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Ásgarðrian Galdr

Chapter Text

"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."

"Tell me."

"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?

"Stop."

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.

"Loki."

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.

A monster.

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.

Nay!

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.

"Sire?"

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.

Sire.

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.

"Loki?"

"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.

A monster.

"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.

"Oh, Loki."

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.

Chapter Text

The moment the doors to his chambers closed behind the last of the Einherjar, Loki all but collapsed against them. When the guards had requested to check his chambers before allowing him in, it had been all he could do not to snap at them, but Loki had allowed it, reminding himself he had to act normal.

To act sane.

'Twas a good indication of how bad things were that Loki felt like doing so was all but impossible. He definitely no longer felt sane. It... the truth about his parentage... his heritage... 'twas all too much to wrap his head around.

Him... Laufey's son.

Him... from Jötunheimr.

Him...

Him...

Him... a

Loki closed his eyes as he slid down the doors to the floor as he sent out an uncontrolled burst of seiðr, knocking the furniture in his antechamber about.

Nay, it simply could not be!

He was æsir, Ásgarðrian. A prince of Ásgarðr to be exact. Or, well, a king now, apparently.

The thought sent a rush of hysteria through him and, before Loki knew it, he was laughing aloud, well able to hear the edge of insanity to it himself. Yet, despite that, he could not bring himself to stop, not after everything, every curse, every urge and every shout he had already bitten back and swallowed today. He could only be thankful he had long since spelled his chambers to prevent any noise from escaping so the Einherjar now posted outside it would not overhear his breakdown.

Why was he feeling so out of control? Loki hardly even recognized himself right now. 'Twas as if he had been replaced by someone other tha...

Loki sat up in shock and horror as a new thought occurred to him. A seiðmadr's magical core was inexorably linked to their sense of self as the seiðr literally was a part of him. It could be increased or decreased through various means, but 'twas as much a part of him as his heart or mind was. For him, using it had also always been instinctive, so much so 'twas easy to forget that for many their true power did not come until they had formed a far more comprehensive sense of self than that which a mere child was capable of.

Thus he had forgotten about it. About that vital connection between his physical and magical self.

With no little trepidation, Loki reached deep down within himself, towards his magical core, before recoiling in horror at what he found. The connection was frayed and even looked almost flayed; wounded, raw and festering. For the first time ever, he could also see his core clearly. Whereas before it had always been an iridescent mix of colors, swirling from one to the next, now it had differentiated into two distinct sets of colors. There was the emerald green-gold Loki was intimately familiar with from whenever he worked his seiðr, but there was also an icy blue-teal green which he did not recognize. Yet there it was, hopelessly intertwined within his very core, less visible from here, but already he could tell that it seemed to lie deeper than the other, being covered by it, but making up the true heart of who and... and what he was.

The very thought utterly repulsed Loki on a deep, almost instinctive level and he could only watch in horror as his magical connection frayed and festered even more before his very eyes. It sparked violently, traces of raw, wild seiðr skittered along the connection, indicating his loss of control of it. He clamped down on the thoughts immediately, but the damage had already been done and he had no idea how to counteract it or how to even begin to heal himself. Normally he would go to his mother with something like this, as she was far more gifted in the healing arts than him. Now, however, not only was she currently busy with Óðinn, but after how she had lied to him for so many years - having to know that it could cause this when the truth came out - Loki found he did not think he could trust her enough to help him with it at present.

A core injury.

It... Loki swallowed as he realized the seriousness of the situation and that, without his parents, he was left with no one else to turn to. At least not while he was king and had to appear strong and in control to not only all of Ásgarðr, but the rest of the Nine as well. They were already on the brink of all-out war with one Realm, the last thing Loki needed was for anyone else to think he was weak enough to open the possibility of another Realm deciding to take a chance to attack with Óðinn indisposed and him on Hliðskjálf. There would already be enough people who saw this as an opportunity as 'twas.

This was also not something anyone else on Ásgarðr had the training to deal with. Not with the æsir disdain for seiðr. Nay, it would take a healer from Álfheimr, but there was no way to summon one without word of his need leaking out.

The way his thoughts careened widely from one thought to the next, his emotions swirling wildly within him, finally pushed Loki too far. This was not him! He did not act like this, so... so emotionally loose and irrational. He was Prince Loki (okay king now, but still) of Ásgarðr, renown Silvertongue and Wordsmith, the Trickster who was legendary for his cunning and deviousness. Negotiators who had been sent to deal with Ásgarðr had been known to swear and lose their cool when informed Óðinn had decided to allocate him instead of another diplomat.

He was better than this. He could do better than this!

With an effort, Loki pulled himself together once more, pushing aside all thoughts of what he had learned about himself and his current situation in favor of pulling on one of the many masks he had perfected over the centuries. Doing so he could already feel some of his inner panic settling, the familiar actions soothing in and of themselves. Now able to think more clearly, Loki realized there was one person whom he could consult on his deteriorating grasp on his seiðr. Namely his future self.

Loki frowned at the thought. He truly needed a better way to refer to his temporal twin than the roundabout descriptors he had devised for him, yet calling him Loki simply felt odd. In a strange way the simple problem was soothing and allowed more of his habitual calm to return to him, as it reminded him that not only was there someone there for him, but 'twas someone with some knowledge of how things would play out. That alone made him feel far more in control of the whole situation.

Now, what to call his ally? Some random name simply would not do, so what did that leave? Most of the things which came to mind were attributes he had been assigned over the centuries by others. Wordsmith, Lie-smith, Prince of Shadows, Wizard, Second Prince, Trickster, Dark Prince... None of those were truly any different from what he had originally been calling his future self. So what else...

Loki smiled as it suddenly came to him. It might not be entirely appreciated, especially as he was the younger of the two, but 'twas a name and one which would not sound odd being spoken to what was essentially himself.

Now much calmer, Loki pushed himself to his feet and glanced about at the disarray his earlier outburst had caused in the antechamber. He did not truly want to expend the energy and seiðr to reorganize the mess, but he knew better than anyone how important appearances were and, in his current precarious position, he could ill afford to allow any indication of weakness or lack of control to show.

As soon as he had cleaned the mess, he moved to his bedchamber. Almost immediately his reflection in the mirror wavered and shifted so Loki threw out an obscuring spell to keep Heimdallr from seeing too much, though he dared not hide himself entirely as a king vanishing from sight would be noticed far more quickly than a less favored second prince. Plus the last thing he wanted was to draw any undue attention to all of this. He had no desire to go from king to executee after all.

"Loki," his future self said as soon as the connection fully stabilized.

"Loptr," Loki replied with a twitch of his lips.

'Twas fascinating to be able to watch his own reaction to it. The way Loptr's eyes narrowed fractionally and his lips thinned. Altogether he rather liked the way that it looked, which pleased him greatly.

"You are the younger one and so should more aptly bear a childhood kenning," Loptr stated.

"Hmm, but you have already called me Loki," Loki countered. "You are looking better."

'Twas true. Gone were Loptr's torn, bloodied and dirtied clothes and in their stead Loptr now wore a simpler pair of leather trousers and a green linen tunic. His hair was freshly washed and hung far more neatly, though with a slight curl to it. Loki's breath caught as he finally realized that Loptr holding Gungnir in his right hand was actually rather significant as he was not a simple reflection.

"I feel better too," Loptr said, lips twitching slightly. "Not the least because of what I have just discovered."

"Oh?" Loki queried.

Rather than reply verbally, Loptr reached out to him with his seiðr. Loki reached back, his eyes going wide in shock and disbelief at what he felt. It seemed like Loptr's seiðr, which had already been greater than his own, had more than decupled since they last spoke.

"What..." Loki began, exploring it further, almost recognizing it in parts. "How is this possible?"

"'Tis Ásgarðr," Loptr replied.

"Ásgarðr?"

"Hmm, it makes sense now I think of it, but Óðinn never spoke of it and all references to it are in the books held in the king's personal library," Loptr expanded. "I never did get a chance to explore that the first time around, but it contains many useful tomes on seiðr, including the one which taught me how to reach out to you thus."

The king's library, Loki had not even thought of that despite the countless times that he had petitioned Father to be able to access it. He had always been denied.

"What is it about Ásgarðr?" Loki questioned.

"As one of the four more magical Realms, she apparently has her own magical core," Loptr explained.

Ásgarðr, a magical core?

'Twas a truly intriguing thought and one which was not as surprising as it probably should have been to Loki. More than once he had felt something odd when performing particularly powerful seiðr whilst on Ásgarðr. Something ancient and incredibly powerful, but yet strangely benign in its own way. 'Twas the only reason why he had never panicked when he had felt it as, rather than feeling threatening, it had always felt far more like 'twas... positively disposed towards him. Which had been disconcerting enough on its own, but Loki had only ever felt it when he had been unable to explore it any further, far too focused on more immediate issues. Generally such as saving either his own life or that of his idiot brother.

Loki felt his lips curl into a delighted smile. "A core which is accessible to the king," he guessed.

"Hmm."

"How?"

"You need only find the time to meditate with Gungnir and reach out, down into Ásgarðr herself," Loptr replied. "If I had ever had the time to do so when in your position, I would have discovered it."

Loki did not need to be told why Loptr had not had the time to do so. Even with the knowledge of the disaster which had transpired the first time this timeline had come to pass, he did not think he would have found the time to properly meditate.

"'Tis what gives Óðinn the power to mortalize and banish Thor as he did, as well as to know and see so much of what happened on Ásgarðr," Loptr continued. "'Tis the true source of the Óðinnforce. With it, you will be able to achieve all of the same feats."

The mere thought of that was enough to send Loki's pulse soaring. Seiðr had always been his first true passion, so the ability to not only gain so much more of it, but to also be able to do the things that he had only been able to watch Óðinn perform in awe... 'Twas indescribable, even if the mere thought of all which had been kept from him should have been enough to infuriate him.

What had Father been thinking to believe that Thor would be better suited to something like this than him?

Loki bit down on the reaction that wanted to scream out of him at the answer.

"Steady," Loptr cautioned. "Your core-"

"I know!" Loki snapped, eyes flashing.

Loptr's eyes narrowed sharply in response but, luckily, his future self did not reply. With an effort, Loki managed to struggle his raging emotions back into some semblance of control, though 'twas increasingly more difficult as the betrayals kept piling up.

Desperate for a distraction, Loki reached for the oddity he had noticed before. "Earlier you said you had not discovered Ásgarðr's core the first time, implying there has been a second. You now also hold Gungnir again, so how have you become king once more?"

"Through circumstances which will no longer apply once we have effected the necessary changes in your timeline."

Loki frowned. "Has something happened to Thor?"

The mere thought provoked far more worry and concern within Loki than he would have expected it to. For all that the oaf bothered and dismissed him at times, he still found himself loving his brother for when things were okay between them. More stupid, illogical emotions.

"Nay, Thor is fine," Loptr reassured. "It... No one knows I am king once more."

"What?"

With a sigh Loptr closed his eyes before his form wavered and Loki was left looking at what seemed, to all intents and purposes, to be Óðinn All-Father himself. He gaped at the illusion and only just managed to snap his mouth shut when Loptr dropped it and became himself once more.

"You are impersonating Óðinn?" Loki demanded needlessly. "How? Why?"

"I caught him off-guard," Loptr shrugged. "As for the why, it can be explained later, first we need to focus on other things."

"What other things?"

"Treachery. Treason."

The words froze Loki to his core. He knew that the beginning of a monarch's reign was always when they were most vulnerable. He had been specially trained to help his brother spot and prevent exactly that in the days, weeks and months after Thor ascended to Hliðskjálf. They had also hoped to make it far less likely by doing so while Óðinn was still alive.

But here Loki was now. Newly ascended himself, Ásgarðr on the brink of war and utterly alone. His brother banished to Miðgarðr, his father in the Óðinnsleep and his mother severely distracted and distraught over his father's unexpected collapse. Instead of being surrounded by family as they had planned, Ásgarðr's new king was isolated and alone, perfect for any who would dare to try and betray either him or the Realm, never mind that his reign was only ever meant to be a regency.

Combined with the recent discovery of his... that those who had raised him had been lying to him his whole life, and Loki had never felt so alone before. Not even when faced with what had felt like the disapproval and censure of all whom he had encountered each and every time he had done something which made him stand out from a normal æsir.

"Whose?" Loki hissed, his rage building within him.

For now, while alone with Loptr, he could allow it - to do so before he would have to carefully fold it away to do what needed to be done calmly and methodically. Like a good king.

"Sif and the Warriors Three," Loptr replied.

Loki bit back his initial response, hardly surprised. They had never liked him, and Thor had always allowed them far too much leniency and disrespect towards him. Who could expect them to see him as their king now, after all of that?

"Heimdallr."

"Heimdallr?" Loki exclaimed, caught off-guard.

"'Tis not as if 'tis the first time he has performed a questionable act. He did allow passage to Jötunheimr despite knowing no good could come of it and that travel there was forbidden," Loptr pointed out. "His pride has been wounded by the attack during the coronation. Once he discovers you can hide from his sight or obscure your actions..."

Loki did not need Loptr to finish his sentence, he could picture it well enough on his own. Nor could he entirely prevent Heimdallr from discovering his talents, not unless he wanted to risk discovery of what he and Loptr were up to. Besides, removing Heimdallr would make his life easier. Still, if he moved against the gatekeeper, he would need a very good reason to do so or Óðinn would question his motives when his father woke.

"And reminding Heimdallr of his sworn duty?"

"Will make him follow the letter of the law-"

"But not the spirit of it," Loki concluded.

"Nay. You will need to act decisively once he allows Sif and the Warriors Idiot to go to Miðgarðr."

Loki frowned. "Why not prevent them from doing so, now I know they will?"

"Because 'tis proof of their treason," Loptr replied, a wicked smile crossing his face. "And dereliction of duty in a time of war."

The idea took a moment to settle, Loki being far too focused at first on it requiring Thor's friends to successfully disobey him so publicly, but then it did and he saw the beauty of it. Up until now, he had hardly ever been able to call any of them out on their deliberate disrespect towards him or any of their other actions as Thor had always stood by them. But now his brother was gone and he was king. He was the ultimate authority on Ásgarðr until his fa- Óðinn awoke once more. If he had to put up with all of the drudgery and protocol which came with the position, then he was damn well going to enjoy the perks which came with it too.

And arresting Lady Sif and the Warriors Three for treason? That was one perk which was worth a lot of unpleasantness.

"When do they go?" Loki demanded.

"After you deny their request to end Thor's banishment."

"They actually demand that of me?"

"Hmm," Loptr confirmed. "They came thinking to speak with Óðinn, then requested to see Mother when I told them what happened, disregarding the fact I sat on Hliðskjálf with Gungnir."

"Of course," Loki snorted.

Unfortunately he had no trouble imagining the four warriors asking him to undo his father's last command as his first. How could they have spent so much time so close to Hliðskjálf and yet have learned so little? On second thought, Loki knew exactly how. Any sort of logical and strategic thinking had never exactly been his brother's forte, so 'twas no surprise Thor's friends possessed none of it either. They would simply have continued to encourage Thor's bad behavior had his brother ascended to Hliðskjálf.

'Twas not like he had ever been able to direct Thor away from any action they encouraged or initiated, no matter how foolish.

A dark part of Loki almost wished he had not interfered with the coronation and simply allowed it to go through as planned. There would have been a certain amount of satisfaction in watching his brother fail as spectacularly as he was certain Thor would have. A pity he had not been able to allow himself to subject either Ásgarðr or the Nine to that. If he had ever had any true designs on Hliðskjálf, he just might have as it would have been a guaranteed way to make Thor seen as unworthy in everyone's eyes.

"So, speak with Sif and the others when they come to see me, allow them to go to Miðgarðr and then arrest Heimdallr," Loki concluded.

"Hmm," Loptr agreed. "And do not give into the temptation to go visit Thor. Use your new powers to view him from afar if you must, but do not go speak with him. It serves no purpose but to soothe your wounded pride and will actually harm you in the long run."

The implication he would act solely to appease his pride stung, but Loki forced himself to consider Loptr's words. He knew he had acted foolishly in the past for similar reasons so, while he might have thought he had eradicated that particular character flaw, he had to confront the fact that, mayhap, he had not. Loptr would be the one to know as Loki had only ever been able to see what had been driving him in those circumstances after the fact.

"How will it harm me?" Loki questioned.

"You will lie to him and it will come out when the Warriors Idiot find Thor," Loptr explained. "If you do not contact Thor, then all he will have is their word."

"Hardly a good thing."

"True, but if you have removed Heimdallr from his post, then they cannot move against you. Therefore you should not act any further against them either."

Loki's eyes narrowed as he considered Loptr's words. Act against them? How would he?

"The Destroyer," Loki realized with a rush. "You sent it to Miðgarðr?"

He could hardly believe the words even as he spoke them. 'Twas such a rash move that Loki wished he could deny it would ever even occur to him, but, given the way he had already acted and reacted earlier today, he found he could not. If he had not been expecting a betrayal from his so-called friends and then it happened on top of everything else he had already experienced... well he could see how he might react rashly and without thinking.

"Hmm," Loptr confirmed. "And 'tis in battling it that Thor fulfills the requirements Óðinn set out for him to regain his immortality and powers."

"Allowing Thor to return."

While Loki had no intention or desire to remain on Hliðskjálf for any length of time, he had already realized the possibilities his being on it now had opened up to him. At some point Óðinn had deemed Thor more worthy of it than him and, while he now strongly suspected that had more to do with their respective species than anything else, it still grated. Especially given how woefully unprepared for Hliðskjálf his brother was. Therefore he wished to use the opportunity to prove to Óðinn, Thor and everyone who had ever doubted him, exactly how capable of it he truly was.

Which required him to maintain the regency long enough to actually do something of note.

Loki knew Ásgarðr's rules and protocols well enough to know that, once a regency was granted, it could not be easily revoked. Thus Thor returning fully restored did not mean he would become king in Loki's stead, but Loki was far too well aware of public sentiment regarding the two of them to think there would not be a strong desire to have Thor do precisely that. So, if not interfering with his brother's sentence was what it took to maintain Hliðskjálf long enough to achieve that which he wished, then 'twas a small price to pay. He would be able to gloat to Thor even more later as a result.

"Very well," Loki finally said. "I will leave Thor alone, allow his friends to go rile him up and arrest Heimdallr after they have gone."

"Good. Now, we need to talk about Jötunheimr."

"Oh, I already have an idea about that," Loki replied darkly.

He knew exactly how to take care of the monsters and their Realm.

"Nay," Loptr retorted, voice sharp and full of far more command than Loki thought he could ever have managed before. "You will not use the Bifröst."

Part of Loki wanted to demand how Loptr knew about it, but luckily he caught himself in time. Of course his future self would know what he had planned. Clearly his thinking was still far from as clear as he would like it to be.

"Why not?" Loki demanded, petulantly.

"Because 'tis precisely what Thor would do," Loptr snapped. "Think, Loki, think!"

The words were like a slap to the face and he struggled not to snarl back at Loptr. If it had been anyone else, his supposed family included, he would have, but Loptr was an exception. A singular, temporary, exception.

With an extreme struggle, Loki forced himself to close his eyes and take a few deep breaths. His grip on Gungnir tightened involuntarily but that was okay for now, as there was only Loptr around to witness it. That his emotions were clouding his rational mind had already been proven time and again today. What was one more instance? Truthfully 'twas not so much that which was bothering him, as the comparison to his brother. Thor was an idiotic oaf who could not recognize common sense if it walked up to him and slapped him on the forehead.

"Loki," Loptr said gently, drawing his attention back to him.

"Aye?" Loki asked, voice far more vulnerable than he felt comfortable with, even with his future self.

"Think. What were you advising Thor to do while on Jötunheimr?"

The reminder made Loki grit his teeth, suddenly seeing where this was going. "To walk away."

"Why?"

"Because 'twas a stupid and thoughtless way to start a war."

"And?"

"'Twas warmongering at its finest by an idiot who does not understand what he was seeking."

"Exactly."

Loptr did not need to say anymore, Loki already knew what came next. Not wanting to, he hesitated a moment before forcing himself to continue.

"You wish for me to go back to what I advocated before."

"'Tis what you would do if not so clouded by emotions and blinded by the horror of what you have just learned."

Loki bit back a sigh but forced himself to consider Loptr's words. He had been against starting any kind of conflict with Jötunheimr before he had learned the truth of his heritage. Besides, had not his whole concern with Thor becoming king been about his fears that Thor would thoughtlessly start wars with the other Realms and devolve the Nine into needless conflict? It grated like nothing else to think he had been on the verge of doing the same, and all because of his emotional reaction to discovering he was not an áss.

Nay, Loptr was right. If he were in his right mind, he would never have considered utterly destroying Jötunheimr. Loki was not stupid enough to pretend, even to himself, he had ever had any love for the frost giants, but 'twas about keeping the Nine, and thus the Yggdrasill, in balance.

"You are right," Loki admitted reluctantly, but grateful Loptr was here to keep him from repeating his temporal twin's mistakes.

"Good. Trust me, you cannot even imagine how badly you would come to regret that decision. Even above and beyond having acted more like Thor than yourself."

The fear from earlier was back, but Loki pushed it aside, knowing he had to know. If for nothing else than to firm his resolve and stick to his new course of action.

"What happened?" Loki questioned.

Loptr looked uncomfortable for a moment and Loki could well understand why. From what he had already heard, he knew things had gone badly, very, very badly, and all because of a poor decision he himself had made. Well, to a certain extent anyway.

"I thought as you, to use the Bifröst against Jötunheimr, so I arranged a situation with Laufey for him to come to Ásgarðr to try to kill Óðinn," Loptr began, tonelessly. "It succeeded, but fully turned Heimdallr against me as he had realized he could not fully see me when I was on Jötunheimr, speaking with Laufey."

The way Loptr said the frost giant's name was odd. Loki could detect disgust and anger there, but there was also something else. Something...

"You have come to feel something for him," Loki realized, shocked.

Loptr closed his eyes. "I may have begun to wonder if Óðinn spoke the truth, when he told us how we came to be with him."

Loki sucked in a breath at those words. His first reaction was to reject them outright, but truly, he already thought Óðinn had been lying to him when they spoke in the vault. So why not about something else as well?

"What are you thinking?" Loki asked.

"He said we were found in a temple. How many people abandon children in a sacred place of worship?"

It... was a valid point. Well, unless runts were somehow tied up in whatever religion the frost giants believed in.

"You want me to ask Laufey?" Loki demanded in shock.

"Nay, but I do not want you to kill him without knowing the full truth either," Loptr countered. "Besides, it moves you from the blameless category in this whole mess, into one of the aggressors. And that makes what you need to do in the future much harder."

"Future?" Loki echoed with dismay.

There was more?

"Hmm. 'Tis why I have taken on Óðinn's appearance rather than simply using my supposed death to vanish," Loptr explained. "But let me explain things chronologically. After I arranged for Laufey to try to assassinate Óðinn, Heimdallr decided 'twas his duty to try and kill me."

"Kill you?" Loki demanded in shock.

Heimdallr? He knew the man had never liked him, but this was worse than Loki had ever imagined. Not to mention that it would be regicide given his current status as regent king, one of the most abhorrent crimes one could commit on Ásgarðr. Thus to think the gatekeeper of the Bifröst would attempt it, was nearly unthinkable.

"Hmm, he did not succeed, obviously, but it means the possibility is there he will attempt to do so with you, so beware," Loptr responded. "As for Laufey's own regicide attempt, I used the opportunity to kill him and then used the attack as an excuse to destroy Jötunheimr. By sending the Destroyer against Thor, though, I had provided him with the perfect opportunity to prove his worth, so he returned precisely in time to stop me. However I had already locked the Bifröst onto Jötunheimr, so the only way for him to stop it was to destroy the Bifröst."

"Destroy the Bifröst?" Loki repeated in disbelief. "Why by the Norns would he do that? It would isolate Ásgarðr from the rest of the Nine!"

"He claims to have changed and did not want to see a whole species destroyed."

"Thor did not want to slaughter every single frost giant?"

"Hmm."

The mere thought sent Loki reeling. That was almost unbelievable. 'Twas a complete change from the oaf's earlier attitude when charging carelessly into Jötunheimr and so shortly after it too; within days of the frost giants' attempt on the Casket of Ancient Winters. Could Thor possibly change that much after so long? The possibility left a bad taste in Loki's mouth. How long had he been attempting to teach his brother this exact lesson and, after all of that, it took a mistake on his part for it to actually sink in?

Loki's hand clenched on Gungnir once more. As if he needed any further proof Thor did not listen to him, this was definitely it.

Chapter Text

"Would destroying the Bifröst not cause a magical backlash?" Loki inquired, forcing himself to focus on the issue at hand.

"Oh, aye," Loptr confirmed. "It threw us both into the air and over the edge of the broken Bifröst. Óðinn arrived just in time to grab hold of Thor's foot. He managed to grab Gungnir and I caught the other end of Gungnir. I... spoke briefly with Óðinn, trying to explain why I had done what I had, but he rejected it so I... I let go."

Horror was the immediate reaction and Loki found that words utterly failed him.

Suicide.

Suicide was what Loptr was admitting to, though not in quite so many words. There was nothing which Loki could say. That the mere idea of it shocked and horrified him was comforting as it proved he was nowhere near that point himself, but neither was he quite as far away from it as he would like either. Without Loptr, and with the right emotional hits, Loki could see himself arriving there, which was exactly where Loptr had been.

"Was the Bifröst wormhole still open?" Loki finally asked.

"Hmm."

"I did not know anyone could survive the Void."

"Most would not," Loptr stated simply, voice expressionless. "Without my seiðr, I would not have. It... there is no way to describe it."

Neither did Loki want him to, simply the thought of it enough to chill him. Knowing he could survive it was enough knowledge for him at present. If he required any encouragement over the next few days to stick to his new course of action, this would definitely be it. Now he knew exactly why he had detected a few traces of madness and mental instability within Loptr's mind. He would put up with a lot, including Óðinn All-Father, to avoid that splintering of the mind from happening to him.

"How did you get out of it?" Loki asked.

"I was pulled out."

The sudden emotion in Loptr's voice after the careful neutrality from before filled Loki with dread, as it had all been negative. Anger, pain, fear he was able to recognize easily enough, but the rest were a hopeless jumble of what he strongly suspected was agony, terror and despair.

Loptr suddenly looked past Loki's shoulder before continuing. "The one who pulled me from the Void was Thanos, the Mad Titan. Óðinn's old foe."

Ice crept through Loki. He knew the old stories, both those embellished and told in the feasting halls as well as the more clinical accounts kept in the library. None were good and he knew well what a danger to the Yggdrasill Thanos was.

"Did he know of your relationship with Óðinn?" Loki inquired softly.

"Oh, aye. As well as my own talents and skills, which was why he was particularly delighted to capture me," Loptr continued. "He has plans for Ásgarðr, the Nine and the Yggdrasill. Plans which involve gathering the Infinity Stones and utilizing them. And he knows that one of them, the Tesseract, is currently located on Miðgarðr as the humans have commenced experimenting with it."

"Fools," Loki muttered, knowing where this was going, and 'twas all he could do not to pity Loptr. "He wanted you to use your familiarity with the Tesseract to sky walk to it from wherever he was."

"Precisely, followed by arranging for it to be used to open a portal through which his chitauri army could travel to invade Miðgarðr, and conquer it. He pretended he would give me Miðgarðr afterwards."

"Of course. His goal was Ásgarðr, aye?"

"Eventually. That and all of the Nine, as well as the Yggdrasill. He asked me many questions about the World Tree. I am not entirely certain what his intentions are, but I doubt they are anything either of us wish to see become reality."

"Did you tell Óðinn what had happened when the invasion failed and Thor captured you?" Loki questioned.

The twitching of Loptr's lips told Loki his future self enjoyed not having to explain the plan he had devised to get away from the Titan. The amusement was short-lived, however, and Loki could well understand why. He did not need Loptr to tell him what Thanos had done to get him to the point where he would consider such a desperate plan to begin with. To say there had been torture involved would be an understatement, he was certain. Thanos was renown for his cruelty and sadism, so when presented with a supposed son of his old nemesis who had bested him and who was now resisting him... Thanos had probably thought he had found Valhöll.

"Nay, what would be the point?" Loptr sneered.

Loki could understand that point too. He had been accused of lying oft enough when telling the truth to see how it would happen here as well. Especially when Óðinn and all the others were so confident of their victory over Thanos. Pretty much every single account he had read of the time had ended by saying Thanos had been either fully defeated, or beaten down sufficiently so as to never recover. If he mentioned the Mad Titan's name in court, it would only be seen as him grasping at straws to save himself.

'Twas not like most of Ásgarðr did not already think he secretly desired Hliðskjálf for himself as 'twas. So why would they not think he would consider ruling another Realm as an alternative?

"Very well, so first Jötunheimr and then Thanos," Loki stated, not quite certain if he liked having something to focus his attention on or not.

If handled correctly, he could use both situations and manipulate them to his advantage.

"And the myrkálfar," Loptr added.

"The myrkálfar? Were they not all destroyed?"

"Apparently not."

The desire to laugh rose within Loki but he resisted, knowing it would not sound entirely sane. Were Ásgarðr's chronologists correct about anything? Or was it simply that Óðinn's line, both up and down, were pathologically incapable of telling the truth? And they called him the God of Lies and Lie-Smith!

"Do we care?" Loki asked, hoping to avoid adding yet another issue for him to deal with.

"They kill Mother."

The words froze Loki in place, with only his eyes able to move, snapping up to Loptr's face. "What?"

"They kill Frigga when they attack Ásgarðr while chasing the Aether, which infected a mortal Thor falls in love with and whom he subsequently brought here to have Lady Eir examine her."

Normally the fact his idiot brother actually fell in love with a mortal would immediately capture Loki's attention and ridicule, but now it hardly even registered. Instead his entire attention was focused on the fact Loptr knew when Mother was meant to die and how he could keep it from happening.

"When and how?"

"About two years and six months from your time now," Loptr replied. "'Twas a mixed frontal attack and infiltration. Their ships have a stealth mode which conceals them from sight, even from us, allowing them to approach Ásgarðr without being detected. Heimdallr only noticed the first one at the very last moment and he managed to bring it down, but 'twas not alone."

"And the ones inside?"

"Simply the one, I believe. He came in as a prisoner captured when Thor, Sif and the Warriors Three put down the unrest which arose among the Nine when the Bifröst was destroyed," Loptr told him. "I did not see all of it as I was confined to my own cell, but it seems the myrkálfr came in disguised as a regular ruffian and then activated whatever device makes them a Kursed soldier."

"Those accounts are real?"

"Hmm, everything they say and more. When Óðinn refused to allow Thor go after them to save his mortal and avenge Mother, he came to me for help traveling to Svartálfaheimr. In exchange he would give me a chance at revenge, ere being locked up once more. During the fight, Thor faced off against the Kursed and learned the truth about them the hard way. The idiot was helpless before him, being beaten into the ground when I interfered."

Ah, Loki could guess what had happened there. "Let me guess, you used the opportunity to fake your own death to avoid being taken back?"

"Hmm. I ran it through with one of their weapons, knowing it would turn and pull me onto the sword as well," Loptr explained. "But that allowed my double close enough to activate one of their blackhole grenades."

"An effective way to kill an undefeatable soldier," Loki praised.

"I thought so."

Ah, so that was how that particular smirk of his looked to others. Loki was rather pleased with the effect, though not quite as much as his unimpressed or darker glares, but 'twas still more than acceptable.

"Your thoughts?" Loki inquired, knowing Loptr would at least have a plan on how to prevent their mother's death.

"Never allow the Aether to come to Ásgarðr to begin with. Either intercept it before Thor brings Dr. Foster here, or prevent her from finding it in the first place, though that would be far more difficult."

"You do not know where she found it?"

"Nay, simply that 'twas not on Miðgarðr. Apparently the connections between the Nine loosen and blur with the approach of the Convergence."

"So it could be anywhere."

"Hmm, unfortunately. And there is more, which I have only now discovered. It seems the Aether is the Reality Stone and thus will be sought by Thanos."

"Very well, I will do what I can, but ensure Mother's safety above all else."

The way Loptr's eyes skittered away when he looked at him told Loki there was probably more to the story of their mother's death, but clearly his temporal twin did not think it important to pass on to him. Though a part of him wished to know what it was, the rest of him was not certain how much more he could take. As 'twas, he already had more to take care of than he had probably ever had to do before. At least in terms of importance. And 'twas only an hour ago he had been overwhelmed by being crowned king of Ásgarðr!

"Oh, and Loki, one more thing," Loptr said.

"Hmm?"

"Thor does not care, at least not in the long run as I never saw his initial reaction."

Loki frowned. "Does not care about what?"

"Our heritage and what we are."

Loki almost flinched at the reminder, not even wanting to think of it. Yet, if what Loptr had said earlier was true, then it truly was in his best interests to come to terms with it. Between knowing and doing though... It grated that Loki now found himself in a situation where he was reacting more like his brother than ever before, especially now he knew he and Thor were not even actually related to each other. That alone would almost be enough to make him overcome it. Almost. Luckily he had the draw of new and alluring seiðr to help bridge the gap.

If he had to be a frost giant, then, by the Norns, was he going to obtain all of the benefits of being one!

But first, the matter at hand.

"Prince 'when I am king I am going to slay them all' does not care?" Loki questioned in disbelief.

"Not long-term, he still kept insisting we were brothers until recently," Loptr confirmed.

"Until recently?"

Loptr shrugged, but Loki could read the hurt which underlay the gesture in the other's eyes. "Apparently the attack on Miðgarðr, and my reaction upon my return here, were enough to change his mind. Well, at least until he thought I was dying with dignity in his arms anyway."

Loki nearly smirked at those words. He was glad to see that, no matter what had happened to Loptr, he could still recognize himself in his temporal twin. 'Twas reassuring. And allowing his double to die in Thor's arms after such a heroic feat as saving his brother at the expense of his own life? 'Twas exactly what he would have done in Loptr's place, even now.

As for Thor himself, well, Loki was not entirely certain what to think. Could his brother truly suddenly change so much in such a short period of time after centuries of not changing at all, despite all of Loki's best efforts to teach him? It hurt to even consider the possibility, as it implied Thor had never truly seen him as worthy of being listened to. That should not hurt as much as it did, as 'twas not like Loki had been under any illusions as to his importance to his brother for over half a millennium now.

"It might be a moot point," Loki said as a new thought occurred to him. "Now I know, Mother and Father may elect to inform Thor as well."

"True," Loptr agreed. "Simply give him a chance to set the tone, if you wish to control the situation."

Which was a nice way of telling him to keep his temper, though Loki appreciated the delicacy as he had taken far too many shocks and hits already in the past... he was not actually certain how much time had passed since he had stood in this very spot, preparing for the coronation.

"I must soon go," Loptr stated, glancing over his shoulder. "Óðinn is expected to deal with some dispute soon."

Loki could not help it, he laughed. "Any luck replicating his erratic decision-making process?"

"Nay, honestly I have hardly even tried. And, rather than appearing suspicious, the High Council seems pleased the All-Father has become somewhat more predictable."

"Interesting."

"Hmm, something to consider in your dealings with them."

"I think we will be rather more focused on Jötunheimr than any mere disputes, but I shall endeavor to keep it in mind."

"Good. Now, I do not know how soon any changes you effect will ripple through the timeline to reach me, but until such time, I will be here to help in any way I can," Loptr promised.

"I can contact you?" Loki questioned in surprise.

"Not entirely, but if you properly initiate the obsidian amulet we bought on Álfheimr, then I will be able to reach out and connect with it. Through it, I should be able to detect when you focus heavily on it."

Such a talisman would also give Loki a focus for any ill-considered emotions or actions which might tempt him to act irrationally while he worked on stabilizing his core, and thus his seiðr. Having that type of touchstone would also be a great aid when connecting with Ásgarðr herself, as it would provide him with another anchor for his fluctuating seiðr and sense of self.

"I will do it right away," Loki promised.

"Good luck, Loki," Loptr responded, before giving him a smile that was all teeth and impressively predatory, if Loki said so himself. "And show both Óðinn and all of Ásgarðr what we are truly capable of, when not spiraling out of control due to both personal and royal shocks."

"Norns willing, I shall be able to tell you all about it before the ripples catch up with you."

With a final nod at him, Loptr cut the connection, allowing the mirror to waver and ripple before showing Loki his own reflection once more. The transition made him frown a little as he regarded himself. Despite seeing Loptr with Gungnir for the entirety of their conversation, there was still something surprisingly unsettling about seeing himself as he was now, holding the King's Spear. 'Twas not the clothing, as he was used to seeing himself in a variety of different outfits from the very simple to the overly elaborate. So what was it?

"Ah," Loki uttered as realization dawned.

The hair.

Loptr had lengthened his hair somewhere along the line, which was quite apparent seeing as his future self had not been wearing his headpiece. Loki tilted his head in consideration as he tried to imagine himself with longer hair. Seeing as he had not visibly aged between now and the time Loptr came from, 'twas not hard to do, but he was not entirely certain how it would look with his headpiece. Probably not as good, but that was of lesser concern, given how infrequently he was likely to wear it as king.

So, should he lengthen his hair? Loki knew only all too well how much appearances could matter and, if he changed a key aspect of it like his hair length now, before he began appearing publicly as king, then it would forevermore associate those two things together in people's minds. Which meant that once he became a prince once more, and the second prince at that, his longer hair would still remind people of the position he had once held. Hopefully it would help him retain some of the respect which he deserved, but had hardly ever received.

It took only a simple gesture of his hand for his hair to grow to the desired length. The effort took more out of Loki than he wanted to admit, even to himself, so he took a moment to steel himself. With an effort, he cleared his mind of all negative thoughts regarding frost giants, his heritage and all that he had learned about himself recently. Instead he chose to focus on what Loptr had told him regarding the seiðr which his new status would allow him access to. 'Twas something which rather excited him, if he were honest with himself, as there was almost nothing he loved better than studying and acquiring new seiðr.

New seiðr like the ability to reach across space and time as Loptr had done to contact him.

Seiðr which was already changing the very fabric of what was.

Loki laughed at the thought of precisely what he and Loptr were achieving here. That which was expressly forbidden and deemed nigh on impossible by even the vast majority of seiðberandi. Fools, the lot of them. He knew he was starting to feel better when the thought was not immediately followed by the desire to make them all aware of how wrong they had been. Nay, instead he planned to guard this particular secret quite jealously. No one but Loptr and the Norns would ever know of it.

As it had ever been, so would it be again. He would do things for himself; not for Óðinn, not for Thor and definitely not for those who would choose to betray him at the earliest possible opportunity.

Nay, Loki would do what he had done for centuries now. He would keep quiet about his greatest magical achievements and utilize them to help manipulate people and situations from the shadows. Well, he would once he could get back to actually being in the shadows. Until then, he could take advantage of his current predicament to set things up as he needed them, so he could then focus on the other two items which would require his complete and utter attention.

Namely Thanos and the myrkálfar.

His earlier rage was back, only now redirected to two far less self-destructive targets. No one imprisoned and tortured him or even threatened his mother, let alone actually harmed or killed her. For both, Loki would ensure they paid and did so completely. By the time that he was done with them, neither Thanos nor the myrkálfar would ever be able to hurt him and his ever again.

A quick check of his core showed Loki that the deterioration he had witnessed earlier had thankfully stopped, and he closed his eyes in relief. While far from good, at least he was not getting any worse while he sought to heal himself. 'Twas a start and, right now, Loki was willing to take what he could obtain as he slowly worked himself back up to his full strength and capacity, at which time he could go back to demanding perfection from himself. Just now, though, he needed to admit to himself he was in no condition to provide that, and instead focus on survival.

So, he needed to prime the obsidian amulet for Loptr to access and meditate so he could commune with Ásgarðr. Loki had just started moving the drawers with the amulet when another thought occurred to him. With a quick check in the mirror to ensure he was presentable, he turned back to the entrance to his chambers. Opening the door, he turned his attention to Lieutenant-General Yngvarr standing outside.

"Send word to Lord Ragnvaldr, I need the High Council convened first thing in the morn to discuss the situation with Jötunheimr," Loki ordered.

"Aye, your Majesty," the lieutenant-general replied, a gesture of his hand sending one of the other Einherjar from the corridor with a small bow. "My Liege," the man continued when Loki turned to retreat back into his chamber. Instead of replying, he merely glanced at the man. "Do you require a meal?"

As if summoned by the words, Loki's stomach growled and he realized he had not eaten anything since he broke his fast after rising, now over fifteen hours earlier. "Hmm, have it brought to my dining chamber."

"Your Majesty."

Slightly unsettled with the attention paid even to his eating habits, Loki retreated all the way back into his bedchamber. Beyond access to the king's library and the ability to fix the timeline, he could not give Hliðskjálf back to his fa- Óðinn fast enough. He was not cut out for this type of constant scrutiny. The thought reminded him of Heimdallr, and Loki reluctantly removed the obscuring spell he had cast before speaking with Loptr. He immediately felt naked without it as he could feel Heimdallr's gaze swinging his way not long after, making him wonder if the gatekeeper had noticed his earlier spell work.

It hardly mattered as he already knew of the man's treasonous nature, but Loki knew the more events changed from how they had been with Loptr, the less predictable they would be. 'Twas the biggest drawback to altering the course of history; the outcome was never certain and the further one moved from the original change, the more things deviated from what had come the first time. So, to act as normally as possible, Loki used his seiðr to change into an outfit similar to Loptr's, only without footwear, before settling onto his favorite cushion, folding his legs beneath him. He brought Gungnir down before him, holding it with both hands as he examined it.

Despite having grown up with the King's Staff, this was the first time Loki was able to examine it this closely. Carefully, reverently, he ran his hands over it, exploring every inch of that which was both a weapon and a symbol of authority. There was not a single Ásgarðrian alive who did not immediately associate Gungnir with the kings of Ásgarðr. 'Twas rumored to be the seat of the Óðinnforce which his father wielded. A claim Loki now knew to be truer than he had ever believed, if not quite in the manner most meant.

Still feeling Heimdallr's heavy gaze upon him, Loki allowed his eyes to fall closed even as he began regulating his breathing, carefully sinking into the familiar meditative state he had practiced for most of his life. Though he normally hated to do so while being watched, he knew he was perfectly safe at present. Heimdallr would never dare make an overt move against him at present and, even if he would, the Einherjar guarded his door and his extensive wards covered both that and every other possible entrance to his chambers.

All thoughts of the Bifröst's treasonous keeper fled Loki's mind as he felt the first brush of foreign seiðr against his senses. 'Twas a coy, gentle touch, far more playful and joyful than anything else. His forehead scrunched up in confusion as he startled, the unexpected reaction catching him off-guard. Was that Ásgarðr? Surely she would be far more regal and reserved. Uncertain, Loki carefully reached out with his own seiðr, running it along Gungnir, detecting all of the spells, protections and wards tied into her ancient metal, making her hum with seiðr to the point of becoming her own presence to any seiðberandi powerful enough to sense her. 'Twas a familiar and comforting presence which soothed his nerves even before some of the protections seemed to react to his own fractured seiðr, and reached out in an attempt to heal him.

Not sensing any danger, Loki allowed it, utilizing the foreign seiðr to help replenish his own diminished stores. Then he followed Gungnir's presence down, down, down into Ásgarðr itself. At first he sensed nothing before, with a suddenness which caught him off-guard, the playful presence from earlier burst to life across his senses once more. If not for its sheer power and where he was probing, Loki would have thought that he had brushed the mind of a child, a budding seiðkona to be certain, but a child nonetheless.

His thought seemed to excite and amuse Ásgarðr, as Loki felt himself gathered up and embraced by happy playfulness which was nonetheless tinged with ancient, powerful seiðr.

Ancient, powerful, sentient seiðr.

Or at the very least semi-sentient seiðr, since Loki could not detect a mind such as it was, but Ásgarðr was definitely not inanimate like Gungnir or any other powerful magical object he had come across like Mjǫlnir or even the Casket of Ancient Winters. Even if the latter had almost felt like there should be something there.

Ásgarðr once more flooded his senses and 'twas all Loki could do to hold on. 'Twas the strangest feeling, the presence not fully sentient and yet clearly not inanimate either, full of delight, mischief and yet ancient beyond all belief. The latter alone told Loki he truly was communing with Ásgarðr's magical core itself, as he did not think any living being could become so old. 'Twas a humbling thought, to think that the Realm on which he had lived and spent most of his life, had slowly been taking on seiðr and sentience over the millennia of its existence until it became that which he sensed now.

The closer link with it also allowed Loki to confirm that, aye, this was the presence he had felt on several occasions during his life, aiding him in times of dire need, either to save himself or Thor. Or both. Knowing 'twas Ásgarðr itself explained why she had done so, even if it still left him completely in the dark as to why she felt so thrilled to feel him here with her.

Almost as in response to his thoughts, Ásgarðr coiled herself tighter around his presence, as if fearing he would draw back and leave her. Loki laughed, the softer emotions practically contagious even as the thought of turning away from this was ridiculous in and of itself. The power he felt within Ásgarðr's core was staggering, and he realized what he had felt from Loptr was only part of what was available to his future self through Loptr's connection with Ásgarðr.

Strangely, though, 'twas the thought of rejecting anything which was this eager to be with him that bothered Loki the most. Normally people reacted with suspicion, at the very least, when they encountered him; his reputation or such as it was perceived by others, preceding him. Thus to encounter someone, or something, that had to be as aware of him as she would be, happy, let alone excited, to see him was a novelty. Carefully he extended a tendril of seiðr with less shielding only for Ásgarðr to wrap herself around it fully. There was more amusement and excitement before images flashed in front of his mind's eye.

At first they went too quickly for Loki to decipher, but then they slowed and he saw countless instances of pranks and tricks he had pulled over the course of his life, only all were from a perspective not his own. They included all of his personal favorites as well as a host of others, not all of them successful, but clearly each and every one had entertained Ásgarðr, which sent a swell of pride and achievement through him. It had been a long time since anyone had admitted they liked any of his tricks, let alone those whose only purpose was to entertain.

Those scenes were swiftly followed by others of him learning and practicing seiðr in all forms, along with all the time Loki had spent studying the history of Ásgarðr, her people and the rest of the Nine Realms. Those memories seemed tinged with warmth and appreciation rather than amusement, but Loki soaked it all up nonetheless. Despite pretending he had not required anyone's validation, 'twas not until now he realized how good some acknowledgement of his less æsir touted achievements and skills could feel.

It took him a while, but eventually Loki realized the excitement he had detected from the start was because Ásgarðr was pleased at the prospect of binding with him. 'Twas almost as if she had been waiting to do so, reaching out when things became desperate, to ensure neither he nor Óðinn's heir died in the interim. It pleased Loki ridiculously, when he felt a distinctly colder vibe from the Realm when he concentrated on Thor and he received a few flashes of some of his brother's less admiral moments, followed swiftly by humor at the failed coronation. He could only hope Father did not discover that particular tidbit when he reconnected with Ásgarðr upon awakening.

There was a reassuring flow of calmer emotions and Loki hoped 'twas Ásgarðr's attempt to try and reassure him. He chose to take comfort in the fact he had never been punished for some of the tricks which Ásgarðr clearly knew about, but which Óðinn never seemed to have figured out. Until proven otherwise, 'twas good enough evidence that not everything which Ásgarðr knew or saw was passed on.

A fact which Loki made a mental note to remember moving forwards.

A feeling almost like laughter rolled over Loki even as there were sparks along his connection with Ásgarðr, and he raised an eyebrow as he realized he had made her laugh.

"I think we are going to get along very well," Loki whispered at her. "So, care to tell me how we bond?"

Knowledge and delight flooded through him and Loki took a moment to make certain he understood the process, before carefully dropping most of his shields and welcoming Ásgarðr in.

Chapter Text

Loki had no idea how long the connection with Ásgarðr took to forge, but it felt like an eternity and no time, all at once. There was power, knowledge and that strange childlike sentience, melding with his own seiðr in a way which gave him full access to what most considered the Óðinnforce, and yet kept him and Ásgarðr as two distinctly different beings. The latter was a great relief as Loki had no desire to merge with anyone or anything else, nor did he want to consider what that might have done once Óðinn awoke. As 'twas, he was not entirely certain what would happen with his connection to Ásgarðr when he had to give up Gungnir.

The King's Staff, though vital for the connection to form, was wholly separate from it. Thus, without it, Loki would not lose his connection to Ásgarðr, but he doubted he would be allowed to maintain it either when he was no longer king. He had tried asking Ásgarðr herself, but all he received was a possessive denial that reminded him more of a child refusing to give up a favorite toy than anything else, which was not truly helpful even if it flattered his battered ego nicely.

After the initial overwhelming sensation and rush of power which had flooded his entire being when Ásgarðr had all but pounced on him, Loki had discovered to his immense relief that the connection had settled into a comfortable hum at the back of his mind, in a corner normally left empty. If anything, it filled a void which had always been there instead of feeling intrusive or crowding, as he had feared it might given the stunning amounts of power it brought with it.

Despite having felt Loptr's unbelievable increase in magical power, Loki was still left stunned at the sheer amount of raw seiðr which now resided in his core and swirled all around him, just awaiting his command to bend to his will. As he had hoped, Ásgarðr had further helped to stabilize his fracturing core, but unfortunately it had not done anything to mend the damaged and snapped sections. Those were left as raw and wounded as before, keeping him weaker than he would otherwise be and paining him as greatly as ever. Those injuries aside, though, his core was a sight to behold at present with strands of iridescent purple, varying from paler lilac and lavender all the way to deep plum and wine, threaded through his own emerald green-gold and icy blue-teal green colors.

The winter theme of the resulting display made Loki briefly uncomfortable, but Ásgarðr's lack of reaction to it when they had connected soothed him on a deep level. If she had no issue with him being a frost giant despite sitting on her throne, then perhaps 'twas not as big of an issue as he had feared.

An image flashed across Loki's mind of his father, then it shifted and changed, becoming younger and younger. It kept going until he was left looking at a little boy. Involuntarily Loki's lips twitched as he looked at the young Óðinn. He would never admit it aloud, but the All-Father had been an adorable child. He was starting to wonder why Ásgarðr was showing him this when something caught Óðinn's attention and the boy turned, a huge smile lighting up his face. In an instant the boy was on his feet, running straight into the arms of... a frost giant.

Loki could only stare in shock as his adoptive father was scooped up by a large blue skinned woman who swung Óðinn around before embracing him tightly to her oversized bosom. What was this? Who was this?

The scene faded away only to be replaced by others of the same frost giant (though at times her chest seemed oddly flat); ones of her walking through Ásgarðr, standing beside either a young Óðinn or Borr. 'Twas with those final images and scenes that Loki finally realized who it was that Ásgarðr was showing him. Bestla, wife of Borr, mother of Óðinn and Queen of Ásgarðr.

Bestla, a frost giant?

The revelation was staggering and sent Loki reeling for several moments. How had he not known this? How was this not common knowledge? Was it because of the war? Had that altered so much of what people thought and felt?

Was it possible that, before the war, frost giants had not been deemed the monsters they were now?

Loki found himself incredibly intrigued by the mere thought, having always been interested in the differences between what was and how things were perceived. To think something like a single (if bloody) war could completely have changed how the æsir viewed the frost giants was fascinating from a psychological perspective, even if it angered him to realize if he had been fostered earlier that he might never have learned to hate himself as he had. Or that he would not have been left in the dark about the fact that Óðinn himself was half-frost giant.

The information did go part of the way towards explaining why Óðinn might have felt compelled to take him when the All-Father had first found him on Jötunheimr, Loki realized. It also made him wonder if his father even knew how completely Bestla's identity had been erased from history, as Óðinn had seemed almost genuinely surprised at some of what he had said during their confrontation in the vault. At least so it seemed, now he thought about it some more.

The consideration clearly pleased Ásgarðr given Loki felt warm and content feelings emanating from their bond. He focused on those for a moment, letting himself view their connection, probing it with his new powers, pleased with how it bent and flexed at his touch rather than being a rigid and thus brittle. It would be a difficult connection for anyone to break without their consent.

Slowly Loki allowed himself to return back to him body, allowing his seiðr to flow freely all around him to fill his bedchamber as it reached out, playful and curious, seeking to reacquaint himself with his surroundings now he had changed on such a fundamental level. 'Twas more unrestrained than he normally felt comfortable with but, between his own increase in power, Óðinn's rest and Ásgarðr's added watchfulness, he was less vulnerable than normal to magical threats. But not completely wise to them, as he was immediately reminded as soon as he had returned enough focus on his surroundings to feel Heimdallr's gaze on him once more.

Without thinking about it, Loki turned his head and opened his eyes to meet the gatekeeper's gaze head on, despite the distance and objects between them. 'Twas almost like watching an electric shock go through Heimdallr, to see the gatekeeper realize Loki could, in fact, see him as well. Their eyes caught and held for an eternal moment, green on gold, challenging, before Heimdallr obediently lowered his eyes whispering a 'My King' in his direction.

Loki frowned slightly, noticing all too well how 'twas a far cry from the show of fealty he had received earlier from the others upon accepting Gungnir. Loptr was right, he could not trust Heimdallr, but the gatekeeper still had a role to play. And a grave to dig for himself.

"I have more than enough Einherjar watching over me, Gatekeeper," Loki muttered, never removing his gaze from Heimdallr. "Your attentions are best directed elsewhere."

"I was only checking on your safety, Your Majesty," Heimdallr responded with another dip of his head. "But I was not neglecting my other charges."

Loki merely hummed instead of replying, allowing Heimdallr to read into it what he chose to. Given he already knew of the gatekeeper's treacherous nature, he wanted to be able to remove him from his post sooner rather than later, though it did leave him with the dilemma of what to do with the Bifröst and those Ásgarðrians currently elsewhere in the Nine. Who would know of their wish to return and open the bridge accordingly? Surely there had to be a solution to the problem as Ásgarðr's entire mode of interdimensional travel could not depend upon one man. Or at least the mode of transport for those not able to navigate the branches of Yggdrasill.

The response did please Loki, however, in that it told him Heimdallr was not aware he had been able to detect the gatekeeper's gaze before now. So when he did lose his connection to Ásgarðr, he could use that to his advantage should Óðinn decide to reinstate Heimdallr. Hopefully his father would not though, as this was not the first instance of the gatekeeper's inability to do his job. They would never have been able to travel to Jötunheimr otherwise.

Once he was certain Heimdallr's gaze was indeed elsewhere, Loki rose to his feet and entered his closet. Scanning the clothes he had, he looked for something regal enough to replace his coronation outfit. After a few days, he could perhaps go back to it and break its association with Thor's failed ceremony, but for now he needed something else. He smiled as his eyes fell on a set of highly elaborate robes which had been commissioned for the anniversary celebration of the Ásgarðr-Vanaheimr peace treaty he had attended with his mother as Ásgarðr's representatives a few years back.

Though not quite as decorative as his coronation outfit, 'twas highly elaborate consisting of green robes, black leather highlights and gold areas, though less of the latter, the pieces being more ceremonial than functional and expertly engraved with a mixture of the official Ásgarðrian seals and sigils, as well as some of his own more personal ones. Those highlights continued on his robes and leather themselves, only there they were done in gold and black thread or green tinted inking engraved within the leather. The cape of this particular outfit had always been one of his favorites, having been a gift from his mother's seiðkonur teachers on Vanaheimr in advance of his visit.

The cloth had been heavily bespelled with a mixture of protective and cosmetic spells and charms, before being tailored for him. They had left the cape in a fluctuating state between green, gold and black; its color shifting and adapting depending on his surroundings and the circumstances. It, too, had been heavily embroidered with the glyphs and seals of Ásgarðr's royal family, in addition to some of his own more known designs. The use of black, green and gold thread, though, meant that some of them seemed to appear and disappear depending on what color his cape happened to be, in any one instance.

With a thought, Loki was dressed and he only glanced briefly at the mirror to make certain the outfit looked as expected with his new hair length. Then he turned back to his bedchamber and made for the dining chamber, his stomach once again reminding him of how long it had been since he had last eaten.

Loki was surprised to find the meal was still being laid out for him as he entered the chamber. Though it had felt like a long time, clearly bonding with Ásgarðr had been a fairly quick affair.

"My Pri- eh, King," Livunn greeting, curtsying hastily.

"It has been a long day and 'tis not over yet, Livunn," Loki said, waving off her dismay at the mistake. "Please simply continue on as normal within these chambers."

"Of course... Loki," Livunn replied with a hasty glance at the two Einherjar, whom had clearly followed her into the chamber.

"What do we have?" Loki asked as he sat down.

"It appears the kitchens happened to have some of your favorites tonight."

The look Livunn shot him told Loki she was not fooled any more than he was. This had been specially prepared after the head cook on duty had heard of his ascension to Hliðskjálf. It also made him revise his estimate of precisely how long he had been meditating, as this meal would have taken longer to prepare.

"Shall I draw up a bath afterwards?" Livunn inquired as she placed the last of the dishes on the table before him.

"Nay, that will not be necessary," Loki replied. "I will not be turning in anytime soon."

"Rest is important, my Liege."

Loki smiled at the response. 'Twas one of the reasons why he had always liked Livunn and had requested she be assigned to him. She had always been honest with him while still remaining respectful in cases where she disagreed with him. He had also never felt like any of her concern was faked, unlike that which he had received from some of the other servants who worked in Iðavöllr. Plus she was comfortable with his use of seiðr, having spent part of her childhood on Vanaheimr when her father had been assigned there to help cover his mother's frequent visits to her brother ruling there.

"As are other things," Loki replied lightly as he began eating.

If he had needed any further proof the food had been specially prepared for him, Loki found it immediately in the lack of helam spice, so loved by many æsir.

"Shall I have some of your items moved to the king's study then?" Livunn asked.

"Hmm, please."

'Twas something he had not even considered, but Loki was definitely utilizing the study. Not only would it help to solidify his position, but 'twas adjacent to the king's library which he definitely planned to use.

"So what are the rumors currently circulating around Iðavöllr?" Loki asked.

"I do not know why you always think I am aware of all of the latest gossip, Loki."

The sass made him smile once more. "Because you love knowing what is going on."

"Aye," Livunn admitted, though her face was concerned; hesitant. "'Tis not very pretty."

"I would not believe you if you said it was."

"There are a few different rumors right now, as word of your... coronation is still spreading."

"Let us start with those unrelated to that then."

"Very well, most of those concern what happened during the public coronation or to Prince Thor. They range from saying a small group of frost giants broke into the vault and were defeated by the Destroyer, to saying a battalion of frost giants appeared but were fended off by a group of Einherjar bravely defending Iðavöllr and Ásgarðr's honor."

Loki merely snorted, well able to imagine how the number of frost giants had been inflated so drastically. Æsir were nothing if not predictable in their desire for honor, especially in battle. That there was nothing honorable in some of their tactics or embellishments of the truth afterwards never seemed to occur to them.

"And of my brother?"

Livunn winced. "Those rumors take a darker turn. That he went to Jötunheimr with yourself, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three is common to all, as is the fact you attempted to stop him."

That Loki was rather surprised with, actually. Generally his role in events either seemed to be forgotten or distorted. He wondered why that did not seem to have happened here.

"From that point on, however, things start to deviate depending on the rumor," Livunn continued. "In some, you are assigned noble intentions, seeking to prevent the breaking of the peace treaty with Jötunheimr. In others, though..."

"I am seeking to disparage my brother's honor in a blind quest for Hliðskjálf?" Loki offered, quite familiar with this particular twist of some rumors.

"Ah, aye. There are some variations in-between."

"And what of the events on Jötunheimr themselves?"

"In some, 'tis said there was a glorious battle in which Ásgarðr's honor has been restored."

"Of course. And in the others?"

"Most are variations on some sort of confrontation and battle, generally with a poor outcome as Lady Sif and the Warriors Three were seen heading for the healing halls and King Óðinn was witnessed being quite angry."

The sudden interest of the two Einherjar in his response was quite clear to Loki, though he was pretty certain it passed Livunn by, even as observant as she was. Given that nothing being said was confidential, he did not dismiss them, but he made a mental note to remember to do so if he did wish something kept completely confidential. That some of the Einherjar spoke a bit too freely was already evident in the details of the rumors Livunn had relayed.

"Not too far off," Loki stated simply. "And Thor's punishment?"

"Details are hazy at best," Livunn replied. "But most agree King Óðinn banished him for his actions."

"True, but he has a chance to redeem himself," Loki told her, knowing 'twas best if the truth of his brother's sentence was known.

'Twas not his intention to retain Hliðskjálf, and Loki had no desire to deal with the theories which would flourish and spread when the news of his regency became known. For most, the truth would make no difference as they were too used to thinking ill of him, but it would influence some and he needed all the aid he could obtain at present.

"Oh, good," Livunn said. "May I enquire where he has been banished to?"

"Miðgarðr," Loki replied. "As a mortal."

Livunn's eyes grew wide at that and Loki had to be careful not to choke as he thought of what Thor was going through right now. His brother had always relied on his superior strength and position as prince of Ásgarðr when interacting with people from the rest of the Nine, and now he had neither.

Without truly meaning to, Loki found he had reached out with his newly enhanced reach towards his brother. Ásgarðr responded eagerly and the next thing he knew, he could see Thor on Miðgarðr as easily as he could look through a scrying mirror. Thor appeared to be in the company of several mortals, though 'twas clear they were rather unsure of him and his behavior. The broken shards on the floor would imply his brother had smashed yet another goblet of some sort.

"Loki, my Liege, are you alright?" Livunn asked worriedly.

Loki blinked. "Aye, I was merely checking in on Thor to ensure he is not in danger."

"Oh, is the prince alright?"

"It would appear my brother has fallen afoul of some mortal customs and upset them."

"Oh, I..."

This time Loki allowed her to trail off uncomfortably. For once it seemed like Thor was not only going to be appropriately punished for his actions, but have it be publicly recognized as well, neither of which was a bad thing as far as he was concerned. In fact, 'twas long overdue. It would also do both Thor and Ásgarðr a lot of good in the long run as well.

"And what word of me?" Loki inquired after a few moments.

"Those rumors are far more vague at present," Livunn told him. "The news is newer. There are some murmurs of a power grab, but with the sheer number of witnesses present, most know Lord Ragnvaldr and Queen Frigga passed you Gungnir in accordance with Ásgarðrian succession laws, and thus they accept you are the rightful king."

"Good. Let me know if any rumors to the contrary start to take hold."

"Of course."

His hunger finally satisfied, Loki rose to his feet and took hold of Gungnir once more, the feeling still surreal as if he would wake up to find this had all been a dreadful nightmare.

While Livunn's words on his right to rule were not optimal, she was correct in that there had been sufficient witnesses present to ensure the truth of the moment made it out. In fact, Loki would not have put it past Lord Ragnvaldr to have arranged the moment precisely as it had been done for exactly that purpose. He may not always have gotten along with his father's chief advisor, but he had always respected the man's integrity and devotion to Hliðskjálf. If nothing else, he could rely on Lord Ragnvaldr to ensure everything they did was done correctly and according to Ásgarðrian laws.

Towards that end, the man would be an invaluable ally in navigating the Jötunheimr mess.

"Will there be anything else, Loki?" Livunn inquired as she began clearing the table.

"Please notify Lady Borgunna I will need to speak with her tomorrow morning after the High Council meeting."

"Of course."

With that Loki left his chambers, finding the rest of the Einherjar waiting for him outside.

"Where to, Your Majesty?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr questioned as they fell into formation around him.

"The library," Loki replied, seeing none of the men were the same as before except for the lieutenant-general.

He would have to refresh himself on the shift changes of the king's official guards at some point, when he had a moment.

Amusement shot through Loki at the thought. When he had a moment. 'Twas almost like wishing for more respect. Not only had he been busy constantly for over fifteen hours now with no end in sight, but he now also had an impressive list of enemies to suss out and eventually confront as well, thanks to Loptr. He could only be thankful he was not feeling tired yet as all of the alertness spells he knew were limited in both scope and duration, thus the longer he could go without needing to resort to them, the better.

Though 'twas now well past midnight, Loki had no doubt of finding Lady Dagrún in the library. For all that the woman was supposed to be responsible for interfacing between the people who visited the library and the books and other resources it possessed, Loki had rarely ever met anyone who seemed to like dealing with people less. Well, unless you were someone who loved and respected knowledge and the pursuit thereof as much as Lady Dagrún herself, in that case the woman became wonderful to work with and Loki had oft used her to aid him with his own studies and research.

The late hour meant Iðavöllr's corridors were deserted, so they were quickly at the library, much to Loki's relief. After a lifetime of wandering the corridors as unobtrusively as possible unless he wanted to be noticed, doing so with an escort of Einherjar actually left him feeling more vulnerable as he stood out. Almost glaringly so.

At first glance the library appeared deserted, so Loki immediately moved deeper into the stacks, towards the study area set aside for those who wished to peruse the library's tomes here.

Lady Dagrún was exactly where Loki had expected to find her and he watched as the librarian became aware of the first Einherjar to enter the study space, Lady Dagrún's eyes flickering from them to Loki and then to Gungnir held firmly in his hand. That the librarian had not yet heard of what had happened was evident by how wide her eyes grew before Lady Dagrún stepped forward, raised her right fist to her heart and bowed deeply.

"Your Majesty," Lady Dagrún greeted. "How may I be of service?"

"I require any and all materials we have on Jötunheimr, the war and, most particularly, the treaty formed at the end of it," Loki ordered, noticing the wariness creep into Lady Dagrún's eyes, so perhaps some rumors had reached her after all. "Send them to my new study in the first instance, but keep them together after I send them back, so the information is already collated should the other members of the High Council require access to it."

"I will see to it at once and send the first set of books over as quickly as possible."

"Also let me know which one you would recommend as a standard."

The beauty of working with someone who knew him well, was that he did not need to spell out precisely what it was he required. With what he had just said, Lady Dagrún would know he wanted something of Jötunheimr that assumed no prior knowledge and explained everything from that starting point. Lady Dagrún had been the one to teach him that preconceptions could be far more dangerous than pure ignorance, and to always go back to the beginning if in doubt.

"It would be my pleasure, Your Majesty."

"If you should find anything else on Jötunheimr or frost giants later, once you have sent everything else, do send it over as a priority rather than waiting until later."

"Of course," Lady Dagrún said, glancing at the Einherjar spread out around them before stepping closer and lowering her voice. "If I may, my Liege?"

"Aye," Loki replied, voice lowered to match.

"Frost giant is viewed as a speciest slur. They call themselves jötunn, or jötnar for plural. They have always been sensitive about it."

Loki blinked and quickly thought back to his talk with Loptr, and noticed his temporal twin had indeed always used jötunn and jötnar rather than frost giant. He had not even noticed, viewing them as interchangeable. A dangerous mistake to make in so volatile a situation as this.

"My thanks, Librarian," Loki said.

Chapter Text

Entering the king's study in and of itself was nothing new for Loki, as he did it fairly often either to speak with his fat- Óðinn himself, or to take part in a smaller meeting or discussion being held here rather than Glaðsheimr. But entering it as the king to whom the study belonged (at least temporarily), was an entirely new experience and not one that Loki had ever expected to have. Everything looked either brighter or darker, depending on what kind of feelings he associated with it.

One of the first things Loki noticed was the familiar tea set on the cabinet behind the massive golden desk which dominated the chamber. 'Twas his personal one from his own private study, along with his elaborately decorated box of tea leaves and other botanicals he had collected on his travels around the Nine. Livunn knew him very well and, as always, had gone out of her way to serve him. He would have to remember to reward her for it later.

"Is there anything else which you require, Your Majesty?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr asked, having remained when the others left the chamber after checking it.

"Not for now," Loki replied.

"Then we shall be right outside, my Liege."

With that, the guard left and Loki took a moment to simply enjoy the solitude. Then he moved to the center of the study and set Gungnir gently on the floor before he reached out to Ásgarðr.

"Where is the entrance to the king's library?" Loki questioned.

Either out of sheer habit, or because he feared Loki finding a way in if he knew where to begin, Óðinn had never once opened the door to the king's library while his youngest was in the chamber. Though Loki could almost understand it from one perspective (he would have made at least one attempt to enter it if he had known where to start), from another 'twas recklessly stupid and shortsighted. If he had not had Ásgarðr to hopefully guide him to it, he would have been cut off from all of the knowledge and information it contained on the war he was trying to prevent!

Instead of receiving a visual of the door's location, Loki saw a map appear in the air before him. It slowly marked out the study he was in and the surrounding area before new and unfamiliar lines appeared in a different color. It took him a few moments to understand it, but he smiled with delight when he got it. Of course, keeping books and parchments in a regular chamber would necessitate someone to look after and maintain them, to prevent age related decay as well as cleaning. By placing the whole library in a special pocket dimension, however, all of that was overcome. The books would remain unaffected by the passage of time, and the chamber would require no cleaning. It also meant the library was accessible from anywhere on Ásgarðr if he was reading the wards correctly.

'Twas clever, very clever and Loki could not help but admire the spell work which had gone into it. Not only were the wards ingenious, but elegantly executed as well, and he could not help but wonder who had cast them as they definitely did not possess Óðinn's particular touch. Borr or Búri perhaps? Or had they brought in someone else just to create the library? Its importance would have warranted obtaining outside help, after all, and there were plenty of ways to swear someone to silence afterwards. It also explained how his father had always seemed to be able to find answers no matter where on Ásgarðr Óðinn was. 'Twas something Loki had wondered about more than once, especially when Óðinn had seemed stumped at first.

Loki moved to sit on one of the study's sofas before reaching out with his seiðr. Ásgarðr met him halfway and guided him to where he needed to be. He felt a slight shock as he connected with the library's wards, its seiðr sliding over his own to Ásgarðr and Gungnir alike before something shifted and Loki could suddenly sense the pocket dimension as easily as he could his own, though it felt distinctly different. A thrill of delight ran through him as he realized precisely how large it was and the sheer number of books and manuscripts it contained. All he wanted to do was curl up in his chambers, on his favorite sofa, before the open fire and explore the entire library, looking at each and every one of the books and manuscripts. He would gladly have spent the next few decades doing so, slowly absorbing all of the new knowledge, but alas he knew he could not.

There was a knock on the door and Loki dispelled the portal before him with a wave of his hand.

"Enter," he intoned.

"Your Majesty," a servant said as he entered. "We have some books from Lady Dagrún."

"Leave them on the desk," Loki ordered, not realizing he had not said 'my desk' until after he had spoken.

Even though it temporarily was his desk, Loki found he could not quite bring himself to think of it thus. Nay, 'twas far too closely linked with his father in his mind for him to be able to do so.

As soon as the servants were gone, Loki reached out to the library once more and mentally focused on Jötunheimr and the jötnar. Immediately, books started coming to him and he placed them on the sofa beside him as they did so. Among them was a heavily spelled, rolled-up parchment which he opened to find the actual treaty between Ásgarðr and Jötunheimr, signed by his two fathers. Next came a heavy tome which made him pause and suck in a deep breath. 'Twas a book on jötunn seiðr and he knew that this must have been what Loptr had used to contact him. With a twist of his own seiðr, he broke the tome's connection with the king's library and secreted it away in his own pocket dimension. 'Twas one book he definitely did not want to lose access to once Óðinn awoke. Not only had it been so vital in making events turn out fortunately for him, but 'twas all about his true birthright and no one, not even the All-Father, had the right to keep that from him.

Then he had everything and Loki suddenly felt weary simply looking at the large collection of books, both on his new sofa and desk. How was he ever supposed to go through all of them and prevent the war with Jötunheimr from progressing? He could not hold off on addressing the matter until he had done all of his research, much as he might want to. Nay, Laufey had already declared war and who knew what his birth father might be up to?

The thought made Loki blink and he reached out for Gungnir, taking it in his hand. It was said Óðinn could see all of the Nine Realms from Hliðskjálf. Was it truly Hliðskjálf, or was it Ásgarðr which granted him that ability? When he reached out, Loki found that Gungnir was not pushing him towards Ásgarðr, but rather Hliðskjálf, though when he connected with it, she gave way and suddenly Loki could see Jötunheimr, much as he had seen Thor earlier when he had checked on his brother. Then there was a damaged but still somehow splendid castle before he was inside what appeared to be a Council chamber of sorts, with Laufey sitting at the head of a large table, not entirely dissimilar to the High Council table in Glaðsheimr. The similarities unnerved Loki but he ignored them for now.

Instead he focused in on the chamber and the jötnar themselves. There were fifteen that he could see, all male, and all seated at the oblong table that seemed to be made from darkened ice of some kind. 'Twas odd, but not truly important at the moment, though Loki noted it for future reference. The jötnar looked similar to those that he had seen on Jötunheimr. He did note that the two jötnar sitting on either side of Laufey seemed younger than the rest, and his heart skipped a beat as it suddenly occurred to him that he could actually have additional siblings. True brothers in the sense that most people meant when they used the word.

That...

The thought brought with it emotions Loki was not ready to face right now and so he brushed them aside. The exact composition of his blood family tree was irrelevant at present. What he needed to do was focus on the matter at hand; namely the war. What he was seeing just now could be anything from a war council, to a simple session called to deal with the damage Thor had caused when the oaf had swung Mjǫlnir around in his tantrum, smashing everything in sight. That there was vehement disagreement was obvious at a glance, as the jötnar looked to be all but shouting, one or two rising up out of their seats and thumping the table to emphasize their points.

Loki scowled as he watched them, wishing he knew the jötunn language enough to be able to read their lips. 'Twas the greatest weakness of Hliðskjálf, that while it could show Óðinn, or clearly any king, all of the Realms, it did not also allow them to hear them as well. Nay, instead they were left with simply this, a silent pantomime of what was taking place. So were they disagreeing about the war that Laufey had declared, or were they arguing about the best way to go about it? Watching for a little longer showed that the two younger jötnar, who were probably Laufey's sons and heirs, did not seem to be agreeing with their father as one shook his head when Laufey finally spoke and the other looked down with a scowl on his ridged face.

With an effort, Loki forced himself to break the connection and return his gaze to the study. Óðinn had once told both him and Thor that the king had to be careful with this particular ability, as it would be easy to remain in Valaskjálf seated upon Hliðskjálf forever otherwise, as there was always something going on within the Realms which was worthy of observation. Loki had not fully understood the warning at the time, but now he did. While in theory watching the enemy was a good idea, he could waste a lot of time doing so without actually learning anything of value if all he could do was guess at what was being said and done. Besides, he knew Heimdallr would be watching Jötunheimr and, while he could not personally trust the gatekeeper, he was certain of the man's loyalty towards Ásgarðr. Heimdallr would not allow the preparation or advance of a jötnar army go unreported.

A flick of his hand and seiðr was all it took for Loki to move all of the books, manuscripts and scrolls he had retrieved from the library to the desk. He then rose to his feet, feeling the first faint traces of fatigue as he did so. While he normally loved research and learning, the knowledge of why he was settling in to do so now, as well as where he was doing it, sapped him of his usual enjoyment for the task. Simply the mere presence of the Einherjar outside the door was enough to serve as an abrupt reminder of his new and unwanted position. Normally he would be able to dismiss most of them, but with them officially at war, the security around the king had been tightened, especially in lieu of the recent jötnar incursion of the vault.

Loki laughed without humor at that. If 'twas not irony, then he did not know what was. 'Twas not the first time a trick had backfired to adversely affect him, but this one had already done so far more seriously than any other had done in centuries. Not since his misadventure on Niðavellir while on the cusp of his minor majority which had led to his lips being sewn shut before his father and brother had been able to intervene and rescue him. He still shuddered at the mere thought and quickly banished the memories to the back of his mind where they belonged.

As much to distract himself as to commence on his tasks, Loki seated himself at the desk, only to pause as he felt a moment of confusion. Seeing the chamber from this angle was almost disconcerting as it had not happened in centuries, not since Óðinn had last taken him onto his lap when he had come to see his father here for some reason or another. But that was long ago and, ever since, he had either sat or stood before the desk. He allowed himself a moment to absorb the change of perspective before he pulled a loose sheet of parchment before him and he started to write out a list of things he had to do. Not only did it help to clear his mind, but he knew he would also be better able to make clear, rational decisions if he had time to reflect on them before he acted.

Think, Thor, think!

The words that he had uttered so oft over the centuries came back to Loki and he clenched his teeth, but forced himself to acknowledge that he truly deserved to hear them now, after all he had come so close to doing thoughtlessly.

It took a while, but at the end Loki felt quite satisfied with himself as he had a plan of action as well as a list of things he absolutely knew he had to look into prior to the High Council meeting in a few hours. Luckily, with the first set of books from the library, Loki would be able to start rectifying his appalling lack of knowledge right away.

As Lady Dagrún had promised, one of the books was marked with a set of colored ribbons about halfway through, making Loki smile. 'Twas such an innocuous way of flagging the book from the others, but that had always been Dagrún's point. Ignorance or inaccurate knowledge could cause far more damage than almost anything else, so the librarian had drilled into him the value of a good source book on any topic, to be used as a guide and reference during other, deeper research into the topic. Only, since Dagrún was as loath to mark up a book or manuscript as Loki was, the woman had taken to using colored ribbons to easily mark pages within a book for future reference.

Pulling that book closer to himself, Loki froze as he caught sight of the author; Bestla Bölþornbarn. His, or rather Thor's, grandmother. Thor's jötunn grandmother. The realization that Óðinn was half jötunn and Thor a quarter hit Loki all at once. Aye, he had known what it meant for Bestla to be jötunn when Ásgarðr had first shown him that particular truth, but somehow it had not really hit him what that meant. Or implied.

One of the greatest and most respected men in the Nine Realms, the very representative of Ásgarðr, was half-jötunn. That definitely put a whole new perspective on things. Especially if one took into account the fact that Frigga was vanir, meaning that Thor, the golden crown prince and pride and glory of Ásgarðr, was only a quarter æsir.

The thought on top of everything else was too much for Loki and he started to laugh. Oh, if only people knew that fact! What would they say? The mere thought of the look on not only his brother's face, but that of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, was too much and he leaned back, simply letting it all out.

The mirth did not last long, though, not once Loki thought about why 'twas not all more known. Or exactly how much less prejudice and malice there would be (not to mention how much less arrogance!), if only the truth were more widely known. It would hardly hurt Óðinn for it to be more widely known, as both he and Borr had survived the knowledge being public before. He could only hope it had not been a deliberate erasure of facts as Loki feared that it probably had been. 'Twas possible, though, it had been more of a slow creeping change which developed over the course of a few centuries, as relations between the two Realms had broken down before the war, which had no doubt accelerated things. Not that this excused Óðinn's actions, or lack thereof.

This type of vilification had not happened with the vanir after the Æsir-Vanir War, which had preceded the one with Jötunheimr by a few millennia.

Loki paused at the thought. Why was that anyway? Aye, the war with Vanaheimr had been shorter than the one with Jötunheimr, but not by much and it had been about as bloody because, while it had all taken place on the same planet, the vanir had possessed home territory advantages of which they had made full use. They had also been far more aware of æsir battle strategies than the jötnar had been, so their usual tactics had been utterly useless. It had been quite the dilemma from what he had read. 'Twas part of why he had never been a big proponent of becoming overly reliant on any one strategy (even if he simply could not resist using the same one over and over again on Thor, simply to see how oft the big oaf would fall for the same ploy) or mode of fighting. It meant he had been mocked for his flightiness by his brother and Thor's friends, and scolded for his apparent lack of discipline by his warrior tutors, but it had also saved his life on more than one occasion when his versatility had allowed him to completely switch tactics midbattle with several opponents.

So if it had not been the length of the war, nor the number of casualties which had resulted in the distinct difference in animosity between the æsir and the vanir versus the jötnar, then what was?

With a thought, Loki had opened the king's library again and requested the treaty Borr had signed with Frigga's father, Njörðr. The thought of his mother froze Loki in place for a moment as a new thought occurred to him. Perhaps he should not really have been surprised Óðinn had thought to take him for political reasons once Borrson had identified him as being Laufeyson. After all, it had been the exact same thinking which had gone into arranging his own parents' marriage. Borr had known that Njörðr was at the end of his reign, and that Frigga and Freyr had been close. So by taking her as a new bride for his son and heir, he was ensuring the vanir did not rise up against Ásgarðr once more.

The, then, princess Frigga had been quite popular based on what he had read. Not that it surprised Loki in the least, not knowing his mother and both her cunning and political acumen.

Surprisingly, much as the original discovery of the beginnings of his parents' relationship had outraged and infuriated Loki, it now almost comforted and soothed him. Aye, he still found it a distasteful tactic even if his mother had no longer been a child, but he of all people knew of how genuine the love and affection between them was. Which meant that perhaps Óðinn had not been lying when he had repeatedly claimed him as his son down in the vault. The mere possibility made Loki close his eyes as impossible hope flared, bright and hot, deep within him. But even so, he tried to steel himself as he knew only all too well how ephemeral and fragile hope could be, not to mention how utterly devastating if proven illusionary or fallible.

Aye, now the thought had occurred to him, Loki could not help but hope and it irked, even as it comforted him. Damnable emotion. He truly needed to have his core fixed so his seiðr and emotions evened themselves out. But that was for later, after he had prevented any further escalation of the war with Jötunheimr.

Loki grabbed a piece of parchment and opened the Ásgarðr-Vanaheimr Treaty, scribbling notes as he went of his first impressions. Well, at least his first impressions now, as he had looked it over once before, as an adolescent when his politics tutor had utilized it as an example of a good treaty. Looking at it now, he could not help but see how heavily it favored Ásgarðr, which made sense in that they had been the victors, but it did beg the question as to how it had not led to an escalation of ill will between the two Realms. Well, other than for people like Uncle Freyr, who had never been particularly well disposed towards Óðinn.

The thought that Freyr was not his real uncle pained Loki a surprising amount because, unlike Thor, he had always gotten along quite well with his prickly uncle. The fact Freyr had always favored him over his brother definitely helped, but 'twas far more than that. Just like with Frigga, he felt connected to Freyr, feeling a far keener sense of kinship with him than he had felt for Óðinn in centuries. To the point where both he and Thor had always figured Loki had simply taken more after Mother's side of the family, while Thor took more after Father's. How wrong they had both been. The only questions now were, had Uncle Freyr known the truth, and would it matter if he had not? Loki did not want to think of the man turning his back on him, but neither was he naïve enough to think that 'twas not a distinct possibility.

Who would want to voluntarily claim a jötunn after all?

To distract himself, Loki unrolled the treaty with Jötunheimr on the other side of him, so he could view and study both treaties at once.

The first thing which leapt out at Loki was how much shorter the Jötnar Treaty was. Whereas the Vanir Treaty covered everything from governance to trade and commerce, the Jötnar Treaty was essentially an admission of defeat on the part of the jötnar on behalf of Laufey-King, a listing of the punishment in the form of the loss of the Casket of Ancient Winters and with it the ability of the jötnar to leave Jötunheimr, as well as a listing of promises on both sides of what not to do in order to prevent a renewed outbreak of war. Altogether it truly was little more than a way for Óðinn to make his victory complete and force Laufey to acknowledge it in one final, humiliating, way. Loki could not help but wonder if Óðinn had not felt the need to add his own acquisition on the list, as it would have been simple enough to do. Frigga's engagement to Óðinn had been written into the Vanir Treat after all, so it would not have been the first time that a member of the royal family from the losing side had been taken as part of a peace treaty and become a form of either hostage or insurance. Though he supposed it lost all of its value if the hostage was unwanted to begin with.

The thought sent another flare of agony through him and Loki closed his eyes briefly, even as he clenched his teeth. He really should not let it bother him so much what Laufey and his birth mother had thought of him, as 'twas not like he cared for them anyway. Still, the thought of them having been either disgusted or disappointed enough in him to leave him out in the cold to die... he could not lie to himself, it tore through him, hitting him right where he was already most vulnerable.

Not wanting to deal with it, Loki opened his eyes and focused on the treaty once more. So, admission of defeat, cost of defeat and list of actions which could restart hostilities between the two Realms. Nothing on providing aid for the jötnar to rebuild like with the vanir. Nothing on establishing trade or commerce routes to help Jötunheimr reintegrate with the rest of the Nine. In fact, one of the conditions which could reignite the war was for any jötnar to leave Jötunheimr. Not that Loki could see how they would be able to achieve it given they had lost access to the Casket. Well, unless the ability to travel along the branches of the Yggdrasill was a particularly jötnar trait. 'Twas one talent of his he did not think anyone else he knew possessed, not even his father.

What Óðinn did know of, though, and might have sought to prevent in the treaty, was traversing between Realms via the portals which existed in places where the Yggdrasill's branches created direct connections between them. Those shifted and decayed over time, but could still remain remarkably stable for several centuries at a time on occasion. While it took someone either trained in seiðr or sensitive to it to purposefully find them, once found, anyone could use them. As he had proven when he had showed Laufey where the portal to Ásgarðr's vault which he had created was located.

The thought stopped Loki cold as he realized he had never sealed the portal as he had originally intended to do. With a thought, he teleported straight to the vault. A quick glance around proved that it was as empty as he thought, so he walked over to the doors, and then just to the right of them. There, hidden from normal sight just before the wall, was the portal.

For Loki it had always been hard to understand how not everyone could find them, as to him they were obvious. Not only because of the wild seiðr, direct from the Yggdrasill, which marked all such portals, but also because he could hear the World Tree herself. Most of the vault echoed with the beautiful and strangely haunting sound of the song of the Yggdrasill, the same one he both heard and felt resonating through every fiber and thread of his being when he walked on her luminous and evanescent boughs. It sang to his very core, resonating deep within him until his seiðr harmonized with it and he felt almost at one with her.

'Twas an arrogant thought, but one Loki felt every time he ran along the Yggdrasill's branches, standing in the dark of space and the firefly bright sparks and iridescent trails of the World Tree itself. Loki could easily understand why so many people who tried sky walking were lost. Not only was the feat of reaching Yggdrasill hard in and of itself, but her very presence was hypnotic, luring people in and tempting them to stay. 'Twas a temptation Loki had given into, the sensation of completeness and belonging too much to ignore. The fact he had not succumbed was not due to his ability to resist, but rather that he seemed to gain his fill after a certain amount of time, how long he did not know as time was fluid on the Yggdrasill, seeming to stretch for eternity and yet his transport was instantaneous unless he willed it not to be.

