At long last, Loki had done it. Weary with the boredom of ruling a stagnant kingdom, his experiments with seidr had finally produced tangible results. The two years that had passed since he had faked his death and assumed the throne in the likeness of Odin were not resigned to be fruitless. Loki’s future was brighter for this success. The past was locked away, hidden, forgotten about. It no longer mattered; it no longer ruled him.
It didn’t start this way, of course. The experimentation was born from tedium and apathy for the day-to-day workings of Asgard, not from any great goal or mission. Fucking around , as Thor’s beloved Midgardians might put it. Loki found he liked the phrase. But the diversion had resulted in something that might prove useful, and Loki always found a way to work the unexpected to his advantage.
His tenure as “Odin” had been remarkably ordinary. Nobody had noticed a thing when Loki assumed his father’s carapace.
In the recent weeks, Odin had become more reclusive, more removed from his duties. The Aesir had erroneously assumed this change was due to waxing grief for his dead son, which made Loki laugh. Did they really think Odin had such a high opinion of him to grieve?
Much to Loki’s dismay, however, the real Odin did love his adopted son, enough to dissociate and become sickeningly somber and distant after Loki had faked his death. Luckily for Loki, this unexpectedly weakened Odin had its advantages; bewitching the King of Asgard and sending him to Midgard for safekeeping was blissfully easy. The old man hadn’t even put up a struggle. How pathetic. Usurping his throne was easier than redecorating the gaudy place.
As for the other beloved fixture of Asgard, Loki tried not to think about the effect his death had on Thor. He didn’t think about Thor at all. He made himself believe it was effortless to ignore his brother’s aura emanating from the very walls of the palace.
Sif and the Warriors Three had expressed their happiness that the mourning Odin was once again fit to rule, after Loki had dispatched the Allfather to Midgard and taken his place. He had sent them away to do what they did best: “fixing” problems that may or may not have been legitimate on other realms. The real Odin had allowed far too much free will to the lesser planets in the recent centuries, and to the Warriors Three themselves. Loki sent Thor’s greatest confidants away with supreme joy. A double victory, as it allowed him to bend the workings of Asgard to his own will without interference or questioning.
Loki was good, too good, at play-acting as his once-father. Nobody had noticed any difference when the crown had metamorphosed right in front of them. While it was thrilling to sit on the throne and give commands, Loki resented that he had to pretend to be someone else in order to be king.
All of that aside, he still wasn’t ready to face Asgard proudly as himself just yet. They were not ready to accept him. He did not know if they would ever be.
Loki cast off the illusion of his father once back in the king’s private chambers, feeling blessed to be again in his own skin and freed from his daily duties. He sat at a large desk strewn with books and notes and parchment. An empty chair sat opposite him, silhouetted by the giant roaring fireplace heating the cavernous bedroom. Maybe it was from spending so much time in another’s body, but Loki found that he craved warmth on his skin more than he used to now.
The curtains were all drawn, the door locked with the strongest magic. His privacy was absolute. Nobody was deluded enough to believe they could breach the wards protecting Odin’s rooms, and nobody had any reason to. He was good at being king, but not so foolish as to put all of his trust in others. The room had become the only place Loki could be who he most wanted to be. The firelight played on his set, contemplative face as he concentrated on his latest experiment and spoke the words aloud.
The magical double glimmered into place before him.
If anyone could have seen him now, it would appear that Loki had merely conjured a mirror. The only indication that this was a separate, physical being, rather than one of Loki’s normal delusions, was that the double’s hair was a fraction shorter, his smirk a bit less pronounced. Loki thought him perfect. And what a joy to look upon such perfection after far too long in another’s body, in another’s mind.
He wasn’t literally a Loki transported through the hours from yesterday, of course. Loki could not manipulate time so, nor would he want to. It was only a copy, an embodiment of who he was the day before, yesterday’s soul residing in one of the shell bodies that he was so adept at conjuring.
“Who are you?” Loki kept his voice controlled as he stared at the duplicate, but his heart raced with astonishment that this had actually worked.
“I am Loki, King of Asgard.”
The almost-clone had replied to his query in exactly the way Loki had anticipated. Yes, the victories of today had been a breakthrough. He was expecting this; he had prepared to declare himself king to his creator were he successful, to ensure that it was really him with all of his memories and consciousness and plans.
But most of all, he was simply dying to finally be able to say those words to another set of ears. Even if they were his own.
“Yes, you are, my beautiful Loki. And you have succeeded. We have done something unprecedented.”
Two identical wry smiles erupted from the faces.
It had taken Loki over a year to synthesize the seidr into a working consciousness. And here was the result of all his hard work, daring to sit casually before him. And Loki wasn’t going to stop there, he must keep pushing, keep chasing the limit of his capabilities. At the least, he was one colossal step closer to revealing his identity and claiming his birthright; to throwing off the old cloak forever and stamping Odin’s memory to dust.
Pleased with his work, Loki spoke the words that would vanish the simulacrum into nothingness.
Moving forward with this initiative would be more rewarding and more dangerous, he thought, but for now, this was enough. Physical proof that Loki could create beings from the past with only his memories; living empathy, almost.
This discovery certainly verified his status as the most powerful sorcerer that Asgard had ever seen. He knew this already, of course, but receiving the recognition now wouldn’t do him any good. To Asgard, Loki was dead. And, even as prideful as he was, he couldn’t yet risk blowing his cover for credit he already knew he deserved. His glorious experimentation and success would have to remain a secret for now.
Getting to this point had been an arduous process.
The magic required to animate a fully self-aware and self-motivated consciousness was much more complex than his old specialty of simply creating intangible clones for mischief or for battle. He first had to make them solid, capable of touching and being touched.
This was the easy part. Loki had mastered it long ago at the behest of Thor, who, despite being the far less cunning of the brothers, was perfectly capable of imagining what this gimmick could be used for. Frigga quietly assisted her son. She knew the magic she taught Loki would be used for fun and trickery, among other less innocent things she ignored for all their sakes, but her own pride and curiosity in his powers won over any protective instincts.
Loki was always quietly thrilled when she nudged him toward a solution to something he had been toiling over all day. They both knew he would never ask for help, no matter how much he needed it, but would gratefully accept it when freely given.
The physical aspect of the manifestation may have been simple, but it was only one facet of what Loki was trying to do. The other part, the inner part, had taken the better part of a year to perfect.
Creating a phantom mind with its own free will was his first true goal. The idea had come to him after growing bored with being Odin day after day; he had needed something for his brain to gnaw on during those tedious Security Council meetings, and having something to actually do- this was the part that excited him the most.
He probably could have reached this point in half the time, had he been spared the monotony of ruling a kingdom, but alas, that was his doing as well. Loki could have escaped to another realm to live out his days unimpeded by family, unimpeded by duty, but no. He had wanted the throne, he had wanted it for all of his life, and now that he had it, he had to live with the consequences.
And though he was loathe to participate in the routine everyday dullness of being a king, especially in the guise of someone he currently detested , the notion of anyone else doing it was abhorrent to him.
Predestination was simple; this had been imbued in all of his clones for centuries, as a part of the conjuring spell. Loki appreciated the irony of how many times he had been in control of his own destiny in this way-the only way he had ever been allowed. But blending predestination with free will was the tricky part. Maintaining the ability for a clone to chose his own actions without losing the essence of personality was a challenge he welcomed.
He had started on animals: impregnating the body of a dog with the mind of a snake. Loki had been a snake enough times to know what it felt like. The laughter that escaped his chambers resonated through the halls when he finally succeeded. It caused a great many questions and odd looks when Odin showed up for council the next day in a much brighter mood than normal.
The idea of putting an animal consciousness into one of the more humanoid prisoners in Asgard’s cells was seductive to him, at first, but he decided the risk of being found out was too great. And though it crossed his mind, Loki would not suffer the indignity, if only to himself, of watching his own body writhing about the floor as the dog had. No, he was good and done with animal brains after that one test.
Ah... what about time?
The temporal aspect of this experimentation had not been lost on Loki. Time crystallized thoughts into memories, synthesizing them into something that could be called upon later. Consciousness, life itself, was fleeting and amorphous in nature, and it changed with each passing moment. To truly capture the essence of a brain, the fourth dimension had to be breached. This was where the idea of summoning a past Loki had occurred to him.
And, if the events of yesterday were to be believed, it had been a rousing success.
Asgard could last another day without their king. Loki had another idea.
He would next try using an identical clone of himself with someone else’s persona, someone that he knew very well. It had occurred to him that creating a Loki with this own personality would prove nothing-how would he know if the clone was exercising free will if it was doing exactly what he himself would do? No, it had to be someone else. Someone with a distinct disposition that could not possibly be mistaken for Loki.
He knew it had to be this way, but this created a challenge of its own, especially to one as self-minded and resentful of others as himself. To create any believable facsimile of a mind, that mind must be known in whole, the empathy for the other absolute. Every star, every moon, every fleck of shining dust reflected perfectly through the prism of the sorcerer. Loki scowled. He had but one option.
Loki had created Thor’s specter many times before, for assorted nefarious reasons, but it all felt very distant now. They had been apart for longer stretches of time throughout the millennia, but this was different. Loki’s feigned death, deceitful and shameful and cowardly as it was, created the detachment he had so craved from his brother. He had gotten exactly what he had asked for.
And now that he had it so profoundly, he no longer knew how he felt about it. Time was not stretching the way that it used to, and a wrongness pervaded the freedom he now had. Two years was not the insignificant lapse in judgment it used to be. He felt as if he was aging in reverse, as if each year felt longer the more he had endured. Despite this malformation in perception, Loki knew that a million years could pass and the radiant specter of his brother would never wane from his mind.
Full of sour dread, Loki set to work manipulating the spell to create a Thor with Loki’s body. It was just experimentation, he reminded himself. Science. He tried to push away the intrusive thoughts, but they were relentless.
-this is the closest you’ve been to your brother in years, this is betrayal of his trust, oh Norns why can’t it be anybody else-
He tensed his muscles and set his focus on the embodiment of Thor he wanted to give life to. Not the one he cruelly left on Svartalfheim, nor the bullheaded, egotistical one from before he was banished to Midgard. Loki didn’t think he could bear to hear either of those spitting words from his mouth; they had done enough damage already. He settled on the Thor he had the fondest memories of, from when they were younger and yet unsullied. An adolescent Thor right on the cusp of manhood. This, Loki could do, though it would take every speck of his limited empathy.
As soon as he decided upon it, he felt the collective suppressed emotions of the past two years erupt within him. This, he needed to do-just imagine the catharsis. Loki was feeling fiercely euphoric to be giving into his longings, to be bringing to his greatest guilty pleasure to reality. He shivered with the thrill of doing something so deeply wrong , so wicked. After years being Odin, he felt like himself again.
A lingering wrongness, a guilt perhaps, pervaded Loki’s excitement as he prepared to recount the incantation.
Suddenly, a thought struck him, and the wrongness vanished. If this was the Thor he wanted, well, this was the Loki he had to want too.
Loki laughed, a little wildly. He had forgotten that he was ever so young, that he ever looked so pure. It was a joke, a misdirection, obviously. Even as he grew close to adulthood, he retained the ability to feign innocence when needed, a skill he exercised often. Now, with Thor’s mind inside him, the young, blooming Loki was more virtuous than the real one had ever been. The boy stared down at his body, and then at his maker in wonder before breaking out into a massive grin.
“Woah! Brother, this is your best trick yet!”
Well. It was certainly less weird than seeing an exact copy of himself say that.
The words were in Loki’s higher voice, but the words were unmistakably Thor’s. Of course Thor would think this funny. Did they not spend all of their time in childhood doing exactly this, figuring out new ways to trick their family and friends? He had created an adolescent Thor and put him exactly where Thor would’ve wanted to be.
Unconvinced of his own motives as he was, Loki could not help but feel distinctly proud of his creation. He had barely said anything at all, and yet Loki knew this was Thor, all of his memories and understanding and love wrapped up into this one gleaming luminosity. The light residing within Loki’s own younger visage drew up too many confusing, uncontrolled feelings for Loki to understand. He didn’t know whether it was merely pride in his magical ability or pride in his complete understanding of his brother, and he didn’t want to dwell on the thought. The irresolution didn’t stop the warmth spreading through him as he gazed upon the face he had left behind, knowing what was beneath.
The Thor-Loki ran his hands over himself, aghast at the concept of finding himself in a body so familiar in sight and so alien in feel.
“What did you do? You look funny… Hel, no wonder you’re so gloomy all the time in this body! How do you hold yourself up with no muscles?”
Loki was not about to waste this opportunity humoring an apparition that could not have any bearing on reality. He had a purpose to fulfill. “Thor, how do you feel?”
“Er... normal, I suppose? Other than physically, of course. I really do not know how you live like this. How am I supposed to feel?”
Loki saw no reason to lie or keep secrets. This was just an illusion, still perfectly under his control, of course. It existed only for him. “You are supposed to feel like a fourteen-year-old Thor. You’ve just started to master your combat training. You are predisposed with your destiny of killing giants and bedding maidens. You cannot wait to be king one day.” Loki left out any beliefs he held about what the young Thor thought of his family. That wasn’t important.
“Uh... yes, yes, that sounds about right to me. What have you done? Are you my brother? You look like him, except...” Thor’s confusion and innocence hit Loki like a hammer.
Both smiles faltered.
I am not your brother, and I will never be.
“Brother? Are you well? I… uh… can you change me back? This is strange…”
Something stirred within Loki and he could no longer bear to look at the ghost. Maybe the small semblance of conscience he retained was rearing its ugly head, or maybe Thor was still more present in his mind than Loki liked to believe. He vanished the demon with a needlessly sharp wave of his hand.
His elation at creating a fully realized personality from naught but memories twisted within him, like his organs had suddenly shifted positions with each other. Everything was still there, he was still whole. But all that had transpired since this version of Thor had ceased to exist left Loki’s memories of him deformed, distorted beyond comprehension.
This wasn’t the Thor Loki knew now, it was only the last vestiges of a happy memory, uncomplicated and pure. Loki could ignore the pain of their past, but not forget it. He still hungered for what he and Thor had lost, but satisfaction was not in his destiny anymore.
Find me on tumblr as @stormtongue.
A huge, huge thanks to @splitting-infinities on tumblr for being the best beta I could ever want. You get me, brother.
Comments are very much appreciated! This is my first fic and my first time writing... well, anything non-scientific in ~5 years. So thanks for even making it this far through my rambling nonsense.
Warnings for each chapter will be posted as they are needed.
Chapter 2: Two
Loki was resigned to not think about the events of yesterday. His feelings towards Thor were not something to be examined, or ideally thought upon at all. Dwelling on the past was a mistake. It wouldn’t, couldn’t help him moving forward, and he knew he could only stop the intrusive, betraying emotions through action. Idleness was death.
After abruptly terminating the Thor-Loki with another muttered spell, the deity had gone to bed in a haste. He was not willing to admit this wretched emotional weakness to anyone, least of all himself. Sleep was the only place that offered a chance of peace. He’d hoped to wake up the next day with excitement alone for the next step of his magical development.
He knew Thor would haunt his dreams given the freedom to, and he quashed this before it was allowed to happen.
To his great satisfaction, the melancholy of the previous night had disappeared after a draught-induced, Thor-less sleep. When the page knocked on his door an hour after sunrise to bring breakfast and inquire as to his intentions for the day, Loki (almost forgetting to take on the guise of Odin again) sent him away in an annoyed haste. He shut the heavy black curtains, preemptively plunging the room into twilight.
His fervor had returned, and Loki easily decided Asgard must wait today. They were used to his absence by now anyway, he thought. What were a few upset factions for the advancement of magic Loki would never share with another, and use only for his own gain? He had woken up with a new development fully formed in his mind and would not wait until night to test it. Gungnir waited, abandoned and forgotten, in a corner.
His mind raced with the possibilities now open to him, an ardent eagerness in his veins. He had not even managed to dress or eat before returning to the desk for a new day’s study.
If he could conjure up an incarnation of the past, why not one from a future that didn’t exist yet? He could not see the future, of course, so the phantom would be more of an extrapolation of his current state than an oracle, but that was irrelevant. Surely it would provide some insight into his future reign, simply through its own existence. At the least, Loki had to try it, even if he was unsure what the result might look like.
He set to work modifying the enchantment he was starting to become intimately familiar with. It would work, it had to work. How different could he possibly be in but a few days’ time? His personality, his mannerisms and consciousness, couldn’t truly be changed so quickly. His range of emotions, his potential for feeling and acting must be the same. Nothing was being transformed, he was simply watering blooms of his future condition yet resting below the surface, willing them to burst forth from the soil into existence.
What he was conjuring was himself, of course, it was always him; if he could truly recreate Thor, fabricating his future self would be comparatively easy. His confidence was true and his intoxication in his own skill was building. He had done wonders when he was in this hyper-focused state. Today would be no different.
After a short hour of study, the incantation was ready. It was nearing midmorning and the birdsong outside his window had long since died out. Loki closed his eyes and focused on his expectations of the next few weeks. Instead of memory, he summoned hope. Pushing further with his magic, plotting his legitimate takeover of Asgard, possibly setting that plan into motion.
He declared the spell with pronounced deliberation, summoning his own future with reckless abandon.
The figure standing before him was an exquisitely, painfully flawless simulacrum of Loki. Beyond even the god’s formidable expectations of himself. Tall and proud, dressed as a king and adorned with an elaborate horned crown, a noble scowl on his mouth and a shrouded fear in his eyes. The only thing marring the creature’s visage was a fresh, barely-closed gash across his cheek. Blue.
No, no, no… this couldn’t be right. He was supposed to be in Loki’s body as it was now, disheveled and slumped from sleep, study, and deliberation. He only wanted to change the mind, to age it a few days. It shouldn’t have affected the clone’s appearance. The copy for which no original exists...
And yet, Loki stood adorned as king, even though he still should have been masquerading as Odin in that crown. Loki had only scried a few weeks into the future, not distant enough that this was a reasonable outcome. How did this reveal come to pass, and so soon? And, even more concerning, who, or what, had hurt him?
Loki was afraid. “What happened to you?” he queried, his voice shaking with apprehension.
King-Loki rolled his eyes and turned his back on his past self. He collapsed onto the four-poster bed, the crown falling off his head as it hit the pillow. Gungnir clattered to the floor. The horns rested sordidly beside him, seeming to almost glow in the weak firelight.
“How am I supposed to know?” the king replied to the ceiling, bored and sardonic. “I’m you. We can’t see the future.”
“If I can’t see the future, why don’t you look like me? You were supposed to be in my body. How could I know we’d be king in a few weeks?”
Anxiety starting to creep over his face, Loki strode over to the bed to inspect the phantom. He was rubbing his temples, eyes tightly closed, as if he couldn’t bear to look at his originator.
“I’ve no more memories than you do, you know that. I suppose that by creating me now, you’ve ensured I will exist. Is that right? You know, self-fulfilling prophecy and all that? I’m no psychic.”
Curiosity overcoming his worry, Loki reached out his hand to caress the crown, torn between awe and concern, but King-Loki swatted it away angrily and sat up slowly, as if overcoming a great exhaustion pinning him to the bed.
King-Loki stared at his creator, pensive, and continued. “All I have that’s different than you is this gaudy new crown that you seem to be so interested in, this fallacious Gungnir on the floor, and an... ah... unusual lack of self-satisfaction. And I am brutally enervated. I assume that means I’m king of Asgard now, not ‘Odin’.” He punctuated this with a small shake of his head, growing more annoyed as he spoke. “But I don’t think my tenure can be going very well. I feel different. Decayed, drained. Like something has gone horribly wrong and I don’t know what it is just yet. Oh, and this scar can’t possibly mean anything good.” He ran his fingers over it. It had a bewitched, cerulean sheen.
King-Loki’s affected impatience belied his distress at this novel vexation. It appeared that Loki’s inability to resolve unexpected hardship (or expect consequences to come back and bite him in the ass) would last through the ages.
Refusing to let himself be chastised, Loki kept pressing his future self for answers, still standing before him, staring. “And you’ve no idea why you feel this way? Is it not simply the stress coming with revealing yourself to your unfaithful subjects? Had we not been looking forward to this day since Thor left?”
“I don’t know, do you not understand? Stop asking me questions we both can’t answer,” King-Loki snapped. His sour look had deepened, hands now in his lap fidgeting restlessly. “The only evidence I have is my body. My memories are the same as yours.”
For the first time since he had banished Odin, Loki was deeply disturbed. Of course, even as king he would retain that wretched unhappiness he was so used to. But this time, he truly couldn’t identify its source. Sometime in the coming weeks, he would cast off the shroud of Odin forever and assume his rightful place, as he had been waiting to do for far too long. And even that was evidently not enough to satisfy him.
He was even less sure about how his magic had somehow transmuted itself, changing the spell of its own accord. As if the seidr itself was transcending Loki’s desire to subvert the mind inside the body, making the outer appearance match it as well. That was unintentional. Certainly he hadn’t done something wrong with the spell-certainly he was just more powerful than he predicted, right?
Or... was there something else at play? Perhaps there was some thread of mystery he had tripped on as someone else was weaving it, and now he was entangled in it too. And now he was trapped in something much bigger and more dangerous than himself, simply the conduit for whatever mischief this higher power craved. It was not a thought he particularly liked.
He snapped back to the matter at hand, but his composure was waning quickly.
“Who could have given you that scar? That is no unadulterated wound.”
“Yes, you’re right, Loki, and that is why I am so concerned.” He dragged the name out like a foreign swear word, holding the first vowel far too long. King-Loki ran his fingers over his cheek again, as if obsessed with what lay beneath, almost digging into it, ripping skin from skin. “This didn’t come from any of our adoring subjects, none of them could’ve caused this. I think we have deeply fucked up.” King-Loki shot his predecessor a rueful look. They both knew that nothing Loki would do could stop this future from existing, and he knew he would try to change it anyway. Nothing he could say would change that. He would allow himself to make his inevitable mistakes.
“Get out. I can’t look at you any longer. I need to be alone. ” Ordering him to do it, as if he didn’t have control over this body, as if this body were not his king.
Loki expelled it with a wave and abandoned all of his plans.
This, all of this, the interloper and what he had done to Loki would not be tolerated. Yes, random bouts of melancholy were commonplace for him. And they were becoming more commonplace lately, if he was honest. But this was different. This time, he knew when his doom was coming. And this time, he wouldn’t hesitate to preemptively rectify his mistakes.
He swatted away his more rational thoughts: if he couldn’t change the past, what made him think he was capable of changing his future? Was he really so arrogant as to think he could sway his own inevitable doom?
Of course he was.
Loki was not someone to idly accept his fate, and resigned to take it into his own hands. He had control.
Loki searched within himself for the root of his future malaise. Surely it couldn’t be anything external; Asgard was in better shape than it had ever been in Loki’s memory, the Allfather was still safely under his spell, and Thor...well, he was doing whatever he was doing. As Odin, Loki had ordered Heimdall to not say a word of Thor’s actions to him under the guise of not being strong enough to hear any more hardship regarding his children. (Heimdall clearly didn’t believe him, but feigned concern for Odin as everyone else had. Heimdall was much smarter than anyone credited him for.) What Loki didn’t know about Thor couldn’t hurt him.
No, as with all of Loki’s greatest problems, his fate was likely entirely self-inflicted.
Or... perhaps, Odin-inflicted. Laufey-inflicted, even. Perhaps it was written within his very veins; the tragedy in his blood obscured by false skin.
This brought to mind an interesting notion.
What would happen if he were to tell himself about his parentage, rather than letting the Allfather choose his fate by keeping him in ignorance? What if he had known he was Laufeyson from the start, or at least before Odin told him? Loki’s resentment for his own blood had not waned much since he had first reckoned with his parentage; to the contrary, it had begun to fester again as Loki spent each day cloaked in the skin of his greatest betrayer.
Ah, but when? Loki mused on when would have the most impact. Sure, he could try multiple ages, multiple blips in time, but he was an impatient wretch and wanted to get it right in the first go.
Obviously, it needed to be before Odin had at last relinquished the secret, but how long before? As early as possible? Loki’s memory wasn’t perfect, and he could only think back so far on how it felt to be a young prince growing up blissfully ignorant as royalty. Would that be too early for him to even realize the implications, or was it best to get it out as young as possible?
No, that couldn’t be right. It had to be something else, it needed to hit him harder, to hurt more.
It was almost too easy for Loki to punish himself this way.
The memories came back unbidden, as if they had been waiting for Loki to undam them and release the flood. Reminding him of Thor, reminding him of his first encounter with conjuring a past soul; his glorious, gleeful brother and his childish antics, only just starting to feel out of place in his rapidly growing body.
That was when Thor had started coming into his own as a warrior, when his skill and strength had begun to surpass all of his elders and mentors. When Thor started using his brain every so often, thinking about what his strength could be useful for; when the rush of carnage started searing through his blood. When he started aiming that particular feeling towards the frost giants.
Loki had encouraged it, he had egged him on, at the time. Not out of any particular hatred for the Jotun he himself possessed, but to test his limits pushing his brother in various directions. A training of his own, really. He was often successful, far too successful, in manipulating Thor to his will.
And so Thor had embarked on omnifarious campaigns against the inhabitants of Loki’s homeland, in war and in his own manifestos about them while drunk at Asgard’s feasts. Sif and the Warriors Three had eaten it up, their own aggression emboldened by Thor’s, while Loki shrewdly, in his ignorance, had admired his work. He had little thought for the damage he may have been doing, both to the Jotun and to his own kin.
That was the correct point in time, he was sure of it now; when Loki could understand the weight of his misdoings. When it would hurt him the most, yes, but also when it would have the greatest impact on him. Any masochistic implications were...extraneous.
Chapter 3: Three
Occam’s Razor. Leave it to the Midgardian philosophers to understand Loki’s predicament. Yes, this was how he would take charge of his paltry destiny. Comb through the skeletons in his closet until he found the one still breathing. If his suspicions were wrong, he would keep trying until something worked, or until the day came when he would receive that scar. He had two weeks.
Surely, surely, he’d be able to break the news better than traitorous Odin had. And even if it changed nothing, he desperately wanted to see his own face when he found out, see the blue spreading over his skin like the first frost of the year on a new sapling. A bit self-destructive, maybe, but it was the most obvious place to start, at the source of his pain in the recent years. Loki would never willingly play the fool to soothe even his own feelings.
He still harbored resentment towards his parents for hiding his deepest secret for nearly a millennium. Odin’s betrayal was expected, unsurprising even, in character. Not that this dulled the pain at all. Odin’slove had always been conditional; he always had an ulterior motive in place for his second son. It was Loki’s birthright. This was a familiar agony to Loki, dulled by repetition and time, as ingrained in him as the Asgardian skin he had grown so used to living in.
The wound that still stung most was Frigga’s. She had to have known his origins, that he did not belong to her and never had. And worse, she knew Loki like no one else. She loved Loki, knew that he was never one to spare himself painful truths, and yet she did it for him anyway. The one person that understood him the most inside and out had chosen to hurt him anyway. This was a much deeper betrayal than Odin’s. And yet...it didn’t spoil his memory of her like it did his father. He didn’t know why. Maybe her death had absolved her sins in a way words never could.
Alas, she was gone, and there was no forgiveness to be given, none to be heard. Death had settled the score, whether Loki agreed or not. What good was it to forgive the emptiness in her place now, anyway?
Loki’s relationship with himself had changed remarkably little since the fateful day. His retaliation was so swift and fleeting in the grand span of his life, the recoil short and sharp. And against Thor, who had no fault in the matter anyway. Against Midgard and their pathetic mortals. What good had that done him? Why hurt Thor to get his revenge against Odin? You know why.
Even after the consequences had passed, he had never chosen to walk amongst friends or enemies bearing his true form. Not even alone did he let the illusion lift. It had changed him much less than it should have. Perhaps always feeling like an outsider in Asgard was something he was so used to that finding out he did not even share their race changed nothing.
Or perhaps it didn’t. It certainly did not erase the war crimes committed in the name of Odin against those who shared his blood. Stop thinking of him.
Loki didn’t know whether hearing his origins in his own voice would change anything. The truth was the truth, no matter whose mouth it came out of, right? Moreover, would this alone even be enough to change the future? It wasn’t as if telling himself could change the past, he had figured that out well enough already. The only thing this could do was offer perspective.
And what a change in perspective this might be, telling himself before Thor’s ruined coronation and not as a result of it. Truly, Odin could not have broken the news at a more inopportune time; he had practically optimized it for when it would hurt his second son the most. Loki realized then that there wasn’t a single thing he could say that would be worse than the reality.
And with that thought, Loki made the choice to have hope. A difficult undertaking for him, optimism, but he was his only remaining chance for redemption, and it would do well to be confident in his abilities. Confidence was all he had left.
Loki lay in bed for hours that night thinking on it. The silence of the sleeping palace stretched out his eardrums, leaving far too much space between them for contemplation. He knew it was better to sleep after the problems the night had wrought, and come upon the issue with fresh eyes in the morning, but his restless mind wouldn’t let him. He rolled onto his back and gave up on holding his eyes closed. Staring up into oblivion, he spitefully realized he was already occupying the exact position his future self had just vacated earlier that night.
No more musing on the possibilities. It was time to throw prediction aside and try it. Loki sat up, fully awake despite the lateness of the hour. He relit the cold fireplace with a wordless spell and pulled a snow-white fur over his shoulders, walking back to sit at the cluttered desk.
It would be a much more difficult task, this time, to bring to life the still-ignorant Loki. He started by concentrating on the way it felt to be just coming into maturity, mastering Asgardian motivations and how best to subvert them. Hearing tirades from those closest to him against frost giants day in and day out, internalizing hatred before he even knew what it meant. It was difficult to remember now, even though it was only a few short years ago, how it felt to not know what lurked under his skin. Going back into the darkness after the light had blinded him so achingly was futile.
Loki would make no attempt to try and put the past consciousness into his current body. Let it manifest however it wished to. Clearly, it was the inside that controlled the outside now. Allowing arrogance to wash over him, Loki said the spell as a declaration, breaking the deafening silence. The green sparkle of the clone shimmering into place cast an ominous glow onto Loki’s pale face.
“Hi,” Naive-Loki said pleasantly. It was easy for Loki to see through the haughty countenance to the innocence lying beneath. The younger Loki was still shrewd, but also bold, curious, more willing to engage with the unknown. More fresh, more daring, brighter burning. The older Loki found he missed that sometimes. This version was so alike him in appearance, and yet a world apart inside. In more ways than one.
Loki felt warmth rising inside him as he looked upon the past he so dearly missed, and shame once again as he remembered that he must shatter this innocent mirror. Even so, he couldn’t resist a small smile; he knew this was the right thing to do.
“Hello. Do you know who I am?” Loki would be much gentler with this clone than he had been with the others. A small, meaningful measure of self-respect that he normally struggled to find might mean the difference between success and failure now.
The younger Loki looked around the kingly chambers, suspicious. He hadn’t spent much time in this room since childhood, but undoubtedly knew exactly where he was. “I’m in Odin’s room. Why?”
What a change, already, from the first time Loki had found out. Instead of hysterical...this. Loki had always been so skeptical, slippery in his honesty, in what he would and wouldn’t give away with carefully chosen words. This was a Loki at the height of his power, but at the dearth of his knowledge. So ironically naive. Loki couldn’t bring himself to be mad at his younger self. Why not test the limits of his compassion on someone he knew needed it? Give the younger boy what he wanted, answer curiosity with truth. It would be a change, a challenge, a mercy.
“Loki, I am you from the future.” And be extremely passe about it too, apparently. He declined to mention how far ahead, or what hardship would happen in the interim. One tragedy at a time.
Naive-Loki gave him a dubious, almost bored look. “Hah. Absolutely stupendous joke. Consider me thrilled.” He hopped up to sit on the desk, haphazardly scattering the neatly arranged notes, and stretched out his long legs to rest on the back of the chair. Resting his hands on the desk behind him, he peered down his nose into his creator’s eyes. Judging. The little shit.
Though he tried to retain composure at the defiance, a bit of enmity crept into Loki’s voice. “Fine. Don’t believe me. Of course we won’t even believe ourselves.” Be nice, be nice, you are about to have your world annihilated around you-
Naive-Loki’s expression didn’t change. He considered his creator for a few seconds, dropped his legs off the chair to lean forward, and then spoke. “Okay. Let’s operate under this delusion. Say you are my future. Pardon my, ah, imprudence. Why have you brought me here today, o exalted one?” That immortal, sarcastic false dramatism. Loki was surprised the boy hadn’t rolled his eyes out of their sockets. It was odd that he was employing all of these old tricks on himself, as if they would possibly work.
Unperturbed by the sudden invasiveness, Loki answered, still keeping his tone light. “I’ve discovered a way to summon my past consciousnesses,” Not that of others... he doesn’t need to know... “As you have undoubtedly figured out by now, that’s what you are. Witchcraft personified. I’ve been... ah... messing around with this find, and I want to know something,” He paused, watching the younger’s face closely.
“Well, there’s something I need to tell you. About yourself.”
“Mm. Sounds fascinating. A vision from my future, come to tell me my own deepest and darkest secrets! There cannot be anything you have to tell me that I do not already know about myself.”
That sarcastic little shit, just when I fucking try to be kind-
Naive-Loki hopped off the desk and started pacing around the room, inspecting the lavish, unchanged furniture and belongings, clearly trying to get a sense of just what was going on without asking. Loki ignored him. He heard a metalling tapping from the corner and assumed the clone was inspecting Gungnir, perhaps testing its realness. Loki figured he might as well humor him. What better things did he have to do in the middle of the night?
The sound of his clone trying the door and a muttered curse echoed through the cavernous room.
Loki rolled his eyes. “Oh, sorry. Forgot to tell you, but as you aren’t real, per se, you can’t use magic. You might as well listen to me. The door’s locked.”
Naive-Loki turned around and paced back towards him, stopping within an arm’s range. Close enough to attack. His smirk started to fade as he stared at his older self. Loki was resigned to keep a serious demeanor. Naive-Loki cocked his head to the side, as if examining a strange insect he wanted to scrutinize. Loki stood his ground, fear once again heightening the bloodflow through his fingers, readying them to strike. Naive-Loki reached out a hand, curiosity overcoming his sardonic affectation, and ran his fingers over his future face. Studying the differences between them, feeling the faint lines that were already starting to set in as a result of the stress of the previous years.
To Loki, it felt... unexpectedly good, almost like a caress, this small act of love. To be embraced once again, to be touched once again, after so much time in self-imposed solitude. He almost had the urge to reach out and take the boy in his arms, tell him it was all going to be alright, show him kindness in the most genuine way he could. Instead, he grabbed the offending hand and gently removed it, placing it back to rest at his side.
“Convinced enough? I’m going to tell you whether you’re willing to hear me out or not. I brought you into this present and it is I who will decide when you leave it. I’m trying something.” Naive-Loki turned his chin up, expression falling from examining back to its norm, sardonic once again.
“Are you? In that case, I’m all ears.” Naive-Loki took a step backwards, turned on his heel, and sauntered to a heavy armchair his future self had drawn up by the fire for reading. He draped himself over it lazily.
“I... ah...” Loki realized that, for all his deliberation over how he would take it, all the work convincing himself that this was a good idea, he had not actually deigned to decide how to break the news.
“Loki... er... you aren’t exactly... from Asgard.” Start slowly, gently, give him time to soak it in...
“No shit.” Loki had always felt apart from the world he grew up on, this feeble introduction would not be enough.
“Okay, no, that’s not what I mean... Odin and Frigga are not your parents.”
“Well. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t go that far. I know we’re a bit embarrassed over that, but if you look at the facts...”
Loki was starting to grow frustrated with his pompous demeanor, his patience slipping. “Stop! Shut up. This is serious. You...you’re a frost giant.”
Naive-Loki threw back his head in laughter, the firelight throwing his features into sharp relief. “Really, you went to all the trouble of pulling me out from the mist just to fuck with me? Why is that not surprising?”
Fuck it. This was taking too long. There was nothing he could say to convince the liesmith of his honesty.
Loki locked his sight on his younger self, stood, and allowed the veil to fall, pale Asgardian skin morphing into blue, ridges emerging down his limbs, eyes turning blood-red.
The younger Loki almost fell out of the chair. All casual affectation gone, he sprung up, suddenly tensed and ready to attack. A habit.
“What is this trickery? What have you done?” There was the metallic clink of a knife being pulled out from inside the younger boy’s sleeve; always so ready to defend himself at the smallest provocation.
