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Rekindling

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Jotunheim: The Distant Past

Quietly she appeared, pulled by the soft cries of the infant hidden next to the altar on which sat the Casket of Ancient Winters. “This one’s special.” She said, looking at the three figures that stood behind the altar looking at him. Their figures were indistinct enough to be indistinguishable from one another were it not for the flames that sparked in the center of their torsos.

“Yes, this one is of Ymir’s blood, born of the blessing of Yggdrsil.” The red spark flared as Urðr’s words reached her ears.

“I can feel the seidr, and astonishing as it is, I sense more to him than even that.”, she said.

Blue flames flared as Verðandi spoke, “That would be the Chaos and Fire that seem to have found home in him, son of Ice though he is.”

It was more than that, hard to notice but she could feel the shadow of something ancient, as old as her, perhaps older. She didn’t comment, thinking to herself that she would have to keep her eye over this one.

She looked around at the corpses of his guards and caretakers, their souls now hers to keep. “Do you guard him? Or are you here to mete out punishment to the Æsir for shedding blood in your Temple?” Green flames pulsed as Skuld’s voice echoed in the broken down halls, “We keep guard until his journey begins and when he fulfills his destiny, we will have our retribution.”

Lady Death looked into the veil behind her eyes and saw the paths this little one's thread was laid out to follow in the tapestry. All leading towards an inferno. And even as her anger stirred she noticed how, every now and then the thread swayed off the paths, its colour faded as if swallowed by shadows. A tiny smile flitted on her lips as she inclined her head towards the three and disappeared.

“What have you seen?” Hel asked as she appeared on the hill overlooking her domain. “illr er dómr norna.” (the Norns' doom is evil) she said, “But the endless exercise of creating cycles of birth, growth and death for the Nine Realms has bound them to stagnancy and they can no longer see.”

Eyes widening Hel asked, “What is it that not even Skuld can see my Lady?” She smiled slowly, cruelly, even as her eyes glimmered with amusement. “Chaos, they have forgotten its power and its unwillingness to be tamed.”

 

Svartalfheim: Present Day

For one blissful moment everything was dark, every sensation gone and in the next he felt as if he were being submerged in an endless pool of icy water. He felt himself being pushed deeper and deeper, felt his body fight for air, struggling to keep his mouth closed even as his mind screamed. And as he failed, opening his mouth he felt not water but icy winds on his tongue and opened his eyes with a gasp.

Mind muddled but whirring, looking into the orange sky above him, multiple events rushed through his mind. Letting go at the Bifrost, being tortured by the Other, the farce on Midgard, Odin’s second betrayal, Mothers death, Svartalfheim; the blade in his chest. And as if summoned by the thought pain flared in his chest even as the sand in the air made it harder to breathe.

Norns! Did Thor not even have it in his heart to leave his corpse away from the elements? Well after a lifetime of being used and cast aside, after being denied respect at every turn. After being told clearly that no kinship remained, he should have expected this. This here was the result of sentiment and misplaced loyalty. At least he had managed to avenge her by taking that foul beast’s life in return. By all rights he should be dead and yet even now the pain was ebbing.

Brows furrowed, slowly lifting himself off the ground LokI looked down at his chest. A thick band of blue seidr clung to a rapidly healing wound. Heart beating faster, looking up sharply, he ran his eyes over his surroundings trying to find the caster. No, no, no, no! Not again his mind screamed as he recalled the last time he had been “saved”.  Breathing as deeply as he could, he tried to collect his seidr in preparation to defend himself. The pain in his chest flared and he heard a voice whisper, “I’d rather you didn’t do that.” Eyes searching for the source, he cleared his throat and said, “Show yourself, I would know who you are.”

Slowly before his eyes the dust in the air started coalescing into a figure cloaked in black, her face sharp boned with skin that looked like mists and as Loki looked into her eyes that seemed to hold an endless dark, for once in his life he was almost speechless. Lips curling into a smile Lady Death asked, “I wondered if you would recognize me.”

His eyebrows folding together, but head lowering in deference he replied, “I do my lady, but I don’t understand, why you haven’t taken me.”

She tilted her head down, her eyes burning into his soul as she studied him. She could see Yggdrsil’s pulse in the magic flowing through him joined by powers both ancient and eternal, Laufey’s lost son, Odin’s stolen son. Raised in a shadow, cast aside for his bright brother. A tool the blinded Norn’s seek to use even as the Titan failed. A heart as warm and fierce as the fire that claimed him as its own. But both love and loyalty bestowed with caution to only a few, or perhaps to just one. “You wished to follow your mother but there is another who was perhaps always meant to be yours, and now that she has met you, she won’t let me take you.”

Eyes narrowing, mentally scrambling to make sense of her words but failing he asked, “What is that supposed to mean? Who claims me as their own? Who can hold a claim greater than death?”

Her lips curled into a smirk. “There are but few, think Loki, you have met her, you claimed her and you saved her. You alone after eons echoed her essence.”

Loki frowned to himself, “Essence?”

Lifting her eyes towards the sky, she said. “Yes, you above all understand longing, loneliness, loss, the potential for change trapped in stagnancy and limitlessness as much as the she who embodies the void. She tethered herself to you then and claimed you in return. She waits for you. Can you not hear her call even now as she works to bring you away for my reach?” She looked down then at his wound.

Eyes widening at first with realization, then closing as the barely noticeable hum in his ears intensified into a melody, feeling a gentle buzz from where his wound was quickly closing “The Tesseract” he said looking up to her once more.

She tilted her head in affirmation. His heartbeat picked up as his mind flooded with images; of the Mad Titans eyes gleaming with desire for the stones, his acts of cruelty and ruthlessness to let nothing stop him from acquiring what he coveted. Bile rose in his throat as he recalled the vicious tugs in his brain once he had acquired the Tesseract.

Then suddenly Loki’s heartbeat slowed, mind filling with softer memories of half remembered melodies cutting into the haze of the mind stone, a feeling of having come home, though he was still in Midgard, tunes that would play in his mind urging him to follow their paths as he undid the damage in his cell in Asgard. He’d thought they were his mother’s magic. Though now he could recall a gentle tune in the aftermath of his grief on hearing of her death and the wild pull that overwhelmed his senses urging him to leave Thor’s side and head to the vault instead of Svartalfheim. Yes the stone had clearly been his companion from the minute he first held her. But if he answered her call now; chuckling softly he said, “A poor choice then for even if I take her away from Odin, the one that hunts her will bring me to you.”

She conjures a chair to sit on bringing herself closer to him and looks into his eyes, into him, her own eyes as unfathomable as the cosmos, and sees in him so much power, untapped but with strong foundations in place- oh yes. The potential here is staggering. But first he needs to rest and heal. Though his past madness has fully passed; his grief hasn’t. There are heavy bruises to his soul from wounds of both loss and betrayal. Both Odin and Thor have always been blind and misguided, with a taste for cruelty that creates an ease for the Norns to lead them towards their own destruction. Odin you utter fool, she thinks. You never did understand self fulfilling prophecies.

Raising an eyebrow she asked, “Tell me then what you would do now? Go back and get into Odin’s cage until he has use for you again, or will you walk away and hide. Or will you perhaps finally unravel lies, accept truths and fight for who you really are and were always meant to be when magic chose you, blessed you with the power to bend Yggdrsil to your will?”

Brows furrowed Loki looked around him, this place where he was left to rot dead and forgotten, he doubted the thunderer would return to collect him for a proper burning and yet he didn’t feel the rage he had felt since the day he had learned of his true origins. He felt an acceptance, for deep within he knew that this was expected. Even in his rage he had run from this truth, wanting to believe in the illusion of love. Going back to that would leave him hollow, burning away even more of who he was, now that he no longer felt any of his previous pathetic sentiment. It was time to move on. This he knew. And for once, now that they all thought him dead, perhaps he could.

Looking at her again, he felt a bone deep weariness for he knew that beyond all the questions she’d spoken out loud there was one that she hadn’t voiced. Would he be the Tessaracts champion? The soft melody in his mind intensified once more, warmth filling his heart, gently tugging. Like calling to like.

He knew that in all probability if he took her, he would die. He would die because even a God of Chaos and Fire would never stand for the horror the Mad Titan was determined to commit. He would never stand for her to be claimed by another.

His lips tightened for just a moment before relaxing. “I think I’m quite done with going back.”

She looked into his eyes then. Those deep secretive eyes and saw behind her own the birth of a new yarn, gleaming, eager to change the tapestry and felt her own force strengthen.

“And will you take her with you?” Loki nodded slowly, mind already working on a way to sneak in and away from Asgard unnoticed. But it stopped abruptly when she laughed. It was a sound both soothing and terrifying embodying the reactions the living often had to her. “You need not go back Loki, I will bring her to you. Where will you go?” 

Blinking in surprise he considered her question, now that he could move on, where should he go? Should he go beyond the nine realms or find a place somewhere within them? There were too many options, perhaps he should find a place to fortify himself first, he did need to heal and think. He would have to update himself on all that had happened during his incarceration, only then would he be able to decide. Rolling through all the options in his mind, only one place immediately stood out as an option for sanctuary. “Alfheim, I think I’ll go there first.”

Lady Death nodded affirmatively. “Go then, I will bring her to you at your sanctuary.” Loki’s green eyes widened in surprise even as she faded away; of course she could see his thoughts, chuckling softly Loki lowered himself back onto the ground. Closing his eyes once more he reached for his seidr extending it outwards to find a path. Ever eager to do his bidding, it danced back to him quickly flashing the location behind closed eyes. Time to go then I suppose. Shoving himself roughly from the ground, swaying for a moment, the trickster looked down at his blood and dust covered armor and grimaced. Snapping his fingers as new armor appeared on his body, he turned towards the direction in which he needed to go.

Walking towards the dune that held the path his seidr had found, he thought of Alfheim. It was a realm he had always loved, steeped in magic; its inhabitants held an appreciation for knowledge, skill and change. It was one of the very few where he had been admired, respected and welcomed to in the past. There were even a few there who had once called him friend. He would see what had changed and how much favor he retained before he made an advance in any direction. For now he would head to the small dwelling he had built for himself to go to when he wanted a break from Asgard, it was deep in the forested mountains hidden away from all eyes by shields he had placed centuries ago, strengthened through the years. Yes it would do nicely for now. Humming along to the melody in his head, he approached the shimmering air where the paths connected.

And as Loki stepped on to the path a faded thread in the tapestry the Norns weaved changed its colour and brightened, Threads woven together for millennia unravelled. It was a moment they hadn’t foreseen. One that made Lady Death laugh out loud for the first time in eons. It was the moment when tales of Ragnarok disappeared from the tapestry.

Chapter Text

Alfheim

The path let Loki out into a clearing by a pond. It was surrounded all around by grasses that were favored by grass pixies and often attracted small snap dragons. Beyond them, blending into the horizon he could see the Aród mountains. His dwelling was carved into the side his eye couldn’t see. Walking was out of question, he could fly there but even that would take too much energy. Looking around to ensure no eyes were upon him, he walked towards the pond and stopped to kneel at its edge. He gently touched the surface and let his seidr flow and whispered a few words in accompaniment. The water clouded briefly before seeming to swirl like a whirlpool. He stood even as a bright glow overtook the ponds surface. Letting out a relieved breath, a small smile curving his lips Loki stepped into it.

Momentarily he appeared on the steps leading into the entrance of his refuge and looked around; the forest surrounding it was lush and silent, both the night and his shields keeping the sound away. Now that he was here he knew that would change. The fey could always notice his magic, tied to the elements as they were. Friendly, entertaining and often wise as he’d found them to be, he hadn’t bothered to have his shields keep them out. The house itself was part cottage, part cave he’d carved into the mountain itself. Small enough on the outside to be relatively unseen with a protective magic shell filling the entire space. And it wasn’t horribly far from a small village of light elves so what few items he couldn’t produce easily with magic, they could supply.

Walking through the door into the interior he snapped his fingers to light the fireplace and torches placed around the house. The hall was split; with a couch, a chair and a dark oak table in front of the fireplace on one end and a kitchenette on the other. The walls facing the front held large windows through which one could see the forest and the sky. The other was split in two by the passageway leading inside. On one of those walls was a bookshelf while the other held cabinets. He would have to inspect them later to check what imperishable goods remained. First though he needed a bath.

Entering his bedchambers, he approached the mirror and let his armor melt away into his pocket dimension. He looked at his wound which was almost completely healed now, though it would leave a scar. Closing his eyes for a moment he let his body shift into his natural form. Something hampered the ease of his shifting into this form, he would have to look into that soon he thought.

Opening his red eyes he looked at himself, the angry looking scar flared indigo against his blue skin, time spent in the Others dungeons had made him comfortable with this form, he knew he healed quicker like this. But he hadn't really looked at himself like this. Lines curved along his forehead and face, whorls and ridges continuing down his arms, his back and his legs. There are even some on his chest, the pattern disrupted by the vicious wound that should have killed him. They mean nothing to him; he feels that they should, and it troubles him. There is no more rage in him but revulsion remains. Yet he can’t tear his gaze away from his own face, from the scarlet eyes that stare back at him, from the creature that stands before him, who was once a prince of Asgard.

The hum in his ears has a voice then, a soothing whisper that asks, “Tell me what you see.” He does not bother to misunderstand; there is no need to lie to her.

“A monster,” he tells her. “I see a monster.” He has to force the next words out, but to not speak them would be infinitely worse. “What do you see?”

Her voice is quiet. “I see Loki,” she says. “My Loki. And you are beautiful.”

His magic sung and swirled around him, echoing Yggdrsil agreement to her words and he embraced it with a smile.

He remembers the stories of the Jötun told in Asgard, then the precious few he read on Vanaheim which told a different tale. Intellectually he knows that he isn’t a monster, nor are his birth people - propaganda and fear grew into legends, disregarded or perhaps encouraged by Odin for his own glory. He knew that what he saw was what Odin conditioned him to see, a weak abandoned Jötunn runt.

It was why when he had discovered the truth, hearing Odin’s unprepared explanations, black despair had exploded into blinding fury as years of silent disapproval and hurt crystallized into anger. He had let himself completely succumb to the feelings of hatred for the man that had lied to him his whole life, while manipulating him into constantly seeking his approval.

And he had failed to appreciate his mother who had always loved him. Tears ran down his eyes as his heart squeezed. He’d rejected her. It was the last memory he had of her, passing his hand through her shadow sprite so that he would be left alone to his misery as a prisoner in the dungeons. And then she was dead, and he couldn’t even go to her funeral rites. He never got to say goodbye.

He rocked in place, back and forth, the static rhythm soothing. What was done couldn’t be undone; regrets meant nothing now that everything he’d held dear was lost.  Yet, if not for the past, he wouldn’t have his freedom now and he certainly didn’t regret that. Wiping away his tears and looking back at himself he thought, perhaps what he saw was a stranger, one he should get to know. Hadn’t Lady Death said something about unraveling truths and coming into his own?

Asgard

If he looked Heimdell could see every place in the Nine Realms. He never tells anyone how much time he spends watching each place, partly because he never volunteers information unless asked and partly because it’s safer if all think his attention is on things of interest to the king.

Most would not be surprised to know that he has spent a shockingly large amount of time watching Loki. At least until he learned to hide. But their presumptions of his reasons for doing so would be wrong.

Heimdell saw Loki’s birth. (Perhaps more importantly, he saw his conception). He’s seen every shiver of Loki’s skin as he walked the halls of Asgard, the frost inside him straining against the walls of his flesh. He’s seen power unimaginable jump to Loki's command and his deceptive body as he turned into a snake, a bird, a dragon, a wolf.

He watched, as Loki, starved for love, scrutinized and then devoured every scrap of love thrown his way by Odin or by Thor. Watched how their callous disregard made Loki pull tighter and tighter into himself, learning to hide nearly all his feelings and saw how their lies finally drove him away.

Heimdell has been watching for longer than anyone of them can remember. It is rare for him to see into the future, but his memory is impeccable. By now, he knows the Ragnarok cycle inside out, even though others have forgotten, this time and every time. Some things change from cycle to cycle but others remain the same, points holding the fabric of each cycle in place. It didn’t take him long to discover what those points are; Odins sons. And though he has never said this to Odin, because he owes Odin fealty, he has felt it in his bones and behind his eyes whenever he looked into the city and saw them.

Heimdell did not watch Loki to keep the gods safe. He watched Loki because Loki is his death.

Every time, every cycle, from birth to Ragnarok, this is what happens. In some Odin does not take Loki as a baby, in some Loki does not find out what he is. His reasons too are not always the same, but they are always close. Just a few years ago, he had felt Ragnarok pull at the seams, threatening to come crashing early when Odin’s lie, single and monumental, had come undone leaving Loki in so much pain and rage.

He remembers being locked in mortal combat with Loki in dozens of Ragnaroks, blood in his mouth, his hands at Loki’s throat. And yet since yesterday, every image of this cycle seems to have been shred apart, any attempt he makes to look into the future fails, as if everything were undecided and more worryingly he can no longer see Loki’s corpse on Svartalfheim.

Heimdell blinks the memories of Ragnarok from his vision and looks at the figure that appears before him, wrapped in a dark cloak, one hand holding the space gem. He bows his head in deference and does not bother to alert the warriors closer to the palace. There was little that anyone could do against Lady Death and the force that she represented.

She gave him an assessing glance before smirking at him and stating softly, “So restless when you cannot see.” Heimdall’s golden eyes widen slightly, he doesn’t move and he doesn’t speak. He is a watchman, a gatekeeper, never a participant in events until the end. If Ragnarok will come, it will come. Heimdell is not sure he could prevent it if he tried.

“Such a foolish Æsir. You see yet you are blind. You interfere yet tell yourself that you don’t.” Holding up her forefinger and thumb an inch apart, she added “You are this close in dishonor to becoming Hel’s guest.” Once more he didn’t speak. He didn’t dare and she could care less.  She could see the question he dared not utter, in his eyes. He wanted to know where his honor was tarnished and she decided to be generous.  It would be interesting in the future to watch him struggle to be worthy of Valhalla. 

“A warrior who allows himself to decide what vows he will keep and what vows he will ignore when convenient is no longer considered honorable. Like the vows made to a king that will be ignored to benefit a prince. Or those made to Yggdrsil ignored at the command of the king.” Something like panic lit those golden eyes and she made a dismissive gesture before her free hand returned to lightly pet the space stone and said, “Let it be known that I have her.” 

He finally let out just two words, “And Loki?”

She studied him silently, debating the merits of indulging in his curiosity or merely leaving. In the end she decided that if she left him to his doubts, Loki would never have the space he needed to grow or know the peace he sought and deserved.

“He is mine.” It was not a lie, but there was a world of a difference between being hers and being dead, a difference she knew he would not see. Heimdall blinked rapidly as the words were processed and understood. With horror in his golden eyes he allowed a shiver to pass through his body, even as she disappeared.

Odin sits on the throne and closes his eye for a moment once Heimdell finished his report. Frigga. Thor’s betrayal. And now Loki’s death. Turning from Heimdell, Odin summons the captain of the palace and the einherjar. “Release my son’s companions” He orders. “When Thor returns, he is pardoned, as are they.”

“Yes, Allfather,” Tyr says, bowing as he leaves.

Odin glances at the einherjar. “Have you brought my son’s body back for honoring?”

The einherjar lowers his gaze and stutters, “Your son Allfather? You disowned him and named him traitor, so we left it there for the scavengers.”

Odin bristles, hefting Gugnir, preparing to punish the einherjar when Heimdell speaks, “It is too late now my liege, his body no longer remains on Svartalfheim, I believe the Lady took it.” Nodding once Odin dismissed them both without saying another word.

As Odin walked quietly out of the hall and he allowed himself a weary sigh. Frigga and Loki had been the price for his blind arrogance and it made him realize that perhaps Thor had been right; he was becoming a foolish old man. He had always been a better king than a father, but when his temper ruled him he made devastating mistakes as both. So focused on anger. So focused on gaining control, he had failed to protect what he held most dear.

For many millennia now, no one had dared assail Asgard with might of arms for all knew of the physical prowess of Thor and her children. Neither had any dared attack with seidr, for though he himself had never acknowledged it, all who wielded it knew that Asgard was under the protection of the most powerful sorcerer in all the Nine Realms, Loki. At least Thor had managed to vanquish Malekith. Now both of them would have to work together to help heal the wounds left on the realm.

Once a long time ago Odin had prayed for guidance and ignored the World Serpent answers because the answer did not fit his plan. And now, even as he makes plans to ensure that all will be back to normal in the Realm Eternal, he listens to the wind’s murmur, and shudders because everything is wrong.

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

Loki had just finished eating the very last of the stew, when his warding spell signalled an intrusion, warily he moved to the doorway on silent feet, his magic now dancing on his finger tips and ready for anything, he looked to the perimeter and bit back a laugh.

Eyes dancing with mirth, he looked at the two creatures barely restraining themselves from crossing into the yard, attempting to show him respect. Both had taken on an elfish appearance, with pearlescent skin, tall lithe figures, high cheekbones and pointed chins and ears. He gave a quick nod and called out, “Welcome! It is an honour to receive a visit from the huldufólk.”

As they stepped into the yard their appearances changed once more, one shrunk a few meters, now as tall as a child on the cusp of adulthood; her face was ethereal with eyes of glowing amber and hair a vibrant red lightening to white at the tips. Her skin was a deep brown with sheen of gold and she was dressed in green trousers and boots. Loki knew her as Gisli, she belonged to the clan of the most dangerous pranksters of any faery with an affinity towards fire and wind.

The other remained tall and slender, but her face softened, the pointed chin disappearing, her white pointed ears tinged pink at the tips where they peeked out from silver blond tresses, she had bright inhuman eyes, silver like scales of a fish in the moonlight. Her skin was the palest milky white, and bare tracings of blue veins could be seen through parts not covered by her pale yellow tunic. Her he knew, as Vanora; of the faery clan with an affinity for water and ice.  

Skipping across the yard they came to a halt in front of him and bowed, “Loki we felt your arrival.”

Smiling and inviting them to take a seat in the chairs on the porch, “I hoped you would fair Vanora," he smiled "though I would request that you keep my arrival to yourselves. I would prefer the Nine Realms not know of my survival just yet.”

Gisli’s eyes widened in interest, “Ooh, I sense a grand tale!” she chirped. 

“It is a grand tale indeed, one I shall tell you if you promise to keep my existence a secret.” He said, knowing their weakness for a good story.

“That we will, but Loki you would have us not even tell Melian?” Vanora asked her tone light but with a tinge of worry.

Loki let out a soft sigh, unlike the other elves that preferred communal living, Melian lived alone in the forest, blessed at an early age by the Skogsrå he was a favourite of the huldufólk. When Loki was still a young boy visiting Freyr with his family, a number of the faeries from the fire and ice clans had sensed his magicks and quietly followed him for days, before he had sensed their presence and befriended them. 

Melian had thus found him huddled together with them, when he had come searching for the missing faeries. They had taken to each other immediately, with Melian teaching him of the types, the ways and the magicks of the huldufólk. 

It had been a few decades since they had crossed paths, but Loki knew that the elf had always been a loyal friend and teacher, one who would keep a secret if asked. He would also possibly be the best person to help him gather information on what had happened in the realms for the past few years and what was happening now.

“No, you can tell Melian, now for a tale of ancient villains, mortals and victorious hero’s.” he said as he began, calling up illusions to accompany the story he planned to weave to entertain his guests.

Asgard

The Warrior’s three and Lady Sif had received Thor at the Bifrost with much cheer, though there had been something peculiar in Heimdell’s gaze as he had called out his usual welcome. Perhaps he did not approve of him telling the Avengers and the good people of Shield of the Dark Elves and all that had transpired with the Aether. But they were his shield brothers and the Lady Jane was of their world so they deserved to know. He had been surprised by how compassionate some of their reactions were to Loki’s part in the tale but then mortals could often be unpredictable.

He had tried to not speak too much of his own glorious battle as he told the Allfather of Loki’s fall in battle and his redeeming actions, but his father had done little more than nod in acceptance and declare that all the Nine Realms celebrated Thor's heroic actions of defeating Malekith. 

Thor had then declared unprompted that he did not think himself worthy of becoming king just yet, and had asked leave to return to Midgard, sure that the Allfather would grant his request. However the Allfather had denied him speaking of his duty to help mend the realm and brought the court to close.

Now walking towards the tavern with his shield brothers to celebrate his return, Thor looked at flower tributes laid outside homes for his dear mother, their Queen, he failed to notice that most were tied together with Loki’s sigil. He did however notice a lack of warmth and even some disapproval in those that greeted him, though surely that was just because they were in discomfort and mourning. Many had lost their homes and loved ones in the attack after all. Thor tried to give them encouraging smiles, things would get fixed soon easing any hardship they currently faced and those slain were no doubt sitting in Valhalla rejoicing with the great warriors of the past and at peace.

As they entered the tavern, Conversations closest to the door came to an end as attention turned their way, smiling at everyone he called out to the barkeep, “Bjorn, Ale for me and my shield brothers!” and moved towards the table closest to the fireplace.

Fandral picked up his mug of ale and tipped it towards Thor, “To another foe vanquished by the mighty Thor.” he cheered followed by an agreement from a few sitting around them.

“Thank you, my friend.” Thor nodded, surprised once more that only a few had joined in.

“Is something the matter my prince, you seem unsettled?” Volstag asked, biting into the meat of the roast they had just been served, courtesy of the thankful barkeep no doubt.

“No! I hoped… It doesn’t matter what I hoped for. Clearly many are mourning and someone will need to oversee the repairs and help rebuild the spirits” Thor said donning the coat of responsibility that he knew was his to bear.

“Aye, knowing the crowned prince has his hand on matters will bring much cheer to the people.” Fandral agreed.

“I will speak with my father and the council tomorrow and see what we must do to help the rebuilding.” He said, then looking at Sif asked, “You seem troubled Sif, is everything all right?” 

Sif grimaced then said, “It is nothing of great consequence Thor, I was just thinking that the commoners and the seidkonur would have been happier if there had been a funeral for Loki, they know the king did not bid the einherjar sent to Svartalfheim to bring back his body.”

Startled Thor looked at her, “Surely you jest Sif, the realm thinks him a traitor, though his actions redeemed him in death, they would not know of them until I arrived to tell the tale. They would no more expect him to be honored then than they do now, or they would have spoken of it in court today.”

Sif sighed. The first time the people thought Loki had died, life went on as usual. Everyone had been told he was lost to the void in an attempt to defeat the Jotnar. And the corpse of the dead Jotun king had been enough for Odin to convince the populace. Though she herself and the three had known the truth, they too had nothing to mourn as they felt vindicated for having foiled his treacherous plots.

No matter how unfair it appeared, things in the realm didn’t change with his absence, even became better. Thor had become a lot more sombre the loss of being able to go back to his mortal weighing on him heavily. Surely, Loki had his special tricks that helped Thor and them from time to time but he was also honourless and unpleasant. 

Which was why she herself had been very angry at first when Loki’s return disrupted their easy going life once more, taking Thor back to Midgard and leaving them all to dread having to put up with a man so complicated and odd, not at all as the normal Aesir. 

Lately though she had heard the whispers amongst the people of how the destruction could have been avoided if Loki were not confined in the cell. When she had questioned Heimdell indirectly about Loki, he had stated that Loki was dangerously powerful, and that with the right incentive he could have ended anything. This had left her quite shocked and deeply unsure of her own assessment of the dark prince.

“That may be so…I only speak of what I think is one of the reasons for the unhappiness you have noticed Thor.”

“Surely it is not true. The unhappiness is simply because of the destruction and the loss.” Thor reaffirmed, feeling a hint of unease for not having thought of checking to see if Loki’s body could be brought back, surely the scavengers would have gotten to it by now.

“Yes all know the Allfather is just, speaking differently is treason” Hogun growled.

Sif swallowed before she could utter something that might be called treason or anger Thor and let things be.

Alfheim

Having spent a delightful morning with Gisli and Vanora, Loki made his way slowly to the inner room that served as his workshop. Seeing how they could traverse between the worlds as easily as he could, and given their love for tales, they had been quite informative on the happenings across the realms the past few years. He chuckled, recalling their descriptions of the mad sorcerer who tried to take over the realm of Midgard with illusions and mortal thrall's. Shaking his head he wondered again how no one who knew him had questioned his actions.

Snapping his fingers he lit the torches and checked to see if his wards for protection were strong enough; pushing a tiny bit of seidr at ones that could stand to be strengthened he looked around, this was his sanctuary, the place he could go to create new spells and potions. Case upon case of books, scrolls, and manuscripts resided against one wall. Beakers and apparatuses of metal tubing and glass implements sat against another, and the stone circle in the center of the room glowed and pulsed with magic. 

