


And so know more would she.

The book is taken. Outside, in a small literary diversion known as foreshadowing, the seven-once-eight parliament look amongst their reduced numbers and fly away. Their story is not yet over, and indeed there was a grand adventure yet waiting in their immediate future — immediate, of course, because magpies are not especially long-lived and possess a well-documented tendency towards tragically exploding — but that is a story to be told another time, and we dare not risk invoking the terrible curse of spoilers save for sly winking reference and well-placed teasers.

Ominous it is to be sure; but it has little to do with the blank book being borrowed by the Queen of Hunters, so here we focus our attention once more. And blank it is: the cover, while lovingly dusted by the fond caress of entropy, is otherwise devoid of any distinguishing features. No author. No dedications. No summary. Within, all the pages are similarly aged, and similarly empty.

Here lies a story old as time, yet to be told. A paradox.

Where the magic happens.

And as she looks, Angela will find but one page that looks both freshly written and yet also feels as if it must have existed on that lone, marked page for a very long time in a lonely existence of ink paired with no partners amongst the pages.

Here, for the hunter's hunting gaze and her gaze alone, lies a nursery rhyme some centuries old, written in an ink that has persevered for millennia longer.

Scented with a trickter's trail.

One for the sorrow,
Two for the mirth.

Three for the funeral,
And four for the birth.

Five for the silver,
Six for the gold.

Seven for the secret,
Never to be told.

And thereupon it ends, and would mayhap stay that way, forever denying the truth. But isn't it unusual, how the last lines draw the eye? Wouldn't it be interesting, to just stare at them and wonder?

Let's take another look.

Seven for the secret,
Never to be told.

Let's wonder, over the mystery.

seven for the secret

And perhaps take a little journey into the heart of it.

s e c r e t

Until the black ink of the text is all that can be seen, and where even hunters can find themselves tumbling into the greatest mysteries of them all —

—the ones never to be told.

~CHAPTER 2: SEVEN FOR THE SECRET

The one story of the empty book opens up a world within the ink of the scribe. Angela will find herself tumbling through the possibilities until that voice cuts through.

Until she finds herself comfortably situated beneath the glare of a spotlight, surrounded by featureless black.

And there he waits, of course, as tricksters are wont to do when they are being hunted. Seated on a storied perch of seven magpies chipped from stone, because the subtleties of symbolism pale in comparison to the grandeur of hammering them squarely on one's nose, sits the God of Mischief, waiting with a smile and gloriously bendy horns for the Queen of Hunters fated to track him down.

Ill-fated, or well-fated?

Well, we certainly don't know that yet, do we?

"I was starting to suspect you might not come."

Because this is a tale still being told.

"There are really very few guarantees in life."


Angela leafs through the pages. After the first few prove blank, she adjusts her search: first flipping through quickly to establish the amount of blankness involved before going back for a closer assessment.

This is not needed. There is only one page of note. After reaching the end of the book, Angela opens it again to the only letters that she saw.

The closer assessment does nothing to change her mistrustful expression.

Angela reaches into the knowledge of poetry that she carries, which is predominantly the result of Sera's influence. It is clear sense that Sera's words are the key to saving her. She has always been her very own justification.

The first two couplets are played internally against each other. The contents of the third are merely related. The fourth breaks scheme to draw an ending. Down the line, arranged on the page as a stairstep, yields sorrow, funeral, silver, secret, and mirth, birth, gold, told. Between the two, Sera is the one kept in sorrow and death, and she has worn nothing but white since banished to Hel, which is close enough to silver for art's sake. Angela's armor and weapons are proudly gold, and her birth was marked by misfortune, and though she would hardly characterize herself as mirthful, her deeds are told of widely. Sera was kept in the shadows by the Anchorites, and now by Hela. She kept a secret from the Anchorites, and now one from Hela.

But is there a secret to freeing her? Even a secret that is never told may be known, if the circumstances are arranged correctly. Angela racks her brain for Sera's words: what secrets might Hel's imprisonment yet hold?

And then the enchantment upon the word secret begins to draw Angela into a pocket dimension.

"Oh, bad form!"

Angela traded for that complaint well in advance.

~CHAPTER 2: SEVEN FOR THE SECRET

Angela does not land roughly. It takes more than an endless void with no visible places to stand to throw her off balance. She lands with grace that befits the spotlight, standing before the magpie throne. Her head tilts upward along the avian length of the thing until it comes to its only very vaguely avian master. Her stoicism absorbs this, too, even that the master is a master.

"I make guarantees."

