Hardboiled Magic · The Children of Loki

The Hipster From Hell

The Hipster From Hell

This story was brought to you in part though the sponsorship of:

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“Can I confirm who I’m talking to?”

Josh Elder loved his new job with Consolidated Student Solutions. It paid better than his old job, he could play at being in the finance industry and everything had a script, so he didn’t even have to think.

“Chuck Marsdale,” came the reply from his telemarketer’s headset.

“How can I help you today, Mr. Marsdale?”

“I need to get my student loan payments adjusted to my income level. I just can’t afford them.”

“Consolidated Student Solutions acquired your loan from Whatabank Student Loans in the form of a trust, so we can only offer you forbearance or an opportunity to become current after you’ve missed 4 consecutive payments.”

“But I already used my forbearances,” croaked Marsdale. “And I’m only one month behind. Why can’t we discuss an income adjustment?”

“I’m afraid the terms of that trust,” Elder double checked the script, “legally prevent us from discussing any alternate arrangements. You could always refinance your loan. That could lower your monthly payment.”

“I owe $75,000 and I have a minimum wage job.”

“Let’s see,” Elder keyed the numbers into his computer. “No, you actually owe $96,000. During the forbearance period, your interest was added back onto your loan’s principal. Will you be able to make this month’s payment?”

“No, of course not. I just said I was already behind.”

“After the fourth month, you’ll be given an opportunity to catch up, but until then your interest will be added back onto your loan’s principal, just as during the forbearance periods.”

 “If I’ve already used my forbearance and I don’t have a good paying job, what I am supposed to do?”

“Well,” Elder again double checked his script, “Consolidated Student Solutions encourages all its customers to practice responsible financial planning and use the tools made available to them like forbearance.”

Marsdale hung up.

“Another satisfied customer,” Elder said to himself, basking in the joys of following company policies.

The rest of his afternoon went much the same way: time spent helping people in their hour of need. At 5PM, he gave thanks for the rigidness of the banker hours that let him out of the office and started mentally planning his trip to the local watering hole where he would loosen his tie and attempt to lure over some recent liberal arts grads with the promise of buying them drinks they almost certainly couldn’t afford with their coffee house jobs.

He got two blocks from his office before someone hailed him.

“Aren’t you Josh Elder?”

Elder turned and saw an early twentysomething man in a fedora hat, a vest with no shirt underneath it, ripped jeans and a heavily waxed mustache.

“That’s right,” replied Elder.

“Does my voice sound familiar,” asked the hipster.

“Should it?”

“We talked today,” said the hipster.

Elder stood frozen. Nobody had ever shown him a script for this scenario and he wasn’t sure what to do.

“You said I should practice responsible financial planning,” said the hipster.

“Everyone should,” Elder attempted a shit-eating grin.

“Do you think I can get blood out of this stone,” asked the hipster as he raised his right hand, revealing a smooth stone about the size of a baseball in his palm.

“Um, no?”

“No,” agreed the hipster. “So let’s see if I can get blood with the stone, instead.”

Elder’s eyes tracked that stone as the arm swung and it approached his face. His eyes crossed just before it hit the space between them and then everything went black.

 

Know Your Customers

“None of it makes any sense,” Pat Penurious tried to explain. Penurious was the CEO of Consolidated Student Solutions and explaining the unexplained was usually pushed off on expendable junior executives.

“Start with the facts and we’ll work out from there,” said Mister Lewis. Mister Lewis specialized in things that didn’t make any sense. His business card said “physics consultant,” but he helped companies fix problems that defied the laws of physics and existed on a different plane of reality.

“This is the seventh business day in a row one of our customer service reps has failed to show up for work,” began the CEO. “The first five are now officially missing persons. Three days after the employee disappears, a money order arrives to pay off the loan of a customer the employee spoke with the day of their disappearance.”

“Do loans usually get paid off by money order?”

“Loans don’t normally get paid off at all when people are calling about late payments,” the CEO’s face darkened. “Our business model isn’t about loans being paid off early, either. This disrupts profits, as well as staffing. I need to know how this is happening and what this hipster from hell’s game is.”

