Part 1: Ragnarok
The Hall of Stars never changed. It was a construct, existing out of time and space, formed by the combined strengths of the norns. It was constant, eternal. Darcy walked along the cold floor, feet bare, between the branches of Yggdrasil. She could hear the power flowing through the tree limbs, a faint, wistful melody. It sang to her, the Mother of the Ways, pulsing in time to her own heart beat.
The megaliths were exactly where they had always been, four giant guardians of black volcanic stone. In the center of the square rested the bluestone altar, weathered gray and covered in lichen. Darcy stood beside the northern megalith, almost afraid to enter the barrier formed by the stones. But she had a duty, and she needed to know.
When she stepped forward, the invisible barrier parted for her like a curtain, and she passed effortlessly through. She made her way to the altar, step by wary step, until she stood before it.
It was empty.
Darcy took a deep, shaky breath and stepped backwards. Ragnarok was gone. It should have rested atop the altar in the form of an ancient dagger, inert and awaiting the moment it would be unleashed. But it was gone.
“Ragnarok demands sacrifice,” said a voice behind Darcy. “But I am sure you know that, now.”
Darcy turned around. Her sister, Urd, stood at the edge of the barrier, watching her with ice blue eyes. Darcy resisted the urge to make a face. Of her seven remaining sisters, Darcy got along with Urd the least, mostly due to the other norn’s disdain for Darcy’s human vessel. Darcy had hoped that Wyrd, the new Eldest, would be the one to meet her here.
“I’ve already sacrificed to Ragnarok,” Darcy said bitterly. “I lost my baby. What more does it want?”
“Ragnarok is inevitable, little sister,” Urd said, stepping forward. “It will come, whether we will it to or no. Clearly its time is fast approaching, or it would not have taken a host.”
“A host?” Darcy echoed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Urd gestured toward Darcy. “You, my dear sister. When Ragnarok comes, it will be unleashed by you. Surely you have already felt its power.”
“How do I get rid of it?” Darcy demanded. “I don’t want it. I don’t want that responsibility.”
“Then you should not have taken it up in the first place,” Urd said, shrugging her shoulders.
“How else was I supposed to stop Skuld?” Darcy asked angrily. “I didn’t have much of a choice.”
“There is always a choice, little sister,” Urd replied. “This was the one you made.”
“I thought Loki was supposed to start Ragnarok, not me,” Darcy said, crossing her arms.
“Think, child,” Urd told her. “The times you have used Ragnarok’s power. For what purpose?”
“To save Loki,” Darcy admitted. “Great. So what am I supposed to do? Make sure he never gets into trouble ever again?”
“There is no reason to fear Ragnarok,” Urd said, clasping her hands in front of her. “It is a time of rebirth as well as destruction. The universe will be made anew.”
“I kind of like this universe,” Darcy complained, pressing her hand over her stomach. Her unborn son was developed enough that she could read his soul effortlessly; utterly innocent and vulnerable.
“We cannot fight fate, dear sister,” Urd said, shrugging again. “Even we are mere instruments of its unraveling.”
“I believe we make our own fate,” Darcy argued. “All of us.”
Urd smiled, a rare expression on her face. “The Trickster was a good match for you, Sigyn. The both of you are determined to turn the universe on it’s head. Who knows. Perhaps you will succeed.”
Darcy looked down at the empty altar again. “I’m not giving up,” she said stubbornly. “Not by a long shot.”
“If anyone can fight fate, it will be you, little sister,” Urd said, still smiling. “I have no doubt of it.”
Darcy eyed Urd warily. “Thanks,” she said when she realized her sister had no ulterior meaning behind her words.
Darcy opened her eyes and remained where she was for a moment, lying on her back in her bed, staring up at the ceiling. The bed shifted next to her, and Loki appeared, leaning over her.
“Darcy?” he asked. “Did you find the answers you sought?”
Darcy sighed. “Well, I have good news, and I have bad news.”
Part 2: Sympathy
Darcy wrung her hands together as the servant let her into the sitting room of the guest chambers. Angrboda was standing in the middle of the room by a cluster of couches and chairs, her own hands clasped in front of her. She was wearing a dark gray gown, almost the same color as her skin, her hair pulled back in a simple braid.
The servant bowed to Angrboda and then excused herself, leaving the two women alone. Darcy swallowed nervously.
“I know I’m probably the last person you want to see right now,” she blurted into the awkward silence.
Angrboda took a deep breath. “No, of course not, my lady. You are most welcome. Please, come and sit.”
