Upon reaching the foyer of the Palace, Loki quickly found that the supposed sinister box was simply discarded packaging for table decorations which had been dropped by an overworked servant. The poor woman was shaking with fear at having been brought to be interviewed by her King and he quickly dismissed her to go back to her duties. There was nothing suspicious here!
But then he, along with everyone else, heard an explosion and he very quickly reached the conclusion that this had been a ruse, intended to divert his attention while someone put disruptive plans into action elsewhere in the Palace.
“Find those two runners!” He barked out at one of the King’s Company who had come with him. “You! With me!” He said to the other and he ran off in the general direction of the sound, just as the second boom sounded. It was coming from near the gardens!
“What in the Nine is going on?!” He shouted and the two of them broke into a run along the corridor towards the back of the Palace, where the main gardens were situated near the guest accommodation. However, after a few moments people began to spill into it, rushing in various directions as they wondered what had happened. As it became more crowded, Loki’s patience snapped and he grabbed hold of the King’s Soldier. He teleported the two of them right to the centre of the garden and straight into the ruins which appeared around them. Almost immediately he was accosted by Erika, of all people, and he noticed she was carrying his brother’s weapon.
“Loki!” She hurried over to him and grabbed his hand. Giving him no chance to look around to work out what had happened, and with no effort at all, she managed to easily drag him over to where it looked like someone was mauling a woman on the ground. His belly flipped as he realised it was Aida who was looming over… was that Freyja? He looked at Erika for answers.
“There has been an explosion!” She said, pulling him down onto his knees with her as they joined Aida at Freyja’s side, “It has injured Freyja and we cannot find a pulse… Aida was using a Midgardian technique to try to revive her until the healers could get here… but you are here now. Do you have any healing stones?”
Loki was fascinated by what Aida was doing to Freyja and he did not catch Erika’s question at first, but she shook his arm – quite violently for someone her size – and he turned to see what she wanted.
“Healing stones! Do you have any? I am being asked for a healing stone.” The young maid looked at him and as he failed to answer her immediately, she almost snarled, “By the Norns, Loki, do you have any?!” Her voice rose to a deep and resonant shout and he knew it was somehow being altered, as if there was a man’s voice entwined with hers. He patted a small pocket in his leather surcoat and nodded, retrieving one of the silvery grey stones. What did she mean by ‘I am being asked for a healing stone’? Erika immediately grabbed it from his palm, thanking him, and turned to Freyja, where she crumbled it, allowing the dust to fall lightly over the chest and décolleté of the Goddess. Loki balked at this; how was she managing to do all this and how had she known of it? Suspicions as to her motives and just whether she was working in conjunction with an outside force began to form in his mind. In the meantime, Aida had ceased what she was doing in order to allow Erika to work on Freyja and she had sat back up on her heels, whereupon she caught sight of Loki. He saw her face blanch as she saw him and she immediately looked down at her hands and then at Freyja, avoiding his intense gaze completely. He was about to say something when Erika got to her feet mumbling something he could not catch, and then raised Mjölnir up in front of her face. She seemed to be listening to something, but Loki certainly couldn’t hear anything; he could only feel a sense of rising annoyance at his maid’s ability to hold that judgmental and self-righteous hammer!
Martika had just taken a glass of crisp Asgardian Apple juice from a waiter when she, along with most of the other people around her, flinched in shock at the huge bang which came from the direction of the gardens. Wide eyes and gaping mouths were all around her and then it came again, causing many to call out or to scream. A pang of remorse went through the young girl as she saw the abject fear in some of the faces of those around her, quite a few of which were children, but she knew it had been necessary and no one had been hurt anyway; the gardens had been empty when she had set the fire pots.
Frightened babbling was reaching a crescendo when a strident voice called out, virtually silencing everyone.
“Ladies, Gentlemen! Nobles, citizens, Gods, Goddesses! Please listen to me!”
The hubbub gradually lessened and people began to sit back down in their chairs, looking around worriedly, but knowing they needed to be as calm as they could. Standing at the front of the High Table, Hel was holding out her hands and casting her eye around the feast area with a stern look. She motioned almost imperceptibly to one of the Captains of the two King’s Company contingents that were on duty and he immediately attended her. In a low voice, she commanded him to tighten the ranks of the warriors he led while she calmed everyone down. As he made his way to carry out her orders, Tyr stood up from his table and approached her. Before he had a chance to even open his mouth to explain who he was, the crimson eye of Loki’s daughter ran over him appraisingly.
