He had passed through seven dark-iron gates and crossed seven frozen rivers, descending from golden Asgard into this ever-gloom realm. At each turn the cursed hellhounds trailed his steed, some leaping so close he could feel their fetid breathes of death on his neck. But Thor’s mind was occupied with a single thought, a singular hope that was burning away all the decay in Hela’s land like a hungering spark.
“Father, watch over me.”
Thor had been the undisputed King of Asgard for ten years, and he had proven himself to be a worthy ruler: He had forged a difficult peace with the remaining Ice Giants, defended Midgard at every turn from every peril, and restored order to Asgard after the chaos of the shattering war. Yet here and now, he longed for the sleeping Allfather’s blessing.
It was a son’s prayer.
He did not know what truly awaited him in the heart of the Niflheim. It was only a terrible hope that he harbored--terrible if it was true, and still more so if it came to naught. In the past ten years he had repeatedly tasted the bitterness of disappointed hopes, from Midgard to Svartalfheim. Yet when the crows carried the whispers of the dead to his throne, that spark flared up once more and all he could feel was the burn.
That Loki was here, a god in the Land of the Never-Return...
The crows said no more after that, but Thor already knew what he had to do. He summoned Heimdall and asked if the Gatekeeper would swear that he could see every corner of Niflheim, and that Loki was nowhere to be found amongst the dead.
“I see through the mist and darkness of Niflheim, my King; but there is a place where even my eyes reach not: the House of Hela, from which none may ever return; not even Asa Thor, the King of the Gods.”
What the Gatekeeper would not say outright, the Warrior Three voiced for him. Fandral surmised that the winds merely mirrored his wishful thinking. Hogun believed this was a trap from Hela. Volstagg dismissed the crows and threatened to roast them a stick. As for Sif--Sif only said “if you must go, my King, take us with you.”
Of his friends, she always knew him best.
Yet Thor had come alone in the end, passing through seven dark-iron gates and crossing seven frozen rivers. He could not place his friends in danger, nor deprive Asgard of his deputies in her King’s absence. Above all, he knew this journey was meant for none but himself.
This was Loki. This was his brother.
This was his.