The heavy thrum of the C-17’s engines vibrated throughout the aircraft and permeated deep into the bones of the Ex Gladius unit. Lavin sat alone on one of the hard benches lining the aircraft’s interior and watched a single exposed rivet vibrate furiously in it’s metal prison. He hated flying at the best of times but at least the flight from London would only take a few hours. From the corner of his eye the commander noticed what passed for whispers over the noise of the aircraft and the occasional sideways glance coming from his team. Eventually, it seemed a decision was made and the sacrificial Brack is shoved towards the waiting commander.
‘Uh, Sir...I, we were, uh, just wondering...’ He stammered awkwardly.
Lavin leaned back against the hull of the plane and folded his arms, smiling. ‘Let me guess, you all want to know about Loki.’ The uncharacteristic smile made the private nervous and he turned to look at the rest of his unit for backup.
‘Uh, I...uhm.’ Lieutenant Green stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on Brack’s shoulder.
‘Sir, while we would normally follow you to the ends of the earth at a single command, we aren't exactly stupid. From what I’ve heard, the last team to face Loki only had one survivor, and that was you.’
Lavin studied the lieutenant. She looked at him with wide eyes, their colour matching her namesake. Her face beamed with admiration and anticipation, framed by strands of soft red hair escaping the tightly woven bun sitting high on her head. The newest member to join under his command, Green had quickly proven herself in the heat of battle and earned her place at his side. As familiar as she was to him, Lavin found himself staring a little too long at the lieutenant. It was something about her eyes, odd, yet very familiar, almost like déjà vu. Pulling himself away from these thoughts, the commander looked up at the waiting faces of his unit. The roar of the aircraft forced him to almost shout to be heard in the group.
‘It was a cold, wet night. Two privates, not six months out of the academy, stood guard of an abandoned mine shaft. Both stood to attention for six hours straight. Never moving, never wavering, despite the freezing cold rain soaking them both to the bone. Eventually it became all to much for one of them…’
‘Higgs!’ Whispered one of the privates, ‘Got a light?’
Private Higgs, turned his head slowly to face his comrade. ‘Shift change is in another four hours.’ He quietly snapped back, the water running streams down his face.
‘Come on Higgs. The sarge isn’t going to know, it’s just a bloody mine shaft.’ The private turned slowly on the spot, cupping his frozen hands to his face. The boarded up entrance provided a small outcropping, just enough room for a tired soldier to crouch. It wasn’t much but it was dry.
‘Lavin! What are you’re playing at?’ Higgs called harshly. ‘You’ll get caught.’ The private waved off his friend and, adjusting the rifle at his shoulder, walked the few steps toward the mine entrance. Crouching down, he could feel warm air gently blowing from between the gaps in the boards, he wrung out his last packet of cigarettes and addressed Higgs once again. ‘Higgs!’ He whispered. ‘Higgs! Chuck us a light will ya.’
Higgs grunted as he threw his lighter over to the crouching Lavin. ‘If you get caught and I end up doing PT...’
‘Yeah, yeah. I’ll sort it, don’t worry.’ Lavin dismissed as he threw back the lighter. The end of his misshapen cigarette glowed bright red in the cold night.
Happy to be finally out of the rain he leaned back against the boarded up entrance. The warm air quickly drying out his thick uniform. ‘I’ll tell you what Higgs, if all our assignments are like this one, this Deus Ex trip will be like a walk in the light and dark.’ Lavin closed his tired eyes and dragged slowly on his cigarette, listening to the soothing noise of the falling rain. The whispering began as a low rumble, mistaken at first for the sound of distant thunder, but growing steadily into a discernible name. ‘Rrrricharrrd.’
‘What?’ Lavin asked instinctively upon hearing his name.
‘Huh?’ Replied Higgs, water pouring from his face as he turned his head.
‘Huh?’ Mimicked Lavin, shrugging his shoulders. ‘You called me, ya berk.’
‘No I didn’t.’ Higgs turned his head forward and once again stood to attention. Lavin inhaled sharply and blew smoke defiantly towards Higgs’ back. ‘Whatever.’