Angela cares not for the spotlight. She steps forward, closer.

"There is nothing that can keep me from what I seek."


And thus did Angela fall into a well-worn parable: sometimes overthinking your literary analysis can find you little more than a touch lost.

Unless, of course, she hasn't thought through her analysis enough.

The perils of literary critique. Perhaps now Angela understands Sera's many deep and abiding struggles*.

(*Assistant Editor's note: and, of course, she ought to take a moment to observe also how remarkable it is the fair maiden has only grown in charm and beauty in spite of these tribulations.)

Regardless, losing one's path on the road to thematic interpretation sometimes yields unexpected benefits. See now the subject of Angela's stoic merry chase, now slumped like a contented cat upon a throne of birds, cheek propped upon palm, virid gaze bright against the otherwise dark overcast of this nothing buried in a secret never told. His expression is expectant, of course, the look of someone waiting for some wonder they have anticipated for a very long time and now seem content to simply and placidly abide for.

I make guarantees, claims Angela, with statuesque certainty.

"Of course you do," agrees Loki, with slumping sedation.

"They're the easiest thing of all to make."

With that, he pulls himself upward along his throne, stretching in a way that invites our dear readers to imagine he'd probably been settled into that pose for a very long time waiting to welcome Angela in just the perfect way. It's the same way his brows perfectly soften to evince a sympathy that is not asked for nor needed when he says thus,

"But you've been kept once already, haven't you?"

His hands fall towards his lap. If the gesture calls attention to the Asgardian regalia that adorns him and in so doing inspires the reader to recall a scene previous wherein a story was spun of an magpie exchanging a loaner of a sort for a hunter and her maiden's secrets, well, that's certainly not the God of Mischief's fault.

"I think you might have gotten a very wrong impression of me, however," he continues on staunchly through these particularly subtle callbacks, head tilting towards the right as he straightens on his perch. "And I'd really like us to start things off on the right foot, because I see the material in the making for a great partnership between the two of us. True buddied cops, as the mortals say! You very much have the look about you of one greatly too old for this shit."

And so, he smiles bright. With promise. A real loose cannon's smile, you could say, if you wanted to invite the obvious comparison that he himself has already generously invoked. And so the Riggs to Angela's Murtaugh in the making leans forward, just so.

"So let's make a deal. An exchange of questions and answers. No lies or logical impossibilities. As honest as is possible for our type. You needn't worry — this place was designed away from the unwanted attentions of voyeuristic gods.

"It's why I placed it in a library."

The corners of his lips hint upwards.

"What do you say?"


Angela makes an unerring line for the base of Loki's throne. She stops not quite upon it, but just before, which serves her better as one needs a certain angle to properly leap up and seize someone with the correct mixture of force and alacrity.

If the slump means a displeasing answer, Angela does not seem to care. If the stretching hints at an important character trait, Angela does not seem to make great show of studying it. Loki speaks, Angela listens. More importantly, Angela watches.

She remembers her script. The regalia was very clearly put on the mantelpiece. But, of course, so was a magpie.

The next collection of moments will be remembered by fans of this series in numerous gifv sets detailing the first full-throated meeting between that lovable law enforcement duo, Angela and Loki: Divinity Division. Some people will try to get away with a single image representing the totality and duration of Angela's glare, while others will rebelliously find subtle nuance across countless moments.

Loki hints at a smile. Angela's scowl is plain to see.

Sera is reckless. That she trusted this person does not indicate his trustworthiness. Angela is still out of options and rapidly abusing the grace of time.

"Questions and answers," she says. "A set for a set. To that I agree."


There are certain narrative beats you learn to recognize, when you're subjected to them often enough. For example:

'The Lord of Thunder, fed up with Loki's antics, marches unerringly towards his trickster sibling and stops just before him, to better serve his needs for a certain angle to properly smite him mightily with his hammer.'

or, for cross reference:

'The All-Father, having grown weary of a child that can't even properly smite things mightily with a hammer, marches unerringly towards his trickster charge and stops just before him, to better serve his needs to strike him down with the proper mixture of fatherly disappointment and Odin-Force.'

as compared to:

'Angela makes an unerring line for the base of Loki's throne. She stops not quite upon it, but just before, which serves her better as one needs a certain angle to properly leap up and seize someone with the correct mixture of force and alacrity.'

Such that, when subjected to the hints of these narrative beats, you see the figurative writing on the wall writ large. And also a remarkable deal of similarities. And you make preparations for them.

