Not all that glitters is gold
Where better to learn that lesson than in the hallowed halls of the gilded Nine Realms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas?
Odin, aka Alldickhead, has led me on a merry chase--if you consider foul-mouthed mobster hummingbirds, a bisexual millionaire cross-dresser, and heartbreak to be merry. To be fair, the millionaire is quite merry, but it's hard to appreciate good drag when you're about to die.
When things can't get worse, my Aunt Flo pays a visit. I suppose there's a price for rocking this awesome body, and Ragnarok in my pants is the fee. (Mad respect to those who bleed for seven days and don't die. Or kill anyone.)
Odin remains one step ahead, lobbing unwanted surprises that could destroy the first real friendships I've had in centuries and torpedo my romance with the hot AF Gunnar Magnusson, not to mention, obliterate any chance of retrieving my runes.
But yours truly isn't giving up. In fact, I'm laying all my chips on the table. You can't con a con man, my friends. As Asgard is about to be reminded, they don't call Loki the trickster god for nothin'.
Book 2 in the Asgard Awakening urban fantasy comedy series
Release date: August 8, 2019
Publisher: Howling Mad Press, LLC
Print pages: 290
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The burn is unbearable. Agony-driven rage consumes me, shoving me to the edge of madness, threatening to suffocate me.
“Ahh!” I scream, my back arching at a torturous angle off the three hard, uneven stones upon which I am lashed.
Gods damn it, what is this terrible searing in my eyes?
My lungs starve for air. I thrash, whipping my head back and forth as more sizzling, viscous liquid splashes into my eyes. My arms and legs are splayed and bound at my wrists and ankles. I can barely move, but every time I do, the earth under me answers with a tremble.
“Make it stop!” I shout to my tormentors. “I swear I’ll be good, just make it stop!”
A whimper sneaks past my lips. I am weak. I am pitiful.
Until I remember how I got here. What the Æsir did to me. What Odin did to my boy.
Red bleeds into my vision, staining everything I see. When my gaze stumbles over the strips of child meat holding me in place, I forget about the poison and howl like a wounded beast. The cave groans in answer. Rocks break loose and crash to the ground. A few plunk off my skin, leaving behind agonizing bruises that only agitate me further.
“Narfi,” I seethe, jerking under the horror of my son’s solidified entrails binding my seizing body like iron straps.
Mortified? Disgusted? Outraged? Yeah, me too. Prior to my incarceration, the Æsir had tricked my other boy Vali into butchering Narfi like an innocent lamb. Allfather and his cronies thrilled at Narfi’s dismemberment. They laughed as my throat went hoarse from screaming. They mocked the tears spilling down my cheeks.
I am neither god nor man. I am pure, raw fury.
“You killed Narfi, you cowardly sons of whores. I will eat your hearts and bathe in your blood.” Spit flies from my lips, its acidic froth eating away at my clothing, the rocks, my sanity. “I shall rain destruction upon you like you’ve never known. The Æsir will get their due when my slaughtered son is avenged. Let the entire world feast on my wrath and die from its poison.
“Hear me, Odin and you sycophantic fools who sniff his arse and dine on his farts. I, Loki, son of Farbauti and Laufey; father to Jormundgandr the Midgard Serpent, Fenrir the wolf, and Hel the goddess of the two faces; wrecker of Sif’s golden hair; thief of the goat, Idunn’s apples, and the necklace of the Brisings; the sly god; he who engineered Baldur’s death will—”
“Odin and the other Æsir are gone. They left hours ago. And you forgot ‘husband of Sigyn,’ dear,” a feminine voice interrupts my diabolical diatribe of death and denouement.
“W-what?” I stutter, deflating faster than a ship’s sails when the wind gets distracted by a comely valley calling its name.
The rocks quaking beneath me pause their exertions, echoing my disbelief at the gall of this woman. The flow of poison has stopped. I shake my head to slough the remaining serpent effluvia from my cheeks and crack open an eye.
A huge wooden bowl hovers over my head, held aloft by two dainty but strong hands. I track the arms up to a familiar serene face gazing down at me with unmistakable devotion.
“You forgot to mention your wife in that elaborately woven kenning,” my wife Sigyn clarifies.
“But,” I say, spitting lingering bitter yellow acid from the corner of my mouth between words, “I was on a roll with that one. You totally bogarted my monologue and killed all the momentum. Now I shall have to start over.”
See, this kind of shite is exactly why I stepped out on Sigyn with Angrboda. You don’t interrupt a man when he’s diatribing. You just don’t. Had she been present, Angrboda would’ve narrowed her slit eyes and said in her breathy, demonesque voice, “Continue with your titillating tirade, you filthy swine. You’re getting me all worked up in the nethers.”
Gods, I miss that evil monster-spawning giantess and her sexy wiles.