“Prince Tyr! What an opportune time to have you back! Are you here to defend the Princess of Asgard?!” Her voice was laced with assumed authority, sarcasm and an underlying warning that she felt she was in charge here and she expected to be backed up. As soon as the blast had happened, a quick word with Jormungandr and Fenrir had seen them leave to go to see what was happening and to mobilise forces if necessary. Then she had decided to bring the panicked people to heel; it being by far the best thing to do in order to prevent some kind of hideous stampede. She watched the handsome and very well-built warrior Prince walking towards her and he nodded politely.
“My dear… Niece. I am yours to command.”
Hel fluttered the eyelashes of her living eye and blushed prettily on her living cheek at Tyr’s words. He was so much more… rugged than she remembered from all those years ago when she had been banished to Helheimr. He was very good-looking indeed and she almost forgot what it was that she had been saying. He smiled warmly at her and she coughed lightly, trying to compose herself. She tore her eye away from him and turned back to the crowd.
“See, dear people! The houses of Asgard are returned and united in our desire to keep our realm safe! As I speak, our guards and warriors are sweeping the grounds and we will have an answer as to what has happened. Please. Sit with your friends, drink, feast, and make merry! I assure you that my Father will be back soon and we will have news!” She looked round and slowly people began to turn back to one another, but the atmosphere was much subdued and she sent a waiter over to the musical quartet to instruct them to play strong and uplifting tunes. Turning to Tyr, she invited him to sit on the supporting Throne she had occupied during the afternoon, and he graciously accepted, but not before kissing her living hand in greeting. With her heart racing and trying her very hardest to remain composed at the simple gesture from such an attractive specimen of a man, Hel smiled… and then took her father’s place on the replica Throne to watch over the guests as they settled back into a somewhat uneasy feast.
Her choice of seat, of course, did not go unnoticed.
On Midgard, in the cell which had become almost like a home to them, the air became palpably charged and Thor and Odin looked up at one another.
“Mjölnir….” Breathed Thor and he felt himself becoming energised even though she was not in the room.
“Listen within, my son…” Said Odin as he watched the younger God close his eyes, “Feel for her. She may have a message.”
“No, Father. She… she is asking for help.” Thor tried to remain calm, but contact with Mjölnir inevitably excited him. As he sat quietly, images began to form in his mind of what looked like an accident and he saw an unconscious woman on the ground. All of a sudden, a young female voice sounded really loudly in his mind and he winced.
“Mjölnir, what do I do? Can you help her? It is Freyja the Goddess and she has been hit by tremendous force… she is… she is unconscious, has faint breath, a weak heart beat. The healers have been sent for, but I do not know if she will last!”
He recognised the voice as Erika and he smiled at the knowledge that the girl was still able to talk to and through Mjölnir. He opened his eyes.
“It is the maid. Freyja is badly injured and she is asking for help. I think she hopes Mjölnir can heal her, but she cannot do it alone…”
“Are there any healers around? She can join in their magic… amplify it to the level required for a Goddess.”
“No…” Thor closed his eyes as her voice came again.
“…please! Is there any way I can help? Oh… wait! Wait! Loki has arrived with a warrior. Is there anything?” There was silence for a moment, but then it was clear that she was now addressing his brother back on Asgard, “Loki! There has been an explosion…”
An explosion? Things did not sound good at all. However, Thor had an idea. If there was a warrior there, then there was a good chance he and maybe Loki were in battle gear and they would be carrying healing stones. It was one of the best ways to heal someone and it was an item whose powers Mjölnir could enhance greatly – enough to revive even a God.
“Erika! If you can hear me, ask for a healing stone. A healing stone. All warriors carry them, but only Gods and those with Seidr can use them. Ask for a healing stone and crumble it over Freyja. Mjölnir will recognise it and she will help you to bring Freyja round. She will heal any damage and Freyja will survive, then she can be taken to the healing rooms to be assessed. Erika. Can you hear me? Ask for a healing stone…”
“… healing stones!” Erika’s voice suddenly came to him again, “Do you have any? I am being asked for a healing stone.” So she had heard him…
Thor became impatient, knowing Loki was probably suspicious of Erika asking for such a thing and he added his voice to that of the young maid, distorting the tone of it. “By the Norns, Loki, do you have any?!” Seconds passed and then he heard Erika saying “Thank you!” and he relaxed, knowing the Trickster must have got one for her. He continued to concentrate on the link, feeling rather than seeing what was happening, and then he felt the air start to charge again. He felt a renewal of his strength, as if Mjölnir’s residual power was somehow able to get to him even across all this distance and he heard her song as she activated the healing stone to make Freyja better. It was a euphoric feeling to experience how Mjölnir healed, and Thor felt refreshed and optimistic even though he had only had it second hand and a small proportion at that. He opened his eyes and smiled over at his father, who was watching him with interest.