The one time he had taken a passenger, a ljósálfr elder whom requested it as payment for teaching him the proper theory behind world walking (which had been lost as the original masters had deemed the knowledge too dangerous to transcribe to parchment), her experience had been entirely different from his own.

So for Loki 'twas almost incomprehensible Óðinn had not already found the portal and closed it; that his father had needed to speak of uncovering how the jötnar had been able to breach the vault. He had been able to hear it from the corridor outside when he had created the portal, the Yggdrasill's sweet, haunting song drawing him in.

Loki staggered, clutching his free hand to his sternum as his other one clenched around Gungnir.

The song... it...

Panic flared hot and fast though Loki as he thought there was something wrong with the song; with the Yggdrasill like when he felt the disharmony that occasionally rattled through her song if he listened carefully enough at the right times. The discordance was generally followed by flickering in the branches themselves, like the light and wild seiðr sputtered momentarily before recovering. Those instances always instinctively terrified Loki, but he had never been able to figure out what caused them in order to be able to help. Reaching out to the Yggdrasill herself had never helped for, though Loki could feel her and her seiðr swirling and flowing all around him, he had never been able to connect with it directly.

That was likely why he had survived sky walking for as long as he had, and yet Loki could not help but try to do so each and every time. Part of him needed to do so in a way that he did not fully understand and would almost frighten him, if he was not so in awe of the Yggdrasill.

So, aye, the disharmonies he heard disturbed Loki deeply and almost felt like a phantom physical pain which could echo through him at odd times even outside of his sky walking.

The discordance Loki felt now, however, was distinctly different, feeling both greater and lesser all at once. That it took him a moment to recognize as coming from him rather than the Yggdrasill was yet another reminder of precisely how damaged and... aye, fragile he currently was and Loki hated himself for it all the more. The fact that the rending of his magical core was now directly affecting his connection with the Yggdrasill and not allowing him to connect with her as he normally would, felt like the physical loss of a limb.

"Hello," Loki greeted, pleased he could still feel what he had always thought of as the Yggdrasill reaching out to him.

'Twas another arrogant and self-centered thought, to imagine the World Tree cared one way or another about him, but 'twas the only manner in which Loki had been able to classify the sensation. It seemed to reach out to him and beckon him in, to tread the branches and settle down in her boughs to rest and enjoy the seiðr and comfort of all that was the Yggdrasill. Normally Loki took her up on the invite, but today the dissonance coming from within him jarred so much he knew he would never be able to find the peace he normally did and he almost worried at the damage he might do if he reached out with his own seiðr to the Yggdrasill like this. Besides, he still had a war to avert and a kingdom to rule before he could even think about looking into healing himself.

With great reluctance, Loki reached out with his seiðr to the edge of the portal and started to urge it closed. Luckily for him, this one felt inclined to listen to him, something he had been worried about given how new it was. The seiðr of the vault itself seemed to be working with him and he wondered if 'twas because he was king, or because the vault was bespelled to be as impenetrable as possible and the portal was antithetical to that. Regardless, it did not take Loki as long to close the portal as he feared it might, nor did it require as much of his energy as he had feared. Both very good things and he took his victories where he could find them as he knew the others would be far more difficult.

With a thought, Loki was back in the study and seated at his new desk. Giving the two treaties a final glance, he realized the severity of the jötnar one might work to his advantage now as it left a lot of options open as means for him to give Laufey-King concessions as part of a new treaty. It would not be a popular option to do so, but Thor had invaded their realm and Loki did not even want to contemplate how many jötnar had been killed in the attack, though he knew he would have to in order to be prepared for the negotiations. First, though, he had to learn more about the jötnar in order to know what to expect from them, and to see what might be of interest to them, and therefore able to draw Laufey into peace talks in the first place.

He already knew his birth father would demand the Casket of Ancient Winters, but surely they must have other things of interest to the jötnar which would not involve sacrificing Óðinn's war prize.

Or at least one of them, Loki could not help but think nastily as he turned back to Bestla's book.

Chapter Text

To say his grandmother's, or adopted grandmother anyway (and was it not odd that the one person in his old fake family tree who was actually similar to him now actually was not related to him!), book was a revelation was putting it mildly. Though, to be fair, Loki had been able to admit that what he knew about fr- jötnar was skewed even before he had commenced reading this tome. Still, even knowing this he had never imagined exactly how rich and varied a culture the jötnar seemed to have. Which, truly, should not have been a surprise. After all, Ásgarðr, Vanaheimr, Álfheimr... all had them, so why not Jötunheimr? Somehow the thought had never occurred to him before and now Loki was disgusted with himself for an entirely different reason.

How could he have been so blinded and never realized it? Why had he simply accepted all he had been told from childhood? He who knew more than anyone else precisely how prejudiced and inaccurate ingrained æsir beliefs could be? Simply look at how they viewed seiðr and those who practiced it!

Frustrated with himself, Loki rose and moved to the tea set Livunn had brought to the study. He heated the water with a flick of his fingers before opening his tea box, looking at what leaves he had. Something which aided with alertness and concentration rather than relaxation was needed now. Did he have any Álfheimrian red lady fingers? Aye, he did, excellent.

Loki frowned as he prepared his tea, thoughts already drifting back to all he had read about Jötunheimr and jötunn culture. It did not fully agree with what he had seen when he had been there himself. Aye, true, he had hardly been there for any length of time, but what he had seen was far removed from the grandeur and refinery Bestla mentioned. Had he simply seen the wrong part of Jötunheimr? Or had the war truly done so much damage? But it had been well over a millennium now, surely if that were the cause they should have recovered by now, at least somewhat even if they had not managed to regain their former glory, cut off from the rest of the Nine Realms as they were.

'Twas a bit of a conundrum, but not his biggest priority right now, Loki reasoned. As soon as his tea was ready, he picked up both the cup and teapot and moved both to the desk. There he poured himself his first serving and settled back in to continue his research. A while later, he paused as he came across an unfamiliar word, hrímþursar. Loki frowned, his forehead crinkling as he tried to figure it out. No part of it was familiar to him so he did not think 'twas Ásgarðrian and had simply fallen out of use, which made him think 'twas probably jötnar. Well, he had been reading the book out of order, looking up information he had deemed of most importance first. Perhaps that had been a mistake.

The urge to sigh or run his hands through his hair was great, but Loki suppressed both and instead took a sip of tea, abruptly bespelling the pot to remain hot as 'twas already starting to cool. With deliberate calmness, he flipped the book back to the beginning with the intention to skim the pages until he found the word. Luckily he found it not far past the introduction at the start of the first chapter.

While many people feel they know the basics of the jötnar and our culture, there are actually many common misconceptions about us which linger, even among those who have met a jötunn or been to Jötunheimr. The first is that they assume they know what we look like, as the common slur frost giant implies. Though 'tis true most jötnar are giant in nature, this is not true for all of us. The jötnar the Nine are used to seeing are the hrímþursar, but there is a second group of jötnar, one far rarer but no less powerful in their own right; namely the íviðjur. With a status far shorter than the hrímþursar - they average at six feet instead of sixteen feet - they are also slimmer of build, softer of features and possess hair. 'Tis the íviðjur who are responsible for the old myths and legends of fey beauty and wild seiðr among the wilderness and wastelands of Jötunheimr.

Loki stared at the page of the book in shock. Íviðjur? He... was not some freak runt anomaly? He was an altogether different type of jötunn? The thought felt surreal even as it caused a coil of warmth deep within him to which his seiðr responded, pulsing softly and pleasantly within him. He had not realized precisely how much being an... anomaly, even among jötnar, had been bothering him until right now.

'Twas odd as he had no desire to be jötunn and wished he could somehow undo it and simply... If he had to be jötunn he had much rather be a normal one than to, once again, be completely unable to fit in as he had for so long on Ásgarðr.

The íviðjur, though, are rare, one being born only every five millennia at best to over ten millennia at worst. They are born to hrímþursar parents and we do not know when or why they will appear, only that they do and are always very powerful seiðberandi. Because of this, they are raised as shamans of Mother Winter and become special advisors to the king on all matters seiðr and pertaining to Jötunheimr's heart, the Casket of Ancient Winters.

Loki's breath caught at that. Special advisors to the king? Raised to specialize in seiðr? That made Loki swallow thickly as he thought of how much ridicule and disapproval he had been met with over the centuries for studying seiðr. On Ásgarðr 'twas definitely looked down upon and deemed argr. For the first time ever, he started to feel the first inkling of regret that he had not been raised on Jötunheimr.

And yet...

Loki was not blind to what else had been said about íviðjur. Bestla had been delicate about it, but it still definitely sounded like íviðjur were considered argr among the jötnar in their own way, given all the talk of beauty and 'softer features'. Still, if it afforded a respectable position and even access to the Casket...

While Loki had always been interested in the Casket of Ancient Winters, both as a magical object in general but also as its role in the Ásgarðr-Jötunheimr War, Óðinn had always forbidden him study of it. His father had decided 'twas far too dangerous, which Loki had never quite believed. Now he knew why the All-Father truly had not wished him near it!

His anger rising sharply, and his earlier disgust with it, Loki rose to his feet and began to pace his study even as he reached up to clutch at the obsidian amulet. He rolled it between his fingers as he paced, using it as a focal point to calm himself, feeling the strain on his magical core. A vague sense of comfort suddenly flowed over him and Loki had to fight off the instinct to reject it once he recognized Loptr's presence. He did not feel any accompanying manifestations, but 'twas only as he did not require advice, simply grounding. The distraction also helped greatly and he was finally able to calm himself enough to sit back down at the desk.

The reference to Mother Winter intrigued Loki and he chose to focus on that. Was she some part of a jötnar religion? He had never heard of them having one, but that was not terribly surprising. He had only read a small part of the way through Bestla's book but 'twas already more than clear the jötnar were far more sophisticated and complex than most æsir nowadays realized. So likely a religion, but also one tied to seiðr somehow given the íviðjur seemed to be shamans of Mother Winter and advisors on seiðr.

It reminded Loki of some of the ljósálfar. The more remote tribes he had tracked down and visited half a millennium ago had also intertwined their seiðr with the belief in a powerful maternal-like figure, only they called her Álfröðull and she seemed to be some personified form of Álfheimr itself. The thought made Loki pause as he was suddenly hyperaware of Ásgarðr thrumming away lazily at the back of his mind. He had always dismissed the notion out of hand, though not visibly obviously. While with the ljósálfar he had shown their beliefs and traditions every respect, as befitted a prince of a foreign Realm. But privately...

It shamed him a little to think of it now, but there had been no proof the beliefs had been anything more than any other religion, besides, even they had admitted it had been generations since anyone had actually interacted with Álfröðull, so it could simply be nothing. Besides, the details of the álfablót they performed to her were kept strictly secret and he had not been allowed to either observe or learn any details as to what it pertained.

Loki frowned and looked back at the book, but this chapter had ended that subject there, going on instead to discuss a few other parts of jötunn culture. Flipping to the index, Loki saw there was a section on Mother Winter, and quite a long one at that. However, 'twas after one on jötnar anatomy and he knew that he should probably look at that first, simply to make certain he understood the basics properly. Such as whether the lines he had observed on every single jötunn, himself included, had any actual significance. They seemed to differ from one individual to the next, including in color, but he had not exactly had the time to study them properly either. That he possessed them seemed to indicate they were a natural part of the jötnar form, as why would time or energy be wasted on applying them to an infant you meant to abandon? But the jötnar would hardly be the first to apply significance to a natural trait one could not do anything about. The æsir did it oft enough themselves after all.

The relevant section possessed some drawings which Loki looked at as he flipped through the pages. Of most interest was a two-page spread for which he had to turn the book lengthwise. Drawn over both pages was the large figure of a jötunn, much as the ones Loki had seen himself before. A hrímþurs, according to the legend beneath it. Beside the hrímþurs, and not even reaching the top of the first page, was a much smaller form. More slender and without the harsher facial features and ridges of the taller jötunn, and possessing both proper ears and hair. An íviðja, the legend said. Loki could not help but start to see some of himself in the second form. 'Twas odd, the relief he felt at not being as 'obviously' jötnar clashing with the distaste at once again being deemed more ergi.

Loki frowned as he suddenly realized both figures were male. Where were the depictions of female jötnar? Come to think of it, he could not recall ever having seen one outside of Bestla and, now he thought of it, she looked more like the male hrímþursar pictured before him than anything else in all but the first few memories of her that Ásgarðr had shown him. Flipping through to next few pages revealed no new drawings so Loki went back to the start of the section and began to read. Most of the information, though useful, was not terribly surprising, talking about how jötnar biology differed from æsir or ljósálfar in everything from the digestive track through to preferred temperature ranges. It helped to explain some of his food preferences (like fish) and aversions, but held no real surprises for Loki.

Nay, what did not only surprise him, but both shocked and stunned him was the section entitled 'Sex & Reproduction'. He had almost skipped it as he had no real desire to even entertain the thought of two jötnar fornicating, but he had not as he realized 'twas the most likely place to find the answers to his question, and find it he most definitely did.

Unlike every other major species of the Nine Realms but for the múspellssynir, the jötnar are not made up of members from two different sexes. Instead jötnar are all the same sex, what is called hermaphroditic by other species. For us 'tis normal and the idea of only possessing a cock or a vagina alien and abnormal. We have both and every jötnar, baring medical abnormality or infertility, is able to both sire or bear and birth children, our mammary tissue swelling to form breasts as and when needed at such times.

It... that...

Loki licked his suddenly too dry lips and realized he was absently clenching his thighs together. He forced them to relax as he took several deep calming breaths. His initial reaction was already making his magical core ache as his mind and seiðr scrambled desperately to figure out what this new information meant for him.

Not wishing any more of himself to unravel, Loki forced himself to focus on the familiar buried within this latest self-discovery. As a gifted shapeshifter, he had learned to alter his gender early on as one of the steppingstones to learning how to shift his shape entirely, from one form to another. He now recalled he had managed that initial shift far easier than most, to the point where he had startled his tutors. Had that been because the form was not as alien to him as 'twas to most? Regardless of the reason, once he had been able to shift into a woman, his natural curiosity had made it almost inevitable that he would try having sex as one once he had hit puberty. So, actually, this was not all as widely alien to him as it all could be.

Or at least so Loki tried to tell himself. 'Twas not exactly working... hermaphroditic... the ability to carry a child... to grow breasts...

His hand spasmed tight around the amulet as he tried desperately to control his erratic breathing. The sudden rush of calm and control which swept over him, his own and yet not, kept Loki from losing all control and he frantically looked around for a reflective surface for Loptr to be able to use. Simply the mirror, even enlarged, was not going to be enough, not when he could feel his magical core unraveling further even now.

There were no larger mirrors in the study but, as with the rest of Iðavöllr, there were plenty of smooth, gold and highly polished surfaces, which were good enough for this. Only just remembering to throw up a block against Heimdallr, Loki moved to the nearest such wall and reached out to it with his seiðr, guiding Loptr towards it as well. There was a shift in the feel of seiðr around him and then Loki was looking at a more golden and distorted version of himself.

"Breathe, Loki," Loptr said without even a second's pause. "Deep breaths."

Loki snarled as he knew he had to calm down, but 'twas not so simple! His whole sense of self had been turned both on its head and inside out, and the shocks of exactly what that meant simply kept coming!

"Íviðja? Hermaphroditic?" Loki snapped, barely managing to swallow down the other poisonous words he wished to spew.

Loptr did not deserve them. He himself did not deserve them either. Not that they deserved much of what ever happened to them, but Loki could control this while all of those others were far out of his control.

He would not further add to their burden or strain.

Loptr winced and Loki was shocked to observe his temporal twin shift uncomfortably, well at least to one as intimately familiar with him as he was. Absently it pleased him quite how subtle the tell truly was. Someone would have to both know him very well and be quite observant to catch it. Which ruled out Thor and his brother's friends. That caught him off-guard. Up until now Loptr had seemed to be completely in control of things, or at least mentally given Loptr's physical condition the first time they had met. So to see his older self as uncomfortable with this new information as him was... unexpected.

"You are not any more accustomed to this than me," Loki said softly.

"I have not had much more time than you to come to terms with it," Loptr replied, a sharp edge to his voice. "I only learned of it shortly after I first contacted you."

"After?"

"My initial focus was more on jötunn seiðr than their culture or physiology. My mistake."

Loki could not fault Loptr's choice of priorities given the difference in their positions. If he had the luxury of time, he too would have started with the seiðr as well. His first desire upon holding the book on jötunn seiðr had been to curl up somewhere before a fire and simply devour it. If he had not had the war to contend with, he would have done precisely that.

"Have you..." Loki began before trailing off, unable to voice the rest of the thought.

"Have I what? Explored?" Loptr almost sneered before he bit his lip. "Pardon, I did not mean that."

The instinctive urge to snap back had risen within Loki, but he forced it down. They were both dealing with the same issues here and neither of them were at all well equipped to do so in any remotely elegant or healthy way.

"You have not actually answered my question," Loki pointed out, easily detecting the evasion for what it was.

Loptr's eyes flickered over to his, a brief glimpse of dark humor and familiarity visible before his double's face blanked once more. "Hmm, I have."

The answer did not particularly surprise Loki as they were far too curious for their own good at times, as Mother had told him oft enough. Still, the thought of checking that... well he was not ready for it yet, so he would have to settle for the knowledge that 'twas, in fact, true.

"Norns," Loki swore, closing his eyes.

"No one has to know," Loptr stated. "Well not unless you were planning to tell people you are jötunn."

Loki opened his eyes to glare at Loptr. Of course he had not planned to go around spreading that particular bit of information. He was not suicidal, and he knew only all too well that no Ásgarðrian worth their salt would stand for a jötunn on Hliðskjálf. Well, other than Óðinn apparently, given the fool had put him into the line of succession, probably with the intention of it never coming to pass. So, nay, there would be no public revelations of his true heritage.

As for the rest, well, now Loki found he could breathe again and think at least somewhat rationally, if not entirely in an uncompromised fashion, he could put it aside to deal with later. After the war was sorted and, hopefully, after Óðinn had awoken and was safely ensconced back on Hliðskjálf once more. It would frighten him how quickly Loptr was able to stabilize both his mood and his seiðr if the man were not essentially himself, and he was not so far gone yet as to resent his own ability to do so. Perhaps given enough time and additional shocks, but not yet.

Loki snorted at the thought, dark humor mixed with self-deprecation welling up within him, but not so much as to be overpowering. At least not this time.

"Thank you, Loptr," Loki acknowledged, unable to resist using the old moniker.

Loptr's lips twitched despite himself and Loki took it as a win.

"I forgot to mention something earlier."

"Oh?"

"During his time on Miðgarðr, Thor made contact with a human organization called SHIELD."

"Shield?"

"'Tis an acronym for something longer and unwieldy," Loptr explained. "Regardless, their purpose is to defend Miðgarðr from any number of threats. Thor's arrival will alert them to the fact that there is, in fact, life beyond their pathetic little planet."

Loki's lips twitched despite himself. It had been a while since he had last traveled the Yggdrasill to Miðgarðr, but he had always found his visits amusing. Humans were interesting in a way which was both innocent and bloody in turns. He had found them to be so contradictory and chaotic as to be fascinating and appealing in a strange way, though their short lives made any further study of them almost futile in how little time he oft possessed to go interact with them. If there was any length of time between his visits, the mortals he had taken a liking to would be long dead and gone by the time he returned, their memories oft lost in the mists of time as the other humans would say.

"Father will not be pleased," Loki replied.

"'Tis his own fault for sending Thor there in the first place," Loptr stated dismissively. "But their response to this new threat is to assemble a team of... heroes from across Miðgarðr, or at least it will be if they are presented with an enemy stronger than SHIELD can handle on their own."

"Very well, and?" Loki questioned, failing to see how this was of significance to him.

"'Tis merely information, should you find need of going to Miðgarðr in your new future. Given Thanos has targeted it once and that they possess the Tesseract, 'tis likely the Mad Titan will be drawn there once more."

"And we will need to intervene to ensure he does not obtain the Tesseract."

"Not to mention you may have the opportunity to... relieve his messenger of the Mind Stone as well."

Oh, now there was an idea. Not that Loki had any desire to mess with the Infinity Stone directly, not so long as it was in any way connected to Thanos. Loptr's hints of what he had undergone at the Mad Titan's hands were still far too clear in Loki's mind for anything as stupidly mad as that. He would leave those actions to Thor from now on, especially now he had heard first accounts of what they could lead to for him personally. He had no desire for that darkness and madness.

"Are any of these human heroes worth looking into?" Loki asked.

'Twas unlikely, but he had learned better than to dismiss anything outright. Simply look at how dangerous he himself was, despite being what was essentially a jötunn runt if you put all fancy words and titles aside. 'Twas how Laufey had clearly viewed him instead of these supposedly valued íviðjur.

"The one who transforms into a green berserker beast is worth watching out for when sufficiently provoked," Loptr cautioned with a wince and touch to his ribs. "But the one who intrigued me was Anthony Stark."

"What are his powers?"

"He does not possess any, not in that manner. Nay, his skills as a warrior and his cause for being on the team are all due to his intellect. He is deemed a genius among mortals and has turned his skills to creating the most interesting armor."

"Armor?" Loki questioned, he did not wish to be skeptical, but it did not sound so special even if the mention of that level of intellect intrigued him.

'Twas not often he had come across anyone who could truly challenge his mind and Loki had always savored those special occasions when they occurred. Much to his brother's dismay at times, especially if he had abandoned or refused to go on an adventurous quest to do so. For this mortal, with such a short life, to have caught Loptr's eye enough for his temporal twin to mention him to Loki now was intriguing enough. Still, he wanted to know what was so extraordinary about this armor.

"I know it sounds mundane, but 'tis not," Loptr laughed. "It covers his entire body when activated and it gives him the ability to fly and fight those far stronger than himself. It also contains... a mechanical construct of some sort."

Loki's eyebrows shot up instantly intrigued. "A mechanical construct?"

"'Tis the best description I can think of. It seems to be able to think and act like a human, yet it possesses no physical form I have seen. It also appears to be both in Stark's armor and his tower dwelling."

Hmm. Perhaps Loki would need to contrive an excuse to convince Thor to return to Miðgarðr once Óðinn had awoken and he was free to roam the Realms once more.


By the time light started creeping into the study, steadily advancing along the floor towards the far wall which held a portrait of the royal family, Loki had long since traded in Bestla's book for several others. His search had become far more focused after he had come across the first real information on the Casket of Ancient Winters. Now he was almost frantically looking for any other books or manuscripts which might possess additional information as horror welled up within him. He had always heard the Casket described as the heart of Jötunheimr but, until now, he had thought that description was based on how powerful it was and how central to jötnar politics, being both a weapon and a means of travel. What Loki had never realized was that 'twas also critically important for Jötunheimr itself.

For the Realm's very survival.

The first reference to it Loki had found had been so obscure he had not quite understood it right away, but the other sources had not been quite so vague.

'Tis a pity all records pertaining to the creation of the Casket of Ancient Winters have been lost or destroyed. As the ability to so thoroughly harness a very planet's power and seiðr is a fantastic feat of power and skill, for it to have been lost is a tragedy of epic proportions. With it goes the ability to replicate the feat on other planets, thereby preventing them from gaining such fine control of nearly every aspect of their planet's seiðr, leaving it up to the natural and oft chaotic forces of the planet itself.

What that author had not seemed to grasp was the inherent weakness which went along with the harnessing of a Realm's very seiðr. One Loki had recognized and feared long before he had come across it spelled out in another text.

The Casket of Ancient Winters, though an incredible achievement of magical proportions is also a tremendous weakness for Jötunheimr at the same time. While 'tis true it allows the jötnar king to control nearly all aspects of Útgarðr itself, it has also resulted in a disruption of the natural processes which would normally regulate Jötunheimr's magical core. Without these, it could leave Útgarðr in great peril should the Casket ever be lost or stolen. One fears that it may even result in Jötunheimr slowly tearing itself apart, an event which would imperil the entirety of the Yggdrasill and should be guarded against by all of the Nine.

Those words haunted Loki even now, several hours after reading them. Sure, on their own they did not prove anything. but the evidence was all there. Jötunheimr's abysmal recovery even in the millennium since the war, the jötnar's desperation to have the Casket of Ancient Winters back (despite the fact it could plunge them back into a war they lost the last time when they were better armed and prepared), the discordance he had detected from time to time in the Yggdrasill's song, the sheer amount of power and seiðr he had felt when touching the Casket, the importance the Casket had in jötnar culture... Even the careful way Bestla talked about it, saying just enough to not be obviously avoiding it, but also not announcing its utter and critical importance for all to learn.

Oh, the irony that in doing so she might have helped bring about that which she had sought to avoid in the first place! Loki knew enough about Óðinn to know that his adoptive father had not been aware of any of this when he took the Casket from Jötunheimr. Not only did Óðinn genuinely seem to want peace, even if only on his terms, but there was absolutely no honor in destroying Jötunheimr in this manner and honor was far too important to both Ásgarðr and Óðinn for Borrson to have done this knowingly. The only question was, had Óðinn learned of it since and, if so, why had he not done anything about it?

Loki could immediately think of a few answers to the question, but he was not quite certain he could believe any of them. Aye, having to turn about and return the Casket to Laufey-King would be an embarrassment. Or, aye, admitting he had not realized how vital it was both to the jötnar's survival, and that of their very Realm, would be a similar embarrassment. But surely the need to do so outweighed any such embarrassment. Given how often Óðinn had lectured both him and Thor on how the King of Ásgarðr had a responsibility to protect and guard the Nine Realms, surely he would not willingly allow this?

Would he?

Loki laughed, flinching at how unsteady it sounded even to himself. Even after the events of the past day, he was still asking whether or not he thought Óðinn could do certain things. It seemed he either could not learn, or that he willfully did not want to, his upbringing and old desires holding him back from seeing the truth.

And yet...

And yet there was a world of difference between what Óðinn had done to him and this. With him, Óðinn had stolen a child and a potentially unwanted one at that. Aye, it could affect the future of two Realms, and that had clearly been his father's intention upon claiming him, but 'twas all. This however... this could adversely affect not only Jötunheimr, but had the possibility of undermining the entirety of the Yggdrasill and, through that, imperil all Nine Realms. Without the Yggdrasill they would all die. Surely that was a risk Óðinn simply would not take? Hel, even the destruction on Svartálfaheimr had been regretted afterwards for the impact it had wrought on the World Tree. Loki still shuddered at what he felt from the Yggdrasill when he had travelled there. Even merely passing close to a branch which led to the destroyed Realm was enough to disrupt the harmony of the Yggdrasill's song.

In fact, before now he had always assumed the disharmony he occasionally felt within the song came from Svartálfaheimr. But what if 'twas from having one of the Nine dying within her very boughs? Aye the myrkálfar were dead, or so they had all believed, but Svartálfaheimr itself had not been directly impacted other than where the war had been fought. The destruction Borr and Malekith had wrecked aside, Svartálfaheimr still lived in its own way. It might not be in a manner the rest of the Nine might immediately understand, but Loki was aware that this in and of itself was actually significantly important. Not all of the Realms were the same and the Yggdrasill would not survive if they were. Nay, each contributed something unique and important to the World Tree, holding all of the Yggdrasill in balance. Some disruption could be tolerated as with any healthy system, but too much would tilt it all too far and everything could be destroyed.

The mere idea of it sickened Loki and he felt Ásgarðr recoil from it. So why had Óðinn not returned the Casket of Ancient Winters to Jötunheimr? Aye, it risked the possibility of a second war, but surely 'twas a risk worth taking given the alternatives? It made what he had to discuss with the High Council far easier to focus on, but he needed as much information as he could obtain on the Casket. Was there a way to restrict its use? Perhaps to prevent Laufey from utilizing it to travel to other Realms? Or even to ensure it could only be used to maintain Jötunheimr's seiðr? Surely Laufey and the jötnar would be desperate enough by now to accept something like that.

Had it perhaps been Óðinn's plan, Loki wondered. Wait until his enemy could not say nay to such a restriction on the Casket's power before returning it as a gesture of good will from Ásgarðr? At least to the other Realms? If so, then it would have been smarter not to allow the anti-jötnar sentiment to grow as bad as it had. Having a more sympathetic view would make such a move far more acceptable to the people who would have viewed it as a mercy bestowed upon a former enemy. Now it would be viewed with suspicion and disapproval and, of course, all of it would fall on his head.

Loki growled at the thought. How typical, here he was, once more cleaning up a mess someone in his family had created, and all he would get in return for it was more disgust and scorn. True, usually 'twas not Óðinn's mess he had to clean up, but the pattern still held. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered.

Look as he might, though, Loki had yet to find a book which contained any real information on the Casket of Ancient Winters. There were plenty which mentioned it, indeed not a single book did not contain some reference to it, so tied into jötnar culture and politics was it, but for many that was all they contained. A few went further, but even those seemed to contain little of value, most of it recording lamentations on the lack of knowledge on the Casket or what was, at best, repetition of rumors or stories the author had heard of it, or a best guess based on brief encounters with the Casket or the results of its use. Such as the damage it had wrought on Miðgarðr after Laufey had utilized it there to try and convert the Realm into a more suitable home for more jötnar.

Loki growled in frustration.

Chapter Text

A knock on the door interrupted his apparently futile search and Loki leaned back in his chair, disheartened.

"Enter," he called.

"Good morning, Your Majesty," Livunn said as she opened the door.

Her eyes swept the chamber as she entered, taking in the cluttered desk and doing an assessment of what she could see of his person. Clearly what she saw displeased her as Loki caught the slight narrowing of her eyes and the aborted twitch of her lips. It caused his own lips to curl up slightly and he could not help but imagine her doing the exact same even if it were his father seated here. He almost wished it were, simply so he could see what Óðinn would do with her. His father definitely was not used to anyone treating him like this anymore.

Well, except for Mother, of course.

"Livunn," Loki greeted, hearing more than seeing the commotion in the hallway behind her. "Is it time for breakfast already?"

"A little early, perhaps, but I heard you have a High Council meeting first thing and wanted to ensure you had plenty of time to eat, given you have not slept."

Loki nearly snorted at the borderline censure in her voice and instead he merely waved a hand in the direction of the sofas and low table standing before them. 'Twas all Livunn needed to start having everything brought in and Loki shook his head a little before running a hand over his face. Of course his personal servant knew his schedule for the day, she was hardly incompetent and for all she chastised him on not getting any sleep, he had no doubt she had not slept as much as she should either. Not given how late it had been when she had left his chambers last night and how she had to have obtained her information on his plans for the day afterwards.

It seemed they would both be sleep deprived until Óðinn roused from his sleep. The irony of the situation was not lost on him.

Not waiting to be called, Loki rose to his feet and stretched before walking over to one of the sofas. The small table was covered not by a fancy array of dishes, but instead a few smaller ones, the biggest of which held an omelet with both vegetables and meat. Beside it was a much smaller plate of freshly baked bread and another containing fruit and yoghurt.

'Twas almost a relief to see one of his usual breakfasts rather than whatever fancy spread he had no doubt the kitchens had wished to make and send up. While he always had a healthy appetite in the morning and did not do well with skipping the breaking of the night's fast, something routine right now was sorely welcome and he was silently thankful for Livunn once more. She was a treasure in her own way and he could not believe no one else of his family had claimed her as their personal servant before him.

A pitcher of jojo juice was placed beside him as Loki sat, but there was no tea brought in. Instead Livunn moved towards the teapot and box she had brought to the study the day before.

"The vanir blossoms as usual, my Liege?" Livunn asked.

Loki shook his head as he picked up his plate with the omelet. "Nay, not today. I will go with the queen's leaf."

'Twas an older Ásgarðrian brew named after the fact Buri's wife had been unable to start the day without it. Livunn's lips twitched slightly but she did as requested. No doubt she was displeased at his needing so much caffeine so early in the day, but he had to be as alert as possible both for the High Council meeting and for the audience with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. If they were truly going to commit treason, then he wanted that particular meeting to go just right, so they possessed no means of worming out of their rightful sentences for it.

The thought of them doing so alone (and that Thor would probably fight for it as he had always done when they had looked to be in trouble for their actions) killed Loki's appetite, but he forced himself to keep eating. He had already not slept and was not only under high pressure, but had a fracturing magical core and psyche, he could ill afford not eating as well. Not without risking a collapse and then where would Ásgarðr be?

Uncle Vili was not his idea of a suitable regent, much less permanent king should Óðinn never recover. Not to mention the added stress it would place on his mother in particular, given how divided her focus would be between Óðinn and himself, along with also worrying about Thor and Uncle Vili's rule. All of which was without considering what it would look like to both Ásgarðr's enemies and allies alike.

As it was, even with him on the throne, they looked weaker and disorganized as he was not the direct heir and Thor was supposed to have ascended to Hliðskjálf yesterday.

"Here you go, Your Majesty," Livunn said, placing the tea before him. "Is there anything else you require?"

"Not at the moment nay, thank you, Livunn," Loki replied.

At that she stepped back to stand beside the other servant and the two Einherjar whom had entered the study with them. It felt incredibly awkward all of a sudden and Loki missed his mother something fierce right then, even though he was still not entirely certain how he felt about her and all she had done. The centuries worth of lies rankled, but he could also remember only all too well all of the times she had been there for him as a child and had dried his tears when he had been hurt, or comforted him after a nightmare. Loki paused at the thought of how many of these had involved feeling lost and alone, abandoned, in the cold.

A chill swept through him at the vague memories he had of those night terrors. Had they been based on memories he possessed from when he had been cast out by Laufey? Was that what had been plaguing him even then?

Simply the mere possibility complicated his feelings towards Frigga even further and Loki shoved them all aside. He did not have the time to deal with any of it now. Instead he focused on finishing his meal as he tried to organize his thoughts enough for the High Council meeting. Hopefully they would be able to come up with a viable plan for what to do and start to put things into motion.

As soon as he was finished, Loki rose to his feet and moved back to the desk to roll up the parchments he would need and to collect Gungnir. When he stepped out into the corridor, 'twas to find Lieutenant-General Yngvarr. Surprised, he raised an inquiring eyebrow, causing the man to flush.

"I... given the circumstances and the fact we need to split protection between yourself and the All-Father, we have had to increase some shifts," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr informed him.

A likely explanation, but Loki was reasonably certain some of it was also that the man felt better taking care of things personally, a sentiment he could well understand. Especially considering the situation.

"Very well," Loki replied.

"Glaðsheimr, Your Majesty?"

"Aye."

Although it was still early, the corridors were busier than they had been the previous evening and so their progress was marked by people stopping to clasp their fists to their chest and bowing to him. 'Twas a strange experience for Loki and one he did not know what to think of. While 'twas nice to finally receive some recognition, it was not truly for any of the reasons he had wished it. All of these people, the servants and nobles alike, were doing it because he was regent king right now, not because of any action he had taken or skills he possessed. 'Twas all for Hliðskjálf and the fact he was now sat upon it. Well, so to speak.

For all of that, Loki was quite glad when they reached Glaðsheimr and entered it. The Einherjar swept the chamber before several moved to the balcony and others stepped back out of the hall, the remaining few spreading out around the chamber. Since he was the first to arrive, Loki moved to the head of the table, placing his notes before the seat to the right of the one he normally sat at. The fixed seating arrangements would mean both of those beside him would now be free, his own and Thor's, which would allow him the illusion of space.

Loki then took the opportunity to move toward the balcony for some fresh air. He stopped beside one of the golden pillars and a slight prod from his seiðr had his cape shifting to gold, making him slightly harder to spot to anyone entering Glaðsheimr. 'Twas not a perfect disguise by any means, but it made him feel a little better.

The first of the High Council to arrive were his Uncles Vili and Vé, which did not surprise Loki in the slightest. They of everyone would best understand the position he was now in and he had been counting on their support, even if he knew better than to rely on it too much. The recent betrayal of those whom he had thought were his parents was far too fresh in his mind for that. The rest of the Council members followed shortly after, the overall mood noticeably subdued, informing Loki he would have no trouble explaining exactly how serious their situation at the moment was.

"Does anyone know what happened?" Uncle Vili asked. "I have heard rumors, but..."

"Father collapsed in the vault," Loki stated, letting his cape shift to green before he turned around, noting who did and did not seem surprised to see him.

"King Loki," Lord Ragnvaldr greeted, bowing.

As expected, the others followed suit though they all raised clenched fists to their hearts.

"Is Óðinn alright?" Uncle Vé asked as Loki moved towards the table.

"He is being tended by Lady Eir and Mother," Loki explained. "But 'tis not a normal Óðinnsleep as he put it off for too long."

"And you say he collapsed into it?" Uncle Vili questioned, clearly worried.

The cynical part of Loki could not help but wonder if 'twas due to concern for his elder brother, or because it would put Loki on Hliðskjálf permanently. None of those present, himself included, had expected him to end up on it. Still, it hardly mattered why his uncle was concerned as Loptr's warning of what had happened to his temporal twin would make Loki cautious in all of his dealings. He would not give anyone the opportunity to betray him.

"Hmm," Loki confirmed, reaching his father's usual seat and leaning Gungnir against the grove in the table made specially to hold it before he sat. "We were arguing when it happened."

There was no point in concealing the fact as he had already said it where others could overhear, and Loki was well aware the Einherjar had probably heard their raised voices from their posts. For him not to admit it openly here and now would make it look like he might have something to hide, as he knew there would be questions raised about his ascension to Hliðskjálf. He had not been the heir and crown prince after all.

"Óðinn is strong and will pull through with time," General Týr stated confidently. "We merely need to focus on keeping everything going until he does."

Simple and straightforward, but then Loki had not expected anything else from the top man in charge of Ásgarðr's armed forces. The tall, dark skinned man had always been a tough but fair taskmaster in Loki's experience. Well, except for the fact the man had banned the use of seiðr in many training scenarios. Ostentatiously it was to ensure he could fight well without it, which he could understand, but it had led the others to view seiðr use as even more argr and dishonorable than before. He had also never understood why it had not been important for the others to learn how to combat a battle seiðmadr so they knew what to do if they encountered one.

"Aye," Loki agreed. "And speaking of that, Uncle Vili, Uncle Vé, until such time as either Father awakens or Thor returns, could you please retake your former duties with the Princes' Court, to make up for the gap currently left there?"

'Twas something which had occurred to Loki in the middle of the night out of nowhere. With him as regent and Thor banished, no one was left to see to the lower-level offences and disputes which needed dealing with before they escalated or clogged up the time the king dedicated to dealing with the more complex ones, or which were taken to Óðinn in appeal of either his or Thor's decisions. Rather annoyingly, it had always been his as of late even as infrequent as they were. Not that it mattered as Óðinn had not overturned one of his decisions in decades, and only amended them rarely and even then not always in favor of the complainant.

"The Princes' Court?" Uncle Vé questioned, confused. "But Thor mentioned a few decades ago those were not attracting disputes anymore."

Those were not attracting... Loki's eyes closed as he suddenly realized exactly why his sessions had grown so busy and long the past few decades. If people were not going to Thor's sessions, then that would make sense. He had heard some rather dismaying rumors of the decisions his brother had made which he had rather hoped were more fiction than fact, but perhaps they had not been. If it were true, then he could see how people might seek him out over his brother if Thor truly had been oversimplifying things and favoring warriors or those with more 'honorable' professions as he saw them. Damn his brother for it all and not learning when Father had overturned a series of his decisions in favor of more just outcomes. It did help explain a lot about how Thor behaved about Hliðskjálf, though, and Loki wished he had discovered this sooner so he might have done something about it at the time.

Clearly it had come up at a High Council meeting he had missed.

"Well, I cannot speak for Thor's sessions," Loki began diplomatically. "But I can say mine are still very well attended and those complaints will need addressing."

"Then of course we shall cover it," Uncle Vé promised.

Loki inclined his head at his uncles, hoping he would not come to regret this as they had not fulfilled this particular role in centuries, not since Óðinn had deemed first Thor and then himself old enough to take on those duties.

"Your Majesty, pardon if this is a sensitive topic," Lord Aðalgrímr began. "But about your brother, might we enquire what has happened? As with Óðinn, there are many rumors."

"So I have been informed," Loki replied. "The answer is simple enough. For his actions, which include deliberately disobeying a direct command from his king, dragging a compliment of armed warriors to Jötunheimr and instigating hostilities there after Laufey-King offered him an opportunity to leave, Father relieved Thor of his titles, powers and longevity, and banished him to Miðgarðr."

Dead silence followed his pronouncement and Loki saw only shock and disbelief, with some resignation, as he looked around the table at his six fellow counselors. 'Twas not simply the confirmation of some of the rumors, he knew, but also what it indicated about the situation with Jötunheimr itself. If this was true, then it made the rumors of the war far more likely as well.

"Permanently?" General Týr finally asked. "The banishment, I mean."

"Nay," Loki said. "After he banished Thor, Father enchanted Mjǫllnir and sent it after Thor to Miðgarðr."

"Dare I ask about the enchantment?" Uncle Vé inquired.

"It makes Mjǫllnir immovable to all but those who are worthy."

"So Thor will need to prove himself such in order to regain her and all of his titles, powers and longevity," Lord Ragnvaldr realized.

"Precisely," Loki confirmed. "Obviously we cannot know when that might be. At present he is with the mortals who found him after he fell to Miðgarðr. They believe him to be mentally unstable."

Perhaps Loki received more satisfaction in informing the High Council of that then he should, but how often was it he could be so truthful about his brother's actions and not have them be praised as if the epitome of all that was good and just?

"It seems we will simply have to wait and see when Pri- Thor will return to us," Lord Óðr said.

General Týr had just opened his mouth to add something when a loud cawing sounded through the hall and Loki turned his head in surprise to view Huginn and Muninn sweeping into Glaðsheimr on large black wings. They circled the table once, twice, before settling on the high back of Loki's new chair where they almost always perched while in Glaðsheimr with the High Council.

Loki felt his mouth go dry at the implication of not only their presence, but their decision to perch themselves behind him. 'Twas simply one more indication of the rightfulness of his ascension to Hliðskjálf. Huginn and Muninn were his father's ravens and reported what happened in the Nine Realms directly to Óðinn. For them to be here, now, instead of lingering at his father's bedside was one more powerful sign his regency was just. Not that it would make a difference to Lady Sif and the Warriors Idiot or Heimdallr, but that did not mean Loki was any less grateful for it, or any less aware of the impact it would have on others such as Lord Óðr or General Týr, whom he knew would not tolerate his rule well.

"King Loki."

The sudden, unexpected voice in his head made Loki start visibly before he turned to his right. "Huginn?" he questioned silently.

"Aye."

"Oh."

He had always known Óðinn could speak with Huginn and Muninn directly, but Loki had never experienced it himself before, even though Muninn had used to spend quite a bit of time perched on his shoulder as a child.

"News of your ascension to Hliðskjálf is spreading throughout the Nine Realms," Huginn stated. "As are rumors of war with Jötunheimr."

Loki winced at that. "Any news or whispers of rebellion or taking advantage of the situation?"

"Not yet, but you will be watched. Closely."

As if he had not expected that, but 'twas good to have the confirmation nonetheless. Especially of the former, though he knew it would only be a matter of time if things remained unstable or Ásgarðr appeared weak.

"Word of what has transpired is spreading," Loki explained when he turned back to the table and found all eyes on him.

"How are the Realms reacting?" General Týr questioned, immediately alert.

"Cautiously. For now."

He did not need to say how quickly it could change. Everyone present here was well aware of the dangers they currently faced.

"Now, Jötunheimr," Loki continued. "I know there are rumors about this as well, so let me be absolutely clear if Father did not have the chance to speak with you. Laufey-King has declared war. Father tried to dissuade him, but he was resolute."

"Is Jötunheimr even in a position to do so?" Lord Óðr inquired. "Or even to get out off of their Realm?"

"Three frost giants managed to gain access to the vault yesterday," General Týr countered. "Clearly they can get off Jötunheimr."

"That was true?"

"Aye."

"Do we know how?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked.

"Nay."

"Aye," Loki said, knowing if he did not explain at least the how, then too much time would be wasted on this. "I found a portal to Jötunheimr in the vault."

"A portal?" Lord Óðr questioned. "What is that?"

"A connection between two Realms on the Yggdrasill," Uncle Vé explained. "There is some debate on whether they can only occur naturally or whether they can be induced deliberately by a powerful enough seiðkona, but once open, anyone who knows of their location can walk through them."

"And there was one leading into the vault?" General Týr checked.

"Hmm," Loki confirmed. "It would have let them bypass all of our outer layers of security and defenses. As clearly happened."

"So we have an open breach point for the frost giants to use?"

"Nay, I have closed the portal."

"You can do that?" Uncle Vé questioned turning large eyes to him.

Loki had always known his uncle had an interest in seiðr and he had long suspected his father's youngest sibling had secretly studied it enough to be a weak practitioner in his own right, but it had never been openly confirmed. It had eventually led to a certain amount of friction between them as Loki had viewed it as cowardly on Uncle Vé's part, and he had resented not having another adult to support him and his interest given how many others disapproved of it and sought only to discourage or ignore him for it. He had also always wondered if his uncle had resented the strength of his seiðr or his determination to follow through on his studies despite the public pressure against it.

"Of course, closing a small portal, especially such a new one, is easy as they are abnormalities in the fabric of the Realms," Loki explained, downplaying it more than a little as he knew no one had the knowledge, much less the experience, to contradict him. "The Yggdrasill seeks to close itself off from such easy intrusion."

"Could you tell if 'twas a natural one or created as Prince Vé suggested?" Lord Aðalgrímr inquired.

"Nay. I do not know if 'tis even possible to tell, much less how go about doing so. All of the portals I have encountered have felt the same."

"There are more?" General Týr demanded in dismay.

"A number to various Realms," Loki confirmed. "None within Iðavöllr's defenses, though, or close enough for Heimdallr not to be able to warn us of approach through one of them."

"Can you not simply close them all? Your Majesty?"

"Nay, most are far too large or old for me to do so. They seem to become more established with time."

"So this one the jötnar used was definitely new then," Uncle Vili stated.

"Oh, aye," Loki confirmed, pausing before deciding to give them a little more. "I can detect open portals quite easily and 'twas not there the last time I was in the vault before the coronation."

"And the odds of one simply opening there now is highly unlikely," Lord Ragnvaldr added. "This was a deliberate attack then."

"That is not how Laufey-King will play this," Loki warned. "He gave Thor the opportunity to walk away when we confronted him in his outdoor court. He went so far as to say Thor did not understand the price of war, but he did."

"Mere words," General Týr dismissed.

"Words which will have power," Lord Aðalgrímr countered. "We have no proof the attack on the vault was anything but the actions of an independent faction."

"That is what Father suspected as well," Loki told them. "He was willing to leave the issue there, stating that those who had attacked were dead."

"Do we know how many jötnar dead there were in the... incident on Jötunheimr?"

"Not for certain," Loki replied, noting well how they danced around his involvement in the attack. 'Twas currently to their advantage he had been present, but Loki wished he knew what they thought of it. Did they view him as just as guilty of it all as Thor, or was it seen as him supporting his brother and crown prince as was expected of a younger brother and second prince? "However, I would estimate up to three hundred."

"Three hundred?" Uncle Vili repeated in astonishment.

Loki shrugged. "There were many jötnar and Thor used Mjǫllnir to smash the ice. Many did not get away in time and went down with it."

"That is not good for us," Lord Ragnvaldr stated heavily.

"What does it matter? If Laufey wants a war, we can give him a war," General Týr argued. "They do not stand a chance against our forces."

Loki bit back his initial response to the general's fiery words. He could easily recall his father's own words from after one meeting centuries ago. Óðinn had stated that Týr was a phenomenal general, but as with many such men, oft did not understand the value of diplomacy and that war was to be used as a last resort by good kings. 'Twas a lesson Thor had yet to learn, clearly, and he shuddered to think of what his brother and Týr could have gotten Ásgarðr into if left unchecked together.

"What are our forces at present, General?" Loki asked. "If things do escalate past diplomatic solutions, where do we stand? We have not been at war for over a millennium."

"We have a standing army of eight legions, and I could increase that two to three fold if we call in all of those who have been warrior trained," General Týr began. "The problem would be arming and armoring all of them. We have neglected those areas with funding the last few centuries and would require more than simply what our own blacksmiths could produce at short notice."

The familiar resentment at how funding had been allocated underlay those words but Loki chose to ignore it, turning his attention instead of Lord Aðalgrímr.

"We may need to send a delegation to Niðavellir then, at short notice, to put in a request for that which we cannot make," Loki said. "Would they supply?"

"Gladly," Lord Aðalgrímr answered immediately. "But if word has spread there already, we will have to pay heftily for it."

Of course they would. The dökkálfar were nothing if not profit oriented, as Loki knew well from personal experience.

"Very well, if it comes to it, I want you to select someone to lead the negotiations with them," Loki ordered. "General Týr, please calculate what we would require at the bare minimum and what would be more ideal, so we have the information at hand if we do decide to go down that route."

"But you do not intend to in the first instance," General Týr replied.

"Nay, an all-out war is not my first preference."

"We may not have a choice, my King."

"We may not, but we do have a lot of leverage, diplomatically."

"You mean the Casket of Ancient Winters."

Loki could tell from the general's tone of voice alone what Týr thought of the idea and his very willingness to consider it, but he ignored it. He did not have time to get involved in petty disputes or powerplays right now. Besides, he had watched Óðinn and Týr rip at each other plenty over his centuries at this very table, so 'twas not exactly disrespect directed solely at him.

"Among many other things," Loki said calmly. "Our initial treaty with Laufey-King provided nothing of trade or anything else."

"We defeated them in a war!"

"As we did Vanaheimr, yet our treaty with them was not nearly so spartan."

"Do we have the treaties to view?" Lord Óðr asked.

Loki pulled them out of the parchments he had brought and passed them along.

"Despite all we could offer them, Laufey-King will almost certainly push for just the Casket," Lord Ragnvaldr warned, and paused before continuing. "And he may be right to do so."

"Nay, absolutely not!" General Týr thundered as he rose to his feet. "We cannot give them back their greatest weapon and the ability to leave Jötunheimr at will. That is all but inviting them to attack either ourselves or another Realm. We simply cannot allow that!"

"The Casket is more than a weapon and means of transport," Lord Ragnvaldr responded calmly, clearly used to General Týr's more fiery temper.

"Hmm," Loki agreed. "'Tis the heart of Jötunheimr."

The look of surprise he received from both of his uncles and Lord Ragnvaldr told Loki what he had learned in the past few hours clearly was not common knowledge. It made him feel a little better at not having known about it before. It had been for precisely this type of information he had always wanted access to the king's library to begin with.

The king's library...

It was with a start Loki remembered the book on jötunn seiðr he had taken and hidden away in his own pocket dimension. He had done so in order not to lose access to it when Óðinn awoke as he still felt it should be his by rights, given his heritage. But, because he had squirreled it away, it had not been on the desk when he had been doing his research and somehow he had forgotten all about it, probably because he had needed to force it from his mind in favor of doing the task required of him instead. 'Twas a sign of how overtired he was. Oh well, there was little he could do about it now, he would simply have to look at it later.

'Twas not like it would be a hardship to do so.

"You know of that," Uncle Vili almost whispered.

Loki frowned as he looked from his uncle to the others at the table. Other than his uncles and Lord Ragnvaldr, the rest seemed to be confused. So, Óðinn had not shared this particular bit of information with the entirety of his High Council. Interesting. It added some substance to his earlier suspicions Óðinn had not been aware of the Casket of Ancient Winter's importance to Jötunheimr until after he had already taken it.

For now, Loki merely scowled at his uncle. "I always do my research if at all possible, Uncle, you should already know this."

"Aye, but... do not tell me you were up all night."

"We are officially at war, I think now is the time for anything which gathers critical information."

"What am I missing here?" Lord Óðr questioned with a deep, displeased frown.

"The Casket of Ancient Winters is far more than a mere weapon or means of interplanetary transport," Lord Ragnvaldr began.

"Aye, you said," General Týr scowled as he sat back down. "What else is it?"

"As King Loki said, 'tis called the heart of Jötunheimr and it turns out this is far more than a mere fancy title. A lot more."

"How?" Lord Aðalgrímr demanded.

"From what we have been able to determine, 'tis intrinsically linked to Jötunheimr's magical core and, without it, that magical core is either breaking down or becoming so unregulated as to essentially be breaking," Uncle Vé explained. "Which means that, should the Casket be away from Jötunheimr for long enough, the whole Realm will become so out of balance it will be completely unable to support life and it may eventually die entirely."

That was not quite what Loki had taken from the tomes, but 'twas close enough for their current purpose.

"So?" General Týr demanded with a shrug. "The frost giants die, who cares? Problem solved as far as I can tell."

Chapter Text

"The problem," Loki began. "Is that this is an entire Realm we are speaking of here, one of the Nine, not merely a species. If the Casket is as critical for Jötunheimr as Uncle Vé said, then keeping it from there risks the very balance of the Yggdrasill itself."

"Is that not taking it a little too far?" Lord Óðr asked. "'Tis a big step from one Realm's - what did you call it - magical core, to saying the fate of the Yggdrasill itself hangs in the balance."

"We speak of the Nine for a reason," Uncle Vili argued. "Simply plucking one of them away will not simply be nothing."

"Since when do Realms have magical cores?" General Týr questioned. "And if Jötunheimr supposedly has one then surely Ásgarðr should as well and I have never heard of it."

"Aye, you have," Loki replied. "We simply do not call it that as ours is not tied to an object like the Casket of Ancient Winters."

"Then what do we call it?"

"Right now? The Óðinnforce."

That definitely garnered a reaction from everyone present and Loki abruptly wondered if his father would be furious at him for revealing so much. But how was he supposed to know about who knew what given how secretive Óðinn had been about all of this with even his own sons. Or had it simply been with him that Óðinn had played things so close to the chest? Had Thor been aware of all of this already? He had never known his brother to ask for access to the king's library, after all, and he doubted Thor would have mentioned it if he had. What with the oaf's complete and utter lack of interest in all things scholarly.

"And trust me when I say it most definitely connects directly to Ásgarðr's magical core, General," Loki finished.

Óðinn could be mad at him all he wished to later on, Loki needed for this information to be out there now. He simply refused to allow the discordance within the Yggdrasill to continue through either inaction or ignorance.

"Very well, so we know the magical core aspect is accurate, but what about the rest?" Lord Óðr questioned. "How do we know the Casket is actually tied into it? Or that Jötunheimr's magical core is important to the health of the Yggdrasill? We have no sign the World Tree is ill."

"That is not entirely true," Lord Ragnvaldr stated. "Ever since we first began to suspect what the Casket of Ancient Winters might actually be a few centuries ago, Óðinn requested we try to monitor the health of the Yggdrasill."

This was news to Loki, but then 'twas quite clear there was a lot about this situation his father had kept from even most of the High Council. Why was that, he wondered. Had Óðinn truly wanted to be certain before he acted or began discussing options? Or had it been Borrson's pride which guided his actions, not wishing to admit to his mistake before all of them?

"How did you do that?" Loki asked, curious.

"We have not found any one way that works terribly well," Uncle Vé admitted. "Therefore instead we use a few separate indicators. It turns out that among the things which Heimdallr is able to perceive are glimpses of the World Tree itself. These glimpses are rare and limited in scope, but they do provide our most direct observation of the Yggdrasill itself."

"Of course he can view it," Lord Aðalgrímr muttered resentfully.

Loki's lips twitched at the clear jealousy he heard in the man's voice. If only they knew he could go far beyond mere glimpses of the World Tree! Not that he planned on informing any of them of the truth. 'Twas just one of the many skills he had long since decided to keep to himself, not only to make others underestimate him, but also so no one realized exactly how powerful and mobile he truly was.

"What has he been able to see?" General Týr requested, a hint of interest in his voice.

'Twas one of the many annoying contradictions of Ásgarðr. Seiðr was frowned upon, especially if performed by men, except for the All-Father or when it came to things like the Yggdrasill, when 'twas suddenly revered or looked upon with wonder. Not to mention magical items like Mjǫllnir or Gungnir, whose use somehow was not seen as breaking any 'no seiðr in training' rules.

"Heimdallr has a hard time putting it into words, but what he has said is that at times he can detect what he has called anomalies in the... energy of the Yggdrasill," Uncle Vili picked up. "Some form of sporadic disruption."

"That would match my own experience near portals," Loki offered. "The reason I detect them so easily is because they seem to emit a faint... song if you will."

"A song?" Lord Ragnvaldr repeated, brow furrowing.

"It sounds like some form of orchestral or instrumental piece, but more ephemeral or haunting, like ljósálfar funeral music."

"And it suffers from this disruption?" Uncle Vé asked, leaning forwards across Loki's usual seat which now sat empty between them.

"I would call it more of a disharmony that runs through it than a disruption," Loki explained. "But 'twas far worse than I have ever heard it before with the portal in the vault."

Not strictly a lie, but not entirely true either as it heavily implied the distortion he had heard was due to the Casket's influence rather than the degeneration of his own magical core. Loki felt no shame or hesitance, though, as he was not risking the fate of the Yggdrasill. He would see this situation resolved as anything else left him feeling almost physically ill and he simply could not imagine how Óðinn had viewed it any other way.

"What are the other markers you were observing?" Lord Aðalgrímr questioned.

"The first was the monitoring of one of the portals which Óðinn was aware of right here on Ásgarðr," Uncle Vé replied.

"We have had a number of seiðkonur spending time observing it and some of our scholars have tried to detect it with non-seiðr means."

"How did it go?"

"Variably. The seiðkonur had the most success but even they had trouble detecting much more than that there was a portal there. Everything they could detect, though, seems to back up the fact there is some form of disruption or discordance which is sporadic and unpredictable in nature."

The knowledge Óðinn had arranged for seiðkonur to monitor a portal and had still not thought to bring him into it angered Loki and he reached up to clutch at his amulet despite how it would look. Aye, he had never told either of his parents precisely how proficient he had become with using portals or even that he could create small ones in certain areas, but 'twas still wildly known he was one of the most powerful seiðmenn in the Nine Realms, let alone on Ásgarðr, so it would have made sense for Óðinn to consult him for this type of project. So why had he not been?

Did Óðinn trust him so little?

"It does seem to be getting worse with time, though," Uncle Vili added. "When we started, the disruptions were far fewer and more transient in nature. Now they occur more often and are both longer and stronger."

"Which still does not prove they are due to the Casket's removal from Jötunheimr," General Týr argued.

"I am not certain we can afford to risk it," Lord Ragnvaldr countered.

"Whereas I do not think we can afford to risk returning it."

Loki sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as he forced himself to let go of the amulet. Not only should he not require such childish means of comfort or security, but he also could not risk having Loptr manifest here, thinking he required further guidance.

"And that seems to be the basic issue we have," Loki voiced. "Am I right in thinking this duality is why Father never made a move to return the Casket before, despite your fears?"

"Aye," Lord Ragnvaldr confirmed. "The thought of handing Laufey-King his greatest weapon back and the ability to leave Jötunheimr were always deemed insurmountable obstacles."

"So there we have it," General Týr stated, satisfied.

"Nay, we do not," Loki shot back, sending the man a dark look.

"Surely you cannot think now would be a better time to return the Casket?" General Týr exclaimed. "After Laufey has declared war on us and he has even more incentive than ever before to turn it on us!"

"Peace has brought him nothing but a slow deterioration of his people and Realm."

The statement seemed to shock the rest of the Council but Loki thought it no more than the truth, perhaps phrased and put far more bluntly than before, but true nonetheless.

"'Tis true Jötunheimr has not recovered from the war like Vanaheimr did," Lord Óðr slowly admitted, before tapping the treaties before him. "And these could indeed help clarify why."

"Which will have bred more resentment and hatred of us," General Týr insisted.

"Aye, but where does it end?" Lord Ragnvaldr questioned. "If we keep doing what we did before, then we merely perpetuate the cycle."

"And perhaps make Laufey even more desperate," Uncle Vili added. "There will be a point where he will consider any option viable no matter how distasteful or dangerous if it might secure him the return of the Casket."

"If he has not already reached that point," Uncle Vé muttered.

"Nay," Loki argued. "Laufey-King's first reaction was to allow us a way out. To let Thor change his mind and simply walk away. 'Twas not until the fighting had started that he changed his mind. If he had already gone as far as you fear, then he would not have hesitated to make full use of the situation he was provided with."

"And do what?" Lord Aðalgrímr demanded.

General Týr threw the diplomat a disgusted look. "He had both Ásgarðr's heir and second prince in his court and, from the sounds of it, outnumbered and surrounded." Loki tipped his head forward to indicate his assent. "He could have attempted to capture or kill one or both of them and try to force Óðinn to swap the Casket for his hostage."

'Twas an unpleasant but very plausible scenario and Loki shuddered to think of what might have transpired if Laufey had elected to follow that path. What would his birth father's reaction have been if the truth of Loki's species or heritage had come out? Given how rare íviðjur were, the discovery of one would surely have led to the realization of the other, even if what he had read about the jötnar kin lines were not true. The fact his very identify as Laufey's son was literally written on his skin disgusted Loki and he had to grab at his amulet again to try to stave off the thought, even as he felt part of his magical core stretch and snap, leaving him feeling strangely adrift and disconnected from his very body. He had a brief, hysterical thought of good, he hated it now anyway, before he shut it all down with the aid of some of Loptr's calm which reached out to support him as well as Ásgarðr's soothing presence.

"So, not suicidally desperate then," Uncle Vé stated. "Yet."

General Týr snorted. "He did just declare war on Ásgarðr while far weaker than he was the last time."

"We are not exactly as strong as we were before either," Uncle Vili replied.

Loki's eyes narrowed slightly at the words. He knew well his uncle meant it in far more than their military capacity. 'Twas true, though, with Thor in disgrace after his failed coronation and the disaster on Jötunheimr, and Óðinn falling to the Óðinnsleep, especially the way he had, hardly inspired the image of strength and power which Ásgarðr normally sought to project to the rest of the Nine.

"After what happened Laufey-King would have appeared weak not to do so," Loki said. "We also do not know what kind of pressure he is facing from within his own court."

"Aye, his oldest son and heir is nearing his majority," Lord Aðalgrímr agreed. "'Tis entirely possible Laufey-King is facing pressure to cede the throne to Helblindi-Princex soon or even that there are entirely separate factions vying for power."

"We must also consider the possibility Laufey-King took the chance to declare war from a strong position on a provocation issue simply in the hopes of bringing us back to the negotiating table," Lord Ragnvaldr added. "Doing so in the hopes of gaining the Casket in a new peace treaty."

It would be a risky gamble on Laufey's part, but not entirely out of the realm of possibilities even if Loki deemed it unlikely. His birth father had not seemed nearly so calculating or rational when he had been confronting Óðinn, but Loki had to admit he did not know the man well enough to be able to make a truly accurate assessment of this possibility. And 'twas not like he could do so unbiased even if he were in a position to do so.

"Then we would be giving him exactly what he wants," General Týr pointed out.

"Who cares if it could save the Yggdrasill?" Uncle Vé demanded. "If we need to let him save face with his people, then why not aide him in that if it does not come at the expense of our standing?"

"Perhaps we are looking at this wrong," Loki interjected. "Our biggest dilemma is that handing back the Casket would not only allow Jötunheimr to rebalance and restore its magical core, but also give Laufey-King access to a great weapon and means of reaching the rest of the Nine."

"Aye," Lord Aðalgrímr frowned, head tilting to spill long blond hair over one shoulder.

"Well, perhaps there is a way to restrict what the Casket can do," Loki proposed. "Limit it somehow?"

"Even if there is, it would be useless to us," Lord Ragnvaldr replied. "The Casket of Ancient Winters can only be used by a jötunn. 'Tis an inbuilt safety mechanism so it could never be turned against Jötunheimr."

That was something which Loki had not come across and, briefly, he could not help but wonder if perhaps this was why Óðinn had truly taken him. To have a pet jötunn who could wield the Casket at his command.

He shoved the thought aside violently.

"Full or partial?" Loki questioned instead.

"Excuse me, Majesty?"

"Does one need to be a full jötunn to utilize the Casket or can someone who is part jötunn do so?"

"I..." Lord Ragnvaldr frowned. "I do not know, we had not considered it before."

Of course not. Óðinn had probably been too busy trying to distance himself from his own mother's heritage.

"We should look into it," Loki stated firmly. "Uncle Vili, Uncle Vé, would you be amenable to trying?"

There was a brief look of panic on his older uncle's face which Loki could not help but take a perverse flash of pleasure from, though he schooled his face not to show it. It had clearly been a long time since anyone had so bluntly referred to their jötnar heritage. Now the question was, would one of them take the bait?

"Of course, Loki," Uncle Vé recovered first. "However, as a magical object, I am not entirely certain we can operate it even if it would respond to us."

Perfect.

"I will try it myself," Loki offered with a little shrug. "Alas... well..."

"Being further removed from Mother, there is less chance the Casket will respond to you," Uncle Vili helpfully finished for him.

Loki tipped his head forward as if in assent, while inwardly he smiled. They had provided him with the perfect cover to utilize if he should be able to make the Casket of Ancient Winters do as he wished, while also giving him the opportunity to observe all other members of the High Council as his heritage was discussed. Not even one of them seemed at all suspicious, as if they knew what was being said was untrue. Which was good for it meant Óðinn had kept the truth very quiet if neither Uncles Vili nor Vé seemed to have any knowledge of it. Briefly he wondered how they had explained away Frigga's seemingly normal appearance before his supposed birth, but that could easily have been written off as a security measure taken to help protect the pregnant queen in a time of war. Illusions were one of his mother's known strengths, after all, and one he had learned well from her.

"If the Casket of Ancient Winters does respond to one of you, then it would open another alternative to us as well," General Týr began thoughtfully. "Instead of outright returning it, we could offer to bring it back at specific times, or for correction of Jötunheimr's magical core as and when necessary while never actually allowing it out of our hands."

The suggestion surprised Loki, not because he necessarily liked it, but because 'twas an indication the general was willing to meet them halfway rather than outright stubbornly clinging to his idea of war the old-fashioned way. Perhaps he had spent too much time with Thor who oft resisted any ideas other than his own. It would never work as the security issues alone would be a nightmare and it would leave Jötunheimr under Ásgarðr's yoke which would only build up resentment over time. Besides, if the damage to the planet's magical core was already sufficient to have an impact on the Yggdrasill itself, then 'twas not likely to be so easily fixed, especially not in so broken a manner.

So, nay, Loki did not think the idea viable in and of itself, but 'twas definitely one which would aid any negotiations. They would not be negotiating if he simply went in and resolutely stuck to his initial offer. Nay, he would start with the suggestion of trade and so, allowing Laufey to be the one to bring up the Casket of Ancient Winters, at which point he could offer this type of solution. In the end he planned to return the Casket if they could make it safe, but Laufey would not know that and would give Ásgarðr things or considerations which Loki wanted in order to get what he wanted.

A quick glance at Lord Aðalgrímr showed a shrewd, interested look on Ásgarðr's lead diplomat's face and Loki knew his old mentor was thinking the same thing he was.

"Surely it would depend on who can use it," Uncle Vé inquired worriedly. "If 'tis only Loki then we can hardly expect him to do so, especially while he is still regent."

General Týr frowned at the thought, clearly not pleased with it. "Do we have a seiðkona of jötnar heritage?"

"We would need to check the archives," Lord Ragnvaldr stated. "Most with blood ties back to Jötunheimr have tried to bury the knowledge since the war."

Loki resisted the temptation to snort. He did not envy any seiðkonur they found with jötnar heritage for if they were anything like him and Thor, then they were probably completely unaware of that aspect of their ancestry. Well, unless they were old enough to remember the war or the time before it. While Loki also did not fancy the thought of allowing a stranger near the Casket of Ancient Winters, he would have to allow it to maintain the ruse.

"While you check that, we will need to send an envoy to Jötunheimr," Loki stated. "It may take some time to convince Laufey-King to come to the negotiating table, but simply the initial offer of it might help stall any hostilities and gain us some time to explore our options in case we do need to resort to actual battle."

"What about Álfheimr and Vanaheimr, Your Majesty?" Lord Aðalgrímr asked.

"What of them?"

"Should we not contact them and alert them to the situation? Officially I mean?"

"It would probably be a good idea," Lord Ragnvaldr agreed when Loki looked to him. "It shows we are not hiding the situation and gives us an opportunity to ensure our version of events is heard."

And even if it was not believed it would show they had not forgotten their closest allies. Or took them for granted.

"Very well, please see something suitable is drafted and sent to them," Loki ordered. "Meanwhile, I have asked Lady Dagrún to collate all of our tomes on Jötunheimr should anyone need to check something."

"Do we officially declare we are at war?" General Týr asked.

"Hmm, the information will have already made it out and we gain nothing by denying it," Loki replied, knowing that to do so at this point would seem like cowardice. "Having it known will also make our preparations easier."

"There are certain security protocols which come into play when we are officially at war."

Loki smiled knowingly. "Lieutenant-General Yngvarr has already implemented several of them," he stated as he indicated the dispersed king's guard positioned around the hall. "I have only been alone in checked and heavily warded chambers, and Father has been closely watched since his lapse into the Óðinnsleep."

"And the queen?"

"Spends most of her time with Father. But, when she does not, I am certain Mother will comply with all security measures requested of her."

Frigga had never seemed to be bothered by any such measures which had been necessary at various points in the past. Indeed, Loki had several memories of admiring her unruffled countenance when any other woman would have been annoyed or fed up with the situation.

"Good," General Týr stated with satisfaction as his eyes unerringly found those of Lieutenant-General Yngvarr.

Loki had to wonder at how long the two men had known each other. Being head of the king's personal guard was second only to the general of the army, so Yngvarr was Týr's second-in-command and was not only a formidable warrior, as Loki had ample opportunity to witness in the training arena over the centuries, but also someone whom General Týr trusted implicitly as he had chosen him of all of his men to watch over the king's life itself.

"You will also be required to accept a guard detail once more, Prince Vili," General Týr continued.

"Me? What? Why... oh," Uncle Vili sputtered.

Aye, oh. Loki blinked as he suddenly realized that with all which had transpired, Óðinn's first brother was once again officially the crown prince and heir. Only now Vili was Loki's heir instead of Óðinn's back before Thor had been born. In all actuality it truly should be Vili on Hliðskjálf now as he was related to Óðinn by blood, but that was not how his adoptive father had elected to set up the line of succession, and Loki was not inclined to inform them of the truth. Not only did he have no desire to share that particular bit of information, but much as he did not want to be king, he knew he was a far better one than Vili would ever be. Not only had the man started to withdraw from royal life since the birth of his nephews, doing so even further once Thor had taken over the Princes' Court, but he had always had far too big of an eye on what Hliðskjálf could do for him rather than the other way around.

"I am afraid I must insist, my Prince," General Týr pressed.

"Aye, of course, I simply had not thought of it," Uncle Vili responded.

"What of Thor?" Uncle Vé inquired. "Is he safe?"

"Only Heimdallr and I are aware of his exact location," Loki said. "Everyone else only knows what Realm he is on and the mortals number in the billions now."

"Billions?" Lord Óðr repeated, stunned. "Truly?"

Loki merely nodded once, well understanding the disbelief. "At this point I believe anonymity will be his best protection. I will, however, ensure Heimdallr knows to watch him closely and inform me the instant anything seems amiss."

"I will ensure there are some men ready should they be necessary," General Týr promised.

Loki had half a thought to request for the Bifröst to be guarded by some additional men for security purposes, but then he dismissed it. He did not want there to be anything in the way of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three committing their treason. Once they did, he could take care of them once and for all rather than having them remain free to actively plot against him.

Not to mention Heimdallr. Loki stilled the impulse to frown as he felt the gatekeeper's gaze upon him. 'Twas not as heavy as before and amusement shot through Loki as he realized Heimdallr was attempting to be subtle to avoid detection. There was some corresponding foreign amusement at the back of his mind and he realized Ásgarðr found the gatekeeper's clumsy attempts amusing too. After so long of believing he could look anywhere at will, Heimdallr was clearly out of practice at discretion, but he humored the guardian, letting him think he was succeeding. The last thing he needed was for Heimdallr to becoming creative on him, not now.

"Good," Loki said. "Does anyone have anything else we need to discuss?"

"Not given the circumstances, nay," Lord Óðr responded as the others shook their heads.

"Do not let anything else slip unless it absolutely has to," Loki cautioned. "Regular duties and services must continue."

"Of course, Your Majesty."


As soon as the meeting was over, Lord Aðalgrímr excused himself to head off and start drafting the various missives which needed preparing for Álfheimr, Vanaheimr and, most crucially, Jötunheimr. Though Loki was sorely tempted to take the latter for himself, he knew he should leave it to his old mentor. Not only did the man have far more experience in general, but he had it for Jötunheimr specifically as well from the end of the last war. Besides, he had more important matters to see to.

"Uncle Vili, Uncle Vé," Loki said turning to them as General Týr rose to his feet and approached Lieutenant-General Yngvarr. "Do you have time to have a look at the Casket of Ancient Winters this afternoon?"

"Aye," Uncle Vé replied after a moment. "If we head to the Princes' Court now, we should be back in time to at least have an initial try with the Casket."

There was a slight tension in Vé's voice and Loki could not quite tell if 'twas due to fear at the prospect, or excitement at the opportunity. He would have to try to discern which it was later, but for now he let it go.

"Seeing as Týr is likely to make me stay in Iðavöllr once more, I shall have plenty of time," Uncle Vili added somewhat resentfully.

The emotion pleased Loki as it meant he was far less likely to be betrayed by his adoptive uncle if the man so clearly did not like being thrust back into the role of crown prince. Besides, a displeasure at so obviously having his freedom curtailed was a sentiment Loki easily understood. Especially now of all times.

"Thank you," Loki said, more out of habit than anything else.

They were merely doing their duties as members of the royal family.

"King Loki," one of the Einherjar said, respectfully stepping forward once his uncles had moved away. "Lady Borgunna waits outside."

"Send her in," Loki replied, rising to his feet to meet her.

"Your Majesty," Lady Borgunna greeted upon entering, giving him the same deferential greeting as everyone else in acknowledgment to his new status. "You requested my presence?"

"Hmm," Loki replied. "I need to know if there are any issues with Iðavöllr which I need to be made aware of. Items which Father was handling?"

"None that I can think of," Lady Borgunna answered. "Everything is running normally at the moment."

"Good. Security will be stepped up as we are officially at war with Jötunheimr, so you will need to take this into account as far as it will impact on the ability and speed of your staff to carry out their duties."

To her credit, Lady Borgunna hardly blinked at his pronouncement. "Of course, Your Majesty."

Vaguely Loki was aware of the Einherjar who had joined General Týr and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr leaving Glaðsheimr, but it only registered due to his heightened awareness of his surroundings at the moment.

"Also, did Father send his condolences to the families of the two Einherjar killed in the jötnar incursion of the vault?" Loki asked.

As he was paying attention, Loki caught the subtle shift of Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's stance which indicated he had caught the man's attention. Which probably meant General Týr had overheard his question as well, though the older man showed no outward signs of it.

"Uh, nay, my Liege," Lady Borgunna responded, looking uncomfortable for a moment.

"Then please convey mine," Loki stated, hesitating only slightly before continuing. "And inform them they will receive full military funerals with war benefits."

The urge to do this was not entirely rational, but Loki gave into it nonetheless. If anything, it would reflect well on him, indicating generosity. Only he had to know 'twas driven by other, darker, motivations. The Einherjars' deaths had not been anticipated and, if they had stuck to their normal routine, then they would not have happened, but the knowledge did not do anything to make him feel any less... guilty, he supposed. It had been his actions which had precipitated the acts which had led to their deaths even if it would have been avoided if they had done what they were supposed to. He still did not know what they had been doing in the vault, but it hardly mattered now.

"War benefits," Lady Borgunna repeated, startled.

"That attack is what caused Thor to go to Jötunheimr," Loki explained. "'Tis directly related to the war. The only reason Father did not call it such was because he had hoped to prevent the treaty from breaking, but, now it has, I see no reason why not to recognize that as the start of the war as it would otherwise have been."

"That is most magnanimous, Majesty," General Týr intoned, giving up the pretense of not listening in on the conversation. "I will ensure the proper protocols are followed to achieve it."

"And I shall inform the families," Lady Borgunna added.

"Good," Loki said.

"Ah, King Loki, there is one more thing."

"Hmm?"

"You... uh, have not taken a meal in the Great Hall."

Loki frowned, both at her hesitance and the words themselves. "I have been otherwise occupied."

"I understand," Lady Borgunna hastened to respond. "'Tis only that I believe it would be good for the people to be able to see their new king, even if only briefly."

'Twas a valid point and one which Loki had not considered. He had been so focused on the war he had entirely forgotten about the fact most had not yet seen him as king. 'Twas of less importance, but he had to eat and it would allow him to achieve two things at once. Besides, breaking his fast alone had been awkward with simply his guard and the servants for company.

"Very well, I shall dine in the Great Hall tonight," Loki decided.

Chapter Text

Valaskjálf suddenly felt alien to Loki in a way it had never done before. 'Twas one of the halls he had frequented so often in his life, he could no longer recall a time when it had not been familiar to him. Even viewing it from the vantage point of Hliðskjálf itself was not new, as he had stood beside Óðinn oft enough as his father held court or entertained foreign dignitaries. Therefore he was not quite certain what it was which felt so strange now, but something definitely did.

Briefly Loki hesitated, simply looking at Hliðskjálf, before he gave himself a mental shake and seated himself upon it. That it was a magical object was instantly apparent, as seiðr swelled through him, connecting with both Gungnir in his hand and Ásgarðr at the back of his mind to thrum pleasantly through his own seiðr and core. The latter felt a little strained, but not as badly as he had feared.

"Allow people in, but separately," Loki ordered.

He did not need the entirety of the court to witness his interaction with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, not if 'twas anything like what Loptr had described.

Loki let out a small breath of relief when the first person to enter was not one of Thor's friends. Then he focused all of his attention on the matter at hand. Most of it was minor stuff and he half suspected people were finding an excuse to seek him out, simply to see if the latest rumors were true. 'Twas not the case of all of them, though, as some seemed genuinely surprised to find him seated upon Hliðskjálf instead of Óðinn.

"All-Father, we must speak with you urgently."

Lady Sif's voice preceded her into Valaskjálf and Loki forced his suddenly tense muscles to unclench, taking on a far more relaxed and almost carefree pose through centuries of practice. He was almost certain Lieutenant-General Yngvarr had noticed the transition, as the man was watching him far too closely to have missed it, but it would be more than enough to fool anyone else. Even those who had been amongst the people the most physically close to him these past few centuries.

The look of shock which slowly morphed to horror and confusion as it crossed the faces of the few people he had once hoped to consider his friends pleased Loki in a dark way, even as it told him the news had not reached them. They had probably been far too busy plotting and commiserating over the unfairness of Thor's punishment to bother lowering themselves to listen or pay attention to the servants.

"My friends," Loki greeted them, almost choking on the anger which swamped him yet again at the knowledge of what was to come.

Of what they would do to him after all of the centuries he had fought beside them and saved their lives.

"Where is Óðinn?" Fandral demanded, all signs of the respect they had entered the hall with gone as they drew closer.

Loki's hand tightened around Gungnir as he swallowed back all the things he wanted to say... nay scream, at them.

Calm. Control.

"Father has fallen into the Óðinnsleep. Mother fears he may never awaken again."

Truth, but with a more negative spin than was absolutely necessary.

Take the bait little warriors...

"We would speak with her," Lady Sif demanded, as if she had every right to do so.

Interestingly enough, Loki detected a faint twitch in the posture of one of the two Einherjar who stood before him on either side of Hliðskjálf. So, even they were upset at the disrespect being shown him. It had been a long time since anyone seemed to notice the way Thor's friends treated him and 'twas heartening.

"She has refused to leave my father's bedside. You can bring your urgent matter to me," Loki replied, deciding to give them a strong push as a final consideration for all of the centuries they had spent together. Ergo, he rose to his feet and thumped Gungnir to the ground before him as did so. "Your king."

That finally seemed to get through to them with Volstagg being the first to clasp his fist to his chest and kneel, but 'twas still far too slow and the others only followed after a visible pause.

"My King," Lady Sif said, voice as fake as could be, though Loki expected no less from someone as inept at subtlety and deception as her. "We would ask that you end Thor's banishment."

There it was, exactly as Loptr had said it would be. Loki snorted softly before he moved closer to the four traitors-in-waiting.

"My first command cannot be to undo the All-Father's last," Loki stated, ignoring everything from the High Council meeting in favor of the elegance it lent his words.

He paused, thought about adding more to try and drive the point home, but decided not to. 'Twas not like they would listen, and Loki would rather send them on their way faster than have them linger here with him. Instead he went for something he knew they would not like.

"Thor will return once he has learned from his mistakes."

His words struck true and Lady Sif had risen to her feet before Fandral and Hogun could stop her, though they managed to prevent her from taking more than a few steps forward. 'Twas more than enough for the Einherjar, though, and Loki could all but feel the increase in tension rolling off them. How was it all four of Ásgarðr's supposedly best warriors outside of Thor could remain so oblivious to it?

"Aye, of course," Fandral said, almost more to break the silence than anything else.

Well, either that or to draw Loki's attention from Lady Sif's atrocious and borderline threatening behavior. She truly was far closer to treason than he had ever even realized, at least when it concerned him.

"Good, then you will wait for my word."

Nay, they would not, but Loki had to say it. To make it clear he expected them to remain on Ásgarðr.

"If I may beg the indulgences of your Majesty," Volstagg began, full of fake respect and near laughter at the charade. "To perhaps reconsider-"

"We are done," Loki snapped, his patience and tolerance gone.

His lack of submissiveness, and refusal to give them anything, clearly shocked the four and Loki took far too much pleasure from seeing them so uncertain of themselves and at such a loss for what to do. The Warriors Three, at least, had just enough grace left to make an attempt at obedience, but Lady Sif glared at him outright, shaking her head ever so slightly. Loki met her gaze head on until she finally turned away and followed the others out of Valaskjálf. He stood there a moment longer before turning around himself to return to Hliðskjálf, his gaze meeting the troubled one of Lieutenant-General Yngvarr as he did so.

Intrigued, Loki raised an inquiring eyebrow as he cocked his head. Although he had always known the Einherjar in general, and the king's guard in particular, interacted with his father, he had not ever witnessed such interactions, instead merely seeing the Einherjar standing as silent guards. Not that he had ever forgotten they were there, unlike some people.

Lieutenant-General Yngvarr took it as a sign to approach and Loki allowed it as he retook his seat on Hliðskjálf.

"Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr began hesitantly. "They, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three..."

Loki snorted. "To them I am nothing more than the little brother who accompanied them on Thor's quests."

"Familiarity does not excuse their behavior and appalling lack of decorum. You are their king now."

"They will never view me as such since they could never respect my contributions before, as they were of seiðr rather than purely physical. Even if it has saved their lives more than once."

The lieutenant-general did not so much as blink at the mention of his seiðr and Loki wondered if 'twas simply because Yngvarr was an ultimate professional, or because, as the head of the king's guard, he was more accustomed to the use of seiðr and seiðmenn. It could be as simple as the man appreciating any skill on the part of his charge which made Yngvarr's job easier.

"Majesty, if I may, their disrespect bordered on outright disobedience."

"Hmm," Loki hummed, looking away for a moment before returning his sharp eyes to the lieutenant-general.

The man seemed to be an unexpected ally and, while Loki was loath to trust anyone just now, Lieutenant-General Yngvarr did not know the truth of his heritage and had been loyal to his father for millennia. He was also professional enough to not do anything, both out of respect for Óðinn's choice of the line of succession and because 'twas his job, and therefore his honor and pride.

"If you are trying to say you think they will act on their disrespect, then I agree," Loki finally decided. He might as well take the allies where he found them. "My guess is they will attempt to reach Thor."

Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's eyes widened slightly at that. Clearly the man had not quite thought they would go so far. Loki was glad he had not been the only one to be blindsided by the sheer scale of their treason.

"They would actively seek to overthrow you," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr breathed in realization.

"'Tis my fear, aye."

"Shall I have them watched, Your Majesty?"

"If you have someone who can do so subtly," Loki replied.

He was about to continue when he suddenly felt Heimdallr's gaze turn their way, and he hesitated for a second, before throwing up a block. It would strike the gatekeeper as suspicious, but he had no desire for Heimdallr to know the preparations he was putting in place. He could not help but wonder at how Óðinn could stand to be secretly watched so often. Or was his father not aware of how frequently Heimdallr did so? Surely Óðinn had to be able to sense it too. Unless it was simply something his father had grown accustomed to over the millennia. He himself never had, though, and Loki had actively gone out of his way to learn how to mask his presence from the gatekeeper long ago. The mere thought of how easily he had been watched as a child made him shudder. No wonder so many of his early schemes of greater mischief had failed rather spectacularly.

Ironically, it had simply taught him patience and honed his skills at subtlety and deception.

"We have those who regularly train against our best," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied, voice underscored with disgust. "Of whom, I am ashamed to say, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three are considered to be amongst."

Oh, his former friends had truly enraged his new protector.

Loki nearly smiled at the thought. It had been far too long since anyone from Ásgarðr had deemed them dishonorable. 'Twas something he was far more used to hearing on other Realms, who took a very different view of what was honorable.

"Very well, then do so," Loki said. "But I want your men to observe only, even if the Warriors Four should make for the Bifröst."

"Majesty?"

"I need to know if Heimdallr would facilitate their treason or not."

Pure and utter shock appeared on Yngvarr's face. "The gatekeeper?" he demanded before looking around furtively.

"He cannot see or hear us at present," Loki reassured the lieutenant-general. "And aye, Heimdallr. He allowed Thor and us passage to Jötunheimr simply because his pride was hurt at not having seen the jötnar force which attacked the vault. I need to know if 'twas a one-time dereliction of his duty or whether 'tis part of a larger pattern of behavior."