He checked the potency of his potions and tonics and growled. They were old, too old for him to boost their effectiveness. He would have to make them anew, with proper brewing and magical infusions. Thankfully with a forest abundant in magical herbs and friendly huldufólk just outside his door, it could be easily done.

Walking to the center of the room to the focusing circle on the ground he lowered himself gently to the stone floor, since he already knew what he wants to do, he doesn't need to consult scrolls or grimoires. Watching his visitors shift forms as they left had reminded him of the hindrance he had felt when he shifted last night.

He calls magic, and it comes to him quickly, like water that’s spent too long stuck behind a dam. It augments the innate seidr already flowing through his body, and he breathes it in for a long, quiet moment before turning inward.

The damage from both Midgard and Svartalfheim is almost completely gone. He surveys the softly glowing trails of magic that crisscross his being and pushes power into the bits working to fix the damage. 

Next he checks the net of seidr in his chest that works when he shifts, the same eagerness is there; seidr and skill mingle, but they are held back. Something is slowing them down. He stops to think.

A battle on two fronts.

He dives deeper, and deeper. He pushes himself into the very core of his being, where magic and matter meet and there is no distinguishing between the two. Time slows as he probes and digs, and at last, at last, he finds it.

A barrier.

Small, almost unnoticeable, with power masked in simplicity; the spell bears the mark of his mother but even more so, it reeks of Odin. 

A glamour. The glamour. A deceptively easy spell, even more so for an illusionist like himself, built of combined magicks and hidden deep within his core so as to seem like an integral part of his very makeup.

In any other place, it would be a joke. A party trick. Any other place but here.

He looks at it from all angles and studies it until its configuration is burned into his memory.

Then, in a single movement, he reaches out and crushes it with his power.

Coming back out he takes a deep breath and opens his eyes, his lips quirk as he thinks of how easy it had been to lay the foundations of the deception. Thankfully unveiling this one had caused no pain.

His brow furrows then as he thinks back on the other doubts he had entertained once he had thought on matters after his fall. Was he a rescued castoff or a war prize or a hostage? Why would he be cast off in a temple? How did Odin know of his parentage? He felt starved for the truth. 

It was time he began to seek answers, for if he hoped to let go of the past he needed to know all of it first. And only after knowing every facet of what made him; would he be able to truly prepare for guarding the Tessaract.

Placing his fingers on two runes carved into the circle Loki settled the magic within it and stood. The work he had done left him famished, but his supplies were scarce, he would go hunt for some meat and gather some herbs for cooking and the potions. Putting out the lights with a snap of his fingers he went to prepare for the hunt.

Niflheimr

Once in the time before memory Lady Death had found a marvel; a giant's daughter born half dead, she had claimed her as her own and called her Hel.

“Would you like a realm of your own?” she had asked after teaching the child magicks of the old. “It would be a world of ice, a world of the dead; monsters and outcasts from all the realms. You would be their goddess, their queen”

Hel had simply said, “Yes.” And she had taken to ruling the realm of the dead, feared by all beings in all worlds.

~

When Loki was just a few centuries short of his first millennia, he had learned all the magicks his mother and the Asgardian seidkona had to teach. So he took to travelling to different realms following whispers and stories of great mages and approaching them for apprenticeship. Thor was wrapped up in his training and father in ruling the realms so they had barely noticed his longer and longer absences from Asgard. 

Travelling to different realms also gave him the opportunity to study its creatures and perfect his own shapeshifting. One of his favourite shapes even today was the Helwolf, native to Niflheimr, the ice realm of the dead. Studying them was how he met Hel.

Walking through her hall towards her study Hel, recalled the first time they had met,

She had found him hiding behind a pile of rocks studying a helwolf feasting on its kill.

“And who are you?” Hel asked, appearing before him as a beautiful ás woman.

He’d looked up to her irritated to be disturbed, “I am Loki, son of Odin and Frigga.” He replied standing.

Hel was flummoxed. The son of Asgard’s king was actually a Jötun, and he found his way to Niflheimr?

“I am Hel” she told him. He did not seem to recognize the name, and she chose not to enlighten him. “This is my realm.”

“I like it.” Loki said gazing around with a hint of wonder in his gaze. “It’s beautiful and quiet.”

“You can return, if you wish it.” She said, holding out a hand. “Let me show you to the palace.”

He had kissed her hand and chattered the whole way, about his studies, the helwolves and other creatures that fascinated him, of Thor’s boorish friends and Hel had found herself charmed by the boy.

In the coming years, Loki visited relatively often, even after he realized who she was. She taught him magicks that no one still living knew and he shared stories of his travels and studies. Loki practiced shape shifting and magicks frowned upon in Asgard, sheltered in Hel’s home. And Hel found for herself a friend amongst the living for the first time in many millennia.

What had happened over the last few years had pained her deeply, and though she was not permitted to interfere or intervene in the lives of the living. She did think about dream-walking to Odin and demanding to know how he’d gotten so stupid, so blind, even for a selfish one eyed fool. 

Now she had her own amends to make to Loki, which was why she had asked her Lady for a favor.

“You play a dangerous game, my lady” Heid told her as she prepared to seclude herself to do the dream walking she planned to do.

“I play no game,” she replied to Heid; Gullveig, Heid’s twin cackled. Hel ignored her.

For the first time ever the threads had unravelled, soon the realms would tremble and she knew that a properly prepared fire could cleanse instead of destroy.

Chapter Text

Alfheim

Loki woke up in the quiet pre-dawn hours; there was only a little light filtering around the draperies. He was sprawled across the enormous bed like a tiger in summer, revelling in the space that he’d been denied for so long, a soft tune playing in his mind. He was still debating whether he should get up or try for some more sleep when he heard the first clang. He frowned to himself, and slipped from the bed even as another clang filled the air and another, “By Hel! What was that infernal racket?”

He made his way to the hall and saw the two beings making a mess of his hall. Slowly, he let his head fall into his hands, muttering under his breath about idiotic fey.

Hel was grinning as she dodged balls of fire and various utensils Gisli was throwing at her, the ones she missed bouncing harmlessly off her armor. “Loki! Go back inside; I'll take care of her!” Gisli called out noticing him.

Hel barked a laugh. “I cannot be hurt, foolish creatures.” Her teeth bared in a fearsome smile. “You can, however.”

Throwing out a wisp of magic to dissolve Gisli’s latest fireball, Loki walked into the room and called out, “Enough!”

Turning to Gisli with a smile he said, “I thank you sweets for your valiant efforts to protect me, but fear not, Hel would no more kill me than you would.”

Gisli’s eyes widened as she looked at him, then slowly walking to his side and pulling on his arm till he bent enough to allow her lips to reach his ears, she whispered, “But I smell death on her Loki.”

His lips curved in the beginnings of a smile, he looked up to see Hel, her eyebrows questioning even as her eyes danced with mirth looking at him. “Allow me to introduce Queen Hel of Niflheimr, an old friend.” He said, then trying to allay Gisli’s fear.

Cheeks reddening, giving Hel a coy look from under her lashes, Gisli curtseyed, “Greetings queen, friend of Loki.”

Hel looked uncomfortable for a moment, something secretive in her eyes. Then she smiled softly at Gisli, “Greetings to you mighty champion of Loki, I am very pleased to meet you”, looking at him she added, “I would speak with you of a personal matter.”

The way she said it left him wary. But he inclined his head in acknowledgement and looked to Gisli who was already headed out the door. “I brought you fruits Loki, the Skogsrå sent them, and she asks that you visit her soon.” she said, as the door closed behind her.

Loki leaned against the wall at his back, his body language casual as his green eyes lazily flicked over Hel’s stoic form. “I can say with utmost sincerity I was surprised you did not act to retrieve me yourself.”

She shrugged a single shoulder. “Where is the fun in that?”

He stuck his tongue out at her and she smirked walking towards him quickly and embracing him. She feels his face pressing into her neck and feels a sob shuddering through her body. He doesn’t make a sound, but he holds her and lets her draw comfort from him.

Stepping back after a moment looking at him she said, “I owe you an apology.”

He offered her a broken smile, leading her gently towards the couch. “You knew?”

She doesn’t have to ask what he’s talking about, “You know, no lies, masks, glamour can hold up against death. I saw what you were the first time we met. But I couldn’t intervene, it was not my place.”

His head tilted slightly, considering that. “Then you have nothing to apologize for.”

“Not for that no, but I should have intervened when they caged you without a trial.”

"How much did you see?" he asked knowing she must have seen what happened after his fall. 

Hel looked at Loki she knew enough over the many years of dealing with him that he would not respond well to sympathy or pity so she just said, “Enough" 

She was glad that she was the queen of the dead or else she doubted she could make her voice sound so detached. Loki looked down at the floor, thinking of the torture that still haunted his dreams.

He looked at her carefully, his face void of expression, "It's been a difficult few years.” He admitted.

"It was quite sloppy letting yourself be killed like that," she said reproachfully. He looked like he was going to argue, but slumped a moment later and just nodded. Hel nodded as well, and then brought her hand forward palm facing the ceiling and let the Tesseract materialize.

“I believe this belongs to you.” Loki looked up into the blue glow; he could feel her pulsing with happiness reaching out to him. His own hands reached for her involuntarily, picking her up from Hel’s hands, the glow brightened and a rush of power engulfed him. He felt it reach into his being, intertwining with his seidr and enveloping his very being, before it slowly calmed, still in him but no longer a dominating presence.

He opened his eyes that he hadn’t realized he’d closed and saw Hel looking at him with surprise. She grinned just a little as she shook her head and said,” You always call the most unusual and unique to you. Like moths to a flame.”

He moved the Tesseract to his pocket dimension and smiled sadly. “Yes like does seem to call to like.”

“No. Loki.” She said, and then stopped when he winced, but continued because saying this was necessary “You have no idea how special you are, first Yggdrsil and now a cosmic entity that predate the universe itself have chosen you as their own, found you worthy to carry them within yourself.”

Loki refused to allow what he was feeling to show on his face.  He refused to acknowledge, even to himself, how much hearing words like that meant. He cleared his throat. “She would have been safer with you.”

Hel gave him a look, unimpressed “You think she would sit out the war that’s coming after having found a champion?”

He sighed, “No I guess not, but I do wish I could have.”

She chose not to reply to that, Loki would do what was needed and he was too practical to not step up when the time came. He’d probably start strategizing much before then.

"You really should have told them about Thanos, you should tell them now" she said instead, even though she knew what his response would be.

"They would never believe me," Loki said with a short laugh. "They think me a liar, you know," he said, then looking at her with a wry smile on his lips. 

Hel rolled her eyes in disgust, Loki had earned the moniker as the God of Lies because of the power in his seidr to tell when someone was telling a lie, the truth was that Loki himself rarely lied outright; instead he’d misdirect skillfully when required. The misinterpretation of the moniker was thanks to Thor’s little cheering squad and their insecurities.

“Not everyone believes that Loki, and you cannot fight what’s coming alone, you will need allies”

“Everyone thinks me dead Hel, I have no desire to change that, nor do I plan on building trust and marshalling an army against the titan.” He said, there was a shadow of remembered betrayals his eyes, then his tone lightened as he added, “Or do you not think me clever enough to keep Yggdrsil protected?”

Hel shrugged lightly, “Of that I have no doubt, though I do think you underestimate your own needs.”

He frowned at her suspiciously. “What are you planning?”

Instead of answering directly, Hel asked a different question. “Do you really think it would work? Protecting them without influencing them? Have you really not met any who are clever and brave enough to take up the cause if not for Yggdrsil, for their worlds?”

His eyes narrowed, having deduced quite some time ago that Hel never said or did anything without there being a point. He just wasn’t sure what she was trying to connect for him. “You’re dancing around the point.”

Hel stood then, blue eyes amused, “I don’t think you’re ready for my point yet Loki. Rest, get to know your new companion, make a few of your own plans. I’ll visit you again soon, or you could come to me when you’re ready”

He made a face at her which made her grin even as she disappeared.

Midgard

Weeks after the fall of SHIELD and the reformation of the Avengers, Tony Stark was standing in his workshop at the compound, staring down at the workbench, fingers drumming on the metal surface and thinking about the conversation he’d had with Pepper a few hours ago.

Though they had decided to not be a couple anymore, she was firmly invested in staying friends and looked out for him and the Avengers. Which was why, she had brought to his notice the rumors that had reached her ears, about how the governments around the world were thinking of finding a way to control the team. The world was becoming less and less amenable to the Avengers so-called “collateral damage”.

He had told her that this was something they could handle; people had a right to want to feel safe. If they didn’t accept accountability for their actions, they were no better than the bad guys. The fact that the governments wanted to exploit that sentiment wasn’t a great surprise either. If they started addressing this before things came to a head, it would simply be a small bump in the road. He was sure he could set the ball rolling on their end before the governments could make their own move.

She had looked to him then, face serious and asked, “Tony, I just need you to be sure that the team will have your back before you take this up.”

That! That had surprised him; of course they would have his back. He wasn’t the most trusting guy in the world. But this would affect them too, so it was in their interest to put their focus on this and help.

He knew that after the fiasco with Ultron she’d had her doubts about them, if he were being honest, he did too. But he stood by what he’d told Cap then, there was something bigger out there and it would come for them. He had even considered convincing Thor to get him a meeting with Loki, he knew there was unrevealed intel there, there had been a lot of gaps in Thor’s stories and Jane’s accounts hadn’t painted a great picture either. So he had been seriously disappointed when he’d heard that Loki had been killed.

Letting go of that train of thought, he reminded himself that he had more urgent matters to address first, namely getting ahead of whatever these governments were scheming to do. 

He had just made up his mind to discuss it with the team when Vision phased into the workshop.

“Mr. Stark.”

“The doors are there for a reason buddy. No one appreciates having their privacy invaded without a by your leave.” He said his tone light.

“My apologies, I saw you weren’t working so I assumed…I’ll remember to use the door from now on.” Vision replied.

Tony nods, “Did you need something?”

“No, I was asked to inform you that Natasha, Steve, Sam and Wanda have gone to Lagos to follow a lead Natasha received.”

Tony’s brows furrowed and he asked, “Hydra?”

At Visions affirmative nod, he asked, “You didn’t join them?”

“Natasha did not think a large team was necessary.” Vision said even as he moved to leave.

Watching him use the door Tony smiled to himself.

He had his own mission to run today, he was inaugurating the September Foundation Grant at MIT. Then he called out, “Friday let me know when it’s time for me to wrap up in here, so that I’m not late for MIT.”

“Sure thing boss.” Friday said, and then as if anticipating his next question added, “All the equipment has already been set up and tested by the Stark Tech team and Happy will be driving you there.

“Great also set up a meeting with the team once everyone’s back, there are things I want to discuss with them.” He said getting back to working on the upgrade he was making for his repulsors.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had a bad feeling that something was going to go wrong, but he was a scientist and feelings weren’t concrete evidence so he ignored it.

Alfheim

When Melian first heard of Loki’s fall from the Bi-frost, he had gathered all the fey and asked them to check the branches of Yggdrsil to see if he had landed on any of them. When they had come back empty handed but with terrible stories of what had transpired, he had despaired blaming himself for letting so much time pass without reaching out. He had offered prayers to the Gods to give Loki strength, hoping against reason that it might be enough to save him from the void.

He had rejoiced when the news of Loki’s survival reached him, even though what transpired on Midgard had perplexed him, Odin's actions even more so. He had been preparing to travel to Asgard to see if there was a way he could aid Loki, when King Freyr had reached out to him and asked that he wait as they were already working on something themselves. So he had waited, then a few days ago Yggdrsil itself had shuddered and the news of Loki’s death had reached him once more. He had been packing to leave for Asgard when Vanora had come to him, telling him of Loki’s arrival and his request for silence on the matter.

As he walked through the forest, feet silent he could hear a bunch of faeries chattering away near a thicket of blood-berry bushes. Walking closer he stopped to look at the figure dressed in a green tunic, black leather pants and boots, picking the berries while listening to the fey talking to him. A smile curving his lips, pleased that Loki looked healthy, he pulled an acorn from his pocket, aimed it at his head and let it go saying, “Dead are you my Prince?”

As expected the acorn hit a shield and dropped to the ground even as Loki straightened and turned around and saw the elf, his slightly slanted eyes blue as the summer sky, a short pointed nose crinkled as his lips drew upwards in a broad smile. He was dressed simply in a brown tunic and pants, feet in leather boots. Loki held up a hand mock defensively, shrugged a shoulder, sarcasm flowing in his voice replied, “Well the realms seem to prefer it if I am.”

Laughing out loud Melian walked to Loki wrapped both arms around him, pinning his arms to his sides, and picked him up as he hugged the breath right out of him. “Gods!, I have been so worried about you.” He said.

Loki was completely unprepared for the emotions that engulfed him at those words, he closed his eyes in shame at how careless and selfish he himself had been to disregard and doubt the feelings of even those who had never failed him. “I am so sorry my friend.” he began, but Melian let go, stepped back and interrupted him swiftly. “No my prince, It is I who should ask for forgiveness for I have been a poor friend.”

Loki shook his head, “You have not! There is nothing to forgive, for you have always been a loyal and caring friend to me, even when I have not deserved it. The fey have told me of your efforts on my behalf, even though I was never worthy of them.”

Shaking his own head in return, voice angry now he said, “Of course you are worthy my prince, Gods! I won’t have you believe otherwise for a minute. Even now knowing of the horrible actions of those that proclaim themselves worthy, do you see yourself as less?”

Loki visibly paused before sighing, shoulders slumping forward ever so slightly, he admitted, “I’m not sure I know how to see myself.”      

Melian tilted his head slightly, his expression saying quite clearly that Loki was an idiot. “You can start by looking at yourself from your own eyes then and maybe ask those who actually know you. It’s not like you have a lot of other pressing matters to attend to, now that you’re dead and all”

Lips quirking Loki glanced away, but Melian caught something in his expression. “Gods, what is it?” he asked.

Loki paused for a moment before reluctantly speaking. He’d rather not say anything, but that he didn’t want Melian to think he wasn’t trusted, moved him past his reluctance.

“It’s a long story, it starts just after my fall and it seems like I’m going to have to be the one to write the ending.”

Narrowing his eyes, Melians’s tone was full of warning as he said, “Well then my prince, I guess you’d better invite me back home to tea and tell me this story.”

Knowing a losing battle when he saw one, Loki turned to collect his pickings only to see the fey that had kept him company holding his basket giving him hopeful and beseeching looks, clearly enticed by the idea of a story.

Biting back the laugh that was bubbling up his throat, he gently took the basket and said, “It’s the same story I told Venora and Gisli but if you really want to hear it again I promise to tell it to you after my hunt tomorrow.” Satisfied by their chorused agreement, he turned back to Melian and laid a hand on his shoulder teleporting them both home.

Vanaheim

It was one of her happier dreams, walking through the plains of Vanaheim, the thigh high grasses swaying in the breeze, foals chasing each other in a playful game, while their mothers grazed. She imagined her horse Baron would have enjoyed a run here.

“It does seem like an ideal place to give a horse free rein.” Sonja heard an unfamiliar voice say behind her.

She stiffened momentarily then turned, her eyes widened as she recognized the woman standing before her, bowing her head she replied, “You honor me with a visit, Queen Hel, how can I be of service?”

Hel leaned his head forward slightly. “That remains to be seen, a lot depends on your motivations.”

Sonja felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, speaking hesitantly she asked. “I…I do not know what you mean my lady.”

Hel frowned, eyes reflecting a disappointment that somehow Sonja felt she was responsible for. “You have been quite instrumental in the quiet plans King Hœnir has been making to create alliances outside of Asgard and to free Loki. What drives you to seek an independent Vanaheim I don’t need to ask, but I am curious to know why you thought it necessary to try to secure Loki as a tool to achieve your cause.”

She flinched just a little, though she knew nothing that Hel turned her eye on could remain hidden, so her finding out what was really happening in Vanaheim under the cloak of normalcy wasn’t really a surprise, then her spine stiffened as she thought of Hel’s question and answered, “Prince Loki was not a tool to us, he did not deserve anything the Allfather did to him before and after his fall, this I know, the loom showed me the truth.”

Hel’s eyes narrowed, “The Loom? You have the sight?”

Sonja nodded, “I do my lady and once they brought Prince Loki back to Asgard, it showed me all that had transpired. And when the Allmother could not do more than stop the Allfather from beheading the child she called her own, I decided to try and do something myself.”  

Expression thoughtful Hel studied Sonja then asked, “That still doesn’t explain your interest in and loyalty to Loki.”

She paused for a moment, and then answered her tone calm and even, “A few centuries ago when my son Gunnar was still a child, a swamp dragon attacked my village and the dragon's breath, though not harmful to adults, poisoned every child. Prince Loki and Prince Thor were here with the Allmother visiting King Hœnir. While Prince Thor chased the dragon hoping to slay it for a trophy, Prince Loki stayed behind and worked his magicks to save the poisoned children, he then returned the next day and cast protective shields over the village to ensure that what had happened never happened again. And if that weren’t enough he also ensured that the seidkonur in the village learned the casting so that it could be duplicated where needed. I owe him a life debt my lady, so does every child and mother on this realm. And if he had not perished on Svartalfheim I would have done all in my power to help him gain justice.”

Hel forced her features to soften, just enough that the almost invisible tension in her shoulders eased. “You believe he perished then?”

Sonja sighed in frustration, “I do, I have tried looking into the loom, but it no longer answers me.”

Hel thought to herself before changing tactics. “Would you give me an oath of silence and fealty if I gave you the truth?”

Sonja did not hesitate, though she knew that no oath was as sacred as one made to the Queen of the dead, “I would my Queen.”

At those words, Sonja felt a thread of seidr bind around her heart, even as she saw Hel disappear, the words “he survives” echoing in her thoughts. Her dreams turned weird then, she dreamt of glass and light, of water and green ground, of galaxies trembling and when she awoke, she didn't recall what she had seen. But she did remember two words and sighed in relief.

~

Loki spent decades as the God who found things, who walked between realms, who jumped into portals and returned with wonders beyond words. It was only right then, Hel thought, that those worthy of him, found him.

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

A silence settled over the room once Loki had finished telling Melian about everything that had happened since just before Thor’s botched coronation. He could see a quiet rage in the elf’s eyes, even though he had toned down or omitted quite a few details from the parts in the void. Taking a deep breath, Melian looked at Loki, “I scarcely know what to say my prince, while I had heard from the fey of what happened before your fall, I did not know everything.” Shaking his head he added, “I can scarcely believe that both the Allfather and the Allmother would break Yggdrsil’s law this way and then condemn you for what followed.”

Loki offered him a sad smile, “It would have been too much to expect them to take responsibility for their actions Melian, and you know the Allfather’s pride would never have allowed it. It was why there was no trial. He would not risk me bringing it up again and tarnish his own or Thor’s reputation. ”

“By the gods!” Melian exclaimed, shaking his head again. “My prince do you not understand the gravity of their crimes?”

“I know lying to me was wrong Melian, it broke the mage’s law but my own crimes were just as grievous, if not worse.” Loki explained.

“It isn’t as simple as that my prince, your crimes were a result of mage fever and coercion, theirs were deliberate. If you truly are Jotunheim’s lost treasure, their realm has a right to seek justice and if the Allfather and Allmother did not send you aid after you survived, they broke oaths they swore to Asgard and Yggdrsil when he became king and she queen, for son or not, as a child of Yggdrsil they owed you protection.”

After a moment’s pause to contemplate something he added, “In fact, Heimdell would stand accused of the same and both the Allmother and Thor as the crowned prince would have to answer for allowing a sentencing without trial. They all deserved to face the judgment before the Council of the Realms all you had to do was call for it. Your seidr would have sounded the call my prince.”

Loki frowned to mull that over for a moment before he shook his head. “No. No, all knew that the Allfather took the Casket of Ancient Winters as a war-prize, he does not owe Jotunheim any reparations for that and he could not have known of my capture at the hands of the Titan, Melian for the Titan has surely hid himself from all eyes.”

Melian sent him an unimpressed look, “Nay my prince, you know both Hlidskjalf and Heimdell have the power to look beyond the realms and into other dimensions, and even if one might hide from Heimdell’s sight, when they banished the Titan, the Allfather was granted the spell to keep track of him. As for the Casket, that is not the treasure I speak of, though few now remember, as all stories of Jotunheim were lost when they were locked to their own world, there is a tale of the old of a treasure that Yggdrsil blessed Ymir’s blood with, born once each generation. I do not know the details I fear, but I do know that after the war there were whispers of the Æsir having slain the treasure and a curse having befallen Jotunheim for not having protected him. If what the Allfather spoke is truth and you are King Laufey’s son, then you my prince could be the treasure they spoke of.”

Loki stared at him, eyes huge and unmoving. Melian started to worry when he didn’t move further for a full minute before blinking suddenly and holding his head exclaimed, “Fuck.” Melian blinked in shock but Loki stood up, crossed over to the hearth and grabbed the flask of mead he kept there. He opened his mouth to object and closed it when Loki started drinking until it was drained before shakily putting the flask down. Not even on a full stomach would he drink that much mead at once.

Turning back, his green eyes glinting, Loki sat back down and shook his head and said, “You do realize that there is no proof for that, do you not?”

Melian tapped a finger to his lips as he maintained eye contact, “If only one had the powers to travel there unhindered and cared to find out.” He challenged in return.

Loki snarled defensively, as if the answer were obvious, “Yes of course they would share their secrets with the one who tried to destroy them all.”

“You didn’t tell me you can no longer shapeshift” he said, as he leaned back in his chair, tone casual.

A loud sigh filled the room before Loki’s expression turned thoughtful as he considered going in his Jötun form. After a minute he shook his head, “it would not work even were I to go there as a Jötun, I would stand out for being too small.”

Melian frowned at that, “My prince all Jötun mages are of a small stature, it is a price for the gift of seidr.”

Loki’s entire expression darkened. He hadn’t known that. Another lie from the Allfather. Although honestly by now he wasn’t really surprised. What Melian had told him so far was painting a rather ugly picture in his mind. He decided that he would think on it further and find a way to find the true story regarding this treasure.

Then he thought of everything else Melian had spoken about and slumped suddenly, “I will look into finding more about this story but as for the rest there’s not much I can do.”

Melian shook his head while crossing his arms and asked, “You would let all of them get away with the crimes they committed?”

Loki sighed softly, “I no longer want to go back, Melian. Trying to foil the Titans plans is task enough.”

Melian chose his words carefully. “I understand my prince, but do you not see; even now the Allfather breaks his vows by keeping the emergence of the Titan quiet. He willfully puts all the realms at risk. Not that I do not trust your ability, but even you cannot protect all alone. Caught unaware they will naught but perish.”

Loki looked thoughtful before he straightened, a determined look on his face. “Then I shall find a way to alert them to what is coming.”

Accepting that Loki would not change his mind on this, Melian bowed his head, a fist pressed to his chest over his heart. “Then my prince I will aid you with anything you command of me.”

Jotunheim

Skaði recognized the seidr, even as she felt her dreams change to one of herself standing on the cliffs of Niflheimr, the sky was a deep indigo with streaks of orange chasing each other. She turned away from it and bowed deeply, “Queen Hel.”

Hel inclined her head in greeting, studying the woman before her. Skaði was short in stature befitting the seidr that ran strong through her being. She had sharp features but the markings on her face and those running down her arms and legs were rather delicate. Her eyes were a light red with hints of pink; she wore a simple knee length, sleeveless sheath dress. Hel knew she was one of the last few remaining seidkona of the storm clans with a special mastery over healing magic.

“You have made many offerings to Yggdrsil of late Skaði praying for the Prince of Asgard instead of your own realm.”

Eyes outraged but tone respectful, Skaði replied, “He is not a Prince of Asgard my queen, but the heir to Jotunheim’s throne and so much more, praying for his safe return is no different from praying for Jotunheim itself. He is our treasure, our last hope, our only hope!”

Hel gave her a considering look and asked, “And you know this how?”    

Skaði’s expression softened, “The storms and the winds speak to me my queen; they brought me tales of the Prince from Asgard when the Bifrost broke. We have been searching for ways to reach him ever since. As you must know my offerings to Yggdrsil were for both his survival and for a way.”

“And if you found a way to him or he to you, would you protect him from those that would seek vengeance?” Hel inquired.

“No true Jötun would ever harm the prince, but if one such were to be found I would slay him myself before he touched the prince.” She said her voice firm.

Hel probed further, her voice still quiet. “Would all stand with him? Would his kin?”

Skaði nodded affirmatively, and said without a hint of hesitation, “They all would, his kin have made offerings of their own since I shared the news with them.”

Hel wasn't about to be appeased just yet. “Would they swear an oath to me? Would you?”

Something about Hel’s questions to her was renewing her hope, and she nodded to her gravely. “I swear it. So would they.”

