The small realm of Kugel spread out before you from the balcony. You came to this spot, the highest point in your holdings, to gaze at the land you called home. The sky was a black canvas painted with stars and galaxies and nebula. To the east a rolling dark sea, turbulent and dangerous and wild, and expanding westward was barren rock. Far to the west the beginning of a grand forest lined the horizon. You knew what lay North beyond those tower-sized trees, and it made your lip curl.
“Your Grace, Advisor Adal is ready to address the population when you are.”
You turned slightly to look at your handmaid and guard, Svenja. She had the same fair features and tall frame like the rest of Kugel’s people: Blonde hair was pulled into a precise braid down her back, and her blue eyes were downcast; it was traditional that no one met the Queen’s direct gaze, after all.
“It’s best to get started,” you replied as you took one last look at the world. A shooting star sped across the sky.
Svenja followed at your flank as you descended to the throne room. You commanded a certain grace simply because you were battle-trained, not because you were a lady of royalty. But as you entered the throne room and everyone in attendance stood, you held your head high.
It was a day like every other. You sat on your ridiculously uncomfortable throne and listened to your citizens complain about each other, beg for money, or–stars forbid–demand trial for murder. The moons in the sky changed position several times before the room was finally cleared of everyone except you, Adal, and Svenja. Slumped in your seat, you looked to the right at your advisor.
“There’s the matter of Herr Aldric’s demands…” He was interrupted by a deafening cracking sound and a bright blue light that temporarily blinded you.
You stood, clenching your fists and preparing to face a foe as your eyes readjusted. Quickly your eyes scanned the room and settled on a dark huddled mass at the foot of the throne’s dais.
It was a man. His hair was long, black, and slicked back. He wore a long coat of black and green, and he gripped a scepter with a brilliantly glowing gem.
You studied him as he struggled to his feet, whipping his head around to take in his surroundings. His eyes flicked to Svenja and Adal who now flanked you with weapons, as well as prepared to pass you your axe, and then they settled on you and they widened with recognition.
“What are you doing here, Fremde?” you demanded. There was a pause, and then you said, “What are you? You look Asgardian but I sense…”
“I know what you sense,” he cut you off and you gave him a sharp look. You did not like the impervious tone to his voice. “I assume I stand before Kugel’s current ruler?”
“You address the Queen. Show respect!” Adal barked. You allowed a small fond smile to briefly grace your lips as you lifted your hand to stay his anger. You had dealt with both Asgardians and Frost Giants before, but never within the same body. Plus there was the matter of that scepter. A strange and ancient power radiated from it. You wanted it.
“Why are you in Kugel, Lord of Mischief?” The longer a mind remained in the presence of a Kugen the more that mind’s contents were read. Within an hour you could know everything about his life. It wasn’t mind reading exactly, more like mind feeling with images.
He raised a curious eyebrow, but didn’t question. He knew of the Kugen’s power.
“Ah,” he said, his smirk impish, “E xile.”
The time your eyebrow raised. You left the topic alone and nodded toward the scepter. “Fancy weapon for an exile.”
“As I’m sure you’re figuring out right now, I’m not just an exile,” he said smoothly, taking the first step on your dais. He was charming, you had to admit that as he looked into your eyes and asked, “Have you seen the power I wield?” There was something wild in his eyes that felt familiar to you, enough to distract you to the point that you didn’t realize he was breaking Kugen tradition by looking the queen in the eye.
You had felt it, and the power of manipulation the scepter offered was very appealing. You read the man in front of you carefully: He knew to survive passage through Kugel he had to be on your good side–only you could open portals leading out. You sensed he wanted to make a deal, so you decided to take advantage of this opportunity.
“Very well, Loki,” you began, stepping deliberately down the steps to circle him slowly, like a shark rounding up its prey. “Let’s strike a bargain. Your safe passage to another realm if you complete a favor for me.” You stopped in front of him again, standing one step above him so you stood at the same height. “Successfully.”
“And what favor would that be, mi’lady?”
“It’s ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Your Majesty,’ Fremde!” Adal shouted.
“Adal, please,” you chided lightly. “Walk with me, Asgardian. Let us speak.”
You signaled for only Svenja to follow at a certain distance. Adal fought to hide his frustration but failed. You ignored his hard stare as you led the way through to the courtyard. It was decorated with crystal water sculptures that shifted colors somewhere deep in their cores. You walked along a stone divider, on the other side of which was a sheer drop into unknown darkness.
