I was still smarting from having my long-awaited delivery taken from me.
“It’s your plan,” Apollo pointed out from his spot on the floor. “Just because it didn’t go the way you wanted –”
“Look, that takes care of the chalice,” Tez interrupted, before he could get going. “Which leaves the poison. We’ve got a couple of options here.”
Depowering Odin would have been nice. I eyed the earring poking through Shitface’s hair but kept my mouth shut. Even if he somehow agreed to it, Odin would know all about that particular bauble and have something in his possession to counter it, I was sure. We needed something he wouldn’t see coming, something to take every protection he had offline.
Gungnir was capable of piercing them on its own, of course, but in the end it was still a spear. By the time we got close enough to start stabbing jewellery, our target would have already hit us with any number of unfortunate surprises.
It had to be something he wouldn’t have planned for. Something he wouldn’t consider a threat. And for Odin, that was a tall ask.
“I assume crushing him with astrophysics would be too easy,” Mayari mused, tapping one heel against the side of her porcelain bowl. It was an understatement. As far as I was concerned, crushing had been the number three general cause of immortal absenteeism before Providence had centralised demotions, shortly behind being tricked into confined spaces and being weighed down at the bottom of the ocean being yelled at by Susanoo. Everyone and their dog would see it coming. “Maybe we could change the rules on him,” she continued. “Get our hands on an edict and repurpose it, for example.”
“That wouldn’t –” I thought better of it and hesitated. “Can you do that?”
“They’re words, aren’t they? They can be cut up and rearranged. Isn’t that how your runes work?”
I’d never seen carved Futhark repurposed after the fact, and I immediately regretted having never tried. “It’s bad enough Gungnir is involved,” I evaded, to cover up my lack of knowledge on the subject. “Add runes to the repertoire and you may as well be aiming a laser pointer on the sniper’s own forehead.”
“It’s one of the options,” confirmed Shitface. “The edict, at least. And somehow I have to tell you all not to go tearing apart the one on the moon, for what should have been obvious reasons.”
“Well, yes, but it isn’t as if we have any others lying around,” Mayari observed.
“There are plenty,” Shitface countered. “There’s even one in the manager’s bathrooms because Enki wanted a fast way to cure a hangover.”
I could almost physically see the lunar goddess’ ears perk up. “Does it work?”
“Not if you deface it.” His expression soured. “Though let’s be honest, I’m the one who’ll end up doing the dirty work. So I’d rather we didn’t go down that route.”
“Why don’t you shortcut it for us, then, and let us know what we do go with?” Lucy suggested.
The seers glanced at each other, and something passed between them. After a few long moments, they seemed to come to an agreement, Tez in particular sporting a wide grin. “Don’t like runes, you say? What if I told you we had a way to nullify them?”
My eyes widened a little as I understood why this was the option of choice. Behind his arsenal of relics, Odin wasn’t particularly impressive. Without the runes to power them, said relics became little more than decorations. Not that they weren't formidable. Even the golden bridle could only take out Odin’s active powers, not the passive abilities he’d infused into mineral and metal over many generations. We wouldn’t need to know the details of every trick up his sleeve if we could take them all out in one fell swoop.
“You have my attention,” I admitted.
“We were on the right track with the edict,” Tez said, with a nod to Mayari. “It’s all about adjusting the writing. Now, obviously we can’t get hold of the actual objects to interfere, and a direct transformation is outside our short-term capabilities. Plus, he likely knows to guard against that sort of thing -”
“Mirrors,” said Apollo, cutting him off. “Reflect the shape of the runes, and they lose their power.”
It earned him a scowl for his efforts. “I was getting to it.”
With all eyes back on him, Apollo rose to his feet, more animated than he’d been the last time. “This is the plan: Tezcatlipoca creates a false reality in a mirror universe. We place the spear in it, seed the idea to Odin. He needs to think it was his own ingenuity that led him to it.”
That last part – and the bit about the false reality – sounded like something I would have said. From Apollo’s point of view, I probably had. The part about the mirrors was all new to me, though.
The blonde god continued. “We disguise the entrance somehow, make him think he’s somewhere else. Then, when he’s inside –”
“- everything gets reversed,” Tez cut back in, with an annoyed glance at his rival. “Only physically, mind you – I can’t do much in the way of abstract – but it should be enough.”
