Loki understood better than most scholars in Asgard that the great Tree was not a flat figure in the universe. Its center shape was a map, yes, and showed paths between the great and powerful stars. Greatest of all which realms were named after. But within each realm and star itself, there was dimension and depth greater than even Heimdall's eye could see. Perhaps if there were many of the great Watcher, all manner in every layer of fabric that made the clothed being of the complete universe could be watched and understood. But Heimdall could only see the "all" that Odin commanded him to.
And it was Loki's greatest and most terrible secret that it was in the other "alls" of the universe in which he hid from his father and the shortcomings of his great Asgardian people whenever he saw it fit to be alone.
So it was to one of these terrible pockets he fled after his fall from the heights of the Asgardian bridge. Destruction rippled the core of the universe, and in the discord, it was easy for Loki to pierce through into another sheet of existence, like a needle in the dark.
But that process drained much of him, and left him in darkness until his body could recover itself. But he knew the extent of his talents, and though he had been partially expended in his meaningless squabble with Thor, he was not drained enough for it to be a danger to him.
Unless, perhaps, he landed in a place suffering under its own dangers. But he could do naught until he awakened, and when he did, he knew immediately that at least he had not been in a terrible amount of peril. If he had been, surely he would have been dead by then.
The morning he awoke to was crisp with a passing rain, a winter rain judging by the sharpness in the smell. But it was not biting cold: just cool enough for a stray breeze, like the one caught in the banners licking the sky outside, to chill the skin. He lay in a side chamber facing an open pavilion, smooth columns the only door between he and the dim green lawn outside. Around with the scent of rain there was the far of odor of needled trees, and the earthen fume of wet stone.
He sat up slowly, noting with pleasure that his body was not damaged. Tired indeed, but unscathed. Save for perhaps a bit of discomfort at the crown of his head, which he ignored in favor of standing quietly. The worn floor was cool where his feet touched it as he padded out of the small room. There was a heavy curtain pulled to the far corner of the room, but little else decorated it save the bedding he had been resting in.
When he strode out into the courtyard, the world opened up. The sky, slowly stretching from gray to pale blue as the rain whisked away, opened wide above him. Towering mountain peaks blocked his view to the right, and far off in the distance ahead another range gnawed at the horizon. A deep shadow lurked over the range in the distance, and even far away as the great strokes of lightening split the black cloud struck a lingering fear in him.
Old evil dwelt there, he felt. And from the tips of his hair to his toes he could feel it crawling across the land with greedy fingers. No evil here indeed. There was great evil, it seemed. Perhaps far greater than even he had ever seen, for it felt descended. An evil born of greater evils, and with the fuel of all of its predecessors driving the crushing force behind it.
"I do not know this place," Loki said to himself. He could feel his brows draw on his face, and he scowled. Here he thought he knew all folds of the realms. But no land he had scoured over ever reeked with such conflict as this. Yet nor was this a new world, for he felt in it a deep reverberating sound. It was the sound of creation, deep down beneath his feet, and the sheer concussion of it curried favor to the idea that the world was very old indeed.
"That rings true," a clear voice said from behind him. He resisted the urge to whirl in a start, but turned quickly in his surprise nonetheless. He had not seen any other in the other chambers adjoining the courtyard, nor had he heard anyone enter. "For none in this place know you."
As it was, a man stepped out of the shadow of a column to face him. He had been there the whole time, Loki wagered, for even in standing he was completely silent. Not even the assassins of Asgard could manage such a feat without either great frustration or death. A human he looked, but he poised himself carefully unlike most mortals, as a hunter shifting through the mists of a wood.
Which, in all truth, made sense, for Loki had seen around them on the slopes of the great mountain foot they were perched on a forest. Hunter, perhaps this man was, but a Ranger seemed more likely. Hunters sometimes made noise to startle their kills. Rangers moved without leaving sign that they had passed, and Loki knew if the man wasn't in front of him he would go back to disappearing.
Loki did not recognize the faded tree that the man's tunic was emblazoned with, nor did he ask how he had come to be out of his own armor.
"I suppose as a stranger, and likely a prisoner, it may be in vain to ask where I am," he said to the Ranger. Weaponless, armorless, and nigh almost powerless, he had no chance of defeating the man save for brute strength. And he doubted that would get him far, not with the man with a sword at his hip.
The man's keen gray eyes looked at him curiously. "You are no prisoner here," he said. "Though many of my company wish you to be."
Loki's eyebrows rose at that. "Justifiably, I presume."
"In their eyes perhaps." The man shrugged a shoulder, his sage colored cloak unfurling around him. "But in my eyes this is not the case. And they will obey my orders for trust that my observations see what they do not. Though in you they question what is to be seen, and in such dark days they are not to be blamed for their suspicions."