In spite of the loud, heavy rain, silence once again fell between the two solders. Higgs’ steadfast loyalty forced him to attention, the water running rivers over his body, chilling him to the bone. Despite all this, he could hear the taunting call of his name, dull though it was through the roar of the storm he could still hear it. Focusing on the task at hand he ignored the voice, the drawn out, repeated call of his name. ‘Daaavid.’ After a good ten minutes he couldn’t take it any more. Exasperated he turned and yelled. ‘What! What in the name of the twelve gods do you want?’ Stunned, Lavin sat wide eyed staring at his friend, the outburst seemingly coming from nowhere.
‘The rain’s finally got to him,’ Lavin thought out loud, shaking his head. It took a moment for the private to notice that Higgs was actually looking at him, rather, behind him. Turning slowly to follow his eye, Lavin was greeted by the polite smile of a woman. He jumped up grabbing his rifle. Despite the blackness of the mine both men could clearly make out the naked silhouette of the woman, her dirty blond hair ran the length of her pale, gaunt body and her eyes glowed faintly in the bright moonlight. Neither man moved. Before drifting off back into the darkness, she smiled and whispered softly. ‘He’s been waiting for you.’
Lavin stood dumbstruck as the old, weathered boards blocking the entrance crumbled to dust before him. Movement in his peripheral vision quickly broke his confused state. Higgs had started walking towards the darkened entrance, his steps slow and methodical. Lavin looked and saw a blankness in his face.
‘Higgs.’ He whispered. ‘Higgs, what the hell are you doing?’ The private continued walking, muttering softly to himself, Lavin reached out to grab Higgs’s shoulders but was rebuffed dismissively by the solder.
‘Didn’t you hear? He’s waiting for me Richard.’ Said Higgs, his voice vague and distant.
‘Who mate? Who could possibly be waiting for you down there?’ His hand pointing into the beckoning gloom. Higgs looked directly into Lavin’s face, his eyes wide and manic. ‘My father. My father’s waiting for me!’ He pushed Lavin to the ground and ran blindly down the pitch black tunnel.
As Lavin pulled himself upright the earth beneath him began to tremble, knocking him back down into the rain soaked ground. He wiped in vain at the mud covering his uniform only succeeding to further smear the dirt into the dark green cloth. With an annoyed grunt, the private gave up and attempted once more to get to his feet. The discarded service rifle lay next to him, half buried in the muddy soil. Lavin reached down and grabbed the mired weapon and shouldered it by the well used, brown leather strap. He leaned against the entrance and peered into the blackness of the mine. Despite the light of the full moon behind him, his eyes strained to see further than a few feet. Lavin called out to Higgs. The sound echoed around the mouth of the mine until it faded into nothingness. There was no response from his friend or anyone else. ‘This is definitely not the easy shift I hoped for,’ he thought to himself. Taking one last look around, Lavin adjusted his rifle and walked slowly into the enveloping darkness.
No sound existed in the mine. All Lavin could hear was the thump of his own heart beating slow and heavy in his ears. The cold stone walls absorbed every footstep, every crunch as Lavin cautiously walked over the rough and rocky ground deeper and deeper into the earth. Darkness pinned him from all angles and pushed the walls in closer. The damp stale air forcing itself into him with every ragged breath. Richard hugged the rifle closer to his chest looking for a comforting feeling that only a weapon could give him right now. The deeper he went the warmer it became. Soon, the freezing air and damp walls gave way to steaming vents and warm glowing rocks, the latter providing just enough light to break up the black walls of the seemingly endless tunnel. The once cool air had progressively warmed into an oppressive heat, each breath now burned Lavin’s lungs as thick waves of sulphur washed over him. Lavin threw himself against the cave wall as a sudden eruption of steam forced him to take cover. He cried out in agony as the scolding vapour hit his right arm, forcing him to drop his rifle. His hand had turned a bright red that continued down the length of his forearm, despite the protection of his woollen uniform. Nursing his scolded arm he reached down to collect his weapon, and as he knelt down a second vent erupted further down the tunnel. Lavin looked up instinctively and saw the silhouette of a woman passing through the dispersing mist, heading deeper into the mine.
