"Thank you, that is all," Loki said, dismissing the servants who had helped him dress.
He did not really need them as he could do it easily enough with his seiðr, but his mother insisted he do things properly on official ceremony days. She felt it set the right tone for the day and he did not feel strongly enough about it to argue with her. Still, Loki felt relieved when the last servant pulled the door closed behind him.
As usual with official ceremonies, there was an air of excitement about which clashed horribly with Loki's own dark mood and nerves. Thor was not yet ready to be king, not nearly ready yet. How could it be he was the only one who could see it? Were the others truly so blind? The oaf would mess things up beyond repair within a week if allowed to ascend to Hliðskjálf now, Loki knew it.
Especially with Father about to go into the Óðinnsleep.
Nay, Loki had to prove to them all that Thor needed more time before 'twas too late and his idiot brother caused irreparable damage to the Nine. He could only hope his plan worked the way he intended it to. Normally his plans did, but Thor did possess a special ability to wreck them.
Loki closed his eyes and forced himself to take a few deep breaths. There was nothing more he could do now. Everything was set and would either work or not. He simply wished it did not all hinge on the actions of a few frost giants now. The stupid beasts were more likely to mess things up than not, but he had no choice but to include them. Besides, he knew he could trust their rage and greed if nothing else. Not that he would ever make the mistake of truly trusting a frost giant.
Finally feeling calmer and more in control of himself, Loki opened his eyes to take a look at his appearance in the mirror, only to shout and jump back in shock at the sight which greeted him.
'Twas himself, but not as he was now. Instead of his ceremonial garb, he wore his usual armor and leather, but 'twas torn and filthy; coated in blood, dust and ash. His skin was also blotchy, pallid and drawn, while his hair was nearly shoulder length, stringy and unkempt, as if he had been repeatedly running his fingers through it in agitation.
Then his reflection smiled at him and spoke. "Hello, Loki."
Loki's eyes narrowed as he looked at his mirror, feeling his own shoulders draw back, straightening his spine, even as the fingers of his right hand twitched with the desire to draw forth one of his throwing knives. But he suppressed the impulse for now. A quick check with his seiðr gave the most startling of responses. The other actually felt like him. A little different to be sure, darker and more powerful in ways he could not immediately decipher, but definitely him at the core nonetheless.
'Twas... surprising to say the least. Loki had expected for it to be someone else; someone foolish enough to think they could trick him with an illusion. But this was unexpected, not the least for what it implied.
"You are reaching across time as well as space," Loki declared, meeting his future self's gaze head on.
"Hmm," his reflection confirmed, eyes sweeping over him. "The coronation?"
"It goes through then?" Loki demanded, feeling dismay and failure sweep through him.
"Nay, the jötnar do their job."
Relief and exhilaration followed swiftly and Loki savored them for a moment, before he swept his seiðr outwards to check for Heimdallr's attention. If the gatekeeper were watching now...
Instead of what he feared, Loki encountered a shield of his own seiðr surrounding the both of them. It felt odd to touch it. His seiðr recognized it as self, but at the same time he was completely unaware of it, until he touched it. The feeling disconcerted Loki more than he would ever admit to anyone, his future self included.
"How are you doing this?" Loki demanded with a frown.
Normally he hated admitting such weakness and ignorance, as it revealed far too much of his own vulnerabilities. But if anyone already knew of his ignorance in this matter, it would be his future self as he would be aware of what Loki knew and did not know at present. Besides, he realized with a start, if he could not trust himself, then who could he trust?
That... was even more disconcerting than encountering his own seiðr as he had. Loki was so used to relying on himself that doing so with a self who was not immediately him jarred. Yet 'twas him, he had felt it himself and knew it could not be faked, not with one as trained in the ljósálfarian arts as he had been. Besides, there had always been something distinctly unique about his magical core which even his tutors had felt, though none could explain it or work out precisely why. Not that he had given them much of a chance to, as he was not allowing anyone close enough to truly try.
