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[personal profile] tikific
FAuthor: tikistitch
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Skwisgaar/CFO
Warnings: Swearing. AU. There’s reference to het but really not much slash. If you hate OCs, the All-Father and Raziel are not technically original, as they’re from the Norse Pantheon and the Kabbalah, respectively, but, you know, they’re also not members of Dethklok. ALSO! I haven’t really tried writing Skwisgaar before. Skwisgirls, please don’t TP my house? You can have him back and he’ll still be dreamy.
Notes: A billionty thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wikdsushi, the world’s most brutal beta!!



Pairing: Skwisgaar/Charles
Prompt: Fathers and sons
Must include: Use of Norse Mythology



Just an author's note on this: most of the stuff in this series has been enormous fun to write. THIS WAS NOT. I suffered for days, and finally begged Sushi to help me with it. I'm still not happy with the fact that it's partly in Skwisgaar's voice, because I just don't think I have a handle on that character. I might go back and try to fix it at some point, or maybe I'll just hit it in the head with a shovel and bury it in the back yard. But just for now, if you're starting reading this and wanna skip this chapter, that's fine with me. I think all that was accomplished here was establishing that Charles is an angel, Skwisgaar can be an ass, and Raziel is a ditz.


THE WILD HUNT

There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia. – Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan


In my dreams I walk with the king, my father.

"You are troubled, son. You have visited my halls often of late."

We walk through his vast estates, shining and golden.

"You should take your rest here some time. Dine with us. Enjoy our women."

"I have women, thanks."

“Not like our women. They are warriors.”

“Warriors?”

“Sword-bearers of renown.”

“We are beset, my father. You know there are those who oppose us.”

My father nods thoughtfully.

“I have not yet heard Valhalla’s offer of assistance.”

My father looks at me. He looks tired. "My son. I am old. I know a few things. I have sacrificed to know these things. A son, much like you. My own right eye. Here is a thing I know. Do not mix in the affairs of angels."

"They are my affairs. Myself. My friends."

"Such as us, we don’t have friends."

"I fear I don't have a father."

"That's a cruel thing to say."

I awaken suddenly. The two crows are at my windowsill again. We regard each other. And then they fly away.




It is the Dreamtime, and my mind is restless. I make haste to the lands of my father.

He’s standing outside my father’s halls when I arrive. He’s still wearing a suit. And smoking a cigarette. He looks every bit as awkward as I am making this sound.

“I have business. Inside.”

“Business? With my father?”

He shrugs. “Shall we?” he asks.

“It’s not been my custom to attend my father in the company of my lawyer.”

“It’s not, huh?” A thin smile. “Maybe it should be.”

We walk the corridors together. There is a boisterous gathering in the grand dining hall. My father, and several others of the Court, of the Pantheon, range around one end of a long banquet table, playing a card game.

Of the gathering of gods, I have this to say: have you ever been in the presence of men who play American football? This will give you some idea. And yet, no idea. They are men, and yet bigger than men in every way, larger, merrier, quicker to anger. The air is electric about them.

They look for all the world as if they all stumbled in from a battle, dropped their heavy weapons in a pile, and grabbed a deck of cards. Some are still half-clad in armor. There are a couple of hunting dogs, lying beneath the table, nosing for scraps.

My father is laughing, drinking beer, slapping his cards on the table, cursing someone good-naturedly. I haven’t any idea how old he must be, but in his appearance, he looks to be somewhere around 50 years old, a man in the prime of life. He is tall and broad-shouldered. He wears his hair and beard close-cropped, as someone would who hasn’t time to attend to them. His hair is reddish blond, with not even a touch of grey.

And then he has leapt to his feet.

“My son! My son has come!”

“Father.”

“Will you stay and play a hand? You will drink with us! The hall will be merry tonight!” He turns his attention. “And you’ve brought Sariel? Is that you, old friend? It has been a long time since you’ve graced our halls! Much too long!”

“My lord.” He bows stiffly. But his attention is focused on the girl who sits next to my father. I don’t recognize her. She doesn’t seem to be of the Court. She’s small, and dressed in dark clothing that looks like it may have come from my own world. “Raziel? What the fuck are you doing here?”

“What does it look like I’m doing? Playing cards.” She holds up her hand of cards. And smiles. There are mysteries in that smile.

“We must have a gathering!” my father is saying. “A feast! To honor my son!”

Her hand on my father’s arm looks tiny. “I believe you mentioned a Hunt, my lord?”

“The Hunt! The Wild Hunt!” And there are cheers of agreement before he’s even spoken the words.

“Wotan, you’re not organizing a fucking Wild Hunt now, are you?” And he flicks cigarette ashes.

“You don’t organize a wild hunt, Sariel,” my father laughs. "The Hunt happens. You will come, of course!”

“Uh. I’m a bit busy at present, All-Father.”

“Nonsense! You can spare the Dreamtime. You will come, too, my dear?” He is beaming down at his small companion.

The girl is still squinting at her cards. “Alas, as you know, sire, I do not ride.”

“You will mount behind me, on Sleipnir. There is room enough.”

“Well met. I can scarcely refuse such a high honor.”

“We leave tomorrow, at first light. You will all stay, as my guests. The Hunt! Yes, the smell of game is already in the air.”

“I don’t think that’s game you smell.” He’s frowning at the girl, Raziel, but she ignores him, takes my father’s proffered arm, and lets him escort her out.

