Chapter 1: Chapter One
Loki sat sprawled on the throne of Midgard, the throne he had fashioned out of a cut crystal of black onyx. The Tesseract was like a slab of ice on a staff clutched in his arm. A smirk played upon his lips. His coal-black hair, dead-white skin, and vibrant green eyes shone in the firelight. The hall was dimly lit with candles. They cast shadows upon the walls, which were lined by red oil paintings. Thor glanced at them warily. The paintings provided the graphic details of Loki’s conquest over Midgard. One showcased his triumph over SHIELD and the Avengers. Another, more vivid painting depicted his victory over the Warriors Three.
It was January 19th, a night of Thorrablot. In an older age, many Vikings on Midgard would make sacrifices to Thor, God of Thunder, and seek his protection from the wrath of the Frost Giants. The cruel irony was that Thor himself had now become a sacrifice for the sake of the realm...
“Brother,” Thor said carefully, “I have come, as I promised you that I would.”
Loki’s smile widened into a hungry, overeager grin. “I thought you would try to flee.” He said. “I thought you would beg me to alter the terms of our agreement. I almost hoped that you would, just so I could slaughter more of your precious Midgardians.”
Thor bristled, but his love for the realm had curbed his pride.
“They are your Midgardians now.” He said softly. “You are the King of Midgard, and you (not I!) are the god of Lies. When we agreed to this arrangement, I meant to honor my word.”
Loki’s face flickered, but then relaxed into a glacial smile. “Come.” he said. “It is time to seal your oath of fealty. Strip and crawl to the foot of my throne.”
Thor divested himself of his robes. The Fertility-god had little to be ashamed of; the deal had been made with the promise of his deep chest, powerful muscles, slender waist, tapered thighs, honey-gold locks, trimmed beard, and eyes like the sapphire sea. Thor obeyed his brother’s command, the rose-red carpet soft on his knees. His plump, well-padded, muscular buttocks swayed from side to side. They looked like a pair of ripe golden peaches, and made his brother’s eyes darken from jade to emerald.
Loki’s ministers sat in the room like marble statues, but now they sprang to life: their laughter rang like an unholy temple bell at the sight of the mighty Thor’s surrender. As Thor reached the lowest step to his brother’s throne, he turned around and faced his tormentors. A frisson of fear danced up his spine. His niece and nephews—Loki’s six children—stared back at him. They occupied the six thrones on either side of Loki’s. The number six is an evil symbol for many on Midgard, Thor recalled absently.
Hela’s rotted, stinking grey legs had been replaced by the graceful feet of a living maiden. Sleipnir, Jormungand, and Fenrir still sported the heads of a horse, serpent, and wolf, but their bodies were fully human. Thor assumed that these new forms were the work of Loki’s magic. Vali and Narfi were youthful men, wholly human in appearance. They were all very different, but gazed at him as one. Thor could see the family resemblance between them.
“Our Uncle is a delectable man, Father.” Hela said in a high, tinkling voice. “We wish you would share him with us.”
Sleipnir neighed. “I am not sure if I would have him or feast on his flesh.” He admitted. “Maybe both. But tormenting him over a long period of time has its appeal...the ultimate vengeance on the All-Father, and our dear Uncle himself!”
“Indeed,” came the sibilant hiss of Jormungand. “He is my Death. Across all known cycles of Time has he slain me in the battle of Ragnarok. Until now. And I would relish the chance to make him pay for it.” The darkness in his voice made Thor’s blood run cold.
Thor was prepared for sexual congress with his brother, but the idea of being intimate with his niece and nephews made him physically sick. And he could do nothing about it if Loki chose to pass him around. It seemed like Fenrir could smell his fear, because he let out a low, hungry growl.
Loki laughed. “My children, I know your feelings for your Uncle run deep. But I am a jealous God, and he is to be mine alone.” His tone was light but brooked no argument. Thor silently released the breath he was holding. “Of course,” Loki added, “I am happy to let you watch as I have him.”
“And a stimulating sight that will be.” Hela said pleasantly. “But, do let us know if you change your mind.”
Thor ascended the six stairs to Loki’s throne. He knelt between his spread thighs and opened the fly of his trousers. Loki was very aroused. A few strokes from Thor’s hand made him fully hard.
It finally hit Thor. He had not fallen into some Dark World: his nightmares had all come true in this one. Loki was King and he the lowest of thralls. And he would be initiated into this new role in public, in a court made up of his brother’s children. Something in him cracked like an egg. He was only grateful that his parents were not there to see his shame.
Loki carded his hand through his hair. “Welcome home, brother.” he whispered.
Thor bent to his task.
Loki summoned Thor to his chamber that night. Hela disrobed Thor and placed him in a bath full of tuberoses. The waxy white flowers wafted a celestial fragrance. Afterward, she rubbed him with sandalwood oil and dabbed him dry with her long black tresses. Her touches were clinical and did not linger. Thor felt the contents of his channel vanish when she lightly touched his stomach. Hela led him to Loki’s room and handed him a vial of rosewater oil. It was made from the crushed petals of a black rose.
“Dear Uncle, you’re going to need it. My Father isn’t even halfway done with you.” Hela grinned salaciously. Her teeth were small, whitish, and sharp. “I would prepare you tonight with my fingers, but my Father wouldn’t let me. He really doesn’t like to share his toys, does he?”
Thor took the bottle from her without comment.
Thor had expected the Trickster’s chamber to be more cheerful. The bedsheets and pillow covers were made of black silk. The walls were the green of a dense, dark forest. The bed had been carved from solid gold. A single candle shaped like a severed hand rested on the table. The blood-red flames on its fingers illuminated the entire room.
The table was cluttered with stacks of Midgardian books. Thor picked up a couple of book and skimmed through the pages. They were written by men named Walt Whitman and Friedrich Nietzsche. The names meant nothing to Thor. He discreetly applied the oil and lay down on the bed. For some time, he fell asleep…
He woke up with a gasp. The candle had burned out, but Loki’s feline eyes pinned him in the darkness. The King of Midgard was still fully clothed, making Thor all the more conscious of his nakedness. Thor’s heart stilled when he saw what Loki held in his hand. It was the hammer of Mjolnir.
“Yes, Thor.” Loki said quietly. “I am powerful now, more powerful than you ever dreamed. Do not be angry we have come to this, for we were always meant to be this way.” And he snapped Mjolnir over his knee.
Thunder roared. Thor reared back, and collapsed on the bed. He felt like he’d been dealt a body blow. Loki tossed the broken pieces aside.
The kiss he placed on Thor’s collar burned like a brand. He could feel the silvery white scars around Loki’s mouth. Thor had put them there, long ago. He felt a brief burst of guilt. Perhaps losing Mjolnir was a form of justice, a cosmic punishment for sewing his brother’s lips shut. Thor lay there, limp like a rag doll. But Loki kissed him like he was trying to use his lips to bridge the gap between them.
“Please do not be angry with me, brother.” Loki implored. His eyes were wide and earnest. “Mjolnir was my gift. I was the one who risked my head and endured such pain at your hands to get her for you. But then you came to love her more than me, your baby brother, and I couldn’t have that.” Loki’s deft fingers stroked him caressingly. His sharp, shining black nails pinched and raked over his nipples. Loki murmured soothingly when Thor hissed in pain. “I have only ever wanted your love.” He whispered.
Thor growled and turned his face away in disgust. “Liar! I won’t listen to any more lies. And you lie damnably, Trickster!”
Loki smiled softly. “You are free to believe that if you want,” he said and kissed him on the lips. “The greatest lies are always near the truth. But it hardly matters, dear Thunderer. There is no escape from me now.”
Loki gently parted his legs, placed them around his waist, and entered him. They rocked together for a moment. To his horror, Thor felt himself growing hard. He hated Loki, hated him with the beat of his heart, but despised himself more for his yearning to submit. He could not stifle a gasp. He had wanted this for years, and Loki was so tender with him. Something about the press of his baby brother inside him made him feel whole. A strange vulnerability prickled in his chest, but was quickly replaced by the urge to make Loki suffer. Thor reached down and took himself in hand. Loki still pulsated within him as he nibbled on his neck. The adoration on his face aroused Thor, and it did not take long for him to climax.
“Jane,” he said clearly, and Loki froze.
Time seemed to stand still for a moment. A look of hurt passed over Loki’s face before it darkened, and then his eyes were ablaze with rage. Loki resumed his thrusts, all gentleness gone. Each one slammed Thor against the headboard. Loki’s bites drew blood the color of apples. Loki’s hands mapped every inch of Thor’s body, as though they could mark it for eternity. Loki had him for hours in all sorts of positions, but Thor smiled in dark triumph. He had won.
The Chitauri were a race of extraterrestrial beings with faces of bleached skulls, blindingly white in the candlelight, and sinister red eyes that glowed like the bloom of poppy flowers. They made up Loki’s army, which had crushed SHIELD and the Avengers. Vali often wondered about their motivation for helping his father: they were an enigma to him.
“How may we service Your Majesty?” the General asked in a hard, gravelly voice.
“Inform all of Midgard that there is a price on Jane Foster’s head. Hunt her down and erase every trace of her from the Nine Realms.” Loki’s eyes were light and staring; his voice had grown high, cold, and frenzied. “And after that, ravage the stars for the Lady Sif. Destroy all whom my brother has had before me until all he has left is me.”
The Chitauri saluted their King and vanished. Thousands of Chitauri dispersed that night and prowled across the realm.
Vali raised his eyebrows. “Is this a wise move, Father? If I learned anything on Asgard, it is that cruelty is a dangerous weapon of war. Cruelty spurs even the weakest beings to rebellion. And rebels are hard to crush.”
Loki sighed. He hardly seemed to have heard him. “I never wanted the throne. I only ever wanted to be his equal!”
“And what of him?” Vali demanded. “What about your treaty? What of your promise to end the war on this realm? You have already killed, or maimed, many of my Uncle’s friends. What if he voids your agreement and tries to flee over this?”
Loki sneered. “Where will he go? This realm would be a better place without his precious mortals. I may have sworn to end the war, but they still deserve a sharp lesson for taking him away from me!” His voice softened. “You may not remember, but he and I have fought each other in many worlds, many lifetimes. If he runs, then I will chase him, and revel in the pursuit.”
Vali narrowed his eyes. “My Uncle’s charm has addled your brain. Are you in love?”
“What is love?” Loki mused. “The philosophers of Midgard have pondered the question for centuries. Some insist that love is a pure, sacred, sacrificial force for good. Others claim that love is a base and bestial passion.”
“And where, Father, do you stand in this strange debate?”
Loki hesitated. “All I know is that I crave your Uncle like the black hole seeks to swallow the star. Is it love? Is it madness? He has ruined me, yet I cannot be without him.”