“I have an enemy that is becoming more than a nuisance,” you explained. “He attempts to usurp my throne. As if a Peaceborn could rule my realm.” You gave a derisive snort of laughter and you noticed a quirk to Loki’s lips. “Aldric Peaceborn lives beyond the forest to North Gate. I will take you there,” you said as you stopped and fully faced Loki, “and you will allow me to use the scepter to control his actions.”
“Brilliant plan, your majesty,” Loki said with a smirk. “Now what stops this Aldric from learning all this from my mind as soon as I’m in the vicinity?”
“Svenja is trained in Suppression,” you said simply and the lithe woman bowed out of the corner of your eye.
Loki looked at her for a moment and then looked at you again, this time with a cocky smirk. “I’ll agree if you tell me one thing.”
You tilted your head. “What?”
You straightened your back and lifted your chin when you replied: “I am Queen Nadja Battleborn, Rider from the South Reach.”
“Agree to my quest and I’ll show you.”
In the depths of your holdings a dragon with two heads slumbered peacefully amongst a pile of bones. Her scales were brilliant shades of red and gold, and when she opened her eyes they were stark white with black reptilian pupils. She watched you with mixed elation and trepidation–she wasn’t sure how to react to your visitor, especially now that Svenja had covered him with a Suppression and she couldn’t see into his mind. The Kugens and the native dragons shared this ability.
“This is Kasimira,” you said as though introducing a dinner quest. To Kasimira you said, “My noble companion, will you allow this Fremde to ride with us into battle?”
The two heads turned to look at each other, seeming to communicate through her eyes. After a long moment of silence she turned and bowed her heads.
“She agrees.” You translated.
Loki was regarding the dragon warily, looking much like a parrot watching a cat. “Glorious,” he said with more than a little sarcasm.
You did not put saddles on Kasimira but instead sat between the first two spikes on her necks. You mounted the left head while Loki took the right. With a quick warning to hold tight, Kasimira rushed through the window and plummeted into the dark chasm. For a moment the two of you were completely enveloped in blackness and then there was brilliant light as she soared upward. She leveled off somewhere around ten thousand feet, heading for a black dot beyond the trees.
You looked over at Loki and had to cover your mouth to stifle a laugh. His hair was disheveled and sticking out at odd angles and his eyes were wide, his face and hands had drained of color.
“Quite…quite the beast,” he stammered. Kasimira bucked and he looked as though he would be sick.
“She doesn’t appreciate the b-word,” you called cheerfully.
The flight to North Gate took several hours. The closer you got the darker it became, the trees growing closer together. The world became quieter, the fauna sparse to nonexistent. The trees grew so tall it was like they were reaching for the moons.
“So what is our plan?” Loki asked. He had grown used to flying Kasimira, now he rode sitting tall, holding on with one arm around the neck spine like you. “Are we just going to waltz through the front door?”
“Actually, yes,” you replied matter-of-factly and momentarily enjoyed his look of surprise, but there was intrigue in that visage too. “Aldric Peaceborn is my uncle, and he does not yet know that my spies discovered his plans.” You spoke evenly with an air of coolness, but inside an anticipation burned so hot you wanted to shout for joy that soon you would finally give your uncle what he deserved. “For the last several decades I have moved my agents into North Gate under his nose, they in turn have sought turncoats.
“We will arrive under pretense of visitation, and take him for a fool.”
By the time you landed at North Gate everyone knew you were coming, so there was a welcome party waiting to greet you.
“Your Majesty, what an unexpected surprise,” said Aldric’s right hand man, Sieg. He was red-haired and handsome, a very adept individual. You hated him.
“I would speak with my uncle if he is not busy,” you said with friendliness, smiling slightly. “I have someone for him to meet.”
Sieg looked Loki over with an odd expression, obviously realizing what he was and what he carried. “What is your intent, Fremde?”
You were about to answer for him when Loki said, “I have brought this scepter as a gift to Kugel and Her Majesty wishes to show it to Herr Aldric.” He was so sure of his speech that you almost could have believed him.
Sieg bowed low to you and, with a few words to the others, he escorted you through the stone halls of North Gate to the antechamber outside Aldric’s study. This was not a room to be seen by ordinary citizens of Kugel. It was decorated richly with plush chairs, a large fireplace, and the trophies of Aldric’s hunts on the wall, everything from Frost Giants to dragons.
You snorted once Sieg left you and Loki alone to tell Aldric of your arrival. “Only Peaceborns have a taste of hunting for sport. So wasteful.”