The game is abandoned, and soon, we are alone in the room, the table crammed with spilled drinks and cards and plates of half-chewed food.

“That … was your sister?”

“No. Well, yes. I mean, in a sense. It’s complicated.”

“Complicated? How could it possibly be complicated?”

“It’s…. It’s an honorific. One I don’t actually merit any more.”

“Then who is she?”

“Someone…. Someone I used to work with.”

“And, how long have you been able to speak Swedish?”

“I’m not speaking Swedish.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t understand, Skwisgaar.” He doesn’t add, “You idiot,” but I can hear it.

“How can I understand anything if all you’ll ever give me is your same line of bullshit?”

He looks annoyed, and then a bit hurt. And then back to annoyed.

“We used to work together. Raziel and I. There was…. A bad time. I don’t like to talk about it. Anyway, I left. Or was forced out. Or left. Anyway, Raziel was very high up. She knew all the secrets. It was kind of her job. And, then, she gave them all away.”

“The secrets?”

“Yes.”

“Didn’t she get in trouble, too?”

“She should have. She definitely should have. I guess that’s the advantage of keeping everybody’s secrets.”

And he’s off and around a corner, smoking like a fiend.



“I didn’t expect to see you here, Raziel.”

“What? In your washroom?”
She’s sitting cross-legged on the counter, while he’s trying to wash his face. She wasn’t there a moment ago. But angels sometimes do such things. “I didn’t wanna interrupt anything.”

“I meant, at Asgard.”

“Yeah. Well. You know I enjoy humans. And their gods.”

“You seem to be enjoying one god in particular.”

“Ah! You’re funny. I’ve missed you, Little Brother.”
She hops off the counter, poking her head into his room.

“You know you can’t really call me that….”

“I can call you any goddam thing I please. So…. What’s up between you and the blond son of All-Father? He’s awfully pretty.”

“Business.”

“Eh, it’s always business with you.”
Seeing no one, she throws open the door and stalks into his room.

“Raziel, what the fuck are you doing at Asgard?”

“I told you, Sariel, playing cards.”
She jumps on his bed, feeling the mattress bounce. “And please tell me you’re not really spending a night at Valhalla playing with your Blueberry.”

“Blackberry. And, anyway, we all use Dethphones.”

“Well, me, I’ve got a bed-full of sleeping Norse god to get back to, if you don’t mind. So, talk fast."

"Management didn't send you?"

"What? To Asgard?”
She throws herself dramatically back on the bed. “Sariel, Management wouldn’t send me to the corner store for a gallon of milk. Management could give a shit about my comings and goings these days."

“And Michael?”

“What about Michael?”

“Yes. What about Michael?”

“Michael, Michael, Michael. Michael pouts. Michael preens. Michael dithers. Michael poses. Michael rattles his wings. Michael looks very good being Michael. There's none better at it than he."

“And what of…. What of….”
He sits down on the edge of the bed.

“You know I no longer get to hang out with Him and do the Secrets and Mysteries thing. Aw, don’t look so sad, Little Brother.”

“I’m not. I’m not.”

“I could tell Him I ran into you. I mean, if I were to see Him?”

“Don’t bother.”

“Well, take my advice, go sneak into that pretty demigod boy’s room and ravish him. Give him a … whoa! OK, what’s wrong?”


She’s off the bed, crouching in front of him. She touches his chin lightly, to bring his gaze up to meet hers, but he waves her away.

“Let it go, Raziel.”

“What the fuck?”

“I said, let it go, Raziel.”
His tone brooks no objection, but she stands, staring at him, for a while, regardless. At length, he lights a cigarette.

“You’re gonna ride with us tomorrow?” she asks.

“You’ve really left me no fucking choice, have you?”

“It'll be like old times. You’ll see.”

“Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of.”




That night, I bed a few of my father’s women. It is as he says. They are so like the women I know, or have known, and yet not like any women I’ve ever had. They are like the very essence of the earth, strong and vital.

I see their beauty, the fire of each, for that is my gift.

Soon, dawn breaks, sweet and bitter cold, at Asgard. The hunting party is gathering.

Sleipnir is not so much a mount as a giant spider. It’s remarkable, a steed supported by eight legs. When I quiz someone later as to his origin, I am treated to a long, zany story that is apparently completely true.

This is something that is true of the Pantheon, of the Court. Everything is strange. And everything is true.

The hounds are feral, magnificent, more akin to wolves than dogs.

And of the hunting party: Valhalla is not just a home to the gods. It is a gathering place for the honored dead. My father gathers the souls of only the most valiant. Together, they assemble in his hall, and await the final battle.

I am not entirely sure who they expect to battle.

But it means the dead accompany us on the hunt.

Someone approaches my father. It is a woman. I don’t recognize her from the court. "Shall we release Loki? He always enjoyed the Hunts."

His anger is terrible. "Never release Loki. Do you understand me?"

The girl Raziel is beside him, touching him lightly on the arm. "It was a long time ago now, All-Father."

"Have you ever lost a son?" he demands.

"Yes. Yes, we have. It's what happens, when you mix in the affairs of humans."

Someone is shouting, “We have the stag, All-Father!”

One or two strides, and he is there, admiring the fiery buck that will serve as prey. Like many things up here, it is not of earth. Steam emits from its nostrils, and sparks flash when its hooves hit stone.

“This is a fine beast!” my father says. “This hunt will be well favored.”

“The Wild Hunt is never well augured.”

“Oh, don’t be a grouch, Sariel.” She is beside him, patting him on the back.