“Hipster from hell,” asked Mister Lewis.

“A hipster is behind this,” said the CEO. “Maybe all the hipsters. There are witnesses with hazy recollections of seeing some of our missing employees talking to a hipster before disappearing.”

“Hazy recollections?”

“That’s just it, they can’t remember exactly what the hipster looked like. Just that there was a hipster. And the employees just drop off any video footage before disappearing. I get that all hipsters look alike, but you’d think they’d remember something.”

            “So there may be a phantom hipster,” mused Mister Lewis. “There’s more to it?”

“And everyone who paid off their loan was a hipster,” said the CEO.

“How do…” began Mister Lewis.

“I’ll show you,” interrupted the CEO.

The CEO gestured to a table on the left of Mister Lewis. On it were printouts of social media profiles, posts and especially pictures.

“These are customers who suddenly paid off their loans. Look at them. Hipsters. Disaffected, underemployed hipsters with terrible credit.”

“Do you always keep records of your customers’ social media accounts,” asked Mister Lewis.

“It’s a free country,” said the CEO. “And sometimes it helps the collections department find people. And they’re all in the same neighborhood with the rest of the hipsters over the bridge. Really, there’s no way any of them could have paid their loans legitimately. This isn’t natual.”

“I suppose that neighborhood is a good place to start,” said Mister Lewis. “And I suppose I have some idea who I’m looking for with all this. We’ll have to see how natural or unnatural the explanation is.”

 

It's Like Money Grows on Trees

So Mister Lewis went over the bridge to the land of the hipsters. And what he found was a block party. Drunken twentysomethings in the street, drinking and singing under banners that read “Lord of Irony.”

Mister Lewis wasn’t quite sure if “Lord of Irony” was a band or a slogan, but adding black sunglasses to his black suit was close enough to the formal wear side of hipsterdom to mingle without drawing more than a minor amount of attention.

It wasn’t that unusual, as far as block parties went. Only two things stood out as different. The first was the lack of a band. The second was the passing around of what looked to be gold coins. Everyone was cagey about what it was that was getting passed around. It would get put away before Mister Lewis could get close enough for a good look. He fit in just well enough not to be asked to leave, but he clearly wasn’t a familiar face. People were talking about gold, though. Exchange rates for gold. The best place to sell gold. How many pounds of gold it would take to pay off a loan.

If there wasn’t a buzz in the crowd about paying off loans with gold, the rest of it very easily could have been a late night infomercial. The only thing missing was the envelope to mail the gold away and get a check in return. Although this crowd seemed to have done a bit more research on the whys and wherefores of selling to choose that option.

After a half an hour of trying to mingle and mostly getting mildly confused looks, a crowd started to form at the end of the block across from the park. Underneath the largest “Lord of Irony” banner stood a young man in a jazz age suit with a bowler hat and an out of place armlet that appeared to be made of silver wrapped around his left bicep. Mister Lewis recognized him from the social media printouts as Lance Gildersleave, the first person to have mysteriously paid off his student loan by money order after speaking with a now missing customer support rep.

“Attention everyone,” called Gildersleave. “It’s time.”

As the crowd continued to gather, Mister Lewis noticed two more faces behind Gildersleave. Three people who paid off their loans after their customer service rep disappeared, all seemingly in charge of the same block party? It wasn’t clear exactly what that meant, but it definitely was stretching anyone’s definition of coincidence pretty thin.

            “We’re glad you could join us,” continued Gildersleave. “We’ve all come to love the Lord of Irony and we think you will love him, too. We want you to experience his act of love for yourself. Please, follow us into the park and into the grove. We think it will change your life.”

            With that, Gildersleave and his friends turned and walked into the park. Most of the crowd followed them.

            Mister Lewis really wasn’t sure what to expect from this “Lord of Irony.”  It sounded like a good name for a hipster band and this was the right crowd for that. On the other hand, Gildersleave had been referring to this “lord” as though he was a person. “Experience his act of love.” This wasn’t going to be an orgy?  He’d probably have to charge Consolidated Student Solutions extra if that were the case.

