“and what you see are not shattered streets,
but rather, within you, your own crushed walls,
your frustrated infinity …”
–Pablo Neruda, “Cataclysm, Part X”
The wind echoed coldly in the Hall of Éljúðnir.
Upon her throne, Death looked down at the weaving that Fate had given to her. Her eyes, old and ancient – older than all, even Birth - were shadowed, troubled as she looked over the tale that Skuld had to tell. The craftsmanship of the Nornir was intricate, and the weave in her hands was oddly soft in contrast to the events it told. In her other hand, she so held the cloth of the Queen of the Aesir; gifted to her in another time, another place. In her place in the sphere of time, she knew the cloth to be young, so young, and Death ached to remember the age she could count in the bones of her. She traced out the tale that the cloth told to her, the Twilight now familiar to her as her own name.
Soon, the tale would be one for her to tell.
The doors of her hall opened, grey against the black cast of her realm beyond; and then in came the Hound.
"My lady," said he, dropping to one knee before his mistress, his eyes finding the floor. In the polished obsidian stone, his face was a dark reflection. "The Mara speak of their sights. Their shadows have been summoned by the daughters of Mórrigan."
Death was very still at his words, her breath caught in her throat. When she looked up, the cloth in her hands billowed in the stiff wind that echoed in the hall. When she stood, her cloak fell to swirl about her feet, as if crafted from night itself; making the pale flash of her limbs starlight. Her bones seemed to ripple as she descended from her throne to her second, gently laying a thin hand upon his shoulder. The stiff lines of the Hound softened at her touch, knowing as he did the implications of his words.
When he looked up, his eyes on her own were heavy.
And Death smiled. "Then rejoice, for the Thunderer comes near."
In the shadowed spaces of the Yggdrasil, there were worlds untouched by mortal and immortal both. These worlds - these planets, and moons, and broad, indefinable things were lost figures in space; in the very fabric of time itself. These worlds were whispers of light in the night sky, seen as insignificant from far away, known only by the shadows they cast. The skalds had their stories of such realms, and they sang their songs before the evening fires, their notes rising with the smoke to pierce the hidden realms above. And yet, their stories were always just so – stories; fanciful things meant to bewitch the mind during the magic of night, and yet always forgotten upon the morning hour.
Even so, the Lady Sif marveled, if such worlds did indeed exist, then this moon would surely be one of them. On a forgotten moon in Álfheimr's space, she stood with the princes two at the lip of a great and towering precipice. High upon a hollow carved into the mountains, the forest beneath them seemed to have yawned, opening itself up to a vast network of canyons within. The canyons sank deeply into the landscape, as if a great beast had taken its claws and rendered the face of the moon asunder. From the top of the canyons, hardy trees, darker than pitch, grew in sweeps towering waves against the rusty stone. The cries of hawks and more exotic fowl filled the air, echoing for miles across the rise of rock around them.
Loki had found a book describing the hidden moon in the vaults of the library – in the ancient rooms of texts that existed beneath what the rest of Asgard was permitted to see and take use of – some days before. The storerooms had spells upon spells in their depths, meant to keep away the unwelcome - but Loki had long since learned how to unravel such things, and each ward that the the mages set stronger Loki managed to untangle time and time again. Eventually, Sif thought in amusement, they would simply stop trying altogether.
Indeed, this was not the first time in which Loki had found a volume of lore detailing a lands blind to the eyes of the Aesir, and Thor knew from experience that his brother's finds often led to the most glorious of battles and victories. Sometimes, Sif wondered why the bards didn't simply just watch with Heimdall in order to pen their songs as their adventures unfolded, so many they seemed to be at times.
It was rare when Loki cautioned them away from a land, as he had tried to do with this moon. And yet, even his brother's warnings were not enough to throw Thor from the path of the hunt once he had his feet set upon it.
"There," Thor had stabbed a meaty finger against the maps in the center of the book. "We shall make our journey there."
Loki had sighed, long suffering, had but not argued any further when Thor had not taken heed to his original protests. Sif herself had been silent with her thoughts, for follow she would and always shall – wherever their path would take her.
