Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 20

I didn’t relax, though, until I was home. Drawing the attention of the cops was a bad thing, even if that one had seemed to show respect for me. Or respect for tough women, or something.

A bad thing, but I was almost more worried about what pinkhair would try. Her orders said to watch me. I had a feeling she might be tempted to go beyond them now, but I couldn’t let her kill that guy.

As much to protect her as him. Maybe. I wasn’t even entirely sure of all of my own motivations. I just knew I couldn’t let her kill him.

Once home, I locked the door and flopped on my bed fully dressed. Wouldn’t be the first time I hadn’t managed to get changed before sleeping, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight. Fortunately, it was the weekend.

The incident went round and round in my head. Protecting mortals now. That led towards them not being my enemies, except I thought they were.

Or maybe they hoped to not be my enemies, or maybe it was more complicated than that. “I hate politics,” I murmured.

Politics. Was that what it was all about? Divine politics and feuds and arguments. I wanted rid of all of it, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen.

Clearly even losing my memory and, likely, at least some supernatural powers hadn’t allowed me to escape.

So I was back to the question of ‘Who did pinkhair work for.’ Loki had denied all responsibility, but he was known to lie.

Not to me.

That thought came out of nowhere and I shoved it to the side. Him liking me wasn’t relevant right now.

But no. Loki was watching me himself, not delegating his dirty work. And I still felt threatened.

My thoughts were interrupted by a crash from downstairs. I slammed into the door, momentarily forgetting that I’d locked it, and almost knocking it off its hinges. Wrestled with the lock. That just hadn’t sounded good.
And as I made it downstairs, I saw that what had crashed was another of the leather guys, into the bottom of the stairs. What had caused him to crash? A smug looking Kanesha.

“Kanesha…”

“He called me something nasty and then tried to shove me out of the way.”

“He’s been following me around, along with some of his friends.” I made it down the stairs. “I really suggest not insulting Kanesha.”

He picked himself up. “She hits hard. Where did you find her?”

I ignored the question. “What are you doing in here? Actually, scratch that. Just get out. I’m done with you.”

I made it sound like he was somebody who’d been trying to get me to go out with him.

“I was trying to warn you, actually. Believe it or not, we’re not the worst threat to you.”

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 19

Confrontation was, of course, bound to happen. I’d already established that talking to them was a waste of time.

Loki…Otter…had refused to tell me who sent them, if he knew. Maybe he didn’t. I didn’t get the impression the gods were omniscient and omnipotent in the Christian sense. Just…powerful and with certain kinds of power that made them gods.

Power over men, perhaps. Power over souls. Valkyries. Taking the souls of dead heroes, and I shivered a bit.

But yeah, confrontation. And it was pinkhair, of course, involved in it. She didn’t start it, mind. I was messing with their heads again, wandering through northwest with no particular destination, except that I did stop and look at a certain pawn store.

The Masonic sword was still there, but I saw nothing else unusual, except that somebody had pawned his trumpet. A jazz player, based off of the fact that the instrument was bright purple in hue. I felt sorry for him…or her.

Which was about the time some schmuck tried to mug pinkhair. I would have stayed out of it, but it was pretty clear she wasn’t going to leave him alive, witnesses or no witnesses.

So, instead, I strode over, inserting myself between the two as he laid on the ground. “Enough. You’ve made your point.”

She scowled. “Protecting a mortal? And a thief to boot?”

“A bad thief. He didn’t know who to pick. But nah, I just don’t believe in random killing in public. It makes a mess somebody has to clean up.”

She snorted. “You’re going soft. Or else native. Pheh. You even look like one of them. That makeup’s awful.”

“Says the woman with pink hair.”

And then, she tried to get through me to get to her victim. I twisted my shoulder into her, feeling the familiar rightness of physical combat. Quite a few people were watching at this point, and I wondered what they saw. A chick fight?

Two women who really knew what they were doing going at each other. She was stronger than I was, but I was faster…and better. And limited. Thea was definitely stronger than a human. I wasn’t, but I didn’t care, I was going to stop her. I twisted my hip and sent her flying over me to the ground.

