Chapter One: Loki

The girl's cloak billowed around her in the wind, rain pelting her form, the hood pulled low over her face. She stood outside an inn, steeling herself to open the door.

It's going to be fine. Just don't give them a reason to pay attention and they won't even notice me.

With a deep breath, she pulled the heavy door open and stepped inside. Pulling her hood down, she scanned her surroundings through sopping bangs. Those closest to the door glanced at her and then returned to their conversations or their mugs, ignoring the newcomer.

The girl breathed an inward sigh of relief and allowed herself to relax a little.

They don't care. Just stay on guard and pretend you're the same.

She headed to the counter, shaking water out of her hair as she did so. No one cared. That was normal.

The stocky man behind the counter squinted at her.

"An' what would a pretty lass such as yerself be wantin'?" He asked genially.

Keeping her eyes hidden behind her hair, the "pretty lass" smiled and replied, "Just a drink and a place to dry off, mayhap a bed if this rain don't stop."

The rough country accent and grammar was hard to imitate, but she had plenty of experience, and got no odd looks from the innkeeper. In fact, he brightened at the sound of her voice.

"Would ye be from these parts, miss?"

She nodded. "Not fer some time, but I've come to see to my brother's household. Seemingly his wife died, leavin' him with a fistful of children an' no housekeeper, an' I don't see no reason not to help my kin."

Technically, it's only half a lie. I truly am seeing to family business.

The innkeeper nodded wisely.

"No man should be runnin' a house when there's capable women—such as yerself—to do it fer 'im. I hope ye fare well in yer travels, kind lass."

After paying for a bed and a mug of ale (along with an apple that the man had pressed on her), the girl slumped in a corner, as close to the fire as she could get. She was tired and wet, and she wanted to mull over the innkeeper's words: 'No man should be runnin' a house when there's capable women—such as yerself—to do it fer 'im.'

Why? Why is this always the men's response? Why shouldn't they do housework? I could beat any man in this room, and yet they sit there, confident that no woman could do what they do, and that we are just slaves fit to do nothing better than break our backs working in their kitchens.

She knew that the innkeeper had meant no harm, but she could not stop her blood from boiling at his careless statement.

Her dark broodings were interrupted suddenly and unpleasantly.

"Oi there, lassie! What're ye doin' without a man? These be dangerous parts to travel in alone, 'specially when you got no strong man to carry ya."

The girl didn't look up, but her stomach dropped to the floor. She had been through this routine before.

Maybe he's talking to someone else. Maybe there's another pretty girl in here that I missed. If I just don't respond, maybe he won't notice me.

But she knew that there was no other lone woman in the room. From where the voice was coming from, the speaker was a big man who had already drunk too much.

I'm doomed.

"Oi, lass, in the corner, I'm talkin' to ya! Why don't ya show me them pretty eyes?"

The girl flinched. Eyes were a sensitive topic. Slowly, she turned her head toward the man, careful to keep her eyes hidden.

"I don't need no man, an' I'll thank ye ta let me keep my 'pretty eyes' ta myself."

Probably not the right answer, but I can't think of one.

The man seemed to swell slightly, even as the girl shrank back into the corner. He got up from his hearthside chair and staggered slightly as he headed toward her.

Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it…

He roughly grabbed her hand as she brought her mug up to her mouth.

"Ye think ye're safe? I said these roads ain't safe, an' when Red Colborn says sommat ye better listen, wench."

He wrenched her to her feet and backhanded her across the face. Her head snapped back, hitting the hard wall behind her, but she didn't respond. She simply kept her gaze on the floor and prayed that he hadn't seen her eyes.

"Hang on…" Red Colborn said slowly.


"Lemme see yer eyes."

She could do nothing but shut her eyes tight and shake her head.

"Lemme see 'em, NOW!"

He punched her in the face, and she collapsed to the floor, huddled in a ball.

The entire inn had gone dead silent. Obviously Colborn had a reputation, because not even the innkeeper dared come to the girl's defense.

The door blew open again, and this time a man stepped in. Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, the girl could see that he was tall and thin, with pale skin and black hair—not a common occurrence in these parts.

