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A note from Csuite

I've been double-timing it this week working on a short standalone (and complete!) prequel in the Doing God's Work universe: Loki vs the Fake Coupon Lady. Full credit to vladerag for the inspiration with an anecdote in the comments that made me laugh.

To avoid interrupting the main story with an interlude, it's sitting on its own page. Any future prequels or short stories will also live there.

Without further ado, back to the story:

Getting involved with a geas was dangerous but exploitable, as long as you knew the rules it operated under. A geas compelling you to do something could, say, get you out of Singapore if the thing you were being compelled to do was located in an expensive penthouse in the United States.

Unfortunately, the only rule we knew about was that Yun-Qi wasn’t allowed to talk about his affliction. Nobody had ever made a geas for that reason alone, however. It was a given there would be more. We just had to find them.

The primary timeline had shifted again since we’d returned from our excursion, with Apollo being called in for an urgent briefing he couldn’t turn down. Tez, who didn’t have much in the way to do until Lucy returned with Gungnir, had been talked into assuming the reluctant position of acting senior prophet. This largely involved Mayari and I dictating a list of every idea we could think of while he jumped ahead to post-lockdown Singapore and tested them out on Yun-Qi. Whatever he saw there was obviously leaving an impression.

“This is nuts,” he muttered, after about a dozen attempts. “The place is a mess. I haven’t seen futures this divergent since India. It’s like trying to pin down a trajectory a decade away, not a month. Whatever’s going on, it’s huge.”

“Good thing your job’s relatively easy, then,” I said. “We’re not trying to solve global politics, we’re trying to kick hospital boy’s problem into showing itself. Have you tried submerging him in water yet?”

Tez gave me a look. “There’s a timeline where the whole country has sunken into the Pacific.”

“How -”

“Yahweh.”

“Hmm. Sounds about right. So a ‘yes’ on that one, then.”

“Sure.”

“Okay, next,” said Mayari. She took a sip from her glass of vodka. “What happens when you place him at the centre of a paradox?”

The three of us were clustered around my housemate’s body, which had been moved to one of the outdoor deckchairs under several layers of blankets. There was still a distinct purple tinge to his skin, but it didn’t seem like it would be much longer before he woke. Below us, the lights of the urban landscape twinkled and shone in the biting night air. Muffled strains of distant music played, carried up on the light breeze, accompanied by the gentle rumbles of occasional traffic.

Nearest the door, Tez grumbled and pulled his overcoat closer around himself with his free hand. The other was still clutching the hand mirror he’d summoned back at the hotel, still pointing towards himself. “How about starting smaller before we bring out the big guns? Anything that complicated takes time to arrange. Time that’s in short supply.”

“It’s not that complicated,” Mayari argued. “Unstoppable force, immovable object, boom. We’ve done small, and it isn’t turning up anything.”

“By the time it gets to boom, I’ll have already been rumbled,” he pointed out. “No deal. Try something else. Maybe he could eat a tomato.” He paused, then shook his head. “Tomatoes are fine. And now it seems that accursed city is going to be flagged ground zero in a mass measles epidemic.” He shifted his grip on the hand mirror. “I have no idea what’s going on.”

“I could leave the room,” I suggested. “Well, balcony.”

The seer gave me a wry glance. “I see he told you about your ‘condition’. Don’t worry, it isn’t you causing this. Why are you so gung-ho about saving Durga, anyway? She’s on the enemy team. If you ask me, she’s a bigger danger than Apollo. She didn’t have a crisis of conscience. And the more I think about it, the more I’m not sure why she joined. Parvati doesn’t trust her, and she’d know. We could just -” he shrugged, “- not bother.”

“I like her,” I admitted. “I don’t need another reason.”

I had them, of course. But in the end it boiled down to the fact that the world - or at least my part in it - would be a little bit worse with no Durga in it. Maybe one day I'd get to blow it up, but until then I had to live in it like everyone else.

“Fair. I guess.”

Mayari took another sip of her vodka. “I can think of several good excuses for and against. Is it really erasure if she’s just one of Parvati’s avatars in the end? Try making him kill someone,” she added in Tez’ direction.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” I said. “Death is fixable. I doubt erasure would be so easy without some kind of localised time reversal, and you know how hard that is to come by.”

“He’s really quite resistant to being talked into assassination,” said Tez. “Add this to the ‘time-consuming’ pile.”