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Heimdall was a grave, quiet god with dreadlocks and skin the color of obsidian. The former gatekeeper of Asgard sat upon its throne, his amber eyes closed and his mind lost in meditation. In the eyes of his mind, Heimdall watched the events that passed on Midgard, and his heart was deeply troubled. His King and Queen (the one-eyed Odin and virtuous Frigga) had entrusted him with the throne, should anything befall them. Soon afterward, Loki had attacked the realm, casting a sleeping charm on his parents that proved far more powerful than the Odinsleep. It felt strange for Heimdall to be King, and bear so much responsibility. But he could hardly fault his King and Queen for their decision. Heimdall sighed. Loki had become a major problem for all the Nine Realms, and Thor had made a foolish deal with him for the sake of peace.
Heimdall had known forever about the Princes and their...unbrotherly feelings for one another. It wasn’t as though they could hide from him. The Queen Frigga had once shown him a painting that depicted their tangled fate. In his long immortal life, Heimdall had never believed in soulmates. He certainly did not condone incest. Yet, Loki and Thor were not ordinary gods. They personified the Cycles of the Cosmos: night and day, winter and summer, Ragnarok. Each balanced the other across several lifetimes. Heimdall could not, and would not stand in the way of their twisted love. In some worlds, Thor was broken. In others, it was Loki. In this lifetime, it appeared that both of them were broken. This Thor needed help with his Loki, and Heimdall would provide it.
Heimdall slowly opened his eyes. The morning sun was round and red: an Apple from the Tree of Youth. His sister’s complexion was the midday sun where his was like midnight. Heimdall and his sister were both distantly related to Odin, and the offspring of nine ancient Mother-Goddesses who had created them together. Heimdall’s sister smiled and gave him a low bow. She had been pleased to hear of his ascension to the throne.
“You sent for me, Sire.”
“My Lady Sif,” Heimdall said. “I have a very important task for you.”
Dr. Jane Foster, Math and Science Geek, Nobel Laureate in Physics, had never imagined there would be a downside to her newfound celebrity status. However, fame proved to be a burden for the outlaw she’d become, overnight. The Chitauri were closing in, and too many people recognized her on the street. The biggest trouble with fame, Jane mused, was that it made it impossible to identify her real friends. Most of her so-called friends had abandoned her, and those who hadn’t were dead or missing. Erik had been killed along with most of the Avengers. Darcy had not been seen for months.
Night had fallen over Midgard. Loki had blacked out the sun to cause a total solar eclipse. Jane was at a loss to explain the science behind the phenomenon, but she could easily observe the results. Snow glittered in the icy glow of the moon. The people were freezing and hungry, unable to grow food in the shadows of the night.
Jane spent most of the day musing about Einstein-Rosen bridges and their implications for the Multiverse Theory. She desperately wished for a notebook to jot down her thoughts. Unfortunately, she had been forced to leave everything behind in Albuquerque.
Loki’s takeover had created a sort of pan-Midgardian solidarity. The boundaries between countries had been greatly blurred. Jane was currently in Berlin, Germany, the place where Loki’s takeover had started. The Chitauri hadn’t found her yet, but it was only a matter of time. Jane was hiding in the German headquarters of Monsanto, a food corporation that took orders from the Chitauri and sold fruit to the starving masses. The location was oddly convenient because it allowed her to spy on the Chitauri. Jane stole the leftover apples from crates and spent most of her days in a closet in the attic of the building. The clock struck twelve and let out a gong. The sound of high heels clicked in the distance. Jane trembled at the sound, and the clacking of footsteps came closer.
Jane tried to pray. As a rationalist, astrophysicist, and ex-girlfriend of a Norse god, Jane was inclined to skepticism. Still, there was something about Judaism that brought her peace. Jane’s mother had passed away when she was very young. She had been a Mizrahi Jewish woman from Iraq. Jane had inherited her liquid black eyes and dusky rose complexion. Jane’s father was an Ashkenazi Jewish man from Poland. Both were victims of brutal anti-Semitism: her mother’s family had narrowly escaped the Farhud, and her father’s parents were child survivors of Auschwitz. The two met in Israel, bonding over their shared experiences of oppression. They had married at a time when interracial marriage was frowned upon, and immigrated to the United States. Jane was proud of her Jewish identity, and it encouraged her to have a healthy respect for human life.
“Dr. Jane Foster.” The closet door clicked open, and Sif stood haughtily before Jane; she carried herself like a Queen. Her eyes were a midnight-blue and her thick, resplendent hair was tightly bound behind her. A familiar feeling of envy twinged through Jane. She’d never understood why Thor chose to pursue her after breaking up with Sif. Thor’s parents had always seen the goddess as the better match for their son.
“There is much we must discuss, Dr. Foster,” Sif said curtly. She snapped her fingers, and in a blur of color the two women were spirited away. Jane soon found herself in the throne-room of Asgard. She smiled mirthlessly as she remembered the last time she stood here. What a fool she’d been! Odin had forbidden her from marrying Thor, and she’d railed against him, desperately trying to change his mind. Jane had seen herself as the modern-day Juliet, with Thor as her Romeo. Their breakup had been the anticlimactic outcome of all that drama. This time, however, the occupant of the throne was a handsome black man and not an old white one.
“Greetings, Dr. Foster. I am Heimdall, the acting ruler of Asgard. Do you know the reason we have brought you here?”
Jane shook her head. “Your Majesty, I have no clue what’s going on.”
Heimdall sighed. “It’s very simple. Please sit down, and we will explain.”
Once Jane and Sif had settled in, Heimdall took a deep breath.
“Dr. Foster, this great, cosmic Drama began long before you were born. Loki and his jealousy were behind Thor’s exile to Midgard in the first place. Loki arranged for the Frost Giants of Jotunheim to sabotage his coronation. As he had forseen, Thor retaliated by attacking Jotunheim, and King Odin had him banished to Midgard.”
“I’m afraid I still don’t understand,” Jane admitted. “Why is Loki jealous of Thor? His puppets on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC haven’t been real clear about that.”
Heimdall and Sif looked at each other for a long time. “Dr. Foster, please understand that Loki is not jealous of Thor. He is jealous over him.” Sif said finally. “Loki feared the prospect of sharing Thor’s heart with the people of Asgard, and whichever woman he chose as Queen. He desires Thor as a brother should not. In fact, his actions lead to the breakup of our engagement years ago.” Sif combed through her jet-black hair and shrugged her shoulders.
Jane blanched; she had long sensed something off about the royal family of Asgard. But never had she dreamt that incest would be their sordid secret. So much for her famed, brilliant mind. Jane felt like she had fallen into an episode of Game of Thrones.
“That is the truth, Dr. Foster.” Heimdall said glumly. “The tragedy is that you are paying for a very foolish decision on Thor’s part.”
“Thor agreed to submit himself to Loki’s desires to end the war on Midgard.” Sif explained. “However, on the night they were to consummate their deal, Thor...screamed your name instead of his at the moment of climax.”
Jane stared at her. There were so many layers of messed-up to this story that she couldn’t think of any reply.
“You have no idea of how much danger you are in.” Heimdall informed Jane.
“Yes, Loki has resolved to destroy us both for loving Thor in the past.” Sif warned.
Jane tossed her head back. “I’m sure you guys didn’t bring me here just to tell me I’m going to die.” She said haughtily.
“No, Dr. Foster, we have a proposal for you.” Sif replied. Her expression was guarded. “I wish for you to wed me, Dr. Foster. My brother and I will grant you protection. Upon our marriage, you will become a resident of Asgard, and Loki will be unable to touch you without breaking a number of interstellar laws.”
Jane gave her a searching look. “What’s the catch? If I agree, will I have to put out for you on a daily basis?”
“No sexual services will be required of you, Jane Foster.” Sif said sharply. There were two high spots of color on her cheeks. “This arrangement will be a formality and we can dissolve it when the danger has passed.”
“Oh all right, I accept.”
Heimdall performed the marriage quickly and with little fanfare: it was a trifling matter of paperwork and hastily-muttered vows. The wedding took place on February 14th: Valentine’s Day on Midgard. Jane had dreamt of marrying Thor on this day with great pomp and ceremony, living a fairytale life as the princess of Asgard. (She’d never claimed to be a perfect feminist!) It had stung when Thor neglected to visit her in New York. The scientist in her knew these feelings weren’t entirely rational, but it still rankled that Thor spent more time with the Avengers than his girlfriend. Whatever Loki thought, Jane was sure Thor had never really been in love with her, and she was done being his damsel-in-distress. Ironically, she was now married to a goddess who had once had the same dreams about Thor.
Later that evening, Jane stood in the tower of the palace and leaned over the ledge of the balcony. She still wore her wedding dress of peacock blue. The colors brought out her chestnut-brown hair, beetle-black eyes, and earthy rose complexion. Jane watched her new wife with rapt attention. Why exactly had Sif saved her from Loki? What were her motivations for proposing marriage? Was it just a political decision? Or did she think that Thor and Jane were still in love with each other? Did she feel something for Thor after all these years, and want to protect Jane for his sake?
The muscles in Sif’s arms were like thick, twisted rope as she pulled her bowstring taut. Her abdomen rippled. The first arrow flew from her bow and hit the target squarely in the center. The second arrow split the first in two. Sif’s skill as a warrior rivaled Thor’s, Jane realized. And her eyes were just as deep and blue. Sif and Thor would have made a very handsome couple, had Loki not intervened. Jane felt a pinprick of jealousy, but she no longer knew over whom.
Chapter 3: Chapter One
The Grandmaster smiled lazily, his red mouth slurping as it suckled on a sweet. His fine head of dark hair glistened in the low light, as did his bright yellow robe. The members of his court were copulating around him. Heimdall smiled grimly. Loki, for all his depravity, had better taste than this vulgarian.
“You’ve come to me with a very tall tale, and I’d like you to tell me why I should help you out.” The Grandmaster drawled.
Heimdall had arrived on the planet of Sakaar after a week’s journey in outer space. His head was heavy, weighed down by an exhaustion that buzzed like bees in his ears.
“You should provide us aid for your own sake and that of your planet.” Heimdall said patiently. “Loki will come for anyone who has ever had sex with Thor. Do not think he won’t.”
The Grandmaster’s smile didn’t falter. “Ah, Loki.” He mused. “The god after my own heart. He savors the pleasure of power, and does what he wants. I have no objections to the delightfully deviant deal he made with his brother, so why should I feel he’s a threat to me?”
“Oh, I can tell you why...” The rich voice of a woman oozed like molasses in the room. Heimdall turned and gave her a low bow, which she returned with a smile. Her form was large and voluptuous, with skin the shade of the winter sky. She had thick tresses like waves of the ocean that fell on her breasts, which were as round as blue mangoes. Only her eyes were the color of blood. The woman seated herself on the lowest step to the Grandmaster’s throne, and Heimdall surmised that she must be his consort.
“Well, my Lady Jarnsaxa,” said the Grandmaster genially, “I’m sure that our esteemed guest will be as glad as I am for your input.”