            The group trudged through the park and into a forested section. Not far into the forest, sure enough, there was a grove. Everyone got very quiet when they entered the grove. Mostly out of shock.

Hanging from the trees by their heels were seven people. They were trussed up like meat in the butcher shop, throats slashed and a bit of blood spatter on the ground underneath them. They had obviously been bled out, as though they were being prepared as food.

“The Lord of Irony loves us and wants us to prosper,” droned Gildersleave as he paraded in front of the hanging bodies. “Many of you have student loans. This is the staff of Consolidated Student Solutions.”

A smattering of jeers and hissing sprung up from the crowd.

“I know,” continued Gildersleave, trying to quiet the crowd. “They used to hold my loan, too. But the Lord of Irony provided for me. The Lord of Irony thought that Consolidated Student Solutions should pay for my loan.”

Another young man wearing a vest with no shirt and a fedora hat approached Gildersleave. In his right hand, he held a long hunting knife. In his left hand, he held a copper bowl.

“Brother Marsdale has students loans he can’t afford to pay,” crooned Gildersleave. “The Lord of Irony shall provide for him. Watch and learn.”

It was then that Mister Lewis realized one of the bodies didn’t have a slashed throat. Gildersleave and Marsdale approached the man. He was suspended in air upside down with his head at about shoulder height on the hipsters.

It dawned on Mister Lewis what was about to happen, but he’d filtered in at the back of the crowd and there was no way he could get through them in time.

First Gildersleave grabbed the man’s head by the hair and pulled down to steady it. Marsdale positioned the copper bowl under the man’s head and a bit to right.

“Be careful not to spill any,” said Gildersleave.

At this point, the hair pulling and the commotion woke up Josh Elder, who opened his eyes to see that hipster with the rock staring him right in the eyes. Only he was upside down and had a knife instead of a rock. Elder opened his mouth to speak, but before he get a word out, the hipster stabbed him in the throat and life started leaking out of him.

Marsdale moved his bowl to catch the greater portion of the blood the gushed out of Elder’s neck. It was a bit of a mess and there was a clanging sound from the bowl, which seemed to be filling up quickly.

After about a minute, the bowl must have filled up, because the blood was now falling off it on onto the ground.

Marsdale turned and tilted the bowl to show the crowd. It looked like it was filled with gold. Then he dumped half of its contents onto the ground. It looked like gold coins. Gildersleave leaned over and picked one up.

“When they bleed us for the loans, they bleed us dry,” cried Gildersleave. “But when we bleed them for the Lord of Irony, they bleed gold and we use that gold to pay off our loans. Can you feel our Lord’s love?”

The crowd murmured mostly in confusion.

“Can the Lord of Irony ease your burden, too,” Gildersleave rephrased the question.

This time the response was more positive.

“When the Lord of Irony feels enough love, he will appear,” Gildersleave called, making a pantomime of a scout peering into the distance.

Mister Lewis was torn between waiting to see what this Lord of Irony looked like and getting the hell out of there before anyone noticed he didn’t belong, since he wasn’t completely sure what he’d walked into. Discretion won out.

Mister Lewis took two steps backwards and bumped into something bigger than him.

“You weren’t on the guest list, magician,” said a quiet, but familiar voice behind him.

Mister Lewis turned to see a tall man with flowing red hair and a long, thick beard. He wore a massive fur coat, skinny jeans and a disingenuous t-shirt that read “I Am Not A Hipster.” Flames danced on his brow where his eyebrows should have been, for this was Loki, the last survivor of Asgard in his preferred human form.

There was a flash of lightning and neither Mister Lewis nor Loki was still standing there.

 

Tea and Civil Conversation

When Mister Lewis regained his vision after the lightning flashed, he discovered he was no longer in the grove. He was back in the hipster neighborhood, just outside where the block party had been. He and Loki were seated at the same table in a sidewalk café and they had cups of tea in front of them.

