Godrík trudged uphill through the dense forest. Here the bare winter trees were exposed to the howling sea. They knelt like priests, bowed to the ground, while their fleshy bark peeled away, raw and leather-like, toward the edges of their windward backs. This far north, in the territory they called Svealand, the snow came in rivers. It pounded down in angry torrents and piled up in great mounds. It caught about the tree trunks and hardened into sagging, crusted skirts. The entire world seemed girdled in ice.
Not even the Alps of Gaul were so desolate, for here almost all of the day was enveloped by night. Only once before had he ever seen such unyielding cold. Many centuries ago he had ventured through the jungles and monsoon swamps of India until he reached an impassible fortress of mountains. He had dared to climb them and was intrigued to discover small clutches of humans clinging to their cliffs, eking out a meagre existence amidst the rugged peaks. Even more curious was the realization that none of his kind could be bothered to do the same. In Svealand, like the Himalayas, he was a lone blood drinker on a forgotten fringe of the globe.
Though not entirely alone. Not anymore. Godrík had finally found a companion worth turning. He did not mind that he had to hunt the outskirts of settlements and slog through trenches of snow to reach these outposts. The colossal, lion of warrior he had brought into darkness could barely slake his thirst. Each night his progeny needed three or four healthy humans while he himself subsisted off the elderly and the infirm. It was not quite a miscalculation on his part, but if they were not careful, they would kill off all the nearby villages before winter’s end and be forced to move. Godrík had no interest in leaving this unclaimed territory, especially if it meant crossing into another vampire’s turf so soon.
He made the trek back to the cave they called home at a languid pace. With each patient step, his leg sunk up to his knee. The barren forest had nothing with which to fashion a quick pair of snowshoes and he did not bother to fly the league and a half to where Eiríkr waited. Better to conserve energy. The salty, frostbitten sailor he’d caught by the neck tonight offered little sustenance and he was still dangerously hungry. Godrík had poured every last drop of his power into his child’s transformation. A millennium of death fused into the soul of the fiercest, most fearless fighter he had ever seen and Eiríkr had arisen unparalleled in strength and beauty. The Norseman radiated the same vivaciousness Godrík had witnessed in the battle that had claimed his life. It was a feat – the greatest achievement of his long life. But it had left him drained to his very core. Worse still, he found he quite enjoyed the secret pleasures of feeding Eiríkr his blood. Several times already he had given him substantial draughts that ultimately negated much of his own recovery.
As Godrík came over the crest of the hill, he let himself tumble down toward the valley below in wide, bounding leaps. The trees here opened into a flat, undulating ring. He was almost certain most of the terrain was a frozen pond. He could hear the fish deep below the surface slowly fluttering their gills.
Instinct told him to stick to the cover of forest, but the snowdrifts at the water’s edge were high. The windswept surface of the ice sheet was tempting and he chose the path of least resistance. Halfway across the clearing, he heard a sudden crack. Godrík instantly dropped into a defensive crouch and froze. Several moments passed and no other sound issued forth. He eased out of his position and took a few wary steps. In the tree line ahead, his keen eyesight caught a shadowy movement. He paused. There was another crunch. Totally exposed, he could either take to the sky or make a run for it. In all likelihood, it was an elk. The movement continued westward. The shadows shifted and he made out the faint outlines of horns. He exhaled in relief. Then the wind changed direction and the creature’s scent hit him. It was wrong – no, not wrong – intoxicating, delicious, and utterly alien. Godrík’s fangs slammed out unbidden.
A swirl of black and green smoke twisted before him and a tall, lithe man appeared, a heavy cape billowing around his broad, armored shoulders and a golden helmet crowned with two enormous horns.
“You are truly annoying to track down, blood drinker,” the stranger quipped.
“Who are you!” Godrík hissed, backing away.
A thin smile snaked across the man’s razor-like features and he gave a shallow bow. “I am Loki – of Asgard.”
The vampire narrowed his eyes. “What are you?” he demanded.
“Why a god, of course. Now put those fangs away before someone gets hurt.”
Godrík tried to identify the stranger’s otherworldly scent. The being was ancient, older than any supernatural he had ever encountered by millennia, and he was cloaked in extraordinarily powerful magic. There was no denying that he was something…different.
“Asgard,” he confirmed, knowing his child’s stories of the World Tree and its nine realms. “You are the Trickster.”
“I am a prince first among many other titles, wildling, and I’d caution you to mind your tongue.”
“What business have you here?”
“I would speak with you. Come, let us walk.” The god turned his back and headed north. Godrík quickly tabulated the weapons he saw glint in the other man’s armor. He had little choice but to follow.
“How does your progeny fare?” Loki asked, raven hair whipping in long tendrils about his face. He held out a friendly arm, but Godrík balked, keeping several paces away.
“What is your interest in my child?” he asked suspiciously.
“None at all. I ask on behalf of my mother, Queen Frigga.”
Godrík swallowed in alarm. “He is strong for one so young.”
“Does he mind you?”
The god snorted in amusement.
“And you are teaching him what he needs to know in order to survive?”