As the vow took hold, a private smile touched Hel’s lips and she inclined her head just a little, in a hint of respect. “You may speak of my wish to them, and if you travel to Vindsvalr Mountains two days hence, you might meet the way you look for.” She said as she disappeared.

Alfheim

After Melian left with promises of bringing back information on what King Freyr had been up to, Loki walked back to his workshop. Bringing the Tesseract out of his pocket dimension, he placed it on his work table. Ever since he had first taken her from Hel’s hands, he had felt her presence even more strongly in his mind. Now looking at the blue cube he wondered how much of her energy he would really be able to harness.

As if responding to the question in his thoughts, his mind filled with images of portals opening across dimensions, of raw energy both shielding him and extending from his hands, of knowledge of the cosmos behind doors waiting to be opened. Coming back to himself, Loki let out a long breath followed by shaky laughter and said, “I think this is going to be fun.”

The cube’s glow brightened and pulsed as if in agreement. Loki gave the cube a contemplative look and asked, “I know you can speak, do you prefer not to?” 

“I can but then I must take more of your mind.” He heard her reply.

Of course Loki thought, shaking his head at his own stupidity; that made perfect sense, auditory augmentation was always more consuming than visual, as an illusionist it was one of the first principles he had learned.

Well then the portals would come in handy, but the energy was intriguing, he had never been fond of raw energy, though it was useful in a fight, it was usually too volatile for the kind of delicate and intricate spell casting he preferred to do. He felt a thrum of disagreement from the Tesseract.

Humming in contemplation to that, he thought of how, it wasn’t just raw energy. The Tesseract was sentient after all; if it chose it could control its own power. So what he needed to do was figure out how to let her powers work with his own. A smile curved his lips as he felt her agreement.

Sitting on a chair he decided to begin with the basics and called a flame to his palm. Fire had always been his; it came with a thought and burned brightly. He wondered if frost fire would come to him just as quickly. He’d read legends of the fearsomeness of the frost fire of the Jötnar. Now that he knew he was Jötun, he would have to find a way to learn the casting.

Bringing his attention back, he looked down at the flame in his hand and saw that for once it wasn’t completely green as usual but had a blue tint to the edges. Conjuring a stone on the floor, he shaped the fire into a blade and let it fly. Where normally his blade would have splintered the stone, this one reduced it to rubble.

Grinning at the result, his thoughts turned to shielding. He called up the shield he had cast around the workshop that kept any accidents contained and neutralized them. The net was both intricate and strong; he decided to add another layer to it that would erase the trace of all his castings once they were complete.

He felt the nudge from the Tesseract and then the image of the void appeared in his mind. He smiled at the brilliance of her suggestion and let her energy suffuse his seidr as he built a net that would take all completed castings into the void instead of just erasing them. Any who tried to trace his spells would now find the void engulfing their minds, not a pleasant experience, as he could attest.

Once the net was built to his satisfaction he began the process of integrating it into the other. Again the Tesseract helped, its energy brightening the best points for anchoring the new net to the old. When he was done the merging was seamless and he let go of the net so that it could settle in its place.

Sitting back more comfortably he reviewed what he had just done; his own energy was barely depleted, as his powers had been boosted by the Tesseract. 

The Tesseract had also been quite easy to channel into the delicate work, though he would need to practice a considerable amount where offensive spells were concerned. The power that his blade had exerted though great would not do, if his aim was to simply incapacitate and not obliterate. He would have to practice to communicate his intent and control the force.

Well he figured he had plenty of time to do that, now though he needed to gather some information of his own. With a shimmer of green, his form began to alter, his hair shortened and turned brown, his eyes narrowed even as his eyelashes disappeared, his shoulders and chest expanded and his height increased. His skin turned scaly and his body was covered in sleek black armor similar to that favored by the Kree. 

Putting the Tessaract into his dimensional pocket he called to it, asking “Want to go on a little adventure?” He laughed and projected a picture of his destination in his mind, even as blue smoke engulfed him. 

Muspelheim

King Surtr was sitting in the throne room of Muspelheim. His skin was a dark burnt red color, and his straight black hair fell to his shoulders.  His face had facial ridges similar to those that marked the Jötnar, but they were exaggerated, the whorls charcoal black, his eyes were red, again similar to those of the Jötnar. And on his head instead of a crown were spiraling horns.

There was a fire giantess standing before him speaking, she was smaller in size than most and older than him though the fire in her ran strong. As she finished speaking, Surtr’s narrowed his eyes at her and asked, “Are you certain of this völva?”

“Yes my liege, the threads have either shifted or unraveled, which of the two is true, of that I am uncertain, for it is something that only the Norns may know, but the movement from the void is clear, so is the rebirth of a power unknown within Yggdrsil.” She confirmed.

Surtr looked away out the windows that lined the walls, the black sky was filled with clouds that were lit from beneath by glowing lava flows. He was old enough to remember the abomination that had been cast out into the void after he had threatened Yggdrsil many millennia ago. He had been one of the many that had stood by Odin to fight the Titan, and one of the very few that had survived to tell the tale.

If the Titan had somehow gained new powers that would allow him to become a threat once more and reenter Yggdrsil, why had Odin not sounded an alert or begun marshalling strength? He had been there when Mimir had created the spell that would track the Titan and tied it to Odin. Surely Odin had kept a close watch on the Titan, sworn as he was to protect Yggdrsil. If he saw changes that threatened the nine it was his duty to sound an alarm.

Unlike their relations with the Jötun where despite the distance the past few millennia kinship ran deep, the Muspel and the Æsir were reluctantly cordial with each other at best. Even then when it came to protecting Yggdrsil, all knew the Muspels did not hesitate. So what game was Odin playing?

Looking back at the völva tone respectful he said, “I would ask that you keep looking and let me know of any new signs you see of this threat from the void. Also ask of the seidkonur to check with those of other realms with sight, if they have information of their own to share.”

“As you command my liege” bowing she said, before walking away.

Surtr signaled to his lieutenant next, “Go to Niðavellir and seek audience with King Eitri. Extend to him an invitation from me for a meeting”. 

The dwarves were their oldest and strongest allies, coming to Muspelheim often for the gems, the metal and the easy forging. Whatever Odin's game; Surtr knew Eitri would be just as interested in the news he had to share, that is if he didn’t know of it already. The meeting would clear that up too.

“As you command my liege.” the lieutenant bowed deeply and hurried away to collect a written invitation from the court scribe.

Surtr sat back, now almost lounging on the throne, and considered the other piece of information the völva had shared. What could this power she spoke of be? He closed his eyes then and listened to the spirit of the flame that connected his kind to Yggdrsil, it echoed the völva’s sentiment. The winds are starting to shift, and change is coming to his world it signaled. Opening his eyes, he wondered if they would be ready for it.

 

Chapter Text

Contraxia

In the star system Elidra, on planet Contraxia, Loki sat in the back-room of a bar opposite one of the deadliest women he had ever known. A mercenary and a spy, she often travelled with the Ravagers of Stakar Ogord and his ilk. She had large dark brown eyes, two ridges each on her cheekbones, her skin was pink-white, face hidden by the waterfall of straight dark hair that fell past her shoulders. She was dressed in dark blue armor preferred by other Arcturans like her.

They’d had a good working relationship in the past, when Loki had contracted her to obtain certain artifacts or manuscripts. She had also been a very useful fount of information in the past, her work enabling her to amass knowledge from a wide range of places.

She had been quite informative already, and had apprised him of the whereabouts of the Power Gem. It seemed a rag-tag group of thieves/heroes had managed to keep it out of Ronan’s hands and had left it in the safe-keeping of the Nova Corps. The tale was quite surreal and hard to believe.

Shaking his head in bemusement he asked, “So they simply handed it over to the Nova Corps? Why not give it to the Collector, Tivan is a lot more powerful and possessive enough to ensure it never left his hands?”

She remained impassive as she answered, “I don’t know why, though there has been word of an accident in Tivan’s den when the Guardians were on Knowhere. I think the daughter of Thanos ensured that the gem leave the group’s hands knowing it would make them a target.”

He considered her words, a defector from Thanos’s camp, one he called a daughter no less would undoubtedly have a large target on her back, but handing off the gem to the Nova Corp wasn’t that great an idea either. If they had been unable to stand against Ronan, they would hardly be a challenge to Thanos.

“Any news on Thanos’s movements, has he acquired any new armies or artifacts?” he asked, purposefully keeping his question vague.

She gave him a piercing glare as she answered, “The last time I was on Hala, there was talk of a large legion of Skrull’s having joined his ranks. What is your interest with Thanos, Eldur? You have never shown interest in him before.” she enquired.

Loki smirked, “It isn’t my own interest, but I have prospects of my own, who would pay well for this information, invested as they are in protecting their own worlds.” He lied. Then unable to help himself added, “What kind of name is Guardians of the Galaxy anyway?”

For the first time that night she laughed, and then shaking her head said, “Of course you would pick on that Eldur.”

Letting out a mock exaggerated sigh, happy that he had distracted her from her suspicions he said, “No one I mention the name to will take the information seriously and the story is strange as it is.”

She nodded in acknowledgement. “It is bizarre even for ones like me but I am sure you will be able to tailor it just right for your clients and if this is all you needed, I’ll take my credits now and be on my way. I have another I have to meet soon.”

Nodding in acceptance, Loki slid the credits across the table and as she counted them, he slid another pile to her, when she raised an eyebrow to that, he said “those are for you to keep an eye and ear out for any more information on Thanos, if you do find something of interest, leave a message with Syriano.” Nodding she took the credits and walked out.

Giving her a few minutes to disappear, Loki slipped out of the bar and walked to the docks, he had one more person to meet before he headed back.

Unlike the bar, there was a lot of noise at the docks with many moving about, loading, unloading cargo or making repairs on their ships. He walked to the small yellow ship parked at the end of the docks, its guts exposed as someone worked on it. No matter when one visited, one would find a ship in a similar state on this particular port. The simplest illusions were the most effective ones after all. Approaching the mechanic, Loki asked, “What’s the matter with this one then?”

“The connector to the power-cells won’t work” came a disgruntled reply.

“And they trusted you to fix it?” he asked, sarcasm ripe in his voice.

The man dressed in a simple but worn jumpsuit, turned then, his eyes were indignant but were soon colored with surprise, “Eldur! It’s been ages; I thought for sure you’d been killed on some planet somewhere.”

“You can’t get rid of me so easily, Rooker.” Loki said with a laugh.

“Come to send a message then?”

“Yes.” Pulling out a small box enchanted to open for none but the intended recipient, along with a pouch of credits from his vest, Loki handed it to him. “It’s for Narblik” he added.

“I’ve got a ship going to Nova Prime in two days; will they have to bring back an answer?” Rooker questioned.

“No, just the delivery” Loki replied, knowing better than to provide more information than that.

Nodding, transaction completed to his own satisfaction Rooker asked, “Need a ship to be on your way?”

It was an old joke between them, Rooker having never figured out how he travelled, offered to sell him a ship, in hopes that Loki would slip and reveal the secret.

Smirking at Rooker and then turning to walk away, Loki replied as he had every time in the past, “No I don’t and even if I did I wouldn’t take one of yours, wouldn’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere just because one of the lousy parts stopped working.”

Laughing he dodged the rock thrown at his head, and kept walking, he would look for a convenient dark corner from where he could portal unnoticed.

Asgard

Thor stormed out of Odin’s private study, glaring at the guards who quickly looked away. He honestly couldn’t believe that father had blamed him for insulting the seidkonur and workmen responsible for fixing the protective shields by choosing not to attend their meeting and choosing to attend the council of warriors and guards instead. It’s not like he could have contributed anything of value to the seidkonur, he didn’t understand seidr.

Saying that had angered father even more and he had questioned what Thor had done in all the lessons given by the masters over the years, how would he wield the Odinforce when he became king, if he had not learned a thing? Thor had not considered that before, sure that his Mother or Loki would deal with stuff having to do with seidr. Again this too had angered Father, who had accused him of never doing his duties since clearly Loki or Mother had filled in for him. Hah! How dare he! Like Loki had ever done any kind of duty to the realm.

To make matters worse Father had now ordered him to set up a new meeting with the seidkonur and workmen and assist them as needed, and to go to every gathering at the Thing for the next week and listen to the complaints of the commoners and address them.

He was also ordered to look through all the contracts that had been sent in and provide his suggestions before bringing them to Father. He understood that these things were of importance to the realm but wasn’t this what the councilmen were for? Why should he have to lower himself to such menial tasks?

“What is the matter Thor? You seem upset.” Sif said walking alongside him.

Thor had been so lost in thoughts that he had not noticed her approach, but he was glad to see her, “Father is being disagreeable, he expects me to spend the week attending to the commoners, reading contracts and appeasing the seidkonur.” He growled.

Reading his mood correctly Sif decided to tread carefully and said, “He is still grieving Thor, surely this is just his way of preparing you to take the throne.”

Mollified a little, Thor nodded, “I understand Sif but having me do these menial things that the councilors can take care of is hardly going to help me prepare for the throne.”

Sif’s steps faltered for just a minute in shock, surely Thor understood that the things the King had asked him to do were amongst some of the most important duties of any King. This was troublesome, she would have to find a way to make Thor understand this, but he was back to being volatile once again these days.

Maybe it would be better if she left it to the King to deal with, she decided and said, “It’s only a week, Thor; I’m sure it will pass swiftly enough and appease the King.”

Thor sighed loudly in defeat, “Aye that is true” then he brightened saying, “and I’m sure you and the others will help me. Where are the Warriors Three?”

“I believe they were to go to the training yard.”

“Then let us go there and make a plan for handling all this, I could do with a spar too.” Thor said not noticing the defeated yet somewhat disturbed look Sif gave him as he changed course to walk towards the training yards.

~

Lord Forseti was sitting in his chambers in the palace and considering the conversation that he had had with the king a few minutes ago. The king had spoken of making Thor regent, before he would take his next Odin sleep. The king had reasoned that now was not the right time to hold a coronation and make Thor king, since the realm was still grieving and rebuilding after the recent attack.

Frankly Forseti had been both shocked and relieved. His shock stemmed from the fact that the king reasons were the state of the realm and not that Thor wasn’t ready.

It wasn’t that he disliked Thor; he was a good warrior and for the most part a good man. But Forseti had been a member of the council and a steward of the realm for many millennia now and he could look at things objectively.

The reality was that Thor had never shown any interest or aptitude for diplomacy or things essential to running a realm such as trade, treasury or even the law. While some in the council with an eye to position or profit had rejoiced in this deficiency, others such as himself had quietly put their hopes in Loki taking on those duties in Thor’s stead.

Though disliked and misunderstood by the warriors and nobles, often unfairly, Loki was clever and had mastered the arts essential to running the realm at an early age. A lot of that could also be credited to his love of travelling and reading. That he had been close to his mother who was a deft hand at diplomacy, whether between realms or between commoners, had not hurt either.

Had the king not let Thor get deeply embedded amongst the warriors who were after all just one part of their society, he might have picked up plenty from Loki. As it was, his associations with only warriors and nobles had driven a wedge between the brothers. Thor had embraced their views and prejudices whole heartedly.

In all honesty, the house of Odin had never stood as a united front. The king had encouraged Thor to seek glory as a warrior, same as himself disregarding the fact that the realms were now at peace. He had also turned a blind eye to the insults that the warriors and at times even Thor directed at Loki in favor of Thor. No other king in any of the realms would have tolerated such shameful disrespect of his house. 

Forseti himself had never understood the motivations behind that. Thor had many strengths in his own right, there had never been a reasonable cause to tear Loki down to honor Thor. The king should have nipped that kind of mindset in the bud instead of encouraging it.

Not that it mattered anymore, Loki may he rest in peace, was no longer in the picture, and with the queen may she rest in peace, gone as well, there was no one to temper those that remained and the realm had a serious problem on their hands.

The residents of the realm were not just warriors and nobles; in fact the majority of the populace was made up of merchants, skilled workers, seidkonur, and farmers. These people were very much aware of what was happening in the realm and had strong opinions about things that affected their daily lives and carried a set of expectations from those that ruled.

They had always had a distant relationship with Thor, seeing as he kept mostly to the company of warriors or nobles. They had cheered his feats of bravery but had also not lost sight of his actions towards his own brother and the favor he seemed to show for Midgard over his own realm. Though often unnoticed commoners such as servants and pages were privy to the happenings within the four walls of the palace, consequently news flowed quickly to the rest.

When first the king had confined Loki to the dungeons without a trial as was proper, they had disapproved, but had thankfully kept it to themselves, trusting in their queen to look into matters.

Then they had noticed how Loki was kept from the queen’s funeral, his place given to a Midgardian that had brought the cause of her death to their realm, swiftly followed by Thor’s breaking Loki out of his cells and then leaving him dead on Svartalfheim.

All this followed by the fact that the king had not bothered to respect his own son, their prince with a funeral, had left them angry. To add insult to injury, Thor had then returned and instead of showing care and concern for their hardships or an interest in his duty to the realm, had asked to return to Midgard.

Now their outrage for things they perceived as dishonorable, was gaining momentum. With no Loki or Allmother to soothe them, he worried that matters would not settle down by themselves. Thankfully the king recognized that a coronation a few weeks into the deaths of so many would be in bad taste.

Even then the idea of Thor as even just a regent was disquieting at best. It would be better if the king made Lord Odger the head of the council, regent instead. The problem before him was how to tactfully suggest the same to the king. Maybe he thought, he should consult with some of the others, after all this would affect all of them. Mind made up, he rang for a page to carry his invitation to them.

Midgard

Hel simplified her dream-walking spell before she journeyed to her last subject. She knew that the minds of Midgardians, even those that wielded natural seidr were much more fragile than the longer lived races of the Nine.

Appearing in the dreamscape of The Ancient One, standing on the icy peaks of the tallest Midgardian mountain range, Hel wondered if she would be recognized. The mystery was solved when The Ancient One turned to her and bowed in respect her hands joined in greeting. “Goddess Hela”

“Just Queen Hel will suffice.” Hel said, tilting her own head in acknowledgement, and then added, “You have taken great pains to keep out of my lady’s reach.”

“A necessity, this world needs protection and the one who will take my place is not ready yet.” She replied.

“Ready or not your time still comes soon, but that is not why I am here. That which you protect will soon be in great danger from a force that even the gods could not vanquish in the past, but only contain.”

“I know of whom you speak. I felt his hand behind the one that attacked New York.” The Ancient One said, surprising Hel, she assessed the sorceress anew, this would make matters much simpler she thought.

“Your own teachings and magic will not be enough to help the next guardian to protect the gem. He will need to approach the one called son by the Goddess who taught the first of you to harness and cast magic for help.”

“And will he help?” The Ancient One couldn’t help the hint of doubt in her voice as she asked; she had a fair idea who this son she spoke of was.

Hel smirked, “that will depend on how he is asked, for he is not one to suffer fools or lies.”

Nodding her head once in acceptance, The Ancient One said, “I will do what is necessary and make sure the next does the same.”

“It would also behoove you to begin preparing your realm to defend against what’s coming by means not dependent on the gem.” Hel said as she let the spell dissolve.

Awakening, The Ancient One slipped out of her bed and walked to the study table, pulling out a parchment and pen she began writing, “Dear Stephen….”

Once done she charmed it to appear before him when he acknowledges becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. Now all she had to do was begin to analyze who would be the best to alert of the coming threat. Only sorcerers would not be enough, they would need warriors as well.

Jotunheim

Across the realms from a cave in the mountains of Jotunheim where Yggdrsil's roots ran deep, a master of legends emerged for the first time in many millennia.

Five thousand years is a long time, Mimir thinks looking to the stars brightening the sky.

It is long enough for an arrogant brat always looking for insult to grow into a strong warrior but an honorless kinsman.

It is long enough for a cunning and ruthless king to cripple a civilization and ruin a gift from Ymir and Yggdrsil.

And it is long enough for a clever child always looking for attention to grow into a man on the path to madness and now perhaps greatness – to choose death over living with lies for a moment longer. 

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

It was dark. So dark

He felt his body, heavy and falling.

He screamed but the silence swallowed his voice, as the darkness swallowed him.

Panic crawled over him, suddenly sounds pierced his mind, a quiet screeching that made him feel like something was scratching his head open from the inside.

He was in a cold dark cell, His mouth was dry, and he swallowed hard. The pain his body felt, didn't reach his eyes. He stared hard and hatefully at the Chitauri in front of him- his torturer.

He feels hot irons, drips of acid; the taste and smell of blood, the pain, the suffering, the humiliation, all clouded his mind.

Hissing voices, calling him a monster, reminding him he was all alone, that no one cared for his worthless self. Blaming him for all the deaths.

He blinked, trying to make the noise go away but the more he tried, the louder it became.

He saw sparks of blue in the darkness of his cell, reached his hand out to one and as he felt its welcoming warmth, he tightly closed his fingers around it.

It exploded with a blinding flash of blue.

Loki’s eyes snapped open, breath heaving; he blinked, trying to regain his senses. The melody of the Tesseract filled his ears as his breathing slowed. He is in his home on Alfheim, he reminds himself and far from the Titans reach. Slowly he sits up, slips out of the bed and walks into the bathroom.

He grips the sides of the sink and leans into its support, looking into the mirror, eyeing up his own reflection.

Well, don't you look terrified.

Again he reminds himself he isn’t there anymore, hasn’t been there for a long time now. But he knows what awaits him if Thanos gets a hold of him again. He’s crazy for thinking he can do this. I don’t have a choice, he thinks.

Panic is rising again. The sink cracks. A chunk of it breaks off in his grip, sending a stream of porcelain dust to the floor.

He closes his eyes.

Breathe….Don’t think.

He takes slow deep breaths until the panic subsides. He meets his own bloodshot gaze in the mirror.

You know what you have to do.

The decision is an easy one, always has been, he can’t let panic make him have doubts.

He is The Trickster, The God of Chaos and Fire; he will never let that monster succeed.

~

King Freyr of Alfheim stood in his daughter Sigyn’s chambers, watching her packing a bag and wondered why he had thought it was a good idea to have children. More importantly, why this one had to have inherited her mother’s stubbornness, “Sigyn, I understand your feelings on this matter but you must understand, you can’t just go storming into Asgard demanding to know what happened.”

“I can and I will, when he fell off the Bifrost I let you placate me, then when Odin confined him to the dungeons I waited because you promised me you were working on a way to help him. Now he’s dead! And I’ll never see him again. I need to know what happened father!” she said, her voice filled with anger and anguish.

Freyr sighed, “I'm so sorry Sigyn, you know I loved him like my own son, I really was trying to find a way to help him, Hœnir was too but Frigga was being very unhelpful. For the past few years Asgard has been extremely secretive, drawing further and further away from the rest of the Nine. Odin didn’t even wait to inform us before holding Frigga’s funeral.” He said his voice pained at the thought of his sister.

Sigyn put down the dress she was holding and walked to her father and embraced him offering comfort and said, “I know, I’m sorry.”

Freyr ran his hand over her head and smiled, “I know you are child, which is why I’m asking you to wait. We have already gleaned from the seidkonur that dream-walked to those in Asgard, that no funeral was held for Loki. Even for Odin that is callous beyond measure, the fact that he jailed Loki without trial is also unprecedented and unacceptable. All that combined with other news I have received makes me think he is hiding something.”

She looked up at him with hope, “Loki?”

He shook his head, “No that news has been confirmed I’m afraid, but I have heard from Hœnir that he has closed the Bifrost to outsiders. Hœnir thinks it is just in reaction to the attacks that they faced, but I suspect it is something else.”

Sigyns brows furrowed, “What else father?”

“That is what I’m trying to find out Sigyn, which is why I’m asking you to not go there. I do not want them knowing that we are interested in their affairs or any trails that we might follow will be swiftly erased.” He explained.

Sigyn sighed, then anger filled her again, “I understand father, but I need to know what happened and why Thor would allow Odin to treat Loki this way, or for that matter why he himself would treat Loki such.”

Freyr gave her a contemplative look, “Yes but to do that you scarcely need to travel there yourself.”

She looked confused now, “What do you mean?”

Freyr gave her a shrewd half smile and asked, “Are you not friends with someone who is close to the fey and loved Loki just as much as you?”

“Oh!” Understanding filled her eyes, “Yes, yes I am.” She said and then before he could say another word, she rushed out the door.

~

Melian was debating whether he should make himself tea or go to Loki and invite himself for tea there when Sigyn started hammering at his door. Opening it quickly, he looked at her flushed face and asked in concern, “Princess Sigyn, what has happened?”

As she stumbled inside catching her breath after having run all the way and shook her hand at him, seeing his incomprehension and worry, she took a deeper breath and said, “Everything is fine.”

“Then why do you seem upset, why did you run here?” he asked, not quite believing her words.

“I’m not upset, I promise, I’ll explain in a minute.”

Nodding in acceptance, giving her time to catch her breath, he led her into the parlor and went to make them both some tea.

By the time he came back out with two steaming cups of tea, hers with some willow fruit to help soothe her, she was back to her normal self. “Thank you!” she said smiling and taking a long sip from her cup.

Melian sat himself and sipped, waiting for her to talk. She took a deep breath and said, “Loki!”

Startled, Melian gave her an assessing look and cautiously asked, “What about Loki?”

She gave him a sad, broken look and said, “No I mean, I know you must have heard of what happened, but please Melian you have to help me. I don’t know what else to do, father won’t let me go you see…” her voice rose in distress as she stopped speaking.

He got up and sat opposite her, taking her hand, asked calmly, “Breathe Princess, slowly, that’s good, now tell me what you mean, where won't the king let you go? How can I help you?”

Feeling much more settled she squeezed his hands in thanks and explained, “Father won’t let me go to Asgard but I have to know what happened to Loki. Why wasn't he given a proper funeral? Why did Thor let him come to harm or be imprisoned? Father and Uncle Hœnir are looking into it too; they think the Allfather is hiding something, so they don’t want me to draw attention to them. But I must at least know what happened to him so I came to you, hoping you might be able to help. Can you? Will you? She asked.

Moving to sit back in his chair, Melian contemplated everything she had just said, he was already aware that King Freyr had been investigating matters with the help of the seidkonur but he had not known the King of Vanaheim was also looking into the matter. This meant that he had been right in what he had told Loki, if Loki had called on the Council of The Realms they would have stood by him and called justice upon the members of the royal family of Asgard.

Right now his problem was Sigyn, he knew that she and Loki had been close, the cousins being closer in age than their brothers and sharing the gift of seidr. He also understood her need for answer’s and closure, hence his dilemma. Loki had been very clear on his desire for secrecy and Melian had no desire to betray his trust, knowing exactly how precious a gift it was. He would simply tell her enough to appease her for now and discuss this with Loki to see what he thought.

“My Princess I’m not sure I know more than you do of the matter, all I know is that he died on Svartalfheim, where he and Prince Thor fought the Dark Elves.” He said and then added, “I will see what I can find out about the funeral and the imprisonment.”

Sigyn gave a sigh of relief, “Thank you Melian, I knew I could count on you to help. All of this has been so strange, I don’t know what to think. I don’t even understand how he survived his fall, it is unheard of for one to do so. And now he’s gone again and so is the Queen and yet there has been nothing but silence from Asgard, no ceremonies in their honour or anything.”

He smiled sadly at the irony of Sigyn asking questions about Loki’s fall that his own family had not thought to, “I do not know either, as you know I tried my best to look for him on Yggdrsil’s branches, as for the lack of ceremony, may be they are still in shock, though the Allfather was never one for sentiment.”

Angry again she replied, “That is no excuse, they were the queen and the prince of Asgard, has Thor got a heart of stone and lost his mind too?”

Melian could not keep the bitterness from his tone as he said, “I believe Prince Thor has changed a lot over the past few years, based on his actions of late I’m not sure it’s for the better. I will try to see if I can find out more about him as well.”

Sigyn nodded in acknowledgement of his offer, “Thank you Melian, truly you have greatly eased the hurt I feel.”

“It’s my pleasure princess, I know you loved him and I am also glad that the King is looking into these matters.”

“Of course he is, they were his sister and nephew, he loved them and we still don’t even know what drew the Dark Elves to attack Asgard.”

Surprised Melian decided that there was no harm in enlightening her about this, “Now of that I do know Princess, what do you know of the Aether?”

Her brows furrowed in thought for a moment then she said, “That was the weapon of the Dark Elves wasn’t it, one that King Bor destroyed when he destroyed them?”

“Yes, only it was not just a weapon but an ancient force that they learned to use and that Bor did not actually destroy but hid.” At her gasp of surprise, he nodded and continued, “A few days before the convergence Prince Thor’s mortal companion found the Aether and it possessed her. The Prince then took her to Asgard to help her as no mortal can survive having such power inside them. Turns out that during the war with the Dark Elves, their leader Malekith and some of his followers survived by putting themselves in stasis, they awoke when the Aether was freed. Having the mortal possessed by the Aether in Asgard drew them there. The queen died defending the mortal, trying to keep both her and the Aether out of Malekith’s hands.”

