Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 30

I moved immediately between the new arrival and the agency rep, who was diving for something. Probably a panic button.

The person who had come crashing through the window was Ros. She rolled to her feet, snarling at the opening even as a hairless, reddish skinned guy leapt through the window after her.

I stayed between them and the rep. If I joined in the fight, he’d instantly know I was more than some girl looking for money. If I protected him, I could tell him afterwards I didn’t know these people.

Ros had drawn a machete, of all things, and was striking back at the red-skinned guy.

“Do you guys mind taking that outside?” the agency rep said a little weakly.

“Stay back,” I whispered to him.

“…no kidding. You know these people?”


She’d drawn blood, but it hissed as it fell, boiling away almost as soon as it touched the ground. Fire giant. Great. Hopefully the rep wouldn’t notice.

“Good. I’d hate to think a sweet…” He stopped, ducking behind the receptionists’ desk, which was currently unoccupied.

I moved behind it myself, knowing Ros wouldn’t think me a coward, but I was also looking for something to throw at the fire giant.

Wait. Fire giant. “I have an idea to dampen their ardor. Where’s the nearest fire extinguisher?”

The rep told me and I made a dash for the door into the back offices. Fire extinguisher. It might not work, but the force of it would probably convince them to go fight over me somewhere else.

Or over some insult. For all I knew it had nothing directly to do with me, just that I was why both groups were hanging out here.

Fire extinguisher. I came back to the door and fired a blast of foam across Ros’s shoulder at the giant’s face. He acked, lifted his hands to cover it, and Ros kneed him in the solar plexus, sending him flying back out the window.

She winked at me, then leapt back out into the street.

“What’s that about?”

“How should I know? Klingon courtship?” Thea had used that term, something about fighting physically before making love.

He laughed. “Kind of looked like it. Or mortal insults. Either way, if I ever track them down, they’re buying me a new window. Are you alright?”

He was asking me? I swallowed any indignation. “I’m fine. Just get my portfolio out.”

He shook his head. “Well, you certainly handle pressure well.”

I just laughed and handed him back his fire extinguisher.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 29

By Saturday, I was wondering if the fire dog had taken up permanent residence in the sub shop’s toaster oven. It seemed to like it there.

If anything, it also seemed to be improving the taste of the sandwiches, so I decided to just leave it there. It wasn’t doing anyone any harm and the only thing it would be reporting on was who preferred meatballs and who preferred cold cuts.

Saturday morning, I put my face on and headed for the modeling agency.

“Okay. The bad news is that we can’t promise you work right away. The good news is that I have some people looking at your portfolio.”

I nodded.

“Did you think about a name?”

“Jane Rudi.”

“I like that. Let me run it and make sure it’s not in use.”

I glanced up at the photos of girls more beautiful than I had ever thought I could be that lined the room. Well, maybe I’d belong in that company.
And it had one distinct advantage. Nobody would take me seriously or think I could fight if I was being paid to look pretty. Maybe that was part of why Thea did it.

“You’re good. Might want to legally change it.”

“As soon as I’m eighteen.” I’d looked into doing it at the library and I had to be eighteen. And pay some money, but the money I thought I could manage.

“Got it. Okay, Ms. Rudi. I’ll send out your portfolio to the interested parties tomorrow. One’s catalogue work, they’re looking for half a dozen girls your age.”
And presumably a few boys too. “And the other?”

“It’s actually an acting gig. Extras for a crowd scene. You don’t really have to act – I’m pretty sure any girl your age can pretend to be dancing at an all ages club without actually acting.”

I laughed. “Got it.”
Acting. Well, I was starting to do that all the time now, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Still. “Go ahead.”

“I think you’re going to do fine. You’ve got a good body type as long as it’s not for runway…too many curves for that. You’re pretty and you don’t shy from the camera.”

Why would I? I’d been through enough far more dangerous things not to be afraid of a few photographs.

He stood up and I made it back to my feet as he offered his hand. We stepped out into the lobby, which I noticed was empty.

That was when somebody came crashing through the window.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 28

Fortunately, the teacher took my excuse for being late back. And the shadow didn’t show up again. That part worried me more.

I’d rather it was harassing me than harassing somebody else who wouldn’t know what was going on. I did corner Prue as we left. “Prank idea?” I whispered.

“That was who pulled the fire alarm?”

“Fortunately, it didn’t think of the sprinkler system.”

