Prophecies don’t untangle themselves. Just ask Ikepela Ives, whose estranged mother left her with the power to unravel the binding threads of fate. Stuck with immortal power in a mortal body, Ives has turned her back on the duty she never wanted.
But it turns out she can’t run from her fate forever, not now that Ragnarok has been set in motion and the god at the center of that tangled mess has gone missing. With a ragtag group of companions—including a brownie, a Valkyrie, and the goddess of death herself—Ives embarks on her first official mission as Fate Cipher—to save the world from doomsday.
Nothing she can't handle. Right?
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A Valkyrie Walks into a Bar
Ives nursed a double-shot Mai Tai, swiping through Tinder's Friday night hopefuls when the Valkyrie plunked down on the bar stool next to her.
She was pretty sure it was a Valkyrie. She ran through the mental check list of mythical beings as she pointedly ignored the six-foot blonde boring holes into her skull with laser-focused baby blues. Definitely immortal, the woman gave off enough heat to melt the ice cubes in her Mai Tai. There were a few creatures that fit those physical parameters, but the Nordic runes tattooed around her biceps sealed the deal.
In a place like Johnny Ho's Tiki Lounge, the blonde stood out. Aside from the glitzy name, Johnny Ho's was more of a local watering hole than the tourist hotspot it aspired to be. Compared to the bronzed and burnt skin tones of Johnny's native clientele, the Valkyrie practically glowed like a moon flower.
That was Ives's sucktastic luck. Being sought out at her favorite hangout by an immortal bombshell was the appropriate end to this shitstorm of a day. Determined not to let the shieldmaiden interfere with her personal sob fest, Ives ducked her head and sipped her now watered-down drink. She swiped her thumb against the phone screen with a little too much vigor, sending a string of potentials to the virtual waste bin as she fought not to grind her teeth. Damn. She hated being stared at, and immortals were the worst for it. Most of them didn't need to blink.
"Ikepela Ives," said the Valkyrie.
Hearing her full name made Ives jump, sloshing her drink onto her hand. She swore softly, and the blonde noted her reaction with a satisfied nod.
The Valkyrie leaned in with a muted clink of concealed metal, far too close for comfort, and stage-whispered, "I have come to secure your services."
Ives briefly closed her eyes to keep from rolling them. No shit, Sherlock.
The bartender paused before them, quirking an eyebrow at the blonde as he placed a tumbler in front of her. "Here is your scotch neat, miss."
The Valkyrie pulled back and beamed at the man. "Ah, thank you, good sir!" She slapped a handful of old, old, coins on the bar as she threw back the drink in one swallow. "Another, if you please," she said, belching into her fist.
The bartender blinked at her. His eyes went unfocused, the same glazed-over expression most mortals got when they stared too long at a divine being. The Valkyrie frowned at him as the staring continued, waving a hand in front of his face.
"Nick, the lady asked for another," said Ives, snapping him out of it with the sound of her voice.
The bartender shook himself; some of the glassiness in his eyes subsided. "Be right up," he mumbled, shuffling away.
The Valkyrie turned to her. "What was wrong with that man?"
"IT grad, tattoos, and makes a mean grilled cheese," Ives murmured, keeping her eyes on the Tinder profile screen as she ignored the persistent woman. "What girl can say no to grilled cheese?"
The Valkyrie drummed her fingers on the bar hard enough to rattle the tiny Tiki statue decor. "Ikepela Ives —"
"Treat me like a pirate and gimme that booty? Oh, that is too corny even for me," said Ives.
Nick placed another scotch in front of the Valkyrie, scurrying off when he caught the thunderous expression on 'her face. Sparks of electricity crackled through her golden locks. That made Ives tense. Immortals who sucked at keeping a low profile were ones who didn't care about collateral damage, which meant it was time to abandon Johnny Ho's before things got ugly. Ives made a call without the aid of her cell. Come on, Jules.
"Ikepela Ives," said the Valkyrie, at the end of her fuse, judging by the tone of her voice. "I demand an audience."
Time to stall.
"You call me by my first name one more time, and I will break your fingers," said Ives. She slurped the rest of her watery Mai Tai and slammed the glass down.