“Loki. You have to understand me. This is who you are. We are not Asgardian. We are of Jotunheim.” He kept his voice steady, but the cold heart was racing. Already the heat of the fire was growing uncomfortable in this form.
“No. It cannot be...” Even as he said it, though, Naive-Loki’s voice lost the certainty, the vitriol, the self-assuredness. Lying again, but now to himself.
“Odin abducted us as a baby after the last war on Jotunheim,” Loki continued. “We are not Loki Odinson. We are Laufeyson. Thor is not truly your brother, Frigga not your mother. You are the prince of Jotunheim, not Asgard. Do you believe me now? Is this not enough?”
Naive-Loki dropped the dagger, letting it clatter to the floor. Anger had left his face, leaving trepidation and something like fear. No... not fear. Awe.
In reflection of his motions from before, he approached the frost giant that was himself, holding out his hand, touching his face, tracing the ridges, not shrinking back from the cold, but craving it, refreshed by it. At the touch, Naive-Loki’s own skin began to turn blue, and he jerked away his hand at once to stare at the discoloration on his fingertips as it slowly made its way up his arms.
In truth, it had been easier than Loki had expected.
Tears started to well in the reddening eyes. “Why... w-why didn’t they ever tell me? Why did they let me suffer?”
This was the paradox; Loki had not suffered at the hands of information he did not know. He could only have suffered if he knew the truth. Instead, he had been accidentally complicit, unbeknownst to the hurt his false parents had wrought.
Lie, Loki, lie through your teeth-
“They loved you. They didn’t want you to feel different. But... Loki, they are not what matters so. You don’t need to spend your life focused upon them any longer. Well... that may be due to your not really existing.” Loki allowed himself a sad chuckle, breaking the tension, and found it echoed by the past one. “In any case. Nobody else can take your truth away from you. Only you have that power.”
The tears spilled over, freezing on Naive-Loki’s skin as the last of the pale illusion gave final way into cerulean blue, leaving the boy mirroring his future self. Loki gently pulled the clone into an embrace, giving into the sentiment.
“I...I don’t understand,” Naive-Loki sobbed into his shoulder. “But I do. It just... it makes too much sense. All of those years learning to hate what I was. How could this be love? How could they have done this?”
Loki pulled back, meeting him eye to eye, and offered a small smile. “It doesn’t matter, don’t you see? You’re here. I’m here. We survive. We always do.”
His smile was reciprocated. For the first time, Loki saw warmth and happiness in a frost giant’s eyes.
Loki felt emotion welling inside him again. This was too much, too much for him to stand any longer. He glanced at the young Jotun one more time, committing the sight to memory, never wanting to forget the one time he had actually done something the right way in his Norns-forsaken life.
He spoke the words to vanish it forever.
Loki slept well after the events of the night. He slept until past noon, and when he finally woke, he felt fully rested for the first time in ages. He did feel slightly guilty for shirking his duties as king, so he signaled to the nearest guard outside his door that he would be answering his messages from his suite that day. Certainly a few hours of work would do him no harm.
No harm, yes, but also no good... Loki could not keep focus on the realities outside of his room. His mind kept wandering back to the events of the previous night and his trepidation at looking back into his future.
Even if this small act did not have any effect on his future well-being, Loki was glad to have done it. It may not have changed the past, but it had changed him now. He had taken a step towards reconciling the faults that were not even his. Knowing how well he would have taken it, knowing how it could have been, gave him a nourishing measure of peace, something he thought would never be possible over this.
It also, however, complicated his thoughts even further on the sins of his parents. Made it self-evident that the only person Loki could bring himself to trust, the only person he was wise to trust, was himself. What actually was it that stopped Odin from telling him earlier? Fear, cruelty? His white lie to Naive-Loki, that it was out of love alone, was just that: a blatant untruth. Odin and Frigga must have truly not known their son at all to think it was love to keep this from him.
And to think of all of the pain he could have saved, if his machinations within memory actually had the power to change the past.
Even so... was pain saved now so different from pain saved earlier? Was it worth nothing to reach self-actualization a few years too late?
For once, Loki was determined to believe the affirmative, and he could not wait much longer to find out if he was right. He shoved aside the rest of the work Odin had to do for the day and shifted his entire focus to the future.
Loki contemplated the ramifications of what he had seen until the sun had sunk deep below the horizon. Procrastinated, really. Thinking about the possibilities was much easier than actually testing them out.
He stared into the fireplace and prepared to conjure his future self again with apprehension. He still didn’t know why he had appeared physically changed, as well as mentally, the last time he summoned his future, and he didn’t know if it would happen again. Would he be able to recognize minute differences in appearance and expression that might indicate that his future had vastly changed?
He envisioned his changed self now with the knowledge of how differently his life would have gone if he had known the truth in this way. Relationships not built upon lies, but real, genuine understanding... maybe even trips to Jotunheim, learning the customs and ways of his people, a mutually beneficial alliance between his two realms. Never hearing Thor drunkenly rant against them.
Never hearing Thor rant against them... Never ruining Thor’s coronation, never seeing Thor cast out, never capitulating into the void. It would have been the undoing of all the misfortune he had caused in the past few years. All of his mistakes, all of the hurt he had wrought, all due to this menial change in his origin story.
And in that moment, Loki realized what this meant. It was all Odin’s fault. All Odin’s fault, all Frigga’s fault, not his own fault whatsoever. He may have been the mastermind behind the mayhem, but he was never the originator.
The old man could get fucked. It’s a good thing you left him to die a peasant death on Midgard. He asked for it.
Soothed from his guilt, hope glimmered inside Loki. There were too many unknowns, but he’d never figure them out sitting here thinking about them all night.. He had to stop thinking, and just do the damned thing. Apprehension gone, he spoke the words and his double came into shape before him.
Once again, the golden horns cast long shadows on the floor. King-Loki glowered at him, scar contorting, seeming to grow with his anger. “Did you really think I would be different?” He growled the words, as if nothing annoyed him more than being back in Odin’s room.
Loki took a step back in surprise. His good mood vanished immediately. “ I... I thought this would be enough. I thought that after all these years of being the person I hated the most, absolving myself of the blame might’ve taken some of the guilt off my shoulders.”
King Loki’s tone shifted to full-on mocking. “You cannot absolve yourself of all the blame and you know this, you arrogant dolt. You have solved nothing.” Unlike before, King-Loki’s exhaustion seemed gone, replaced entirely with fury. Instead of casting aside Gungnir, he gripped it tightly. “We have always been so selfish. And unable to own our mistakes. If we did, the collective self-hatred would most likely destroy us, isn’t that right? I want to hear you admit it. I want to hear it from your liar’s mouth.”
Loki began to pace. “Fine, fine. I get it. Nothing’s changed. I was wrong. The truth of my origins means nothing, yes, Odin did nothing wrong, it was all my fault. At least I tried, at least now I fucking know how wonderful my Norns-forsaken life could’ve been otherwise. Sure, of course, totally meaningless! I get it.”
King-Loki opened his mouth and shut it again, finally at a loss for words.
Loki sat down at the desk in a huff, surrounded by spellbooks and notes. Some of the pages fluttered in his wake. He hung his head in his hands, rubbing his temples. His future self looked upon him with pity. It was a foreign emotion Loki had never before seen on his face.
“Loki, I... I’m... sorry. I...” King-Loki seemed to consider that, for one of the few times in his life, his past self was opening up. Admitting defeat, showing emotion. Both of them were very aware that physically manifesting true emotion was something they were rarely capable of or willing to do.
“Just leave.” Loki slammed his fist on the table and his double disappeared. He clenched his teeth and rubbed his eyes hard with his thumbs.
Chapter 4: Four
Well. That wasn’t it, was it? You were wrong. Just when he had finally felt some measure of peace and happiness, he had to go ruin it all over again. So classical in its irony. It was just fitting to Loki to realize that all of the problems he’d caused were entirely his fault, borne of his own selfishness and jealousy and lust for control; not through any doing of Odin’s or Thor’s or, he grudgingly admitted, Laufey’s. It didn’t matter if his nature was written in the lines on his Jotun skin. His mistakes were his choices.
Exhausted and well enough done with the day’s failures, Loki moved back to the bed, wrapping himself in blankets, hiding. He thought, because he could not figure any action to meet his motivations. He let the darkness suffocate him.
Loki had chosen to give into Thanos’ whims, to let his weakness rule him.
He had chosen to go to Midgard, he had chosen to convince himself that it was what he’d deserved , what he had earned. He had chosen to believe it was his choice, rather than admit he was at the mercy of more powerful beings.
He had chosen to use violence to achieve his ends rather than his own wits, to take the cruel and tortuous route against those he could’ve manipulated far more subtly.
He had chosen to ignore Thor’s love for him. He had chosen to fail.
Loki didn’t like regret. A useless, cruel emotion. He had no use for it. Even after baiting Thor into his greatest misdeed, even after returning to Asgard in chains and muzzled, his greatest weapon stolen from him, even after hiding from the only one he still held love for. Better to let it burn, to move on and begin plotting once again to right the wrongs.
This wasn’t regret, though, for once. And he was moving to fix his embarrassing failures, or at least trying. Loki’s meager conscience would not stop reminding him of the pain he had caused Thor so many times throughout his life. Pain in equal measure to happiness. Pain both accidental and very, very intentional. Was there any pain he had caused Thor that had not come back upon him in equanimity or more?
Loki felt his thoughts growing darker as the last embers died out in the fireplace, his sadness and frustration transforming into anger. And what does anger lead you to do?
Loki did not have regret for most of the lives he had ended. In truth, they were simply less important than his own. A mortal’s life may never be more valuable than a god’s, it was the rational truth, not only his own opinion. Definition didn’t lie. The lives alone were not ever what mattered to him, antagonistic to some moral standards as that may have been. It was the meaning behind the destruction. The void had certainly taught him that.
Faceless enemies felled by the dozen meant nothing. They were easier to perish than the clones Loki created from nothingness. But Loki had not only killed those.
Loki had hurt and killed mortals whose lives held meaning to Thor, those rotten Avengers and the humans they inexplicably protected. He did not know why exactly they mattered to him; he was certainly in no state to find out then. He had done it out of desperation, yes, and in self-defense. But could he really argue that attacking Thor’s comrades had been his choice? Could he defend those decisions? Could he explain to Thor why he did what he did? Surely he would never be forgiven.
No. If there was one single thing that Loki could ever regret, it was when he was not in control of his own actions, when he was not making his own decisions for his own ends. When he was a pawn.
As he brought up the memories of his abandoned desires in preparation to speak the enchantment, fear stirred within him. He didn’t want to see the version of himself he had gladly abandoned. But he knew it was necessary. He knew there was no other version of Loki that had ever fucked up so deeply. Fuck his feeble depression over being a frost giant. His own pain was nothing, that was clear now. He lived through it and he always would. But the pain he inflicted on others: this was different, they had no obligation to stick with him forever as he himself did. The damage to New York and its people could not be taken back. Loki could not undo the consequences with a spell and a short conversation. But he could try.
Resigned to this decision, Loki gave in and allowed sleep to envelop him once more.
Loki was not a morning person. Truly, he wasn’t really an anytime person. But mornings, especially when his peace was interrupted by underlings, were truly the worst.
The knocking came late by Asgardian standards; the farmers and ranchers and bakers had already been up for hours. But any time when Loki was woken up before he was ready was too early. He rolled out of bed with a heavy grunt and magicked himself into a fresh and well-rested looking Odin (his father, to the contrary, had always been awake before Loki, almost as if he barely slept under normal circumstances). Putting on his best show of innocent business, Odin opened the door.
The slim, golden-haired page boy had a slightly distressed look on his face, but his voice was steady. “My lord, the head of treasury Onáða Jorfsson has requested an audience today at noon. I’m very sorry to disturb you, but it’s really rather important. He seemed quite frantic but mentioned something about an imbalance in the royal bank’s yearly audit.”
“Thank you, Síð. Please tell him that the meeting will instead be held at three. I have more urgent matters to attend to beforehand.” Great . Now he had a deadline. And, evidently, a gold problem.
“As you wish, your majesty.” Síð bowed low and scurried away.
Loki had little time to waste on Asgardian matters now, but this really did not seem to be something Odin could ignore unquestioned. Procrastination now impossible, he dropped the guise of Odin and rushed back to the desk. He was too agitated to be weary anymore.
Without any more hesitation, Loki allowed his most shamefully selfish, greedy memories to float back to the surface. After his thoughts last night, it wasn’t exactly difficult to do. He recalled again the singular time in his overlong life when exercising control over others was more worthwhile than exercising control over himself; after he had experienced the void and all of the pain Thanos had wrought. Although he was rarely one to feel ashamed of his own feelings, this still hurt. Even the more so because of how frighteningly easy it was.
Thoughts still lingering on Thanos, he closed his eyes and spoke the incantation to bring back the worst version of himself.
He heard the snickering before his eyes opened this time. He could block out the sight, but not the sound.
The creature’s face contorted into a mad grin as it looked upon its creator. Untamed, savage. Feral. Yes, that was what he would call him.
Loki surveyed Feral-Loki wearily, musing on the single-minded thirst for power he had started to forget the feel of. He pitied himself, and sympathized with the pain he was about to go through. Like the incarnations before him, he retained all of the physical features from that point in time. Would he still have the evil motivations once literally removed from Thanos’ grip? Fix him.
“Do you know who you are? Do you know where you are?” Loki said gently, carefully.
Feral-Loki was full of restless joy. He was constantly in motion since coming into existence, strutting around his room, nervous energy propelling him forward to nowhere in particular. He didn’t want to be tied down to one spot.
“Of course. I am Loki of Asgard, and who the Hel are you?”
"I’m myself. Well, I’m you, but a few years in the future. The rest is immaterial to you. I’ll be asking the questions here."
"You don’t actually have a choice in the matter. I’m older and wiser."
"Bullshit. What makes you any different from me?"
"I have a crown, a kingdom, and better hair. And I survived a Hulk."
“A what?” He seemed much less surprised by the other things, the arrogant fool.
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
That shut Feral-Loki up. He stopped in his tracks, stuck out his chin, and glared. Loki pushed back, trying to keep control of the conversation. “I asked you a question. Do you know where we are?”
“Fine. I’ll bite. Of course I know. My victory procession after taking Midgard includes Asgard, that’s why I’m here. Where’s Thor? Where’s Frigga and Odin? Am I not in Odin’s room? Did I have to banish them? What a shame,” he said dismissively, and for once, Loki believed that his younger self truly didn’t care.
Feral-Loki resumed his mad pacing. His hunger for power had warped his thinking, perverting any sentiment he had left for his brother and parents, mutating it into blind hatred. This was a Loki completely at the mercy of his own rage, and for now, the present Loki would play along.
“Yes, Loki. You’re a king now. Congratulations.” Loki didn’t know whether his younger self had enough self-awareness at that point in time to recognize his own sarcasm, blind as he was. He felt himself mutating into the version of his future self he had conjured before, with nothing but contempt for his past. “They’re all gone. Frigga is dead now. And for once, it wasn’t entirely your fault! Mostly your fault, but not entirely. You didn’t land the fatal blow, at least. Go ahead and work through that. Oh. And another thing, you don’t even get to see her funeral! And that is your fault, completely. Isn’t that something to look forward to?” He could not stop talking, his feelings flowing freely out of him, as if giving voice to them could suck some of the venom from his veins.
Feral-Loki hesitated, but didn’t stop pacing. He was clearly trying to hide the shock rippling across his features. He did not allow himself to show weakness, even in front of himself. “Go on. What of Odin? And of my dear brother?”
“Odin...well, I’ve hidden him away. I’m not sure I’d call it banishment, per se. He’s safely locked within his diminishing mind on Midgard. Not too far from where you’re planning to attack, actually, in what they call a ‘retirement home’. It’s quite bleak, you’d be proud. And Thor. I do not know where Thor is.” Loki was determined to tell the truth to his pitiful younger ego, but saying it aloud felt like it hurt him much more than it did the younger Loki.
Feral-Loki turned his back on his creator, as if each of the Lokis could not bear to let the other see their expression. So he was already trying to compartmentalize Frigga’s fate and move on. It wouldn’t work. Feral-Loki could only manifest emotions through madness and rage. Everything else was suppressed.
“Not on Asgard, then? Or with Jane?” He spit the last word as if he couldn’t bear the taste of it in his mouth. It was embarrassingly obvious to Loki now how he used to mask his feelings this way, by pawning them off on others. Usually Thor, and Thor was not here.
“If I had to guess...probably still on Midgard, with her and the rest of his newfound,” Loki made a dour noise of disgust, “friends.” Stop it. Stop letting him control you, too. Cut to the chase. “And before you ask anything else, I might ask that you don’t. Do not forget who is in charge here.”
“Ask your questions then; this is growing tedious and I am busy.”
Loki raised his eyebrows. “Busy with what? How’s Thanos?” He asked it in a deliberately light manner, hoping to catch Feral-Loki off guard. Maybe if he wasn’t expecting it, he might let fly a shred of truth.
Or maybe he wouldn’t. Feral-Loki slowly turned back around, his eyes dark and dangerous, and started stalking back towards Loki, never breaking eye contact. “You dare? You fucking dare to speak of him, after you in your fucking infinite future wisdom know exactly what’s going on? You dare disrespect me, us, yourself like this? No wonder you are so wildly fucked now if you have to resort to using me to solve your problems. Go ahead, get rid of me. I refuse to be your pawn, too.”
Loki looked away first; the hatred in Feral-Loki’s eyes was unbearable. Growing more frustrated, Loki couldn’t help himself from wanting to exchange cruelty with more cruelty. He knew he deserved it, and yet no words would form in his mind. His mouth was dry, all dampness migrating upwards into his eyes. This was getting him nowhere, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to give into the clone’s demands. He had learned nothing and gotten nowhere, any wisdom or perspective still far off.
The false king was growing even more desperate than Feral-Loki, his emotions flaring out of control, melodrama feeding his made-up narrative of this version of himself as the enemy. He was not okay, he could not bear his presence any longer, but could not vanish him either. He truly had no idea what he was doing. “I will not,” Loki spat, “I need you! I hate you, but I need you. I’m trying to fix you...me...us. Just. Please, stay with me. We are not done yet.” The tears started spilling over, misery attacking him before he had a chance to shield himself against it. This was not going how he had planned.
Feral-Loki’s mad anger was strengthening him, emboldening him, gratifying him. “You should know better than anyone that I do not need fixing.”
He headed for the door.
Loki would not be able to vanish the usurper if he went far. Proximity was a dastardly weakness to his seidr.
Adrenaline suddenly clearing his mind, he knew what he must do. It was just like the last time. Just like Naive-Loki, just like all of the Lokis before him and all the ones that would follow. Tell the truth. Hurt him beyond healing; land the fatal blow with striking consonants and pummeling vowels. He found he was out of lies.
Would he, could he possibly believe himself, the first and last person he could trust? Centuries of lying to himself and to others rested heavily on his tongue as he prepared to admit his greatest failure. This poor, hopeful past Loki resided in one of the only reveries in which he was actually honest with his own desires. The only time he had ever acted to seize the power he had always coveted, and what had it led to: defeat, submission, agony.
Would he be able to stand the knowledge of his own failure? The pain of foresight when the outcome was so dismal? Would he attack his creator on the spot for daring to tell the truth?
Will you even be able to say it?
At this, Feral-Loki stopped and turned to face his older self. A smile upturned his mouth.
“You will fail,” Loki spoke with a rawness rarely revealed, a conviction he rarely had. “On Midgard. And Thor will be your downfall.”
Feral-Loki laughed and laughed. Not in disbelief, Loki was sure, but because his past self knew it was true, knew that for once he was being honest. His lack of surprise in his own fate was bracing. It was his destiny, after all, to fail. He knew that he would not succeed, would never get what he wanted, least of all by his own actions. How could he, when he never had before? Feral-Loki dropped his eyes, unwilling to look at his future any longer.
He stood, still laughing, and in one fluid motion pulled out a shimmering, obsidian-black knife and slashed his maker across the face, seized the real Gungnir, and fled. Loki collapsed to the floor, blood starting to pour from his face.
Loki was going to have to miss the budgetary meeting. Shame, that.
Chapter 5: Five
Warning for depictions of suicidal behavior and panic attacks in this chapter, and lot of angst.
Feral-Loki knew he didn’t have much time. He hurriedly glamored himself as Odin before anyone saw him, the magic coursing through him strong and wicked. The poison he’d dispatched on the other Loki was a curious one-it would not kill its target; it worked much more insidiously than that. Its outcome would be a fitting punishment, better than any death could accomplish, for the shame-filled one. Besides, he wouldn’t really want to kill himself, would he? Only expose that disgraceful charlatan for what he truly was. And, alas, Feral-Loki could not exist without his present form, as much as it pained him to admit. If he killed his future self, he would cease to be as well. And he was here for a much more glorious purpose than oblivion.
As he strode through the hallways he knew so well, his excitement grew. His failure wouldn’t last. So what if he would be foiled on Midgard? It was a grimy, backwater place anyway, and Asgard had always been the greater prize. And if he got his revenge against the pitiful Allfather in the struggle, so be it. It was time again for chaos to reign.
He wasted no time as he strode in the direction of the royal stables, ignoring the surprised looks of the palace guards along the way. It was clearly the first they had seen of Odin in days, but seeing his determined stride, nobody approached him. A king was not to be questioned, especially not one who looked like he was up to something. Feral-Loki loved how powerful it made him feel to walk through the halls without fear, glamour be damned.
He reached the stables and summoned Sleipnir, Odin’s beloved eight-legged horse. The royal stable-boys knew not to allow anyone but Odin to take their horses, and Feral-Loki knew his future self would not be stupid enough to also take the guise of Odin. Two Odins spotted in the palace would only create larger problems when he returned; Loki must know not to imply that there was any disruption at hand. Let the future Loki walk, or run the bridge. Feral-Loki would need every moment of the time gained by riding.
He mounted the divine horse and shut down his thoughts as he rode with a single-minded determination down the narrow rainbow bridge. He spurred the horse faster and faster, but Sleipnir seemed to know it was not truly Odin riding upon him. He was not giving Feral-Loki the haste he needed, making his rider grow more agitated by the second.
A stony-faced Heimdall awaited him at the end. He must have known it was a Loki and not Odin, but that was immaterial. The cowardly watcher would not betray the throne again, no matter who sat upon it. Feral-Loki had known he must shield himself from Heimdall’s gaze, to pretend he was the only Loki, the one Heimdall had known about all along, starting from the moment he came into existence to the end of his mission. He knew that otherwise, Heimdall would have been fully aware of his impure existence and likely his purpose in the world, too. There was far too much at stake for leaving his success or failure in the hands of the watcher, and his power was more than sufficient to ensure the illusion would be successful. To Heimdall, there was nothing out of the ordinary beyond what he already knew.
“Heimdall, take me to Midgard. To New York.” Feral-Loki declared, readying himself to lash out just in case his illusion was unsuccessful and Heimdall refused. He would figure out just where in New York his father resided once he got there. Nothing would stop him from seizing control of his destiny, least of all the watcher. The urge to kill was itching in his bones.
Without hesitation, Heimdall turned the sword and the Bifrost swirled into life.
“As you wish, your majesty.”
Feral-Loki lifted an eyebrow, pleased with the easy acquiescence, but he dared not comment. Instead, he grinned, closed his eyes, and welcomed himself into the rushing sounds and colors of the Bifrost. When he opened them, he found himself in an alley close to his planned attack point, in a busy but grimy part of the city. How convenient, Heimdall. So selfish was Loki. The still cold of an early winter morning crept into his skin, and the sky was just beginning to blue. Dawn was soon to break.
Feral-Loki blissfully shed his Odin illusion and reached out for the telltale sign of Loki’s magic. The whispers were close by, almost within his reach already, as if he had been put here by design. Maybe Heimdall knew more than he let on, the clever man; maybe he was more than a only a watcher after all. Or... maybe Feral-Loki’s good fortune was thanks to something or someone else. New York was quite large and chaotic, especially by Asgardian standards, and Loki was not one to believe in chance.
There were very few people out at this time of day, and the only watching souls he passed were either still too asleep to notice his strange attire or too used to this sort of thing to care. It was New York, anyway. Loki crossed streets and cut through alleyways with abandon, almost jogging to follow the trail of magic to where his father would unprotected and asleep. He hoped.
The whispers converged only a few minutes’ walk away. The whispers had lead him to a clammy, saturnine building labeled on a sign at its front as a “retirement home”. It was nearly falling apart, the seams almost bowing open, as if the very building could no longer bear to accommodate the sorrow inside. It seemed to Feral-Loki that the building was what needed to be retired, not the mortals caged within. It was the ideal place for his father, he thought.
He walked up the steps to the front door, his head held high and Gungnir firmly clasped in his right hand. He waved his free hand to unlock the door and stalked in silently. There was a sleepy-looking mortal stationed at the front desk, but Feral-Loki quickly muttered a spell so that they wouldn’t notice him. It was clearly still too early for anyone else to be awake, especially in this exhausted, dilapidated home. The whispers beckoned him past the modest reception area and through a darkened hallway where a door stood open waiting for him.
The Allfather was seated at a small desk with his back to the door, seemingly writing something. He looked diminutive and sickly in his dull, loose Midgardian clothing, a poor excuse for even a deposed king. It was especially glaring in comparison with Feral-Loki’s green and gold regalia and gleaming headdress. The small window above the desk showed the sky beginning to lighten to a brilliant grey-blue. Loki locked the door and murmured a spell of silencing around the room. He didn’t want to be interrupted.
Odin’s voice was cracked and weak, like he was losing his grip against a long-fought illness. He spun slowly around in his desk chair to meet Feral-Loki’s eyes. His face was withered and wrinkled, but his bright eyes looked upon his son in veneration. Seated in this pathetic excuse for a Midgardian throne, he emanated the unique strength of a decaying god. As if decomposition was simply another concept for the Allfather to gain wisdom from, another pathway to be explored.
“Your time is up, Allfather.” Feral-Loki’s eyes were hard, his posture stiff as he looked down upon Odin.
“I know it, Loki. I know you will want to think this was all your doing, but you deserve more kindness than that.” Odin’s voice was warm and his tone light, a far cry from how he normally spoke to his second son. “Soon, I will die anyway and though I know you wish it otherwise, it will not be wholly your fault. You have only accelerated the inevitable, as you’ve always done.”
“I’m a creature of action, Odin, what can I say? I’ve seen my future and I cannot seem to find within myself the patience to wait for its arrival. I’ve come to claim it for myself.”
“Who is controlling you, my boy?”
Odin knew, then. He knew this was not his son’s soul in the room with him. Decay had given him more knowledge of life, it seemed. Thanos, or older Loki, or whomever it was within his son’s stolen body, Odin knew that this wasn’t an ordinary visit.
No. Not Thanos. Even Odin would never believe that of his son. He was to be better than that now.
“Nobody,” Loki snapped, far too quickly to be the truth. “I’m completely in control of my actions. I’m here because I wanted to see you. Nothing more. Can’t a son miss his father without being questioned over it?”
“Of course, Loki. But your lies grow feeble. You do not miss me. You put me away here, even though we both know that you did not have to take Asgard. You could have left me be and escaped to any other realm to avoid me. But you did the exact opposite; you supplanted me.” Feral-Loki didn’t know how much Odin could see of Asgard now; whether he knew of Loki’s fate for sure, or if he had merely figured the ruse out by the manner of where he was. But he was clearly much more aware than the older Loki had let on. Had the mind-numbing spell worn off? When had it worn off? Why was Odin still here if he was no longer trapped?
Loki was growing more agitated again, fear heightening his anger. He was running out of time, his oblivious creator would surely arrive any second. “Yes. Yes, I did. I want to be king again, isn’t it obvious? Shouldn’t you of all that people expect that from me? I finally get the chance to get everything I ever wanted. Of course I’m going to take it.”
“So I see. I did not say that I was surprised. And it appears that you already have taken it. I presume Asgard is healthier and more powerful than it ever has been. You have all of the trappings of a young king, my son.” That wretched epithet again, spoken with pride, as if Odin were speaking to him before crowning his successor as Asgard’s king in glory and honor.
“Odin, we both know that the illusion of power will never be enough for me. Pretending to be you drains me more and more every day.” A lie; Feral-Loki still pretended. “I will never be able to relax while my enemies still remain! Surely you can understand that.” These were the truest words Feral-Loki had ever spoken.
Odin’s sad smile deepened. “Ah, you speak of enemies. You are still pretending you want power over others, is that right? When you cannot even control yourself. You were always so good at wanting the things that were the worst for you. I had thought that maybe someday you would learn to control those impulses. But you have proven me wrong. You want me as your enemy, even though I am not and I will never be.”
Loki’s anger was reaching a tipping point, his bloodlust was peaking thanks to Odin’s gentle guise. “I only ever wanted what you gave me. What you gave me, and what you refused to let me have.” Loki’s voice was rising again. “Who I am is entirely because of you, and I will not accept that any longer. Are you proud of me? Is this what you envisioned your war prize growing to become?”
The smile faded from Odin’s face, leaving only shrewd contemplation. The kindness was all a ruse. He doesn’t care about you. Where do you think you learned to lie?
“You give me far too much credit, boy. What you have become is not all my doing. Will you ever start taking responsibility for your actions, or will it be my fault forever?”
“It will always be your fault.”
He couldn’t take it any longer. The real Loki was coming, he must be close now, and he knew Loki would not have the guts to do this himself, even though they both knew it was the only wise action. It was now or never.
Feral-Loki lifted Gungnir, pointed it to Odin’s heart, and thrust it in.
Without even a cry or a look of surprise, Odin’s eyes slid closed, as if he was finally falling asleep after a long, exhausting journey. His still face looked almost relieved in death. Feral-Loki pulled out the blessed spear and stepped back, letting his father slump forward onto the grimy tile, blood pouring out of him, so violent in comparison to his peaceful expression.
Feral-Loki inhaled and felt a smile twitching at the edges of his mouth.
Odin was dead, and the fool hadn’t even resisted. Feral-Loki had done what he had always dreamed about, he had taken what he had always wanted, he had done what he was put here to do. His destiny had been fulfilled. He would be king, and king alone. The bitter sort of smile fully blossomed across his face. He was free.
Asgard’s new king stood tall and arrogant within the modest Midgardian bedroom, so out of place; the juxtaposition was almost humorous. He let his eyes slide down to his dead father slumped on the hard floor, and heard himself start to chuckle. Finally, Loki could have peace.
Sunlight had begun creeping through the window, reflecting off of the green, glassy eyes. They had started to fill with tears unbidden, like his struggling conscience was working without his permission, giving him grief when he did not want any. He looked outside, trying to blink them away. Not a storm in sight. His laughter grew as he meditated on his good fortune.
Loki looked back down, unable to ignore Odin’s body for too long (what if he woke up?) and a tear dropped from his eye to the floor, joining the blood of its fallen kin. It’s over. Feral-Loki’s mirth began to fade, leaving him standing in silence.
The door swung open. A familiar voice snarled, “You.”
Feral-Loki wheeled around, ripped from his reverie. His creator had caught up with him and broken through his wards. He looked plain, unadorned, and exhausted after suffering the indignity of having to run to the Bifrost. It seemed out of place and pathetic next to his clone’s noble figure.
This other Loki stared at the betrayer, then his eyes flicked down to his father’s prone body, eyebrows knitting together as he understood. Blood still trickled from the sick-looking wound on his cheek.
The present Loki raised a dagger and stumbled towards his impersonator, blind rage breaking through his shell of composure, nothing holding him back now.
“Wait! Wait, no, what are you doing?” Feral-Loki’s shock was absolute: surely Loki would be surprised, yes, but hadn’t he wanted this? They had both wanted this, it was universally accepted that every iteration of Loki always must desire a crown. Seizing power by any means necessary was never out of character for him.
Loki seemed to have no words to answer with. His rage had overshadowed all rational thought, he was entirely under the frenzied influence of his own emotion. He knew he was Feral-Loki and Feral-Loki was him. The realization did not slow him one bit, rather, it seemed to spur him on.
Feral-Loki stepped back and hurriedly summoned two knives, instinctively preparing to defend himself. But he knew it was futile. He knew in that moment how his life would end. His mission had been fulfilled, and now his sequence was complete.
He took great gratification looking into the madness-clouded eyes of his creator, this one true Loki that could not be replaced, knowing that he, that they had done this to him. He must die so that the future could continue unperturbed. His ephemeral free will was only a veil constructed by fate. His doom had always been guaranteed.
His future self moved towards him too quickly for him to even pretend to parry the attack; even blurred by rage he was too all-knowing of his past tricks and mannerisms. Their eyes met, and Feral-Loki froze, unable to act, or even to put on a guise of self-preservation. You lack conviction.
Perhaps even the still-Loki parts of him felt he deserved this end. The knife flew towards him unimpeded.
The blow struck Feral-Loki squarely in the heart. Loki released it, summoned another knife, and struck again, and again, until there were nine sticking out of his predecessor’s chest. The god’s body crumbled to the floor, king joining king.
Loki collapsed to his knees, his entire front covered in his double’s illusory blood. He knew he could simply magic it away as he had with all of the other clones, but he was too overcome with emotion, so masochistically obsessed with leaving his pain uncovered this time.
Loki had killed himself in the most literal sense, but he was still there, still breathing, heart still pounding. Adrenaline buzzed like lightning through his nerves; filling up his entire body until his senses were useless, reminding him so cruelly of the fact that he still lived, though his other body was dead on the floor.
Two kings dead by one hand. Loki had killed his father. He had done it. It may have been the other that had struck the actual blow, but that was still him. All roads, all origins led to it. It was always him.
He was the one who had exiled Odin in the first place, condemning him to a bleak travesty of life on Midgard. Odin’s death warrant was signed the moment Loki had spirited him away from Asgard; he knew Odin’s heart and soul were powered by the place, and each moment away weakened him. Was the Loki who hated his father so much to murder him in cold blood really so different from the one who would let him wither away undignified and unseen, slowly suffering through time? Surely it was, if not even worse. They were two of the same, forever and always.
The heart inside Loki was struggling to keep pace with the thoughts thundering through him.
And the first: Thor... fuck.
When would Thor find out? Could he feel the depth of Loki’s betrayal even now, wherever he was? What would he do? Surely he would vow revenge and kill Loki, answering regicide with regicide. Thor’s love for him could not be nearly enough to overcome his love for everything else he held dear. And Odin was not only Thor’s king, and as much as Loki had tried to internally deemphasize their relationship as he had his own, it would not merely be regicide that Loki had to answer for. Odin was more than a king. Loki had killed Thor’s father, their father, the Allfather.
The consequence of this betrayal to the only person alive he still cared about redoubled his agony. There were two bodies on the floor. He did not only have to mourn Odin. He had killed the other, the other Loki, the one who had been him and was now no more.
Which is worse?
Loki had killed himself. He hadn’t vanished or discarded his usurping past life. He hadn’t cleanly magicked it away, wistfully disappearing the memory, relegating its existence back to his own mind like before. His passion, his rage, his madness had not allowed that. He did not even have to think . He had stuck his knives through his past self and quelled the fake heart. His blood covered his own hands.
And this was his rashest, most deeply ingrained impulse. His soonest reflex.
He stopped holding on and let himself fall, joining the dead on the cold, barren tile. How deep was his self-hatred.
He didn’t know how long it lasted.
Sometimes it would start to wane, and Loki felt like he had wrestled some small measure of control back, but then another head would sprout unbidden and attack him with a fresh wave of panic; the battle was raging within his very nerves, surpassing all conscious thought, the armies were his very cells fighting with each other, there was no room in his body left for him , only the pain-
And then, suddenly, it stopped.
Head still in his hands, Loki stilled his breathing. Pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. He held his breath. Until the tears started to dry on his face. They stung in his still-open wound. He allowed the weight of reality to settle back in, blanketing his heart and dampening his emotions yet again. He could no longer feel each heartbeat.
He inhaled and opened his eyes as he stood back up, the weak winter sunlight blinding him. He was cold, extremely cold. The attack on his senses by his own body had used up all of his warmth, all of his vitality, and he was an empty shell. But an empty shell offered the opportunity of being filled with something better than what lived in it before.
Loki was back in equilibrium.
But a question remained.
Why could the clone use magic?
That should have been impossible. That was not his intention, and it was not within his ability.
Rather than worry, however, Loki found himself somehow comforted by the mystery. What this remonstration offered him was sweet and soothing and distracting and wonderful . It was the end of the thread, it had to be. And now he had the chance to untangle it. Follow it back to where it started. It was something to do .
