Logan Laufeyson gritted his teeth as the guard removed the manacles from his wrists and shoved him into his damp stone cell. The familiar rage at his powerlessness welled and he breathed deeply to tamp it down, counting back from ten. He had more important things to be worried about than an asshole guard.
He’d only been in this hell three months, after all, and it was temporary. Barely anything compared to the tortures he’d suffered in the past or the century that his friend Ian had been locked in here before Logan had taken his place. He’d been a bastard for leaving Ian rotting in here for so long, but it had been necessary.
Logan dragged his shirt over his head and used it to scrub the grit off his face. The worst thing about the daily prison work detail which he’d just returned from was the damned sand in the afterworld of Moloch. The best thing about prison work detail was that the hellish Moloch was exactly what he’d been looking for when he’d broken into the Prison for Magical Deviants three months ago.
He didn’t mind spending twelve back-breaking hours a day hauling rocks, not once he’d realized that the stone was being used to construct the place he’d been hunting for nearly a century. He could use that time to learn enough about it to destroy it.
Though washing the sweat and grime off himself would be the greatest pleasure he had all day, he ignored the leaky hose in the corner of the cell in favor of using his magic to change his clothes. He closed his eyes and envisioned a shirt and pants identical to the ones he wore as his usual prison uniform—black on black. Not so different from his normal attire.
What was different, however, was his face. He ran his hand over his unfamiliar nose and jaw. He was full shapeshifter, able to adopt any identity of man or beast. Since he was in this prison to take his friend’s place, he’d adopted a copy of his friend Ian’s face. Alone in his cell, he could change back to the looks he adopted normally. It, too, was a disguise, but he’d worn it for centuries and it was comfortable by now.
He had no watch and no window, so no way to tell time. But he could count on the prison schedule to be military precise, and every seven days, directly after he was shoved back in his cell, he had a meeting.
He listened carefully at the heavy wooden door for footsteps. Silence. It was highly unlikely anyone would come to his cell before a guard brought a miserly dinner in an hour. Once he was confident there was nothing but silence in the hall, he moved to the corner that would be hidden by the door if it opened.
Logan drew in a deep breath and held out his hands, envisioning flame. A fire, two feet tall and at least as wide, burst into life in the corner, as if a hearth had been built. After a moment, a face appeared. The seer was always on time for their meetings.
“Loki,” she said, the image of her face flickering in the light of the flame.
“Logan,” he corrected.
He was the Norse trickster god Loki, but he went by Logan to protect himself from the wrath of the other Norse gods. He also consistently used his shapeshifting to alter his face. He had the same dark hair and eyes as he’d had as Loki, but his face was shaped differently enough that no one would recognize him.
He’d buried his identity as Loki deep in the past.
“Do you have anything for me?” he asked. He was so certain she would say no, as she had at every other meeting, that he nearly lost control of the flame when she answered.
“Yes. It’s almost time. The Labyrinthine Prison of Lethe will be complete in no more than two weeks.”
Adrenaline spiked through him, driving through his veins and making his mind hum. “Two weeks? That’s all? Damn it, what kind of seer are you that you couldn’t see it sooner?”
“The best.” She smirked. “Of which you are well aware, or you wouldn’t pay me so much money. Visions come when they come. You need to quit with the recon or protecting your friend or whatever it is you’re doing in there and go get whatever’s at the end of the map I gave you.”
She was right. There was no question he had to leave the Prison for Magical Deviants. He wasn’t learning anything new here now and Ian MacKenzie, his only friend, was safely out of Scotland.
“Fine,” he said. “You’re certain of this? I’ve been on Moloch every day for three months, helping to build the labyrinth, and it doesn’t look nearly finished.”
In an ironic twist of fate, the university prison was using prisoners to construct a far greater monstrosity than the one he’d been caged in—an inescapable labyrinth prison that would capture and contain the gods. Like himself. Like Sigyn.
