Descending to the lowest depths of Odin’s vault, Loki made his way to stand before the Casket of Ancient Winters, noting in passing that everything had been cleaned and restored to its former pristine glory. No trace of ice, or the smallest puddle of melt water remained. The bodies and the mangled parts of bodies might never have been. Should not have been, but he could not think about that now.
Bitter cold seeped from the Casket, burning the back of his throat with the taste of magic, and at its heart was the howling storm, barely contained.
As a boy, he had been fascinated and fearful of the power he could sense in it. Thor had scoffed, of course. To him it was just a glowing blue box, too cold to touch. As cold as the grasp of a frost giant.
His hands hovered, trembled. I have to know. Above and behind him, he heard the vault doors opening, the locks disengaging as spells of knowing and protecting responded to the All-Father’s arrival.
“Stop!” Odin’s command rang out, echoing from the walls, urgent and imbued with his will. But Loki had his hands on the Casket, was lifting it from its place and it was too late to stop. Too late to keep its cold from flowing into him, chilling his flesh, freezing his heart, staining him blue. His vision blurred, and when it sharpened again, the chamber was brighter, its colors strangely changed.
“Am I cursed?” he asked his father, scrambling at one last hope, one shrinking alternative.
“No.” Odin’s voice was reluctant.
“What am I?” His world was ice. Thin ice, ready to shatter into sharp, glittering shards.
“You’re my son.” Loki was known throughout the realms as a talented liar, and he knew the knack of lying with the truth.
Besides, what son of Odin had night blue skin, traced with fine lines? He did not want to see it. Instead, he concentrated on the Casket, on its storm. He could feel it raging. It wanted him to open it, unleash Winter and death and destruction and- Carefully, he replaced it on its pedestal. Loki was Loki, and he did what he wanted.
The storm was still with him, though, as he turned to face the man he’d always thought to be his father. There was no shock on Odin’s face at seeing him like this. He’d known. Had his whole life been a lie? “What more than that?”
“The Casket wasn’t the only thing you took from Jotunheim that day, was it?” He stalked toward his father/Not my father/ wanting to scream, wanting break things.
“No.” The All-Father’s single eye gazes past Loki, seemingly into the past.
“In the aftermath of battle, I went into the temple, and I found a baby. Small, for a giant’s offspring. Abandoned, suffering, left to die. Laufey’s son.”
“Laufey’s son.” Laufey the King of Jotunheim. Not just a monster but a prince of monsters. Father always told us we were both born to be kings.
“Why?” It made no sense. None. Loki felt tears sliding down his face. Not hot tears, but cold. “You were knee-deep in Jotun blood. Why would you take me?”
“You were an innocent child..” Odin’s shoulders slumped in exhaustion, as if the weight of Asgard pressed down on him. For a moment, Loki felt sympathy. But there was guilt in his eyes, and he avoided Loki’s gaze.
“No. You took me for a purpose.” Laufey’s son? Why would Odin take up the son of his defeated enemy? Laufey had taken Odin’s eye. Odin had taken the power of Laufey’s realm, and his son. There had to be some other reason. “What was it?”
Odin looked at him, at a loss for for the right words, or for the right lie?
“Tell me!” Loki howled, the bitter wind of winter in his cry.
“I thought we could unite our kingdoms, one day. Bring about an alliance. Bring about a permanent peace. Through you. But those plans no longer matter.”
“So I am no more than another stolen relic? Locked up, here, until you might have use of me?” The other relics in the vault thrummed softly, responding to his spiraling anger.
“Why do you twist my words?”
“You could have told me what I was, from the beginning. Why didn’t you?” How could you lie to me all these years?
“You’re my son. I wanted only to protect you from the truth.”
“What? Because I’m the monster parents tell their children about at night?”
“No, no...” Odin sighed, looking tired and frustrated. Like his son, his real son, he had never been gifted with words.
“You know, it all makes sense now. Why you favored Thor all these years. Because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard.”
At his back, the Casket roared silently, and other powers stirred and struggled against Odin’s wards.
“That’s enough!” Taking Loki firmly by the arms, Odin cast a familiar spell, binding his magic. As if he were still a child, out of control.
“Father!” The protest slipped out before he could stop it.
“You’re upset. We’ll discuss this when we are both calmer.” Falling back into this role of stern guardian seemed to help Odin find his confidence again, though he still seemed very tired.
“I think I have a right to be upset! I am not some child to be hushed and sent to my room!”
“But this is not the place, Loki,” Odin’s voice was implacable. “You know that.”
He did know that. It was not just theft that the vault was meant to protect against. Many of the items kept here had something akin to a will of their own. Drawing in a deep breath, Loki realized he felt a little calmer. He still felt furious that his parents had lied to him, but the storm was gone. Which meant Odin had been right to seal his magic. It didn't mean he had to like it.
“Fine. Not here,” he growled, rubbing his hands together as if the blue would wipe off. “I hate this!”
“Well-” Odin’s tone suggested he was about to make some wry comment, but instead he sat down rather suddenly, his expression changing from amusement to alarm.
“Father?” Loki knelt quickly, reaching out to support him. It flashed through his mind that his touch might burn Odin with cold, as Volstagg had been burned, but it did not. Fortunately. But something was wrong.
“I think perhaps I’ve delayed the Odinsleep a bit too long,” Asgard’s king admitted wearily, sliding bonelessly out of Loki’s grasp to sprawl against the biting edges of the stone stairway.
“Father?” Loki shook him, let his hand flutter up to check that he was still breathing, then turned towards the door, about to call for help when it suddenly occurred to him what was likely to happen if the guards rushed in and found Odin unconscious in the presence of a Jotun. With the recent increased tensions, he might wind up dismembered before he could explain. Not that anyone would believe it anyway.
Still, he needed help. Removing his coat, he rolled it into a pad and placed it gently under Odin’s head, then walked to the door, opening it just a handspan.
“Would you send someone for my mother, and send her in when she arrives, please?” He was pleased that he managed to sound casual. Nothing wrong with a little family get-together in the vault.
“Of course, my prince.” The guard turned at the sound of his voice, but Loki was careful to keep out of sight.
“No one else is to come in,” he commanded. “And make haste. Father needs her.” Loki needed her.
“Yes, my prince.” The closing door cut off anything else the man had to say, and Loki went to sit next to the man who had stolen him, and raised him, lied to him and loved him. He thought about Thor, stripped of his power and banished to Midgard, and wondered if his arrogant, brash brother was having as much difficulty as he was today. Probably not. Everything always worked out for Thor.