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The Danger of Worship

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The Danger of Worship

Part One of How to Train Your Godling

A Frey of Asgard Story

By Sif Shadowheart

Disclaimer: The Kate Daniels series belongs to the wonderful minds behind the penname Ilona Andrews while the rest of these characters either hail from the Harry Potter universe (J.K. Rowling) or Marvel (Stan Lee).  This is just fanfic, done for enjoyment and not profit.

Author’s Note: This is the first story in this collection, all of them revolving around Loki training Frey after he freezes into his immorality.  I don’t know at what point I’ll mark it as “complete” since this is basically a repository for Frey & Loki = Adventure.  That said, while some of the events of these stories are referenced in the main Frey of Asgard storyline, you don’t have to have read them to get what’s going on.  A lot of this is just to explain where Frey received knowledge or training about x, y, or z; and exploring the father/son dynamic between Loki and Frey.

This story is actually a bit of an aside and helps cross over a couple of things from the PJ/HP ‘verse into the Marvel multiverse particularly having to do with divinity.

Credit where it’s due: the definitions below are not a complete list and came from dictionary.com while a big chunk of the story comes straight from Ilona Andrews’s story Magic Bleeds, chapters 20 and 21 in particular.  Since Frey and Loki will be “observing” not changing anything, I left it mostly as-is other than some inserted Frey/Loki interactions and changing the POV.

Worship:

noun

  1. reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or toany object regarded as sacred.
  2. adoring reverence or regard:

excessive worship of business success.

  1. the object of adoring reverence or regard.

verb (used with object), worshiped, worshiping or (especiallyBritish) worshipped, worshipping.

  1. to render religious reverence and homage to.
  2. to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).

verb (used without object), worshiped, worshiping or (especially British) worshipped, worshipping.

  1. to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity.

Lessons with Loki

No father in any world or universe could possibly be prouder of their child than Loki was of Frey.

It simply wasn’t possible.

However, hand-in-hand with that pride came other emotions: concern, worry, love, affection, even fear.  For Loki had done what had once seemed impossible for him to consider and taken part in the creation of a being so powerful and strong that Frey could potentially unseat even Odin or Zeus if he took the notion to do so.  Frey had frozen into his immortality and yet, yet, as what many Aesir or Jotnar would consider still a child had put up barriers between himself and his godhood, preventing his imminent Ascension until such a time as Frey chose to leave behind the world and universe of his birth and officially become an integral part of his destined universe.

Loki’s universe, the universe of Yggdrasil where the Aesir as yet reigned supreme and challenged but unchecked by any other pantheon.

And still Loki worried.

So Loki did what he did best – he planned.

Frey, even with blocking himself off from his godly dominion and the accompanying power-boost, was still more powerful than all but a fully-fledged god…and perhaps even more powerful than some of them as his besting of Calypso in another universe had proved, not to mention his title of “Titan-Slayer” implied.

He still needed training, of that there was no question.

But any use of his powers in a universe controlled by an active pantheon such as Yggdrasil or Olympus would be screaming for Frey to draw unwanted attention.

Which left Loki with a dilemma, how to train his son without forcing him to claim his dominion before his son was ready?

An answer came with time and consideration.

They were both of the Blood of Ymir, and Frey had been granted the gift of wandering that all of the main line possessed, as had been proven by the heart-stopping kidnapping of Frey by that damned witch-goddess Calypso when she pulled him from the world of his birth into one entirely strange and there he had remained until he managed to arrange the undoing of her spell and return home, an action that only took a mere two-hundred and fifty years to accomplish and arrange.

So together they would wander the universes until Loki was certain that his son was in control of all his powers, including his immortal strength, though there was no way to know how long such a venture would take.

Lucky for them, Loki knew and would teach his son, how to assess and test any universe before they wandered there, so they could return to Frey’s home universe and Loki to his own, without being gone so long by the measure of each to draw the attention Loki sought to avoid in the first place.

That Calypso’s had been one such was nothing less than a miracle, especially considering the length of his absence in the time of her universe and world versus the mere days Frey had been absent from his home due to her vindictive actions.

There were several lessons that Loki felt his son hadn’t yet learned to their fullest extent, bound as he had been to the ideals of heroism idealized by both Camp Half-Blood and the Wizarding World.

Well.

His son had become a hero and had saved the day over and over again.

However, Frey wasn’t just a hero, he was a godling.

And with that came many other things he needed to learn…the first among them being the danger of worship.

To that end, Loki had located a very convincing object lesson, one that should reinforce the lesson Frey had already learned by helping deal with the Gaea situation.

Now all he had to do was fetch his son, and off they would go.

