The Betrayal of Loki
Hark! Hear the tale of dastardly Heimdall,
Of daring Freja and wise Odin, father of the Gods
Listen to the Betrayal of Loki,
that barbarous and brute deed that led
To the downfall of Asgard, and the Doom of the Aesir
Chapter I: The Death of Baldur
One day, when the warm light of summer had just returned to the frozen wastes of Asgard, Loki and his blind companion Hodur ventured forth from the gates of Valhalla and into a forest clearing. The first saplings had just appeared on the trees in the orchards of Idun, stalks of corn danced in the wind in the pastures of Frigga, and the air was alive with the sound of many birds returning from their winter migrations. Loki felt his spirits rise as a fire rekindled from the ashes; and even Hodur, who was normally grim due to his handicap, let a smile pass over his lips. However, he could not stop himself from chiding Loki as he ran through the trees, golden hair waving in the wind, laughing feyly and oblivious to everything and everyone around him.
"Young jester, your wild emotions are taking hold of you once again. The birds in the trees have all taken flight from you as you scream at the top of your voice, and even the small creatures in the grass hide in the depths of the earth when your shadow passes overhead. You would do well to remember the lessons of winter, and steer away from reckless actions and mindless tomfoolery. Aesir of Fire, indeed!" At these words Loki became bitter at heart, replying, "After so long a winter, it is the least one can do to give thanks for the gifts the summer has brought you. But you merely lean on your walking stick, old man, with a grim look on your face, denying the very powers that gave you life. For without fire, what would you be? Merely a broken pile of clay, inactive and lame, which is not too far from what you are now!"
With Loki's rebuke, Hodur lost speech for a moment, outraged at the young God's audacity. Yet he was not akin to taking insults from a youngling, and in truth Loki's words had instilled in him a fire that was lost since birth. "So, you believe me weak, do you?” replied the Blind God. "I may be crippled in sight, but in other senses I far exceed you, blood-brother of Odin. So I say this: name any contest and I will win it, right before your eyes!" And Loki, seeing his opportunity, said, "Very well then, we shall have an archery contest."
He went over to a tree and crudely marked a circle in the midst of it with his talons. Then, believing that he had already won, exclaimed "Wait here, Hodur! I shall come back with our arrows." But going back to his home he found the quiver where he stored his arrows empty, and was outraged. "Hodur has certainly compromised me in some way! He seeks to delay my victory." Yet even as he spoke a devious plot came into his mind, and he said to himself, "I shall gather mistletoe from the forest to use instead of the feathered shafts, and foil Hodur's plan after all."
Now Loki had no knowledge of the prophecy of Frigga, which stated that Baldur, the son of Odin, would be killed by nothing other than a sprig of mistletoe, for he was impervious to all other weapons. With nothing on his mind save revenge on Hodur for his humiliation, he set off into the forest and gathered as many sprigs of the herb as he could find, and then returned to Hodur. However, what was awaiting him in the clearing was a dreadful sight. The foliage was parted, and between the withering branches lay a figure in the grass. It was Baldur, Odin's son, and a sprig of mistletoe lay between his lifeless eyes.
Chapter II: The Judgement of Loki
Loki rushed to the side of the fallen God, but it was already too late. Baldur's limbs were cold and lifeless, and a streak of blood lined his mouth. Loki, being a friend of Baldur in the days when they had played in the fields and pastures of Frigga together as children, would not accept his death and tried desperately to revive him. He tore the dreadful dart out of his forehead, causing dark blood to spurt out into the air. Putting forth all the powers of healing that he contained, he was able to restore some of the color to Baldur's lifeless expression for a few seconds, but as soon as he took his hands away the body again became dreadfully pale. Baldur was truly dead, and his spirit had long ago departed his body and descended into the gates of Hel. Then Loki, seeing that he could do nothing to help his fallen friend, put his hands to his head and wept, letting loose a dreadful cry into the air. This was how the Gods found him, leaning over Baldur's slain body, his hands and clothing stained with his blood, and a sprig of mistletoe lying between his feet.
Now Loki was brought forth to Valhalla to face judgement, as was often the custom in those days, although never for anyone so near; and a great assembly of Aesir was gathered there. At first no one could believe that the gentle trickster could commit such a fell deed, despite all the incriminating evidence. However, nonetheless Hodur was called to testify before the Gods, and Loki's heart leapt. For he knew that Hodur would tell the Gods everything about what befell that day, and how he had returned to his lodgings in the wilderness to find arrows for their competition, and so be freed from blame over Baldur's death. And indeed it seemed as though this would be the case, for as Hodur retold all the events that came to pass in the forest all the details were accurate so far. Yet when the story progressed to Loki's search for arrows, a profound change came over Hodur and he shuddered, a shadow coming over his brow.
"Then", the Blind God continued, "Loki came back, and I heard him carrying a bundle with him. As I started to string my bow, he suddenly grabbed me by the arm and whispered in my ear: "Come now, old man. You can't certainly hope to hit the target by yourself, now can you? Here, let me guide your aim..." Then I responded that I was more than capable of handling the task at hand, and made a move to shake his hand away from me, but the grip held tight like an iron chain around my wrist. I inadvertently felt the bowstring being strung and drawn, and a dart shot out into the air. Then it seemed to my accustomed ears that I heard a cry, and I shouted out for assistance. But Loki was gone, and I wandered for many hours in the forest, utterly lost without a guide. Luckily, young Heimdall happened to find me and brought me here. I don't know what would have happened to me without his help."
Then Heimdall, Captain of the Guard, smiled, but to Loki's eyes that smile was full of malice. Then, his fiery spirit welling up inside him, Loki leapt up, and denounced Hodur's testimony. "You lie, blind one!” he shouted. "I did nothing the entire time but gather forest herbs for darts, for I could not find my arrows. Then I came to find Baldur lying on the ground as one asleep, but too late I realized that he was dead." But Heimdall stood up in turn, and said with contempt, "Were you not found there, wading in a pool of Baldur's blood, a bloody sprig of mistletoe in your hands?"
At the mention of mistletoe Frigga's heart leapt, and she asked, "Was this the herb you were searching for, young Loki?" At this point Loki's conviction faltered and he knew he had been betrayed. "Well, yes", the jester replied. "But I certainly didn't kill him with it, if that's what you are asking! It was only a mere coincidence..." Then he gave up. It sounded feeble, even to him. Meanwhile, the Gods were murmuring and offering looks of scorn to the young trickster, for they had loved Baldur like no other. Then Thor, Protector of Asgard and most easily angered of the Gods, leapt up, clutching his hammer Mjolnir so vigorously that the veins on his hands bulged, and denounced Loki, calling him a curse upon those who fostered him.
"Aye, it seems all the more clear to me now, ill-begotten son! We should have left you at the gates of Valhalla while we still had the chance, and spared ourselves a lifetime of grief and woe. Cursed half-breed, if it were not for the promises I made to Odin in times long past, I would cave in your pitiful head right now, scum!" And upon saying this he slammed his hammer onto the table with a mighty clap of thunder, splitting the table in two. At this point Idun, gentlest and most tender of all dwellers in Asgard, rose and begged Thor to put down his weapon and make peace.
"Please, everyone! We have no proof that Loki committed this fell deed, and though the evidence is not in his favor, I beg you to reconsider. For my heart still remembers the young boy who ran through my orchard fields as a child, so lighthearted and at ease, and I am loath to suspect him of such a despicable crime. Nay, I say let us have more evidence before we come to a conclusion". And she truly felt this, deep within her heart; and although Loki had tricked her many times in her youth and stolen apples from her garden, she still loved him as a child, and saw no faults with him. Hers was a gentle soul, and not made for this harsh world.
But Loki, despite Idun's kind words, was kindled to anger and hatred by Thor. And indeed, for as long as he could remember he was bitter at heart for not being a true Aesir in blood, for his mother had been an Alfar- an elf and his father a Jotun- a giant, and it was only due to the grace of Odin that he had risen to such a high position among the Gods. Then the years of constrained emotion held back for so long burst inside him, and he could vividly remember all the insults he suffered by the Gods during his childhood. Therefore he laughed, and grievously rebuked Thor's criticism of him.
"And what of you, mighty "hero"? What conflict have you partook in that has not been aided by me, or some other God? You may act strong and self-assured, but in heart you are truly a coward. Without me, you would have perished long ago, and would not even have that mighty hammer that you hold so proudly at your side! Do you not remember that time at Thrym's court, when you had to dress up as a woman to regain your stolen weapon? Yea, too cowardly were you that day for direct confrontation, and you had to resort to ambush to cave in that giant's skull. What a mighty protector you are!"
At this point the hall was in uproar. Flagons of mead trembled on benches like the sound of many drums, and the clamor of many voices filled the air. Freja, who had long admired Thor, was offended by Loki's words and took the stand. "You lowly fool, master of tricks! Thor is twice the man you will ever be, in body and in mind. If it were not for him, Midgard would have been overrun by giants long ago, and the Jotun would be at your very doorstep! Crawl back into your hole, you crooked worm!"
At these words Loki flushed with rage and insult, and was abashed by the humiliation he suffered. For Freja had always been kind to him up until now, and he had no idea she possessed such an abhorrence. But a new thought came into his mind, twisted but pleasing to behold, and he crackled with delight. "Of course you would stand by him, Freja, although he is not the first man you have tried to impress with vain flattery. Day by day you flaunt yourself upon any man who comes across your path, as suits your fancy, and then throw them away once they have satisfied your whim! How many men have shared your bed, I wonder? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? The entire population of Asgard must have sired your progeny!"
At this crudely devised insult the entire hall drew breath. Freja looked as if she were struck by an arrow, and Thor's face became pale. A great susurrus followed, until finally a single voice said, "Silence." It was not loud, but like a drop of water spreads ripples through an entire pond the command was obeyed. It was Odin, who had up until now remained quiet, for grief over the death of his son or the marring of his foster-son, or perhaps both. But now he looked at Loki with his one eye, and his countenance was terrible to behold. Then he spoke, and his voice was full of wrath.
"Blood brothers once we were, now no longer. I hereby banish you from my house and the all surrounding lands of Asgard, never to return as long as I draw breath. For you have now committed a deed which eclipses all your previous ones in infamy, including the murder of my son. You have insulted the honor of a woman, and before all the guests of my hall, and for that there is no remedy. Go now, and get out of my sight."
At these words Loki quavered and trembled as one struck by lightning, for he had considered Odin like a father to him since birth. To see him, the one person he had admired and put all of his love and respect into condemn him was too much to bear. For a moment conflicting emotions of anger and shame clashed within him, but anger won in the end, and his eyes glittered with fire. Then he cursed the Gods, and spoke as one possessed by some great and terrible spirit, calling down everlasting doom upon them. "Burn", he shrieked. "You will all burn!"
And then a tempest of fire filled the hall, and all the fragile wood caught ablaze and kindled in a dreadful display. The Gods, normally composed even in the greatest of dangers, rushed through the chaos like mad sheep herded to the edge of a cliff, and all were in a great panic. And Loki stood in the center of the maelstrom, and laughed maniacally with one hand raised to the sky, and the fire twisted around him and obeyed his every command. But Odin also stood in the midst of the great whirlwind of flame, and was undaunted by it, and raised one hand to counter the Trickster God. A mighty gust of wind filled the hall and extinguished the fire into nothingness, and as soon as it was created, the fell blaze fell once again into the Void. Then the father of the Gods raised his staff high into the air, and prepared to pronounce his doom.
"Loki! For this treachery there is no sentence in all the Nine Worlds or the depths of Hel. Exile I was prepared to offer you, for I still loved you, despite your wicked betrayal. Yet for calling fire down upon the Gods and breaking the peace of the mead hall that we have all worked so hard to attain, you have incurred eternal imprisonment. Never shall you be let free until the end of the world itself, when all is unmade and cast into ruin. Perhaps then you will learn the error of your ways. Until then, my doom is final. The Allfather has spoken."
Then the ruler of the Gods slammed his staff onto the ground, and the sound it made reverberated through the halls of Valhalla, and its echo penetrated through the very foundations of the world itself. Then Loki was chained and taken away, kicking and screaming in rage and torment, while Odin bowed his head in his hands and cried.
Chapter III: The Binding of Loki
Now Loki, as was told, was banished from the halls of Valhalla and condemned to spend the rest of his immortal life imprisoned deep within the earth, until the final judgement and unmaking of the world at Ragnarok. Yet the events that took place after his banishment were yet unknown by the Gods, save only two, and of these two only one was present at the judgement of the Trickster God. This God was none other than Heimdall, Steward of Asgard and Captain of the Guard.
