You woke to a full scale invasion of your room. A group of women entered with Loki at their lead, carrying your breakfast, and a bathrobe nearly identical to the one he was wearing.
Oh, you’d just known it. You’d known you had been wearing his clothes. It made you uncomfortable just thinking about it. Not only had he sneaked into the room sometime yesterday morning while you were sleeping, to leave you food and clothes, but also, the wearing of his clothing indicated a level of intimacy that the two of you definitely did not have and that you couldn’t even contemplate wanting. And now all of these women were not only going to see you wearing his things, but they would also know that he could and did access the room anytime he wanted. What were they going to think? You had only been here for two days; you did not want to get a reputation for being anybody’s ‘kept woman’.
Loki set the food and robe down, and stripped the blanket from you, jovially commanding you to arise. At your squeak of protest, the oldest woman stuck her finger in his face, and though you couldn’t understand her, she was clearly berating him. It was a little shocking to see him being shoved out the door, scolded like a child, and even grinning like one.
But he had to have been a child at some time, hadn’t he? Maybe this woman had scolded him even then. She shut the door behind him.
“Ah, scalliwag that he be, let him not get thee in a tizzy, dear. Up, up! We must see to thee.”
“Er, yes ma’am.” Her tone brooked no argument. You rose, yawning, stretching. “What do you need me for?”
“We’re to provide thee with things a lady should have, but thee was brought without. We will be taking measurements for proper clothing, and providing what we may in the meantime. There must be little things as well, scissors for thy nails, a brush for thy teeth, a comb for thy hair. We shall see to them. Ah, and this be Saldis.”
She brought one of the women forward, a young one with a bright expression and dark eyes.
“She will be thy caretaker for those things a man may not comprehend.”
Saldis held up a measuring tape. “We’re going to be making you a few things, and probably altering some items we already have. If you just wear the clothes you came with every day, the stitches will tear. They don’t seem to have been very well made.”
“Yeah well, in my position in life, cheap is the name of the game.” You said.
“Allow us to change that. Please hold up your arms.”
It took longer than you expected, but you’d never had formal measurements taken before, and only Saldis and the old woman-Roskva-spoke your language. You took care to inform them that your weight would likely be changing, as you were coming back to health after a long illness, and they agreed to add a few inches here and there. When they left, Saldis gave you a pad of paper, and told you to write anything you needed her to know on it.
“I’ve plenty to do around here, so I’ll only be able to check in a few times a day.” She said. “If you aren’t here, just leave me notes, and I’ll take care of whatever it is, okay? I hope I can make your stay here more pleasant.”
“Um, thanks.” Was all you had given her in return. As a member of the servant class yourself, you had no idea how to act around a maid. It felt weird and wrong to have one. You reminded yourself that she wasn’t yours, you were her side project, and that made you feel a little better about it.
Breakfast was cold, but you didn’t mind. The oatmeal had apples chopped into it, and didn’t have to be hot to be good. Cold coffee was also acceptable. The fish oil was gross at any temperature, but apparently a permanent part of the meal, so you swallowed it as quickly as you could, wondering if gods suffered from vitamin deficiencies. How did their bodies work? Did they pee? There were toilets, so clearly they did.
They were alive, like you were. But what did that mean? If these gods lived, and had bodies, and could walk among people, did that mean they had done so before? Legends had been told about them, hundreds, thousands of years ago, so they must have.
Thor and Loki looked no older than yourself. How long had they looked like that? How old could they possibly be? More importantly, possibly most important, were they the only ones? Was Bjarkehild a goddess? Was Saldis? Was the sweet young guardsman?
And what about legends from elsewhere in the world? Were there more gods? Were they all real, just on other planets, somewhere out in space?
You stared out the window as you ate, looking over the construction. Were there hundreds of little gods out there, right now, building a city for their people? Would this become a literal heaven on earth?
“Do you practice obliviousness, to perfect it so?” Loki asked from over your shoulder. You choked on cold coffee. “Surely you can’t be that deep in thought.”
You set the drink down carefully. “You sneak around on purpose; don’t act surprised if I don’t hear you when you don’t want me to!” You said, once you’d finished coughing. “But yeah, I was thinking of something.”
“Did the ladies trouble you?” He asked, but you shook your head.
“No, they were just fine. I’m not used to being waited on, but they didn’t bother me. L-your Highness, are there other gods? If you exist, they all have to exist. Don’t they?”
“Oh. Slightly larger question than I was expecting. What would it do to your little internal world, if I were to say yes? What if I said no? What would change?”