I nodded to myself. Futhark backwards was little more than gibberish. And if it shut down the runes, it would also - with luck - weaken Gungnir. Making it less of a threat to me, placing the idea well ahead of the possible competition. Not that we’d had much of a chance to discuss it.
“Do we have proof it works?” Lucy asked pointedly. “This is nice and all, but if we’re about to rush in and risk our lives, we need more than wishful thinking.”
“Allow me to demonstrate,” said Tez’s voice, but the words didn’t come from him. One of his multiple reflections in the mirrors lining the bathroom had spoken instead, sidestepping out from behind Lucy to where it could be seen in full view. It caught my eye and beckoned towards me. “Loki, could use your help here. If you would step through.”
I raised my eyebrows at it, then turned the expression on the real Tez, unsure of where I should be directing it to for greatest impact. “Not likely.” This was a classic example of how people ended up being tricked into those confined spaces.
But if it was runes he was after, there were easier ways. Scouring the bathroom for a substitute, I hopped across to the vanity, picked up a ceramic toothbrush holder, and used a new-grown claw to etch out a fehu rune on its surface. A cringe-inducing screech whined through the air as the stubborn materials collided, but the claw won out. With the completion of the last stroke I felt the magic take hold, departing me in a small exhalation-like pulse before dissipating throughout the object. As simple a spell as I’d ever made, it would attract money towards the owner. Considering the cost of supporting the pope’s security attaché and the recent murder within its walls, the hotel would probably need it.
Echoes of the screech still ringing off the walls, I waited until Tez had lowered his palms from his ears and shoved the cup back into his hands. Disconnected as it was, his reflection didn’t follow suit, and the image of the toothbrush holder simply fell to the ground and shattered the moment my mirrored self let go.
Mirror Tez swept the debris off to the side with a foot that looked suspiciously obsidian, and beckoned to the real one. “Well? Throw it here.”
Lucy turned a curious glance on the god of night. It was reflected on every other face in the room except for Apollo’s. “You’re not controlling him?”
Tez winced a little. “I try to avoid using such harsh terminology in present company.”
“What terminology?” I asked. “’Control?’”
The expression on his face told me I’d hit the nail on the head.
“We have an arrangement,” said Mirror Tez, as his real-world counterpart tossed him the cup. It passed through the glass like air, not making so much as a ripple. In the space of that small, disconcerting action, the room abruptly felt much bigger than it had a moment ago, my brain re-categorising the mirror areas into extra, albeit uncannily similar, room space.
I stepped aside as Mayari abandoned her seat to approach the active mirror and begin tapping at various points around its frameless edges with the side of her phone case. For his part, Mirror Tez seemed unperturbed by the experimentation and turned the unbroken toothbrush holder over in his hands.
“Eh,” said the real Tez, waving a hand. “It’s no big deal. They know everything I know, and vice-versa. It’s… complicated. It’s easiest if you just keep thinking of them as me.”
“I was going to, right up until you said that,” remarked Lucy. “Now I have questions.”
“Also, ‘they’?” I added, as Mayari took a breath and dunked her entire head into the mirror. “Are there more?”
Tez opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by his own reflection. “This is about as divine as an emoji,” the latter commented, holding up the cup so we could see the reversed rune in stark relief. “I’d consider that a success.”
“Please tell me they don’t have internet comments sections in the mirrorverse,” I quipped.
“If they did, you’d have to read them very slowly,” said Lucy.
Having retrieved her head from the mirror, Mayari turned to face the rest of the room. “Hate to be the one to burst everyone’s bubble, but this isn’t going to work.” She held an index finger up to her glass eye. “This is the glaring flaw in your plan. It’s all very well for you symmetrical folk, but when we’re talking reversals, it’s hard not to notice when the eye you’re used to seeing out of is suddenly on the other side of your face.”
After my run-in with Odin, I felt a little ashamed for suspecting her back in Facility J. If he had infiltrated the rebellion, my test of the pact would have indicated he was in on it already. It was that damn eye messing with my head.
There was a pause. “Good point,” both Tezes said in unison. They eyed each other. “Back to the drawing board?” Mirror Tez suggested.
“No need,” Apollo chimed in from the vicinity of the shower.