“I need my fucking coffee.”

“Have a beer.”

“Beer is not breakfast.”

“I’ve decided you’re right. You’re not my Little Brother any more.”

“Fording through miles of mud and cold, to slay a poor beast that’s never done me harm.”

“You know the tradition. Blood must be shed.”

“Why doesn’t All-Father cut himself shaving, so I could go home?”

“Woman! We are mounting!” My father grows impatient. Somehow, small as she is, she is up on the back of his giant steed in one leap.

“Can’t you do this as a Western saddle instead of…. Instead of whatever the fuck it is you think you’ve done here?” He’s bickering with one of the servants over his mount, a nondescript chestnut stallion.

“What did you mean exactly about the Hunt being ill favored?” I ask him.

“What? Oh.” I can see him choose his words. “Your father is trying to do…. He’s making an appropriate gesture…. He’s trying to welcome you to the Court.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

“Sometimes, in the past…. There have been events associated with the Hunt…. Sometimes the outcomes are not favorable.”

“Not favorable? Not favorable to whom?”

“To the huntsmen. Or, to people who get in its path.”

“People in the path?”

“Oftentimes, when men and gods mix, things do not end…. Optimally for both sides.”

“Ofdensen, do you actually have to work at being a dick, or does it come naturally?”

“OK. Skwisgaar, for fuck’s sake, your father is trying to make a gesture.” He’s snapping at me. “You can choose to appreciate it. Or you can go ahead and keep treating him the way you’ve always treated me. Your choice.” And he’s up In the saddle, looking a lot more natural than I ever would have expected, like someone who’s been riding since childhood, only I’m not convinced he ever had a childhood.





There is a fair warrior riding with the Hunt.

She died many years before I was born.

When the party stops to rest and water the horses, we decide to pass some time together. I’m not sure whether I’ve taken leave of my senses. The sex is ethereal. Amazing.

But, I know something is wrong. I am a stranger to these lands, but I have had my fill of the supernatural. So, I can sense it when the barrier between worlds has been breached.

I know before I hear the roar. And then I hear the roar.

I can tell it’s a demon - that much I know. It’s big. Maybe four meters high. Its arms are thick around as tree trunks. Its head is like that of a boar. The tusks are enormous.

It has already ripped the Valkyrie’s horse asunder, torn it like a tissue.

And then suddenly my father is come, astride Sleipnir. The girl, Raziel, is mounted behind him.

But then, she is not.

And then the demon is down, and Raziel is atop the body, holding a bloody sword at the ready. It all happens just this quickly. I could not even catch the flash of her blade.

I start to move forward. Rough hands wrestle me back. "Wait. Wait," he says. I hadn’t seen him ride up.

Raziel stands absolutely motionless. She appears to be listening for something for a moment. Then, finally satisfied, she leaps off the demon body.

He releases me. His face is ashen. Even more ashen than normal. He is out of breath. "Usually, getting the head is enough. But, not always. Sometimes these things will have another brain. You need to wait. Until the heartbeat stops.”

My father is already off his mount, looking at the head, which had rolled a distance from the body.

"Do you often encounter demons in these parts?" Raziel is asking him.

"We have never encounter demons here. Not in all my years. Not in all of time. Never."



“Raziel.”

“Yeah?”

“Take a look?”


She looks. And then she’s down on the ground, looking more closely. “Huh. Runestones?” She holds out a hand over them, and says some soft words. The rocks spark. She looks up at him. “There’s even still magic in ‘em.” He’s crouching down beside her. “OK. This is definitely weird.”

The girl, Raziel, is speaking to him in a language I almost, but don’t quite, recognize. It’s strange. And musical.

"What’s going on?" I ask.

He stands, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “Somebody…. Somebody may have used magic here.”

“They may have used magic, huh?”

“Uh….”

“Look, it may have escaped your notice while you’re digging for magic rocks, but I was nearly fucking eaten by a demon here.”

“Yeah, uh, I’m aware….”

“Maybe you’d wanna fucking deal with that?”

“Whoa. Pretty boy is kind of a dick.”

“Raziel….”

“Say the word. I'll put a sword up his ass for you.”

“Raziel! Let me handle this.”


“What did she just say?”

My father has mounted. He shouts, and Raziel is up behind him in the saddle.

“She’s, uh, she’s concerned about your safety. As we all are.” And he is up on his own horse. “You might want to, uh, find your pants.” And he is off.




We decide to break for lunch at a country inn. It’s good. I am badly in need of beer.

I go outside for some air. My father emerges from the front door, together with the girl, Raziel. They don’t touch or speak, but exchange a long look, drinking each other in. Then she goes around the back, and he heads towards where the horses are grazing, to attend to Sleipnir. I follow my father.

“Father.”

He clasps a large hand on my shoulder.

“How do you find the Hunt so far, my boy?”

“I know it’s not my place to ask, but you warned me not to mix in the affairs of angels.”

He roars with laughter. “Raziel?”

“I don’t trust that one.”

“Listen to an old man, boy. Don’t get mixed in angel politics. But when one of them wants to crawl into your bed, don’t refuse ‘em. ‘Twould be a sin, that. I said the women of Asgard were nothing like the women of earth?”

“You did.”

“And was I right?”

“You were.”

“And angels? O, angels.” He looks perfectly enchanted. “These things, they used to happen more often. Not any more, and the world is the poorer for it. The angels have gotten shy. They don’t mix. They keep to themselves. I can’t remember the last time we had two of them at Asgard at the same time. Especially two so high born.”

