It felt strange to have Gungnir in his hands again. It was the third time Loki had wielded Odin’s spear, the second time lawfully so. With Thor banished and Odin fallen into the Odinsleep, Frigga had presented it to Loki, making him the rightful king of Asgard. It was Gungnir he’d fought Thor with; it was Gungnir to which they’d both clung over the chasm of the wormhole created by the Bifrost’s destruction. Gungnir had saved Thor. Loki had let go and fallen.
Loki again held the spear after returning from Svartalfheim. Disguised as an Einherjar, Loki himself had delivered the news of his own alleged death to Odin. Coupled with the recent loss of his queen, the rebellion of his favored son, and the attack on Asgard, it had all been too much for the Allfather and he’d fallen once again into the Odinsleep he’d put off for too long. Loki hadn’t expected that but acted quickly to conceal the fact, taking Odin’s place upon the throne while he slept. Odin eventually woke and in exchange for a pardon from his sentence of everlasting incarceration in Asgard’s dungeons, Loki accepted banishment to Midgard and relinquished the throne to retain his titles and powers.
Now, Gungnir was rightfully in his possession again but Loki had his doubts as he sprinted to the weapons vault beneath Asgard’s golden palace. He dismissed the guards outside of it. If Frigga was to be found as Odin said, none in Asgard needed to know of it. The Destroyer stood guard at the far end of the vault near the Eternal Flame that was prophesied to light the sword of Surtur the fire giant so he could bring about Ragnarok and the destruction of Asgard. It was an important relic, said to have been stolen from the ruler of Muspelheim by Odin at the dawn of time in order to defeat the prophesy.
Loki’s heart was already pounding when he banged the base of the spear against the stone floor of the vault. It rang out, summoning the Destroyer. A tense moment passed when nothing happened. Loki’s doubt flared, his brows furrowing into a scowl. Of all the times for the enchanted armor to not heed his command! Then, slowly, with a deep grating noise, the wall before him retracted, revealing the immense, shining metal form of the Destroyer. It stepped forward, awaiting instruction.
“Ensure no one passes. Not even the Allfather. Especially not the Allfather,” Loki commanded. The Destroyer swung around and took up a new post facing the entrance to the vault. Loki took that as a confirmation of his order and slipped behind it to the secret passageway Odin told him about. As usual, Odin neglected to share a few details regarding the entrance to what lay beneath the vault. It was not a passageway as Loki expected, but a hatch in the floor. It was ornately wrought and protected by both physical and magical locks. It reminded Loki of some of the safeguards on Odin’s library that he’d defeated one by one when he was younger. He had a sneaking suspicion that Odin knew about it and had put them there on purpose to test him. They steadily grew in difficulty and this appeared to be the most difficult yet. Loki didn’t have time to spend solving puzzles like he’d once done and growled at the Allfather once again withholding critical information. It was clearly such a habit that he couldn’t help himself or his memory was simply not what it used to be and he’d forgotten about it. Loki refused to believe it was malicious in this case but it frustrated him, nevertheless. Frigga was down there and he needed to get to her as quickly as possible.
Hours later, Loki was about ready to storm back to where Odin was sequestered and demand to be told how to release the door that blocked him from entering the lower vault. Pride stopped him. He didn’t want to admit to Odin that he couldn’t figure it out. He could, it was just taking too long. He had part of it done. The physical puzzle of touching the carvings was easily enough sorted out if one knew the legend of the Eternal Flame. The carvings on the hatch depicted Odin in Muspelheim, stealing the flame from Surtur and returning it to Asgard. There was a repeating pattern of shapes throughout the carving that served as a hint and from the numerous runes inscribed there.
Loki touched in order the ones whose names both spelled out ‘Ragnarok’ and followed a line to draw a larger copy of the same shape. The runes on the hatch lit up and there was a deep, booming click signaling the release of the locks. Now, he only had to unravel the magical protections.