I knew why. “It won’t change,” I declared. “You don’t understand how powerful that thing is. The knowledge Odin traded it for was enough to secure his dominion over the entire nine realms – which, yes, I know is outdated cartography, but it was a big deal at the time – and he only got it by making an equal sacrifice in return.” Part of which had meant giving up his ability to be a convincing shapeshifter. Most of the time. “Which means it isn’t going anywhere,” I continued. “Not by reversal, transformation or any other means. The gap where his eye used to be cuts through reality, illusion, maybe even time. It’s one of the few immutable things in this existence, and nothing short of another immutable force will change that.”
“But what if you’re wrong?” asked Lucy, looking unconvinced.
“I’m not,” I said, and left it at that.
“He’s not,” Apollo repeated. “The plan should work. I’m treading lightly here – the last thing we want is Odin foreseeing his own doom – and so far it’s just talk. None of this has entered the primary timeline yet. But the outcome is heavily skewed in our favour.”
“I’d rest easier if it was skewed more,” Mayari said. She nodded towards the mirror. “Explain to me what’s to stop him going in there, picking up the spear, and teleporting straight back out to safety. Neutralising his runes won’t help with that. Are we going to close the door behind him once he’s in? Won’t he see that coming?”
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” said Apollo, folding his arms. “Being in charge of Security has its perks. Assuming I can hold onto the position for long after today’s string of debacles. For one thing, the travel restrictions on the office run through me. All I need to do is categorise the mirror zone as a temporary part of Providence, and he won’t be able to leave in a hurry. It’ll leave a blip on the records, but that’s a problem we can deal with later.”
“And the prophecy?”
“One of us should stay with him at all times to run interference. I’d offer, but I’m about to have my hands full with Janus. And if Odin starts asking the wrong questions it could go south fast. So I’m volunteering Tezcatlipoca for the job.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Tez, frowning. “Pitting a Helpdesk rep up against the oppressor-in-waiting. I can’t imagine that would go wrong.”
“And we need you to build the mirror snare,” Lucy reminded him.
“Don’t worry about Odin,” said Shitface. “You’re a better seer than him any day. Just make sure the ambush part of the plan stays out of the main timeline until we’re ready and we’re in business.”
“And how long will this take? What am I supposed to do if he goes into a restricted area?” Tez protested.
“Gas form, obviously,” said his reflection.
“I wouldn’t,” I warned them. “He’ll know you’re there, and he can expose you whenever he wants. If you get caught, our whole plan falls apart. At least Shitface has an excuse to be there.”
“Don’t call me that,” Apollo growled. “It’s not ideal, but it’s that or a permanent loss of my staff member. I’ve already lost one person today; let’s not try to up the tally.”
“I thought you lost several thousand,” I needled him.
“That was on you.”
“I’ll go,” said Mirror Tez, stepping forward out of the mirror much to the surprise of the non-seers in the room. He passed me the toothbrush holder, which had regained its power the moment it emerged back into reality, and I smashed it to pieces on the side of the vanity a second later to render it useless. Until Odin was dealt with, we had to be careful with our use of the runes.
Tez gave his counterpart a fist bump. “Redundancy is a beautiful thing.”
“Makes sense to send the person with the least incriminating features,” Mirror Tez added, kicking the obsidian foot. It had switched sides to the correct foot now, I noticed.
Mayari stared at them. “Why do I have the feeling we’ve all been underestimating you?”
“Even after all my help getting your powers back? That’s what I get for not demanding an additional fee.” Tez shrugged. “In case you haven’t noticed, showboating tends to be hazardous to one’s health in the current operational climate. When it comes to a decision between my ego and comfort, I choose comfort.” He paused. “It’s less impressive than it looks, though. The effect will only hold as long as one of us remains in sight of this particular mirror.”
One of them? Odd wording.
“We should fix that,” his reflection said. “You have preparations to make.”
“True.” He gestured back towards the wall. “Would you mind?”
Without a word, Mirror Tez walked back through the glass. There was a brief flicker, and the scene jumped, synching up to the original’s movements in just the way you’d expect a regular reflection to move. Nothing about its appearance gave away any hint a divine miracle had just taken place.
Still beside the mirror, Mayari rapped on the surface of the glass with the backs of her fingernails. Whatever portal had been there was now closed.
Tez had already summoned a hand mirror into existence on his upturned palm, a square panel on the end of a metal stick. “Alright,” he said into it. “You can come out.”