Jarnsaxa smiled serenely. “Your Majesty, the people of our realm find Loki’s jealousy over Thor perplexing: has Loki himself not had children with other people? But Loki does not see it that way. The late Angrboda once told me that Loki requested her to make love to him in the form of his brother, and I heard the same from poor Sigyn. The Liesmith has half-convinced himself that he has never lain with anyone but Thor at all. He recalls the conception of Sleipnir as a rape and does not believe he willingly lay with the horse.”
Heimdall felt a pang of sympathy for Loki. What was it like to endure such trauma? What was it like to fester with such a forbidden, destructive love?
The Grandmaster smirked and shrugged. “I’m actually glad that Sigyn got tired of him in the end. She lives on Sakaar now, though she stays as far away from me as possible. The Norse goddess of Fidelity took a vow of chastity and became part of a Christian monastery. Ironic, isn’t it? She’s lucky I permit the Freedom of Religion on my planet. But the goddess seems to have found a quirky sort of peace in her religion. She’s been heavily influenced by Midgard, and calls herself a Christian pacifist anarcha-feminist in the tradition of Leo Tolstoy.”
Jarnsaxa sighed heavily. “She could endure the pain of divorcing Loki, but something snapped in her after she was estranged from her children. She lives like an ascetic, and doesn’t accept the legitimacy of this state or any other.”
The Grandmaster rolled his eyes. “Her politics are a joke. She’s hardly a threat to my planet. However, Ragnarok is going to be a bit different this time around. Sigyn the Faithful is faithful only to her faith and no longer to Loki. She isn’t going to get back together with him, and she certainly won’t help him if you attempt to oust him from the throne. Though I don’t know what she sees in celibacy.” He licked his lips, and his bright brown eyes appraised Heimdall through long, flowerlike lashes. Jarnsaxa smiled dreamily.
“Thor was a very satisfying lover,” she reminisced. “Though nothing like Your Majesty or the other members of our court. Loki’s obsession hypes him a bit, but I have no doubt that Loki will come for me when he’s done with Sif and Jane.”
The Grandmaster paused and turned to Heimdall. There was a glint in his eyes that Heimdall didn’t like. “I’ll tell you what. I am decades older than the realm of Asgard. I’m not afraid of Loki. But it’s been years since an Asgardian found their way to my realm, and you’re entertaining. If you can defeat my Champion in a fair fight, I will support your quest. Otherwise, you must stay here forever.”
Heimdall glanced back at Jarnsaxa. To his surprise, she nodded. “I think that’s a fair deal. We have use for man like you.” She smirked a little, exchanging a wink with the Grandmaster.
Heimdall weighed his options. “As you wish.” He finally said.
The sound of cheers erupted through the arena. The air was chilly and Heimdall shivered; he had been stripped to his leggings and his dark body gleamed in the afternoon light. Jarnsaxa and the Grandmaster watched him impassively in the front row of the stadium. The Champion of Sakaar loomed like a statue at the opposite end of the stadium. The woman drew near and Heimdall did a double-take.
Brunnhilde, the last Valkyrie, had been missing from Asgard for many years. The Valkyries were a host of shield-maidens who’d fought for Odin. Hela had killed almost all of them, long ago. But Brunnhilde was the stuff of legend. Despite his enhanced hearing and sight, Heimdall had never been able to glean her whereabouts. He gave her a respectful nod. Valkyrie removed her shirt and tossed it aside.
The warriors slowly circled the arena and lunged for each other. They tumbled to the ground with a crash. Heimdall quickly realized that they were evenly matched. The two warriors rolled in the sand, kicking up dust. Their sweat mingled. Neither managed to pin the other. Heimdall and Valkyrie ducked one another’s blows. When they landed, they sounded like thunderclaps. Hours passed without pause. The crowd soon fell silent.
Valkyrie’s body was hard, toned, tough, and muscular. Heimdall bit his tongue. The stoic warrior had not been stirred by a woman for several years. Valkyrie smirked: it seemed that she could read some of his thoughts. The two warriors writhed around the arena and flipped each other over several times.
“Enough!” The Grandmaster cried, and leapt to his feet. His smile was strained over gritted teeth. “Well done, both of you! In honor of your impressive performance, I declare you both to be the winners!”
The crowd burst into applause. Some people stood up, but Heimdall’s spirits sank. A draw was hardly a victory, and he fully expected the Grandmaster to treat it as a loss. Curse Valkyrie for being such a brilliant fighter. When she extended her hand, however, he shook it graciously. Her touch lingered, and left a tingle that crackled up his arm.
Jarnsaxa and the Grandmaster approached Heimdall that night. The Grandmaster’s face was like a thunderstorm. “My original plan was to trap you here and make you one of my concubines.” He said, sneering slightly. “But your prowess in battle is too much, and I can’t have it on my planet. Warriors older than you have died trying to take Valkyrie down. I will send her with you if you promise never to return.”
“If that is what you want,” Heimdall shrugged. He was unfazed by this revelation. “In any case, I thank you for your support.”
“Well done, oh King of Asgard,” Jarnsaxa said warmly. “I knew you wouldn’t disappoint us. It seems that even Valkyrie was won over by your charm.” Her eyes twinkled.
Two hours later, there was a knock on Heimdall’s door, and Valkyrie stood before him. Her skin was the color of sandalwood; her hair was a dense, fragrant black forest. Her lips were lush and red as wine. She swaggered in like she owned the room, a bottle of whisky at her belt.
“I am glad to finally meet you. You may not remember me, but I was friends with your sister Sif a long time ago, and have a deep grudge against Loki myself.” Her speech was slightly slurred and there was a faraway look in her eyes. “His daughter Hela murdered the my lover, the Goddess Freya. She and I fell for each other two thousand years ago, after surviving the first cycle of Ragnarok, only to have her die at Hela’s hand in the second. That’s why I left and took to drink, but I suppose your past finds you when you hide from it long enough.” Valkyrie took a long swig from her bottle and slumped against the wall.
You forsook your duty to Asgard, Heimdall thought. Love was a luxury for people free of the burdens they shared. Still, Heimdall had never known the joy of loving anyone the way Loki, Thor, Sif, and Jane Foster had. Aloud he said: “I am honored to have you as an ally, and wish for us to forge a friendship on this journey.”
Valkyrie’s gaze swept Heimdall’s biceps and chest. “I think I would like that very much. I know we have only just met, but something tells me Freya would approve of you.” Her husky voice dropped an octave.“You fought magnificently tonight.”
“Are you drunk?” He asked. Heimdall was many things, but never a rapist.
Valkyrie looked at him seriously, her eyes shining like twin suns. “Not enough not to know what I’m doing,” she insisted. “If you don’t want this, then now’s the time to tell me.”
When Heimdall nodded his assent, Valkyrie pushed him on the bed and climbed on top of him. She began softly biting his neck. Her hands reached for his hardening member, and Heimdall slowly lost himself in the sensations.
“We have a long journey tomorrow.” He warned.
Brunnhilde rocked against him and began fumbling with her shirt. “Then it’s just as well we do something that’ll help us sleep tonight.”
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
The destruction of Mjolnir had weakened him greatly, and Thor felt its absence like an open wound. Loki and his children regularly sparred with Thor in the arena, if only to remind him of the power he lost. That morning, Loki defeated Thor in three moves, pinning him to the Earth with his staff. Thor sadly thought of the time he’d used Mjolnir to pin his brother to the Bifrost.
It was perverse, but submitting to Loki helped fill the void in him. Loki liked to spank, paddle, and cane Thor when he was bent over the desk or bed. He would have Thor bend and touch his toes before belting him from behind. On other occasions, he would order him against the wall or across a bench as he birched his bare buttocks. However, Loki’s favorite position was to have Thor lie pliant across his lap in the quiet, intimate setting of their chamber while he gave him a hard hand spanking on his bare bottom. Thor had become accustomed to the pain and odd pleasure of having sore buttocks.
At the moment, Thor was stark naked; Loki was fully clothed in soft garments of black cotton. Loki maneuvered Thor over his lap so that his bottom was tipped up, in the perfect position for a good spanking. Thor was a warm weight on Loki’s lap. Loki sat comfortably on a velvet couch, a couch he had conjured specifically for this purpose. The position was vulnerable, and incredibly intimate. Thor inhaled deeply. His brother smelled of a perfume made with tuberoses: cloying but sweet. He moaned as Loki’s long, artistic fingers caressed his buttocks, as though they were something precious. Loki smirked. He dipped his fingers between the buttocks to trace the tight ring of muscles there, and was rewarded with a gasp. Loki cupped and pinched the golden globes of Thor’s bottom. His other hand was firm over Thor’s back, and in his de-powered state, felt like a bar of iron. Loki gave his bottom a little pat, signaling that they were about to begin.
SMACK! Thor cried out. His buttocks blushed, and blossomed with pain. The slap danced over his skin like a lightning bolt. SMACK! His bottom bounced and jiggled with the impact. SMACK! Loki fell into a slow, but steady rhythm. It was soothing to Thor’s ears, like the beat of a drum. SMACK!
“Turn your head to face me, so I can see your shame,” Loki ordered. SMACK! Thor’s blue eyes met his rapacious stare. SMACK! “You were a spoiled Prince,” Loki recalled. SMACK! “You got away with everything as a child, while I was blamed for both our transgressions.” Thor could only nod, because it was true. SMACK! This slap was particularly hard, and followed by a soft caress. “You have needed this punishment for a long time, my love, so let me take care of you.”
The spanking continued. Hot tears pooled in Thor’s eyes. His hardness ground helplessly against Loki’s leg, and trickled with precome. Thor could feel Loki’s answering arousal with every slap. SMACK! His brother had hit something in him, a longing for real discipline that went unfulfilled in the years of being his father’s favorite son. He had been raised with the burden of being the Crown Prince. The surrender and humiliation of being subjugated over his much-maligned brother’s knee was strangely appealing. Thor yelped; Loki grinned. He had slyly parted his cheeks, and delivered a slap over his entrance. The last few blows were delivered around this tender place. Thor could feel the pleasure building. Thor was Loki’s whore, and Loki was his King. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! That thought was enough to send him over the edge. Distantly, Thor registered his brother’s climax, as he thrust up against him from his seat.
