A rainy evening in Camden Town, London. In a bar Daimon Hellstrom is bothered by the bouncer, who drags along Loki and a simpering Leah. Sternly, the bouncer informs him they don’t let kids in here. Eyes aglow, Daimon informs him they can stay.
Loki thanks him for that and for coming. They have hasty secret business to attend to. Daimon suggests he take it down a notch. His head is killing him! Too much to drink? Loki asks while Leah chides him. Too much evil, Daimon informs them. He’s been on a bit of a binge since he last saw them. You always regret it the morning after. He hasn’t felt this sick since he burned some Druid guy in a trash can. Served him right. The - what do you say here… toe rag? Tosser? Some quaint bull like that. Burned him alive, he continues. He carried it around for a while afterwards. Waved it at people to scare them a bit. “Mess with me and end up in my trash can of doom!” Spill, he orders the kids. What is Loki trying to trick him into?
Loki summarizes the situation: Otherworld is at war. The Manchester Gods are rising up. The gods of the modern age. People are dying, and people who aren’t even people are dying. He thinks that, if he makes certain moves, he can bring it to a swift minimum-number-of-people-dying conclusion but he can’t do it by himself. He needs Hellstrom as a private contractor. Otherworld will be generously grateful. They can pretty much give him what he wants, as his assistant Leah’s papers will show.
Unfolding a map, she sharply correct that she isn’t his secretary. Daimon asks why they need him. Otherworld’s got more posh mages than a Hogwarts school reunion.
He needs someone who can do the job and not turn up on the Otherworld radar, Loki explains. He could do it but hasn’t the mastery. Leah could do it, but hasn’t the streets smarts. She barely has the smarts to cross the streets, he taunts.
Quit with the cuteness, Hellstrom orders, and give him some details! Loki continues: Otherworld’s intimately connected to its symbolic sites in the real world. Stonehenge, the Tower of London, Avebury, Buckingham Palace, Hadrian’s Wall… Loki explains the Manchester Gods are also part of the British subconscious but he doesn’t see them connected to this excitingly clichéd array of green-and-pleasant-land-isms. They are going to have their own sites. He needs Hellstrom to find them, record them. And then leave the rest to Loki…
Two days later in Otherworld:
Under King Arthur’s leadership, the forces of Otherworld try to fight back the Manchester Gods’ troops. Merlyn warns Arthur that the wall is not going to hold. But suddenly the invading troops turn back, unnerved.
Loki and Leah appear through a doorway. It worked! Loki exclaims. What has he done? Captain Britain demands sharply.
Cragside is cradled by the surrounding forests as if it’s a bloom of the countryside. A mansion flower growing from the wooded green. It’s a beautiful ruse, its merging of the land and the mind could only be the product of humans. It was built by one William Armstrong. Cragside’s lights turn the light to day. It’s the first house that was lit by hydroelectric power. It speaks of a world that’s still waiting to arrive.
The call gives ten minutes warning. Its inhabitants are evacuated in five. The clock ticks down and the house explodes.
That’s terrorism! Captain Britain protests. No, it’s just blowing stuff up, Loki replies. No one was hurt or supposed to be scared. It’s—unscheduled demolition, Leah adds. And they can un-unscheduled-demolition them when this is all over.
Why? Arthur demands. Loki explains it’s one of the Manchester Gods’ places of power. This place is as important to them as Stonehenge is to Otherworld.
He has an agent looking for the sites of power. He’s already found a bunch: The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Some guy with an awesome beard’s grave in Highgate. The Cavern Club in Liverpool. Oddly, some greenhouse in Northampton, Leah adds.
They can’t just go and blow the bally lot up! Cap insists. Of course not, Loki agrees. Well, not plan A, anyway. It’s leverage. The key thing to remember is they still don’t know he is working for Otherworld. He is a creature of mischief. Interfering with war like this is exactly what everyone expects. That’s why he was sent after all. So he slips the Manchester Gods information. Tells them what’s happening. Tells them where Otherworld will strike next. The Otherworld armies make a cursory attempt to attack. They defend it. And Loki has credibility in their eyes.
Merlyn agrees. To do what? Arthur asks. Loki believes their civilization doesn’t work nearly as well without a little fire in its engine. They free the Red King, this comes to a grinding halt.
Will they believe he is a traitor to divinity? Cap asks. Leah sighs. Does he think anyone would believe he is not?
Manchester, 11-15, Whitworth Street West:
Now they are apartments. But for certain years between 1982 and 1997 it was the cathedral of cultural revolution; it was the Hacienda. You could argue whether as a site it was important. It clearly is. Otherwise this would not be happening. Sounds that are presumed to be gunfire. Screams that are presumed to be humans’. If you’re going to be scared, people choose to be scared of what they deign to understand. The police arrive and, without any obvious leads, dismiss this as gang violence. Not wrong, of course.