Ignoring the pain as best he could, Lavin moved quickly to follow the vanishing figure. The red glow of the rocks continued to increase until the dark tunnel glowed like a sunset. Vents continued to erupt down the tunnel causing him to doge and weave blasts of steam. Sweat poured from his brow as the temperature climbed, perspiration ran down his face, stinging his eyes. His jacket, now fused to his melted arm, refused to come off without skin and agony. Blinded by pain and sweat he stumbled through the tunnel till it unexpectedly opened up into a large cave. Catching himself momentarily on the hot rock wall, Lavin surveyed the underground chamber before him. The woman he was following, walked calmly towards a stone alter at the centre of the cavern where an equally naked man lay bound and writhing in pain.
Long red hair cascaded over the alter as the tall and horrifically thin man fought against the thick, red cords binding him. Directly above the bound man sat a large snake coiled around a protruding stalactite, dripping venom steadily onto his face. Each writhing movement shook the cave violently, sending tremors throughout the mine. Slowly and methodically the woman knelt down beside the bound man, picked up a small wooden bowl and held it above his face, collecting the drops of venom. The man’s cries of agony subsided to mere roars of curses, primarily directed at the woman. Between the countless obscenities rushing from the man’s mouth it became clear that the couple were husband and wife. A nagging feeling began to form in the back of Lavin’s mind about the cave, the bound man and his wife, even the tremors were all part of something he’d forgotten. Something important enough to require twenty-four-hour guards.
A fog had slowly faded over his mind since entering the tunnel. Something so subtle that he wasn’t actually sure anything was wrong, just a feeling in his gut. He struggled to remember something, a feeling he chased in his head that was always just out of reach. Slowly, a blur came into his field of vision, moving steadily through the cave. The blur focused into a green and red smudge that limped towards the alter. Lavin could be forgiven for not recognising the man who had on several occasions saved his life. The blistered and bleeding lump of flesh that shuffled towards the centre of the cave resembled very little of the private Higgs that Lavin once knew. While Lavin had been lucky only getting hit by one steam vent, his comrade in arms looked like he simply walked though all of them, his body and face melted and covered in harsh red burns.
Seemingly oblivious to the immense pain he must have been in, Higgs managed to limp steadily towards the naked and bound man. With the woman holding off the snakes venom the red-headed man had stopped his curses and shouting and was now whispering to Higgs. Lavin heard the hushed voice whisper ‘my son,’ over and over again. Frozen to the spot, Lavin watched as his disfigured friend stiffly removed a combat knife from his belt and began to cut at the thick bonds that tied the man down. Dark red ooze ran freely from the severed ties, it pooled and boiled as it hit the hot ground, all the while the man continued to whisper. ‘Free me, my son! Free me!’ A persistent niggling feeling ate at the back of Lavin’s mind as he watched the bonds be severed one after the other till only one remained.
As the final bond was severed, the red-headed man leapt upwards just as the bowl of venom began to overflow. Green venom dripped over the edge and sizzled as they landed on the solid rock alter. Lavin’s good arm instinctively raised his weapon up and slowly began to put pressure on the trigger. The three witnesses, Lavin, Higgs, and the woman, all watched as the red-headed man danced about the cavern, his voice singing out with joy. Then, without so much as a warning the man stopped his frivolity. He looked first at Higgs and then switched his attention towards Lavin and his raised weapon. The man’s cold, blue eyes locked onto him with a singular focus, one that made Lavin increasingly nervous. So much so that the rifle in his hand began to shake. For a split second Lavin’s eyes flicked down towards the gun barrel and back up again. The naked man was gone, replaced instead by a cold whisper at the back of Lavin’s neck. ‘Fool.’
Lavin whirred around squeezing the trigger of his weapon only to find empty air and the faint echos of laughter heading up the tunnel towards the surface.
A noise behind him made Lavin hold back from chasing the red-headed man. The figure of Higgs slumped to the ground, his ragged breathing loud against the stark silence that had decended on the cavern. Lavin rushed over and knelt by his side.