The woman snorted. "Where I come from, that is merely flirting."
Ives squinted at her, fishing a rum-soaked cherry from the bottom of her glass. The alcohol was starting to hit, sending a warm flush through her cheeks and fuzzing her sense of self preservation. "How about a broken arm?"
The woman grinned, revealing absurdly perfect teeth. "Foreplay."
"Yeah, well, you aren't my type blondie, so fu —"
"Ives!" A petite brunette popped up at Ives's elbow, wrapping slender fingers around her forearm. She stared at the Valkyrie with wide eyes. "I think it's time we get you home." Her stature might be small, but her grip was iron, and she yanked Ives off the bar stool before she could insult the shieldmaiden further.
"I haven't paid my tab," Ives whined. She leaned heavily on her companion.
"I took care of it," squeaked the tiny lady, steadying Ives when she tripped over the half step at the entrance. "How many shots of rum did Nick to put in there?"
"Three," said Ives and held up four fingers. She giggled.
Tall, blonde, and sparky watched as they stumbled off, tracing a finger along the rim of her tumbler. She didn't move to stop them, though she was clearly unhappy about Ives's departure. Another insult Ives would no doubt pay for later when the Valkyrie caught up with her.
All she wanted from the evening was to drink away her good judgment while browsing for a possible playmate to cancel out an abysmal pisser of a day. Instead, here she was, making her 'drunken' escape with a Valkyrie's glare burning her backside.
The two made it to the parking lot before Ives pressed her mouth to the smaller woman's ear. "Are we in the clear, Jules?"
"Gigantor hasn't followed us yet, but I doubt she'll be long." Jules nibbled her lip, eyeing Ives from beneath a mop of glossy brown curls. "I know it makes you a bit woozy, but we should take the express route home."
Ives's stomach flopped at the very mention of it. That Valkyrie was nothing but bad news. "Do it."
Jules wrapped her thin arms around Ives's waist. She felt a tug in her bowels and straight up through her spinal cord as the world wobbled at the edges. The next second, she blinked in her darkened apartment. Jules released her as reality caught up, squeezing her insides.
"Ugh!" Ives rushed for the bathroom and emptied the contents of her stomach. Jules paid good money for that Mai Tai too, well, she did since they shared her bank account. Another grievance she could throw in the Valkyrie's face. With a groan, she straightened to find her roommate waiting in the doorway with a fizzing glass of Alka-Seltzer. Ives took it with a grateful nod and drained its contents. The couch looked damned inviting, but she was fooling herself if she thought the Valkyrie wouldn't track her here. Jules flit about the room, tidying nervously. After her third circuit rearranging the same stack of books, Ives came to a decision.
"We can't stay here tonight," she said, heading for her bedroom to snag her overnight bag. "We'll head over to Dad's. He won't mind us crashing for the night."
Jules squealed, clapping her hands together. "He's sooo messy," she said with a dreamy look.
Ives rolled her eyes. "You know you have an open invitation to stay at his house whenever the urge hits." She regretted opening her mouth when Jules's expression turned somber.
"You need me more," said Jules softly.
Ives flapped her hand at her apartment. "Hogwash. This place is spotless."
Jules did have a gift for decluttering.
"You know what I mean," said Jules, a sad smile lifting the corners of her mouth.
Ives braced herself on the bed, her bag open and waiting. She knew exactly what Jules meant. It was why she'd stayed with Ives. It was a mutual need. Jules had nowhere else to go. Ives had no other friends. She anchored Jules while Jules always had her back.
Ives tossed in a few random articles of clothing and gathered her toiletries while Jules secretly reorganized her bag with matching outfits. Her eye twitched when Ives dumped damp bottles of shampoo and conditioner on top of everything. Ives snapped her bag shut, throwing an arm around Jules's shoulder as they exited their shared apartment.
"Just promise me — organize, no rearranging. The last time, I thought he was going to have an aneurysm when you cleaned the workshop," said Ives.
Jules pouted. "I simply put all his tools in their proper places."
"It took him a week to find his socket wrenches."