"Of course, Your Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr bowed deeply. "I shall have the watchers report back if Lady Sif and the Warriors Three head for the Bifröst, but allow them to approach Heimdallr."

"Good," Loki stated. "Even if Heimdallr allows them passage, they will be stuck on Miðgarðr until such time as we allow them to return, so they pose little threat there."

The hesitancy was back and Loki cocked his head in inquiry.

"Pardon my forwardness, Your Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr began cautiously. "But as regards Thor himself?"

This time 'twas Loki's turn to be shocked, his eyebrows shooting up as he realized exactly what it was the lieutenant-general was asking. He felt a surprising amount of instinctive anger at the mere thought of anyone insinuating something like that about his brother. He bit the emotion back, though, knowing 'twas a perfectly valid question for the head of his personal guard to ask given the circumstances, and the fact the traitors they knew about were Thor's closest friends.

Luckily he knew from what Loptr had said that not even the truth of his jötnar heritage had managed to turn Thor against him, so he felt relatively safe on this front. He was the little brother, after all, much as he resented what it implied at times. Though Thor was more than welcome to Hliðskjálf, as 'twas as confining and restrictive as he had known it would be, and that was when he had an actual problem to keep him occupied with. He could not even imagine what it would be like without that.

He would go mad from the sheer monotony and boredom, Loki knew. Even presiding over the Princes' Court tried all of his patience at the best of times. People had such petty concerns.

"Thor will not be a problem," Loki declared firmly. "Lady Sif and the Warriors Three may rile him up to the point of brash action and harsh words, but that is all. Besides, he is mortal at present and possesses none of his usual strength."

Lieutenant-General Yngvarr bowed his head to acknowledge his words, but Loki could still read the concern and worry in his eyes. It amused him and he smiled briefly.

"Make your plans, Guardian, I will not stop you, but be very careful before acting upon them."

"Your Majesty."

With a flick of his finger, Loki dismissed him before nodding at the seneschal waiting to allow more people in to see him. He would entertain a few more petitioners before paying Heimdallr a visit. As Lady Borgunna had said, it would do well for people to see him on Hliðskjálf.

"You may stop restricting entrance," Loki ordered.

The need for discretion had passed and the court would do well with more information rather than less at present. It should help to dispel some of the rumors, if nothing else.


Loki was just finishing up with a noble who had merely come to pay his respects to the new king when Lord Aðalgrímr entered Valaskjálf, several scrolls in his hand. He indicated to the seneschal that he was done for the day before motioning for Lord Aðalgrímr to join him as he rose to his feet and headed out of the hall. There was a small chamber right behind Hliðskjálf used for private audiences and Loki waited there with his Einherjar.

"Your Majesty, I have the missives for Jötunheimr, Álfheimr and Vanaheimr," Lord Aðalgrímr informed him as soon as he entered the chamber.

"Do we need to send anything with the one to Laufey-King?" Loki asked as he held out his hand for that scroll.

Some Realms expected particular gifts or tokens to be sent with certain types of missives. Oddly enough, Jötunheimr's traditions had never been amongst those he had been taught. He had not thought anything of it at the time, as there simply was no contact with Jötunheimr, but now he could not help but wonder if it had not been a deliberate omission on Óðinn's part. Regardless, he resented the gap in his education.

"Not given the current situation, nay," Lord Aðalgrímr replied. "As 'tis, I must admit to having some concern as to my reception when I deliver the scroll."

'Twas a valid concern given how their last interaction on Jötunheimr had ended and Loki was not certain whether Laufey would attempt to have Lord Aðalgrímr killed out of pure spite. Yet to send anyone else would be viewed as a slight.

"I assume General Týr has arranged for an escort?" Loki questioned as he unrolled the scroll to look at it.

"A small one, aye," Lord Aðalgrímr confirmed. "We do not wish to make it too large and risk it being taken as anything more than an escort."

Or for Laufey to be able to pretend he saw it as such. The problem was a lot of this came down to what kind of mood his birth father was in and whether he had any intention of considering anything other than outright war. They could only hope the lure of the Casket of Ancient Winters was enough to make him at least consider it. If Laufey paused long enough to read the missive, then it probably would be as Lord Aðalgrímr had been his usual eloquent self and made it quite clear that he, King Loki (his name was explained no doubt to make it clear that Laufey would be facing neither his old opponent who had defeated him, nor the prince who had invaded his home), wished to meet him at the negotiating table with nothing placed off limits from the start. That was where the emphasis on his name and titles came into play once more. With Jötunheimr's isolation, they were less likely to know of his reputation as the Silvertongue and so Laufey would be more likely to view him as the more naive and less trained brother of Óðinn's heir.

An easier target. Loki's eyes flashed and he smiled predatorily as he read the eloquent words. Lord Aðalgrímr did always do excellent work and he noticed all of the official and polite words and titles from Bestla's book in the missive as well.

"Is it acceptable, Your Majesty?" Lord Aðalgrímr inquired.

"'Tis excellent as usual, Lord Aðalgrímr," Loki replied, moving to the table so he could add his signature to the bottom and seal the scroll with his seiðr, thus making it official.

He glanced quickly over the scrolls for Álfheimr and Vanaheimr before doing the same for those as well.

"Are you heading for Jötunheimr first?" Loki asked.

"Aye, I thought it best to give Laufey-King as much time as possible to consider the option, but also to limit any more offensive actions he might currently be planning."

"I will accompany you to Himinbjörg then," Loki said, glancing over at Lieutenant-General Yngvarr to allow him to send word to the stables to prepare their horses. "I need to speak with Heimdallr and I wish to know immediately how Laufey-King reacts to your presence, so we can take appropriate action if necessary."

"Of course, my King."


Loki had to admit to being surprised at the reactions he received from the people as they rode through the city on their way to the Bifröst. He had chosen his outfit last night to make a regal impression on any who saw him, but he had not quite expected to be treated as differently as he was. He had known some would greet him as those in Iðavöllr had been, their being far too traditional to allow his presence on Hliðskjálf to persuade them to reacting in any other way. But he honestly had not expected for anyone else to show him quite such deference. The transient nature of their interaction allowing for it not to be a break in decorum. Yet, instead of that, almost all of those who noticed his passage in time, paused long enough to clasp their fists over their hearts and bowed forward at the waist.

He was not quite certain what to call the emotions this provoked, but it swelled within him and Loki had to struggle to keep it from his face. Instead he acknowledged as much of the deference as he could with a dip of his head, though most people did not look up in time for him to do so.

"'Twas good of you to ride out," Lord Aðalgrímr said, drawing his horse up beside Loki's once they reached the rainbow bridge and slowed slightly. "It reassures the people to see you."

"Even if it confirms Thor's absence and Father's sleep?" Loki questioned.

"Aye, as it answers the question of which rumors may be true and allows them to see Hliðskjálf is in hand despite the upset to the line of succession and the king succumbing to the Óðinnsleep."

It probably helped that most did not know this Óðinnsleep was so very different from previous ones. Loki did not like to think too much about it or Óðinn's potential death, but he knew it was a possibility he could not simply ignore, much as he wanted to. Should Óðinn die without awakening, he would be left stuck with Hliðskjálf even if Thor were to complete whatever task Father had left for him and returned restored. The law was quite clear that if someone was ineligible for Hliðskjálf at the time of succession, then they had no right to it when they were restored. 'Twas meant to prevent political upheaval should one king rise to power justly only for another old heir to show up shortly after and legally dethrone them, potentially causing chaos. The problem here was it would lead to someone being king whom no one wanted so long-term, himself included.

Besides, he liked chaos and would like some just now.

Not that Loki expected he would remain in power for very long in such a situation. Even now, when his brother was both ineligible and incapable of ruling Ásgarðr, there were those rising up against him. He could only imagine how much worse it would become once Thor returned to full power and was back on Ásgarðr, the respect he was being shown now notwithstanding.

Heimdallr came out of Himinbjörg to meet them as they reached it and dismounted.

"Your Majesty," Heimdallr greeted, giving a shallow half-bow like the night before.

Loki doubted Lieutenant-General Yngvarr had missed it given their previous conversation, but the man's face gave nothing away.

"Heimdallr, Lord Aðalgrímr and his escort require passage to Jötunheimr," Loki commanded as he walked past the gatekeeper into Himinbjörg itself, glancing about quickly as he did so.

Now he was in a far more rational state of mind, Loki was vaguely horrified at the fact he had seriously considered turning the Bifröst on Jötunheimr. Aye, it would have ended the war, but it would also have caused irreparable damage to the Yggdrasill, the mere thought of which turned his stomach. And, much as he did not want to think of the jötnar, he knew well most were innocent and there would be countless children among their number, and he had always abhorred the slaughter of those too young to either defend themselves or unable to have caused anyone any offense to begin with. It would take him a long time to come to terms with the fact he had come very close to being one who would do so.

"Laufey-King is preparing for war," Heimdallr stated as he moved over to fit Höfuð into Himinbjörg. "He may not respond well to a peace emissary."

"We know, which is why you will observe closely and retrieve them at once should it seem they are in any actual danger," Loki commanded, turning his back on the view of the Void to look at the gatekeeper for a moment before turning his attention to Lord Aðalgrímr. "Do not move far from the Bifröst site. Laufey-King or his men will come to you."

"Of course, my King," Lord Aðalgrímr replied, moving into position with his escort.

Loki moved so Heimdallr could send them on their way, noting how his guard had come into Himinbjörg with the lieutenant-general standing in the entryway, sharp blue eyes observing everything and everyone. Briefly it reminded him of Thor and how his brother acted if someone had threatened him and Thor was not entirely certain the danger had passed yet. It caused a sharp tug at his heart and he briefly missed his brother something fierce, before anger overtook the emotion. 'Twas Thor's fault he was here, like this, now. If only the oaf had listened to him on Jötunheimr or let the insult pass, they would not both be in this situation they were in now.

With a flash of light, Lord Aðalgrímr and his escort were gone and Loki moved towards the edge of Himinbjörg out of a sense of horrified fascination as he regarded the Void. To think Loptr had been lost to it and survived... 'twas unimaginable and he shuddered to even consider it. He would not allow it to happen to him, no matter what he had to do to ensure it.

"How fares Thor?" Loki requested when Heimdallr moved to stand beside him.

He could check for himself, but the gatekeeper was more easily able to view the actions of all of those around his brother than he could.

"He is attempting to retrieve Mjǫllnir," Heimdallr told him.

"It will not respond to him," Loki stated. "He has not yet learned his lesson."

"And what lesson is that?"

"The one Father wished for him to learn. Mjǫllnir will not respond to him until he does, 'tis the condition Father placed upon his banishment."

"Mjǫllnir is being studied by a militarized organization, if Thor is unable to retrieve it he will be captured."

"But he has found himself some allies, aye?"

"There are three mortals, but I do not believe they have the power or authority to overcome the organization."

"Nevertheless, we will allow them to try unless Thor is being physically harmed," Loki ordered, turning to face Heimdallr. "What troubles you, Gatekeeper? Do you fear for Thor so?"

"Nay, I turned my gaze upon you in Valaskjálf earlier but could neither see nor hear you. You were shrouded from me like the frost giants that entered this Realm."

Ah, and so here they were, not quite as Loptr had foretold it, but Loki knew that was a good thing. He wanted things changed. Given what he knew was coming, he resisted the temptation to lower his voice, wanting the Einherjar to hear what he said. Due to Heimdallr's status, the more proof he had of the man's treason the better, and any witnesses to the events leading up to the final act would be crucial to ensure word of the truth spread.

"You have great power, Heimdallr. Did Father ever fear you?" Loki decided to demand outright.

Fancy words and subtlety were all good and well in the right circumstances, but he wanted there to be no confusion or room for misinterpretation here.

"Nay," Heimdallr responded immediately.

"And why is that?"

"Because he is my king and I am sworn to obey him."

The present tense was glaringly obvious.

"He was your king," Loki retorted. "And you are sworn to obey me now. Aye?"

"Aye."

Reluctant and clearly hesitant. Did no one even think to mask their treasonous thoughts? Or were they so blinded by their own conviction they did not even consider their actions as such? Luckily for him, not everyone was so stupid.

"Then you will open the Bifröst to Miðgarðr to no one until I have repaired the damage that my brother has done," Loki ordered, wishing he could simply sweep from Himinbjörg now, it would be quite a dramatic exit. Alas, he had a more important matter to attend to first. "How fares Lord Aðalgrímr and his escort?"

"They remain at the Bifröst site," Heimdallr replied after a second's pause. "They were met by a frost giant who has run off to the castle. Your emissary remains unscratched though they are surrounded on all sides with land by frost giants."

"Jötnar," Loki corrected absently. "And 'tis a start, at the very least."

Business now done, he walked regally back to his mare, cape fluttering where the Einherjar fell in behind him. A quick glance at Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's face as he mounted his horse showed him the man was clearly troubled by what he had just witnessed.

Good.


"Lord Ragnvaldr and I have been discussing when to make the official proclamation of the war with Jötunheimr," General Týr said as he followed Loki through the corridors to the vault. "And we think it best to do so at the end of the feast tonight."

"So late?" Loki questioned.

"We had thought of doing it earlier, but I would like to get the initial assessments of our preparedness done before people start to worry and interfere."

"So you can immediately start handing out tasks and instructions on the morrow."

"Aye, my Liege."

"Very well. At least people will have been able to enjoy themselves one last time before all of the real worry sets in."

"That was our other reason for doing it at the end of the feast. Plus it will already have allowed them to see you at the head of the high table."

Loki glanced at the general walking beside him out of the corner of his eye. They had clashed so oft over the course of the past few centuries that a large part of him was still in disbelief they appeared to be working together, even if they had clashed constantly during the High Council meeting that morning. It probably should not surprise him as he was the king and Týr was sworn to both serve and protect him as head of Ásgarðr's army, but with those far closer to him betraying him, he could hardly be faulted for his doubts and lack of trust. So he would be cautiously optimistic while still preparing for yet another knife in the back.

"Majesty," General Týr began, stopping after a quick look around.

Loki frowned and turned to look at the older man, his guard stopping around them. "Aye, General?"

His curiosity was peaked, even more so when Týr glanced around uncertainly once more. While he did not need yet another problem to deal with, Loki could admit to being intrigued. At least he could not say his time on Hliðskjálf so far had been boring.

"Is it... safe to speak?" General Týr inquired, tilting his head subtly.

Given all which had already happened earlier in the day, it only took Loki a moment to realize the man did so in the direction of the Bifröst. Oh, now he was truly interested to see where this was going. He made a slightly more elaborate than necessary gesture with his hand, concealing them from Heimdallr's sight and hearing.

"'Tis now," Loki stated.

"I have been informed there are concerns as to the loyalty of certain highly trusted warriors," General Týr came right out and said.

"It would seem there are those who are unwilling to accept seeing me on Hliðskjálf instead of my brother. Whether they will act on that sentiment or not has yet to be seen."

Well, at least for the rest of them. Loki knew.

"And Heimdallr?"

"Lieutenant-General, your thoughts?" Loki asked, moving slightly aside to allow the man to step forward and join them.

He did not doubt Yngvarr was the source of the general's information, but Loki did not mind. 'Twas the man's job to see to his safety and if the danger came from within, then it was the lieutenant-general's duty to inform not only his superiors, but the one who was ultimately responsible for the traitors as well. But, unless Loki very much missed his guess, Lieutenant-General Yngvarr had last communicated with General Týr before they had gone to Himinbjörg, and then probably via a missive as the man had not left his side all day.

"I have to admit I did not like his attitude earlier when we saw him," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said, stepping forward. "He was borderline disrespectful and he failed to greet you properly."

The man did not know Loki had already spoken with Heimdallr since he had become king, but, as the gatekeeper had not given him the proper fealty then either, he thought it best to let the assumption lie.

"What concerned me most, though," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr continued. "Was how he spoke of King Óðinn in the present, as if he were currently on Hliðskjálf and of how his - Heimdallr's - oath is to him rather than to Hliðskjálf."

General Týr swore vehemently and Loki could well understand why. He too had been utterly caught off-guard when Loptr had first informed him of Heimdallr's upcoming betrayal. Oddly enough, he had found it easier to believe of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three than of the gatekeeper. From them 'twas more a case of them favoring Thor over him, and well, he was certain that on some level they were well aware their fortunes were tied to his brother. Should Thor never ascend to Hliðskjálf, they would fail to gain all of the status they had probably come to view as theirs by rights. It would be a great coup for Lady Sif in particular.

"This is not what we need at present," General Týr finally stated.

Loki quirked an eyebrow at him. "I was unaware there was ever a good time for treason."

The unimpressed look the man sent him made Loki smile coldly. 'Twas true.

"Majesty, this makes your guard even more important."

"I have not tried to avoid them, General."

Much as he wanted to. Oh, well, except for his little jaunt down to the vault last night. Oops.

"Not this time, nay."

Ah, so General Týr was still miffed at the fact he had eluded his protections in the past, when he had felt them either unnecessary or needlessly restrictive. It probably still smarted they had never quite figured out how he had done it. Well, given the circumstances, he could give them a little. For his own protection.

"I have never been accused of recklessness," Loki replied as he called forth a double and stepped away invisibly. "I am also not quite as helpless as most people like to believe I am."

As he said it, Loki had his double bring up his hand, palm up, towards the general. When Týr hesitated, he wiggled his fingers. After a quick glance at Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, General Týr reached out to clasp his hand. The moment the man's hand would have touched him, the illusion was disrupted and vanished in a rather more flashy than necessary shower of green and gold seiðr.

"Norns!" General Týr exclaimed startled as he, Yngvarr and the guard immediately began to look around with varying degrees of shock and alarm.

"King Loki?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr questioned when they failed to spot him.

With a smile, Loki called forth another double to appear behind him and General Týr.

"Aye?" his double responded, causing the two to spin around in surprise.

"Seiðr, seiðmadr," General Týr whispered as if reconsidering both words, and Loki made his clone hum in response. "An illusion and... invisibility?"

"Aye, though the illusion need not be singular," Loki informed them through his double even as he called forth a few more to appear all around them.

He also allowed himself to reappear among them, curious to see if either highly observant man would be able to see him among the fakes. Almost no one ever had before, and definitely no one from Ásgarðr. The way their eyes were flickering from one to the next, not lingering any longer on him than his duplicates would indicate that nay, they could not.

"I am now visible," Loki and all of his clones said.

As if unable to help himself, one of the Einherjar reached out and one of his doubles vanished in a shower of sparks. Though General Týr's remaining hand twitched as if he wanted to do the same, the man refrained, instead taking the time to see if he could uncover the real one among the illusions.

"Is there any tell?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr finally asked.

"Not that Thor has yet found despite many repeated attempts," Loki replied, calling his doubles back to himself so only he remained. "His usual solution is to strike the ground with Mjǫllnir to knock me off my feet."

'Twas a weakness he did not mind sharing as none of those with him possessed a weapon which could cause similar damage. Plus, if they should come across an enemy who did, 'twas important they knew of his limitations in this area.

"I did not realize your... seiðr was so realistic," General Týr replied, surprisingly diplomatic for him.

From one of those who had so visibly disapproved of the time he spent studying it and his 'tricks' in general, 'twas a big compliment. That the man had also avoided that particular word now, spoke volumes for how Loki's own reaction to it in the past had been noted.

Loki held the man's dark gaze for a moment before nodding. "Few do," he stated simply.

"Good."

If only the man knew the extent of what he hid, General Týr might not be so happy no matter how much it might help him and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr in their tasks now.

"Heimdallr seeks us," Loki said, deliberately shifting Gungnir to let them think he got the information through it or his new access to... the Óðinnforce.

"You wish to leave all of them at their posts for now, I understand," General Týr said, getting right back to the point.

"Hmm. At present all they have done is display disrespect and, Lady Sif's usual temper and aggression aside, there has been no real threat to me," Loki explained, moving toward the vault once more. "And she along with the Warriors Three will make the perfect test of Heimdallr's loyalties. A test which, should he fail, will place them where they cannot cause any further damage either to me directly, or by attempting to instigate further treason."

"I wish we could take them now," General Týr growled, his fist clenching.

'Twas probably a huge blow to the man's pride and honor that so many of those deemed to be among his best were on the verge of not only dishonoring themselves, but were actively courting treason. Loki would not be surprised if the general went through the ranks with a fine toothcomb after this. It would be too little, too late as far as Loki was concerned, but he would let the man do it to soothe his wounded pride and, who knew, it might just uncover something else. Even if not, it would cause a certain amount of chaos and that was something he could never object to. It might not be either a known or used title of his, but he was the God of Chaos amongst other things.

Once he was certain all conversation of treason and Heimdallr were done, he allowed his working to lapse and immediately felt the gatekeeper's eyes snap his way. That had better mean Lord Aðalgrímr and his men had returned or moved on to the next step of their assignment.

Out of pure irritation, and because he now could, Loki lashed out with his seiðr at the gatekeeper. Not harshly or with the intent to cause damage, but just enough to let Heimdallr feel his displeasure for a while. The abrupt flinch and shock pleased him far more than it truly should, but he had been waiting for over half a millennium to do that, so he would damn well enjoy it.

Chapter Text

When they finally reached the vault, 'twas to find a group of Einherjar already outside it, most of whom he assumed were assigned to Uncle Vili as there were far more than normal. The regular guards opened the vault door at his approach and his own men swept in to check the chamber. Loki followed them in relatively quickly as he knew it would already have been checked before his uncle had been allowed to enter. Indeed, only Uncles Vili and Vé were inside, so he raised his free arm and dismissed his guard with a flick of his finger towards the doors.

"Uncle Vili, Uncle Vé," Loki greeted as the doors were closed behind him.

"Loki," Uncle Vé replied.

Loki paused for a moment on the steps when he reached the place where his adoptive father had collapsed, unable to stop himself from looking down and seeing it again. It had been the absolute last thing he had expected to happen, so even now he could almost feel the shock of the moment. Part of the reason why the Óðinnsleep had always disturbed him as much as it did was because his father had always seemed almost larger than life; so incredibly powerful and commanding. He had never quite come to terms with the Óðinnsleep and the need for it and this had been with his father voluntarily entering it as he normally did.

So to see that powerful, strong man collapse into it before his very eyes...

It frightened Loki on a deep, instinctive level which had nothing to do with the fact he now held the same power and so, theoretically, was at risk of it himself. Nay, despite all of the lies and anger which stood between them now, both at what he had uncovered and at how he had been treated the last few centuries, Loki could still easily recall Óðinn as the man had been when he had been younger; when he had been more of a true father to him and it terrified him to think he could lose him. That Óðinn might never wake once more and leave him behind here, alone.

"Loki," Uncle Vili said softly.

With a little start, he looked up to find all three men watching him. The compassion on their faces told Loki they had already guessed why he had become lost in his thoughts, so he did not bother offering an excuse and instead moved to join them.

"I went to see Óðinn earlier and both Lady Eir and your mother are feeling more optimistic than they were before," Uncle Vé told him.

"That is good, very good," General Týr stated before looking to Uncle Vili. "Has your family been moved into Iðavöllr?"

"Aye, though my wife is not happy about it," Uncle Vili stated with a frown. "And Balðr is pestering the servants with requests to double and triple check there is no mistletoe anywhere near our suite."

Loki closed his eyes briefly at that, resisting the urge to roll them instead. He had warned his cousin not to get his future read by that dökkálfr witch on Niðavellir, but the idiot had not listened and was now not only obsessed with avoiding mistletoe at all costs, but had also all but disowned his brother who was supposed to be the one to kill him. With mistletoe.

'Twas so utterly ridiculous Loki would laugh at it if 'twas not for the way it made practically everyone look at his youngest cousin with outright suspicion. Even his aunt and uncle had all but disowned him, taking the dökkálfr's word over that of their own son. As if such a prophecy, even from the best seiðkona, was anything which was set in stone. And the dökkálfr witch definitely was not even talented enough in seiðr to be considered a proper seiðkona, not that anyone else seemed to care.

'Twas why he had gone to such great lengths to ensure the prophecy delivered by a far more reliable völva about his own future had never seen the light of day. It had meant he had been forced to alter the memories of the two nobles with him, one of whom was not even áss, but his sense of self-preservation was far too great for him to have done anything else. Not with the prophecy saying he would trigger Ragnarök. After seeing what everyone had done to Lóðurr as a result of Balðr's prophecy, he did not even want to contemplate what they might do to him in order to prevent Ragnarök.

'Twas such a pity as he had truly liked one of those nobles and could quite easily have seen them becoming friends given more time together. Ever since the incident, though, the man had avoided him and Loki could only guess he knew, on some deep instinctual level, something had transpired which was not good. Loki was reluctantly impressed, even if it had cost him a potential friendship. He still thought it worth it even if some version of the prophecy must have made it to Miðgarðr as their myths had him tied up with Ragnarök, though the sheer absurdity of some of their other stories should be enough to protect him if anyone else ever bothered to look at them.

He never had been able to look at Sleipnir the same way since.

"And what of Lóðurr?" Loki asked.

Uncle Vili's face darkened and the man scowled. "I have no idea where Lóðurr is, he ran away ten years ago and, as far as I know, no one has seen him since."

Anger swept through Loki once more at the dismissive words. How could Vili cast one of his sons aside so easily? And, if his uncle could do it with a blood son, then how easily would Óðinn be able to do it with him if the right situation were to arise? Loki tried to shove the worry aside, but it lingered, insidiously creeping back into his thoughts.

"I will see what I can do," General Týr said when Loki looked at him.

"Uh, what would you like us to do?" Uncle Vé inquired after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. "We dared not approach the Casket earlier for fear of awakening the Destroyer."

Ah, aye, that.

Loki knew 'twas set to recognize Óðinn and his immediate family as friendly, but even he did not know if that protection still extended towards his uncles or not. Loki also could not help but wonder if Óðinn had been forced to implement special means to ensure the Destroyer did not react violently to him. It would have been programmed to be especially vigilant of the jötnar.

"Let me see what we have," Loki said, stepping forwards almost all the way up to the Casket.

There he stopped, put Gungnir to the ground and reached out with his seiðr, both towards Ásgarðr and the Destroyer. Ásgarðr responded instantly, happily coiling around his seiðr and helpfully guiding it to where he needed to go, faster than he would have found on his own. He could now almost see the Destroyer before him, though 'twas still hidden in its usual place. Then he could see through into it towards where seiðr had been woven into its essence, and quite cleverly too. He would have to come back to study this later when he had the time to do so. But as for the commands themselves...

"'Tis only set to myself, Father, Mother and Thor, but the Destroyer will not activate if the king is present and has Gungnir," Loki said, deciding not to add Uncle Vili just yet.

Father had probably removed Uncles Vili and Vé for a reason, so best to leave it as it was unless something changed.

"Do you want us to simply touch it in the first instance?" Uncle Vé asked, stepping closer.

"Hmm, but I actually want General Týr to do so first," Loki replied. "To see if it does anything when merely touched. Unless you also have jötnar blood in your heritage, General?"

Loki already knew he did not as he had taken a quick look at the heritage books in the library, but he wanted to start changing how taboo a subject 'twas to discuss.

"Nay, Your Majesty," General Týr responded.

"Then please, go ahead."

The lack of hesitation on the general's part when he did so was heartening for Loki, since it proved the man at least trusted him this far. He knew from experience that his brother's friends would not have done so without additional assurances, and occasional threats, on his part.

Loki stepped around General Týr so he could observe the Casket of Ancient Winters closely. Now he thought about it, he did not think he had ever seen anyone ever touch it other than himself, and it most definitely had reacted to him even if he had been far too distraught to pay much attention to how it had done so.

As expected, absolutely nothing happened when General Týr placed his hand on one of the Casket's handles, letting the stump of his other arm rest gently on the opposite one.

"Can you feel anything?" Uncle Vili asked, stepping up beside the general.

"Nay," Týr responded. "Well, other than that 'tis cold, very cold, but I assume that to be expected. King Óðinn said as much when he first took it."

"Thank you, General," Loki said. "Feel free to go if you wish to."

"Actually, if 'tis all the same to you, Majesty, I would like to remain and see what happens."

"Of course."

Loki had not truly expected General Týr to go given they were testing what the man would view as a jötnar weapon, but it would have made things a little easier for him. Unfortunately he could not think of a valid reason to ask the general to go.

Uncles Vili and Vé exchanged a glance as General Týr stepped back before Vili moved forward to stand before the Casket. His uncle hesitated, but without looking at him, so Loki assumed it had more to do with fear of what might happen due to his jötnar blood than that Uncle Vili worried about the Destroyer reacting. Finally his uncle placed his hands on the handles and almost immediately the Casket lit up. 'Twas not as bright a reaction as it had been for him, but Loki could definitely see a difference, with the swirling blue glowing more brightly.

"Well, that confirms it can tell those of jötnar heritage," General Týr commented, brown eyes a little wider.

"Can you feel anything, Brother?" Uncle Vé asked.

"I... I am uncertain," Uncle Vili frowned, his eyes narrowing as he concentrated.

Of course not, Loki thought as he bit back the unflattering words which wished to escape. All of the ás had been so busy ignoring seiðr they probably would not recognize it even if it swirled all around them.

"Try focusing on the Casket and willing it to light up more," Loki offered instead.

He would tell his uncle not to think of doing anything else if he was not afraid the instruction would do exactly the opposite instead. There were a few moments of silence as they allowed Vili to concentrate before the man stepped back, rubbing his hands together as he shook his head.

"I do not feel anything and it does not respond," Uncle Vili declared, looking slightly pale.

Loki let it go as this exercise was more of a front than anything else. He would allow the Casket of Ancient Winters to visibly respond to him, while also pretending he would need more time than he did to do so. They would write it off as a combination of his inheritance from Bestla and his seiðr, and he would have what he needed. Simply the fact it lit up for Uncle Vili was enough of a success for him. Now if only Uncle Vé could garner a greater reaction from it...

"I suppose 'tis my turn then," Uncle Vé said, his voice a mix of excitement and nervousness. "I always wished to examine it, but Óðinn would not let me as he thought it was best simply kept down here."

Uncle Vili snorted. "You always were fascinated with it. I remember you pestering Mother for more stories or information on it all the time."

"The concept of it is intriguing," Uncle Vé explained. "Its supposed origins are so fantastical as to sound like something out of a myth and yet its existence is real, and most of its attributed powers have been witnessed and confirmed."

"Its origins?" Loki questioned, realizing he might have overlooked a source of information on the Casket if Uncle Vé had always been so fascinated with it.

Bestla may well have told her sons far more about the heart of Jötunheimr than she had ever dared write down in her book.

"Aye, its name comes from the fact that supposedly Mother Winter herself took the might and power of the storms and winters of Jötunheimr from before Ymir's time and imbued them into the Casket," Uncle Vé explained. "Mind you, this is from a time when Jötunheimr is supposed to have been far more savage, wild and unpredictable than 'tis now, as the legend goes that Ymir tamed it when he first arrived, bringing order from chaos."

"Jötunheimr now is supposedly less harsh than it was back then?" General Týr exclaimed in disbelief.

Uncle Vé shrugged. "'Tis how the legend goes."

There was that reference again. Mother Winter.

"Am I correct in thinking Mother Winter is some form of jötnar religious figure?" Loki inquired. "I have only come across vague references to her."

"It seems to depend on whom you ask," Uncle Vili winced. "Mother definitely seemed to think she was a very real figure, irrevocably tied to the Casket of Ancient Winters, I believe."

"Aye," Uncle Vé agreed. "Not only is she supposed to have created it, but 'twas deemed her artefact and domain."

"That is why 'twas kept in a temple," General Týr mused. "I had always wondered if Laufey had simply put it there for safe keeping."

"In a temple?" Loki breathed, his heart stopped in his chest as he could not help but wonder if 'twas the same temple as the one Óðinn had found him in.

Had he been kept with the Casket? If so, it would hardly seem to indicate he had been abandoned. Loptr was right, a temple was an odd place to leave an infant to die, especially if one were at all religious. It seemed almost counterintuitive. So had Óðinn lied to him or was Laufey simply so irreverent as to do something so profane as filicide on Holy ground?

General Týr shrugged. "'Twas not exactly the first place we would have looked for it, which I had thought might have been the whole point."

"Nay," Uncle Vé stated decisively. "That was simply where they kept the Casket of Ancient Winters when not otherwise in use. The temple was specially built for it and dedicated to Mother Winter. 'Tis also where the íviðjur trained and lived."

"What?" Loki demanded, head swinging over before he caught himself and tried to backpedal. "But I thought they were advisors to the king? Surely they would live in the palace."

"Castle," Uncle Vili corrected with a frown. "And I suppose they might have lived in both places. A lot of this is only rumors and hearsay, though, as there had not been an íviðja born in millennia last I heard."

"Not to mention Laufey-King was rumored not to believe in the old ways and perhaps not even Mother Winter," Uncle Vé added. "It caused quite a scandal when he claimed 'twas not true, as for most of the jötnar 'tis nearly gospel."

"Íviðjur?" General Týr asked.

"Smaller jötnar, more like our size and very strong in seiðr," Loki explained quickly. "Therefore deemed advisors to the king on all matters seiðr. I suppose it makes sense given they would be the keeper of the Casket in a way. They were the equivalent of shamans to Mother Winter, correct?"

"Aye," Uncle Vé confirmed before he stepped up to the Casket himself. "Here I go."

With that, his youngest uncle took hold of the Casket. As before it started to glow more brightly and Loki thought it might be responding a bit more strongly to Vé than it had for Vili, but 'twas hard to be certain.

"Oh, that is odd, most peculiar," Uncle Vé muttered in awe. "Unless I very much miss my guess, that is seiðr I sense. Ancient and powerful too, though 'tis hardly a surprise."

"Can you tell anything else?" Loki asked. "Like whether 'tis reaching out to you or interacting with the environment in any way?"

"I... think it may be trying to connect to me, but I cannot be certain."

Fool had always refused to get proper training for his fledgling seiðr.

"And if you try to focus on it to make it glow brighter?"

At first there was nothing and Loki felt disappointed. While he did not need for either of his uncles to be able to make the Casket do anything more than they already had, it would have been nice as it would help to solidify his own cover story, especially if it had been Uncle Vé to do it.

Then, suddenly, there was a far brighter flash of blue light from the Casket accompanied by an odd... whine almost before it all vanished as Vé cried out and stumbled backwards.

"Brother!" Uncle Vili cried out, moving to grab Vé. "Are you alright? What happened?"

"I... I do not know," Uncle Vé stuttered. "I connected with something, I think, but it... slithered out of my grasp and then seemed to... pulse back at me. I do not think it likes me very much."

That... was most peculiar. While Loki had definitely heard of magical artefacts taking on unusual and semi sentient aspects before, this seemed different. An inbuilt defense mechanism perhaps, to prevent exactly what they were trying to do; to have half or part jötnar utilize the ancient weapon and heart of Jötunheimr? It would make sense from a certain perspective, as those of mixed heritage were logically more likely to have split loyalties. Not that full jötnar could not be against Jötunheimr or loyal to another Realm. He was the perfect example of such a one, not that he planned to turn the Casket of Ancient Winters against Jötunheimr. Not only would it irrevocably harm the Yggdrasill, but he had no doubt the Casket was probably protected against being utilized as such.

"Like?" General Týr questioned. "You make it sound alive."

"Mjǫllnir," Loki answered simply, before he held out Gungnir to the man. "My turn."

"Do you think it wise, Your Majesty?" Týr asked, reluctantly taking the King's Staff. "After what happened to Prince Vé?"

"Uncle Vili was fine and I am a trained seiðmadr," Loki replied, calling forth a double which was slightly larger than himself.

Not so much as to be visibly the wrong size, but just enough so he could hide inside of it. Having made himself invisible, Loki allowed his double to step forward to take hold of the Casket of Ancient Winters. He then extended his illusion in order to make the Casket glow a little brighter, but not nearly as much as it had for either of his uncles.

"I guess this proves the blood theory," Uncle Vili commented.

"Can you feel anything?" Uncle Vé asked, stepping a little closer once more.

"Power, ancient power," Loki replied, remembering well that much. "'Tis definitely full of seiðr and I can feel it does have properties similar to both Mjǫllnir and Gungnir. While it would not necessarily require a seiðberandi to use it, anyone who wished to wield it would definitely need to be trained to do so if they had no seiðr of their own."

"Do you feel this almost sentience Prince Vé did?" General Týr inquired.

"Not yet, but I have yet to reach out to it with my own seiðr," Loki replied. "I will do so now."

With that he stepped forward and into his double like slipping on a second skin. Or was it a third skin for him? Regardless, by doing so he ensured none would witness his own form shift and take on the features of his birth form. He could feel it doing so as soon as he actually took hold of the Casket of Ancient Winters. The icy feel of the change washed over him and he forcibly ignored it in favor of focusing on the Casket this time. 'Twas not so hard to do as he had feared as the Casket was a wonder to behold now he chose to do so.

It instantly lit up at his touch, glowing far, far brighter than it had for either of his uncles, even when Vé had garnered a reaction from it. The light also started to spin and swirl inside the Casket far faster than before, like a brutal winter's storm gearing up for a truly spectacular blizzard and Loki could not help but wonder if the myths Uncle Vé had mentioned earlier were at all accurate. It definitely felt like there was a tremendously powerful storm brewing in the artefact and he was in no doubt of the power the Casket was capable of if unleashed.

It humbled him to have that type of power in his hands. At the back of his mind Ásgarðr stirred cautiously and it felt surreal to feel her reaching out carefully, as if to see what this new power was for herself. She stopped short of actually touching it, though, but 'twas close enough for him to be intimately aware of the spark and... electricity, almost, of having two such incredibly powerful entities so close together inside of him. It energized and drained him all at once and Loki could not help but wonder if he were strong enough to contain it all. He also wondered if 'twas something like this which sent his father into the Óðinnsleep, since he could well see it draining him if given half a chance.

Almost as if aware of the thought, Ásgarðr instantly shifted back, withdrawing to the back of his mind, but Loki could easily feel 'twas not a retreat from the Casket of Ancient Winters itself. She had instead done it for him. Sending her his silent thanks, Loki dropped his illusion from the Casket, making it look like he had only just succeeded in connecting with it. Vaguely he heard the exclamations of surprise and wonder from the others, but he chose to focus on reaching out towards it.

At first his seiðr seemed to merely skim over the surface of the Casket as one might caress a curious cat, cautious and slow for fear of being turned on and scratched. Loki would have smiled at the comparison but for how accurate it truly was. The Casket of Ancient Winters did almost seem to be considering him, much as Mjǫllnir had always done. Only, unlike Thor's hammer, which had always rejected him in the end, the Casket seemed to suddenly give and then Loki's seiðr was sinking down into its awesome power. 'Twas comparable to being suddenly thrust into a massive and raging storm, ice and snow and frost all around him; all-encompassing and yet it felt protective and safe on some deep, instinctual level Loki neither understood nor truly cared for.

He should have dearly disliked feelings of this nature as they completely bypassed his sentient mind and wreaked havoc with his carefully honed skill and caution, leaving him with no idea why he felt the way he did and he should have hated it. Should have, and yet his innately contrary nature absolutely loved it whenever this happened and he latched so instinctively onto some aspect of seiðr as naturally as he did breathing. 'Twas part of the very basic duality of his nature; the chaos within which never failed to confuse and frustrate others, including his own mother.

Foreign humor washed over Loki all of a sudden. Foreign humor which he knew instantly was not Ásgarðr as she was still burning bright and cautiously delighted at the back of his mind. So what was... with a start Loki realized 'twas the Casket of Ancient Winters which seemed to be amused and delighted with his thoughts. Automatically he sent back his irritations, but it merely seemed to increase its amusement, making it flash even brighter for a second.

The feeling of a winter's storm was back, fresh and cool, though slightly less out of control this time than it had been before. The power pulsed within him and Loki suddenly realized that within his own magical core 'twas the other, icy blue-teal green part of him which was responding to it the most. The rest did too on some level, but slower and not quite as strongly as the other part of his core. Concentrating, he reached out with that only and, the instant it connected with the Casket of Ancient Winters, it felt like a long dormant bond was blasted open.

Knowledge, power and connection flooded through him and he was suddenly far more aware of the Casket than he had been before and it felt much more like the Destroyer, where he could almost see the different functions and abilities.

Fascinating as all of it was, Loki found himself quite distracted by something else which he could feel. Just at the very periphery of the Casket's power was another presence. Something far more powerful and ancient than even it. Something which reminded him much more of Ásgarðr itself. The most disconcerting aspect of it, though, was the fact it resonated with something buried deep within his own magical core and seemed to echo at the back of his mind, much as Ásgarðr herself did, but on the opposite side.

Did this have to do with Mother Winter? Was she somehow connected with the Casket of Ancient Winters as Bestla had told Uncle Vé? It seemed to make sense given the naming and all, but if so, Loki suddenly doubted Mother Winter was merely a goddess figure whom the jötnar worshipped from some ancient religion. Nay, he now feared she might be similar to Ásgarðr herself, only more known to all of the jötnar and appropriately appreciated and regarded as a result. It would make her the heart in the Casket of Ancient Winters and the magical core of Jötunheimr.

So why did she or the Casket seem to recognize him? Loki was definitely picking up those types of reactions now he had allowed the Casket to sense his true self and jötunn core. Was it simply because he was jötunn, was that enough to trigger this? It did not truly seem to fit, but what else could it be? He could hardly imagine Laufey taking the time to acquaint him with it given the man was going to abandon him. Could it perhaps be because he was a member of Jötunheimr's royal family, that it recognized him as such as various items on Ásgarðr would do for any blood relative of Óðinn's?

"Loki!"

His eyes snapped open as Uncle Vé's voice and its urgency suddenly penetrated his thoughts. The man was standing before him, on the other side of the pedestal upon which the Casket of Ancient Winters stood, worry written plain on his face. Loki frowned as he glanced over at his Uncle Vili and General Týr, only to find both looking concerned as well. The entire vault was now awash in an eerie blue light which swirled and danced within the Casket, casting flickering illumination over everything.

"What?" Loki asked, confused.

"Are you alright, my King?" General Týr asked.

"Hmm, of course. Why?"

"You were not responding to us," Uncle Vili explained, eyes dropping down to look at the Casket. "We were worried that..."

"That you had become either lost within it or trapped," Uncle Vé finished for his brother.

"Oh," Loki said, releasing the Casket in order to reassure them.

He wanted to take more time to study it, but without an audience for which he needed to put on an act and create explanations for. For now he slowly shrank his double back to normal size and then released it entirely once he felt his skin turn back to its more usual pale, áss color. While it felt good to be what he considered his true self, there was for the first time a faint flicker of protest from deep within him.

"Nay, 'twas nothing as such," Loki hastened to reassure them as he stepped away from the Casket and took Gungnir back from the general. "The Casket is extremely complex and I was taking care to ensure I did not fall afoul of any defensive measures woven into its seiðr."

"That is possible?" General Týr asked worriedly.

Loki's lips twitched. "Of course. The Destroyer can be set off by anyone attempting to disable it who is not the king."

Did even the members of the High Council know so little of seiðr not to be aware of such basic things? Even when they relied on magical items every day? Why by the Nine had Óðinn thought it a good idea to leave them all so ignorant or to become so in the first place? Surely his own general should be more aware of what the enemy might be capable of in the event they faced one who did not spurn seiðr as much as Ásgarðr did.

"Were you able to determine whether we can use its power or restrict its use in any way?" Uncle Vili asked.

"'Tis going to take far more than a quick glance to determine that," Loki replied. "The Casket is exceedingly complex, as I said, and I will require far more time to investigate it properly."

"But it did seem to respond to you," Uncle Vé stated, a look of disappointment flickering across his face.

"Hmm, aye, it took a few tries, but then something seemed to connect," Loki easily lied. "The interesting thing is that it definitely seemed to have some kind of connection which leads away from it. I could only discern the faintest traces there, but what I could detect felt similar in nature to the Óðinnforce, so I would say the odds are good the Casket does, in fact, link up to Jötunheimr's magical core somehow."

"And it could not be anything else?" General Týr checked.

"I do not think you quite realize how much power we are talking about here, General," Loki replied before he snorted. "And why Father thought 'twas a good idea to allow Thor to be so completely untrained in seiðr given that, I will never know. He would have been overwhelmed if he had connected with it yesterday!"

"I remember Óðinn used to have to enter the Óðinnsleep far more frequently in the beginning," Uncle Vili said. "He used to say it took him a while to truly get used to its power."

"And he was already used to wielding seiðr," Loki pointed out. "Thor is going to have to do it the hard way, as usual."

The words caused a quick glance among them which Loki did not miss. He nearly snorted again, but knew it would do no good. He was well aware of the rumors which circulated court about him and his ambition for both power and Hliðskjálf. No doubt those were running rampant at the moment along with all kinds of theories about whether he had somehow orchestrated events to place himself on Hliðskjálf even now. Normally they bothered him, but he simply did not have either the time or energy to deal with them at present. People would say things regardless of what he said or did about it, he had long since learned that particular lesson the hard way.

"I still do not like the idea of giving it back to Laufey, especially as 'tis," General Týr finally stated.

"Let us first see if he will even come to the negotiating table," Loki replied. "And I will keep investigating the Casket and see what I can do about its more destructive capabilities."

"Will you do so now?" Uncle Vé inquired hopefully.

"Nay, I will check in on Mother and I promised Lady Borgunna I would attend the feast tonight."

"We will be there as well," Uncle Vili said. "'Tis one of the perks I used to help convince Gersemi to come to Iðavöllr temporarily."

"I will see you there then," Loki replied, knowing his uncle would use the opportunity to sit at the high table as he used to.

Chapter Text

Loki stopped right outside of the door leading into the All-Father's Óðinnsleep chamber and turned to face Lieutenant-General Yngvarr.

"I would like some time alone with my mother."

"Of course, Your Majesty," Yngvarr replied, gesturing for his men to spread out around the door where two of his father's guard already stood.

The lieutenant-general then followed him into the chamber and motioned for his men inside to leave. They immediately did so, silent shadows detaching from the wall all around the chamber.

"Loki," Frigga said, rising to her feet to come embrace him.

"Mother," Loki replied, pulling her tight despite all of his conflicting emotions toward her.

She may have lied to him for his whole life and allowed him to believe horrible things about his own species, but she had always been his rock. The only one who had always been there for him and he could not help but relax and feel safe in her arms, with her familiar scent all around him. It never failed to take him back to the happiest days of his childhood, when he had spent countless hours learning seiðr under her patient tutelage.

"How are you doing?" Frigga asked, pulling back and taking his face in her hands.

"As well as can be expected, given we are at war," Loki replied.

"At war," Frigga repeated, her eyes wide.

"Did Father not tell you? Laufey refused to let the attack go, too many jötnar died, so the last thing he said to Óðinn was to declare war."

"Nay, when your father and I argued about Thor's banishment he did not mention the war, though I suppose it makes sense given his anger."

'Twas one way of putting it. Loki did not think he had ever witnessed Óðinn quite so furious at either of them before, indeed the response he had garnered when he had tried to intervene on Thor's behalf had not even been coherent. It had been more of a snarl or growl than anything else. It made him fear what type of reaction he would get should Óðinn ever learn he had been the one to let the jötnar into the vault. He shuddered at the mere thought and so vowed to ensure Óðinn never did learn of it.

Loki led his mother back to her seat and then moved around the bed to take his own on the opposite side.

"I have sent an envoy to Jötunheimr," Loki told her. "To see if we can bring Laufey-King to the negotiating table."

The worry and compassion on his mother's face made Loki want to snarl at her. This was all her fault to begin with, she should not now be allowed to try and make it look like she was worried about the result.

"I asked him to be honest with you from the beginning. There should be no secrets in a family," Frigga said.

As usual it seemed she was able to read far more of his thoughts than anyone else.

"So why did he lie?"

"He kept the truth from you so that you would never feel different. You are our son, Loki, and we your family," Frigga said, looking over at him imploringly. "You must know that."

Part of Loki desperately wanted to believe her; to believe his mother, but he could not. He simply could not. And how could he possibly be expected to? Not only had both she and Óðinn lied to him for his entire life, but they had left him to flounder at trying to be something he was not. All of his life he had thought something was intrinsically wrong with him which had meant he could not act, think and simply be like all good æsir should. Hel, he had never even been able to so much as stomach their favored dish, the smell alone turning his stomach time and time again.

All of that suffering, those struggles, self-loathing and the inevitable bullying as others noticed his differences and disapproved of them. And all for what? Simply to find out there was a perfectly valid reason why he was different. That 'twas not because of something wrong or broken within him, but rather that he simply was not right; was not áss.

Was nothing but a filthy frost giant. A jötunn monster like those he and Thor had always bragged they would wipe from the Nine when they grew up and became powerful enough to do so.

Loki cut off the train of thought as soon as he could, as he felt the rending pain deep within which indicated his core had taken another blow, but the essential point remained. Unconsciously, his hand snaked up to grasp at his amulet even as his mind continued to spin along. Never feel different indeed. Ha! Telling him the truth would have made him understand why he felt so different! It would have given Loki a concrete reason for feeling it instead of leaving him and others to make up their own reasons for his supposed shortcomings.

The only reason Loki did not simply rise and walk out was because 'twas Frigga he was speaking to. The woman he had viewed as his mother for a millennium and the only one who had always stood by and supported him, no matter what he had done. It made her betrayal all the greater, but even that could not somehow overcome the deep well of love, affection and respect he had always had for her.

Frigga, mother, queen and seiðkona; the first to start teaching him about seiðr and the gift he had for it.

Yet, despite both that and their conversation - not to mention the shock which still roiled within him at the revelation of not only his true identity and heritage, but of his own species - there was a part of him that was hyperaware of where he was. Óðinn's chambers with the king himself before him, encased in the grasp of the Óðinnsleep.

"How is he doing?" Loki asked in order to distract himself. "Uncle Vili said there was some improvement."

"There is, but I still fear. We were unprepared so our response was not as quick as it should have been, and he has put it off for so long."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Loki reached out to take her hand and she smiled at him.

"You are a good son, but I think you have enough to worry about already," Frigga smiled sadly. "You leave your father to Lady Eir and myself."

"Are you certain? I may only have done the same as you both before, but now I have access to the Óðinnforce I have more seiðr and power than before."

His mother blinked at him for a moment before she squeezed his hand. "Of course, I had not thought of that, but nay, your focus is needed elsewhere, on Ásgarðr and the war. And you must not overextend yourself either. You are not accustomed to the Óðinnforce and it still does this to your father with extended use even after all of these millennia."

Technically Loki already knew his exposure to, and use of, Ásgarðr's power made him vulnerable to the same exhaustion and need for recuperation and relief as Óðinn, but he did not feel anything even remotely like it. Instead it almost seemed like Ásgarðr's presence rejuvenated him and it felt like a breath of fresh air after he had been cooped up inside too long, as oft happened when he found a new topic to study and spent all of his time in a quiet corner of the royal library. It washed over him and through him like fresh glacial water, feeding and nurturing both his body and seiðr. It had been over thirty-six hours since he had slept, and even then it had not been a proper rest as he had been far too anxious about Thor's coronation and his own plan to disrupt it in order to have a good night's rest. And yet he was not tired in the least, easily both awake and alert without having had to resort to more than a few teas and nothing magical.

Perhaps 'twas simply how it began?

"I will bear it in mind," Loki replied instead. "And what about you, have you eaten or slept at all?"

Frigga smiled at him once more. "Aye, Lady Eir insisted, saying she would bar me from the chamber on the grounds I was negatively influencing your father's health if I did not."

Loki laughed despite himself. "I am glad to hear I am not the only one she can cajole into doing what she wants."

"Oh, trust me on this, she can make your father obey if she truly bends her mind to it."

"That I would like to see."

"She always makes certain there is none other than me present when she does it."

"Which is probably part of why she succeeds. Still, I must remember to ask for tips."

"Do tell me when you plan to try using them, as I would love to witness it."

Loki pulled a face at the reaction he would no doubt garner should he ever do so, but the main point of the statement had been to further distract his mother (and himself if he were being honest), and make her smile again. On both of those counts he had been successful.

"Will you be coming to the feast tonight then?" Loki asked. "Lady Borgunna has persuaded me I should."

"Nay, I shall have someone bring me something to have here," Frigga replied. "However Lady Borgunna is correct, the people should see you and you need to relax for a little. No doubt you have been busy all day long. Have you eaten?"

"Hmm, people seem to notice if the king has missed a meal."

"Aye, Óðinn has mentioned that."


"Livunn," Loki greeted as he spotted her right outside of the Great Hall as he approached with his escort.

"Your Majesty," Livunn bowed before falling in beside and slightly behind him. "Dinner and bed?"

Loki snorted and looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Strange, I thought I had already seen my mother."

"Rest is important, my Liege."

If she would have had any interest in it, Loki would have pushed her at Lord Aðalgrímr long ago, since Livunn was able to keep a straight face while saying just about anything.

"Hmm, but so is relaxation and I was thinking of having a bath before bed."

"Of course, my King."

Any reply Loki may have made died as he entered the Great Hall and almost immediately felt all of the attention of those already assembled swinging his way. The noise level dropped dramatically for a few moments before slowly rising up again in the form of hundreds of whispered conversations as people turned to their neighbors and simply had to say something. And all about him no doubt. Loki was truly glad he had changed out of his coronation outfit last night, as it would help with what court saw now.

As promised, both his Uncle Vili and Aunt Gersemi were already seated at the high table along with Balðr. Of Lóðurr there was absolutely no trace, nor had he truly suspected one given what had been said down in the vault earlier. Uncle Vé was also present along with several other nobles who had managed to snag the other remaining spaces. He could already tell it was going to be a long dinner, which had been part of the reason why he had avoided eating here before.

"Majesty."

"Your Majesty."

"My King."

"King Loki."

All were said along with several other titles as Loki made his way to his father's customary seat. He smiled and nodded at people as he went, quickly noticing who was not present, namely Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. Due how infrequently they missed a feast while on Ásgarðr, given Volstagg's sordid love affair with food, 'twas a conspicuous absence. A quick glance over at Yngvarr showed the lieutenant-general had noticed as well.

The way everyone was watching made Loki want to turn around and flee. He was not used to being observed so closely as he entered the hall. Usually he could slip in almost unnoticed and quietly make his way to the table, this was the complete opposite of that. Hopefully it would quickly die down as Óðinn did not have to deal with this every time his father came to dine. Thankfully, his uncles had taken the seats on either side of his, which would allow him a little peace, but he was certain the others at the table would use the opportunity to engage him in conversation in the hopes of gaining some form of goodwill or a favor or two.

There was a brief moment of potential tension as Óðinn's usual server tried to push his way in, but Loki flicked a dismissive hand at him and Livunn slipped easily into his spot. He was not planning on suffering the attentions of someone who had never paid attention to his preferences when he had someone who knew them inside out already present.

"Your Majesty," Lord Ítreksjóð began almost before Loki was even fully seated. "'Tis good to see you, there have been all sorts of rumors running through the palace."

"Hmm, I am certain there are," Loki replied blandly. "You will have to excuse me for not announcing anything right away, but there have been urgent matters which required attention first."

"Of course, my King. I hope everything is now alright?"

"In so far as it can be. There will be an official announcement at the end of the feast by Lord Ragnvaldr."

"Oh, good."

Not wanting to get drawn into any further attempts to draw information from him, Loki turned his attention to his aunt.

"I am sorry about the rather abrupt change in your accommodation, Aunt Gersemi, but it truly is rather important Uncle Vili is in Iðavöllr for the next few days."

"'Tis alright, Loki, Vili explained it all to me. While I cannot say I am terribly pleased, I do understand."

The conversation dragged on in a similar manner while Loki ate and people shifted their seats to look at him from the other tables. He slowly let some information about his father's condition and Thor's punishment slip, but never too much all at once so the conversation would not wind around to other matters. Some of the questions he outright deflected or put off, saying it would be covered by Lord Ragnvaldr's speech at the end of the feast. At least the food was good as 'twas clear the chiefs had once again prepared the dishes they knew he liked over any others, so he ate more than he had thought he would.

He was about to start the dessert Livunn had placed before him when Lieutenant-General Yngvarr melted out of the shadows to appear at his shoulder.

"Apologies, Majesty," the Einherjar whispered. "But I have just received word. Lady Sif and the Warriors Three have approached Heimdallr and been allowed passage on the Bifröst."

Loki's jaw set as he carefully put down his fork. So, there it was, the treasonous acts Loptr had informed him of, all neatly witnessed this time around by his men.

"I am sorry, but I have to go, something has come up," Loki apologized to the others at his table.

"My King?" Uncle Vili questioned.

"Tomorrow," Loki replied, looking over to the table General Týr sat at, and catching the man's eye.

With that, Loki turned around and slipped out through the door near the king's seat. He had chosen not to enter this way as the whole reason of his attending was to be seen, but he was through with showmanship for now. General Týr joined them a moment later.

"What is it?" Týr demanded. "Has something happened?"

"Treason, General, of everyone we feared," Loki stated.

The general cursed even as Lieutenant-General Yngvarr turned to send a guard off to the stables.

"Nay," Loki countered. "We do this my way now and I refuse to wait any longer."

"My Liege?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr asked.

"Teleportation," Loki stated, as he had never quite been able to keep that particular talent quiet since he had used it far too often in battle. "Invisibility and illusion."

"You are expecting a violent reaction," General Týr realized, face grave.

"The punishment for treason can be death," Loki pointed out. "He may not think he has anything left to lose."

"You want to do what you did earlier, with the... illusions of yourself?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr checked.

"Hmm, that and making all of us invisible."

"What do we need to do for the teleportation?"

"Gather close and everyone needs to be in contact, though not all with me."

It was telling how 'twas both General Týr and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr who placed hands on his arms, while the others touched them or each other. 'Twas slightly more than he normally transported, but he was now more powerful than before and 'twas along a very familiar path and not too far. If any of the Einherjar were nervous, they did not let it show and Loki took a moment to cloak them before transporting them to right outside of Himinbjörg. A second later an illusion of himself appeared before Heimdallr who stood just at the end of the rainbow bridge, Höfuð stood upright before him with both hands on the top of the hilt.

Loki could already guess how this was going to end and it infuriated him.

"Tell me, Loki, how did you let the jötnar into Ásgarðr?" Heimdallr demanded arrogantly.

Of course the gatekeeper had to say that of all things! Loki managed to contain the flash of fury which shot through him due to the fact he was well aware of the audience they had.

"Is that what you believe happened?" Loki had his illusion ask. "Is it what you plan to use to justify disobeying a direct order from your king? Well, I say for your act of treason, you are relieved of your duties and under arrest to stand trial on the morrow."

"Then I need no longer obey you," Heimdallr retorted, shifting his grip on Höfuð.

Within seconds, the gatekeeper had obtained a proper hold of Höfuð and was swinging it around into an arc straight for Loki's double. If it had truly been him, Loki would have made more of a move to defend himself rather than making his duplicate merely startle in surprise, but he had already managed to accomplish what he had wanted to and, when Höfuð failed to meet anything, Heimdallr would be caught off-guard and easily overpowered by his Einherjar.

Indeed 'twas exactly what happened when his illusion dissolved into a shower of sparks. Höfuð was knocked out of Heimdallr's hand as the gatekeeper cried out in shock and dismay when Loki dropped the invisibility spell and they all appeared before Heimdallr's normally all-seeing eyes.

The gatekeeper fought at first, probably out of instinct as much as anything else, before he seemed to realize precisely whom he was facing. At that point he deflated, golden eye darting around to land on both Loki and General Týr, who stood beside him, the general's remaining hand on the pummel of his sword, though it remained undrawn.

"Your Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said as he stepped back towards them and held out Höfuð.

Loki took it in his free hand and rested the tip on the rainbow bridge, much as Heimdallr had earlier, only he did it with only the one hand. This sword, along with Gjallarhorn, were the two big markers of the gatekeeper's position and, as such, the traitor would need them no longer. Nay, instead they would be passed on to his successor and Loki already had the start of an idea as to how to go about achieving that, as this position required certain special abilities unique to the man held on his knees before him.

"Heimdallr," General Týr began, voice tight with both disappointment and fury. "If I had not seen it for myself, I never would have believed it. You attempting regicide of the king of Ásgarðr."

And that, right there, was why Loki had ensured this time he had plenty of venerable witnesses present when confronting Heimdallr. He had known he would need them in order to be able to try someone of the gatekeeper's status. For he had absolutely no intention of letting anyone who had committed treason against him get away with it simply because they were popular. 'Twas Heimdallr's ill luck he had long since learned what he had to do when going up against those more popular or respected than him. Growing up with Thor had taught him this much, if nothing else.

Heimdallr's golden gaze slid from the general to look at him, the man somehow still managing to look regal despite having his helmet knocked half askew.

"Well played, Loki, very well played, but it merely proves I am right. You do have the power to hide from me," the gatekeeper proclaimed.

"I am hardly the only one in the Nine with that skill," Loki replied calmly, much more so than he felt. Inside he wanted to shout and curse, his roiling emotions seeking to lash out, but he kept a tight lid on them, wanting to appear collected and dignified. "And simply because I can do so hardly means I did as you claim."

"Do you even understand the seriousness and severity of what you did here, Heimdallr?" General Týr demanded sharply, stepping between them and forcing the gatekeeper's gaze back to him. "You tried to kill your king!"

"He is no king of mine. Óðinn is king, Thor shall be king. Loki is-"

"The rightful regent as determined by Óðinn's own line of succession!" Týr thundered. "The very laws of Ásgarðr which you swore to help uphold and defend have placed King Loki on Hliðskjálf. That is what determines who is king, not the personal opinion of a few honorless warriors who would seek to plot and scheme behind their monarch's back in a vain attempt to organize a coup."

"He let the jötnar into Ásgarðr in order to interrupt Prince Thor's coronation and claim Hliðskjálf for himself," Heimdallr insisted.

Wait that was why Heimdallr thought he had done it? Loki fought the urge to roll his eyes at the predictability of it. He truly should have seen it coming. Nearly everyone else thought he lusted blindly after the kingship, so why not Ásgarðr's eminent gatekeeper? Heimdallr would have seen and heard everyone else talking of it all the time. Any suspicions of his own had probably been enhanced by it all. Loki had simply not seen it coming as 'twas so far from the truth, and he had so much else to deal with it, he had not truly given any thought to Heimdallr's motives, simply his actions.

"You keep uttering those words, but you have yet to provide any actual proof other than the fact you failed to see it coming, which is weak at best and sounds like an attempt to cover your own fault at worst," General Týr countered. "It makes me wonder if I should look into your other practices and conduct. Like how you allowed Prince Thor to go to Jötunheimr yesterday, despite travel there being absolutely forbidden. King Loki said you let them through without even an argument, simply because you were upset you had not seen the jötnar coming."

"Loki-"

"King Loki!"

"He has disappeared from my sight twice since taking up Gungnir."

So, Heimdallr truly was not able to tell when he merely blurred the gatekeeper's perception. 'Twas good to know as he had not been certain.

"Aye, when he was informing both myself and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr of his suspicions concerning you! We could not have you listening in and altering your behavior."

"I think 'tis enough for now, General Týr, thank you," Loki said, stepping forward. "We shall hold a trial tomorrow morning, at which time we can resolve this once and for all."

"Tomorrow?" General Týr asked, startled. "So soon?"

"Heimdallr holds a unique and vital position we cannot leave vacant," Loki reminded him. 'Twas true it normally took at least a few days to organize a trial, but it could be done faster, though Lord Ragnvaldr was not going to thank him for it. He simply hoped the man would be suitably horrified enough not to give him any grief for it. "We do have people off-world and a potential peace negotiation awaiting a response."

"Of course, Your Majesty, forgive my impudence," General Týr replied.

Loki waved it off as he reached out to Hliðskjálf via Gungnir and then out towards Álfheimr to observe Lord Aðalgrímr. As he had expected, the diplomat was caught up in a traditional ceremony which would take half the night. His next target was Jötunheimr where he saw Laufey-King once again in his Council chambers. The various jötnar present seemed to be having a very heated debate with a lot of gesticulation and baring of teeth. With disgust he wondered if 'twas normal, before his eyes fell on the missive Lord Aðalgrímr had taken to them. So at least they were considering his offer, even if things did not look particularly optimistic at present. A lot could change in a few hours though.

Lastly, he looked towards Miðgarðr, focusing first on Lady Sif and the Warriors Three who were walking through a desert towards a small, dilapidated town. Then he sought out his brother, only to find Thor seated at a table, feasting. Obviously Ásgarðr's crown prince was doing all he could to prove himself worthy of Mjǫllnir in order to return to his home and duties. His dear brother had better improve his actions or learn his lesson before Óðinn awoke and commenced having ideas about making Loki his heir instead of Thor. He was not becoming stuck with Hliðskjálf! He would sooner reveal his true heritage to everyone than to be restricted and bogged down for the rest of his life.

"It does not appear anyone is in need of being brought back at present," Loki stated, turning his attention back to those around him.


The moment they were back in Iðavöllr, several other guards were co-opted to take Heimdallr down to the dungeons so his personal guard was only two men down. General Týr took Höfuð and then also left to go inform Lord Ragnvaldr of what had transpired so the advisor could commence organizing the trial.

"Your chambers, my King?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr asked when Loki was alone with his personal guard once more.

"Nay, I must find Mother and inform her of what happened ere she hears of it from someone else," Loki replied, rubbing his free hand over his face, suddenly feeling incredibly tired all at once.

"Of course. Her guard told me she had agreed with Lady Eir to retire for a few hours this evening, so she should be in her chambers."

An attempt on his life was not going to help her sleep any easier, but Loki knew very well how she would react if she heard of this later, especially if 'twas from someone else, so he resigned himself to it and headed in the right direction. Though 'twas not exactly a short walk, by the end of it he still was not quite certain precisely how he was going to break the news to her. As the wards had always recognized him, he went straight through the outer receiving chamber and into his parents' private chambers beyond. He went right to the bedchamber door before pausing and electing to knock, not pounding on the door as Thor would, but perhaps a little louder than he otherwise might.

"Mother?" Loki called out. "Mother, I am sorry to disturb, but I need to speak with you right away."

"Loki?" Frigga's sleep heavy voice called back, making Loki feel even worse. There was the sound of movement before the door opened and his mother stepped out, squinting in the light of the living chamber while pulling a robe tight around herself. "Loki, baby, what is wrong?"

He winced at the old kenning he had not heard but once or twice in nearly three quarters of a millennium. It said how deeply asleep she had been and how worried she now was.

"I am truly sorry to wake you," Loki repeated as he guided her to one of the sofas and pulled her down beside him. "But I thought you would prefer to hear this from me rather than someone else on the morrow."

"Hear what? Has something happened? Of course it has," Frigga began before her eyes grew wide. "Is it your father? Óðinn was fine when I left him and it cannot have been so long ago!"

"'Tis not father," Loki replied quickly, keeping her from rising. "He is fine as far as I know."

"Then what is it, Loki? Tell me."

"Treason."

"What?" Frigga demanded, suddenly looking far more awake and absolutely furious. "Who dares?"

"Several people, apparently," Loki muttered, bitterly, before reigning it back in. "Earlier this evening, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three disobeyed both Father and myself by going to Miðgarðr to retrieve Thor, most likely with the intention of putting him on Hliðskjálf."

"Your brother would never move against you!" Frigga retorted immediately. "It may be their intention, but Thor would never take part in such a scheme."

Loki wished he could be as certain. It had been a long time since he and his brother had been close, and Loki could not even recall the last time Thor had deigned to listen to him and his opinion. Nay, things had devolved to Thor telling him various versions of 'Know your place, Brother'. Who was to say his brother would not now also see him as having usurped Hliðskjálf? Especially with Lady Sif and the Warriors Idiot coloring the words Thor received of it? Not that it particularly mattered at the moment as all five of them were stuck on Miðgarðr until such time as he decided any of them could come back.

"Wait, how did they travel to Miðgarðr?" Frigga suddenly questioned.

"Heimdallr."

"Heimdallr? Truly?"

"Aye. Do not forget, he was the one to allow us passage to Jötunheimr as well. But 'tis not the worst of it."

"I dread to ask."

Although his mother's voice had reached a more normal volume once more, her tight grasp on his arm told Loki all he needed to know of her emotional state. It also served to remind him she was a former shield-maiden of Vanaheimr and a warrior in her own right. Heimdallr had been sorely mistaken if he had thought he could get away with his actions. If he had somehow succeeded, Loki knew the gatekeeper would have had more to fear from his mother than all of the Einherjar combined, of that at least he had absolutely no doubt.

"When we confronted him, he decided to try his hand at regicide," Loki finally told her.

Frigga froze before him at the words, her eyes narrowing to slits as they swept over him, clearly assessing him for any damage before they met his own, absolutely furious. Loki did not think he had ever seen his mother so enraged and it made even him swallow thickly, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt he, of all people, was safe from it.

"He tried what?" Frigga demanded, voice low and tight in a way both he and Thor knew to fear.

"You heard me, Mother," Loki replied simply.

"How?"

"Mother-"

"How, Loki?"

He sighed. "Höfuð."

"I will tear him apart," Frigga hissed. "I will tear him apart and feed his entrails to Níðhöggr."

"Mother!" Loki exclaimed, caught between laughter and disbelief.

"No one tries to kill one of my babies and does not suffer for it!"

"And he will. He is in the dungeons and he will be tried tomorrow morning. Lord Ragnvaldr is organizing it even now."

"Good. I want you to take his head."

"I think you need to go back to sleep."

"You think I could sleep after this?"

"I am fine, Mother, look, see for yourself or you can ask Lieutenant-General Yngvarr himself, he is outside."

"That will not be necessary," Frigga tried to reassure him, though her hands reached out to touch his chest nonetheless, as if looking for any sign Höfuð had come too close to him.

Chapter Text

Loki collapsed into the first chair of his outer chamber as the Einherjar fanned out to check the rest of his chambers for anyone who did not belong.

"Will there be anything else tonight, Your Majesty?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr asked, stopping beside him.

"Just one more thing, unfortunately."

"Whatever you require."

'Twas one aspect of being king which Loki could become accustomed to.

"Could you have someone send word to Höðr Ullrson and inform him his presence is requested tomorrow at the trial."

The way the lieutenant-general's eyes widened slightly, told Loki Yngvarr recognized the name and well he should. Höðr had been his personal guard when he had been younger, and the man had been gravely injured when some mercenaries had attempted to kidnap him to be utilized as leverage in an ongoing dispute with his father. The injury had been severe enough it had ended Höðr's career with the Einherjar despite the man's ambition to one day be good enough to become part of the king's personal guard. Loki had never been able to properly thank the man for what he had done, and he always made a point of it to reward loyalty as so few ever truly had it for him.

"Of course, my King."

"I would like to see him ahead of time, so I could have a word before the trial begins."

"I shall make sure he is there."

"Good, thanks."

The other guards soon came out, giving the all clear before all but two left, those standing right inside the outer chamber. Loki simply looked at them for a moment, before shifting his attention to Livunn as she appeared from deeper in his chambers.

"I brought your dessert back if you still want it, Loki," she said, her sharp eyes appraising his sprawl.

Loki laughed. Trust her to know what to say to him, and she did not even know what had happened. "Aye, please."

"Would you like it out here?"

"Nay," Loki said, pushing himself to his feet. "I will come in."

In and away from the constant watch of the Einherjar. While he understood why he needed them about, especially in light of the events tonight, which proved once and for all that not all threats came from outside of Ásgarðr, he simply wished to be alone for a while.

"Your bath has also been drawn," Livunn said as they stepped into his living chamber and she helped him remove his cape.

"Thank you, Livunn," Loki replied as he moved to sit in his preferred chair by the fireplace, beside which his dessert plate from earlier stood along with a glass of his favorite type of vanir wine.

Livunn truly did know him well. Loki used his seiðr to banish Gungnir to rest against the far wall, wanting it far from him all of a sudden. 'Twas a symbol of all which had gone wrong today and, now he did not need to have it with him at all times to prove his status and for extra protection, he was determined to be separated from it. If Livunn thought his actions odd, she did not so much as blink.

"Is there anything else you require, Loki, or do you wish to be alone?" Livunn asked.

"I am good, Livunn, go relax yourself," Loki replied.

"What time will you need me on the morrow?"

Ugh, he would have to rise early, both for the trial and because he would be missed if he did not. Loki hated rising early, he far preferred to stay up late into the night, reading or studying, and then sleep well into the morning instead.

"Early, unfortunately. I have a trial to preside over," Loki told her. "I will need to be ready first thing."

"Shall I bring breakfast here then?"

"Hmm."

Both the court and the people would see him at the trial, so 'twas not as important for him to attend breakfast. Besides, Óðinn oft had it with simply Frigga and Thor, so his absence would not be a particular deviation from the All-Father's routine.

"I bid you goodnight then, my Liege," Livunn curtsied and left.

Loki looked at the closed door for a moment before picking up his wine glass and taking a large sip, letting the rich flavor of the wine roll over his tongue as he rested his head against the padded back of the armchair. 'Twas not a particularly popular wine on Ásgarðr, but Norns did he love it, full of subtle flavors and hints of richness which came from the seiðr heavy soil in which the purple grapes were grown. 'Twas a particular favorite of most seiðberandi, and he had oft shared a glass sitting here with his mother as they discussed any number of different topics. The memories made him smile as he basked in them for a while, letting the heat from the fire wash over him. Eventually he picked up the dessert and made his way through it as he finished off his wine.

He was only able to force himself out of his chair as he truly did want a bath and he knew it was already all prepared for him; the spells he had cast on the pool ensured it stayed at the right temperature until he drained it.

With a thought, Loki disrobed and stepped into the bathing chamber, taking his refilled glass of wine with him. He moaned as he sank into the warm, scented water of the large sunken bath and he let his head roll back onto the towel placed at one end for precisely that reason. By the Nine, this felt good and had been precisely what he had needed. He gave himself half an hour to simply soak and relax ere he reached out towards Ásgarðr, needing to check an idea which had been percolating at the back of his mind for close to a day now, ever since his second talk with Loptr.

Then, afterwards, he would need to gather the other evidence he would require for the trial.


Thor had finished drying the plate handed to him and had put it down on the counter, when there was a sound behind him followed by a very familiar voice.

"Found you."

He spun around in shock to find that, aye, it had been Volstagg who had spoken and there his friend stood, along with Lady Sif, Fandral and Hogun. There was the shattering of dishes as his new friends caught sight of his old ones, but he was only vaguely aware of it as he stepped forward with a large smile on his face.

"My friends!" Thor exclaimed as he reached them and clasped Fandral's hand, beaming at the others.

"I don't believe it," Lord Selvig muttered behind him.

"Who are they?" Lady Darcy questioned.

Volstagg promptly stepped forwards and gave a little bow. "Lady Sif and the Warriors Three," he introduced them.

"My friends, I have never been happier to see anyone," Thor began, laying a hand on Volstagg's shoulder. "But you should not have come, Father will not be pleased with you."

"'Tis actually why we are here to take you home," Fandral stated. "Your father has fallen to the Óðinnsleep and Loki now sits on Hliðskjálf."

Thor looked at his friends in shock for a moment, stunned speechless.

"Loki?" Lord Selvig demanded. "The trickster?"

"Aye, precisely," Lady Sif confirmed.

"Loki is on Hliðskjálf?" Thor finally repeated, finding his voice again. "How?"

"We do not know," Volstagg replied. "We entered Valaskjálf yesterday to find him seated on it and refusing to let us speak with the All-Mother."

"Vale- what?" Lady Darcy demanded. "Hlid- huh? Why can't you people name things normally?"

"It's the throne room and throne, if I remember correctly," Lord Selvig informed her. "It's all old Norse, from over a millennium ago."

"Rumor has it, Óðinn was alone with Loki when it happened," Lady Sif stated. "And the Óðinnsleep is not normal. Even Loki admitted your father might never awaken."

"Making Loki king for good," Hogun added, speaking up for once.

Thor looked between his friends in disbelief as he listened to them speak. He could not believe what he was hearing. Aye, he knew his little brother was second in line for Hliðskjálf, as it was essential for a king to have several plans in place to cover any eventuality, but he had never actually taken Loki's position as such seriously. 'Twas only ever meant to be a precaution, like his brother officially being crown prince and heir when he ascended to Hliðskjálf was only ever meant to be ceremonial and a placeholder until he started a family of his own, and had a son to become the true crown prince and his eventual successor. Loki was merely the second prince, not a future (or current) king!

Simply the thought of his little brother on Hliðskjálf made Thor angry. 'Twas a respected and honored position, not at all for someone who would rather use tricks to avoid a fight instead of standing fast and both battling, and winning, with honor. He had trained long and hard to be worthy of Hliðskjálf, while Loki had wasted his time studying seiðr and choosing knives over swords, or other honorable weapons. Besides, his little brother had not had all of those lessons which he had been required to have with Father. Those boring and mind-numbing hours on diplomacy and kingship.

He had put up with those for Hliðskjálf!

"What does he do?" Thor finally asked.

"We do not know, he told us to await his orders and then we did not hear from him again," Fandral explained.

"I know there was a High Council meeting, after which Lord Aðalgrímr was sent away," Lady Sif added. "Where, I do not know."

"Hopefully the Council will be able to restrain Loki from doing anything too drastic," Thor stated.

"I am not so certain, they think him king and do not know his duplicitous nature as we do," Volstagg argued.

"'Tis why we are here," Lady Sif told him. "We need you. Ásgarðr needs you!"

"But he can't," Lady Jane countered, stepping forwards and placing a hand on Thor's arm, looking up at him pleadingly. "You said it yourself, you're like a mortal now. You don't have any of your usual strength."

"What is this?" Volstagg demanded with a frown.

Not unpredictably, Thor saw his friend had found the left-over bacon which Lady Jane had set aside after his appetite had been less than expected. More mortal in size than before, as if some of the changes were only now starting to catch-up with him. Though it had been quite a while since he had last eaten, when he had first broken his fast with his new friends.

"Father made me mortal when he banished me," Thor replied regretfully, feeling the sense of helplessness from before, when he had failed to lift Mjǫllnir. "I am now no stronger than any human and Mjǫllnir will not respond to me any longer."

"Where is she?" Fandral asked, looking around.

"Out in the desert, where she landed. None have been able to lift her, so the humans have built a facility around Mjǫllnir to study her."

"If you cannot fight, then what are we going to do?" Lady Sif demanded. "We cannot simply leave Loki on Hliðskjálf, who knows what he will do?"

"Have a care, Lady Sif," Thor chided. "'Tis Loki we are having words about. He may not be properly trained to take Hliðskjálf, but he is not a danger to Ásgarðr directly."

"Remember what Laufey said," Hogun argued. "There are traitors in the House of Óðinn."

"I remember what he said!" Thor thundered. "What are you implying with it?"

"Simply think on it, Thor. What did the attack on the vault achieve?" Lady Sif argued.

"It ruined my coronation."

"Aye, but what else? It had you banished and all right before the All-Father falls to the Óðinnsleep! The frost giants making it into the vault led directly to Loki ending up on Hliðskjálf!"

"You cannot possibly be suggesting Loki did it for that! He could not know Father would banish me, or that Father would succumb to the Óðinnsleep so shortly afterwards."

"No one knows what happened in the vault, Thor. Loki and your father were alone in there and the guards say they were arguing. They could not hear what was said, but they could hear raised voices, or well Loki's voice, and apparently he was very angry."

"He had every right to be upset, Father had banished me! I would not be surprised if Mother and Father argued as well."

"You think Loki would have fought for you?" Volstagg questioned.

"I know he would have," Thor declared. "He tried to in Himinbjörg, but Father was far too furious to even listen to him."

"So why did he refuse to end your banishment?" Lady Sif demanded. "Why did he not allow you to return, when Ásgarðr needs you so much at present?"

"I... I do not know!"

"Loki has always been jealous of you, Thor, you know this. Even before your father succumbed, he refused to go speak with him on your behalf, regardless of what he might have done in Himinbjörg."

"He refused?"

"Ah, aye," Fandral replied hesitantly.

"Tell me exactly what he said!"

"Thor-"

"Nay, tell me! Now."

Fandral sighed and looked at the others before a defeated look crossed his face. "He said he loved you more dearly than any of us-"

"See, 'tis not so bad!" Thor proclaimed with a wide smile. "If, perhaps, not entirely accurate."

"- but that we knew what you are. He then called you arrogant, reckless and dangerous, before reminding us of how you were yesterday and asking us if 'twas what Ásgarðr needed from its king."

That was...

Thor felt rage flush through him at the assessment. Trust Loki to look at it thus. He sounded precisely like Father; Loki would allow the frost giants to trample all over them before he realized exactly how dangerous they were and that they needed to confront the threat head on. Thor should have seen it coming, though, as his brother had been trying to discourage him from going to Jötunheimr from the very start!

"I am going to beat him," Thor growled.

"Thor!" Lady Jane exclaimed, looking at him in horror.

"What?" Thor frowned, taking a step towards her.

"Please tell me you're joking!"

"Joking? About what?"

"Beating your brother!"

"Nay, he is not," Volstagg smiled, finishing off the last of the bacon. "What is this? 'Tis exquisite!"

"Bacon," Lady Darcy told him. "It's my favorite food in the whole world."

"I can well see why!"

"He's not?" Lady Jane repeated in disbelief, before whirling to look at him once more. "You're not? You'd really beat your brother for something he said?"

"Of course, he disrespected me before others," Thor replied, confused. "You heard what Fandral said. 'Tis a slight on my honor!"

"And domestic violence isn't? Also, screw honor!"

"Screw honor?" Fandral repeated in shock, eyes wide. "Has Miðgarðr truly changed so much that honor has been cast aside? But how do you function without it?"

"All appeared relatively orderly on the way in," Lady Sif added in confusion.

"I'm talking about the type of honor that begets violence, like what you're talking about or which has men killing women in other parts of the world," Lady Jane nearly shouted ere she turned back to him and raised a pointed finger. "And as for you, are you so insecure and sensitive you can't take a little criticism from someone? Let alone your own brother?"

"Lady Jane-" Thor began.

"Because while I may not know the whole situation, I do know Loki was right in that arrogance, recklessness and being dangerous aren't good traits for a king to have."

"Thor was not any of those," Lady Sif defended.

"Fine, then perhaps you should think of why Loki may have thought he was."

"As I said before, Loki has always been jealous of Thor as Thor is far more liked and respected than he is. Plus Thor will be king, and Loki will not. Or at least he should not have been, and indeed would not have been, if it were not for him pulling yet another of his malicious tricks."

"In my experience, sibling relationships are rarely so one sided or simple," Lady Jane argued as she glared at him. "And I hate to say it, but you have been arrogant at times, Thor. Like when you first arrived, demanding information and being furious at what you saw as our disrespect."

"I did not understand where I was or how you would thus perceive my arrival," Thor defended himself.

"Yes, you didn't know our side of the story. Do you have Loki's?"

"Jane, be careful, we don't know the full story here either," Lord Selvig interrupted. "I know not all of the myths are correct, but Loki is not a particularly pleasant character in most of them."

"Have care what you say, Eric, 'tis my brother you are having words about," Thor warned.

"I merely mean to say we know him as a trickster, for all he's done and tried to do, it does go with your friends' fears."

"Wait, a trickster?" Lady Darcy questioned. "Like Coyote or Kokopelli?"

"They are Native American versions of the archetype," Lord Selvig confirmed, before he paused and eyed them. "Or they would be if they were all just myths."

"But tricksters are supposed to be cool and awesome," Lady Darcy protested. "Bucking authority and getting in trouble with the pantheon heads for doing so. How can a trickster be king? That's like... the opposite of what they are! Like... Princess Leia becoming Empress!"

Thor did not know what Lady Darcy meant with her last comment, but the first words made him pause. Loki had always clashed with their father on various issues, but he had never truly thought of it thus before. Was his little brother clashing with authority? 'Twas an odd thought as at times Loki could be seen as the good son, doing what was necessary, but 'twas normally an illusion. Thor had actually learned to be wary of those times, since they oft heralded an upcoming trick of some sort. As for his own authority, Loki had rarely ever respected it, instead arguing with him with no care for whom might overhear. He had oft needed to remind his little brother to know his place. Mayhap 'twas because of what Lady Darcy said.

"Besides, wouldn't he just get bored as king?" Lady Darcy continued. "Being unable to play tricks on anyone? I'd get bored and start to feel claustrophobic, being unable to just go anywhere whenever I wanted to."

"You can't go anywhere you want to now," Lady Jane pointed out.

"Yes, but that's only because I don't have the money to do so. If I did, I'd travel the world and see it all."

"You are mistaken in thinking he cannot play tricks now, my Lady," Volstagg replied. "He could now play the greatest and most dangerous one ever. As the king of Ásgarðr, he is the most powerful man in the Nine Realms. Few could oppose him, even in war as Ásgarðr's warriors are the finest anywhere."

"I still do not know what you wish me to do, my friends," Thor said. "I have not my powers."

"So?" Lady Sif questioned. "No one knows of this but us and your father, and he sleeps. We can take you back to Ásgarðr, have you dressed as before, and no one will know the difference. You do not always have Mjǫllnir with you, and you can say you have put her aside for Gungnir until your father awakens from the Óðinnsleep."

"Loki knows," Thor told her. "He was there when Father punished me. In fact, he might even know more than me as Mjǫllnir was only sent down afterwards. Thus he would know what enchantment Father placed upon her."

"I do not see how 'tis a problem, it would be his word against yours as no one else was there."

"You would have Thor lie?" Lady Jane protested. "I thought you were all about honor!"

"This would be for the good of Ásgarðr!" Fandral protested.

"Oh, I see, so it's okay if you do it, but not if someone else does? We call that hypocrisy."

"Jane!" Lord Selvig cautioned, stepping forward to take hold of her arm. "We don't know anything about the situation. And Loki is known as the God of Lies, if he has already lied as they seem to think, then another lie might be needed to get out of the situation."

"No, that can't be right," Lady Darcy protested. "Two wrongs don't make a right. Besides, weren't trickster gods the ones who gave humanity fire? So they aren't always bad."