Though widely renowned by his friends and held in high honor among the circle of the Aesir, the young and handsome guardsman had a gnawing jealousy tearing at his heart, and this jealousy was what led him to defile the trust of the Gods and betray the one person who faithfully served the Aesir for years and supplied them with many treasures, despite not truly being one of their kin: the young Fire God Loki. For years Heimdall had hated and envied him, until finally when the opportunity presented itself, he condemned him to a life of eternal suffering and agony, all for the sake of his own benefit.
To truly understand the depths of Heimdall's betrayal, one had to look back many years to the events which led up to Loki's banishment from Asgard. For countless years, Heimdall stood guard on the cold marble steps of the citadel of Valhalla, watching while all those around him won fame and glory on the field of battle while his life passed him by, drawn out by countless hours of inactivity and restraint. Many faces passed him by on guard duty: the faces of lovers about to get married and inherit the dowry of a rich father, or the faces of warriors returning from plunder and glory on some victorious raid in Jotunheim.
But none of these passersby infuriated Heimdall more than the sight of Loki, skipping merrily home from one of his mischievous exploits, and getting suitably awarded for all his guile and trickery. He won many gifts and attained the blessings of many of the Aesir due to his charm and charisma. The fabled spear of Odin, Gungnir, that had the simple appearance of a runed staff but could pierce through any hide or armor known to man; Mjolnir, the legendary hammer of Thor, which never missed its mark and could be easily concealed thanks to its short handle; Sleipnir, the eight legged steed and sire of all horses in the world, who led fire in his trail and could pass through the air as easily as he tread on the earth. All of these marvels and more Loki supplied for the Gods, and earned their eternal gratitude in turn, despite his troublesome behavior.
So Heimdall plotted in secret to overthrow his eternal enemy, and used rumor and gossip to sow the seeds of evil in the hearts of all who would listen. It was in this way that news of Loki's illegitimate birth reached the ears of the Gods, and although they did not give heed to it at once, considering the past forgotten and done with, the twisted words of Heimdall eventually reached their mark, and from then on even words said in jest to the young Trickster God contained some hidden malice behind them. And he who sows the seeds of evil reaps a bitter harvest of revenge in the end.
Yet through all of this Heimdall did nothing himself, for in truth he was a coward. He hid behind his occupation of guardsman as a mask to conceal his true craven spirit, and though he had many opportunities to go to war and earn glory for himself and his people, each time he denied it and used the excuse of staying behind to protect the city in times of need. And though there is no shame in timidness, for there is a place for all callings in the world, Heimdall was outwardly proud and overbearingly boisterous, a true brute of a man. He believed that there was no one in all Nine Worlds that could be his equal, and never bothered to conceal this attitude in his dealings with other people. He was vain and hubristic as well, and gave no appreciation to Odin and the rest of the Aesir who were his superiors, and who had given him hospitality and safekeeping, not to mention friendship and love.
And now that the character of Heimdall is known, the story of his betrayal becomes all the more fitting. For one day, in the cold dark of winter, when the Jotun were roaming abroad and coming all the more closer to Asgard's doorstep, Heimdall ventured forth from Valhalla and entered a camp of frost giants, feigning treaty with them. From their dark shamans and oracle prophets he learned the terrible secret that was known only to Frigga alone: the sole vulnerability of Baldur. From there he formed a plan, and spent years preparing his vengeance, until the day when Loki and Hodur entered the forest and he saw his time to strike.
So now as Loki was dragged away, biting and scratching and shifting shape in a vain attempt to escape the chains that bound him, it is no surprise that one of the guards who led him out of Valhalla was indeed the Captain himself. The other was a companion of Heimdall who he had corrupted to join his cause, while of course leaving out all the necessary details so he would not betray him to the Gods. And so the two conspirators led Loki away, until they finally came to a boat on the edge of the Encircling Sea around Midgard.
At this point Loki, having lost none of his quick wit, immediately took the form of a salmon and leaped in to the water. But Heimdall would not be derived of his revenge so easily, and he quickly drew a net and ensnared the writhing God. Then he drew his sword and pointed it at Loki's throat, saying "Look, jester, this sword here is more keen than your wit. Make one false move, and you will not live to regret it." If Loki had known what was awaiting him on the dreadful isle that the boat was rapidly approaching, he might have taken his life there and then, but since he did not, he remained silent.
As the boat came to the end of its journey a dread precipice of rock loomed out of the shadows of the water. It may have been the remnant of some long past volcanic eruption that sent fire and death coiling out of the sea's embrace in violent bursts of crimson, leaving behind a half sunken visage that looked more like a fell beast from under the waves than an island. The end result was a brooding tower of black obsidian that sent a foreboding chill into the atmosphere. Loki almost cried out, causing the blade to prick his chin, while Heimdall remained erect and silent as the boat rolled to the jagged shore.
Loki was driven out of the boat and tossed bodily onto the shore, striking his head on the side of a rock. To his horror he realized that he was going to pass out, as nausea gripped him and a black mist rolled over his eyes. When he awoke he was in a pitch dark cavern, with his arms hanging up in to the air and tied with a hard but glutinous shape that proved to be resistant to even his best efforts. He inadvertently cried for assistance, even though he knew that there was no one in the shadows who would save him. But to his surprise, a lantern was lit in the darkness, illuminating the room.
When Loki's eyes accustomed to the blinding light, he could finally view his surroundings. Almost immediately he wished he had not. The cave was vast, and the lantern only served to brighten one small section of it. What it did illuminate, though, was a scene from a nightmare. Bubbling, oozing pools of red slime steamed in the hollow ground; bones of creatures littered the floor, some monstrously unrecognizable, some a little too closely familiar for comfort. And through all of this a damp, unbearably hot steam filled the air, suffocating and draining the very air from the lungs and filling it with poison. But all this paled in comparison to what Loki was bound with. Around his arms, the chains which he had struggled so vigorously and unavailingly to escape from were actually human entrails. The sight of the raw, disgusting gore, in addition to the rancid smell of rotten flesh emanating from the pools caused Loki to vomit. Suddenly, a voice penetrated into the air.
"What's the matter, Loki? Don't you recognize your own son? Or at least, all that's left of him."
This blow stuck Loki like a hammer, knocking all the breath out of him. He lay there for a moment as one dead, his mind unable to wrap itself around the unbelievable desecration just uttered. Finally, his dry, parched lips gathered the strength to shout out, "No! That's not possible!"
"You don't believe it? Well I thought you might. Here's a token of proof, then."
A severed head rolled through the room, landing in Loki's feet. It was the head of his son, Vali. Loki stood there dumbfounded, cursing the Gods of Fate for what they had done to him, until white hot hatred spread through his entire body like a fire.
"No.... you abomination! Scourge against all that is sacred! You'll pay, I swear this, you'll pay! Even if I have to follow you to the ends of the earth, I will destroy you for what you did to my son. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
At this moment Heimdall stepped forward from the shadows, the light illuminating his once handsome features now turned twisted and misshapen from the act of committing such an evil. He laughed, a wicked, ungodly laugh, the very fibers of it offending the nature of creation. Then Loki rushed forward with a savage look in his eyes, and he came within an inch of Heimdall's face, uttering a primal growl so terrible that the guardsman thought for a moment that he might break free from his bonds and slay him, but at that moment the entrails lashed back with a twang, and Loki was thrown against the wall. Then Heimdall began to regain some of his former malice.
"Not laughing now, are you, trickster? Well, you'll have plenty of time to mourn the death of your son during your stay here, but before I leave, let me give you one last parting gift."
And upon saying this he drew a coiling serpent out of his pocket, and it spit foul venom in the air that was so corrosive it burned through solid stone when it hit the floor. Then Heimdall walked over slowly to Loki, now utterly spent by his anger and restrained wrath, and fixed the snake directly above his head. The cruel venom dripped directly upon the fair and beautiful God's face, seeping down through muscle and to the very bone. Loki uttered an ear splitting shriek, full of hatred and malice and grief and pain. The very earth trembled at his feet, and the convulsions traveled through all the Nine Worlds, and the inhabitants of Midgard mistook its passing for the hoof beats of some great beast, or a the rage of some primeval Thunder God, to which they guessed too near.
But Heimdall departed, and his vengeance was complete.
Chapter IV: The Captivity of Loki
So Loki, imprisoned and abandoned by the very people who he had once loved, passed through fire and death and into the cold, utter darkness of isolation. But all was not lost. For Sigyn, the wife of Loki in Asgard, followed her husband faithfully, unwilling to believe that he had committed such a terrible crime. When Loki's judgement was made final and the assembly of the Gods ended, many other Aesir tried in vain to convince her that she should forget Loki and move on with her life. But Sigyn was proud, and self-willed, and she refused to believe that the carefree, loving young man she had so passionately admired throughout her youth in Asgard could betray her and the rest of the Gods to such an extent. So finally, when all councils had failed and Sigyn refused to be swayed from her path, Frigga wove a dark cloak of invisibility around her, and bade her go.
So Sigyn followed Loki and his captors, league by league, through the stormy wastes of the Encircling Sea and unto the desolate Isle of Dread. When Heimdall entered the cave, she was right behind him, and though her heart broke at the sight of her son's mutilated body, and her hatred for his murderer drove her to a madness uncomprehending in all the Nine Worlds, she still remained silent, for love of her husband. She had the irresistible urge to kill Heimdall where he stood, like a lioness avenges herself upon the hyenas that devoured her babies, and was already drawing a dagger from her belt, when a thought struck her. "If Heimdall dies, then the suffering he inflicted upon Loki and Vali and the dishonor that he brought upon our house would have all been in vain. The murderer would have been released from life without facing justice, and his legacy would be clear while Loki would forever remain a villain in the eyes of the Aesir." This could not be allowed to happen.
So Sigyn constrained herself to put the knife away, biting her lip until it bled at the taunts of Heimdall and clenching her fist until it turned crimson, but never coming close to drawing the dagger again. And when Heimdall left and Loki uttered the terrible scream as the venom tore through his flesh, Sigyn immediately cast off her cloak and rushed to his side, catching the falling poison in a bowl that she drew from her robe. And Loki, upon seeing her, was glad again, a lone island of happiness in a sea of terror and despair. But the shadows gathered once more, and he fell unto darkness.
Now in the beginning, Loki still had hope, the vain hope that Odin and the rest of the Gods would see through Heimdall's lies and release him. This hope was aided by Sigyn, who loyally stood by him and caught the serpent's venom in her crucible, drop by drop, saving him from an eternity of excruciating agony. Yet when the bowl was full and needed to be emptied, the venom dripped down unto Loki's face and drove him to madness, and the earth yet again shook in tune with the convulsions of his body. Then, the fallen God began to experience fits of delirium and wild hallucinations. To him, it seemed that the Gods were all there, gathered around the shadows of the cave and laughing at him, and instead of Sigyn leaning over him with a bowl, Heimdall was there ready to plunge a knife into his chest. Therefore he lashed out at his loyal wife, and the pains he inflicted unto her were less than the sorrow she had to endure in watching her husband descend into madness.
One day, when the pain inside her was too much to bear, she abandoned Loki and threw herself into the sea. The cold waters rushed to meet her as her spirit soared into the air, free from her torment at last. It is said she still resides in the halls of death, though the world was unmade and life renewed again, for her grief was beyond that of any others in the mortal world. But those in the realm of the dead who are lost, and especially the souls of lost lovers yearning to be free again, hearken to her, and gain courage from the ethereal tones of her sad song.
But for Loki, her departure was too much to bear, and the threads of his fragile sanity finally snapped. He let loose a terrible, haunting, unrelenting cry into the night: the final remnants of his soul; all the grief, pain, agony, and love that represented his past life, disappearing into the mist.
There, in the dark, utterly spent and wishing for death, the serpent dripping liquid fire down unto him that turned his blood into poison and his flesh into ash, every breath an eternal agony, every moment an unbearable curse; there, in a sea of fire, every one of his limbs burning and his eyes opening into darkness of the Void, cold and lifeless; there, in a twisted, primeval world where the elements are constantly at war, rending, tearing, searing, opening and closing wounds, destroying and healing only to be destroyed again, where every second is worse than the next, Loki swore a terrible oath against the Gods, and cursed Odin the Allfather, who rules over all things, to the eternal darkness. And so his revenge would pursue him to the end of the world.
Chapter V: Intermission
Ten thousand years pass. The lightning falls down upon on the Isle of Dread. The howling of the wind echoes in tune with the howling of the wolves. The waters rise and fall in agony and the earth shakes in torment. The Serpent thrashes in the waves and the Wolf breaks through its chains. Fire erupts from the sea. Night falls, the moon is nowhere to be seen. The mountains crumble, the entrails snap.
The Trickster awakes.