It was a beautiful, blessed relief to be able to think again, to ponder on a clear question that held, hopefully, a clear solution. Let logic reign again. Work through it methodically.
The others could not use magic; being only copies of himself, the seidr could not take root in them as they could the original. But this one had defied that. That was a problem. He had some hypotheses, but he also had two dead bodies at his feet. So, unfortunately, it was a problem he would have to deal with later.
He took a long look at the murdered clone, and then vanished it as he had the others. Easy. The blood disappeared with it. Odin didn’t stir.
Loki moved to lift the All-Father, gingerly cradling his torso and neck. The old man felt much smaller in his arms.
“Heimdall,” his voice cracked, “bring us back.”
Chapter 6: Six
Heimdall said nothing when they arrived safely back in Asgard. Loki walked slow and steady out towards the bridge, and felt the golden eyes upon him shaming him for the tears now dried on his face, condemning him for the body in his arms. How difficult it must be for Asgard’s watcher to not rush to the Allfather slumped so pathetically in Loki’s skinny arms. But Heimdall must have known his leigelord’s fate. Heimdall did not pursue futile claims.
Surely he had seen what had just transpired, surely he knew what had occurred in that small room in Midgard. Loki hadn’t been cloaking himself intentionally from the moment the clone had escaped (what use was it anymore?) but he surmised Feral-Loki must have been hiding him. He would have known to give the illusion of one Loki, certainly, and of course he would want to appear as the real one. Of course he would be so arrogant as to think he could fool Heimdall. More worrying was the fact that at least for a little while, his trick had worked. But any spells he had casted should have died with him; as far as Loki knew, seidr had to be connected to a life force to work.
But this clone had broken all of his rules. Feral-Loki wasn’t supposed to have that ability in the first place; he wasn’t supposed to have any magical ability at all. So what was it? Was it even Loki inside of him in the first place, or had his spell been somehow intercepted? What if Feral-Loki in this new timeline was still being used like he was back in his own? What if there had been someone else inside of him, what if Loki had been talking to an interloper in his body all along-
Stop. Stop thinking about it. You have a duty to fulfill.
Was this unknown evil still out there?
No thinking. No consideration. Only movement.
Heimdall’s eyes followed Loki as he strode out of the observatory and into the fading sunlight. Sleipnir was nowhere to be found, doubtless returned back to the stables. Inconvenient, but better this way, Loki knew. He needed to breathe, and the empty expanses on either side of him offered nothing but space to absorb his wild thoughts. The new king cloaked himself and his charge in invisibility and slowly began to walk the length of the rainbow bridge back into the fortress. Their shapes faded away as Loki’s spell took effect, restoring purity to the sun-drenched walkway. No shade would be gleaned from their bodies.
Loki would retrace his steps. Put the pieces back into place. He would go back to where he had started this all, where he could weep and plot and plan without distraction or disturbance.
Each step he took felt like an avalanche, each unseen footprint on the shimmering bridge smothering the vitality below his feet. Loki, harbinger of death, enemy of longevity. He cast no shadow. He was nothing.
And yet, with each stretch of his muscles pulling him forwards, it got easier. With each circulation of warm blood through his veins, it got easier. The avalanche picked up strength as it moved forth, gaining mass, gaining momentum, making it impossible for Loki to slow it or waver. Odin felt lighter with each step, like the void was swallowing up more and more of his mass, taking it from Loki, sharing the burden with him. Or, perhaps, Loki was simply growing stronger.
The palace loomed large ahead. The sun was beginning to set beyond the opposite horizon, lighting the fortress from behind, giving the gold a flat, sterile finish. There was no shine, no gleam, no resplendence. Asgard was its king, and Asgard knew that king was gone.
After an eon of walking, Loki finally reached his home. The imposing front door was closed and locked now, but Loki found its solidness no barrier. He was not made of matter, he was only a ghost. A ghost carrying another ghost. He took a deep breath and phased through it as if it were the unnaturally-vertical surface of some cold, deep pool. The air inside was stale and unmoving, the fires in the lanterns lining the walls weak and weary. The guards stationed by the doors looked to be of similar demeanors. Everything inside was near-frozen in time.
Loki haunted darkened hallway after hallway, his presence leaving only the slightest ripples through the ethereum, but with no one there capable of detecting it, he might have not even truly existed. He returned to his origin, entering the sleeping chamber where he pretended to live and laid Odin to rest on the bed. As if he were the father, as if he was truly Odin this time and not only his imposter, as if he had found a young Loki fallen asleep in the library as he had so many times, and were simply returning him back to his bed for the night. As if he might wake up tomorrow and find Loki and tease him for his bookishness, like he had so many times before. For once, Loki wished for that past.
Now that he was here, now that he had reached the beginning and had nowhere left to go, his thoughts too had caught up. But they would not stop moving onwards with his body, circulating within him unbidden. He could not stop his brain trying to form words to fit what he was feeling. The hopeless words raced through him, trying to describe the emotions as they happened, and not one of them fit. Each failed descriptor exacerbated the longing.
Loki turned his back on Odin and muttered a spell of permanence upon the body. He could look upon him no longer. This man, this king who was his father, life ended by Loki’s own hands. And the monster within that had wanted to do it: this same part that was still full of bloodlust and fury and mania that had lain dormant since his failure on Midgard had once again bubbled up and taken its revenge on itself. Some things never changed, apparently. Loki was the serpent forever doomed to swallow his own tail.
Out of all the factions within Loki warring for dominance, the winner was always the same: the one willing to commit treason each and every time. Never steadfast, never faithful.
Loki called up the invisibility spell again and left the room, sealing it off to all except him with a lengthy enchantment. No loopholes, no intruders. Nobody lived here anymore.
He found himself in Frigga’s garden. It was quite cold, and only the smallest sliver was visible of Asgard’s nearest moon, but amongst the greenery and life and stillness, Loki found solace. The fresh air eased his tired muscles, giving him some small measure of comfort that he could not find inside the sterile golden walls. He summoned a heavy black fur to wrap around himself and sat down beneath a massive, familiar oak tree. He would set his wild thoughts free into it, perchance to pick up life and vitality and wisdom within its branches.
He had not let the garden fully die since taking up control of the realm, but he had also not had anything else planted, and it had stagnated. Loki had made the decision not out of carelessness or spite, but out of respect. He had thought it better this way. Better to let it fade peacefully, naturally, return to dust with dignity and grace as his mother should have, thousands of years into the future. He would treat this last living piece of her as she would have wished it; a testament.
Now, however, Loki felt an uneasiness in his decision. Now that he didn’t have Odin, and barely had Thor, letting the garden die felt like an insult. What gave him the right to let it become sad and barren? How would it honor his mother’s memory to turn the garden into a reflection of himself ? He could not allow this last living symbol to suffer because of his own mistakes. It wasn’t right.
It hurt. It hurt being this selfish.
Here he was, outside in the only place he might’ve been able to feel comfort, wallowing again. You weak fucking idiot. Doomed to suffer forever by your own hand.
Enough. The pain was enough, and Loki would gain nothing more from enduring it, he reminded himself. He would bury it alive, leave it thrashing deep enough that he could no longer hear the cries. It would be reborn as something new, something different. The living earth would change it, purify it, fix it. He had an idea.
Loki had forgotten most of the spells of growing and shaping. They were some of the first Frigga had ever taught him, no surprise. It was a challenge to search deep enough within himself, past all of the sinister, destructive ones, to find them, but he knew they were still there. They were his deepest connection to his mother, ones that could never be fully severed. The spells and memories had become intertwined, fused and hardened by the lengthy years within him. Here, at the roots of this ancient tree, he would release them. Memory could never die. Loki was far too stubborn to let it.
He closed his eyes, felt his body mold into the trunk behind him, the roots beneath him, and let everything go. He must truly cease to exist. An exchange.
The spell sounded like a song; the words floated out of his throat melancholy and tender to attach to leaves and branches and bark, imbuing them with his pain, yes, but also his life-force and his memories, indestructible and warm and immortal. It was a tempest blustering through the tree, unable to be contained, relentlessly buzzing through the air and the dirt to touch every living cell within the garden’s walls. Loki could feel the capillaries and roots of the tree beneath him like they were his very veins, throbbing with purifying lightning, his essence spread out over the entire space, connecting it through his seidr.
When he returned to himself, the bark beneath his hands had changed, hardened. He looked up in wonder at the change he had wrought.
The tree had turned crystalline, transparent enough to see the sparkling life-force rushing through it. Not silver, but the deepest onyx.
It was not Yggdrasil, it was not even a true likeness of it, but it was Loki’s, and he was proud of it. Finally, one thing he had done for his family that had not and could not ever hurt them. He had transformed this selfish fixation on his own memories of his parents into something beautiful that was entirely for them. He had transfigured peace from pain.
The tree had been reborn as a monument; not merely an inert statue, but a living, breathing gift. Loki’s method had been so much the same as what he had done to create this mess in the first place, but the result was so different. Memory was not always doom, he now understood. It did not only have to give him pain and longing. It could bring peace. It just required a little empathy.
Loki did not know exactly when he had fallen asleep, but he awoke slightly dazed in the morning to the cackle of birdsong above his head. He felt unexpectedly refreshed, given the magic he had exhumed last night and the fact that he had slept on the hard ground with naught but a single fur to warm him. The alluvium must have soaked up and washed away his misery and weariness as he had rested and replaced it with fortitude. Interesting. Maybe he was of Asgard, if Asgard was willing to give him so much. Jotun birth be damned.
Loki had respected the life growing in the garden, he had poured his soul and seidr into it, and he had received it tenfold in return. For the first time in years, he felt... not happiness, necessarily (Odin is still dead, it’s still your fault), but contentment. Serenity. He stood up, shaking the dirt from his skin and clothes, and stretched. The world felt open, bare and free, and he did too.
It was not just the world, it was not just Loki’s soul. He had forgotten to recast the invisibility spell last night. Or he must have, because here Loki was, out in the open for all of Asgard to see.
But... that did not seem right. He knew he had cast it before, and he had no memory of ending the spell. Certainly Loki could not have made such a mistake. He had been hiding for years, shouldn’t it have been instinct by now?
What if someone had seen him?
This was dangerous, yes, but as Loki looked down at his very much visible arms, pale and almost blueish in the morning half-light, he had an idea. Loki would do what Loki always did. He would twist this to his advantage. Let them see him. Loki was back.
Loki alive, Loki on Asgard, Loki in the palace... what would the servants think?
Loki smiled wide, which made his scar itch, but he cast no spell upon himself and almost skipped back inside the palace. He was off to the library.
To his pleasure, there were few guards pacing the hallways. He moved quickly, not wanting to be accosted quite yet, and moreover excited to get back to work doing what he loved the most. The few souls dotting the near-empty palace saw only slivers of him, a flash of green in a perpendicular hallway, an untidy mop of black hair in the distance that was far too disheveled to be Loki’s-right?
Come to think of it, it was a bit odd that the palace was this deserted during these prime midmorning Asgardian-bitching hours. This was when “Odin” usually saw the commoners for requests. Obviously, it was Loki’s least favorite part of the day, and it wasn’t unusual for him to skip the audience-taking, but... wait... he was forgetting something... what was it? Oh well.
Loki entered the library. Just as he expected, he was the only one there. Without Frigga, their patron, scholars were few and far between now in Asgard. Loki as Odin could not have encouraged it without causing suspicion; it was one of his larger regrets over his brief foray as the fake Allfather, and he had little time or reason left to do so. Maybe someday, as the true king, he could fix that. Regardless, it benefitted him now, he had his pick of any of the heavy wooden tables and luxuriously stuffed armchairs. He chose one that looked out the back, to the rugged mountains that made up the bulk of Asgard’s extent, and let his mind begin working. The books seemed to impose their vast knowledge upon him whether he liked it or not. Thus was the strength of the library.
The meeting. The gold, the finances, the hint of actual problems in Asgard (the kind that Loki hadn’t caused, probably). It had all been far too easy for Loki to forget once disaster had struck. It was not like Odin to skip a scheduled meeting; Loki may have hated attending, but he wasn’t an idiot, and knew Odin couldn’t fully detach from his duties even under the circumstances. The guards were probably off all over Asgard searching for their lost, elderly king. The thought temporarily made Loki chuckle, before he remembered Heimdall most definitely knew where he had been instead. Heimdall wouldn’t have told anyone his secret... surely...
Odin would need to make an appearance later today. With a very good excuse. Something airtight, something worthy of blowing off one of Asgard’s more important nobles for... like a son returning from the dead.
Sometimes, Loki surprised even himself with his cleverness. It was the perfect plan. Kill two ravens with one stone.
Was this not a viable opportunity for him to seize what he had been waiting to seize for years now? Take the throne for himself, become King Loki? It was simple, really, Loki would only have to “kill” his father again, in a way that wouldn’t get him immediately assassinated in return. Asgard would be watching this time.
He would also have to hope that Thor was not planning on returning anytime soon. Loki would need to conveniently never mention to him that this wasn’t the entire truth, if the time ever came for him to come back. Better believe wholeheartedly in Thor’s gullibility. That would work.
The next question to be answered was how. How best to orchestrate a clean, safe death for Odin that would not leave Asgard revolting against their new king? How best to reveal himself as alive, how best to tell them Thor was never coming back, that he would never be their leader as they had expected? How best to get them to want King Loki, with no reservations?
Loki had little faith in Asgard.
This would be much, much more difficult than simply pretending to be Odin. It would be kinder to the Asgardians, he knew, to keep that charade going indefinitely, or at least until Thor came back. Thor was the only one left alive who would know the difference. But it was not the honest thing to do. It was an insult. And if it was so bad as to weigh on even Loki’s conscience, he knew it could not be right. He would not kill his father off (again) right away, but he knew it had to be soon.
He had a feeling the determining factor as far as when had little to do with when Asgard was ready. It was more a question of how much longer Loki could stand pretending to be his dead father.
That won’t last.
Pleased with his decision, Loki allowed his gaze to go back into focus peering out the dusty window. He could almost see the garden from here. He would need to return to it later sometime to make sure what he had done there was real, and perhaps see if he could determine what had truly taken place last night. But he would have to save that for after he faced the less enjoyable aspects of being two kings at once. Motivation.
The dishonored prince had resurrected and returned to his home. Again. You know, the one who always does this sort of thing. It’s probably growing boring to witness this story over... and over... but it’s nothing compared to living it.
Loki had left the library (after finishing up his scheming) around noon. Ready to get this good and over with, he tried to transform back into Odin in preparation for dealing with the consequences of his temporary disappearance. It didn’t work. The oft-used words had no effect, as if he could no longer inhabit Odin’s body now that the man was dead, or as if his magical power had simply been entirely diminished. But that didn’t make sense, either. Clearly he had used it without issue last night. Loki cursed aloud. Great. Yet another problem with this damned seidr. He had done this hundreds of times before, why wasn’t it working?
Annoyed yet again and already tired of dealing with appearances for the day, he chose to create an image of Odin to send in his stead. For whatever reason, this worked fine. So it wasn’t an issue with his power after all. Only glamour magic. After ensuring he had full control over the Odin-copy, he decided that he would go back to his old room, not Odin’s (Norns help him if he thought he could pilot Odin’s stolen body from the same room as the real one) and hide while this fake one got to do all the real work. He was loathe to leave a clone alone again, after what had happened the last time, but it seemed... a little easier to look at, he thought, if it didn’t have his own face. Maybe he hated himself more than he loved Odin. That’s a nice sentiment.
It was all the better for Loki, as the Odin-copy then endured one of the most bitterly boring afternoons of Loki’s life catching up with the duties he had missed in the interim after explaining the circumstances of his absence to the select group of nobles he thought might give a shit.
What Odin told the council had no single shred of truth in it. If anything, it was almost entirely the truth turned on its head, inside-out, baring the emotions Loki felt himself in a reverse sort of way.
Loki had returned to Asgard to reconcile with his beloved father. Loki had returned to Asgard after several years in self-imposed exile. Loki had returned to Asgard after healing from his near-mortal wounds in Vanaheim. Loki had returned to Asgard to say sorry.
He’s changed! I swear it!
It felt good, damned good, for Loki to lie again, and especially for such a good cause. Perhaps, someday, he could remember this as the truth instead of the other thing. Who alive would know the difference?
The council did not take Odin’s news with elation. Their reaction was probably to be expected, but still dampened Loki’s finally-brightened mood. The nobles gathered in the council chamber almost seemed... unsurprised at the second son’s return. And definitely upset that it had not been Thor’s return they were hearing about instead. It took all of his skills in deceit to not grimace at their lack of joy. Was his cycle of near-death and miraculous survival becoming predictable? That would be the greatest of insults.
Rather than a celebration at the news of Loki’s return, Odin had the pleasure of listening to the nobles struggle to hold their tongues over their obvious dislike of his absence at the budgetary meeting. Onáða, the head of treasury, had no patience for Odin’s great news, and wished to delve straight away into finances; which he thought was a matter of greater importance. The gold imbalance found in the yearly audit was just large enough that Odin had to pretend to care, but did not truly mean anything. Asgard was still so rich in gold and meat and mead that Loki could not feel much concern over a few missing coins. It was probably just another embezzling noble that let his operation get slightly too far out of hand. If he were not so busy with more important things, maybe Loki would, ah... question them all someday (with the help of a bit of potion, of course).
Loki found that he much preferred playing as Odin from the comfort of his room. He could relax in bed, or, for a couple blissful hours, in the bath, while the phantom body of his father got to be king again. How fitting. In fact, he was shocked he hadn’t thought of this earlier; he kicked himself for not sparing himself the headache of many a tedious meeting.
To his relief, however, the meeting did not last terribly long. Onáða and the other nobles let Odin leave after he declared in no uncertain terms how this minor budget issue was not of importance right now. Odin was still king, and had always harbored enough devotion to his family that this was believable. Loki, more important! Exhausted but pleased with the days’ work, Loki let himself pass out on his childhood bed as soon as the ghost Odin left the council chambers. He would deploy the next Loki tomorrow. The one that was to bend Asgard’s rumor mill to his liking.
Rumors of Loki’s reincarnation had started drifting through Asgard soon after he came back. The commoners, who were not yet aware of Odin’s announcement of his return, thought he was a ghost come back to torment them again. Someone had seen Loki in the garden the night before, he later found out, and had evidently not been quiet about it. Asgardians loved gossip almost as much as they loved fighting. Shortly after, a cook had seen him waltzing through the basement corridors, a maid had noticed a light on in his old room, still-glowing embers fading in the fireplace. Loki is alive, how is he alive, why doesn’t he want to be seen, what disgrace has he brought the crown this time? The dead royal come back to life, did Thor know of this? Did Odin know?
Loki had created a clone directly following Odin’s. This clone, portraying the reawakened Loki, was kept tightly under his control. No free will was to be allowed this time. He would be playing Loki as he had for a thousand years. It required all of his concentration to create two bodies at once while remaining in his own.
Recreating the scar on the clone was equally challenging, but in a different way.
He had tried to heal that accursed mark on his face as soon as he had time alone, but to no avail. And so, the clone’s scar unfortunately would need to match his own. It would cause far too many questions if he suddenly showed up with it one day, especially after Odin’s “death”. The real Loki’s scar had closed up, but had not faded much. It was still the brightest of blues. Even with all of Frigga’s knowledge imparted on him, he was never much of a healer, and was not able to make any mark upon it. He was not even able to cover it up with his glamour. The scar would have to remain. A reminder. Hopefully, nobody would notice. Or, at least, they’d be too afraid to ask.
Loki had an ulterior motive for letting them see a clone instead of his actual self. Well, several ulterior motives.
Loki was pleased with his figmented appearances in Asgard so far. He was beginning to find that he liked controlling these bodies, these storylines, from a distance. It provided a welcome challenge for his focus, and more importantly, glorious rest for his body. So far, his plan seemed to be working delightfully. He knew his return must precede Odin’s planned “death”, so as not to cause too much suspicion. He would prepare to crown himself as Odin’s successor in the coming days. As for how Asgard would react to that, he had a trick up his sleeve for dealing with the backlash.
Loki had slowly allowed the clone to be seen more and more by the citizens doing typical Loki things. Retrieving a book from the library with the curtains open, strolling quietly through the outskirts of the palace, idly gazing out of windows pretending to watch the activity below while hoping he himself was being seen. Loki hoped his reputation would precede the actual sight of him for most, and even more importantly, wanted to know what the citizens of Asgard would think of their second-favorite price returning from the dead. Especially with Thor still gone and unheard from. By laying low and spending most of his time with his father, Loki tried to give the impression of Odin wanting privacy with this new revelation, and Asgard was keen to humor their beloved king.
Once Loki mustered up the courage to return to the king’s chambers, he enchanted the real Odin’s body to be invisible and laid him to rest, for the time being, in a trunk in his chambers. Grim, Loki thought, but he would need the real body intact and present for the burial rites. Even Loki would not disrespect the body of his father. He was very glad he had remembered to bewitch it against decomposition before leaving him the last time.
As far as Asgard was aware, Odin had returned to his regular meetings again after his great announcement, taking on the guise of a father who wished to spend all his time with his son, but knew he must deign to do his work. Towards the council, he started to let a modicum of weakness start to creep into his voice, a lag into his reactions, more and more each time they saw him. Let them guess there may be problems on the horizon that they could do nothing to stop or fix.
To Loki’s surprise and relief, playing Odin had actually become much easier once free of the shadow of the real one. Once he had released the memories into the garden, they weighed on him less. He no longer thought as much about perfectly tailoring each word to what he knew Odin might actually say. A strange, changing Odin would fit the bill perfectly for an old man soon to die. Loki could not tell if this charade assuaged his conscience or not.
Settling back while he controlled other skin from afar had allowed Loki a reminder of normalcy again. At least he could now relax and trust in his own spellwork and power. And though he knew it was wrong, having Odin walking around the palace again made the lie much easier for him to believe himself. As if Odin were still alive, or at the least, as if his death had not been his fault in the first place.
But the time was coming, quite soon he could feel, for Odin to die. Loki contemplated and Loki schemed. He could do this. The time had come to carefully construct the impression of an impending Odinsleep. These symptoms he knew very well, and replicating them would be as easy as dreaming itself.
Chapter 7: Seven
A week passed after Odin’s death and Loki’s return. A week of Loki plotting and scheming and lazing from the comfort of his old room while his phantom actors wandered the palace, doing his bidding. A week for them to get used to the bizarre mark upon Loki’s cheek, that had totally been incurred on Svartalfheim. An enchanted scar seemed like something Malekith would want to inflict, right?
It didn’t matter. Loki wouldn’t be explaining it to anyone, anyway.
In truth, seven days was all Loki could endure of parading the fake Odin around the palace, pretending to be near death. And he figured that it was a believable timeframe. A week was long enough for Odin to make this decision. Despite living for hundreds of thousands of years, the Allfather was never one to stay too long on a course of action. Loki knew that it was the wisdom of the world tree moving inside him, steering him towards definite paths, that caused this, and sometimes he was even jealous of it. But all of that wisdom must have died with him and vanished forever. It certainly hadn’t transferred to Asgard’s new ruler. Loki was wrong far too often to believe a higher power might be helping him out.
It was a slightly dour morning when Loki decided he was through with the charade. He wasn’t lonely . That definitely didn’t influence his decision. Sure, he hadn’t seen another living soul through his own eyes in a week now, but... he was fine. No, it was absolutely because Odin would be ready to make this grand announcement. The one that would send Loki to his long-awaited destiny at last.
The real Loki sat half-up in bed, shirtless and messy-haired, while Odin’s imposter called for a formal meeting with the jarls and noble families of Asgard in the throne room.
They knew what was coming. The mixture of concerned, irritated, and jeering faces making up the assembled crowd made Loki laugh.
Odin sat at the golden throne with his specter son humbly standing at his side in full raiment. Appearances were everything. The picture of a perfect ghost family.
Loki prepared to give his speech in his father’s voice from his undignified hiding place.
“Asgard. As you all must know by now, my dearest son Loki has returned to his home. He has survived a near-mortal wound incurred saving us all on Svartalfheim and spent the interim years healing in Vanaheim.” The fake Loki bowed his head towards his father, and Odin continued. “Naturally, I am most gladdened by this revelation, as I am sure you all are. Despite this, I feel myself starting to slip once again into the Odinsleep, as I have been for many months now. The stress of losing both Frigga to Valhalla and Thor to Midgard have worn me thin.” Loki did not have to lie about that part. “It pains me to say it, but this time, I am unsure as to whether or not this Odinsleep will be permanent.”
Whispers spread through the assembled nobility. They could guess what was coming. The people of Asgard had long memories, and had not forgotten what had happened the last time Loki was crowned. While the specter Loki’s face was the picture of somber humility, the real Loki adjusted his pillows and smiled at their scowls. He’d change their minds soon enough.
“But now, I see a clear path forward. It is with gratefulness that I welcome my son home, and with great pride that I announce Loki as my successor in Thor’s absence.” The silence grew more bellicose. Loki could feel hundreds of well-used muscles tensing from across the palace. All eyes shifted to Odin’s side, where Loki’s simulacrum raised his chin and did his best to look dignified and benevolent.
Loki wasn’t expecting much better than this reaction, but hoped Odin’s next proclamation would quell their fears.
“Ah, yes, I know what you are all thinking! Loki was king but a short while ago, and his brief reign brought destruction and pain upon all of us.” Let it never be said that Loki can’t be honest. “While I understand your hesitance in accepting him, we have agreed to something that I expect might help to soothe your doubts. Loki has conceded to a democratic sort of solution. His larger choices and proclamations will be subject to majority rule of a council, selected by you and your charges. While he will be your king in name and power, his more... erratic impulses will be disciplined.”
Loki, obviously, meant none of this. He had every intention of remaining in absolute power. It was all complete bullshit, but it was the tidiest way of gaining and keeping their trust, at least at first.
The assembled eyes widened. They had obviously believed Odin, and seemed genuinely intrigued, though certainly not excited.
“Asgard, what say thee?”
A conspicuously large, heavily bearded man standing in the front immediately huffed up his chest and addressed his king, as if he had been waiting for this moment since he heard of Loki’s return. Loki recognized him. Volstagg’s third cousin, from a very old family, and very familiar with getting his way.
“With all due respect, sire...why not Thor? Was he not next in line for the throne?” His eyes shifted to Odin’s right and stopped directly on the fake Loki’s blue scar. “No... ah... offense, Loki, but wouldn’t Thor be more a appropriate leader?”
Norns. Always so obsessed with Thor, these fools.
“Thor is indisposed, as you well know Fjansi. His duties are away from Asgard.” Loki stopped himself from adding “for now”. He knew he shouldn’t assume that Thor would return. “And this point is neither here nor there. Loki is my chosen successor. That is not up for debate.”
Loki had been intimidated by Odin enough times to imitate it with perfection. Fjansi shrunk back, subdued.
Odin did not let him apologize, and continued as if Fjansi’s complaint was nothing to him. To Loki, it was not nothing at all, being reminded of Thor again, but he couldn’t dwell on it now. “If anybody has any legitimate opinions on the proposed solution, let them be heard. My son’s worthiness is not up for debate.”
Silence. No one dared to gaze at Odin or his heir, let alone speak their minds.
Were they really so afraid of the Allfather? Or was Loki being more menacing than need be, forgetting to not defend himself too brashly? Disquieting as it was, he felt a twinge of satisfaction in curbing their more anarchic leanings. And more importantly, their disdain for Odin’s second son.
Odin started to raise Gungnir to end the meeting when a small voice rose from near the back of the chamber.
“Sire... er... Allfather...” A young-looking woman hastened through the crowd to address her king. Her long, light hair tumbled over her shoulders and blended into her yellow-cream dress. She was clearly nervous, but determined to stake her place amongst the other leaders of Asgard.
“Yes, ah...” Odin trailed off. He did not recognize her. This was a closed meeting of only nobles and jarls. Who was she?
“Sigyn, sire. My father was Sigurd, of the Litlibær-mountain region.” Her voice was quiet, but not weak.
“Was?” Loki was not...completely familiar with every family and faction in Asgard, but he could pick up on rhetoric. Litlibær was far to the northwest, nearly at the opposite end of the disc from here. Its inhabitants rarely traveled to the palace.
“Yes, sire, he died but a few days ago.” Ah. Odin had been rather preoccupied in the interim. “As the eldest of my siblings, I’ve taken his place as Jarl of Litlibær.” She offered a proud smile to go with her proclamation, aware of its significance.
Many of the assembled men muttered in disagreement, but Sigyn didn’t seem to notice. Most of their individual clan’s customs did not accept women in leadership positions, birth order be damned. But the north was an odd place.
“And what have you to opine, Sigyn?” Odin had never been one to offer much sympathy, and his people did not often desire it.
“I...er... I think your plan is very good and very wise, my king.” Her eyes darted from Odin to Loki, who was regarding her with interested satisfaction. She seemed unsure as to which of the two men she should address. “I know not everyone might agree with me, but I look forward to seeing Loki crowned ruler. And I look forward to the people of Asgard having a say in decisions. I offer the full support of the Litli clan.”
The image of Loki smirked, but the real one’s inner happiness at this statement was much more genuine. Did they not know what havoc he had wrought the last time? The north was distant, but ravens traveled fast. Surely they knew what Loki was. And they still vouched for him.
The mutterings from the crowd grew more pronounced. Loki could not care less. Odin smiled serenely at her, and rather than shirking back at the gesture, she returned it.
“I thank you for your support and kind words, Sigyn of the Litli clan. Are there any other thoughts to be voiced?”
The Loki clone winked at Sigyn as she stepped back from the throne. Hmm. Loki hadn’t intended for that. From away in his bed, Loki felt his pulse quicken again. Even under his full control, he did not trust the Loki clone to say something without ruining the moment for himself. He concentrated on making the clone’s face blank and dignified again. He would not let himself ruin this day when so far, everything had gone so swimmingly. Not a single hiccup; even Fjansi’s insubordinate interjection had been useful, for it taught the other naysayers not to ask about Odin’s firstborn. Time to end it before anything else came up.
Odin’s borrowed eyes swept the crowd. A few of the faces had relaxed, or looked deep in thought at Sigyn’s endorsement. Most of them still looked suspicious, as if this were simply another trick of Loki’s to convince them that he had support, if even from one of the more minor clans. But nobody said a word.
“Ah, then I will take your silence to imply your full endorsement. The coronation is to take place tomorrow. There will be no more questions.” Odin made an exaggerated show of leaning on Gungnir as he stood. The actor-Loki turned to him.
“Father, I am grateful for your trust in me. I will not fail you again.” Still within earshot of the nobles, Loki made a point of making himself sound as un-Loki-like as possible. That is to say, trustworthy.
“I love you, my son. You will make a wonderful king for Asgard when I am gone.” Loki could have gagged at the sentiment, but this was for them, not him. How strange it was to have to play both of these characters poorly on purpose.
Sigyn, still standing in the front, gave an amused smirk. As if she could tell this was all a bit ostentatious. But her eyes were still warm, her hope honest. She obviously wanted to talk to Loki more, but he would have to arrange it for later later. Maybe he’d approach her as his actual self, the only one who likely wouldn’t make such a fool of himself while pretending to be sincere.
Ignoring the still incredulous looks of the crowd, the two phantoms turned and slowly strode from the chamber.
The next morning came dark and foreboding, as if the sun had never really risen above the horizon. High winds had drawn low clouds down from the mountains, blanketing the city in icy mist. Great . The static seemed more palpable than normal.
Loki crawled out of bed and immediately felt ill at ease. It wasn’t the cold, he knew that. Perhaps his skin had grown more sensitive to the minute currents of air creeping through the cracks between the window panes. Perhaps the stormy sky itself wished to remind him of its presence unyieldingly until he acknowledged it and asked Heimdall where his brother was. Surely this damned atmospheric phenomenon proved that Thor was still alive somewhere in the nine realms, his power reaching out for Loki even when he was otherwise occupied. That was all well and good, truly , but Loki was rather busy on this day, and needed no reminder from Asgard’s true crown prince that he was usurping his place.
It’s not his place. Reap what you sow.
Loki shivered and shook out his long limbs, casting off the darkness. His week at ease had him feeling fully at home in his body again. His scar no longer stung, and other than the nagging static, he felt good. To his surprise, the previous night had blessed him with the best undisturbed sleep he had received in ages. His nervousness had only returned upon waking, upon thinking. But he was resigned to be confident, no matter what the sky wanted. The coronation would be fine. And better, it would be over quickly. Any dissenters were running out of chances to cause him problems. This was their last opportunity to challenge his authority.
His authority... Loki’s authority, Odin’s authority, it was all the same. Within a few short days, he would exist in one body alone.
Loki was to be Loki today. He didn’t trust the clone anymore (ha, not trusting yourself, wonder what that feels like) , and moreover, this was his shining day. The closest chance he would ever get to truly being crowned ruler of Asgard by his father. He needed to take full advantage and appreciate the damned event.
And this meant taking his time getting dressed and mentally preparing to see the world again. He had been unusually neglecting of his appearance over this past week, and taking the time to look acceptable again brought him peace. His very skin was starting to reek of stagnation.
And so Loki sat before the mirror in the shadowy bathroom brushing his dark hair back into place, the repetitive motion calming his nerves. Doing things by hand that could have been more easily completed with magic was almost meditative for the expert sorcerer. A reminder of what work must be done to complete an action; a study in energy and how it must be manipulated to do something as simple as taming the black waves upon his head. It wasn’t much, but it was the intention that counted.
Hair taken care of, Loki then settled on dressing in the ceremonial armor that he had created to echo Odin’s. It was not an exact match-that would have been awkward-but it was much more traditional than Loki’s normal garb. The thin golden scales that ran up his arms and legs were light and rather flexible, the supple fabric underneath them the darkest green; the hue peeking out from between the stiff plates upon his torso a respite from so much gleaming metal. He felt uncomfortably warm already upon donning it. At least the forest velvet cape felt friendly upon his shoulders.
Looking in the mirror, he couldn’t help but remember the last time he had imagined himself in this situation. In his head, he had been resplendent and beaming in that magnificent red cape, reveling in being chosen over Thor for once in his life. All of Asgard before him, welcoming and cheering him as they never had. Will they this time? Ha. Loki couldn’t hold back the biting pessimism.
No. Loki wiped the memory from his mind. He would not be reproducing that particular fantasy. This was his day, and he was to enjoy it without undue reflection. His desires had changed since then. His feelings towards Thor had changed, and that was definitely a good thing. No longer did he equate the throne with being in his brother’s shoes. In his shadow.
For the first time in memory, Loki felt a surge of pride and satisfaction in his bones that, for once, he could share without shame. He was doing what was right. It may have taken some immoral, painful steps to get here, but alas, he was still Loki, and that was his wont.
He drew up the clone of Odin. It was really quite strange to look upon him, knowing he controlled every action this empty shell acted at. The sight forcibly reminded him of the god he had found dead on Midgard, the one who was now locked safely out of Loki’s sight. The man blessed with infinite wisdom, now murdered and shoved into a chest. How gruesome a thought that was.
Maybe Loki’s slow death sentence, exiled from his homeland, had been working more hurriedly than he thought. He didn’t know whether this made him feel more or less guilty.
Quiet. Loki turned away from the shell. He would not be spending the rest of his life with Odin clouding his peace of mind.
“Nervous, brother?” he said out loud to himself, chuckled a little wildly, and set out with his father to finish the job.
The energy in the throne room was certainly more...subdued than the last Asgardian coronation had been. For Thor’s coronation, the enormous chamber had been packed to the brim with excited citizens. Today, it was barely a third of the way full.
Loki could not find it within himself to care. He did not need Asgard’s love to be the king they needed.
Odin shuffled slowly into the room, milking the incoming Odinsleep narrative as hard as he could. There was no time for subtlety. His son sauntered in behind him, head held high. Odin climbed the stairs and heavily took a seat upon the throne even as Loki stopped and knelt before him. Unlike the howling wind outside, the atmosphere in the throne room seemed decidedly stagnant and empty. Nobody was breathing; this air contained no life-giving properties.
Only Heimdall stood by the throne this time. Four warriors, one queen, and one brother all gone. Nice job, Loki. It’s lonely at the top, isn’t it?
Odin banged Gungnir on the ground once. No cheers split the stillness. He looked upon Loki alone.
“Loki. My son, my heir.”