Thor felt torn, both of what Lady Jane and Lady Darcy said made sense and sounded right, but Lord Selvig had a point as well. Had his brother lied or used his tricks to gain Hliðskjálf? It pained him to think of it, but Loki had never been shy to use his seiðr if it suited his purpose, and he had seen his brother do so even the other day when all a servant had done was laugh at a harmless comment which Thor had made. 'Twas not exactly mature behavior and, if Loki could be influenced by such petty things, then how easy would it be to manipulate his brother into making the wrong decisions for Ásgarðr without intending to?

"There is another matter as well," Thor finally said. "The law is on Loki's side."

"What?" Volstagg demanded. "But you are heir to Hliðskjálf, the crown prince!"

"Nay, I was both. The moment Father punished and banished me, he removed me from the line of succession."

"He would never have meant for it to be permanent!" Lady Sif protested. "Nor for Loki to actually sit on Hliðskjálf during that time."

"Nevertheless, 'tis so and, even if I were to regain my powers now, Hliðskjálf would still be Loki's as he was the official heir at the time Father fell to the Óðinnsleep."

"Surely the fact you are the true crown prince would mean it would come back to you once you are restored," Fandral uttered.

"Nay, it does not," Thor replied heavily. "'Tis to prevent Hliðskjálf from shifting back and forth too often, resulting in chaos."

"Isn't Loki the god of that as well?" Lord Selvig asked. "Chaos?"

"I have not heard of that one, but it would fit!" Volstagg laughed.

"Enough!" Thor frowned, not liking all of the disparaging commentary being made about his brother to those who had never even met him before. "Unless you have proof Loki is doing something bad for Ásgarðr right now, I cannot do anything without potentially making the situation a lot worse."

"But Thor-" Lady Sif started.

"Nay, I cannot," Thor stated. "Do you know what one of the biggest fears we had before the coronation was? Father, Mother, Loki and I? The danger of someone moving against us in the transition. 'Tis when Hliðskjálf is the most vulnerable-"

"As Loki has proven!"

"I will not add to that uncertainty now, not like this. It would only make things worse if anyone else should try something."

"But what about the war?" Volstagg questioned. "Ásgarðr needs a strong leader now to take on the frost giants!"

"War, what war?" Lady Jane demanded.

"The frost giants are the jötnar, right?" Lord Selvig checked.

"Aye," Thor confirmed, moving to take Lady Jane's hand. "They are our oldest enemy, and they used the distraction of my coronation to send a stealth attack force into Ásgarðr to reclaim a powerful weapon of theirs, which we had confiscated at the end of the last war. When we went to investigate with Loki, they attacked us and declared war."

"Oh, that's not good," Lady Darcy commented.

"Nay, 'tis not!" Fandral agreed. "Especially without a strong king on Hliðskjálf."

"Loki may not have experience leading men into battle, but he has never shown an inclination to do so either," Thor said. "And you say he has met with the High Council, so General Týr will be the one to command on the battlefield should it come to that."

"He is not you," Lady Sif persisted.

"I could hardly match his experience."

"Nay, but you are our prince and far more of an inspiration, especially with your successes," Volstagg stated.

"Perhaps, but I would not risk the stability of Ásgarðr without further proof Loki is plotting something to the detriment of the Nine Realms," Thor declared.

"Very well, but it may be too late by then," Lady Sif groaned.

"We should hurry back before we are missed," Fandral suggested. "Though we may wish to think of an excuse if our absence has been noticed."

Chapter Text

The nearly full night's rest had done Loki good, and, while he would like to have slept longer, he knew he could ill afford the luxury. Knowing the reminder of his link to the All-Father would be beneficial today, he elected to wear his outfit from the coronation with his headpiece, and he broke his fast quickly before heading out.

"Good morning, my Liege," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr greeted as soon as he left his chambers.

The man looked awake and alert, though Loki had to wonder if he was any better rested than him. He hoped Yngvarr had gone off duty as soon as Loki had returned to his chambers yesterday. None of them would be able to keep up this pace otherwise.

"Lieutenant-General," Loki replied. "Did you manage to find Höðr?"

"Aye, he was contacted late last night and promised to be here today."

"Thank you," Loki replied, musing for a moment before he added. "Did you know 'twas his ambition to serve under you within the king's guard?"

"Ah, nay, I did not, Your Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied. "Based on his actions while serving as your guard, he would definitely have qualified."

Of that Loki had never had any doubt. Though Höðr had never been shy about admitting to his dreams, Loki had never felt like Höðr had resented his current position or felt any less watched over. Indeed, if anything, the man's honesty had helped Loki feel more comfortable in his presence as 'twas a refreshing change from the machinations of court. His own love for books and learning had allowed Höðr to further admit a topic he himself had studied extensively. Namely the Bifröst and the rainbow bridge. Höðr had been endlessly fascinated by the technology and all of the opportunities and advantages it gave Ásgarðr. The man had never failed to look delighted to be in Himinbjörg and Loki had known only his sworn duty had prevented Höðr from exploring it further, or pestering Heimdallr relentlessly for answers he would probably never receive.

Well, Loki did believe in rewarding loyalty, and the man had saved his life at the expense of a crippling injury which had robbed Höðr of his dreams. While Ásgarðr staunchly supported the action and its success, they were not kind to those no longer able to be warriors, no matter the cause.

As soon as they turned the corner to the corridor which was next to Valaskjálf, Loki could already spot his former guard. Höðr stood as tall as ever, his clothing impeccable, but with the addition of a dark cloth wrapped around his face, just wide enough to cover his ruined eyes and the injuries to the skin around them. Clearly able to hear the approach (who could not with the noise his escort made?), Höðr turned to face them, raised a fist to his chest and bowed deeply.

"My King, Loki," Höðr greeted. "You wished to see me?"

"I did indeed, Höðr Ullrson," Loki replied, coming to a stop before the man.

If Höðr felt unnerved by suddenly being surrounded as the Einherjar took up positions around them, he did not let it show. Loki supposed it probably helped that Höðr knew their protocols and procedures from before.

"Tell me, Höðr, are you still as interested in the Bifröst as you used to be?" Loki asked, noticing Lieutenant-General Yngvarr blink in surprise next to him only because he had been watching for it.

"I- aye, Your Majesty," Höðr confirmed, clearly startled at the question, before his face hardened in anger. "I have heard Heimdallr was arrested last night."

Interesting, Loki would have thought the attempted regicide would have been the greater fodder for the gossip mills.

Unless...

The only people who knew of that were his personal guard, General Týr and himself. Clearly none of them had spoken of it with others beyond Lord Ragnvaldr. 'Twas good to know the king's guard knew to keep their mouths shut. He knew Óðinn would have insisted upon it, but with everything else which had happened already, he would not have been surprised if this had slipped as well. So 'twas good to know it had not.

That Heimdallr's arrest had made it out was not a surprise since the gatekeeper would have been seen by the regular guards as well as the servants and anyone else in the corridors at the right time while Heimdallr was escorted to the dungeons. Plus then there had been the rushed preparations for a trial.

"Hmm, he tried to finish that which you prevented before," Loki informed Höðr.

Loki could tell the moment his old guard understood what he had said as Höðr's face twisted into something fierce and it took him straight back to the day they had been attacked. 'Twas accompanied by a growl and Loki's lips twitched as he stepped forward and gently took hold of Höðr's elbow, as he had seen his former guard's sister do to guide him along, and he started walking again.

"Do you miss serving?" Loki asked, far more quietly.

"Of course, my Liege," Höðr replied instantly, though Loki could detect the puzzlement in his voice.

No doubt Ullrson did not quite know what to make of his questions. Not that he was going to give away his surprise early.

"In that case, stay near Hliðskjálf at the base of the stairs," Loki instructed, before he motioned over a servant. "I will see you again after the trial, Höðr."

"As your Majesty wishes," Höðr responded, knowing when he was dismissed.

Loki could feel Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's curiosity as they continued on into Valaskjálf. No doubt the man was trying to predict his actions in order to properly protect him, but in this there was no harm in surprising even his personal guard. And, besides, he could hardly get up to his usual mischief at the moment, so this would do nicely as a substitute.

At least for now anyway.

"Would you not say regaining a good man is always worth it, Lieutenant-General?" Loki asked with a half-smile.

"I- aye, my King," Yngvarr replied.

"Well, you are about to."

With that, Loki stepped out far enough into Valaskjálf to become visible to those within the hall and the noise level instantly dropped dramatically as people ceased their endless speculation and gossiping about what had happened last night, and what was about to occur, in favor of not missing a moment of the spectacle they had come to witness. Loki took a moment to simply stand there, green eyes sweeping Valaskjálf and pleased to see not only most of the court, but also a fair few members of the public who had decided to take the opportunity of it being an open trial to come along.

Whether they did so to see him, to ensure Heimdallr had a fair hearing, or simply for the entertainment, Loki did not particularly care. Nay, he was simply pleased 'twas well attended as it allowed him to combine several objectives at once.

Once he had done a sweep of Valaskjálf, Loki moved forward and took his seat upon Hliðskjálf. There were bows from everyone and the formal fist to the chest from those who had not yet seen him since he had become king. As they did so, a servant guided Höðr into place, not far from where General Týr stood with the rest of the High Council. From the nearly ill look on Uncle Vili's face, he knew the man had been informed of what had happened last night. Uncle Vé seemed to be leaning more towards anger, but 'twas clear the incident had driven home to both of them precisely how precarious the situation was. That Uncle Vili seemed anything but pleased to realize how close he was to Hliðskjálf reassured Loki, but he did not plan to lower his guard around the man.

Lords Ragnvaldr and Óðr looked better, but their faces were still grave and Ragnvaldr caught and held his eye for a moment, probably trying to determine how he planned to handle this since he had not sought out the man for advice as his father might have. Loki, however, did not need to be told to tread carefully here due to being a new king and a regent, one whom no one had expected to ever sit on Hliðskjálf and not the most popular of princes even before that. But here he was, about to try a highly placed Einherjar whom everyone in Ásgarðr knew and respected. The biggest factor in Loki's favor was that, as much as Heimdallr might be liked and respected, he also unnerved people as well. The very fact he could turn his gaze or ears anywhere and everywhere meant Heimdallr could always be watching or listening to whatever 'twas anyone did, which was a very unsettling realization people chose to ignore most of the time. But it could work to Loki's advantage, even if he hated using such a tactic. 'Twas one which could far too easily be used against him as well, and therefore left a bad taste in his mouth.

Loki would do it despite all of that, though, as he had never shied away from doing whatever it took to ensure his own survival, no matter what anyone else might think of the means he used to do so, and he was not about to start now.

"Bring in the prisoner," Loki ordered, once more silencing the whispers and susurrations which had started up.

Unlike before, Loki sat up straight on Hliðskjálf, wanting to convey nothing but absolute authority and confidence, even if inside he felt nearly ill with all of the attention and pressure. Óðinn had better awaken soon or he would kill the All-Father himself for putting him in this position in the first place.

The doors at the far end of Valaskjálf opened and in walked several guards, between whom strode Heimdallr. The gatekeeper held his head high and proud though he had been stripped of his formal armor and now only wore a basic linen outfit in charcoal gray. Heimdallr's wrists were bound before him and attached to a chain that encircled his waist, from which additional chains were attached whose ends some of the Einherjar escorting Heimdallr held. 'Twas easy at first glance to think it overkill, as the gatekeeper had no seiðr other than his gift, but the man had been an accomplished warrior in the Einherjar before Óðinn had realized his true potential and made him the gatekeeper of the Bifröst.

The murmuring started up again as soon as the group entered Valaskjálf and only grew louder as Heimdallr walked almost defiantly toward the bottom of the steps leading up to Hliðskjálf. Once in position, Heimdallr glanced up at him in open insubordination with his golden gaze. The lack of proper greeting and respect for the king did not go unnoticed, and Loki had to wonder if the gatekeeper even realized he was making this easier for Loki.

"Heimdallr Nineson, you stand here before Hliðskjálf accused of high treason and attempted regicide," Loki began, before he paused at the expected exclamations and cries of both disbelief and horror which erupted from the observers.

Uncle Vili, Loki noticed, had lost whatever color remained, and even Uncle Vé looked a bit pale now. The rest of the High Council were either stoic or furious, with the latter reflected on most of the high members of court, whose futures were tied very heavily with that of the royal family. Among the rest of court and the people, though, there was more disbelief and uncertainty, and 'twas where Loki kept most of the attention not on Heimdallr. They were the reason why execution as a punishment had never truly been a viable option, even if 'twas the most traditional one for this type of crime. While the restriction angered him, 'twas only because it should not be there. He was king and Heimdallr had tried to kill him, the gatekeeper's life should be forfeit. But, in this particular case, it actually suited his purposes better as his punishment for Heimdallr would be far worse for the gatekeeper, even if it would seem more merciful to most.

"How do you plead?" Loki demanded, already knowing the answer.

"Not guilty," Heimdallr declared, as expected.

Not that Loki thought any but the most devote of fanatics would admit to attempted regicide. Not on Ásgarðr.

"Very well, on the count of high treason you are accused of disobeying the direct order of not one, but two kings, allowing unauthorized travel via the Bifröst on two occasions, the first of which led to Jötunheimr declaring war on Ásgarðr," Loki stated. "Do you deny this?"

"Prince Thor requested the passage to Jötunheimr."

"Aye, but 'twas King Óðinn who forbad it. Do you believe the command of a prince, even a crown prince, outweighs that of your king?"

Silence.

Well, at least on the part of Heimdallr. The others in Valaskjálf clearly had an opinion on the matter, some even shaking their heads.

"Well?" Loki demanded, leaning forwards a little. "I asked you a question, Gatekeeper. Do you think Prince Thor's words outweigh those of King Óðinn?"

"The situation was not so simple," Heimdallr finally replied.

"Oh? I think it straightforward; a king's command trumps that of a prince."

"The situation had changed."

"And?"

Was Heimdallr truly going to pursue this line of questioning?

"The frost giants had invaded, using passages unseen by myself."

Aye, clearly he was, making gasps sound at the confirmation of the attack from those who had not known for certain it had occurred. 'Twas not necessarily what Loki had wanted, but 'twas foolhardy to think they would have been able to deny it, not after the way the coronation had been interrupted and what Óðinn himself had said when doing so.

"I see. So, with an even more precarious political situation than the one we were in when the All-Father told you travel to Jötunheimr was forbidden, you, a mere gatekeeper, decided you knew better than your king and allowed Prince Thor to take an armed party to Jötunheimr," Loki summarized.

"They invaded us!" Heimdallr insisted.

"Hmm, and our defenses activated exactly as they are supposed to, killing all three jötnar before they were able to make off with what they came for."

"We had to know how they did so."

"We do know, there was a portal in the vault, one linking right back to Jötunheimr," Loki stated calmly. "We did not need to travel there in order to discover this. Nay, all which going there accomplished was for a battle to take place, resulting in the deaths of several hundred jötnar and Laufey-King declaring war on Ásgarðr as a result. A war which was entirely preventable if you had merely done as King Óðinn had commanded you to. By disobeying that order, you broke not only your honor, but the All-Father's trust in you and once again opened this peaceful Realm and its innocent lives to the horror of war."

Heimdallr's face had gone stony now and Loki wondered if the man recognized some of Óðinn's words within his own. His father had definitely been screaming them loud enough to be heard just outside of Himinbjörg, where the gatekeeper had been waiting when he and Óðinn had left after Thor's banishment. What could he say? The words had resonated and would ring true to his father's judgment, which he needed at present.

"Nothing to say now, Gatekeeper?" Loki probed. "Or do you not wish to admit to the true reason why you let us pass?"

"I have mentioned my true reason," Heimdallr countered.

"Have you now? I distinctly recall you giving a little speech about how this was the first time an enemy had slipped past your watch."

"And that we needed to learn how."

"Nay," Loki snapped. "You said I as in I wish to know how that happened. So tell me, Heimdallr, was it truly a desire to protect Ásgarðr which drove you, or your own wounded pride at having been bested by an enemy?"

"Nay."

"Do you believe your pride worth Ásgarðr's peace?"

"Nay."

"So then it was simply your belief that you knew better than the king of Ásgarðr?"

"'Tis not what I said."

Loki sat back and gestured with his free hand, palm up. "Then by all means, state plainly why you deliberately disobeyed a direct order from your king."

'Twas an impossible question to answer, as to provide justification was to admit to disobedience. Therefore Heimdallr kept quiet and Loki gave him a little smile.

"Very well then, we move on to the second instance of you disobeying your king," Loki said.

"You are not my king."

The words caused a minor pandemonium among the witnesses, as Loki had known they would when they eventually surfaced. Luckily for him, he had known they would. Heimdallr was predictably stubborn. He wondered how long it would be before the man accused him of having let the jötnar into Ásgarðr.

"So now you know Ásgarðrian succession law better than Queen Frigga, Lord Ragnvaldr and King Óðinn?" Loki inquired calmly, as if the accusation did not faze him in the slightest.

Losing emotional control now, before the entirety of the court and enough of the people for word to spread quickly, would be utterly disastrous.

"Prince Thor is heir."

"Thor was renounced and banished by the All-Father until such time as he proves himself worthy of his people and title," Loki declared.

Heimdallr's eyes widened at his words and the reaction they drew from their audience. Had the gatekeeper truly not expected him to officially admit that in public? If so, the man had severely underestimated him and all he would do to protect both his position and Ásgarðr. The latter was why he himself had committed treason and created the portal to allow the jötnar into the vault. Just as he would not see an unfit king on Hliðskjálf, so he would not allow anyone to undermine his position as regent and destabilize Ásgarðr with them at war with their oldest, and strongest, enemy. Even with them weakened as they were, the jötnar were a dangerous threat since they were facing extinction and thus had nothing left to lose. The truly desperate were always the most dangerous as they would quite happily kill themselves if it meant simultaneously destroying their enemy if 'twas all they could achieve.

Nineson was a fool if he believed otherwise, and he should not since Heimdallr believed Loki had done it all in order to secure Hliðskjálf for himself. In which case Loki would be even more inclined to ruin his brother's good reputation and public image. Aye, doing so now was a risk, but a carefully calculated one; his favorite and specialty. Not only that, but 'twas also the simple truth.

"As you well know, having been right outside Himinbjörg when King Óðinn did so," Loki continued, pausing briefly for effect before he turned Gungnir in his hand, making the air to the left of him shiver and show a view from inside Himinbjörg. "Did you know, Heimdallr, that everything which transpires in Himinbjörg is recorded for security purposes?"

The look of surprise on the gatekeeper's face was that of shock, thus Loki knew Heimdallr had not been aware of it. Not that it seemed to stymie the man for long.

"Prince Thor's status is irrelevant," Heimdallr stated instead. "You are not king as you committed treason yourself when you allowed the jötnar into Ásgarðr."

And there it was, the final accusation Loki had been waiting for. The reaction from the audience was predictable, as was the fact that General Týr took a step forward, clearly at the end of his patience with the gatekeeper. Loki simply lifted a finger and shook his head. The general looked displeased but relented, stepping back to rejoin Lords Ragnvaldr and Óðr.

"You make bold claims, Heimdallr Nineson," Loki said. "And keep insisting on doing so. You first uttered this one after failing to take my head on the rainbow bridge. Have we jumped straight to your bid to excuse your attempt at regicide?"

Strangely enough, Valaskjálf was dead silent now instead of filled with the shocked and speculative whispers and murmurs from earlier. 'Twas almost as if people feared missing a single word of what transpired. Loki wondered what tales would spring forth from this day, and how they would paint him as this was the first truly visible act of his reign. Not the most aspiring way to start with the people, but definitely a memorable one.

"You are able to hide yourself from my gaze," Heimdallr declared. "And have done so several times since usurping Hliðskjálf."

"And you feel 'tis your right as gatekeeper of the Bifröst to be able to view and hear all your king does?" Loki demanded. "You forget your place once more, Heimdallr. You answer to the king, he does not answer to you."

"The entry of the frost giants into Ásgarðr was hidden from me, as you have proven you can do."

"Hmm, I can," Loki admitted. "As can Óðinn All-Father. Would you accuse him too of allowing the jötnar in?"

Twitters from the people.

"General Týr, please inform Heimdallr of what we were discussing when I cloaked us from his all-seeing gaze," Loki ordered.

The general stepped forward a few paces. "Of course, Your Majesty. We were discussing your fear Lady Sif and the Warriors Three might try to commit treason and go to Miðgarðr to retrieve Thor. You also feared Heimdallr would go along with their treasonous acts and allow them such passage as this quest required."

Instead of speaking himself, Loki focused on Gungnir and the so far static image of Himinbjörg suddenly came to life, showing everyone a view of Himinbjörg with Loki and Heimdallr stood before the void of space.

"You are sworn to obey me now. Aye?" his past self demanded.

"Aye."

Even on the recording, Heimdallr's reluctance and hesitance was more than clear.

"Then you will open the Bifröst to Miðgarðr to no one until I have repaired the damage that my brother has done."

The scene was crystal clear in its brevity and Loki turned his attention back to his general as he dispelled the recording.

"General Týr, please inform us of what happened last night," Loki ordered.

"Lady Sif and the Warriors Three approached Heimdallr and were granted passage to Miðgarðr."

Brevity was clearly General Týr's position here as well.

"I did not open the Bifröst for them," Heimdallr protested.

Fed up with the gatekeeper's lies and attempts at evasion, Loki merely used Gungnir to call forth another recording from Himinbjörg. This time the view was of Heimdallr standing beside Höfuð which was already inserted into the Bifröst mechanism. Before him stood Lady Sif and the Warriors Idiot, dressed for battle.

"Good Heimdallr," Volstagg began clearly nervous. "Let us expl-"

"You would defy the command of Loki, our king? Break every oath you have taken as warriors and commit treason to bring Thor back?" Heimdallr interrupted.

"Aye, but-" Lady Sif began to the loud shock of the audience.

Loki hid another smile. 'Twas what he liked most about this particular scene when he had found it last night, when seeking footage to aid him with the trial. Ásgarðr had been most helpful, guiding him right towards it, though it would not have been hard to find as he had known when Thor's friends had made their run for Miðgarðr. That it allowed Lady Sif to incriminate them all with her own voice and words was pure gold. Not that their actions did not do so as well, but the words proved they knew the gravity of their actions and chose to take them regardless. They would not be able to argue their way out of it when he finally had them on trial before him.

"Good," Heimdallr stated, thereby condemning himself as well.

"So you will help us?" Lady Sif implored even as she made way for Heimdallr, who was leaving Himinbjörg.

"I am bound by honor to our king. I cannot open the Bifröst to you," Heimdallr said.

"Complicated fellow, isn't he?" Fandral commented.

"Well now what do we do?" Volstagg demanded, clearly upset.

Lady Sif sighed, turning around before spotting Höfuð. "Look!"

The rest was without words, but then words were no longer necessary.

Chapter Text

"Two scenes," Loki began, dispelling the recording once more. "My order, your disobedience."

"I did not open the Bifröst for them," Heimdallr defended, though 'twas weak and Loki could see the gatekeeper knew it.

"You did not even so much as make a pretense of preventing them from doing what I had told you was forbidden," Loki dismissed. "In addition, by leaving Höfuð, which was given to you by King Óðinn to protect and defend with your life, you all but opened the Bifröst for them. Not committing the full act is a mere attempt at paying lip service to obedience. Is your honor truly so thin, Gatekeeper?"

The accusation caused a ripple of unease as 'twas a grave insult. Loki knew it well as it had oft been levied at him in the past for his use of seiðr and so-called tricks in battles and training.

"In addition, 'tis part of your duties to inform the king of any and all treachery and treason you uncover," Loki continued. "Yet here you praise those whom you have uncovered planning to do precisely that, and then aid them in their scheme to overthrow the king you have just recognized."

Again the silence from Heimdallr, which Loki could clearly see was not earning the man any favor from the crowd who were now casting Heimdallr distinctly darker looks than before.

"Nothing to say, Heimdallr?" Loki prodded, enjoying the rage he saw in those golden hued eyes. "You were so quick to declare yourself innocent before."

"What am I to say if you cast aside my words and twist my actions?" Heimdallr finally spoke.

Loki sighed. "All you have said is that you believe I let the jötnar into the vault, yet you offer no proof but for the fact I can hide my presence from you. There are a great many people capable of a great many evil acts and yet we do not judge them by this mere ability to do so, or there would be few left free."

"Pretty words," Heimdallr sneered.

"Hardly. Most men in this hall are highly trained warriors and thus capable of slaying another man, but I would hardly look at any of them simply because of this capability to do so. Nay, I would seek out further information and evidence on how and why 'twas done before acting so rashly."

"You gained a throne through your actions!"

Oh good, Heimdallr was finally starting to lose that damnable cool of his. Loki had not even been entirely certain 'twas possible.

Loki laughed. "I am a regent, Nineson, nothing more. I am merely here until my father awakens from the Óðinnsleep. You must think me a master manipulator to have arranged for the jötnar to attack Ásgarðr and then arrange for Thor to attack Jötunheimr and have Laufey-King decide to declare war. Not to mention making Father decide to disown and banish Thor before somehow ensuring the Óðinnsleep took Father once all of this had transpired and not a moment before. After which, of course, somehow arranging for yourself, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three to do precisely what I needed all of you to do in Himinbjörg.

I am flattered, Heimdallr, truly I am. But tell me, what of General Týr and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, both of whom can testify to my actions in this matter? Oh, nay, wait I see it now, 'tis not only myself whom you accuse of lying and manipulating, but both of them as well. Which makes it a grand conspiracy, I suppose, with yourself, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three as the valiant heroes striving to defend and protect the honor of both the fallen king and his poor, unrightfully banished heir. Is there anyone else whom you would like to implicate in this nefarious plot against all of Ásgarðr? Princes Vili and Vé, perhaps? Or Lords Ragnvaldr and Óðr? Or, nay, I know, Queen Frigga herself! After all, what is a good betrayal conspiracy without at least two close traitors to the true king of the tale? All the more for the heroes to strive against and make their ultimate victory seem the greater for."

There was outright laughter now and Heimdallr surged forwards in a rage, the Einherjar having to physically pull him back.

"Nay?" Loki asked with a large smile. "Did I get some of the details wrong?"

"You twist my words, Silvertongue!" Heimdallr snarled.

"Oh, do I?" Loki shot back, face hardening. "Then do tell how you think I arranged for things to go from letting the jötnar into the vault to stealing Hliðskjálf? 'Tis hardly an unconvoluted path."

"I do not need to explain it."

"You accuse your king of high treason against Ásgarðr as justification for your own treachery and you do not need to explain it?" Loki demanded. "You are a desperate man clutching at phantoms in order to escape the executioner's axe."

Those words killed any merriment which remained from his earlier tale and Loki noted critically that not as many people seemed aghast at the mention of the death penalty as he had thought there would be. Still, 'twas a risk too far for not only were only a small fraction of Ásgarðr's population present, but it suited his need for revenge less than his actual punishment. But 'twas good to know that, if given a fair arena for him to have his words heard, he could convince people to see things his way on such grave issues. It had been far too long since he had the opportunity to do so for him to take it for granted.

"You cannot execute me," Heimdallr countered smugly. "You need me too much."

"You tried to kill your king," Loki growled, leaning forward once more. "Your arrogance knows no bounds if you believe yourself to be more important to this realm than its rightful ruler."

"I was doing my sworn duty and defending Ásgarðr. Only this time the threat was internal rather than external."

"There are proper channels for such threats, of which regicide is not one."

Some sputtered laughter again.

"I could not use them."

"Oh, I thought 'twas not a conspiracy?" Loki riposted. "Yet you could not go to General Týr with your concerns? Is the good general a co-conspirator or a helplessly manipulated puppet this time?"

More laughter. He had definitely won them over.

"Neither, merely blind to what is happening before him," Heimdallr stated, drawing gasps at his audacity.

"So you resorted to regicide," Loki finished for him.

"You gave me no choice."

"I see, was this a subconscious desire of mine to die for my wicked sins?" Loki drawled. "Strange then I brought my entire personal guard, including Lieutenant-General Yngvarr as well as General Týr."

That bit of information seemed to make the most skeptical of viewers look at Heimdallr with venom. With those words, Loki had elevated the accusation from that of one man against another, to a witnessed event. It should not have mattered, but he was the dark, less favored, second prince no matter his current regency, and there were those who would never trust his words due to his status as the God of Lies. Or from the words of those who had not been able to see the truth in what he had said, deceived by the pretty veneer he had coated his words with. 'Twas easier to accuse the speaker of lying than to admit to having been tricked.

"You need me," Heimdallr reiterated, avoiding the question. "Without my sight, the Bifröst can only be used to send people away from Ásgarðr, and into the unknown, unless you set up a rotation and timetable to open it at specific times in each of the Realms, which is far too great a security risk to allow."

And finally, here they were, the moment Loki had been waiting for ever since the possibility of Heimdallr's punishment had first occurred to him. He had savored the anticipation, but now 'twas time to bring it to fruition.

Loki rose to his feet and slowly started to descend the steps before Hliðskjálf, taking great care to have his voice come out even and without even a hint of the delight and joy he currently felt.

"Heimdallr Nineson, your sheer arrogance is astonishing and has led you to not only commit treason against two kings, but to feel justified in attempting to commit regicide simply because you felt you knew better than anyone else."

The gatekeeper's mask was good, but Loki was now close enough to read the subtle signs of tension and fear which Heimdallr currently felt. Despite all of his arrogant posturing about being indispensable, the man knew better than not to fear him. Heimdallr probably thought his blind lust for power would stop at nothing to punish those who had acted against him, the consequences be damned.

Well, the gatekeeper might have had the wrong reason, but Heimdallr was correct in his conclusion. Loki was someone to fear as he would tread where others feared to go, one could not become a sky walker without it, but he was far more intelligent than Heimdallr gave him credit for. Or at least when he was not out of mind with uncontrolled emotions.

"In addition, you have had a critical hand in bringing Ásgarðr to the brink of war," Loki continued, stopping a few steps from the bottom, just enough so he could easily tower over everyone else present. Appearances were important after all. "As a result, you are unworthy of this Realm, unworthy of your titles and unworthy of the loyalty and regard bestowed upon you. Therefore, with the power invested in me by my father and his father before him, I hereby take from you your gift of All-Sight."

With that, Loki raised Gungnir and pointed it at Heimdallr, reaching out to Ásgarðr as they had discussed the night before during his bath. Her power rose up around him, flooding through him and channeled out through Gungnir. It hit Heimdallr hard in a beam of gold-tinged green light, flashing out to wrap around the former gatekeeper and bringing Nineson to his knees with a shocked sound.

The sound echoed all around Valaskjálf as people froze in shock at the sight. The power coalesced around Heimdallr's head and eyes in particular, before fading away, making the man slump forward to the ground, only just catching himself with his hands in time to keep from hitting his face against the floor. Silence reigned through Valaskjálf before Heimdallr recovered enough to make a horrified sound and whip his head up to look at Loki with wide, disbelieving and brown eyes. Gone was the renown golden hue, and with it everything which made Heimdallr so vital and indispensable as the Bifröst's gatekeeper.

"Nay," Heimdallr breathed softly, before attempting to lung forward at Loki. "Nay!"

Both the guards and Nineson's own shock at what had transpired served to bring him down where he lay for a moment, whipping his head around, no doubt attempting to force his enhanced sight and hearing back. It would not work, not unless Loki gave it back to him.

Well, either him or Óðinn, Loki thought sourly before he pushed the thought from his mind. There was hardly anything he could do about it at present.

The Einherjar dragged Heimdallr back to his knees and left him there, swaying in shock.

"Not quite so arrogant and indispensable now, are we?" Loki asked, not bothering to wait for a response. "The usual punishment for crimes of your nature is execution, but I hardly think you deserve such attention. Nay, instead you will spend the rest of your life in the dungeons, so you can ponder your lack of significance and the consequences of your arrogance."

Not to mention the, hopefully, unbearable realization that after a lifetime of having been able to see and hear almost anything and everything in the Yggdrasill, Heimdallr would never again see anything other than his small cell, and never hear anything other than that which transpired in the dungeons. Personally, Loki could think of nothing worse than to be confined and caged thus; like some wild animal. He would prefer physical torture than to be locked up and forgotten. He was pretty certain it would be the same for Heimdallr and he looked forward to witnessing it firsthand.

The shock of losing his gift was obviously too great for Heimdallr, as the man did not fully react to the rest of his sentence, but Loki did not mind as 'twas due to what he had done. With a gesture, the Einherjar dragged Heimdallr off to the side.

"Höðr Ullrson," Loki called out, cutting across the growing din as people thought the trial was over.

Loki came down the last few steps as his old guard moved forward, using the noise Loki deliberately made as his guide.

"Your Majesty?" Höðr inquired when he came to a stop not far from Loki.

"Over half a millennium ago, you served my father as an Einherjar in the capacity as personal guard for the royal family, a duty you performed honorably and during the course of which you were gravely injured," Loki began. "Would you like to serve once more?"

The question was now for the audience's benefit. Before it had been to ascertain the true answer.

The crowd was abuzz with curiosity.

Höðr dropped to one knee. "I would be honored, Your Majesty."

"Höðr Ullrson, I hereby reinstate your position to the Einherjar," Loki began. "In addition, I elevate you to the position of gatekeeper of the Bifröst and give you the gift of All-Sight."

The commotion which broke out coincided with Höðr's shocked startle. Loki noted both as he lifted Gungnir once more and allowed the gift which he had been cradling (and examining) within his own seiðr to rise to the surface once more. He sent it along Gungnir and out towards Höðr in another beam of gold-tinged green light. As this was adding something rather than ripping something out which Heimdallr had possessed since birth, 'twas far gentler, though not entirely comfortable or pain free. Not that Loki thought Höðr would mind even if it had been torturous. Not given the end result.

There was dead silence when the seiðr faded and Loki felt like no one even dared breathe. A quick glance at Heimdallr showed even the former gatekeeper was watching his successor with wide, disbelieving eyes. Then Höðr reacted, a strangled noise ripping from his throat before the man reached up to pull off the cloth he wore as a cheap version of a double eye patch. The cry of pain that followed accompanied the rising of his hands to block out the light.

"Nay!" Heimdallr cried out again, trying to surge forward against his restraints.

The Einherjar held him back and then began pulling him away when Loki waved Heimdallr off. The man's cries turned to shock as he was dragged away to his new home.

When Loki turned back to Höðr, his former guard was cautiously blinking open golden eyes to look about Valaskjálf in wonder and disbelief. Loki walked up closer to the man and instantly became the focus of Höðr's attention.

"Your Majesty," Höðr breathed in awe, his eyes darting all over Loki's face.

'Twas a break in decorum, but Loki allowed it to pass. 'Twas the first time the man had been able to see in over five hundred years, and he had been one of the last things which Ullrson had seen. 'Twas only natural for his guard to try and see what had changed in all of that time.

"I will see you outside, afterwards," Loki told him.

"As you wish," Höðr replied, rising when Loki moved past him to his High Council.

'Twas the signal for everyone else to break off and several people immediately headed for Höðr, no doubt wishing to curry favor with the new gatekeeper and one so favored by the current king. As Einherjar melted out of the shadows and moved to stand with his former guard, Loki knew even if Höðr became overwhelmed with his returned sight, the man would be fine.

"My Liege," General Týr greeted, bowing along with the others.

Loki hoped 'twas because of their public setting as he had no desire for them to bow each and every time they encountered him.

"I... wa... was that the Óðinnforce?" Uncle Vé questioned quietly, gesturing towards Höðr.

"Hmm," Loki confirmed simply, pleased at their awe.

It had been the other goal here today in addition to proving Heimdallr's true nature and treason; namely to prove to everyone exactly how powerful and useful his 'tricks' could be. Loki would not see his talents mocked and dismissed anymore.

"I had wondered how you were going to handle Heimdallr's position," Lord Ragnvaldr admitted. "I had thought him correct in being irreplaceable."

"Aye, 'tis a thought which had occurred to me in the past as well," General Týr added. "Though admittedly more in the context of what to do if he were ever gravely injured or killed."

"Which is precisely what allowed him to become so arrogant and self-important," Uncle Vili stated, his face softening as he looked at Loki. "Are you alright? Heimdallr did not injure you?"

"Nay," Loki reassured, slightly startled at the question. "I thought he might react violently and so took precautions."

"Good."

"What of the Warriors Three and Lady Sif?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked. "Are you planning to bring them back or leave them on Miðgarðr for now?"

"I would prefer to return them least they wreak havoc and damage on Miðgarðr," Loki replied. "But it will depend on whether they are with Thor or not."

"I can place an armed contingent in Himinbjörg with Höðr so if he has the chance, he can return them without needing to wait for reinforcements," General Týr offered.


It took Loki longer to leave Valaskjálf than expected, as several of the members of his father's court had approached him and, after them, others had felt able to do the same. Normally Loki would have felt annoyed, but they had all seemed pleased with what he had done, so he had tolerated the attention for a while before making his excuses. Höðr was waiting for him where he had been before, earlier in the day.

"My King," Höðr began, falling into place beside him when Loki motioned for him to follow. "I wanted to thank you for your generous gift."

Loki's lips twitched. "Ásgarðr needs a gatekeeper, Heimdallr was not wrong in that. The Bifröst cannot operate without one."

"Aye, but you could have chosen anyone for the position."

"None know as much of the Bifröst as you already do."

Loki stopped as he felt a soft, hesitant touch to his lower arm. Höðr's newly restored eyes darted around at the Einherjar with them before his voice dropped to a low whisper. "Loki."

His own eyes darted up to meet the golden ones set in a still heavily scarred face and Loki allowed his defenses to slip, just enough to give the man a genuine smile.

"You are welcome," Loki said, before his smile turned sly. "Not that anyone who knows our history will doubt why you were chosen. But the other factors are true nevertheless. You do know more of the Bifröst than anyone other than Heimdallr, and I doubt he will be particularly forthcoming with his knowledge now."

"Nay," Höðr's face darkened at the words, the scarring making him look quite fierce. "I do not suppose he would."

"Have you tried your new sight yet beyond simply seeing what you used to be able to?"

"I... ah, am not quite certain how to, my Liege."

"Look at the wall," Loki said, indicating the closest one. "Now look through it."

The confusion and uncertainty vanished from Höðr's face with a sharp intake of breath. Wonder and amazement overcame the new gatekeeper and Loki could already tell Höðr would have no trouble spending all of his time in Himinbjörg. 'Twas not something he could do, but it had never seemed to bother Heimdallr any and Höðr had stood patiently for hours on end when Loki had been studying in the library without something like this to keep him entertained, so he supposed 'twas in their nature to do so.

The wonder abruptly vanished from Höðr's face to be replaced with a look of mortification, even as the new gatekeeper's face flushed and he hastily glanced away. Loki blinked once, before he threw his head back and laughed.

"You may wish to take care when gazing into bedchambers," Loki said, still chuckling.

"'Twas not a bedchamber," Höðr muttered.

Still amused, Loki began walking once more, making his way to the king's study.

"As regards your new position, in addition to Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, we currently also have Lord Aðalgrímr off-world on Álfheimr on a diplomatic mission," Loki informed Höðr. "He may have already attempted to return, though I consider it unlikely as ljósálfar feasts tend to be heavy on wines and fruit spirits."

"I shall see if he appears ready enough to have attempted a return home," Höðr promised.

"We may also have regular citizens in the other Realms in addition to our usual diplomats, so you will need to use your discretion as to whom should be allowed back into Ásgarðr. I will also request that Lord Óðr send you a list of Realms we have trade agreements with, and the details thereof, so you are aware of who may rightfully request permission to enter the Realm."

"Very well. And as regards the other traitors?"

"General Týr is to send you some men as we want all four of them back for trial. However, Thor is to remain on Miðgarðr until he meets the requirements of Father's sentence. You will know if he has as he will possess Mjǫllnir once more."

Despite the heavy wards on the study, Lieutenant-General Yngvarr was clearly feeling nervous enough after last night's events to want to check the chamber personally, so Loki allowed most of the guard to enter and remain inside. Instead he focused on Höfuð which was leaning up against his desk. He approached and picked it up before turning to face Höðr once more.

"Not only is this a symbol of your new position, but 'tis one of the two items which can control the Bifröst, guard it more wisely than your predecessor."

"With my life, Your Majesty."

Of that Loki had absolutely no doubt, though he sincerely hoped it never came to that, even if it would be a far more noble end for a warrior than what Höðr had been faced with before when unable to fulfill his duties any longer.

"Now, as for Jötunheimr," Loki said, leaning back on his desk. "As you know, Laufey-King has declared war on us, so I will need you to keep a close eye on that Realm and report back regularly on what you both see and hear."

"Of course," Höðr promised, before he hesitated. "But I have heard looking into Jötunheimr is difficult and was so even for Heimdallr."

Loki inclined his head once. "I have heard this as well, so once you have more of a feel for your new gift, let me know what you seem able to observe of Jötunheimr and what appears to be blocked. Any information would be useful as it may allow us to determine how Laufey-King is able to hide and obscure our sight. I can also send out some of our seiðkonur to see if they can aide you in perceiving more."

"Thank you."

"The other thing you may notice on Jötunheimr is a response to the missive Lord Aðalgrímr left requesting to open negotiations with them," Loki said, before he frowned and turned to Lieutenant-General Yngvarr. "Actually, if Laufey-King does send a response, we may wish to have additional guards in Himinbjörg to escort any emissary Laufey-King may send to Iðavöllr."

"I will have a think on who might be best suited for such a post and send them along," Yngvarr promised.

Heh, good point. They could not have anyone too likely to react adversely to any benign gesture the jötunn representative and their escort might make. It could ruin any chance of bringing Laufey-King to the negotiating table.

"I believe that is everything for now," Loki said. "Gjallarhorn is in Himinbjörg should you have need of it."

"Your Majesty," Höðr bowed, then looked at him once more. "And thank you."

Loki merely nodded and watched the man leave. He then sighed and thought of what best to do next. While he wanted to go work on the Casket of Ancient Winters some more, he thought it probably best to have a look at the book on jötnar seiðr first, to check it for any information on the Casket.

He moved to the sideboard to make himself a cup of tea, before he settled on the sofa and pulled the book from his pocket dimension. The Book of Silvern Seiðr, an apt title given its contents. Despite the haste and urgency, Loki took a moment to simply savor the moment of having a book on new seiðr to devour. 'Twas one of his favorite things and ordinarily he would read it from cover to cover, absorbing every little detail. Today, though, he flipped to the index and ran a long finger down it, looking for any mention of the Casket of Ancient Winters. He found it towards the middle of the book, and he was pleased to see 'twas a very long section indeed.

He flipped to the correct page and settled in to read.

Chapter Text

Loki was so absorbed in his reading he did not hear the knocking on the study door until Lieutenant-General Yngvarr spoke.

"Your Majesty."

"Hmm?" Loki blinked, looking up.

Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's head tilting towards the door coincided with the next knock.

"Oh, enter," Loki called out.

A quick look out the window at the sun showed he had been absorbed in the book far longer than he had thought. 'Twas fascinating, though, and contained far more information on the Casket of Ancient Winters than he had ever dared hope to find.

Lord Aðalgrímr walked into the study, followed closely by Lord Ragnvaldr and General Týr. Rather than stand, Loki motioned for them to join him on the sofas and indicated for Lieutenant-General Yngvarr to come forwards as well.

"Did you make it back unhindered?" Loki asked Lord Aðalgrímr.

"Aye, I did, though seeing Höðr there instead of Heimdallr when I arrived was rather a shock," Lord Aðalgrímr replied. "It seems I missed a lot for the short length of time I was gone."

"There will be another trial soon, if 'tis what you wished to see," Loki said.

"So I was informed."

The man's anger was far less affronted than that of General Týr, who felt a personal responsibility for the actions of all of those under his command, but 'twas no less potent for all that. Lord Aðalgrímr was far too politically astute to not understand the full implications of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three wanting to drag Thor back here now of all times.

"What kind of reception did you receive from Laufey-King?" Loki asked.

"Cold," Lord Aðalgrímr deadpanned. "I did not see the king themself, but their oldest and heir, Helblindi-Princex, came to meet me at the Bifröst site."

"Better than we might have expected," Lord Ragnvaldr said.

"True. The princex also seemed pleased to receive the offer, but I had the impression they was not entirely sure their father would receive it well."

"Do you think that was an early play, or a genuine concern on his part?" General Týr inquired.

"'Tis hard to tell, as I have never met Helblindi-Princex before and I do not have a lot of experience dealing with the jötnar," Lord Aðalgrímr answered. "As a result, I am not as good at reading their facial expressions and body language as I am for the rest of the species in the Nine."

Given this was not something Loki had ever been teased or bullied about while growing up, he thought there was probably far less difference in these mannerisms than Lord Aðalgrímr thought, though perhaps the different skin color and harsher features of the hrímþursar hindered the realization of that. Or perhaps he had simply learned to mimic the facial expressions and gestures of those around him well enough while growing up for no one to have noticed the difference.

"But I did feel there was a certain amount of tension between Helblindi-Princex and another member of their escort," Lord Aðalgrímr continued. "It felt as if that one might lean more towards Laufey-King's point of view, from the way they interacted and reacted to news of the proposal and the king's response to it."

Lord Ragnvaldr sighed deeply. "A split in the jötnar high command, and potentially even within the royal family, is not what we need at present. It could make any peace negotiations very difficult and render the result useless if one accepts only to be overthrown shortly afterwards."

"We can hardly not proceed for fear of that, though we will need to bear it in mind," Loki said. "Did they give any kind of reply?"

"Only that they would take it before Laufey-King and let us know," Lord Aðalgrímr replied. "They did ask about the Casket of Ancient Winters and I said nothing was off the negotiating table at present."

"It should at least bring Laufey in, even if he has no intention to see it through," General Týr muttered.

"'Tis a start," Loki agreed. "And if we can bring him to the table, then we can work on the rest."

"Did you have a chance to test your theory about the Casket?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked.

"Hmm, and it appears one does not need to be a full jötunn to be able to make it respond," Loki stated. "It reacted to Uncles Vili, Vé and myself, though most strongly to me once I managed to reach it with my seiðr."

"Can you actually use it, Your Majesty?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr asked, eyes wide.

"That was harder to determine, and not something I wished to rush into testing," Loki replied, before he tapped the book he had placed on the low table in front of him. "I have found another, far more detailed, source on the Casket, and it has been most informative."

"What language is that?" Lord Aðalgrímr questioned, craning his neck to see it the right way around from where he sat on the other side of the table.

Loki blinked and glanced at the book again. He had not even paused to consider how or why a book on jötunn seiðr, which contained some of Jötunheimr's most precious seiðr secrets, was written in Norse, but now he looked, he saw 'twas not. The runes were far harsher and more... primitive, he supposed, than the Norse script, and yet somehow he could read them with the ease born of centuries of experience reading a language. 'Twas most peculiar as he could not remember having ever seen these runes before, now he focused on them.

"That hardly matters at this point," General Týr admonished.

"The book confirms the Casket of Ancient Winters is very much the domain of Jötunheimr's íviðjur," Loki told them.

"Íviðjur?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr inquired.

"Hmm," Loki hummed, getting to his feet and retrieving Bestla's book from his desk. He opened it to the page with the diagram of the íviðja and hrímþurs before handing it over to the others to study. "While it can be used by any jötunn, it seems the Casket is more attuned to seiðberandi than those who cannot use seiðr."

"Which explains why it reacted more strongly to you than either of your uncles," General Týr realized.

Loki let it stand as Bestla's book was passed around and the diagram studied by all.

"I was not even aware there were two types of jötnar," Lord Ragnvaldr admitted.

"It would appear the íviðjur are rare and become shamans of Mother Winter," Loki explained. "They also advise the king on all matters seiðr and are the main guardians of the Casket of Ancient Winters and its official keeper."

"So why did Laufey have it on Miðgarðr?" General Týr asked.

Loki shrugged, thoughts of his abandonment flitting through his head. Was that true, had his birth father truly cast him aside? The more he learned of the íviðjur, the less likely it seemed, but perhaps Laufey had felt threatened by him? It seemed the íviðjur had a fair amount of power in jötnar culture, in addition to the actual seiðr they possessed. Had that been something which Laufey had not wanted to deal with? It would have involved giving up control of the Casket of Ancient Winters to Loki, which might have been a step too far for a proud king like Laufey. Honestly, Loki was not even certain Óðinn would be happy to do something like that. All he had to do was think of how much Ásgarðr's king had hidden from him regarding the seiðr of his home.

Though Loki had looked with almost increasing desperation, there was no mention anywhere in the book which he had yet been able to find of any kind of rite of passage involving an infant íviðja being left out in the cold of the temple, or anything similar. He was not even certain why he had wished for it, since Óðinn's actions would have been far more sinister if they had resulted in his being taken from a family who wanted him than if Óðinn had saved him from abandonment and death. He supposed he had simply wanted to know he had not been so hated and unwanted as to be left to die when he had been so young and had not yet been able to do anything.

"You said these íviðjur are rare, right, Your Majesty?" Lord Ragnvaldr questioned and Loki nodded. "So perhaps they did not have one then."

"It might be good to determine if they have one now," Lord Aðalgrímr said. "If they do, we perhaps would not be giving the Casket back to Laufey-King, but rather to an íviðjur."

"Íviðja," Loki corrected. "'Tis the singular."

"Would it truly make a difference?" General Týr questioned. "Even if there is an íviðja, they are still a subject of Laufey's and so would need to obey him."

"Actually, nay, they would not," Loki stated, tapping the book on jötunn seiðr. "This says a shaman has the power to countermand the jötunn king if backed by the authority of Mother Winter."

"Truly?" Lord Ragnvaldr demanded, shocked.

"Aye."

"Then there will be no íviðja," General Týr stated with heavy finality. "Laufey-King would not allow it."

Lead settled in Loki's stomach as his own fears were confirmed. In some ways it felt better to know he had been abandoned to die not because of simply being a runt or a disappointment, but because his father had feared the power he would one day wield, but it still hurt. Laufey would have been the one to raise him, so he would have had a big influence on him, had the man truly thought he would not have been able to instill any loyalty into him? Although, given what he had already done with the Casket of Ancient Winters, perhaps Laufey had been right to fear him. Plus he doubted Mother Winter, if she was indeed anything like Ásgarðr, would be favorably disposed towards Laufey-King.

"You think he might have killed any íviðja that existed?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr asked.

"Perhaps not overtly, but aye, I do," General Týr stated confidently. "I can only hope they were an adult at the time if there was one."

The way all of the others winced at the general's words sent an odd sense of relief through Loki. It would seem Óðinn had not been the only one to be touched and horrified by his plight as a babe.

"If 'tis so, then he will not be particularly well disposed towards having any kind of oversight now," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr pointed out.

"True, but the hope is that perhaps we can limit the power of the Casket before returning it," Loki informed him. "He would not have a choice in the matter."

"He could view it as an act of war," Lord Ragnvaldr said.

"Not if we play it right," Lord Aðalgrímr countered. "While Laufey-King might want a war - which it seems he might not - he does not have the resources to take on Ásgarðr and win. He could fight and make it difficult for us, but he cannot win, and I think he is aware of this."

"So this is all a ploy to gain concessions from Ásgarðr?"

"It would be my guess."

"'Tis also an opportunity for us," Loki argued. "We need Jötunheimr for the health of the Yggdrasill and this book confirms what the others alluded to. The Casket of Ancient Winters is required to balance Jötunheimr's magical core. All of its other abilities and properties are a direct consequence of its ability to tap into it."

"Do you believe it contains the truth?" General Týr asked.

Ever the skeptic that man. Loki did admire it about him, as it made it hard to get things past the general.

"It also lists a few ways to access and utilize the Casket," Loki added. "Things I will be able to test. In addition, it lists some of the safeguards built into the Casket, such as how 'tis restricted to those of jötunn blood."

"It seems to be a comprehensive manual on the Casket," Lord Ragnvaldr commented with a frown. "Where did it come from?"

"'Twas in the king's library," Loki replied.

"May I view it?" General Týr asked, holding out his hand.

Loki handed him the book, closing it in the process.

"I recognize this," General Týr said. "Óðinn All-Father found it in the temple with the Casket."

"Ah, that would explain it then," Lord Ragnvaldr said.

"Aye... huh."

"Something wrong?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr questioned.

"It will not open."

"What?" Loki asked with a frown.

"It will not open for me," General Týr explained, handing the book to Lord Ragnvaldr.

"Me neither," the man confirmed a second later.

The others all tried before Lieutenant-General Yngvarr handed it back to Loki. It fell open the moment it touched his hands.

"Another security measure," General Týr nodded in approval. "We should see if we can copy that piece of seiðr, it could be very useful, even if it can be overcome in some circumstances."

Maybe and maybe not, Loki thought. This was one thing he would not be asking Uncles Vili and Vé to try, as he feared the book would not open for them. If it truly was a security measure to help protect the Casket of Ancient Winters, then he would not be surprised if this particular one would be set only to the íviðjur, especially seeing what spell Loptr had found within its pages. If he did not fear Óðinn would take it from him, he would have his adoptive father try to open it, but he was not willing to lose access to this particular tome. The more he learned of it, the more it seemed like 'twas literally part of his birthright.

"I thought seiðr was for women and tricks, General," Loki could not help but comment, all of the man's words from his childhood coming back to him.

"I..." General Týr began, looking down before he squared his shoulders and looked back up to meet Loki's gaze. "I may have underestimated both the scope of what is possible with seiðr and your abilities and power as a seiðmadr."

Well, Loki had never doubted the general's courage, though few on Ásgarðr seemed to translate that trait to the ability to admit to one's own mistakes. Loki most definitely did and therefore found most lacking in that regard. General Týr passed this particular test, and in such a way that Loki found him to be sincere. There was no falsity or artifice in the man's words as there could have been with one addressing the king and therefore feeling they had to admit to faults they did not believe or feel. He supposed the events of the past few days had allowed him to showcase his abilities and powers in a way he had not been able to before.

Loki held General Týr's gaze for a moment longer before inclining his head to indicate he accepted the man's apology.

"I shall see what I can utilize from this book on the Casket," Loki said. "Once we know that, we can start to formulate a proper strategy for negotiation if Laufey-King will come to the table."

"What of Vanaheimr and Álfheimr?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked, turning to Lord Aðalgrímr. "What say they?"

"Neither were happy with the news, but that was to be expected," Lord Aðalgrímr told them. "Both, however, stated they would honor their treaties with Ásgarðr and come to our aid should it come to an outright war."

"And how did they react to it being King Loki's signature on the missive rather than Óðinn's?"

"'Twas quite interesting," Lord Aðalgrímr shot Loki an odd look. "Your uncle, King Freyr, seemed quite delighted with this turn of events."

Loki snorted. "He has never made it a secret he favors me over Thor, and he and Thor have clashed quite vocally over various aspects of politics in the past."

"Queen Sága's reaction was harder to decipher," Lord Aðalgrímr continued. "She seemed neither particularly surprised nor to express an opinion either way."

"Is there any truth to the rumors she is a talented völva?" General Týr inquired.

"'Tis difficult to tell," Loki admitted. "There have been instances in the past which have led me to believe it a possibility, but with the ljósálfar it can be hard to tell. That she is a powerful seiðkona I can confirm, but beyond that..."

"You have visited Álfheimr rather frequently in the past, have you not?" Lord Ragnvaldr checked.

"Hmm, they have tomes and manuscripts on seiðr none of the rest of the Nine do."

"And you have been cordial with Queen Sága?"

"On those occasions where I interacted with her," Loki said. "She has always been quite open to me traveling there without the need for formalities each and every time."

"Is that normal?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked, looking at Lord Aðalgrímr.

"The ljósálfar have always been different from us and the vanir," Lord Aðalgrímr shrugged. "While not entirely in keeping with how they treat royal visitors from other Realms, they have always been quite favorable to seiðberandi, especially those in search of knowledge. To them 'tis the greatest mark of a person, to be an accomplished scholar. Their scholars are viewed much as our warriors are."

Loki would have laughed at the expressions and reactions this drew from both General Týr and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, if it were not such a good indication of how poorly Ásgarðr viewed its scholars. Luckily, they kept any comments to themselves.

"Well at least those are two Realms we do not need to worry about," Loki stated before looking at the head of his army. "How do we stand with supplies, General?"

"More or less as I had feared," General Týr replied. "If it does look like Laufey will not negotiate or the negotiations are likely to break down, we will require more equipment."

"If you have a list, I can have Lord Birgir initiate contact with Niðavellir, so if we do decide to order the additional supplies we will be able to do so quickly," Lord Aðalgrímr offered.

"Do that, but do not commit us to anything just yet," Loki decided. "Meanwhile, we can have our own blacksmiths and weapons masters commence work on the more immediate items."

That way, if a war never materialized, then all they would have done was to stimulate Ásgarðr's economy and obtained the army some additional equipment they would have need of eventually, when older items wore out.

With a loud cawing, Huginn soared into the study, heading for the desk before turning and coming to land on the back of the sofa Loki sat on.

"Huginn?" Loki asked, head tilted towards the raven.

"The traitors seek to return," Huginn told him.

"And Thor?"

"He refuses to join them."

"Good. And thanks."

With that, Huginn flew over to one of the two perches for him and Muninn located behind the desk, where he seemed to settle in for some sleep.

"It would appear Lady Sif and the Warriors Three will return shortly," Loki informed the others. "Without Thor."

The tension his first words had brought on was largely dissipated by his last few. No one here wished to deal with a challenge to Hliðskjálf on top of everything else.

"I did not think Thor would want to make the situation any worse than it already is," Lord Ragnvaldr stated, but Loki could hear the uncertainty of it.

Thor's reckless actions had caught the entire High Council other than him off-guard, and they were no longer certain how to predict Thor's deeds. Loki knew some of the blame probably lay with him, since he had helped cover for his brother for centuries, but he had tried to warn Óðinn before the coronation only to have his concerns dismissed as the jealous attempts of a younger brother to gain Hliðskjálf for himself.

Even now, months later, it stung as badly as it had when Óðinn had first uttered those words. Did his adoptive father truly know him so little? 'Twas a very painful and distressing thought. 'Twas no wonder, almost, no one knew him or saw him accurately if even Óðinn could not.

"I will ensure they are properly imprisoned until the trial," General Týr promised.

"Speaking of which, when did you wish to hold it?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked.

"Unlike with Heimdallr, there is no urgency," Loki replied. "See when it will best fit and let me know."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

"If there is nothing else, I will return to researching the Casket of Ancient Winters and see what we can do about making it safe."

Most of the others shook their heads and made to leave. General Týr, however, stayed where he was once he had risen to his feet and Loki could tell from the man's expression Týr was not looking forward to this, so Loki waited until the others bar for Lieutenant-General Yngvarr and the Einherjar had left the study. The head of his personal guard did move to the other side of the chamber to give them some semblance of privacy, or as much as could be had while being guarded this closely.

"General?" Loki inquired.

"I wish to apologize, Your Majesty," General Týr replied, eyes lowered.

Loki's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Apologize? For what?"

"The extreme acts of insubordination from my men," General Týr explained. "And woman."

Sif would not appreciate being such an afterthought, nor being separated out that way. It amused Loki, as did the general's word choice; extreme insubordination was a mild way of putting attempted regicide. He had no desire, however, to place blame where 'twas not truly warranted.

"While I appreciate the sentiment and apology, none of those involved have been under your direct supervision and control for a while now," Loki returned, rising to his feet and returning to his desk. "Lady Sif and the Warriors Three have long since been under my brother's command, and I know Father has taken to interacting with Heimdallr directly."

"They still remain my men and my responsibility," General Týr insisted.

Well, Loki had never thought the general anything but a man of honor, even if he had severely disapproved of him at times.

"How about instead of wasting time on assigning blame now, we deal with ensuring it does not happen again in the future," Loki offered.

"As you wish, my Liege."

Hmm... the man had expected to be punished. Well, mayhap Óðinn would when he woke, but Loki felt he knew where the true blame fell here, and he refused to transfer it to Týr for actions which had been out of the general's immediate control.

"I am not unaware of my own hand in this," Loki said, enjoying the shocked look which flashed across Týr's face.

"King Loki," the general protested. "A king is never at fault."

Loki snorted as he sprawled back in his seat and shot Týr an amused look. "Even if that were so, we both know I am a regent and nothing more. Hliðskjálf will never truly be mine... nor do I wish it to be."

'Twas harder to tell what stunned the general more, not that it truly mattered.

"Nay," Loki continued. "Thor is welcome to Hliðskjálf once he is actually ready for it."

"I... I am not certain what to say, my Liege."

"How about you tell me what you think needs to change? I know I contributed to this situation when I allowed the lack of proper respect for me and my position and title from Lady Sif and the Warriors Three to go unchallenged. I should not have allowed that, as it led to familiarity and then to seeing me as nothing more than Thor's little brother rather than a prince and potential heir of the Realm in my own right."

"It should not have been your place to protest that," General Týr began and Loki bit back the desire to protest the assertion, but he wanted to see what else the man would say. "'Twas Prince Thor's responsibility as their immediate commanding officer. From what I have been able to determine since first your suspicions and then their actions occurred, is that Prince Thor treated them more as friends than subordinates."

"'Tis true," Loki confirmed when the general looked at him.

"And he allowed the same familiarity with you as he did with himself?"

"Hmm."

"This is the root of the problem as far as they are concerned," General Týr stated. "A commanding officer must always preserve the distinction of rank on some level, even if most of the interactions are less structured, as happens in smaller, more specialized units. That keeps not only the chain of command intact, but prevents this type of breakdown in decorum and understanding of who is truly in charge. The fact Prince Thor did not understand this is my fault, I should have made certain he was better prepared for command before I gave him such autonomy with it."

"So what do you plan to do?" Loki asked.

"Spend more time with Thor once he returns and keep a close eye on his command when he regains one afterwards."

"Tell me if you need anything made official," Loki offered.

They both knew Thor might not react well to increased supervision from a man he might already view as beneath him, since his brother had been on the cusp of becoming General Týr's king and direct superior.

"Thank you," General Týr said, before hesitating. "As for what happened with Heimdallr... well..."

"Hmm, aye," Loki conceded, knowing that one would be far trickier. "I am willing to make the gatekeeper's position one which officially reports to you directly, but we both know Father will be able to countermand it when he awakens."

'Twas the closest either of them could come to stating that Óðinn had been largely responsible for Heimdallr's sense of inflated importance. By not only giving him such a strategically important position, but having the gatekeeper report directly to him, Óðinn had circumvented a lot of the checks which existed within the Einherjar structure.

"It would allow me to implement some important changes and lay some groundwork for future behavior, Your Majesty," General Týr responded.

"Work with Lord Ragnvaldr to get me the proper parchmentwork and I will sign it."

"Majesty," Týr replied with a small bow before turning to leave.

A guard stepped in as the general left and Loki raised an eyebrow at him.

"Lady Dagrún would like a moment if you have the time, Your Majesty."

Lady Dagrún?

"Send her in," Loki replied, curious.

"My King," Lady Dagrún said as she entered, a rolled-up parchment in her hands. "Thank you for seeing me."

"Is that something else on the jötnar?" Loki asked. "The other books have been most helpful."

"Nay, though I am most pleased to hear it. This is an application for consideration as regards the King's Funds."

The King's Funds? The statement was so completely unexpected it took Loki a moment to reorient himself. Was it truly that time of year already? Aye, he supposed 'twas as Óðinn had gone on his visits of last year's winners right before the ruined coronation. It had completely slipped his mind as Óðinn had never taken advice from him on who to allocate the funds to, always telling him it was called the King's Funds as it was money set aside for him to give to causes and groups he considered worthy. That it had gone to the same types and groups of people year after year, had never seemed to bother Óðinn, even when Loki had pointed out they were people who had access to money via other routes, such as the military as most were warrior related.

"I had not realized you were so short on funds," Loki said as he accepted the scroll.

It had been one of his few victories on the High Council, when he had won against the ever-increasing reduction of monies going to the royal library.

"'Tis not for the palace library," Lady Dagrún replied. "But for some of the public ones who receive little to no funds from Iðavöllr. They stopped putting in an application centuries ago, but I thought this year it would be worth doing so."

"Hmm, of course, thank you Lady Dagrún."

And not simply for the application itself, but for reminding him of it as no one else had and Loki's mood soured as he thought of precisely why that might be. Lord Óðr had never been at all impressed with any of his suggestions for alternative recipients of the funds.

"I will definitely look at the application and give it due consideration," Loki promised.

"If I may be so bold as to enquire, are any of the books ready to return to the library?" Lady Dagrún asked.

Loki nearly laughed. She had always been possessive of what she no doubt viewed as 'her' books.

"I am finished with those ones," Loki indicated a pile on the corner of his desk.

"Thank you, Majesty."

Even before she had left the study, Loki had already pulled a piece of parchment towards him and had begun penning a missive for Lord Óðr. He had hardly finished it when there was yet another knock on the door.

"Aye?" Loki called out, irritated.

How was he supposed to get any work done like this? Could no one do anything without the king's approval?

Livunn stepped into the study with one eyebrow arched in an unimpressed manner. Loki scowled at her but motioned her on. Was it only noon? It felt so much later.

Chapter Text

Sif frowned as Thor cursed, looking through the mortal's strange magnifying glasses once more.

"Are they still present?" Fandral inquired from where he lazed on the ground.

"Aye," Thor stated crossly.

"They do look like they're packing up though," Lady Jane said. "Hopefully that means they're leaving."

"They may leave someone behind," Lord Selvig stated.

"One mortal we can deal with," Sif told them. "'Twas merely the sheer number which was the problem."

Well, that and Thor somehow seemed reluctant to allow them to engage the mortals. Sif was not quite certain why as they could take so many human warriors since they did not seem particularly well armed, but there would be mortal casualties and it appeared to be a problem for Thor. 'Twas odd as it had never bothered him before when there were casualties among warriors given a chance to fight and those had not been mortal and so arguably more tragic for the far longer lives they would have had. She did not understand it but could hardly question Thor on it here, where she would be overheard by the mortals who seemed to have offered Thor quite generous hospitality.

"What do you mean when you say deal with?" Lady Darcy questioned, eyes wide. "'Cause those are federal agents and killing one carries a death penalty!"

"What is a federal agent?" Volstagg inquired. "And why are they so important?"

"It means they work for the federal government," Lady Jane explained.

"The federal government?" Thor repeated. "Is this the name of your kingdom?"

"America isn't a kingdom, we're a democracy."

"A republic, actually," Lord Selvig corrected. "The only true democracy is Switzerland."

"What is a republic?" Fandral asked.

"It's a form of government where the people elect, or choose, a leader and that leader changes every few years, four to eight in the case of the US," Lord Selvig explained.

"How truly bizarre," Volstagg exclaimed. "Why by the Norns would you have such a strange form of government? Why not a monarchy?"

"Because those are despotic," Lady Darcy stated. "Why would anyone want to be ruled by someone who has that kind of power and who is chosen just because they were born to the right parents and without any accountability to the people?"

"Darcy!" Lady Jane hissed.

"What? It's true! It's why the colonialists rebelled against the king of England."

"Your people rebelled?" Fandral checked, appalled.

Sif could well understand his sentiment. How could they violate their oaths thus? And why had the king not crushed their little rebellion? Had he been a weak king?

"Like you can talk! You guys were all speaking rebellion and sedition earlier."

"Against a usurper!" Sif shot back, heated.

"Yeah, well, that couldn't happen with our government. All of those who'd step in if something happened to the president are also elected officials. We don't have any of that inherited and right of god crap."

"We are so doomed," Lady Jane muttered, hiding her face in her hands.

"I am sorry if we have caused offence," Thor interjected smoothly, before any of them could reply.

He was? Lady Darcy was the one offending them!

"'Twas not our intention," Thor finished.

Sif wanted to growl at that. Growl and grab Thor and drag him along with them back to Ásgarðr. She did not know what had happened in Himinbjörg or afterwards here on Miðgarðr, but whatever 'twas had altered Thor, and not for the better. She simply wanted her friend and crown prince back. They needed him now more than ever, and, for once, he seemed to have lost his nerve. She was certain Loki had something to do with it and as soon as she was back on Ásgarðr, she would prove it. She hoped the traitor had done something which Heimdallr had been able to see, but even if not, she would not stop until she had proven his lies and seen either Thor or Óðinn on Hliðskjálf where they belonged. Then Loki would pay; Óðinn would be certain to punish him properly this time around after all Loki had done. She would do everything in her power to ensure it.

"Oh, thank God, they're gone," Lady Jane suddenly exclaimed.

Sif looked over at the Bifröst site to see that aye, only two men remained. Personally, she would have simply gone elsewhere and had Heimdallr collect them from there, but Thor had insisted they use the same spot, something about minimizing the impact they made and both Lord Selvig and Lady Jane had agreed, though apparently because they had managed to piece together some instruments which were monitoring this area. Sif had not understood all of their babble, it sounded far too much like Loki's seiðr nonsense to her.

"Okay, we'll take the car out, so they don't realize it's us until it's too late," Lady Jane said.

"A good idea," Thor agreed.

Sif hated the car. 'Twas noisy, cramped and claustrophobic. She kept her complaints to herself, though, as she hated admitting weakness even if only to her closest comrades in arms. She had come too far, and fought too hard, to be seen as anything other than fully competent and capable, and fear did not fit that image. Luckily they did not have far to go and Sif was able to burst from the car violently to take down (nonlethally) one of the two men left behind to guard the Bifröst site.

"Oh, we're so going to jail for this!" Lady Darcy moaned as she saw the blood on the head of the man Sif had taken out.

"He lives," Sif reassured her.

"It's still assaulting a federal agent!" Lady Darcy persisted, whirling on Lady Jane. "You didn't say anything of this in the job description!"

"Like I knew this would happen!" Lady Jane snapped back.

Sif looked away in disgust. This was what Thor had grown so attached to? A little blood and violence, and they turned into whining weaklings. She had hoped for more after some of the courage shown by their ancestors the last time they had visited Miðgarðr.

"You must go quickly," Lord Selvig stated. "Before they miss a check in."

"Aye, quickly," Thor urged them.

"We will be back for you!" Sif promised.

"Only if you have proof of Ásgarðr being in danger!" Thor argued.

"Or with glad tidings of your father awakened and you pardoned," Fandral added as they moved into position.

"That would be most welcome too."

"Take care, Thor," Hogun stated.

"You too, my friend."

"Heimdallr!" Volstagg cried out, looking up. "We are ready to return."

For a moment nothing happened, and Sif had just wondered if something was wrong before the disorienting light of the Bifröst hit them and she was whisked away with one final look at her exiled friend.

Even afterwards Sif could not entirely piece together what happened next. All she knew was that within milliseconds of arriving back in Himinbjörg, she heard startled cries from her companions before she was knocked off her feet and had her weapon ripped from her hands. But by the time Sif realized she was being attacked and had to fight back, she had already been disarmed and restrained. Volstagg's bellow was the loudest, but she could hear all of the Warriors Three cursing or crying out and she knew they had all been pounced on.

"Enough! Stand down," a loud voice ordered, and Sif twisted her head around to see who had spoken.

'Twas a man in full Einherjar uniform whom she recognized from the training grounds as one of General Týr's lesser lieutenants. She could not immediately recall his name.

"What is the meaning of this?" Sif demanded as she felt manacles being applied to her wrists by whom she now noticed were other Einherjar. "Do you know who we are?"

"Oh, I am exactly aware of who you are, Lady Sif," the man replied coldly. "Traitor."

"Hey now," Fandral protested as they were all pulled to their feet.

Once straightened, Sif could see exactly how many Einherjar were in Himinbjörg and she realized they had never truly stood a chance. Not within the confined space and against an opponent they did not really wish to harm, let alone kill. Her heart sank at the last word of the lieutenant. So, their absence had been noticed, precisely as Fandral had feared. How typical of Loki to overreact this way instead of coming to confront and face them himself. A coward to the last.

"We can explain," Volstagg tried.

"I am certain you think you can if you believe as Heimdallr did," the lieutenant stated. "And you will have the opportunity to do so at a trial, exactly as he did. Not that it helped him in the end."

Wait, what? Heimdallr had a trial? That he lost?

Sif's eyes darted about, seeking the distinctive uniform of Ásgarðr's gatekeeper among the slightly different ones of the Einherjar filling the chamber. She stilled in shock as she found it, but not on Heimdallr. Instead, familiar golden eyes looked back at her from an unfamiliar and heavily scared face, their look hard and unforgiving.

"Who are you?" Sif demanded, furious and confused.

She had not realized there was anyone else like Heimdallr on Ásgarðr. How had she not heard of him before?

"I know you!" Fandral exclaimed. "You were Loki's guard before, back when he was still underage."

Aye, Sif recognized him now, it had been over half a millennium since she had seen him as he had been cast out of the Einherjar. They had no use for a blind warrior after all. So how was he here now with Heimdallr-like eyes? Horror settled in the pit of her stomach as a thought occurred to her. Nay, Loki was not so powerful, was he? He could not have... not to Heimdallr!

"Take them to the dungeons and inform General Týr of their return," the lieutenant ordered.

"The dungeons!" Volstagg roared. "On whose authority do you arrest us?"

Sif rolled her eyes. Loki's, of course, this had his touch all over it.

"The authority of our king," the lieutenant snapped. "His majesty, Loki Óðinnson."

"He is not the rightful heir!" Sif called out as the Einherjar began dragging her away, but she was ignored.

The others but for Hogun tried some variant of the truth on their escorts, but 'twas no use and soon they were bound to the sides of the horse drawn cart which had been awaiting them on the rainbow bridge. The Einherjar with them climbed onto the front of the cart or mounted their steeds and then they were off, heading towards Iðavöllr. Fandral was muttering worries under his breath, but Sif ignored him and focused instead on holding her head high and keeping her expression stoic as they reached the end of the rainbow bridge and entered the city itself.

Being paraded before the people she had sworn to defend and had walked amongst as a warrior was humiliating, which had no doubt been part of Loki's plan and she swore to herself she would make him pay for it later.

What she had not expected, and which caught Sif completely off-guard, were the reactions of the people. Aye, she had known they would attract attention as they were being treated like prisoners, but she had thought this would shock the people.

And anger them.

Well, she saw the anger, only 'twas not directed at their escorts, but rather at them. From as soon as the first person had caught sight of them, venomous looks were thrown their way along with looks of disgust and hate.

"Does anyone else feel we have missed something important?" Fandral asked.

"Loki must have said something," Sif deduced.

It took everything to keep her face stoic and Sif kept silently urging the driver of the cart to go faster, but he either did not hear her or simply did not care.

"Traitors!" a voice from within the crowd shouted. "Oath breakers!"

Sif could not help it; she flinched.

"Cowards!" another cried out and it seemed to be all the crowd needed.

Soon most were calling out insults, and some of the worst ones on Ásgarðr. Sif felt her face redden as she tried to ignore them and failed. Exactly what had Loki said to them? What lies had he managed to spread now, and why were the people so eager to believe them? They had never particularly liked the dark prince. Thor was the one they loved, so how had Loki turned the people against them, Thor's closest companions, so easily?

"The banners!" Volstagg suddenly declared. "Look at them."

With an effort, Sif tore her eyes from the furious crowd and glanced upwards to the flags, banners and standards which the people flew above their homes and shops. She gasped at what she saw. Whereas before they had been almost uniformly gold in honor of Óðinn and his color, now more than half were green.

Loki's green.

Sif was still looking at the standards in horror and never saw the projectile coming, so 'twas not until it hit her in the jaw and knocked her back a step against her bonds that she realized someone had thrown something.

"Sif!" Hogun cried out, looking at her with wide eyes.

His worry made Sif think she was more injured than she felt until she craned her neck down to see red dripping onto her armor. Working her jaw did not feel so bad though.

"'Tis simply a tomato," Fandral breathed from behind them. "That is the juice you see, not blood."

Oh, that explained it. Well at least the color, not the action itself. Sif still could not believe it had happened or that their escort was now riding more closely beside the cart in order to prevent a repeat of it.

"What the hel is going on?" Volstagg boomed over the noise of the crowd.

"I do not know," Fandral replied.

She did, Sif thought though she did not say it aloud with the Einherjar all around. They were already proving to be loyal to Loki over their own comrades. Not that she entirely blamed them, but it meant they could not speak of it now. It would have to be later, in the dungeons. At least there they would have a little privacy.

Until then, Sif would simply have to endure and think of what would happen to Loki once Óðinn awoke or Thor learned of what his little brother had dared to do to his companions. 'Twas hard though as the cries of the crowd echoed all around them and it seemed to grow as more and more people joined once word of their passing spread. It slowed the progress of the cart to a crawl, and it took nearly three times as long as it should have to get to Iðavöllr. Finally, though, they were within sight of the main gate and Sif thought the worst was over.

She was wrong.

"Papa!" a familiar voice called out.

Volstagg moaned and Sif twisted around to see the tear-streaked face of her friend's youngest daughter among the crowd, running after the cart.

"Papa!" she cried again.

Sif felt her own heart sink and she was happy the form of one of Volstagg's sons darted out of the crowd, sweeping his younger sister up and turning her face away from them. Right before they turned into the courtyard, though, the lad looked up and Sif could not help but gasp at the mixed look of anger, betrayal and desperation which crossed the boy's face when he looked at his father. It left her speechless even as Volstagg crumpled against the side of the cart as if struck a physical blow.

"It will be alright," Fandral tried to soothe their friend. "We will have this all sorted out. Either now or when Óðinn wakes or Thor returns. But it will be sorted."

Aye, but what would they have to endure in the meantime? At least the rest of them did not have families of their own yet. True, her father and both of Fandral's parents would suffer from this, but not like Volstagg's family who relied solely on him. Hogun was the luckiest of them all, as his parents and siblings lived on Vanaheimr and thus would be unlikely to hear of this until it had already been sorted.

What followed next was precisely what Sif expected it to be. She had brought back enough prisoners to be intimately familiar with the motions. 'Twas not until they arrived in the dungeons itself that they were confronted with the first surprise. Instead of herding them all towards one cell as she had expected them to, the Einherjar separated her from the Warriors Three and led her to a cell on the other side of the corridor.

"What are you doing?" Sif demanded.

"The rules are quite clear," one of the guards droned. "Female prisoners are to be kept separate from male prisoners for their own safety."

"I can take care of myself!" Sif protested as she was shoved into an empty cell. "And they are no danger to me. They are the Warriors Three!"

"I do not care if they are General Týr and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr themselves, the rules are the rules, and some of us obey them."

The sharpness of the answer startled Sif and the guard had her manacles off and was out of the cell before she recovered. Scowling, she could only watch as the rest of the guard finished with her companions before they left them alone, in two cells across the corridor from each other.

"Well, this is pleasant," Fandral stated, looking around the empty cell. "Think we will have beds delivered?"

"Nay," a familiar voice stated from the left.

Since the occupant was in the cell beside that of the Warriors Three, they could not see the speaker, but Sif could.

"Heimdallr!" she exclaimed. "Are you alright? What has transpired?"

"We heard there was a trial," Volstagg added.

"Aye," Heimdallr confirmed the latter, subdued.

"Heimdallr, what is wrong?" Sif asked, frowning as she realized the gatekeeper had yet to look up at her, it brought back her fear from earlier. "There was someone else in Himinbjörg when we arrived, an old guard of Loki's Fandral says."

"Aye, Höðr Ullrson," Heimdallr confirmed. "Loki made him the new gatekeeper of the Bifröst after I was tried and found guilty of treason this morning."

"So quickly?" Sif questioned. "Normally it takes longer to organize and hold a trial. We were not even gone a full day."

"The Bifröst," Hogun realized. "It had to be done quickly because of Heimdallr's position."

"Aye, but how did they find someone else?" Fandral asked. "Last I knew, Höðr was blind, it happened during the attack on Loki over half a millennium ago."

Instead of replying, Heimdallr looked up and Sif gasped in shock and horror, her worst fears confirmed.

"What?" Volstagg demanded. "What is it?"

"His eyes," Sif replied. "They are brown."

"Brown? But they are gold!"

"Höðr had gold eyes in Himinbjörg," Fandral stated.

Heimdallr nodded. "I do not know how, but Loki used Gungnir to take my All-Sight from me and to gift it to Ullrson, so he could replace me."

That was... Sif had no words for it. Heimdallr was the gatekeeper of the Bifröst and always had been ever since its creation. She could not even imagine it, or the rainbow bridge, without Heimdallr in Himinbjörg. 'Twas simply wrong.

"I... I did not know Loki could do that," Fandral uttered, stunned.

"He probably could not before," Volstagg reasoned. "But 'tis like Óðinn taking Thor's powers from him. It must be the prerogative of the king."

Sif swore. All of that power, that awesome, immense power, and all of it in the hands of Loki. She could think of almost nothing worse. Either for them or all of Ásgarðr. If only Thor had not been so blind and come with them instead of remaining behind on Miðgarðr!

"What I still do not understand is why the people were so against us," Fandral said. "Did Loki say something to them?"

Heimdallr sighed. "Nay, it happened this morning at my trial. Apparently everything which transpires in Himinbjörg is recorded for posterity, which makes sense from a security perspective, but I was not aware of it."

"So?"

"Loki showed the footage from when you left for Miðgarðr at the trial," Heimdallr explained. "To prove I was aware that what you were doing was treason."

Sif paled as she remembered Heimdallr's question and her own response. "I condemned us all with my answer."

"You could not have known," Hogun offered.

"It does not matter! Loki will use it as a blatant admission of guilt and not look any further."

"Some of the blame lies with me, for asking the question in the first place," Heimdallr stated.

"It does not matter whose fault it is, simply that we are here now," Fandral interrupted. "Heimdallr, what was your punishment? Are you slotted to be executed?"

"Executed!" Volstagg exclaimed, alarmed. "Why would you think that?"

"He said he had been convicted of treason," Sif reminded him.

They all knew 'twas one of the accepted and common forms of punishment for it. Not to mention it would be exactly like Loki to overreact thus to what they had done. Surely, though, he had to have known they would not simply allow him to seize Hliðskjálf as he had? Had he truly simply expected them to fall in line because he wanted them to?

"Nay, surprisingly, I have not been sentenced to death," Heimdallr replied, looking for all the realms depressed at this though Sif could not possibly figure out why. "Merely imprisoned for the rest of my life."

"But that is good news, Heimdallr!" Volstagg declared. "It gives you the time to wait out Loki's false reign until either Óðinn awakens or Thor returns. They can then undo this atrocity."

"Did Thor not return with you then?" Heimdallr asked.

"Nay," Sif told him. "He said he required proof of Loki's intention to harm Ásgarðr or her people before he would move against him."

"He was afraid of weakening Hliðskjálf," Hogun added.

"Ordinarily it would be a practical and worthy concern," Heimdallr said. "Alas, I fear he may have condemned us all with his nobility. Höðr will never allow Thor to pass without Loki's approval, and Óðinn may never awaken again. To make matters worse, Loki has already sent an envoy to Jötunheimr and seems willing to consider the return of the Casket of Ancient Winters to appease Laufey-King."

"He would what?" Sif demanded. "That stupid, arrogant fool! Does he not know what Laufey will do as soon as he has the Casket?"

"Surely the High Council would never go along with it," Fandral protested.

"And what if they do not?" Volstagg asked. "Loki could simply overrule them. He is king now."

"He is an usurper!" Sif spat.

"One with backing and at least superficial support," Fandral pointed out. "We will need to tread carefully. He is to try us for treason, remember, and he can execute us all if he so desires."

"He would not dare!" Sif protested. "He did not for Heimdallr. It proves he is too much of a coward to do so. He is probably afraid of how people will react if he does. We are far better liked and respected than he is."

"There is one more thing you must know," Heimdallr said, voice grave and defeated all at once.

"Aye?"

"When Loki came to me after you left, he looked to be alone. As he was already speaking of treason, and knowing what I did, I thought I had no choice but to act for the good of Ásgarðr."

Silence followed those words and Sif looked over at her three companions with wide eyes. Was Heimdallr truly implying what she thought he was? It seemed almost inconceivable, both the act itself, as Loki was masquerading as king, but also because 'twas something which had never even entered her mind. Much as she had always disliked Loki and had come to almost hate him after he had turned her beautiful golden hair as dark as his own, she had never truly wanted him dead. She had saved his life more than once actually, and, much as it had always galled her to admit it, he had saved hers as well, though not always honorably.

Thus to speak of killing him - killing Loki - was a shock. Especially since as king (one way or another), that would make it regicide.

"You said you thought he was alone," Fandral finally breathed, breaking the silence.

"'Twas an illusion, a false copy of Loki while the real him, the king's guard and General Týr were all hidden from my sight," Heimdallr explained. "In addition to treason, they tried me for attempted regicide."

Sif shuddered at the word, it being so antithetical to all she was and had sworn an oath to uphold and do. But that was the real issue here, was it not? Loki had managed to so thoroughly pervert the system so as to make it work for him in a way it had never been intended to. So they had to take extreme measures in order to stop him and save Ásgarðr from her mad and power hungry new king. Even if it entailed something so abhorrent and despicable as regicide, at least in name. Sif simply was not sure if she would have been able to gather the courage to do it herself. She had far too many memories of Loki being harmless and unguarded, despite all of the horrible things he had also done.

"We are doomed," Volstagg moaned, sinking to the ground. "My family!"

"You can truthfully say you had nothing to do with my actions, as you should," Heimdallr told them. "There is no need for all of us to be punished for it."

"I honestly do not think it will matter," Sif replied grimly. "Loki will find one way or another to punish us if 'tis his intent. Even without it, given the confession he has, he can convict us for treason, which gives him all of the leeway he needs."

"So what? We give up?" Fandral questioned in disbelief.

"Nay, of course not!" Sif snapped back. "I intend to do all I can. I am merely being realistic. But the trial is public as per normal, right, Heimdallr?"

"Aye."

"Then, if nothing else, we may be able to convince others of the righteousness and necessity of our actions."

"Good," Fandral stated.

"Besides, we may have the chance to gain some information before then."

"Oh?"

"This is Loki we are talking about," Sif reminded them. "When have you ever seen him not take every opportunity that he can to gloat? He will be down here before the day is out, simply to see us in our cages."


A loud caw was the only warning Loki received before a heavy weight settled on his right shoulder. Turning his head slightly, Loki did not so much as slow as he made his way to the vault from the king's study.