Chapter VI: Tyr in the Underworld
Beyond the shining realms of the Aesir and Vanir in the crown of Yggdrasil high above the heavens; beyond the lower branches where the eagles hunt across green valleys and waterfalls while the stags graze high among the golden foliage; beyond the ashen trunk which holds the destiny of both Gods and men alike in its fabled core; beyond even the three roots of the World Tree that reach into deep hidden springs, where the Norns weave their webs of fate among the sweet waters and the foul dragon Nidhogg unceasingly gnaws, poisoning the holy bark: there lay the realm of Hel. It was a dark, dreary land, where the very air was a suffocating, unbearable poison, and rivers of molten lava surged among the charred, barren earth. No living being dwelt there, only the dark sorceress who gave the place its name and the countless spirits of the dead, wandering restlessly in search of release from their eternal agony. There was no more desolate and inhospitable place in all the Nine Worlds.
It was into this primordial wilderness that Tyr stepped, his scarred face petrified into a grim countenance; his charred feet sinking deep into the ashen earth. There was no wind there, though the sky was eternally clouded and downcast, and lined with a pale crimson as if the sun was setting for the last time on a brief and mortal world. The aged god moved forward with no sign of tiring, the white hair of his ashen beard rolling down to his belt, and his enormous broadsword tied across his back with a leather harness that crisscrossed his bare chest. His right hand was missing at the wrist, the result of a confrontation with the mighty wolf Fenrir, but he could wield his sword as easily with his left as he had been able to with his right, and swing the vicious weapon with the strength of many men. Behind him, his troop of Einherjar warriors loyally followed, showing as much discipline and strength of will as they could in this harsh and alien environment, where the very land itself twisted and raged against them.
Finally, after what seemed like many days if not weeks, for there was neither sense of time nor the passing of the seasons in this wasteland, the band of weary wanderers found what they were looking for: the black citadel of Hel, Queen of the Dead. For many years she had ruled this land where no one else was willing to go, and brought misery and strife among the yearning spirits of the dead like an overseer whipping a thrall with a red hot brand. She imprisoned all souls that came to her iron gates, regardless of their past deeds in the world or the character of their spirit. For long eons the Aesir had grudgingly put up with this, too distracted by the Jotun raids on their borders to lead a full scale invasion into the land of the dead, but now all of that had changed. For now not only mere mortals were trapped in the lands of Hel, but Gods also: Baldur, son of Odin and most beloved of the Aesir had fallen into shadow, and it was for this purpose that Tyr was venturing into the underworld to bring him back.
For many more leagues they travelled, the abysmal fortress seeming to appear all the more far off in the distance, upon a red land that seemed to be sucking out the life from their very souls. The Einherjar, who were usually cheerful even in the midst of battle, made no sound, and Tyr moved through the dead land with a troubled expression his grizzled face. From time to time pale specters could be seen in the mist, calling out to them, but unable to touch or communicate with them no matter how hard they tried, and eventually fading into the distance. The ghosts of men, women, and children past them by, some moving towards the citadel in the vain hope of freedom, others traveling the opposite road with such a terror set in their eyes that they needed no chains to indicate their thralldom and bondage. For they might have escaped from their imprisonment in the citadel, but were now alone in an empty land with nowhere to go and would soon be driven back again like a moth to the flame.
After a while Tyr suddenly stopped. With a wave of his hand he indicated his men to be on the alert, and then pointed in front of them. Figures were rising from the barren earth, skeletal apparitions that were barely recognizable and looked like twisted demons in the crimson light. Some carried rusty weapons; others dragged their own bladed shackles behind them with a metallic clang; all of them had some sort of armor, and eyes that glowed piercingly in the half light. In an instant they had surrounded the small group of Tyr, and were moving forward with a deadly speed. The God of War suddenly drew his broadsword and rammed it into the unresisting earth, sending out a shockwave that radiated into the horde of undead and impaled them on jagged stone spikes. Then he charged into the fray, scattering his enemies like leaves in the wind and cutting down all in his path, joined by the rest of the Einherjar.
For many hours they battled on, never yielding a single step to the foul fiends, but soon they knew they were fighting a losing battle. For each undead slain, two more rose to take its place, and the earth spit out pools of fire as they emerged from its bowels. Finally Tyr's company was standing on a steadily rising mound of corpses, covered to the waist in death and decay; a lone island in the middle of a sea of darkened flesh and bone fragments. Tyr still fought on with unrelenting force, crying out a dreadful roar into the wind, but in the end they were finally overrun and bound in shackles. They were then driven on towards Hel's palace, its red banners and obsidian towers now easily discernible in the distance, and brought before the Queen's court itself. It was a decadent yet dreadful sight.
Hel was sitting on a pile on bones in the center of a great hall, crimson banners hanging from the ceiling like ribbons in the pale torchlight. In her hand she held a golden goblet, the wine in it the dark red color of her rosy lips. She was remarkably beautiful: her dark hair drifting in perfumed billows down to her slim waist, and her pale skin the color of the waxing moon in its full glory. A black robe covered her from head to toe, a golden locket was at her throat, and her gaze was like a sweet spring running through a forest clearing. However, this effect was spoiled by her left side, which faded in and out of corporeality during different periods of time, leaving a transparent, bony skeleton in its wake. Still she smiled, and beckoned her captives with the wave of her hand, as if they were honored guests.
"Welcome, welcome!” she said, with a voice like flowing honey. "Please, do make yourselves at home in my humble abode. I know it isn't much, but I feel you'll manage in the end." She laughed feyly. "But in the meantime, do tell me why you are here. We don't often get visitors that are in such a, shall we say, whole state as you are. I don't know if you've realized this, but you are not, as it were, dead." Hel snapped her fingers, causing the chains that bound Tyr and his companions to break. Tyr remained silent. "Now now, out with it. I'm sure we are all dying to hear what you have to say... tehehe." Finally the old warrior stepped forward slowly, his hollow footsteps echoing across the hall. When he spoke, it was completely devoid of any emotion.
"We have come here, lady, to find the God Baldur who you have imprisoned unjustly and held for far beyond his appointed time. The souls of the dead are not yours to do with as you please, and indeed you have no power here save among those who are too weak to fight for themselves, a mistress of thralls and imprisoned captives. We only ask that you to release Baldur and we will be on our way peacefully, but beware, if you continue this path it is foretold that a great doom shall be upon you, and that all that you hold dear will crumble away into dust. The Aesir have spoken."
At Tyr's words Hel's expression became wrathful, and she stood up from her throne of skulls, knocking her wineglass to the floor. "All that I hold dear?" She replied with malice, "You fool, you have no idea what it is like to lose everything you ever loved, to see those who you thought were friends regard you as a monster, and to be abandoned by your own parents. Do you think it pleases me to be queen of this desolate swamp, with nothing besides me but a handful of wailing ghosts and a pocketful of bones? I am naught more than a little girl playing with her toys in the attic, and they are poor substitutes for real friendship and love. In truth I care little if one more soul enters or departs from my realm, and would have been glad to release your precious Baldur. But since you were so uncivil in entering my hall, Baldur shall remain with me, and you shall join him in the dungeons. Perhaps then you will learn to control your tongue, old man. Guards, take them down to the depths, and see if Garm cannot show them their manners!"
Tyr and his companions were then chained anew, and led away into the interior of the citadel. Despite their imprisonment, the Einherjar had no ill will towards their leader for his actions; for they knew that he was only retelling the message of the Aesir and could not be held accountable for their decree. So they came into a dark cave, and were thrown down to the cold, barren ground below, their armor and weapons stripped from them. There was no gate around the enclosure, but all was pitch black, and they could not find their way about in the shadows. However, there was a grunt in the darkness as one of their men tripped over a figure in the dark, and as Tyr's eyes accustomed to the shadow, he could see that it was a form of a young man, whose robes, though torn and stained in a thousand places, were made of a fair white linen: the raiment of the Gods.
It was Baldur, who was lying sound asleep in the darkness.
Chapter VII: Baldur's Escape from Hel
Now when Baldur awoke Tyr embraced him deeply as an old friend, for they had not seen each other for many long years, and his passing was hard to bear. The two conversed for much time in the darkness, Tyr informing Baldur of the events that had taken place after his death, and the urgency of his return to the world of the living: for Loki was leading an army of Jotun and Alfar against the Gods themselves, and ready to burn the fields and plains of Asgard to cinders. At the news that Loki himself was the one responsible for his death Baldur merely shrugged, as if those events were long past him. However, another voice rang out in the shadow, and a hooded figure stepped forth. "Ha, I think not." Upon saying this, the figure cast aside its hood, and Tyr could see that it was an old man with a cloth sash wrapped around his eyes, indicating that he was blind. It was Hodur.
"What? You too, my old friend?” replied Tyr. After the events of the trial of Loki Hodur had mysteriously disappeared from Asgard, and it had been assumed that the burden of having to testify against his young friend was too much for him. This turned out to be half correct. "After Loki was taken away I felt a huge guilt over what I had done and returned to the woods to think." Hodur explained. "As I was walking alone, I felt the point of a blade at my throat, and a voice whispered in my ear, "Thank you old man, you've been very helpful in achieving my goals. But, unfortunately, I can't have you getting in my way any further. You know too much already, and supposing you recall that the voice that led to you to kill Baldur didn't belong to Loki at all? Goodbye..." Then I awoke and found myself in in this miserable place, and have been here ever since. If it hadn't been for Baldur to keep me company I would have gone mad long ago."
This revelation was almost too much for Tyr to comprehend. Loki innocent? But that only meant that he had to return to Asgard all the more quickly, to prevent the bloodshed that was sure to happen when the hordes of Jotun reached Valhalla. And to think that Loki had been imprisoned for ten thousand years unjustly, and all the suffering that had been brought upon by the whole ordeal was in vain. The God of War was already starting to devise a plan in his mind how to escape from the underground cavern when there was suddenly a tremendous roar at the entrance of the cave. Two fur covered paws reached inside, and six hungry yellow eyes stared at them from the distance. With a horror, Tyr realized why there was no gate to keep them locked in. A monstrous beast was all that was needed...
A black, three headed hound entered the cave, sniffing ravenously and searching for prey, until it finally came across the Aesir's companions. Two of them were devoured immediately, while a third was struck by a gigantic paw and pulverized into a bloody mess, which the giant beast proceeded to lick up gratefully. With its dinner over, the monster gave a loud belch of satisfaction and curled up to sleep beside the entrance, blocking it off like a huge boulder. With a realization of dread, Tyr and his companions realized that they were not likely to get out alive. The God of War had no idea what would happen to Baldur if he died a second time, but expected that it would not be pleasant, and would likely deter the chances of him getting back to Asgard and clearing Loki’s name even more. Tyr clenched his fists in frustration. He could probably strangle the beast with his bare hands while it slept, but those damned chains...
With nothing else remaining for them to do, the Aesir waited. One by one their remaining companions were cruelly devoured by the three headed dog, until only Tyr, Baldur, and Hodur were left. As the beast came rushing in for Baldur, dripping forth corrosive drops of saliva in anticipation, Tyr put forth all his strength and shattered his bonds, leaping onto the beast's shaggy hide. The two wrestled viciously for some time, locked in a desperate struggle, and for a long time neither of them were able to get the upper hand. Finally Tyr was able to break the creature's neck, causing it to let out a pitiful whimpering sound, but in the process was mortally wounded himself. As the acidic saliva tore through his flesh and bones, Tyr kneeled at the feet of Baldur and bade him go swiftly to freedom.
"My lord, my only regret is that I am not able to help you further. I know not where I go now, only that I have died a warrior's death, and redeemed my honor. Go now, get yourself far away from this place, and lead our people to victory. A great destiny is about you, and I see that you will steer our people through the uncertain tides of fate and into the light of glory. Hasten now; I do not have much time left on this world. My ancestors are calling me, and I will rejoice in their fair company. Farewell..." And upon saying this Tyr died, bravest in the long line of valiant Aesir, and his legacy would always be remembered. So Baldur obeyed his final wishes, and along with Hodur stepped over the body of the three headed dog and into the passage beyond.
Then the two of them came into a dark cavern, but there was a faintly glowing light in the distance and they set off in that direction. As they came closer and closer to the source of the ethereal illumination, they discovered that it was not a light at all, but millions of ghostly spirits gathered together in unison, as if in some otherworldly congregation. Baldur and Hodur hesitantly approached their ranks, but they seemed to give them no heed, all swirling around indifferently and carrying about their own business. There was a beautiful woman in the distance, singing a sad song into the wind, and many ghosts around her were bowing their heads in sorrow, on the verge of tears yet unable to cry. At her feet was a young boy no older than eight or nine, and with a horror Baldur observed a hideous gash across his neck, as if his head had been cut off in his past life. Looking at the woman again, Baldur was sure that he recognized her... yes, could it be? Sigyn, the wife of Loki... but no sooner than Baldur had started walking towards her did the line of ghosts shift again, and she disappeared from view.