Leah joins Loki and Ikol in a pub, explaining they bought the bait. The Manchester Gods have thanks and an invite. Loki is pleased (and more interested in the bacon). Where now? he asks. Witton Park, he is told and wonders what a Witton Park is.
They find themselves in Witton Park a village in county Durham. Leah tries to consult their guidebook but Loki finds out it has something to do with the ghostly flaming train tracks that appear.
In 1825, Stephenson opened the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Twenty-six miles of track. It connected Witton Park to Stockton. There were tracks before, certainly. But this was the first commercial passenger train line. It was where steam met people and transformed them. “All aboard for Manchester!” the trains says and Loki and Leah alight.
And in this Industrial Revolution, all rails lead to Manchester, where a man who seems to be made of metal welcomes them.
He introduces himself as Master Wilson and thanks them for the warning. He’d prefer mister, but it seems the gods have forced a position of power onto him. He is no man’s master. That is very much the point.
So why the fortuitous warning? Mischief basically, Loki shrugs. He is all about mischief. Famously so. Impatiently, Leah interrupts, asking what Wilson is.
He describes himself as an unusual kind of Druid. Except instead of a fondness for ash and oak, he prefers steel, steam and holy concrete. He found himself spontaneously come into being a couple of centuries ago. He appeared on this very spot. He was a druid of cities in a land with none. And that didn’t strike him as right, so he’d started to work to find a way to correct this. He calls his beliefs “urban pantheism” but that’s just him being pretentious. A lovely word, he muses. A verbal tick of the dull and slovenly. A whip to lash those who have ideas above their station. He doesn’t have much time for people being stuck at their stations. Well, except train stations. But that mild misery is one of the prices they pay for progress.
Like the Red King’s imprisonment? Leah asks. So disapproving, Wilson mocks gently. The Red King is a monster. He lives to destroy. Why should he be free? “Just because that’s how it works?” Nonsense! He’d jail the very devil if he could! His fury powers cities, but that’s reparation for all the harm he’s caused to the poor people. Do they know how many trolls died in his wars? Moreso – do they know the life expectancy of a troll child in the pits? And if they do make it past hatching, they just grow into monsters!
That doesn’t excuse brainwashing! Leah replies. They aren’t the Pied Piper, Wilson retorts. The common persons of the underworld come to live in these city gods for hope of a better life. All they care about is that suddenly there’s less people around to serve them dinner, he scoffs. The poor folk would be starving in the villages nestling around the castle’s feet and up in Camelot they’d still be choking down bloody red venison! And the elves… Ah, the fair folk! Does anything strike them as fair in a land of perpetual monarchy without a democratic leash? Their only defense is this is how it’s always been. “We ask how else could it be!”
They say Britain is fundamentally rural. Wilson’s people say Britain is fundamentally urban. Moreover they say the only thing of import in this isle is that it invented the modern concept of urbanity. Otherworld is the British subconscious. What’s genuinely important about this tiny isle.
A small winged being lands on his arm. A bunch of elves and faerie nonsense! Wilson continues. Every country has its folklore, mostly identical to this, with the names switched a few syllables. But Manchester was the first city of the future anywhere! The world that led to the Starkphone Loki is so obsessed with started here! They are what this land has always been afraid of. That’s what they deny. As some dear old friends of his once said: “there is no future in England’s dreaming.”
Doesn’t he want to annihilate the other side? Leah asks as they enter a building. No. the war came because there was no choice. Their existence threatened the realm. If the Manchester Gods triumph, they’ll make a peace as soon as possible. They can have their fables, glens and all the leafy domes. The Manchester Gods don’t care about their ranks. All they’ll do is pollute their skies a little. The Captain Britain Corps polices the Multiverse. They are not fool enough to interfere with that. Arthur can even keep that throne of his – minus the power. Let him be brought out for a parade and a cheer once in a while. Britain isn’t a republic, so Otherworld shouldn’t be one either. But in the end, they’ll have an Otherworld that actually represents the nation it purports to. And this realm of eternal past will for the first time have a future.
They can change. The city changes them all. And change is good. He thought some gods would understand and that he would find Loki in their number. He invites them to stay as long as they like. When they return to Asgardia, he hopes they will bring accurate world of their character. Wilson leaves them alone.
Loki is uncharacteristically silent. Leah suggests they have their trust. They can find the Red King and free him. No, no, no! Loki snarls. He can’t, can he? Oh, by Odin’s sores, he can’t! He swears and then admits they are on the wrong side.