Elements of Magic
Rune Witch, book 2
Note: This first chapter preview contains spoilers for the previous book in the series. Read at your own risk!
Loki stared at the note, reading it again for what felt like the hundredth time:
We have awakened. As your kin, we require your assistance. The control of Midgard hangs in the balance. For the love of Niflheim, alert no others to this communication.
Loki’s hands shook. He looked again at the bottom of the hand-written text, printed in neat calligraphy. The note was signed simply, “An Olde Friend.” Not a threat. Not a ransom note. The stylized block lettering could have been rendered by any of several dozen “olde friends.”
In the shaky aftermath of the Battle of the White Oak and Managarm’s failed attempt to take possession of the Yggdrasil—plus Bragi’s death in battle, and Fenrir’s escape into the wild—Loki wasn’t entirely sure whom he could count among his friends anymore.
But other than Odin and his clan at the Lodge, what other kin did Loki have in North America? Had other gods arrived in the New World?
Loki sighed and leaned against the railing of the 11:43 p.m. ferry to Staten Island. He stared at Lady Liberty, illuminated against the darkness as wind churned the dark water of the New York Bay and whipped through his black-and-gray mane.
Dangerous to cross water at night, even if these modern humans thought they’d worked out the kinks in navigation with their computers. To be on the safe side, Loki steered clear of the bridge, the engine room, and any other part of the vessel that might be important to the ferry not sinking or running aground.
The random release of his chaotic magick was more problematic than ever. There had been a temporary stabilization after the defeat of Managarm the previous October. The others had even felt their power surge again, but it proved fleeting. Now Loki’s accidental entropy was increasingly uncontrollable and destructive.
He’d abandoned his secluded mountain cottage in Joseph, Oregon, when he realized the freak—but frequent—rock falls that endangered his neighbors, blocked roads, and brought down power lines all coincided with the nagging new pain in his left knee.
He’d journeyed up the road to Pendleton, where residents were both delighted and terrified by the electrical storm that struck overnight when Loki had a fit of insomnia in the Motel 6 just outside of town. There were no injuries, though a lightning strike destroyed an elderly farmer’s garden shed—rumored to be a hothouse for non-medicinal hallucinogenic plants—and St. Bartholomew’s Lutheran Church nearly burned to the ground when its steeple was hit.
Loki fared no better in Portland. He’d been banned from the Lodge after Odin’s brand new, tricked-out super grill iced over in the middle of a family barbecue—exactly six-and-a-half minutes after Loki stepped onto the property.
And the previous week, he’d tagged along with Thor to Home Depot to pick up a cordless drill and a table saw, but they never made it inside the store. As soon as they pulled into the parking lot, the building’s sliding glass doors sealed shut, trapping customers, salespeople, and twenty-three senior ladies attending a gardening workshop.
Loki hitchhiked cross-country to get to New York City for this midnight meeting, catching rides with amiable truckers and partying college students starting their summer break. Flying had always been out of the question but even Loki’s standby, Amtrak, was no longer an option after three trains in a row lost electricity, communications, and pretty much all mechanical ability within minutes of his stepping aboard.
Now he was getting migraine headaches, sometimes two or three in a week. His hair was going gray, fast. Some mornings the ache in his bones was so deep it was a wonder he was able to pull himself out of bed.
Loki was almost grateful for the mysterious summons. The short note got him away from Oregon and the widening swath of destruction he invariably left behind. This “olde friend” had drawn Loki’s attention away from the fact that he was in the midst of full-on deterioration.
The ferry slowed as it approached the Staten Island platform. Loki folded the note along deeply worn creases and slipped it into the pocket of his leather jacket. Steadying himself, he climbed over the railing and leapt down to the worn concrete dock. No sense taking the chance that his presence might interfere with the ferry’s docking procedures.
He started toward the monument.
“Ridiculous bloody nuisance,” Loki cursed as the toe of his heavy boot caught a crack in the pavement and nearly pitched him onto his face. He regained his footing, angrily tucked his long hair behind his ear, and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. He wasn’t sure what day it was—still late May, or June?—but even in early summer, he couldn’t shake the chill in his bones.
“The Staten Island Memorial. Sure,” Loki muttered. A giant pair of stone, wing-like postcards loomed ahead, curving upward as if to take flight.
“Midnight at the next freaking New Moon.” He spat on the pavement and pounded forward, making good time. Whoever he might find waiting for him, Loki would be sure to give them a good talking to about the unnecessary air of melodrama and intrigue.
Loki came to a halt several hundred feet in front of the illuminated memorial. Plenty of lights were on and security cameras were running, but the area was deserted of tourists and mourners. He was early. His eyes flickered over the carved silhouettes of the September 11 victims as he weighed his options.
He could circle the perimeter and get a feel for the terrain before the appointed meeting. He could hike to higher ground and wait for his mysterious friend to arrive.
Or Loki could cool his heels. He had come this far. This anonymous compatriot would have to come to him.
Loki craned his neck upward to get a look at the night sky—one of the last pleasures left to Old Ones like himself who yearned for some connection to a wilder, more heroic age. Within seconds, he felt dizzy. His vision began to tunnel and darken.
Loki bent forward and rested his hands on his knees. He breathed in slowly and deliberately through his mouth, waiting out the golden stars that streaked past his head as his vision cleared.
Heavy footsteps approached and stopped within a few feet of him, but Loki couldn’t look up just yet. He raised a hand toward the owner of the massive boots planted within his sight. “Just give me a minute.”
A strong hand dug painfully into his shoulder and yanked him upward. “You are late.”
Blinking back nausea, Loki found himself face-to-chest with an imposing and unrelentingly solid man clad in dark wool.
“Actually, I believe I’m on time.” Loki’s tongue felt thick in his mouth. If not for the strong hand gripping his jacket, he wasn’t sure he would be able to stand on his own. “Early even.”