A day spent at home and then days, weeks, years even away, if Loki chose the right universe.

This time, it was only a bit of time that was needed.

After all…with as off as a universe as the one Loki was going to show his son after he taught him how to assess a universe or a realm, Loki was not about to step one magical toe into it, lest he and they risk being swept up in events that even for a god like him were more than a little mad.

The Danger of Worship

“You must learn to test the weft and weck of the universe or multiverse you wish to visit in its entirety.”  Loki lectured his son as they stood just on the edge of one of his more frequented paths between worlds.

Compared to Midgard (not to be confused with Frey’s original Earth) the time there played out very slowly indeed, much the opposite of that of Frey’s captivity years before.

Loki often visited the way one visited a well-loved theater – with relish and prepared to be entertained.

There was a dual lesson for his son to learn here – not merely regarding the dangers of worship – in addition to the first lessons in walking between worlds.

Frey had done well enough in learning the theory of it to be sure – otherwise his innovative pocket watches that allowed them to closely monitor their loved ones would be useless once they moved from one ‘verse to another, not to mention his ability to get back from his imprisonment – but he still had much to learn about the practicals of it, as his rough re-entrance to his home ‘verse had shown with startling clarity.

“It is not enough to simply understand the flow of time.”  He continued, Frey’s eyes intent as he felt with all of his senses – magical and physical or simply other – what his father was doing with his power as they stood at the doorway between one world and another.  “You must know all that the new world is – and just as importantly is not – lest you find yourself trapped once more.”

The grimace on Loki’s face gave his son the impression the he wasn’t the only one to have inadvertently spend time in a far off universe without recourse to return home.

Though knowing his father’s pride, he rather doubted he would ever hear the story attached to that grimace.

“Now, here we are…”  Loki breathed out, Frey feeling along with him as they stepped into the in-between, Loki conjuring a large oval doorway that shimmered a moment before becoming clear as glass.  “We are going to watch as a woman – a demigoddess really – does battle against her aunt.  This is what you need to know…”

“I have a Mary with pandemic potential who pilots undead mages and who is fixing to raid my house. Everyone I’ve ever known is about to become a target. Being banned by the Temple is the least of my worries.”

Frey stood beside his father as they peered into the strange universe – and strange was perhaps the kindest word to use for it.

Loki had warned him, but even then…it was odd.

A lesson, as his father had said, on just how bad things could go wrong when two Avatars went to war.

In this universe it was Magic and Necessity, but if things had gone wrong in the Olympian universe it could have easily been Time versus Life and Death and so on.

In the world they watched but did not enter, the two Avatars were in a constant war, one dating back from Loki’s information longer than the entire Olympian pantheon had even existed.  One triumphed – for a while – and civilization flourished around it, only to fall when the other regained its strength and blasted the other away, ushering in a new era of warring sides.

Here magic had been dormant for thousands of years, only to come back and crash against necessity in a wave with the power of a hurricane, destroying whatever it could of necessity’s technology that it touched, piece by piece.

The woman speaking was a product of that war – her father the Avatar of Magic, though she likely didn’t know it – and her mother dead at his hand from Loki’s brief background on this world.

A “Mary” being a typhoid-mary, a disease vector…and in this case the woman – Kate’s – aunt, the sister of the Avatar of Magic who was immortal, and powerful…but not a god herself of her own admission.

Frey and Loki watched quietly as she faced off against one of her aunt’s flesh golems outside of a synagogue.

She moved with pain from a side wound gained from her recent battle, and Frey wouldn’t call her beautiful, but she was very much a strikingly handsome woman with her deep red hair and strong features.

That she was a tough and remarkably skilled fighter merely made him wish that he could risk stepping through fully into her world rather than just being a spectator…for more reasons than one.

Kate wandered to a bridge as they watched from the in-between places, her faithful – from the way both were behaving – dog she’d called Grendel at her side looking like a cross between a Grim and a mutant poodle.

She had just slumped over to lean against a snowdrift when a car shot across the bridge way too fast. Metallic black, it had the body of a hot rod that had somehow sprouted Indyracer-style front wheels. Painted red flames stretched from its front over the hood, licking a bizarre horned skull with the words DEMON LIGHTNING painted above it. Its backside bubbled up, struggling to contain a monster of an enchanted water engine.

The car hurtled past Kate, braked in a spray of snow, and stopped two feet away. The driver side window slid down, revealing a tiny Indonesian woman. From the look on Kate’s face, she’d met her before.

Loki murmured: “She is the Pack’s resident mythology expert, a white-tiger were.”

She was also blind as a bat if her thick coke-bottle glasses were any indication.