There were two ways to go about that. Loki could attempt to unbind the protections placed there, as he’d done with Odin’s library puzzles, or Loki could attempt to defeat them by guessing what workaround or backdoor Odin may have included for his own use. He had some ideas for the latter and trying a few of them wouldn’t take much time. If he had no success, then he could begin the unbinding, which would take much longer. Odin was one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Nine Realms. In Loki’s experience, however, that didn’t mean his spells were undefeatable. Odin would have left himself a way to use the door without having to remove all of the complicated magic he’d protected it with. A magical hack, of sorts. These were frequently a spoken word or phrase, amusingly similar to the Midgardian tale of ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’, in which the words ‘open sesame’ granted access to the cave in which the thieves had hidden their treasure. In principle, it was the same thing. Many Midgardian legends and stories had some basis in fact, but the humans had long forgotten what had originally inspired them and so the clues were scattered.
The first thing Loki tried was his mother’s name. Frigga had been Odin’s wife and whatever else Odin might have done, he loved her. Of that, Loki was certain. It didn’t work. Loki then tried Thor’s name. No success. With a wry laugh, he tried his own name. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work either. Neither did Odin’s name or the next ten names Loki plucked from legend and history. With a sigh, he crouched down and examined the door again for clues. Making random guesses was not likely to solve the puzzle anytime soon.
He’d been studying the carvings again for some time, moving around them to view from different angles when Loki noticed a new pattern. The name of the realm was engraved at the cardinal points of the circular hatch. Loki’s mind tumbled that information, trying to shake out the meaning of it. Directions, locations, the square that connecting the names made… He ran his hand through his hair and stood, pacing as the options recombined, broke, formed new connections as he analyzed them.
Then it clicked.
Four times. Asgard was written four times. Loki barked out a laugh at the utter simplicity of it. He’d been looking for something complicated to decipher or guess. Part of Odin’s cleverness was in the unexpected. In that way, Loki very much took after his adopted father. They had more in common than either of them readily admitted.
“For Asgard!” Loki called out triumphantly.
The hatch opened.
Conjuring his green-tinted witchlight, Loki peered down into the darkness below. A spiral staircase led down into the depths beneath the vault. With a glance back at the Destroyer, Loki descended. The staircase was immense, stairs numbering in the hundreds or more. At one point, Loki wondered if there was actually a bottom to them. When he reached it, he widened his arms overhead and sent the witchlights in both directions to illuminate a wider area. In every direction for as far as he could see lay dead Asgardian soldiers.
They still wore their armor, laid upon stone biers with arms clasped over their chests. Many of them still held their weapons, their faces withered in the distinctive helms of the Einherjar. This was the graveyard of the troops who had marched with Odin and Hela on their original conquest of the Nine Realms. These Asgardians gave their lives to build what Loki and Thor had taken for granted. They hadn’t known about Asgard’s bloody past, just the stories they’d been told—the sanitized tales told by an imperial victor. Asgard wasn’t a violent conqueror, it was a peacekeeper, a caretaker and parent to the Nine Realms. Loki snorted. They’d been fools to believe that. This was the truth of it and there really could be no other way. He should have known.
Hidden away beneath the weapons vault, no one remembered any of these soldiers anymore. Their glory was lost, their honor forgotten, their sacrifice unmarked. It was unfair even if they did feast nightly in Valhalla. Their names should be revered in Asgard, not tucked away like some dirty secret. Loki began to walk among them. Their names weren’t even marked. This was one colossal mass grave, anonymous. These hadn’t been people to Odin for him to do this; they were just bodies. Loki was thoroughly disgusted by the time he came upon a large dark shape blocking the wide center walkway. He summoned more light and circled it.
It was Hela’s enormous wolf, the one he’d seen in the painting. It could be no other. And now it too lay here, forgotten. Loki pitied the poor beast but there was nothing he could do for it now. Eyes straining in the darkness, Loki searched for some sign of Frigga.
It was Frigga who found him.
Loki heard her before he saw her.
“Loki?” Her voice was viscous. Not at all the voice Loki remembered soothing him but familiar enough. This made the hairs on the back of his neck and arms stand up. He whirled around, Gungnir still in his hand. Frigga stepped forward into the viridescent light of Loki’s magic.