“Two? I thought…. I thought he resigned.”

“As I told you, boy, don’t attend to angel politics. It’ll just drive you crazy. Or worse. The things are Created bickering with each other. Like they say, it only takes two of them for a blood feud. But come, meet Sleipnir and get acquainted. He is the best of horses.”

Sleipnir is a tremendous beast, but seems gentle with my father’s tending. “So,” I ask him, “you’ve known these people a long time.”

“I’ve known Sariel for eternity son! We have fought together. Raziel … I only made her acquaintance most recently. But she has a most honorable reputation. There is said to be none more splendid swordsman among the Host. All the Host!”

I gather that I am supposed to be impressed by this. “You all fought in wars?” I ask.

“Well, yes. Wars there’s always been and will always be. The trick is to live your live between them, I guess.”

“I can’t imagine I’d have any talent for warfare,” I tell him, surprising myself.

“You may be surprised what you have talent for.”

I am trying to form the words. I keep coming up short. Even in my own language. “Father,” I say, “I can’t help wondering why you’ve brought me along on the Hunt today.”

He is considering. My heart sinks. I’ve seen this kind of consideration before. Finally he asks, “Do you like stories, son?”

“I guess I’ve never thought much about it.”

“Stories are important. There are a lot of stories about me. Lots of stories. Mostly true! I guess I’d been thinking up until just recently that all of my stories had been told. But I’m beginning to think, no, maybe there’s still a few more. Maybe there’s still a few more.”

Which of course, answers nothing.



“You still practice sword fighting every day, Raziel?”

“Hey Sars! Grab a blade! Let’s go a few rounds.”

“Please don’t call me Sars.”

“OK. OK. C’mon! En garde!”

“I’m afraid I won’t be much of a match for you.”

“You never fail to surprise me. Come on. I promise I won’t hit anything vital.”

“What the fuck are you really doing at Asgard, Raziel?”

“Sharing hobbies with my boyfriend. I read in your Vogue magazine it’s one of the top four fantastic ways to revitalize your relationship.”

“In my…? Sorry, I’m not a Vogue reader.

“What? They’re supposed to have a great new issue on Italian shoes.”

“Ow! Goddammit!”

“Oh, sorry. That wasn’t vital, was it?”

“Before you kill me, would you at least tell me what you’re up to? I know it’s not shoes.”

“Ha! All right. Secrets and Mysteries. That was my stock in trade. Which would you prefer? A Secret, or a Mystery?”

“I’d prefer not to play your fucking games.”

“Tell you what, since we go way back, I’ll give you one of each. So, the Secret: let’s say, Management was to catch wind of certain goings on in this universe. Just for sake of argument, let’s say someone was planning an unscheduled apocalypse. I mean, without filing the proper paperwork. No one we know of course. But. What would Michael do? Or more to the point, what could Michael do?”

“What could…? Raziel, Michael, no matter what you think of him, commands the Host. The Host. The greatest army in the history of the Creation.”

“Are you by chance familiar with the human phrase, ‘shitstorm of unbelievable proportions?’”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not just signs and portents here. It’s all over the place. Little things. Big things. Things they didn’t foresee. Every fucking where. In every universe.”

“It’s out of their control? Beyond the control of the entire fucking Legion?”

“If Uriah hadn’t stuck his nose in here, I doubt your situation even would have caught notice upstairs.”

“So, you know about Uriah?”

“Well, I guess I didn’t have it confirmed until just now. You should stay away from him. You know that.”

“I hadn’t much choice. So why…? Why is this happening now? How did they let things unravel?”

“Ah! You do want a Mystery too! Greedy bastard. Well, you do the math. Management sent away anyone who wasn’t singing hosannas, telling them what they didn’t want to hear. You’ve been down to earth for an eternity now. Me, they just ignore me. What did they think was gonna happen?”

“Do you miss it?”

“Miss what?”

“You were at His side. Hearing the Secrets. The Mysteries.”

“Well, you know, I was never really a favorite. It wasn’t like He was with His boys. Not like He was, you know, with you. I was supposed to stand in the corner and shut up and listen and write it all down.”

“But, do you miss it?”

“Every day, Little Brother. I regret it, every fucking day. OW! GOD DAMN IT!”

“You said you wanted me to surprise you.”

“YOU FUCKING BRAT! God damn! That’s gonna leave a mark.”

“So, why did you give them the book, Raziel?”

“What?”

“Why did you give them your book of Secrets?”

“Ah, Jesus!”
She stops fencing again, furious. “They were naked. And alone. Cast out of the only home they ever knew. What was I to do? What else would you have had me do?”

“I’m not questioning….”

“Why give someone free will if you’re not expecting them to use it? Why are you fucking laughing?”

“That’s what I said. Exactly what I said. Word for fucking word.”

“It wasn’t what you said. It was how you said it.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“You know how you are. Always thinking you're the smartest, and the best, and the prettiest.”

“Arrogance is hardly an uncommon flaw among The Host.”

“No. Not because you were arrogant. Because you were right. More often than not. You were right. This is what they cannot bear.”

“I….”

“The truth is not always an easy thing, Little Brother.”





I don’t know how I know these things. We’ve gotten kind of a late start from the inn, so I’m in the back of the pack. We’re fording a stream. This time, it comes out of the water.