Prue winced. “Fortunately. Okay. Let me think on it. Also, was there something else around?”

“Are you a witch?” I blurted.

She giggled. “A bit of one. It shows, right? You, though. You’re something else.”

“I can’t talk about that.” Which wasn’t entirely true.

“Can’t or don’t want me involved?”

I let out a breath. “There’s enough people in danger, Prue. Just help me with the fairy.” I grinned at her.

“It likes bluebells.”

That was a hint. Bluebells. How could I use that? I’d have to think about it. We parted at the gate and I headed towards work.

Followed, after a bit, by a shadow. That relieved me. I definitely wanted it bothering me and I was pretty sure it was just another watcher. Speaking of, yes, there was Ros on the other side of the street. I was developing an entourage.

I was definitely getting out of DC as soon as I graduated. I was sure I could find something somewhere else. Maybe New York. Expensive too, but a good place to lose yourself. And a good place to be a model, if I ended up doing that.

But I’d have to be very much on my own, and I found I was afraid of that. The fire dog followed me into the sub place and then took up residence in the toaster oven. Hopefully it wouldn’t burn anyone’s subs.

“You seem preoccupied.” That was Barbara, my supervisor.

“Somebody pulled the fire alarm at school again today.”

She rolled her eyes. “Hope they catch them. That’s rude behavior.”

I nodded. “Yeah, it is. At least this one only worked out how to activate the evacuation alarm.”

“At least.” She glanced at the toaster. “Running a bit hot today,” she noted, adjusting it.

I stayed silent.

“As long as it’s not anything that might affect your work.”

“Nah. It just put me off my stroke at school, you know.” I let out a breath as a family of four came in, the two children bickering at each other as siblings are wont to do. Time to work.

Time to, hopefully, not think.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 27

The girl had been slammed into the lockers. She was a freshman I didn’t know, wearing glasses that had been knocked askew.

The guilty party was a boy I did know. Not any kind of thing that sneaked in, unless he was possessed.

“Leave her alone,” I said.

“Why? She’s just a frosh.”

“Leave her alone,” came Kanesha’s voice, backing me up. “Or I’ll use my black belt on you.”

“And get suspended.”

“Would be worth it.”

He grunted and dropped the girl then stalked away. “What was that about?” I asked her as I moved to help her up.

“I told him I didn’t have any interest whatsoever in meeting him behind the school.”

I flinched. “Let’s get you cleaned up. He’ll have some story that would make sure you were the one who got into trouble.” That was how it worked. Bullies bullied, victims got suspended. People who disagreed with that didn’t tend to get very far with the system. Nobody seemed to want it to change.

I did, but I knew what battles I could fight. Monsters, easy. The school system, not so easy. I helped her to the bathroom. “What’s your name?”


“Okay. Look. Find some friends and stick with them for a while. Chuck does this kind of thing all the time, but if you make yourself less available he’ll move on to somebody else.”

She looked up at me through her glasses. “Is that all we can do?”

“Right now, yes.”

I wouldn’t shed any tears, of course, if Chuck came to a bad end in an alleyway. Or, even better, got himself beaten up by a valkyrie and ended up afraid of women for the rest of his life. Maybe when Thea got back I could arrange it. Or maybe I could just do the beating up myself, as long as I did it off school properly and in an area with few witnesses.

A shadow spun past me. Instinctively, I shielded Mary from it. She barely seemed to notice…she was crying now. “I’ll walk you to class.”

She nodded. Hopefully I didn’t have a puppy dog follower. That wasn’t really something I could afford right now. Somebody else to protect was the last thing I needed. But she’d make friends before too long and I knew Chuck would move on to somebody else, but I did wonder about that shadow.

I thought it was another firebeast and now I was pretty sure I knew who had sent the first one to harass me. Or maybe just to get a really good look at my scent. It hadn’t been able to hurt me. Had I done the right thing convincing it to leave?

I had done the only thing and, besides, it had only been a dog. This shadow was the same thing, and I resolved to track it down as soon as I could get out of the class I really needed to be in right now.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 26

Halfway through second period, somebody pulled the fire alarm.

It almost made me panic, but I didn’t smell heat or smoke and this happened all the time. Well, not all the time, but often enough to get eyes rolling as people headed out to the athletics fields.

Somebody probably got bored in class. Outside, I became aware that the fairy was hovering just above my right shoulder.