After Thor had left the vaults, Loki had spent the next four candlemarks pouring over the texts and showing her his findings. The language that detailed the moon they were to travel to was an old one, mirroring the ancient Celtic tongues of Midgard more than any tongue of the Aesir. In some ways, the languages bore much in common – as the two races were kindred in more ways than one – but the core structure aside, most of the tongue was unreadable. And with such things, when most of the volume was written in riddle, an exact translation was necessary for a full understanding of the words within.
A true translation would be lost to them at any rate – the language was a dead one, for humanity had lost its belief in things higher than them long ago, and such tongues had been forgotten with that time. And yet, Sif enjoyed trying to recreate the language with the second son – she was no academic help, but she was a sounding board as he rolled off ancient vowels and syllables – some of the texts were so archaic and guarded that spells were needed just to make the pages visible, and the words understandable.
When Loki would fall into his silences, absorbed with his reading, his mind working on a plane higher than she could reach – Sif simply leaned back into their alcove, and took to sharpening her dagger. The table that Loki had covered in scrolls and books already bore many a rut within the wood from where her restless blade had found purchase time and time again throughout the years before.
Two mornings later, they made their journey to the lost moon - a place where even Heimdall had to unveil his vision to see. The path before them was one that had not been traveled as such in the centuries before them – and would not be touched for years long after.
And with all of the natural splendor around them, Loki had yet to tear his eyes away from the book in his hands – borrowed so from the library's vaults to aid them on their journey.
"Brother," Thor finally took to tease his second, "you miss all around you with your nose in that book."
"Forgive me for not wanting to trapeze so lightly through an untraveled realm," Loki muttered in his defense. "If you had left me enough time to properly translate the words in the first place -"
" - if Ragnarök had come in the time that you spent reading," Thor struck his brother in return.
Loki raised a brow, just visible over the top of the tome he held. A moment later, Thor's next step was thrown when the root he had been stepping over raised as if lifted by an unseen hand. The prince stumbled, but did not loose his stride, instead slanting cross eyes back at his brother. "That was petty," Thor declared.
"Do not blame me for your tangled feet," Loki protested, ever innocent. "My nose was buried in my book – as you have noted." Neatly, he sidestepped the swing that Thor took at his arm – for the other had no qualms about openly striking once offense was taken, and Loki dodged the blow with practiced ease.
Sif rolled her eyes at the two, but did not intervene, her eyes instead taking in the way that the canyon around them narrowed, the high walls curving in sweeping arches of stone and slanting down to encompass the path before them like ribs over a heart.
There were markings embedded into the curving stone, ancient things that Sif could not read. As they passed, the words seemed to hum with a life of their own – a power to them that she could not precisely describe.
"Can you read these, brother?" Thor asked, serious now.
Loki put aside his book, flicking her hand so that the tome disappeared in a wave of smoke and shadow until he would call for it again. He narrowed his eyes as he took in the markings, and said, "It is the same tongue that the book used."
"And what does that tongue say?" Thor asked.
Loki glanced to his brother. "A moment please, I am not quite sure."
Thor raised a brow. "A few runic symbols, past even you?"
"As I said," Loki murmured, "we took this journey with premature haste. There is much about this tongue to still learn."
Thor huffed out a deep sigh of air, disgruntled, but he did not push further.
Seeing that the other would let him be for the moment, Loki stepped forward to read the inscription at the base of one of the curving stones. His eyes traced up and over the arch, deciphering the patterns that appeared as gibberish to Sif and Thor both.
"It speaks of a promise," Loki said aloud. "A prize to those worthy, and a curse to those unworthy."
Thor gave a sharp smile. "A promise indeed."
Loki snorted. "Leave it to you to only hear what I first said."
"Positive thinking, you shall find that it does one wonders," Thor slapped Loki on the back, pitching the slighter man forward. Loki raised a dark brow, his thoughts clear upon his face. But, for once, he gave no word to them.
"It says what of a curse?" Sif took it upon herself to ask. While Thor held thunder and battle in his veins, she held war – and the strategy of lines and men was as important as the strength of arms.
Loki looked back to the arch. "That is what I am trying to make out. It is as if the whole of the message is not here, it is incomplete."
Thor took a step forward into the stretch of the canyon that the rune protected. "Most likely it was posted as an empty threat – a warning to those who would walk within."
Loki shook his head. "No, there is magic within these runes. There is no empty threat." He reached out to touch the stone, and at his touch the letters flushed a soft and telling gold – not the mark of Loki's magic, but a sign of that which had been laid before.
