You stared at the sad little chunks of ragged metal that used to be Mjolnir, carefully lit and arranged in their glass display case. There was a large plaque affixed to the pedestal they rested on, all in Asgardian runes. You supposed it must be like any other museum, describing the object and explaining its history.
You didn't even know metal could shatter like that.
“So this is all that's left, huh?” You said. “Yeah, that definitely looks beyond repair.”
“We have all the pieces, including the haft. Once the Bifrost is more effective, we could take it to Nidavellir and have it reforged.” Loki said. “But I do not think we will. Thor is well armed, even without it, and there were certain special things about Mjolnir that were lost in its sundering. Things that can never be replaced. It may be best to simply consign it to history and move on.”
“What did this? What could do this?” What could shatter solid metal like that? And special metal, like uru, at that?
Loki very carefully and slowly placed his arm around you, hand cupping your shoulder. He watched you out of the corner of his eye, face serious, and you realized that he was waiting for you to reject or accept the touch. It also seemed as if he needed this, as a kind of support for what he was about to say.
“You need to know. It's definitely no secret now, though it used to be. It was her.”
He pointed to yet another partly finished mural. There were so many in this hall. This one depicted a very thin, dark-haired woman, whiplike and crowned with a tangle of thorns, like the branch of a locust tree. The sight of her made you uncomfortable. Like you were remembering something that you were sure you'd never known in the first place. Like a fearful instinct.
“This was Hela.” He said solemnly. “She was our sister. She destroyed the world.”
You scooted a bit closer to him. You didn't mind the touch in this situation, in fact, it seemed appropriate.
“We didn't know about her until after our father's passing. She was older than either of us by quite a bit. Hela was an Aesir as well, associated with death. Specifically, violent death, dealt by her own hand. So much did she revel in death, that she could even compel slain warriors to rise and fight on her behalf. She apparently grew too intractable, and just as we were born, Odin had to make the decision to imprison her. The Valkyries were sent to contain her. They were all but one of them slain.”
“So that's what happened to them. Brunnhilde never talked about it, but it seemed to me like something must have gone bad for them, for her to be the only one.”
“She doesn't talk about it with anyone. But I have seen it, in her memory. It was quite terrible. Hela did not know mercy, which is actually not the kind of person you want on a battlefield. Even I am willing to take prisoners. Even our father, severe as he was, knew that you didn't kill everyone.”
“How did she break the hammer though? Did she...did she somehow kill it? Is that possible?”
“Clever mortal. There was magic in the hammer, and magic is an energy. An energy can be caused to 'cease'. It might not have been apparent, but there was a powerful curse on Mjolnir, one laid by our own father. That the hammer would be useless to anyone who was not the kind of person who could be trusted to rule Asgard. Such people would not even be able to lift it. But a spell is a little like a living thing, and so, yes, Hela killed the hammer. And all the Einherjar, several civilians, and the Warriors Three.”
He gestured to another painting, this one depicting the same three men you had seen on the walls in the Kings rooms.
“They were brave and distinguished warriors, guardians of Asgard. And...my closest friends.”
There was a lot of carefully monitored emotion in his words. The loss of his friends must have been a terrible blow. He didn't seem to have many. There was just Thor, his brother, and Brunnhilde, who seemed to have taken up the role of older sister. Maybe Heimdall, though their relationship sometimes seemed a little strained.
“We couldn't talk her down. She just didn't want it. She didn't want peace. She didn't want...family. Didn't want us. She came out of her banishment exactly the same as she went in; seeking murder and conquest.”
“Look, I never had a sibling, you know, so I don't really know how it goes. But if she was really how you say, then whatever reason your dad had for banishing her, it's probably the only reason you and the king are still alive, right?” You reasoned.
“Do you think so?” He asked, distantly.
“Well you didn't even know about her right? So she was locked up for your whole lives. So she couldn't kill you as babies for being a threat to her supremacy. I mean, if murder was her thing, then she wouldn't be above fratricide, would she? She tried to kill you as adults after all, didn't she?”
“That she did.” He confirmed. “It was she who took Thors eye, and she tried to take all our lives. Her life and power was tied into the existence of Asgard, though I know not how or why. And that was why Asgard had to be destroyed.”