The month of March was trailing off, and April was about to come. That night, as Thor slept in Loki’s arms, he dreamt that Loki stood before him, clad in the garb of a woman. The horns on his helmet twisted, like those of a goat, and his hair was as long as a cobra’s tail. Jormungand was a green snakelet that wrapped like a chain around his neck. Loki cradled Hela in the form of a baby girl. Fenrir was a pup and Sleipnir a colt that nuzzled at his ankles. Loki clutched a gray egg in his left hand and held it in the air. The egg began to spin. It spun faster, and faster, and faster, until Loki’s fist crushed it into a thousand pieces. The image blanked out, and Thor found himself lost, blundering through a hall full of locked doors. A silver fish appeared in the air; it lurched, sprouted wings, and became a key. Thor grasped it in his hand and began opening each and every one of the doors. One door was the shape of a March Hare; it lead to a room of shining mirrors. Another opened a closet of toy clowns, the grins on their faces ghastly and bright. The third, however, was shaped like a skull and revealed the hall of Valhalla. The hall was silent, strangely empty, but Thor’s old friend Hogun was waiting for him. His golden skin was pale, his angular eyes wide and sad. I’m so sorry, Thor thought. Hogun had been the first of his friends to see through Loki’s deceptions. He and the other Warriors Three might still be alive had Thor listened to him sooner.
Thor, Hogun whispered. We understand what you’ve done and don’t blame you for it. The deal you made was the bravest thing anyone could have accomplished to protect the people of Midgard. Have faith in yourself and your friends among the living. The image went black and Thor jerked back to consciousness. Loki slept beside him, his face soft and peaceful. Thor did not know the meaning of his vision, but his eyes hardened. Thor would be the vessel to contain his brother’s rage, and if the dark part of himself enjoyed it, what of it?
Sif would stare at Jane, especially when she thought she wasn’t looking. Her gaze held all the intensity of a wildfire, crackling flames that filled Jane’s face with color and threatened to overwhelm her with the heat. Jane did not understand it. What were Sif’s intentions? What mysteries lurked behind those lavender-blue eyes? Was she trying to intimidate Jane? Did she still resent Jane’s past relationship with Thor? As a teenager, Jane had received her share of passive aggression from the “mean girls” in her life, the popular girls in grade school who’d scoffed at her clothes, hair, love for books, and general lack of interest in boys. The bullying had stung, and Jane was not fully over it, but as an adult she was a respectable scientist who was proud of her work.
Jane stared out the window. The spring constellations were bright and clear on Asgard. The pictures she could take here would advance her field by decades. Erik and Darcy would have been thrilled to see them with her, but Jane shoved the thought to the back of her mind. She would not allow herself to mourn them until the threat of Loki had passed.
“Tell me about your profession, Dr. Foster.” Sif said suddenly. “What is it you do, and how did you enter your line of work?”
Jane turned around in surprise; most people outside the scientific community found her field to be unspeakably boring. “I’m what’s called a theoretical astrophysicist.” She explained. “I study the stars and planets of the Milky Way Galaxy. I double-majored in Physics and Philosophy at an all-women’s institution called Wellesley College, and was accepted to a prestigious graduate program called Harvard University. However, on the night that I visited their campus, two white female administrators made some very sexist and anti-Semitic remarks about me and my research. Harvard has a long history of anti-Semitism. So I declined their offer and later received a fully-funded Physics PhD at Culver University instead.”
“I think I am beginning to understand.” Sif said in a soft voice. “Most women do not take up arms on Asgard. The few women to do so were called the Valkyrie, and legend says they were slain in battle long ago…My life and world are different from yours, but I too struggled for acceptance among warriors who believe a young maiden incapable of bravery in battle. You are a truth-seeker, and a courageous one at that.”
“Well, I have guts, and a nerdy interest in a lot of things.” Jane said brightly. “When I was at Wellesley, I took a lot of Philosophy courses on the meaning and purpose of life. I was obsessed with the relationship between science and religion, and my interest in cosmology grew out of all that.”
“Religion?” Sif repeated, arching an eyebrow. “The mortals of your world worship me as a goddess in some of their religions.”
“Yeah.” Jane agreed. “That’s true enough. Your devotees range from liberal feminist Neo-pagans to literal Nazis. Isn’t that weird?”
“I am not proud of it.” Sif said quickly. “We on Asgard have a deep sense of obligation to those who act honorably in our name, but we do NOT condone the evils of Nazism, or answer the prayers of those who invoke our name to its end. I had no part in the Nazi regime, and fought with all my strength for its demise.”
“I believe you,” Jane said seriously. “And you can call me by my first name.”
The hint of a smile glittered on Sif’s face, and Jane realized that Sif’s smiles were every bit as beautiful as Thor’s. “Do you have any religious beliefs, Jane? If so, how do they inform your work?”
Jane shrugged, and laughed lightly. “You know, I’ve been trying to figure that out for a long time. Judaism and Christianity have both influenced me, and I like to call myself an agnostic theist. I’m open to the idea of God, but I don’t hold any religious beliefs for certain. Medieval Christians oppressed my people, long before the Nazis...Ironically, I am persuaded by some Christian arguments for a personal God...All I know is that if God exists, then She is beyond everything I can ever think of. My work in Physics is centered around finding a grand, unified theory of the Multiverse, which may well lead to God as the ultimate source of truth.”
“I will confess that we on Asgard have seen no such phenomenon,” Sif said gently. “But we do not have a monopoly on truth. Our knowledge is limited to the Nine Realms of Asgard, Midgard, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Niflheim, Muspelheim, and Hel. Our scriptures say nothing of what lies beyond.”
“That’s fair.” Jane admitted. “As it happens, I am working on a fundamental problem in Physics that spans all known realms of the Cosmos. Scientists on Earth have proposed two theories that try to explain the true nature of reality, and they contradict one another. We call them quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Quantum mechanics is a field about the tiny building blocks of reality called subatomic particles. Relativity theory is a complicated concept that holds that the laws of Physics stay the same for observers not accelerating in motion, and the speed of light in a vacuum stays the same, regardless of motion. Relativity theory shows that reality is made up of an interwoven entity called space-time.”
“Tell me more!” Sif urged.
“I believe that mathematics lies at the heart of the problem. It is hard to combine formulas for both theories to make a mathematical calculation, because we end up with infinity, which does not and cannot make sense. Quantum mechanics shows that it is possible to reduce reality to subatomic particles, but relativity theory posits that it is unfeasible to break space-time into distinct packets.” Jane paused for a breath. “There are other issues, but I tend to ramble about them. I actually won the Nobel Prize for ‘discovering’ Asgard, which proves that a Multiverse exists, and may hold the secret to this problem. My tentative position is called string theory. It holds that the Multiverse, space-time, and subatomic world are held together by tiny strings, that vibrate like the strings of a harp to produce all reality...If God created the world, then who knows? Maybe She is an artist, and we are the music produced by Her strings.”
Jane broke off. Sif was staring at her with an odd expression on her face. “On Asgard, we believe that the life-giving tree of Yggdrasil holds the Nine Realms together. Perhaps the fibers of the tree are the strings you speak of.”
“Perhaps.” Jane said quietly. Thor and Erik had taught her all about Norse mythology, but something in Sif’s voice made the tradition sound more beautiful.
“You are a treasure-house of wisdom, Jane Foster.”
“You’re too kind.” Jane said. “What do you do in your free time, when you’re not kicking ass in battle?”
To her faint surprise, Sif blushed, her cheeks turning the color of rose-hips. “I write poems of love and war, and I would read you one of them tonight.”
“Of course! I would be honored to hear it.”
Sif rolled over to the edge of the bed and picked up a book from her table. The book’s cover was a vivid peacock-blue, and its pages were yellowed and frayed. Sif placed the book on her knees. She began to read, and the sound of her voice filled the room like the notes of a flute. The poem was about a beautiful young princess who did not know that a knight in her court was in love with her. The story reminded Jane of long-forgotten hopes and dreams. Her eyes grew heavy with sleep. Sif’s voice was as warm as the thrum of a harp, and she was lulled to sleep by the sound of it.
Jane woke up early the next morning, and her breath caught in her throat. Sif’s shining, blue-black hair was draped over the pillow like the legs of a spider. Her lips were as full and red as a ripe candied fruit. Sif was Sleeping Beauty personified, and a terrible thirst came over Jane. She was desperately in love with the goddess who had saved her from Loki, the goddess with whom she had once vied for the hand of Thor. Jane ached, and for a moment the pain pushed her to make a selfish decision. She leaned down, and like the brush of a butterfly wing, gently pressed her lips to Sif’s.
Sif sprang awake. She seized Jane by the wrist and flipped her over, so that Jane lay flat on her back. Sif loomed over Jane like a mountain. Her eyes were still heavy with sleep.
“What was that for?” She rasped, and Jane’s heart crumbled to dust.
“I’m sorry,” She stammered. “I didn’t mean to...I don’t know what came over me.”
Sif stood stock-still, and her eyes narrowed. “You’re...sorry.” She repeated in a flat voice.
“Yes, It was wrong to kiss you like that, and I promise never to do it again.”
Sif swung back on her heels. Jane honestly could not read her expression.
“Did I ever speak of the reason I broke up with Thor?” Sif asked suddenly. Jane shook her head.
“Long before the first cycle of Ragnarok, I was famed for the beauty of my tresses. I was more beautiful than you could ever imagine. My hair held all the world’s shades of honey, gold, and sunlight. The Nine Realms hailed me and Thor as a pair of golden beauties. Everyone thought that we would marry and beget a line of lustrous children. One night, however, an envious Loki snuck into my room, shaved off my hair, and tossed it in the fire.”
“I’ve heard many versions of the story, and am sorry you had such a shitty experience.” Jane said softly.
Sif shrugged. “The morning after, I tore my throat screaming. Thor was furious with Loki, and demanded that he find a way to replace it. Loki had the dwarf Brock spin me a new head of hair from the dark of the night. His debt to me was paid, but my looks and standing have never been the same. Thor was far too quick to forgive his brother everything, and so our courtship fell apart.”
“Loki was a bastard even then,” Jane said fervently. “He’ll chase Thor to the ends of the Earth. Neither of us had a chance with Thor, as long as Loki was there.”
Sif shut her eyes, her smile as twisted as a vine of grapes. “Many Asgardians thought that Loki stole my hair out of an unrequited desire for me. It turned out that his longing, lust, and obsession were all for Thor. Later on, I wondered that he did not kiss me that night in my room, if only to feel the kisses Thor had placed upon my lips. The taste of your kiss reminds me of Loki, and his desperate love for Thor. Still, what was Loki’s fault in the matter? Thor’s beauty can drive anyone mad. You and I went mad for him, it seems.”
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
Thor let his brother lead him down a dark, spiraling channel in the dungeons of the castle. The passage was sticky and foul-smelling. Rats with bald, nude tails and shockingly evil faces wriggled around the place. Thor coughed, and Loki drew him in deeper. The sound of the sea roared above them. Thor shuddered to think what would happen if the walls of the tunnel broke, and the sea came crashing in.
The tunnel ended in a window directly under the castle. An image of laughing red lips and pearly white teeth had been painted around the window. Loki clicked the window open and Thor crawled through the mouth. The acrid smell of the tunnel melted into the sweet, seductive scent of flowers. Thor blinked. The garden on the other side was shaped like a human heart. Bright red and yellow gems were embedded in the walls of the cavern, a mosaic of painted glass. They lit the place like a dying sun. The air was oppressively warm, and Thor felt beads of sweat collect like gems on his brow.