Loki looked up then, his pale eyes sharp and verdant. "We should not be here," he said lowly, his voice an echo in his throat.
As if his words had summoned forth a great and terrible foe, the land around them rumbled. A low, thundering sound rendered the air – as if an eagle had called from deep in a lion's throat. At the sound, Sif let her hand fall over the hilt of her glaive. Her shield was loose and ready at her back.
Thor had Mjölnir out, arms held slightly open – as if inviting the foreign foe closer.
"That would be what I meant about not being here," Loki lamented, stepping away from the runic words, and letting his hand fall to his throwing blades.
"Nonsense," Thor said, his eyes charged and bright. "This is precisely what we came here for."
Loki heaved a deep sigh, but nonetheless drew his throwing knives. "Oh goody," he mumbled under his breath.
Sif braced her weight on the balls of her feet, feeling the dry earth crumble beneath her boots. She breathed in deep, centering herself.
Over the lip of the canyon, small, dark forms appeared at the edge of their line of sight. They were winged, holding themselves up on the air.
"Hippogryphs?" Sif questioned, surprised. For, out of everything that she could have seen on the moon, this would have been the last thing that she would have expected.
"So it would seem," Loki confirmed her sight.
Sif's hand on her blade stilled as she studied the animals. The creatures before them were magnificent. The mares, she had seen back in Asgard. Select warriors who had proven their worth and embarked upon the Quest of Proof to earn the right to have such a mount had hippogryph steeds to ride in battle. For all intents and purposes, they were simply winged horses – the rare product of a gryphon stallion and a broodmare horse; and as such they were symbols of the impossible. The sacred blessings of chance – proof that nature could and always would find a way.
They were creatures of magic, ethereal, said to aid only the purest warriors in battle. And, after seeing such a collective herd of them, Sif could believe the myth. The mares were all brilliantly colored animals – chestnuts and bays and roans, their coats gleaming with a splendor that not even the finest of Asgard's warhorses could match. Near the head of the herd, there was a dappled gray that caught Sif's eye, and for a moment she found herself hard pressed to look away.
"I thought such things to be extinct," Sif said, her awe seeping into her voice. For it had been centuries indeed since a warrior of the Aesir had taken a new mount into Asgard's ranks. And the few mounts who remained to the veteran warriors, yet to be claimed by Valhalla, were all female. It had been thought impossible to replenish what they had lost so carelessly.
"Life has a curious way around such tittles, at times," Loki said lowly, his eyes a pale slash in the shadows of his face. Sif let her gaze rest on him for a moment before looking back to the creatures.
"And these are what the moon is protecting?" Thor said, his question a statement as he looked past the mares to the fearsome creatures who were guarding them.
While the mares were easy, lovely creatures – the stallions were fearsome things, and unlike any hippogryph Sif had ever seen. Where the mares only held the wings declaring their mystical heritage, the stallions had twin horns sweeping up from the top of their heads, dark and curving, nicks and scratches on the bone to show where they had been put to use before. Their faces were long, but instead of bearing the muzzle of a horse, they bore instead their gryphon heritage – boating of sharp and pointed beaks that could easily tear flesh from bone. Eagle feathers grew at their faces, colored so to match the fur covering the rest of their body. Where their forelegs were slender and deceivingly delicate looking – as a horse – rather than hooves, they bore paws - the lion-like claws of a gryphon.
The alpha of the small herd – a fierce and darkly shaded creature – had stepped forward, pawing at the ground and laying his ears back flat against his head. A rumble of a growl was in his throat, more bestial than the neighs of the mares behind them.
Thor had yet to look away from the stallion, his lips drawing back from his teeth as he returned the challenge.
Loki glanced from the creature to the arches of stone above. The ancient symbols seemed to glow in the presence of the hippogryphs, softly warning. He frowned. "Brother, you need not take such a trophy from these creatures," he said quietly. "They will let us pass if we mean no harm."
Thor smiled then, the curve of it reflecting the hunt. "Nay brother, the horns on the stallion – they would make a fitting gift for the Allfather, would they not? Imagine, even, how they would look set upon a helmet."
Loki snorted, his eyes pausing on the tall sweep of the horns before falling away. "And here I always thought you to be so fetching in your feathers."