"Muninn," he greeted.

Though neither of his father's ravens had spoken to him before this week, Muninn had used to spend quite a bit of time perched on his shoulder as a child. It had always bemused him more than anything but, as she had been quiet, it had felt quite companionable and had not bothered him.

"Loki," Muninn replied, settling in.

"Comfortable?" Loki could not help but ask even though he did not mind.

"Quite," she replied, wiggling a little before her eyes opened a bit wider to look at him. "You are doing better."

"Excuse me?"

"You were not well before," Muninn clarified. "It made everything go poorly. Not that you are entirely healthy now, but better."

Loki stopped abruptly in his tracks as the meaning of her words registered.

She knew.

Muninn knew.

"You know," Loki said dumbly.

Of course she knew, Muninn was memory. Still, Loki had not expected her to be able to remember this, as it technically had not happened yet. He had altered events before they had transpired. So how could she know?

Muninn pecked at his ear in admonishment. "You know better than to even think questions like that."

Right, seiðr. It could work in unusual ways and did not always obey the other rules of the universe, of which time was one.

"Why have you not said anything before?" Loki asked, his mind racing to try to figure out all of the angles on this and what it meant for him.

If Óðinn found out what he had done... it would not matter what his intentions had been or if it had altered things for the better. Nay, all Óðinn would see was that he had broken one of the cardinal rules of the Nine Realms. Do not mess with time and the past. Do not change the future and what is. That would be all Óðinn saw and cared for. Besides, his adoptive father would only have his word, either direct or via Loptr, as to the fact he had improved matters, and he had learned long ago that meant nothing to Óðinn. Less than even, since the man sometimes seemed to do the opposite of what he had asked simply because it had been him who had asked.

"You Majesty?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr questioned, hesitantly. "Is everything alright?"

"Hmm, aye," Loki replied, beginning to walk once more even as his heart thundered along in his chest.

The punishment for what he had dared to do was severe. Death was recommended in order to prevent one who had already proven willing (and perhaps able) to alter the timestream from trying to do so again, and possibly succeeding this time.

"I said nothing because you have been handling things better," Muninn finally replied.

"I hardly think that is supposed to matter," Loki countered as evenly as he could, but 'twas difficult. In communicating this way his emotions slipped through more, coloring his words. "'Tis forbidden."

"By the laws of the living, not the Yggdrasill itself."

Loki snorted. "You serve Father, are you saying you will lie to him? We both know how he would view this."

"I am charged with ensuring the safety and betterment of the Nine, which you are doing," Muninn replied. "And while I will not lie to Óðinn, neither will I tell him what I know without his asking."

"And he will not know he has to," Loki realized.

"Not unless you give him reason to."

"Sneaky and underhanded, Muninn, I like it."

"Of course you do, mischief godling."

The diminutive kenning irked Loki a little, but he allowed it to pass. She had already been old when he had been a child.

"What of Huginn?"

"He knows of naught. He is thought, I am memory."

"Is this why you always favored me as a child?"

"I knew you would do many great things," Muninn stated. "Plus, 'twas amusing to watch Óðinn try and figure out why I spent time with you."

Loki chuckled at the image and caught the sideways look Yngvarr gave him.

"She has a sense of humor," Loki told the lieutenant-general, knowing it would do more to confuse the man than anything else.

"You do love your little games," Muninn commented.

"They amuse and entertain me," Loki responded.

"Aye, and you are never more dangerous than when you are bored."

That was very true.

"Are you coming with me into the vault?" Loki asked.

"Nay, I have no desire to be so close to the Casket of Ancient Winters," Muninn said. "Take care not to lose yourself in its seiðr. So long separated from its other half has affected the Casket as much as it has Jötunheimr."

With that slightly ominous warning, Muninn took to flight once more and sailed off back the way they had come.

Loki shook his head. "Crazy old raven," he muttered.

"If you say so, my Liege," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said with a twitch of his lips.

"I think I am beginning to understand why Father feels the need to sleep every few centuries. It seems to be the only way to get away from everything."

A slightly alarmed expression crossed Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's face. "Are you feeling alright, Your Majesty?"

"I did not mean it in that manner."

"Are you certain? The Óðinnforce, at the beginning..."

Loki turned his head to look at the lieutenant-general with narrowed eyes. "Who was it? Lord Ragnvaldr? General Týr?" he asked, without getting a reaction. "Mother? Uncle Vili or Vé? Ah, Uncle Vé, I see."

The expression which crossed Yngvarr's face at being so easily read amused Loki. One did not come to be called the God of Lies for nothing, and it had as much to do with being able to tell when he was being lied to as anything else. It also meant he was very good at reading people, especially when in so simple a situation as this was with simple questions and only one, rather predictable, answer.

"He was merely concerned, my King," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr stated.

Loki waved him off. He understood what had driven his uncle. Oh, he could not know if 'twas simple concern or something more, but the knowledge the Óðinnforce took some accustoming and could be tough on its owner, particularly in the beginning, were good things for the head of his security to know, even if it annoyed him a little his uncle had taken the initiative without first consulting him. 'Twas not like he had not done similar things to his father either directly or by telling Mother of certain, pertinent information while knowing full well what she would do with it.

"I will need to be alone for this," Loki told Yngvarr when they arrived at the vault.

The news displeased the lieutenant-general, who motioned for some of the Einherjar to check the vault. Before the coronation, the fear and hesitancy over this of all places would have seemed ridiculous, and Loki knew he only had himself to blame for it.

"The portal remains shut?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr checked, following Loki inside.

"Hmm," Loki confirmed. "And they do not simply open within seconds. There would be warning signs to one trained to detect them."

"Very well. We will be right outside, Your Majesty."

With that Lieutenant-General Yngvarr and the Einherjar left the vault, closing the doors behind them.

Chapter Text

Loki took a moment to simply look around the vault at all of the treasures stored here. If he had the time, he would have examined each and every one of them as he had always wished to, but Óðinn had ever only let him look at a specific few. His father had even moved the Tesseract after he had managed to sneak into the vault back when he had first learned to teleport and decided to examine it. Now he understood Óðinn's fear regarding his having touched the Cosmic Cube, but how was he to have known, seeing as Óðinn had not told him anything? His mother was right to say that, unlike Thor, he did better with more information, not less.

All which Loki had time for now, unfortunately, was the Casket of Ancient Winters. Not that being able to properly examine it was a chore, but it did remind him he was not here of his own volition and he had a task to perform.

As he descended the steps, Loki felt a faint tugging at his seiðr and he looked up in shock as he realized 'twas the Casket of Ancient Winters. It was reacting to his presence, welcoming him almost, even from so far away! Could it possibly know he was an íviðja and thus its rightful guardian? The book had said something about the Casket being able to detect shamans, but he had been under the impression that in order to become a proper shaman of Mother Winter an íviðja had to be presented to, and accepted by, her. Surely Laufey would not have gone to all of that bother if his birth father simply wanted to abandon him. Especially if 'twas at least in part because of the threat he posed to Laufey's powerbase.

So why was the Casket reacting like this? Muninn had said it could have become affected by its prolonged separation from Jötunheimr. Could his having touched it with his seiðr yesterday have cause it to somehow imprint on him as the first full jötunn it had encountered in over a millennium?

Unless it affected the way he could interact with the Casket, it hardly mattered, but Loki was curious. Then Ásgarðr stirred in the back of his mind and she seemed to surge forwards, full of curiosity and delight as he finally stepped up to the pedestal containing the heart of Jötunheimr. Not thinking 'twas the best idea to allow that which helped balance and control the magical core of one Realm to interact with the magical core of another, Loki flicked his seiðr at Ásgarðr with a hint of reproval, but she merely absorbed it before purring and snuggling in close to him. With a laugh at the mischief and delight he felt from her, Loki nevertheless swatted Ásgarðr aside.

"'Tis not yours to play with," Loki chided.

This time Ásgarðr pouted, there truly was no other word for it, and before Loki could wrap his mind around the magical core of a Realm reacting thus, there was another surge of mischief before Ásgarðr sidled close to him once more. Only this time, instead of flowing all around him, she cuddled close to his back and shoulder, so it felt like she was doing the equivalent of peaking over said shoulder to see what he was doing.

Loki could not help it, he laughed, and his amusement seemed to amplify her own until 'twas passing back and forth between the two of them.

Now in a far better mood, Loki checked to make certain Ásgarðr's presence and seiðr were shielded by his own, before reaching out to place a hand on the Casket of Ancient Winters. Immediately, his hand turned the hated blue as he had decided not to waste any time on illusions now he was alone. The Casket's reaction to his presence, though, quickly distracted him from any worries and thoughts about his appearance. As he had thought earlier, it seemed delighted at his presence and reached out with its seiðr toward his own, curling around it in delight. The pulse of jealousy from Ásgarðr caught Loki off-guard, not used to someone feeling that way towards either his seiðr or attention.

"This is to help prevent a war which would have æsir casualties," Loki reminded her, and she settled back down, somewhat mollified.

The fact it did not fully appease her gave Loki a warm glow, since he was not so deluded to be unable to admit he did not enjoy the ego boost.

The Casket of Ancient Winters, meanwhile, had grown bolder, tugging at his seiðr and Loki allowed it, needing to delve deeper into it anyway. Any resistance he had expected seemed to melt away before him and Loki was easily able to reach out for all of the precautions and safeguards the Book of Silvern Seiðr had mentioned. He was able to find all of them and, as far as he could tell, they were still active. Yet none of them seemed to view him in any way as a threat or presence to be concerned about. 'Twas most peculiar. If he had not seen how completely inert and unresponsive the Casket was to General Týr, he would have thought he was misreading the signs and seeing the protections as on when they were in fact off, but nay, that was proof he was doing this correctly.

Loki could not help but wonder if Laufey had realized precisely how vulnerable he had left the Casket of Ancient Winters to his greatest enemy by what he had done.

Now he was certain he could not accidentally trip one of the many protections in place on the Casket, Loki allowed himself to simply feel it. The book on jötunn seiðr had seemed to confirm what Uncle Vé had said about the Casket's origins and, now he was exposed to the power himself, he could feel 'twas accurate. It did feel like a storm, something he had plenty of experience with seeing how long it had taken Thor to learn even a modicum of control over his gift. Their adolescence had oft felt more like a storm filled haze than anything else at times and had left no one in any doubt as to how his brother was feeling at any one time.

Despite that, this did feel different from Thor's storms. More ancient, more powerful and much, much icier. Even in his jötunn form as he was, Loki felt the cold of the Casket of Ancient Winters, and he could only imagine what it must have felt like to Óðinn. He would not have been surprised if it, too, could cause frostbite in an æsir if triggered. It would explain why he had never seen Óðinn touch it in all of the times they had been down here to see it or look at another artefact the vault held. Despite that, the power almost felt... not tame, but manageable, somehow. Like it could be shaped and directed, which made sense once he thought about it as it could explain how the Casket was able to do so many different things. 'Twas also why it had been created in the first place, as íviðjur were rare and hrímþursar were not oft blessed with the ability to do seiðr beyond the abilities which came naturally to their species.

The question now was, would the Casket of Ancient Winters respond to Loki's attempts to restrict and restrain what another like Laufey-King could do with it? The Book of Silvern Seiðr said this was an ability of the íviðjur (and most likely one of the reasons why he had been abandoned), but it did once again come down to the íviðja being a shaman of Mother Winter.

Loki wished he had more information on this shaman position. From what he could tell, 'twas equivalent to being a priest or priestess of Mother Winter, but 'twas where he ran into trouble with reading the book in an unfamiliar language, much as he could make out the words and understand their general meaning somehow.

A shaman of Jötunheimr, it said, was an íviðja who had been presented to, and accepted, by Mother Winter, though it did say 'twas rare for one of the íviðjur not to be. Even if there was already a shaman, another could be inducted into the order as 'twas rare for them to overlap for significant periods of time. They then communed with, and learned from, Mother Winter to increase their power and connection to the Yggdrasill, and learned how to use the Casket of Ancient Winters. Shamans were oft among the most travelled of the jötnar, since they did so to learn more about seiðr elsewhere, to increase their knowledge and expertise as they longed for more of both.

The latter seemed to be a common trait among seiðberandi everywhere as far as Loki could tell. To be a mage was to desire knowledge, and often power. 'Twas all so very much intertwined and he could not help but wonder if, mayhap, it had been part of why Óðinn had been wary of giving him too much power. It would be hypocritical of the All-Father, but 'twas something Loki had long ago learned Óðinn to often be guilty of.

To be fair to his adoptive father, this did feel very addictive in a way which normal seiðr did not. He was not certain if 'twas because this appealed solely to one part of his magical core instead of to all of it, or because of something else, but 'twas definitely a unique reaction. Almost like...

Loki shied away from the thought, but then Ásgarðr was prodding him from behind and he had always hated recognizing true cowardice in himself, since it had always been something he had been hyperaware of, growing up the way he had and continually being bullied for it in a myriad of different ways.

It felt like coming home in some strange and peculiar way he did not understand. The Casket of Ancient Winters' touch felt familiar, and its cold almost translated to a warm glow in his core, even shredded and fraying as it currently was. Loki would have feared it more, thinking it was some form of defense or trap not mentioned in the book, if Ásgarðr had not reacted so favorably towards it, greatly encouraging him to open himself up to it. That, combined with how good it felt, made Loki make a snap, spur of the moment decision to simply give in. He had always been a cautious person, planning before acting, except when it came to seiðr. 'Twas something which had always frightened his mother, as she said with their seiðr lessons he would oft surge ahead, taking what little he had been shown and extrapolating out from there. 'Twas part of how he had advanced so far beyond any of his tutors and mastered skills either long since thought lost, or believed to be nothing more than myth or legend.

Loki could not quite describe why he treated seiðr so differently from any other skill he had studied, other than that it simply made sense in a way nothing else did. He understood seiðr and the seiðways instinctively, and, when he was acting on that, he simply gave into his instincts. Much like how he behaved whenever he walked the branches of the Yggdrasill. The only such impulse which he had stayed and not followed through on was the one which sometimes arose while sky walking, urging him to visit the roots of the Yggdrasill and the Norns themselves. Arrogant as he could be at times regarding his skill in seiðr, even he was not so conceited as to think he had any right to invite himself there. Besides, he had a healthy sense of self-preservation and, any time that seemed in doubt, was when people did not understand how truly powerful a seiðmadr he was.

The Casket of Ancient Winters, though, was slightly more of a risk than normal as 'twas linked to a part of him which Loki had not even been aware of until recently, and so he did not truly know it in a sense. His reactions here were truly instinctual and not at all informed by accumulated sense, logic or knowledge, and it both frightened and thrilled Loki simultaneously. His core lit up in response to its power in a way he had never known before, and which he suddenly suspected one of his ljósálfar tutors had noticed he did not normally do. He could recall her muttering about his core, but he had not paid it much heed as most of his instructors did at some point or another.

'Twas simply this one had been more descriptive than most and he distinctly recalled her saying 'twas almost as if part of his magical core remained dark when he used it, rather than lighting up uniformly all the time. It had been hard to know what she meant when it had been as it always was, but now he knew. Now he could view the difference for himself. Loki half wanted to try utilizing the more familiar part of his magical core, but he was afraid of how the Casket might react to that, since it would be distinctly non-jötnar seiðr being utilized so close to its own core.

As Loki explored more and became acquainted with the Casket of Ancient Winters' seiðr, he slowly became aware of a tugging sensation, both at his seiðr and deep within himself. Coming from the very heart of his own core. Ásgarðr fluttered excitedly behind him as he traced it back along the Casket's own seiðr. It was with a start he realized 'twas the decayed and atrophied connection he had sensed before, snaking off away from the Casket. It seemed more alive now than it had been before, a single golden thread seeming to have survived deep within it. Ásgarðr thrilled and pulsed with each gleam and glisten of the thread and 'twas making him giddy too, a sensation he rarely felt and did not quite know what to do with, to be honest.

"Nay!" Loki protested, sending a mental swat her way.

Instead of annoyance or any other negative emotion, Ásgarðr seemed to bask in the attention before urging him to reach out to what he saw. Whatever the golden thread was, it had definitely garnered a delighted reaction from her, and Loki saw no means of reigning it in. Probing a little more closely revealed a huge sense of disbelief and deep-seated relief from Ásgarðr. Realizing he would not win, and curious despite himself, Loki reached out for the thread with his own seiðr. The moment he touched it, it was like his whole world exploded into light, color and seiðr.

Wild, powerful seiðr. Ancient in ways even Ásgarðr was not, and yet weakened in a way. 'Twas overwhelming and comforting at once, racing all over him and yet being gentle and familiar at the same time.

It washed over him and through him, nurturing him and dancing over his own seiðr; caressing and exploring. Loki gasped, eyes wide and hands clutching at the Casket of Ancient Winters, even as his legs gave way beneath him. Images appeared before his eyes, ice and snow, a temple in beautiful shades of blue and white with delicate spires and engravings, all seemingly carved into what had been one massive, solid block of ice. There was music, eerie and haunting, but beautiful nonetheless and it brought tears to Loki's eyes and emotions rolled deep in his chest, threatening to rise up and overwhelm him. Then the view shifted and became more familiar, but only partly so. There were sweeping landscapes of ice and snow, but rather than being as dreary and foreboding as they had been when Loki had been to Jötunheimr, swatted in perpetual darkness, here there was light and freshness, beauty and fragility.

It was breathtaking and Loki could hardly believe he was looking at the same Realm he had been to only the other day... But then he supposed this was the proof that separating the Casket of Ancient Winters from Jötunheimr truly had done tremendous damage. Once again, he could not believe Óðinn had allowed things to deteriorate so badly and he could only hope it had not been done out of a sense of misplaced pride.

Then Ásgarðr surged forwards unexpectedly, reaching out for the golden thread herself and there was another flash of light, power, seiðr and Loki knew no more.


"Your Majesty?" a frantic voice sliced through the darkness and Loki groaned. "King Loki? Can you hear me?"

Aye, Loki went to respond, but the words would not form. Instead, he simply groaned once more even as he became aware of hands on his person. They ran over him and it took him a moment to recognize the pattern as one to check for injuries. He wanted to tell them he felt no pain and was merely...

Loki was not actually certain what he was. At first he had felt exhausted, a bone deep exhaustion, but 'twas gone already, replaced by almost more energy than he knew what to do with. It swirled around inside of him, snapping and crackling away merrily under his skin. It did not entirely feel like his own seiðr, but it also felt like it wanted to settle in and become so. Like the time he had touched wild seiðr on Niflheimr. Only far, far easier. That seiðr had resisted until he had proven himself worthy of it after a long and arduous battle of wills. This was different, this seemed to want to join with him; almost begging it by pressing at his seiðr, as if seeking to tempt him.

The chill and bite of it felt strangely familiar, and Loki had instinctively welcomed it in and accepted it before he had even consciously considered doing so.

Mayhap Thor was correct; his seiðr was going to see him killed one of these days.

"What happened?" a voice he recognized as Lady Eir's suddenly echoed through the vault.

"I do not know," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied. "We were outside and only came in at an urgent message from Höðr. It said he had witnessed a flash of light and power from the vault, followed by the king collapsing."

Loki could only hope he had looked áss again by that point, or he would have another problem to deal with.

"What was he doing in here?" Lady Eir asked.

"Working on the Casket of Ancient Winters," and that was General Týr.

Wonderful, so Loki was the center of even more people's attention.

"Why?"

"I am fine," Loki stated as soon as he could be certain his voice would not fail him.

"Your Majesty!" Yngvarr exclaimed.

Loki opened his eyes to find the lieutenant-general leaning over him, only for the man to recoil in shock.

"What?" Loki demanded, looking around and finding Lady Eir beside him as well.

"Your eyes," she said.

A quick check of his seiðr proved some of it was concentrated there.

"Let me guess," he said. "They are glowing?"

"Aye, my Liege."

"'Tis fine, simply a consequence of the seiðr surge Höðr saw."

"Are you certain you are alright, my King?" General Týr asked, approaching them.

"Aye," Loki insisted. "Bloody Óðinnforce simply does not know how to behave."

Lady Eir laughed, looking slightly more relaxed. "Your father says the same thing at times, though he refuses to elaborate on what he actually means by it."

"I can well imagine," Loki smiled, moving to rise to his feet.

"Oh, nay, you wait until I have checked you over properly!"

"I said I am fine."

"I have heard those words from you before, my Prin- King."

Loki scowled at her but allowed Lady Eir to mutter a spell under her breath aimed at checking his vitals. He could feel Ásgarðr slinking quietly at the back of his mind, muttering apologies. He pinged some annoyance at her, yet given the results he could not quite complain. He actually felt better than before, and something which he had never quite realized was unbalanced or missing deep down within him felt restored. 'Twas an ache he must have long since become accustomed to and accepted as normal, and which therefore no longer registered until now 'twas gone. It made him feel far better even if he was still painfully aware of his ever-fraying magical core.

Luckily for him, Lady Eir would not dream of performing a scan invasive enough to detect core damage without prior permission. Or a request for it on his part, which he would not make as Ásgarðr could not afford for its king to be known to be so weak, not at present.

Lady Eir drew in a sharp breath, looking at him with wide eyes. "I do not understand," she whispered.

"What is it?" General Týr demanded, eyes darting all over Loki. "What is wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong," Loki directed his scowl at the general. "I already said that. It simply seems the damn Óðinnforce and the Casket of Ancient Winters get along far better than we do with the jötnar. What Höðr saw was the two of them bonding."

"Bonding, Your Majesty?" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr requested, before looking over at the Casket.

Loki followed his gaze and saw the Casket of Ancient Winters was still alight, as if he were touching it. Reaching out with his seiðr, Loki tried to cut the connection, but it resisted, not wanting to let him go. With some irritation, he tugged at it and his seiðr came free with a little pop and the Casket dimmed back to normal once more. Or mostly so. Was it his imagination, or was there a bit more brightness to it than before? At least in the occasional swirl of seiðr?

Loki hummed. "Suffice it to say, I will have no trouble achieving what we had hoped."

As he said it, Loki looked from Lieutenant-General Yngvarr to General Týr.

"Not tonight you are not," Lady Eir declared.

"Aye, fine," Loki stated, pushing himself to his feet.

"So this has nothing to do with...?" General Týr checked.

With a deep sigh, Loki tried to figure out if he was annoyed or touched with all of the concern about his health and the Óðinnsleep. He settled on bemusement instead.

"Nay, General, I am not about to imitate Father and take that particular swan dive into lucid dreaming," Loki said.

Týr's lips twitched. "I would dearly love to see you describe it thus to his face."

"I already have, decades ago."

"And?"

"Well, I was already in trouble, so 'tis hard to say how much of my punishment was due to my wording and how much was due to the mischief I had caused."

More than one person laughed and Loki turned to look significantly at Lady Eir.

"If anything, King Loki is far more energized, and his seiðr far stronger, than I have ever witnessed it before," Lady Eir admitted before her expression turned stubborn. "But I would still not recommend using the Casket again tonight, and only under supervision afterwards."

The knowledge she said it out of concern for him was all which allowed Loki to bite back the remark which rose within him. Still, it hardly mattered anymore. Now he had truly connected not only with the Casket of Ancient Winters, but with what he strongly suspected was Mother Winter herself as well, it would be easy to add any restrictions to the Casket which he wanted to. Therefore he would be easily able to cover himself with an illusion while he worked to keep his secret from whomever might be with him.

"Fine," Loki accepted ungracefully. "But I am not resting now."

"I doubt you could with all of the energy coursing through you at present," Lady Eir accepted. "Do you know how it manifested?"

"Nay, but if I did, I would go induce Father with it and allow him to deal with this mess."

"I am certain he would be thrilled with the wakeup call."

"Do you not have other patients to tend to, Lady Eir?"

The smile she gave him was pure evil and Loki kept himself from reacting to it, instead simply raising a single eyebrow. Two could play at this game and he was not his father, brother or mother, all of whom would cave to her on this. He always felt she enjoyed the challenge.


It took some doing for Loki to convince General Týr to leave him alone, and it only worked after he promised to do nothing more strenuous than work in his study. He did take the opportunity to ask about Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, and was glad to hear they were now safely imprisoned in the dungeons. He thought of them as he made his way back to the king's study, the knowledge that he traversed right over their heads made him smile. While their betrayal still stung, Loki could not honestly say he was terribly surprised by it, and, as a result, he probably took far more pleasure in their current predicament than he probably should.

Loki did not care.

No one had ever accused him of being particularly forgiving, rather the opposite in fact, since he was known to hold onto grudges for a very long time. And this? This was the culmination of tens of thousands of small slights accumulated over the course of several centuries of forced companionship. Aye, he had not locked them up for anything so petty, but he could definitely enjoy it for those reasons. He had won in the end and that mattered rather significantly to him, even if he did not consider that made it all worth it.

He also still needed to come up with a fitting punishment for them, though, as he knew Thor would never forgive him if he had his friends executed, much as he was half tempted to do so. Therefore he would need to think of something, but it would be a fun contemplation and probably wander off to wonderful and fantastical places before being solved.

Upon turning the last corner before his study, Loki saw Lord Óðr was stood there waiting for him, several rolled up scrolls under one arm. Loki's good mood immediately darkened.

"I will need privacy for this, Lieutenant-General," Loki told Yngvarr quietly.

Even he knew better than to hold this type of conversation before witnesses. Lord Óðr's ego would not appreciate it and, while Loki did not particularly care to stroke it, he did still need to work with the man, and he had enough enemies as it was at present.

"My Liege-" Lieutenant-General Yngvarr began to protest.

"You can come in as soon as he leaves," Loki told him.

The lieutenant-general nodded reluctantly and signaled for two men to check the study before the others spread out in the corridor.

"I received your missive, Your Majesty, and brought all of the items you requested," Lord Óðr began immediately.

"Good, come in," Loki replied, sweeping into the study as the Einherjar came out.

Abruptly, Loki felt Höðr make a sweep over the area, but as 'twas quick and as he did not care if the gatekeeper saw this, Loki did not respond to it. Wanting to be very clear, he took his seat and failed to offer Lord Óðr one, leaving the man to stand nervously before the king's desk.

"Your Majesty," Lord Óðr began hesitantly, while placing the scrolls on the desk. "You wished to view these?"

"They do pertain to the King's Funds, do they not?" Loki demanded sharply.

"Aye, my King."

"So why have I not seen them before now?"

"Ah... well, with everything going on, I thought you may have more important matters to focus your attention on."

A lie.

It irritated Loki as 'twas not even a particularly good one. It was almost, almost, impossible to lie to him, but most people managed a better effort than this. Instead of replying, Loki merely raised an eyebrow and kept looking at Lord Óðr. If left with silence, most people would wish to fill it, especially if they were already nervous.

"And we do tend to allocate the funds to the same organizations or efforts every year," Lord Óðr babbled on. "So it seemed like an easy task for me to take on."

"The allocation of the king's funds?" Loki asked quietly, and was pleased to see the man swallow thickly. "You presume too much, Lord Óðr."

"My King, I would never dare!"

"So this was not about ensuring the funds kept going to where you and Father thought they should go, and which you knew I have always had issues with?"

The ensuing silence was telling.

"That is what I thought," Loki started, leaning forward. "This does not happen again, Lord Óðr, do I make myself clear?"

"Aye, absolutely, Your Majesty."

"Because if it does, I may need to see fit to have Lord Ragnvaldr oversee your work."

"That will not be necessary, my King. I swear this was a mistake which shall not be repeated."

Loki held the man's gaze until he was certain Lord Óðr was uncomfortable, before nodding his head once and waving him away. The man had hardly left before Lieutenant-General Yngvarr was in the study with most of his men. Two of the Einherjar immediately moved for the balcony, while the others interspersed themselves along the walls.

Chapter Text

The feast that evening was abuzz with the news of Heimdallr's trial and the fact Lady Sif and the Warriors Three had been returned to Iðavöllr in chains. It inevitably led to speculation about Thor and how he was doing, and Loki made a mental note to check in on his brother later. So much had happened in the last few hours he had not had the chance to do so recently. But for now, he concentrated on those seated beside him, who were more circumspect than the night before. Whether 'twas because they were more used to the idea of him as king now or because of all which had transpired, Loki did not know, but he enjoyed the change. Uncle Vé had also dug out one of his mother's books on jötnar culture and they ended up discussing some of it as 'twas all cultural rather than strategic.

This time, Loki made it to the end of the meal, and he stayed what he felt was a reasonable amount of time before excusing himself. Back in his personal chambers, he settled in at his desk with the scrolls Lord Óðr had brought him. Glancing through them, Loki found they were nearly all as expected, the usual warrior related initiatives or programs which probably could be funded from the main military budget, yet by applying for (and receiving) this additional funding, they were able to double dip and receive more than what the High Council had opted to allocate them. 'Twas easy to cast them all aside, the only problem was it left him with only Lady Dagrún's application. Loki had just unrolled it to read it over when the door to his study opened. He looked up to see Livunn there, a slightly exasperated expression on her face.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" she asked.

"Aye, actually," Loki replied, leaning back in his chair. "I have been looking at the applications for the King's Funds and, with one exception, they are all from the areas which Father normally supports."

Livunn inclined her head. "I have heard it said he rarely deviates from his selection and then only for something of a similar nature, thus non-warrior related initiatives are no longer applying."

"Which is my problem."

"What would you like me to do?"

"Simply spread the word I am open to alternative applications and am considering them now and over the next few days," Loki said. "This could be my one chance to allocate the money elsewhere, so I would like to be able to do so."

"Of course. I will happily let people know."

"Thanks, that will be all."

"Have a good evening then, Loki."

"Goodnight, Livunn."


One thing Loki had learned as a young child was if you could not avoid something, then 'twas best to do it on your own terms. For instance, he knew there was no chance Lady Eir would allow him to go the day without checking on him to ensure he truly was fine after yesterday's... incident. Therefore, instead of attempting to avoid her and simply having Lady Eir show up when and where 'twas least convenient, Loki decided to go see his father and mother first thing, before the next High Council meeting. As he knew Lady Eir came by to inspect Óðinn's health around the same time, it would allow her to see to him and then he would be able to go about his day without having to worry she would show up at any moment.

"Loki," Frigga greeted when she turned around at the sound of his arrival.

His mother was stood at the foot of Óðinn's healing sleep bed, while Lady Eir and two of her healers were checking his adoptive father over.

"Mother," Loki replied as he moved forward to embrace her, holding her tight for a moment longer than necessary. "How is Father doing?"

"He continues to slowly shift more and more to a normal Óðinnsleep, so I am hopeful," Frigga replied, pulling him along as one of the healers left the space where she had been sitting. "How are you?"

"Busy."

"Aye, that much I have heard. Word of Heimdallr's trial reached even here."

"Oh?" Loki inquired, curious.

He had planned to ask Livunn about the rumors when he broke his fast this morning, but he had instead spent the time writing a few missives to places he knew had once applied for a portion of the King's Funds and whose application he remembered had caught his eye at the time.

"Aye, mostly shock and disbelief," Frigga told him.

"At the fact he did it, or that I said he had?"

"Oh, the former, there does not seem to be any doubt on the latter. You did a good job proving it."

That was good to know, even if Loki still hated he had to prove his word whereas Thor or Óðinn's word would have been accepted without question.

"Word is you now have your brother's friends downstairs," Frigga continued.

"Hmm, they came back yesterday."

"Do you plan to try them today?"

As she said it, his mother looked him over again and Loki shook his head. As he did not have a public appearance today, he had elected to wear one of his armors rather than a more elaborate outfit. A more stylized and decorative armor than his usual fare, specially designed for some ceremony or other centuries ago, but still leather and armor nonetheless. Not only did it feel far more comfortable while still providing excellent protection should there be another incident, but it would also serve to remind people that while his main reputation was for seiðr and words, he was still very much a warrior in his own right. A fact he felt was oft forgotten or overlooked.

"Nay, there is no rush and there are other matters to tend to first," Loki replied.

As if summoned by the words, Muninn soared into the chamber, making a playful dive at Huginn who already sat on a perch in the chamber, before circling around to land on Loki's shoulder.

"Hello, Muninn," Loki greeted, reaching up to stroke her feathers, feeling intense cold radiating from her. "Where have you been?"

"Jötunheimr," Muninn replied. "I heard you fainted. I did warn you about that Casket."

Loki scowled at her. "Very amusing. Any news from Jötunheimr?"

"I thought so. And Laufey-King sends his reply now."

"Good news, I hope."

"That I know not. His castle is hard to penetrate and the Realm cold."

"Hmm, thank you."

With a quick, light peck at his finger, Muninn took off for the second perch on the other side of Óðinn's bed. When Loki refocused his attention, he found his mother looking at him with a proud and happy expression.

"What?" Loki queried, baffled.

"Nothing, simply watching you take over your father's duties and making it seem so effortless."

"They are not."

"Oh, I know that, darling, I am merely commenting on how you make it appear."

Loki thought his mother might have said more, but right then Lady Eir approached them and Frigga's attention shifted away from him.

"How is he doing?" Frigga asked.

"Better," Lady Eir replied, her eyes moving to Loki. "I can tell you the details later, but first I want to check His Majesty while I have him here."

"Loki? Why do you need to check Loki?" Frigga asked, worried. "Did something happen? You said Heimdallr did not injure you!"

"Hush, Mother," Loki said. "'Twas not Heimdallr."

"Nay, there was an incident in the vault yesterday," Lady Eir replied as she began her spell.

"An incident?" Frigga questioned.

"I was working on the Casket of Ancient Winters and it responded a little more... enthusiastically than expected," Loki explained, well aware they were not in private above and beyond Lady Eir's presence.

"Oh, I see. I suppose it makes sense," Frigga said. "All things considered."

Loki's eyes snapped over to her at those words, shocked and surprised Mother would hint at it here.

A guilty look crossed Frigga's face and Loki felt his stomach drop.

"What?" Loki demanded, coldly.

"'Tis simply... well, Lady Eir knows," Frigga told him.

"What?"

Loki's eyes darted from his mother to the head healer now standing beside him. Lady Eir tried to give him a reassuring smile, but 'twas clearly strained by the knowledge of what was being discussed and his most likely reaction to it.

"She had to know, Loki, your health could have depended on it," Frigga rushed to explain.

"Truly? And what of my mental health?" Loki demanded before pulling away from both women and heading for the door. Not to mention his magical health. "I need to go."

"Loki!" his mother called after him as she rushed to follow. "Your father forbad me to-"

Loki whirled around, only just remembering to drop his voice to a low hiss, though 'twas no less venomous for it. "He is not my father!"

"Loki!" Frigga scolded, censure in every syllable.

"What did you expect would happen when the truth came out?" Loki asked. "Or did you simply hope it never would?"

"I wanted to tell you!"

"That does not change the fact you did not. You lied to me, both of you did, for my entire life and then I discovered the truth by accident."

"I know and for that I am truly sorry, Loki."

Loki inclined his head and was about to turn away when his mother stepped close and cupped his face in one hand, so there was not much space between them.

"I may not have borne you, Loki," Frigga whispered. "But I could not love you more if I had. You are my son, never doubt that, please."

By the end she was almost pleading and Loki caved, bowing down just enough to lean his forehead against hers, even as he closed his eyes and swallowed thickly.

"Aye," Loki finally managed to get out.

"Good," Frigga stated, voice ragged. "Because I cannot lose you, Loki. You are my baby, no matter how tall or old you get. My little Loptr."

The use of his old kenning reminded Loki of what Loptr had said her fate was in the original timeline, and he clutched her a little tighter at the mere thought.

"The same goes for you, Mother," Loki replied.

"I am not planning on going anywhere."

"None do."

Heimdallr's words to Thor echoed through Loki's mind and he wished he could shove them aside. After a few more seconds, Loki reluctantly pulled back.

"I truly do need to go now," he said.

"I understand, but come back when you can," Frigga requested.

"I will," Loki promised, before he turned back around.

Doing so, he realized precisely how close to Lieutenant-General Yngvarr they had been. Loki did not think the man would have overheard anything about his heritage, but this little family drama would definitely have been both seen and heard. Oh, well, 'twas not like the king's personal guard did not already know something was up between him and Óðinn. Both from the shouting they had to have heard coming from the vault, and his own admission in this very chamber shortly before he had been made regent.


Because of his detour to see his parents, Loki was now the last of the High Council to arrive. He caught the furtive way not only General Týr but some of the others looked at him, so he deduced the general had spoken of what had transpired yesterday, and, while it annoyed him, he could hardly fault the man his worry, not given their precarious situation at present. Well, so long as no one tried to interfere, claiming he needed to rest.

"I was just informing the others of the fact we now have the rest of the traitors securely imprisoned in the dungeons," General Týr informed him.

"Good. Have they tried anything?" Loki asked.

"Nay. The guards say they have been speaking amongst themselves and with Heimdallr, but so far they have made no demands to speak with anyone else. There have been two external requests, though."

"Family?" Uncle Vili asked.

"Aye," General Týr confirmed. "Lord Fandral's mother and Lord Volstagg's wife. The latter also had a small child with her at the time."

"The dungeons are hardly the place for a little one," Uncle Vé muttered.

"I agree," Loki said. "Tell them they can visit on the usual days we allow family in, but that the little ones need to wait until the trial is over. I want any such visits to be fully supervised, I do not trust them not to try and pass word out to anyone they think might aid them."

"As you wish, Your Majesty," General Týr replied.

"Now, what news Jötunheimr?" Loki asked, turning to Lord Aðalgrímr.

The man blinked, looking startled. "I have only just received word. How?"

"Muninn."

"Bloody ravens, always stealing my thunder."

Loki's lips curled up. He and Thor had said many a similar thing in their childhood right up to the point where Loki had learned the right spell to better evade the ravens' sight and ability to home in on them.

"Right, well," Lord Aðalgrímr began, composing himself and pulling out what looked like a rolled-up vellum. "Laufey-King has officially replied. They have tentatively agreed to a negotiation, but they want it to be on Niflheimr."

"Niflheimr?" Lord Ragnvaldr inquired. "I would have thought they would have insisted on having it on Jötunheimr, so they would not need to rely on us for transport to and from the location."

"'Tis surprising," Lord Óðr agreed. "Do we know why he might want it?"

"It may be to prevent a repeat of what transpired on Jötunheimr," Loki offered. "I had accepted Laufey-King's offer to allow us to walk away from the confrontation when one of the jötnar taunted Thor into attacking him. He may be seeking to avoid that from happening again by limiting which jötnar we come into contact with."

"Possibly," Uncle Vili said. "And Niflheimr is a good location. It suits the jötnar temperature requirements, already has facilities we can use from past negotiations, and has no indigenous population to worry about."

The latter was not strictly true, but Loki had promised the natives to keep their secret if they taught him their seiðr. He was now starting to understand why he had been able to pick it up easier than they had expected him to, and why he had been particularly good at dealing with the mostly frozen spells they had a little more difficulty with. He must have been subconsciously tapping into his latent jötunn abilities.

For the first time, Loki actually felt the desire to find somewhere he could try out those jötunn ice abilities. He had already witnessed firsthand how convenient and efficient they could be in battle. Plus, not only would they provide him with a means of creating a blade if he had been unarmed, but they also provided yet another means for more long-distance damage - as Fandral had learned firsthand.

"'Tis a request I think we can easily acquiesce to," Lord Ragnvaldr stated. "Especially as it means not having to host the jötnar here, or needing to trust the truce enough to send our people there."

"Does Laufey-King have any other requests?" Loki asked, knowing this was far too easy.

"Aye," Lord Aðalgrímr confirmed. "They, uh, request the Casket of Ancient Winters be present as a demonstration of our good will and proof we truly will discuss any and all options during the negotiations."

"I do not like it," General Týr declared instantly.

"Big surprise," Uncle Vili muttered before speaking more loudly. "Why not? If we hold the talks on Niflheimr, we will be in control of their ability to transport there and back to Jötunheimr. We will be able to determine how many of their men Laufey brings, and prevent them from bringing any more or from simply taking the Casket and running."

"How quickly you forget the Casket itself can allow the jötnar to travel between Realms," General Týr shot back. "While Laufey may not be able to bring more men, if he should get his hands on the Casket, he could make off with it quite easily."

"Not if I restrict that ability, he could not," Loki interjected.

"You were able to check the Casket again?" Uncle Vé questioned. "You can restrict its use?"

"Oh, aye, I can block out anything we do not want the jötnar to be able to do with the Casket."

"That is fantastic!" Lord Aðalgrímr exclaimed. "It means we are far more likely to be able to find a solution we can all agree to."

"Laufey will not be happy with any restrictions," General Týr pointed out.

"Nay, he will not," Lord Ragnvaldr agreed. "But if the Casket of Ancient Winters is truly as critical to Jötunheimr as we think it is, then he will have to settle for having it back, even if restricted."

"They will haggle with us and demand other concessions or items," Lord Aðalgrímr added.

"We can work with that," Loki said. "We can even promise to reconsider the restrictions in time. Who knows, perhaps once Helblindi-Princex is king we may even be willing to lift some of them depending on his temperament."

"We are assuming, of course, they do not have an íviðja who will be able to reverse any change or limitation you impose on the Casket," General Týr pointed out.

"True, we will need to see if we can ascertain this before we discuss limitations on the Casket's use."

"I could enquire after them to see if Laufey-King would be the Casket's keeper if returned, or if the íviðjur would be, as is traditional," Lord Aðalgrímr suggested.

"Your knowledge of them should give him a shock," Uncle Vé said.

"Not a bad thing."

"Any other requests?" Loki asked.

"Nay, that seems to be the opening ones to get them to the table."

"Can we pretend to have the Casket along?" General Týr pressed. "Create an illusion, mayhap?"

"Nay," Loki replied, pleased the general was considering seiðr at all. "The amount of power needed to imitate the feel of the Casket of Ancient Winters is far beyond me. I was able to confirm yesterday that it is supposed to connect to Jötunheimr and, even now, being here for as long as it has, there is still a sliver of a thread of that old connection. I would not be able to replicate the feel of it to one familiar with how Jötunheimr is supposed to feel."

"I suppose we will simply have to bring the Casket along then," Uncle Vili stated.

"Aye, it does not mean we have to return it to them, but it will set the tone as being distinctly different from before," Lord Aðalgrímr said. "There is one final thing. In addition to what I have already told you about, there was a second missive sent, addressed directly to King Loki."

"Oh?" Loki inquired, intrigued despite himself.

Was this some ploy of Laufey-King's to influence the negotiations in his favor already? 'Tis what he would do if in his birth father's position.

The still sealed, second missive was passed over to him and Loki quickly scanned it with his seiðr before opening and reading it. The hand which had written the letter was quite elegant, surprisingly so for a jötnar, but the words were even more so, honeyed and sweet. Loki laughed and shook his head before he passed it along to Lord Ragnvaldr.

"Laufey-King has definitely settled on a strategy," Loki told the others. "Apparently they believe me to be quite susceptible to flattery and praise."

"The second son not expected to inherit," Lord Aðalgrímr mused. "'Tis not a bad strategy, though perhaps showing their isolation from the rest of the Nine in not knowing your political acumen."

"He saw some of it on Jötunheimr, limited though it was, so we should not overplay it."

"Nay, but it will help at the start of the negotiations if we play it up a little."

Loki simply was not certain how much of it would be an act. Aye, he did not particularly care to impress Laufey, but he was intimately aware of the fact this could be his single biggest chance to prove his own worth without Thor being around to overshadow him and his achievements.

"What does Laufey-King mean when he refers to 'your brother's words towards you'?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked.

Ah, aye, Loki had forgotten they were not aware of that. 'Twas not something he had planned to advertise.

Loki sighed. "'Tis what Thor said when I tried to convince him to reconsider. I had not been aware Thor had said them loud enough for Laufey-King to overhear. Perhaps 'twas one of his warriors who heard it and survived."

"I hate to ask," Lord Aðalgrímr said after a moment of silence. "But what did Thor say? If Laufey-King is already referencing it, they may bring it up again."

A very valid point.

"Know your place, Brother," Loki repeated, forcing himself not to react to the words as he said them.

Both of his uncles winced and General Týr's hand clenched, but the reactions of the others were almost impossible to read. In any other situation, Loki was pretty certain they would have been neutral to approving of the words as he was the second and younger prince, speaking to his older brother and heir before a foreign dignitary. Yet, given he had been attempting to prevent Thor from starting a war, it changed everything and Loki was well aware of it. That and the fickleness of such sentiment as offence for him, or indignation at Thor's attitude.

"I can definitely see why Laufey-King has chosen the strategy he has," Lord Ragnvaldr finally said.

"I will start formulating our own strategy based on it," Lord Aðalgrímr added.

"Did Laufey-King propose a time for the talks to start?" Loki asked as the letter to him passed among the others.

"Tomorrow or the day after," Lord Aðalgrímr answered.

"The day after," General Týr stated. "I need time to check on the location and it will require some cleaning, and perhaps even restoration of some areas. Even two days is hardly enough."

"Fine, send our response back, Lord Aðalgrímr, and we should formulate a personal letter for Laufey-King," Loki said.

"I already have a few ideas, my Liege."

"Who will attend?" Uncle Vé asked.

"Not yourself or Prince Vili," General Týr instantly replied. "The succession must be protected and your nephew is still underage."

Uncle Vé looked put out, but the general was correct. With Balðr still technically not yet of age, it left Uncle Vé as second-in-line at the moment. He would also be the better candidate for it, Loki knew, as Balðr had never received any formal training, being too far removed from Hliðskjálf to have been considered for it.

"If we are thinking of playing up King Loki's inexperience, I would recommend Lord Ragnvaldr in addition to myself," Lord Aðalgrímr suggested.

"To make it seem like I need managing?" Loki asked with a predatory smile.

"It would help."

"I will leave security to yourself and General Týr," Loki said, before looking at the latter. "Simply remember 'tis a peace negotiation and that Laufey-King will insist on bringing protection of his own, especially as they are dependent on us for transportation to and from Niflheimr."

'Twas a headache Loki simply did not want to deal with. They could hash out the differences between political appearance and security concerns amongst themselves.

"If we are done with that, I do have another issue to raise," General Týr stated.

"Hmm?"

"I have received word from Höðr that the humans have once again imprisoned Thor."

"What? Why?" Uncle Vili demanded. "And they did it before?"

"Hmm, aye," Loki confirmed. "Thor had attempted to reach Mjǫllnir, which they had cordoned off from the public. To do so, Thor attacked several of their warriors."

"But they released him afterwards?" Lord Óðr asked.

"Aye."

"What happened now?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked General Týr.

"Höðr says Lady Sif and the Warriors Three attacked two humans while searching for Thor and another two in order to recover the Bifröst site, all of which was seen as an attack on their sovereignty by those in charge," General Týr explained. "The other humans helping Thor have also been detained."

Loki ran a hand over his face and suppressed a sigh. He truly did not need this on top of everything else.

"How are they treating him?" Loki asked.

"Good so far, though apparently they are threatening it can change if he continues to refuse to cooperate."

"We need to intervene," Lord Óðr stated.

"And do what, bring Thor back here, still mortal?" Loki demanded.

"Can you not undo Óðinn's punishment?" Uncle Vili asked. "Return Thor to his full powers?"

"Without inspecting what Father did, I do not know," Loki said, though he was relatively confident he could.

Ásgarðr knew what Óðinn had done and she truly seemed to like him. He had noticed it from the beginning, but ever since the incident with the Casket of Ancient Winters yesterday, she seemed even more delighted and had almost been buzzing all night long, letting more of her power flow through him than before. It was surprisingly soothing and energizing all at once, considering this was supposed to be what sent Father into the Óðinnsleep every few centuries.

"I, for one, would feel uncomfortable ending Thor's punishment before he has learned the lesson Óðinn felt it necessary to teach him," Lord Ragnvaldr stated. "That said, however, Thor will be unlikely to learn it if he is being imprisoned and mistreated the whole time."

"I agree," Loki said, turning to the general. "Have Höðr continue to monitor Thor and, if it appears the humans are going to keep him locked up indefinitely or will harm him, we will retrieve him. However, until such time, he remains. Father always has a reason for what he does and, if he thought Thor needed to be on Miðgarðr to learn this lesson, then he may not be able to regain his powers and Mjǫllnir here on Ásgarðr."

While Loki had no desire for his brother to be in charge while Óðinn slept, he also did want Thor back. His brother may be reckless, thoughtless and battle hungry, but he also believed Thor could be a good king, if he learned to think before he acted and he stopped thinking solely as a warrior. So it would be a while yet, but Loki did believe Thor could grow thus if given enough time and guidance. And he was removed from the influence of his friends who only encouraged his recklessness and did not challenge him nearly enough.

Chapter Text

The High Council session was followed by various meetings Loki had to attend in order to keep the usual aspects of life on Ásgarðr running. He then took a tour of the training fields to see not only the progress in readying the three tiers of warriors for possible battle, but also to show his face. Though he had spent a fair amount of time with the first-tier warriors, Loki knew well he was accepted more for being the second prince than anything else, so he knew to ignore them would be to risk alienating them completely. Therefore some visible time among them was necessary and it allowed him to gain a feel of their mood.

Surprisingly, Loki found it grimmer than expected. Despite all of their usual talk of battle and glory, it seemed when actually faced with a true war, they grew far more cautious. He was impressed. Clearly they were not all like Thor, even if he did still detect an underlying sense of excitement and anticipation.

By the time Loki returned to his study, 'twas to find Lord Aðalgrímr ready to speak with him and they spent the next few hours discussing their strategy for how best to deal with Laufey-King. They also had a list from General Týr of how he thought the Casket of Ancient Winters should be restricted and they discussed which, if any, should be negotiable and which should not. By the time dinner rolled around, Loki was exhausted but quite pleased with what he had accomplished during the day. He was also looking forward to dinner for once since they had decided not to keep the peace talks quiet and he was quite interested to see the reaction to the news.

While he knew some of the younger members of court would be disappointed, Loki thought the older ones who remembered the last war might be more relieved. Either way, it promised to be entertaining.

What Loki had not anticipated, and which he probably should have, was the attentions he received after the meal, when some of his conversational partners were dragged away by their wives for a dance as the entertainment this evening was a vocalist and band from the more distant mountain area of Ásgarðr. He was not certain if 'twas because he had now been king for a few days and they dared to join him, or whether 'twas simply because he had not stayed quite so late at a feast before since Óðinn fell into the Óðinnsleep, but some of the seats at his table had hardly been vacated before they were filled by some of the younger ladies of court, around his age and younger.

"Your Majesty." "My King." they greeted.

"Ladies," Loki replied, looking at each one in turn. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"We were wondering how you are," Lady Hnoss said with a smile.

"Aye, it must be quite exhilarating being king, my Liege," Lady Liv added, almost gushing.

Ah, they were hoping he would choose one of them to warm his bed tonight.

The realization caught Loki slightly off-guard. Not because he had ever had trouble finding willing bedmates, he had still been a prince of Ásgarðr even if only the second and darker one, but because 'twas rare for him to be so openly propositioned. The last time had been a ljósálfr lord he had met on a solo trip to Vanaheimr. It had greatly amused his Uncle Freyr, much as this was clearly amusing Uncle Vé, who was one of the high table's only original occupants left.

"'Tis, but luckily it should not be for long," Loki replied, hoping to put at least one of them off by reminding them he was only a regent and not the true king.

As he had feared, none of them seemed fazed and Loki was not truly surprised. It had been a long time since they had a young king, and even longer since there had been an eligible one. They would be more interested in bedding a king than any other prospects, as he would not provide a crown in the long-term.

"I have heard you will be seeing Laufey-King for the negotiations," Lady Inga pressed. "Are you not afraid he will try and attack you?"

"Nay," Loki replied, almost immediately rejecting the thought of actually considering one of them.

It had been a while, but nay, he liked more fire in his choice of bed partners then they were displaying. Not to mention, given all he had discovered recently, he would constantly be wondering what they would think or say if they knew what he truly was. What he really looked like.

"You are braver than me," Lady Liv simpered, oblivious to the pain which flashed through Loki as his core tore even more at the thought. "I would not want to be in the same chamber as a frost giant."

Internally, Loki winced as it caused another rend deep within him.

"Jötunn," Loki corrected, then seeing her confusion he continued. "Frost giant is language unbecoming of a lady."

They would think him odd, but if he was to have any chance should the truth come out in the future, then he would need for the many basic prejudices to start shifting. And right now he had the power to be listened to. If anyone asked, then he could claim he was doing it to prevent an unfortunately timed slip on the part of anyone involved in the negotiations.

"Did you kill many jötunns in the recent battle?" Lady Hnoss asked, leaning forwards.

With the way her dress was cut, it would have given Loki an ample view of her cleavage should he have looked down. He kept his eyes firmly on her face. Not only had she scorned him before, but he knew she had shared Thor's bed on more than one occasion.

"There were deaths, which is why Laufey-King declared war in the first place."

A little cough from Livunn had Loki half turning his head, as 'twas her way of letting him know she either required his attention or that something was going on. The new position allowed him to see his mother approaching his table.

"Mother," Loki said, rising to his feet.

As king he did not strictly have to anymore, but Loki saw it as good manners. As angry as he was with Frigga in some ways at the moment (and he really, really was), he could not forget all she had done for him either and that demanded his respect. That it also made everyone else at his table rise merely amused him and he waved the table down, much to the obvious disappointment of the ladies, as he stepped away from them.

"Come to have dinner?" Loki asked. "We can have something brought back."

"Nay, I ate," Frigga replied. "But Lady Eir insisted I take some exercise."

With a smile, Loki held out his hand. "In that case, may I have this dance?"

Frigga smiled at him, taking his hand and allowing Loki to lead her onto the dance floor where they immediately found space, of course. 'Twas early enough in the evening for the dances to still be slower, but not overtly romantic, so Loki was easily able to move into it with his mother.

"Thank you," Loki said softly the moment they began to move.

Frigga smiled. "As soon as I heard there was dancing tonight, I thought you might need rescuing."

The wording made Loki fake scowl, before a mischievous look crossed his face.

"You do know my virtue is long gone, aye?" Loki teased.

His mother removed her hand from his waist long enough to lightly slap his chest, though he hardly felt it with the chest plate of his armor.

"You may have been for more discreet about it all than your brother, but aye, I was aware," Frigga laughed.

The mere thought of some of the more ridiculous situations Thor had managed to entangle himself in, with what Loki could only term conquests, were enough to make him smile. 'Twas a miracle sometimes his older brother had survived for so long. Surely no one could get into that much trouble on purpose.

"I am still particularly fond of the memory of Amora's curse," Loki admitted.

"Loki!"

"Be honest, Mother, you did find it amusing when Thor was not around to witness your mirth."

"Well... perhaps."

Loki grinned as he spun Frigga around as the dance moved into something a little livelier. No doubt to accommodate the fact he was dancing with his mother.

A quick glimpse at those around showed quite a few people were watching them and Loki could not help but wonder at what they saw. A king dancing with his mother? The two acquired members of the royal family? Did anyone suspect he was not a natural part of it? He definitely looked different enough for it to be possible, but for all of the rumors he had overheard over the centuries, and many while invisible, 'twas not one he had ever heard anyone say. Was it out of respect for his mother, or was it simply unthinkable to anyone? It had been to him, but he knew his own blind spots pertained mostly to himself. Frigga had told him of it oft enough.

"What are you thinking about, Loki?" his mother asked. "You seem far away all of a sudden."

"I am simply wondering if anyone suspects the truth," Loki replied, softly. "About the adoption."

"Loki-"

"The rest would be far too inconceivable to ever occur to them, of course," he continued, bitterness entering his tone. "A frost giant on Hliðskjálf itself."

"Enough!" Frigga hissed, looking around. "And do not call yourself that."

"Why not, everyone else on Ásgarðr uses it, even Óðinn."

"'Twas wrong of him, very wrong, but I am certain he did not mean to."

Loki snorted, glad the dance was one he knew well enough not to have to think about the movements.

Frigga sighed and waited until the end of the dance to pull him aside, to where they could speak privately with the help of a spell she quickly threw up.

"Loki, what is causing this?" Frigga asked, a worried expression on her face.

"What is causing this?" Loki repeated in disbelief, his voice a low hiss. "I was raised to think the jötnar were nothing but savages and brutes. They were the monsters used to frighten children into being good at night; who would come steal us away or eat us if we misbehaved!"

Frigga's face was thunderous now and Loki blinked in shock.

"Who told you this?" she demanded.

"Everyone! The nursemaids and servants who looked after us as kids, the guards and warriors who deigned to notice us, the parents of our friends. Father."

"Nay, Óðinn would not-"

"Aye, he did," Loki shot back. "I can think of several instances on top of all the stories he told us of the war. Do you know what Thor said once, down in the vault when Father had taken us to see the Casket of Ancient Winters?"

"Nay," Frigga replied and Loki could hear her worry.

"When I am king, I will hunt the monsters down and slay them all. His words, exactly," Loki told her. "And on Jötunheimr simply a few days ago the choice word was 'cowards', to go with his usual 'beasts' and 'savages'."

His mother's eyes were closed now, but Loki did not need to be able to see them to know she was hurting. He felt bad for being the cause of it, especially now of all times, but he could not seem to stop once he had started. He had been holding almost all of it in since he had discovered the truth, with no one to have words with about it, so his mother commencing the conversation seemed to be all he had needed for it come tumbling out.

Aware of precisely how emotional he had become, Loki tried to reign himself back in and his hand snaked up to clutch at his obsidian amulet. It took longer for Loptr to respond than before, but the steadying emotions and calm did come and he made a mental note to try and contact his temporal twin soon, as it seemed like the changes might be rippling outwards enough to affect Loptr soon.

He felt a strange wave of sadness at the thought, even though the whole point of all of this had been to change events enough so Loptr's future would never occur. Still, it meant losing the only other person who knew the truth, even if Muninn seemed to be able to recall everything.

Frigga's hand coming to rest on his arm drew his attention back towards his mother.

"What Thor said and did was wholly unacceptable and I believe I am starting to better understand why Óðinn did what he did when banishing your brother," Frigga stated. "As for your father... well there is no excuse for what he said other than pure thoughtlessness and, believe me, I shall be having words with him about it, commencing the very moment I have banished my guard out of the Óðinnsleep chamber."

Oh, 'twas devious to begin Óðinn's punishment when his father literally could not speak to defend himself. Whoever said his mother was sweet and kind clearly did not know her very well. In truth, he had learned much of his skill in manipulation and subtle control from her.

"And Thor will receive his own lecture when he finally returns home," Frigga continued. "But, Loki, you must know most of it is nothing more than the boasting and propaganda of the victors in battle. Nothing glorifies a war or battle more than to vilify the losers who oft have no means to defend themselves."

"It does not seem to have happened to the vanir," Loki pointed out.

"Not to the same extent and not long-term, nay," Frigga readily admitted. "But when I first came to Ásgarðr, the vanir were not well liked and it took centuries for that attitude to fade entirely."

"Vanaheimr was not as condemned as Jötunheimr, though."

"I am not saying it was. Though I hear that might be changing soon?"

Loki smiled at how obvious his mother was being. She could have tried to draw the information from him subtly but was allowing him to know what it was she was after.

"Laufey has agreed to come to the negotiating table," Loki told her. "So we shall see."

"That is good news, but Loki, be careful around Laufey, he is not a good man."

"I know," Loki said, looking her in the eyes. "It turns out Óðinn was wrong and Laufey probably did not abandon me for the reasons he thought."

Frigga's forehead creased as she frowned. "But you are not... uh..."

"Normally sized?" Loki offered. "It turns out I am... for the subtype of jötunn I am."

"I had no idea there were subtypes of jötnar," his mother's eyes were wide with shock.

"Only two, the hrímþursar whom everyone knows and the íviðjur, like me, who are usually gifted seiðberandi, made royal advisors and," Loki paused for effect. "The guardians of the Casket of Ancient Winters."

Frigga drew in a sharp breath, her hand flying to cover her mouth as realization dawned. "You were a threat to his ability to wield it indiscriminately."

"That is the popular theory," Loki replied, before elaborating. "Well at least as far as the High Council is concerned, seeing as Laufey-King does not seem to have an íviðja."

"I... honestly do not know if this is better or worse."

"It is advantageous since it means the Casket will listen more to me than to Laufey."

"It does?"

"Remember the incident Lady Eir mentioned?"

"Aye."

"That was the Casket being very happy to see me and, through it, Jötunheimr's own seiðr, much like the Óðinnforce, only they call her Mother Winter."

"Of course, Mother Winter, that makes so much more sense now," Frigga muttered. "I had wondered what Bestla was often speaking of."

"Hopefully it will make Laufey desperate enough to take the Casket with restrictions on what it can do."

"Still, be careful, Loki. If he felt threatened enough by you as an infant to try to kill you..."

"Then he would feel even more so now, aye, I know, Mother. Do not worry, I have no intention of his discovering the truth during the talks. I am using Bestla and my own seiðr as my cover."

"Clever."

"I try," Loki replied with a twist of his lips.

"You do more than try," Frigga smiled, waving aside the privacy spell. "Now dance with me some more."


After the music and ambience of the feast hall, the corridor was almost blissfully quiet and Loki sighed with relief as he made his way back to his chambers.

"No desire for company this evening, my Liege?" Yngvarr teased as Loki glanced back to make certain they were not being followed.

He scowled at the lieutenant-general. "Simpering and obsequious are not my preference."

His mother's company had served to keep his would-be bedmates away while she was there, but, almost as soon as Frigga had left, they had been back, vying for his attention and favor. He had almost dragged one of the young lads out onto the dancefloor to remind them he did not care about the sex of his partner, ere he had decided 'twas a headache he did not care to deal with at present.

'Twas both sad and said a lot for how exhausted he was if his usual mischief felt like more than he could handle at present. Loki could not wait until he could hand Gungnir back over to his father. He had more than enough of it already.

Once in his chambers, Loki dismissed Livunn quickly, opting to use a cleaning spell over a bath, so he could have more time to speak to Loptr. He changed into his sleep clothes before moving to his personal study with a glass of his favorite wine, deciding to utilize the large mirror there. He had it installed nearly a millennium ago, when he had first started learning illusion seiðr, as it helped greatly to be able to see if it was working and what effect small, subtle changes to the seiðr effected. Settling into his seat, Loki gripped the amulet and focused his seiðr on it, letting it pulse for a time before just relaxing and taking a sip of his wine.

"Loki," Loptr greeted over ten minutes later, shimmering into view in the mirror.

"Loptr," Loki replied, noting how much less stable their connection was from before. "The ripples are arriving at your time, nay?"

"Hmm, it will not be long now."

Both the words and the unemotional manner in which they were delivered unnerved Loki.

"'Tis almost relaxing in a way," Loptr glibly continued. "Plus, ever since the first signs of the ripples arrived, I have stopped being careful."

Now that Loki could understand, and a large smile crossed his face. "What have you been doing?"

"Only every trick we ever wanted to do but could not for any number of reasons."

"The chaos must be magnificent."

"Oh, it most definitely is," Loptr agreed. "Heimdallr is also back to his old habits."

"He tried to kill you again?" Loki demanded, his mood dimming, but not all the way.

"Technically, he tried to kill Óðinn All-Father, though people are finally starting to suspect I may not be all I seem when pretending to be him. Well either that or they believe Óðinn to have gone senile."

Loki laughed aloud at the words. "Well, if you have Heimdallr, allow me to tell you of the perfect punishment for him."

"You have already tried him."

The eagerness in Loptr's voice reminded Loki of why he had instigated the connection. All he had been able to do lately, all he had been able to prevent, both now and in the future, was all down to Loptr. A future version of himself who soon would exist no more. Then not only would a version of himself no longer exist, but he would have lost his one and only true companion in this matter and everything pertaining to it. The one other person whom he could talk to about it all without having to fear any consequences for his actions or judgments thereof. Thus he would take the time to enjoy this properly.

"'Twas beautiful," Loki continued. "By the end everyone was well aware of his guilt and General Týr has even brought me new legislation in order to prevent any future gatekeeper from becoming as arrogant and self-righteous as Heimdallr. Whether or not Father will overrule it, I cannot say, of course, but 'twas how effectively I tore him down."

Loptr's smile was wide and predatory, his eyes sparkling in a way Loki found fantastically disturbing and delightful at once. If this was how he looked at times like this, then he could see why he unnerved and unbalanced people. He felt quite pleased with himself.

"Future gatekeeper?" Loptr prompted.

"Ah, aye, 'twas the best part. Remember how Óðinn took Thor's power?"

"Hmm. We can do this with Heimdallr?"

"Precisely. I have had him thrown into a small cell for the rest of his miserable life. Locked in and completely unable to see or hear beyond his immediate vicinity."

Loptr's look now was a little more mixed, though there was definitely still both wicked satisfaction and delicious irony there. But what? Oh, of course, Loptr himself had been locked away in those same dungeons. 'Twas easy to forget as it was something Loki had never even considered could happen to himself up until Loptr had first mentioned it to him. Aye, his mischief had gotten him into his fair share of trouble over the centuries, but never had he even been threatened with time in the dungeons. Confinement to various guest apartments (his parents knew better than to think locking him in his own chambers would be considered a form of punishment for him), aye, more than once. But banishment to the dungeons for any length of time? Nay, never.

"Any recommendations for how to make his time down there any worse?" Loki asked.

He figured Loptr deserved even more vengeance than him, seeing as Heimdallr had tried to kill him twice and likely had never been punished for the first attempt.

"Aye, do not let anyone bring him anything to alleviate his boredom," Loptr began.

"Mother?"

"Hmm, books."

"Of course."

Not that he would ever wish to test the theory, but Loki did not think he could ever do anything to make his mother abandon him. Not entirely. He would bet she had also found a way to communicate with him in his cell, Óðinn's potential order to the contrary be damned.

"And go visit him on occasion," Loptr continued.

"What? Why?" Loki questioned. "You wish me to gloat?"

"Loki, come now, we both know you will want to. Besides, you can tell him of what is happening outside of the dungeons. Prove life is going on without him while he is left down there to rot."

Ouch, the emotions behind the words left Loki in absolutely no doubt of how Loptr still felt about his own time imprisoned down there. It did go a long way to explain why Loptr had elected to so radically alter the past, since, in a lot of ways, 'twas a form of suicide seeing as Loptr himself would be destroyed along with everything else in the future that now no longer would be. Even if he, Loki, would survive and thrive, Loptr would not and, to someone like them, 'twas a crucial difference.

"I will make sure to do so," Loki promised. "And even if it will not be for long, you can do the same to Heimdallr in your time. And regale him with tales of what you have done and his new future."

"Oh, I had already planned to do the latter, but now I will add the stripping of his powers to his punishment as well."

"Do me a favor," Loki said, leaning forwards. "Let him know what we are and just who is currently sitting on Hliðskjálf."

"He already does."

"Really? How?"

"The first time he tried to kill me, I used the Casket of Ancient Winters on him."

"Ah, I see."

"What did you do?"

Loki settled back and explained all he had done, and how he had set up both Heimdallr and his brother's friends to be caught red-handed in order to ensure none could doubt their intentions or the gravity of the situation.

"What do you intend to do to Sif and the Warriors Idiot?" Loptr asked when Loki was done.

"I have not yet been able to come up with a suitable punishment," Loki admitted. "Thor would never forgive me if I executed them and besides-"

"- it would be far too easy."

"Hmm, exactly."

"Did I tell you what they did when Thor needed my help to save his precious mortal and he broke me out of the dungeons?"

"Nay."

"Sif drew her blade on me, placed it at my throat and threatened to kill me. Volstagg did not use a weapon, though he did place hands on me ere he too threatened me."

Loki growled, his anger white hot. Would their betrayals never cease? Aye, Loptr had admitted to invading Miðgarðr prior to this, but had no one truly sought to figure out why he had done it? Something so wholly out of character for him? Or was everyone so truly deluded about who and what he was as to believe him capable of anything and everything with simply the smallest of evidence?

'Twas not a particularly encouraging thought and, briefly, he wondered why he even bothered staying and using his knowledge to better things. Óðinn was incapacitated in the Óðinnsleep and Thor was mortal and stuck on Miðgarðr. Even his mother was hardly paying attention. It would be so easy for him to make his escape and never look back. 'Twas not even like they were his true family. He had no true family. He was well and truly alone, always had been and probably always would be. So why did he even feel obligated to remain here and take on a thankless role he had never wanted or craved, despite what everyone thought of him? If he ran away, he could do and be all he had ever wanted, without having to listen to or obey anyone.

'Twas such a lovely and tempting thought, and Loki knew Ásgarðr was lucky he was not nearly as callous or selfish as they all thought him to be.

"I am open to suggestions for their punishments," Loki finally answered, before he realized something. "What about Fandral and Hogun? Did they not threaten you?"

"Fandral did not, though he did take the opportunity to make fun of me," Loptr stated. "As for Hogun, I did not see either tail or hide of him. Some of the mercenaries they brought into the dungeons shortly before the myrkálfar attack though had spoken of Vanaheimr, so 'tis possible he was not even on Ásgarðr at the time."

Which meant Hogun was not quite as in the clear as Fandral, though Loki doubted the vanir's threat would have been verbal if he had made one. Nay, it would probably have been a glance or dark promise. The man had made them oft enough for Loki to be able to picture it easily now. So easily, in fact, he knew without a shadow of a doubt Hogun would have made the threat if he had been present at the time. So 'twas only Fandral who was in the clear, but, as per usual, the young lord followed where the other three led, even if he never went quite as far. For someone who spoke of honor, 'twas a surprisingly cowardly way to act, but Loki was long since used to their hypocrisy by now and he knew better than to try to question it. They would merely twist themselves and the situation up in knots trying to explain it all away, and he had no desire to tangle with this particular brand of convoluted logic.

He had no wish for the headache.

"I will keep thinking on it then," Loki promised.

He would find a good solution for this. If nothing else, his own pride demanded satisfaction for all of their slights and insults.

"Do try and let me know what you come up with as I would love to know," Loptr replied. "But this may well be our last communication."

"What will you do for your final trick?"

"I am not entirely certain at present. But I am thinking of doing something incredibly stupid."

"Oh? Do tell."

"I have been spending some time thinking of whether what we are doing was at all foreseen, as it will not be remembered by anyone but you."

"And Muninn."

"Wh- Truly?"

So that was what his really intrigued face looked like. Thor had been saying for centuries he had learned how to tell it apart from his fake intrigued one. Perhaps now he could fix that as he did notice a minute difference or two. He would need to work on it and see if he could once again fool his brother.

"Oh, aye, she told me all about it yesterday," Loki informed him.

"Will she tell Óðinn?"

"Nay, because 'tis helping the Nine and he will not know to ask it of her."

Loptr laughed. "I knew there was a reason I always like her. 'Tis probably also why she has remained while Huginn has vanished."

"He has?"

"Ever since I started imitating Óðinn, it has been most annoying as I have had to conjure an illusion of him from time to time to ensure it looks like he is still around."

"Has Muninn said anything to you?"

"Nay, she has kept up the act, but she refuses to actually speak to me, even when I address her first."

"Odd. Perhaps the time distortions are affecting her first?"

"'Tis possible, I suppose," Loptr said. "'Tis not like this has been done before for anyone to know."

"I have been thinking of that, and if the spell is in the book, then surely it must have been used or at least tried before. And most likely the former as the book does not say it is an untried spell."

"I... had not thought of that. You make some very good points. Now I wonder which events from history are the result of tweaking or wholescale alterations."

"Me too. I have made a note to brush up on my history of Jötunheimr later."

"Hmm, of course, the book is jötnar, so they would have been the most likely users. Nay, they would have to be seeing as it requires as jötunn magical core to achieve."

"Then 'tis a good thing Laufey did not have an íviðja at the end of the war or things might have gone very differently indeed," Loki stated.

"Good point. Do you ever plan to return to Jötunheimr?"

"Why?"

"Because if you do, and if you managed to contact Mother Winter, she may be able to tell you."

"I will keep it in mind, but I would suggest that you go visit Jötunheimr soon."

"Why?"

"Because if you have not yet connected to Mother Winter, then you should. But make certain you are alone when you do as the combination of her, your own seiðr and Ásgarðr is rather... uh... explosive to say the least. 'Tis worth experiencing before..."

"Before I poof out of existence?" Loptr offered. "If you say so, then I shall, and, mayhap, it will give me the additional power required for my little idea."

"Hmm, what was that?"

"I want to try igniting the Yggdrasill."

"You want to what?" Loki demanded, startling upright and spilling his vanir wine everywhere. "Are you utterly mad?"

Loptr's lips twitched. "Given the sheer number of times I have been asked that question in the past four years, I will have to say aye, I am."

Loki could only sit there stupidly and gape at his mirror while Loptr returned his gaze, looking far too smug and self-satisfied. Igniting the Yggdrasill was a reference made in some of the oldest remaining magical texts. The problem was that none of them ever even hinted at what or how 'twas done. Simply that 'twas something only the most powerful of seiðberandi could achieve and that its result would affect every single planet within the Nine Realms, but once gain it failed to say how or whether the effects were good or ill. There were, of course, many theories, some stemming from the fact that while the Nine supported a variety of different life forms, all were compatible with the atmospheric conditions of the other Eight. Others theorized 'twas a primitive reference to Ragnarök and would involve the Yggdrasill literally igniting and burning down, and the Nine along with it. Some, meanwhile, theorized it would be a joyful and beneficial experience, bringing prosperity to all as they saw the ignition as a firing up of the Yggdrasill, essentially making the World Tree both stronger and healthier, and maybe even capable of adding new Realms to her boughs. He had always thought the latter group of scholars overly optimistic and had hoped they never gained the necessary skills, knowledge or power to try.

Loptr, however, had all three and would soon have the latter in abundance, if he managed to get the magical core of not one, but two of the Nine behind him.

The thought made Loki start to laugh and soon he could not stop. 'Twas stupid, 'twas mad and 'twas an utterly brilliant way to go if he and all of the Nine as he knew them were about to be wiped from the timeline.

"I knew you would understand," Loptr stated smugly.

"You, we, are utterly mad," Loki finally managed to say before he flicked his wrist and magicked away the spilled wine. "I only wish I could learn what you actually manage to accomplish in igniting the Yggdrasill."

"If there is a any chance to do so, I will find a way to let you know," Loptr promised. "But you know, I have been wondering if perhaps this is the basis for the Ragnarök prophecies which have been dogging us these last few centuries."

Loki's eyebrows show up as he thought about it for a moment. It would be... ironic and entirely twisted if it were true. And it would be simply one more example of how much the Norns hated him.

"Well, we have dealt with the prophecies, so I say go for it, one of us might as well have the chance to enact them after all of that," Loki finally stated.

"I had a feeling you would say that."

"I wonder why."

"Ah, so that is what my obviously sarcastic expression looks like," Loptr's words made Loki snort.

Though he was enjoying this experience, he was not certain he would be able to survive being around Loptr for any real length of time, good as it was to finally have someone who understood him so easily.

And what did it say that even he could not stand his own company for more than short periods of time?

"Whatever you are thinking about now, stop," Loptr snapped, drawing his attention back to him. "Watch your magical core."

With clenched teeth, Loki tried to force the thoughts away, before making himself relax as much as he could.

"Who did you give Heimdallr's sight to?" Loptr suddenly asked. "You are not truly shielding us."

"Höðr," Loki replied. "And he has been good about not invading my privacy. His gaze will sweep over my location, but only briefly and he will obey the privacy wards I throw up."

"Höðr. Good choice. I might imitate that for all of the good it will do."

"It will keep anyone from questioning you on it."

"True, true. Now, unless there is anything else, I should probably go."

"Nay, I do not think so. Good luck igniting the Yggdrasill."

Loptr smiled. "Good luck with your many tasks."

Chapter Text

Loki ran, throwing a curse over his shoulder, but it fizzled out and spat, before dying out in a shower of harmless green sparks. He did not know what spell he had triggered when attempting to break into the dökkálfar vault, but whatever it was, 'twas messing with his ability to perform seiðr and that left him very vulnerable indeed. Far more so than he would like to admit, especially since he had not brought much in the form of other weapons in order to be able to move both lightly and quickly.

Luckily for him, Loki never made simply one plan, he always had at least one backup should anything go wrong.

A blast of rock seiðr flew past Loki's head, causing the wall beside him to shatter into a shower of sharp little projectiles. Loki cursed but continued running as they stung the skin of his face and neck. He would worry about the injuries later. He was close now to where Lady Sif was waiting for him. She would be able to hold them off long enough with her shield and blade for Loki to gather his own weapons, and they would be able to fight their way out and let Queen Hreiðmarr know this particular warren had her stolen jewels. At least Loki had been able to see them before the protective seiðr had ejected him from the vault rather violently.

"Come on, come on!" Loki urged himself on. "Just a little further!"

There!

Loki saw the specific statue he and Lady Sif had chosen to mark where she would be hiding. The dökkálfar halls were a veritable underground warren (Niðavellir was almost inhospitable on the surface at certain times of year), but the colorful and varied statues they positioned all over the place were an excellent way to orient oneself.

With a last burst of speed, Loki pushed himself on and he skidded around the corner.

"Sif, quick, they co-" Loki cut off as he looked around desperately.

There was no one.

The corridor was empty. Loki would think he had made a wrong turn despite the statue if it were not for the distinctive bundle of his weapons lying in a darkened corner. He was undoubtedly in the right place; Lady Sif simply was not. The sound of pounding feet and angry shouts behind him roused Loki from his shocked stupor and he lunged at his weapons, but those precious few seconds had cost him and the dökkálfar were on him even as he reached his blades. Loki did his best to fight, but there were too many of them and he was on his own without even his seiðr.

The fight did not last long and soon Loki was face down on the ground with more than one dökkálfr on him as his arms were wrenched behind his back and thick manacles were snapped around his wrists. A muttered word and Loki gasped as what little seiðr he had been able to feel vanished.

Those were seiðr suppressing restraints!

Loki had heard of them before, but he had never even seen them, let alone felt them, before. Briefly, panic swamped his mind, but he then forced it down. He had already been captured and who knew what had happened to Lady Sif. Now was not the time to lose his faculties, it truly would make this situation utterly disastrous.

Everything around him blurred for a moment before Loki found himself outside the great hall of the leader of this particular dökkálfar warren. The massive doors were hauled open and he was dragged inside, something which should have been ridiculous, his being six foot tall and they not even four, with most stuck at a mere three foot. Yet the seriousness of the situation made it anything but. His eyes swept the hall and Loki froze as he caught sight of Lady Sif sitting up near the throne, speaking with the Lord Brokkr. Not only was she completely unshackled, but she still possessed all of her weapons as well.

So, she had not been discovered and captured before Loki had reached her. It had always been an unlikely scenario to begin with, as his weapons had still been where he had left them, but Loki had hoped since this had been the alternative. That she had voluntarily chosen not to be there. Rage rose swift and hot within him as Loki stumbled forward once more when his dökkálfar escort tugged on the chains they had which attached to those draped around him, quite effectively trussing him up in addition to robbing him of his seiðr.

The commotion made both Lord Brokkr and Lady Sif look up and, because he was watching her so closely, Loki saw both the horror and the guilt which flashed across her face before it all cleared off once more. Loki scowled darkly at her. He wanted to rage and rant, to demand why she had abandoned their plan, but he knew he could not. To do so would be to implicate her in his actions and, much as he hated to admit it, he needed her free to go summon help since she would not be able to get him out of this. She simply did not have the authority to do so. At least Loki knew he could still trust her to do that, as he was a prince of Ásgarðr and his absence would be noted if she merely left him here to rot.

Nay, he would deal with her later.

Another blur and Lady Sif was gone while Loki was being held on his knees by his escort as Lord Brokkr paced before him, speaking with one of his advisors.

"Did he see the jewels?" Lord Brokkr spat at his men.

"Aye, he got far enough despite the wards," one of the vault guards replied.

"How?"

"I... I do not know, my Lord."

"How did you get into the vault, Æsir?" Lord Brokkr demanded, stepping up to Loki.

In any other situation, Loki would find it amusing the dökkálfr still had to look up at him.

"I am a prince of Ásgarðr," Loki stated, instead of answering. "A guest of Queen Hreiðmarr, you-"

With a roar, Lord Brokkr swung up a fist and hit Loki across the face. His head snapped up under the force of the blow and, briefly, Loki saw stars. Carefully he tried to move his jaw and stopped when pain flared hot and sharp from it. Likely broken. He forgot how strong the dökkálfar could be despite their small size.

"My Lord, his actions aside, he does speak the truth," the aged vizier said nervously. "People will come looking for him, and his companion will bring them straight here."

She had better or Loki would do even more to her than he was already considering. What by the Nine had Sif been thinking, abandoning their backup plan?

"We caught him attempting to steal from us, 'tis well within my right to hold him!" Lord Brokkr thundered rather impressively for one so small.

"Normally, aye, but given his father is Óðinn All-Father, Queen Hreiðmarr will likely interfere and demand his release for weregeld."

The violence with which the dökkálfr lord reacted, knocking over a stack of golden tribute, made Loki wonder what it was about either his father or the queen which infuriated Lord Brokkr so much. Did he have history with one of them? If so, 'twas probably Queen Hreiðmarr as Loki could not recall ever hearing anything other than praise for dökkálfarian craftsmanship and the occasional story of their strangeness in his father's halls and, surely, some kind of incident or vendetta would have been spoken of even if only in whispers, repeated in darkened corners. And he was an expert in listening in on those.

"But we need time to move the jewels," Lord Brokkr stated, once he had himself under some semblance of control. "If Queen Hreiðmarr finds them here, we are all dead."

"So we need a distraction," the grand vizier stated, dark yellow eyes swinging up to examine Loki. "A punishment which will not allow him to immediately tell them what he saw."

Fear swelled within Loki, though he refused to let it show. Normally he would argue back, say something in his own defense or attempt to persuade them what a bad idea 'twas to mess with the son of Óðinn Spearbreaker, but his broken jaw made it impossible. It would take too long to get the words out and Lord Brokkr stood too close. He feared he would be hit again before he had a chance to say enough.

"We could cut out his tongue," Lord Brokkr suggested, with far too much glee.

The mere thought of being disfigured in such a way as to permanently lose the ability to speak sent blind fear and horror surging through Loki and he was about to speak, consequences be damned, when the vizier beat him to it.

"While a lovely idea, and I would appreciate seeing the silvertongue silenced thus, Óðinn All-Father is likely to attack us for daring to maim his son in such a manner. May I recommend something less... ah, permanently disfiguring, pleasant as it would be."

They were mad, Loki decided as his fear lessened a little. At least the vizier was intelligent enough to temper Lord Brokkr to a certain extent, but he knew he could not rely solely on the dökkálfr as he was clearly still far too bloodthirsty as well. So, much as he hated to, Loki silently urged Lady Sif on, knowing that while 'twas her fault he was currently in this predicament, she was also his only hope of getting out of it quickly.

Lord Brokkr turned to face him once more and Loki defiantly met the dökkálfr's gaze head on. Unlike his grand vizier, Brokkr's eyes were a dark, muddy brown, but still clearly showed both his bloodlust and madness. Loki could well imagine why the queen might have trouble with this one. 'Twas probably how Lord Brokkr's hatred of her had first occurred, as she had most likely had to put him in his place more than once.

Then Lord Brokkr's eyes dropped to the chains wrapped around his waist and a new gleam entered his eyes. "We could use the enslavement collar, order him into silence."

A new fear shot through Loki at that. Fear and rage. Enslavement collar? Brokkr would dare try to enslave a prince of Ásgarðr?

"While that would allow you to order him to do anything you wished-" the grand vizier began.

Anything? Loki twitched in terror, only just managing to catch himself from making a foolishly desperate bid for freedom. He would not make it far in his current condition and it seemed like the grand vizier was going to try to talk Brokkr out of it. Still, the mere thought of being controlled by someone else (anyone else!), not only terrified but disgusted Loki. He was his own person and he absolutely refused to become anyone's puppet, but especially not a dökkálfar lord with delusions of grandeur.

"- I would like to remind you that while Ásgarðr does not use the enslavement collar directly, they have adapted it to an indentured servitude collar and cuffs," the grand vizier continued. "Thus Óðinn All-Father may be aware of how to free his son from the collar. And, even if not, he would still know enough to demand control of the collar when he arrives, at which point he could countermand all of your orders instantly."

Relief shot through Loki once more, though he tried to temper it. He needed to keep his wits about him now. He had to be ready for any opportunity which might arise.

Lord Brokkr growled and stomped back towards his throne-like chair. "Then what?" he demanded.

"What we need," the grand vizier began calmly. "Is something which will silence him for long enough to give us the time to move the jewels, but which will still not inflict permanent enough damage, or be a grave enough insult, for Óðinn All-Father to risk offending sufficiently Queen Hreiðmarr to provoke a war."

Silence briefly filled the chamber as they thought and Loki used the opportunity to look about. While there were multiple exists, there were also far too many heavily armed dökkálfar present for him to be able to do anything. Not injured and restrained as he was with his seiðr hopelessly out of his reach.

"Oh, I know!" the grand vizier suddenly exclaimed, turning to look at Brokkr. "The unbreakable thread retrieved from the svartálfar!"

"I do not understand," Lord Brokkr frowned. "How will that help?"

"If we use it to sew his lips shut, it will silence him and will not easily be undone."

Loki had to fight back the instinct to roll his lips back into his mouth. Luckily, the fear which thrilled through him was not nearly as all-consuming as that provoked by either of the earlier suggestions, though he still hated the idea. At least 'twas something more manageable, even if he did have more than a few reservations about this unbreakable thread. The svartálfar of Svartálfaheimr were not well known, hardly considered more than mere myth or legend by many, but any species which were deemed 'black elves' as much because of their use of dark seiðr as their opposing looks of the ljósálfar, and how they appeared menacing even when compared to the myrkálfar, were not something Loki wished to deal with. So he had no real desire to have anything of them on his person, let alone in direct contact with his blood and wounds.

Not that it looked like he would have a choice in the matter.

There was another blur and suddenly Lord Brokkr stood before him, a thick, midnight black thread in his hands whose color was anything but normal. Instead of being black like normal items, it almost seemed to be actively repelling light and color away from itself which Loki knew made no sense, but 'twas what it appeared to be doing. He shuddered to think what it would feel like if he had access to his seiðr to do so.

