He remembered it. How it felt, how the instinct to survive beat out all of his intentions. But it had been too late to struggle. He remembered the snapping of his own neck. That hadn’t hurt. After that he’d felt nothing but regret, fear, and determination as everything went dark, as if by force of will alone Loki could make himself manifest beyond his own death.
As he awoke—something he hadn’t been certain would even happen—Loki wasn’t sure what had done the trick exactly, but if he remembered then he had to still be himself. If he had that then he had all he needed to stage a comeback. His soul shards, scattered all over the galaxy and beyond, were the key to making that happen. Loki, after failing to die in Svartalfheim by virtue of luck alone, had decided he wasn’t leaving his death to chance again.
He’d told Thor that he had destroyed Odin’s collection of dark magic tomes, but he hadn’t. There was too much at stake. His very life. And dark magic was uniquely suited for his needs in this regard. Slowly, as he ruled Asgard in his father’s guise, Loki had studied those tomes, learned their secrets. He’d done his own experiments, small things to test the underlying theories and expand the spells given. He never could just use anything ordinary, not even dark magic, and even the Allfather had been lured to his own near destruction by it. Loki had to be careful or risk suffering the same fate with nobody to rescue him as he’d done for Odin. Loki had been truly alone as never before. When he was satisfied the foundations of his knowledge were solid and accurate, Loki began his work.
A soul shard was perhaps a fanciful name. It wasn’t his soul that Loki imbued the artifacts with; they were more like anchors. Each item was carefully bound with his essence, serving to keep him linked to the world of the living. He’d always been good at both bindings and charms. The soul shards were the culmination of that skill, intended to make Loki exceedingly hard to kill. It was really the first thing a mage of any quality should attempt, in his opinion. But maybe other mages didn’t have quite as many people trying to kill them.
Once they’d all been created, Loki had used some of his time ruling as Odin to disperse them to what he thought would be safe locations. To resurrect him, they would need to be gathered and reunited, at least a majority of them. Each one provided clues to where the others lay. There was no map to collect them all. That information lay only in Loki’s head. Loki always had a back up plan, so he’d made more soul shards than were strictly necessary to get the job done. It was a good thing too since one of them had been his mother’s favorite tree in Asgard.
A native of Vanaheim, the Rúnknǫttr tree in Frigga’s private gardens had also been a favorite of Loki’s. It stood tall and sturdy, blue leaf covered branches trailing down like a fountain. As a boy, Frigga had taken Loki to the gardens to instruct him on plant lore for spells and potions. He’d found it boring at first, preferring to play beneath the tree where he could hide from view. With a father like Odin and someone like Heimdall always on guard, privacy was something Loki had always craved and sought out. The tree had no magical properties by which to grant that, but Loki liked to pretend it did. Later, it was beneath that tree that he’d hidden away with Sif, stealing kisses away from all those who wanted something else for them. It was his one concession to sentiment, and it had been destroyed along with the rest of Asgard.
Loki wondered what had become of the Asgardian survivors. He knew some had managed to escape the Sessrúmnir before he and Thor had faced Thanos.
Had he survived? Loki certainly hoped so. His own sacrifice would have been a colossal waste otherwise. Thanos always did love his own twisted logic. Half the universe. Everything always in halves. One side against the other. It felt familiar to Loki, and he abhorred it. He’d used it against the mad Titan though. If one Asgardian prince was dead, then the other must live according to Thanos’ own rules. And now Loki had to find him.
Blinking in dim light, he found himself beneath an enormous leafy canopy. He could hear water nearby, a trickle and slosh accompanied by a low rumble that seemed reminiscent of a waterfall. Slowly, Loki attempted to lift an arm, checking to see if he was intact before trying more.
He blinked again, turning his head. He feared for the worst, but instead found his arm was entangled in some kind of woody vine. He tried the other arm, then his legs. All were bound in a similar fashion. He cried out with alarm.
A rich chuckle answered him, and Loki looked around, thrashing on the ground to find the source.
“Calm yourself, child,” came a hoarse croak.
“Release me!” Loki demanded, finally finding his voice.
The hoarse voice laughed. Loki still couldn’t see anyone.
“The princeling commands us!” another voice, higher and softer, laughed.
“I am a king!” Loki growled.
“We know who you are, Loki, son of Laufey, son of Odin, prince of two realms, Trickster, Silvertongue.” Her voice was musical as she announced his titles.
“Well, that’s nice,” Loki grumbled. “And you are?”
It was as if a veil parted and before him stood three women: a maiden, a mother, and a crone. Loki recognized them instantly and gasped.