Loki was not so stupid.
"Seiðr," his future self replied, almost dismissively, ere a predatory smile swept across his face at Loki's narrow eyed response to that. "You will have the means to learn it soon."
"Why not now?" Loki demanded sharply.
"The necessary tome is still out of your grasp, as is a critical piece of knowledge."
"Nay, that would be altering things too far, and too unpredictably, for naught."
There it was, the reason for this little visit. 'Twas as Loki had suspected from the moment he had realized his scrying visitor was from the future. Though he may not know precisely how his future self was doing this, he knew enough to know it would require an immense amount of power and skill. It would not be something to do lightly, especially not in the deplorable condition his future self was in. Nay, this would be, if not a desperate last resort, then at least perilously close to it.
And why would he bother trying to interact with his past self if not to attempt to change the past?
The thought quickened both Loki's breath and heart. The sheer chaos which interfering with time and events could cause was both boundless and catastrophic. There was a reason why something like this was considered the darkest of all magical arts, and absolutely forbidden in all of the Nine and well beyond besides. Both of them could be summarily executed for even considering it, let alone the steps his future self had already taken to bridge the temporal distance to him.
Every part of Loki loved the situation already, the power and danger of it exhilarating him. The knowledge that something must have gone horribly wrong to put his future self in this situation was but a slight damper on his mood, as he knew himself far too well to think his future self would leave any possibility of it transpiring again up to chance.
"What do I need to do?" Loki finally asked, unused to doing so and meaning it.
He had not taken orders from anyone as blindly as he was willing to do now in a very long time. Not that either his brother or father had realized it yet. His mother however... well, she had ever seen more of him than anyone else ever had. Loki suspected she knew, not that she had given any indication of it one way or the other. Those who wondered at where he had obtained his crafty and cunning nature from clearly did not know the queen of Ásgarðr terribly well.
"For right now, nothing," his future self replied, voice cracking slightly.
Loki frowned, already reaching out with his seiðr for the other. Surprisingly, his probe was not rebuffed and Loki realized his earlier thoughts of their situation and fractured self and trust were reciprocated.
What he found was more than enough to derail any other thoughts Loki had. Fractured was indeed a good word to use to describe what he had become between now and whatever future his reflection was from. Though incredibly powerful, his future self's seiðr was damaged; splintered and fragmented in ways he did not even want to imagine what it took to achieve. Then there was also the strain maintaining their connection was putting on his damaged self.
The vague chaos which Loki could also sense from his twin's mind made him shudder and offer some of his own seiðr to help stabilize the connection between them. There was no way he would allow what had transpired to his future self to repeat itself. Not again.
"Then when?" Loki demanded, knowing there had to be a reason why he had been contacted now of all times.
He would not waste seiðr and risk death so carelessly, so neither would a far more damaged and vulnerable, if more powerful, version of himself do so either. Loki could trust himself not to be so foolish and stupid.
"Immediately after you leave O- Father's chambers after he has succumbed to the Óðinnsleep which calls to him even now."
Loki's eyes narrowed suspiciously at his future self's slip. Was his father responsible for the injuries he could see, or the psychic and magical scars he could sense in his reflection? Despite all of his ill will towards all but his mother at times, even he would never have gone so far as to think them capable of so heinous a crime against him as that. Had he underestimated them so badly? Was that what had happened to his future self?
Both the command and the urgency in his own voice snapped Loki's eyes back to the mirror. The reflection there was starting to flicker and waver alarmingly, even with his own seiðr helping his twin to maintain the connection.
"'Tis not what you think and you need to act normally until the time I have said, or all could be lost."
Loki bit back his first response to the words at the look in those eyes. He had seen a version of it before, in this very mirror, after the disastrous 'adventure' of Thor's to Nornheimr. Yet even that was nothing compared to the depth he saw it now, and his entire being shuddered and recoiled from the mere sight of it. He had no desire whatsoever to experience that which had put it there.