Looking around, he spotted Colborn standing over the girl and began to head toward them. A man tried to stop him, whispering ,"You don't wanna get inta this one, lad. That's Redfirst Colborn she's got after 'er. I wouldn't give a chance in five ta get outta this one in one piece, an' we don't need more blood on the floor than there already is."

When he spoke, his voice rang throughout the room.

"Then she's got that one chance. Let me pass."

The man silently stepped aside.

Colborn scowled at the young man.

"Don't get your hand caught up in business that ain't yers, boy. This wench's mine."

Turning back to her, he shouted viciously, "Show me yer goddamn eyes!"

He reached down to drag her up again, but found his hand caught in the young man's surprisingly strong grip.

After staring for a full second, he lashed out at the man with his other fist. The man dodged easily, let go of Colborn's arm, and cut up with a fist of his own, knocking Colborn to the floor. He moved himself until he stood in front of the girl, always watching the man on the floor.

"And who would you be, miss?" he asked over his shoulder as Colborn struggled to his feet, growling in rage.

The girl scowled.

"I didn't need saving, thanks. I was doing fine," she replied, making no effort to fake the local way of speech.

Colborn hurled himself at the man, who sidestepped and let him fall right into the girl as she stood up, still staring at the floor, and punched him in the face.

There was a collective intake of breath as Colborn sprawled on the floor at the feet of a petite girl.

She spat on him.

"Well, I don't remember asking if you needed help. I asked what your name is. Here, I'll give mine. I'm Loki."

The girl laughed.

"It fits you. I'm Aniki."

Loki bowed. As he did, Colborn flew to his feet, knocking Loki back. He walked uncomfortably close to Aniki, and his foul breath blew back her bangs. Shutting her eyes tight, she let her hand drift to his belt and the knife she had seen there.

"Yer gonna pay fer this, bitch!" he spat.

Aniki wrinkled her nose and remarked, "You shouldn't get this close to anyone you've made an enemy of. Especially me."

He grinned as he reached for her.

"An' why don't I want ta do that? Seems to me I can do anythin' I want with ya."

She grinned, looked him in the eyes, and put his own knife to his throat.

It was hard to tell which scared Colborn more: the knife or her eyes.

He went white as chalk, his eyes bugging out of his head as he sputtered, frightened into incoherence.

"M-m-m-monster! Y-yer a monster!"

Aniki could have heard a pin drop on the other side of the room.

Colborn backed away as fast as he could, stumbling into Loki, who had picked himself up. Spinning around, he cowered in between the two newcomers, whimpering.

Loki smiled at Aniki, a razor-sharp curve of his thin lips that somehow struck her as more dangerous than a scowl. Upon close inspection, Aniki couldn't help but notice that he was quite handsome. His sparkling ice-blue eyes spoke of mischief as they surveyed her.

She couldn't help turning her head away as he looked at her. It had become reflex after years of alienation as soon as anyone saw the slit pupils, the irises that were constantly shifting color.

Her hair didn't help her attempts to avoid attention, a mass of bright red curls that framed her fine-boned face.

Loki lightly gripped Aniki's arm and said, "Let's go outside, shall we?"

She nodded and followed him out the door. It was still raining, but Loki didn't seem to mind much. He headed to a tree that provided a tiny amount of shelter from the pouring rain and turned to face her. She still couldn't bring herself to make eye contact again.

"None of that," Loki said sternly, gripping her chin firmly but gently and pulling her face up, staring her straight in her kaleidoscopic eyes. His other hand pulled her hair back revealing the pointed tips of her ears.

Aniki suddenly realized that her eyes were tearing up, and she hoped Loki simply mistook the tears for stray raindrops.

"I said, none of that. Stop crying. Surely you're used to this by now?"

Aniki pulled out of his grip and wiped her eyes.

"That doesn't mean I like it. You try being abandoned by parents you never knew to be called a monster your whole life. Hel, I don't even know what I am. You'd think they'd at least do that for me."

Loki smiled again.

"I'll pass. I'm not odd-looking enough to be called a monster, but my life's been rough enough. I was abandoned, too. And you talk about not knowing what you are? Try knowing that you're half an ice giant."

