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Hear that rumble? No, it's not my stomach, though I could really go for a goat or three. It's Thor. THE Thor who threatened to knock my head off with his stupid hammer back in the Viking Age. As of ten minutes ago, he was also my buddy, but revelatory runes and pissy Norns have a penchant for crapping on the great (former) god Loki. If mortality is a thorn in my side, Thor is a spiked baseball bat suppository.
But my enemy-turned-friend-turned-raging-berserker-maniac is only the tip of my massive iceberg of problems. Thor's daddy Odin wants a piece of me, preferably the piece that keeps me breathing. Strange things are afoot at the Asgard Awakening television studio in Los Angeles where my friends and I are about to guest star on the popular program. With a sudden shift in control behind the scenes of the show, mysterious players are arriving on set, and nothing is as it seems. As destructive forces from my past resurface in a disturbing pattern I know all too well, I'm having second thoughts about restarting Ragnarok. My immortality is no longer the only thing on the line. It'll be game over for humanity (again) if the centuries-old feud between the Odin crime family and the House of Loki bleeds into the modern world.
FOOLED is the fourth and final book in the Asgard Awakening urban fantasy comedy series
Release date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Howling Mad Press LLC
Print pages: 374
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There’s nowhere I’d rather be than diving into Gunnar Magnusson’s arms. Under normal circumstances, I’d be sporting a shite-eating grin at the thought of smooshing my lips into his, tearing up his personal space, and making myself at home in his face fur.
Except these aren’t normal circumstances. This shite is as abnormal as it gets.
Quick recap for those who missed the fun: I’m Loki, former Norse god of mischief, current human woman, on a quest to regain my immortality. That handsome blond fellow dressed in drag up ahead (long story; read book 3 for details) is Gunnar Magnusson. He’s afraid of heights.
Gunnar Magnusson organized a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge where he donned a parachute, swept me off my feet, and stepped off the edge to prove that acrophobia can’t control him. I fully expected us to splatter on the rocks. See, a destiny-dealing Norn called Skuld told me I was going to die on Tuesday (the jump happened about ten minutes ago, just before midnight), but I was fine with it since I was with Gunnar Magnusson, who used to be my wife Sigyn 1,200 years ago. Different body, obviously. Reincarnation is super weird. I reckoned if I had to croak, I might as well do it with him.
As it turns out, neither of us died (YAY!), but when my waterlogged arse trudged up the path to the welcome center to look for Darryl Donovan, my lawyer, friend, and chauffeur for the evening, I met Odin instead (BOO!). The father of the gods totally wants to kill me for some things I did back in the day. With the help of a memory-jarring bully of a hummingbird named Muninn, who used to be Odin’s raven, Allfather laid the daddy-o of plot twists on Darryl Donovan and woke up the sleeping god Thor, who’s been lying dormant inside my attorney since he was born. Now father and son are having a reunited-and-it-feels-so-good bonding moment as they chase me with intent to kill with impunity.
That should bring you up to speed, more or less. Pardon me if I seem in a bit of a hurry. Trying to outpace berserker Viking gods takes a lot out of a person.
Legs burning, I look over my shoulder to Odin and Darryl Donovan—
Thor, Laguz, my rune of intuition, corrects.
—Thor, and shiver. I remember how Darryl Donovan’s warm, honey-brown eyes hardened like stones when Allfather appeared and offered him Thurisaz, Thor’s magical rune of strength. Those eyes melted into red-hot lava pits when he settled his gaze on Mjolnir, the hammer that slayed countless giants and a few gods too. Muninn, CEO of Asgardian Memory Services, did the rest. One look at the little bully bird, and Darryl Donovan shed his modern identity like a molting snake, trading it in for an older, far more dangerous model.
Not long ago, I watched my friend Freddie awaken as Freya, but he didn’t poof out of existence under the weight of the goddess’s sprawling personality. Though it took some time for the two of them to get accustomed to one another, I could still “see” them both. But when Thor woke up, Darryl Donovan faded like a ghost into the shell of a conquered body. I hope he’s okay in there.
I will my feet to run faster, faster, faster over the blacktop as an eruption of thunder bellows like angry, stomping giants in the darkness behind me. The clip-clip-clop-clop-clip-clip-clop-clop of mutant horse hooves barely registers over the din, but Thor’s words—shrouded in Darryl Donovan’s voice—are loud and clear.
“Father?” he shouts in Old Norse. I chance a glance back. His dark skin glistens with a sheen of sweat. “Where are we? What are those wheeled metal boxes?”