Thor smirked. "You have yet to settle on a design . . ."
Loki snorted. "Your thoughtfulness is overwhelming," he said dryly. "But I truly need no such consideration. Come now, let us pass."
Thor still stood battle ready. "You may pass, but I intend to give the creature the fight he is looking for."
Thor dug his heels into the ground, as if to charge, and above them the symbols flashed. Loki started as soon as soon as the magic of the moon swelled in warning, and he lunged after Thor, "Brother, wait!"
He was not quick enough. Thor took off at a run, surprisingly fast for the sheer mass of him. In his hand, Mjölnir rumbled with his challenge.
"Something is not right here!" Loki insisted on a shout, just as Thor met the stallion.
The mares had taken to flight the moment Thor started his charge, their great wings raising them in the sky to safely shield them higher up on the canyon walls. The stallions – five of them - stayed low to battle the prince who confronted them – not daring to take to the skies lest they let Thor closer to the rest of their pack.
Sif ran forward to rap her knuckles across the metal armor peeking through Loki's cloak. "Your brother will not see peace, so choose now whether or not you are going to give your aid." And with that, she joined the fight.
Loki watched her move for a moment – steel glinting in the high sun, and then joined her as well.
They had fought winged creatures before – had faced dragons, and gryphons, and harpies, and once had even faced a mad phoenix ready for her rebirth. The scarlet bird that had risen from the ashes had been a breathtaking, beautiful vision in flame – Sif could remember the flare of her still.
And yet these were different – they were quicker than gryphons, and yet they had to move in close to attack, unlike a dragon who could fight just as easy from afar. Instead of fur on their backs, they bore almost metallic scales that were impervious to Thor's hammer, or her glaive. The soft parts of their bellies were hard to reach due to razor wings and wickedly clawed forelegs, and Sif bit her lip as she tucked and rolled, trying to do her best to get underneath one of the stallions without being trampled for her efforts.
Smaller than gryphons, these creatures fought quickly and deadly. Their wings afforded them sharp bursts of height and speed, and slanted dives made their movements hard to predict, keeping the Aesir more on the defensive rather than the attack. Sif found herself watching their muscles, gleaming at their withers and at the base of their wings for their direction – reading the way their feathers swept with the wind's current, and moved her body to match them so accordingly.
Thor had tired of playing a game of seek and chase, and so he now stood his ground, swatting with Mjölnir whenever the creature came close enough for him to strike. Storms loitered at his hands – in his eyes - and at his cry, lightening crashed about his hammer as he threw it. The weapon had the stallion he was facing hurling backwards, great wings flapping to counter the force of the Thunderer's blow. The creature hit the side of the canyon wall, and the force of its landing loosening the side of the rock – the arches above shivered, and then fell, the cascade of rock and dirt threatening to bury the combatants below.
In the center of the melee, Loki was not fighting the creatures so much as he half heartedly had a defensive shield glowing green about him whenever one of the stallions came too close. He had rushed forward to examine the fallen stone from Thor's blow. The marks upon the arches now glowed an obvious gold – enchanted beyond a doubt. The mares higher on the canyon wall were neighing wildly, and at their whinny's, the golden symbols pulsed.
Seeing that Thor was easily handling three of the stallions. Sif came to protect Loki's back as the other two circled in around them. Her glaive was held further out than her shield; the gold of it a burning flame that had the stallions pacing warily before facing her. It was an easy post for her – for Thor never shared the glory of battle, often standing on his own as his companions fought in clusters. Sif knew Loki at her back, and at her side, and there was no one she moved more truly with in a melee.
"The stones say something about the brood of Macha. These creatures are protected," Loki said on a hiss.
Sif raised a brow, twisting her head back to look Loki over her shoulder. "By the stallions?"
"No – by something else. Something bigger."
Sif smirked. "Won't Thor be pleased."
Thunder crashed. The creatures returned the sound with cries of their own. A match.
One of the stallions dared to come in close, and Sif struck out with her glaive in retaliation. The steel of it skidded across the scaled back, and she twisted her hand hard to the left, hoping to tear at its wings. But the creature was quicker, depriving her of her hit as it pranced away from her.
Sif took a step forward, and bared her teeth.