“There’s a lot of animosity between ‘Peaceborns’ and ‘Battleborns,’ I take it,” said Loki casually, raising his eyebrows with curiosity.
“Oh, not usually,” you replied, and it was true. Among common folk it wasn’t anything. “Only in the royal family does it matter.”
“And why is that?”
“Because Battleborns are gifted to the victors during glorious war, so naturally they are the most fit to rule.”
The only indication you gave at Aldric’s entrance was a slight upward tilt of your chin. Loki turned, taking a step back to stand level with you, but you noticed he didn’t bow or even incline his head. Bold.
Your uncle really commanded a presence. He was very tall with wide shoulders; platinum blond hair fell messily to hang over those shoulders and he studied Loki with brilliant green eyes.
“So this is the Asgardian Frost Giant I’ve heard about?” he asked. “I am Aldric Peaceborn, Lord at the Gate.”
“Loki,” the lord of mischief said smoothly. “Loki Laufeyson.”
“Laufey, hm? Is he the one who gave you the Chitauri scepter?”
You did well to not show your surprise that Aldric knew both this Laufey and the name of Loki’s weapon. There was no way to dig for how much he knew, surely your agents had begun the operation by now and there wouldn’t be time.
“No, it wasn’t Laufey. He proved to not be much of a father,” Loki said, and with a short laugh added, “Or much of a warrior, for that matter.”
“I had no idea you already knew of the scepter or I wouldn’t have made the trip,” you pouted, feigning the child who wanted to please her uncle.
He gave a hearty laugh and moved forward, patting your shoulder with a large hand. You cut your eyes at him; he never touched you.
What happened next went by so quickly there was no time to think, only act intuitively.
Aldric seized your bicep and spun you toward him, placing a blade he produced from his sleeve to your throat. He pressed until you could feel blood seeping out. You tossed your head back, cracking your skull against his nose. You felt the cartilage crunch and he fell back with a groan, but he was trained. You gripped his wrist, keeping the blade from finishing its job, but the cut still continued around your neck.
At the same time agents of both sides poured into the room from windows and doors alike. Your agents surrounded Loki, but he was capable of holding his own. With a blade you pulled from your boot you killed two of Aldric’s agents to reach him. You whistled out the window and whipped back around.
By now Aldric had recovered from your blow and was advancing, his agents falling into line against yours, which were terribly fewer than you had expected.
“I see I didn’t get all your filthy spies,” Aldric spat. Blood dribbled down from his nose into his mouth and his words were muffled like he had a cold. “Well done, my niece. It’s too bad things couldn’t be different.”
He raised his blade, taking a shield from an attendant. As he ordered the charge, each of Kasimira’s heads came through a window. You grabbed Loki by the shoulder and yanked him back as the mouths opened and expelled white hot flames. Aldric threw up his shield and knelt just in time, but his surrounding soldiers were instantly vaporized.
“Hurry!” you called to Loki and gestured to climb onto Kasimira. He barely had time to secure the scepter and grab onto a spike when the dragon’s heads retreated. She pushed off the tower she clung to and flew high into the clouds, quickly disappearing from sight.
Kasimira let down in the mountains beyond the North Gate. Diligently, you and Loki got a fire started and you took down a deer for dinner. It roasted on a stick over the fire as you laid the skin out on the ground, roughly cured. You sat on it, legs akimbo, and attended to the food.
“So, that didn’t go as planned,” Loki said, breaking the silence the two of you had shared since the escape. “I may be mistaken, but I think he knew what you were trying to do.”
You stabbed at the fire, glaring into it. “All that time planting people, wasted! I must have a mole.” You were shifting through individuals as you spoke, considering who seemed the most likely. “Whoever it is,” you said, “I will discover him and remove his heart, with my bare hands.” You clenched your hands into fists.
“I have yet to encounter a body of governing that doesn’t have its spies,” said Loki as he came to sit beside you. “And I’ve learned they can be as close to you as children.”
The gleam in his eyes made you suspicious, but of what you couldn’t be sure. “I have no children, not even a husband.”
“No king?” He seemed surprised, whether it was genuine you couldn’t tell. For the first time you realized that this man infuriated you. He was a puzzle, a trickster who could say one thing but mean entirely another. His way reminded you of Adal, it was a skill he employed often in the rough-hewn politics of Kugel.
You understood his surprise only because you had studied other realms and knew, in theory, about inequality of the genders, with men pulling out ahead more often than not. Asgard was the only realm more balanced, but even it observed some dissonance between the two, especially compared to Kugens, who never had and probably never would have issues with gender. You were much too busy with all the other problems to even think about that.