Odin hadn’t lied; she was still beautiful. Loki’s breath caught in his throat as he beheld her but he could tell something was amiss. Not only should Frigga not be in this place, she should not sound like a leaden husk of herself. The light within her that had always been so effervescent was gone. Another thing Odin hadn’t lied about. This was a shell, but Loki’s eyes welled up and his throat thickened all the same. He swallowed hard.
“Hello, mother,” he greeted her, his own voice throaty with emotion.
“Loki,” she said again and reached for him.
Loki flinched away and was instantly ashamed of himself for it.
“Come and have your bath,” Frigga said, her eyes seeming to look through him. She recognized him, yet at the same time, she did not. “You and Thor have been outside playing all day. Dinner will be soon.”
Loki was also ashamed at the noise he made in response. It was a sort of choked whimper. He tried to bite it off, but it threatened to explode him if he held it in entirely. He made himself stand firm as Frigga approached. She reached up and touched his hair and Loki held his breath. Gungnir clanged to the floor from his nerveless hand. Frigga didn’t even flinch, like she couldn’t even hear it.
“Always so unruly,” she smiled as she tucked a strand of it back behind his ear. Even in undeath, this was his mother. Loki harbored so much guilt and regret at their last words. He’d rejected her then, saying that she was not his mother since Odin was not his father. More concerned about his logic and his pain at discovering his true heritage than her feelings, he’d spoken out of spite. He wished he hadn’t.
“I’m sorry,” Loki blurted, taking her hands in his. “Mother, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll comb the knots out,” she replied with benevolent vacancy.
“Do you remember what I said?” Loki asked, his pitch rising. His heart thundered in his chest and he felt if he let himself start shaking, he might bring the whole palace down with it. “I said you were not my mother. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
“You’re a silly boy,” Frigga told him, shaking her head. “Of course I’m your mother.”
“Yes, I am,” Loki agreed with a breathless laugh. He wasn’t getting through to her. It didn’t matter if this wasn’t really Frigga. He hoped perhaps some of it would sink in somehow. “And you are. You are my mother.”
“You’re getting so tall.”
“Mother?” He was losing her, her focus wandering. Frigga didn’t respond, her hands going lax in his. “Mother?” She just stared. Loki made up his mind then that the conversation was over. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”
Frigga started like she’d just woken up, eyes snapping to his face. “No, Loki.” Her words echoed Odin’s at that fateful moment when he’d dangled from the Bifrost. Loki glanced down at the spear from which he’d hung. His face crumpled, and he shook his head.
“What do you mean no? We have to go. Mother, please.”
“You were always so sensitive,” she noted. Loki didn’t know if she was musing on the past again and he tugged gently at her hands to draw her along. She resisted.
“But never a coward, Loki.”
Now Loki was scared. “What are you saying?” He forced the words out even though they scraped his throat raw to do it. He didn’t think he wanted to hear the answer.
“You look so regal with your father’s spear. Such a handsome king. You saved him.”
That had happened years ago. Loki had lured his biological father, Laufey, King of Jotunheim, to Asgard under the pretense of allowing him to murder Odin. Then, instead, Loki had murdered Laufey, staging it to look like he’d prevented an assassination attempt by the frost giants. It was the justification he needed for the next step of his plan, which was to unleash the full power of the Bifrost upon Jotunheim and wipe them out entirely. They would never threaten Asgard again, Loki’s true heritage would never be known, and he would be a hero to Asgard, saving both the Allfather and preventing war. He would be worthy. Frigga was drifting off in the past again. Loki tugged harder and considered even carrying her.
“We must go,” he insisted, still holding her hands. He didn’t dare let go. He could come back for Gungnir later if he had to.
“Pick it up,” Frigga said.
“Your father’s spear. Pick it up.”
“I don’t need it. I can get it later. Just come with me. Please.” He was dangerously close to begging at this point and Loki didn’t care.