Slowly—so as not to induce a sudden fit of vomiting all over the snug black sweater worn by this mountain of a man who might or might not be a friend—Loki trailed his gaze upward, over the massive chest and the broad shoulders, past the thick neck and the hard, stubbly jaw. He blinked and missed the full, slightly snarled lips and the prominent nose, but he opened his eyes again in time to meet the hard, ice-blue stare of someone he’d not seen, literally, in centuries.
“Thiassen,” Loki choked, then coughed, then swallowed the blood he tasted on his tongue. “You’re probably the last . . . person I expected to meet here this evening.”
Loki paused, frowning. Somewhere in the back of his mind swam a memory of upheaval and battle, of punishment and ice. There was a reason this gargantuan should not—could not—be standing before him. But Loki’s vision began to dim again, and he lost the thread of his thought.
Instead, he smiled vaguely up at Thiassen. “In fact, your face never sprang to mind at all these last days, since receiving your note.”
The giant loosened his grip and then grabbed Loki by both shoulders when the old god’s knees started to buckle. “By the Nine Realms, Loki, what is wrong with you? Can you not stand?”
Loki gripped Thiassen’s elbows, weakly. He attempted a smile. “I’ve been feeling a bit unwell.”
Thiassen walked him over to a damp park bench and sat him down. Loki collapsed in what was not quite a heap, but close. Loki leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He stared at the pavement and tried to get his eyes to focus.
“You got skinny,” Thiassen grunted. “Like a weakling calf. Look at you, with your manufactured garments just hanging off of you.”
Loki pressed his fingers against his throbbing temples. Finding and securing the Yggdrasil was supposed to have restored them all to health and vitality. But not even Frigga and Freya’s fussy ministrations, herbal compresses, and weed-based salves had made the slightest difference. He kept getting worse.
Thiassen leaned back, and the bench groaned in complaint. “You need the apples, do you not?”
Loki looked up at him through his stringy hair.
Thiassen sniffed and nodded. “How long has it been for you, since the last harvest? Four centuries, at least.”
Loki rested his body carefully against the bench and breathed deeply. Iduna’s apples, from the sacred grove behind the mists, in the sunlit region where the land of the gods and the land of mortals touched. He remembered meeting the cargo ship in Virginia after the trees last produced, spotting Bragi in that ridiculous colonial costume as he unloaded dozens of wooden chests after months at sea.
Loki hadn’t envied him that duty—languishing on the open water with a gaggle of religiously fervent and enterprising mortals making the crossing from the Old World, and having to artfully evade questions about his own purpose and cargo. Maybe Bragi had told them his crates contained hand-lettered Bibles by which to teach the local savages to read—but in truth he’d been escorting a vital shipment of immortal apples.
Loki smiled at the memory of the reinvigorating feast Odin’s clan enjoyed that season.
Had it been four hundred years already?
“Is it going as badly with the All-Father and his lot, then?” Thiassen asked.
Loki studied Thiassen’s face. All-Father. That was a title he hadn’t heard applied to Odin in a very long time. How was it this particular immortal came to be sitting here with him now?
Loki remembered the note in his pocket. “You need my help with something?”
Thiassen chuckled. “My apologies for the vagueness of my request. I had to get you out here somehow and could not risk the consequences should my missive fall into enemy hands.”
Loki frowned. Enemy hands.
Thiassen looked out over the water. “I had thought of forging a ransom note regarding your son.”
Loki sat sharply upright and tried to ignore the vice-grip of his migraine on either side of his skull.
“No, no,” Thiassen waved off his worry. “Fenrir is safe. Or I assume as much. In truth, I have no idea where he is.” He paused. “And I assume you do not, either?”
Loki looked away and focused on the winged monument instead.
“I was surprised to find you so close to Odin and his clan.” Thiassen leaned over the side of the bench and spat the bitter taste of Odin’s name out of his mouth. “I would have expected you to remain closer to home, and far away from that nefarious lot.”
Loki started to defend his often-estranged kin, but stopped himself when he caught the conspiratorial glint in the giant’s eyes. Loki managed a wan smile instead.
“So, you want to tell me why I’ve traveled all this way, in my weakened condition, to sit with you on a wet bench in the middle of the
Thiassen lifted his eyebrows in genuine surprise. “I would have thought the mere sight of me would have been clear enough.” He studied Loki’s face in the dim light. “You are dangerously close to the edge, indeed?”
Thiassen stood up and stepped in front of Loki. “That is no matter at this stage. I have come to convey you home.”
One corner of the giant’s mouth ticked upward. “You have stayed far too long in this foreign land. It is no wonder, with so much busy-ness, so many bright lights, and too much noise.” Thiassen surveyed the street lamps and the illuminated monument. “A couple of centuries of this strange madness could disorient anyone.”
The giant shook his massive head and wrinkled his nose. “And the close, pungent scent of mortal beasts! How do you stand it?” Thiassen shivered.
Loki leaned forward and caught him with a hard stare. “You’re cold?”
Thiassen smiled but didn’t make eye contact. “Millennia of ice, my old friend.”
Loki inhaled sharply. Ice.
“I’m guessing you weren’t suddenly released on your own recognizance?” Loki thrust his hands into his jacket pockets and crossed his ankles. “Time off for good behavior?”
“The Earth herself has mercy on our kind.” Thiassen reached a hand down to Loki. “And as such, it is time for you to return to your homeland. To take your rightful place at the head of the new Frost Giant Army.”
Loki started to laugh. “You think so, do you?”
He struggled to get up. Thiassen reached out to help him, but Loki fell back to the bench. His heart pounded and his head was swimming. He looked first to the sky and then to where the trees should have been, but all he saw was stars.
And then everything went black.