Darcy stepped forward and took a chair opposite Angrboda, who sat down as well. For a moment they sat staring down at their hands, the silence getting even more awkward. Finally Darcy couldn’t take it any more.
“I am so sorry,” she said at length, looking up at Angrboda. “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through right now.”
Angrboda didn’t answer right away. “It… is not easy,” she admitted. She looked up at Darcy. “I should thank you, though, Lady Darcy.”
Darcy blinked in surprise. “Thank me ?” she echoed in disbelief. “Why?”
“My daughter was taken from me by Skuld,” Angrboda said softly. “Raised to be a tool for her purposes, to be an instrument of destruction. You freed her from that by killing Skuld.”
“I didn’t free her,” Darcy said, shaking her head. “All I did was paint a huge target on Loki’s back.”
“Without Skuld, there is now a hope for Hela’s redemption,” Angrboda replied. “She is only a child. There is a chance we may yet change her mind.”
“I hope so, for everyone’s sake,” Darcy said. She took a deep breath. “I can’t help but feel responsible though. Skuld was my sister.”
“You are not responsible for her actions, Lady Darcy,” Angrboda said, gazing evenly at Darcy with her solid black eyes. “Skuld made her own choices. If anyone is at fault, it is I, for relinquishing custody of my daughter.”
Darcy pressed her lips together. “You had no reason not to trust Skuld. She was a norn. How were you supposed to know she wanted to end the universe?”
Angrboda held up her hands, palm up. “Even so, my lady.”
“Call me Darcy,” Darcy instructed. “God knows you’ve earned it.”
Angrboda nodded silently and looked down. The silence did not feel so awkward this time. Darcy licked her lips and swallowed. “You know Loki won’t give up, right?” she asked. “He’s not going to stop until he finds her.”
Angrboda smiled faintly. “Loki is a good man, and keeps his word. If he says he will find her, he will. I have no doubt of it.” She nodded again, as if to herself. “He is a good father.”
Darcy bit her lip and looked down, unsure of how to answer that. Angrboda cleared her throat after a moment. “If I may be so bold… Darcy,” she said. Darcy looked up. “I have noticed Lady Hariasa’s actions,” Angrboda went on, and paused when Darcy grimaced. “She seems quite fixated on Loki.”
“That would be an understatement,” Darcy muttered bitterly.
Angrboda tilted her head. “I have no intention of doing the same, Darcy. Loki and I parted ways some time ago, with the understanding that our time together was ended. We are friends, nothing more.”
Darcy smiled ruefully. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I’m not the jealous type, I swear I’m not, but Hariasa is making me paranoid.”
“She is being highly inappropriate,” Angrboda agreed.
Darcy nodded. “Thanks,” she said again. “But I’m not here to talk about her. I’m here for you. Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do for you?”
Angrboda visibly hesitated, then asked in an uncertain voice, “If Loki finds Hela… when he finds her, will you…” she trailed off.
“Just ask,” Darcy encouraged her.
Angrboda looked up at Darcy. It was difficult to read her monochrome expression, but Darcy could feel her concern broadcasting off her in waves. “If you are faced with her, please remember that she is a child, and her actions are not her own. Please do not harm her.”
Darcy swallowed. “I’ll do my best,” she said.
Angrboda nodded. “That is all I can ask.”
Part 3: Wolf
“You have got to be kidding me,” Darcy said flatly, staring at the object in Loki’s arms. He cradled it closer to his chest protectively, giving her a disapproving look. “ This is what you’ve been working on the last few weeks?”
“Yes,” Loki said defensively, frowning at her.
Darcy pinched the bridge of her nose. “Babe, we are about to have seven children. Are you sure this was the best idea now ?”
“He will be a companion and guardian for the girls,” Loki protested. The puppy in his arms yawned widely and blinked its eyes at Darcy.
She took a deep breath and lowered her hand, which came to rest on her swollen abdomen. “We are going to have a newborn in less than three months, and you got a dog,” she said, fighting to keep her voice even.
“He is not a dog ,” Loki corrected. “He is a wolf. And I did not merely acquire him. I created him.”
Darcy stopped and stared at her husband. “What do you mean, you created him?” she demanded.
The wolf cub squirmed in Loki’s arms, trying to get in a more comfortable position. It was young, just barely old enough to open its eyes, but not old enough to be weaned. Loki shifted it carefully, freeing one hand to rest on the cub’s back.