One of my father’s friends is riding just ahead of me. And he does a crazy thing. I’m actually beginning to get used to people doing crazy, ridiculous things. I don’t know if this is good or bad.

But, he throws his sword at the demon.

And, the sword starts to fight the demon. All by itself.

It’s not as efficient nor as deadly as Raziel. But, I’ll have to admit, it’s pretty impressive. I don’t dismount. I hold back and watch.

And then, with a stroke, the head is sliced off, and the thing lies on its back, across the stream.

The man - his name is Freyr, I think - goes to retrieve his sword, which has fallen in the stream.

That’s when I hear it. I think at first that everyone else hears it too. But then I’m not so certain. As Freyr is fording the stream.

It’s the sound of a heartbeat.

I leap off my mount, screaming for him to get back, but it’s already too late. Freyr is knee-deep in the stream. He does not yet have his sword. And the headless beast is rising.

Freyr stumbles back. He loses his footing, and falls, because the stream bed is slippery.

The monster looms, a claw’s grasp away from him.

And then it falls. Again. For the last time.

A spear is in its back.

My father’s spear.




He's fording through the stream, in a furious mood, knee deep in the icy water, talking a mile a minute to her in that strange angel language of theirs. She's following him, hopping carefully from stone to stone.

"I know they're here somewhere."

"Dammit, Sariel, these are Valentino boots."

"Who wears designer clothes on the Wild Hunt?"


I am trailing after them, along the banks of the stream. I am not sure why. I think I know what he’s looking for. I’m not sure how I know this.

“Wait!” I call. “Will you quit fucking bickering and look?”

There is a part of the stream bed. It isn’t … right. I can’t exactly tell you what’s wrong with it. I can’t elaborate. So I point.

“Yes, that’s it! That’s it!” he calls. He splashes over. But then she’s over his shoulder, grabbing him back. She makes a gesture with one hand, like she’s tugging something, and some small stones migrate up to the surface, and then hang in mid air, as if they’re attached to invisible strings.

She flicks one with a finger. It sparks.

“We need to show All-Father,” she says. He nods, and she scampers off, as quickly as she can, picking her way over the stones. But he stands, knee deep in the water, and frowns at me for a long moment.

“Skwisgaar,” he finally says, “Could you see the magic?”

“Is that what that was?”

He nods. He is splashing out of the river, to the shore.

“Am I going to be able to do this? I mean, when we’re back in the real world.”

He is on the shore, sitting, and pouring river water out of his boots. “I’m afraid I don’t know.” He looks like he’s trying to decide what to tell me. And what not to tell me. “People who have one parent who…. Who is like your father. There are different outcomes. Sometimes, they end up having abilities. A lot of abilities.”

“You’re not much help,” I tell him.

He shrugs. “Yeah, I guess not.”

We return to a hushed conclave of gods and the honored dead.

“This matter has become dangerous,” my father is saying.

“Look, why don’t we just stop the fucking Hunt and all get back to Valhalla?” I ask.

There is silence.

And then the angels are walking me away from the main crowd. As you would a small child.

I push his hands off of me.

“Don’t. Fucking. Touch me. Again!”

But she is in front of me. “Skwisgaar, you idiot! You don’t call off the Hunt. You never call off the Hunt. You don’t talk about calling off the Hunt. You don’t even think about stopping the Hunt.”

“What?”

He runs a hand through his hair. “It’s sort of magic. Like a magic spell I guess. And stopping it in the middle is just…. Well, you can’t.”

“Why can’t you?”

“If we don’t end the Hunt with an appropriate sacrifice, then we’ll just have to keep going. The Hunt will never end, in other words.”

“You mean, we’ll have to keep Hunting forever?”

“No,” Raziel puts in. “You’re mortal. So you’ll just Hunt ‘til you die. Sariel and I will go Hunting forever.”

I have no words. I have no words for my fury, for my sense of betrayal. “Why? Why did you let me come out here when you knew the danger? You’re supposed to protect me! I pay you to protect me from this kind of shit!”

“It’s complicated….”

“Say it’s complicated one more fucking time….”

“Could you listen to Sariel for one fucking minute?” she snaps.

“Raziel….”

“You’re pretty, but you’re not that pretty. I’m beginning to think you’d look a lot prettier with my fucking sword up your ass.”

“Raziel!” He literally pushes her away, throwing himself between us. “That’s enough! He didn’t know!”

“Doesn’t know or doesn’t give a shit? You know, there is a difference.”

I can’t stand it any more. “Look, who the fuck do you think you are? Other than some piece of trash who’s fucking my father!”

“Nice! Very nice! You slip your dick into every Valkyrie in fucking Asgard, dead or alive, and I’m trashy!”

“Raziel…”

“You lured my Father out on the Hunt, you manipulative bitch. I don’t know what you’re up to. But now we can’t get out of it. None of us.”

“I….”

“Is this what you wanted? What are you after, anyway? His money?”

“Money? I’m an angel, you dimwit! What would I need with money?”

"Raziel," he says, very quietly. But there is a menace to the tone.

She grows silent for a moment, and seems to be gathering herself.

“I don’t deny…. I don’t deny that I have influence on your father. Which is my right. I make no secret of our affections. And, your father is no gullible fool. If you think that, then you don’t know him. You prey on his mind. I don’t think you’re aware of how much. And, yes, God help me, I did convince him to mount a Hunt. If something happens, it will be on me. But, I’ve borne worse. I would never wish any ill upon him.”