Sigyn gave a shocked gasp, “So she died a warrior’s death and still Odin won’t honor her!” Standing then she said, “I must go and tell father about this, thank you again Melian.”

“Of course princess, I will come to you once I know more.” He said even as he escorted her out.

Alfheim

She was wandering; her skin was fair with light green freckles. Her long flowing dress was fashioned from plant leaves, petals and bark. The woods were familiar to her, every tree, and every bush listening to her voice and absorbing her power. She was shining through the darkness of the deep forest, a creature created by light and yet clothed in flesh. Her long dark hair flowed down her back and looked almost like a river of black.

She hummed a melody as she walked on, not in haste but slowly, deliberately. She was in a way marking her territory, showing every living being that she was there, and that all of this, every tree, rock and creature here were under her protection.

She kept walking towards her bower; she had had many seek her, wanting to share in her gifts and powers. Few if any were ever worthy.

But there was one who came to her simply for her wisdom, her stories and shared his own in return. He treated all her kind with respect and affection, sharing mischief with them. He was as quick, clever and as tied to the elements and Yggdrsil as she and all her kind were. But it was his warm and generous heart that had earned him her respect and affection.

It was a twisted path the Norn’s had weaved for this one, full of both thorns and roses she thought sitting on her throne, she could see the weariness in his eyes even as he walked towards her, with a smile on his lips.

“Skogsrå” he said, bowing his head. “You are as radiant as ever, my apologies for not coming sooner and my thanks for the gift you sent.”

Bringing her hand to lightly caress his face she smiled, “It is good to see you my little magpie, I see you’ve caught yourself a new shiny treasure though getting this one did injure both body and soul.”

Slightly uncomfortable with her sight, Loki gave her a crooked smile and quipped, “Ah but my goddess, what’s a little injury if it’s shiny enough.”

“What indeed!” chuckling, she gestured to a wood nymph sitting near and requested, “Would you get him some tea with some moonflower nectar please.” Knowing it would help rejuvenate him a little in both body and soul.

“Speaking of moonflowers I have something for you” he said bringing a small sapling to his palm, “I have been travelling recently beyond the Nine and found this one on a planet in Elidra.”

As she took it from his hands he called up an illusion of a tree with small silver fruit shining through its leaves. “The fruit is called Starfruit and is quite delicious, I do not know if it will take to this soil, but if there were one for whom it would grow, it would be you.”

Letting her fingers gently caress the leaves for a moment, she smiled up at him, “Thank you child for the gift and the flattery.”

Loki simply winked at her, his impish smile making her laugh once more.

Sobering once more, gesturing to him to take a seat next to her she asked, “There is something you would ask of me?”

He hummed in contemplation as he sat and then said “I would seek your advice on a problem I am trying to tackle, do you know of the Titan?”

A hard glint entered her eyes as she replied, “Aye, I am old enough to have been there when he first set his destructive aims on the Nine.”

“He has set his attentions on them once more I’m afraid, it was him that found me when I fell and set me upon Midgard.” He said, a haunted look crossing his face once more, then he continued “When I told Melian he made me see how if this was not brought to the attention of the realms, they would be unprepared to defend themselves if things came to pass.”

“And you do not want to be the one to do so directly.” She said ever perceptive.

Sighing Loki said, “Yes I have my reasons for that, many in fact. But that does not negate the fact that it needs doing, and I will if I must. But I wondered if you could help.” 

She studied him as she contemplated his words, that he spoke the truth was of no doubt; he would shoulder the responsibility even if it were to cause him grief. And that combined with the fact that this was the first time he had asked something of her, decided her answer.

“This threat comes for us all so I will help child. Me and mine will help you plant whispers in all the realms so that those wise enough to heed our word will begin to prepare.” 

He gave her a relieved smile, “Thank you, I only ask that you wait a few days, so that I have more information to share. I will come myself or send Melian in my stead when it is time.”

She nodded in acceptance, then gesturing to his tea and said, “So tell me of these travels outside the Nine.”

Picking up his cup and laughing he said, “Well there is this group of thieves turned heroes who call themselves, The Guardians of the Galaxy……”

That night as she walked beneath the stars that shone like bright gems upon the skies, and she chanted, magic flowing where her footsteps fell. She would be walking for many days for great was their realm and she had to follow its borders. She smiled and her eyes shone with the light of her devotion. One day she would lose it all, she knew it was inevitable.

As one of and from nature, she knew that everything followed a cycle, what was birthed would one day die and then be birthed once more. Yes, one day it would all be lost but not yet, not as long as the magic protection she was weaving around their realm stood. No, not yet. Her strength was still great, like the power of the great rivers it would not run dry, not for centuries. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Alfheim

Loki sits in the middle of the focusing circle in his workshop; the Tesseract hovering in the air in front of him. Chanting softly he brings a ring of glowing green up from the floor to hover in the air around him at eye level. Next five spheres of different colors form to settle upon the ring; the six infinity gems at his fingertips.

The Tessaract hums, its energy suffusing the ring, ready to do its part. Smiling he begins calling upon all elements of his magic as he spreads his arms wide, feeling it move through him like a conductor between the metaphysical world and the realms, like an ocean of energy flowing through his body and streaming out into his work.

The spell he's summoning spills from his lips in a rhythm not unlike singing or the chants of monks long past. Power pouring out of his mouth through words and his hands through magic and his mind through will.

The Nine Realms and the Galaxies beyond begin to appear around him, crystalline and sparkling. Raising his hands gently he urges the Tesseract to reach out to her sisters. Slowly the spheres begin to move, settling on different points in the picture before him.

The red sphere settles over Asgard, the green and yellow hover over Midgard, the purple over Xandar and the orange over Vormir. His brow furrows in concentration as he studies the locations for another minute and then slowly begins to end the spell. As the last of the images disappear the Tesseract settles back down on the floor, picking it up with a silent “thank you” he moves it back to his pocket dimension.

Taking a deep breath he stands and walks towards the kitchen to make tea and thinks of what he has just learned. That the Aether is on Asgard is expected, Odin was never one to let go of a treasure, and with the Tesseract out of his hands even more so. He already knew the Power Gem was on Xandar and the Mind Gem on Midgard.

That the Time Gem was on Midgard too, now that was both surprising and extremely concerning. With four gems of the six in the Nine Realms losing the Titans attentions would be impossible. Midgard holding two of them and being a nexus to the rest of the Nine meant that, it would be his focus.

Leaning with his elbows on the counter as his tea brewed he ran his fingers through his hair and pulled in frustration. It was by far the weakest realm, it's denizens fractured amongst themselves, with weapons that destroyed themselves as much as their foes, Gods they had even let Asgard take him without nary a question. He had hoped to avoid that realm for a few centuries at least. Now both the infernal realms he had no desire to go to were making it impossible for him to avoid them.

Sighing deeply he let that be for now and thought about the last location. Vormir as far as he knew was uninhibited and far from the more travelled parts of the galaxies, yet it was also one most easy for Thanos to get to. No one knew of the Soul Gems location as far as he knew, but it was arguably the most deadly of the gems, he would have to go and check to make sure whether it was easy to find or best left there.         

Taking his tea he had just settled on the couch when the device he had sent for Narblik chimed. His appearance changed even as he pulled it out of his vest and placed it on the table letting the transmission come through.

“Eldur it is good to see you.” said the Xandarian smiling at him.

“It is good to see you too my friend, I heard about the trouble in Xandar I hope not many were hurt.” Loki replied.

“Yes the damage was mostly structural, though many of The Corps fell, it was all most unfortunate. Where have you been these past years? You have some business for me I’m assuming.”

“I was unavoidably detained these last few years I’m afraid.” Loki said knowing Narblik would probably interpret it as imprisonment on some planet, not that far from the truth really, then added, “I do have some business for you, I need an introduction to Nova Prime.”

Narblik looked at him in shock and then laughed, “An introduction to Nova Prime! Don’t ask for much do you? And you think the likes of me would be able to arrange it?”

“Well you are the best fixer I know in the Nova Empire so I did not doubt that this was something you could accomplish.”

Preening at the praise, Narblik replied, “That I am, but even I do not know her enough to make the introduction myself, what have you got yourself into Eldur that you would seek the leader of the Corps?”

Slightly disappointed at his response Loki considered what he should say, he would have to be careful so as not to give away his aims of securing the power gem, in fact it was best if he did not make any mentions of it at all. Thinking quickly of a better ruse he replied, “It is not for myself that I seek the introduction but for a client, he is a royal from a planet in the Milky Way galaxy, he has expressed a desire to meet her to discuss a possible alliance.”

Narblik nodded, his eyes taking on a glint at the mention of royalty, “You always find the most interesting clients don’t you, I’m sure he’d never heard of the Nova Empire before meeting you.”

Loki shrugged nonchalantly with a sly grin on his face, “I may have mentioned to him the skill and impressiveness of the Nova Corps in passing, it seems to have made an impression.”

Narblik laughed, “I’m sure it did, well I do know Rhomann Dey and he’s been promoted to the rank of Denarian now. He’d be able to make the introduction but I will need to speak to him and see if he is willing.”

Loki understood the implied subtext and said, “Please do my friend, I’ll send you some credits in case you need them to convince him and of course 30% of my earnings once the introductions are made.”

Narblik nodded in acknowledgement, “I will contact you once I have spoken to him.” He said before cutting the connection.

Loki slipped the device back into his pocket and shifted back to his usual form. Then looking at his cold tea sighed and got up to make a fresh cup.

Jotunheim

The cold was bitter and the winds had howled like some rabid beasts as it tore against their coats and cloaks until she had quieted them. Now as she navigated the pass with Býleistr at her side and two guards behind them, Skaði recalled how at first the ice had seemed almost peaceful, beautiful and white and they were sure they would be able to cross in just a day. But even without the winds crossing the mountain wasn’t easy. They had to navigate treacherous cracks that would shift and close or open swift as lightening. And yet it also held beauty, the ice untouched for eons changed hues from white to many shades of blue and sparkled in the light, it created a landscape that was terrible to cross and yet almost magical.

On the third day Skaði felt as if the mountain seemed to have a will of its own, set on stopping them, hindering them from reaching their goal. Though Skaði still was not entirely sure what that goal would be. She had decided to put her faith in Hel’s words and knew that when she saw it she would know. Her thoughts went back to the day before when she had gone to the castle with news.

She had been escorted into the Queen’s parlor and had found her sitting on a couch looking weary as she often did these days; Býleistr sat at a desk on the other side of the room reading through missives. The queen had looked up as she entered and said, “So you’ve heard too then?”

Puzzled by what the queen spoke of, she had bowed and answered, “I do not know of what you speak my queen; I came for I have some news to share.”

“The news has reached us already.” Helblindi said entering the room from behind her.

“But that isn’t possible; perhaps it is different from mine.” She ventured still confused.

“You have come to tell me of my son’s death on Svartalfheim, have you not? The völva has already told us.” The queen said.

Skaði’s eyes widened in shock, “But my queen that isn’t possible.”

“You think the völva lied?” Helblindi growled.

“I think there has been some misunderstanding, allow me to tell you of my news then perhaps you will see what I mean.”

The queen inclined her head in acceptance, gesturing her to take a seat even as both her sons joined them.

Giving herself a moment to gather her thoughts she began, “Queen Hel visited me last night, at first she wanted to know why I was offering prayers for an Æsir prince, at their angered looks, she hastened to add, I told her we knew who he really was and were trying to find a way to him ever since, she then asked me what I, his kin and those of this realm would do if we found him or he us. I assured her that he would be welcomed for he was our treasure. She did not find the assurance enough and asked me if I and his kin would swear a vow to her. I swore my vow and she asked me to convey the same to you. She then told me that if I were to travel to the Vindsvalr Mountains in two days I would meet the way.”

All of their eyes were filled with shock as they processed her words, “So you see my queen, he cannot be dead for surely if he were Queen Hel would know and would not bother reaching me.”

Hope filling her eyes once more but shoulders still stiff the queen said, “That is true, and you are sure it was Queen Hel?”

“Yes my queen I recognized the seidr when we met and when the vow took hold.”

Leaning towards her, his jaw firm Býleistr said, “I will accompany you to the mountains, did she say what this way was?”

“No she did not, but I believe that if I go I will know it when I see it.”

“Very well then I too shall go with you.” Helblindi said then.

“You will not! The mountains are treacherous and the journey may take long, one of you must be here for the kingdom.” The queen declared her voice firm, then looking at Býleistr added, “And you will take two of the best men from the guards with you. Go now and choose them and have them prepare all that will be needed for the journey.”

As Býleistr left she looked at Skaði and said, “You have my thanks Skaði for once more you have brought me hope, I would accompany you myself were I not needed here. I owe you a debt Skaði and if there is anything you wish to ask of me do, if it is in my power I will do it.”

Standing and bowing her head Skaði said, “There is no debt my queen, what I do, I do for Jotunheim.”

They had walked for almost a week when they first saw the lights, the lights that brought the very will back into their weary souls. They had appeared out of nowhere, dancing over the skies like veils of the most wonderful colors, silent and ethereal and so beautiful it brought tears to their eyes. And as they stared at the dancing lights in awe, they just knew that their hellish journey wouldn’t be in vain, that the point where the lights originated would be where they would find what was promised.

It took two more days before they reached the point and saw before them a Jötun sitting on the cliff with his eyes closed, the lights coming from his hands. As they came closer, Skaði gasped and walked before him, falling to one knee, her head bowed in both respect and reverence said, “Mimir the Wise”.

Behind her their eyes widening at the name Býleistr and the guards lowered to their knees and bowed their heads as well.  Lips curving in a smile, Mimir opened his eyes and said, “I had wondered if any would still remember me.” Then standing and indicating for them to do the same he raised his arms weaving a teleportation spell and looked to Býleistr and said, “Bring the image of your home to your mind Prince.”

Asgard

Odin watched the speaker of the Thing walk out of the hall after giving his report and dismissed the rest for the day before standing and walking to his private study. Though he had kept his face impassive, he was livid. Two days! It had taken Thor only two days to make a mess of things!

First the boy had asked the repairmen to concentrate on mending the training barracks instead of the heavily damaged houses of the commoners in the southern quarter. Then he had told farmers seeking aid to send their children to training camps so that they could become warrior's and solve their own financial problems, as if the realm did not require produce to feed it's many inhabitants. Finally instead of offering condolences and assurances of pensions, he had told the grieving widow's of the guards that they should "rejoice" that their husbands were now in Valhalla.

And these were just the worst of Thor's actions he was sure, otherwise the speaker would not have requested that Thor's presence be withdrawn from the assembly of the Thing in the future.

The boy was single handedly angering and alienating the citizen with his actions, Odin thought to himself shaking his head in disappointment. Thor had given him more and more trouble ever since his failed coronation, when he had ruined his own plans for Loki. He had been forced to exile him in fear that Laufey would call for a Council of Realms since he could not actually start a war.

Then the foolish boy had sacrificed himself for mortals forgetting that he was one himself and forced his hand making him return his Godhood. Regaining Mjölnir had made him think he had improved himself and earned redemption, destroying any possibility there could have been of controlling him through guilt. Though Loki's fall had eventually helped with that. Losing the Bifrost had been too big a price to pay.

But even that had not been the end of it; Thor had begun to harbor within himself a love for mortals and that wench he met on Midgard. Losing Frigga was too big a price to pay even for the reality gem and definitely not for the life of a mortal.

He had been shocked speechless when Thor had come back and declared that he thought himself unprepared for the throne and asked to return to Midgard in front of everyone in the throne room. It had rankled everyone present and their disapproval had spread throughout the realm.

This plan was supposed to have built back their confidence in Thor and showed the realm that Thor's words were just an after effect of losing both his mother and brother within days of each other. He had planned to plant suggestions saying just that as soon as Thor performed satisfactorily. Now the boy was trying to ruin that too.

Walking out into the balcony, he wondered if there was still a way to salvage the situation, or he would be forced to make someone besides Thor regent. Looking at the Bifrost in the distance, he recalled Heimdell's report. Mimir had stepped out of seclusion for the first time in many millennia and had shrouded Jotunheim from Heimdell's sight. It wasn't too worrying though, without the Casket and after the Bifrost Jotunheim was crippled beyond measure and would survive for millennia or two at most. And Mimir had always been more a scholar and seidr master than a warrior. No it wasn't something to worry about; he had more pressing problems with the Titan headed their way.

 

Chapter Text

Niflheimr

Loki loved walking on Yggdrsil’s branches, loved the feeling of being enveloped in all the warmth and life of the universe. And because his seidr had always been deeply connected to her, he felt it strengthening, filling the well he hadn’t realized had expanded. He walked leisurely, in no hurry to reach his destination, assured that he would be as welcome there as he was here; both had always been more home to him than Asgard.

As soon as he stepped off the branches into the icy realm of Niflheimr, he was knocked onto his back by an enormous black wolf, its four golden eyes glaring down at him. Laughing Loki obliged him with a wrestle before sitting back and petting him behind his ears, “I have missed you to Gram” he confessed. He looked up to see Hel walking towards him, her expression amused. Loki smiled sheepishly as he pushed himself to his feet.

She had teleported them into her parlor and Loki now sat opposite her politely waiting for Gullveig to finish serving them wine. Hel was studying him with a curious look on her face. “What is it? What puzzles you?” he asked.

“Your well runs deeper” she said, echoing what he himself has noticed earlier.

“Yes I noticed when I sky-walked earlier, perhaps it’s a consequence of wielding an infinity gem?” he said, speculating.

“Hmm..Yes could be any of the great powers you have wielded these past few years, though wielding even just one is usually unheard of and often leaves the wielder dead.”

“Oh come now you are just being dramatic, the mind gem was in a casing and a scepter curtailing its power greatly, and the Tesseract allows me to wield her.” Loki smirked.

“But you also wielded Gungnir did you not, even though no one may wield it until Odin’s death.” Pausing she studied him for a long minute before slowly saying, “You have no idea how powerful you are, do you?” His brow furrowed. “You have almost a millennia worth of experience and study which lends itself to the artful finesse with which you maintain control and cast. But Loki the raw force of all your seidr unhindered could very well end the worlds.”

Loki immediately threw up his hands, “And it would end me as well.”

Slowly Hel frowned, “No it would not, your seidr would protect you.”

Loki shrugged as if he didn’t care, “It’s a good thing then that, I no longer feel any desire to end the worlds.”

Her brow slowly furrowed as she studied his eyes, “No one would hold you responsible for actions taken in throes of mage fever Loki. Odin and Frigga are the only ones responsible, for letting you believe a false identity, knowing that your seidr would be left unanchored the minute you learned the truth.”

One of his fists clenched and shook as he spoke, “Yes but it was still my hands which caused the destruction.” Then remembering the story Melian had mentioned he asked, “What do you know of the story of the treasure of Jotunheim?”

Hela studied Loki for a moment, considering him carefully before speaking. “It isn’t just a story but truth, when Ymir created Jotunheim by giving of himself so completely creating a paradise of ice, Yggdrsil was pleased and offered to him a boon before he passed from the world. He asked her to bless one child with the power to keep all of Jotunheim, its heart, its land and its people safe and thriving. She agreed, decreeing that one of his blood and powers would be born bearing a crown on his forehead as a mark of her power and blessing. And aided him before he passed in creating the Casket to both carry the heart and protect the realm he had created.”

He blinked at her in surprise, so that explained how Odin had identified him as a child of Laufey, if Odin knew of this story as well, it would explain why he expected the Jötun to accept him as King without complaint. And hiding his origins was simply an act that would protect himself from the judgment of the realms.

Loki shook his head, saying softly, “And he drove me to destroy what I was supposed to protect.” He felt rage at Odin and his mother build once more but took a deep breath and dismissed it. Rage had never led him to a good end.

She steepled her fingers together, each digit touching, and spoke carefully. “You can still help repair the damage you caused Loki, they would welcome you.”

He shook his head in refusal, his eyes eloquently displaying his shame. “I do not deserve anything from them least of all their welcome.” Then he swiftly changed the subject, “It is the infinity gems that I wanted to discuss with you.”

Hel nodded, knowing there was no point in pressing him on Jotunheim just yet and said, “What about them?”

“I ran a locator spell using the Tesseract’s connection to the others, there are two in Midgard, making it a prime target for Thanos, the Mind Gem is in the keeping of the ones known as SHIELD but I do not know who holds the Time Gem. I wondered if you could look into it, so that I may secure both in one go.”

“You need not do that just yet, both the gems are quite secure, the Mind gem has been released from its casing and combined with an automation and has now become a sentient creature and the Time gem is in the keeping of a very powerful sorceress and her order.” She informed him.

Loki knew that Hel kept herself informed on matters that affected the protection of Yggdrsil, and knowing how shrewd she was when it came to assessing one's capabilities he was inclined to give her assessment credence over his own. Nodding in acceptance he stood, knowing he would still have to look into it eventually but for now he could concentrate on the others and said, “Then I shall take your leave for now unless there is something you need of me.”

Smiling she stood as well, watching him call the Tesseract in favor of using the paths, and said “I would never refuse your company” and then looking at the Tesseract once more added, “I would suggest you find a less cumbersome vessel to hold her, one made by yourself perhaps.”

“Now that is a brilliant suggestion my queen.” He said smiling and giving her a bow, before he disappeared.

Jotunheim

There once was a young girl who went wandering. She learned magic from the mountains and the ocean and slept on the highest branch of Yggdrsil. There she heard a call from a master speaking through Yggdrsil and when she recited the legends her mother had taught her, he laughed.

He had a lovely laugh, she thought, and she demanded he teach her something no one else knew.

‘And what would you learn, little queen?’ he asked. ‘What secrets of the ages would you learn, forgotten by all but an old, lonely man?’

The woman thought deeply for a moment and asked, ‘Will you teach me to call the fire?’ for it was the one thing none of her kind could do.

‘Oh, child,’ he whispered, ‘that is a lesson you might regret you learned.’ But he taught her.

As she returned home, the fire in her grew giving her the power to take down every foe, until the day it passed from her to her firstborn nary days before the Great War leaving her with naught to defend with but ice.

Little queen, he had called her. Oh, yes, she regretted the lesson, but she never wished it away.

Now she sat before him, looking into his ancient eyes and asked, ‘Did you know?’

Mimir smiled, ‘One can never know for sure little queen but fire does not yield to control for long, it will have its way in the end.”

Farbauti’s lips twisted slightly in a grim sort of amusement ‘Aye so you warned me. Can you help us bring him back?’

Mimir considered her question, he knew that the prince did not want to be found. Just as he knew that the boy would defend Yggdrsil from what threatened her, but he still had things to learn and that is why Yggdrsil had commanded him to return. To teach and help him prepare, but there was time yet and he could try to have him come to them. “I will see what can be done.’

Vormir

Loki steps onto the sand dune on Vormir and looks around its surface to the crumbling spires at its towering summit lit by the reddish glow in the sky cast by the eclipsed sun sending the land into a partial darkness. The air smells salty and somehow stale he thinks as he begins walking towards the mountain. The Tesseract humming in his mind.

As he reaches the summit, a draped shadow floats towards him cloaked in darkness.

“Welcome, Loki, son of Laufey.” His voice booms, dark and echoing around them.

‘Who are you?’ Loki asks evenly, taking a couple of steps forward.

‘Consider me a guide. To you and to all who seek the soul stone.’

“Hmm..”  Loki says, “And you know me?”

“It is my curse to know all who journey here.’

Loki’s face remains blank even as he scrutinizes those words. “So it was a curse that brought you here, that makes you stay?”

The figure moves closer, “Yes, a lifetime ago, I, too, sought the stones. I even held one in my hand. But it cast me out, banished me here. Guiding others to a treasure I cannot possess.”

The Tesseract hums in agreement. Loki decides to question her later, for now he looks at the figure and asks, “Where is the Soul Gem?”

“You should know, it extracts a terrible price, the soul holds a special place among the Infinity Stones. You might say it has a certain wisdom.” He says guiding him to the temple-like structure at the summit.

Loki smiles in amusement thinking of the Tesseract, certain that all the stones have their own special kind of wisdom.

They stop on a semicircular engraving overlooking a sheer drop. It descends in three shallow steps to a final half-circle cutout, the whole bisected by a deep cut that runs between the two spires behind them. Far, far below is a full circle with similar engraved decoration.

Climbing down was out of question, he would have to teleport, but before he could, the figure speaks, “You will not find her if you just go down there. That is not how it works.”

Loki steps further back and asks, “Then how does it work?”

“To ensure that whoever possesses it, understands its power, the stone demands a sacrifice.”

“What kind of a sacrifice?” Loki asks, intrigued.

“In order to take the stone you must lose that which you love. A soul for a soul.” He says, his voice echoing around them.

Loki grins at that, admiring its ingeniousness. Then he considers the being before him. He was the only one who knew this secret, but even if he were to be killed there was no guarantee that the curse would not resurrect him. However the demand for a sacrifice also meant that the gem would be truly difficult to acquire in one go even for someone willing to make that kind of a sacrifice.

So for now he could simply monitor this place for the Titans presence and perhaps also find out if there was a soul that Thanos actually loved. Mind made up he began walking away, his hands weaving a monitoring enchantment, eyes looking for the perfect spot to place it. Deciding on the spire, he aims the spell at it and then inclining his head once at the being, leaves.

He appears in his yard and sits down on the steps, going over everything he had done today. All in all everything had been very satisfactory. Then he recalls the brilliant suggestion Hel had made and thinks about it. A small enough casing would enable him to carry the gem on his person easily, perhaps as a pendant or a ring he muses; he would have to see what she would like. He would begin working on the designs tonight and would also have to gather the metals. There was only one really that would do.

Sitting up straighter at the thought, he raised his right hand and let small butterflies made of fire and ice fly outwards urging them to find the ones he sought and watched their glittering forms as they danced into the forest.

It took only a few minutes for not only Gisli and Vanora but a bunch of other Fire and Ice faeries to come to him, the butterflies now dancing around them. Before they could begin their chatter, he gave them a big mischievous grin and asked, “How would you all like to go cause some mischief tomorrow?”

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

Loki sat at the work table in his workshop, head bent, shoulders hunched over and his hands moving over the parchment before him drawing the design for the Tesseract with deft strokes. The Tesseract sat on the table surrounded by all the designs he had already drawn and discarded.

As he finished the last stroke of the scepter he had just designed he looked to the silent Tesseract with an eyebrow raised and exclaimed, “I know it’s pedestrian! I just needed to get it out of my system!” Huffing at the impassive gem (She had not given a reaction to any of his designs yet.), he discarded the design and pulled a new parchment to begin again.

He had just closed his eyes to think of what would actually work when he felt one of his wards signal that someone was at his door. He reached out to the ward to check who it was, and then opened his eyes with a smile on his face. “Let’s get back to this later shall we.” He said to the Tesseract putting her away and sending a wisp of seidr to open the door and let his guest in, even as he walked into the hall.

“What exactly is this mischief that you have promised the band of faeries, my prince?” Melian asked in lieu of a hello.

Loki smirked at him, “I would tell you but then you would have to join us, and I have quite a different kind of mischief planned for the two of us.”

“Do you now? And what mayhem am I supposed to aid you with? Melian asked, amused.

Loki laughed even as he set the kettle on the stove, “It won’t be mayhem I’m afraid but just a bit of playacting.” He said, telling Melian about the ruse he had used with Narblik.

Surprisingly the look on Melian’s face was anxious as he said, “Surely you do not expect me to play the king, my prince?”

“And why not?” Loki challenged even as he poured the tea into cups.

“Because I know not the first thing about behaving like royalty, because I would probably end up calling you prince before these people.” Melian said, listing his objections.

Loki shrugged dismissing the concerns, “That does not matter as they do not know how the royalty in the nine realms behave so they will have no expectations on that matter, as for calling me prince is concerned, that could be a problem but we don’t have to go there for some time yet, so you could practice.” Loki suggested. Melian had never acquiesced to his request to be referred to by name instead of his title.

Melian huffed, “I will play along with your ruse and even let you coach me, but I will not address you as Loki until the day it comes to pass.” he said firmly.

Loki rolled his eyes not bothering to convince him otherwise for that was a battle he had lost a long time ago. “So have you any news on what is going on in the realms?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Aye, I have quite a lot of news to share actually.” Melian said, telling Loki about King Freyr’s attempts at investigating Asgardian matters.

“So the Allfather did not even bother to inform Freyr of how mother died?” Loki said, looking disappointed.

“Aye my prince but I have corrected that.” Melian replied, and then confused by the stricken look on Loki’s face asked, “What is the matter my prince, should I not have informed them?”

Loki shook his head, “no, no it is good that you did” then lowering his head to hide the grief in his eyes he added, “It is just that I do not know either.”