The mugger managed to pull himself to his feet and flee. I didn’t even bother watching him go. “Okay, I think I’ve made my point.”

“You’re weak. You’re like one of them.”

“And I still put you on the ground. Why don’t you tell that to your boss?”

She spat at me and then ran off. I glanced around at the people watching, giving them my best ‘what are you staring at’ look.

It worked except for one guy who had the look of an off-duty cop. He smirked at me. “She a friend of yours?”

“In her dreams,” I informed him. “But she was going to kill that guy.”

“I thought for a moment you were going to kill her.”

“Nah. Just reminding her that I hit hard.”

“Like a girl,” he said with a grin, and then headed off. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Not arrested. This time, anyway.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 18

Now I was clued in, I realized I’d grown tails pretty much everywhere I went except for school. It wasn’t Her Ladyship. If she was the type to threaten her people, she’d have better control over them.

So, a new player? Or maybe a very, very old one. Odin? He was ruthless enough in the stories, but he had ravens and wolves and stuff like that and could probably watch me without posting anyone as tails or guards.

Tyr, looking for his horn? No. He’d probably just ask me outright for it, if he was eager to get it back. Loki definitely wasn’t doing it, and Hel would probably send a bunch of ghosts.

Thor? Nah. I let out a breath. I wasn’t going to solve it just by thinking through candidates, especially as I couldn’t remember everyone. Well, maybe Kanesha could help me make a list.

I settled for doing my best to annoy the various watchers. I led one into the Ballston Mall which, for some bizarre reason, is the local center of lack-of-taste. I took another on a free tour of the outer edges of southeast. Probably stupid of me, but I was confident I could take on anything that messed with me.

Yeah.

I was actually starting to enjoy this game, which probably would have made Mr. Otter proud of me. He seemed determined to encourage me to be tricksier.

Probably did that to everyone. Or at least everyone he liked. Maybe his real goal was to make the entire world play pranks on each other.

Yet there was that shadow. I knew he was a murderer. Worse than that, the way he’d done it. So, why did I feel inclined to like him, even trust him?

Trust him with limits. He was probably playing some extended con on me, some kind of game involving the horn. Taking advantage of my memory problems to spin me around.

There was a different watcher today. This one was more obvious than the others. A girl in black leather with pink hair. That hair would stand out in any company, I thought. But they’d all looked…fetishy.

I had thought they were human. Now I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t sure what they were, but human? Nope. They were something else. Maybe they were disguised frost giants?

I remembered the firehound. Maybe they were disguised fire giants. Who was the boss of the fire giants?

I planned on asking Kanesha, and then pink hair abruptly ducked into a building. Glancing around to see what or who she was avoiding, I saw Mr. Otter on a bench eating a hot dog. As I came over, he offered me a second one.

I took it, but warily. And rightly so…he’d put hot sauce on it. Under the frank. I flickered a grin at him. “I like that stuff.”

“I know.”

“Do you know who’s got hirelings following me around?”

“They’re not mine.”

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 17

Pssst.

It wasn’t a voice. It was a noise. I jumped slightly.

Pssst.

I glanced around, but saw only a little flicker of light. The fairy was back, and I resolved to ignore it until it did something worthy of retaliation.

Pssst. And a tap on my other shoulder.

I turned, and saw an unpleasant looking biker guy across the street. He looked like a bulldog. No, wait, bulldogs are cute and friendly. Saying he looked like one insulted the bulldog. But his shoulders were broad. He had almost no neck. And he had spikes on his shoulders.

“Ugh. Are you making sure I notice his ugliness?”

This time there were words in the whisper. “Yes, because he’s been following you for three blocks.”

I almost asked why the fairy cared, but then I decided it was probably enjoying our little war and felt somebody beating me up would be an unwelcome interruption.

Or maybe I’d earned a bit of respect with the soymilk. Either way, I was rather glad to have my attention drawn to his ugliness. He didn’t look like somebody I wanted following me.