Bless the oaf. I forgot about the culture shock of waking up in the modern age after twelve centuries of death-sleep. Wooden longships, fiery battlefields, and iron swords have since evolved into fast cars, ocean-spanning bridges, and machine guns that spit out 500 rounds a minute.
“Who is that woman?” Thor demands.
I dare not look again. I am prey, and I know from experience that my accidental hunter will have no qualms about smashing my weak, mortal body into roadkill once he recognizes me.
“You don’t remember your nemesis?” Odin says with smug omniscience over the tumult of Sleipnir’s slashing hooves. “Granted, he has a new body like the rest of us, but shapeshifting has always been his forte.”
“LOKI!?” Thor roars.
So much for staying under Thor’s radar.
Laguz zaps me from its resting place in my pelvic bone. Hulinhjálmur! it yells inside my head.
“I knew I kept you around for something.” I flex my back muscles to activate the tattoo there. My skin itches in reply as the Norn Skuld’s gift works its obfuscation magic. My vision dilutes to black and white, bathing me in glorious invisibility. From behind me, sputters of confusion reach my ears. I take advantage of Darryl Donovan’s distraction. Clenching my right fist, I prompt my rune Othala to transform me into an eagle.
With an explosion of magic, my body shrinks, bones reconfigure, and feathers sprout.
I pump my wings and soar upward on a rush of wind, scanning the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center for Gunnar Magnusson, whom I lost in the fray.
The night sky sweats ozone, making my beak tingle. Blinding veins of lightning rob me of my sight for several heartbeats. Thunder crackles in reply. I track Odin and Thor’s progress. They’re not far behind, thanks to my son Sleipnir’s ridiculous speed—eight legs are much faster than four—but they can’t see me. As long as I get to Gunnar Magnusson before they do, everything will be okay.
I bank left and swoop out of Odin’s spear-throwing range, but Mjolnir the hammer could topple the Statue of Liberty from here if Thor wanted it to. Maybe Darryl Donovan will talk some sense into the brute and stay his hand.
I circle the welcome center parking lot and spot Gunnar Magnusson talking excitedly with a man next to a pickup truck. I dive closer and tune in to their conversation with my eagle ears.
“… and I pulled the cord, and it was just like you said. There was a moment of panic, but then the jolt hit, and we started slowing down. It was such a rush!” Gunnar Magnusson’s animated face brings a smile to my beak. I’m proud of him for facing his fear of heights. “Thanks for bending the rules. I know BASE jumping off Golden Gate is illegal, but it meant a lot.”
“No problem, man,” the guy says, stuffing the balled-up parachute Gunnar Magnusson and I used into the truck’s cab. “I’m glad it worked out for you. Just don’t mention my name if anyone asks how you did it.”
If the man notices Gunnar Magnusson’s milkmaid braids, heavy makeup, black bodice, or the puffy fringe of silver circling his hips, he doesn’t show it. My friend Freddie says people in San Francisco are accepting of many forms of self-expression. I find such open-mindedness refreshing.
They shake hands, and the man drives away. Grinning from ear to ear, Gunnar Magnusson starts walking in the direction I just came from. I land ten feet in front of him, return to my native human female form, and leap into his surprised embrace.
“It’s me,” I whisper, wrapping myself around him. The instant I make skin contact, he disappears to the rest of the world too.
“Loki,” he breathes, pulling back to study me under the cloak of invisibility. Before I have a chance to warn him about the impending death on eight legs heading straight for us, he plunges his lips into mine. The kiss feels like the dunk we took moments ago into the Pacific. Though our clothes are soaked, I’m warm all over and getting hotter by the second.
His lips. His beard. His hands …
Gods, this man does insane things to my body. My heart flutters furiously as the kiss deepens. The implanted cardioverter defibrillator in my chest gives the ticker a quick jolt to keep its rhythm moving at an even pace.
Then thunder roars a protest, ruining everything. Stampeding horse hooves clopping on pavement fling me violently from my reverie.
“Loki,” Odin calls in a sing-song voice from the darkness. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
My hot blood chills. Reluctantly pulling away from Gunnar Magnusson, I say, We have a small problem, but my prickly truth tattoo translates the words as, “We have a colossal problem.”
“Though I enjoy hunting,” Odin taunts, “my son’s appetite for the chase far exceeds mine.”
Gunnar Magnusson squints through the night, looking for the source of the threat.
“I will smash you to bits, trickster,” Thor vows with Darryl Donovan’s voice.