Dali peered at Kate, and the invisible watchers, through her glasses then ignored the spectators – they wouldn’t be a problem she could tell, though she was surprised Kate couldn’t sense them herself – and nodded at the car. “Get in!”

Her fighter friend opened her mouth but nothing came out.

“Get in, Kate!”

“What the hell is this?”

“That’s a 1999 Plymouth Prowler. Also known as Pooki.”  

“Dali, you can barely see. You can’t drive.”

Dali stuck her nose in the air. “Watch me.”

No choice, with as wounded as the woman was, and from what Frey could tell she knew it. Kate screamed for Grendel, stuffed him into the car, got in, and buckled her seat belt in more than a little apprehension.

Dali floored it. Snow burst on both sides of the car and they shot forward. The wooden planks thudded under the Prowler’s weight. The bridge curved ahead. Dali showed no indication of slowing down.

“Dali, there is a turn.”

The turn rushed at them, making Frey itch to cast a spell even though he was well-aware after watching the confrontation at the Temple just how wrong active magic could go even from a skilled wielder…and that it would also leave them open to taint from the damaged universe.

“Dali . . .”

The Prowler sped up, straight as an arrow.

“Turn! Turn left!”

The wooden rail loomed. The Prowler veered left, turning so sharply it almost careened. Frey watching and Kate held their breath, even as Loki snickered at the look on his son’s face.  He’d have to bring him to watch events in the…kookier universes more often. For a second the car was weightless, and then all four wheels landed on solid ground.

“I saw it.” Dali pushed her Coke-bottle glasses up the bridge of her nose. “I’m not blind, you know. Hold on to your seat, there is another turn coming up.”

If Kate survived this, judging by the look on her face – one Frey had seen on Silena’s more than once dealing with Luke’s…less temperate half-siblings, she’d kill Jim with her bare hands, the were-panther in question being the culprit who had sicced Dali on Kate for the dangerous ride home.

The car squealed and missed the rail by a hair.

Dali’s happy face swung into Kate’s view, blocking Frey’s own of the striking creature for a moment.

“Don’t even think about it.”  Loki warned once more, mentally kicking himself for bringing his hedonistic – not that Loki had any room to judge but still – son to see this world and this true-blue heroine.  Of course, Kate Daniels would end up being one of the one-percent of females that could stir his son to temptation.

“What?”  Frey asked with an innocent-me smirk.

“You know what.”  Loki snorted in exasperation.  “I was the original invidja playboy, my son.  There’s nothing you could think of that I haven’t done first.  And she is a Fated hero in a universe that is far too dangerous for even you to venture into.  Don’t even think about it…beside which, I’m not sure even you could survive her Beast Lord’s fury if you try and take his chosen mate away from him.”

“She doesn’t know she’s his chosen though…”  Frey couldn’t help himself, he really couldn’t, though it was more than half wanting to yank his father’s chain rather than any real desire to muck around in this world.

“No.”

“But…”

No.”

They turned their attention back to the were-tiger who was taunting the wounded warrioress.

“I know your kryptonite.”

“What?”

“Kryptonite. It’s the rock that could take down Superman?”

Kate stared at her unblinking.

Dali grinned. “You’re scared of my driving.”

It wasn’t driving. It was suicide by car as far as Kate was concerned. “I need to tell you about Erra.” She clenched her fists as the car fishtailed.  “So you can tell Jim.”

Dali made a face. “Why do I get the privilege?”

“Because you’re a Pack expert with a proven record and you can back up what I say with your own research. He’ll listen to you and I don’t have time to explain things to him myself right this second.”

She looked at me. “Kate? Is this something really, really bad? Because you have that clenched-teeth look . . .”

“Watch the road!”

She swerved, avoiding an overturned wreck of a truck. “I have it under control.”

“What do you know about Babylon?”

“Not much. My expertise is in the Asian region. It was a Mesopotamian city-state that sprung up around the third millennium BCE and eventually grew into an empire. Sargon of Akkad claimed to have built it. Mesopotamia is considered to be the cradle of civilization and Babylon is mostly famous for the Code of Hammurabi, which was the first written code of laws, and the Hanging Gardens, which was the first time a man had to restructure the city to get laid. I think the name means ‘Gateway of the Gods,’ although nobody quite knows why.”

Her definition of “not much” needed work. “It was called Gateway because it was the first city built after Eden.”

She turned back to the windshield. “Babylon dates back to three thousand years before the Common Era. It’s too recent.”

“That’s the new Babylon. The old Babylon was almost completely built with magic, and when the tech came, it crumbled to the ground, just like that.” Kate pointed at Downtown’s architectural graveyard through the window.  “The old Babylon was over twelve thousand years old when the Common Era rolled around.”