You frowned. That was a dodge for sure. “I don’t know.” You said. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“You do that. For now, we’re due to meet with Bjarkehild. She wants to observe what happens when we…” He searched for a good word. “…Link?”
“It’s way too early in the day for that.” You protested. “I’ll be useless until evening.”
“Insinuating that you are useful in the first place.” He jeered.
“Rude!” You complained, then finished your coffee in one last gulp.
“From the looks of it, I would think that this originated from an outside source.” Bjarkehild announced. She had examined your marks very carefully, taking all kinds of measurements, asking questions that you didn’t know how to answer; questions about magic, about your ancestry, neither of which you were familiar with. Questions Loki didn’t seem to like, especially about his own ancestry. Bjarkehild seemed to know something about him that he really didn’t want to talk about, for all that she worded it in a subtle manner.
“What makes you say that?” Loki asked, seeming relieved that she was no longer asking about ‘his forefathers’ or his ‘previous experiences with Midgardians’.
“They are exactly the same in every dimension, from width to depth, as if you had both grabbed the same burning brand. That’s why it looks so much bigger on her hand; your hand is much larger than hers, but the mark takes up the same amount of space on both of you. She tells me that she has no history of magic, and no previous knowledge of this kind of mark. You have assured me that you have not cast this spell, and that you had also never seen this mark before either. I don’t believe it’s possible to cast such a complex spell you have no knowledge of, even by accident.”
“A fair assessment. However, there is no one else on this planet who could do this. I am coming up blank for a source of power that could do this to me.”
“Perhaps they are not on this planet. It is still possible that you have been cursed. You are not without enemies, my lord.”
Loki grimaced. “You’re not wrong. Most of my very worst enemies are dead now, but a death curse is a very powerful thing.”
“That still doesn’t explain my part in this.” You pointed out. “I’ve never been anywhere but Earth; I never met any of his enemies. How could I possibly be involved in a death curse against him?”
“And besides, I do not think ‘May you be tied to the life of a human woman’ is the kind of curse any of them would have used.” Loki pointed out. “However, this world is very large, and very old. There are many sources and forms of magic that were developed and lost here; this could simply be one of those, coming out of dormancy.”
“It’s still so hard to believe that real magic once existed here.” You said.
“Oh, it still exists. There’s at least one school that has been continuously running for several thousand years.” Loki said. “That wizard you saw yesterday is one of them. Some forms of magic might return, some might be newly invented, and some might remain lost forever, but it was always here. We taught our own magic to your kind thousands of years ago, but others were already here from long before even us.”
“So this mark could be anything?” You asked, awed by the information.
“I don’t think so.” Bjarkehild said. “I believe it has to be tied to one of you, and I’m afraid it is probably you, my lord. This mark comes from a magical tradition that is directly descended from the magic our people taught to the ancestors of theirs. So I believe it is tied to you, but that it still came from a source outside of you. Your presence was very likely nothing more than a catalyst. Yours too, ____. We still don’t know what role you may play in this.” She sighed. “If only we knew your ancestry further back than your grandmother.”
“I wish I did too.” You said. “But gramma really didn’t get along with her family. She never talked about them, and none of them ever tried to contact us, so I don’t even know if any of them are still alive. She even changed her name.”
“Sometimes family does unforgiveable things.” Loki said softly. “Sometimes it all becomes such a mess that you really can’t ever go back.”
You shot him a curious look while Bjarkehild pretended not to have heard him.
“I would like you to connect so that I can see exactly what happens.” She said. “Are you comfortable with doing that?”
“Not exactly.” You said. “But I won’t say no. It’s just really weird, that’s all.”
“Whenever you’re ready.” She said.
Loki held out his hand to you, expectantly, as if he’d done it a hundred times before. You didn’t want to bring it up, but this was a part of what made it weird for you. The intimacy, with him specifically. Maybe it would be different if he was somebody else, or if you’d actually had a date with anyone in the past year. But men had been less important than work, and they had mostly gone for Tara anyway. And though Loki had been somewhat absolved in your eyes, you were still far from any kind of easy trust.
You hesitantly slipped your hand into his. He curled his fingers around yours, bringing your palms together. The link sparked instantly, runes glowing bright blue, spreading up your arms. Bjarkehild began writing them down as quickly as she could.
“What does it feel like?” She asked, pointing at you.
“Like I’m being filled up too much.” You gasped. “Like there’s just too much in me, too much blood, or too much air, something like that. Like my skin is too small. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s uncomfortable. My whole body’s too tight. It’s in my eye, and it’s hard to see. Can’t concentrate. Buzzing’s too big, I can’t…I can’t!”