“Really magician,” said Loki. “I do like you, but this is not the best time for a visit.”

“How did you do that,” asked Mister Lewis.

“I am a god,” replied Loki, “and you really didn’t want to be there.”

“Why?  Were your children going to sacrifice me?”

“My children,” Loki snickered. “No, those children were mortal like you. Would they have sacrificed you?  That depends. It wouldn’t be ironic to sacrifice you unless you were servicing their loans. Are you servicing their loans, magician?”

“Isn’t a murder cult a little high profile for you?”

“A murder cult,” this time Loki fully committed to laughter. “This is why I like having you around. Is that what you think it is?”

“Sure looked like a murder to me.”

“Oh come on,” said Loki. “You can’t start a new religion without a little spilt blood.”

Mister Lewis stared at him instead of replying.

“You Americans are so myopic,” Loki rolled his eyes. “Did you learn nothing from Greece? Financial ruin? Youths with a bad attitude about not having jobs?”

“Pray enlighten me,” said Mister Lewis.

“Exactly,” said Loki. “Praying for enlightenment is exactly what they’re doing. Much as with Greece, your youths are feeling the squeeze of a financial meltdown. Here it’s not the banks melting down, at least for the moment, it’s the student loans melting down those children. They can’t pay. They get desperate. Then I offer them a solution that fits into their culture.”

“And you’ve added ‘Lord of Irony’ to your titles,” asked Mister Lewis.

“God of wildfire, god of tricksters, god of disguises, god of misdirection… why not god of irony, too?”

“You always were humble.”

“See,” laughed Loki, “I’m god of sarcasm, too. I’ve inspired you. Your banks have dealt these children a hand from a deck that’s been stacked against them. Just stay off in your own corner and let this little experiment run its course. You’re right. This is more of a public display than I usually make, but given your country’s pending student loan meltdown and all your bankers determined to make Odin seem like a forgiving authority figure, this is a chance for me to be a major religion again. These opportunities don’t just grow on trees. Not even on Yggdrasil. Although I harbor some doubts about these children’s ability to properly follow the rituals. They’re a bit too independent. You can’t be lax about the rituals when starting up a new religion. Bad form.”

“That would be terrible,” said Mister Lewis.

“Facilitating a trade is serious business,” Loki’s eyes narrowed and his brows flickered a bit higher. “The trade of blood even moreso. You know our business, magician. There are rules to be observed. Even by me.”

“Yes, murder cults are a serious business.”

“Oh, be that way,” Loki scowled. “If this experiment works, you might find there are benefits to knowing a more popular god. I’m sure I can find some work for you. Final warning: walk away.”

There was another flash of lightning and Loki’s chair was empty.

“Walk away,” muttered Mister Lewis. “Maybe if you didn’t owe me money…”

 

Rates of Exchange

Mister Lewis made his way back to the edge of the park to see the crowd starting to emerge from it and disperse. The show was over and the looks on the faces of those who had attended ran the gamut from shocked to giddy. Which seemed like an overall win for Loki’s experiment.

Straggling along at the end was Marsdale, still clutching his bowl of gold coins and accompanied by another young twentysomething man with a pencil thin mustache and a man bun. They separated off from the crowd and headed into the commercial district.

Mister Lewis followed at a distance and watched them go into a jewelry shop. No great mystery what they were doing there, since that was apparently what everyone at the block party had been talking about. Sure enough, they emerged fifteen minutes later with Marsdale holding the empty sacrificial bowl under one arm and carrying a brown paper bag in the other. Mister Lewis wondered if carrying enough money to pay off a student loan in a brown paper bag was considered ironic in this neighborhood. In some cities it was the standard way for paying off aldermen, but he wasn’t sure this crowd would be aware of it.

The next stop was at a check cashing store. Again, not a surprise. The money orders had to come from somewhere and it didn’t require a close eye. Nor did their immediately proceeding to a mailbox and dropping an envelope into it. Once the sacrifice had been made, everything had proceeded more or less the way you’d expect after what the CEO had described.