Loki looked back to the clouds in the east, under which a far off red glow lurked. "Dark days indeed." He looked back to his consort. "But what observations have you of me that stay your hand? Surely if distrust was so rampant your blade would happily be whetted against enemy blood."
"Ah," the fair man said, a faint and almost imperceptible smile on his face, "but an enemy you are not. For ne'er have I ever, in all my great and many wanderings and battles, seen armor such as yours. Nor is your kind familiar to me, for though you are no elf as I had first thought, you are not a man of the South or the East. And your face is too fair for the men that remain in the North."
"And I am no man of your own company," Loki supplied, his eyes lingering on the silver tree adorning the man's breast. "So, Leader of some Company, who am I?"
Silence settled about them for a moment, and far away the shrill exalt of an eagle echoed against the mountains. "If any guess were mine," the man said, "I would say you were a figure of legend. Fair and ancient you feel, with music about you that runs deeper than any elf magic. I would say you were one of the Valar, if any of their blessed kind were still among us. But they are no longer, so I cannot say who or what you are."
"Which you have come to ask of me."
"Yes." He crossed his arms over his chest, and took lazy steps into the grass where Loki stood. "So if you tell me your name, I will tell you where you are." The wind curled into the courtyard, brushing the Ranger's mousy hair into his face so that Loki could not see his eyes.
He considered his options. If even he knew not where he was, then it was highly unlikely that Odin would ever find him. And when he left there was little chance of him ever returning, or of anyone else from Asgard ever following in his footsteps. Any raiment he left behind here would likely go unseen for the rest of eternity, and any connection with the other nine realms forever unseen. Risk in this venture on a large scale seemed mild.
Besides: his own name could not hurt him.
"My name is Loki," he answered, which seemed to please the man somewhat. He nodded, leaning against the carved rail that enclosed the yard from the lower levels of the small city as he seemed to think. The pause did not make Loki question the truth of his promise, for it looked merely that the man was searching for the proper words.
"And at the moment, you are in the city of Amon Din in the kingdom of Gondor. Where what little of Numenor's kingdom remains in Middle Earth."
Loki would have cursed Midgard until Ragnarok came if he wasn't so interested in everything the man had just said. Apparently the history of this Middle Earth might be a great bit more interesting than Midgard's own, which was full of only selfish consuming violence towards people who were but different faces of themselves. Somewhere small in him a memory stirred, but he could not grasp it quite yet for risk of smoldering it completely.
Apparently catching Loki's somewhat vacant expression, the Ranger laughed. "Which, from the look of it, only tells you very little. But I fear I am no laureate of ancient history. I am but a Captain, and that is all I can offer you."
"Is it?" Loki inquired, his voice betraying what he had really intended. The question was meant to be just that; but something in him made him pitch his voice low and lilting. He really didn't have much interest in what the Captain from Gondor could offer him... or was he? There as a small transparent lie in the Captain's statement, and with a quick glance at the man's hands Loki could see that he was not merely the warrior that he painted himself to be. There was a tenderness about the tips of his fingers that most men didn't carry: it was almost always the sign of a scholar, or one with a great respect for books. So this Captain, regardless of whether or not he was the best of their laureate, was at least a man of reading.
The young man looked back at him questioningly, but in his eyes there was something intrigued that was shining. He wet his lips before he spoke next, seemingly wanting to be very careful with what came out of his mouth. It was likely a wise choice: many others had made the mistake of not doing so in Loki's company and had more than once suffered because of it. "To my knowledge." His voice was quiet, but his eyes strong and defiant.
Loki straightened up, taking a deep breath of the clean air and looking out at the landscape fleetingly before looking back to the Gondor Captain. "Then I believe that this may be an opportunity for both of us to expand on our knowledge," he said, looking sidelong at his guard. "But, respect and dues aside, I cannot do that always calling you Captian." He paused, chuckling low and letting a smile tilt his lips. "Or perhaps you would like that."
"No," the man replied with a smile that said much. He looked at Loki's face for a long moment, as if etching it into his memory. "I am Faramir, son of Denethor."
"It is my honor, Faramir, son of Denethor," he said with a short bow. He may not have meant it, but if he played his role correctly, something fortuitous could come of all the mess that had been made. Short-lived most likely, but at least he would do his best to make it pleasant for himself as he healed and tried to plot out what he would make of his future.
A warm hand at his elbow brought him up from his bow, and they looked face to face closely for the first time. Loki would never forget it throughout all of his planned and unplanned future. "Nay, Loki, I believe the honor is mine."