His hand on your shoulder tightened. “We had to sacrifice our realm, in order to save all of the others. She would have drowned them all in blood, as surely as Thanos did. We had to do it. But I am still the hand that caused it to happen, and I cannot help but wonder; was she that mad before her imprisonment, or was it just another one of Father's terrible mistakes, that came back to haunt us? Could she have been reasoned with if he had just given it more time and effort? Could she have been rehabilitated? The rest of us were. Why not her?”
“Is she dead?” You asked.
“She'd better be.” Loki said.
“Show me something else?”
“We will probably have to come back to this subject too often. This is within living memory for everyone. It's going to come up. But...”
He released your shoulder, his hand trailing down your arm to curl around your fingers, leading you along the hallway, absently describing the things in the paintings and display cases. Speaking about Hela had draped a pall of gloom over him, the subject obviously still fresh. All of this must have happened barely two years ago. That probably seemed like just yesterday to someone with such a long lifespan. The Event had been almost two years ago, and it effected you very strongly still. And it had all been reversed! This though, this was permanent. Loki could never make it go away.
You passed a display of knives, many of them very similar to yours in appearance, though not as opulent.
“Yours will go in there, once you...no longer have need of it. Unless, of course, you gift it to someone else before then.”
Once you died, he meant. You suddenly realized that, though you might have whole decades left to your life, it was going to seem like no time at all to them. All these people were becoming friends with you, each and every one of them would mourn at your funeral, and it would seem to them that you'd been here and gone in the blink of an eye. They were all going to lose a friend, and so soon, so soon.
That they would see you transform before their eyes, your hair would tun gray, you skin would wrinkle, your body would bow, and they wouldn't change at all. Andsvarr would still be an eager youth. The twin Valkyries would still be children. Roskva, though an old woman, would not gain another line on her face in your whole lifetime. Loki would remain as flawlessly handsome as he was right now, but he would have to watch you wither away.
You were mortal, and this was all just a formality.
The same gloom that had enveloped Loki, now swallowed you; the acknowledgment of mortality, the inevitability of entropy. That all things, men and gods, would end.
“_____” Loki said softly. “Do you still want to see the spear?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I do.” You answered, throat thick. Distraction, that was what you needed. There was no changing what would happen, you could only decide what to do in between.
He led you to the glittering golden weapon, taller than yourself, three elegant and ornately engraved blades shining in the light. Strangely, the spear was not behind glass, but propped up on a special rack, as if it was meant to be picked up at any time.
“This is yours? It's beautiful. Is it safe to touch?”
“Not very.” He said. “It is a very powerful artifact, and takes a similarly powerful person to safely wield it. It amplifies the magic within its wielder, and can even condense it into blasts of magic. Not something you would want to lose control of.”
“No definitely not.” You said, shuddering. Your magic was already unpredictable; you didn't need that amplified.
“The spear was the favored weapon of my great-grandfather, one of the first crafts of the newly created realm of Asgard. Every ruler since has held one, for better or worse. For now, this one is mine.”
“How many different kinds of weapon can you use?” You wondered.
“Oh most of them. I specialize in small blades and polearms however. Thor prefers mid-sized, heavy arms, Brunnhilde likes swords-”
“Why don't any of you use guns? You have the tech to make guns, don't you?”
Loki looked slightly affronted. “Of course we do. Guns, blasters, lasers, all of that. We can use them, but they are...” He trailed off, his hand circling in the air, searching for the words. “Huglausi is the word we use. Craven. They lack finesse. Prowess. Skill. Personal power. Only the weak, lowly, or desperate use them. We've been reduced to it before, but it is not ideal at all. It's a measure of last resort.”
“Oh. Wow. But Brunnhilde was impressed that I could use one.”
“The Valkyrie spent a great deal of time away from Asgard. Her attitudes toward certain things is different. But she still picked up the sword as soon as she got the chance.”
“Is that why you all do things in such old-fashioned ways? Because it shows your...your prowess?”
“Well, yes.” He said as if it were the most obvious thing. “Quality is paramount. The work of your hands has value, does it not? Also, I think it is not 'old-fashioned' if it still works well for us. For humans, well, there are billions of you. Industrialization and mass production has become imperative to your survival. But there are only a few thousand of us. And once, long ago, we came across the artifact known as the Tesseract.”