“Father, she is one of a kind…”
“I know, my son. You will be reunited one day.”
“I do not mean Mjölnir, Father. I mean Erika.”
Loki was about to make a crass remark at how the Goddess of Beauty was still lying unconscious – even possibly dead – at his maid’s feet when the runes on the head of Thor’s mighty hammer suddenly ignited. Erika closed her eyes and raised Mjölnir even higher, right up above her and to Loki’s amazement – and jealousy – the clouds above quickly gathered with bright and crackling lightning flickering inside them, growing in force and luminosity. All of a sudden, a huge bolt of energy connected with Mjölnir and Erika screamed in fright, but she managed to hold on and brought the hammer downwards to point at the prone woman at her feet, whereupon Mjölnir sent many smaller forks of the electric energy out around her, each finding a fragment of the healing stones and infusing it with power. Her eyes glowed with intense white light and electric blue bolts of lightning appeared in her pupils as she steadfastly held the hammer in position while she worked. Freyja’s body jerked violently and her body rose up into an arch on her heels and her shoulders before collapsing back to the ground, but then her mouth opened to gasp in the air and after a few moments, her eyes began to open.
The energy and the clouds dissipated so quickly it was as if they had never been there, and it was now Erika who fell to her knees in exhaustion. Loki quickly reached over and caught her before she had a chance to fall completely to the ground and Mjölnir slipped from her fingers to land at her side. The blonde maid lay in his arms breathing heavily, peering at Freyja. “Did it work?” She gasped, and Aida, who had been transfixed by this amazing spectacle she had just witnessed blinked and hurriedly inspected the poor Goddess. She gently helped her to sit up, brushing wisps of singed hair back from her beautiful face and smiling reassuringly. “Yes! Yes it did!”
“Well!” Exclaimed Freyja after a few seconds, breaking the stunned silence, “Just how on Asgard are you able to do all that?!”
“So, dear… Uncle. No, you’re not my uncle, are you really? How should I address you I wonder?” Hel looked meaningfully at Tyr as she mused upon the situation. “I suppose you do actually hold rank over me, being Odin’s son…”
“Hel, do not complicate matters by being pedantic over Royal succession. I think we can both agree that the ruling House of Asgard is in question at the moment. There is no proof that Odin is dead; indeed Loki himself has told us that he is simply in the Odinsleep in a secure medical facility somewhere and that Thor is being held prisoner for attempting to kill Loki whilst in the guise of Odin, which he claims he was doing under the All Father’s orders! It all stinks to me of one of Loki’s ruses; only in this case it has meant he has been able to claim the Throne of Asgard. For now, let us stick with our names? It will avoid confusion and potential… insult.”
“Very well, Tyr. What you say does make some sense. However, I would like proof of all these allegations before I decide what I believe. In the meantime…” She fixed her crimson eye on him and smiled what she hoped was not too ghastly a smile, “may I say it is very nice to have an impressive brute such as you home?! If our enemies see a Prince such as you present in the Palace, then they are sure to think twice before trying to take advantage or to attack. No wonder they call you the God of Glorious Battle. You look like you have fought a few…” Hel’s eye passed over Tyr’s muscular forearms and up to his tanned and square-jawed face, which was framed in thick dark blonde hair. His beard was over a week old now and he had decided to keep it. It all added to the air of masculinity he exuded, even when sitting in a relaxed manner and drinking from a cup of mead and Hel felt a thrill at holding a rank high enough to be able to sit with, to converse with and even to flirt with, should she so desire. Oh… the benefits of having decided to visit Asgard to alleviate her boredom and to catch up with her brothers were ten times better than she had imagined they would be. Listening to Tyr recounting a tale of one of his most recent commissions, she sat back and savoured the moment, hoping it was the first of many to come.