Though Loki had been undecided on whether to fight and try to gain more time for his father to arrive (surely it could not take too much longer?), or to be stoic and make it appear like he was not bothered, his first good look at the thread and the large, sharp needle now attached to it caused him to tip into the fighting category. For all of the good it did him. With pathetic ease, the dökkálfar had settled him onto his back, painfully pinning his hands behind him. Two or three of them climbed on top of him in order to pin him, down while another settled in next to him in order to hold his head still while Brokkr approached him with the needle, thread and a delighted grin on his face.

"Oh, I am going to love this, little princeling," Brokkr declared gleefully. "This will teach you to sneak around where you are neither wanted nor welcome."

An angry retort was already on the tip of his tongue before Loki managed to swallow it back. Angering the one in charge of his fate just now was not a smart idea and he was no fool. Nay, instead he would bide his time and come back for vengeance later, as Lord Brokkr was stupid enough to leave him alive after daring to touch him thus. Let the idiot think he had bested Loki now and Brokkr would never see him coming later. Instead, he opted to glare at the dökkálfr lord as Brokkr would expect some kind of reaction from him.

"What, no words from the infamous Silvertongue?" Lord Brokkr demanded, kneeling down beside him. "That does not seem right, unless..."

Though he tried, Loki was unable to hold back a cry as Brokkr grabbed hold of his jaw smugly, making no pretense at being gentle. The dökkálfr laughed as his fingers found the break and Lord Brokkr dug in with them. Loki cried out again and jerked instinctively against the hold all of the other dökkálfar had on him. He would definitely come out of this with some very impressive bruises, that was for sure.

Lord Brokkr laughed before steadying his grip on Loki's jaw. "Now, just hold still, little princeling," he chuckled. "This will hopefully hurt quite a bit."

'Twas the only warning Loki received before the grand vizier grabbed his lower lip and pulled it down. Then the needle was roughly pushed through the skin at the left side of his mouth. Despite the desire to be strong and stoic, Loki screamed the moment the needle was pulled through and the thread began to follow, touching both his skin and the resulting blood. It burned like a flame and Loki knew without a doubt he had been right and there was dark seiðr woven into the thread. The reaction started at the actual wound itself, but quickly spread and he knew this would be a torture far worse than he had feared and the poisonous effects of the dark seiðr may well kill him given he could not fight it off himself.

"You must hurry, my Lord, Óðinn All-Father could arrive at any time," the grand vizier stated when Lord Brokkr stopped with an almost ecstatic expression on his face.

"Nay, I will enjoy this properly," Lord Brokkr snapped back. "'Tis not every day I have an arrogant little princeling at my mercy. This will teach them to respect and fear me!"

After the second and third punctures things became hazy for Loki as the effects of the dark seiðr grew worse and worse with every touch to his skin and blood. He was left in a world which was a haze of pain, pressure, fire and rough hands. Distantly, he heard laughter as he cried out and struggled and fought to escape, but 'twas hazy at best and so far, far away. It-

With a muffled cry, Loki landed on the ground, arms and legs splayed as if braced for an impact he had not known was coming. For a moment, past and present blended and Loki did not know where he was before the dream grew fainter and slowly faded out entirely, leaving Loki panting for breath and with his lips and blood tingling in remembered pain from centuries ago.

His bedchamber, he was in his bedchamber. Beside his bed to be exact, tangled up in the sheets and furs which he had gone to sleep under not so long ago. His new, longer hair was twisted around him, damp with sweat and stuck to his face in places. With a small push, Loki rolled onto his back, trying to slow his breathing and frantically beating heart.

He had not dreamt about that particular experience in at least two centuries and he had no idea why he had done so now. Was it because he had been thinking of all the grievances he had against Lady Sif and the Warriors Three earlier? But, if so, then this was one of the few where he had managed to gain his vengeance against her for.

Because of the dark seiðr woven into the thread, Loki had little concrete memories of what had transpired next (though he would never forget how he had been forced to his knees next to Lord Brokkr's chair only for the dökkálfr to drag his head up by his hair when his father and brother had arrived. The look of pure shock on both of their faces as they had seen his own ruined one would stay with him forever. Not that he blamed them, the dark, dark thread against his pale skin and the blood all around his mouth and dripping down his chin must have made for quite the sight when combined with his hazy, feverish eyes), but it had allowed Lady Sif to remain quiet about her own part in the ordeal and the others had taken Lord Brokkr's words at face value.

"He tried to trick us, offering his head in a deal and then refusing to pay up when he lost, saying he had not offered his neck and that therefore we could not touch it."

By the time he had regained full consciousness in the healing halls of the palace weeks later, Loki had hardly seen the point in telling anyone, especially when neither his father nor his brother had even bothered to ask him what had happened. Even now, it still angered him how everyone had simply taken Lord Brokkr's words at face value, surely it should have been obvious his attackers could be lying? But nay, instead they had simply been furious at what Brokkr had done and had kept promising him Óðinn was doing all he could to get the lord punished. Luckily for Loki, that had stalled long enough in diplomacy for him to be able to fully recover in time to exact his own vengeance.

Loki smiled darkly as he thought of it. Naturally, he had not been able to make it obvious he had been the one responsible but it hardly mattered since, not only had he been able to exact his vengeance, but he had also managed to secure one of the precious jewels from Queen Hreiðmarr's stolen treasure; the one he had been after in the first place when he had talked Lady Sif into retrieving them for the glory it would garner them, the two outcasts within Ásgarðr's warriors. He still had the jewel, its absolutely flawless nature making it an extremely powerful focusing point for the more powerful spells he occasionally liked to try within the branches of seiðr he was less adapt at naturally.

Thoughts of Lady Sif brought Loki back to the vengeance he had exacted there. Knowing him as well as she did, Lady Sif had been far more wary of his mouth and temper, so it had taken Loki longer to get to her, but he had in the end, cutting off her long golden locks which she had always been so vain about, likely for all of the attention they gained her. He would have left it thus, if she had not tried to accuse him of it instead of simply accepting her punishment. Therefore, at that point, he had become fed up, regrown her hair at Thor's rather violent behest and promptly undone the spell which he had long since known was cast on Lady Sif's hair. He had always thought it had been something she had done for vanity's sake, but her shocked and horrified expression when she had realized how dark her hair now was had proven him wrong.

Which was truly interesting in and of itself, because if Lady Sif's hair had been spelled blond for so long she had not even known 'twas a spell... well then that left only one person who could have done it. Well, alright, technically two, but seeing as Lord Hermóðr had no seiðr whatsoever and had seemed as horrified as his daughter, it truly left only Lady Sif's recently deceased mother. And if that did not raise all manner of interesting questions, then Loki did not know what did. Unfortunately, Lord Hermóðr had left all of that alone and Loki had not dared to pursue it at the time, his actions having already garnered him far too much attention as it was.

Loki half considered it now as he finally rose to his feet and dumped his bed sheets and furs back onto the bed. He could not think of a suitable way to use it at the trial, though, so he dismissed the thought even as he magicked away his sweat soaked bed clothes, cleaned himself and then put on a simple pair of leather trousers and a green, linen tunic.

He knew better than to think he would be able to go back to any kind of restful sleep tonight, tired though he may be. Nay, if Loki did not want to spend the rest of the night reliving exactly how he had felt as Brokkr had suggested each of the possible punishments th-

Loki froze as a new thought occurred to him. Could that be why he had this particular nightmare now of all times? Was it his subconscious' way of reminding him of what the grand vizier had said? He snorted, if so then clearly it hated him too as there simply had to be a better way to go about it.

He dismissed the thought as his excitement rose. After what he had been through, Loki had done what he had always been wont to; he had researched anything he did not know. Which included the reference to the indentured servitude the grand vizier had mentioned and he had discovered that, aye, Ásgarðr had practiced it until the beginning of Borr's reign, at which point it seemed to have fallen out of favor. If he remembered correctly, then Loki was relatively certain the practice had never been deemed illegal or otherwise banned. It had simply not been used anymore. If so, then it might just hold the key to his current dilemma regarding what to do with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three.

Excited, Loki barely remembered to grab Gungnir as he rushed out of his chambers, startling his night guard outside.

"Where to, Your Majesty?" one of the Einherjar inquired as they fell into place around him.

"The library," Loki told him.

While it would be officially closed, as a member of the royal family, Loki had unlimited access whenever he should want it. He was probably the only one who had made use of it in centuries, but he honestly liked it that way. The silence and solitude allowing him to get far more done than during the library's official opening hours. As such, he was easily able to get in and he headed straight for the government and law sections, already having an idea of where to begin his search from the last time he had looked up the topic. Grabbing the five most likely tomes, Loki walked to the nearest secluded table - knowing it would make it easier for his guard to find good positions around him - and settled in, losing all track of time as he started his research.

Loki had no idea how much time had passed when Livunn's voice penetrated his thoughts, but the table was covered with books, his parchment was covered in notes and Loki was certain his long hair was a mess from where he had absently been running his hand through it while researching.

"See, here he is," Livunn was saying when Loki looked up from his notes.

His personal servant was leading a slightly worried looking Lieutenant-General Yngvarr and the rest of his dayshift of guards over to where he was seated. A quick glance over at the closest window showed that, aye, dawn had passed and the new day begun.

The way Livunn bit her lower lip to keep from smiling, and the fond look which crossed her face, told Loki his hair truly was a mess, and he pulled his left hand from it and self-consciously tried to smooth it down, though he knew it would likely take a spell to fully tame it. Damn stuff had curled even when shorter and he could not imagine it being any better now 'twas longer.

"Your Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr greeted as Livunn curtsied.

"Yngvarr, Livunn," Loki replied, absently aware of the Einherjar as they changed shift.

"When would you like breakfast, Majesty?" Livunn asked, eyes trailing over all of the books on the table.

It had taken a while, and a lot of tomes, but Loki had finally found all of the information he had been looking for. The indentured servitude was an old punishment which had been popular when Ásgarðr was being built and when she had been in need of rebuilding after the myrkálfar attack during the beginning of his gr- Borr's reign. It had fallen out of favor not because of any change of opinion, but rather because it had been deemed there was simply not enough work left for prisoners to do. Loki was certain he could overcome such a trifle limitation as that, since his desire to see his former companions shackled, collared and unable to do anything but obey was simply too great. Besides, the four of them had always made such a big deal out of status and appearances, thus he found it very fitting this would render them below even the poorest of Ásgarðr's freemen.

"I will partake of it now, as I am done here," Loki said, rising to his feet and rolling up his parchment of notes. "Please have it sent to the study."

"Of course, my Liege," Livunn replied, before she hesitated.

"Aye?" Loki prompted, not used to her hesitating.

"Uh, 'tis simply your, ah, attire," Livunn replied, glancing down at his chest.

Looking down himself, Loki was abruptly reminded he had simply thrown on something comfortable as he normally would to study. Which was all good and well, but as king he could not go about dressed thus. With a scowl, he closed his eyes and concentrated on what he had within easy reach. The first was the, now repaired, leather armor outfit he had worn to Jötunheimr. Part of him wanted to reject it outright and, because of that, he forced himself to don it. He refused to let Laufey have any say in dictating his life and, to cast aside an outfit he had liked as much as this one because of what he had discovered on Jötunheimr, would be to do so.

His appearance rippled green-gold for a moment as he magically altered his outfit, slightly startling more than one of the Einherjar as he did so. They would either become used to his greater propensity to utilize seiðr than his father or they would not. With another spell, Loki ran his hands over his hair, taming it and pulling it back into a short tail to keep himself from displaying his tiredness and unease by toying with it later.

"There, now begone, woman," Loki muttered.

"My King," Livunn bowed, her shaking shoulders giving away her mirth.

With a twitch of his lips, Loki moved to follow her out of the library, pausing only long enough to nod at Lady Dagrún. He knew she would not be pleased with him for leaving the books on the table, but he had other matters to attend to. He simply made a mental note to make it up to her later. She always forgave him if he brought some new book back with him from his travels.

"I had not realized you planned to be up so early, my King," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said softly as the man appeared beside him.

Loki snorted and sent Yngvarr a dark look. He hated being played or prodded for answers. Besides, it had been more than obvious to all of them he had hardly planned this.

"I neither left Iðavöllr nor ditched my guards, Lieutenant-General," Loki retorted. "I am hardly being careless."

Nay, he was being careful and responsible. So much so 'twas starting to drive Loki more than a little mad. If he was not keenly aware of quite how gravely he was wounded and weakened with his fraying and fragile magical core, he would have long since done something which would have driven both General Týr and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr to distraction. He was being good, very good. Unbelievably good for him even. They should be thankful for it rather than wanting more.

"Nay, of course not, Your Majesty," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied.

Loki stopped and turned directly to the man. "Do you not trust your men, Lieutenant-General?"

"What? Nay, I mean, aye, of course I do."

"Then I hardly see what the problem is," Loki stated as he began walking once more.

He was not a little child! Óðinn owed him when his adoptive father finally decided to wake up, not that Loki expected him to do so yet. Not until the war with Jötunheimr had been averted anyway. And to think people believed he wanted this, any of it!

Chapter Text

By mid-morning, Loki was in an even fouler mood than he had been earlier, and he could only thank the Nine 'twas not a petition day as he knew he could not handle dealing with anyone's petty squabbles today on top of everything else. Simply dealing with all of the parchmentwork was enough to drive him to distraction, but he knew well the importance of keeping the normal workings of government going, especially in a time of war as everything could unravel if their base was not solid and so he worked away at the large stack of parchments which required the king's official approval to be legitimate.

"Aye, what?" Loki snapped at the knock on his study door.

"Your Majesty?" General Týr replied, entering. "Would you like me to come back later?"

Later? Oh, right, they had a meeting planned to go over anything pertaining to Niflheimr and the security of the talks.

"Nay, nay, now is good, I have other meetings later," Loki said.

Other meetings and the applications for the King's Funds had, finally, started arriving and he really did want to get to those. And he had yet to have any free time to figure out how he felt about not only meeting his birth father again tomorrow, but having to play nice with the man.

The one who had elected to abandon him to die as an infant.

"Does your second-in-command ever take a day off, General?" Loki snipped in an effort to distance himself from the pain the thought still somehow managed to cause him despite how oft he told himself he did not care.

Laufey was just another damn frost giant after all!

With a bright flare of pain, another thin strand frayed and snapped deep within his magical core, sending pain lancing through him.

Startled, General Týr glanced over at Lieutenant-General Yngvarr for a second before returning his attention to Loki. "Uh, not at a time like this, Your Majesty."

How diplomatic. Clearly, Týr could be taught.

"He cannot work every day," Loki persisted stubbornly.

"We are but days away from an attempt on your life, my Liege," General Týr began. "You can hardly expect us to be lax now of all times."

The logic grated since Loki could not argue with it as he rubbed his hand over his face, only to look up and see concern on the general's face.

"Do I look so terrible?" Loki inquired.

Týr's "Nay, Your Majesty" overlapped with an "Aye" from near the door, and Loki looked over to see Livunn entering the chamber.

"I do not recall saying you could enter," Loki muttered.

"The door was not fully closed," Livunn replied, as if that excused the unwanted intrusion.

"What are you doing here?" Loki asked.

"Making you tea."

As she said it, Livunn turned on his tea set and then opened his box, making it very clear which leaves and flowers she was selecting, which only made Loki mock moan as he recognized them as relaxants and one for irritability.

"Remind me why I have not replaced you yet," Loki said.

"Because you are quite particular and it would take too long to train a replacement," Livunn replied cheerfully.

"Are you calling me difficult?" Loki asked, turning to look at the wide eyed general now standing before his desk. "Is she calling me difficult?"

"I would not dream of doing so, my King," Livunn answered sweetly, adding the hot water to his cup.

Despite himself, Loki laughed once, both at the tone and her words. As if. She had called him difficult and worse in the past when he had needed it most. But that was then and there, in the privacy of his own chambers. Out here, in what was essentially the public as far as his privacy went, she would not do so, not least because he was king now.

Pointedly leaving the leaves and flowers in to stew and strengthen the concoction, Livunn brought the cup over to his desk and placed it beside him.

"Drink up," she insisted with a small smile. "It will do you good."

The burst of irritation already gone, Loki nonetheless gave her a look.

"I already have a mother," he stated.

"Aye, and Norns bless her," Livunn retorted, startling another laugh out of him. "The kitchens tell me lunch will be ready in an hour or so."

With that she was gone, and Loki could only shake his head as he turned his attention to his tea and decided to leave the leaves and petals in before taking a sip. 'Twas a very pleasant mix, even if the fact he required this particular one grated more than a little. Glancing back up at the general, Loki found a very interested and slightly thoughtful expression on Týr's face.

"Do not let that give you any ideas," Loki warned, knowing the man would have caught on to how well Livunn had just managed his mood.

"Nay, of course not, my King," General Týr replied quickly.

"And it would seem I owe both you and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr an apology," Loki added, though the words nearly caught in his throat, but he forced them out.

General Týr smiled. "Believe me, we have both had worse."

That made Loki laugh. "Hmm, that I can well believe," Loki said, thinking of his father's recent shouting match with Thor.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" General Týr inquired.

Loki smiled. "Nay."

Not unless the man could do more about dreams than a seiðmadr. Loki had simply become lax in raising his guard before he went to sleep. He would not make that mistake again tonight.

"Now, how are things on Niflheimr?" Loki inquired.


After the meeting with General Týr, Loki had a quick lunch before Lord Aðalgrímr joined him so they could finalize their strategy for dealing with Laufey-King and going over those closest to the jötnar king. Or at least those Lord Aðalgrímr knew about. With what Loki had been able to see via Hliðskjálf, they were able to tentatively identify a few of Laufey-King's advisors but the rest were wild cards. In areas like this, isolating a Realm cut both ways and it meant they were operating partially blind and Loki dared not mention what he had learned while speaking with his birth father before, to arrange the disruption of Thor's coronation.

"We are needing to leave far more up to chance than I like," Lord Aðalgrímr admitted, leaning back in his chair.

"I concur, but at least we know Laufey will be working with the same disadvantages, if not more so," Loki pointed out.

"There is that, at least."

"Enter," Loki called when there was a knock on the door. "Ah, General Týr, just in time."

"Your Majesty, Lord Aðalgrímr," General Týr greeted, claiming the seat beside Lord Aðalgrímr at Loki's gesture. "How come the preparations?"

"As good as can be considering the circumstances," Lord Aðalgrímr replied.

"I see. Before we begin discussing the Casket of Ancient Winters, there is one other issue I feel we need to discuss."

"Hmm?" Loki inquired.

"I have spoken with Höðr again and it would seem the humans have moved on to what they call a sleep deprivation tactic with Thor," General Týr said. "This involves keeping him awake with loud noises and bright lights whenever he would seek to sleep."

Loki cursed and rubbed his hand over his face. "Damn, we will need to retrieve him. Lord Aðalgrímr, who would you recommend we send to speak with the humans? Lord Birgir?"

"Aye, he would probably be best as he has always held a certain fascination with the mortals and would be the least likely to inadvertently misstep with them," Lord Aðalgrímr agreed. "The biggest question will be how much of an escort we give him."

"Aye, 'tis tricky," Loki said. "That they are willing to use violence has already been proven, though not without a certain amount of provocation."

"If I may, I would recommend a smaller group," General Týr suggested. "Even if they react violently, their weapons cannot hurt us and a smaller escort will more likely be seen as such. Plus, Höðr will be able to extract them quickly should it become necessary to do so."

"I also believe the humans will not view us as such a great threat," Loki stated. "They have moved away from swords and spears and view them as primitive in comparison to their guns."

"Guns, my Liege?" Lord Aðalgrímr asked.

"Projectile weapons which can punch a hole through the bodies of other mortals."

"But not through us?" General Týr checked.

"Nay, not the last time I was there."

That made the two of them glance at each other and Loki simply smiled. Let them think he had been lucky enough to find a portal to Miðgarðr and had been unable to resist visiting them. His insatiable curiosity was quite well known on Ásgarðr, though generally not looked upon terribly well. They were far too stagnant a society to value such a trait, and all which came with it. Not that they had not appreciated the results of his studies on more than one occasion.

"Who will you send, General?" Loki asked.

"Assuming this will likely be done tomorrow, I would like to send Lieutenant-General Yngvarr as he cannot accompany us with me attending the peace talks," General Týr said.

Nay, Loki could see how sending both military leaders to face an enemy, even at a truce, was not a good idea.

"And just when he thought he had a day off," Loki teased, looking over at the man in question.

"I would grow bored, my Liege," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said.

"Was Höðr able to provide any details as to the mortals' qualms with Thor?" Lord Aðalgrímr asked.

"Mostly it seems to be a case of them wanting to learn more information on us as we seem to be the first contact they can remember having with livings beings from another Realm," General Týr replied. "It would appear they have forgotten our previous contacts."

"Not so much forgotten as written them off as the myths and legends of more primitive tribes," Loki commented. "Their tales of us are actually rather entertaining and oft hopelessly muddled. To them I am apparently a father a few times over already, including to Hel."

"Truly?" Lord Aðalgrímr's eyebrows shot up.

"Hmm. They also speak of Heimdallr as the whitest of gods."

This time even General Týr looked amused, and Loki fondly recalled all of the times he had spent in various human libraries, reading up on what they called Norse mythology. It had been a vastly amusing, if at times disgusting, experience. He still chuckled to himself when he recalled some of the stories. Others, however, had oft hit far too close to home to be entirely comforting. The fact that the mortals had correctly identified Laufey as one of his parents before he had for instance... He had simply written it off as one more instance of wrong lineages - look at Óðinn's massive brood by human standards after all - but now, well now 'twas far less amusing than it had once been.

"I will warn Lord Birgir of this, lest one of their myths interfere with the negotiations," Lord Aðalgrímr said.

"A good point. But as for the negotiations themselves, if Höðr is correct, then I assume they fear some of our warriors will appear as Lady Sif and the Warriors Three did before."

"They may even have taken their attack on some of their people as a sign of war," General Týr added.

Just what he needed, a second war.

"Let us hope it does not come to that," Loki responded. "But give Lord Birgir the authority to offer weregeld if necessary, and he can promise I shall include the attack among the list of crimes I shall try Lady Sif and the others for."

"What if they ask about Mjǫllnir?" Lord Aðalgrímr asked. "As I understand, the hammer lays where it fell when it arrived on Miðgarðr."

"It does," Loki confirmed. "Warn them that should Thor prove his worth it will return to him, so they should not enclose it in anything they do not wish broken, but otherwise it cannot be moved by another to harm them."

While Óðinn had muttered the 'whosoever' should be found worthy would be able to wield Mjǫllnir, Loki knew far better than to take the All-Father's words at face value. There was simply no way Óðinn would allow anyone else to possess either it or Thor's power. The man was far too jealous of that type of power to simply hand it away to another, especially one not of Ásgarðr. Óðinn would not see someone like that as worthy, so they would be ruled out that way anyway.

Loki paused as he suddenly realized just how much of his childhood that sentiment explained away, which at the time had always seemed random or arbitrary.

"Does Lord Birgir have the authority to claim Thor as a prince of Ásgarðr for the purposes of the negotiations if necessary?" Lord Aðalgrímr inquired.

"Aye," Loki confirmed instantly.

He was not leaving his brother at the mercy of the humans simply because Thor was not currently seen as such officially. The mortals would never know the difference.

"Good, it should make them aware of the gravity of the situation," Lord Aðalgrímr stated.

"It might also be good to mention to them it has been Ásgarðr's protection which has kept other forces from encroaching upon Miðgarðr," General Týr suggested.

"It should not hurt, and it could help explain to them why they have not seen others from the Nine before," Loki concurred. "But if Lord Birgir does utilize this argument, he will need to word the necessity for the protection carefully. The humans like to see themselves as advanced, telling them otherwise will prickle their pride."

'Twas an amusing feature of humanity and one Loki had quite oft been guilty of exploiting for his own pleasure, but this was diplomacy they were discussing. Such tactics had no place here if he wished to have his brother returned to him swiftly.

"Duly noted," Lord Aðalgrímr said.

The thing which Loki liked best about Miðgarðr was that which they excelled at beyond all of the Nine. Their ingenuity and drive to keep advancing and bettering themselves. They displayed none of the stagnancy so many of the rest of the Nine did, continually reinventing both themselves and their... technology. 'Twas utterly fascinating to observe and Loki had been meaning to return soon to see what they had managed to invent since his last visit almost a century ago. It promised to be extensive given their recent trajectory.

"Is there any value to mentioning the current war with Jötunheimr?" Lord Aðalgrímr asked.

Loki paused to consider it for a moment. On the one hand it would show weakness before one of the lesser worlds, but at the same time it would explain a lot of things for Miðgarðr. Such as why Thor had been mortalized and banished to their world in the first place (well if one ignored the fact that Óðinn probably saw it as a harmless place to send his weakened son), or why the king did not come for his brother himself. It could also serve to reveal the gravity of the universe humanity was on the cusp of entering, since he believed they were rapidly approaching more extended space travel give or take a century or two.

So, truly, 'twas high time to make them more aware of the seriousness of such an endeavor.

"Aye," Loki finally decided. "But keep it for if they ask why Thor was sent to Miðgarðr in the first place, or why I have not come for him in person."

A distant caw drew Loki's attention to the balcony and so he saw Huginn soar into the chamber. Instead of circling a few times as Muninn liked to do, Huginn came straight for him and landed on his arm which Loki had raised for him, perching on his vambrace.

"Hello, Huginn," Loki greeted before he frowned, smelling singed feathers. "Are you alright?"

"Simply an unfortunate encounter with a little fire demon," Huginn reassured, turning to rearrange a feather in his tail. "I shall recover."

"Fire demon? You were on Múspellsheimr then I take it."

"Aye. News of Óðinn's sleep has reached the court of Queen Sinmara and things are beginning to stir in the dark. Word of Surtr rises once more."

"'Tis not good. Please do keep an eye on the situation there if you can do so safely."

Huginn huffed, his feathers ruffling in offence. "Of course we can keep doing our job."

"Do let me know if a fire retardant spell would be of aid," Loki replied instead of laughing.

The raven's offence was amusing, but he had no intention of offending one of his two best spies, particularly not given the secrets Muninn held.

"Thank you, little Loki."

Huginn had already taken flight before Loki could reply, and he was left muttering about the benefits of plotting raven murder.

General Týr was chuckling. "Sometimes I do wish I could hear them as you now bear the same look your father oft sports after conferring with Huginn and Muninn."

"Somehow I doubt they call him little to his face," Loki grumbled, making both of them laugh. "More worryingly, Múspellsheimr stirs, and news of father's condition has reached the court of Queen Sinmara."

Lord Aðalgrímr sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. Loki knew exactly how the man felt. It seemed like each of the Nine but their closest allies wanted to try to gain a piece of Ásgarðr in this perceived moment of weakness. Perhaps they should be glad the myrkálfar were believed to be dead and the svartálfar liked to play dead so well most believed they had been wiped out with the war between Borr and Malekith.

"Did the raven bring the news of gathering armies?" General Týr asked.

"Nay, nothing so concrete just yet," Loki replied, rising to his feet. "Norns willing, it will stay that way too."

"Our war with Jötunheimr might work to our advantage here," Lord Aðalgrímr said while he and the general rose as well, following Loki as he made for the vault. "The eldþursar and the jötnar hate each other more than they hate us, so Queen Sinmara is unlikely to want to do anything to help Laufey-King win."

"Aye, but they may wish to strike as soon as we have won against Jötunheimr, if it comes to actual battle," General Týr muttered darkly.

"Let us focus on the enemy we know we have and wait to see how the rest progresses," Loki suggested. "We are already preparing for battle, so there is little more we can do."

"Well, I may just expand the scenarios being prepared for," General Týr said. "Attack by fire can be quite different from attack by ice."

"Fine, but do not make it so clear. We do not need word getting back to Queen Sinmara our army is preparing to attack her."

"Norns forbid!" Lord Aðalgrímr exclaimed.

"Join us, Lieutenant-General," Loki said when they reached the vault.

'Twas more to keep the rest of the Einherjar out, but it would be good to get Yngvarr's input as well. The man was a brilliant strategist in his own right and they needed as many people as possible thinking of how the Casket of Ancient Winters could be used as a weapon in order to restrict all those capabilities. Plus, unless he wanted to be the only one able to fetch and return the Casket, he needed to adjust the Destroyer to accepting at least one of them as well.


Finally back in his own chambers later that evening, and alone after Livunn had left, Loki sighed and sat down, unable to put off an unpleasant necessity any longer. He cleared his mind of all else so he could turn his focus inward on himself and, while he had done this countless times before ever since he had first started studying seiðr, this time was different. This time he was looking for the lie which lay over his very skin.

While Loki had no desire whatsoever to poke at the illusion or shift which made him look æsir, his talk with Lord Aðalgrímr earlier about the negotiations tomorrow had reminded him of a jötnar custom he had once heard Óðinn muttering about centuries ago. The infamous Ymir's sýra. 'Twas a drink served to start off the negotiations, but it turned out most other species could not bear the taste of it. Lord Aðalgrímr had recommended he toss it back as quickly as possible, and try not to taste it as he did so.

Loki had enough experience with other foreign delicacies which were unpalatable to know how well that worked. Therefore he had instead wondered if he could perhaps shift his taste buds and digestive track back to their... natural jötunn form while leaving the rest of his appearance unchanged. It would allow him to consume the Ymir's sýra in a far more dignified fashion which should not only serve to thwart Laufey-King (always a good thing as far as he was concerned), but also to make an impression and that could be critically important on the first day of the negotiations.

Mother Winter cautiously stirred at the back of his mind as he looked within himself and Loki welcomed her in, curious to see what she felt she could offer. He had not felt much from her since their bonding in the vault two days ago, but he had felt her at the back of his mind ever since. Whenever he had reached out towards her, he had received back a slew of positive emotions, but not much else. While he could tell she possessed the same intelligence as Ásgarðr, if not more, it seemed their initial bonding had taken a lot of energy which she had needed to recuperate. It made some sense as they were currently on Ásgarðr rather than Jötunheimr, so any connection would be far weaker even with the Casket of Ancient Winters so close.

At times it had been all Loki could do not to drop his other duties in favor of attempting to explore his new connection further, or seeing if he could do anything to enhance it. Only his own determination to make these negotiations work, and the vague sense that Mother Winter did not wish him distracted from them, had kept him from doing so. It did mean he was ecstatic to feel her stir within his mind now, Ásgarðr reacting joyously too.

The first area Mother Winter drew his focus to made Loki frown as 'twas his left small toe, not exactly a part of his body he had ever considered while meditating. Which was probably why Óðinn had selected it as his anchor point, as Loki could feel his adoptive father's seiðr there now he focused on it. 'Twas subtle, very subtle, but there nonetheless. As he carefully probed at it, Loki realized the reason it was so faint was because 'twas not a large spell or working. Nay, instead 'twas a small one, just enough to prevent him from shifting back into his birth form accidentally.

The more Loki examined it, the more impressed he was, and he could not help but feel a reluctant admiration. All the working did was prevent any unintentional shift. It did nothing to block intended ones, which was why both his arm and his entire body had shifted before; when attacked or when he had touched the Casket of Ancient Winters. Though it could be viewed as a flaw, seeing how it could allow him to discover the truth, Loki could not help but give Óðinn the benefit of the doubt for once.

He had, after all, never thought his adoptive father wished him physical harm and that was precisely what the lack of complete block had prevented.

True, there was a cynical part of Loki which could not help but wonder if 'twas not due to the fact that a block would have left a greater spell signature upon him. Not to mention it would have been suspicious if, during his experimenting with his shapeshifting abilities, he had found himself completely unable to shift into just one particular form. Yet, despite all of that, in this particular circumstance, Loki felt less inclined to think ill of Óðinn despite all Loptr had told him of what the man would have done had his core snapped.

A quick glance at why showed Ásgarðr not exactly influencing his feelings, but strongly supporting the magnanimity and he prodded at her, wondering if this was because she knew more of what Óðinn had been thinking at the time. She seemed to flutter agreement at him and he hummed, deciding to simply accept it for now as he neither had the time nor the emotional capacity to truly explore the issue at present.

The true beauty and elegance of the working, though, was that it simply relied almost entirely on his own innate seiðr, thereby preventing him from seeing it up until now. Loki truly was rather impressed with it, and it made him reconsider Óðinn's capacity for cunning, though he had always known his adoptive father was capable of it from some of the old battle plans of Óðinn's he had studied. The fact Thor had studied those even more closely than him and had never been able to see it, had always exasperated Loki.

Mother Winter swirled around the spell with an eagerness it took Loki a moment to understand, as 'twas not the emotion he would have associated with that particular action.

She wished for him to undo Óðinn's spell.

"Nay," Loki responded, shaking his head.

Though he had never had any real trouble shifting before, once he had learned to control it, Loki did not want to risk removing this working only to discover this, of all shifts, would be different. Nor could he afford to at present.

Mother Winter pouted at him and it nearly made Loki laugh. 'Twas odd to think of an entity as old as her pouting, but that was what it felt like to him. 'Twas followed by reassurance, which he took to mean she thought he would be alright without Óðinn's seiðr, but he was king now and 'twas no longer simply himself or a small number of people he was responsible for, but a whole Realm directly and the rest of the Nine indirectly, including Jötunheimr.

Mother Winter relented, but Loki could feel her displeasure at the need to do so. While he had no desire to take on his jötunn form, he could, theoretically, understand why she felt the way she did. Not that it altered his own feelings on the matter any.

Loki soon forgot about that particular duality as he teased the edge of his shift and he came across something odd. 'Twas something he had not seen in years, not since he had learned firsthand the importance of ensuring he did a complete shift. Back then he had been caught out because he had not been able to hear something all rjúfendr could hear, thus revealing him as an imposter, even if they had been confused by his ability to shift rather than merely creating an illusion around himself long enough for him to get away. But this...

It was with a shock Loki realized his æsir skin was almost really simply that; a skin. His shift hardly had any depth to it at all, except in a few anatomically strategic places. While he was particularly thankful of the latter, the feeling hardly penetrated through his shock.

It explained rather a lot, Loki finally thought once his mind was able to start processing this new revelation. His increased sensitivity to heat, his complete and utter loathing of some of Ásgarðr's favorite foods, and his increased hearing and better night vision. They were all explained by this.

'Twas with a sense of dread and horror that Loki realized even like this, in his current form, he was essentially a jötunn in æsir clothing. His core gave a sharp pang as it tore and stretched even further, but he could not help it. Even after his discovery, he had assumed that in this form he really was æsir in every way which truly counted. After all, when he shifted into female form, he truly was female, all the way down to the point he could conceive and bear children. Well, apparently, he could do it now regardless, but still, other shifters who were not jötunn had done so before.

Perhaps he should have realized the truth earlier, since what did a newborn know of proper shifting? But still, it had not, and Loki did not know if 'twas because he had not wanted to realize it, or because he was still too much in shock to have thought through all of the implications of what Óðinn had revealed before collapsing. He hoped for the latter rather than the former because, much as he hated the truth, Loki hated being so perceptually blinded by his own shortcomings even more. Besides, the latter made sense. He had not exactly had any spare time to truly sit down and think of it; to carefully consider all of the angles and implications, even if he had wanted to.

Now he did, though, Loki frowned. Much as he preferred his reproductive anatomy as it was, how would an infant know to shift that? 'Twas not exactly something he could tell on sight was different. Had one of his adoptive parents aided his shifting there, or had he perhaps subconsciously done it himself as a toddler when he and Thor had always been bathed together? It hardly mattered, but 'twas a bit of an exception to the rest of his shift which seemed mostly based on what one could tell of an æsir on sight.

Oddly enough, Loki could also feel an additional level of shift on the top of his head. If he did not know íviðjur had hair, he would have assumed that was why, but they did. So why was it there? Loki called up the mental image of the illustration from Bestla's book, but he could not recall seeing anything there which would explain it. Strange. His curiosity made him want to explore it, endlessly fascinated despite himself, but he knew he did not have the time to do so now. Besides, he could ill afford to try anything which might endanger his ability to shift back since Ásgarðr could not afford to lose him now as well as his adoptive father and brother.

Not to mention Loki had no idea how anyone else like Lieutenant-General Yngvarr or the High Council would react if his true form and heritage were to be revealed.

It truly did not bear thinking of.

Instead, Loki focused his attention on his mouth and digestive tract. Other than an alteration to the color of his tongue and the shape of his teeth, he found they were entirely in their natural form. Wait, nay, 'twas not quite right. Loki frowned as he probed at it. There was something else there, something vaguely familiar...

It was with a start Loki realized he recognized the pattern of seiðr which lay there, even if it did not quite match the seiðr itself. 'Twas his mother's signature, but done with his seiðr. His forehead furrowed at it. How? A moment later realization dawned as he noticed the shift lay over the parts of his mouth which detected temperature. Of course, a jötunn would need alterations and protections there in eating heated food.

There was a flash of what felt like remembered pain as Loki recalled a sense of his whole mouth being on fire, but he could not be certain whether 'twas real or imagined, induced by the very easily pictured scenario. He would not be surprised if Óðinn had simply taken his shift at face value, as the man had spoken of his changing when touched.

He was not entirely certain he wanted to either know or remember what had happened the first time he had been fed warmed food. Loki winced at the mere thought and left the seiðr alone. He could guess from the signature Frigga had stepped in to help him adjust his mouth to be able to eat without burning all of the soft tissue, and he had subconsciously kept those modifications exactly as she had shown him.

What all of this meant, though, was he did not need to do anything in order to be able to drink Ymir's sýra without any ill effects, as Lord Aðalgrímr had mentioned 'twas served at chamber temperature. Which, though lower on Niflheimr than Ásgarðr, would not be so low as to bother the æsir any, thus he would be fine.

Goal accomplished, Loki withdrew from his meditation, not wishing to linger on his true biology any longer than absolutely necessary.

Chapter Text

Thor roared as his sleep was once again interrupted by the bright lights in the small chamber he was being held in coming on. Every single time he had either fallen asleep or been close to it, they had either turned on the lights or filled the chamber with a screeching noise they called heavy metal, though Thor failed to see how metal had anything to do with it. His appreciation for humans was quickly disappearing even as he tried hard to remember the kindness shown to him by Ladies Jane and Darcy and Lord Selvig, since he did not think his father meant for him to learn to hate the mortals. Nay, he tried to reserve his anger for the son of Coul and the other agents of SHIELD who kept him locked up here. He did have some sympathy for them as four of their men had been hurt and rather worse than he knew his friends had intended, but they were not used to such fragile bodies as humans had.

The sudden opening of the door startled Thor upright in his chair and caused him to pull at the chains attaching his wrists to the table. 'Twas sad how this was all which was required to hold him at present.

"How is depriving me of sleep meant to aid you in obtaining information from me?" Thor demanded, before he realized he did not, in fact, recognize the dark-skinned man with only one eye before him. "It will not make me have words with you."

"That's good to know," the man replied. "My name is Director Nicolas Fury and I'm the head of SHIELD."

"You are the superior of the son of Coul?"

"What? Ah, yes, I am."

"He acts most dishonorably, telling me I am free to go only to have men follow me around," Thor protested. "Such behavior would not be tolerated on Ásgarðr."

"But we aren't on Ásgarðr and here I will do anything and everything in my power to protect Earth, even using sneaky and underhanded means, if necessary," Fury stated.

Thor frowned. "You sound like my brother."

That seemed to startle the human and Thor could not help but wonder how his brother would react to the comparison. He doubted Loki would be much pleased, though Thor was beginning to realize it had been a long time since he had truly been able to predict Loki's words and reactions. It made him sad as he thought about all his new friends had said and the events on Jötunheimr. He could see now how rashly he had acted and how very nearly his brother had managed to avoid the war. If he had only not reacted to that princess comment, then he would not be here, and Loki would not have had to take on the burden of Hliðskjálf.

"Look, Thor, I'll be honest with you, your presence here makes me uncomfortable, very uncomfortable," Director Fury stated. "And that of your friends even more so. In addition to the accounts of all four of my men they assaulted, we have eyewitness accounts of people from Puente Antiguo saying they saw them lifting a car with just one hand or overheard them talking about how long it had been since they've been on Earth."

Oh, that was bad, Father would not be pleased to know the humans now knew so much.

"Can you see why this would make me uncomfortable?"

"Aye," Thor replied, looking at his hands. "I do not believe Lady Sif and the Warriors Three meant to injure your men as much as they did. They are used to stronger and more durable opponents."

"See, that is part of what worries me," the man of Fury stated. "That you are all so effortlessly powerful. Even you were able to take out scores of my most highly trained men and Doctors Foster and Selvig tell me you said that you are considered neutered."

"What is this word, neutered? I do not know it."

"That isn't important," Director Fury waved off. "What is important is that I've had five of you down here in less than a week, acting as if you can just come to Earth and trample all over us whenever you want. And the names mentioned of some of the others worries me even more."

"Names?" Thor asked with a frown.

He had not mentioned any names to the son of Coul, he had been very careful of that.

"Miss Lewis in particular mentioned Óðinn and Loki, both of which concerns me greatly if the myths are anything to go by."

Thor's stomach dropped as he thought of some of the stories he and his friends had told the mortals of Loki the last time they were here. If those were still remembered...

"Father is indisposed at the moment," Thor said.

"So I've heard," Fury stated, glaring down at some notes he had. "Which leaves your... brother, Loki, in charge, yes?"

"Aye," Thor confirmed, reluctantly.

"I have to say, the myths have nothing on your relationship. They say Loki isn't even one of you, but a, what was the name? Oh, right, a frost giant."

"What?" Thor boomed, trying and failing to get to his feet. "Do not even suggest that! My brother is not a monster!"

Rather than seeming to have impressed the man with his words or volume, Director Fury had merely leaned back in his chair and gave him a look far too similar to that which he had once oft seen on his father's face when he was younger. Thor clenched his fists and resettled himself as best he could, given he had sent the chair backwards a bit in his attempt to rise.

"I'm just telling you what our myths say," Director Fury continued. "I understand there is some concern over your brother's rule?"

"I..." Thor flushed, not liking how Ásgarðr's business was now being discussed by the mortals. "Loki was never meant to be king, I was, so he has not been trained for the position."

There, that did not sound too bad, did it? Thor was actually rather proud of it.

"From what I understand, the concerns were rather more dire than that."

"Loki has done naught to warrant it. If I had listened to him, then I would not be here now."

"Something about an altercation on another planet, I heard."

Thor scowled. Why had someone told SHIELD so much of what he had told them? He had not thought the Ladies Jane and Darcy, or Lord Selvig, liked SHIELD.

"'Twas Ásgarðrian business," Thor replied.

"It became my business when your father saw fit to send you to my planet as punishment for it," Director Fury argued, pulling a piece of paper from his folder and putting it on the table between them. "Now, which of these planets did you have your fight on?"

The sheet of paper had the drawing Thor had made of the Yggdrasill and the Nine Realms, but it did not look like they had ripped it from Lady Jane's book.

"How did you get this?" Thor demanded.

"That isn't important right now, my question is."

A knock on the door interrupted them before the son of Coul stuck his head into the chamber.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Sir, but you'll want to see this," Coulson stated.

"I'll want that answer when I'm back," the man of Fury said as he gathered his folder and left.

Thor pulled the drawing close to examine it, but he did not know what to make of it. 'Twas clearly the drawing he had made, but the parchment felt completely smooth, without any of the... pen's indentations of the drawing. Was this a copy of it?

Uncertain, Thor put the parchment back down on the table and wished for some water. At first they had given him regular, if small, cups, but they had stopped doing so yesterday. Or at least Thor thought 'twas yesterday. As the chamber had no windows and they kept turning the lights on and off, Thor could no longer be certain. He suddenly felt an intense longing for home which he had not felt in a very long time. Aye, he had wished to go back to Ásgarðr before, but 'twas the normal longing to return and prove to his father he had learned his lesson and was now ready to be king.

This was different. This was a deep, gut wrenching desire to go home. To see his mother and father again, even if only in the Óðinnsleep. To see Loki and Ásgarðr. To walk the halls of Iðavöllr and stand atop the rainbow bridge and feel the sea breeze on his face.

It felt like back when Thor was young and he had broken a leg on one of the first solo adventures he had not been allowed to go on, but which he had snuck out to do anyway. He had been lost on Vanaheimr, alone in the woods in the rain and in pain, unable to call on Heimdallr for aid due to an amulet he had stolen from Father to keep his excursion secret. He still did not quite know how his brother had found him, but he had been eternally grateful Loki had as he had commenced having visions of withering and dying out there all alone without ever being found. As horrible as 'twas, the memory brought a smile to Thor's face as 'twas the first time he had discovered his little brother could teleport as he had been far too heavy for Loki to carry back on his own and his brother had not wanted to leave him alone to go back and fetch help.

Thor frowned as he recalled the large, genuine smile which had crossed Loki's face at his amazement and praise of the skill. When had his brother's ability to teleport himself and others become mundane and expected, rather than amazing and awe inspiring? And when was the last time he had seen such a genuine and carefree smile on Loki's face? Thor could not for the life of him remember, and it made him sad. Had they truly grown so far apart he was not able to see his brother when Loki was happy?

A darker thought suddenly occurred, and Thor bit his lower lip as he tried to deny it. Surely Loki still felt so carefree and happy at times? Surely he had not lost all of that. Aye, of course, he had to. Thor simply was not able to view it anymore because... because of what? Was it his brother not wanting to share it with him (which hurt more than Thor was ready to admit), or had he pushed Loki aside too much for it? Though he did not wish it to be true, Thor could immediately think of more than a few instances where he had brushed Loki off as he was too busy or his brother had been too boring, talking about seiðr or diplomacy when he had wanted to focus on battle or adventuring.

Or his coronation.

Thor suddenly felt small at the thought he might have inadvertently driven Loki away. How surprised had he been, after all, to find his brother waiting for him before the coronation ceremony? And how quickly had he accused him of insincerity? He would probably have pulled away from himself too if he had been Loki. The question was had he broken all of his brother's trust or merely severely damaged it? Was this part of why Loki had refused to allow him to return after becoming king?

The opening of the door drew Thor back to the present and he looked up to see both the man of Fury and the son of Coul entering, hard looks on their faces.

"Who are these people?" Director Fury demanded, placing a thin black device before him and bringing up an image.

Though the image was from far away, Thor could immediately tell 'twas of a group of Einherjar, their distinctive uniforms standing out even from afar. Then Fury moved his finger over the image, and it was replaced by a new one, this time much closer and he could recognize some of the people.

"Oh, I know him," Thor said, pointing to the man in the middle who wore ordinary robes.

The image changed when he touched it and Thor drew his finger back, startled.

"Who is he?" the son of Coul demanded.

"A diplomat, one of Lord Aðalgrímr's," Thor replied.

"A diplomat?" Director Fury repeated. "You don't know his name?"

"Nay, why should I?" Thor asked.

"You said you were due to be king."

"Aye."

"And you don't know the names of your key diplomates?"

"Nay, why should I?" Thor questioned, defensively. "They do the boring talking, Loki deals with most of that as he is good at it. I am better with the warriors and so help General Týr more."

"Who are the men with him?" Coulson asked.

"Einherjar," Thor replied, then clarified at their confused expressions. "Soldiers or guards. In this case, the escort for the diplomat."

"Do you always send armed guards with your diplomats?" Director Fury demanded.

"Only if 'tis to a hostile Realm or one which might be. Heimdallr must have told them you have taken me prisoner."

"Heimdallr? Who is he?"

"He is the gatekeeper of the Bifröst, he can see and hear all in the Nine Realms," Thor replied.

"What do you mean he can see and hear all? You have the technology to spy on us?"

"Nay, 'tis Heimdallr's gift, like mine is thunder and lightning," Thor paused. "Or at least 'twas, until Father took it away."

"Is there any way to hide from this gatekeeper's sight?" the son of Coul demanded.

"Only Loki has ever managed it, as far as I know."

"How?"

Thor shrugged. "Seiðr."

"What?"

"Oh, magic."

"Magic?"

"Aye, my brother is a... mage I believe you would call it. Oh," Thor said as another image appeared on the screen. "That is Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, head of the king's guard."

"Lieutenant-General," Director Fury mused. "That sounds high up."

Suddenly Thor realized he might have said too much, but he had been so surprised to see Yngvarr. What was he doing here? Surely he should be with either Loki or Father. Had something happened since Lady Sif and the Warriors Three had left?

"He would not be sent lightly," Thor responded. "Have you spoken with them?"

"No, they have requested to speak to me as the leader of those who hold you," Director Fury replied. "And they want to see you."

Hope flared within Thor at the words. Were they here to free him? He had not expected it given his father's punishment, but perhaps what Heimdallr had seen had changed Loki's mind. The thought of being able to go home excited him, but he worried about what his father would say when he woke. Would he be very mad Thor had not been able to learn the lesson Father had intended for him to learn? He did not want to be sent back once Father woke from the Óðinnsleep.

"I thought you said you were sent here as punishment until you learned a lesson," Agent Coulson stated.

"I was," Thor confirmed. "But maybe my brother does not believe I can learn it thus."

"Or he is afraid of what you might tell us."

"I would never betray Ásgarðr!" Thor roared at the implication. "I am a prince of the Realm and would never turn my back on her!"

"Sit down!" the man of Fury snapped. "We need to ask in order to know what to do."

"You will not have words with Lord... the diplomat?" Thor asked, confused.

"I am considering it."

"If you ignore them, Loki may send more to retrieve me."

"I thought you said your brother was the diplomat," Director Fury countered. "Would he really send in an extraction force?"

Though the name was unfamiliar, Thor was nearly certain he knew what the man of fury meant, and it gave him pause. Loki was always the one to urge caution over action, so his brother probably would not simply send in more warriors to rescue him if SHIELD ignored the diplomat Loki had sent. His dejection must have shown on his face as Director Fury nodded once, before turning to the son of Coul.

"Bring him," Director Fury ordered. "And let's see what this King Loki has to say."

King Loki.

'Twas the first time Thor had heard anyone use the title before his brother's name, and it sounded odd. Like something from a half-remembered dream completely out of context. He wanted to dispute it as 'twas wrong and he was supposed to be king, but he knew he could not. At present he was still ineligible even should Hliðskjálf open up again. The irony was he now relied on his brother to make him part of the line of succession once more.

As the son of Coul led Thor out of the chamber, a woman fell into place next to him and Thor wondered if she was a shield maiden like Lady Sif. She did not immediately look like one, but she did look a little like the 'agents' Thor had fought, so perhaps this was how Miðgarðrian warriors clad themselves? It seemed impractical, but Thor decided not to ask. They had not answered any of his previous questions so far.

As with the other human buildings Thor had been in, this one was a confusing mix of narrow corridors and small chambers, so he was soon lost. Luckily his escort knew where they were going, thus Thor used the time to examine his shackles instead. They were similar to the ones used to bind him to the table, but the little chain was far shorter. Unlike the shackles and chains on Ásgarðr, though, they did not tie his hands to his waist nor to his neck and he could immediately think of five different ways he could take advantage of that fault, should he wish to do so.

He pushed it to the back of mind for now. His way had landed him in this mess and even now he could hear his brother's voice hissing at him in the back of his mind. He would see if Loki's way could get him out of it, as he would be stuck if they refused to take him back because he had messed up the diplomacy.

They reached a door and Thor had to blink as they stepped outside, as 'twas a lot brighter on the other side.

"Prince Thor."

Thor looked up at the address to see the party from Ásgarðr standing not too far away, near a table which had been placed under an erected awning of sorts. He could see how it would appeal to both parties, allowing for a quick exit on the part of the Einherjar if necessary, while not giving away the design of their building for SHIELD.

"Lieutenant-General Yngvarr," Thor replied, acknowledging the lord whose name he still could not recall with an inclination of his head.

His shackles were observed with a frown, but not immediately remarked upon as Thor was led to the end of the table furthest from the party from Ásgarðr and told to sit.

"As you can see, your prince is unharmed," Director Fury stated. "And I am Director Nicholas Fury of SHIELD, the man in charge here."

"You are the leader of the humans?" the lord asked.

"Of all humans? No, we don't have just one leader. Different countries each have their own leader and ours is President Barack Obama. I, however, can speak for all of the humans here and I have been given the authority to speak for the president on these matters."

"Good. I am Lord Birgir, King Loki's representative for these talks."

Ah, aye, that was his name! Thor remembered it now.

"And the men with you beyond the lieutenant-general?"

"An escort, no more, meant to ensure my own safety."

"And for that you need the head of the king's guard?"

Thor winced at the words, trying to sink down in his seat.

"You are holding a prince of Ásgarðr, and the king is currently with the head of Ásgarðr's military."

He was? Why was Loki with General Týr? Thor had already opened his mouth to ask before he caught himself and closed it once more, opting instead to look at those his brother had sent. Besides Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, he did not immediately recognize any of the other Einherjar as being members of the king's guard, so he assumed they were regular warriors. It made him feel a little better as both Loki and their father had more need for the highly specialized king's guard than he did.

"And your people?" Lord Birgir questioned, glancing around.

"These are Agents Coulson and Hill," Director Fury introduced, indicating the woman Thor had noticed earlier. "They are part of my senior staff. The others are part of the protection detail."

"Please, have a seat," Lady Hill said when it became clear Director Fury would not.

"Thank you, my Lady," Lord Birgir replied as he and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr moved forward to do so.

"I will be honest here," Director Fury began once everyone was seated. "A lot of your people have suddenly been arriving here and we're not happy about it at all."

"I can understand, and we are sorry for it. Lady Sif and the Warriors Three disobeyed a direct royal decree in coming here, for which they will be punished," Lord Birgir replied.

Thor swallowed down the response which he wanted to make to the statement. Even his friends had admitted Loki had forbidden their coming. Much as he wished to interfere and speak on their behalf, he knew now was hardly the time. Besides, surely Loki would not be too harsh on their friends. It had only been done out of concern for him and the good of Ásgarðr that they had acted.

"They injured four of our people while here," the son of Coul stated.

"Four? I thought 'twas two."

"There were two in town and two at the... what do you call it?"

"The Bifröst," Thor said, knowing what he meant.

"Yes, the Bifröst site," Agent Coulson finished.

"I see, for that I can only apologize, reiterate they were not acting on official orders and offer to pay weregeld to the men injured," Lord Birgir replied.

"Weregeld? What's weregeld?" the man of Fury demanded.

"Compensation," Lady Hill said, before looking to Lord Birgir. "It is compensation, right? For wrongs afflicted."

"Yes, my Lady Hill, 'tis."

"Just Agent Hill, please."

"As you will."

"What kind of compensation?" Agent Coulson questioned.

"They were all four your men, working as part of the authority of your... country, aye?"

"Yes."

"And were any permanently injured in such a way as they are unlikely to recover from?"

"One may be, the others will heal."

"Then the traditional offering would be two gold bars for each of the three who would recover and three gold bars for the one who may not," Lord Birgir explained.

"Gold bars, as in actual gold bars?" Lady Agent Hill demanded, shocked.

"Aye, 'tis the standard of weregeld for the Nine Realms."

"How long is one such gold bar?" Director Fury inquired.

Lord Birgir opened his mouth to reply, before he hesitated and closed it once more.

'Twas Lieutenant-General who replied after removing his helmet. "A full gold bar would be about twice the weight of this."

Agent Coulson reached forward to accept the helmet and hefted it in his hands for a moment, before passing it on.

"It would be a decent amount," the man of Coul said, looking at the director.

"It would definitely more than cover their medical costs and time off," Lady Agent Hill added.

"And if we wanted to try and punish the perpetrators here?" Director Fury demanded.

"King Loki asked me to inform you they are to stand trial on Ásgarðr for treason and dereliction of duty in a time of war, both of which carry far higher sentences than attacking the warriors of a sovereign, foreign Realm. We can assure you they will be sufficiently punished, though their crimes here will be added to the list as well and taken into account."

"What?" Thor exclaimed, astonished. "Treason? Dereliction of duty? They would never!"

"My Prince," Lord Birgir began.

"Nay, this is Lady Sif and the Warriors Three! They are heroes of Ásgarðr."

"Prince Thor," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr snapped, and Thor straightened automatically, the response instinctive after centuries of training under the man. "Did they or did they not come to you to take Hliðskjálf from your brother?"

"Ah, they were concerned ab-"

"Aye or nay."

Thor wanted to snap back, but he was already aware of how badly all of this made Ásgarðr appear in the eyes of the humans. "Aye."

"That alone is treason, as was their act of coming here after being forbidden to do so. In addition, they abandoned their posts to do so while we are at war with Jötunheimr."

"What is the punishment for treason on Ásgarðr?" the man of Fury asked.

"There can be several, depending on the severity of the crimes and those perpetrating them, but the king can go as far as sentencing them to death," Lord Birgir responded.

Thor gulped at the words. Surely Loki would not sentence them thus. They were their friends and had only had the best of intentions in mind, of that Thor was absolutely certain. How had things turned so bad so quickly?

"Would it be possible for us to try them first, before they go back to Ásgarðr for the rest of their crimes?"

"Director," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said. "If I may, the traditional punishment for a warrior who has attacked a warrior of another Realm unprovoked, is one century per individual attacked. We are looking at four of your people here. Even if you possessed the means to imprison Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, would you be able to do so for so long?"

"A century per attack?" the son of Coul questioned, eyes wide. "That is four hundred years!"

"Aye."

"Okay," Director Fury said after a pause. "You may have them."

"Thank you."

"Now what about Thor?"

"Pardon?" Lord Birgir asked.

"You said the others came here without authorization and it's clear they did so to find Thor," the man of Fury stated. "But why was Thor sent here? From what I understand it was part of a punishment."

"Aye, 'twas."

"Why?"

"I am afraid I cannot answer that."

"Can't or won't?"

"I am unfamiliar with the phrase, but King Óðinn collapsed into the Óðinnsleep not long after banishing Prince Thor, and only he and King Loki were present at the time it happened."

"Convenient."

"You said it was a punishment," Lady Agent Hill said, looking at Thor.

"I believe so," Thor confirmed. "Father was angry for how I had acted and said I was unworthy. As Mjǫllnir was sent to Miðgarðr as well, I can only assume I am meant to be allowed to retrieve her."

"'Tis what King Loki has said. King Óðinn enchanted it so only one worthy will be able to lift her," Lord Birgir informed them.

"So it could be anyone," Agent Coulson said.

"If they are worthy, then aye."

From the looks the humans gave each other, Thor could already tell they would have all of their agents trying to lift Mjǫllnir. He felt anger surge through him at the thought, before it quickly died as he recalled how completely unresponsive Mjǫllnir had been for him. Clearly, he was not yet worthy of her as far as Father was concerned. He wondered if he ever would be again. Father had been very angry with him.

"I have been told to warn you, if Mjǫllnir senses one who is worthy nearby, she will try to reach them, so it would be prudent not to enclose her in a building," Lord Birgir warned.

"Can that not be prevented?" Lady Agent Hill asked.

"Nay," Thor replied. "'Tis part of the properties of Mjǫllnir, that it returns to her rightful owner."

"Oh."

"You still haven't answered why Óðinn chose to banish Thor here," the man of Fury stated.

"I could only guess," Lord Birgir replied.

"Try."

"Well, it could be because King Óðinn felt that mortals were those best placed to teach Thor the lesson he wished for him to learn. Or it could be because King Óðinn wished Prince Thor to see why Ásgarðr had last gone to war with Jötunheimr."

Thor flinched at the words. He knew why the first war with Jötunheimr had started, but why wait for the frost giants to attack another Realm before responding this time? And they would, as they had already attacked Ásgarðr! 'Twas only a matter of time before they did so again.

"I don't understand, why did Ásgarðr go to war with Joot..." Lady Agent Hill trailed off.

"Jötunheimr."

"Yes, them, the first time?"

"Because they invaded Miðgarðr," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied.

"Mið- wait, that's Earth, isn't it?" the son of Coul demanded.

"Aye," Lord Birgir confirmed.

"They attacked us? When?" Director Fury demanded.

"Just over a thousand years ago."

"A thousand years ago," Lady Agent Hill repeated in clear astonishment. "But you were speaking of it as if you were there."

"I was," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied. "All of us present were alive for it, though Prince Thor was but a small child at the end of it."

"Even Loki was born by the end, if only just," Thor smiled. "His birth pretty much coincided with the end of the war. They were celebrated together."

"Wait, if you are still alive, then are they, these, what were they called, frost giants?" Director Fury questioned.

"Jötnar," Lord Birgir corrected. "Frost giant is a speciest slur and considered quite offensive to the jötnar."

"What?" Thor questioned. "'Tis?"

"Aye."

"But-" Thor broke off at the glare Lieutenant-General Yngvarr sent his way.

Part of him wanted to rebel against it, to demand the man show him the proper respect his position demanded and deserved, only for him to remember that, officially, he was no longer a prince of Ásgarðr. For all that Lord Birgir and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr were using the title, his father had officially stripped him of it before he banished him. So, truly, he had no titles and no name at present. He was simply Thor, mortal Thor. He knew he was lucky Loki had sent anyone after him at all, and his brother was risking Father's future wrath in doing so.

"And to answer your question, Director Fury, aye, many of the jötnar who were involved in the war still live," Lord Birgir said. "Including Laufey-King, who first invaded Miðgarðr."

"He still leads them?" the man of Fury checked.

"They do."

"Why?"

"The jötnar are a monarchy, like Ásgarðr. Unless there is an assassination, they will rule until they die when their heir, Helblindi-Princex, will succeed them."

"Does he still have designs on Earth? If you say he is on the war path again, do we need to worry about another invasion?"

"Nay, at present the jötnar have no means with which to leave their Realm and 'tis one of the conditions King Loki will not negotiate on," Lord Birgir reassured them. "Miðgarðr is not the only Realm which would be in danger should Laufey-King have unrestricted travel and power once more."

"You said negotiate, are you implying King Loki means to speak with... Laufey-King?" Lady Agent Hill asked.

"Aye, he should be doing so even now."

"What?" Thor thundered, shooting to his feet. "Loki is with Laufey?"

"Prince Thor-" Lord Birgir began.

"Nay, he is not to be trusted! He will try to kill Loki!"

Chapter Text

"The king is hardly with him alone," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr told him. "General Týr is with him along with a full complement of guards, and King Loki has Gungnir as well as all of his own seiðr. On top of that, the talks are taking place on Niflheimr, so the jötnar would be stuck if they did attempt anything. Your brother will be fine."

The words cooled Thor's anger somewhat, but they did not extinguish it entirely. He still did not like the idea of Loki meeting with Laufey and other frost giants without him. The Einherjar, even the king's guards, did not know his brother and his tricks like he did. Loki was always pulling strange and unexpected ploys, thinking his seiðr would protect him and Thor had to interfere on most occasions to ensure Loki was not harmed. If his brother did something like that without him there to save him... Thor hated to think of what might happen. And instead of being there to help his little brother, he was stuck here instead.

"I think I'm beginning to see why your coronation was called off," Lady Agent Hill commented, looking at him. "You are far too reactive to make a good leader."

The words stung and Thor physically drew back from them; shocked. He hardly even knew Lady Agent Hill for an hour, how could she feel able to make such an assessment already? Besides, this was hardly a normal situation! His anger rose within him, but before Thor could give voice to it, the man of Fury was speaking again.

"So your king is seeking peace once more?"

"Aye," Lord Birgir confirmed. "A war of the kind like the last between Ásgarðr and Jötunheimr is not what anyone needs, and it could be even more disastrous than the first war. We may have been more punitive than we realized at the end of the last war, taking something from the jötnar which was thought to be simply a symbol of their power and their only means off-world. In reality, it turns out 'twas also vital for the health of their Realm and the very survival of their species. Without it, both the jötnar and Jötunheimr have been slowly dying this last millennium."

Thor blinked at the words, shocked. He had heard the stories of the war, countless times as he had used to beg the warriors and his father to tell them over and over again, so both he and Loki could act them out; being the brave æsir warriors fighting the frost giant monsters. Only they would go all the way and slay all of them so they could never rise again.

This was something Thor had never heard before. He was certain no one had ever mentioned that either the frost giants or Jötunheimr were dying. He knew he would have remembered it as it would have ruined all of his fantasies! Suddenly Lady Sif's words came back to him, and his eyes grew wide.

"The Casket of Ancient Winters," Thor whispered.

"Aye," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr confirmed, but there was also a warning in his gaze and Thor swallowed back what he wanted to say.

"You punished them too harshly and only made the situation worse; the jötnar more desperate," the son of Coul realized.

"Aye," Yngvarr replied. "You have experience of this?"

"Germany after World War One," Lady Agent Hill said. "We and our allies were too harsh on them, and we made them desperate enough they elected a true tyrant to power. It led to World War Two, which was even worse than the first."

"'Tis what we are seeking to prevent," Lord Birgir said. "Give them enough to begin to rebuild, and perhaps create the beginnings of a new relationship which can lead to more over the course of the next few centuries and millennia."

"And should they use the opportunity provided to attack Earth again?" the man of Fury demanded.

"Then we will come to your aid once more," Lord Birgir promised. "King Loki will consolidate Ásgarðr's role as protectorate of Mið- Earth. To attack you would be seen as an attack on Ásgarðr."

"Make no mistake," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr added. "Though King Loki does not wish for war, he will fight if Jötunheimr does more than merely declare war verbally. Prince Thor can confirm his brother is a skilled warrior and talented tactician."

"Aye," Thor agreed, though he would not have worded it so strongly.

Battle skills were not his brother's strength.

"As I understood it, there has already been an attack on Ásgarðr," the son of Coul said.

"A mere incursion by three warriors, all of whom died in the attempt," Birgir explained. "We have no proof they acted with official permission and the means they used to do so was opportunistic and cannot be used again. King Óðinn was happy to leave the matter there and, while King Loki agrees, it will be used in the negotiations as it shows the first actions were Jötunheimr's, though 'twas not what led to the declaration of war."

"What was?"

"That would be my response," Thor admitted. "I took Lady Sif, the Warriors Three and Loki to Jötunheimr to demand answers from Laufey. It... did not end well."

"King Loki went with you?" the man of Fury asked.

"He was not yet king and he attempted to extract us peacefully," Thor explained. "He nearly succeeded as Laufey was initially willing to let us go."

"So what changed?" Lady Agent Hill inquired.

Thor looked down. "I responded to a provocation and battle ensued."

"I assume there were casualties."

"Not on our side, only injuries," Yngvarr said. "On their side, however, King Loki estimates there might have been nearly three hundred slain."

"Three hundred!" the son of Coul exclaimed. "But you were with, what? Six?"

"Aye," Thor confirmed.

"How?"

"Mjǫllnir can be a powerful weapon if wielded correctly," Lord Birgir told them, reluctantly. "And all six are skilled warriors, some of our best."

"But you would still imprison four of them with Ásgarðr on the brink of war?" the man of Fury questioned skeptically.

"A warrior who commits treason is of no use," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr stated. "And they can do more damage than good if they refuse to obey at a critical time."

"So you want us to trust you to keep the jötnar away from us and to let Thor go?" Lady Agent Hill checked.

"Aye, please," Lord Birgir responded.

"And how will we know if the peace talks succeed?" Director Fury asked.

"If you would like, we can send an emissary once they have been completed."

"If you promise they will not be attacked or taken captive," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr added.

"If all they do is come to speak with us, then I can promise that. Will they come here?"

"They can, or they can appear elsewhere," Birgir replied. "The Bifröst can reach any place on Miðgarðr, you need merely tell us where as H- our gatekeeper can see where you are at the time and send the emissary there."

"Yes, about that, we are not comfortable with an all-seeing person watching us," Director Fury stated. "Can he not look to Earth?"

"Nay, I am sorry, but the gatekeeper is a vital position in order for the Bifröst to function. It can only be opened from Himinbjörg and so, for people to be able to return home to Ásgarðr or for others to visit, the gatekeeper must be able to see and hear into other Realms. Without that ability, we would only be able to send people away from Ásgarðr and not retrieve them without a serious security risk," Lord Birgir explained.

"'Tis also how we were able to tell Laufey-King had invaded Miðgarðr before," Yngvarr added. "And why the other Realms have left you alone, as they knew any incursion on their part here will be seen and met with the full force of Ásgarðr's might."

"What I don't understand is why you care about such incursions."

"We wish to see peace within the Nine Realms and, as one of the planets on the Yggdrasill, that includes Miðgarðr."

"And if we weren't on this world tree of yours?" Lady Agent Hill questioned. "Would you care?"

Lord Birgir smiled. "Agent Hill, the universe is vast and inhabited by countless quadrillions of beings of all manner of descriptions. Even Ásgarðr could not hope to protect all of it, nor would we wish to. But the Yggdrasill ties nine particular Realms tightly together and we are all bound to one fate. Should the Yggdrasill die, we would all perish. Therefore we are naturally more concerned with the other eight of the Nine Realms."

"I still don't understand how this supposed tree is meant to exist or work. It makes no sense."

"Ah, I am not well versed enough in the magical arts to be able to explain it."

"But you still believe it exists?" the man of Fury asked, skeptically.

"Do you only believe in that which you can fully explain? Or are you satisfied with what someone else from your Realm can explain, and of which you have seen ample proof yourself?"

"I can think of a few things," Lady Agent Hill admitted.

"Mostly Stark's," the son of Coul muttered, making Lady Agent Hill laugh.

"If you would like, I can inquire and see if someone more versed in knowledge of the Yggdrasill is willing to come explain it to you," Lord Birgir offered.

"You would share that? It sounds like it would be valuable information," Director Fury said.

"Simply because you know of the Yggdrasill does not mean you can necessarily affect it. There are very few people ever who have even been powerful enough to do so, and most are figures of myth and legend even to us. Nay, 'tis more in the larger aspects that the Yggdrasill is important, like Miðgarðr as a whole, and 'tis there the knowledge should be freely accessible to all."

"And you wouldn't require anything in return?"

"An exchange would not be required, though it would be beneficial if you would like to continue contact with Ásgarðr now it has been reestablished."

"And if we want contact with the other seven Realms? Or six if we ignore Jötunheimr."

"It could be considered, but I would caution you to think over it carefully. Once you make it known Miðgarðr has moved on to that form of contact and communication with other Realms, it will be hard to take it back and word will spread far beyond the Nine of your planet."

"And you think that would be bad?" Lady Agent Hill asked.

"Even we do not know all that is out there as the galaxies are large and very well populated. We believe some of Ásgarðr's greatest enemies of old may yet exist out there, and some of them may see Miðgarðr as an easier and more convenient way to attempt to access the Yggdrasill than any of the other eight Realms belonging to the World Tree."

"It sounds like you're trying to scare us into agreeing with you," Director Fury stated.

"Not at all, but there is a reason why Ásgarðr made Miðgarðr its protectorate and, though you have evolved much in recent centuries, there are still species with far superior technology who would not hesitate to take advantage of you," Lord Birgir replied.

"So all of this pretty much boils down to your asking us to release Thor, take your word on the fact that those who attacked my people will be punished, get some... what was it called again?"

"Weregeld," the son of Coul said.

"Right, weregeld, and a promise to let us know how the peace negotiations with Jötunheimr go. Oh, and to see if someone will come explain the Tree World to us," the man of Fury summarized.

"That sounds accurate," Lord Birgir said. "I would also add that in returning Prince Thor now, you would also be making a gesture of good will to Ásgarðr's future king."

Thor nearly winced at the words. If he ever managed to regain his titles and powers, neither of which was for certain at present. Besides, if Loki somehow managed to broker a new peace treaty with Jötunheimr, Father might decide Loki would make a better king and make him heir. It would be highly unconventional, but entirely possible. The mere thought left a bad taste in his mouth and he could not imagine having his little brother as his king.

A small, dark part of his mind could not help but wonder if this had been Loki's plan all along. Lady Sif had said his brother likely had a plan and it definitely rang true for Thor. Loki always had a plan, plans within plans normally, to the point where 'twas both exhausting and almost pointless to try to figure them all out as the very process of doing so could affect and alter the nuances that they were.

"Very well," the man of Fury finally decided. "But you tell King Loki we are not a penal colony and we don't want any more of your people dumped here as punishment, do you understand?"

"I will be certain to relay the message to the king and ensure King Óðinn is informed of it when he wakes as well."


The footsteps of Loki's security escort echoed through the empty stone halls as they walked the corridors of the old negotiating temple on Niflheimr. Loki wore the same outfit he had the first day of his reign, but he had put a series of warming spells on the cloak, knowing this one was more impressive than his best warrior outfit. The royal tailors were working on another outfit for tomorrow, but for today this would do, even if he had noticed more than one of the others shivering when they had glanced his way. They had warmed the place slightly, but because of the temperature range the jötnar felt most comfortable at, they could not do so any more than they already had.

"Your Majesty," Lord Aðalgrímr greeted as they entered the main hall.

"Lord Aðalgrímr, General Týr," Loki replied, glancing around the chamber.

As the temple had been designed with the jötnar and eldþursar in mind, not only were all the ceilings high and the entryways wide, but this chamber had been built with a split-level floor. The left half of the hall was set a good few feet lower than the right half and the main table passed the two with a level top and different length legs so everyone could sit at it comfortably. The chairs, of course, were of different sizes on the two halves of the chamber. The table had been dressed with a two toned cloth. Traditionally Ásgarðr would have been represented with his father's gold to sit alongside Laufey-King's blue, but someone had changed the gold to green, probably Lord Aðalgrímr. Loki approved as 'twas another simple and minimal reminder things were different now than they had been before. It also lent more credence to the impression they wished to foster that Loki might be chafing under the weight of being the second prince, under both his father and brother.

Elegant stone chalices stood on the table at each seat alongside empty rolls of parchment and writing materials of various sizes and types. A smaller table stood off to the side and held a variety of beverages and food, mostly hot on the æsir side and cold on the jötnar end. Behind each end of the table, the wall was decked with a nearly full-length banner of each realm. The one for Ásgarðr had clearly been made anew the last few days as Óðinn's name and sigils had been replaced with Loki's and his eyes paused on it for a moment. It felt odd and nearly disconcerting to see; yet something else he had never expected to transpire. A strange part of Loki wanted to ensure he obtained the banner after the talks, as it likely would never be used again and a lot of artists would have worked on it the last few days to ensure 'twas finished on time. Especially since it had correctly used his favorite symbol. Loki strongly suspected Livunn's hand in that.

Laufey-King's banner had likely been pulled out of long-term storage and Loki could only hope 'twas still accurate. At least it still looked good, the colors bright and the silver and white thread gleaming. Immediately underneath the banners and slightly to the side of the heads of the table were another set of smaller tables. These oft held items pertaining to the negotiations and 'twas here Loki moved towards, the Casket of Ancient Winters held before him in his gloved hands. It would have been easier to put it in his pocket dimension for the trip over, but Loki felt he had already revealed enough of his abilities to the rest of the High Council and the Einherjar for now. So he had simply covered it for the ride to the Bifröst and carried it from there. Niflheimr's cold gave him the perfect excuse not to touch it with his bare hands, so he did not even have to expend any seiðr to disguise its effects on him either.

Loki placed the Casket on the small table and stepped back as two guards moved into position on either side of it. Their job was solely to guard the Casket of Ancient Winters. If anything were to happen, they were supposed to take it and run for the nearest exit in order for Höðr to extract them. Loki did not think it would come to that, but it had reassured General Týr's worries to have the plan in place, so he had not said anything. Besides, Loki did like having backup plans in place, so he could understand the sentiment.

The blue light of the Casket of Ancient Winters cast odd shadows on his banner and Loki appreciated the irony. All the more so because he knew it would be lost on everyone else.

"It feels very strange to see it out of the vault after so long," General Týr stated as he came up to Loki.

"'Tis the only place I have ever seen it," Loki replied.

"Right, aye, I forgot."

Loki's lips twitched, unable to think of precisely what might be running through General Týr's mind right now. By æsir standards, Loki was still considered very young, though he had officially reached his majority not too long ago. Even Thor was young and had still been underage the last time their father had succumbed to the Óðinnsleep, hence the reason his brother had never been regent before. It would have been far better if Thor had, as then most of the issues would have come out sooner and Óðinn would have known what his heir needed further training in.

"Feeling old, General?" Loki teased.

"Nay," the man scowled. "Simply remembering how very young you are."

"I assume the guard chambers are ready too?"

"Aye," Lord Aðalgrímr confirmed. "And fully stocked with food and drinks which are jötnar compatible."

"In theirs, ours has hot food and drinks to unfreeze our people," General Týr muttered, eyeing Loki's cloak. "Is that warm enough, my King?"

"Seiðr, General."

"Ah, of course."

"The jötnar party should be coming now," Lord Aðalgrímr informed them.

"Let us hope this works," Loki said as he made his way to the æsir head of the table, taking Gungnir back from the guard who had held it while he carried the Casket of Ancient Winters.

"If it does, we will be making history," Lord Aðalgrímr replied.

Loki had not even thought of that, but the man was right. If it worked, this treaty would be a significant enough departure from Ásgarðr's policy towards Jötunheimr for it to be noted and remembered on in the records of Ásgarðrian politics. The realization felt good, very good, and Loki was glad his efforts would have at least some recognition for once.

Well, if this worked.

Though it made the most logical sense, Loki was not fool enough to lose sight of precisely who his opponent was. Completely aside from the blood relation of which Laufey knew naught, 'twas not entirely outside the realm of possibility that Laufey would either attempt something stupid in a desperate bid to regain control of the Casket of Ancient Winters, or that the time between declaring war and now might have hardened the man's resolve to go down fighting. Loki had to admit a lot of their plan banked on it not being too late to reverse the damage to Jötunheimr's magical core. If it was, then Laufey might simply want to take as many of them down with him as he could, so Loki would need to be vigilant. Ásgarðr could not afford to lose him now, it would be one chaotic step too far. Luckily, he could sky walk and thus could be out of the chamber and onto the branches of the Yggdrasill with a thought if he was properly prepared, and he was.

Both to distract himself and to occupy his mind, Loki took hold of his chalice as he reached the table, leaned Gungnir against the seat and walked to the refreshments table. Due to the nature of the meeting, none of the drinks were alcoholic which suited Loki perfectly well as he was not as partial to Ásgarðr's warmed alcohol and instead much preferred the hot sweetened ridhoban drink which he filled his chalice with now. A quick spell and it would remain warm even in the chilled chamber. Normally there would be servants to take care of these tasks, but relations with Jötunheimr had deteriorated sufficiently before the last war to alter traditional rules for the talks between the two realms. Now as few people as possible attended, both to reduce the number of those who could cause accidental offense and to ensure there were fewer potential hostages if something did go wrong.

By the time Loki had returned to his chair, the distant sound of footsteps could be heard and the tension in the chamber soared.

"Calm," Loki reminded them all. "We need this to go well."

"My men will hold," General Týr responded as he moved to his seat.

"Given the last time, Laufey-King may try deliberate provocation should he truly wish for war."

General Týr scowled but did not repeat his reassurance, which Loki took to mean the man felt comfortable enough with these Einherjar to not feel the need to repeat any of the earlier instructions they had no doubt been given. Still, Loki knew as far as they were concerned, he was the weak link. Anything which appeared to be a genuine threat to him would be reacted to, and not without reason, but it meant he had to be extra careful not to place himself into a position which might make any of them feel he needed rescuing from. Which would not be easy as he could not appear to be shying away from Laufey-King or any of his men either.

Then the doors on the far side of the hall opened and in walked two truly impressive hrímþursar. As far as first impressions went, they definitely made one and it gave Loki hope. If Laufey was giving serious consideration to simply making a play for the Casket of Ancient Winters, then he would expect his birth father to have gone for a far more subtle entrance in order to try to lull them into a false sense of security.

Deliberately, Loki did not react until the two guards moved aside and Laufey-King himself entered into the chamber followed swiftly by a second, far younger jötunn. A quick glance at his kin lines as Loki rose to his feet and took hold of Gungnir, told him this was his sibling, Helblindi-Princex.

"Well met, Laufey-King, Helblindi-Princex," Loki greeted formally as he neared the halfway point of the chamber and the drop down in the floor. "Thank you for agreeing to these talks and I hope we can find an agreement which will benefit both of our Realms and avoid a war which will cost us both far too much."

As he spoke, Loki heard the door behind him open, but he ignored it, keeping all of his attention focused solely on his birth father. He knew it would be Lord Ragnvaldr who had awaited the arrival of the jötnar party in Himinbjörg and escorted them here with a few guards who would have now gone back outside to secure the perimeter.

Though Laufey had to be aware of the Casket of Ancient Winters' presence in the chamber, his birth father kept his gaze solely on him as he stepped closer and Loki felt the conflicting desire to both turn tail and run, and to press on and ask whether he was worth Laufey's attentions now. He shoved both aside and forced his face to remain neutral, showing nothing of what he was thinking. This was far too important to mess up with his emotions and their shared history, of which Laufey was ignorant. Rather than allowing it to be a liability on his part, he would make it an advantage to use against his birth father.

"King Loki," Laufey finally intoned, stopping but a short distance away.

The gaze left his own only to sweep over him and to glance at Gungnir. Loki kept quiet, not wanting to rush this and force Laufey's hand in any way. Unlike Thor, patience was a skill he had plenty of experience and practice with. It was amusing how things could be learned simply by remaining silent and letting other people fill the silence with anything and everything which came to mind, oft without filter.

"I must admit to being most surprised to hear of your ascension to the throne," Laufey finally continued, fishing for information. "I had not thought you heir."

"I was not," Loki replied, voice calm and seemingly controlled even as he allowed a muscle in his jaw to twitch, as if involuntarily.

Subtlety was the key here. If he overplayed it, Laufey would realize, so he had to be careful and lead his birth father with less rather than more.

"Thor was," Loki continued, having decided with Lord Aðalgrímr to be honest about this as it could only work in their favor. "But after the events on Jötunheimr, Father disowned and banished him."

The news clearly startled Laufey-King and those with him. Glancing over at them, Loki only allowed his eyes to linger on his sibling for a few seconds, simply long enough to take in the traditional hrímþurs features and familiar kin lines, before moving on to glance at the others. From the descriptions of both Lord Ragnvaldr and General Týr, he was able to identify Laufey's head of the warriors, Thrymr-General, that Lord Aðalgrímr had spoken of. Well, unless Thrymr had fallen out of favor in the intervening centuries and someone else wore his official attire.

"Permanently?" Laufey-King demanded.

"Nay, Thor can regain his titles and power if he learns the lesson Father intended to teach him," Loki informed him.

"Which is?"

"That Father neglected to tell either of us," Loki replied with a twitch of his lips.

'Twas actually rather surprising Óðinn had not outright told Thor what he had to do to regain his favor. Loki was normally the one left floundering with Óðinn, not Thor. He actually found it both a surprising relief and not nearly as exhilarating as expected to finally see the tables turned. Somehow it still felt wrong even if this time Thor was the one on the receiving end of the behavior instead of him.

It figured he could not even enjoy this little pleasure which he had waited centuries to have. Which was probably why the Norns had chosen to bestow it on him now.

"How like Óðinn All-Father," Laufey stated with what could have been a smile or, just as easily, a baring of his fang-like teeth.

Loki was pretty certain 'twas meant both as a statement and a test. To see whether he would snap to his father's defense as easily and as recklessly as Thor had on Jötunheimr at the first hint of criticism aimed at Óðinn. Therefore all Loki did was tip his head forwards slightly as 'twas true. It was very much like Óðinn to do what his father had done.

"We would like to thank you for initiating and arranging these talks," Helblindi-Princex said, stepping forward slightly, though seeming to be more aware of the Einherjar positioned all around the æsir side of the chamber. "We had not expected a chance to truly parley."

'Twas both a compliment to him and implied criticism to Óðinn, Loki was impressed. He would need to keep an eye on his younger sibling. Or both of them actually, for much as Loki hated to claim any part of Laufey-King, the stark truth remained the man was his birth father and so from whom he had received half of himself, and he could not know if his propensity for cunning and love of knowledge came from Laufey or Fárbauti-Queen, whom he assumed was his birth mother. If 'twas Laufey, then he could ill afford to be caught off-guard.

"Assuming the promise to discuss the Casket of Ancient Winters' return was more than simply a lure to bring us here," Laufey-King added.

So, his birth father had no desire to play at amicability or diplomacy. Loki wondered if 'twas Laufey's true nature or merely a ploy to try to throw them off balance. If 'twas the latter, then Laufey would be sorely disappointed. Loki was more than used to dealing with difficult and uncooperative people and they had honed his ability to remain polite and diplomatic in the face of rudeness and insincerity to a fine art. If anything, this was familiar to Loki and played to his strengths.

"As you can see," Loki replied calmly, stepping aside slightly to gesture towards the Casket of Ancient Winters. "We have brought it along as promised."

For the first time since entering the chamber, Laufey-King looked away from him and, in a way, Loki was flattered. Though his birth father might have been dismissive in words, that action alone proved Laufey did at least realize where the power lay on the æsir side of the chamber.

The look which Laufey-King gave the Casket of Ancient Winters was almost hungry and, if Loki was not so attuned to the Casket himself, it would worry him greatly. But he was and so he could feel not only the power and sheer presence it radiated - and could likely be felt by all of jötnar blood, both hrímþursar and íviðjur alike - but also how it reacted to being near more jötnar. 'Twas an odd sensation which Loki could not fully clarify, but the Casket of Ancient Winters could definitely tell there were more present and that made it happy. Rather than pulling away from him as Loki might have feared, íviðja or not he had been raised æsir and so would appear as such as often as not, it almost seemed to cling to the traces of his seiðr he had allowed to linger on it all the more desperately.

It felt... it felt like the Casket was trying to thank him for bringing it to them. Well, so long as it did not start to favor Laufey-King or any of the others over him, then that was fine.

"Assuming 'tis real," Laufey-King stated, glancing back at Loki who raised his eyebrow in a silent question. "I saw your illusions on Jötunheimr. They were flawless until touched."