I find myself troubled. She appears to be telling the truth. Or as much of the truth as she’s willing to give me.

“Do you have any idea how much All-Father cares for you?” she says quietly.

“No. No, I don’t,” I tell her. “I was nothing to him, and now I’m everything to him? You make me welcome with an ill-fated Hunt? And we have to keep going until we die? Nothing here makes sense. Nothing makes any sense.”

He’s pushing up his glasses, rubbing his eyes, and looking perfectly miserable. “Skwisgaar, things are … complicated up here sometimes.”

I’m ready to blow my top again. “Would you just quit fucking saying that?”

“Would you quit fucking being mean to Sariel? I don’t give a flying fuck that you’re a shit to me, but he’s my Little Brother, and I have killed people for less.”

She is tapping her finger to my chest as she says this, to emphasize the point. The top of her head comes about to my chin. She is actually standing on tip toes, or rather, kind of bouncing on tip toes, to threaten my life.

I have seen her take down a demon, but I can help it, just another absurdity piled on to my ridiculous day today. I am laughing.

“God dammit!” she says. “Next time I’m wearing a better fucking body.”

“I’m sorry. But you look like you should be standing in line for one of our concerts. Not here sticking swords into demons. I don’t know what I think. I wish…. I wish I was back home, just playing my guitar.”

“You can’t mean that. You want to be here. You want to know your father.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know why the fuck I keep coming back. When I’m upset nowadays, I end up coming here. Or, dreaming about coming here, I guess.”

“Why are you upset?”

“It seems like…. It seems like a lot of assholes are allied against us. Again. I don’t know why. I’m never sure why.”

“Sariel, what have you been telling him?”

“I didn’t want to worry him.”

“Well, look! He’s worried! He’s having fucked up dreams! Like this one!”

“Look.” He looks like he’s getting one of those migraine headaches. “Can we please end the psychodrama for now? The thing to do is…. The thing to do is…. OK, we need to figure out how to bring the hunt to its conclusion. And not get killed. By whomever is doing this.”

“Well, that last one is pretty obvious,” she sniffs.

“Loki.”

“It’s always him.”

“You guys mean the guy you were talking about this morning?” I ask.

“Yeah.” She nods.

“I thought my father specifically told them not to release him.”

“Yeah. Well. All it takes is one person deciding to release him. Or him tricking them into releasing him. Or, there’s always escape. And it’s more likely with your dad away from Valhalla. Dammit. Fucking Loki.” She shakes her head.

“He’s a trickster. And a changeling,” he tells me.

“So he could be anybody or anything, meaning it’s pretty fucking useless to even know it’s him.”

“Well, maybe not completely useless….”

“What did he do?” I ask them. “What did he do that they locked him up for?” And they’re both going to answer. But then they both stop. And look at each other.

She says something to him in their language. I think it’s swearing.

Finally he tells me, “Loki killed Baldr. All-Father’s son.”

“Why?”

“Same reason as he does anything. Because he could.”



“I don’t want to be here.” He would dearly like to ignore her, but she is sitting behind him on his mount. Fidgeting.

“Raziel. You dragged us all out to this Hunt. Shut. Up.”

“I want to be back at Valhalla. Reading about Italian shoes.”

“OK. If you will just fucking shut up, when we get out if this, I will personally take you to fucking Italy and buy you some fucking shoes.”

“You think this will work?”

“Of course this will work. It’s my plan, so it will therefore work. It’s always Loki. And these things always come in threes. We just need to be patient.”

“I’m not patient.”

“Yeah, Christ, like that’s news? Anyway, one sure way to out a changeling.”

“Two, actually. The other one is beat the shit out of it.”

“Raziel, we’re not going through the entire hunting party and beating them up.”

“Why not? Let’s start with Skwisgaar.”


He tries to stifle a laugh, but does not quite succeed.



It's growning dark.

It’s a river crossing. Again. Although, it is a different demon.

This one has a head like a stag.

I suppose it is as Sariel suggests, and Loki, though ruthless, is not terribly creative.

“Careful!” my father warns. “Let Raziel deal with this one.”

Raziel dismounts. But instead of dispatching the monster, as she’s done before, she marches up to it, and stands underneath it, arms crossed.

“C’mon, fucktard, fight me!”

The size difference is ridiculous. The monster actually looks confused.

I can’t really help it, but I stifle a chuckle.

Then she’s around in the back of the demon, giving it a round kick in the ass. More people are laughing.

I’m not certain any more whether her objective is to fight the demon, or simply humiliate it. She feints a couple more times, but the monster is comically late.

Then she loses her footing and trips herself into the river. She comes up, furious as a wet cat. And I simply can’t stifle my laughter any more.

“Oh, you think that’s funny? You think that’s funny?” Fortunately, she’s yelling at the demon, and not at me.

She rises, and stomps on one of the demon’s hooves.

The demon hops around for a minute on one foot. And then she stomps on its other foot. And it falls. And as it falls, it screams.

But, it’s not a full-throated, roaring scream, as you would expect.

Instead, it’s more like a squeak.

A high pitched squeak.

It’s pretty wonderful. Even Raziel has to lower her sword to laugh.

The demon screams like a girl.

One of the horsemen near me, one of the honored dead, I believe, laughs so hard he actually loses his mount.

But when he falls to the ground, suddenly, he is not the same person.

He is Loki. I don’t have to be told. I know.

