Millennia passed after Loki Silvertongue presented himself to the Norns and demanded answers of them before he came to them again. And this time he did not come alone. On either side of him was a companion, allies worthy of him in both virtue and power. All three carried relics of world-shaking power with them. All three bore expressions as implacable as the force the Norns embodied: Fate.
Beneath a black sky crammed with stars, Urðr watered a tree that was not a tree from a bucket that never needed filling. Verðandi spun and weaved. Skuld weighed one still-beating heart after another.
Verðandi looked up from her work at one of the Sky-Walker’s friends. “Stephen Strange. Today you seek glory beyond any you have before.”
Dr. Strange, encircled protectively by the Cloak of Levitation, the Time Gem burning on his breast, replied with great calm. “This is not about me. Very little is.”
Verðandi looked at her sisters with manic glee. “Our strategem with this one worked.”
“As did the Silvertongue’s with the son of Odin.” Urðr turned to the Spear-Shaker’s only child, her bucket swinging from her gnarled hand. “Through you, the Silvertongue has proven us wrong.”
“Wrong?” Thor regarded them gravely, the power of storms and lightning held ready in his hand, the Power Gem about his neck. His handsome face was lined with care as it had not been when his destiny, and his foster brother’s, had first come for them.
Verðandi let her wizened lips twist in amusement. “We meant to let you fall in some reckless battle, as so many who were fool enough to follow you did in your wake.” Thor bowed his head for a moment in remorse for those he had lead to their deaths in the vainglory of his youth. “It was the Silvertongue who believed there was a heart beneath all your bluster and vanity.”
“Once all you did was rejoice in how generous we were to you,” Skuld reminded him, placing a throbbing red heart upon her scale. “Now you grieve for those who received less of our kindness.”
“I do. And it was my brother who taught me to do so.”
The brothers in bond, though not in blood, regarded each other for a moment. Their glance was an embrace and an oath to each other. Strange kept his sharp pale eyes on the Norns.
Loki’s eyes returned to the Fates. He bore Lævateinn Damage-Twig in one hand, and upon the other wore a Gauntlet studded with four gemstones and two empty spaces which could have held a fifth and sixth. “Thor has become the hero he should have been all along.”
“Do you think we were not watching? We saw him cease to conquer and commence to defend. We saw your tearful joy as he did, Silvertongue.” Skuld’s expression impossibly blended contempt and tenderness as she spoke.
“We watched you struggle to put right what Odin Slain-Chooser had cast askew. We watched you slay the fiends who threatened to drown the Realms in blood.” Urðr allowed herself one nod of approval.
“We watched you try to spread the kindness of your bosom friends here,” Verðandi shook a spotted wrinkled finger at each of them, “throughout the Realms.”
“Loki has kindness of his own,” Strange said.
“None knows that better than I,” Thor said.
“The kindness of Loki is as sharp as the fang of a serpent, as the bite of winter,” Skuld said.
“As sharp as yours,” Loki replied, his gaze upon them unyielding.
“As we shall soon learn, is that not right, Silvertongue?” Verðandi laid down her spindle, Urðr her bucket, Skuld her hearts and scale.
“The fate of the Fates is at hand,” the trickster agreed.
Skuld’s face reflected aeons of weariness. “You still think you can do our task more kindly than we did.”
“That is why my chosen accomplices were both once healers. To balance me, who was once a killer.”
“As was I, brother. And it was you who helped me find a better path.”
“Listen to him fawning on you!” Urðr’s eyes narrowed with spiteful amusement—which was often the only comfort she and her sisters had. “You have what you always yearned for, Silvertongue.”
At those words, Loki’s eyes shimmered, but he said nothing.
“And you, Strange.” Verðandi’s rheumy eyes fixed on him. “Such power shall be yours, now that you have ceased to wish for it. Such knowledge you shall have, surpassing even your yearning.”
“I swore to do no harm and then I was compelled to kill in order to save. I will spare others from that burden—if I can.”
“You placed great burdens upon all three of us,” Thor said. “Today we take up an even greater one. This destiny was one you did not chart for us. We have chosen it for ourselves.”
The three crones froze in perfect stillness. The moment before Urðr spoke felt to all present like an age.
“And now,” she said, very softly, “we may rest.”
“Now you may rest.” The Silvertongue’s voice was gentle, compassionate, as he decreed their execution.
Loki raised Lævateinn and the Gauntlet and green fire poured from them. Thor hefted Mjölnir and the scarlet gem at his throat began to glow more brightly. The Time Gem too awoke as Strange drew a mandala in the air before him.
Loki’s fire, Thor’s lightning, Strange’s mandala merged in the space between them and the Norns. For a moment the union was blinding. When it was complete, their joint creation stood regarding the Norns.
Hel took the shape of a woman, tall and raven-haired, whose entire left side was only bones, with no flesh or skin to cover them.
The Norns looked at their deliverance with longing.
Hel did not make them wait for long. She stepped to Urðr first. Hel placed her flesh hand on Urðr’s left cheek, then her bone hand on Urðr’s right cheek.
Urðr closed her eyes and sighed with a universe of relief as she dissipated into mist.
Skuld followed. When Hel moved to the final Norn, Verðandi clasped Hel’s bone hand tightly before pressing it to her face herself.
Hel let her hands drop and turned to face her creators.
“Your place is cleared, Fathers.”
Stepping into the physical spot their predecessors had occupied was solely symbolic, but they were all sorcerers. Symbols had power.
Standing side by side, they did not water a tree or spin and weave or weigh hearts. Strange projected his mandala, and Thor’s golden lightning and Loki’s green fire danced along its lines.
The reign of the new Fates began.