“He is a magical construct,” Loki explained. “I used seidr and my own life-force to imbue him with intelligence and long life.”
Darcy blinked a couple of times. “Your own life force,” she echoed. Loki nodded. Darcy thought for a moment. “Loki, are you saying that wolf cub is your offspring ?”
Loki shifted his weight and glanced away before looking back at her. “…Technically, yes.”
Darcy giggled, surprising herself. “Oh, boy,” she said, amused despite herself. “Babe, did you think at all that this might be why you’re called ‘Father of Monsters’?”
“He is not a monster,” Loki protested.
“A wolf with intelligence and long life?” Darcy challenged. “Some people might consider that a monster.”
Loki cradled the cub closer. “You cannot call him that,” he told her. “He can understand you.”
Darcy rolled her eyes and held out her arms. “Give him here,” she ordered. Loki stared at her for a moment. She made grabby hands at him. “Give me my step-son. I might as well get to know him, too.”
Loki smiled, briefly and faintly, but still crossed the sitting room to carefully transfer the cub into Darcy’s arms. He was a good size already, and his paws and ears were adorably over-sized. He was steel gray over most of his body, with black on his face, ears, and legs. His eyes were a green the exact same shade as Loki’s.
“Hey, there, little guy,” Darcy cooed. Because she did like dogs and hey, he was pretty cute. “What’s your name, huh?” She looked up at Loki. “What’s his name?”
“Fenris,” he told her, scratching the cub between his ears.
“Hi, Fenris,” Darcy said. “Oh, your sisters are gonna love you.”
“Do you think they will?” Loki asked hopefully.
“Dude, our kids are like the most deprived children on the planet,” Darcy told him. “They still can’t believe they get to eat as much as they want and sleep in real beds. Yes. They are gonna love him.”
The corner of Loki’s mouth curled up. “Good,” he said softly.
Part 4: Monster
The contractions started halfway through the morning session of the trade negotiations. Darcy hadn’t been looking forward to sitting through another day of hearing tradesmen argue over import laws. To be honest, she hadn’t expected the negotiations to last over eight months in the first place. On top of that, Loki wasn’t even there to break up the tedium. He’d received a lead on Hela’s whereabouts from a source on Vanaheim, and he’d gone to investigate.
Darcy had spent most of the night before tossing and turning, unable to find a comfortable position. She was at 42 weeks, a full 15 days past her due date. The baby had been head down for three days, but Eir had held off on inducing birth because the baby was unusually small for this stage of development, and could use the few extra days.
Darcy had pointed out that Loki had been an unusually small infant as well, but had only gotten pointed looks in return.
When the contractions started, she didn’t even notice it because they didn’t hurt. She just thought it was the chair she was sitting in causing her to cramp up. She got to her feet and paced back and forth for a bit, one hand resting on the small of her back. The other delegates didn’t comment; they were used to Darcy moving around in search of a more comfortable position.
Then a particularly intense spasm hit, and Darcy stopped in her tracks, grabbing the nearest chair back to keep her balance. Angrboda looked up at Darcy’s faint gasp, frowning slightly.
“Lady Darcy, are you well?” the Niflungar princess asked courteously.
Darcy pressed a hand to her rounded stomach and turned her senses inward. She looked up at Angrboda. “I think I’m in labor,” she said, feeling stunned. The two male delegates she was standing next to recoiled away from her as if she’d announced she had an infectious disease, but Odin and Angrboda both rose to their feet.
“Tell Eir that Lady Darcy is on her way to the healing rooms,” Odin instructed a nearby Einherjar. “And find my wife, tell her also.”
Angrboda circled the table and took Darcy’s arm. “Can you walk, or shall I send for a litter?” she asked.
“I can walk,” Darcy said quickly. “Can--can someone find Loki, maybe? Tell him the baby’s coming?”
“I will send a messenger to Heimdall to bring him home,” Odin promised, surprising Darcy by coming around to take her other arm. “This council is dismissed until the morrow,” he announced as he and Angrboda helped Darcy out of the room.
“This feels really, really weird,” Darcy complained as they made their way towards the healing rooms. “I thought it would hurt more.”
“Oh, the pain comes later, my friend,” Angrboda assured her. “There will be plenty of time for that.”
“Awesome,” Darcy muttered.
“Let us hope my grandson does not take so long as Thor,” Odin said. “He kept us waiting nearly two days.”
“Not. Helping,” Darcy growled, glaring at her father-in-law. He only shrugged back at her.