‘Higgs!’ He yelled, looking into the melted remnants of his friends face. The burns covered all of his body, leaving a horrific patchwork of melted skin and uniform. Higgs’ breath came in short sharp bursts that grew quicker and quicker. Lavin’s voice caught in the back of his throat as he watched the dying Higgs struggle to breathe, his bloodshot and cloudy eyes looking up at nothing. Lavin made hushed soothing noises at Higgs as he held the dying man tightly. With a final ragged breath Higgs’ body gave up and sagged heavily into Lavin’s arms.
A distraught Lavin turned to face the kneeling woman. She had remained stationary throughout her husbands escape and Higgs’s death, offering neither comfort nor assistance to either event. Wiping the tears from his face Lavin confronted her. ‘Why?’ He asked. ‘Why did Higgs have to die? Who was that man?’ His voice filled with emotion. The woman remained silent and merely hung her head, looking forlorn. With a disgusted snort private Lavin gave up on the woman and returned his focus to Higgs. With his one good hand he hoisted his body over his shoulders began the long journey towards the surface.
The trek back to the open air was long and slow. Several times he had to stop, nearly collapsing from exhaustion. The further he moved away from the cavern the clearer his head began to feel. The fog that had filled his mind began to lift. Higgs’s body weighed heavy on him and he was glad when the first glimmer of moonlight began to flow into the dark tunnel. The rain had stopped during his sojourn in the mine, and a cool breeze now ran through the surrounding forrest. A welcome change from the heat of the tunnels. With the last of his reserves, Lavin managed to lay the body of Higgs at the mouth of the tunnel. He slumped down next to his dead friend and pulled out a cigarette. Searching himself for a lighter, Lavin let his tired head hang down before a soft laughter pushed its way out of his mouth.
‘Bloody Higgs.’ He said, shaking off the nervous hysterics. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes as the sound of army trucks rumbled towards him.
The following hours flew by in a blur. Rushed to the nearby Deus Ex base, Lavin was sequestered in a high level interrogation room while Higgs’s body was taken to quarantine. A standard procedure for this sort of situation. Sitting in the sparse, grey room Lavin sat through hours of interrogation. His mind was still clouded from the mine and it took a while for the name to sink in. His commanding officer repeated himself for the umpteenth time. ‘Where did Loki go?’
‘Loki?’ Lavin looked up at the official seated across the cold metal table.
‘Don’t play with us, private. You and private Higgs some how disabled the wards protecting the mine shaft and released Loki. Where did he go?’ The nameless official standing next to him slammed his fist on the table to punctuate the point. Now that he thought about it, Lavin knew it was Loki’s prison they were guarding. Only the most promising of Deus Ex recruits ever got to guard the mine, Higgs was top of their unit with Lavin a close second. His head hurt as he tried to remember the details of the night. Images of Higgs’s melted face greeted him every time he closed his eyes.
‘Look, Lavin.’ His commanding officer spoke in a soft tone. ‘I know it’s hard losing a friend, I’ve lost a lot of good men in my time and it doesn’t get any easier, trust me. We need you to help us find Loki and put him back before he harms anyone else.’ Lavin looked from one face to to the other, he desperately wanted to help but his thoughts were still lost in a haze. The men started to talk, ignoring Lavin. ‘He doesn’t know anything.’ His commanding officer said. ‘His mind’s been wiped clean, poor fool.’
Fool. The word ran clear in Lavin’s mind. What a fool he had been. Somehow Loki had managed to spread his influence just enough to entrap the two young privates. The promise of a long dead father had enticed Higgs to unbind the trickster. He held his head in his hands as flashes of the night came back to him. ‘I can’t believe it. The bastard killed Higgs.’
‘Welcome back private.’ The soft tone gone from the commanders voice.
‘I’m sorry Sir, I...’
‘Don’t think about it son. We’re more worried about getting the rogue back. Did he say anything about where he was headed?’