Suddenly, Baldur raised his hand and gave a command into the air, and all the specters stopped what they were doing and turned to look at him. Proud and noble he looked in their midst, for he was young and fair, and the long years of imprisonment in the shadows had done nothing to cloud his beauty. In his white robes he spoke imploringly to the spirits, begging them to join him and break free of their shackles, and set a fire in their hearts burning anew that they believed was lost forever. "O spirits of the dead! Why must we sit here in the darkness, alone and utterly defeated, while Hel and her minions lay watching us in splendor: twisting us like puppets and pulling the strings? Why must we stay here brooding in the shadows, slaves to fear? I for one have had enough of this woeful existence. A great man sacrificed his life for me today, and I do not intend to let that sacrifice go in vain. Those who will join me in breaking our chains and casting Hel off her dark throne, say aye!"
"Aye!" the countless lines of spectral spirits chorused as one. "Aye!" Baldur smiled. "Very well then. For Freedom! For Tyr!" And upon saying this the ranks of ghostly apparitions charged forward, heading down the maze of passageways with a fierce determination in their glowing eyes, and illuminating the path for Baldur and Hodur to follow. In time the tunnels carved in the bedrock gave way to metal foundations and the distinct crimson ornamentation of the main citadel, and the presence of the guards up ahead told them they were nearing the main hall. Still Baldur urged them on, but the spirits seemed to have little need of it, all the years of torment and restraint coming up to the surface and erupting in a tempest storm of rage. The skeletal guards that were posted along the corridors stood no chance against them, and were swept up like a ship in the waves of a gale wind. Finally, they entered the great hall, completely encircling the mound of bones like a gathering squall.
Hel merely smiled. She raised her fair white hand into the air, and the entire room was filled with rising undead. The very hill of bones she was standing on was giving way to a small army, and soon the entire room was filled with her wicked servants. The army of ghosts rushed forward to give battle with them, and the resulting clash between forces was like a flowing river against the might of the cliffs. The ghosts, while seemingly impervious to normal weaponry, were able to be cut down by the enchanted steel of the undead horde, dissipating into a pale mist. Still, they were surprisingly effective against the hordes in turn: sometimes merely passing through them was enough to turn them into piles of dust. Yet the same problem that had led to the Tyr’s defeat was also present now, and that was simply that Hel had an unlimited amount of reinforcements to replenish at the wave of her hand, while Baldur's forces were steadily at a loss. Hodur was the first to point this out.
"We'll never win! They are like a plague of vermin, constantly returning to haunt us! A curse be upon them all!" The Blind God then spat to the ground in anger, but Baldur restrained him. "Worry not, I have a plan." he said knowingly. And indeed, while all the chaos of the battle had been going on around him, Baldur had been observing, looking for a fatal flaw or weakness in Hel's defenses. Finally he saw it. One look at the way she lovingly embraced her golden locket while summoning her reinforcements was enough in Baldur's mind. So he took up a bow from the ground, and calmly and calculatingly shot an arrow over the ranks of fighting spirits and directly at the breast of Hel.
Baldur's aim was perfect. The locket shattered into a million fragments, and a purple mist filled the room. Hel gave out a terrible scream, and the ranks of undead dissolved into nothingness. The ghosts looked around in shock, as if in disbelief to their newfound release. Then they looked towards the heavens in gratitude, whispered "Free... finally free.", and dissolved into nothingness. Baldur walked slowly towards the fallen Hel, who held her head in her hands and was now sobbing uncontrollably, muttering, "Mother... father, please, don't go..." Throughout all of this Baldur remained as calm and resolute as judgement itself. The sight of the God of Light staring down upon her was enough to break the final threads of Hel's already fragile sanity, and she sobbed out uncontrollably, "Please... spare me... all I ever wanted was to have friends..." Baldur was unmoved. "Rise, daughter of Loki."
Her father's name spoken aloud caused Hel to utter a terrible scream, "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! ... Please, don't say it! I beg of you, do not utter his name!" But Baldur continued to speak as if she were not there. "Hel, daughter of Loki, conceived by a giantess when he was trapped in Jotunheim on another one of his exploits and the only way to get out alive was to agree to her demands. Sister of the snake Jormungand and the wolf Fenrir. Queen of the Dead..." Hel's left side was now flickering into transparency at a rapid rate, her haunting skeletal features and the fear engraved unto her face completely outshadowing her former beauty. "Why are you doing this to me?", she howled. "Because," replied Baldur compassionately. "You must learn to accept the past before you can move on to the future. You must learn to realize who you are and come to terms with the history of your birth. Only then can you overcome the chains that bind you."
Hel looked stunned. No one in her life had ever shown her kindness before, let alone understanding. Baldur knelt down and took her hand. "Rise. I am not going to kill you, nor torment you any further. You have atoned for you sins, and now are free to do with your life what you wish. Who we are is not decided by our birth, but by the choices we make. If you so desire, you may return to the land of the living and join the Aesir, where your talents of sorcery will be put to better use. Until then, farewell." Baldur then started walking towards Hodur: towards the gates of the citadel and their eventual freedom. For a moment Hel stood there in silence, the words of Baldur only just beginning to hit their mark. Perhaps she could make a better life for herself, and leave the past behind her. But then the vision came back... the terrible vision from her childhood which she had been trying all her life to forget.
Her mother was standing over her cradle, looking disgusted. "Look at my little mutant baby," She was saying disappointedly to a handmaiden. "You would think that such a handsome young man would have better offspring." She spat into the ground. "Well, there is now only one thing left to do. Take her and dispose of her, I care not where, just get her out of my sight." The handmaiden willingly obliged. She was now being taken away somewhere: beyond the cold, white, snowcapped mountains, to the edge of a giant tree, looking helplessly between its barren branches and into the cold, star filled darkness below. Then she was falling, further and further down, for what seemed like an eternity. The winds were blowing cold around her, and she was all alone in the darkness, with her mother's words echoing in her ears, "Get her out of my sight."
Hel gave out a savage, primal growl, then with her eyes gleaming like fire and talons outstretched lunged at the first thing she saw: the retreating form of Baldur. Hodur heard the cry and shouted out, but Baldur was already prepared. He picked up a fallen sword, turned around, and stabbed the sorceress through the chest. For an instant she stumbled as one in a daze, looked down at the sword and gave a childish little laugh, then fell back with a smile. Baldur looked horrified at what he had just done and said despairingly, "And to think, I had hoped to solve all of this without violence."
The two companions then turned around and walked into the light of freedom.
Chapter VIII: Thor Arrives in Midgard
A storm was brewing upon the edge of the Encircling Sea around Midgard. Dark clouds engulfed the air like writhing billows of smoke, the dismal churning of the waves made the sea rise and contort like an overflowing crucible, and the crash of thunder echoed in tune with the clashing of the oars as the ships of Asgard made their way into the dark abyss. At their prow, the glorious Einherjar gathered in rank, their muscular frames moving in rhythm with the pounding of the oars as the fleet was steadily propelled along the waves. In their lead was Thor, Defender of Asgard and the greatest warrior in all of the Nine Worlds, his amber hair blowing out from under his helmet and drifting out in billows in the cold ocean breeze.
They were not alone, however. In the midst of the tempest storm, barely visible between the thick haze of mist that surrounded the dark seascape and the dim line of the setting sun on the horizon, were a fleet of black corsairs. Their bladed hulls, outfitted with piercing weaponry in a thousand places and overlaid with thick sheets of black obsidian, easily glided through the water like daggers, leaving behind streamlined trails in their wake. Their red banners shone like blood in the fading sunset, with a sinister symbol embedded in their midst: A black wolf biting a snake in its jaws, with a bolt of lightning streaming across its face; the insignia of the Trickster.
At their lead was an even more terrible sight. A ship, greater than all the others, large enough to encompass at least fifty of the smaller corsairs, and much more dreadful still: made entirely of human bones. Millions of pale fragments comprised its skeletal prow, some a sickly yellow, decayed by the passing of the ages, some newly harvested, their horrible features easily discernible. This was Naglfar, Ship of the Dead, and a great reek was about it. Its prow was fashioned into the form of a dragon, and its dreadful visage glowed with a hidden fire, as if it were truly alive. This was a clever trick of the Jotun engineers, who had set up a furnace in the heart of the amalgamation that made it grow blood red in the middle of the night. It was not all for appearances, however, for a channel ran from the heart of the furnace to the dragon's mouth, and a stream of fire could be sent searing from the jaws of the great beast.
When the Einherjar saw this they were dismayed, but Thor quickly gathered their wits about them, and uttered a battle cry to boost their moral. "Are we not the sons of Odin? Does not the Allfather's blood run though our veins, and the power of wind and storm be at our command? Yea, his noble eye is constantly upon us, and we will not run away like craven fools while Loki burns down the gates of Valhalla itself! Forth, Einherjar! The shadow will pass, and the light of dawn shall rid the world of these fell fiends!" And upon hearing these words the Einherjar felt their courage return like a fire, and rowed forward with double the strength as before. And if in truth Thor was troubled he did well to hide it, for the storm winds renewed their fierce onslaught, and the waves yet again surged like a whirlpool.
Meanwhile, in the depths of the Naglfar, the Jotun were having similar doubts. As the overseers cruelly whipped their thralls in the lower decks into rowing faster, and the dark shamans once again beat the drums of war amid the upper decks, the navigator of the ship, a Dark Elf from the lower regions of Svartalfheim, fearfully made his way to the cabin where the captain of the Naglfar resided. Trembling with every step, the pitiful cretin managed to muster up the courage to knock on the ancient wooden door. What awaited him on the other side made him let out a whimper. The figure was a Jotun, at least by his height, since there were hardly any other features to discern him by. He wore a thick woolen cloak, matted down by snow and with ice crystals dripping from it, which covered most of his body. A headdress made from the skull of a Jotunheim stag covered his face completely, leaving the impression that the long dead animal somehow managed to stare out back into the eyes of whomever the giant was talking to. A necklace of shriveled feathers hung limp on his chest, and several shrunken heads dangled from his fur belt.
"Yesssssss?" The giant said in a hissing sound, like air being expunged from a dead corpse. The elf gulped. He could almost see one of the shrunken heads belonging to an Alfar in its past life. However, his inherited talent for charisma and guile came back to him, and he eloquently replied, “My lord, it appears that there have been certain... complications. The storm in these waters is obviously not natural; it must be a scheme by those despicable Aesir to set us off course when the moment of our victory is nigh. Let us turn back now and head to the shores of Jotunheim, where we will be safe until the Master calls us for the final attack against Asgard." He took a step back, looking pleased, but immediately stopped when he saw the giant's expression, or lack thereof. This Warlock could turn even silence into an unbearable ordeal.
After pacing the room for some time, every hollow footstep causing the elf to twitch uncontrollably, the giant finally spoke, his breath coming out in long, rasping mouthfuls. "Tell me, do you know who is on that ship? Do you know the reward the Massster has placed on his head? Hisss instructionsss were very clear, capture the Thunderer by all means necesssesary, even if it means death. And yet, you propose turning back now, when I have the ssson of Odin right in my grasssp. Is that what you are sssaying?" The elf now began to realize that there was something very wrong. Even the shadows of the room seemed to darken, and his feet were rooted to the floor. Yet he tried one last feeble attempt at freedom.
"Well, no, not as such. Of course, I would never dream of questioning your authority. I'll... just be going now..." But at that moment, the giant raised up his hand from the folds of his robe, and for the first time the elf could see that it was shriveled up and rotten to the core, with fragments of bone jutting out. The very sight was horrifying, but the Warlock's voice was even worse. "No, by all means, ssstay. You want to know about the ssstorm, don't you? Very well then... sssee!"
The elf then fell into a deep darkness, but when he awoke felt himself drifting in stasis with no ground below his feet, and all was chill and cold around him. As he opened his eyes water rushed to meet them, and with a keen horror he realized that he was trapped in the middle of the ocean, where all was pitch black around him. But far off in the distance were two tiny spheres of emerald light, and with no other option he prepared to swim towards them. However, before he could move something wrapped around his waist like a rope, strangling out the remainder of his already limited breath. As it continued to contort around him, the emerald spheres slowly came closer. With a gurgle of horror, the last thing the elf realized was that they were not beacons of light at all: they were eyes.
The Jormungand serpent awoke.
Chapter IX: Thor versus the Corsairs
Thor's ship was steadily propelled through the waves to meet the dreaded Naglfar. The thunder God felt a strange sense of dread and foreboding that was entirely separate from the gloom of the tempest storm or the upcoming battle ahead. He knew that the raid of the Naglfar would test his men's courage to the very brink, and many brave warriors would be slain in the process, but this vision was beyond even that... it was as if the winds of fate had rose up to counter the storm, and were driving Thor to some great destiny that even the rest of the Aesir knew nothing about."Rise, Odin's son", they whispered. "Go and meet your destiny..." The fiery headed Thunderer tried to put such thoughts out of his mind. It was not like him to have such premonitions, and he frowned with distaste, considering himself having gone too soft. Clairvoyance was a pastime for women and the Allfather alone, and it could be dangerous to meddle in such witchery. It was time to concentrate on the battle ahead.