Due to the secrecy around the child’s heritage, only Eir and Frigga would be attending Darcy during the birth, and both women were in the healing rooms when Darcy arrived.
“Darcy, how do you feel?” Eir demanded as soon as they entered the hall.
“Like I’ve got the worst case of cramps in my life,” Darcy replied, trying not to be snarky.
Angrboda and Odin were thanked but left in the main hall while Darcy was taken to a private room. Frigga helped her change out of her formal gown into a plain white shift, and then Eir held a small, cone-shaped device to Darcy’s stomach while she studied an image on a transparent tablet.
“Everything seems to be in order,” Eir announced, turning to show Darcy the image.
Baby Elden strongly resembled Loki, in that his skin was an ice blue color, ridged with Jotun clan markings. He had a full head of jet-black hair and Darcy knew that his eyes, though closed, were the same color as hers.
“Almost here,” Darcy whispered, and then lost her breath when another contraction hit.
“Not necessarily,” Frigga warned. “I was in labor with Thor for nearly two days.”
“Somehow I’m not surprised,” Darcy retorted.
There was a brisk knock on the door before it was flung open. Frigga and Eir both turned to chastise the intruder when they saw it was Wyrd, still wearing a heavy overcoat to combat the almost-perpetual Niflungar winter.
“I am here!” she announced, stripping the coat off and flinging it carelessly into a corner. “I only received word a few hours ago and I came as quick as I could. Sigyn! How are you? How do you feel?”
“Everything just started,” Darcy assured her, holding her arms out to her sister. Wyrd came over and hugged her briskly. “You’re right on time.”
“Excellent!” Wyrd exclaimed. “You know, I have been present at every birth among our Sisterhood save two, and that was only because I’d just taken a new vessel and hadn’t awoken yet.”
“I know, you told me that when I told you I was pregnant,” Darcy said dryly.
Wyrd patted her hand. “Everything will be fine, my dear. Worry you not.”
Darcy shook her head. “I’m not worried.”
Hela was close, Loki knew it. By now he knew the taste of her magic, and it permeated the whole city of Fyrisvellir. Hela had spent some time here, several weeks, by his guess. This was the first solid lead he had received since he had sent secret messages to his various contacts on the other realms. He was reluctant to leave Darcy so soon to the birth of their son, but he had made a promise, to himself and to Angrboda. He would find Hela, and he would bring her home.
He had been tracking her through the city for three days now. She was clever, and hid her tracks well, even when she did not know she was being followed. Why she was in the city, he did not know, but there was time enough for that, later.
It was long past time for him to hunt her down. His patience was not aging well, so he decided to set a trap for her, instead. She had visited a trader every day she had been in this city, asking about rare and powerful magical devices. So he visited the same trader and suggested that he might, for a hefty fee, help Loki find a buyer for a certain rare magical object. Simple enough, yes, but Hela was a child. A clever and powerful child, yes, but still a child.
he sat at an outdoor table at a small but pleasant tea house to wait. He could not see the tradesman’s shop from where he sat, but his trap was set and he could be there in seconds. It was just a matter of time. So when Hela sat down at the table opposite him, he did not react.
“Did you really think you could fool me with some trinket?” she asked in a disparaging manner.
“It worked, did it not?” Loki asked, putting down his cup. “I would advise against attempting to attack me. Vanaheim is not Midgard. The authorities here would not take kindly to such a disturbance.”
Hela tilted her head. Now that he knew what he was looking for, she really did resemble him strongly. They had the same mouth, the same cheekbones. Her eyes, though, they were her mother’s, and not simply because of the color.
“You do not seek revenge?” she asked, sounding truly curious and a bit sceptical.
“No,” Loki told her honestly. He leaned forward and she tensed, but he only poured hot water from the kettle into the second, empty cup that had been waiting. “I wish to speak peacefully.”
She eyed him warily for a moment. “Why?” she demanded.
“I wish to know what Skuld told you of your parents,” Loki asked evenly, priding himself that he gave nothing away in his voice.
“My parents are dead,” Hela said flatly. “That is why Skuld took me in, when no one else was willing.”
“Skuld lied to you,” Loki told her, not harshly. “Your mother yet lives, and has been seeking after you.”
Hela stiffened, her eyes widening slightly. “No,” she said at length, firmly, as if trying to convince herself. “I do not believe you.”
“Your mother’s name is Angrboda,” Loki said softly. “She is the granddaughter of the King of Niflheim. She was very young when you were born, and Skuld came to her and took you away.”