Or he was one of the good guys. Impossible to tell at this point. I thought, and then went for the brazen it out option. Sure, he looked like a troll…or maybe one of Tolkein’s orcs…but.

I crossed the street to his side with the light, then casually waited until he got closer. “You’ve been made,” I informed him. “Might as well tell me what you want.”

“Boss just said to keep an eye open and let him know if you left the city.”
“And who’s your boss?”

“Can’t tell you.” From the look in his beady eyes, it was a ‘he’d kill me’ kind of can’t.

I contemplated threatening to kill him if he didn’t tell me, but I really had no intention of carrying out that threat and he would probably have sensed it was empty. “Well, tell him watching is one thing, but any kind of attack will get retaliation.”

An assessing gaze came back. “Yeah. I can see that.”

I was serious about that. Kill him right now, no. Too many witnesses and he hadn’t deserved it yet. But if he did, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I was half hoping he did. Which was unfair of me. Judging by appearances?

Not good of me, really, but it was hard not to. He looked like he was trying to look evil. But for all I knew he was on my side and just keeping an eye on me. “I don’t know who’s side you’re on, but I don’t appreciate being followed around.”

“Nobody does. It’s not personal.”

“From your point of view, maybe not.” I considered seeing if I could outbid his boss, but the fear in the back of his eyes dissuaded me.

Not worth getting the guy killed when it was completely unnecessary. “I’ll be leaving now,” I added, stalking away.

I hadn’t felt anything from him. Maybe he was just human.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 16

With Thea gone, I expected the shit to hit the fan any day. All that happened, though, was that a small amount of the soymilk vanished.

A small enough amount that I grinned a bit. Got him. So, I started to get, bluntly, complacent.

You know, if nothing happens for long enough, you start thinking nothing’s going to happen. So, I settled into a normal life. Kind of boring, but it was what it was. Gave me chance to get my grades up and start calling model agencies.

I got two auditions almost straight away. Prue helped me, and I knew I looked fantastic by the time she had finished with me. Fantastic and all but unrecognizable. Which suited me fine. If I couldn’t recognize myself, my enemies couldn’t either.

And even the fairy seemed to have been put off by that vile soy lite stuff. (I poured the rest of it down the drain, figuring it would never fall for the same trick twice).

Yes, within a couple of weeks I wanted my enemies or something to show up again. During the third week I was outright bored.

I’d taken the night off work to audition with the modeling agency, and I checked my face before heading there.

“Ms…is that really your name?”
“It’s a long story.”

“You should change it. Or maybe not.” The agency man studied me. He reminded me a bit of Mr. Otter. The same scrutiny that was carefully, guardedly not sexual. “Most models use stage names anyway. Especially if you want to move into acting. You need one that isn’t already in the SAG.”

“I do?”

“Actor’s names are like trademarks. You can’t use somebody else’s. Think about it now, before you need it.”

Then he started to take some photos.

A lot of photos. I was stiff by the end of it from holding different poses. None of them were too suggestive, though, so I figured I was okay and not about to end up on a casting couch. Which I was sure happened in modeling.

Which was, of course, the point at which Mr. Otter showed up. I could almost feel him waiting outside.

“Okay. Good. You’ve got a lot of body control…martial arts?”

“Not formally. Lots of self defense and the like, though.”

“Yeah. Growing up without money in a big city will do that.”

I was mentally holding my breath. He was outside and I didn’t trust him not to come in and cause trouble.

“Well. We’ll get back to you. Think about the name.”

“I will,” I promised, stepping outside.

“Nice war paint.”

I tilted my head to one side. “Hello. Thanks for not coming in and interrupting.”

“Who am I to interfere if you want to sell your beauty?”

I hadn’t thought of it like that. “At least I’m not…”

“And you won’t.” It didn’t sound like an order.

It sounded like he knew me better than I knew myself.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 15

“You asked your friend about modeling?” Thea almost pouted.

“Well, aren’t all your contacts in…” I tailed off. “You know.”

“Yeah, but I can give you some tips.” She brushed back her hair. She clearly wasn’t insulted. Much. “You should ask as many people as you can. If it’s really what you want to do.”

