The Rhine Maiden's Ring

Fall had come and winter was not far behind. Loki shivered. The approach of winter always brought a sense of foreboding for him. Fimbuvetr, the winter of winters, would come, and then Ragnarok. It was not so much a question of if as of when.

Walking beside him Mayura prattled on obliviously about flying saucers that had been reported over the Galapagos Islands.

"What if the aliens were only able to land in one location on Earth Loki?" She was worrying. "They might think the whole world is ruled by giant turtles and not come back for a long time! Shouldn't we let them know we're here?"

Loki had stopped listening some time back but somehow her inane babble made Fimbulvetr seem much further away.

"I wonder what it's like to talk to a turtle...Oh, look!" She suddenly exclaimed as if she had spotted a flying saucer herself. "There's Koh and Narugami!" She took off, leaving Loki little choice but to follow.

Entering the fenced in area of the outdoor cafe Loki took a seat beside Narugami who was just finishing a meal, half of which seemed to have belonged to a somewhat preoccupied Koh.

"What's wrong with..." Loki started.

"What an adorable little angel!" A heavyset older waitress bellowed at him and was seemingly intent on cracking his skull as she tousled his hair and patted his cheek. "Would you like a booster sweetie?"

"They don't know you like we do." Narugami teased. Loki raised his eyebrows with a 'whatever could you mean' expression, adjusted his hair and his composure, and ordered a cup of tea.

"Have you guys heard about the Galapagos saucers?" Mayura launched into her new favorite subject. Both older boys groaned.

"As if you hadn't talked about them all day at school!"

With a sigh Loki settled back to watch the three argue. His tea had arrived, he took a sip and found himself under attack again.

"Ack!" Tea spilled as his head was roughly patted. "Don't do that..." He started, then, seeing Mayura's smile of recognition across from him, turned to find a new assailant. "Oh, Arashiko." He met the dark grey eyes of a girl that had recently become a new regular in their lives on Midgard. She was smiling mischievously at him.

"You'll have to forgive them Loki." She said, indicating the overly exuberant waitress that had manhandled him earlier. "With Ms. Manager on vacation they've all gone giddy. Play your cards right and she'll give you a free desert."

"How about me?" Narugami asked.

"Don't push your luck."

"Arashiko, are you in charge while the manager is away?" Mayura asked. Arashiko nodded.

"Yeah, for two weeks. Oh...excuse me." She was distracted by the gesturing of a girl near the kitchen and took off, but not before giving Loki's head another healthy pat.

"I'd like to see what would happen if she tried that on Heimdall." Loki grumbled over his tea.

"No you wouldn't." Narugami warned. "It's seriously creepy."

Loki considered and decided he had to agree. It was a very strange series of relationships. During the past summer they had all been involved together in a very dangerous confrontation with a bevy of Celtic monsters, topped off with the very powerful Celtic god Tarinis. Narugami and Arashiko had developed a close personal relationship. At the same time, by virtue of the girl's half Celtic heritage and his own connections to the ancient cultures of the British Isles, Heimdall had adopted a fatherly attachment to her.

Arashiko had nearly lost her life in the events of the past summer and generally it seemed that she remembered nothing about their true identities or powers. However, every now and then Loki would catch that mischievous glint that kept him guessing. For Loki, lord of trickery and mischief, the idea of being on the receiving end was unnerving. He blamed Heimdall's influence on the girl.

Loki realized that Koh was still not his usual self.

"What's wrong Koh? Did your girlfriend dump you?"

Koh regarded him with a slightly disdainful expression. "Girls don't dump me Mr. Detective."

"They just change their telephone numbers."

Koh made a sour face. "Haven't your heard about the murders?"

Loki nodded. He and Mayura had been discussing that earlier, before she had gotten obsessed with the idea of the human race being dominated by huge reptiles.

"He does fit the profile." Mayura chimed in. "Both previous victims were young, attractive, well-to-do men from this area."

"You don't have to be so analytical about it!" Koh complained. "The fact is, the last victim, I knew him. He was working at the museum my father owns. I was just talking to him while he was unloading crates of antique jewelry for an upcoming exhibition we're going to have."

"Koh thinks he's next." Narugami put in.

"I do not!"

"Well why not!?" Mayura admonished. "It doesn't always have to be young girls being murdered. It's about time there was an equal opportunity murderer!"

"Uh...Mayura?" Loki wondered if the girl even listened to herself sometimes.

"No body wants to kill you Koh, except maybe some of your old girlfriends."

Koh fixed Narugami with a withering stare. "Easy for you to say. No one could accuse you of being well-to-do much less attractive!"

"Hey there rich boy...!" Narugami started back.

"No bloodshed in my cafe!" Arashiko warned, coming up to them again. She gave them both a no nonsense expression. "Your going to be considerably less well-to-do if your late for work." She reminded Narugami.

"Ahhh!" He sprang up. "Gotta go!" He grabbed Mjollnir and, as an afterthought, roughly rubbed the top of Loki's head before springing over the little fence, nearly knocking over a potted geranium in his haste.

"I wish he wouldn't do that." Arashiko sighed.

"Don't worry, I'll get him back." Loki muttered darkly.

"Is it fun being manager?" Mayura asked.

"It's a lot of responsibility. Right now it's not so great because our usual cook is out with the flu and the part-timer I hired is really unreliable. This is the third time she's been late...well, here she is." Arashiko left them to follow a girl with short red hair into the kitchen. Loki watched them disappear inside. Something had brushed against his senses, setting off that little alarm at the back of his mind. That sensation that reminded him what his true purpose here really was.

A sudden movement from Koh distracted him. Mayura was saying something about walking him home. Koh laughed, a little nervously.

"Fine bodyguards! A ditzy girl and a little kid! No thanks. Anyway, I'm not worried about that. Did you forget we have those exams coming up? Better get to studying Didoji."

"Oh...uh..." Mayura looked slightly panicked as Koh walked away. A short distance past them he pulled out his cell phone. "It's me!" He whispered. "Stay on the line till I get there!" He insisted worriedly.

Loki smirked and turned his attention back towards the kitchen. Whatever he had sensed had passed. Odd. He was certain he was not mistaken. Suddenly the chill of foreboding winter seemed to seize him. Something was about to happen. But what?

"It is getting late Mayura." He said as they stepped out to the sidewalk. "You should go home and study as well."

"Awww Loki..."

"If you do poorly on your exams again your father will ground you. You wouldn't want to miss out on a really good case if one came up would you?"

"Oh no!" Mayura's eyes were wide at the thought. "Alright, I promise to study! I'll see you tomorrow!" Loki watched her run off. It was just as well he had sent her home, he had no idea what was waiting for him at home.