“That thing you were trying to steal in New York?”
“Not steal, retrieve. It belonged to Asgard, and so I had claim to it. It is from this artifact that the primacy of Asgard is derived. From it, the bifrost was built, and all our technology as well. We had no need for coal power, nor steam, nor electricity. Not when we could transport ourselves to other realms in a matter of moments, and not when we could simply ride across the entire realm in but a few days. So we retained what you would see as 'old ways', but we also kept our eye for quality, and the value of our workers.”
“A few days? On horseback?” You asked, a little confused. “How big was the planet?”
“Asgard was no planet, but a magical realm, built from scratch.” Loki looked suddenly taken aback. “Oh, my dear, did we really neglect to show you? I suppose when you are used to everyone knowing something, you forget that everyone does not, in fact, know. Well then. Behold. The Realm...Eternal.”
The little image that appeared in his hands was like something off the cover of a fantasy novel. It made no sense. All of the other realms had been simply planets, orbiting their stars, somewhere out in space. But this...This was all wrong. This was impossible.
Asgard looked as if someone had ripped an island from the crust of some world, and cast it into space. And then neglected to tell it that anything had changed. Water flowed from the edges, cascading down into the void. How did it replenish? How was there gravity to pull the water down from the edge? Somehow, clouds formed, though there couldn't possibly be an atmosphere. There was a city, and forests, farms and mountains, capped with snow. Where did the snow come from? How could there be seasons? At the heart of the city, rose a soaring palace of silver and gold, shaped presumably in tribute to-or challenge of- those very mountains, though it looked like Leviathan's own pipe organ to you.
Your eyes flicked upward to Loki's face. His expression was even and serious. He wasn't playing with you at all.
“Uh...How? Everything else is a planet, how was this...this?” You gestured at the slowly rotating space island. “How did it have snow? How did it have air, or gravity? How did it even have night? How did this exist?”
“Are you impressed?” Loki murmured.
“I'm confused!” You exclaimed. Loki scowled slightly.
“Did you not hear what I said earlier? It all has to do with the power of the Tesseract. It was a special containment unit that held and harnessed the energy of the Space Stone, and, after it fell into the possession of Buri's ancestors unknown eons ago, our people have used it for all our advanced technology. Including the building of Asgard. The Space Stone controls space. Movement through space, connecting one place to another, How much can exist within a space, and what kind of thing can exist there. The Space Stone could create the effects of gravity, enough to make something as small as this act like a full-blown planet. It could hold atmosphere in place, cause the falling water to return to its source, make the mist form clouds which brought us rain for our fields, and snow for our mountains.”
“But you lost the Tesseract here on Earth. Like, a thousand years ago. Say...were you guys trying to build something here?”
“This I do not know for certain. The circumstances of the Tesseracts loss were not recorded, intentionally, I feel. From later events, however, I personally surmise that it may have had something to do with our sister's imprisonment. I believe it was bait, to lure her from Asgard, to a place where she did not hold ultimate power, and then it was lost in whatever devastation that battle must have caused.”
He turned his hand, causing the image to flip over. The underside of Asgard was made of mountainous fused crystals, glowing softly blue.
“The Tesseract did not need to be present for its power to remain. Buri gathered millions of tons of crystal from Nornheim, and used the power of the Stone to fuse and transform the crystal into a base upon which Asgard was to be built, and to infuse it with that same power, that it could act as a generator. At that point, we no longer truly needed the Tessereact, but kept it for eons longer, acting as guardians and stewards of its great power.”
He dropped his hands, and the illusion disappeared in a sparkle of green light.
“Well.” He said. “That's the clean version. You already know what we were. And believe me, all the comparisons you could make, all the heinous acts that conquerors perpetrate...we did them all, and more. All the more reason to leave that behind. Now we can rebuild cleanly.”
“That's a noble goal, at least.” You said. “Something tells me not everyone agrees?”
“No, they most certainly do not.” He took the spear from the display. “But I hold Gungnir, the proof of royalty. My brother has Stormbreaker, the masterpiece of Nidavellir. They may not agree, but they will obey.”