He sure as hell wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Yes. I believe the prison is designed to make you forget. I saw more in this vision than in all the others. It’s called the Labyrinthine Prison of Lethe because the Architect of the prison has diverted the waters of the River Lethe. He’s created a portal to the Greek afterworld that allows the river to flow through the labyrinth.”
“What the hell?” He hadn’t heard the name of the river that ran through Hades in centuries. The River of Forgetfulness made those who drank from it forget their lives.
“If you’re imprisoned—which you will be, as all gods will be—you’ll forget yourself entirely. As will the world. I believe the river Lethe is making even the builders forget what they’ve built. It’s part of the torture of the labyrinth—to endlessly toil yet believe you make no progress.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. This was a hell of a lot worse than he’d anticipated. Aleia’s prophesies always came true. Always. The cocky part of him had always kind of thought he’d be able to break out of the prison if he were thrown in.
But from what Aleia was saying, it sounded like the river Lethe had already fucked with his mind. If the prison was completed, he would end up there as prophesied. With the river working on his mind, there’s no way he’d find his way out before he forgot.
“It looks like my time here is up. I’ll contact you if I need you again,” Logan said.
“Aye aye, boss.” She disappeared into the flames.
Logan thrust aside the chilling thought of losing his memory in the labyrinth and focused on what was next.
His heart sped at the idea of finally being able to break out of this hell hole. With the wheels of the Labyrinthine Prison finally turning, he couldn’t stay, hoping for more information. Aleia had informed him of the prison’s construction over a century ago. After a hundred years of searching for it, he was suddenly running out of time.
Speaking of time… The guard would arrive with “dinner” any minute. It took only seconds to tear off strips of the bed sheet. He took up position at the door and quieted his mind, listening for the coming footsteps of the burly guard.
The guard was part demon, though from what afterworld, Logan wasn’t sure. Mytheans, as supernatural individuals of the various species were called, could be dangerous. The university, which was more of an unofficial government organization dedicated to hiding the existence of Mytheans than it was a learning institution, hired all sorts of Mytheans.
Roughly two minutes later, thudding footsteps sounded at the end of the hall. His cell was the third and last. It would buy him some extra time, since the other prisoners wouldn’t be alerted that something was wrong when their dinner didn’t appear.
For old time’s sake, he’d love nothing more than to bust some of these assholes out just to fuck with the university. He’d never liked authority figures. But his end goal was more important than his whims.
He shifted on his feet, and when the key finally scratched in the lock on his door, he moved forward. The heavy wooden door swung open and a gruff voice said, “Slop time, Ian MacKenzie.”
The guard’s eyes widened when Logan’s fist came at him. They rolled back into his head not a second later. Logan snatched the tray before it clattered to the ground. The guard started to slump against the wall, but popped upright half a moment later.
So that’s why this bastard was a guard. He was damn hard to knock out.
Logan grabbed the guard by the collar, dragging him into the room. It looked like this might be a fight and he wanted privacy. The guard swung at him and Logan ducked, put the tray on the floor, then slipped behind him and reached up to grasp his head. It took a second to snap his neck. He turned it halfway around just to be sure he completed the job.
Logan eased the massive body to the ground and thanked his buddy Ian for being such a model prisoner that there’d been only one guard.
Logan quietly shut the door. In seconds, he had the guard’s hands bound behind his back and a makeshift gag over his mouth. Though he’d broken the guard’s neck, it certainly wouldn’t kill a Mythean. And whatever type this one was, his recovery period was ridiculously quick. He really should have been passed out for hours from Logan’s first punch.
The last strip of bed sheet went around the guard’s ankles and Logan figured he had a solid ten minutes to make it off campus. Maybe even fifteen, if he got lucky.
He’d need only five. Quickly, he laid a hand on the guard’s burly shoulder and envisioned himself shedding his own face and form and adopting the guard’s. When the knuckles of his hand widened and bristly hairs sprouted from the backs, his face had transformed as well. He magically adopted the guard’s uniform.
Without a backward glance at the miserable four walls that had been his home for the last three months, he walked out the door and down the hall. He remembered it from his time sneaking in to free Ian, so it wasn’t hard to act like he knew where he was going.