“Is it really so shocking?” you ask. “You are intelligent and already knew of this realm and our gift, surely you also knew that I have reigned as monarch for two centuries, with no man,” you thought for a moment, shrugged, and added, “or woman, for that matter, at my side.” For the first time you felt what women in those other realms must feel constantly; it was very similar to how you felt when your uncle or older lords treated you like an ignorant child, and you did not like it, not at all.
The look on Loki’s face explained he knew he had stepped into dangerous territory, so with a crooked and mirthless smile he slowly backed out of it, “Forgive me. I know little of how relationships work here, both political and personal.”
You released a deep breath, feeling your tense muscles relax like a porcupine easing its spines. “To be honest, I don’t know much of any outside Kugel, and then here I am afforded…certain privileges others are not.”
That got his attention. His eyebrows raised, eyes glittering with curiosity–but also mischief, you weren’t blind to that. “Enlighten me?”
You considered as you turned the deer. Not wanting to risk the light of a large fire drawing Aldric's forces on you meant slow-cooked venison–extremely slow-cooked, it seemed. You continued to turn the only slightly grilled deer as you spoke, “Everyday folk fall in love and marry as they please, and lords can choose a wife or husband as they see fit, and whomever they want barring they are currently unwed. I, however, get to go one step more.”
You grinned cheekily, this was one aspect of being queen that you particularly enjoyed. “I may take whomever I want, when I want, consenting or not.”
Loki sat forward so that he was no closer to you, his elbows resting on his knees and hands clasped casually in front of him. “Even if they’re already wed?”
You nodded and laughed at his expression, which was caught somewhere between impressed and mortified. “I’ve never taken anyone that was wed, and obviously I haven’t married any. It would be wrong to break a marriage bond and then offer less than that in exchange.”
“But they can’t say no to you,” says Loki, hanging on that detail.
You smirk, narrowing your eyes in a mildly seductive manner in his direction. “They cannot, but it is only fun with one who also wants it.”
He was not oblivious to the look you were giving him, but not responding…yet. “It’s good to be queen,” he said.
“That is so,” you agree and laugh. You had been watching and examining this man since he quite literally dropped from the sky at your feet. He was very handsome, and the attitude he purported, the air of knowing more, being several steps ahead, made you feel excited. You knew this was not someone you could fully trust, or maybe even at all, but gods be damned if you weren’t attracted.
It didn’t help that it had been several moons’ cycles since you had taken someone to your bed.
“If you were Kugen, Fremde, I would take you,” you admit freely with no anxiety. It was exhilarating to try to lay claim to one who could actually decline you, and you hadn’t become queen because you were shy about your feelings. In a world where minds could be read as easily as tomes, attempting to hide emotions was nearly futile.
Even though the possibility of rejection made this more thrilling, you were still delighted when he asked, “And how would you go about claiming me?” The flames of the fire reflected in his eyes, like a forest fire against a blue sky, and you were spurred on by it.
“Oh, it’s very simple. Stand,” you commanded and you did so as well. You stepped away, turning slightly. “Wherever we may be, whether it court or the marketplace, to take you I would just…” you trailed off, allowing your next actions to explain the rest.
Gracefully, seductively, you moved close to Loki and grabbed his face with one hand, pulling him to you in a passionate kiss that you dominated. After only a moment you used your hand on his face to push him back, your reddened and slightly swelling lips pulling into a smirk. “Then I would give you a stone,” you pulled a small, flat gray rock from your pocket and handed it to him. He took it and examined it; it was smooth, almost soft-feeling, and a two-headed dragon was etched precisely into one side.
“That stone grants access to my quarters for one night,” you explain, still very close to Loki. You could feel heat, smell the exotic scent of realms unvisited, hear him breathe…
He hadn’t spoken yet, just stared at the rock as he turned it around in his fingers. Now he looked at you, the look in his eyes wild but unidentifiable. “In other realms, what I’m about to do is considered ‘passionate’ and ‘romantic.’” He laughed with no small amount of arrogant derision, slipping the stone into a pocket on the inside of his long coat.
You didn’t have time to question, the half-formed words muffled and then silenced when suddenly he grabbed your shoulders, capturing your lips in his and crushing you against him. His tongue forced its way inside your mouth, dominating.
Oh, this you could not allow. You would not be submissive. You grabbed a handful of Loki’s hair, yanking his head back as you caught his bottom lip between your teeth, biting hard enough to draw a little blood.