“How do you know this?”

“Not important. Have you ever read the poem of Erra?”

“No.”

“It’s a poem that acts as an amulet against diseases in general and a god called Erra in particular. It was found chiseled on stone tablets all over Babylon. More copies of it exist than there are copies of the Gilgamesh epic.”

Dali whistled. “Gilgamesh was their big daddy.”

“Yes, but they weren’t that scared of him. They were very scared of Erra, so scared, they cut the poem into every available stone surface. According to the story, Erra was the god of plagues, fear, and madness. He had seven warriors at his disposal: Torch, Tremor, Deluge, Gale, Beast, Venom, and Darkness. The first four had elemental powers.”

“Fire, Earth, Water, and Wind.” Dali nodded.

“Beast was a monster. Venom is self-explanatory.”

“And Darkness?”

She shook her head. “Nobody knows.”

Dali wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you just love when that happens?”

“The poem goes on about how Erra and his advisor called Ishum came to Babylon and destroyed it. The poem is also wrong. Erra wasn’t the one in charge, Ishum was. The Babylonians were so terrified of Erra, they put him in charge just to be on the safe side. They also made him male.”

“Wait, Erra was a girl?”

“Yes. Erra is a woman and Ishum is Roland.”

Roland, also known as Kate’s father, and though she didn’t know it her watchers knew he was this universe’s Avatar of Magic.

Frey still wasn’t sure who the Avatar of Necessity was that Roland was fighting so fiercely, but he’d be willing to bet that his father had an educated guess if not a flat-out damned good idea.

Dali said nothing. She clenched the wheel tighter—her knuckles turned white.

Kate kept going. “About 6200 BC, Roland and Erra were running around and conquering Mesopotamia. They were young and this was their first big war. They came across Babylon, which was ruled by Marduk, who was unimaginably ancient by this point. He used to be monstrously powerful, but he had grown old and senile. The world moved on. Marduk didn’t and he knew it. He was content to rule Babylon, his last city, the gem of the ancient world. It was a large thriving metropolis, built almost entirely with deep magic, and he was very proud of it.”

Kate knew this story very well, and Loki had told Frey an abridged version of it as they waited for Loki’s power to take them to the right time and place in the universal time-space continuum.

“Roland decided they didn’t have the troops to hold the city. Marduk was greatly revered, so they’d have to put up with a lot of native resistance and the infrastructure was too complex to easily take it over. Roland makes war to acquire, not to subjugate. He wants to take cities with minimal damage, install his own government, and build them up to make them better. He moved on. But Erra dug her heels in. Something about Marduk must’ve rubbed her the wrong way.  Erra took a chunk of Roland’s army, and along with her seven, they invaded Babylon. She took the city and ran Marduk out, but the Babylonians refused to bend over and take it. Erra decided to break Babylon. She bombarded them with plagues and let the seven run amok in the city. Halved the population, wrecked the holy places, engaged in unbelievable atrocities. It was hell on earth. When there was nothing left to hold, she left. Marduk later came back to the city and rebuilt it, but it took centuries for it to rise to prominence again. What we know now as Babylon from archaeological records is a pale imitation of what once was.” Kate looked at Dali to make sure she understood, even as Loki did the same to Frey, who was staring to get a better understanding of what they were doing here on the first round of Godling-Training.  Some lessons were just taken better from those other than your parents. “They had magic defenses that we can’t even dream of. And Erra crushed them and walked away laughing. I need you to tell this story to Jim.”

Dali swallowed. “Why?”

“Because Erra is here. Curran killed Deluge and I just took out Tremor.”

“Is she after us?”

“I think so. She has her seven warriors with her. They are undead. She pilots them like vampires.”

Dali shrugged her shoulders, as if shaking off dread. “How sure are you of this?”

“I’m very sure. Erra makes plagues. In ancient times, she walked before Roland’s army. She’d pass through the place and the next morning there would be nothing but corpses. A few days later, once the land aired out, Roland’s troops would roll in. We know that Roland wants to do away with the Pack. Erra is the perfect person to do that. She has the power to panic animals and it works on shapeshifters.”

“You’re joking.”

Kate quoted, “ ‘I devastate the land and shatter it to dust, I crush the cities and turn them into waste, I crumble mountains and panic their wild beasts.’ She drives shapeshifters mad, Dali. She makes you go wild. You’ve heard about the witnesses to the fight at the Steel Horse. All of them went wild. You can’t fight her. Explain this to Jim. I don’t know if it’s her personal power or if she’s using one of the warriors to do it, but she has the Old Magic, the kind that the Pack can’t counter. You can’t engage her, because she will make all of you insane.”