Aniki stared at him.

"You're... you're that Loki, aren't you? Son of the ice giant Laufrey? That Loki?"

Loki laughed delightedly.

"You're a quick one! Yes, I am that Loki. And you are half an Aesir."

She laughed in turn, but instead of delight her voice was filled with scorn.

"I've no doubt who you are, but you are wrong about who I am. You must have made a mistake, Loki."

He merely smiled understandingly.

"I am never wrong, believe me. I've been looking for someone like you for years. I need help getting to Asgard, and the wisewoman said that I need to find an Aesir who 'wanders the earth, begging the stars to claim her.' Now I've found one, but I'm sure I can find another if you're not interested."

Aniki could see what Loki was doing, but she was not about to pass up such a great opportunity.

"Oh, no you don't, jotunn. You're not leaving me out of this."

He winced slightly when she called him a jotunn (an ice giant), and she folded her arms triumphantly.

"You're not going to find another one, trust me. You followed me using the stories of the girl with demon eyes, right? Just like I heard about the son of a jotunn who was going around on great adventures. We were both looking for someone who's not entirely human. Of course, I was never expecting to find you. Also, how can you be sure that I'm Aesir? I might just be a half-elf. I don't have any special abilities—which brings me to a question: can you really become invisible?"

Loki sighed.

"Yes, I can. And yes, I followed the stories. I'm fairly sure you are a half-elf, but I think your father was Aesir."

His glittering eyes ran over Aniki's face, searching for details he might have missed before. She watched his face, slightly fascinated.

"Your hair says Gaelic, but you can't have been born there because your accent says you were born here. That suggests that your Aesir parent had red hair, since I assume you know that most elves have blonde hair. Now, I can't think of many red-haired Aesir, can you? That pretty much says..." He trailed away, his brow creasing as his gaze pierced through Aniki's eyes, as if he could find some secret there.

"...Thor," she finished. "You think I'm a daughter of Thor. Yeah, right. I almost believed you until that point. Nice try, though."

She turned and strode towards the road, prepared to stop at the next inn.

Loki ran after her.

"Aniki! Aniki, wait! I'm serious!"

She ignored him.

"Aniki! Stop!"

His last word was spoken with such force that she stopped in her tracks, unable to move a muscle. With a surge of fury, she wrenched herself free of Loki's spell and rounded on him, her eyes actually sparking with fury. Loki backtracked quickly, surprised that she had broken his enchantment so easily.

"Look, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry, Aniki. Aah!"

His last exclamation came from surprise at the force with which she had shoved him, sending him flying into the mud ten feet away. She knew at once he had broken something because she heard a crack and Loki shrieked.

She felt a small wave of remorse push up from her stomach, but she promptly shoved it back down as she stalked over to where Loki cradled his right arm. As she came nearer he scrambled back, but she was too fast.

Before he got very far she had caught him by the hair and stared him in the face, her eyes snapping and sparking.

"Don't you ever cast a spell on me! I've had to take things like that my entire life, I'm not about to take it from a bastard jotunn, especially one as weak as you."

Loki flinched at"bastard," a word he had heard only too often when he was growing up. It made him angry enough to shout back at her.

"Well, at least I accept it! You think I'm proud of what I am? At least you actually have an honorable background, but you're so scared that you won't even consider the idea that you're practically a god. You think I wouldn't give anything for that?"

He was expecting Aniki to reply just as sharply, but he was surprised to see the sparks in her eyes fade away, the churning colors in her eyes dimming to the dark grey he realized meant that she was crying.

She let go of his hair and turned away. He just sat, waiting for her to speak. When she turned around, her eyes were making an attempt at colors again.

"We'll have to set that arm. But if I'm going to be helping you, I have two conditions."

"What?!" Loki was utterly bewildered.

"You want me to help you get to Asgard, right?"


"Then you just need to promise to teach me how to use that sword."

Aniki motioned toward the sword at Loki's hip. Loki nodded, then stopped.

"You said two conditions?"

"You also need to get me some breeches like those. I'm tired of skirts."

He stared at this strange girl for a moment before grinning.