Okay. Maybe somebody didn’t get bored in class. “Not very original,” I whispered.

There was no response. I had to think of a new prank now, but I was too frustrated and confused to have any good ideas. Maybe Prue would have one. I spotted her not that far away, looking distinctly annoyed. Most around me were just glad for the break from class. I couldn’t see Kanesha or Barry, neither of whom were happy about breaks from class.

I did think I saw Ros, standing by the fence. I was less annoyed by her presence than I had been. I figured she might help if things got bad.

“Just another prank,” one of the teachers called. “When we find out…”

People had been suspended for it before, but nobody would turn anyone in, and this time it hadn’t been a student. I hoped nobody would get blamed for it – anyone who had asked to go to the rest room was a suspect. But as we filed back into the school, I glanced around.

I had this feeling something or someone was following us in, and I didn’t like that feeling, so I ducked to the side, waited until Kanesha showed, and fell in next to her. “Fairy,” I whispered to her.

She giggled a bit.

“But something else is around, not sure what. Something that would normally be kept out by security.”

“Could just be some creep.”

“I don’t think I’d sense that like this.” Maybe. Maybe not. I couldn’t predict what I’d sense and what I wouldn’t sense, an added frustration in a situation that was already pretty frustrating. Probably because I’d forgotten how to use what abilities I had. “But it would have to be something that needs to enter physically.”

“Or be invited. Isn’t that vampires?”

“That’s a TV show,” I snorted. No evidence of vampires anyway.

“It is?”

“An old one. Thea showed me a couple of episodes. Like, before our time old, but she said vampires don’t work like that and are very rare anyway.”

That didn’t mean it wasn’t one, though. Very rare didn’t mean non-existent. And maybe there were other things that needed to be invited in. Or to sneak in. More likely the latter.

“Anyway. Just watch your…”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence before the screaming started.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 25

What if he is? I read story after story, but although it seemed clear who the good guys were, how could I be sure?

Was this why they were worried about me getting my memories back? Not worried I’d jump ship to Loki’s side, but to this guy, who was clearly worse?

Or maybe they were worried about both. Why not now? Loki’s words echoed in my mind, and they troubled me too.

I spent study period in the school library, and went to the central library afterwards. Stories, myths and the news all started to run together in my head. There was certainly plenty of evidence for the world going to hell in a handbasket, I couldn’t help but think. Politicians and their followers sniping at each other. Shooting rampages all over the place. But at the same time, life went on. Life needed to go on.

I’d made one choice. I was going to fight tooth and nail against the world ending, but fighting against anyone in this would hasten it, or so it seemed.

Surtur wanted to salvage something? But the stories all said there would be renewal, a new cycle. Except…

Not now. Maybe I was being selfish, not wanting to see it, but what if I would anyway? What if…even the dead would come out of their holes for it, according to the stories.

I realized I was actually sweating a bit. This was no good at all. I almost wished I’d had to work tonight. And on Saturday, I met with the modeling agency. How could I tell them I was no longer interested?

How could I risk them getting burned to the ground?

I had to. I had to carry on like nothing was happening, I realized. Any change would give him ammunition. He’d think I was intimidated. Think I was about to bend. Which I wasn’t. I wasn’t going to bend on this at all. Not so much as an inch.

At least I’d made one decision. Or had I? He could still, I knew, convince me that everything was upside down. On the other hand, the only people who had tried to kill me were those idiot cultists.

Except Odin, I was pretty sure, had wiped my memory and dumped me in DC. That was definitely harming me by pretty much any definition of the word. No matter how good his intentions or how vital he saw it, he’d hurt me.

And Loki seemed to be taking at least some of the blame for it. He’d never intentionally hurt me.

So, where did that leave me? It left me drifting out of the library into the cool fall night, glancing up at a sky devoid of stars. I’d only seen the stars to remember them once.

No stars in the city, no light, but lots of life, I could feel it flowing around me. The edges of something – the edges, perhaps, of what I was and was meant to be. I didn’t know for sure.

Where did it leave me? It left me not sure who to believe, and even my own instincts were troubled. I only knew I needed to protect these people, even if most of them would dismiss me as a random teenager, hurrying to get home before curfew.

Just some girl. That was all I was right now. Just some girl.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 24

“So,” Kanesha said. “This fire giant wants you to fight for him.”