‘He only said one thing to me, ‘Fools’. What about his wife?’ Lavin looked up at his superior's face, hopeful. The commander’s face stayed blank. ‘She’s not talking. I suspect she knows as much as you do, anyway.’ The black suited offical moved to the door and banged on it, an armed officer opened it.
‘Have the search radius expanded to 500 miles. Everyone is to be questioned, twice. Regular checks on our personnel as well, we’re dealing with Loki, he could be anyone.’ The suited man turned and nodded to the rest of the men and left the room. The attention turned back to Lavin.
‘Well son, you’ve got two choices. Sit here feeling sorry for yourself and kiss your career goodbye, or shake it off and get back on the front lines.’ The commander looked him directly in the eyes. ‘You do know that you’re the only one to have seen Loki in his natural form for the last fifty years, and survived.’
Lavin didn’t need to think. His answer left his throat before he knew it. ‘Give me a gun and point me in the right direction, sir.’ A smile appeared briefly on the commander’s face, quickly replaced by a stern look and a salute. Lavin returned the salute as the door opened. A harried looking lieutenant burst into the room, snapping a quick salute to the commander. ‘Sir. We’ve located him. A small pub not ten miles from here.’ The lieutenant cast an apprehensive glance at Lavin.
‘Take a full platoon to isolate and surround the area. I want total control of the situation before I send in Ex Machina.’ The lieutenant nodded and turned to leave before the commander called him back. ‘Take Lavin with you. He’ll ID the rogue.’
‘Yes Sir.’ Came the response as private Lavin and the lieutenant both saluted and left the interrogation room.
Ex Gladius had already secured the area and were preparing to move in by the time Lavin reached the pub. ‘You’ll enter with the second team and ID the rogue once the forward team have secured inside.’ Ordered the lieutenant. Lavin nodded and found his way to the holding area and watched the first team enter the small English pub. By his very nature, Loki was a trickster known for his constant shape shifting and confusing tactics. For this very reason, the civilians in the pub had not been evacuated and no one would be allowed out till they were all cleared by Ex Machina. The field unit’s central radio crackled to life as the all clear was signalled. With a hand wave from the lieutenant, the second team moved in. Lavin followed with the rear guard, he felt naked without his rifle but it was deemed too risky for him to be given a weapon. Just how deep Loki had managed to get into his mind was still unclear and the last thing they all needed was an armed puppet shooting his own men. Trapped in a sea of dark green uniforms, Lavin blindly followed the back of the man in front of him as they rushed into the old pub. The smell of gunpowder mixed with the homely scent of stale beer assailed his senses long before he heard the shots.
‘Shots fired! Shots fired!’ Yelled the team leader as the team piled into the darkened hall quickly taking up defensive positions around the room. Lavin pulled back and crouched behind the nearest armed soldier.
‘What’s our situation?’ He asked, placing a firm arm on the man’s shoulder. ‘Looks like the first team opened fire on the civilians and then turned on each other. I’ve never seen so many bodies...’ The soldier shook his head and gripped his weapon tighter. Soon, another all clear was given and soldiers returned to their feet. Lavin walked cautiously into the centre of the room, where the team leader and several soldiers had gathered. On approaching the assembled team he could make out a lone figure seated calmly at the only upright table. A pint of beer and a deck of cards sat undisturbed and an old man occupied the seat. He casually reached for the beverage.
‘What’s the trouble officers?’ He croaked, looking innocent as he sipped his beer. The heavily armoured, masked figure of the team leader studied the old man before responding. ‘We’re looking for someone. Red-head, tall, thin, possibly naked. You seen him?’ The old man pondered the question intently. Placing the beer back on the table he looked up at his interrogators.
‘Now then, you say this fellow ain’t got not no clothes on? And has red hair? Well, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like that around here. Not since old Arthur had a few too many shots of Mrs Pepworth’s home made brandy last year. Right scene he made too.’ He laughed at the memory. The Ex Gladius soldiers conferred with each other before the team leader nodded and thanked the old man.
‘Think nothing of it, son.’
‘We’re all clear here, Sir. Looks like Loki got away. I’m sending my men out.’ The team leader spoke into his radio as he turned to leave.