Together, the three goddesses wove the fates of every living being. The maiden was called Skuld and represented the future, what was to come. The crone was of the past, what once was. Her name was Urðr. Between them, the goddess of the present, of that which was coming into being, was Verðandi. Everyone in Asgard knew the Norns, even as children. Those with oracular gifts, like Loki’s mother Frigga’d had, were said to be linked with the Norns, even. Some believed them protectors. Others, like Loki, considered them capricious, even meddlesome. Though now was not a good time to voice that opinion, he realized.
“Your graces,” Loki greeted them with as much humility and graciousness as his awkward position allowed. “What an unexpected surprise.”
“What did you expect?” Verðandi asked.
Loki managed a shrug despite his bondage. “I’m sure I could explain it much better if I was vertical.”
She snorted, but with a wave of her hand, what Loki had come to recognize as the roots of Yggdrasil itself unwound from around his limbs. He climbed to his feet, dusting himself off with a slightly offended air. “That’s better.”
“Now explain yourself, Odinson,” Urðr commanded.
It was Loki’s turn to laugh. “I thought you were supposed to already know all of that. Isn’t that your job?”
“Do not sass us, boy!” Urðr snapped.
“I thought you said you knew who I was.” Loki shook his head slowly. It wasn’t as if sass should come as a surprise to them if so.
“Shouldn’t have released him,” Skuld commented wryly but made no move to bind him again. Urðr shook her head.
Loki spread out his arms, turning a circle to take stock of his surroundings. It appeared they were very much at Urðarbrunnr just as the legends had described it. All around them the roots of the great World Tree Yggdrasil curled and wrapped, anchoring it within the cosmos. Upon its branches it was said all the realms sat. This well at its base where the Norns resided was used to water Yggdrasil and keep it healthy. That was the water Loki had heard. The leaves overhead made a lush tent overhead, blocking out most of the sky. Within their verdant shades, huge, twisting branches extended from the immense trunk. The scale of it was almost impossible to comprehend, the bark of the base near where he stood spreading out like a wall, it was so large. Loki knew the tree he saw now was just a metaphor for the larger reality of Yggdrasil, though.
The World Tree held all the Nine Realms in its boughs, spread out over the cosmos in a vast network that bound them. It was along those branches that Loki had previously learned to walk without the aid of the Bifrost, not the branches he now saw overhead. This was a magical construct, the whole place possibly just symbolic rather than literal. He’d long since given up believing there was a giant squirrel that ran through space to carry messages along the trunk of Yggdrasil. This well could be real or could be a symbol of something else entirely. Wells were held as mystical places of power and a tree needed water, he supposed. It fit well enough and described that which perhaps could not be described any other way.
“Well, I’m free now. Unless you plan to keep me here, we should probably discuss a plan of action.”
Urðr scowled. “No better than last time,” she muttered.
That got Loki’s attention. “I beg your pardon?”
“Shhh!” It was Verðandi’s hiss. Loki wasn’t sure if it was directed at him or at her fellow Norn.
“You must not,” Skuld cautioned, her eyes on Urðr. The other goddess nodded. Loki’s eyes darted between them with suspicion.
“Must not what?” he demanded.
“Remind you of your last time with us,” Urðr snapped. Skuld rolled her eyes.
Loki didn’t understand. “My last time? I’ve never been here before.”
“Hmmpf,” was all she replied with. “You sure about that, princeling?”
Loki opened his mouth to proclaim his certainty, but then shut it without uttering the words. Truth was, he wasn’t sure at all. He wasn’t sure of anything right now.
“I don’t remember being here before,” he finally said.
“Do you remember dying?” Skuld asked, her face showing genuine curiosity, in Loki’s opinion.
He nodded. “I remember.”
Urðr looked pleased to hear this, Verðandi confused. Skuld just nodded as if he’d just confirmed something to her.
“Not particularly pleasant, so if we could just move on?” He made an impatient gesture.
“Move on?” Urðr asked. A goddess of the past never moved on.
“Yes, it’s that thing you do when you leave something behind and get on it with things. I’d very much like to do that, so if you could just send me back to the land of the living, I’ll trouble you no longer with my presence.”
There was silence as the three goddesses drew together. They didn’t speak, just stared at him.
“What?” Loki demanded, becoming impatient. “This obviously isn’t where I was supposed to end up, so just send me back.”
“It is true we were not expecting you,” Verðandi confirmed.
“So I defied you again.” Loki sounded pleased. Perhaps too much so.
“There are many paths,” Skuld pointed out.
“To?” Loki knew a riddle game when he heard one.
“To any destination.”