To wit: you do not mention the fact that the angel full of the wrath and the wonder reminds you strikingly of your adoptive father, lest you wish to be struck.

And this is the side-story of how Loki the Liesmith avoided one alternatively messy ending in this tale.

Potentially. After all, the ink is not yet dry.

Other preparations are less obvious. One would think the appropriate response to such a show of unerring and determined threat of force would be to shirk away. Wonder now, then, over why Loki might instead choose to hold his ground, seated upon his seven magpies, green eyes staring directly into the unswerving whites of Angela's, as the plain defiance of her scowl both complementing and contradicting the subtleties of his own expression inspire a more blatant, amiable grin from him in turn.

"Ah, see? Right there! We're the makings of a most fabled of memes, the two of us!"

One might wonder, too, over why he makes remarks which make no contribution to the narrative of avoiding his imminent smiting —

But an artist needs their flourishes.

And so does Loki carefully navigate his way to a deal. A proposition of mutual benefit. Perhaps one moreso than the other, depending on how the game is played, but what is that if not negotiation? To that I agree, says Angela.

"Wonderful! I was worried things were about to get very disagreeable. You have a much better disposition than most I have the ill-fortune of parleying with."

And with that, the trickster snaps his fingers.

"A question for a question. An answer for an answer. Let's begin then, shall we?"

Emerald sparks between the digits, as the black of the world shifts and wobbles like ink being dipped into to craft a world with words.

"There's quite a bit I already know, of course, courtesy of my most lonesome BFF of Hel. I won't dismay you with a recap — that's ground well-tread already. Let's move on to something more fresh fresh." And, indeed, the world around them reshapes into a compelling recreation of the cracked and decayed maw leading to the darker depths of Hel before their eyes as Loki speaks. Creating a world with words, each one giving greater shape to the scenario that surrounds them.

"My first question: You've been to Hel. Now you're back. How, exactly, did you fail to save her the first time, Queen of the Hunt?"


Angela, being from a completely different narrative tradition entirely (yet one that suspiciously includes Scarborough Fair somewhere in its canon), is unaware of the symbolic weight that is present in the perception her approach.

Of course, she is aware that someone like her getting into someone like Loki's smiting space is an aggressive gesture. Not being in smiting range is an aggressive gesture for anyone facing numerous varieties of wizards, witches, and warlocks, so it's really all a tradeoff, as all things in life must inherently be.

For the positive benefit of both their health, Odin is not mentioned here.

Angela makes no reply to the idea of memes — Loki, unlike Sera, has not earned the token 'I am aware of these memes' — in either voice or expression. The corners of her lips do turn ever so slightly downward at the snap of Loki's finger. The world around Angela swirls and shifts and exudes shadow. She does not need to look around to know what specter has visited her, and yet her gaze wanders as she turns her head to look out into the hel(l)ish distance.

She must look. She must show herself. She must remember her failure. Clearly, by the pointedness of Loki's question, he agrees. Angela gives a sharp, dismissive exhale through her nose at the title he teases her with. Moments pass as she chooses her wording.

To tell truth, she…

To tell truth.

"The laws of Hel do not permit me to remove Sera without her first being freed from the same laws. I must depose Hela. I…"

Angela narrows her eyes. Her thoughts briefly leave her.

"I was beset by Hela's guardians. I left in order to gather the necessary resources to accomplish my promise."

Yes. That is what happened. She recalls now. Angela turns her head again, glaring back at Loki. This is a situation in which she, as stoic as she is, cannot do anything but glare.

"Tell me in fullness what you hope to gain by aiding Sera and myself."

Angela does not trust easily. To hear it from Loki's own lips might be repetition, but it is a kind of legal assurance — if he later proves himself a liar to what he says here, perhaps the smiting will cease being merely a glib comparison, and with the weight of due process.


The world is ink. Their questions and answers, the quill. The question of the God of Mischief sets the stage.

And the answer of the Queen of All Hunters gives form to her failings.

A tableau is scrawled out from the ether as Angela speaks, her narration the architecture by which the world around them comes to life with violence. Panel by panel it shows, with a spartan simplicity and clarity that could only come from the inspiration of Angela's economic choice of words, a painted smudge of armor and wild red hair pointing a weapon directly at a woman seated upon a throne and bedecked with a most fabulous of headdresses. A scuffle proves the redheaded warrior truly tenacious, but ultimately ill-prepared for the wonders of the queen's many-horned splendors, as many oft find themselves when boldly challenging the inevitability of death.