As the unit started to move out, Lavin managed to get a clear look at the old man. He sat in his chair and smiled, waving as the soldiers made their way out of the pub. A single word fell from the old man’s lips as he grabbed his beer from the table.
Suddenly the world unfurled around him. Dead bodies littered the floor, civilians and Ex Gladius alike. Lavin remembered seeing them when he came in but somehow it just slipped his mind. The old man’s face had also begun to change. His washed out grey hair turned bright red, the colour spreading like fire from their roots, while his wrinkled and tired face faded back into his skull, leaving behind the youthful and handsome image of the trickster god. What was a soft, gentle smile on the old man, became a twisted and evil grin on this new youthful face. Lavin’s gut tightened.
‘Son of a bitch.’ He mumbled, fumbling for his missing side arm. Cursing again, he reached over and grabbed a handgun from the solder behind him. In one swift movement, Lavin disabled the gun’s safety and whirled around, aiming the weapon directly at Loki’s head. The rogue god stopped smiling and studied the solder before him.
‘And what do you think you are going to do with that young man? Shoot an innocent old bastard like me?’ The lost smile was replaced by an annoyed snarl.
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing, private?’ The team leader’s voice sounded shocked and annoyed, but Lavin’s aim did not waver.
‘Sir, this is Loki.’ Lavin addressed the man behind him, but kept his eyes locked on the trickster.
‘Loki isn’t here, son. You’ve got a weapon pointed at the head of some innocent old man. Let’s just put down the gun and come outside with us, we’ll get you some help, there’s no need for all this.’ The condescending tone of the team leaders voice was one reserved for talking down the stupid and insane. Lavin was neither.
‘With all due respect Sir, this is Loki. Just look at him. Look around you, can’t you see the bodies?’
‘What bodies? There’s nobody else here but us, and we’re leaving! Now, drop that weapon or I’ll have you shot for treason.’ The familiar sound of several rifles cocking echoed behind Lavin in unison.
‘Sir!’ He yelled. ‘I’m telling you, this is Loki. You need to call in Ex Machina, now!’ Loki sat in his chair, droplets of cold water formed around the glass of the cold beer, the annoyed snarl slowly shifting back into a familiar grin.
‘Now son, you wouldn’t want to call in the big guns on a little old man like me, now would you?’
Lavin sank back into his stance and tightened his grip on the gun. ‘Only one of us is leaving here a free man, Loki, and it sure as hell isn’t you.’
Hysterical laughter filled the room as Loki threw his head back. ‘You have no idea who you are talking to, do you child?’ He looked at the Ex Gladius team leader. ‘Kill him, you idiot.’ The solder pulled out his own sidearm and walked slowly towards Lavin.
‘I hate to have to do this, but an order’s an order.’ Lavin stood his ground, his eyes were glued to the pointed face of Loki, his friend’s killer, and soon to be his own. A loud noise from behind caught them by surprise, all but Lavin turned to look at the new team of Ex Gladius entering the pub. Flanked on all sides was a lone Ex Machina agent, his distinctive blue lab coat basked in the white glow emanating from the large hammer he held out in front of him.
‘Mjöllnir…’ The ancient name flowed out of Loki’s mouth in a hushed whisper. ‘You children have the hammer of Thor? Kill them! Kill them all!’ He screamed his orders at the ensorcelled Ex Gladius solders. The air was quickly filled with the loud cracks of gunfire as both teams opened fire on each other. Lavin dove to the side, managing to squeeze off several shots aimed directly at Loki’s head. The god sat calmly in his chair and laughed. No one, not even Lavin, landed a hit on him throughout the short battle despite best intentions. The gunfire began to fade and Lavin cautiously rose to his feet. More bodies added to the pile littering the small pub as men he knew and trusted turned their weapons on each other. He saw the dying body of the Ex Machina agent, his face pale in the light of the large hammer laying beside him.