“Prue said I wasn’t the right build for high fashion, but would do well in catalogue work.”

“You’d also do well in pro cosplay, but that’s close to the edge of fetishwear.”

“Pro…”

“Yeah. Dressing up as characters from comics and books and such. They hire people to do that kind of thing for…usually for covers, but sometimes to hang out at conventions and pretend to be the character. Requires a bit more acting. And also…high fashion will make you too noticeable.”

“Good point, but this is something I know I can do. I can’t make money from fighting monsters.”

“Or pranking fairies.”

My lips quirked. “I hope I got it with the latest one. And hey, while it’s pranking me, it’s not bothering anyone else.”

“Good point. Okay. Here’s what I really need to talk to you about. I have to head home for a bit.”

I nodded. “Figured you would sooner or later. With the cultists being quiet, I can probably manage.”

“Keep your head down where normal people are concerned. Don’t go seeking out really dangerous stuff. Get backup if it seeks you out. And don’t be afraid to use your sword if you have to.”

I nodded again. “I’m not afraid to use it. I’m afraid to be caught using it by the cops.”

“That’s smart, but there might come a time when it’s take it and use it just to survive. Don’t be afraid of that time. You might be surprised.”

“I’d get arrested.”

“You’d be surprised who knows aspects of the truth.”

I thought of Prue’s unexpected knowledge of fairies, and nodded. “Take care.”

“Don’t worry. This isn’t that kind of trip. I’m in no danger.”

“You should still take care…Thruor.”

She didn’t even blink as I used her real name. Just smiled slightly and then turned to walk away. I watched her go reluctantly, not wanting to see her disappear into the distance but unable to look away.

I still couldn’t work out all of my various feelings, but I knew I should try and train those I held for her towards sisterly.

And well, well away from romantic.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 14

Finding no trouble, I eventually found my way back home. The next day, I intentionally sat with Prue at lunch.

That would get a few looks, but I wanted to pick her brains. “Hey, Prue.”

“You want something,” she said, suspiciously.

I slid her one of the last two cayenne brownies.

“You definitely want something.”

“Do you know anything about how a girl would get into modeling?”

One eyebrow arched. “You’re tall enough, at least. A little more on the curves than they like for high fashion, but you could do catalogue easily enough. Or niche.”

“I’m not comfortable with doing some niches.”

She laughed.

“What? I have a friend who does the fetishwear thing and it just makes me…uncomfortable.” I was even blushing a little, I could feel it.

“Then you probably don’t want to do lingerie either, although you certainly could.”

I let out a breath. “But not haute couture.”

“They want clothes hangers for that. Straight up and down. Shows off the clothes better. For catalogue, they want attractive, but more real looking girls. And niche doesn’t have to mean fetish.”

“So. What would I need to do?”

“Clean yourself up to as close to perfect as possible and start going around the agencies. Smile. Don’t look too desperate. So…is this the plan for escaping retail?”

I flickered a grin. “It’s a thought for escaping retail. I wouldn’t have thought of it if my friend wasn’t doing it. I’m sure it takes skill and training to do right, but…”

“Your grades aren’t vital, but a good GPA shows you have dedication. Get yours up as best you can. Do you have a good makeup kit?”

“No, but I’m sure I can fix that.”

“Don’t cheap out any more than you have to. Get good stuff. Work an extra shift or two if you have to. And…free Saturday afternoon?”

I nodded.

“I’ll give you a quick lesson.”

Would this pull her in? Nah. I doubted anyone could see Prue as a threat or somebody worth taking as a hostage. She was more than she seemed, though.

She knew about fairies. I lowered my voice. “Also, know of any good ways to prank fairies?”

“Oh dear. Did you get into a prank war with one?”

“…yes.”

She laughed. “Oh, I think I can give you ideas.”

I smiled. Maybe I didn’t have to worry about pulling her in. Maybe she already was.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 13

When I got home, there was jam in my bed. The door had been locked and, in any case, none of my roommates were the type for this.
The fairy was clearly back. Well, if all else failed, I still had the water pistol with iron filings in it. Hrm. Maybe I could put iron stuff at my door and window as a deterrent. Well, the door. The window had iron bars, so the fairy hadn’t come in that way.