“Is...is that all it takes?” You asked, heart speeding. His voice was so firm. What would he be willing to do, if someone took their disagreement too far?
“Not everyone can do it. One is not powerful because one can handle the artifacts. One can handle the artifacts because one is powerful. An average Einherjar could not hold this spear. You could not lift Stormbreaker off your own chest. These things are not mere objects. They cannot be taken from us, not while we are still worthy of our offices. And we are.” The last part was spoken very softly. “No matter what doubts there have been in the past. We are.”
“Saldis said you were a good king.” You said. His mouth curved into that almost smile you'd started getting used to.
“Did she?” He said thoughtfully. “It is gratifying to have my efforts remembered so fondly. Perhaps I shall have her authorized for a raise.”
He hefted the golden weapon.
“So, now that you have seen my spear, would you like to accompany me to the training fields before lunch?”
“You want to show off your prowess?” You asked.
Loki just smiled, broad and devilish.
He'd gone out onto the field still wearing his breastplate, but he'd removed his cape and horns, opting instead to pull his long hair into a loose bun at the nape of his neck. While the training guards and Einherjar gave him all the room and respect he wanted, they didn't stop their practice, merely letting him slip in among them.
Although he was just going through drills, it became quickly apparent that his skill was on an entirely different level than those around him. Loki was faster by far, more precise, and did not tire.
You stood in the covered, raised walkway on the edge of the field, just watching him move. You were not the only one; the walkway was scattered with people, mostly young women and a few children, all watching, and so you didn't feel too out of place.
A crowd was drawing though, as pedestrians and errand-runners noticed their prince among the soldiers, and stopped to catch a glimpse. There was no telling if Loki even noticed, as he ran through all the basic drills and began executing more complicated and acrobatic moves. Some of them were so elegant and complex that his efforts got applause from the watchers, yet he hadn't even seemed to break a sweat.
The trainees around him also started putting more effort in, trying to move faster, swing harder, to add flourishes to their more basic actions. Some of the trainers scolded them, presumably for biting off more than they could chew.
The more you watched, the more you got caught up in the feel of things. You weren't a pacifist by any means, but you also weren't part of a martial culture. Oh, you knew your country's military was in everybody's business, but the home culture in your neck of the woods was agrarian. However, ever since Thor had become known to humankind, rumors of Asgard's noble warrior culture had flown.
In fact, it had brought some rather confused people out of the woodwork. Groups that described themselves as 'traditionalist', 'folkish', and of course, the Nationalists. Then it became known that the God of Thunder did not look kindly on fascism, and most of those people withdrew from the public eye in disgrace. Now there were mostly the odd, but usually benign reenactment groups. You had no doubt that those other, less savory elements were still stewing out there, but with the Asgardians actually here now, observable, approachable, you expected their conviction would eventually wane.
But you began to understand, watching everyone on the field, the appeal of the warrior culture. Seeing Loki move, and knowing that all that he was capable of could be brought to bear for your sake...it made you feel safe.
“Excuse me? Lady Human?” A small voice pulled your gaze from the field. Two young women stood next to you, one dressed far more richly than the other. The less fancy woman addressed you once again. “My lady?”
“Mm? Yes? How can I help you?” You answered, your chipper customer service voice coming out. You had never seen these two before, but the woman who hadn't spoken was looking at you as if you were a slug or something, and it made you uncomfortable.
“I am to translate for my mistress. She wishes to express her thoughts.”
“Well...if you want to.”
“She wishes to know to whom you believe your eyes belong.”
What? “Um...myself? Pretty sure they're mine. I made them myself, after all.” It was a weak joke, but such things usually diffused annoyed customers. The woman turned to her mistress and spoke in a serious and passive voice. The fancier woman-a noble of some sort?-scoffed and said something to her maidservant, who turned back to you.
“She says the rumors painted a grander picture of you. She is disappointed to find you as plain as you are ordinary.”
Oh, so that was how it was. “Has your mistress met many humans?” You asked, focusing all your attention on the maidservant, not even looking at her mistress.
She asked, was answered, and answered you. “No, my lady. She considers your species to be lowly, and does not sully herself with worthless information.”