By the Norns, Loki did not even want to know what had caused it, though he strongly suspected he would need to before this was all through. Despite what others said or liked to insinuate, he was not a coward and thus would not shy away from this when the time came for him to learn it. That did not do anything to dampen his relief at knowing the time was not now.
"Fine," Loki said.
He would not pry into what it was which had caused them to stop viewing Óðinn as their father, but Loki knew better than to think he would be able to stop steeling himself against the blow, even if it were never to come now. The knowledge that it could was damage enough, and one of the myriad of reasons why tampering with the very strands of time was absolutely forbidden.
Unexpectedly, Loki could not help but wonder if he would be getting a personal visit from one of the Norns for this. Almost no one ever had before, so 'twas an arrogant thought, but none had ever attempted what he was before either.
"Good," his future self nodded once, decisively, eyes never leaving Loki's own. "Come back here-"
"- immediately after leaving Father's Óðinnsleep chamber, aye," Loki finished with a frown.
Why was his future self patronizing him of all people? He knew more than any other how much they hated that.
"You will be distraught, furious," his twin stated blithely. "Emotional and irrational."
The words were like daggers to the heart, and Loki flinched back. Him, irrational and overwrought with emotion? Nay, 'twas Thor's territory, he thought things through, calculated and schemed before taking careful and deliberate action specifically tailored to further his own goals and achieve his desires.
The way his future self said their name made it crystal clear he knew exactly what was running through Loki's head right now, and he reigned in both his disbelief and denial. Clearly it had to be as his reflection said.
"How?" Loki demanded.
"Betrayal," his future self stated simply, rage clear in every syllable. "But you must control your reaction and come to see me or you will repeat my mistakes and we will miss an opportunity to take control and alter things in our favor."
That desire Loki understood only all too well and he forced himself to focus on it instead of allowing his mind to drift to all of the implications of what else his temporal twin had told him. It might grate to be so uncertain of what the overall plan was, but he would be damned if he would wreck one of his own plans out of sheer stubbornness and petulance. Thor and his stupid companions had done that oft enough in the past and he simply refused to follow in their footsteps.
Loki could trust himself, if no one else. Besides, if this worked as his future self intended for it to, then that version of Loki would cease to exist, thus entirely killing him and there was no version of himself which would allow something like that to happen if 'twas not for his own good.
"Fine, I will come here regardless of what I may wish to do or say," Loki promised.
"Good. Then I can tell you all."
With that, his future self allowed their connection to weaken and fade, and Loki was left looking at his own reflection in the mirror.
The inadvertent backlash this caused with his own seiðr made Loki take an involuntary step backwards, even as he centered himself. A wave of weariness and fatigue washed through him and he reached out to one of his amulets almost instinctively. He had created a number of amulets charged with his power as backup for precisely this type of situation. They were scattered across both his chambers and Iðavöllr, carefully hidden from prying eyes and the senses of people like his father, Heimdallr and even, he thought, his mother. Though even if she was aware of them, she would never disturb them as they were a safety net for him.
His power recharged, Loki felt Heimdallr's gaze shift his way and he forced himself to act casual as he moved to the mirror once more, before sweeping from his chambers. He had instructed himself to act normally for now and so he would. And normal was to go wait for his brother in the hall beside Valaskjálf, where Thor would come to await his grand entrance. The knowledge that, at the very least, he would succeed in derailing the coronation lightened Loki's steps, even as he forced all other thoughts of what he had learned from his mind.
Loki had been forewarned now and, with his own help, they would ensure his future was altered for the better.
The number of conflicting emotions rushing through Loki, and their sheer intensity, was enough to make him stumble back numbly as the guards rushed in to see to his father. Vaguely he realized they must have overheard a certain amount of their conversation to have heard his cries for help, but he simply could not bring himself to care.
The truth... the lies... his father's collapse before his own eyes...