A stately oak tree towered like a royal umbrella in the center of the garden. Under it there was a gold couch with silken cushions. Thor’s eyes widened. A silver platter laden with fruit glistened on a table next to the couch. There were rose-red apples, purple grapes, garnet cherries, white-gold peaches, and pomegranates with seeds like sparkling rubies. Loki sliced an apple with a small glittering knife and held out a piece for Thor. The flesh of the apple was creamy white and sugary sweet. Thor’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed the fruit.
“The apples of Idunn only grow on Asgard.” He rasped. The juice of the apple was surprisingly red and left a dark stain around his mouth. Now that he came to think of it, the place was a perverse mirror image of the Garden of Idunn. “How by the Norns did you plant them here?”
Loki smiled, his eyes glowing like that of a serpent. In that moment, he was every inch the sorcerer who’d fathered Jormungand. “I managed to subdue Idunn and steal a few samples on my last visit to our old home. Bewitching our parents was not all I accomplished that day.” He sunk his teeth into an apple, his face going slack with pleasure. “However, you are right. These apples are not native to Midgardian soil and never last outside Asgard for long. So, let’s enjoy them while we can.”
Thor glared at him, and Loki placed a playful kiss on his nose. “Did you know that you’re adorable when you’re angry? I hope you never lose that spark in you.” Loki placed a royal purple grape in Thor’s mouth and tenderly kissed his cheek. Thor chewed down the fruit and felt a prickle of foreboding in his chest.
“Loki? Why are you growing this fruit, and where does it go when it is ready?”
“I was wondering when you’d ask me that. I had Fenrir swallow the sun of Midgard, so the people have no choice but to turn to me for food. I made a deal with various corporations, such as Monsanto and Bayer, to sell this fruit to the people at high prices, and on it we base our prosperity. The Midgardians I work with are scum, but useful pawns for the time being.”
Thor groaned. “This is new low, even for you, Loki. Is there no limit to your perversity? Who tends to this garden?”
Loki’s face lit up. “Why, that’s the best part! All prisoners of war we didn’t rub out have been sentenced to work in the garden. You should be grateful I didn’t put them all to death. The last time I checked, your friend Darcy was still here.”
Thor went rigid. “Loki,” He stammered, “We both know that this debacle is not about her. It is I you wish to torment, so tell me this: why are you doing this to me? Why does it please you so to see me suffer?”
Loki frowned. “Now, listen. Ms. Lewis is not my main target, and she can live a happy life as long as you remain loyal. BUT...it is well within my power to have her pay the price if you don’t behave.” Thor gulped and Loki’s face cleared up. “So, please indulge yourself and have some fruit. I grew them specially for you.”
Thor wanted to smash the unholy fruit in Loki’s face, but he had sworn to himself that his friends would not suffer for his mistakes again. He glowered at his brother. Loki hummed, bit into a golden peach, and pushed the fruit into Thor’s mouth so that his teeth sunk into the very spot he had bitten. The nectar of the peach wet his lips and left Thor’s head spinning, as though he had consumed a thousand barrels of mead. Thor felt his gums crush on several shiny pomegranate seeds, their juice trickling down his throat. He couldn’t count the number he had eaten. His mind was heavy, addled by the fruits and the musky scent of Loki’s arousal.
“Yes, these fruits are exquisite, but nothing to the treasures of my brother’s body.” Loki hissed. He caught Thor’s mouth in a luscious kiss.
He lifted Thor’s white shift, exposing the scarlet buttocks he had so firmly chastised. In despair, Thor assumed a submissive position on his elbows and knees, arching his back, spreading his legs apart, and presenting his bottom high before his brother. Loki knelt on the couch and sensually kneaded the buttocks, delighting in the fact he had made them so red. He gave Thor a few hard smacks, more to tease him than to punish. Thor groaned as he reignited the burn.
“You are a great beauty, brother.” Loki said. His voice was like liquid silver as he thrust into Thor’s hot bottom. It was paradise to be King. Loki was giddy with the pleasure of being inside Thor; claiming him was delicious and more satisfying than taking over Midgard. He playfully spanked him and tickled the jewels between his brother’s legs. Loki climaxed deep inside his brother, and it wasn’t long before he had Thor coming in spurts of cream, his face as red as the cheeks of his bottom. Damn you, Loki.
Thor was propped up on the bed, Vali and Narfi bathing him with a warm, damp washcloth. Their gentle, reverent touches relaxed him after Loki’s ministrations. Thor lolled his head back and closed his eyes. Unlike their father and siblings, Vali and Narfi did not look at him like he was a piece of forbidden fruit. Instead, they blushed prettily and gazed at Thor with a kind of starry-eyed wonder, as though they could not quite believe they got a chance to touch their beautiful uncle.
“We hope you are comfortable now, dear Uncle.” Vali stammered.
“Please call us if you need us for anything.” Narfi said timidly. The brothers glanced at each other. They looked like they wanted to say something else, but bit back their words. Thor gave them a curt nod, and they scuttled off.
Loki entered a few minutes later. He seemed tense, oddly distracted after their fucking session several hours ago. Loki stared enigmatically through the window and paged through the books by Nietzsche on the table. He couldn’t meet Thor’s eyes.
“I have something to show you.” He finally said, his voice toneless and flat. He closed his eyes, and before Thor’s stunned gaze his form began to change.
The mother-of-pearl sheen of his skin darkened the color of twilight. His black hair spiked and turned the greyish-blue of a cyclone. His slender frame filled out, his features melted and changed. Loki’s verdant eyes became a cool, utterly alien shade of red. Thor soon found himself looking at his brother as a Jotun.
Thor had heard the rumors about his brother’s lineage. Years ago, Thor would have dismissed this sight as an April Fool’s joke on Loki’s part. Now, however, he recognized that he had been the fool not to see the dreadful truth. Loki was a Jotun, a Frost Giant, and he still believed in the racist lies that they had been taught from birth.
“Now do you understand?” Loki ground out. His voice was harsh, guttural, like the scrape of a granite stone. “I am a changeling, of and from a world of shadows, a worthless pawn in Odin’s game between Asgard, Jotunheim, and all the Nine Realms. Odin should have let me die when he had the chance. The darkness in my nature stems inexorably from the darkness of my skin, the filth of my bloodline, the ice and snow in my place of birth. I have lived many lifetimes in the shadows, your image reflected in my heart like the light of the sun that brightens the moon.”
“One day, the sale of succulent fruit will form the basis of my Empire. The people of Midgard will have no choice but to look to me for sustenance. I shall reclaim the throne of Jotunheim as its rightful heir; I will marry you and become the lawful King of Asgard. No one will dare oppose our union, and all who had you before me will be punished for their transgression.”
Thor stared in horror as the depth of his brother’s self-hatred hit him. Loki was sick, utterly warped, and there was nothing Thor could do about it, especially without the power of Mjolnir. He had been rendered impotent. Poor Sif and Jane! Thor regretted the fact that they (and his other lovers) had been dragged into his power struggle with Loki. Thor, once a mighty hero, had been forced into the role of princess, and prisoner, of his brother’s castle. Stunned, he kept staring.
Jane stood in her dressing room and stared into the mirror. She smoothed the knots in her hair with a silver comb. Months ago, Jane had had a conversation with the Queen Frigga in this very room. Her Highness had dressed her that morning, braiding her hair into a glossy knot. She had certainly been kinder to Jane than her husband.
“Fate and free will are a far more tangled mess than your hair, my child.”
“What do you mean, Your Highness?”
Queen Frigga fixed her with a hard, piercing blue stare. “I am a Goddess of Motherhood and Marriage. Although you do not remember them, you have lived many lifetimes in which you looked for love in the wrong places, could not fulfill your desire for marriage, and found joy instead in your work and friendship with Ms. Darcy Lewis. In this lifetime, you are blessed in both, but will also have the chance to choose a love that is rarely destined for you, one which inspires you to be a better version of yourself.”
It had never occured to Jane that the Queen might have meant someone other than her son. Lost in thought, Jane started at the sight of Sif standing at the door.
“Please come with me. I have something to show you.” She beseeched. Sif took Jane’s delicate, flowerlike hand in her tough, calloused one. Slowly, she lead her up the staircase into the dark tower of the palace. Jane had never been to this room before, and looked at Sif questioningly.
“I know you did not marry me for love,” Sif said stiffly. “But I would like us to be friends. Please know that I will do my best to support you in your vocation as a seeker of truth.” She bowed gallantly and opened the door, flushing a little.
Jane gasped. The room was a polished, up-to-date scientific laboratory; it was furnished with top-notch silver equipment, from microscopes to telescopes with which to peer at the Heavens. Sif had somehow recovered Jane’s old book of notes, and had brought her new books on a range of women scientists, including Marie Curie, Chien-Shiung Wu, Katherine Johnson, and Kalpana Chawla. Such books would have cost Jane a fortune on Midgard.
At the center of a table, there was a live, 3D model of Yggdrasil and the Nine Realms. Stars were born, and exploded before Jane’s eyes. The sky was like black velvet, and the planets in the Solar System were as bright as a trail of gems. Venus, in particular, sparkled like the diamond of a wedding ring. Jane’s throat tightened. She could continue all her experiments in this lab, unfazed by her sudden move to another realm.
“It’s perfect. It’s all perfect. Thank you.”
An odd, closed expression came over Sif’s face. She slowly brought the inside of Jane’s wrist to her lips in a sensuous kiss, one far more intimate than that which Jane had stolen from her that morning.
“I had hoped you would find it agreeable.” Sif murmured, her electric eyes still trained on Jane like the light of a blue star. “Good afternoon, Jane Foster.” She sped into the shadows, leaving Jane utterly bewildered in her wake.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
Sif and Jane welcomed Heimdall and Valkyrie with a lavish, elegant feast. Mead splashed across the table, and Valkyrie sipped it with relish. She clapped Sif on the shoulder, pulling her into a hug.
“It’s been too long, my old friend.” Sif said warmly.
Valkyrie gave her a wide-toothed smile. “I missed our adventures, and sensed an impending war on Midgard. Women like us should always be prepared for war.”
“Yes, war is the way of existence and non-existence.” Sif said lightly. “On no account can it be neglected.”
“War is policy and politics by other means. The true soldier is a master of statecraft, and I had a feeling that war was coming the moment I heard Hela was mixed up in all this.” Valkyrie said grimly.
“Hela has enjoyed ruling Midgard as she did Asgard and Hel in different chapters of history. I will fill you in on all the details later. For now, tell me about your adventures on Sakaar!”
Soon after, the bards struck up a tune. The song was a haunting, wistful ode to Valkyrie’s life. The bards sang of her bravery in battle and impossible love for Freya, the Goddess of Love, who had red hair and enchanting green eyes. The story moved Jane almost to tears.
“Your wife has a soft heart, my friend!” Valkyrie said to Sif. “But I like it. She’s very charming.”