Sigyn braces the bowl against her shoulder and pats my arm with her free hand. A bit of venom sloshes over the side, hitting me right in my freshly shelled nuts. I scream again at the acid slowly eating them away in a plume of noxious steam.
“Gods damn it, woman!” I hiss.
The ground answers my jerk with another rumble. Stalactites break off from the ceiling, plunging with great splashes into the stinking, rheumy river of poison trying to engulf me. My already burning skin catches some additional sizzle from the spatter.
“Sorry, honey,” Sigyn says, righting the bowl.
Serpentine laughter uncoils like a detachable jaw and echoes through the cavern. The pattern on the walls shifts, and I realize the iridescent décor isn’t a cheap imitation of the gilded halls of Asgard. It’s reptile scales. And they’re stretching.
I swallow. This is one big effin’ snake.
By the time his poison glands run dry, I’ll be a pile of crumbling ashes. Or a goo-blob, roadkill-looking thing in the vague shape of a former god.
I test the unbreakable bonds of my son’s entrails hardened to iron by Allfather’s spells. Nope. I’m not going anywhere for a while.
A sudden cascade of liquid splashes into the bottom of the bowl, tipping it precariously in Sigyn’s hands. The white bone of an enormous, holed fang gleams in my periphery. I shut my eyes, bracing for the deluge.
“It’ll be over soon enough,” Sigyn soothes, her voice like a song.
“Soon enough” is never soon enough.
I know the drill. Been here, done this, got the tunic. Not sure I’m up for the next go on this ride if it means another age of suffering under a giant viper’s tooth ejaculations before I can get to the good stuff, aka—
Tap, tap, tap
Tap, tap, tap, more urgently this time.
I cock my head and ask Sigyn, “Did you hear that?”
She’s ignoring me, minding the bowl as another wave of venom falls.
Wake, Trickster …
I know that voice.
It’s not Sigyn. Or the serpent. Or anyone else I can think of, yet I do know it.
I really want to wake. Especially if this is a bad dream, which I’m personally rooting for.
“Open the door,” someone from far away calls in a low, threatening tone.
I glance around the cave. No door. Just a sulfur-yellow ocean of pain surrounding my little stone island prison buttressed by shifting scales glittering in the low light.
“Where are you?” I ask whoever it is. “Who are you?”
“Open the door,” the angry man demands.
“Open it, bitch,” comes his growled answer. Sounds like he has marbles in his mouth. The rest of his response involves some reference to illicit acts perpetrated upon my mother, which I’ll refrain from repeating here in the interest of decency.
“I would love to do so, livid thug.” I sigh and glance down the expanse of my naked body riddled with bubbling holes, festering sores, and hungry yellow serpent-slime burrowing into my skin on a quest for sinew and entrails upon which to feast. “Alas, I’m indisposed at the moment.”
Grumbling and scuffling ensues somewhere beyond the snake’s realm.
I twist my head for a better look, but I can’t see a damn thing aside from this giant danger noodle spitting death in my face. What the Hel is going on?
Wake, Trickster … commands the other voice in a whisper like the wind.
A chill overtakes me despite the burning. The world swirls into a tornado of color, each hue indistinguishable from the next. Sigyn reaches for me. She’s such a savior. Always trying to keep me out of trouble even though I can’t help but attract it.
Gunnar Magnusson …
I sit up, gasping for breath.
The snake and Sigyn are gone.
My skin is slathered in sweat; my tight chest heaves. I look down at my breasts barely contained by what my new friend Freddie calls a “wife beater”—the phrases Midgardians come up with to describe things can be so odd—and peel away the white cotton clinging to my skin. The lucky raven necklace Gunnar Magnusson gave me—hamingja passed down to him through many generations—dangles between my boobs.
At the end of the bed, Huginn lifts his red-combed rooster head. A lack of feathers and the white dressings crisscrossed over his body remind me of his mortality. And my own.
SQUARK? he whispers with a curious tilt of his bandaged beak.
Then I notice who else is in the bed with me.
Facing the opposite direction on my left, Freddie snores. He’s curled under the linens into a compact ball that seems too small for his wiry body. His features are relaxed in sleep, his mouth slightly open, catlike lips almost smiling under his sparse mustache and goatee. I start to touch the dark curls pinned to his cheek by a dollop of drool, but I stop myself. Instead, I hold my breath, crook my finger, and inch it up to peek under the sheet draped over him. His naked arse peeks out from the bunched hem of the frumpy strap dress he wore last night at the Asgard Awakening convention’s costume contest.
Eww. I wrinkle my nose at his skinny butt and drop the linens back into place.
Then I turn to my right. Shirtless Gunnar Magnusson sleeps with a heavily muscled arm tossed over my thigh. The arm was in a sling after our recent car accident, but in his drunken state last night, he threw it off after I told him I’d have sex with him. That was right before I shoved him into the van to avoid Odin and Muninn’s scrutiny.