A chill sidewinds up my spine as another ear-splitting clap reverberates through the sky in a slow-moving line from west to east. I get the impression the lightning and thunder are toying with us. How very Thor of them.
Gunnar Magnusson snaps his gaze to mine. “Was that Darryl? Speaking Old Norse?”
I grab his hand. “Yeah, well, sort of. Odin brought him a little gift fashioned from bone. And also a much bigger gift with a too-short handle and a wicked penchant for leveling mountains.” I try to tug Gunnar Magnusson behind me, but he digs his heels in.
“Darryl is Thor?” he asks incredulously as I whiplash into him.
“Odin gave him the Thurisaz rune?”
“Let’s not forget Mjolnir,” I add.
He whirls his head toward the octo-legged horse and two riders. Forks of lightning arc around them in quick succession. The sky devolves into a battleground of neon white backlit with the perpetual groan of thunder.
“Shit,” Gunnar Magnusson curses.
“Yep. Come on.”
We run toward Freddie’s van, the lone occupant of the deserted parking lot. As our feet skitter over the pavement, Sleipnir’s gait grows alarmingly louder.
“They know we’re going for the van,” Gunnar Magnusson whispers over the din. “They’re gonna cut us off.”
I scan the lot for an alternative exit or a hiding place, but there’s no cover. A glance over my shoulder confirms Sleipnir will be upon us in half a minute, maybe less.
Malevolent delight burrows into Darryl Donovan’s twisted features as Thor winds up his hammer for a throw.
Gunnar Magnusson’s gaze follows mine. His chin trembles. “It’s seriously disturbing seeing Darryl’s face bathed in bloodlust. What are we gonna do?”
To outrun a horse, you must become a horse, Laguz advises.
As good a plan as any.
I turn to Gunnar Magnusson. “No matter what, keep your hands on me. Climb aboard when I give you the signal.”
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
Othala vibrates in my right hand, and I fall forward on all fours. My torso thickens. Arms, legs, and neck elongate. My face stretches as hair sprouts everywhere. When my transformation into a horse is finished, a stupefied Gunnar Magnusson says, “Now?”
I nod my massive gray head. He leaps onto my back, and I run like Hel. Well, I try to. Not being used to locomoting on four legs with a two-hundred-pound human rucksack, I stumble awkwardly for several steps until I find my rhythm. This was so much easier when I was a god.
Gunnar Magnusson’s weight shifts as he twists around to track our pursuers. “Are you sure they can’t see us?”
Pretty sure, I say, but it comes out as a neigh. Damn these equine vocal cords!
“Because Darryl is about to throw Mjolnir, and it looks like he’s aiming right for us,” Gunnar Magnusson continues, dropping his chest to my neck and clutching my mane to the brink of pain.
Mjolnir never misses.
Veer! Laguz shouts inside my head.
I bank left just in time. Mjolnir’s white-hot heat singes my tail hairs as it tumbles past us and smashes into an innocent oak tree, halving it on impact. I clamp my teeth to stifle a whinny of terror. Not sure how I managed to dodge the infallible hammer, but I’m not complaining.
The thunder rages, but gods have pretty good hearing, and little escapes Muninn’s notice.
Muninn. The bird could still be close. If he flies back to Odin’s shoulder and Gunnar Magnusson sees him, it’ll trigger a flood of memories, and my former wife/current boyfriend will remember all the horrible things I did to her. Gunnar Magnusson and I will be no more. We have to get out of here posthaste.
I kick my canter up to a full gallop, trying to steady my breaths as I run for my literal life. Odin titters behind us as Mjolnir hurtles into Thor’s open palm, propelled like a stone from a slingshot.
“Damn it!” Thor shouts to the white flickering night.
“They’re gaining,” Gunnar Magnusson whispers urgently.
How can they see us? I wonder. No god can penetrate my invisibility shield.
Perhaps beasts can, Laguz offers. They rely on scent much more than people do. And a stallion would surely remember his sire’s—dam’s scent.
We are so screwed.
Another belch of thunder rips, this one loud and close enough to electrify my mane with a jolt of static.
I switch up my stride, shifting left and right in a serpentine pattern, but they’re nearly on us. The wind whips my mane over my eyes. My ears hurt from the clapping thunder. I’m just not fast enough to outrun my eight-legged son.
“This is for Ragnarok,” Thor roars.
Our hunters bear down on us, and Thor hurls Mjolnir again. Streaks of white ignite the hammer’s wake in another near hit and the ensuing return. My clunky heart races at full capacity, threatening a lockdown any second.