The coppery taste passed between you as he pressed you against the stone face of the mountain, the two of you wrestling for control. The cold of the rock against your back did nothing to douse the fire burning between your legs. You wanted him, and you would have him.
But he wasn’t going to give into you easily, and that aroused you all the more. Your head felt hot and your thoughts muddled by passion. You were on one track now, to take your pleasure.
You took that pleasure right there against the mountain, cold wind buffeting against your bare, hot bodies. The rock cut into your skin with each thrust, but you were past caring and the pain only added to your arousal. The two of you devoured the other with your lips, moving together in a rhythm that had tension curling tightly in your abdomen.
You finished on the ground, him beneath you as you took your passion out on him. You let your head fall back, riding out your orgasm with slow, sensual circles of your hips. Loki bucked beneath you, groaned so deeply in his throat he arched his back and closed his eyes, and warmth exploded within you, bringing you over the edge again.
By the time you retook control of your senses, the deer was nearly burnt.
The next day when Loki appeared outside North Gate with you bound and gagged and looking beyond livid, Aldric’s soldiers at first didn’t know what to do. They stared at Loki and you like you were growing extra hands and feet before their very eyes.
“I bring offering to Lord Aldric Peaceborn, Lord at the Gate,” said Loki with no small amount of grandstanding. “His niece, Queen Nadja Battleborn, Rider from the South Reach, for protection and easy passage out of this realm.”
The soldiers whispered frantically to each other and one ran off, returning shortly with Sieg. Even he looked baffled at the sight, but he ordered the guards to escort them to the main hall, where Aldric was administering to his people. These people parted before them as they entered, Sieg leading straight to the back of the long hall with tall ceilings, where Aldric sat on a chair that suspiciously resembled a throne.
The citizens of North Gate crowded behind the procession as it stopped before their lord. Many gasped and cried out at seeing their queen captured–your heart burned with appreciation for them but also embarrassment so deep it felt like a blade slipping slowly into the flesh up to the hilt.
“This is a sight I never expected,” Aldric said with amusement, his booming voice filling the room with sound. “My father always said don’t trust Frost Giants, guess he was right!” He roared with laughter. You had never seen him so jovial. You bound and silenced on your knees at his feet was a dream come true, and he could barely contain himself. Your uncle always had been excitable, you thought.
"I offer you this as trade for safe passage out of this realm," Loki said simply. “I had a deal with her, but she didn’t hold up her end of the bargain.”
You yelled through the wad of cloth belted into your mouth, your eyes blazing as you glared up at Loki and then at Aldric. When his eyes came to look into yours you changed your expression from angry to pleading. You tried to yell with your voice and your gaze, “Please, have mercy! I am your niece!”
Aldric scoffed and redirected his sight, but not before you caught a glimpse of worry. He was coming off his high now and thinking more clearly. He regarded Loki with suspicion, a hard expression on his face. “You’ve proven yourself a traitor. Why should I make a deal with you?”
“Can you have a portal opened?” Loki asked.
“Yes, now that I have the queen.”
“You see and know this to be the real queen?” Loki gestured to you.
“Well, yes,” Aldric was forced to answer.
“Then I have already upheld my end of the bargain,” Loki explained cordially. “There is simply no room for betrayal at this point.”
You hated and simultaneously admired how he could make anything sound logical.
Aldric studied both of you for a moment and then said, “Very well. I accept your proposal, under the condition that I get to question the both of you before you leave.”
“Of course, Lord Aldric,” cooed Loki amicably. “Whatever you need.” He smiled, but the corners of his mouth were turned up impishly. If you hadn’t been so close to him you wouldn’t have noticed.
When he added, “We’re ready when you are,” all hell broke loose.
Glass shattered as soldiers swung through windows, immediately setting themselves against North Gate’s guards. People screamed and ran, moving like a stampede toward the large double doors that led out into the courtyard gardens. Kasimira crashed through the roof, roaring her battle cry and carrying more of your soldiers. Rubble and debris rained down.
You were surprised to find a few citizens stayed and one, a blacksmith if his bulk and rough hands were any indication, freed you by cutting your bonds and removing the belt from around your head.
“Thank you,” you said up at him.
He pressed his dominant hand over his heart and bowed slightly. “It is my honor, my queen. Please excuse me. I am to take up arms again the would-be usurper,” and then he was gone, lost in the fray.
Also missing was Loki and Aldric. You searched the room, the chaos like a rolling sea of anger, blood, and broken furniture. Behind Aldric’s chair you saw an opened tunnel, once hidden as a simple rock wall. You wasted no time in pursuing.