The Naglfar was nearing the center of the maelstrom, its corsair fleet staying a close distance behind it, seeming wary to enter the storm alone. This seemed well and according to Thor's plan, but he still could not help feeling the uncomfortable thought again. "Why would the Jotun be afraid of a simple storm? Do they perhaps know something that we don't?" The uncertainty drove him mad, but the Thunderer was single minded if anything, and would not easily be deterred from his course. He signaled the Einherjar to give more effort into the oars: the time for battle was nigh. "Forward, Einherjar! The time has come to conquer!"
Finally, the two ships were in at so close a distance that the crew could see the war paint on the helmets and breastplates of the Jotun warriors. Thor knew nothing of the Naglfar's secret fire breathing ability, but if he did, he would have considered it strange as to why they did not use it at that moment. The ships were lined up perfectly, and a well-timed blast from the dragon head would have sent Thor's ship bursting into a thousand cinders. But the two ships continued to drift apart until they were finally lined up side to side: The ideal position for boarding. The Einherjar cast their triple pronged ropes over the side of the Naglfar, and then started the perilous crossing between ships. They slung their shields over their backs and went into a protective stance while crossing the ropes, granting a good deal of defense against the black arrows of the Jotun. Even so, while the giants themselves were not the ideal archers, the dark elves among the crew possessed a deadly accuracy, and many wicked tricks up their sleeves.
Most of the arrows launched misfired or harmlessly embedded themselves in the shields of the Einherjar, and the ones that hit were deflected in large part by the thick chain mail beneath their cloaks. But the crossing between ships was ponderously slow, and as time progressed many soldiers were slain and fell into the depths of the turbulent waves below. Thor saw it clearly before his own eyes: the calm, determined looks on their faces when they were hit by the fell darts, their willingness to keep going despite their mortal wounds, and finally, their brave fall into the water, not once uttering a cry or even a grimace of pain, for they were true warriors of the Aesir; and the world has never seen braver men. The sight brought tears to Thor's eyes, and he longed to join them and attempt the perilous crossing by their side, but he knew that their sacrifice was necessary in the end, and that his death would only serve to bring all chances of victory they had remaining to an end. Therefore he stayed behind on deck, clutching the handle of his runic hammer with rage and cursing the giants that murdered his men to a fate worse than all others in every one of the Nine Worlds.
Yet finally, through many hardships and tribulations, the Einherjar reached the deck of the Naglfar and broke through the line of giants, grievously making the Jotun pay for the loss of their comrades. With the archers distracted and the rest of their troop forced to fight in melee range, Thor and his crew could easily cross over the gap and renew their attack with vicious might, quickly overrunning the defenses of the vulnerable giants. Mjolnir sang that day, cleaving giant heads in multitudes and humming with the sound of inner lightning. Finally, the deck of the ship was taken and the Einherjar rejoiced at their swift victory, letting loose a war cry into the wind. But Thor was not so easily convinced. The force they had just defeated was less than a few hundred men strong, and he doubted that the infamous Ship of the Dead that terrorized the shores of Midgard with unrelenting force would be so poorly guarded. As if confirming his fears, the Naglfar itself started to glow with a red fire, and Thor, expecting the worst, shouted at his men to take cover and threw himself to the ground.
The deluge of fire that followed was tremendous. Rivers of fire surged over his head, creating a suffocating heat in the air and a igniting a reek which was somehow worse than that of the ship itself. Those Einherjar who were unlucky enough not to hear Thor's order were incinerated instantly, and their charred, empty husks were all that remained of them, once glorious and proud young men; soldiers who had been so willing to fight and die for their Gods. For several minutes the flames raged on, and then suddenly ceased, but Thor did not give the order to rise until the conflagration in the ship itself faded into nothingness. The sight awaiting the Thunderer was dreadful. Only about half of his companions remained alive, the rest littered the ship with their remains, their bodies fusing to become one with the skeletal ship and the countless other slain that went into its construction. The very thought of it sickened Thor, and he cried a curse into the wind.
"Aberration! Who dares commit this desecration and defiles the very purpose of flame, show yourself!"
At this moment the cabin doors opened, and the Jotun Warlock stepped out. His appearance, which has already been described as dreadful, had somehow become even worse. His cloak was now cast back, revealing his sickly, deceased skin; in his left hand he held a rune engraved staff, in his right a ceremonial dirk. He laughed, with a voice like the slamming of a coffin lid."Hail, ssson of Odin," he spat, "What bringsss you here on thisss fine day?" Thor had the great impulse to simply cave in the giant's head right there and then, but reminded himself that this undead giant somehow had the power to control flame, and was not to be trifled with. He contented himself with a spiteful rebuke.
"You there," He replied, as if just beginning to notice him. "The one that looks as if a murder of ravens had gorged themselves on your body. What is your name, sallow one, that so cowardly hides behind your cabin door while you slaughter a man's companions with craven witchery?!" He then spat at the feet of the giant. The Jotun seemed unaffected however, and he went on to answer him nonchalantly. "I have no name, or at least not in thisss life. If you wish, you may call me your Doom, for that is what I accomplish thisss day."
His temper rising, Thor replied, "I will not call you anything, filthy warlock, unless it is thrall, or slave, or coward! If you really wish to defeat me, fight me hand to hand instead of by the craft of magic!" Once again, the Warlock was unaffected. "You really should have more ressspect, Thunderer. Does Odin himssself not practice the craft of magic, or "craven witchery", as you so eloquently call it? Indeed, you should give more regards to powers beyond your underssstanding!" And upon saying this he raised up his decaying hand, and the fires once again rose up, only this time directly up into the air and beyond the reach of Thor and his companions. The Einherjar were understandably daunted by it, having only just escaped from a fiery death previously before, but Thor stood by undaunted and kept his eyes on the alert. Finally, after scanning the entire ship, he found what he was looking for. In the distance, just barely discernible by the naked eye, a Jotun was visible in the window of the captain's cabin, pumping some crude machine made of pipes.
"So, not only a coward, but an imposter too.” the Thunder God thought. “As I suspected. But now... how to get out of here?" Almost immediately an idea stuck him. "Very well," he said aloud. "You win... we surrender." The very words brought pain to his monumental pride to say, but he had to do it to save both his men and himself. The Jotun and Alfar surrounding them laughed, and then made a move to put him in chains. As they did, however, he quickly whispered something into the ear of one of his lieutenants, and then allowed himself to be shackled. The Warlock commanded the Jotun controlling him to drag him to the lower decks, among the thralls and blacksmiths that worked in the pits below, and Thor's heart suddenly leapt despite his confinement. He had a plan, and anyone dared to stop him would rue the day they came across the God of Thunder.
Chapter X: The Midgard Serpent
Thor was led beyond the doors of the cabin and into the slave pits, the guards stripping him of all his clothing and even his mighty hammer Mjolnir, which had so faithfully served him throughout the years. Parting with it was like parting with a friend, yet he knew that he would get it back eventually, and it would be rewarded with many more giant skulls to crush. The thralls in the pit were cast into a black terror to see such a wild and fearsome warrior enter their den, but soon as they realized he meant them no harm they began to regard him as a savior that would release them from confinement, a prospect which Thor hoped would be true. For some time he conversed with those among them who could speak, and learned the hidden secret of the Naglfar, and the way to its fiery core.
Finally, when the time was right, and Thor was sent with the others to work on lower decks of the ship, the mighty Aesir took up an oar and used it to cleave in the skull of a Jotun guard. From then on, the word of rebellion spread like wildfire, and the entire slave holding was in revolt. Thor quickly made his way to the armories where they were holding his precious Mjolnir, and when he wielded his glorious hammer, the slaves that followed him knew him to be a God, and bowed before his feet. But Thor urged them again into action, and with their help cleaved a path into the smithies and past them into the grand furnace itself, leaving behind a trail of ruin in his wake. When the Jotun realized this plan they were in a frenzy, and responded with renewed ferocity, with the Warlock at their lead. But Thor had not come this far to be stopped, and let loose a loud rallying cry into the air.
Suddenly the Einherjar leapt into action, breaking free of their bonds and coming forward from all sides through panels in the side of the ship, surrounding the Jotun where they stood and giving them many losses. But still the Warlock led them on, a maddening aura of dread having come upon him, for he knew that his guise was revealed and that Thor and his company had no fear of him. And indeed he could not perform any magic to speak of himself, for the true source of it lay in the hands of the Gods alone, and he was nothing more than a pawn of Loki: a fraud who used fear and awe to control his subjects; a true puppet. And now Thor was slowly making his way to the only source of his power, and with a dreadful resolve about him preparing to doom them all.
As the Thunderer approached the heart of the skeletal ship, he turned and swung his hammer at the interior wall of the Naglfar, causing the worn, brittle bones to break and fall into the sea. What was left was a wide gap in which one might make a desperate escape if the need arose, in a situation where the possibility of drowning would be insignificant to the destruction that would be left behind in their wake. Some of the Jotun realized what was about to happen and made a mad dash for the opening, abandoning all thoughts of battle, but by that time Thor had threw Mjolnir high into the air towards the heart of the furnace. The ancient hammer embedded itself into the cracking, hissing pipes, joyously singing at the prospect of all the chaos it was about to make, while Thor and his followers leaped off the boat and into the sea.
The resulting explosion completely incinerated the Naglfar and everyone on board it, sending a huge fireball soaring into the air like a booming rose. Meanwhile, Thor was welcomingly embraced by the icy cold waters, and dragged down unresistingly into the depths. He had anticipated this and left his clothes behind him, going into battle completely naked, but the tumultuous waters still knocked all his breath out of him like a hammer. He sank deeper and deeper into the darkened depths, until finally his foot caught upon something rough and jagged in many places, like a worn out rock. He latched onto it desperately, and it suddenly gave a movement beneath his arms, sending him crashing into the waves. It was no rock, that was for certain, and was now moving through the depths like the tail of some ancient sea serpent. As two bright emerald green eyes suddenly appeared in the darkness, Thor realized with a curse that he was right. If only he had his hammer…
The serpent lunged, but Thor was ready. He swerved off to the side and threw himself onto the back of the beast, gripping onto its scaly hide like chains of iron. Now, if the serpent dared to attack him again, it would face the risk of biting off its own tail. The creature violently twisted and coiled around in the depths in a vain attempt to shake the Aesir off, but it was futile. Going against the God of Thunder when he was in this state was like trying to penetrate through a solid stone wall with a spear. With a seething hiss, the Jormungand set off through the waves in a spiral pattern, dragging Thor behind it still clinging onto its back. Finally, when it seemed that Thor’s lungs were going to collapse from the pressure of the waves and lack of air they crashed through the surface, the Aesir desperately gasping for his life in the chill night air. The sensation of his breath returning to him was enough to distract the Thunder God for a moment, and the serpent seeing its chance dislodged him from its tail and sent him soaring high into the air.
Thor once again entered the frozen waves, but this time was prepared and kicked his way to the surface before the creeping cold reached his limbs. Looking around desperately, he saw a pinnacle of stone in the midst of the sea, barely large enough to hold one man but still a beacon of hope in the darkness. Thor desperately swam through the cruel, merciless waves, across a primal, untamed sea that saw him not as a God, bold and indestructible, but merely as another sacrifice to the limitless power of nature. For the first time, the Thunderer had doubts. "Am I really the son of Odin? Have I come all this way to die in the cold, naked and alone? The isle is nearer now, only a couple more bounds...ARRRGGGGHHHH!"
Fiery pain, agonizing and eternal, spread through his entire body. Thor did not know what part of him the snake had struck; only that he had indeed been struck and was now going to die a horrible death. A crimson scourge filled his eyes; he could hardly breathe, hardly move, his veins were on fire... and then suddenly, land. The earth, firm and welcoming, was below him. Did it matter now? Did it matter if he died on land or on sea? The end result was still the same. The poison spread. His limbs were writhing, his mouth foaming, his eyes bulging in their sockets. “No release... please, help me, father.”
And then... the voice. It filled his head like the whisper of the wind among the trees, the voice of fate, of the Norns, keepers of all the secrets of the universe. "Rise, Odin's Son." They whispered. "Go and meet your destiny..." “Yes... I will fulfill my destiny. I won't let you down, father.” His fingers reached out in the dark, searching for something, an old friend that he knew he would not be able to find. And then it was there: the handle of Mjolnir. Thor's eyes gleamed with fire. Against all probability, he managed to stand. The pain was still there, but it was like the rocks or the waves or the moon, an insignificant detail. All that mattered now was that the beast was in front of him, and he had his hammer in his hand. He smiled.