Then the two hipsters walked into a bar. Despite it feeling like the setup to a joke, Mister Lewis followed them in and took a seat close enough to listen.

“Free at last,” said Marsdale before slamming a shot.

“There has to be a better was to do this,” said his friend with the man bun.

“And how do you propose to do that in a gig economy,” asked Marsdale. “Nobody hires fulltime anymore. Especially not artists. They all contract it out and the temp agencies are so busy trying to under bid each other there’s nothing left after rent. And that’s if you can make rent that month.”

“I know, I know,” groaned his friend with the man bun. “But human sacrifice for loan payments?  That’s… not normal. It’s creepy.”

“No, it’s human sacrifice to pay completely pay off the loan,” said Marsdale. “Don’t sell it short. The Lord of Irony isn’t asking us to do it every month like the loan companies do.”

“Yeah, but what does he get,” asked his friend with the man bun. “There’s got to be a catch. It’s not just blood for gold is it? Are you sure you didn’t just sell your soul to pay off your loan?”

“Pick your poison,” said Marsdale. “You need to look at this situation pragmatically. What happens when you can’t pay your loan at the end of the month?”

“They hit my credit rating.”

“Oh, like that even makes a difference after the last year?”

“True that.”

“Let me tell you what they do,” said Marsdale. They take all that interest from this month and they stick it back on the principal. That loan’s only, what, three years old?  They’re probably sticking $400 bucks back on your loan. And then you pay interest on that $400, along with everything else. It’s compound interest working against you.”

“Can’t pay the loan without a better job,” replied his friend with the man bun. “Can’t refinance the loan without a better job, either. It’s a goddamn trap.”

“That’s exactly what it is,” said Marsdale. “The stark reality of it is that Consolidated Student Solutions already owns your soul. They own all of you. Lock, stock and barrel. They’ve got you boxed in where you can’t afford your payments, you’re not allowed to renegotiate them and you’re not allowed to declare bankruptcy. You just get to fall further and further in debt. Watch them try and pass a law where your children inherit the loan when you die. You know somebody’s thinking about it.”

The friend with the man bun groaned again, clearly not having any trouble picturing that.

“If I just traded my soul to the Lord of Irony, and I don’t know whether or not I did,” continued Marsdale, “here’s the pragmatic way to look at it: I already sold my soul to the loan company, so I’m just swapping out owners. It’s pretty clear which owner is actually trying to help me. Hell, the ritual is evidence of that.”

“How’s that again?”

“Dude, you need to pay attention,” said Marsdale. “You have to follow the ritual or there’s no irony to it. First you call Consolidated Student Solutions for help with your loan. Then they’ll refuse you because, well… when was the last time they actually helped someone? Then we snatch who ever refused to help you.”

“How do we find them again?”

“It’s magic, dude. We just do and you’ll know their face when you see it. That’s why he’s the Lord of Irony.”

“I… guess,” the friend with the man bun paused in thought. “I guess you have a valid point. We’re all damned if we do and damned if we don’t. At least we can put off being damned a little while longer.”

“Exactly,” Marsdale smiled. “There’s only one choice with any upside to it. And here’s the really interesting part. This ceremony is supposed to go eight days. I think the head of the snake is going to answer the phone when you call tomorrow and then we get to cut off the head.”

“You mean… literally?”

“Maybe?  That would just be a deeper cut than we’ve been making. If it happens, just get the bowl right under the neck stump. There could be blood everywhere and you’re not getting any gold out of blood that’s already hit the ground.”

“More rules?”

“That’s how the ritual’s supposed to work. Haven’t tried it, don’t wanna find out. But at the end of eight days, the Lord of Irony will call down the lightning to burn down the grove and it will burn so hot, there won’t be anything left. No evidence. We just move on debt free.”

The pair ordered another round as Mister Lewis slipped off his stool and headed for the door. If the ritual called for the “head of the snake,” he had an idea who the snake was and it wasn’t going to be an easy sell to make the snake go into hiding.