Lavin wasted no time hesitating. He leapt to his feet and quickly covered the short distance between himself and the glowing hammer. A solid force struck him from behind, knocking him once again to the ground. The world momentarily went black as his face slammed into the solid wooden floor. Instinctively, Lavin rolled over gripping his now bloody nose as a chair smashed into the floor next to his head. Looking up through blood and sweat Lavin could see Loki standing above him, gripping the shattered remains of a chair tightly in his hands. The rogue god tossed the chair aside and picked up an assault rifle from the bloodied body of a nearby solder, murderous intent gleaming in his eyes. Lavin pushed himself backward, clambering slowly through the bloody mess littering the pub floor. A steady stream of warm blood ran down his face, the metallic tang filling his mouth as he struggled to breathe. Moving back as far as he could, Lavin watched as Loki struggled with the weapon. The old god eventually conquering the new technology with a burst of fire aimed at the ceiling. Fear spread through Lavin as he watched a twisted smile spread across Loki’s face as he aimed the weapon.
The god stalked towards the shuffling Lavin, the rifle solid in his hands. Loki cleared the weapon’s chamber. ‘Did I ever thank you and your friend for my freedom?’ Lavin held still. A faint light shone from behind as he looked up into the deep blue eyes of his executioner.
‘Your freedom is short lived, trickster.’ Lavin spat at him.
Loki threw back his head and laughed. ‘Oh, how I’ve missed this.’ He said grinning. The moment Loki pulled the trigger on his weapon, Lavin pulled his arm forward throwing the hammer of Thor directly at Loki’s chest. The weapon discharged lightning wildly as Mjöllnir struck its target. The rogue god was thrown clear across the room, smashing through the floorboards as he landed. Light from the hammer grew, surrounding Loki in a solid white glow that filled the now exposed basement and desecrated pub. Silence filled the air as Lavin sat in shock. His breathing came in rasps as he struggled to his feet. The gaping hole in the pub’s floor beckoned him close as the light began to shrink and pulsate. Limping over, he knelt down and peered into the basement. The naked body of Loki floated inches above the damp ground encompassed in light. The great hammer pulsated as it lay against the rouge god’s chest, rising and falling with each shallow breath. In the ruins of the pub, amongst the bloodied bodies of his friends, Lavin sat at the edge of the gaping hole in the floor and began to weep.
The Ex Gladius unit sat in silence as the C-17 buffeted down the runway, their minds taking in the commander’s story. Quickly and efficiently, the unit moved from the confines of the aircraft and rushed across the tarmac to the three black vans that sat waiting in the cool night air. A local Ex Machina handed the keys to Lavin. ‘The equipment you requested is waiting for you at the location, sir.’ She said.
Lavin took the keys and gave a nod to the young woman. ‘Green, you’re with me. The rest of you split up and follow us.’ Lavin tossed the extra keys at his team and they pilled into the waiting vehicles.
‘Where are we headed?’ Asked Green as she pulled herself into the passenger seat. Lavin grunted in response and turned the key in the ignition. The vans left the airport and sped off into the Welsh countryside.
It was a while before Lavin spoke again. Green had taken to counting sheep as they flew past in a white blur. Had she not been special forces Lavin’s driving would have left her nerves shot. Unsealed country lanes were not built for this kind of speed.
‘You never asked.’ Lavin’s voice hung in the air. Not quite a question, yet not entirely an accusation either.
‘Sorry?’ Green was confused.
‘I didn’t expect the others to ask, they know better, but you. You always push the point. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure before, but I am now.’ The van began to speed up.
‘Sir? I’m not quite sure I...’
‘Don’t.’ Lavin spat. His eyes narrowed and focused on the road. ‘Don’t you dare use her voice like that.’
Green smiled as she looked out through the speeding window. ‘What gave it away?’
Lavin’s knuckles went white as he gripped the steering wheel. ‘You never asked what my story had to do with my wife. The whole reason we were going to Wales.’ He said. ‘Only a handful of people know what Loki said to me as Ex Mentis rebound him. That bastard cursing me, over and over. His promise that my greatest love will be my torturer, how my freedom will be worse than any death.’ He looked over at Green, his face a blank slate.