Loki bowed his head, unable to meet his father’s empty eyes. The pointed ends of his headpiece aimed directly into the meager crowd. He felt all of the restrained anxiety from the last week slipping back through his veins, guilt and fear mingled betwixt his lightning nerves, dropping his stomach out from inside of him. He struggled to inhale the barren air and hold back the tears forming deep in his skull.
“The time has come, once again, for me to rest. I feel the Odinsleep drifting upon me now, and to ensure the safety and comfort of our realm, I must act. It is with great pride that I leave the fate of Asgard in your nimble hands.” Loki forced his stinging eyes upward, expecting to see dried blood staining the throne, expecting Gungnir to be not in his father’s hand but sticking out from his chest, expecting his body to leave him and rush up the stairs to thrust the spear into the king.
And still the shell continued. The moment passed, and Loki shook out of it. Reap what you sow, remember? “Asgard. I know that you remember the last time Loki stood in my place. I know you have doubts and fears about his capabilities and morals.” Loki may have been an accomplished liar, but there was no reason to diminish what they all knew. This actually drew chuckles from the crowd, breaking the tension with the Allfather’s everlasting charisma. Loki relaxed. The actor-Odin was just too good. “I wish that you trust in your Allfather. Loki has changed, and I am certain that he will be the greatest king Asgard has ever had. No. The greatest king the nine realms have ever seen.”
Loki had to hold back a laugh. Norns, he’s really going for it, isn’t he?
Not a boo from the crowd, nor a scowl. Only acceptance.
No. The actor-Odin wasn’t too good. Loki was too good. Loki had orchestrated this and Loki had won. The roaring pit in his stomach was filling, bubbling up with glorious golden joy. The self-satisfaction was back.
The greatest king the nine realms have ever seen. He spoke it as Odin, and he spoke it to assuage the plebeians, but oh, how he truly believed it in this moment.
“Do you swear to guard Asgard?”
Leave Thor to guard the other realms. That’s what he wants, right?
“Do you swear to preserve the peace?”
Loki the warmonger? Never!
“Do you wear to cast aside your selfish ambitions and pledge yourself to the service of the realm?”
Like those two things are mutually exclusive.
“Then I pronounce you, Loki son of Odin, King of Asgard. Long live King Loki!”
Long live King Loki.
He stood up and turned to face his people. The joy had consumed him entirely. His blood was molten gold. He lifted his head high and smiled to the heavens.
The enormous throne room was eerily silent, as if its inhabitants were waiting for some sort of signal.
Then: a single voice.
“Long live King Loki!” It echoed through the hall, the reverberations sounding their own affirmations for the new king.
Loki’s eyes shot around, looking for the source. Sigyn’s smile stood out brightest amongst the crowd.
“Long live King Loki!” came the reply from her clan, from all of the mountain clans, and then from most of the rest of the assembled Asgardians.
Loki closed his eyes to stop the tears from escaping. He was content.
Chapter 8: Eight
King Loki swung his legs up on the library table and breathed a heavy, relaxed sigh. It was the second evening after the coronation, and the lights of the city below peeking through the velvet curtains still seemed more subdued than normal. The feast celebrating his crowning would take place the day after tomorrow.
Well, coronation and funeral feast. Loki thought it wise to combine the two. Odin was to die on the third day of Loki’s rule. Just enough time for Loki to plan it perfectly; enough time for Odin to get his affairs in order, enough to not arouse too much suspicion. Long enough for Loki to start proving himself a benevolent ruler. Ha. Loki knew his loyal subjects wouldn’t think him above patricide.
“Are you ready to go home?” he asked to the image of Odin sitting across the room, dignified and stoic, pretending to read. “Valhalla calling, and all that?”
Loki had meant it as a joke to himself, but it only made him feel worse. He was getting overtired of this.
Odin’s would be a quiet death. A peaceful embrace of sleep for a retired king who had lived far too lengthy a life already. It would not set off any alarm bells.
More importantly, it would be soon. Loki’s spell of permanence upon his father’s body would last indefinitely, but his resolve at interacting with the phantom still playing Odin would not. Clearly, it was already nearing expiration. The coronation had helped soothe his guilt (or at least provided a welcome distraction), but it was only a brief respite, and the penitence was growing hard to manage again.
Loki knew he could simply write it off as trying to be obeisant in his first few days as king, but when he issued no sweeping proclamations, no structural changes to Asgard’s courts, no real requests to anyone at all before the feast, he knew there was a more insidious phenomenon at play. He was simply indifferent. It pained Loki to admit it, but he was actually becoming rather weary of all the lies. He wanted to be himself again, and only himself, but knew therein lay a paradox-who was he if not the god of lies, of false appearances, of dramatics? This story was growing old. He longed for a new one.
Still, it was almost over. A few days, a few hours left of this farce. The blink of an eye, and the ghost would be exorcised forevermore.
Loki closed his eyes and reflected. He was so close.
The now-crownless Odin had been spending most of his time away from the concerned crowds. Allegedly (well, alleged by Loki), he had been reveling in the lack of duty that came with the changing of power, but with every sigh, every stumble, the people of Asgard suspected something more sinister was going on. This was part of the plan. Loki had mostly kept his father’s image out of sight, but paid mind to show him weak and weary a few times a day when he was spotted. Let the plebeians guess what he was doing in private. Counseling on Loki on how to be a good king? Chastising him for his past actions? Growing closer to death? Hopefully, a combination of all. Loki appreciated the mystery. He also appreciated minimizing the time spent parading Odin’s foul body around. He felt he was above that now.
But not above making unfunny jokes at Loki’s own expense in a feeble attempt to lighten the mood. Loki cursed himself aloud for that, and the image of Odin didn’t make any signal to show that he had heard it.
However, Loki did have an ulterior motive for hiding away from his duties for a few days. An excuse, really. Spending time alone with Odin allowed him to avoid doing any actual ruling. He reveled in the ambiguity of his absence. Obviously, despite what Odin had said at the coronation about having checks on King Loki’s power in the form of some rule of council and proto-democracy, Jarls and peasants alike had clearly been expecting eccentric (at best) changes to come. Likely from the very moment the crown had hit his head. So Loki did nothing of the sort. Must’ve been boring for them.
He may have had a good reason behind his excuses, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other less savory feelings being protected by his inaction, too.
The thought stirred something in him, and he stood up a bit too quickly. He paced to one of the long windows, pressing the backs of his hands into the glass to feel the cold from outside.
In truth, Loki found it difficult to do anything at all until Odin’s body was gone, disappeared forever into the void. The void... Ha. How ironic.
His focus shifted and Loki saw his eyes reflected in the window. The warmth of the torchlight in the library made them look almost orange. A bittersweet smirk lifted a corner of his mouth.
He was glad he had allowed himself to be figuratively paralyzed. It was the clever decision. Instead of going out and doing something foolish, he was doing the prudent thing, spending most of his time in the library where he could be alone, putting most of his focus towards convincing Asgard their Allfather’s time was up and they should be glad of it. Putting the rest of his focus towards rereading old tomes; this pleasant reminder of his mother was his last safe haven and source of strength. And it did help, really. At least Loki knew the circumstances of her death were such that she could not betray him from beyond the grave as Odin kept doing. He would atone for her death at Odin’s funeral, too.
Loki sat back down at the desk and stared into a blank piece of parchment, thinking over his plan for the third day of his rule, the switch of bodies and orchestrated death of Odin Allfather. Recreating the Odinsleep was the easiest way to convince the masses of a peaceful death, and definitely the quickest method-it would require the least explanation or potential for problems for Loki. It was the honorable way.
He was really rather proud of the elegance he had come up with. Playing the part of the mourning son, Loki would demand time alone with his father on his deathbed. He would create the illusion of a kneeling, crying Loki over Odin’s body if anyone tried to enter the room-much more convincing than locking the door-while he switched the real body, still hidden away in the trunk, out with the fake one. Lifting the enchantment would leave Odin in the same state he died in. Loki would then call for help, be found with the newly-perished body, and the funeral would take place the morning of the feast. The only real issue was the gory wound still gaping in Odin’s chest. He would have to cover that up with more illusory magic, but doing so was closer than second nature to Loki at this point. Covering up had become his identity.
The last piece of the puzzle was the feast itself. After this, Loki would be done. He would finally be able to let go and... then what? Forge a peaceful, prosperous new future for Asgard? Create the most mayhem as possible? Send for Thor to come back? Loki hadn’t figured this part out yet. He might never try.
He had, however, figured out the details regarding the feast. He had hammered it out right after being crowned, to give them the longest time to prepare. Were this simply a celebration of his coronation, Loki would have expected few attendants, probably no more than those he had seen in the throne room that day. A sordid affair-they’d all be home by midnight. But a coronation feast it was not. Loki could try to make this event about him, and surely once he had consumed enough wine he would do exactly that, but he wasn’t the guest of honor, and certainly not the reason all of Asgard would try to show up. No, this was a farewell celebration. A chance for the people to come and pay their last respects to the last leader they respected.
Loki had told the event planners, who had been outlining a modest event with a few hundred Aesir in attendance at the most, to increase their estimations.
“Wouldn’t want anyone going hungry under their new king, would we?” Loki had teased to one of them, who tried not to look too doubtful. He stifled a laugh and sent them off with a smile. Let them handle the work. He was one step closer now, and it was nigh time he enjoyed it.
But that was earlier, and he hadn’t done much to fulfill his promise of feeling better. He had never been good at keeping promises.
Loki left the library earlier than usual that night. He was tired.
He awoke the next morning feeling slightly better. He knew of something more productive he could do today. In any case, Loki knew he wouldn’t be spending his entire day amongst the books again. Maybe he could start it there (he knew he should), but it was with the plan of absconding outside at the earliest possibility.
He had suppressed it over the past few days, had pushed the memory from his mind so he could focus on the tasks at hand, but the mystery of what exactly he had done in Frigga’s garden was creeping, vine-like, back into his mind. It was about time to figure it out.
Upon waking, Loki tried to get some studying done, to search for any ancient knowledge in Asgard’s library that might explain what he had done. But there was nothing. There was nothing hidden in the rows of books that Loki hadn’t read many times over, anyway. If this knowledge existed anywhere in Asgard, it was already living inside him.
He knew his return to the garden had been inevitable, despite his ill-intentioned attempts to put it off. He had glimpsed it written in the constellations making up the tree’s surface when his spell had transmuted it; this return was a mission spelled out to him from genesis. Once he allowed himself to, he admitted he had wanted so dearly to come back anyway. He had to make sure his memory of the night had physical proof confirming the fantastic and it had not all been a dream. The interim hours of waiting and planning had been growing near unbearable, and only distance might soothe his anxiety over what was to come later that day.
In a much baser way, however, Loki felt something foreign inside him growing stronger. It had taken up residence in his heart and he could start to feel its influence spreading, like a toxin, through his veins, and yet he could not figure out what it was actually doing to him. Perhaps it was the same magic imbued within the tree. In any case, it was affecting him. The pull from the life now connected to his was flourishing. He wondered whether it was an omen of what he was to find contained within the rugged stone walls, though whether it originated from him or from the monument itself, he wasn’t sure. A mutual yearning, it must have been.
It’s time to give into it.
He gave up in the library after a short hour of searching; it was growing stifling inside and he could resist the pull no longer. Loki stepped out onto the narrow balcony outside the library and descended the steps to the grounds behind the palace, the air growing cooler and more welcoming in his lungs as he grew closer. He walked slowly to revel in the peace before the anguish, a preparation for the pain he was about to walk back into. More than likely, he’d want to come back after, too. Maybe never leave, move his bedroom and the throne room and all of the places he ever had to go out here. Build the walls high enough so that none could come in uninvited. But this was assuming that his dream had been real, and Loki was not sure that it was. Truthfully, he didn’t feel capable of that sort of power, or more aptly, goodness. Could a figment of his imagination make him feel better?
He turned the corner and stopped in his tracks. He realized he had an answer.
What had been contained and fettered before had grown wild in the few short days that had passed. White-flowered ivy now covered the stone walls, tree branches trespassing beyond the gates that had previously held them in. The black tree Loki had created now expanded upwards and outwards in a canopy, the leafless branches allowing sparkling sunlight through to the ground below. It was not a garden, but a jungle.
Loki’s eyes widened as he resumed a much slower pace towards the gate, wonder bringing him nearly thoughtless. It’s real.
He pushed open the vine-covered gate to behold the sight within. Loki’s Yggdrasil-copy had seemed to affect everything else in the garden, now-or was that just his magic? Either way, the black scintillation seemed to be imbued in all of the plants, which had grown massive, flourishing with the life that Loki had given them. He could feel the hidden magics weaving through each root, the seidr binding every cell to a power stronger than it had known before. The air was sweet, the light warm and welcome filtered through the web of black branches above. Loki couldn’t help but feel a part of this strange beauty, too.
He sat again on the twinkling roots of the tree and felt a semblance of what he had felt before; a divine connection to the viridian inhabitants of the garden. They strengthened him, soothing over his pain and his spite with their expert tranquility.
And you did this. Nobody else.
After he thought it, though, Loki doubted it. No, not doubt. He knew it was a lie, and not even a good one. This wasn’t only Loki’s doing. This was Frigga’s garden, and this was Frigga’s work. Loki knew it, but instead of feeling spited, the thought bolstered him, glowing within him as he felt his mother’s presence in this sacred place. He had only been the conduit for her fantastical spirit to find a home here.
Loki was right. This had helped. His spell had had been his personal funeral for Frigga, even though he may not have known it at the time. She rested now in Valhalla, yes, but maybe this could be a vacation home of sorts. Whenever she wanted to come back, Loki would be here, waiting and wanting, to give a much better goodbye than he had managed before.
Loki knew he was crying, and so he sunk further among the roots, feeling his body disappear and meld into the earth, readying himself to let go completely and fade into the goodness that he could have never mustered entirely by himself. But the solidness of the trunk seemed to stop him, to push him back out. Reminding him of his duty, his other last goodbye that he had so procrastinated.
And he admitted that the tree might have a point. Odin was already dead, so why wallow in grief anymore? What use was there in prolonging his purgatory? The Allfather deserved his stay in Valhalla, same as the rest of his people. He might have not always been the best to Loki, he might have even deserved his death. At this point, Loki no longer knew or cared. He couldn’t go back on his actions, so this was the last step at making peace with them. Or... at least the next step.
He stayed like that a little longer, meditating on this moment which would never be repeated. And then he left.
Spirit still glowing inside of him, Loki returned to his father’s room one last time. It was stale in here, but now it didn’t bother him. Working quickly and efficiently, he sent the trunk containing the body into the Odinsleep chamber with a simple charm and recreated the image of Odin again, taking care with his appearance. Loki knew he would never forget the last time he had sent his father into this state, so why not use that memory for good, now that he was strong enough to? Loki and his father’s image quietly left the room.
Paying careful mind to wandering eyes, they deliberately walked side by side towards the Odinsleep chamber. It was a short walk, and Loki wanted them to be seen. He pressed his lips together. The phantom clinging to his arm may not have been real, but it was a good replication-he could feel the warmth of the blood pulsing, the frailty of failing muscles, the delicate bones through thin skin. He didn’t mind the manufactured vulnerability. It kept him honest. Loki’s last apology.
“Sire!” A palace guard they had passed called out towards them, a look of deep concern on her face. Odin stumbled, and Loki caught him. Her eyes widened and she ran for help.
Loki looked into the fake Odin’s eyes. Fear . This felt much more real than he had anticipated.
They heard several pairs of footsteps rushing towards them, and Odin gave his son a distressed look. Loki set his jaw and hoisted his father into his arms. He would have to carry him over the threshold. He ignored the guards.
The door to the Odinsleep chamber swung open, and Loki was confronted with Heimdall, standing next to the trunk. Loki nodded to him and laid the image of his father on the plinth. Heimdall gave him a knowing look, and left to deal with the guards and nobles still at the palace, who would undoubtedly want to rush to Odin’s side. The doors shut with a definitive thud.
Loki acted quickly. He dissolved the visage of Odin from the bed for the last time and approached the trunk the real body still lay in. Taking a deep breath, he undid the wards and locks he had set upon it, and opened the coffin.
Odin’s body remained as he had left it, magically halted from decomposition; Loki had bested the effects of time. Odin’s lined face was peaceful, his chest still bloody and opened. Violence. Loki’s arms twitched as he lifted his father’s body and placed it back in the place the image had just vacated, and vanished the chest. One more spell, and Loki would be finished. He magicked his father’s broken, gaping chest into the illusion of one whole piece again, removing the rest of the blood, giving him fresh clothing to match what the phantom Odin had been wearing earlier. The fantasy was perfect; Loki had recreated a permanent Odinsleep with integrity. Odin’s unbeating heart, his unnatural coldness, betrayed his sleeping form. There was to be no doubt that the Allfather was really gone.
One last step. Loki took his place at Odin’s side as Frigga once had.
“Heimdall. You can open the doors again.” He only needed to whisper, as if he could have made his voice any stronger anyway.
Loki did not have to magic the tears into place.
Loki was numb from the moment the word of Odin’s death went out until he was finally left alone. He hadn’t been able to leave Odin’s side, and he sure as Hel didn’t care what the Aesir thought of that. He felt little sympathy for them. The entire realm may have been in mourning, but Loki was the greatest of them all. Returned to his room and alone, finally, he could allow his outer shell to mimic what he felt inside. Regal, glorified, powerful, indignant, melancholy.
But after all of that faded... Loki felt better. The attack of feelings was much gentler, and much shorter, than the last time.
Really, he was fine.
He had sent word out through Heimdall to those preparing for it that the feast would be both for his coronation and for Odin’s death. Out with the old, and in with the new. The funeral would take place immediately preceding the festivities. Loki was always one to match sadness with mirth, and vice versa. The day would probably go by so quickly that he wouldn’t even notice it had happened. Just another day to check off before he could start his absolute rule of Asgard. Not a problem.
And then he thought about actually attending the funeral, and he was not fine again.
In a few short hours, he’d have to watch his father float away into the abyss, imagining his mother in Odin’s place, imagining Thor in his place, imagining Loki himself in his place. He couldn’t banish the images from his mind, but it was different now; Loki remembered the actual death of Odin too vividly. Odin’s wound had brought him back to that tiny room on Midgard, and now Loki’s mind was again ruined. Regret had returned, distorting his despair, twisting his innocent sadness. And the worst part was that he knew it was right. The only truth Loki could not hide from was the truth that hurt him the most. And so he embraced it. He vowed not let himself forget that all of this was entirely his fault. A part of him had wanted this death, this end, this beginning, and now all of him got to deal with repercussions. He did not deserve to feel grief. Reap what you sow.
Two funerals, two dead rulers, was far too much for Asgard to bear in such a short time. And it was certainly too much for Loki to bear, but he would do it anyway. The queen’s death was still so fresh. At least they all had the promise of seeing them again in Valhalla someday. Loki wasn’t foolish enough to expect such a thing for himself. This was his last and only goodbye.
You deserve to see it.
Could his father’s funeral make up for Frigga’s? Did he want it to?
It didn’t matter if he could bear it. He would bear it. He would bear more than anyone.
Loki did not need to preside over much of the planning for Odin’s funeral, which was a great relief to him. He made only one critical decision.
He had made the decision shortly after retiring to the king’s chambers after leaving Odin’s side. Many had offered their king company for a few hours (Heimdall not among them), knowing Loki would not want any of it but wanting to be polite. He shook them off at the threshold and closed the door much harder than he needed to. He poured himself a goblet of wine from the flagon sitting on the bedside table; the quieting buzz of alcohol the only company he craved.
Well. He could have gone for some other company as well, but not from anyone on Asgard.
Gungnir stared at him as he started to remove his outer clothes in preparation for the warm embrace of sleep. The day had dragged on far too long, and the next would be even worse. He pulled off his boots, knowing he was being watched. Gungnir... what was the damned thing good for anyway? Odin’s golden spear contained the very essence of Loki’s guilt and shame. He could try to ignore it for now. Maybe move it into Asgard’s vaults with all of the other discarded playthings. He would never be able to wield it again, that was for sure.
No... even the thought of the weapon living below him as he ruled was too much. It yearned for more than that; it yearned for its dead master.
Loki knew what he must do.
Odin would be sent into the void bearing the very weapon that killed him. As Loki’s last apology and farewell. Fuck the damned spear. Away they both would go.
Loki haphazardly yanked off the rest of his leathers, downed the flagon of wine, and passed out.
He woke up the next day, still bleary-eyed and rather annoyed, to the sun beating down on his face and the sound of wind rushing through the trees outside his window. The weather could not have been any different from his coronation day. Full sun, to better highlight the worn lines on Odin’s forever-still face; strong wind, to better push the boat out of Asgard and into the void.
He languorously crept out of the bed and strode to one of the tall, graceful windows looking out over the city. He slumped his forehead on the glass and peered down. The city had been up for hours, preparing for the events of the day. Smoke drifted through chimneys, commoners bustled around attending to matters. Loki’s eyes slowly inched up, sweeping across the buildings shrinking smaller and smaller until they gave way to water, endless darkening water until it dissolved into blackness.
The abyss projected into him memories, unwanted emotions, so he glanced away.
The Bifrost bridge looked not rainbow, but silver and blank in the bright sunlight, devoid of all of its color and life and spirit. Loki’s gaze slid up it sinuously, trying to follow the patterns of hue he knew were there but obscured, blinded by the glare. The green met the gold of the Bifrost and lingered there far too long; expecting, fearing something to happen.
He’s not coming.
Loki clenched his eyes shut and took a few steps backwards from the window, spun around slowly, and prepared to dress. All black for day, all green for night. The transformation would be written in his very garments.
He ate a few bites of the bread and cheese set out for him, but only had the stomach for mead; Loki craved sweetness most when what he needed was compassion.
The funeral would start in a few minutes, at high noon. Loki relayed to the planners beforehand that his father was to be sent off with his weapon, valuable as it was. They had certainly looked surprised at the statement, but Loki had his mind set.
The king exited his chambers for the throne room to join the procession, Gungnir in hand. He found it fitting that he would be the last to hand it to his father, rather than having it laid upon him with the rest of the funeral dressings before.
Loki breathed in guilt, breathed out grief, and entered the processionary. The cape on his shoulders dragged on the ground as he slowly descended the stairs to where Odin now lay.
Unlike his coronation, every inhabitant of Asgard had shown up to pay their last respects to their Allfather. They turned to look at Loki, not with angry faces as he expected to see, but with expressions of shared sorrow, of sympathy and togetherness. Heimdall, watching not idly from the Bifrost observatory but amongst his people. Sigyn, bold and strong despite the circumstance, not a tear to be found in her viridian eyes. Loki saw no accusation towards him, but felt guilty all the same. He could not remember to forget that they did not know this was his doing, his evil plan all along. He also forgot that it was not his plan.
Loki stopped a few yards short of the body. The coffin was so different from the one Loki had so unceremoniously dumped him in before. Ornamented with vines and lilies, the golden box supported the still Allfather high for all to see. Sounds of weeping began to fill the air.
Asgard lamented as one as the Allfather seemed to absorb and emanate back their energy, circulating suffering that would have no outlet until it was released into the void. Loki could not wait any longer. Gungnir seemed to pull him forward, back to its home in Odin’s hand. The body called out for its executioner, as if yearned to reunite with that which had spilled its blood, as if this reunification would breathe life back into it, as if what was done could be undone.
Loki approached the casket, bowed his head, and offered the sacred spear to his father, as if he expected the arms to reach out and take what belonged to them.
Not a word was spoken. There was nothing to say.
He placed Gungnir between Odin’s hands and stepped back. Released from its bonds, the boat began its journey through the united descendants and out to the openness. As it drifted out from under the golden roof, the sun rose up over Odin’s head, down Gungnir to his feet, warming him in a final embrace.
Loki watched the boat exit, feeling his gloom wash away with each passing moment, leaving only emptiness in its wake. It was invigorating to feel nothing again.
The flaming arrow was launched from somewhere to his left, and he didn’t bother to spare a look or thought for the archer. The mark was true, the boat aflame, the body returning to ash.
Finally, finally, it reached the void, diffusing into the bright sunshine. Valhalla ahead.
Chapter 9: Nine
Odin’s body gone, Loki turned his back and retreated into the shadow of the throne room from his place watching the casket float away just outside. It was too hot to stay in the sunshine for longer than necessary. The dimness of the throne room interior was comforting. He took a seat on the throne, and the Aesir slowly tore their gazes away from the black void to look at their king. Loki knew he should probably say something, but his mouth wouldn’t seem to open.
Someday, Loki thought. Someday, he would tell his subjects the truth, that he was a regicidal usurper and deserved not the throne, but death. Might as well mention his Jotun blood, too, so they knew he wouldn’t ever have the chance of being seen again in Valhalla. As if his death would be honorable enough to fulfill that prerequisite anyway.
Maybe he’d wait until Thor got back. That way, Asgard would have a willing executioner and a preferable king.
Loki’s shoulders tensed and he stared out the open end of the throne room, past the water, past the stars, seeing nothing. Miserable stubborn wretch. He was better than this. The mere thought of Thor reminded him to do better.
Loki turned his gaze down and smiled. A defense mechanism.
“Asgard. I would like to formally invite you to a feast, taking place tonight, in honor of Odin Allfather.” No mention of celebrating his coronation; the words came out more gleeful than he intended them. “Together may we celebrate his storied life, honorable passing, and our hope for the new future for the Golden Realm. May we not mourn those who have died a glorious death, but rejoice for their life eternal in Valhalla.” He hadn’t meant to add on that last part. Thanks a lot, Thor.
It seemed to be working, though, as the grieving Aesir bowed their heads to him and knelt. The sight reminded him of a time he’d rather leave behind entirely. At least now you needn’t ask.
Loki turned his chin up, shut his mouth, and left the funeral. It was all over now. Time to celebrate.
Grief pushed deep below the surface, Loki returned to his chambers to prepare himself for the revelry to come. He had a few hours to be alone, and was adamant on making the most of them. Asgardian funerals were dour affairs, yes, but the feasts that followed were very much the opposite. Even the lowliest peasant’s death was cause for the Aesir to drink and eat and fuck for days. Loki wondered when the fools ever got any work done, and knew that Odin’s death may very well drain every drop of alcohol in the realm.
He threw open the nearest window, sat down heavily on the bed, and reached for the large decanter on the side table. There would be countless hours of forgettable merriment ahead, and by Norns, Loki would need the wine more than anyone.
He swung his legs up on the bed and thudded his head against the headboard, taking little care not to spill from the narrow-mouthed decanter. Might as well start now.
The low rumble of thunder roused Loki from his stupor. The light filtering in from the windows was beginning to glow pink with the setting sun, and the floor beneath the open one was damp. He sat up, feeling warm and rather sticky. A late afternoon thunderstorm must’ve rolled in sometime during his dream.
Loki felt strong, though, despite the heat and wine still burning through his body. The drained decanter was on its side next to him. Maybe it was the air, but he felt alive. Some alchemy of wine, humidity, and the dream had taken hold of him, and he knew the feeling would drive him through the rest of the night. Unsure of how long he had spent in the dazed half-sleep, he tried to remember what he had been half-lucidly dreaming of.
They were better times, he knew that for certain. Playing like children, except they didn’t look any younger. Thor chasing him through the streets and narrow alleys of Asgard’s city. Frigga and Odin waiting to embrace them when Thor finally caught up with his little brother. Family.
Strange, that. In a different state, he may have been annoyed, maybe even repulsed, or at least confused by it. But now, he wished to shut his eyes again, to re-enter that reality and live that time again, but no, he cursed aloud, he had to go and celebrate Odin’s departure to Valhalla that Loki had so kindly quickened.
It was so easy to stay here... to send for another decanter of wine... to dive deeper into the ocean of thought and memory and haze... retreat to the fantasy forever.
Was it really a dream, though, if he had never really fallen asleep? He felt so much less... stubborn than usual. Maybe the alcohol had simply induced a reverie-broke the self-imposed barriers down to reveal the life that might’ve been that he had hitherto been unwilling to acknowledge. He had slipped below the surface without sinking too deep. But this was a danger. Now he knew the creatures lurking below, stalking him, waiting to attack.
Loki recognized their faces.
Another clap of thunder, stronger than the first this time, rumbled through the room and Loki sprung up, suddenly very ready to go to the feast. He muttered a familiar spell and the black of his clothes shifted magically to varying shades of green. He made no attempt to match them all, preferring the entropy of clashing colors. This was a day of change. Changing his image seemed natural; it allowed him to reflect a small portion of the inside of him, for once.
Speaking of reflect... Loki approached the tall mirror in the corner of the room and looked at his almost-forgotten scar. He had been avoiding this, but now seemed the right time to accept that it was a part of him, now. Still blue, still the same size and shape it was before. It did seem slightly dimmer, though, and a deeper shade. Rather beautiful in the light of the setting sun.
He tore his gaze from the mirror, left the crown aside for the night, and left to join the party.
Asgard’s largest hall was, to his delight, very full and already rowdy upon his entering. No one took much notice of their king slipping in through a back door to interrupt their celebrations. They were too busy asking for more food, challenging each other to friendly brawls, and flirting with each other to care. Struck by a sudden fondness for his people, Loki took his seat at the center of the high table next to Heimdall. Heimdall is here... Loki had invited him, of course, but assumed he wouldn’t want to leave his eternal place at the Bifrost observatory. Apparently, he trusted Thor to protect the nine realms more than he trusted Loki to not fuck up his own party.
“Evening, Heimdall,” Loki said brightly .
Heimdall nodded a reply. He too busy watching the people drink themselves mad to notice Loki. Fascinating. Loki tried to watch, too, but it was difficult holding his eyes in one place for more than a few moments. This was his responsibility now, to watch. Responsibility... bah.
Not a one of the jarls at the high table acknowledged his presence, congratulated him on the smooth first days of his rule, or offered their condolences over his loss. It occurred to Loki how very few allies he now had, on any realm.
He took a long gulp from the mead-filled chalice to his right. He would have to fix that.
“My king, Loki, are you quite well?”
The feast was, so far... surprisingly normal. Almost as if Loki was not king, and nothing at all had changed.
It was certainly within the range of reason that Loki would be this drunk by now. He had been spinning a fantastical story for her, one of bilgesnipes and magical swords, when he had trailed off suddenly before reaching the end.
“Why, yes, dear Sigyn, I am! I miss Odin dearly, so dearly, but I am so full of-” Loki nearly hiccuped, “h-hope for the future.”
He had invited Sigyn to his other side at the head of the table. Rewarding his other ally instead of procuring more, as he should have been doing. The chattering jarls, who now seemed to be playing an elaborate drinking game involving flying hammers and a tree stump, had certainly taken notice of her elevated place and were displeased by it, but Loki would deal with them later. Luckily, like Loki himself, they had preferred to drown their antipathy in ale rather than starting any trouble.
Sigyn stifled a laugh. She had consumed nearly a barrel of ale herself.
“And I too. As much as we loved all loved the Allfather, eventually the time must come for the passing of the flame. I’m actually glad I was able to see it firsthand.” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound disrespectful! I know you probably feel terrible, still. I know I’m not over Sigurd’s death yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be, but here we are, moving ahead regardless.” So eloquent, still. She smiled in spite of herself. The mountain clans handled their liquor better than Loki ever could.
His addled mind reminded him that, yes, it had been him to set that particular path alight. Sigyn had a point, though. In all likelihood, the both of them would be better rules than their fathers had been. Maybe it was the mead, or Sigyn’s kind words, or even the lingering effects of the afternoon's dream, but Loki felt much less guilty than he had since killing Odin. And the feast was going so well. The Aesir were bloated and happy, and Loki was the sole blame for that. Perhaps his younger self had been right to instill this future. Perhaps Loki ought to be more true to himself, less-savory parts included.
“You and me, Sigyn, we are. And we will keep moving on until we meet them again in Valhalla.” Lie.
Loki smiled, comforted that even drunk, his lies were strong. Better yet that the untruth was borne of respect for Sigyn, the one who was somehow believing in him when he had proven over and over that his place in Asgard was undeserved. This could be a fruitful kinship, indeed. He let the conversation pause, instead appreciating the moment and what it had taken to get there.
The feasting had reached a bit of a lull, if such a thing could be said when he was sure their hullabaloo could be heard from Alfheim. Empty casks of ale littered the edges of the hall, a dozen wild boar had been reduced nearly to bone, the candles were starting to burn low in their sockets. But still, the party raged on, stronger than the stubborn storm outside. King Odin would have left long before now, absconding with his nobility and dignity, but no, Loki had neither of those things, and he was Hel-bent on staying until Asgard was drained of alcohol. It kept him from grieving, from missing anybody, from feeling sorrow for those who weren’t present, from being alone with his buried guilt.
On that note...
“Heimdall, tell me, where is there more wine?”
“On your right in about... five seconds,” Heimdall answered, bored.
Loki threw a discarded piece of bread at the passing servant to get his attention, who pursed his lips and sat the cask of wine he had been bringing in from a side room down on the high table. Clearly the boy was trying not to roll his eyes, but Loki didn’t notice.
“Sigyn, Sigyn... how is the rest of your clan coping? How are you dealing with being a jarl, under such unexpected circumstances?” Ah, fuck, fuck, what happened to no grief?
Sigyn, however, didn’t seem perturbed by the question. “You keep saying my name, why is that?” With this artful change of subject, she was duly subscribing to Loki’s decision to leave grief in the past for the duration of the celebration, at least. It appeared she was doing a much better job. Loki respected that.
“Why, maybe I just haven’t heard a new name in a while. Especially one that wasn’t attached to somebody trying to kill me!”
“Fair point, my king Loki.” She said his name rather sarcastically. The nerve. “I, er, I think I am doing quite well? Well, in any case, nobody within my clan has complained, on the contrary they all seem rather gladdened. My father was a strong jarl, but stern, often quite harsh with his people. I like to think I can retain the strengths without any of the harshness!” She blushed slightly at this, as if the ale had emboldened her more than she wished to admit. Loki took no notice.
“That is welcome to hear. Between you and I, I like to think that I’ll be a better king than Odin as well.” Loki was rather surprised he had said it, but no matter. He thought it, so it must be true.
Heimdall glanced at him from the side at this comment. “Careful, Loki. You don’t know who might be listening.”
“Damn it, Heimdall, why do you always have to remind me? You know I’m right.”
“That is immaterial, my king. Be prudent.” Heimdall looked away from him, again surveying the crowd.
Loki rolled his eyes, reached for the cask of wine, and nearly knocked it over. Sigyn grabbed his arm, looked him in the eye, and smirked.
“Need any help?” She refilled his goblet to the brim.
Loki narrowed his eyes, thinking. “You know, as a matter of fact, I think I do. How would you like a promotion?” He stood, not waiting for a response. Heimdall pursed his lips.
“Asgard!” Loki announced in a magically-magnified voice, calling the attention of all those in the hall and probably all those outside of it, too.
Sigyn leaned behind Loki to whisper to Heimdall. “Er, shouldn’t you be the one to call attention to the king? Or me, or, you know... anyone else?” Heimdall’s look back was enough to affirm her query.
Loki continued on shamelessly, basking in the attention. The jarls abandoned their game, arms crossing and eyebrows knitting together.
“I hope you are all having a splendid time tonight. I know I am! My endless gratitude to our honorable hunters and chefs and mead-makers.” A cheer from the crowd. So they get an ovation. Loki attempted to put back on a serious face. “I mourn Odin with every fiber of my being. I miss Frigga, I miss Thor. But,” he coughed, “they are never coming back. One day, we shall all be reunited in Valhalla. Until then, however, we are left upon these hallowed grounds to forge a new path for ourselves, unfettered by ways and traditions, free to change and grow as we all see fit.” Hm. May have been a bit too honest there. The hall was awkwardly silent, but Loki only saw the opportunity in the emptiness. “And with that must come the restructuring of our power. No longer will the family of Odin have ultimate control over our fate. No longer will all order be dictated by one.”
Praise be the glorious chaos.
“The slighted amongst us shall find sovereignty. The strong and the clever shall find the recognition they deserve. And with that,” he raised his voice even further, “it is with great, great honor that I name Jarl Sigyn of the Litli clan my second. My... chancellor. Let her name bring eternal glory to Asgard.” The last part came out more sinister than he had intended.
Sigyn started in surprise as Loki grabbed her arm and pulled her up into a standing position.
“Young by Asgardian standards,” yes you idiot as if anybody here besides you knows any standards beside Asgardian- “and yet so wise! I am sure you are all as assured of her fitfullness for this position as I am! To Sigyn!” He raised the goblet, a bit of the wine sloshing out, and motioned for the rest of the revelers to do the same.