For a moment Melian was speechless but when he spoke there was a hard edge of anger to his voice, “What do you mean you do not know my prince?”

Finally raising his head to meet Melian’s eyes Loki gave a broken laugh of his own and said, “I was in the dungeons when she died, I was informed of her passing by one of the prison guards a day after her funeral, he did not give me any details and when Thor came to me seeking help to go to Svartalfheim, he did not entertain my questions on the matter either.”

Melian was so angry his voice shook as he growled, “They did not let you attend the funeral?”

Startled to hear rage in Melian's voice for the first time in the centuries they had known each other, Loki simply nodded.

Unable to contain his fury Melian rose and started pacing, “That is unforgivable! No acknowledged child can be denied the rights to attend the funeral of their parents, not by anyone, king or otherwise!”

Then looking at Loki he asked, “Neither Yggdrsil nor the Norns would forgive such actions my prince, why do you?”

“I have not forgiven them, Melian, I never will” Loki corrected him. “I simply have no desire to seek recompense; I’d rather leave them to their fate.”

As Melian considered his words, Loki added softly, “Now will you tell me of what happened to her?”

“I am so sorry, my prince” Melian said, his anger melting away, his own voice was filled with sorrow as he sat once again and told Loki every detail he had come to know.

Once Melian finished Loki closed his eyes trying to hold on to his composure, trying to tame the tidal wave of grief that had crashed over him as Melian spoke. He felt both his seidr and the Tesseract envelope him in comforting warmth and felt the heaviness in his chest ease. Opening his eyes after another minute he looked at Melian and said, “Thank you my friend.”

“No my prince, you have no need to thank me, I would also have you know that there are those who grieve your own death and look for answers to its cause.”

Slowly Loki’s brows furrowed at those words, “What do you mean?”

“I speak of Princess Sigyn, King Freyr and King Hœnir, my prince. Sigyn visited me yesterday seeking my aid; she was very distressed for she has been trying to understand what happened to you. She told me that both King Freyr and King Hœnir had been trying to find a way to help you once they heard that you were imprisoned without a trial.”

A very small wry smile curled his lips as Loki understood what Melian was trying to imply, of Sigyn’s grief he had no doubts, but Melian did not understand politics while Loki himself had mastered statecraft at a very young age. “That Sigyn grieves does not surprise me for she has always had a soft heart, but do not let yourself believe that either Freyr or Hœnir sought to help me purely out of love or kinship.” He said.

“Why else would they strive to help you?” Melian questioned confused.

“It is politics my friend, by imprisoning me without a trial the Allfather committed a crime of his own. Hœnir is a vassal of Asgard and has dreamed of freeing Vanaheim for many centuries now and being his brother Freyr is equally invested in helping him in achieving those aims. By bringing matters regarding my own imprisonment to light they would have had the opportunity to weaken the Allfathers position greatly. So you see they act out of their ambitions and not out of sentiment.”

Melian did not respond right away, thinking over everything Loki had just said, he had never had the need to gain a deeper understanding of politics seeing how those he kept company with were far removed from it. But he could now see why Loki’s doubts as to the feelings of even those other than his former family were not completely unfounded. Sighing, he said, “You are right my prince, I will leave you to decide how to handle these things. Though I would still suggest you consider telling Sigyn or she will be deeply hurt whenever she discovers from some other source that you are not dead.”

Loki grimaced, he had no desire to hurt Sigyn’s feelings and he knew that she would keep a secret if asked, but he really did not want to bring her into the mess that was coming. It would be infinitely better if she grieved his death for a while and then moved on. On the other hand he knew that if it came down to a fight in the end his survival would be revealed. Shaking his head at the contradictory thoughts he was weaving, he simply said, “I will consider it.”

Muspelheim

“King Eitri.” Surtr greeted the Dwarven king with more warmth than he usually did the other realm leaders.

“King Surtr,” the dwarf replied, his usually stoic face breaking into a smile. “I was happy to receive an invitation from you; it has been quite some time since I have had an occasion to travel away from Niðavellir”

“It is always a great honor to host you my friend. I have some matters I would like to discuss and after we will feast.”

Eitri stroked his beard for a moment, “I am agreeable to such.”

Surtr led him into the council chambers which held large opulent chairs and tables already laden with food and drinks. Once both were seated comfortably, Surtr enquired, “Has any news reached you from Asgard of late?”

Eitri nodded, “Only of the matter with the Dark Elves and the passing of the Queen not much else.”

Surtr nodden in return, “Aye, we heard of that matter through our seidkonur, but Odin has not shared any other news with you then?”

Eitri’s eyes narrowed as he replied, “Nay nothing more, even of the Dark Elves we were only told because Odin needed us to build him a container for the Aether.”

Surtr inhaled sharply in surprise, “The Aether! Is that what the elves used again? I thought Bor had it destroyed.”

Eitri huffed at that, “Aye, it’s what they attempted to use and it cannot be destroyed my friend, it is an infinity relic, Bor lied.”

“And now Odin has claimed it for himself, that’s predictable I suppose.” Surtr grumbled.

“Aye but if he is smart he will move it elsewhere, it is never advised to have two of the gems close to each other.”

“Two?” Surtr questioned, wondering how even after so many millennia Odin’s lust for power had not waned.

“Yes he reclaimed the Tesseract from Midgard some time ago.” Eitri said with a hint of revulsion in his voice, knowing well the trouble that gem could cause.

Surtr considered this, if what he believed of Odin was true, he could be hunting and hoarding the infinity gems in the hopes of defeating the Titan by himself, though that still did not explain his silence or secrecy.

“Midgard you say, so the Æsir have made themselves known to them again? I thought it was decreed that all must withdraw from them.” Surtr asked.

“It was, why that changed I am unsure.” Eitri shrugged. “This is the first time in many centuries I have seen you show an interest in Æsir matters, what has occurred to make you do so now?”

A hard glint entered Surtr’s eyes as he spoke, “A few days ago the völva came to me, she has seen movements from the void, signaling a threat to Yggdrsil. As you must know there is one being banished to the void that has threatened Yggdrsil once before.”

“You speak of the Mad Titan?” Eitri asked, “But Odin was tasked with keeping track of him, surely if he is a threat once more, he would have sounded an alarm.”

“Aye that is what he is to do, but I fear that he has broken his vow to Yggdrsil and is keeping it a secret for some reason. This is why I called for this meeting, we must find out his motivations for these actions.”

Eitri nodded, thinking of the stories he’d heard of the war with the Titan, his father had been king then, the Titan had been a fearsome foe and many from all the realms had perished fighting him. “Aye this is not a matter to be kept hidden as all realms are sworn to protect Yggdrsil, we can scarcely do that if we do not know of the danger.” He thought then of the matter they had discussed just a few minutes before and added, “I believe that we should begin by looking into Midgard, for as you said that again is a breaking of an agreed upon decree.”

“Aye, that might be a good starting point.” Surtr agreed, “We should also start preparing our realms and perhaps speak to the others, I have already asked our seidkonur to speak to those in the other realms to see if there is more that they might know.”

Eitri nodded but there was a distant gleam to his eyes as if he were recalling something, Surtr knew that as the best weapon smiths in the realms, Eitri and more contact with those of all the realms than he did and was more likely to have information that he himself didn’t. So he let Eitri think and speak when he was ready.

Eitri for his part was thinking of a conversation he had heard amongst a few Vanir soldiers and the quartermaster. At the time he had dismissed it as speculative gossip but now he considered how if what they said was true then the implications of that could indeed be far reaching. Looking back at Surtr he said, “It has reached my ear that the second prince of Asgard who was lost to the Void had been returned, if this is true he might know of the happenings concerning the Titan.”

Surtr’s inhaled sharply, his nostrils flaring in surprise, “He returned from the void? How can that be?”

“It is why I dismissed the gossip as falsity myself, as no one was ever known to survive such a fall.”

Surtr’s kept his eyes unreadable as he thought of the other news the völva had shared. Wouldn’t coming back from the void qualify as a rebirth? Though now with the news of these infinity gems, they very well could have been the powers she spoke of too.” Letting it go for now, he said, “Well it is definitely worth investigating, I would know if it is true before we consider how to approach him.”

“Aye, I will have the smiths question the quartermasters and soldiers from Asgard who come to collect the weapons.”

Smiling now relieved to have made some headway into matters Surtr stood, “Well with that settled for now let us go feast.”

Asgard

Odin could hear the cacophony of arguing voices coming from the council chambers as he walked towards them. Entering the room he wasn’t surprised to have not been noticed. Lifting Gungnir he brought it down hard on the floor, the sound cutting through all the noise, in the silence that followed he looked at the faces of the agitated councilmen and asked, “What has happened?”.

Rising and bowing their heads as he took his seat at the head of the table, then sitting themselves they waited for Lord Odgar to take the lead. Rising once more Lord Odgar spoke, “My King, several of our contractors both on Asgard and on Vanaheim have invoked the termination clauses in their contracts.”

Odin's eye narrowed as he asked, “And why would they do that?”

Lord Odgar cleared his throat in an attempt to hide his discomfort and said, “It has so transpired my king that Prince Thor reviewed their contracts that were sent in for renewal and sent them back with letters containing orders for how he wanted them altered, most found this manner of conducting affairs most disagreeable.”

Odin's eye twitched in surprise, “He sent out orders? What kind of orders?”

Gesturing for a page to collect the scattered letters they had received in response and place them before the king, Odgar replied, “The orders were mostly to do with price changes and the desired improvements in the quality of the goods.”

Lord Forseti sitting at the side smiled at the tactful way Lord Odgar had described the outrageous demands and insults the prince conveyed to the contractors.

Instead of asking any further questions Odin picked up the letters and scanned through them, they conveyed quite eloquently the damage that had been dealt to centuries and in some cases millennia long relationships. Looking at the einherjar standing at the door he ordered, “Go to Thor and tell him that he has been summoned to the council chambers. Bid him to make haste.”

Even as he finished speaking Heimdell entered the room and said, “Thor will not be able to attend my king for he left for Midgard this morning.”

“And you let him go?” Odin asked enraged now. How dare the boy leave when he had explicitly forbidden it.

“Aye my king for there was no order to stop him from doing so.” Heimdell answered his voice as bland as ever.

Odin closed his eye, was everyone in this realm intent on vexing him, he wondered. Then reigning in his anger for there were bigger problems to fix, he looked at Heimdell once more and asked, “And why are you here?”

“I am here to inform you my king that all the seidkonur working on the fortifications and rebuilding have left for Vanaheim.” Heimdell replied.

Odin looked to Lord Forseti then and asked, “Has all the work been completed already?”

“Nay, my king.” Forseti replied, brows furrowed at hearing the news. He had made a tour just the day before and hardly a dent had been made in the work. “Work on the damage in the Western and Southern Quarter has not even begun.”

Looking to Heimdell once more Odin asked, “Did they speak of why they were leaving?”

Heimdell considered whether he should speak of what he had heard, it would incite not only the king's ire but that of quite a few lords present as well. Then deciding that it was his duty to serve Asgard first, he spoke, “I heard them speak amongst themselves of being insulted by Prince Thor, it seems he called them a group of ergi’s who do nothing but hide behind tricks.”

Odin’s eye widened in shock, even as others around the table gasped in horror or outrage, it was not exactly an unheard of insult, but it was the most offensive especially to the Æsir. And for the crowned prince to use it against not just an individual but an entire group was disturbing.

“Are you sure of this?” Odin asked, already knowing the answer.

“Aye my king.” Heimdell answered.

“You are to let no one leave the realm without my leave, and you will inform me as soon as Thor arrives. You may go.” He ordered, then looking at the councilmen who were barely suppressing their own agitation at the news he said, “We need to fix the damage with the contractors, I would have each of you go to the ones you know personally and speak with them. Those that will not be mollified, convince them to meet with me. The realm must not go without supplies.”

Satisfied at their nods of agreement, he then looked at Forseti and said, “Lord Forseti, I would bid you to go to Vanaheim and talk to the seidkonur, find out what would appease their hurt sentiments.”

Forseti nodded, “As you command my king.” 

Satisfied with that and without waiting for any further discussions Odin stood and walked out of the room.

Niðavellir

Deep in the Dwarven caves, one of the many tunnels lead to a pair of doors made of solid iron, imprinted with scrolling battle scenes and glowed at the seams from the lights coming from the forges behind them. The forges themselves were the pride and joy of the dwarves; they were spread across two levels of the large cavern and were the birthplace of some of the greatest weapons and artifacts in the nine realms.

On this night, the forges had as many as fifty dwarven smiths dressed in leather aprons using fires that seemed to bubble like lava, crafting weapons and jewellery and other things they were commissioned to make. Some worked quickly as they poured metal into molds while others worked slower, taking painstaking care in their etching and honing. The ringing sound of metal on metal was almost deafening; that is until the first few shouts filled the air.

At first the fires that always burned steadily had flared in some forges and died down in others. Sparks flew and jumped as the fire faeries flew around the dwarves, stinging hands and arms and catching clothing not covered by the aprons on fire. Roars of outrage were heard as the dwarves began giving them a chase. But that too was a perilous task to undertake, because the floors had become slick with ice making them slip. A host of Ice faeries rained hailstones and left icicles upon the high ceiling where they hovered keeping themselves out of reach.

Invisible, Loki stepped into the chaos admiring their handiwork and looked around his eyes landing on the doors that held the prize he sought and the four guards that stood beside it. Now that just would not do, he had no intentions of revealing himself or fighting today. Considering his options, he turned around and conjured an illusion of a Troll trying to enter through the main doors, and watched as the guards by the doors cried out in alarm and ran to attack it, he turned the Troll around bidding the illusion to run down the tunnels drawing them further away.

And as the faeries mocked and taunted and goaded the smiths into a merry chase, Loki slipped through the doors into the room that was now left unguarded. With the chaos and the magic saturating the air, his spell to open the doors went unnoticed. Moving quickly now, he ignored the gold, silver and various precious stones piled around the room and headed to the corner where he could see the Uru, he lifted five pallets and moved them to his pocket dimension.

As he stepped back out, what met his eyes was a spectacle of pure mischief, madness and chaos and Loki adored every moment of it. He took a few minutes to enjoy their handiwork, reveling in the chaos, before he conjured a small portal for them and said, “Time to go” his words carrying only to the fey. He heard their shrieks of laughter as they slipped through the portal just before he too teleported away.

 

Chapter Text

Drez-Lar

Loki walks down the well-trod earth road with confident strides, his black armor and reptilian skin making him blend into the crowd of Kree walking around. There are bars with people standing in the windows wearing questionable attire, and the air is nearly thick with a sweet, smokey smell.

Passing one avenue Loki spots a food market which reminds him that he has not eaten yet today, it had been barely past dawn when he had received an alert from Syriano that his Arcturan contact had left him a message. The message had simply been the coordinates for Drez-Lar and the time for a rendezvous. Deciding to circle around later to see if anything there looks at all appetizing, he keeps walking until he arrives at a section with a number of stalls selling technology and pieces of equipment.

He spots the woman in blue armor examining a blaster and walks to the same stall and stands besides her.  “You know, this is in pretty good nick and doesn’t look like it’ll kick too much.” She says, examining the weapon with a critical eye.

Loki gives it his attention as well, scanning it with a discerning eye and nods, “Yes, if you wanted a starting weapon, it might not be a bad choice.”

She keeps checking the weapon, now clicking open sections and peering inside. The stall owner casts them a bored look from the other side of the table and sighing deeply turns away to unpack some stock lying in the corner.  “Hmm…A part of the band that joined the mad man has been sent to the Milky Way to retrieve some magical artefact.” she says.

Instantly alarmed, thinking of the two gems, he asks, “Terra?”

“No not Terra, some other planet.” She says.

Right Loki thinks, without a gem at his disposal Thanos cannot access Midgard or Asgard just yet. And even if the Other were to amass enough dark energy, he would be able to send at most one small vessel through, which would hardly be a sufficient force for a realm which already took down a much bigger one. But that still left open six possibilities, which isn’t good. He nods, “I have asked Syriano to transfer the credits and also I would like to meet the daughter and would appreciate her coordinates if you find them.”

At her nod of acknowledgement he turns and begins examining the blades kept on the table letting her slip away.

Alfheim

Walking into his workshop and standing in the center of the focusing circle, Loki closes his eyes for a minute reaching out to Yggdrsil. His seidr thrums as she responds, slowly raising his hands before him, magic flowing from them, he opens his eyes to see the illustration of the great tree of Yggdrasil glowing. He reaches out and taps areas where the six realms he seeks to monitor reside and their images appear.

His hands play over each like one would a piano or harp, his fingers dancing as he draws runes over each of them, designed to send out an alarm at the first sign of trouble. Once he's finished, he pours magic into them tying them to himself and they glow a bright green before settling into the images.

Finally he closes his eyes once more as he communicates his intentions to Yggdrsil asking for her cooperation and reopens his eyes to see the entire illustration enveloped in a golden glow before it dissolves. Smiling now that the casting is complete, he settles his seidr and heads out to find some food; he had forgotten to go back to the food market on Drez-Lar.

Jotunheim

Skaði, Helblindi and Býleistr along with a small group of Jötun walked with Mimir through the streets of Utgard towards the site where the Bifrost had struck, as he walked Mimir murmured incantations strengthening the homes and the ice that had been falling apart for centuries. Ever since Loki and the Casket were taken, the ice had weakened forcing all but the hunter and ocean tribes to build under the ground and abandon their homes on the surface. Everything had fallen to disrepair as a result, save the palaces and manors that had held on to the enchantments placed on them many millennia ago.

Though living under the surface was not easy for their kind, they had adapted to it as much as they could and thankfully a few years ago it had saved most of their lives when the Bifrost struck. Hundreds had been injured of course by the tunnels collapsing under the great force, but very few had perished.

Ever since his return, Mimir had summoned every seidkonur from all across the realm and begun teaching them castings to help restore their dwellings and cities. And just as he was doing now, he would walk around strengthening the ice. But without Loki, she was not sure that they would be able to sustain this for long.

As they exited the city and began their trek towards the large crater that had once been the Bifrost landing point, Skaði looked to Mimir and finally asked the question that had been on her mind for days, “Will you teach us to walk the branches?” No one, not even the Queen, who had mastered the skill when still a child had been able to leave their world once the Casket was gone.

“Aye, a few have seidr that is strong enough that they can do it, them I will teach.” Mimir replied, then looking at her added, “But they will first vow to me to not go hunting for the prince.”

Even as Helblindi and Býleistr growled in outrage, Skaði asked, “What? Why else would we use the ways? Surely you see that the prince must be brought home, without that all of this is for naught. He is lífið.”

“Aye he is the heita that keeps us all going even now.” Helblindi added his shoulders stiff, everyone in the group behind him came closer nodding in agreement to his words.

Mimir looked at them shrewdly, “And what of his will, does it matter in all of this?”He asked.

Shaking her head, her expression stony Skaði responded, “It does not. He is the chosen, the very life of the realm and everything on it depends on him, it is his duty whether he wills it or not.”

Halting now, Mimir turned to them, he noticed Býleistr’s shaking his head in disagreement to her words, but ignored it and spoke, his voice frigid, “If that is what all of you believe then you do not deserve to find him nor have him, for you are no better than the Æsir” 

Even as Skaði gasped, Helblindi growled, “You would dare compare us with those thieves.”

“Frœðimaðr is right brother” Býleistr said then, Mimir had noticed that Farbauti’s youngest son was more observant, contemplative and often wiser than the elder.

“What?” Helblindi asked, turning to him, his anger redirected.

“You speak of him as a tool to be used for the benefit of Jotunheim, how is that different from what Odin hoped to do?” Býleistr questioned unfazed.

“And he was not chosen to protect this realm but blessed to carry its heart and Jotunheim owes him a great debt, for it is you who have failed in your duty to protect him, look around you the realm should have perished when Odin War Father took the Casket and Loki, but it has not for Loki has taken the curse upon himself whether he knows it or not. That boy has suffered the unanchoring of his seidr, the horrors of the void, captivity and what was surely a mortal wound if everyone thinks him dead.” Mimir said his voice hard. Loki would choose to come to them or not, but if he did Mimir did not want him to walk away because he finds the same selfishness and lack of regard here that he had found on Asgard.

Both Helblindi and Skaði now had guilt, grief and shame in their eyes, but Mimir did not think it was enough, so he said, “He thinks himself so unwanted that he now chooses to let everyone think him dead, do you really think he would thank you for hunting him down so that he can do his duty to a realm that has never done anything for him?" Looking at Helblindi he added, "For the kin that failed to protect him, you expect him to embrace a people he does not know and who seek him only for their own gain? In his stead would you?” 

They were all silent now, processing his words and their implication. Mimir had watched as Loki had repeatedly shown very little regard for his own life on multiple occasions, what the boy needed was genuine love, support and respect. If these people could not give him that, Mimir would do everything in his power to keep them away from Loki, he decided as he turned around and started walking again.

Asgard

Odin walked into the formal study to find Sif and The Warriors Three waiting. They bowed their heads, fists over their hearts and chorused “My king.” The doors closed behind him as he walked behind his desk and set Gungnir to the side. Odin rested his hands behind his back and began without ceremony. “You will go to Midgard and bring Thor home. You will do it with haste and without disturbances in Midgard.”

At their nods, he waved his hand in dismissal, as they walked out Odin looked to the einherjar and asked “Are the seidkonur and priestess I summoned here?”

“They are waiting outside Sire” he replied instantly.

“Send them in.” he ordered.

Looking at the five women standing before him he nodded in greeting and then said, “I would have you prepare the temple for a casting in two days time, cleanse the place thoroughly and cast the required protective spells. Ensure that the place is closed down until after.”

“Aye Sire.” The priestess said. Nodding once more he dismissed them and finally sat down.

He could feel the sleep pulling at the edges of his consciousness and knew that he would not be able to hold it at bay for long. But given the state of matters in the realm and the threat approaching them he could not leave Asgard defenceless. Though their warriors were mighty, without magick they would not stand a chance. He had been truly surprised when he had learned that despite having had lessons and having grown up besides Loki, Thor had no grasp of seidr or its might and importance. And his attitude towards those that wielded it would not gain him their allegiances in time of need.

Well he refused to lose his heir and his kingdom to a war with the Mad Titan. So he would have to ensure that they were protected in his absence. Thankfully he now had one of the strongest tools in the realms at his disposal.

Muspelheim

Loki stood in a small cave on the side of the mountain; the heat was intense because of the small stream of lava flowing through it. But that was precisely why he was here; melting uru required a lot of heat and the lava would serve well as a forge. It had taken him a few days to work out what design would work best, he had tried different styles of daggers, swords and scepters and had been unhappy with all, before realizing that the gem did not need to be in a weapon, seeing how it could be one if it wanted.

Tying his hair with a piece of leather string, he murmured a quick incantation to insulate himself from the heat and pulled out two pallets of uru, the moulds he had crafted in his workshop and the other equipments he would require, from his pocket dimension and went to work. His movements were quick as he lifted the molten metal and poured it into moulds, softly whispering enchantments for conduction, strength and protection.

Now he would have to wait for the moulds to cool naturally, he thought as his eyes fixed upon the two shapes that lay on the large rock where he'd placed them. He cast an enchantment so that the heat of this place would not hamper the cooling and it settled over the moulds encasing them in a green bubble. Sadly there wasn’t more that he could do, if they were cooled too quickly they would become weak and his enchantments would fail. Resigned to waiting for a few hours he conjured a shield of protection around the moulds and teleported back home.

When Loki comes back to the cave he is startled to find a dragon lying before the moulds encased in the bubble he’d conjured. Disturbed by his arrival the dragon writhes slowly, a dozen new shades of black moving against each other around the shape and lifts his head from immeasurable coils of inky scales and pins him with sunset-colored eyes.

The beast inhales, a long, slow breath, and hisses out just two words, low and vibrating in the air, in a voice dry with disuse: “Little Flame.”

Loki’s lips quirk on reflex, his body relaxing just a fraction, thankful that he is recognized and isn’t about to become dinner he replies, “Not so little anymore.”

The darkness splits open, revealing rows of shining white teeth like sabers as the beast smiles. “Aye still little.”

Loki lowers his head in acknowledgement even as he says, “Before you oh mighty Hakon, I will always be little I’m afraid.”

Hakon laughs, the sound echoing in the small cave, “Silver-tongue.”

Loki laughs in return, when he had first started travelling and studying different creatures to learn to shift into their forms; the ones he had been most enamored by was that of dragons. When he had shown Hel his successful shifts into the forms of the Wyvern’s and Wurm’s of Vanaheim, and those of the Ice, Fire and Sea Dragons found in Alfheim, she had praised him and then told him tales of the most fearsome of them all; the Stygian Dragons of Muspelheim.

Naturally, he had then set out to find and study them. And that was how he had met Hakon. Many millennia old and very intelligent, the beast had noticed Loki watching them and had approached him. On learning of Loki’s reasons and after a demonstration to prove that he could indeed shift forms, Hakon had let him continue with his study and had even shared a few insights of his own to help him.

“What do you make?” Hakon asked, looking at the moulds that had changed color now that they were cool.

“Just some pieces for my armor, if you would kindly move aside I’ll show you” Loki said, inclining his head the dragon moved to one side and Loki approached the moulds, dismissing the bubble. 

He carefully opened the moulds, his heart hammering. If this had gone wrong he would have to start from scratch. He was never satisfied unless the things he made were flawless and to some this had made him less likeable, not that he cared.

But the light that met his eyes when the moulds were broken was exquisite; the vambraces he had crafted gleamed as the enchantments he had woven into them rose and then settled once more. He lifted the one meant for his right hand and watched as with a flick of his seidr a small cavity appeared as a disk slid back, it was where he planned to place the gem.

Hakon moved closer then, studying the pair and said, “Pretty”

He smiled at the term because he knew that anything shiny and enchanted was pretty to all dragons. “Yes, they are pretty but they need something more” he said his brows now furrowed in dissatisfaction as he studied them some more, for there was definitely something lacking.

“The answer is easy to find little flame, your sigil” Hakon rumbled.

Something that would mark them as his, eyes narrowing Loki tried to imagine the result and then he smiled once more, “Yes, yes, that will make them perfect.”

Summoning a chisel he began by engraving his sigil; two snakes circling each other forming an S symbol, and biting the tail of the other, in the front center of each, and then added runes and knotwork patterns. When he was done he stepped away and looked at them once more with a satisfied smile on his face.

Hakon almost purred, so close, Loki felt the energy from the dragon, a steady pulse, heady and tantalizing. “Aye much better, but it needs one more thing”

Confused now, he looked at Hakon and asked, “And what would that be?”

His eyes glowed as Hakon hissed, “Dragon breath!”

Loki stared at the dragon, “You would do me an honour so great?” he asked stunned. Stygian dragons breathe spirit fire; it was one of the strongest magicks in all the worlds. That fire bestowed willingly on any armor or weapons made them indestructible and filled with protection magic for the bearer.

“Aye, little flame for I owe you a debt, though you have never acknowledged it.” Hakon replied.

Loki bristled, “And I still do not. There is no debt for you were my master then and protecting what is yours was my duty.” Not wanting to argue the point however, he added, “But I do accept your kindness.” At a nod from Hakon, he set the vambraces on the floor and stepped out of the cave knowing that the secrets of the enchantment were not for him to know.

A few minutes later Hakon stepped out beside him and said “It is done”, with a gesture Loki moved the vambraces and the moulds to his pocket dimension.

“I thank you.” he said bowing his head in respect.

“You should visit soon, all would be pleased to meet you little flame.” Hakon said looking at the horizon, his eyes slitted because of the sunlight.

“I will do so” Loki promised. Hakon rose to his full, considerable height at least five times his own and walked a few steps ahead, opening his wings, Loki’s vision was filled with deep, inky blackness, that somehow blotted out the light completely. They were like jagged slices of night against the day. Hakon’s powerful muscles bunched as he launched into the air “Be well” he said as he circled above him once before flying away.

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

Stepping off the branches of Yggdrsil into the forest of Alfheim, Mimir was struck by the eerie silence around him; he could feel eyes watching him, trying to discern his intent. Bowing low he said, “I mean no harm to those who here dwell” then he turned and began to walk towards the path that led towards town. He noticed that the unnatural silence had abated and had been replaced by the quiet of the forest. He had been walking for only a few minutes when he was joined by a faery with eyes and hair of silver and ice in the veins.

“Who are you? She asked, flying ahead of him before turning to face him, now flying backwards.

“I am Mimir” he says, knowing better than to ask for her name.

“I sense the ice in you, whom do you seek?” she asked, her tone filled with suspicion. It makes him suspicious himself, he lets his seidr extend outwards to the forest and is surprised when he senses a barely noticeable trace of seidr that echoes both Yggdrsil and ice, hidden underneath all the plentiful magicks of the forest and the fey.