The car skidded to a halt and Kate realized they had reached her apartment. She jerked the door open and jumped out. Grendel followed.

“Kate?” Dali’s eyes were huge on her face. “How do we fight her?”

“I don’t know. You can’t fight her directly and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you don’t have to.”

Kate slammed the door closed and ran into her building.

Her apartment door. In one piece. No sign of a break-in.

She visibly forced herself to slow down, slid the key into the lock, and swung the door open. The poodle trotted in. She followed softly on her toes, body fluid and ready for a fight.

Kitchen. Clear.

She nudged the bathroom door with her fingertips. Clear.

Her living room. Clear.

Library/Julie’s room. Clear.

Clear. The apartment was clear.

She had to hide Julie, her adoptive daughter.

Erra had no value or care for human life.

And Julie was just that – human – even if she had a little magical extra.

Kate scanned the apartment, Frey doing the same as he followed her thought process. Too much. She could throw away the pictures, but signs of her daughter were all over the place. Clothes, teddy bear with vampire teeth, half-painted black bedroom with a big KEEP OUT stenciled on the wall

. . . Sooner or later Erra would make it into her apartment, and she would find something Kate’d missed. She would look for Julie, and if she found her, she would kill Kate’s kid and she’d do it slowly to torture Kate with it.

Think. Think, think, think . . .

Kate grabbed scissors, marched into Julie’s closet, and pulled out her favorite Goth dress. Two snips, and she had two pieces of black ribbon, Frey blowing out a breath of relief despite himself.  Even with just the last hour or two of watching, he was invested in the outcome.  He wanted Kate to succeed…probably because she reminded him of himself and Luke and Percy and even his father standing up against a bigger, badder, monster than they were themselves.  She snatched glue out of the utility drawer and fixed black ribbon over the corner of two photo frames.

Funeral pictures.

She pulled the paper drawer open, took the folder with Julie’s school papers, and pushed the books off the woodstove. A bit of kerosene, some crumpling, and two minutes later Julie’s school records went up in flames.

Okay. She had the phone number of the school memorized. There was no record of it. And if Erra thought Julie was dead, she wouldn’t look for her. She grabbed the phone and dialed the school’s number. In ten seconds she was patched through to security and gave detailed instructions: Julie was not to leave the grounds. She was not to contact Kate until Kate contacted her.

Kate ended the call, dialed the Order, and hung up. If Erra knew how to use redial, it wouldn’t lead her to Julie either.  Frey nodded, impressed.  As much time as he dealt with tech-phobic magicals in his magic-heavy world, he didn’t know if he would’ve thought to do that.

“Impressive,” he noted, Loki watching him with proud eyes as his son leaned forward as if to get closer to a movie screen.

A part of Loki couldn’t help but think of the amazing – and powerful – children his little prince could have with a warrior like Kate.

Too bad she was off limits, as he’d made plain to his son.

The papers burned to ash. Kate sat on the floor and stared at the flames.

She’d beat her. If Erra broke in now, Julie would be safe.

Grendel wandered over to her and whined softly.

“Give me a minute,” she told him.

All her life had been focused on avoiding this moment, from what Frey understood, not unlike himself and his hide-and-seek game with Asgard. Her family had found her. Even if she killed her, which was a huge “if,” it wouldn’t exactly go unnoticed.

Erra was made out of her childhood nightmares, as Odin was Frey’s. For the first time since she reached adulthood, she wanted her foster-dad to be alive, in the way a child wants his parent to come into a dark bedroom and turn on the light. Except Voron was dead. Besides, she knew what his response would be: Run. Run as fast and as far as you can. She had a window of opportunity now, before Erra found her again, a window Frey would never have as Loki was still alive the way Kate’s foster-father and birth mother were not. Once Kate let it slip, her avenue of escape was gone forever, the same way Frey’s would be if he was ever found before he was ready to be found.

Game over.

Kate picked her sword Slayer off the floor and dragged her fingers across the blade, feeling magic nip at her skin.  Frey could almost feel the need to run grip her. The walls closing on her mind as her hands started to shake, as if her apartment had shrunk.

Frey knew that fear, that panic.

He’d lived it for two hundred and fifty years trapped in a coconut-laden hellhole.

There was nothing about it that would help her survive if she let it control her, the same as when he’d slip into grief-stricken rage for a time.

This wasn’t her. She didn’t panic. She needed to be sharp for this.

She closed her eyes and let it all go. She pictured the worst possible scenario. Julie dead, her little face bloody. Curran dead, his body broken, gray eyes staring into nothing, all of the gold gone. Jim, Andrea, Raphael, Derek, dead, their bodies torn apart.