'Twas all too much and with Thor gone as well... Loki still could not believe Óðinn had banished his brother. It had never been part of his plan for that to happen, but then neither had their trip to Jötunheimr and all it had revealed been planned either. For one blind, stupid moment he wished it had never happened, that he had never learned the truth of what he was.
Why had his future self not done all he could to prevent that from transpiring? Why had Loki not protected himself from it? Surely a monster could lie to protect itself? It would have been so easy to do. He could have come up with a reason which would have fooled his naïve self.
He could have lied to himself exactly like Óðinn and Frigga had lied to him.
He had clearly been lied to enough, the last thing Loki needed was to be unable to trust himself. Especially not when it came to such vitally important information which could explain so much which he had previously been unable to find answers for.
All those years, and all of the frustration and disgust, Loki had felt at not being able to measure up. All in vain. How could he have succeeded when he was trying to be something he physically was not? They had set him up for failure, right from the very start, both Óðinn and Frigga.
Rage and despair washed over him once more, all but paralyzing Loki. The screaming he had done earlier had been cathartic in a way, but now the primary target of his anger had collapsed it seemed pointless to continue doing so. And was that not typical of Óðinn, to find a way to so completely avoid dealing with the issue at hand? He really should have expected it.
The voice and sudden proximity of another startled Loki from his thoughts and he looked over to find Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, the head of the king's guard and second-in-command of the army, standing near him.
"Shall we?" the lieutenant-general inquired, indicating.
Loki looked over to see his father had been transferred to a litter the healers had brought, and they looked ready to move him.
"Hmm," Loki confirmed, glad his voice came out far stronger and steadier than he felt.
'Twas as he stepped up alongside the litter that the title Lieutenant-General Yngvarr had used finally registered with Loki.
While not technically incorrect or inappropriate, 'twas not the highness or prince Loki was used to. Not that he had interacted with his father's personal guard much as of late, other than being able to correctly identify them on sight for security purposes. A quick glance around failed to allow him to immediately spot Lieutenant-General Yngvarr among the others whom had appeared to surround the litter and those walking with it.
"Óðinnsleep?" Loki inquired when Lady Eir looked his way.
"Aye, my Prince," she confirmed. "I fear he has been putting it off for far too long and has now succumbed to it unexpectedly."
Over a millennium of having been treated by Lady Eir allowed Loki to see the tightening around her eyes, which indicated her displeasure at both his father's stubbornness and refusal to look after himself properly. He had seen the expression directed at himself oft enough to instantly recognize it. 'Twas good to know that, while being king might spare his father from having it said aloud, it did not keep Lady Eir from feeling it.
They soon made it to his father's Óðinnsleep chamber and Loki moved aside to allow the healers to transfer his father to the specialized healing bed and properly prepare him for his rest. Instead he turned to one of the guards who had followed them into the chamber.
"Has my mother been notified?" Loki demanded, realizing he had missed what had transpired earlier, far too caught up in his own emotional distress.
His future self was right, he was in no fit state to be making rational and well-thought-out decisions right now, much as Loki hated to admit it even to himself. Internally he cringed to think what he might have done the first time around without the warning.
"Aye, Sire," the Einherjar responded.
Loki frowned, there 'twas again, the 'sire'. Twice in such rapid succession after never having it directed at him before could not be a mere coincidence. He had just opened his mouth to question it, when a disturbance at the door drew his attention. There was some shuffling before Huginn and Muninn flew into the chamber, cawing loudly as they circled his father's bed once, twice, before settling down onto their perches placed on either side of the large, golden bed.
"What happened, is he alright?" Frigga demanded, rushing into the chamber and heading straight for Óðinn.
"He collapsed into the Óðinnsleep in the vault, my Queen," Lady Eir explained, stepping back.
"Will he be alright?"
"His vitals are different from normal, deeper."
Frigga frowned at that, moving back to allow one of the other healers to reach Óðinn, and caught sight of him as she did so.