The hall was empty and silent but for the humming of the fluorescent lights above. They were out of place amongst the otherwise ancient architectural features, primarily stone for the walls and wood for the floor. The huge door at the end of the hall beckoned. Freedom.
When he reached it, he placed his palm against the metal. Magic zinged up his arm as the lock registered the guard’s palm. It would have been a hell of a lot harder to break out had he not been a shapeshifter. Only the handprint of the guard, willingly given, would open the door.
He grinned as he pushed the door open and climbed the stairs to the first floor of the Praesidium, the university department that dealt with security and protecting those individuals important to humanity. Basically, a bunch of heads-up-their-asses, full-of-themselves morons who thought they were the world’s police. Any species of Mythean could work for the university, but he’d never met one he liked.
When he reached the door at the top of the stairs, Logan straightened his shoulders and scowled, trying for an expression as stupid as the guard’s. If he was going to meet anyone on his way out of the building, it would be here, in the halls of the Praesidium. And whoever he met wouldn’t be bad in a fight, given that only warriors worked for the Praesidium.
Still, they’d be no match for him. He wiped what he knew must be a cocky grin off his face and relaxed his features into bovine boredom, then pushed out into the rich, wood-paneled hallway.
A shock of familiar energy hit him in the chest. He stiffened.
Sigyn. She was close. His chest ached, his soul seeming to pull away from his body in search of her. He hadn’t felt her presence in centuries, not since he’d left Norway. The enchanted shields on the prison must have blocked out the magic that filled the university buildings above, including hers.
He’d known she worked for the university and he’d intended to seek her out once he’d destroyed the labyrinth, but he hadn’t expected to ever be so close to her that he felt her. She had to be in this very building.
Ironic that the two things he wanted most in this world—Sigyn and access to the labyrinth so that he could destroy it—could be found in the same place.
He slammed a fist against his chest, trying to quiet the pulling of his soul. He was in control of himself, damn it, and he had a job to do before he could seek out Sigyn.
But seek her out he would. Once he’d destroyed the labyrinth and ensured his own safety—and hers—he would come for her. He’d been waiting.
With a shake of his head to banish thoughts of the woman he still wanted, he turned right and strode down the hall to the enormous atrium at the entrance of the building. He held his breath as he skirted by an open door, but no one called out to him. The paintings on the wall seemed to frown pityingly at him as he walked by. With memories of Sigyn driving through his brain, he probably deserved it. He should be focusing on the labyrinth, not her.
Escape loomed ahead, the wide open space of the atrium calling him to freedom. The great double doors lay just beyond. But every step he took carried him farther away from Sigyn. Her pull was so strong, she had to be in this building.
But he had to keep going. He focused on what was at stake—eternal imprisonment, not just in the labyrinth, but within his own lost mind, once the River Lethe stole his memory. And he had to keep going for her. She was a demigod and would suffer the same terrible fate if he failed to destroy the prison. The thought spurred him forward. He pushed out through the great double doors into the cool night beyond.
He sucked in the air and grinned. The idiots at the university couldn’t keep a god chained. But then, that’s why they were building the super prison. Regular Mytheans might not be able to chain the gods—but the gods could chain themselves. If they lost their memories, they’d lose the ability to fight their way free.
It was an excellent plan. Evil, but excellent.
The cobblestone courtyard and parking lot spread out in front of him, surrounded on all sides by enormous stone buildings. Old fashioned street lamps shone yellow lights on their ornately carved facades and ivy crawled up their sides. The courtyard was empty save for an individual sliding into a car.
No. He wanted to see her so he was imagining her. He forced his mind away. He would come back for her once this was all over, as he’d planned. She was his end goal. He just had to clear the way to get to her, which meant escaping so he could find a way to destroy the prison to save both their lives.
To do that, he needed to find privacy to transform. Ever since his aetherwalking had been bound by the other Norse gods, he’d relied upon his ability to shapeshift into the form of a falcon for transportation. He sorely missed the ability to travel instantly through the aether—that ephemeral substance connecting the earth and the afterworlds. It was far easier to envision a place and appear than it was to fly there, but he had no choice.