“Then let this be my path back to where I came from.”
Verðandi sighed. “Where you came from no longer exists.”
“I didn’t mean Asgard,” Loki huffed.
“Neither did I.”
He gulped. “What do you mean then?”
“Your ship. It’s been destroyed.”
Loki felt his heart sink, his stomach tighten, which he found curious since he was dead. He’d always thought being dead might relieve him of some of those sensations. Apparently not. He still felt everything.
“And what of Thor?” he dared.
Urðr clucked her tongue. “You know we cannot tell you of his destiny any more than your mother could.” They both knew well the conditions of oracular sight. It was a gift with very specific rules and could be revoked if it was found to be abused.
Reminded of his mother, of Odin, of Thor’s possible death, Loki’s jaw tightened, along with his tone. “So you cannot send me back, or will not?”
“Does it make any difference if the answer is no?”
“Valhalla then. I died in battle, fighting to save Asgard. To save Thor. I have earned my place,” Loki insisted, chin jutting out stubbornly. It was a gamble and he knew it, but he didn’t let that show. “Send me to Valhalla.”
“That is not our decision to make,” Verðandi said, shaking her head. “If you were meant for Valhalla, you would be there already.”
Loki wanted to scream, to cry, to hit something. He’d died for Thor, for Asgard, and yet still he wasn’t good enough, not worthy. It was just as he’d suspected. Odin would have never allowed him to rule because he could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard. There would also never be a frost giant in Valhalla. Loki, simply by virtue of where he’d been born, would remain forever locked out of both places no matter what he did.
So be it.
He didn’t need them. He didn’t even need the Norns. All he needed right now was away. To be in this state would have to be enough. He would find his way. And if he couldn’t find a way, Loki would make one. It was what he’d always done. He felt it in his chest, somehow knew the truth: Thor wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be. Loki had to believe there was something left out there for him to remain tethered to. Thor must have escaped or all this was for nothing. It was a possibility Loki couldn’t bear to consider. Not yet.
“My sister,” he said casually, as if he already knew what he was seeking to confirm. Ever since they’d battled against Hela, Loki had a feeling that the goddess of death couldn’t just be killed. Not even by the likes of Surtur, who had destroyed Asgard. Hela’s power would be weakened significantly with Asgard gone, if what Odin said was true, but that didn’t mean she’d perished. Difficult to kill something that was already undead in a sense. And that was a big ‘if’ with Odin, who had lied so many times that Loki felt certain they were going to discover more of them in time. “Perhaps you could see fit to send me to her?”
“In Helheim?” Skuld asked, surprised.
Loki nodded. It wasn’t as if he had much of a choice left. And it confirmed that Hela was precisely where he’d expected her to be. Back in her ancient prison, though it wasn’t Odin that held her there now but more likely the threat of an unhappy fire giant. Loki thought he might be able to help with that, given the opportunity.
The Norns drew together to discuss his proposal, he assumed. Loki couldn’t make out what was said. It was Verðandi who finally beckoned to him.
“Loki, son of Odin, prince of Asgard, rightful king of Jotunheim,” she addressed him, using the same terms he’d used in his own oath, all save one.
“And God of Mischief,” Loki added with a wink.
She sighed and nodded again, as if aware they were making a mistake in acknowledging that.
“The Norns have agreed to allow you passage to Helheim. Finding Hela will have to be your own doing.”
“Finding her? What?” Loki sputtered, but it was too late. A gust of wind burst from behind the immense trunk of the tree and caught him. Loki felt it push against his chest, nearly lift him, then the Norns were gone. Left in their place was nothing but gloom in every direction.
So this must be Helheim, Loki thought. Lovely. No wonder Hela wanted out so badly. Leave it to Odin to imprison his wayward children in the ugliest circumstances possible. Thor had been lucky getting banished to Midgard in comparison.
Drawing his daggers, both still miraculously at his side in some rare benevolence at the hands of the Norns, Loki took a breath and set off into the dim haze of Helheim. He would find Hela, and then a way out, though if the opportunity for escape presented itself prior to finding his eldest sibling, Loki thought perhaps he could spare himself the family reunion after all.
- Bitter Winds Howl, Part 2
- Tempus Fugit | [Loki Seiðrmaðr MSL]
- Untouchable - The Mechanics of Illusion Magic | Loki MCU Meta
- You Cannot Bury A Broken Heart, Part 3 | [The Golden Age, MSL pre-Ragnarok, Loki, Frigga & Odin]
- After Jotunheim (Nothing Was Ever The Same) | [Loki & Sif - Swordhand & Silvertongue]