"Loki," Frigga said, moving towards him.
"Mother," Loki replied, embracing her tightly even as part of him wished to push her away and demand to know why.
Why she had lied to him his whole life? Why had she not simply told him the truth?
Why had she decided to take a monster into her home and heart?
Why had she allowed it? Any or all of it?
"What happened? What is wrong?" Frigga demanded as she pulled back, seeing far more deeply into him than almost anyone else ever could.
Loki tried to look away, but she raised a hand to cup his face and turned him back to look at her.
"We... argued, Father and I," Loki said carefully, well aware they were far from alone and that their conversation was not private. "Right before he collapsed."
"Oh, Loki, 'twas not your fault. 'Twas overdue."
Of that, at least, Loki was certain. He had seen the signs of the approaching Óðinnsleep for months now. So why did it not help him feel any less guilty about all of this? And how could he feel both that and the blistering, almost all-consuming rage at the man who had pretended to be his father for so long? It made no sense! The urge to shout and scream as he had done in the vault at his fat- Óðinn rose swift and sure within him once more, and 'twas all that Loki could do to choke it back and fight it down. His future self's warnings about his emotional state and all of the damage it would cause were singing loudly in his ears.
Besides, the last thing Loki wanted to do was make a humiliating public spectacle of himself before the Einherjar and healers.
"Loki, what is it? What is wrong?" Frigga questioned with a frown.
Loki's left hand clenched as he thought back on what had happened and what he had learned.
On what he was.
"Darling?" Frigga pressed, making Loki wince at being called that within earshot of others.
"Mother," he admonished softly.
"Tell me what is bothering you so much then."
With a sigh, Loki leaned closer, so he could whisper directly into her ear. "I know," he said.
"Know what?" Frigga asked back, just as quietly.
"What I am."
His mother reared back at the words, her eyes wide with shock and a strange mixture of disbelief and horror. It made Loki grit his teeth, his own eyes narrowing in displeasure and anger.
"How?" Frigga asked.
"The illusion failed on..." Loki trailed off with a little wave of his hand towards the Bifröst.
Unable to hold her gaze any longer, Loki pulled back enough to be able to turn around, electing instead to step a little closer to the bed so it would look like he was watching the healers at work. In reality he was gazing past it, trying to sort it all out in his head.
How had he never noticed the fact he was shifted into a form other than his own true one? How had no one else never noticed?
While Loki could well imagine that Óðinn could intimidate his tutors on Ásgarðr into keeping it a secret from him, he knew 'twas not the case for all of those from whom he had learned seiðr. Indeed, there were those among them who would have gladly given away this kind of secret precisely because it would have angered and annoyed Óðinn All-Father. Loki had not been too picky in his tutors if he had felt they could teach him something which he stood to gain from.
Vaguely, Loki was aware of his mother standing behind him, though she clearly did not want to press him while in front of others. For that he was grateful, as he was not at all certain how he might react to any entreaty towards either forgiveness or leniency on his part at the moment. Not after how he had reacted to his father's words, which he could not quite bring himself to regret, but which he also did not feel the need to repeat with Frigga.
Or before an audience.
Eventually his mother moved away, walking towards Lady Eir once the head healer stepped back and stood observing the others rather than participating any further. They spoke quietly for a moment before Frigga moved to sit at the head of the bed, out of the way. Their eyes met when she glanced up at him and Loki felt his heart skip a beat at the mixture of worry and despair he saw there. Whether any of it was for him or not he did not know, but either way he did not think he could deal with his mother's emotional turmoil on top of his own.
Loki had only just turned around when there was a shout from outside the chamber and all the Einherjar lining the hallway lifted their right fists to their hearts in unison and fell to one knee, heads bowed. He could only watch, eyes wide, as the head of the High Council and his father's advisor slowly walked into the chamber, Gungnir held tight in both hands.