Sigyn still looked shocked, as did most of the faces in the room, but they weren’t about to deny a direct order from their king, as much as they might want to.
And they all drank to her, a little dribbling down Loki’s chin. She turned to him, mouth still hanging open.
“Loki, what in Yggdrasil have you done? I said I was fit to be jarl, not this!” Despite her denials, she looked positively ecstatic at the pronouncement.
Loki leaned forwards onto the long table for support, wavered a bit, and sat back down. He looked positively bewildered. “What, you’re surprised? After you were the only one in all of Asgard-” here, Heimdall coughed but was ignored, “-to support me? Never think that I don’t reward loyalty.” Loki’s face was deadly serious, but seeing Sigyn try and fail to contain a giggle, split back into a smile. Heimdall rolled his golden eyes.
Loki whipped around to face what was ostensibly his other supporter. “And what have you to say, watcher? Silent again?”
Heimdall, who had remained reserved as always throughout the celebrations but still seemed to be in marginally higher spirits than normal, raised his eyebrows.
“I think your announcement might be causing a bit of trouble amongst some of your subjects. Some of them have taken their friendly brawls to a... ah... not-so-friendly level.”
Loki waved a hand dismissively. Their opinions were irrelevant, their anger would fade with their drunkenness by morning.
Chaos indeed, storyteller.
“No, no, that’s not what I mean! Just for one minute can you stop observing everybody else and have your own opinions? I want to know what you think.”
“I think it’s a valid idea. Sigyn may be a very valuable asset, especially since you haven’t an equal by your side to help you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Wow, that’s rude, how dare he-
Seeing Loki’s good spirits instantly vanish, Heimdall continued. “Calm down, my king, I was only teasing you.”
About Frigga, about Thor, insolent fool, he knows that hurts-
Heimdall ignored Loki’s struggle at keeping his emotions in check, and continued. “In truth, I do think you’ve made an...interesting choice. One that will certainly beget enemies. But you were never one to avoid that, eh?”
At this, Loki’s expression slipped back to cold. Sigyn busied herself away from the awkward conversation by refilling their drinks yet again.
Heimdall explained, “What you’ve done is more significant than simply choosing a second; you’ve apparently motioned for a much larger shift in the way things are done here, and that will always cause some hurt feelings.”
Loki, satisfied that Heimdall was no longer making fun of him, seemed pleased enough with the answer. Hurt feelings were good, that meant that he was being effective. And by the noise level in the hall, Loki was clearly being very effective.
“That’s right, now that I don’t have to pretend to be that antiquated o-” oh shit, did Sigyn hear that? “-ah, I mean, now that my beloved father has passed, I think Asgard aches for change!” Loki started to blush and Heimdall winked at him. If Sigyn had noticed, she didn’t seem like it. In fact, now that she was done with the drinks, she appeared to be falling fast asleep in her chair.
Suddenly, a loud crash halted the celebrations as everyone turned to look for the source.
“Loki, I don’t think you can ignore this any longer. Do you wish to send someone over to break it up, send the troublemakers home? Or announce the feast over? It is awfully late.” So that’s why Heimdall was here and not at the Bifrost. He expected Loki would need protection.
Loki scowled, making the scar on his cheek itch again. The gash was prickling again, seemingly out of nowhere, and it was really starting to annoy him. He snapped back at Heimdall. “No. Don’t. A king shouldn’t be a coward, now should he?” Norns, you really are drunk. “I’ll take care of it myself.” He rose, and ignoring the now-concerned glares of the jarls around him, imperiously descended into the fray. It was quite obvious where the source of the racket was; the fighting had spread over several tables and the floor was growing slippery with red liquid. Clearly, the friendly sparring that was a mainstay of every Asgardian celebration had escalated to something more severe.
Unstable as he was, Loki’s eyes cut through to the originator of the mayhem. A man who seemed to be at least twice Loki’s size with reddened, freckled skin was swinging a dented warhammer around haphazardly, chuckling when it hit anyone or anything. His target, who Loki recognized as a member of Sigyn’s mountain clan (oh, Norns, I can see where this is going) was using a stool as a makeshift shield, ducking under the imprecise hammer swings.
Surrounding them, a brawl seemed to have broken out between drunker members of the other clans who hadn’t had the presence of mind to leave for bed yet. No doubt existed in Loki’s mind what this pitiful battle was over. None of them, save the hammered one, had the gall to break the sacred custom by bringing a weapon to a feast, though, so the casualties had not been too extreme yet. Well, nobody had died. Yet. Probably.
Loki stopped before the unnamed antagonist, peered down his nose, and cleared his throat. The man wheeled around, seething.
“Hmph. Is that really any way to address your king? Care to try again?”
His face had only grown redder at the words. “Where is that woman? Not here to back you up? You seem to think you need the help. We all agree.” As it turned out, Sigyn was fast asleep in her chair, completely ignorant to the events around her. Loki rolled his eyes.
“That wasn’t much better, now was it? As much as I do love insubordination - well, when I’m doing it - you seem to be ruining my party. Causing a scene in front of all these innocent party-goers! Odin would be... disappointed. Tsk, tsk, that will not do.” Loki was feeling bold again. Instinct drew the magic out of him, materializing identical Loki clones around him to incapacitate the aggressors. The man looked around at his swiftly-falling brethren, growing angrier as each one hit the floor. The clones folded their arms and peered contemptuously down their noses at him.
“You’ll pay for that,” he growled.
Loki was amused. He started pacing animatedly around, taking note of each unconscious troublemaker’s face in turn, committing them to memory. “I’ll pay? I’ll pay? The king of Asgard will meet his retribution for restoring peace and order to his own party?” He paused for dramatic effect. “That doesn’t sound right.” He glared at the man, waiting for his response.
“No. You will pay for killing Odin.”
Loki stopped in his tracks, hoping no one noticed the infinitesimal flash of shock in his eyes. Certainly this cretin couldn’t know he was right. Loki had done an excellent job of hiding his secret; Heimdall was the only one who knew otherwise. It was just a guess, borne from years of prejudice against the younger prince. A theory. A lie.
And Loki knew how to twist lies better than any. He composed himself and decided to take the offensive.
“Nonsense. I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. You have piqued my curiosity, though. What is your name, o powerful one? I simply must know.”
Rage again boiling over, the man swung his hammer up and charged towards Loki, screaming his own name as it it were a war cry.
Loki yawned as the hammer swung forwards, all the weight of its owner behind it, directly towards Loki’s head. Prepared for the sound of metal on bone, the spectators winced, but it never came. The hammer passed straight through Loki’s face, the edges where the hammer should have been impacting skin glittering an impish green. The unexpected lack of connection sent Gymir somersaulting forward onto the wine-slick ground, knocking the air out of him. He spat blood and looked around feverishly, eyes settling on each Loki clone in turn.
The real Loki, now casually sitting on a table, legs crossed, took a hearty sip of mead from one of the few goblets left unharmed, and chortled.
“Funny, Gymir, as you’re the one on your ass right now. You have spunk, I’ll give you that. I like that in a man. Not very clever though, that’s not ideal.” Gymir tried to get back up, to show Loki exactly how clever he was, but found himself pinned to the ground by the magically-magnified weight of his own warhammer. The alcohol had stolen some of Loki’s... creativity, but had replaced it with even more spite. Thanks, Thor.
“Ah, ah, ah, none of that! We’ll work out our humble disagreement with words, you and I. I realize that’s probably hard for you, but really I am just trying to help you. You know, expanding your mental horizons and all of that. I’m a benevolent king, believe me. Now, what is it exactly that you take issue with?”
Exasperated, Gymir bared his teeth. “You know exactly what it is, usurper.”
Loki dropped his mouth open in mock surprise. “I’m afraid I don’t! Your little theory is completely unfounded. Until you started swinging that big hammer of yours around, I believe we were all having a great time. Isn’t that right, Heimdall?”
Heimdall, who hadn’t moved an inch since Loki had left, humored him by offering the slightest of nods. Gymir ignored it completely. “You are not my king. You are not Asgard’s rightful king.”
“Were you not at my coronation? Don’t answer that. I’m beginning to think you and your merry band of buffoons only came here tonight to cause trouble! And frankly, I’ve had quite enough of it. Guards, please escort the kind man and his friends out. I think it’s time they get some sleep.”
The guards and Loki clones moved together to comply, but Gymir was still trapped underneath the hammer. He gave an undignified grunt, grabbing Loki’s attention back.
“Oh, silly me, did I forget about you? How embarrassing.” Loki undid the enchantment and Gymir slowly stood up, trying not to fall over. A palace guard was there, ready to take him away. Gymir spit on the ground at Loki’s feet.
“If you’ll excuse me, my lord. Oh, and nice scar. It suits you.”
Rage boiled up in Loki suddenly, curling his shoulders. In his addled and aggressed state, this was more than enough to set him off. “What did you say?” he growled.
“Did you not hear me? I said, nice scar. Now you look even more like a betrayer.”
Loki felt cold rising in him, radiating outward with his fury. “Take him to the dungeons. Now.”
Chapter 10: Ten
Loki woke the next morning, still sprawled across his bed fully clothed from the previous night with a splitting headache blossoming between his temples. The day was warm and bright, sun blazing in through the uncovered windows, the polar opposite of the raging storm within his mind and body. The light was agonizing as it tried to burn out the various poisons inside of him.
Your inadequacy has been laid bare, Loki Laufeyson.
He expected to rise to a realm in shambles. He had failed, and it was useless to deny it now. Not only because of last night, not only because of what the Asgardians think, he thought-the opinions of sheep were never of much worth to him. Rather, it was because he knew that last night was simply the latest culmination of his rapidly-devolving constitution. He was supposed to be better than this. The instigator. Chaos was something Loki liked to create, not fall prey to. He had allowed himself to slip too far, letting the madness he usually kept restrained to this room escape, weakening his grip on the veil even more.
He had given Asgard his weaknesses laid out neatly on a silver platter (or a flagon) .
There was no hiding it anymore. He had killed their king, and the Aesir knew it. The truth was out there, growing and thriving in the hands of the vicious populace, and even Loki was falling prey to it now. Asgard’s greatest enemy, sitting brash and unashamed upon their throne. If they only knew the full extent of his misdeeds.
He tried counting the ways he had betrayed Asgard. They were growing so numerous he could no longer remember many of them. Even his very blood was a betrayal, and that was one that he could never escape. His entire body was unrest.
The guilt he harbored was trying to pull him out of bed, to make him actually do something to show he repented his murderous instincts, his lie-keeping from Asgard, his every action against the people he now purported to serve. To show he was trying to make things right. But he didn’t want to. He was hungover and tired and stricken, and was this not what it meant to be king, getting to choose when getting out of bed was too much work for the day? His hands started knotting in the covers; holding himself there, refusing to be controlled by the ghost trying to escape his sinful body. He felt unbearably alone.
Loki rolled over, pressing his face into the pillows, hiding from the daylight. He hadn’t a choice, really. He would have to actually do some work today. Begin down a long path of correcting some of his idiotic mistakes. And the bed provided little refuge from the phantoms living within him, so after a few self-indulgent moments, he stopped delaying the inevitable and sat up, stretching some of the tension from his back. His leather clothing made a shameless squelching sound as he did it, and suddenly he felt disgusted with himself.
He stripped off the sticky green fabric with difficulty. The wine had stained them so dark as to be nearly black. Ruined.
He stumbled into the ensuite, leaving the candles unlit so that the only light was filtered through the stained-glass windows, and stared into the mirror. His appearance was a far cry from the previous night. Bleary-eyed and greasy-haired, and he needed a bath, badly. Maybe that could be his reward for getting out of bed and attending his meetings today.
As he was turning away to prepare for the day, something caught his eye. A flash of blue, lower on the mirror’s dusty surface than the bright scar still gracing his cheekbone should have reflected.
Whatever it was... it had reached beyond its point of inception, down to his forearms where his skin was thinnest. The poison must’ve spread. His veins were much more blue than they had any right to be, even in the gloom of the unlit bathroom and under the paleness of his skin. They glowed with a phantasmal torpor. The shade matched exactly the color of his scar.
He rushed back to inspect it more closely in the mirror, but it looked the same as it always had. Loki’s heart began to race. Infection.
Even as he thought it, however, he knew that this was no normal infection. Even the strongest of viruses would be killed off by his divine immune system. No, this wasn’t a mere illness. It was poison. And Loki had a creeping, terrifying feeling of what exactly that poison might be designed to do. He knew that it must have already reached his heart; the sickness was traveling through his veins, powered by... what?
He stepped back from the mirror and prepared to whisper another spell of illusion, to cover up the unnatural sheen now tracing its way up beneath the thin skin of his forearms.
He cursed under his breath. It had to work, he had done this a million times, and nothing had happened. They remained just as blue as they were before, if not more so. Maybe it was the light or his own anxiety playing tricks on his eyes, but the skin itself seemed to be glowing even paler than it had before, too. The feeling of unease began spiraling out of control, along with his memories of worse days past.
red eyes, blue skin, horror, blackness, alone
He clutched at the vanity below the mirror. He knew exactly what was coming. And he had a solid idea of how exactly it might spread farther. After all, what made his blood pump quicker than normal? What made him feel alive?
Enmity, excitement, war, bloodlust... Most of the very people who instilled those feelings in him were gone, now. But his damned memory made the emotions linger, and Loki feared that was exactly what this sickness was feeding off of.
It made too much sense. Last night had affected his emotions more than he let on, even more so because he wasn’t fully aware of them as they were happening. The alcohol had prevented him from suppressing them as much as he normally would have, opening him up to let the venom spread throughout him, worrying him even more. He would clearly have to stop drinking, at least in public, where he was more likely to be provoked into an emotional response. Wonderful . One of the few pleasures that remained to him had to be abandoned.
The blue seemed to radiate further outwards from this veins the longer he looked. He knew that the only solution was to stop worrying about it, and so he decided to make a point to ignore it, as much as he possibly could. His mainstays of sarcasm and blitheness were his only defense now.
Save yourself from Loki by being... Loki.
The two sides of his personality were at war, and he was determined to choose the winning side.
Loki tore his eyes away from the mirror and re-dressed for the day, making sure to cover up even more than he usually did, for once deciding he should try and make a good impression by actually showing up to his meetings. Yes, he probably could just crush the opposition by force and become an absolute despot, but that just seemed so... unlike him. Too expected, too boring. He would prefer to do this the hard way.
No. The fun way.
“Sire, your actions at the feast have not exactly... quieted the people,” Heimdall said. Loki had specially requested his presence at the meeting. Getting the absolute (well, less-filtered) truth was worth leaving the Bifrost more weakly guarded for a few hours.
The security council meeting had been awkward at best. The jarls knew they supposedly had a say in Loki’s decrees and doings as king, but they seemed rather hesitant to actually say anything, most likely afraid of setting him off. Sigyn, in her first official meeting as chancellor, was being more of a meek cheerleader for Loki’s propositions than a real politician. He found that he barely minded, though.
Loki pouted. “What a surprise. What’s the damage? Do I need to begin planning for an assassination attempt within my first week?”
Heimdall’s expression did not change. “It’s not that dire. For now, it’s just talk. Mutterings, really. But certainly there is malcontent.”
Loki resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Surely, if he ignored the people, they would get over it quicker. Doing something, like issuing some blanket statement preventing free speech against their king, would only keep it fresher in their minds, and probably make them hate him more. Instead of that, lead by example. Be an effective, quiet king for once.
“Well,” he said, rather dismissively, “I suppose that’s...good to know. Have you any advice on how to deal with them?” Heimdall apparently had nothing more to say, so Loki looked around at the others seated at the meeting table. Some looked even more bored than he did, others appeared deeply worried. Sigyn merely looked focused.
Loki narrowed his eyes. “Has anyone else any advice? I, personally, have half a mind to do nothing at all, but as you all know, it is not only my opinion that counts.”
Eugh. Even knowing it was all a ruse, and one he came up with in the first place anyway, asking them like this was difficult. Playing the part of the chastened, castrated king, letting them believe they held any sort of power over him, was necessary to prevent total anarchy. Which he would normally prefer, but only if it were inconveniencing anybody but himself.
He couldn’t let them entirely off the hook, though. “I’m also finding myself at a loss for why none of you stepped in to handle your own people, if I’m being honest. I’m not the only one here dear Gymir and his friends listen to, you know.”
Sigyn looked embarrassed. Loki couldn’t blame her much, as his drunken conversation was surely the reason she had imbibed so much mead as to put her to sleep at the table. It was better that she wasn’t saying much, though.
Vanimor, the thin jarl of a clan of mainly bards and merchants on the southwest edge of the city, cleared his throat. “Sire, I assure you that none of us meant any foul play by it. Unblessed by the bountiful vision of Heimdall are we, we simply did not know of any troublemakers within the hall. Mead does tend to narrow one’s focus.”
Loki expected this, but Vanimor’s excuse was sufficient. “Hmph. I suppose you’re right. It only breaks my heart that so many had their night ruined by the actions of a few.” A little heavy-handedness never hurt anybody.
Heimdall again spoke first. He was still the only one who held no fear of Loki. “My king, there are always some growing pains when the other realms get new leaders. Take Midgard, they never see peace due to the constant changing of power. Asgard is simply new to this. We do not take to change well, as we simply never see it. I think we need only to wait, and it will die down. Have faith.” He looked Loki directly in the eyes, and smiled warmly. That was new.
Loki almost struggled to hide the shock on his face. Heimdall’s words had been... unexpectedly nice. The gathered jarls considered what he had said, most nodding in agreement. It was sound logic, Loki had to admit. He composed himself, feeling much better for the help.
“Well then,” Loki said brightly, “Nothing it is, then. I take it we are all in agreement? No objections? Need we put it to a formal vote?” The council looked around awkwardly, no doubt not used to these sorts of sudden changes in demeanor.
“Wonderful. Class dismissed.”
Loki rose first, and without so much as a nod to the other members of the council, turned to Heimdall. The golden eyes seemed to go beyond seeing what was happening throughout the nine realms, seeing within Loki as well, almost reading his thoughts.
Loki gave him a good-natured sneer in return. “Thank you, Heimdall.”
He owed the watcher, much more than the gratitude he had just given, but surely he would not have to say any more. He would pay him back in turn soon enough... possibly. For now, he had more important things to do. More important opinions to procure. He left without a goodbye to Sigyn. She didn’t need it.
Loki treated himself to another bath after returning to his chambers, but found that the time alone with his thoughts made him feel worse rather than better. He knew he needed to talk to someone. The loneliness was actually beginning to weigh on him; he had too many emotions and not enough innocuous outlets. When he left them bottled up, they fermented and reproduced, allowing more and more of the blue to seep through his veins. If he kept this up, he would be revealed by the end of the week.
He could talk to himself, yes, but he was growing so fucking tired of that. He had frankly had enough of it. He was out of perspectives; he needed help. From others, for once, he reluctantly admitted.
He could probably talk to Heimdall. Hel, he probably should talk to Heimdall more, the man had saved his ass enough times in the past month. But the watcher was so damned opaque, and save for today’s revelation, he rarely revealed enough to offer any perspective, of which he should have had in abundance.
He could definitely talk to Sigyn, she was clearly welcoming of his thoughts, but what did she truly know about him? She had grown up far away from the palace, probably only seeing Loki a few times through her adolescence. Loki certainly didn’t recall ever seeing her, but then again he was nearly always distracted by someone else. She certainly seemed intelligent and energetic and helpful, but he couldn’t actually tell her anything. She could never understand his history, his motivations, she could never be sympathetic to his pain. More than likely it would drive her, his only ally, away; and then all of Asgard would be in revolt against him.
He needed Thor. But that bridge was burned, all of the sentiment drowned, beaten senseless by the rapids below. Loki had really fucked himself over when he lit that conflagration.
The guilt lurking over his shoulder, always breathing down his neck, watching his every action, judging him, was beginning to grow more personified by the day. It was obvious who it was.
Loki would put his nose back in the textbooks and go to work again. Wade back into this mess the way he had started, searching for new perspective along the way. No, not perspective. Forgiveness.
He would try to conjure a dead man.
After a few silent hours of intense study, he was calm, collected, and ready. He knew he could handle this. The poison had nothing on his stone-strong constitution. If he was feeling anything at all, let it be called... recklessness.
Loki made no change in the spell to indicate that its subject was dead. He still didn’t fully understand how it worked anyway, so why bother? It had worked before, and he was certain it would work now.
Odin shimmered into place before him, his eyes blank and glassy. He was in the same Midgardian beggar’s clothes as he died in, but there was no wound to be found, no gaping hole in his chest, no bloodstain on the off-white shirt. He was there, back in Asgard again, whole and unhurt.
Something broke inside of Loki.
He squeezed his eyes shut to try and stifle the tears that had already welled there, grasping the bridge of his nose with a hand. “Father,” he gasped. He inhaled shakily and forced his eyes back open. “Father... forgive me.”
Odin said nothing. He hadn’t moved an inch. The old man was still staring at his second son. Loki now worried his face looked more accusatory than blank.
“I... I know what I did was wrong. I know I shouldn’t have started this in the first place. I never meant for this to happen.” Loki couldn’t stop the words from coming out of his mouth, but he knew he didn’t mean a single one of them. “I don’t know why he did what he did, no, I mean... I know it was me, but it wasn’t...”
Odin still hadn’t moved. Each word, each powerless word did nothing to the impervious Allfather, they only served to break Loki down more and more, his lies were bleeding out of him uncontrollably and Odin did nothing to stop them; the wound would not be bandaged.
Loki was losing his grip. He could look at Odin no longer; the cruel face was flaying him more and more the longer it remained staring, unblinking at him. Loki stumbled forward, needing to feel that what he had wrought from the ether was real, that he had not merely manifested a nightmare, he caught Odin by the shoulders and found the being solid, a true mass, and shook them-
“Say something! Tell me you are in there! Call me your son!” Loki was hysterical. “Father, father, I need you! Come back to me!”
But there was nothing to come. He was empty. A shell devoid of anything filling it, not even a ghost like Loki had created before. There was nothing left. He was truly gone.
Loki shrunk to his knees, feeling the rising panic once again, reliving his deepest pain of late like it had never truly went away. He had asked for this. It was his mistake alone. His sobs echoed through the room. He wanted to clutch at Odin’s feet, proclaim himself not worthy, be banished to Midgard to prove himself again. But he knew it could never be, it could never be like that again and it was entirely Loki’s fault. He could not reach for the embrace of this horrid, empty carapace; it disgusted him, like an unused snakeskin left to decompose in the dirt, abandoned and forgotten. He found himself cowering away from it, yet unable to vanish it, because vanishing it would be so alike killing him once again.
This was the confirmation Loki never wanted, the kind he never needed. Why, why did he think this would help? This had done the exact opposite of what he wanted. He should have known better. Even if it had worked, how would Odin make him feel any better? You killed him. You don’t deserve his forgiveness. The guilt was off his back, yes, but now it was staring him in the eye instead. This was infinitely worse.
Some things are meant to end permanently.
This will be you someday.
He vanished the Odin clone, and felt his grip on reality vanishing with it. The anxiety attack felt identical to the last one. The last time he had killed Odin. The last time he had killed himself.
He pulled himself off the floor with difficulty, crawling to sit with his back against the nearest wall. He needed the support.
Rationalize. Stop. Breathe. Rationalize.
He didn’t want to, though. Rationalizing it made it worse. It reminded him that no, he had not learned from his many mistakes.
If Loki could not be an oracle, why did he think could he be a necromancer? He possessed none of the requirements for the spell to work. This was nothing like summoning Thor. Not only did he not know everything about his father, he certainly did not possess the empathy or love for him that was necessary. The seidr required something to pull from, a living soul perhaps, and Odin’s was away in Valhalla now. Loki magic wasn’t strong enough to cross that divide. The weak, breakable vestiges of love he had for Odin when he was still alive had clearly been severed when Loki killed him. They could not be reforged now, just because Loki had use of them again.
He was wrong. Rationalizing was exactly what he wanted to do.
Loki had hit bottom, and he was wallowing in it, not even trying to bring himself back up, actively working to keep himself there. He knew better. He knew that trying to talk to his father again would create nothing but pain, and he did it anyway. He had nowhere to go but back down, further down, until there was no Loki left for this world. He could go to Jotunheim, or Hel if they wouldn’t take him either. Let Thor come back to Asgard in shambles, devoid of a king. The citizens would certainly prefer it that way, anyway.
He stood up slowly. His heart was still racing from the episode, but he knew that what he needed now was water. He stumbled to the nightstand and drank straight from the silver jug. The fluid restored some of his strength, but none of his happiness. He was afraid to look down; surely the blue skin had spread. At least his reflection in the water jug was still the same Aesir Loki he had grown so used to seeing.
He laid down on the bed, staring up into the ceiling. He had some issues to work out.
There was only one last thing to check.
Loki knew what it felt like, now, to be king. It was only a few weeks ago, such an infinitesimal time span, since he had first glimpsed the future Loki. And he now understood. Now he felt the fear and hurt and uncertainty in his heart. Memories be damned. He did not need memories to feel what he now felt.
He had waltzed into the trap as if he wanted nothing more than to ruin his own life. Maybe that was exactly what he had wanted.
Feral-Loki could not have played it better himself.
King-Loki had been right about everything. And now, Loki needed his advice. Or, at the very least, his comfort.
Why, why could I have not left this damn well enough alone?
It was over, though. He was going to give up on looking into the future and past, as if they hadn’t done enough damage already. This, he was sure of. He would not betray his own desires. Conjuring Odin had been the last bit of confirmation. Loki could not ever be capable of changing fate. He was not powerful enough. Nobody was powerful enough. Forwards. Forwards forever.
Except right now. There was one last mystery unsolved, and Loki would be at peace.
He needed to see whether King-Loki was him. This. This, and no more, Loki told himself. He repeated it in his mind over and over, as if thinking these words and nothing else would be enough to drive the emotion out of him, blanketing over his hysteria with well-rationed reason and practice . This would calm the beast.
Did he think of the past, or did he think of the future? Or did he think of the past when he was thinking of the future? He settled on the latter.
He’s here, you’re here, you will be in there. Won’t that be a relief.
Loki found he no longer had to say the words. They were stuck so permanently now to the edges of his skull, engraved like tattoos, that the sound of the words permeating the air would be incapable of further shaping the intention within him. He did not need their guidance.
King-Loki appeared with little glitter or flourish standing next to the now-filthy desk. Loki had not let any maids within his chambers since taking over publicly as king, and it showed.
“Are you done?” King-Loki asked, bored and sounding as if he was completely done with Loki’s bullshit.
His voice startled Loki. He knew the very reason he was doing this was to make sure it still worked, to ensure Odin was the only one Loki had ruined, but the sound still made him jump. The weight lifted out of his stomach, and he exhaled the last bits of breath that had been in his lungs for far too long now.
It was a strange question, yet Loki found he understood. “Yes. Yes, I’m done, I can’t... I can’t do this anymore...” he trailed off. King-Loki was here, yes, his body and soul were both here. But he seemed so distant when they should have been twins. Surely they were coexistent now, created from the same place in time, equal in every single dimension. Surely, Loki had no deeper to sink, and this was the bottommost point along his timeline.
“Can’t do what? Do you even know it yourself? Do you even realize, now, why I feel the way that I do? Can you finally muster up some Norns-damned empathy for yourself?” He sounded tired, like being called back drained his borrowed soul more each time it happened.
“I can’t... wait, do you have my memories, now? Since the last time I saw you, can you remember what happened in between?” Loki felt the rest of his despair vanish, at least momentarily; this was another mystery he could solve, another distraction to focus his mind on.
“The last thing I can remember clearly is you getting rid of me the last time. Which was rude, by the way.” Loki pursed his lips. “But... I suppose that now I think of it... I can see vague flashes, I think. Blood pooled on a grimy floor. A coronation. A lot of wine. I think I can remember feelings, but they’re strange. They must be your feelings-a record of the times you felt something strongly. That’s my guess, at least. What do I know.” He sat down at the desk, but his exhaustion was seeming to dissipate, as if Loki’s renewed vigor was affecting them both. He started gathering papers, running his eyes over them, clearly trying to figure out what this Loki was up to.
Relief again flooded through Loki. He was real, and better yet, he had changed, his own timeline had caught up to Loki’s own. He knew what his other self had been through. It was not a one-dimensional copy before Loki, but a living being, one that he could share his pain with. Maybe King-Loki could absorb some of it. He certainly deserved to, if he was from the same timeline as Loki; he was guilty as well. Maybe he was able to take some of the real Loki’s misery away into the void where he came from.
Moreover, it was another confirmation of Loki’s future life. Again, he’d survive. But how much longer?
“That’s a relief. You’ve no idea how difficult it’s been for me to keep all of these secrets lately. I know that’s usually... rather easy for us, but there are far too many to keep track of now,” Loki said.
“And what secrets are these?” King-Loki asked. “Isn’t that what we’re the god of?” He chuckled.
“I’m not sure anymore.”
“Cryptic. Can’t even be truthful to yourself? That’s really rather inconvenient for me. Am I not to be in on this mystery-solving of yours?”
“Don’t you know all of it?” Loki was certain the other was simply playing with him, giving him a taste of his own medicine. He found he welcomed the lightness, for once.
“Oh, sure. Killing your father is rather serious, isn’t it? And the coronation. What a big day for us. Oh, and your little spell in the garden was... impressive. But how am I to know what day it is, now? You’re really starting to annoy me, you know.”
No. Loki realized something. A truth hidden in the words his other self had not said. He furrowed his brow, unease rising again.
“Wait,” Loki breathed. “Do you... do you remember a funeral? A feast? A fight?” His other strong emotional responses; surely, those should have left a hard enough imprint.
King-Loki looked up and pursed his lips; he was clearly already doing nothing at all except waiting to die. “No.”
Loki jumped to his feet and staggered over to the desk where King-Loki still sat, relaxed pose setting him far apart from how Loki felt now. “Your hands, give me your hands-” He grabbed them and ripped the fingerless gloves off, then pushed up his sleeves to the elbows. Not a trace of blue.
Fuck . His future had already passed.
Chapter 11: Eleven
Loki was done with the future.
It had given him far, far too much grief already. What use was it anyway? The future was nothing more than a silly, made-up, amorphous coping mechanism for fools who were too slow to think on their feet. Loki refused to be one of them.
Why clones, anyway? Why, exactly, had masochistic, self-hating Loki wanted to see even more of himself, knowing full well he caused problems wherever he existed? The stupid idea had gotten out of hand far too long ago, and yet he hadn’t stopped. He had been headstrong, arrogant, overconfident (well, has that really stopped?) and instead of just taking one measly second to pause and think about what he was doing, he kept leaning on his worst traits more and more until everything was ruined. Truly a genius liar, this Loki, to be able to prove to himself that he knew what he was doing, that he had everything under control.
But that was over now. He was turning over a new leaf. Taking a hiatus. An indefinite hiatus. In which he would stop and mull over for a very long time the ethics of the his idiotic actions. In the bath, probably. Yes, that was the perfect location to ruminated. Close his eyes and leave his body behind in the warm haze and consider from afar the consequences that he had already incurred and those to come. Still his tongue. Say no magic words. Revel in isolation.
He had made this weighty decision after banishing the last Loki, that haughty “future” Loki that had actually been his past. He was in uncharted waters now. Free to make a fresh, untainted course through his memories and emotions and, if he was truly being bold, his actions. And that meant no more clones. The experiment was over. Forever. Eternally. Unendingly. This he was sure of.
Loki had grudgingly admitted that he had indeed learned his lesson. He didn’t know exactly what that lesson was-stop fucking around with the past? The future? Your own consciousness? It didn’t matter. He had learned a lesson. Even with the words coming from himself, it still stung to be wrong. Especially over something so petty as this simple game; it had produced consequences beyond what he ever wanted or could have predicted. No longer would he bear the burden of such limited foresight. It was far too heavy a weight to carry when he now had all of Asgard on his plate to worry about. He would have to wait for the future to come like everybody else.
The king closed his eyes and rolled over in the too-warm bed, casting off the heavy covers. Damn this empty castle and its ability to open his mind up far too wide when he needed to sleep. But the emptiness did offer a reminder.
Loki had nobody left, not even himself. That much was very clear now. But something had changed. Maybe he had gotten what he wanted from the events of last night; maybe checking up on the other Loki and the dead Odin had actually given him the perspective he craved, just in a different way than expected. Because he no longer felt awful about what he had done, about what was to come, about being alone in this realm against him. He had given himself time to cry and rage and turn inwards and scream and laugh, and now he was done. Anything more would be worse than futile. So instead, he no longer felt much of anything at all. And it was better this way. This Loki was the only one. He was the only ruler of Asgard, and he was the only one who controlled what he did next
And now, he made the sole decision to forget. He had no more time for reflection. The past no longer existed and the future would be neglected. The present was his only reality. Operate on whim alone. This was to be his mantra.
And as soon as he thought this mantra, it was forgotten. The present, remember?
He slept much more soundly after this verdict.
Loki woke up feeling changed. The dust had settled in his lungs, and he found himself wishing for the sweet smell of destruction. Maybe the walls themselves had whispered to him that night, begging for transformation to his sleeping brain. Or maybe the collective disdain he had for Asgard’s architecture had reached a tipping point now that he had the power to change it for himself. A physical change was exactly what he needed. The change of scenery in the garden had certainly helped, right? The palace was simply the next step. Either way, he nearly hopped out of bed with the excitement of one who knew exactly what they were going to do that day and couldn’t wait to get it started.
He dressed quickly, choosing a lighter spring-green undershirt to peek out from beneath his traditional leathers. The thin shirt looked almost aquamarine along his forearms where some of the bright blue of his veins shone through, the gleam seeming to almost disseminate along the delicate fibers of the fine fabric. Loki thought it looked so beautiful that he forgot to be concerned over it.
He left the sleeping chamber, deciding against covering it up. He was king, who was to question his fashion choices now? Let them see him as he was.
Without really thinking about it, Loki seemed to have an exact destination in mind. The one place he knew was sacred beyond criticism for his family, where so much had already happened to change his life so fully. His legs carried him to the throne room unbidden, making the decision of where to start this light remodeling for him. He smiled the entire way there.
Loki had always thought the throne room, like the rest of Asgard, garish. Truly the crown jewel amongst a kingdom of gold and splendor and excess. It would be the perfect place for Loki to instill his new vision. Dramatic it would be, yes, but in a more understated way. Only the insecure needed ostentatious displays of their wealth to feel powerful, and Loki was insecure no more.
He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted it to look like, in the end. It was more about the process, really. Somewhere along the lines of demolishing this gaudy nonsense, he would come up with something. No plans, no expectations. It was freeing.
The imposing room was empty and cold. Every surface seemed to sparkle. Even the tiny windows were enough to bathe the entire room in oft-reflected light, giving the walls themselves a sense of illusive fakeness. It was just too much. Too much phantasmagoric radiation. Loki felt himself a part of it, another gold figure set there to reflect the brilliance around him. Vacant. Echoing. His body was simply another figment of the space.
That would have to go. No plans, indeed, except exposing those that were simply truth and would come out whether Loki made intentions to or not. His throne room, his kingdom, would no longer look like this. This emptiness was exhausting. Loki wanted to be full, to be exuberant and abundant and to fill his new dynasty with cleverness and wisdom abounding. This wasn’t intention, it wasn’t planning, it was fate.
He had a feeling the garden would factor into the redesign, somehow.
And where better to begin, Loki thought, than the glittering murals above? He had always thought it braggartly and frivolous of Odin, the supposed wisest in all the realms, to put so much stock in his asinine memories that he had to cover the very ceiling with them. What exactly was he trying to show off? His garden parties? His weak and lame treaty with Laufey? It was all so very pointless for the Allfather to be proud of those things. Loki would take them down and, someday, maybe replace them with murals depicting far deserving of that hallowed spot above his crown.
No. No “maybe”. That’s not in your vocabulary anymore.
He shook off the nagging thoughts of the future and gazed up at the mosaic. Before his own coronation, he had never paid much attention to the ceiling in the throne room before, but knowing what lingered, watching, above him while ruling had not been an appealing way to spend his time on the throne. Making wise decisions for his people would certainly be much easier without the faces of his dead family staring down on him.
However... he also knew he could not destroy it. It may have been fairly meaningless and stupid, but it did hold a certain beauty. His appreciation for art was simply too strong to desecrate what dozens of artisans had spent years on. That was it, right? Surely it had nothing to do with any sentiment for his past life, and absolutely not from any love for his family. Only because those blessed artisans had done such a lovely job of capturing Loki’s own essence, amongst other things.