A smile curves his lips as he understands who she guards and he replies, “I seek to meet King Freyr and I have come from Jotunheim that is the reason for the ice you sense.”

She nods accepting the answer and says, “If you take the path to the left it will let you out near the road that will take you to the city.”

He bows again in thanks and knowing what would please her conjures a Jötun moon flower and offers it to her. She laughs and accepts it, then says, “You can call me Vanora” before flying away.

~

Freyr walked with his horse to the stables. The horse's withers were streaked with sweat, but like his rider, his gait was robust. Before handing the stubborn creature to his caretakers, Freyr rubbed his fingers along the neck and the horse nickered softly and butted up against his chest. Freyr smiled in fondness.

"Sire!" Freyr turned at the sound, startled, as a young elf in servant's livery raced down the path to the stables. The servant was panting when he stopped, face flushed red despite the chill that was creeping through the air. He made the barest of bows, though Freyr had no interest in such civilities most of the time. "Mimir inn fróði is here to see you!” he said.

Freyr stared at the man for a second. He couldn't remember the last time he had heard that name. The frantic air of barely suppressed excitement to the servant ensured this was no mockery. Freyr’s heart picked up speed at the thought of meeting the legend, what could have possibly transpired for Mimir to step out of seclusion and come here, he wondered even as he turned towards the palace.

"Where is he?" Freyr demanded softly.

"The great audience hall. He—" the rest of what might have been said was lost as Freyr began walking in haste.

Freyr would have found the way the guards' eyes widened with shock as he rushed down the hallway laughable on any other occasion.  He stopped at the doors, and took half a second to straighten his clothing, murmuring a quick spell to make himself clean and presentable. He gestured sharply for the guards to open the doors. They did so with ponderous dignity, and Freyr swept in as though he was to meet any other dignitary, as though he had no fear of what was to come.

Mimir awaited him standing near the balcony looking outwards, but turned at the sound of his entrance and bowing said, "Well met Freyr, son of Njord, I thank you for granting me an audience."

“It is a great honor to have you visit us Mimir inn fróði, we had not heard of your stepping out of seclusion.” Freyr said bowing in return and then led him into the formal sitting rooms, adjacent to the hall.

Taking a seat Mimir said, “I have done so only recently and from what I understand, the Álfar have not had relations with the Jötar in many millennia now, so news from there would have scarcely reached your ears.”

“Aye that is true, we all withdrew from Jotunheim after the war least it incur Odin’s wrath.” Freyr admitted his tone laced with a hint of contrition.

“And thus broke your own vows to Yggdrsil.” Mimir said, his tone unyielding.

Freyr sat up straighter outraged at such an accusation, “I would never break the vow made to serve Yggdrsil Frœðimaðr” he declared.

Mimir sighed, unhappy at how shortsighted so many could be and asked, “Does serving Yggdrsil not include ensuring her health?”

“Aye of course” Freyr answered without hesitation.

“How then have you kept your vow, when you allowed Odin to take away the heart of Jotunheim without protest?” Mimir questioned.

Freyr’s eyes widened, “The Casket of Ancient Winters is the heart of Jotunheim?” he asked horrified of the implications if that were true.

“Aye, both the Casket and the child carry the heart, when Bor decimated the elves of Svartalfheim Yggdrsil weakened but survived for the world and its heart though weak remained, but with Jotunheim’s heart gone both the people and the land will perish. And with nine down to eight the balance will be lost and Yggdrsil will collapse.” Mimir explained, annoyed that these rulers willingly chose to remain ignorant of the most vital facts and histories.

Freyr’s face filled with confusion, “What child?” he asked.

“Loki, son of Laufey and Farabauti, blessed by Ymir and Yggdrsil to carry the heart of Jotunheim.” Mimir said.

Freyr’s face paled and he gave a shocked gasp at those words, his heart filled with dread at the realization of the trespass he and all the other rulers had unknowingly allowed against Yggdrsil, shaking his head and he tried to justify his actions “I swear I did not know.” he stuttered, even as he thought of how his own sister had deceived them all.

“Because you did not care to look” Mimir’s voice was still hard and uncompromising.

Freyr closed his eyes in remorse for he knew that Mimir’s words were true, he had chosen to remain cowed, allowing Odin to indulge his whims so that they could keep their peace and freedom and avoid the horrors of war that Odin was so fond of arranging to ensure that he had his way. And now with Loki gone and no way to make amends for their transgressions they would all be judged unworthy, for what they had allowed Odin to do would bring about an end to everything.

“And now it is too late for the Prince is no more, or would Jotunheim survive were we to bring Odin to justice and return the Casket?” he asked and then added “Is this why you have chosen to return now Frœðimaðr?”

“Nay, it is not, I have returned for Yggdrsil is in more immediate danger. As you know the Mad Titan is set to return once more.” Mimir said.

Freyr felt as if he were trying to wade through dense fog, he looked at Mimir with horrified surprise, his questions piling upon themselves, until he finally voiced them. “The Titan? But I have not heard even a whisper of this? Are you sure Frœðimaðr? Why has Odin not sounded an alarm, he was charged with tracking the Titan was he not?”

“Aye he was, I tied the tracking spell to him myself. Have you not heard of what transpired on Midgard then?” Mimir asked, realizing that Freyr was possibly not as informed of what had been happening in the realms as he had thought.

Freyr sighed, “Both Hœnir and I have been trying to find out what happened there, but Odin has kept what transpired there from all of us. Even Frigga would not speak of the matter with us.” He admitted, then looking at Mimir hopefully asked, “I would ask that you tell me if you know Frœðimaðr”

Inclining his head in acknowledgement of the request, Mimir said, “To understand what happened on Midgard, you must first know of what happened on Asgard” and thus with an emotionless voice Mimir began by telling Freyr of how Odin and Frigga had kept the truth of Loki’s origins from him and consequently caused an un-anchoring of his seidr when he learned the truth and lost his hold on his own identity leading to all the events that culminated into his fall from the Bifrost and into the void and all that transpired after.

By the time he was done, Freyr was vibrating with a mixture of rage, grief and horror. “And Odin banished him to a lifetime in the dungeons when he knew of his innocence! How could Frigga allow this? Even with a warrior’s death Yggdrsil would not forgive Frigga her part in all these horrors.” He said closing his eyes for a moment.

“Aye, though I do believe she is the reason Loki was not executed, but that she did not sound a call when there was no trial, or much before when she was given the child is inexcusable. What is perhaps worse is that having the gift of seidr herself, she chose to knowingly deceived Loki as much as Odin did throughout his life.” Mimir said, his mouth set in a grim line.

“Odin will answer for all of this; I will call for the council of realms.” Freyr snarled, losing all of his prized control over his emotions at those words. He had loved his sister and he had loved the quiet, clever, gifted and mischievous boy, Odin had destroyed them both.

“Aye calling the council is advisable, not for judgment but for preparation. This threat must take precedence.” Mimir admonished not wanting these fools to lose sight of what truly matters in favor of petty politics.

“Aye of course you are right Frœðimaðr, forgive me.” Freyr said, putting aside his rage for now.

Niflheim

She has existed from the moment the first spark of life flickered into being and will remain till the last one extinguishes. And until then, she walks through space, through time and watches as the world's begin and end, watches the marvels and horrors, watches the lives of the old gods and the new ones, the mortals, the world makers, galaxy shakers, destroyers and creators, the myths and legends. And she has welcomed them and will welcome the next and the next for in the end they all come to her.

There have been very few that have ever truly drawn her attention, fewer still that have held it for long. But in the last few millennia there have been a few more than those in the many millennia before. There is the Mad Titan who sows misery and destruction across these universes and calls it balance. There is the cruel, power hungry, war mongering King that lies and commits crimes against even the sacred. And there is the mortal that has mastered the magicks of the old and made a bargain to keep herself out of reach until another comes to protect her world in her place. Each gained her notice but haven't managed to gain her regard.

Then there is the child of ice, fire and seidr. The chaos in him refusing every destiny written for him by another. What destiny he would write for himself, she had been curious to see, still is. But when betrayed, broken, insane and tortured he had done everything he could to save Yggdrsil, even if it meant staying alive when all he wanted to do was perish. His unwavering loyalty had earned him her regard.

When she had heard word of the one being called her merchant, she had been intrigued and had watched the mortal who held the kenning. Though remarkable for a mortal, at first he hadn’t seemed any more remarkable than some she had seen walk the realm over the ages. But then she had watched as he fought betrayals and disasters with ingenuity and valor. His protectiveness for and loyalty to those he chose to call his own reminded her of the other. But when he had fiercely rejected the kenning given to him and endeavored to become more, he too had earned her regard.

And she watched them both closely, these princes born during war. For she could see that both would be central to the chain of events that would change the nine realms.

But in all the eons there was only one she had claimed as her own, approaching her now Lady Death enquired, "What bothers you Hel?"

Sighing and walking away from the window at which she stood Hel replied simply with one word, one name, "Loki".

She kept silent letting Hel gather her thoughts and speak when ready, as she knew she would. “He hides, even now convinced that he does not need others. I worry, for I do not trust that he has truly let go of all his rage. How can he? When it was justified and he never received any recompense. He stays within the nine for he feels it is his duty to Yggdrsil to keep away or take down what comes. If not for that I am sure he would have run further away and never looked back. It is as if he has locked all his sentiments and emotions and put them away. And I fear that he will never again reach out to others for he seems to have accepted that there is no place to which he can belong and no one that will truly love him.” Hel said, her voice filled with sadness and worry.

"Or he is clever enough to have seen that the sum total of all the affections and loyalty he has bestowed on others, has been naught but deceit and betrayals. And the lesson he has taken from it is to move on with what the universe gives and takes instead of holding on to rage and retribution and burying himself in his own misery." Lady death countered, then knowing the efforts Hel had made to aid Loki and perhaps help him find a home added, "I know you fear that he will reject the alliances that he will be offered, but he won't for he will do whatever is in Yggdrsil's best interest."

"Nay my lady, that is not what I fear." Hel said, shaking her head, "I fear that with no place or people to anchor him he will sacrifice himself without a thought."

Lady death did not disagree, nor did she offer hope or platitudes for she knew that one as gifted as Loki would for the most part attract those that sought to use him for their own gains and the boy was too clever to let himself get attached to such people again. What the future would bring for him was now impossible to foresee, perhaps there would be some worthy enough to win his affections, perhaps not.

Vanaheim

Loki was lying on the couch reading, when he felt the alarm buzz. Sitting up immediately he traced the spell and stood as soon as he had the location. Summoning his armor and weapons to his body, making himself invisible, he reached for the Tesseract’s power and teleported to Vanaheim.

He appeared on the outskirts of the city near the athenaeum where most of the artifacts of the realm were stored and studied. Turning, his eyes and senses searching for the intruders, Loki felt his lip curl in a snarl as he spotted the four Skrull that were slipping into the building. Silently he followed and slipped through the door like a shadow. His senses sharpened as he let his seidr out just a bit to test the air and felt a faint stream of cold from behind him where the door was left open just a crack.

And then just like a jaguar on a hunt, Loki begins to stalk his prey soundlessly down the corridors, just ahead of the four, he can see a hall where five others are putting something away into a case. He needs to take out the four ahead of him, before they reach the others, he thinks.

Keeping pace with them, he plans out his moves; he would have to start with the one in the middle, as he carries the largest weapon. The other three would have to be taken out simultaneously if possible so that they cannot shout and alert the ones in the hall. He called his knives to his hands, tucking the familiar handles down so the sharp blade would impact flesh when he struck. He felt himself grin and there was no denying it, he had missed this. He wasn’t an Asgardian warrior who needed constant blood and gore but he is chaos incarnate and did enjoy a good hunt.

The first drops without a sound, the knife having slid through his neck effortlessly. Gunshots sound as his companion whirls, but they whine above him as he lashes out, the weapon crashing to the floor at his feet. He takes down the third just as quickly with a slide and a strike, quick as a serpent; he stabs down and feels blood spatter onto his face and neck. An upward thrust as he regains his feet, warmth on his hand as he shoves the body to the side, and he turns to see the last one sprinting away, his voice raised in alarm as he calls to the others. The second knife leaves his hand before the other has gone only a few steps, and the man tumbles to the ground but the damage is done.

The five in the room do the unexpected, instead of attacking, they run. As Loki enters the room he sees the last of them slipping through a hole they had blasted into the wall. Loki growls and steps out of the hole giving chase, easily evading the shots they kept firing over their shoulders. As he sprints behind them he sees the small vessel waiting to take them to safety, his magic snakes out ahead of him without a word of command being uttered and the ground under them turns to quicksand, slowing them down. Vines snake out of the ground and wrap around the sinking creatures, delaying their escape.

As he approaches them, something catches his eye; a shadow, a sort of shimmer moving in his direction. It was subtle; eyes narrowing, he clenches his jaw and throws himself forward. His blade sliding from his sleeve as he springs from the ground landing on the shadow. The veil falls away revealing a snarling grey creature as it tumbles onto its stomach, a Chitauri. Its eyes gleaming red as it roars, trying to snap at him with its piranha like fangs. He manages to cling to its back as it swings from side to side in an attempt to shake him off. He is nearly impaled by the many spikes on its spine as it tries to shake and kick him off like a bull.

He stabs it at the top of its neck and draws the blade down with a single fluid movement. He rolls off its back as it sinks to the ground with a screech and turns in time to see the now freed Skrulls racing away, all of them almost at the vessel. While two Chitauri fire their weapons everywhere non-stop, trying to hit his invisible form by chance.

Annoyed now, with a flick of his wrist he flings a magical dagger at the throat of one. It arches through the air catching its throat and slitting it. The Chitauri gurgles and falls with half of its throat pouring out of the deep slice, nearly tripping the one behind it. The second he disintegrates with a ball of fire enhanced by the Tesseract and looks up to see the craft moving speedily away from the planet.

He swears and begins drawing his seidr to bring down the ship but before he can attack, it switches to hyper-drive and disappears. Enraged he loses control of his seidr, it flows out of him, burning all the grass surrounding him for a mile. Slowly coming back to his senses, Loki hears the sound of Vanir voices raised in alarm as they notice the destruction and the bodies, still snarling, he teleports away.

Loki appeared in the yard to find Melian sitting on the porch, seeing Loki with his face and armor covered in blood the elf exclaimed, “My prince! What has happened?” and rushed to him.

Looking at Melian, his anger at his earlier failure still present but dissipating slowly, he said, “Do not worry it isn’t my blood.”

Studying Loki intently, noticing the anger in his eyes and the deep tears where the spikes of the Chitauri had pierced his amour and skin, Melian walked to him and said softly, “Aye but you are still injured, come inside now and let me clean those wounds.”

Looking down at himself, Loki finally noticed his own wounds and nodded moving into the house. Seidr enveloped him cleaning armor and his body of the blood, before he took off the armor and his torn undershirt. The gashes sprinkled across his torso weren’t too deep and were already healing. Still he let Melian sit opposite him and clean them, knowing that the elf would not entertain any arguments.

“So what happened?” Melian asked even as his hands gently cleaned the wounds.

“I was alerted by one of my sources a few days ago that the Titan had sent a squad to one of the Nine to retrieve an artifact he desired.”

Seeing the alarmed look on Melian’s face he nodded, “I set a monitoring spell on the realms that his men could reach, the alarm sounded today from Vanaheim. When I went there, I found a small group of Skrull stealing from the athenaeum; I took a few down and was almost on to the ones that had fled when the Chitauri they had waiting for them attacked. While I was bringing them down the ones I had trapped escaped” Loki growled, still frustrated with that.

“Vanaheim? But my prince, what could the Titan possibly desire from there?” Melian asked, putting away the bowl now filled with bloodied water and the cleaning cloths. He summoned a bottle of salve and began applying it on the wounds.

Loki’s eyes had narrowed in speculation at the question, “I know not what they were after, by the time I reached the hall they had already put the artifact into a case.”

Humming Melian said, “Well there is bound to be talk of what was taken, when the Vanir realize that it is gone.”

Eyes alight, Loki nodded in agreement, “Aye, they had already discovered the attack when I teleported away. I must go back and see what they lost.” He said and started to rise but was pulled back by Melians firm grip.

“No you won’t. I can see the fatigue in you from the fight and the seidr that you used. You must rest first,” Melian said, his voice firm.

“I can rest later, I did not use all that much power and am perfectly fine Melian. This is important.” Loki argued trying to stand once more.

With his hand still keeping Loki from rising or teleporting away, Melian spoke, “Aye, it is and so I will go to Vanaheim and investigate the matter while you rest.”

Startled at that reply, Loki looked at the resolute expression on the usually mild mannered elf’s face and gave a huff of laughter and yielded, “All right my friend, I shall do as you say.”

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

Loki sat on a rock by the waterfall in the forest, his hands deftly peeling an apple with his knife, the falling peels turning into butterflies. Technically, it was a waste of energy, something Eir would have scolded him for doing when his body was still healing; but using the fundamental forces of life and creation for actual life and creation had never got old, not in all of his long existence. Additionally, it made the water sprites come out of hiding and play, and he did like their gentle company.

He let their voices wash over him as he thought over what Melian had discovered. The Skrulls had stolen The Rift Runestone and he could not quite figure out how that would be of use to the Thanos. Not that it wasn’t a powerful artifact; The Rift Runestone inscribed with the arcane rune, when placed on a surface would create a rather small hole which is a one way extra dimensional rift. The rift would consume any objects and creatures that it encounters destroying them completely. The only exception being when a creature willingly enters the hole, though one would have to be completely crazy to do so. Nevertheless done willingly they would survive the trip, as their willpower would keep them from being consumed by the void on the other side.

It just did not make sense; Thanos would hardly have a need to go into a dimensional void and even as a weapon, the rift created by the Runestone was too small to destroy more than one or perhaps two beings.

Shaking his head in frustration at his own inability to unravel the puzzle Loki wondered wryly if he was now perhaps too sane to understand the thought process of a mad man. Although mad though he might be, Thanos was also extremely intelligent and not given to doing things without a purpose. So he would have to keep working on the puzzle to figure out what Thanos planned to do with his newest acquisition.

Moving the matter to the back of his mind for now, Loki considered his other problem. Ever since his chat with Hel, thoughts of the story she had told him and its implications had kept bothering him. He owed Jotunheim reparations for his actions and his own conscience refused to rest until he had done so, irrespective of Hel’s opinions on the matter.

In fact the story Hel had told him had finally given him an idea. And in all honesty the only reason why he had kept delaying executing it, was because he would have to go to both Midgard and Jotunheim. This kind of avoidance is childish, he admonished himself. It would not take more than a few hours to accomplish the task and he needed to stop procrastinating.

Mind made up, Loki rose from his perch and shifted his form into that of an unremarkable brown haired, brown eyed Midgardian of an average height. Though the chances that he would run into another where he was going were slim at best. 

Once satisfied with his guise, he murmured a quick spell to cloak any traces of his seidr or energy and teleported.

~

When he had first been captured from the void, his seidr had been practically nonexistent, and even after he had healed somewhat, being so far from Yggdrsil had ensured that it barely recovered. Consequently neither the Titan nor the Other, had bothered to look into his capabilities on that front, assuming he had some powers but not enough to be of use to them. It had also been the reason they had thought it necessary to bestow him with the scepter.

Through all the tortures and violations that both his mind and body suffered, he had managed to maintain some of the shields in his mind. And behind the ones at the very core of his mind he had buried all knowledge of the Casket, keeping its existence hidden from the Titan and the Other.

Once he had come to Midgard as the Titans figure head general, he had been on a very tight leash, with the Other keeping constant surveillance through the Mind Gem. In spite of that he had been on a constant look out for an opportunity to slip the leash for even just a few minutes so that he could safeguard the Casket in a place away from himself.

It was only after he had let himself be captured by the mortal heroes in Stuttgart, the scepter taken away from him but near enough to keep watch, that the Thunderer’s arrival and his own subsequent abduction had finally provided him with the opportunity he had sought.

~

Loki steps out on the ledge of the mountain somewhere in Europe. A strong breeze blows into his face, carrying a rich scent of the forests that surround this place. It brings back memories; of being slammed into the rocks, of being told he had been missed and then being predictably left alone in favor of a fight. Of finally having the opportunity to hide his treasure, while wondering if Thor would manage to kill Stark before he realized he was fighting an ally.

He turns back to the side of the mountain and flicks his hands, smiling in satisfaction as the illusion of a pile of rocks dissipates and reveals a small crevice in which sits the Casket. Stepping forward he takes it into his hands, watching as his skin begins to turn blue. He lets the transformation complete, before whispering “Let’s take you back home” and moving it to his pocket dimension.

Jotunheim

Loki had stepped into Yggdrsil’s branches and had let her guide him to the spot where he would be closest to the best place in which to leave the Casket. When he stepped into Jotunheim he was surprised to find himself not in or near the city but on a plain with nothing but untouched snow in every direction and on a huge ice ridge not too far ahead, he could see ruins of what had probably been a temple in times forgotten. Assuming that, this was the destination she wanted him to reach, Loki began trekking through the snow towards it.

It is beautiful here, Loki thinks, looking around at the frozen realm where his life had changed not just once but twice. There were dark rocks protruding from the white snow randomly, snow-covered trees peppered the landscape and snowflakes filtered down from the seemingly cloudless sky in which hung two full moons, their dim light barely touching the snow, it was as if a veil of fog kept their light from reaching the realm.

As he approached the base of the ruin, pillars rose tall all around him and creaked in the wind, leading to the now broken doors of the temple. There were runes etched into them in the language of the Jötnar, one he didn’t recognize but as he walked along, between the pillars, they seemed to draw on his seidr and hum.

There was just one large step leading to the door, a huge snowflake etched into its center and beyond it through the doors he could see floors of smooth ice and crumbling walls with carvings of images and runes, pillars held up the roof, which had large gaps in it through which shafts of moonlight bathed the floor.

There was a feel of anticipation in the air, the mostly dark halls of the temple felt like they were calling to him, or perhaps his cargo. Seeing no point in delaying his task, he stepped up to head inside. And as his feet landed on the snowflake, the icy floors lit up casting the whole hall in a soft blue light even as he entered. He could see an altar at the end of the hall made of a dark black stone with ribbons of silver that glittered in the light cast from the floor and from its center rose a small pedestal that he guessed was the seat of the Casket.

Once he reached the altar and stood before the pedestal, Loki summoned the Casket from his pocket dimension and soon as it appeared the air around him began to pulse, the runes around him walking up. Taking it in both his hands he placed the Casket in the hollowed out square in the middle of the pedestal. Immediately he felt his own seidr leap into it, even as its power flowed outwards, traveling down the veins of the pedestal and into the ice itself. The glow from the floor intensified and the runes carved all over the temple began glowing green with his seidr. Music akin to the sound of a thousand windchimes filled the hall.

Loki felt the land beneath him quake, as if waking from a long slumber and felt his own heartbeat quicken, rapid as a the wings of a moth, fluttering about the light of a bonfire till it got too close and its singed wings sent it spiraling down into flames. Taking in a harsh breath, he lifted his hands from the Casket and stepped away and then looking at it he said, “I’m sorry for having taken this long to bring you back.”

He did not notice the music die or the brightness dim once more as he teleported away.

Asgard 

Odin walked to the temple in the center of the city, with two einharjar walking in front of him, while four more followed from behind, two of those carrying a large case between them. As they come closer to the temple he can see Thor waiting at the gate with Mjölnir in his hands. Reaching the gates, Odin halts and turns to the einharjar carrying the case and says, “You can put that down, Thor will carry it inside and you will stand guard here and allow absolutely no one inside.”

“As you command Sire!” they chorus, spreading out. Turning towards the temple with a simple “Thor” he begins to walk towards the doors that are being opened by the priestess, even as Thor bends to lift the case with an “Aye my King” in acknowledgement of the command.

As Odin approaches the doors the priestess bows and says, “Everything is ready Sire.” Nodding at her in acknowledgement he walks inside through a short passage and into a circular hall that holds statues of the three Norns, with Verðandi in the center, Urðr to her left and Skuld to her right. There are candles and flowers at their feet and ash and salt at the two windows lining the circular walls indicating the cleansing ritual done earlier.

Satisfied with that, Odin looks at the priestess and says, “I thank you for the work you have done here, and would now ask that you leave and wait someplace away from the temple.”

As she leaves, he turns to Thor and pointing to the center of the hall with Gungnir commands, “Retrieve the Aether that is kept in the case and place it there. Thor’s brow furrows at the order, but sensing the mood he refrains from asking any questions and simply does as asked. Once the Aether is in place Odin nods and says, “Now exit the hall and place Mjölnir in the center of the hall door, then leave the temple and wait outside.”

Finally unable to hold in his curiosity and confusion at what is going on Thor asks, “Father I do not understand, what are you planning to do here?”

“I plan to do what I must to ensure that Asgard is safe when I go into the sleep.” Odin replies, his voice resolute.

“Of course Asgard will be safe father, our warrior’s are unparalleled. There is no need for you to worry or do all this.” Thor says then, surprised that his father would use seidr and the foul Aether to protect the realm instead of relying on the might of their warriors.

“I will not discuss this now, just do what I have asked of you and leave.” Odin commands unmoved. Sighing in frustration Thor once again does as asked.

Once he hears the main doors to the temple close behind Thor, Odin moves to stand before the Aether and using Gungnir casts a focusing circle. He feels fatigue fill him, the sleep calling. Taking in a deep breath he dismisses the feeling and anchoring Gungnir on the floor calls on the Odin force. It resists him and he is surprised for this has never happened before. Taking in a deeper breath he pulls on it harder, forcing it to comply with his command as it should.

The Titan will come to the realms soon; he must protect what is his. He channels the force towards the Aether, sliding open its container and calling for it to combine strengths, the Aether rises meeting the still resistant trickle of power eagerly. And as the two begin to intertwine, he begins to chant; when he is done Asgard will be obscured, cocooned in an alternate reality of its own, safe and inaccessible to everyone.

As the spell begins to form, he pushes even more power into it, Gungnir now vibrating in his hands. He does not notice the sculptures of the Norns glow as he begins weaving all the intertwined power into a net that will encase the realm. Once it is ready, he takes a deep breath and casts it out urging it to encase the realm and hide it in another reality.

And in that instant, the Odin force violently recoils away from the Aether and the net disintegrates. The Aether now without a focus blasts outwards, hitting him even as it wreaks the temple, unable to leave with Mjölnir’s powers sealing the door, its wild power whips around the room, shaking the ground throughout the realm. Thrown to his knees Odin used the last of his powers to pull the Aether back into its casing, before collapsing on the floor.

 

Chapter Text

Jotunheim

Mimir had been sitting by the bonfire in the courtyard of his house, telling tales to the children and the few adults sitting around him when the power of the Casket had engulfed the realm like a large wave crashing on rocks, followed swiftly by the icy song of the heart reuniting with the realm. Knowing that this meant that the Prince had come to them as he’d hoped, he’d teleported instantly so that he could be the first to meet and converse with the boy.

When he appeared in the temple, scarcely a few minutes later, he had been surprised, for though he could see the Casket on its pedestal; it's power pulsing as it traveled down the veins of the pedestal and into the ice itself, spreading throughout their entire world, reawakening it, the prince was nowhere in sight.

Looking around he noticed how even now the power was retreating back into the Casket, runes that had once more awoken with the power of the prince’s seidr were fading. Sighing he walked closer to the Casket and was surprised once more as he found a spell examining him before allowing him any closer. Closing his eyes he tried to read the intention of the casting and smiled when he realized that it was meant to keep all those with an intention to take the Casket away from the realm from being able to access it.

He turned to see Farbauti and Býleistr teleport into the temple and guessed that others without seidr were probably making their way here by foot.

“Where is he?” Farbauti asked, looking around the temple, as if she would find Loki hidden in the shadows.

Býleistr hissed air through his teeth, realizing, “He did not stay”.  His face reflected both understanding and disappointment, even as he looked at Mimir for confirmation.

“Aye, his intention seems to have been to bring the Casket home, not himself.” Mimir affirmed.

"Why? Why would he choose not to stay, why bring back the Casket when without him it is of no use to Jotunheim?” Farbauti questioned grief and frustration beginning to heighten her tone, as she clenched her hands into fists at her side.

“Because he does not know,” Býleistr said, as he glanced up through the ceiling at the moons that had so briefly come closer and brightened the entire realm for the first time in his lifetime.

“Doesn’t know what?” Farbauti asked in bafflement.

“That he is welcome here and that without him the Casket is but half alive.” Býleistr said thoughtfully, remembering the conversation they’d had with Mimir a few days ago.

“Aye” Mimir acknowledged, sighing heavily.

"Then he needs to be told," she said, narrowing her eyes in contemplation. She turned her attention to Mimir, her silence demanding.

