Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 11

He stared at me, wide eyes, waving the gun in all directions. I was all set to jump him when he dropped it.

It went off as it fell, firing upwards, hitting him in the shoulder. He gasped and went down.

I heard sirens even as I moved forward to put some pressure on the wound. I wasn’t sure why I cared about this guy not dying, except that, well, it would…

I did care about him not dying, in a kind of abstract way. Or rather, his kid brother had asked for my help, and whatever was going on between them, the kid didn’t want his brother to die.

So, I kept pressure on the wound until the ambulance pulled up.

“What the heck happened?”

“He’s high on something. Shot at his brother, shot in my general direction, only thing safe was whatever he was aiming at.”

The EMT actually laughed. “And then accidentally shot himself?”

“Yeah.” I realized how it looked. “I swear that’s what happened.”

“It is,” said a voice from nearby. Glad to have backup, I glanced round.

What was Father Will doing here? Not that I wasn’t glad to see him. I supposed the same thing I was – getting dinner. “You saw it?”

He nodded. “Was about to come over to help when he did that and you seemed to have it in hand.”

I was glad he hadn’t. It felt like flattery not to be helped. “I appreciate that.”

I was covered in blood. “But I need to get home and change.”

Kanesha had got the pizza boxed up, she came over. “I was about to help too.”

I grinned. “But you both knew I had it under control and would just grump at you if you did?”


So, instead, she’d got our pizza boxed up. I wouldn’t have thought of it. “What did I do to deserve you?”

She responded by pressing a kiss against me that probably embarrassed half the street. “Whoo…now you have blood on you,” I mock protested.

“Then, let’s go home and clean it off.”

I had a feeling she had more than that in mind.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 10

I was, of course, wrong. Maybe I was attracting trouble – of all kinds, not just the supernatural kind – because as I opened the door, the young man came charging in and dropped behind the wall below the window.

“H-help,” he managed.

I dropped to join him, trusting Kanesha to manage her own cover. “Did somebody shoot at you?”


“From a car?” I figured it was probably a gang initiation.

“It was…no…it’s…it’s…”

Somebody he knew, I guessed. “Somebody call 911. It’s not a cop, right?”

He shook his head. I hated even having to ask the question, but it did happen. Not so much in DC, but it happened.

“Then talk to me.”

“My brother. ‘Cause I won’t…”

“Won’t what? Sell drugs for him?”

I got a nod.

The kid was about fifteen. If this hit the authorities he’d end up in the system. I didn’t want to wish that on him, but him getting shot at by his own so-called family. “He didn’t hit you, right?”

“He’s too stoned.”

I almost laughed. “Then I’ll take care of him. You stay here.”

I didn’t want to play vigilante, but if the guy was too high or stoned or whatever to shoot straight, I could handle him until the cops got here. Hopefully without anyone getting hurt or killed.

You stay here.

That echoed in my mind. But it was the best request I could make of the kid, right now. I ducked out and ran behind the delivery car parked outside.

“Tyler!” came a voice down the street. “Come out!”

“I don’t think he’s going to do that,” I said, still behind the car.

There was another shot. Wherever it ended up it wasn’t close to me, but I heard the tinkling of broken glass. A car windshield. Somebody’s insurance company wasn’t going to be happy.

“Besides, you’ll regret this when you sober up.” Cautiously, trusting his bad aim, I emerged from behind the car, my hands visible.

“Who says I need to?”

“Your kid brother. You know, the one you’re trying to kill.” He wouldn’t do that while sober, right?


Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 9

That left just, well, keeping an eye on things. Clara had worked out a way to track all demonic activity in DC.

Which we promptly regretted. So far we’d established that two senators, five congressmen, about ten K street lobbyists, and the President’s primary chauffeur were all actually demons. The last one worried me the most, but I was pretty sure we couldn’t clear them all out.

Well, maybe I could drop appropriate word to certain people. Or maybe they already knew and had decided the devil they knew was even more literal than usual in this particular case.

It wouldn’t surprise me.

But we were able to pick her out. During the day she was at the Red Flowers office building, unlabeled and unmarked as it was. In the evening, she was somewhere. The British embassy one night, the Dutch another, the White House for a function on the third.

It was exactly what you would expect for a high class escort. She was doing paperwork during the day and servicing clients at night. Nothing suspicious at all.

Maybe Tonya could get that client list. Senators. Foreign dignitaries. But mostly senators. I asked Clara to call me if the number of senators that were really demons changed and headed out to meet Kanesha.

We settled into a corner booth at an excellent pizza place near Chinatown.

“So, progress on the succubus?” she asked.

“Not sure you want to know how many demons there are on Capitol Hill.”

“Who’d know the difference?”