“More to the point,” Interrupted Loki, “what in the name of Helheimr has happened here?” He was now looking around at the fallen statues and scorched plants. He turned his head as he surveyed the damage and his glittering emerald eyes finally came to rest on the devastated lilac tree, which was still partly on fire. For a moment, his face remained impassive, but then he gently let go of Erika, who had managed to sit up, and got up to begin to take slow steps towards the tree. His hand rose, reaching out towards it as he began to examine the damage, his green eyes flickered from one smashed limb to the great trunk which was rent by the blast, and went on to look at the green leaves and beautiful sprays of flowers which were withering in the heat of the fire which clung tenaciously to them, destroying any last semblance of beauty the once magnificent tree had displayed. His fingertips brushed along one of the mighty branches as he walked along, following it where it had fallen, feeling the life force dwindling from within it as the oxygen was sucked out of it by the wicked flames. He stroked the elegant bark as he approached the burning canopy and passed his hand right into the crackling destructive heat. As his fingers moved along the tortured wood, the fire died in their wake and he continued to caress the dying behemoth, extinguishing the cause of her torment. Images of a burning lake of fire surrounding hot pillars of rock to which he had been chained flashed in his mind and the remembered whips of burning chains slashed at his back again, causing him to flinch. Then another memory surfaced, of a time when he had healed this ancient being after storms had caused her great damage. It had been a time when he had been so proud to see the joy he had caused in his mother’s eyes…
Brought back to the here and now, The God of Lies glanced to his side where Erika stood looking at him with concern. “Be careful…” She reached to pull his arm back, but then she saw how he was putting out the fire and she stopped, her eyes meeting his. “Oh, Loki… your mother’s tree…” Amazingly, he saw tears filling those beautiful crystal blue eyes as she realised what this must mean to him, but he found he had none himself. All he had was a hard lump of hatred inside for whoever had done this. The person who had set this explosion had known full well what they were doing. They had not intended to harm anyone; they must have known the garden was likely to be empty and Freyja being here had been pure coincidence. They had not wanted to directly harm him physically; planting the device under the platform upon which the High Table rested would have done a much better job. No, this was a spiteful move intended to hurt him in a much nastier and more personal fashion. Erika watched as he put out the remaining flames and then she wrapped her arms around him, trying to extend some comfort.
Two healers arrived and quickly looked over Freyja who started to protest and Loki pulled himself from Erika’s grasp, not thanking her or returning any kind of comfort to her. Erika lowered her empty arms and watched him pitifully as he stalked over to the Goddess.
“You will go to the healing rooms for a full diagnosis.” He said and then turned to Aida, “As will you.” Not daring to argue, the two women allowed themselves to be led away by the two healers.
A splash of red on one of the statues nearer the edge of the garden caught his attention and he strode swiftly to it, not quite believing his eyes. The eyes and fingertips were painted crimson and there were slogans proclaiming him to be a false God and a Usurper. Rage boiled within him and he felt his inner self begin to churn. His hands balled into fists as he struggled to remain composed and so it was that he almost struck Erika as her fingers landed on his arm.
Flinching from him, she said “Loki… this is terrible! We must do something! Is it…”
“Why not ask Mjölnir?!” Shouted Loki, brushing her hand away. “She seems to have all your answers, does she not? How do you know of healing stones? How are you able to administer them?! Hmmm?!” He leaned down towards her and an ugly grimace distorted his features as he growled, “Did she do this?”
“No!” Erika’s face was set in an expression of such shock that Loki – almost – regretted his question. He knew from the slogans that this must be another of ACPoS’ actions against him. Yet he continued; he wanted answers and Erika was the only one here to question.
“Then how were you here to ‘help’? How was it that you were conveniently in the right place at the right time? Unless you knew that this was going to happen?” His eyes narrowed again as the paranoia crept in and he eyed up his brother’s hammer. “Are you communicating with Thor? Are you acting under his orders? I heard his tones in your voice before! Well?”