“You know what you need to do, Loki.” Frigga sounded as patient as always. She’d been his teacher for so long, his mentor when no one else took interest or cared. “Pick it up.”
“No!” he cried out, shaking his head violently. Black curls tumbled into his face. “I can- I can fix this. I can do something!” If he just didn’t let go, everything would be alright. Letting go had been a mistake.
She twisted from his grasp and bent to pick up the spear. Taking his hand with hers to hold Gungnir, she placed the point of it beneath her sternum. Loki gasped and tried to pull away. Her grip was unrelenting. “Loki, this is the only way,” Frigga insisted. “Not everything can be undone.”
“No...” Loki moaned in anguish. This wasn’t why he’d come here. “Father says he’s sorry. That he wants to be with you. Mother, please!”
“Your father will see me again soon enough,” Frigga smiled, reaching her free hand up to cup Loki’s cheek. Her face twisted and her form warped into something hideous Loki recognized instantly. The hand at his cheek was pale, waxen, bearing two thumbs, and a hood partially hid the creature’s face. There was no disguising the cage over his face, though, or those vicious teeth Loki knew all too well. The Other, Thanos’ henchman, the orchestrator of Loki’s torture after he’d fallen into the Void. The very same creature who had invaded his mind with the Mind Gem, twisting it and preying on his every fear and insecurity. His heart froze, a silent scream shaped in his mouth, and then The Other spoke. Its sibilant voice was the stuff of Loki’s nightmares. “I told you we’d find you, Asgardian.”
A bright discharge of magic flashed forth from Gungnir’s tip and the creature flew backwards. Loki pursued it, raising the spear high overhead to drive it down through its body until there was nothing left but a smear of blood upon the stones. What he found several feet away was not The Other, however. Breathing labored, Frigga laid upon the ground before him, a wide scorch mark on her dress ringing a gaping wound.
Loki fell to his knees next to her. “No, no, no, no! Mother, I’m sorry!” He tried to cradle her into his arms but she winced. “It was a mistake! I didn’t mean-”
“It’s alright,” Frigga rasped, reaching out to pat his forearm. “You saw exactly what I needed you to see. You learned your tricks from me, remember.” She tried to smile. It ended up more of a grimace.
“Why?!” Loki demanded, sobs starting to make his chest heave. Tears spilled over and tracked down his cheeks.
“You know why, Loki. Trust me that you’ve done the right thing.”
“I don’t want to do the right thing!” he wailed.
“Neither do I,” Frigga agreed with a wracking cough. “Tell your father and your brother that I love them.” She coughed again, much weaker this time. Her breaths were short gasps now. Loki tried to sit her up. She didn’t know Thor was dead and he couldn’t tell her. Not now.
“I’ll tell them, mother,” he vowed.
“And Loki,” her voice was barely a whisper, “I always loved you. Always.”
“I love you too,” Loki gasped as her final breath rattled forth and she stilled. For a moment there was nothing. It felt like his own heart stopped with her breathing. In the ringing silence of the tomb, the witchlights faltered and flickered out, leaving them in utter darkness.
It was then that Loki screamed out his grief until his voice was hoarse and he could do no more than hiss. He sat with her for hours, until he had no more tears, until his throat had already healed itself, until he could control his seiðr again. In the pale, sickly light of a single orb, Loki laid Frigga’s body to rest upon one of the unoccupied stone biers, along with all the others who had given their lives for Asgard. Her name would not be forgotten, unlike all the rest here, but none would know of Odin’s sacrilege or what Loki had been forced to do to rectify it. Secrets begat more and more secrets and now they were all culpable, all entangled. Loki wished he could burn the entire place to the ground to cleanse it.
“I have more work to do,” he told his mother before leaving her there, alone in the dark. “But I will see you and Thor soon, I hope.” Loki still had no guarantee of Valhalla, where he assumed Frigga and his brother would be, but even Hel had to be better than remaining.
Taking up Gungnir once more, Loki let the ice numb him again before he ascended back to the land of the living.
“It is done,” he informed Odin coldly and didn’t turn back at what sounded like his father weeping.