GWW is bringing you this content in partnership with Serial Box. You can learn more here and enjoy 10% off your order using code “geeksworldwide”.
Aaron Stewart-Ahn & Yoon Ha Lee
Loki stared at the rain gently falling against an incandescent neon sign of the Hammersmith Odeon. Each drop refracted and warped the letters, rendering the marquee abstract and meaningless. The image reflected his foul mood. Standing outside the building, he could hear deafening applause coming from within. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, the party was over.
He had come all the way to this world to have some fun, to leave behind the burden of his adoptive Asgardian family and all the chaos he’d instigated in distant realms, to lose himself in spectacle and distractions. What better place for that purpose than Earth’s music scene? And yet his escape had gone sour.
He focused on the marquee of the Hammersmith Odeon and the red signage, and that terrible band name, Heavy Whispers.Sylvain’s choice, and a bad one, at that. It had amused Loki at first. Now it irritated him, one more reminder of the man’s shortcomings.
Loki lifted his chin and strolled into the concert venue. Fans immediately started following him, recognizing him by his clothes: the purple trench coat, loose tank top with rainbow mesh ribbons, and the spiked bracelets and headband. They mobbed him as he crossed the lobby. As he ducked into a performers-only entrance past a hulking slab of muscle, hands wriggled into the edges of the door, keeping it from shutting. The security guard swatted at their groping fingers and slammed the door closed. This was merely the worship of music, but the image of fans’ fingers squirming past a threshold reminded Loki of a demonic summoning.
He walked a quiet, weathered corridor alone. Backstage, this venue, site of so many legendary concerts, had a homely feel. He couldn’t figure out how his awful band had gotten a show here. A muted thrum of drum and bass seeped through the walls, an underwater cacophony followed by a tidal wave of applause.
He had to admit, the opening band was good. Soon they rushed past him, each member high on adrenaline and adoration. He kept walking toward his own dressing room. The opening band’s joy reminded him of how he’d ended up in this mess.
Then he came to his door, and he could glimpse the man within. Loki stood there, girding himself for the inevitable.
“Ten minutes!” shouted a stagehand, strolling the hall with a clipboard. The crowd was still cheering.
Loki went inside. From a stand he picked up his guitar, a pearlescent black, jagged beauty with a flying V body. He strummed lightly. It was unfair, perhaps, that he’d cast a glamour to make himself one of the greatest guitarists Earth had ever heard. But the exceptional sound of his music, well, that was worth it.
The dressing room was empty save for one person. In the corner, lit by warm light bulbs framing a mirror, a slender man sat shirtless, exposing the body of a ballet dancer. He applied makeup while admiring his own reflection.
He glanced at Loki and grinned wolfishly, then went back to his primping.
“You like looking at me, don’t you?” Sylvain said, eyelashes lowering.
Loki continued to strum hushed guitar chords. “Not as much as you like looking at yourself,” he said.
Sylvain laughed. Loki had once found his laughter charming. Now he only heard the self-absorption behind it.
“Did I ever thank you for this gift?” Sylvain asked. He held aloft a crown, which glittered under the mirror’s horde of light bulbs.
The crown’s simple construction belied its sturdiness. Asgardian runes decorated it, not that Sylvain would recognize them. As Sylvain slid it ritualistically onto his scalp, making sure that it caressed his flowing hair, a dull shard of slick, oily gray metal in its center seemed to suck all the light out of the room for an instant.
As the crown settled on his head, Sylvain exhaled in pleasure. “Every time I put it on, I realize just how small you are,” he said.
The more he had to deal with Sylvain’s airs, the more Loki regretted giving him the artifact. It had seemed a fine jest at the time, a way to enhance Sylvain’s lackluster performances. The crown distorted reality, and at first it had helped the band draw greater audiences. The prospect of Earth’s fans clamoring after such a talentless singer had amused Loki—at first. But the truth of the matter was, the joke was ultimately on him.
Now Sylvain was singing far beyond his ability, and only Loki could hear how out of tune he was.
Sylvain’s lips curled. “Tonight, Loki, we start a new direction for this band. One that’s been a long time coming. Because they’re not here to see you. They’re here to see me.”