"Aye beastie, it looks like it’s just you and me. Time to die!" The Jormungand opened its red jaws wide like the gates of Hel and lunged forward, its green-black scales gleaming silver in the moonlight. Mjolnir was dancing in the wind, absorbing the energy of the skies and glowing with a secret fire; embodying the rage of the tempest storm. Thor waited until the serpent was only an inch away from him; until he could see the black slits in the creature's eyes. He plunged Mjolnir into its mouth, directly below the brain, and it carved through the soft flesh and shattered the great beast's skull with a dreadful crack. There was a flash of lightning, and the legendary serpent let out a terrible roar, falling into the wfaves and causing them to rage and seethe in torment. The battle was over.
Thor took nine steps, and then the serpent's venom found its way into his heart. He fell to the ground dead.
Chapter XI: A Storm Gathers
Dawn arrived crimson upon the gates of Valhalla, turning the morning dew blood red as the sun shone down upon plains below. There was a solemn mood around the palace, and a great silence permeated the great hall as the Gods met in council for the last time. They all knew something was amiss, even if they were unaware of the events that came to pass in the lands below, and the great loss of two of their number. The saplings decayed on the trees and the birds no longer sang in the orchards of Idun, stalks of corn withered and fell to the ground in the pastures of Frigga, and the only sound remaining was the howling of the wind upon the fields, chill and foreboding along the horizon.
Odin henceforth called a great meeting of the Aesir, the likes of which had never been seen since the event that took place at the judgement of Loki, and the great mead hall was full to the brim with Gods from far and wide, their radiant armor and keen edged swords gleaming like gold in the rising sun. However, the presence of two empty seats where Thor and Tyr used to dwell sat like a gathering cloud upon the minds of the Aesir, chasing away all fleeting thoughts of happiness. The desolate mood quickly spread throughout their ranks like a black storm, and murmurs of discontent filled the hall. The Allfather suddenly slammed his staff onto the ground thrice, each blow louder than the next, until the discord finally ceased. When he spoke next, it was in a voice weary and full of despair.
“Brothers and sisters, we have gathered here in council today for reasons all of you know too well. The rumors of growing discontent among the Jotun tribes and a great movement of armies along their borders have been confirmed, and even worse still, the Alfar from the depths of Svartalfheim have joined them, and they have machines that can manipulate fire at their lead. Furthermore, our messengers, the brave Thor and Tyr, have not returned from their journeys embarked months ago, and I can only assume the worst. For there is a dark presence in my heart that I have not felt for many years, not since the events that took my beloved son away from me and sent my wife into a deep despair. It is true: Loki has returned.”
At the mention of this there was a great cry in the mead hall, and the sound of a horn dropping to the ground echoed across the room. There, in the midst of the gathered Aesir, Heimdall had stood up, and was now shaking uncontrollably and looking even more pale than usual. He tried to speak, but no words left his mouth. Odin sighed deeply, and though his words were troubled, his heart was full of pity. “What has gone into you, young Heimdall? It is true that you were nearer to Loki than anyone else when our misfortune happened, but you acted admirably, and did not let any ties of friendship stop you from uncovering a traitor in our midst. Let no fear enter your heart, and know that what you did was just in the end. The betrayal of Loki was particularly hard on you, having known him from childhood, but know that it affected us all deeply in many different ways. So please compose yourself, and let us move on.”
Heimdall seemed to calm down sufficiently enough, picking up his engraved horn from the floor and sitting down, although he kept looking around nervously as if expecting any minute the walls of the place to collapse and finding himself staring into the open darkness of the Void itself. Odin coughed deeply, and then went on speaking. “As I said, Loki is free, and at this moment preparing to lead an army into Asgard to burn down the gates of Valhalla itself. Therefore we must be ever vigilant in our actions, and well prepare ourselves for the upcoming battle ahead. I must ask all Einherjar to be stationed outside the walls awaiting my order, and Frey shall be at their command. If I should fall in battle myself, my son Vidar shall take my place, for he has come of age and I believe he will prove to be a mighty leader. I must ask all women and children to stay behind for their own safety, and that includes you, Freja.”
He added this last remark the instant he saw Freja’s fiery expression, and knew that she desperately wanted to go to war and join their cause, but this could not be allowed to happen. She would indeed be a valuable ally on the battlefield and could fight with the strength of many men, but Odin nevertheless cared about her deeply, having no daughter of his own, and would not risk her life in vain. So she must stay behind in the care and safekeeping of Frigga, where she would be well accounted for. Freja’s response to this was to clutch the handle of her spear all the more passionately and let an even more furious glance come over her eyes, and at this display Odin smiled despite himself.
“And finally, Heimdall shall guard the rainbow bridge of Bifrost, and be on the lookout for Loki’s army when it approaches. Then the armories of Valhalla will be emptied, and all men will gather their arms, and I will give the order for battle.” Heimdall’s response to this was to drop his goblet of wine all over the table, soaking deep into his fine linen clothes. He nevertheless smiled halfheartedly, though in his heart he felt the ever pressing desire to quickly leap over the table and run. Odin, however, gave no thought to this, either out of his own innocence or the desire to believe the best of his people, or perhaps both, and with another crash of his mighty staff the meeting was over.
Heimdall, relieved, wiped the sweat off his brow and quickly departed, soon followed by the rest of the Aesir, but Odin himself stood behind for a while, deep in thought. He finally rose and ascended the stairs with a determined look about him, and he knew that very soon he must perform the greatest, and perhaps last deed of his long and immortal life.
Chapter XII: The Trickster Returns
Meanwhile, a thousand leagues away from the place where the Gods gathered that crimson morning, upon a desolate and uncharted pinnacle of rock in the middle of the dark, stormy Encircling Sea, Loki stood alone in the darkness, his torn and tattered jester’s robes billowing in the wind. All around him, fleets of corsairs in the tens of thousands gathered, covering every stretch of water with their bloody sails and black armored hulls, and sending clouds of grey smoke drifting into the air from the depths of their furnaces. Below the Trickster lay a motionless figure, made only visible by the streaks of lightning that illuminated his pale, red bearded face: It was Thor, still lying where he last slain the Jormungand serpent, his mighty hammer held tight in his petrified grasp.
If the sight of his utterly broken and defeated enemy gave Loki any pleasure, it was hard to see, for where his charred, blackened, and mutilated face should have been, a dread mask stared out into blank nothingness. It was forged by the Jotun engineers in the depths of the Naglfar, from some unknown substance recently discovered by them, and imbued with the very essence of fire itself. Its countenance was that of a court fool, with a gaping, crooked smile and half-moon slits for eyes, but these characteristics only made it all the more terrifying. No merry jester was this, for his eyes looked out into the darkness of the Void, and the sight of them could drive even the most disciplined soldier insane at an instant. The mask further enhanced those qualities, and all those who looked upon Loki fell into a deep pit of despair, and needed no chains to become his prisoner for all eternity.
Now the Trickster gently prodded the inert form of the Thunderer with his foot, almost lovingly, if it were not for the sick laugh he uttered shortly after. Then he spoke terribly, every word twisted to the core with malice and loathing. “Tsk… tsk. Brother, you knew you could not ever hope to defeat me. What was that you called me back at the hall? Filthy half-breed? Ill-begotten son? Well, I have the last laugh now, and for all your might and courage, you could not hope to escape my revenge. Now your home resides not in the splendor and majesty of the halls of the Aesir, but at the bottom of the sea, where your only companions will be the cold brine and the hordes of fish that will tear you flesh from bone. Merry travels!” And upon saying this he cruelly kicked him into the sea, and the proud Thunderer fell into the waves once again, with Loki’s maniacal laughter echoing behind him.
Now Loki looked up towards the horizon and raised his hand, and it seemed to him that the mists parted before him, and the proud citadel of Valhalla could be seen burning in the distance, its high towers shattered into ruin and the fabled walls surrounding it crumbled to dust. Now nothing could stop him, and his long awaited revenge against the Gods would finally come to pass.
Chapter XIII: The Voice of Mimir
Odin climbed steadily higher and higher along the winding staircase, past the very clouds themselves and unto the starlit, velvety blackness of the clear night sky. When he finally reached the top it was icy cold, but the chill did not seem to bother him and he continued to walk on. In this tower was a wide open space that housed many strange and ancient items of magical origin, everything from crystal balls that could allow their wielder to see into any precise point in all of the Nine Worlds, to mysterious astroscopes that could penetrate through the vast darkness and into the very stars themselves. However, Odin passed all these marvels without so much as a second glance, for he knew that they could not help him in the battle ahead. What he desired most of all was at the far end of the room, where a single cauldron lay, looking battered and old compared to its mystical counterparts.
The cauldron was filled with clear, semi-transparent and almost ethereal water. Odin took a pitcher that was cast off to the side and drew a drought, and after a moment’s thought brought it to his lips and drunk deeply from it. Almost immediately the lines of age that wrinkled his hands disappeared, his silver beard became almost black again, and the years of pain were lessened from his weary forehead. Then he spoke, with a voice clear as falling rain, and for a moment he was young again. “Mimir, old friend, I seek your assistance.” In a rush of flowing water, an object rose from the depths of the cauldron, and Odin could see that it was a disembodied head, floating in midair. It spoke, with a voice like the depths of time, and as the cauldron bubbled and seethed in fury, Odin’s head was suddenly filled with a great vision.
“Can you hear the roosters call?
In the pitch black of the night,
The final battle has begun
Valhalla’s iron gates shall fall
The Trickster stirs within the earth
And knows the time is nigh
Calling all the creatures of his birth,
To engulf the world in eternal blight
Waves crash upon the shores
As the mighty Serpent thrashes and roars
The jailor screams in anger and pain
As an old Wolf breaks through his chains
Sun and Moon grow dark and cold
The seasons begin to fold
The mountains crumble, the earth unwraps
Water rushes in to fill the gaps
And yet, out of the abyss
A new world rises in veils of mist
And as though the past was but a dream
An Eagle hunts above the stream
The Aesir gather on the plains
And remember those who lie slain
A million drowned within the sea
The Dragon gnawing at the tree
But through the howling, bitter storm
A new world shall be reborn
And from the fire, the land will sing
And await the return of the King”
And then, as soon as it began, the vision was gone. Odin collapsed onto the ground, gasping for breath in the cold night air, his aged features starting to return to him as he once again became the old, white bearded Father of the Aesir. He then stood up quickly. The head was gone, and the cauldron’s water was again peaceful in the moonlight. Odin once again descended the steps, but this time he had not far to go to find what he was searching for. The door to his bedroom was wide open, and inside his wife was spinning on her loom, looking calm and tranquil in the faint morning light. “Why hello, my dear husband.” She said wearily, “What brings you here this pleasant evening?”
Odin was not fooled for one moment. Frigga had restrained her feelings for so long, for she was truly a wife of the Aesir and incredibly strong willed, but he knew that the death of their son had taken its toll on her. Her once raven hair was now lined with a silvery white, and dark circles lurked beneath her eyes. The golden tears that she had shed stained the ground, glowing dimly in the pale moonlight, and Odin cursed himself for not being by her side for so long. He rushed forward, and she collapsed into his arms. There they both lay for some time, weeping together, clutching each other for their lives like two islands shrouded in the mist of a dark and stormy sea. Many hours past in the night, but still they were too deep in despair to even move, yet finally as the morning approached Odin knew he had to take leave of her. But before he did he whispered these words into her ear, “Know that no matter what comes to pass, and no matter what path my destiny takes me, I will always love you.” And then he was gone.
Frigga was now utterly alone, and she knew that both her son and her husband were about to be taken away from her by fate forever.
Chapter XVI: The Battle of Vigrid's plain
Deep in the middle of the night, burrowed down in the roots of Yggdrasil, a rooster crowed. The call was soon answered, and before long, the air was alive with a tempest storm of sound, in a great rage that shook the branches and girdle of the World Tree like leaves in a gale wind. The time for battle had come. Ragnarok had arrived.
At the rainbow bridge of Bifrost, Heimdall was feeling very uncomfortable. He knew that he had to get away, and fast, but that simply was not possible when he was completely surrounded by Einherjar. So without any further option, he did what he was told to in the first place: he watched. The magnificent sight of the bridge and its combination of vibrant colors, coupled with its descent into the realms of Midgard that stretched out below like a canvas, oceans and mountains giving off green and brown hues that created one large pictogram, only served to bore Heimdall as he thought of what he would be doing while in Asgard at the moment. Drinking, perhaps, in the arms of a beautiful woman…
Suddenly, a sentry called out. As Heimdall was awakened from his daydreaming and looked down into the depths of the rainbow, he could see clearly an assortment of black dots on the surface of the earth below. They were moving very rapidly, and approaching the bridge at an almost unnatural pace. But surely no army could be visible from this height? It would have to be a hundred thousand strong, even a million… at this point, Heimdall began to worry. In an instant he had pulled out his horn and blew a single clear note into the wind, causing a sufficient enough distraction for the Einherjar nearby that he was able to sneak out while they were busy viewing the army below.