“He wants me to do something for him. Fight was the most strongly implied possibility. He didn’t hurt me, though. But he might hurt you.”

Kanesha frowned. “I’m not abandoning you.”

“You can toss a warrior over your shoulder, but if he throws a fireball at you, you’re cooked,” I pointed out. “I don’t have any defenses from that and neither do you.” I let out a breath. “Well, you certainly don’t, and I don’t think I do, but he isn’t going to kill somebody he thinks will help him win a war.”

She nodded. “Thing is, you’re my friend.”

I put my hand on hers. “Thing is, you’re not expendable. You’re supposed to be going to college, getting out of this trap, living your life. Not fighting my battles.”

“I…” She tailed off.

“Not fighting my battles. That might be Thea’s job. It’s not yours.”

“Thea’s job is to make sure you don’t get yourself killed. But it doesn’t have to be my job. Jane…”

The name didn’t ring true at all. The name didn’t feel remotely right, at this point. But I didn’t have a better one to use, so I just shook my head a little. “I have to live with myself if he kills you. Don’t forget that. Besides, I don’t know that I can stay here.”

And…my cell phone rang.

I picked it up. “Jane.” Not using the full name, which always got sniggers. As soon as I hit eighteen I was legally changing it, whether I knew what my real name was or not.

“Ms…Doe. It’s the Velvet Agency. We’d like you to come in.”

Now they offered me a job? Then I knew I had to take it. Surtur would expect me to be spooked. Expect me to run. Maybe try some more forceful persuasion. He might not want to kill me, but he might try abducting me.

Or, as had already been tried, abducting my friends. “Uh…okay.”

“Saturday morning?”
“That works.”

“10am, then.” And he hung up, but I heard a smile in the man’s voice that told me as clear as words that this was good news.

“You got the modeling gig.”

“Just when I’m thinking I should head out of town before I endanger anyone.”

“If he wants to get you to help him, he might try more nice persuasion first, at least.”

“I think…you’re right.” I sighed at Kanesha. “You’re right. He wants to convince me he’s the real good guy in this affair.”

“What if he is?”

“I don’t know.”

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 23


“Now you show up?” I asked as I walked away from the scene.

“Now there’s no risk of me and him getting into an…argument.” Loki sidelong glanced at me. “Did you save any chocolate?”

I tossed him one of the two muffins I’d bought for later. “Isn’t chocolate a new world plant?”

“New world, old world. Human distinctions. I’m sorry you had to handle that on your own.”

“But any other presence might have made him burn the place down. Got it. How do I know he isn’t right? Heck, why aren’t you…”

“…on his side?” He looked younger than normal, right now, less grey in his hair. “Because he can’t win. The best he could do is to force a draw.”

“And everyone dies. Why not just call the entire thing off?”

His face darkened. “I…”

“Can’t let go. I get that, but why let everyone die?” I shook my head a bit.

“One day the world will have to end and be reborn. Why not now? Look around you. The climate’s going to hell, a good day of honest work simply isn’t valued any more…” He tailed off. “What’s to keep this going for?”

“Maybe all the children born every day? I don’t know.”

“You just spent six months living with these people and being put on the trash heap for being an orphan. Why defend them?”

“Because most of them are decent. The problem is the decent people don’t have the power, don’t get the say. And I guess we can’t change that. But we can give them a chance to live out their lives.”

“Under corporate tyranny or Communist tyranny or the rule of kings and princes?”

“People manage to be happy in all of those situations. Besides, you’re a prince,” I pointed out.

“I’m a god. Big difference there.”

“Really? The way you guys squabble, I’m not sure there is such a big one. Did Thor ever toss you in the reflecting pool?”

“Nah. But I let him think he had. Then sneaked Sif back her bracelet.”

I laughed a bit at that. “See. Childish pranks. Politics. Feuds. You’re no different from them, just more powerful and longer-lived and…”

“…with power over their souls.”

“Did you ask for that?” An odd question that came to mind, then.


He turned to face me, walking backwards, “No being in all the realms can choose what they are. Who, to an extent, but not what. And we all have our basic nature that we can’t change. Even if we don’t remember it.”

I didn’t want to let him have the last word, but I did anyway.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 22

I knew who I needed to talk to, but he’d never shown up when actually wanted before.

But maybe if I parked myself somewhere in public and followed my instincts I could track him down. My instincts led me to an outdoor cafe and chocolate muffins. I would have made more cayenne brownies, but I hadn’t had the time or the money.