Move the bed closer to the window? Nah. It would just think of something else. I removed the dirty sheets and replaced them with my spare set, glad I had the luxury of such a thing. They went in the laundry basket before I wondered who’s jam it was.

Crap.

I hadn’t left any in the kitchen myself. If the beastie started involving other people I was going to use that gun for sure. For right now, I positioned the gun next to my school books. A clear warning. Don’t mess with the books.

Then I went to investigate the kitchen and see who’s jam it had stolen.

Kanesha’s, of course. Well, that was a relief. Kanesha, I could tell the truth to. She’d be annoyed, but she’d laugh it off, ultimately. The rest of the girls I wasn’t so sure of.

Okay. Time to warn Kanesha. I sent her a quick text telling her we had a practical joker around and she was in its sights, I’d tell her more face to face, then decided I wanted to be anywhere but here. Screw my homework.

Anywhere but here, and I wandered the streets aimlessly for a bit. I knew I’d have to be back by curfew, but for right now I had nothing to do and no place to be. Well, nothing to do but think up pranks. This time I wasn’t going to accept help from Otter.

This time I was going to think up a good one all by myself, but I didn’t know enough about what might annoy fairies. Then I thought of one. Fairies supposedly liked milk, right?

I went and bought a small bottle of the horrible soy dairy substitute I’d once accidentally put on my cereal and headed back. I set it out as an appeasement offering – we didn’t have a cat in the house.

I was pretty sure the fairy would yech at the taste of that vile stuff just as much as I did. Satisfied, I ducked out again, this time rather more purposefully. I sometimes wished I could work every night just so I’d have stuff to do, but right now I headed closer to downtown, watching the people move. Rich people, many of them. Some in suits, some more casually. Sometimes the richest people were the ones in jeans and t-shirts. They had nothing to prove.

I had nothing to prove, and did my best to radiate that attitude, stopping to look in windows. Clothes I could never afford. I wondered what it would be like to have that kind of money.

I thought about the modeling thing again. Maybe I should try it. What was the worst thing that could happen? I wasted a bunch of time on auditions, that was the worst thing. But Thea wasn’t the one to talk to about it. I didn’t want to be in that scene.

Okay, so what did I want to do? Other than make money, which was a fair motivation. And I suddenly knew who would have some ideas.

Except that I didn’t have Prue’s phone number. But as fashion-following as she was, she might know something. I stored that up in my head for school the next day and stopped, staring down the street.

Just watching for trouble, I told myself, but it worried me more that I found none.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 12

“Are you actually here?”

I jumped at the voice. “Apparently not. Uh, hi, Barry.” He’d apparently got tired of following me around at a distance and was back to trying to get my attention directly.

“I know you don’t want to see me, but you seem very out of sorts.”

“It’s personal.” I would have said family stuff, but everyone knew I didn’t have a family. Or did I? I didn’t know that, not for sure.

Valkyrie. Even the thought of the word caused tension in me.

“It’s going to make you sick if you don’t stop worrying it,” he opined.

“What do you know about it?”

“This summer.”

I let my shoulders fall. “I’m sorry. Look. This isn’t something I can talk about. But you should know…that the real reason I’m not interested in you is because I’m leaving DC right after graduation.”

He nodded. “I can see that. ┬áThis is a crazy, mixed up city and what do you have to keep you here?”

“Nothing.” Kanesha would get her scholarship, the way she was going, and she had already said none of the schools in the area particularly appealed. Of course, she might not be able to get one that covered out of state. Which would suck.

“And you don’t want to ruin that with me or anyone else.” His voice was a little sad. “Do you actually hate the city?”

“I hate the city’s housing prices. Like I’m going to get anything above minimum wage.”

“Point.” He let out a breath. “Alright. I’ll leave you alone.”

I didn’t think he would. He thought he was in love with me. But everything I was learning made it even more important not to let him act on it. For his sake. I did, though, watch him go, wishing things could be different.