Respectful listener as he is, Loki Laufeyson watches with rapt silence until Angela's story comes to an end with the sight of innumerable forces of Hel summarily tossing out their trespasser like a drunk ejected from a bar before all else smears away but the lost and adrift warrior.

Halted, but not deterred.

If one of those guardians of the Queen of Hel proclaims "durr, stay outta Hel!" before they go, well.

Perhaps that was just a delightful bout of creative interference. Can you blame him? It could use a bit of spice.

Eventually, the warrior too fades, as she must; this part of her story is over, after all. Failure confronted, and remembered. And all it leaves is the wingless angel and the outcast god, one glaring and the other… pensive.

"Mm," exhales Loki, staring off into the bleak ink as he feels the stern white of Angela's stare weigh upon him. "I suppose you tried your best, at least."

He doesn't pose it as a question, of course, because that would just be rude. After all, he already used his.

And with the story told, succinct as it was, the next question is posed. What, exactly, does Loki hope to gain?

"Unexpected opportunity. You know, most of us who even know your kind exist consider you something of a myth? Your specific kind, of course. The All-Father was quite severe with his smitings if he caught anyone discussing you all at any length. He's really very good at those. But there's ways to learn, if you know where to look." The ink smears, spooling and reforming into the sight of YOUNG LOKI, wide eyes brimming with - of course - youthful innocence as he holds several books close to his chest labeled 'SECRET THINGS ODIN FORBIDS YOU FROM KNOWING.'

There are vague sounds like temperamental shouting before YOUNG LOKI bravely and innocently runs off, with a cantankerous librarian of Asgard hot in pursuit.

"… Of course, stories are stories, and there is as much truth to them as they are lies. So imagine my surprise when, during a foray into Hel," the reasons for which not presently important to our current narrative, "what do I discover, but…"

The world swirls as the God of Lies slides off of his throne. The setting once more shifts towards Hel — but this time, somewhere far deeper, forgotten, disconnected. A deep, dark place. And there, in the only cell in this lone chamber sits its singular occupant.

ENTER Sera, exiled angel, speaking to great length to the emphatic chirps of a magpie perched upon the bars of her cell. It's hard to say what they're talking about in this ink-smeared replication, though the words 'Ziggy Stardust' might just be made out over the sound of Loki's voice as his answer continues.

"… something I was forbidden from knowing."

He walks. And as he does, the ink ripples around him, distorting the image of Sera and her talkative magpie friend as the trickster circles the setting with a critical eye.

"I had a plentiful amount of questions, of course. Your Sera has a way of spinning stories I quite enjoy. And you were so often the hero of the stories she wove, I felt like I knew you before I even knew you. And because of that, I felt that we could strike up a rapport. A mutually beneficial business relationship, if you will. A deal for a deal."

An answer for a question.

"There's opportunity to be had in disrupting the order of how things are supposed to be. There's opportunity to be had in knowing things that aren't meant to be known, and accessing places that weren't meant to be accessed. But you need something. I want a few things. I will play the medium, the guide, and help you rescue something that should be impossible to rescue, and you will give me something in return. A transaction."

The formation of a verbal contract. It might well be easier to trust a deal, after all, than a sentiment.

"Besides the warm, fuzzy feeling I'll doubtless get when I rescue who has become my very best of besties, of course."

His hand waves. And that imagery wipes away, the sight of Sera in heated debate drizzling down into the blank slate of black once more.

"You were rebuked. They'll doubtless expect you again. What is your plan this time?"


It did not quite happen like this. Angela turns away from the painterly strokes of imitated memory. She does not grudge Loki his artistic whimsies, for she knows that anyone so dramatic as to summon up an evocative set piece for a simple exchange of information must find ways to entertain themselves.

Oh, does she know this.

("Durr, stay outta Hel!" behind Angela. Angela narrows her eyes at Loki. One would think that she couldn't press her lips into a thinner or straighter line, but Angela always has another resource to play.)

"I am still trying," she asserts in a low, near-growl reply. She is unwilling to cede this point to editorial interpretation.

Angela stays fixed in her spot, and by this way she has the God of Being Loki trapped in his throne. It would take something clever to make her abandon her watch. When Loki begins to speak, before the world changes anew, Angela learns what it will be with a sinking feeling in her throat.

She only hears Loki slide from his throne because she has already permitted her gaze to seek the prize she knows hides in that dark. She hesitates, balance off center, foot in the air, and then finally takes that unsure step forward. There's a chirping — Angela knows what part of the story this is —

Sera, exiled angel. Angela watches in silence. She would look impassive if Loki had nothing with which to compare. Compared to the fierceness of which she is capable, Angela's face drained of emotion may as well be an emotion itself. This delicate, fleeting moment vanishes as easily as Loki ripples the memory with his passing, which brings hardness to her eyes and mouth once more.