Next week. I munched on my muffin, watching the people go by. Slowly. If nothing else, I could at least savor the moment. I didn’t often have enough money for this and the modeling agency hadn’t called me back yet.

They had said it might take a week or two, though, so I wasn’t too worried. Yet. But no sign of the trickster.

Nope. Not going to show up when I wanted him to. Big surprise, that, and I suddenly felt exposed. No sign of any black leather clad watchers, either. I’d even have been glad to see pink hair…Ros. I knew she was good in a fight.

Then something landed on the table in front of me. It was an envelope. I reached for it, hesitated, then opened it carefully.

No white powder or anything else. Just a letter, in blocky script and with several spelling errors in it.

“I only want to talk” it said. No name. No to or from. Just that.

I scowled and put it back in the envelope, then in my pocket. Maybe he was telling the truth, but I didn’t particularly feel like believing him. I felt like that would lead me into trouble.

Come on, Loki, where are you? Where was backup when I needed it? No black leathers, no Loki, no valkyries, just a letter from somebody who wanted me alive in possibly the worst sense.

I pulled the letter out of the envelope and wrote “Okay” on the back of it. A moment later, it blew away.

Subtle. Sort of subtle, anyway. I waited.

Alone. This didn’t feel right. Or it felt like everyone was letting this meeting happen.

A man strode up the street, but I could feel, sense, almost see the heatless fire flowing off him, heatless only because he allowed it.

He sat down opposite. “We finally meet.”

“Only because I’m curious about what you want with me.” I studied him, even knowing this probably wasn’t what he looked like. He was big, bigger than anyone had a right to be, and still smaller than he would appear, I thought, if he wasn’t toning things down. Hairless. Red eyebrows. And red eyes.

“Well, first, I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

Ah, the veiled threat. “That’s good. I’m not in the mood for a fight anyway.”

“Cocky, especially under the circumstances. It’s simple. I want you to help me end the world.”

“And what would be in it for me?” Play along. I didn’t mean it, and I hoped anyone who heard would know I meant it.

“A guarantee of survival. You might make the difference. With you, we could win.”

“A guarantee of survival if you win. I’ll have to think about that.”

“Without you, it will be a draw, and everyone will die. Everyone. With you, we can salvage something. Do you really think Odin Allfather is the good guy?” From the way he said the name – such a mix of fear and utter hatred – I might have wondered.

Maybe. It was, oddly, Thruor’s face that floated into my mind.

Episode Four: Prank War: Scene 21

I got it out of him in the kitchen, with Kanesha watching, all ready to throw him again if he crossed any lines.

“Somebody saw you and Ros get into it. Somebody you didn’t want seeing it.”

“And it wasn’t that cop.” He’d been nice.

“No. Okay…I’m not supposed to tell you, but we work for Freyja.”

“Freyja?” I wracked my brain for a moment. “Goddess of love…”

“And battle. Which are often the same thing.” He made a wry face. “You were never in danger from us.”

“Unless I decide to take Loki’s side.”

“Even then. She’s more worried about somebody else finding you. Surtur.”

The name sounded disturbingly close to Satan. “Surtur.”

“King of the fire giants. He wants you…alive, I’d note.”

“Working for him or in his bed?” Kanesha blinked at that blunt question, but said nothing.

“Possibly both. Either way, he knows where you are now. He won’t kill you but he might take out people close to you, and…” He glanced at Kanesha. “No offense, because you took me down, but you had the element of surprise, knew to use my strength against me, and I don’t throw fireballs.”

I winced. “I need to leave, then, before he burns this place down so I’ll have nowhere to live.”

“That would certainly be the kind of thing to be worried about.” He let out a breath. “Like I said, you weren’t supposed to know what was going on, because we were concerned…”

“…that it would make me more likely to give you the slip. Okay. So…the expected thing to do at this point would be to run. He’s going to be watching for that.”

“You can’t fight him.”

“I don’t intend to. Maybe it’s time to take a few leafs out of Loki’s book.”

“Maybe it is. Or maybe that fairy friend of yours can do something. He’s more powerful than he’s letting on.”

I started to say the fairy wasn’t my friend, but realized it might well be seeing me in just that way. A friend. Or at least somebody willing to play along.

Maybe that was what passed for a friend amongst fairies.