Her hands turned ice-cold, skin pale to her watchers’ eyes.  Her pulse raced. Thudding at her neck for them to see. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears, too loud.

Atlanta dead. Corpses on the streets. Vultures that circled but wouldn’t land because the corpses were poison.

She soaked it all in. It hurt. Sweat broke out on her face.

A long moment passed as Frey and Loki watched her sink into her panic and fear, Frey finally turning and saying:

“That was me.”  He said, eyes bleak.  “Right after Mara gave me the news of Calypso’s betrayal of Davy Jones.”  He continued.  “Everything had come to that one moment and I had to make a choice – did I believe I was truly mad, and let it pass me by, or did I take the chance that I was still sane…even just in part.  It was the most terrified I’d ever been in my life.  I thought of all the ways it could go wrong.  Mara could refuse and my companion would be gone.  Calypso could discover what I’d done and kill me.  And so on.”

“And then what?”

“And then it was over.”  Frey shrugged.  “Bent – even broken – I might have been, but I wasn’t finished.  I never stopped training, stopped trying, even when I let myself wallow in my madness.  I was always going to come home…even if I had to wring Calypso’s skinny neck to manage it and use her blood to break the wards.”

“That’s my little prince…”

Gradually Kate’s heart rate slowed. She breathed in deep and let it out. Again. Again. Fatigue rolled over her in a sluggish wave. The poodle licked her hand.

She’d tricked her mind into thinking the worst had happened and she had lived through it, as Frey had once lived through his fears. Everyone was still alive. She still had a chance to shield them.

Everything hurt. she was spent. The power word and the fight had cost her and the wound didn’t help. It felt like she was dragging steel chains.

A knock sounded through her apartment before she could scrounge up something to eat.

She put Grendel into the bathroom and opened the door.

Erra stood on the landing, wrapped in a fur cloak, her face hidden by a hood. Kate was about five seven. She topped her by at least ten inches.

Would it have killed her to wait a couple hours and let Kate catch her breath?

Kate held the door open. “I get a visit in person. I’m so honored.”

“You should be. There is a ward on the door. Yours or did you pay someone?”

“Mine.”

She held out her hand, giving her audience a glimpse of calluses at the base of her fingers—from sword use. Man-hands, Bob had said. Kate could see why he’d think that.

The ward clutched at her skin in a flash of blue. It had to hurt like hell.

She clenched her fist.

The blue glow solidified around her hand. Hairline cracks dashed through it. For a long second it held, like a pane of translucent blue glass, and then it broke. Magic boomed inside Kate’s skull, exploding into a crippling headache and making Frey and Loki wince in sympathy.

Message received. Whatever Kate could make, she could break. Subtle “R” Us.

Pieces of the ward fluttered down, melting in midair. Erra shook her hand with a grimace. “Not too bad.”

Kate’s skull wanted very much to split open. “Shall we fight now or fight later?”

“Later.” She strode into Kate’s apartment. Apparently she wanted to talk. That was fine. She could always make her bleed later.

Erra pulled back the hood, revealing a mass of dark brown, nearly black hair, slipped her cloak off, and tossed it on Kate’s bed. She wore loose black pants and a tailored leather jerkin studded with metal. A simple longsword hung at her waist. No frills, functional hilt, double-edged blade about twenty-eight inches long. Good for thrusting or slashing. The kind of sword Kate – or Frey - would carry. Her calluses said she knew how to use it. Kate’s vision of facing a spear fighter just went up in flames. She cracked wards like walnuts, she was a giant, and she was good with the blade.

“You don’t spit fire, do you?”

“No.”

“Just checking.”

Erra faced Kate. She looked older than her by about ten years. Her sharp nose protruded farther, almost Roman in shape, and her lips were fuller than Kate’s. Looking into her dark eyes was like being shocked with a live wire. Magic churned in her irises, fueling towering arrogance, intelligence, and white-hot temper. The tiny hairs on the back of Kate’s neck rose.

Her eyes narrowed. She scrutinized her niece.

Kate raised her chin and stared back, even as Frey arched a brow at his father.  It was like the gender-bent version of them, only with more significant differences in height.

Erra laughed softly. “What do you know? Blood ran true. A little reminder of my own mortality. Thousands of years and godlike power, and here I am, getting challenged by a babe who looks like me.”

Loki snorted a laugh, remembering more than one parental challenge Frey had presented in the past.

She had Kate there. Nobody with an iota of sense would have any doubt that either pair were related. Same skin tone, same eyes, same shape of the face, same smirk, same build, except she (and Frey) was huge. They even wore similar clothes.