It backed from her, but it was still circling – looking for an angle to attack her from; and she waited for it, not leaving Loki's back as he passed his hand over the arches. He had now reached out and touched the stone, the magic of his touch making more symbols appear.
"If you are through reading," Sif finally said sharply. Her steel flashed as the great wings opposite her threw a breath of wind against her face, sending her cloak billowing. "I could make use of your knives."
Thunder crackled above them. Thor's shouts were even louder than the storm, and she heard a pained cry from the creatures beyond. The battlelust in her veins pitched a fevered song at the sound of it.
"If you could hold your thirst for blood for a mere moment, my lady," Loki returned, distracted. "The text is revealing itself." The more magic he expelled, the more the symbols came into view, telling a whole story where only snippets had been known before.
"I could just leave your back unprotected," she pointed out, her words not quite a threat as her lips curved up cruelly. Again, she stepped forth to meet the claws of the first stallion. A spin, and her shield knocked away the beak of the second from above.
"Indeed, you could," Loki agreed.
"And yet, to have to tell the Allfather that his second son fell in battle due to the fact that he could not tear his eyes away from his letters . . . It would destroy his queen's heart."
"One can only imagine the songs the bards will sing of my bravery at such an ignoble end."
"The Silvertongue felled by his faulty eyes," Sif continued, her taunt lost to her as the second stallion turned from the crest of his dive in order to strike again. Sif heaved upwards with her shield, feeling the force of both of the creature's claws wrapping around her shield in order to lift her from the ground. She still kept her grip, ignoring the distance that was put between her and the canyon floor as she extended the reach of her glaive, sweeping wide in order to strike at the tender flesh of the beast's stomach. Her blade struck true, but the truly mean blow was made glancing by the back hooves of the creature. Her steel rang in her hand at the blow, almost jarred away from her. But her grip was strong, and she refused to relinquish her hold even as the creature dropped her and she fell to hit the ground below.
She skidded in the dirt, tucking in her roll in order to pop back up on her feet. The first stallion had busied himself attacking Loki's shield while she had been distracted with the second, and with a war cry upon her lips, she launched herself at the creature, determined to throw it off its hunt. She was able to scramble atop its back, and it was more interested then in bucking her from her seat rather than break down Loki's defenses.
The hippogryph took to the sky then, determined to loose her. Sif scrambled for the dagger at her hip, clumsy as she was with her glaive at so close a range.
"Loki!" she exclaimed when, beneath her, the other stallion had taken to battering at Loki's shield where its second had given up. The creature was butting angrily at the verdant dome with its horns, and there was magic within the being – for Loki's shield did not fall to so slight a strength so easily.
Loki hissed, and the sphere around him brightened, throwing the animal away from him. He glanced up at her, and upon seeing her predicament, he dropped the shield entirely, turning away from the stones in order to aid her. Her glaive was kept from making any true progress due to flashing horns and mean teeth, but the creature had forgotten about Loki down below.
She braced herself as she saw the hit coming, ready to jump from the stallion as soon as one of Loki's knives was loosed, the dagger a shade of spring so bright that it left its streak across the air as it traveled. It ripped into the hippogryph's wings, staying it from its flight.
He did not make a fatal blow, she thought as she landed on the ground below. Dumbfounded.
Sif blinked as she got to her feet, processing as she held her glaive out before her. The two stallions were watching she and Loki warily, pacing but not engaging them. The latter one was nursing a torn wing, and her mind played over a dozen ways to get under its defenses with such a wound.
She came to Loki's back, falling into a defensive pose with him out of habit.
"Why did you not slay it?" Sif hissed. "You had your chance."
"Because these creatures are not ours to kill."
Her eyes narrowed. "You are not one to lament the loss of life."
He smiled, and it was very sharp – a fine edge made to cut. "Indeed not. But these creatures are protected – they are creatures of the quest, and we have not earned the right to slay one."
She raised a brow, questions on her tongue that she stowed as Loki made an urgent glance to find his brother. Thor was still facing the other three, and the sky above him was a violent thing in response to his battlerage. Loki looked worried when he saw the creatures fading – tiring against the Thunderer. They would not last much longer.
"Thor cannot spill blood today," he murmured to her, his eyes very green as they flared with magic. "Thor!" he shouted. "Stay your weapon! Cease your attack!"