“Loki, you have this all wrong! I heard the explosion from my mother’s house…”
“Then how did you get here before me?!” Loki’s voice became lower and a gravely quality started to change it as his anger began to win out, “Just how did you manage to travel over two miles in mere moments?” Erika shrank back as the clear green of his eyes began to swim in the crimson currents that were suddenly taking over the irises, “Answer me!” He barked, and she screamed in fright. To her horror, Mjölnir’s runes began to glow dimly and a faint song rose as the young maid lifted her to look at her. No! Not now! Loki would see this as aggression…
“Oh, are you going to fight me now?!” Loki’s sarcastic remark proved her right and she turned to look at him again as he held out his own hand and Gungnir appeared. This was too much like the other night when he had tried to goad her into summoning the hammer to try to kill him! Loki would never accept this aspect of her character; his jealousy of her being able to hold Mjölnir and to be used as a vessel for her to carry out good deeds would never go away. She lowered Mjölnir and dropped her to the ground at her feet. She closed her eyes in anticipation of some kind of physical attack from her beloved King. “No, Loki. I will not fight you. I cannot. Please, please calm down! I am on your side…”
The three people sitting round the kitchen table in the beautifully appointed guesthouse were all deep in thought.
Anders had only been there for a short time, having arrived only a few minutes before the sound of an explosion had come from the direction of the Palace. A small satisfied grin was sitting on his face as he sipped at his drink and thought about all the uses he could put the other fire pots to now that he knew they worked. He was awaiting the return of his daughter, Martika, but he knew she would be a while. It would raise suspicion if she tried to leave so soon after the incident.
Raistlin stirred his tisane and watched the liquid swirling around the cup as he considered the implications of having been the one to supply the device which had caused the explosion. He had tried to hide the magical enhancement as best he could, but if someone with the Sight managed to ascertain that there had been magic involved then there was the potential for him to be in trouble here. He had been arrested once already on suspicion of trading in magical items deemed illegal. It probably was time to move on, but both Helga and Anders had told him they had things they wished to discuss with him.
Helga was hoping fervently that no one had been harmed by the explosion. She believed in the cause of ACPoS: to try to preserve the great nation of Asgard, but things had changed since Loki had taken the throne and even more so since the decimation of the Society’s ranks. Their remit was different now. In order to preserve Asgard, they no longer needed to simply protest Odin’s lack of true commitment to the common man. They now needed to remove the Trickster from the Throne of Asgard and try somehow to get Thor – or even Odin – back. Then there was the situation with Elisabet’s daughter, Erika. What was she to do now that Raistlin had told her of his suspicion that the girl was immortal? Should she let her friend know?
“Mage Majere, I need to ask something of you.” Anders took a biscuit and snapped it in half so he could dip it in his hot drink.
“Yes? What is it?” Raistlin pulled a bit of a face as he watched him eat the soggy biscuit.
“Aida Bjornsdottr. The girl with the Dragonsmark. She came here in the night, claiming to have seen a Dragon in her mind and then within minutes of telling us that, she forgot what she had said and apologised for disturbing us unnecessarily. Can you shed any light upon this?”
“She talked of a dragon?” Raistlin was puzzled.
“Yes, she was quite adamant until the memory started to fade. She clearly said ‘Dragon’”
“Hhmmm. Perhaps we should consult the tattooist… Although he did guarantee she would forget.”
“Well, I have secretly had people try to read her mind on a few occasions since she had it done and not a single one of them has been able to get in there. They say she just appears as one of the naturally born closed minded people. So, the tattoo works and until she came here she has not mentioned anything to do with it.”
“It must be down to the ingredient.” Said Raistlin, tapping the side of his cup as he pondered upon what Anders had said.
“The ingredient?” Asked Helga, “What do you mean?”
“Well, the tattooist simply asked for powdered Dragonscale, which I happened to have. He did not elaborate upon what grade or from which species, or realm, or any other aspect. I gave him what he required and he used it. Then we tested the reliability of the tattoo and it worked, so there did not seem to be any reason to worry.”
“So why are you wondering about the Dragonscale now, other than the fact that it is what Aida claims to have seen?”
“Well, it is because of which Dragon it came from. You remember it was incredibly expensive? Well, that was not only down to the difficulty in actually powdering a scale from a Dragon. It was also to do with the Dragon the scale originally came from – more than likely at a high cost… in life. You see, I really do only trade in the highest grade ingredients I can find; sub-standard materials will never allow one to perform very good magic and I am a powerful Mage. I can only use the best myself, so why would I trade inferior things?”
“So, which Dragon did this powder come from?”
“Well, as far as I am concerned, there is only one Dragon whose scales would ever have been of any interest to me.” Raistlin placed his cup on its saucer and looked up at Anders and Helga with a serious expression. “It came from Khellendros, one of the mightiest of the Blue Dragons of Krynn.”