“Make it accidental, then.”

“Huh. No, nothing. And I think he’s now working against us in that particular timeline.” He shook his head. “We’re getting nowhere. It could take weeks to find something. If there’s even anything to find.” He glanced over at Tru’s prone form and made an impatient grunt.

“How’s your double going with the interference?” I asked, to give him a break.

He grimaced. “You were right, Odin definitely knows he’s being watched. He’s making it obvious. I assume it’s why Shitface got called in. For backup.”

Another uneasy feeling settled into the pit of my stomach. Calling Apollo in could have been a good indication his loyalty was beyond doubt… or Odin’s way of checking up on a hunch. I had a bad feeling it would be the latter. “What are they talking about?” I asked. “Can you ask him?”

“Doesn’t work that way. Gas form isn’t great for eavesdropping and I’m not strictly in control. It’s more of a… passive newsfeed sort of thing. At least Yahweh isn’t there; then we’d really be in trouble.”

“The pact should protect us,” said Mayari, but she had the look of someone trying to convince themselves of something they didn’t believe. “Come on, let’s keep up the momentum. What else do we know about this guy? He has some kind of connection to Loki, and a group of hacker-assassins. What happens if he kills Loki?”

“Um,” I protested. “Can we not? I only just got back from the void, and it’s not high on my list of recommended destinations. Plus we don’t know for sure if they’re assassins or not.”

“Semantics,” Mayari argued. “Besides, only your future self needs to worry about it.”

“My future self won’t cooperate,” I said, putting my foot down. “That’s a pretty big leap of faith you’re asking for. Why can’t it be something nicer, like delivering me a convenient message divulging all his old dirty organisational secrets?”

Something twigged at the edges of my awareness and I found my attention drawn back to Tru. A moment later, there was some movement under the blankets and he opened his eyes. The irises had the same purple sheen as his skin, but it would probably fade.

Probably.

“Oh, fuck,” he groaned, upon seeing me. “I was hoping it had all been a bad dream.” His gaze alighted on the moon goddess. “Is that my booze? Is she glowing?

“Ahem,” said Mayari, actually enunciating the word. She turned off the glow. “My name is Mayari, and this is Tezcatlipoca. We’re colleagues of Loki’s. Pity we had to meet under such extenuating circumstances.” I noticed she made no mention of the vodka. “I realise you’re new to this, but I could really use your help with something.”

Tru’s hand wriggled up from underneath the blankets. He stared at the fehu rune for a long moment, then curled the glowing appendage into a fist. “I’ve just –” He broke off and tried again. “You –” He sighed. “What do you need?”

I plucked the martini glass from Mayari’s fingers, ignoring her protestations, and deposited it into his hand. “First, take a breather. Just don’t overdo it this time.”

“I need you to deliver a package for me,” Mayari explained, with a disappointed frown in my direction as Tru took a very tentative sip from the glass. “There’s a very important package I need to bring to an as yet undisclosed location -”

“Bolivia,” I interrupted.

As yet undisclosed location,” she repeated, “and it would be very helpful if you could escort it.”

Tru paused, the glass hovering in its ascent to his lips. “Can’t you just take it yourself?” The other hand came up out of the blankets and pointed at me. “I’ve seen what Loki can do. Unless it’s an entire shipping container, you should be able to send it there in seconds.”

“Fun fact, we can also do shipping containers,” I enlightened him. “Although it’s a bit moot when you can just transport the ship. Our organisation actually does employ staff to handle international supply runs. It’s where a decent chunk of its profit comes from.”

“How nice,” he said, in a tone implying complete disinterest. “Problem solved.” He took another sip.

Mayari shot me a concerned look. “It’s a little more complicated than that. The delivery is important, yes, but more important is the record. It needs to go through traceable channels.” The channel in this case, of course, being Tru himself.

“Look,” I said. “We’ll send you. Think of it as a very short, very inexpensive business trip. Plus you can see Bolivia. Haven’t you ever wanted to visit Bolivia?”

Tru lowered the drink onto the deck of the balcony where Mayari could eye it longingly. “Are you hiding from someone?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Someone in Bolivia? Is this going to end in someone trying to kill me? Exactly how many people have you managed to alienate?”

Mayari and I glanced at each other. “I think he’s got a good read on you,” she said.