Mimir scrutinized Farbauti for several long moments. "I will reach out to him, and if he is willing to hear from me I will tell him," Mimir conceded finally. "However, you should know that I will not force him to do anything that he does not wish to do."

He saw grief flicker in her eyes as she inclined her head, accepting his words.

~

After a few hours of hiking through the forest Mimir was wondering if he had been wrong in assuming that Loki's dwelling would be here. Maybe the traces of seidr he had noticed were simply residues of his visits to the forest. Most of the fey he had spotted had fled before he could question them, though if they were friends of the Prince it was doubtful that they would help him. Sitting down under a tree to rest his legs, he closed his eyes and considered if perhaps he should simply leave a message tied to the traces of seidr so that it would reach its owner whenever he came here.

Feeling fey magic stir close to himself, he opened his eyes and was both surprised and relieved to see Vanora standing before him. He had called out for her as soon as he had stepped foot in the forest hoping to find her but when he had not received a response, he had chosen to look for Loki instead of her. Inclining his head he said, "Greetings Vanora, I'm very glad to see you again."

Vanora curtseyed, her eyes scrutinizing him and replied, "I heard your call Mimir, what have you been looking for in the forest?"

A smile curled Mimir's lips as he realized that she had probably been tracking him as he trekked through the forest, trying to discern his aims. And she had probably chosen to show herself only now when he seemed to have given up on his hunt.

"I'm looking for a prince, who I believed has a dwelling here, but I now think that perhaps I might have been wrong."

Instead of confirming or denying his words she simply asked, "Why?”

Knowing that this might be his best chance at gaining her help, Mimir sighed and said, "It's a long story I'm afraid."

Even as he saw Vanora's eyes light up in interest, he heard a pop as another faerie appeared besides her, this one with eyes and hair that were the color of flames.

He nodded to her in greeting when she stepped closer. She looked at him with clever eyes and said, "We will hear this story, but if it is a trick know that you will not be welcomed here again."

"Yes" Vanora agreed, looking at him expectantly.

Biting back a smile for the trick was accomplished already, he kept his face solemn and gestured for them to take a seat and began "It is a story that begins with the birth of the realm of Jotunheim…"

"So you see, the Prince needs to be told that he has his family, a whole realm and its people waiting for him to return. And that is why I am looking for him."

Gisli nodded in agreement but Vanora was studying him intently as if looking for a lie in his words. Then to his surprise instead of offering to take him to Loki or giving him directions to finding him, she nudged Gisli and said, "He shall hear this story" before disappearing.

Admiring her shrewdness and loyalty, Mimir hoped that his words would truly reach the Prince and closed his eyes once more to rest for a little longer.

Asgard

Thor paced outside the healing rooms, while the Warriors Three and Sif sat in the chairs placed at the side of the room, in quiet support. After regaining his feet after being thrown down due to the blast in the temple that had shaken the whole realm, Thor had rushed inside only to find his father lying crumpled on the floor. He had wasted no time in picking him up and rushing to the healing rooms in the palace. The guards on seeing whom he was carrying had run ahead to alert the healers.

The people they passed by looked surprised and horrified, but Thor paid little mind to them. So long as none of them were foolish enough to try to stop him or slow him down, they might as well have been nonexistent to him. The head healer Eir had already been waiting for him and had instructed him to place the king on the soul forge. She had then damn near physically pushed Thor out of the room telling him that they needed to be given room to focus on their work.

“I still do not understand what happened.” He said, finally sitting down and looking around at his shield brothers, searching their faces for confirmation that he wasn't the only one who was completely puzzled by this turn of events.

"Whatever spell the king was trying to cast must have failed" Sif explained unnecessarily and then she hesitantly inquired, “Do you know what the spell was meant to do?”

“Nay, he only said that it was to protect Asgard.” Thor replied, looking at the floor, unable to keep his disapproval out of his voice.

As no one said anything, Thor raised his gaze to look at his friends, who were exchanging looks of concern. "Fear not, my friends. The spell might have failed. But." Thor said looking at each of them in turn and his voice took on a darker edge, "The might of Asgard is more than enough to take down any threat that comes and we do not need the help of spells. Had father listened to me we would not be standing here hoping for his survival."

As the warrior’s three chorused “Aye!”, in agreement to Thor’s words, Sif found that she was not really reassured. They had not held up well against the Dark Elves. Clearly the king had seen that more than just the warriors were needed to defend Asgard and if he chose now to do whatever he had tried to do instead of after the Sleep, he must have expected some sort of threat. However before she could try and inquire further, the doors to the healing rooms opened.

Thor was immediately on his feet.

"How is he?" Thor asked his mouth dry.

"The King is no longer in immediate danger. His condition is still severe, but he is stable for now. It is our hope that he will slip into the Sleep soon as that will help him heal faster.” Eir answered.

Eyebrows furrowing Thor asked, “And why has he not gone into the Sleep already then, surely you can guide him through it now that Mother is not here to do so?”

Eir sighed, “Aye, I can guide him, but there is barely any trace of the Odin force in him, he must have spent it all." Though that should have been impossible, she thought to herself before adding, "He will only succumb to the Sleep once it is replenished in his body so we have placed him in a healing trance until he regains enough. Although it will take time, I will keep monitoring him and I expect that he will make a full recovery."

Thor released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He thanked Eir and asked her to keep him apprised of any progress. He then turned to the Warriors Three and Sif intending to thank them for their help and support, when an einherjar entered the room and bowed and said, “My Prince the council requests that you meet with them urgently. They are waiting for you in the council chambers.” 

Knowing what this would be about Thor nodded and said, “Aye, tell them we will be there presently.” Then looking at his friends with an encouraging smile he added, “Come my friends let us reassure them that the Allfather will be fine.” Though confused about being invited to a council meeting, Sif and the Warriors Three followed him out of the room.

When Thor entered the council room, all the Lords turned to look at him and bowed, walking to stand before him Lord Odgar bowed and said, “Prince Thor with the King currently incapacitated the line of succession falls to you. Until he awakens, you are to be Asgard’s King Regent.” He then held Gungnir before him and kneeling alongside all others in the room, offered the spear to him.

With proper reverence Thor accepted Gungnir and knowing what was expected said, “I swear on my honor to do my duty and guard Asgard and all the Nine Realms.” He waited for the vow to take hold but was surprised when Gungnir remained unresponsive.

All those present in the room began to show signs of confusion when the pulse of power that Gungnir was supposed to emit to tie Thor’s vow to the realm and Yggdrsil did not come.

Thor banged Gungnir on the floor once as if to wake it up, but when that too proved futile he looked at it accusingly, beginning to anger at the insult when suddenly his eyes lit with a spark of realization and he spoke to reassure all present, “Worry not, Lady Eir informed me earlier that the reason the King has not succumbed to the Sleep yet was that he had spent every last bit of the Odin Force while casting his spell. Clearly like him Gungnir too needs time to replenish itself.”

Everyone nodded in acceptance and rose, Lord Odgar and a few other members of the Council approaching him to discuss the events that had occurred and other matters. No one noticed the two einherjar and a very worried looking Sif quietly slipping out of the chambers. 

Midgard

She had been keeping an eye on all the mortal heroes ever since the Titans first attack on their realm had brought them together. She had watched as they evolved, growing into their roles and yet failed to truly become a team.

The Widow played her own game, feigning loyalty to whoever served her aims and manipulated people and events skillfully to suit the cause she supported at the time.

The Archer had kept to himself for most parts, grounded by family as he was. But refusing when called to battle or defend was still beyond him.

The Captain was perhaps one of the most interesting, he struggled with ideals he was supposed to evince, one’s that no longer applied to the world he now lived in. For the most part he seemed to mask his failures at adaptation and his self-righteousness and prejudices, by projecting duty and embracing his own legend and nostalgia.

And then there was Iron Man, a man with a lineage, resources and power akin to royalty in other realms, his brilliance and privilege attracting envy, greed and harsh criticism. With a short but painful family life, multiple mistakes of his own that he struggled to forgive himself for and a deep and abiding sense of responsibility that stemmed from both loyalty and guilt, he was the one they all gravitated towards when in need, despite being unable to overcome their own resentments and prejudices about him.

She had watched the clash between the Captain’s need for control and Iron Man’s sense of responsibility, had watched as one saw the signing of the Accords as something that would limit their own powers while empowering those who might use them for the wrong reasons, while the other saw them as a means to be held accountable instead of having to hide away or be hated and feared. Iron Man also understood that signing would mean resources and public support, and that there would be rules with loopholes to use, it was a political play that he was well used to navigating.

She watched as the one barely held together whole broke into two, each fueled by individual motivations and emotions. She saw the Captain choose to leave some of his men behind in favor of accomplishing his goal, saw Iron Man’s shield brother fall and the Widow’s treason. She watched as Iron Man investigated the Captain’s claims and found the proof that backed them up. Watched as he accepted having been wrong and went to the Captain’s aid as a friend.

And then she watched as everything, every piece of trust, regard and respect crumbled under the weight of a few truths. And it reminded her of another time, of another betrayal, of attempts to tame the justified anger of the wronged but never an apology from the offender, because they thought they were right.

She watched every blow, watched as a vicious hit of the Captains shield broke Iron Man’s armor and perhaps more, watched as the Captain retrieved his friend and walked away. And even as she saw Iron Man struggle to get up and fall once more, she heard her lady’s voice in her head say, “Go!”.

~

Tony can't feel his body. And honestly? He's almost thankful. After beating him to a broken pulp, Rogers had just walked away. He had left him there, lying on the ground. He didn't know what he'd expected when he'd chosen to follow Rogers and Barnes to Siberia, but it hadn’t been this. He coughs feeling blood fill his mouth and spits it out. He knows that he needs help, and that he needs to move to get it, but he can't. If he moves, it's going to start hurting again, and it’s already getting harder to breathe.

And there you have it, every last Stark eliminated by the golden heroes of the forties, he thinks and laughs. He keeps laughing even as more blood fills his mouth and then the laugh breaks into a sob, the tears freezing on his face. And now he can really feel the cold. It's binding and freezing and constricting.

Images and events begin to run through his mind, a cave and fire, Thor standing on the Hellcarrier telling them about the Chitauri, wormholes and armadas, Pepper with fire in her eyes and Captain America's shield poised over his head like a guillotine.

He doesn't know how long he's been lying there hallucinating, when he hears light footsteps. When the person crouches down next to him, he sees that it's a woman. A very tall, fair woman, her dark hair falls across her face as she looks at him. She tucks it behind her ear and places a cold hand on his chest. He tenses as the cold spreads.

"Don't move," she says, and her voice is hypnotizing, locking him in place.

"Who are you?" Tony asks, his voice stressed.

"My name's Hel."

He doesn't recognize the name, this is probably just a new hallucination he thinks but then asks, "What are you doing?"

Hel casts him an unreadable look and then smirks before asking, "What do we say to the goddess of death?"

He smiles recognizing the reference, surreal as this is and says, 'Not today'.

She laughs and her eyes turn the golden color of flames for a second before fading back to their original shade of grey. Warmth floods his body and he's reminded that he had been cold. Hel pulls her hand back. "That should keep you intact till the help that’s on the way reaches you, sleep now" she whispers, her voice ringing clear in his head. His eyes begin to shut once more, of their own accord, and he sees her disappear in a flash of blue fire as he blacks out.

 

Chapter Text

Alfheim

Loki was lying on his back on the roof of his home, his legs crossed, hands resting on his stomach, his ruby eyes were looking at the sky, but he saw not the stars but memories all littered across the night sky. Bringing his cerulean hands before his eyes, he examined them, moving his slender, tapered fingers that gave his magic life, their subtle gestures bending the nine worlds to his whims. His eyes ran lower to the spot on his arm where the touch of a Jötun had first revealed his true nature.

And he thought of the boy that had followed his belligerent brother and friends to Jotunheim on the day that changed his whole life.

He thought of Odin's words; Abandoned. Suffering. Left to die. Laufey's son.

He thought of the tales of The Great War, told by Odin and inebriated warriors in mead halls and taverns across the golden realm; of how the Jötnar had invaded Midgard for the simple reason of plunging it into an ice age and taking it for their own, of how they had been evil and merciless, decimating the land and killing all signs of life, and how Asgard had driven them back into the heart of their world and taken the Casket so they could not do such again.

He thought of sitting by the fireplace at his mother’s feet at night as she told Thor and him, stories so fearsome, that later in the night they thought they could see, reflected in the window glass, the dim red glow of Frost Giant eyes beneath their bed. And imagined the chill of each midnight footfall on the cold stone floor to be frost trying to creep up and freeze their bones; such that each draft of winter wind that found its way through cracks beneath the door and windows was a Jötun's icy breath as they lay in wait, ready to tear their little bodies limb from limb.

Thought of his own words; I am the monster parents tell their children about at night.

He closed his eyes for a moment reminding himself that, trusting in those he thought of as his parents and his people hadn’t been his fault. He almost sighed when he heard footsteps. But he knew who it was without opening his eyes. “I’m not in the mood for company Melian.”

Melian said nothing as he crossed the distance and sat down beside him, his tone filled with gentle amusement, “Aye, you are in the mood to brood and sulk.”

Sitting up, Loki scowled at Melian, “I am not sulking.”

Melian grinned at having successfully chased off the melancholy mood that Loki had been shrouded in and replied, “But you are brooding about Jotunheim and Vanora’s tale are you not?”

Loki sighed and let himself return to his Æsir form, “Aye, for I had hoped the matter closed after having returned the Casket.”

Melian’s eyebrows shot into his hairline as he turned to look at Loki, “You returned the Casket?”

“Aye, I did but that seems to have not been enough if the tale that this man who calls himself Mimir told Vanora is true.” Loki replied, his brows furrowing once more at that name, there was only one Mimir that all knew, and he had not been seen in many millennia, surely this man could not have been him.

Melian nodded slowly, gravely. “Aye, but my Prince if you were to speak with him yourself you would know for certain if he speaks the truth and then you can decide what to do. And surely having a family and a people that want you and wait for you is a good thing.”

Loki scoffed at the very thought that his life could ever go so simply. That he could simply go to Jotunheim and be forgiven and welcomed just like that. His life never worked that way. And he really did not want any family or relations, those only led to misery in his experience.

“Of course, for who would not want to be family to a traitor and murderer.” Loki laughed sharply, mockingly. It was such a grating sound that Melian flinched.

“Nay Melian, they might need me to restore their realm and their lives and so would probably not kill me on sight, but more than that I scarcely think is true nor would I expect such of them after having wronged them so deeply.”

Melian wasn’t so sure he agreed but he didn’t argue with Loki, instead he focused on what he knew intrigued Loki as much as it did him, “Aye but you will never know for sure until you see for yourself and you do want to know just as much as I do if this man is truly Mimir inn fróði, do you not?”

His green eyes narrowed slowly, contemplating the question. Realizing that Melian was right, Loki smiled reluctantly and said, “Aye!” Melian just chuckled and let himself lie back on the roof, to look at the stars.

Midgard

Pepper sinks into a chair and stares at Tony lying still and silent in the hospital bed after multiple surgeries. His face is chalk. The bruises stand out like ink. His nose is bandaged. The skin around his left eye looks purple and raw. There are stitches along his hairline, above his left eyebrow. His lip is swollen and split. His chest is bandaged after the surgery that fixed the collapsed lung and the ribs that had shattered.

If FRIDAY had not taken the decision to send two suits and a jet to him when he lost contact with her, Tony Stark would be dead. The doctors had confirmed it, in fact they said that given the level of blunt force trauma he’s suffered it was a miracle that he still was alive when he reached the hospital.

Tony had been briefly conscious when they had finally moved him to the room after the surgeries. His eyes had been swimming with pain but they had briefly cleared and hardened with something else as he had looked at her and said, “No lies.” They had put him under once more before she could say a word. The words were not exactly foreign. They were words she could associate with Tony, with his past experiences. But she did not understand what he had meant by them. Just yet!

There is a glint of steel in her eyes as she marches down the hallway. Her heels click past faceless men and women in pale scrubs, through the smells of sickness, blood, and industrial cleanser. She meets Happy outside and gets into the car he has waiting for her and simply says, “The Tower.”

~

Pepper walked into Tony’s workshop knowing it was the most secure place on the planet and said, "FRIDAY I need you to show me everything starting from the very beginning of this mess.”

“Yes Miss Potts.” Friday said, bringing down the screen.

After the last image had played on the screen, Pepper kept staring at it, sick. She had had her doubts about the Avengers, had disliked how they treated Tony and had been satisfied when Tony had distanced himself from them after the Ultron mess. When he had said that he would look into the Accord rumours and assured her that these people he thought of as friends would have his back, she had chosen to believe in his optimism. And really even now she could not blame him for believing that the “good guys” would not turn against him for trying to do what’s right.

To a certain extent she could understand Romanoff betrayal; they were, or used to be, a team. One of them was down, if they didn’t retreat and let them run away, the fight would have ended with many more torn to shreds. But blaming Tony’s ego, when he pointed it out, even though he was trying to make the best of a bad situation and trying to protect all of them; that was unforgivable.

And then there was Steve who clearly chose violence over communication, who lied to Tony about Bucky Barnes, and the murder..Murder! of Tony’s parents. Who didn’t try to deescalate the fight initiated by Tony who was clearly insane with hurt and rage. She understands Steve was protecting Barnes, but she also saw how he had not held back, how he had crushed the shield into Tony’s chest breaking the reactor and the very non-super soldier body beneath him.

She feels incandescent with rage. Not just at Steve. At all the Avengers and she finally understands what Tony meant. It was time to stop sweeping up after them, time to stop protecting them and time to stop paying literally and figuratively for their mistakes. Enabling Rogers and the others to keep going as they were would just make them get worse and worse. Too many people had already suffered because of them. Tony might not be perfect, but at least he was man enough to admit to being wrong, to trying to do better. But Steve did not regret a single thing he had done; she had seen his conviction that he had done the right thing even as he had walked away from a severely wounded man.

Pepper closes her eyes, inhales. Exhales. Opens them. Yes there was absolutely no chance of not telling the world the truth.

“Friday, I want you to collect all data on Tony’s injuries and create a file with that and the videos of what happened in Siberia to share with the Accords Council and the media.”

There was a hint of glee along with satisfaction in her voice as FRIDAY replied, “On it Boss!”

Alfheim

Mimir stepped out into the forest and was met with Vanora and an elf who was scrutinizing him with suspicious blue eyes.

“When you called for me I had hoped it was at the behest of someone else, but I am pleased to meet you both.” he said bowing lightly.

Bowing his head in return Melian asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Mimir of Jotunheim, some called me Frœðimaðr in times past.” Mimir said, introducing himself.

Melian’s eyes widened at that but he held on to his suspicions and asked “Why would Mimir inn fróði leave millennia’s long seclusion only to look for a dead Prince?”

A small little smile curled the corners of his lips in appreciation of the suspicion and protectiveness that the elf showed, Mimir let Yggdrsil’s aura that surrounded him show before replying, “I have done so at the command of the great tree.”

Stunned by both his words and the very visible proof before him, Melian bowed deeply in respect “It is a great honor to meet you Frœðimaðr, I am Melian and I can take you to meet the one you seek if you are willing to first give me a vow of keeping his existence and location a secret.”

Mimir nodded and let magic fill his words as he said, “I give you my vow to not disclose the existence and location of Prince Loki son of Laufey to any who are not already aware of such.”

As the vow took hold Mimir watched Loki materialize next to Melian and smiled once more, “It is a pleasure to finally meet you Prince Loki.”

Loki bowed, “It is an honor to meet you Mimir inn fróði and while I am flattered to be sought out by one such as you, I am afraid that I must ask that you desist for I have no interest in going to Jotunheim and meeting or reuniting with the people there.”

Mimir studied Loki who was looking at him with all the wariness of a snake facing a mongoose and sighed, “I understand that but my reasons for seeking you out have to do with more than just Jotunheim. I only ask that you hear what I have to say and I promise to do as you ask once you have done so.”

Loki considered that and then nodded in acceptance and said, “If you would follow me, we could converse over tea.”

~

When Mimir stepped through the wards and into the yard of Loki’s home he felt an unanticipated thrill at the finesse and the power of the spells cloaking the place. He was quite sure he had passed by this location when he had searched the forest previously and the fact that he had not only not discovered this place but had also failed to detect even a hint of seidr was extremely impressive.

Mimir had known that Loki's seidr would be strong, and yet when he had felt for it, he had encountered a wall and could barely discern its depth. He had never encountered such strong protection before, Loki's shields were truly incredible and this perhaps explained why the Titan had failed to understand what a treasure he had truly found, Mimir thought to himself.

Walking around in the living room as Loki started the tea; he looked at the furniture and the bookcases in the room. He admired the Asgardian and Elvish details in the construction and the finesse with which protection spells were woven into the framework.

Noticing Loki watching him study the bookcase, he said, “This is very impressive.”

Loki shrugged. “It’s just carpentry.”

Looking once again at the finely polished structure, that could easily last a thousand years and not many could boast to make an equal, Mimir shook his head and said, “Nay Loki, this is artistry. The detailing, the protection spells; I have known masters who would struggle to match this.”

Loki flushed in pleasure at the praise even as he brought their tea to the table. He cleared his throat and said, “You said that you had reasons other than Jotunheim for seeking me out.”

Mimir smiled as he walked back and took a seat, “Aye, as you might know I have spent many millennia communing with Yggdrsil, I know of the danger that comes for her same as you do and I have returned to help aid in her protection. And since I know that you are committed to the same goal, I would stand with you regardless of your decision, but I would like you to consider becoming my apprentice.”

Apprenticeships were offered to very young mages by masters in their field. Back straightening, Loki's eyes flashed green, taking offence that he could be seen as inferior. “I am not some mere child dabbling at magicks, I am a mage, and a master at that.”

Mimir tilted his head towards Loki in concession as he spoke. “You have finesse, raw talent and you are the most powerful mage I have ever met, but you are also completely ignorant of Jötun magicks and hence unable to meet the full potential that you are capable of.” He raised a challenging eyebrow at him then and Loki’s ire subsided, recognising his point.

He sipped his tea letting Loki consider what he had just said and saw that he was staring at the cup as if it held the secrets to the universe, his green eyes distant. When Loki looked up, his face blank but his eyes now full of misery, he continued. “As I said, the decision is yours, but I would be disappointed to see so much potential go to waste. And there is the threat to Yggdrsil to consider.”

Loki’s eyes narrowed at that. “Would you go into the fight with only half the weapons in your arsenal?” Mimir asked.

Loki slowly frowned, thinking over Mimir’s words and his offer. He had been curious about how the Jötnar wielded their ice magicks. In the past if he had found a subject interesting, he did little else but delve into it deeper and deeper until it was mastered. Being given a chance to learn from a master such as Mimir was something he would have eagerly embraced just a few decades ago. But agreeing to be an apprentice to anyone, even one as revered as Mimir, would require a level of trust that he wasn’t sure he was even capable of anymore. Trust meant vulnerability and betrayal and he’d had quite his fill of both. Then again could he risk being defeated simply because he had shied away from mastering this aspect of his best talent?

There was also the matter of Jotunheim, Mimir was several millennia old and clever enough to have spoken of Jötun powers but not the realm and yet he had also been one to have first approached Vanora with the tale of Ymir and how only the blessed Prince could carry the heart and breathe life into the realm. Though to be fair a tale of wanting to teach would hardly have appealed to the fey.

Loki mulled over that for a few more minutes before asking, “And if I were to accept would I have to go to Jotunheim to study?”

Knowing that this was a sensitive subject and one he himself did not have an agenda on, Mimir answered, “Nay, though going there could help you learn faster, it would not be necessary. I would have to ask that you go there once to retrieve the Casket ,for you, yourself have ensured that no other can do so, but that is all.”

Loki thoughtfully assessed Mimir’s words for any hints of deception before he finally nodded and spoke, “In that case, I would be honoured to accept your offer provided that I am allowed to terminate the apprenticeship if I so desire.”

That small little smile that had graced his face earlier curled the corners of his lips once more as Mimir nodded in acceptance. “Of course, both of us would be allowed to do so.”

Seeing Loki’s brow furrow at that, his own smile stretched just a little further as he added. “I have had many students before I went into seclusion, almost all of them extreme disappointments even if they are perceived as capable by most standards. I have no desire to subject myself to more of that.”

Loki scowled at him.

Chapter Text

Midgard

Tony sat in his workshop in the Avengers Compound bent over his project; it had been seven weeks since Siberia, five weeks since his release from the hospital and two since he’d begun working on the prosthetics that would make Rhodey walk again. He had been giving it all his focus refusing to stop for anything but food and medicines. Refusing to dwell on what had happened. He had shoved all his anger and pain into a box. He needed to keep his head in the game and fix Rhodey. There would be time for mourning later.

He heard the hateful sound of wheels and turned around on his chair, slowly. His body still protested against even the slightest movements and he was reminded of the painkillers he had not taken because they made him sleepy and unable to work.

“Rhodey, couldn’t sleep?” He asked guilt slamming into him like it did every time his eyes landed on the fucking wheelchair. But he reminded himself that even though Rhodey might never be able to walk again, it could have been even worse, Rhodey could have died.

“You’re the one that hasn’t been sleeping Tones, you need to sleep to heal.” Rhodes said, his voice filled with worry.

"It's fine, honeybear," Tony replied, waving a hand. "I had a good three hours and four cups of coffee. I’ll rest some more once I’m done with these.″

"This is fine, you know," Rhodes assured, indicating the wheelchair. "You can take as long as you need with those."

"It is not fine." Tony protested, his voice once again filled with guilt. "I just need another day or two and you’re going to be walking, I promise."

"Tones, we’ve talked about this. This is not your fault. It’s not your job to save me. I appreciate what you are trying to do, but you can’t do it at the cost of your own health." Rhodes said then, his voice exasperated.

Tony lowered his hands to his lap and studied them intently. “I know but I really can’t stop being sorry that I couldn’t save you from this.” Tony confessed, looking miserable.

He wrapped his arms around himself, bowing his head. “I’m so sorry, Rhodey. I’m so sorry I let you down. And Peter! I can’t believe I put that kid in danger.” He ran a hand through his hair, yanking at it. “God, what the hell was I thinking?” He laughed and it was a dark, ugly sound.

“Tony, you did not let me down! And Peter is fine, you made the best decisions you could given the information you had. Maybe it all went FUBAR. And maybe because we chose what we chose we avoided something worse. Either way it is not on you, it never was. You didn't make those decisions alone Tony.”

Seeing Tony’s still unconvinced but attentive look he continued, “Look, I believe in the concept of the Accords. I’ve been in the military my entire adult life. Government oversight, a chain of command, being answerable to someone when things go FUBAR, it’s something I’ve always accepted as right and proper. Even given my injuries I don’t regret that I fought in support of the Accords. Even our government is built on a system of checks and balances. Everyone is answerable for their actions, no one is above review, hell even the president can be impeached. What I don’t understand is why Rogers thinks he should be the ultimate authority on what’s right. Why he thinks that the Avengers deserved to be exempt from answering for their actions? You have got to stop letting them manipulate your thinking. Can’t you see, they’ve conditioned you to shoulder all the responsibility and drown in self recrimination for things that are not even your fault?” Rhodes said, he was so done with assholes that didn’t think twice before they fucked Tony over and still acted as if they were the moral superior. He felt his own guilt surface; he should have paid better attention to Tony.

“In fact I’m the one that should be apologising to you here.” he added.

“What? No Rhodey, you’ve done nothing wrong!” Tony protested immediately.

Rhodes sighed again. “I saw the mess that was the Avengers, I saw how they treated you and I didn’t have your back the way I should have.”

Tony recognized that tone of regret and shook his head in disagreement, “You were busy with your own life and I’m a grown man. It was not your duty to shield me from them.”

Rogers and the others didn’t seem to have much of a life outside of the Avengers. Rhodey, on the other hand, had a career and a bunch of other things. No one could expect him to just hang around all the time. Hell, Tony hadn’t had time for the Avengers on occasion, even when he was still nominally a part of the group.

“Still, there were so many warning signs that I ignored, like that day with Ultron. I’m sorry about that.”

The day Thor had nearly choked him to death and no one had batted an eye. Yeah, Tony remembered that day. He could sorta understand that Thor was the aggressive when angry type, and he probably forgot just how much more fragile humans were from what he was used to. The others though; there was no excuse.

“I should have stood up for you and pushed you to get away from them. I’m still not sure why I didn’t.” For the first time since their conversation began, Rhodes looked away. “I’m sorry.”

Tony was a little stunned, no one had looked at the Ultron mess from his side before and they certainly didn’t think they had anything to apologize for. On the contrary, they had expected an apology from Tony. No wonder he avoided them as much as possible after that, even if he hadn’t quite realized that was what he was doing.

“Well it was my mess as far as anyone believed.” Tony shrugged.