‘And there are even fewer who know how my wife took a knife to my face that night, her anger and pain growing as I pleaded my love for her. How I begged her to stop as the blood and tears ran down my face. Those kind of scars run painfully deep and still show. Only one person knows how much pain it costs me, loving her. Only one who would want to see that pain increased. Only one who would kill my lieutenant and take her place in order to get close to me. And only one stupid enough to think I haven’t grown over the past thirty years.’
The white glow of the hammer filled the van as Lavin pulled it from the duffle bag on the back seat. Lieutenant Green’s eyes shone deep blue in that light as her face twisted into the familiar and haunting figure of Loki. The van continued to speed along the uneven country lane as Lavin held the glowing Mjöllnir in the tight space between the seats.
‘Not even you would be stupid enough to use that now.’ Loki said, his hand reaching for his side weapon. An evil grin crept across Lavin’s face as he stared down the rogue god.
‘I told you, I’ve changed.’ A brilliant flash filled the van, exploding out into the night.
Lavin woke to find himself sprawled out on the side of the road looking up into the face of private Brack. His entire body ached as he tried to sit up. ‘He’s awake!’ Called Brack. ‘Sir, can you hear me?’
‘Get out of my face Brack.’ Lavin grunted, pushing the young private aside. He could see the rest of his unit running towards him. A bright glow shone inside what looked like the twisted remains of the van he was driving. He waved off the pending questions that showed on his team’s face, ‘I’m fine. Chief, sit-rep.’
‘Mission was a success. Sarah had called ahead to the local office and explained everything. Loki is bound by the hammer and the local Ex Gladius moved in and secured the site. Ex Mentis are due any moment for rebinding. There are a few people who want to speak to you sir, I’ve...ah, told them you were unavailable for the time being, figured you could use some time to recover.’ The black clad officer leaned in close, ‘and sir, good to see you on your feet.’ Lavin almost smiled.
‘Good work Chief. Brack, you’re with me, the rest of you watch the site until Mentis arrive then make your way back to the plane and wait for us.’
Lavin walked over to one of the remaining vans and commandeered the keys from a local Ex Gladius. He threw them at Brack and climbed in the passenger side.
‘Where to sir?’ Back asked.
Lavin settled into the soft leather seat and let his body rest for the first time since London. ‘We’re going to visit my wife, Brack. I’ll show you the way, just drive.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Replied the eager private, turning the ignition over. Despite the loss of lieutenant Green, using a god’s weapon in close quarters, being sent fifteen feet into the air, and being back in Wales, Lavin was in good sprits. He’d have a lot to answer for when he got back to London but nothing he couldn’t handle.
The drive to his old house was oddly comforting as Brack navigated the unfamiliar streets with his direction. Lavin noted the changes, big and small to what was once his home. New buildings, old trees, the expansion of the town, all brought a pang of regret as he wished he could have been a part of it all. Darkness still filled the air as Brack pulled up in front of a quaint pale blue cottage. It had aged a little over the years but the garden was in full bloom and gave a homely quality to the place. It looked like a happy life should. Lavin sat quietly in the car, drinking in his old life and what could have been. He absently touched the deep scars running down his face. The more he loved her the more she would loath him. After thirty years, his feelings for the woman who butchered his face should have wained, but they hadn’t. He loved her and he always would, and that was the problem. Sighing, Lavin opened the van door and stepped outside. ‘I won’t be long.’
He walked slowly up to the house. Its lights were dark as it sat quietly sleeping. He snuck along the side of the property and up to his old bedroom window. Through the darkness he could make out the sleeping figure of his wife, her soft frame hidden beneath layers of bedding. She lay intertwined with the man sleeping next to her. Lavin knew she had remarried soon after he left, but didn’t blame her. He wanted her to be happy and to be fair he had also found love elsewhere, for a while at least. The lump of cold metal sat heavy in his hand as he pulled a golden arrowhead from his jacket pocket. One slice of its edge would be enough to counter the curse he bore, and his wife would be free to love him again. Lavin watched the sleeping couple as he quietly lay the arrowhead on the windowsill. He didn’t linger. Returning to the warm car he took one last look at the house before turning to the young private behind the wheel. ‘Take me home, Brack. Take me home.’