It was an abnormally bright day in the Realm Eternal. Every spire and facade gleamed in the brilliant sunlight, and the wispy clouds that usually scuttled across the sky were nowhere in sight. Birds danced on soft air currents, people milled about in Asgard’s busy markets, chatting amicably, and even the bards seemed to play a lighter tune than usual. The whole realm was in good spirits, it appeared. It was as if every living thing knew that today was the day that Loki died.
While the Realm outside danced, the disgraced prince sat slumped against the grimy wall of Asgard’s temporary prisoner holding chamber, chains piled loosely around his ankles, the only light coming from a few slats in the mortar of the wall. A puddle of something dark and wet, fed by an equally suspicious drip from the rafters, lapped at his bare and bloodied feet. This was a far cry from the relatively luxurious prison cell in which he’d been kept while awaiting trial, but those who made it to the holding chambers were never there for long. What need was there for comfort if it only housed the condemned?
The trial for the Battle of Midgard had gone just about as well as Loki could have hoped. A distant All Father, staring down at his adopted son with all the affection a man might feel for the arrow speared through his leg, spoke words without the slightest trace of emotion. There were no talks of second chances, no promises of a triumphant return, none of the privileges given to Asgard’s golden prince after he’d declared war on a realm. There was only a swift and merciless verdict.
Execution wasn’t the outcome Loki had desired, but he couldn’t say he was surprised. In fact, it was almost a relief. Odin’s final ruling brought a swift end to a thousand-year long conflict between the father and son, in which Odin neither praised nor scolded, neither loved nor hated, his Jotunn child. It was a wiping away of the grey that had been Loki’s entire life. Yes, his own father may have signed his death warrant, but at least he finally knew, once and for all, what Odin thought of him. What Odin had always thought of him. There was no grey this time. Loki was less than his brother, less than the citizens of Asgard, less than even the bilgesnipe who roamed Asgard’s forests. In Odin’s eyes, Loki had been a political pawn and nothing more.
Now, as he waited to die, he tried to summon his hate, his bitterness, his vitriol, some strong feeling that would urge him to action, that would lead to his own self-preservation. But in this dark pit, the lowest of lows, he found none. His childhood home didn’t want him. His ancestral home despised him. And out there among the stars, a mad beast with a thirst for revenge waited to devour the God of Mischief should he stray from Asgard’s protection. No, this execution was the logical conclusion to the liar’s story. All he could do now was wait.
As he sat there, lost in thought, resigned to his death, the heavy iron door to the cell creaked open. A sliver of golden light spilled in, admitting a delicate but sure pair of feet. Loki knew without looking who his visitor was.
“Have I made you proud, Mother?” he croaked, voice hoarse from disuse. He had not spoken a word since his capture on Midgard—not to his guards, not in defense at his own trial, not even to mock his brother (who seemed to be the only one distraught by the ruling). Frigga crossed the filthy stones without making a sound, coming to rest beside her youngest son. He couldn’t see anything but her silhouette in this poor lighting, but he could picture the melancholy expression on her face. She gathered her skirts in one hand and slid down the wall beside him, so their shoulders touched.
“I would tell you not to make things worse, but it seems the worst has happened,” she answered quietly. Loki laughed humorlessly.
“You could change his mind if you wished,” the Jotunn murmured. “I know you could.”
Of this whole ordeal, Frigga’s silence was perhaps the most upsetting thing to Loki. She had been the one to raise him, to teach him her craft, to comfort him when he was injured and to encourage him to get back up again. Where Odin had been indifferent, Frigga had been loving. Where Odin had ignored, Frigga had lavished attention. Her silent agreement to Loki’s death was a betrayal, and it sat like a knife between his ribs.
There was a pause before Frigga answered, in which she withdrew a glowing stone from a pocket in her skirt. Its viridian light was subdued, pulsing gently in the dim chamber, but Loki knew it well. He didn’t have to see much to know the rune he would find inscribed on its face. Frigga turned the stone over in her slim fingers, caressing its worn surface.
“The All Father does what he believes is best for Asgard. I may offer insight, but his is the final decision.” She held the runestone up to catch the sparse beams of light in the chamber. The facets of the rune glimmered, a single vertical line with two angled lines intersecting at each end. Eihwaz. “Do you remember this?”