Lots of wishes. None of them could come true, even if gods were walking the city. And if they weren’t, well, Barry didn’t deserve a headcase for a girlfriend. He wouldn’t work well with Kanesha either, I mused. She’d railroad all over him.

Most boys don’t want to date a girl quite that obviously smarter than they were.

“You really should just date him,” Prue said as she came up next to me.

“Nah. Barry’s a long term kind of guy. I’m not interested in that much commitment.”

“Good point. He probably is. There’s Warren?”

“I’m not interested in that little commitment.”

She laughed. Warren was notorious for his first dates. He had a lot of them. For some reason, he had very few second dates. That reason might have to do with scheduling multiple first dates in a week.

“I guess I’ve just got other things to think about than dating right now.” I brushed back my hair. “But thanks for trying to help.”

“Like your grades? They’re going up lately – I heard the teachers speculating as to why.”

I tensed. “Uh…I think I just got settled in.”

“Or did a few memories sneak back?” She raised her hands. “Sorry. That was kind of uncalled for.”

“I really wish that the entire school didn’t know. Hard to hide, though. But no. I think my brain just needed to get back into the pattern of learning.”

Or maybe something was waking back up after months of dormancy, but I couldn’t say that out loud.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 11

I was going cross-eyed, but I’d put together the story. Baldr was popular, attractive and, I suspected, insufferable. Frigga, his mother, was over-protective and had convinced every being to swear not to hurt him. But the way she’d worded it had left out the mistletoe. Loki, jealous and in a fit of nastiness, had tricked Baldr’s blind twin, Hodr, to throw a mistletoe dart…killing Baldr.

Odin had then killed Hodr before working out Loki was behind it. He’d then gone on a vengeance spree, killing Loki’s sons and locking Loki up in a cave. The locked up in a cave part I’d remembered. Sigyn was there too, looking after her husband in his imprisonment.

So, Odin wouldn’t agree to the release of Loki’s sons. Hel wouldn’t agree to the release of Baldr. It was an impasse. And, apparently, if Baldr stayed dead, Ragnarok happened. And Baldr took over Asgard afterwards.

An impasse. A feud. And it was Loki’s fault, even if I did suspect Baldr was insufferable. In some ways, it didn’t ring true, though.

Loki committing murder didn’t ring true from what I’d seen of him. Tricking somebody else as an MO, yeah, that was smarmy enough, but the killing itself didn’t fit.

Still, that was what I had to deal with. Thea had said the only way to prevent Ragnarok was, indeed, to free Baldr. Assuming she wasn’t lying.

Thruor. No. I had to keep calling her Thea. I had to keep hiding things, because that was how it worked. Well, no.

Because I didn’t fancy a white jacket that fastened up the back, truthfully, and that would be what I’d get if my psychiatrist found out about this.

So. What did I do? Kanesha was helpful, but she couldn’t give me the ideas I needed. Neither could Thea. Confronting the man himself would have made me feel better but he was presumably still being chased by Thor.

For some reason, I had the image of Thor wearing a dress. Nothing against guys who wear dresses, but he’d never look good in one.

I shook my head and flipped through. Ah, yes, there was indeed a story in which Loki convinced Thor to wear a dress to steal something back that Loki had stolen in the first place.

Cayenne in brownies suddenly seemed very minor. Which reminded me that I had a couple of the doctored sweets left. I snagged one, munching on it as I thought.

Who was I?

It really hit me in that moment that what I was not was an ordinary girl. Either I was insane, this was all an elaborate prank, or I was something supernatural myself. Thruor’s interest in me would be explained…as would the fighting skills…if I was a valkyrie.

I settled on that as the most logical explanation. Exiled because of something that had caused me to take Loki’s side. And might again if I could remember what it was.

Maybe I’d been dating one of his sons. The oldest would be about my age, or whatever the equivalent was for gods. That might have made me mad enough.

It did occur to me there was one more person I could talk to, but subtle as a bull summed him up. Which meant…

One last person I really wanted to talk to, but I had no more chance of finding him than I had of finding Loki.

Less, even.