Once out of their sights, he ran as fast as his feet could carry him.
The Einherjar calmly assembled on the ramparts of Valhalla as they prepared for what many of them knew would be their last day. For many years they had unquestioningly served the Aesir in their golden halls and protected their lands from the invading Jotun, but now their true loyalty would be put to the test. Still they showed no fear, their expressions fixed into a countenance of bravery and unwavering courage. As Odin rode down on his eight legged steed Sleipnir, he knew that many of them were willing to die for what they believed in, and did not doubt in them for a moment. Therefore he let loose a battle cry into the air, and rallied their spirits, causing them to shout with heroism and delight.
Still they waited. The shades of night gave way into the first glimmers of daylight, and the sun once again made its orbed journey across the skies. Yet the clouds still stood by ominously, as if reminding them of the dangers ahead, and they remained on the horizon long after the sun had risen. The cold wind mournfully blew across the grasses, now barren and decaying with the approaching winter ahead, and the Einherjar were unwillingly forced to wrap their fur cloaks tighter around them. Finally, the assembled group of warriors heard the echo of drums in the distance. It started out slow, but then ascended in a clamor like the hoof beats of some wild animal imprisoned at the dawn of time, drawing steadily nearer.
By now the first ranks of the Jotun were visible, adorned with completely black armor, painted with red runes, and carrying viscous battle axes. Rank after rank passed down the hill, until they were coming at such a speed that they were almost uncountable. How many were there? A thousand came and went, ten thousand perhaps, fifty thousand, and still they did not stop. The machines of the Alfar moved forward with them, propelled by an inner fire, and Odin shuddered as they approached, despite not knowing the true destructive power they contained.
Finally, the Allfather gathered his men and gave his final speech to them. He knew that this was the last time they would meet in this world, and that their lives were all subject to the great destiny that awaited them. So it was with this on his mind that Odin pronounced his tear-filled goodbye. “Einherjar. Sons of men, proud warriors in your own right and great heroes you shall be accounted for all time. I ask none of you to follow me, for though I have saved you once from the eternal darkness, it is beyond my power to do so again. If you perish on the field of Vigrid’s plain today, there will be no tomorrow. Just as all things wither away and fall into ruin, so shall your lives be no different. Yet I say, if you stay, and fight, and die for the last hope that remains, your legacies will live on forever! Though the world shall be broken and unmade, countless children of men and their descendants in lives beyond this one will hear of your names and rejoice at the splendor of your deeds! Today we fight, today we die! Ride for all that you hold dear, for your friends and loved ones! A golden sunset and a swift dawn, at the world’s ending!”
And upon saying this he leapt into the air on the back of Sleipnir, uttering dreadful war cry, and the Einherjar joined him, trailing fire in their wake. The earth was rent beneath their hooves, and the skies thundered at their approach. They met the ongoing tide of Jotun like an all-consuming wave, tearing through their ranks and trampling them like leaves scattered in all directions to the four winds. Odin cast Gungnir high into the air, and it arced a dreadful path through his enemies, impaling them in the hundreds. Still it went on, cutting them down like a scythe through grain, cleaving through the air like lightning, but the Allfather gave them no pause, and fought on with a sword in his left hand and his spear in his right. Arrows skimmed through the air, but Sleipnir was impervious to them, capable of transitioning from the worlds of corporeality to the ethereal realm, and nothing could stop him as he brought death from on high.
Yet the Einherjar were not so lucky. The Jotun’s arrows blotted out the sun and bore down upon them from the sky repeatedly, but still they fought on with a berserker rage, one man able to fend off a hundred giants alone in melee combat. Wounded in a thousand places, bleeding profusely, the great warriors did not stop until they were surrounded by a swath of their foes bodies, and were cruelly cut down where they stood by the Jotun axes in turn. The machines of the Alfar did their damage as well, striking down warriors with dreadful accuracy, while the cowardly wretches inside them cackled in their craven delight. Tongues of fire lashed from the barrels of the amalgamations, turning the plain into a charred, immolated battlefield, while a wall of steel projectiles issued forth from their depths in turn and struck like a hail of wicked arrows. And through all this the Einherjar fought bravely, though they were gravely outnumbered, and seemingly destined by a power beyond them to fall by the hands of the black horde. Still they rallied around their master, determined to protect him even to their deaths, and their vanguard formed a circle around the Allfather which could not be broken until the bitter end. Tears were brought to Odin’s eyes as he saw the heartrending sacrifice they made for him, and he fought on bitterly, sword in one hand, spear-staff in the other.
Finally, when they could fight on no longer, brought to the point of extreme fatigue and exhaustion, and all hope seemed lost; the clouds broke, and radiant light poured across the battlefield. Bright and unrelenting it came, engulfing the field like a sea with its brilliance. The Jotun and Alfar were blinded by it, and caught like moths in a fire, entering the bright eyes of judgement. Celestial figures descended from the sky: like women they appeared, fair but terrible to behold, with angelic wings billowing in the wind and gilded breastplates shining like fire; the Valkyries had arrived. Silver spears they held in their hands, and these they rained them down upon their enemy with divine retribution. The ranks of Jotun were completely obliterated by them, and soon the battlefield was empty save for Odin and his surrounding Einherjar, standing alone in a sea of corpses, with a hundred thousand spears littering the field like a nest of silver and golden feathers.
The Battle of Vigrid’s Plain was over, but the war was not yet won. As Odin looked back towards his city in triumph, a dreadful sight awaited him. Valhalla was in a great blaze, its high peaked golden towers and splendid mead halls caught on flame. The army, for all its strength and deadly prowess, had merely been a diversion. Loki had burned down the home of the Gods.
Chapter XV: Odin Versus Loki
Odin rushed back toward the gates of Valhalla, now lying in a shattered heap at the entryway, and immediately hastened forward to find the women and children that had been left behind. As he did so, however, he was blocked by a figure in a once vibrant orange and white checkered jester’s robe, now discolored and torn by the passage of time. A harlequin cap with bronze bells sat comfortably on his head, and his feet were covered by pointy fool’s shoes. His face was completely shrouded by a dreadful smiling visage, and the gloves on his hands were permanently molded into the shape of talons. It was Loki.
Odin was undaunted by the sight of his former blood-brother of whom he had once considered his son, and his azure robes rose about him as he lifted up the runic Gungnir to challenge him. His silvery hair and plaited beard blew in the wind, and standing there he and Loki were two elemental forces from the beginning of the universe, locked together in a dreadful dance throughout the ages of the world. When Odin next spoke, it was with all the charisma and might under his command, and only the most strong-willed could refuse to obey him.
“Loki! Where is my wife? Where are the women and children?” Loki laughed maniacally, and Odin’s countenance became full with disgust. Loki, seeing his reaction, laughed again and said, “You think so lowly of me already, father? If you must know, I let them go: this conflict lies between you and me alone.” This reply only seemed to anger Odin all the further. “Leaving them alone in the midst of winter? That is no better than murder! They will starve to death in the cold before anyone finds them!” Loki growled savagely, and replied, “At least they had a chance, which is more than you gave me!”
Odin stood back. For as much pain and devastation as his foster son had brought upon him and the rest of the Gods, he still loved him deeply, and refused to believe that he was condemned for all eternity. “Please, my son.” He replied slowly. “I did what I believed was right. Had you given me any reason to believe you were repentant for your deeds I would have welcomed you back with open arms. But it is not too late. Give up this pointless war, banish the Jotun back to where they came from, and you may return to the Aesir, for you have served your time of imprisonment.” At the mention of his captivity, Loki’s rage burned even more white-hot in his heart, and he cursed Odin, crying, “It is you who will beg for redemption when the day is done! You are to blame for all of this, and will repent for your sins! But now, die!”
And upon saying this a surge of crimson lightning poured forth from the Trickster’s outstretched hands, and coursed through the air directly at Odin. But the Allfather lifted up his hand in turn, and countered Loki’s incantation with lightning blast of his own, glowing azure in the pale darkness. The two sides clashed with one another for some time, the lightning flaring wild and out of control, leaping in all directions and scarring the face of Odin, and tearing through Loki’s robes. Finally, after neither side gained the upper hand, the spell was broken, and Loki immediately seized this opportunity by calling up a firestorm that twisted and contorted around him, until it took on the shape of a writhing, coiled Serpent that opened its jaws wide and lunged towards the form of the defenseless Odin.
The Allfather threw his staff unto the ground, and this time the earth cracked and rent below him, and a deluge of water poured out from the gap. It formed a shield around him, swirling and twisting in mighty waves until the fire serpent was repelled by it, giving out a hiss and collapsing into a heavy steam that filled the room with a cloud of mist. Loki was surprised for a moment, but then cunningly called the mist to his command, bending it around him until it veiled him completely from view. He wickedly rejoiced at the prospect of ambushing Odin when he least expected it, but was greatly disappointed at what happened next. The Allfather simply blew a stream of breath into his hands and a great breeze filled the room, dissipating the mist into nothingness. Loki cursed and desperately tried to overcome his opponent, spinning forth a web of shadows that engulfed the room. Wisp like creatures comprised of grey smoke materialized forth and danced in the darkness, all merging together to form a single giant Wolf that opened its shadowy maw and prepared to consume Odin. Again the Allfather simply raised his staff and a beam of radiant light expanded outward from it, piercing through the darkness and sending it falling back into the Void. The two opponents then stood there facing each other for some time, each of them wondering what the other would do next. It was Loki who broke the silence.
“It appears we are too equal in the arts of magic. We must settle our dispute in a… different manner.”
There was a pause, followed by a sound like that of a thunderclap, and a cracking sword of blue lightning appeared in Odin’s hand. There was another crash of thunder, and Loki drew forth a crimson lightning blade from the air. In an instant the two swords clashed with a sound like the humming of a beehive, and thin tendrils of energy broke off from them, zigzagging into the room and crashing into walls, sending clouds of dust billowing into the air. The two Gods fought on, and with each clash of their enchanted blades another section of the palace hall crumbled away. Finally the two swords locked together with a sound like breaking metal, and in the resulting struggle in which each Aesir tried to knock the blade out of their opponent’s hands the lightning blades fused together and let loose a pillar of golden light that flowed directly into the ceiling. The resulting clash of stone and wood sent the entire mead hall tumbling down, and all that was left after the dust had cleared was a shattered ruin of crumbled debris and broken rubble.
In an instant the two Aesir rose from the midst of the chaos and were on their feet again, preparing for battle. The blades clashed anew, this time without any obstacles to restrain their incredible destructive power. Multicolored streams of light rushed off in every direction, and the great hall was illuminated by crimson and azure energy, in addition to the pale orange glow of the fires raging around them in the distance. However, Odin could sense that Loki was beginning to tire. His desire for revenge had given him the upper hand early on, but now that his energy was slowly being drained from him he was at a weakness. Three times Odin saw his opportunity but did not take it, for he debated with himself if he really desired to bring an end to the very person whom he had once considered a son. But it soon became apparent that the battle need to be ended, and quick, for the lightning blades’ volatile energy was becoming too chaotic and untamable and would eventually overcome them both. And so Odin brought his blade through Loki’s defenses and plunged it directly into his chest.
The Trickster swayed on the brink for a moment, and then with a cry came crashing to the ground like a falling pendulum. The two lightning blades instantly evaporated into the air and Odin gave a great cry of despair, unwilling to believe that he had just slain his own foster son. But at that moment Loki laboriously drew breath and clutched at his face, struggling desperately to remove his mask. It had already been cracked in one portion by a stray lightning bolt during their confrontation, and the rest of it easily crumbled away in turn. What was awaiting Odin was a terrible sight. Where the Trickster’s face should have been, there was nothing more than a charred shell of blackened skin that covered his entire head down to the neck, and brutally mutilated his once fair features. Loki gave out a struggling laugh which turned to a cough midway, and then said faintly, “Do you see what you did to me, father? Can you see the agony you have put me through…”
Odin fell to the ground as one dead, and let out a howl of terror out into the air. “I did not know! Please, my son, believe me, I did not know!” Then he savagely clawed at his face with his hands as if he wanted to join Loki in his mutilation, to maim himself so he would not be the one to have the dreadful burden of guilt on his shoulders. But Loki spoke again, and this time he was on the verge of tears. “I do believe you… but it is too late. Heimdall is gone, and I am dying...” Then he fell back and laid still. Odin shook his fist at the heavens. “Heimdall is the one who did this? May he go to a swift and terrible fate worse than all those in the depths of Hel! Forgive me, my son...” But Loki was already unconscious, and Odin knelt before him and embraced his shattered body, crying, “You were right! Now it is I who must pay for my sins. Ancestors before me, guide me now in what I must do...” Then he was gone, leaving the smoldering ruins of Valhalla behind him and entering into the battlefield below.