“Yes,” Loki said simply, not in the mood for a nostalgia trip. Of course he remembered it. He’d carried it everywhere with him as a child, in a hidden pocket in the breast of his tunic. It was the first object he’d ever enchanted, and he’d thought of it as a good luck charm. The boy had spent weeks in the palace’s library surrounded by grimoires and Elven texts, trying unsuccessfully to get the damn runestone to shine. In the end, after multiple fires from miscast enchantments, the spell stuck. It was poorly crafted and gave off more of a sickly glow, rather than the bright light he’d been aiming for. By all accounts it was a failure, but young Loki had carried that stone around for the longest time.
“You wanted to impress me, so you learned the spell and cast it all by yourself,” Frigga sighed fondly. Loki’s lip twitched into a ghost of smile. “You were so proud.”
“And Thor was so jealous. He wanted to know why he couldn’t make rocks glow,” Loki added. In reality, Loki had been more proud of upsetting his brother than actually enchanting the runestone. But the way Frigga had smiled when he presented her with the gift still filled him with warmth.
Ah, but what good it did him now. Thor walked free and Loki was doomed to die. The smile thinned into pursed lips, and Loki’s hands balled into fists at his sides. “Mother, why did you bring me this?”
Frigga reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, but Loki jerked away. The knife in his chest twisted deeper; her presence felt false. She had not fought on his behalf in his farce of a trial, and now she sat in the proverbial mercy seat at his side to ease her guilt. The bitterness Loki couldn’t direct at Odin rose like bile in his throat.
“This rock went everywhere with you, once,” Frigga continued, seemingly unfazed by his reaction. “It brought you luck.”
Loki scoffed. “And you think luck will save me now?”
Frigga turned to him then, and even through the dimness Loki could feel the intensity of her stare.
“You’ve always been smart, Loki. You’ve done things on your own, and it's gotten you into trouble more times than I can count. But I need you to do one last thing.”
Outside, Loki could hear the armored footsteps of the guards. His time grew short. In an instant, Frigga had snatched up his hands and pressed the runestone into his palm.
“One last thing for me, Loki. And you can't do it on your own.”
The doors opened, revealing the silhouetted forms of the Einherjar. It was time.
Frigga stood, pulling Loki with her, their hands still clasped around the stone. In the light, Loki could clearly see the fervor in his mother’s eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, to ask her what the Hel she was talking about, but she shushed him.
“Carry this stone, and take my last piece of advice: don't do this on your own."
He wanted to ask her, What? What am I not to do on my own? Die? but the guards moved to pull him away. Frigga dropped her hands, leaving the stone with Loki, who managed to discreetly tuck it in the waistband of his pants. Only when they steered him into the prison proper did Loki’s eyes leave hers.
The corridor that led outside seemed longer than Loki remembered. On either side of him, prisoners in gilded cages sneered and laughed. He knew of the crimes they’d committed, the murdering of diplomats and the desecration of entire villages across the realms. Far more heinous crimes than those the beast had bid him to carry out, but these inmates were lucky enough to not be the monstrous bastard son of the All Father.
Ages seemed to pass before he was led, shackles and all, into the sun. The courtyard was small, as the King of Asgard prided himself on his mercy and executions were a rarity. Only a small few were in attendance: Heimdall, no doubt there to make sure Loki didn’t escape with trickery; the executioner, carrying an axe that any berserker would have killed to wield; and the All Father himself. Together, with his four-guard escort, there were eight of them in the spacious yard.
Loki had to wonder if Thor had been invited. Part of him wished Thor was actually there.
He was pushed to his knees at the feet of the executioner and hit the ground with a jarring thud. The vibrations traveled through his legs, up his torso, and all of sudden Loki couldn’t hear a thing. Strange that the simple act of falling to the ground had disoriented him so. He blinked hard against the light (he’d never noticed just how bright it was), and though he could make out the moving of the All Father’s lips above him, he didn’t hear anything.
Had they drugged him? Was this their idea of a small mercy? His body was going numb now, and he couldn’t even mock Odin for his cowardice, as his tongue had, apparently, turned to lead in his mouth. The only thing that seemed real in this whole ordeal was the runestone, warm and solid against his leg.
The executioner forced Loki’s head onto the chopping block, but there was no need for force. Loki’s body was no longer under his control, the ringing in his ears now deafening. The runestone seemed to vibrate under his waistband and he focused on it, tried to reach for it, tried to ground himself before he was gone forever…
And the next thing he knew, Loki was falling. It was dangling off the end of the Bifrost all over again, looking up at a wretched Thor and a stone-faced Odin, it was feeling the gentle nothingness of the Void swallowing him whole, it was tumbling down down down until he wasn’t sure if he was falling or floating. It was feeling nothing and feeling everything all at once.
Asgard’s light faded to blackness, the ringing became a roar that became silence, and Loki’s fall finally ended in a crash.