 

“That’s ridiculous,” said Pat Penurious, CEO of Consolidated Student Solutions. “Nobody does blood sacrifice anymore. That’s what campaign contributions are for.”

“You hired me because you thought something unnatural was going one,” Mister Lewis took a sip of coffee. “You were right. It’s a murder cult with a mad god backing them. If you go into the office today, you’re going to get a phone call and you’re going to get dragged into the ritual. Possibly beheaded.”

Mister Lewis had managed to convince the CEO to meet him in a coffee shop before going into work. It was ironic that the CEO would hire him to root out an unnatural threat, only to not believe such a thing was really happening and Mister Lewis was highly suspicious of anything ironic after the previous day’s events.

“Shouldn’t we call the police if there are bodies,” asked the CEO.

“You don’t want anybody disturbing the ritual while it’s active,” replied Mister Lewis. “The ritual wants you. The ritual needs to be completed today. All we have to do is get you far away from these people until midnight. If the ritual isn’t finished on time, the magic will dissipate and Loki will start pouting. It will buy me some time to clean this up without risking more fallout. If you land in the middle of the ritual, I can’t guarantee your safety. We’re talking the affairs of gods, not a shambling zombie. It’s a lot easier to outrun a zombie.”

            “I could buy that a bunch of hipsters would rather murder than pay their loans,” said the CEO. “I could maybe buy they had some kind of Ouija board to find their customer service reps. Blood turning to gold? No. That I can’t buy.”

The CEO stood up from the table.

“I need to get to the office,” said the CEO. “Business doesn’t wait for hipsters.”

“That’s a bad idea,” Mister Lewis started to say, but was interrupted by the CEO’s cell phone ringing. “Do not answer that.”

“Penurious,” the CEO answered anyway.

“Hi,” said the voice on the phone. “I can’t afford my loan payments. Can you help me?”

Pat Penurious stared at the phone and hung up without saying a word.

“That was somebody about their student loan, wasn’t it,” asked Mister Lewis.

“When I get to the office, I’ll find out how a call got transferred to my cell,” answered the CEO. “It will not happen again.”

The CEO stormed out of the coffee shop. Mister Lewis followed.

The CEO only got 8 steps past the front door before being confronted by a group of hipsters.

“Do you recognize my voice,” said the hipster in front of the group, a twentysomething man with a pencil thin mustache and a man bun.

“Get a job,” said the CEO, not breaking stride.

“There’s a better way to pay than getting a job,” said the hipster with the man bun.

“Run,” Mister Lewis hissed as he jumped in front of the CEO and cocked his fist to take a swing at the hipster with the man bun.

Before he could swing, a floating image of Loki’s head flickered into existence between Mister Lewis and the hipsters.

“You were warned to stay away,” said Loki’s visage.

“I knew it,” screamed the CEO. “There’s a hipster from hell behind all this.”

Then there was a lightning flash and everyone vanished.

 

Substantial Penalty for Early Withdrawal

When his vision cleared, Mister Lewis realized he was back in the grove. A now-familiar troupe of eight hipsters was in the process of hanging the CEO upside down next to the bodies of the customer staff.

“It will all be over soon,” said Lance Gildersleave, clearly the alpha hipster of the group. “Just pretend the last hour didn’t happen. That was just our Lord of Irony aiding us.”

“Yeah, but that guy was heavy,” whined Marsdale as he glanced in the direction of Mister Lewis. “And it looks like he’s awake.”

Mister Lewis realized that he’d been bound to a tree at the edge of the grove, his arms rapped about the trunk and tied behind him.

“He’s secure isn’t he,” asked Gildersleave.

“I used all the rest of the rope,” replied Marsdale.

“Then let him watch,” said Gildersleave. “When the ritual closes and grove burns down to purify itself, he’ll burn with it. Unless he finds salvation in watching us, but that’s between him and our Lord.”

Gildersleave stepped back and assessed the CEO’s position of dangling, as though he was evaluating a painting or statue. Satisfied, he walked to the end of the row of bodies and retrieved the ceremonial copper bowl and knife, then he walked back and handed them to the hipster with the man bun who was standing in front of the CEO.