“I’ve never fought in a war, but I know what it’s like to want someone I can’t have.” Jane said quietly. “Sif and I both do, so I guess that’s what brought us together.” She felt Sif go rigid beside her, but they had to act like a couple in public. Moreover, the gifts of friendship Sif had given her had left her with a desperate, despairing sort of hope. The less rational part of her had begun to resent Thor for being the man (or god) between them.
Valkyrie stared intently at the two women. “I never imagined Sif would fall in love again, let alone get married.” She remarked. Her eyes were knowing, and Jane felt like she was being X-rayed.
“I didn’t know that Asgard even existed until a couple years ago, and never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d fall for an alien from outer space,” Jane said, shrugging. “Funny how things work out.”
“A Midgardian poet once said that love is like wildflowers.” Sif said quietly, and Jane surmised that she too was trying to salvage their image as a couple. “It’s often found in the most unlikely places...”
Jane opened her mouth, but was derailed by Loki, who appeared with a puff of smoke and a terrible grin on his face.
The screaming only stopped when Heimdall held up his hand for silence. “Speak, Trickster.” He thundered. “What is the purpose of this unannounced visit?”
Loki’s eyes were green as poison. They burned into Jane, who lifted her chin and returned the gaze with a long, calculating look.
“Dr. Foster, I have wanted to see you for a very long time.”
“I think that’s been a bit obvious.” Jane said curtly, and Loki’s delicate mouth furled into a smile.
“As you are aware, I take threats to my place in my brother’s heart very seriously. You and Sif have challenged that place, and alas! I cannot make Thor love me alone through magic.” His silvery voice was like the sound of a snake charm.
“I’m listening.” Jane said. Her tone was light, but she raised her eyebrows.
Loki glided toward her, and his eyes began to gleam dangerously. “I made a deal with Thor to stop the war on Midgard. I am willing to make a similar pact with you.”
“Name your terms, and I will think about it.” Jane replied. The room around them had gone very still.
“I do not underestimate the potency of your intellect.” Loki said smoothly. “I would like to extend you an invitation to Midgard for a little game of riddles. If you win, you will have my permission to claim Thor as your prize.”
“And what happens if she loses, you knave?” Sif demanded.
Loki tittered. “If you lose our little game, Dr. Foster, you will be sacrificed to the Goddess Freya on May 1st to ensure the growth of my apple crops.”
He gesticulated, and his sorcery played like a film to reveal Jane’s possible fate. Jane hung from a rope on the boughs of Yggdrasil. Loki burned her skin with red-hot irons, pierced her body with knives, and slowly cut off her fingers and toes. Her breasts were hacked off, and the rope was raised and lowered until she finally died.
There was a ringing silence. Sif roared and lunged at Loki; he vanished, cackling, reappearing a second later. Sif stumbled, and the punch of her fist swung through empty air.
“Dr. Foster!” He crooned. “Think about it from a scientific perspective. Your death has many utilitarian benefits. I’ll admit that it’s my fault that the Goddess Freya is no longer with us. I bring about all cycles of Ragnarok, and created the conditions for my daughter to murder her in battle. It is time I paid my debts to the Dead Goddess: a life for a life. And you, Dr. Foster, with your beauty and considerable intellect, are the right kind of life for this sacrifice.”
Valkyrie flung her sword at Loki. He swiftly dodged the blade, and it clattered to the ground.
“Dr. Foster!” Loki giggled. “This bargain is a win-win situation for you. Even if you lose, you will undergo Death and Rebirth. With Freya’s blessings, you shall be reborn as the fruit I present to Thor as a token of our love. You’ll have the honor of participating in the love I bear for Thor, if only indirectly. My kingdom will profit from the sale of the fruit, and I shall build an Empire large enough to stop the cycles of Ragnarok. No more Cosmic Destruction, no more gods will have to die. I will no longer be reviled by the gods for bringing about their end. Your Day of Death and Rebirth shall be the one to end them all.”
“Do not believe him, Jane!” Valkyrie said in a hard voice. “Ragnarok will not be stopped so easily, certainly not by the likes of him. There is a reason we call him the Liesmith.”
“Jane, this is madness!” Sif added.
Jane looked at Loki like he was a worm in her path. “The philosophy and theology behind human sacrifice is a load of bunk. I’m sure you know that Freya, if she still exists in the Afterlife, wouldn’t condone it. Nonetheless, I accept your proposal.”
Loki turned to Sif. “This little minx has a lot of nerve. I can almost see why Thor likes her.” He held out his hand, and Jane shook it. “I shall expect you in a fortnight.” Loki said sleekly. He spun on his heel, and vanished. His magic left a spectacle of shadows and mottled light.
Jane ambled back to her chambers. She sagged, utterly drained by the events of the day. The fire crackled like a heart’s rhythm, and Sif stared into the flames. The silence stretched heavily between them. Then, Sif opened her mouth.
“The bards sing of the sacrifice Freya made for Valkyrie, but never mention her unfaithfulness in life. Freya caused Valkyrie a great deal of pain in the course of their relationship.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Jane said sincerely. “People who cheat on their partners are worse than many of my fellow feminists acknowledge them to be. They gaslight and exploit their partners, exposing them to STDs, without their knowledge or consent. They subject them to financial abuse by stealing money to spend on their affair partners.” Donald Blake, her boyfriend before Thor, had cheated on her multiple times. The memory still made her flinch.
Sif was silent for a moment. “I am surprised to hear you have such an enlightened view of infidelity.” She said in a strained voice.
“Why’s that?” Jane asked. Sif whirled around and seized her by the shoulders.
“Jane, please do not harbor the delusion that Thor will leave Loki for you, even if you try to betray me with him!” She hissed. “Hundreds of women across time have failed to hold his interest. My love for Thor was a chapter in my life that ended long ago. I will always be his friend, but my desire for him evaporated the moment I realized his heart belonged to Loki.”
“Yes, Jane.” Sif said grimly. “I am speaking from experience. Charming and brilliant as you are, do not think you can lure Thor away from Loki. Thor relishes the bondage in which Loki has kept him, and will yearn for Loki’s touch even if you rescue him from it!”
“Sif, listen to me.” Jane pleaded. “I think you’ve got it all wrong.”
Sif’s face was still flushed with anger, but a look of pain washed over her face as she reached for Jane, who took a step back. “Why did you agree to go on this suicidal mission? I know you may never come to love me, but I thought we’d formed a kinship of sorts. Why are you leaving me, Jane?”
“Sif!” Jane said clearly. “Please read my lips: I am NOT in love with Thor anymore.”
Sif reared back, and Jane pressed closer. She sighed softly, breathing in the electric scent she’d come to associate with the warrior-goddess. “I knew for sure when I kissed you this morning, but I thought you were disgusted, still hung up on Thor. I’ve fallen in love with you, and it’s been hard to compete with a woman for a man, only to realize my passion for that woman transcends the man.”
Sif snatched her up, capturing her mouth in a fierce, possessive kiss. Her tongue dipped between Jane’s lips, a butterfly sampling nectar from a rose. She lifted Jane off the floor with strong arms, and carried her to the bed; her hands mapped every inch of her body. Sif maneuvered between Jane’s legs, exposed the lotus blooming there, and sipped the dewdrops from her clit. Jane keened weakly. Her body swayed on the bed, like the petals of a lily in a moonlit breeze. Sif’s eyes were a blue mirror, and Jane’s slowly lost herself in them. Sif tossed back her coal-black locks, which tangled with her chestnut-brown hair. Jane rippled her hands through both, marvelling at the color difference. This was everything: Jane had never had a lover who played her body with such skill, warmth, and tenderness. The two women held each other when they were done, their bodies linked like the vines of a passionflower.
“Each of us thought the other was still in love with Thor.” Jane said, wonderingly. “How could we have been so foolish?”
“We’ve wasted so much time,” Sif agreed. She planted a reverent kiss on her forehead, tracing her jawline with her finger. “I’ve wanted you for so long. I should have told you I loved you from the start, and now I fear death will snatch you up just when I’ve realized you return my feelings.”
“You’re never going to lose me,” Jane said clearly. “I had my reasons for making this deal. Loki has tormented my planet, and it’s worth risking my life for a chance to be rid of him for good. Many scientists have given their lives in the name of an experiment.”
Sif’s eyes flared, like the Northern lights on Earth. She growled low in her throat, and reached for Jane again. “We will win this ordeal. I promise you that, and I will make love to you like this every night when it is over.”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
Heimdall had Valkyrie pressed up against an ash tree. Her powerful thighs wrapped around his waist as he thrust deep into her. Valkyrie’s eyes slid shut and she murmured her pleasure. Her nails dug into his back, drawing blood, and her breasts bounced in time to their rhythm. She marked his neck with bites as he kissed her nipples and the skin down her collarbone. The fragrance of her hair intoxicated him, like a heady stream of wine and dark honey. Heimdall and Valkyrie were as evenly matched at fucking as they were at fighting.
They collapsed on the ground, and lay there in a comfortable silence. The air was warm and balmy. Valkyrie caressed his shoulders and biceps, while Heimdall leaned over to gently comb the leaves of grass from her hair.
“This life is a strange one, gods die in every cycle of Ragnarok,” Valkyrie mused. “No one knows where they go after death, or even if there is an Afterlife beyond the Nine Realms. Sometimes they come back, and other times, they don’t. Ragnarok is not an ordinary form of destruction. It does not lead the deceased to Hel, or Valhalla and Folkvangr in Asgard. Why some gods live and others die is a mystery...It’s been painful, but I think that I am finally done mourning for Freya.”
“Mourning a loved one must involve accepting the good times, and the bad times. Grief can make us forget the faults of the ones we lost.” He did not need to add that Freya’s infidelity had not escaped his sight.
She blanched. “I learned the hard way that women’s relationships with women are not always better than those they have with men…Have you ever been in love, Your Majesty?”
“No.” Heimdall said. “Anyone who has my heart must share it with the Asgardian people. I swore to remain unmarried as long as I served as the sentry of the realm, but I never thought to be King. It is my duty to find a woman who can bear the burdens of the throne.”
Valkyrie rolled her eyes. “Let’s face it, Your Majesty. You are a much better King than either Thor or Loki would have been. King Odin realized that. So did Queen Frigga. The brothers are too wrapped up in each other to care about anyone else. You are too diplomatic to admit aloud that neither of them should be anywhere near the throne.”
Heimdall’s somber face cracked into a smile. The difference it made was startling, as though a new man was gazing at her through the dark window of his face. “The conservatives of the court would call that treason.” He teased. The lovely baritone of his voice gave her shivers. “Many of them do not think I am worthy of the throne because I am not the heir by blood.”
“You know that’s bullshit, Your Majesty!” Valkyrie said earnestly. “You deprived yourself of love for the people of Asgard! Thor and Loki could not keep their hands off each other, even if the Nine Realms went up in flames around them.”