Rhodes face twisted into an angry frown, “But that’s just it Tony, any one with a smidgen of intelligence can see that it was actually not your fault. I think it just worked to their advantage to blame you for any and every fuck up. They’ve been blaming you for things out of your control, haven’t they? Using your past against you? Making you feel like you have to fix everyone’s equipment and gear? Pay for everything despite them all having jobs except for Maximoff? Feel like you owe them for everything?” Rhodes asked him.

And that, that was kind of surprising, if only because it was true. He hadn’t even noticed how bad things had gotten, he had been too busy working and building things and cleaning up their messes to try and make them accept him as a part of the team. And they had been just fine with that, Tony thought bitterly.

“Hell take Maximoff for example, she should never have made the team. I should have stepped in then.” Rhodes said meeting his eyes again, regret and pain shining in them.

“That was Rogers’s decision. He didn’t listen to my objections. I doubt he would have cared about yours.” Tony said, trying to convey that Rhodey needn’t feel guilty about that.

“Yeah maybe, but I should have tried anyway.” He shook his head. “It set a bad precedent and clearly shows just how they disregarded you.”

Tony snorted and shook his head too. “The bad precedent got set back when Cap and Nat dumped all the Shieldra Info on the net and got off without any repercussions whatsoever. Or even before that, when Shield was allowed to keep operating even after they almost nuked New York, which, by the way would have done jack shit to actually stop the invasion.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Still, I wish I’d done more to watch your back. To show you just how much more you are than what they were manipulating you into thinking.”

There's a moment of silence as Tony digested what Rhodey had said, so much pain could have been avoided if anyone had seen that shitty group for what it was; then with a reluctant nod he said, “It’s okay Rhodey, all that's in the past now. I’ve always known that I could count on you. So you really don’t need to apologize. We’re good.”

Rhodes smiled and reached out to squeeze Tony’s hands. “I’m glad you know that I’ve got your back, Tones. I might have failed before, but I swear I’ll do my best not to mess it up again. And I want you to remember that you are and have always been better than all of them. You work hard, own up to your mistakes, never lie to or cheat those who trust you. I want you to please stop letting them gaslight you”

“Rhodey..” Tony got a bit misty-eyed at the sincerity in Rhodey’s gaze. “Ya okay I’ll do that, I promise.”

“Good, now let’s go get some sleep.” Rhodes said. Tony's eyes scrunched up in a quick smile before he stood and helped push him towards the elevator.

~

Tony reclined on the couch in his room; his left arm was back in its sling, while the right held a glass of scotch. It was dark except for the light of the moon and stars outside the floor to ceiling windows that encircled the room. And even that light was faint thanks to the tree line surrounding the compound.

His thoughts turned to everything Rhodey had said earlier and his mind started running over everything that had happened, right since the beginning; first it was Obadiah selling his weapons to terrorists, then Vanko with his vendetta against something Howard had done and then came the deranged psychopath Killian, the destruction of his favorite house, extremis, Pepper’s almost death and a myriad of other problems. None of those had been his fault and yet apparently being a billionaire made you a scapegoat for all the things that could go sour in the lives of those that you kept close, he thought bitterly.

Of course he wasn’t forgetting Ultron which had admittedly not been one of his brightest ideas, but massive PTSD combined with the fucked up image of the future in which everyone ended up dead courtesy of the resident witch had messed with his reasoning. Of course Bruce had helped too but since Bruce conveniently skipped town and nobody knew about the witch’s involvement the blame had fallen solely on him, after all the world needed a punch bag and everyone had been just fine offering him up as one.

Shit! Rhodey was right; people were always quick to blame him for stuff and he had readily accepted the blame and the guilt, apologizing and atoning for things that were not his fault. Again and again, he’d tried to do the right thing, tried to wash the blood from his hands, tried to assuage his guilt.

His eyes were fixed on the familiar ceiling of his bedroom as his mind went over the latest disasters, the bombing at the UN building, Rogers’s rampage through the streets of Bucharest, the fight at the airport, Siberia.. God! that fucking video.. Rogers had known, he’d known and had said nothing. Worse, he had the gall to act like he was better than Tony when he was a fucking liar and a hypocrite.

Son of a fucking bitch!

He’d berated Tony for supposedly keeping secrets about Ultron, and he’d been sitting on the knowledge of his parent’s murder, by Hydra. By the Winter Soldier. By Rogers’s good buddy Bucky goddamn Barnes.

He closed his eyes, God, mom, dad..Murdered..the video played in his mind, Barnes impassive face and empty eyes as he strangled his mom while his father begged for her life. Tony smiled bitterly thinking of his dad’s stories of how he’d helped Steve rescue Barnes back in the war, of how he flew him there and nearly got shot down by the Germans. And look what it got him.

Words he’d heard over the years began flooding his mind then, “Tony Stark, no, Iron Man, yes.” “Big man in a suit of armor, take that off, what are you?”, “You only fight for yourself.” “Sometimes my teammates don't tell me things.”, “Can’t you let go of your ego for once”, “You tore the Avengers apart when you signed the accords”, “Watch your back around this guy he might just break it”, “You’re sorry? That’s a first.”, “He’s my friend”, “I can do this all day.”

His chest tightened as he remembered the shield ramming into the chest plate, another thing that would plague his nightmares for years to come.

Yes, Rhodey was absolutely right and it felt as if the final piece of the puzzle finally slid into place. He understood now. This was all so clear, how could he have missed this? They’d played him, feeding his insecurities and guilt complex. They’d taken even his most altruistic of intentions and scrutinized and dissected them and assigned them villainous motives. They’d tolerated him for the benefits he afforded them but had never respected him.

Yes he realizes now that it had all been a sham, one he had been happy to swallow because he had believed in the idea of heroes to defend the planet. But that was over now, he was done. He was done playing their games. Done second guessing himself and he was done trying to wish harsh realities away.

Pepper had tried to fight for him, had tried to sit down with him to figure out what he wanted to do but he had put her off. It was time to fix that, time to put all of this to rest and move on to something new.

“FRIDAY set up a meeting with Pepper for the day after tomorrow and have some flowers delivered to her from me tomorrow.”

“On it Boss” came the quick reply.

He set his glass aside and grunted as he pulled himself up onto his feet and proceeded to walk a little unsteadily to the bed. The painkillers, liquor, and exhaustion were finally taking their toll on him and he hoped that the mixture would keep the nightmares at bay for the night.

Alfheim

Loki was training in his yard, under clear skies to the tune of birdsong and the soothing voice of Mimir, explaining the placement of energy and the importance of fluidity in his movement. Since Loki had not grown up in his Jötun form, the instincts for calling and sculpting ice had never had a chance to develop. So Mimir had adapted his teachings to those akin to the ones used when teaching young seidkonur to harness seidr, making Loki learn to recognize, tap into and control ice through many repetitive exercises.

Like any other time when he was learning something new, Loki had taken on the task with all his focus and dedication. But he had also been incredibly frustrated to find that Jötun magicks were difficult for him. He was so used to fire jumping easily to his command, that he had expected ice to follow the same principles.

“Remember Loki, that the power in ice comes from the breath, not the muscles. The breath becomes energy in the body. The energy extends past your limbs and becomes ice.” Mimir sighed as Loki called ice and tried to shape it once more, still making the same mistake and becoming increasingly angry with himself.

Mimir shook his head. “Have you forgotten everything that you learned over the last two weeks? Should we return to the study of breathing rhythms, so that you can properly harness your breath?”

“Nay, Frœðimaðr.” Loki bent himself into a stiff bow, giving the appropriate response without letting go of any of his anger.

“Very well,” he said. “Try again. And this time, remember your breath!”

Loki took the time to center himself before starting over, and he kept it throughout the exercise. The difference was significant, he was able to actually call more ice and shape it into a long sword extending from his hand. His face glowed with satisfaction when he finished.

“Yes that was much better.” Mimir said smiling, the wrinkles on his face deepening pleasantly.

“The body is a channel of energy” Mimir reiterated, “If the energy is blocked, it creates a sickness inside of us. If we free it too soon, our emotions become wild, and in turn our bodies become violent. Almost all Jötun magicks rely on the control of that energy within us; it is about controlling the very essence of life.”

As Loki calmed his breathing, once more following the rhythms Mimir taught him, he allowed air to collect. First in his lungs, then around his arms, curving with the machinations of his body. At last in the center of his circling hands he felt the familiar coolness, the prickling sensation of air cycling tightly into a sphere between his palms, crystallizing. His shoulders relaxed and a bead of sweat dripped down his neck.

He lets his breathing shift into different paces, but the ice was held fast and safe in his reach. Loki put the skill further to the test by making a slippery pool of ice under Mimir, who promptly slipped and would have fallen flat on his back if Loki had not levitated him. Barking out a laugh Mimir vanished the ice even as Loki set him down once more.

“Very good, your control is improving and the fact that you could create ice while simultaneously using magic is quite extraordinary.”

“Magic is easy” Loki said indifferently, he looked down and called some more ice to his hands, “This is so different from Fire.”

“Different how?” Mimir questioned with a look of interest.

“Fire is the element of freedom. Fire will spread and destroy everything in its path for that is its destiny. But commanding it is easy if one follows the path of least resistance.” Loki replied, creating a whip of fire and directing it at a rock, neatly bisecting it in two.

Mimir’s eyes lit up with appreciation at Loki's demonstration, even as he spoke, “Ah but Loki don’t you see, Fire destroys, yes, but it is not the only element that does.”

Mimir raised his hands summoning an illusion and Loki watched as a large mass of snow fractured from the surrounding snow cover on a mountainside and began to slide, gaining mass and speed now that it was free from all confinement, before it flooded and destroyed a town down below.

Then another scene unfolded before Loki’s eyes, this one of a seaside settlement being utterly destroyed by a huge wave that rushed in from the sea.

Mimir continued, “You see water and ice can be just as destructive if not more so, they like freedom too.”

As Loki contemplated his words Mimir asked, “How did you first discover that your link to fire?”

Loki rubbed the back of his neck and blushed, “Well, I was pretending to be a hero saving a village besieged by dragons.”

Mimir smiled and raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

“There was this shed near the stables where they kept tools and some of the feed for the horses. It had a water stain on one side that, if you had a good imagination, looked like a large creature. I was pretending it was a wyvern and was pretending to shoot fire out of my hands like I was going to tame it. And well…”

Loki lifted his hand and sent a large blast of fire upwards into the air.

“You learned of your link by blowing up the shed?” Mimir’s eyes had widened with shock.

“No! I didn’t blow it up! Just maybe caught it on fire. I—“ Loki was laughing at this point, “I thought I had reached some new level of imaginative ability. That I could make things happen if I pretended hard enough. I went inside to tell mother that I could create big fires without incantations now, and she thought I was joking. Until, of course, the smoke started to fill the sky.”

Mimir started laughing too. It felt good to laugh with Mimir, or to laugh at all. Loki couldn’t remember the last time he had done so.

Mimir wiped a tear from his eye before sighing.

“Fire is the only element that can be brought forth out of nothing. It is quite literally created from the willpower of the caster. It’s a focus of the spirit. You weren’t far off when you said you imagined yourself into creating fire. You aren’t using what already exists, like the earth under your feet or water. Fire requires the act of creation same as ice does when cast by a Jötun. I think you struggle with ice, because you can’t make the same connection to it as you do with fire.”

Loki nodded in understanding, already thinking of ways in which he could fix that.

Reading the look on Loki’s face Mimir said, “I think since you do not wish to go to Jotunheim, you need to bring the Casket here soon as it would really help you make that connection.”

Loki nodded and said nothing, he refused to show the uneasiness he felt at the suggestion.

Ether

When Odin was young, his Mother’s brother Mimir was the first to ever mention the guardian of Yggdrsil: The World Serpent. His own brothers had had no patience for the stories, feeling themselves far too mature for nursery tales, but Odin listened avidly and he had researched for years and found a way to reach the legend.

Many centuries later after he had ascended his father’s throne but before he had begun to wage many a foolish war in the name of throwing down tyrant overlords and creating a great time of peace, Odin had finally sought out the World Serpent to ask for guidance and knowledge of powerful spells long forgotten.

The serpent had laughed and had taught him incredible magicks before leaving him with a single command: raise the child well, wanderer king.

Odin did not know which child, or why, or when.

By the time he found an infant in a temple on Jotunheim, he had long since forgotten or at least pretended that he had.

~

Now in the ether suspended between life and death, with the Odin force out of his reach, Odin felt his body being constricted by the invisible weight coiled all around him and struggled.

~

There was one command given, by the guardian of Yggdrsil.

There was one command ignored, by the King of Hliðskjalf.

The greatest villain is the one created by the hero’s hand.

In a thousand worlds, the greatest villain of all is Death.

But those who truly know the Norn’s would disagree.

 

Chapter Text

Asgard

Sif was sitting at the table at home thinking, her mother Hekla was in the next room busy picking out dresses or cleaning. She had been shocked when Gungnir had remained unresponsive to Thor’s vow and she had not been convinced by the reasoning that Thor had offered to those present. As a warrior she had always maintained her distance from the seidkonur of the realm, seeing how they were mostly women and how their practices were for the most part considered unimportant or dishonorable. And while that would have kept their relationship mutually indifferent, her very public disdain for Loki had ensured that they all actively disliked and criticized her.

However there was one master seidkona besides the late Queen that she thankfully did have a cordial relationship with, and now when she had desperately needed to speak to someone who understood seidr, she had sought her out. However Lady Eir had not entertained her visit and had asked her to leave before she could have asked even one question.

Hekla came into the room and poured herself some tea from the pot on the table and asked, “What has you bothered enough to brood sitting down instead of sparring Sif?”

Sif sighed, “I’m thinking about what happened earlier today with the Allfather and later when Thor took Gungnir and of Eir”

Hekla gave her a puzzled look, “What happened when Prince Thor took Gungnir? And why would Eir bother you?”

Knowing that she could count on her mother for discretion, Sif explained what had transpired earlier, “So you see, without Eir to confirm or deny Thor’s reasoning I fear for what might happen to Asgard.”

Hekla frowned for a moment, then shrugged and said, “Many of us have been worried for Asgard for many years now Sif.”

Sif gave a snort of dismay. “Aye, because of Loki.”

Hekla nodded slowly, “Aye, but not for the reasons you believe.”

At Sif’s disbelieving look, she said, “I will explain this to you Sif, for it is way past time that you understand the world in a way that is not colored by views of the warriors. For I see now that my failure to do so earlier has perhaps caused harm to not just you but to the prince as well, to whom you act as council and confidant. But I will ask that you keep an open mind or all this would be for naught.”

Sif saw the seriousness in her mother’s eyes and nodded, “Aye, I will keep an open mind.”

Hekla nodded in return and began, “Those such as Odin, Freyja, Loki, Thor, Frigga, Ægir and Idun are not referred to as simply Æsir or even King, Queen or Prince but as God because they are not only more powerful than others but because they are blessed by Yggdrsil at birth and are connected to the realm on a deep magical level. They draw their power from the realm but also strengthen it in return. They are tasked to hold the worlds in balance, keep the tree healthy. This also means that their health, hearts and desires affect our realm. More importantly for our worlds to thrive there must be balance in all things, Asgard was alive and lively for years because of Prince Loki’s influence. His mischief and mayhem was a balance to Thor’s seriousness. And his dominion over chaos ensured change that would keep Asgard from stagnancy.” She sighed and looked away, out the window at the view of Asgard before continuing.

“Asgard lost its balance when we lost him to the void Sif, every seidkonur of the realm including the Queen made offerings of their own seidr to Yggdrsil to try and mitigate the damage. This is why we began to worry not just in the last few years, but many centuries ago when we first noticed Prince Loki begin to change and grow introverted and bitter because of the way the nobles, warriors and even his own brother treated him.”

Sif’s brow furrowed, “But I do not understand, surely if what you say is true and Loki was that important to Asgard, Thor certainly would know.”

“Aye he should.” Hekla said simply, not bothering to guess whether he had not known or had simply chosen to disregard it.

“This is also why all the seidkonur and most commoners have disapproved of his conduct and that of those who belittled or disregarded Prince Loki. And they did not like that the Allfather and Allmother disregarded their own responsibility to ensure that both the princes were given their due. They should have corrected behaviors such as your own, immediately instead of allowing it to become acceptable. Instead they let matters escalate until he was lost to us all.”

“This is why they were happy with his return and why they dislike me.” Sif said finally understanding the reactions that had until now made no sense to her.

“Aye, though that is not the only reason, unlike others of the nobility or even Prince Thor, Prince Loki spent time with the commoners and seidkonur, he listened to their problems in the Thing and outside and he solved them either by himself or by being their voice in the palace halls. As for the seidkonur he taught and encouraged them in any way he could and they were proud to know that the most powerful seidmadr in all the realms was one of their own. He looked after them and that makes all the difference to them, Sif. They bow to the All-Father, and will follow Prince Thor when he becomes king, but Loki was their prince.”

“As for disliking you, you carried a barbed tongue with no filter around him for centuries, belittling him for following a different path while expecting respect for having done so yourself. Why would they show you kindness with behavior like that, I myself cautioned you against it many times.”

Sif stiffened once more, “He was not a proper warrior of Asgard.”

Hekla looked at Sif with disappointment “He was your prince. Had Odin allowed him to not train as a warrior he would still be a prince. You owed him at least the minimum of respect his rank deserved. You had no right to treat Prince Thor any differently and by doing so you proved yourself, as without honor as you have accused Prince Loki of being over the centuries.”

Sif’s fingers sank deeply into her bound hair, staring hard at the table's surface, Loki had always been a source of annoyance and confusion. What her mother had now shared about Loki actions on behalf of the commoners and seidkonur was not something she had known nor would she have believed it, had it not come from her own mother since it vastly contrasted her own impressions of Loki. The boy who had chopped off her hair and turned it black was one she had always seen as a petty, cruel, spoiled brat, who had no regard for anyone and no honor. His preference for his tricks and his sly tongue had only served to solidify her opinions of him and had in turn encouraged her to treat him the way she had. Did it make her less honorable to have treated the two princes so differently? Hadn’t Loki’s actions proved her right in the end?

She ran a hand down her face before looking at her mother, “Perhaps I did not treat him as I did Thor but his own actions proved his dishonor.” She said in her own defense.

“Did they? Was avenging his mother and saving Prince Thor and the Midgardian dishonorable?” Hekla questioned.

Rising and collecting the now empty cups to take to the kitchen, she said, “Think over everything I have told you Sif and consider all that has transpired these past few years. Think of how honorably Prince Loki was treated by those who were his kin and by others like yourself."

Sighing she added, "One thing of which I have no doubt though is that, now with both Prince Loki and the Queen gone we are in even greater peril, than we were before.”

And as if in confirmation of her dire words, the ground under their feet, started to shake.

Vanaheim

Lord Forseti was sitting in his chambers contemplating everything that had transpired over the last few days of his visit and wondering if he should go to Alfheim or directly back to Asgard.

King Hœnir had been very proper in his welcome but had failed to completely hide his displeasure with the visit. This had truly surprised him because they had always shared a very warm relationship until now. His mind went back to the conversation they’d had when he first came to Vanaheim;

Forseti entered the formal viewing room where King Hœnir sat with two of his advisors and bowed, “Your highness.”

“Well met Lord Forseti.” King Hœnir gestured almost dismissively, waving off Forseti’s show of respect and gesturing for him to take a seat.

Instead of indulging in any further pleasantries as was usual given their relationship, Hœnir decided to get to the point. “I gather you were sent here for a purpose.”

Forseti nodded almost immediately “Ah, yes. Some of the seidkonur from Asgard have come here after a misunderstanding with the Crowned Prince, I have come hoping to find a resolution to their grievances and bring them home.”

Hœnir’s lips tightened as he had shared a look with Lady Sonja who was sitting next to him, “I am curious to know Lord Forseti, what part of the Prince’s insult did they misunderstand exactly?” Lady Sonja asked.

Realizing belatedly that they had already heard of what had transpired Forseti scrambled to form a response, sighing he said “I won’t make an excuse for the insult he offered to the seidkonur but I will say that since the prince has understandably been very distressed after losing his mother and brother, his actions should perhaps be considered in light of this fact and that he should be offered the opportunity to make amends.”

“Hmm..and if the prince is so eager to make amends, why did the Allfather send you and not him?” Hœnir asked.

“The Allfather thought that they would perhaps be more willing to talk to me first seeing as they are justifiably angry with the prince.” Forseti said, skipping over the fact that the Prince was currently on a completely different realm.

“Hmm..” Hœnir’s blue eyes narrowed as he studied Forseti, there was a shrewdness to them that had never been present in any of the interactions they had had before. “Tell me Lord Forseti why Prince Thor, the son of a King and Queen, both seidkonur, brother of one of the most powerful seidmadr in all the realms and a man who himself wields a seidr enchanted hammer would call all seidkonur ergi?”

Forseti understood that what had transpired was being taken with all this seriousness because Vanaheim was proud of its seidkonur and even more so of the late Queen, who had been one of the most talented seidkona in all the realms. “To be perfectly honest all of us were shocked to hear of him having offered such an insult, as you know the prince is fond of keeping the company of warriors who often hold such beliefs or perhaps it was the dark turn Prince Loki took that influenced his thoughts, truly I do not know for sure what caused him to do so.” He confessed.

Instead of being satisfied by his answer Hœnir leaned forward and questioned, “Speaking of Prince Loki, tell me Lord Forseti what exactly transpired there, how did he come to be on Midgard, why was he imprisoned without a trial or kept from attending the Queens funeral and most importantly, if Prince Thor grieves his death as much as you claim, why has there been no funeral for him?”

Forseti visibly paused before sighing, shoulders slumping forward ever so slightly. “I myself do not know what transpired on Midgard, the Allfather was enraged at the time and entertained no council before he imprisoned the prince and disowned him, which is also why I believe he was not granted his right to attend the late Queens funeral.” Hœnir’s brow quirked at the explanations he had been offered, his expression clearly unimpressed.

Another sigh before Forseti plodded forward. “As for Prince Loki’s funeral, since no body was retrieved no rites were performed, though on his return Prince Thor did speak of how Prince Loki redeemed himself by avenging the late Queen's death and saving Prince Thor and the Midgardian’s life.”

“Hmm…” Hœnir turned away slightly, staring distantly as he thought through what he now thankfully already knew regarding the events that had transpired, comparing it with the sparse information Forseti was offering. “What is the current state of Asgard?”

“Asgard is rebuilding after the attacks, it is why having the seidkonur come back is so vital, as for more than that I apologize but I am not at liberty to say.” Forseti pressed his lips together, silent emphasis to his words that he would not betray his realm or his King.

“You would say nothing even if it were to mean a death sentence to remain silent?”

Hœnir could see surprise and then fear in the Æsir’s eyes, as he considered that, but in spite of it he replied without hesitation,” Yes. I am loyal to my king.”

“Most curious…” Hœnir said as he rose from his chair and crossed to a window.

Forseti watched him silently for a moment before asking cautiously, “What is?”

“The kind of blind loyalty that the AllFather has managed to gain from even the very few I would name as wise and clever on Asgard.” Hœnir answered while looking out. Then he turned and pinned Forseti to his spot with his gaze. “Lady Sonja will take your request for a meeting to the seidkonur and you will be permitted to meet them only if they consent to it. Vanaheim might be allied with Asgard but I will not allow those who have come here for sanctuary to be wronged any more than they already have been.”

Now that he thought about it, the fact that Hœnir had accepted his admittedly inadequate answers without further prodding was strange, Hœnir's comment on his loyalty being blind had also been disquieting, making him wonder what he might have overlooked. While he could accept that the actions of the royal family had been less than proper over the last few years, it was scarcely his place to offer unsolicited advice to the king. But perhaps he would have to look into matters once he was back to see if he had missed something significant.

Over the last few days of his stay he had had the distinct feeling that something was going on here on Vanaheim, that was connected to what had transpired on Asgard, though given how little information had been shared even with the Queen's own family, he could not guess what it might be. Though everything appeared normal on the surface, he had noticed the rather critical and censured looks that had been directed his way and the lowering of voices and halt in conversations when he was around.

Then there was also the fact that Lady Sonja had finally approached him yesterday and had told him that barring two, all the other seidkonur that had come here from Asgard had left for Alfheim within a day of their arrival. While that in itself was not strange given how most skilled seidkonur had deep ties with Alfheim given their abundance of magicks and masters, the timing of the matter was suspicious. He had also noticed the absence of a number of known warriors and mages often seen in the councils or halls of the palace.

The two seidkonur that remained had refused to meet with him, which at this point was no longer surprising. Maybe he would have better luck on Alfheim if he were to give them some more time to cool their tempers by going back to Asgard first for a few days, he thought. Before he could come to a decision however, there was a knock on the door, getting up he opened the door to find a page waiting for him.

“My Lord, this missive has arrived for you from Asgard.” He said, bowing low and offering the scroll that carried the chief of council's seal on it.

Taking the scroll and scanning its contents, Forseti sighed, looks like the decision had been made for him. Looking at the page who was waiting in case there was an answer he must carry, he said, “Have the servants sent here to pack and transport my belongings to the Bifrost site.”

“Aye, my Lord.”

Midgard

Natasha Romanoff was sitting on a bench in a park in Sweden scanning through the newspaper for any new news on the Accords and the Avengers. She had not wasted time after the mess and had quickly gone to one of her hideouts to retrieve the paperwork for a few of her aliases so that she could disappear. After a quick haircut and color, a few plane tickets to muddy the trail, she had been able to finally settle down and wait for things to blow over.

“Hiding in plain sight was always one of your better talents.” said a voice from behind her.

Her lips quirked in a smile as she recognized the speaker and turned around to face him. “Fury.”

Eye narrowed, Fury walked forward and sat down next to her. Once Romanoff got a good look at him, her face smoothed out and her posture became rigid. She knew he was pissed.

“I’m not going to ask you what the hell were you thinking, doing what you did, because seriously from what I can see it’s clear that you weren’t.” Fury said his voice thick with disappointment and anger. “I gave you one order Romanoff right at the beginning when I sent you in, to shadow Stark, did it not occur to you that that order might have been given for both Shield’s safety and your own?”

Natasha blinked, surprised by his tone and question. “Rodger’s was not going to stop, I had to let him go before he caused even more damages.” she said, defending her actions.

“That kind of a bullshit excuse is not going to fly with me, Romanoff. You could have easily incapacitated him, we both know that. You simply chose not to. And that has led to Tony being injured to an extent where they weren’t sure he would actually survive.” he said, voice deadly calm.

“He did survive, I saw the press release that stated that he had been released from the hospital. And you can’t blame me for what happened between him and Rodgers, I had no hand in that.” Natasha said with a shrug.

Fury laughed an ugly laugh with no mirth in it. “Oh no Romanoff, you do hold a ton of blame in what happened. Not only were you not there to back him up but Tony found out about his parents in Siberia. Information that both you and Rodgers withheld from him.” When he saw her eyes widen in surprise at the information he nodded and asked, “Tell me Romanoff, did you ever wonder why I ordered you to always play nice with Tony? Why I chose to bring him on as a consultant and not as an Avenger?”

“Please, I know why, he was a consultant because you didn’t think he had what it took to be a hero, but you needed his tech and resources so playing nice with him was the only way to appease his ego and create a win-win situation for Shield.” Natasha scoffed, confident in her own abilities to not miss a thing.

Fury gave her a look of disbelief and then chuckled, “You actually believe that don’t you? You believe the bullshit assessment we created to try and manipulate Stark.” shaking his head now he continued “Every action that Tony has taken since the day he became Iron Man fits every definition of a hero ever made. I didn’t want him as an Avenger because I could see that he cared too much and that he had a conscience and a moral code that would make him disagree with some of the darker but necessary things we had to sometimes do. And most importantly because he is a man that would die giving everything that he had. So I pulled him off the team to protect him.”

“As for asking you to play nice with him, tell me Romanoff what is the common denominator between Stane, Vanko, Killian and Ultron?” He questioned in a cold voice.

Natasha snorted, “Stark.”

Fury stood and shook his head at her, “Wrong again, yes they each hurt Stark, but the common denominator is that every one of them is dead. That’s why you were ordered to play nice with him. Stark does not forgive or forget, he salts the earth with those who cross him. And given his brains and the resources at his disposal, playing nice was the smartest move we had to ensure self preservation.” Fury clucked mockingly, “Never thought the always sharp Widow would miss something as obvious as that.”

A beat of silence passed as Natasha looked down and thought over that. She remembered the last thing she’d said to Stark; I'm not the one that needs to watch their back. They had been talking about Ross then, but now, Stark would definitely see what she had done as a betrayal. So she would most definitely have to watch her back. In fact getting back together with the others might be the safest option.

She looked up to ask Fury if he would help but he was already walking away. “Good luck Romanoff, you’re going to need it.”