Gunnar Magnusson’s long, blond locks fan around him like a halo of sun rising over a mountain. His battered face is handsome despite the bruises and black stitches gouged into his forehead and cheek. He’s breathing heavily, ensorcelled by a cocktail of exhaustion, drunkenness, and painkillers. Though his eyes are closed, I picture them, blue and gazing at me in that kind way of his. So like Sigyn …
Because, if Odin is to be believed, Gunnar Magnusson is Sigyn.
I don’t peek under the covers on his side of the bed. Instead, I lift his wounded arm off me, careful not to jostle it too much. He grunts in his sleep, smacks his lips a couple times. I wish he wouldn’t do that. It gives my female libido ideas I’d rather not entertain.
Huginn lifts an eyebrow—do chickens even have eyebrows?—and rises to his gnarly feet with a wince. I wriggle out from between the two men just as Huginn’s head swings sharply toward the bedroom door.
A tap, tap, tap echoes from beyond.
Laguz, the rune I reclaimed last night, vibrates from my pelvis, producing an unpleasant thrum.
“Ouch.” Alarmed, I rub the spot and aim my gaze at the door. Laguz is a manifestation of godly intuition. It doesn’t like what it’s hearing.
“Open up,” the gruff male voice from my dream says.
Normally, I wouldn’t give a toss about dreams seeping into reality, but now that Laguz is back, I’m inclined to take every little anomaly as a portent. The rune filters out the unnecessary stuff clogging up my brain and lays out a banquet of information highlighted by my gut. My instincts are razor-sharp. It feels damn good.
I quietly ease off the bed and pick up Huginn. He’s still healing after Heimdall threw him out of a semi going seventy miles an hour on I-95. Thanks to him swallowing Gunnar Magnusson’s lucky hamingja necklace the day before, Huginn’s still clucking.
Long story. Read book one to catch up.
Wearing nothing but the wife-beater and a pair of hot pink Thor-themed “boy shorts” Freddie bought me at the Asgard Awakening convention (ugh!), I slink out of the sparsely furnished room and search for my lost bearings.
Last thing I remember was stumbling up an out-of-doors stairwell after Freddie drove us home from the con in Atlanta. I’d eaten several of his WeedPops™ in hopes of drowning my sorrows after learning of my previous connection as a god to Gunnar Magnusson’s former incarnation as that god’s wife. This revelation, delivered by a smug Odin and coupled with a mild weed hangover, may be the source of my current confusion.
The tapping picks up again.
I shut the door to Gunnar Magnusson’s bedroom and head toward the source of the knocking, noting the lack of décor along the way. Aside from a bookcase full of Viking and Scandinavian tomes, there’s not much to see. No art. No extravagances. No hints about the current inhabitant’s likes or dislikes. Just books about me and my fellow Asgardians. The destiny-dealing Norns have quite a sense of humor.
Gunnar Magnusson remains largely a mystery. Now that I know his true identity, I shall endeavor to keep it that way. Arm’s length. No attachments. No memories if I can help it. They’d be painful for both of us.
Scratching the balls I no longer possess, I peer through the “peephole” (another genius Midgardian invention) onto the second-floor landing that overlooks a parking lot. I see no one.
“Let me in, or I’ll bust a cap in your ass,” a man demands.
Startled by the vehemence in the voice, I blink, adjust my angle, and look again. Nothing.
“Why would you break a hat in my butt?” I wonder aloud, clenching the cheeks of said butt and picking my underwear out of its crack. I’m getting better at understanding American idioms, but every once in a while, I stumble across a real beard tugger.
“Listen, you little pussy—”
Somehow, I doubt a “pussy” is a cat like it sounds. Must be something derogatory. But hey, new vocabulary is always welcome.
“Open the door, or I’ma ram my foot so far up your ass, you’ll be tasting shit-flavored toe jam every time you burp.” The man’s low, threatening voice spreads goosebumps over my skin.
“There’s no need to be vulgar,” I retort and tack on a quiet, “pussy.”
Huginn squawks urgently in my hands and leans toward the door. “Is it you?” he whispers.
“Yeah, it’s me,” the man confirms gruffly.
Huginn turns to me, his wonky eyes wonkier than usual. “Open it, Loki. Please!”
Against my better judgment, I do.
The landing outside Gunnar Magnusson’s second-floor apartment is empty. I step onto the brown mat lying on the concrete and look around. A high-pitched buzz vibrates near my arm, creating a subtle current. I catch a blur of green topped off with a ring of red.
A tiny hummingbird with depths-of-hell-black eyes descends before my wide peepers.
“Muninn!” Huginn rejoices in my grip, his feet clawing at the air for traction.
“’S’up, bitch?” Muninn replies in a deep baritone. It reminds me of Heimdall’s Gjallarhorn blast that set the Æsir into motion after I delivered Ragnarok’s opening punt to the one-yard line. How’s that for an idiom?
The little bully hummingbird flits toward the door. “Get inside. We need to talk.”
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