The second anyone viewed them side by side, the jig would be up.

Frey made a mental note to discuss that very issue with Loki later.  He was immortal now, and there was no telling when or how his godhood would eventually break the barriers he’d put up around it to buy himself time…time with his children, with his friends, hell…with his world, before having to become embroiled in the drama of the Yggdrasil.  Sometime – and probably when they least expected it – someone would see him and put two-and-two together…or try anyway, if they didn’t take…steps.

Fortunately, with magic, there was very little that wasn’t possible.

Erra surveyed the apartment. “This is where you dwell?”

“Yep.”

“It’s a hovel.  How old are you?”

“Twenty-six.”

She blinked. “You are just a baby. When I was your age, I had a palace. Servants and guards and teachers. You never forget your first one.”

“First what?”

“Your first palace.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Erra strolled into the back and glanced into the library. “I like your books.” She picked up Julie’s picture off the shelf. “Who is the child? She isn’t of the family.”

“An orphan.”

Erra’s fingers slid across the black ribbon. “What happened?”

“She died.”

“Children often do.” She turned and nodded at the kitchen. “It’s cold. Do you have anything to drink?”

“Tea.” This was surreal. Maybe if Kate fed her some cookies, she would postpone turning Atlanta into a wasteland.

“Is it hot?” Erra asked.

“Yes.”

“That will do.”

Kate went into the kitchen, made tea, poured two cups, and sat. Slayer was waiting for her on the chair. Kate slid it onto her lap and looked at Erra. She folded herself into a chair across from her niece/current opponent and dumped half a cup of honey into her tea.

Of all the people Kate knew, she had the best shot at taking her down. She wasn’t at her best right this second, but we don’t get to pick the time to fight for our lives.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

Thinking that Erra has better reach but Kate would be faster. “Why a sword and not a spear?”

“The spear is good to pin things in place. Swords tend to break under the weight. I’ve seen you fight and you deserve a sword.” A corner of her mouth crept up. “Unless you plan to stand still while I skewer you.”

Kate shrugged. “The thought did cross my mind, but I have a reputation to uphold.”

Erra chuckled. “I figured out who you are. You’re the lost child Im carries on about, when he gets his attacks of melancholy.”

Melancholy, right. He mourns the fact he failed to kill his most recent offspring—how charming. “Im?”

“A childhood nickname of your father’s. Do you know who I am?”

“The scourge of the ancient world. Plaguebringer. City Eater. My aunt.” Roland’s older sister.

Erra raised her cup. “Shall we celebrate our family reunion?”

Kate raised her spoon and twirled it in the air a couple of times. “Whooptidoo.”

“Oh, I do like her.”  Frey reiterated

“No.”

Loki’s son rolled his eyes and gave a mock-pout.

Damn Far always ruining his fun…

She smiled. “You’re too funny to be his. His children tend to take themselves absurdly seriously.”

Kate sipped her tea. The longer they chatted, the more she rested. “You don’t say.”

“You’re much more like my brood, but I only woke up six years ago so you can’t be mine. Too bad. Another time, another place, I could possibly make you into something suitable.”

She couldn’t resist. “What were your children like?”

“Impulsive. And violent. I mostly made boys, and they tended toward the simple pleasures in life: drinking, whoring, and fighting, preferably all three at once.” She waved her fingers. “Im’s offspring stare at stars and make clocks that calculate useless happenings like the angle of a hawk’s claws as it strikes its prey. They demonstrate their contraptions and everyone marvels. My children get drunk, confuse a herd of cows with an enemy regiment, and slaughter the lot, screaming like lunatics until the entire army panics.”

That sounded like big Ajax, one of the Greeks who besieged Troy. Must’ve been during her “Greek” period.

Erra took a drink. “One dimwit dragged the city gates up a mountain. I asked him why he did that. He said, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’ ”

Kate – and Frey – blinked, even as Loki laughed.  He remembered that one. “Did he also refuse to cut his hair?”

Erra grimaced. “He was balding. That was his master plan: grow out a mane so nobody would notice. His father was gorgeous. Dumb as a pigeon but gorgeous. I thought my blood would compensate for his lack of brains.”

“How did that turn out for you?”

Her aunt grimaced. “He was the dumbest child I ever produced. Killing him was like curing a headache.”

Kate sipped her tea. “You killed your own son?”

“He was a mistake, and when you make a mistake, it must be corrected.”

“I thought he committed suicide.” At least according to the Bible.

“He did. I just helped him along the way.”

“Ajax killed himself, too.”