“Alright, let go.” She commanded, and Loki released you. You slumped against him, and he sniffed in disdain, but didn’t shove you off. Bjarkehild would probably yell at him if he did.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
“Just give her a moment.” Loki assured her. “The effect of it seems to muddle her brain, but she will recover shortly. She will probably require food. Mortal bodies have a limited energy reserve.”
“I see.” She called for someone you thought was a nurse, and sent her for a snack. “Now for you; what is this like for you?”
“Not altogether dissimilar to what it is for her.” He said. “She has no experience in manipulating magical energies, so it is much harder on her. But it does feel rather like a sponge being filled up. Like light finding its way into every little space and trying to leak out when there is no more room. I don’t find it all that unpleasant, but I’ve found that if I let it go on for too long, it can be overwhelming. The energy is…large, but not heavy? Rather like a fog bank or a strong wind. It is difficult to transmute or manipulate, but I believe that I can. It still feels somewhat familiar. I must have come into contact with similar energies before, but I still cannot identify it.”
The junior healer returned bearing a plate stacked up with buttered slices of that dark bread you were growing so fond of. You ate three without stopping, then sheepishly offered the plate to the others. Loki waved it away, and Bjarkehild declined with amusement.
“Are you ready to try again?” She asked.
“I guess so?” You didn’t know how much of this you could actually take, but with a sorcerer and the senior healer watching you, you were pretty sure nothing that bad would happen.
Loki casually took your hand again.
“Now try to push to power back down into your hands.” Bjarkehild instructed.
“I don’t know how to-“You started to say, when you felt Loki push, and the power slammed into you. It felt as if your head would come off your shoulders.
You were on the ground, though you didn’t recall falling. The plate-and the bread-was in little pieces all around you. Loki and Bjarkehild knelt beside you, Bjarkehild lifting you effortlessly in her arms-so strong, like all Asgardians. Loki checking your eyes, your face, looking for any sharp fragments of plate that might have pierced your skin.
“We’re going to call that enough for today.” Bjarkehild said, finding a bed to lay you down on.
“I thought something like this might happen, if she got overfilled.” Loki said, the words coming out fast. He was scratching at his palm. “I didn’t know she would be so…receptive. I didn’t mean for that to happen, I thought there would be some kind of blockage or resistance, some kind of natural defense to the flow of power.”
“Obviously, you didn’t mean to.” Bjarkehild assured him. “But now we know we have to act as if we’re dealing with a first day student. She has no defenses, no control, no experience at all. I shouldn’t have asked you to do that in the first place. How do you feel, dear?” She asked you. “Do you hurt at all?”
“I don’t know.” You said, barely able to speak above a whisper. “I don’t understand what happened.”
“You took in too much energy at once.” Loki explained. “Your body converted it in order to protect yourself, but not very well. I did not know that you couldn’t push back. I’m not used to working with such inexperienced people.”
Again, not an apology, but close.
“Never knew magic was real before.” You said. “Never had a chance to get experienced. I’m sorry. I think I dropped the plate.”
“You didn’t exactly drop it.” Bjarkehild said. “What did happen there?” She asked Loki.
“Well, when I pushed the power into her, a little of my own went with it. I saw her manifest the energy outside of herself, into the plate and bread.”
“And that made it explode?” Bjarkehild asked.
“It exploded?” You repeated.
He shook his head. “No. The power found all the little structural weaknesses, the tiny cracks, the bubbles, the imperfections. Then it filled them in and sort of…pushed them apart . No heat or fire, just a good, hard shove to the weak points. That was just not a very well made plate, it seems. But don’t worry about that; it was not your fault.”
“You should rest for now, at least until we’re sure there’s no damage.” Bjarkehild directed. “I’ll send Ulfrun back out for more bread. Tell us if you feel anything unusual.”
You wanted to say that everything was unusual, but you were already drifting off.
“She has magical aptitude.” Loki said, once it was obvious you were asleep. “That opens up some possibilities.”
“That must be terribly rare among humans, for her to not know it.” Bjarkehild said.
“Not necessarily.” Thor said. “There are a lot more of them than there are of us. Things get lost.”
Bjarkehild jumped. “Your majesty?” The king followed behind Ulfrun, carrying a plate of dried stockfish.
“I heard your healer here speaking with the kitchen staff about exploding plates. I thought it sounded a bit interesting.”