The thunder crackled around them, ominous and booming – Thor's answer.
Cross then, Loki narrowed his eyes, and then he vanished from her side in a wisp of smoke. He appeared in Thor's shadow, collapsing the distance between them as easily as Sif drew breath. He appeared right in the path of Thor's charge, stopping Thor from his run.
Mjölnir was raised.
"Brother!" she could read Loki's lips across the canyon floor.
The stallions stayed, waiting. In the canyons above them, the mares were a symphony of whinny's and neighs. She darted a glance up at them. As Loki had ordered, she held a defensive pose before the wary stallions, but she did not move to engage them.
Loki held his hands out, his mouth worked quickly; and she could see Thor grow more and more annoyed at his brother's words. He tried to move around Loki, but the second son still blocked his path.
Above her, the sky rolled – a warning. Her hands tightened about the hilt of her weapon out of reflex.
Slowly, Loki's hands fell, and she thought him triumphant with reasoning with Thor through his battle-haze. The lines of Loki unraveled, the stallions stilled.
And then Thor turned, Mjölnir glowing with the heart of the storms as she aided her wielder.
"Thor, you idiot," she heard Loki's voice quite clearly across the canyon floor.
Mjölnir struck true, and there was a deathly stillness to the canyon as the stallion fell. It was a gust of breath across the canyon – the mares fell silent, and the stallion's brethren tossed their heads in agitation, the whites of their eyes showing as they took to the sky.
Thor watched them leave, but did not give chase. "It seems I would have my trophy after all," Thor said, insufferably pleased with himself.
Sif crossed over to the princes as the air swirled around them, charged in a way that was not a result of Thor's storms.
"You fool," Loki hissed. "We must leave – now, before it is discovered what you have done."
"What I have done is to earn another memento of our victories to grace the Allfather's halls." Thor smirked, withdrawing his blade from his belt.
"You do not understand," Loki placed his hand on Thor's arm, pushing the other away from the felled creature.
Thor narrowed his eyes. "You are acting very peculiar."
"And you are acting thicker than usual," Loki snapped.
Thor knelt down besides the stallion's still body. "You are too tense. We fought, we made the name of Odin proud with our valor. And now – a prize."
Sif shook her head, the dark ends of her bound hair trailing wildly. "Thor, perhaps you should listen! All does not feel right here," she was still in a defensive stance, her glaive tight in the palm of her hand.
Thor looked to her, his clear eyes clouded over in bafflement at the serious tones of his companions. And yet, further talk was stilled when around them the air swirled as if possessed. The sun overhead – just now peaking back through from Thor's clouds, was shadowed again, but this time by an unnatural blackness. Even though Sif had no connection to magic, she could feel it on the air – could taste it on her tongue.
"Who has struck the brood of Macha?" a coarse voice thundered around them.
"And that is why we should have departed," Loki sighed, resigned.
The Aesir turned to see three woman approaching from the mouth of the canyon. Seemingly appearing from the echo in the air, rather then by any conventional means of travel. The one leading the three wore the rough linen of a herder, and she held a long, hooked staff in her hand, the wood of it well worn from time and many hands holding it. Her coloring was severe – she was as pale as the snow as it fell, and her hair was a dark shade of red that she had bound back into a severe bun. There was an elegance to her to counter her simple appearance – an ancientness to her eyes that instinctively had Sif wish to take to one knee in a bow.
As War, she could feel the resonance of steel about the woman, and she did not take the sheathed sword at the other's side for granted.
This woman was dangerous.
At the leading woman's side, the other two were fiery haired as well. The one to the right had a flush of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and angry green eyes – she wore the slim armor of a cavalry soldier, and there was a riding crop at her hip along with her quiver and greatbow. The third was a dark, shadowed woman, her eyes raven black – she wore the thick and heavy armor of a foot soldier. Her countenance was almost deadened, as if she had left her soul upon the battlefield and not bothered to retrieve it once left behind.
There was a hard smile upon Thor's expressive face as he stood, the edges of his eyes sharp. "It is the son of Odin who has taken his hunt today."
The second woman snorted. "Prince or not, you have struck at that which is held sacred!" her voice was a deep and pained thing, an echo of the stallion's dying scream.