The realization of what was happening (and just why the Einherjar had been addressing him as 'sire') hit Loki as Lord Ragnvaldr fell to one knee before him. Swallowing thickly, he could only stare silently at the balding man as he held Gungnir and looked up at him expectantly. The suddenness of it all had him furrowing his brow before half turning to look at his mother, hardly believing this was actually happening.
"Thor is banished," Frigga stated, a look of pride in her eyes which Loki could hardly understand given her words. "The line of succession falls to you. Until Óðinn awakens, Ásgarðr is yours."
Shock, disbelief and horror swept through Loki like wildfire as 'twas confirmed. Him king? A regent king to be certain, but him? Loki felt as frozen for a moment as his true physiology made him, before understanding suddenly flooded through him. This is what had happened the last time around which had caused everything to go as terribly awry as his future self had indicated it had. To be so suddenly thrust out of the shadows and into the sun in a position he had never wanted or been truly prepared for, immediately on the heels of having not only his brother banished, but his very self-identity shattered? 'Twas a recipe for disaster, surely that should have been obvious to anyone. How could they have let this happen?
How could his mother have?
Loki felt a flash of rage towards her, stronger even than what he had felt for Óðinn down in the vault. And ha! He could see now why his future self had no longer seen the All-Father as their father! But it quickly drained as he caught the look of worry and vulnerability in Frigga's eyes as she glanced briefly back at Óðinn, before looking upon him once more. Though not quite as wounded as him, she too had experienced some nasty shocks today and was not at her best.
It did nothing to quell the sense of panic and fear still shooting through him as Loki turned back to face Lord Ragnvaldr, who merely moved to offer Gungnir up to him. Absently he was aware of all of the eyes on him (the healers', the guards', his mother's, the servants'), which did not help when all he wanted to do was to run and hide. With an effort, Loki steeled himself, forcing his expression to calm and his hands to steady as he slowly reached out and placed them under Gungnir, carefully taking its weight as Lord Ragnvaldr released it.
The man rose, backed off a few steps, before falling to his knee once more with his right fist over his heart as the Einherjar outside had done. This seemed to be a cue as suddenly all of those remaining standing in the chamber knelt as well.
Loki's eyes darted around, wide, wild and almost frantic as emotions far too numerous and overwhelming to name coursed through him. 'Twas all he could do to remain where he was and take a firmer grip on Gungnir, using it to anchor himself. His future self's warnings and words kept echoing at the back of his mind as well, urging caution and control.
Therefore, even as Loki wanted to laugh hysterically at the thought Lord Ragnvaldr and Queen Frigga had just put a frost giant on Hliðskjálf (and with Óðinn's blessing too given that he had set up the line of succession!), Loki forced it down and focused instead on not showing any of the hysteria or madness he felt with his mental shields and sense of self well and truly shattered beyond all repair. Instead he fell back on the instincts born of centuries worth of adhering to royal tradition and utilizing his position as a prince of Ásgarðr to garner respect where otherwise he would have had none. It might not have worked with Thor's friends, not after his brother had torn his respectability with them to shreds, but it generally did with everyone else.
Automatically, his spine straightened and his chin rose even as Loki took Gungnir more firmly in his right hand, bringing it upright and letting it hit the floor with just enough force for the sound to ring out through the chamber, causing Huginn and Muninn to start cawing for a moment before they settled down once more.
"Rise," Loki said clearly into the ensuing silence.
Though a part of him had always wondered what it would be like to be so effortlessly listened to and obeyed, Loki had never wanted Hliðskjálf for himself despite what others thought. Even now, he could already feel the anticipated claustrophobia creeping in merely at the knowledge of how drastically curtailed his own movements had just become. A king could not come and go as readily, or as easily, as a prince could. Nor could a king stand back in the shadows, subtly manipulating people and situations just so, in order to achieve the desired outcome.
Nay, Loki had never wanted Hliðskjálf himself; he had only ever wanted to be seen as his brother's equal, both by Thor and everyone else.