And they are upon him. But, somehow, he’s righted himself on his mount. There is an explosion. There is smoke. And confusion. And he’s cantering off, the hunting party after him in the dark. Down the path, dead men and gods and horses, and around the bend.

And there’s something up on the rise around the bend.

But it’s not Loki, it’s the stag.

In all the commotion, I had forgotten about our prey. I think perhaps most of us have forgotten.

And I can see Loki now. Can see him take aim, bow in hand. Can see him loose the arrow.

He hits it in the hindquarters. Not to kill, but to cause it pain and panic.

He doesn’t mean to escape. He means to draw off our prey. To trap us in the Hunt. Forever.

The poor, wounded creature flees. And there is a thunderclap this time, and then he rides off, the party now in earnest pursuit.

The storm Loki has kicked up generates not much rain, but a fierce wind. So, I can see, but not hear Raziel suddenly up on Sariel’s mount with him. She has grabbed him by the collar and is shouting in his ear. He nods.

Then she dismounts, gripping her sword. She is walking, headed in a slightly different direction from the way my father and everyone else took off after Loki. And I have absolutely no doubt that is who she is after. She does not run, nor appear to hurry in any sense, but walks very deliberately. And in this moment, I sense something very menacing about her. I would not want to be at the other end of the path she has chosen.

He has grabbed my reins from me. He pulls my mount towards him, then grabs me close to him and screams in my ear, “Skwisgaar, you’ve got to follow the stag. We’ve got to get the stag! We’ve got to end the Hunt!”

I try to tell him. He’s an idiot. I’m not a hunter.

“You know how! Just fucking do it!”

He lets go of my reins. And, he’s right. I don’t know how I’m doing it, but I spur my horse in the correct direction. I’m not sure whether I can smell the blood, or sense the fear, or whether it’s something else, but if there’s anything I know, it’s where that god damn stag is headed, and I’m headed after it.

The path turns treacherous. We are at a cliff side. I am praying my mount does not stumble now, as I do not think I would survive the fall. I don’t look down, into the dark and the dropoff, I just look up the path.

And I see it up ahead. I can sense that it is scared, and in pain. I press my horse.

We are almost within bow distance.

But then the path runs out. The stag hesitates, just for an instant, at the cliff side.

And then, foaming at the mouth, it casts itself over the cliff.

“Oh. God. No.”

And Sariel is off his mount.

He leaps. A man would not survive the leap.

But he is not a man. I can see that clearly, as I lose sight of him in the dark.

And then he disappears from view, over the cliff.

Our horses – both of our horses – have run away in panic and confusion and wind.

And I am forced to wait. Alone. In the dark.

There is no sound but Loki’s storm passing.

After a while, the wind finally dies down.

And then at last, my eyes detect motion. Flight.

His wings are not white, as I would have expected, but a soft grey. He barely makes a sound as he flies, though I suppose this should not have been a surprise.

He’s bearing the stag in his arms. It was a large beast, but he bears it lightly. It has surrendered to him.

I can see that its leg is broken. Badly broken.

But I cannot think of the stag. All I can think is, why is he not always in this form? How can he bear to stuff himself back into that human body, even for a minute?

He is kneeling in front of me. His hair has turned completely grey, as they say happens to some after a bad fright. When he looks up at me, I can see his eyes are grey too.

“It would be better,” he says, “if you did it. Quickly. It will be less cruel.”

And the wounded stag looks into my eyes, pleading. I am its savior, and its assassin. I stick the knife in quickly, efficiently. Its blood is warm. I feel the heart flutter. I can feel the soul surrender its body.

He lays its remains very gently on the forest floor.

“Was it….?” I need to ask. I need to know. “Was this an honorable kill?”

“Yes. Yes of course. It was an honorable end. An honorable end to the Hunt.”

“I don’t want to disappoint my father.”

“I know. I know. I disappointed my father. Once. A long time ago.”

He’s patting his chest. He’s looking for a shirt pocket that isn’t there any more because his shirt tore when he unfurled his wings. He’s searching for his pack of cigarettes, which have gone somewhere along with the pocket. He finally realizes and swears and puts a hand through his hair, streaking his forehead with dirt and blood.

I had never seen anything so beautiful. So broken.

And my hands are in his hair now, too. For just a moment, he gives me a look, like the stag, but then he lightly touches me on the cheek, and I’m kissing him. He is like nothing of the earth. I can feel his heart flutter as I wrestle away his secrets.


“What is it about them that makes us flip our shit, anyway?”

“Give me back my cigarette.”

“Why do you even like these things?”

“It’s a Mystery.”

“Ha! Damn, I’ve missed you, Sariel.”

“What the fuck are you doing at Asgard, Raziel? I mean, really.”

“You know you’re gonna need them, Little Brother. Asgard. You know that. For what you’re planning.”

“What am I planning?”

“I hope you’re planning something.”

“So, you and Wotan? That’s what this is really about?"

“The boy drew him back into the alliance. I don’t think he sees this as strictly angel infighting any more. But, sometimes, sometimes, things could use a nudge.”

“So it was all just maneuvering?”

“Well. Um. It started that way….”

“You’re not….”

“It wasn’t fair. I used my charms on him. But then, he used his charms back on me.”
For a moment, she looks annoyed. But then she smiles.

“Raziel. Honored Sister. You know what the prophecy says about the All-Father. About The Ragnarok.”

“Ah, soothsayers. They can…. They can fucking bite me. Anyway, who is to say what is coming is The Ragnarok?”