Loki, tense at the side of Thor, pushed past his brother. "And whom was this pack protected by? I must admit that we are foreigners here, and any offense made we shall surely seek to remedy."
"Ignorance can excuse much, but not all," the first woman rebuked softly, not put at ease by Loki's silvered words. "You may call me Anann – of the Mórrigan, the brood you struck at was that of Macha, my sister."
The second woman – Macha – stepped forward, her eyes angry upon the prince. "These souls were mine, and you have not earned the right to approach one – let alone take a life."
"Macha takes her duties seriously," Anann said with a thin smile. "And yet, it has been a long time since the Allfather has sent a warrior our way. He has not had one worthy enough in almost four centuries time. Tell me now, Thor Odinson, why have you not abided by the rules of engagement? How have you sought us out without being sent to Quest by your father?"
Thor blinked, surprised at Anann's familiarity with his father. By his side, Loki was less surprised – for he never took lightly his father's secrets. "It was a book which led us here, a tome in the depths of Asgard's halls. We followed its riddles and its map – hoping for sport, which my brother believed he had found free of slight."
Anann looked at him, weighing him. At her side, the third woman gave a low and reedy laugh. Her voice was like sand, blown by the wind. "We have felt this one for many years, sister. It is not surprising that he should be the one to see through the wards shielding us."
"And he was not completely ignorant as to the purpose of our wards," Anann said thoughtfully. "Tell me, second son, what little of our runes could you translate?"
"Not much," Loki said carefully. "Only the lines speaking of a promise – of a prize, or a curse."
"A prize," Anann said, "given to those worthy."
At this, Thor puffed out his chest. "And who more worthy to take such a token from your herd? If worth is the problem, I fail to see the slight."
"Such worth must be proven," Macha scathed. "And few are the warriors who survive our trials to prove such a thing."
Thor's eyes narrowed, and Loki stepped in. "A quest," he said. "If these are Questing creatures, as you say, please, allow us to do so to prove our worthiness for the life Thor took."
Anann looked at him, weighing her words.
And at his side, Thor shook his head. "No, this is ridiculous. I am son of the Allfather, and any creature in the Nine Realms is in my domain, with my right to hunt. You should be bowing before me as we speak – I need not seek your permission, or seek to ease your anger over a life rightly felled."
Loki raised his eyes heavenward, as if to seek long suffering. Sif sucked in a breath between her teeth, her hand clenching about the hilt of her glaive.
"He proves his worth already, does he not, sister?" Macha smirked.
"Indeed he does," Anann whispered. Her tone was thoughtful as she stepped away from her sisters, stepping right before Thor before turning, slowly circling the prince. In size, Thor dwarfed her, but her gaze seemed to swallow him. Thor was tiny in the shadow she cast, drawn deep from the soul of the moon.
When Sif turned to glance at Loki, his eyes were verdant, reflecting the unconscious pulse of Anann's power. She let herself gaze for a moment longer, before turning to her sovereign once more.
"Here are my final words to you, Odinson," Anann finally came to her decision, stopping her in her circle before Thor once more, striking the dry ground with her sheppard's hook. "You may take our challenge, and prove your worth. If not - you were not worthy to fight, let alone slay a creature made to be a prize rather than a warrior's token. And as such, you will live as an unworthy one until your worth is proved." Her voice was ancient, thick with prophesy.
Thor's expression thundered, his hand tightened over Mjölnir's handle. Instinctively, Sif stepped forward, recognizing the tell-tale signs of violence on the features of her friend. From next to her, Loki's hand stayed her.
Anann held up a hand, halting him "Your father," she whispered, her voice deep and old, "is the one who begot us with this right. You shall find no sympathy from his quarter, not the Allfather's memory is as long and as wise as it should be. And so, I wish you well sons of Odin," her eyes flickered to Sif, "daughter of War." And then the three faded from sight as quickly as they had came.
In their absence, the air around them seemed to lose is warmth. There was a sudden loss of pressure as the magic of the land quieted and stilled.
Loki looked positively furious, angry at his brother for ruining the words that would have let them return back to Asgard without any negative repercussions.
Thor was wisely silent for a long moment, Sif glancing between the brothers and reading the silence that dwelt there. Finally: "A curse," Thor said carefully. "That does not sound too terrible."
Loki narrowed his eyes crossly at his brother. "Just you think that, Thor."