Chapter Text

Oh, that was clever, and the perfect excuse to come within touching distance of the Casket of Ancient Winters. But it also revealed how closely his birth father had been watching him before, and 'twas quite telling for someone who had preferred to be uncaring of him. Laufey-King was clearly the observant sort who could pay attention to more than simply Thor and his loud, brash words and actions. Well, either that or his words earlier in the confrontation had drawn Laufey's interest. While the latter could work in their favor here, in that his birth father could see him more seriously as someone who could and would finally talk, it also meant Laufey was going to be far less willing to underestimate him than they had hoped.

"You flatter me," Loki replied. "To think I am powerful enough to imitate the feel of the Casket of Ancient Winters thus, let alone the wisps of power and presence of Mother Winter."

His words definitely startled them, and Loki allowed himself a small smile. He could not show them how good he was at disguising his true emotions. Due to their isolation, there was a chance his reputation as a very talented liar had not reached them, even if his infamy in this particular area was far less earned than most people realized. 'Twas astonishing simply how many people did not have the honor to own up to the simple truth they had been tricked rather than lied to.

And they said he had no honor.

"You can feel that?" one of the jötnar asked.

"Oh, aye," Loki confirmed. "I find it rather remarkable how many people seem to forget about Bestla Bölþornbarn."

"Bestla?" Helblindi-Princex asked even as Laufey's eyes widened fractionally. "'Tis a jötunn name."

"Hmm, 'tis," Loki said. "It is also the name of Ásgarðr's last queen, spouse of King Borr and mother to Óðinn All-Father."

He did not go so far as to call her (him? they?) his grandmother, but they would make the connection.

"Óðinn is half-jötunn?" Helblindi-Princex demanded, looking over at Thrymr-General who nodded once.

Slowly, Loki walked over to the table holding the Casket of Ancient Winters, debating pulling on a slightly larger double and showing his command over it. Though the temptation was great, he resisted, knowing better than to display such a great advantage so early in the negotiations. Still, the desire was there.

"Hence, I am aware of the presence the Casket exudes," Loki said, stepping away slightly. "But if you believe my powers of illusion to be so great, Helblindi-Princex may come over and verify the Casket's actual solidity."

The idea would dismay General Týr, but these types of negotiations had to be a give and take in order to accomplish anything meaningful. Óðinn had taught him that a long time ago. And as far as concessions went, this was not a bad one to make. Aye, it had not been planned, but neither had they expected Laufey-King to be aware of his ability to create such good illusions. So even if they all knew he could not replicate the Casket of Ancient Winters well enough to fool those jötnar who had been in its presence before, this showed a willingness to meet them partway.

It could also be seen as a sign of weakness on his part, but Loki could live with that quite comfortably if it made his birth father underestimate him. Yet, even as he offered something, he also controlled the situation enough to select the one jötunn who had definitely never had a chance to use the Casket of Ancient Winters before and, thus, would be the least likely to be able to do so quickly. It also made any kind of forcible attempt less likely as, with Helblindi being the crown princex and heir, Loki figured Laufey-King would be less willing to risk his second child's life. Not that he would put it past the man to do so since Laufey had already proven himself to be more than willing to commit filicide if the circumstances made it worth his while, but his investment in Helblindi-Princex was nearly a millennium long. Therefore, even from a simple economic perspective, it made far less sense for Laufey to be careless with Helblindi's life than his birth father had been with his own.

There was a brief pause before Laufey-King waved his child over and Loki stayed where he was as Helblindi-Princex approached, needing to step up to the æsir side of the chamber to do so. Loki pegged his younger sibling at about ten to eleven feet tall and slightly slimmer than the other jötnar present. It made him wonder as to Fárbauti-Queen's size for her (him? they?) to have birthed one íviðja and at least one slightly smaller hrímþurs. Was it because she was on the slighter side, or was it all random? He doubted Laufey had been thrilled when Helblindi stopped growing at his current height, even though it had clearly been far more acceptable than Loki's own anticipated size.

Being this close to Helblindi made Loki wonder though how íviðjur dealt with being so small in a world full of giants. Did they rely on their seiðr to bridge the gap in almost every way, or were there special efforts made, and accommodations in place, for the íviðjur? The castle, at the very least, should have them seeing as 'twas where most of them ended up in their advisory capacity.

That Helblindi was nervous was incredibly obvious to Loki as his sibling's eyes were darting all over the place, from one Einherjar to another and then to him before starting their circuit over again. It made Loki wonder if Lord Aðalgrímr was wrong about his age. They had him pegged as being quite near his majority, but they were not entirely certain as 'twas not like there had been an official announcement to the other Realms at his birth, for obvious reasons. Once near both him and the Casket of Ancient Winters, Helblindi-Princex paused.

"Go ahead," Loki motioned.

"I... do not know how it will react," Helblindi admitted.

Ah, he was worried of making it do something which might get him killed.

"It will not do anything harmful unless you deliberately ask it to," Loki replied.

It did not hurt to reinforce he had some understanding of the Casket of Ancient Winters before they began the actual negotiations. It could stave off some of the more insulting ploys which Laufey and his diplomat might have been tempted to try. It would also save him from having to explain exactly how he knew it. At least until one of the jötnar decided to ask him outright.

Helblindi-Princex took the final two steps forward needed to bring himself into touching distance of the Casket. With a slight tremor in his hands, Helblindi reached out to touch Jötunheimr's heart. Immediately, the Casket reacted, lighting up as much as it did for Loki.

Seiðr rushed out from the Casket of Ancient Winters and Loki cocked his head to the side as he tried to read it. That Helblindi-Princex was not doing it on purpose was immediately obvious to him, but he was not quite certain what 'twas. Or even whether it was new, because if the Casket had done it when he had touched it he would never have known as there had been no one else around capable of detecting the seiðr. 'Twas quite handy as an alert system, though, and would allow Loki to learn should any jötunn manage to get at the Casket even when he had his back to it, which he would for most of the day. They had decided it best to leave the Casket of Ancient Winters on this particular table, both as it placed it furthest any from the jötnar and because that placed it in Laufey-King's line of sight whenever his birth father looked to him, hopefully providing a helpful reminder to the man as to why they were all here.

"Oh, that is..." Helblindi-Princex said, eyes wide.

Loki merely hummed and allowed his sibling a moment before he indicated back towards the table. "Shall we?"

It took a moment and a call from his father for Helblindi-Princex to draw himself away from the Casket, but finally he did, retreating to the jötnar side of the chamber. Loki moved to his own seat and took his place at one end of the table, sitting directly across from Laufey who had the other head position. Lords Aðalgrímr and Ragnvaldr sat to Loki's right with General Týr on his left. On the other end, Helblindi-Princex went to his father's right and far closer than anyone else. Next to him was Thrymr-General while the unknown diplomat sat to Laufey-King's left. The other hrímþursar were spread out along the jötnar end of the chamber, all of them dressed simply in the kilts Loki had seen when on Jötunheimr. Those seated at the table wore fancier versions of them, with the general and diplomat also having a sash of some kind strung across one shoulder and their chest.

Helblindi-Princex wore something similar but was further adorned by a silver torque and a beautiful white fur. He also wore a silver circlet adorned with several ice gems of varying shades of blue, purple and white. Laufey-King was more simplistic at first glance, his kilt of higher quality but more militaristic and the torque and sash both in muted colors, signifying strength without being more than basically decorative.

Loki had to wonder how the far more colorful and decorative outfits of the æsir looked to them. Probably ostentatious and pompous, but he found he simply did not care. Nor would he allow it to affect his outfit choices for the next few days. He was here for Ásgarðr first, and thus he would maintain her traditions unless they directly conflicted with his goals or would cause true problems achieving them.

Before they could begin, the door on Laufey's side of the chamber opened once more and another hrímþurs entered the hall, holding a large pitcher. Loki could all but hear General Týr curse and he definitely saw Laufey-King's lips twitch at whatever he read in the general's expression. He had been warned about this by Lord Aðalgrímr the first time they sat down to discuss the negotiations. Apparently 'twas jötnar tradition to all partake of a drink only the jötnar seemed able to tolerate the taste of. Their history said it went back to a tradition started by Ymir himself (herself? themself?) way back when the first jötnar had attended their first peace talks, and now they refused to hold them without everyone partaking of the drink. Hence 'twas called Ymir's sýra.

Lord Aðalgrímr was half convinced the tradition was continued more because none but the jötnar seemed to like the drink and Laufey-King liked watching his enemies' expressions as they fought to swallow it.

If 'twas the latter, then Loki would be forced to admit he was impressed and liked the move. He would definitely pull something like that if he could. The true issue here, though, was one of trust for simply because they would all partake of the concoction from the same pitcher, there was no way to guarantee it had not been poisoned with something which did not affect jötnar, but which would have dramatic effects on æsir.

Luckily, Loki had the perfect protection against such a tactic, though it would deal him an almost critical blow to lose half of his High Council in one attack. It came down to divining exactly how far Laufey-King would go and, while Loki knew a desperate man would do almost anything to save himself, he did not believe Laufey had been pushed quite so far yet as his birth father had at first been willing to let them go on Jötunheimr, whereas a completely desperate man would have made a play for either himself or Thor in order to use them against Óðinn.

"Ymir's sýra," Laufey said as the pitcher was placed on the table beside him. "Thjærlðsöv."

Loki's first thought was that he could now understand why Lord Aðalgrímr, who was normally quite precise and proper, had not even made an attempt to pronounce the traditional blessing which went with serving Ymir's sýra. Then the sounds seemed to penetrate deeper and Loki felt his tongue already moving to say the word back to his birth father before he caught himself. He had no idea what had triggered the impulse, but it felt both right and natural to do so and he suddenly felt certain he would have gotten the pronunciation correct, as it seemed to have clicked in his mind somehow.

The realization made Loki slightly uncomfortable, and he had to fight back a wince and a twinge of panic at the hurt which radiated from deep within his core at the disgust and self-loathing which immediately followed on the heels of those thoughts. If he kept injuring his core thus, it would be in danger of snapping entirely... an event he would not survive intact, if he survived it at all.

"Of course," Loki managed to force out instead, though he feared his smile might actually seem a little more obviously false than he had hoped it would.

He and Lord Aðalgrímr had discussed the merits of performing this particular jötunn ritual for quite a while as the risks and benefits were both so great. In the end, it had come down to not only showing good will, but also making Loki stand apart from Óðinn quite clearly since his adoptive father had brushed aside this particular ritual the last time Óðinn had sat down with Laufey, before the temporary truce which had been reached had irrevocably broken down for good.

Loki could only hope his unique and incomplete shift would be enough to protect him should it be necessary. With a motion, one of the Einherjar stepped forward with a tray full of additional chalices. 'Twas the one thing Lord Aðalgrímr had recommended to try and balance out the power dynamics of this particular move; make the jötnar drink from chalices they had not arranged or prepared. Make it a risk for them as well.

Laufey paused for a moment, meeting Loki's gaze, before motioning for his guard to accept the tray from where the Einherjar stood at the edge of the floor drop.

"I do not know if you remember me, Laufey-King, but I am Lord Aðalgrímr, head of Ásgarðr's diplomats," Lord Aðalgrímr said, finally entering the conversation now the initial opening power plays had been done between the two opposing kings. "This here is Lord Ragnvaldr, Óðinn's chief advisor, and across from me is General Týr, head of Ásgarðr's warriors."

"I recall," Laufey replied, looking at each in turn, pausing the longest on Lord Ragnvaldr. "My child and heir, Helblindi-Princex, you obviously know. King Loki, may I introduce you to Thrymr-General, head of Jötunheimr's warriors, and Gunnlöð-Lairde, our main negotiator."

Loki looked at both jötnar in acknowledgement, even as he noted the lack of full title for Gunnlöð-Lairde. He wondered if there was any significance to it.

As they had spoken, the jötunn guard had filled each chalice, removing the larger ones from the tray before returning it to the Einherjar who brought it over to Loki's side. Not seeing anything different about any of them, Loki took one at random and held it before him as the others were distributed.

"To fair and fruitful talks," Laufey-King toasted once everyone had a chalice.

As he raised his chalice at the traditional words (and did they stick in Laufey's throat?), Loki was unable to keep from reaching out with his seiðr to check the inside of his mouth, esophagus and digestive track to ensure they truly were in his natural jötunn state. It felt like it could not be, but the reassurance flowing from Mother Winter pushed him past any lingering hesitations he had.

'Twas easy to maintain the direct eye contact Laufey-King seemed to want to have with him as Loki was fairly certain the concoction, whatever it was, could not be nearly as foul to jötnar as 'twas to others. The first sip proved him right and so he kept right on drinking, matching Laufey's pace even as he could not help but analyzing the Ymir's sýra. His first impression was that it was cold, which was not at all unexpected. The second was that 'twas thick and clung to the inside of his mouth and tongue like a thick syrup, almost cloying in a way and coating everything it touched and going down slow as a result. The flavor, all the flavors, were unlike anything which Loki had tasted before and he was not certain if 'twas entirely due to his unfamiliarity with the drink itself so much as 'twas due to the fact he had never tasted anything quite like it before and so he did not know how to interpret the messages he was receiving from his tastebuds. He did think there was a strange blend of both sweet and tart in there, along with the expected bite from the alcohol.

Loki lowered his chalice before he was fully finished as Laufey had done so. He allowed a small, satisfied twitch of his lips at the surprise he saw in those cold, red eyes.

"And here I thought the fruitful was solely relating to the talks themselves," Loki said, before glancing over at General Týr at the slight gagging sound the man made. "Problem, General?"

"Nay, my Liege," Týr rushed to reply, but Loki could see how the other man's fingers twitch towards his other chalice.

Given the thick nature of the concoction, Loki could well understand why if the taste was as foul to the æsir tongue as he had been led to believe 'twas.

"The general has improved since his first taste of Ymir's sýra," Laufey stated with a hint of laughter in his voice. "He did not manage to finish it the first time."

Aye, Lord Aðalgrímr had been more than willing to regale Loki with that particular tale, supposedly in the guise of warning him of exactly how poorly some people reacted to the taste their first time. He was not certain he fully believed 'twas Lord Aðalgrímr's main reason in relating the story to him though.

"I admit to not fully understanding why," Loki said, swirling his remaining drink once. "'Tis not nearly as... strong tasting as I had been warned to expect," he finished before downing the rest of the Ymir's sýra in one go, putting the chalice down and folding his hands before him.

Laufey followed his every move closely, probably trying to determine if he was being honest or merely putting on a good act. Not wanting to get into another staring contest with his birth father, mostly because Loki honestly did not know what he would do, he glanced over to Lord Aðalgrímr instead, indicating for the man to begin.

Before any of the true talks could even begin, there were all kinds of details and formalities which had to be presented and agreed to. If they were luckily, they might come around to discussing the sequence of events which had led them here, but Loki was not terribly hopeful they would reach so far today.


Though he had come to enjoy part of his time on Miðgarðr, Thor was truly pleased when the Bifröst deposited him back in Himinbjörg. The first thing he did was close his eyes and take a deep breath, savoring the Ásgarðrian air which was, in its own way, so very different from the Miðgarðrian air. 'Twas odd, he had been to all of the Nine Realms now and been off adventuring frequently and often for months or years at a time, and yet he had never missed home as much as he had this time. He wondered if 'twas solely because he had been entirely alone this time or if it had been because he had started to fear he would never be able to return after he had utterly failed to so much as budge Mjǫllnir when he had finally reached her.

Not that it truly mattered, he was home now.

"Welcome back, Thor," a slightly familiar voice said, and he opened his eyes to identify the speaker.

It took Thor a moment to realize the man wearing Heimdallr's armor, holding Höfuð and with the gatekeeper's golden eyes was not, in fact, Heimdallr. Once Thor realized that and managed to look past all of it, he realized who 'twas that stood before him.

"Höðr?" Thor questioned, startled.

He looked around for Heimdallr but could not see the gatekeeper anywhere, so he turned back to Höðr. Had he not been blinded when he had saved Loki's life from the mercenary attack?

"Where is Heimdallr?" Thor asked. "And how come you to have eyes like him, Höðr?"

There was a moment of awkward silence before Lieutenant-General Yngvarr stepped forward.

"Heimdallr was relieved of his duties and tried for treason, m- Thor," the man said.

"Tried for treason? Heimdallr?" Thor repeated, stunned. "Nay, he would never!"

Exactly what had transpired while he was gone?

"If you recall, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three were not authorized to visit you," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr said. "And... he tried to kill your brother, Thor."

Thor could only stare at Yngvarr in both shock and horror. Heimdallr had tried to kill Loki? Nay, he could not believe it, Heimdallr would never do such a thing! But this was the head of the king's guard standing before him and telling him this. Not only would Yngvarr never joke about regicide, but as the one in charge of Loki's protection right now, he might well have been there.

"Did you witness the attempt?" Thor asked, hoarsely.

"Aye."

Thor closed his eyes, still not able to reconcile the friendly and affable gatekeeper whom he had almost seen as a friend as someone capable of not only trying to kill his king, but of trying to kill Loki. Aye, his brother could be annoying and downright infuriating at times, but to kill him? It made Thor both sick to his stomach and filled him with a boiling rage.

"Where is he now?" Thor growled, eyes flashing over to Höðr. "And how can you see?"

"King Loki transferred Heimdallr's All-Sight to me," Höðr replied simply. "Heimdallr now has but normal vision."

Loki could do that? Thor had not realized, but then neither had he known his father could take his own power as he had, so clearly there was much about seiðr he did not know.

"And he has been sentenced to life in the dungeons," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr added.

Good, 'twas good.

Even if part of Thor raged at Heimdallr not receiving the executioner's axe. He had tried to kill Loki! As far as he was concerned, 'twas completely unforgivable, even if his little brother had not been acting regent at the time.

A horrible thought occurred to Thor which he did not even want to contemplate but, given that before he would have said Heimdallr would never have done something like this either, he simply had to.

"Was there anyone else involved?" Thor finally asked, unable to put his friends' names in the same sentence as anything involving an attempt on Loki's life.

"Not in that," Yngvarr replied immediately. "But as for the rest, well..."

Aye, that Thor already knew unfortunately. Not that he believed his friends had acted maliciously, only out of concern and with Ásgarðr's best interests at heart.

Thor hesitated, but he could not help but ask. "When Heimdallr... how did he try to..."

"Thor," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr began softly.

"Please, I need to know. 'Tis still so hard to believe. It is Heimdallr, I trusted him. I always did, without any hesitation whatsoever."

"We all did, well except for King Loki," Yngvarr explained. "I do not know what first made him suspicious, but whatever 'twas, I am thankful for it as it made him cautious and ensured we had precautions in place the night of the attack."

Loki was the first to suspect? In some ways it made sense to Thor as his brother had always been both slow to trust and suspicious by nature. Though he had oft despaired of it or teased Loki for it, now he was ever so grateful for that suspicious nature. It did not bear thinking of what might have happened if Loki had not warned his guard. Would any of them have seen it coming in time? He definitely would not have.

"Yngvarr," Thor said, looking at the man.

The lieutenant-general sighed and looked over at Höðr, who silently held up Höfuð and Thor felt his blood go cold. So, not only had Heimdallr broken every oath the gatekeeper had taken and forsaken all of his honor, but he would also have used one of the sacred relics Father had given him in order to kill Óðinn's second born. Thor's hands curled into fists as the severity of Heimdallr's betrayal fully sunk in, and 'twas all he could do not to charge over to the dungeons right now and pummel the former gatekeeper's face into a bloody pulp. Who knew, he might still do it later when all he had to do was descend down into the dungeons.

"My... uh, Thor," Lord Birgir began awkwardly, looking away as he held out a cloak.

Thor sighed and, much as it grated, he knew he had to address this now. "Please do as Father ordered and simply use my name."

"Thank you, Thor," Birgir said. "If you will put on the cloak, we can go to Iðavöllr."

"Why do you wish me to wear a cloak?"

"We believe it would be best if not too many people know you are back," Yngvarr explained. "Word of your banishment has spread as something had to be said when your brother ascended to Hliðskjálf and Heimdallr voiced the issue during his trial."

Oh, of course. Shame burned through Thor as he accepted the cloak and put it on. Though he still felt the attack on the vault had demanded some form of response from them, he was starting to realize he had acted recklessly. The realization that everyone now knew enough about it to know how severely his father disapproved was unpleasant. He was not used to thinking his actions were looked on with anything other than pride or admiration. It made him feel small and unworthy in a way he had not felt in a very long time, to think the people might be speaking ill of him, especially so shortly after they had all come out to cheer him on during what should have been his coronation.

Did they know his actions had brought Ásgarðr to war with her oldest enemy? Thor had no way of knowing what his father may have told people between his banishment and Father's collapse into the Óðinnsleep. And speaking of the war with Jötunheimr...

"Höðr, is my brother safe?" Thor asked, pausing at the edge of the rainbow bridge to look back at the new gatekeeper.

Lord Birgir and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr had told him where the peace talks were taking place on the way back to the Bifröst site on Miðgarðr since he had been worriedly asking them questions about it, not at all liking the idea that his brother was meeting with Laufey without him present to protect him.

Instead of instantly replying, Höðr turned his gaze towards the Void and took a moment to check before speaking. Thor appreciated the action, not that he did not know he could trust Höðr, at least with Loki's life as the man had already proven he was willing to sacrifice his own for Loki's.

"The king is well and busy discussing the minutia of peace treaty diplomacy ahead of the actual negotiations," Höðr informed him.

"Ah, thanks," Thor replied as he pulled a face.

Perhaps, if Loki was as well protected as Lieutenant-General Yngvarr promised he was, then 'twas better if he were not there. Thor hated those types of diplomatic discussions and always had to fight to both stay awake and appear alert. Loki was far better suited than him to deal with this type of situation.

With that thought, Thor turned back to the rainbow bridge and mounted his stallion which he found waiting for him. Hopefully no one would recognize him, but then they should be making straight for Iðavöllr and he doubted anyone would pay them enough attention to take the time to figure out 'twas his horse. They were probably usually paying too much attention to him to notice his stallion.

As expected, they rode out swiftly and Thor spotted from afar the change in banners and standards flying high over the homes and shops of Ásgarðr. His brother's favorite shade of green was now liberally sprinkled in among the gold and the far more colorful ones of the merchants and traders themselves. It felt surreal to see as those banners and standards had always been gold for as far back as Thor could recall. He had known red ones were being prepared for after his coronation, but not a one was in sight now and he figured they had been put away in storage for later. He wondered what would happen with the green ones once Father awoke. 'Twas not like they would be used again since Loki was not the heir, or he was not meant to be if Thor regained his titles and powers.

The mood of the people once they reached the city itself seemed somewhat more subdued than usual, but not too bad at all and Thor noticed there seemed to be an unusual amount of hustle and bustle. He pulled his horse up alongside that of the lieutenant-general.

"What is going on?" Thor asked, indicating the people.

"Your brother has ordered all three tiers of warriors to prepare for battle as well as the commissioning of various weapons and armor from the local merchants and blacksmiths. In the event the peace talks fail and we are still at war with Jötunheimr," Yngvarr explained.

That made sense.

"Have we approached Niðavellir for weapons as well?" Thor asked, knowing Ásgarðr's blacksmiths alone would not be enough. Besides, much as he hated to slight anything æsir, he knew they could not deliver anywhere near the same standard of work as the dökkálfar could. Mjǫllnir itself was proof enough of that.

"Nay, but Lord Aðalgrímr's team have commenced talks with them in order to expediate the process should it become necessary," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied.

"Aye," Lord Birgir confirmed. "In fact, 'tis my next duty once I have spoken with some of General Týr's men."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Thor asked.

Lieutenant-General Yngvarr hesitated before he spoke. "We may need to test how strong you are before seeing what you can do."

'Twas a surprisingly diplomatic way of putting it for General Týr's second-in-command. Although, Thor mused, as one of the men who spent so much time around first his father and now, to a far lesser extent, Loki, he supposed Yngvarr was probably one of the more diplomatic warriors simply due to the fact the man was exposed to it on a near daily basis. Some of it had to rub off eventually. Thor knew some of Loki's skill had on him, even if only in their very most basic form, when he was not too upset or angry. The realization neither he nor Loki would be in the position they were in now if he had only done so more on Jötunheimr made him determine to try to do so more in the future.

He truly had acted poorly this time and Thor was still having some trouble wrapping his head around all of the consequences of his actions. Who knew becoming so angry at one single fr- jötunn could have such far reaching consequences as all of this? The simple fact it had reached out and changed even something so fundamental as the ruler of Ásgarðr was shocking. It truly was unbelievable.

Thor waited until they were inside Iðavöllr's gates before lowering the hood of his cloak.

"When is Loki due back?" Thor asked, looking at the diplomat.

"As 'tis the first day, I expect them to be gone until near dinner as I doubt things will get heated enough to require a pause today," Birgir replied.

"But he will be back for dinner? There are no plans to eat with the jötnar?"

"Nay, with the talks taking place on Niflheimr, and how tense our current relations with Laufey-King are, we did not think 'twas a good idea. Even the noon meal will be eaten separately in the outer chambers."

"I understand, thanks."

"If you will all excuse me, I need to prepare for my trip to Niðavellir."

Thor nodded at the diplomat and watched him walk away before turning his attention to Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, aware of the two Einherjar still following them.

"What now?" Thor asked, surprisingly uncertain of both himself and what to do.

"Given we are at war and that there has already been one attempt on King Loki's life, protection has been made mandatory for both Prince Vili and Queen Frigga," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr began.

Uncle Vili? Why would...

Oh.

Thor felt his face pale as he realized precisely how far down the line of succession they were. His uncle, who was normally a distant third in line, was now the official crown prince and heir as Loki had no children. Norns, that meant his cousin Balðr was now second in line. Or nay, wait, was Balðr not still underage? If so, that would make Uncle Vé regent of a regent if anything happened to both Loki and Uncle Vili. Normally Thor would think the thought ridiculous in the extreme, but given Heimdallr's earlier actions...

"By the Nine, when did things become so complicated?" Thor complained.

Lieutenant-General Yngvarr gave him a very sympathetic look, but Thor thought he could detect some censure there as well. Not that he could blame the man if there were. He had erred badly this time and he had to wince every time he thought about his confrontation with his father in Himinbjörg. It no longer surprised him Father had thrown him out of Ásgarðr and down to Miðgarðr. He would have done far more if anyone dared to speak to him thus, son or no, even as a prince, let alone once he was king.

"I know you said to treat you as your father has decreed, Thor," Yngvarr said. "But given the circumstances, I would like to insist you accept protection, for while you may not officially be in the line of succession or a prince of Ásgarðr at the moment, you are still both Óðinnson and Lokabróðir, and therefore would be a target during an attack. All the more so if the enemy were to realize your weakened condition."

"What are the odds of that?" Thor asked.

"Word will likely have spread and Laufey-King will no doubt ask why 'tis your brother on Hliðskjálf instead of you," Yngvarr replied. "Not to mention your punishment will work in our favor during the negotiations."

Thor sighed as he realized that, aye, knowing Father had punished him for his actions would help to appease Jötunheimr, given the number of dead as a result of his retaliatory attack for the frost giant incursion into the vault.

"Very well," Thor agreed, the memory of precisely how weak he currently was still all too fresh in his mind. Not to mention exactly how naked he felt without Mjǫllnir. "Is my mother with Father in the Óðinnsleep chamber?"

"Unless she has been ordered to rest or eat by Lady Eir," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr confirmed. "If you will excuse me, I too have some things to tend too while the king is on Niflheimr."

"Ah- of course."

Thor had to admit to being a little surprised at essentially being abandoned by the head of his father's guard at a time like this, but as he himself had said earlier, according to Father's decree he was neither heir nor a prince of Ásgarðr. He was certain the second-in-command of Ásgarðr's warriors had far more important things to tend to in a time of war than one disgraced son of the slumbering king.

'Twas a bitter realization for Thor to swallow and he quickly made his way towards his father's Óðinnsleep chamber, his two guards silent shadows behind him. The few servants and other guards they passed seemed surprised to see him and Thor avoided making eye contact with them, not wishing to see the emotion in their eyes. He had never felt so alone and isolated as he did now in his own home. He could not help but wonder if 'twas how Loki felt whenever his brother had been in trouble for his mischief and the people had found out about it. He suddenly felt a lot more sympathetic about it than he ever had before, having always simply written it off as the just consequences for Loki's chosen actions.

Chapter Text

The relief Thor felt at finally coming into sight of the Óðinnsleep chamber was great, and he sped up in order to reach it all the more quickly.

"Mother," Thor said, stepping inside and seeing her seated beside his father.

"Thor!" Frigga exclaimed, looking over at him in surprise before rushing to embrace him. "Oh, my son, I am so glad to see you."

Thor held her tight and felt everything he had hoped and wished for so desperately on Miðgarðr. This was like fully coming home. The only person missing now was his brother and he forced himself to focus on the fact he would see Loki later tonight.

He grunted as his mother suddenly squeezed too tightly and she pulled back at once; stricken.

"Thor?" Frigga questioned. "Are you alright? Have you not been restored?"

"Nay," Thor replied, lowering his eyes in shame.

"Then why are you returned? Does Loki know?"

"Aye, he sent Yngvarr and Birgir to retrieve me," Thor explained. "The humans had reacted adversely to the presence of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three and were keeping me imprisoned."

"Oh, are you alright?"

"Aye, simply exhausted."

"Come, I will walk you to your chambers so you can rest," Frigga said, linking their arms together and steering him from the chamber.

"How is Father doing?" Thor asked, craning his neck for a quick look. "Lady Sif mentioned 'tis not a normal Óðinnsleep."

"Nay, 'tis not. Your father put it off for too long and we were caught unprepared when he collapsed into it, but he has been doing better every day," Frigga informed him. "So I am far more optimistic now than I was before."

"Oh, I had hoped Lady Sif was simply ill informed," Thor admitted.

The thought of his father never waking up again was frightening for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be that the last words he had said to his father would have been horrible ones uttered in a blind rage. But, in addition to that, was the fact he did not know if Loki could lift their father's spell and punishment should he not figure out what it was Father had wanted him to learn. And then there was the question of Hliðskjálf. If Óðinn All-Father died in the Óðinnsleep now, then Loki would go from being merely regent, to full king of Ásgarðr in his own right, even if Thor were to regain his titles and powers before that point. Ásgarðrian succession laws were clear on this.

"Mother, how is Loki doing, truly?" Thor asked to distance himself from the thought, not liking both the envy and horror it provoked within him.

He loved his brother dearly, but Loki would make a horrible king. No one so dishonest could be a good ruler.

"He tries his best to hide it even from me, but your brother is stressed," Frigga replied with a frown. "As well he should be with everything which has happened, but it pains me to see it when there is so little I can do to help, not with your father in the condition he is currently in."

Thor swallowed as he realized what his mother meant. With Father in so fragile a state, it meant Mother was one of the few people with the necessary experience of the Óðinnsleep to help Lady Eir this time around when 'twas so bad. But that left no one to stand by Loki at this most trying of times, with him banished to Miðgarðr, Father in the Óðinnsleep and Mother needing to tend to Father.

Thor was almost afraid to ask, but he had to. "So who has been with Loki?"

"Why, the High Council, of course," Frigga replied, patting his arm where it was looped through hers. "They have been meeting with him a lot, given the war with Jötunheimr and all."

"Aye, but I meant for support and well, advice on kingship and all. Loki was never trained for this."

His mother frowned as she looked at him. "Óðinn may not have expected Loki to sit on Hliðskjálf, but he did make certain that Loki was prepared should the need ever arise."

"He did?"

"Of course. Thor, were you worried Loki was incapable?"

The question and the tone of her voice made Thor wince, but he thought 'twas a very valid concern. "Father took me aside for so many lessons, I had not realized Loki might have received similar tuition. I thought those were only for me."

"I see," Frigga replied, her voice that carefully neutral tone Thor hated and normally only heard when there were politicians around who were trying her patience. "Well, you need not fear. From what I hear Loki is doing a very good job."

"From what you hear?"

"I have spent most of my time with your father, so much of my information is second hand, 'tis true," Frigga said. "But I have seen your brother a few times, and both Vili and Vé have been by to see how Óðinn is doing and they have taken the time to speak with me as well."

"How are they doing?" Thor asked, normally only seeing his uncles at the High Council meetings.

With all of the preparations for the coronation and subsequent transfer of power, he had not really seen them in any other situation as of late, and even then it had been all crown related work. How long had it been since he had seen either of his aunts or any of his cousins? Thor could not immediately remember. They would have been present at the coronation and he would have seen them afterwards, but that of course had never happened.

"Stressed. Vili has had to move back into Iðavöllr and neither Gersemi nor Balðr has been particularly pleased with the change of situation."

"I can well imagine. Please tell me Balðr has not been obsessing and stressing out the servants with searches for mistletoe within Iðavöllr?"

"Unfortunately, I believe he has been."

"Wonderful."

Frigga smiled. "You must see it from his point of view. If you knew what would kill you and who, would you not take any and all precautions necessary to prevent it?"

"Aye, but they have already ensured Lóðurr is no longer near him, surely that should be enough?"

"'Tis easy for us to judge, but we are not in his position."

Still, Thor found it all rather cowardly of his cousin. He should face his death with dignity and honor, rather than running from anything and everything which seemed like it might be related to it. 'Twas far more like what he might expect of Loki, though his brother seemed disgusted with Balðr's behavior as well, surprisingly. He would have thought Loki would have approved of it, as it seemed like the same thing which his brother would do should he be informed of the fact he would die a certain way.

When they reached his chambers, Thor was surprised his mother's guard wished to check them before allowing them to enter, but Thor supposed after the attack on Loki, the Einherjar would be extremely cautious. The reminder of what had happened with Heimdallr made Thor go cold again and he allowed his mother to pull him into his chambers once they had been cleared.

"Are you certain you are fine, dear?" Frigga asked, concerned.

"Aye. I was merely thinking about what Yngvarr told me earlier, about what Heimdallr tried to do."

His mother paled at the words and Thor guided her over to a seat, moving aside the cloak he had left draped over the back of it when he had last been in the chamber.

"Sorry," Thor apologized. "I did not mean to stir bad memories once more."

"Nay, 'tis fine," Frigga reassured him, urging him down to sit on the sofa beside her and pulling him close. "I merely still have such a hard time believing it all. Heimdallr of all people!"

"I know, I could hardly believe it when Yngvarr told me. What was he thinking?"

"From what I have heard, at the trial it came out Heimdallr thought Loki had allowed the jötnar into the vault and that 'twas all part of a premeditated plan in order to steal Hliðskjálf from both your father and you."

"What? But 'tis ridiculous. Simply allowing the jötnar into the vault would by no means assure it. Hel, if I had never gone charging into Jötunheimr, then Father would never have banished me and it would still be me sitting on Hliðskjálf when Father fell into the Óðinnsleep."

"I know, it made no sense to me when I first heard it and I have not been able to deduce his logic since either, and I have had plenty of time to think on it."

"But why would he think it in the first place?"

"That is easier to understand, though still hard to follow," Frigga said. "It turns out your brother is able to hide his presence from Heimdallr's gaze, or rather Heimdallr's old gaze."

From the tone of his mother's voice, Thor could already tell she took great pleasure in the former gatekeeper's punishment. If he was truthful, it made Thor uncomfortable sometimes, the almost bloodlust his mother and brother seemed to share at times like this. 'Twas so distinctly different from the type he could easily understand and felt himself often on the battlefield or even before a battle. Nay, this was a completely different type of bloodlust, one which ran far colder and was much more subtle initially, until it flared to life later on and engulfed its chosen prey, oft when they least suspected it, having long since thought the danger past and gone. Thor had initially noticed it in his brother and only later recognized it in his mother. Both had been a shock to him, not only because he had always viewed them both as being far more innocent and distant from battle, but also because it seemed like a trait he would expect to see more in an enemy rather than within two members of his own family. He had mentioned it to his father once and Óðinn had seemed to understand exactly what he meant, even if his father had been no better at putting it into words.

'Twas a... darkness, almost, and Thor hated using such a word when it pertained to both his little brother and mother, though he had long since been forced to reconcile it with Loki. It had been difficult not to when Loki had first started joining him on his adventures with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three and had started blooding himself even if he did so in a far different manner from any of the rest of them. The whole process had actually been made infinitely worse due his brother's oft cowardly and almost ergi methods as it made Thor uncomfortable to see his little brother acting so dishonorably and, what was more, seeming to be so comfortable with it all and simply shrugging off any comments made about the issue.

Even now, Thor had to admit to oft being ashamed when Loki chose to use seiðr in battle or fought from a distance with his knives, rather than coming in close with an opponent and using his sword or another, more honorable, weapon. It grated as he knew Loki was trained in the use of all of them and 'twas merely a lack of practice and determination which kept him from excelling more at them. Thor of all people knew how well his brother was able to master that which he put his mind to, he simply did not understand why Loki chose not to put his mind to these honorable pursuits. He would think his brother would choose to do something about his public image as he knew Loki was aware of how the people viewed him and his ways. It could be no other way given how familiar Loki was with so many other rumors and tales that made their rounds of court.

"Loki is able to mask his presence from Heimdallr's gaze? Or was rather?" Thor questioned in disbelief. "How?"

"I do not know," Frigga admitted. "I have not had occasion to speak with Loki on it, but I definitely intend to as I am very curious as to the seiðr involved."

Of course his mother would be. Thor would simply need to remember to ask Loki not to teach anyone else this particular trick as they did not need more seiðkonur being able to hide themselves from Ásgarðr's benevolent gaze at will. It would only be a matter of time before the knowledge found its way into the hands of Ásgarðr's enemies from there. Well, if it had not already as Thor could easily remember what Heimdallr had said on the rainbow bridge right before they had gone to Jötunheimr. But still, to go from that to assuming Loki had been the one to let the jötnar in, 'twas too far of a leap and he had thought better of Heimdallr than to make such a mistake. Simply because Loki could do something did not automatically mean he would, even his little brother would never do something like that. Besides, even if Loki had wished to be Father's official heir, there were many essential skills required for kingship his brother did not possess. For instance, Thor could easily remember Loki himself admitting he was not good at inspiring loyalty or commitment in the warriors. And what was a king without the ability to do that?

"We must see if he has taught anyone else as it may help us figure out who let the jötnar into the vault," Thor said.

Frigga smiled at him. "Thor, I highly doubt Loki has taught anyone else how to do it. Your brother knows well the value of such a skill and not only would he guard it jealously, but he would probably go out of his way to ensure no one knew he was capable of it, since it would make it all the more useful for him. Besides, once people know about his ability to do it, you start to get suspicions such as Heimdallr's. There are a lot of people who will equate the ability to do something, with the need to do it. They do not seem to understand that simply because Loki can do it, does not mean he will or that he is the only one able to do so."

"Then we should ask how he learned the skill and whether someone else taught him. That might aid us."

"That would be a good idea. But even if he learned it himself does not mean no one else could have learned it on their own either."

"Of course," Thor said. "I..."

"What is it, dear?"

"I was simply wondering if you knew exactly what had happened? Yngvarr and Höðr told me Heimdallr tried to use Höfuð, but that is all I know."

"From what I understand, Loki had told Yngvarr and Týr he was suspicious of not only Heimdallr, but Lady Sif and the Warriors Three as well-"

"Why?" Thor interrupted. "'Tis part of what I do not understand of all of this!"

"I am not certain about why Loki did not trust Heimdallr, but I suspect it might be because of the fact he allowed you all to go to Jötunheimr."

"Pardon?"

"Oh, Thor, you know travel to Jötunheimr had been forbidden by your father."

"Aye, so?"

"So, in allowing you and the others passage, Heimdallr had gone against the king's express orders and broken his oath to obey and serve," Frigga explained.

"Aye, but I was the one who asked it of him."

"That does not matter, you were not king and so could not overrule your father's command."

That was hardly grounds to suspect Heimdallr would commit treason, but Thor kept quiet. His mother had admitted she did not know Loki's reasons for certain and besides, it hardly mattered on some level as his brother's fears had been proven correct in the worst possible way.

"But as I said, I do now know Loki's reasons for being suspicious of Heimdallr," Frigga continued. "As for Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, well, apparently they had been to see your brother earlier in the day and had requested he end your banishment and bring you home. From what I understand, they treated Loki ill and were borderline disrespectful right then and there in Valaskjálf before all of the Einherjar. 'Twas only pure chance Loki had chosen to take the petitions privately and so the rest of court was not present to witness the spectacle."

Thor was not certain what to think of that. On the one hand, he could see what his mother meant and how poorly it would have reflected on everyone involved if that particular argument had taken place in full view of the court. But on the other hand, he felt his mother was not being fair to Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. They were his and Loki's friends, not random subjects or Einherjar who had chosen to walk into Valaskjálf and disrespect their new regent king. 'Twas not their fault if they had not yet fully adjusted to the fact Loki was now officially, if temporarily, king rather than their friend and companion. As he had told all four of them and his little brother long ago, there was no need for formality and ceremony amongst friends. That was reserved for special occasions and those who were not such close companions of theirs.

"That was it?" Thor asked.

"'Twas what first made Loki suspicious, so when he mentioned it to Lieutenant-General Yngvarr and General Týr and they all decided to have Lady Sif and the Warriors Three followed. They feared they might disobey your brother's orders to leave you alone on Miðgarðr so you might learn what your father wanted you to in order for you to regain your titles and power and return fully restored."

That made a little more sense as Thor still did not know whether Loki himself as regent could now undo their father's punishment. At first he had not thought it would be possible, but after hearing what Loki had done with Heimdallr's All-Sight and transferring it to Höðr, he was no longer quite so certain. He would need to ask Loki about it, though if his brother did so then he did still fear Father might simply undo it once he woke from the Óðinnsleep. But at least it would allow him to properly help his brother until such time, instead of being hardly more than a liability. Besides, if it did come to war with Jötunheimr as Thor definitely feared it might, as he doubted Laufey-King could be trusted to hold to any kind of peace truce, then Loki would undoubtedly need him to lead the warriors in battle and ensure people properly listened to and obeyed him.

"I assume those spies saw Heimdallr allow Lady Sif and the Warriors Three passage to Miðgarðr?" Thor asked.

"Aye, and 'twas when they went to confront him about it that Heimdallr attempted to kill your brother," Frigga confirmed, her hand tightening on Thor's arm once more as she said it.

"And that was all it took?"

"From what I have heard, Loki feared Heimdallr's reaction and so cloaked all of their presences and allowed an illusion of himself to confront Heimdallr, who thought 'twas simply the two of them."

Thor knew those illusions of his brother's well, Loki had used them on many an occasion when they were off traveling in the other realms. Though he was oft loath to use them, Thor had to admit, at least to himself, that they were very impressive. He himself could not tell them apart from his brother on those occasions when Loki elected to use them against him. He had to resort to using methods such as striking Mjǫllnir against the ground in order to unbalance his brother and thus disrupt Loki's concentration and the seiðr holding the illusions in place. That was a guaranteed way of revealing which of the many Lokis was his brother.

"So he tricked him," Thor concluded with a nod.

"Nay!" Frigga scolded, sharply. "He used cunning and seiðr in order to uncover precisely how far Heimdallr's treasonous actions would go. If Loki had not done so, then we might never have known the full extent of Heimdallr's níð and it could have endangered us all."

His mother's use of the word níð discomforted Thor, but he had to admit that it fit the situation well. What Heimdallr had done was truly despicable and the ultimate dishonor an Einherjar could commit. It broke all of his oaths and was the worst possible betrayal of the crown possible. On some level it still felt surreal to think Heimdallr of all people had been the one to do it. It jarred badly with all Thor had thought of the man and how much he had trusted the former gatekeeper's judgment and honor.

How could he have been so badly deceived by him?

How had Thor not seen it at all?

He would have to ask Loki exactly what it had been which had made his brother suspicious of the former gatekeeper, so he knew what to look for in the future. Thor even had to resist the urge to go out and question all of the Einherjar assigned to his mother, in order to be certain there was not another traitor amongst them. Not that his mother was a defenseless damsel, but even the best of them could be caught off-guard if in the company of those they trusted.

"It will take time to fully sink in, I fear," Thor finally admitted. "It still seems too unreal to me. I trusted Heimdallr!"

"So did I, and I know your father did as well," Frigga replied. "Óðinn will be furious when he wakes up. After everything your father did for him, this is how Heimdallr repays him? By attempting to kill his son? I have had to stop myself from going down to the dungeons more than once and killing him myself!"

"Mother!" Thor exclaimed, shocked.

"What?" Frigga snapped, eyes flashing even as she clenched her fists. "He tried to kill my baby!"

If the situation were not so serious, Thor would laugh. It had been a long time since he had heard Mother call Loki that as his brother had long since complained at being called her baby and it had been centuries since their mother had slipped and used it around either of them, though Thor had always doubted she had given it up entirely. Though there were only a few decades age difference between himself and Loki, the fact his brother was the younger of the two, and that Loki had spent so much time with their mother, learning seiðr, had meant he had always been her baby far more than Thor had ever been. Though Thor had admitted to himself he had been somewhat envious of the close bond his mother and Loki shared, he had never actually felt any desire to learn seiðr himself, nor to go through all of the teasing and social disgrace Loki had gained from it all as a result.

'Twas highly ironic that the kenning should come back now of all times, when Loki was the single most powerful man within the Nine Realms. Somehow, he did not think his brother would be particularly amused and he would make certain to tell Loki of it later. His brother might quite possibly need the grounding at the moment.

"I know," Thor replied. "But we cannot interfere with Loki's ruling at the trial."

"Oh, I know that, and 'tis part of what has stayed my impulse," Frigga admitted, before smiling wickedly at him. "Besides, I would not want to deprive Heimdallr of all of the pleasure of his full sentence."

"What?" Thor questioned, confused. "I thought Loki had sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment rather than execution."

"Aye, exactly."

Thor felt he was missing something. Surely execution was a far worse punishment than prolonged imprisonment? To have one's head taken in such an ignoble manner was the worst way for a once honorable warrior to go, as it signified a complete fall from grace and honor. He was almost afraid to ask, though, as 'twas at times like this the darkness within his mother and brother came out the most, and he was not certain he could handle seeing it now of all times on top of everything else which was already going on.

"Has anything else happened that I should be aware of?" Thor asked instead, feeling slightly cowardly in doing so.

"Let me see," Frigga replied, lightly biting her lower lip. "I do not believe so. Almost everything has been focused on the war and the attempts to bring Laufey-King to the negotiating table."

"Yngvarr did tell me Loki has started preparing the army."

"Well he had to, in case the negotiations fail."

"Do you think they will? Birgir mentioned Loki was actually considering giving back the Casket of Ancient Winters," Thor said in disbelief. "Please tell me that is not true! Loki would not be so stupid, right?"

"'Tis not as simple as that, there are complications."

"Like what?"

"Well, apparently the Casket is far more than we ever realized it to be at first," Frigga explained. "Your father first started to suspect it not long after he had taken it from Jötunheimr."

"More? More than what? A weapon and means of transport?"

"Aye. Did you know that it was also known as the heart of Jötunheimr?"

"Nay, I do not think so," Thor frowned. "What does that even mean?"

"Well we used to think that 'twas simply another name for it, something more flowery and fanciful than the Casket of Ancient Winters. 'Tis an incredibly ancient artefact after all, and a magical one at that. Those tend to build up almost mystical connotations over time as well as myths and legends. Your father thought that was all it was with the Casket as well."

"But 'twas not?"

"Nay, unfortunately not."

"Then what?"

"It seems that 'tis called the heart of Jötunheimr because the Casket of Ancient Winters is, in fact, critical to the actual survival of Jötunheimr itself."

"What do you mean critical to the survival of Jötunheimr itself? Critical how?"

"What did you see when you were on Jötunheimr?" Frigga asked.

"See? Not much, as there was not much to see. Simply ice, snow and darkness."

"Precisely. That seems to be all that Jötunheimr has become since the end of the war and the loss of the Casket."

"Are you saying it used to be different?" Thor asked, horrified. "That there used to be more to Jötunheimr?"

"Aye, though it has always been one of the colder realms, it used to have far more life and light than it has now. There were once seasons and a far richer variety of both fauna and flora. The ice blooms and ice foxes of Jötunheimr in particular were well known and much sought after among the other realms. Trade with the jötnar also provided a steady stream of precious jewels, sapphires and multihued diamonds in particular, though there were a variety of other ice gems that were popular amongst the vanir and ljósálfar in particular. Much like the rubies and fire gems which come from Múspellsheimr now in fact."

It almost seemed like his mother was speaking of another realm entirely and Thor had a hard time reconciling what he was being told with the cold and barren landscape he had witnessed while on Jötunheimr. Could it truly be the realm had regressed so much simply because of the loss of the Casket of Ancient Winters? But how could the artefact he had always seen down in the vault be so critical to the survival of Jötunheimr?

"But, how?" Thor demanded.

"That I do not fully understand myself, but Vé said that it seems that the Casket somehow ties into Jötunheimr's magical core and helps to balance and maintain it, so without the Casket it has become unbalanced and 'tis that which has so badly affected the planet."

"Wait, planets have magical cores? What, like seiðberandi do?"

His mother turned to look at him with a confused frown. "Did your father not tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"About the Óðinnforce and Ásgarðr?"

Thor was all confused now. What did this have to do with what they had been having words about? "Nay."

Frigga cursed once, making Thor's eyes go wide. "It looks like I will have even more to reprove Óðinn on then. The timing, at least, is good, since I was nearly finished having words with him about the other issue."

"Other issue?" Thor asked, hesitantly.

Though not often, he had seen his parents argue a few times and each and every time had been quite memorable. Thor had learned much from those instances, the most important of which was that his mother could be a very scary woman when she wanted to be. Even his father seemed to struggle to gain any headway with her when she was on a roll and truly angry about something. He felt pity for his father, what with him being completely unable to even so much as defend himself from her at the moment.

"'Tis not important," Frigga waved off. "What your father should have told you is that for all that 'tis named the Óðinnforce, the power actually comes from Ásgarðr itself and not your father."

"Father does not have seiðr?"

"Of course he does, but what we call the Óðinnforce is not his own, natural seiðr. 'Tis seiðr from Ásgarðr itself, from her magical core," his mother explained. "All realms have one though the more magical ones - Ásgarðr, Álfheimr, Vanaheimr and Jötunheimr - have the stronger cores. The other five realms have far weaker magical cores, which is why they are not as renown for seiðr and there are less seiðberandi amongst their people."

That made some sense. Still...

"What is a magical core of a realm?" Thor inquired.

"'Tis much the same as the magical core of a person. It is the seat of their power and the source of it. From there the seiðr flows and it helps to sustain life on those planets, sometimes even being the source of it. From what your father tells me, these magical cores have become so strong as to have their own rudimentary sentience."

"Wait, Ásgarðr is alive and aware?" Thor demanded in shock.

Planets were alive?

"In a manner of speaking," Frigga confirmed. "'Tis not quite sentience like we possess it, but Óðinn does say Ásgarðr is aware of what happens on her and can tell him things, or guide him towards sources of information on things which he should be aware of."

'Twas a frightening prospect and Thor was not certain he liked it in the slightest. The very thought the ground beneath his feet could think and feel on any level slightly terrified him and it reminded Thor why 'twas that he had always tried to steer clear of seiðr and all it involved. Not only did it feel like cheating to use it, but such possibilities had always scared him a little.

"Why do you think Father should have told me of this?" Thor asked, still confused on that.

"Because, as king, you would have gained access to it all. To be connected to Ásgarðr directly as your father and Loki are even now," Frigga explained.

Thor looked at her in shock. "You and Father want me to access seiðr like that? The Óðinnforce?"

"Of course, dear. Had you not realized that would come with the crown?"

"Nay!" Thor denied sharply and slightly panicked. "I did not even know about realms having magical cores before this."

"Aye, but surely you knew about the fact you would gain control of the Óðinnforce when ascending to Hliðskjálf."

"Nay, how would I?"

Unable to remain seated, Thor rose to his feet and started to pace about his living chamber. How could he not have known about something so important when he had been only a few words away from becoming king himself? Why had his father not told him about this? Surely he should have had some warning before having it thrust upon him! Though he had little personal experience with seiðr, he had watched his brother perform it oft enough to know that it took concentration and skill, neither of which he had when it came to seiðr. Nor did he have any interest to learn it either.

"Did your tutors never make mention of it to you?" Frigga asked, worry in her eyes now. "Though they are unaware of the source of the Óðinnforce, they should be aware that 'tis a power passed from king to king, from father to son."

"They did not."

Or had they and he had simply not been listening? 'Twas a distinct possibility if they had mentioned it along with any of the other boring stuff like diplomacy or the particulars of Ásgarðr's laws. He would have others to deal with those issues for him, so why should he be bogged down with those types of items when he would have far more important things to deal with like wars or battles?

When Thor looked back over at his mother, he suddenly felt like a small lad again at the look she was giving him. 'Twas that particular cross between disappointed and disapproval, mixed in with reprobation and that particular look which told Thor she knew he might not be being entirely honest with her. He was not quite certain how she managed to pull it off, but when he had mentioned it to Loki, his brother had instantly known what he meant, so he was certain 'twas an actual look.

"Thor, you were about to be coronated less than a week ago and you did not even know some of the basics of being Ásgarðr's king?" Frigga inquired softly.

'Twas the volume which truly bothered Thor. Why could his mother not simply raise her voice like Father did? At least then he would know exactly how angry she was with him. Why did she have to make it about disappointment? He fought not to squirm.

"It did not seem important," Thor finally replied.

"Not important? The most powerful force on Ásgarðr and quite possibly one of the most powerful forces in all of the Nine?"

Well, when put thus...

"The king of Ásgarðr should not need to rely on something like that," Thor replied.

Chapter Text

"Oh, Ásgarðr's king should not need to rely on Ásgarðr herself? Then how is he to know if something is wrong? Or if there is danger approaching which no one else has detected?" Frigga asked. "Or how is he to do what your brother did and transfer Heimdallr's All-Sight from one who is a traitor and would-be king slayer, to a loyal former Einherjar who was willing to sacrifice his life for the royal family, only to be severely crippled and was still willing to serve despite all of that?"

And now Thor felt even more like a little lad than he had already been feeling. He needed to learn how it was that his mother did this as it would be a capable weapon if harnessed properly. Not to mention how well it would put anyone who dared to speak or act out against him in their place. The way Loki still continued to both question him in public and try to influence his actions proved he had yet to master a technique which worked even half as well as his mother's did with himself and his brother. Or their father, now that Thor thought on it. He had seen his mother manage to put Father in place with simply a few well-placed words. It had been both entertaining and frightening to watch as his father was the most powerful man in the Nine Realms and there she was, his mother making him seem like a naughty lad just like himself or Loki.

"Well then, Thor, please tell me how you would have handled the situation without the Óðinnforce," Frigga challenged.

"What, with Heimdallr?"

"Aye. Imagine you were in Loki's place, and you had to find a way to both punish Heimdallr and ensure the Bifröst was still left with a capable gatekeeper who could ensure only those who were worthy or invited reached Ásgarðr."

Oh, Thor had not even considered that. He had realized what it meant for Höðr to possess Heimdallr's All-Sight, but not the fact that 'twas so very necessary and vital for the operation of the Bifröst itself. How else would the gatekeeper know to open it for those wishing to return to Ásgarðr after all? Or know that someone who was elsewhere was in trouble and needed rescuing or aid?

Thor swallowed thickly as he tried desperately to think of an answer.

"Well?" Frigga demanded, sharply. "What would you have done, Thor?"

"I do not know!" Thor snapped back. "I have not had the proper time to think on it."

"Do not snap at me, young man! All I have done is challenge your assumption that you do not need the Óðinnforce to be able to rule properly. Additional time would not make this problem any easier to handle as there is no other viable solution short of opening the Bifröst at predictable intervals to either every realm or those to which citizens of Ásgarðr have traveled, both of which would present a significant security risk. What Loki did is the only reasonable solution and 'twas one that no one else had even considered. 'Tis why Heimdallr had become both so comfortable and secure in his position as he did. He felt unique, and therefore irreplaceable and self-important."

The lecture and reproach made Thor glance down. How was it that when his father told him off, he was able to rouse his anger and argue his point while, when his mother did the same thing, all he wanted to do was sink into the floor? It did not help that he could not think of any good counter argument at the moment. He was certain there had to be another way to have handled the situation, one which did not rely on the use of seiðr, he simply could not think of it at present. Nor did it help that he was as incapacitated as he was now.

"I think I am beginning to understand why 'twas your father felt the need to punish you so severely," Frigga stated.

"What?" Thor asked, his head snapping back up in shock.

"Did you know I had gone to him after I heard of it and argued with him about it?"

"Nay, how would I?"

"Well, I did, but he refused to budge, saying he was a king first and had to think about the future of the kingdom and that 'twas vital you learn this lesson. I am now ashamed to say I did not agree with him then."

"But you do now?"

"Seeing how poorly you were prepared for Hliðskjálf, aye, I do."

The words stung and Thor flinched back from them, unaccountably wretched. How could his own mother speak thus?

"What? Simply because I do not think a king should be so beholden on seiðr?" Thor asked.

"'Tis not simply that, but the fact you are allowing your pride to interfere with seeing it, does play a role," Frigga confirmed.

"My pride?"

"What would you call it?"

"An alternative point of view."

"Oh, so now you would attempt to be diplomatic."

"'Tis true!"

"Nay, Thor, 'tis not. A true king admits when he is wrong and knows when he is not capable of doing things the way he would most like or prefer to. A good king will use any and all means at his disposal in order to do what is best for his kingdom and his people. Which does not mean recklessly running off and starting a war with a hostile realm for nothing more than wounded pride!"

"The jötnar invaded Ásgarðr!"

"A few jötnar infiltrated the vault, aye, but we have no proof they were here on Laufey's orders or that they were anything more than a few rogue jötnar attempting to steal back the Casket of Ancient Winters in a rather desperate attempt to save their very realm from dying. Would you not make such an attempt if it were Ásgarðr that had lost its heart?"

"I..." Thor trailed off. "Aye, I would."

"Even if your father had ordered you not to?"

"If Ásgarðr were truly dying without it? Then aye, I would even then."

"As would I," Frigga admitted freely, startling Thor.

"You would commit treason?"

"In those specific circumstances and if Óðinn had no good reason for keeping me from doing so, aye. But I would need for there to be a genuine chance of success, which the jötnar who came probably thought there was when the portal appeared."

"Portal, what portal?" Thor demanded.

"I had forgotten you would not have heard. When Loki went back to the vault afterwards, he discovered there was a portal there leading directly to Jötunheimr."

Thor almost hesitated to ask. "What type of portal?"

The sigh his mother let out made Thor hunch his shoulders. Seiðr studies were boring and tedious, especially when there were far more entertaining and worthy things to learn, like battle strategies or fighting techniques!

"Portals are connections that form between the Nine Realms via fluctuations and branchings of the Yggdrasill," Frigga explained briefly. "Once they form, anyone can simply step through them and be in the other realm as easily and quickly as they would be if they had used the Bifröst."

Even Thor could see why his mother would have thought 'twas rather important he knew this. Why had his tutors not made it this clear instead of bogging it all down with tedious theory and speculation?

"Are they spontaneous or can they be made or forced into existence?" Thor asked.

"We know they can definitely form spontaneously as it has been observed. Many seiðberandi additionally speculate it should also be possible for someone strong enough in seiðr to create one as well, but to my knowledge it has never been proven. Well, not without the aid of an object of great power such as the Tesseract."

"So 'tis purely random then?"

"Aye."

"So then 'twas spectacularly bad luck one opened directly into the vault," Thor stated.

"Exactly, which to me lends credence to the idea the jötnar who came through might have done so entirely of their own volition. The simple opportunity might have been too much for them to resist given how important the Casket of Ancient Winters is to their very survival," Frigga stated.

"Can anyone find a portal?"

"Anyone could stumble upon it, certainly, but to find one without such luck takes training and knowledge of seiðr. Your brother told Vé he can hear portals as they emit the song of the Yggdrasill."

Thor stared at her. "The Yggdrasill has a song?"

"'Tis something which Loki has mentioned before, back when he was first learning seiðr and was very young. He said at times he could almost hear music when he was studiously concentrating on what he was learning and reaching out with his seiðr. I did not know he had identified a source for the music, but I do distinctly recall the expression which would overcome him when he was able to hear it. It made his whole face go soft and it always made me think it had to be a beautiful song indeed to elicit such a reaction from your brother."

It did indeed as Loki had always seemed quite critical of a lot of music, oft only giving praise very sparingly even when they had some of the most renowned or accomplished musicians in to perform for court. With vocalists 'twas a different story entirely, but with pure instrumentals Loki had always seemed unusually picky, even for his brother. Thor could not help but wonder now if 'twas because Loki was comparing it, either knowingly or unknowingly, to this song of the Yggdrasill. If so, then he could understand why his brother might have found all living music wanting in comparison to the very sound of the World Tree itself. It made that particular quirk of his brother's so much easier to comprehend.

"Thus Loki was able to find the portal from its sound?" Thor checked.

"Aye."

"And would the jötnar have been able to do the same?"

"Potentially, or one of their seiðberandi might have another means of finding them. I believe that Ásgarðr has guided your father towards more than one present here."

"Exactly how many portals are there on Ásgarðr?"

"I do not know, you would need to ask your father or brother."

Thor would make certain to do so. If he was to become king later, he would need to know all places from whence potential enemies would be able to enter the realm. He assumed his father had protections set up at each one already, but he would want to check them out for himself. One could not be too careful when it came to the defense of the realm.

"I should leave you to sleep," Frigga stated as she rose to her feet. "You look like you could use it."

"I do, the mortals would not let me sleep last night, I believe 'twas because I would not answer all of their questions about Ásgarðr and our ability to send people to Miðgarðr," Thor replied.

"I can understand how the Bifröst might be scary to them at their present level of development."

"'Tis actually a lot further along than I had realized," Thor admitted. "Some of their people are surprisingly knowledgeable. There was this one woman, Lady Jane, who was already well on her way towards uncovering the science that once led our ancestors to originally creating the Bifröst itself. They are not yet anywhere near it, but they are beginning to understand the basics behind it."

"'Tis surprising indeed, and you will need to tell me all about it, and this Lady Jane, once you have had some rest."

"Will you go back to Father?"

"Nay, 'twas about time for Lady Eir to come back and tell me to leave your father's chamber for a while," Frigga replied. "She is keeping a close watch on how long I spend there and how much I sleep and eat."

"We cannot afford to have you fall ill as well, Mother."

"I know, dear, which is why I shall go eat and partake of some fresh air before returning to your father to give him that lecture he so obviously needs."

Thor grimaced but did not try to convince her otherwise. He had long ago learned he could not change her mind on matters of this nature once she had determined they were necessary.

"I bid you a good day then, Mother, and I shall come find you once I wake once more," Thor promised.

"Until then, Thor," Frigga leaned forward to kiss his cheek before taking her leave.

Suddenly weary with all he had learned, Thor started to pull off his clothes as he made his way to his bedchamber, dropping the garments on the floor as he went. He then simply collapsed straight on his bed, rolling just enough to be able to pull the furs over him. He did not think he had missed his own bed this much since that particular adventure to Álfheimr where they had been caught out in the rain and had spent several days soaking wet despite their best efforts to find shelter. It had been a miserable time and by the end of it everyone had been in a foul mood.


As Loki had feared, it took nearly all day to sort out the minutia of the peace talks themselves and he was not entirely certain if 'twas the best idea to move straight on into discussing what had caused the breakdown in the old peace treaty. Patience had already worn thin and tempers were likely to be easily frayed as a result. However, covering this now would mean they would be able to start the talks tomorrow on a more positive note rather than spending the morning arguing over who had committed the worse offence.

A quick glance over at Lord Aðalgrímr showed the man seemed inclined to continue from the subtle signal he sent Loki's way. Still, they were not alone in this.

"Shall we continue on to discussing the events of the past few days before breaking for the day?" Loki asked, looking directly at Laufey-King.

His birth father looked at him in consideration before nodding his assent. "I believe it would be best."

"Fine," Loki replied, taking a breath before continuing on in a neutral voice. "The first we knew of anything was when Óðinn All-Father paused in the middle of my brother's coronation ceremony and said 'jötnar'."

'Twas a slight lie, but Loki thought it far better than admitting King Óðinn had used the speciest slur frost giant. That would definitely not go down well.

"Father, Thor and I then went down to the vault," Loki continued. "There we found the remains of three jötnar and the slain bodies of two Einherjar. The Casket of Ancient Winters had been removed from its pedestal."

"How were the jötnar slain?" Helblindi-Princex inquired.

Loki's lips twitched at the question. He wondered if 'twas a deliberate attempt to fish for information, or simply an innocent question asked without realization of the security implications involved.

"One of the vault's security features," General Týr replied with a slightly less neutral tone.

"This attack on your sovereignty was not authorized by me," Laufey-King stated unequivocally.

'Twas exactly what Loki and the High Council had expected him to say regardless of whether or not 'twas true. Unlike everyone else present on the æsir side, though, Loki already knew it to be a lie and so merely observed his birth father's expression to see how good of a liar that Laufey was. It turned out that he was a rather impressive one, not that Loki had truly expected it to be anything else as a king as notorious for deception and deceit did not become thus if he had always failed to make his lies believable. Still, 'twas better for him that Laufey denied any involvement in the attack as otherwise it would become known there had been an æsir involved and Loki was not entirely certain if he could believably spin things to make it look like 'twas either Heimdallr or one of his brother's friends and the absolute last thing he needed at present was to have General Týr instigate a hunt for another traitor. The man would not stop until Týr thought he had unmasked the perpetrator.

Therefore Loki nodded once as if to accept Laufey's proclamation. "Óðinn All-Father had also considered this possibility," he simply said.

What Loki would not say was that Óðinn had been willing to leave things at that. It would lose them any leverage the attack represented in the crucial who started it question that would inevitably follow during the actual negotiations tomorrow. The instigator would normally be expected to provide some sort of concession to prove their contrition that the act had led to the new declaration of war. While Loki knew better than to expect Laufey to actually offer any kind of apology, the fact the jötnar had made the first move could be enough to make his birth father accept a condition later on he otherwise might not without a matching concession on Ásgarðr's part.

"But your brother did not," Gunnlöð-Lairde said, leadingly.

"Thor did not," Lord Aðalgrímr agreed, deliberately leaving out Thor's title as they had agreed. "He decided, on his own and against his father's orders, to travel to Jötunheimr to obtain answers."

"Obtain is such a soft word for what he did," Laufey retorted. "Come charging in, demanding answers while insulting my people is far more accurate."

"As you say," Loki conceded, not wanting to get caught up arguing semantics at this point when Laufey's description was far more accurate.

"They too were the actions of one acting without the authority of the king," Lord Aðalgrímr continued. "As you say the jötnar killed in the vault were."

"There is a big difference between three nameless and faceless subjects acting in such a manner without authorization and a crown prince and heir doing so," Laufey countered. "Especially one who would have been crowned king but for a last-minute interruption."

And therein lay the real crux of the problem on their end. Though Loki knew well that any one of the three jötnar who had invaded Ásgarðr could quite possibly have been easily linked to Laufey, the efficiency of the Destroyer was such there was not enough left of any of them to make any kind of identification possible. Thus, while the first act had been jötnar, the bigger one had definitely been æsir. It would make the negotiations tomorrow interesting, to say the least.

"Your brother also came looking for war," Laufey-King continued boldly.

"He came demanding answers for the attack on Ásgarðr," Loki countered immediately. "He was concerned for his people and the safety of the Realm. If one group of jötnar managed to reach Ásgarðr, then there was always the possibility of more following."

"I answered his questions and told him to leave, giving him the chance to walk away without further escalating the situation any more than he already had."

"You made an accusation of there being traitors within the House of Óðinn," Loki shot back, knowing if he avoided mentioning it entirely that he could rouse his birth father's suspicions and he had seen enough to know he did not want that.

If Laufey were to start thinking Loki did not want it mentioned, then his birth father might start to make connections which Loki did not want Laufey to make. 'Twas not like there were a great many seiðberandi on Ásgarðr powerful enough to have opened a portal as he had, and he was practically the only seiðberandi other than Óðinn who could do it. Though Loki doubted the All-Father possessed the necessary knowledge to do so. Therefore, if Laufey began to grow suspicious, then 'twas entirely possible the man would be able to deduce Loki had been the mysterious Ásgarðrian who had aided him in bringing some warriors into the vault, and 'twas the absolute last thing Loki could afford. 'Twas one thing for Heimdallr to make seemingly baseless accusations against him, but if Laufey-King were to start saying the same thing, well then it all might become a lot more believable to people.

"And your brother accused me of having sent those jötnar," Laufey responded, seemingly dismissive of his former words.

Good. Loki had hoped Laufey would seek to distance himself from them because, if he did not, then his birth father would almost have to admit to having had prior knowledge of the attack on Ásgarðr. Otherwise, why would he know there was a traitor within the House of Óðinn?

"As I recall, you tried to be the voice of reason for your brother but, not only were you ignored, you were told to mind your place," Laufey continued. "Ironic then that 'tis you who sits here before me now rather than him."

And there it was, the expected attempt to flatter him into feeling favorably towards Laufey and the jötnar. It might have worked, too, if Loki were not quite so aware of the tactic nor so averse to being king long-term.

"One of your men then deliberately provoked Thor," Lord Aðalgrímr rushed to add, as if seeking to distract everyone from what Laufey had just tried.

Loki made certain to glance away as if uncomfortable at getting acknowledgement from the enemy where he was not used to receiving it from his own family. He hoped it worked as he was not able to see its effect on Laufey.

"A verbal insult does not justify a physical attack," Thrymm-General protested. "Thor was the one to initiate physical violence."

"In this attack," General Týr reminded him. "'Twas during the jötnar attack on Ásgarðr that the first casualties fell and they were æsir, not jötnar."

"You have two dead guards, while we have two hundred and sixty-four dead warriors," Gunnlöð-Lairde countered. "Your attack was the greater."

"Our attack was provoked and in response to your breach of the peace treaty."

"Additionally you, Laufey-King, were personally involved in the second attack," Loki added.

As the jötnar did not know how the Destroyer operated, they would not be aware Óðinn had deliberately ordered it to attack even though it would have done so on its own if given a few more seconds.

"My people were being attacked by invaders from a foreign Realm in direct violation of our peace treaty with them, of course I became involved and activated additional security features," Laufey retorted. "You would have too in my position."

'Twas not truly an argument Loki could disagree with, so he simply held Laufey's gaze for a while instead.

"Given the peculiarities of the situation, I do not believe we would reach an agreement on responsibility even with external mediation," Lord Aðalgrímr said, after a few minutes.

Laufey snorted and turned his head to look at the diplomat, allowing Loki to shift his gaze to the rest of the jötnar party. Helblindi-Princex was looking at him and quickly shifted his gaze, though Loki noted that his sibling's eyes turned to glance back in his direction shortly afterwards. He wished he knew enough about the jötunn princex to know what they might be thinking. As 'twas, it could be anything from surprise or disapproval to his challenging Laufey-King so directly, to simple curiosity about an æsir king, let alone one so close in age to Helblindi themself. The abruptness of his own rise to power and the throne could be making Helblindi think of how quickly things could change for themself. Loki wondered if Helblindi being king now would make things better or worse for Ásgarðr. Better, he would think from everything that he and Lord Aðalgrímr had already observed and witnessed, but he was not blind to the possibility all of it could be an act predetermined by Laufey-King himself in order to lure them into some kind of trap or sense of complacency.

Loki would need to ensure they did not concede to anything over the next few days in the hopes of appeasing Laufey-King, and then seeking to renegotiate once Helblindi-Princex was on the throne as it could all be a ruse on the jötnar part to make them think Helblindi would be more open to change and a lessening of tensions later when they truly was not and would not be.

"I believe that is a fair assessment," Gunnlöð-Lairde agreed.

Not that it surprised Loki as the only alternative was to take the blame themselves, which the High Council had known ahead of time Laufey would never do, even if it had all been premeditated on his part. Which 'twas - with more than a little provocation and aid.

For once, even Loki was tired of all of the word games, second guessing and counter stepping. 'Twas surprisingly tiring being the only one to know the full truth of what had happened and balancing everything out with all the different people involved who each knew different amounts of information and none of whom even suspected (at this point anyway!) that he knew it all.

"Given that, may I suggest we end here for the day and reconvene tomorrow morning?" Lord Aðalgrímr suggested.

"That would be acceptable," Gunnlöð-Lairde replied, after glancing at Laufey. "The same time?"

"Unless you would prefer a different one."

"Slightly earlier would be preferable, to take into account the increasing time shift between our two Realms."

"Very well, shall we say two hours earlier then?"

"Aye."

'Twas all very accommodating and, to some extent, it surprised Loki even though he knew Laufey had not initially wanted a war, though his birth father had not hesitated to declare one after Thor had attacked even when Óðinn had pressed for peace. Loki could understand that, however, given the number of jötnar casualties. When all was said and done, Laufey still had subjects who expected him to stand up for them to some extent. Still, the cooperation here of Gunnlöð-Lairde, at least, showed Laufey was still amenable to peace, though he did not doubt that his birth father would try his utmost best to obtain as much from Ásgarðr over the next few days as 'twas possible to get.

Loki almost looked forward to that particular part of the negotiations, as he knew Laufey would almost certainly be forced to accept things which his birth father did not want to and Loki would take all the pleasure he could from that without feeling guilty. The man had left him to die as a helpless infant for nothing more than being íviðja, so 'twas only right for him to get his revenge wherever he could obtain it.

"You will bring the Casket of Ancient Winters back tomorrow?" Laufey suddenly asked.

"'Twas my intention," Loki replied.

He could have used it as leverage to gain something, but he and Lord Aðalgrímr had agreed against General Týr's protests that it would be another gesture of goodwill on their parts if the jötnar had been behaving themselves, and Loki could not say they had not. All of their clashes so far had been mostly civil and only veered off course a few times and then never too far, all things considered. Overall he would term today a huge success, given all of the pitfalls they had navigated thus far.

"Good," Laufey stated.

With that his birth father rose to his feet, which seemed to be the trigger for everyone else to do so as well.

"If you would meet me back in the corridor outside, I shall escort you back to the Bifröst site," Lord Ragnvaldr said, looking at Gunnlöð-Lairde as he did so.

"Very well," Gunnlöð-Lairde replied.

"King Loki."

Loki looked over at the call and found Laufey motioning for him to join him near the center of the hall. He tilted his head for a moment, catching General Týr's concerned look out of the corner of his eye along with their prearranged signal to be careful and consider precautionary tactics such as utilizing a double or preparing to teleport himself. He had taken great satisfaction at having his former teacher and seiðr doubter wishing to rely on such tactics and powers now.

Curious despite himself, Loki moved forwards to join his birth father, forgoing the use of an illusion for now as it would indicate fear on his part should it be discovered. Besides, 'twas not like Laufey could burn him with his touch and, while a direct physical attack was possible, he was not entirely certain Laufey would have sat through a whole day of tedious talks simply to so blatantly kill him at the end of it. Or try to do so.

"Laufey-King," Loki acknowledged as he stopped not far from his counterpart.

The jötunn king took a step closer and Loki could almost feel the Einherjar stiffen from across the hall. The amused twitching of Laufey's lips told him that at least one of his guards was not as subtle at disguising his concern as he could be.

"Your guards are frightened for you," Laufey noted quietly.

"We are further down the line of succession than anyone ever seriously thought we would be," Loki replied, voice pitched to match his birth father's tone and volume.

He saw no reason to sugar coat things, not when they all knew exactly why there was so much concern for him.

"Aye, and here you stand facing one of your oldest enemies, well within striking distance," Laufey said, responding with the same brutal honesty.

Loki gave him a predatory smile. "The same can be said for you, and I guarantee, my striking distance is far longer than yours."

"Is it now, little fox?"

The kenning nearly undid all of Loki's composure as dark hatred swelled hard and fast within him and nearly rushed in over his rational mind. He shifted and moved his free arm behind him so he could clench his fist and force it still. 'Twas kept out of sight from his own people as well as his birth father by his cape.

"'Twas not my intention to offend," Laufey said a moment later, and Loki realized something must have slipped through, most likely on his face. "I have seen your skill in battle with knives after all."

That was a concession, Loki realized dimly, and he forced the hatred down. Laufey was very much attempting to regain the Casket of Ancient Winters the peaceful way, and the man clearly understood he could only do so through him. Loki simply had not expected for his birth father to be quite so upfront about it. Or at least so blatant, he supposed. But 'twas his own fault for allowing their past history to cloud his thinking on the matter. Laufey knew naught that the king he was trying to woo now was the same person as the infant he had left to die in the ice and snow of Jötunheimr well over a thousand years ago. And why would he? Laufey had probably long since thought that child dead and gone. 'Twas quite possible he had never even returned to the temple to check and see if his plan had worked. And why would Laufey? 'Twas impossible for a mere babe to survive something like that.

"Am I to take it you simply enjoy teasing my guards then?" Loki finally asked.

Laufey let his lips twitch upwards ever so slightly. "'Tis a small pleasure, to be sure."

Despite himself, 'twas a sentiment Loki could sympathize with as he had done it himself before, simply to see his guards or those of his father twitch. Thor had also been quite fond of it in his youth as well, oft attempting to see if he could break the concentration of the Einherjar meant to stand along Valaskjálf with a straight face. Most had outlasted his easily bored brother, but there had been a few memorable times when Thor's legendary stubbornness had kicked in and he had refused to leave until at least one of the Einherjar had cracked and reacted in one way or another.

"Besides, I do genuinely think we can achieve something," Laufey continued. "As I mentioned earlier and in my letter to you before, it did not escape my notice that, had you been in charge of the excursion to Jötunheimr, that there would have been no attack or casualties that day."

"There would have been no excursion to begin with," Loki retorted.

"Even better."

"In that case, I look forward to tomorrow's discussions."

Laufey's eyes went past Loki to where the Casket of Ancient Winters stood, before returning to him. "Me too, King Loki."

"Laufey-King," Loki nodded back, before turning and walking over to the Casket of Ancient Winters.

"Everything all right?" General Týr asked, coming over to stand beside him.

"Aye," Loki reassured as he watched the jötnar gather together and leave. "He was simply attempting to further ingratiate himself with me ahead of tomorrow."

"Of all the tactics he could have chosen to use, 'tis one of the better ones from my perspective, at least."

"You only say that as it makes him less likely to make an offensive move against me in the interim."

"True, but it also indicates Laufey might actually think negotiation will gain him what he wants," General Týr said. "It makes me more hopeful than I was before that this might achieve something."

"Such optimism, General," Lord Aðalgrímr teased as he joined them. "You may want to be careful, or we will think you possessed."

Loki laughed at the expression that crossed Týr's face at the mere suggestion.

"I merely point out that Laufey is not one to put this much effort into a deception," General Týr protested. "He is more direct in his actions."

"And as such the current ploy makes more sense," Loki concluded. "Aye, I do realize that and, if Laufey-King has not learned any new tricks, then 'tis a good sign indeed."

"But you do not want to take it for granted," Lord Aðalgrímr guessed.

"Nay, and besides, even if it means what we think it does, that does not preclude him from attempting to gain each and every advantage he can on the morrow," Loki added as he picked up the Casket after handing Gungnir to General Týr.

"Aye, the real work is only just about to begin," Lord Aðalgrímr agreed.

"I hate negotiations," General Týr groused.

Chapter Text

By the time they had returned to Ásgarðr, Loki was ready to turn in for the day, but he knew his work was far from done yet. Still, it felt good to return to Himinbjörg and find Höðr waiting for them. His old guard's eyes immediately scanned him over, assessing him and his health as Höðr had so oft done in the past, even though Loki had felt the man's eyes on them quite frequently throughout the day. Not that he blamed Höðr, his king had been in an off-world meeting with Ásgarðr's greatest enemy after all. Höðr would have been remiss in his duties as gatekeeper of the Bifröst if he had not kept a protective eye on him at almost all times.

"Has Lord Birgir successfully retrieved my brother?" Loki asked.

"Aye," Höðr replied. "They returned about mid-morning, Your Majesty."

"Good, and where is Thor now?"

Höðr's golden gaze swung towards Iðavöllr for a moment before replying. "He seems to have reawakened and is with the queen once more."

That made things easier for him as Loki had promised his mother he would let her know when he returned.

"Thanks, Höðr," Loki said, before he swept from Himinbjörg to the horses which were waiting for them out on the rainbow bridge.

The return to Iðavöllr was relatively uneventful and Loki had to smile as he found Lieutenant-General Yngvarr waiting for him at the stables when they arrived.

"Does he ever miss a beat?" Loki asked General Týr as they dismounted.

"Nay," Týr replied with a grim look. "And I would replace him if he did so now of all times."

Loki's eyebrows rose at the harsh words. "Well, I can attest he has not done so in the slightest."

It seemed he was not the only one in need of some rest. He could only hope General Týr would have more time to find it than he did.

"Your Majesty, General," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr greeted as they stepped over to them. "I hope the first day went well?"

"There were no overt attempts on our lives other than with that Norns bedamned drink," General Týr stated. "Thus, I believe it went well."

Loki chuckled. "You truly do not like the Ymir's sýra, do you?"

"I do not understand how you were able to maintain such a straight face. Were you serious about the fruitful comment or was it simply to disappoint Laufey?"

"'Twas truthful and I did not find it quite so bad, unusual perhaps, but not enough to make me want to gag."

"I would wonder if we had the same drink if I did not see it being served myself," Lord Aðalgrímr commented as he joined them. "I am with General Týr, 'tis only necessity which makes me able to swallow it."

"And for that, Ásgarðr is thankful," Loki teased before he handed the Casket of Ancient Winters over to the general to return to the vault. "Now if you will all excuse me, I have a promise to keep to my mother. I shall see you both shortly in Glaðsheimr."

"Your Majesty," Lord Aðalgrímr and General Týr said nearly in unison.

That would never grow on him, and Loki felt the urge to flee rise up within him at exactly how tied down and restricted he was at the moment. 'Twas only the knowledge of how truly desperate things would become if he did so which restrained the impulse, but 'twas an ever growing one and Loki could only hope he was able to resist the temptation long enough for his father to awaken. And if Óðinn did not awaken then Loki would track him down regardless of where he had gone and drag him back to the land of the living, kicking and screaming if need be. He would not be saddled with Hliðskjálf forever!

The walk to his father's Óðinnsleep chamber was quick and silent, Loki lost in thought about the next day's negotiations, but those musings left him as he entered the chamber and caught sight of his brother. Thor was sitting across from Mother on the other side of where Óðinn lay as he slept. 'Twas both wonderful and disconcerting to see Thor again. It had only been a few short days since the attack on Jötunheimr, and yet it almost felt like decades had passed. Was it his imagination or did his brother look frailer than before? Surely it should not be so immediately visible that Thor was now mortal. Or did it show to one who knew the affected person well? Regardless, Loki could not shake the impression.

"Loki," Frigga greeted with a smile as she looked up and caught sight of him.

"Mother," Loki replied, stepping forward to embrace her when she rose to greet him.

"I am glad you are back. Did things go well on Niflheimr?"

"As well as could be expected," Loki replied, pulling back and turning to his brother who had also risen.

"Loki!" Thor exclaimed, immediately crowding close.

The exuberance caught Loki a little off-guard and it took him a moment to realize someone must have informed his brother of Heimdallr's assassination attempt. He figured he should be pleased this was Thor's reaction to it rather than outright denial and demands for him to fix the situation immediately. The only thing which was incredibly disconcerting was the fact that for all of his brother's elation and effusion, Thor's actual grip was shockingly weak and felt more like a gentle squeeze rather than the rib crushing embraces he was accustomed to.

"Thor," Loki replied, being careful of how much strength he used when he returned his brother's embrace. "How do you fare? Höðr informed us of the mortals' treatment of you."

"I am well, thanks to you for retrieving me," Thor replied, pulling back. "Can we have words, Brother?"

"That depends on how long it will take. I have a High Council meeting to discuss today's progress with Jötunheimr and to plan for tomorrow. I was going to avoid having dinner in the Great Hall tonight, though, so if you wish to join me in my study, we could have words then."

Thor seemed to almost hesitate for a moment. "Do you mean the king's study, or the one in your chambers?"

"The former," Loki replied, startling at how easily he spoke of it now.

Had it only been four or five days since he had first started using it? It felt like at least a few years. If this was how mortals experienced days, then Loki could well understand how they might not be so discontent with only having a mere handful of decades. The conversation also inevitably made him glance over at Óðinn, wondering what he thought of all of this. It had always disconcerted Loki that his father was still both awake and aware to a certain extent while in the Óðinnsleep. That the man could not see everything, he had long since confirmed as he would have gotten into a great deal of trouble one particular time if Óðinn had been able to see what he had been up to when his father had slipped into the Óðinnsleep while he had been on Vanaheimr and so he had not known to be cautious until it was already far too late.

"May I..." Thor began hesitantly, and it almost made Loki squirm to observe it. "May I join you for the High Council meeting? I would like to help out however I can."

"I am not certain how much there is you can do like this, and I do not want to distract you from being able to learn whatever lesson 'twas that Father wished you to learn," Loki began, furiously attempting to think through the ramifications of allowing Thor to sit on the High Council as a mortal.

"Aye, but is it even possible here? For all we know, the lesson might require something specific to Miðgarðr which I will not be able to learn here."

"I am more inclined to think you were sent to Miðgarðr as, without your powers, you are more akin to their levels of strength and would not be accidentally injured should someone here forget to curb their strength or enthusiasm around you," Loki countered.

On the one hand, letting Thor sit in on a High Council meeting was not the same as granting his brother his full membership back on it, Loki knew. But, on the other hand, it risked blurring the lines between what currently was and what nearly everyone would see Thor as, automatically. Still, it would allow his brother to catch up on what was going on with Jötunheimr without him needing to waste time repeating himself or explaining things multiple times.

"Please, Brother," Thor pressed.

"Very well, but you are not a full member right now, Thor, as both mortal and... well, you cannot be."

The way his brother looked away told Loki that Thor had known exactly what he was initially going to say. It made him feel a little bad for his brother, but at the same time it felt refreshing and good to actually see Thor pay for his actions, for once, instead of always being able to get away with blatantly flaunting the rules and escaping completely unscratched and unpunished for all of it.

"I understand," Thor replied. "And thank you, Loki."