Loki translated that quickly. I heard my brother might be getting into trouble again, so I came to check in on him. He fixed the junior healer with a dry stare. She did not meet his gaze. He knew her family, knew they did not really approve of him. Was she spreading rumors deliberately, or was she just a harmless gossip?
Thor set the plate down and took a seat, while Ulfrun hastily took her leave.
“The thing about humans, is that there’s over seven billion of them.” Thor said. “And they all used to at least believe in magic. It still exists here, but it’s a lot more rare that any of them gets the opportunity to learn. Magic may not be much more common among our people, but there are a great deal fewer of us, and that makes it so much easier to find out who can use it and who can’t. A human might go their entire life without finding out they have the ability. Generations might pass without a single sorcerer being trained. There may be a much larger number of magical humans than all our people put together, but the percentage compared to the rest is so low, that finding one is probably quite rare.”
“Perhaps that’s why this was possible in the first place.” Loki mused, gazing at his palm. “Latent magic that she never would have known she possessed, if not for one chance meeting. I wonder how many there really are?”
If humanity had not stopped training their mages, the Battle of New York might have gone very differently. Hel, he might not have gone any further than Stuttgart. Even a master could be overwhelmed by amateurs if there were enough of them, and even if only three percent of the population had magical potential, that was still several hundreds of thousands that could be mustered to defend the planet.
“They are going to start figuring it out.” Thor said. “Humans are insatiably curious beings, trust me. Once that bilgesnipe’s out of the bag, there will be no going back. So, what actually happened here? Your healer seemed rather frightened by our little mortals’ sudden ability to destroy dishes.”
“Just a small incident with her capacity to hold energy, that’s all.” Bjarkehild told him. “It discharged into the plate. She’s resting now. No sense in pushing her too far.”
You stirred in your sleep, shivering. Loki heard his name fall from your lips once, and he was standing by your side in the next moment. You weren’t awake, but you were shivering hard. He drew the blanket up further around your shoulders, but it didn’t seem to help.
“Bjarkehild.” He called, though she and Thor were already there, already trying to help.
“Magical exhaustion.” Bjarkehild suggested. “Her body isn’t used to it. Plus, she’s more fragile than we are.”
So this was his fault. Grand. Would he ever stop accidentally inflicting suffering?
“_____, can you hear me?” He asked softly. “You called for me. Here I am.” It was the first time you had called him by name, and you weren’t even awake. He patted your cheek to see if you would wake.
You calmed at his touch, the shaking subsiding.
“Keep doing that.” Thor encouraged. Loki rolled his eyes.
“No, I think I’ll stop and just let her shake out of the bed. Of course I’m going to keep doing it!”
“All right, how are you doing this?” Bjarkehild asked. “Normally, a person suffering magical exhaustion just has to rest and deal with the side effects. What are you doing differently?”
“It has to do with the link we have through the mark.” Loki explained. “When I found her, we were both feeling rather rough, but she was much worse off. It was closeness, especially touch that gave us our health back. I do not know why, and I really don’t like it. I don’t need my continued existence linked directly to some weak little thing who can die so easily.”
You took that moment to snuggle into his hand. Bjarkehild almost managed to mask the sound she made, but Thor didn’t even try to hide his expression. Loki pressed his lips tightly together, daring either of them to say anything. He knew they had both labeled you as ‘cute’, like a small animal, and he wanted no part of it. He didn’t want the attachment to so transient a life. Besides, you weren’t cute. You had tried to break his nose!
“She seems to be responding well.” Bjarkehild pointed out.
“Only because she is asleep.” Loki said. “Otherwise she would be steeped in distrust over my touch, and wiser for it.”
“And you, my lord?” She asked, notebook ready. “Does this affect you in any way? Does it feel draining? Empowering? Calming?”
“I feel…better? Like when you walk into a room and something smells very nice, and it uplifts you? It’s rather like that. Gentle. Subtle, but it makes me feel…just better. However, I cannot just trail her around behind me, holding her hand like a child all day.”
“I’m sure we can schedule you in some healthy hand-holding time.” Thor said, almost teasing, but Loki only glared. When he finally removed his hand, you made a little noise, but did not resume shivering.
“Well, it looks like she will be staying here for a little while. What else is on the itinerary today?” Loki asked, as if seeking an escape from the soft moment.
“More discussions with the environmental specialists.” Thor said. “Building regulations, what can and can’t be done on the land, habitat conservation, and so on.”
“Sounds perfect. Let’s go.” Loki agreed, and exited with his brother close behind, leaving Bjarkehild to go over her notes.