The hairs on my head and the back of my forearms rose as a breeze picked up in the room, centred around the vicinity of the hand mirror. Moments later, it condensed into the form of Mirror Tez. “Good to go.”
“I’m serious,” I insisted, addressing them both. “What’ll you do if he confronts you and puts the pact at risk again?”
“Look, I’ll think of something. Perhaps I’ll make him think you twisted my arm to go and spy on him after your last encounter. It’s the kind of thing you’d do.”
“I learn from my mistakes,” I retorted. “We need a better plan.”
“We’ve got to seed news of the spear to Odin somehow,” Lucy proposed. “This could be our opportunity. Apollo?”
But Shitface was already shaking his head. “Too many seers are involved in this for me to get a reliable read on that angle. Let Tezcatlipoca’s envoy serve as the distraction. Someone else should be the messenger.” Eyes unfocusing for a few moments, he slipped into the fugue state. “You have a weak point in your demon network,” he said at last, coming out of it. “As Loki mentioned, Odin’s affinity with the runes leaves them compromised. To what extent I can’t say, but your best bet is to pass the information through them.”
Lucy glanced uneasily down at his bandages. “Even if we keep him in the dark about what went on here, Matteo is too close to the inner circle to risk. That leaves Tru, and I’m not sure he’s up to it.”
We hadn’t told anyone else about the exorcism. “I’ll check,” I offered, and warped through to the penthouse before anyone could argue.
He was where I’d left him, lying prone on top of the kitchen island. Half a day’s regeneration time had made a huge difference, with the body perhaps four-fifths formed and starting to approach something human as opposed to a clump of violet crystals. The shape was there, the jagged edges had smoothed away, and there were hints of skin and hair starting to come through in the expected places. As I’d predicted, it didn’t look like his new body would possess any significant differences to the old one.
His mind was unconscious as it readjusted through the recovery process, and there was nothing to be gained from trying to wake it up.
“Give it another couple of hours,” I said, stepping back into the pope’s bathroom. “He’s occupied until then.”
“Perhaps you could impress on him the urgency of this job,” Mayari suggested, grimacing. “It doesn’t get higher-priority than this. Being a demon lord is no excuse for slacking off.”
“If he’d been Sloth instead I could have made an incredible joke here,” Tez murmured.
“You’re not going to get better,” I stated. “Take it or find another option.”
“We’ll take it,” Apollo decided on behalf of the group. “Loki and I should get going, the pope’s about to have a visitor, you –” he gave a vague wave in the direction of Mirror Tez, “need to find Odin and stick to him, and Lucifer needs to retrieve Gungnir from wherever he’s been hiding it all these years.” He shot the devil a look conveying no small amount of suspicion, which Lucy returned with one of wide-eyed innocence. “The rest of you should start setting up the logistics. We’ll meet back here in two hours.”
The lack of consultation earnt him a few dirty looks, but no one jumped in to argue. “One moment,” Mayari said, and vanished from the room. A few seconds later she reappeared holding the duplicate card reader from Janus’ enclosure. “You’ll need this.”
I shifted into trousers containing adequate-sized pockets and slipped it inside. “Thanks.”
“Sure. Hopefully I won’t be dead from impalement this time tomorrow.”
“Well, it’s a step up from ‘we’re all going to die’,” she said. “You’re the most vulnerable among us in this situation. No one will hold it against you if you want to stay out of the confrontation.”
Ever since the subject of Gungnir had been raised, it hadn’t been far from my mind. It went both ways. If I could get in one good stab with it while Odin’s protections were disabled, there wasn’t much that could stop him taking a one-way trip to the void. Of course, Gungnir was enough to do the job on its own no matter who happened to be wielding it, so there wasn’t much sense in putting myself in line for an early expiry date. If we had Durga back by then, the logical choice would be to let her take the shot.
I at least wanted to be there, though. Revenge just wasn’t the same from a distance. And there was some strategic value to it; if we couldn’t get the drop on him fast enough, Odin would no doubt try to use runic magic in retaliation. We couldn’t bank on the mirrorverse counteracting new runes, and I was the best-placed to decipher and counter that sort of thing. We’d need all the backup we could get.
“I’ll think about it,” I told her. “No promises.”
“I’d expect nothing else,” she said.