"It’s…. Yes. Maybe. Maybe you’re right. It’s hard to say, when you meddle in the affairs of humans."

“Humans. You know what I think? I didn’t give them secrets. They are the secret. They are the mystery.”

“You and your fucking riddles.”

“Ah, look at that. He is just so damn pretty.”




I hear the soft voices.

They’re off, sitting together, sharing a cigarette, speaking in the language I almost but don’t quite recognize.

There is a flash of anger from me. Of jealousy. And emotion I don’t often feel. There is a familiarity between them.

She looks up and sees me just then. And smiles.

“Loki?” I ask her.

“Got ‘im. Don’t worry.”

“You didn’t…?”

She laughs. “No, I didn’t kill the little bastard.”

“It’s difficult….” he begins. “It’s difficult to kill them.”

“It’s difficult to kill them so they stay dead,” she corrects. “They don’t tend to stay in the Underworld where they belong. Anyway. Loki wants to cause more trouble, he’s gonna have to wait a bit for his limbs to grow back.” Her grin is fierce.

“Who released him?” I ask.

“Oh,” Raziel says. “It was Eir. She’s sort of Freyja’s…. And Freyja is sort of Wotan’s ex-…. It’s kind of tangled.”

“I wouldn’t get caught up in Pantheon politics, Skwisgaar.”

“True that. It’ll drive you insane. Like they say, only takes two of them to get a blood feud going. Anyways, Eir will have to answer to Loki’s wife. And maybe wait for a few of her own limbs to grow back. Speaking of which. I should probably get back and give All-Father the good news. You guys can deal with the stag?” But she’s gone before we can answer.

“Goddammit, that was my last cigarette!”

“Why doesn’t she…? Why doesn’t she have…?”

He laughs. “Why doesn’t she fly? Raziel’s True Form? She’s 50 feet high. And she has three separate sets of wings. It’s…. It’s pretty impressive. But, she doesn’t tend to transform. Often, I mean. When she walks…. She can trigger an earthquake when she walks. I mean, literally start an earthquake.”

“I’d like to see that some day.”

He frowns and tucks a strand of my hair that’s fallen in my face back behind my ear. “I honestly hope you never have to see that. Anyway, she brought back my mount. Let’s see about getting that stag to your Father.”




"Father," I say, and then I run aground, as I so often do, when there are only words.

"Thank you. For taking me on the Hunt."

"Walk with me," he says, and we walk to the edge of the roof, to a battlement, where we can stand together, overlooking his vast lands.

He reaches out a hand to me. And I take it. His hand is vast, compared to mine. His arm is bare. I can see how each individual muscle of his forearm is contracted, then, clasping my hand in his.

I nod to him. "My father. My king," I say.

I am awoken, in my own bed.

There are women there, of course, asleep. There are always the women. They look so tiny, so fragile, as if they're made of glass. I slip out of bed, without disturbing them, and go to the window.

There is a raven at the window.

He regards me, as they are wont to do. And then he flies into my bedroom. He flaps over to my bureau. He perches there. He folds a beak under a wing, and swiftly falls asleep.



EPILOGUE

It’s getting towards evening, as the shadows are starting to lengthen, but it’s still sunny and warm in the piazza. A raft of pigeons briefly takes flight as they are annoyed by some passersby, but they are soon calmed back down to earth.

The girl sitting at the café is staring so intently at the magazine that she barely notices when her companion sets down the coffee cups and takes a seat opposite. There are already empty coffee cups on the table, and a plate with a half-eaten slice of lemon cake.

“You know, I’ve seen people give pornography less scrutiny,” he finally says.

“I don’t understand pornography. Where is the advantage in staring at photographs when you could simply do it?”

“You can’t always do it.”

“Well, some of the positions are a bit far-fetched, but, if you did a bit of stretching first….”

“That’s not what I meant. Just. Drink your cappuccino so we can get out of here.”

“Don’t slouch. You look like you want to crawl under the table.”

“I do want to crawl under the table. I just want to get out of here, so I can go home and get into normal clothes and play with my ‘Blueberry.’”

“You look great. I told you we needed to get your ass into that Versace. Fucking English tailors don’t have a clue. No fucking clue. Good God, look at these boots! I really need to get back to this country more often.”

“How long has it been? Since you’ve been to Italy, I mean?”

“Um. Fourteenth Century, I think. They have definitely made a few improvements. Much less Black Plague.”

More passersby annoy the pigeons. They are young. They look and move like soccer players, arrogant and attractive. They stare for a long time, openly and cheerfully, at the table.

“So?” she says, once they have passed by and the birds are resettling.

“So what?”

She finally looks up, lowering her sunglasses. “Those guys winked at you, not at me. Hey! You’ll give yourself whiplash doing that.”

“You wouldn’t mind….”

“Please. Leave me in peace with my vast collection of pornographic shoes.”

He’s already standing. “You’ll be all right? With all the Italian men, I mean?”

“Eh, I got my sword. Someone offends me, I’ll just challenge them.”

“Uh, I don’t think that’s legal here any more.”

“Since when did they outlaw duels of honor in Italy? Forget what I said. Fucking country’s going down the drain.”

But, he doesn’t hear, as he’s already gone.

A bird flutters. It isn’t a pigeon. It’s a raven. It’s up on her table, and appears to be peering at the magazine.

“Hey, Huginn.” She breaks off a piece of lemon cake and feeds it to him. “What do you think about this style, the three inch heels, or the six inch heels?”
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