This is it. It’s over.
The air behind us heats with another windup from Thor. With a last-second injection of adrenaline, I push my hooves to maximum speed.
At least I’ll die with Gunnar Magnusson.
You can’t die today. It’s not Tuesday anymore, Laguz reminds me.
It’s still Tuesday somewhere, I mentally reply.
And just as the thought hits me, so does the first splat of rain, square on my fuzzy muzzle. I lift my head to track the cloud that lost its bladder control and run toward it.
The heavens open. A light show to rival Icelandic auroras fills the sky as the ripe clouds unleash a deluge on us, masking my scent, along with visibility beyond two feet. Under cover of rolling rumbles, I neigh my relief, swerve left in a wide arc, and slow my pace.
Gunnar Magnusson wraps his arms around my neck as we watch Sleipnir slow, sniffing the watery air.
“That’s our cue,” Gunnar Magnusson whispers.
I catch my breath and trot in the opposite direction, staying upwind and putting as much distance between us and Thor as I can without falling on my face from exhaustion.
I may be able to shapeshift, but my strength and endurance in animal form are severely lacking. I might have to start joining Gunnar Magnusson on his runs every morning to build up my stamina. And to ogle his cute butt.
When we reach the fringes of civilization, I slip behind a patch of trees and whinny for Gunnar Magnusson to dismount. I return to my female form, and Gunnar Magnusson hugs me tightly. In that short moment of embrace, I feel something inside him shifting. No. Not shifting. Awakening.
I pull away and stare into his eyes. Rain slides down the plaits of his light hair, smearing his makeup in clownlike lines. One of his fake eyelashes hangs on by a spider leg. He’s grinning.
“What’s up with you?” I ask. “You’re usually the first to scold me for getting in trouble.”
“I finally get it,” he says.
“Why you’re a thrill seeker. I get it.” He gestures behind him in the direction of the gigantic bridge we just jumped off.
“Does this mean you’re not afraid of heights anymore?”
“Absolutely not,” he says. “I’m still very afraid of heights. But I’m no longer afraid to face my fears. I’m ready to embrace them. With you by my side, I feel invincible.”
He inches closer and dips in for a kiss, but I hold up a hand to stop him. “You’re not invincible. Neither am I. Did you not see what just happened? Thor nearly killed us both. We can’t start running around like berserkers drunk on mead and magic mushrooms. We’re mortal. We have to be careful!”
Laguz hums with pride at my unusual burst of rational thinking.
Gunnar Magnusson’s grin widens. “You be careful. I’m ready to start living.”
He’s lost his godsdamned mind.
“As long as living doesn’t end with death. Just remember, Mjolnir isn’t in the business of missing targets. I’m supposed to die on Tuesday, and it’s now a handful of minutes past midnight on Wednesday. We got lucky.”
Movement from the street catches my eye. I sift through curtains of rain but don’t see Odin or Thor. “Speaking of murder and killings, we gotta bounce.” Freddie taught me that idiom. I have no clue what bouncing has to do with leaving, but it’s a fun word, so I used it.
“Let’s grab the van. They’re probably gone by now,” Gunnar Magnusson says.
“Hel no, we’re calling an Uber. We can send Freddie and Alex for the van tomorrow.”
“What about Darryl?” he asks.
My jaw drops. I wave in the vicinity of the would-be carnage we barely escaped. “Darryl isn’t Darryl. He’s Thor. You know who Thor is, right? Surely your fancy Scandinavian Studies education taught you about the thunder god, Slayer of Giants, Basher of Trolls, Feller of the Life Webs, Feeder of Ravens, Serpent’s Attacker—”
“Yes, I know who Thor is. But he’s also Darryl, just as Freya is Freddie. What’s the big deal? Talk to him. I’m certain he’ll be reasonable.”
I shiver as cold rain seeps into my clothes and drills down to my bones. Gunnar Magnusson is right about one thing. I should’ve been able to talk to Darryl Donovan. But unlike Freddie after Freya’s awakening, “reasonable” Darryl Donovan seems to have evacuated Midgard via a rainbow bridge to Hel.
How does that bode for Gunnar Magnusson if (when) he’s awakened? Will Sigyn subsume him? Because I have a sinking feeling that’s what happened to Darryl Donovan. And if Thor really is driving his body now, I’m not the only one who’s in big trouble. This whole city could be in danger. Maybe even the country.
“We need to get back to the hotel. Now,” I say.
Gunnar Magnusson harrumphs. “Party pooper.”
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