Hela’s face twisted in anger. “This is some trick of yours, to cloud my mind. I know your games, son of Odin. I will not fall prey to them.”
“I assure you I play no games,” Loki said mildly. “I only wish to tell you the truth. You were taken from one who would have loved and cared for you, and Skuld did nothing but form you into a weapon to wield, as she did to me.”
“If you played no games, then why is he here?” Hela spat, jumping to her feet. Loki rose also, and turned to see who she referred to. Thor strode up the street towards them, clad in simple garments intended to go unnoticed. When he turned back to Hela, she was gone.
“Aðumbla’s teats,” Loki spat, and whirled on Thor as he approached. “What are you doing here?” he snarled. “Did I not leave instructions I was not to be followed?”
Thor blinked at him, unexpecting such ire. “I have come to fetch you home, brother,” he said, sounding uncertain of himself.
“You know what I am attempting to do here!” Loki growled at him, keeping his voice low enough to prevent eavesdropping. “This is the closest I have been in months . I had her before me!”
Thor stared at him for a moment, and then said bluntly, “Darcy’s time has come.”
It was Loki’s turn to stare. “What did you say?” he asked.
“Your son, brother,” Thor told him patiently. “It is time.”
Loki found himself robbed of both anger and words. “Oh,” he said. Then he cursed himself. Of course the child would come while he was away. That was what he deserved for leaving his wife at so delicate a time. He recovered himself enough to glare at Thor once more. “Why are we standing here, then?” he snapped. “Where is the Bifrost site?”
Despite the speed at which the Bifrost carried them across the void of space, it was still precious hours before they reached the Healing Rooms. Much of the royal court had gathered in the waiting hall, eager to be the first to hear the news of the newborn prince. Loki passed them without a second glance, leaving Thor behind as he entered the private birthing chamber.
His mother met him at the door, stripping his traveling cloak from his shoulders. “It should not be long now,” she said excitedly. “It would seem this child is eager to enter the world.”
Darcy was propped up by a mountain of cushions, her sister Wyrd sitting beside her and clutching her hand. Her dark hair was pulled away from her face, which was dewed with sweat. Darcy looked up as he approached the bed.
“Oh, thank god ,” she panted, reaching out her free hand towards him. “I was afraid you wouldn’t make it.”
“I am sorry, elskede ,” he told her softly, pressing her knuckles to his lips. “I would not have left if I had known.”
“It’s okay, you’re here now,” she told him.
The next few hours were the most horrific Loki had ever endured, including his time with Skuld. Darcy was so clearly struggling, so clearly in pain, and there was nothing he could do to save her from it. Worse, he had inflicted it on her. He vowed to himself, silently, that she would never undergo this experience again, under any circumstances.
It was even worse at the end, when she screamed and clutched his hand with all her strength, when her white shift and the bedclothes were spotted with blood and other fluids, when Eir calmly told her to push, now, one last time .
And then it was over, and Darcy was laying back against the pillows, panting for breath, and so pale that he could not look away from her face, even when he heard the reedy wail from the infant in Eir’s hands.
“Wait,” Darcy said, her eyes fixed on Eir and Frigga. “Wait. I want to see him before.”
Loki turned to look at the child, his son , and despite seeing the images, despite preparing himself for this moment, it was still a shock to see the blue skin and scar-like markings as the infant wriggled weakly in Eir’s hands. Frigga wrapped the child in a snow-white blanket and offered him to Darcy.
Darcy cradled the infant against her chest, moving the blanket aside so she could see his face. “Hi,” she said in a broken voice. “Oh. You’re beautiful .”
And Loki knew she meant it, despite the color of the child’s skin, despite the markings on his body. She truly meant it.
“Loki,” Darcy called softly. “Look at him. Isn’t he perfect ?”
He leaned forward so he could see the child’s face. He could not find the words to speak. His son was a Jotun. That much was painfully obvious. He could not cast aside the part of him conditioned to hate that, to hate himself.
His son . He was small, and utterly perfect in every way, innocent and helpless and beautiful and his . Whatever anyone else said, this was his son and every cell in his being loved him, despite the blue skin.
And then the infant opened his eyes, squinting near-sightedly up at Darcy as he mewled in protest at the world that was too big and too bright. Loki saw human eyes, deep blue, exactly like Darcy’s. He swallowed thickly.
“Yes,” he finally agreed, his voice hoarse. “He is perfect.”
If this is what it meant to be the Father of Monsters, then Loki was willing to bear that title.