“Is that so?” Heimdall asked. “You are a great warrior, Brunnhilde, and I am glad to have your approval.”
Jane returned to Midgard on the midnight of April 21st. Before dropping her off, Sif had informed her that in Asgardian culture, each of the Nine Nights from April 21st and May 1st represented one of the Nine Realms. The boundaries between the Nine Realms were blurred on these Nights. It was hard for Jane to wrap her head around that, or even begin to contemplate the implications for cosmology and theoretical physics. Unlike the last time she was on Midgard, the Chitauri bowed and moved out of her way. Night still reigned supreme on the planet. The air was deadly cold, but bonfires flared on the road, and people copulated in the cemeteries lining the road to the castle. Jane traveled alone for nine days, until she reached the castle on May 1st. Tonight was May Day, Walpurgisnacht, the night of Thrimilci. Jane would die a painful death at Loki’s hands if she lost her game to him.
Loki’s castle was an imposing figure that towered into the night. It was built of black granite. The door was carved from oak, and its handle featured a skull and a snake with opals in place of eyes. Four strange creatures, whom Jane recognized from Sif’s descriptions as Loki’s children, stood in front of Jane. Their faces were like masks as they blocked her way to the door.
“Dr. Foster,” Hela said with a simpering smile, “You are playing a dangerous game. The odds are against you, but my brothers and I have come to offer you a way out. We will ask you a riddle each. If you can answer them all correctly, we will take you to our father. If not, we will tear you to pieces. Our riddles are easier than our father’s, and trust me when I say a quick death at our hands is preferable to a slow one at his.”
“If you must,” Jane sighed. It wasn’t like she had a choice, or expected Loki and his family to play fair.
“What does not stir when it is born?” Hela tittered.
“What creature sleeps with both eyes open?” Jormungand hissed. His green head swayed; his bulbous yellow eyes glowed, and his forked tongue flickered when he spoke.
“What grows when it speeds up?” Fenrir growled, his sharp teeth bared.
“What creature has no heart but is yet alive?” Sleipnir cackled.
Jane thought for a moment, and shrugged. “The egg is still when it is born. The fish has two eyes, and sleeps with both of them open. A river grows when it moves forward under the pressure of the current. Tyrants like your father live, but have no heart.”
She stepped back and looked at them. Hela had gone a pasty shade of grey. Fenrir let out a howl of rage. He leapt on Jane, tackled her to the ground...
Hours later, Jane had been bathed and decked in a dress the color of peacock feathers. Her hair was loose, but her hands were bound in iron shackles. Jane raised her chin and stood defiantly in front of Loki’s throne. Fenrir stood close behind her. He sniffed her hair and pawed at her dress. She could feel his hot, smelly breath against her neck.
“Father,” he rumbled. “You are the Trickster, the Liesmith, the Silvertongue. It is well within your power to break your pact with this mortal woman, and give her to me. We have tested her. There is a chance she will win if you go through with it.”
“I am tempted to do as you ask,” Loki admitted, raising his eyebrows. He grinned at her mutinous look. “Apparently, you see me as a monster without a heart. I recognize the darkness in myself, but surely I can love...My tender love is no less true for being dark and selfish.”
He moved his boot, and to Jane’s horror, Thor was on the floor at his feet. He was stark naked, his body gleaming in the candlelight. A pink cloth was wrapped like a ribbon around his cock. Silver clamps pinched at his nipples. An iron bit had been placed in his mouth. Shackles the color of his golden hair bound his hands and feet. Loki had placed a collar around his neck, and was holding a long black leash he had clipped to it. There was a dead look in his eyes. A wave of nausea drifted over Jane. Her legs buckled, and she struggled to keep standing.
“Yes, I can love.” Loki whispered.
Suddenly, Sif entered the room. She swaggered across the floor in long strides, and every step fell like a thunderclap. Hela’s eyes sparkled with anger. Jormungand made a faint hissing noise, and Sleipnir ground his teeth. Vali and Narfi trembled like leaves in a gale. Loki’s face was carefully blank, but he leaned forward and gripped the arms of his throne. Jane’s heart warmed at the sight. Thor’s face shone with a glimmer of hope for the first time. Sif glanced from Thor’s prostrate form to the shackles on Jane’s hands, and her hand grasped the sword at her belt.
“What has happened here, Jane?” She demanded.
“It appears that Fenrir wants to enslave me, just as Loki has Thor.” Jane said lightly.
Sif swirled around and sliced off Fenrir’s head. Loki and his other children leapt to their feet. Fenrir’s body froze for a moment, then toppled to the ground. Sif was pale, and she eyed the body with cold contempt. Jane’s lip twisted in satisfaction. Loki let out a howl of rage. He stomped so hard on the stone footrest at the bottom of his throne that it split in two.
Jane, Sif, and Loki sat across from one another at the table Loki had conjured in the assembly hall. Jane and Sif sat on one side, Sif placing a protective hand on her beloved’s shoulder. Sif was still spattered with the blood of Fenrir, and the Chitauri she’d fought through to get here. Loki’s other children were rooted to their thrones. Loki had calmed down. His mocking smile had Jane screaming silently in her head. Thor sat at his feet, passive as a traditional princess; Loki had jerked the leash and made him crawl like a dog to his place under the table.
“What creature walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?” Loki asked.
“It is Man.” Jane replied easily. She was familiar with Greek philosophy and mythology. The Sphinx, a monster in Greek mythology, had posed this famous riddle to a hero named Oedipus. He had reasoned that Man crawls on his hands and knees as a child, walks on two legs in the prime of youth, and leans on a staff in his old age. Speaking of Greek mythology…
“What came first, the phoenix or the flame?”
Loki shrugged. “A circle has no beginning,” he said in a bored voice, and could not suppress a thin-lipped smile at her look of dismay. Loki posed his next riddle, and the game began in earnest.
“This thing all things devours!
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers,
Gnaws iron, bites steel,
Grinds hard stones to meal,
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.”
Jane racked her brains for a moment...Oh yes, she had read her Tolkien. “Time,” She said triumphantly, and Loki gnashed his teeth. Time was the cyclical force, the boundless river that swept everything up in its path.
“The ocean’s pearl, a grain of sand
More precious than all the gold in the land
Life would be flat, life would be bland
Without this diamond in your hand.”
“Salt!” Loki said distastefully, and Jane smiled despite herself. Salt was a sacred symbol in Christianity and Judaism; it brought about the exorcism of demons and embodied the Kabbalah, the inner meaning of the Torah.
“What, if anything, is the higher meaning or purpose to the evil, injustice, and suffering in the world?” Loki asked with a sinister leer. It was clear he believed the question would spell her death, and Sif shuddered at her side. Jane closed her eyes for a long moment, and slowly opened them.
“My grandparents survived the Nazis and their collaborators around the world. I have thought a lot about evil, injustice, and suffering. The depravity of Nazism proves the existence of absolute moral evil, which in turn shows the existence of absolute moral good. If absolute morality exists, then so does objective truth. Relativism is false. There are no ‘alternative’ facts. I may be a rationalist and an agnostic, but a case can be made that an eternal, unchanging God is the source of all truth and moral goodness. God personifies the natural laws of morality, which people can perceive but which exist independently of their willingness to abide by them. Moral laws are as real as the laws of Physics. People thrive when they live in harmony with these laws, and do evil when they break them. It is possible that God allows evil, injustice, and suffering to highlight these laws, and call on people to abide by them. Anti-Semitism and sexism are forms of structural evil that have some similarities with other systems of oppression, including racism against the Jotnar by the Aesir of Asgard. There is a moral imperative to resist all forms of oppression, not internalize or propagate them. The presence of evil, injustice, and suffering should spur us on to seek truth, be moral, and fight for the values of freedom and fairness.”
Hela had covered her ears, and was mumbling to herself. “No, no, no! I must unhear this gibberish, it cannot be true!”
Sif and Thor’s faces were resplendent with joy and admiration. Loki, on the other hand, could not look Jane directly in the eyes. “Everything is connected to everything,” Jane mused, “But how? God is (arguably) the source of all being. Yggdrasil is the link to all the Nine Realms. Injustice is the flip side of justice, the shadow cast by its light. My work in astrophysics attempts to address this question, so can you answer it for me? Everything is part of a comprehensive whole...Everything is connected to everything, but how?”
Loki slumped in dismay. “That’s not fair. I cannot unlock all the secrets of the Cosmos in one sitting,” He complained.
Sif threw back her head and laughed. “King Loki, if you do not answer this riddle, you forfeit both your claim to Thor and your May Day sacrifice. The bargain you made was an evil one, and you are bound to reap its fruit!”
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
A horrible scream tore from Loki’s throat. His body contorted, melting into its Jotun form. The cerulean skin peeled off his body and dissipated. Loki’s skeleton hung suspended in the air. Then, all the bones except his skull collapsed into a pile of rubbish, and vanished in a shimmer of light. The Tesseract clattered to the floor. The skull swallowed it, and his teeth chewed up the orb in a sickening crunch. Loki’s skull grew larger; the blue light of the Tesseract bathed it in its icy glow. A pair of gigantic wings sprouted from its head. One was of a bat, and the other was a falcon’s. Loki’s winged skull let out a long, bone-chilling, agonized shriek and launched itself into the sky. The ceiling shattered behind it. Thor clambered to his feet and smashed the chains that bound him. Spirals of yellow and blue lightning twisted through his body. They shifted and clothed him in a full warrior’s garb. Thor grew to the size of a giant. He bounded after the skull with a mighty roar.
A chariot rumbled in the distance. Heimdall and Valkyrie arrived, the Asgardian army behind them. The Chitauri rallied around Loki and his children, and an epic battle for the soul of Midgard began.
Heimdall snatched Jormungand up, whirled him around his head like a lasso, and flung him into the ocean. Struggling, foaming, screeching, the serpent hurtled through the air. He lengthened into a full serpent, sunk into the ocean like a stone, circled the realm, and swallowed the end of his tail. Sif wrestled Sleipnir to the ground, tying him to an oak tree. Hela and Valkyrie began slowly to circle each other.
“The Goddess of Love felt a lot of pain before she died,” Hela jeered. “I made sure of that. It seems her spirit lives on in your capacity for love. I never believed her spirit would accept Jane Foster as a sacrifice, but I certainly would have enjoyed convincing people otherwise. Such fun, to be as cruel to a person in death as you were in life!”
“I can’t say I’ve ever tried it,” Valkyrie ground out. “But I am about to have a chance.”
The two women charged, and the mountains trembled at the force of their blows. Hela conjured a thundercloud that showered stones upon the earth. Valkyrie blasted it back with a gust of wind. Hela hurled a whirring, sparkling disk at her. Valkyrie drew her bow and destroyed it with arrows. She rushed at Hela, lifted her by the horns of her helmet, and slammed her to the ground. She smashed Hela’s head open with a single blow of a club. The blood and brains of the goddess streamed like a garland of flowers on the earth. Her fluttering ghost joined that of her brother Fenrir in the festering realm of Hel.