She sipped her tea in a gesture so similar to Kate’s, Kate had to fight not to stare. “You don’t say.”

That’s her family for you. Oh, so pleasant.

Kate refilled her cup.

Her aunt glanced at her. “Do you know what your father does when his kids disappoint him?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

“He calls me. Im’s too sentimental to remedy his mistakes. He’s done it a few times, but they have to do something truly asinine for him to kill them personally.”

“I’m excellent at asinine.”

She smiled, sharp enough to cut. Like a sword coming out of a scabbard. “That I can believe.”

They looked at each other.

“Why the Pack?” Kate asked.

“Five half-breeds are easy to dispatch. Throw enough troops at them and they will be overwhelmed. Fifty halfbreeds will slice through five times their number. They’re fast and those they don’t kill, they panic. Five hundred half-breeds can take on an army ten times their size and triumph.” She sipped her tea. Her face turned cold. “I saw it happen thousands of years ago. This new kingdom of the half-breeds is in its infancy. It must be crushed before they learn to walk.”

Kate looked into dark eyes. A ruthless intelligence looked back.

“Why call them half-breeds?”

“It’s a convenient term. It drips with contempt. You’re a soldier who faces a monstrosity. It’s stronger and faster than you, it looks like a nightmare, and when it takes a wound that would kill a normal man, its fellows push you back and fifteen minutes later the creature you wounded is back on its feet. Where will your courage come from?”

Kate leaned toward her. “But if you think the creature is an abomination, a half-breed, who is less than you, you might reach deep inside and find a pair.”

Erra nodded. “Exactly.”

“Why not just declare them unclean and turn it into a crusade, then?”

She pointed her spoon at her niece and Loki leaned into his son.

This is why we’re here, more than anything else.”  He told him.  “Listen carefully to this next bit.  I think you’ll find it…enlightening.”

“You’ve seen this before…”  Frey murmured, casting a sharp glance at his father.

Loki nodded.  “This world is much like ours.  Things play out, the world ends, and then it begins again.  Old paths, new feet.”

“Only you found a way to get off the wheel.”  Frey smirked, a knowing glint in his eye.

Loki grinned back, nodding once, sharply.

“What else would you expect from the god of Mischief?”  He asked, voice playful.  “Took me long enough.  And once I heard this in this life I figured out why.  Now hush, and listen.  We can discuss the wheel and Ragnarok and an Avatar’s exemption to both later.”

“You want to stay away from religion. Once you bring prayers and worship into it, your troops start thinking you’re a god. Faith has power during magic. You begin getting urges that aren’t your own. That’s why I warned Babylon that if they ever built a shrine to me, I’d raze the city down to a nub and salt the ground it stood on.  They doubted me…and it took them hundreds of years and the switch between Magic and Necessity – and my sleep with it – to rebuild.  Worship is dangerous, niece…never forget that even if I cut you down this night.  Not ever.”

At Frey’s insistence they stayed through the end – not of the world, though he didn’t doubt strong, striking Kate and her Beast Lord Curran would still be there and standing when it rained down on their heads – of the confrontation between Kate and Erra, Frey feeling very much that he was watching a clash not unlike one he might face himself someday.

Though at least his was unlikely to be facing off against his father…though other family members, especially of the adopted kind could still be up in the air.

“Worship is dangerous.”  Loki reiterated when Erra had been beaten back – Kate almost dying in the process not to mention the damage done to her lover and mate Curran.  “Can it empower us?  Yes.”  Loki nodded sharply, even as he waved a hand and the portal to the otherworld faded, leaving them in the in-between places with nothing and no one around but each other.  “But if unfiltered and untampered as it is in a place such as that world it can also taint us, change us.”

“Like the shift that Gaea caused.”  Frey put the pieces together.  “Making the two sides of the Olympians split and struggled between their Greek and Roman aspects.”

“Exactly.”  Loki smiled at his son.  “There are ways to filter the power, to dampen the effects so that worship can’t twist or taint you.  Then it will just but another source to call upon…if needed.  But wild and stubborn, extremely hard to control and ever attempting to control you in turn worse than any dark magic.”

“How?”  Frey wanted – no, needed to know.  This was a problem, especially since the way his Far was speaking it sounded like an issue the Asgardians – or at least anyone who listened to Loki – were well-aware of.

Moreover, that meant it was something that could be used against him…and that just would not do.

“Come…”  Loki waved his hand once more, whisking them away to another point in the in-between, then motioning for Frey to begin testing the world he’d brought them near.  “It’s time you used the skills I’ve taught you.  Test this world, taste it and know it.  And then we will venture forth and I will teach you how to guard yourself against the dangers of worship.”