Loki dispels the dream. Angela's chest rises and falls with a single, slow, deep breath.

"You did not answer my question," she says. "You want several things. I ask you again. In fullness: what do you hope to gain?"

Angela's brow knits further together. She must have what she is owed.

"Or is your opportunism too open-ended for this?"


"Typically, I like to keep things open to interpretation."

And in that much, Loki is nothing if not honest.

But Angela's answer is one that elicits the faintest quirk of the trickster's brow all the same. Wisps of things that were twine around his fingertips in their dwindling dissipation as he turns himself to face Angela fully, meeting the hardness of her stare where once it was so utterly emptied. His head tilt to his left, like the curious cant of a bird's.

"And usually questions and answers aren't the ideal place for striking a deal. But this is far from a typical situation, is it? So we can flex the rules a little bit, I suppose." With the twirl of his finger through the air, the scenario shifts.

"I wasn't lying," explains the God of Lies. "I have sympathy for your plight. I know what it's like, you know. To be exiled. Unwanted. Reviled. Cursed for what you are." His brows knit inward, here. For someone so prone to the most sly of smiles, it is a brief fracture in that glib mask, inscrutable in its contents save for being so briefly mired in thought before his amiability reasserts itself like the snap of a rubberband.

"But I'll get down to the meat of it. What I want is a favor for a favor. I have the knowledge and means to help navigate you through Hel. I have secured a few little helpers who have intimate knowledge of Hel," black swirls to form into a four-legged, fire-breathing hel-pup of calamity, yipping obscenities as he bounds past Angela with the energetic and sadistic eagerness only said hel-pup could bring to bear, "through me we have access to our very own inside woman." Footage is not found here, because it is already well-tread ground. "And I can ensure we arrive there outside the watchful eyes of Asgard's more voyeuristic membership. While we're there, I intend to access to Hel's records of the dead when all is said and done. The why isn't important for now; suffice to say, it won't affect anything for yourself or for Sera. And, as for the favor…"

And the familiar sight of Black Berserkers emerge, somehow distinguishing themselves from the indistinguishable darkness. Simulations. Specters.

"Gorr the God Butcher. You're going after him, I assume, because he has something you want. He has something I'm interested in as well, but I'll be much to busy toiling away here to get it myself."

Those Berserkers all break down at once before coalescing together, forming one long, black blade of anti-light. Even simulated, it still somehow feels cold.

"I'll help you and Sera overthrow Hela. And in exchange, I would like you to retrieve Gorr's weapon for me."


Angela's eyes widen as a terrible energy flares up within her, all summoned up by Loki's kind offer to flex the rules. Her posture tenses, muscles subtly working to coil her wrath, but it is a quick thing and afterward she is still and silent and that is very hard to take as a reason to stop a monologue.

And so she listens. She listens to Loki baring a tiny little crack of his soul. She listens to the array of fabulous help he has collected to dissolve away all her most intractable problems. She listens to the simplicity of the payment: something almost entirely what she already planned to do.

Angela listens, and she does not yield. What a cold creature to show abrasive indifference to a bounty such as this.

The illustrative illusions fade away, blurring into each other and condensing down. They draw a line, black and hungry, between Angela and Loki. The edges do not gleam, but the thin bleakness of it seems sharp all the same.

Angela glances down. Her eyes, a bleakness of a different kind, travel the length of the imagined weapon. The hilt ends and Loki begins, and soon Angela has returned her attention to him. It is difficult to tell what part of this displeases her until she makes it clear.

"Do not imply that I am bending the rules unless you are prepared to defend your assertion," she says in all but a hiss. "Truth does not coyly omit itself to wait for a narratively fitting moment."

The quiet that comes next is tense, even as Angela allows her posture to return to normal. She studies Loki anew, perhaps deciding what to do with him.

"We will discuss your bargain at a later time. We have not finished our prior exchange." Angela pauses briefly to indicate the shift from explanation to… well, it's her turn to answer, isn't it?

"I have acquired the services of several capable pagan deities. I have also persuaded a human scientist to assist in the creation of a novel dimensional gateway device. This device will be unexpected by Asgardian defenses and will allow my cohort to strike with precision. When I am rid of interference from Hel's guardians, I will be free to slay Hela myself."