That made Jules giggle, though her expression swung back to worried. "What about the shieldmaiden?"
Ives could feel a headache forming. The Valkyrie would catch up to them sooner rather than later, and what she represented made Ives's skin crawl.
I'm not ready to do this.
A cold sweat dripped down her back. She forced a smile for her companion. "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it."
* * *
The Valkyrie watched their departure from a nearby balcony. Hildr preferred high places, seeing the world from an aerial vantage point. She always saw so much more than she did from ground level. She pursed her lips as she watched the quite sober Ives and her fae companion clamber into a miserable excuse for a vehicle, a rust-mottled jeep with peeling seats. It didn't start the first time, causing Ives to shout and bang on the dashboard until it grudgingly rumbled to life. Hildr kept her eyes trained on them until the jeep's red brake lights were glowing dots zipping away into the night.
A crow landed on the balcony railing, dancing from foot to foot.
"Are we sure she is the one? She doesn't look like much," said Hildr.
The crow tilted its sleek black head, cawing in a rather derisive tone for a carrion eater.
She made a face. "No need to be so rude about it."
Hildr required a tool. Her awareness spread until it narrowed on a creature padding along the side of the road.
* * *
During his brief life, Chester was a good dog.
Born on the streets, he spent his formative years scrounging food from the trash bins of local restaurants, a diet consisting of gristle, bones, and spam. It was a hard living. His skin clung tight to his ribs, and his frame was lean and wiry from chasing off rival dogs and his mortal enemy — cars.
Those brightly colored chrome monsters plagued his existence. They spooked the tasty pigeons and seagulls, emitted blasts of sound that assaulted his sensitive ears, and zipped past at unforgivable speeds. Crossing the pitted black tar from restaurant row to his sleeping place each day was a task fraught with danger. It was only a matter of time when one of those cars would prove too fast and crush him against the road like he'd seen happen to other unfortunate animals.
The thruway was quiet this time of night except for the occasional eighteen-wheeler or questionably sober local. The last car, a battered jeep driven by a woman who reeked of salty stress and bitter ashes, passed some time ago.
Time was a strange concept to Chester. Humans believed dogs had no concept of time, of life or death, but that wasn't entirely true. Chester was quite aware of death and how it stalked the street dogs. He felt the passage of time keenly from one scavenged meal to the next by the hollow pit in his belly. It was the idea of food that drove him, the air pungent with the scent of slightly turned ham. He never understood how humans could throw out a perfectly delicious ham.
It was all he could think about as he darted across the thruway. He didn't see the sleek red car until it was too late. It didn't even slow down as it rammed into him. Chester felt the initial rending sensation through his body before blessed numbness as his nerve endings stopped working. Death took him, sparing him the agony of a body shredded between tire and road. His spirit was done. It should have departed to the next world — except it lingered, waiting for what, he did not know.
The Valkyrie emerged from the shadows.
She pressed her lips tight at the torn body of the dog. That reckless idiot demolished the poor creature without a second thought. She narrowed her eyes, angered by such a careless act of cruelty. The man would receive a visit from her later, but for now, time was of the essence and the canine would fight the pull of the other side only so long.
She squatted next to the carcass, debating her current undertaking. She was pushing the bounds of technicalities here, something her superiors would definitely frown upon, but the trail grew cold. As long as Ikepela Ives kept that diminutive fae creature by her side, it made tracking her near impossible. She barely managed to locate Ives in her home before she and the fae girl were off again. She needed back up, someone whose senses could bypass natural glamour.
"Rise, noble creature, warrior of your race, and become one with the Pack." Hildr tensed her shoulders, feeling the hesitation in the magic. She exhaled as it unfurled within her, wrapping around the broken body of the dog. Bones cracked and snapped back into place. Shredded tissue, muscle, and skin knit itself together. Old scars faded from his pelt as an ethereal glow sank into his fur, making it thicker, more lustrous than it had been in life. His body filled out with a pulse of vitality, bulking slabs of muscle and fat.
"Attend, Hound of the Pack. I require your aid."