You were Queen Nadja Battleborn, Rider from the South Reach. Kugel was your kingdom, and it was going to remain that way.
Loki followed Aldric through the dark tunnel, a passage roughly carved and obviously meant to remain hidden for emergencies. It led downward at an angle that almost had the two men sliding down the path instead of walking, and ended at a door. Inside was a large bunker, reminding Loki of the things paranoid Midgardians built to hide from bombs. Inside were very important documents and items pertaining to Aldric’s lineage and title.
He stepped inside and turned around, jumping back against his desk when he saw Loki looming in the doorway, one hand gripping the Chitauri scepter. The spherical gem at the end was glowing and pulsating light. He held it down, showing he did not fear Aldric enough to shield himself.
“Whose side are you on?” he spat angrily at Loki, his face red with rage. “What stake do you have in this, Fremde?”
“You know I used to take sides,” Loki said, leaning the scepter against the door frame and stepping away. Aldric turned his whole body to watch Loki as he circled him, stopping when his back was to the wall. He spoke while he stalked: “I’ve learned the only side worth taking is my own. Sometimes it lines up with another, but it always diverts in the end, and I always choose myself.”
“All you care about is getting out of this realm with that scepter, you don’t give dragon’s shit whether I or Nadja rules, do you?” Loki watched the gears turning behind those eyes with smoothly masked glee. He had him on the edge now.
While Aldric was calculating how to use this information to his advantage you slipped into the room. Immediately spotting the staff you picked it up. Careful to make absolutely no noise, you get a good grip on it and begin to sneak up behind Aldric. If Loki sees you over his shoulder he makes no indication of it. Not until you’re directly behind Aldric does Loki suddenly cut his eyes at you. Your uncle swiftly turns, but before he even stopped moving you had the tip of the Chitauri scepter against his heart.
He looked shocked, then his eyes glowed for a moment and settled, a different color, and what felt like a different soul.
You turned to see Loki beside you and smirked. “I suppose a commendation is in store for you, Herr Loki, for your successful plan.”
“It was a classic.” He mimics your smirk.
You turn back to Aldric, lips twisted in a gleeful sneer. “Aldric Peaceborn, renounce your titles, your lands, and your finances, abdicate your seat in line for the throne, and exile yourself to the Northern Islands.” You tap your chin, thinking. “Oh, and burn all these documents and send the valuables to my holdings. There, that should take care of everything.”
The celebration back at South Reach was the largest Kugel had seen since your father defeated the rebel uprising two hundred years before. There was enough food and drink to feed the whole realm, and the music was so loud you were sure it had drowned out your gift, because you didn’t feel the presence of his mind before Loki was standing beside you, wearing the ceremonial dragon skin jacket and medal presented to him earlier for his crucial role in Aldric’s fall.
“Kugens rival Asgardians in revelry.” He had to basically shout so you could hear him.
There was an explosion of cheer as a man bested another at knife-throwing while intoxicated. You motioned for the Asgardian to follow you and led the way to an empty balcony. It overlooked the garden with the crystal fountains glowing softly in the darkness. The only sound was the muffled party and the trickling of water.
You took a deep breath in and released it slowly. The air at home was always the sweetest.
“You’re a hero in this realm now,” you told Loki, placing your hands on the banister and turning to face him.
He laughed, it was short and skeptical. “It’ll probably be the only land in which that is ever true.”
You smiled somewhat. You hated to admit how fond you were of this trickster, this imperfect man. If he remained in Kugel you knew he would find his way into your heart, and that you could not allow to happen. “You have more than upheld your end of our deal,” you said with a brief grateful smile. “Now I’ll uphold mine.” You held out your hand and muttered a few words. A portal, oval, thin as a piece of parchment, and green as the sea, opened beside you. Energy swirled frantically around the border, sometimes sparking. “That will take you to the crossroads where you can get to any of the realms,” you explained.
Then you turned to him again, stepping closer and pressing your lips to his. This kiss was different, it was soft and warm, filling you with a feeling akin to glowing. When you pulled back he was looking at you with a pained expression you couldn’t understand, and you forced your feelings away.
“I hope to see you again, my queen.” He said gently, chastely kissed your forehead, and then–
He was gone. The portal snapped shut behind him and you were left alone on the balcony. You lingered, hand resting against your stomach, and then turned to rejoin the party.
Something in you knew that wasn’t the last you would see of Loki Laufeyson.