BLACK AND WHITE

Like a grim tornado through the barren darkness of Niflheim, the deathly swarm of black owls rushed upwards, scraping Helheim's cavernous, moist ceiling in their desperate passage. After squeezing through the gaps in Yggdrasil's uprising network of roots, the owls of Hel scattered into a messy sheet of obsidian feathers upon the icy breeze. Their shrill cries pierced the usual silence like a tumble of steel against the harsh surface of a smooth rock. They were small individually, but as a flock, their might was grandiose - and their scent was unmistakable, for the god of trickery, the cunning Loki, had dispatched a bird of his own to intercept their valiant flight. He had given his servant only one message...

"Return one of those cretins to me... alive!"

And so, a magnificent snowy owl, her feathers as white as the fluffiest of clouds, was en route to intercept the black swarm. Her wingspan was a remarkable ten metres, from tip-to-tip, and her wickedly curved beak seemed a menacing sight, as if it were terror incarnate.

As the enormous lady bird ascended from Loki's acidic prison, the god of mischief chuckled silently, his burned, disfigured back twitching randomly. Such was the hideous punishment for his evil pranks and mind games. Soon, though, he hoped to orchestrate his grand return, and all would feel the horrendous claws of his vengeance.

Meanwhile, Hel's powerful senses expanded, and she saw Loki's minion headed towards her own. Frowning, the goddess whispered a thorny, sleek word, as if her voice radiated steel blades, whipping and slashing from betwixt her black lips. The lethal utterance was lifted up towards her owls on a light zephyr, moving swiftly in and around Yggdrasil's grip. Like a crack of lightning, her message fluttered through the black swarm. The owls gradually halted, and their feathers became ruffled, as if spooked. What once seemed to be commanding, concise shrieks became wild, insane hooting. The small, black owls began to turn their flight path inwards, and then outwards, forming a few odd formations. At last, they scattered, all of them disappearing into the shadowy folds of the World Tree.

In his agonising predicament, Loki snarled, and then turned such a cruel look into one of contemptuous pleasure. He would enjoy this hunt - it had been quite a while since he'd enjoyed a good duel with his daughter. He cleared his tortured throat and raised a great, tumultuous roar, which shook the roots of Yggdrasil, and sent vibrations through every world.

In response, his white owl sharpened her eyes and hooted almost unnoticeably, before tilting her wings and increasing her speed tenfold, talons poised. The winged predator smoothly rolled into a soft thermal, then soared across a hundred kilometres of open air, coiling gracefully through a tuft of Yggdrasil's smaller branches. At last, the huntress caught sight of her prey; one of the small messengers was desperately seeking for a hiding place. The white owl's head cocked to the left for a moment, before she shifted her entire body shape and entered a barrel roll, heading down to Hel's servant without a moment of hesitation.

Frantically, the black owl opened its beak and cried to the heavens. For such a small beast, the ensuing explosion of high-pitched sound was stunning. The shrill, echoing cry soon faded, and the white owl fell upon her victim, talons slicing through flesh and shattering bones. Instantly, the small bird was dead. In his lair, Loki growled. The growl carried upwards to the snowy owl, which understood she should not have dealt a deathblow to the black bird. This was not a seek-and-destroy mission, as she was used to.

After letting go of the limp carcass, Loki's owl swung around through the air, adjusting herself to face an oncoming haze of blackness. The entire flock was heading towards her, beaks pointed forwards dangerously. Though she was powerful, the huntress dared not face such an enormous group head- on. She arched up and around the swarm, far faster than the smaller owls, and thus, able to maneuver into a strategic position. Once behind the flock, the snowy owl charged into its rear, mauling dozens of the smaller birds with one swift blow. She then swooped down low, slamming more of the creatures from their thick formation. With one last mighty beating of wings, the huntress was away, a single, struggling blackbird in her grip.

She hooted confidently and victoriously, before careening back to where she had come, speeding home to be greeted by her master.

Back in Helheim, the goddess of the dead hissed in fury, her eyes glowing bright indigo.

"Next time, father, I will butcher that winged tyrant!" she screamed angrily, and Loki heard every word, even at such a great distance.

Worlds away, the catalyst of all chaos laughed raucously, then cringed as a particularly large dollop of rather potent acid from the jaws of his jail keeper landed atop his skull. Soon, though, his painful troubles were shoved aside as the snowy owl returned in a triumphant blur of white feathers and brilliant energy.

"Excellent! Now, be gone!" ordered Loki as the white huntress dropped her prize in Loki's grip.

The god of trickery raised the owl to his ear and listened to the quiet, subtle whisperings and rumours that it carried. A sick, awful grin twisted his insane lips, and for a moment, a crackling aura of black lightning enwrapped his singed flesh. Abruptly, Loki crushed the black owl, and a squirt of red blood pumped out from within his clenched fist. Deep, thunderous laughter soon followed, and it did not end for days. At last, the god of havoc raised his blood-stained fist into the air, and the ground shook in his moment of dark triumph.

"Soon it will be winter..." said Loki.