“Is that why you speak my language, but she is incapable of doing so herself?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Can she understand us right now?”
“No, my lady.”
“Okay. Would you like different employment?”
“I...think I know why you are asking, but for the moment, I don't believe I can leave, my lady. I was raised to this position.”
You shrugged. “Oh well. It'd sure ruffle her feathers, wouldn't it?”
The noblewoman, who had grown agitated with being ignored, and the prolonged conversation between you and her maidservant, cut you both off with a short barked command. The servant stiffened immediately, and murmured something softly.
The noblewoman pointed down at you, announcing something in an imperious tone. The others on the walkway moved away from the three of you, some looking scandalized, others smiling at the show.
“That's rather unfair to say to someone who can't understand you, Gloa.” Andsvarr said, from the field just under the walkway. You hadn't noticed him approaching. The noblewoman-Gloa-turned to glare at him in disgust. He rolled his eyes and repeated himself in Asgardian. This prompted her to turn her argument on him.
“Oh dear.” The maidservant said quietly to you. “The remaining Alarrson always speaks so boldly for so middling a noble. He seems to care nothing for the disgrace he might bring on his family.”
“Hey, she started it.” You pointed out.
“Is it true though? Were you really a commoner?”
“The commonest. But your Gloa was wrong. I'm not ordinary.”
Your whispering, and the growing argument were both silenced by a loud crack. You jumped, and jerked your head in the direction of the sound, just in time to see Loki slam the end of the spear into the ground again.
“You are disturbing practice.” He said, his voice carrying as far that the sound of the spear.
Andsvarr turned away from Gloa, bowing and speaking swiftly. Gloa also began speaking, trying to talk over him.
“Cease.” Loki commanded, and both silenced themselves. “Stars Gloa, you are so irritating.”
There were snickers around you as Gloa drew herself to full height, face reddening.
“Andsvarr, you are not free from blame either.” Loki continued. “Care to explain yourself?”
“I did act impulsively.” Andsvarr said earnestly. “I was seeing to the honor of the seidkona.”
“And did she indicate that she wanted your help?”
“Er, no your Highness.”
“Then get back to practice. Gloa. What was your purpose here?”
The woman began speaking again, haughty and angry from the earlier insult.
“I very much doubt that she either mocked or threatened you, considering that she does not yet speak Adgardian, and you have neglected to pick up any human languages. Besides, have you yet again forgotten that I can tell when you are lying?”
More tittering raised around her. Furious, she snapped her fingers at the maidservant, who stepped away from you and followed her, as she stormed away from the field.
“Well, that's done. Everyone can go back to what they were doing. That includes those of you who have put your errands on hold, to stop and watch. “Loki said with a charming smile. “I know our soldiers are an impressive force, but I am sure you have many things to do.”
A good three-fourths of the crows dispersed, either looking slightly guilty over putting their work aside, or happily skipping along as if it meant nothing too them. Loki either didn't understand, or chose not to acknowledge that it wasn't the soldiers they had come to watch, it was him.
At the end of their training, several of the soldiers wandered toward the walkway, to presumably flirt with the people who came to see them. Loki himself approached another woman you hadn't seen before, and gave a flourishing bow. She giggled and turned away with a little wave.
So who was she? You'd had some weird idea that he was going to come talk to you; he was the one who had brought you here, after all. Was she someone he knew? Someone he knew well? He'd never mentioned anyone like that before.
Well, there was no reason to get salty. It was none of your business.
He held her attention for a few moments more before making his way over to you.
“You have made an enemy, my dear.” He said, mild amusement crinkling his fine features. “I'm terribly proud.”
“I didn't make anything.” You protested. “She was like that before she even saw me.”
“Oh yes, Gloa has been like that for many centuries. She has a very developed sense of 'us' and 'them', and it has never looked good on her. She must bee seething over your closeness to the Crown.”
“I'm not close to any kind of crown!”
“I meant us, silly thing. Well, I've worked up an appetite. Shall we go have a lunch to celebrate your initiation into Asgardian nobility culture? Hating each other for no real reason is one of the very foundations.”
“Lunch, I would like. The celebration of a political enemy I could do without.”
He grinned and offered his arm. You took it.