Truth does not coyly omit itself to wait for a narratively fitting moment.

In the darkness of their literary-ensconced pocket dimension, Loki Laufeyson hefts a single brow. He remains in similar, stark silence, as if to let that statement stew and stand on its own. A narratively oblique moment where anything might well happen. There might well have been a version of this story wherein differences could not be resolved and violence commenced forthwith and magic and stabbing implements were arrayed in manners most fantastic.

But maybe that is why Loki merely defuses the situation with a deferential smile.

"Well," muses the trickster, in the waning moments of that terse tension. "I'll concede the first. The second…

"We'll just have to agree to disagree and leave the lively debate for later."

Perhaps a more narratively fitting moment.

Where the angel's posture relaxes back to a standard level of stoicism, though, Loki's seems to remain steadfastly studious. The keen green of his eyes study the hunter as much as the bleak whites of hers had done not moments earlier. An echo of reactions, if not for reasons wholly different. Inquisitive warmth (of a sort) to bleak coldness (of another sort).

"So your intention is brute force?" wonders Loki on the heels of Angela's answer, arms crossing at his midsection as he leans back. If his throne was not there before, it is now thanks to the conveniences of mutable frameworks, allowing him to rest his back against the arm of it. A human scientist, she says, and that elicits the faint touch of a thoughtful frown to Loki's lips. "But you won't be able to overcome Hela or conquer her realm through overwhelming force alone, no matter how suddenly or precisely you strike. Hel is memory. Its foundations fluid and built upon the spiritual framework of the gods. You'll need to understand exactly what that means, and how those rules work, if you are going to get what you want." And for all his whimsy, the trickster's expression is nothing if not serious.

"And you must venture into Hel this time prepared to upend a narrative, not a person. Upend rules."

His right hand lifts, fingers extended one by one, as if to list those very conceits.

"'Sera is alone. Sera is dead. What is dead must stay dead, and all life must eventually follow. There is no saving the damned.'"

Arms spread, palms facing forward. "Though of course, if you're suitably prepared for that, then good show! In either case, do you have more questions for me, I wonder?"


The silence following Loki's denouement of the clash suggests that the lively debate will indeed be left for later.

That is, if another lively debate doesn't spring up in its place. Is that functionally the same, or qualitatively different enough to count? Angela gives Loki no easy cues for his wonderings and thoughtfulnesses, but this is something with which Loki has had time to become accustomed. If the true nature of Hel surprises Angela, she gives no indication. Where in the game of questions and answers do questioning looks deserve answering expressions?

"I am no stranger to the demesnes of divinity," she says, with a tone that flatly denies any possibility of a good show.

Angela once more turns her attention away to look out through the darkness. This place, hidden in a book hidden in a library hidden in riddle, has given her glimpses of things that Loki reaches for with agile fingers. The blade is conjured once more in her mind, waiting as it is, a sickness at the beginning of time.

When you learn how Angela traveled to the world that came before time was time and stole the sword of Gorr the God Butcher to pay the God of Lies…

Angela's gaze turns down. The story starts as fantastical as any other. But it won't start, not at all, without lips to sing it.

Her voice, quiet: "When do I see Sera again?"


There is a story. Old as time. Older even. As long as death was inescapable, as long as love was burning.

One day, a hero lost someone precious to them, someone irreplaceable. They carried on, empty and lesser, because who they lost was their own heart, and without them, the hero could never feel complete again. And so the hero, unable to accept that death was inescapable, vowed to bring their lost heart back, no matter how long it took, no matter how futile the endeavor might be. Because they made a promise. Because their love still burned.

The hero's story was a grand one. A tragic one. A triumphant one. Of courage and loss and the bargains we make for the things most important to us in this world.

And the things we are willing to bargain with.

It is a story old as time. Older even. But the ink is still so very fresh. And it all began with one simple exchange:

When do I see Sera again?

And a trickster's hand extends in offering to the hero. A bargain. A promise.

His voice, encouraging: "Very, very soon."


Loki's hand reaches across the void. Angela can feel it as she feels all things: too keenly. As in all things, she does not let on how deeply it penetrates.

The wingless angel looks back to Loki, her eyes white eyes bleak but brilliant against all the darkness. She studies his face, the one who calls himself trickster.

Angela gives him her hand.

"I will take this weapon for you."


~ CHAPTER THREE: EIGHT FOR THE WISH

"And with that in mind, a humble request: tell her there are more preferable places for coffee than Starbucks. This body deserves better than sadistic torture of that caliber."

"Sera has sympathy for the common people."

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