I laughed a bit. “Hey, they aren’t all like that.”

“No, but it would explain why none of them get on.”

She had a point, but I thought that needed no supernatural explanation and was simply in the nature of putting together a bunch of people who had basically fought for their jobs. They weren’t going to get on.

“Eh. Anyway. This isn’t going to be a problem we can solve with swords.”


“Embarrassment,” I mused. “Of course, everyone uses escorts, don’t they.”

“Everyone who isn’t married…and I’d imagine half of the ones who are.”

I sighed. “Why can’t people find the right person and be happy with them?”
“Because they aren’t as lucky as we are?”

Then I heard a shot. I knew it wasn’t a car backfiring. Kanesha was on the ground before I was, then we picked ourselves up. It hadn’t been that close. I moved to the pizzeria’s door to peek outside.

Probably gangsters shooting at random.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 8

Tonya turned out to be a woman of quite interesting appearance. A slender, willowy Asian, almost as tall as I was, but with striking red hair.

I wondered if it was natural. She reached to shake my hand. “I hear you think…”

“That there’s a problem with Red Flowers.”

“And the government’s somehow involved.”

I smiled. “They don’t know about this.”

“Good, because if they did, we’d be talking entrapment for sure. As it is.” She let her eyes drift over me.

I felt a little embarrassed by her gaze. “As it is, we are looking for anything we can use. And watch out. The woman who runs it…”

“…is very dangerous. Likely to try and persuade me to things.”

I wasn’t sure what Monica had told her. But there was, almost, something behind her eyes. “What…”

She let out a breath. “I know what she is. Monica warned me. And while I don’t have direct experience, I know the stories. I know she can’t touch my soul unless I let her.”

I nodded. “She’ll try and make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

“I won’t accept anything from her but agreed upon money. What if she’s controlling some of the people in there by supernatural means?”

I sighed. “We can’t use that. We can’t prove it.”

“And no fighting.”

“She can’t die. You can.” I kept my eyes on her. “Call if it gets to that point. I’ll be ready.”

Apparently, Tonya took that as read. She let her own gaze drift from her observation of me, then, quietly. “You can’t just exorcise her?”

“We’re working on that too.”

A sharp nod. “Good. I don’t have the skills myself, but I know how to avoid falling into her traps.”

“She shapeshifts too,” I felt it necessary to warn.
“So, no bargains like that with anyone. Even you.”

I smiled. “If she impersonates me I’ll hurt her.”

I might not be able to kill her, but I was pretty sure I could do something she wouldn’t enjoy.

“Not even you,” she repeated. Apparently she didn’t trust that my threats would stop impersonation from happening.

I was glad, because neither did I.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 7

Which meant the answer was somewhere in my locked up memory.

If I knew the prophecy…but maybe the Norns were right. For right now, I decided to focus on the easier problem.

The succubus.

I had to wonder how many brothels and escort agencies were, in fact, owned and run by demons. Probably quite a few.

I felt sorry for the ones that weren’t, in fact. But she was an easier problem than Surtur.

And I thought I knew how to deal with her. Which was why I was looking up Monica.

She’d lost weight and there were bags under her eyes, but she was willing to talk about some stuff.

“So, I figure the best way to deal with her is to expose her for something.”

“Hrm. She killed the wife that was on to her. And I doubt she’d be careless enough to be caught with drugs.” Monica counted off on her fingers. “Providing male escorts might do it. People are still only somewhat okay with it.”

I nodded. “Yeah, but when there’s a rent boy scandal it’s never the rent boy who gets in trouble.” A pause. “I wonder if all of her girls are in the business voluntarily.”

Monica leaned forward. “Oh, that would get Red Flowers shut down for sure, if we could prove it.”

The challenging face of the one I’d met hadn’t been the face of a trafficked woman, though. That had been the face of a professional who knew her worth. “I think they are, but I can’t be sure. Although I think the one I saw had sold her soul.”

“Which means she’s dangling stuff. Better pay. Looks.”

“Maybe not having to do guys you don’t want to do,” I mused. That had to be a perk for a prostitute.

“Maybe. But if any of them are under age…we need to get somebody inside.”

“That’s dangerous. Sold. Soul.”

“I’d do it. Mine’s apparently already mortgaged, but I can’t, not any more.”

“And I can’t. She’d spot me in a second.” A pause. “Got any friends who are already in the biz?”

“I’m thinking.” She tapped her nails on the table. “Tonya might be willing to do it, and I can’t see her selling her soul to anyone.”

I nodded. “Alright. Maybe you can talk to her.”

“What should I tell her?”

I paused. “What you think she’s ready to know.”

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 6

I knew Thruor hadn’t seriously suggested assassinating him then vanishing. That had been a test.