Chapter XVI: Odin’s Sacrifice
Meanwhile upon Vigrid’s Plain, the battle was not yet over. While Loki and Odin were dueling high above in the ruins of Valhalla, the clash of their lightning swords echoing in tune with the sound of the gathering thunderstorm ahead, a second wave of Jotun and Alfar had arrived, and with them brought Fenrir, a giant wolf and one of the three monstrous children of Loki. Odin’s son Vidar had taken the lead and arrived with reinforcements, followed by Freja’s brother Frey, who led a similar force along with him, but the strength of both of these armies combined was still not enough to bring an end to the ravenous Wolf.
It fought like a mad beast, unconcerned of its own danger as long as it was able to destroy and consume as many warriors as it could. The mighty Wolf’s red eyes bulged in their sockets as spear upon spear were driven into its bloodstained coat, but they could not pierce deep enough to slay the foul creature. Frothing at the mouth, the accursed beast managed to devour at least a hundred Einherjar while breaking though their lines, all the while in the distance the ranks of Jotun warriors were continuing to wreak havoc on the battlefield, and the Alfar technicians cackled mercilessly behind their iron machinations as they plowed down the defenders of Asgard into the bare earth.
Finally, when all seemed lost, Odin himself returned to the battlefield. The sight of him slowly stepping forward, robes billowing in the wind and one eye glowing with blue fire, uplifted the troop’s spirits and they gave a mighty roar. With their leader in their midst, anything could be accomplished that day, and the furious beast would not stand a chance. However, as the Allfather approached closer, they could see that something was dreadfully wrong. Odin seemed to be walking lamely towards the beast, weaponless, with his arms outstretched in a welcoming gesture, as if he was urging the beast to attack him! The Einherjar immediately believed that this was just some clever conjurer’s trick, but as Odin approached nearer to the beast, they could see that this was indeed their leader, and that he actually intended to sacrifice himself to the ravenous Wolf. The Allfather peacefully closed his eyes, arms still outstretched in greeting, and when the Wolf opened its red maw and rushed forward at him, a smile was on his lips. The engorged, yawning jaws completely engulfed the ruler of the Aesir, and then, with a sickening crunch, snapped shut. Odin was gone.
Vidar immediately shouted out and ran after the beast, ignoring his companions’ desperate attempts to restrain him. He caught the creature in a tight grip around its neck, and with a crushing roar wrenched all the breath out of its throat. The Wolf gave a strangled gasp for air and clawed at his underbelly, sinking straight through the linked chain armor until it drew blood, but Vidar lurched forward and pried open the great beast’s jaws, and then stabbed Fenrir straight through the neck. The mighty Wolf gave a strangled howl and then fell to the ground, instantly dead. Vidar stood over the fallen beast’s body triumphantly. With their monstrous pet slain, the resolve of the Jotun and Alfar fell and they were easily overrun by the remaining warriors and scattered in all directions of the wind. The armies of Loki were finally defeated.
With the battle over and the wounded and slain needing to be tended to, the Einherjar were torn between conflicting emotions. Their leader, the benevolent ruler who had always stood by them as a father figure was dead, but his son was victorious and the Wolf that terrorized them was for so long was finally gone. Furthermore, the Jotun were defeated, and they could finally set about rebuilding the devastation that had been brought to their lands, and a new dawn awaited them. As if celebrating their victory, the rising sun emerged from beneath the clouds near the horizon and illuminated the plain with its golden light. The Einherjar hesitated at first, then cried joyously at their victory, and yet Vidar felt that something was wrong. As the clouds gathered again and he looked in the direction of the west, he realized the terrible truth. It was not really the sun after all. It was a man, or more accurately, a giant.
This giant was greater than all the others, standing to a height of at least twenty of them combined, and in his hand he carried a flaming sword, so bright that it burned with white flame that the Einherjar mistaken for the rising sun. His skin was obsidian black, and cracked in several places, leaking out streams of lava and letting loose a cloud of steam into the air. His head was completely covered with fire, and a mane of it streamed about him like a beard and flowing hair, and as it leaped up into the air parted around the form of an iron crown upon his head, set with many rubies. This was Surt, leader of the Fire Giants that resided in the fiery plane of Muspelheim, and commander of the greatest army known to men or Aesir. Upon seeing him, the Einherjar were cast into a great terror, and when he finally spoke, it was like the roaring of an erupting volcano.
“Foolish weaklings! This is the hour of the Jotun! If anyone dares challenge me, I shall face them in single combat and crush them like insects! You pests will run from me like the blade of a flaming scythe, and I will cut you down like stalks of grain! After I have finished, I shall burn all your lands into cinders, and feast upon your charred remains!”
No one stepped forward to answer Surt’s challenge. The giant was about to gloat further when Frey, commander of the Einherjar and brother of Freja walked forth, unsheathing his sword. “I accept.” he said simply.
Surt laughed, and then bellowed, “So be it!” The challenge was on, and both combatants stepped forward, Surt’s flaming footsteps leaving crater sized meteors in his wake, while Frey went calmly into battle with his helmet shining and his white cloak billowing in the wind. Surt swung down his flaming sword, leaving a fissure of fire in the ground where it struck, but Frey had already easily stepped out of the way. With a roar of rage, Surt again stepped forward, this time trying to crush Frey with his enormous feet, but the young Aesir was too quick for him. He dodged quickly under the smoldering giant, and finally at the opportune moment plunged his sword into deep Surt’s vulnerable calf.
The giant gave a cry and tumbled forward like falling meteorite, then regained his balance and quickly withdrew the sword from his side like a thorn and turned on Frey. The brilliant warrior was not quick enough to escape Surt’s wrath this time, and the flaming sword cleaved through his great helm with a flash of blue light. Then the Fire Giant trod his body into the dirt, a muddy pile of blood and bones the only thing remaining of the proud and valiant God that had stood there shortly before. The Einherjar’s spirits were completely crushed. With their leader dead and their greatest champion gone, what was left for them on the battlefield? Certain death loomed ahead like a storm cloud, and there was nothing left to fight for. Valhalla was in ruins, the fields were in flames, the pastures were decaying into blackness… all that was left was destruction.
As if echoing this sentiment, the lord of the Fire Giants raised his sword, and fire rained down from the sky. Great meteors of flame and solar dust peaked through the clouds, landing on the ground in tremendous explosions that started free roaming blazes wherever they touched, and incinerated the defenders of Asgard they came into contact with into ash. Vidar himself was knocked from his feet, surrounded by walls of fire in every direction, and as he looked up towards the blood red sky, he thought “It’s all over… there is no hope for any of us now. Only death…” The last thing he saw were winged shadows on the horizon, as if belonging to great birds, and he could vaguely remember hearing their cries in the distance, close but still very far away… then sweet darkness overcame him, and he was gone.
Chapter XVII: The Redemption of Loki
Lightning came down from the sky and danced across the crumbled walls of Valhalla, illuminating the form of the fallen Loki as the shadows lengthened on the field of battle below. Of the proud, undaunted citadel that had once stood there before, nothing now remained but a barren wasteland: a desolate memorial to the gods that had fought and fell there. Its shattered battlements and torn banners fluttering uselessly in the wind gave it the impression of some ancient coliseum, now fallen and turned into disrepair, and the howling of the wind upon the barren dust transformed the great ruin into a primordial burial ground, where a wounded mammoth beast would journey for many miles to die in peace among its brethren.
Yet out of the shadows, against all probability, stepped the form of the former Guardsman turned Traitor of Asgard: Heimdall. The sight of his enemy lying on the ground as one dead gave him no assurance, for his craven and fearful spirit had to make certain that Loki was truly dead and not returned from the otherworld as some dreadful specter to haunt him. So he stepped forward hesitantly, each step more fearful then the next, until finally he stood by the body of the fallen Trickster. Then he unsheathed his sword and raised it high above the air, preparing to bring it down upon the unconscious Trickster's body.
Suddenly his feet were drawn out from under him and he fell forward, his sword leaving his hand to crash ponderously to the ground. In an instant an iron grip was around his neck, slowly sucking out all the breath from him like a heavy metal chain. Heimdall struggled in vain, flailing his arms out against his unknown captor, his breath coming out in pitiful, empty gasps, until he finally opened his eyes and looked in terror out at the visage in front of him. Loki was now upright despite his grievous wound, staring at his enemy with eyes that gleamed like fire. A smile was on his blackened lips, and Heimdall knew that his time on earth was at an end. When the Trickster spoke it was in a fell voice, full with fiery malice and the pain of his mutilation.
"You just couldn't resist now, could you? Once was never enough... you had to come back for more. And that's the thing about revenge, isn't it? It always lets you down in the end..." And now he was moving forward, holding Heimdall above his head like a ragdoll with an almost superhuman strength. This caused the guardsman to let out a whimper, which only served to entice Loki all the more, laughing bitterly. "But of course, it was all you, wasn't it? In my foolishness and torment I lashed out at the Gods, when now I see that it was a mere guardsman who led to my demise. O father, forgive me, I have been blind to the light of the truth.. my hands are stained with the blood of countless innocents, who only died to confirm the words of a coward. Death is only fitting for my deeds!"
Loki was now ignoring Heimdall entirely, addressing his words to some higher power and giving himself completely into the hands of fate. But throughout all of this he kept moving forward, slowly but steadily, driven on by some external force, perhaps destiny itself. His wounds did little to hinder him, though they were now bleeding anew and staining his torn, discolored robes anew with rivulets of crimson. But as Heimdall again struggled desperately to escape his bonds, the Trickster once again fixed his eyes upon him. "Ha! Still trying to avoid your last judgement, are you, steward? Well, you will not escape the hands of fate so easily. I have bitterly atoned for my sins, but as for you, your betrayal has been lavishly awarded! Still now you are dressed in the mail of a king, with teeth inlaid with the finest gold and a trumpet made of dragon horn! Throughout your life you have been freely given friendship, admiration, and love in great multitudes, when I could never gain the favor of anyone without giving them mighty boons in return! And you sold away all that light and beauty for your own benefit! Look at your life, you filth, and repent!"
And for the first time in his existence, be it a few seconds long, Heimdall indeed felt guilty for what he had done and cowered before Loki in fear and self-loathing. All his sins were laid bare before his very eyes, and the prideful, hubristic guardsman saw himself in a mirror: without the decadent mail and fine linens of the gods, without the golden teeth and the horn, without the women that lusted after him and the subjects that held him in admiration: and he was naked and alone before the shriveling eye among which all denizens of the world must eventually kneel before in judgement. But as soon as it had started, the vision was gone, and raw hatred replaced all doubts in Heimdall's heart, and he roared like a wounded beast that fails to see that it is foaming at the mouth and must be slain for its own good. And so Loki's convictions were once again justified, and the desire for justice once again entered his heart.
"I see." He said softly. "You are truly a coward. To kneel before the almighty Creator, to whom the great Aesir are merely subjects, and deny his judgement, that is utter damnation. And although I am broken of body and spirit and not worth the honor he bestows upon me, I shall see it fit to take it upon myself to carry out his will." Heimdall then screamed, a terrible scream cut off by Loki's claw at his throat. Looking around madly like a prisoner condemned to hanging and unwilling to believe he is at the gallows, Heimdall finally realized where they were. They had left the crumbled walls of Valhalla long behind them, and were steadily walking along the branches of the World Tree itself, with a depthless black sea of stars below them. As they reached the final leafy branch of Yggdrasil, Heimdall realized that Loki had no intention of stopping and was going to throw both of them off the edge. But certainly he was not that mad?
"See, Heimdall, I take not only the judgement of the Creator for you, but for myself also. He has decreed that the only way for me to cast aside my sins and redeem myself is to follow you into the endless sea of night. I accept my destiny without regret or any semblance of anger, but am grateful to the universe that I have the chance to do one last good deed before I die." Then he finally halted. They were now on the very edge of the world. "It was always you and me, wasn't it, Heimdall? From the day I was born, to every day of my existence. You were always there, spinning your web of lies, turning my love into lust, my friendship into solitude, my creativity into destruction, and my fire into ash. Meanwhile, I was blissfully unaware of it all, putting out my light in the darkness for no one to see, writing my story for no one to read. You were there... always. And now, the end comes, Heimdall. You and me, the fallen angel and the hidden fiend, together, for all eternity. AH HA HA HA HA!"
Then they were falling, and Heimdall felt the winds of fate rush through his limbs, carrying him far away, with the laughter of Loki still on his ears. They fell through branch and trunk; through hidden worlds and unknown lands; through shores of night and light of stars; through nebulae and galaxies and universes; beyond heat and cold; over water, and fire, and earth, and air, until even the stars fell away and they passed into the eternal darkness of the Void.
< Message edited by Master Merlin -- 10/2/2015 11:20:07 >