The cavern was dark, sinister and, much more important, very far from the home of the Gods. This way, they would not be disturbed in their feasting by Loki's cries of agony. For the moment, there was no scream or sob, just silence. One after another, several silhouettes, some terribly inhuman, approached and watched the entrance and its surroundings for a long time. Once they were convinced, one by one they went inside.
"My son", greeted Sigyn when the wolf entered the cave. "I'm so happy to see you."
The wolf rubbed at her, moaning. His mother scratched him behind his ear and told him to go further into the cave. She stayed at the entrance to greet the other guests.
"Welcome Hel, I hope you had a good trip. Hello Sleipnir. You'll find hay and oats further. Jormungrand, Fenrir, welcome. Fenrir, please go first, I'll follow you. There is room for everyone, but it is better that you settle first so that we can all be comfortably placed."
One after another, they went down a sinuous passage into a wide cave. The monsters settled, Fenrir lying on one side of the cave, his half-brother Vali settling between his legs. Jormungand rolled up along a stalagmite and Sleipnir and Hel both stood near the gigantic stone placed in the centre of the cave. Above it, a snake, wrapped along a stalactite, was sleeping, stunned by a drug. All shuddered when they saw it. They knew its purpose. They hated it.
A stream ran down at the back of the cave. Kneeling above it, naked to the waist, dangerously underweight, Loki splashed his back and arms with water. He rose and smiled at the small gathering. His smile did not reach his eyes and his face was disfigured by the venom of the snake.
"Father", greet him Hel, Vali, Jormungrand and Fenrir.
"Mother," said Sleipnir.
"Hello, my children."
After that, none of them talked. The silence was heavy. Sleipnir broke it, straightening himself up and putting his snout against his mother's chest.
"I left Odin's service as soon as I learned the fate they had reserved for you."
"I did not doubt it for a second."
Loki scratched the back of the horse's ears. Jormungrand chuckled and whistled between his teeth a word that looked a lot like "daddy's little pet".
"You're next," Loki threatened him with a thin finger.
He was a god of his word when he wanted. He went to his second son to kiss and scratch him everywhere he could reach.
Jormungrand made a noise that sounded like a purr.
"I prefer to be clear," said Fenrir slowly, "that the first one who'll try to scratch behind my ears will lose a hand."
Hel stood up slowly and deliberately scraped it exactly where it was. He glared at her but did not dare to attack his sister. At their side, Vali dropped on his back, shaken by a silent laugh. He could not stop. His brothers and sister let him have his fun. He hadn't laugh since his brother died. Meanwhile, they bicker, criticizing Sleipnir's appearance - how long had he washed for a dirty coat - and Jormungrand - he had taken a few pounds, right? - or questioning Hel's lack of love life. There was no love here, but affection was real.
Vali listened but did not participate. He had nothing more to say since the Ases had turned him into a wolf and forced to tear the throat of his brother, Narfi. Fenrir moved his paws to bring them closer to the smaller wolf.
Loki did not say anything either. Sitting now on the large stone where he normally suffered the torment commanded by the Ases, he watched his children arguing, a smile on his lips. Only, his fists were clenched to prevent his hands from shaking.
Sigyn was the first to notice. Her husband's children were trying too hard to pretend that nothing had changed, but she refused to do so. She could see the truth even if she had decided to deny it for a time. Her husband was the shadow of himself, he had lost the flame that fed him. The scars that the snake left him were only the surface of the damage left by the Ases, and she began to hate her family. Of course, Loki's crimes were huge. She had never denied his faults and was the first to blame him when he did wrong. But this time, the punishment was too terrible and sadistic.
She stood up and grabbed a hammer she had laid at her feet.
"I declare the meeting open," she proclaimed, hammering the nearest stalactite.
Loki and his children focused all their attention on her. She breathed, looked at all of them with gravity.
"I will speak first since I organised this meeting, and the Ases insisted that I take part in the torture of my own spouse. Let it not be said then that I would not have participated in their just retribution!"
"I do not know if I'm ready to trust an Ase right now. Even you, Sigyn."
Hel darted at him his disturbing look.
"Won't you trust the mother of Vali and Narfi?"