Chester, the newly made Hound, rose to his feet, his spirit meshed to his new stronger form. His tail thumped the road as he danced, giddy at the life coursing through him. Hildr held out her hand to him, which he licked with enthusiasm only a canine could manage.
"Yes, yes, I know," she said. "I need you to focus. Find me the one who carries this scent." She held out a crumpled tee-shirt.
The Valkyrie smelled of storms. Chester breathed in the scent from the shirt, a hint of bitter ashes and salty stress. There was still a tease of the scent trailing through the air. He barked, taking off like a shot down the thruway.
Hildr watched him run, a satisfied smirk on her lips. It wouldn't be long now. Ikepela Ives would give her audience.
It was the Fate Cipher's duty.
A Not-So- Successful Escape
The jeep groaned to a halt outside a smaller plantation-style home nestled amid the palm trees and tropical blooms like a weathered crown jewel. Ives sighed at the sight. Lavi Ives insisted the unkempt look had more to do with feeling attuned to nature than with his abhorrence for yard work. Either way, the mechanic let the encroaching plants run wild. Eventually, she suspected, the house would be reclaimed by the forest and her father would simply live in the trees. He was not big on material possessions. The only things he treasured were his tools and one framed picture beside his bed.
Ives blew out a breath through puffed lips, nudging Jules awake. A gentle evening rain was setting in, slapping against fat green fronds with a crescendo of 'pat, pat, pats'. There was one definite advantage to the overgrowth; both girls were still dry when they made it to the porch. The wood creaked in greeting beneath her feet as Ives fished out her house key. The hour was late, but she doubted her father was asleep. He was a night owl, like her. She also knew better than to try and capture his attention by knocking. There was only one place her father would be this time of night. If she listened hard enough she could hear the muffled tang of hammer to metal through the workshop door.
It took an extra shove to open the front door, the wood swollen from the constant damp of the wet season. Jules danced in behind her, clapping her hands gleefully at the chaotic disarray that met them in the hall. Ives bit her lip to keep from laughing. Ever since she'd 'acquired' Jules, her father's housekeeping went from bad to worse. She suspected her father purposefully let everything go to pot to keep Jules occupied when she visited. If she wasn't cleaning something, she started organizing and her father's reaction to the workshop incident was fresh in Ives's memory.
"Have fun," she said, squeezing Jules's thin shoulder as she passed. She followed the sound of hammering, cutting through the path in the piles of clutter and garbage.
She paused outside the master bedroom, the one room her father kept clean and Jules was not allowed to touch. Moonlight caught the silver picture frame on the nightstand. Shadows obscured the figures in the photo but she'd long memorized their faces. Three figures, her father, herself as a newborn, and the face she'd traced over and over during her childhood to commit it to memory. Ives sighed. She didn't need to think of crap like this right now. She continued to the back of the house, opening the door into the sweltering familiar heat of her father's workshop.
By day, Lavi Ives was a regular mechanic at Mikey Cutter's Garage. At night, he went home to his true passion. Working the forge, be it through metal sculpture, welding, and other such hobbies, her father was driven to the blistering heat of forge and fire, bending and twisting molten hot metal to whatever took his fancy. He had acquired many skills over the years, knew how to craft everything from chain mail to wind chimes of curlicue wire strips.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ragnarök Unwound"
Copyright © 2018 Kristin Jacques.
Excerpted by permission of Sky Forest Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Valkyrie Walks into a Bar
2. A Not-So-Successful Escape
3. Sandals Are Not Winter Friendly
4. Vegas, Baby
5. Drag Me to Hel
6. Lady Death Is a Level-60 Mage
7. A Heart-to-Heart
8. Momentous Moments
9. Death Wears a Rainbow Brite Hoodie
10. Good Vibrations
14. That Wolf Is Smokin’
15. Death Rides a Tripod Horse
16. Finish Him
17. The Threads Beneath
18. The Shining God
20. Loki at Last
21. Pinned and Seared
22. Mortal Matters
23. The In-Between
24. They Might Be Giants
25. Family Reunion
26. The Eleventh Hour
27. Nobody Throws a Tantrum Like a Pissed-Off Deity
28. Now or Never