“Don’t listen to her,” I stressed. “Okay, you’re right, it’s not entirely safe. But we’re not hiding, we’re sending a message. And the person we’re sending it to has no interest in killing you. We’ll get you in to make the drop, and whisk you out again before they even arrive.”

“We’re also coming,” Mayari specified. “You won’t be alone.”

“Also, if you could pay those power bills I mentioned earlier –”

“You won’t believe this,” said Tez, breaking into the conversation, a stunned expression crossing his face. “We’ve got it. Hi, Tru. That last idea actually worked.”

“What, killing Loki?”

“‘Delivering a message divulging all his old dirty organisational secrets,’” he quoted verbatim. “Our boy Yun-Qi’s a messenger. For Loki. He’s just waiting for the right conditions to be met.”

“Great,” said Tru. “Get that guy to go to Bolivia.”

That guy isn’t a powerful demon lord,” Mayari scolded him. “He’s a regular mortal with a head full of important information who we need to make sure stays alive long enough to spill it.”

“So I will be in danger,” Tru retorted.

Mayari’s eyes flashed in the dark. “Tru,” she said in a warning tone. “For better or worse, you're in this now. You can’t hide from it forever. Sooner or later, you’re going to end up attracting the wrong kind of attention, and when that happens, you’re going to want allies. So I would advise cooperating with them while you have the chance.”

“Allies, huh?” He shot me a dark look.

“In fairness,” I pointed out, “you’re the one who tried to exorcise me. And I did warn you. Maybe, just maybe, consider that we’re not the bad guys.”

“Or,” suggested Tez, “we are the bad guys, and we’re going to mess your shit up if you don’t do what we say.”

“Okay, nobody is ever allowed to put you in charge of engineering or public relations,” I said. “Backing up, what are these conditions on Yun-Qi? He didn’t seem to have a problem talking about Siphon before. Is there anything we can use to get him and Parvati out of the country?”

Tez smiled wickedly. “Probably. But that would necessitate them being in the country in the first place.”

“What are you saying? If they're not in Singapore, then what have we been doing for the last twenty minutes?”

“I was curious. Sue me. It’s not every year you come across an anomaly like this. Consider it my tithe for the service. And besides, I got you the information you needed. Just not the way you wanted.” He paced across the balcony and picked up Tru’s vodka, downing the whole thing. “He and Parvati are in a charter boat just off the coast. Although they won’t be there for much longer.”

Mayari and I shared a glance. “Coordinates?” asked the former.

A set of bearings swam into my head, accompanied by an image of a small semi-open vessel packed with a crowd of unhappy-looking tourists. Mayari vanished from sight immediately after.

I hesitated a moment longer and turned to Tez, who was watching me expectantly. “There’s no chance you caught hospital boy’s affliction, is there?”

If he had, it could have been bad. There was only so much damage it could do on a mortal victim. Attached to a god, however, and a seer at that, there was no telling how far it could spread. Anything Tez could predict, he could use against us to dissuade or distract without us ever realising, the geas using its victims’ knowledge to be as convincing as possible.

Tez folded his arms in obvious discomfort. “Not to my knowledge. But it’s a Catch-22. I know you want a straight answer, but I didn’t stick around to listen to the message. If it doesn’t want our target divulging information to the wrong ears, chances are it wouldn’t let me do it either. No one wins if I get struck with it. You’re going to have to take it on faith I’m telling the truth.”

Which meant I couldn’t take it on face value at all.

“But,” he added, “The fact I got this far shows this thing has reasonable limits. Whoever made it went to a lot of effort to keep it hidden and contained. And I can tell you the condition to break it. When you’re ready, order him to deliver his message.”

I blinked at him. “That’s it? That’s all? I could have done that ages ago!”

Tru was glancing between us as we talked, his expression growing ever more confused as he clutched the blankets around him for modesty.

“Right,” the seer confirmed. “Isn’t hindsight wonderful? Now go sort out your schizophrenic Hindu amigo while Greed and I wait for Lucifer.”

I could still hear his cackles ringing out over Tru’s dismayed “For who?” as I warped out into my second unintended bath of the day.

 

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A note from Csuite

And a reminder, for more Fun With Helpdesk™: Loki vs the Fake Coupon Lady is now a thing.


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Csuite

Bio: Because writing is fun.

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