Or, maybe some of the former, if Loki was being honest.
Slightly bitter that he still held so much deference for this damned room, he resigned to some tiny piece of sentimentality. He knew he must think of something better than simply throwing away history forever. These depictions of Odin and Frigga (and, he grudgingly admitted, Thor) were, admittedly, some of the last remaining impressions of their likenesses outside of Loki’s own memory. And he no longer preferred to rely on that. No, he needed something else. A way to save some of the history of his land and ancestors without having them breathing down his neck all the damned day. A way to remind Asgard of how far they had come, and more importantly, how lucky they were to have him.
A museum. Give those bastards back exactly what they want. Let the rest of Asgard gaze upon their fallen heroes all day. They certainly wanted to more than Loki did.
Loki would have the murals removed and relocated to the front of the palace, where the public could look upon their history and be assured that those times were long past. Let them mourn as much as they wanted. Loki would never have to look at them this way. He could reserve the throne room for the art he wanted to see. Whatever that was. Self-portraits?
He laughed aloud, the sound reverberating off the golden surfaces, becoming higher and more shrill and more sinister with each echo. And maybe fix the horrid acoustics in here, too. The murals were a good start, but he had more to do, more to remove, more to decide. Or, he thought, perhaps instead let the walls come down with each whim he had. He was a king, after all. He could do what he wished.
Loki called a council meeting the next day to tell the jarls of his decision. He knew they would not dissent, let alone care much at all of this decision. Their focus was planted firmly on their own gold and, to a lesser extent, the safety and stability of their respective constituents. They most certainly did not have strong opinions on the art their eccentric ruler kept around. This would likely be a welcome relief, in fact: something they considered entirely unimportant would be the first major ruling of their new king, the first thing to have any physical manifestation. Maybe it’d distract him from doing anything that would affect them.
Loki was already lounging upon his high seat, blue hands tucked unconsciously under the table, when the nobles entered the airy council chamber. It was quite similar to the throne room in its shine and stuffiness. Loki decided that it would be next on the list of places to bring to his liking.
Fjansi, Sigyn, Grimsjolf, Vanimor, Beritria, Iljorsi, Wilhern... what was the name of that last one? All entered and sat on either side of the long table, Sigyn closest to Loki on his left. Loki didn’t like having meetings here. The table gave an incorrect sensation of equality amongst the jarls. And not just jarl-king equanimity, no, certainly Loki shouldn’t be bothered by that, but that between jarls, too. Up until Loki’s proclamation, Sigyn’s clan had little say whatsoever in meetings. Loki intended to correct that.
He cleared his throat. “Welcome, welcome. I know it hasn’t been long since our last meeting, but I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that I’m still here! Nobody tried to assassinate me last night, as far as I could tell. In fact, I haven’t heard anything of unrest since our last meet. For that, I’m afraid I must thank you all. Whatever you’re doing to quiet your peoples seems to be working.” Loki smiled and raised his eyebrows, meeting each one of their gazes in turn. A few-Sigyn, Vanimor, Wilhern-actually smiled back at him. They were getting used to his rapid changes in emotion, apparently.
“My king, there’s been no dissent within my clan, not that I’ve heard of. Most of them have already returned home, actually. Truth be told, the rule of king holds little power where I’m from!” Sigyn laughed. Towards any other king, this would warrant a reprimand at best. Before New Mexico, that would have earned a season of crop-destroying storms from Thor, had he been king. But Loki reciprocated her laugh. He was proud.
“No surprises from you, Sigyn. But ah, your people are not the ones I’m afraid of! Fjansi? Grimsjolf?” Real men of honor. They wouldn’t lie to Loki for anything, save the safety of their clans. It made Loki sick.
Fjansi scowled and Grimsjolf coughed. “Fine. I’ll go first,” Grimsjolf said. Black-haired and barrel-chested, he led a very wealthy clan of mine-owners and blacksmiths. “Sire, I must be truthful. My people are not happy. They are men of honor. They do not see you as honorable. Or, ah... worthy of leadership.”
Loki laughed even harder than he had at Sigyn’s joke. Did these men even know him? Obviously they had been preparing for a different king. “Would killing me and instilling, oh, I don’t know, my brother as king, be honorable, Grimsjolf? And more importantly: does it matter? I’m not doing anything dishonorable at all, my dear sir. You run along and tell them that once we’re done here, understood? All of you,” Loki’s voice heightened in unpredicted anger, “remind them all that I haven’t done anything ! Truly, you all still have the direct power over your angry mobs. If they’re to be angry at anyone, it shouldn’t be me.”
Fjansi said nothing, but he looked even more irritable than before. Telling his noble warriors that they could drop their grudges wouldn’t exactly be an easy thing. They weren’t usually ones to take perceived injustice lightly. Not that any Asgardians did.
Loki bit his tongue. He really hadn’t intended to get this irate. But as rapidly as his temper had sparked, he let it fade again. This is not why we’re all here. He pressed his lips together and took a breath before continuing. “Anyway. All matters of realm security aside, I did actually have a purpose for calling you all here today. I’m going to remodel the throne room. And probably most of the palace.”
The jarls exchanged quizzical looks. Really, a council meeting called just for some light remodeling?
Loki grinned. Obviously, they weren’t expecting this minor issue to be the purpose of their meeting.
“Shall we put it to a vote? I know it seems rather unimportant, but I truly want to prove to all of you of my deep commitment to democracy in our new Asgard. Think of it as symbolic. We’re moving forwards!”
Vanimor shrugged his thin shoulders. “I suppose you’re right, sire. Count me in favor. Both of your reconstruction and your democratic alliances.”
Loki looked around, but each of the jarls expressed little concern for his proclamation. He had been correct in thinking they were grateful it hadn’t been anything more extreme. Each of them consented, and he announced that they probably wouldn’t be meeting much more in the coming months during deconstruction. They were to be trusted with their own issues, at least for now. If Grimsjolf was right, and his people were really so upset, it should be Grimsjolf’s responsibility to take care of it.
Loki dismissed the council, but stayed in his seat, lost in thought. His rule, uneventful as it was so far, had caused most of them to retreat slightly from their reprimandations, but they were still far away from respecting their king. It was really starting to be annoying. Still, Loki reminded himself, they had agreed to his plan. He wasn’t exactly gratified by their spiritless acceptance, but even small steps towards his absolute rule meant he was moving forwards.
And what to do during the deconstruction? He could move to some other antechamber for ruling, sure, but Loki found that he didn’t want to do this. Maybe he had discovered some subconscious ulterior motive for this ruling that his sleeping brain had come up with, one that he had previously interpreted as happenstance. With no throne room for what would probably stretch into several months, Loki wouldn’t truly have to rule. His simple desire for aesthetics could have lasting consequences, ones that would both ease his stress and create a more peaceful Asgard. He could leave the day-to-day doings, the ones he had hated so deeply when pretending to be Odin, to his council instead; he knew they would love that.
And Sigyn. She could essentially rule in his stead, or at least have the final say in matters; be the tiebreaker. He didn’t trust her entirely, and more interestingly, didn’t completely understand her. She wasn’t predictable. Loki liked this about her; he would come back to Asgard relaxed and renewed to some erratic changes, and work them out later. It would make it easier for him to quiet his mind about Asgard while he was away if he knew whatever she was doing was both strange and most likely a good decision.
Pleased with the day’s work, Loki hopped up and left the chamber. His idea would mutually benefit everyone, but none more than himself. How quaint.
Still thinking, Loki started wandering the halls, a habit from happier days that he found he was falling back into again. Now that he decided he might as well use this as an opportunity to get away, his melancholy at the previous night was melting away. He was due for a vacation, really. He had done so much as king already, didn’t he deserve it?
But where? Within Asgard, maybe to the north? Visit Sigyn’s clan? No... too close. These Asgardians were really starting to get on his nerves, and though as king he probably should learn more of each clan’s culture, Loki really couldn’t be bothered to do that. He had what, several thousand years left to do so? Surely he could find something more pressing (and more importantly, more fun) to do.
Truly, there were thousands of places Loki could go to relax. He had been to a fair few of them already. There was Alfheim, home of the light elves. Beautiful, peaceful, quiet, home of enchanted forests and adorable fauna. Obviously, its inhabitants hated him. Midgard, where he might learn something about ruling an unhappy populace, so diverse in its biomes and cultures and religions. They hated him there, too. In Vanaheim, he could get lost among the trees taller than Asgard’s palace, test his mettle fighting trolls, screw with the idiotic Vanir. Who hated him.
Loki recalled that there were very few places in Yggdrasil’s branches where he was not hated. He had earned his reputation on most of them, too. But one stuck out as the place where he had done the most damage, despite spending nary a year there in his entire life. His mouth twisted into a thorny smile.
Ah, fuck it. Loki would go to Jotunheim. Not in war, but in peace. To learn, not to conquer.
He knew it would hurt, and he knew it was right. It was time. He should have done this ages ago. Other things had gotten in the way, making him put off this long-awaited reckoning in favor of what Odin wanted, what Thor wanted. Now that they were gone, he could finally get his way. And was this not the perfect timing? Loki was taking care of so many painful matters lately, what was one more?
Perspective. Jotunheim must be full of it.
If there was one place in all the universe Loki could gain wisdom, it must be Jotunheim. Other than his ill-intentioned visits of a few years ago, nobody had traveled there from Asgard in millenia. It would be the first visit in good faith since the war. Since Loki’s birth. It was only fitting that he would bring peace between the realms now. One last gift to the Allfather: his greatest wish fulfilled.
Vacation... maybe not so much. But this was more important, anyway. Was this not Loki’s idea of relaxation?
He stopped in his tracks before a heavy door. Loki’s wandering had brought him to the highest tower of Asgard’s palace. Beyond here was the sky-balcony, where as children Loki and Thor used to sneak up to on the clearest of nights to lie on their backs and gaze into the universe. Loki would point out the constellations, Thor ardently listening as Loki explained what each point of light was. Sometimes he would make them up, and Thor would notice and call up the clouds to obscure the sights above them. Sometimes Loki would annoy his brother so much that he’d draw up a miniature rainstorm over Loki alone to rain into his eyes.
A few days ago, Loki wouldn’t have had the strength to come up here and face these memories. But today, he felt different. They didn’t hurt him anymore. They bolstered him, gave him something to live for. He wanted to create more of them. He wanted Thor home.
He swung open the door with a creak and stepped out to view Asgard in all its glory. He had wandered through the corridors for far too long, and the sky was darkening now, the lights of the city below flickering on like stars reflected in the sky above. He saw constellations above and below. Patterns of unrest and fate and consequence, too many of which now were set into motion by him. It was lonely up here, yes, but at least he had his own causes and effects laid out underneath him to keep him company.
He stayed until the city fell asleep, then left for the Bifrost, summoning Sigyn there as he did. The two of them and Heimdall had some planning to do.
Chapter 12: Twelve
Loki wasn’t afraid. No, not in the least. Sure, the last time he had seen his forcibly-abandoned kin, he had betrayed them in favor of the monsters who had stolen him, taken their life-force, and decimated their realm. But he was different now, and returning as the rightful king of said monsters. How long did Jotuns hold grudges?
Sigyn had been ecstatic when Loki asked her to rule Asgard in his stead for a few weeks. Loki hadn’t an idea of whether he could make it that long amongst enemies, but he was trying to be optimistic. His mission, at least outwardly, was to establish his dominance over the other realms. He hadn’t mentioned to the council where exactly he was going, and they seemed glad to be rid of him regardless. But as he was packing to leave the next day, he couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling that he no longer wanted the Jotuns as enemies. He had enough of those, and who better than him to weasel his way out of a millenia-old conflict? Why not right Odin’s wrongs? Why not stop from dooming himself and thousands of Aesir and giants to a conflict they probably didn’t care one bit about?
He liked this idea. Peace and mutual benefit were novel concepts to him, and he was keen on trying out different possibilities for this fresh, unburdened Loki. Plus, it might annoy the Aesir, and he was more than keen on that.
The other jarls had been quietly disapproving of Loki’s announcement that Sigyn would be appointed their leader while Loki was gone, but he didn’t care. He trusted in her obscure ways and unpredictable motions, and anyways, she was the only one that Loki knew wouldn’t actively try and dismantle his rule while he was away. If the jarls started anything, Loki knew she was strong enough to quash it. That, or he could deepen the chaos upon his return, destroy Asgard, and rule Jotunheim forever. Either way was fine.
Heimdall had been in support of Loki’s trip. Loki could sense that the watcher knew what his real goals were in Jotunheim, and had agreed that Loki leaving Asgard for a while could only bring more peace to the still-angry public. (Obviously, Heimdall hadn’t foreseen Loki’s ambivalence towards destroying Asgard if it came to it.) It made Loki unnervingly grateful that Heimdall was agreeing with him more and more as of late. He had always been a strange soul to Loki; blessed with sight as he was, old as Odin as he was, he never passed much judgement upon anyone, at least outwardly, or tried to predict the future. This part, especially, confused Loki. How could one who had witnessed infinite causes and effects over millions of years not begin to see patterns? Maybe he did, and saying nothing of it was his own way of not influencing the future beyond what was prudent to Asgard’s safety. Maybe he had lived long enough to learn some modicum of restraint that Loki was still too immature to have. Maybe Loki’s idea of wisdom was wrong.
But Heimdall was not the one who ruled Asgard, and he never would. His wisdom was worthless if Loki wasn’t using it.
Loki packed to leave for Jotunheim the next day and did his best not to muse on what he would do there. He was still living by that earlier mantra; not trying to predict the future was difficult and he resigned to being prudent for just a few moments. He could return to the anarchy of impulse once he was there. Chaos may still live within a greater plan. The journey, not the destination, was what Loki could make interesting.
He was rather unsure as to what exactly he might need in Jotunheim. A coat? He had never been one to feel the cold easily, but furthermore, this brought up another question: would they insist that he change his skin to match theirs? Call him a traitor, that he was still one of Asgard unless he proved that he considered himself one of them again? He had grown used to his pale Aesir skin; the only times he had reverted back to the image of his birth had been due to the Casket of Ancient Winters. He was loathe to wear an unfamiliar skin in an unfamiliar place.
Of course, maybe he’d have another meltdown before leaving (or, Hel, while he was there) and the toxic blue discoloration crisscrossing the veins of his inner arms would spread over his entire being, and he’d look just like them anyway. Maybe it’d make the frost-giants like him more.
Loki laughed aloud, realizing what that meant. He couldn’t cover the blue skin up, not the scar, not a small amount of it, and certainly not an entire body of it. Asgard’s king would return from Jotunheim looking precisely like a Jotun. The Aesir would love that. Loki would be lucky if he made it through a single night after that return.
Bringing the Casket along was inconceivable, definitely; he needed leverage if he was to create any sort of solution that wouldn’t take years to instill, and offering them the very thing that might restore their realm upon his first visit would be naught but stupid. He was keen on getting rid of it, however. It wasn’t doing anyone any good locked away in a basement somewhere. Was it mercy or good politics to give it back to them? Don’t answer that.
Loki was glad he needn’t bring along weapons to defend himself if it came to that. He thought back on every time he had visited other realms with Thor; countless times had the inhabitants tensed in terror upon seeing Mjolnir whether they were there for war or not. Loki wouldn’t be stepping on their ground already poised to show dominion on them by the way of some ostentatious show of power. No, Loki himself was the weapon, and even the Jotuns knew that. Respected it, maybe not, but Loki could build that over time.
He settled on bringing only a few things, hidden safely away in a magical compartment. If all went to plan, they’d be giving him whatever he needed.
Sigyn had shown up for his sendoff early the next morning at the Bifrost observatory. Loki figured he’d rather leave before most of Asgard was awake; though they knew their king was leaving, he didn’t wish to see any of them before setting out. It would only waste his time.
Loki dismounted the horse he had ridden across the bridge and saw the young jarl sitting nonchalantly on the stairs up to the sword pedestal where Heimdall stood stoically. She smiled at him but didn’t rise.
“Ready to go get your ass kicked by some frost giants?” she asked with a wink. Loki laughed good-naturedly. Sigyn was younger than him, and didn’t take the conflict between their realms as seriously as the Aesir who were old enough to have fought in the war that produced Loki. He was glad for that.
“They won’t know what’s hit them,” Loki replied. He hadn’t bothered to tell her (or anyone else) of his real parentage yet; that was a conversation for much, much later, and hopefully never.
“I thought you weren’t going to hit them.”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Who knows what I might do. You just have fun being Asgard’s acting king. Maybe pardon those wretches that ruined the feast, if you feel like it. If I don’t come back to at least a few dozen unexpected proclamations, I’ll be rather disappointed.”
“You can count on me to confuse the lot of them. I won’t even have to try. You have fun hanging out with those blue oafs.”
Loki hadn’t exactly told her what he would be doing in Jotunheim, partially because he wasn’t quite sure himself. Would he be materializing right in the center of the hornet’s nest, would their icy blades be upon his neck from the second he arrived? Could they possibly forgive him for killing their king?
Killing their king… Loki had all but forgotten it. That detail had seemed so inconsequential after the events of the void and all he had gone through so soon after he killed Laufey. And he wasn’t just a king…
Loki’s heart began to race again as he realized the implications of what he had done, but he had no time to think about it right now, he was already standing in front of the gaping maw of the Bifrost, and Heimdall was asking if he was ready. The watcher’s hands were upon the sword.
Ripped from his sudden nightmare, Loki responded. “Yes… yes, I’m ready.” Heimdall turned the sword and Loki was sent hurtling across the realms to meet the icy wasteland of his birth.
His terror returned in the rushing colors and white noise of the Bifrost. How, how could he have possibly forgotten? Loki hadn’t killed one king, but two. Loki hadn’t killed one father, but two. The first had been so effortless a murder, so cold, so righteous in that Loki had been so damned convinced he was protecting his real family from this demon Laufey, that he hadn’t even stopped for one tiny moment in the interim years to consider the fact that he had already killed a father once before. Of course he would have been destined to do it again. Apparently, patricide was a habit for him. He was almost ashamed he hadn’t even thought of it after Odin’s murder. What would the Jotuns think of someone who had not only eradicated their king, most likely plunging their realm into even worse tidings than it had been before, but hadn’t even a second thought about his actions? How heartless could that wretched Aesir possibly be?
It was no matter, because he was out of time to think about it. His feet touched the icy ground of Jotunheim, and he wasn’t going to give up already. He caught his breath and took in his surroundings.
It felt different from the last time they had been here, with their murderous intentions and raised swords. The towers and pillars making up the temple area all seemed smaller, or maybe Loki was just used to more impressive architectures now. It was still dark, still cold, still shades of blue all around, but Loki no longer felt eyes upon him from inside the ruined palace. He frowned. Surely the Jotuns hadn’t all died out after Laufey’s demise. He had never intended for that… well, he had, but that was only an impassioned impulse, and he hadn’t ever really meant it. He was well over that, and if they were all gone now, he hadn’t an idea of what he would do.
He started walking towards the center of the temple where Laufey once sat, curiosity now overcoming his worry. His footsteps were silent upon the ground, but it wasn’t slippery; the ice itself was still rippled and gouged from the battle so many years ago. Nothing had been rebuilt… nothing cleaned up, nothing to give Loki a sign that there might still be those of his true kin alive here. Could he find a way inside, maybe, and call out for someone?
He heard a sudden crack from somewhere near his left. “Stop!” a low voice bellowed.
Back on alert, he assumed a fighting stance out of habit. A twelve-foot tall, cobalt-blue giant stepped out from behind a corner, but he was unarmed and his hands were out in surrender.
Loki, for once, was at a loss for words. What does one say to the people he had intermittently helped and tried to murder countless times through the centuries? Perhaps he should have thought through his speech beforehand instead of ruminating on the fathers he had killed.
The giant stepped closer, and his red eyes widened. He recognized Loki, or at least had heard tales of his doings. “Y-you… what is your purpose here?” Loki recognized the affected formality of one trying to mask their fear.
“I am Loki, King of Asgard, and I come in peace.” He tried to sound as innocuous as possible.
“Peace? We know your name here, Loki of Asgard. We know your tale. We have learned to not expect peace from one such as you.”
“Would you believe that I’ve changed?”
“Not without proof.” He stopped a few yards shy of Loki and folded his arms, looking down at him warily.
“Then proof I shall give you.”
The giant winced, as if expecting Loki to attack. Loki slowly drew up his palms to show he wasn’t lying, but he knew the Jotuns knew better than to believe him. A flash of silver behind the giant caught his eye.
“Where are, ah… all of the rest of you? In other words, how can I be sure you’re not all ambushing me?”
“We rarely come up here anymore. Some of us heard your arrival echoing through the caverns below. I was sent to investigate.”
That was unexpectedly candid. Loki briefly wondered why this giant was being so honest with him, and moreover, since when did the frost-giants become cave-dwellers?
“And why you, sir…”
“Thrym. I am the largest.”
Loki raised an eyebrow. Thrym didn’t look terribly impressive next to the frost-giants of his memory. “And you live underground, now? I don’t recall that from the last times I was here.”
“Things have changed.”
“So I see.”
Thrym narrowed his crimson eyes. “I am still waiting on your proof.”
Loki cleared his throat. “I already gave it to you, but since I care so much about establishing peace between our two humble realms, I shall say it again. Odin is dead and I am king of Asgard.”
Thrym didn’t look terribly impressed. “And Thor?”
Loki decided that a single white lie, for the good of all of them, might be a wise decision. “Also dead. Asgard is under completely new management. All I want to do is fulfill my destiny. My birthright; the one Odin intended for me yet never did much to set into motion, and unite our realms. Can you believe me?”
“I think you are hiding something, Loki Odinson.”
This was the answer Loki was hoping for. He had hidden his true lie amongst other half-truths, and now he was free to reveal what he had always intended on telling them without his “Thor is dead” comment being cast into doubt. He shrugged. “Alright, you caught me. Odin didn’t die of… natural causes. I killed him.” The words still stung a bit to say aloud, but he maintained a neutral tone.
The darker blue ridges above Thrym’s eyes raised slightly, but he didn’t seem angry by the news. “Two kings dead by your hands.” Loki’s heart stopped for a moment. Jotunheim, obviously, hadn't forgotten about Laufey, even if Loki had. “So you’ve ascertained peace through murder. You are an intriguing one, Loki Odinson.”
“You needn’t call me that anymore. I’d like to be thought of on my own terms, not by whose blood I bear.” He smiled. “I can assure you, neither were planned. I’m simply a conduit of fate.” Admitting his own lack of intention towards killing Odin and Laufey, even though both were very much his fault, felt dishonest. But, for once, not in a good way.
“Fate doesn’t exist, little one. Only instinct.” Thrym looked at Loki almost tenderly, if frost-giants were capable of such a thing.
“Then I suppose I got that particular trait from your side of the family.”
“You are not denying it anymore? Your skin says otherwise.”
“Hmph. We will see if you break that habit once we are below the surface.”
Loki felt his heart soar for the first time ever on Jotunheim. His plan was working. “So you believe me, then? We can finally start to make peace between our realms?”
“That is up to you. We can only show you what we have left and wish for your mercy.”
This was going far better than Loki could have ever expected. “Thrym, mercy is my middle name.”
This made Thrym laugh, a loud, echoing thing, but he seemed to recognize that Loki wasn’t trying to mock him. “Indeed. Follow me.”
Loki shivered, though he barely felt the cold anymore up here, and followed the giant around spires and under gleaming overhangs all made of the same glimmering ice. They were definitely going down, deeper into the ice-carved city, but he mentioned nothing to Thrym about his observations, and Thrym did nothing to make Loki feel more comfortable in the semi-alien world. The giant turned a last corner and they were confronted with a dead end.
Normally, Loki would’ve made a witty comment at this, or else prepared to be brutally attacked by Thrym now that they were out of sight, but he held his tongue as Thrym stooped down to raise a trapdoor hidden in the swirling shades of blue. The joints in his knees and ankles cracked loudly as he crouched. The trapdoor was barely large enough for a frost-giant to fit through, but it was at least a foot in thickness of solid ice embedded with some sort of sapphire-blue material that looked more opaque. Without another word Thrym motioned for Loki to descend first down a steep set of stairs made of the same sapphire as the trapdoor.
Loki nearly slipped down the first one. The ice was still stuck on it here, and it didn’t have the roughened quality of the ground above the surface. He put a hand down for balance and felt that the darker material was some sort of stone, colder than anything he had ever felt and as gritty as sharkskin. He was positive that if a real Aesir had touched it, their entire hand would’ve grown as blackened as when a Jotun touched them. He wondered whether it would make the blue of his forearms grow farther, but could not tell in the shaded darkness down here. In fact, he realized that the dim light emanating from the walls themselves made his entire being look bluer than normal. It made him feel as if he was a part of this glacial mass himself.
He felt Thrym following him and made haste down the rest of the stairs. Ten, twenty, thirty… at least a hundred before he found the bottom. It opened up into a narrow hallway, fifteen feet to the ceiling and only wide enough for two giants to walk abreast. The staircase had been dark, but down here he found he could see perfectly. The stone walls were embedded with swirling tendrils of ice that seemed to glow from within. He looked back at Thrym.
“It is not far,” the giant said.
He passed Loki and led him through twisting hallways, some with doors embedded every few yards or with openings to cavernous chambers of more shining ice and rock. It felt much colder down here, and even Loki felt slightly uncomfortable. He saw a few giants during their walk, but if they noticed him, they said nothing. It was very quiet down here.
Thrym hadn’t lied, and they soon came upon the largest chamber Loki had yet seen, as big as Asgard’s throne room and close enough to the surface at its ceiling that Loki thought he could see light from the surface making its way to this place. Every inch of the walls and domed ceiling were carved with various figures and runes and creatures, but Laufey’s visage was nowhere to be found.
It had the feel of a throne room, or perhaps a cathedral, but there was no altar nor high seat, only a massive, circular table just short enough for Loki to see the top of. It would have felt like Loki’s own council chambers upon Asgard, except there wasn’t a fleck of gold nor conniving jarl to be found, only a few frost-giants gently tending to what appeared to be fish-farms around the perimeter of the chamber.
The room was ringed by a ten foot wide circle of undoubtedly-freezing water that Loki could not see the bottom of. It seemed to be boiling; gas bubbles happily played and popped upon the surface of the navy water, but it was far too cold in here for any heat to have been coming from the waters. Loki would have to ask exactly how that worked at some point.
Thrym hadn’t noticed Loki’s sudden interest in the water and was ahead of him now, heading towards another giant of equal stature who was raking a net across the surface and humming peacefully. He hurried to catch up.
He couldn’t hear what Thrym muttered to this giant, but he turned around and looked upon Loki with interest. His eyes were larger, and his nose was possibly a tad more prominent than Thrym’s, but otherwise, they looked nearly identical. Loki hoped he wasn’t going to spend the entire visit forgetting who was who.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Loki, son of no one. I am Hogni.” His voice did little to clear up the resemblance between the giants that Loki had so far met.
Loki nodded his head, unsure of how to address this seemingly-random giant. “Well met, Hogni.”
“Hogni is somewhat of a historian. I thought she might be able to help you with… whatever you are looking for here.” She. Loki internally winced at his own forgetfulness surrounding the giants; he knew better than to push Aesir customs regarding gender on them.
Hogni smiled, showing pointed teeth. “Only by hobby. We all do what it is we must do to survive down here.”
Loki felt rather awkward. “Erm… did Thrym tell you… ah, what I told him?”
“Only that you are a misplaced son of Laufey.”
He wants me to tell my own story. That was something Loki could respect. What he respected even more, however, was the openness the Jotuns had so far shown him. There had not been an ounce of hostility, nor had any of them questioned why this little Aesir had suddenly been granted entrance to their hallowed halls. They had much to learn from each other.
“Well then, I believe we all have a lot of talking to do.”
Chapter 13: Thirteen
Without hesitation, Hogni led Loki and Thrym back out of the larger chamber and down more twisting hallways; the walls had lost their icy sheen deeper in the catacombs and they were now fully surrounded by the strange sapphire stone. Here, there were dim, silvery werelights hovering every dozen yards or so. Apparently, even the crimson Jotun eyes needed assistance in the darkness underground. The light illuminated strange patterns and shapes in the rock such that Loki could not tell if they were created by their inhabitants, or if the rock simply fractured that way when the tunnels were made.
If Hogni and Thrym hadn’t been keeping such a quick pace, Loki would’ve run into them, for he could not keep his eyes from wandering from their path to the walls and corridors that branched off every so often. The place was beautiful in an otherworldly way, and it struck him how different it was from Asgard; the giants integrated so naturally into their surroundings, rather than fighting for dominion over them. The catacombs looked like they may have been there a million years, carved out by some ancient geologic activity or massive creatures that could swallow Loki whole. And now, they were simply enjoying use once more.
The group continued down even more stairs. They were very deep now, and Loki thought he might find himself anxious or claustrophobic, but the chill at this depth was rather comforting. He was now finding himself glad for his Jotun blood.
Hogni stopped and told Loki they had arrived in the library. Even with the few lights lining the walls, he found it difficult to see much in here, so he was permitted to cast another, much stronger werelight to hover in the library room so that he might see what knowledge the deepest segments of Jotunheim held.
It was barely a room, Loki saw, more a maze of curved stone pillars and narrow hallways that always seemed to circle back to one another. Every inch of the place, including the arced and warbling ceiling far above their heads, was etched with runes small and neat that seemed to sparkle with crackling energy. Loki immediately understood the purpose of this place and why it might be called a library despite containing no books. With no terrestrial plants, paper in Jotunheim would be nigh-impossible to come by. The Jotuns must have been very confident in their truth to engrave the very walls with it.
Hogni stopped just inside, but Loki kept moving, transfixed by the runes. He could feel Hogni and Thrym’s eyes upon him, but barely cared because the mystery in front of him was so much more pressing: he found himself unable to read the script. He squinted further, wondering why the Allspeak wasn’t automatically translating the odd, fluid shapes inside of his mind as it should have been. Finally, he accepted that there was some other magic at play, one he found himself antagonist to. Once again, he felt like an outsider here.
“Only Jotun eyes can read Jotun runes, little one,” Hogni said.
Loki’s gaze snapped back to the giant, who was smiling knowingly at him. He started a retort. “I have Jotun-”
“You have Aesir eyes. Your magic is stronger than your wisdom, boy!” She laughed, but it wasn’t mocking. “Sometimes, an image of something is more than just an image. Appearances have power.”
Loki wanted to roll his eyes, to respond with something dismissive and witty, but stopped himself. He wasn’t here to remake enemies. “So I can’t read any of your fabled history, then? I suppose you’ll just have to tell me, instead.” He tried to sound as genuine as possible, but the sarcasm inserted itself into his voice without his intention.
This time, it was Thrym’s turn to chuckle. “Making commands in another’s home? Bold of someone who has only just become a king. One might think you had been bossing others around for centuries.”
“I’m used to getting my way.” Loki hoped they’d write it off as a character flaw, his penchant for self-centeredness, and not a sign that there was any more funny business on Asgard than what he had already told them. He had reservations about revealing too much to them, and moreover, thought it might be a bit worse than uncouth to admit he was ruling as Odin for years without even attempting to contact Jotunheim.
“You know, Loki, that before recently, you would be rightful king of Jotunheim,” Hogni said plainly.
Loki ground his teeth together. He had considered that, shortly after he had killed Laufey, but like everything else related to that particular murder, he hadn’t thought much of it. In truth, he had never planned on returning to Jotunheim. Fear, perhaps, of retaliation for killing Laufey had prevented any ideas of diplomacy whether he ruled in Asgard or not.
“Before what?” he decided to ask.
“The war,” Hogni said matter-of-factly. “Your actions have always had more effect here than you knew. You have been our savior and our doom. A toppler of avalanches, a god of cause-and-effect. You are twinned with Asgard in that way.” She paused, but Loki only answered her with a scowl. Could she possibly think that he had meant for all of this to happen? Could Loki admit that he had created consequences unforeseen to him? “Asgard has always been our unwanted master, the golden protagonist destined to always thwart our attempts at independence. We are always the enemy, the crucible for your people. The dirt on which Asgardians test their mettle, coming here with their justified dreams of slaying the monsters. We are the dung to Asgard’s great tree, growing them strong and worthy through our own decomposition. But to us, Asgard is the parasite that took up space within our mouths, unasked for and unwanted, to eat our food and steer us towards their singular benefit. Asgard has had a hand in every action to ever change Jotunheim. It is only fitting that you are now its leader.”
Loki struggled to not feel defensive at her words. He spared no love for Asgard, either, but hearing her talk about the place in such a brutal way was… accurate, but accurate in the worst way, the way that he could not deny. Yet these were his people, and worse yet, his own brother was so often the one doing the very things Hogni had described. Thor was the purest Asgardian, the distilled essence of what it meant to be of Asgard and do as Asgard did. Hogni had not said it, but with Odin gone, there was only one Asgardian left whose name still held meaning upon the frozen realm. Thor was, in Jotunheim’s eyes, the very embodiment of their problems, and it was impossible for Loki to not feel hurt at the knowledge so deftly presented of why exactly not only Asgard and Jotunheim, but Thor and Loki themselves, might never reconcile. They were never equals; just as the realms were irreparably dissonant, so were their sons. Loki had only just gotten here, and already had he learned that this dispute meant so much more to him than a simple disagreement between realms, a treasure to be returned, a diplomacy to be restored. This was personal, whether Hogni and Thrym knew that or not.
Before he started emotionally breaking down again over this realization, Loki remembered his curse, and tried to compartmentalize the pain so that it might not discolor his skin any more than it already was. Instead, he returned to that old trick of rationalizing, setting his jaw, thinking over what Hogni had said, chasing the other meanings hidden within her metaphors. She sees opportunity. This is not chastising. Loki was, even more than when he was a mere prince, a viper in the eagle’s nest. Only now, his venom was capable of killing the grown birds, too; capable of not only righting the wrongs against Jotunheim, but of toppling Asgard entirely. He could make them pay for millennia of wrongdoing, and it would probably take him but an afternoon to do the entire thing from his perch atop Asgard’s throne. He would have the entire frozen realm at his back to help, if the impulse struck him to.
“And you want me to…” he trailed off. He thought he knew exactly what they wanted, but better let them bring forth the idea, so that he could absolve the blame back onto them if things went south.
“We don’t need you to do anything, Loki.” No title. “You are not our king. We are sovereign.”
“Then who is? Another one of Laufey’s blasted children?” This wasn’t where Loki was expecting the conversation to go, but all the better if he could learn of threats in more directions than from his homeland alone.
“We rule ourselves. No more of Laufey’s kin remain. They were all killed or are unaccounted for.” Hogni said this flatly, with so little emotion that Loki wondered whether she might be hiding something.
“Bodies are lost amongst the ice. Some Jotnar leave and never return. But most, we know for certain, were killed in the war. The boon you presented us with after betraying Laufey resulted in the deaths of a great many of our kind. Killing Laufey ignited a spark of dissent on Jotunheim that had been waxing for years. Thrym might explain it better than I. It was him who ensured our victory.” She again showed that serene smile and gestured to Thrym, who had been absentmindedly wandering the room, brushing his hands along the walls.
“I can speak for the battles, but not with such grace as you will, Hogni. I killed the last of them, yes, but I cannot explain with so much detail as to what predated the war. I was never well-versed in politics.”
“I know. I just wanted to hear it in your words!” She paused, but Thrym remained reticent, so she continued. Loki got the feeling that storytelling was a beloved hobby she didn’t get to do often enough down here. “Laufey was a despot. He was peddling a life most of us no longer wanted to live, especially us who could feel what was happening all around us, the changing in the air after the abduction of the casket. He was so obsessed with his constant war with Asgard and revenge on those who had wronged us. Some still supported this, like many of the warriors who were loathe to give up their way of life, and the entire royal family and most of the nobles would never have openly disagreed with him, not in their dying breath. Those were the only Jotuns you ever met, I think. But that was not the majority of us.” Loki nodded; he was unaware of dissent on Jotunheim, but unsurprised given the circumstances. “After you killed our king, the rest of us saw our chance. Most of the nobles were taken out silently. We thought the ends justified the less-than honorable means. And, apparently, so they did too, because the next day, as we were about to ambush some of Laufey’s warriors, we ourselves were ambushed by Laufey’s own personal guard. This was a very intimate war to him, we learned on that day. It resulted in the loss of, I think, several hundred of our side in those few minutes alone, who were not so trained to survive such a thing. After that, we were unable to avoid full-scale war. We were victorious, and every speck of royal blood has vanished from Jotunheim, save yours now. We are at peace, and it is, probably, better this way. I surmise we will never be what we once were.”