But she seemed to think I might be capable. Which made me wonder again what was in the prophecy nobody seemed willing to share the full text of with me.

Whether I was making my own destiny or whether it was all decided. But then, maybe that was the downside of being a goddess.

No. I knew it was. But I still had some choices within what was laid out in front of me.

I could continue doing what I was doing and hope I could protect the rest of my friends better.

I could say yes to Surtur and watch the world burn. It was bad that there was, yes, a small part of me to which that appealed. Maybe the fire giant part. No, less than that.

But the fire in me responded to the thought, a little.

I could say yes to him and then kill him and likely die myself. That almost appealed. Neat, tidy.

Would start a fire giant civil war, but did I care? I supposed Thruor was right. It depended on who came out on top.

Maybe I did care.

I could try to take him out some other way. Which meant me up against an ancient fire giant who had an army at his back.


I had to think of something that wasn’t any of those courses. A neutral ground duel would, as Thruor had pointed out, resolve nothing with somebody who didn’t want it to resolve anything. This wasn’t a matter of honor, after all.

And I’d lose anyway.

Thruor seemed to think I had a chance, but I knew I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t beat him.

Unless I found some power I had that he didn’t. The fire wasn’t the answer, of course. Fire giants bathed in fire. Loved fire.

There had to be something else.

And it couldn’t be something from my father’s side. He bound fire and frost together, but I was almost pure fire.

It had to be something from my mother.

Loyalty. Fidelity. Honor. Those things came from her, even if I did have the trickster in me too.

Tricking Surtur was something I’d leave for my father.


I couldn’t beat him. Why was I worrying about the consequences? I had to know, somewhere, that I could.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 5

“What if I were to challenge him to a duel?”

Thruor considered. “Technically, I’d have more right to that than you. And a neutral ground duel…would probably make him even more attracted to you if you won.”

I laughed. “Good point. Unless I could force him through to Muspelheim. And I still don’t…”

“Kill him then pull a vanishing act?” Thruor suggested.

“I’d…I dunno. I think I’d feel responsible.”
“Which means no matter how little you want responsibility, at least you’d be good at it.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “And, of course, my old idea of marrying him then stabbing him in bed.”

“If you marry him, you become a denizen of Muspelheim.”

I hadn’t thought of that angle. “Crap. And then I really would be stuck with the job.”

“Not to mention risking your life.”

I shook my head. “I’m not sure that part wouldn’t be worth it.”

She frowned, then. “And you have fire giant blood. Even killing him could change your allegiance permanently, given their law.”

“It could.”

I felt the warmth within me and knew part of me wanted it, but I couldn’t let that part be the one in charge. I couldn’t.

I was…I was not going to be one of them. But what if this was what Odin wanted. Me instead of Surtur. A ruler in Muspelheim who didn’t want Ragnarok or to seek his throne.

I found I couldn’t look at Thruor. Mike was dead because of this. Because of me. I had to end it one way or another.

“Jane. It’s not your fault.”

I forced my eyes back on her. “I know that. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty about it.”

I figured that was normal. A decent reaction. You couldn’t be responsible for the actions of your enemies, but you couldn’t help but feel a little bit as if you caused them. The trick was not to let them use that to manipulate you.

That was what they really meant by not negotiating with terrorists.

“So, maybe the answer is for somebody else to do it. Somebody who does want the job.”

“That gets me off the hook. Does it solve the problem?”

“It depends on who.”

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 4

The encounter was enough to get me to leave the area. Lingering after being seen by one of her stable.

So, how much of the collecting was being done by her personally. Most of it, I figured, with the Senators. The other girls were there to make things look good.

Or to make money. Money might work where sex wouldn’t. Thinking about it, it was probably about money and secrets. Which was this town.

Money and secrets.

Maybe I’d been too quick to throw Larry’s card away. Because maybe a few secrets would be helpful right now.

Of course, I had a feeling I hadn’t entirely seen the last of him. People like that tended to be persistent.

I brushed back my hair and quickened my pace away, alert to any fiery presence. Fortunately, when I felt one, it was only the fyrhund. Invisible, he padded next to me. I reached down to ruffle fur, felt heat.

Maybe he’d sensed my need for company. Maybe he had some agenda of his own. Maybe he had some idea what to do about Surtur. I’d take any suggestions I could find.

As if in answer to that, he flicked his tail and started to pad off, then glanced over his shoulder.

Well, maybe he did have an idea. Or at least an idea for how to cheer up a distinctly down and frustrated goddess. Dogs were generally good at that, after all.

He turned down a side street and I followed. Then he was pawing at the door to some kind of store. I let him in and stepped inside.