The vampire stopped short. “I will not give him up!”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Good. Ensure that he survives the ages. Mother was most perturbed that one of her more devoted mortals did not come to Valhalla at the appointed hour.”
Godrík growled at the thinly veiled threat. “Or what? Thor will come down to destroy me?”
“Thor!? By the Norns, no. He could care less…” He paused, seeing the confusion in the brunette’s face. “Oh. You assumed…No, the Norseman made his personal sacrifices to Frigga.” Loki raised a smug eyebrow.
“This Frigga, she watches us? What does she want?”
“I believe her exact words were ‘see that my stolen warrior is in good hands.’ Why she bothers with Midgardians I’ll never understand, but she does.” Loki gave a sidelong glance at the vampire next to him. “So is he? In good hands, that is?”
“What do you think?” he retorted.
Loki seemed to consider this for a moment. “You are older than I realized.”
“About a thousand. Maybe more. You?”
“Four thousand three hundred and eighty-six.”
Godrík’s eyes widened. “Have you any progeny yourself?”
The god shook his head. “No, no children, despite the ridiculous myths. Between my royal duties and my practice in sorcery, I do not have time for such diversions.”
“You are a powerful mage, I can tell.”
Loki acknowledged the compliment with a small smile. “You have an old enchantment on your bicep. Did you once practice the craft?” His long, pale finger hovered over the curve of Godrík’s tunic where the runes etched in his skin lay hidden.
Godrík nodded slowly. It was a secret no one knew. “I was an initiate.”
“Shame to abandon it,” Loki said through a sigh. “I am fascinated how such a spell could survive a vampire’s transformation. I don’t believe I’ve seen something like that before.”
Godrík’s features had gone blank and the god saw the blood drinker had no intention of allowing him to inspect it.
“How long will you keep Eiríkr here in the north?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I don’t know,” Godrík replied, uncomfortable with the sound of his child’s name in the sorcerer’s mouth.
The god clucked his tongue. “That’s a lie. Try again.”
Godrík huffed. “I have not decided, but for as long as I can keep him distracted here. There is little entertainment and he is eager to see more of the world. He does not yet respect just how dangerous the world is for our kind.”
“That’s more like it.”
The two chatted politely, both clearly untrusting, attempting to size the other up, but curious about one another as well. Loki kept a close eye on the vampire. He was struggling to control his thirst.
“I may smell inviting, but I guarantee that you don’t want god’s blood. It would overpower the forces which animate you.”
Godrík refused to meet his gaze, consciously forcing his fangs to stay retracted, hands clenched in the fur-lined folds of his cloak.
“But you are hungry and you are weakened from your creation, are you not?”
The shorter man shrugged noncommittally.
“Do you deny it out of stubbornness or pride?”
Godrík turned to the tall man. “Out of secrecy,” he said and Loki laughed, pleased.
With a twist of his hand and a curlicue of mist, a vial appeared in his hand. “Frigga made this especially for you. She asks that you remember to keep yourself strong in order to protect the Norseman.”
Godrík scoffed. “Do you take me for a fool? I will not drink some potion from Loki Liesmith.”
Loki gave a feral grin. “Then good thing it isn’t from Loki Liesmith. Now hurry up. I have other things to accomplish tonight.”
Godrík snatched the vial from his palm. “I’ll take it when I return home.”
“Another lie, Godrík Deathbringer. But I must say, I like your style.”
Their eyes locked and for a second the vampire considered the ramifications of an attack and its possible outcomes.
Loki saw the smaller man’s calculating eyes narrow and he started laughing again, then clapped Godrík on the back. “Oh, I do so like your style. It is a simple healing tonic suspended in Light Elf blood. Take it. You will not be disappointed.”
Godrík rolled the vial between his fingers, wary, but intrigued by the tonic’s qualities.
“Is it anything like Fae blood?” he wondered.
“Ooh, much better. Or so I hear. Now if you’ll excuse me…” The vortex of smoke began to rise around Loki’s feet.
“Wait,” Godrík barked.
Loki turned his hands down, halting his teleportation.
“I have questions,” Godrík explained. “About your sorcery. About Asgard and the other realms…”
“No doubt. And questions they must remain.”
“But then how will you learn how spells can live on the dead?” he countered.
Loki pursed his lips, considering the request. “Care for your progeny. When he has fledged fully, then perhaps we shall speak more some night.”
A crooked smile splayed across Godrík’s face. “I shall not forget.”
“No, I don’t suppose you will. Fare thee well, Godrík.
“Prince Loki,” he replied, giving the swirl of the god’s magic wide berth.
The Baltic winds snatched the strange smoke away, obliterating it into thin air, and once again Godrík stood alone on the frozen plain of the pond.
A/N: What did you think? Please leave a review! I’ve had this one kicking around my desktop for a while and decided to just fling it out there. It will be a short story, with no more than a few chapters to follow (lol, I know, I know, famous last words but…*cough*…seriously).
ALSO, please note that some months ago a MAJOR glitch on FFnet erased all of the favorites and follows from my older stories, including Such Stuff and Rune Songs. If you’re still interested in seeing how they resolve, please re-subscribe, as I hope to wrap those up this summer along with Into the Mystic. Otherwise keep following on WP. Thanks!