Loki kept a straight face throughout her telling, but felt his mind racing at the possibilities her story presented. If he had precipitated this much change on Jotunheim by killing one king, how might Asgard not fall victim to the very same thing? And if they were to ever find out that Loki had been the one to kill Odin…
Hogni patiently waited for his reaction; she seemed to enjoy theatrics as much as he did. He relented. “And this is what remains of that war?”
“We suffered deep losses, but we were many and they few. And we had more to fight for. Laufey was not the only threat to Jotunheim.”
Loki looked around at the room once more, the werelight he had conjured was bouncing slightly and the light playing on the sapphire walls and ice-veined ceiling made him dizzy. “Is this related to why we’re here and not up there?”
“It is. Our problem now is very simple. Jotunheim is melting, and us with it. The casket is more than just a trinket, you know. Jotunheim cannot survive without it. We are slowly, quietly dying.”
Loki felt a pang deep in his gut, and realized that his bargaining tool was much more powerful than even he had expected. This was not only an act of political negotiation, this was their life, their realm, their existence. He swallowed, but felt bile rising up within him anyway. Could this have been guilt that he was feeling?
He steadied himself. “So you are asking me for mercy.”
“Well, we are certainly not going to break into your vault to steal it back,” Thrym inserted with a wink. Loki exhaled, grateful for the shift in tone.
It did little to make him truly feel better, though, he was still torn with too little time to think and no safety net. Odin was not here to come and rescue them again; if he made another mistake, the consequences would be on no one else’s conscience. The casket was doing no good locked away on Asgard, but somehow, in a shudder that may have been instinct, he knew it was foolish to trust the Jotnar. If they were anything like he was, as he suspected they were, they were a slippery bunch, an entire race of beings who kept their cards a little too close to their chests and most certainly had an ulterior motive beyond the safety of their realm. What were they to do once Jotunheim was restored? Loki had never known a Jotunheim restored to power, but he feared it.
He started to answer, to push back against their wishes, but stopped himself. He must not be too loyal to Asgard. What did he truly owe them?
“How can I trust you?” he finally settled on asking.
Thrym, ever the lighthearted one, laughed at him, but Loki could tell his challenge was really for Hogni’s benefit. “I asked you the same thing when you got here. You said the kings’ blood on your hands was the proof.”
“I didn’t say it so violently!” Loki argued.
“Your meaning was the same.”
Hogni put out a staying hand. “Now, Thrym, his query is valid. Loki is a liar, and he thinks we are liars, too. He is one of us, at least on the inside. That should be all the proof that you need.” She gestured to Loki.
Loki smirked, they had the gist of him, and for once, he didn’t actually mind being understood. “All right. I’ll consider it. How many of you are left?” He would wrest as much information as he could from them before promising anything.
“Six hundred and seventy two. Most of us reside here. Some are in the other farms, though most of those collapsed during the war.”
“Where we are now. We have expanded them to make them more livable, but they are first and foremost farms. Some, like this room, also function as backups of our written stories should others be compromised. Jotunheim is quite different from Asgard in form and function. Under the surface and a few hundred feet of ice is a great sea that encircles the entire realm. Here, the ice is much thinner, and we can reach the uppermost extension of that sea. It gives us all our food, and now it is our shelter, too. The surface is nigh-unbearable now, what with the heat.”
Loki found this information unexpectedly fascinating; books about Jotunheim in Asgard focused very little on their unique geology and biology in favor of why it was prime hunting grounds. “And you said it is melting? What happens when the surface has melted enough to be down here? Can you swim?” He tried to resist a smile, but the mental image of hundreds of angry frost-giants swimming together was too comical for him to keep his face entirely clear. Hogni didn’t seem to notice, though.
“Not forever. Funnily enough, ice and water do not mix well. When the light once again reaches us, we will continue to go further down until there is nowhere left to go. When enough melts to unite the seas above and below, we shall die.”
Outside of genuine academic interest, Loki wasn’t really sure how to respond to that incredibly dour pronouncement. He even felt rather guilty for wanting to laugh before. Instead, he looked at his feet. The ground, too, was covered in runes. “So… what do you do now?”
“We live. Until it happens, that is all we can do.”
“We live amongst our food source, with most of our stories written on the very walls of our home, and our families here or gone. We serve no one. What else should we do but exist?”
Loki sighed. He had a hard time imagining it: life free of conflict, save the one with Asgard and the one that would kill all of them the same. It was so different from the realm he now ruled, where petty squabbles were an hourly occurrence and gold was the only thing anyone cared much about. If not for the threat of impending doom, Jotunheim would be quite peaceful. So much for the realm of monsters he had thought it proven to be.
And their melting ice problem. A battle against temperature, an enemy which had no blood to spill nor heart to stop. Hearing Hogni describe their situation in such stark certainty gave Loki a strange feeling, almost akin to a sense of duty. Odd. He never thought he possessed the ability to feel such a thing. Maybe blood formed stronger ties than he once thought, and only with these special circumstances could he feel it. Maybe, now that he had the power to stop their impending doom, he could not let it pass him by.
And how, truly, could he? How could he resist giving into the chaotic unknown of this harebrained scheme that might accomplish everything he’d ever wished for in one fell swoop? How easy it would be to just… give the casket back. An entire realm restored to its rightful ecosystem, Loki’s blood family no longer on their deathbeds, and a justified revenge dispensed upon Asgard. Making up his mind was as easy as keeping his heart beating. He had done so much to damage Jotunheim, already, and most of it he hadn’t even known about. His selfish impulses might’ve destroyed a realm, and he would never have noticed. Or, he admitted, cared. Now, he could do that very thing and call it justice rather than exploitation or accident. And if Asgard somehow didn’t perish in the crossfire… well, that was fine, too. In any case, Loki finally saw the endpoint, the unification of realms that should have occurred a thousand years prior, and now it only required the minor action of a transfer of goods. Seizing control of two realms’ destinies might take him, oh, maybe ten minutes?
But he shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t. He should wait. It was the wise thing to do.
Impulse, or instinct?
Loki steadied himself, and forced himself to make eye contact with the still-curious Hogni. The time was not yet ripe to tell them of his decision. There was more to be learned here, and Loki had already ruined enough with his hasty decisions before. It was a disservice to go back to Asgard before he absolutely had to; lest he forget the very reason he had left, the deconstruction of the throne room was surely nowhere near finished. And… well, he obviously wouldn’t be divulging this concern to the Jotuns, but he couldn’t imagine Thor being in support of giving the casket back. Loki internally vowed for the deed to be done before Thor found him out.
“Whatever do we do but exist, Hogni?” He kept his tone light, but could tell Hogni sensed a change within him. He had paused for at least thirty seconds. Before she had a chance to question his queer behavior, he changed the subject. “You said this library had stories? I’d like to learn more about that.”
Hogni was more than happy to oblige; apparently storytelling and story writing were once-revered pastimes that had seen a diminishing under Laufey’s increasingly tyrannical rule in recent decades. What she called myths were in reality a confusing mix of what a Midgardian might call religious texts, personal accounts of exploits mundane and spectacular, detailed descriptions of undated battles and conquests, abstract spiritual musings, information on Jotunheim’s unique geology, and high tales of heroes and villains locked in conflict eternal. Hogni gestured at her favorites on the walls and ground and ceiling around them, and Loki soon realized there was no order or reason to their organization; stories bled into one another indistinguishably, so that the entire room seemed at once Jotunheim’s history and culture and desires and pain. He wondered how many hands had eked out a say in what was considered worthy of such longevity.
All in all, it was the most interesting library Loki had ever seen. It was impossible to distinguish what might be fact from the obvious fiction. Loki’s earlier prediction that the Jotuns were extremely certain in their truth turned out to be incorrect: it was not their certainty in truth that allowed them to write stories down with such permanence, but their certainty that truth in itself did not exist.
Loki wished to come back when he could read it all.
The rest of the day seemed to pass swiftly; without sun there was no telling what time it was when Thrym returned from whatever other duties he had left to do, but Loki was exhausted and starving, even though his excitement over the library had not waned. Thrym had silently handed Loki a large plate of assorted, odd-looking sea creatures to dine on, and led him to a small room where he could stay for the night. Loki was left to eat alone in the quiet. He preferred this, as it allowed him the chance to actually cook his food with a tiny, conjured flame.
He still thought it odd the level of independence he had been given here. He doubted they had even locked the door, and he hadn’t been searched for weapons or poison since arriving. Loki was unused to being trusted so. And now that he had such trust, he wasn’t sure that he liked the feeling.
He finished eating and considered trying to fall asleep upon the low, assuredly-cold ice bench that he supposed was to be his bed, but a knock upon the (also ice) door quashed those plans. He opened it to find Thrym, blank-faced but relaxed. Loki gestured him inside, unsure of how to greet a guest when he himself was a guest in their home.
“I thought you would like to hear my version of the war which determined your path. Hogni said she had not mentioned it to you,” he said.
“She told me many stories, but that was not one of them.” It occurred to Loki that it was probably quite odd that Thrym had brought this up so suddenly, but his obliqueness actually seemed fitting in the ethos of the place he had seen so far. That was certainly one trait Thrym, and perhaps some of the other giants, did not share with Loki; they were tighter with their words. He wondered if that applied to their thoughts as well.
The giant sat down heavily on the floor, so Loki took a spot on the makeshift bed. If it seemed unbecoming that a renowned Jotun general would sit on the ground in his own domain, he did not act it. Perhaps the frost-giants simply liked to be as close to the cold as they could.
“As you might imagine, Jotunheim was a different place before the war with Asgard. With the casket upon the realm, we were at full power--our towers grew large, our bodies grew large. Some of us stood twice as tall as we do today. Most of us were yet too young to know anything but peace. Even with Asgard. Though still the Aesir came to slaughter us in our beds under the guise of hunting, occurrences were rare, and we were yet strong enough in those days to put up a fight. They were better times.”
So far, Loki knew this. To Odin’s dismay, Frigga had been rather open with Loki about the realities of Jotunheim; rather than the fear-mongering most of the realm enjoyed, Frigga tried to educate Loki. If only she had been more successful with Thor.
Loki’s mind was still open and malleable from talking with Hogni, and he wanted to be a good listener. Trust favored such a thing. “And what changed it?”
“Laufey. Laufey’s sire, our ruler at the time, died at the hands of an Aesir. One you might know as Bor. This was… maybe 1100, 1200 years ago by Asgard’s reckoning. At first, it was understandable that Laufey, still barely matured at this time, would want revenge. We thought a simple retaliation upon Asgard would be sufficient. Maybe killing one of Bor’s sons, though they were already old and very powerful by now, might’ve been a worthy idea.” Thrym chuckled at that, for both he and Loki knew this could have prevented the war with Odin in the first place. “That, however, was not enough for him. He wanted to prove that Jotunheim deserved Asgard’s high place over all the realms. He wanted to be a conqueror.”
Loki tensed. This sounded familiar.
“He set out to do so in all aspects of life. He sired many children, you among them. He wanted to ensure his legacy would continue even if he was taken by an Aesir, or other, before winter had conquered all the realms.”
“And what of them? Do they still live?”
“No. We ensured that in the last war. If any lived in opposition to their sire, they did not express it, even in death.”
Loki nodded. That was probably for the best.
Thrym continued. “It did not take long for Laufey to begin wondering whether the casket, the source of our worldly power, could be used as a weapon. It took him even less time to use it as such. Midgard was the ideal starting point. The humans did not suspect a thing, and even if they had, they were weak and shivering at the smallest hint of frost. You might have heard what happened next.” Thrym offered Loki a humorless smile. “Odin did what gods do, and thwarted Laufey’s efforts, protecting the mortals. But he did not stop at mere justice, no. An eye for an eye was never enough for Odin. We had to be punished. Punished for our sudden refusal to be compliant in Asgard’s every atrocity against us. Taking the casket was devastating to the realm. Taking you was devastating to Laufey.”
Loki let the words sink in. The icy walls seemed to absorb them, leaving the air and his mind clear.
“Thrym, do you--not Jotunheim, but you--still want revenge?”
“We fought with Laufey because we thought he was right. In some ways, we still do. But we are not blind. Odin is dead, and our realms cannot continue the same circular story of the past.”
Loki hadn’t been expecting a clear answer, and he was glad to have not received one.
Even so, Thrym continued. “After Laufey’s death, I suppose I got what revenge I still lusted for. A thousand years of slowly melting will give you perspective in that way.” He smiled again, but this time it was real; somehow warmth had crossed the face of the ancient frost-giant.
“My return to wreak my own havoc on Asgard must have really been something for him.” Loki had meant it almost jokingly, but felt himself almost tearing up at the thought.
“His stolen child, come back to seize revenge on the realm that had given the both of them so much pain? Laufey could not have shown… happiness, I think he was not capable of that with the casket gone. Few of us were, and truth be told, that hasn’t changed much. But I don’t think you know how much it meant to him to see you again, doing the very thing he had borne you to do, from the inside of the beast at that. ”
Funny, Loki thought, that the very doings he had shamed Odin with over his long life had been making Laufey proud from afar.
He pressed his lips together and looked away. Thrym was right, Loki hadn’t any idea at all. How could he have? It had been little more than fun and games for him back then, helping them ruin Thor’s coronation and the like. Laufey’d had his chance to tell Loki it all meant so much more. He never took it. Why?
Loki searched for more things to ask, but found himself short. This had been enough as it was.
Thrym seemed to sense Loki’s emptiness, and stood up. “Thank you for listening to me. Seek me out when you are finished resting.” He exited his story and the small room with the same brevity he had started with.
Loki certainly hadn’t been expecting a thank you, but appreciated it nonetheless. He was spent from a day of learning more than he had in years, and decided the ice bed and all its promise of rest looked rather appealing. He conjured more shaggy, white furs than he could count, piled them upon the makeshift bed, and fell asleep wrapped up in them without further ado.
Chapter 14: Fourteen
Maybe the ice had crept into his veins more than he had realized during his slumber, but Loki woke up feeling like less of an Aesir already. Despite the meager accommodations (at least compared to his king’s chambers on Asgard), he felt fresh and, most of all, at home. A strange feeling, one that he wasn’t accustomed to. He could not decide whether he found it welcome or not.
He could live like this; a month or two doing little more than relaxing underneath Jotunheim would not be nearly as taxing as he’d feared, partially due to the company he now shared. He found the Jotun’s demeanors much more... palatable than that of the Asgardians. It might be a little boring, sure, but much better than waiting for his own assassination. At least for now.
The freedom was odd, and he now found himself eager to start testing its boundaries. There was exploring to do here, and unlike on Asgard, he was trusted to be left alone for it. Plus, he thought, with his Aesir skin he might be able to explore the abandoned surface alone and unbothered. The idea certainly appealed to him. Trekking across the barren, icy landscape searching for nothing in particular was something he’d never had the opportunity nor will to do, but for some inexplicable reason, he found himself drawn to the discover of this realm that should have been his home in an unprecedented way. It was so… different to be in a place where he could escape others and the consequences he had caused. It was a beautiful loneliness, he decided.
Wait… Yes, he’d caused this, this stink of death and melting ice and mourning, too. But, he assured himself, the frost-giants seemed to think it for the better. The ones who still lived, anyway.
Loki sat up on the makeshift bed and stretched. He should have been sore and stiff after such a night, but his long muscles felt relaxed and ready for action from the healing cold. He recast the werelight, brightening the room enough for the weak Aesir eyes he still bore to see. He looked down and saw that his skin hadn’t noticeably changed after his first night in Jotunheim, and was rather proud that he had kept his emotions in check for at least another day.
It still, however, didn’t look right in the glow of the ice around him. He wondered if he wanted to... adapt.
After all, it hadn’t been so long ago that he had dropped the veil the last time. It had been different that time. He’d had a reason other than abject curiosity: proving his parentage to the younger Loki had been imperative, or had at least seemed as such in the moment. Even though, in hindsight, it had not done him much good in figuring out why his future was to be so grim, he was glad he had done it. Now, his goals had changed. Being Jotun was not the largest of his problems, it surmised, and here he would probably be embraced for shedding that pale Aesir skin. The Jotuns seemed to trust him already. Why not give them even more evidence to like him?
Before the last time, he had been somewhat doubtful of his desire to shed that skin, wondering if he could change his very being with will alone, rather than through holding the casket or being touched by a fellow Jotun. Once he had tried it, however, he found it as easy as shedding his clothes. Almost effortless. It would be so easy to simply…do it again.
How might he be perceived when he was not an intruder in the giants’ home, but one of them, a long-lost brother to be welcomed and appreciated? What would these strange tunnels look like with Jotun eyes? Then, he realized with a jolt of excitement, he’d also be able to read all the collected wisdom in the farm’s strange library. His mouth twisted at the thought that he’d been too forgetful (or perhaps complacent was a better word) to do it yesterday.
Yes, this was how he would fill today. And though he didn’t mind the gently probing Hogni, nor the stark assurance of Thrym, he was eager for the opportunity to explore without their guidance. He had spent too much time alone on Asgard, and now even the smallest of obligated niceties was rather grating when he had better things to do.
He got out of bed, shivering slightly at the chill of the ice on his bare feet, and tried to remember what he was thinking of the last time, when he’d revealed himself to Naive-Loki. He had been rather perturbed by Naive-Loki’s blase attitude, and definitely anxious, but other than that, he couldn’t think of any specific way he had relinquished the veil. It wasn’t like casting a spell; there wasn’t any stark instruction for removing a part of him that had been cemented and inert for centuries, so he closed his eyes and tried to change himself.
It was much less difficult than he had feared. The cold seeping up through his feet from the Jotunheim ground helped, he thought, it gave him a starting point through which he could will his body to reflect the icy blue all around him. Once he had put all of his focus into the transformation (no, not transformation, reclamation) he started feeling the difference immediately. More attuned to this place, to the subtle vibrations of ice cracking and melting and refreezing. He even thought he might be able to hear the slow roar of water far beneath him. Much more worryingly, he felt warm, like he had been out reading in the Asgardian sunshine for too long and needed to retreat to the shade.
The room transformed before his eyes as the Aesir skin dissolved up his body. No longer was it all a wash of uniform light blue, so opaque to Loki that his depth perception failed and he could barely tell wall from corner. Hogni had not been exaggerating about Jotun eyes: they were so obviously ideally evolved for the environment. The ice was now so sharp and clear that it seemed to buzz with some hidden energy and liveliness that Loki could not have seen before. He wondered where these specific evolutions might put the Jotnar (and himself, he conceded) at a disadvantage.
As an Aesir, Jotunheim had always held an air of bleakness, of... not death, exactly, but the lack of life. It was humbling (a truly awful feeling) to Loki to realize that it was just as abundant and exquisite as any other realm when viewed through the right lens. It was different, yes, but beautifully different.
He grimaced, slightly chastised, feeling the sharp ridges on his face contort stiffly. Well, he thought, at least he wouldn’t be giving so many of his emotions away with his facial expressions in this state. He wondered what the scar still gracing his cheek might look like now that he wasn’t so pale.
He stretched his shoulders back and heard his spine pop in the same key as the cracking of the ice around him, and exhaled deeply. It was still overwarm, and he decided to shed some of the Asgardian clothes; the layers upon layers of leather were unnecessary now. He wasn’t hungry, so he figured it would be best to go and find the library alone, Thrym and his orders be damned. They needed him, so what could they possibly be mad at him for? There would be plentiful time to talk later, anyway.
Loki crossed the small bedroom and reached an arm out to open the thick ice door. He absentmindedly noticed how well his discolored forearms seemed to blend in to the rest of his cerulean Jotun skin.
His heart stalled.
This was no coincidence.
He recoiled, suddenly fearful, clutching at this wrist. The skin, the color and texture, all down to the hard veins underneath, were perfectly flush and concurrent with the rest of his alien body.
He had been such an idiot. Why, why didn’t he realize this before? It was all so blindingly obvious. This wasn’t a mere unknown poison, discoloring his skin before probably killing him at some point in the indistinct future.
This was a truth serum.
It was undeniably true: all of those thwarted attempts to cover the blue up with magic, to disguise that changing part of him, had been unsuccessful because they required Loki to lie about who he was, that indisputable fact that Loki was not Aesir. His illusion magics were nothing against the cold knife of the truth. He was being revealed, little by little, and soon, he would be unable to ignore it.
It was a clever method on Feral-Loki’s part, Loki had to give the boy that. This potion had infected him, traveling through his bloodstream and into his heart; he was becoming more Jotun by the very moment and it was only manifesting where his skin was thinnest. How long it would be before he could not possibly be mistaken for Aesir... he had no idea. But he did know what made it spread.
He would have to ask Hogni or Thrym what happened when Jotuns became upset. He had a feeling that their passion or rage manifested a little more palpably than a quickening of the pulse or a rush of adrenaline.
Loki sat back down on the bed, pushing away the snow-white furs. The cold was rather comforting, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from going into that rushed, frantic state once again; he put his head in his hands, running his fingers up the ridges that ran up his temples to his forehead.
A cure, a cure, must find...
There wasn’t one, though, Loki feared; there was no curing the truth when, under the normal circumstances, this natural, pristine state would be called cured itself. There was no illness. His lies had been the illness, and this potion had so kind as to purge the evil from his veins.
Thanks a lot, Loki.
Why, though... why in Yggdrasil would Feral-Loki have wanted to expose his future self in such a way? Loki could not for the life of him recall thinking any such thing at that point in time; after Laufey’s death, he barely gave any thought to his true heritage at all. He was so preoccupied with his worries and fears of Thanos that it was impossible for him to have even considered that he would be alive this far in the future, let alone that eventually he might want to be visibly Jotun for all to see. Where would he have even obtained such a potion? Truth was never something Loki had much affection for, in any of his iterations, in any of his timelines.
He felt bile rising in his throat. It was almost... abhorrent, disgusting, aberrant that any Loki would have wished this.
He searched his memories and his mind for alternate explanations and came up short. It was again humbling, embarrassing, even, for Loki to admit himself that there must have been powers working beyond even his own imagining through his magic. That knowledge made him want to give it up forever.
But... no. He couldn’t do that. It was as much a part of him as the frost-giant blood in his veins, and more so than the sickly-pale Aesir body he had lived nearly his entire life in.
He pressed his lips together. Again, all he could do was nothing.
An hour later, Loki found himself lost in the Jotunheim catacombs. He had passed a few fellow frost-giants, and rather than asking for directions, he had tried to make himself into one of them in motivation too, idly wandering while he awaited slow death through melting. He was starting to find the situation darkly funny. He was getting his recompense.
He slowed his pace, deciding it was useless to keep wandering, and reluctantly decided to ask the next giant he passed for directions. Was there no end to his humiliation?
“Excuse me?” he called. It was somewhat unnerving to hear his voice being produced through these altered vocal chords; it was the same and different, lower and yet still undeniably his own, like being played back through an old tape recorder like the kind they had on Midgard. Too rough.
A nameless Jotun in front of him stopped and turned. Loki saw that this one was barely taller than himself, gaunt in the face with eyes more maroon than crimson.
Their eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Who are you?”
Loki thought that, for once, telling the truth would be easier than making up some fictional Jotun identity. “Loki of Asgard. King of Asgard, I should say.” And I am burdened with glorious nothingness.
“You don’t look like it.”
“Mm. Loki Laufeyson, then. That name ring a bell?” If they were going to be this unhelpful, Loki would rather just resume his wandering, at least until he found someone else. Apparently the lack of central government here made news rather slow to travel, or this giant was just willfully shirking him. The heat wasn’t exactly helping Loki’s mood, either.
The giant made a low rumbling noise that might have been either laughter or derision. Probably both. “And you are here to gloat?”
Loki was growing impatient. “No, why would I be-” He stopped before his temper rose too high and steadied himself. “I’m looking for the library.”
“Why? So you can mock us?”
This made little sense, but Loki didn’t care. He was over this giant’s attitude. “How dull are you? Do you not realize the power I hold upon your miserable realm? I have your casket. It’s entirely up to me whether you get it back. Is that not enough to earn your respect?” Wielding your place over them again... that’s kind of you, Loki.
Rather than responding with a jibe, the Jotun seemed to shrink back. Loki was gladly reminded of how very caustic he could be. “Go back. Take the second right. Go down the stairs, take a left, and then down again.”
Loki nodded, not wanting to allow himself to... well, be himself again. He turned around before he could embroil himself in any more trouble with the beings whose home he was now invading. Clearly, not all of them were appreciative of it.
The giant’s directions proved true, and Loki was back in the library before he knew it. Without thinking, he approached the nearest wall in a haste and begin to examine what he could not have understood before.
A smile split his cerulean face when the serpentine runes shifted and reoriented themselves somewhere between his crimson eyes and his brain. He didn’t understand how--did they look like Asgardian runes now, or was the Allspeak simply working the way it was supposed to? Or maybe it was simply magic. Either way, he found he could understand them, and it was gratifying for him to see for himself what he needed explained before.
The first thing he saw, right inside the doorway, seemed to be some sort of creation story, telling of how the Jotnar themselves had been birthed from the living ice millions of years ago. Loki found this fascinating, and read on with vigor. The Jotnar prose was often confusing, having few periods or clear stops, but their ideas were so clearly presented that he found himself enamored by their style. It was more like poetry, or even song, than the books Loki was used to.
It was little surprise to Loki that their version of their own history differed from Asgard’s (who had little patience for rhyme or style and no care at all for telling truth when it came to their enemy realm). The tale was brief, dry, completely and utterly devoid of faith or ambiguity. There was no doubt in their belief in their own creation, or at least not how Loki processed it.
Every few words, there was a rune that Loki did not quite understand; it must have not had a direct translation to any meaning he was familiar with, but the Jotun eyes read it anyway. These runes crackled with more energy than their peers, so Loki decided to call it a spark. The myth (but was it truly a myth?) trudged on, and Loki realized just how important it was, for it was their everything, their beginning and, he thought with sickening sense of doom, their end. It was the ice and it was of the ice. Like cells, that divine spark had grown from nothingness into the entire realm of Jotunheim, and then it had split, creating all of their lands, their sea, their living beings from the selfsame seed. Loki had been right: they were a part of the land they lived in, but in their telling, it was so much more literal than he could have imagined a religious fable to be.
Loki realized with a jolt the repercussions of this discovery. Civil war must have been truly horrific here, when all involved had intimate knowledge and unwavering belief that each enemy killed was borne of the exact same substance as themselves. He wondered where they went when they died.
He read on, anxious for more details of the Jotun religion (or was it simply history?) and some hints of knowledge of their afterlife; he had the creeping fear that Laufey’s icy essence had returned to the ground somewhere, poisoning the realm even after his death. That was ridiculous, though, wasn’t it?
There was nothing to assuage his curiosity, however, he kept reading but found nothing save more pontification on their own existence. The Jotnar were more... philosophical than he’d thought them to be. He followed the text down, until it twisted to the side, contorting around a curved corner to a seemingly brighter alcove where the sapphire stone seemed more fragile. Loki thought he could nearly see a lighter glimpse of ice through the carved runes.
Here, the story had become more vague, less of a story and more an impalpable, existential musing that Loki found frustratingly difficult to understand. In places, he found that although he could still read the words, they fit together in odd manners, all of their objects and particles and verbs out of order. The spark threaded through seemingly everything. Loki struggled to make sense of it all, but discerned that at the basest level the Jotnar had no gods, at least not in the sense the Asgardians considered themselves such. The ice itself seemed to be the only divinity they fostered belief in. And in this, they were remarkably unclear on any details of how it all worked, or where it came from, or why any of it worked the way that it did.
Even so, Loki had a gut feeling over what the spark itself was. He supposed the Jotuns found it such common knowledge, such base instinct that nobody had bothered to write it down.
Jotunheim’s deity was sitting in a dusty casket in Asgard’s basement.
Loki physically cringed at the realization, his body rejecting the shame he was feeling. He had already made his decision. Why did he need this awful, excruciating reminder of how atrocious Odin had been to Loki’s true homeland?
Sometimes, the universe was simply... cruel.
He shook his head and moved on, fury for Odin’s actions churning despite his refusal to dwell on the fact at the moment. That ship had sailed, and Loki was already well on his way to righting the wrongs of his family, wasn’t he?
He walked back around the corner, searching for a new place to begin reading where he might find a less painful story to distract himself from his nagging guilt. He settled on a light, yet enamoring tale of a rather salacious Jotnar romance, deciding it of all things couldn’t possibly make him feel any worse.
An hour later, Loki was feeling uncomfortably warm again, depth of the library notwithstanding, and his eyes were beginning to wander. He was feeling much better, though, and grateful that the distraction had worked; his self-preserving instinct had assuaged most of his guilt with stark certainty that he was going to do the right thing, in time. A little wearied from the frenzy in which he had attempted to distract himself, he sat heavily on the navy floor, suddenly uneasy and indecisive over how long it was really wise to stay here, be it the library or Jotunheim itself.
And then, he saw Odin’s name underneath his right knee.
Loki pressed his eyes shut. Obviously, Odin’s stench would be written all over this place; as Hogni had explained, Asgard and Jotunheim were twined inextricably, and Odin had made an immutable mark upon their realm. Loki knew this, or at least he’d thought he’d known all of their bloody history. But Thrym had impugned that, and Loki surmised that his knowledge would be challenged even further if he were to give it a chance. The question now was: would Loki know more?
He didn’t think he wanted to. Wouldn’t it only make him feel worse again to retread through the horrors of history? Nothing written here could possibly say anything good about Loki’s family. Who did Loki find himself more loyal to?
A stupid question. Loki had no doubt as to where his true loyalty lay.
He let his head rest back against the wall, drained from the heat already. Once again, he was at an impasse, stuck between two sides that probably each deserved his allegiance, and finding himself averse to embracing either. He’d struck blows towards both sides, an ignorant spy doing the work of the god he called chaos but could’ve equally as likely been fate.
But this was no zero-sum game. This concept of working towards a resolution was foreign. Was chance truly chance if it had a goal?
The problem, he decided, was that there was a clear right and wrong lurking over his shoulder. Odin was wrong. Laufey was wrong. Loki was right. Giving the casket back was right. No room for ambiguity.
This was all far too constricting, to have only one possible outcome. Loki was right, yes, but had he even a say in the decision? Facts were facts. He was simply acknowledging them.
No, that couldn’t be right. He’d find a way out of it. He always did. He already had a feeling that the escape from these binding chains of resolution might be found in the very library he now sat in. Maybe he could use the truth written here to his advantage, whatever that might imply.
He sat up, criss-crossing his legs, and began to read their maybe-true tales of his father, without any regard for bias or fact or evidence. He was only there for the story. Stories couldn’t hurt anyone.
A wise king does not seek out war, but must always be ready for it.
Loki thought he knew where Odin had learned his favorite saying, now.
He had read what seemed like the entire library with undisputed glee. Sure, much of it had been distasteful (well, horrible) tales of what Odin and Asgard and some unnamed executioner had done to their realm, but after Loki had decided to read it as fiction and not fact, it wasn’t so hard to stomach. Obviously, the Jotuns had exaggerated a bit. Didn’t all the best storytellers do that?
Regardless, if Loki was being honest, he might’ve felt the tiniest bit defensive. Even over the parts he knew were real.
But that was reflex. He wasn’t truly defending Odin’s actions. Odin wasn’t even his real father. He owed the dead man nothing. All the same, he found some of their more opinionated passages somewhat hard to read.
Loki wasn’t good at accepting emotions he hadn’t specifically constructed for himself. In fact, he found it not only hard to believe, but distinctively annoying that someone else could make him feel anything at all that he hadn’t planned for in the first place. And after he’d moved on from the Odin-bashing, a new issue presented itself that he knew he couldn’t ignore.
He’d chanced upon it unexpectedly. Like all the best stories, it was a twist, a change in pace that he could not have predicted. If it hadn’t been so personally effective upon him, he would’ve loved it as a rhetorical strategy.
It was hidden away in an otherwise innocuous account of Laufey’s children. Call it selfishness, but Loki had seen his own name, and couldn’t resist investigating what intel Jotunheim had on him. They’d diligently written away each of his siblings that had perished in the war; Loki had discerned that most of the library had been copied over after the war between Laufey’s loyalists and the dissidents. There hadn’t been much to say about Loki as he’d been taken so young. Only a brutal, literal retelling of Odin’s kidnapping. Loki found it boring.
That hadn’t been the case for one of Laufey’s other children.
This one showed up after Loki’s abduction, but before the murder of Loki’s other brothers and sisters. She was only a bit younger than Loki, his closest (well, only) living relative. At least, Loki thought she still lived.
It was a much different story than Loki’s own. Her leaving of Jotunheim almost seemed consensual. Thanos had given her a choice in the matter, and she had made it.
Loki had rejected the words the first time he’d read through them. Surely, he couldn’t have just read Thanos’ name. Thanos was a Midgard problem. A Titan problem, he supposed, a cosmos problem, but his conquests had lay outside the godly realms of Yggdrasil. Loki would know. Loki had never been asked (forced) to take over any of those.
This wasn’t the same Thanos. It was only a common name; it had nothing to do with the pseudo-god who had given Loki such a headache in years past.
According to the library’s walls, Illfýsi had been taken before her adolescence, but late enough in her life that her family had accepted that she was old enough to make the choice for herself. Loki doubted this. Thanos wasn’t one to give someone a choice when he saw opportunity.
He read on, but found nothing more. The Jotnar had no other information on this lost sister of Loki’s. But he needed no more. Her alliance with Thanos was enough to tell him to be worried.
Thanos wasn’t done with Loki. Or Illfýsi wasn’t done with Loki. He still had enemies. Asgard was the least of his problems.
It was all starting to fit together. There were no coincidences. Loki leapt up and nearly ran through the icy corridors to find Hogni.
Unlike his troubles with finding the library, Loki seemed to know exactly where he was going now. Hogni was back in the first room Loki had seen on Jotunheim with the ring of water encircling it, eating more of the strange seafood at the large, circular table. She smiled when she saw Loki.
“Sleep well, little one?”
“I did,” Loki replied, not acknowledging her lack of interest in his now-blue skin. Perhaps she’d been expecting it. “Listen, I have some questions.”
Hogni motioned for him to sit down beside her. “You visited the library again?” Her slow, measured speech was growing annoying. Did she not realize how momentous the information Loki had just learned was to him?
“Yes, and...” Loki started to explain, but the look in Hogni’s eyes told him she knew all that he was thinking. “It’s about my... sister.”
“Mm. Not about the casket?”
“Well, that too, but... Hogni, you know the answer to that already. Were you there when Thanos took her?” Loki heard his voice growing more severe. He hoped Hogni heard it too.
Her expression shifted from peaceful to strangely blank; Loki wondered if she feared him, too. “No. I was alive, but young, and she lived far away, to the south. I only learned of it after.”
“That was it. He came and seemed to already know exactly where she was. It couldn’t have been that difficult. After the casket was taken, we were having fewer and fewer children, and even less of them seemed to possess any magical ability. Your sister was one of the last of a dying breed. Laufey sent her away from the palace to hone her skill with the few remaining sorcerers the moment it manifested when she was a child. Thanos showed up less than a year later.”
Loki felt sick. So that was why Thanos and his minions had been so effective at torturing him. They knew what he was. And how to hurt him the most.
“And he kidnapped her?”
“It wasn’t so... black and white. The few other children being taught our magic remarked that it was her choice to go. Thanos had promised her training more powerful than anything she could get here, and more importantly, a purpose. No longer would she have to slowly die along with her realm. She could be more.”
Loki clenched his jaw, but decided not to tell Hogni that he’d been in almost the exact same situation with Thanos. He’d wanted to be more, too.
“But it wasn’t truly a choice,” he said.
“No. She was still a child, and precociousness doesn’t equate to wisdom. She was easily swayed by his promises. If she’d had said no, or one of the elders at the temple had tried to stop Thanos from taking her, I’ve no doubt that he would have taken her by force.”
“His was always a brittle peace,” Loki muttered. He hadn’t meant to say it aloud.
Hogni picked up on it anyway. “You knew Thanos?”
“We’ve met,” Loki said dismissively, unwilling to discuss it further. “Why her, though?”
“We don’t know. She was, technically, a princess, one who showed powerful magical potential in a realm where little remained. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Loki suspected that his guess would actually be quite a bit better than hers.
Hogni reached out a hand and grasped Loki’s, which had been resting upon the table. Her skin was even warmer than his. “We would have gone to find her. This I swear to you.”