The place was open, despite the fairly late hour. It smelled of incense. A magic store?

Then my vision seemed to clear a little. “Hello, Skuld.”
The young woman shrugged. “Maybe.”

She wasn’t going to confirm or deny my guess, and I knew there were far more norns than…and a shudder went through me. Something I almost knew in that moment.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter that much.” I scritched the dog behind the ears. “I want the prophecy.”

“If we gave it to you now, it would cause the very thing you fear.”

I nodded. “Alright then. Any tips on how to get Surtur off my case before he has anyone else killed?”

“You know how it will end.”

I nodded, again. “I’d rather it didn’t. I wish I could think of another way.”

“But not out of sympathy for him.”

I laughed a bit. “No, not remotely. I don’t want to risk ending up with his job.”

“Perhaps you could get somebody else to do it.”

“I thought of that.” Then I thought about my rival for his affections. Maybe…but no. It didn’t feel right.

There was only one answer that really felt right, but…it wasn’t the answer I wanted.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 3

The Red Flowers Escort Agency had offices. I wandered past them casually, but didn’t linger – I knew she could sense me, and that even if I used a “who me” field she could probably sense the field itself.

Maybe part of me wanted her to know I was on to her, even if it might spook her. One of the government people was, indeed, already working on the client list.
They were ahead of me. After she’d proved to be a killer, though, I wanted to send her home.

A young woman came out. I sniffed, slightly. Not a demon…but she had the whiff, the stench about her. Maybe she’d sold her soul for beauty or extended youth.

Maybe. She glanced at me, and our eyes met.

I decided she was still not as attractive as some of the models I worked with. But maybe I was biased by my knowledge that her appearance was even less natural than that of somebody who had had tons of plastic surgery.

It was a weighing, competitive look. Oh, who is she. Hrm. She’s good looking.

Competitive. Divided. I smiled at her in return, promising something more cooperative, and perhaps something more.

She ducked her head and headed into the taxi.

“Routed,” said a voice from behind me.

I glanced to see who it was. A strange man, and I shifted a bit away from him. As any woman would.

He glanced at the building. “Routed by somebody who if I’m reading her right is not a hoe.”

I grimaced. “I’m not, but I know some pretty nice hoes, so…”

He laughed. “I’m Larry.” He offered a hand, which I shook.


He studied me. “Model?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“Good luck with that. From what I hear it’s a lot more work than people think.”

I was starting to wonder who he was. I was about to tell him I had a girlfriend when he slipped a business card into my hand, turned and walked away.

I looked at it. It just had a name and a number on it. I tossed it in the nearest trash can.

I didn’t know for sure that he was a pimp, but he’d been kind of acting like he might be one. In any case, I wasn’t calling somebody who wasn’t admitting to what he really did. I figured I might regret it, but…

I was more sure I’d regret staying in touch.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 2

When I checked my phone, I’d missed a call from Clara, I called her on the way to school. She picked up.

“What’s up?”

“Seb tracked down one of the identities our friend is using.”

I wanted to tell her to be careful about the cell call being monitored, then decided we kind of knew the people most likely doing the monitoring and elected not to worry too much about it. “Good. Talk at lunch?”


I would be so glad when this school stuff was over. Of course, I was only going to be changing it for new learning. Unless I just went and modeled full time for a while first. It almost made sense to do that.

I’d have to disappear sooner or later anyway. Maybe I could build up a good nest egg then stage an accident and become a recluse.

Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Surtur was ramping up his attacks on me. Maybe I’d have to disappear so nobody could be used against me.

I couldn’t do that to Kanesha. She’d made her choice on the matter clear. So, I tolerated class, and then found a corner table at lunch.

Clara joined me. “So…”


“She’s running an escort service.”

“A one demon one?”

“Who knows. Maybe she’s got some more of her kind helping her. It’s called Red Flowers, and…”

“…is completely legit and above board.” Unlike, I thought, the operation run by a certain priestess of love. Of course. The demons would follow the laws.

“Yes. But I’m betting that the government could find some way to shut it down.”

“Might be better not to. If they did, she’d just reappear with a different appearance and name.”

Clara nodded. “Yeah. She would. So, now we can keep an eye on them. Maybe Kanesha can find a customer list.”

“I’d rather see if one of our other friends can do it.” They, after all, wouldn’t be at as much risk of being arrested.

“You trust them?”
“No, but the enemy of my enemy.” I sighed. For some reason that made me think of Mike. He liked that saying. “Dang it.”

She reached across the table. “You know the truth.”

“It doesn’t help. And it won’t help when they start picking off my friends.”

I had to find a way to stop Surtur, that wasn’t giving him what he wanted, before then. And wasn’t killing him.

I just couldn’t think of one.