Her brother took a contrite look and nodded to Sigyn silently to apologize. She smiled kindly at him and spoke again.
"There is justice and there is torture. I would have applauded the first. I refuse the second."
With these words, she crossed her arms and remained silent. Sigyn had always been a woman of few words. A tear pierced her eyelid as she pondered the consequences of her words. She would approve in silence all that her strange family would decide. But she would not say anything anymore.
Loki's children glared at each other, wondering who would speak first. Fenrir and Jormungand opened their mouths together and closed it when they saw the other ready to talk. Finally, neither of them said a word.
"You did not need to come."
It was Loki who spoke in his hoarse voice. His children looked at him, astounded.
"We did not need to come?" Fenrir snarled. And what did you want us to do?"
Loki began to stare at the floor. The flaming look of his son hurt too much. He could no longer hide the tremor of his hands.
An incredulous silence answered his order. Loki felt the eyes of his children scrutinize him but refused to straighten his head. Hel was the first to speak.
"The first thing to decide is the date."
"Not too close," continued Sleipnir. "The Ases know Loki and are wary of the children of Angrboda. We are already lucky that this cave is not watched, but if Odin or Thor learn that all of you have disappeared simultaneously ... I'm willing to bet that Asgard would mobilize its troops in the minute. Their mistrust must diminish before we act."
"And let this ... thing continue?"
"For once in your life, don't be stupid, Jormungand," Hel admonished. "Do you think we can start Ragnarök in a day?"
The word Ragnarök seemed to resonate in the cave, threatening.
"This is it," Fenrir breathed with reverence and terror. "Finally."
Jormungand gave a delighted smile. Vali and Sleipnir stared at the floor as if they wanted to be swallowed. Sigyn was twisting her hands desperately. Only Hel remained unmoved by the idea of the coming storm.
"The first thing to do is contact the giants," she said. "They will provide an army more than acceptable. Then, we'll need to find a base of safe operation, and preferably mobile. I think..."
"Did you not hear me?" Loki cut her in a defeated voice. "Go! Do you hear at least? You talk about provoking Ragnarök as if it was a small family reunion, as if there where no consequences! Go …"
The last word was nothing but a whisper. Loki buried his head in his hands.
This time, his children looked away. After a long moment of silence, Vali got up and walked slowly to his father. He sat in front of him on his rear legs, but Loki did not even notice it. He was too far from them. Finally, Vali rested his head on Loki's gaunt knees and whined. Instinctively, his father's hands clutched at his fur and Loki dropped to the ground, hugging his son.
They remained silent for a long time, and if their bodies were shaken with sobs, no one pointed out to them. Finally, Loki straightening up, his eyes dry. The was a dangerous and familiar glow in them.
"They wanted to push me to despair. They wanted to turn my wife, my sons, my daughter against me. They killed my last born and blame me for it, but that's not how it works. I am responsible for my crimes, and I alone. Not you. I will make them take responsibility for this punishment. They want to punish me for my games, to punish me for my nature? Very well. Very well. I will then show them what I can do when I do not play. Let them know that Ragnarök will be their fault, not mine."
"It will be our fault," said Sleipnir. "Ragnarök had to arrive, it's written. And it is written that it would be us who would provoke it."
"Our fault, their fault, everyone's fault", continued Fenrir. "Have they not provoked our hatred by treating us like this? By locking us up, humiliating us, enslaving us? By calling Father the Mother of Monsters and rejecting him? I say that they are more at fault than us."
"Whatever the responsibility," said Hel. "Ragnarök arrives and the dead will come and the giant and the end of all things. We have work to do."
Vali cleared his throat and they all turned to him. His head lowered, he spoke hoarsely.
A shudder of impatience ran through Loki and his children. Their monstrous and divine faces leaned toward each other. Hel and Sleipnir brushed against each other discussing a strategic point. Vali had taken refuge between Fenrir and Loki. He offered some adjustments to his father's plans. With his tail, Jormungand encircled them all and criticized each proposal until the plan seemed flawless. They moved small pebbles on the ground, each representing the world, its different plans and their inhabitants. They whispered their plans, seeing in their heads the destruction of the world and they smiled.
Vengeance would be sweet.