The winged skull’s eye sockets burned red like a dying ember. Laser beams sprouted out of them, melting the rocks that lined the battlefield. Thor dodged the light and hurled his thunderbolts at the skull. Many glanced off harmlessly. But some found their mark, and it dawned on him that he could fight just as well without Mjolnir.
The sun rose that morning, freed from the clasp of Fenrir’s teeth. The light touched the skull, and it froze mid-air. Thor and the monster stared at each other as the battle raged around them. Impulsively, Thor drew his hands around his mouth. He shouted the words he’d never said aloud, much as Loki had hoped he would...
Loki’s skull burst into flames. The fire flared. Thor could not tell whether it had come from his thunderbolts, the light of the sun, or Loki himself. The flames erupted like a supernova in the morning sky. Thor’s mouth hung open in a stunned, silent scream. “Thor…” He thought he heard Loki whisper, and then the skull was gone. The flames died out. The ashes scattered. Soon, all that was left in the background was the yellow, pink, and silver of the sunrise.
Purple hyacinths blossomed in the blood of the fallen soldiers. Loki’s castle collapsed under the weight of the flowers, burying the garden in which Loki had Thor. The Chitauri were utterly defeated. Sif seized them, and took their leaders into custody. (Unseen to all, their master Thanos raged over the fact that his plan to use Loki as a puppet ruler had been foiled...)
Heimdall and Valkyrie had captured Vali and Narfi, binding them together. The brothers cowered and watched Thor nervously.
“I have no grudge against you,” Thor said heavily. “Both of you deserve a chance to survive the next coming of Ragnarok. You are free to go where you wish. I would counsel you to seek your mother, and I will find you if you dare cause trouble.” Vali and Narfi nodded meekly and left.
Valkyrie kissed Heimdall, her body damp and musky with perspiration. Her mouth tasted of whisky, with a hint of the dark chocolate she'd nibbled on that morning. She watched him with steady gimlet eyes when they were done.
“I think I have loved you from the first time we met.” She said simply. “I wouldn’t be a traditional queen, but I’d do my best if you give me a chance.”
Heimdall paused. “You fought today like a true Queen of Asgard.” He said in a gruff voice, and turned to provide aid to the ailing soldiers around them.
The realm’s traditional queen was still fast asleep on Asgard. Frigga dreamt that she was winding down an underground maze at the foot of Yggdrasil. Soon, she stumbled upon the three Norns: Urd, Skuld, and Verdandi. The Norns determined the fates of both human beings and the gods. The Norns were as ugly as fate is cruel, but their ugliness was distinctive, riveting, not repulsive. They had toad-like faces with warts, twisted mouths, and beady golden eyes. Their greasy white hair curled in puffs and tangles. They had gnarled yellow hands that created, measured, and cut the strings that symbolized the length of people’s lives.
“Your Highness!” The Norns rasped. Their voices were dusty and grey. “We regret to inform you that your second son is dead. He has become his own May Day sacrifice.”
Frigga flinched, but steadied her shoulders. “I am not surprised by that. He was always his own worst enemy. What do you foresee in the future?”
The Norns huffed. “When Ragnarok is drawing near, Asgardian gods die, and their souls are dispersed through the Nine Realms. Some cease to exist. Others undergo rebirth. Not all go to the same place after death, and your son is so slippery that we cannot know the full consequences of his actions. The Trickster has eluded our understanding.”
The vision dissipated, and Frigga sat up with a jolt. She and Odin lay together at the foot of Yggdrasil. The tree’s magnificent branches shielded them from the sun like an umbrella. Odin yawned. The Goddess Idunn was watching them with a worried expression. The sunlight played off her silver-blonde hair, giving it the look of a halo.
“How long have I been asleep? Please tell me all that has happened.” Frigga urged, and Idunn smiled ruefully.
“Your Highness, you do not know the half of it.”
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
Loki’s reign ended in two sets of coronations and marriages. Sif and Jane had a grand wedding ceremony to make up for the cursory one they’d had months earlier. They were made co-rulers of Midgard. Heimdall and Valkyrie were married and became the new King and Queen of Asgard. Royalty from all the Nine Realms, including Jarnsaxa and the Grandmaster, attended the solemn events. Darcy and her fellow prisoners had survived their ordeal in Loki’s garden. She and Jane were reunited during the festivities.
“So, Queen of Midgard?” She said. “The Polisci major in me finds it ironic that even Saudi Arabia and the Vatican have accepted the legitimacy of your rule.”
“The last few years have sobered people,” Jane observed. “Women like me are only really accepted as leaders when things get really bad. Sif and I have a lot to do to fix the damage of the war.” She sagged just thinking about it. Darcy grinned, and clapped her on the shoulder.
“Hey! You know I’m still here for you, right? It’s not like you’re going to go about this ruling business alone. I love the fuck out of you, Jane Foster, and it’ll take more than life as a hostage to beat it out of me. Also, I’m Jewish too.” She said seriously. “We may have faced down an alien invasion, but I know that anti-Semitism, sexism, and bureaucracy are hard things for a world leader to navigate. You need me as your assistant. You and Sif have an entire planet to govern, and very little time for a honeymoon. Life here on out isn’t going to be easy for you!”
Jane gave her a watery smile, and drew her into an embrace. “I’ve been so worried, and don’t know how I managed without you in the past few months.”
Darcy patted her on the back. They had much to discuss, from Erik’s death to Darcy’s stint as Loki’s prisoner. But that could come later. Separation had only made their friendship stronger.
Odin and Frigga decided to retire to the garden of Idunn, and keep her company. Odin placed a hand on Heimdall’s shoulder. “You have done far better than I could under the circumstances,” he said gravely. “You have both earned the right to be the rulers of Asgard.”
“You have my full blessings.” Frigga declared. “You will make the realm a wise King and valorous Queen.”
Thor visited the newlyweds that evening. Loki’s ministrations had left scars on his body, a perversely beautiful shade of silver. His hair and skin shimmered; the melancholy in his eyes was like a ship lost at sea. He held the shattered pieces of Mjolnir in his hands, and there was a sweet, sad smile on his face.
“My brother is reborn. I can sense it in my blood, and it is my duty to find him.” He said heavily. There was a long, awkward silence in the room.
“Loki has hurt so many people, and you have other options. I’m sure you know that pursuing him isn’t the easiest or healthiest choice, right?” Jane asked warily.
“Are you absolutely certain of this, Thor? How do you even know that he is alive?” Sif asked, but her face was dull with resignation.
Thor looked away for a long time. His hands balled into fists, and a jolt of electricity crackled through the broken body of Mjolnir. “I know you may not understand, but I cannot rest while he is gone. I love him enough to bear the brunt of his villainy, to try and fix what is broken. I belong to him like the ocean that craves to cleave onto the shore, and my thirst will never cease until I find him again.”
“I know the feeling, Thor.” Valkyrie said in a low voice.
“If you must go, we cannot stop you.” Heimdall added quietly.
Thor left the gathering that night. He refused all forms of transportation, trudging on foot at a very slow pace. The newlywed couples watched him leave until he was a glittering dot on the skyline. The lonely hero disappeared, leaving a trace of rain in their hearts.
Soon afterward, Heimdall and Valkyrie left for Asgard with Odin and Frigga. Sif and Jane waved until the four Asgardians vanished into the heavens. The two women went stargazing that night. There was no moon. It was a time for new beginnings. The stars scintillated, a dancing school of silverfish in the ocean of the night.
Jane’s thoughts wandered as they went. She’d gone from scientist to celebrity, outlaw, lover, and Queen in a span of months. She was defined by all these roles; her memories were so raw. Jane felt like a limpet trying to find footing after an earthquake. The wars, her near-brush with death, left her shuddering in their wake. How many people had perished due to Loki’s violence? Where were Loki, Freya, and Erik now? Who, in addition to Erik, had died in the wars to protect her? Their souls were somewhere among the stars. The afterlife, along with God and string theory, was one of the great mysteries of the Cosmos. What was it like to pass away? Perhaps one day she would make a groundbreaking, scientific discovery about the afterlife. Jane did not intend to stop her research, just because she had become a Queen.
“As an immortal goddess, you’ve seen many eras across time. Do you think you’ll forget me when I die?” She asked, and Sif stiffened.
“Why do you ask such questions, when we have our whole lives ahead of us? It is true that Ragnarok is coming, and that the lifespan of Midgardians is fleeting as a dream. But the scientists of your realm have developed a host of life extension technologies, and Asgardian sorcery has advanced enough to lengthen the span of people’s lives. Our time together will be longer than you anticipate. I will make sure of it.”
Jane gazed over at her fondly. “We make a good team, don't we? I know that Thor gets most of the credit for being a warrior, but you wiped the floor with Loki’s forces on the battlefield. You’re too brave to let me go without a fight, and I’m too smart to die so easily.”
“I am indeed fortunate,” Sif mused. “The brilliance of my wife’s mind rivals that of Loki. Who else in the Nine Realms could have outwitted him the way you did? You were simply wonderful!”
Her searing eyes were full of wonder, and Jane blushed at the intensity of the gaze. “There were times toward the end where I wasn’t sure I would get through it. But you made me feel safe.”
The very stars seemed to bless their union, a white bed of water lilies.
“You and Darcy are...good friends?” Sif asked, and she nodded.
“We’re like you and Valkyrie. She sacrificed a lot for me when Loki took her captive. Darcy will be a good assistant. We’ll need friends to protect the realm, especially if Ragnarok is coming.”
“Yes, and if she stood by you, then I am in her debt.” Sif said fervently.
Jane paused. “Do you think that Loki and Thor will ever reconcile?” She asked. There’s something...everlasting about their relationship. Some parts of life are just destiny. Others, though, are not. The Queen Frigga told me there are many worlds in which we never realize our feelings for each other. But she seemed to think we’d be together in this lifetime.”
“I will confess that I have wanted you for longer than was strictly proper.” Sif said, running her fingers through her hair. “I desired you the moment we met, and suffered when you fell for Thor. I did not reveal my feelings out of respect for you both.”
“I wish you had,” Jane replied. “But I think we would have wound up in this position regardless.”
“If Thor doesn’t find Loki in this universe, then he will break the cycle of Ragnarok to do so.” Sif concluded. She knelt before Jane, and gallantly pressed a kiss to her fingertips. Jane sighed, leaning into the touch. “Thor and Loki are meant for each other, and so are we. I trust that we will stay together as surely as they will find each other again.”
Jane grasped her shoulders, and drew her up with a joyous smile. “You know what? I’m glad to hear it.”
She closed the space between them with her lips. For a long while, she allowed herself to savor the sweetness of Sif’s face against hers....Ragnarok had not yet come, and they had the strength to meet it when it did.