The courtyard was too well lit, so he trotted down the stairs and jogged around the side of the building. By his calculation, he only had a few minutes to spare until the other prison guards noticed their dimwitted colleague was missing.
He slid into the shadows at the edge of the stone wall of the building. It was dark enough to hide the green light of magic that swirled around him when he transformed and no other buildings looked directly out at him. It was perfect.
He glanced right to confirm the coast was clear and caught sight of a scene in the window next to him. A woman danced within a large, well-lit wooden room. A wall of mirrors reflected her form.
His heart pounded, beating itself senseless against his ribs.
She spun about the room, a blue cloak waving behind her as her lithe form leapt and lunged and dodged. Golden hair trailed behind her and it was only once she spun toward him that he noticed the long wooden staff in her hands. Pale wood and elegant, she spun it about her form almost faster than the eye could see. Her cloak flickered. It wasn’t real, just an illusion.
She wasn’t dancing. She was training. Her motions weren’t those of a ballerina, but those of a warrior. He’d never seen her like this, but he’d heard of her. The woman he’d cared for eight hundred years ago had been far quieter than the shining warrior goddess within the room. She’d been strong—capable of protecting herself—but nothing like the woman on the other side of the glass.
This woman was all power and grace, strength and motion. She took his breath away. Fire flashed in her green eyes as if she saw her foe while she practiced her motions. She moved so fast, a mortal would never be able to see her. It was magic. Quite literally. Her talents had grown over the years.
His head buzzed as he watched her and he was helpless to draw away. After so many years, here he stood, actually near her. He’d only seen her a few times for a few breathless moments after he’d driven her away all those years ago. He hadn’t been able to help himself, as he couldn’t now.
He’d made sure she never saw him, though it had torn at something in his chest to maintain his distance. It was the only way to stay away from her, though. If he spoke to her, he’d be unable to leave her. The last time he’d seen her had been over five hundred years ago.
He’d forgotten so many things over his life, so many faces and names and places, but he’d never forgotten her. Not the curve of her slender arms, the length of her legs, or the shine of her hair. She was beautiful—tall and strong and everything the Norse gods were supposed to be, though she’d been a demigod when they’d both left Asgard, home of the Norse pantheon.
He was supposed to wait until he’d destroyed the labyrinth to come for her because she was a distraction. Yet he couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she continued to leap around the room, the apparition of the blue cloak swirling around her marking her as a Vala, a student of the magical teachings of the goddess Freya.
A cry sounded in the night. Shouts followed.
Shit. He’d fucking forgotten he was on the run. He dragged his eyes from Sigyn, his heart clutching as she left his vision, and focused all his energy on envisioning the falcon form he would take. If he could just make it to the air, he could get—
A shot rang out, a harsh blast echoing through the quiet night. Pain tore through his gut.
What the fuck? They’d used fucking guns? Fucking mortals used fucking guns.
Agony streaked from his stomach through his extremities. Another shot rang out, and this time pain bloomed in his shoulder. Guards charged toward him through the shadows, only a few dozen feet away.
He cursed internally at the idea he’d have to transform in front of them, and thereby possibly give away his true identity, but there was nothing for it. If they caught him when he was this injured, he wouldn’t even be able to hold the false form he normally went by. They’d know he was a god and imprison him accordingly. In the labyrinth. He shuddered.
Logan gritted his teeth. He tried to ignore the pain bombarding him long enough to force the magic through his veins, transforming his muscle and bone to feather and flight.
It was sluggish, but the transformation worked amidst the swirls of green magic he’d never learned how to diminish. Soon he felt the wind under his wings and he climbed into the air, a fraction less graceful and effortless than normal. Pain ripped through him with every stroke of his wings and he faltered on the breeze.
The ground was only a hundred feet below him, not nearly far enough to get out of the range of bullets. He pushed himself higher, nearly blind from the agony. He’d never make it off the campus like this. There was no way he had more than a couple hundred yards left in him, and the guards were right behind him.
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