She didn’t need to explain why they hadn’t. Loki knew fully well that the Jotnar were incapable of inter-realm travel since the casket had been gone. They could not have invaded Asgard without his help.
“I believe you. What do we do about it?”
Hogni laughed, but it was the saddest thing Loki thought he’d heard from her. “You can do whatever you wish. She might be dead. If you know Thanos, go find him.”
Loki laughed, too, but his was a true one at the absurdity of her statement. “No, thanks.” He was too afraid to say anything more. He had a creeping feeling of being watched.
“Suit yourself. Not to add insult to injury, but it’s... conceivable that she could find you, instead.”
Loki sighed. He knew.
Despite his earlier plans to stay on Jotunheim for far longer, Loki found the idea of waiting here while a potential enemy (and a confirmed enemy, though enemy didn’t quite convey how Loki felt towards Thanos) lurked somewhere in the cosmos too risky. What if she came to Asgard while he was away? What if Thanos did? Loki had never been privy to all of his old slaver’s plans, but he didn’t think Thanos would be merciful. Mercy was not his way.
It’s only the guilt talking. Loki had certainly accumulated enough of that through the past months. Protecting his realm was a reasonable choice. And anyways, he’d have to go back to get the casket if he was still to restore balance to Jotunheim. There were plenty of less-pitiful reasons Loki needed to go back. Thor probably wouldn’t be happy if Asgard was destroyed while Loki was off on vacation.
Well. Thor wouldn’t be happy with him for several reasons. But there was no need to add another, least of all if it included the deaths of nearly everyone Loki had ever known. If Thor ever came back, Loki didn’t want to be in his crosshairs from inception.
Loki’s anxiety made his sleep much less restful the night before he’d planned to leave. He had wanted to return to Asgard fresh and bright-eyed, but evidently that wouldn’t be happening. After what seemed like only a few hours, he gave up on sleeping, and instead got up and gathered his belongings.
Thrym found him eating a cold, yet satisfying breakfast with Hogni back in the main chamber. The raw seafood tasted much better to the Jotun palette. Hogni hadn’t questioned his choice to leave Jotunheim; Loki suspected that she could sense his abject terror over Thanos and Illfýsi, and his decision to return the casket as soon as he could. She had thanked him for it.
“Leaving already?” Thrym asked, sounding casually unworried as usual.
Loki didn’t feel like explaining why he’d suddenly felt so keen on departing. Hogni could do that after he’d left. “I’ll be back. Soon.”
Thrym nodded, not pressing him for more answers. Perhaps he really had earned their trust. Loki finished eating and asked if Thrym could escort him back up to the surface, where the Bifrost wouldn’t damage the fragile structures below. He accepted and they were back where Loki had first appeared soothingly quickly.
Loki called upon Heimdall with as much calm as he could muster, willed his Aesir form back onto his frame, and he was gone. His last glimpses of Jotunheim with Aesir eyes were pale and bleak.
The too-loud, too-bright Bifrost was almost comforting after what he’d endured on Jotunheim. And he wasn’t sure how he felt about it, but he was glad to be back in his Aesir form. Call it habit.
It was a relief for Loki that he could not only call back the veil with ease, but the cursed part, that part which he could not obscure, was still mostly limited to his forearms and other areas that wouldn’t be immediately visible. Some of his veins were rather dark, yes, but that could be chalked up to... illness, he could call it. His face was still pale. Everything else could be covered.
Loki’s anxiety hadn’t waned at all upon his returned to Asgard; rather he felt somehow worse knowing what was out there. Heimdall barely acknowledged him, but Loki knew that the watcher was well aware of what had occurred on Jotunheim and what precisely Loki feared. He was too afraid to ask Heimdall if he could see his other... sister.
“I sent for a horse for you,” Heimdall said patiently. Loki found his face, like usual, unreadable.
“Thanks.” Loki’s voice still sounded shaky, but at least it had lost the cold Jotun intonation. Asgard felt strangely cool after his time on Jotunheim. Loki grudgingly admitted to himself that Hogni, once again, had been entirely right about appearances having power.
He strode with what confidence he could muster out of the observatory to the waiting roan and departed. Loki thought the rainbow bridge more beautiful than ever after his time seeing nothing but blue.
From afar, at least, Asgard looked the same as how he had left it. Sigyn had not left everything to be destroyed, nor incited any rioting while he was gone. Loki wasn’t sure whether he was impressed or disappointed. Maybe her actions had been more subtle, more insidious, and it would take him longer to notice. The thought of that, and the rush of a warm wind in his hair, made him smile like he hadn’t in too long. Nothing could make him prouder of his protege than a little behind-the-scenes mischief.
He approached the palace with unexpected haste, perhaps suddenly excited to see what differences he had unwittingly wrought. Straight to the throne room he would go. Surely he had been long enough away to where there would at least be some... destruction for him to witness. He longed for it.
Loki dismounted outside the palace to a deserted city. By the look of the star that orbited Asgard, it was midmorning, and the streets probably should’ve been bustling, but he didn’t really care. Maybe Sigyn had done such a good job of keeping the commoners in line that they no longer had any reason to protest his rule.
And anyways, Loki had better things to do. Better things to see. He needed this distraction from his now-enemy lurking somewhere in the cosmos (wasn’t that a strange thought?) and not even the absent Asgardians could sully his desire for good news. This errant Jotun was beyond his control, and such should be beyond his worry. It was foolish to tarry over what one could not change. Right?
The palace was quiet, too, but Loki barely noticed. In fact, he was grateful for the absence of interruptions. Instead, he made a beeline for the throne room, the one place he felt he might finally have a home in besides his own chambers on Asgard.
He approached the door to the throne room, closing his eyes to inhale the smell of broken stone and refuse, and smiled. He was once again comforted. He was in control. Asgard was in his hands.
He opened the door and his eyes. Rubble littered the ground, and the very air seemed polluted with the dust of destruction. An imposingly large figure stood beside the throne with a hand resting casually upon it. In the other, a hammer.
Chapter 15: Fifteen
“H-hello, brother...” Loki stammered. His meek words echoed weakly through the destroyed room, but Loki had little care for the surroundings. His only focus was Thor, and the empty throne beside him.
A low rumble sounded across the room that might’ve been Thor laughing. Or distant thunder. Loki wasn’t sure which source he should be more afraid of.
Why, why hadn’t he planned for this? Why hadn’t he given even a single thought to what he would do if Thor returned? His own fear had led him to lie to himself about Thor ever coming back, and it had been a beautiful lie, convenient and clean and better for all of Asgard, but Loki should have known that it could never be true. This was Thor’s home much more than it was his own. Loki was a fool if he’d ever truly believed that Thor would never come back.
Loki was even more of a fool if he’d really believed that Thor would die somewhere, in someone else’s hands but his own. He should have known that the idea was unreasonable, but he had decided to think it anyway. Loki was too good a liar, too good at pretending Thor was weak. But he was wrong.
Thor still had not responded. Ignoring the horrible twisting ache in his stomach that was pulling him out, out of the throne room to somewhere else, anywhere else, maybe Frigga’s garden - Loki stepped forward to better see the expression on Thor’s face. It was blank, unreadable; the affected stoicness of a warrior preparing for battle. Loki tensed.
Maybe he could stall Thor, make him see reason before... whatever Thor was planning on doing to him. Did Thor even know that Loki was king now? He must... where would Odin be otherwise... but Loki could lie about that, too... couldn’t he?
Loki tried to relax into a smile, adopting a tone he’d used thousands of times before. There is nothing wrong. “E-erm, welcome home, bro-”
“You can stop calling me that.” Thor’s voice was frighteningly flat.
Loki’s jaw set. He could see Thor’s entire arm, tight and imposingly huge, from his grip on the throne. He absolutely knew Odin’s fate. The question now was whether Loki wished to continue playing the fool, or give up. His death would be no less painful if he told Thor the truth. Then again... maybe Thor could see reason...
“Thor, I’m sorry,” Loki offered, struggling to control his voice. “If I could just... tell you the circumstances...” he trailed off; something about Thor’s clipped tone and his refusal to speak any more indicated that he wasn’t interested in a conversation.
It would come to a fight, then. Loki could deal with that. He exhaled, straightening his spine and drawing up his reserves of seidr in preparation.
Thor cocked his head to the side. “Oh, is Odin just out vacationing somewhere? And he so kindly left you in his stead? Or he’s just off for a nap? The Odinsleep? What lie will it be this time, traitor?” The mockery in his voice was unbearable.
“Heimdall told you, then?”
Please, please only know that Odin is dead and not by whose hand...
Thor started slowly descending the stairs from the throne, looking around at the rubble covering the stone floor. “You think Heimdall a traitor, too? Like you?” Thor said, too casually, baiting Loki. “King-killer? Father-killer?”
Yes , Loki thought; Heimdall was a traitor to him, didn’t he see that telling Thor was the ultimate treason against his king? Heimdall knew Loki had everything under control, yet now he had willingly thrust Asgard back into chaos. Just when Loki had thought Heimdall was worthy of trust, too. If he lived through the day, he would have words with the watcher.
“Does anyone know that you’ve returned?” Loki tried to change the subject.
“Yes. They saw me come in. They think I’m here to kill you.”
Loki didn’t want to ask the question he dreaded the answer to, but his tongue betrayed him. “Are you?”
“Yes.” Thor had reached the bottom step, and he pulled Mjolnir out of his belt. Loki fought the urge to take a step (or a million) backwards.
“Please what? You think you deserve mercy? For killing our father? ”
“Well... maybe not, but at least grant me the chance to explain myself,” Loki sputtered. He wasn’t sure whether he could tell any convincing story right now anyway, but he had to try.
“You can do that on your deathbed,” Thor said, serious as Loki had ever seen him. “I’ll give you that chance.”
Loki felt his hands balling into fists. “And how do you suppose I’ll get there? You wish me to give myself up? So you can be King-killer too?”
“No!” Thor shouted and Loki felt the rumbling again; it was certainly not laughter this time. “I want you to be resolute! I want you to fight! To show me that this was not all some mistake! That you have motives, however wicked they may be, that drive you to ends beyond simply creating chaos!”
“I do!” So Thor would rather him be evil than wrong. Loki could feel the blue spreading across his skin again. In that instance, he knew he would not escape this room without being completely exposed.
“So, you’ve no remorse then?”
“I - Thor, why do you twist my words like this?”
“That’s only acceptable when it’s you doing it? You’ve committed a crime, brother.”
The epithet seemed to slip out of Thor’s mouth from habit, and Loki felt a glimmer of hope within him; Thor could not remove himself from his familial affection. He couldn’t fully play the solitary arbitrator, the emotionless executioner; he was upset, and Loki could work with that. But an upset Thor was still a dangerous Thor, if not even more so. He’d have to be careful.
Loki said nothing. He knew it was foolish to say any more when Thor was impassioned like this. Anything beyond silence would only make Loki’s death all the more brutal, he was sure. If Thor didn’t want to hear him... well, he’d have to placate that urge, difficult as it was.
What would Loki explain anyway, though? He’d wronged Thor, there was no getting around that. Killing Odin was not as victimless a crime as Loki had taught himself to believe. Yes, it had helped him cope, but it had been a lie, one that was doing no good anymore. His actions were inexcusable, and even if Loki had tried to ignore that, Thor would not. Loki had hurt; he had instigated no tricks or mischief, only harm. He should not be trying so desperately to escape retribution. He should embrace it.
That was very difficult, however, with the god of thunder storming towards him, far too fast, and Loki saw that he was crying, and Loki knew that he wanted to cry, too. He was a boy again, caught in wrongdoing against someone much stronger than himself, too much a coward to accept his fate, but too aware of his own guilt to run away.
He forced himself not to stifle the tears. At least if Thor saw him crying, he might believe that Loki regretted his actions. Whether he truly did or did not. Only Loki would know whether it was truly apology or fear that drove his emotion. Maybe.
Even if his apology was a lie, however, his fears were grounded in truth. Loki wasn’t exactly new to Thor’s violence; he had been the target of it before, though not under such dire circumstances. The ways in which Thor had hurt him had always included at least a modicum of jest, he had always held back enough to teach Loki a lesson without permanently damaging him. Loki never told him how much even Thor’s gentlest of punches hurt. He knew what Thor would do to him now would be infinitely worse than the memory.
Loki stood his ground, though, and tried not to shrivel back too badly. He tried to say something: admit that he willingly killed Odin, admit that he thought himself a better king, admit that he thought himself in the right. Admit that he deserved whatever retribution Thor would sentence him to. But the paradoxes paralyzed him.
“I will not let you go unpunished,” Thor grieved, and held up Mjolnir. “Odin deserves better than that.”
And before Loki could wince, or try and defend himself, Thor punched him squarely across the face, Mjolnir be damned.
He stumbled back and felt a swelling in his right cheekbone already; that was where his damned blue scar was. Offhandedly, he realized Thor hadn’t even asked about it. Loki conjured a knife to his hand, much longer than the ones he normally used and held it out in a pathetic gesture of threat towards Thor.
The rumbling again. This time, it was definitely laughing, but a sad kind, and the worst part was that Loki knew exactly why; he was confirming all of Thor’s suspicions about his worst qualities. Loki felt himself stumbling backward, he needed to hide, he didn’t want to fight Thor, he couldn’t fight Thor, he had no chance, if Thor was truly trying to kill him he could do so in a heartbeat. Loki looked around frantically for cover. There was a crumbling pillar but a few yards to his left, damaged by the fallen pieces of mural from above, fragile scaffolding surrounding it. He could at least get cover, regain his bearings for a few moments, and determine some way out of this mess that didn’t result in his death.
Though, to be fair, Loki knew he deserved it.
Thor didn’t follow him; he was unsettlingly calm, though Loki could feel the buzz in the room of his rage and the coming storm. Surely, he thought Loki a coward for not fighting back. Loki didn’t care. He knew it was true.
He crouched behind a troll-sized chunk of fallen stone. Its surface sparkled with the eerily-moving golden pictures from the mural-covered ceiling. Frigga’s face. The sight made his stomach twist again, but moreover, it gave him hope, for he wanted to fight back now, to show her that he, too, could grow and change and be more than the god of giving up . It’s what she would have wanted.
“Loki, stop being ridiculous. I’ve got all the time in the world and I’m not changing my mind. Especially not with you hiding from me like this. Come out and fight me like a man!” Thor’s words were still unnervingly subdued despite his battle-ready stance; they stung worse than if he’d bellowed.
Loki had few options, though. It hurt, but he knew what he had to do. He could not fight Thor face-to-face. His only chance was in deception.
“Sorry, Thor,” Loki muttered to himself, and created the first clone.
It appeared on the other side of the room, around another pillar, identical to Loki in every way with his hands out, lime-green seidr swirling distractingly around them. Thor could not see the image; the brute was still patiently waiting for the real Loki to come out, though his grip on Mjolnir indicated that his rage had waned not. The clone said nothing to give himself away, but fired a burst of energy in Thor’s direction. It wasn’t intended to kill, only stun him. And, Loki admitted... maybe hurt him, just a little.
Thor, however, must’ve seen the sparkling green shooting towards him, or sensed the change in the air because he leapt out of the way and hit a huge chunk of ceiling towards the Loki clone with Mjolnir, who could not move in time and vanished in a gold gleam upon impact. Loki was not perturbed, though, as he was already conjuring several more clones to challenge Thor, as well as devising a spell to send the rubble flying towards his brother in return. He tried to imbue each clone with different strategies: one tried to take on Thor in a melee and was swiftly knocked on his ass, another threw knife after knife before Mjolnir found its way to his jaw, yet another tried to sneak up on him while he was occupied with more clones and hold a dagger to his throat, which only resulted in a kick to the back of the knees which sent him tumbling to the ground.
“Coward!” Thor howled, undoubtedly enraged by Loki’s refusal to meet him in reality, but Loki didn’t care. He needed to come up with a different strategy, though, and soon...
Maybe he did care, a bit. A bit too much. He knew exactly what this scene might look like if he were to look. Just hearing it was hard enough. Loki could feel his panic rising; this was not going well. The thunder was much closer, now, and he knew that Thor could summon the lightning at any moment if he really wanted to kill.
Thor knew his brother’s style of fighting well, too well; his tricks and deceptions were going unbelieved. Loki’s only saving grace was not in his ability to dismantle Thor or hurt him in any way, but in provoking his confusion, for Thor could not know which was the real Loki. Thor’s own words aside, it did not take Loki long to hope that Thor had forgotten he was trying to kill his brother.
He muttered a spell to create another dozen clones to attack Thor, then allowed himself to peer out from behind the fallen stone.
His blood all seemed to turn to ice. He knew the clones were but hollow, intransient images, weak things he’d created thousands of times before. Hel, he had even sparred with Thor in their youth using them. But this was no longer such a game. It was entirely different, much more unnerving and painful and terrifying to see Thor destroying each Loki one by one with such brutal force. Loki could not stop himself from imagining what each blow must feel like.
He knew he shouldn’t be watching. If anything, he should be doing the integrous thing, and going out there to fight Thor himself. But he was paralyzed back behind this literal destroyed piece of his past life, dismantled by his own decree. Frigga’s stare seemed not so kind now that Loki’s fear had taken hold, and now the real fight was against his own skin, against the creeping blue of his truth that he was certain at this point was about to take full hold of him. His shaking made it impossible to tell exactly how far it had progressed, and he could not allow himself to look down, to see if he was completely given up yet. But it was inevitable. He would be ruined. Asgard would know.
A frost-giant would sit upon their throne, if he lived through the morning.
Let Thor see that.
Loki froze. Thor had still never seen him in his true state. If there was anything that would stop him from attacking...
A few of the clones were still fighting, throwing knives and spells and all the weapons at their disposal at Thor. He was still distracted. Loki set his jaw.
He concentrated hard on the spell to send the piece of ceiling he was hiding behind hurtling toward Thor, and even harder on accepting his pain and his anxiety and anger and stood with as much pride as he could muster. He would have to trust himself. Trust in the fact that he could finally, blessedly, allow himself to feel something, everything , because it was nearly his only chance. Stop trying to be strong. Allow the truth to come out. Give in.
Thor turned just in time after vanquishing the last of the clones, and jerked Mjolnir up to defend himself. His mark was true. The ceiling chunk shattered into a million pieces, the broken fragments of the sparkling mural turning to dust to float down in peaceful surrender around them. Loki knew that his mother’s face was a part of the detritus. Perhaps when Loki was killed by his brother, he’d join her there.
Thor’s face told Loki all that he needed to know. This was his greatest enemy and his only brother, one in the same, inextricably linked. Loki had made his point. But he could no longer stop, ask Thor for forgiveness, explain himself; he was lost, and he didn’t want to come back. He was what he was. And, finally, it was exactly what he wanted to be.
He heard the room freezing around him before he knew what he was doing. Ice crept over the broken pillars and glittering art and pristine gold throne, growing up in dolorous stalagmites from the rubble-strewn floor, up Thor’s legs, binding his body and Mjolnir. The thunder stopped, and was replaced by a brutal, blissful silence. This was Loki’s storm.
Chapter 16: Sixteen
The snow swirling in wild spirals around the throne room was not enough to obscure the fear in Thor’s eyes. Even his prodigious strength was not enough to overcome the ice binding him in place, and he stopped fighting it after realizing that his struggle was futile. He gave up and looked at the frost-giant in front of him. The room was blanketed in a foot-deep layer of white and blue. The remaining gold surfaces were flat and lifeless underneath the ice. Some of the fallen rubble was only barely visible under the snow drifts.
Loki’s own rage had waned, and now that he had Thor in captive audience, he could let go of his unhinged emotion and with it, the snowstorm around them. He felt safe now. It was easy, blissfully easy, to return to calmness in the freezing cold he had created. He took a gentle step towards Thor.
“Do you see now, brother?” Loki asked. His voice had returned to the low, brittle timbre it had the last time he had shed the Aesir skin. Only this time, it would never go back.
There was a strange combination of disgust and awe on Thor’s face. He could not look away from Loki. “Loki, I... I knew, but I never... I guess I never thought I would actually see you... like this. And the storm... how did you do that?”
“It’s not out of choice. I don’t know.” At least, Loki didn’t think he knew. He had a guess, though.
“So... so you’re working with the Jotuns again? Bringing down Asgard from the inside, as its king?” Thor’s voice was rising with his anger again. “Did you only kill Laufey so that you could be king of Jotunheim, too? Have you been king there all of these years and you didn’t tell me? You are so thirsty for power that you had to kill the kings of two realms? I-I thought you were past that! I thought... I thought you had learned,” he finished, defeated, the pain in his voice starkly apparent now.
“No!” Loki asserted, looking down. His skin seemed to almost sparkle in the dim light filtering through the high windows above the crumbling pillars. “I’m not... it’s not like that. At all. Honestly.”
Thor sniffed, and Loki wondered if he was crying again, or just cold. Loki continued, gesturing to the snow still falling gently around them. “None of this was my intention. It’s an... effect, not a cause.”
If Thor had been crying, he was doing an excellent job of holding his voice steady. “Cease your cryptic words, Loki. Need I remind you that I can still kill you, even like this.” He seemed unsure of it, but had stopped struggling against the ice holding him in place. “Just... fine. Tell me what happened. I can’t guarantee I’ll believe you. Or change my mind.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Loki said, and exhaled shakily, building up a makeshift chair from the ice. He did not mind this newfound power, at all, and felt unexpectedly calm at the premise of explaining his many mistakes to Thor. “Okay. Yes. I killed our father. But it’s complicated.”
“It was a clone that I had created. Like the ones you just killed, but different. In my... free time after Svartalfheim, I grew... bored. I started experimenting with magic. I figured out how to create versions of me from the past.”
Loki was not about to mention to Thor that he had successfully created his brother, too.
Thor exhaled a humorless laugh. “Of course. One tends to have a lot of extra time when they’re dead.”
“Yes, well-” Loki started to say, but Thor cut him off.
“Were you ever going to explain that? How you mysteriously didn’t die? Because you sure tricked me.” Loki could no longer discern the tone of Thor’s voice.
“That’s beside the point, right now. Later.” Loki didn’t want to get back into the emotional turmoil of the last few years just yet. Thor needed facts, and Loki wasn’t sure whether he could give him any on that subject.
Thor didn’t look placated, so Loki relented. “Look, I’ll tell you eventually. But I can’t if you kill me first. Just let me continue.”
“Okay,” Thor agreed, loosening his clenched jaw.
“The conjuring of past clones was successful. I wanted to see if I could do it with future ones, too. And... it worked. It wasn’t perfect, since I couldn’t know his memories. I couldn’t actually see the future, just get a glimpse of what it looked like. It was... not good. Inside and out. It wasn’t pretty. It... he... had a scar. The same one as you saw on me. The one you so kindly didn’t ask me about.”
“I thought it might just be some new fashion you were trying.”
“Funny,” Loki replied, but in truth he was starting to feel better, less afraid of Thor’s reactions. If Thor had gone back to his jokes and usually-evergreen good mood, Loki might actually have a chance of convincing him to let him live. “Thor, I fucked up. That’s... obvious, but you should know that I think it, too. I tried to find the root of the problem, but it found me first.”
Thor pressed his lips together. Loki was reverting back to crypticism. Best to just continue.
“I created different versions of me from the past. Different times. Trying to find out what in my mind was so wrong that it’d curse me so horribly in the future.”
“That must’ve been a lot to sort though,” Thor shot back. Loki could have expected his reply to the word.
“Your sarcasm is truly caustic.” But appreciated. “It didn’t take long to find what it was. I recalled the version of myself who attacked Midgard, who was still deep in Thanos’s clutches.” Even with his Jotun skin in the cold room, Loki still felt a prickle up his spine at the memory. “He did something he shouldn’t have been able to do, the way I created him. He used magic. He escaped my grasp. Went back to Midgard. Killed Odin.”
Thor shook his head. “Wait. Odin was on Midgard? Why?”
Loki’s mouth twisted upward despite himself; of course Thor had chosen the least important part of his story to latch onto. “I might’ve been impersonating him here the last few years.” Thor stared at him in mild disbelief. “Don’t look at me that way! It was going well. Asgard was peaceful and Odin was safe there. Well, until...”
“You finished the job? Mm, brother, your list of crimes grows ever longer,” Thor said, half-mocking.
“I know,” Loki said plaintively. “But you’re missing the point. It wasn’t really me. I didn’t choose to kill him. In fact, I killed the clone in revenge when I saw.”
Loki felt a strike to his chest again at the memory. He had mostly forgotten about his quasi-suicidal outburst in New York, and now he was speaking of it like it was some bold, heroic act. He might have to reckon with that particular urge someday.
Thor barked another laugh. “How’s a clone of you not you? You said he was past you. You created him. Stop pushing the blame off of yourself.”
“Thor, I’m serious. At first, I agreed with you. I thought it was me - that I’d had some suppressed desire to kill our father and that my less... stable self had just taken advantage of the opportunity I’d given him to finally take revenge on Odin for his sins against him. I mean, me. Which were legitimate.”
“And you don’t think this anymore?” Thor asked. Loki noticed he was avoiding commenting on whether Odin’s crimes were true or not. Loki knew Thor agreed with him, he was positive of it. He was also positive that Thor would not want him to know that he sided with him over their father.
“Well...” Loki trailed off; he wasn’t sure how to tell Thor what he didn’t know his own opinion on in the first place. He shifted uncomfortably on the hard ice. “I don’t know. I had no plans for what to do with Odin after I enchanted him and sent him away. I got rid of the problem without envisioning a solution. I suppose I was waiting.”
“I don’t know. Direction.” Loki wasn’t sure why he was suddenly being so honest.
“You could’ve done anything. You were king. I was gone.”
“I know. I think that was the problem.”
Thor let the silence sit. They both knew that without each other, there was little to drive either of them. Well, at least for Loki. Thor had his little Avengers now.
Loki forced himself to stop thinking of that and went back to his story. “There was one thing that stopped me from truly believing I had only wanted revenge against Odin. The scar. Future became present. My past self gave it to me before he left for Midgard. His revenge included me.”
“And you don’t think that was just-”
“Self-preservation? I did, at first. It slowed me down enough for him to reach the Bifrost and find where I had left Odin. But there was something odd about the scar, least of which that it was bright blue. My magic couldn’t cover it up; no matter what I did, it resisted changes in appearance. And the curse slowly started to spread. Surely you can see where this is going.”
Thor considered the frost-giant Loki for a moment, then threw his head back in raucous laughter. Loki sat, unamused, as Thor tried and failed to make his words audible through his own din.
‘Y-you... you can’t... hahaha ... Loki...”
Loki tried to tune him out, rolling his eyes ostentatiously. “Don’t get too excited. I can still lie. About everything but this,” he said, holding his hands up and wiggling his fingers mockingly.
Thor contained himself, huffing the cold air to catch his breath. “Okay. Okay, I think I get it. This clone of yours, he thought it a hilarious joke to... I don’t know, curse you in some way so you can’t pretend to be like us anymore? I think you’ve... he’s... outdone yourself this time, Loki.”
Loki did not miss the “like us”; it stung more than it had any reason to. “Thor, no. It’s not funny. Can you even attempt to come up with a single reason in your troll brain that I’d want to expose myself like that?”
Thor narrowed his eyes at the jeer, but looked genuinely perplexed at Loki’s query. “Well... I suppose you were rather mad, back then. You did try and convince me of it. You were almost successful.”
“Thor, if we are being honest, I am rather mad now .”
“Still trying, eh? Maybe someday you’ll be successful. But I suppose you have a point. You never even showed me what you really looked like. I guess it makes little sense why you would want to fuck over your future self so brutally.”
“Well, you know now,” Loki exhaled, shrugging a shoulder. In truth, he’d never given much thought as to why he hadn’t ever shown Thor his other form.
“Not that I blame you. You are rather hideous,” Thor teased, earning a magicked snowball to the face. Loki was grateful that his tone was unmistakably joking, however; he was still rather self-conscious of looking this way.
“I think I might have an idea of how it all happened, though. I can’t be sure. I don’t even know how it would work. But if I’ve learned anything at all... with Thanos, anything is possible.”
The last of the snow melted off of Thor’s face. He looked positively stricken, suddenly fearful again at the name.
Loki smiled sadly at Thor’s reaction. “Oh, good, you follow. This is as serious as you think. And it would make sense. I failed him. I have only tenuous ideas of how he could do it, but this might’ve been his idea of revenge.”
“Tenuous? So you have an idea?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Loki smiled, suddenly glad again that Thor was listening to him, and decided to humor him. Maybe he could even help. If anyone could take down Thanos, or Loki’s sister, or whoever else was working for him, it was Thor.
“I think that, given my overall nature and my past and such, you won’t be surprised to hear this, but: I have a sister. And I think she might be trying to kill me.”
To Loki’s relief, Thor didn’t laugh, only watched him in concentration.
“I learned of her on Jotunheim, among many other things, most of which I’ll probably have to tell you at some point.” Loki left out how much he wanted to tell Thor of what he had learned. “The other frost-giants were unexpectedly kind to me. Seems they were grateful for Laufey’s death.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better about you killing Odin?”
“Heavens, no. Laufey was an accident. I had no idea how much I would help Jotunheim with that. If I had, I might’ve not done it.” He smirked, hoping Thor would catch the lie. “But they told me something very worrying. Laufey had several other children, most of whom were killed shortly after Laufey was. You see, not all were loyal to him, and it caused a fairly massive civil war, leaving relatively few of them left, and their realm in turmoil, mainly thanks to us.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel sympathy for them...” Thor cautioned.
“I’m not. Just explaining the circumstances. Though one might expect that such a noble and kind warrior such as yourself would want to help the less fortunate. Not that I’m judging.” Loki was judging.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t. Or couldn’t.”
“Implications, Thor, implications. Anyways. One of Laufey’s children was kidnapped before the war. She was one of the very few on Jotunheim that could still use magic, for reasons you don’t seem to care very much about,” Loki needled. “Thanos took her. It’s not hard to imagine what happened after.”
At least, it wasn’t hard for Loki. Loki was the one who’d been through it, not Thor.
Thor’s eyebrows knitted together. “So you’re saying there’s a Jotun sorcerer out there, your sister, trained by Thanos, probably out to kill you?”
“All signs point to it.”
“Does she know that she was unsuccessful?”
“So she’s coming here.”
Loki’s stomach dropped. He hadn’t given much thought to that. “Perhaps.”
The sound of ice cracking minutely tickled Loki’s ears and he knew that Thor was flexing reflexively again. Loki tensed, too. He wasn’t sure if Thor was aching to hurt Illfýsi or himself.
“I’m still confused, though. How would she work through your clone?”
“That’s what I can’t figure out. Maybe it’s all a coincidence. But she definitely knows of me. She’s younger, but I don’t think Laufey kept my adoption a secret.”
Thor looked determined again. “That’s a problem, Loki.”
“You’ve put us, Asgard, in great danger. And I haven’t forgotten what you did to Odin, even if it was somehow not entirely your fault. What do you think you deserve? Because I... I really don’t know.”
Frigga would tell us what is right. “I suppose now is probably the best time to tell you that I also think we ought to give the casket back.”
Thor’s concentration switched to consternation. “The Casket of Ancient Winters?”
“What other caskets do we have? Thor, even if you execute me for my wrongdoings, you should know. They need it. They’re dying without it. Odin fucked them over more than you could ever believe.”
“I suppose you’re referring to that ?” Thor looked up, gesturing for Loki to follow suit with a jerk of his chin.
Confused, Loki lifted his gaze to the ceiling, where the chunks of mural had fallen. Loki had been too focused on fighting with Thor to notice it before, but there was something underneath, though difficult to see through the ice encasing it now. “What?”
“That’s what you were doing here, wasn’t it? Showing off how evil our father was? Believe me, brother, if I hadn’t seen it all when I got here, you’d be dead already.”
Loki was very confused. He muttered a spell to melt the ice on the ceiling.
Underneath it was... another mural. Different than the one from before. This one was full of red. No Frigga, no Thor, no Loki. Only Odin, an army of conquering Einherjar soldiers, and an oddly-reminiscent woman clad in green and black by his side, axe in hand.
Loki couldn’t breathe. It all fit together now. Everything he had read on Jotunheim was true. He swallowed hard; his eyes could barely keep up with the pace of his thoughts over the images and the memories of what he had read in the cold, dark library. The art was so similar to what Loki had always known - glittering in their subtle movement, bright in their enameled shine. There was no question as to what it depicted. Giants being beheaded; Vanir cowering in fear, weapons discarded; light elves driven back from their own lands. Terror. All instigated by Odin, golden spear in hand, and the mysterious woman by his side. She had to have been the executioner Loki had read about on Jotunheim.
“You’re surprised?” Thor asked, genuinely perplexed by Loki’s reaction to the uncovered ceiling.
Loki tore his eyes away, slightly dizzy from looking up. “I didn’t know this was here. I didn’t do this... uncover this... on purpose. I swear. I was only redecorating. I didn’t like the idea of all of you staring down at me while I was trying to rule.” Great, tell Thor how guilty you feel. “I had no idea there was anything underneath.”
“I believe you,” Thor said slowly, perhaps hesitant to reveal any trust in Loki.
Loki rubbed his ridged forehead with a hand. “This corroborates with what I saw on Jotunheim. Thor... there is so much we didn’t know about Odin.”
“And that’s why you didn’t want to tell me whether you regretted killing him?” Thor’s tone wasn’t accusatory. More... sympathetic.
“I guess.” There was more to it, but Thor didn’t need to know that.
“You’ve an interesting idea of morality, brother.”
“What makes you think I have morals?” Loki shot back reflexively.
Thor snorted. “Maybe I just hope that you do.”
Loki didn’t know how to reply to that, so he went back to studying the ceiling, adjusting the ice he was sitting on to create a sort of headrest to make looking up less uncomfortable. So this was the history that Asgard had once been so proud of; they’d immortalized it in their most important of places.
He thought it significant that Odin had chosen to cover it up rather than demolish it.
“Thor, what if she’s still out there?” Loki mused aloud, starting at the executioner. She looked rather frighteningly similar to Loki’s Aesir form.
“You think she is?” Thor had little room to move, still encased in ice as he was, so he could only awkwardly look up without tilting his head back. Loki suddenly felt bad for him, and melted it enough to release his shoulders. Thor gave no indication of gratitude.
“No. I think she was executed when Odin no longer had use for her.” Even as he said it, though, Loki doubted it. But Thor did not need two errant killers to worry about.
Thor sighed. “You could be right. I hope you are.”
Loki looked back at him, suddenly feeling deep unrest. “So... what now? Must I go to trial for my crimes. Be banished forever, imprisoned, killed?”
“I don’t know. Where do frost-giants go when they die? Is there an icy Valhalla somewhere?”
“Not funny.” Loki knew it had been only a joke, but Thor’s words hit him as though Mjolnir had delivered a blow to his stomach.
“I don’t think I can kill you.”
Loki felt warmth in his heart again despite the frozen surroundings.
Thor continued before he could say anything. “Don’t think it’s because of any sympathy for you. It’s for Asgard. I don’t want to be king, Loki. I have other responsibilities.” He seemed somehow glad of it.
“Don’t remind me. You think I do, though? Want to rule this wretched place?”
Thor gave him a look like he’d just asked the dumbest question in the world.
Loki ignored it and moved on. “Fine. Maybe right now is not the best time for a deep, philosophical conversation about the nature of power and the future of our realm. But we cannot do nothing. I’m not sure anyone saw me return, but they know that you’re here. And that is a recipe for certain unrest. You’ll have to talk to them. Say you support my role as king and relinquish all your claim to the throne. Obviously, they can’t see me like this. I can’t cover it up anymore, but I can use clones and rule through them, and hide somewhere where no one but you can find me. We can put up a charade of solidarity and stability while we figure out what to do about Illfýsi and Thanos. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s what’s best for Asgard.”
Thor looked cautious, almost weary at the prospect. “You think they’ll believe that?”
Loki rested his head back again, working through the plans in his mind. “It doesn’t matter. Even-”
“Don’t interrupt, Thor, this is important. Even if they don’t believe it, it’s the only thing we can-”
“-do, I mean, you absolutely can’t leave without saying something, now that their beloved prince is here-”
Loki couldn’t ignore the panic in Thor’s voice; he looked back down and saw Thor’s mouth gaping, eyebrows up in some unknown terror.
“I think we might have bigger problems now,” Thor said weakly. He nodded his head towards the back of the throne room and Loki followed his gaze, annoyed.
The massive golden door was ajar. Someone must have seen.