“It’s your turn,” said Gildersleave. “The ritual closes when the veins of our enemy’s leader run dry. Slice away and we can leave.”

The hipster with the man bun stroked the tip of the knife with his thumb as he stared at the CEO in contemplation.

As the hipster was working up the nerve to slit the CEO’s throat, Mister Lewis was feeling his way around his bonds. It was true, Marsdale probably had used all the rest of their rope, but it seemed artists weren’t as good with knots as Viking sailors and it was slowly starting to move. This was escapable for him, although whether it was escapable for his client wasn’t entirely up to the knot.

“I’m still not sold on this,” said the hipster with the man bun.

“Follow the ritual,” said Gildersleave. “It takes eight sacrifices to complete the ritual. You’re the one who gets to end this.”

The knot was loosening.

“I didn’t like dissecting frogs in biology and this is worse,” said the hipster with the man bun.

“Don’t you want to be debt free,” asked Gildersleave.

“Of course,” said the hipster with the man bun. “But I believe in my art. It will catch on. I just need to wait on it.”

“Fine,” growled Gildersleave, “I’ll do the cutting myself. Can you at least hold the bowl or are you worried about your precious hands getting splattered?”

“I suppose,” acquiesced the hipster with the man bun as he handed Gildersleave the knife.

Gildersleave grabbed the CEO by the hair to steady the head and raised the knife. As he brought the knife down, Mister Lewis shoved Gildersleave’s forearm above the knife. The stoke missed the CEO’s throat and took a chunk out of Gildersleave’s other arm.

Blood spilled from the wound into the copper bowl. There was no clink of gold. Instead, there was a hiss, like water hitting a hot skillet.

“What have you done,” whispered Gildersleave, staring in horror at the bowl.

Mister Lewis punched Gildersleave in the face. Gildersleave fell into the hipster with the man bun. The hipster with the man bun dropped the bowl. When the bowl hit the ground, lightning flashed and an image of Loki’s face appeared, hovering above the bowl, twice as large as life.

“The rules of the ritual were clear,” said Loki’s disembodied head. “Eight sacrifices in eight days. Eight sacrifices of those who offend thee, with the final sacrifice being their ruler. You have sacrificed the wrong blood today and it wasn’t even a kill. It insults me when you make improper sacrifices. Did you know your Lord of Irony was also the god of wildfire?  You shall learn.”

The ground around Gildersleave smoldered for a moment before bursting into flame, a flame that quickly spread across Gildersleave’s body. His skin darkened and crumbled far quicker than it should have and as it did, the fire spread to the next hipster, repeating the cycle until a minute later when the hipster with the man bun was the only hipster left.

“You shall live to bear witness,” Loki’s head floated over to hover above the hipster with the man bun and stare down at him. “Tell the others the importance of following the ritual. Independence is neither celebrated nor rewarded.”

The image of the head then pivoted to face Mister Lewis.

“I have to admit, unleashing my fire on the bunglers was even more fun than the sacrifices were. This is why I like having you around magician. I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

And then Loki’s head was gone.

“What an asshole,” said the hipster in the man bun.

“Of course,” replied Mister Lewis. “Loki is the god of the assholes. You just complimented him.”

Mister Lewis retrieved the sacrificial knife and cut down the CEO.

“Is it over,” asked the CEO.

“Well, that depends what you mean by over,” said Mister Lewis. “This group, whatever you call it: cult, coven, cell… it’s over. That last one is going to run as far as he can. Loki doesn’t have the longest attention span, so that experiment probably died with the cult. Here’s the thing, though. That cult didn’t exist in a vacuum. Loki may have been manipulating them, but he was really just taking advantage of the situation. He was offering a way out. What you need to worried about moving forward is that Loki was dealing in ideas. If one catches on, it’s much harder to kill an idea than a god.”

The CEO stared blankly.

“Come on,” sighed Mister Lewis. “Loki’s wildfire will burn this grove clean of all traces of his presence. We need to leave.”

 

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