Mother smiled at both of them. "Do be careful Thor, your brother is correct that Ásgarðr is not used to someone with a mortal's stamina and strength," Frigga said, embracing him once more before she moved to do the same to Loki. "And I am so proud of you, Loki," she whispered in his ear.

Loki held her tight for a moment, taking comfort from her presence and love before he stepped back once more and smiled at her. "Make sure you get some rest as well, Mother."

"I will, but do not worry about me, Lady Eir is already keeping a close eye on me, and you have far too many other things to be concerned about at present."

"Come, Thor," Loki said, turning and sweeping from the chamber.

His brother followed silently after him and Loki could not help but wonder what was going through Thor's mind as the Einherjar fell in around them as they headed towards Glaðsheimr. He had almost been far too busy lately to spare his brother much thought beyond the occasional moment to check in on him remotely, or to wonder how he was doing on Miðgarðr with the mortals. Thor, on the other hand, would have had little but time to think about what he had done to lead him to that position. Or at least, Loki very much hoped his brother had used all of the time he had while being held in one chamber or another, be it in with the healers or the warriors, to contemplate what he had done. But Loki knew Thor far too well to know 'twas guaranteed that was what the time had been used for, as his brother hated contemplation and looking back over past actions. Nay, Thor was far more of a looking forwards person, always wanting more adventure or another quest rather than spending time studying or thinking about how things might have gone better on the last quest had he only done things differently.

After all, Thor did not always assume that simply because they had fought something or someone that things had gone awry. Nay, Loki was pretty certain if an adventure ended without a battle that his brother probably thought it a failure on some level. He had noticed the time between quests was always shortest when Thor had not been able to fight something on a previous one.

"Brother, what does the High Council know of what happened before?" Thor inquired.

"Before what?" Loki asked. "You mean on Jötunheimr and what transpired in Himinbjörg immediately afterwards?"

"Aye, both of those."

"Almost everything," Loki replied, glancing over to view his brother's reaction.

Thor pulled a dismayed face at the words, embarrassment following swiftly afterwards.

"'Twas necessary," Loki explained. "Either for them to understand how and why Laufey-King had declared war, which Father was never able to tell them of ere he collapsed, or because of what Laufey-King said in his missive."

"Missive? What missive?" Thor demanded, sharply.

"The personal one he sent me along with his official reply to our request to hold peace talks."

"He sent you a personal missive outside of the official communications?"

"Aye, though they came together, obviously, as he has no other means with which to contact me, luckily," Loki replied.

"And what did he want that he could not say otherwise?"

Loki smiled. "Why, to try to flatter me, of course. 'Tis a negotiation tactic, Thor, attempting to use what they assume is my naivety and inexperience to their advantage."

"Of course," Thor laughed. "They do not know you well enough to realize how good you are with words, or your kenning."

Wordsmith. Liesmith. Loki wondered which one his brother was referring to. Knowing Thor, it could be either.

"Exactly, but it necessitated the disclosure of additional information to the Council when I passed the missive on to them."

"How so?" Thor asked.

"Because of what it referred to. Your words actually, from just before the battle on Jötunheimr."

"My words?"

"Aye, Laufey's missive said that he would not be as dismissive towards me as 'your brother's words towards you indicate that he is'," Loki quoted.

"I am not dismissive towards you!" Thor protested. "What words was Laufey referring to? We were hardly able to have proper words on Jötunheimr, there was not enough time."

Of course his brother would not remember them. 'Twas not like 'twas anything new to Thor, nay, his elder brother had been using them, or some variant of them, for quite some time now, so Thor probably no longer understood precisely how bad they could look to others. Or how disrespectful they were to Loki himself.

"Nay?" Loki questioned as neutrally as he could, stopping to face Thor. "'Know your place, Brother.' That was what you said and what he either heard or was told about and it now forms the basis of Laufey-King's strategy in these negotiations. We are lucky I am not stupid enough to be played by them, as 'tis not a bad strategy to use given the circumstances."

Thor looked stricken for a moment, but Loki was far from certain 'twas for the right reasons. Rather than it being because his brother realized exactly how poorly his words reflected on Loki and his own experience and status as a prince of Ásgarðr, he was pretty certain Thor was horrified that 'twas his own words and actions which were being viewed as a means by Laufey to influence Loki.

If only Thor knew the full truth! A part of Loki suddenly wanted nothing more than to pull Thor aside, out of earshot of the Einherjar, and tell him the truth about his heritage and the fact they were not, in reality, brothers. That Thor's actions on Jötunheimr had actually allowed a damn frost giant onto Hliðskjálf itself. Oh, the look on his fake brother's face! Loki could picture it only all too easily and, for a second, he savored it before he shoved it all aside. Not only did they not have time for it, but it would be a stupid, reckless thing to do for a whole host of reasons, but the one which mattered most to Loki was that 'twas exactly the sort of thing which Thor would pull and that normally exasperated him.

Loki was thankful he had regained enough presence of mind to realize it on his own without outside help, though he did almost instinctively reach up to touch his amulet with his free hand. It served to remind him of Loptr's words as well, that Thor was one of those few who would, in the long run, accept him despite the truth so long as he did nothing stupid to mess it all up. And, despite all else, - everything Thor had ever done to hurt him either emotionally or physically, despite all of the sharp words and careless actions - he did love his brother. The hapless oaf was important to him and Loki would sorely miss him if he ever lost Thor, regardless of the means. So he curbed his self-destructive desires for now and shoved them deep down, instead turning and continuing on towards Glaðsheimr, leaving his brother behind to scramble to keep up.

"Loki, Brother," Thor said, rushing back to his side. "Those words, I had no idea they could be overheard."

'Twas not the point, Loki bit back. But then, he had already known Thor would not see them for how hurtful they truly were. Nor how they were indicative of the whole way Thor treated him. Like he was lesser, simply another sycophant who followed his brother around like Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, instead of an equal, someone to be respected in his own right and for his own reasons. And it hurt, damnit! It hurt like a knife to the heart and 'twas all he could do not to turn around and lash out at Thor, to show him how much it hurt. But, unlike all of the other emotional attacks he had to deal with recently, this was one he had plenty of experience processing and hiding away, so he did so now, only feeling its weight because of everything else he held back at present.

"And what circumstances did you mean?" Thor added.

"What circumstances? Norns, Thor!" Loki exclaimed. "The ones we are in right now with me on Hliðskjálf! Laufey-King knows well enough 'twas never meant to happen. As Lord Aðalgrímr put it, the second son not expected to inherit. 'Tis a great position for Ásgarðr to be in as far as Jötunheimr is concerned. We are lucky none of the other Realms have tried to take advantage yet, though Huginn tells me there are mutterings on Múspellsheimr, so it may not be long.

And all of that is without taking into account both Heimdallr's actions and those of your friends. Once word of that gets off of Ásgarðr, and trust me 'tis only a matter of time now, we will be facing further scrutiny. Remember what Father feared the most before your coronation? What he wanted us prepared for the most?"

"Aye," Thor replied, wide-eyed.

"That will be nothing compared to what we might be facing if he does not wake up soon."

With that, Loki swept into Glaðsheimr, glancing around the hall as he did so. All of the others were already here, which he was not surprised at as word of their return to Iðavöllr would have spread. In addition to the Council members, though, there were a few others present - Lady Borgunna speaking with Lord Ragnvaldr, Lord Birgir speaking with Lord Aðalgrímr, and Lady Dagmær speaking with both of his uncles - thus Loki moved towards the balcony of Glaðsheimr so he could take a few moments to compose himself once more before they commenced.

Norns, but his brother was always able to set him off like no one else! 'Twas a weakness Loki had long since been aware of but had yet, despite all of his best efforts, been able to properly correct in himself. Thor simply seemed to worm his way past any defenses or blocks Loki tried to throw up to shield himself from the stupid oaf's oft callous words and actions. 'Twas as if his brother simply did not realize what he was saying or doing half the time. Surely Thor could not truly be so utterly blind? And yet how could his brother say things like that and then still pretend or act as if they were best friends and confidants the next instant? 'Twas irrational and confusing and Loki absolutely hated it!

Despite that, he still could not imagine his life without Thor in it. More fool he, apparently. Loki clutched at his amulet again as he thought of Loptr and what his temporal twin had said about having finally found a way to almost completely push Thor away. He was not certain if he fully believed it because, if the truth of his heritage and exactly what he was had not been enough to do so, then it seemed almost impossible to contemplate anything truly could. Still, the knowledge there might be something out there which could terrified Loki and he half wanted to turn around, find his brother and clutch him tight. Which was probably precisely why he now found himself in this situation because, no matter how utterly furious Thor could make him, he somehow always forgave his brother, leaving Thor free to do it all over again the next time.

So, aye, more fool he.

Loki released the amulet to rub his hand over his face as his other one tightened on Gungnir. Forget wanting to achieve a peace treaty with Jötunheimr to prove his mettle, he was ready for Óðinn to wake up now to reclaim both Hliðskjálf and Gungnir, this was not worth it.

Which Loki knew was not true because, if he did not find a way to prove his own worth and self now, then he never would and he would always be relegated entirely to the shadows, both now and in the history books, and he deserved better, damnit! He was not asking for Hliðskjálf or anything else so unreasonable. Simply to be recognized for his own worth and as Thor's equal. For now. He understood well that once his brother ascended to Hliðskjálf it would all be over, but until such time surely 'twas not so unreasonable to be recognized for all he did and achieved rather than having those things dismissed and brushed aside for each little accomplishment and achievement his brother had.

With forced, deliberate breaths, Loki calmed his breathing, glancing down over Ásgarðr as he did so. It took a few seconds for what he was seeing to fully register as he was still too distracted, but when it did, Loki missed a breath, eyes widening in shock. The banners and standards! They were...

Green.

Well, not all of them, but some of them were green. And not simply any shade of green, but his green! Loki moved right up to the edge of the balcony, his free hand falling to rest on the banister as he stared down at Ásgarðr in stunned shock. Other than on a few special occasions, he had never seen those banners and standards as anything other than gold. He had noticed them on many an occasion as he had always found it distasteful, the gold on gold on gold of his home. 'Twas as if Ásgarðr and Óðinn could not think of another color scheme other than the single most ostentatious and expensive one, making Ásgarðr seem like little more than a gilded edifice to Óðinn's power at times.

But now...

Now there was green in the mix. A quick glance about at all of Ásgarðr which Loki could see from his current position, and he pegged it at nearly thirty percent of the banners and flags being in his color now instead of Óðinn's. 'Twas...

Loki was not quite certain what to make of it, nor why it had happened. He had only been regent for a few days and during that time he had hardly been able to do more than a few things which the public would be aware of. Aye, he had sat in petition on the first day, but that had been because 'twas one of the two normal days each month for his father to do so. He had hardly done anything special by taking over that particular duty. Nor would his news and commandments have been of particular joy to the people as they were announcements of war and calamity. True, they were necessary and urgent, but not news which should have garnered him this type of attention.

So why?

Heimdallr.

The realization almost sent Loki reeling. Heimdallr, the attempt on his life and the former gatekeeper's trial. That had to be it. Ásgarðr may have no love for him as a person, but he was their prince and now their regent king, they would take offence, and great offence at that, to anyone attempting to kill him when he stood for them. So, truly, it made sense someone had thought to change their banner and, once one had, well, others would have liked the idea and followed suit. It should not really be so surprising. But still...

He was seen.

Loki clenched his hand around Gungnir that much tighter. Much as he had hoped that being regent might do this, this was proof he was actually being seen. Aye, 'twas not for the reasons he had hoped for or even wanted, but 'twas a start and from there more could grow if he was careful and played this opportunity right. He needed this before he could achieve anything else.

It made joy and hope flutter alive within him for the first time in far too long and he smiled a genuine smile. 'Twas small, to be certain, but it felt wonderful nonetheless and he immediately felt Ásgarðr respond to his change in mood, surging up within him and stoking both emotions, playfully nipping at his seiðr and buoying up his mood even further, clearly delighted he felt happy.

He loved her and Loki could already tell he would miss Ásgarðr like a lost limb when Óðinn made him sever his connection to her when his father woke. Loki shoved the thought aside in order to be able to enjoy the moment. There was no point in focusing on that which he could not change, most especially not when there was something far more pleasant to center his attentions on.

"Loki."

His brother's voice pulled him from his contemplations and Loki sighed, his head dipping forwards for a moment before he turned to look at Thor who was standing in the archway of the balcony, looking at him with an uncertain expression on his face. Absently, Loki noted Lieutenant-General Yngvarr stood right next to the door on the balcony. As quiet and unobtrusive as the man had been, the knowledge he had been watched just now grated and Loki had to push it aside as he could only focus on one thing at a time.

"Loki, are you alright?" Thor asked, stepping closer to him with concern on his features.

"I am fine, Thor," Loki replied, wondering precisely what had shown on his face.

"Are you certain? You look..." Thor trailed off, peering at him closely. "Surprised, disbelieving."

It never ceased to amaze Loki how well that his brother could read him at times. Especially considering how much that Thor could miss at other times. It made no sense, and he could only put it down to his brother not caring to notice him most of the time.

"'Tis nothing," Loki tried to brush off.

Thor smiled. "I would hardly consider anything which can catch you off-guard this badly nothing."

Of course Thor was not going to let this go.

"'Tis simply the banners," Loki said, motioning out over Ásgarðr.

"What? The fact so many are green? You are king, Loki, of course the people would do it. They were preparing red ones for me."

His brother, the oblivious idiot. Oh Thor. The only thing about what he had learned of his heritage which made any sense to Loki was the fact that it meant he and Thor were not actually related. Though it stung greatly, and the thought currently caused a burning sensation deep within his magical core, he had to admit that it answered the question he had asked countless times over the centuries. Namely, how could they be related? It turned out the answer was absurdly simple; they were not.

"That is different," Loki argued. "Yours was meant to be a permanent transition, while I am simply regent. Besides..."

"Besides what, Brother?" Thor asked with a frown.

"You are loved, Thor. The people adore you. I am not."

"'Tis not true!"

"Aye, 'tis," Loki shot back. "I am neither deaf nor blind, Thor. I know what they think of me, what they call me when they believe I cannot hear. I am the Dark Prince, the Liesmith and Trickster. The second prince who is tolerated but not liked, much less loved."

"Loki-"

"Do not lie to me, Thor!" Loki snapped, causing his brother's mouth to click shut for a moment though a mulish expression crossed Thor's face.

"They do not know you like I do, Brother."

"They do not care to."

Thor sighed, looking dejected. "You do not give them the best impression all the time."

"Aye, aye, I know, 'tis all my own fault."

"'Tis not what I meant!"

"Is it not?"

"Nay!"

"Then what was, Thor?"

"I-" Thor began, before his shoulders slumped. "Your tricks can put people off."

"I have a meeting to start," Loki stated, turning away from his brother.

As he stepped away to reenter Glaðsheimr, Loki caught sight of Yngvarr once more. The lieutenant-general would have heard everything, there was simply no way he could not have, and Loki felt a hot flash of embarrassment and anger wash through him. He hated this! Being constantly watched and guarded made him feel like a prisoner in his own home, which he almost was right now, really.

Norns, how could anyone think he wanted this? Let alone so badly he would blindly lust after it enough to move against his own family?

Only they were not his own family, now were they? The thought sent pain through him again as Loki could feel part of his core rend at the disgust and self-hate which raced through him at the thought. Ásgarðr responded quickly and protectively, her power and concern washing through him so he only stumbled a little, quickly catching his balance once more with Gungnir. A furtive glance around showed that the only people who seemed to have noticed were some of the Einherjar who were scattered throughout the hall. One of them raised an eyebrow at him and he made a negative gesture with his free index finger.

He did not need to have any attention called to this now. Not when there was still no one on Ásgarðr who could help him. Loki would simply have to keep dealing with it himself until Óðinn finally decided that he had rested enough and finally woke up. At least now he had some outside aid as Ásgarðr's power definitely helped to bolster him and whatever she did dulled the pain to far more manageable levels.

Chapter Text

"Is everyone ready?" Loki asked as he took up his new seat at the head of the table.

All of the guests from earlier seemed to be gone except for Lord Birgir, who was stepping away from Lord Aðalgrímr.

"We are done for now," Lord Aðalgrímr confirmed as he approached the table.

The others who were not already seated did so, and Loki looked over to see Thor stepping hesitantly back into the hall from the balcony. His brother glanced around at the seats as if uncertain where to sit. Out of habit, everyone but himself had still seemed to be claiming their usual seats before, but Loki noticed that today his uncles had shifted into the seats normally used by himself and Thor in the past. That left Uncle Vili and Vé's chairs open and his brother slid himself into Uncle Vili's old spot. Loki sent a thankful look at both of his uncles, knowing they must have spotted Thor and realized the delicate predicament they found themselves in. By shifting their seats, they were making it visually clear things had changed even with Thor's return.

"As everyone can see, Lord Birgir and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr were successful in securing Thor's release," Loki said.

There were a few verbal greetings which Thor returned before Lord Ragnvaldr asked the all-important question.

"Have you managed to regain your powers yet, Thor?"

"Nay," Thor replied, glancing down. "I was able to reach Mjǫllnir at one point, but she would not respond to me."

Lord Ragnvaldr glanced between the two of them before speaking again. "As a mortal and one without a title," he began delicately.

"We know," Loki replied, grateful he would not need to be the one to raise the matter. "Thor is not here as a full member of the Council, but rather to help where he can at present."

"So noted," Lord Ragnvaldr said.

Grateful, Loki nodded once at him, glad that 'twas now officially on the record as all of the meetings were transcribed for posterity. He should have known he would be able to count on Lord Ragnvaldr to ensure the full letter of the law was followed.

"Where do we stand with Niðavellir and the dökkálfar?" Loki inquired as he looked at Lord Aðalgrímr.

He knew if he started with the events on Niflheimr and the war, that they would most probably not have time to address the other important issues.

"Lord Birgir has initiated contact and begun speaking with Queen Hreiðmarr," Lord Aðalgrímr replied. "As always with the dökkálfar, it will take a few days of ceremony and traditions before we will be in any position to actually commence negotiations for placing an order."

"But there have been no indications they would not be interested?" Lord Ragnvaldr asked.

General Týr snorted. "Why would they not be interested? They will know by now of the war with Jötunheimr and will be well aware of what we are after, not to mention how necessary it will be for us should the peace talks fail. They stand to gain much from this as we are not in the best position to negotiate here."

"As General Týr says," Lord Aðalgrímr confirmed. "If anything, Queen Hreiðmarr's personal involvement indicates they are very interested."

"And they will not then be slighted at dealing with Lord Birgir instead of yourself or King Loki?" Uncle Vili checked.

"Though the dökkálfar love their traditions and ceremonies, theirs are quite different from ours in many ways," Lord Aðalgrímr replied. "In this instance, their heavy reliance on trade and their main exports being handcrafted, they are actually more accustomed to dealing with those other than the actual rulers."

"They would not know the full details and specifications of what is required," General Týr realized.

"Aye, exactly."

"Does this mean they will expect to have either General Týr or Lieutenant-General Yngvarr join Lord Birgir once the initial ceremonies are done?" Loki asked.

"They will expect one of our warrior caste to join them, and someone relatively high up, but not necessarily either of the leaders," Lord Aðalgrímr answered.

"I can see who would be best suited to do so should neither myself nor Yngvarr be available," General Týr said.

"Please do," Loki responded. "Lord Ragnvaldr, can you see how much we would be willing to spend on this?"

"I have already obtained a copy of General Týr's requirements and commenced the process," Lord Ragnvaldr replied.

"Good."

Though it truly should not, it did sometimes surprise Loki how well and smoothly the High Council could function. They were all very experienced individuals who had been on the Council for centuries at the very least, it should be expected they would be able to make things work well. Loki knew he was simply being too cynical, as usual.

"And how goes the Princes' Court, Uncles?" Loki questioned, shifting his attention.

"Princes' Court?" Thor asked, startled. "I thought we had stopped those sessions?"

"Aye, so I heard," Loki replied. "I must have missed that meeting as I would have said I have never stopped receiving people. If anything, it has increased over time."

"Truly?"

At least his brother seemed genuinely surprised, so Loki did not think Thor had been lying about no one showing up. Which only begged the question of why and he did not particularly like the answers which came to him, for if 'twas because the people did not like Thor's judgments, then what did that say of how his brother was at carrying out his legal duties? 'Twas quite worrying and not an area which Loki had known Thor might need further instruction in.

"Mine have been well attended, although I did take over Loki's sessions," Uncle Vili stated.

"Mine have too," Uncle Vé added. "Well, after the first one which was all but empty."

"They are going well," Uncle Vili said. "Much as I remember them with nothing out of the ordinary worth mentioning."

"The same for me."

Thor's expression was a study in confusion and bewilderment, and Loki wondered how long it would take for the possibility to occur to his brother that people might have been deliberately avoiding his sessions of the Princes' Court. He did not have the time to deal with it at present though.

"I saw Lady Borgunna was here earlier," Loki said, looking to Lord Ragnvaldr. "Is everything alright?"

"Aye, my Liege," Lord Ragnvaldr replied. "There were merely a few lingering items from the coronation ceremony which needed sorting. Excess food orders and so from the further feasts which had been planned."

Right, there had been the intention of holding further celebrations after the first day to allow all of the different guilds and leagues to have a chance to commence their new working relationship with Thor. He had forgotten all about those with everything else which had been taking place. Though he did wonder if it had been the guilds and leagues who had cancelled or someone on their end. It made sense, of course, but he was curious.

"What did you do with the food?" Loki inquired.

"I told her to send what we could not use to the local poor houses and orphanages," Lord Ragnvaldr said.

"Good."

A glance around the table showed that Thor was leaning back in his chair as if wishing to avoid drawing attention to himself, and Loki wondered if his brother was already regretting coming to the meeting.

"Is there anything else which we need to discuss before we move on to the situation with Jötunheimr?" Loki asked. "Anything from within Ásgarðr itself, perhaps? Lord Óðr?"

"Nay, Your Majesty, everything is going well," Lord Óðr said. "There will be the renewal of the trading rights in a few weeks, but 'tis not open for applications or challenges until shortly beforehand."

"Actually, we already have some of the parchmentwork started," Thor said, leaning forwards slightly. "Father thought it might be time to try something new and he wanted me to do the initial groundwork for it."

"Alright, if Father has not yet awoken closer to the time we can start there," Loki said. "Do you mind walking Lord Óðr through what you had planned?"

"Aye, sure," Thor said, looking brighter.

At least it would give his brother something to do and, if Father had been involved so far, then Loki was certain it could not be anything too radical since Óðinn was a man set very much in his ways and trying to convince him to change anything was a task in and of itself.

"If there is nothing else, then we will move on to the meeting today with Laufey-King," Loki said. "Lord Aðalgrímr, can you please bring everyone else up to speed?"

While Lord Aðalgrímr did so, Loki used the opportunity to jot himself a few quick notes about the first few items of the meeting, so he would not forget to check on things later.

"So Laufey-King continues to try to ingratiate themself with you, Loki," Uncle Vé said.

"Hmm," Loki replied. "And 'tis a strange mix of condescension and flattery."

"Condescension?" Uncle Vili asked.

"When they asked to speak alone, they called me little fox, though they backtracked quickly and claimed to have not meant any offense by it when they saw my reaction."

"Fox?" Lord Aðalgrímr asked, and Loki nodded. "Hmm, I will need to see what they mean to the jötnar to see if we can uncover what Laufey-King might have been thinking."

"Foxes are cunning, are they not?" Thor asked.

"To us, aye, but that does not mean 'tis the same for the jötnar. In fact, I hope 'tis not."

"It would mean we may need to rethink our strategy," Loki agreed.

"Oh, right," Thor said with a smile. "They view you as more naive."

"We can hope," Uncle Vé added. "As for foxes, I recall Mother talking about the ice fox on several occasions. I think they might even have mentioned it in one of their books."

"Lady Dagrún has already compiled all of the books we have in the library on the jötnar and Jötunheimr," Loki informed them. "So she should be able to find it quickly. If not, it will be because I have the book in my study. Simply let me know if 'tis the case and I can get it out for you."

"Thank you, Majesty," Lord Aðalgrímr said.

"Did Laufey-King say anything else in their conversation with you?" Uncle Vili asked.

"Merely that they thought the negotiations could achieve something and that they knew the attack would not have happened had I been in charge then."

Loki noticed the uncomfortable way his brother shifted in his seat out of the corner of his eye at those words.

"What about you, Lord Ragnvaldr? Did Laufey-King or the others say anything to you when you escorted them to Niflheimr and back?" General Týr asked.

"There were a few questions from Helblindi-Princex on what he could see of Ásgarðr from Himinbjörg, but nothing suspicious, simply some innocent questions from someone who has never left his own Realm before," Lord Ragnvaldr replied. "There were some more on Niflheimr, focusing mostly on its differences from Jötunheimr."

Loki could not imagine being as old as his jötunn sibling was and never having left the Realm before. 'Twas something to be grateful to Óðinn for. Although, even if he had grown up on Jötunheimr with all of the restrictions, he still would have left the Realm because as soon as he had learned how to sky walk, he would have done so. And he would have learned, somehow, someway, he would have learned, of that he was absolutely certain even if he had required ljósálfr help to do so this time around. Both Ásgarðr and Mother Winter seemed to agree with him based on how they almost gurgled away happily at the back of his mind.

"Beyond that there were a few questions about King Loki," Lord Ragnvaldr continued.

"Oh?" Loki asked. "Do tell."

"Most were simply about your age and experience. Nothing too specific as they were trying to keep up appearances of making small talk."

"How did they do so with those types of questions?" Lord Óðr asked.

"They were using Helblindi-Princex as a comparison as he is only a little younger than King Loki."

It seemed like his birth parents had wasted little time trying to replace him. Though it made sense in a way. After the type of defeat Laufey had experienced, he had probably been looking for something which could be celebrated. Like the birth of an heir. How his birth father must have been hoping for a hrímþurs the second time around.

"Did you obtain any feel for Helblindi-Princex themself?" Loki inquired.

"Nay, frustratingly," Lord Ragnvaldr replied. "Though 'twas quite interesting as Laufey-King did not let him too far from his side."

"Overprotective?" General Týr questioned.

"I do not think so. It felt more like Laufey-King was afraid to let him come too close to me."

"We did think there might be some friction within the jötnar royal family," Lord Aðalgrímr said. "Perhaps Laufey-King fears their child might stray from the plan or is more sympathetic to us."

"Aye, but what does he think allowing Helblindi-Princex close to Lord Ragnvaldr would do?" Lord Óðr asked. "'Tis not like we can convert him with a touch."

"'Tis worrying even if it might be good news for the future," Loki said.

"The disputes around the events which started the war worry me the most," General Týr stated. "I fear Laufey-King will push for us to admit Ásgarðr broke the treaty and will need to pay reparation for it."

"We did not!" Thor protested, loudly. "They made the first attack, so they broke the treaty."

Loki sighed. "Laufey-King denies all association with, and knowledge of, the warriors who carried out the attack."

"Of course, he would!"

"Aye, but we cannot prove otherwise."

"So?"

"The point, Thor," Lord Aðalgrímr said. "Is without the ability to prove 'twas an officially sanctioned attack, it must be viewed as the actions of rogue elements from Jötunheimr, something which the old treaty specifically says does not count as a violation thereof."

"Why not?" Thor demanded.

"Because at the time there were still far too many rogue elements about on both sides and the treaty would have been broken within a year if that particular clause were not included," General Týr explained. "I feared this at the time, but there was nothing we could do about it back then."

"So they simply get away with it?"

"Nay, we will use it in the negotiations, but it will not carry as much weight as their arguments and we need to acknowledge that and work around it now," Lord Aðalgrímr stated.

"What about weregeld?" Uncle Vé asked. "It would be costly, but Jötunheimr definitely needs the gold so Laufey-King might be accepting of it, especially if we tell them we are willing to renegotiate the trade barricade to Jötunheimr."

"We are what?" Thor demanded, stunned.

"'Tis something which is being considered, Thor," Loki said.

"Why?"

"Because we need to concede some things if we expect to achieve a new peace treaty," Lord Aðalgrímr explained.

"I thought that was what the Casket of Ancient Winters was for," Thor said. "Are we truly going to give them back everything?"

"Nay, of course not, but we cannot do what we did before," Loki replied.

"Why not? It worked then!"

"We had just won a devastating war with them, Jötunheimr had no choice but to accept the treaty," Lord Ragnvaldr stated. "We do not have the same advantage this time. Besides, we did not know then exactly how vital the Casket of Ancient Winters was to Jötunheimr's very survival."

"Is it truly so bad? Mother mentioned something of it."

"Come, I will explain," Uncle Vé said, rising and motioning Thor aside. "And how Loki has been able to restrict the Casket's power."

Loki shot his uncle a grateful look as Vé passed him before looking back at the rest of the High Council.

"What do we think of Uncle Vé's suggestion?" he asked.

"'Tis definitely an option and it need not be as expensive as he fears if we use diplomatic precedent for war time weregeld," Lord Aðalgrímr stated.

"And it would be less costly than fully arming all of the warriors," Lord Ragnvaldr added. "Or the cost in æsir lives if we do go to war."

"I do worry we will end up playing security escort to anyone who wishes to trade with Jötunheimr," General Týr said. "As I assume you are not thinking to allow the jötnar off-world in the first instance."

"Nay, well not beyond an initial few forays to remind people what Jötunheimr has to offer in trade," Loki replied. "Lord Aðalgrímr and I had thought to perhaps allow a few traders to attend the Harvest Festival here in autumn and, potentially, the subsequent one on Álfheimr if Queen Sága will allow it."

"I do not expect any resistance from the ljósálfar as they never had a personal quarrel with Jötunheimr and were always big consumers of the jötnar ice gems," Lord Aðalgrímr added. "These two would hopefully be enough to rekindle interest in trade with Jötunheimr for traders to obtain their own security to travel there on specific, prearranged days."

"'Tis clever as it would be in Laufey-King's best interest to ensure no harm comes to any of them, as who would want to travel to Jötunheimr for trade if 'twas not safe to do so?" Uncle Vili nodded. "And some initial gold to help get them start trading again would be beneficial and could almost be written off as foreign aid funds."

Trust his uncle to find a way to shoehorn funds into the existing budget. Loki did have to admire his creativity at times, even if sometimes it grated how problems could be swept away invisibly by the same process rather than actually being solved.

"It could work," General Týr began. "So long as Laufey-King does not view it as charity, then he will reject it outright."

"That is my job," Lord Aðalgrímr agreed. "I will simply need you to look suitably unimpressed with the whole affair."

Which would probably not be terribly hard for Týr as Loki was still half convinced the general would rather simply fight it out with the jötnar. Though, the lack of either public or private protests made Loki a little uncertain about it. 'Twas not like General Týr to go along meekly with something he disagreed on.

When Thor and Uncle Vé rejoined the table, his brother looked pensive, and Loki hoped 'twas a good thing. His uncle, at least, looked unconcerned.

"Very well, so we can try to offer Laufey-King weregeld for his dead and see how it goes," Loki said. "We already have our strategy regarding the Casket of Ancient Winters. Was there anything else anyone wished to discuss now or have addressed?"

"What if Laufey-King wishes to have Jötunheimr's isolation from the rest of the Nine reconsidered in other areas?" Lord Óðr asked. "He may try to bring it up during the trade talks, requesting to allow trade in routes other than the Bifröst."

"Gunnlöð-Lairde may well attempt that," Lord Aðalgrímr agreed.

"My Liege, may I advise against that?" General Týr said. "Between the Casket and the lifting of full trade restrictions, we are already significantly altering the terms of the initial treaty. With the addition of weregeld for their dead, that more than proves our willingness to alter what has been done before. Anymore and it might seem like Jötunheimr dominated the negotiations."

"Not with the restrictions on the Casket's power it will not," Lord Ragnvaldr replied. "But that may not be known right away though word will leak out once the jötnar do not utilize it to travel elsewhere."

"'Tis a point well made," Loki agreed, knowing what else the general was not saying.

The treaty would reflect on him as a king and, while Loki did not mind as he knew many in the Nine would greet the easing of the punitive measures against Jötunheimr, if Óðinn did not recover and he was stuck as king, then it could cause problems for Ásgarðr. Others could view it as a means to try and gain more favorable treaties with them as well. The impression would not last long as Loki knew he would be able to twist them to his advantage easily enough, but still, 'twas not a headache any of them needed if it could be avoided.

"Does anyone else have any further points to raise?" Loki asked once Lord Aðalgrímr had finished scribbling his notes. "Nay? Then we are adjourned until tomorrow after the negotiations, or midafternoon if they break early."

"Can I have a moment, Loki?" Uncle Vili asked, voice pitched low.

"Of course," Loki replied, turning towards him and leaning forwards. "What is it?"

"I simply want you to be extra careful with Laufey, I do not like their interest in you, even if it makes political sense."

Did his uncle know the truth of his heritage? Had everyone but him and Thor known?"

"Is there any specific reason you have for being concerned?" Loki asked, not wanting to reveal anything should Vili not know.

"Óðinn never liked Laufey, said they was slippery as an eel and twice as tricky," Uncle Vili explained. "At the end of the war, Óðinn seemed particularly angry with them, as if Laufey had done something to personally offend him. I believe it might have fed into the severity of the treaty."

"Did Father ever tell you what had happened for him to become so angry with Laufey?"

"Nay and your mother merely scowled darkly at me when I asked her, saying Laufey deserved everything Óðinn did to them and more. I remember it quite clearly as I have rarely ever seen her so angry and yet 'twas only her face which showed it, since she held you and her touch never hardened."

Ah, so it had been about him but his parents, his adoptive parents, had clearly never told Uncle Vili. It made sense as the more people who knew of a secret, the less likely it would actually remain secret.

"I promise to be careful, Uncle Vili," Loki said, but only because it appeared his uncle had asked out of genuine concern for him.

Well, unless Uncle Vili had absolutely no desire whatsoever to gain Hliðskjálf himself either. Which was entirely possible. But while Aunt Gersemi might be dismayed to move to Iðavöllr temporarily for safety reasons, she might not at all object to doing so to become queen of Ásgarðr. They were very different things after all.

"Good," Uncle Vili said, rising to his feet.

"Your Majesty," Lord Ragnvaldr said from Loki's other side. "As requested."

With that, the man handed him a folded piece of parchment and lightly shook his head when Loki opened his mouth to inquire what it was. With a frown, he took it.

"Thanks," Loki said instead, just as Thor moved up beside his chair.

"Ready to go for dinner, Brother?" Thor asked.

"Hmm," Loki replied, rising to his feet and taking hold of Gungnir once more. "I am starving."

Thor laughed and fell in beside him as Loki left Glaðsheimr and headed towards his study with the Einherjar all around them.

"That... that was strange," Thor said, after a few moments.

Loki merely hummed in response, knowing for Thor there would have been many firsts at the meeting which he himself had already become accustomed to.

"How does it feel?" Thor asked.

"How does what feel?" Loki responded.

"Being king, of course."

"Stressful."

"Be serious, Brother."

Loki frowned. "I am. Why would you think me joking about that?"

"Aye, but what about everything else?" Thor pressed. "Being respected by everyone and able to do whatever you want?"

"Even as king respect needs to be earned, Thor. It does not simply happen, and I cannot do whatever I want. In fact, since Father collapsed, I have only been able to do what I have to and nothing more. There has simply been far too much which requires doing, with the war and all."

"Nothing more?"

"Nay."

"But... you are regent king!"

"You have already said that."

"Surely you can simply delegate some of the work and take the time to go view the warriors' preparations or... do some of the reading or studying which you like to do so much."

"Nay, I cannot."

"Loki," Thor turned and stopped him, forcing everyone else to halt as well.

"This is not the place for this type of discussion," Loki pointed out, glancing around.

"You sound like you have been working nonstop for the past few days, Brother. 'Tis not healthy."

"Mayhap, but it has been necessary. Now come, I am hungry."

With that, Loki pushed past his brother once more and forced Thor to follow him so they would reach the privacy of his study before his brother commenced this conversation anew. Precisely what would Thor have had him delegate to someone else? Heimdallr's trial? The negotiation preparations? Restricting the Casket of Ancient Winters' power? None of those were easily transferable and all of the preparations he had been forced to do for those were not transferable either. Especially filling in the rather significant and entirely inexcusable gaps in his lack of knowledge of the jötnar and all things pertaining to Jötunheimr.

Nay, the only item which Loki had taken on which could easily have been delegated was the allocation of the King's Funds, and he was absolutely determined to keep that for himself no matter how much most of the High Council might want him to do otherwise.

And speaking of other duties, Loki unfolded the parchment Lord Ragnvaldr had given him to find a potential date and time for the trial of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. It seemed Óðinn's advisor had been able to make the gap in the negotiations schedule fit with the timings of the various procedures on Ásgarðr to slot it in in merely three days' time. Not wanting to delay it any more than necessary, Loki walked right over to his desk when he entered his study and added his agreement before passing the parchment to one of the Einherjar to give to one of the servants who waited outside.

"Hello, Livunn," Thor said, and Loki looked up to see her entering the chamber with another servant.

"Thor," Livunn greeted, before looking over to him. "Your Majesty. I heard you wished to dine here tonight with your brother?"

"Hmm, thank you, Livunn," Loki replied.

Chapter Text

Thor felt more than a little lost as he approached his father's desk. Only 'twas not his father's desk, not at the moment anyway. Nay, now 'twas Loki's desk, something which was immediately obvious as the books, parchments and manuscripts were strewn across it in his brother's typically chaotic style, rather than the far more strictly organized way Father kept it. Additionally, there was Loki's tea set and tea box on the back table along with a few objects he had seen before in his brother's chambers, but which he did not know the significance or purpose of. He had long since learned the hard way not to touch anything in Loki's chambers he did not recognize, for his brother liked to collect many dangerous things, sometimes simply for their beauty or lethal elegance.

It had made Thor wonder more than once what went on in his little brother's mind at times. Not that he always did so with the intention of truly knowing as he feared Loki's mind would either terrify or scar him forever if he were able to know it so well. Not that it stopped him from both loving and adoring his brother, but he had long ago learned to recognize Loki's dangerous side.

Not for the first time since he had returned to Ásgarðr, Thor felt like he had been gone for a few decades or even a century or two rather than simply a handful of days. So much seemed to have changed and merely the sight of Loki standing behind what Thor still thought of as their father's desk (even though it should have been his by now), was jarring enough in and of itself. But Loki cut quite the picture standing there in his ceremonial robes, dealing with a few business items and absently pushing a strand of long hair behind one ear.

Wait.

"You lengthened your hair," Thor noted.

He was certain it had not been so long the last time he had seen his brother. Nay, he had noted Loki's hair as it had been as wild as his brother would let it get when they returned from Jötunheimr. Somehow, despite the turbulent argument with his father which he had in Himinbjörg, Thor could clearly recall the image of his brother trying to intervene on his behalf and being silenced by a growl from Father. 'Twas an image he had clung to while in captivity on Miðgarðr as his brother had not had to try to intervene thus. Nay, Loki could have simply stood by and stayed out of Father's notice since his brother had advised him not to go to Jötunheimr, had warned him no good could come of it, and he had not listened.

'Twas not the first time Thor had come to regret not listening to Loki, though never to such detrimental consequences.

"What?" Loki blinked up at him, before Thor's question seemed to register. "Oh, hmm. It seemed like a good time for a change."

There were times when Thor did not understand his brother at all. Their family had just been through a massive upheaval with him disowned and banished, Father collapsing into the Óðinnsleep with no guarantee of recovering, and Loki had decided 'twas time to change his hairstyle? It made no sense, but then the way his brother treated his appearance had oft been a mystery to him as Loki spent far more time and care on it than most men he knew. Well, other than Fandral.

"Did Uncle Vé describe the situation with the Casket of Ancient Winters sufficiently?" Loki asked, quietly.

Glancing over at the servants setting up the meal near the sofas, Thor moved closer to his brother. "Aye," he replied, still stunned at what their uncle had told him. "I did not realize 'twas so vital to Jötunheimr's very survival. Mother had mentioned a little of it to me, but 'tis still unbelievable."

"I was unaware of it myself," Loki replied. "'Twas quite the shock, even if it might prove very beneficial for us."

"Aye," Thor admitted. "But still. I thought the frost giants-"

"Jötnar," Loki countered. "Frost giant is a-"

"Aye, Lord Birgir told me, it simply slipped out. But I thought the jötnar were..."

"Monsters?" Loki inquired, a strange bitterness to his voice.

"Aye," Thor admitted, not liking the almost pained look in his little brother's eyes. "'Tis what we were taught, is it not?"

"Hmm, 'twas."

"It will take some adjusting, knowing they had a truly valid reason for seeking the return of the Casket so desperately," Thor stated. "Though, if they were not so foul and monstrous, we might have listened more."

His laugh died almost unvoiced as, instead of joining in his mirth, Loki actually flinched as if hit.

"Loki?" Thor asked, stepping even closer to his brother.

"Nothing," Loki brushed off. "You may want to rethink your grand plan, all things considered."

"My grand plan?" Thor questioned, confused.

"Do you not remember what you said down in the vault when Father took us to see the Casket of Ancient Winters for the first time?"

"Nay," Thor frowned.

"Oh, well you said that when you were king, you would hunt the monsters down and slay them all."

As Loki said it, Thor could recall saying it and the exuberance and delight of the moment returned, and a smile had already crossed his face before he realized what his brother meant, and it dimmed. The tightness he could now see on Loki's face made him feel ashamed and merely the thought of what Lady Jane would say if she had heard that made him feel even worse.

"That was unkind of me and uncalled for," Thor said after a moment, feeling strangely desperate as he looked at his brother. "I was young and foolish and did not understand what I said."

Thor did not know why he felt such an urgent need to make himself clear on the issue, but it felt like Loki was pulling away from him even as his brother stood there before him. His time alone on Miðgarðr had made him come to realize precisely how much he relied not only on his friends, but on his brother as well. For all that Loki could be prickly and spiteful, sharp tongued and untruthful, willing to do the dishonorable and cowardly, at the end of it all Loki was still his little brother and Thor could rely on him to be there when he truly needed him most. It might not always be the way he wanted Loki to help or save him, but if 'twas in his brother's not inconsiderable power to do so, Loki would help him. In that, Thor could trust.

It had simply escaped his notice that over the last few centuries Loki had been drawing further and further away from him and their friends, and Thor did not like it.

He had come to realize on Miðgarðr how much he actually missed his brother. And not simply his near constant presence from before, but the way Loki used to confide in him, either secrets his brother had discovered, or simple stories of things Loki had observed with his sharp eyes and ears. His brother had always seemed to know everything which was going on at court from who knew what, to who was sleeping or cheating on whom. Thor had wondered why Loki had stopped telling him all about it, until he had remembered more than one instance of his cutting his brother off or telling him he had better things to do than to gossip like some witless maid. Truly, was it any wonder his brother had pulled back after that?

The problem was Thor no longer knew how to mend the rift between them now and it had been ages since he had noticed any attempt on Loki's part to do so. The mere thought of them staying thus, or even drifting apart even further, pained Thor and he wanted desperately to prevent that from happening.

"So, what, now you love the jötnar?" Loki demanded, a look of disbelief on his face.

"Nay, of course not," Thor denied. "But, mayhap, I have been too hasty in my assessment of them, given they were merely seeking to ensure the very survival of their Realm and species."

Thor was not quite certain what to make of the look which crossed his brother's face then. It seemed to consist of many different emotions and Thor could not catch them all, but he was certain longing, hope and disbelief were amongst them.

"Loki?" Thor inquired gently, unused to this display of raw emotions from his brother and it scared him a little.

The emotions vanished as Loki reigned himself in and while part of Thor felt relieved, a greater part of him felt disappointed, like he had lost something precious. There had been a time once, back when they were young, when Loki had shared all of his emotions with him and Thor found he missed it now, annoying as he had found it at one point. Had he been the one to drive Loki away every single time? That seemed to be all he could remember right now.

"I... I am simply surprised to hear you say that, Thor," Loki said, softly. "Perhaps Father was right to send you to Miðgarðr."

Anger was Thor's first response to those words, but then he had to admit the shock of being both disowned and banished had forced him to rethink a lot of his behavior as of late. Plus, the free time had made it impossible for him to avoid facing all that which was unpleasant.

"It does not seem to have been enough, though," Thor pointed out.

"Nay, but perhaps you are closer to learning your lesson than you think," Loki replied, gently.

"Do you know what Father wished to teach me, Brother?"

"He did not confide in me, nay."

"But you can guess?"

Loki paused. "Based on what he said to you and what he said as he spoke to Mjǫllnir, before he sent her after you to Miðgarðr, I strongly believe you are on the right track."

"How?"

"You no longer blindly believe the only way to handle the jötnar is through battle and war."

Thor snorted. "I still do not trust Laufey."

"Good, you would be a fool to do so, Laufey is both dangerous and power hungry."

"But you still feel it important to do the treaty?"

"The whole Realm does not deserve to perish for one king's stupidity," Loki declared. "Besides, the possible effects on the Yggdrasill of one of the Nine dying..."

"It does not bear thinking about."

"Nay, it does not."

His brother's gaze drifted past him, and Thor turned to find Livunn standing close by.

"Your dinner is ready," she said, motioning towards the sofas.

"Come, let us eat," Loki said, stepping past him. "My lunch, at least, was not very satisfying."

"Very well, but I must warn you, Brother, my appetite is not what it was before," Thor admitted sadly. "I fear we will have many leftovers."

Loki shrugged as Thor joined him and he had to admit, the familiar smells made his stomach growl. Perhaps he would be able to eat more than he had managed on Miðgarðr with some of their unfamiliar foods, particularly with SHIELD. Thor was not certain what they had done with it, but it did not taste as fresh as Lady Jane's food had.

The first part of their meal passed in silence and Thor could see his brother had not been lying when Loki had spoken of being hungry as his brother ate with a gusto Thor had rarely witnessed as of late. He was glad for it because, now that he looked, he saw Loki was far too thin and he could not immediately recall if 'twas a new thing or not.

"Will you go back to Niflheimr tomorrow?" Thor finally asked.

"Hmm, we have negotiations planned for both tomorrow and the day after," Loki replied.

"But not the day after that?"

"Nay, the shifting of the days between Ásgarðr and Jötunheimr means we need to catch up somewhere and it coincides with the traditional day of mourning for the jötnar, so we will skip that day if we have not yet reached a new truce."

"Day of mourning, for the war?" Thor asked, warily.

"Nay, thankfully not as that would not help if 'twas focused solely on the dead of the last war. Nay, this is apparently something far older, a day dedicated to all who have died. A remembrance day if you will."

"Even for those who died dishonorable or ignoble deaths?" Thor demanded, startled.

"Hmm. Apparently the jötnar do not place the same emphasis on honor we do."

How strange. But then, if they were more like the æsir, there probably would never have been a war between them, Thor supposed.

"So, what will you do that day?" Thor asked. "Finally rest a little?"

Loki sighed, looked at his unfinished plate, before setting it aside. Thor frowned at the action. Though his brother had eaten, it had hardly seemed like enough, even for Loki who had never had quite the same appetite as he or the others had. Well, at least as either Hogun or Fandral had as no one could match Volstagg's appetite, not even he himself at his hungriest!

Before Thor could even think to comment, his brother had squared his shoulders and looked up at him. He could already tell from the look on Loki's face he would not like what came next.

"Nay, Thor, I will not rest on that day as 'tis when Lord Ragnvaldr has arranged for Lady Sif and the Warriors Three to have their trial. It needs doing sooner rather than later, seeing as they are currently simply being held in the dungeons," Loki stated.

Thor felt his earlier good mood vanish at the reminder of his friends and their current situation. Mother had told him they were currently in the dungeons, but she had not known anymore and, strangely, had not seemed upset about their situation, though he had figured 'twas probably due to almost all of her focus being on Father and his precarious position. Otherwise, Thor was certain, she would be properly upset over it too.

"I wish to have words with you over that," Thor stated, trying to curb his anger.

"Aye, I had thought you would," Loki replied, before looking past him. "That will be all for dinner, Livunn."

"You have not yet finished, Brother," Thor protested.

Given how hungry Loki had said he was, his brother had not eaten nearly enough. Hardly even more than him with his newly decreased mortal appetite.

"I find I am not hungry anymore," Loki replied, rising to his feet. "Say what you must, Thor, and be gone. I have more work to do."

Thor scowled at that, his anger driving him to his feet as well. "How can you be so callous about this, Loki? These are your friends we are talking about!"

"Your friends, Thor, not mine. Never mine."

"What are you talking about, Brother? Of course they are your friends!"

"Thor, they only ever tolerated me and my presence because you wanted me there. Otherwise they would not have given me the time of day."

"That is not true!"

How could Loki say that? After all of the centuries they had all spent together, fighting, laughing and confiding in each other?

"Then how do you think we are in this position to begin with?" Loki demanded. "The moment you were out of sight, they disobeyed a direct order to remain at their posts and left in an attempt to usurp Hliðskjálf."

"I do not know," Thor admitted. "But you know them, they would not do it maliciously. They thought they were acting in Ásgarðr's best interests."

"Ásgarðr's best interests?" Loki spat, incredulous, and Thor took a step back in surprise; not having witnessed his brother so angry in a very long time. "By destabilizing an already precarious position? Nay, Thor, they did not even care to look at the situation, they merely acted as they always have, making assumptions and doing what was in their own best interests."

"What? Nay!" Thor turned away from his brother to try to control his temper.

"Aye," Loki argued. "They knew they would not find the favor with me they enjoy with you, and thus acted to regain it by seeking to place you on Hliðskjálf."

Thor whirled around at that and took a few frustrated steps towards his brother, hands raised to grab Loki and shake some sense into him. His brother took an instinctive step back before Loki's hands flew up. Thor flinched, expecting a spell before he realized his brother's hands were flung outward; fore and middle fingers raised, thumb folded in.

'Twas a hold-stay gesture.

Startled, Thor looked around to find several of the Einherjar posted around the study had moved forwards, hands on the pummels of their swords. Lieutenant-General Yngvarr amongst them.

"What? But..." Thor stammered out, shocked, as he stumbled back, realizing what they had thought he was about to do. "I would never!"

Loki. They had thought he was going to attack Loki!

That he would hurt Loki!

The realization made him feel ill even as he caught sight of the wide-eyed gaze of the serving girl who had been helping Livunn wait on them during dinner.

"Thor, you fool," Loki muttered, as he waved back the Einherjar.

Anger quickly swamped back in as Thor turned to face his brother.

"I am a fool?" he demanded, before he whirled on the head of the king's personal guard. The man who should have been reporting to him by now and protecting him. "How could you possibly think I would hurt Loki? He is my brother!"

"Oh, for the Nine- Think, Thor, think!" Loki interjected.

"What?"

Thor's staring contest with the stone wall for all the emotions he showed that was Yngvarr was interrupted as Loki stepped up beside him and shoved him hard enough to regain his attention.

"We are four days away from one regicide attempt from a most trusted individual and now here you are, arguing in favor of traitors who sought you out to replace me with," Loki snapped. "You will not reprimand Lieutenant-General Yngvarr for doing his job, not in these circumstances and not with the precedent within so many royal families."

The words made Thor blanch. Was that truly what he had looked like to the Einherjar? 'Twas not what he had meant! How had things become so horrible so quickly? Only a few days ago he was preparing for one of the biggest and best days of his life and now here he was; his little brother on Hliðskjálf, his father potentially on the brink of death, his friends imprisoned for treason and Ásgarðr at war with her greatest enemy, all because of him and his emotions.

He did not know what to say. Clearly, he had not been able to explain himself properly so far and now Lady Sif and the Warriors Three would pay for it. He would need to think on it some more so he could do a better job of explaining it all at their trial, so they were not sentenced and punished for something they had not done. Even if Father could overrule it later, the damage to their reputations would be done, if it had not already.

"As for you, Lieutenant-General," Loki continued, turning to Yngvarr. "Please do remember this fool is now essentially mortal and I could probably hurt him by breathing too strongly."

"You could not!" Thor protested. He was not so weak! "Ow!" he exclaimed when Loki jabbed him, hard, with merely one finger.

"Want to bet that will bruise?" Loki asked.

Thor scowled and rubbed his bicep petulantly, unused to his brother being the one with superior strength. He did not think it had ever been the case before.

"Out," Loki ordered, arm sweeping to include both the Einherjar and the servants.

"My Liege," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr protested, and Thor felt all of two inches tall.

Did the man truly feel he was a threat to his brother? Was that all he had become? 'Twas an ugly thought and he could not make it fit even with all Loki had said. Aye, if one only looked at the history of royal families within the Nine, the biggest threats always came from within, even he knew that, but surely Yngvarr of all people should know them better than that! He had been around for as long as Thor could remember, which meant the lieutenant-general had known both him and Loki since they were mere lads.

What had ever given Yngvarr the impression they could possibly turn on each other? Thor could think of nothing. Aye, he had not seen Heimdallr's treason coming, and he had trusted the man with his life and even Loki's life, but he was a far cry from family, no matter how trusted. Both himself and his brother would be dead a dozen times over if it had not been for the other, or Lady Sif and the Warriors Three for that matter. 'Twas sheer madness to think they would just turn on each other, especially for something so stupid as a throne! They were worth far more to each other than that!

"Yngvarr, Thor is no threat to me," Loki stated and Thor felt a swell of relief. "Well, at least not physically. Mentally is another tale altogether."

"Loki!" Thor protested with a glare.

His brother, the bastard, merely glanced at him and raised a single eyebrow.

"As if you need me to claim madness," Thor muttered.

With apparent great reluctance, the Einherjar and servants filtered out of the study leaving only him and Loki. When Thor looked over at his brother once more, Loki looked both tired and stressed, and Thor suddenly felt ashamed. He himself had been saying his brother was taking on too much, and here he was adding more stress, but they were talking about the future of their friends' lives!

"I am not simply planning to lock them up without a trial," Loki said, sinking back down into one of the sofas next to the leftovers of their dinner. "They will have a chance to have their say."

"Everyone has been acting like the outcome is already decided," Thor replied, careful to keep his tone even.

"Because they have already seen part of the evidence at Heimdallr's trial," Loki explained. "Lady Sif pretty much outright admitted to everything."

"She was not even there!"

"Nay, I meant before. You know everything in Himinbjörg is recorded, right?"

"What? Nay, why?"

"Father told us about this, Thor."

"I do not remember. And you did not say why."

"So, if anyone were ever able to come in via the Bifröst, we would know how and how many of them there were."

Aye, that made sense. "And?"

"And 'tis on one of these recordings that Lady Sif admitted to everything. Here, let me show you."

As Loki said it, he stretched across the sofa to reach Gungnir. The spear in hand, Loki closed his eyes and the air above his brother shimmered. Thor stepped close as an image revealed itself and he could soon see Heimdallr standing with Höfuð sheathed into place in the Bifröst mechanism. Across from him, arrayed in a line, stood Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. They looked very nervous for some reason Thor could not fathom. Had Heimdallr done something else he was not aware of?

"You would defy the command of Loki, your king?" Heimdallr demanded. "Break every oath you have taken as warriors and commit treason to bring Thor back?"

Thor winced as he started to see where this was going. He also could not believe Heimdallr had asked them all of that.

"Aye," Lady Sif began.

"Good," Heimdallr stated, cutting her off, moving across Himinbjörg.

"So you will help us?" Lady Sif asked.

"I am bound by honor to our king. I cannot open the bridge to you."

"Complicated fellow, isn't he?" Fandral stated.

"Well now what do we do?" Volstagg questioned.

"Look!" Lady Sif exclaimed as she turned around to see Höfuð, not only still in the Bifröst mechanism, but already activating it.

With another movement of Gungnir, Loki dismissed the recording and looked at him.

"That is why most people already consider Lady Sif and the other traitors," Loki explained. "They will still be allowed to speak for themselves, of course, but this will be hard to recover from."

"They only had the best intentions!" Thor protested.

"Damnit, Thor! Treason is never in the best intentions of anyone but those plotting it!"

"Loki-"

"And what if they had been needed? They abandoned their posts without a word to anyone. What if I had need of them and they were not there? What if someone else had been relying on them to be there?"

"They would never have done that."

"They did!" Loki shouted, rising back to his feet. "'Twas an admission of high treason you heard, Thor. One way or another, this will not end well for your friends, and you had better start to realize it now. I cannot let treason of this nature go, not now of all times."

Thor growled but forced himself to pace away from his brother rather than towards him.

"Loki, this is Sif, Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun we are discussing here!" Thor implored.

"If anything, that only makes it worse," Loki snapped back. "They are close enough to us to know the rules of succession better than most, so they should have been less likely to pull something so stupid. Nay, this merely proves what I have thought all along, that 'tis me they dislike."

"Brother-"

"You keep protesting it, but then how would you explain it? And if you dare say they thought 'twas for the best of Ásgarðr, you had better be willing to explain how in a way which does not prove my point."

"I..." Thor began, words suddenly fleeing him.

He had never been great at winning arguments with his brother since Loki was far better at words than him, a proper wordsmith and flyting expert. There had been times when his brother had been able to twist his words around so thoroughly that even Thor had become confused, and he did not want that to happen here. Not with his friends' very freedom and futures at stake!

"First, I want to make it clear I do not agree with what they did," Thor said. "'Twas wrong and I told them this when they came to me."

"Seeking you to overthrow me, right?" Loki asked.

"Brother."

"'Tis a valid question and one that I, as king, could ask at the trial and probably should."

Thor felt stricken at the words. Much as he wished to deny them, Loki was correct. As a king who had the person of interest of those accused present, and not as a hostile participant, Loki should question him on what Lady Sif and the Warriors Three had wanted from him. For a moment he considered refusing to answer, but he knew he could not. As a prince of the realm and its future king, he simply could not do anything which would look like he was perverting the course of justice.

"Loki," Thor pleaded, desperately.

"Nay," Loki stated, finger flying out and up to point at him. "Do not ask it of me. 'Tis not my intention to use you against your friends, but I will not promise you anything. I may not have taken the oath you were in the process of speaking at the coronation ceremony, but that does not mean I am not aware of it, nor mean to do anything but follow it."

The reminder of the oath made Thor flinch once more as he started to fully realize the predicament his brother was in.

"Thank you," Thor said seriously, making certain to catch his brother's eyes.

Loki nodded at him before raising an eyebrow. "Well, your explanation."

"Ah, aye. Like everyone else, they had expected me to be on Hliðskjálf by the end of the day of the coronation day."

"Yet only they and Heimdallr reacted treasonously."

Loki would not be his brother without his cruel and poisonous words, always aimed to wound or kill. Thor did not think Loki understood the ability to use his words in any other way.

"And they knew how long I had prepared for it," Thor continued. "All of the training and time spent with Father. Without all of that, I believe they might have feared you would not know everything involved in kingship."

"So 'twas incompetence they feared rather than a personal dislike of me," Loki concluded. "Me, who spent far more time studying anything including law and government than you ever did!"

That angered Thor once more. "I spent long and hard preparing to take Hliðskjálf from Father!"

"Time you did not spend before, when we were taught all of it."

"I will not argue this with you, Loki," Thor stated. "I am merely explaining what they were thinking."

"'Tis still not an excuse, especially before I had even had the chance to do anything. 'Tis not up to random Einherjar to decide whether the king is qualified to be king."

"They are not random Einherjar."

"They were until you selected them to be part of your little group, but they are still officially Einherjar and as such are part of the normal chain of command. If they had a problem, they should have taken it to General Týr in light of your absence, but even he could not overrule a direct order given to them by me, which I did."

As Thor had feared, he could not make headway with Loki using words. He needed to consult with the others to formulate a proper strategy in order to best explain it all to his brother.

"'Tis getting late," Thor began. "And you said you had other work to do, aye?"

Loki nodded once, looking at him warily.

"Can we speak of this again later, before the trial?"

"Fine."

"And..."

"Spit it out, Thor."

"Can I go visit them?"

Thor hated having to request permission to do something like this of his little brother - especially when Loki's whole countenance simply shut down at his words - but he knew he needed the king's approval to do so when the accused were in the dungeons for treason.

"And you wonder why the Einherjar reacted the way they did," Loki sneered. "Here I am, dealing with a war you started, stuck in a precarious political situation with the rest of the Nine, newly out of a regicide attempt and with five warriors accused of treason, and you want permission to go consort with the traitors! Have you even thought of how this will appear to anyone else? Have you?"

Thor reared back at the slew of venom and anger from his brother. Gone was all of the decorum and finesse which Loki normally possessed, and, in its stead, there was an almost wild creature with wide eyes and uncontrolled emotions. 'Twas entirely unlike his normally composed and elegant brother and it left Thor speechless.

"I-" Thor started, scrabbling desperately for something to say to make all of this better.

How had things come so wildly off-track in so little time?

"Fine, go see them for all I care, 'tis not like you can do anything else at present."

"Loki!"

"Get out."

"Brother-"

"I said get out!"

The last was all but screamed and Thor knew the only reason the Einherjar did not rush into the study was because 'twas magically sound proofed unless the king wished otherwise.

Not certain what to do with this wild and uncontrolled version of his brother, Thor took a few steps back, watching Loki closely. Was it better to do as his brother asked and give Loki time to calm down and regain control? It seemed to be the best option, so Thor turned around and quickly left the study before his brother could change his mind on letting him go and visit his friends on the morrow.

Chapter Text

As soon as Thor was out of the study, Loki strode over to his desk and collapsed into the chair. Unbelievable, his brother was absolutely unbelievable at times!

Could he go visit his friends?

Now? With everything which was going on and Thor wanted to go and visit his friends? Loki had his hands buried in his hair before he knew it and he wanted to ignore the knock when it came, but he recognized it as Livunn's, and he knew after what had happened earlier both her and Lieutenant-General Yngvarr would be worried. Especially if Thor had simply stormed out past them without a word.

"Come in," Loki called out, letting the words pass through the silencing wards.

As he had expected, Livunn was the first to enter, followed quickly by Yngvarr. What was surprising was that the lieutenant-general closed the door behind him rather than being followed in by any of the other servants or Einherjar. Loki simply looked at them for a moment before sliding his hands to cover his face and letting his hair fall forward in a loose curtain around his hands.

Thor had been in the study for less than an hour and yet Loki felt like it had been a day. He had been all over the place emotionally, from his brother's near confession of how not all jötnar were bad, to outright questioning him and defending those who had deliberately sought to dethrone him. Why did Thor always have to drive him this mad?

Why could he not simply hate Thor as he so badly wanted to at times? It would make his life so much easier if he could simply write Thor off and never care for what his brother said or did ever again. Yet, somehow, he could not. Nay, every time he tried, Loki was reminded of all the times Thor had said or done something nice or kind and, no matter how many bad times there were, those simply seemed to shine through for him at times like this.

Loki hated it.

Just like he hated Thor.

The sound of movement and dishes being shifted near the sofas returned Loki to the present, and he pulled his hands back to look at the lieutenant-general who had come to stand before his desk.

"I have told Thor he can visit his friends tomorrow," Loki all but spat the word 'friends', the anger and betrayal from earlier welling up within him once more.

He really should not have been surprised though. After all, how many times had Thor sided with them over him throughout the centuries? Loki had long since lost count, more out of a protective measure because of how great the number was becoming, rather than anything else. So, aye, he truly should have seen this coming. Still, with all the other changes Loki had witnessed in Thor since his brother had returned from Miðgarðr, and the sheer enormity of their current situation, he had somehow come to expect more from his brother. Óðinn had thought Thor was ready to be king and, while he had disagreed with that assessment, even he had not thought his brother's inadequacy was quite this great.

"I shall see the dungeon guards are informed," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr reassured him.

"What? No questions as to whether 'tis wise?" Loki asked.

"I do not know all of the particulars of the situation. Besides, I have found that sometimes it helps to be confronted with things as they truly are, rather than what we think or would wish them to be."

That... that was very true and quite sound advice actually, even if letting Thor down to visit Lady Sif and the Warriors Three would cause gossip. Loki could only hope it did not come back to haunt him too badly. Not that he truly thought he had much choice in the matter. Thor had never listened to him well at the best of times and now was hardly that, even if now he officially outranked his brother as much as he could ever hope to. It had been Óðinn whom Thor had been disobeying when he had run off to Jötunheimr, after all, and if his brother would not respect his own father enough to listen to him, then what hope did Loki have?

Nay, 'twas best if he had officially sanctioned Thor's visit to the dungeons than to end up in a situation where his brother did so anyway and went against orders not to do so. That would truly be the last thing Loki needed even if this would cause him trouble anyway. 'Twas the amount of trouble he had to decide on, not the presence or lack thereof.

"We can only hope," Loki finally replied, brushing back his hair and keeping it there with a quick touch of seiðr.

"If they act anything like Heimdallr did at his trial, then they may well do your task for you," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr continued.

Loki snorted at the thought. Much as he wished he could believe it, over half a millennium of experience told him otherwise. If Thor was so easily able to see the faults within his friends, they would not be here where they were now. Nay, he was done hoping as far as his brother was concerned, it had cost him too much in the past and he simply did not have the emotional space to deal with any more of it now.

"You go ahead and wish for that," Loki said, before tilting his head. "No worries about what they may try to convince him of?"

"I have never felt doubt for Thor's loyalty to both Ásgarðr and Hliðskjálf, but I simply cannot ignore any form of physical intimidation towards my king," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr replied. "Particularly now of all times."

"Hmm, well, Thor has always spoken as much with his fists as he has his words. It simply had not even occurred to him he could not continue to do so now."

That seemed to worry his lieutenant-general and Loki wondered if he could do anything right at present. It had been a simple truth and one meant to reassure rather than to worry. Luckily, he was saved from having to pry into it by Livunn's approach with a plate he was certain contained more food than when he had abandoned it earlier. And he had definitely not yet selected any desserts, yet she had a large one on a smaller, second plate.

"Livunn," Loki began.

"You need to eat," Livunn interrupted, a determined look on her face. "You have been busy nonstop for the past few days, and you need to keep your energy up if you want to continue to do so."

Loki wanted to argue, simply for the sake of it, but the logic was sound and had he not essentially told his mother the very same thing merely a few hours ago? He was many things, most of them unappealing to the vast majority of æsir, but hypocritical was not one which Loki aspired to. In fact, 'twas something he quietly hated quite passionately as 'twas a trait Óðinn displayed frequently, and almost always to Loki's detriment. He would almost eat simply to keep himself from being hypocritical. Besides, he could all but see Lieutenant-General Yngvarr wanting to pipe in as well.

"Fine," Loki muttered, flicking his closest hand to envelope the dinner plate with just enough seiðr to keep it warm until he got to it.

"Thank you, Loki," Livunn said, placing the plates on his desk and putting her hand on his arm briefly.

A quick glance over towards the sofas revealed exactly how much food was left. Thor had not been lying when he had said his appetite was greatly reduced as a mortal.

"Help yourself if you have not yet eaten, Yngvarr," Loki offered and continued when the lieutenant-general hesitated. "You can bring the others in again if you want. All I have left today is parchmentwork."

That seemed to soothe whatever worried Lieutenant-General Yngvarr, and the man moved back to the door as Loki focused his attention on the scrolls which lay on his desk. Absently, he picked up the fork Livunn had left and made himself eat a little more as he began to read the applications for the King's Funds. Once he started, Loki found he was still, in fact, hungry, and most of his plate was soon gone as he worked. The number of applications was surprisingly great considering how short of a time the people had to submit them, and they covered a wide range of areas. Though he read them all, Loki quickly cast aside most of the warrior ones, knowing how much money was already allocated to the training and boarding of the warriors. Plus, they were currently spending more on upgrading their armor and weapons, in case the peace talks broke down.

So, nay, they did not require any additional funding from this particular pot of money. The only application of its type which Loki hesitated on was one from one of the further reaches of Ásgarðr, which spoke of seeking funding to train up all those who showed warrior potential and not simply those who would normally be selected for the training. Though he himself had no great love for fighting, Loki would admit he knew intimately what it felt like to go against the grain in Ásgarðrian culture, and thus this one warrior application was put aside for further consideration. He and Lady Sif might have had their fair share of differences, but Loki could admit she was a great warrior in her own right, and she had saved his life on more than one occasion.

The problem was that many of the others also made good arguments for their funding requests and Loki knew that it would be difficult to narrow down the list, even with the not inconsiderable sum of money he had to allocate. Part of him was beginning to understand why Óðinn may have liked to simply renew old funding decisions year after year. It would definitely make this whole process a lot easier. Luckily, there were some which were clearly ill considered or nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at obtaining money, and he was able to cast those aside quickly.

'Twas one of the ones requesting funding for basic infrastructure repair which made Loki frown. Surely this could not be right. It had to be a lie, and yet 'twas one far too easily discovered to truly be worth it. Looking up, he glanced about the chamber, noting the remains of dinner had been removed from the table and that the Einherjar were once again spread around the study.

"Is anyone from the eastern edge of Ásgarðr city itself?" Loki asked. "Or has been there recently?"

There was a moment of silence before one of the Einherjar shifted self-consciously, taking a half step forwards. "I... my sister lives over that way, Your Majesty," he said.

It amused Loki the man could spend almost all day around him and still be this nervous in having to actually address him. Surely he had not been so intimidating recently. If anything, he would have thought it to be rather the opposite, seeing how often and completely his composure had slipped the past few days. He would have thought it must have made him seem far less regal and lofty to them, who had witnessed almost all of it. Now more bemused than anything else, Loki beckoned him over with a finger as he picked up the parchment and turned it around so the man could read it from the other side of his desk.

As the Einherjar reached him, Loki indicated a particular passage. "Is this accurate?" he inquired.

To his credit, the man actually took the time to properly read the passage, glancing up a bit further to gain the proper context of what he was looking at.

"Aye, my Liege," the man said. "'Tis accurate, if perhaps a little understated, based on what I have seen."

"Understated?"

"It says the road is almost unpassable by cart, while I would argue that 'tis actually unpassable, in parts at least. Though, I suppose, one could try if they were willing to risk damage to the axels."

Loki had to admit to being shocked any part of the city could have basic infrastructure in such abysmal disrepair. How was this not known? Not that Loki could say he had been aware of it, far from it in fact, but surely this was something Óðinn should have been informed of.

"How did it get to be in such a state of disrepair?" Loki asked. "Surely they receive the same basic funds as any other part of the city."

"I cannot say for certain, Your Majesty," the Einherjar replied, glancing away.

Oh, Loki knew that look.

"But you know something," Loki prodded.

"Only rumors and speculation."

"So noted. Tell me."

You would think from the conflicted look on the man's face Loki was requesting something far more delicate or worrying than some mere rumors. Though, if they were particularly unflattering of Óðinn or the government in general, then he could perhaps understand the Einherjar's hesitance.

"I will not fault you for anything the people may be saying," Loki promised.

"Do you remember the flood a few decades back, my Liege?" the man asked.

"Aye," Loki replied.

It had been the result of civil unrest on Múspellsheimr spilling over to Ásgarðr when a fire seiðmadr had come and tried to set parts of the city ablaze for what he perceived as Óðinn's involvement in the root of the argument that had led to the current unrest millennia ago, back before Óðinn had even been king. The action of one of the seiðkona responding to the resulting fires had been to try to use water seiðr to put out the blaze, but the seiðkona's grasp on seiðr had not been strong enough for what she sought to do, and so she had lost control. This had resulted in flooding to huge parts of the outer edge of the city, which had done far more damage than the original fires had.

It had been a nightmare to deal with it all, not only because Loki, as one of the only battle seiðberandi on Ásgarðr, had been forced to deal with the fire seiðmadr, but also because of the backlash which had resulted against all seiðberandi throughout Ásgarðr. His position as prince of the realm had protected him from anyone either trying to do anything to him or saying anything to his face, but he had heard mutters amongst the court of the bad example he set for the people, dabbling as he did in seiðr.

Even now, those comments were enough to enrage Loki if he were to allow them to. For a whole host of reasons. Therefore he shoved them aside and focused on the present instead.

"Well, 'tis said that when the All-Father's inspectors came, they missed parts of the damage and so the emergency funding they received was insufficient to cover the costs of restoring and repairing the damage," the Einherjar explained. "The rumors say all requests for additional funding were seen as excessive and due to a misuse of the originally allocated relief money, and so were denied."

"Meaning the councils were forced to utilize funds from other areas, like road repair, to fix the damage," Loki realized.

"That is what they say, Your Majesty."

"And are those the only rumors?"

There was that cagey look again, but Loki maintained his gaze, knowing he could outlast the man.

"There... ah, might be some whispers that... uh, there is insufficient money being allocated to the area in general... on account of it not being home to the nobility. My Liege."

Aye, Loki could definitely see why the Einherjar might be highly uncomfortable reporting all of this to him. He knew at least that none of the others in this study would speak of the man's name in association with this information, and Loki himself had no intention of giving away his source if he ever spoke of this with the High Council or Óðinn.

"Thank you," Loki said to reassure the man.

Clearly knowing he was being dismissed, the man bowed before moving back to his post.

Loki turned his gaze to Lieutenant-General Yngvarr. "I think we shall be making a small detour on the way back to Iðavöllr from Himinbjörg tomorrow."

Quite predictably, Yngvarr approached his desk. "May I know the details of where exactly, Your Majesty?"

Loki merely held out the unrolled parchment. "To view that. It sounds like it meets the specifications of a project I have in mind, but I need to view it in order to be certain."

If he was right, then this particular issue would be resolved, but not with the King's Funds. Nay, rather with free labor on the part of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three via their indentured servitude status. It made him want to smile, simply thinking of it. If the Einherjar was right, and he had no reason to think he was not, then this would help dispel some of those rumors that the royal family did not care for those parts of the city which had no nobility housed in them. And it would make the punishment that much worse for Lady Sif and her stuck up companions, all of whom he had seen thoroughly enjoying the perks of being the crown prince's chosen companions on many an occasion. Even those where rightfully they should have stood down or sat with their fellow warriors, rather than join him and Thor at their table.

'Twas not hard to see where they had come into their ideas of grandeur from now Loki looked for causes. In fact, 'twas actually rather surprising it had taken quite this long for this type of incident to occur. He could only attribute it to his brother having laughed off or simply overlooked earlier ones which could have resulted in them being disciplined. 'Twas what Thor was trying to do now as well, only this time Loki would not allow his brother to do so, since this time 'twas being done when he was in charge whereas before the final authority had always rested with Thor, both as their commanding officer, but also as the first prince and heir.

The rather startled and vaguely horrified look which crossed Lieutenant-General Yngvarr's face as he read the application made Loki feel better at having been completely unaware of the situation. What was worrying, though, was the fact that so many of them seemed to have been completely unaware of it, and, what was more, that the people living in the affected area almost seemed to think this was normal. It should not be, not on Ásgarðr and Loki was even more thankful he had pushed back against Lord Óðr when the man had tried to simply reallocate the King's Funds to the normal recipients. Aye, it would have made things far easier for him, but then he would have missed discovering things like this.

"I will find us the fastest and safest route to this part of the city," Lieutenant-General Yngvarr promised.

Loki nodded and placed the parchment into a new pile when 'twas handed back to him. If he were particularly lucky, he would find a few more applications which could be allocated to the same pile as that would allow him to address more issues while not splitting the money he had too much. By the time he had read through all the applications, Loki had completely finished his dinner and half of the dessert Livunn had left him. While he was not feeling better per se, he was not feeling any worse and he knew that when this was all over, he would need to find something or some way to thank her for having put up with him while he was in such foul moods. Of everyone, she would be the person who would be dealing with them the most.

With a feeling of accomplishment, Loki rolled up all of the rejected applications together and wrote a note on the outside for Lord Óðr to take care of contacting those who had made the applications. Normally he would take care of it himself, but Thor had been correct about one thing. A king did need to delegate, and he found a perverse sense of satisfaction in making Lord Óðr be the one to write out these letters to all of the people the man would have funded. A pause, hmm, perhaps he would need to ask to see the letters before they went out. He added that to the note with the excuse that he would sign them, before putting the roll aside to be given to a servant later.

He then quickly checked the pile he had definitely decided he would fund and tallied up the numbers to see how much it would use of the money he had available to allocate. Surprisingly, it did not use up all of it, so Loki turned his attention back to the pile that had the applications he was not certain about. There were one or two which he thought might be able to be put towards the indentured servitude punishment if he was creative about it, but he would need to run it by Lord Ragnvaldr and General Týr after the trial to see what the two of them thought.

A few more were added to the rejected lot, being rolled up tight and inserted into the middle of the roll, before Loki was left with the last few, including the one warrior application he had allowed to move past an initial reading. With Lady Sif's upcoming trial, Loki was afraid it would be seen as confirmation of the fact that women could not be warriors and so used as an excuse to block all future women from entering training. His mother's own prowess with her knives from her days as a shield-maiden on Vanaheimr, along with all of the worthy female warriors he had encountered on Vanaheimr, Álfheimr and even Múspellsheimr made it a deeply uncomfortable thought for Loki, so he added it to the accepted pile.

The final few applications gave Loki a far harder time and, in the end, he decided to fund three of them partially rather than selecting only one to fund fully. Unfortunately, that added two others to the rejected pile, but he would keep them in mind moving forwards if any money ever became available anywhere else. He added the necessary notes to the three he was part-funding so Lord Óðr knew exactly what he had planned, before he rolled all of the accepted ones up and added another note so Lord Óðr would know these were the ones he was to move forwards with. He was not actually certain if drafting these letters might be more painful for the man than the rejection letters, but, either way, Loki liked assigning them to him.

Finally, Loki moved the applications he thought could be used for the punishment of Lady Sif and the Warriors Three to one side to be dealt with later, after the trial. With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair and simply took a moment to close his eyes. Then, remembering his unfinished dessert, he pulled it towards him and quickly finished it off. There was, of course, more he could do but none of it was urgent and he felt both dirty and tired. 'Twas best if he retired for the night and made certain he would be sharp tomorrow for the negotiations rather than exhausting himself any further.

Chapter Text

Although Thor had initially planned to be up early enough to see his little brother off to Niflheimr, after Loki's petulance last night, he decided to stay in bed until he knew the negotiation party had left. On some level, he was still angry with his brother and so, despite being back home and able to sleep in his own bed, Thor had lain awake for most the night, tossing and turning incessantly.

Why was Loki so determined to always see the worst in people?

'Twas something Thor had noticed on more than one occasion over the centuries. It was almost as if his little brother simply could not see the good in people or that Loki was determined to view everything negatively. It meant Thor had ignored warnings from his brother more than once when he probably should not have, but if all Loki said was doom and gloom, then how was he to know when some observation or warning of his brother's was actually worth listening to? Nay, he could not live thus and so he had learned to tune out that part of Loki's personality. Perhaps 'twas why he had not noticed it had grown so much lately.

Or perhaps Lady Sif had been right when she once noted there were some people who simply went dark once granted power. Perhaps Loki was one of those? Had being named king, even if only as regent, gone to his brother's head? Thor had always ignored the rumors which had been about for as far back as he could remember; that Loki was envious of him and his position as crown prince. He had never noticed any difference in their interactions after he had been officially recognized as heir, but then they had both always known it would be the case despite what some people thought.

But could it be Loki had been put off balance a bit by the sudden rise to power? His brother had never expected to be king, after all, and so would not have adequately prepared for the rush as Father had warned him about, pointing out 'twas easy to let it all go to his head once people started bowing and calling him 'Your Majesty' all of the time. He swallowed as he thought back to the previous day with his brother being addressed thus. Due to all of the preparations for the coronation, and his own mental preparations to respond to being called by all of those titles, he had almost reacted to them more than once and had barely managed to catch himself from making a very embarrassing mistake.

Your Majesty. My Liege. My King.

They were all titles which Thor had expected to be his by now and yet here he was, faced with the possibility he might never be king at all. If Father never woke, then Loki would, by all rights and laws of Ásgarðr, be the next king, even if Thor regained his titles and powers between now and then. 'Twas a quirk of the rules of succession and one he had always agreed with before, but that had been then. Now they actually found themselves in a position where it could cheat him of Hliðskjálf, he found he was no longer so understanding or forgiving.

'Twas all supposed to be his! He was the crown prince and he had been the one specially prepared to bear Gungnir and sit on Hliðskjálf. Loki had not. Loki had been prepared to be an advisor and confidant, someone who would stand by him and help him rule, but never to rule in his own right.

And yet, the issue with their friends aside, it seemed as if his brother was doing a surprisingly good job, Thor had to admit. The High Council meeting yesterday had been quite informative and watching his brother lead it had been interesting. Loki did not do it quite like Father did, but it had run smoothly nevertheless, with everyone being able to have their say but still moving on without getting stuck on any one item for too long.

If it were not for the fact Loki had thrown their friends into the dungeon, and all of this had happened right when he should have been crowned king, Thor would have been very proud of his little brother. Loki had taken up a very large responsibility with no warning and had managed to keep everything running, if not entirely smoothly.

Suddenly his brother's words from the night before came back to him, the listing of all Loki was currently dealing with, and Thor felt ashamed. He had already felt like he had fled a bad situation by the time he had reached his chambers, and now the feeling intensified.

Not wanting to think about it, Thor threw the sheets and furs back and rose. He meant to spend most of the day with his friends in case Loki decided to withdraw his permission once he returned from Niflheimr, but first he had to go visit his parents and see how Father was doing. Since he would simply be staying in Iðavöllr and he was more likely to feel cold than before, he threw on something far more casual, but warmer than normal. He found food waiting for him in the dining chamber as requested so he could break his fast, and he ate as much as he could before heading off.

The two Einherjar assigned to protect him followed him like shadows and actually served to make Thor feel all the more lonely. He was used to interacting and laughing with his companions when they were with him, but he did not know these two Einherjar and he was not in the mood to do the small talk required to become properly acquainted with them. He was glad when Father's Óðinnsleep chamber came into view, and he might have hurried forward a little faster.

"Good morning, Mother," he greeted as he entered the chamber and caught sight of her.

"Thor," Mother smiled, rising to give him an embrace and a kiss before she frowned. "Did you not sleep well?"

Was it so visible? She normally could not tell when he had one bad night. Perhaps it showed more on mortals.

"Nay, I did not," Thor admitted.

"Why not? What is wrong? Are you worried about your father?"

"Aye," he replied, but then continued at the look on her face, she could always tell when he was not being entirely honest with her. "But also, Loki and I argued."

"Oh, Thor."

"I know, I know, but it simply happened. I did not mean to argue with him."

"Aye, but dear, Loki already has so much to worry about at present, he does not need you adding to it."

"Why do you assume 'tis my fault?" Thor demanded. "He is the one being unreasonable!"

"Hush, Thor, keep your voice down," Mother admonished, glancing about. "The guards."

"So, what?"

"So, they do not need to see how much chaos and upheaval we are in at the moment. 'Tis bad enough already with everything which has happened and then Heimdallr's actions and what those traitors have done as well. When word of all of it starts to leak out, your brother may be facing even more challenges or attempts to capitalize on Ásgarðr's perceived weakness."

Thor gaped at his mother in disbelief. "Those traitors?" he repeated, dumbly. "Mother!"

"What?" she asked, looking genuinely confused.

"Those are my friends you are speaking of."

"Your friends? You would still claim them as such?" Mother demanded. "After all they have done to act against your brother and Ásgarðr?"

"They were doing what they thought was right!"

"Thor Óðinnson! You were taught far better than that."

"Why is everyone so quick to write them off? They have stood by my side, and Loki's I might add, for over half a millennium. That is five centuries of friendship, brotherhood and companionship, and you simply want me to cast it aside, just like that?"

"Nay, not just like that. They betrayed Loki, Thor, and that should mean they have betrayed you as well. Do you not care about that?"

Thor could not believe this. Why was everyone so determined to see Lady Sif and the Warriors Three as villains? Why could they not understand they might simply have been doing what they thought was right and in the best interests of Ásgarðr? He had oft enough gone against one rule or law if 'twas in the greater interests of the people or of Ásgarðr. He had done so for the people as well when cases were brought before him in the Princes' Court. He had always felt justice was greater than any one law or ruling which had come before it, and had refused to allow those things to be used to punish the very people they were supposed to protect and rule.

"Mother..." Thor began, not quite certain what to say.

Frigga frowned at him. "Why is this so hard for you to understand?"

"But... They are my friends, Mother, they have stood by me through countless things and saved not only my life, but that of Loki as well. Multiple times."

"That does not excuse what they did, dear. Heimdallr once saved Óðinn's life in the past as well, but that does not give him the right to try and take Loki's without fear of reprisals."

"Nay, of course not!" Thor exclaimed, horrified she was using that as a point of comparison.

Even now, with nearly a full day to come to terms with the news, it still made him ill to think of. Simply the thought of his little brother dead was unbearable. Loki had been with them so long he could barely remember life before his brother, which he liked as it allowed him to remember Loki as an infant and all of the wonder and excitement he had felt at becoming a brother and being able to hold him in his arms that first time. He had known even then he would always love Loki and that they would always be together. 'Twas a playmate and confidante, a brother and a friend for life, all in one tiny, green eyed little package. He had not been able to wait for Loki to grow big enough to actually be of some use.

Their relationship had evolved and changed over the course of the past thousand years, but Loki was still his brother and still one of the three most important people in his life. How could anyone, let alone his mother, think otherwise? She who knew them both so very well.

"Mother!" Thor protested, dismayed. "'Tis Loki! He is my brother! I... Nay!"

"Hush, shh, I am sorry, dear," Frigga rushed to reassure him, stepping closer to embrace him once more. "I am sorry, I should not have said that to you."

"Did you truly think I would not find it horrible?"

"Nay, of course not, I was not thinking. You and Loki are not the only ones who have been under extreme stress lately."

"I know, but he is my brother, and I could never hurt him, much less wish him dead," Thor declared fiercely, all but clinging to his mother, breathing in her familiar, comforting scent deeply.

"I know, dear, I know," Frigga soothed. "I should never have said it. 'Twas callous and unthinking of me. But the thought of losing your brother to Heimdallr thus, and with Höfuð too..."

Thor clutched her even tighter, knowing that, for once, he did not have to think about his strength as there was simply no possibility of hurting Mother n