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
“Gents, it’s time to start this show,” a stagehand with a walkie-talkie intoned from their doorway. Sylvain started flexing his muscles and his once-beautiful smile became a rictus. Loki grabbed his axe and started for the stage. He couldn’t put up with more of this travesty of a band. There must be some way out, some way to express his dissatisfaction.
The bassist, keyboardist, and drummer for Heavy Whispers were already laying down a thick blast of synth goth atmosphere and rhythm. The crowd’s loud cheers washed out the music as Loki took the stage.
Loki joined in on lead guitar. But he was just going through the motions. He could barely summon the interest to contribute and yet the crowd’s roar crescendoed. Did they realize what a sham the performance was? Despite the audience’s genuine worship, his mood got in the way. Instead of the thrill that should have overtaken him, he felt numb.
As Loki put his boot down on a pedal and shot some howling reverb out of the guitar through a wall of amplifiers, Sylvain took the stage. He resembled a dark princeling, with leather pants he’d been sewn into, a shirtless chest already gleaming with sweat, and that incredible gossamer hair framed by the crown.
The audience became frenzied beyond all sense and reason.
Loki couldn’t stand this. It wasn’t Sylvain’s charisma or talent. He knew it was the effect of the crown. Worse, the purity of the audience’s fervor struck him as equally unreal, and Loki had no one but himself to blame for the illusion.
Sylvain ripped his mic from its stand and tossed the metal pole at a stagehand. He came over to Loki and had to scream in his ear to be heard: “Try and keep up tonight. Things are changing around here.”
Then Sylvain turned to the crowd and intoned, “Tonight Heavy Whispers will have you screaming. Tonight we are a new band, serving a new master, and you will know us by a new name. You are witness to the coming of . . .”
The crowd screamed eagerly, roused by Sylvain’s mania.
An enormous blacklight sign dropped from the ceiling and lit up with the name.
Loki scoffed and shouted back at Sylvain, “What, you couldn’t afford the extra vowel?”
Sylvain’s eyes narrowed. “How dare you speak of Nihilator this way!”
But their interaction jolted the crowd. Sylvain turned to them, soaking up their love. The rest of the band exploded into a new sound, heavy. And metal.
Loki didn’t care. He scanned the faces in the crowd.
Passive, mindless hordes. Their ecstatic faces left him numb. It was almost a pathology on Earth, which made it simple to manipulate people. One little spell here, a corrupt artifact there. Midgardians had a propensity for worship, and it was so easily exploited.
A pair in the audience caught his eye––two beautiful people, laughing together with an earnest warmth. Loki started to noodle out a repeating melody on the guitar. There was something about these two, their humorous gaze and sense of connection surrounded by slavering fans stood out like a flickering candle in a snowstorm. He recognized Lila Cheney, a musician herself. He’d run into her in the small nocturnal circles of London’s music scene at countless afterparties.
And then he caught the other person’s eyes. Zia.